Alan Cross’ weekly music picks: ‘Stranger Things,’ Thom Yorke and a Whitney Houston remix
The number of new releases is lighter than usual this week because of the American Fourth of July holiday falling on a Thursday this year, turning this into a four-day long weekend like the U.S. has with Thanksgiving — but without the consumerist orgy of a Black Friday.
That sounds like bad news, but the absence of big releases lets us dig deeper into albums and tracks that we might normally miss.
1. Stranger Things, official Season 3 soundtrack
Those cute kids from Hawkins, Ind., are back on Netflix with eight episodes that are already being binged around the planet. The new Series 3 soundtrack features more ’80s-ish synth sounds from the score along with 15 classic tracks from the era, ranging from Motley Crue to Echo and the Bunnymen (Stranger Things soundtracks are the 21st-century equivalent of what we used to get from John Hughes movies), along with newer material from a surprising number of Canadian artists, including The Strumbellas, Said the Whale and The Beaches. And in keeping with the vibe of the series, the soundtrack is available on cassette.
2. The Soft Cavalry, Soft Calvary
If you like your music fuzzy and dreamy, you need to try The Soft Calvary, featuring the husband-and-wife team of Rachel Goswell (of Slowdive) and Steve Clarke. The first single, Dive, is soft and floaty and feels like a quiet summer Sunday afternoon. Do not use heavy machinery while listening.
3. Girlfriend Material, Stay in Touch
Girlfriend Material began about two years ago when Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club realized the songs he’d written for a movie were some of the best things he’d ever done. Calling in bandmate Josh Hook, Hollerado’s Jake Boyd and their buddy Joseph Garand, they pulled together a debut EP. That felt good enough for them to issue a full album, entitled Cool Car, which is due for release next week. Meanwhile, we have this single.
4. Thom Yorke, Anima
OK, I’m cheating here a bit because Yorke’s third solo album (we’re not counting soundtracks here) actually came out last week. But after listening to it for the last seven days, I realized that it should have made last week’s list. Then again, the album is only available digitally and through streaming services. The CD and vinyl won’t be out until July 19 so, in that sense, we’re a little ahead of the curve. If you like Kid A-era Radiohead, you will have much to discover here.
5. Kygo and Whitney Houston, Higher Love
This is a polarizing one. Should anyone go back and remix/update/add to a recording from a beloved, deceased artist? Houston’s estate had this recording of Higher Love, the old Steve Winwood song, “laying around” and shopped it to various people who might be able to do something with it. Kygo — the Norwegian DJ, producer and songwriter — jumped at the chance. He surrounded Houston’s vocals with some new music of his own. Regardless of what you may think of this sort of resurrection, the result seems to be a hit.
London calling: The Good, the Bad and the Queen, Merrie Land
I don’t know how Damon Albarn keeps all his projects straight. The man is always working on something. Last week, we heard something from a collective known as Africa Express, of which he’s a member. This week, it’s a track from the supergroup he formed with Paul Simonon of The Clash and Simon Tong of The Verve. TGTBATQ was on the shelf for about 11 years before they were reactivated to record a second album last year. And don’t lie: I know the video creeps you out.
Undiscovered gem: The Backstays, Dreams
Coming out of Saint John, N.B., the Backstays — four dudes and a woman — have been together for a couple of years and have so far released one EP. A full album featuring this single is in the works.
Throwback track: The Chemical Brothers, Block Rockin’ Beats
In the spring of 1997, it looked like electronic music was going to overwhelm anything with guitars and real drums. Hit after hit came from acts like The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Underworld, all using samples, keyboards and turntables. Big beat masters The Chemical Brothers were part of this stew, releasing a phenomenally successful album called Dig Your Own Hole. Not only did this song (with a Schoolly D Gucci Again sample at its core) hit the top of the charts in the U.K., but it also won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Rock Performance.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107 and a commentator for Global News.
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