February 2017 Music Picks

Tash Sultana- “Jungle”

Tash Sultana is a 21-year old one-woman band from Melbourne, Australia consisting of guitar, vocals, percussion, mandolin, pan flute, melodica wind piano and electronic production.  The song “Jungle” is a hypnotic reggae-folk masterpiece.  Here’s the short radio edit for those with short attention spans – but you should really take a moment and watch the full live version posted below.

 

 

 

Sylvan Esso – Radio

Sylvan Esso is an American electro-folk-indie pop duo from North Carolina formed in 2013, consisting of singer Amelia Meath (veteran of the a cappella folk group Mountain Men) and producer Nick Sanborn (of Megafaun & Made of Oak).  Their danceable tunes range from dark and moody to bright and bouncy.  “(Slave to the) Radio” is a hypnotic tune of technology and consumerism at odds with creativity.

 

 

The xx – On Hold 

Hmm…thought I posted this earlier. Must have been distracted! The English trio known as “The xx” formed in 2005 and released their debut album in 2009, topping many UK year-end charts and winning the Mercury Prize in 2010. Their new album “I See You”, due for release in January, is a follow up to 2012’s “Coexist” which reached #1 in several European countries. The new single “On Hold” is a gorgeous, poignantly regretful look back at youthful naivety and complacency.  Listen closely – did you catch that cleverly incorporated Hall and Oates sample?

 

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January 2017 Music Picks

Rag N’ Bone Man “Human”

The downside of devoting December to year-end countdowns is waiting until January to rave about hot new music.  Dozens have already dubbed British singer-songwriter Rory Graham aka Rag’n’Bone Man a “star-in-waiting”.  His amazingly soulful single “Human” has hit number one in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland and more.  With a driving bass beat and “growling vocals that soar over a genre-blending melange of hip-hop soul and gospel” this single and artist definitively stands out from the crowd.  His debut album is scheduled to arrive in March.

 

LP – Lost On You

One of the rare ones that made me say “WOW” on first listen and I’m loving it more with every subsequent replay.  LP (Laura Perfolizzi) is an American pop/rock singer from Long Island.  She’s been on the scene since her debut release in 2001, has collaborated with Linda Perry, and written for Cher Lloyd, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera and more.  The single “Lost On You” has topped the charts in seven European countries to date (France, Greece, Israel, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Turkey) and amply deserves to do the same here in the U.S.

 

Colony House “You & I”

Tennessee indie rockers Colony House are adept at creating earworm melodies. Caught these guys live in 2014 and am thrilled to see them back on the alt charts with some new tunes.  Loving the euphoric melody on the chorus and the rather timely lyrics.  “I’m not scared of fighting, I’m just a little bit over this conversation… Maybe the world isn’t crazy, maybe it’s you and I…”  (Note: While this video may be a bit amusing to watch, the actual song starts at 2:06).

 

Orwells – “They Put A Body in the Bayou”

Chicago-based rockers The Orwells first caught my ear in 2014 with a sound that’s distinctly their own, yet somehow still oddly familiar.  The LP “Disgraceland” featured melodic sing-along garage rock/indie pop with catchy energetic riffs that showcased the band’s punk sensibilities and generated comparisons from The Doors to Nirvana.  The band seamlessly blends the old and the new (love the retro album cover!) and the video for “They Put A Body In The Bayou” offers a commentary on the ever-present problem of corruption in politics. The new album “Terrible Human Beings”, due for release on February 17th, has an evident Pixies influence.  Frontman Mario Cuomo notes, “We wanted to make songs that at their core are catchy and pretty, then slash them up.” They’ve done a fine job at that.

 

Night Riots – Nothing Personal

These guys are on my “need to see live” list!  And since they’re from San Luis Obispo, that shouldn’t be TOO difficult, right?  Drawing influences from punk rock, goth and the 80s, they’ve been compared to bands like The Cure and The Killers. Their new album “Love Gloom” has been described as “diverse and energetic with darker musical undertones…and songs that are emotionally thought-provoking while making you want to dance around.” Besides which I kind of just…really love this video!!

 

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Mental Jukebox Best of 2016 Countdown: #10-6

Getting down to my very top fave picks of the year!

#10 -Bob Moses “Tearing Me Up”

Loved this one on first listen and now I can’t get enough! Bob Moses is an electronic duo from Vancouver, Canada (now residing in New York) that released their debut EP in 2012. Two other EPs preceded their first full-length album, released this year. “Days Gone By” is a lush, moody offering that straddles the line between rock/pop and EDM/house. The single “Tearing Me Up” pairs a groovy bass line with sultry, atmospheric vocals that pull you in and leave you wanting more. The band has been booked at several major festivals this year, including Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.

 

 

#9 – Fitz and the Tantrums “Handclap”/”Roll Up”

Couldn’t decide which of these I like best! Fitz & The Tantrums kept the high-energy beats going in both these singles from their 3rd (self-titled) album. While the CD’s shift from retro-soul to dance pop drew some grumbles from fans of the LA band’s indie neo-soul roots, unabashed lovers of 80’s pop music (that would include me) are still digging these addictively high-spirited tunes.

 

 

 

#8 – Glass Animals “Life Itself”

Two years on from their excellent debut album “Zaba”, Oxford’s psychedelic indie-pop band Glass Animals is back on the scene with a funky, percussion-driven song from their upcoming 2nd album “How To Be A Human Being”. An ode to the outsiders of society, “Life Itself” features a pop-retro groove and instantly familiar sounding chorus that will “slip and slide through your ears with ease”.

 

 

#7 – The 1975 “The Sound”/”Somebody Else”

The 1975 are proving to be so much more than early critics gave them credit for. With their clever head-turning lyrical phrases and devil-may-care attitude it’s no wonder they have such a devoted fan following. Their arena-worthy show –which featured a mix of bouncy pop, R&B and smooth jazz (not to mention the impressive set/light show) — was surprisingly diverse and easily one of the best live shows I saw this year. Their second single “The Sound” (from the current album) was a fun bit of danceable synth-pop. Taking a bit of a detour from the first two singles, the third track “Somebody Else” is an understated emotional tune that grows on you more with every listen. Very impressed with this band on a lot of levels and can’t wait to see what they do next.

 

 

 

6 – Coin “Talk Too Much”

This offering from Nashville quartet “Coin” has been called “infectious” and “insanely catchy” and I couldn’t agree more! I loved their 2015 song “Run” and this first taste of their upcoming new full-length album takes things up to the next level. “Talk Too Much” – about the inability to leave things unsaid (a problem many of us seem to have lately) — has been described by one reviewer as the “kind of single that deserves a stadium filled sing-along with its truly catchy hooks and effervescent guitar lines.” Don’t miss this one!

 

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Mental Jukebox Best of 2016 Countdown: #15 – 11

#15 – The Kills “Doing It To Death”

The Kills are an indie rock band formed by American singer Alison Mosshart (aka “VV”) and British guitarist Jamie Hince (aka “Hotel”). These long-time industry veterans released their 5th album “Ash & Ice” on June 3rd after a 5-year absence during which Mosshart collaborated with Jack White in the band The Dead Weather. The album’s hypnotic lead track “Doing It To Death” is a brooding, sultry blues rock delight that “pulsates along with thumping bass and bubbling mellotron notes”. You don’t want to miss hearing this one!

 

 

#14 – DMAs “Too Soon”

One of the best and most criminally overlooked tunes of the year in my opinion. DMA’s are a trio of indie-pop musicians from Sydney Australia who quickly gained a cult following in their home country amidst comparisons to bands like Oasis, the Pixies and Happy Mondays. They make no bones about their unabashed love of the early 90’s Manchester sound and Britpop in general. They dropped their debut album “Hills End” in early 2016. The single “Too Soon” grabs your ear with an “instantly familiar sound that incorporates reverberating guitars and a blistering chorus”. The band was a featured artist at the Coachella Festival.

 

 

 

#13 – Saint Motel “Move”

I’m a sucker for both retro-flair and prominently placed horns in pop tunes, so California-based pop rockers Saint Motel are a band that basically ‘had me at Hello’. I adored the “Voyeur” album, and the debut single from their new album “Saintmotelevision” in no way disappoints. The full album was released on October 21. Got tickets in my hot little hands to see these guys in the spring – can’t wait!

 

 

 

#12 – Bishop Briggs “River”/”Wild Horses”

These tracks first surfaced in early 2016 but have returned to the Alternative Charts again late in the year. Deservedly so. Bishop Briggs is one of the best “new” artists of the year by far. She was born in London to Scottish parents, but grew up living in Japan and Hong Kong. She currently resides in Los Angeles. You may have heard the song “Wild Horses” in an Acura commercial in late 2015. The music, with its folky trip-hop vibe and sultry vocals, really speaks for itself. I couldn’t decide between these two outstanding tracks, so do yourself a huge favor and check them both out:

 

 

 

#11 – Kaleo “Way Down We Go”

The uniquely emotive vocals and bluesy feel of “Way Down We Go” by Icelandic indie pop/rock/folk band Kaleo easily captured my ear on first listen. Formed in 2012, they made their US debut at SXSW last year. Singer Jökull Júlíusson delivered an earlier acoustic-sounding track (“All The Pretty Girls”) in light falsetto tones; this follow up offers a stark contrast in vocal style and illustrates the band’s diversity. Their music has been featured on several TV shows to date. Take a spin through a few of their tunes on YouTube or Spotify. Start here…and if you like this one, be sure to check out “I Can’t Go On Without You” as well.

 

 

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Mental Jukebox Best of 2016 Countdown: #20 – 16

#20 – Sia “Cheap Thrills”/”The Greatest”

Stepping away from my usual alternative-genre focus to give “two-fer” props to one of my fave pop releases this year. I was quite impressed with Sia’s “Some People Have Real Problems” CD (her 4th studio release) back in 2008, so I’ve enjoyed watching her come into her own. The fame-shy Australian singer, songwriter, producer and director has been on the scene since the mid 90s, and had intended to abandon performing to focus on her very lucrative songwriting career – but fate had other plans. David Guetta added Sia’s demo vocals to his hit song “Titanium” (which she wrote), and then her 2014 album “1000 Forms of Fear” (featuring the huge hit “Chandelier”) made it to #1 on the Billboard chart. Her 7th album “This Is Acting” features the dance-party anthem “Cheap Thrills” – a song originally penned for Rihanna – which became her first #1 single (as a singer) on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016. “The Greatest” is another “rapturously exuberant” dance tune, with a video (featuring teen dancer Maddie Ziegler) that pays tribute to the victims of Orlando. Both are more than deserving of inclusion on the “Best Songs of 2016” list.

 

#19 – POP Etc “What Am I Becoming”

It’s fun to discover that a new band you like is really an old local band you liked. POP ETC is an indie rock band from Berkeley California, formerly known as The Morning Benders. Their new album Souvenir took three years to make but feels worth the wait. Described as “polished anthem-pop” with a sprinkling of other genre influences (that would be the “Etc”), the new single features a funky bass line, appealing harmonies, and a catchy chorus that keeps you coming back for more.

 

 

#18 – 21 Pilots “Heathens”/”Ride”

I have a tendency to focus on the less established/crossover bands here, but the appeal of this particular band across the genres is undeniable. “Ride” got a mention from me last year, but spent most of its time topping the charts in 2016.
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If it’s possible for 21 Pilots to release a sub-par song, I have yet to hear it. Their latest track “Heathens” is a moody, edgy tune that continues the band’s penchant for philosophical, introspective lyrics and metaphors. We’re all “broken weirdos with issues” in one way or another. The song is a perfect fit for the “Suicide Squad” soundtrack – a DC comics fantasy/crime anti-hero film– on which it is featured.

 

 

Countdown 2016: #17 – Wild Belle “Throw Down Your Guns”

Wild Belle is a Chicago-based band known for its incorporation of reggae and ska grooves into a psychedelic pop sound. The band is comprised of Elliot and Natalie Bergman, siblings born into a musical family. Their debut album “Isles” was released in 2013. The follow up, “Dreamland”, features “a set of moody, groove-oriented songs with a deeper emotional impact”. The single “Throw Down Your Guns” started as a love song that morphed into a compelling yet peaceful protest against gun violence. In keeping with the band’s signature mixing of influences, the song incorporates elements of hip-hop with backing vocals by the Chicago Children’s Choir.

 

 

 

#16 – Two Door Cinema Club “Bad Decisions”

The track “Bad Decisions” by Irish indie rockers Two Door Cinema Club has been compared to offerings from the Bee Gees and the Scissor Sisters, which may go a long way towards explaining why I can’t get it out of my head. Today’s music seems thoroughly infused with the funk-disco sounds of the 70s and I don’t care how cheesy that may sound, I’m lovin’ every minute of it! Everything old is new again…. This fun song is from the band’s 3rd album “Gameshow” released on October 14.

 

 

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Mental Jukebox Best of 2016 Countdown: 21-25

Yep, it’s that time of year again already – where I highlight my favorite musical offerings of the year gone by. These are the tunes that graced my iPod most often in 2016 and are definitely worth another listen. (Some were easy calls, but with time for only 25 songs, paring the list down was often tough, never mind deciding the order!) If you haven’t yet acquainted yourself with these great tunes or artists, here’s another chance to do so:

#25 – Run River North “Run or Hide”

Run River North is a Korean-American indie folk-rock sextet currently residing in California’s San Fernando Valley. The band released a self-titled debut in 2014, and their new album “Drinking from a Salt Pond” was released in February 2016. The infectious single “Run and Hide” is a foray into alternative rock that shifts between reflective and emotionally charged intensity, as it explores the dichotomy of fear, and the choice between fighting or giving in.

 

 

#24 – Finish Ticket “Color”

Finish Ticket is a pop quintet from the San Francisco area that self-released two EPs (2009-2010) and the album “Tears You Apart” in 2013 before being signed to Elektra in 2014. With a solid local following, they expanded their fan base with energetic live performances opening for artists like 21 Pilots and Ed Sheeran, and have garnered many “artist to watch” and “next best thing” accolades. Their single “Color”, from the EP “What Night Becomes Day,” is a danceable rock tune that really hits the sweet spot.

 

 

 

#23 – 888 “Critical Mistakes”

Denver based alternative-electro band 888 includes several former members of the metalcore band Drop Dead Gorgeous (a band highly recommended by locals during the time I lived in Denver – they were last heard from in 2013). The 888 debut EP “The Decades” (now re-titled “Critical Mistakes EP”) unveils a softer melodic pop-synth sound that is catching on at several alternative stations around the nation, and has been receiving rave reviews and prediction of a bright musical future for this reincarnated band. The lead track “Critical Mistakes” is accompanied by an emotional video about forgiveness.

 

 

 

#22 – Temper Trap “Fall Together”

Australian band Temper Trap is back on the scene! Best known in the U.S. for their 2009 hit “Sweet Disposition” (from their debut album “Conditions”), the band has won numerous awards in their native Australia, including Best Group and Best Rock Album in 2010. Their eponymous 2nd album in 2012 was an experimental diversion, but “Thick as Thieves” sees the band returning to their traditional rock roots. The gorgeous new single “Fall Together” speaks of a tangled love-hate relationship, and has been described by critics as a “triumphant electronic rock opus”.

 

 

#21 – Bastille “Good Grief”

UK alt-pop band Bastille, who broke through in 2013 with hits like “Pompeii” and “Flaws”, came back in 2016 with a wistful yet upbeat 80s-influenced ‘summer anthem’ that was an instant ear-catcher for me. Singer Dan Smith describes “Good Grief” as a song about the ups and down of moving on after loss. The transcendental tune is accompanied by a surreal and slightly NSFW video that has caused a bit of chatter. Their latest album, “Wild World” was released in September.

 

 

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November 2016 Music Picks

Holy White Hounds “Blind”

Holy White Hounds are one of the most interesting rock-leaning alt bands on the scene right now. I’ve really been getting into this band and their heavy bass-laden grooves. It’s hard to pin down their unique sound – is it Classic/Hard Rock, Alternative or Pop Punk? Comparisons have included Wolfmother, Beck, Iggy Pop, QOTSA and The Strokes but in truth, this Des Moines band has a sound all their own that makes them far more accessible to my ears than many of their could-be influences. Check out the album “Sparkle Sparkle” released earlier this year.

 

Highly Suspect “My Name Is Human”

Am I the only one for whom this title evokes Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series? This Grammy nominated Cape Cod rock trio has been compared to bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon and Royal Blood. The enigmatic song is straightforward rock with a rhythmic vocal delivery in parts (slightly reminiscent of 21 Pilots), dark lyrics and an epic chorus. Highly Suspect definitely got my attention with this one. From their new album “The Boy Who Died Wolf” coming Nov. 18th.

 

The Griswolds “Out Of My Head”

Aussie indie-rockers The Griswolds are back with the very solid track “Out of My Head” – which pretty well describes something that’s fairly impossible to do with this radio-ready anthem. The band hit the alt-rock charts previously with 2014’s “Beware The Dog” and have toured with Passion Pit and Walk The Moon. Their new album “High Times For Low Lives”, released on November 11, is an “ambitious and diverse” offering that effortlessly blends pop, R&B, funk, soul, and electronic. This infectious synth-laden alt-pop/rock break up song is the lead single from the new album. (Advance tip: check out the likely next single “YDLM” – you’ll definitely be hearing more about that one soon!)

 

 

Zipper Club “Going The Distance”

Zipper Club is a “supergroup” of sorts –although they resist the moniker–with Mason James from Cerebral Ballzy and singer-songwriter Lissy Trullie on vocals. Throw TV on the Radio’s Japhet and Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha into the mix and voila: Zipper Club. Described as “feral rock with a hit of indie synth-pop” the impressive debut single “Going the Distance” is a dreamy tune with a breezily accessible chorus that lingers in the mind.

 

The Federal Empire “Bad Habits” + 2

Here’s a Hot Tip: Just saw The Federal Empire open for Lindsey Stirling – VERY impressed!! This Los Angeles alt rock trio, fronted by Chad Wolf, (formerly of the multi-platinum band Carolina Liar), plus McKay Stevens (a Grammy nominated writer) and singer-songwriter Keith Varon, joined forces after being asked to write for acts like The Chainsmokers and David Guetta, but soon realized they needed a project of their own. Their new EP “The American Dream” features songs with a classic Americana feel and anthemic vocals plus a whole lot more. I couldn’t even decide which one of these great tunes to go with first so here’s several. Give ‘em a listen!

 

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