Why do I love The Hold Steady? Because they’ve been making non-stupid ROCK music for ten years. It’s miraculous that a band can deliver so many songs about heartbreak and drinking with the requisite choruses and bridges and still sound smart. Part of it is that the band has a knack for air-guitar-worthy riffs, but it’s really singer/songwriter Craig Finn’s storytelling that sets The Hold Steady apart. Craig’s also possessed of a unique charisma on stage - check out the band on tour in the U.S and Europe from now through October for an undeniably fun and sweaty time.
The new Hold Steady record is called Teeth Dreams and I’ve been dying to share my favorite song “Wait a While” with you for months. It’s a deceptively simple gem that you’ll want on your summer playlist. I personally would slug nearly any man who called me “little girl,” but somehow Craig Finn can get away with it and even get me to sing along. Download it below.
Sound it Out # 71
Buddy is an evolving collection of Los Angeles musicians, the singer & songwriter of which is a man named Buddy. Buddy’s songs are full of brilliant turns of phrase and suffused with beauty, longing, and sadness.
In live performance, the band feels like a group of tight friends coming together to support someone they love. Often, six or seven musicians cram onto the stage behind Buddy the singer to become the larger “Buddy” - the greater expression of a man who appears genuinely surprised and grateful that people enjoy his music. Buddy is now on tour with a stripped-down (and equally powerful) version of the band, and you should go check them out in your town.
Buddy has a new album coming out on August 19th called Last Call for the Quiet Life. The sound is lush where his previous work was spare, and it features lots of lovely vocal harmonies. It’s his best work and I’m proud to premiere the first single “Weak Currents” and offer you a free download. Grab it below. You can also pre-order the record on iTunes if you dig it.
A new Say Hi record is reason for celebration in my home, and a new (and free) song should make you happy as well. Eric Elbogen is the one-man-band called Say Hi and he makes music that is a slippery study in contrasts. His songs are at once catchy and tragic. They are simultaneously fun and substantial. They’ll make you want to dance and cry at the same time.
The forthcoming Say Hi record is out on June 17th and it’s called Endless Wonder. It’s already one of my favorites from 2014. Download “Hurt in the Morning” below.
In case you missed it, we’re at the end of our semi-bi-yearly Free Music Week. Nine exceptional artists offered up a free download and I think they make a great playlist as a group. If you missed any of it, you can still grab the songs through the weekend. They’re all here.
Please support the musicians you love (and their art) by buying music and going to live shows. It’s a mitzvah.
Sound it Out # 69: The War on Drugs - “Red Eyes” (free MP3)
It’s a rare rainy day here in LA, and I can’t imagine any song sounding better right now than “Red Eyes”, the new song from The War on Drugs.
Adam Granduciel is the creative force behind The War on Drugs, and he’s been joined by an ever-changing group of collaborators throughout the band’s 11-year history. The current line-up has been stable through two years of touring and the recording of the new album Lost in the Dream. The result is a cohesive group of beautiful and atmospheric pop songs that are perfect for inclement weather.
Download “Red Eyes” below and pre-order Lost in the Dream once you’re hooked. Get started here:
Sound it Out # 68: Drowners - "Luv, Hold Me Down" (free MP3)
New wave music ruled my teenage world. The swirly guitars and romantic vocals of bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure and The Smiths gave me great joy back in the 80s and still do today. It’s no wonder then that the Drowners debut album totally pushes my buttons. It has that perfect blend of punchy pop backdrops and moody lyrics that would satisfy any petulant teen, even the one you still carry around inside you.
“Luv, Hold Me Down” is the epitome of this. Grab it now and see if you feel the same way.
Sound it Out # 67: Off! - “Void You Out” (free MP3)
The men of OFF! have some harcore credentials...literally. Even though members Keith Morris (singer for Circle Jerks and Black Flag), Steven MacDonald (bassist for Redd Kross), Dmitri Coats (singer for Burning Brides) and Mario Rubalcaba (drummer for Rocket from the Crypt and Hot Snakes) have lives and children and responsibilities now, they obviously haven’t left behind their joy of stripped down thrash rock.
OFF! has a new album of old-school punk rock gems called Wasted Years coming out on April 8, and all 16 songs on it were recorded and written live in the studio. It’s kind of funny to think about, but OFF! are professionals. They’re the punk equivalent of studio musicians and it’s easy to imagine them spitballing songs and getting right down to the business of punching you in the face with their music.
“Void You Out” clocks in at a little over a minute, but packs in all the fury and melody one could want. Get it below.
Sound it Out # 66: Tokyo Police Club - “Hot Tonight” (free MP3)
I must apologize in advance. This song is going to stick in your head, and it’s not going to leave you alone for a long time. It has wormed its way into my brain and literally kept me awake at night.
Toronto indie band Tokyo Police Club has always shown a strong a pop sensibility, but they’ve written a hit song of boy-band proportions with “Hot Tonight.” It’s the first single from their upcoming album Forcefield, most of which is rougher around the edges than this glossy ditty. You can pre-order the record at their Pledge Music page along with a bunch of fan-pleasing bundles.
We have a free download of “Hot Tonight” for two days only. Listen at your own risk.
Sound it Out # 65: Total Slacker - "Sometimes You Gotta Die" (free MP3)
It’s hard to take Total Slacker seriously. Get past their name and you still have four people in their twenties wearing 90’s “fashion”. We’re talking high-waisted, acid-washed Guess jeans, oversized jackets and bowl cuts. Singer/frontman Tucker Rountree met bassist Emily Oppenheimer at a laundromat and professes an unironic love for The Olive Garden.
But listen to their new record Slip Away (out on February 11) and you’ll realize that there’s something more going on here. The music is raw, unpolished, and passionate.
Total Slacker’s original drummer Terence Connor was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 2012 which propelled them into a grief-induced flurry of songwriting and recording. The most obvious result is “Sometimes You Gotta Die”, a song that I think is about how sometimes the only way to appreciate life is to experience terrible pain. Hear and download below.
Sound it Out # 64: Chaos of Birds - “Rank and Ruin” (free MP3)
Nicole Thomas and Meghan Adkins are two friends with a supernatural musical connection. They formed the legendary Seattle band Mavis Piggott in the mid-90’s, then reunited in Oakland years later to form Chaos of Birds. Meghan is a ferocious singer and songwriter, unafraid to show vulnerability yet possessed of a voice that summons astonishing depths of rage and passion. Nicole plays drums with a effortless zeal that belies her technical skill. With Chaos of Birds, they’ve added great guitar and bass in the way of Will Morton and Matt Ray, and the result is well-crafted bluesy sludge.
Having just returned from a UK tour, Chaos of Birds are planning their next steps (take note managers, booking agents and A&R humans!), including some shows on the west coast. They recorded a couple of songs recently and I’m honored to share the first with you. It’s called “Rank and Ruin” and Meghan’s yowl never sounded better.
Sound it Out # 63: Barzin - "All The While" (free MP3)
It doesn’t surprise me at all that Barzin has a book of poetry out in the world in addition to his records. His songs are melancholy and ultra-verbal, avoiding easy turns of phrase or cheap rhymes. Barzin’s fourth record To Live Alone in that Long Summer (out February 25) finds him in the familiar territory of misunderstood overthinkers, frustrated with humans and craving connections. It’s odd that his songs of alienation are so comforting, but the themes are universal and Barzin just expresses them better than most of us could.
“All the While” is an especially lovely introduction to Barzin. Grab it below.
Sound it Out # 62: Sabina - “Toujours” (free MP3)
You may know Sabina’s voice from her former band Brazilian Girls, though this German-Italian artist is apparently not Brazilian at all. Sabina delivers fanciful stories of talking animals and anthropomorphized objects in a sultry and matter-of-fact tone, while the music spans styles and often defies description. There’s a tone of batshit-crazy genius suffusing it all, making her debut album Toujours a whole lot of fun. It’s out on February 18. Check out the title track below.
After not hearing much that inspired me in the last months of 2013, I’ve recently been inundated with great music. And so Free Music Week returns! From today through Friday, you’ll get at least a couple of free songs a day to get you going on a diverse (and free) playlist for 2014. I hope you enjoy it!
As always, please support the artists who are sharing their music here by going to their shows or buying their records.
Sound it Out # 61: Rhye - “Open” (free MP3)
Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal never meant to form a band. Milosh traveled from his native Canada to Copenhagen to mix a track for Hannibal’s band Quadron, and the two musicians discovered an affinity for making sweet music together. Rhye is all about love: not the unrequited or yearning kind (which seems to make for more natural artistic fodder), but the life-changing mutual stuff. Rhye should be on everyone’s makeout playlist.
“Open” is my favorite from Rhye’s debut album Woman. It’s a sexy song - Milosh’s androgynous vocals swirl with a layers of intoxicating beats. Download it below.
Sound it Out # 60: Throwing Muses - “slippershell” (free MP3)
Throwing Muses haven’t released new music in ten years, though singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh has not been idle. Hersh has various solo and collaborative musical projects, released an excellent memoir called Rat Girl in 2010, and co-founded CASH Music, a non-profit that supplies open-source tools to musicians.
Read the rest
Sound it Out # 59: Poliça - “Chain My Name” (free MP3)
On their second album, Shulamith, Minnesota’s Poliça bring a more aggressive sound to their languid, sexy music. Channy Leanagh’s vocals are the ghostly anchor to a dense electronica palette.
The new album is out on October 22 in the US, and right around there in other territories. It’s terrific.
“Chain My Name” is poppier than I would have ever expected Poliça to be. The driving bassline and prominent handclaps are perky foils to the band’s usual dark and moody tone. Download it below.
Sound it Out # 58: Man Man - “Head On” (free MP3)
Philly band Man Man’s fifth record On Oni Pond finds singer (and main songwriter) Honus Honus collaborating with drummer Pow Pow. The record, out on September 10, is quirky and optimistic and has a charming appeal that feels like an evening at a carnival.
“Head On” is the first new Man Man song in a couple of years. It’s got a fetching string section, plucky piano, and a singalong chorus that relentlessly sticks in your brain. Download it below!
Sound it Out # 57: Scout Niblett - “Gun” (free MP3)
Emma “Scout” Niblett kind of scares me. Her songs are intense and the characters she inhabits in them are so intimately drawn that you wonder whether they’re fictional or real.
Her newest record It’s Up to Emma is powerful and manic. Spartan drum and guitar parts serve to accent raw vocals that sound backed-in-a-corner furious. “Gun” is one of the best vengeful spurned-woman songs I’ve heard, and I’m excited to give it to you as a free download below.
Sound it Out # 56: Small Black - “Free at Dawn” (free MP3)
Small Black’s new album Limits of Desire is seemingly at odds with itself. It’s bombastic yet intimate. The songs are slick-sounding but minimally-produced. Parts of the record feel like they could be inspirational theme songs from a 1980s John Hughes film, while others are much more quiet and mysterious. Yet this bashing-together of disparate styles somehow works; get past the Brooklyn indie-rock exterior and you have a bunch of anthemic, hit-worthy songs.
I find myself singing along the title phrase of “Free at Dawn” even though I have no idea what it means. Maybe you will too. Free download below for two days only!
Sound it Out # 55: Pond - “Xanman” (free MP3)
It would be easy to hear the music of Perth, Australia’s Pond and think they are ironic or retro, but you’d be wrong. Catch them live to discover that their psychedelic guitar layering and spacey jams are completely sincere. A few members of Pond are also in Tame Impala, and something down there has precipitated a wonderful movement of dense and fuzzy rock.
Pond’s new album Hobo Rocket (out 8/6) is geared towards channeling their incredible live energy into a recording. “Xanman” is the most arena-ready Pond song yet and should satisfy all of your rock needs.
Sound it Out # 54: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - “Nightwater Girlfriend” (free MP3)
Naming your band after a Russian political leader does not necessarily get you noticed in his home country, but it eventually did for Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The Boris Yeltsin Foundation has been following the Springfield, MO band’s consistently lovely music-making for years, and invited them to visit the motherland as headliners of the Old New Rock Festival in Yekaterinburg, Russia this past January.
Once the band accepted the gig, the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg named them cultural ambassadors to Russia for a day. SSLYBY performed at a local high school and answered questions about being an American rock band. There’s a forthcoming documentary about this trip called “Discussions with Russians”.
Where do you go from there? SSLYBY returned to Missouri in the spring and wrote/recorded a new record in guitarist Will Knauer’s parents’ attic. It’s called Fly By Wire and is full of deliciously earnest pop gems like “Nightwater Girlfriend”, which you can download below.
Sound it Out # 53: Dr. OctoTron - “Spaz” (free MP3)
Keith Thornton has appeared under many personas in his twisted hip-hop career, but my favorite was always Dr. Octagon. Sadly, Dr. Dooom (also Keith) killed off Dr. Octagon in 1999. Since then, Keith has created hilarious, weird and scatological music as as Kool Keith, Keith Korg (as part of Analog Brothers with Ice-T and others), Black Elvis and so many more. You can see a huge list of Keith’s aliases here.
Dr. Octagon may be deceased, but we now have Dr. OctoTron. This new Keith-fueled medical professional is a collaboration with Del the Funky Homosapien and is produced by KutMasta Kurt, who co-produced (with Dan the Automator) the 1996 release Dr. Octagonecologyst.
This is all to say that the new Dr. OctoTron single “Spaz” is exactly what I hoped it would be: groovy, with raps that are delivered with great skill and humor. No news yet on whether we can expect an OctoTron album, but I sure hope it happens. We have a free download of “Spaz” for one week only, so get it while you can.
Sound it Out # 52: Big Star “Thirteen" (Alternate mix, 1972) (free MP3)
I’ve never been fond of the Beatles. Maybe it had something to do with my dad singing along with the especially dopey early-era stuff and embarrassing me in front of my pre-teen friends, but they always struck me as trite and clunky. I realize that they influenced much of the music I love, they just never moved me. When I first heard Big Star, they appealed to me the way that I imagine the Beatles do to many: the innocent and heartfelt lyrics, the gorgeous vocal harmonizing, and the gentle and jangly melodies come together (*heh*) to form something magical. Big Star are my Beatles.
The original Big Star (and the one that I refer to) only existed from 1971-1974. Positive press did not amount to any kind of real-world success, and the the band fizzled out. There’s a lot more to this story, including the tragic and early deaths of all of its members save for drummer Jody Stephens and the the briefly-lived second incarnation of Big Star in 1993. It’s all told in a new documentary called Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. The movie is in select theaters and on pay-per-view and iTunes. Pesco did a post about the film here.
The soundtrack for Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me includes outtakes and unreleased mixes from Big Star’s short career. This version of “Thirteen” is a great example of all the things I love about the band. Click on the word "Download" in the Soundcloud player below to download.
Sound it Out # 51: Kid Karate - “Heart” (free MP3)
Kid Karate is the rock band I’ve been looking for all summer. These two guys from Dublin create an intoxicating ruckus that I have been listening to non-stop recently. Their debut EP is called Lights Out and it’s released today at the usual digital music outlets. We’ve got a free song called “Heart” for your yowling pleasure. Buy the EP if you love it as I do.
Sound it Out # 50: Caitlin Rose - “Only a Clown” (free MP3)
Caitlin Rose’s second record The Stand-In finds the Nashville native straying a bit from her roots in the country music world (her mother has written songs for Taylor Swift, Leann Womack and others), and plants her squarely in the footsteps of the great American songwriter/storytellers. Rose knows how to shape a narrative, and while many of her songs are about the familiar themes of heartache or being wronged, her perspective is always original and surprising.
“Only a Clown” is a fine example of a sparkly-sounding pop song that turns out to be deeply melancholy. It’s yours for a click below.
Sound it Out # 49: Maps - “A.M.A” (free MP3)
James Chapman makes music under the name Maps in his basement in Northampton, England. And while he appears to be something of a loner as a musician, the songs on the new Maps record Vicissitude have a welcoming sweetness that feels like a fortuitous amalgamation of many talented minds.
“A.M.A.” is the first single from the new record, and it’s a keeper. Chapman’s whispery vocals combine with a sparse and relentless beat that is simultaneously cheerful and foreboding.
Download “A.M.A” for free below!
This is day one of Free Song Week on Boing Boing. Every day this week, I’ll post at least one free song that I think deserves a place on your summer playlist.
Since these artists have been so kind as to give you a song, please support them by buying their records or seeing them live.
All of the songs will be collected here
as they go up.
Sound it Out # 48: Lightning Dust - “Diamond” (MP3)
This song gives me an ache. A good kind of ache. I get a delicious tightening in my chest that can only be (temporarily) relieved by hitting PLAY again.
Josh Wells and Amber Webber are Lightning Dust. They’re from Vancouver, BC and create wonderfully intimate music. They also play in a fantastic rock-your-face-off band called Black Mountain that couldn’t be more unlike this project.
Grab a free download of “Diamond” below for 48 hours...starting now! Their new album Fantasy is out on June 25.
Sound it Out # 47: The Shouting Matches - “Avery Hill” (MP3)
Do you, like me, have a secret love for straight-ahead 70’s rock? If so, that means we can enjoy together the blues guitar and gruff vocals of The Shouting Matches.
The singer and songwriter of The Shouting Matches is Justin Vernon, who you probably know better as the frontman for Bon Iver. He’s busy with a wide variety of musical projects including the collective known as Gayngs, and is featured on a few Poliça songs (including this brand new one). The Shouting Matches played their first show nearly seven years ago, but have just now released their debut record. It’s called Grownass Man and it’s a shit ton of fun.
Go ahead and download “Avery Hill” by The Shouting Matches below.
Sound it Out # 46: Alpine - “Gasoline” (MP3)
Here’s a lovely, dreamy little pop gem to make any spring day even brighter. The band is called Alpine, and formerly called themselves Swiss, even though they are from Australia. Go figure.
Their excellent debut album A is for Alpine comes out in the US (and most other territories from what I can gather) on May 21.
Free download below!