Above image: The Districts, who are set to release their third album later this year. | Photo: Pitch Perfect PR
It’s time for our periodic survey of new music that you might have missed. Today, we start with a quartet of spiritually connected Brits. In England in the 1960s, the rise of Mod culture produced the distinctive fashions of Swinging London and gave rise to a pop music tradition that began with The Kinks, and lived on in subsequent generations through bands like The Jam and Blur. Giant stars at home, the idiosyncratic English-ness of these acts contributed to making them cult artists in the States, where they were surpassed by contemporaries like The Rolling Stones, The Police and Oasis. Still, they rank with the best bands of their (or any) time, and the four most famous members of those bands have new music to share.
Ray Davies, “Poetry”
As leader of The Kinks, Ray Davies wrote some of the finest and most enduring songs of the rock era: “You Really Got Me,” “Waterloo Sunset” and “Lola,” to name but a few. His work has ranged from the three-minute blasts of adrenaline in the band’s early years, to a string of highly conceptual albums beginning with 1968’s “The Village Green Preservation Society,” to a more eclectic approach that yielded hits into the 1980s. As a solo artist, Ray has become a highly narrative storyteller (in fact, the VH1 series “Storytellers” is based on shows he played in the 1990s), and his new album “Americana” is a companion to a memoir of the same name that he published in 2013. An exploration of his experience in the vastness of the United States, it includes this track — recorded with The Jayhawks — that grapples with material excess.
Dave Davies & Russ Davies, “Don’t Wanna Grow Up”
Dave Davies is famous for explosive guitar sound at the heart of The Kinks’ early hits and for his combustible relationship with older sibling Ray. Rock and roll’s original battling brothers, the tension between Dave and Ray often fueled — and occasionally derailed — the band. Though often overshadowed by his brother, Dave has been a much more prolific solo artist, releasing more than a dozen albums under his own name. His most recent, “Open Road,” is a collaboration with his son Russ, who makes ambient electronic music on his own. This album is a pure pop-rock affair, and this gorgeous and delicate track recalls bands like The Go-Betweens and Trashcan Sinatras.
Paul Weller, “Nova”
Paul Weller is royalty in the United Kingdom, where he led The Jam (and later The Style Council) through a string of giant hits in the late 1970s and 1980s. Adept at spiky rockers, tender ballads or sunny pop, Weller has gone wherever the muse has led him through a long series of accomplished solo albums that have struggled to gain traction in the U.S. His forthcoming offering, “A Kind Revolution” (due May 12), promises more of the same, as evidenced by this insinuating mid-tempo track.
During its original 12-year run, Blur was a massive band in the U.K., releasing a series of excellent, chart-topping albums, and enjoying a competition with Oasis akin to previous rivalries between the Beatles and Stones, and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. As that band lost steam, frontman Damon Albarn formed a new group, one that mixed hip hop and electronic sounds in with his Britpop background, and which created a striking visual image that imagined the members as a series of cartoon figures. Gorillaz return on April 28 with “Humanz,” their first album in seven years. This slice of electro-funk is among the first batch of songs to be released.
It’s not just the Mod gods who have good new music on the horizon. Here are some others.
Nadia Reid, “The Arrow and the Aim”
New Zealander Nadia Reid is a singer-songwriter who layers ethereal melodies over spare arrangements, resulting in winning brand of folk-inflected guitar pop. Her second album, “Preservation,” out since March, contains echoes of Joni Mitchell, Jenny Lewis and Aimee Mann, among others.
Beth Ditto, “Fire”
Born and raised in Arkansas, Beth Ditto is a star in Europe, where her band Gossip’s highly danceable style of indie/punk rock reached a large audience, and where the charismatic, outspoken Ditto became well-known for her views on gender, sexuality and body image issues. Gossip split in 2016, and Ditto’s first solo album, “Fake Sugar,” is due out June 23. This strutting, swaggering first single picks up where Gossip left off.
The Districts, “Ordinary Day”
The Districts, a rocking quartet from Pennsylvania, are set to release their third album later this year. While we wait, they’ve released this stomping mid-tempo single that calls to mind the Pixies (and just a hint of Coldplay’s “Yellow”).
The Moonlandingz, “The Strangle of Anna”
The Moonlandingz are a joint venture between members of the English bands Fat White Family and Eccentronic Research Council, and their hallucinogenic, fuzzy brand of psych-rock sounds like a 1960s garage band blasted into outer space. Produced by Sean Lennon at his upstate New York studio (and featuring his mother Yoko Ono on one track), the band’s debut album “Interplanetary Class Classics” is a trippy, head-spinning delight. This gauzy, swelling track represents just one of the styles that the band does disarmingly well.
Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos”
Chris Stapleton became a country superstar on the strength of his 2015 debut album “Traveller,” and he did it without making any concessions to mainstream country. An artist possessing more in common with the outlaw country stars of the 1970s than the Nashville chart-toppers of today, Stapleton brought a bluesy, soulful authenticity to his songs that won over audiences that had previously fallen for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. Stapleton’s sophomore effort “From a Room, Vol. 1” is set for release on May 5, and this first single suggests that his formidable following is likely to continue growing.