Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest Best of What’s New installment coincides with the fifth anniversary of the blog, which was yesterday (June 25). If you’re curious, my inaugural post is here. Frankly, when I started this endeavor in June 2016, I really wasn’t sure whether I would stick with it. Lately, my time has been pretty limited to the point where I considered taking a break. But writing about music is way too much fun, so the show must go on! This brings me to my new music picks for this week: Three acts I had not heard of before, as well as a band I’ve known since the late ’70s and that is out with their first new music in a decade.

Lightning Bug/The Return

Lightning Bug are an indie pop band from Brooklyn, New York, which has been around for about 10 years. Unfortunately, there is very little official public information available on this band, so I’m largely relying on reviews by Spectral Nights, Stereogum and Americana Highways. Lightning Bug started out as a trio consisting of multi-instrumentalists Audrey Kang (lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocal loops, violin, synthesizer, electronics, bowed cymbal, bowed pedal steel), Kevin Copeland (background vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, sampler, piano, bass guitar, bowed electric guitar, drum programming) and Logan Miley (sampler, modular synthesizer, drum programming, bass synthesizer, piano, electric guitar, electronics). After signing with record label Fat Possum in 2020, they added Vincent Puleo (bass, acoustic guitar) and Dane Hagen (drums, acoustic guitar) to the line-up. The Return, co-written by Kang, Copeland and Miley, is the opener to Lightning Bug’s third and new album A Color of the Sky released yesterday. I find the dreamy and spacy sound and Kang’s soft voice quite soothing.

The Mountain Goats/Mobile

The Mountain Goats are an indie folk rock band founded by singer-songwriter John Darnielle in Claremont, Calif. in 1991. For many years, the group’s sole permanent member was Darnielle who relied on collaborators. The first release under the name The Mountain Goats was a cassette in 1991, titled Taboo VI: The Homecoming. The first full-length album Zopilote Machine appeared in 1994. Starting with their seventh album Tallahassee from November 2002, The Mountain Goats started recording as a full band. The catalog released to date under the name The Mountain Goats includes about 20 albums and more than 25 EPs and singles. In addition to Darnielle (vocals, guitar, keyboards), the band’s current core members include Matt Douglas (flute, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), Peter Hughes (bass, backing vocals) and Jon Wurster (drums). Here’s Mobile from their new album Dark in Here, which came out yesterday. Like all other tracks, it was written by Darnielle. Great sound!

Journey/The Way We Used to Be

Undoubtedly, some eyes are going to roll when they see the name Journey. Call it arena rock or pop rock or whatever else you want. Since I first heard Wheel in the Sky on the radio in Germany back in the late ’70s, I always thought Journey had some good songs. Formed as Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former members of the Santana band Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and future drummer of The Tubes, Prairie Prince, the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves Journey and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry became Journey’s lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. Following Perry’s departure in 1998, the band brought in Steve Augeri as their new lead vocalist. Due to vocal issues his tenure with Journey ended in July 2006. In December 2007, Filipino singer-songwriter Arnel Pineda became the band’s new vocalist after Neal Schon had seen videos of him on YouTube. Journey have also been through multiple other changes in their line-up over the decades. The current formation features Schon (lead guitar, backing vocals), Pineda (lead vocals), Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals) and Randy Jackson (bass), along with new members Narada Michael Walden (drums) and Jason Derlatka (keyboards, backing vocals). On June 24, Journey released The Way We Used Be, a single and their first new music since their most recent studio album Eclipse from May 2011. Based on this Billboard story, a new album is in the works as well. It’s not exactly Who’s Crying Now, Don’t Stop Believin’ or Open Arms, but it still does sound like Journey.

Mannequin Pussy/To Lose You

Mannequin Pussy are a punk and indie rock band from Philadelphia. They were initially founded in October 2010 as a duo by Marisa Dabice (vocals, guitar) and Athanasios Paul (drums) who had met each other in school. In early 2013, Drew Adler joined on drums and Paul moved to guitar. In October that year, the band’s first album appeared as a limited cassette-only edition. It was subsequently re-released in 2014 by their new label Tiny Engines and later renamed Mannequin Pussy. In 2016, Mannequin Pussy became a four piece with the addition of Colins “Bear” Regisford on bass. Two additional albums have since come out, as well as two EPs. Dabice remains as the only original member of the band’s current line-up, which also features Regisford and Kaleen Reading (drums) who replaced Adler in 2015. To Lose You is a track from the latter from the EP Perfect, released on May 21. Kind of catchy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Spectral Nights; Stereogum; Americana Highway; Billboard; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest selection of newly released music marks a bit of a milestone: It’s the 50th installment of Best of What’s New. With one exception, the recurring feature has appeared each week since I started it on March 21, 2020. While I doubt any new releases can truly reach my favorite artists and songs from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s still encouraging to me that I keep finding new music I like. My picks for this week include contemporary jazz, indie folk rock, rock and a form of post-rock called math rock, a genre I had never heard of before! All tunes came out yesterday (March 5).

Gretchen Parlato/É Preciso Perdoar

Gretchen Parlato is a contemporary jazz vocalist. Her profile on Apple Music describes her as a forward-thinking jazz singer with an emotive, languid style and a bent toward mixing various musical influences into a modern creative jazz aesthetic. A California native, Parlato grew up listening to a variety of musical genres before focusing on jazz. In 2001, Parlato became the first vocalist ever admitted into the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. Three years later, she won first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. Subsequently, she has appeared on a bevy of other artists’ albums, including recordings by bassist Esperanza Spalding, pianist Kenny Barron, and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others. Since her independent eponymous 2005 debut, Parlato has released five additional albums including the latest, Flor (Portuguese for flower). According to her website, Flor is a gorgeous synthesis of original material, American popular music, European classical music, and Brazilian standards. It exemplifies the many ways in which motherhood has reconnected Parlato to her own inner child, revisiting the enchantment of falling in love with music for the first time, particularly the various Brazilian genres she became enamored with as a young teenager. Here’s the opener É Preciso Perdoar, credited to Brazilian composers Alcyvando Luz and Carlos Coqueijo, and Parlato. Check out her beautiful vocals and the laid back groove of this tune. I love this!

Fruit Bats/The Balcony

Fruit Bats are an indie folk rock band around singer-songwriter Eric D. Johnson. The group was initially founded in 1997 in Chicago as a side project for Johnson who also led space rock group I Rowboat and played guitar in several other bands. Fruit Bats evolved into a band in 2001 when I Rowboat members Dan Strack (guitar) and Brian Belval (drums) joined Johnson’s project. They released their debut album Echolocation in September that year. Since then, the group has had many lineup changes, with Johnson as the only constant member. The Balcony, written by Johnson, is from Fruit Bats’ new album The Pet Parade, their eighth. While according to the band’s website, many of the songs were written prior to the pandemic, Johnson and the other musicians had to self-record their parts separated from each other at their homes. Yet everything came together quite nicely. Here’s the official video for The Balcony. The footage may be a bit creepy, but the music is quite catchy.

Kings of Leon/The Bandit

While the name Kings of Leon immediately rang a bell, I believe this is the first time I’ve actually listened to any of their music. Formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 1999, this rock band has been a family affair for the past 20-plus years. The lineup includes brothers Caleb Followill (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jared Followill (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and Nathan Followill (drums, percussion, backing vocals), and their cousin Matthew Followill (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals). Initially, Kings of Leon enjoyed significant chart success in the UK before starting to gain similar traction in the U.S. with their fourth album Only by the Night. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and is their best-selling album to date. The Bandit, a tune from Kings of Leon’s new studio release When You See Yourself, is credited to all members of the band. “I really dug deep into my love of Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson and stuff like that,” Caleb told Apple Music. “I was like, ‘I’m going to write a song about a bandit, and then a bounty hunter who’s paid to find this man.’ In the meantime, they become such a part of each other’s life that they’re the two people that matter the most to them. The chase is more thrilling than the catch.” I have to say based on this great song, I’d like to further explore the band.

toe/The Latest Number

Let’s wrap things up with Japanese rock band toe, which were formed in Tokyo in 2000. According to their Apple Music profile, Toe are a primarily instrumental rock quartet…consisting of guitarists Mino Takaaki and Yamazaki Hirokazu, drummer Kashikura Takashi, and bassist Yamane Satoshi. Often categorized as post-rock or math rock, their free-flowing, highly melodic songs feature splashy yet tightly controlled drumming and dynamic guitar interplay, as well as occasional electronic elements and additional instruments such as vibraphone and Rhodes piano…Restless live performers, Toe have toured at home and abroad with bands such as the Album Leaf, Mogwai, and Envy, in addition to notable appearances at festivals such as Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival. Having established their jazz-influenced instrumental sound with several EPs and full-lengths such as 2005’s The Book About My Idle Plot on a Vague Anxiety, Toe incorporated more vocals on later releases such as 2015’s Hear You. The Latest Number appears on the band’s new live album ‘DOKU-EN-KAI’ that captures a 2019 gig at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. The tune was first included on a 2018 EP titled Our Latest Number. As such, technically, it’s not exactly their latest number. But it’s on a newly released album, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, how often do I get to write about Japanese rock bands? And they’re not just some band from Tokyo; these guys are remarkable musicians!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Gretchen Parlato website; Fruit Bats website; YouTube