In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 3): Best Albums of 2012

(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones)


best of albums 3.

(Also, in case you missed them, click here for (a) the best tracks of 2012 or (b) best shows/moments of 2012.  Now back to the regularly scheduled program…)

I started writing this a couple of days ago and yesterday afternoon I learned of the passing of Ravi Shankar, the world famous musician that introduced the sitar and Indian devotional music to the Beatles and the world. As I reflected on his passing, I thought about how so many of the artists I adore and are featured in this year-end reflection were influenced in part by the music that Ravi brought to our attention. Bear with me for a second, the connection isn’t direct; none of the musicians discussed herein necessarily incorporated sitar or Indian musical traditions into their work (though certainly some drew from non-Western music). Just, take a second and go back in time with me to the late 60s. Imagine yourself in 1967 putting on B-side of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and hearing the opening notes of Harrison’s “Within You Without You” emanating from your stereo speakers. Before a single word is uttered, a sitar introduces the song’s existential ruminations on love. What a strange and unfamiliar yet beautiful sound? In blending, incorporating, pushing, and exploring the spaces were Anglophone popular music had (t)heretofore not ventured, the four boys from Liverpool, England, were introducing generations (courtesy of Ravi Shankar) to the infinite permutations towards which music could evolve. It is exactly this sort of creativity, genre-defying, and experimental work that has always impressed and moved me. (The same could be said for the work of Philip Glass whose influence can be readily seen in the remix record compiled by Beck featuring many of today’s most innovative electronic/dance artists, discussed further below. At times, it is hard to distinguish between the style of the original and the remix.) The foregoing isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate “traditional” forms as well. But, the ability to fluidly move between innovation, reinvention, and convention makes me marvel at the power of artists, musicians, and composers; more importantly, it is what keeps me coming back for more. Without too much more of a lengthy intro, I’ll just make some final passing observations.

  • Unlike years past, no single record captured my head and heart totally. Instead, a handful of excellent records all found themselves as the soundtrack to my year. Personally, I thought this was a great year for music, but then again I tend to enjoy various styles of music.
  • The number of quality albums across diverse genres and the resurgence of old forms (e.g., R&B, Soul, Folk) pleased me to no end. Of course, I have a soft spot for certain styles more than others (which my lists betray), but I spent more time away from “Rock” and more time in realms nestled between genres.
  • I loved both the refinement of electronic modes of production and the resurgence of pure, unadulterated, non-studio enhanced stripped-down songs and albums across all styles. The power of real instruments and voices is always what captures the rawest and purest emotions.
  • In a genre too often dominated by men, the ladies of indie/rock, Neo-/folk, electronica, dance, and R&B put out some of the best recordings of the year.
  • Unlike my “best tracks of 2012″, the albums I found myself revisiting contained many different emotional and thematic tones. Although there are many records that contain a comical, joyous, up-beat and playful quality, a number of these albums also tackle more weighty and heavy emotional, personal, and political themes from dealing with profound personal loss to losing direction to social inequalities (socio-economic and legal). But, running throughout each is the overwhelming sense of hope and possibility.
  • In these records there is: complicated beauty, unbridled joy, southing soul, witty wordplay, mesmerizing grooves, furious creativity, heart wrenching loss, and unapologetic honesty. A couple of records made me cry a whole lot (good and powerful tears): Passion Pit’s Gossamer, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love”, Perfume Genius’ Put Your Back N 2 It, and How to Dress Well’s Total Loss.
  • As always, I regret not spending more time with certain records. Okay, No more distractions.

Favorite Albums of 2012

(Click on each title to listen via Spotify or the “tier” playlist header.
Click on the (+ more) for previous write-ups.)

Tier 1 – Records That Inspired, Touched, Impressed, and Soothed (#s 1-20)

  • crockJapandroids – Celebration Rock(Indie/Punk Rock): This Vancouver duo makes loud and infectious anthemic indie-punk rock that brings the adolescent in this aging hipster to the fore. Their songs exude a youthful devil-may care abandon and optimism tinged with subtle dose of nostalgia for simpler times. Remember what it was like not to second guess every thought and pump your firsts into the air? Turn this on and up!!! (+ more)
  • KellyHogan-ILikeToKeepMyselfInPainKelly Hogan – I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (Americana, Standards, Bluesy Rock): Kelly’s latest record reminds me of “the why” and “the when” of when I feel in love with music: a young boy moved by grace and beauty. Breathing life into songs composed for her bourbon and blues soul-drenched voice by some of the best songwriters in the business (e.g., Stephin Merritt, Robyn Hitchcock, Andrew Bird, Jon Langford, M.Ward, Robbie Fulks, and herself), this record travels across old popular American musical genres and contemporary indie rock with a fresh and fulsome feel. I could listen to Kelly Hogan sing the ingredients of a Campbell’s soup label. She has a voice that singes, soothes, and inspires all at once. Wedged in the spaces between jazz standards, Americana, blues and indie pop, this is one of the more perfectly tuned and orchestrated collection of songs you’ll hear in a long time. (+ more)
  • channelORANGEFrank Ocean – channelORANGE (deconstructed R&B & Neo-Soul): The only thing the Grammy’s got right this year is acknowledging the brilliance of Frank Ocean’s debut record. Capable of ripping through classic Soul and R&B with the skill of a Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye, Ocean also takes apart songs to their barest parts and tells culturally critical anecdotes of socio-economic differences with tongue-in-check wordplay and unapologetic candor. Unlike many other popular R&B artists out there, he doesn’t need superfluous dance beats or studio effects to catch your attention, instead he relies on carefully, densely packed yet tense songs to impress. A brilliant chill ride. (+ more)
  • omam_albumOf Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal (Baroque Indie Pop/Neo-Folk): Next to the Japandroids record, I might have listened to this more than any other. Why? Aside from it being the kind of music the 8 year old me would have relished, it is a joyous collection of upbeat, melodic and musically rich songs filled with stories of animals (anthropomorphic or allegorical?), distant locales, and a wide-eyed embrace of a raucous Where the Wild Things Are fervor. Blaring horns, dueling and complimentary male-female vocals, frenetic choruses, all out multi-instrumental jams, this record has enough life and sunshine to power through long winters days and nights. (+ more)
  • FJM_FEAR_FUN_COVER1Father John Misty – Fear Fun (Neo-Folk, Americana): Former Fleet Foxes drummer, Joshua Tillman, was a revelation for me this year, especially for one who never quite liked his former band. For an aficionado of marginalia and referential writing, Fear Fun is bottomless of wellspring of associations and inspirations rooted in an anachronistic kaleidoscope of 50s/60s Americana imagery and literature. If this sounds like some bizarre “trip”, trust me it only gets stranger the further you dig below the surface; it’s like the Kubrick adaption of Nabokov’s Lolita. Definitely for fans of old school Americana, Bluegrass and 60s Folk. (+ more)
  • Beach-House-BloomBeach House – Bloom (Indie Rock/Dream Pop):  Let this record wash over you like a pleasant daydream with its undulating, layered electronic rhythms and Victoria Legrand’s dream world evoking vocals. With Bloom, the Baltimore duo might have made the perfect dream pop record to date. Or, at the very least, it’s been a joy to get lost in their head space. (+ more)
  • heistMacklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist (Hip Hop/Rap):  Difficult to summarize all that Seattle’s Macklemore is doing on this record because he can be polemicist, joker, soul-searching, preacher, and penitent all at the same time. If you think Hip-Hop has to be about consumerism, gangs, posturing, or dissing, then you need to listen to this refreshing bit of social and self critique done with unyielding passion for life, self-empowerment and faith in the ability to overcome obstacles both personal and political. (+ more)
  • ole-773-Cat-Power-SunCat Power – Sun(Multi-Layered Indie Rock):  Following from the above (and in the vein of Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp), a hard-edged, biting, mature and multi-faceted record that sees Chan Marshall eschewing what has worked for her in the past for a whole new range of hues and tones. I relish how bold, brash, and adventurous the sounds and juxtapositions of styles are on this record and I adore the willingness to press beyond and without. This may take repeated listens but it will reward the patient listener. (+ more)
  • bobby_womack_the_bravest_man_in_the_universeBobby Womack – The Bravest Man In the Universe (Soul + Downtempo): If you listen to one record or artist you’ve not heard of before, please let it be Bobby because this is just a beautiful exploration of soul fused with stripped-down downtempo and bass production that will soothe your soul. Musical genius Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz) has found a way to foreground Bobby’s plaintive vocals while producing intoxicating (yet subtle) rhythms. If you heard and liked Gil Scott-Heron’s album I’m New Here, then check this out. (+ more)
  • alt-j2Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Indie Rock): Far and away the most arresting blend of rock and electronica to date. Listen for the massive bass drops, the choir boy harmonies, the odd fusion of sounds, and the cleverly deconstruction and reincorporation of song elements from these Cambridge boys who evoke another English band from a college town. (Hint: early Radiohead. Yes, I recognize that this is a bold comparison but give it a listen.) (+ more)
  • How-To-Dress-Well-Total-LossHow to Dress Well – Total Loss (deconstructed R&B, downtempo): A barebones R&B record with MJ dance sensibility and a deeply introspective reflection on connection or missed connections in our modern age.   Tom Krell (akak How to Dress Well) has produced that rare collection of deeply personal, haunting, chilling and gorgeous all at once.  The sultry under-the-radar dim light/late night dance record of the year; this year’s Weeknd.  (+ more)
  • SVE_tramprecord2Sharon Van Etten – Tramp & Sean Rowe – The Salesman and the Shark (Neo-Folk): Sharon and Sean offer a reminder that amazing songwriting, raw storytelling, and traditional song structures can wedge their way into our consciousness with their unabashed and utter honesty. Two of the most stunningly heartfelt and piercing records of the past year. This is a beautifully painful and painfully beautiful. (+ moreSVE) (+ moreSR)
  • Grimes-Visions-608x608Grimes – Visions & Purity Ring – Shrines (Electronic Indie-Dance):Grimes and Purity Ring are both Canadian (though opposite ends of the country) and working in the ever expanding sphere of Art-Electronica (the electronic counterpart of 60s/70s Art/Prog Rock) where as Grimes goes for the highs, Purity Ring explores the lows, yet both mesmerize and hypnotize with an ability even Biggie would appreciate. This is what should be on the speakers at dance clubs. (+ moreG) (+ morePR)
  • kendrick-lamar-good-kid-maad-cityKendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City (Hip Hop/Rap): Compton’s newest MC might be giving Jay-Z and Kanye notice that it’s time to relinquish the “throne” they claimed a year ago. Certainly, Kendrick has found the recipe for making sultry and captivating beats without resorting to over-produced Diplo-laced sound effects. (This despite the fact that Dr. Dre, aka Mr. meticulous, produced this record.) Now everybody serenade the new faith of Kendrick Lamar, King Kendrick Lamar… It might not be hubris but telling it like it is.
  • AshakesAlabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (Southern Roots/Blues Rock):Southern blues folk rock at some of its finest with one of the most captivating vocal performances (by Brittany Howard) this side of the Atlantic. (+ more)
  • Various Artists – Rework_Philip Glass Remixed (Minimalism + IDM/Dance): For those who love contemporary dance and electronic music and are unfamiliar with Philip Glass, this is a must listen. Glass and the Minimalists had such a profound effect on popular dance and electronic music, yet it’s not often acknowledged. Consider yourself on notice. Or, you should just listen because this is a beautiful reinterpretation of one of the 20th Century’s most important composers and innovators. (+ more)
  • Godspeed_You!_Black_Emperor_-_Allelujah!_Don't_Bend!_Ascend!Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Instrumental/Epic Rock): Arguably one of the best GSYBE records to date from the initial listen. Why so low? It takes a while to really take in the epic nature and intricacies of what this Montreal collective of superbly talented musicians do. I’m sure it will play with greater regularity than other higher listed albums in the weeks (and years?) to come.
  • Chromatics-Kill-For-LoveChromatics – Kill for Love (Neo-New Wave, Shoegazer, Indie Rock): An overwhelming sumptuous collection of melodically dark synth and guitar tracks that will soothe you to either trance or sleep (is there a difference?). I love getting lost too and with this record while working; the perfect soundtrack for focused efficiency or gyrating grooves, depends on your mood. (+ more)

Tier 2 – Brilliant but Quirky (sort of like my taste…) (#s 21-35)

  • Patrick Watson – Adventures in Your Own Backyard (Multi-Instrumental, Soundscape, Indie Rock): Lush delicate collection of filmic multi-instrumental masterpieces. Think Andrew Bird meets early Calexico and Explosions in the Sky, but with a pop sensibility. (+ more)
  • Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze (Dream Pop/Indie Rock): Wait. A five song EP? Yes. It is a near perfect blend of up-tempo indie rock, dreamy Goth dance, New Wave pop, and Shoegazer soundscape.
  • Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Indie Punk): A loud and brash post-punk and pop punk foray from Cleveland. The opening four tracks are masterful and jaw dropping. Produced by Steve Albini, this has some distinct hints of In Utero laced throughout, for the Nirvana fans.
  • Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (Neo Soul, Jazz Fusion): A transmission from the late 70s heyday of Soul and Jazz fusion with amazing contribution from Neo Soul staples (Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal) and Hip Hop youngbloods (Lupe Fiasco). A true gem of groove for a year end reverie. (+ more)
  • Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs (Neo-Folk): Haunting neo folk reflection on life and personal loss with an epic, sprawling quality. (+ more)
  • Brooklyn Rider – Seven Steps: Contemporary Classical musicians with a distinctly modernist feel. (+ more)
  • Adam Arcuragi – Like a fire that consumes all before it . . . (Neo-Folk): An immensely talented singer and songwriter making blues infused folk rock with a hint of gospel that will soothe your soul and get your feet stomping.
  • Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself(baroque indie rock): I think he just gets better and tighter with each record. Definitely the most lyrically biting and contemplative to date. Barnyard hoe downs. Caribbean percussion and rhythms. Old world waltzes. Is there anything Andrew Bird can’t do? We should probably send him to negotiate peace accords. He’d definitely get the crowd up in whistles.
  • Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It (lo-fi, Baroque Indie Rock): Another impressively tender stripped down contemplation of daily life. Mike Hadreas relies on simple piano chords and his falsettos to produce an operatic and blood chilling effect. Reminds me of Youth Lagoon’s Year in Hibernation with a more introspective and dark interior. (+ more)
  • Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (downtempo, ambient + bass): People refer to Stott’s music as “dance”. I guess if you were a tree-sloth. Kidding aside, this is just an amazing combination of deep bass grooves with some angelic vocals perfect for your late evening reveries. (Four Tet’s There is Love in You meets Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, for the Ambient/IDM geeks.) Or, if you want to impress your friends, a very chill and luscious backdrop.
  • Love on a Real Train – s/t: Joachim Cooder brings some of his very talented friends together to weave this amazing collection of rhythms from various musical traditions fused with electronic undercurrents. For fans of 80s Paul Simon or Afro Celt Soundsystem. (+ more)
  • Nora Jones – Broken Little Hearts: Biggest surprise of the year was how much I really liked this record. Danger Mouse is the perfect foil for Nora’s brilliant voice. “She’s 22″ chills with its dagger-like lyrics and simplicity.
  • : I think Regina is vastly underappreciated as both a lyricist and composer. She can weave together ragtime, fin de siècle waltzes, and big band into a pleasant pastiche of pop melodies, while telling comical and poignant tales. Definitely a record that requires repeated listens.
  • : Say what you will about the at-times questionable actions, lyrics, and antics of the LA outfit known as Odd Future, they are an ingeniously clever collective of wordsmiths and beatmakers. Although I often question their choice of vocabulary, I do believe they are engaging in a sort of meta-commentary about the use of language in hip-hop culture. As for the music, it feels like the sort of straight flow and rhythms of mid 90s with less of a focus on “radio or club friendly” and more concerned with lyrical vérité. This is hip-hop for the weirdoes and the outsiders; it’s about time. So instead of critiquing and b-ing, being mad as f-k, just admit not only are we talented, we’re rad as f-k. Boys make a good point. (+ more)
  • Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror (Thrash Dream Rock): 60s Doo Wop meets Lo-Fi Punk? Yeah, it’s an odd but perfect mix. Should be the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic adventure tale of a roller derby like hunger games? (I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie but relying on the kindness of strangers’ summaries.)

Tier 3 – Solid records worth multiple turns or spins (#s 36-50)

…and because I don’t like leaving folks out of the party

Other Things I Also Really Enjoyed

from Newer Artists…

from Veterans and Stalwarts…

Gosh, I’m sure I left something or someone out. Urgh. Oh well, I’ll try better in 2013.

In the interim, I hope everyone enjoys gearing up and preparing for or simply surviving the Holidays and the New Year.

If you tire of carols, Yule-tide sing-a-longs, or “Auld Lang Syne” I’d definitely recommend listening to some of the folks above.

Peace and love in the year to come!


p.s. Please post your favorite records in the comments section and share!

p.p.s. As always, I encourage you to not merely stream but purchase the records of or support (i.e., attend concerts, buy merch) the artists you like. I prefer the following sites: Insound, eMusic, or directly from the labels (they will send you added goodies, karma, and Indie-Cred/love).

p.p.p.s. All grammatical mistakes and misspellings are intentional, unless they are oversights, in which case blame the editor.

Where’d he go?

out to sea

In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 1): Best Tracks of 2012

best of 2012(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones) (Or, I’ve been listening so you don’t have to)

In the words of Alec Baldwin’s Bob Barrenger from State and Main, after overturning a car and avoiding a near fatality, “So, that happened”. (No endorsement of Alec’s fictional character’s behavior, but with great adoration for the art of the understatement.) “That” in this case was 2012. Even as our country teeters on a cliff of financial proportions and people stockpile for possible doomsday, our thoughts turn to Dradles, Candles, Mistletoe, Egg Nog, and days of celebration and/or consumption (in every manner imaginable). No stranger to the aforementioned, I prefer to turn to thoughts of a Higher Fidelity, contemplating the rhythmic and lyrical highs and lows of the year that was. And, as I write this with a several days left in the calendar year, I am remiss to shut the books just yet; things will go unsaid, unseen, unheard, and over-looked. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure I’ve missed a number of things, but I try my best to at least represent some semblance of thoroughness.  What follows are a series thoughts, reflections, observations, and, of course, lists of songs, albums and moments that moved or in a few instances underwhelmed me. Because I recognize people have limited time, I’ve broken these up into three palatable sections:

(1st) Tracks, (2nd) Concerts/Moments, and (3rd) Albums.

(Caddy comments forthcoming)

Part the First: Favorite 100 (+11): Tracks of 2012:

General Observations

  • Folk, old school Soul, and Rhythm and Blues made some stirring come backs, incorporating modern day trappings, deconstructing traditional structures, and proving that heart and emotion always trump production and polish.
  • The 80s are alive and kicking throughout the realms of dance, indie rock and retro R&B. Synthesizers of the world unite! Domo Arigato.
  • Despite mass consumerism, artists can still write songs with real world relevance and impact. See “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or “Ruin” by Cat Power.
  • Yes, Gotye, fun., and Carly Rae Jepsen are on the list, but not PSY. Sorry, perhaps I’ve still got auditory PTSD from all the JPop I heard when living in Japan but that song feels like nails on a chalkboard to my ear. Given these artists’ pervasiveness in our musical landscape, it was difficult for them not to make an appearance but then again their songs had a certain something that really endeared their work to me (just not enough).
  • Rock stalwarts, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, are also in the mix.
  • Billboard golden boy (Jack White) and golden girl (Nora Jones) decided to return to form and step out of the box, respectively, and made some amazing songs and records.
  • These musicians opened my eyes and made me smile: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Hip-Hop), Father John Misty (Neo-Folk psychedelia), Adam Arcuragi (Neo-Folk/Bluesy Gospel), Kishi Bashi (baroque pop), Grimes (Indie-Dance Electronic), Purity Ring (Indie-Dance Electronic), Julia Holter (indie-art experimentalism), Chromatics (Neo-New Wave), Daughter (folk), and Patrick Watson (neo-folk jam).
  • Many artists you probably didn’t hear on the radio (but should have) appear on here: Kelly Hogan, Solange, Drop Electric, Generationals, Eternal Summer, Love on a Real Train, and many more.
  • Plus, old and new friends join the list too…
  • Individual thoughts on tracks appear further below, and, as always, feel free to share

back tomorrow with more but for now it’s time to listen to…

Bring on Your Wrecking Ball: a best of 2012 playlist

Click on one of the two playlists below
(ordered from bottom to top (countdown style) or top to bottom)

Top 111 (Countdown Style)             Top 111 (from top to bottom)

(note: four tracks are only available via YouTube, click here).

Two notes about this track/playlist:

Thematic: At the end of the day I believe we turn to art and music to inspire, excite, console, relate, re-energize and even to escape. Although I tend to find lots of joy in somber and reflective songs, in compiling this list, I found myself drawn towards upbeat songs both in tempo and sentiment (in other words, lots of songs for dancing). However, the songs on this list span a gamut of styles, emotions, continents, and traditions, but such are our experiences.

Organizational: I devised a rule for myself that I could not repeat any artists even if they recorded multiple songs that would have been in my top 100 (or 111 as the case may be). But, then this list is somewhat disingenuous, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. I could easily have included multiple tracks by Frank Ocean, Japandroids, Of Monsters and Men, but then you might not hear some of the other songs and artists who struck a chord (pun only partially intended). In all fairness, the ranking are arbitrary at certain points, except towards the top where there were clear cut favorites. Mostly this captures which songs and artists resonated in my consciousness.

I hope you’ll discover some things you’ve never heard.  (You can purchase tracks hereeMusic or Insound.)

  1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Same Love” – Stunning in its simplicity and power; brings tears to my eyes every time
  2. Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built” – the anthem for those who have ever been told to stop following your heart and your passions, feel free to tell them all to [fill in the blank]
  3. Chromatics “Kill For Love” – hits the perfect intersection of Goth-y guitar rock with post-punk/new wave sensibilities
  4. Bobby Womack “Please Forgive My Heart” – a soul song engineered for the electronic age; a perfect fusion of heartache, spaces, and aural tension
  5. Sharon Van Etten “Serpents” – like the rhythm, this song sinks into your body and mind with its emotional rawness; feels like this decade’s “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  6. Cloud Nothings “Stay Useless” – a Zen slacker anthem for all to take to heart, and get it beating
  7. Dum Dum Girls “Season In Hell” – dreamy dance pop with a wry sense of humor (aka the female version of the Smiths and the Cure)
  8. Frank Ocean “Pilot Jones” – tough call with Frankie Ocean but this track shows how he can deconstruct R&B with surgeon-like precision and unearth even more genius (also genius = “Pyramids” & “Thinkin’ Bout You”)
  9. Of Monsters and Men “Mountain Sound” – unbridled mirth and joy from Iceland; this song just makes me want to let go with total abandon
  10. First Aid Kit “Emmylou” – a haunting, pining love song with staying power and emotional depth
  11. Shearwater “Animal Life” – sweeping, stirring, stentorian and spiritually arousing
  12. Kelly Hogan “Haunted” – another difficult choice with so many great songs (and songwriters) on this record (the S.Merritt penned “Plant White Roses” or the glorious Kelly wail on “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain”), but I chose this because of the message of optimism and inspiration from one of the sweetest voices in the business
  13. Miguel “Adorn” – was there a more sultry and seductive song all year? Think not
  14. Ellie Goulding “Anything Could Happen” – the next five songs are all songs that get you dancing and grooving, put on those red shoes and dance boys and girls
  15. How To Dress Well “&It Was U” – an MJ sensibility stripped down to its most basic components
  16. Grimes “Vowels = Space and Time” – the e.e. cummings of artsy electronica
  17. Purity Ring “Ungirthed” – the bass drop on this track is just sick
  18. Chairlift “I Belong In Your Arms” – the 80s child loves this infectious rhythm
  19. Kendrick Lamar “Backseat Free Style” – explicit language but Kendrick manages to find the perfect way to let his rhymes dominate with beat & rhythm as backdrop; a welcome change of pace in a hip-hop landscape dominated by style over substance
  20. Father John Misty “Nancy From Now On” – a magical mystery trip to Hollywoodland via a Kerouac-like appreciation for serendipity; one of my favorite songwriting discoveries in a long time. (Other favorites “Hollywood Forever Cemetery”, “Tee Pees 1-12″)
  21. The Very Best “We Ok” – a joyous life affirming reminder to keep perspective
  22. Beck (x Philip Glass) “NYC ’73-’78” – this 20 minute adventure by Beck through countless Glass compositions requires steady and repeated listens; absolute genius
  23. Lord Huron “Time To Run” – in the words of Calvin*, “let’s go exploring”. *(cartoon not predestination guy)
  24. Perfume Genius “Hood” – haunting reflection on our imperfect (inner) nature
  25. The Tallest Man on Earth “Revelation Blues”some times its just roses dying to young; bittersweet epiphany and nostalgia; love me some beautiful melancholy
  26. Sean Rowe “Signs” – there are roads, years, and heartache in every note of Sean’s voice and yet an overwhelming sense of possibility; as a good friend said, “this is what I want to feel the rest of my life”
  27. David Byrne & St. Vincent “The Optimist” – like walking through a city after the rain has cleared all the dirt away; annie clark sings like an angel
  28. Alabama Shakes “Be Mine” – Brittany Howard is an amazing singer and to me this song displays the depth and range of her gloriously rich, soothing, and heartachingly brilliant vocals
  29. Niki & the Dove “Somebody” – two back-to-back tracks of unapologetic 80s inspired indie-dance; hints of Prince
  30. Tanlines “All of Me” – hints of Yaz/early Depeche Mode
  31. Regina Spektor “Don’t’ Leave Me . . . “ – she is so good at bridging the world of old school musical traditions with a modern sensibility… I like Paris in the rain, who doesn’t?
  32. Cat Power “Ruin” – yes, it’s possible to write an artful polemic on the self-obsessed, narrow-minded perspective of our culture while also holding yourself accountable; Chan Marshall can spear yet please with a song
  33. Daughter “Landfill” – the brutal honesty of this song destroys me; the central metaphor is something I think folks can easily relate to
  34. Norah Jones “She’s 22″—along with Daughter’s “Landfill” the most acerbically beautiful song of the year
  35. Sleigh Bells “Crush” – every time I hear this song I get the image of a hard core roller derby match with the participants clad in 50s attire. Mad Max Wo/Men on wheels? Anyone else? Sleigh Bells have a unique ability to thrash and harmonize.
  36. Stars “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” – these Canadians know how to craft a heartfelt, sincere pop song with a mantra we should all live by.
  37. alt-J “Fitzpleasures” – Cambridge boys who aren’t afraid to break traditional forms, combining heavy bass drops and blissed out guitar rock
  38. Beach House “The Hours” – dream-inducing brilliant pop music; is it the allusion to Michael Cunningham’s novel or just something about the mysterious wafting rhythms? Whatever it is I get lost in this song
  39. Kishi Bashi “Bright Whites” – pleasant bopping 60s pop that still makes me smile
  40. Jessie Ware “Wildest Moments” – stunning, sleek, sultry retro R&B with an Annie Lennox like bravado
  41. THEESatisfaction “QueenS”—if you aren’t groovin’ to this song, something has gotta give
  42. Kuhrye-oo “Give In (for the Fame)” – dreamy downtempo grooves
  43. Andrew Bird “Orpheo Looks Back” – few artists can work across musical genres with the simplicity and mastery of Andrew Bird; this is a straight up hoe-down for your enjoyment
  44. Odd Future “Oldie” – a nine minute old school free-style
  45. Adam Arcuragi “Oh I See” – difficult to pick one song but the live version of this was one of the most pure moments of joy I experienced all year
  46. Bat For Lashes “All Your Gold” – Natasha Khan’s voice is mesmerizing and disarming all at once
  47. Usher “Climax” – only Miguel put together a sexier groove all year
  48. Now, Now “Prehistoric” – lo-fi female fronted guitar brilliance
  49. Drop Electric “Empire Thrashed” – one of my favorite discoveries; an amazingly varied and talented set of musicians from DC who make epic soundscapes in the GSYBE and Sigur Ros vein; keep an eye out!
  50. Bob Dylan “Soon After Midnight” – in his 8th decade on this world, Dylan is still the poet laureate of the hopelessly romantic; a stunningly beautiful love song from one of the greatest. I mean who wouldn’t want to have their lover write the following: “It’s soon after midnight and I’ve got a date with the fairy queen.” (Queen Elizabeth I certainly did.)
  51. GenerationalsLucky Numbers” – best geeky dance song you didn’t hear on the radio
  52. Patrick Watson “Into Giants”started out as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end
  53. Bomba Estéreo “El Alma Y El Cuerpo” – sultry rhythms fresh from the streets of Colombia
  54. Julia Holter “In the Same Room” – a david lynch baroque pop song
  55. Love on A Real Train “Strike Up Your Matches” – Joachim Cooder (son of Ry)’s brilliant fusion Incan rhythms and electronics
  56. Frankie Rose “Know Me” – dance-y dream indie pop
  57. Lampchop “Gone Tomorrow” – Nashville’s finest alt-country band goes Gershwin
  58. Tomas Barford “November Skies“—for those who like to meditate and groove out
  59. Rhye “Open” – reminds me of a Sade’s raw R&B style
  60. Calexcio “Fortune Teller”I’m on the road to finer things
  61. Titus Andronicus “Ecce Homo” – an existentialist anthem, I know it’s more than just being born
  62. Santigold “This Isn’t Our Parade” – slow burn brilliance
  63. Nas (feat. Mary J. Blige) “Reach Out” – old school Nas and Mary J at their best; it’s like ’95 in the house.
  64. Robert Glasper Experiment “Always Shine” – so many great groves from this project
  65. Lost In the Trees “Red“—sprawling and majestic; talented musicians not to be missed
  66. La Sera “Please Be My Third Eye” – Katy Goodman’s surfy-dream pop makes me smile
  67. Twin Shadow “Five Seconds” – thoughts of james dean run through my head every time
  68. Mynabirds “Disarm” – also check out their shoot ’em up rock out genius on “Generals”
  69. Jens Lekman “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” – variations on the same theme with a different take; comedy here and despondency below; both work brilliantly
  70. Gotye “Somebody That I Use To Know
  71. Passion Pit “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy” – the ability to cut through all the challenges and hurdles the world sends you and still stand and appreciate the good and the bad
  72. Hot Chip “Motion Sickness“—if Hot Chip can’t get you on the dance floor, there isn’t any hope Not even Obi Wan can help you now.
  73. Baroness “Take Your Bones Away” – metal never sounded so pleasant (to me)
  74. Lavender Diamond “I Don’t Recall” – Becky’s vocals are dreamy and soothing
  75. Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait” – adore their musicianship on this piece; yes very maudlin but it’s their thing
  76. Best Coast “How They Want Me to Be” – an us against the world love song
  77. Jack White “Hip (Eponymous) Boy” – ah, like an early White Stripes song!!!
  78. Lee Field & The Expressions “Still Hangin’ On” – An old school soul crooner pining for his ex-lover; bitterness rarely sounds so sweet; Lee & crew provided one of the best outdoor dance parties this summer
  79. Solange “Losing You” – what follows is a series of over the top poppy dance songs; absolutely no shame in letting go to a good dance/pop song
  80. Sky Ferreira “Everything Is Embarrassing
  81. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe
  82. Icona Pop “I Love It
  83. Chad Valley “My Girl
  84. The Shins “Simple Song” – it’s no “New Slang” but darn if he isn’t a talented song-writer
  85. Eternal Summers “Millions” – my other soft spot: female fronted shoegazer tinged guitar pop
  86. Patti Smith “April Fool” – the only fools in the room are those that haven’t ever listened to Patti Smith
  87. Allo Darlin “Capricornia” – pleasant indie-pop built for dancing fearlessly around the room/office
  88. Astro “Panda” – electro pop from Chile
  89. Tennis “Origins” – this husband and wife duo make dreamy dub infused pop
  90. Sainte Etienne “Tonight” – twenty years later and still making amazing dance music
  91. Sauti Sol “Soma Kijana” – a track that pours forth sunshine and joy perfect to warm these cold winter months
  92. Dan Deacon “True Thrash“—a midi genius, looper extraordinaire that will get you moving
  93. DIIV “Doused” – shoegazer, lo-fi, goth rock at its finest
  94. Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball” – although the record underwhelmed me, this track really resonates in terms of the challenges we face and how we handle them; the Boss is no stranger to stirring a groundswell of sentiment
  95. R.Kelly “Feelin’ Single” – his personal life aside, R knows how to groove and soothe
  96. Caitlin Glennon “Cut You Loose” – this track just gets me boppin’
  97. Lucius “Don’t Just Sit There” – yup dreamy, lo-fi pop x 3 to follow, it’s a thing for me; these vocals just make me happy
  98. Pure Bathing Culture “Lucky One”
  99. Seapony “Follow
  100. Liars “No. 1 Against the Rush” – one of the stranger yet more pleasing songs of the year
  101. Taken by Trees “Dreams” – title says it all
  102. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Baby“—”cover” of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s rediscovered ’79 home release
  103. Hundred Waters “Visitor” – after seeing them perform this live I had it stuck in my head for days
  104. Martha Wainwright “Can You Believe It?” – my favorite Wainwright far and away
  105. The Walkmen “Song For Leigh“—few bands manage to find a wider range in a limited universe than these guys
  106. Hospitality “Eighth Avenue” – pleasant baroque indie pop
  107. Sarah Jaffe “Glorified High
  108. The Magnetic Fields “Your Girlfriend’s Face” – always a witty, dark comedy element to what they do
  109. Collen Green “Nice Boy (I Wanna)” – lo-fi garage punk rock, more please
  110. The xx “Angels” – when they hit their spot, its unlike anyone, dark yet sensual
  111. fun. “Carry On” – my guilty pleasure of the year, this song has Billy Joel, REO Speedwagon, and Rod Stewart chords and allusions all over it; and yet…

no mas. for now. ;)


A P’Fork 2012 Primer – Recs & Suggestions

When I posted a couple of weeks back that I was selling my three day pass to this weekend’s Pitchfork Festival, a number of friends reached out to me, concerned about what might be keeping me away. I guess my unbridled enthusiasm for Chicago’s best music festival (sorry Lollapalooza, not only is your lineup weak but the setup and ticket prices make you uninspiring to this one) raised an eyebrow or two. The reason was quite simple: a very good friend was getting married this weekend. Although I love live music, friendship comes before concerts. Always. And, I am very excited and eager to celebrate with my friend and forego three days in Union Park.

That being said, I still have lots of thoughts and opinions about the bands performing this weekend. So, for those descending upon Union Park for the finest weekend of music in the City, here are my “quick” thoughts on which bands to check out. (‘Cause let’s be honest, I’m not always good with being succinct.)

Note: The following is organized according to acts that I’d be most excited to see (and in backwards order). I’ve also included some additional bands to consider adding or subbing in.

Friday July 13th, 2012

  1. Purity Ring (8:30 on Blue Stage) – A downtempo and dance electronica duo who offer the perfect combo of groovy beats and chill wave to ease out the night. (They conflict with the headliner Feist, but see my thoughts below.)
  2. Dirty Projectors (7:20 on the Red Stage) – Either you love their esoteric and experimental melodies and rhythms or you find them pretentious and difficult to listen to. Clearly I’m of the former camp and would love to hear the ladies and gentlemen of DP croon “Stillness is the Move” and “Temecula Sunrise”. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  3. Japandroids (6:15 on Blue Stage) – Hands down one of the best live acts I’ve seen in the past decade in terms of precision and power and from just two dudes! [Can’t Miss!!!]
  4. Wills Earl Beal (4:15 on Blue Stage) – A unique and spellbinding performer that mixes Memphis Blues, gospel vibrato and American Folk into a strange and brilliant concoction.
  5. Lower Dens (3:30 on Red Stage) – If you enjoy a great 90s sounding guitar rock band with a penchant for long instrumentals, then you should totally check this Baltimore group out. I saw them earlier this year and was captivated.

Additional Great Stuff

  • Olivia Tremor Control (4:35 on the Green Stage)
  • Feist (8:20 on Red Stage) – I adore Feist’s recorded material, but I tend to avoid solo acts at these outdoor venues especially on the large stage because their vocals get lost in the mix and the performance feels underwhelming. See Destroyer’s set last year. Not his fault. The mix was awful.
  • A$AP Rocky (5:30 on Red Stage) – I think he’s got really great beats and rhymes.

 Saturday July 14th, 2012

For the record, there is just too much good stuff on Saturday.

  1. GodSpeed You! Black Emperor (8:30 on the Green Stage) – One of the most amazing, mind-blowing live sets I have ever seen. I am prone to hyperbole, but, in all honesty, it was a show that left a very memorable impression on me. For those unfamiliar with this band, they are a musical collective from Montreal composed of some of the finest musicians in North America. The whole set is instrumental with some recorded “found sound” interspersed throughout. Grab a drink, pick a spot in the grass, sit back and just enjoy a live music experience unlike any other. [Can’t Miss!!!]
    1. Grimes (8:40 on the Blue Stage) – Okay, so here’s the thing. I raved about GSYBE above, but if I were going to be there I think I’d run over to see the first ten or 15 minutes of Grimes’ set and the head back to GSYBE. I adore Grimes’ record and fascinated to see her turn it into a live performance. Plus I would probably need to come down a little from my Hot Chip dancing high and she has a far mellower dance groove.
  2. Hot Chip (7:25 on the Red Stage) – This is the perfect lead up to GSYBE! Get ready for an upbeat and dance focused set from this group of indie dance music maestros. They’ve got a DJ mixing it up on the turntables. They’ve got Alexis Taylor in crazy outfits pumping up the crowd. And, they’ve got music to get your hips and feet a stompin’. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  3. Sleigh Bells (6:15 on the Green Stage) — This NY city duo put out one of the most riveting and invigorating rock records of 2012 to date. Alexis Kraus’ vocals will both lull you a pleasant state of euphoria and pierce your side. So definitely don’t miss out. And be ready to jump, sway, and get sweaty. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  4. Wild Flag (5:15 on the Red Stage) – …and speaking of rocking.  Love these ladies. I’ve seen them three times in the last year and each set is better, tighter and more expansive. It’s very likely they’ll play new material and some fun covers. But it’s most certain they will ROCK your socks off. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  5. Youth Lagoon (3:45 on Blue Stage) – Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) blew me away with the subtle and precious power of his record, The Year in Hibernation. If you are worried about whether it will get lost in the live performance, have no fear, his live set is stellar.
  6. Cloud Nothings (1:45 on the Red Stage) – From lo-fi power pop to pristine produced pop and dirge punk, CN are a young and exciting band that will infuse your post brunch/lunch mellow with a much needed shot of adrenaline. In other words, this is your P’fork caffeine jolt of the day. (And in case you are wondering what to do between CN and YL, walk over to Flatstock Poster Festival and check out some of the great poster and print artists on display. Look in particular for the Bird Machine and Crosshair. Or bid on the Rock for Kids auction items!)

Additional Great Stuff

  • Chromatics (6:45 on the Blue Stage) – Dreamy Fuzz pop and Shoegazer electornica outfit out of the Northwest who evoke shades of My Bloody Valentine and pre-Technique New Order. Given all the heavy hitters surrounding them, it might be hard to squeeze them in, but in case this is more your scene, I’d definitely check them out.
  • Danny Brown (7:40 on the Blue Stage) – Undoubtedly one of the best new rappers on the scene and evoking the word and beat heavy still of the mid 90s. He’s got swagger and a unique vocal talent.
  • Nicholas Jaar (4:45 on the Blue Stage) – If you need an afternoon mellow melt, go check out Nicholas who offers up great downtempo and ambient textured work.

Sunday July 15th, 2012

  1. Vampire Weekend (8:30 on the Green Stage) – Although this is a band that inspires a great deal of ambivalence among the music fans, I absolutely adore what they do and are great live. They will leave you feeling on high note. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  2. Beach House (7:25 on the Red Stage) – Amusingly enough, I actually saw BH open for VW a couple of years back. In 2012, they are clearly the band with a great claim to Indie-Rock buzz power. Bloom is one of my favorite records to date and I believe they will be ready to impress. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  3. Kendrick Lamar (4:45 on the Blue Stage) – Section 8.0 was one of the best hip-hop/rap records of the past year that went under the radar. Kendrick is part of the growing wave of young artists that are helping to bring Hip-Hop/Rap back to its mid 90s glory days by placing clever rhymes and topical narratives ahead of over produced “guest appearance” laden tracks. He might be an “unknown” to many but he’s about to blow up. [Can’t Miss!!!]
  4. Ty Segall (3:20 on the Red Stage) – Loud and aggressive fuzzy, punk infused rock. A perfect compliment for a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon.
  5. Thee Oh Sees (2:50 on the Blue Stage)
  6. Milk Music (1:50 on the Blue Stage)

Additional Great Stuff

  • Oneothrix Point Never (5:45 on the Blue Stage) – If you want a change of pace to something a little more of the hardcore electornica scene, shimmy over and get your groove on with OPN.
  • Real Estate (4:15 on the Green Stage) – I’ll admit I don’t “love” this band even though they make music I should like. I think it’s pleasant and worth checking out, but I’d put them on my backburner.
  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra (1:45 on the Red Stage)

At the end of the day(s), when you have this many talented and exciting musicians gathered in one space over the course of three days, you can’t go wrong. For your reference, here is the full lineup with times and locations.

For those attending, have a great weekend and make sure to keep yourself hydrated!


Hot oL’ Baltimore Part 2: Beach House’s Bloom

sLet’s cut to the chase: This is a stunningly gorgeous and aptly titled record. Beach House has been winning fans with their unique brand of entrancing indie-rock for years. Bloom the fourth studio album from the Baltimore duo is far and away the most engrossing and stunning album they have made to date. Although I enjoyed portions of Beach House’s previous record Teen Dream (another brilliant title), I often found myself feeling there wasn’t enough variety and diversity from track to track. On Bloom the band has broken free from the chrysalis of their own-making. This album pushes the trademark Beach House sound fans have grown to love, layered, whimsical, dream-pop, to a whole new level. This isn’t Dylan going from folks songs to electric but it is still a marked evolution. Teen Dream for all its beauty felt like an introspective and pensive record. From the outset, Bloom bursts into your face as though the band was shedding an old skin for a newer more celebratory yet aggressive tone. Throughout the record, allusions to various other bands of the dream-pop persuasion manifest themselves from the British electronic/downtempo/Ibiza-lounge group St. Etienne, see “Wild”, to the Swedish duo jj to the American trio Blonde Redhead, see “New Year”, and even to the more recent efforts by The Walkmen, see You & Me and Lisbon.

What has always and continues to be the distinguishing feature of Beach House’s sound is the unique dream-world vocals of lead singer Victoria Legrand and the lush and nuanced orchestration composed by Victoria and Alex Scally. However, on Bloom, the band finds new ways to exploit her voice. On “Wild”, they overlay a series of vocal lines creating a choir-like effect. In the ensuing track, “Lazuli”, Victoria starts the song with a breathy, panting harmony. Later in the record, “The Hours” (my personal favorite) begins with a curious off-beat doo-wop harmony, returns to the tried-and-true dream-pop sound and culminates in a refashioned 50s-era sounding chorus, evoking bygone days on seaside piers. I particularly adore how Victoria and Alex play with your expectations on the chorus portion of “The Hours”, “Change your mind, don’t care about me” – shifting on the second stanza to a series of notes higher than the first stanza. This song exemplifies why this album resonates with me more than the previous one: subtle variations on a familiar sound that broadens the range and depth of what they have previously created. Also, speaking of retro sounding, “Wishes” brilliantly weaves in a subtle allusion to “Moon River”, giving the song a quasi a-temporal quality. More than anything this album is a fascinating aural reverie. The guitars, percussion, synthesizers, and vocals wash over you in a series of cascading and kaleidoscopic sounds. It’s breathtaking in its simplicity and entrancing in its richness. It rewards the attentive and passive listener in equal parts and will serve as a gorgeous backdrop to the coming summer.

Listen to Bloom in its entirety here.

If you like this record, check out:

  • St. Etienne – Sound of Water
  • jj’ – No. 2 and No. 3
  • Blonde Redhead – 23
  • The Walkmen – You & Me and Lisbon

Audiophile Note:  This is most definitely an album best listened to on speakers, quality headphones, and/or (if at your disposal) on vinyl. Because of the high quality engineering and intense layers of sound, especially at the low ends, the album benefits from some quality re-production. On computer speakers and ear-buds, the breadth of the sound gets truncated and can at times sound a little tinny.

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,


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.)

The Cruelest Month Mix and a Norah Jones Reboot

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– T.S. Eliot from The Waste Land

Hopefully, your April bore less resemblance to the despondent imagery of Eliot’s lauded masterpiece, written 90 years ago (for the record, I’m a Prufrock” man myself). Whether the budding of Spring or the end of Winter brought you sunshine or rain, there was no dearth of fabulous tracks pouring through the airwaves. Mine is a passion for collecting and spreading these little treasures for you listening pleasure, so click here to listen to “The Cruelest Monthmix (via YouTube). Perhaps you’ll recognize some ditties from previous posts, but let me just highlight some of the more recent numbers that have caught my attention.

  • Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built” – A fist-pumping anthemic, rallying cry from this Vancouver duo. Reminds me a lot of the high adrenaline moments from The Get Up Kids and The Hold Steady.
  • Peter Broderick’s “Colin”Slow haunting dreamscape with a brilliant explosion at song’s end. This has the sort of aural tapestry feel of Bon Iver’s Bon Iver.
  • Yuck’ “Chew” – One of my favorite discoveries in 2011 returns with another trip down early 90s nostalgia. The opening totally reminds me of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rocket”.
  • M.Ward’s “Primitive Girl”Perhaps She is getting to Him and turning those dour days a little brighter? Either way M’s voice on here seems a perfect complement to the old-time feel of the song. (Robin Hilton of NPR totally has me hearing the Bangles “Manic Monday” riff in the chorus.)
  • Kuhrye—oo’s “Give In (For the Fame)” – Hidden at the end off one of my recent posts was this gorgeous song that is on repeat in my head: a loop-intensive trance-dance song. I think there is a lot of latter day Four Tet (i.e., Angel Echoes) and James Blake in this.
  • Eternal Summers’ “Millions” – Opening with a guitar riff that feels lifted from Dire Straits or Don Henley, this song turns into a really poppy and peppy New Wave/Indie Rock gem with hints of Heavenly and Velocity Girl, two thoroughly under appreciated bands.
  • Mynabirds’ “Generals” – Oh boy, this is a gun shot of a song with hints of the Knack, lo-fi garage rock a la The White Stripes, and Sleigh Bells and just a barnburner!
  • Cassie’s “King of Hearts” – In the words of Lady Gaga, “Just Dance.” (If this song isn’t already on the late-nite dance floors across the country, it will be very soon. Sooo good.)
  • Purity Ring’s “Obedear” – If you are enjoying the new material from Grimes (and perhaps it’s her singing here, a vocal doppelganger?), you will love this track. A little more down-beat and rambling (like my writing), but it’s an intoxicating listen.
  • Fenster’s “Oh Canyon” – A muzzled lo-fi version of a folk song in the vein of The Head and the Heart.
  • Maps and Atlas’ “Old and Gray” – If you were saddened by the Fleet Foxes’ recent break-up, these Chicago folk-rockers will be a welcome antidote.
  • Exitmusic’s “The Night” – This duo released a phenomenal four song EP last year and here is their latest offering.
  • Also new material from The Walkmen, Beach House, Hot Chip and concluding with Norah Jones and Danger Mouse see below…

Norah Jones and Danger Mouse: A Perfect Marriage of rhythm and (lyrical) blues

If you don’t know Norah Jones, you have probably been living under a rock. The young chanteuse of Come Away with Me fame was a staple of your local cozy coffee shop or chain-coffee a la Starbucks or Caribou for the better part of 2002 to 2005. And, if you know her work you are probably thinking, why are you writing about Norah Jones? Well, throw out everything you think or know about her music and focus on the simple, undeniable “fact” that Norah has a phenomenal voice. The sort of voice that nearly every composer, songwriter, producer wants to incorporate or collaborate with. And, she’s been quite busy in that realm. Perhaps you noticed that she appeared on, of all records, Belle and Sebastian’s Write About Love?!? (I didn’t know that Starbucks had made it to Glasgow.)

Enter Danger Mouse. No, not the 80s cartoon mouse moonlighting as a British Spy.  The brilliant creator and producer of The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley‘s St. Elsewhere, and, most recently, Broken Bells’ Broken Bells. Odd pairing right? Nope, an almost perfect experimental yin to Norah’s “traditional” yang. You would never think that one of music’s most creative, off-beat, quirky, outsider musician and/or producer would mesh so well with Norah Jones’ adult alternative sounding voice. I would argue that Danger Mouse’s aesthetic works better with Jones than either of his other famous collaborations with Cee-Lo or James Mercer (of the Shins). The new album entitled Little Broken Hearts is yet another break-up album – more sweet music out of heartache, one might as well be productive with their despondency and/or anger.

Give the whole record a listen if you like here, but I want to draw your attention to two tracks in particular (click on song title to listen):

Say Goodbye – The first single from the album has the feeling of the indie-baroque pop that Danger Mouse used on the Broken Bells record, but Norah’s soulful voice feels more at home in this aural landscape than James Mercer’s did.  The vocal performance on this track is coy and playfully sensual evoking the spectre of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot* or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes** (or her (in)famous rendition of “Happy Birthday to JFK).  You can almost imagine Norah singing this song to the ex and saying through her inflections “look at what you threw away.” (Also, it’s curious the (unintentional?) allusion to Madonna’sTake a Bow” (for the MTV viewer’s of yore this video featured Madonna with a Spanish bullfighter, see here) another song about the end of a love affair with the wonderfully opening reproach: “take a bow, the night is over, this masquerade is getting older…”.)

She’s 22 — What is perfect about this song is that it is all about Norah’s vocal performance and its subtle nuances. About the only instrumentation in the piece is a repetitive, plaintive guitar chord that underscores the narrative of contemplative curiosity. The air of disaffected and disinterested restraint in Norah’s voice makes this song even more powerful. At the song’s end she intones “Does she make you happy? I’d like to see you happy” and you know there is no truth to those words other than the fact that she’s uttered them.

…and with that I bid you adieu,


* and ** — Run, don’t walk to the video store to see these two classic films.