Alan Cross’ weekly music picks: From Vampire Weekend to Honeyblood

Ezra Koenig and Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend perform onstage at Islington Assembly Hall on March 22, 2019, in London, England. Burak Cingi/Redferns

Before you scroll down any further, please be advised that there will be no mention of Tay-Tay’s new single in this column.

She’s had enough press and doesn’t need my help. With that said, here are the tunes I’m listening to this week.

1. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Black Star Dancing (Single)

Gallagher the Elder surprised everyone on Thursday (May 2) with his first piece of new music since his 2017 album, Who Built the Moon? and upon hitting “play” for the first time, many were probably a little confused. No Beatlesque Britpop melodies this time. Noel instead has plumbed his admiration for Dave Bowie, INXS, U2, and — wait for it — ZZ Top. Black Star Dancing (get the Bowie reference?) is by far the most electro thing he’s ever done so this may require several listens. The EP of the same name will arrive June 14.

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2. Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride

If you’re looking for a new album that will make you smile, this is about the happiest-sounding release of the week. VW’s fourth album, coming a long six years since Modern Vampires of the City, is infectiously upbeat with playful major key melodies, tinkly pianos, peppy guitars, and sweet vocals. But beware those first impressions as this chirpy veneer runs counter to a lot of the album’s lyrical themes of romances gone bad, environmental and political concerns, and issues of self-loathing and doubt.

3. Judah and the Lion, Pep Talks

Consider this an antidote to Vampire Weekend’s cheerfulness. It hasn’t been an easy few years for singer Judah Akers. With death, divorce, and family problems on his mind, the Nashville trio’s material has turned a little more somber, raw and personal. Five of the album’s 17 tracks have already been released, but there’s plenty of new anxiety and sorrow to be found in the 12 other brand new tracks. Then again, I can also hear this song turning into some sort of sports stadium chant, something that might cheer everyone up.

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4. Honeyblood, She’s a Nightmare

Headed up by Glasgow’s Stina Tweeddale, this single arose from visions of a ghost trying to strangle her in the middle of the night. I quote: “At one point they were a weekly occurrence — the same figure would visit me each time hell-bent on either strangling or just plain scaring me to death! After learning much more about how night terror are manifested, I was intrigued to learn that the brain cannot conjure a face out of nothing. The woman who visits me in my dreams was a real person I have seen while I’ve been awake. I wrote She’s A Nightmare about our strange relationship and however frightening, I am absolutely captivated by her.” The album, In Plain Sight, is due May 24.

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5. Bad Religion, Age of Unreason

Bad Religion’s 17th studio album, the first since a 2013 Christmas(!!!) album, is also their first release in the Age of Trump. In other words, they had plenty of material to work with. But it’s not all just American political turmoil. The band also takes on themes like social media alienation, the oppressive nature of religion, the environment, fake nostalgia, and corporate corruption, all conveyed by BR’s trademark fast and angsty delivery. It’s a nice companion piece to 2004’s The Empire Strikes First, which took on George W. Bush’s political ways.

Bonus tracks

London Calling: LIFE, Moral Fibre

Coming from Hull, LIFE (yes, ALL CAPS, please) is teasing their second album with 97 seconds of something that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from the mid-’80s British indie scene or some corners of ’90s Britpop. Fast, noisy, and plenty of woos await.

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Undiscovered Gem: League of Wolves, Never be the Same Again

Meat-and-potatoes rock from Saskatoon features Sheepdogs’ guitarist Leot Hanson. The debut album is set for later this year, a record that also includes collaborations with songwriter Maia Davis, who has done work with Mother Mother, Serena Ryder, and One Bad Son. This one might make you think back to some Canrock from the late ’90s.

Throwback Track: Sloan, Underwhelmed (Original)

Back in the early ’90s when grunge was the biggest sound in alt-rock, record labels scoured the continent looking for The Next Big Thing with Guitars Tuned Down Low. Someone found the Smashing Pumpkins in Chicago. Stone Temple Pilots came from San Diego. And Sub Pop — Nirvana’s original label — discovered Sloan hanging out in Halifax. They’d put out an EP called Peppermint featuring an early recording of this track, which had people characterizing Halifax as Seattle East. For a while, anyway.

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Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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