Welcome to the new edition of Be Here Now, a column/playlist where we compile inspiring new music for busy folks who would like to discover outstanding contemporary artists.
Here is the link to the Be Here Now Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more:
In the summer of 1978, I traveled cross-country in a van with my brother for a month, enthusiastically searching for America as romanticized by Paul Simon. The accompanying soundtrack for over 6,000 miles of driving was our often-scratchy FM/AM radio and a box of 10 or so cassettes that we incessantly listened to on repeat. In those 30 days, I cemented an intense relationship with Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model and Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty that I’ll probably never have again with any other music.
And how could I? If given the choice, why would anyone want to listen to the same music over and over again? While I have gauzy, sepia-fused, tactile memories of every groove of my favorite albums of that era, I feel privileged to live at a time where with a single click, we have instantaneous magical access to the great majority of the last 60 or so years of recorded music. I would never want to go back.
But, of course, with all that music at your fingertips, plenty of great artists slip through the cracks. Or you discover a new artist by hearing a single song on a playlist and don’t have the time to discover more music from the artist. So today, we’ll focus on a few artists who haven’t had broad commercial success but are worth checking out.
Woods has been making its warm, sometimes wide-eyed, peppy, often orchestrated psychedelic folkish rock for over ten years. Leader Jeremy Earl sings in a gentle, pleasing falsetto and the band fills out its sound with Mellotron and horns that evoke baroque pop influences from the Left Banke to Belle and Sebastian. And the music is occasionally trippy enough that when they ask questions like “Where Do You Go When You Dream?,” you want to see if they know the answer.
Devon Gilfillian is an expressive, versatile singer rooted in sixties and seventies soul who adds gospel and rootsy, loose rock into the mix. His track “Unchained” is a revelation and his debut album Black Hole Rainbow demonstrates that one can make a relevant, contemporary album in 2021 founded mostly on a classic R&B palette. And I hear he is amazing in concert.
Sault is a collective out of UK that has released some of the most danceable music of the last year. Little is known about them; they rarely interact with the media and don’t reveal much of themselves via social media. The music is infectious, rooted in funk, disco, house, even afrobeat, and many songs eloquently address contemporary racial issues. Like Sly, Prince and other forebearers, they know sometimes you’ll dance even harder for a good cause.
The Weather Station is a Canadian band fronted by Tamara Linderman that began as folky project and has evolved into a more sophisticated, fuller outfit without sacrificing any of her lyrical insightfulness or personal take on topical subjects. Think of Joni Mitchell going from Clouds to Court and Spark. The standout percussive track “Robber,” flush with strings and horns, metaphorically and personally deconstructs the excesses of capitalism. Linderman is a cool, alluring singer and she has plenty to say about modern life.
A few quick takes from artists you should know:
“Empire Builder” by Typhoon – recorded during the pandemic and sounding like it is here to liberate us, this song has a tremendous instrumental buildup that leads to a sing-along for the ages.
“California Soul” by London Grammar – Brit electro band led by vocalist Hannah Reid (sounds like Florence Welsh but cooler, more controlled) evokes nostalgia for an experience you wish you had.
“Afrique Victim” by Mdou Moctar – The Tuareg guitarist from NIger fronts a fiery, incandescent band that isn’t afraid to stretch out and invoke stratospheric guitar playing over polymorphous rhythms and contemporary themes.
There are dozens of other new artists worth your time on the Be Here Now playlist. Enjoy all the great music at your fingertips.
Header image: Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Tabercil.