Be Here Now: An updating playlist of new and innovative music to stream

Be Here Now: An updating playlist of new and innovative music to stream

Read on below for updates to the “Be Here Now” playlist, curated by music executive and ALL ARTS Editorial Advisory Board member Cliff Chenfeld.

“Be Here Now” Part V

Sept. 15, 2021 – Welcome to the latest edition of “Be Here Now,” the column and playlist for folks who would like to discover outstanding contemporary artists but could use a little help navigating all of the new music out there.

Here is a link to the “Be Here Now” Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more:

After a summer of heavy immersion, the following songs get better with each play. These are tracks worthy of repeat listening.

Rüfüs Du Soul, “Alive”

This Australian trio has been making hypnotic, hooky electronic music for a few years now, and their following has grown to the point that they are now headlining festivals. Unlike a number of artists in the genre, they also write great songs, and the shimmering “Alive” is irresistible.

Yola, “Starlight”

Yola burst on the scene in 2019, getting a nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys and mining a rootsy groove with the assistance of producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys). A knockout singer, her new song “Starlight” taps into old school Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt but keeps it oh so fresh.

Parcels, “Comingback”

Parcels makes jubilant, sleek pop music, and their rousing new single is an optimistic paean to finding joy and perseverance in these challenging times.

Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”

Minimalist, irresistible, might be a novelty song, might be a sign of something much bigger. A series of provocative phrases — “Would you like us to send someone to butter your muffin?” — surround a one-line chorus and irrepressible guitar riff.

Big Red Machine, “Phoenix”

Big Red Machine is a sort of indie supergroup led by Aaron Dessner (The National) and Justin Vernon(Bon Iver) with help from a variety of esteemed indie icons. “Phoenix” is retro-comfy with a back to the country vibe, sweet harmonies and a lightly lilting piano leading the way.

Brandi Carlile, “Right On Time”

The first single from her upcoming album is a heartbreaking, towering ballad that allows her the opportunity to flex one of the most remarkable voices in contemporary music.

Foo Fighters, “Making A Fire (Mark Ronson Re-Version)”

The Foo Fighters are one of the great bands of the 21st century, but one doesn’t think of them as funky or loose. Super-producer Mark Ronson transforms “Making A Fire,” a perfectly fine track from their new album, into a soulful celebration complete with turn-of-the-’70s Stones-style backup singers and jamming guitars.

Grandson, “Dirty”

Grandson is Jordan Benjamin, a charismatic Canadian who combines topical songwriting with earworm breaks. He writes from a pessimistic perspective, but the music is often celebratory, and he is a force in concert.

The Knocks featuring Foster the People, “All About You”

Electronic music producers the Knocks (named for all the knocks they received on their door for playing their music too loud) have teamed with a number of acts to produce great pop songs over the last few years. Their new collaboration meshes Foster the People’s melodic chops with a bouncy track featuring a drop-dead break and church-style background vocals.

“Be Here Now” Part IV

Aug. 5, 2021 – We are more than halfway through 2021, and it’s been a great year for new music. Today, I’ll highlight a few of the best tracks of 2021.

Some are by artists who I’m very familiar with, while others are recordings that I enjoy with little context or knowledge — sort of the way we often listen to music these days. All can be found on the “Be Here Now” playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more.

Tempesst, “High On My Own”

A paean to the joys of exploration, enhanced by an exhilarating, half-time chorus that opens up like a time-lapse video of a flower blooming.

The War On Drugs, “Pain” (live)

We’ve been waiting four years for a new album from the War on Drugs, one of the truly compelling bands of the 21st century. The good news is that new music is on the way this fall. In the meantime, enjoy this track from their excellent live set released earlier this year.

Lord Huron, “Mine Forever”

The indie-folk staple’s new album “Long Lost” is one of the best of the year. This mysterious, spaghetti-western-laced track would have fit perfectly in the movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Celeste, “Stop This Flame”

She’s a new Brit star who makes soulful, sometimes diva-style dance music with hints of Amy Winehouse.

St. Vincent, “Down and Out Downtown”

St. Vincent is the contemporary David Byrne (unless David Byrne is still the contemporary David Byrne). Her 2017 album “Masseduction” was one of the best of the decade. Her new album, “Daddy’s Home,” is a gauzy trip influenced by 1970s soul and funk, and this bleary morning-after track is a highlight.

Aaron Frazer, “Bad News”

This is fresh retro soul, with plenty of all-falsetto ear candy.

Iceage, “Shelter Song”

This Danish rock band plays every song like it will be their last. They have a powerful new album out, “Seek Shelter,” and this lead track adds a spiritual, gospel sheen to their punk ethos.

Japanese Breakfast, “Paprika”

Michelle Zauner, who leads Japanese Breakfast, is one of the most intriguing musicians to break through in recent years. She recently authored a memoir that made The New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list, and she bridges the gap between indie rock and pop music as well as anyone. This infectious track from her new record, “Jubilee,” is pure pop pleasure layered with horns and synths.

Curtis Harding, “Hopeful”

It’s a timely, optimistic protest anthem with horns, strings, huge background church vocals and Isley Brothers-style guitar from this underrated contemporary soul singer.

Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days”

While much of commercial country radio can feel saccharine and sound like it was manufactured on an assembly line, there remains a vibrant alt-country world led by the likes of Jason Isbell and others. Morgan Wade’s new song has the authentic, honest vibe that fits with the best of the genre.

“Be Here Now” Part III

April 13, 2021 – Welcome to the new edition of “Be Here Now,” a column and playlist where we compile inspired new music for busy folks who would like to discover outstanding contemporary artists.

Here is a link to the “Be Here Now” Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more.

Critics have been bemoaning the vitality of rock music for nearly 45 years. And though it’s hard to deny that rock music is not as central to the cultural conversation as it once was, there are still plenty of inspired artists who work in the format. For this iteration of “Be Here Now,” we’re focusing on artists who are making compelling new music in the somewhat familiar rock mode.

The Strokes, Weezer and the Killers have all had huge success for many years, and their legacy and fanbase would be secure if they never produced another new song. However, each band has released an inspired, hooky, highly listenable album in the last year and all have avoided simply repeating their past efforts. The Strokes’ jittery “The Adults Are Talking” snaps and crackles, and Julian Casablancas’ inspired falsetto carries the song to a heavenly finish.

The Killers have always been influenced by 1980s dance music and Springsteen anthems, and on “Caution” they perfectly meld those sounds behind one of the biggest choruses of the year. Weezer’s new album “OK Human” has plenty of references to life during the pandemic and features the kind of melodic, quirky songs Weezer is known for, often with an orchestral-pop production.

Recent years have seen the proliferation of a number of psych-rock bands that make music perfect to zone out to in the comfort of your home or with friends at a music festival. Amsterdam-based Altin Gün reimagines traditional Turkish songs as trippy, mind-bending tunes. The English band Temples creates a glorious haze that allows endless sonic possibilities in their song “You’re Either On Something.”

Royal Blood is one of the few bands that manage to get played on both mainstream and alternative rock stations, making heavy music that maintains a contemporary sensibility and sound. British singer-songwriter Declan McKenna channels Bowie, the Beatles and U2 in his ambitious conceptual and often topical songs, and Haim draws from Fleetwood Mac, Sheryl Crow and other venerable groundbreakers.

Canadian-American singer Grandson’s message of social change is masked by irrepressibly catchy melodies and electronic elements. The Neverly Boys manage to evoke Father John Misty and Warren Zevon in the same song.

There are plenty of other great rock artists on this playlist. Are they going to lead to a new rock renaissance? I have no idea, but they put forward a welcome vision of rock in the 21st century, and for that I am grateful.

“Be Here Now” Part II

Feb. 1, 2021 – Welcome to the second edition of “Be Here Now,” a new column and playlist where we compile inspired new music for busy folks who want to discover outstanding contemporary artists. Find the first entry into the series here.

Here is a link to the “Be Here Now” Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more.

Women are still underrepresented in vast swaths of society, but when it comes to producing smart, lingering, introspective new music, they are leading the way.

Today, there are many great female artists recording quality work, stretching and pushing their songs to embrace modern times while remaining somewhat rooted in templates created by past icons.

No one has received more critical love in the last year than Fiona Apple, whose latest album “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” is raw, intense and musically ambitious. The songs build on each other; the listener is drawn further into Apple’s personal challenges and experimental palette, and the cumulative impact is staggering.

A number of artists in their 20s have broken through in the last few years, including Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy, who, on her single “Your Dog,” subversively sings “I don’t want to be your f*cking dog” over a very hummable melody. Holly Humberstone’s “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” starts with her alone on the piano deconstructing a relationship and then morphs into a soothing, electronic dance track that only intensifies the frustration she expresses in her lyrics.

Girl in Red records in her bedroom and produces sultry songs about her girlfriends; Caroline Rose’s bouncy “Feel The Way I Want” celebrates her freedom; and Arlo Parks taps into a soulful Portishead vibe on “Eugene.” Yola is a powerhouse British singer who channels soul and country, and creates songs with huge hooks that run counter to the minimalist bent of so much contemporary music.

There are many other artists on the playlist worth checking out. Angel Olsen’s hypnotic songs, often orchestrated with strings, are represented here by “All Mirrors.” Sharon Van Etten has been making dramatic, personal music for almost a decade, and on the amazing “Seventeen,” she addresses her teenage self from the vantage point of her 30s. Canadian Kathleen Edwards’ influences are rooted in singer-songwriters like Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin and alt-country groups like the Jayhawks. Her song “Hard on Everyone,” with its pristine production, perfect hook and heartfelt lyrics, is five minutes of impeccable craft.

The featured artists are all artists. In this track-driven era, fans often only listen to one song per artist and many great songs are lost. The performers here have plenty of other outstanding tracks, and I encourage you to dig in to the catalogs of the artists you like the most. The breadth and quality of their work are well worth your time.

“Be Here Now” Part I

Dec. 29, 2020 – More music is released today than ever before, and it has never been easier to access. Yet finding new music can be a daunting challenge, especially for those who may not be as plugged in as they’d prefer. To help sort through the tonnage and identify compelling new music, we’re launching “Be Here Now,” a playlist that will feature artists who are making innovative music. While some of these artists are inspired by music of previous eras, all have created original work that reflects the time in which they live. “Be Here Now” will be updated regularly with new tracks.

The Black Pumas and Remi Wolf make funky music that combats the funk of 2020. The Strokes’ new album is their best in years, and Fontaines D.C. and Rolling Coastal Blackout Fever demonstrate the vitality of new rock bands. There is a lot of bouncy endorphin-spreading dance music out there and new songs from Sault and Roosevelt are irresistible even under the strictest social distancing rules. Kathleen Edwards, Sharon Van Etten and Laura Marling write and record unvarnished, haunting, contemporary songs that linger. Tame Impala combines psych rock, dance music dynamics and ’80s gloss, while Mildlife concocts a futuristic fusion built from prog, electronic and hints of jazz.

The playlist features one song per artist, but they are all worth exploring further as they have released rewarding albums that include many other great songs. There aren’t many one-hit wonders here. Hopefully in 2021, we’ll see some of these artists do their thing in concert.

Follow Cliff on social media on Instagram and on Twitter.