Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter 2010 New Music Playlist

1. True Stories - Datarock
It took me a few listens of this tune by the Norwegian electro duo on kcrw's Morning Becomes Eclectic to realize the lyrics are simply a string of song titles by the Talking Heads -- pure tongue in cheek brilliance. As a THeads fan I recognized them all along with the various musical references but the best is the catchy singalong chorus (fitting in as the Mom in "Mom & Dad we're burning down the house") followed by classic "Hey" shout outs. Hard NOT to move during this one! Link to listen here.

2. One Life Stand - Hot Chip
Another awesome dance track from this British electropop band which was released last fall in advance of a new CD with same name, scheduled to drop February 9th. The sweet sentiment of having much more than a one night stand is just icing on the up beat groove and dazzling swirl of synths. I can't wait for the new collection of songs to dig into from this band that brought us the classic "Over and Over" (one of my favorite dance hits of all time).

3. Do You Want It All - Two Door Cinema Club
I've had this young Northern Irish band on earlier playlists, loving how their catchy electropop tunes are unapologetic with all access accessibility. The group is yet another one of many that met in high school which always creates a soft spot in my heart, especially as they are just entering into total legit category with a CD release of their own sometime in February. It will be interesting to hear what they have to offer in a full collection of songs.

4. Knotty Pine - David Byrne & Dirty Projectors
The Dirty Projectors were recently featured on the cover of New York Magazine with MGMT and Grizzly Bear for the article "Brooklyn's Sonic Boom," so I was eager to check them out since I was a fan of the other two bands. I found their sound a bit confusing but this collaboration with David Byrne keeps the energy reigned in and pumping along with a cohesive agenda. The track is found on a separate CD, Dark Was the Night, the 20th compilation to raise funds for the Red Hot Organization which is dedicated to fighting AIDS.

5. So Far Around the Bend - The National
This song is also off the same CD, with The National contributing their signature sound with plans in the way for a new release later this year. Their laid back approach is spirited by lead singer and lyricist Matt Berninger's warm baritone floating over the rest of the band. The group is actually comprised of two sets of brothers, friends from growing up in Ohio but now based with the rest of the indie world in Brooklyn.

6. Horchata - Vampire Weekend
As the opening track of the second Vampire Weekend CD, Contra, the song propels this band of Columbia University grads back on the scene with confidence. The title is the name of a traditional Mexican beverage which fits into their distinctive mix of world music references with the addition of classical strings. This release landed on the top of the Billboard album chart (though with just 124,000 copies sold, it's still a sad statement on lackluster CD sales.)

7. White Sky - Vampire Weekend
A foundation of crisp electronic beats sets the foundation for Ezra Koenig's vocals to introduce the story in song but the band's interjection of more "Hey" shout outs makes it fun for all. The string of vowels ending sing-a-long is a great capper to the song.

8. Cousins - Vampire Weekend
An instant classic for the band, this was the first single off the CD. It's a rollicking song telling of family ties that fall into a frenzy of ringing guitar and fast moving rhythms.

9. Blood - Middle East
This Australian band is known for creating rambling collages of varied instrumentation (including glockenspiel, trumpet, hand percussion, electric and acoustic guitars) with lush vocal harmonies. This song is part of their first EP, The Recordings of The Middle East, and with the group landing a slot at Coachcella this spring there's much more to come from this band on the big time music scene.

10. Flashing Light Means Go - The Boxer Rebellion
The band's second CD Union was named Best Alternative Album in 2009 by itunes so I was interested to give it a full listen, but only found this song that I had already heard worth putting on a playlist. It begins with a classic drumbeat but develops into a full textured sound with a dreamy chorus.

11. Audience - Cold War Kids
This scrappy band from Long Beach, CA, likes to leave things well enough alone which nicely compliments Nathan Willett's raw vocals. The song leads off the new EP, Behave Yourself.

12. Is Love Forever - Spoon
13. The Mystery Zone - Spoon
14. Who Makes Your Money - Spoon
15. Written In Reverse - Spoon
I have placed four songs off the new Spoon release Transference on my playlist as they appear in quick succession on the CD (though the web sheriff didn't like them appearing on the Grooveshark widget!) This set works as a nice introduction to the band, with its quirky beats and Brett Daniel's spare singing spewing succinct lyrics. The other three songs flow from this core sound, into the electronic keyboard chords of "The Mystery Zone" and the funk of "Who Makes Your Money." "Written In Reverse" returns to a classic Spoon approach of edgy guitar over drum beats and emotive vocals. It was hard to whittle down things at al -- most likely to be on my list of favs for 2010.

16. Ambivalence Avenue - Bibio
Bibio, a.k.a. Stephen Wilkinson, is a British music producer who actually studied 'sonic arts' at the Middlesex University in London. This track is off his second CD of three released in 2009, a prolific year of music under a variety of musical labels -- from folk/electronica to ambient music and jangle pop.

17. New Theory - Washed Out
18. Feel It All Around - Washed Out
Ernest Greene has only recently created these lush synth creations as Washed Out after exploring rock and hip hop. In an interview with Pitchfork, he explains that the 'laid-back 80s throwback feel" was influenced by his surroundings after returning home in rural Georgia.

19. The High Road - Broken Bells
The song is the first single for this side project featuring the familiar vocals of The Shins' James Mercer backed by the artistry of Danger Mouse. A self-titled album from this side project is due in March, can't wait!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Beach House Album Preview on

Another great Album Preview is being offered on -- this time it's the newest CD Teen Dream from Beach House, an indie duo out of Baltimore comprised of native son Alex Scally and French-born Victoria Legrand. I first heard about them when my son brought home their CD Devotion after seeing them warm up for The Walkmen last year. I found them a bit directionless though interesting, so was happy to see I could check out their latest without commitment at the link here

Their dreamy approach reminds me of the 90s band Mazzy Star which isn't a bad thing, though like many bands listening to the entire CD makes for narrow experience -- you just have to be in the mood for something like this for a chunk of time. While I enjoyed listening to all the offerings, thinking that two or three of their tunes will be more my M.O. with this band in the future (notably the tunes "Zebra," "Norway," and "10 Mile Stereo"). I've heard that "Norway" was created in response to the age old band request for a sellable single. This practice has never really bothered me as a consumer as long as the song rates and it's clearly worth the effort.

The CD was released on January 26th packaged with a DVD of videos for each song which are served up by a different director, making for a compelling reason to actually buy a CD. For now Teen Dream is available online through February 8 or February 22, 2010 as the webpage lists both... I wouldn't wait just in case!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Live Session with Spoon on KCRW

KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic has a live session with Spoon (recorded January 20th) which you can listen to or even watch 'on demand' at this link below. I didn't even know about it but caught the session live, as I listen to the show as much as I can during the past four years. (The new dj Jason Bentley plays more dance music than Nic Hardcourt did which I put up with waiting for the good stuff in between, just like I did with Hardcourt's foray into folky tunes before.) Spoon released new recording of songs the day before the session called Transference -- the Austin band's seventh since forming in 1993 (though it's lead singer Britt Daniel is spending more time with a girlfriend in Portland, OR). During the interview, lead singer Daniel admits that this CD is the best one to capture their true essence as a band since he and fellow band member Jim Eno step into the producer role as well. Some songs were even left in their demo format or only with slight embellishments and it shows, making for an intimate offering from a seasoned band. Here's the link here.

I've revisited the session a few times and have already played the new CD many times through, all which I highly recommend. I had my husband pick up the CD in a big box store in the city during the week, rather than waiting till I could make it to our small indy record store in town over the weekend where I actually heard of the band back in 2002. I was looking for something new and the owner (Johnny of Johnny's in Darien, CT) put on "That's The Way We Get By" from Kill the Moonlight and I was instantly hooked. It was music unlike anything I had heard yet at the same time instantly recognizable, the deep groove by a basic band set up without embellishment beyond a tambourine now and then but with Daniel's breathy, emotive vocals. I went on to be a Spoon fan over next two CDs, Gimme Fiction (2005) and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) and caught them live at Hammerstein Ballroom during their tour in the fall of 2007 where they did not dissapoint. Their songs live only seemed bigger and grander from the elaborate stage set up. The band will be at Radio City Music Hall this March 26th, a wonderful space to hear music.

Getting their latest in hand, I instantly opened it and threw it in my laptop to upload to itunes. It begins with a lush sonic groove and ends in a free for all jam. In between are classic Spoon moments of spare clarity and others that push it to the looser, edgier side of things. poured over the cover and looked inside at the lyrics, liner notes and a notice at the end: BUYING RECORDS IN RECORD STORES IS COOL. Yipes, I should be more patient but that would mean waiting a few days for that first listen!

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 Concert Memory #2 - David Byrne at Oxford, UK April 9

The other concert experience I'd like to revisit is going to see the Songs of David Byrne & Brian Eno tour last spring, celebrating their collaboration during three Talking Heads albums and the 2008 release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. I had come to The Talking Heads a bit late, encountering Remain in Light as a senior in college. After many plays and catching up by collecting the previous three records, I was a full fledged fan. I have to count their 1983 concert in Forest Hills, Queens (as filmed in Stop Making Sense and I even attended the release party with the band in attendance at the old Ritz in NYC) among my top concert experiences. Another top concert experience however, was seeing David Byrne alone on tour in 2001, just weeks after 9/11. Tears streamed down my face as I sang along to "Once in a Lifetime" as there was simply no "same as it ever was."

So last spring I was planning a visit to see my daughter in London, who was there for her junior year abroad, when we found a concert stop in Oxford during the week. It was the perfect family concert experience -- two decades earlier she'd sing "Stay Up Late" about a Mommy having a little baby right after her baby brother was born. We even bought the book about the song with whimsical drawings by Maira Kalman, a collector's item now.

The concert also gave us a reason to hop a train out of town, see some of the country side and of course visit that beautiful academic town. We whiled away the afternoon in J.R.R. Tolkien's favorite pub, the Eagle and Child, then headed over to the historic New Theatre. The crowd seemed as mild mannered and scholarly as the surrounding town, but the space was small enough to feel close to the action on the stage. Although there was not much space between the rows of seats, after a while people were on their feet grooving to the world music inspired beats played the huge group on stage dressed head to toe in white . The New Theatre staff did not like so much motion in the audience and started telling people to stop dancing.

That's when David Byrne abruptly stopped mid-song and told the crowd, "You dance if you want to," and now everyone was on their feet right to the back row. A reviewer in The Oxford Times (as found on the website) reported he had never seen this happen in more than 20 years of reviewing, that indeed Byrne was "truly bringing down the house." Byrne also had dancers with him on stage, even occasionally joining in the choreography which delighted my modern dance background. The three dancers -- two women and a man -- seemed plucked off the sidewalk with their pedestrian looks and movement vocabulary, yet they added another layer of performance as they engaged the tightly rehearsed musicians. It was a treat for the eyes and ears.

Here's a clip of a favorite dance bit (on chairs... I've danced on chairs many times, just not on stage though I'm jealous my daughter has TWICE!) This song, "Life is Long," is off the 2008 release -- this isn't the show we saw but the filming is quite good.

Here's another clip from the same show, the song "My Big Hands" (Fall Through the Cracks) is from Byrne's music for Twyla Tharp's Catherine Wheel that I went to see in performance by the dance troupe back in 1981. It seems particularly well-suited for this tour! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2009 Concert Memory #1 - Moby @ Irving Plaza NYC September 21

Before we sign off from 2009, I want to revisit two concerts I went to during the year. I'm not much of a concert-goer these days and was never one for the big festivals, but if the right act at the right venue presents itself -- I'm in. That happened last fall when I heard Moby was at Irving Plaza, the smallish venue right around the corner from my husband's office in downtown NYC. On a Monday night of all things, I found myself leaving work early to happily hop a train into the city.

As I've mentioned in this blog, Moby is a product of my hometown of Darien, CT. When at a tour of the high school years back, the student guide asked if we had any questions. "What is Moby's real name?" I asked as a joke that of course fell flat in the group of overanxious parents. (It's Richard Melville Hall, but he's been called Moby since a baby.) I have heard him talk about growing up in town within a lecture format and even hung out at the dive bar in town afterwards, but over the years I hadn't made it to hear him play live at one of his concerts. Moby was his laidback, self espousing opionated musings and even at one point asked how many in the audience were born outside the U.S. -- more than half was the answer. I suppose he knew where his fan base is strongest these days and was just checking?

I remember exactly when I heard Moby's first hit "Go" in the mid-90s. I was riding in the back of a car getting a ride out of the city after a holiday party. As it played on the more than adequate sound system, I watched the night skyline speed by with lights flashing along to the electrofunkpop mashup whatever you want to call it, back then there wasn't quite so many names for such things . Time was suspended as I entered another world of dance music driven beats. I've followed him since, eagerly purchasing CDs as they appeared -- especially 18, which appeared just after 9/11 (his birthday even) to help me musically get through the senseless agony of the loss of life and distruction in NYC.

Moby's new CD Wait For Me has been called melancholy and introspective but there's a few tracks that offer up a good enough groove for dancing. (Three songs were featured on my LATE FALL 09 PLAYLIST.) He also pulled out the hits for those in the crowd who really wanted to move such as "Porcelain," "We're All Made of Stars" and of course, "Go." Moby launched into one of them after explaining how it's fun to stay up late by himself, alone in his studio making introspective tunes (which is how most of Wait for Me was written,) that he also enjoys making a real "Kick Ass Dance Song" now and then. Thank goodness! He has my vote as best dance music maker ever to tear up the floor but also as the creator of the most moving melodic melodies guaranteed to make me tear up.

So after complaining about the club kids with their cameras and cellphones out so much during the concert (asking why don't they just take in the experience?) I was thrilled to find this nugget of "Porcelain" online. We were just to the left of the pole on the floor stage right about 7 rows back -- I can even see my arms in the air waving all modern movement like during the slow part. Got to sleep around 2 and was kind of sore from standing around before the show and then dancing along during but glad I went!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Live Session with Vampire Weekend on

KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic has a live session with Vampire Weekend (recorded January 11th) which you can listen to or even watch 'on demand' at this link below. I listened to it live and then watched it as spliced together later in the afternoon which was like being a fly on the wall. Since it's for radio and without an audience, though with a string and horn section along, the low key yet intimate performance is a real treat. Vampire Weekend still looks like they're having fun just being together, whether shouting back singalong parts with headphones on or sitting for through an interview. Check it out here.

Vampire Weekend is a band I have endorsed whole-heartedly since they burst on the scene with their namesake release in 2008 -- one of my Top Ten CDs for the year. I rank them similar to The Strokes with all their youthful exuberance and confidence in their sound. That being said, both bands have such a similar sound throughout their playlists that I rarely listen to an entire CD at once. But a few songs at a time make for an extremely enjoyable new music listening experience.

I gave the new release a few listens and since it clocks in at barely 40 minutes that was easy to do. The songs are still crisp, clean and yes, short. The boys in the band have been very busy with a photo spread for the January Vogue (along with MGMT, Golden Silver, Chester French and others) as well as a big article in The New Yorker that follows them around a recent tour in California. The article addresses how their "cheery fusion of British new Wave and West African guitar pop" and "lines that could have been used in an S.A.T.-prep course" rubs some reviewers the wrong way. This millennium generation just doesn't see barriers like those of us who remember when The Talking Heads started using what was coined as "world music" -- has created a lush mix of backgrounds that are rarely listed or explained in any way. It's all there for the taking, and so is this new offering of songs from Vampire Weekend.