Three cool songs I've been listening to

I’m constantly on the hunt for new music to listen to, and in the past week, I’ve added a couple of new songs to what I call my “.Best New” playlist. It’s a playlist (the . at the beginning ensures that it’s at the top of my playlist column in iTunes) that I basically dump any new song I come across that I’ve been enjoying, and keep it around until I’ve heard it enough.

First up is a new song from Josh Ritter, “Old Black Magic”. He just announced a new album called Fever Breaks, which is due out in April of this year. Ritter is one of those artists that will pretty much get me to drop anything and preorder. I’ve been a fan of his for over a decade now, and I’ve seen him a bunch of times in concert — he always puts on a great show.

This song is a good one of his, and it really highlights some of the progression I’ve seen him go through as an artist — he has a great Americana sound, going from melodic to folksy, to rock. This one’s definitely more on the rock end of the spectrum, and I really love the beat and drive that this one has. It really has me eagerly anticipating Fever Breaks.

The Mountain Goats are another band that I’ve been a fan of over the years, although I haven’t listened to them as closely as I have with Josh Ritter. I’ve always appreciated the nerdiness of The Mountain Goats, who have released songs about H.P. Lovecraft (“Lovecraft in Brooklyn”), vampires (“Damn these Vampires”) and some others. I interviewed their lead singer, John Darnielle, and we had a good conversation about American gothic literature. Sadly, the audio didn’t work out, and I’ve never published it.

Their next album looks like it’s going to be their nerdiest one yet: it’s a collaboration with Dungeons & Dragons called In League with Dragons. Darnielle described the album as “Dragon noir,” which sounds utterly perfect. Also instantly preordered.

The final song is one from an album I’ve already preordered: Extra-Ordinary by Lost Leaders, who I discovered last fall while traveling to Toronto. This is the song that they teased on their campaign video for their upcoming album, Promises Promises, which is due out next month. I really love their sound, and this one really popped for me — the chorus is really great, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop for a week or so now.

Lost Leaders: Volunteer

One of my favorite authors right now is Myke Cole — he wrote books like Control Point and The Armored Saint / The Queen of Crows — who I highly recommend, if you haven’t read anything by him. Every now and again, he plugs the work of his brother, Peter Cole, one half of a band called Lost Leaders.

I was doing a bit of traveling earlier this week, and needed a new band to listen to, and picked up the group’s 2017 EP Heavy Lifting. It’s a really great little album, with six excellent tracks that I ended up listening to over and over again over the course of this week.

The EP kicks off with the radio-friendly ‘Volunteer’, heads into a more lyrical (and vaguely-José González sounding?) ‘Gienevieve’, and a relaxed ‘A Million Little People’ that has a great chorus. ‘I Feel It Coming On’, ‘April Snow’, and ‘The Righteous Path’ round out the record, and what strikes me is that the duo doesn’t really settle into one sound — they go from indie/alt-rock sound to relaxing ballad, and does it really well. I really like harmonies, and these guys hit a really good balance with that and their guitar work.


The group just wrapped up a crowdfunding project on PledgeMusic called Promises, Promises, which is over its goal and should come out sometime in February 2019. It sounds like it’ll hav a similar vibe and sound as Heavy Lifting, and I’ve already backed it. If the music on the video is any indication, it’s going to be a good one. Next up on my list is to check out their self-titled debut, which came out in 2014.

Listen to Daniel L.K. Caldwell's fantastic soundtrack for Prospect

Late last month, an indie science fiction film hit a small number of theaters — Prospect, based off of a short film released back in 2014. It’s a really neat little film — my colleague Bryan Bishop enjoyed it, and I concur with his review — about a father/daughter prospecting team that lands on a mysterious and deadly alien world, hoping to strike it rich. They come up against a bunch of disreputable characters, and are forced to make some hard choices, etc etc. One of the things that I came away from was that it has a fantastic soundtrack.

The score is by composer Daniel L.K. Caldwell, who also did the music for the original short film. It’s a beautiful score, one that complements the film nicely, but it also hits a nice balance between driving the action, and enhancing the film’s surroundings.

An inescapable point in this film is the surrounding planet. There’s a tendency in science fiction to surround one’s cast and characters with sharp, inorganic lines — think the interiors of spaceships in the black of space. Prospect is set on the ground, its characters surrounded by lush, bright forests and vegetation, its characters closed off from the atmosphere and toxins in the air (alien pollen, maybe?) in space suits, or huddling down in makeshift shelters. Caldwell’s score drones — it reminds me almost of insects buzzing in the trees at points, while there’s other, ethereal sounds that feel like they play off of the beauty surrounding the characters. That’s not to say that there aren’t points where he drives the action home with pounding drums, but those points are spare, and their rarity really makes those moments all the more effective.

I’ve got a running playlist on my computer of music to listen to while I’m writing, but I’ve been listening to it quite a bit while driving — it makes for a great background to just about anything I’m doing, whether that’s walking, driving on the highway, or writing.

I'm With Her — I-89

A couple of years ago, I discovered Aoife O’Donovan, a bluegrass/folk singer by way of her performance of “Morning Bugle” on A Prairie Home Companion. I was smitten, because her sound lined up nicely with the likes of the singers that I’d grown up listening to, like Nanci Griffith, Gordon Lightfoot, and Alison Krauss and Union Station. I’ve since picked up and devoured her albums, 2013’s Fossils and 2016’s In the Magic Hour, both of which are fantastic.

Recently, I happened to find that she’s been performing in a sort of folk supergroup — I’m With Her, alongside Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) and Sarah Jarosz. While doing a bit of reading on the group, it turns out that they ended up writing most of the album here in Vermont — not far from where I grew up. One of the songs, I-89, is named for the highway that runs West-to-East across the state. It’s a beautiful song, and the entire album is well worth picking up.

Zero 7 — Mono

This is cool: Zero 7 has released a new single, Mono, featuring Hidden. It’s a very cool track, and I hope that it means that they’ve got a new album coming at some point. On their Facebook page, they indicated that “the hiatus is back off, again.”

This is good to hear: the duo’s last album was Yeah Ghost back in 2009, although they’ve done a little work here and there in the years since. I’ve been a fan of these guys for… years — I think I first came across them through the Garden State soundtrack in 2004 with “In the Waiting Line,” a hypnotic and really beautiful piece featuring Sia. But it was their first album, Simple Things where I really sunk into their work. Their song “Destiny” is something that I listen to often, but the entire album is just sublime. They’re also one of those rare bands where their followup work is uniformly excellent. 2004’s When It Falls, 2006’s The Garden, and Yeah Ghost were all great albums, each with their own really great set of collaborations with artists like José González, Sia, and Tina Dico, artists that I’ve discovered through Zero 7 and continued to listen to on their own.

Carbon Leaf: Gathering


I've long been a fan of Virginia-based band Carbon Leaf, and they recently released a new, short album called Gathering — the first of a projected quartet. With it, they've returned to form, harkening back to some of their best albums. 

Those albums were published in the early 2000s: Echo Echo (an indie record), Indian Summer, Love Loss Hope Repeat, and Nothing Rhymes with Woman. What really set them apart was their songwriting: full of vivid imagery and emotion that evoked nostalgia, and a longing for a sort of rural America. Their sound is hard to pin down: Their songs range from indie-folk-country-rock to pop-traditional Irish. They split from their record label after Nothing Rhymes with Woman and did a big campaign to re-record all of their work under their own indie label, which slightly improved the songs and brought them back to their own sound. 

Since that split, they've meandered a bit. 2010's How the West Was One was supposed to be the start of a short album series, which captured a lot of that feel that made them so great, but while 2013's Constellation Prize and Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle have their notable tracks, they're pretty forgettable records. 

Gathering feels more like a return to form for them. It's a short album — only five songs, that come in at 20 minutes — but each one feels like it packs an outsized punch, bringing that great sense of nostalgia, folksy feel, and loneliness through their songs. I've always sort of thought of them as bringing the feeling you get while returning to a home you haven't been to in a while. Songs like "Gathering," Bow & Arrow (Shore Up Love," and "Gifts from the Crows" feel as though they'll be future classics. 

The only bummer is that this is a short album: it's easy to cycle through it, and hopefully, the short length will mean that the band will churn these out at a bit of a quicker pace than the typical one-album-every-couple-of-years-rate. 

Tell Me, Xenia Dunford

I haven't written a whole lot about music in recent years. For a while after college, I was obsessed with trying to discover new artists and music, and in another world, I might have become a music journalist. I don't come across nearly as much new and cool artists these days, but I did stumble upon Xenia Dunford the other day, and I'm really digging her work. 

Xenia is a local artist out of Burlington, Vermont, and a bar I follow on Facebook advertised that she was going to play playing this weekend, so I gave her a listen. Her style is folksy —a bit like Marian Call, Marketa Irglova, or Dawn Landes. 

She's recently released a pair of EPs: Flesh and Bone (& Everything Within) A and B, (You can listen to A here, and listen to B here), and they're quite good! I'll be watching for more from her. 

Morning Bugle - Aoife O'Donovan

Growing up, a stereo was a fixture in our living room. Laden down with vinyl records, cassette tapes and later CDs, it made sure that there was some music in the house. Artist such as Alison Krauss and Union Station (So Long, So Wrong is one of my favorite albums), Enya (her album Watermark is one that I will *never* get tired of), Nanci Griffith (Other Voice, Other Rooms), Gordon Lightfoot (Where to start with his albums?), Fleetwood Mac (Greatest Hits) and a whole bunch of others fill me with an incredible sense of nostalgia.

I *despise* A Prairie Home Companion, but I'll catch snippets of it while driving - this past weekend, they had a song that made me stop dead: a cover of John Hartford's Morning Bugle, sung by Aoife O'Donovan. I hadn't come across her before, but it was a song that fit in that same vein of nostalgia from my childhood. I promptly bought her latest album, In The Magic Hour, which I've really been enjoying.

Ray LaMontagne - No Pressure

Ray LaMontagne has a new album out, Ouroboros, which features the singer along with My Morning Jacket. It's a really sublime album, featuring just two tracks, designed to imitate the 'vinyl experience'. There's really eight tracks on the album, and it's up there with the best of his works.

LaMontagne is one of those artists that has gotten better as time has gone on, and his music has been a real comfort at various points in my life. Till The Sun Turns Black tracked some things in an uncanny fashion, while Gossip in the Grain helped (and alternatively didn't help) with the aftermath. God Willing & the Creek Don't Rise was brilliant, and Supernova was quite a bit of fun.

I don't quite know where Ouroboros fits there, but it feels like one of those albums that feels different, special. It's short - just 40 minutes or so but it's packed with a lot of material. There's some echoes of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in the background, and probably some other influences that I haven't picked up yet.

What I found really interesting here is LaMontagne's reflection back on his older albums: he noted that he can't listen to Trouble without cringing:

I can’t even listen to Trouble because all I hear is a much younger me manhandling the process. I hear that on the first record, the second record, the third record. There are little moments that start to come through as the records progress, but mostly I just hear myself manhandling it. I’m trying too hard. I’m trying to shape the songs too much. I’m singing too hard. I’m pushing too hard. But when you’re just learning, that’s something you have to go through before you figure it out. I felt like with Supernova, when I listen to that album, all I hear is magic. I hear myself completely out of the way, just letting the songs dictate. They tell me what they want. I follow them. It’s their game.

You can certainly hear the learning curve, but he started at an already high point with Trouble - he started with a fairly conventional album, and with every followup, you can hear his music become more and more sophisticated.


Josh Ritter, Sermon On The Rocks Josh Ritter stopped by South Burlington's Higher Ground the other day, and I went up with a couple of friends to see him. I've seen Ritter and his band a couple of times already, and he puts on a decent show.

This wasn't my favorite concert of his that I've seen: the setlist didn't work for me as much as I'd have liked: he held most of the songs off of his new album, Sermon on the Rocks until the very end, which is a shame, because it's one kickass album.  I stayed through until I heard Homecoming, though - it's turned into one of my favorite songs.

Homecoming is one fantastic album, one that channels Paul Simon a great deal. There were some of the other brilliant songs: Henrietta, Indiana and Getting Ready To Get Down were in there (that one was great to see live) and there were some other good ones from this and earlier albums. It just didn't click together. Still, it was a fun night: I ran into three high school classmates that I haven't seen in years - ten minute catchups on everything that's happened in the last decade and a bit.

Sermon on the Rocks is something that you should pick up and listen to, though. Ritter's one of those artists who has steadily gotten better over every album - after already starting from a great first album.

One thing I realized: I really miss live shows.

FOALS: Birch Tree

I first came across the FOALS a couple of years ago with their song 'Spanish Sahara'. I don't remember exactly what context, but I think it was one of those end-of-the-year film mashup sorts of things.

YouTube sent me over to this track from them, 'Birch Tree', off their latest album, What Went Down. This feels a little more energetic, and I'm digging the chorus. It's keeping me accompanied this week while I write.

Ms Mr: Hurricane There are some albums out there that just come out of nowhere and strike you: that's what happened with me with Ms Mr's debut album, Secondhand Rapture, and in particular, their song Hurricane.

I'm not sure where I first heard Hurricane, but it was something that just grabbed me. Lizzy Plapinger's vocals are haunting, and there's a nice intersection between her voice and music that accompanies her. I picked up the whole album on that song alone, and the entire thing is really good - it's one of the few that I'll throw on in the background while I'm writing.

They have a new album out now, How Does It Feel, which I haven't listened to yet. I loved Secondhand Rapture quite a bit, and as with any sequel, I'm not sure if it'll live up. But, I'll give it a listen.


Don't You Give Up On Me, Lissie Here's an album I'm really looking forward to: Lissie's Wild West, due out in February. The lead single is Don't You Give Up On Me, which is a really catchy track from the first bit of guitar work to the chorus. Her debut album, Catching a Tiger is a great rock album that you really should listen to.

It's been years since I've done any sort of proper music blogging. I miss it, because it put my ear to the ground and forced me to listen to a ton of new and upcoming artists. That's actually how I got my start as a blogger: before I got into reviewing science fiction, I listened to a lot of music, and went to a lot of concerts. 

I sort of stopped when I started focusing on science fiction, because I'd hit a point where I realized that I had to either commit to it full or part time (hard, when I was only really doing it on lunch breaks, and with no internet), and because there's only so many ways that you can describe an angsty, bearded artist wielding an acoustic guitar.

But, I've got some time now, and I've missed discovering new artists. I doubt that I'll ever return to actual music criticism, but there's plenty of albums out there that I want to share.