One hundred years ago today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. The conflict drew in country after country and grew to an unprecedented scale. An estimated 9 million combatants lost their lives and more than 21 million were wounded in what came to be known as The Great War and, eventually, World War I.
There are a couple moments in "Where Mountains Pierce the Sky" — after nine minutes of acoustic guitar, fiddle and Native American flute, what could conceivably be called a black metal riff with a pop-punk bounce and flurry of twin lead guitars — that clue you into Roads to the North's M.O. (As if the first nine minutes weren't enough.) First, the key-change climax, which may not seem like much, but this tectonic shift is the sound of a mountain piercing the damn sky. Then there's the chugga-chugga breakdown, the enemy of all that is grim.
To music obsessives of a certain age, the current generation of listeners sometimes appears as lightweight grazers at the Internet smorgasbord who seem unwilling (possibly unable) to focus attention at depth on a single piece of music. The summary dismissal: The kids today, they can't handle all of what somebody like a Frank Zappa (or a band like King Crimson) throws at them.
Christopher Denny's voice wasn't the easiest to place when he debuted with Age Old Hunger in 2007. His sensitive vibrato was likened to Roy Orbison's, but there's really quite a chasm between the Big O's ethereal elegance and Denny's more earthbound timbre and flickers of humor.
Upon the dissolution of his old, great New Jersey punk band, the DC Snipers, Dan McGee's two former band members went the way of Horatio Alger, with Eric Holmgren running the Daggerman label in the boom-bust heyday of late '00s garage punk, and Mike Sniper helming the wildly popular Captured Tracks imprint. McGee stayed the course with music, moving down to North Carolina and toughing it out with his follow-up group, Spider Bags. Following multiple lineup and label switcheroos, McGee has stripped the group down to a trio and made another fine rock 'n' roll record in Frozen Letter.
Fin Greenall is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. His band, Fink, has been releasing albums since 2006 and dropped its latest, Hard Believer, this month. He's also a songwriter for hire, who has lent his talents to tracks by John Legend and Amy Winehouse. But before any of this, he was a success in a very different world: dance music.
Jenny Lewis' voice has helped provide a soundtrack to the last 15 years, but it's not part of one specific sound: She's sung heartsick ballads and spiky rock (in Rilo Kiley), summery surf-pop (in Jenny and Johnny), winsome electro-pop (in
La Edad de la Violencia — "the age of violence" — is a pretty dire name for an album of upbeat synth-pop. Tijuana-born singer Ceci Bastida says that's the point: She was pregnant when she began writing her latest set of songs, and found her joy tempered with concern about raising a child in a violent world. Bastida spoke about the origins of the album with NPR's Arun Rath; hear their conversation at the audio link.