Hurray for the Riff Raff The Navigator
The age of the Bob Dylans and the Lou Reeds seems to be long gone. Those musicians lead crazy lives, that at times put them in the way of danger and even brought them to the brink of death, but were super interesting and exciting and they produced some of the greatest music we know today. Now many musicians have that wild side, but lead pretty normal lives as working stiffs just in an artistic field. However, Alynda Segarra may be one of the last to lead this bohemian lifestyle that is straight out of an old folk song. She recently appeared on The Daily Show, and talk about her time train hopping as a teenager, and playing washboard on the streets of New Orleans. All of this experience shaped her music, whether it’s her folk storytelling that resembles the aforementioned Dillon, or the New Orleans musical influence which accounts for her interesting blend of folk, country, and some jazz influence. As she talks about on The Daily Show a lot this album is about how she struggled to find a place to belong, and she draws parallels with the struggle of artists, women, and immigrants in America. She wasn’t always in touch with her Peurto Rican heritage but recently she’s connected to it and it’s a big part of this album. The emotional culmination of this album comes on “Pa’lante” when she sings to all the people who fought to survive and says to them “Pa’lante” which is a phrase used to mean forward. This rousing message finishes off a beautiful and engaging album about how hard it is just to live let alone find a place where you feel welcomed and valued. This is ALynda’s most ambitious and most instrumentally elaborate album, a far cry from her past albums which we’re largely acoustic. The Navigator is an big step in an exciting new direction. I played the politically charged single “Rican Beach” on Best Song Ever, check it here.
Bonny Doon Bonny Doon
My cousin and co-host Brian LaBenne played this on the podcast and I was really excited. I’m a fan of Tyvek so when I heard members of their band making some really beautiful and gently catchy folk/rock I got super excited. This album has so many things working for it, with earworm guitar riffs, production that tows the line between raw and pristine, and lyrics and stories that feel so Detroit. We see a Detroit punk growing older, reflecting on the world changing around him changing with friends and lovers leaving while he stays in place. For how melancholy many of the lyrics are the music is delightful. Bill Lennox writes emotional confessions with a sort of self-deprecating sense of humor that and finds the humor and beauty in misfortune and mistakes. This is such an amazing debut album and while there is some fantastic music coming out of Detroit nothing has impressed me and connected with me as much as this album.
Jay Som Everybody Works
Last year, California based singer/songwriter Melina Duterte released her debut Turn Into, under the name Jay Som. Since then she’s toured with Mitski, Peter Bjorn and John, and Japanese Breakfast and has now released her second album Everybody Works, has garnered some acclaim and rightfully so. This album is incredibly dynamic, you never know what the next song holds. Duterte combines influences of 80’s pop, 90’s singer/songwriters, and early aughts indie-rock into her own dreamy and unpredictable concoction. Whether it’s fuzzy guitar, piano trills or trumpet (the instruments she first played) it’s all drawn together with Duterte’s calm, measured voice. It’s also important to mention that she did everything on the album, played every instrument and produced. There is an air of maturation on this album, even the album title “Everybody Works” and the song of the same name talk about trying to living up to the expectations placed on you, and the financial struggles of an artist. Over the course of the album Duterte works her way through love and insecurity, while mostly uncertain there are moments of joy and confidence. This is a fantastic follow up to Turn Into, no sophomore slump for Jay Som, with Everybody Works Duterte establishes herself as an important addition to the indie-rock landscape.
Laura Marling Semper Femina
Following up 2015’s Short Movie, British singer/songwriter Laura Marling examines the painful paradoxes of femininity, humanity, and love. Bringing to mind great female folk predecessors like Nico, Joni Mitchell, and Vashti Bunyan, Marling’s writing is ponderous and insightful, her melodies are infectious and familiar, and her voice is dense and soulful. Atop pristine, minimal folk compositions her pain and revelations carry significant weight. This is how a folk album should sound, driven by flawless acoustic guitar yet outfitted with strings and other instrumentation that give it an original flare. Not only is this album politically and socially relevant but it feels timeless and universal. This album is a gorgeous ode to womanhood and individual freedom, exploring the downsides and challenges that bring on regret and doubt, yet ultimately only strengthen her resolve. Marling taps into how the nature of a woman mirrors life and humanity as a whole, "Fickle and changeable. Semper Femina."
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever The French Press
Melbourne trio Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (boy that name is a mouthful) classify themselves as Tough Pop/Soft Punk. That’s exactly how their sound feels, it falls between the lines of many indie-rock genre, their songs a too lush and chill to be considered full on punk, yet they have powerful rock riffs that rip through the softness and add an edge. There is a definite resemblance to the jangle pop sound that originated in from Australia/New Zealand, this is not surprising considering they have songs longer than five minutes that fly by and don’t drag for a second. As a whole this album is really solid, but the guitar work stands out and really keeps the song engaging. This is only the second EP from the band, though they sound as tight and confident as a veteran band. Hopefully we will get a full length from them sometime in the near future, but for now we’ve got these six songs to be obsessed with.
Valerie June The Order of Time
With an unmistakeable twang like a more soulful Joanna Newsom, Memphis singer/songwriter Valerie June blends country and gospel in a way that feels like new territory while still possessing a vintage charm. These melodies feel like old folk hymns coming through in Valerie’s smooth, sometimes almost mumbled voice. It feels as if her lyrics spill out of her mouth as if it’s like taking a breath to her. She holds back until moments where she unleashes her full vocal power. This album is steeped in country tradition, whether it’s intimate ballads outfitted with slide guitar or hand clap laden toe tappers like “Shakedown” Valerie puts her own spin on familiar country tropes. This is her fourth album, but it’s the first one I‘ve heard of her and now I’m a fan, she blends so many styles into a lovely cocktail.
Porter Ray Watercolor
To really dig into Porter Ray's story you need to listen to this album and subscribe to Ghettoblaster Magazine to check out my artist feature on him. The guy's been through some shit, from his dad dying of MS, to his younger brother being murdered, to the mother of his child being locked up, he's endured a lot of tough times and yet is such a positive and loving person. He was mentored by former Diggable Planets member and Shabazz Palaces mastermind Ishmael Butler. This album dives deep into his life with hazy productions and insightful writing conveying all the pain and triumphs of Porter's life. This is a really unique and accomplished rap album, and not to mention the first solo rap album on the beloved Sub Pop label. Porter is one of the most powerful new voices of indie hip hop and this is an impressive introduction to the world.
John Andrews and The Yawns Bad Posture
John Andrews has plenty of musical experience, both as a member of the fantastic band Quilt, and playing as a session musician with Woods, Widowpeak, EZTV, and Kevin Morby. Following up his debut Bit By The Fang Andrews chronicles his travels from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire where he now resides in a farmhouse, where the album was recorded, adding a rustic charm to these songs. On this album foggy folk instrumentals are cut through with sharp guitar riffs and jangly piano, walking the line between dreamy and immediate. You can hear traces of his other projects in these songs, but he incorporates them into his own folk style. I played the awesome lead single “Drivers” on Best Song Ever.
Tennis Yours Conditionally
If you’ve ever listened to Tennis, the married musical duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley you know they make super catchy dream pop. Their first album came out of their sailing trip on their boat Swift Rider, and this album is was also born out of a sailing trip. They have only refined their sound more and more with each release and it’s at it’s finest on this album with infectious guitar licks, bass lines, and synth riffs, that put a modern sheen on their 70’s influence. Alaina’s dreamy vocals express her love and examine the differences between genders in a manner, sometimes earnest and sometimes sarcastic. If you want to hear the latter of two listen to this episode of Best Song Ever where he play their song “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” and Brian and I giggled at the mention of the duo making love (seriously we’re children).
Damaged Bug Bunker Funk
Thee Oh Sees mastermind John Dwyer has released his fourth solo album under the moniker Damaged Bug and it’s some of his finest work yet. Where Thee Oh Sees is garage rock primarily driven by fuzzy guitar this album finds him pulling back on the guitar making more basic foundations driven by bass and drums upon which he subtly layers guitars, keys, and other elements. There is more experimentation with synths on this album which I enjoy very much, there are some really unique synth sounds. I love the title and album art for Bunker Funk because this feels like some cassette that historians would find in someone’s doomsday bunker, it feels other-worldly and weird but it’s still groovy. This album isn’t on Spotify so it didn’t not end up on the playlist but it is a release worth mentioning, I highly recommend checking out. You can find it on Castle Face Records and hear the awesome single “Bog Dash” on Best Song Ever.
The Shins Heartworms
I think there is a point in the mind of every music lover or in the career of every musician, where they cease being a mystical musical hero and they end up just being a working stiff in the music industry. There’s nothing wrong with this it’s just the natural progression, they may not be making things that make you feel like they’re magical, maybe it’s them or maybe it’s your perception of it, but they still have to keep making music as it’s what they’re called to do. This happened for many Shins fans when they came back from their lengthy hiatus with a new lineup and an album that was solid, but paled in comparison to their first 3 albums. They are now back with their fifth album Heartworms and as you may be able to tell from the crazy (and awesome) album art, it’s a little all over the place but still pretty cool. These songs may not be “Sleeping Lessons” or “New Slang” but this album shows two things: James Me
Frank Ocean Chanel
This week Frank Ocean delivered some of the most beautiful product placement I’ve ever heard. The chorus is “I see both sides like Chanel,” and afterwards Chanel shared mysterious ads referencing frank and the song. Later on Frank talks about Amex and Mastercards and Delta gift cards, which is not especially out of the ordinary since this whole song is kind of braggadocios, but it feels kind of weird listing brands in your song. Product placement aside this song is lovely, Frank’s vocals drive this song over a piano and drum beat as he “sees both sides” perhaps referring to bisexuality, the different worlds he’s a part of, or just seeing two sides to different situations. This is the first song we’ve gotten from Frank since last year’s Blond, and it’s nice to know that we won’t have to wait 5 years for new music from him again.
In 2013 Lorde debuted with her album Pure Heroin, and not only was she impressive in the fact that she was a 17 year old who wrote and produced a fantastic album when most pop stars need a bevy of writers and producers to accomplish that. However, her hit single “Royals” criticized the wealth obsessed American culture and then I see her hanging out with Taylor Swift, who is basically an embodiment of that culture. Lorde’s first new single “Green Light” was solid, but underwhelming. She’s teamed up with Fun. and Bleachers’ Jack Antanoff so her songs sound great, and she premiered “Liability” on SNL while Jack played piano and she wore a wedding dress while singing. This was a beautiful and vulnerable moment, singing about how she’s “A little much” for everyone, it felt very genuine. However, with the cliche girl-being-jealous-of-guy-and-his-new-girl and this song about her eccentricities scaring people away, I fear she’s headed down a Swiftian path. Lorde was so cool because she exposed us to a pocket of New Zealand’s youth culture that didn’t give a shit about the bullshit we care about, and now I feel like she’s been seduced by that culture and is now turning into a cliche pop singer who sings about boys. Hopefully I will be proven wrong by this upcoming album. Melodrama comes out June 16th on Virgin Records. I am Lorde Ya Ya Ya.