Thursday, March 27, 2014

Frank Ocean, The Clash and Diplo Team Up on "Hero"

I’m just dying to get back into my perfectly worn-in pair of Converse sneakers. They’re my favourite shoes – and in summer, with my affinity for boyfriend styling, I have to be conscious of the fact that regardless of the occasion, I’ll often mindlessly walk out the door in those shoes, a leather ball cap and band t-shirt of sorts. Not always suitable.

Anyway, I was so pleased to hear that Converse’s “Three Artists, One Song” campaign assembled this rad collaboration between Frank Ocean, Diplo and Mick & Paul of The Clash – breaking down barriers of generations, genres and expectations. It really does feel like the perfect pairing with the renowned contemporary classic brand. Blending Ocean’s R&B croons with bursts of dub, a children’s choir and frantic guitar riffs, “Hero” flows back and forth between swaying doo-wop and flashy radio rock. All of it, shaken together, sounds mighty fine on an otherwise dull Thursday. Now only if it were warm enough to wear the shoes with it.

img c/o Billboard

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Best New Track: Todd Terje and Bryan Ferry Cover Robert Palmer

Happy oh-so-gorgeous Wednesday. Todd Terje, the Norwegian mainstream DJ once listed as one of the“Top 25 DJs who rule the earth,” has taken his superstardom, Bryan Ferry's voice and Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” – and whittled it all down to one hauntingly bare, and classic-sounding, synth ballad.

Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary,” although always melodically sweet, had the fixings of an 80s love song also vying for dance floor prominence. The original was hurried and quirky, and nearly 35 years later, Terje and Roxy Music icon Bryan Ferry recovered the twinkling, downtempo possibilities the song easily had upon release in 1980. A mixture of starry keyboard, that retro stone-skipping beat (most resembling Keith Forsey’s Breakfast Club love theme) and Ferry’s husky whispers bind together to instantly draw you into the astounding cover’s trance.

At nearly seven minutes long, this is one of the best, and most consuming, new spins I've heard this year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Black Keys: "Fever"

Man, did I need this single today. With a move I'm highly unprepared for sitting at only two days away, I'm buzzing on adrenaline, living off checklists, racing all over town and needing upbeat tracks like this to keep me going.

I just love the Keys - have for years - and can't wait for their eighth album, Turn Blue, to drop on May 13. This psychedelic new track makes it hard to sit still - utilizing Dan Auerbach's always-perfect rock howl while Pat Carney's elastic arms thump on the percussion. It doesn't divert far from that classic Black Keys sound, but something about the playful single's zapping organs and less-than-bluesy composition tells me the unique twosome might have some groovy new textures up their sleeves. 

PS. One of my great blog annoyances is that their seminal album, Brothers, wasn't released right when I first launched ITR in the fall of 2010. If the album had been released six months later, or I had launched ITR six months earlier, it would have made for one rad, tone-setting first album review. I've thought about that many times before, for some reason. What a record that was.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New Mac DeMarco: "Brother"

After releasing the chill first single off his forthcoming album Salad Days, Mac DeMarco – one of Canada’s favourite indie cool kids – just dropped the next bluesy slacker jam titled “Brother” – and it feels oh-so-good. Featuring DeMarco’s easy croon and whining guitar, which takes groovy notes from some 70s Clapton, “Brother” is a bedroom-rock dream – sounding every bit as woozy and melted as you would expect from the oddball, but endearing, 23 year-old.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The 88's "Coming Home"

In light of my jaunt to the ol' stomping grounds this weekend, I might as well play a song I used to crank every time I rolled into town for holidays or weekends away. I really loved this song, and forgot how much I did until I got little butterflies upon rediscovering it this morning. Save for the big national holidays, I hardly have time to head back anymore; so when I do, a nostalgic and cheery ditty like this one is the nicest touch.

Have a lovely day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wu-Tang's Comeback: "Keep Watch"

What a good week for hip-hop. On Friday, I chatted industry legacies with Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s new collaboration, and now I can continue that conversation with this new joint from the one, the only - Wu-Tang Clan. The celebrated hip-hop crew's surprise new single “Keep Watch” is set to appear on their 20th (!) anniversary compilation, and is the perfect appetizer for the group's first new album in seven years. Featuring some groovy guitar and clap beat production by longtime collaborator DJ Mathematics, the track is equal parts energetic rhymes from all the usual Wu-Tang suspects and Nathaniel’s soulful harmonies.

A Better Tomorrow drops this spring.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happiest Monday: New War on Drugs Album


My goodness, this is going to be a dreamy week.

Two years after Slave Ambient, Kurt Vile's former band War on Drugs releases their new album Lost In The Dream tomorrow, and let me tell you - this release is a glorious lovechild of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and some shamelessly retro radio star. These kind of expansive, 1980s-sounding rock anthems are meant to catch air from the open road; they're meant to anchor the young and longing. They sound so good, so accessible and so meaningful right at first listen. Not enough sounds like this anymore.

Gorgeous tracks like "Eyes to the Wind" and "Under The Pressure" - the magical 9-minute long opener that takes galloping percussion and radio-rock notes from Dire Straits and the Eagles - are the kinds of soul-searchers you can easily imagine blaring down a flickering late-night highway. Lead singer Adam Granduciel's vocal register is pristine - echoing between both triumphant, unadorned rock ingredients and spurts of more modern drum machines and synth.

According to the band's press release, “Lost In The Dream is a familiar kick in the gut, reminding listeners what music is supposed to sound like, making you want to run Rocky-style through the streets (or at least us anyways).” Amen. Have a great week.

Friday, March 14, 2014

TGIF: "Robes" - Freddie Gibbs and Madlib feat. Earl Sweatshirt

Just one week after I was treated to the Stones Throw Records doc Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton - one of the old label faces Madlib and his boy Freddie Gibbs have started major chatter about their new collaboration album, Piñata. Out Tuesday on Madlib Invazion, Piñata is guaranteed to be that new hip-hip record with all the right old school elements.

Both Gibbs and Lib are known for their inner city wisdom, fearless grime and soulful touches - so, with the help of pals like Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Scarface and Raekwon, the album promises to straddle the line between accessible and humble ("Robes") to feisty and fighting ("Real"). Inevitably, this MadGibbs project is going to be a much-needed dose of dope amid the otherwise sporadic bouts of respectable new hip-hop swagger. Everyone could learn a little from these vets.

Listen to the smooth 'Robes' below; if you're an urban dweller with an affinity for beats, you're about to go to heaven. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Modest Mouse

I think like most people my age, Modest Mouse played a large part of our upbringing. Whether you just liked "Float On" or you replayed the contents of their discography every day on your walk to school, the band's experimental indie rock was some of the most formative - and weirdly uplifting - of the early to mid-2000s.

When I was about 13, I remember listening to the album The Moon and Antarctica, and this track in particular, and thinking it was one of the most interesting things I had heard to date. Eccentric, sometimes accessible and always fascinating; it was albums by artists like Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket and The National that felt like my segue into more mature adult indie listening.

This song made me feel hopeful during the chaotic blur otherwise known as high school - I remember that very clearly. And, in the everyday motions of the chaotic blur otherwise known as adulthood, it still sounds just as nice.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Future Islands Shaping Up To Be Their Best

I am such a huge Future Islands fan, and have therefore been thrilled to watch the North Carolina trio gain a little more traction following their epic (a word I don't like as a descriptor - but in this case, it's necessary) David Letterman performance of "Seasons" last week. With the release of their fourth LP just around the corner (March 25), I've been near constantly replaying the first two tastes of the album: the aforementioned "Seasons (Waiting for You)" and the beautiful "A Dream of You and Me."

If you've listened to this eccentric synth-pop group all along, you'll now that as their albums have progressed, they've become undeniably more assured and cohesive in their concepts and flow. That seems like an obvious development for most artists (you'd think), but for this trio, it really rings true. From what I've heard of Singles so far, I'm convinced the new release is shaping up to be their most mature and arresting album to date. And, with Samuel Herring - one of the industry's most underrated and unique performers - leading the pack with his most polished vocals yet, Singles could really put these Islands on the map for good.

Listen to the twinkling and downbeat "A Dream of You and Me" below - you'll hear how it pulls notes from retro greats like The Cure and Police - while still remaining so incredibly Future Islands in every way. Gorgeous.

(And, possibly the most enthusiastic Letterman reaction in history?)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Currently Loving: Kevin Drew's "Darlings"

kevin drew, mexican aftershow party, darlings

With a little over a week away until Kevin Drew's sophomore solo release Darlings hits the stands, I was excited to step into the World Wide Web yesterday and find the album is streaming for free on NPR. Darlings, which is the Arts & Crafts co-founder and Broken Social Scene front man's first release since his 2007 solo debut, is a reflective 11-song rock package that clocks in at only around 42 minutes.

Radiating maturity and focus, Darlings is chock full of eclectic numbers that in some ways resemble the vast baroque-rock discography of BSS, but mostly emit a lyrically blunt, ambient flavour so specific to Drew.

Look for Darlings March 18 on Arts & Crafts.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Little Friday Reminder (Courtesy of PB Wolf).

Last night I was lucky to be invited to the Canadian premiere of Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, a new documentary about the visionary Peanut Butter Wolf and his famed underground LA label Stones Throw Records. Peanut Butter Wolf, who has suffered the loss of two of his signees and best friends - Charizma and J Dilla - has evolved over the years to include some of the most interesting, influential and obscure artists in the hip-hop, jazz, funk and electro game on his label. Wolf, who attended the screening to answer questions, is a quiet industry vet who's undoubtedly been through it all - economic hardships, mainstream pressure, loss, gain - but he's proudly maintained what he originally created in 1996. If there was any message gathered from watching this documentary, it was that obviously, the music industry can be a cutthroat, shitty place. But there are so many people still out there doing what they do for the right reason.

I'm not by any means a struggling artist - or any artist at all - but I do fancy myself a creator (of the non-deity variety). I like to think I'm alive to create anything I can; to make some kind of tiny contribution. A message, a tiny ripple, a sound of sorts - something that some small frequency might pick up on, or might not. Like anyone else in the arts and culture industry - specifically the music one - there's a lot of exhaustion, a lot of confusion and a lot of questioning. Yet, somehow, the answer to why you do what you do, or why you care about what you care about, never changes. Despite some infrequent doubts and ambivalence about the path you've chosen, there's no other logical answer as to what you're supposed to be doing in life when you know your sole purpose is to believe in, promote or support those who are putting something profound out into the universe.

I walk out of my house most nights of the week around 8:30 pm, after having spent the day working. I usually feel physically tired, but absolutely always feel mentally and emotionally alive. Because, why wouldn't you leave your house again to go watch, or contribute to, someone's really special creation? Every time, there's this giddy feeling like I might be about to witness some little bit of history. Even if it's just a little bit of my own history in the making - I guess that has to count for something.

Those who are involved in music should hopefully be in it for the same reason, really, in that they wholeheartedly believe the world is a better place when an artistic creation touches something else. Those of us who work in it may have no realistic understanding of who else consumes it or cares about it the way we do, but we do know that everything would feel so wrong without this seemingly "intangible" stuff; without every single bit of art - and subsequent feeling - that we are convinced is powerful.

So, thanks PB Wolf for the upbeat reminder that there's no question, and always a reason, for what really matters - and why we keep plugging.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Common's "Come Close"

Common is, hands down, one of my favourite rappers. This "Come Close" collaboration with Mary J. Blige, released in 2002 on Electric Circus, was one of my favourite high school grooves and, until some iTunes shuffle action earlier this week, I had actually forgotten about it. (The pains of perished computers and music libraries over the years.)

In what was actually a marriage proposition to his then-girlfriend Erykah Badu, this Neptunes-produced ballad features all the right ingredients of the best slow jams - a bumpin' beat, flecks of acid jazz and Common's sexy love declaration. Mmmm.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Lykke Li: "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone"

File:Lykke Li 2.JPG

Off of what Lykke Li has admitted will be a new release full of power ballads, her first single "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone" already fits the mold. The raw plea - accompanied by a video of Lykke rotating, stunned and alone, on a turntable - is exactly what the song title suggests. A simple strumming guitar and vulnerable vocal performance paint the picture of a woman asking to be loved despite her brokenness and faults. While it diverts from the Swedish sensation's usual quirky dream-pop, the heartbroken stories will be an interesting shift in her accomplished discography.

Look for I Never Learn (LL/Atlantic) on May 6.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hamilton Leithauser's First Solo Single: "Alexandra"

Well, I certainly don't need to waste any more of my breath explaining my dismay over The Walkmen's "extreme hiatus" - but I can always find some extra wind to air how thrilled I am now that a few of the bandmates have decided to release lovely new tunes.

Hamilton Leithauser, the formidable frontman of the recently disbanded NYC rock group, was immediately marketed as a forthcoming solo act after the band issued their sad announcement. If anything, it was a little consolation to know the voice that anchored the famed foursome hadn't crooned his last croon.

And, I have to say, I am so jazzed on the quick turnaround and outstanding first single. Leithauser released his first undeniably likable track last week, titled "Alexandra" - showcasing that the best of his skilled pipes might be yet to come. On "Alexandra" (which was accompanied by an equally charming video), Leithauser's Sinatra inspiration is obvious; he belts high above the uppity clap beat and happy harmonies, suited up like ol' blue eyes himself. It's perfection, and four days of straight listens later, I still can't get enough.

His debut solo LP Black Hours will be released on May 5 and will feature guest appearances from Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, Morgan Henderson of Fleet Foxes and Amber Coffman from Dirty Projectors. See you then, Hamilton.