Archive for January, 2021


Colors and Brass…

A band steps on stage with a brass section, or simply a trumpet or saxophone, my excitement jumps. They jazz things up, fill the sound with a whole new energy, and guarantee this act is about to smoke.

The once glorious multi-player act Typhoon leaned heavily on brass for emotional theatrics. This made their sound and drew me in. Then, this 10 plus member band shrunk. Suddenly the brass was missing from their subsequent albums. It made their sound fall flat, I no longer cared. So what happens to a great act when an eight sibling brass ensemble inject their pizazz into an already classic?

Black Pumas join the Spotify Singles canon with “Colors” and their reinterpretation of Rodriguez’s “Sugar Man”. Their original “Colors” is given an extra strut, a formidable bounce, and a whole new reason to be sucked back into this Austin duo’s timeless sound thanks to Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

Pumas’ frontman Eric Burton on this octet’s brilliant arrangement:

“I was floored to see someone take something so specific to me and unapologetically integrate an eclectic blend of hip hop, jazz, and funk to speak their piece.”

Spotify is winning. The exclusivity thing used to rub me the wrong way. Make your art available for all, though times are not what they were. Music is a business. If you want to draw in more customers, produce a product that gives your users a value add. Sure, the other streaming platforms have a similar record collection to Spotify and the differences are negligible. But their Spotify Singles collection brings a unique dynamic to my digital record collection. The Pumas join acts like LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Carly Rae, and Leon Bridges for an exclusive collection that further proves Spotify is the best streaming option.


Radio 4’s Dance to the Underground…

If “dance” is in the title of your song, it best make good on its promise. In the early 00s, many NYC-based bands wanted you to move. Dance-punk, post post-punk, indie-dance, whatever silly label you were given, your mission was to bring a sound to your listeners and make them lose all inhibitions. Or shake somewhat. Radio 4, a trio of Brooklynites, met you in the middle with their politically charged high energy rock on their concise, yet excellent 2001 EP Dance to the Underground.

An act proclaiming their sound is “Made in New York, is about New York, and sounds like New York.” Radio 4 came up when every other NYC band I still listen to landed on the scene. Their point of origin was reason enough to listen, this city equaled instant credibility.

Razor-sharp basslines, shimmering guitars, mechanized-like drumming, and adrenaline will always hook me. The formula is simple, it’s the execution that matters. With syncopated vocals and an asphyxiating tight rhythm section, they made me stop and take notice. And then immediately move, perhaps dance, to this infectious sound.

When I stumbled upon this band, they were criticized for being derivative of great British acts. Acts like The Fall, Gang of Four, and The Clash. I was ignorant to those acts though. Yes, I was aware of the names, but it stopped there. If you tried to sell me on an act that was heavily influenced by bands I continue to share here, the expectations would be high. So I understand why critics attacked this Brooklyn trio for their lack of originality. This is the beauty of art, there isn’t a right or wrong way to interpret it. What they created and shared was a sound I craved.

We’re all influenced by someone or something. There is no shame in admiring and acquiring. It’s been a minute since this was the hot sound, jump back into this great era with 15 minutes of dance music.


Dan Deacon’s Take on For Sure…

Sometimes a great song doesn’t last long enough. It only blasts off once. This is where the remix, where the best parts of the original are kept intact, and maybe even used over and over again, become potentially better than what we first experienced. The synth maestros Future Islands brought their former roommate, and Baltimore neighbor Dan Deacon along for a remix of “For Sure”. The original is upbeat, full of percolating synths, a joyful shimmer, and erupts in an explosion of color. It’s what I ask of Future Islands, and though formulaic, it’s a sound that moves me.

If the original is too short, and the remix is glorious, don’t give me the edit. I want the nine plus minute version. Deacon delivers. He pulls Herring’s deep soulful voice to the forefront as he adds piano, strings, and an engaging electronic signature that makes this charge. The extended versions are what I want. Give me a chance to feel the music, get into that groove, and become lost in the sound. The added textures crank the intensity and emotions into overdrive.

Dan Deacon on how this potential Top 100 track of 2021 came to be:

“When the guys released ‘For Sure’, it really brought me back to memories of when we lived together and I could hear them practicing in the basement. “I kept listening to it over and over and wanted to hear it ‘more’, if that makes sense. I wanted to hear the individual parts, and I wanted to hang out with them and interact with them. “When I got the stems I didn’t really have a plan for the remix other than I wanted to hear Sam’s voice with piano and strings, and it just started growing from there in an organic way. It was a comforting project that brought me close to people I love and missed very much.


Nick Waterhouse’s Place Names…

The dapper, let’s resurrect a sound from yesteryear soulman Nick Waterhouse is giving us another reason to celebrate 2021: his new record Promenade Blue. A collection of 13 new songs, including lead single “Place Names” from the California vibes virtuoso. Nick lit our home dance floors up with his 2020 Happy Hour mixes. I’m confident this record will be reminiscent of that engaging and smoking sound.

Waterhouse has given me credibility in front of women. It’s a hip sound, one that is feel good, causes you to get up and burn. Two weeks into dating my now wife, while artfully grinding away in a basement bar, I introduced her to Nick. After sweaty soul throwbacks like The Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” and Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” the Mile High Soul Club DJs interspersed a Waterhouse cut amongst the 50 plus year old 45s. Off his excellent Time’s All Gone record lurks the scorching and sure to make you swing “If You Want Trouble”. As the song is coming to a loud and riveting finale with sax a blazing, the lyrics fade out and there is a sudden halt; to the uninitiated, the song must be over and any dancing should cease. I knew better and was ready. The second the beat exploded back, my date was forced to back peddle and then jerked forward as I explosively raised her arm for a twirl as I stepped forward and pulled her in for a kiss.

After we wore ourselves out from moving and shaking, she asked who the artist was that caused me to come alive and unveil my formidable moves.

An increase in this man’s discography is always a welcome addition to my arsenal of family-approved dinnertime listening. His latest single finds him walking the streets of San Francisco and wondering how life has evolved. Introspection melds perfectly with telling strings, expertly placed female vocals, and a sound imagined for a citywide tour, where the locale is irrelevant, it’s what you make of the journey that matters.

Nick’s press release:

Nick Waterhouse takes the color blue as his hue of choice as he takes a spiritual look to the past on new album Promenade Blue due out April 9 on Innovative Leisure.

The new collection sparkles beatifically, reverberating with energy, heart, creativity, and vibe from start to finish. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s opening track, “Place Names,” bringing teenaged memories to the forefront, pondering the pride he takes in his hometown and the distinct life that he has made (or that has made him). A soulful, sweeping arrangement punctuated with Girl Group backing vocals, “Place Names” which would find itself at home in a vibrant New Orlean’s club or alongside contemporaries Marlon Williams and The Budos Band.


Gabriel Rios’ Mujer Divina…

Artists routinely look back on their upbringing and credit the music their parents played. What was consistently spun around the house impacted them. It’s fascinating to me when musicians credit their parents’ record collection for influencing them to become the artist they are today. This gives me hope that with the right nurturing, my children can have rad taste, too. Or at least appreciate the sound I routinely filled the house with.

Belgium’s by way of Puerto Rico Gabriel Rios wants to pay homage. He wants to thank his grandfather and father for the influences their listening had upon him. On his upcoming record, Flore, it’s a deep dive into his ancestors’ record collection. On “Mujer Divina”, he is recycling the Joe Cuba Sextet’s 1965 slow-burner of a salsa ballad through his own eyes. His feather weight vocals accentuate the haunting tone throughout, it’s an aura not out of place in a Tim Burton film. It’s gripping, symphonic, and a beautiful ode to his divine woman.

My initial introduction to Rios was via his poppy, ADD-like “Broad Daylight”; a rhythmic explosion full of positive vibes, young voices interspersed with female harmonies; and one of the first songs I deemed worthy of sharing here. This latest release flips the script and sucks you into the vortex of the period this album was birthed from: the global pandemic. But if the original composition, which Rios lyrically stays true to is any indication, all is right in the world with the right woman by your side.

Every week my Release Radar is refreshed, it’s been diversified thanks to my listening habits over the years. A name I know, though not an artist I’m well versed in shows his face. Gabriel Rios has been vetted and played enough to be worthy of a share a decade and a half after his “Broad Daylight” debuted here. Spotify’s aural nudge continues to assure that my listening habits do not stay the same.


Can’t Sit IDLE(S)…

Sometimes I want chaos in my music. I want frenetic, can’t even begin to keep up with instrumentation. The lyrics aren’t what usually incite a riot within my house, it’s the explosive sound a quintet of loud and proud punks create. But upon a second listen, the constant chaos we live in is brought front and center. Bristol’s IDLES, a quintet of brave rabble rousers are blowing up my speakers as they grab me by the neck and slap me across the face with their message. It’s a musical wake-up call.

IDLES have crafted rallying cries in the form of highly charged rockets fueled by a massive sound. When their 2020 record Ultra Mono debuted in September, its face seemed to be all over the channels I follow. The hype intrigued me. After an initial listen, I dismissed it; I couldn’t connect with it, it was too punky, sounded too angry. Sure, I might appear to love this formula; some acts have been grandfathered into my listening canon due to our longevity together. Loud and riotous acts aren’t what I actively seek out today.

But these times continue to be unprecedented. No topic is too taboo on this record. Insightful and passionate throughout, comically absurd at other moments. A formidable energy coursing through all 12 tracks. Not too aggressive, not too brash. Politically charged with unlimited ammunition ready to penetrate through the minds and bodies of the unjust. It’s a sound not all can stomach, can’t begin to even hear for a second. But if social change can happen through music – and we know it can – IDLES are storming the gates of change and though only a mass of five, are an imprenatable army ready to take on all. Plug in, turn it up, and let’s rage.


Derrick Wants You to come on home…

Sometimes I wonder why this needed a remix. A 35 year old track is most likely crotchety by now, stuck in its ways, and would rather you leave it alone than try to get it up and moving again. Just last month, seven club-heavy remixes debuted of Fine Young Cannibals tracks. With six different reinterpretations of “She Drives Me Crazy” by various producers and one version of “Johnny Come Home” by Chicago house legend Derrick Carter. Like you, I want to take it into the dark and smoky club too to find catharsis through loud, overbearing dance music; it’s inevitable we will lose any and all inhibitions. But due to ignorance, I immediately questioned the validity and timing of this collection.

The original FYC track was fire, it made you jump up, strut and let loose. Even covers that stayed within the realm of the original were perfectly acceptable. But hey, Fine Young Cannibals’ eponymous debut was remastered and reissued with an expansive collection of goods. Including an extended mix of “Johnny Come Home”, amongst 36 other pieces of greatness.

My Release Radar included Carter’s remix. Thankfully I was curious enough to ask why. With a few seconds of research, I stumble upon this excellent remaster. This reissue didn’t make waves on the channels I follow. Again the Release Radar keeps me in the know. Dive head first into the sophisticated sounds this English trio has timelessly brought back to our attention…


The Year of the Band Shirt…

I stopped buying band shirts years back. At one point they were braggadocio, I was way more hip than you were; other times they served a purpose: an additional tee in my clothes arsenal. Some had a great combination of color and unique images. Others existed solely as a walking marketing strategy. Which is brilliant, because it’s not abnormal for some acts to be making a TV appearance or gracing a stage in front of 10s of thousands of fans and wearing a small, obscure band t-shirt. 2020 didn’t provide many stadium shows or TV appearances though..

I knew bands were struggling without touring. Our support for artists was vital. Music is an integral part of our lives, and if artists we love cease creating art, that support system I find in music dries up. To keep the acts we love afloat, I felt it was our duty to purchase that vinyl, snag that virtual ticket, and cop whatever they were selling.

The functional part of the shirt was an afterthought. My primary objective in purchasing a new tee was to show my monetary support for what they do. If the shirt fit, great, a bonus; though if I ordered the wrong size, or if the t-shirt was nowhere near as hip as it appeared online, I would have still been satisfied. Anything helps during these troubled times. Which makes me smile because the last band shirt I did purchase was at a venue after one of the better live bands of our time performed.

The purchase was one of self-interest. I wanted to boast to all within my proximity how rad this act was. The shirt had to fit well and look great on me. I was strategic in joining the queue to the merch table – I was going to be the last fan because I was undecided on which shirt to purchase. “Excuse me, do you mind if I try on a few shirts,” I asked the front man. Where on stage he’s a live wire, without his guitar and backing army, he’s shy and soft spoken. His body language was indifferent to my request and he obliged with a head nod. From afar stood my two friends, both previous girlfriends, laughing and having fun at my expense as shirts went on and off as effortlessly as they once did for them. Once I gained approval from my previous female fans, and was satisfied with its aesthetic on me, I added this to my collection.

The angst-ridden 90s spawned Local H’s “Fuck You” t-shirt. The front had their logo and the reverse stated this infamous phrase across the shoulder blade. When sElf unleashed their toy happy Gizmodgery record on us in 2001, they created t-shirts modeled off songs on the record. “Trunk Fulla Amps” inevitably received the t-shirt treatment. The refrain of “mother fucker” made that song for many a casual fan and also made for a unique, defiant t-shirt. Where today’s were deserving of similar language due to the year we all experienced, I opted for shirts tailored for the park and shopping at Target.

When Hawksley turned his cute, D.I.Y. introduction to Hawksley Night in Canada into a tee, I said, Sign me up. When Soulwax reissued their 2002 shirt stating it exactly how it is, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation. And when Chicago’s rip-raging quartet Triple Fast Action re-issued their expansive sophomore record Cattlemen Don’t, and offered a vinyl/t-shirt combo, I had to. This past year has us music lovers rethinking what a 21st Century listener looks like.

Personally, I can’t be a passive fan anymore. Streaming, while convenient for me, isn’t conducive to sustainability for the acts we spin consistently. They’ve given us so much. Those acts deserve our support, and if that means I’m accumulating more shirts than I need, sign me up.

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January 2021