Tag Archives: music

Gold Star for the Internet: KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic”

On weekday work mornings, I listen to music to focus myself and tune out ambient office noise. There are two things that happen to me quite often:

1. I end up listening to the same bands and records over and over and over again.

2. I feel like a slug from 8 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., even with coffee.

In the fall, I discovered a solution that has worked for me every morning and puts me in the right headspace. It’s the KCRW Radio app — specifically the Morning Becomes Eclectic show.

KCRW is a National Public Radio member station that operates out of Santa Monica College, and it seems to have a cult following in Los Angeles. Its programming is mainly for the Southern California and Greater Los Angeles area, but anyone can tune in on its website or its app. Their music director, Jason Bentley, hosts the Morning Becomes Eclectic program every weekday from 9 a.m. to noon. For three hours, he plays all kinds of music: new stuff from new artists, genres you don’t hear on mainstream radio and super deep cuts. A few times a week, the last hour will feature realtime live performances with mini-interviews.

I discovered Morning Becomes Eclectic when I saw social media advertising that Iggy Pop had dropped by to play a live set in support of Depression Cherry. I downloaded the app one night to listen and look through the rest of the recordings, and found out they came from a daily program. The next morning I tuned in, and I was instantly hooked.

Bentley plays a lot of my favorite artists — like Spoon, Angel Olsen, Real Estate and Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — that have stellar tracks I sometimes forget about, and rediscovering those songs through someone else’s set is like experiencing them for the first time. I’ve also been introduced to or further acquainted with so many good artists and bands over the past few months, like Rubblebucket, Ty Segall, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cherry Glazerr and Jim James. These new influences spill into my music library, as I have a running list of tracks to buy on Bandcamp or iTunes. Sometimes the show has tracks I don’t really care for, but I never consider it boring. The artist/song variety is the stimulation I need to focus and get my work done, and I’m simultaneously exploring what’s happening in the music world.

The other thing that I’ve come to appreciate about Morning Becomes Eclectic is its place in both Los Angeles and public radio culture. The programming is a reflection of the best of the LA music scene. That’s partly because some of the the track picks for the day often coincide with the artists being in LA that night for a show, but mostly because Bentley is attuned to what Angelenos like. The music is diverse in origin but always refined in tastes, just like the people who live here. I also love that Bentley’s daily sets are ephemeral, and the latest show disappears from the app and website after a day. It’s refreshing in a world where everything else is always on-demand, and to know that the only people who have had that particular listening experience are you and the others that happened to tune in too.

People often think about the news, traffic alerts or programs like This American Life when they think about NPR, and I’ll admit that I didn’t know there was anything like Morning Becomes Eclectic before I discovered it. Both types of programming are equally important when it comes to public access and community building. When politicians want to defund the public agencies that support the arts, it makes me angry. It’s crucial that we support those public agencies by both listening and donating, so that everyone continues to enjoy them. The producers, journalists and creative professionals behind KCRW and other public radio stations deserve more recognition for the work they do, and I’m giving them a huge gold star.

Do you listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic, or other public radio programs? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

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Tune Time: October & November 2016

Here’s what I’ve been listening to for the past two months:

Bon Iver’s 22, A Million.

1. I was an extremely casual fan of Bon Iver before 22, A Million came out, but the YouTube lyric videos pulled me in. I knew enough about Justin Vernon to know that his music swirls in the indie folk genre, and that Kanye West is a big, big fan.

2. When this album first came out, there were people on my assorted timelines who were upset about it — it didn’t sound like old Bon Iver, and it was too weird to be wistful about. First of all, artists are allowed to experiment and grow just like the rest of us. Second of all, it takes a few minutes to actually listen to the record and reflect. You’ll find that he’s working with the same variations on the theme of loss — like the dissolution of a relationship, an identity crisis — and adding new sonic elements suggests an even more violent break from the past. I much prefer 22, A Million to the earlier Bon Iver albums, because it seems far more urgent, visceral and profound. This is what I love about music — that artists can evolve and make something new and exciting.

3. This album gives me both Walden Pond and Blade Runner vibes, with a little bit of a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy influence.

4. Vernon is an exceptional lyricist, and I like that the lyrics of this album are steeped in biblical imagery. One of my favorite lines is from “715 – CR∑∑KS”: “Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reeds / But all I’m trying to do is get my feet out from the crease.”

5. I love the stylized song names, and also the use of the OP-1. My favorite songs are “22 (OVER S∞∞N)”, “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” and “33 ‘GOD’.” I hope that Vernon has more to explore in this vein, and that there are some cut tracks floating around somewhere.

Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.

1. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried to sit down and write something about Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and I always come up short or turn my attention to something else. I went to a Saint Pablo tour concert in October — which was incredible and magical — and I thought that with the amount of time I’ve spent listening to this album that I finally needed to get some words out about it. The first ones are that it is not a perfect album, but it’s still a masterpiece.When people on the Internet say that this isn’t a “good” Kanye West album, I know that they didn’t really listen. (I know there’s been a lot about Kanye the celebrity in the media lately, and I hope he’s doing okay.)

2. For my senior capstone project, I wrote an essay about Yeezus. I argued that the album was his ontological exploration of being a producer of music while also being a product as a celebrity, meaning that he makes art at the same time the public is shaping a persona and perceptions about who “Kanye West” is. After listening to and dissecting The Life of Pablo, I think that argument still holds up extremely well. This album is an extension of his Yeezus meditations, and even more so one on his public persona. The questions he asks himself on this album are “Who is Kanye West?”, and “Can I separate a private sense of self from the public sense of self I’ve created and the world has created for me?”

3. Let’s talk about “No More Parties in LA,” for example. Kanye talks about spending all of his money at Louis Vuitton, matted-out sportscars and buying pink furs for his daughter — and how that’s supposed to inherently mean something important, that the money signifies status and getting on Kanye’s level is unattainable. But the hook is “no more parties in LA, please baby no more parties in LA,” suggesting that he doesn’t want to be around people who subscribe to this hollow lifestyle. When you couple that with the lyrics that suggest he’s just trying to be an artist (“I feel like Pablo when I’m workin on my shoes” and his borderline-paranoid lines about driving around in an armored car), there’s this murkiness he can’t seem to clear up. Does he want to have that wealth and fame, or was it this huge stunt that he can’t get out of without sacrificing the level of exposure his art has? Or is he just playing with the image of what the public thinks Kanye West is? These are the questions I ask myself with every listen.

4. Rap music will never fail to be fascinating to me, with the incredible artistry of wordplay and how each line is dense with at least two or three levels of references and callbacks. It is poetry.

5. The opening of “Father Stretch My Hands, Part 1” is what dreams are made of, and you have not lived until you’ve witnessed the transition from “I Love Kanye” to “Waves” in a stadium with your friends and 17,000 other people. “Ultralight Beam” is one of the most affecting songs I’ve heard in a long time. If you have not listened to this album, you need to before the year is over.

Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited

1. 2016 has been my year of Bob Dylan discovery, and I have really enjoyed digging into this part of American musical history at this particular cultural moment. It’s been cool to listen to the music and read the interviews that were published at the time and oral histories, and I’ve been trying to better understand just how seismic this music was. Anyway, shout out to Jeff Bezos and Amazon Prime music for having most of Dylan’s discography on demand for free. So far, my three favorite albums are Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited.

2. Before we go any further, we should probably talk about his Nobel Prize. Do I think he deserves it, based on his literary contributions? I do. Do I also think there are a lot of other people who maybe deserved the Nobel Prize for literature a little more? Absolutely. That is the extent of my opinion on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize.

3. I love singing along with “But you’d better take your diamond ring, you better pawn it, babe” in “Like a Rolling Stone.” What a great metaphor in a song about security and materialism.

4. It would be beyond awesome to do a road trip of Route 61 while listening to this album. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has had that idea, and I doubt I will be the last.

5. My favorite tracks are “Tombstone Blues,” “Ballad Of A Thin Man” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” but any of the tracks from the three albums I mentioned are great starting points for getting into Dylan.

What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Tune Time: August & September 2016

Here’s what I’ve been listening to for the last two months:

Frank Ocean’s Blonde.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way — Frank Ocean’s Blonde is a masterpiece. It withstood all of the hype, and was the best way to cap off the summer. I was instantly hooked the moment I heard the first few seconds of the first track.

I interpret Blonde as an album about identity, specifically the pains of growing into oneself and finding the right place in the world. It’s also an album about capital F Feelings about love and friendship, and authenticity in ambiguity. I think we all go through a period of introspection as we enter young adulthood, and Ocean has translated that into music with interpolation. It reminds me of collaging.

If Ocean never makes another record again, Blonde would be a great way to go out. My favorite songs are “Nikes,” “Ivy” (which I think has joined my list of favorite songs of all time), “Pink + White” and “Nights.”

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam’s I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.

Speaking of Rostam, I’ve spent the last month eagerly awaiting the arrival of his album with Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkman. Rostam left Vampire Weekend last year, but the more he does without VW the more excited I am about where his career is going. I’ve had I Had A Dream That You Were Mine on a loop for a week now.

What I love about this album is that it has such incredible storytelling, both on the overall album level and within each track. It’s about moments, and unpacking the feelings and emotions that are tied up in just a brief flash of time. Take “A 1000 Times,” for example. It tells a story about the narrator’s attempt to unstick himself from unrequited love. When I listen to it, I get this sense of tugging between the past and the future — the narrator is stuck on replaying his life’s scenes in his head, but using it to propel himself towards the future and whatever that might look like. You can hear that too between Leithauser’s voice and Rostam’s sonic choices.

 

My favorite songs are “A 1000 Times” (which I’ve probably played that many times), “Sick as a Dog” and “In a Black Out.” If you like this album, go check out Rostam’s solo work.

Grimes.

In late August, my sister Willow and I went to the first day of FYF Fest — which is a capital E Experience if you like peoplewatching and don’t mind being in the same space as tens of thousands of people. We went mostly to see Tame Impala and Kendrick Lamar, which were the two last acts of the night. We headed to the festival’s main stage to get a good viewing spot. When we got there, Grimes was up on stage performing. Whenever I look at music festival posters, I almost always see the name Grimes somewhere in the lineup, but have never looked her up.

I’d like to take this moment to publicly apologize for sleeping on Grimes’ music, because I should have seen the light a long time ago. Grimes is the performance name of Claire Boucher, a young woman from Canada who writes and self-produces all of her own music. She is a genius when it comes to laying down beats and using cool electronica techniques, and a superb performer. Her lyrical inspiration can come from out of left field — “Kill V. Maim,” for example, is apparently written from the perspective of a vampire Michael Corleone. But when she combines the electronic sounds with the themes she’s dealing with — ambition, agency and trauma, to name a few — she makes such an overwhelmingly strong case for the importance of self-expression and feeling strength in femininity. The interlude from one of my favorite tracks she performed goes:

I know most likely

How I used to be a frail and silly thought in your mind

Call me unkind

You’re so far behind me

In essence, Grimes is a straight-up badass and everyone should take some inspiration from her. I remember Willow and I turning to each other and going, “Damn, she’s good.” In my Sunday after-festival haze, I made it a priority to look up her FYF setlist and download the songs I loved the most: “Kill V. Maim,” “Realiti,” “World Princess Part II” and “Oblivion.”

Father John Misty’s “Real Love Baby.”

My first exposure to Father John Misty’s music was through the Alabama Shakes Spotify radio station (which is an A+ radio station, if you’re in need of one.) Father John Misty, aka Joshua Tillman, is kind of a weirdo — lumberjack hippie is the best way to describe him. He has a few albums under his belt, and just came out with a single called “Real Love Baby” that I can’t stop listening to. It’s got a little bit of the Beach Boys essence with a country twang — on the track, he sings about yearning for a love that’s pure and incredible.

I also think that this song might be a little commentary on living in the social media age. Father John Misty the performer likes to make really meta comments about social media and the world it has created — he had an amazing Instagram project, and everyone’s pretty sure he stole the crystal from Moon Juice. He even deactivated everything last week. I would not be surprised if he felt that he needed to reboot with a love song that differentiates the “real” with throwback sounds. I hope it results in a full album.

Do you have any music recommendations? Share them with me in the comments.

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Tune Time: July 2016

I listened to some really good music — some longtime favorites, some new-to-me tunes — in the month of July. Let’s get into it.

Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

I really cannot believe that it’s taken me this long to listen to The Dark Side of the Moon from beginning to end, but here I am. I have a Pink Floyd greatest hits compilation (which has most of the songs from The Dark Side of the Moon), The Wall and Wish You Were Here, but the Pink Floyd discography just hit the Amazon Prime music library.

I have three things I want to say about The Dark Side of the Moon as an album. First, I am hard pressed to think of another album that is so masterfully layered in both theme and sounds. Most of the lyrical content centers around the passing of time and parsing out life purpose, and it has always tapped so deeply and profoundly into my thoughts and feelings. Once you hear the cash machine loop of “Money” and the ringing clocks of “Time,” you wonder how you ever lived your life without hearing this music.

 Secondly, if I had access to a time machine, I would travel back to 1972 to hear this album for the first time with the rest of the world and see it performed live — I want to know what that felt like. Thirdly, I would just like to thank the universe for inspiring Pink Floyd to write and record “Time.”

If you have never listened to Pink Floyd, I won’t judge you — just start with The Dark Side of the Moon. My favorite songs, which are some of my favorite songs ever, are “Time,” “Money” and “Brain Damage.” You’ll thank me.

Florence and the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

My life during the year of 2010 basically consisted of three things: Gothic literature, tights-and-oxfords combos and Florence and the Machine. I had a group of friends (extremely cool girls from journalism class) who turned me on to Florence Welch. We were all pretty obsessed with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and Lungs was the perfect soundtrack. (Welch is pretty fearless, and the overwhelming string presence probably had something to do with it.) I’m mostly speaking from my own view, but I think we all liked Florence and the Machine because Welch was unapologetically a woman, and wasn’t afraid to express authentic emotion. If you hark back to the sounds of 2010, Florence and the Machine weren’t like any other popular artist or group at the time.

Six years later, I rediscovered her music via How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful via an episode of Haim’s “Haim Time” on Beats 1, and I’m mad at myself for not being on top of this album when it first came out. I love the imagination of the lyrics, and how it makes me feel:

And every city was a gift

And every skyline was like a kiss upon the lips

You can interpret a lot of the lyrics of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful to be about the tumultuous relationship between a pair of lovers, but I think it’s also about one’s relationship with the world. It’s scary and mystifying, but it’s incredible and awesome. And as I’ve grown up, so has Florence and the Machine — to me, Welch’s observations and lyrical composition has evolved between Lungs and this album.

The other comparison that I couldn’t help but make is between Welch and women like Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush. I can definitely see Welch and a band like Haim taking up the mantle for artist-goddesses, and that makes me feel pretty dang good about the future.

If you listen to this album, definitely pay attention to “Ship to Wreck,” “What Kind of Man,” “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” “Queen of Peace,” and “Third Eye.” If you like Florence and the Machine, listen to Haim’s Days are Gone.

Allah-Las’ Allah-Las and Worship the Sun

Allah-Las are one of my favorite bands that no one really knows about, and I’ve had both of their LPs on heavy rotation for the past month. It’s pretty easy listening, and makes for really good work music.

What makes Allah-Las so good is that they’ve been able to take the essence of 1960s surf music and dial it back and down for the alternative rock audience. They share a lot of the same themes with the Beach Boys — communication breakdown, beach days — but they make it sound a lot cooler for kids who think the Beach Boys is dad music (I am not one of those kids, by the way. I will never get over “California Girls.”) When I’m stuck indoors, their music is a surefire way to mentally transport me to the beach. If Allah-Las were a band when Joan Didion was in her youth, I can totally imagine her listening to this in her white Corvette on Pacific Coast Highway and going home to work on The White Album.

My favorite songs are “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)” and “Catamaran” from Allah-Las, and “Buffalo Nickel” and “Every Girl” from Worship the Sun. Allah-Las are also masters at instrumentals, and I love “Ela Navega” and “Sacred Sands” from Allah-Las, and “Ferus Gallery” from Worship the Sun.

What have you been listening to lately? Tell me in the comments.

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Tune Time: June 2016

Here’s what I listened to in the month of June:

Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense.

Imagine the Zoë you know and love today as a 15-year-old, combing through the CD section at her local public library looking for music she can take home and put on her iPod nano. One of those CDs happened to be the soundtrack to a documentary of live Talking Heads performances in the 1980s, called Stop Making Sense. Those MP3s have survived every computer crash, iTunes library purge and iPhone upgrades. I’ve always liked the Talking Heads because of how infectious the beats are, and it’s aged really well when ’80s music can sound dated.  Fast forward to this past month, when I finally watched the movie on Amazon Prime. I really don’t know why it took me so long to watch Stop Making Sense, because it’s incredible and refreshed my appreciation for the Talking Heads’ music. 

If you have no idea who the Talking Heads are, you’ll watch the movie and thoroughly enjoy it — the music is easy to understand, and it’s fun to listen to. If you do know who the Talking Heads are, you’ll watch the movie and fall deeper in love. If the Talking Heads’ music is anything, it’s kinetic — and the visuals of David Byrne running around the stage, Tina Weymouth moving in sync with her bass or keyboard and the backup dancers /additional musicians bouncing up and down with every note makes the music even fuller. There’s an energy to the music that makes you want to get up and dance. Now when I listen to the tracks, I think about how wonderful the performances are and wish that I could have been there. I’ll never be able to the studio albums that Stop Making Sense pulls from, because they pale in comparison. My favorite tracks are “Burning Down The House,” “Life During Wartime” and “Girlfriend Is Better.” I think you’ll like them too.

Real Estate.

When I need work or driving music, one of the first bands I’ve always reached for is Real Estate. Back when Urban Outfitters used to release weekly and monthly download playlists, I found their single “It’s Real” buried in between two mediocre hipster tracks (I don’t remember specifically, but the only reason to download those UO playlists was to find the gems. I digress.) I’ve seen them at FYF and just recently in concert, where they were magnificent. They’re part of a rare breed where both the studio recordings and the live performances sound good.

Real Estate’s songs are both optimistic and wistful, which I like. The lyrics zero in on relationship disconnect, the feeling of running out of time and just general life fatigue. Real Estate’s music captures the idea that there are moments from your life that you can’t shake off of your consciousness, no matter how hard you try. “Past Lives” from Atlas is a good example of a song that parses this out — in the song, the narrator comes home to his small town and reflects on how much his life has changed in a way that makes my heart hurt. “This is not the same place I used to know / But it still has that same old sound / And even the lights on this yellow road / Are the same as when this was our town.” Real Estate is doing great work, and I wish more people listened to them.

Both Days and Atlas are wonderful albums, so start with both of those. If you like Real Estate, consider exploring Fleet Foxes, Mac Demarco or Grizzly Bear‘s tunes.

Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color.

I discovered Alabama Shakes via The Arcs Spotify radio station, and I will always be annoyed with myself for not exploring their music when I first heard about them last year. The radio station cycles through both of the band’s albums, but I like Sound and Color the best.

This album is deliciously complex, in both its lyrical content and its musical arrangement. Sound and Color is definitely influenced by the blues and ’60s soul, but it also sounds like it was beamed in by the most well-meaning extraterrestrials from another planet. It’s loud and intense and unapologetic and contradictory, and I am a big fan of Brittany Howard’s voice. She writes songs about trying to figure herself out and find her place in the world, and I find her point of view more interesting and relatable than most white dudes in popular music. The relationships that make up some of the song’s narratives are not rosy, but she drops lines throughout the album that show she’s most interested in being her own person, and that you can find immense power in that to make big changes in your life and others — “Future People” swirls that idea around. Alabama Shakes makes songs for people who understand that they are human. I love that.

My favorite songs off of Sound and Color are “Sound & Color,” “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Dunes,” “Future People” and “Gimme All Your Love.” I’m patiently awaiting the next album, and I’m excited to see what they come up with next. If you’re looking for a similar sound, go for The Arcs or Leon Bridges.

Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky.”

I have a ritual at the beginning of every work week where I get in my car to go to work, turn on the ignition and put on “Touch the Sky” before pulling out of the driveway. Listening to this song is better than any pep talk I could give myself, and it is one of my personal favorite good vibes songs.

You can say or think whatever you like about Kanye West the celebrity, but you cannot deny that the man is a genius when it comes to wordplay. Rap music is more imaginative and innovative with language than most other genres, which is one of the reasons why it fascinates me. “Any pessimists I ain’t talk to them / plus I ain’t have no phone in my apart-a-ment” is one of my favorite Kanye zingers and I am glad that it exists in this world. It simultaneously exudes bravado, the feeling of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a hustler’s ethos. The sample of a great 1970s song makes it even better. I dare you to play this song first thing in the morning, and not feel like you can do anything you set your mind to.

What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Tune Time: May 2016

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately:

Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home.

I realized recently that I don’t listen to a lot of Bob Dylan, and that I needed to fix that to keep my rock cred. I decided to start with Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth album. This is best known as the album where Dylan made a move to electric rock and roll, which was divisive at the time. On a side note, if you stumble across older music, I highly recommend reading about its history and what people thought about it at the time it was released. It’ll inform your contemporary understanding and help you to trace its cultural importance.

What I love most about this album is its exploration of bohemia, for all of its good and bad aspects. Songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” are steeped in the political lyrics that Dylan is known for, which is reminiscent of what we’re going through today re: the 2016 election.( I can’t think of one artist who’s channeling Dylan today for the same purpose.) For the most part, he shines light on hippie shortcomings and tries to create some distance from the folk movement he’s so closely associated with. I’m still trying to decipher the enigmatic lyrics and what they could mean, and that’s how I know I’ve stumbled across a great album.

It’s hard to pick my favorite tracks, but I especially dig “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Now that I’m wading in the Dylan pond, I’m excited to see what I discover next.

The Strokes’ Future Present Past

Since high school, The Strokes have been one of my favorite bands. I was beyond excited when Future Present Past dropped out of the blue on Thursday morning, so much so that I impulse-bought the vinyl and didn’t care about the shipping cost. That’s how you know it’s real.

So much of The Strokes’ music focuses on the recurring themes of growing up, with the energy that only youth can harness. I think this is summed up so brilliantly in “Hard to Explain” from Is This It?: “I missed the last bus / I’ll take the next train / I’ll try, but you see / It’s hard to explain.”  You try and you try and you try, but you can never feel like you can get everything right — which breeds feeling of existentialism, debates of right and wrong, and of course, star-crossed love. From that first incredible record all the way to this three-song and bonus remix EP, the Strokes have tried to navigate these feelings. “Oblivius” picks that back up: the repetition of “What side are you standing on?” suggests a conflict on both personal and political levels, something frontman Julian Casablancas explores deeply in his solo work. Anyone who has ever been a young adult can find some resonance in the Strokes’ lyrics, and as someone who is on the precipice of Real Adulthood the Strokes are more important to me than ever.

My favorite song is “Threat of Joy,” because it sounds like quintessential Strokes from the riffs to the lyrics: “I cannot wait to chase it all / Yeah, I saw it in my crystal ball.” I cannot wait to see what else they unveil. Viva la Strokes.

Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City

A couple of weeks ago, Ezra Koenig played “Step” on his radio show, which made me realize that I hadn’t listened to the entirety of Modern Vampires of the City in a really long time. This album came out while I was still in college, and I spent a lot of time walking across campus and studying with it in my ears. I didn’t expect to be hit with so many waves of nostalgia when I replayed it this month, which I think mostly stems from the fact that I am back on campus but no longer a student.

Modern Vampires of the City is a dense album that deals with ontological themes of mortality, religion and time in a masterful way. If you trace the tracks as one narrative, you can see that the narrator is attempting to seek out deeper truths about who he is and his place in the world, and rebelling against what society is telling him to believe and accept. But these beliefs are also very contradictory, which makes it so wonderfully relatable. One of my favorite lyrics of all time comes from “Unbelievers,” where the narrator is simultaneously trying to work out some heavy romantic and religious stuff:

Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?
I know I love you, and you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

Later in the album on “Ya Hey,” which deals almost exclusively in Christian allusions, the narrator is extremely critical of God and faith in something that seems so removed, despite wanting that for himself earlier:

Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say your name
Only “I am that I am”
But who could ever live that way?

There’s a lot of other examples throughout Modern Vampires of the City that could fill a whole book about this album’s cultural relevance. What I love most about it is that Modern Vampires of the City reminds me that I’m not alone in trying to figure out the deeper purpose of my life in relation to bigger cultural mores. Ezra Koenig is one of my favorite musicians that I find a kinship in. My favorite tracks are “Unbelievers,” “Step,” “Hannah Hunt” (The beat drop at 2:31 is better than most beat drops in all of music),  “Ya Hey” and “Young Lion.” Rediscovering this album now has solidified it as one of my favorites, and I’m looking forward to rediscovering it over and over again.

Drake’s Views

In general, I thought Drake’s Views was a huge disappointment. It’s about 10 tracks too long. It doesn’t have as many bangers as If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The album version of “Pop Style” doesn’t have the Throne feature. And to top it all off, Future is a track-ruiner. It was so hyped and overdue that Views could never have been as good as everyone thought it was going to be.

I’m also not really interested in Drake’s lyrics — even though I love the bravado and one-liners that IYRTITL perfected, I don’t care for angry-that-a-woman-slighted-him Drake, which is a pervasive theme on Views. The narrative of “Hotline Bling,” for example, is really about Drake being upset that his ex is out living her best life without him. From my point of view, it’s really none of his business. This lyrical content is old, and doesn’t do anything to help Drake grow as an artist.

With all that being said, the Jamaican dancehall tracks are the best part of Views and the songs I think will have the most longevity in the pop culture sphere. These tracks are “With You,” “Controlla,” “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling.” Drake and Noah Shebib, his record producer, have picked up some samples that scream eternal summer vibes. Even though the lyrics are horrible, the beats are infectious and examples of good producing. I will probably end up playing them all summer as part of my driving-around playlist, and I will definitely forget that the rest of Views exists.

What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Tune Time: April 2016

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately:

The Last Shadow Puppets’ Everything You’ve Come To Expect.

I’m a pretty big Arctic Monkeys fan, so I will basically listen to anything that concerns Alex Turner. I loved this side project’s earlier album, and was so into the first single that I planned to buy tickets before I even heard the rest of the record in early April. That didn’t work out, and I’m still sad about it. Anyway, this album is good and feels like it came out of a 1970s time capsule. Alex Turner and Miles Kane have this lounge lizard thing down pat.

At one of its most basic levels, music is supposed to make you think and feel. The album is built on this “rockstars have Feelings” idea that’s borderlines on being a joke. But it’s so sonically beautiful, thanks to the layers of string arrangements, that it’s more about the aesthetic of Everything You’ve Come To Expect that makes it a good record. You want to feel the emotions of being loved by someone who would do the moon and back twice easy just to kiss half of your mouth (what a lyric, am I right), and a soundtrack to go along with it. I don’t think I would count it as one of my favorite albums, but there are some moments that make me want to return to it and feel wistful.

I always find it fascinating that people associate times in their lives with particular albums or songs, even if that time is long gone. I listened to this album the entire second week of driving to and from my new job, so every time I listen to it I can feel the warmth of driving home in the early evening. My favorite tracks are “Aviation,” “Bad Habits,” “Sweet Dreams, TN” and “The Element Of Surprise.”

The Arcs’ Yours, Dreamily,.

I love Brothers and think Turn Blue is great, but I have never been a huge Black Keys fan. However, when I caught wind of Dan Auerbach’s side project, the Arcs, the first single intrigued me enough that I bought the digital album on Amazon. This album came out awhile ago, but I went to one of their concerts last week and I’m currently in obsessed fan mode. It’s so fervent that I ordered vinyl copy that showed up at my house Monday. My favorite songs from Yours, Dreamily, are “Cold Companion,” “Pistol Made of Bones” and “Stay In My Corner.” If you have a chance to see the band live, take it — it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.

The Arcs’ sound is like garage rock mixed with some mariachi (check out the band that does the backing vocals) and Faulknerian Southern Gothic vibes, which I immediately signed up for. The narrative that flows through the album is about a musician with a flair for the dramatic. He also sounds like a dude who watches old Western movies on loop and picks out blues songs on the jukebox. I don’t say any of that to discount the music or criticize it, but to paint the picture of where the sound is steeped — and maybe it’s all just a dream that we’re hearing recounted. It’s a lyrically powerful record that circles around themes of alienation, nostalgia and the price of fame. “Outta My Mind” is the cornerstone track for those ideas. But my favorite lyric is from “Cold Companion”: “She’s a cold companion, like a desert rose / the worse it is, the more she glows / Woman, are you undone?” You get the feeling that this woman, who is for the narrator a perpetual flame, is a woman that doesn’t ascribe to the damsel archetype. I love that.

If you like The Arcs, the Spotify radio station is exceptional. You will also probably like listening to Father John Misty, Timber Timbre and Dead Man’s Bones. You’ll also really enjoy this Song Exploder episode about “Put A Flower in Your Pocket.”

Parquet Courts’ Human Performance.

I have yet to find a Parquet Courts record I didn’t like, and Human Performance is no exception. The band released the record a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve kept it on heavy rotation. Parquet Courts’ sound is both heavy garage rock and experimental, which I really like.  It’s perfect driving music — there are some real bangers mixed in with instrumental interludes. My favorite tracks are “Human Performance,” “Paraphrased,” “Captive of the Sun” and “One Man No City.”

I also have yet to find another band that so masterfully handles the ~~millennial condition~~ in earnest and emotional ways. As a culture, we’re working slowly towards shifting the conversation around mental health, but it’s still extremely stigmatized. Using music, the band approaches that conversation. The sound is loud and messy and haphazardly layered, which mirrors what’s going on in our heads. Human Performance in particular deals with alienation, depression and anxiety, and how those concepts affect one’s sense of identity and feelings about one’s place in the world. The band’s narrator is trying to work through the idea that meaning is constructed by the language that we use and that this concept is related to identity. But he also asks how we can give words any power when life seems meaningless in light of what’s going on in our heads. A lyric like “Sometimes I drop definitions from my words / Sometimes my speech recalls moments of violence / Sometimes I can’t be repeated, I can’t be paraphrased” speaks to that.

If you like this Parquet Courts album, you’ll love Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea. Then try listening to Mac DeMarco, who interprets the same themes in his own music.

De Lux’s “Better at Making Time.”

I find that I work best when I’m listening to a really awesome soundtrack, and I put on a playlist I titled “drop the beat” when I need some real pump-up music. De Lux’s “Better at Making Time” is the first track on that playlist. I discovered this song by listening to the Spotify station that someone at my old job played often, and even though I hated that there was communal office music — it was a real vibe killer most days — I didn’t mind when this song came on. I’m mostly interested in the instrumental aspect of “Better at Making Time,” but the narrative centers on a realization that a relationship that’s not fulfilling won’t work out. The song is very disco-y and kaleidoscopic, and it makes you want to get up and dance out your feelings. Sometimes you need that.

What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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