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

Bond, James Bond…

“Bond, James Bond…” These words fascinated me from the very first 007 picture I saw when I was a kid growing up in Germany. I can’t remember how old I was but believe it was Goldfinger. On television. Sean Connery as the British super-spy, the silver Aston Martin DB5 with all the cool features, German actor Gert Fröbe as the ultimate bad guy Mr. Goldfinger – and, since this blog isn’t about movies – the killer title track performed by Shirley Bassey, an amazing vocalist!

Between TV and the movie theater, I pretty much have seen all of the 24 pictures released in the series to date. Of course, the difference between then and now is that I have so much matured that I would never want to be James Bond, driving down a winding road in a DB5 with an attractive woman sitting next to him. But taking a look at the 007 soundtracks sounds legitimate for a music blogger, doesn’t it?

Sean Connery 007 with Aston Martin
Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger

Okay, when it comes to Bond music, we’re not exactly talking Hendrix, Clapton or The Beatles here, though in one case we come close. Plus, 007 title tracks have been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Let’s get to some of them – of course, shaken, not stirred! Hence in chronological order.

What could possibly be a better way to kick things off than with the classic James Bond Theme, which first appeared in the film that started it all: Dr. No. from 1962, introducing the movie world to “my 007”, Sean Connery. The piece was written by Monty Norman. John Barry, who composed the soundtracks for 11 Bond movies, arranged it for Dr. No. I’ve always dug the combination of the cool guitar theme that reminds me a bit of Hank Marvin and the jazz orchestra. It’s a timeless movie classic, in my opinion, right up there with Casablanca.

If I could only select one 007 title song, I think it would be the above noted Goldfinger, composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This also happens to be my favorite Bond picture. Bassey’s killer vocal performance still gives me goosebumps to this day. Goldfinger peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the vocalist born in Wales, England her only top 40 hit in the U.S., and a no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart.

On to Sir Paul and Live and Let Die. The 1973 picture was the first in the series to star Roger Moore as 007, my second favorite Bond actor and very close to Sean Connery. Co-written by Paul McCartney and his then-wife Linda McCartney, and recorded by McCartney’s band Wings, the tune became the most successful Bond title track up to that point, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reunited McCartney with Fab Four producer George Martin

In 1977, the 10th Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me came out. The title track Nobody Does It Better, composed by Marvin Hamlish with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was performed by Carly Simon. It became Simon’s second most successful single in the U.S. and the UK, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively.

Jumping to the ’80s, here’s the only Bond track to date that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100A View to a Kill from the 1985 picture, the last to feature Roger Moore. Co-written by Duran Duran and John Barry and performed by the English new wave band, the song also climbed to no. 2 in the UK, giving Duran Duran one of their biggest hits

The last Bond movie of the ’80s was License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton as 007, not my favorite choice; but I guess following Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost was mission impossible. The title track was co-written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. Gladys Knight performed the tune, marking her last charting solo single in the UK with a no. 6 top position.

This brings us to the ’90s. Who would have ever thought that Bono and U2 would get into the 007 action? Well, they did, writing the title track for the 95 picture GoldenEye, the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. He’s my favorite “late” 007. The title track, which incorporates a clever dose of nostalgia into a contemporary pop song, was performed by Tina Turner, who may not quite match Bassey’s Goldfinger but undoubtedly was a compelling vocalist.

Let’s pick another one from the same decade: Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Brosnan’s second lead role as 007. The title track was co-written by Shery Crow and the song’s producer Mitchell Froom. While the song peaked at no. 12 in the UK, it didn’t chart in the U.S.

This brings us to the current century. I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. The 007 movies and their title tracks haven’t gotten better over the decades. I still wanted to capture two examples from the 21st Century. Here’s You Know My Name from the 2006 picture Casino Royale, the first installment with Daniel Craig. Co-written by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and soundtrack composer David Arnold, the tune was performed by Cornell. If I see this correctly, it was Cornell’s most successful single as a solo artist in the UK, where it hit no. 7. It also reached the top 10 in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; it was less successful in the U.S., where it climbed to no. 79.

Last but not least, perhaps you wonder how a 007 title track sounds these days. Ask and you shall receive. Here’s No Time to Die from the upcoming picture, the 25th in the series. Scheduled to hit U.S. movie theaters on April 10, it once again stars Daniel Craig as 007. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, the tune is performed by Eilish. It was released as a single on February 13th and debuted on top of the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart. At age 18, the American singer is the youngest artist to write and perform a Bond title track. Apparently, the song is also the first 007 theme track to top the British charts – the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube