This week I learned that I actually really like Willow Smith’s music. I don’t think I had heard anything by her since the song “Whip My Hair” that she put out when she was 9 years old. I sort of just discounted her thinking she only had any kind of career because she’s Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s kid. To some extent that may be true, but turns out she also makes good music. Whatever it was I just assumed that either it wasn’t very good or that it would be something that I wouldn’t like. Shame on me for writing her off because it turns out neither of those things are true, which I learned by listening to this week’s episode of the Switched on Pop podcast. They started out about in the same place I was but like me realized that Willow Smith rocks. The song “transparentsoul” is and excellent sort of emo rock song. I’m totally digging it and now I need to go back and check out some of her other stuff.
This past week would typically be the week that we go to our annual beach trip in South Carolina. Back in January I started doing the math though and figured out that it was extremely unlikely that everyone in our mixed households would be vaccinated by the beginning of May, so we decided to reschedule it for September. Since I had already taken the vacation time I decided to look for something easily drivable for just my husband and me to do. I just put into VRBO that I wanted something on the water and found a house on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia on a remote island called Gwynn’s Island.
It’s not somewhere I would choose to go back to in normal times, but since my main criteria for this trip were somewhere on the water without a lot of people this certainly fit the bill. I knew it was going to be too cold that far north this time of year to do anything super beachy, so it was fine with me that this was on the bay and not the ocean and thus there isn’t really much beach to speak of. The house had a great roof deck overlooking the bay though and I was perfectly content to sit up there and read and stare out at the water. The house itself was quite nice and was the most well stocked rental house I have ever been in. They even had bikes and kayaks we could use, though we didn’t wind up using either.
The island is pretty much all residential. There are only about 600 full-time residents. I saw stuff indicating that a lof of the homes at this point are vacation homes and second homes, but I couldn’t find anything that indicated how many homes were owner occupied vs. vacation homes. There is one restaurant right over the bridge from the mainland, but it didn’t have anything vegetarian for my husband to eat, so we didn’t eat there. The small town of Mathews is about 10 minute away and we went there every evening to grab carryout from some of the restaurants there. There is also a small history museum on the island, which we would have gone to in normal non-COVID times. Based on stuff I read about the island online it seems like it has a pretty interesting history.
While as I said it isn’t somewhere I would plan to go back to as I prefer an actual beach and a little bit more to do on my vacations, but it was a perfectly pleasant and relaxing trip to get away.
I meant to write about “Serotonin” by girl in red last Friday when the album it’s on, if I could make it go quiet, came out. I didn’t have time to write a post before work like I normally do, so I was going to do it at lunch and didn’t feel like it. Then I was going to do it after work, but I didn’t feel like it. So I never did. There isn’t anything else out today that I want to write about more than this so I’m carrying it forward.
girl in red is Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven. Her debut album addresses a lot about her mental health issues. Obviously the single “Serotonin” is a hallmark of that. It’s something she started to put together over TikTok and is the first song she’s ever taken from messing around on TikTok and turned into an actual song. She’s grown a following over the past several years with a couple of EPs and apparently it’s a signal among Gen Z to ask people if they’re fans of girl in red to find out if they are lesbians. I’m old and don’t use TikTok, so I know nothing about that but I do love the music. “Serotonin” is the first girl in red song I’m aware of hearing and it’s what got me to look into the full album, which I also really like. Go have a listen.
This week was a banner week for artists I love dropping new singles. I expect this year is going to have a glut of new music between people releasing albums they sat on last year until they could tour behind them and all the quarantine albums that were recorded while bands couldn’t tour.
He Said, She Said by Chvrches
It’s been three long years since Chvrches last put out a new album. I hadn’t really seen much out of them in recent years. They weren’t touring and I hadn’t heard anything about new music being worked on, so I was a little worried that we wouldn’t hear from them again. But now they’re back with the single “He Said, She Said” about a manipulative relationship. It was apparently recorded on opposite sides of the Atlantic during lockdown. It’s kind of crazy how music can be produced these days with everyone in different locations. Anyway, it sounds exactly like a Chvrches song, which is all I really wanted from it because I love me some Chvrches. I’m hoping this means a new album and a new tour are imminent, though not until after I feel comfortable going to concerts again. Please go get vaccinated.
Diamond Studded Shoes by Yola
UK country soul singer Yola is back with the first single off her forthcoming new album, Stand For Myself, due out July 30. “Diamond Studded Shoes” co-written with Aaron Lee Tasjan, Natalie Hemby, and Dan Auerbach is one of those great tunes that makes you just want to jump up out of your chair and start boogeying until you actually listen to the terribly depressing lyrics. The song was written in response to former UK Prime Minister talking about how they needed to cut all these social safety net programs while literally wearing shoes with diamonds in them. Again I say I can’t wait for the new album and I really hope I get to see Yola tour with it. Go get your vaccine.
Die to Know by Christopher Paul Stelling
Christopher Paul Stelling released the first single, “Die to Know”, from his new album Forgiving It All due out on September 24. He funded and I backed the album on Kickstarter. After losing out on most of his tour backing his previous album due to COVID, which was released on a label, he talked about the importance of actually owning your own music. So he decided to try and fund the new album himself. This song, and I believe the whole album, is going back to his roots as just a guy and a guitar. I absolutely know I’ve said it on this blog before, but I’ve never seen one person with a guitar capture an audience the way I saw him at the Newport Folk Festival. It’s my example of why I always tell people at Newport to go see the people you don’t know because you may be missing something amazing. Watching an audience full of people, most of whom like me didn’t know who he was prior to that set, just become absolutely rapt was one of those moments I will never forget. I’d love to be able to see him live again too. Go get your vaccine.
London Grammar is an indie pop band originally from Nottingham, England composed of Hannah Reid, Dan Rothman and Dominic ‘Dot’ Major. I really liked their first album and then kind of lost track of them. If you watched tv in the mid-2010s you for sure have heard some of their music because back in those days when it was still super popular to have scads of music to set the mood all over every tv drama their songs were used a lot. I feel like music is not used nearly as much in tv these days and I miss it. I used to find a lot of new music that way. I even have a Spotify playlist of songs from TV that I haven’t added to in ages.
Anyway, I digress. London Grammar released their third album, California Soil today. In addition to their traditionally very somber sounding songs this album expands on that some what and has a lot more electro pop influence. Sonically they sort of live in the same space as Florencee + the Machine. This album apparently contains a lot about Hannah Reid’s experience in the music industry and all the sexism and misogyny that she faced which almost made her quit the band and leave music altogether. It’s also about fighting back against that. I think “I Need the Night” is one of the best examples of that on the album.
I don’t think anyone at this point needs me to tell them that they need to watch Ted Lasso, but if you are one of the last people on earth to still have not watched Ted Lasso and haven’t had a million other people to tell you to watch Ted Lasso let me be the one to tell you to watch Ted Lasso. It’s an AppleTV+ show. If you don’t currently have a subscription it’s worth paying for one month to watch it and then canceling because at this point there isn’t much else of interest there, at least to me. I got it free for a year with my new phone. Anyway Ted Lasso is about a super optimistic and happy American football coach who is hired to coach an English soccer team by the former club owner’s ex-wife who is trying to drive it into the ground to spite him. Ted knows next to nothing about soccer, but he does know about people and he’s determined to turn the team around even if that doesn’t mean breaking their losing streak. It’s a wonderful feel good show and everyone who has been telling you to watch it is completely right.
It’s a Sin
It’s a Sin is a five part limited series created by Russell T. Davies on HBOMax about the early days of the AIDS crisis in England. It follows a group of roommates and friends whose lives are touched by AIDS. Although there is obviously a lot of really sad stuff and horrible stuff that happens in a story surrounding that crisis the show is not a complete downer. There is also a lot of joy in watching the friends together and getting to see some of them living their lives in a way they never thought they would be able to.
Last Chance U: Basketball
I very much enjoyed the original version of the Last Chance U series, which focused on junior college football. They have now ended that series and have revived it focusing on junior college basketball. This season focuses on the East LA Huskies. It’s just as good as the football version. This season had the added suspense of wondering whether COVID was going to cut their season short or whether they would be able to finish it out. I won’t spoil it for you.
This show stars Katherine McPhee has a down on her luck country singer who was just dumped by her boyfriend and kicked out of their band. Her car breaks down in front of Eddie Cibrian’s house where he is raising his five kids alone after the death of his wife. She is mistaken for the new nanny and eventually decides to keep the job while trying to make it as a country singer. This commonly used tv trope of mistaken identity drives me crazy because like where is the actual nanny? This show is pretty terrible and yet I watched the entire thing. The writing is about on par with Full House, but it’s even worse because everyone is talking in these horribly fake country accents. I’m sure it would be enjoyable family viewing for people with late elementary age kids. I watched all of Fuller House and all of this, so don’t get me wrong I’m not above it, but objectively it is not good. I would still watch another season of it.
Painting with John
Painting with John is an HBOMax series that stars John Lurie as he paints water color pictures and tells stories from his life. It got a lot of critical acclaim, but I didn’t get super into it. My favorite part of the whole thing was just listening to the sounds of the night time wildlife on the tropical island where he lives in the background as he painted in some scenes. I found that kind of relaxing, but otherwise I didn’t much care.
I should have listened to every single critic that told me not to watch this show. Everyone warned me, but I didn’t listen. Don’t make my mistake. This show is terrible full stop, but the episodes are written in such a way that the last little bit of each one makes you think you need to keep watching to find out what happens. Don’t fall for it. There is nothing good about this show. It bounces back and forth in time throughout decades in the lives of best friends Kate and Tully from when they meet as teenagers to the present. The stuff that takes place in the 2009ish time frame was the most interesting to me and is really the storyline that kept me watching. I hated every time it bounced back to the teenage timeline which I found to be the least interesting and I also mostly hated the part in the 80s as well. The wigs and glasses in all those scenes were the worst and super distracting. Not to mention that the show bounced around so much during every episode it was impossible to get into anything because as soon as you started to get into what was happening you zoomed to a different part of the story. Then to rub salt in the wound after I wasted 10 hours of my life on this show it didn’t even reveal the mystery that teased throughout the whole series. I was so mad. Actually I’m still mad even thinking about it. Since it’s based on a book I looked up what happened in the book, which is what I should have just done after watching the first episode anyway instead of suffering through 9 more hours only to still not even be told what happened. Knowing what the big reveal is makes the whole thing seem like even more of a waste of my time even if they had decided not to drag it out into a second season that I certainly will not be watching.
Merry Clayton was a famous back-up singer in the 60s and 70s, but never managed to break into a solo career of her own. She is probably best known for her back-up vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. After she was prominently featured in the documentary about back-up singers, Twenty Feet From Stardom, in 2013 she was planning to leverage that attention into a solo album. Then tragedy struck and she was in a terrible car accident that resulted in both her legs being amputated.
She says that when she woke up after the accident and they told her that her legs were gone the first thing she asked as if she still had her voice and then started singing. She didn’t actually think she would ever record an album after that, but with some encouragement she finally did and her album of gospel songs Beautiful Scars was released today. The title track was written by Diane Warren and seems to really fit Merry Clayton’s story.
Go take a listen and while you’re at it watch Twenty Feet From Stardom, which is wonderful. It doesn’t appear to be streaming anywhere for free, but it’s totally worth the rental price. If your public library subscribes to Kanopy it also appears to be available there, so you can watch it for free through your library.
The song “BANG!” is actually not new by any stretch of the imagination. The single came out over a year ago, but the album that it’s featured on was only released last week so I’m counting it. Plus it’s new to me. I heard the song for the first time this week on an episode of the Switched on Pop podcast. It’s a fun song and I’ve been enjoying listening to it all week, so I’m going to go with it. I don’t really have much to say about the song itself. Though fun trivia fact that I learned from the podcast the voice that’s saying “Here we go” during the song is actually done by the guy that does the “Beware the closing doors” recording for the NYC Subway. As soon as they said that I was like oh my gosh it is!
Ben Howard is a British indie folk, experimental rock artist. He’s also a lefty guitarist, which I only mention because you don’t see too many left handed guitar players. Because left handed guitars are harder to come by and generally more expensive a lot of left handed people just teach themselves to play right handed. So the first time I actually saw video of him playing it struck me.
Anyway, he released a new album, Collections from the Whiteout, today. It was produced by Aaron Dessner of the National. It leans more into the experimental rock than the indie folk rock he was made famous for with some of his earlier albums. As such I don’t love the album as a whole, but I do like the song “Far Out” which does remind me of some of his previous songs that I really like.
I’ve written about Delta Rae’s music in this blog before including their previous album, The Light. Today they released the follow-up to that album, The Dark. The two albums were part of a Kickstarter campaign they ran a few years ago after leaving the The Big Machine record label and deciding to head out on their own after feeling like the label never knew how to promote their music that doesn’t slot neatly into a category and definitely doesn’t fit into any current commercial genres that are going to get them radio play. They blew their goal so far out of the water that they kept adding on bonus things. I’m still very much looking forward to the eventual Christmas album.
The band is composed of six people including the Hölljes siblings Ian, Eric, and Brittany along with Elizabeth Hopkins, Mike McKee, and Grant Emerson. They have a sort of gospel, country, Americana sound that is very heavy in wonderful harmonies that I love. Although they switch up who is singing lead I have gravitated more towards the songs fronted by the women in the past, so I tend to think of them as a female fronted band, but today I’m pulling out one of the songs with a male lead. I like the whole album, but “Out of the Badlands” is the song that really stuck out to me the first listen through so that’s what I’m sharing.