High Notes

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

The Hardest Cut by Spoon

By Ron Powers The Hardest Cut by Spoon I hope you had a nice holiday season and are ready to make 2022 a great year. This month I’m going to focus on a fantastic number called “The Hardest Cut” by Austin, Texas rock-n-rollers Spoon. “The Hardest Cut” is the first single off their upcoming album, Lucifer On The Sofa, due out in February. This song makes you want to put on a pair of sunglasses and swivel your hips from beat one. It’s stone-cold cool and fun at the same time and if you like rock-n-roll music you’ll love “The Hardest Cut”. The song begins with room microphones picking up the sound of handclaps and snare drum rimshots. In the midst of this, one of the band members counts off the song before one of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard in a long time is introduced. Under the crispy and grooving riff, the band layer thick 70s style drums and bass which combined to produce a tone and weight most rock bands only dream about producing. “The Hardest Cut” is the sort of song that feels so fresh and appealing from the start that you almost don’t need to listen to the song to know you love it. Singer Britt Daniel deepens the cool vibe of this song with plucky and headstrong lyrics. The first verse sets the stage with the lines, “You took off in the dead of night / But before you did, got your hair combed right, yeah / The neighborhood watch knows the score / And they’re knockin’ at your door, let them knock some more”. Under the vocal the main riff along with drums and bass keep things grooving as the song twists its way to the pre-chorus. For the pre-chorus, the top line…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Drive By Baby by Alabama Shakes

By Ron Powers Drive By Baby by Alabama Shakes I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season and all the festivities that go along with it. This month I’ll be focusing on a new track by Alabama Shakes. The Athens, Alabama hailing band recently released a deluxe edition of their 2015 multi-Grammy-winning album “Sound & Color” which includes three new tracks. “Drive By Baby” is one of the three new songs and I’ll be discussing it here. This song offers all the rich and textured sound we’ve come to expect from Alabama Shakes along with up-tempo almost punk rock energy. “Drive By Baby” begins with a fast drum roll played on a piccolo snare, a fresh and clean guitar rhythm, and a rambling bass line. An image of the Road Runner from Loonytoons cartoons comes to mind for some reason. The feeling is so light and zippy, it lifted my mood right away. As the first verse is introduced, low-end frequencies and light distortion are added to the mix, giving the song’s sound plenty of extra weight. We then hear singer Brittany Howard deliver the lines: “I see you screaming, and I’ve never seen you here before / Well come on baby you got my attention come on and get you some more / You give me feelings feeling that I couldn’t digest / I’m in your future You just don’t even know.” After the verse, the band switches gears and delivers an unconventional and understated chorus. We hear the instrumentation stripped back to bass guitar and drums during this section, with guitar lightly following the bass line. Atop the music multiple layers of vocals are added which repeat the lines “Drive by baby won’t you let me ride / Then we’ll ride all right all right all right”. These lines…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Forget It I’m In Love by Les Shirley

By Ron Powers Forget It I’m In Love by Les Shirley Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I couldn’t be more thankful for the upbeat banger of a song I have to share with you this month. “Forget It I’m In Love” is by Montreal-based power trio Les Shirley and is the 10th track off the band’s first full-length album “Forever Is Now”. This song delivers everything you might want in a catchy rock tune. From fun riffs, and cool melodies, to a zipping guitar solo that hits like a bolt of lightning. I’d be lying if I said “Forget It I’m In Love” didn’t have it all. Singer/guitarist Raphaëlle Chouinard begins the song with a spunky riff reminiscent of “A-punk” by Vampire Weekend except with a ska rhythm. The intro riff is quickly followed by the sound of rumbling bass guitar and drums with plenty of compression and saturation. As the verse is introduced the guitar switches to meaty chords and we hear the first lines of the song… “I think we met at a bar on a Monday / We had a mutual friend and we kicked it right away / I’m so glad you came”. Between the first and second verses, that catchy riff that introduced the song is repeated. Then Raphaëlle continues telling her story of meeting and falling in love with a stranger at a bar. Transitioning out of the verse we hear the lines “I can take a fight / bring it” sung with a melody reminiscent of Johnny Rotton of The Sex Pistols. Tough-sounding guitar chords and bass notes performed with a stuttering staccato rhythm support the melody along with a pumping drum beat flowing underneath. Next, the band cuts loose with a melodic lead guitar line which repeats while the bass…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Good Ones by Charli XCX

By Ron Powers Good Ones by Charli XCX Fall is upon us. That means crisp cool air, leaves changing color, and my personal favorite… pumpkin-spice lattes. As I was searching for music to bring you this fall season, I came across a tune called “Good Ones” by Charlie XCX. This is a song that is sure to add plenty of upbeat fun to your autumn excursions. It’s also extremely easy to listen to. I think I went through it five times after finding it. As someone who enjoys his fair share of music, I have to say “Good Ones” stands out among the bulk of today’s pop music. With smart and minimal production, Charli XCX delivers a song that sounds modern, and at the same time, like a 1980s classic. The song begins with a punchy synth bass followed by an ultra-catchy verse melody. In addition to a great melody, the honest nature of the lyrics further deepens the connection between artist and audience by giving the listener a glimpse of the singer’s struggles with relationships. With relaxed yet lively energy, Charlie XCX delivers the lines, “I wish you gave me a reason / That you were better at leavin’ / That you got your kicks from seein’ me low / I always let the good ones go”. For the second half of the first verse, a saturated four-on-the-floor drum beat is added. Additionally, the central hook–“I always let the good ones go”–is further established with its repetition at the end of the first verse. As the chorus is introduced, the bass and drums drop out, and a simple four-chord pattern is delivered with a smooth synth pad. The vocal is prominently nested in the mix with multiple layers and extensive processing which includes heavy saturation, compression, stereo width, and…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

First Time by Lucy Dacus

By Ron Powers   First Time by Lucy Dacus It’s August and the dog days of summer are in full swing. This month I want to focus on an upbeat number by Lucy Dacus called “First Time”. This song is perfect for a nice drive. And since many of us are heading to beaches, campgrounds, and vacation spots this time of year I thought I’d bring this tune to your attention. “First Time” begins with a brief percussion section which is created by processing white noise with an auto-modulating EQ. Under the percussion, Dacus layers a faint synth arpeggio which has a somewhat random rhythmic pattern. These two elements combine to create a subtle tension just before an upbeat and gritty arrangement of drums, bass, and guitars is added. The sound of “First Time” has overtones of garage rock and undertones of synth pop and dream rock. Lucy Dacus delivers a relaxed and elegant vocal performance along with lyrics that possess the sort of poetic authority that is refreshingly abnormal in popular music. In addition, her voice is decorated with biting distortion effects, along with subtle slapback delay, and reverb. This combination of vocal delivery and vocal processing creates something that is both soothing and edgy. For the verses, Lucy describes the excitement of young love. Her lyrics express the thrill of being a kid and connecting to someone special. The depth of Dacus’ poetic voice is easily recognized while listening to the verses of “First Time”. With just a few lines, she communicates what might require several pages of prose. A simple arrangement of driving rhythm guitars, and skip-beat drums support and add color to the lyrics and melody of the verse. The fast pace of the music further supports and adds to the expression of what young love…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

 FROSTY by Kunzite 

High Notes by Ron Powers  FROSTY by Kunzite  Kunzite refers to its self as “a multi-dimensional sound system broadcasting from inner Earth, while simultaneously emanating from the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy.” Judging by that description you may assume Kunzite is different than most bands… and you’d be right. They go on to describe themselves stating “It requires at least two human interfaces to disseminate the sounds, those being producers/multi-instrumentalists Mike Stroud (from the band RATATAT) and Agustin White (from the band WHITE FLIGHT).” This kind of creativity is felt in every corner of Kunzite’s music. They are a band playing by their own rules and their latest single “FROSTY” is a particularly enjoyable example. The artwork for the single was the first thing that caught my attention. It reminds me of a 1980s videogame mixed with occult and mystical imagery. Not only was the artwork enough to draw me in, but it also enhances the music. The textures, colors, and images used for the cover match perfectly with the song itself. If the music was an image it would be the artwork used for the single. I’m impressed when bands find a way to create this kind of cohesion between the various elements of a song’s presentation. It reflects a measure of care and love for the art that is hard to find. The authenticity, with which Kunzite creates, is easily recognized from the first notes of “FROSTY”. The intro begins with a massive chord that sounds like a combination of vintage organ, fuzz guitar, and synth. As the chord fades, a tight and head-bobbing beat mixes with a rolling bassline and a cheerful lead guitar part. In the background, we also hear the sounds of birds chirping along with other jungle sounds. Just before the intro transitions…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Higher Power by Coldplay

By Ron Powers Higher Power by Coldplay I typically don’t pay much attention to Coldplay. Sure, they’re a well-put-together band, but it’s been a while since they’ve raised my eyebrows. That is until “Higher Power”, the band’s latest single, was released. This song stands out in the crowd. It shows Coldplay pushing the boundaries of popular music and brings positive and fresh energy to a landscape that needs it badly.  The first thing that strikes me about “Higher Power” is that it feels familiar and yet completely new. The song is rooted in the pop gold of the past and simultaneously at the cutting edge of music. There’s a clear presence of the 1980s in the song but there’s also decade-defining magic running through it. I find it inspiring that despite their colossal success, Coldplay still feels hungry to make great music. The song begins with an interesting voice counting down “three two one”. This is followed by a powerful melody line performed with synth, bass, and kick drum. Under the big sound of the synth, we hear a snappy drum pattern with all the low frequencies rolled off creating a crackling electric vibe. Syncopated guitar notes which have that familiar Coldplay reverb effect are added to the rhythm layer and feel like sharp streams of light popping in and out of the mix. As all this is going on singer Chris Martin delivers a clever and smooth melody with the words “wah wah wahoooo”. All of this takes up about 13 seconds but it’s worth talking about because it holds the musical signature of the entire song. The newness in “Higher Power” is immediately felt and the love and care put into the song is why Coldplay deserves to be listened to.   For the verse, the bass is performed…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

I Used to Be Sober All the Time by Humans on the Floor

By Ron Powers I Used to Be Sober All the Time by Humans on the Floor They say that smiling relieves stress, helps you live longer, and makes you more attractive. It’s also extremely contagious. So, how could I not tell you about Humans on the Floor: a brand-new band with some of the most smile-inducing music I’ve ever heard. I discovered this unique and wonderfully odd group a couple weeks ago and found myself grinning ear to ear while listening to their debut EP, The First 1. If I had to sum this band up in a few words I’d say they sound like an exuberant species of space alien who discovered punk rock. Think the Ramones meets the B52s. My favorite tune from Humans on the Floor is called “I Used to Be Sober All the Time”. This song is a triumphant cocktail of pulsing joy and driving rock-n-roll power. The song begins with a distorted guitar playing a single chord along with a pounding snare drum and handclaps. Two measures in, we hear jubilant group vocals singing a combination of “das” and “doos” with a melody that yoyos between two notes and feels like a roller-coaster zipping around in your head. Next, guitar rakes and bass notes are layered in giving a nice image of the full-bodied and powerful noise that Humans on the Floor make. The first verse takes off like a hot rod car peeling out onto the highway. Singer Rob Bell’s vocal melody has a light and soothing feel to it and consists of seven notes sung with a symmetrical quarter note rhythm. This creates a pleasing minimalistic pattern with the straight eighth note rhythm of the guitar and bass. We also hear callback vocals throughout the verses which add an exciting dimension and…

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“Don’t Walk Away” by The Heavy Hours

By Ron Powers “Don’t Walk Away” by The Heavy Hours Every month I try to talk about music that I love. Sometimes the pickings are slim and sometimes not. This month I’m happy to say that a band called The Heavy Hours have made my job very easy. In July of last year, they released a true gem of a song called “Don’t Walk Away.” Although I’m thrilled to have discovered it, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about the song sooner. It has such a bright and sunny feel to it. And with Spring here, it feels like the perfect tune to talk about. “Don’t Walk Away” begins with an exceptionally sung melody which is accompanied by a strummed acoustic guitar, bass, snappy drums, and happy sounding hand claps. As the verse melody repeats, a mellow sounding Roads piano is introduced which loosely follows the topline creating an interesting sonic texture with the sound of the already established arrangement. At the end of the second verse an ingenious melody variation is implemented which adds a lovely bit of tension just before the chorus is delivered. “Don’t Walk Away” holds up against the best of them and the chorus is a big reason why. During the chorus we hear big booming group vocals singing the easy-to-remember words with a sound and energy that lifts one’s spirit. I could not help imaging a concert hall full of happy people belting this song out with the band. Interestingly, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys front man) co-wrote “Don’t Walk Away.” Auerbach’s influence is heard throughout the song. In fact, “Don’t Walk Away” sounds like it could have been part of Auerbach’s second solo album, “Waiting on a Song”, a work I highly recommend. The similarity between Auerbach and The Heavy Hours, in no…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Piano Jam 3 (Ode to Kygo)

By Ron Powers Piano Jam 3 (Ode to Kygo) I was so excited when I heard the news that G.H. Hat–one of my all-time favorite artists–was coming out with a new single called “Piano Jam 3 (Ode to Kygo)”. We haven’t heard new material from this twice-Billboard-charting artist since 2018, so I was very excited to see what he has been cooking up. After a long wait for new music, I’m happy to report that “Piano Jam 3” does not disappoint. In fact, it exceeds all my expectations. This song creates a feeling that is simultaneously new and timeless. From the very beginning of the song, I was struck by the fact that it doesn’t remind me of anything I have ever heard before. It has such a pristine originality to it, and yet, at the same time, offers something so familiar. The song begins with a mysterious sounding melody played out on the piano. This is then followed by hammering piano chords accompanied by glimmering synth sounds dripping with a lovely delay effect. As the energy of the song picks up, we hear piano chords playing a steady straight rhythm along with melody lines provided by both piano and Rhodes-style keys. The Rhodes-style keys add a feeling of hustle and bustle to the arrangement and couples nicely with the more emotive feeling that the piano melody emits. The different musical elements of the song come together in such a way as to create a feeling that shimmers with a mix of emotion. It’s this multidimensional characteristic of “Piano Jam 3” that gives the song its original feel. There’s something hopeful and happy about the song but at the same time there’s a somber “reflecting-on-life” kind of feeling in it. “Piano Jam 3 (Ode to Kygo)” is the sort of…

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