Pop and Perfume(d) Genius with a dash of Whimsy

To many folks I know, the word “pop” is anathema when used in the context of music.  Pop music connotes to many some sort of bland, vanilla-ish mainstream gobbledygook that people eschew.  I beg to differ.  Sure “pop” music can at times lack the sort of musical artistry or lyrical cleverness that characterizes our favorite songs and/or artists.  But, a good pop song is perhaps one of the purest pleasures left out there.  Look sometimes you just want to jump out of your seat and dance (not intended as a Lady Gaga reference) or smile infectiously.  A good pop song will do that.  For your consideration, two such songs that make me smile:  Kishi Bashi’s “Bright Whites” (Beatles meets Vampire Weekend) and the Magnetic Field’s “Your Girlfriend’s Face” (for fans of MF’s “Washington D.C.”).  Or, if offbeat is more your style, check out this psychedelic, chamber pop ballad by L.A.’s Julie Holter (I heart this song and if you like what you here you can listen to the whole album here).

Perfume Genius Put Your Back N 2 It

…and then there is the deeper (perhaps darker) side of music.  The soul-searching and intimate record stripped of all pomp and pageantry.  The newest Perfume Genius album Put Your Back N 2 It is exactly that.  In the interest of full disclosure, this is definitely a somber, somnambulistic, and serene album – the sort best saved for pensive and peaceful hours, perhaps a glass of wine and some low lighting too.  But, in all seriousness, this is a gorgeously haunting and delicate album filled with reflective and remorseful vocals matched against some luscious orchestration on certain tracks while others favor a lo-fi folk/singer songwriter aesthetic.  Upon listening, I’m reminded a lot of Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans and (Come on Feel the) Illinois(e) but without any of the upbeat, band-camp elements and with a greater focus on the vocals, which are far more soulful and less angelic (e.g. my favorite track so far No Tears).  In addition, fans of early Iron and Wine and Bon Iver’s For Emma… will find themselves at home in this engrossing record.

Frankie Rose Interstellar and Memoryhouse The Slideshow Effect

…or perhaps you might favor a jaunt down the lane of whimsy and the otherworldy.  If so then the recent offerings by Frankie Rose and Memoryhouse might be more your cup of tea.  One thing I found really quite exciting and interesting in 2011 was the resurfacing of the early 90s indie-rock sound.  Well 2012 appears to be turning towards the second half of the 90s.

I already acknowledged Frankie Rose’s Interstellar late last week but I worry that this gem of a record got lost in the shuffle.  In much the same way I felt that 20111’s Wild Flag record took musical styles and forms from the 60s and 70s and incorporated it into their power-punk aesthetic, Interstellar borrows from 80s new wave (“Know Me” sounds like a cross between A-Ha, the Cure, and the Smiths), 60s Brit-pop, and the female fronted groups of the late 90s (e.g. Velocity Girl, Madder Rose and early Rainer Maria).

Memoryhouse’s The Slideshow Effect has less genre jumping but feels like a dreamy reverie through the lead singer’s private journal – or a slower, mellower Best Coast with fewer references to pot and cats. 

For further listening to the above referenced albums, turn to this Spotify playlist. If you can’t connect to Spotify then you can stream here:

 …and last, here is a beautiful story about the power of art to give us strength and conviction to face difficult situations.  (Even if you don’t like the Cranberries, you should listen to this young man’s story.)

 Coming Up… thoughts on Indie-Instrumental Records and an updated concert schedule – so many tours!

Comfort Tunes and I’m Going to Rhode Island (in my mind)

Andrew Bird’s Break it Yourself on NPR’s First Listen!

Whistle solos.  Check.  Violin. Check.  Intimate and mellow orchestration.  Check.  Andrew Bird has an unmistakable and consistent aesthetic.  And, despite my love of novelty and artists exploring new terrain, I revel in each new Andrew Bird release because there is a familiarity to his unique and pleasant form of baroque indie-pop – it’s like the aural equivalent of “comfort food”.  But to be fair, it’s not as though the whole record is a rehash of what’s come before, there are some wonderful variations on Bird’s signature sound like “Danse Caribe” incorporating both Spanish guitar and steel drums or the aptly titled “Things Behind the Barn” which sounds like a bluegrass-y hoedown.  To me, an Andrew Bird record is a little trip to Where the Wild Things Are, a topsy-turvy timeless placed filled with mirth, mayhem, and sounds from a distant yet recognizable world of imagination.  Enjoy!  Also Andrew Bird is on tour this winter/spring and his live shows are truly exquisite, check out his tour dates and locations here.

Now, Now’s “Prehistoric

Perhaps it’s the eerie familiarity to Death Cab For Cutie’s opening tracks to The Photo Album, “Steadier Footing” and “A Movie Script Ending”, but this song evokes the sensation of an early morning drive through New England at the cusp of spring with patches of snow on the ground.  Be warned, the song starts slow but much like the DCFC opening tracks it builds to a magnificent pop crescendo.  Instead of Ben Gibbard’s choir boy vocals insert a female voice reminiscent of Denali or Rainer Maria.  Yes, this song definitely has a nostalgic strain to it.  If you like what you hear, a new album is on the horizon but in the meantime you can check this Minnesota trio’s previous EP on this playlist.

Other Cool Things:

  • Jeff Tweedy has some interesting things to say about growing up, songwriting, musical diversity (“I don’t get the goal of having things narrowed down.  I don’t want to come up with a coherent philosophy of the world or music.  I want to learn to like more . . . ”), the curious state of rock criticism, and how to keep it together for 18 years on the Nerdist podcast (download to iTunes for free here).  (Oh and he also agrees that the Aragon stinks:  “Aragon in Chicago is the same thing . . .  a big old dance hall that sounds like ass”.)
  • This week’s All Songs Considered podcast has some new M. Ward and he sounds happy.
  • The new Magnetic Field’s Love at the Bottom of the Sea is also streaming on First Listen check it out here.  I adore the first single, “Andrew in Drag”, which appears on the current 2012 playlist, and he video is available here.


  • Experimental music from L.A.
  • Indie rockers from CoMo (Columbia, Missouri), and
  • Some additional thoughts on Frankie Rose’s stellar Interstellar and my obsession with Cloud Nothings.


Sturm und Drang: Exquisite 2012 Winter Albums

Before February fades into a distant memory and the New Year pulsates towards increased partisan rancor, I wanted to spotlight eight records that have captured my ears thus far.  I believe many of you will enjoy in some manner or another.  One of the really exciting common themes of these records is the prevalence of some excellent records by all female or female fronted groups!   For simplicity sake all the records listed below can be found on this 2012 Vol. 1 Playlist.

a powerful and moving blend of Philly soul and American Folk Rock.  AA’s voice is piercing and powerful and his songs evoke an everyman simplicity evocative of Whiskeytown and Nebraska era Springsteen.  (Visit the link to the website above for a free download of the record!)

Click to see my previous post on this excellent record

  • Grimes – Vision

A unique and mesmerizing blend of gothy downtempo dance (think 80s England) mixed with eastern-tinged beats evocative of Passion Pit and Gang Gang overlaid with an angelic, otherworldly voice reminiscent of Cocteau Twins

Another loud guitar, distortion driven post-punk record reminiscent at times of In Utero as well as evoking a Superchunk/early 90s Chapel Hill indie-pop feel.  Opening five songs feels like a mini teen angst opera.

Brilliant Brooklyn chanteuse following in the lyrical footsteps of Patti Smith and Gillian Welch and the sonic tradition of early Cat Power.  Her bare bones, confessional style of songwriting might not appeal to all but it’s arresting and powerful.  “Serpents” is a career making song.

  • Frankie Rose – Interstellar
  • ChairliftSomething

Both Frankie Rose and Chairlift share a common love for 80s era New Wave/Brit Pop beats and lush orchestration.   There is a whole lot of Cure, Modern English, Thompson Twins and bands of a similar ilk pulsing through these two records.  Frankie Rose’s record tends more towards the ethereal and electronic nature of its title (think a poppy version of Spiritualized’s We are Floating in Space).

Operatic and sprawling; requires time to simmer and breath into your consciousness.

p.s. many of these acts will be touring this fall, check out who, when, and where here.

Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

…never has a pseudo-metal record so quickly ear-wormed its way into my consciousness.  The sound is unmistakably Sleigh Bells:  aggressive, distortion riddled rock songs with Alexis Krauss’ 60s throwback Shangri La’s vocal styling creating a Lynch- (or Kafka-)-esque counterpoint throughout.  Whereas the first record Treats felt a bit heavy on the guitar and thrash (and therefore “one note”), this record balances bangers with ballads and achieves a thrilling roller-coaster like effect.  So, in other words, imagine if you took Leader of the Pack and stuffed it through Back in Black then layered in the rhythm guitar styling of Ratatat circa Classics, then you’d have a rough aural equivalent of the new Sleigh Bells recordBut, throw out all the allusions and references and just listen to Reign of Terror.

2011 Best of Redux – The Year of Living Musically

Another voyage on spaceship earth around the great orb in the sky is coming to an end and so it must be the time to reflect on things that have come and gone… in the realm of music.  (If you’d just prefer to listen rather than read click here for a link to a YouTube mix of the songs or check out the Spotify playlist.)  The common thread of the records that truly moved me this year was a tendency towards softer, lush and layered compositions with musical allusions to less-appreciated (or much derided) musical styles of the past.  Before turning to the recordings, a quick highlight of the year in live music… Of the nearly 50 shows I saw this year, the two finest where Bon Iver’s set at the Chicago Theatre and God Speed! You Black Emperor at the Vic Theatre.  The collective musicianship on stage for both these shows was awe-some.  Additional highlights included eighth Blackbird’s rendition of Steve Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians” (one of the most brilliant and seminal 20th Century compositions) at the Pritzker Pavilion; James Blake’s intimate and haunting set at the Pitchfork Festival (the highlight was the moment I was positioned between James Blake playing “Limit to Your Love” and Neko Case on another stage singing “This Tornado Loves You”); Memory Tapes’ exquisite set at the Empty Bottle; Damian Abraham of F*cked Up wailing and hugging the crowd at Lincoln Hall; Andrew Bird’s outdoor performance for the Hideout Block Party with the Chicago skyline as backdrop; the ladies of Wild Flag rocking out at Subterranean (which featured a genius cover of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden”) and the Empty Bottle; The National along with the Local Natives and Wye Oak closing the night with a stirring a capella rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”;  and Wilco along with Mavis Staples and Nick Lowe covering the Band’s “The Weight” at the Chicago Lyric Opera.  Oh yeah and the killer dance parties put on by Robyn, Lady Gaga, and Cut Copy.  Yes, lots of great moments.  And without further digression, the best of 2011 . . .

Albums of 2011

1)        Bon Iver  – Bon Iver
2)        James Blake –  s/t
3)        The Roots – Undun
4)        Wild Flag – s/t
5)        The Antlers – Burst Apart
6)        St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
7)        tUnE-yArDs  – whokill
8)        Sloan – The Double Cross
9)        M83 – Hurry Up, We Are Dreaming
10)       Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
11)       Megafaun – s/t
12)       The Weeknd – House of Balloons
13)       Wilco – The Whole Love
14)       The Decemberists – The King is Dead
15)       The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

Honorable Mentions (A couple of other phenomenal records that deserve (repeated) listens):

  • from the Punk Rock files:  F*cked Up – David Comes to Life and EMA – Past Life Martyred Saint
  • from the otherwordly files:  King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
  • from the chill-wave file:  The Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement; Youth Lagoon – the Year of Hibernation; Washed Out – Within and Without; and Panda Bear – Tomboy
  • from the folk and roots rock file:  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
  • from the R&B/Hip-Hop file:  Drake – Take Care and Danny Brown and Black Milk – Black & Brown
  • from the baroque pop files:  Beirut – The Rip Tide; Destroyer – Kaputt;  and Cults – s/t
  • from the early 90s revival file:  Yuck – s/t
  • from the Radiohead file:  Radiohead – The King of Limbs
  • from the instrumental indie rock file:  Explosions In the Sky – Take Care, Take Care and Battles – Gloss Drop

Songs of 2011

1)      “Walking Far From Home” by Iron and Wine
2)      “Wilhelm Scream” by James Blake
3)      “Cruel” by St. Vincent
4)      “Need You Now” by Cut Copy
5)      “Calgary” by Bon Iver
6)      “Follow the Leader”/“The Answer Was You”/“Unkind” by Sloan
7)      “Glass Jar” by Gang Gang Dance
8)      “Putting the Dog to Sleep” by the Antlers
9)      “Glass Table Girls” by the Weeknd
10)   “My Country” by tUnE-yArDs
11)   “Electric Band” by Wild Flag
12)   “Midnight City” by M83
13)   “Shook Down” By Yuck
14)   “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey
15)   “Civilian” by Wye Oak
16)   “One Time” by the Roots
17)   “I Get Nervous” by the Lower Dens
18)   “Otis” by Jay-Z and Kanye
19)   “Queen of Hearts” by Fucked Up
20)   “Abducted” by Cults
21)   “Holocene” by Bon Iver
22)   “Don’t Say Oh Well” by Grouplove
23)   “Cannons” by Youth Lagoon
24)   “We Found Love in Hopeless Place” by Rihanna
25)   “Kaputt” by Destroyer
26)   “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele
27)   “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars
28)   “This is Why We Fight” by the Decemberists
29)   “Lotus Flower” by Radiohead
30)   “Art of Almost” by Wilco
31)   “Crew Love” by Drake w/the Weeknd
32)   “I’m Not Ready” by Surfer Blood
33)   “Santa Fe” by Beirut
34)   “Pyramid” by Four Tet
35)   “Make My” by the Roots
36)   “Amor Fati” by Washed Out
37)   “Fall Creek Boys Choir” by James Blake and Bon Iver
38)   “Today is Our Life” by Memory Tapes
39)   “Zap” by Danny Brown and Black Milk
40)   “Hope You Know” by Megafaun
41)   “Countdown” by Beyonce
42)   “Two Kinds of Happiness” by the Strokes
43)    “Shell Games” by Bright Eyes
44)   “Far Nearer” by Jamie XX/“Banana Ripple” by Junior Boys
45)   “Sway” by Mates of State
46)   “Lights” by Ellie Goulding
47)   “You and I” by Lady Gaga
48)   “Born Alone” by Wilco
49)   “Shake it Up” by Florence and the Machine
50)   “UBerlin” by R.E.M

Final thoughts composed on wormhole abbey, or a couple of things I learned, observed, and wondered this year:

  • Iron and Wine put out an album with more than a single sad, sultry song sung over and over.  Sam Beam enlisted a full band and found varying hues in his own brand of Walden-esque folk rock — and the album was gorgeous.
  • Adele and Florence (of the Machine) have ridiculously beautiful and powerful voices… what do they put in the water over in England?
  • The rise of a genre dubbed as “chill-wave”.  In reality this isn’t anything new.  In the past, it might have been called “shoegazer”, “dream pop”, downtempo, or (the least descriptive of all) electronica.  In a sense, chill-wave is really a blending of all of these different “sub-genres” used to describe atmospheric and lush, mellow rock music that incorporates electronic conventions and elements oft used in dance music.  Whatever the term, lots of bands employed this approach to great effect.
  • The electronic mixtape has eliminated the need for artists to release any tangible music media – both liberating for artists and an additional dagger in the record industry’s slow death.  (And, yet, vinyl releases and re-releases abound.  Long live the Luddites!)
  • I finally understand the appeal of the Fleet Foxes.  They are exquisite live musicians.  Their records still leave me sort of blah.  However, I still don’t get the appeal of the Black Keys.
  • Nevermind was released twenty years ago (!?!) and R.E.M. finally hung it up.
  • We’ve still got two Beatles, one Yoko, a couple of Dead, Keith Richards, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop (how the last three are still alive confounds me).  Biggie and Tupac didn’t release a new record (to my knowledge).
  • Clarence Clemons was an awesome musician, and, from what I’ve read, an even better person.
  • All’s right with the world, Bob Dylan is still touring.

Yours musically,


90s Nostalgia Hour(s)

Remember when MTV still played music videos with buzz clips and 120 Minutes, college-radio was non-corporate and cool, you exchanged mix-tapes of your favorite bands, you developed a crush (boys and girls) on Lisa Loeb, Eddie Vedder had long hair, and Seattle blew up?  Well then you’ll enjoy this trip down memory lane: Remember When: an (early 90s) alt/college rock mix (Note: A Spotify playlist; please subscribe if you listen!)