We last heard music from Joel. (aka MaG) on his 2013 release (via RCRDLBL) Freedom, a soulful slice of American hip-hop. He didn’t go silent between then and now – those who follow him on Twitter know that Joel is a poet and a non-stop thinker, with an eye toward social progress and absolutely no patience for bullshit.
It’s no surprise to find that same spirit in the music he’s been working on. songs for charles is an independent release dropped just last month, and it kicks off with a short audio clip from Jay Z in the studio, taken from the film Fade To Black. This track, titled “what Hov said…(intro),” captures Jay discussing young rappers coming up; artists who believe they have to write about things they don’t feel and don’t know. He tells the cameraman to put the lens on him before saying, “See what y’all did to rappers? They scared to be theyself.”
Being true to himself, then, serves as Joel.’s mission here. “I can’t speak for no one else / but I’m gonna keep on being myself,” goes one of the refrains on the first song, “creston and 188th.” What follows is a personal catharsis. The next eight songs are all at least rooted in the past, even while facing the present. He looks back on his upbringing, his family, lessons learned and carried forward. “We was young / we was reckless,” he says, in the frank and unsentimental “hash browns.” The chilled out, hypnotic loop of the song keeps the mood static and, as much as the lyric, creates a vivid atmosphere, if not an especially warm one. It actually feels like a carefully constructed sound collage, pieced together from ‘70s-‘80s AM radio dials, video games, cassettes rewinding…the sounds of a childhood, running in the background.
“new, new york” brings us into the present, or at least the very recent past. But each track here, just like real life, builds on what came before. That’s why, even though this is an eight-song collection (nine tracks), I take songs for charles as a real album. It’s not a mixtape, nor a collection of singles. It’s a thematic, narrative flow. And, like a lot of Joel.’s work, it’s densely filled with imagery and wordplay, and almost has the feel of a stage play. With only a few listens so far, I have not absorbed every nuance, but I look forward to trying.
“better late than never (intermission)” is a dreamy flight, with a backing that sounds like recent Radiohead; droning chords bracing syncopated, jazz drums. The lyric is equal parts past, present, and future, and how they are helplessly intertwined, with a hook that declares, “I’d rather die than let go of one of my dreams / one foot forward, all I gotta do is proceed…It’s never too late to dream.” Hope continues to be a central theme here – aspirations for a better life, one that’s more fulfilling, one that is free from the troubled past, and one where glory is attained on no one else’s terms but your own.
Certainly Joel. knows there’s no complete escape from what came before. But songs for charles is at least an attempt at exorcism. Facing pain in stark terms, he describes a present in which personal reconciliation is already under way, and this music – in all its expressive, subtle complexity – is the conduit.
Here’s a preview of some of the artists who will be featured on the next installment of “OurStage on Amazing Radio,” an online and terrestrial radio show broadcast out of the UK to hundreds of thousands of listeners. Last month’s show is streaming now and features some really great, undiscovered acts. Below are your January Top 5. Listen to a direct playlist of these songs by clicking here.
“Taking Me Under” by Austin Renfroe
One of the winningest artists on OurStage with this fan favorite song. Meticulously constructed pop with a soulful delivery.
“Drunk and Unemployed” by Wes-tone
The #1 track in the Folk channel also took the top of the Roots finals channel. The novel of this song’s title belies an earnest and sad lyric.
“Fake This” by The Upset Victory
Catchy-as-hell modern rock from a great band.
“Why It Wasn’t Me” by KParker
R&B takes top honors again this month. Mellow, grooving, smooth…everything modern R&B should be.
“Wake Up” by Project KF
Another mellow entry, with ambient and chill elements, but riding over a driving rhythm.
December’s winners (and more) are featured on the OurStage show streaming now on AmazingRadio.com. Listen in to hear music from Adios Mafia, Jesi Jones, Ju’not, Jillian Valentine, Space Walk, The Delta Riot, Sho Skrilla, Summerlyn Powers, Late Cambrian, Annalise Emerick, Yellabird, The Figgs, Kat Robichaud, and Shotty.
We’re closing the books on 2014, with a batch of quality winners, as ranked by our fan community over the month of December. These artists (and more from the top of our charts) will be featured on our next installment of OurStage on Amazing Radio, an online and terrestrial radio show broadcast out of the UK to hundreds of thousands of listeners. If you haven’t heard the previous show, it’s streaming now. Below are your December Top 5. Listen to a direct playlist of these songs by clicking here.
“It’s Your Love” by Jillian Valentine
A soulful, intimate song that’s still universally accessible.
“How To Be Good” by Jesi Jones
With a thoughtful lyric and a voice as clear as a bell, Jesi Jones rises above the folk fray.
“Dirty Bomb” by Adios Mafia
Great to hear some punk take the top spot in rock. Cross Raw Power-era Stooges with Eagles of Death Metal. NSFW, as punk should be.
“A Little You And Me” by Ju’not
Classic R&B, straight out of 1974, but just as vital-sounding as anything on Top 40 today.
“Strings Of Serenity” by Space Walk
A sweeping, genre-melding mini-epic, incorporating ambient, classical, and Latin.
Our November artist spotlight show is now available for streaming on AmazingRadio.com. Listen in to see who hit the top of the charts and made our picks for the month. If you’re an artist yourself, enter your music in a channel to be considered for next month’s show. If you’re a fan, judge now to help us pick the upcoming featured artists.
With our new, leaner channel line-up, competition was tight last month, and we’ve got a new slew of winners to announce. These artists will be featured on an upcoming program on Amazing Radio, our terrestrial and online radio station, broadcast out of the UK to hundreds of thousands of music fans. Let us know your faves.
“The Art of Art” by Daily Noise Club
Recalls Bon Scott era ACϟDC with even more riffage.
“Keeps Me Alive” by Sheila Star
Modern production invigorates this piano-pop song with a great melody.
“Wasting My Time” by Erdal Kemahli
A hypnotic groove with some cool chopped up loops.
“Lonely” by Terri-J (feat. Sylver)
Low-key R&B focused on the voice and lyric.
“48 Times Around The Sun” by Tom Riccardi
A simple and touching acoustic-based tribute.
OurStage’s Top Ten Fictional Music Movies: There are many film scripts that invent bands as part of the narrative. Most are just an afterthought, and many more are forgettable and awful, even as a figment of a screenwriter’s imagination. These films created the best, funniest, most realistic, lived-in bands in film.
10. Light of Day (1987)
Who in 1987 wasn’t waiting for the Michael J. Fox – Joan Jett big screen pairing? The only question was what the vehicle would be. A rom-com? Sci-fi thriller? A Tango & Cash“esque buddy cop action-comedy? A Back to the Future sequel where Marty meets The Runaways in 1977? What we actually got was an unexpectedly gritty family drama, centering on the relationship between brother and sister Joe and Patty (Fox and Jett), who perform together in a struggling E Street-esque bar band called The Barbusters. I have just told you the worst part of the movie. The band is called The Barbusters. This blow is softened by the appearance of the great Michael McKean as a band member”one of McKean’s THREE appearances on this list.
Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, wrote and directed this film and in fact commissioned a song by Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen came back with Born In The U.S.A. but decided to keep that one for himself. Too bad, it could have been a hit. The Barbusters do a decent job with his alternate effort, the title song, Light of Day.” And, hey, look, Michael J. Fox can sing. This begs the question”what the hell, Robert Zemeckis? The idea that it’s Fox’ voice singing Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future is the least credible part of a movie about a time traveling DeLorean that runs on plutonium.
9. 8 Mile (2002)
People say that Eminem was basically playing himself in this film about an aspiring rapper from Detroit with a fucked-up mom and few prospects aside from an innate and unique lyrical flow. But it’s a mistake to go into this thinking it’s the Eminem Story. Em and director Curtis Hanson wisely keep the character of B-Rabbit sullen and low-key. The rapper is not a great actor, but he plays this one just right, with visibly crippling insecurity and remarkably restrained rage. The cleverness of the “improvised” rhymes staged on street corners and at club battles is just short of believable, but (spoiler alert) at the end, when B-Rabbit destroys all comers with Eminem’s signature delivery, disbelief is easily suspended. This won an Oscar for the great lead song Lose Yourself.
If you’re looking for it, it’s actually not too hard to find a new band you really dig. Most often, those artists are doing something that resonates with you because of your established tastes. It sounds familiar, it feels comfortable, and maybe there’s even an aspect of the music that’s unique. Much more rare, though, is to come across an act doing something completely different than what you might otherwise find in your music collection and still be affected by it. Such is the case with The Shills, a band that seems to blend so many varied influences as to produce music that cannot be so easily pigeonholed. Fresh off a second win in our Indie Pop channel, they are our latest Artist of the Week.
If you’re a rock fan, and especially one disheartened by the state of music as represented, say, in the recent Grammy Awards, you might find yourself thinking that the world could use an antidote, and maybe a heavy dose at that. The Fratellis might have been thinking the same thing when they titled their newest album We Need Medicine, and delivered a blast of thoughtful, authentic rock and roll. The UK trio blazed onto the US scene when their song “Flathead” appeared in a 2007 iPod commercial. They’ve been steadily building up a devoted fan base since then, and We Need Medicine, their first album after an extended hiatus, is the gem that really should put them over the top stateside. We spoke with singer and guitarist Jon Fratelli about his approach to writing songs, making videos, and how much influence current pop music has on the band (SPOILER: none).
OS: You’ve spoken about the songs on We Need Medicine in terms of how they serve the record, that you’ve written songs of a certain type because the record needed it. This somewhat business-like approach calls to mind songwriters like Paul McCartney, who can write heartbreaking or joyous songs simply having set out to fill a requirement. Indeed, many of your new songs sound positively exuberant. Has songwriting always worked that way for you, or has that ability to just sit down and do a job developed along with you as songwriters?
Jon: I think it’s really just about having a vague idea of somewhere you’d like to go. I learned that by having no idea where to go on the second Fratellis record; it ends with a mediocre album and with songs that, a year later, you don’t want to play anymore. I didn’t want that to be the case this time so only concentrated on writing in a style that know I’ll always be able to connect to.
OS: You guys are great at style or genre exercise songs, but what song would you pick from your catalogue that is stylistically most uniquely you?
Jon: I hope never to write that song. There’ll always be songs that other people connect you with more than others, but I don’t think musicians really do that with their own music. If you write something that perfectly sums up everything you’ve ever wanted to say then you have no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Billboard today has a piece regarding the highs and (more recently) lows of American Idol and the show’s upcoming season. It rather sadly exposes the whole production as a microcosm of the floundering, old-school end of the music industry. The players are scrambling behind the scenes to figure out why ratings plummeted in later seasons, changes are being made, and the faces of the show are desperately trying to make us remember Idol‘s former glory as a ratings bonanza and a legitimate factor in the music industry. Harry Connick Jr., a former mentor and now judge on the show (along with Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban), says:
Remember when they came out with new Coke and everybody was upset by it? It couldn’t have teed up the return of Coke Classic any better. When Coke Classic came out, it exploded even bigger than it was before because it created this void and people missed it. And I think that’s what this year can potentially do for this brand. People sort of missed their classic ‘American Idol.’ And it’s back.
Yeesh. New executive producer Per Blankens, who had great success running the Swedish version of the show, similarly stresses a “back to basics” formula. We think that this is the best show there is — the original that’s inspired others,” he says, “so it’s not that viewers necessarily want that big gimmicky change in order to come back to the TV couches. They want to see the show they’ve grown to love.