“American Money” – BØRNS

Jams

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought BØRNS would be a one-hit wonder after “Electric Love.” The song had all of the ingredient for a typical one-hit wonder: a virtually unknown artist, infectious pop melodies and an androgynous vocalist all packaged neatly into a 3:38 song performed by a band with a crazy foreign letter in its name. Seriously, look at the top charts for indie/alternative and you’ll find a surprising amount of artists with foreign letters in their names, including Låpsley, MØ, LÉON, etc. Who do these people think they’re fooling with their fancy foreign letters?

“Electric Love” was one of those singles that became exhausting to me because it was so omnipresent on the radio and streaming, its popularity lasting the duration of the summer. I needed a detox, and as a result, avoided listening to the rest of “Candy” (BØRNS’ EP) and completely overlooked the first album, “Dopamine,” which dropped in the middle of October.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist came through for me once again with yet another W. The first song on my playlist this week was “American Money” by my now-favorite artist who spells his name with a crazy foreign letter. It’s a song that contains similar elements to the more well-known and radio-friendly “Electric Love,” while diverging from the formula to give listeners something more to chew on.

It’s clear from the beginning that “American Money” isn’t going to be as airy or bubbly as “Electric Love.” While the latter begins with a burst of pure light, reminiscent of the energy brought with regularity by The Mowgli’s or The Polyphonic Spree, “American Money” brings a different vibe. Thumping and initially paired down, lead singer Garrett Borns delivers lyrics that wrap the listener up, bracing you for impact just as the synth and lustrous vocal arrangements hit.

It’s a totally different experience than listening to “Electric Love.” “American Money” has more complicated depth in its production, making the uber-popular “Electric Love” seem simple and superficial. While a basic love song at its core, “American Money” really delivers with its sound, finding that sweet, sultry spot somewhere between the bright soundscape of “Electric Love” and the darker, brooding synth melodies predominant among artists like Broods and Banks.

One-hit wonder BØRNS is not. “Dopamine” reached 24 in the US charts while the band’s top four songs on Spotify (other than “Electric Love”) combine for more than 40 million listens. “American Money” is the kind of pop music that I can get down to. I’ll even look the other way at the silly “Ø” character, which at this point just seems like a band name gimmick, albeit one that works. With that in mind, please consider attending a show on Friday night in Kansas City, where I’ll be playing with my new band, MØRNĭŅĜ ŜØŊ.

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“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” – Mass Gothic

Jams

I filter music in my head into various categories depending on its sound, tone and applicability to a given situation. To put it less robotically, I like the idea that the music I listen to acts as a soundtrack to my life. I’m sure plenty of people also feel this way. Kid Cudi has a song about it, and if he’s rapped about it before, you can be certain that plenty of white people are at least familiar with the subject matter.

Following this thinking, I’ve noticed that there’s a long list of endlessly upbeat songs that are the perfect accompaniments to optimistic montages in movies. “Light & Day” by The Polyphonic Spree is a prime example. So too is “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Both make you want to sway back and forth like a flower child on their cloud (or, if you’re on something a little more psychedelic, gyrate like one of those inflatable things used to attract people to used car lots).

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” by Mass Gothic fits right in with this imaginary list of upbeat montage movie songs. It’s also a song that you know sounds good live. Big, bright and jangly, “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” belongs at an outdoor music festival, the kind where the performers jump off the stage and walk through the crowd without missing a note.

It’s a simple song with simple lyrics. But when paired with thumping drums, raucous tambourining and harmonious backing vocals, the tune sticks with you (and make you feel good). Just to illustrate how cheerful “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” is: I’ve already exhausted my list of appropriate synonyms for the words “happy” and “cheery” (because, let’s be real here, nobody would believe that I didn’t look up “buoyant” if I’d used to describe this song).

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” is the kind of song that almost convinces you to quit your job to pursue your true passion of joining a theater group that travels around the country, playing free shows for underprivileged youth, eventually falling in love with a person named Flower and naming your children after horoscope signs. It’s that optimistic.

I can’t seem to shake the image in my head of a joyous Jesus Christ Revival Band performing this song. Everyone is wearing white robes (think The Polyphonic Spree again) and they’re led by a charismatic, dubiously handsome granolaman (Edward Sharpe). I know it’s unfair to pigeonhole this group based on what one of their songs sounds like, because now that I’ve watched the video, it’s clear that they don’t look or act anything like those other two bands, so you should instead ignore me and listen to this song. The band has less than 1,100 likes on their Facebook page, and if you tell all your friends about Mass Gothic before they blow up, you’ll look really cool. And then I’ll look really cool and take credit for them blowing up.

“The Sound” – The 1975

Jams

The rules of radio control in the car are simple and universal. The Driver is allotted complete, omniscient authority over the music selection for the duration of their tenure as Driver. Disputing this fact puts the arguer on the wrong side of history, much like claiming that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job or that the pyramids weren’t built to store grain.

My girlfriend finds herself in this same camp, as she seems to think that the passenger gets to choose the music. This is an egregious error on her part, because her initial inclination upon hearing an unfamiliar song of my choosing is to skip it and continue on to the Pop2K SiriusXM radio station (which, for some unknown reason, plays an unusually large amount of Nelly and Ludacris). However, I’m convinced that “The Sound” by The 1975 is a song that she would skip immediately, and I would like to convince her otherwise.

“The Sound” starts with a muted choir of children chirping the chorus before the lead bursts through 25 seconds later. For many this Children’s Crusade of an intro might be a skippable offense. I plead these individuals to push past the opening seconds, because while simple and a tad repetitive, “The Sound” is another excellent pop song by an excellent pop band. The song is reminiscent of the brightest and liveliest hits from the 1980s thanks to its cheery beat, funky guitar and infectious piano that punctuates the syrupy lyrics with multitudes of exclamation points.

I haven’t fallen completely in love with The 1975’s other new singles quite the same way as I have with “The Sound.” (If I had to rank them, it would be 1. “The Sound” 2. “Love Me” and 3. “UGH!”.) However, all three songs have a familiar yet refreshing sound, as if the entire band were hipster time travelers: too cool to play 80s music in the 80s, so they jumped ahead three decades for the 80s revival.

If you’re still unconvinced about the authenticity of the music, let this statement ease your mind: I have no idea whether The 1975 have a keytarist. It’s really impressive to be so obviously influenced by a particular sound from decades ago and somehow manage to feel new, albeit a bit familiar.

But there really isn’t anything wrong with that. Hollywood has found success in the last few years with rebooting and refreshing decades-old source material for modern audiences. Why not The 1975 too? Listening to “The Sound” does just what I want this kind of music to do – it scratches my 80s Music Itch in just the right spot, inspiring me to listen to classic 80s pop music, including New Order and INXS (the bands I’m immediately reminded of when listening to The 1975), among others.

So how do I convince my girlfriend to listen? Not so simple. I’ve pretty much accepted that it’s easier to listen to music we both like while riding together than music that just I like. However, I have found a loophole: she proofed this whole article, which means that she listened to the song. And once it starts playing on SiriusXM (after Twenty One Pilots hopefully disappear), she’ll jam along with me.

“Flame” – Sundara Karma

Jams

Once the tectonic plates of cultural sensibilities conclude crashing against one another, we’re left with settled dust and a changed landscape. Boomers still reference the Summer of Love with the faint glimmer of a twinkle in their eyes that only those remembering their first crush can summon. It was a period of time that saw dramatic and significant change, both culturally and politically.

Music works much the same way. Right after Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” came out in the second half of 2012, listeners were drowned with a biblical flood of clap stomp, hey-hoing by the likes of The Lumineers, Passenger and Phillip Phillips, whose Top 40 success marked the end of Mumford-styled music being cool, because plugging insurance companies isn’t what indie folk is about. It’s the banjos, man. The banjos. To put this in very depressing perspective: Steven Tyler – yes, that Steven Tyler – just released his own country/folk album.

In the last 5-7 years, music has seen a multitude of indie-pop, electronic-indie bands, thanks especially to widespread use of and access to the internet and streaming services, which made it easier than ever for bands to be heard. Aside from the tedious roulette of genre combinations these bands generate, where it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to one as new wave folk-indie pop, the fact remains that the sound has peaked.

Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” has appeared on every Top 40 and alternative station in KC for the last couple of months. Which is great, because I think those guys are a fun band and am really happy that indie-pop (or whatever the hell you want to call it) has found its way to Rick Dees’ eardrums. A band with a similar sound won’t eclipse the success they’ve had, seeing as how “Shut Up and Dance” peaked at 4 on the US Billboard Top 100 .

But this is it. This is where popular alternative music shifts. If you still don’t believe me, look at Passion Pit, who just a few years ago were one of the hottest bands around. Now, their latest release, “Kindred,” has received medium to medium reviews but doesn’t have a single that’s broken into the top 25 spot for any of the Billboard rock lists. Now they’re the 29-year-olds that still hang out at college bars. We get it, you still like to drink like it’s 2007. Nobody thinks you’re cool anymore.

Sundara Karma’s “Flame” is the result of those plates shifting. When I first heard the singer, I assumed that it was another song in the same vein as all the other indie pop bands out there. The voice is certainly similar enough. But it’s clear that this is very much a rock song, and Sundara Karma is very much a rock band.

I originally toyed with writing about another of Sundara Karma’s songs, “The Night,” a few months ago. It’s on my Absolute Best of 2015 Spotify list and never gets old. Same with “Flame.” Each listen rewards you with something new, whether it’s the jangly guitar or the peculiar way the singer pronounces words.

“Flame” is one of those songs that sticks with me. There’s not one thing that I can really identify that makes it so appealing other than that it never gets old. It’s always good to have songs like that in your library. And if Sundara Karma’s sound really does mark a renaissance alternative music, then I’m excited to see how the music landscape changes.

“Yesterdays” – Only Real

Jams

It’s been a while since I last posted on here. A lot’s happened since then. For starters, I became the mayor of Townsville. I also taught myself how to read. Plus, I teamed up with a band of groovy teenagers and their Great Dane and traveled across the country in a copasetic van solving mysteries. On top of all of that, however, I’ve still been listening to music. And because I’m finally at home with nothing better to do (and a full cup of coffee), I’ve decided it’s time to once again satisfy my narcissistic appetite for attention. (But really, thank you for reading.)

If time machines acted like elevators, where each floor is a different decade, then listening to “Yesterdays” by Only Real would be like getting stuck somehow in between the 1960s and the 1990s floors and having the two sounds mix together into a freshly blended music smoothie.

Niall Galvin, the sole proprietor of Only Real (and owner of the most fittingly English name in history), jumps right into “Yesterdays” with a sound so upbeat it forces you to start moving like some sort of musical magician casting the Imperius Curse.

And then he starts singing. If that’s what you can call it? Galvin’s style is most reminiscent of early Beck (think “Loser”), half-rapping through a lazy drawl so tight that it’s impossible it’s ironic.

Galvin says that The Beach Boys influenced him early in his childhood, and that’s apparent here with “Yesterdays’” unique palette of sounds and infectious harmonies. But there’s also a bit of Youth Lagoon thrown in there as well. Maybe it’s just the one-man-band sort of thing, but the sense of atmosphere that Youth Lagoon builds for his listeners can also be heard in Only Real’s much less depressing catalogue.

As for the lyrics? Eh, don’t worry too much about them. I know that’s not necessarily being a “responsible” listener, but you can’t really understand a thing he says and besides, it makes you feel good. It’s always good to have music like that, even if a number of Smash Mouth songs technically have more apparent messages.

What it comes down to is that “Yesterdays” is the perfect song to play just about any time. Sure, maybe it’s not great during a funeral or right after your best friend finds that collection of his Facebook profile photos that you printed out at Target and have been saving underneath your bed since you met. But every other time, it’s perfect.