Bryce Rudow likes music. You can send all hatemail to [email protected] and tweet vitriol at him @brycetrudow (or follow him to make him feel more popular while getting access to random new music he doesn’t have the time to write about).
It’s freezing out, but you know what’s a great way to warm up in these hypothermic conditions?
THE “TUNES YOU SHOULD F*CKING KNOW IN 2014” SPOTIFY PLAYLIST — which you can find/follow here — and which is updated each week with the new music I/my guest writers write about.
And now with that shameless plug out of the way, onto the music!
- US Royalty – Blue Sunshine
I want to dislike US Royalty.
They dress ridiculously, I’ve met the lead singer like 11 times and either he doesn’t remember it or chooses to pretend like it, their music always sounded a bit contrived to me, and until recently it seemed to me like they were playing the part of rockstars as opposed to actually being them.
I mean, I dug “Sleepy Eyes,” but I just couldn’t take them seriously because they took themselves so seriously.
But I’m a journalist and proponent of the DC scene — plus I didn’t want to feel uncool if someone casually brought them up in conversation at a later date — so I checked out their very recently-released album, Blue Sunshine, when I saw that it was streaming on Soundcloud, and I will be the first one to fully admit that they finally have the music to back up the attitude they’ve always played with.
John Thornley can almost get away with not acknowledging my existence in the future; it’s that good.
Stylistically, I could see people saying that this is a vintage rock record, but it’s actually an incredibly modern homage to that kind of music. It flirts with nostalgia for sure, but its path is more forward-thinking, creating a feeling of timelessness — which is actually what people usually mean when they say “vintage” to describe the style of a song.
Yes the beginning of the first track is begging to be disliked, and I was salivating at the chance to really hate this album, but that perfect wave of a chorus comes in and washes away their pretentiousness and any chance I had to claim that this song was terrible.
And it’s all uphill from there.
It takes some serious swagger to pull off those “ha-roomphs” that they pepper into the second track, “Blue Sunshine,” but they nail it, even flirting with a few falsetto flares and vibratos. The next track, “Lady In Waiting” is so badass that it’s one of the songs that makes you feel cooler just by listening to it (expect a Spotify playlist cataloguing these in the near future). Then there’s deeper cuts like “Slow Magic” and “Get On Home”, which are eclectic gems that make listening through this album a breeze — and that’s saying a lot these days.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not perfect, and I can get in a few jabs about the toothless “Breathless” and the skippable “Valley of the Sun,” but overall this is one of the strongest releases to come from a DC band in a while. They’ve finally filled those fancy rockstar boots they’ve been wearing all these years.
Oh and it looks like they’re having an album release show this Saturday at Rock & Roll Hotel. Tickets are running low but you can get them here.
- Stepdad – “Running” (Does That Mean You Care?)
I happened upon Stepdad because All Things Go editor Adrian Maseda invited me to DC9 for a random Tuesday night concert a few years ago, and I was irresponsible/fortunate enough to say yes. From that first time I saw the 8-bit synth poppers on, I was sucked into their quirky world, and have been waving the Stepdad flag proudly since.
This band from Grand Rapids, Michigan finds a way to take cheesy synth pop and extrapolate something beautiful out of it, and seeing the bulky-would-be-a-nice-word Mark Tafel belt out the emphatic falsettos that permeate their songs makes for an enjoyable feeling of disconnection between your eyes and your ears.
On top of that, they found a way to blossom inside a relatively-constricting genre and create an album that is complex and sonically varied. They can bounce cartoonishly during something “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails” and then emote the relatively moving “Treasure Hugs.” And it’s that kind of malleable sound that led to their debut album Wildlife Pop feeling like such a fleshed out, complete record, as opposed to a collection of synth pop single attempts.
So when Adrian messaged me earlier in the week that they had finally released a new single, I was ecstatic. It felt like they were due for some new material, and I hadn’t seen them live since they played an All Things Gold event last April. I was ready to be satisfied by some sweet, sweet Grand Rapids synth pop.
And that’s all “Running” does; it satisfies.
Beats-maker Ryan McCarthy says that this song was inspired by an Adderall binge and a desire “to write a straightforward pop banger.” In that sense, he succeeded, as the instrumentation is simple but catchy as hell; Passion Pit’s first album would be proud.
But the fact that “Mark woke up the next as [Ryan] was crashing from the night before and wrote the lyrics” kind of shows. “Straightforward pop bangers” aren’t necessarily supposed to be poetic, but Stepdad has always seemed a cheeky wink above straightforwardness when it comes to not just their instrumentation, but their lyrics as well.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s an enjoyable song and I’ll bob my head along with it whenever they play it live, but this might be the song I go grab a beer for because I know that, much like Stepdad’s future despite this song, the best is yet to come.
I’ll be keeping my eyes out for a follow-up single, but in the meantime, listen to their great album Wildlife Pop here.
- Robert Downey Jr. – “Driven To Tears” (The Police cover)
I know this is cheating, but I’ve stretched the definition of the “should” in Tunes You Should Fucking Know before, and I won’t hesitate to doing it again when the circumstances call for it.
And this is one of those times…
DID YOU KNOW ROBERT DOWNEY JR. COULD SING?!?!
Apparently professional prick and former bassist for The Police, Sting, had a pretty amazing 60th birthday party back in 2011. Guests like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock joined him on stage for a sold out show at the Beacon Theater in New York City, and some footage of that show has now hit the web.
This includes a video of Robert Downey Jr. realizing his inner Karaoke Legend dreams with a “Holy Crap I Didn’t Know RDJ Could Sing Like That” level performance of The Police’s “Driven To Tears”.
I had to include this in the article because we all should know that this exists so that we can petition for Tony Stark to get a musical number in the next Avengers film.
And now, it’s time for a very special edition of…
THE GUEST WRITER YOU SHOULD FUCKING KNOW: Mollie Woods Edition
Editor’s Note: Mollie Woods singlehandedly convinced me to join Spotify and after poaching tons of music off of her in the past few months, this is my chance to make it right.
- Warpaint – Warpaint
It was serendipitous that on the same day as the U.S. release of the sophomore album from the Los Angeles-based band Warpaint, Washington DC would experience a light snowstorm and I would get the entire day to experience the album in the comfort of my bedroom as snow trickled down outside my window.
I remember the first time I heard the band, specifically the intricate, lilting harmonies of “Billie Holiday” (which I would later come to find out was from Warpaint’s debut EP Exquisite Corpse) on the Nov. 2009 iteration of Blalock’s Indie Rock Playlist. There was something undeniably hypnotic about the wavering, hauntingly sweet cadence of “B-I-L-L-I-E H-O-L-I-D-A-Y” bookended by tangled lines from the Motown song “My Guy” that kept me on the lookout for the release of their debut album The Fool under the Rough Trade label.
Most people would remember “Undertow” from that album, with menacing lines like “What’s the matter? / You hurt yourself,” but the most memorable for me was the dark and possessive track “Baby” that opens with singer-guitarist Kokal crooning “Don’t you call anybody else baby / because I’m your baby still”. This sinister vein creeps through each of the album’s nine tracks, delivered so sweetly and hollowly that it’s nearly reminiscent of the dreamlike emotional void created by Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides.
Needless to say, I was eager to dive into what I incorrectly assumed would be the unfathomable darkness of their new album; but I can assure you this album is no letdown, unfathomable darkness or not.
Take the song “Biggy,” for example. There’s darkness, but there’s also an undeniable sensuality. In an interview with The Guardian, singer-guitarist Wayman said of the song,”To me, [‘Biggy’] is about the sensuality of love being life,” says Kokal. “I think that when you feel at odds with yourself or your surroundings, when life is difficult and oblique, it’s when you’re not surrendering to love. That’s why people take drugs and that’s why people take relationships. They do everything they can to experience that connectedness. This song was about getting inside my own private sexual experience and my love and talking about that feeling. If you want to talk about religion or God that’s what I believe in.”
What I believe in is that from the sultry “Go In” to the undeniably catchy track “Love is to Die,” Warpaint’s new album, Warpaint, is worth checking out if you’re a longtime fan or a Warpaint rookie.
If you/someone you know is up for the task of writing non-sequitered musical ramblings, feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected], tell me I look pretty, and convince me why you should be a Guest Writer We Should Fucking Know.