Music to Your Ears: February

The past month saw a plethora of new tunes that should no doubt delight our readers’ listening vessels. Without further adieu, because I hate introductions (I can never remember names), here are the best albums out of the shortest month of the year:

Thundercat – Drunk


A recommendation from Cory brought this magnificent album into my world. Stephen Bruner, whose stage name is Thundercat, has performed and created music alongside some of the greatest of his genre and beyond, ranging from Childish Gambino to Erykah Badu to Taylor McFerrin to Flying Lotus to working with his brother’s band Suicidal Tendencies. Admittedly, I was apprehensive as the album starts – “Rabbot Ho” may not win everyone over, but as the data rock infuses itself behind subsequent tracks, and Bruner’s lyrics are fed by the funkiest thing you’ve heard in years, you start to get swept up in his presentation. I must say that each track is better than the last, and by the time he waxes poetic about “Tokyo” – my favorite track on the record – you’ll be grooving along the rest of your week. The best thing I can say about this is that it’s brilliant driving music, but if you’re the type of person – like me – that loves wandering around a city or a forest trail with their own personal soundtrack driving their actions, Thundercat has it down perfectly.

Key Tracks: Tokyo, Friend Zone, Walk on By (feat. Kendrick Lamar!), Where I’m Going


Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

It’s been some time since I thought of Eisley, to be honest. After their dazzling debut in 2005 with Room Noises, they stumbled with their sophomore effort Combinations (2007), had a decent -if not very memorable – comeback with The Valley in 2011 and then I completely missed their last album, Currents, back in 2013. For all intents and purposes, I’d resigned myself to the fact their might not be an album as good as their debut, as I started to recognize singer Sherri DuPree from her Instagram pictures with her family (including Say Anything frontman Max Bemis). I’m glad they’ve made some new material, because this is easily their best since their introduction 12(!) years ago. “A Song for the Birds” could have come right off that initial album, as it’s the shiniest guitar work since “Telescope Eyes”. Immediately after, “Sparking” takes the sound they’d nurtured in those lesser albums, and raises it up with much better lyrics and vocals than usual. Perhaps the production has something to do with it, as I’m noticing how much peppier the overall feeling is behind the record, and by the time you get to the best track, “Louder Than a Lion” you’re all in with their blistering innocence.

Key Tracks: Louder Than a LionA Song for the Birds

 

John Mayer – The Search for Everything Wave Two

If it seems like only yesterday John Mayer was delivering us the first volume of his latest album in this controlled experiment, which I had expected would spread out over a few months. Instead, we get the second segment about one month later, while we’re still absorbing the original stuff. I would rather have one per season and make it a year-long affair, but I get that this may be more feasible to record executives worried that too long a distance between releases will cause lost interest. Of course, doing it with a major singer like Mayer is great, and the good news is that despite still being enamored with the first four tracks, I’m open to listening to these new four. A friend posited to me the other day that perhaps the four in each release are out of order for the final album, but I think this is the intended order – with these being the middle section of the album, the part typically discovered to be the slump in the quality of a record. I have to say, that may be the case, as these four are not as perfect as that first collection. Luckily the first track, “Still Feel Like Your Man” reminds one of even the earliest Mayer days – it feels to me like a follow-up to my favorite track from Room for Squares – “Neon”. In that earlier track, John wrapped his head around being in such a beautiful and committed relationship. If that character grew up and spent the next fifteen years in such a daze, here he is nearing middle age and wondering aloud how he got this far with the perfect woman. After that, the back-end three tracks feel like leftover b-sides from his middling album years. “Emoji of a Wave” is just a dumb name, but he’s always fit into the zeitgeist, and the shame of it is that it just isn’t all that interesting a song. After that “Helpless” and “Roll it On Home” feel like they belong in the 7 and 8 spot on a full-length LP, which I would wager not what John Mayer has in mind.


Little Big Town – The Breaker

Little Big Town often reminds me of what Fleetwood Mac would be like if they didn’t hate each other or cheat on each other or generally were not so terrible people. It’s more likely that given their Christian background, or the country influence – or the fact they aren’t all married to each other, they have succeeded for so long. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve produced some of the catchiest country pop of the last few years. Their pleasant demeanor also lends them a bit of leniency. The verve with which the album begins will uplift even the grumpiest of souls. As vocalists Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook (who are the married couple) rejoice that the night is on their side, we’re swept up in their vivacity. I’m not the biggest fan of country, but damn if I can’t get behind Little Big Town.

Key Tracks: Happy People, When Someone Stops Loving You

Ryan Adams – Prisoner

I was a huge fan of Ryan Adams’ second album Gold, the one with “Answering Bell” and “When the Stars Go Blue” – it also featured that song “New York, New York” that was played on some alternative stations in the Tri-State area after 9/11. I sort of fell off from his radar in the subsequent 15 years, but I always liked hearing he was still producing quality records. I’m not sure if Gold was a flash in the pan for me, though, as since this is the only other album I’ve truly listened fully through, I don’t know if it’s just that this album is dull, or he’s a bit similar on everything. In songs like “Shiver and Shake” and “Haunted House” Adams croons along with similar themes of Springsteenian desolation in the suburbs, all the while plucking away at his guitar like a damn savant. I’ll never fault him for his guitar work, and his singing is always appeasing, but I feel like his songwriting has found something lacking in recent years. In fact, he turned to Taylor Swift and her album 1989 two years ago, covering it in its entirety. I do believe Adams is still a talented artist, but unless you’re decisively into him already, it may be tough to get there now.


The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

So I finally figured something out that’s been bugging me for the better part of a decade because of this album. Whenever asked what my favorite genre of music is, I always stutter a bit and mumble something about “anything, I guess…alternative? Indie British stuff? I like Franz Ferdinand, so stuff like them.” Then people ask who that is, since memories are short, and I stumble again. Well, The Orwells are described as post-punk revival, or garage-rock revival, which describes not just Franz, but countless other bands that I’ve qualified as my favorites in years past. What a relief, and to find it for this album? A true delight, because this Chicago band has put out one of the most effortlessly enjoyable records I’ve heard in the past few years. Pure joy exudes from the lungs of vocalist Mario Cuomo, particularly on Pixies love fest “Black Francis” and bar ballad “Last Call (Go Home)”. If you’re looking for the heir apparent to bands like The Strokes, The Arctic Monkeys or The Cribs, look no further than The Orwells – even though they’ve actually been out for half a decade already. Look them up!

Key Tracks: They Put a Body in the BayouBlack FrancisHeavy Head


Other good music – The Menzingers (After the Party), Elbow (Little Fictions), Rag’n’Bone Man (Human), Alison Krauss (Windy City), Save Ferris (Checkered Past), Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (Zombies on Broadway)


 

Well, until next month!

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