With her impossibly fragile, quavering voice and a batch of mesmerizing songs, New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding has delivered a self-titled debut album that is so far into and so far beyond what might be described as traditional folk music that it both transcends and transforms the genre. On the surface, Harding (actual name Hannah) creates mystical and mysterious songs that sound like they've been dusted off from the 60's era folk vinyl crate at some U.K. flea market. But spend the time and dive a bit deeper and the tracks, like the devastatingly mournful and intimate "No Peace," become extended, haunting journeys into heartwrenchingly personal territory. Aldous Harding is an album that demands your full attention. Our suggestion: wait until after midnight, remove all distractions, plug in some good headphones and track all nine songs from start to finish in one sitting. Then exhale. Repeat. Stream the album here. Click through to watch the video for "Hunter" and listen to "No Peace."
Former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson is a man who wears as many hats as he has options. A decade's worth of platinum songwriting with artists as diverse asTaylor Swift, The Dixie Chicks, Pink, Josh Groban, NAS and Ben Folds hasmade him a platinum-selling go-to songwriter specializing in tailoringhis melodic gifts with an artist's own particular style and lyrics. The Twin Cities tunesmith has put almost a million dollars in the bank thanks to co-writing just one song: "Someone Like You," the massive international hit off Adele's 21. But now, Wilson says he "wanted to hear whatthe music in my own head sounded like." This week we get the chance to hear as well with the long-awaited release of Love Without Fear, Wilson's first studio album since 2007. After a DIY version of the album was scrapped -- "there was something missing: other people") -- Wilson enlisted some A-list support including guitarists Blake Mills and Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins and vocal backup from the likes of Sara Bareilles, Sara Watkins and Natalie Maines. Click through to stream "Even the Stars Are Sleeping," the albums only co-write (with Rachael Yamagata) featuring Missy Higgins on harmonies.
Dan Wilson - "Two" (from Love Without Fear)
Not to read too much into a photo, but the rather faded, yellowed image of Lana Del Rey on the cover of her new single "West Coast" does say at least 999 words on the rather dramatic change she's been goin' through musically. Gone are the glam pin-up Hollywood posings and the fresh-from-the-salon lacquer. Now Lana's decided to hold the cheese with a Laurel Canyon 1972 look that suits her and her new Dan-Auerbach-produced track. Nice to see a tiny speck of dirt under those fingernails. Figuratively speaking, of course. Click through below to behold the new image. The new Ultraviolence project supposedly drops late spring (TBA).
Lana Del Rey - "West Coast" (from Ultraviolence)
Wallis Bird's new album Architect, out today in the U.K., has a vivid sense of place and new direction, musically and geographically. Relocating from London to Berlin, the Irish-bred singer/songwriter says her new songs “began with needing a big change in my personal life and environment, and as soon as I realised that I was going to move to Berlin I felt the muse immediately. That gave me a kind of blind confidence to experiment freely.” Known for her high energy live shows and ability to shred an acoustic guitar's strings over the course of a few songs, Bird found herself fascinated with Berlin's more electronica-leaning musical atmosphere. "Hardly Hardly," reflects that new plugged-in circuitry while still giving the listener an idea as to how the song would be constructed in an acoustic setting. And with the acoustic live performance below (click through) you can hear the result. More DC on Wallis here...
British nu-folk trio The Staves (Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor) take on the Fleetwood Mac Rumours-era standard "Songbird" by Christine McVie and turn what was already a classic into something fresh and different. It's no secret that the late, great Eva Cassidy had pretty much put her own indelible (and exceptionally fine) stamp on the song years ago, but this version from a MOJO covers collection has it's own straightforward charm with a simple production and some lovely three-part harmonies. More DC on The Staves and their Dead and Born and Grown debut album here.
The Staves - "Songbird" (from Rumours Revisited)
Over a year ago we first tipped you to London-born Tamsin Wilson and her NY-based collective Wilsen (which we surmise is the plural of Wilson). Much has happened stateside over the past year with opening slots for the DC-RADARed London Grammar, San Fermin and Daughter and the Wilsen trio are readying Stage 2 with the release of a new EP Magnolia (May 19) and a long-awaited return to the U.K. As we noted last year, Wilsen plies song graced with "gentle, airy vocal melodies and an atmosphere that seems conjured up by someone lacing the communion wine with a warm hallucinogen. These hymns have a blurry but beautiful celestial buzz, often starting in a whispered hush and then expanding, slowly, as rhythms rise and the band ebbs and builds again." Not unexpectedly, "Magnolia" advances the Wilsen modus operandi while wisely tightening the focus on the key melodic elements of the song. Needless to say, we're expecting big things. More via our original Wilsen post from 2013 here.
Wilsen - "Magnolia" (from the Magnolia EP)
Major labels have been notoriously gun-shy when it comes to signing new artists lately -- particularly unknown and untested ones from across the pond. Columbia has been stepping up to the bar in fine fashion recently with new DC-faved acquisitions like Asgeir, First Aid Kit, Chloe Howl and London Grammar. Add to that list Irish singer/songwriter Hozier (aka Andrew Hozier-Byrne). We tipped you recently to Hozier's From Eden EP and now we've got an acoustic performance video of "To Be Alone" shot in an old hotel ballroom in Kilkenny, Ireland. Hozier returns to the U.S. for seven showcase performances in May (see dates below) and will complete his debut album for release later this year.
A relationship gone bad gets analyzed by the numbers in "Math Wiz," a brisk bit of catchy folk/pop goodness from veteran Canadian singer/songwriter Emm Gryner and her just released tenth album Torrential. Of course we get things "divided," "taken away" and "summed up," but as Gryner sings at the outset, "sue me if that sounds a little weak." No worries.
Emm Gryner - "Math Wiz" (from Torrential)
As the title of the second album from Mimicking Birds, Eons seems about right. It's been a long four-year wait since songwriter/guitarist Nate Lacy and his Portland, OR, band released their acclaimed eponymous debut but in describing his new album as an exploration of "the infinite and the infinitesimal" he's also clearly looking at the big, rather timeless, picture. The music of his Birds, however, remains grounded and human-sized: warm and ethereal musings that mix an acoustic heart with just enough shimmering, artful embellishments to lend the songs a larger-than-life feel. Lead track "Bloodlines" is one of our favorite songs of the year, a stunning melody floating above twinkling guitar lines and a shuffling, unpredictable time signature. Eons drops May 13 via Modest Mouse-man Isaac Brock's Glacial Pace label. Click through for "Burning Stars" from the 2010 debut.
Mimicking Birds - "Bloodlines" (from Eons)
Toss together the shimmering guitar lines of the Cocteau Twins, the mechanical beat machinations and chorus hooks of 80's New Wave practitioners like The Cure and Wang Chung and some Go-Gos-meet-early-Madonna chirping vocals and you get something akin to the fluttery alt/pop of Berlin-based trio Ballet School. Singer/songwriter Rosie Blair, guitarist and co-songwriter Michel Collet and drummer Louis McGuire, veterans of the Berlin ex-pat music scene, take elements of modern shoegaze and set them to a tick-tock percussion that appears to have two settings: fast and faster. But once you sort through the hyper surface melange you can discern some real melodic flair at work while Blair's dramatic singing adds a some needed warmth to the chilly production. No surprise that Ballet School is signed to Cocteau vet Simon Raymonde's Bella Union label. Following up the band's debut EP Boys Again will be a full length due late summer. Stream "Yaoi" and watch "Heartbeat Overdrive" and "Crush" below.
Ballet School - "Ghost"
The distinctive and moody British art/pop of the Elena Tonra-led trio Daughter received a neo-classical surrounding thanks to some sessions last summer at Air Studios. Featuring eclectic string arrangements by composer/conductor Joe Duddel, the new Live at Air EP offers five Daughter songs reimagined with bold string arrangements and a ten-piece ensemble. The sessions were filmed and each track will be revealed on video prior to the EP's street date next week. Click through below to watch "Shallows" and look for more to come at the Glassnote label site here. More DC on Daughter here.
It's fitting that Swedish songstress Alice Boman has named her forthcoming release EP II. Clearly, the Malmö songwriter's penchant for stripping things down to their barest core goes beyond her own deceptively simple and subdued hymnal melodies. Her debut EP was titled Skisser or "sketches," after all, an apt description for the lo-fi recordings she again displays in a sort of half-light, post-nocturne haze on her upcoming June 3 release. Boman's vocals are airy, cool and unaffected and give her songs an uncluttered elegance, similar, in an unexpected way, to Nick Drake's haunting Brit-folk compositions where just a voice and an instrument are all that's required. Lead track (and video) "What" is as succinct as its title, a lovely example of hushed chamber/pop blessed with a perfectly formed melody that seems to hang in the air even as the final notes fade. Click through to watch "What" as well as "Waiting" and "Skiss 3" from her earlier EP.
Alice Boman - "What" (from EP II)
Norway's Ingrid Helene Håvik not only has a lot of interesting things to say, she and her band Highasakite have an equally impressive number of interesting ways to say them. As we opined in our advance take on their latest album Silent Treatment, "what could have become a grandiose and unwieldy sonic train wreck is instead sleek, razor sharp and agile, just off-kilter enough to hold your interest (and then some) while zig-zagging towards something adventurous and fresh." Take the album's opening track "Lover, Where Do You Live," a song that manages to sound dramatically big and intimately small simultaneously. Silent Treatment drops today in the U.S. The band recently wrapped a U.S. tour with London Grammar. More DC on Silent Treatment here....
Highasakite - "Lover, Where Do You Live" (from Silent Treatment)
Since the release of her self-titled 2010 debut album, Misty Boyce has finished college, given up music, ended a long-term relationship, transplanted herself from New York to L.A., started writing and playing again, toured with (and backed) the likes of Sara Bareilles and Greg Laswell and recorded the 2013 EP Tough Love. Late last fall, Boyce headed to Eastbourne, UK, and recorded a batch new songs along with re-working a few older ones with producer Dave Lynch. Set for release later this year, sophomore longplayer The Life promises more of the type of sharp melodic folk/pop and thoughtful lyricism amply displayed on songs like "Not A Wasted Love" and "Like It's Suicide." What comes down, she says, to "the essence of a melody and a story." Check out her Pledge Music campaign for The Life here.
Misty Boyce - "Not A Wasted Love"
It's really no surprise that Charlie Peacock, the producer behind the meteoric rise of the late, lamented The Civil Wars, was instrumental in the early stages of California's The Honey Trees. Both duos share an affinity for finely crafted, harmony-laden folk/pop melodies and an image of sincere, totally unhipster-ish likeability. Debut album Bright Fire (April 8) reflects The Honey Trees' moniker-conjured imagery of idyllic splendor, which is exactly what Jacob Wick and Becky Filip were looking for from producer Jeremy Larson: “He essentially took our music to another world. He helped us achieve the magical, dreamy, otherworldliness we always strive for when writing music.” Click through below for "Nightingales."
The Honey Trees - "By the River" (from Bright Fire)
Take one Brit-born indie songwriter: Carina Round. Add Canadian root/folk tunesmith Justin Rutledge. Blend together well with the studio backing of musician Zac Rae and producer / instrumentalist Dan Burns and you get a cool, bracing musical elixir known as Early Winters. We noted earlier that their new eponymous sophomore album has an "appealingly weightless feel" with Round and Rutledge evoking a "harmonious vibe" on songs that "tie together sumptuous dream pop, Hotel Cafe melodies and vintage Laurel Canyon folk/rock." Today we're serve up a fine acoustic version of the band's new single "Walking Through Fire" via the "one mic" video performance below as well as an exclusive free download of the track: just click through below. If you're within driving distance of New York City, check out Early Winters at Rockwood Music Hall this Wednesday night. Info and tickets here.
We can tell you that singer/songwriter Josh Record -- yes, he will remind you, that's his real name -- makes his home in Brixton, UK. But Record seems to be most happy on the road, not just touring, but traveling. From New York to Alaska in a converted school bus, trips across Turkey and Norway, mingling and occasionally making music with the locals, from the slums of Nairobi to an abandoned house on an estate in South London. There's a disarmingly open feel to his music, a mix of artful, accessible adult pop shot through with elements of folk and soul, all held together with his tender, understated vocals. After a debut EP last July and excellent single "Bones" -- which we featured last fall -- Record is readying his debut full-length Pillars for a June 2 drop in the U.K. via Virgin. New EP and single "For Your Love," a remake of an early release, has been garnering some solid Brit play thanks in part to a remix from Dot Major (London Grammar) but we're even more taken with the sweet, sweeping "Wonder." Click through for" Pictures In the Dark" and watch the "Bones" and "For Your Love" videos.
Josh Record - "Wonder"
The presence of actress Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) immediately piqued our collective interest today in "Magic," the new nicely executed if overly literal-minded video from Coldplay and director Jonas Akerlund and taken from the band's forthcoming Ghost Stories, due May 19. And for some more stunning film work featuring Ziyi Zhang (or more appropriately, Zhang Ziyi) check out The Grandmaster streaming now on Netflix.
When Bruce Springsteen calls to wish you a happy birthday, it's probably a pretty good day. Kristina Train had heard that Springsteen was a fan, Bruce having raved about the title track of Train's Dark Black album in interviews and describing the Savannah-raised, London-based singer as "very Dusty Springfield." The two talked on the phone about their shared love of classic R+B, among other things, an affection that Train had explored even more deeply last summer with this sultry version of Aretha Franklin's "I'm Wanderin'." For more Train covers -- Jackson Browne, Sandy Denny, The Waterboys -- check out our post from exactly one year ago today (a really spooky coincidence, we swear) and click through below to watch the video for the song that put Kristina on Bruce's radar.
Kristina Train - "I'm Wanderin'" (Aretha Franklin Cover)
Artists capable of embracing both the organic and the manufactured, the acoustic and the electronic, and do so in a completely natural, unaffected way, are rare. S. Carey, a longtime member of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver, is one of the best. Trained in percussion and piano and an admirer of the impressionistic, minimalism of Steve Reich, Carey creates sumptuous chamber/folk with a deep and complex rhythmic undertow. Like the natural vistas that inspire him, the songs on Carey's new album Range of Light (April 1, Jagjaguwar) display a kind of quiet panoramic vision. The title, he says "denotes the spectrum of light and dark a person can have in their life - peaks and valleys of happiness, sorrow, challenges and growth – for me most recently and more specifically: marriage, having a baby, and maintaining a spiritual connection to nature, place, friends and family as an adult." Click through below to stream "Crown the Pines" (featuring Vernon in vocal support) and watch the video for "Fire-scene."
S. Carey - "Neverending Fountain" (from Range of Light)