Top 40 music makes me nervous for the future of music, mostly, but also disappointed that the majority of people are missing out on some of the brilliant new albums that lesser-known artists have been putting out in the last month or so. It’s like how “Two and a Half Men” is the most popular comedy on television while “30 Rock” is ten times funnier with one-tenth of the viewership. Not that I’m bitter.
So give your radio a rest and check out these singles. May they lead you into a new level of auditory awareness.
"Dance With Me,” Old 97’s - I think it’s kind of criminal that the Old 97’s aren’t more popular than they are, what with their music appearing in popular television shows (Scrubs) and movies (“The Break-Up”), not to mention the fact that they are so, so talented. This single from their new album Blame It On Gravity combines a killer guitar riff with a fun and infectious chorus. After watching them perform the song on Leno a few weeks ago, I had three immediate thoughts: 1) great summer song, 2) lead singer Rhett Miller’s eyes are very big, and 3) these guys must put on an amazing live show.
"I’m Amazed,” My Morning Jacket - There was a lot of buzz surrounding Jacket’s new album Evil Urges, which was released this past Tuesday, and unsurprisingly, the band does not disappoint. Lead singer Jim James ranges from Prince and Michael Jackson-level falsettos to reverb-heavy wailing, and it all sounds so good. I’m not a big fan of categorizing and genres, but iTunes calling the band “psychedelic folk rock” is a pretty accurate moniker, I’d have to say. I can see this single whipping the rabid crowds at Bonnaroo this weekend into a frenzy. More of a frenzy than usual, anyway.
"How I Could Just Kill a Man,” Charlotte Sometimes - I approached this girl and her album Waves and the Both of Us enthusiastically, because a) her band name comes from a Cure song and b) the song title sounds suspiciously (or, exactly) like a Cypress Hill rap-rock classic. I was disappointed to discover it’s not a true cover, but it’s still an incredible song, carried by her great voice and a chorus that has been looping in my head for at least three days.
"Long Division,” Death Cab For Cutie - I can no longer talk about Death Cab like a cool hipster insider since their new album Narrow Stairs debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. But I’m not one to turn on bands for “selling out” (a.k.a. getting popular), so I tore into the album anyway. Again, it’s difficult to pick one song from this fantastic album, but as the above have shown, I’m a sucker for a catchy hook. Ben Gibbard’s characteristic, metaphor-heavy lyrics are carried on here as he cleverly compares a torn relationship to long division, that is to say one that can’t be played without a remainder.
"Aerial,” Hadoken - I’ve taken a liking to more ambient, experimental, and what’s apparently called “post-rock” music these days, but that’s not how I heard of Hadoken. It was probably because I’ve been friends with bassist (and Naples native) Steven Wendel since first grade. Instead of building catapults in Cub Scouts, he’s now building a six-piece band in Amherst, MA, releasing their album The Ancient Machine on a French record label. The motifs in these songs are complex, more than simple crescendos or stop-starts. “Aerial” punctuates its dreamy ambience with two swelling climaxes, making me wonder what I’ve been missing by not getting into this kind of instrumental music sooner.
"Good Ones,” KaiserCartel - This cleverly-named duo consisting of Courtney Kaiser and Ben Cartel illustrates how the simplest music can sometimes stand out the most. The best songs on their new album March Forth follow Courtney’s lead, particularly this track, where her vocals are complemented by a beautiful piano melody and an airy reverb. I read an article that compared the duo to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and that sounds pretty good to me, even though they said they feel more along the lines of Lucy and Ricky.
"Dreams,” Whiskeytown - Before Ryan Adams went solo (that is to say, before 80% of America confused him with Bryan Adams and sung the praises of “Summer of ’69,” not that I’m bitter) he fronted this more country-skewing vehicle, whose seminal album Strangers Almanac was just re-released in a deluxe edition. The new release features an entire disc of rarities, demos, and covers, including this Fleetwood Mac classic. And even though Adams can’t hit the high notes of Stevie Nicks, he comes pretty close, and along with a very cool, moody guitar, this is the most perfect night driving song of the summer.
"Waking Up,” Bitter:Sweet - I couldn’t resist the cuteness of putting this song after “Dreams.” I’m like that when it comes to playlists. Anyway, I’d like to thank Starbucks for providing me with this as their free song of the week, because it’s a wonderful blend of Shana Halligan’s beautiful vocals, a bassline and scratching guitar straight out of the seventies, and smooth jazz overtones. Even if I didn’t get this with my Grande Soy No-Whip Dry Red-Eye Chai Latte (just kidding?), it screams (or croons, as it were) “coffee shop,” a very cool, relaxing end to this summer musical discovery.
All songs available on iTunes, except for Hadoken, whose music you can check out further at myspace.com/surgefist.