I ended up missing about ten days of music listening while with the family in Arizona and getting ready for various trips, but I think the playlist turned out okay thanks to the volume of new stuff this month, mostly from bands I already knew from previous releases. It’s been a big year for comebacks from 1990s artists too, with three acts on here who have recently released their first new material in over a decade.
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alt-J – In Cold Blood. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of alt-J’s work, especially their debut album An Awesome Wave, which is on the very short list of my favorite albums of all time, up there with OK Computer, The Last Broadcast, and Whitesnake. (Just kidding about that last one. Mostly.) I wasn’t totally on board with alt-J’s musical shift for their second album, where they eschewed the minimalist approach of their first record with what I considered very mixed results. This song, the second of two singles released so far in advance of their third album, has their trademark lyrical weirdness and interplay across vocals and instruments, but the same ‘big’ sound as we got on This Could All Be Yours.
Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still. This is the song Fitz and the Tantrums recorded in 2017 in an alternate universe where they didn’t become a shitty pop band. Portugal. The Man can be as weird and unconventional as alt-J, but bombast is their raison d’etre, and if anything I find them restrained here on this very old-school funk/R&B track.
Wavves – Daisy. I’m a fan of Nathan Williams’ brand of punk-pop, more so than of some of his predecessors in this California surf-rock sort of vein, which often was more obnoxious than actually good (Nerf Herder or New York’s Wheatus come to mind). Wavves’ sixth album will be out on May 19th and good luck getting that little high-pitched guitar line out of your head.
Basement – Submission. This track comes from Basement’s 2016 album Promise Everything, which was just re-released in a deluxe edition by their new record label. I’ve only heard this song so far, a hard rock track with grunge style but cleaner production.
Dreamcar – Kill for Candy. So, go figure: this is AFI lead singer Davey Havok and the three musicians from No Doubt, and “Kill for Candy” sounds nothing like either band to me. It’s new wave revival, like White Lies or Editors, and catchy without the cloying sound of No Doubt’s faux-ska-whatever they call it.
Grandaddy – Brush with the Wild. Grandaddy broke up in 2006, which I mention only because I wasn’t aware they’d broken up until I heard this song and read that it was their first new track in eleven years. I wasn’t a big fan in their heyday, but this song has a good hook and a strong “Shorter War on Drugs” feel.
Black Honey – Somebody Better. I think this is the third song I’ve included from Black Honey over the last year, and I’m still waiting (and excited) for the British quartet’s first album given the power-pop singles they’ve released to date.
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions. TNP’s new album, also called Whiteout Conditions, comes out on Friday; you can stream it on NPR’s First Listen before that. In the meantime, the title track is another kick-the-door-open sort of pop gem; A.C. Newman can craft some potent hooks, and I love the way he plays with his vocal delivery here.
MisterWives – Oh Love. This second single from their upcoming album Connect the Dots is a step down from “Machine” in terms of hook and tempo, although Mandy Lee gets to showcase her voice a little more here.
Oh Wonder – Ultralife. I don’t think I caught this London duo’s self-titled debut album, which came out in the fall of 2015, but this title track of their second album, release date unknown, grabbed my attention with the lush instrumentation and apparent mix of influences from several different styles and even decades, back to ’80s pop.
alt-J – 3WW. Obligatory.
Earl St. Clair featuring PJ – Ain’t Got It Like That. St. Clair’s debut EP, My Name is Earl, dropped in early March, and it’s a serious throwback to ’70s soul and funk.
Tei Shi – Justify. Nothing against Tei Shi, who continues to churn out weird-but-intriguing music, but I can’t listen to this without picturing that overhyped Madonna video. (“There’s Prince!”)
Spoon – Tear It Down. I’ve heard three tracks off Spoon’s latest album, Hot Thoughts, so far, and I think … it’s a Spoon album. It’s good, but if there’s something novel here, I haven’t caught it yet.
The Kooks – Be Who You Are. I’d put this in the same category as Spoon’s latest – this is a pretty standard Kooks song, with a decent hook, but nothing we haven’t heard before. It’s like someone took peak Britpop and decided to add more ’60s to it.
Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill. This is more in the vein of Slowdive’s muttering, shoegazing past.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Song For A Secret. I thought J&MC’s comeback album, Damage and Joy, was a bit tame, but it still had some solid moments like this track, which seems like a sequel to “Sometimes Always.”
White Reaper – The Stack. There’s a little sameness to White Reaper’s output now, but I like their punk-tinged power-pop sound and the main five-note guitar riff here is solid.
The Black Angels – I’d Kill for Her. Another band that’s been around for a while but that escaped my attention, the Black Angels engage in some heavy psychedelic rock, here punctuated by a whining guitar lick that gives the whole thing a Neil Young sort of vibe.
Mastodon – Precious Stones. I originally had “Andromeda” on this playlist, also from Emperor of Sand, but I prefer Mastodon tracks with clean vocals – their music is heavy, but progressive rather than extreme, and their best songs play the vocals off the music.
Dark Tranquillity – The Absolute. This song was a bonus track on DT’s latest album, 2016’s Atoma, and it’s a big departure from their recorded output to date. I’d put it more along the lines of Opeth or Candlemass than the typical melodic death metal that typifies Dark Tranquility’s discography to date.
Pallbearer – I Saw the End. I think it’s fair to say Pallbearer is the best doom band in the world now, although I understand there’s not a ton of competition and some of you are probably wondering what “doom” is in this context. I think they’re the spiritual heirs to Black Sabbath.
Ra’s Dawn – Inside Out. Is histrionic metal a genre? Ra’s Dawn seem to embody the term, combining progressive thrash with the bombastic vocals of early power metal stalwarts like Helloween or Hammerfall. I like the music here but could do without the disappearance of the guitars behind the verses.