Real Estate – Behind That Locked Door (George Harrison Cover)

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Where George Harrison is lush, Real Estate is stripped down. While George Harrison channels the rolling hills of the English countryside, Real Estate mine the boredom of East Coast suburban cul-de-sacs. Yet, both Harrison and Real Estate possess a sort of sad but sweet disposition, a soft-spoken, understated intelligence. And it’s this central quality that makes their unique versions of guitar pop, new and old, so captivating.

I was quite thrilled to see a cover of George Harrison’s beautiful “Behind That Locked Door” pop up on my Soundcloud feed with Real Estate’s name attached. “Behind That Locked Door” was composed by Harrison as a song of encouragement for his friend Bob Dylan, who — at the time of the track’s release on Harrison’s epic All Things Must Pass — was struggling to overcome his camera-shy tendencies and get back in the limelight for another tour with The Band. This latest rendition is handled with care by a confident but reverential Real Estate. Stream below, and you’ll find the integrity of Harrison’s ukulele-meets-banjo, country-road-meets-island-breeze vibes fully intact.

STREAM: Real Estate – “Behind That Locked Door (George Harrison Cover)”

Woods – Moving to the Left

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Last year was the only year folk poppers Woods haven’t put out a record since they formed eight years ago. The drought didn’t last long, as the New York three-piece recently announced that a new record With Light And With Love will be released on April 15th via Woodist. If you’re like me (and you like your folk rock to sound like it’s being sung by a extra-falsetto but wise-beyond-his-years seventh-grade choirboy sitting on a log next to a campfire) then you’re pretty pumped about this news. Seriously, I love Woods! They have that strange ability to transition effortlessly between sweet, lullaby-like psychedelic melodies and reverb-heavy, head-banging rock-n-roll — all awash with the colors of flower-power magic carpet ride visions. Thank goodness there is a new song to hold everyone over until the new album and tour arrive in April. Check out “Moving to the Left” below, which picks up right where Woods left off.

STREAM: Woods – “Moving to the Left”

Busta Rhymes – Thank You (Ft. Q-Tip, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne)

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Thank you Busta and Q. This brings me back to the days when a high school kid in pink polos first discovered Midnight Marauders and everything changed for the better. The newest joint from the-hit-or-miss-but-always-lovable Mr. Rhymes, “Thank You,” featuring several stellar verses from my favorite MC of all time, Q-Tip, is a reminder that inventive, lyrical backpack hip hop is still alive. R&B might be in vogue in hip hop hipsterdom, and Pitchfork might be disingenuously slinging out eight point ratings to Waka Flocka, but “Thank You,” with brief throw-away cameos from Kanye and Baby D, is proof that spitting poetry, half-hilarious half-brilliant, over minimalist jazz piano and sparse beats still works. With Busta’s comic book onomatopoeiae (“See how we push sometimes man forget cuff, beat him the head / Boop-be-de-de-boff, zippity-boof / Beat him in the head again, “stop killing me, Wolf!”) in full effect and Q-Tip’s smoothly delivered no-sweat-off-my-back Brooklyn bravado as fresh as ever (“Bitches and ballerinas / Ballers and in-betweeners / Blatant non-believers and over-achievers / Kicking it in paisley Adidas”), “Thank You” delivers on all counts. Check it out below.

STREAM: Busta Rhymes – “Thank You (Ft. Q-Tip, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne)”

Washed Out – All I Know

For those of you who still think “Washed Out” is just what you call taking acid while wearing white jeans after Labor Day, I’ve got news for you. Washed Out is also the name of a one-man Chillwave act from rural Georgia. His name is Ernest Greene, and he has a new video out for his excellent track “All I Know,” off his superb 2013 record Paracosm. If you’re like me, you don’t actually watch music videos, but just read the YouTube comments to help form your opinions about things. That’s how I found out that while the song is “So relaxing <3″ and “gnarly,” the video “is just…” and “sucks” and “screaming TRY HARD.”

Let’s be clear, the video never actually screams anything, but the commenters are half-right. The song is gnarly and relaxing. Ernest Greene knows how to use synths like nobody else. He doesn’t just make “sweaty summer anthems” and “late night dance pop,” he makes intricate, beautiful soundscapes. Ernest is top dog when it comes to making, well, ernest electropop.

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COIN – Time Machine

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COIN isn’t the first band to declare the world too serious and opt for a carefree, fun-loving sonic aesthetic. But where other bands, having cast of the shackles of Emotionally Serious Art, pile instrument on top of instrument, sound on top of sound, COIN has with their new single “Time Machine” opted for a more restrained approach to danceable indie pop. The Nashville four-piece rely on simple but delightfully shimmering guitar strums as the backbone of their song, providing a nice contrast to the sunny blast of synth during each chorus of “I knew you then.” The result is a prime example of what they call “swirly indie party pop.” Enjoy COIN’s happy-go-lucky song and catch them at ATG’s Hit Parade CMJ showcase on Wednesday. Tickets available at the link below.

TICKETS: Hit Parade @ CMJ
RSVP: Facebook

STREAM: COIN – “Time Machine”

Small Black – Breathless

Earlier this year, Small Black, the Brooklyn synth-poppers who emerged from music’s Chillwave phase a few years ago, released their sophomore record for Jagjaguwar, Limits of Desire. It’s a solid, if not spectacular, effort. While the fuzz and haze are toned down a bit, all the hallmarks of the band’s late-night, laconic drone-pop remain: the hiss and reverb, the breathy vocals, the mid-tempo beats, and the dreamy wash of synths. It’s the same Small Black, maybe this time with an ironed shirt and a clean shave.

But while Small Black’s sound seems to have stagnated, its new video recalls the quality that has, from the beginning, set Small Black apart from its peers — a certain uneasiness lurking beneath the blissful sonic veneer. The video for “Breathless” highlights that angst behind the nostalgia by juxtaposing the longing memories of good-times-had with the darker, chaotic moments from those same flashbacks — parties spun out of control, relationships on the fritz, etc. The video offers a glimpse of the emotional power Small Black might wrest if they pushed more confidently into uncharted territories.

KHUSHI – Magpie

Though deserving of more, KHUSHI has so far garnered just a small bit of press and praise. But what has been said seems consistently positive: they’re beautiful, the blogs have concluded. We announced as much just last year. Indeed, “Magpie” is beautiful. But its beauty seems a bit deeper than some of the other pop songs it recalls. It’s not overproduced or “fake” beauty. More than just painted-egg pretty, there is a yoke beyond the song’s delicate shell. A sad but energetic song, the melodies are at times contemplative, at times soaring, and the poly-rhythmic tick tock of both marching drums and metronomes recall the regretful passage of time.

Now we have video to go along with the beauty. Feeding off the song, which implies a more whole, authentic beauty, the video offers a glimpse of a beautiful but unglamorous, aging relationship, a night on the town with two senior citizens. Like the best of music and film, the song and video for “Magpie” seem to blur the lines between what is life and what is art; at the end of the three-plus minutes, the only thing we’re left sure of, is that both are beautiful.

A remastered version of “Magpie” is set to be released on 7 inch vinyl by Laissez Faire Club on 10/7; it will be backed by the B-side “Never Never.”

STREAM: KHUSHI – “Magpie”

John Wizards – Lusaka By Night

When it comes to Afro-pop, the concomitant discussion of appropriation is nearly unavoidable. That’s unfortunate, as it’s often a distraction. Luckily, John Wizards — a Capetown-based band composed of five white South Africans and one black Rwandan transplant, the vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba — sidestep this problem with their multiracial composition and uncompromising commitment to the creative process. And what a creative process it is.

John Wizards’ apparent musical genius composer is John Withers, who, with the band’s self-titled debut (released by Planet Mu), creates a sort of schizophrenic musical soiree, with the all the best of African music invited. Dancing and swirling his listeners through the multi-room party, Withers moves, sometimes effortless, sometimes discordantly, in and out of various distillations of Afro-pop (bits of Congolese rumba brush against the synths of abstract electronica, African folk musical structures give way to jangly Afro-jazz guitar, while soul, reggae, and funk all continuously pop their heads in). It’s some of the most frenetic and joyful and refreshing music I’ve heard in a long time. To see and hear what I mean, just watch and listen to the animated video for “Lusaka By Night” above.

STREAM: John Wizards – “Lusaka By Night”

Bhi Bhiman – Guttersnipe

On today’s internet, anything that wasn’t posted in the last 15 seconds is already old. The upside is that so much wonderful stuff gets left behind. Here’s something from 2012 (really old) I recently rediscovered on a great website called Sleepover Shows. It’s a video of Bhi Bhiman, singer-songwriter currently based out of San Francisco, performing “Guttersnipe,” off his self-titled sophomore record Bhiman, released by Tummy Touch Records. The son of Sri Lankan immigrants, Bhiman grew up playing baseball and splashing in local watering holes outside St. Louis; and like his childhood, Bhiman’s deep-throated gospel of a voice is All American.

“Guttersnipe” is a term for a wandering, ill-mannered street child–the sort of soot-covered character you’d expect to find in Charles Dickens’ stories. And that’s exactly what the song is about. Bhiman’s words, playful and seductive, yet tragic, poignantly romanticize the vagabond existence. “A buzzard riding the rails, I steal my meals, when all else fails,” he belts. As a pitiful, impoverished writer, as I listen to the song, I imagine Bhiman might be singing about me. But while I’ve got empty pockets, I’m too much of a wuss to illegally hitch cross-state train rides, much less steal food. Sigh.

Have a listen to “Guttersnipe” above, and check out Bhiman’s lovely Talking Heads cover below.

STREAM: Bhi Bhiman – “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”

Turf War – Born to Run Free

Need a break from the electro-pop sugar assault? Turf War has the remedy; it’s called rock n roll. Falling somewhere between Confederate soldiers and hipsters in their aesthetics and attitude, the Nashville quintet have just released their first single, “Born To Run Free,” off their forthcoming EP, The Great Escape—and it’s a doozy. These Americana punks sound like they’re having a lot of fun smashing Bruce Springsteen and The Clash together at high speeds. Give it a listen below and your ears will be having a lot of fun too. Thank me later.

The song was recently featured as Converse Rubber Tracks‘ track of the week and is available for download on Converse’s Facebook page.

MP3: Turf War – “Born to Run Free” [Via Converse]