Before we get started, there’s something we should probably get out of the way. The old format of NMD had an “appetizer” each week, that is, a single or a song from an album that didn’t necessarily warrant the full three-song treatment due to various factors. Nowadays, we have the “You Gotta Try This” songs culled from social media channels and the “Tune Du Jour” which kind of fills the same void. This week, there’s an album that may not fit either bill, so I’ll submit it as perhaps a pre-show bonus reaction.

Thirty-one years ago, the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell unleashed upon us all that is They Might Be Giants. This past week, their latest album released and it is not a featured album for a few reasons. Yes, Aaron is a TMBG aficcionado and for that, we aren’t completely ignoring this release. Denee, however, ranks TMBG somewhere between Curious George, The Wiggles, and nocturnal feathered beasts that shall not be named. Be that as it may, we present the aptly titled first track of “I Like Fun”, LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH.

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Now, back to the INTRODUCTION…
Welcome to 2018, a new year and it’s time for some new music. January is typically a slow month for music, since most folks are experiencing shopping exhaustion from the holiday season and all the well-known artists have either spent their last few months promoting a Christmas album or an album they hoped everyone would buy FOR Christmas. However, January can be a good month to discover new or new-to-you artists, too. That said, this week’s selection includes two new-to-me groups, an American Idol alum that has yet to win me over, and a reinvention of sorts in the Tune Du Jour. Let’s dig in and see what’s what.

Album 1: Let the Record Play, by Moon Taxi (1/19/2018)

So, here’s the process of landing on Moon Taxi – which, by the way is a band I’ve never heard of prior to preparing this NMD. Fall Out Boy has a new album out and I expected to include it here. However, it’s explicit (and, upon first listen, unnecessarily so) causing me to figure out how best to include it. As I pondered the best approach, I start previewing Moon Taxi and it occurs to me, that they scratch that Fall Out Boy itch pretty nicely, without the caution tape. Not that they are the same, but… well, let’s just listen, shall we?

LET THE RECORD PLAY starts out a little whimsical and airy, but quickly reveals more beneath the surface. I like the “oohs” now that there’s more to it. Loving the horns under the track. Lots of nice rhythmic choices. I get the slightest hint of a Peter Furler vocal tone on the lead singer, too. Next up is NOT TOO LATE, which maintains a pop feel – almost spacey, and again they add some nice elements into the fold as it builds. This one has a touch of Chainsmokers or Capital Kings mixed in. I really like some of these directions taken here. GOOD AS GOLD brings a little Maroon 5 meets Fall Out Boy to the front of their sound with the whistles meeting the driving beat and then they mix in some horns, too. This is fun.

BONUS: Apparently, TWO HIGH is the single that is popular somewhere. They’ve actually been a band for over 10 years now. Where have they been? This reminds me of maybe Vance Joy’s Riptide… Oh stop it. Those horns are fabulous. What a great element to have in their sound.

Album 2: Collateral, by Phillip Phillips (1/19/2018)

There’s a line from an old Jerry Lewis (maybe?) movie, where his character thought his name was repeated because his mom would always yell it. (I shouldn’t have brought it up because I don’t remember it and it’s not funny like this and it makes me seem really old… okay, never mind, let’s start over).

Ha! Who names their kid like this? (Okay, that’s mean, let’s start over).

Phillip Phillips won American Idol’s Season 11 as the show was really trailing off. He’s the last big seller from Idol’s storied history (and honestly, I don’t even recognize most of the contestants that followed). Anyway, I thought he sounded like a Dave Matthews knock-off and I’m not sure my opinion changed at all. This album, however, follows a three year lawsuit against 19 entertainment, and may represent a more original, true to Phillips style. Maybe…

Right off the bat, MAGNETIC is nothing like what I expect from Phillip Phillips. This is like a nightclub jazzy tune. Some great soul here and then a nice contrast as the chorus hits. I like it. It’s a much more mature sound than any of his previous singles. I don’t think this is a single, but I’m digging it. PART OF MY PLAN changes gears and offers a piano-based ballad. His vocal is more of what I remember – a little gravelly, a little Dave Matthews. Very soft and well controlled. Right in the pocket for a singer songwriter, as they say. A little bit of a build as it continues, but always anchored to the right tone. The third song, MY NAME, presents a third distinct sound (which usually makes for a winner). This is a throwback rock track a la Extreme or even – here’s an obscure pull – Tony Vincent. Anyone remember him? Okay. This is good, though. I like it.

BONUS: The curiosity will encourage you to want to hear song number four. I DARE YOU not to pick it. This one is more along the lines of MAGNETIC, but it’s got plenty to offer on its own. There’s some picking and some horns and another good song. I wonder how these songs will hold up over multiple listens.

Album 3: Ruins, by First Aid Kit (1/19/2018)

First Aid Kit is another new-to-me artist. I found them while looking through the best sellers section of Amazon and I’m always pretty surprised when I find albums I’ve never heard of selling really well. Granted, I’m not paying as close attention to the industry as I have in the past, but it typically means that I should check it out. (Or that it’s a gangster rap or death metal group and I should continue to avoid it). This one is neither rap nor metal, but is it worth checking out?

Having no idea what to expect, REBEL HEART hits me cold in the face with a piercing vocal in the vein of Stevie Nicks or, more modern, Paramore. But it really feels like a Fleetwood Mac song – even the likes of LANDSLIDE. The beat nicely mimics a heartbeat, not sure if that’s intentional, but this has a really nice retro feel. The harmonies are nice, too. IT’S A SHAME jumps into the 90s with a more uptempo style and a Cranberries flare, with the Irish voice crack. The harmonies are more prominent and this feels like I’m riding a horse across the fields. There’s an organ. I’m not sure I like it as much. Last up, FIREWORKS offers up something of a ballad. I like how the instruments actually back up the vocal rather than being on the same plane. Now both singers are taking turns. This is pretty good.

BONUS: Oddly enough, POSTCARD is basically an old school country song. For real, like Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn, and Barbara Mandrell era country. Crazy. I mean, it’s good. It’s just unexpected based on the rest of the songs.

TUNE DU JOUR: FIRE ON THE HIGHWAY, by FF5
I still remember the first time I experienced Family Force 5. They pretty much exploded onto the scene with a highly acclaimed stage show, a unique energy, and a sound that dared you to categorize it. Since that time, they have evolved from a brash young group of southern fried hooligans into a modern rock outfit teasing styles from past and present. Now, they are just two and they are picking up the pieces from a struggle with the industry. This song works as a nice progression from Time Stands Still. No idea what plans they have for an album.

peace… love… bdg…