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New music from Speedy Ortiz, Squarepusher, Greg Holden and more

Greg Holden, 'Hold On Tight.'
Greg Holden, 'Hold On Tight.'
Greg Holden (via YouTube)

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This week on Tuesday Reviewsday, our new music segment, Alex Cohen speaks with Shirley Halperin, News Director at Billboard Magazine and music journalist Chris Martins.

Shirley Halperin

Artist: Greg Holden
Album: "Chase the Sun"
Songs: "Hold On Tight," "The Next Life"
Here we have a songwriter whose work you may have heard in commercials for Mazda, Walmart or Coldwell Banker - I'm talking about the song "Home" with this familiar chant.

The writer of this song is Greg Holden who in 2012 essentially hit the jackpot with "Home," which he co-wrote and even recorded. And while the success helped him lock in a major label deal with Warner Bros., musically, it also seems to have sidelined him.

"On Chase the Sun," his debut album which just came out, he uses the chant as a crutch all too often and the results are mostly underwhelming.

But what Greg Holden does well also shines through, and that's deliver a great pop hook, like the one in first single, "Hold On Tight." 

Greg Holden sings a lot about not taking life for granted, he encourages looking beyond material possessions for a deeper appreciation of the small things. He credits this awareness to a trip he made to India and Nepal a couple years back. Traveling through some of the poorest areas fof the world, Holden says in its devastation, it was "incredibly inspiring."

It's worth noting that he was born in Scotland, spent his formative years in the U.K. and moved to New York in 2009, so he is indeed a proper world traveler and that's served his music well. On this album, there's straight up pop, hints of folk and you can hear the sort of tambourines they sell in Indian markets. Even Americana manages to seep through on the album's closing track "The Next Life." 

Artist: Mike Viola
Album: "Stairway to Paradise"
Songs: "Stairway to Paradise," "Dr. Feel Blue"
 Today's theme is the sideman, the writer behind the scenes, singers who aren't full-time frontmen but instead put their talents to use elsewhere in the music making process.

Among them is the incredibly versatile Mike Viola, who currently plays guitar with Ryan Adams and also had a hand in the production of his latest Grammy-nominated album. Also, this EP is being released by Ryan Adams' Pax-Am label.

He's one of those musicians who's had bits and pieces of mainstream success. Prior to this stint, Mike wrote a couple of songs that you may have heard of, including like the theme to the 1996 movie, "That Thing You Do."

Mike had also cut his teeth in the '90s east village scene in New York City, slinging power pop like nobody's business in the band Candy Butchers. 20 years on, he's perfected the very tricky art of making music this simple and unadorned sound so magical.

Classic post-Beatles pop. That's the territory of Big Star with a psychedelic pastiche. That's been Mike Viola's wheelhouse for two decades now and it's why musicians know who he is and respect his work so much.

Consider this: today everything tries to dazzle you, but this is straight up rock music, and even with a twisted message, it's undeniable. 

Chris Martins

Artist: Speedy Ortiz
Album: "Foil Deer"
Songs: "Raising the Skate," "Puffer"
Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz are from Northampton, and a direct line can be drawn from '90s neighbors Dinosaur Jr. to what they do. Their new album "Foil Deer" owes much to that era, and they've opened for the likes of the Breeders and Thurston Moore on tour. But for all of the sour vocal notes and harsh guitar jags, they're carving out their own space in modern indie. That's thanks to the vision of singer, guitarist, and songwriter Sadie Dupuis. She's got a way with words and a deal-with-it approach to feminism that squares with youth influencers like Rookie Magazine and Beyoncé.

Sadie taught writing at UMass Amherst in the band's early days, and counts Pynchon and Plath among her lyrical influences. But she changed up her pattern for this album. She says she looked at her older LPs and got the sense she'd been putting herself in bad situations for the sake of good material.

So, to write Foil Deer, she exiled herself to her mother's woodsy home in remote Connecticut. The songs came to her while running and swimming-so, from a lighter place. That doesn't mean they don't sound dark, though. Take the song "Puffer," which to me sounds like Speedy Ortiz' take on a Gwen Stefani, Pharrell collaboration.

Artist: Squarepusher
Album: "Damogen Furies"
"Stor Eiglass," "D Frozen Aac"
Notes: It's still a piece of cake to recognize the sound of Squarepusher. Tom Jenkins is 40 now, has released 15 albums since '96, and it probably goes without saying that the electronic music playing field has opened up hugely over the past decade. The English legend still owns his lane: micro-chopped drum n bass, screwy jazz arrangements, abstracted New Wave melodies. That mix set him apart from hallowed peers like Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin, and now it plays like an ex post facto reaction to the poppy contemporary rave scene. His new LP, "Damogen Furies" is mostly harsh and dark. He says he aims to "explore as forcefully as possible the hallucinatory, the nightmarish, and the brutally visceral capacities of electronic music."

After listening, I believe him. 

You could read this as some sort of statement against festival EDM, but I prefer to break it down two ways:

  1. This is Squarepusher continuing to come into his sound. He made "Damogen Furies" entirely on a software system that he designed, and recorded each track in a single take. It's a new challenge to his ability, and an affirmation of his veteran status.
  2. Electronic music's underground, in which he's a god, had overall been tending toward nasty territory. Guys like Arca, Oneohtrix Point Never and Haxan Cloak make wonderfully abrasive electronica, and this fits in.