Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the latest installment of my weekly recurring feature where I take a look at new music. In case you are a first-time visitor, my favorite decades in music are the ’60s and ’70s, and until March 2020 when I started Best of What’s New, I essentially had written off contemporary music. I’ve since realized that while the ’60s and ’70s won’t come back (d’uh!), I can still find some good new music if I look beyond the charts and do some digging.

Yes, discovering new music I reasonably like takes time – after all, my taste hasn’t really changed fundamentally. I still love the British invasion, blues rock, classic rock and ’70s soul, to name a few examples. As such, exploring contemporary music requires a certain degree of open-mindedness and to occasionally go beyond my comfort zone. Usually, it all results in picking artists who are entirely new to me.

This brings me to this week’s installment. Three of the featured four acts fall in the entirely-new-to-me category: Two rock bands and a psychedelic pop outfit. Yep, you can still find some psychedelic music! Interestingly, all three were formed in southern California. The fourth artist, who hails from Kansas and I believe also resides in California, represents the only kind of new music I listened to in the past, i.e., new releases by “old” artists. All tracks are from albums that were released yesterday (September 17). ‘Nuff said, let’s get to some music!

Dead Sara/All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead

My first pick are Dead Sara, a rock band from Los Angeles. The group’s origins go back to 2002 when guitarists Emily Armstrong and Siouxsie Medley met as 16-year-olds and began writing songs together. In March 2005, they first performed as a band, calling themselves Epiphany. Later that same year, they changed their name to Dead Sara, a reference to Fleetwood Mac’s song Sara. Their debut EP The Airport Sessions appeared in 2008. Since the release of their eponymous first full-length album in April 2012, two additional albums have appeared, including the latest Ain’t It Tragic. In addition to Armstrong (lead vocals) and Medley (lead guitar, bass), Dead Sara’s current line-up includes Sean Friday (drums, guitar). Here’s All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead.

Mild High Club/Dionysian State

Mild High Club is a psychedelic pop outfit from Los Angeles around songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Brettin, who started the band in 2013. While the latest recording list additional musicians, I’m not sure there are other standing members. According to Apple Music’s profile, Brettin studied jazz guitar at Chicago’s Columbia College before deciding he was more interested in creating his own Steely Dan-inspired mix of jazz, pop, and psychedelia. Impressed by Brettin’s home recordings, Stones Throw Records head Peanut Butter Wolf [now that’s a name! – CMM] signed Mild High Club to the label in 2014. The group’s second album, 2016’s Skiptracing, received rave reviews for its dreamy, ’70s soft-pop vibe. Sketches of Brunswick East, Mild High Club’s 2017 jazz-oriented collaboration with psych-rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard [previously featured in Best of What’s New here – CMM], reached No. 4 on Australia’s Top Albums chart. This brings me to Mild High Club’s new album Going Going Gone and the track Dionysian State. I can definitely hear some Steely Dan in here. As a fan of the Dan, that’s definitely not a disadvantage!

Thrice/Northern Lights

On to Thrice, an American rock band formed in 1998 and yet another group from Southern California (Irvine). According to Apple Music, “Multi-genre rock band Thrice is one of the most notable groups of the 2000s post-hardcore/emo scene, with four of their albums topping the Billboard  Independent Albums chart.” Frankly, that was news to me! The band was founded by Dustin Kensrue (guitar, vocals) and Teppei Teranishi (lead guitar) while they were in high school. Teranishi brought in his friend Eddie Breckenridge (bass) who in turn asked his brother Riley Breckenridge to join on drums. A self-released EP in 1999 was followed by the group’s first full-length album Identity Crisis in June 2000. After seven additional albums and following a tour in the spring of 2012, Thrice went on hiatus. They reemerged in 2015 and have since released three additional albums including their latest Horizons/East. Here’s Northern Lights written by Kensrue – check out this neat sound!

Melissa Etheridge/As Cool As You Try

Time to wrap up this installment with a great blues rock tune by Melissa Etheridge from her new album. The American singer-songwriter and guitarist first entered my radar screen with her excellent eponymous debut album that came out in May 1988. Her raspy voice and great songs grabbed me right away. Fast-forward 33 years to One Way One, Etheridge’s 16h and new studio album. According to this review in Louder, it’s a collection of previously unreleased songs she wrote in the late ’80s and early ’90s. To realize the project Etheridge decided to reconnect with musicians who played on her early albums, including Kevin McCormick (bass), Fritz Lewak (drums) and John Shanks. Here’s As Cool As You Try, which was first released as an upfront track on August 19. This rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, a look at new or recently released music that sufficiently speaks to me to write about it. If you’re a first-time visitor of the blog, I should point out that oftentimes my picks in these posts represent the first exposure to the featured artists. That’s certainly the case this week, which includes different flavors of rock from the U.S. and Australia, as well as beautiful pop-oriented folk from England. Let’s get to it!

Wavves/Hideaway

Wavves is an alternative rock music project started in San Diego, Calif. in 2008 by singer-songwriter Nathan Williams. Apple Music characterizes his music as a blend of distorted no-fi and refined sunshiny melodies. Charmingly messy, most of his lyrics, while difficult to decipher, generally revolve around the subjects of weed, boredom, and the beach — when he isn’t poking jabs at the gloomy subculture of goth rock (a common theme, found in “Goth Girls,” “California Goths,” “Summer Goths,” “Surf Goths,” and “Beach Goths”). Current members of Wavves also include Alex Gates (guitar, backing vocals) and Stephen Pope (bass guitar, backing vocals). Wavves’ eponymous debut album appeared in September 2008. Their third album King of the Beach received generally positive reviews and was the first to enter the U.S. charts, climbing to no. 28 and no. 168 on the Billboard Independent Albums and 200 charts, respectively. Hideaway, co-written by Williams and producer Dave Sitek, is the title track of Wavves‘ upcoming seventh studio album slated for July 16. The tune was released as the third upfront single on June 8.

The Murlocs/Bittersweet Demons

The Murlocs are a rock band from Melbourne, Australia, which was founded in 2011. Their current line-up features Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica), Cal Shortal (guitar), Tim Karmouche (keyboards), Cook Craig (bass) and Matt Blach (drums). Kenny-Smith and Craig are also members of fellow Aussie act King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Both bands also share the same label, Flightless Records. On their Bandcamp profile, The Murlocs describe their music as “firmly placed in their own blown-out, distorted brand of soulful RnB.” After two EPs in 2012, the band released their first full-length studio album Loopholes in April 2014. Rolling On, the second single from September 2015 off their sophomore album Young Blindness, marked a breakthrough for The Murlocs and remains one of their most popular songs. Their third and fourth albums from July 2017 and March 2019, respectively, reached the top 20 on the main Australian music charts. Bittersweet Demons, credited to The Murlocs, is the title track of the band’s upcoming fifth studio album set for release on June 25. According to this review by Melodic Magazine, the piano-driven tune was inspired by the death of a close friend of Kenny-Smith. I dig the catchy melody and the cool retro sound.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich/Full Full Colour

Benjamin Francis Leftwich is a singer-songwriter from York, England. According to his Apple Music profile, he is known for his introspective, acoustic folk sound. Leftwich emerged in 2011 with Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, which peaked at number 35 on the U.K. Albums Chart. He continued to hone his melancholic brand of acoustic folk-pop on subsequent efforts like After the Rain (2016) and To Carry a Whale (2021), which drew similar acclaim and elicited comparisons to the likes of Jose Gonzalez and Iron & Wine. Born in York in 1989 to South African and Australian parents, Leftwich lived a nomadic childhood, spending as much time in Sydney as in his native U.K. Inspired by Elliott Smith and Bruce Springsteen, he taught himself to play the guitar at age ten, and fronted indie pop outfit the Nicoles in his teens before embarking on a solo career. The above mentioned To Carry a Whale is Leftwich’s fourth full-length studio album released yesterday (June 18). Here’s the closer Full Full Colour co-written by him and fellow English musician Samuel Duckworth. The track was also previously released as a single on May 14. It’s a lovely mellow tune!

Reigning Sound/Let’s Do It Again

Reigning Sound are a rock and soul band founded in Memphis, Tenn. in 2001 by garage punk musician Greg Cartwright (vocals/ guitar). Apple Music describes them as blending “the hot wired energy of garage rock with the deep emotional resonance of classic soul music in a manner that suggests a cross between the early Rolling Stones and the Sonics.” Cartwright is also known for his involvement in Compulsive Gamblers and Oblivians, two other Memphis garage rock bands. Reigning Sound’s lineup has changed over the years. After their first single Two Sides to Every Man from early 2001, the band released Break Up, Break Down, their country folk-oriented debut album in May of the same year. Let’s Do It Again is the seductive opener of Reigning Sound’s eight and new studio album A Little More Time with Reigning Sound that came out on May 21. According to this Pitchfork review, it reunites Cartwright with Alex Greene (organ, guitar, backing vocals), Jeremy Scott (bass, backing vocals) and Greg Roberson (drums), the band’s lineup before Cartwright relocated to Ashville, N.C. in 2004 where he has since been based.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Murlocs Bandcamp profile; Melodic Magazine; Pitchfork; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

While McCartney III kept me busy yesterday, Paul McCartney’s new album wasn’t the only great new music. Ringo Starr also released a new single. I wonder how many times has it happened before that two ex-Beatles come out with new music during the same week! But wait, there’s more.

How about an indie rock band from LA and a young R&B artist and producer from South Korea? Or a prolific Australian rock band I had never heard of before, which apparently is considered to be one of the most genre-hopping bands of all time.

Last but not least, this latest Best of What’s New installment also features a longtime New Jersey singer-songwriter and musician, who is perhaps best known for having performed the music of Steely Dan for more than 26 years, faithfully capturing the vocals of Donald Fagen.

The Wrecks/Static

The Wrecks are a band from the Los Angeles area, which was formed in 2016. Apple Music’s profile describes their music as exuberant, melodic, emo- and punk-influenced indie rock. The group found early success with their 2016 breakout single, “Favorite Liar,” and after a pair of EPs signed to the Big Noise label for their 2020 full-length Infinitely Ordinary. Hailing from Thousand Oaks, California, singer/guitarist Nick Anderson, guitarist Nick Schmidt, guitarist Westen Weiss, bassist Aaron Kelley, and drummer Billy Nally had barely formed when they chanced on the opportunity for a few covert days in a local studio. In just three hectic days, they recorded their 2016 debut EP, We Are the Wrecks, which featured the catchy single “Favorite Liar.” The song picked up steam online and helped the Wrecks land some key gigs opening for Paramore and the Struts along with festival slots at Lollapalooza and BottleRock. A second EP, Panic Vertigo, arrived in 2018, followed in 2020 by the Wrecks’ first LP, Infinitely Ordinary, on the Big Noise imprint. Static, co-written by Anderson and Schmidt, is the title track of The Wrecks’ new EP, which appeared yesterday. Admittedly, it falls outside my core wheelhouse, but my pop ear can’t deny it’s catchy.

Mike Caputo/Maya Lee

Unless you’ve read my blog for a long time, you probably haven’t heard of New Jersey singer-songwriter and musician Mike Caputo. Mike has been active for over 50 years. According to a bio on his website, A vocalist who plays keyboards and drums, Mike was signed to ABC Dunhill records at 15 years old after playing the Cafe Wha? in NYC in 1967. From that point he performed as a lead vocalist and either drummer, or keyboardist in a variety of local bands in the club circuit. Performing 5 to 6 nights a week playing Pop, Progressive, Jazz, R&B, Funk and his own Original Compositions, led him to more studio experience at Private Stock Records in the 70’s...Mike is also a published writer who wrote lyrics and melody for “A Question Of  Time” by B.J. Thomas from the album “Once I Loved” and “Manhattan Blue” for Rich Cecere’e Big Band. For the past more than 26 years, he has performed the music of Steely Dan, faithfully capturing the voice of Donald Fagen. His current project Good Stuff also features music of Gino Vannelli, Stevie Wonder and Sting, all artists who influenced him. Mike’s also a dear friend, and I’ve been to many of his shows. This doesn’t mean I’m featuring Maya Lee, a song he recently wrote, to do him a favor. In fact, he has no idea what’s coming at him! 🙂 When I saw this tune on Facebook the other day, I immediately dug it. It’s got a great smooth pop jazzy sound – and, yes, I can definitely hear some Donald Fagen/Steely Dan in here. I also really like the bass and guitar work, provided by Scott Hogan and Don Regan, respectively, who are also members of Good Stuff.

Ringo Starr/Here’s to the Nights

It turns out Paul McCartney wasn’t the only ex-Beatle who was busy working on new music during the pandemic. His former band mate Ringo Starr released Here’s to the Nights on Wednesday (December 16), the lead single from his forthcoming EP Zoom In scheduled for March 19, 2021. An announcement on his website notes, As this crazy year comes to a close, Ringo is offering a song of peace, love and friendship – “Here’s To The Nights” available today as a single…Written by Diane Warren, Ringo is joined by his friends, some longtime and some new, including: Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Eric Burton (Black Pumas), Sheryl Crow, FINNEAS, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Steve Lukather, Chris Stapleton and Yola. Of course, I can see cynics dismissing this as an aging pop star getting a little help from celebrity musician friends. While it’s coming out just prior to the holidays, I don’t think this is about making a quick buck. Instead, I fully buy Ringo’s statement: “This is the kind of song we all want to sing along to, and it was so great how many wonderful musicians joined in. I wanted it out in time for New Years because it feels like a good song to end a tough year on. So here’s to the nights we won’t remember and the friends we won’t forget – and I am wishing everyone peace and love for 2021.”

Miso/Let It Go

Here’s another selection that’s not the kind of music I usually listen to, but there’s just something about Miso, a 28-year-old R&B artist and producer from South Korea. According to a mini bio on last.fm, Miso lived in England during her childhood. Her songs are characterized by a very peculiar modern and soft beat. Her name has often been associated with artists like DEAN and she has worked with CRUSH too – no idea who these artists are. Let It Go, for which Miso wrote both the music and lyrics, is from her new EP Metanoia released December 14. I guess it’s mostly her voice that drew me in. And check out that cool bassline! This tune definitely has something.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard/If Not Now, Then When?

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (what a name!) are an Australian rock band founded in 2010 in Melbourne. Initially, they started as a group of friends jamming together until a mutual friend asked them to play at a show – sounds like the rest is history. The current line-up features Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, flute), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica, keyboards), Cook Craig (guitar, bass, vocals), Joey Walker (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), Lucas Harwood (bass, keyboards) and Michael “Cavs” Cavanagh (drums, percussion). Their profile on Apple Music notes they have built a reputation as one of the most prolific and adventurous genre-hopping bands of all time. Their debut studio album 12 Bar Bruise appeared in September 2012. And, yes, this band has been pretty prolific indeed ever since, releasing 15 additional studio albums, six live albums, two EPs, one compilation and more than 40 singles. If Not Now, Then When? is their latest single that came out on December 10. This is just a cool tune. The groove and the falsetto vocals remind me a bit of Prince. Check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; last.fm; YouTube