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 29, 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.

Best Coast, “Master of My Own Mind”

I got into American rock duo Best Coast a few years ago when I accidentally came across their garage rock, lo-fi tune, “Make You Mine.” None of their tracks were quite as good as that, though I appreciate some of the vintage Americana influences of their music, especially the Beach Boys/Phil Spector ones. “Master of My Own Mind” is a song from their new album, Always Tomorrow. In tune with everything I’ve heard from this album, it’s not that musically exciting but carried by optimistic vibes and sun-drenched guitars. It sounds like ’90s music from a teen rom-com, though the lyrics offer a positive take on the theme of anxiety.

boywithlaptop and BluntOne, “City”

I’m actually fascinated with elevator music so, naturally, I like vaporwave, even thought I found out about it sometime after the short period of time during which it was big. I like its driving concept and this just-over-a-minute track that has made it on my Release Radar playlist this week comes from the fact that I sometimes just listen to vaporwave to relax or concentrate. The general feeling is that you could put this hip-hop beat driven song on a loop and it could play forever. I haven’t been able to find out much about this tune nor its artists, though BluntOne seems to be a hip-hop producer of sorts from Budapest who started making music as a sort of meditation.

Simply Red, “Tonight” (OAM Mix)

I had no idea that Simply Red had released a new album last year. This is a version of a song from that LP by tropical house duo 0AM. I appreciate the vibes of the genre and the Simply Red vibes have always been about piano-driven white funk. So, the two styles actually promise to blend quite well together. However, the original tune gets tiring by the first chorus, which strangely seems to take the energy out of it, even appearing to slow down considerably. Truth is, “Tonight” is not a strong enough song. It’s Simply Red on autopilot, or what it would sound like to condense their entire latter-day oeuvre into one composition, even down to the usual Mick Hucknall lyrics about making love and getting married.

Clannad, “In a Celtic Dream”

Clannad are huge within their genre. But that should only interest you if you are a fan of what I term Celtic contemporary adult music. This was a type of music tha was quite popular in the ’80s and ’90s, best represented by these guys and Enya. So, in other words, it’s hardly the most exciting thing in the world. Their new song from yet another collection of their “greatest hits” is a very basic and unexciting summation of their sound thus far. Have these guys ever evolved? Lyrically, it finds them providing a mythical landscape to their formative days, when they “didn’t have a care in the world” and all that stuff. Its rhythmic breaks do recall their biggest song, “In a Lifetime,” which was a collaboration with Bono and a song that I actually do listen to quite a lot.

Morrissey, “Knockabout World”

Wrapping up an uninspired Release Radar feature, Morrissey’s latest single from his forthcoming album, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain. And can you believe it, it is just as uninspired as anything else I have heard from this LP so far. Now, don’t get me wrong. Morrissey will forever remain a musical idol to me. And yes, there are some cool New Wave vibes in this tune lurking somewhere in the background, particularly in its opening. But by the time the cheesy synth brass kick in, I’ve already lost interes. Morrissey seems to be at a lyrical low, singing a congratulatory lyric that basically sounds to me like a handshake for those who have bought his record — though it is funny to hear the Moz sing the lines “You’re okay by me with your handsome teeth.”