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NPRSunday, March 5, 2017
Courtesy of the artist
No matter what the weather might indicate from day to day, spring is just around the corner. The days are getting longer, blossoms are beginning to open up — and, of course, there's a fresh crop of new music waiting to be discovered.
Enter our friendly panel of public-radio hosts, who've selected a smattering of their favorite new tunes to help soundtrack the transition to warmer days. In this edition of Heavy Rotation, hear the latest from Texas-via-Seattle producer Lusine, West Virginia rock 'n' roller William Matheny, rising Chicago rapper Taylor Bennett and more.
Hear Colorado Public Radio's Jessi Whitten, WVPB's Joni Deutsch and Vocalo Radio's Jesse Menendez share their picks at the audio link above, and scroll down for the full list.
Producer Jeff McIlwain, a.k.a. Lusine, defies antiquated expectations of a Texas-raised musician with his sleek, blossoming electronic sounds — there's nary a twang to be heard. His mathematical but melodic songs have a curious, warm quality as he builds intrigue and unique shapes with layers of sound. On his new album, Sensorimotor, McIlwain injects this work with a dose of humanity in the form of multiple collaborations with vocalists. The single "Just A Cloud" showcases the voice of Vilja Larjosto, who brings a feminine pulse to this digitally deconstructed song. The persistent beat mirrors footsteps as the track hums brightly beneath, creating the sensation of a sun-drenched walk in the park. If you're yearning for spring, this song is an excellent stand-in until the flowers bloom.
—Jessi Whitten, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir
West Virginia's answer to Craig Finn and Patterson Hood, literary rock 'n' roller William Matheny has a knack for spinning stories about roach-infested apartments and social anxiety into indie gold. As he told WVPB in a recent interview, "I think a lot of people spend their younger days feeling very lonely and insecure. In my case, I happened to express those feelings by being a self-destructive bore who also happened to be a terrible hang at parties." Years later, Matheny has become the life of the party with his solo debut, Strange Constellations. He's backed by Rozwell Kid's Adam Meisterhans, American Minor's Bud Carroll, Tyler Childers' drummer Rod Elkins and Huntington bassist Ian Thornton — arguably our state's best current lineup. From being in cover bands alongside his dad as a teenager to being a sideman for groups like The Paranoid Style and Southeast Engine, Matheny's been paying his dues his entire life for a moment like "Living Half To Death." It's been my favorite song for quite some time; now, it can be yours.
—Joni Deutsch, WVPB's A Change Of Tune and Mountain Stage
Reflection seems to be the overarching theme of Taylor Bennett's new EP, Restoration Of An American Idol. The record is filled with moments of whimsical celebration and unfiltered honesty. This is particularly true of "New York Nights," which finds the burgeoning Chicago hip-hop artist (and younger brother of Chance the Rapper) giving a candid account of how a blood clot almost kept him from doing press and performing at his first New York concert. Undeterred by the health scare, Bennett pushed through his New York engagements and later captured the experience on the Treble.fm-produced track. A simple piano line, Nile Rodgers-style rhythm guitar, a verse from NYC rapper Stro and a hook by singer Jordan Bratton combine to create an contemplative and inspirational atmosphere perfectly suited for Bennett's encouraging message: Never give up.
—Jesse Menendez, Vocalo Radio
If you're the tie-wearing sort, "Wasted On Fidelity" falls into the "loosen before you listen" category. The second single off Cameron Avery's upcoming solo debut, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams, is a woozy and boozy invitation to the early-morning boudoir or motel room you've found yourself in at one point or another. It overflows with passion, is devoid of your better judgment and still smells of last night's cigarettes. (For proof of the latter, listen to the subterranean depth of Avery's voice as he croons "there's no reasoning to these things.") This song is divinely constructed, with just enough driving guitar to remind your hips to sway and enough melodic violins to make you forget that Avery is the touring bassist for the psych-rock band Tame Impala. While his big-band references to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are clear, Avery has the cunning swagger to pull off sounding like his idols' crony rather than their copycat. Were Ol' Blue Eyes ever to reincarnate for a Rat Pack reunion tour, you can easily envision him clinking a couple fingers of whiskey with Cameron Avery over this one.
—Talia Schlanger, World Cafe
It'd been four years since Austin's Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears put something out, so it might be safe to say the world needed Backlash when it dropped last month. The 11-track album is imbued with the sheer talent and confidence Lewis has gained from a dozen or so years of songwriting, recording and touring experience. Backlash's two singles sit back to back amid the cocktail of blues, soul, funk and rock 'n' roll-influenced tunes, but "Freakin' Out" remains one of the boldest offerings. Juggling an aggressive lead guitar riff, frenetic drum rhythms and infectious horn chords, this high-energy blues-soul hip-shaker reminds us of why we were freakin' out about Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears in the first place.
—Jack Anderson, KUTX
Cincinnati native Joseph Nevels walked away from a promising career as a lawyer to hone his progressive-soul chops as JSPH, and he's got several outstanding new singles to show for it. Our favorite is his newest, "lifeLESS." It's a track that fits seamlessly into the experimental neo-soul world of D'Angelo, Frank Ocean and James Blake, but with an accessibility that I think will make him a hit with both critics and casual listeners.
—Liz Felix, WNKU
I've been listening to the new Strand of Oaks album Hard Love almost exclusively for the last few weeks. While the record is chock-full of bold, visceral tales about frontman Timothy Showalter's journey through reconciliation and drug-fueled epiphanies, I find myself coming back to the title track again and again. The song distills the essence of the album into three-and-a-half minutes of discourse about personal failings and sustenance, funneling the message into a musical crescendo that makes you pump your fist in the air while wiping tears from your cheeks.
—Sean Cannon, WFPK
Internationally renowned deep-house producer Alton Miller and progressive soul chanteuse Maurissa Rose are both Detroit-based artists whose distinguished music catalogs span over 20 years apiece. But it's their new collaborative single that's creating excitement on dance floors around the globe. Found on Theo Parrish's Sound Signature record label, "Bring Me Down" features many of Miller's trademark production staples – dreamy, percolating synths; syrupy basslines; heavenly chord structures; and highly texturized and refined beats. These elements are married to Rose's anthemic, exuberant vocals, built around the optimistic self-love refrain "as long as I believe in me, you're not gonna bring me down." The infectious experience confirms that while both artists have been pushing musical boundaries for decades, they are not yet done.
—Chris Campbell, 101.9 FM WDET's The Progressive Underground
Listen to "Bring Me Down" via Soundcloud.
You're in or out before you read this. Pissed Jeans' music is a dying screw-gun battery attached to an uncomfortable association. It's also a witty, subversive sludge tank that highlights the drudgery of office life, American masculinity and the foibles of mindless consumer culture. "Not Even Married" continues the band's trend of being too punk for metal and vice versa. A subject that would normally evoke sympathy is played as a bracing slap across the face, a sarcastic back rub of conciliation. The record it comes from, Why Love Now, is arguably the band's most accessible. (Considering it was produced by '80s no-wave queen Lydia Lunch, that's quite a twist.) Still, this is hardly an album of easy-listening favorites. The members of Pissed Jeans more or less dare you to like them, and I recommend you call them out on it.
—Nick Brunner, Capital Public Radio's Hey, Listen!
I first experienced The Ills at last month's MENT Ljubljana festival, a beautifully curated three-day showcase featuring mostly new and emerging Central and Eastern European bands. The Ills, from Bratislava, Slovakia, create expressive, instrumental rock that ebbs and flows, with heads-down precision playing and exquisitely detailed tones. "4:17" surprises with light flourishes and transcendent riffage that explode out of the dark, relentless, heart-tripping propulsion that anchors the song.
—Kevin Cole, KEXP