Anyone who doesn’t appreciate a pun as stupid-brilliant as “Medieval Knieval” needs more joy in their life. And the beauty of surf-rock music is that titling a song “Medieval Knieval” doesn’t require any daredevil-knight lyrics to live up to the billing. After all, I don’t know what “Walk, Don’t Run” had to do with strolling safely.
In my years as a music publicist, I learned how difficult it was to get one of your artists interviewed on NPR (one of the few press hits that actually might sell some records). At a bare minimum it typically requires new music. Pitching a seven-year old song would get you laughed out of the producer’s inbox.
But listeners to Weekend Edition this summer heard a new segment about a song that came out in 2012. Vermont band Swale joined host Scott Simon to discuss “If You Get Lost.” The “news peg,” such as it was: They’d submitted it to the annual NPR Music Tiny Desk contest. Though they didn’t win, they got one hell of a consolation prize.
The titular echo of The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” here is surely no accident. At times, Black Rabbit sound like they could be playing one of Andy Warhol’s happenings with some sort of trippy light show projected on them. They may have rocked a little too hard for a Factory crowd though; the CBGB stage a few years later might have been the better fit. Sure enough, frontcouple Marc and Darlene Scarano used to play CBGB, sweating on the same stage as The Ramones and Dead Boys once did, albeit several decades later.
The genre tag “quiet storm” refers to emotive R&B ballads across eras. Named after a Smokey Robinson song, quiet storm emerged as a popular radio format in the ’70s and later grew to encapsulate the neo-soul boom of the ’90s. A playlist that segued from Luther Vandross into Sade would be peak quiet storm.
Clever Girls’ music sounds nothing like quiet storm.
Greil Marcus first coined the term “the old weird America” to describe the strange sounds on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music collection. He connected those ’20s and ’30s folk and blues recordings to Bob Dylan and The Band’s “basement tapes,” which drew these dawn-of-recording-technology sounds and songs into the pastoral country-rock 1960s.
Ali T – Electric Haze
Alison Turner is an artist out of time. She’s a singer-songwriter, but not with the folky connotations the phrase often takes on. Rather, something like “Electric Haze” sounds made for radio. Late-’90s radio, that is, when artist like Jewel and Meredith Brooks were racking up top-ten hits. It wouldn’t have a chance today, but “Electric Haze” ably walks to tricky line of engaging with nostalgia while creating something new.
When I saw boys cruise live, the four band members switched pants with each other mid-set. They exchanged instruments too, but pants-swapping tends to steal the spotlight from musical versatility. Like a rock-show Alice in Wonderland, the quartet rotated around the stage after every song, leveling up the antics each time. At one point, they cut off a band member’s hair onstage and threw huge hunks into the crowd. Then they smashed the chair he was sitting on. That went into the crowd too.
Abby Sherman – Hand with the Devil
If the only Satan-themed violin song you’ve heard is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Abby Sherman’s “Hand with the Devil” might throw you for a loop. Rather than rollickin’ fiddlin’, Abby Sherman and violinist Katie Trautz create something truly spooky, like the sort of Gillian Welch track you don’t play in the dark.
Adam Rabin – The Other Room
You’re going to want to sing along to “The Other Room” after a listen or two – but I wouldn’t. The sketches of plot offered sound like a sci-fi family dystopia, a Black Mirror episode for children.
The Cheyenne Brando – Samsonite
So thoroughly does Endtime Hymns evoke certain bands that one begins looking for echoes everywhere. Is the title “My Jean Sebring” a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie”? Does “Poisonhead” reference ABC’s “Poison Arrow”? Was “Privacy of Lucy” inspired by The Cure’s “Pictures of You”? Each connection a greater stretch than the last, and likely none intentional. Christian Hahn does explicitly cite the heyday of post-punk and new-wave in his bio though, and, sonically, the comparisons are everywhere. His next song might as well be titled “Bizarre Love Triangle Will Tear Us Apart.”
The opening notes of Erin Cassels-Brown’s new album signal his Dylan-goes-electric moment.
A former street busker, Cassels-Brown has spent the last few years building a reputation around his Burlington, Vermont home as a folk singer and guitar-strummer around town. But on Dreamin’ on Overdrive, he joins the long lineage of former folkies who plugged in and amped up. While it’s hard to imagine Pete Seeger swinging an axe to cut the cable, it shows Cassels-Brown deliberately shaking off his local acoustic-troubadour reputation, and opening himself up to a broader national audience.