Words by Art Jipson
Every month Off Shelf contributor and Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative host Art Jipson brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find nine highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist. Please follow our Spotify account so you don’t miss any future playlists!
‘Technicolor’ marks the return of Nashville rock band Benchmarks. Todd Farrell Jr. and the guys in Benchmarks make some of the most thoughtful rock music available today. Their previous full length ‘Our Undivided Attention’ was one of our favorite records of 2017. This incredible high-energy preview of the forthcoming record demonstrates how to make a compelling song that captures your attention and does not release the listener until the tune ends. Full of dynamic guitars and layering that feels natural and perfect, this song rises and falls to bring the music fan into the narrative thread of color and action. Their new record is coming this summer and we can barely wait.
It has been five years since ‘California Nights’ and a lot has transformed for Best Coast and especially frontwoman Bethany Cosentino. After a public battle with personal challenges, she focused on her emotional and physical health and it shows on a record that veers from straightforward rockers to confessional ballads. Overcoming a writer’s block and the challenges that fueled problematic choices, Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno return after the five-year hiatus to the indie power pop craft that they have been slowly marching toward with ‘California Nights.’ The fuzzy defocused music of ‘Fade Away’, ‘The Only Place’ and ‘Crazy for You’ have given way to more clarity and smoother production. Also, recommend giving a listen to the confessional single, ‘For The First Time’ from the record.
What started as a playful group focused on learning how to play guitar and write songs that were both catchy and playful, Puss N Boots – Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper – became a cohesive group blending voices, arrangements and approaches where they could grow as musicians and songwriters. Taking a chance and working in areas that were both within their comfort zones and beyond, Puss N Boots stretched themselves. The songs on this record incorporate Americana, Jazz, Blues, Folk and Indie together in ways that feel perfectly compatible rather than rushed or forced. The best example of this is the title track that is languid and alluring at the same time.
Heart Bones – Open Relations from Hot Dish (Love OnLine)
Imagine a Minneapolis, MN and Austin, TX collaboration and you have Heart Bones. Sean Tillman (Har Mar Superstar) and Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog/Sweet Spirit) became friends while touring together in 2016. They released a few singles in 2018 and a full-length album this month. The standout track on the record is the catchy ‘Open Relations’ which is about exactly what you think it is about. Heart Bones takes the strength of each and combines them in almost brash and hubristic fashion. That observation is not a critique of the narrative boastfulness that is contained in the song, rather perhaps the observers are plastering over their insecurities in a strangely quirky self-aggrandizing manner so that the sauntering of the music is meant to compensate for the worries that all of us in relationships experience.
Elephant Stone – Hollow World from Hollow (Elephants on Parade)
For over a decade, Elephant Stone has made some of the most captivating Beatlesque psychedelic pop this side of Revolver. The entire album and this song in particular sends out a clarion call for connection beyond the emptiness, the hollowness in which we are all drowning. If we live in a hollow world, how can we forge real bonds where we recognize how we are all connected in the life world of the planet? This concern is at the heart of this compelling psychedelic song. The use of Rishi Dihr’s sitar – for which he has been widely recognized as one of the finest – only further brings out the ‘60s swell in the chorus in this song. Also, recommend listening to ‘Keep the Light Alive’ and ‘Harmonia’ from the full album.
In his first record in four years, Kyle Forester channels an inner-California like thoughtful indie that feels familiar without sounding rehashed and retrofitted. An album – and a fine example with ‘Know What You Are Doing’ – Forester delivers reflection, thoughtfulness and introspection without being preachy or pushy: “Were you looking for a thing to say, And you couldn’t wait another day, To know what you’re doing, You’ve gotta know what you’re doing.” The musical arrangements feel part-70s vibe, part-indie, and part power-pop. A song with heart and yearning for meaning that delivers a very satisfying 3-minute consideration without being ponderous or pompous takes far more song craft than most are capable of creating.
An infectious five-song EP of completed songs recorded during the sessions of 2019’s ‘Young Enough’. Eva and Sam Hendricks led Charly Bliss have the indie power pop done to a science on this roughly 15 minute EP. The first track from the EP, ‘Feed’ demonstrates the infectious and youthful earnest quality of Charly Bliss. While not trying to hide from the darkness that surrounds the world, the eager happy chorus demonstrates that it is possible to keep one’s chin up in a world full of reasons to be bitter, jaded and well… unhappy. When Eva sings, “I would feed the whole world, I would feed the world, if I could,” you believe her.
North Carolina’s Personality Cult captures punky pop at its finest. Led by veteran musician Ben Carr (Last Year’s Men, Paint Fumes and Natural Causes), Personality Cult has morphed from a Carr-solo project (where he played almost everything) to a full band with this record. This is a high-energy minimalist punk pop record that does not get in the way of the hooks.
Bryan Ferry – A Really Good Time from Live at The Royal Albert Hall, 1974 (Dene Jesmond Enterprises LTD / BMG Rights Management)
Bryan Ferry had released a few solo albums when he appeared on state at London’s Royal Albert Hall in the winter of 1974. In his solo work, Ferry had found him moving away from the boastful, artistic glitter-rock of Roxy Music into a series of albums and songs that revealed his inner musical archivist. Revisiting songs from the 1930s to the 1960s, Ferry kept his strutting front-man persona while appreciating the complexity of popular music throughout time. This song – and for that matter the entire live album – showed to both the casual and discerning listener that he could not only recreate these songs in the studio but could energetically release them live on the stage as well.
One that got away from us… yeah we know it was not released in February but this song has to be heard!
Although the single came out a few months ago, ‘We Bend’ is a fantastic illustration of what a songwriter can do with simple, direct yet clever inescapable melody whether they result from guitar lines or vocals or other instrumentation. The hypnotic ‘We Bend’ is everything a great single should be: catchy as hell, mesmerizing and creates an unavoidable call for the listener to sing along at the top of their lungs. Perfect.