Monday, January 25, 2021

Mayer Hawthorne's Rare Changes

Of all the music I listened to in 2020, it's probable that no other artist played as frequently as Mayer Hawthorne.

I'd been a casual fan of Hawthorne's retro-soul for a number of years (Steve blogged about him briefly back in 2013), but it wasn't until he began dropping one-off singles last year that I really got hooked.  

When the single, "M.O." was released last February, it instantly became a part of my regular rotation, and I found myself combing through his back catalog more than I ever had before, including his previous solo albums and work with his disco-funk duo, Tuxedo.

After "M.O." became my go-to, I realized that Hawthorne had already been teasing new music one song at a time for the prior 6 months.  Whether on the Prince-like funk of "Over", or on the sexy Marvin Gaye energy of "Healing", Hawthorne has a gift for putting a modern spin on classic R&B music.

All of the songs have a delightfully nerdy, blue-eyed neo soul vibe, but Hawthorne's falsetto and abilities as a musician and producer sell the authenticity. 

During quarantine, Hawthorne began hosting a weekly Thursday night Wine & Vinyl Hour livestream, where he'd pull records from his massive collection to play for fans.  His depth of appreciation for classic and obscure music really came through during these livestreams, which also gave some insight into his musical inspirations.

In the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic last summer, Hawthorne released the single, "Rare Changes", which he dedicated " the brave people of planet earth who are holding hands and fighting for the rare changes".  He acknowledged that the song was written pre-Covid but felt the message became more important than he'd realized at the time.

Fans, including yours truly, were wondering when any of the eight great singles Hawthorne had released online would eventually find their way to a physical medium.  In December 2020, 1-1/2 years after first teasing new music, Hawthorne released the Rare Changes LP on CD and vinyl formats.  

The album is a collection of 9 tracks, with only the short "Intro" track featuring previously unreleased music.  The entire album clocks in at under half an hour, but for those fans who'd waited patiently, it's exactly what we wanted. There's no filler here--every song is fleshed out and feels cohesive as a compilation.

Rare Changes easily ranks as one of my favorite albums of 2020.  To order a copy for yourself, visit:

Watch the recently-released video for the title track single, "Rare Changes" below:

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Avalanches - 'Reflecting Light'

Aussie electronic duo, The Avalanches, released one of the past year's most eclectic and ambitious albums with We Will Always Love You.

The album is a dense mix of samples and original instrumentation, featuring a diverse range of guest performers, from Leon Bridges and MGMT to Tricky and Rivers Cuomo.

The album's 25 tracks are packed to the brim with short interludes and fully-formed cosmic pop songs.

An early standout for me is the song, "Reflecting Light", featuring vocals from Sananda Maitreya--formerly known as '80s hitmaker Terence Trent D'Arby (remember "Wishing Well"?).

The track also samples British folk singer Vashti Bunyan's stunningly delicate 1970 song, "Glow Worms".

"Reflecting Light" is a lush and achingly soulful song, accented by Maitreya's emotional vocal delivery, and interspersed with abrupt whistle stops.

The Avalanches printed an extremely limited run (12 copies) of the single on 7" X-ray film, as a tribute to the "bone records" of the Soviet era--a process where banned records from the western world were cut onto x-ray film and smuggled into the USSR, so as to avoid being caught by customs officials.

The X-ray pressing of "Reflecting Light" showed the dislocated fingers of skateboarding hero Tony Hawk, and Hawk himself gave away a copy for a fundraiser.

Listen to "Reflecting Light" in the YouTube clip below:

To listen to the original Vashti Bunyan song, "Glow Worms", sampled by the Avalanches, Click Here.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Sylvan Esso - 'Ferris Wheel'

Grammy-nominated Indie-pop duo, Sylvan Esso, returned in 2020 with their third full-length album, Free Love.

Elements of folk, indie-pop and electronica are continually front and center in the group's music, as highlighted in the single, "Ferris Wheel".

Allmusic's James Monger described the album as " music for introverts", which is pretty spot-on.  There's something charmingly awkward and genuine in the songs here.

The video for "Ferris Wheel" finds singer-songwriter Amelia Meath at a carnival, dancing in a variety of outfits in front of--you guessed it--a giant ferris wheel.  It's a video full of fireworks and glitter and neon and the sweat of summer at the amusement park. 

The lyrical content is fairly straightforward, but the coming-of-age nostalgia for simpler times resonates strongly in a year when everything has been anything but simple.

"When I'm slamming in my dancing shoes, Asphalt's hot, and my knees all bruised, It's the summer got a lot to prove, Can't wait to do it can you? (No!)"

Watch the video for Sylvan Esso's "Ferris Wheel" below:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Yves Tumor - 'Gospel for a New Century'

What do you get when you put Prince, Throbbing Gristle and Tim Curry's demonic character from Legend into a blender?  

Well, perhaps it would resemble something like this music video from breakout avant-garde pop artist, Yves Tumor?

Tumor's 2020 album, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, has achieved critical acclaim for its genre-bending intensity that's equal parts abstract and commercial.

Album opener, "Gospel for a New Century," comes out swinging with a seductive swagger that's both sexy and dirty--recalling the taboo attraction of early Rock n' Roll.  

The song's best summed up by the lyric, "This ain't by design, girl, take it softer, You know I'm out my mind girl, don't make this harder".

As the song's title suggests, Tumor renews the rockstar archetype for the 21st century with a chameleonic persona that's glamorous, vogue, soulful, charismatic, and a bit scary.

Listen to the song below, or link to the (probably NSFW) music video for "Gospel for a New Century":

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pom Poko - 'Like a Lady'

Pom Poko is an idiosyncratic outfit hailing from Norway.  Their debut album, Birthday, was previously nominated for the Nordic Music Prize and two Norwegian Grammy Awards.

'Like a Lady' is the second track on the band's latest offering, Cheater, which just dropped last week.  

Comparisons to fellow Scandinavian rocker Bjork are all too easy, yet unavoidable.  Lead singer Ragnhild Jamtveit's vocals are just as loveable and quirky as her Icelandic predecessor, while fused with catchy, grungy guitar that propel 'Like a Lady' into modern indie rock territory.   

You can stream 'Like a Lady' in the audio-only player below:

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Nine Inch Nails - 'Cursed Clock'

In recent years, Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have mastered the fragile art of ambient sound.  Notably, the duo have contributed to soundtracks for The Social Network and HBO's Watchmen, among other features.  

Now, ambient music can be tricky.  On the one hand, by its very nature, the genre must blend itself within the world or atmosphere it occupies.  On the other, it cannot be so bland that it is dead upon arrival and easily forgotten, even when it is playing (See muzak).  

The opening track from Ghosts VI - Locusts, 'Cursed Clock,' is enriching, yearning, pleading, and splendidly layered.  No sound or note goes wasted.  It is an audial demonstration of the tension between the persistence of time and the human psyche's capacity for monotony, amidst a global pandemic in which the world has come to a halt, while every single day seamlessly melds into the next without demarcation.  (Damn that cursed clock!).  

You can stream the audio to 'Cursed Clock' by Nine Inch Nails in the video player below:

Monday, January 04, 2021

Side Hustle: Greg Puciato and Chino Moreno

Deftones' brilliant 2020 album, Ohms, was easily one of my favorite albums of the year--and likely my favorite from the band in the 20 years since 2000's White Pony (which also received an anniversary re-release and remix album, Black Stallion, this year)

The past year, despite a global pandemic, has proved to be a productive one for singer Chino Moreno.  

Moreno's synthy side project with Far's Shaun Lopez, ††† (Crosses), just released their latest single, "The Beginning of the End" last week.

The track marks the first single since †††'s self-titled 2014 LP.  The group's sound has always leaned more towards dreamy downbeats and melody than either of the two artists' respective Alt-Metal bands.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who's followed Moreno's long career, as he's always worn his '80s influences on his sleeve:  The Cure, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Duran Duran, etc...

As such, it also shouldn't be too shocking that the new single isn't an original tune, but a true-to-form cover of a 1992 electropop tune by Cause and Effect.

You can stream "Beginning of the End" below:

While Chino's side projects have always caught my attention, I'll admit that I was not expecting the latest solo album from former Dillinger Escape Plan frontman, Greg Puciato.

Dillinger earned a reputation through their relentless barrage of technically precise hardcore metal and wildly intense stage performances.  Frontman Puciato has been known to breathe fire, bleed from his head and destroy equipment onstage during the band's crazy live shows that have developed a legendary status.

Puciato has also proved to have had an incredibly prolific year.  

His "other band", metal supergroup Killer Be Killed includes Soulfly/Sepultura's Max Cavalera, Mastadon's Troy Sanders, and Converge's Ben Koller.  Killer Be Killed released their aggressive new album, Reluctant Hero, in 2020--which is also recommended listening if you're looking for something heavy.

When my metalhead friend, Brad, recently recommended I check out Puciato's new 2020 solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God,  I was quite surprised to find an album packed with melodic electronic rock.

Child Soldier finds Puciato stretching his wings and blending genres throughout its 15 tracks.  On standout songs like, "Temporary Object" and "A Pair of Questions", Puciato's Dillinger roots are nowhere to be found, swapped out for catchy synthpop and darkwave influences.  

On "Evacuation", Puciato mixes melodic singing with snarls and screams for a heavy industrial rock mix that feels like it could have been written by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor.

In a lesser artist's hands, this drastic shift in musical styles could be a huge flop, and alienate longtime fans, but Puciato's earnest approach feels sincere in his influences and successfully comes off as an engaging and collected experience--in the same vein of the aforementioned †††.  

I've since gone backwards and become more familiar with Puciato's other project, The Black Queen, which is also much more in the synth-rock vein, and worth visiting if you enjoy his solo album.

As a fan of both New Wave and Metal, I'm all for more experimental crossover albums from the metal community.  If you are, too, I'd highly recommend taking both Chino Moreno and Greg Puciato's side projects for a spin.

Watch the live video for Greg Puciato's "Evacuation" below:

Missed Connection: Kerbdog

The mid-90s (AKA: my formative years) was a time period ripe with angst and unapologetically flooded with alt-rock bands.  It was a strange time--sandwiched between Grunge and Nu-Metal--where a diverse range of sounds were all competing to be the next big thing.

My local alternative station, 107.5 ("The Dot"), was always the place I'd turn my radio dial for the latest music.  Not all of it was up my alley, or even destined for greatness, but the station wasn't afraid to play some weird stuff, which really opened my ears to a whole new world of music.  

Seemingly overnight, the station switched formats, and those of us tuning in to hear the latest from Veruca Salt or Harvey Danger, were instead met unexpectedly with new bubblegum Pop artists like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.  It was truly the end of an era, though it didn't stop my affinity for Rock.

Here's a 107dot5 Spotify playlist I've pieced together from memory in remembrance of the station.

Of course, as I've often pointed out in my blog posts, a lot of great bands still flew under the radar, and I love rediscovering bands I missed the first time around.

Another such band was Kilkenny, Ireland's Kerbdog.

Formed in 1991, Kerbdog merged elements of alternative/college rock and metal for a sound that was both edgy and melodic.  

While stateside radio stations were obsessing over The Cranberries, fellow Irish bands like Kerbdog and Therapy? were busy cranking out the riffs.

Kerbdog was pursued by at least 22 labels, and was signed to Mercury records in 1993.

Kerbdog's sophomore album, On The Turn, was released in 1997 and featured the singles "Sally", "JJ's Song", and "Mexican Wave".   Unfortunately, the singles failed to catch a mainstream audience, and the band was shifted around during record company buyouts before being dropped entirely.  About a year later, without a label, the band split up.  

Two of the members would go on to form a new group, Wilt, for several years.  Kerbdog has since reformed for various one-off performances over the past two decades, although they have not released any new albums.

On The Turn's enduring cult status has been heralded as influential by such bands as Scotland's Biffy Clyro, but is still largely under-appreciated and worth a listen.

Watch the videos for Kerbdog's singles, "Sally" below: