Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All picks appear on releases that came out yesterday. Let’s get to them without further ado.

Larkin Poe/Southern Comfort

Great to see a new album by Larkin Poe, the roots and blues rock-focused singer-songwriter sister act of Rebecca Lovell (vocals, guitars, keyboards, drums) and her slightly older sister Megan Lovell (vocals, lap steel, slide guitar, keyboards). Their website describes their music as “gritty, soulful, and flavored by their southern heritage.” I first came across these two young dynamic ladies, who not only are excellent musicians but also great vocalists, in late 2019. They started out as teenagers with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/ Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters. After the trio disbanded in January 2010, Rebecca and Megan decided to forge ahead without Jessica and have since been making music as Larkin Poe. Apart from self-producing their own music, the two sisters have a very active YouTube channel that among others includes a cover channel featuring stripped-back renditions of many well-known rock and blues tunes. If you don’t know Larkin Poe, check them out! Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious! Meanwhile, here’s Southern Comfort, penned by Rebecca Lovell, a nice southern blues rock-flavored tune from their sixth full-length album Blood Harmony.

Jack Kays/Finally Fine

Let’s turn to Jack Kays whose music is “hard to pigeonhole,” according to AllMusic, blending “punk and emo with rugged acoustic folk and occasional detours into cloud rap.” Here’s more from their bio of the young artist: After a handful of independent releases, the Ohio native found viral success with his sparse but aggressive acoustic songs, especially “Morbid Mind.” Signing with Columbia Records, Kays released his debut album, Mixed Emotions, in early 2021. My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP with Travis Barker followed later that year. I featured a tune of that EP in a Best of What’s New installment at the time. Kays who struggled with addiction during his teenage years is now out with his latest EP titled Cessation. One of the songs, Finally Fine, begins…from the perspective of an addict and then transitions midway through to the perspective of someone in recovery, a press release explains. There’s something captivating about Kays’ lyrics and stripped-back approach on this and the EP’s other tracks, which drew me in.

Action/Adventure/Levity

Action/Adventure are a pop punk band from Chicago. From their Apple Music profile: Combining the aggressive melodic approach of pop-punk with the punishing guitar attack of metalcore, Action/Adventure are a band from Chicago who’ve earned a powerful reputation on the city’s underground rock scene. They also upend expectations of what a hardcore band should look like: Action/Adventure is composed of five BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) men, and their songs sometimes examine the challenges and contradictions of being part of a dominantly white musical community. They just as often deal with the anger, imaginings, and uncertainty that often fuel hardcore, and they perform with a strong balance of fire and precision. They made an emphatic debut with 2015’s Rumble Pak EP, revealed a greater maturity and ambition on 2018’s Going Heel, and began breaking through to a larger audience with 2021’s Pulling Focus. Action/Adventure include Blake Evaristo (lead vocals), Brompton Jackson (vocals/guitar), Oren Trace (guitar), Manny Avila (bass) and Adrian Brown (drums). Levity, credited to all members, is a tune from their latest album Imposter Syndrome. Metalcore generally isn’t my cup of tea, but Action/Adventure’s pop-flavored type isn’t your usual metalcore.

Franz Nicolay/Wandering Star

Wrapping up this week’s Best of What’s New is a prolific multi-instrumentalist and writer, Franz Nicolay. From his website: In addition to records under his own name, he was a member of cabaret-punk orchestra World/Inferno Friendship Society, “world’s best bar band” the Hold Steady, Balkan-jazz quartet Guignol, co-founded the composer-performer collective Anti-Social Music, was a touring member of agit-punks Against Me!; and recorded (complete discography here) or performed (complete list here) with dozens of other acts. He studied music at New York University and writing at Columbia University (where he was awarded a Felipe P. de Alba Fellowship). He received fellowship residencies in composition at the Rensing Art Center and writing at the Ucross Foundation and the Edward F. Albee Foundation. He has taught at Columbia University and UC-Berkeley, and is currently a faculty member in music and written arts at Bard College. This brings me to New River, Nicolay’s latest solo album, and the opening track Wandering Star. Great tune – check it out! In fact, the entire album looks promising, based on sampling a few of the other tunes.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes by each of the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Larkin Poe website; AllMusic; Sony Music Canada website; Apple Music; Franz Nicolay website; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New where I typically highlight four new songs. Since I only started paying closer attention to contemporary music on a regular basis when launching this weekly recurring feature close to two years ago, most of the artists included in these posts are new to me. In this installment, that’s the case for my first three picks. The last is one of my longtime favorite artists.

Johnny Marr/Lightning People

I’d like to start with new music by English guitarist and singer-songwriter Johnny Marr, who first gained prominence in the ’80s as a co-founder of English indie rock band The Smiths. Following the group’s break-up, Marr played in various other bands, including Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. In February 2013, Marr released his solo debut album The Messenger, which climbed to no. 10 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. Two additional albums have since come out and another one, Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4, is scheduled for February 25, 2022. Marr has started to release songs from the forthcoming record as EPs. Here’s Lightning People, a track from Fever Dreams Pt. 2 that came out yesterday (December 17). Like the other three songs on the EP, it was co-written by him and James Doviak, co-producer and guitarist in Marr’s band. Sounds pretty good to me!

Arlie/Crashing Down

Arlie are an indie rock band from Nashville. Essentially, that’s all I know, based on this short review in Melodic Magazine. Apple Music lists an EP, Wait, from September 2018, and six singles including the latest titled Crashing Down that appeared on December 14. The tune was co-written by Hayes Helsper and Nathaniel Banks. “”Crashing down” is about this feeling of “everything I’ve built my sense of security upon might suddenly crumble” and how that can really make you re-evaluate your priorities,” Banks who is the band’s lead vocalist told Melodic Magazine. “It’s about how a dream scared me enough to snap me out of taking a lot of things for granted, and enough to make me realize how much I care about being in the physical presence of the people I love most.” When listening to the tune’s upbeat music without paying attention to the lyrics, you’d never guess the song’s topic.

Jack Kays & Travis Barker/Sideways

In connection with his debut album Mixed Emotions from January this year, Apple Music describes Jack Kays as a multi-talented artist who creates a blend of emo rap, pop-punk, and folk music that boldly grapples with questions of insecurity and addiction. This description also is a good fit for Sideways, a track from My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP released December 10. Kays recorded it with Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. According to this press release, the 4-track project continues Jack’s exploration of themes surrounding mental health. The release also quotes Kays: “I feel like society loves to romanticize the successful recovery from mental illness but doesn’t like to address people during the process as they’re trying to combat and overcome it. When people listen to this project, I want those who are experiencing that to feel heard and feel accepted.” Here’s the official video.

John Mellencamp/Chasing Rainbows

Rounding out this post is John Mellencamp whose music I’ve enjoyed for more than 30 years. I trust the heartland straight-turned-roots rocker doesn’t need an introduction. Arguably, Seymour, Ind.’s most famous son who turned 70 on October 7, Mellencamp has been active for 45 years. Chasing Rainbows, released December 10, is the second upfront track from his upcoming 24th studio album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack, scheduled for January 21, 2022. Co-written by Mellencamp and John Young, the tune follows Wasted Days, which appeared on September 29 and features Bruce Springsteen. Previously, I wrote about it here. Chasing Rainbows is another reason I look forward to the new album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Melodic Magazine; Apple Music; Columbia Records press release; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s hard to believe another week has flown by. I’m happy to present my latest picks of newly released music. This time, the collection features red dirt country (yes, apparently that’s a music genre), a beautiful melodic acoustic tune by a New York rock band, an indie rock artist from New Zealand, a longtime singer-songwriter taking on an iconic Steely Dan tune, as well as an artist who has been associated with various genres like new wave, post-punk, R&B, rap and indie rock – or is it perhaps music folks trying to slap a label on him? Let’s get to it!

Zach Bryan/Quiet, Heavy Dreams

Zach Bryan is a young singer-songwriter hailing from Oklahoma. An artist profile on Apple Music calls him a plaintive, quivering country troubadour indebted to the literary side of Red Dirt Country. According to Wikipedia, red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Encouraged by a favorable reception among red dirt fans, he recorded his follow-on Elisabeth that appeared in May this year. Quiet, Heavy Dreams is the title track of Bryan’s new EP released today (November 27). His voice and the bare bones approach drew me in.

Bayside/Light Me Up

Bayside are a rock band named after the neighborhood in Queens, New York, where they were founded in October 2000 by lead vocalist Anthony Raneri and his childhood friend Mike Kozak (drums). Kozak left the following year to form his own group. Bayside released their debut album Sirens and Condolences in January 2004. The eponymous sophomore album from August 2005 was the band’s first to chart in the U.S., peaking at no. 153 on the Billboard 200. They have since released six additional full-length albums. Their catalog also features a live album and 10 EPs. The band’s line-up has changed various times over the years and currently includes Jack O’Shea (lead guitar, backing vocals), Nick Ghanbarian (bass, backing vocals) and Chris Guglielmo (drums, percussion), along with Raneri, the only remaining original member. Light Me Up is a single credited to all members of the band, released on November 20. It’s from Bayside’s upcoming 11th EP Acoustic Volume Three, which is scheduled for December 11. Check out the melodic sound of this tune and the harmony singing – love it!

KennyHoopla/Estella (feat. Travis Barker)

KennyHoopla is a 23-year-old Milwaukee-based singer-songwriter who was born as Kenneth La’ron in Cleveland. According to his Apple Music artist profile, he emerged out of the midwestern underground in the latter years of the 2010s with a series of buzz-worthy singles that merged aspects of new wave, post-punk, and R&B...Hoopla began making music at a young age, influenced by acts like Funeral Suits, Passion Pit, and the Drums…His early tracks were loosely labeled rap, though his dark-toned, guitar-based songs and aching contemplative vocals had more in common with indie rock and alt-R&B. He gained traction both regionally and online with 2017’s “Waves//” single and its 2018 follow-up, “Sickness.” Admittedly, I had never of heard of these tunes or KennyHoopla before. With so many genres flying around in the above profile, it also appears to be tricky to characterize his music. I’ve said it before and say it again: It all comes down to whether music speaks to you, not the genre. And there’s something about Hoopla’s new single Estella, which came out on November 20, featuring Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. At just under two minutes, it could almost be a contemporary version of a Ramones tune.

Emily Edrosa/Drinking During the Day

Emily Edrosa is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Auckland, New Zealand. According to a bio on the website of her record label Park The Van, Edrosa had fronted New Zealand indie rock band Street Chant for 10 years before she decided to relocate to Los Angeles in 2016 and start over. While living there, she continued to work on songs that ended up on her new solo record Another Wave Is Coming released November 20. Edrosa wrote the parts for all instruments. Except for the drums, which were provided by Bosh Rothman (U.S.) and New Zealand peers Alex Freer and Liz Stokes, she also played all instruments by herself. A review of the album in No Depression notes Edrosa recently returned to New Zealand. Here’s Drinking During the Day. Check out the neat transition from mid tempo to a slower pace starting at around 2:24 minutes with a somewhat Beatle-esque guitar part – pretty cool!

Bill Callahan/Deacon Blues (feat. Bill Mackay)

Let me preface this last clip by saying that Steely Dan are one of my all-time favorite bands and their album Aja from September 1977 is music perfection to my ears. As such, I think covering Deacon Blues, one of the album’s tracks that also happens to be my favorite Dan tune, does take a good deal of self-confidence. American singer-songwriter and guitarist Bill Callahan, who has been around for three decades, not only decided to take on the challenge but turn the jazz pop-oriented original co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker into a stripped back acoustic version. In addition to Callahan, this cover only features composer and guitarist Bill MacKay and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the adopted artist name of American singer-songwriter Joseph Will Oldham. With no horns and most other instruments that are on Steely Dan’s original and Callahan’s voice sounding much closer to Yusuf/Cat Stevens than Donald Fagen, this is quite different. I imagine not all Dan fans may be with me here, but I think Callahan did an amazing job, making an iconic tune truly his own.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Park The Van website; No Depression; YouTube