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Take time to discover new music to enjoy at home

By Alan Sculley For The Spokesman-Review

If you’re a music fan, you might already be going through withdrawals over not being able to go to concerts while the COVID-19 crisis has closed the vast majority of concert venues. Just consider it a side effect of this disease.

But in times like these, it’s important to be resourceful, and the live music shutdown is a chance to search out some good new music you might not otherwise had the time to discover.

This column is here to help with suggestions of new albums that have commanded my attention, with the emphasis on titles that don’t figure to get enough of a promotional push to register strongly on the various album charts any time soon. Here are picks for this week.

Smoke Fairies

“Darkness Brings the Wonders Home”

Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire have gone four years between Smoke Fairies albums, but they have made the wait worth it with “Darkness Brings the Wonders Home.” As its title suggest, don’t look for sweet and light here. Instead, there’s great gritty rock in the songs “Elevator” and “Coffee Shop Blues,” a taut tune in “Out of the Woods” that pairs to excellent effect a sweet vocal underpinned by moody textures and edgy guitar, and more expansive, and yes, darkly hued fare that’s just as impressive in songs like “Left to Roll,” “On the Wing” and “Chew Your Bones.” An immersive work that makes an immediate impact but grows richer with subsequent listens, “Darkness Brings the Wonders Home” is an early contender for this year’s best albums lists.

The Mastersons

“No Time For Love Songs”

Husband and wife Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore continue to develop into one of the Americana scene’s most consistently enjoyable acts on “No Time for Love Songs.” On this latest effort, Masterson and Whitmore aren’t looking to break stylistic ground or find quirky elements to make their music stand out from the crowd. Instead, songs like the lovely ballad “So Impossible” and pleasant rockers such as “King of the Castle, “Eyes Wide Open” and “Spellbound” work because of their strong melodies, thoughtful lyrics and the organic instrumentation producer Shooter Jennings brings to the proceedings. Sometimes it’s nice to remember how far simply having good songs can take a band, and “No Time for Love Songs” provides that reminder.

Emperor Penguin

“Soak Up the Gravy”

The best album I’ve heard in the power pop/guitar pop arena so far this year is “Soak Up the Gravy.” Of the album’s many virtues, let’s start with its musical range, which takes in everything from hyper-speed rock (“Katy’s Only Trending”) to fanciful pop (“Memoria Magdalena”) to deliberately paced classic-sounding pop (“Hole in Your Soul”) and a host of points in between. What’s also apparent is frequent originality in the songs, a talent for crafting memorable hooks and witty lyricism. The sense of fun and creativity will have pop music fans keeping this album in regular rotation for weeks and months to come.

Travel Lanes

“On”

On this Philadelphia band’s third studio outing, one will hear elements of early Elvis Costello’s caffeinated pop, Cracker and that band’s brand of rocking pop with a touch of twang and even early rock and roll (especially on the bopping “Answer My Prayer”). Those are enviable comparisons, and this consistently strong set of songs – which includes standouts like the rollicking “Lover’s Lane,” the snappy “Mr. Lux,” the punchy rocker “Can’t Lose” and the richly melodic, acoustic-rooted rocker “Routine” – holds up alongside the music of the masters.

Overtures

“Once in a World”

Some might want to discount the Overtures because of the influence of the Byrds (in their mid-’60s pop form), which does get a bit too obvious at times. But the songs are often undeniable here. The pleasantly poppy “She Belongs to Yesterday” and “Onceinaworld” have top-notch melodies that sound like they would have made these songs radio hits in earlier eras. “Watching the Grass Grow” substitutes piano for the ringing guitars, bringing a nice bounce to this cheery song. “You’ve Been Gone” effectively puts a more acoustic feel on the band’s sound without losing any of the upbeat personality of the rest of the album. The Overtures wrap up “Once in a World” by accenting the peppy closing tune, “Still on My Mind” with buoyant horns – a nice twist that wraps up the album on one more high note.

Rattanson

“Full Scale Shakeability”/“I’d Much Rather Be With the Noise”

This one-man band of Henrik Aspeborg has opened 2020 with the one-two punch of the wider release of two full-length studio albums originally only available for download and vinyl. “Full Scale Shakeability” (from 2017) is a collection of nonstop jangly garage pop tunes, many of which deliver multiple hooks topped off with cool instrumental solos. Originally released in 2019, “I’d Much Rather Be With the Noise” is the slightly stronger and more varied of the two albums. But both albums are more than solid. If you’re looking for some frisky guitar pop to lift your spirits, either of these albums should do the trick.

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