While 2016 was a pretty good year when it came to new music, 2016 will always be the year we lost the longest list of our heroes that have really burned a path in the music industry for the next wave of artists. Well, all we can do at this point is look forward while never forgetting the past. Today, we look at that next wave with 5 Under the Radar Releases from this month that our staff believes needs to be recognized and heard. Looking at this list, it sure seems like the immediate future is in good hands.
Tongues Unknown – Tongues Unknown (Jan. 6th)
Chicago born and Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Connor Grant’s latest project Tongues Unknown is dark and alluring. Grant’s self-titled debut — he records under the same Tongues Unknown name — released independently on Jan. 6.
Though Tongues Unknown marks the debut for Grant, he’s not exactly a new face; he was a member of The GOASTT with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl.
The album artwork suggests entrance into the unknown; mysterious beasts from within artist Michael Brieger. The ensuing record offers something similarly enigmatic. It’s clear from the first listen the album is something more mature, more uniquely his own. The production and performance credits are solely Grants, and though both The Goastt and Tongues Unknown exist in the same experimental, psychedelic rock vein, Grant’s music is more avant garde.
Tongues Unknown begins with “Monki Mia Mor,” a graceful, slowed down, innovative track.Fans of Wilco and Radiohead can relate to tracks like “Heavy Devils” and “Magdeline,” each filled with layers of swanky guitars and airy vocals.
Every record should have a song like “True Love Always;” that fiery funk track that makes you want to dance barefoot in your kitchen. Tongues Unknown is full of moments like that; it’s up, it’s down, noisey then sparse. And that’s what a rock and roll album should be; a collection of moments from the first notes until the last track in representing the growth of an artist.
The album closes with “Don’t Go Nowhere,” where jazzy piano notes beautifully haunt. Tongues Unknown shows off Grant’s ability to do it all, and to do it all extremely well. /- Avery Newmark
Perry Brown – Become My Blood (Jan. 13th)
If you are looking for some good ole southern American songwriting, look no further than the small university town of Troy, Alabama to get your fix of campfire songs from the heart. Perry Brown is the frontman of Fire Mountain, whom Paste Magazine named as one of the “12 Alabama Bands You Need To Know Now” around their debut LP All Dies Down in 2014. I can personally attest to the brilliance of Fire Mountain, in fact there’s one magical night at The EARL in Atlanta that sticks out as a night where the band really owned the stage and crowd packed in the back room. Fire Mountain draws deeply from early Wilco and Whiskeytown. While influences of Tweedy, Ryan Adams and others seep into Perry Brown’s songwriting, Fire Mountain is a rock ‘n’ roll band at heart.
While writing and recording for Fire Mountain’s next record, some of Perry’s new songs he was writing didn’t quite fit with the alt-country-ish rock of his quintet. These batch of songs gave birth to Perry Brown’s debut solo album, Become My Blood set for release of January 13th via This Is American Music. Perry Brown is a father and a new dad, a friend, a day-jobber, a church-goer, a choir singer, a designer, a maker, a bandleader, a dog lover, a balladeer and a rock-and-roller. Perry Brown is an everyman, his songs are relatable, from the heart, and the gorgeous production work done by Birmingham’s Les Nuby makes this an album that once the needle hits, you aren’t going to want to put down. So grab a fresh brew after a long day of work, a chair on the front porch, and enjoy Perry Brown’s debut, relaxing to his stunning debut. – Mike Gerry
SUSTO – & I’m Fine Today (Jan. 13th)
Personally, & I’m Fine Today is one of my most anticipated albums going into 2017. If you’ve been following OpenEars Music over the last few years, you’ve probably seen us talk about the Charleston-based five-piece SUSTO a number of times. It’s no secret we’ve been calling on this one for a while. Justin Osbourne’s project has started making a name for itself with cosmic country tunes since their debut self titled release in 2014 and subsequent live album, Live from the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, in 2015. In reality though, this is just a hard working band that tours hard, earning new fans one gig at a time. That work is starting to pay off as the buzz has continued to grow larger, and with the release of their sophomore album & I’m Fine Today and an upcoming huge tour with The Lumineers, it seems SUSTO is poised to break out in 2017.
After touring hard for 3 years, the next step for SUSTO was to follow up their debut and prove that they can not only do it again, but grow in the process. Quite frankly, their sophomore release & I’m Fine Today is even better than I could have expected. Justin Osborne has always had a way about his songwriting to bring the current landscape of the world surrounding him into his songs with relatable lyrics, melodies you want to sing along with, yet an emotional palatability to his songs that still challenge the listener, while also able to melt them. His songs are accessible, from the heart, and while being more serious than not, his songs can garner a chuckle in the process. All of that still exists in & I’m Fine Today, with Justin’s strongest batch of songwriting yet. SUSTO isn’t afraid to challenge the norm either, look to songs like “Gay in the South” and “Cosmic Cowboy” as the band challenges what it means to be a true southerner today. In addition to the songwriting, what really sticks out about & I’m Fine Today is that SUSTO has really grown sonically in the soundscapes they are putting around Justin’s songwriting. Sure there are stellar songs like lead single “Hard Drugs” which fans of the more alt-country from the debut album will love, but just look at singles “Waves,” “Jah Werk,” and “Far Out Feeling” to hear the wave of influences that cross on this album. “Waves” is a surf song that we could all use today as SUSTO asks us to “ride it out” and saying “it comes in waves” while reminding us that “we live in a such remarkable place”; all over a mixture of punk, grunge, psychedelia, folk and more. “Jah Werk” has a little of reggae influence as Justin announces “I’m Fine Today” while reminding us that while life may suck at times, you have to keep going. The first track on the album, “Far Out Feeling” brings a tight 70’s groove that is hard to deny and immediately lets you know this is an updated SUSTO with a string section and horns that take over your ears. For a band that we already thought was poised for a big future, & I’m Fine Today is a huge leap forward, and an album that’s ready to be recognized for it’s brilliance. When you can’t find a weak song in the lot, nor can you pick even 2-3 favorite songs, it’s time to say that we’ve got a great album on our hands. 2017 is now off to heck of a start with SUSTO’s & I’m Fine Today. /- Mike Gerry
Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness (Jan. 27th)
Julie Byrne got some very low key, but positive attention for her 2014 album Rooms With Walls and Windows. Pitchfork gave it a very solid 7.4, but anytime I mentioned her name to anyone it was met with a resounding, “Who?” Still, there was something about her lo-fi acoustic songs and her rich, but almost disinterested vocals that mesmerized me. That same Pitchfork review mentions her playing before reverential coffeeshop audiences that you could count the attendees of on one hand.
Lead single “Natural Blue” from her forthcoming album Not Even Happiness (out January 27) amply puts us all on notice that she’s not likely to languish in obscurity much longer. The song has a much more fleshed out, ethereal sound and you can hear tinges of folks like Julianna Barwick or Julien Baker in it. Not that she sounds like them, she’s just expanded her range greatly and you can hear bits of what’s endeared those artists to audiences and critics alike. I’m hoping for big things for Julie Byrne in 2017.
Stef Chura – Messes (Jan. 27th)
Welcoming the end of the year and looking onwards, trying to figure out what could possibly surpass 2016 musically, all heads turn towards Stef Chura. Embraced by twisting vocals and unpredictable melodies, Chura is finally taking a giant leap out of the Michigan DIY music scene by releasing her first studio album Messes. Embodying the characteristics of someone who just stepped out of the mid 90s, the artist embraces a warm style and technique within a bedroom-pop setting to create a sound which is completely her own. Referencing her ever-changing life while growing up in her recent single, “Slow Motion”, “Right when it starts to feel like home it’s time to go.” Chura has moved around the U.S. 20 times and brings that collective experience and influences from around the country to her diverse sound and character.
While listening to the three already released tracks from her upcoming album, listeners are enthralled by jagged melodies and vocals that seem to drawl out, twist and turn. They take the listener through the hectic yet soothing mind of Stef Chura and make them want more. Embracing the continual use of analogies, such as tarnished gold to resemble fading friendships in “Spotted Gold”, her audience is continuously interpreting the story-lines that her lyricism effortlessly puts forth. Reminiscent of Mitski, Chura’s soothing and hypotonic voice lends the perfect sound that pop music needs while developing a contrast between harshly melodic instrumentals. Mirroring the emotional intensity of Frankie Cosmos, the longing taken from Angel Olson, All Dogs, and typical indie rock, Stef Chura’s sound brings us back to the days of 90s crunch-Nirvana without any electronic elements welcoming in a sound that is refreshing to the modern day listener. Chura is a forced to be reckoned with and 2017 welcomes her with open arms. /- Emily Hope Perlman