With much of North America blanketed in hideously cold weather this past week — it was -50 C with the windchill at my parents’ house north of Winnipeg — we could use some new music to keep the blood less viscous.
Here’s what we’re listening to this week.
1. Vampire Weekend, Harmony Hall
Two things. First, this is the first Vampire Weekend album in nearly six years. Second, they seem to have a thing about released albums in January (three of their four records have dropped in this month). Second, it’s the first VW album without founding member Rostam Batmanglij — but he returned to co-produce the album for his old mates. Fun fact: the working title of this album was Mitsubishi Macchiato. I wonder if that tastes anything like horchata? (VW fans will get the reference.)
2. X-Ambassadors, BOOM
Since its release about 10 days ago, the advance single from the forthcoming second album (title and release date TBA) has racked up about a million plays on Spotify. One listen and chunks of this song will end up going through your head for the rest of the day. Expect to hear this one a lot at sporting events.
3. AJR, 100 Bad Days
After doing well with their second album, The Click, the Met brothers (Adam, Jack and Ryan — AJR, geddit?) are almost ready with the next one (release date and title TBA). Interesting lyrics to this single: “Remember when we all got drunk/I ended up with two broken thumbs.” How? The song doesn’t answer that, but there are at least 99 more bad days to go along with that.
4. Beirut, Landslide
Interesting mix of nomenclature, this. Beirut (real name: Zach Condon) is from Santa Fe, N.M., but often categorizes his music as “Balkan folk.” Beirut has since expanded from Zach to a full band, which is responsible for a fifth album entitled Gallipoli (yes, like the site of the WWI battle in Turkey), which arrives Feb. 1.
5. Amanda Palmer, Drowning in the Sound
Anyone aware of Amanda Palmer knows that she’s a force of nature, one of the most fiercely independent artists of the last 20 years. Her third studio album, entitled There Will Be No Intermission (March 8), promises to be a very intense affair as it was born out of “abortion, miscarriage, cancer, grief, and the darker side of parenthood.” A feel-good record, then.
London Calling — Our Girl, I Really Like It
This trio — two women and a dude — divides their time between Brighton and London. While this song and the album from whence it came (Stranger Today) was released nearly a year ago, it is only now starting to gain traction. If you like fuzzy guitars mixed with harmonies, you’ll be on board straight away.
Undiscovered Gem – Pip Blom, Daddy Issues
Talk about a family affair. Pip Blom is not only the name of the group but the name of the lead singer. She’s joined by her brother Tender, while mom serves as the group’s auxiliary tour manager (she books the transportation and hotels). Dad, an old punk rocker himself, takes care of all the social media. And before you ask, Pip has no issues with her father. “It’s just a song,” she says. All right, then.
Throwback Thursday — National Velvet, Flesh Under Skin
Back in the day, National Velvet was Toronto’s premier goth-tinged rock group. Led by Maria Del Mar, a true force of nature, the group released one EP and three albums during their original run from 1985 to 1995. There was a reunion in 2011 that seems to have stuck for the original gig. Sadly, bass player Mark Storm went missing in 2002, his body later found in Lake Ontario. This is from the group’s 1990 album, Courage.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.