Music to Your Ears – Michelle Branch, Cold War Kids and The New Pornographers

Michelle Branch – Hopeless Romantic

I’ve been waiting fourteen years to hear a new Michelle Branch song. After many struggles being entrapped by her record label, Branch was able to break away and with the help of new boyfriend Patrick Carney was able to fund her return to the limelight. She was sorely missed by her many fans as was proven at her secret show and release show in New York over the past month or so. The wait was absolutely worth it, as this is the best Branch has ever sounded. At first, I was worried it would be more of the same, and her last release, Hotel Paper, was a tad dull in its slower moments. Luckily, the slower moments here are punctuated with a better sensibility for tender instrumentals, and the early-2000s sound that made those songs dull has vacated her production. If anything, Carney infused his sound behind hers without taking it over. He’s let her breathe, do what she does best – warble about lost love and new hope and the pain and thrill in between. Listening to this, I realized that I’d filled the void for myself by latching on to one of my favorite singers, Rachael Yamagata, and the two share themes and sounds and almost a matching journey, save that all of Yamagata’s four albums came between Branch’s second and third. It’s fascinating to me that Michelle Branch could pull it off after all this time, but take a listen to the below key tracks for proof. It’s a very welcome return indeed.

Key Tracks: Not a Love Song, Living a Lie, Fault Line

The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

I really don’t know how I didn’t fall in love with The New Pornographers before 2017. They’re an obvious ‘Tristan’ band, and they sound like several other bands I’ve loved over the past fifteen years or so – Franz Ferdinand, Chvrches, Motion City Soundtrack – maybe not exactly, but within that same range. You may have noticed I included their title song in my best of the winter 2017 tracks, and for good reason – it’s rapidly becoming my favorite song of the year, even moreso than Lorde’s “Green Light” or anything from Spoon. Speaking of that band, this one reminds me even more than those other examples, and I think they may challenge each other for best album of the year. The beat is immediately infectious, the lyrics philosophically ironic – just listen to singer Carl Newman wail that he’s “a second-rate Socrates” when talking about insomnia in ‘Second Sleep’. We all think we’re brilliant in the middle of the night, but they take it to another level here. Another facet of this band is that I didn’t realize is that Neko Case is part of this band, as is Dan Bejar (of Destroyer and Swan Lake). Newman himself has gone by AC Newman for several successful solo albums. The best part of this album is that it’s opened up a whole new catalog to dive into. Of course, this may be the top of their list.

Key Tracks: High Ticket Attractions, Whiteout Conditions, Second Sleep

Cold War Kids – LA Divine

Much like The New Pornographers, my love for Cold War Kids was a recent endeavor. I “discovered” them late, only about two years ago, when their hit single “First” was blasting over airwaves. I mostly love their main singles, though a short five song EP cleverly titled “Five Songs” hit the spot for me concerning the band. Even better is that the group keeps getting better with each subsequent release. Perhaps like the New Pornographers, Cold War Kids may have outdone themselves here. Like a shot of the gate, the band takes on the magic of falling in love, then proceeds to stretch our mood to the breaking point by elucidating on the vapid wasteland that is Los Angeles. How can we get lost in an oasis of our own creation? They love it there, but acknowledge that we can all make it beyond our own foibles as long as we do it together. Nathan Willett’s vocals will earworm their way into your heart by the end of the week.

Key Tracks: Love Is Mystical, No Reason to Run, Invincible

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Reading about Josh Tillman’s personality, he sounds a bit like a musical JD Salinger – part recluse, part genius who loves to speak his mind, but keeps his thoughts close to the vest as much as possible. Either way, his music is melodically introspective, whilst also being as fun as folksy as you’d want from the millenial version of Van Morrison. 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear felt fairly mainstream from a person I’d previously known as the drummer of Fleet Foxes. I didn’t realize the guy would get so political, but it’s not terribly surprising given the state of affairs in our country these days. On that note, some of the highlights of the soft-spoken art piece are his meditations on the effect music can have on curing our emotions over fear for our own environment, like in “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” or his soulful retrospect on contentment late in life with “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain”. The best spot on the album, though? His nearly fifteen minute biographic ballad. It’s at once a gorgeous history of a man torn between two worlds, one of nostalgic love for his parents, and one for a more progressive world outside of his family’s cloistered views. It’s clear this album is for those progressives, but it’s still a beautiful way to express oneself.

Key Tracks: Leaving LA, Pure Comedy, Ballad of the Dying Man

Come back over next week to find us discussing new releases from Joey Badass, Kendrick Lamar and newcomer Alexandra Savoir!


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