What I’m Listening to Now – March 2017


It’s more than halfway through April so it’s about time I get this post up for March.

Podcasts of the Month

99% InvisibleChurch, Sanctuary part 1

Sanctuary churches have been in the news.  Here is how it works in practice.

BackStoryTaking it to the Streets

A history of mass protests in the United States.

Best of the LeftLiving in an empire of lies (Propaganda)

Stepping back from the headline news and taking a deep dive into the history of propaganda in the United States.

To the Best of Our Knowledge – Every Time You Troll Me, A Scientist Gets Her Due

Emily Temple-Wood decided the best way to get back at misogynist trolls on the internet is to write a new entry about a woman scientists on Wikipedia every time they attack.

RadiolabShots Fired, part 1

An investigation into police shootings of innocent or unarmed individuals and the networks of the families and friends left behind.

Fresh Air – An ‘Intimate Portrait’ Of Dorothy Day, The Catholic Activist With A Bohemian Past

An interview with Kate Hennessy, author of a new biography of her grandmother, Dorothy Day.

Song of the Month

Frank Turner adds another song to the rapidly growing Resistance Mixtape, “The Sand in the Gears.”

Albums of the Month


Artist: The Feelies
Album: In Between
Release Date: 24 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “When to Go,” “Stay the Course” and “Turn Back Time”
Rating: ***

The Feelies are a band that seems to have always been around, but this is only their 6th album in 40+ years.  They managed to both influence R.E.M. and be beneficiaries of R.E.M.’s popularity in the 1980s.  The jangle pop of this album is reminiscent of the 80s, not in the 80s Nostalgia Industry way but in the type of music you’d hear your older sibling’s cool best friend listening to in the car in the 80s.  The songs appear laid back, but grow in lyrical and emotional intensity.


Artist: The Shins
AlbumHeartworms
Release Date: 10 March 2017
Favorite Tracks: “So Now What” and “Cherry Hearts”
Rating: ***

The Shins return with their typical high harmonies and wall of sound arrangements.  This album appears to do some genre hopping – ska to EDM to psychedelia – but all within The Shins’ framework.  Definitely a good return to form after a long 5-year hiatus.


ArtistPeter Mulvey
Album: Are You Listening
Release Date: 25 March 2017
Favorite Tracks: “D.I.A.,” “Are You Listening,” “Just Before the War,” “The Details,” and “Oh, The Rain”
Rating: ****

Peter Mulvey is who I’d want to be as a singer-songwriter. On this new album produced by Ani DiFranco, Mulvey’s bass voice resonates and his profound lyrics are full of thought and emotion.  Definitely an album you’ll want to check out.

What I’m Listening to Now – February 2017


Better late than never, here is the report of what I was listening to in February, a short month punctuated by a delightful vacation where I mostly listened to the laughter of my children.

Podcasts of the Month

Fresh AirThe History of US Intervention

A discussion of the United States involvement with the rest of the world from isolationism to the world’s police to the more sinister activities of imperialism and corporate hegemony.

Jacobin RadioWe Can Do Better

What is capitalism, what role does it play in our lives, and is it really the best we can do?

To The Best of Our KnowledgeA Borderless World

Borders and immigration are a key issue of our times.  These stories illustrate how the idea of borders is becoming an outdated one.

BackStoryWorld Apart

The divide between urban and rural populations is one of the major causes of political disagreement in the US today, and one that goes back throughout the history of the United States.

This American LifeIt’s Working Out Very Nicely

Stories of the confusion and struggle that arose in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Twenty Thousand HertzAudio Descriptions

Movies have a track of audio description intended to help the visually impaired and this podcast describes the art of narration and how audio descriptions can benefit all viewers.

Decode DCHow cops can legally take your car, home, or cash

The chilling law of civil asset forfeiture that allows police to take property from suspects even if they’re not convicted or even charged with crimes.

Have You Heard?You’re Fired

All about why school turnarounds – a theory of fixing low-performing schools by firing the teachers and staff that has widespread, bipartisan support – is an idea that doesn’t work, and what actually does.

Song of the Month

Chicago singer-songwriter Zeshan Bagewadi (aka Zeshan B) provides a powerful interpretation of the 1970 protest anthem “Cryin’ in the Streets” by  George Perkins that ties together generations of protest for justice and equality in the United States.  Learn more about the song The World interview.

 

Albums of the Month

Artist: Tinariwen
Album: Elwan
Release Date: 10 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Sastanàqqàm,” Ténéré Tàqqàl,” “Assàwt,” and “Nànnuflày”
Thoughts: The Northern Africa Desert Blues band from Mali’s most recent release includes guest appearances by indie artists like Kurt Vile, but the band itself is the stand out performer of this collection of melodic, resonant, and politically-charged tunes.
Rating: ***1/2


 

Artist: Clap! Clap!
Album: A Thousand Skies
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ar-Raqis” and “Elephant Seranade”
Thoughts: Clap! Clap! is a project of Italian producer Cristiano Crisci, who creates instrumental dance tracks relying heavily on indigenous percussion.  An earlier Clap! Clap! recording, Tayi Bebba,  made my 2014 favorite albums list.  While not as strong as its predecessor, A Thousand Skies is equally enjoyable as festive ambient music for a party or for getting through a gray day at work
Rating: ***1/2


Artist: Visible Cloaks
AlbumReassemblage
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Bloodstream”, “Place,” “Valve (Revisited)”
Thoughts: Somewhere between Phillip Glass, a church organist, and a lullaby lies this lovely collection of ambient tunes.
Rating: ***


Artist: Molly Burch
AlbumPlease Be Mine
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Fool”
Thoughts: A collection of retro, country-tinged tracks sung sweetly by a barroom singer.  It’s pretty and well-produced, and while there’s nothing wrong with Burch’s album it’s nothing we  haven’t heard before from Patsy Cline and singers produced by Phil Spector among others, so it’s just a tad bit dull.
Rating: **


 

Albums of the Month: November 2016


I started working on this post a few weeks ago, set it aside, and in the intervening time one of the artists review straight-up DIED.  I feel terrible guilt that I didn’t get my thoughts on Leonard Cohen’s now-final album up in a timely manner.  Before anything bad happens to any of the other artists, here are my thoughts on five recently released albums you should give a listen to.

Artist: Jenny Hval
Album: Blood Bitch
Release Date: September 30, 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Female Vampire” and “Secret Touch”
Thoughts: Norwegian avant-garde musician Jenny Hval presents this concept album on the theme of blood.  It’s sonicaly rich with complex lyrics about things ranging from vampirism to menstruation
Rating: ***


Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: You Want It Darker
Release Date: 21 October 2016
Lyrics of Note:

As he died to make men holy
Let us die to make things cheap
– “Steer Your Way”

Favorite Tracks: “You Want It Darker,” “Treaty,” “Leaving the Table,” and “Steer Your Way”
Thoughts: A beautiful farewell from the singer/songwriter/poet Cohen (although he could have very well gone on to record another brilliant album had he survived).  It seems unprecedented that much of Cohen’s best work came at such an advanced age.  Even if his older songs are much-covered classics, the work on his final albums has some of the best instrumentation, production, and performing.
Rating: ****


Artist: Tanya Tagaq
AlbumRetribution
Release Date: 21 October 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Nacreous,” “Aorta,” “Centre,”
Thoughts: The Inuit throat singer’s newest album sees her crossing over into other musical styles, bringing in Tuvan throat singers, collaborating with rapper Shad, and covering Nirvana’s “Rape Me.”  But this isn’t a cozy Putamayo “world music” release from the 1990s, instead it is a vital statement of plight of indigenous peoples and global warming, and a call to political action.
Rating:


Artist: John K. Samson
Album: Winter Wheat
Release Date: 21 October 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Select All Delete,” “Oldest Oak at Brookside,” “Alpha Adept,” and “Virtute at Rest”
Thoughts: The lead vocalist of The Weakerthans newest solo project sounds a lot like a Weakerthans recording but stripped down to just the vocals and a few instruments.  The songs navigate technology and nature and addiction and recovery.  It’s a musically sad, but lyrically hopeful recording so worth a deep listen, even if you’re down in the dumps.
Rating: ***1/2


Artist: Agnes Obel
Album: Citzen of Glass
Release Date: 21 October 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Familiar,” “Trojan Horses,” and “Citizens of Glass,”
Lyrics of Note:
Thoughts: Danish-born, Berlin-based artist Agnes Obel’s music reminds me of a lot of things – Phillip Glass’ avant guarde keyboards, Clannad’s layering of vocals and instruments, Joanna Newsom’s vocal stylings, and Led Zeppelin in their most mystical folkiness.
Rating: ***

Turns out this was a very Northern review with three Canadian and two Scandinavian artists.  If there’s a new album you think I should hear and review in December, let me know in the comments.

 

Albums of the Month: October 2016


Ratings scale:

***** – An all-time classic album (highly recommended)
**** – Great album (recommended)
*** – Solid album (consider buying or streaming/downloading top tracks)
** – Weak album (only consider streaming/downloading top tracks)
* – Poor album (not recommended)


ARTIST: Warpaint
ALBUM: Heads Up
RELEASE DATE: 1 August 2016
RATING: **
FAVORITE TRACKS: “New Song”
COMMENTS: I enjoyed the band’s previous album, particularly the track “Disco // very” but there’s nothing that vital or energetic on this album.  It’s dream pop, but it’s more sleep inducing with bland musical arrangements and not much emotion in the vocals.  It’s getting good reviews, so your tastes may differ, but this one’s a bit too dry for me.


ARTIST: Against Me!
ALBUM: Shape Shift With Me
RELEASE DATE: 16 September 2016
RATING: ***1/2
FAVORITE TRACKS: “Boyfriend,” “Rebecca,” “Norse Truth,” and “All This (And More)”
COMMENTS:  A great package of melodic punk from the Florida band.  The lyrics rely heavily on the personal and intimate experience of singer/guitarist/songwriter Laura Jane Grace.  But the personal is political for Grace who has become an icon for the transgender community since coming out as a transgender woman in 2012.


ARTIST: A Tribe Called Red
ALBUM: We Are the Halluci Nation
RELEASE DATE: 16 Septemebr 2016
RATING: ****
FAVORITE TRACKS: “R.E.D,” “Sila,” “The Light,” and “Maima Koopi”
COMMENTS: The trio of DJs based in Ottawa combine traditional singing and rythmns with electronic dance sounds in what they call “Electric Pow Wow.”  Their third album is unapologetic in its political stance and call to activism for First Nations cause, but also shows an increasing musical confidence and willing to experiment with styles ranging from R&B to pop to rap to the Inuit throat singing of guest artist Tanya Tagaq.  This is an album at once good for the dance floor as it is for raising consciousness


Albums of the Months: August/September 2016


I never got up my AOTM post for August, so here’s a two for one.

Ratings scale:

***** – An all-time classic album (highly recommended)

**** – Great album (recommended)

*** – Solid album (consider buying or streaming/downloading top tracks)

** – Weak album (only consider streaming/downloading top tracks)

* – Poor album (not recommended)


ARTIST: Elza Soares
ALBUMA Mulher do Fim do Mundo (The Woman at the End of the World)
RELEASE DATE:3 June 2016
RATING: ****
COMMENTS: At 79-years-old, Elza Soares is an iconic samba performer in Brazil.  Her voice is gravelly, but it captures perfectly the emotions.  I don’t understand Portequese but I can understand the feeling in these songs about poverty, domestic violence, and the political strife of her native land.  Musically there are traditional samba elements, but also fuzzed-out electric guitar and a bass line sometimes reminiscent of Primus.  It’s an innovative fusion, unlike anything I’ve ever heard and a voice at once defiant and celebratory.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Dança,” “Benedita,” “Pra Fuder,” and “Maria da Vila Matilde”


ARTISTcase/lang/veirs
ALBUM: case/lang/veirs
RELEASE DATE: 18 June 2016
RATING: ***1/2
COMMENTS: Three artists come together and form a more cohesive band sound than I would’ve expected.  Some great tunes and harmonies, the best tracks seem to be loaded toward the front of the album.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “I Want to Be Here,” “Honey and Smoke,” “Georgia Stars,” “Blue Fires,” and “Atomic Number”


ARTISTThe Avalanches 
ALBUM: Wild Flowers
RELEASE DATE: 8 July 2016
RATING: ***
COMMENTS:  The band’s 2000 album Since I Left You is an all-time classic.  Is the follow-up as good? Not really.  Was it worth waiting 16 years? Probably not.  Nevertheless this is a delightful cacophony of sounds that feels like a journey through American music played on the radios of passing cars or spilling out of a nightclub down the block.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Because I’m Me,” “The Noisy Eater,” and “Frankie Sinatra”


ARTIST:  Angel Olsen
ALBUM:  My Woman
RELEASE DATE: 2 September 2016
RATING: ***
COMMENTS: Indie folk rock with ethereal vocals is my bag.  The early part of My Woman is peppy, almost punk with 50s/60s girl band thrown in, but as the album proceeds the songs slow down and stretch out, each showing varying degrees of optimism and melancholy.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Shut Up Kiss Me,” “Never Be Mine,” and “Intern”


 

ARTIST:  Clipping.
ALBUM:  Splendor & Money
RELEASE DATE: 9 September 2016
RATING: ***1/2
COMMENTS: Clipping. is an experimental hip-hop group featuring Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame. This hip-hop space opera is reminiscent of Afro-futuristic works of PFunk and Janelle Monae.  Gospel melodies are paired with rapid-fire rap.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS:


 

 

 

Albums of the Month: July 2016


I’m adding to my stable of music criticism posts by introducing a new Albums of the Month feature.  The basic gist is that on the second Wednesday of the month (or, as is the case when I procrastinate, on Friday), I will write reviews of 3-5 albums released within the past three months (in this case May, June, and July of 2016).  If there’s an album you love that you’d like me to review, post a suggestion below.  Similarly, if there’s an album you hate that you want me to pillory, also let me know.  And if there’s an album you’re timid about listening to and want me to try first, I’m open to anything.

Ratings scale:

***** – An all-time classic album (highly recommended)

**** – Great album (recommended)

*** – Solid album (consider buying or streaming/downloading top tracks)

** – Weak album (only consider streaming/downloading top tracks)

* – Poor album (not recommended)


ARTISTJames Blake
ALBUMThe Colour in Anything
RELEASE DATE: 6 May 2016
RATING: ***
COMMENTS:  Blake’s gospel-style voice is paired with electronic sounds or sometimes a piano in this mournful album of love lost and a directionless life. This is a headphone album to hear the textures deep in the sounds in the often spare arrangements.  This is not something to put on when you’re already feeling blue.  Despite the title, this is a colourless, muted recording.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Points,” “Waves Know Shores,” “Always,” and “Meet You in the Maze.”


ARTISTTourist 
ALBUM: U
RELEASE DATE: 6 May 2016
RATING: **1/2
COMMENTS: Reminiscent of Passion Pit and Jamie xx, this is electronic music that is danceable but introspective.  The standout tracks are excellent but overall it sounds repetitive and dull.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Run,” “To Have You Back,” and “Foolish.”


ARTISTRadiohead
ALBUMA Moon Shaped Pool
RELEASE DATE: 8 May 2016
RATING: ***
COMMENTS: Quiet and folky with orchestral flourishes, sometimes reminiscent of  Sigur Ros and early 70’s folk pop, This is not as innovative as I’m accustomed from Radiohead and while a worthy addition to their catalog, it’s not a vital one.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Burn the Witch” and “Desert Island Disk”


ARTISTFlume
ALBUMSkin
RELEASE DATE: 27 May 2016
RATING: **
COMMENTS:A downtempo electronic album feels the strains of anxiety and uncertainty, especially in the high register vocals of the many guest artists.  A few songs stand out, but overall this is kind of a drag.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Never Be Like You (featuring Kai)”, “Wall Fuck,” and “Tiny Cities (featuring Beck)”


ARTISTMoon Hooch
ALBUMRed Sky
RELEASE DATE: 10 June 2016
RATING: ****
COMMENTS: This is the latest collection of saxophone tunes with EDM arrangements. Mostly instrumental, but a few vocal tracks (with less sax because they’re singing – duh).  A great party record.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Sunken Ship,”  “That’s What They Say,” “Something Else,” and “Alien Invasion”


ARTISTBlood Orange
ALBUMFreetown Sound
RELEASE DATE: 18 June 2016
RATING: ***
COMMENTS: This album bridges 80s r&b rhythms and sounds (a definite Michael Jackson influence) with socially conscious lyrics.  I want to like it more than I do.
OUTSTANDING TRACKS:  “By Ourselves,” “Augustine,” “But You,” and “Hands Up”