Thursday, October 31, 2013

One of the Best Kings of Leon Songs Ever Written

I remember listening to Kings of Leon – a bunch of rowdy Southern-rock cowboys and Pentecostal church breakaways – when I was barely a teenager. The drunken, rebellious and soulful rock anthems found on earlier albums like Youth and Young Manhood were unlike anything I had heard before; unlike anything I had heard in the millennium, at least. Caleb Followill’s voice was quickly secured as the embodiment of contemporary rock talent for me, and since, despite their downfalls, I’ve measured all contenders against that raspy howl. Over the years, however, with age and commercial influence, the band slowly chopped their biker manes and experimented with more melodic, mainstream-friendly rock that was accessible to both new and old converts – at times losing their way in the chaos of their personal rehabilitation, marriages, kids and rapid fire albums and tours. 

When I first listened to 2010’s Come Around Sundown, decked with a few entirely likable Kings tracks, I felt a little slanted by the once fearless Tennessee brood and their seemingly safe dip into radio-rock. But, every great band has one of these worrisome albums, and every devoted follower has to suck it up and wait for a revival. Especially with Kings; I felt it was such a cop-out to become surly and declare their decline. Sticking around out of loyalty and curiosity was a wise decision, because it’s my personal belief that Mechanical Bull brought the boys back to life – via a hybrid of evocative Kings tracks (“Supersoaker” and “Rock City”) and the friendlier Only By The Night flavour (“Wait for Me” and “Temple”).

Siding more so with the latter, “Beautiful War” has quickly restored my faith in the band’s songwriting capabilities – and has already become one of my favourite songs of 2013. Written the same night as “Use Somebody,” on the same sheet of paper, the song was recorded in a drunken mess and dropped back in 2008 – before, in one of their wiser moments, they thoughtfully re-recorded the piece for release on Mechanical Bull. Something about this song – the heartsick, lyrically gorgeous U2 or Springsteen kind of rock balladry – I’ve found to be just a little bit life-changing. As if I wasn’t already convinced, I knew the Kings were back the first time I heard the song march forward, gospel choir and Caleb’s aching croon swaying side by side ("I said love don't mean nothing/ unless there's something worth fighting for"), and that anthemic chorus crash in. Just an instant classic – and proof they haven’t lost a thing.

If you haven't picked up Mechanical Bull yet, do it immediately.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hip-Hop Hump Day: Danny Brown, Pusha T, Sweatshirt & Chance The Rapper

Whenever I'm on the grind - whether because of work, social engagements or (in this week's case) moving - I require my music selections to consist primarily of good beats. Hip-hop, electro or some sort of dance-rock is normally all I can handle to keep my eyes open and feet moving when I feel like everything's a flurry of commotion and that one lazy hour will result in a ball dropped.

This week, with cardboard boxes and piles of work on my mind, my neighbours have become accustomed to my constantly blaring beats. Lucky for me (and them, I like to think), there are a few heated new hip-hop tracks that have beefed up my regular Kendrick, Wu-Tang, Tribe and Kanye-laden rotations to make it an even heavier, sharper-witted apartment set list.

Here are some ferocious new tracks that should keep you thinking and moving.

PS How good is the Nosetalgia video?




Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Artist to Watch: Hozier

Um, let's take a minute to talk about this voice.

Holy smokes. I have a feeling I'm catching wind of Hozier on his upswing into notoriety, because it seems as if he went from relatively unknown (dabbled in poppy earlier works and still has a live LinkedIn profile) to viral. In under a month, the modest singer-songwriter garnered hundreds of thousands of views on his excellent, but raw, debut music video.

An Ireland native and music school dropout, Andrew Hozier Byrne is already a force to be reckoned with. His soulful, effortless bellow is easily in the same vocal class as James Blake or alt-J’s Joe Newman, his “Take Me To Church” songwriting is chilling and politically-charged, and his music video vision is clearly fearless (the single’s dark video portrays homophobic attacks in Russia).

Check out the video for "Take Me To Church" here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stream the new Arcade Fire album

...In a 1 hour and 25 minute YouTube video. However you slice it, what an exciting way to end the week. I'll have this puppy on repeat all weekend long; from what I can tell, Reflektor is already a contemporary disco-rock masterpiece. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Johnny Flynn: "The Lady is Risen"


So, two quick and important things to note here. First, I'm aware this has been a major alt-country and folk week over here. I really can't help that - fall just brings it out in me. Secondly, I completely admit that I've only just jumped on this seasoned artist's bandwagon in recent weeks, and I'm a little embarrassed about that, because he's such a pleasure to listen to. Not hard on the eyes, either.

I'd heard the name Johnny Flynn tossed around in years past, but never actually stumbled upon a song, and therefore didn't do any further investigation into his sound. Only recently, following the release of his September 30 third album Country Mile, did I perk up and take the chance to listen - before becoming completely hooked on some of his newest tracks. As an actor, poet, songwriter and musician, Johnny Flynn's songs are filled with simple tales of tea, journeying and love - needless to say, sometimes completely satisfying the British folk performer stereotype. Lyrics aside, the music is rich and, at times, really powerful. With likable chord progressions under his accent-heavy growl, you can't help but think of fellow Londoners Mumford & Sons - but, that comparison feels a little cheap considering Flynn's been crafting the same sort of rootsy melodies since 2008 (Rolling Stone's David Fricke praised his debut that year).

The first single from Country Mile, "The Lady is Risen," is anything but lyrically or instrumentally lackluster. Flynn's handsome vibrato marches like old prose over the acrobatic guitar chords and a nice band of brass, rising up and down throughout the song with impressive momentum.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Arcade Fire: "Afterlife"

Arcade Fire played a secret Brooklyn warehouse show last week (photo c/o Rolling Stone)

With the release of their highly-anticipated forthcoming album around the corner and a handful of promotional performances as alter egos The Reflektors under their belt, Arcade Fire just dropped the second studio single from their fourth release, Reflektor. "Afterlife," a sunny, synth-laden track that samples the accessible dance-rock flavour Neon Bible and The Suburbs were doused in, poses more existential questions under layers of feel-good sparkle. The single, which was premiered by Zane Low on BBC Radio 1, isn't a particularly challenging track, but is unequivocally infectious as an energized, harmonic full group effort. Although they now paint their faces while toying with a new live moniker, "Afterlife" is happy evidence that there are still remnants of the reigning indie collective underneath.

Reflektor drops October 29 via Merge Records.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Head and The Heart's "Let's be Still"

Continuing their trickle of fresh songs on a less jangly note, folk-rock collective The Head and the Heart's new title track "Let's Be Still" has been a welcome addition to my rotation since their album hit shelves last week. While "Shake," the first end-of-summer taste of their recently released second album, was an uppity Americana anthem - this sweet ballad has a calming sway that feels fitting, considering its name. Alternating between Josiah Johnson and Charity Rose Thielen's soft vocals, the tune's simple keyboard and melodic guitar have me thinking that the alt-country gem was just made for the last call slow dance at the roadside bar.

Photo c/o Dylan Priest

Friday, October 18, 2013

TGIF: Loving The Strumbellas

On Wednesday night, I was lucky to be a part of Toronto alt-country band The Strumbellas' album launch party. I'm slightly biased in my trumpeting their talent, because I know and like their management (and, as a result, the band members) very much and am therefore completely rooting for their widespread success. But, all of that aside, I genuinely believe that the music of The Strumbellas is music people need to hear. 

Taking notes from The Lumineers, Guthries and Ryan Adams - this six-person collective perform their feel-good folk with heaps of energy and cheer that are fueled by a beautiful mess of everything from tambourines and banjos to strings, keys and horns. "In This Life," the first single off their second album We Still Move on Dance Floors, is a universally contagious and uplifting alt-country anthem that's bound to stay with audiences long after the Strumbellas live experience or slew of repeat album listens. Frontman Simon Ward's handsome vocals are bettered by the harmonic support of his band's enthusiastic guy/girl choir, especially when the chorus ("I know there's something for you out there in this life") crashes in to put us at ease.

For more on the Juno-nominated band, visit their website or pick up their latest today.


And a few other gorgeous tracks:

Photo c/o Heather Pollock

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New URL and Throwback Thursday with Hannah Georgas

On the heels of this little blog’s three year anniversary, I finally gave In The Round a big girl blog domain –! So, instead of tediously relaying the old “” (which I know you all do, all the time) –  some time and energy can be saved with this much more legit web address. Spread the word!

Anyway, back to Throwback Thursday business. I’ve been on a heavy female singer-songwriter kick these past few weeks – dabbling in lovely songbirds like Jadea Kelly, Rachel Sermanni, Kathleen Edwards and her Canadian tourmate Hannah Georgas. I was recently reminded of how much I loved Georgas' 2012 Juno-nominated self-titled and its mature indie-pop songs and since then have been constantly spinning the album, and more specifically, this track. I love watching people’s reactions when they hear the brilliant “Enemies” for the first time; they’re completely spellbound by Georgas’ effortless vocals and the song’s magical instrumentation, but a little stunned by the powerful lyricism. Nothing about Georgas’ music is sugary, but everything about it is addictive.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In The Mood For: Willis Earl Beal

I can't remember a time in recent years when I've been this ridiculously busy. Last night happened to be one of those nights when it all caught up to me - and for a second there, I felt burnt out and in need of some major rest and relaxation. Right as I reached the peak of exhaustion, this Willis Earl Beal single flipped on my speakers - and everything immediately felt a little better. 

I saw soul experimentalist Willis as part of Cat Power's show in Toronto a year ago, and while Chan (who's featured on this track) fumbled around stage - Willis set the bar high as her more than capable opener. Pacing in front of us, sweating bullets and screeching his heavy soul songs at the top of his lungs, Beal's star power and presence were completely arresting.

With a downtown beat, sunny melody and Beal's classic soul vocals, this song is sweet and uplifting on so many levels. And, with Cat Power's barely-there female coo helping him croon that "the truth will soon be coming through," this tune is rounded out to sound like a true contemporary soul classic.

Check out Beal's newest album Nobody Knows, out on XL.

Friday, October 11, 2013

TGIF: New Boy & Bear

Image for Exclusive: Behind The Scenes On Boy & Bear’s ‘Southern Sun’ Video Clip

My goodness, I love everything that comes out of this band. Aussie indie-folk quintet Boy & Bear caught my ear a few years ago with their gorgeous and rustic rock debut Moonfire, but have, for some reason, not fully taken off in North America yet.

The incredibly talented group have made more than a name for themselves on their home turf, however, with their second album Harlequin Dreams debuting at #1 when released down under this summer. With the first few listens to their latest Fleetwood Mac-reminiscent tunes, I can confidently say that once it hits shelves on our side of the world - we're going to see their story shift.

With a hint of Mumford & Sons and dash of Ryan Adams, Boy & Bear are migrating towards acclaimed folk-rock territory with the melodic and instrument-packed first single "Southern Sun" - a song that's every bit as addictive as any wildfire folk hit I've loved from decades past. Dave Hosking's milky, accented vocals are oh-so-handsome start to finish - especially when joined by his bandmates on the singalong chorus - while the anthemic country strums and twangy riff stay with you long after the track ends.

Get on board with Boy & Bear and pick up the new release on October 29 - it'll be worth every penny.

PS. (Schoolgirl crush on the dreamy ginger drummer).


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Iko Iko

Nothing like a classic girl group groove to help you coast into the end of the week. Is it happy hour yet?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Chilly Gonzalez's Solo Piano II: Live in Munich

I have an absolute weakness for the piano. Whatever era, genre, artist or origin - solo piano melodies tug on my heartstrings and cast a motionless kind of quiet over me in a way that few other instruments do.

Songwriter, producer and world-renowned Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzalez is one of my very favourite masters of the keys, which is why I was elated when a recording of his beautiful Solo Piano II: Live in Munich was recently made available for streaming on Soundcloud. I've yet to see Gonzalez live - so this recording was a real treat. A welcome break from so much of the complicated clutter out there, it's an unembellished, peaceful kind of gorgeous.

I think Solo Piano II, which was a follow-up to the acclaimed 2004 instrumental album Solo Piano, was one of the most refreshing musical moments of 2012. Gonzalez's star-studded list of pals include Feist, Drake, Daft Punk and Peaches - all of who he's collaborated with - but on the Solo Piano series, it's simply the musician, romantic melodies and a lone piano.

The Solo Piano II concept came into fruition in 2011, when Gonzalez and his piano moved into Paris Studio Pigalle. Alone for 10 days, he narrowed his hundreds of songs and melodies that had been brewing for years into handfuls of songs that would be the follow-up to Solo Piano. In the end, the 14 pieces of Solo Piano II came to life to be just as breathtaking as one would expect from the eccentric, but brilliant, Canadian musician.

When people say they just don't make music like "this" anymore, Chilly Gonzalez's Solo Piano II is the answer to that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Favourite Track of September: London Grammar's "Strong"

If you've yet to hear English indie-pop trio London Grammarwho are powerful blend of grand lead vocals and haunting The xx-reminiscent melodies - you need to purchase their September 9 debut immediately, if not sooner. If You Wait is an impressive collection of love songs carried by lead singer Hannah Reid's striking croon (previously featured on Disclosure's "Help Me Lose My Mind") - which is already one for the books alongside the likes of soulful leading ladies Florence Welch, Imogen Heap and Jessie Ware.

"Strong" is an instant classic, in my mind, and probably my favourite new track of this fall. Outside of Reid's commanding vocals, the stunning downtempo single has enough ethereal keyboard and arresting guitar plucks to stop you in your tracks. As the romantic and airy piece chugs on and gets repeated, London Grammar's longlasting potential shines brighter.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Black Light Dinner Party's "Sons and Lovers"


I recently stumbled upon Black Light Dinner Party, a talented electro-pop quartet from New York City, and have since been obsessed with the awesome first single from their September 24th debut LP. Resembling something a little edgier than Cut Copy or Friendly Fires, "Sons and Lovers" shifts between sparkling synth and hard, buzzing beats that are prettied up by Jack Côté's skilled vocal throughout. The song is a mature kind of sexy, with an accessible melody that's good enough to drag anyone onto a dark lit dance floor.

Enjoy your Monday!

Friday, October 4, 2013

TGIF: French Countryside Music

As I sit sipping coffee from a china teacup on top of a mountain in Quebec, I can't help but appreciate the beauty of my Bed and Breakfast's french music selection. Nothing like a morning of jazzy, romantic Arielle Dombasle classics, eggs and black coffee to begin a gorgeous wedding weekend in the autumn countryside.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Loving Right Now: Wildcat! Wildcat!

Even though I stumble on the Los Angeles trio's name (do I shout it? Do I pause after the first 'Wildcat'?), I cannot stop listening to Wildcat! Wildcat!'s spacey dream-pop EP, which was released September 10 and evokes major memories of the MGMT infatuation I developed in early 2008. Following a similar formula as their psychedelic predecessors, Wildcat! Wildcat! don't shy away from flowery synth-rock, bright horns and universally accessible dance floor beats - all led by a charming choir of falsetto male vocals.

My (hands-down) favourite track of theirs is the EP's golden track, "Garden Grays," which features a galloping piano loop and haunting Passion Pit-style harmonies. It's one of those perfect, shoulder-swaying synth-rock songs that can be equally enjoyed with friends around a bar table, or solo on a long stroll through the downtown.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Best New Music: Deer Tick's "Negativity"

One of my favourite groups of wild alt-country hooligans, Deer Tick, dropped their fifth album on Arts & Crafts last Monday – and it’s undoubtedly one of the bands most mature, and fascinating, releases to date. While raucous ringleader John McCauley admittedly penned Negativity during a turbulent personal year (his Dad got sent to the slammer and his engagement crumbled), McCauley spared the anticipated downward booze and drug-fueled spiral and channeled his anguish into an equal parts jangly and accessible pop-rock melange; one that sounds classically McCauley with likable flecks of 70s rock spark.

On the title-tells-all “The Dream's in the Ditch,” McCauley sounds surprisingly enlightened and unfazed – resembling an achy-voiced Tom Petty over the upbeat Americana instrumentation (which features a delightfully acrobatic piano middle-eight). “The Rock,” released earlier in the summer, is an inflating rock number where McCauley’s growl is perfectly pained alongside a bluesy horn hoopla. My alt-country fervour is totally quenched on the Vanessa Carlton-joined twangy duet "In Our Time," however, when he and his lady showcase their Johnny and June charm via harmonies and countryside chords.

To see Deer Tick emerge with an endearing blended flavour of old and new this far into their dynamic, life-of-the-party career – I have to admit that I might be more on board now than I’ve ever been before. They haven't sacrificed what worked before - only added what might just work better for them now.