What I’m Listening to Now – April 2017


Song of the Month

“Cherry Blossom” by ALA.NI

Podcasts of the Month

Best of the Left Progressives Fight on Multiple Fronts

I hear too much infighting about the best way to conduct the resistance, so it’s good to hear this podcast the multiple fronts on which progressives are fighting for our country and our future.

Sound OpinionsMavis Staples

An insightful interview with the musical legend.

The Memory PalaceTemple

I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Turns out that the temple is not as old as I thought nor has it been in the Met for as long as I’d imagined either.  The stories of why it was built and how it ended up in New York are equally fascinating.

Ben Frankin’s World Paul Revere’s Ride Through History

Four scholars explore the history of Paul Revere and why we remember him today.

99% InvisibleSounds Natural

Viewers of nature documentaries expect that everything in the film comes directly from nature, but having microphones in the right place to capture sounds is so difficult and dangerous that most animal sounds are produced by foley artists.

StarTalk Radio – Baseball: Physics at the Plate

A baseball player, physicists, and comedians join together to discuss baseball at SXSW.  Good things happen

Planet MoneyGeorgetown, Lousiana

The story of a Louisiana town where many of the residents are descendants of 272 slaves sold to fund Georgetown University.

Albums of the Month

Artist: Charly Bliss
Album: Guppy
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Glitter,” “Black Hole,” and “Ruby”

Thoughts: The Brooklyn power pop quartet bring back a mid-90s sound reminiscent of  Letters to Cleo and Velocity Girl.  Eva Hendricks sings a bit nasally over fuzzed-out guitars and drums with lyrics that aren’t anywhere as sweet as they’re sung.  It’s a great throwback but having lived through it all the first time around, I’d prefer something new.
Rating: ***


Artist: Future Islands
Album: The Far Field
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Beauty of the Road,” “Cave,” and “Shadows”

Thoughts: I was not familiar with the Baltimore-based synthpop outfit, but the reviews of the album were good so I thought I’d give it a shot.  The sound is very 80s, reminiscent of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, but Samuel Herring’s vocals overlaying the synths are more growly than romantic.  Once again, I’m feeling that I’ve heard this all before. The highlight is the duet with Debbie Harry on “Shadows.”
Rating: **1/2


Artist: Alexandra Savior
Album: Belladonna of Sadness
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Thoughts: This debut from the Portland, OR singer-songwriter features moody crooning over 60’s style jazz-pop.  It’s a little bit reminiscent of Fiona Apple, not to mention umpteen singers from the swinging sixties.  There’s too much polish on this album and the raw talent Savior has is unable to shine through.
Rating: **


Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Whiteout Conditions
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “High Ticket Attractions”

Thoughts: I’m a long-time fan of The New Pornographers and I’m disappointed by their latest release.  There’s nothing new about it as the reliance on synthesizers seems to just water down their traditional sound rather then expand into new territories.  The emotion and variety of previous albums.  Perhaps the absence of Dan Bejar contributes to the lack of balance and feeling of incompleteness.
Rating: **


ArtistGorillaz
Album: Humans
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ascension” (feat. Vince Staples),”Momentz” (feat. De La Soul), “Let Me Out” (feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T), and “We Got the Power” (feat. Jenny Beth)

Thoughts: The band of animated characters is joined by an army of guest artists on this hip-hop, indie pop, electronic dance party album.  It’s all over the place and delightfully strange but there’s a little something for everyone.
Rating: ***1/2

That’s April!  If there’s something I should listen to in May, let me know in the comments.

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Music Discoveries: The New Pornographers


The New Pornographers are described as a Canadian superband because all the members were assembled by A.C. Newman from various other bands and solo projects.  To be honest, I know nothing of the works of Newman and the other band members outside of The New Pornographers, with the exception of Neko Case who I’ve been a fan of for some time (I even saw her in concert!). Perhaps I should do a future Music Discovery to listen to their music in other bands. When they come together they create a somewhat folky power pop music with jangly sounds and powerful wall of instrumentation.  Reading reviews to prepare for this Music Discovery, I saw them compared with Roxy Music and Electric Light Orchestra (I don’t know these bands well, but what I do know doesn’t seem too similar to The New Pornographers).  The sound of the music reminds me of something I can’t quite place while also being very original.  Lyrically, the songs are very dense in wordcraft and can be open to many interpretations.

AlbumMass Romantic
Release date: November 21, 2000
Favorite tracks: “Mass Romantic,” “Letter from an Occupant,” and “To Wild Homes,”
Lyrics of Note:

Hope grows greener than grass stains – from “Centre for Holy Wars”

Thoughts: I had not previously listened to this album and it wast faster and more chaotic than I’m accustomed to from The New Pornographers. An exciting start to their career.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumElectric Version
Release date:  May 6, 2003
Favorite tracks: “Chump Change,” “July Jones,” and “Miss Teen Wordpower”
Lyrics of Note:

Our words move aimlessly through
Empty city squares
Collecting into mobs and
Angry like their prayers
They breathe the air we
Fought to leave behind
This kind of blank adventure
Happens all the time
Because nobody knows the wreck of the soul
The way you do – from “Miss Teen Wordpower”

Thoughts: The band’s vocal harmonies and instrumentation are tightening.  Lyrically, many of the songs seem to be criticism of the music business and of the United States’ post-September 11th war policies.  Or maybe both at the same time?
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumTwin Cinema
Release date: August 23, 2005
Favorite tracks: “The Bleeding Heart Show.,” “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,”
Lyrics of Note:
Thoughts:  These are very tuneful songs with tight harmonies. I love the ‘hey-la’ fadeout on “The Bleeding Heart Show” and the vocal effects/edits on “Falling Through Your Clothes” sound very cool. The band is  branching out into more musically adventurous territory than the previous two albums.
Rating: ****


Album: Challengers
Release date: August 21, 2007
Favorite tracks: “My Rights Versus Yours,” “Challengers,” “Myriad Harbor,” “Unguided,” “Go Places,”  and “Mutiny, I Promise You”
Lyrics of Note:

The new empire in rags
The truth in one free afternoon – from “My Rights Versus Yours”

In every story, every secret told
You are not the first to wake up
To learn your lines before you have the part
You woke up early and you woke up torn
You’re the temporary border
The heat wave humming in the house of cards

You spun chapter into rapture there
Yeah, you were as brave as traffic
You chased the spotlight into her arms
And you forgot that you could fight
But not that you were still the person sleeping
The heat wave humming in the house of cards

A play for the girl, a cross for a hook, sinking into the greasy wonder
Under the sea, walking the floor, over the waves that we lived under

Something’s unguided in the sky tonight
There is something unguided in the sky – from “Unguided”

Thoughts: This is the album I’m most familiar with. It features big bold sounds and provocative lyrics. “Challengers” is the most amazingly constructed song.
Rating: ****


AlbumTogether
Release date:  May 4, 2010
Favorite tracks: “The Crash Years, “My Shepherd,” and “Daughters of Sorrow”
Lyrics of Note:

The ruins were wild
The ruins were wild
Tonight will be an open mic – from “The Crash Years”

Glasswork shards decorate this house
We’re tossing lost arts out windows
The splash and jangle of a secret science defined
You claim some golden age is upon us – from “My Shepherd”

Thoughts: After a decade together, The New Pornographers sound more like a unified band than a collection of individual talents (apropos of the title Together). Ironically, there are a lot of guest musicians on this album, including the horn section from The Dap Kings who had a new sound.  Overall this album feels less energetic than its predecessors.
Rating: ***1/2


Album Brill Bruisers
Release date: August 26, 2014
Favorite tracks: “Brill Bruisers,” “Born With a Sound,” “Dancehall Domine,” and “Spidyr”
Lyrics of Note:

They say we can’t make this stuff up,
But what else could we make? – from “Marching Orders”

I had a sound in my head
But I couldn’t find the words
To get it out
Now I know love is the way
Get it out – from “Born With a Sound’

Thoughts:  I didn’t like that title track at first, but it grew on me and now I love it.  Hearing the song broken down on The Song Exploder helped change my mind. The album feels celebratory.  Singles like “Brill Bruisers” and “Dancehall Domine” feel like they could’ve been on a previous album, but much of the rest of this album sounds like it was recorded in the 1980s with swirling New Wave sounds and electronic tones.  I like that sound a lot.
Rating: ****


So there is my quick journey into the discography of The New Pornographers.  What do you think of this band?

If I keep things together, next Wednesday I will publish my thoughts on the work of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós.