It’s been a few weeks since my last “Single Play” — but better late than never. This week sees the return of PJ Harvey, Esperanza Spalding, and Grant-Lee Phillips with new music, as well as a newish artist, NEONOMORA.
PJ Harvey, “The Community of Hope”
Washington Post reporter Paul Schwartzman took PJ Harvey and Seamus Murphy on a tour of Washington D.C. neighborhoods that, well, weren’t on the usual sightseeing maps. Schwartzman had no idea who PJ Harvey was (or “Polly” as Murphy called her throughout the car ride). During the tour, Harvey took notes of what Schwartzman was saying about the neighborhoods and, for the most part, kept quiet in the back of the car. Only after the tour ended did Schwartzman figure out who she was by searching for Seamus Murphy on his phone. That’s the backstory to this song where the lyrics are derived from what Schartzman was telling Harvey and Murphy about the neighborhoods they were driving through. So does he get a co-writing credit for line, “They’re gonna put a Walmart here?”
Grant-Lee Phillips, “Loaded Gun”
Just like Chris Isaak, Grant-Lee Phillips was born in Stockton, California. However, unlike Isaak, he didn’t stick around the joint to see if he’d make it to assistant manager at Denny’s. Instead, he made tracks to L.A. to eventually start a music career. I mention Stockton because my wife is from there, and she used to tell me that Stockton is a place where people are always trying to get out of. This galloping tune from Phillips’ latest album has the feel of someone just wanting to get out of town — which makes me wonder if he’s singing about Stockton.
NEONOMORA, “Too Young”
When you’re born in Indonesia and have the birth name Ratih Suryahutamy, but grow up in China and Australia, it’s almost required that you change your name to NEONOMORA (all caps). Because if you’re call yourself by a name that sounds like a character in The Matrix, it’s gotta be big. And NEONOMORA is just that on “Too Young.” Her powerful voice is front and center on this rather catchy pop song that’s more an anthem than a made-for-radio single.
Esperanza Spalding, “One”
Grammy award winning singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding has some news tunes for your ears. Her oddball jazz/pop/rock/soft rock composition “One” is all over the musical map. Sometimes sounding like Joni Mitchell, sometimes like Kate Bush, and sometimes…well, like herself. Spalding favors elevating minor chords in her songs to throw the listener off from what could be a fairly straightforward tune with a conventional verse chorus structure. Instead, she mixes in jazz with her own quirky personality to create a unique song that’s pleasant on the surface, but unsettling just underneath it.