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Discovering new music to enjoy

Posted: May 2, 2014 10:41 a.m.
Updated: May 5, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Back at the end of January in this space, I mentioned my use of Spotify to discover new music to listen to in addition to managing an extensive collection of music dating back ... well, let’s just say a long time.

In recent weeks, I’ve discovered a lot of new music I’m enjoying thanks to Spotify’s curated (someone on its staff puts it together) playlist of new releases.

I’ll use the relatively polite word of “mud” to describe most new music. Of the hundreds of songs released by artists around the world, there’s likely less than 1 percent I care to even give a passing listen.

Occasionally, though, I discover artists worth not only listening to, but actually keeping track of (if you’ll pardon my ending a sentence with a preposition). Back in January, I mentioned a duo called A Great Big World. I’ve discovered a lot of other music since then. Most are related in some way to the popular music scene. Some are avant garde in one way or another. I’ve even found a few jazz acts.

For example, there’s the Bad Plus. Weird name, huh? Well, then try their biography: “Are (they) a pop- and rock-influenced jazz trio? Or are they a power trio whose members like to play both? It’s really a bit of both.” After listening to their album “The Rite of Spring,” I’d say that entire description is accurate.

Like The Police? Remember Andy Summers? Well, he’s back, and hooked up with another rocker, the Rescues’ Rob Giles. Now, watch out for the tongue twisting: Summers and Giles are calling their band Circa Zero. Their debut album is called “Circus Heroes.” (Summers blames, or maybe it’s credits, a radio talk show host for messing up the band’s name as inspiration for the album title.) Amazingly, Circa Zero sounds like The Police as if they had never broken up but simply replaced Sting with Giles and evolved into the new millennium.

Want some classic soul sound for the new generation? Check out Curtis Harding. His album, “Soul Power” is indie rock-tinged classic R&B from a man who’s worked with Cee Lo Green and Outkast. I was stunned when I listened to this album the first time. I didn’t think anyone was still doing music like this anymore. Clas-sic!

Ever think you’d hear me say that I listen to Heavy Metal music? No, of course not, except when it’s a group called Sevendust and their album “Time Travelers & Bonfires.” The Atlanta-based quintet has actually been around in some form since the late 1990s, and they’ve always been a hard rock group. For whatever reason, however, it leaves the metal edge behind for an acoustic set that’s more Daughtry than Metallica.

Anyone heard of Ingrid Michaelson? I actually asked that on Facebook when I discovered her album, “Lights Out.” She’s a singer/songwriter whose music has, apparently, been used on television shows. “Lights Out,” which features A Great Big World, by the way, is a nice album. And Michaelson is unique -- how many pop artists do you know that play ukulele?

Next: Is there such a thing as New Wave Bubblegum Pop? I would dare say there is when it comes to the three men and one woman who make up the group Neon Trees. The California band’s latest album, “Pop Psychology,” is one of the cutest collections of music I’ve heard in a long time. There’s nothing sophisticated about it -- in fact, some people might find the lyrics a bit risqué (song titles include “Text Me in the Morning” and “Sleeping With a Friend”) -- but it makes for fun listening especially as we head closer to summer.

“A new kind of cool” describes another act from California: Johnnyswim -- a husband and wife duo originally from Nashville. Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano (the daughter of no less than Donna Summer) have actually been recording since 2008. I described their music on Facebook as either Soul Country or Country Soul. Perhaps its semantics, but the songs on their album, “Diamonds,” actually do switch empahsis a bit and even tread into harder waters on occasion.

Other artists I’ve discovered during the last year include the British pop/rock band Keane (liked them so much, I just tagged their greatest hits album); Omar Akram, a New York-born pianist of Afghani origin whose chance to grow up around the world (he’s the son of a U.N. diplomat) informs his “New Age” world music sound; St. Lucia -- really singer/songwriter Jean-Phillip Grobler -- also from New York, but born in Johannesburg, South Africa, put his stamp on 1980’s style pop; Tayuka Kuroda, a post-bop/soul-jazz trumpeter born in Japan and now living New York City; two different “atmosphere” or “electronic” (read: New Age) artists that, separately, go by the act names Teen Daze and Tycho; Von Grey, four fairly young sisters (the youngest is 13) from Atlanta who mix country, pop and bluegrass to create their own brand of Americana; “atmospheric art rock” band Warpaint, from Los Angeles... oh my, I hadn’t realized how much I’d written here.

That’s a lot of music. (What an understatement, Martin.) Let me leave you with one more just to prove I haven’t completely lost my mind.

As much pop as I end up listening to, I do tend to gravitate to jazz. There’s a group called Jon Batiste & Stay Human. It’s a “contemporary jazz-, gospel-, R&B- and pop-influenced ensemble,” according to Spotify that is, if I may use the word a second time in one column, unique.

If you’re looking for something different in that vein that still sounds familiar, I highly recommend their latest, “Social Music.”


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