Islands in the Stream: 2/29/24

Peeking in on some of the lesser-listened artists in the streamosphere

Islands in the Stream: 2/29/24
Hark, a stream; hark once more, islands

What does an ostensibly daily blogger do when he gets bogged down in work throughout the day and doesn't have much time to listen to new music? On a day like today, friends, he falls back on a post he's been contemplating for a few weeks. My loss of listening time is your gain — I hope! — because I'm choosing today to publish the first installment of Islands in the Stream, a new series highlighting songs I've liked by artists who have a relatively low number of monthly listeners. It's like a public service with a dash of the thrill of discovery. What else could you ask for?

"Someone Else," Smack Champion
Smack Champion is a pretty cool name for a band, albeit one that, as of right now, produces some search results that are unfortunate for anyone hoping to learn more about the group's music instead of, uh, slap fighting championships. Hopefully that'll change soon — these guys are just starting out, after all. "Someone Else," their first single, was released on January 1; their next one, "Cryin' Over You," is due out in a couple of weeks.

Far Out Magazine — who, credit where credit's due, gave Smack Champion big ups when they only had 66 monthly listeners instead of the 3,000-plus they have now — describes "Someone Else" as "nostalgic classic rock meets a pop-folk edge," which is a fair assessment. It's the sort of gauzy, vaguely country-flecked pop that's been associated with the hills of Southern California since the late '60s, although there isn't anything particularly retro about the way this band does it. It's just... tuneful, solidly written stuff, which is a lot harder to do than it might seem.

"Shallow Gander," Chief Keegan featuring Big Sam
The Dublin funk band you never knew you needed, Chief Keegan has amassed a criminally low 1,016 monthly listeners as of this writing, which actually makes me sort of angry. These motherfuckers can play, and their stuff is tons of fun. I need more people to jump on the bandwagon so the group has sufficient motivation to get in the studio long enough to produce a full-length album. A moody jam with a skintight pocket and plenty of organ and brass, "Shallow Gander" invites you to get down and will not take no for an answer. Here's hoping this crew is destined for much, much more of stuff like this.

"Corners of Your Mind," Far West
Relative superstars within the context of the rest of this post, Far West boasts a comparatively whopping 7,605 monthly listeners at the moment. I say "superstars" and "boasts," but I think this might be a one-man project — either way, this is a brand building trust for listeners seeking heavily nostalgic (but not creatively bankrupt) synth-pop with a distinct '80s bent. "Corners of Your Mind" is the latest Far West release, and it's a sort of shyly anthemic number that's been blessed with crashing drums, droning synths, and — oh yes — a generous helping of sax. Sounds like the beach while you're cutting school with cooler kids. I'm all in.

"Handful of Stars," Peter Bruntnell
Peter Bruntnell is a case study in making music for love over gold. He's been releasing records since the mid-'90s — at which point he was already in his 30s — and has never really managed to find mainstream sales success despite racking up some impressive press and touring with/being vouched for by Son Volt and Kathleen Edwards. After all that, he's got around a thousand monthly listeners, but he's still putting out records regularly — a persistence I'd admire in the abstract even if it wasn't coupled with a lot of genuinely enjoyable music. "Handful of Stars" kicks off his 1999 album Normal for Bridgewater, which has been followed by roughly a dozen subsequent LPs. This is an artist who's doing it for the right reasons, and doing it well.

"Ring Damn You Ring," Mickey Jupp
He's far from a household name, but if you're a fan of British pub rock, you've probably heard at least one of Mickey Jupp's songs — Nick Lowe covered his "Switch Board Susan" for 1979's Labour of Lust LP, rescuing the track after it was discarded during the Lowe-produced sessions for Jupp's Juppanese album the previous year. Jupp allegedly deemed the recording "shit from top to bottom," which I suppose might go a fair way toward explaining why he's remained a cult favorite despite writing stuff that's been covered by a wide array of artists and having a discography that's as long as your arm. Recorded for his 1994 You Say Rock LP, "Ring Damn You Ring" is Jupp's biggest Spotify hit, which means he might have earned enough from its streams to buy himself a can of soda. This is one more example of the extreme fucked-upness of streaming royalty rates — nearly 250,000 people devoting 2:47 of their lives to this desperately horny nugget of nouveau jump blues ought to be worth a Cadillac and a house in the hills.

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