Listen: Dawn Richard – “Mornin | Streetlights” [2021]

I somehow have not posted about any Dawn Richard singles from her upcoming album Second Line, coming April 30 via Merge Records, but trust and believe I’ve been listening and LOVING. Her newest, “Mornin | Streetlights” shows off her talent for stringing a narrative between two unique sonic moments in one song. This could be broken up into two songs, but Richard chose to contain it in one movement. Two sides of the same coin.

The song starts off casually with laid back, minimal production with subtle electric guitar and clattering percussion. The song eventually filters in more synthetic production, complete with keys, digital handclaps and a steady bass thump. Dawn’s signature tenor vocals steadily write a dialog throughout, with the first half centering around the hopeful feelings of a new morning and the second being a bit more turbulent, forcefully driving ahead with motivation despite adversity clouding the skies above. Each song from the album we’ve heard thus far has occupied a different space sonically, further enhancing that Dawn will never be locked down to one thing and will continue to excel at whatever she dips her brain into.

Second Line is out April 30 via Merge Records. Pre-order HERE.

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Listen: Dry Cleaning – “Her Hippo” [2021]

Not sure how I haven’t posted more about Dry Cleaning here. I think one reason is that they’ve always been weirdly on the outside of my radar, only coming into view when it’s Best Of list season and I listened to their previous two EPs. One of which made my Best EPs of 2019 list. I didn’t have any expectations going into their debut album New Long Leg, but wow, I was and continued to be floored. It’s just a fantastic rock record. The dry vocals are definitely the focal point for much of the album, but I’d argue that the guitars and the overall mix of everything is just so satisfying and brilliant. An exciting and engaging guitar record. How novel? “Her Hippo” has been my favorite track by far, with its expansive, sharp guitars establishing a dusty ghost-town environment in the song. It’s heavy and got a great rhythm. Cannot deny. Listen to this damn album.

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Listen: Izzy Johnson – “seeing” [2021]

We love a Michigan musician! As a Michigan native myself, I don’t do enough to actively seek out the creators from my homeland. When I do come across one though, I usually approach their music with an innate fondness. The fondness I brought to Izzy Johnson honestly didn’t really need to be there, as they make music that instantly gels with me and absolutely can feel right at home in the tunes I’ve been posting here lately.

Johnson’s first single off their upcoming record, earth tones (out via Driftless Recordings on July 2nd), is a free-flowing, tender exploration of sound, held up by an acoustic guitar exoskeleton and filled with viscera made of washes of muted synths, blissful (dare I say Julianna Barwick-like) vocals and wayward flute painted in broad strokes. Previously mentioned Julianna Barwick fans, alongside Grouper, Gia Margaret and Sea Oleena fans will find this to be of their fancy, but I recommend anyone looking for a moment to breathe in something divine and natural to listen to this.

earth tones is out July 2nd via Driftless – pre-order it HERE.

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Listen: Ducks Ltd. – “As Big As All Outside” [2021]

You can’t go back and listen to it now (but you will!), but Ducks Ltd. (formerly Ducks Unlimited) wowed me with their debut EP in late 2019, even being featured as a Recommended Album of November AND on my Best EPs of 2019 list. It’s some supreme jangle pop reminiscent of all my favorite things that Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever bring to the table. If you dig some claaassic jangle, put Ducks Ltd. back on your radar. Carpark Records is reissuing their debut EP with new tracks coming May 21st – mark your calendars!

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10 Best Songs: TOPS

TOPS, currently comprised of Jane Penny, David Carriere, Riley Fleck and Marta Cikojevic, hail from Montreal and have released four albums thus far in their careers. Each album has seen the band hone their blend of danceable, punchy pop music, usually drenched in a melodramatic 80s / 90s cinematic flair. The perfect songs to soundtrack fictional, romantic moments in your life. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since their debut in 2012, where songs like “Turn Your Love Around” and “Diamond Look” were introduced to me via Gorilla Vs Bear and would in turn be on my radio shows nearly every week.

Their sophomore 2014 record Picture You Staring was a landmark college album for me, providing a pure, unfiltered fun soundtrack to put on while having friends over or just to have a good time on my own. The amount of times I listened to “Way To Be Loved” with my friends or with my partner, just dancing around in our kitchen or living room, is too high to count. 2017 came Sugar At The Gate, a effervescent increase in fidelity with no dropoff in song quality and to me also pointed towards a huge leap in the band’s trajectory on the horizon. 2020 then yielded my favorite album of theirs (at the moment), I Feel Alive, full of the band’s most rocket-powered tunes to date, with every element the band did well on previous records coming together in some sort of freaky pop masterpiece.

I’ve seen the band live five times at this point, one of which being when I booked them to perform at my college in 2015. They’re all sweet people, put on great performances and make consistently fun music. It was hard, but I decided to rank my Top 10 favorite TOPS songs to help the uninitiated dip their toes into this spring of buoyant, carbonated guitar pop tunes. You will not regret it.

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Recommended Albums: March 2021

I expressed this on Twitter a few days ago, but I feel like 2021 has been pretty great in terms of new music. There are already eight or nine records from this year that I feel radically positive about, compared to 2020 and 2019, where around this time I had maybe two or three locks for my AOTY list. Maybe I’m just trying to latch onto anything positive right now. Either way, the artists of 2021 are really speaking to me right now – especially those that put out records in March. PHEW. We got some really great stuff this month, from buoyant art pop to blissed out collaborations to absolutely flooring debut records. It’s been a lot of fun to whittle down my favorites from this month, especially since everything has been so great. Find my 10 favorite records of March below, along with some nice tunes I liked as well.

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Listen: Ben Seretan – “8pm Crickets” [2021]

The past few weeks in NYC have been blessed by the slow, true onset of Spring. No flashes of false spring here folks. It’s been pretty steady, with clear days and generally warmer temperatures. This makes the days of gray and rain that much more exciting. It’s no fun when it’s everyday, but sometimes you just need a somber day to set the mood.

That was the mood outside when I was first sent the upcoming Ben Seretan album, coming April 30 via NNA Tapes. I had been told about Seretan’s work for a few years now, starting with his 30-minute ambient pieces My Life’s Work back in 2017 or 2018. It was a lot for me to digest, so I kept the name on the back burner. Then I was sent this album, Cicada Waves, and decided that it was time. I was correct on the timing. I ended up listening to the album four times in a row. Just blissful piano meditations with ambient field recordings of nature’s din nestled underneath. “8pm Crickets” of course has plenty of cricket chirping laying the groundwork for Seretan’s piano work, really making it sound like he’s playing this echoing piano in the woods, but you can also hear the shape of the room he’s in. Seretan also includes audio of himself walking on wood floors to sit at the piano, almost making it clear that he’s not playing in the woods, but transporting the both of us to nature, if that makes sense. Kind of related – if you haven’t had a chance to live in a space where the frogs or bugs outside could sing you to sleep, I suggest you try, as hilarious as that sounds. Although I once lived in a house where crickets kept getting into my room – not even the spiders under my bed could stop them. Thanks to other bug residents, that place is referred to as “bug house”.

Back to the music at hand – I had been meaning to post the previous single from the record, “Fog Rolls Out Rabun Gap”, but kept getting distracted. This past weekend though my partner and I rented a car and drove up to the Catskills and this was one of the albums I put on for the drive up. It again was rainy, but slowly riding higher into the mountains with this grounded, earthy work, with fog literally rolling down high hilltops on our right hand side, we achieved some magic.

2021 has really granted us some potent healing music, with Cicada Waves soon being another essential entry into that canon. You don’t even have to listen while it’s gray and rainy. I’m listening right now and it’s late at night and the sky is clear. The lights from apartment units across the street and beyond twinkle, with subtle smudges of activity providing a pulse for the humming urban sprawl outside my window. It’s peaceful. Let yourself have this.

Cicada Waves is out 4/30 via NNA Tapes. Pre-order the album HERE.

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2010s Retrospective: 10 Years of Discoveries, Obsessions and True Moments

Well folks, welcome to my most indulgent, most confessional, most self-referential and truly most vain post on the blog. This is probably playing it up, but I’ve written a lot about myself on here. The dang header image is literally just pictures of me from the last 10 years layered on top of one another. There is nothing else except for pictures of me up there. What the hell. This post is by far the most personal writing I’ve ever done, so be warned that you’re gonna catch some of my real feelings getting through this, some of which are very dark, dealing with anxiety and depression. Watch out.

In short, this is a 2010s Retrospective. 500 songs that impacted my life as it happened in the 2010s, organized in chronological order. The first song that made a crater in my brain on Jan. 1, 2010 to the last song that left me spinning on Dec. 31, 2019.

Since 2014, I’ve accumulated playlists of songs throughout the year that made an impact on me. I then publish them at the top of the following year and include listening statistics and all that stuff. Real nerd things. The reason I do this is for one I’m obsessed with cataloging everything I do, and for two it’s fun to look back and definitively see when I discovered a favorite artist, when I was obsessed with a certain song or when something soundtracked a pivotal life moment. I’m constantly listening to music. The days where I don’t listen to a single song are rare. Life moments will easily overlap with a song I happen to be listening to. So if I wanted to immerse myself in how I was feeling at a particular time in a certain year, I could do that in a way by listening to the playlists. I’m also afraid to forget about things. Music comes out at such a fast rate these days I’ll just completely forget about a record I loved a few months after its release.

Because I started this in 2014, I had to go back and piece together playlists for 2010 – 2013. Once that was done, I decided to try and stitch together some kind of virtual quilt out of the 10 years of playlists, tracing a lineage of not only the development of my musical taste, but my personal growth as well. That’s what you’re reading here. The decade was a snapshot of some pivotal moments in my life: two graduations, two big moves, one rock-solid relationship, many friendships, getting hired, getting laid off, deaths in the family, political turmoil, personal anguish, celebration, euphoria, humor, pain, anxiety, love and more. For each of these songs, I tried my best to paint a picture of why that song is one of the 500 that impacted my decade. Some are just “this song is good, I listened to it a lot”, whereas others are much, much deeper and specific. This is very on-brand for me. Always oversharing and hyper-analyzing my own life.

For example, putting on one song will remind me of a time I went to Washington Square Park to read, but got interrupted suddenly by a sun shower causing myself and other park-goers to gather under trees while a jazz band played on a few feet away, unbothered. Another song will remind me of a specific bus ride I took from Philadelphia to NYC where my seat was broken. One will illuminate that I was reading Our Band Could Be Your Life during that season. A few demonstrate that I was very depressed. A few will show that I got better. A few will show how obsessed I was with Prefab Sprout at the end of the decade. It’s the theater of it all and unfortunately I’m the main character for the whole thing.

Unless I do a favorite live shows of the 2010s post, this will be my final collective post about the decade. The 20s have already given us enough impactful moments that it makes the 10s feel like a speck of dust. But it was fun to relive some of the “olden days”, especially now. Kind of like watching myself grow up. You can even click the individual header images for each year to bring you to that year’s individualized Retrospective post. That’s a lot of words though. Thanks for reading regardless.

Lastly, I made a Spotify playlist which unfortunately only has 470 of the 500 songs I listed here, but it’s something you can listen along to if you’re interested – find it after the jump. If the song is not on the playlist, it likely exists somewhere else on the internet.

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Listen: They Hate Change & Fire-Toolz – “Scene!” [2021]

Oh man – exciting, genre-breaking labels Hausu Mountain and Deathbomb Arc have come together in a fusion dance like freakin jetsetting experimental music super saiyans on an upcoming project, Arc Mountain, combining artists on their rosters for a collab album with all profits going to the Last Prisoner Project: www.lastprisonerproject.org.

The first taste we’ve got from the album features blog favorites They Hate Change and wildly productive and forward-thinking producer & composer Fire-Toolz. Both these artists’ music is chaotic on their own, so these two tornadoes of terror working together is a perfect storm of anxiety-rippling, breakneck experimental electronic hip hop. Whatever you want to call it. It’s wild. Can’t wait to hear what else the comp has in store for us.

Arc Mountain is out May 7 via Hausu Mountain and Deathbomb Arc. Pre-order HERE.

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Listen: Daniel Bachman – “Coronach” [2021]

Hang onto your guitar straps cause there’s a new Daniel Bachman album Axacan coming May 7 via Three Lobed Records!!

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, hopefully you’re familiar with Bachman’s work. While his earlier 10s output was more straightforward American Primitive style acoustic guitar playing, albeit with rather lo-fi recording quality, in 2015 his album River really marked a new direction for him, adding in elements of quiet introspection, emotional dynamics and zen-like noise meditations. Bachman then level-upped with his 2018 album The Morning Star, a record that fully embraced a new experimental sound with plenty of field recordings to amp up the overall atmosphere of each piece, but also added a new sonic depth that normal instruments can’t achieve. I loved it.

Axacan definitely builds on what Bachman has built over the last half decade and it might be my favorite thing he’s done yet. It’s a somber meditation on the last year, with the first single “Coronach” being directly about western society’s failings on dealing with COVID and the ache of loss we’ve all felt over the last 365+ days. The rest of the record continues a similar bleak path, dark and dirge-like interspersed with unsettling field recordings of construction, static AM radio interference, and more uncanny noise. It’s American folk music haunted by ghosts of the past, present and future. Pretty spooky. But oh so good.

Again – Axacan comes out May 7 via Three Lobed. Pre-order the record HERE.

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