Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Last Week's Listens: José González and Gojira

Over the past week,  I've found myself listening repeatedly to two new singles from two very different--but equally impressive--artists, José González and Gojira.

González, the Argentinian-Swedish indie folk musician, returned with his first new single in several years, (and his first in Spanish), "El Invento".

González describes "El Invento" as a song he wrote around the birth of his daughter, and one which asks the questions, "...who we are, where we're going, and why?"

Like much of his music, the song is pastoral and introspective, with González' skillfully-plucked acoustic guitar playing to delicately spoken vocals.  It's a very poignant and pretty tune that fits right in with much of the artist's previous catalog.  His music always feels calming and complex at the same time.

For me, it brought back memories of seeing him perform live in Chicago back in 2007, and recalling the gentle command he had as a solo performer (You can read my concert review here).

Watch the video for "El Invento" below:

And then...

On the polar opposite side of the musical spectrum, we have the explosive, flying whale-of-a-single from French metal masters, Gojira, called "Born For One Thing".

Gojira have rightfully earned a reputation for effortlessly blending elements of technical, death and thrash metal into a heavy groove.  Having seen them live in 2019, I can attest that Gojira is a band that somehow sounds even heavier and more dialed-in in concert.  

The new single, "Born For One Thing", which dropped last week, has been met with much enthusiasm from fans new and old.  It finds the band picking up where they left off with 2016's crossover success story, Magma.  While some dyed-in-the-wool fans from the band's early days may have feared Magma was veering into mainstream territory, there's no denying the latest single finds the band still in their prime.  

"Born For One Thing" starts with that trademark Gojira build-up before crashing down into intense riffs with surgical precision.  Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier have an inherent way of clicking together on guitar and drums, respectively, like conjoined twins sharing one musical brain.

Even if metal isn't your thing, I recommend giving Gojira a listen, as they remain one of the tightest, heaviest and most consistent bands in the genre today.

Gojira's forthcoming album, Fortitude, will be released on April 30th, 2021.  Listen to "Born for One Thing" below:

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Doves - 'Catch the Sun'

Ever have that song which is such a big part of the personal soundtrack of your life; but then, with no warning, it inexplicably fades into your subconscious?  

Up and until that juncture, you may have played the song several times a day for weeks at a time;  you may have even put it on a couple of mix CD-Rs or MP3 compilations that you handed out to others.  Then, for reasons you're not quite certain of, the song faded into personal obscurity, just like the vivid dream you can no longer remember the details of five minutes after you wake up.  

'Catch the Sun' by Doves is my very own sonic feverdream.  When I was in college, I discovered the British band by listening incessantly to the now-defunct XM Radio Station Ethel.  Ethel was a station that broadcast a perfect blend of Britpop-inspired alternative rock, along with the proto-indie rock native to the aughts.  Ethel introduced me to other solid Britrock bands like Ash and Catherine Wheel, yet, unlike Doves, those bands never left my immediate awareness.  

During 'Catch the Sun's' prime on my personal playlist, I distinctly remember queueing the track on my headphones as I made the quarter-mile trek from my residence to the lecture halls on central campus. I found it subtly uplifting and stirring.  If I was in an anxious mood as I readied myself to be in the same room as fifty other high strung university students, 'Catch the Sun's'' assured chorus always brought me back to center.   

Then, at some point in approximately 2002, 'Catch the Sun,'--and the rest of Doves' repertoire--slid out of my rotation for reasons unexplained.  Maybe it was because Ethel stopped playing them on the radio?  Or maybe I was distracted by another shiny, musical object? 

Earlier this evening, I was cooking Sunday dinner while listening to the Indie 1.0 station on the since-rebranded SiriusXM.  (Indie 1.0 is the spiritual successor to Ethel).  Lo and behold, Indie 1.0 transmitted the opening, but prescient, lyrics to 'Catch the Sun:'  

"Everyday it comes to this / Catch the things you might have missed."  

At that moment I couldn't help but thinking my life had suddenly come full circle.  And I felt like I had been reunited with an old friend I didn't realize how much I missed or needed.

Stream 'Catch the Sun' by Doves in the music player below:

Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - 'Sacred Safe'

For those of you who don't mind a little Brazilian-styled rhythms intermixed with Lupe Fiasco-esque smooth beats, than 'Sacred Safe' may be just the song for you.  

'Sacred Safe' is hypnotizing and transformational. It is sonic quicksand, methodically sucking its listener into soundspaces that are neither here nor there.   Indeed, for those of you who listen to the "lo-fi" study radio station on YouTube--the one with the looping animation featuring the headphoned girl and the cat--you will feel right at home when you listen to this one.  

You can stream the video to 'Sacred Safe' by Quelle Chris and Chris Keys below:

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Guilty Pleasures (Valentine's Edition): Dino - 'Romeo'

 Happy Valentine's Day, fellow music lovers.

It's hard to believe I've never posted about Dino before, but it seemed appropriate to wait until V-Day to drop his 1990 cheesefest, "Romeo" on you.

I first heard Dino in my favorite 1992 Rodney Dangerfield/Jonathan Brandis cross-dressing soccer comedy, Ladybugs, in which his song, "Summergirls" was used.

Dino, AKA Dean Esposito, was a Top 40 DJ who took a turn at singing with the group, Esquire, in the '80s before going solo in '89 with his first album, 24/7.  The album also featured the single, "I Like It".  

The same year, Dino got booked as an opening act for the insanely popular New Kids on the Block tour.

In 1990, Dino returned with his sophomore album, Swingin', which featured today's song du jour, "Romeo".

"Romeo" shot its way to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year, due to a sugary sweet pop chorus and, yep, a guest rap by Doctor Ice (of UTFO).

With a healthy dose of New Jack Swing and freestyle dance, "Romeo" was destined to break some hearts while tearing up the charts.  

The music video is a pretty incredible historical document of the culture of 1990, as well.  

With fashion choices nothing short of colorful, Dino alternates between a mustardy sport jacket and a white tee emblazoned with the slogan, "My Race is Human", as he serenades our souls.

Enthusiastic backup dancers bounce in and out of frame like over-caffeinated extras at the Peach Pit on Beverly Hills 90210, cementing the video's place in the annals of pop history.  

Whether you're feeling hopelessly romantic or just a little '90s nostalgic this V-Day, take a page from the Dino, the master of smooth:

"I'll be your Romeo, I love you so, I can't let go... of these feelings in my heart!"


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Steven Wilson - 'SELF'

Steven Wilson, the prolific and multi-talented British musician and songwriter, returned this past month with his latest solo album, The Future Bites.

Wilson is best known as the frontman for the contemporary prog-rock band, Porcupine Tree--a group that amassed ten albums and another seven EPs over a twenty year span.  

I first heard Porcupine Tree more than a decade into their career with the release of 2002's remarkable commercial breakthrough, In Absentia.  The single "Trains" from that album is still a favorite of mine, and is a great entry point for new listeners.  Porcupine Tree's follow up album, Deadwing, was an equally impressive effort, combining Pop songwriting sensibilities with complex Prog and Metal arrangements.

Wilson has also recorded six of his own solo albums, in addition to working with several other bands and remix projects.  On 2021's The Future Bites, Wilson finds himself immersed in electronic music more than ever, with songs making digs at consumerism and critiquing the effects of a technological society on our personal psyches.

His latest single, "SELF", is a great example of just that.  The music video uses deepfake technology to alter Wilson's appearance, morphing him into various celebrities. The album's slinky electo-funk recalls Young Americans-era Bowie for me, at times.

The video can best be summed up by the artist's own words, taken from the description on his official YouTube video, shared below:

"SELF is about our new age of narcissism and self-obsession, one in which a human race that used to look out with curiosity at the world and the stars now spends much of its time gazing at a little screen to see themselves reflected back in the mirror of social media. In that sense everyone now can take part in the notion of celebrity, and has the potential to share their life with an invisible mass of people they will never meet. The video takes things further by exploring the idea that anyone can now project a version or “self” that has no bearing on reality, and by using only well known faces the deception is made transparent." - Steven Wilson

Steven...have you been binge-watching Black Mirror again?

Additionally, the video's director, Miles Skarin commented on his work in regards to creating deepfakes, saying, "Anyone with the right tools and ability can now turn themselves into anyone else, so what does that mean for identity?"

Watch the video for Steven Wilson's "SELF" below:

If you enjoyed that, I also recommend watching Wilson's music video for "Personal Shopper" off The Future Bites.

You can learn more and order the full album by visiting Steven Wilson's Official Website.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

The Blue Stones + A Requiem for Live Music

For some, tomorrow is another Super Bowl Sunday.  For me, it's the one-year anniversary of the last time I experienced live music in person.

February 7th, 2020 seems so long ago.  It was a cold night in Des Moines, Iowa--as it typically is this time of year (it's currently 3°F as I type this)--but inside the Vaudeville Mews, things were heating up.  

Ontario rock duo, The Blue Stones, had taken the stage of the independent venue and were busy melting my winter blues away.  

I'd only recently become aware of the Canadian band's music--a hard-hitting blend of alternative blues-rock someplace in the musical ether between guitar/drum acts like the Black Keys and Royal Blood.  Hearing their latest single, "Shakin' Off the Rust", I instantly found myself pulled in to their sound.

I'd invited fellow Lonely Noter, Steve, to join me for the show--which was only a week or so into the band's US tour--but he unfortunately found himself under the weather that night, so a coworker joined my wife and me at the last minute.

This was, of course, several weeks before COVID-19 shut down live music as we know it.  But on that evening, fans were packed together shoulder to shoulder in the narrow club, singing and cheering (yes, prior to masks) along to songs like, "Rolling With the Punches" and "Black Holes (Solid Ground)".  The term Coronavirus had been around in the news for weeks, but we still didn't know just how quickly our world would change.

The Blue Stones, also known as singer-guitarist Tarek Jafar and drummer Justin Tessier, rocketed through a tight set of crunchy, psychedelic guitar riffs and catchy pop hooks.  The two didn't waste any time working up a sweat under the lights of the tiny stage.  

They used the night to play much of their 2018 album, Black Holes, while teasing several new songs, including "Grim", which hit home that evening with the lyrics, "Am I dreaming or am I awake? 'Cause it's just too good".  

After the show, we met the band up on the balcony of the Mews, and both members graciously signed the record I'd just bought on the spot and posed for a photo with us.  And then we departed, not realizing that was the last concert we'd see for the rest of the year.   A few more shows down the road and the Blue Stones would have to cancel the remainder of their tour.

Fortunately, the band has turned a rotten situation into a productive year.  From their impressive Live on Display livestream to the recent news of their sophomore album, Hidden Gems, dropping March 2021, there's been plenty to keep fans listening.  

You can listen to their latest single, "Spirit" in the YouTube clip at the bottom of this post.

The Vaudeville Mews has since announced its permanent closure--another victim of a tragic year.  Taking to social media, the venue owners bid farewell to the many fans who'd crammed inside its walls for the past 18 years. It was one of the first, and few, local venues where a fledgling band could find a gig--and where you could stumble in to find live music nearly every night of every week. 
The Mews hosted everything from folk and indie rock to death metal, and was dedicated to pushing Des Moines' music scene forward.

Bands who'd previously bypassed the city (or state as a whole) began stopping through on treks between Chicago and Denver or Minneapolis and St. Louis.  The departure of the Mews is a loss for the local music community as a whole, and it's sadly just one of the thousands of live venues across the country who have suffered this past year.

Of all of the things I've missed over the past year, live music is right at the top of the list.  But with vaccines slowly rolling out and warmer weather around the corner, I'm feeling a sense of optimism that a finish line is somewhere off in the distance. 

The new normal may not come to a close anytime soon, but someday in the future we are going to stand together in a crowd, and a band will be loudly pouring their hearts out to us, and we will be singing the words right back at them, and it is going to be worth it.  And we won't be dreaming.

For more on The Blue Stones, visit the band's website and purchase their music!

RIP Vaudeville Mews (photos from venue's Facebook page)