Today’s mid-week serving of new music cocktails is a dark and stormy blend. We start with some brooding synth-pop and add in some art rock, a dash of Icelandic soul, and end with a double shot of Americana.
Zola Jesus – “Siphon” (Seattle, USA)
RIYL: Austra, Phantogram, PJ Harvey
Zola Jesus has the dark equivalent of a Midas touch – call it an onyx touch, if you will. Everything she touches musically is gold, but cast in mysterious and haunting light. We have already heard two thrilling singles from her upcoming sixth album, Okovi, (“Soak” and “Exhumed”), and we praised each for their intensity. But today we bask in the euphoric coolness of her latest. “Siphon” is sweeping and bold, with a powerful message regarding suicide.
Ask anyone who has lost a friend or loved one to suicide, and they will share feelings of frustration, fear, and helplessness. Following a friend’s second suicide attempt, Nika Roza Danilova channeled those emotions into the lyrics of “Siphon”:
“We’d rather clean the blood of a living man
We’d hate to see you give into those cold, dark nights inside your head.”
Matthew Dear – “Bad Ones (feat. Tegan and Sara)” (Ann Arbor, USA)
RIYL: John Grant, Tegan and Sara, Lucius
Matthew Dear makes the kind of midnight dance pop that sends shivers up your spine. The DJ/producer/artist always creates polished works accented by glamorous, pulsing electronic flourishes. So it makes perfect sense that he has teamed with Tegan and Sara for his newest single. This isn’t the first time the Quin sisters have worked with Dear. Their 2013 cover of Tears For Fears’ “Pale Shelter” was great, but this original is a brooding pop masterpiece.
“Bad Ones” is darkly delicious, thanks to Tegan and Sara’s playful lyrics. We can all relate to the line “freaking out and paralyzed” in certain social situations. Here the twins take the awkwardness of insecurity and channel it into a soaring anthem with an unbeatable hook.
“If I was one of the good ones / I don’t think you’d like me
I’m one of the bad ones / and that’s why you feel lucky”
This song is available in digital format via Ghostly International.
Sparks – “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Devo, They Might Be Giants, Eef Barzelay
When you think of art rock and glam pop, Los Angeles duo Sparks should be the first band that comes to mind. They’ve been perfecting their brand of quirky, highbrow, synth-driven fare for more than forty years. Newer fans may know Sparks from FFS, their 2015 collaboration with Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand. But these guys have a rich, storied discography worth discovering.
The gloriously grand “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” from Sparks’ forthcoming (and 23rd!) album, Hippopotamus, has an equally grand video. The visuals match the cinematic tone of the song, giving fans a colorful spectacle to behold. “Live fast and die young” never sounded or looked so irresistible.
In addition to Russell and Ron Mael, Sparks also includes Dean Menta (guitar) and Steven Nistor (drums).
Moses Hightower – “Fjallaloft” (Reykjavik, Iceland)
RIYL: John Grant, Júníus Meyvant, Snorri Helgason
Equal parts blue-eyed soul, quirky pop, and lounge singer charisma – that’s the best way to describe Moses Hightower. But Moses Hightower isn’t a guy; it’s a four-piece Icelandic band featuring no one named Moses. (If you’re not “in” on the joke, then you need to watch the classic ‘80s-era Police Academy films.) Don’t question it. Just listen and enjoy, even though you probably won’t understand anything they’re singing. Unlike their countrymen Júníus Meyvant and Snorri Helgason, the guys in Moses Hightower sing in their native tongue. But despite the language barrier, their message comes across loud and clear in “Fjallaloft.” It’s flirty, it’s charming, and it will make you move.
Arctic soul is the hottest genre of music you probably have not discovered yet. Open your ears to this talented band and they will blow your mind. Look for this song on the band’s upcoming album of the same name. It’s due September 6 from Record Records with pre-orders here.
Andri Ólafsson (lead vocals/bass), Steingrímur Karl Teague (lead vocals/keys), Daníel Friðrik Böðvarsson (guitar), and Magnús Trygvason Eliassen (drums).
The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Brother” (Toronto, Canada)
RIYL: Elliott Brood, Damien Jurado, Lord Huron
The Rural Alberta Advantage continue to blaze a path through the darkness on “Brother” from their forthcoming album, The Wild. The urgency of “Terrified” (from their 2014 LP, Mended With Gold) carries over into “Brother” as though they are trying to outrun an ominous threat.
What makes The RAA such a powerful band is their ability to put you squarely inside the worlds they create with sound and verse. Much like American folk-rock troubadour Damien Jurado, the imagery they present to the listener is vivid and immediately engaging. Play this one late at night while you drive solo, and you’ll find yourself checking the rearview mirror to be sure you’re not being chased. These lyrics alone are haunting enough to spook you: “now the darkness comes to life / now the darkness comes to me and it comes for you.” But that darkness has a comforting edge as frontman Nils Edenloff sings, “There’s a dream I had where somebody watched out for me and you.”
The RAA are Nils Edenloff (vocals/guitar), Robin Hatch (keys/bass/backing vocals), and Paul Banwatt (drums).
Alan Getto – “Soap in My Whiskey” (Ligonier, PA via Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Bob Dylan, The Mountain Goats, Langhorne Slim
What the world needs these days is more honest singer/songwriters who aren’t afraid to buck trends. Too many artists sacrifice their originality for a mainstream sound, hoping to appeal to a broad audience via commercial radio. Then there are artists like Alan Getto who take a direct path to listener’s hearts with no-nonsense artistry.
His debut album, Versus, has been out for a few days, but songs like “Soap in My Whiskey” is an instant classic. It’s easy to sing along to (as most folk/country ballads are), with lyrics steeped in hard-earned wisdom. Writing songs about drinking is easy; crafting an honest yet subtly witty tune about sobriety is another matter. Getto puts a fresh spin on clean living, as the lyrics describe:
“I don’t want no cocaine
I don’t want no morphine
I just want a shot of soap in my whiskey
‘cause Mama, I’m goin’ clean.”
If you’re a fan of authentic Americana voices like Jason Isbell and Langhorne Slim, then Alan Getto needs to be in your collection. Versus is out now on iTunes.
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