Music to Your Ears – Rachael Yamagata, Bastille, M.I.A, Lady Gaga and Sting!

Hey there. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? The summer sort of just stopped around the beginning of July, and no new music flowed my way for quite a time as it was, yet I still apologize for the brief hiatus.

Suddenly, much like the film world, a flood of new music entered my life and I’d like to divulge it further on to you. Seemingly everything flooded the market just the last two weekends. So without further adieu…


 

Rachael Yamagata – Nobody / Over

Ever since Cory and I met, I’ll always be grateful he got me into late night television, because you’ll often find gems in the musicians that play towards the end of the evening. One such night saw Jay Leno hosting a young Rachael Yamagata, who belted out to me through the television with her angelic song “Be Be Your Love”. Twelve years later and I’m still enchanted. Yamagata and I have gone through our rough patches individually, and it’s been reflected in various spots in her oeuvre, but this latest single – “Nobody” – highlights that universal feeling of uselessness in the face of a loveless paramour. Yamagata isn’t always rainbows and butterflies though – if you’re looking for more uplifting, no need to look any further than her next single – “Over”. In spite of the jet black lyrics – “We knew we weren’t quite right for each other / best to keep our distance peacefully” Yamagata floods the mournfulness with effervescent guitar licks and dreamy synths undercut by bubbly tambourines. If nothing else, we have our romantic notions for the autumn. New Album “Tightrope Walker” in stores 9/23

 

Bastille – Wild World

As they literally exploded on the world with their appropriately named megahit “Pompeii”, this British quartet were hoping to only tour a bit and make a modest amount of money from their first album Bad Blood. Flash forward 3 years later and the group is still riding high on their overnight success and the much anticipated album Wild World has a lot to live up to. My initial feeling is that this is a bit demure for a band so incendiary, though the timbre behind their vocals still indicate the fire hasn’t yet been snuffed. As with many sophomore albums, there is a bit of a dip – as indicated by their chosen singles – “Good Grief” and “Fake It”. They’re decent, but not terribly different than their top-charting predecessors. While sometimes it’s just enough to maintain your quality, for a huge success, there’s often a higher bar to set for yourself. While they’ve still got the fire, it may not be raging as high as we’d all like.

Ingrid Michaelson – It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense

I’ve liked Ingrid since her breakout album Girls and Boys in 2005 and great single “The Way I Am” took over pop radio. As the years have gone on, she’s waxed and waned like a more prolific Rachael Yamagata, in that she has her darker times (Human Again) and brighter times (Everybody). Throughout it all, she’s proven to be one of the greatest American female vocalists, and she proves it here again, with highlights including “Hell No” and “Old Days”.

The Head and the Heart – Signs of Light

Much like Bastille, I’m a tad disappointed by this. Both this and their previous album were surprises, as The Head and the Heart have never been that lauded, despite their recent appearance on the now cancelled Showtime drama Roadies. Their folk sensibility reminds one of The Lumineers or Mumford and Sons, but I’ve always found the stories they’ve woven to be more fascinating than either of those bands. Perhaps it’s because The Lumineers have stepped their game up, or it’s hitting me at the wrong time, but the songwriting isn’t as solid as their previous efforts. Even then, songs like “City of Lights” and “Library Magic” retain that magic that sold me on their early quality. Their biggest hit yet is early single “All We Ever Knew” so they are finally making some sort of dent in popular culture, which I’m definitely all for.

Kings of Leon – Waste a Moment

It’s taken me over a decade, but I have to admit that Kings of Leon is one of the iconic bands of my college experience. “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” are some of the best tracks from the 2000s rock scene post-British imports like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. If anything, KoL owe a lot to those and many more bands I was fans of. The only problem was that those two huge hits were overplayed on college radio, and I was annoyed for merely that. On the other hand, “Waste a Moment” is a welcome return for the brothers, and

Norah Jones – Flipside / Carry On

Pop’s strangest modern diva is finally back with her first single in three years, other than her collaborations with Tony Bennett and the snubbed Oscar song “Til’ It Happens to You” and it does not disappoint. Her little monsters have sorely missed her in the past few years and I am happy to report that this is an admirable precursor to a fifth album. Hopes are high that this will save us from what will be a dour next few months, and I can tell you right now that the wool won’t be pulled over our eyes by one of our greater performers.

Green Day – Revolution Radio / Bang Bang

Another group that’s returned to the pop scene earlier this year had a much more audacious single – Blink 182 and their song “Bored to Death”. While the good news is that this sounds like an apt continuation of Green Day’s brand, that is sort of the opposite of what Blink did with their return album. Blink induced life into their band this summer, but this song doesn’t inspire too much confidence in the vivacity from Tre Cool, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt (and apparently Jason White, who joined the band in 2010). “Bang Bang” gives me a lot more hope, as like Norah Jones, it’s a return to form. Hopefully this new album (also titled Revolution Radio) will bring solid memories of a band that remains relevant. It drops October 7th.

Sting – I Can’t Stop Thinking About You

Millennials probably know Gordon Sumner as the guy who made that odd cameo in Zoolander 2, or the one who loves to play synthesizers in the desert. Well, for you whipper-snappers, Sting is actually an accomplished musician who has his first album in 13 years coming out in November – 57th and 9th. In his first single, the endlessly addictive “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” the former head of The Police laments over lost loves of years past and the heartache in the tender tone lifts this song, and his career, right out of the annals of history. It’s the perfect bookend to summer and start to autumn.

Sia – The Greatest (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

While I’m glad Sia has finally hit popularity, she’s being overplayed a tiny bit at this point in the summer, as everyone searched hard for the song of the year. As it were, she’s still insanely talented, and The Greatest proves that once again. However, just as you’re really grooving, getting into Sia’s newest infectious beat, Kendrick Lamar drops in and has some of the dullest, cliched verses I’ve heard in recent pop. I was ready to call it for song of the summer, saving that title, but Lamar kind of whiffed. Shame, because he’s better than this too.

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Cory and I attempted to listen to this over the past week and both came to the same conclusion: it’s overproduced, dull, sycophantic “art”. Cave has long been the harbinger of doom in his music and writing. While I love his filmmaking experience (The Proposition, Lawless), he thinks of himself as some sort of Australian Tom Waits. I get it, I do, but ever since “Red Right Hand” I’ve always thought he was a tad overrated. Seems with this I have some proof.

Bad Suns – Disappear Here

I’m always glad I take a chance on new bands – this EP from a new group out of California is effervescent, taking one last look at the setting summer sun. I anticipate good things from them, and as we look at the sophomore effort from Bastille, I can see an heir apparent already creeping up to steal their throne.

Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die

For a number of years now I’d heard stories of this band, one of the greatest to come out of Los Angeles in a long time. They were exploratory yet felt familiar, they were folksy yet had a full orchestral flair. Vocalist Taylor Goldsmith would warble like a sun-soaked Bruce Springsteen, while his brother Griffin would drum like a maniac, without ever stealing the show. I’ve attempted to break into their music on a number of occasions, and I think this is finally the one to sink your teeth into: the first two tracks, “One of Us” and the titular “We’re All Gonna Die” reverberate with me after all this other music with which I’ve been inundated. It’s easily the best of the pack. They were right.

Grouplove – Big Mess

More of the same, but that’s what makes Grouplove great – a feel-good, pep in your step revelry that plays best in the background at a chill party. You don’t even realize that you’ve been inspired by the lyrics and vocals until you’re flying high on the guitar licks. Longtime bassist Sean Gadd is no longer here, but Daniel Gleason is perfectly able to drive the grand themes home. Perfect highlights of that are tracks “Good Morning” and “Cannonball”, my two favorite from this newest effort.

M.I.A. – AIM

After what I considered a bit of a misstep in Matangi (though Cory liked it), it turns out that it was more of imperfect timing. MIA has returned, perhaps one last time, to deliver unto us a masterpiece in AIM. With the title a literal reflection of her name, it shows us the reverse of what her music has often meant to us. She flips us off in “Go Off” and brings Zayn Malik in to prove that she’s never been more with it on “Freedun”. She asks us to question our constant stance on international opinions with “Foreign Friend”, farcically proving us to be hypocritical in our love of refugee artists yet ignorant towards regular citizens. The album isn’t only a top-notch song receptacle, it’s political without even needing to try.

Wilco – Schmilco

I was worried Wilco would serve something a little haughty, like Nick Cave’s latest, but all my fears were assuaged with the first track “Normal American Kids”. If nothing else, check that song out, it’s phenomenal. The rest of the album plays out like fans might hope, another bastion of Americana exemplified by one of the most hipster singers out there, Jeff Tweedy. Really, just go get it now, it’s some truly grand music.

Shakey Graves – Tomorrow

I was absolutely in love with 2014’s song “Dearly Departed”, something you may be familiar with from my last MTYE article, and I should have known to be in on the grand secret when my friend personally discovered him in a New Orleans dive bar five years ago. Well he’s back again with this expansion of that ages old question of how to make love work, where he plays a put-upon lover re-discovering his predisposition for being his own man. Way to stand your ground, Graves.

Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust

Kaoru Ishibashi has a penchant for the majestical, the bombastic orchestral soundtrack – his tenor vibrato rising above the grandiose. His first EP 151a entranced me from the moment I first heard it driving over the Brooklyn Bride – his music is pure road magic – and then in 2012 he debuted his first full-length: Lighght. Its style still intact, the lyrics were lacking something that Kishi Bashi has rediscovered in time for this autumn. Bursting out the gate with “m’lover” he writes the best postmodern romantic ballad I’ve heard this year. He emulates grandaddy and The Mountain Goats in “Who’d You Kill” over violins. 8-bit beats back most tracks, especially “Hey Big Star” and “Flame on Flame”. All in all, if you’ve never heard of him – he’s worth a listen. If you know him well, he’s back in business.

Taking Back Sunday – Tidal Wave

Like its eponymous reference, this newest release from the classic pop punk quintet floods you with good feelings. Adam Lazzara’s vocals stand out, reminding you how the group has been one of the main proponents of surviving rock for the past decade or so, as their compatriots have fallen by the wayside. After seeing them open for Blink-182 and Weezer back in 2009, I never expected to be thrilled by their variety of post-hardcore miscreancy. However, the songwriting is tenderly toned and the feeling as a whole will leave you fulfilled in the guitar department.  Key Tracks: I Felt It Too, You Can’t Look Back

Grandaddy – “Way We Won’t / Clear Your History”

It’s been ten years since Jason Lytle pronounced his retirement from the moniker Grandaddy and left the music scene altogether. So color me surprised when the electro-pop sound of a new single popped up this morning on my radar. There’s little to be disappointed about with the new single, “Way We Won’t” – as its cheery hook and sublime beat earworm their way into your heart almost immediately. Luckily this should be a precursor to a new album, and a continuation of the brand of fuzz-pop that Grandaddy left me back in 2006.


 

You know what, I’m probably going to wait a bit more before I bring you new music again. This took it out of me, and I don’t know why. Plus it seems like great music floods the market all at the same time. So see you at Thanksgiving?

 

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