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.

Tune Time: March 2016

At any given moment in my day, there’s a very high chance that I’m listening to music: on my phone, in my car or via my record player. (Shocker: I’m listening to music as I’m writing this post.) Music — and talking about music — has been a very big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I figured that if I spend so much of my time listening to tunes that I should document it and talk about it here. While I’m interested in sharing my favorite artists with you, I’m also interested in talking about what makes their work important. Here are a few songs and albums that I’ve been listening to lately.

Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda.”

I found out about Alice Coltrane’s work through an episode of the Dinner Party Download, where Father John Misty picked one of her songs for his hypothetical dinner party playlist. First of all, Alice Coltrane was a complete badass: besides her marriage to the great John Coltrane, she had her own impressive musical career and a deep interest in Eastern spirituality that makes for beautiful music. The six-track album fuses avant-garde jazz with Eastern traditional music. If you are interested at all in jazz, regardless of whether or not you know famous names or compositions, you will probably like this. 

What I love the most about this album is that Coltrane translates feelings through the rhythm and music, not through lyrics. When you listen to an artist like Coltrane, you’re able to appreciate the artistry of music making that in some ways the lyric component can obscure. I’m not listening to the track right now as I type this, but the bass line of “Something About John Coltrane” immediately jumps into my head.  I am instantly transported to the hippest jazz lounge on some dreamy planet, and Life is Good. “Something About John Coltrane” has to be my favorite track, and I’m making a note to explore more of Coltrane, her husband’s, and Thelonius Monk’s work.

Iggy Pop’s “Post-Pop Depression.”

The only exposure I’ve really had to Iggy Pop is “Raw Power” (which is a great album you should listen to), so when I found out he and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age were collaborating on an album, I thought it was pretty cool. But when I watched their performance of “Gardenia” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and found out the drummer for the Arctic Monkeys was also on board, I immediately wanted to hear the rest of the album. I listened to it on NPR’s First Listen before its official release last Friday, and I think it’s a very, very good record. It’s heavy, and loud, and sassy. If you told me he actually recorded it in the 1970s, I would probably believe you. I like “Gardenia” and “American Valhalla” the most.

I know Iggy Pop has been saying that this is going to be his last record, partially because he wants the room to experience music. I was listening to an episode of Sound Exploder where Homme mentioned that there aren’t many people in rock who have the same perspective as the 69-year-old punk legend. And in that light, I think this album is a meditation on the rock scene that grapples with both physical and cultural death. Rap and pop are the music du jour, and Iggy Pop and his contemporaries — if they’re even still alive — don’t have the same cultural clout as they once did. While this album is great, it’s not going to shoot to the top of the Billboard 100. But that’s what makes it a real gem — the mastery makes the case for why this kind of music is still relevant and why we need to keep talking about it. If this is how Iggy Pop chooses to retire from making music, this is a good way to go out.

Mac DeMarco’s “Some Other Ones.”

While I might not seem like the kind of girl who would like the grungy Mac DeMarco, I really like Mac DeMarco — not so much for his lyrics, but for his instrumentals. Again, instrumental albums like “Some Other Ones” are reminders that the beats and melodies are speaking their own languages that we can derive personal meaning or feeling from. When I listen to his music, I feel like I’m living in an endless summer of good vibes — and as someone who spent my adolescence in California, it brings me back to those memories in the best of ways. This record is great background or driving music, and my favorite tracks are “Onion Man,” “Young Coconut” and “Hachiko.” “Some Other Ones” is available to download for free on DeMarco’s Bandcamp.

Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled 06.”

The whole of Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled unmastered.” is the work of a genius, but the track I really, really, really love and need to talk about is “untitled 06.” On the sonic level the bossa nova / funk influence is groovy, and I wish that this song was at least 10 minutes long. I want to zoom in on a few of the lyrics in “untitled 06”:

Look how unique that my mystique is a round of applause
And yours equally valued
You stick out like an alien compared to those around you
And that’s alright because I like it
You and me are the same

I know for sure who you are
You’re the goddess of the odd
I am yours

This is a song about loving another person’s imperfections while also embracing your own flaws, and how that confidence makes you human and real. This is a song about being open and honest about your feelings, and giving people the room to explain theirs. This is a song about how someone you love can know you better than you know yourself. And most importantly, this is a song about how self-love can bring you to a deeper love with someone else. I think this is a beautiful sentiment, and I love that Lamar continuously explores the concept in many ways throughout his work.

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