I need to do a better job of posting the new tunes that hit my radar and give me all the feels. A couple months ago I was watching a new episode of Austin City Limits, and I was introduced to Angel Olsen. “Sister” was my favorite tune of the set, and wouldn’t you know it, ACL has offered it up on their YouTube channel. Be mesmerized like me…
I don’t recall what triggered it, but I fell into a YouTube rabbit hole last night, zeroed in on First Aid Kit. For those that don’t know, First Aid Kit is made up of two sisters from the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden – Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’re in their mid-20’s and are a week away from releasing their fourth album, Ruins (January 19th, Columbia/Sony Music). Their M.O. is Harmonies, and my God can these girls sing. Simply flawless, organic beauty.
If you were watching David Letterman’s final Late Night shows a couple years back, you may have caught First Aid Kit singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” (dedicated to Dave’s son Harry).
In 2010, they caught the eyes and ears of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst at the Austin City Limits Music Festival (I was there!). Conor and his Bright Eyes buddy Mike Mogis were at the festival with their awesome little folk supergroup Monsters of Folk (with Jim James, M. Ward). Conor and Mike, along with Jack White, helped get the ball rolling stateside, with Mogis actually producing First Aid Kit’s next two albums, The Lion’s Roar and Stay Gold.
Well, here we are in 2018 with album 4 about to drop. I’m not able to find who produced this one, but the three songs that are available now are great. And what spurred me into writing this post was hearing “Fireworks” for the first time this morning. You know the feeling, the kind of song that puts everything else on pause for a few minutes . I get a “The End of the World” vibe from it (which, by the way, check out Sharon Von Etten’s version). Ah, the heartbreak songs…
Great tunes abound. Here’s a recent favorite from the mind of James Mercer and the Shins.
Another cool new tune courtesy of The Loft on Sirius-XM. Another song that connected right away, made my ears perk up and take notice. There’s a pretty clear parallel to Freddie Mercury and Queen.. and that… is a good thing. There’s also great sax, background singers, and a soulful undertone.
Christopher the Conquered is Christopher Ford from Des Moines, Iowa. This song is the title track from his new album coming in February 2016, which you can pre-order right here on his site.
Another hat tip to Later…with Jools Holland for introducing me to yet another great act – this time, Baltimore’s Future Islands. “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is a great track, lush with synth melody. But it’s the antics of front man Samuel T. Herring that make Future Islands very much a visual experience. It’s his lunges, his crouching side steps, his guttural death metal growls… his emotive expressions with each word of the lyric, making the song seem that much more heartfelt… it’s his command of the stage, and his comfort and ease with being, well, weird.
Much respect to Sam, leading the charge. I could watch him all day.
Pick up their latest, Singles, on Amazon:
I’ll admit to being slightly underwhelmed by Christopher Owens’ debut solo album, Lysandre, released a year and a half ago after his disbanding of the amazing band Girls. Yeah, it had its standout moments (“New York City” being my favorite), but it lacked that immediate spark that made me want to go back and listen again and again.
The tunes I’ve heard from the newly announced album, A New Testament, have me intrigued and eager for the release. And today’s released single, “Nothing More Than Everything To Me” (with its accompanying video below) definitely brought the spark back. It’s a fun, infectious two minutes of pop – bringing a smile to my face the same way “Honey Bunny” and “Laura” did from his Girls days. Sounds like a return to form to me…
Oodles of details about the new album here on Christopher’s site. Yeah!
If you were ever sucked into the Prince vortex, as I was in 1984, you quickly found yourself seeking out every last morsel of musical goodness from anything Prince-related. In the mid-80’s, that meant marching into your local record store and snapping up albums by The Time, Apollonia 6, Vanity 6, The Family, and Sheila E. There were also those who had bid the Prince camp farewell, most notably at that point: Time members Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Morris Day, and Jesse Johnson. And once you went digging back into Prince’s earliest years, you discovered his original bass player and childhood friend André Cymone.
André left the band in 1981 after the Dirty Mind tour had wrapped, and Prince was moving on to his next album, Controversy. André signed with Columbia and released three albums over the next four years: Livin’ In The New Wave (1982), Survivin’ In The 80’s (1983), and A.C. (1985). His biggest hit came from A.C., the Prince penned and co-produced “The Dance Electric.”
André then moved on to producing artists like Jermaine Stewart, Adam Ant, and Jody Watley, to whom he was briefly married (Jody’s “Still a Thrill” is one of my favorite 80’s R&B tracks).
And then, André dropped off the grid, leaving the business and focusing instead on raising his children. The music bug never left him (how could it?), and after some poking and prodding by his kids over the last several years, it was time to hit the studio again. He popped up in 2012, releasing a tune called “America,” with all proceeds going to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. He followed that up with “Trayvon” in 2013, in tribute to Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Now, 29 years after his last album, it’s great to say that André Cymone is truly back. The Stone, Andre’s independently funded and distributed album (via PledgeMusic), was officially released on February 18th.
My first impression on hearing “Rock and Roll,” the album’s opening track, was the swagger and confidence it carries. You’d never guess that this was an artist who just returned from a nearly three decade hiatus – that is unless André addressed it right off the bat, which he does: “You waited long enough / now it’s time to play my game / Before you leave here baby / you gonna know my name.”
In the early 80’s, André’s solo albums were steeped in a funk-pop-new wave hybrid. The 21st century André, with the help of some quality backing players, has a more straight ahead rock and pop feel. There are strong uptempo rock numbers, from “Rock and Roll,” “Let Your Sunshine,” and “Radio,” to “Naked,” the 60’s brit-pop of “If Not For You,” and one of the strongest tracks, the album closer “Live Life,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lenny Kravitz album.
Things get interesting when André unplugs midway through the album with the folk/pop of “It’s Alright” and the introspective acoustic “One Day.”
“It’s Alright” has an upbeat, summery feel – a catchy melody with a folky brush-shuffle tempo.
“One Day” is, to these ears, a thinly veiled letter to his old friend Prince. With lines like “We were close like a hand in glove / shared the bond of a brother’s love / Now we don’t have a word to say,” “Struck it rich, we were on our way,” “Had to leave I could not stay”… it’s pretty clear that André is reconciling this long standing broken relationship. I don’t know André personally, but I feel his humanity and his genuine compassion in this song and throughout the album.
I also don’t know Prince personally, but I’ll offer an outsider’s opinion: Prince seems to concern himself with two things: the here and the now. Those in Prince’s circle are valued and worked to the core. But when the expiration date comes, and his interests have moved on to other things (and people), he seems to cast them aside with a clinical and unemotional ease, and he never looks back. Talented and much admired musicians – even old friends like André – are left in his wake. Perhaps I’m reading too much into “One Day,” but that’s what I get out of it.
What thrills me as a long time fan of Prince, and all of the associated artists that spun off from him in those early years, is seeing someone like André Cymone reemerge all these years later and display that same badass quality, that same swagger, showing that he hasn’t missed a step. But it’s also great to bear witness to the music of a caring, down to earth human being who shares in the same life struggles, joys and adventures that we all do – all in a very grass roots and organic way.
The Stone is a solid and impressive return to the game, and yes – a treat to all of us sucked into that Prince vortex so many years ago. Welcome back, André. A lot of us were waiting and wondering, and we’re glad you’re back.
♠ Buy The Stone on Amazon.
♦ Buy The Stone on iTunes.
♥ André will be heading out on tour soon. If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, check him out at First Avenue on March 16th.
“Don’t try to get me down. Don’t try to harsh my mellow, man!”
Because after multiple listens over the last 24 hours, the short & sweet Lysandre album, brand new from former Girls frontman Christopher Owens, is doing the trick. And yes, Owens does indeed use the “harsh my mellow” line in “Here We Go Again.”
So for anyone who doesn’t know, I am enamored with the Girls catalog – the two albums and one EP. Christopher dissolved the band in mid 2012 to move on to some solo work. The first fruits of his solo labors is the concept album Lysandre, which has been kicking around in his head since the first Girls tour in 2008. For on that tour, while in France, he met a fair French maiden named Lysandre, and they fell hard for each other. Love ensued, but so did separation, as Chris returned to his home in San Francisco. Most of us know how difficult it is to maintain a long distance relationship, and theirs was no different than most of us – it fell apart.
Lysandre tells that story from A to Z in a sweet, sad, fun, beautiful little 28 minute package. My one and only complaint is the abbreviated EP-like length. It leaves me thirsting for more.
Tops for me so far is “New York City”, which is catchy as hell with that cool neo-Brian Wilson vibe, and juxtaposes tales of his pre-band days in Texas (dime bags, guns & knives, making a quick hundred bucks in the back of a pickup truck) with playing to a crowd for the first time in New York City: “But look at us in New York City, everybody’s listening to me.” Oh, and Saxophone warning! There is Saxophone on this track, which some may find over the top or cheesy at parts. I like Chris’s attitude about it though – put it in there, and make it loud! This, folks, is a fun song…
Another highlight is “Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener,” an endearing song about self doubt, the naysayers and critics, and an affirmation that “beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, love is in the ear of the listener.”
All in all, I admire the way this album is put together. As I’ve prattled on about before, any artist who is out there creating something fresh and unpredictable every time out has my respect. It’s one story told over 28 minutes. “Lysandre’s theme” / interlude makes appearances throughout, and ties the songs together. It never leaves the key of A. There’s saxes. There’s Renn-faire flutes. There’s bang-bang beach rock n roll… It’s a half hour journey through California, NYC and France – an enjoyable one that I look forward to riding along to in the months and years to come.
MP3 Download Giveaway – I bought a vinyl copy of Lysandre, and they included a couple of extra download codes for the digital album in MP3 format. If you’re interested in getting a hold of the digital album, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a couple of people in a few days (or – if there’s only two of you, lucky you!).
If you’re bent on grabbing that record here and now (which I heartily recommend), here are some links for you:
Christopher Owens, the heart, mind, body and soul behind San Francisco’s Girls, decided to leave (and effectively disssolve) the group back in July with an announcement on Twitter (One, Two, and Three).
Thankfully, the creative juices are still flowing, and he’s been busy in L.A. recording his first solo album. The word is now out that Chris will be releasing Lysandre on January 15th, 2013 on the Fat Possum label.
There’s a really nice piece here on Fader where Chris talks about the backstory behind Lysandre. In a nutshell, Lysandre is a French girl he met on Girls’ first tour back in 2008 (supporting their debut, Album). A long distance romance evolved and eventually ended. The album tells the story of the journey.
I feel like this is the most focused effort I’ve ever made musically; telling a story from one song to the next in order of occurrence, making the album almost like one long song. A little bit like a musical. I’m very proud of it and happy it worked so well. I’m pleased to be able to share it with the world; its story, its music, its universal and classic themes. It’s a coming of age story, a road trip story, a love story. It’s a moment in time that has been captured and brought to life through art. For you, for me, for us. For what it’s worth. – Christopher Owens
I am so locked into this guy and the music he makes, so count me among those who are very excited about this new record. The first two tracks have been offered up on Soundcloud: “Lysandre’s Theme” (a short instrumental intro) and “Here We Go,” featuring soft acoustic guitar, flute, fuzzed out electric… Time for another listen.
Here’s the track listing for Lysandre. Pre-Order the album here.
1: Lysandre’s Theme
2: Here We Go
3: New York City
4: A Broken Heart
5: Here We Go Again
6: Riviera Rock
7: Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener
9: Everywhere You Knew
10: Closing Theme
11: Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)
Sometimes an album comes along that covers you like a warm blanket. There’s no rhyme or reason to it really, it just feels right. You carry it around with you, playing it every chance you get. It’s not just a connection to one or two good songs, it’s a connection to the whole body of work. Every song seems to hit you in a good place, and every listen is a fresh adventure.
Sometimes that feeling doesn’t kick in until you’ve listened to an album a bunch of times (an example this year: My Morning Jacket’s Circuital). But other times, it’s immediate. And when it’s completely unexpected – my God, it’s such a rush.
It happened to me today with a new album called Father, Son, Holy Ghost by San Francisco’s Girls. A couple of years ago, I became enamored by one of their songs, “Laura”, and had the good fortune to catch part of their set at the ’09 ACL Festival. It’s a song that still pops into my head from time to time, including this morning. Then, I saw they had a new album out, and I clicked Play (on Rdio). And I really haven’t stopped since.
Beautiful melodies. Shades of the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd… Summery pop interspersed occasionally with an edge, but never losing its luster and beauty – all from the mind of singer/guitarist Christopher Owens.
Believe it or not, you’ll fall in love with songs called “Vomit” and “Die”. And the lead single and album opener “Honey Bunny” sucks you right in.
I’ve been listening to this record for less than 12 hours, and already it’s one of my highlights of 2011.
Here’s the official video for “Honey Bunny”, featuring Christopher and his real life girlfriend, Hannah Hunt. He channels Prince with his black belly shirt (the “Kiss” video), and MJ with his “The Way You Make Me Feel” gestures. I’ve also been reading that the video (and the band itself) takes inspiration from Ariel Pink – who I’ve heard of but know pretty much nothing about. Perhaps I shall explore.
And please, stick around, click play, and listen to “Vomit”…
While you’re at it, here’s the 2009 song that put Girls on my radar: “Laura”: