left off the tracks.

Archive for the category “Podcasts”

Everyday Epiphanies with Patrick Watson’s Adventures in Your Own Backyard

patrick adventuresSometimes music can be the palliative you need to redirect and refocus your perspective and energies. Patrick Watson and his talented crew of musicians did just that for me on Sunday evening.

Patrick Watson’s name and work has been percolating through my headphones at various moments throughout the year. Based on repeated mentions and features on NPR, we had some frequent interactions wherein I enjoyed myself, but didn’t get engulfed in what I now see is the genius of Adventures in Your Own Backyard, his newest record released earlier this year.* So, this is not a “new” record given our 21st Century society’s fascination with immediacy, but still fairly fresh off the press and I’d venture to say that with few exceptions (NPR listeners and the Patrick Watson faithful) a fairly under-the-radar album. Why is that? Well, I’ve got some thoughts, including the fact that most of the songs aren’t your traditional pop or radio friendly edits, in other words, extended cuts with non-traditional tempo and mood shifts. But, I’ll return to this in a second, let me just get back to why Patrick has been on my mind of late and why it took so long for this record to grow on me (and why I think it will grow on you too).

…after a series of enervating events (not quite rising to the level of the travails faced by the Baudelaire children), I found myself this Sunday pondering a jaunt to go see Patrick Watson perform because of all the praise lavished by Bob Boilen of his live performances during the past year. But, given the rather disappointing experience the previous evening seeing the Alabama Shakes with a noisy, raucous, and disrespectful crowd that included people hooting and hollering only during the moments when Brittany uttered the few curse words in their songs and countless gentlemen checking their dimwitted phones for updates on college football scores, I was on the fence. (Sidenote: the band did a great job in spite of the circumstances.) However, as is often the case, I’d rather regret doing than not, given that life has a way of rewarding risk taking. (Or, as John Lennon said best, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”) What I serendipitously stumbled across was one of the most beautiful live performances of the past couple of years.

Let’s paint the picture for those who weren’t there.

IMG_8736First, Patrick predominantly plays the piano accompanied by a number of musicians who play your typical guitars and percussion but the more atypical violinist in the wings. Second, on stage right there was a gauzy, muslin covered circle, which I surmised was for visual (e.g., lighting) purposes but turned out to be a backdrop for projecting images and colors. The latter was not merely enhancement but really an essential part of the total work of art. Third, the stage was low light (mostly up lighting) with a series of bare bulbs scattered throughout for illumination and a constant stage mist. (Yes, something resembling a SteamPunk haunted house.) Last, the crowd was patient, respectful, rhythmically swaying, minimally status updating or Instragraming, and fully invested. From the opening notes played on Patrick’s piano, the evening was shrouded in the sort of serene and pensive aura often reserved for places of worship. And, the analogy is fitting if for two reasons: (1) the calming and reenergizing perspective it helped induce in my mind and (2) I often equate the feeling produced by great art as transcendental and spiritual, the very things for which devout worshipers seek from their religion and holy places. Peace of mind comes in many shapes and sizes. I’ve found it in the loud blaring guitars and drums of Japandroids to the muted whispers of a Steve Reich symphony. Patrick Watson’s performance ran this gamut in its own way. A great deal of the songs both in his performance and on Adventures in Your Own Backyard are slow building, deeply layered, richly orchestrated and delicate works with a meditative quality. But, at countless moments throughout the evening and within tracks, the tempo will shift entirely and a veritable hootenanny will arise or, at the very least, a groundswell of power and emotion that incite a body to dance and sing along. One such moment occurred during “Into Giants” that begins as a soft melodic ballad that explodes into this euphoric chorus about promise and possibility; the moment at which all the voices on stage joined into the recurring chorus of “started as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end” sent shivers through the tightly (yet not uncomfortably) packed building (Lincoln Hall in Chicago, perhaps one of the best venues for live music I’ve ever been to). At another instance, a solo Patrick (as the band took a dramatic and practical break) encouraged audience participation with the following instructions: “when you sing these lines bring the emotions you have when a driver cuts you off, you know a little road rage.” The ensuing series of choruses grew with volume and enthusiasm in a psychic purging of our shared frustrations; it was the literal catharsis great art should always offer. I could keep gushing over the evening and the work but I’d rather you listen and experience the brilliance for yourself.IMG_8731

Now, before I do that though, I should give just a smattering of descriptions and comparisons to further entice those still unconvinced (or as I was Sunday evening on the proverbial fence). To begin with, this music and album takes some patience and an open mind, not to say its quirky and experimental, but, rather, its genius lies in its subtly and complexity. Throughout the evening I kept thinking of three artists in particular: the soul-stirring, falsetto of Jeff Buckley (the aural equivalent of Patrick’s vocal performance), the eclectic, rustic, baroque compositions of Andrew Bird, and the lush, atmospheric, expansive work of The Antlers. Of course, it’s not as though Patrick’s music is composed of simply those elements. At times, there are musical ventures into spaghetti-Western, Southwest infused soundscapes or folk-pop ballads, but it all happens in very contained and calculated ways.

Hopefully, at this stage, you are ready to listen to Patrick Watson’s Adventures in Your Own Backward** in its entirety, if so go here.

post-Posting update!! I almost forgot that NPR also has a live recording of Patrick Watson and band playing at the 930 Club in DC.  So you can see and hear what I saw here.  Isn’t technology sort of amazing sometimes.  (Except when it isn’t and complicates our life.)

(Non-Spotify users go to his website: http://www.adventuresinyourownbackyard.com/.)

a.a.

IMG_8732

*It is distinctly possible that his previous records are of an equally genius quality but I’ve yet to get to visit with them. Soon I’m sure.

** Also, this is a great title and reminds me at once of my favorite poet (e.e. cummings) and Yo La Tengo‘s …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, which is also a very similar record in tone.

Everyone is a DJ, but Not Everyone is a Musical Genius: John Cale and Philip Glass (Remixed)

As a kid I loved radio shows of all sorts, mostly having to do with music but the occasional radio play also wowed my fancy. Over the last decade or so, radio has become seemingly a dying art form. Some of it has to do with the for-profit nature and over commercialization of the medium (but let’s be honest this was always underneath the surface), the rise of DIY DJ-ing and the increased access to new music via the internet, and the inevitable transformation in cultural and entertainment preferences. However, if there is one place where radio is alive, thriving, and still inspiring it’s definitely at the public radio level and through the growth of podcasting. On a number of occasions, I have mentioned my absolute obsession with NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast and the exquisite taste and impressive insights of its hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton. Their ability to cull through the hundreds of songs and records being released on a monthly level and highlight artists and albums from a wide breadth of mediums and genres is impressive. Unlike many DJs and musical curators, I find their taste refreshing and inclusive, often turning to other fellow radio employees for their own deeper knowledge of mediums like electronic music, hip hop and rap, and (for a lack of a better term) world music.

One segment that always excites me is the recurring guest DJ segments because it allows the listeners (and fans) to get an insight into the taste of legends or artists currently in the limelight. Last week, Bob brought the Welsh-born, John Cale, into the “studio” to shed some light on his newest album, his astounding work with the Velvet Underground, and his own personal “education” in the realm of music both past and present. The songs he chose and his rationale blew me away. Often I’ve found that artists aren’t always great at vocalizing or explaining themselves and their history, not that this sort of thing is easy to do. But Cale was impressively candid, forthright, and amusing in discussing (spoiler alert) his fascination with Snoop Dog’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” as well as what it was like to make popular music in the wake of totalitarian regimes that co-opted artists and their composition for nefarious ends. Even if you are not a fan of the Velvet Underground, I think the 45 minute discussion by this brilliant septuagenarian and music lifer is worth a listen.

If you are intrigued (and I hope you are), download or stream the All Songs Considered: Guest DJ John Cale podcast here.

…and while you are on NPR’s site listen to the stunning new remix album of Philip Glass’ body of work, Rework_Philip Glass by the likes of Beck, Amon Tobin, Dan Deacon, Memory Tapes and more!

as always/enjoy,

a.a.

Pump It Up: Detroit Electronic Music Fest and Japandroids

…a quick post here for some excellent trance inducing beats and adrenaline pounding rock to get you geared up for the weekend (a sort of follow up to yesterday’s dance infused post).

Detroit Electronic Music Festival (via NPR)

Check out NPR’s coverage of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival with Bob, Sam Yenigun and Morgan Tepper here.

Electronic music is not everyone’s cup of tea but perhaps owing to my Miami roots, I find myself grooving to a lot of the  beats emanating from DJ booths and dance halls.  There is a great mix of techno, house, downtempo and just straight up dance music.  Great music to play as you prep your mind for a relaxing weekend.

Love the Benoit and Sergio remix/cover of the Metronomy song and the closing track “Sunrise BCN”!!!

(NoteIf you want to listen to the music without the banter (but I adore the banter and think it’s informative), then simply add individual tracks to the playlist.)

This show and mix of songs gets me excited and thinking “Next year in Detroit!”

Japandroids Celebration Rock (stream here)

NPR is streaming the new record from this Vancouver Duo, one of the hardest rocking bands out there right now.  I adore their brand of full on anthemic punk rock.  I think I’ve listened to this stream at least four times in the last day (easy to do cause it’s just 35 minutes in total!) and it’s growing and growing on me.  A perfect  fist pumping way to wrap up the day before leaving the office, classroom, house, or wherever you might be spending the day.

Also, these guys are on tour and you HAVE to go see them — far and away one of my favorite live acts of the past decade.

enjoy the non-silence,

a.a.

Talking About Music: Low Times and other Podcasts

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast and its new summer quest in search of albums that we all love. Following up on this thread, I listened to a number of Podcasts this past week, in part because I “needed” to catch up and as a distraction/palliative to the sleep-inducing work in which I was enmeshed. The Podcasts that I subscribe to fall into two very distinct groups: (1) music related and (2) comedy shows. With the ever diminishing number of quality radio programs and “live” (as opposed to computer programmed) radio stations, I, for one, find the podcast format a means of capturing the best of what Radio use to do and what it meant to me and many others in our “youth” – a place of informed and intelligent conversation about music, showcasing new music, quirky off-beat reflections on the times in which we live. The shows I gravitate towards have a healthy dose of all these elements in varying degrees. So without further ado, here are some Podcasts of interest to music lovers and people who like to laugh.

Low Times Podcast featuring Ezra Koening, Colin Hay and DJ Spooky.

By way of background, Low Times is almost entirely a podcast filled with interviews of contemporary musicians. The interviews are conducted by Tom Scharpling, Daniel Ralston, and Maggie Serota. (In case you are not familiar with Tom Scharpling, he is the host of The Best Show on WFMU out of New Jersey. If you are a music fan, you should definitely check out – see here.)  This episode of the Low Times podcast was particularly engaging in my opinion because it focused on three very different artists and perspective on music.

  • Ezra Koening of Vampire Weekend discussed issues of privilege and people’s perception of his band and their relationship to privilege and “preppy culture”. Personally, I think this interview should be heard by all their detractors because I think Ezra has some pretty intelligent responses to the critiques that folks have directed them. There is also a great deal of New Jersey love spilling from Ezra’s and Tom’s lips.
  • Colin Hay, formerly of Men At Work and now a solo artist in his own right, talks about going from icon to starting over and going at it alone – i.e., without a record label or distribution.
  • DJ Spooky is undoubtedly one of the most unique and clever music makers in the business and listening to this interview you will also be impressed by his unique take on contemporary social/digital media (“There is too much of everything, . . . there isn’t too much information, there are just bad filters”). Also, I totally agree with his critique of algorithm-based internet radio stations  (aka Pandora or similar sites, personally the beta version of Pandora years ago was better). According to the interview, he owns 20 to 25,000 records (!!!) and has them in storage.  Man I would love to dig around that storage space.
Comedy Bang Bang Third Anniversary Special featuring Zack Galifianakis and St. Vincent

Quick background: A comedy show hosted by Scott Aukerman who invites fellow comedians to come in and discuss their careers except that crazy celebrities always appear to interrupt and hijack the mics.

I think this show is always hysterically funny but this was an explosion of laughter. I had to bite my hand not to laugh out loud in the space I was working. I still have bruises. A special treat on this episode is hearing St. Vincent perform three stripped down, acoustic songs from Strange Mercy including “Cruel” and “Cheerleader”. It’s worth listening just for that.

Plus, Zack G. and a parade of fellow comedians including Harris Wittels (who writes for Parks and Recreation) and Nick Kroll (from The League) make this an especially amusing episode. Advance warning, there is a healthy dose of “adult language” on this episode, so if you get offended by this kind of stuff, best to avoid.

Sklarbro Country
Another comedy show hosted by twin brothers from St. Louis, who love indie rock music and sports, and discuss and regularly feature both on their show. For the non-sports fans, this show isn’t about stats or opinions about games/players, instead, the Sklar brothers tend to focus on the more amusing (and also triumphant) side of sports.  Personally, I enjoy their educated, comical, and impassioned discussion of sports and entertainment.  Plus, they tend to have pretty great taste in music too.

Two recent episodes that I think will be good introductions include Episode 94 with Madmen‘s Jon Hamm (forewarning there is a great deal of discussion of the St. Louis Cardinals on this episode, a fast forwarded that part) or Episode 93 with Chelsea Peretti (this one included a great discussion about why Chelsea and the brother Sklar like sports).

Perhaps these can provide some nice distraction or entertainment on a lazy Sunday afternoon, on long drives, or during a long day of work.

a.a.

NPR’s Albums We ALL Love

Is it possible for people to agree on a single album that “we” all like? Is there a record that when it plays on the radio or at a party everyone in the room can really enjoy no matter what form of music they generally prefer? Although the skeptic in me might think that it’s somewhat mathematically improbable or impossible, the music lover in me begs to differ – contrarianism as idealism, what a novel concept. Well, if there is such a “holy grail” of an album, NPR’s All Songs Considered is on a summer long quest to find it.

The dynamic musical duo of public radio, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, are inviting its listeners to chime on in the albums that they feel are “universally” loved and they will be sharing the results and conducting polls to find the ten albums (?!?) that everyone can agree to agree on. Personally, I’m curious to see what might come of it. Now, it is important to note, as Bob and Robin do, that this isn’t necessarily a survey of “the best”, “greatest”, or “most important” records. This might lead to a great deal of disharmony. Rather, the goal is to find common ground across the wide breadth of musical preferences. I draw your attention to this particular segment of All Songs Considered because I think Bob and Robin talk about music in a way that demonstrates their love and passion for music as well as presenting material, new and old, in a manner that all folks can relate to, a sort of everyman’s radio show.  I think this first installment of this recurring series perfectly encapsulates their appreciation for a broad range of music from Billie Holiday (a personal favorite) to Bob Marley (amazing song choice by Glen Hansard) to AC/DC and Boston, both of which are bands that you wouldn’t think two nerdy music types would dig. (I do have to agree that Back In Black is definitely a killer record.)

If you’ve never listened to the All Songs Considered Podcast I would MOST DEFINITELY encourage you to start listening, and this might be the perfect introduction. (If you like it, I would also suggest that you either subscribe to their podcast (it’s free!) via iTunes or their website or listen via Google Listen (for Android users) or the NPR Music App (for the iPhone). For the record, I don’t work for NPR, I just really appreciate what they do and trying to spread the word about their non-News features.)

  • To listen to the first installment of NPR’s “Can’t We All Just Get Along? Our Search For The Albums Everyone Loves” podcast, click and stream here.

You can also nominate albums for their consideration in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

In case you are wondering what I would add to the list of albums not already showcased or named on the show, here’s a small handful:

  • Van MorrisonAstral Weeks
  • The Beatles – Abbey Road
  • Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
  • the Band – s/t
  • Bob Dylan – Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or Blonde on Blonde
  • Stan Getz and Joao GilbertoGetz/Gilberto
  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  • Fleetwood MacRumours
  • Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

Yes, this list contains not a single album after about 1985. This isn’t to say there aren’t great records that have been made in the past thirty years. I just couldn’t really think of anything of recent memory that has “universal appeal”. Artists like the Smiths, Nirvana, Radiohead, R.E.M., Belle and Sebastian and Wilco dominate my record collection and personal favorites list but I know lots of people to whom these don’t appeal. The only record of recent vintage I thought of including was Mumford and Sons Sigh No More because it has the sort of cross-over appeal of say the Once soundtrack.

What would you suggest? Feel free to submit your thoughts in the comments section here (but please do add your thoughts to NPR’s site as well!).

a.a.

p.s. In other NPR news, check out the new records on First Listen (here’s a Link), including:

  • Regina Spektor
  • Sigur Ros !!!
  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • The Walkmen
  • Saint Etienne !!!

Through the Looking Glass: Julia Holter’s Ekstasis

You are late. For a very important date. A curious journey into a strange realm of delicate and somber layers of sound. Follow me, if you will, for a brief diversion into a land of dream sounds and reveries. Follow me down the rabbit hole into Julia Holter’s Ekstasis.

A digression on terminology…. For the classic language scholars, perhaps the origin of the word or term Ekstasis is not lost on them. For the remainder (of us) who traffic in the more contemporary languages, Ekstasis is the Greek form of “ecstasy”. As defined in the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary1 , “ecstasy” is: (1) a state of being beyond reason and self-control; (2) a state of overwhelming emotion; esp: rapturous delight (3) Trance; esp: a mystic or prophetic trance.2

Each subtle variation on the definition of “ecstasy” is both an apt description of and excellent synthesis of this unique album by Los Angeles’ Julia Holter. As you might have gathered by way of my introduction, Ekstasis is not your traditional or conventional record. Holter is regarded as “experimental pop music” by certain music media (read: Pitchfork by way of whom I discovered her music some months back). However, I think the term “experimental” in this context does not connote the usual associations one tends to have with experimental, such as “atonal”, non-melodic, improvisational, lacking structure, etc. Rather, Holter’s music is experimental in so far as it eschews (for the most part) the traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure and focuses more on layering various instruments, sounds, and vocal arrangements to create a soundscape of dream-laced compositions. In many ways, she is no different than a number of DJ/producers such as Four Tet or The Books (now defunct); instrumental-only indie/rock bands such as Tortoise; or more recognizable dream/fuzz-pop bands like the Cocteau Twins, Beach House, the Lower Dens, or, even Bon Iver, on the last album. Perhaps, the term “experimental” is used for branding purposes. Or, then again, it may be a way of situating Julia in the tradition of musicians on the margin between music and performance art such as Laurie Anderson or Meredith Monk. Personally, I find Julia’s work leaning more towards the music side and is “arguably” more accessible (in part because I don’t think you need to “get the work” to appreciate the work).

But, what does it sound like? A delicate quasi-Baroque chamber orchestra overlaid with a cascade of Julia’s siren-like vocals, subtle synthesizer melodies, and minimal percussion (for accent). Of course, each song has even more nuanced variations on this theme, but the whole record has an otherworldly, old-world meshed against modernity feel evocative of Dead Can Dance or Kronos Quartet (both exquisite synthesizers of eastern and western musical traditions). Although this is a record that (I would argue) is about the sum of its parts, there are two stellar tracks that could stand on their own: “In the Same Room” and “Marienbad”. “In the Same Room” was the first track that caught my attention and it has all the elements of baroque production and vocal layering previously discussed. However, unlike the remainder of the album, it is has the feel of a “traditional” pop song in part because of the percussion at the outset of the song which lays a blueprint of anticipation for what is to come – don’t be surprised, though, if expectations aren’t met. (If you are a fan of Beach House, this track will definitely appeal to you.). On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Marienbadwanders in a series of varying vocal motifs of curiosity, whimsy, nightmare, and, finally, epiphany. If Philip Glass set out to make a mini-vocal arrangement in the vein of Einstein on the Beach and invited David Lynch3 to supply the aural narrative, this would be their scion. Enough discussing the odd and opulent landscape of Ekstasis, please take venture into its rapturous delight below:

  • Listen to the entirety of Ekstasis here via Spotify.
  • Listen toMarienbad” here. (For non-Spotify users)
  • See the video for “In the Same Room” here.
  • Visit Julia Holter’s website here.

First Listen Alert!!! As always, I try my best to update on bands and records, being spotlighted on NPR’s First Listen. Starting today, NPR will be streaming the following three records for free (click on name to listen):

It is pure cosmic coincidence (or the Super Moon?) that I am writing about Julia Holter’s record on the day that two artists who traffic in a similar aesthetic (i.e., Beach House and Exitmusic) are being streamed on NPR. Although I’ve only listened through the Beach House and Exitmusic albums once, they are excellent background/atmospheric music to accompany a day of work — who knows you might impress your co-workers.

May your day be merry and bright,

a.a.

1 Note: From the print not the online version. As a recalcitrant Luddite, I maintain an unhealthy collection of dictionaries of varying lengths. One day, I will be bold enough to graduate to the OED’s voluminous and tiny print, but for now the MWCD will do.

2 A fourth entry exists which references the pharmaceutical “party” drug of the late 80s/90s most often associated with raves, house music, and the European trip-hop scene. I am venturing a guess that Julia was not referencing this usage.

3 I tried so hard not to invoke David Lynch, but, if ever the term Lynchian or Lynch-esque were appropriate, then Ekstasis captures it. (Think more of the mid-early Lynch work, i.e. Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, or Twin Peaks.)

Bellingham’s Brightest: A Death Cab for Cutie Mix

“…this is fact not fiction for the first time in years.” – ben gibbard

In anticipation of this evening’s Death Cab For Cutie concert at the Chicago Theatre, I decided to put together a medley of my favorite songs produced by the band over their decade plus recording career.

Click here for the Death Cab Mix: Songs Composed While You Were Sleeping (via Spotify).

Although over the years many of their original fans have fallen by the wayside because the band has moved towards an arguably more mainstream pop sound, I still find myself reveling in their music old and new.  Admittedly, I do not think anything will ever capture the intimacy and the brilliantly layered lo-fi musical landscape of the first four records (see “Transatlanticism” which best encapsulates this style), Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, and company can still write poignant and eye-watering pop-songs better than most song writers. While the lo-fi buzz and hum of the early records has disappeared, the band has moved towards creating gorgeously orchestrated, almost symphonic indie-pop chamber pieces.

By this stage, I assume most folks are familiar with Death Cab (after all they were featured in the Twilight soundtrack) and I need not enter into an extensive history of the band.  However, I will encourage everyone to visit or revisit the first three records if they haven’t recently because taken as a whole they are little gems.  Check Out:

  • Something About Airplanes
  • We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes and
  • The Photo Album (all available on Spotify).

I will report back on the show post-performance.

Two quick tidbits of historical information:

(1) the title of this post references the fact that DCFC is from Bellingham, Washington (which for sports fans is also the home of Ted Williams) and

(2) the origin of the name (because many have asked in the past) is as follows: “Gibbard took the band name from the title of the song written by Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall and performed by their group, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, in The Beatles’ 1967 film, Magical Mystery Tour.” from Wikipedia so it must be true, right?).

LISTEN TO THIS!!!  Before I go, I highly encourage folks to check out this week’s NPR All Songs Considered Podcast featuring awesome new material from Hot Chip, Japandroids, and Bobby Womack (you might remember him from the Gorillaz “Styllo“).  (In case you listen to just the tracks, I am particularly fond of Sarah Jaffe’s “Glorified High”)).

a.a.

All Hands on Deck – the Shins are Back and Nerd(ist)s Are Afoot

The ShinsPort Of Morrow

“We all spend a little time going down the rabbit hole…” – James Mercer

News of a new record from the Shins brought this indie fan-boy a great deal of delight. The stories from the Northwest suggested that James Mercer and his original band mates had been estranged and (gulp) perhaps the indie-darlings of Garden State fame were no more. And, with the release of his Broken Bells collaboration with Danger Mouse it appeared that the Portland by way of Albuquerque foursome was but a footnote in the career of a very gifted songwriter – happens far too often (e.g. The Smiths, Blur, 10,000 Maniacs). Well, the Shins are back, sort of. The newest incarnation of the Shins contains only one carryover from the group that wormed their way into your heart with “New Slang” and the phenomenal Chutes to Narrow and Wincing the Night Away: James Mercer. But, if Port of Morrow is any indicator, the Shins are James Mercer with accompaniment (or expressed in logical terms: If Shins, then James Mercer). Okay, but is the record any good? Yes, quite.

Now, we have all seen bands we adore in their nascent stages win our hearts with their unique sound and creativity, but then disappear gently into the night of musical also-rans (see Weezer). For all its exemplary constituent parts, Port of Morrow is less innovation and more craftsmanship; however, it is by no means a retreat. In all fairness, this Shins record is much like a sonnet – a well-orchestrated rhythmically precise piece of versification, which on its surface appears like perfectly crystalline and impenetrable self-contained world, but upon further inspection unfurls with powerfully submerged layers of emotion. This record will not necessarily hook you as quickly as the previous Shins offerings. Don’t fret, it has all the components of previous Mercer/Shins releases: (1) plaintive and contemplative songs (“It’s Only Life” and “Taken for a Fool”); (2) upbeat, peppy pop songs with introspective lyrics (“Simple Song” and “No Way Down”); (3) soft, cowboy/southwestern infused-indie pop (“September” and “40 Mark Strasse”); and (4) James Mercer’s gorgeous falsetto-like vocal style along with complimentary Beach Boys-esque mini-choral harmonies (see all). This album reminds me a great deal of Death Cab For Cutie‘s Plans – a drastic shift away from epic, sprawling dada-like compositions to shorter and (arguably) more conventional pop songs. But, like Plans, Port of Morrow rewards its listeners with little gems of insight, working with subtlety and eye-wink charm. So, there is a lot to love about this record and, over time, I believe you’ll grow to enjoy.

Click here to listen to The Shins’ Port of Morrow.

2012 Records Vol. 3 

A bit late but the following playlist, 2012 Records Vol. 3, contains records from the past two months I’ve been really enjoying and/or spotlighted here including records by Tennis, Andrew Bird, Now, Now, Lost In The Trees, the Shins (see above) and Odd Future (forthcoming).

Nerd(ist) Alert!  (Or, My Friends Do Some Really Cool Stuff!)

Aside from spotlighting great new (and old) music, I like turning your ears and eyes to exciting and interesting things that are going on in the cultural sphere and fortunately I have a number of friends doing some great things across the country (and interwebs) to which I will draw your attention. For example, one of my friends, Paul Grellong, who is a phenomenal writer for stage, film and TV, appeared on the Nerdist Writer’s Panel to discuss his experiences as a writer for TV, specifically his gigs on Terra Nova and Law and Order: SVU. For the record, the Writer’s Panel is a great series that will introduce you into the realities and inside-stories about the TV business and the current state of TV (which for TV outcasts like myself is helpful to stay in touch with the predominant cultural memes).  In addition, it offers great advice for writers who want to learn about working and getting into the business.

Listen and/or download the Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast here. (For the tech challenged, you have to go in to iTunes to download by searching for Nerdist Writer’s Panel, Episode 34.)

Also, if you are living in Chicago, The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick will be live tomorrow at the Vic Theatre. I’ll be there. You should be too!

Songs I’m digging on…

  • Collen Green’s “Nice Boy (I Want A)” – Things I know about Colleen Green: She’s (1) from L.A., (2) makes punky lo-fi music, (3) likes the Ramones, who doesn’t ;) (see I Wanna Be Degraded), and (4) wants a nice boy. For fans of Best Coast and Sleigh Bells and lo-fi indie pop.
  • Anais Mitchell’s “Venus” (live recording via YouTube) – Folk songstress with a voice reminiscent of a young Rickie Lee Jones (if you’ve never listened to Pirates, go here now).
  • Chromatics “Kill For Love” — 21st century shoe-gazer rock with audible lyrics!!! If My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive had a child that was raised by M83, it would sound like this. Well even if the description is inapt, it’s an A-mazing song.

Great Mixtape! from the U.K.’s Charlie XCX entitled Supergirls, from the U.K.’s Charlie XCX featuring all sensational female artists past and present.  Seriously this is a great collection of songs to work your way up to the weekend.

For the sake of accurate compartmentalization (and so it doesn’t get lost “under the fold”), I will be discussing in a separate post some really great stuff happening in Chicago this weekend.

Hasta manana,

a.a.

A Mild Winter’s Tale: 5 Essential Discs for 2012 (so far…)

Anyone who reads music periodicals has probably been privy to the overabundance of “Lists”. “Critics” have a fondness for rating (and raving about) their favorite fill-in-the-blank. Take for example High Fidelity‘s Rob Gordon who takes list making to an absurdist length by rating past breakups and revisiting the best and worst in his ongoing search to grow up, all the while learning how to make the perfect mixtape. Although an arguably endearing and amusing trait1, it’s also a neurotic (and benign) affliction that many of music-loving geeks cannot avoid.

Three months into 2012 and I find myself pleasantly wrestling with the question of which albums I like the best. The astute reader would easily retort with, “Well, it’s easy isn’t it? You either love a record instantly or you don’t, right?” At times, yes, but, then again, I find certain albums will slowly grow on you or just one day make sense. Growing up I never cared much for the Rolling Stones, something about the music didn’t really resonate with me. Then, in my early 20s, while sipping on an Old Style at the Beachwood2 the jukebox came to spinning out a soulful, bluesy rock song and I heard Mick’s strange, sultry voice intone “I want to be your beast of burden” and my whole perspective on the Stones changed. All of a sudden, I understood (a) what he was talking about and (b) how the Stones’ music seeped into people’s minds firing neural pleasure receptors, inspiring insight and recollection. Since then, I won’t relegate any record to the trash bin without giving it some time to reverberate in my consciousness. Thus, without further ado here is the first installment of a recurring list of albums which I believe deserve a good listen. Are these my “favorite records” of the year so far? Not necessarily. However, something in each record has struck me and I believe they will have a broad appeal or contain an emblematic or common musical motif I’m hearing.

  • The Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio – A difficult record to categorize because by its own admission it refuses simple tags such as hip-hop, rhythm and blues, rap, or jazz but blends elements of each into its unique tapestry of sound. Black Radio like the title suggests is an eclectic collection of songs and styles mostly associated with Black culture in the U.S., but it is also much more than that that, it is like a lost transmission from a not too distant past. Its closest analog would be the Neo-Soul sound or Soul Revival of the late 90s by artists such as Maxwell, Erykah Badu, or Lauryn Hill, who brought back the brilliant fusion of Jazz, R&B, and Soul music that embodied 70s musical production. A beautiful cross-pollination of chill musical styles, this album will serve as the perfect way to wind down the week or enjoy those pleasant spring nights to come. (I know that by using the “J” word (i.e., jazz) I’ve raised a number of cautious eyebrows but don’t let it scare you, jazz music underscores and inspires so much of the early hip-hop movement that you’ve probably been listening to jazz samples without knowing for years. Give it a listen; you’ll be pleasantly smiling by album’s end.)
  • Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror – If I were selling this record like Tim Robbins in The Player, I’d say this record is like The Shangri-Las meets Black Sabbath. If you heard their fantastic single “Rill Rill” from a couple of years back, you will understand what I mean. While these guys (or guy and gal) can thrash like metal monsters, there is a 50/60s pop and doo-wop sensibility underscoring their rage. It’s fantastically, blaringly loud and precise bubble gum rock all at once. In other words, these guys are the Pop Rocks of indie rock.
  • Sharon Van Etten, Tramp – The more time passes the more I adore this record as I find it unfolding new layers of meaning. This is a brooding and emotionally raw record with beautiful and lush instrumentation. It recalls the sounds and feel of old favorites like Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See (somnambulistic southwestern guitars), Cat Power’s You Are Free (pensive folk rock) and PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (fierce, acerbic songwriting) – all records that catapulted the respective artists into Indie stardom. In addition, having watched Sharon perform earlier this year, I was struck by both her humility and how much she really connected and shared with the audience. She is a class act and this record is an engrossing listen.
  • Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N2 It – Yet another dark and haunting record; however, unlike Tramp, Put Your Back N2 It works in a far more delicate and stripped down environment. The two defining characteristics of this record are Mike Hadreas’ (aka Perfume Genius) voice, a cross between Nina Simone and Antony and The Johnsons, and his ability to play with the silences and the spaces between notes. The latter creates this pregnant tension throughout the entire record as the listener waits (at times in vain) for an eruption of sound, the moment of pop nirvana that we’ve come to expect. This is definitely a record that will take repeated and careful listening. Additionally, for fans of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, there is a striking resemblance to the music underscoring our glimpse into the strange Northwestern town Agent Dale Cooper chanced upon so many years ago. Diane, remember to remind people that Perfume Genius is playing Schuba’s next week.
  • Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself A new Andrew Bird record is a reason to get excited because for a brief moment in time we are able to take a trip into a magical, rural landscape with violins and whistles. What makes this Andrew Bird record more special (to me) than previous releases is its consistency and strength from start to finish. I’ve always found wonderful moments in his previous releases and certainly there are individual moments that are better in say The
    Mysterious Production of Eggs or Noble Beast but both of those records have moments during which I tuned out or wanted to skip forward (which is a lot more cumbersome when you are listening on vinyl). Also, this record finds Andrew Bird embracing and incorporating more American folk traditions as well as some Caribbean inspired percussion and rhythms – which definitely brings a smile to my face!

If you want to listen to these records via Spotify individually, simply click on the album title or to listen to all five click here.

In the next post, I’ll offer up my favorite individual tracks so far — hint they are likely all within one of the two playlists I’ve already posted.

Musica En Vivo: Concerts News…

  • This week in Chicago,
    • @Schuba’s: Lost in the Trees at Schubas (4/3)
    • @theMetro: Youth Lagoon and Porcelain Raft at Metro (4/4), Wild Flag(!!!) and Hospitality (4/5), and Lucero (4/7)
    • Attending the ones in Bold.
  • Do you think it’s dangerous to have Busby Berkley dreams? Not, I. In fact if only every songwriter had the depth and breadth of reference owned by one Stephen Merritt. If you’ve never seen the Magnetic Fields live, make sure not to miss them on their current tour in support of the fabulous Love at the Bottom of the Sea. If you are worried that they won’t play the “hits”, dispossess yourself of that notion, because there were plenty of tracks from 69 Love Songs, Get Lost, and The Charm of the Highway Strip. Particularly stirring were their renditions of “Grand Canyon”, “The Book of Love”, “No One Will Ever Love You” and “Busby Berkley Dreams”. I will say don’t expect to “rock out” to this show. It’s definitely a mellow evening (filled with plenty of banter about bunnies and unicorns), but you can dance like a whirling dervish if you like. I don’t think Stephen will mind. Well maybe… An additional highlight was the opportunity to hear Kelly Hogan’s exquisite voice concluding with a cover of “Papa Was A Rodeo”.
  • Come On Back New York City: All I have to say is I’m really glad that Jeff Tweedy didn’t go to NYC in search of the girl he thought he loved in “New Madrid” because Chicago is really lucky to have him and his band of merry music makers as our “house band.” Playing his annual benefit for a local school, Jeff Tweedy played thirty (!!!) songs picked by the audience spanning his entire songwriting career, a handful of Tupelo songs, a song from Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg (which by the way is being reissued with new and previously unreleased materials, see here), a large number of Wilco songs (duh) and some solo stuff he’s written over the years (plus two very special covers). To me the highlight of the set was the collection of Uncle Tupelo songs he played, one of the most important and influential bands I will likely never get to see (even though all the members are still living). But, the TRUE highlight is Jeff Tweedy who is a great showman and a humble, pleasantly self-effacing artist. I marvel that despite all the critical success his band has achieved he doesn’t take any of the fanfare and adulation for granted. It is clear that he loves to play music and, more importantly, he loves playing for his fans. Now this last part isn’t very punk rock, or is it? Who cares, as a fan it’s wonderful and he and his band (Wilco) are phenomenal – a truly special band that every fan of music should see.

…and before I go:

  • Other stuff I’m currently listening to (I’ve yet to discuss) and really digging:
    • Odd Futures’ The OF Tape, Vol. 2
    • The Shins’ Point of Morrow
    • Julia Holter’s Ekstasis
    • Young Prisms’ In Between
  • If you need a good laugh, check out the crazy comedic clowns at Professor Blastoff (one of my favorite podcasts) discussing the subject of “Taste” – stay tuned for the piece de resistance where Kyle calls his mother to discuss whether he’d been breastfed (47 minutes in).

Goodbye to the lions, lambs, and Ides of March and hello April’s figurative showers3.

a.a.

 1 If you’ve ever gone toe-to-toe with someone declaiming why their “band” is better than yours, you’ll understand.

2 Which is a pretty aptly named bar because it’s at the corner of Beach and Wood. Oh and they have a phenomenal jukebox…. when it’s actually working.

3 Because we’ve already got plenty of sprouting flowers.

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.a.

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.

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