If you'd like to hear some good new music, here's some news. There was a really good album made this year that you might not have heard, by a talented band that you may not know, that was released by an imaginative label you're probably not familiar with, from a vibrant music scene you're almost certainly unaware of.
If any of that sounds unusual, here's another surprise. The music scene where the label is that signed the band that made the album is Birmingham, Alabama, but (just one more surprise) that tells you absolutely nothing about what the record is like.
Wray is a three-piece band out of Birmingham whose album is a driving but dreamlike adventure through the collective musical imagination of David Brown, David Swatzell, and Blake Wimberly. Their music is sometimes referred to as 'power gaze', because it shares a mesmerizing and atmospheric richness with much of the music that is called 'shoegaze', but they drive it hard and never let it lose its power. In reality, what they're doing is much more complex than anything you can describe with a name, partly because of where their music comes from, and partly because of where they can take it.
Unless you already know who MC Frontalot is, it would be all to easy to miss out on his new album Question Bedtime. As a matter of fact, it would be all to easy to miss out on the entire MC Frontalot adventure, and that would be a shame, because his music is written so imaginatively and produced so effectively. It's a very unpredictable collection of creativity that MC Frontalot puts together, but he puts it all together so well that it would really be too bad to miss it al all.
A lot of people already know who he is; MC Frontalot's been making records and doing shows for a lot of people for quite a few years, and none of those people are likely to miss out on anything new he comes up with. If you've heard one of his other studio albums (Question Bedtime is his sixth), or if you're one of the tens of thousands of people who have seen his completely unique take on what a rapper can be on stage, you would already have a pretty good idea that there's way more here than what it looks like at first. If you had barely heard of him though, or maybe never heard of him, it would be all too easy to get the idea that this was just something that you already have a perfectly good category for. You might think that it's just comedy, or maybe that Question Bedtime is just a young person's record, or that the whole MC Frontalot story is just a novelty, and you could easily miss something that you might really enjoy.
In such a media rich but content poor world, it becomes common, and maybe even fashionable, for people to define, rate, and then file away anything new that they encounter. That might be the main reason why somebody who would have liked this album could miss it, because there are too many dimensions to what MC Frontalot is doing to be able to really define them. Besides, they're all wired together into such a precisely designed circuit that as soon as you start to classify some of it, you're bound to miss the rest of it.
Take his latest album for example. It's true that there are a lot of moments on Question Bedtime that are really funny, but it certainly isn't a comedy record, because it's packed to digital zero with so much lyrical wattage and so much musical power. It's also true that the musical tracks on the album are based on folk tales and stories for young people from around the world, some that you know and some that you don't, but the way MC Frontalot and his extensive cast of collaborators and co-conspirators rhyme their way through these stories, they just aren't like anything you ever heard before. There's a lot that's new in the way that MC Frontalot interprets rap and rhythm and writing and rhymes, and he puts it all together into an often (but not always) light-hearted approach that the press will call Nerdcore, but novelty this is not.
There's a band out of Detroit called Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, and just about everybody who sees them thinks they're seeing a promising new group with a cool new singer, but that's not quite all of it. When you take a good look at Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas you can see a lot more than just that, because what you're really seeing is an exorbitant take on where music can come from, an all-embracing vision of what music can be. You're looking at a stage full of gifted young jazz players tearing it up in a rock band behind a creative and talented singer, a singer who cares a lot about everything she does, and not so much about what anybody said she was supposed to do. It's quite a sight, and quite a sound, and even if it's already quite a story, there's bound to be a lot more where that came from. That's because Jessica Hernandez has a vision that's such a wild and complex collage of creativity that nobody can really guess what she might do next.
They covered a lot of the country last year, and since people who see them often tell somebody, you may have heard of them already. It's just as likely that you've heard some of their music; after signing with Instant Records, the label founded by songwriting, producing, and label icon Richard Gottehrer, they released a five song EP called Demons (after the Hernandez original that opens the record), and it gets played a lot. Since they're heading out on tour again right now (Atlanta, San Diego, Austin for South By Southwest and a lot of other places), they'll probably be wherever you are before too long. Until then you could listen to the EP, or maybe check out some of the unreleased tracks in their live videos (many of which will be on the full length album they'll release this summer). Either way, you'll probably start to see how much there is behind the little that anybody has seen yet.
It seems like Morgan Frazier must have a secret, not just because she does so many different things so well, but because she makes it all look so easy, as if it's just a matter of being who she is. Whatever her secret is, it probably isn't one of those secrets that you're not supposed to tell, because she speaks so readily about what she's doing and why. "I'm a songwriter," she says, "and I feel like my music is a kind of open book to who I am." Still, it could be one of those secrets that you can't just tell people because you have to show them, something that most people just don't want to believe until they see it for themselves.
If you haven't heard of her yet, Morgan Frazier is one of those talented veterans of Country Music that most people don't know about, even though she's been performing for more than fifteen years. She made her first album eleven years ago, and she has a catalog of carefully crafted original songs that are still largely unknown. None of that is really much of a secret, though, and there's a good reason why so many people don't know about her. She's still only twenty years old, and although she's been performing since she was five and recording since she was nine, her first national release, a beautiful self-titled EP on Curb Records, just came out this year.
There's a lot of different kinds of music in this big wide world, so many different kinds of music that nobody could even name them all. Everybody could name a few though, and two kinds of music that almost everybody can name are Rock and Country. Each of them is its own wide world, and although they do share some history, they don't share a lot of artists, or a lot of audiences.
There's plenty of music in America, and a lot of it's out on the road, rolling down interstates, sea to shining sea. The tour buses carrying Rock acts look a lot like the ones carrying Country acts, but even if they do pass each other on the interstate, they'll always be in two very different worlds. It's true that Rock and Country have a few things in common, and the more acoustic, lyrical kinds of Rock aren't all that different from some Country music. Still, the louder and heavier Rock gets, the less it sounds anything like the handcrafted story songs from a Nashville session, where most of the guitars are played undistorted, and the pedal steel might answer every careful line of a clear, melodic vocal.
That makes Aaron Lewis a very unusual story, because after sixteen years in a band called Staind (who've sold fifteen million very heavy rock albums), he recorded five country songs and put them together on an independent country EP. It had a picture on the cover of a sign by the side of the road that said "Entering Nashville", and he called it Town Line. If that doesn't sound all that astonishing, it's because that's not the really unusual part. When Town Line was released in March, 2011 it became the No. 1 Country album, and that's not only way past unusual, it may be unprecedented.
Nobody who starts a band could be blamed for thinking they might have to fight their way through something at some point. There are so many problems between where almost any band is and where they'd like to be that even if they don't call themselves I Fight Dragons, nobody could blame them, even if they talked a lot about fighting for what they believe in and for what they're trying to do. The thing is, Brian Mazzaferri actually is in a band called I Fight Dragons, and he never talks about fighting anything or anybody; mostly he talks about building things.
The band came out of nowhere just a few years ago, signed with Atlantic Records, and after two EPs own their own, released their first album, KABOOM!, at the end of 2011. A year later they had left the label, and you could easily think they'd be talking about what they have to fight for, now that they're back on their own again. Not even a little; on the way from headlining a show in Florida to headlining one in New Orleans, Mazzaferri talks about music, the internet, the band, the way they made the album, and a lot of other things, but he never mentions anything about fighting anybody. Mostly he talks about how a great band builds what it wants to be.
Sammy Tenuta came out of a very different scene than the one he's in now; he was the singer and leader in loud, driving rock bands that headlined most of the big venues in the Chicago club scene up through the late nineties. He's moved on, in reality, he's moved back to where most of that music started anyway; his new EP "Stay a Little Longer" is purely acoustic -- one guitar played live, one vocal, all about the songs, just the way that really good solo acoustic and solo vocal records should be. Well, all about the songs and how you play them.
Even after you've listened to Andy Moor's new album Zero Point One a bunch of times, it's still hard to get used to how strong these tracks are. There are eighteen of them, and even if you keep going back to listen to the whole album, track after track through the musical light show of its many different voyages, it still won't matter. Although you may think that on just one more listen they can't all seem so rich or so well put together, it doesn't matter; they still do.
Andy Moor is one of the really respected producer DJs in Electronic Dance Music, and on the Trance Nation side of EDM he's been known for years for the quality of his productions. Still, this is something new. As successful as his hit tracks and remixes have been, Zero Point One is an album, a rich, musical album full of different songs, different textures, and different moods.
There's a major new world taking shape in Trance music, as the producers who built the many faceted sound of Trance out of monstrously melodic tracks, layered through and through with the lush atmospheres that make trance music its own art, have started to make really careful, complete albums. The artist album isn't new in EDM, but because trance has always been such an independent world, huge and global but always its own unique country, it's been a gradual, step-by-step process. It's been a complicated challenge, because trance artists don't fit easily into the world's expectation of what a recording artist is; for the most part they're touring DJs, software-based composers and producers who almost all came up putting out one track at a time, usually with its main purpose being to tear up a dancefloor when somebody played it in a set with a lot of other tracks.
Here's one of the best summer tracks anywhere ever, a chilled Surf Guitar dreamer perfect for anything Summer.
Powerplay FYI's new album "A Normal Life" is out now, it's a full length trip through the musical imaginations of some really accomplished performers and writers. "A Normal Life" is a richly textured concept album; it's a new collection of ten tracks that showcase what great writing sounds like with the energy of a percussion-rich Latin big band, with the flawlessly soulful vocals of two great singers, and with the driving funk of a full horn section and first-call rhythm players.