My Spotify Release Radar Five: March 26, 2020

Release Radar is a playlist of new music created by Spotify and based on your personal taste. I have widely ignored it in the past but in the interest of constantly discovering new music, I have decided to regularly start engaging with it. For this feature, I listen to the first five songs listed on the playlist and provide some feedback on each track.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, “Sugar Hill Penthouse”

A beautiful Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis reading of “Sugar Hill Penthouse,” the final movement of Duke Ellington’s major masterwork, Black, Brown and Beige from 1943 – which was introduced as “a parallel to the history of the Negro in America.” Ellington did so much to elevate the status of jazz to art, maintaining a huge artistic integrity all throughout his career. The brilliant orchestration and palette of tonal colours of this piece shows the extent of his genius, and you can count on JLCO to treat it with the respect that it deserves.

Clannad, “Who Knows (Where the Time Goes)”

For the second week, Spotify leads me to Clannad – the Irish band that you know and love if what you’re into is Celtic music meets adult contemporary. There is an epic mournful feel about “Who Knows (Where the Time Goes)” that the Irish band is certainly associated with. However, the melody is slightly less simplistic and a little more ponderous than usual, which is nice. Unfortunately, this is not a take on Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention classic tune.

Fela Kuti, “I Go Shout Plenty!!!”

Afrobeat innovator Fela Kuti asserts his right to raise his voice in opposition to the Nigerian authorities on “I Go Shout Plenty!!!” His Africa 70 ensemble established a muscular groove, complete with muscular brass, as if firing up a band of marching warriors. It’s not the most melodic of the bunch, but a song that was believed lost in the aftermath of the Nigerian army’s destruction of Kuti’s communal compound, Kalakuta Republic, in 1977. The song was, in fact, recorded in ’76 but only released a decade later. It possibly recently made its debut on Spotify.

Alice, “Little Yellow Sock”

I wish I could tell you more about this artist but her name, like her EP, is Alice and my Googling has been largely unsuccessful. This is a sign of bad promotion. The music is quite good, and I am so curious to know why it is marked by Spotify as explicit – because I can’t actually hear what she is singing. This is just acoustic guitar and vocals with overdubs. It’s quite a sophisticated tune with a solid strumming rhythm. British folk music influences can be heard, as well as Queen and Mamas and the Papas harmonies. Quite good.

Franco Battiato, “Casaca Roja”

Franco Battiato is one of my favorite Italian music artists. I love the way he experimented, throughout his career, with avant-garde, new-wave rock and synthesizers, exploring them within a pop music context. Falling just outside of the mainstream, listening to his discography is truly a fascinating journey. However, “Casaca Roja” is another one. The production is a little too outdated, though I appreciate the repetitive piano vamp. What is odd about it is that it is sung in Spanish, whereas the original song is a hymn to his native region of Sicily. This version was obviously recorded for the Spanish market. But it just sounds a bit awkward.


My Spotify Release Radar Five: February 8, 2020

Release Radar is a playlist of new music created by Spotify and based on your personal taste. I have widely ignored it in the past but in the interest of constantly discovering new music, I have decided to regularly start engaging with it. For this feature, I listen to the first five songs listed on the playlist and provide some feedback on each track.

David Bowie, “Nuts”

“Nuts” is a semi-instrumental track recorded during the sessions for his 1997 LP Earthlings. At this time, David Bowie seemed convinced that jungle music was the sound of the future. He was wrong and jungle music is mostly associated with the mid-’90s club scene. But Earthlings is a lot of fun. As far as this particular tune is concerned, it’s a lot of beat and groove but nothing outstanding. Had it been included on the album, it would have been considered filler. But it is part of a six-track EP of previously unreleased tracks, Is It Any Wonder?, released via Parlophone. Which prompts the question: is it always worth releasing the unreleased posthumously, in the interest of an artist’s oeuvre?

Pixies, “Mal de Mer” (Demo)

Call me crazy but while I love the Pixies, I haven’t heard any new material from this band that impressed me since half of Trompe le Monde (1991). That is, until Beneath the Eyrie, which was released last year and marked a true return to form. This is the album that fills the gap. Now, new material has emerged from the recording sessions – three stripped-down demos that, at best, sound like they could have fit into Surfer Rosa (1988). I particularly like “Mal de Mer,” which is full of that sensible rage that has characterized the band over the years. Frank Black’s vocals have matured and he doesn’t have the range he used to but somehow, he is the first to have come to terms with this simple fact and these new songs are all the better for it.

Best Coast, “Different Light”

It’s possible that Best Coast would have been more popular in the ’90s. Then again, their music would perhaps have been relegated to the soundtrack of such shows as Dawson’s Creek – which would at least have possibly made them more money than they make. I like this track, don’t get me wrong. But I miss their lo-fi beginnings, when songs like “Make You Mine” made you really feel as if you had discovered something out of sheer luck. Now, they really do sound like just any other ’90s-rock band. Their lyrics say little that is of any originality. And while occasionally some of the melodies of the vocals can pleasently surprise – and at best recall those of the Cocteau Twins – one can get very frustrated with the repetitiveness and dullness of the music. Such is the case of their latest single, “Different Light.”

Patrick D., Alice, “Frei”

I don’t even know why Spotify thinks I would be interested in this song. It has those same three chords that have defined pop music for-like-ever. I don’t speak German but from the title, I presume they speak of something to do with being free. I could find very little about the artists… not that I bothered to do any in-depth research, given how little the song itself impressed me. Alice seems to be an Italian singer, and her frail, high-pitched voice really got on my nerves. Next!

King Krule, “Alone, Omen 3”

Clearly, King Krule is one of the more interesting indie artists to have come out in the past years. His music is a cool amalgamation of trippy rock, hip-hop beats and electronic experimentation, as well as other influences of styles and genres. This song comes from a new upcoming solo album called Man Alive!, and what I’ve heard from it seems promising so far. This particular tune, “Alone, Omen 3,” seems to be quite uncharacteristically uplifting, backed up by the simple message, “don’t forget you’re not alone.” But it does retain a sinister canvas that has been been a defining trait of most of his music.

Featured photo by Charlotte Patmore.