What I’m Listening To Now – January 2017


This is an experiment.  Instead of constantly filling this blog with Podcast of the Week, Song of the Week, and Album of the Month posts, I’ve decided to try to collect all the things I listen to over the course of a month in post.  Hopefully, allowing myself the time will also allow me to create something more worth reading.

Let me know what you think, and what you’re listening to, in the comments.

Podcasts of the Month

Maeve in America: The Annie Episode: Annie Moore Room?

This ongoing podcast about the experiences of individual immigrants in America relates the tale of the young Irish woman who was the first person to be processed through Ellis Island.

The Nation – Start Making Sense: We Can’t Just Protest Trump, We Must Defy Him

I recently started listening to this podcast from The Nation and it offers some great strategies for what we must do in the Trump era.

Reveal: Water Wars

One of the scariest things in the world today is the lack of access to fresh, clean water, which is of course vital to life.  The war in Yemen is possibly the first war ever fought over water.

Fresh Air: The Systemic Segregation of Schools

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a journalist who tracks how generations after Brown v. Board of Education, public schools are still largely segregated by race, and inequitable, and the choices of even the most liberal people of privilege maintain the system.

All Songs Considered: The Power of Politics, Music, and More

New songs, especially the first four songs in this podcast, tie in with the political issues of our day.  The a cappella performance of MILCK’S “Quiet” from the Women’s March on Washington is below.

Decode DCHey Tea Party, Meet Your Lefty Cousins

The American Left will need to use the tactics and strategy of the Tea Party to make any headway in the Trump years. The Indivisible guide explains how.

Albums of the Month
 

Artist: Bonobo
Album: Migration
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Migration” and “Outlier”
Thoughts: Electronic drumbeats and resonant bass notes are coupled with world music melodies on this album that is largely instrumental music.  This is not going to get you on the dance floor, but is more music for relaxation and meditation.  With the exception of a couple of bland tracks with vocals, this is highly listenable if not too original downtempo electronica.
Rating: ***


ArtistFlaming Lips
Album:  Oczy Mlody
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “How??,” “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill”,” and “We a Family”
Thoughts: The Flaming Lips have a penchant for being weird, but an album about unicorns and faeries and demons all experienced through a psychedelic drug is really weird.  A concept album with a healthy dose of profanity makes this reminiscent of Funkadelic, although this is more dreamy and fuzzed-out than funky. The music is downtempo but also has a sunniness that puts it at odds with the band’s last album The Terror.  Also, Miley Cyrus is guest vocalist on one track. Weird.
Rating: ***


ArtistRun the Jewels
AlbumRun the Jewels 3
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks:  “Talk to Me,”  “Call Ticketron,”  “Don’t Get Captured,”  “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” (featuring Tunde Adebimpe), and “Oh Mama”
Thoughts: I shouldn’t be allowed to review hip-hop albums since I’ve not paid much attention to the genre the past 25 years, but I’ve liked what I heard from Run the Jewels and their latest doesn’t disappoint.  In a way, it’s not too dissimilar to the hip-hop I liked in the late 80s/early 90s – sonically dense, musically creative, and lyric that are conscious and in your face but not preachy.
Rating: ****


ArtistThe xx
Album:  I See You
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Dangerous” and “I Dare You”
Thoughts: I was looking forward to this album since band member Jamie xx’s album In Colour was on of my favorites of 2015.  Unfortunately, I find myself disappointed with the full band’s effort.  The songs have more of a contemporary r&b sound, and while there’s nothing wrong with downtempo music, a lot of these tracks sound lethargic. It’s not a bad album, but it’s not memorable either.
Rating: **


ArtistAustra
Album:  Future Politics
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Future Politics,” “Utopia,” and “43”
Thoughts: Wow, this is powerful album, musically and politically, from the Canadian band.  Once again, I’m reminded of the 1980s with the synthpop sound and the bold vocals of Katie Stelmanis put me in mind of Alison Moyet and Yaz.  It’s worth the time to immerse oneself in this album.
Rating: ****


ArtistPriests
Album: Nothing Feels Natural
Release Date: January 27, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “No Big Bang,” “Pink White House,” and “Suck”
Thoughts: Loud, angry music from the D.C. punk band.  ,Like with Run the Jewels I’m transported back to the 1980s, yet the music is fresh and current. This is music that captures the anxiety of the contemporary zeitgeist.
Rating: ***


 

2016 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


Once again, it’s time to look back on the music of 2016 with my favorite songs of the year.

I’ve featured many of this songs in my Song of the Week posts this year.  If you see a link from a song title it will take you back to the Song of the Week post for that song, or other time I wrote about that band.

For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 2015,  201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In alphabetical order, here are my ten favorite songs of the year:

Atomic Number” by case/lang/veirs

Brother, What Happened” by Muddy Magnolias

Big Bad Good” by My Bubba

“Freedom” by Beyoncé

“Mighty (feat. JFTH)” by Caravan Palace

“Quiet” by Erik Blood

To Have You Back” by Tourist

Wave of History” by Downtown Boys

Your Best American Girl” by Mitski

You Want it Darker” by Leonard Cohen

 

And here are five honorable mentions:

Augustine” by Blood Orange

Frankie Sinatra” by The Avalanches

Stranger Things” by Kyle Dixon, Michael Stein

“This Girl” by Kungs vs. Cookin’ on 3 Burners

Yeah, I’m Okay With My Shit Life” by Bethlehem Steel

What were your favorite songs of 2016?

 

Song of the Week: “Life on Mars?” by Sophia Anne Caruso


Just when you thought there was already enough David Bowie content on this blog, today’s Song of the Week comes from the recently released cast recording of the David Bowie musical, Lazarus.  Sophia Anne Caruso’s interpretation of “Life on Mars?” is the perfect Bowie and the musical theater.  I can’t stop listening to it.

Take a gander and see if you think the same.

 

Music Discoveries: David Bowie, 1988-2016


The 1980s saw a low point in David Bowie’s creative output. He was not alone, as many of the great artists of the sixties and seventies released a lot of dreck in the 1980s. Many of them never recovered, while others regained relevancy only as nostalgia acts, touring on their old hits and/or recording new songs that sound a whole lot like their old songs. Always one to be different, in 1990 Bowie staged his Sound & Vision Tour where he symbolically “retired” much of his back catalog of hit songs (although some of the songs returned for later tours). Incidentally, my sister had a cassette of the Changesbowie greatest hits compilation from the same year, which was my first exposure to most of Bowie’s hit songs.

Around the same time, Bowie formed a new band Tin Machine with Reeves Gabrels, Tony Sales, and Hunt Sales (my favorite tidbit is that the latter two are sons of children’s tv host Soupy Sales). Bowie made an effort to make sure that he was part of a democratic band encouraging interviewers to talk with the other band members and not just him. The hard rock sound was reminiscent of blues rock from the sixties and seventies (including Bowie’s work on The Man Who Sold the World) as well as contemporary alternative rock music that would soon become known as grunge. Rejuvenated by his experience with Tin Machine, Bowie had a creative revival and over the course of 25 years experimented with electronic music (both house and drum & bass), theatrical concept albums, video game soundtracks, jazz, and art rock, and set a standard for a rock star to age gracefully without compromise.

While Bowie will be most remembered for his work from around 1969 to 1981, I think his 1990s and 2000s work is also worth revisiting.

AlbumTin Machine
Release Date: 22 May 1989
Favorite Tracks: “Heaven’s in Here,” “Tin Machine,” “Crack City,” and “Bus Stop”
Thoughts:  I kind of wish I’d given this album a try when it first came out as it would’ve slotted in well with other bands I was listening to at the time such as Living Colour and The Smithereens, as well as blues rock from the 60s and 70s.  Better late than never.  While the music here can be bland at times, it holds up much better than Bowie’s mid-80s work.
Rating: ***


AlbumTin Machine II
Release Date: 2 September 1991
Favorite Tracks: “You Belong in Rock n’ Roll,”  “Stateside,”  “Shopping for Girls,” and “Goodbye Mr. Ed”
Thoughts: Still blues rock with a hard edge (especially “Stateside”) but a sound that fits in with the alternative rock of the era.  I think the first Tin Machine II album was more consistent, but my favorite tracks stand out more on this album.
Rating: ***


AlbumBlack Tie White Noise
Release Date: 5 April 1993
Favorite Tracks: “You’ve Been Around,”  “Jump They Say,”  “Pallas Athena,” and “Miracle Goodnight”
Thoughts: There’s a lot going on this album.  Bowie is celebrating his wedding to Iman. He is reunited with producer Nile Rodgers and guitarist Mick Ronson.  And he’s exploring blending house music with sax-heavy soul music.  Some tracks have a cheezy synth-sound, but overall this may be the most danceable David Bowie album.  This is another one I wish I checked out at the time it was released because I probably would’ve liked it.
Rating: ***


Album1. Outside
Release Date: 25 September 1995[
Favorite Tracks: “A Small Plot of Land,” “Hallo Spaceboy,”  “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town,” “No Control”
Thoughts: Bowie once again dips into a well of previous successes, reuniting with producer Brian Eno and creating a concept album on dystopian themes not unlike Diamond Dogs. The result is a theatrical collection of industrial tracks.  The album is lengthy and dark in tone, so I can’t imagine wanting to put it on often, but that does not detract from the artistry of it.
Rating: ***


AlbumEART HL I NG
Release Date: 3 February 1997
Favorite Tracks: “Little Wonder,” “Battle for Britain (The Letter),” “Telling Lies,”  and “I’m Afraid of Americans”
Thoughts: David Bowie continues to experiment with contemporary music styles, this time blending drum and bass with his brand of rock and roll.  “I’m Afraid of Americans” is the only 1990s song I believe I’ve heard before, and it’s not even the best one on the album.
Rating: ***1/2


Album‘hours…’
Release Date:  21 September 1999
Favorite Tracks: The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell
Thoughts: With Bowie, expect the unexpected.  What’s unexpected here is that this album originated with the music for a computer game soundtrack.  What’s unfortunate is that much of it is mellow, “easy listening” material which is a bit too reminiscent of his 1980s nadir (but with better production). “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell” is the standout track, but I think it would’ve been just run-of-the-mill on previous 1990s albums.
Rating:*1/2


AlbumHeathen 
Release Date: 11 June 2002
Favorite Tracks: “Slip Away” and  “Heathen (The Rays)”
Thoughts: This album kind of strikes me as what if the guy who recorded Let’s Dance grew older and decided to record a more serious album. There’s nothing wrong with the that, it’s just odd considering all the other incarnations of Bowie in-between.  The instrumentation on the album is lush, but musically it still has too much of an easy-listening vibe.
Rating: **


AlbumReality
Release Date: 16 September 2003
Favorite Tracks: “New Killer Star,”  “Pablo Picasso,”  “Try Some, Buy Some,” and “Reality”
Thoughts: This is a partner album for Heathens, although with more of a post-punk vibe, a harder rock & roll edge, and more consistency from song to song.  Bowie gets abstractly political and throws in a couple of covers.
Rating: **1/2


AlbumThe Next Day
Release Date:  8 March 2013
Favorite Tracks: “Where Are We Now?” and “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die”
Thoughts: After a ten-year absence from releasing studio recordings, Bowie surprised fans with a new album. The Next Day is a straight-forward rocker of an album that both builds on Bowie’s past and show’s his continued interest in innovation. This another album where I haven’t singled out many favorite tracks but I do like the overall tone and flow of the complete album.
Rating: ***


AlbumBlackstar
Release Date: 8 January 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Blackstar,” “Lazarus,” “Girl Loves Me,”  and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
Thoughts: For the first and only time, I listened to a David Bowie recording at the time it was released.  I remember being blown away by the title song when it came out in November 2015, and impressed that Bowie was doing such innovative work so late in his career.  And then Bowie died just two days after the album was released in January.  It’s clear that Bowie’s mortality informed the lyrics and that this album was a farewell.  But Bowie also left on a creative peak, incorporating experimental jazz and electronic music in his own inimitable way.
Rating: *****

Five unexpected things that I learned about Bowie through listening to all of his studio albums:

  • That he likes to do lots of cover songs.  I’d always thought he was the type of artist who only recorded his own songs.
  • That he’s a major collaborator.  I knew about Bowie’s work with Queen and Bing Crosby, but all through his career he worked with an enormous number of talented artists.
  • That he likes to rework, re-record, and reissue songs, often over long periods of time.
  • That most of his 80s work is so unlistenable, but that so much of his work from 1989 onward that I never heard before is rather remarkable.
  • That listening to all the studio albums just scratches the surface of the work Bowie produced since he has so many non-album recordings, soundtracks, remixes, live recordings, and collaborations with other artists, not to mention his work in music videos and films.

 On that last note, I could extend this Bowie discovery series indefinitely.  But, for now I will call this an end, and when Music Discoveries returns I will be revisiting the music of The Replacements.

Song of the Week: “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski


The song “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski has been out for several months, but I only became acquainted with it a few weeks ago, and then I heard it broken down in this excellent episode of the Song Exploder.

Song of the Week: “Ya” by Factory Floor


“Ya” by Factory Floor is reminiscent of “Oh Yeah” by Yello, perhaps even less lyrically challenging, but I can still envision it played over an action montage in an 80s comedy.  It’s Labor Day Weekend after all, and the workers of the world don’t want to think too hard, but they do want to dance.

Song of the Week: “O B 1” by Jagwar Ma


“O B 1” by Jagwar Ma is reminiscent of the industrial dance music inflected alternative rock of the early 1990s, a style of music that seems to be overlooked in 90s music retrospectives, but one I dug.  The Australian band will release their full album Every Now & Then in October.

More at KEXP Song of the Day.

Song of the Week: “Fear and Beer (Hymn for Brexit)” by The Mekons


The legendary post-punk band The Mekons have composed what may be the first protest song of Brexit.  Appropriate for a boozy sing-a-long at a pub, it is also a call to action

Song of the Week: “Frankie Sinatra” by The Avalanches


A long time ago I found a random album at the library by a band called The Avalanches and was blown away by the sound collage of samples, sound bites, and dance music, especially the track “Frontier Psychiatrist.”   16 years later, The Avalanches finally got around to releasing their second album Wildflower featuring the delightfully bizarre and catch “Frankie Sinatra.”

Be warned, the lyrics are crude and the video is slightly disturbing, but if you make it to the end you’ll be singing the refrain all day.

Song of the Week: “Transition” by DIRTYGIRL


The lo-fi punk band from London DIRTYGIRL offers “Transition,” a track with a tight power pop sound and vocals reminiscent of early Liz Phair.  It’s off their Junk Food EP released in October, and made known to my by The Sounds in My Head podcast.

Song of the Week: “Cada Dia Es Domingo” by Mexrrissey


You haven’t heard the music of English alternative superstar Morrissey until you’ve heard it in its original Mexican version, or so it would seem upon listening to Mexrissey‘s rendition of “Everyday is Like Sunday” called “Cada Dia Es Domingo.”  It’s a sad song, but I’m happy it exists.

http://www.kcrw.com/music/shows/todays-top-tune/mexrrissey-cada-dia-es-domingo

Song of the Week: “Comicon” by SassyBlack


“Comicon” is a funky celebration of going to a science fiction/fantasy convention dressed as your favorite characters.  It comes from “space aged singer, songwriter & producer” SassyBlack, aka Cat Harris-White.