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FEATURED SONG: She Keeps Bees – “Radiance”

Brooklyn-based duo She Keeps Bees knows how to build a song through quiet swells and subtly-menacing grooves. Their latest, “Radiance,” heralds the coming of Eight Houses, due out September 16th, via a carefully layered track built on melancholy chords of piano against mild percussive rhythms and the sultry-sweet vocals of Jessica Larrabee. Four albums into their career, they’ve yet to rise beyond “best band you haven’t heard,” but the material here suggests they deserve a great deal more.

Give the track a listen via the streaming link above, and feel free to sound off in the comments. Their tour dates are below as well.

UPCOMING SHOWS:
8/29 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon

8/30 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre Lounge

9/3 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall

9/6 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Satellite

9/7 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar

9/8 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Rhythm Room

9/10 – Las Vegas, NV @ Beauty Bar

9/11 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court

9/12 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater

9/13 – Kansas City, MO @ Czar bar

9/14 – Lincoln, NE @ Duffy’s Taver

9/15 – Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews

9/16 – Milwaukee, WI @ Club Garibaldi

9/17 – Detroit, MI @ PJ’s Lager House

9/19 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern

9/20 – Athens, OH @ The Union

9/25 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs

9/26 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie

9/27 – Washington, DC @ The Lot (Atlantic Plumbing)

11/12 – Bristol, ENG @ The Lantern

11/13 – Manchester, ENG @ Gullivers

11/15 – London, ENG @ The Lexington

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ELROY WAS HERE: Cruise Elroy’s gauntlet-dropping EP pair leads the pack

For Chris Merritt, Cruise Elroy has been a labor of love years in the works, built on the solid foundation that was the song of the same title, a seven-four exercise in pop-jazz perfection. Daring continuously to push the envelope of what great pop music can and should be, he’s existed on the fringes of pop, building melodies of the Ben Folds ilk while taking his lyrics in the vein of a less snarky Jonathan Coulton. There’s always been more to Merritt’s music than easy comparisons may make clear, but it’s a good start. Now with the arrival of EP1 and EP2 from Cruise Elroy, the full spectrum of this sound is immediately evident.

While the first EP takes the opportunity to update early Merritt faves “Tarmac”, “Feminine Mind” and “Rain King” via a cleaner studio veneer, it also provides us with the songwriter’s strongest pop contribution yet. Via “The Fever,” which speaks to the search for truth between what we can see, smell or touch versus what we sense might be true on the fringes, Merritt hits us with his catchiest chorus while peppering the musical arrangement with his trademark odes to video-game music and off-kilter kitsch. Shorty” opens the EP with an extended 5/4 disco-funk breakdown, then segues into a surprisingly straightforward dose of keyboard-tinged nostalgia complete with the best fuzzed-out bass outside an early Ben Folds Five effort. And even the new studio recordings of Merritt classics shine as examples of remarkably astute songwriting, particularly “Feminine Mind” for it’s twist on Billy Joel’s “She’s Only A Woman To Me” — “She’s a killer but she’s always on time; she’s brutal but she’s never unkind,” Merritt sings without the dark edge of Joel’s misogyny tainting the proceeding. And “Rain King” softens the edges of the lo-fi gem via a pair of extended instrumental interludes at the song’s center and conclusion while heightening the contrast between the bare melody with the trio’s deftly layered vocal harmonies.


But if
EP1 introduces you to the sounds of Merritt and Cruise Elroy in a non-confrontational setting, EP2 becomes positively revolutionary, evident from the moment you crash ears-first into “Sisyphus.” Thirty seconds in and you’ve thrown out any comparisons to Ben Folds as the band embraces prog-rock leanings much more in tune with bands like Wax Fang. Quite unlike anything else I’ve heard on any pop album this year, “Sisyphus” takes everything that’s great about Merritt’s songwriting and encapsulates it within a melodic structure that demands a schizophrenic arrangement. All but demanding headphone listening, the song features layers upon layers which, peeled back, illustrate an artist coming fully into his own. And four minutes in, the Chris Martin-inspired harmonic breakdown seals it, making repeat listens compulsory.


And if you weren’t already sold, the EP’s closer, “Ghost,” which opens with the best rock intro not composed by Styx, will cement you as a lifelong fan. A freewheeling pop masterpiece, Ghost reminds one immediately of the more experimental side of Weezer (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”), a symphonic synthesized sensation which aptly showcases why I’ve argued for years that Merritt is the best pop songwriter you’re not yet listening to.


These two EPs make it tantalizingly clear that great pop music won’t be denied. With the tease of a full-length still on the horizon, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the sonic world of Cruise Elroy. Nothing else this year comes even remotely close to this, and you ignore it at your own peril.


Elroy was here, and he’s thrown down the gauntlet.

UNDER COVER: Doctorfunk’s “Back In Black” the prescription for good times

Not since I heard Bloomington, Indiana’s now defunct 16-piece funk outfit Flattus have I heard anything as immediately infectious as Doctorfunk, a band as comfortable dabbling in off-kilter covers as they are breaking fresh ground. I submit for your approval this funkadelic bad-assed restructuring of AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” which is as fitting a summer jam as I’ve heard in years. The jazzy funk backdrop gives the song a fresh new groove, but the vocals stick close enough to the original that this serves as a fitting homage to one of rock’s greatest tracks. For more, check out Second Opinion, the band’s exceptional sophomore album, produced by Jeff Tamalier, who formerly produced or played guitar for Tower of Power, the Strokeland Superband, Cold Blood and others over the years. And follow them on Facebook, you’ll want to definitely keep these guys on your radar screen!

CARRY THAT SPARK: Counting Crows’ “Palisades Park” a return to August form

Adam Duritz is excited about the new Crows record due out at some point this fall, and I’ve got to say, based on a first listen to “Palisades Park,” the band’s returned to form and is ready to craft “imaginative music” again. Says Duritz, via Billboard:

“The songs are different from anything I’ve ever written before, I’ve got to say. They’re a little more imaginative, a little more imagery-heavy. They’re willing to be a little goofier and have a little more of a sense of humor, occasionally. It’s really cool.”

The eight-minute track (nine minutes plus on video) opens with an intro which seems almost the direct continuation of “Chelsea” off Across A Wire, eighty seconds which then catch fire as Duritz then begins singing an almost stream-of-consciousness lyric akin to his live versions of “Round Here” or “Rain King,” a real return to the sound in which the band has yet to dabble in non-concert form this decade. For a guy like Duritz, who has fought more than a few battles with his creativity over the years, to get back to basics in this vein without losing what made his early songs like “Anna Begins” so immediately indelible is quite an impressive act. It’s the careening free-wheeling style of his lyrics which makes this song stand out, even as the musical arrangement is equally innovative, shifting style and meter in a frenetic burst of spectacular pop songwriting.

It only took nine minutes to shift from “who knew he still had songs like this in him before?” to wondering how long we have to wait to hear the other eight. And if they’re as good as “Palisades Park,” I fully expect the album to top my year-end list.

FEATURED SONG: Miles Wick – “In Front Of You”

 

Photo Credit: Don Paris Schlotman

Meet Miles Wick, a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter who embodies equally the melodic vocals of Paul Simon and the scene-setting of Sufjan Stevens. Wick, who plans to release his latest album So Much Love on June 27th, has already been profiled in Obscure Sound and Independent Music News, drawing comparisons to Arthur Russell and Damien Jurado. Here, for the first time, we present his stunning track “In Front Of You,” which will make you a believer in the first thirty seconds, its bare-bones acoustic melody providing just enough structure to keep his rising-falling ethereal vocals from spinning out of control into the void. The arrangement’s subtle use of background harmonies blended with light bass and piano draws you in instantly. “It’s all in front of you,” he sings hauntingly on the chorus, and as the swell builds before us we’re just glad for the opportunity to partake.

FEATURED SONG: Tom Levin – “Father to a Son”

A few months ago I introduced you all to Tom Levin, an artist I feel is destined for much bigger things in the future. He’s released a video for “Father to a Son,” one of the standout tracks from his album Them Feet which, if you haven’t heard it, now’s as good a time as any! The video, which you can view below, is a perfect counterpoint to the traditional songs about fathers and sons, a work of art that elevates the song via a colorful blend of animation and live images showcasing three generations living life fully.. I’ll let Levin say it in his own words:

“Father To A Son” is about my father, me and my son. Ever since I became a father, I’ve been thinking a lot about  what kind of person I want to be and what I really leave behind. I can pursue a career, start a company, make money, acquire gadgets and build a house. But the one thing that, in a longer perspective, truly will affect many generations to come is the respect I show my fellow humans and the love I give my children. This is my true legacy.

#009 – Brian Vander Ark (The Verve Pipe)

Welcome to the “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast. Today’s episode features Brian Vander Ark, lead-singer and guitarist for the Verve Pipe.

 

If you’re a child of the 90s, you likely remember the Verve Pipe for their album Villians and its lead single, “The Freshmen.” After that, however, they faded into the background of alternative as radio indifference never facilitated a follow-up single. It has been thirteen years since they last recorded a full-on rock album — the band dabbled through the last decade in albums for children, while lead-singer Brian Vander Ark released a series of solo records. But they’re back in the spotlight this week with the pending release of Overboard, an album of solidly crafted pop-rock songs which proves much more experimental and daring in tone than anything you’ve likely heard from them before.

 

Vander Ark sat down to talk to “Hear! Hear!” about the new album, the dark twisty tone of its lead single, and — among other things — why lyrics wind up being the most important thing when crafting the perfect children’s song.

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For more information on the Verve Pipe’s upcoming album Overboard, check them out on Facebook or pre-order the album at Amazon!

Check back on Friday for our next installment of the “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast.

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