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Showing posts from February, 2017

Be About You - Winston Surfshirt

from the single Be About You (2017)

When I first heard Be About You by Winston Surfshirt, I assumed it was the music of an African-American male based on the contemporary urban R&B vibe.  Shame on me.

Winston Surfshirt is a gaggle of Aussies hailing from Sydney.  They are locally known for the vibe of their live gigs.  This single is their first release (although they appear on releases by other artists).

I really dig the vibe they create, the slightly downtempo beat, the synthesizer tones, the moodiness of the chords, and the outstanding vocals.

Can't wait to hear more.

Click Here to listen to Be About You.

Show You The Way - Thundercat

from the album Drunk (2017)

I am ever-amazed by the number of truly talented and gifted artists, engineers, and caregivers there are in this world.

This is a kind of absurd amazement, considering there are roughly 7.5 billion inhabitants of our planet.

With so much talent, how does one become recognized?  And once you have achieved recognition, how do you maintain it and remain relevant?

Watching the Academy Awards last night, I kept thinking about the people who were not in the room, all the creative talent that was there last year - and all the prior years - who were no longer in the room.

This got me thinking about Quentin Tarantino films and how he would include great actors and actresses of the past with great effect.  People who's talent was undiminished but had lost their place in the room.

Translating this to music, how many great musicians and songwriters are sitting on the sidelines because "the marketplace" has past them by?

Los Angeles-based Soul-Hip Hop-Jazz…

Mofongo - Jungle Fire

from the album Jambu (2017)

Once upon a time, a lady friend and I were cruising the beach towns of Puerto Rico's west coast in a rented convertible.  One rainy afternoon, we stumbled into a hole-in-the-wall joint for some food and booze.

Ordering mojitos was easy, but the menu was unfamiliar to me.  I asked our waitress for a recommendation.  Soon after, I was treated to mofongo, which consists of mashed plantains cooked with loads of garlic, onions, and olive oil.  It was smothered in a light red sauce and chucks of tender, fresh local fish.  I still dream about that meal...

Needless to say, just the title of the song Mofongo by the Los Angeles Afro-Latin Funk Jam ensemble Jungle Fire started me salivating.  After a few dozen listens, I am emailing a festival organizer friend to see if he can bring them to town.

It would be easy to equate this large ensemble, multi-layered instrumental with Afrobeat.  But that would be wrong.  The drums evoke latin tropical stylings rather Africa…

Dent Jusay - Matt Martians

from the album The Drum Chord Theory (2017)

Matt Martians is a 28 year-old record producer from Atlanta.  He is best known for his collaborative work with the groups Odd Future and The Internet.

For me, his work stands out for its texture and tone as is evidenced on the song Dent Jusay from his debut solo album, The Drum Chord Theory.

This song creates a swirl of lush textures produced by a dizzying arrangement of synthesizers and voice layered over a crisp, tight beat.  The textures are amplified by the outstanding vocals performances of Syd (who is also part of The Internet), Steve Lacy, and Matt Martians.

I also dig the baseline to this song.  It creates a catchy, uncommon groove while using an economy of notes.

Matt Martians is the real thing.

Click Here to watch the official video for Dent Jusay.

Only God Knows - Young Fathers

from the single Only God Knows (2017)

Young Fathers are an amazing hip-hop trio from Edinburgh, Scotland.  I enjoy their music for the bounce in their beats and the infectious energy in their vocals.

Their 2015 album White Men Are Black Men Too - with its standout single Shame - was undoubtably my favorite album of that year.  I had to special order the disc from my local music store.  Despite the proprietor's encyclopedic knowledge of new music, he had never heard of them.  After I gave him a listen, he started pushing the record to his clientele, bragging about the new band he "discovered."  Ugh.

Only God Knows has all of the bounce and energy of their prior releases.  It also features the Leith Congregational Choir who add a church vibe that includes a stirring pipe organ introduction.

This song is being featured in the film T2 Trainspotting, the sequel to the 1996 cult classic film.  Its iconic director - Danny Boyle - refers to this song as "the heartbeat of the…

Preludes - Craig Finn

from the album We All Want The Same Things (2017)

Sometime last year, I stumbled across a list - on the Stereogum website - of "26 Essential Songs of the NYC Rock Resurgence" of the early '00s.  To my surprise, I was largely unaware of many of the bands/songs on this list and was so moved that I downloaded every song that was not already part of my digital collection.

In the coming months, I added my own discoveries to the list, creating one of the best mixtapes of my lifetime.

Sometime around September, I invited my funky friends over and discretely let the mix play.  They were blown away.  Hard core music lovers giddy with each passing song.  It was my finest hour.

One of the absolute best tunes on the mix was Most People Are DJs by The Hold Steady.  This song introduced me to the music, songwriting, and singing of Craig Finn.  I have been wildly enamored ever since, devouring his musical catalogue.

Preludes is a song from his forthcoming release, We All Want The Same T…

God Bless Clyde Stubblefield...

On February 18th, Clyde Stubblefield died of kidney failure in Madison, Wisconsin.  He was 73 years old.

Although you may not recognize his name, you most certainly have heard his masterwork as the drummer for James Brown's band.  His beats are perhaps the most sampled in music history.  Just ask N.W.A., the Beastie Boys, or Prince (who provided financial support throughout his illness).

Rolling Stone magazine lists him as the sixth best drummer of all time.

As I sit in my yard, drinking a big, fat cab, I am listening to some of his finest playing.  Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud seems to capture everything.  As I listen, nothing in the music "says it" like the drumbeat.  Next, I listen to Cold Sweat, with all its complexity, and realize that his beat - and those amazing snaps on the snare -  provide the glue.  Phenomenal !!!

His funky beat lives in today's funk and hip-hop artists, and will inspire new players for decades to come.

God Bless Clyde Stubb…

Evening Prayer - Jens Lekman & LouLou Lamotte

from the album Life Will See You Now (2017)

Evening Prayer by Jens Lekman & LouLou Lamotte may very well be the song I dig most, thus far, in 2017.  In addition to songwriting and vocal performance, here's why:

1.  The visual imagery of a person using a 3D printer to create a replica of their cancer tumor and walking about showing it to waitresses and other folk.

2.  The bouncing beat, funky rhythm guitar, and silky groove.

3.  The effortless way the song slides from verse to chorus to bridge.

4.  The backing vocals and orchestration.

5.  This song reminds me of the Human League, who I contend are amongst the greatest of all New Wave bands.

Considering the entire Human League catalogue, I find that they wrote incredible songs across varied genres, including dance (Don't You Want Me), pop ballad (Human), alternative (Mirror Man, Lebanon), and new wave (Together In Electric Dreams, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Fascination, Louise). Couple with that the vocals of Philip…

Ballad Of The Dying Man - Father John Misty

from the album Ballad Of The Dying Man (2017)

I first wrote about Father John Misty in October 2012, detailing my thoughts on his song "I'm Writing A Novel" off of his Fear Fun album.  His songwriting greatly impressed me, with the post evoking the names of Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon.  I was equally enamored with his vibe, stating:

"I dig Father John Misty for creating a modern hippie vibe that makes me want to load up a VW camper and head for the mountains."

Four-and-a-half years later, I find myself more captivated with this artist than ever.  This is not only due to my admiration of his song Ballad Of The Dying Man, but for the thoughtfulness he applies to his craft.

The vast majority of albums I listen to are collections of the most recent songs recorded by a group since their last album.  Some artists, weave a songwriting theme throughout their records adding substance, coherency, and a unified statement to the completed work.  At an even highe…

Papaya - Stepart

from the album Playground (2017)

I spent another sleepless night jamming along on bass to some recent grooves.

Top amongst them was Papaya by Stepart, an emerging Parisian artist who successfully combines dub reggae and electronica with a most satisfying sense of style.  I am really locking into his vibe and am beginning to comprehend the possibilities at this intersection of genres.

True to dub, the heavy downbeats on 2 and 4 are ever present.  However, this groove is much more liberated.  Although more anchored than jazz, it allows for tremendous freedom in the runs, much in the manner of a tango.

Yet what really makes this track stand out - for me - is the trumpet performance by Merry, layering of depth and analog warmth while summoning the human spirit as only a trumpet can.

I really dig it when multiple genres come together with such effect.

Click Here to listen to Papaya.

A Heavy Happy Dub - Dub Proof

from the EP A Heavy Happy Dub (2017)

My mind has been too heavy for too long.   Too many dreams have slipped from reach, yet I remain tethered to them.  Darkness yins as hope yangs.  How the fuck did I get here?

Playing music is my salvation.  Unlike listening, which induces reflection, playing music allows me to escape my burdens, to live in the moment, to close my eyes and meld with a song, shielded in a state where nothing else matters.

I woke up way too early this morning.  Could not sleep.  Semiconscious, I walked across the house, grabbed my trusty Fender Jazz, and plugged in.  Soon after, I had the song A Heavy Happy Dub playing quietly from my computer.   I lost myself in the vibe and began playing along with its exquisite bass line.  I nudged up the volume and put the song on repeat.  No longer in the time domain, my head filled with nothing but the dub and an epiphany that Super Black Market Clash is the greatest collection ever released.

Now the sun is up, the dogs are hung…

Pleasure Dome - Fishing

from the EP Pleasure Dome (2017)

I am perpetually amazed by the structure of modern dance songs.  They are all basically the same (in a good way).

You start by establishing a beat and a groove.  These are the central elements of the song.  This is what you dance to.  It is a binary function.  It either exists, or not.

Then there are the layers of ornamentation and musical hooks that ride atop the bass and groove.  This is candy for your mind and serves to further entangle you into the beat and groove.  Vocals may, or may not, be included in this.  It does not really matter.

Then there is "the breakdown" in the the arrangement, the point where the beat and groove are removed.  This creates anxiety in the listener (dancer), who continues to move to the now-absent groove with only the ornamentation and hooks to hold the promise that the groove will one day return.

Lastly, there is "the payoff" in the arrangement.  This is when the beat and groove kick back in followin…

Darling - Real Estate

from the album In Mind (2017)

For Valentine's Day, here is a song about a lovelorn fellow who is waiting for the object of his affection to return.

I dig the vibe of this song's extended introduction.  The melodic guitars and the buoyant bass runs create an almost "loving" soundscape of tone and spaciousness, reminiscent of great 80s bands, like The Ocean Blue.  A minute-and-a-half, or so, later, the singer sweetly sings the lyrics:

The black and yellow finches
That nest in knotted ferns
Which hang upon our front porch
Wait for the warm sun to return

Impatiently, as I wait for you
Impatiently, as I wait for you

The night surrenders swiftly
The moon retreats from sight
The darkness that surrounds me
The sun cuts like a knife, to shine

Impatiently
Impatiently

The birds singing
The sun rising
Impatiently
As I wait for you
For you, for you, for you

I hope that love ultimately finds this songwriter, and others like him.

Click Here to watch the official video to Darling.

Night Bird And Morning Bird - Abigail Lapell

from the album Hide Nor Hair (2017)

Abigail Lapell is a singer/songwriter of the folk and alternative country ilk.  Based in Toronto, she has been quietly writing and releasing great music for the past several years, garnering critical acclaim throughout Canada along the way.

The song Night Bird And Morning Bird off of her new album - Hide Nor Hair - is a splendid example.  The forces at play in this song are both powerful and subtle, melodically melding an ethereal quality with an understated sense of dread.  Technically, I find myself hooked into repeated listens to figure out how she does it.

Stellar vocals, excellent instrumentation, and a fine arrangement rule the day.  Also of note is the whistling track performed by Benjamin Hermann.

Click Here to watch the official video to Night Bird And Morning Bird.

Three Minute Love Affair - Whitney Rose

from the EP South Texas Suite (2017)

Whitney Rose grew up on Canada's Prince Edward Islands.  Much of her youth was spend around her grandparent's bar, whose jukebox offered the best in classic country music.  In my opinion, nothing sounds better on a jukebox than classic country.

Now at thirty, Whitney Rose finds herself living in Austin, Texas where she records and performs original music deeply influenced by her early roots.

Her new EP, South Texas Suite, leads off the album with a song titled Three Minute Love Affair.  This song pays tribute to the Texas tradition of barroom country dancing by couples to Western Swing and other timeless styles.  If you have ever witnessed it, you know how beautiful and intimate these evenings can be.

The central premise to this song is captured in the chorus, as two strangers dance:

Now there's no one else
No, darling, its just you and me
We ain't got no future and we've got no history
Cause honky-tonks, the whole entire world
Baby,…

Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues - Chuck Prophet

from the album Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins (2017)

When I first fell under the spell of music, it was largely driven by horn bands, like Stevie Wonder and Chicago.

As time rolled on, I found myself increasingly attracted to "articulate power pop", in particular the music of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, and Nick Lowe.  They were such great lyricists, so witty, yet so profound, and funny, to boot.

As the years wore on, and their edge been to wane, I found myself in search of "replacement bands" that combined my need for witty and intelligent lyrics with a rock and roll sensibility.

Somewhere in the mid-to-late eighties, I stumbled across Green on Red, The Dream Syndicate, and their variations (particularly Danny & Dusty).  It was all on display, with the "British Pub vibe replaced by some kine of LA-inspired, post-whatever vibe.  I dug it, and have been enamored with the music of Chuck Prophet ever since.

Hard to believe it has been thirty years.

On his new a…

Terribly So - Howe Gelb

from the album Future Standards (2017)

Once upon a time, I rented a house in Huntington, New York with a group of fun-loving friends.  It was a big, old house on the edge of the village, up the hill, across from the cemetery.  Saturday nights often spilled into Sunday mornings, and the notion of brunch was forever bound to a stiff and spicy Bloody Mary.

The great thing about Huntington is that the Long Island Railroad takes a straight shot into NYC allowing for an easy commute and frequent trains.  This filled the town with well-off financial and media types, but more importantly, its outskirts were home to displaced bohemians who could live more affordably while still being within striking distance of Manhattan.

One iconic musician who lived in the nearby village of Smithtown was Mose Allison.  The highlight of my years in Huntington were the occasional Sundays when he would play jazz piano at a brunch spot a few blocks from our big house.  We would stumble in early with little-or-no…

The Last Ten Years - Mark Eitzel

from the album Hey Mr. Ferryman (2017)

Over a lifetime, I have spent an inordinate time thinking about heaven.  Not so much the day-to-day routine of eternal bliss, but more about that moment when I traverse those pearly gates and step inside.

Blue skies, new green grass on the rolling hills, with all the dogs I've loved - tails wagging - running up to greet me, followed by the people I love.  Especially my dad.

An alternative scene takes place in an Irish Pub.  There is an incredible band and I get to share a pint with the people I love.  Especially my dad.

Oddly, I have never given any thought to that moment I descend into hell.

The song The Last Ten Years by Mark Eitzel deals with this subject.  I am fascinated with the treatment.

Sonically, the tones are lush and warm.  Magnificent guitars, a steady beat, and beautiful harmonies.  At one point, we are treated to George Harrison inspired riff-work over billowing orchestration.  I might have expected death metal...

I also find m…

Let The Chalice Blaze - Thievery Corporation

from the album The Temple Of I & I (2017)

How does your chalice blaze?  Does it blaze with poetry?  Does it blaze with justice?  Does it blaze with invention?  Does it blaze with love?

Certainly your chalice blazes with hard work and passion.  Otherwise, it doesn't blaze at all.  The world never gets to see all those beautiful colors.  Never gets to consider that splendid point of view.  Hard work and passion.  We each hold the key.

I am fortunate to know so many magnificently talented people.  They are artists.  They are engineers. They are healers.  They are compassionate human beings.  Yet so many - myself included - find our chalices less than blazing.  We need to band together, encourage each other, lend oxygen to our sparks.

What would be more beautiful than a cool winter's night with all of our chalices ablaze?

A friend of mine wrote a song that hit Number One on one of the US music charts this week.  A year ago, soon after being nominated for a Grammy Award, he tol…

Strange Or Be Forgotten - Temples

from the album Volcanos (2017)

From the town of Kettering, 130km north of London, hail Temples, a band that combines psychedelic and 80s vibes with great effect.

I am particularly digging their latest single, Strange Or Not Forgotten.

Dreamy layers of guitars, synthesizers, and falsettos over a strong beat set the stage for a magnificently arranged collection of musical segments culminating in a gloriously melodic and triumphant melody.  The synthesizer solo is pure triumph, as are the song's dynamics.

Excellent stuff.

Click Here to watch a live performance of Strange Or Be Forgotten.

Fux With The Tux - Tuxedo

from the single Fux With The Tux (2017)

Do you want to dance?

The tune Fux With The Tux is a funky dance explosion that takes you back to bad perms and polyester.  Check out how period-perfect this song sounds.   Then take a closer listen to every beat, the synthesizer tones, the vocals.  This is craftsmanship at its best.

Tuxedo is the duo of Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, two producers from Los Angeles and Seattle, respectively.  Together, and apart, they have produced the backing tracks for successful records often creating the elements from scratch so not to have to pay sampling royalties.

The duo's style is greatly influenced by Mayer Hawthorne's affinity for classic soul and R&B from Motown, Stax, and the world of funk.  He also has the vocal chops to pull it off.

Enjoy this one...

Click Here to listen to Fux With The Tux.

Amputation - The Jesus And Mary Chain

from the album Damage and Joy (2017)

A little over twenty years ago, I traded in my broken down ride for a brand new Volkswagen Passat.  It was my first car with a CD player.  This allowed me to "grab a few discs for the ride."

The regular rotation included Stoned & Dethroned by The Jesus And Mary Chain.  There was no end to places I would go with Sometimes Always turned up loud, my trusted basset hound - Elmore James - with his head out the window, a big ear flapping in the breeze.  These were good days.

So now I've got Amputation - the pre-released single from the forthcoming Jesus And Mary Chain record - streaming off my smart phone and blasting out the speakers of a new car, with a different dog's head hanging out the window, as I'm speeding down a country road.

The pulsing groove.  The overdriven guitars.  The sedated vocals.  Life is good.

Click Here to listen to Amputation.