Music for February 2019

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“placeholder” – Hand Habits, placeholder

Arrives March 1, 2019
Saddle Creek

Meg Duffy, known predominantly as the lead guitarist for Kevin Morby’s band, should be recognized for much more when their second album, placeholder, comes out on March 1st. Duffy, who records and performs music under the name Hand Habits, has recently released the album’s lead single, also titled “placeholder.” The song has a laid back groove built on a simple three-chord progression. What sticks out from the rhythm track is the clear and smooth vocal delivery as Duffy sings “And this is where I doubted you and endless compromise / To say that you told me the truth is to tell each other lies / Oh, but now you are a placeholder blinded by desire / Oh, now you’re just a placeholder for someone wasting time.”

“Estrella” – Cass McCombs, Tip of the Sphere

Arrives February 8, 2019

Following his critically-renowned 2016 album Mangy Love, Cass McCombs has released a new single in anticipation of his ninth full-length, Tip of the Sphere. On “Estrella,” McCombs and his band set a sunny and breezy mood with a driving beat and bouncy bassline. Shades of darkness come in and out with a dissonant synthesizer. The song eventually drops out into an amoebic vocal crooning backed only by sparse and stretched out tones of guitar and keyboards. Lyrically, McCombs presents “Estrella” as a tribute of sorts to Latino artist Juan Gabriel.

“I Told You Everything” – Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow

Released January 18, 2019

On “I Told You Everything,” the opening song on Sharon Van Etten’s new album Remind Me Tomorrow, she sings “Sitting at the bar I told you everything / You said holy shit / You almost died.” The scene depicted certainly seems autobiographical. It’s been four years since Van Etten’s last album, Are We There, and a lot has happened in her life since then. Apart from her career as musician, she has gone to school, has acted in the show The OA, and has become a mother. It was in the bits of time between all of these other obligations that Remind Me Tomorrow was written. Despite the short windows of time available to her to work on the record, Van Etten, along with producer John Congleton, have crafted a beautiful and mesmerizing album.

“Harm Reduction (Morning)” – Tim Presley’s White Fence, I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk

Released January 25, 2019
Drag City

Tim Presley, perhaps better known by the name White Fence, has released his second album in as many years, entitled I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk. The new record showcases the whimsical, lo-fi, Kinksian songs that featured on his previous work, like the Family Perfume albums, but Presley expands his sonic palette into other psychedelic realms like on the track “Harm Reduction (Morning).” Reminiscent of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” “Harm Reduction (Morning)” consists mainly of a repetitious synthesizer sequence with various bleeps and bloops bouncing and scratching around its edges. In a music business that more often than not takes itself far too seriously, it’s refreshing to hear songs like this one that sound as though they were created out of pure joy and creative curiosity.

“Jealousy” – SASAMI, SASAMI

Arrives March 8, 2019
Domino Records

LA-based musician Sasami Ashworth, or SASAMI as she is known professionally, spent much of last year on tour playing guitar and keys for Cherry Glazer. While on tour, Ashworth would type out long texts to lovers and friends, but then would never send them. These unsent messages seemed to naturally fit as lyrics for the demos she had been making on her iPad and it wasn’t long before Sasami had a full album’s worth of songs. On the latest single for the album “Jealousy,” SASAMI builds layers of offsetting guitars and keys that are reined in by a steady four-on-the-floor drumbeat. The vocal melody floats on its own wavelength at times, almost as if it belongs to a different song entirely, but when it does sync in with the groove it is magic.

“Stonehurst Cowboy” – Steve Gunn, The Unseen In Between

Released January 18, 2019
Matador Records

Two short weeks after the release of Steve Gunn’s previous album, 2016’s Eyes On the Lines, his father passed away from cancer. The death of his dad at a time that should have been a celebratory one, left Gunn with a new set of feelings to explore on what would turn out to be his latest work, The Unseen In Between. On “Stonehurst Cowboy,” Gunn remembers the lessons his father taught him and looks back at a time that is gone forever. “Dear old house on 69th / Streets look the same / Trees are strong / Faces are gone / My background is the same.” Sparse instrumentation is provided by Gunn’s acoustic guitar and stark basslines from Bob Dylan’s musical director, Tony Garnier.

“Ordinary Pleasure” – Toro y Moi, Outer Peace

Released January 18, 2019
Carpark Records

Chaz Bear, who goes by the moniker Toro y Moi, has a new album out called Outer Peace. The record was recorded in the Bay Area after Bear had spent a full year up in Portland. The single “Ordinary Pleasure” opens with what sounds like a bongo sample from “Sympathy for the Devil” over a backdrop of gentle waves before breaking out into a funky jam a la disco-era Michael Jackson. The track is a party jam through and through. Bear puts the hedonism on full display singing, “Maximize all the pleasure / Even with all this weather / Nothing can make it better / Maximize all the pleasure.”

“Better Way” – Kian Byrne, Up & Down

Released 2018

After years of playing in the Irish American folk band The Elders, Kansas City musician Kian Byrne has self-released his debut solo album, Up & Down. The primarily acoustic album represents a branching out for Byrne, who, apart from drumming for The Elders, plays guitar for the ska band The New Riddim. On the album opener “Better Way,” Byrne chugs along on an acoustic guitar with a pleasant assortment of noodling stringed riffs floating in the background. Byrne sings about the uncertainty of relationships “It’s hard to know who to trust / I’ve been wondering about my feelings / What are all the meanings / What are the outcomes?”

“Long Wave” – Bonny Dune, Longwave

Released March 23, 2018

Bonny Dune’s latest album, 2018’s Longwave, opens with the aptly titled track “Long Wave,” and it sounds like what riding a wave must feel like. There’s no fussiness about it, just a laid back confidence that the current will take you to wherever you are going. Simple shakers and an easy snare tap set the pace as guitars, an organ, and bass guitar join in and float along for the ride. This gentle flow of music from the Detroit-based band, alternating between just two chords, comes with sage advice about following your own course: “Don’t spend your whole life waiting on the turning of the season of your mind / You are who you’re supposed to be.”

“In the Hot Hot Rays” – Fleet Foxes, First Collections 2006-2009

Released November 19, 2018
Subpop Records

It’s been over 10 years since Fleet Foxes topped several “Best Of” lists with their debut full-length album Fleet Foxes. Subpop, the band’s label at the time, is celebrating the anniversary with an extensive release of material. Included are the above mentioned self-titled album, the Sun Giant EP, an EP made before their label signing, and various home demos. Among the 30 recordings on the collection is a song called “In the Hot Hot Rays,” from their first EP. The track, and the EP it came from, is most notable for what it is not. Listeners familiar with the band might be surprised by the lack of acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, and songs about the natural world. Despite this, the band shows glimmers of its eventual success, primarily through the confident and intricate songwriting and decisively executed guitar work.

This sampler was compiled and written by Ben Sauder, who makes music as No Magic. His new album, In Cocoon, is out now on French Exit Records.

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