Babcock emerges with steady left hook of “Fight I Need”

Singer-songwriter Stephen Babcock makes a fresh return with new music in just a little less than two weeks on June 28th in the form of upcoming single “Fight I Need”. The one-off is the followup to Babcock’s exceptional 2018 EP “Fiction”, and represents yet another linear step ahead in the development of the musician’s sound.

Material like “Fiction” and Babcock’s prior 2016 LP “Said & Done” largely felt most at home in a stripped down, coffeehouse format allowing the upfront intimacy of the moments to flow cleanly off the acoustic guitar strings. “Fight I Need” doesn’t exactly lose that well-shined sensibility for the landscape. Rather, it just surrounds it with an added edge of slinky organ work, trailing harmonies, and the bright punch of electric guitar fills racing right out of the melodic gateway.

That auditory kiss with a fist makes for a fitting companion to the track’s lyrical energy, which takes the notion of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” and riffs on it as a way to describe a desire for a relationship’s emotional toil. And indeed, either experience feels akin to 10 rounds in the boxing ring, with equal amounts of stamina needed just to outlast the conflict. 

You can see Stephen live just after “Fight I Need” comes out at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2 for a release show June 29th at 9pm!

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Silver Relics offer alt-rock excellence on “Generic.”

I love being able to delve into a lot of different tones and types of music on this blog. As my tastes advance, branch out and find new avenues in the cracks of this genre highway, it continues to be refreshing to be able to share what moves me and fascinates my ear. And it’s time to do that once again, this time in the form of a New York City-based alternative-rock band and their new record “Generic.”

Silver Relics begin their journey on this newly-released LP with the computery, electrified “Fame”, a song ruminating on the topic in a musical descent reminiscent of Bob Mould’s “Workbook” mixed into his later album “Modulate”. With drummer Justin Alvis providing Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” thunder downs from behind the kit, lead vocalist and songwriter Alex Sepassi brings an almost industrial-sounding Gothic, Smashing Pumpkins-processed gloom within his Billy Corgan-splashed vocals on this track. 

“Generic” meanwhile has a more Depeche Mode, stadium rock 80’s ambition that soars with a psychedelic expanse, while “End of Zero” is an acoustic-shaded dance beat of a song. “Time Bomb” wades into cutting guitar lines reminiscent of Sonic Youth, and “Wanderlust” abruptly turns from that musical thought into something resembling Duran Duran.

Silver Relics certainly comes as catchy as some of my prior references advertise, with track after track hitting ear-worms and hooks with a regularity requiring repeat listens just to break down the layers. 

“Generic.” is an LP that doesn’t hesitate to move and get loose around the space it creates for itself and its melodic character, while still staying a bit more dark and digital with its soundscapes. The record title may imply something common or easily passable, but Silver Relics has done anything but that here in this expanse. 

Check out the album below, as well as a few tour dates when Silver Relics may be in your neck of the woods!

‘Record Release Listening Party’ at The Scratcher, NYC – May 28

Live:

Drop Dead Twice: Dublin – May 27

RTE Radio 1: Dublin – airs July 1

Green Door Store: Brighton – July 1 

The Islington: London – July 2

Owen-Glass Captures Acoustic Magic on “So American” Video

Today it’s my pleasure to release the premiere of “So American”, a brand new music video from the band Owen-Glass. This is a cover the group did of a song originally written and performed by Portugal. The Man off their 2011 album In The Mountain In The Cloud.

Portugal’s version is a bouncy, psychedelic joy-rave somewhere between The Flaming Lips “Do You Realize?” and The Kinks. But while Owen-Glass’ take may enter the starting gate acoustically similar to the original, it proceeds to lean away from building up and chooses instead to embrace a more bare-boned folk edge.

The video takes hold of a similar strategy as there are a few mixing visuals of the band, but nothing that takes away from the mood and strength of the performance. The upfront intimacy of the moment feels very much like an installment of NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, which further lays vulnerable “So American” and its lyrical critiques of hypocrisy and dysfunction in these United States.

For a song that debuted in 2011, those themes almost feel more relevant from where we sit today in 2019. But without any further insight from me here’s the video from “So American”, as well as a quote from Owen-Glass singer-songwriter Kelly Wayne Conley on why they chose to cover the track.

“We wanted to sort of pay tribute to some of the songwriters and bands that had a major impact on us, and John Gourley was an obvious standout. Portugal. The Man’s story is really special to us, because we followed them from the very beginning and now, after more than a decade of grinding on the road, promoting real, soulful art, those guys have finally gotten their due.

It’s a testament to the demand that still exists for real music, y’know. Like, these are artists in a universal sense, practicing their craft—using real instruments and building out cohesive projects that have a clear, artistic message by and for the common man.”We chose ‘So American’ because it really fits with who we are as a band, and we feel like it translates well in our sort of folky Americana style…

The message in ‘So American’ cuts right to the core of the culture we grew up in—seeing everything—politics, religion, whatever—through this American lens, and all of John’s songs pushed us to view the world differently and find a new level of empathy and even affected our spiritual awareness in those formative adolescent years. That’s not something you get from just any song by just any band. It’s really a special thing. I guess, in a way, our performing this song is our way of saying thank you to John, Zach and the rest of the guys for enriching our lives with their art.”-Kelly Wayne Conley

Kuri Hypnotizes on Unflinching “Human Nature” Visuals

British Columbia singer-songwriter Kuri recently released a video for his single “Human Nature”, a cut from an EP with the same title. Before I break down the visuals a little bit, this is my first exposure to Kuri’s work and plenty needs to be said for this song as well.

“Human Nature” is a gorgeously delicate, intricately woven patchwork quilt of airy folk that begins in a rustling whisper of leafy harmonies and culminates in sunshine-washed waves of strings and percussion. My first thoughts immediately fly to Damien Rice’s 2014, often-cinematic My Favourite Faded Fantasy for the song having that same pastoral ambition (as well as a knack for words of gut-dropping melancholy slipped within the breaths of the melody).

That lyrical introspection is given life in vivid illustration via the video for “Human Nature”, which captures the thin-railed frailty the title hints toward. We seem to be witness to an almost typical whirlwind of a romance in this story, but not is all as the perfectly arranged scene seems. A tender embrace includes a lost, rigid look into the distance. Moments of connection are sought with a passion, but fall apart like dreams become smoke become the unrelenting reality of one person who just can’t let release the unattainable.

But, as Kuri’s words fall out so appropriately, “it’s human nature to need some impeccable force”. Sometimes we’re that Jim Carrey character from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind simply refusing to forget a mountainous presence no matter how much we try to erase it. Or how it might lead to our own self-destruction. And much like the film, the visual’s end remains open… uncertain.. flawed…. yet still willing to fight even if only to end in doom.

And what could be more human than that?

JANOS is No “Zero” on New Single

Swedish singer-songwriter JANOS recently released a new single entitled “Zero” that grooved its way into my ears this week. Much like this month’s forthcoming shift into May, the summer-teasing, synth-drenched anthem of the track is an appropriately upbeat, well-timed recipe to kick off the occasion. Especially as we begin to shift from the gloomy days of dull grey to the radiant rays of a new time of the season.

The lyrical mood of “Zero” reflects that same shiny, glass half full look as it tackles the negativity of people and how to not let them bring you down in pursuing your passion. And indeed it quickly becomes difficult to remain in a subdued state of mind as the song exudes a buoyant, Rachel Platten pump-your-fist mood that perceives how to rise above instead of getting dragged below. “Zero” has an infectious dance hall sheen reminiscent of Terence Trent D’Arby while still maintaining an organic heart and meaning beneath the layers that’s akin to a musician like Joseph Arthur.

It’s that fusion of funky yet defiantly honest that sets JANOS apart here. What really struck me is that while he does lean more heavily electronic on the track, there are still winding guitar lines and the gentle keen of violin keeping the orchestration from flying too heavily into the 1’s and 0’s.

So go get in your car on a beautiful sunny day, pull onto a highway or long country road, and throw this on with the windows fully rolled down and the miles streaming out behind your wheels. “Zero” deserves to be in a playlist with some horsepower.

Give it a listen below via the Spotify app.

.Paak Hits Old Stops, Travels New Places with Endearing “Ventura”

Anderson .Paak has been feelin’ it lately with an ever-versatile, high-stepping vengeance.

In case you’ve been stuck under some rocks, the Malibu singer/songwriter/rapper/drummer/producer helped end 2018 on a strong note with his Dr Dre-collaborated, rap rave-up Oxnard. The record drew mixed reviews soon after release, though I suspect that was due to it being an album that required time and repeated listens to level up.

It would also have flowed much better without the skits that don’t age well after a lot of repeats. But I digress.

That’s why, as someone who’s written about music the last several years, I often hesitate to talk about new work the day it releases or soon after. There’s certainly a high associated with those initial listening experiences, but taking the time to study the puzzle pieces has a way of expanding the angles of creativity being brushed into this mix of many melodies.

So when the announcement for Ventura inevitably came along… that mental battle began. Especially with how quickly I’ve enjoyed the record since it dropped earlier this month.

“Come Home” is a retrograde-groove, come to attention album-starter that almost smells like an old LP sleeve and benefits from .Paak’s time-and-again sense of flow (not to mention slapping drumwork). The whiplash of a blistering second half verse from Outkast’s Andre 3000 certainly adds to its case, helping to put this one straight into the “Winner’s Circle” (Ventura song title joke, it happened, let’s move on).

“Come Home” brilliantly melds the warm R&B vibe that was promised in early Ventura teasers with the story Oxnard began late last year, and the theme threads throughout the album. Because in many ways the pair are a double album to each other, just speaking separate sides of the same coin. One that ran hard to chest bump and bass thump, and another… that just had to talk about love a little bit.

Speaking of love, tracks like “Make it Better” just make me smile. A slow-swaying ode to lost affection featuring a crooning .Paak backed by the velvet voice of Smokey Robinson, the singer who helped make the torch song croon what it is today? That’s a kind of magic you can’t deny, especially when you’re encircled by that chorus. I get the same vibe from .Paak’s back and forth with the vocals of the departed Nate Dogg on “What Can We Do?” Try not to belt along when you know musical church is in session.

“Reachin’ 2 Much” feels like a drum and horn-floated, tempo-chopped cruise down the coast of Miami Vice with a touch of .Paak’s own tune “Lite Weight” scattered in for tempo-switching flavor. While “Winner’s Circle” samples the classic “A Bronx Tale” before proceeding into a Thundercat-assisted slapping punch of rhythm that slips with satisfaction into “Good Heels”.

While I would say .Paak’s far from alone in creating these genre fusions, his songs always speak in their own voices. Some in certain seasons, others with connection to particular moments. And while I won’t go making the exhausted “is Ventura better than Malibu?” comparison, it is a VERY fine addition to the .Paak library.

And something tells me he’s still just getting started.

Owen-Glass Adds Anticipation With “Saint”

The music of Owen-Glass gives me a new kind of rooster-necked, bobbing kind of flow I didn’t know I needed in my life until now. The mix of guitar, horns, and gently shaken percussion in the intro to the band’s new single “Saint” give way woozily to the gently gritty vocals of Kelly Wayne Conley. Conley, a singer-songwriter from East Texas, and his “trusty sidekick” guitarist Cole Humphrey have chemistry like a breaking wave. To stretch thin a basketball metaphor, Conley provides the perfect, soulfully moody vocal alley-oop toss to Humphrey’s heavy jam of guitar lines, and it makes “Saint” shine as a result. 

There’s a bluesy gloss in the heartbeat of this track, though it doesn’t stop the shape of the song at just that parameter. Humphrey’s at times shreds with a reckless abandon I’ve only heard in several extremely proficient Japanese players, and a well-honed organ solo straight out of a song by The Zombies adds to the track’s direction of descent into lyrical madness. A saxophone also appears, and it bears mention simply because the presence of a sax is always enjoyed in my mind (and it works well on “Saint” too). 

For only having formed so recently, Owen-Glass musically attack from multiple angles with a confident balance suggesting musicians who’ve played together for a much longer period of time. The amount of instruments that appear on “Saint” never become cluttered though, and instead suggest an intriguing potential portrait of what their upcoming May 10th debut album “The Rope & The Rabbit” may be painted on. 

As the song here says I’m certainly not a saint by any means. But I am a follower and believer of what Owen-Glass has made here. Put a bookmark in this one folks, “Saint” is an appetizer for an album that’s already logged on my “one to watch” list. 

Take a listen to the single below!

Cubbi Anything But Ordinary On “nothingspecial”

Dark and foreboding. That’s the opening melodic spread of the paintbrush on “Lose a Love”, the first song off Cubbi’s upcoming April 19th EP nothingspecial.

The South African producer, songwriter, and artist’s opening piano strokes on the song build into an unsettled, murky scene of barely contained emotional wreckage. Combined with the undertow of Cubbi’s eerily swaying vocals, “Love” holds a gentle wave of shape somewhere in the spiderwebbed, machine organic world of a James Blake or Bon Iver.

The track has an apt name for the aching it creates. The loss of what our heart dares to hold onto in this world can be a gossamer, fragile thing. It can be as solitary as the back attic closet and as wide open as the ocean floor. Especially when shattered. And this song feels those moments in its roots.

Some can dismiss the element of electronic sound in the art of music with sentiment. That true cathartic release can only come at the expense of showing off the barest broken bones under the most unfiltered circumstances. But songs like “Love” demonstrate the truth of what molding one’s fingers into that digital clay can create. There’s still plenty human to be found beneath the 1’s and 0’s.

“GTFO” trades in the solitary gloom to roll on a dance floor of shiny hip-hop rhythm, while “Fall Out Boy” adds a shot of X Ambassadors with a chaser of club remix throwing down the gauntlet of a hopping bass line. “Rippling” meanwhile sounds like Ed Sheeran in a blender with Radiohead’s “Faust Arp”. And when that quiet acoustic intro chops and spreads out into an ink bloom of an earworming groove… you’ll stay well-attached to the repeat button.

“White Lies, Like Flies” closes nothingspecial like a slow breath as it returns to the dwell introduced by “Lose a Love”. It’s haunting lines evoke Perfume Genius, but this world belongs purely to Cubbi as he reflects on a broken relationship. It may be one of humanity’s most well-known plot lines at this point, but there are few things on the planet more evocative than someone that can truly sing of pain, turmoil, and loss. Especially when love goes… and you have to learn to go with it.

Listen to singles “Buzzkill” and “White Lies, Like Flies” below, and check out Cubbi on Facebook!

“The Great Divide” a Straight Shot of Skillfully Sliced Americana

JD and The Straight Shot’s “The Great Divide” begins on the strength of its title track, which is a catchy, folk-rock anthem incorporating a woozy, 60s-sounding build of a chorus. The band’s got an immediate chemistry for melody and harmony on the track, which makes for a unified contrast against the song’s subject matter of growing division in America. 

That’s a topic certainly-not-unfamiliar to the folk realm, and “Dead Men Tell No Tales” stays squarely in that wheelhouse as a grooving tavern sea shanty throwing a wink and a nod to the classic murder ballads as much as Davy Jones. The Straight Shot’s swivel of vocalists add to the unsettling nature of the track as baritones dwell uneasily against the sultry storyteller like a dark fog heading down to run amok on the innocent scenery below. 

“The Great Divide” functions at its best when it settles comfortably into those rootsy, Americana elements that attack with an acoustic edge. “Invisible” feels like another retro return to an almost Crosby, Stills, and Nash vibe on a classic music revue show, while “Anything But Love” evokes James Taylor within its opening six-stringed pluckings. The music’s arrangement is a well-honed, close up affair, which adds to the intimacy level a record like this needs in order to hit the right notes. JD and The Straight Shot sound as though they’re sitting just around your headphones, different voices arcing and waning in a songwriting circle of different motions and ideas. 

“Walkin On A Wire”, other than reminding me of the Richard and Linda Thompson song, brings to mind latter-day Mark Knopfler and Elvis Costello tacked to a backwoods backdrop. While covers of “Happy Together” and “Jessica” are faithfully interpreted with just enough flair to bring this album home on the band’s own terms. And while I recently learned the JD in JD & The Straight Shot is New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan, I chose to leave that until the end of this review because of that very thing: letting this album speak on its own terms. And in this non-basketball realm, “The Great Divide” does very well in accomplishing that.

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