5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 10/22/14

Haim – If I Could Change Your Mind

I seriously considered doing one of these posts with all 5 songs from this band. Haim’s (pronounced like ‘time’) debut album has gotten near constant rotation since I found it a few months ago, and it’s because these 3 sisters spit out perfect harmonies like they were the genetic clones of Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac. Constant references to bands of the 60s and the 70s are inevitable with this group, and they certainly don’t seem to want to shy away from those comparisons with their fashion and videos. But it doesn’t matter whose sound they’re aping when they’re doing it so damn well. Honestly, this is probably my 5th or 6th favorite song on the album and it’s still worthy of repeat listens. The album isn’t dead, these ladies proved that.

Spoon – Inside Out

In what is turning out to be one of the best years for albums in nearly a decade, Spoon has once again put out a collection that has a lock on top 10 status. Is there a band whose output is more consistent than these guys? It’s hard to pick a favorite song off of They Want My Soul, but it’s hard to argue with “Inside Out” as a top contender. It’s the perfect mash of Spoon’s best traits, with its persistent, insistent beat, airy instrumentation and Britt’s ethereal voice floating over all of it. Watch out for the day this band puts out a bad album: That’s the apocalypse.

Warpaint – Billie Holiday

This band has been working the cool indie circuit for a few years now, but I only first heard them about a month ago. It was this lovely, eerie track (which reworks the classic R&B torch song, “My Guy”) that caught my attention when it played on some random blog I stumbled across. Hey, apparently those automatic playlists aren’t always the worst. I appreciate a song that hides emotional vulnerability under a cool veneer, and that’s exactly what these women get right here. Give it a listen, it’ll creep up on you.

Ryan Adams – Kim

Ryan can rock. He really can. But let’s face it, most of us fell in love with him because he does sad sack better than anyone. So here’s another moper for the collection, off of his frequently excellent self-titled album released this year. Ryan’s probably got enough songs with women’s names for titles to surpass most other artists’ entire catalogs. Well, “Kim” is yet another femme fatale, and if the emotion in the way he sings, “Ooh, Kim,” is any indication, this one is particularly fatal. Good, we like our boy a little messed up (even while we wish him and Mandy all the best).

Philip Selway – Coming Up For Air

It’s rare that the solo album from a member of a great band is worth a damn. Even rarer when we’re not talking about the lead singer or even the multi-instrumentalist genius, but the drummer. Yet Philip Selway of Radiohead has managed to produce a moody bit of beauty with his second album, Weatherhouse. The opening track, “Coming Up For Air” is the clear standout (though it’s not alone), showcasing Portishead-esque atmospherics in support of haunting, somber lyrics. I guess they aren’t lying when they say Radiohead music is a full-band affair. (For the record, Thom Yorke’s solo album is also excellent, but he doesn’t allow his music on sharing services so I couldn’t feature any of his songs.)

Philip Selway - Weatherhouse

5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 03/09/14

Nicole Atkins – Girl You Look Amazing

With that funky, propulsive baseline and Nicole Atkins’ sultry vocals, this song has an air of 70s-era Fleetwood Mac, though it still feels thoroughly modern in all the best ways. Atkins has been putting out impressive albums ever since her debut, Neptune City. She has the vocal, lyrical and musical ability to set her apart from the vast majority of pop artists, but her hooks never suffer for it. She’s like a less-Asperger-y St. Vincent (no offense). Plus, watch the video, she clearly has a sense of humor. If you like this song, check out the rest of her work, including her new album Slow Phaser.

Beck – Blue Moon

Remember Beck? He’s back… In Sea Change form. Beck is an institution. Ever since his 90s hit song “Loser,” he’s established himself as a talented, eclectic smartass. But, besides for being everyone’s favorite Scientologist (probably the only favorite Scientologist), his 2002 heartbreak of an album, Sea Change, revealed a quieter, deeper yet no less melodic side of the songwriter. Saying that Morning Phase is the spiritual successor of that album has gotten cliché, and it’s a bit misleading. Whereas Sea Change felt like a throwback to classic singer/songwriter break-up albums of the 70s and 80s, Morning Phase expresses it’s melancholy with a mixture of old-school instrumentation and electronic ambiance. If you’re a fan of the former album, you’ll love this, but if you found Sea Change to be too sad sack for your tastes, the new album, with standout track “Blue Moon,” offers some surprises that make it worth your time.

Trevor Hall – Unity

On the surface, this song should annoy me. It’s white boy reggae (not that you would know it by the voice) about God or god and how all religions lead to the same truth; oh so New Age-y. I’d like to just dismiss this song, but damn if it isn’t one hell of an earworm. It sticks in your head the way all the best reggae songs can, and it does so without sounding completely derivative. I’ve honestly not listened to anything else by this guy, mostly because it isn’t a genre of music I spend much time listening to. But if he had an album of songs as good as this, I could definitely see myself blasting it on a hot summer’s day. And, as far as spiritual messages go, I guess I can appreciate one that says ‘Stop fighting about God, all belief is the same.’ I’d just go a bit further and say, ‘So you don’t need any of it.’

Mansions – Two Suits

My buddy John drums for this group, which sounds like I’m just foisting a friend on you. But I mean it when I say this band is damn good, both on record and in their powerful live show. They fall into that hard to define genre known as “Math Rock,” and on Twitter they’re self-described as complaint-rock, but who needs labels? “Two Suits” was the first song on their excellent Doom Loop album to grab my attention with its slow build towards an eruption and the closing male/female vocal call-and-response that feels downright menacing even if I don’t have a clue what the hell “It’s 80 fucking dollars” is all about. When a song is this explosive, does it really matter?

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now

What am I going to say? It’s Queen. Freddie Mercury has never and will never be replaced. Adam Lambert and fun. can try their best, but every rock singer will always live in the shadow of this man. I don’t consider myself a ‘rock’ guy all that much, as the genre tends to lack subtlety, but if you put on some Queen I will air guitar with the best of them (and have well into the night). The music of Queen is the Platonic Ideal of Rock Music. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have at least one favorite Queen song? I didn’t think so. I’m not sure I’d say “Don’t Stop Me Now” is my favorite, but it’s the one I’ve been listening to a lot lately. And that’s the whole point of these posts. Now then, where is my spandex?

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5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 02/12/14

Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Body Electric

Of all the artists I experienced during my year in New Orleans, nothing stood out to me like the band Hurray for the Riff Raff. While HFTRR is technically a band, it’s really the heart and brainchild of Alynda Lee Segarra, a Bronx-raised woman (and self-described “queer”) who led the true vagabond life before landing in NOLA and making it her home. The music she writes doesn’t sound timeless, it sounds old. And that’s why I love it. It’s not a hip re-imagining of a bygone musical era or an attempt to merge genres, it’s just straightforward country/folk. The new album, Small Town Heroes, dropped on Tuesday and it’s already on heavy rotation in my playlist (along with their previous album of originals, Look Out Mama), especially this track, a feminist reworking of classic revenge songs. I worry that if Alynda finds the success and recognition she deserves, the infamously insular Crescent City music scene might reject her as a sellout, but the fact is, the world deserves to know what New Orleans has known for years: Hurray for the Riff Raff is the real deal.

Janelle Monáe – Primetime (ft. Miguel)

R&B doesn’t get much sexier than this. Janelle Monáe has been finding fascinating new corners of this original genre for a while, but this song aims straight and true at the classic center. There are questions that swirl around Monáe’s sexual preference, which is bound to happen with someone who’s as coy as she is on the subject, but whether you’re male or female, straight or gay, or somewhere in the middle of it all, this song is pure seduction. Miguel’s guest verse amps it up, but everything comes down to Janelle, part Android, part fantasy, all woman.

Lorde – Tennis Court

This 17-year-old girl from New Zealand sold a bunch of albums, won some Grammys and earned accolades as one of 2013’s most buzzed new artists. And good for her. She’s goth, a little weird, a little different, and very young. Who knows what will come of her career? Plenty of prognosticators are already analyzing her potential career trajectory (“Will she be Avril Lavigne or Fiona Apple?”), but for this moment in time, she’s just a young woman writing incredibly infectious songs with lyrics that betray a maturity beyond her years. “Royals” was the first song that broke here in the US, and if that had been her only single, I’d probably never given her a second thought. It wasn’t until I heard “Tennis Courts” that she grabbed my attention, enough for me to purchase her album and realize that whatever happens in her future, there’s no denying, she has a wealth of talent.

Phantogram – Don’t Move

This is one of those artists whose catalog I’m largely ignorant of, but the songs of theirs that I do know (this and “When I’m Small,” in particular) suggest to me that this is the next band with which I should invest some serious time. Their sound comes across like a spiritual niece of Portishead, and while I know they’ve been around for a few years, something tells me that their real breakthrough could still be just around the corner. Or, maybe not. It’s kind of hard to tell with an artist of this ilk, which makes them all the more interesting. Whether or not I do come to embrace their whole oeuvre, this song will, at least, always be a welcome addition to my playlist.

Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun 

I’m gonna come out of the closet on this one: I love this song. I really always have. In my mind, this song is about as good as pure pop songs get. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” has been recorded by plenty of artists over the years, but Lauper’s version will always be the one I love the most. That’s probably because I was born in the 80s and I have an older sister, but I really just don’t think there’s any denying that when this song comes on, you feel good. It might not be a song about the fortunate ones, but it is a song about all the girls (and women) I love.

Hurray for the Riff Raff - Small Town Heroes

5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 11/11/13

Night Terrors of 1927 – Dust and Bones

I would love to say that when they release a full album, Night Terrors of 1927 are going to release the album of the year, but I’ve seen enough bands fail to live up to their early single hype that I really can’t make that promise. That said, man is this song good. So is everything else they’ve released. Their first EP comes out today, and its 5 songs are damn good. Yet there is no question this track is the stand out. I don’t really know how to explain this music other than that it somehow seems to mash 80s pop with early 00s indie in a musical pairing that isn’t at all precocious or annoying. If there’s anything that could be said against NTo27, it’s that they should have released their EP in the summer because they make music for the sun.

Beth Orton – Mystery

Changing it up completely, this haunting, melancholy work by Beth Orton is an excellent showcase for the British songstress’s uncanny voice. Her 2012, Sugaring Season, from which this comes, is so low-key that it kind of faded into the background, even for me whose favorite Orton album is the understated wonder, Central Reservation. Well, I might have let this album slip by me, but this song cannot be ignored. Gorgeous, delicate, brimming with a desperate beauty, Orton is many years into her career but she hasn’t lost her touch.

Neko Case – Nearly Midnight, Honolulu

I’ve already talked about seeing Neko live just last week, so I don’t know what else there’s to be said about it. She’s a force of nature, a tornado, a lion, a flood. This song is the centerpiece of her latest album, not only because it comes smack dab in the middle of the playlist, but because it resonates thematically with so much of her music. It’s a tale of abuse and pitiful human relations, but also a story about finding strength despite everything else, and if that isn’t the quintessential Neko Case song, I don’t know what is. Plus, her voice could resurrect the dead.

Okkervil River – White

To be honest, I wish I could say that the latest Okkervil River grabbed me as much as their earlier stuff, but The Silver Gymnasium, while not bad, isn’t as captivating as their earlier work. When I first listened to OR, I was struck by how immediately the songs hooked into me, and that sadly hasn’t been the case with this latest album. Except for this song. After listening to the album one time, “White” stuck out as the song to beat and after many listens through the rest of the album, it still is. Lyrically and musically, this is what this band does best and I honestly can’t get enough of it. With time, the rest of the album will likely grow on me, but for the foreseeable future this is the standout.

Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

This year is the 10th anniversary of the album that pretty much marks the high point for Death Cab For Cutie, and this is coming from a guy who unabashedly loves Plans and Keys and Codes. In fact, despite having seen the band on the tour for this album, I didn’t actually get Transatlanticism until less than a year ago, and boy do I feel like an idiot. I routinely heard it said that Transatlanticism was their best album, but I was always a little skeptical. Well, I shouldn’t have been. This album is a focused work of gorgeous contriteness, and I could have honestly put any track in this spot. I picked this one because it’s the title track and because I love long songs that build to a cathartic release. This album represents the definitive experience of being in your 20s, and I hope that restless twentysomethings are still discovering it decades down the road.

Night Terrors of 1927 Guilty Pleas

My Boston Weekend

2013 World Champions

Well, they did it. The Boston Red Sox dominated in the 6th game and won the World Series. Needless to say, the win was met with vigorous celebration here in the home of the Dropkick Murphys. The victory was marked with a parade on Saturday morning that ran through downtown Boston and brought out massive crowds to cheer and snap pictures of the conquering heroes.

But before that, I had my own unhealthy obsession to feed. Neko Case played the Orpheum Theater in support of her latest, superb album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. This was my second time seeing her live, my first being on my birthday the year I lived in Nashville. The venues couldn’t have been more different*, but the show both times was excellent. It seems impossible, but her voice loses nothing in person, proving that some singers are the real deal.

Orpheum TheaterThe Worse Things Get

My one minor quibble is that she didn’t play The Worse Things Get… stand out track, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” the mostly a cappella centerpiece and heart of the album. I was excitedly anticipating hearing the track live, but admittedly with the show that her and the band gave, it probably wouldn’t have fit well in the set. My heartbreak was mitigated, though, because as she did the first time I saw her, she ended the show (and second encore!) with my absolute favorite, “Star Witness.” This was the first song of hers I ever heard and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since.

Neko Psychedelia

After the show, I met some friends for drinks at a bar up my direction where, apparently, there was some sort of “holiday” going on that involved people dressing up in costumes. Quite odd.

The next morning, the parade began at 10, which meant my roommate and I had to be down to the line by 9. Now, as I said in my last post, I am by no means claiming to be a Red Sox fan. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon for a year, just to jump off when I move to New York. Whatever city I’m in, I can usually work up some rudimentary enthusiasm for the home team, and this was no different. But I’ve never been in a city for a World Series celebration, so I wasn’t going to skip out on a chance to see the festivities.

It wasn’t exactly Mardi Gras in New Orleans (too many sober people), but the crowd was hearty and excited, and we were gifted a idyllic, warm fall day for our troubles.

Boston in the Fall

What more can be said about a parade? Here are some photos:

   Bearded DuckHallelujah    ShoemobileJohn Lackey's Blue SkiesThe Trophy

With a mix of Halloween Hedonism and World Series Inebriation, I have no doubt my fellow Bostonians are not going to enjoy this Monday very much. And I’m sure they wouldn’t change a single thing.

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox. The less said about the Celtics, probably the better.

Cheers,

~L

Confetti

*I’m getting old, because I officially prefer concerts in halls with seats to standing in bars. At least for bands I really care about.

5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 7/26/13

July is that time of year when a lot of publications put out there ‘Best Albums of the Year (So Far)’ lists. This isn’t mine, but here are 5 songs released this year that I’m loving.

Vampire Weekend – Step

Modern Vampires of the City may end up being my favorite album of the year (though it has some stiff competition), and there are tons of great songs throughout. If nothing else, it’s my favorite VW album. On an album this stellar, “Step” manages to stand out. It’s catchy in all the ways the great VW songs are, but it also boasts some of Ezra Koenig’s best lyrics, mixing their patented cheekiness with some truly earnest, weighty ruminations. A summer jam that’s deep? Leave it to Vampire Weekend.

Rilo Kiley – The Frug

Technically this isn’t a new song, as it was released on a movie soundtrack over a decade ago. Regardless, Rilo Kiley released an odds and sods collection earlier this year, RKives, and this was the closing track, so I’ll count it as a 2013 release. What’s so great (and bizarre) about this song is that despite it predating every album, it has such a perfect mix of their sound that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear it on any of their LPs, including Under The Blacklight. It’s poppy flare might have sounded out of place on their earlier, darker albums, but the deceptively stark lyrics are classic Rilo. With the band probably dead for good, this song is a bittersweet and fitting send-off.

Escondido – Black Rose

The great thing about digital albums is that they’re frequently cheaper than the physical version (I never understand when they’re not). It’s a little easier to pony up $5-7 on an unknown band than it is $12-15. When I heard “Black Roses” by Escondido I immediately loved it, but I had never heard of the band and I’ve been burned by the ‘1 good single’ bands plenty in the past, so I was reticent at first. But after sampling the rest of the album (and seeing it was available for cheap on Amazon), I bought it and I haven’t regretted it at all. The whole album is a dreamy mix of Southwestern Folk, a timeless sound that invokes thoughts of the Wild West and Brooklyn. Highly recommended.

The National – Fireproof

Another contender for album of the year, any fan of The National knows they never release a bad album, but in a catalog of good-to-classic releases, Trouble Will Find Me may prove to be their best. Yes, it’s that good. Is “Fireproof” the best song on the album? I don’t think it’s possible to say, but damn if this song doesn’t do everything that makes the National great. There’s that slow but propulsive build throughout that gives the song a kind of pulsing anxiety, deceptively complex instrumentation and, of course, those lyrics: “You keep a lot of secrets, and I keep none; wish I could go back and keep some.” It says something when a band that’s music could best be described as “the soundtrack of the winter” is still this listenable in the heat of the summer.

Laura Marling – When Brave Bird Saved

This is kind of a cheat. “When Brave Bird Saved” isn’t a song, but rather a short film soundtracked (almost) entirely by the first 4 songs off of Laura Marling’s stunning album, Once I Was an Eagle. Remember when I said that Vampire Weekend and the National were contenders for album of the year? The only reason one of them hasn’t already walked off with the title is because this Little-Engine-That-Could of an album is one of the most stunning, perplexing and beautiful collections of songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s not the kind of album you put on every day, but it is the sort that, when you put it on 5 years from now, you’ll suddenly find yourself unable to do anything else but listen. If I say it’s a masterpiece, I risk overselling it and putting people off to it.

So be it: Once I Was an Eagle is a masterpiece.

Once I Was An Eagle