Give thanks! Don Ryan lets it all hang loose with “Vulture,” proof that alt-country and punk serve up perfect together

Don Ryan

As though there weren’t already about ten thousand reasons to love the hell out of Don Ryan’s flamethrower-punk version of alternative country, “Vultures” will prove he remains at the top of his game. This three-minute barrage of fast-strummed acoustic guitar and a full-on bullet-train of percussion and frantic vocals, the song features Ryan’s signature sound laid bare in all its glory. If the country establishment hadn’t ruined Hank Williams III forever by forcing his Grandaddy’s sound on him in the 90s, he might naturally have come along with something akin to this firecracker when Curb had their shot at him. Instead, Don Ryan’s fighting the good fight in relative obscurity. Shine a light, musical brothers! Music this good deserves a wider audience. Play it for Grandma at Thanksgiving dinner and see if she doesn’t agree!

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Check out footage from the filming of this video (available on Thanksgiving), plus get a copy of the new song via the band’s Bandcamp page. The single will be on Ryan’s forthcoming, as yet untitled, EP. For more information about Don Ryan, check out these older posts on “Hear! Hear!”

 

- UNDER COVER: Don Ryan – “This Lullabye” (April 8, 2012)

- ARTIST TO WATCH: Don Ryan (October 25, 2011)

Skipp Whitman’s “5AM” features laid-back grooves and the confidence of a seasoned hip-hop veteran

Skipp Whitman

FREE MP3: Skipp Whitman – “The Upgrade (ft. Louie Bello)right click to download
FREE MP3: Skipp Whitman – “When I Let Go”right click to download

Skipp Whitman 5AMThe last time I wrote about Skipp Whitman he just wanted to be famous, and knew he meant it. Now he’s got the confidence of ten men and he’s ready to take the rap life by storm. 5AM is a rare sophomore effort which exceeds its predecessor without changing what made the first album work. These songs flow together and showcase Whitman’s laid-back Jay-Z inspired grooves even as he further stylizes his own flow.

“Strangers told me I should be patient / angels sitting on both my shoulders / telling me ‘don’t go changing’ / just to try to please anybody at all’ / but I told them I was having a ball!” he raps on “Won’t Change,” marking a template for the rest of the album. It isn’t that he’s changed, it’s that he’s built on what came first and improved it, making for a fresh listening experience. “LA in the Rain” speaks of what pressure there is to “make it” in an industry where you have to be confident enough to say no to the hangers-on who will ditch you surely for every next big thing. The thundering repetitive drone of the backing track makes the song stand out as claustrophobic like a traffic jam, echoing the restlessness Whitman’s experienced coming up in the world of hip-hop, fighting for every opportunity.

The album’s  clincher,  however, is its most radi0-ready track, “The Upgrade,” which features the best of Whitman’s rhyming coupled with a sung chorus featuring Louie Bello that brings the hook times ten. “Here’s to the people who said it would be years / before I got any music-related bread,” Whitman sneers, making cracks about hangers-on who want to get a taste after even the slightest success. The melody of the beat will stick in your head, and you’ll be singing Bello’s chorus long after the song’s come to an end.

Skipp Whitman’s building his reputation as a brashly fearless rapper who understands his skills and is willing to work to get to the top even if it has to be one album sold at a time building a fanbase on the ground. 5AM stands tall as a sophomore album which avoids the slump frequently plaguing hip-hop artists who experience sudden fame and can’t handle it. He’s not rapping about making millions and getting a stable of bitches. It’s a matter of his smaller goals being reached, or at least becoming attainable. “I told you that I couldn’t straighten up and sitting on the sidelines ain’t enough,” he raps on “When I Let Go.” “Just being a spectator ain’t on par with how I see my life going.” This is the hip-hop album for those of us who first dream big, then do bigger — no apologies.

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Need a wake-up call? Man Made Sun is ready to deliver

Man Made Sun

If the madman behind King Missile happened to create a brand-new supergroup with Serj Tankian, the resultant mind-fuck would surely resemble what is presented on Man Made Sun’s EP More A Devil Than A God, which thankfully is available to enjoy via Bandcamp in all its glory. “God vs God” and “Belief” open the proceedings with such wild abandon it’s impossible not to be sucked into what this band has to offer. These New Yorkers are sure to make a splash once their music finds a wider audience online. Listen to the entire EP below, and if you dig it, you can support the band by buying it as part of a “name your own price” deal. Trust me, it’s worth the time!

FREE MP3: Sarah Miles – “Middle of Nowhere”

Sarah Miles

Sarah Miles

DOWNLOAD MP3: Sarah Miles – “Middle of Nowhere” (right click, “save as”)

If I could run a hundred miles
I’d still be so far from anywhere worthwhile
Now I see how hard it is to be alone
I can’t run a hundred miles

For those about to get your piano pop on, I salute you. And if you’re taking my advice, you’ll be playing “Middle of Nowhere,” a sunny pop nugget from Sarah Miles which fits perfectly into any lineup featuring the likes of Sarah Bareilles or Vanessa Carlton, with just enough rock to get your feet moving while the hooks dance between your ears and peer pressure you into repeating endlessly. If you dig that track, grab it for free via the link above, then give her other tracks a listen: “Never Ending Chase” and “Find My Way Home” are equally ear-catching, hinting strongly that this New York singer-songwriter’s’ music is destined to push as far from the middle of nowhere as possible.

ARTIST TO WATCH: The Pontoons

The Pontoons - lead singer Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt, of New York alt-rock duo the Pontoons.

A decade and a half after making early waves in
New York’s mid-90s alt-rock scene, the Pontoons return
with a new single and what may be the longest-gestating
debut album of the era. Was it worth the wait?
Short answer: Definitely.

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4/2/2012 Update: The video at the bottom of this page is the brand-new official video for “Antidote,” directed by Tim Ticehurst, rather than merely the audio for the song.

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In Billboard’s November 1994 issue, Larry Flick wrote that a certain indie-pop band from New York City had “one of the best debuts of the year” with their first single “Juncos and Robins.”

The Pontoons, by that point, had built their reputation through three years of steady touring around New York City. So to the industry reps who continuously trolled such clubs trying to find the next Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins, there was every indication the band was set to carve out a niche in the burgeoning alt-rock scene.

“At the time we were playing out in NYC and the Northeast more [often] than we found ourselves in the studio,” says drummer Christian Harper. “This was mostly due to our efforts to build a local following, but also because we were young and didn’t have the finances to bankroll an entire album.”

Juncos and Robins

The Pontoons' 1994 7-inch single "Juncos and Robins," which earned them Billboard recognition.

Choosing instead to focus on improving their live shows, while building strong word of mouth via college radio for “Juncos and Robins” and “Landslide,” they eventually fell through the cracks. Without ever recording a full-length album, the Pontoons broke up in 1996.

“In retrospect we probably should have focused more on recording,” Harper says. “But we were drawn by the thrill of playing gigs and loved having that direct interaction [with fans].”

With timing being everything – their brief “heyday” preceded the mp3 revolution by half a decade – the Pontoons seemed destined to remain a footnote in the overcrowded historical landscape which is the 90s alternative movement, their blend of REM-inspired jangle-pop to remain virtually out of print. And that’s how it might have remained, were it not for a chance reunion a few years ago.

“We’d rallied around the idea of working together and producing the full-length album we never made,” Harper says. “Tom and I were able to reconnect with our original recording engineer Sal Mormando, and when we shared our plan he was excited about the idea of working with us again. Everybody loves a comeback story, right? Regardless, we’re having a great time and have realized how much we missed making music together.”

Mormando has produced albums for Patti Smith, Billy Squire and Dayna Kurtz among many others, and is currently mixing the upcoming Pontoons full-length, keeping their original sound at the forefront. The latest single, “Antidote” (which you can view a video for below) showcases the duo’s jangle-pop guitar arpeggios, tight rhythms and Tom Hunt’s distinct vocals for three minutes which barely whet the appetite before the obligatory repeat listens. It is a sound as eerily reminiscent of REM as it is more obscure early-90s alt fare like Trip Shakespeare, an early forebear of what became Semisonic.

But that’s what fans who heard the band 15 years ago came to expect, and the new single blends seamlessly with the music of their past while suggesting at the same time that the future looks incredibly bright.

Timing may indeed be everything. With this much talent coming together to produce the album which almost never was, the stars seem to be ready to align in the Pontoons’ favor. With any luck “Antidote” will prove to be exactly that, a refreshing counterbalance to the decidedly lacking state of pop music thus far in 2012. Their current plan is to self-release the album later this summer along with another single, and if the music remains as strong as our appetizer, expect to hear the praise spread rapidly.

ALBUM REVIEW: Baby Teardrops – “X Is For Love”

X Is For Love
Year of the Album — #011
Baby Teardrops – “X Is For Love” (2011, Independent)

Another review went up at Yahoo’s Contributor Network today! This one’s a review of an independent album from New York City’s Baby Teardrops. It releases in early April, and for fans of R.E.M., the Pixies or the New Pornographers, it’s a must hear! Read the review here.

Indie rockers Baby Teardrops make it immediately clear they’ve got a clear, concise rock vision few other bands just starting out could even dream of. X Is For Love gets right to the point, a thirty-minute magnum opus which is going to get them noticed.

Baby Teardrops’ X Is For Love is one of those rare albums that can be a throwback to a bygone era while at the same time pushing modern pop-rock into a completely new direction. It’s energetic and brings the fun from the first song to the last, and the album doesn’t overstay its welcome, encouraging repeat listens. In the end it’s a recipe for success in a pop landscape which appears ripe for innovation and creativity. Trust me, Baby Teardrops are the real deal, and X Is For Love is a classic in the making.

Enjoy the lead single, “Banged In The Heart,” which is available for download if you get hooked.

 

ARTISTS TO WATCH: Me Talk Pretty

Me Talk Pretty

Julia Preotu fronts up-and-comers Me Talk Pretty

Me Talk Pretty draws you in from the word “go,” sounding like Regina Spektor if she’d joined a pop-punk band and added some wild Romanian flair to the mix. Move over, Hayley Williams, because there’s a new woman in town ready to take the genre hostage one vocal at a time. Julia Preotu is the real deal, and it makes sense — they are coming up in the same NYC scene that developed Spektor, among many many other amazing artists of the last decade.

I’ll admit their name had me skeptical, but a few songs and I was as addicted as anyone! This is exactly the kind of hybrid pop radio could use a hell of a lot more of, and if the Internet’s going to have anything to do with it, live vids like this one won’t have 2,000 views for long.

Check out their latest EP We Are Strangers at Amazon!

EDIT: Sorry for the misspelling in the address on this one. I’ve corrected their name throughout the article to Me Talk Pretty.