Dan Wilson is one of the most successful songwriters in pop music, but his name may not pop out to most people. Yet, even a cursory glance of his credentials and you absolutely know his work. Wilson is best known for fronting Semisonic, the 1990's band that brought us “Closing Time,” the ubiquitous Grammy-nominated hit quoted at practically every bar around 2 a.m.: "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
Since Semisonic, Wilson has become one of the most sought-after songwriters in the industry, collaborating with pop's biggest names: Dixie Chicks, Nas, Carole King, John Legend, Dierks Bentley, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Pink, Josh Groban, Weezer, and Taylor Swift. Whew. And of course, he contributed three songs on Adele's smash album 21, including “Someone Like You” -- a song he also produced and subsequently earned an Album of the Year Grammy.
Somehow, Dan Wilson still manages to find time to write songs for his solo albums, the latest, Love Without Fear, due out later this spring. A collection of Americana and Beatles-tinged pop, the record features a lot of Wilson's collaborators and friends, including Blake Mills, Sara Bareilles, Natalie Maines, Missy Higgins, and Lissie.
The lineup of artists covered -- Xiu Xiu, Folk Implosion, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, Wye Oak -- reads like a who's who of like-minded bands all capable of the same sort of moody and deeply melodic songs that Shearwater does so well. It's always a fascinating exercise to hear a band get into the head of another musician's songs -- and when delivered by Meiburg's distinctive operatic voice, songs like "I Luv The Valley OH!!" and even Coldplay's "Hurts Like Heaven" soar to new heights. Meiburg has said that doing this covers record serves as something of a transition, a bridge between it's previous album and whatever Shearwater has in store next. For a band this talented and unique, that is an enticing prospect.
Hear Meiburg and his latest iteration of Shearwater, featuring singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop on vocals, perform a set of recent favorite originals in the Soundcheck studio. Plus, Mieburg reveals the title of the next Shearwater album, The Jet Plane And The Ox-Bow, and explains its meaning.
Connecticut-based band Ovlov plays massive waves of shoegaze guitar that evokes care-free living. The commenter on their website probably describes it best, when he says: “I wish it was the 90s. I wish it was summer. I wish I was in this band.” Listen to “Where’s My Dini?” to see if you can hear the summer of 1994. Catch Ovlov at Cake Shop tonight.
In this episode: Lead singer of The National Matt Berninger and his brother Tom talk about Tom’s new film Mistaken for Strangers. It started as a documentary about the band, but became a funny, unsparing look at living in the shadow of a rock-star brother.
Then: The indie-rock band Shearwater built its reputation on a series of albums with a naturalist or environmentalist bent -- and on the distinctive voice of its lead songwriter (and ornithologist) Jonathan Meiburg. He talks about Shearwater’s recent covers project, reveals the title of the band's upcoming album, and performs live in the Soundcheck studio.
And: Forgotify is a new gizmo that finds all the songs that have never been played on the music-streaming service Spotify. PopMatters columnist Ben Rubenstein samples a few of the four million tracks with zero plays.
"But disassociation, I guess, is just a modern disease." So sings Erika M. Anderson in the closing moments of "3Jane," a pretty, yet disquieting ballad that freely references William Gibson's
All this week on Soundcheck, we've been taking getting nostalgic for New York music in collaboration with New York magazine, which presented its annual "yesteryear" issue focused on New York City music. So far, we've had Jody Rosen on the songwriters of the 1920's, and Lane Brown on the '60s and Jennifer Vineyard on the 1970's.
Today we wrap up with New York magazine's Mark Jacobson, who shares his love for a particularly important transitional era of New York music, the jazz of the 1940's. In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Jacobson says he believes the iconic pianist Thelonious Monk is not only one of greatest American composers and the greatest jazz composer, but his ideal musician.
"There's something about the way he rearranges sonic geometry every time he puts his fingers on the keyboard that I just can never get enough of," explains Jacobson. "He's the best."
Jacobson points to Monk's song "Episotrophy" as the epitome of jazz's emerging modernism -- because it sits on the edge between two eras, swing and bop.
In this episode: Soundcheck wraps up our week of New York nostalgia with a look back at the music of the 1940's with New York magazine's Mark Jacobson.
Then, we try to answer the question: Why do we get nostalgic in the first place? We ask ask an expert.
And: Hear Sabina -- the provocative frontwoman of Brazilian Girls -- perform songs from her new solo album, Toujours, in the Soundcheck studio.
We’ve come to the end of Soundcheck's week of nostalgia for bygone eras of the New York music scene. But one thing we haven’t tackled yet: Why do we get nostalgic in the first place? And why does music seem to conjure up such strong feelings of it? Maybe it’s time to ask an expert: Clay Routledge, an associate professor of psychology at North Dakota State University who has conducted research about nostalgia and music. "
We have a desire to stay connected with our past," he tells Soundcheck host John Schaefer, "and to be reminded of the experiences in our past we cherish the most."
But that doesn't mean we necessarily cherish the songs themselves that trigger our nostalgia. John's own story of musical nostalgia is a case in point:
Over the years,
Those pieces were originally written in 1723 as a musical guide for keyboard players -- and remain part of the core repertoire for students, amateurs, and professional musicians. Dinnerstein says the first Bach pieces she ever heard was the Inventions and has had a connection to this music ever since. Recorded at the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York with Grammy-winning producer Adam Abeshouse, Dinnerstein not only demonstrates her stunning music prowess, but highlights why these small masterpieces have endured for so long.
Often when a distinctive singer goes solo for the first time, there's not that much a difference between the music with the band and the new material. But that's certainly not the case with Sabina Scuibba, the singer and co-founding member of Brazilian Girls. With that band, Sciubba made lovely and evocative music perfectly suited for smoky lounges and dimly-lit clubs -- Sciubba's beguiling voice danced over the top of a bed of world grooves, electronic beats, and retro orchestrations.
Now, with her very first solo record, Toujours, she's not only dropped her last name (she's just Sabina now), but has totally shifted her sound, and in the process reconfigures the way we hear her voice. Where Brazilian Girls captured a sophisticated, continental vibe, Sabina has embraced the rock and pop of the 1960's and '70s -- hear traces of The Velvet Underground and Nico in "Cinema" and "The Sun" -- and a lean, almost garage rock feel on songs like "Viva L'amour" and "Long Distance Love."
Still, despite the sharper edge in the music, there's no denying these songs still have a European feel -- no doubt a result of her international background. Born in Rome to a German mother and an Italian father, Sabina has lived in Italy, Germany, and France before moving to New York City for a decade where she performed with Brazilian Girls. Currently, Sabina lives in Paris, where she produced and arranged Toujours with Brazilian Girls producer Frederik Rubens, who provides a crisp, modern sheen to her anthemic and multi-lingual songs.
To music fans, the idea of a “lost album” can be intoxicating. But new releases touted as “lost albums” often end up being collections of B sides, outtakes and demos.
But that is not the case with the new album "Out Among the Stars" by the late Johnny Cash. He recorded it in 1981 and 1984 during the final years of a contract with Columbia Records. The album reveals much about the man behind “the man in black.”
ARTIST: Wild Ones
GIG: Thursday 7pm at Webster Hall ($18)
In a music world where synth-heavy electro-pop frequently has its tongue firmly in its cheek, it can be difficult to know when a group is displaying a sincere love for the sound vs aping it for hipster points. There’s no doubt that the quintet Wild Ones is in the former camp. Check out the sparkling “Paia” from 2013’s Keep It Safe. Wild Ones is at Webster Hall tonight.
BONUS: Some gorgeous video of the band as part of their recent SXSW Showcase:
In this episode: Soundcheck continues our decade-by-decade look back at the highlights of New York music in the past 100 years with the music of the 1970's.
Then: Hear songwriter Dawn Landes and her band perform songs from her latest album, Bluebird, in the Soundcheck studio.
And: John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, talks about his father's "lost” record, Out Among The Stars. Recorded in the early ‘80s, it was shelved as Johnny Cash was in the process of being dropped from Columbia. Now, it's finally seeing the light of day.
For more than a decade, Dawn Landes has shown a knack for writing sophisticated folk songs with an ear for storytelling so honest and personal it can seem like your own. On the Brooklyn-via-Louisville singer-songwriter and engineer's new album, Bluebird, that feels especially true.
The record, and especially tracks like "Love Song" and "Cry No More," will surely get attention as coming on the heels of Landes' recent divorce. Yet the way she writes about the ending of a relationship, she finds poignancy and universality in the specificity of her feelings. Coupled with relatively sparse production flourish, this is an intimate collection of songs that showcase Landes' lovely voice and delicate finger-picked guitar. And while songs like "Home" grapple with loneliness, Bluebird does not feel so much like a sad breakup album, but rather, expresses a sense of hope and moving forward stronger than before.
All this week on Soundcheck, we're taking getting all nostalgic for New York music in collaboration with New York magazine, which this week is presenting their annual "yesteryear" issue -- this year, focused on New York City music. And we've asking listeners which decade you're most nostalgic for. (Call us at 866 939 1612, or leave a comment below.) So far, we've had Jody Rosen on the songwriters of the 1920's, and Lane Brown on the '60s and the Bob Dylan-era Greenwich Village folk scene.
Today, New York magazine's Jennifer Vineyard talks to Soundcheck host John Schaefer about being most nostalgic for the New York music of the 1970's -- and specifically CBGB, a place she was much too young to visit in its heyday. Vineyard points to bands like The Ramones and Talking Heads who not only got their start thanks to performances at CBGB, but have songs that reference the beloved, but now-shuttered club.
"There were all these great bands that were in their beginning stages at that point, and they were just figuring out what they were doing." Vineyard explains. "And they were trying things out on stage for the first time, and sometimes arguing with each other on stage about what song they should play next. The Ramones have all these 'I Don't Wanna' type songs -- apparently they don't want to play the 'I Don't Wanna' songs on stage sometimes. And they would just top the set and argue with each other."
Gary Numan's career got off to a bang with his smash hit "Cars" in 1979. The song refuses to fade away from pop consciousness, and is still ubiquitous in commercials, films, and radio. The song is timeless, and is an early testament to Numan's pioneering sonic sensibilities. For 30 years, Gary Numan has continued to make genre-pushing music, influencing generations of artists in his wake.
All this week on Soundcheck, we're taking getting all nostalgic for New York music in collaboration with New York magazine, which this week is presenting their annual "yesteryear" issue -- this year, focused on New York City music. And we've asking listeners which decade you're most nostalgic for. (Call us at 866 939 1612, or leave a comment below.)
Yesterday, Jody Rosen reflected on the 1920's. Today, New York magazine culture editor Lane Brown delves into the music of the '60s, a vital time he says had "a 1000 different things happening."
It's remarkable how quickly Kris Bowers has risen in the ranks of in-demand pianists. After winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in 2011, the young musician and composer, 24, has gone on to work with Jose James, Marcus Miller, and the great Aretha Franklin -- not to mention Q-Tip, with whom he recorded piano tracks that found ended up on Kanye West and Jay Z's blockbuster Watch The Throne. And yet, Bowers' connection to the hip-hop world doesn't end with guest spots; threads of hip-hop, R&B and neo-soul inform the core of Bowers' sound and the songs on his genre-traversing debut, Heroes + Misfits.
Like pianist Robert Glasper before him, Bowers' compositions have their grounding in rich jazz harmony and fluid improvisational melody. And yet, the production textures and deep in-the-pocket grooves imply a love for hip hop and R&B. It's an intriguing and socio-politically-minded collection that demonstrates Kris Bowers is already at ease with his sound and great musical promise, no matter the setting.
Portland, Oregon, band Blouse plays driving indie rock laden with woozy, room-spinning effects atop singer Charlie Hilton’s airy vocals. Their second record, Imperium, does away with the ever-present synths and drum machines of their debut, with some impressive results. Listen to the band plow its way through the song “No Shelter”. The band is at Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight.
BONUS: Here's a full session from the band's recent appearance at KEXP Seattle:
In this episode: Soundcheck's week-long look back at various eras of music in New York continues with the 1960's. New York magazine editor Lane Brown talks about his nostalgia for the years of Bob Dylan’s meteoric rise.
Then, Gary Numan -- who helped pioneer electronic pop in the 1970's and '80s with songs like "Cars" and "Are Friends Electric?"-- talks about his new album, Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind).
And: Pianist Kris Bowers has played with vocalist Jose James, bassist Marcus Miller, Aretha Franklin and Q-Tip. He worked on Kanye West and Jay Z’s mammoth 2011 album Watch the Throne. He won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition three years ago. And… brace yourself… he’s only 24 years old. Hear the young phenom play live.