Top 20 Songs of March 2015

This month's top tunes playlist kicks off with MNEK, a British musician who skillfully blends 90s R&B vocals with poppy electronic hooks and UK garage embellishments. While this talented 20 year-old has been producing top singles for other artists since 2011, this track is off his first solo album, an EP called Small Talk. It's a fine intro for a few more electro leaning songs, including two Swedish dance acts, Kate Boy and PANG!. Followed by the diamond of this set: 'heartsigh' off another eternity, the second full-length from Purity Ring. After a breakout debut in 2012, Purity Ring have neatly sidestepped the proverbial sophomore slump and hit it out of the park with this collection of songs. another eternity is full of high points, and has just enough experimentation to hint at an unfolding artful maturity, budding with the possibility of even greater things to come.

Brits Mt. Wolf and Will Joseph Cook lend a hand in transitioning this playlist towards more organic sounds. Each artist takes a very different route towards minding the gap (horrible pun - couldn't resist). Mt. Wolf explores the quite expanses where forever-echoing synths effortlessly frost over scratchy acoustic guitars, while Will Joseph Cook morphs a classic singer/song-writer opening with increasingly upbeat refrains that spin around in repeating cycles that beg listeners to clap and sway, reminiscent of the structure of more electro-based songs.

Whoa boy, oh boy, listeners! Tap into your inner lonely cowboy,'cause the middle of this playlist is chock-full-o' folksy ballads as slow moving as the muddy Mississippi. Jake McMullen fills wide prairies with sorrowful slide guitars and classic female harmonies before The Milk Carton Kids give a nod to an older California than the one they live in by keenly picking their guitars through a lullaby dedicated to 'Monterey'. Next up is Cam, who I describe with utterly sincere respect as a contemporary mix of Dolly Parton and Jewel with a good dollop of authentic sincerity. She must be hell-bent on making her own unique mark, since she named her EP Welcome to Cam Country. Holly Miranda adds a dash of brash with distorted vocals and a couple of fucks given, which nicely segues into the indie rock portion of the playlist.

Best Coast come roaring back with their new single 'Heaven Sent' of their forthcoming third album California Nights, which is set to release May 4th. There's something very retro at the heart of this band that's so obscured by contemporary hipster-ism, the thick blare of Silverlake, I can't quite put my finger on it. I spent a good bit of time listening to songs from previous decades trying to identify it, and only ended up coming up with vague references... Best Coast sounds like the movie 10 Things I Hate About You when Kat is intro'ed with 'Bad Reputation' by Joan Jett... or if SoCal pop-punk bands of the early oughts had female singers and went to Coachella. Whatever this je ne sais quoi, I can't stop listening, so it must be working.

Drenge plows into the playlist with youthful anarchy drenched in grunge and apathy. The two-piece band (I'm such a sucker for two-pieces) is made of of brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, who set a relentless driving tone to 'We Can Do What We Want' that can probably only truly be appreciated live in the heat of shoving bodies and screaming throats with fists raised high above a throbbing crowd. Unfortunately all their tour dates are in Europe as of right now. Next up is 'Ondine', a new song from Lower Dens with some delightful nu-wave influences, off an album of the same name. Followed by new music from those venerable indie kings, Modest Mouse. As a stalwart fan of their first full-length released almost 20 years ago (jeeeeeezzz I'm getting old), I'm happy to report that Modest Mouse appear to have come full circle and returned to sounds that harken back to their humble beginnings with Strangers to Ourselves.

With thick bass lines Warpaint and Toro Y Moi begin to jazz things back up each with their own uniquely arty signature sounds. While I've appreciated Chaz Bundick's many musical outfits, I must say it's nice to hear him back as Toro Y Moi. No one blends hallmark funk sounds so originally with the bleeding edge of whatever chillwave is doing this week, and 'Buffalo' is no exception.

I'm proud to say this month's playlist finishes strong with some soulful tunes from old heads and new kids on the block. Is soul coming back? YES, PLEASE! Oddisee has a new single called 'That's Love' that digs deep into my marrow with bold horn sections, classic organ sounds, and rapid rhymes. New on the scene is Lion Babe, the duo of multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goodman and singer-songwriter Jillian Hervey. Hervey sounds like Erykah Badu and dresses like Chaka Khan, add to that the gold sheen of Pharrell producing this single, and it's clear that Lion Babe is sure to blow up soon.

Still it will be decades before these newbies can compete with venerable dame, Mavis Staples, who shows no sign of slowing down in the 7th decade of her iconic career, and just released a new single 'Your Good Fortune'. This song is burgeoning with the kind of blues that only wisdom and experience brings. It tears at your soul while dripping in the pure human emotions that elicit knee-jerk empathy. To end on a high note, I close this month's top 20 songs playlist with some rollicking licks from Anderson East in 'Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em'. Recommended if you sometimes wish Mayor Hawthorne would step away from the Jackson-Five-puppy-love shallows and go for a deep dive a la The Temptation with 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' #realtalk.