Featured Release


Last week Franz Ferdinand, and this week Belle and Sebastian.  Two Featured Release bands in a row from Glasgow, Scotland.  Belle and Sebastian have been around a bit longer though, and they haven't had the kind of mainstream success that Franz Ferdinand have enjoyed.  Founding member Stuart Murdoch leads the band named after the French novel Belle et Sebastien, which he and his mates knew from a television adaptation.  The new album, How To Solve Our Human Problems, is filled with their distinctive indie pop songs- so filled that Belle and Sebastian originally released it


No doubt many have googled "Franz Ferdinand" and stumbled upon the fact that this was the guy whose assassination sparked World War I.  The band Franz Ferdinand began in Glasgow, Scotland in 2002.  They liked the alliteration of the name, and mused that perhaps one day they would be more well-known than the Archduke himself.  Releasing a solid, danceable indie rock album like Always Ascending every few years can only help to make that more and more likely.      


MGMT brought their sound and vision (cool video behind them on stage) to last summer's 80/35 Festival in downtown Des Moines.  At that time they were probably working on their fourth album, Little Dark Age.  ​The advance word on the new record was that MGMT mainmen Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser were going to rein in their experimental side this time out, and bring some focus to the proceedings.  As the music was released, that's exactly what we got- MGMT's eccentric songs and left-field pop sensibilities remain for Little Dark Age, but with a bit more self-discipl


One advantage of flying under the radar of the mainstream, is that a good band can continue to produce quality work for years without being forced to meet the expectations of the masses, and perhaps accelerate toward premature burn-out.  Okay, that's just a theory.  But Calexico, the long-running indie band from Tucson, Arizona seem to bear it out.  They've been around for over twenty years, and have just released one of the best albums of their career, The Thread That Keeps Us.  The record showcases Calexico's expert blend of Tex-Mex Americana and desert indie rock, all i


Ty Segall is one of those Studio One artists who seems to have a new record out every few weeks or so.  With the different bands he's involved in, plus his rising solo career, the man is prolific.  In fact, the new Freedom's Goblin is a good old-fashioned double album:  19 tracks on four sides of vinyl.  The songwriter/guitarist/vocalist keeps things moving along quite nicely.   Segall changes up the mood and tempo as needed, and does not shortchange the listener on demonstrations of his skill as a guitarist.   


In 2006, New England-born musician Merrill Garbus started her lo-fi folk project Tune-Yards (sometimes known as tUnE-yArDs...artists! ), releasing a debut album in 2009.  Along the way, Nate Brenner became the other core member of the band, playing bass and various synths and programs.  For album number four, provocatively titled I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, Garbus and Brenner co-produced the record, and co-wrote the music.  Garbus did write all of the lyrics, questioning culture and politics in a search to find out what's going on.  She delivers the songs wi


Bob Dylan covers, even entire albums of other artists covering Dylan songs, are not uncommon.  What makes Bettye LaVette's new Things Have Changed special is her sterling reputation as a song interpreter.  Her talent as a performer, applied to the songs of arguably the greatest single songwriter of the past few decades, is definitely worth hearing.  Although LaVette picks a couple of Dylan's most well known songs from the '60s, she also draws from other decades, with some deep album cuts proving to be inspired choices for the vocalist.  Also inspired are many of the arrang


Perhaps not since Big Star titled their first album #1 Record has an artist been so upfront about their ambition for success:  Robert Finley calls his new record Goin' Platinum! (the exclamation point is part of the title).  The 64-year-old, Louisiana-born blues & soul singer has earned the right to grab some attention.  Finley has been performing off and on for decades, and finally released his debut studio album in 2016.  The new Goin' Platinum! ​was produced by Dan Auerbach at his Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville, and released on the producer's own label.


Chris Thile plays mandolin, writes songs, sings, and has made records both on his own and as part of the groups Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers.   As of October, 2016, he has also been the host of a radio program on public radio.  That program is Live From Here - previously known as A Prairie Home Companion.  Although coming out of the bluegrass tradition, Thile is known for being inclusive and progressive in his approach to songwriting and performing.  As part of his Live From Here broadcasts, each time out he features a brand new song that he has written as a ki


Neil Young maintains his Canadian citizenship (as he makes clear in the video below), but he lives and works in the United States and has opinions about our culture and politics.  In recent years, these opinions have fueled a lot of Young's songwriting and much of the passion of his playing as a musician.  In this he is supported for the second time on a studio album by the California-based band Promise Of The Real, led by Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson.  The albums Young has recorded with Promise Of The Real (including the 2016 live release, Earth) have their own particular fe


Bjork is that rare artist who has achieved popular success while still remaining seriously avant-garde.   The Icelandic vocalist and songwriter has been experimenting in sound and vision for a few decades now, and she still has a lot to say.  Drawing upon the mystique of her homeland, the unfolding events of her life, and of course her fertile imagination, Bjork has a new album titled Utopia.  She called it that because after the darkness of her last record, Bjork is feeling optimistic and hopeful about the future.  She collaborated closely with the Venezuelan electronic p


Sufjan Steven's seventh studio album, Carrie & Lowell, was released in 2015.  It was a quiet, indie-folk album with very autobiographical lyrics written by Stevens as a way of dealing with the death of his mother, Carrie.  Lowell is Stevens' stepfather.  The writing and recording of songs dealing with memories of his mother, who suffered from mental illness and abandoned him when he was a year old, was a means of grieving for Stevens.  Not as cathartic as he expected, the project actually caused him to feel worse.  Now he has released a follow-up album consisting of outtakes, r


In 1993, Scott McCaughey had already been in the Seattle band The Young Fresh Fellows for several years, when he decided to begin a side project.  This was The Minus 5, formed originally with Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies.  In the ensuing years, many players have gone through the ranks of the group, and McCaughey himself became known as the "fifth member" of R.E.M..


Dude York come out of the Pacific Northwest- fertile ground for the pop-punk guitar rock this trio purveys.  The current lineup (Peter Richards on guitar and vocals, Claire England on bass and vocals, and Andrew Hall on drums) has been together for about four years.  The Seattle label Hardly Art signed Dude York in 2016, and their first album for them came out earlier this year.  Halftime For The Holidays is the quick followup.  With the exception of a rocking yet respectful take of  "Silent Night," these are all new songs.  Well, "Takin' Care of Christmas" is a familiar classic ro


Mavis Staples was in the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960's, singing and marching along with her siblings and her father Pops Staples.  In December of 2016, Mavis went to Washington to receive the Kennedy Center Honors from President Barack Obama, with whom she has had a long standing friendship.  She invited her friend Jeff Tweedy along for the weekend's festivities.  Mavis and the Wilco frontman spent a lot of time discussing current events, and the similarities between today's fight for equality and what went down in the 60's.  That became an inspiration for the new Mav


Fever Ray is the project of Karin Dreijer, and Plunge is the second album she has released under the Fever Ray moniker.  The album was recorded in her Stockholm studio in collaboration with six different producers.  Karin Dreijer is best known for her work in The Knife, the electronic duo she and her brother Olof Dreijer were in for fifteen years before calling it quits in late 2014.  For both The Knife and Fever Ray, Dreijer's art can best be summed up as edgy.  The power of her music comes from both her passion and her vulnerability.


Sharon Jones paid her dues for years before she began to achieve success as a soul singer at the age of 40.  That success was mainly in the company of The Dap-Kings, the Brooklyn-based band she fronted for several years.  Their first full-length release together came out in 2002.  Last year's soundtrack of the film documentary Miss Sharon Jones! was their most recent album- until now.  Jones died in November of 2016, and the final recordings of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are contained in the new album Soul of A Woman.         


Kurt Vile is the American (born in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania) and Courtney Barnett is the (Sydney born) Australian.  Vile has a few years on Barnett, both in terms of time on the planet and length of career; their new collaboration Lotta Sea Lice is Kurt's seventh album.  For Courtney, it's full-length number two.  However, balance is achieved by virtue of Barnett attracting a bit more music-world buzz the past couple of years.  Lotta Sea Lice is a set of songs from two unpretentious musicians who really work well together.


St. Vincent (born Annie Clark in Tulsa, Oklahoma) attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for three years, and then became a member of The Polyphonic Spree.  She also toured with Sufjan Stevens before releasing her debut album in 2007.  After a couple more full-lengths of her own, she collaborated with David Byrne for an album in 2012.  Byrne and St. Vincent also toured together.  You may have caught their impressive set (the choreography!) at 80/35 in the summer of 2013.  St.


Beck (Beck Hansen if you wish to be formal) has been performing music since the mid 1980s when he was a teenager in his native Los Angeles.  It's been a long, creative road of stylistic experimentation ever since, with eager anticipation of his next move among fans.  Beck reached a milestone when his 2014 record Morning Phase won the Grammy for Album of the Year.  Now comes the followup, Colors, his thirteenth studio album.  Beck took his time, working on the record (off and on) for four years.  The songs were recorded at co-producer Greg Kurstin's L.A.


Wolf Parade- a great set at 80/35 in 2016, and a fine new album titled Cry Cry Cry in 2017, their first in seven years.  In fact, the Canadian band had been on hiatus since 2010, with plenty of side projects to keep them busy (we're especially looking at you, Dan Boeckner- Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, Operators, etc.) during that time.  Wolf Parade reunited to resume live shows in 2016, and soon got down to the business of writing and recording album number four.  Their record label Sub Pop couldn't be happier to have them back, announcing that "the soaring choruses, rousing anthems


It was a DJ who began Cut Copy in 2001.  Dan Whitford began playing around with keyboards and a sampler while he was attending college (and hosting a radio show) in Melbourne, Australia.  That eventually led to a demo tape submission and the gradual addition of band members.  Whitford came up with the band's name by randomly choosing words from the edit menu of his computer.  The Cut Copy (sometimes known as Cut/Copy) debut full-length album was released in 2004.  Haiku From Zero is album number five; it's highly danceable and harkens back to the early 1980's New Wave era.  


Deer Tick started out in 2004 (in Providence, Rhode Island) playing music that could pretty accurately be described as "punk-roots rock."  Through years of touring, recording, solo projects and just plain life, the band lands more squarely in simply the roots-rock camp for their latest project.  Songwriter and frontman John McCauley, guitarist Ian O'Neil, drummer Dennis Ryan, and bassist Christopher Ryan actually have two new records out simultaneously- Deer Tick Vol. 1 is acoustic-leaning, and Deer Tick Vol.


Alvvays (spelled that way because a band named Always already existed, but still pronounced "always") formed in Toronto in 2011, and released their debut album in 2014.  Their new record, Antisocialites​, is the followup.   Songwriter and vocalist Molly Rankin occasionally plays fiddle as well, following in the footsteps of her father John Morris Rankin, who is a fiddler with the Celtic folk group The Rankin Family.  Alvvays doesn't play folk music, though.


The five members of The National all grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Four of those members are two sets of brothers.  Guitarist/keyboard player Aaron Dessner and his brother Bryce Dessner (also on guitar) are one set, and the other set is the rhythm section of Scott Devendorf (bass) and drummer Bryan Devendorf .  The frontman of The National is Matt Berninger, the singer with the unmistakable baritone voice.  Since forming in 1999 (and eventually relocating to Brooklyn, NY), the band has released a string of critically acclaimed albums.  The new record, Sleep Well Beast, is no except


In April of 2011, a couple of months after announcing they were calling it quits, LCD Soundsystem played their final show at Madison Square Garden in New York.  Frontman James Murphy had other projects to keep him busy, like running his label DFA Records, so this really seemed like the end of one of the most respected bands of the early 21st century.  However, in late 2015 a new LCD Soundsystem single appeared, and the reunited band started playing shows again in 2016.  A new album was also announced.


Songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player Ed Droste began Grizzly Bear in the early 2000s (in Brooklyn) as a solo project.  As often happens, the solo project grew into a full band by the time of the second Grizzly Bear full-length album in 2006.  The time between albums has increased; the new (fifth) record Painted Ruins arrives five years after the last one, Shields.  With rich, layered soundscapes and strong songwriting, most Grizzly Bear fans would say the wait was worthwhile.


The War on Drugs is a good example of a band with a solid reputation, and along with that, expectations of quality that increase with each new release.  The band began in Philadelphia in 2005, founded by Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile.  Vile left for a solo career after The War on Drugs' debut record in 2008.  A Deeper Understanding is the band's fourth album.  Granduciel and his bandmates create a sound that is vast, rich and expansive.  Something of a perfectionist, the frontman has called this the most focused "band record" to date from The War on Drugs.


Sam Beam's voice and style are so distinctive that his songs are immediately recognizable as Iron & Wine, even if you're not sure exactly which Iron & Wine song it is.  The new album is Beast Epic, solidly in the Iron & Wine tradition.  Lyrically (according to him), it's Beam's most personal album to date.  Born in South Carolina, Beam currently resides in North Carolina with his wife and five daughters.  Beast Epic was recorded in Chicago, with Beam writing all the songs and producing.


Arcade Fire was formed by Win Butler and (now former member) Josh Deu when both were college students in Montreal.  Soon music student Regine Chassagne came aboard, the first of many more talented multi-instrumentalists to join Arcade Fire.  Win's younger brother William Butler was also an addition in the early years of the band.  Their 2004 debut album, Funeral was a great success, appearing on many Top Ten lists for that year.