We’ve got a nice batch of diverse selections today, including the first album of this year that I was anticipating with actual enthusiasm. We’ll kick things off with some hip hop from a couple of oddballs, continue with some driving modern rock, and then round things off with a singer/songwriter bleeding vocals over an acoustic guitar. Finally, there is a “tune du jour” featuring an actor that is at times out of this world. Creepy and exciting. Let’s get to it.

Album 1: Into the Night, by Social Club Misfits (2/9/2018)

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Fern and Marty, a.k.a. Social Club Misfits, are back with their second release on Capitol CMG in as many years. Last year’s “Misadventures” felt like a perfect extension of the duo’s independent material as they maintained their off-beat style and delivery, but showed off more polished production and a full slate of tracks.

Right off the bat, we can see this album is a little different. First off, the opener, NIGHTMARE, doesn’t feature a sermonette from Chris Durso, who has been on most of their previous releases. Second, this is much more of a straightforward rap track, the beats and rhythm is less distinctive, but it is good – that’s for sure. Track two, DIVE, features Beam, who was also on Andy Mineo’s latest endeavor. And if it seems familiar, we did preview this as a tune du jour about five months ago and it’s been a single.This features more of their trademark delivery with nontraditional cadences. I like it. Next up is WAR CRY, which features a vocal lock from Tauren Wells (Royal Tailor), fresh off his solo debut. I love how they appear to fall behind the beat as they deliver their verses, knowing that they are actually controlling the rhythm the entire time. The hook is really nice. Though, if you make it to the end, you might do a double take and wonder if Taylor Swift joined in.

BONUS: Roll credits! INTO THE NIGHT will either be the winning track (if we include DIVE) or track three. Anyone doubting that the duo would stay true to their style should doubt no more. They bring back a frequent collaborator in Chris Batson and include so many elements of “their sound” here that it could be no one other than Social Club Misfits. (Plus the funny little interruption).

BONUS BONUS: If TUYO is the winning song, then you’ve gotten a real treat. A definite departure from their norm, this one has a distinct Spanish sound and features American Idol alums Danny Gokey and Jordin Sparks for good measure. Really nice track that would fit in on the credits to a Fast and Furious movie (just saying, marketers).

Album 2: Always Ascending, by Franz Ferdinand (2/9/2018)

Trends are difficult to set. That’s pretty obvious, but trends may be even more difficult to break. As music entered the “naughts,” rock music was collectively begging for a breath of fresh air after a decade of dark, brooding, grunge and post-grunge releases. Ten years after the death of Kurt Cobain, the sounds of Franz Ferdinand and, specifically, TAKE ME OUT, helped usher in lively new sound that felt comfortable and fresh and fun. Now that they are getting old, how has their music held up and/or adjusted?

We open with the credits, as ALWAYS ASCENDING brings us a nice piano tease and a building atmosphere going on behind a deep vocal that harkens back to the 80s. It’s taking off here at the 1:30 mark, with a little bit of disco and retro dance. Not sure there’s much to be said about the lyrics, but I’m enjoying the energy of the soundtrack. Next up, LAZY BOY, which may or may not be an ode to a recliner. Probably not. Again, lyrically, there’s not much here, but the music is so much fun. Lots going on and all so very cohesive. I’m hearing hints of FUNKY TOWN and other throwback elements. Okay, we’ll wrap this up with PAPER CAGES which continues with similar production and feels so much like an 80s song. This one actually has some rhythmic dissonance going on here as the music seems to want to pick up steam but the vocals serve as an anchor of sorts, holding it back.

BONUS: FINALLY is really laid back and if you pay attention, you may hear the ICE ICE BABY hook hinted at. Oh, that chorus was really cool. Love the percussion.

Album 3: Who Knew It Would Be So Hard to Be Myself, by Dave Barnes (2/9/2018)

Dave Barnes has a story similar to many singer/songwriters in that his career began with writing and is sustained by writing. So where as Franz Ferdinand’s songs didn’t seem to offer too much lyrically, we should expect more from Barnes, right? This is his tenth album (if you count Christmas albums) in eighteen years, so he’s doing something right. This one trickled out in EP format with two 4-song releases hitting the market leading up to this, the full album.

(WHO KNEW IT WOULD BE SO HARD) TO BE MYSELF opens up with a Margaritaville feel before we get to the smooth vocal of Barnes. We’ve got some organ here and some clapping and it does feel like we’re on a beach somewhere. Lyrically, he’s struggling with change and identifying with his desires over time. I’m pretty sure that BIG OLE LOVE has nothing to do with that HBO show. Actually, I’m one hundred percent sure, I just thought it would be funny. Anyway, this has a nice rhythm to it. There’s a solid beat underneath and everything else is subtle enough to showcase his voice. This is along the lines of a Mat Kearney, Shawn McDonald, or even Andy Grammer. (I GUESS THAT’S WHAT I GET) FOR LOVING YOU has a slightly different feel to it, offering a slight taste of soul. This is kind of weird though, I like this song – and this album – but it really doesn’t do much for me. I feel like it’s a nice background album, but maybe not one worth talking about?

BONUS: If Dave Barnes wins, REMEMBER THAT I LOVE YOU. This feels the same way as the last song. I think it’s that, while these songs are good, they almost feel generic in a sense. I feel like I’ve heard them before, somewhere else. That sounds bad. I don’t really mean for it to.

TUNE DU JOUR: HALF LIFE, by David Duchovny
I’m not an X-Files guy, but I know Aaron is, so this was a no brainer. This is as trippy as when I first learned that Steve from Blues Clues had musical talent and aspirations. (Well, except that I watched Blues Clues with my sons). But just like then – when I expected at least a hint of kid-friendly music from the striped-shirted legend – you expect something that resembles the soundtrack to X-Files. That’s not what you get, though. This is a modern rock sound and it blends in with mainstream music more than you might expect.

peace… love… bdg…