left off the tracks.

2014 in Quarter Time (a playlist) + Obsession(s) of the Week – Heart-On-Sleeve Rock

One more post before I go… to Austin.

This week’s listening has waxed nostalgic (see below), but, before showing my age, here is a playlist of tracks from the first quarter of 2014  (ok, not quite there yet but i make the rules here)  that have totally captured my heart, mind, and ears. There are multiple tracks from certain artists because, well, they’ve released amazing tracks and records. Pass the playlist along and/or dig through the full albums (there are some true gems).

2014 in Quarter Time – A Winter ’14 Mix

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The past week has been a heavy dose of digging back through old projects by new favorites like P.S. Eliot’s Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds (prior project of Katie Crutchfield (of Waxahatchee) and Allison Crutchfield (of Swearin‘) note, both currently touring!) and Tancred’s s/t record (side project of Jess Abbott of Now, Now) and falling in love all over again with emo-tinged releases like The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There.  

tancred

All three records harken back to the mid to late 90s, which brings this boy extreme amounts of joy, and feature a mix of biting, pensive, sincere, and passionate lyrics — which is refreshing in a landscape of often banal and trite sentiments. All of the records have elements of lo-fi, stripped down production and a punk and indie-pop sensibility. P.S. Eliot, aside from having one of the best band names ever (says the bibliophile and English Lit major, full disclosure), plays an aggressively infectious style of pop punk that is sinfully sweet and painfully bitter. Tancred’s self titled album has the feel of unabashed confessional that recalls those feelings of longing and isolation we all feel and felt throughout growing up.

the hotelier

And, The Hotelier, well, this is just pure pensive adrenaline rock — fist pumping, conscience stirring, and gut wrenching (think Piebald meets Taking Back Sunday).  What more do you want?

a.a.

p.s. if you can’t access Spotify from the links above, each band has a bandcamp page too, simply use your favorite search engine or that newfangled google.

Weekly Obsessions: on the edge of (spring’s?) awakening

The rising temperatures (multiple days in the 20s and 30s!!!*) and the realization that next week I will be in Austin running around listening to many bands (in shorts no less) brought a decided cheer to my weekly listening. Or, at least, maybe the decidedly melancholic inclination of my recent listening has started to wane… Not really, though, the real difference is in the ostensible emotional quality of the sound — a lot more high tones and power chords.  But, a clever songwriter ensconces deep, dark truthful tidbits in the most upbeat sounding compositions; The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian were always deft at this art. The challenge for the listener is as always to listen carefully….

* a relative heatwave when compared with the 0s and negative temperatures

lovesitLoves It! – All We Are – A duo from Austin, Texas, that create gorgeous classic country songs tinged with elements of bluegrass and folk.  The dueling and intertwining vocals wooed me instantly.  They are melodic, yet soulfully idiosyncratic at the same time; emotions and meaning seeping out with each note.  Their music will strike the ear as familiar at times serenading you to a peaceful reverie and at times leading to foot stomping enthusiasm.  Whatever your inclination these two musicians will likely as their name suggest win your heart and please share the it.

Get their music here: http://lovesit.bandcamp.com/

asafAsaf Avidan – Different Pulses – From Austin to Jerusalem, a logical transition… A discovery courtesy of the finely curated taste of NPR’s Bob and Robin, Asaf Avidan makes bone-chilling electronic soul music. His music reminds me of the pre-Play work Moby did in the 90s, epic soundscapes with old school R&B or soul saturated vocalists spliced into the mix, which was really a trend borrowed from the early days of dance, house, and trip-hop music. The vocals lie somewhere between a falsetto-like Nina Simone and Macy Gray or the earthen grit of Skylar Grey.  It will totally arrest you.

More info: http://www.asafavidanmusic.com/

the brinkThe Jezabels – The Brink – From the moment I saw Hayley Mary belt “Disco Biscuit Love” at Schuba’s a couple of years back, I fell unabashedly in love with these Aussies. They make baroque, lush pop-rock music for the kids (like me) that believe music should literally move you. And to see them perform live is to remember why pop and rock music captured the hearts of many – it is an immediate and emotional connection with people (many strangers) in a shared space. There is the truth (for many of us) that the rock shows and the dance floor is the one place where the world seems to make sense and inspire hope and belief. The Jezabels music though not superficial in content (see “Disco Biscuit Love” and “Electric Lover”) inspires the euphoric and cathartic bliss of a great pop music. The Brink, their latest offering, is a continuation of their thoughtful brand of energetic pop and the perfect antidote to the darker days and feelings. Note: Chicago folks they will be playing Chicago in April. Their live shows are not to be missed, if only for the sole purpose of watching me dance with complete abandon.  

More on the Jezabels at: http://thejezabels.com/. Also if you haven’t go back to their early EPs start here: The Jezabels – The Man Is Dead

Tycho-Awake-200x200Tycho – Awake Oh man, oh man, have I been waiting with baited breath for this record. If you could bottle chill and groovy into one container, Scott Hansen has discovered the formula. Dive his last record plays with continuing frequency on my stereo, quickly become an addition to the rotation of classic electronic downtempo albums such as Four Tet’s Pause and Rounds, Aphex Twin’s  Richard D. James Album and I Care Because You Do, or Boards of Canada’s Music Has a Right to Children. The latest offering from Tycho is more sprawling and layered upbeat electronic beats perfect as backdrop, soundscape or texture for relaxing… however you may choose to do this. Enjoy.

More on Tycho: http://tychomusic.com/awake/#new-album

…and if the week is really getting you down and you need a pick me up, here an upbeat (perhaps dance?) mix that I use to get me going: Upbeat IndieDancePop Mix.

happy weekend,

a.a.

electroGroove… Holly Herndon’s “Chorus”

…today I find myself repeatedly looping and returning to this intertwining lush series of electronic loops and juxtapositions by Holly Herndon.  It has that dual yet rare quality of inspiring a blissed-out attentive hypnosis (oxymoron?) and pulsating danceable rhythms.  both engrossing and calm inducing, i can’t help but returning to and disappearing into its all-encompassing groove. for those that love the intersection between minimalist music, experimental electronica, and dance beats, this is for you… think Glass & Reich meets Grimes. perhaps you’ll fade into it too…

for more info about and music by Holly go to: http://www.hollyherndon.com/projects/chorus.html

a.a.

Weekly Obsessions: Something Old. Something New. Something Borrowed. Something Blue.

…because I have realized that my writing or chronicling cannot keep pace with all the things that I routinely find myself obsessing about I figured I would try my hand at doing a weekly roundup of things that are musically tickling my fancy. Perhaps this will help me clear out the personal backlog of discoveries and oddities I wish to share.

jepettosSomething New → The Jeppettos Troubles  – How I wandered into the rabbit hole that led me to the discovery of this gorgeous collection of songs by these Irish collective is unclear but what a serendipitous discovery! It was love at first vocal.

beckSomething Blue → “Blue Moon” from Morning Phase by Beck. Like many of my peers who were born in the 70s and raised in the 80s, I was a child of the MTV generation and was first introduced to Beck via the tongue-in-check slacker anthem “Loser” that debuted as “Buzz Cut” almost twenty years ago. Though still not well-versed in literary or musical history, I recognzied and relished in the Dadaesque nature of his prose and the genre-defying quality of his bizarre lo-fi, urban, funky, folk. It was strange yet earnest. He was the Beastie Boys of Indie-Folk. Over the years, I never felt the same connection with Beck’s music as i did to Mellow Gold until Sea Changes, another sincere yet far less stylistically challenging collection of songs about loss and transformation. The album mirrored my own transitions: leaving college, working in a foreign country, and getting through a challenging end of a relationship. It felt like a fitting soundtrack to my days of alternating discovery and melancholia. The first single off Beck’s newest album in some time, Morning Phase, “Blue Moon” returns to the intimacy and introspection of Sea Changes yet with a more expanded, melodic and epic sonic backdrops.  Where Sea Changes was about the day-to-day transformations, Morning Phase feels an existential reawakening.  (And, no there isn’t any dogma attached, at least not that i can discern.) It recalls a similar lunar-titled record and style by the late, great folk wunderkind Nick Drake and sweet 70s grooves. It is truly worth sinking into.

marijuana-deathsquads_oct2013-300x300Something Borrowed → Marijuana Deathsquads – Oh My Sexy Lord – Last week a friend dropped Rage Against the Machine on the turntable I found myself longing for their vocally piercing and politically incendiary sounds. Perhaps the universe sensing my need to fill the void drew my eyes to the fact that Marijuana Deathsquads was playing a show in Chicago in March. I’d heard “Ewok Sadness” back in the fall and was totally taken by their bizarre sound. Listening more intently and closely to Oh My Sweet Lord, I find myself relishing their unique fusion of artsy-metal and rock with smooth, EDM-like electronic layers. It fulfills the Rage longing along with recalling Mars Volta but this piece de resistance is the melding of atmospheric electronica provided by members of Polica and Bon Iver (see “Sunglasses and Bail Money”) and floor thumping dance beats reminiscent of araabUZIK (see “Dissolve”). It is a sonic blender of competing and seemingly contrary styles that meld into a trippy distraction.

faithless streetSomething Old → Whiskeytown. Speaking of sinking or drowning really, I found myself stumbling down Faithless Street after a passing conversation with a touring musician about working with Ryan Adams. After asking him whether he’d heard Adams’ Whiskeytown records, I went on the typical sycophant’s elegy of the crazy tortured genius of Whiskeytown (and Uncle Tupelo). My relapse into Adams’ early days was fueled by another new discovery (to follow in a separate past), but it made me realize that if folks have heard or listened to these albums… well they should.  These guys bring a smile to my face every time.  Whiskeytown from start to finish…

…if you end up on a musical alt-country bender, i’ll take full responsibility for the inspiration not the consequences or casualties.

Concert Update →fter a banner 2013 of live music, 83 shows and over 140 bands, I find myself ahead of last year’s scorching pace. So, any accusations that I’m the Brady Anderson of concert going can easily be dispelled. And, feel free to check my hat size, still a 7 1/8. Fifteen shows to date and double booking this weekend (Cloud Cult and Into It Over It) with highlights including the Flat Five at The Hideout (with the sensational Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor), stellar sets by friends Now Everybody and Sons of the West, and a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel bringing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea to life. Check out the upcoming concerts above.

Oh and who wants to join the Classixx dance party next week at Double Door?

hasta marzo,

a.a.

Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen’s music haunts me. But, it is a pleasantly intoxicating possession. Whether recorded or live*, her voice is filled with legions of stories and emotions, a missive from another time and land untrodden but all too familiar. Somewhere between a rustic America(na) long left abandoned in our dominant urban culture and a seductive siren’s call, Olsen weaves a spell of nostalgia and longing for a purer, simpler sound and world.

* Seeing Angel perform last year at The Hideout was totally spellbinding; if she visits your town run don’t walk to the box office (tour dates here).

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Working in the realm between Folk, Americana, and mid-Century Country, Olsen’s music is not easily classified by “genre” but by the deliberate and disarming languid and contemplative nature of her compositions punctuated by her (aforementioned) vocals that flow between arresting, entrancing, ethereal, and, even, ghostly. Olsen’s full length debut, Half Way Home was a jaw dropping and hauntingly beautiful dream of an album — one that finds itself on my speakers with regularity. On the followup, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Olsen continues to explore the landscape of atmospheric Americana/Folk while revving up the pace and pushing towards a more uptempo, almost rock sound. Like its predecessor, Burn Your Fire is undeniably intimate and honest, yet there is careful craftsmanship throughout evidenced by the juxtaposition of musically disparate styles or the constant manipulation* of Olsen’s vocals in the mix (in terms of foregrounding, reverb, etc, not “doctoring”; it’s all real). However it is also fabulously ragged, raw, and raucous. The album is a vibrant and dynamic being. Where many records are meticulously crafted to a musician’s exacting standards creating an almost museum-like refinement, Burn Your Fire… allows the listener into its world to wonder, relate, and melt into. It is pensive, angry, and riotous, kicking and screaming with life and inviting the listener to add the smoldering flames of their experience to its emotional bonfire.

For the past week, Burn Your Fire has been playing incessantly on my headphones and in my head, it has provided solace and inspired contemplation. Like the sailor’s seduced at sea, it has mesmerized and enrapt my psyche by its enchanting allure. No doubt, I have just begun to unravel the countless mysteries and layers contained within.

Listen here: Burn Your Fire For No Witness

A definite run to your local record store pick up or direct from the artist here.

marginalia/for what it’s worth

“White Fire” is gorgeous, smoldering track (listen below)

But “Lights Out” and “Windows” feel like the record’s stand-out, show stopping numbers for this listener that I cannot wait to see live.

For me, there is a decidedly 60s psychedelic rock undercurrent to this record – a sort of early era Grace Slick on Jefferson Airplane.

good listening,

a.a.

love by any other name, please… a v-day playlist

from my stereo to your ears...

from my stereo to your ears…

Whether you want to avoid it or not, the accouterments and decorations of St. Valentine’s Day will likely catch or irritate your vision today.  (Unless you live in a monastery or seclusion, please send an invitation.)  Whatever your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings on (or invective against) the holiday (or its lack of substance), we can all recognize that love and heartache are prime musical themes, subjects, and inspiration.

For those who want to ruminate on the idea and concept of love in all its forms (e.g., idealized, inspiring, tragic, all-consuming, emotionally eviscerating… okay you get the picture) here is a playlist for you:  

Fallin’ in and out of… a v-day playlist*.  

I will acknowledge there are dark and angry songs because I firmly believe that the bitter and unpleasant side of love is just as important and sometimes more instructive and illuminating than the in-the-moment bliss (nothing against this concept).  So, yes, this list has some spiteful and venom-tongued lovers along with smitten and star struck lovers and dreamers… but they are all equally lovely to me.

Playback thoughts… feel free to play from beginning to end, there has been some thought on the order of songs but random listening works as well… and always feel free to share!

good vibes of all kinds your way (b/c the world can always use more),

a.a.

* yes the playlist title is different than the post title.  purposeful not oversight.

the effects of love songs...

the effect of love songs…

Inspiration and Aspiration: The Front Bottoms and Mutual Benefit

No matter how much I try, there are always holes in my musical year-end capsules.  Some are oversights (lost strains in the brain) while others simply go unnoticed.  The two albums discussed below fall into the former and latter bucket.  The first a record I seriously high-school crushed on for a week, only to be forgotten when summer and the falls sounds came to town.  Yet, like a trustworthy friend, it stuck around to provide me with the necessary pick-me-up and energy to power through a bleakish winter (both from a meteorological and personal perspective). The latter was a casualty of my own end-of-year musical sequestration. It was the cute newcomer in the corner with quirky eyewear, a clever attire, and a meek yet smoldering stare. Both albums also share a thematic similarity, two perspectives on dealing with emotional adversity in the course of maturing, or as some might called it “growing up” – an odd phrase really because one rarely “grows down” (except in old age when bones shrink) but really grows horizontally for what seems like an unending asymptotic period until that aforementioned elder regression.  While similar in inspiration, the musical landscape couldn’t be more disparate: lo-fi punk-inspired rock versus atmospheric, lush baroque orchestrations (which might be labeled indie-folk for lack of a better descriptor).

front bottomsThe Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk

From the opening track, “Au Revoir”, even the not uber-attentive listener can readily discern a seething anger pulsing through the lyrics on this record. But, it isn’t unjustified and illogical animosity or youthful ennui (a sentiment I’m all too familiar with). Rather, the underlying and recurring sentiment that filters into my ears is that of a writer that expects more from others, life, and the world. It is the romantic and idealist’s angst: “I wanna contribute to the chaos, I don’t want to watch and then complain, I am through with finding blame that is a decision that I have made.” I find these types of unabashed hopefully aggressive lines refreshing in a world that often seems more willing to critique, complain, and bemoan all the adversities, real and petty. Broken hearts and promises, mistakes and accidents, mental and emotional breakdowns run rampant through these tracks and despite the recurring slings and arrows, the narrator never retreats and continues to persevere. In fact, there is a youthful appreciation for letting go and appreciating the experiences of the “now”. Even as Brian reflects on missed opportunities, “I could have been a contender”, he responds with an unrelenting, guttural life-affirming mantra: “No I will not surrender!”  Thank you Brian for reminding me/us that it’s only darkest when we stop searching for the light and that it’s cool to have lofty expectations of ourselves and the world around us.

mutual benefit love's crushing diamondMutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond

…then you turn to Mutual Benefit. On the surface, Love’s Crushing Diamond is a multi-textured aural blanket of light, love, and joy. But behind the mirth, whimsy, and reverie, there is the ever present sense of loss, uncertainty, and the overwhelming existential quandary of the unknown and unknowable (or at least it reads this way to me). Without necessarily sounding of an era or genre, the record feel s like a long lost field recording from yesteryear, the soundtrack of memory, wondering (quizzically and awestricken), and wandering (mentally and physically). If you put a camera and recorded the remembrance of things past in my mind, this would be the score I think you would find. With each passing note, a visage of a long lost lover, recollections of a day long conversation overstuffed coffee date, images of multicolored leaves falling through the air, snippets of early morning snow-covered plains endlessly stretching to the horizon, the feel of sunlight creeping over fog covered and dew laden mountains with the invigorating scent and steam of coffee pouring over and into your soul.  Yes… a sonic madeleine and another pleasant reminder of the passing moments of brilliance in our lives and the need to appreciate them as they happen… (not simply documenting them with photos and tweets).

Au Revoir… Adios… Rock N Roll!

a.a.

Burnin Up the Dance Floor with Betty Who!

…I enjoy a good dance party with friends or even in the solo confines of my own abode. Currently, Australian born Betty Who has captivated my headphones and has me moving with unabashed abandon morning, noon, and night. Listening to “Somebody Loves You” (video below), I wonder why this song hasn’t yet made its way into steady rotation on the airwaves. It has a uniquely 80s sensibility but fits right in with the modern production style of Robyn, Ellie Goulding, or, for those with a longer memory, Imogen Heap. Given the perfect dance-ability of this track, I imagine Betty will become the next Aussie to conquer the American radio. But if not, she can remain our secret late night dance party soundtrack…

Listen here → Betty Who – The Movement

betty who the movement

as always – a.a.

Never Too Old To Dance – Winter/Spring 2014 Concert List (aka Dance Card)

headphonessavemylifeWhat? Is a little cold weather slowing your two step? I hope not. Well, if you are in Chicago, you know this City never really stops. We may sleep but we work through the frost and polar winds. Double digit negatives are nothing. In the words of Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, “I don’t mind the weather, I’ve got scarves and caps and sweaters.”

Now, if you really want to build up that inner heat without the extra layers (or doing some yoga but that’s cool too), I recommend getting the blood pumping by shaking those hips, pumping those fists, and moving those legs on the dance floor.  Or perhaps sharing your body warmth with one, two or twenty strangers in a tightly packed, sweaty music venue near you.  

In case, you need some suggestions on what and/or who to see, here you go. These are shows which I’m excited about. It’s not exhaustive so if i missed something, please, please let me know. I’m not musically omniscient. A bit clairvoyant but certainly fallible. …These are only for Chicago, but if the band is referenced here they are likely on tour so check out their site for a tour date near you.  

…and yes I do sleep.  but not much.  see you at the front of the house!

(legend… bold = definitely attending; italics = very likely attending;  hyperlinks for venues; thoughts for giggles)

February

March

  • Mar. 1st – Into It. Over It. @ Bottom Lounge
    • Emo-Alert!!!
  • Mar. 1st – Broken Bells & Au Revoir Simone @ the Vic
    • I’d go for ARS; BB put me to sleep last time
  • Mar. 7th – Classixx @ Double Door
    • Dance Party!!!
  • Mar. 13th –16th – I’ll be in Austin, Texas for SXSW… you guys will have to find your own shows for that weekend J
  • Mar. 18th – Lorde @ the Aragon
    • she’s lovely, the venue is awful…i’m kind of over going to all ages shows, be prepared to fight the young ones for a good view
  • Mar. 21st – So Many Dynamos @ Township
  • Mar. 23rd – The War on Drugs @ the Metro
  • Mar. 26th – Future Islands @ Lincoln Hall
  • Mar. 27th – James Vincent McMorrow @ Lincoln Hall
    • soulful, swooning, epic, engrossing vocals to soothe your soul
  • Mar. 27th – Real Estate @ the Metro
  • Mar. 28th – Warpaint with Cate Le Bon @ the Metro
  • Mar. 29th – Shearwater @ The Empty Bottle
  • Mar. 31st – Dum Dum Girls @ The Empty Bottle
    • Swoon… if they play “There is A Light…” I can die happy.

April

May

  • May 7th – Woods @ Subterranean
  • May 9th – The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) @ the Metro
  • May 13th – Neko Case @ the Chicago Theater
    • The lovely mesmerizing voice of Neko, great acoustics and Kelly Hogan?  Does it get any better?
  • May 16th – Mogwai @ the Vic
  • May 17th – Haim @ the Riviera (sold out)
    • These girls rock

July

One day????

  • The Smiths… I wish.

a.a.

Electronic Euphoria: Burial’s Rival Dealer

2013 found me delving deeply back into the world of Electronic/Downtempo music. With a plethora of quality full length records from Bonobo to Bibio to DJ Koze to The Range to the return of electronic pioneers Boards of Canada, Electronic/Downtempo music was taking over my turntable and headphone’s radio waves. Certainly the soothing and undulating (mostly) instrumental beats and soundscapes of the previously mentioned albums helped engender a state of hyper focus and disconnection from the chatter of my surroundings. rivaldealer

Yet, nothing caught my attention with such instant awe as Burial’s Rival Dealer. In yet another surprise EP drop (over the past two years Burial has put out tracks/EPs with little pre-hype or mass advertising campaigns like some robots), Burial released Rival Dealer another in a series of EPs focused on long form Electronic/Downtempo “dance” tracks. Okay, let’s step back for a second. This is dance music in the more 90s techno/jungle/European sense. It is densely layered with excessive samples and ostensibly found sounds from various divergent sources perhaps an obfuscated vocal track in the background for texture. (It doesn’t have recurring and predictable bass drops and gimmicky industrial or “rave” sounds of say Skrillex, Major Lazer, Deadmaus or the school of “Bro-Mance-Dance” – sorry if this is your thing, it clearly isn’t mine.)

Rival Dealer is perhaps the most accessible and engrossing of all of Burial’s recordings to-date, despite the more extended and intricately nuanced nature of the sound.  Broken up into two lengthy opening and closing tracks with a more traditional 4 minute composition in the middle, the 30 minute EP feels like one whole work with three distinct movements.  Also unlike many dance tracks, it seems to have a thematic arch: self-awareness or finding a place/a home/acceptance in the midst of chaos and difference. Starting with a typical whirlwind of sound, “Rival Dealer” works like the Kansas tornado that whisks Dorothy and Toto away or transports you through its dark and dense rabbit hole. Then, we enter the new world of “Hiders” a burst of unbridled Technicolor (emotional) ecstasy (and almost pop-dance), a pre-“revitalization” downtown New York club sound (perhaps England too but I wasn’t there) of the late 90s with a healthy mix of 80s synth – dance music in the early days before excessive commercialization (?!?).  Concluding with “Come Down with Us”, Burial again takes us from the pensive, eastern tinged meditation in the opening (with the recurring utterance “…don’t be afraid”) to an almost euphoric New Age transcendence pulling back to remind the listener(s) before finished that “…you are not alone” – a theme reiterated in the closing sample.

If it isn’t clear, I absolutely adore this recording and have listened almost incessantly since late December as it is a work of engrossing beauty.

Listen for yourself: Burial – Rival Dealer

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