left off the tracks.

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Transcendence in the Face of Loss

Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

How do we remember a loved one? Do we celebrate their life, remembering the laughter and joy they brought into the world, or do we mourn their passing, questioning the why of their departure? Unfortunately, these are questions, in my estimation, without answers, or at least the sort of finality of answers we so often desire. The art of mourning and remembering is an even more complicated thing. Taking the deeply personal and sharing this with others is both amazingly brave and dangerous, but oftentimes produces some breathtaking and emotionally transformative works, e.g. Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucidaa or the Arcade Fire’s Funeral.

Enter into this realm of beautiful explorations of loss, Lost in the Trees recent release A Church That Fits Our Needs, a record (from the press I’ve read) largely inspired, influenced, and dedicated to the memory of Ari Picker’s (the band’s main songwriter) mother who passed between the writing of this record and the band’s previous record. A Church… is a gorgeously constructed and delicate work of love that navigates deftly between mourning and transcendence. Musically this record is a lush deluge of layered sylvan sounds, a baroque-folk orchestra replete with a full array of horns (tubas and bassoons!) and strings (cellos, violins, violas, and harps!). The lead singer/songwriter vocals are reminiscent of the choir-boy falsettos of Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and his female counterparts juxtapose this with high, aria-like flourishes. (And like any good folk record, there are ample field recordings between tracks.) Listening to this record makes me feel as though I’ve chanced upon a secret Appalachian forest commune of musicians playing an ancient, timeless set of songs. In my estimation, this is a must listen, but it does require patience and repeated listens to feel the full journey this record will take you on. So please do yourself a favor and listen to the entire record here.

Sorrow Found Me When I Was Young: Henry James on Sorrow

Not to dwell on the subject of loss, but as I was chatting via the internet with a friend on the subjects of religion and faith b , she sent me a link to a letter written by Henry James to a friend who was dealing with the question of how to proceed in the wake of loss. Everyone should read the full letter here c; however, I found these lines particularly moving and inspiring (and I hope you will too):

“We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain.” – Henry James

One more Cup of Coffee Before I Go: Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is An Animal

After dropping all this heavy on you, I would like to offer a musical palette cleanser in the form of the explosively phenomenal record by Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men. Although the record has yet to be released in the U.S., you can stream it at NPR’s First Listen here. And, while I anticipate having a lot more to say about this record in the weeks to come, this record streams only for another week and I wanted y’all to have the opportunity to hear what I anticipate will be a very popular record in the upcoming months now. (I think the NPR reference to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is spot on but I’d also add the Head and the Heart and Florence and the Machine into the mix. If you like Edward’s “Home” and Florence’s “Shake it Up”, you will really dig this record.)

P.S. if you have no plans tonight and live in Chicago, you can catch them at Park West. And if you live elsewhere go see them, more information here.

Have a great weekend everyone and keep your eyes peeled for my 2012 first quarter installment of essential albums and tracks of the current year!


a Barthes’ Camera Lucida is a heartbreaking memoir written by the literary critic about the passing of the writer’s mother and his own personal struggle of remembering her and his own confrontation with his own mortality. This is a beautiful and deeply moving read and whatever your preconceptions about literary critics might be, you will be amazed by the searing humanity of his reflections.

b Doesn’t everyone engage in deep philosophical discussion via GChat? Perhaps not. Then again, I am after all as one college professor remarked “A very, serious young man.” I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

c Special thanks to RSW for sending this along.

Returning to the Boardwalk with a Je Ne Sais Sass

From the Raveonettes, who reimagined the leather and lace sounds and aesthetic of the Mod movement, to She and Him’s Sunday-driving reveries to the Neo-Soul torch singers Duffy and Adele, big-band jazz and wall of sound pop inspired oldies are all the rage.  Nobody could be happier that the halcyon harmonies of 50s and 60s Doo-Wop and Soul permeating the cyber-airwaves these days than this boy.  So it should come as little surprise that 2012 ushers in yet another group revisiting a familiar yet fresh sound that once enveloped the Coney Island and Atlantic City Boardwalks like the sweet, sticky salt air (or soundtrack-ed a Wes Anderson flick, see, e.g., Rushmore).  Meet Chic Gamine hailing from Montreal, Canada, a throwback Female Foursome (and one male percussionist) sporting a soulful pop reminiscent of The Crystals, The Ronettes, and The Shangri-La’s.  Tired of the comparisons and description? Less talk, more Doo-Wop you ask?  Well, I’ll get you “Closer” to the ladies and the sound that will be blasting through your stereo and headphones as you stroll down the sidewalk daydreaming of the summer days to come. (Hint click on the link and if you like what you hear visit their Soundcloud page for additional cuts here.)

…if you long for more retrofitted-pop sounds of yesteryears check out the following records:

  • Yo La TengoFakebook:  An early release from the grandfathers (and grandmother) of lo-fi, fuzzy guitar rock, James, George, and Ira surf through an ebullient collection of concise pop tunes;  a convention they revisit with some regularity throughout their ever expanding catalog, including most recently “If It’s True” from Popular Songs and “My Little Corner of the World” on I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.
  • The Raveonettes – Chain Gang of Love:  Denmark and melancholy have been inextricably linked ever since that chap from Stratford-upon-Avon recast his son in drab introspective “madness”. But never has melancholia felt so Mod-ishly modern and sweet as it does emanating from this duo of Danes.
  • She and Him – Volume 1 and Volume 2:  The Manic Pixie “It Girl” for the geeky set (Zooey Deschanel) and the fuzzy, grizzled folk singer (M.Ward, see below) make beautiful (if grammatically awkward) music together on these two records of bubble-gum bliss.
  • Saturday Looks Good to Me – s/t:  Hailing from Ypsilanti, Michigan, Fred Thomas and his band of misfits offer a fuzzy revision of the Motown sound from down the highway.
  • Duffy – Rockferry: Perhaps the least regaled or relapsed of the English Neo-Soul singers of the past decade, Duffy serves up an exquisite array of torch songs and modernized big band-esque standards.

…in other news

  • Tripping the Live Fandango: Perhaps smarting from another missed SXSW, I staged a pseudo CHIXMW this past week, attending three “shows” of exquisite yet disparate varieties:
    • Starting with Megafaun, whose 2011 self-titled release was among my favorite records of the past year, at Schuba’s, I was privy to a rousing set of Southern Folk-Rock sprinkled with a renegade Gospel feel. This North Carolina quartet by way of Wisconsin put on a lively, loud, and joy-inducing set of songs. The highlight, however, was the acoustic numbers with audience participation — always great to see a band interacting and incorporating their audience into the performance experience.
    • From Rock the next stop was the DJ Set of James Murphy, who was renowned as the brains behind LCD Soundsystem, at the Mid.  Despite the venue’s lackluster acoustic arrangement (at least for audiophiles who prefer precision over bombastic bass), James Murphy displayed his mastery of the turntables with a fresh blend of soul, disco, and downtempo dance tracks heavy on rhythm and structure and devoid of auto-tune and computer generated beats.
    • Finally, the piece de resistance was to be found with the contemporary classical ensemble eighth blackbird and a collection of Chicago musicians performing the Terry Riley (who often collaborated with the Kronos Quartet) composition In C (click to listen) at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). An astonishing performance of minimalist musicianship by fifty local area performers.  For Chicago residents, keep your eyes on the lookout for the unique local treasure that is eighth blackbird.
  • First Listen Alert:  As always NPR offers a chance to preview a full-album stream of upcoming releases weeks before hitting the market on First Listen. This week features some great and beloved bands/performers, including (the above referenced) M.Ward, Bear in Heaven, and Of Monsters and Men. (Admission: I have yet to listen to these records, but have enjoyed the new upbeat, world sounds of M.Ward’s first single “Primitive Girl” and the Pet Shop Boys feel of Bear In Heaven. I bring to my readers’ attention as these streams are short-lived, so stream ahead.) 
  • Vinyl Strikes Back!  Not only does Vinyl produce better sound, it’s also more adept at geometric drawings than it’s digital counterparts, see here.  Can you do that Hi-Res MP3s?  I think not.*

Happy Monday,


* a special thanks to ST for bringing this to my attention.

Twin City Pride: the future is Now, Now

If you are a baseball fan from the Twin Cities, it’s been a tough year and, let’s be honest, the future looks murky given the uncertainty surrounding the M&Ms (for the non-baseball fans M&M = Mauer and Morneau). Turning your attention away from Target Field and towards the airwaves, you will find a trio of young musicians creating brilliant ethereal indie-pop music: Now, Now are both the present and the future. Built around the sweet harmonies of the two female lead-singers, Now, Now’s Threads is a precise and concise collection of fuzzy, lo-fi tracks filled with youthful yearning and recriminations. Following in a well t(h)readed path carved out by similar female-fronted groups such as Rainer Maria, Pretty Girls Make Graves and Tegan and Sara, Now, Now produce deeply intimate, confessional songs that will transport you back to that time when the minutiae of relationships seemed (and were) both all-consuming and the end-all-be-all. But, let’s be clear, this record isn’t adolescent (or young adult) frivolity, these images (or metaphors) are closer than they appear. It’s fitting that the opening track is entitled “The Pull” as the lyrics and music oscillate between a muted melancholy of guitars and an all encompassing, ecstatic wall of sound filled with infectious percussion. In other words, this record isn’t all doom and gloom but a manic-depressive collection of rock-songs – think Weezer’s Pinkerton with less Freudian angsta. Can I gush any more about how I love this record? Probably, but instead of blathering, I’ll let you listen to it here.

If you enjoy(ed), Threads I’d also recommend the following records of an older but similarly exquisite vintage:

  • Rainer Maria’s Past Worn Searching – “Goddammit, I’m not talking about my heart like it’s something that can break…” is the opening line to the record, so you have a sense of where this is going, i.e., awesome anguish.  Madison, Wisconsin’s finest proto-emo and full-on geek rock band — the name says it all.
  • Pretty Girls Make Graves’ The New Romance – an oft-overlooked classic; part punk, part dance, all sass. (Okay, I admit I have a weakness for really scream-y, guitar-driven female fronted bands.)
  • Tegan and Sara’s The Con – The ur-confessional folk-rock record. Think early Ani Difranco minus the polemical/political songs.
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ s/t (EP) – although “Maps” is the best thing they’ve ever recorded, the rawness and simplicity of this EP still blows me away.

…thoughts composed while treading (figurative) waterb

  • Nerdy Soul Mates? Many of you know how much I adore IFC’s Portlandia. But, my obsession with this show might now be superseded by my crush on Carrie and Fred as people. Check out their DJ session on NPR’s All Songs Considered during which Fred indicates that he tooc keeps his music and phone separate and says that he prefers listening to albums all the way through not just a series of songs. Thank you, sir. Audio-Dinosaurs of the world unite and take over!
  • Dark and Brooding Cut of the Day – If you don’t have time to listen to the whole podcast, you should at least listen to (“) This (Is Not A) Song(“) – a dark brooding, soulful tune about lessons unlearned – offered up by Carrie. (What Elvis Costello song do the opening guitar chords remind me of? Feel free to add your guess in the comments section.) Also, a more involved post on this record to follow . . .
  • On a related note, check out this exquisite discussion about creating and fostering creative thinking.
  • Audiophiles take noteThese speakers are beautiful works of art. (And from experience, they sound exquisite.)
  • Love on the Floor of the VicThe Magnetic Fields return to Chicago in support of Love at the Bottom of the Sea.  I’ll be in attendance on Tuesday night when Chicago’s Kelly Hogan (a latter-day Patsy Cline-esque chanteuse) will be opening.  Come on down for some soul and satirical wit!

Upcoming . . .

  • After a long hiatus, James Mercer finally delivers a new Shins recordyou know that band that Natalie Portman made famous. First impressions are positive, more to follow. If you haven’t already, check out the first (“Simple) Song(“).
  • Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs. . .a gorgeous reflection on loss.
  • Thoughts on Tune-Yards and Klostermann. . .

Hasta Pronto,


a If you haven’t ever heard this record, you are truly missing out on a classic. Forget the bubble gum of “Buddy Holly”, Rivers Cuomo’s rants and ravings about loneliness and longing are a work of staggering heartwarming genius.

b Churning butter seemed too anachronistic…

c Yes, I’m referring to myself here.

Springing into Action! Updated Concert Information!!

Happy post-St. Patrick’s Day weekend!  As you gather your coffee and nibble on some muffin (or other breakfast confection of your choosing), take a second to scan through the list of upcoming tours and shows. Shifting gears here on the Tracks, I want to spotlight certain stellar bands I am eager to see and/or great bands I’ve seen and would highly recommend.  (P.S. Apologies for the long delay between posts, some technical difficulties connecting to wordpress from la oficina this past weekend.)

I Can’t Wait For:

Run! Don’t Walk To See:

  • Adam Arcuragi — a mix of folk and gospel, emotionally rousing
  • The Alabama Shakes – old school southern blues with attitude and charm
  • Sharon Van Etten – soulful and intimate songs of serpents and sorrow
  • M83 – dress light because you’ll be drenched in sweat from dancing
  • Wild Flag – these ladies rock

As always, links to tour dates are embedded in band name and links to purchase tickets for Chicago dates embedded into venue name. (Note:  Shows in Bold are those for which I already have tickets and will be in attendance.)

3/21 – Megafaun@ Schubas

3/26-27 Magnetic Fields @ Vic  Stephen Merritt and co. create some of the wryest, catchiest, and clever brill building-esque pop songs.

3/28 – Of Montreal @ Metrosomewhere between psych and glam opera; definitely a dress up and bizarre dancing affair.

3/30 – Chairlift @ Empty Bottle 80s evocative indie-dance group from BKLYN; in 2011 I saw these guys open for James Blake and they were a lot of fun!

3/30-31 – Jeff Tweedy (Scholarship Benefit Show) @ Vic Theatre (Sold Out!)

3/31 – Hood Internet @ Empty Bottle nobody is as clever with mixing and mashing tempos from indie rock standards and hip hop bangers

4/3 – Gotye @ Park Westthis aussie is about to blow up bigger than Olivia Newton John.  If you haven’t heard of him, go here.  Now.

4/3 – Lost in the Trees @ Schubas

4/4 – Youth Lagoon (and Porcelain Rift) @ Metro

4/5 – Wild Flag @ Metro (Sold Out) these ladies rock hard and if you haven’t seen them remedy this now!

4/5 – Neon Indian @ Metro

4/7 – Lucero @ MetroNashville Alt-Country rockers whose music is drenched in pain, sweat, and Whiskey.  Need I say more?

4/8 – Fucked Up @ Lincoln Hall

4/10 – Perfume Genius @ Schubas

4/13 – Mr. Gnome @ Schubas

4/15 – Now, Now @ the Vic Theatre (Note: Opening for the Naked and the Famous)

4/16&17 – Death Cab for Cutie w/ Low @ The Chicago Theatre (Sold Out)

4/18 – Bear in Heaven @ Schubas

4/20 – Cults @ Metro

4/20 – the Jezabels @ Lincoln Hall

4/24 – Lambchop @ Lincoln Hall

4/28 – Tortoise @ Empty Bottle If you’ve never seen these Chicago stalwarts, you NEED to see them if only to witness one of the finest and most captivating drummers/percussion sections of any group out there.

4/30 – Frankie Rose @ Township

5/4 M83 @ the Riviera - (Sold Out) Saw M83 four years ago at the Empty Bottle, I’ve rarely been so tired from dancing or drenched in sweat (except for LCD Soundsystem) as I was that evening

5/10 – Justin Townes Earle @ Park West

5/12 Andrew Bird @ Auditorium Theater Rumor has it that there will be snacks.

5/16 – The Cranberries @ the Riviera Theatrethey seem to be waltzing back into our lives.

5/21-22 –The Beach Boys @ The Chicago Theatre

5/24 – Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros @ the Riviera Theatre

6/15-17 – Pitchfork Music Festival @ Union Park  featuring: Vampire Weekend, Feist, Godspeeed You Black Emperor, Cloud Nothings, Grimes, Kendrick Lamar and many more!

6/22 – Dinosaur Jr. @ Subterranean (Sold Out)

7/27 – Best Coast @ the Vic Theatre

Sky Blue Sky

…from Chicago’s finest Americana Roots Rock band, a song that befits the day.

Get out the poodle skirts and the pomade and rev up the Studebaker and get ready to bop with this amazing jaunt down memory lane, a playlist from NME featuring their top 100 tracks of the 1950s!

over and out hep cats,


Just Another Manic March Day

People need to stop kvetching about Global Warming and Climate Change. It’s perfectly normal to have 60 degree weather in the City of Big Shoulders in March. 

Unseasonable weather and sunshine aside, there is no dearth of new fantastic music tracks spreading through the interweb (aka as the internet and/or the information super-highway), Al Gore’s second greatest contribution to the intellectual discourse of our times. If you happen to find yourself yearning for a brief reverie while seated in front of your latter-day HAL or your iCyberStationery check out this selection of fabulous new songs:  March Madness Playlist. (Brief snippets of many of these songs are available on NPR’s SXSW preview podcast – a recommended listen – but if you’d prefer my favorites songs of the bunch along with others.)

A couple of quick observations on this collection of cool cuts:

  • The Nicki Minaj Effect – Is anyone having a bigger impact on the sound of hip-hop and pop music than the unique vocal patterns of Ms. Minaj? Check out from the U.K.’s Lady Leshurr’s “Lego” and from Japan the Trippple Nippples’ “LSD” (Is it me or do these ladies remind you of Shonen Knife?)
  • Now that Adele has captured our hearts and ears, check out the new English chanteuse that will seduce you, just call her Daughter. Be forewarned, this is not music for the weak-hearted. There are notes of Suzanne Vega smokiness in her voice.  Also, calling all Wilco fans, does this song remind you of anything?
  • Quiet Riot on Main Street? I adore songs that play with long build ups and/or the tension between soft lo-fi sounds and musical explosions. Lots of bands employ these techniques like Now, Now, No, Young Prisms, and Perfume Genius to name a few.  (P.S. Check out the Perfume Genius’ new album, I gushed about it here.  Also I’ll be gushing about Now, Now soon.  Their album is gift from indie-licious realm of the Twin Cities.)
  • Sade Redux – Rhye’s “Open” is all the intoxicating somber of Sade without the overly 80s production.
  • Dance, Dance Revolution – 80s synths are clearly back and quality dance music, be it “indie-dance”, insurgent Disco, electro-pop, or Caribbean steel drum, continues to pour from all over the country and world, just check out Teen Daze, Sauti Sol (this song makes me so happy), Andrew Bird’s “Danse Caribe”, the Black and Whites and Karallreven (note the Whitney Houston “shout out”).
  • Is Quiet Company the new Maritime? Well, they sure share a lot of their pop sensibilities.
  • Expanding musical horizons: As promised, I am working to increase the representation of hip-hop acts in my repertoire. Hope you enjoy the styling of Kendrick Lamar, iNDeed, and Rick Ross. Parental Discretion at times is highly advised.

One last song (or thought) before I go….

  • Upcoming Shows!!! I definitely owe everyone an update but quick reminder that Pitchfork 2012 tickets went on sale this past Friday. Get your three-day passes quick because they will sell out. If you can only go one day, I’d recommend Saturday with God Speed You Black Emperor, Cloud Nothings and Grimes to name a few can’t miss slate of act.
  • Concerts! Three months into 2012 and boy have a seen some amazing and talented musicians. Last time I mentioned the Head and the Heart, who are life-affirming and now I’ll applaud EMA (aka Erika M Anderson) who rocks a brand of prairie-punk rock. Think the Velvet Underground in their “Venus in Furs” mood with Patti Smith fronting the group and penning these poetically, surreal lyrics. EMA’s “California” eerily feels like it should be the soundtrack to the Laramie Project.
  • “I don’t want my kids stealing bread.”:  Guys, seriously, I think Fred and Carrie have a really good point about the future of our children.
  • The Muppets always make my day.
  • And yes, I’m a Bangles fan and in case I’ve ear-wormed the song into your head, here it is.
  • Left of the Tracks has a twitter account.  Follow me a.a.@leftoffthetrack if you like to get some amusing and perhaps caddy updates about music.  Or you can just follow by clicking the link to the right.

Party Up, Party Down. Good Day, Good Night.


P.S.  In case you are wondering who Neu! is

P.P.S. Oh and for the record here are is the track list. Feel free to copy and spread and please support the artists you like!

  • Now, Now’s “Pull” and “Prehistoric”
  • No’s “Stay With Me”
  • Kishi Bashi’s “Bright Whites”
  • Sauti Sol’s “Soma Kijana”
  • Teen Daze’s “Let’s Groove”
  • Daughter’s “Landfill
  • No’s “Stay With Me”
  • Quiet Company’s “You, Me & the Boatman”
  • Lady Leshurr’s “Lego”
  • Trippple Nipples’ “LSD”
  • Perfume Genius’ “Hood”
  • Mister Lies’ “I Walk”
  • Burial/Four Tet’s “Nova”
  • Bright Moments “Travelers”
  • Young Prisms’ “Floating In Blue”
  • iNdeed’s “Black Tears”
  • Kendrick Lamar’s “Cartoon & Cereal”
  • The Black and White’s “Years Up”
  • Rick Ross’ “Keys to the Crib”
  • Sore Losers’ “Letter to My Competition”
  • Lower Dens’ “Brains”
  • Bobby Womack’s “Please Forgive My Heart”
  • Korallreven’s “Sa Sa Samoa”
  • Rhye’s Open
  • Andrew Bird’s “Danse Caribe”

“…I like the Clash.”

Tennis Anyone? Yes, please!

On Tennis’ Young & Old . . .

The sight of Rafa and Roger (or Becker and Lendel for the older set) criss-crossing forehands and backhands over the well manicured lawns of the All England Tennis Club do not instantly call to mind bubble gum indie-pop, so why name your band after such a strangely pristine sport? Perhaps it’s because what the husband and wife duo* behind Tennis want to evoke is a playful and joyous sense of bliss and reverie? I mean after all “tennis” is a quaint sport. We watch grown adults run across grass, clay, or asphalt in the steaming and scorching sun for hours using only wood and string (and the occasional audible grunt or child-like tantrum (yes, I’m looking at you McEnroe)) to employ their craft and entertain. Oh wait sounds a lot like musicians in a way… Well regardless of the rationale or intent behind the name, Tennis’ newest album Young & Old is a pleasure ride of British-soul infused pop evocative of London’s swingin’ 60s mixed with an upbeat surfer rock vibe. Fronted by the dreamy vocals of Alaina Moore**, this album provides a gorgeous background for a dull and dreary day or the perfect way to celebrate the start of spring. Young and Old reminds me a lot of a cross between the down-tempo pop of England’s St. Etienne (if you don’t know them check out Foxbase Alpha) or the backwards looking doo-wop, soul stylings of Duffy (whose “Distant Dreamer” still brings smiles to my ear). And for the non-Mel Gibson Patriots in the (reading) crowd, Tennis are American bred hailing from Denver, CO, so don’t fear you won’t be dubbed an Anglo-phile for enjoying these guys. Hear the full album here. Favorite tracks: “Origins” and “Take Me to Heaven”.

* interesting how many great husband and wife duos there are and have been, Mates of State, the Handsome Furs, John and Yoko, the Carpenters ;), Thurston and Kim of Sonic Youth (for a long time), and, we can never forget, Sonny and Cher (“…and when I’m sad, you’re a clown”, now that’s love!). Perhaps the next thematic playlist will be composed of husband and wife tandems?  If so, let me know in the comments.

** I’ve said this already but the ladies are really rocking out this year! Woo-hoo!

In other news….

  • Calling all Nerds, “The Nerdist Podcast” is coming for a live show/recording to Chicago at the Vic Theatre, April, 14th. Come join me by purchasing tickets hereDon’t know them?  Download the shows for free via this link.
  • Last night saw the Head and the Heart at the Vic and what a truly beautiful show. Clearly these guys and gal love to perform together because they play like a family of musicians. Plus, the crowd was so into the show singing and dancing along, such wonderful sight. (Many of my friends have heard me decry how frustrated I get at concerts when a bunch of still sentinels stand in front of me. It’s called Rock and Roll because the music makes you move, so move it people!) If they are passing through your city or town, please go see them you will be very pleased. Tour info and sounds here.
  • If you like dancing on the ceiling or anywhere you can, get tropical with Andrew Bird.
  • Cover you up in my love – one great cover and one amusing cover of classics:
  • If you like purchasing albums, the new Andrew Bird and Magnetic Fields records are out!!!

Oh and if you have nothing to do tonight, join me for the Lower Dens at the Subterranean!

I can’t reach my destination, cause it’s still a world’s away,


…and the bands descend on Chicago

A busy week of music lies ahead here for yours truly, the possibility of four shows in four days and, no, I’m not going to be attending SXSW (aka South by Southwest). The Windy City is heating up with lots of great music coming this way in the upcoming week and weeks to come. If you haven’t already checked out who will be in attendance in the upcoming weeks and months then click here (and or see the updated posting on shows).

So this week the shows to see, well if you (and I) can get into all of them are as follows:

  • Wednesday (March 7th) – The Head and the Heart will be playing at the Vic Theatre. Hailing from Seattle, this band is best described as folk revivalists or alt-country troubadours in the vein of Fleet Foxes and Whiskeytown. But, these guys are far more upbeat and make you want to dance around the campfire chiming along with their pleasant ditties. If you never heard them, check out these amazing tracks here: “Down in Valley” (love the tempo and mood change at 1:46) and “Lost in My Mind”. N.B. They will also be playing on Thursday. Both shows are unfortunately sold out, but check Craigslist day of the show as often people will have an extra ticket to sell.
  • Thursday (March 8th)The Lower Dens at Subterranean. Part of the burgeoning Baltimore music scene (see also Wye Oak), the Lower Dens play a really exquisite blend of chill-wave rock mixed with a blend of southwestern guitar riffs (think Cowboy Junkies or Mazzy Star with a little more of electro-punk feeling).
  • Friday (March 9th) Alabama Shakes at Lincoln Hall (sold out) or Black Milk at Subterranean.
  • Saturday (March 10th)EMA at Lincoln Hall. I’ve been calling EMA the Midwestern latter day heir to Patti Smith — a poetess with some arresting and powerful lyrical imagery making infectious post-punk rock music. Also the Robert Glasper Experiment is playing Double Door as well. To say I’m obsessed with their new record, “Black Radio”, is to downplay how much I adore this record: a wonderful combination of old school soul, early 90s hip-hop, and 70s jazz.

Also, here is a list of tracks that I’ve been really moved by of late:

  • Four Tet and Burial’s “Nova
  • Mister Lies “I Walk”
  • Black Tears “Indeed”
  • Perfume Genius “Hood”
  • Kendrick Lamar “Cartoon & Cereal”
  • Rick Ross “Keys to the Crib”

Here’s a mini-playlist of these tracks.

Last but not least, if you are every hankering for some great internet radio stations with quality programming might I suggest….

Sotto Voce (or None at All): Instrumental Indie Music for Your Listening Pleasure

As a fan of classical music and especially 21st Century classical, I am often drawn towards pieces of music that incorporate symphonic elements and/or employ the minimalist and cross-genre experimentation of contemporary composers such as John Cage, Phillip Glass  (yes, he is related to Ira), and Steve Reich as well as the fabulous Kronos Quartet.  Therefore, it was with great pleasure that I fancied across this interesting article on the emergence of the newly termed sub-genre of “Indie-Classical”.  The article is an interesting read, but the highlight is the playlist (click here), which should provide some music for working, reading, and writing.

Of course, I also began to reflect on my own favorite albums and/or bands that I/one could classify under the “indie-classical” category.  So, below is a list of records that I would argue are essential listening in the newly dubbed “indie-classical” sub-genre.  As always, if you’d prefer to listen rather than read, here is a Playlist.  (Please note, the playlist contains all the artists referenced below with the exception of Papa M plus some additional tracks.)  I’d love to hear about your favorite indie-classical or indie-instrumental records as well.

Imagine the sound of the modern world coming to a complete halt, as though for a brief period in time there was nothing but space and silence.  Infuse into this abandoned canvas a luscious composition of electric guitars, strings, and a growing drumbeat.  Then, all of a sudden, as though a dial on the radio had been flipped, voices and sounds familiar begin to creep in and the sounds collide multiply and interweave into a crazy crescendo.  If you can see and hear that, then you will begin to understand and adore this band. On a related note, this Canadian ensemble might be one of the most talented and phenomenal set of musicians I have ever seen perform.  (To sample Lift Your Skinny Wrists…. go here (Yanqui is on the playlist) and don’t forget to catch them live at P’fork 2012 this summer!)

Rarely am I at a loss for words to describe a musician and album but I feel as though Four Tet exists at the edge of music and the most difficult of the set to categorize.  Of all the bands/musicians listed here, Four Tet might easily be my favorite of the bunch because he incorporates so many different styles of music into his oeuvre.  Known more as a DJ and mix-master, Pause is a work of pure bliss and euphoria, a sort of trip down aural nirvana.  Blending eastern string arrangements, traditional and East-African inspired percussion, and the steady interplay between  musical pauses and unrelenting synthesizer back-beats, this album is a series of gorgeous reveries through misty mountains in a far away land and treks into a strange and luminous world of aural layers.  (Not surprisingly, Four Tet remixed a composition by one of the composers referenced above, Steve Reich — listen here.)   Next Stop:  Four Tet’s Everything is Ecstatic.

  • Explosions in the Sky – all of a sudden I miss everyone

Although Take Care, Take Care might be the more up-beat and pop-friendly (well as “pop” as instrumental music can be), all of a sudden . . . incorporates both the euphoria and melancholy that is so characteristic of this Texas quartet.  Following in the vein of Godspeed, Explosions records tend to begin with a filmic tempo, mellow, pensive, and peaceful, and then as if the sky had been rent, they pour forth thunderous and blistering guitar medleys.  Next Stop:  Explosions’ Take Care, Take Care.

I happened across this band back when I was heading to Japan for the year.  The Lemon of Pink is a modern symphony of sultry and repetitive downtempo electronic beats combined with the vocal traffic and overheard conversations of modern life.  It is at once all too familiar and disarmingly new and different.  In so many ways, this album encapsulated my experiences in Osaka, Japan, a city and country all too superficially familiar but on further inspection revealed a constant and exciting barrage of new sights and sounds. Next Stop: The Books’ The Way Out.

  • Mogwai – Happy Songs for Happy People

Don’t let the title fool you, this collection of instrumental songs is far from jovial in any sense of the word – other than in the euphoria you might feel of great musicianship.  For a band that uses a sparing amount of lyrics or vocals in their music, these Scottish rockers tend to have a really sardonic approach to titling both albums and songs.  Although the hardcore Mogwai fans out there will most likely “vehemently” disagree with me on this choice from their catalog, I adore this record in part because it feels like a true journey from dirge-like darkness to melodic mirthful* meandering.  (*as mirthful as sulking Scots can get)  Next Stop:  Mogwai’s Come On Die Young  and Rock Action.

  • Tortoise – It’s All Around You

All the Tortoise records are amazing in their own right.  This one, though, is far and away the most “accessible” and upbeat of the bunch.  Given that many of the records, I’ve recommended here tends towards the more morose and melancholic sound of silence, I thought I’d add some sunshine.  There is a celebratory and playful quality to this record that makes it almost dance-y in nature.  Also, if you have the opportunity to see these guys live, please run, don’t walk because they feature one of the best drummers and drum sections in contemporary rock music.  Next Stop:  Tortoise’s Standards.

  • Papa M – Live from A Shark Cage

This was the first “instrumental” indie record I ever heard and it still resonates today as much as it did in the four walls of the dorm room I inhabited on 17 Young Orchard Street my junior year of college.  If there is such a thing as “lo-fi electronic music”, then this is it.  I couldn’t find any streams of this record (it’s about 14 years old, which in the internet age makes this a dinosaur of an album) but you can hear samples here.

For your reference, the additional albums on the playlist include, Battles Gloss Drop, Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack to There Will Be Blood and Sigur Ros’ Takk – unless you know Icelandic this is effectively an instrumental record.  (I adore Sigur Ros and will discuss them more at some later date I’m sure.)

Over and out for now…


Record Listening Party: California Dreamin’ . . .

on such a winter’s day indeed.  As though on queue, old man winter shed some flurries on the Windy City to provide the backdrop I’d imagined for this collection of albums from a long ago time in a land every so far.  Oh, but wait, I’m assuming people have a clue what I’m discussing.  Apologies.

About a year (or so) back, I was discussing or, better yet, decrying the fact that folks so rarely listened to albums from start to finish. This to me seemed a bit of travesty that need remedying because there are so many great albums that work as a collective whole rather than as snippets of singles that one can slot into a mix.  So, I started inviting friends over to my apartment to listen to what I believe were great records as a whole.  After this idea was met with positive responses, I continued hosting these evenings of listening to albums and started to create “themes”  (e.g. soul classics, indie-rock concept records, etc.).

…And so now we are up to speed.  The theme for this evening is (as referenced above) “California Dreamin'” featuring classic bands and albums from the Western Coast of ‘ye old U.S.A. circa 1960 to 1970.  (If you want to know why these records, just read the Note below.)

This evening’s program will include the following (if you’d like to follow along at home or revisit, here’s a playlist):

  • the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds
  • the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow
  • the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead

A Note on the records and music…

Our modern conception of American Rock music was most likely born as result of the folk revival movement in Tin Pan Alley as well as the classic recording sessions at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN.  However, the defining image of American classic rock, I’d argue, is drenched in sun, tie-dye and peace signs.  California, for many the promised land of better things to come and new beginnings, was a melting pot of people running to and from opportunity.  Not surprisingly some of the most iconic and influential bands of the era found a spiritual and literal home in the valleys and cliffs along the Pacific Coast.  These records celebrate three singular sounds that helped shape and arouse a generation to a new vision of America.  From the oft-maligned, yet angelic harmonies of the Beach Boys to the blues-infused psychedelic mind trips of Jefferson Airplane to the Americana-Folk Rock of the Dead, these bands represent three unique and at times seemingly divergent strains of Rock that have endured and continue to inspire many musicians today.

Let the Stylus Drop,


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