Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
Artist: The New Pornographers
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver,” “The Surprise Knock,” and “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”
I’ve been a longtime fan of The New Pornographers but finding my enthusiasm for the Canadian band dwindling over there past few releases. This new album has everything one would expect of the New Pornographers, the unique mix of power pop and folk rock, harmonies, virtuoso instrumentation, and clever titles. The first three songs on the album are good, but there are no standout gems like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Challengers,” or “Crash Years.” The remainder of the album is just boring. I guess The New Pornographers and I have just drifted apart.
The Monthly Mixtape for May will take you on a journey!
Sarah Pagé :: Ephemeris Data
Kick it off with some experimental harp music.
The Silver Lake Chorus :: Tabu
Follow up with some tight choral harmonies and hot rhythms.
Black Pumas :: Colors
Then slide into some classic psychedelic soul.
Sass :: Spoiled by Rotten
Nex, some aural time travel to 1991.
Sleater-Kinney :: Hurry on Home
And while you’re in the 90s, pick up Sleater-Kinney and bring them to the present to work with St. Vincent!
Is there any great new music I missed along this journey? Let me know in the comments!
Album: The Best of Luck Club
Artist: Alex Lahey
Release Date: May 17, 2019
- I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore
- Am I Doing It Right?
- Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
Do you like 1980s power pop, but want to hear it from a young, contemporary artist? Australia’s Alex Lahey fits the bill on this album that just totally rocks. She even rips out a sax solo on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” A year ago this week, I reviewed an album by Lahey’s fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, which I completely loved, and I feel just as strongly for The Best of Luck Club. Lahey is maybe a bit less edgy musically than Barnett, but her lyrics are empowering and uplifting. And even on the ballads the pair of ballads that close out the album – “Black RMs” and “I Want to Live With You” – Lahey express the contended domesticity of a loving relationship while still being a rock & roller.
Album: Father of the Bride
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Release Date: May 3, 2019
- Hold You Now
- Harmony Hall
- We Belong Together
- Jerusalem, New York, Berlin
I’ve liked Vampire Weekend since I first heard “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” a dozen years ago. But I like them with the uneasiness of a white, preppy dude who grew up in the suburbs and likes the sounds of music of non-Western cultures listening to other white, preppy dudes who grew up in the suburbs incorporate those sounds into their pop music. We’re all probably guilty of some level of cultural appropriation.
The sound on Father of the Bride is more stripped down than preceding Vampire Weekend albums. It’s more of a folk rock sound with a little Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter. The lyrics also show the band in a different place, older and concerned with mortality and an uncertain present. “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die,” bandleader Ezra Koenig sings on “Harmony Hall.” Those are words capture the zeitgeist of the times, and yet are hidden in a sunny pop tune that typifies much of the album.
Album: On the Line
Artist: Jenny Lewis
Release Date: March 22, 2019
- Heads Gonna Roll
- Wasted Youth
- Hollywood Lawn
As a brief prelude to this review, a new album from Jenny Lewis reminded me of how much I liked Rabbit Fur Coat, followed by the stunning realization that the album was released in 2006! I discovered Rabbit Fur Coat at the time when I first started becoming aware of new music through podcasts and streaming services, and now my “new way” of consuming music is rather old at 13.
Okay, onto the actual new album, which is Jenny Lewis’ fourth. The album has a retro-sound reminiscent of 70s sunny California pop. This sound is added by the appearance of veteran musicians like Don Was, Ringo Starr, and Jim Keltner in he backing band. Nevertheless, the sound is still fresh, and the lyrics are anything but frothy. Lewis is primarily a storyteller, telling stories of people desiring escape, lost love, and lots and lots of substance abuse. There’s a lot of humor in her lyrics, but often the humor is a way of revealing deeper pains.
Album: It’s Real
Artist: Ex Hex
Release Date: March 22, 2019
- Tough Enough
- Cosmic Cave
- No Reflection
- Talk to Me
This is the second album (following 2014’s Rips) from the Washington, DC based trio of Mary Timony on guitar, bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris. It’s got a mix of 80s punk and hardrock with touches of power pop and 60s girl groups thrown in. There’s nothing quite original here, but it is a well-crafted collection of raging guitar solos and sweet harmonies.
Album: Crush on Me
Artist: Sir Babygirl
Release Date: February 15, 2019
- Flirting With Her
- Haunted House
- Everyone Is a Bad Friend
The debut album from New Hampshire’s Sir Babygirl features bubblegum pop, dance beats, and glass-shattering vocals belted out by Kelsie Hogue. The lyrics focus on celebrating queer identity and learning to love oneself. It’s a powerful and exuberant collection that shows that bubblegum can have some bite.
Album: Remind Me Tomorrow
Artist: Sharon Van Etten
Release Date: January 18, 2019
- I Told You Everything
- No One’s Easy To Love
- Comeback Kid
- You Shadow
Van Etten’s first album in five years features folk song arrangements over synthesizers with lots of oscallation and distortion. The effect is atmospheric and emotionally piercing, especially the lyrics the focus on surviving trauma, falling in love again, and muddling through the ever-messy present. This is a terrific work that is worth multiple listens.
One final mixtape for 2018, and it’s quite the mix of songs! What are you’re favorite songs the year? I’m working on my year end list and will post it here on December 29th!
Forma Antiqva :: Canarios
Art d’Ecco :: Nobody’s Home
Bee Bee Sea :: Sonic Boomerang
Wafia :: I’m Good
Larkin Poe :: Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues
Three short albums with three short reviews.
Album: A Simple Reflection
Artist: Cold Beat
Release Date: 24 August 2018
- Love is a Stranger
Thoughts: Ethereal vocals over synthpop beats transport the listener back to the 80s. Yes, these are all Eurythmics’ covers.
Release Date: October 26, 2018
- Salt in the Wound
- Ketchum, ID
Thoughts: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus formed a super group but only recorded 6 songs. Strong harmonies and rich instrumentation make one wish for more.
Artist: Aphex Twin
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks: All of them.
Thoughts: Richard D. James mixes blips, whirrs, and beats into an ineffable whole. I really like it and can’t explain why.