This playlist collects new music that The Dowsers’ Maura Johnston has fallen for in her workaday life as a music writer and her semi-professional life as a DJ for WZBC, Boston Colleges independent radio station.One of the most pleasant surprises of 2017 has been my personal rediscovery of a few labels that began putting out high-octane indie pop decades ago, and continue to release sweetly catchy records today. Elefant Records out of Madrid has been plying its wares since 1989, and La Bien Querida, the project of Bilbao-born Ana Fernández-Villaverde, hits all the high spots of the genre on "El Lado Bueno"—warm opening chords, hooks that split the difference between agitated guitar pop and hopping synth pop, Fernández-Villaverdes assured vocal serving as a guide. Matinée Recordings, which launched in 1997, is still at it as well; their high-quality roster of artists includes The Last Leaves, whose lineup includes three-fourths of the beloved Australian outfit The Lucksmiths and whose debut single is made for long walks in autumns fading daylight. This months slate of songs is full of delights from new artists (Chicagos Varsity, Los Angeles Blushh) as well as super-confident statements from veterans like Julie Doiron (of Erics Trip) and Beck.
Fortify your pulse with Philip Sherburnes regularly updated playlist of electronic tracks ranging from club bubblers to horizontal home listening.We kick off our latest roundup of the best electronic music with one of the fiercest club cuts to come around in a while: Jlin and Zora Jones’ “Dark Matter,” a bass-heavy beast of a track—part footwork, part d’n’b, all evil—anchoring Jones’ essential new Visceral Minds 2 compilation. It’s a good indicator of how outre things are going to get this month: James Holden (pictured) and The Animal Spirits’ “Pass Through the Fire” is a psychedelic-synth excursion from the experimental electronic mainstay’s new band project that has more in common with Terry Riley than with techno. And Peder Mannerfelt’s “Obey” finds the ROll the Dice member (and Knife/Fever Ray collabortor) revving his engines for a terrifying trip into hair-raising sound design.It’s not all such a white-knuckled ride, though. Four Tet’s “SW9 9SL” is as sleek and resonant a house track as he’s delivered in ages; Moritz von Oswald and Juan Atkins’ “Concave 1” is as enveloping as dub techno gets. And Destroyer’s sax man Joseph Shabason takes us out with “Aytche,” a gorgeous array of drifting synths, processed sax, and honest-to-goodness muted trumpet solo—just the thing to keep you warm as we begin our inevitable slide into fall.
In this recurring playlist, The Dowsers Mosi Reeves gathers new sounds and styles from across the hip-hop diaspora. Some are familiar, and others are personal favorites, but all reflect the state of rap as it is lived now.Every year brings a new culture war, and the dog days of 2017 have found us arguing over the alleged criminality of rappers like Xxxtentacion and Kodak Black, and whether listening to them amounts to tacit support. On their new projects, both men acknowledge their controversial reputation—and perhaps even ask for forgiveness. Elsewhere, Action Bronson rehashes his old Blue Chips mixtape formula, and makes a decent retail project in the process. And if you can’t be bothered with the drama surrounding the "lamestream," then there are vital indie voices like Milo and his densely literate art-rap.
Get warped with the latest tracks and trends in metalcore, post-hardcore, emo, pop-punk, and everything in between, as selected by The Dowsers Justin Farrar.
The triumphant return of Brand New—whose new single "Cant Get It Out" pushes deep into the modern-rock zone—is upon us. But dont sleep on Converges "Under Duress," a chilling slab of metalcore, or Blindwishs "Single Word"—post-hardcore blending soaring melodieswith pummeling heft.
There was a time when emo and indie were forced to sit at separate tables in the lunchroom. But volcanic new songs from the battle-hardened Brand New and Rainer Maria prove that genre tags are often too restrictive and willy nilly, and that its never too late for a band to express themselves via insightful lyricism and volcanic outbursts. And while we praise the emocore veterans for their standard-setting returns, take some time to breathe in the potent resurrection of shoegazing hardcore/proto-emo deities Quicksand, while also appreciating the stunning artistic growth Turnover has already shown.Elsewhere: Seven years after This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem has returned with some of their more searching, epic songs, while R.E.M. guitar god Peter Buck and Sleater-Kinneys Corin Tucker have made sweet music together with Filthy Friends. And though his band cant seem to stick to a name, Oh Sees leader John Dwyer continues to prove himself one of the undergrounds leading lights.
Fun fact: Adults spend at least one third of their waking hours daydreaming. Okay, like most stuff on the internet, that is not an actual fact, but it’s cool if it’s true (though it’s probably not). Anyway, to help you with your daydreaming, we’ve come up with a playlist full of progressive ambient, cloud-folk, blur-house, and other genres that we’re making up as we type this sentence. The playlist is also awesome for other activities, like sleeping, studying, getting high, and… uh… sorry, we lost our train of thought there for a second. But subscribe to the playlist here and check back for regular updates.
In the 1980s, coming-of-age movies and teen comedies overflowed with hip, contemporary tunes and boasted characters with impeccable musical taste. This curation was by design: The powers that be wanted moviegoers to relate to onscreen teens—or at least aspire to be as cool as they were—and saw music as the best way to create an emotional connection.The movies John Hughes wrote and directed (including 1984’s Sixteen Candles, 1985’s Weird Science, and 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) tend to draw special praise for their music supervision, namely because these films placed familiar acts next to underground artists. In fact, coming-of-age films were the tastemakers and influencers of the ’80s where music was concerned.However, pre-Hughes, the cult 1982 movie The Last American Virgin and 1983’s Valley Girl had already used this formula to expose new groups to a wider audience. Los Angeles power-pop band The Plimsouls especially benefited from the latter, in no small part because they appeared as a bar band in the flick. Little details such as these ensure that coming-of-age films are deeply intertwined with their musical selections.Many of the biggest ’80s movie hits are inextricably linked to memorable musical moments. In Sixteen Candles, Molly Ringwald’s character finally consummated her crush on hunky Jake Ryan to the gorgeous sound of Thompson Twins’ synth-pop ballad “If You Were Here.” The infamous Phoebe Cates swimsuit-shedding scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High was set to The Cars’ lurid “Moving in Stereo.” And, of course, John Cusack single-handedly made Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” a love song for the ages when, in Say Anything, he played the tune for Ione Skye from a boom box hoisted over his head.
Ennio Morricone found his way onto the fast track pretty early. Within his first few years of working in film scoring, he orchestrated the music for Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 existential classic L’Avventura; the following year, he arranged and conducted the music for Vittorio De Sica’s The Last Judgment and orchestrated Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso. It would have been easy for Morricone to settle down into a long career of writing for Italian art-house films. But with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, the immensely popular spaghetti western featuring a breakout performance by Clint Eastwood and a career-elevating turn by director Sergio Leone, Morricone set his sights west of Italy. He looked so far west, in fact, that before long, he was writing music not only for westerns but also for horror movies, comedies, thrillers, and more. Morricone established a trademark sound with the twangy guitars, whimsical whistles, and violent yawps of Leone’s spaghetti-western trilogy, which also included For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In the ensuing decades, he would continually reinvent himself. The ’80s brought the warm strings and triumphant, romantic horns of The Untouchables as well as the delicate, sympathetic melodies of the gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. His music for John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece The Thing turned cello ostinatos into harbingers of terror, while heartbeat bass refrains bolstered the film’s immaculately cold suspense. The Legend of 1900 (1998) saw the composer dipping into jazz and ultimately doubling down on his sentimental side, while The Hateful Eight combined the many sides of Morricone, folding in stressful motifs into a grand vision of the dark side of the American West.
The legend of The Stooges has been documented in every medium possible—books, documentaries, box sets, Audi commercials—and all support the undeniable case that punk rock as we know it would not exist without the glass-smashing, chest-slashing hysterics of Iggy Pop and his Ann Arbor bastard brethren. But while it’s tempting to plot The Stooges along a linear fuse that led to punk’s big bang, the group’s 1970 sophomore release, Fun House, has always defied such a simple narrative.Most of what we refer to as proto-punk—be it the sneering garage rock compiled on Nuggets or the heavy-duty psychedelic blues of Blue Cheer—is really just a louder, scrappier take on the British Invasion sounds that dominated the ’60s. And even the wild, death-trippin’ rock ’n’ roll of The Stooges’ canonical 1973 album Raw Power wasn’t that far removed from, say, the raunchy thrust of early KISS or Aerosmith. But from Ron Asheton’s opening guitar strike on “Down on the Street,” Fun House instantly feels so much darker, heavier, and—thanks to Ron’s drummer brother Scott and bassist Dave Alexander—funkier than anything of its vintage. A boiling-hot cauldron of early heavy metal, bad-trip psychedelia, James Brown, and free jazz, Fun House is anarchy executed with military precision—not so much a display of controlled chaos as chaotic control. To mark the album’s 30th anniversary in 2000, Rhino Records released a box set, 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions, that compiled every single take from the album’s original recording sessions—we’re talking 142 tracks to document a seven-song album that yielded no viable non-album outtakes. And on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in July 2020, the box set is being issued on vinyl for the first time at a price tag of $400. But while some may question the value of hearing 14 versions of “T.V. Eye” in a row, for Fun House devotees, such financial and practical considerations are immaterial. Because that’s what Fun House does to you—it’s less a record than a sinister spell, that mysterious cursed object in a horror movie that you’re warned not to upset, lest you unleash its horrible powers, but you do it anyway. More than a mere proto-punk classic, this album belongs to its own subterranean netherworld, one whose pathways continue to burrow into all corners of the underground, as this playlist of Fun House favorites and followers can attest.
Fifty years ago this summer, Sly and the Family Stone were melting down amid a mess of missed shows, internal frictions, and bad PCP. Yet the funky utopia they briefly represented remains utterly compelling even now.The band’s mastermind was Sylvester Stewart, a singer and multi-instrumentalist who had first gained fame in San Francisco’s music scene as a DJ and producer under the handle of Sly Stone; this surname would also be used by the two bona fide siblings among his bandmates. Sly and the Family Stone were integrated not only when it came to matters of race and gender but also in terms of Stewart’s remarkably inclusive creative vision, one that would be presented with an exuberance that dissolved any boundaries between rock, funk, soul, pop, and psychedelia.As per the boastful title of the band’s 1966 debut, they were indeed a whole new thing. And on the heels of their set at Woodstock in August 1969, record buyers were ready to go wherever Stewart wanted to take ’em. Alas, life within the Family fold had already become a far heavier trip than listeners could have known based on their three iconic hits of 1969 and early 1970—“Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Everybody Is a Star,” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”—and the massive success of 1970’s Greatest Hits, the most indispensable album ever to bear the title. Things just got heavier after that, though Stewart managed to prevent his complete personal collapse long enough to make two more masterpieces in 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On and 1973’s Fresh.As grim and weird as the later chapters of this story have been, the music Sly and the Family Stone made in their imperial phase is somehow as inventive, exhilarating, and downright joyful as ever. One reason it still feels fresh is the abundance of hip-hop, R&B, and dance tracks powered by samples of the originals’ hooks, horns, and harmonies—and, of course, the unbeatable grooves provided by the rhythm section of bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico. Here’s a set of songs that wouldn’t be half as amazing if not for their sturdy foundations of Stone.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.