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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again to take a look at newly released music. This installment of Best of What’s New features tunes from an Irish instrumental post-rock band, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, as well as a hard rock outfit and a blues rock band, which are both from New York. All music except for one noted tune came out yesterday (February 12).

The Pretty Reckless/Rock and Roll Heaven

The Pretty Reckless are a hard rock band that was formed in New York in 2009. The group is fronted by Taylor Momsen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), a former actress and model. The other members, who have each been part of the band since 2010, include Ben Phillips (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums). After signing with Interscope, they released their eponymous debut EP in June 2010, followed by their first full-length album Light Me Up in August of the same year. The band’s studio albums have enjoyed decent success on mainstream albums charts in the U.S. and the UK. According to Wikipedia, The Pretty Reckless also hold the distinction of being the only female-fronted band to date with five no. 1 singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Rock and Roll Heaven, co-written by Phillips and Momsen, is from their fourth and new album Death by Rock and Roll.

God Is An Astronaut/In Flux

God Is An Astronaut are an instrumental post rock band from Ireland, formed in 2002 by brothers Torsten Kinsella (guitars, keyboards) and Niels Kinsella (bass, guitars). The current line-up also includes Jamie Dean (keyboards, synthesizer, guitar) and Lloyd Hanney (drums). The band’s Apple Music profile notes their music combines the epic melodies of post-rock, the precision of electronic-fueled Krautrock à la Tangerine Dream, and elements of space rock…[The brothers], the group’s driving force,…played in a number of local bands before teaming up with drummer Lloyd Hanney, the disciple of the famous jazzman Johnny Wadham, to form God Is an Astronaut. Their electro-tinged album The End of the Beginning came out on their own label, Revive Records, in 2002. The two singles off the CD, “The End of the Beginning” and “From Dust to the Beyond,” got airplay on several European MTV channels. Their second album, All Is Violent, All Is Bright, followed in 2005, and included the single “Fragile.” The band has continued to issue new albums pretty frequently. In Flux is from God Is An Astronaut’s new album (their 10th) Ghost Tapes #10. While I prefer music with vocals most of the time, I find the band’s spacey sound pretty cool.

Jillette Johnson/Jealous

Jillette Johnson, who grew up in New York, is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. According to her website, she started writing songs at age 8; by her teens, she was playing three-hour sets of original music at a restaurant near her suburban New York home. Soon, she was generating enough outside interest that she attended her public high school only one day a year while she developed and recorded her music. That dedication landed Johnson a record deal that resulted in two albums, 2013’s Water in a Whale and 2017’s All I Ever See in You Is Me, the latter of which was produced by fellow Nashvillian Dave Cobb. She began touring 200+ days each year, earning slots at major music festivals, TV appearances and press accolades from outlets ranging from Billboard, Rolling Stone Country, and Paste  to Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan. Jealous is a tune from Johnson’s third album It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You – nice pop rock tune that has a bit of a Sheryl Crow vibe.

Jane Lee Hooker/Jericho

Jane Lee Hooker are a dynamic blues rock band from New York I have covered on a few previous occasions, for example here and here. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Hail Mary Z (bass) and ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums), who joined last year after the departure of original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston. In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with German independent blues label Ruf Records and released their debut No B! in April 2016. This was followed by their sophomore release Spiritus from November 2017. Jericho is the band’s new single that came out on January 29. “Jericho is one of those songs that kind of wrote itself, the music and lyrics just poured out of me,” stated Athens on the group’s website.  “A lot of songs have been written about the Battle of Jericho, it’s a timeless anecdote for having the strength inside to use our voices to break down the walls that divide us and change our world for the good.” 

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Jillette Johnson website; Jane Lee Hooker website; YouTube