What's New In Music: Pharrell, Billy Cobham, Tallest Man on Earth, and more!

What’s Hot: One of the biggest songs of 2014, sitting at the top of the charts as we speak, is Pharrell’s “Happy,” a song which is the lead-off single to his new album G I R L, part of the soundtrack of Despicable Me 2, and a prime example of modern songwriters reaching back to their roots. Apart from all the media hubbub about it, with its spin-off videos and Ellen DeGeneres appearances and whatnot, does the song have any merit?

Well, yes. First off, the whole sound of it is pretty sweet. Pharrell must be delving into his soul music influences as of late, what with the Marvin Gaye sample on “Blurred Lines,” and the Curtis Mayfield-inspired sound of this, with his lilting falsetto gliding over an infectious groove. While songs about being content are usually not that interesting to me, I can’t help but be drawn to this song. It just sounds like a party, which is a testament to the power of a good groove and simple production, as there are no buzzy synths or glitching drum machines like you hear on a lot of the hit songs nowadays.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

One of the albums I’ve been checking out recently has been Swedish musician The Tallest Man on Earth’s latest album, 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now. I’ve talked about The Tallest Man on Earth before in this blog series, and everything he brought to the album I talked about then he brings on this album, with sweet melodies, intricate guitar work, and a mastery of American and English folk styles that makes you think he came from some rural town in Appalachia rather than the land of Abba and some of the heaviest metal in existence. Check out “Criminals” and “1904” from this album.

The next album is Billy Cobham’s 1973 album Spectrum. Cobham is a jazz fusion artist who got his start in the 1970s with Miles Davis, and got around to making a solo album that took two days to record in 1973, and this is the result. Two songs I’d recommend on here are “Stratus” and “Red Baron,” which are both incredibly funky and allow Cobham and guitarist Tommy Bolin to show their stuff. Also, if you ever go down to the Pub Jams on Sunday nights, the house band will usually play something from this album, which is how I first heard these songs.

Finally, something I’ve recently revisited after an encounter with the guitarist from this band at Extravaganja is Dinosaur Jr.’s 1988 album Bug. Amherst natives Dinosaur Jr. have been tearing up the alternative rock scene for the past 30 years with their fusion of classic rock guitar solos, punk energy, and guitarist J Mascis’ folksy, semi-comatose drawl of a voice. Check out the songs “Freak Scene,” their cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” and if you like things to get kinda weird, their song “Don’t.” Give it a listen and check out the band, and if you see J Mascis walking around town (since he lives here) you might recognize the guitar wizard living among us.

Local Music:

1. The Big Chill Festival is going to be happening on April 30th on the North Lawn. Come check out some of the bands that have been making waves at UMass this past year.

2. Against Me! is coming to the Pearl Street Ballroom on May 7th in support of their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. If you like punk rock, definitely check it out to cap off your semester.

3. The UMass Theatre Department is putting on a live radio play of O Brother Where Art Thou on May 2nd and 3rd. For more information, you can see my other article this week.