Monthly Mixtape – February 2018


I haven’t posted any Songs of the Week this year, and I’ve decided to retire SOTW and instead make a monthly post of new songs I like.  Hence the term “Monthly Mixtape.”

The title song off of Courtney Marie Andrews upcoming album is “May Your Kindness Remain”

 

The James Hunter Six provides Daptone soul in “I Got Eyes”

Australian electronica artists Jono Ma and Dreems collaborate on “Can’t Stop my Dreaming (Of You)”

Parliament returns with their first track in decades “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me (feat. Scarface)” and it’s funky in a 21st century way.

As always, let me know what you like, what you don’t like, and what other songs I should be listening to.

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Album Review: Little Dark Age by MGMT


Album: Little Dark Age
ArtistMGMT
Release Date: 2018 February 9
Favorite Tracks:

  • Little Dark Age
  • Me and Michael
  • One Thing Left to Try

Thoughts:

Little Dark Age sounds like it was recorded in 1985 and has been sitting in a vault all these years to finally be released.  You could find it on the shelf somewhere between Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and the Pet Shop Boys, and even the lyrics of songs like “She Works Out Too Much” sound like commentary on the 80s aerobic craze. The songs on this album are hit or miss, and it’s never going to live up to Oracular Spectacular, but it’s a fun pop confection.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Marble Skies by Django Django


AlbumMarble Skies
ArtistDjango Django
Release Date: 26 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Marble Skies
  • Tic Tac Toe
  • Beam Me Up
  • In Your Beat

Thoughts:

England’s Django Django is reminiscent of late 60s pop and 80s New Wave synthpop and sometimes both at the same time. No matter what particular influence they’re working on they do a solid job interpreting it.  The enjoyable eclecticism makes it sound like a career-spanning compilation album, but remains surprisingly coherent musical journey.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: The Thread That Keeps Us by Calexico


Album: The Thread That Keeps Us 
Artist: Calexico
Release Date: 2018 January 26
Favorite Tracks: “Under the Wheels,” “Flores Y Tamales,” “Eyes Wide Awake,” and “Shortboard”
Thoughts:

Calexico is a band that’s been active for more than two decades, although I was not familiar with their work until I heard “Under the Wheels” and decided to check out the rest of the album.  As the name implies, this Arizona-based indie rock band takes inspiration from the borderlands between Mexico and the southwestern United States. Those aren’t their only influences though, as listening to this album I heard music similar to John Lennon’s solo work, the 1980s oeuvre of bands like U2 and Midnight Oil, and even surf rock.  The feel of the music is cinematic, painting pictures of the desert landscape and the people who inhabit.  Lyrically, the songs are topically relevant – perhaps gaining significance from our national political disorder – as border politics and wildfires color the stories of everyday people.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Ruins by First Aid Kit


AlbumRuins
ArtistFirst Aid Kit
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Rebel Heart
  • Ruins

ThoughtsRuins is the latest release from the Swedish folk rock duo of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg.  I’m inextricably drawn to close, female harmonies and lush instrumentation in all cases, and this is no exception.  All the same, I think that First Aid Kit can create music with more bite, and there’s something missing here.  Thus it’s good album, worth a listen, but not as great as it could be.
Rating: **1/2

Album Review: i can feel you creep into my private life by tUnE-YaRdS


Album: i can feel you creep into my private life
ArtisttUnE-YaRdS
Release Date: 2018 January 19
Favorite Tracks:

  • ABC 123
  • Colonizer
  • Home

Thoughts:

tUnE-YaRdS, once Merrill Garbus’ musical project is now officially a duo including bassist and co-songwriter Nate Brenner.  Like earlier recordings, i can feel you creep into my private life is heavy on samples, loops, and beats with even more emphasis a club dance music sound. Always a political group, tUnE-YaRdS sees the personal is political as the lyrics examine racism, white privilege, and cultural appropriation (apropos to white people who use African, Latin, and Native American rhythms in their music).  The message can be heavy handed at time and fails to truly transcend the way the music does.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: I Like Fun by They Might Be Giants


AlbumI Like Fun
ArtistThey Might Be Giants
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Left My Body
  • By the Time You Get This
  • Push Back the Hands
  • The Greatest
  • Last Wave

Thoughts:

I wouldn’t be fair to say that They Might Be Giants peaked early, but it’s hard not to judge any new TMBG album without comparing it to their early work.  TMBG were one of the first “alternative” bands to gain widespread appeal and yet while they sounded nothing like mainstream music of the late 1980s, they also sound nothing like the other alternative bands.  All of this is a long way of saying that TMBG have dropped another solid album although nothing they do will ever seem so transformative as Lincoln and Flood when they were first released.

True to form, I Like Fun contains cheerful ditties with humorous lyrics that reflect on darker topics ranging from individual mortality to murder to the extinction of the human race. “They call me “the greatest”/’Cause I’m not very good/and they’re being sarcastic,” begins “The Greatest” with a gut punch.  “Last Wave” closes the album with the cheerful chorus “We die alone we die afraid/We live in terror we’re naked and alone.”

There are experiments in music styles and instrumentation, and several tracks have a crunchy guitar that makes it more straight-out rock music than typical TMBG.  But overall it sticks to the well-defined TMBG template the band has crafted over 30  years of doing their own damn thing and doing it well.

Rating: ***1/2

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Album Review: SEMICIRCLE by The Go! Team


AlbumSEMICIRCLE
ArtistThe Go! Team
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Semicircle Song
  • The Answer’s No — Now What’s the Question
  • She’s Got Guns

Thoughts:

The Go! Team is gimmick band that mixes together a late-60s pop/soul sound with samples of marching bands, cheerleader chants, and movie dialogue, among other things. But it’s a very good gimmick as they manage to once again produce a solid album of upbeat pop confection. Strange that this is released in January actually, as SEMICIRCLE is ripe to score the soundtrack of summer.

Rating: ***

Album Review: POST- by Jeff Rosenstock


Album: POST-
ArtistJeff Rosenstock
Release Date: 5 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts:

I’d never heard of Jeff Rosenstock but saw this new album getting excellent reviews, so I gave it a spin.  It’s technically proficient and the lyrics are thoughtful and depressing, but overall it just sounds to me like generic radio rock of the 70s & 80s.  I guess this is a case of your mileage may vary.

Rating: **1/2

Album Review: 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields


Album50 Song Memoir
ArtistThe Magnetic Fields
Release Date: 2017 March 10
Favorite Tracks:

“67: Come Back as a Cockroach,” “78: The Blizzard of ’78,” “81: How to Play the Synthesizer,” “85: Why I’m Not a Teenager,” and “15: Somebody’s Fetish”

Thoughts:

This is an album that I saw on the Best of 17 lists that I missed when it was released and since there weren’t many new releases in January, I decided to give it a spin.  As the title implies, it is a 50-song album, one for each year in the life of singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields previously released an album called 69 Love Songs so this is relatively breezy).  The songs expertly mix personal memories with cultural touchstones (a Jefferson Airplane concert, Judy Garland’s death, the AIDS crisis) with the music recognizing the musical sounds of the time without being imitative (although it appears the disco era lasted longer for Merritt than everyone else).  It’s both humorous and heartbreaking as the story of anyone’s life would be.  While I enjoyed it, I kind of liken it to a long book or an lengthy movie that as good as it is, it’s not something I’m going to have the time to return to again and again.

Rating: ***

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


Here are 20 of my favorite songs of 2017. For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 20162015,  201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In no particular order

“Blue Mountain Road” by Florist

“Memories are Now” by Jesca Hoop

“You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” by Barr Brothers

“Cherry Blossom: by ALA.NI 

“Drinkee” by Sofi Tukker

“Every Day’s the Weekend” by Alex Lahey

“Witness” by  Benjamin Booker (feat. Mavis Staples)

“I Give You Power” by Arcade Fire (feat. Mavis Staples)

“Quiet” by Milck 

“Work” by  Charlotte Day Wilson

“Familiar” by Agnes Obel

“Cryin’ in the Streets” by Zeshan B

“Venus Fly” by Grimes (feat. Janelle Monae) – technically this song is from 2015, but the video of this most important collaboration came out this year bringing due attention to the song.

“Hot to Trot” by  Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas

“Modafinil Blues” by Matthew Dear

“The Underside of Power” by Algiers 

“A Wall” by Downtown Boys

“Future Politics” by Austra

“Learning to Lose” by Margo Price (feat. Willie Nelson)

“Straight Boy” by Shamir

 

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


This has been a challenging year in music as there have been few things that have jumped out at me as being all-time classics, much less favorites for 2017.  To add to the struggle a lot of artists that I’ve counted on to produce great music put out new albums this year including Beck, Björk, Blitzen Trapper, Flaming Lips, Gorrillaz, The New Pornographers, Shamir, St. Vincent, and The xx.  What should’ve been a bumper crop of music was dissapointing, and while I would not say that any of these artists’ albums were bad, I believe that could have done better.  I don’t know, maybe I’m missing the great music of 2017, and if that is the case please direct to me to those great tunes ASAP.

Nevertheless, her are six albums from 2017 that I loved, with links to the original reviews.  Check them out!

ArtistRun the Jewels 
AlbumRun the Jewels 3  

ArtistAustra
Album:  Future Politics

ArtistPeter Mulvey
AlbumAre You Listening 

Artists:  Fleet Foxes
Album: Crack-Up 

ArtistAlgiers
AlbumThe Underside of Power 

ArtistDowntown Boys
AlbumCost of Living 

Previously:

Song of the Week: “It’s Xmas (and Everyone is Miserable) by The Dirty Sidewalks


The seasonally appropriate final song of the week for 2017 is “It’s Xmas (and Everyone is Miserable” by The Dirty Sidewalks.  Hey, part of a healthy holiday season is acknowledging your feelings, even the dark ones.

Merry Christmas to all, even if you’re miserable.

Album Review: Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings


AlbumSoul of a Woman
ArtistSharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Matter of Time,” “Come and Be a Winner,” “Rumors,”  “Searching for a New Day,” and “Call on God”
Thoughts: It’s hard to listen to this album without feeling tearful, not just because of the music, but the knowledge that Sharon Jones’ voice was silenced forever with her death last year.  The final Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings album seems to recognize her mortality with more down tempo tracks, calls for reconciliation, messages of peace, and finish with the gospel hymn “Call on God.” It’s not intended as a final statement, but it’s what we get and serves as a reminder of the beauty and power that the great Sharon Jones brought to the world.
Rating: ***1/2

 

 

Album Review: Rest by Charlotte Gainsbourg


AlbumRest
Artist: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ring-a-Ring O’ Roses,” “Deadly Valentine,” and “Dan vos airs.”
Thoughts: The single “Deadly Valentine” is the standout track on Gainsbourg’s first album in six years, one that reflects on grief and loss on the death of her half-sister.  While there is an allure of a woman’s voice singing breathily in French, most of the album is full of synthesizer crunches and disco beats that sound like very generic electro-pop.
Rating: **

Album Review: Half-Light by Rostam


Album: Half-Light
Artist: Rostam
Release Date: 15 September 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Bike Dream” and “Don’t Let It Get To You”
Thoughts: Half-Light is the solo album debut for Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend. Like his former band’s recordings, the music here incorporates World Music sounds ranging from reggae to Brazilian Batucada to Indian raga, with layered musical effects and Rostam’s tenor rising above it all.  I have kind of mixed feelings, about the album although I warmed to it on repeated listens, but I still feel he’s trying too hard as a producer to make “art” losing himself in the process.
Rating: ***

 

 

Album Review: If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples


AlbumIf All I Was Was Black
ArtistMavis Staples
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Little Bit,” “If All I Was Was Black,” “Ain’t No Doubt About It,” and “Try Harder”
Thoughts:

One of my favorite musical trends of 2017 is the appearance of the legendary Mavis Staples as guest artist on various recordings.  First, Arcade Fire released “I Give You Power” on the eve of Inauguration Day in January:

Then staples added her gospel chops to Benjamin Booker’s statement on police killings of black people “Witness.”

Next Staples joined Pusha T on the virtual hip-hop/electronic band Gorillaz’ Trump-inspired track “Let Me Out.”

Now, at last, we have a full album of new songs from Mavis Staples herself reflecting on our fraught, divided times and what we need to do to fight against it.  Frequent Staples’ collaborator, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, produced the album, appears on one track, and wrote all the songs (quite remarkable when you think that means he wrote the title track).  Staples’ versatility that makes her such a strong asset as a guest artist with distinctly different bands is seen here as well as the music mixes gospel, soul, blues, folk, and Americana.  Lyrically, the civil rights icon is still fighting the good fight but recognizes that she has limitations and that she’s still called to love her enemy.  Mavis Staples’ legacy is already well-established, and this album is probably not going to be what she’s remembered for, but nevertheless it is great to have her voice confront the issues of our times.

Rating:  ***1/2