Although our calendars point out the official first day of fall, there are more tangible tell-tale signs of the changing of the seasons. Some people decide summer is over based on the colour of the leaves, or the scent of pumpkin spice lattes, or even the early-sent Halloween decorations littering stores, and some might even play weatherman and decide the dropping temperatures signal the commencement of autumn. However, the true marker of the end of summer is that my iTunes library doubles in size.
June, July, and August are skinny music months, but September, October, and November pack on the pounds and the tunes, and make for a bunch more exciting lead up to the colder months.
So consider this collection of In No Particular Order the unofficial-official sign that fall is here (suck on that Pumpkin Spice Lattes…bleh). Check out the full list of new releases here, and read through my favourites from this week below. Maybe your iTunes will put on some extra pounds too…(no judgement).
Bastille – Wild World
For a young twenty-something that started by writing pop songs in his bedroom, London musician Dan Smith has come a long way. As the frontman of U.K. alternative pop band Bastille, his unforgettable voice and ability to write belt-from-the-top-of-your-lungs pop hooks, Smith made waves with his smash hit “Pompeii” from 2013’s Bad Blood. And fortunately for fans, that was only the beginning. Bastille’s follow-up Wild World save the dramatics that seemed to drench their debut, and instead replace it with arena-filling, feel-good pop energy. Holding onto the electronic-fused alternative rock found across their debut, Wild World seems to use that as the skeleton, producing stronger, more layered tracks, displaying the sharpened skills and matured songwriting harnessed over the past few years.
Although the topics on Wild World may not be the most favourable, including death, anxiety, and self-doubt, the music is nevertheless dynamic and engaging, shining the light on dark topics. Lead single and opening track “Good Grief” holds nothing back, as they show off their good intentions with an infectious hook and well-timed key change. Although a song about death, “Good Grief” is uplifting and energizing, and tracks “The Current”, “Warmth”, and “Power” deal with equally gloomy topics, but still make a point to be the catchiest, and upbeat tracks on Wild World.
Smith finds the time to slow things down as well, interweaving slow and passionate with the usual hearty pop-rock. Letting his voice do most of the work, “Two Evil” lets the frontman croon his way through, as a single, echoing guitar smooths the air beneath it. “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)” burns slow as a synth swells in the background as Smith once again tells a story while letting his voice serve as the centrepiece.
Wild World feels like a continuation from 2013’s Bad Blood, not changing too much of the hit-making formula and instead adding doubling the recipe for an extra handful of favourite-ready tracks. Listen to the full, extended album via Spotify, and get your copy through their website.
Must-haves: “Good Grief” // “Send Them Off” // “Fake It”
July Talk – Touch
Looking back to their 2012 self-titled debut, hearing the magnetic, back-and-forth of July Talk co-vocalists Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay for the first time was both an exhaustive and invigorating experience. Like the black and white aesthetics they have worked into their appearance, the contrasting of Dreimanis and Fay function in similar fashion, slamming the two ends of the spectrum together in front of the microphone, and instead of creating grey, an explosive burst of light ensues. Years of touring and bringing their dynamic sound to life on stage proved to be a recipe for success, as the Toronto five-piece continued to pick up traction and fans as they made their way around the world. Fast forward to 2016, and their sophomore album Touch has the band continuing what they’ve started, although this time bringing in a few things from the road. Fay explains:
“Thematically, Touch has been inspired by our human experience over the past few years, just as much as our time spent as a band on the road. Touring constantly provides a strange view of the world because you’re in transit more often than you’re still. We became sensitive to the varying reactions we’d get from any given audience depending on the cultural norms and politics of a place. Because humans love to categorize in an effort to understand, Peter and I were often perceived as these opposing forces, representing ‘light vs. darkness’, ‘female vs. male’, ‘sweet vs. scary’ blah blah blah, with each of us just dying to get a word in edgewise. These types of assumptions had a massive influence on the way we wrote the lyrics for this album because we knew we didn’t want to feed into that sort of boring archetype. We became drawn to the idea of what it actually means to be a living breathing human. It’s messy and visceral and unpredictable.”
And although the sound of Touch is somewhat familiar, it still remains unpredictable, namely with the help of the alternating vocal responsibilities, but also in structure, as the album moves from sweet, groovy alt-rock on “Picturing Love” and “Now I Know”, to smooth and slow serenading with “Strange Habit”, and builds momentum with blasting rock n’ roll on “So Sorry” and “Beck + Call”. The subtle, yet varying style differences keeps Touch moving forward and is the driving force behind its power and appeal.
As a band that never ceases to amaze during their live performances, July Talk transfer the energy and authenticity of their live sound onto the record, keeping effects and layered tracks to a minimum, and holding onto the gritty, raw vocals of Dreimanis and Fay. Throwing in handclaps for good measure, opening track “Picturing Love” not only kicks off the album on a high note, but instantly creates the sensation of being at a live show. Hits like “Beck + Call”, “Push + Pull”, and the weird, cult-like “Jesus Said So” posses a magnetic, alluring quality that seems to operate only under July Talk control.
With yet another solid release in the books, July Talk are hitting the road this fall. You can head to their website for a complete list of tour dates and to get your copy of Touch. Also, stream the full album through Spotify.
Must-haves: “Picturing Love” // “Push + Pull” // “So Sorry”
The Head & the Heart – Signs of Light
Since forming as a collection of Seattle-based open mic night performers, The Head & The Heart have accomplished quite a bit, touring the world over and releasing a handful of albums to positive reviews. Now onto their third album, the Seattle six-piece are turning the page on their story and sharpening their tool kit with Signs of Light. Incorporating a slightly alt-rock edge to their sound with the new release, especially compared to their 2010 self-titled debut, the indie folk band are still as heart-warming and captivating as always.
Beginning on a strong foot forward, Signs of Light opens with the lead single and shimmery folk-pop tune “All We Ever Knew”, and stays shinning the rest of the way, although in different fashion than their previous releases. Turning up the volume and adding elements of pop and rock to their folk sound, The Head and the Heart have made an album that is both new and familiar. Los Angeles tribute “City of Angels” is one of the more pop-rock tracks on the new album, with colourful vocal harmonies and jangling piano melodies. It would stick out like a sore thumb on The Head and the Heart or even Let’s Be Still, but sits comfortably on the new album. Tracks like “Rhythm & Blues”, “Turn It Around”, and “I Don’t Mind” share a similar dose of pop sprinkled in, and although it suggests the band is straying from their original sound, the end result is still drenched in the original heart and spirit of the Seattle ensemble.
But of course a six-piece collective formed with a bassist, pianist, violinist, percussionist, and two vocalists means folk music is still at the core of the band’s sound, no matter what they do. With tracks like “Dreamer”, “Library Magic”, and “Take A Walk” bringing out the best of the full band, and slower tunes “Oh My Dear” and “Your Mother’s Eyes” bringing out the passion and sincerity of their songwriting, The Head & the Heart make sure to incorporate their roots into the track list.
The warm glow that shines throughout Signs of Light intensifies with the album closer and title track. The stand out, 6-minute ballad opens with a beautiful piano acoustic serenade before building with the accompanying percussion and violin. Almost two minutes in length, the final climax of the song not only brings “Signs of Light” to a powerful close, but serves as the stunning conclusion to the emotive and dynamic album. Now with a solid record of 3-for-3, The Head & The Heart prove they have one of the most appealing and heart-warming discographies in the current music scene.
Must-haves: “All We Ever Knew” // “Turn It Around” // “Signs of Light”