Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top 20 Songs of 2011

Just one more list for 2011 -- in no particular order here are twenty songs that filled my year with the sheer joy of discovery in a new tune, something to happily play again and again.  With such a diverse group of songs, there's something here for everyone to enjoy.  So there's no more excuses to be listening to the same old stuff, even if it's only a year old! Link to playlist on Spotify here. 

1.   Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks"
2.   Peter Bjorn and John, "Second Chance"
3.   Radiohead, "Lotus Flower"
4.   Cake, "Sick of You"
5.   Wilco, "I Might"
6.   Smith Westerns, "Weekend"
7.   Givers, "Up Up Up"
8.   Cults, "Abducted"
9.   M83, "Midnight City"
10. Mates of State, "Palomino"
11.  Portugal. The Man., "So American"
12.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., "Simple Girl"
13.  Toro Y Moi, "Still Sound"
14.  YACHT, "Shangri-La"
15.  Moby, "The Day"
16.  AM & Shawn Lee, "Dark Into Light"
17.  Art Brut, "Lost Weekend"
18.  Girls, "Honey Bunny"
19.  Washed Out, "Eyes Be Closed"
20.  My Morning Jacket, "Holding on to Black Metal"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New LCD Soundsystem Video for "Live Alone"

Franz Ferdinand released an EP Covers in honor of last spring's Record Store Day, inviting others to revisit songs from their 2009 release, Tonight.  Both LCD Soundsystem and Blondie's Debbie Harry (together with FF's lead singer Alex Kapranos himself) took on the song, "Live Alone." Originally presented as a punchy dance tune, Harry gives it a traditional early rock girl group treatment but LCD Soundsystem takes the implied romance in the lyrics to a whole new level.  James Murphy's crooning vocals brings out the yearning in every note. 

Wherever you are
Whoever is there
You know that I'll be here
Wishing I could be there

With this new video directed by Lustix, it also becomes another love letter to New York City with sweeping panoromic shots of skyline and dizzying night lights.  In a futuristic twist, a robot is the protaganist of the story in a blur of heartache.  Now that LCD Soundsytem is no longer, the longing for lost love is even more poignant as New York City moves on without a favorite local band.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Ten Releases of 2011 With Video Highlights

This year, I made my list early so I could enjoy reading about other top picks.  While I may not always agree with other choices for a top ten, I still appreciate the passion for new music discoveries even in genres that are not my favorite (thinking about bro-rock, folky types or anything else I consider snooze-worthy!)  It's also a nice way to revisit releases I might not have explored thoroughly the first go around.  In fact, I've already started my Winter 2012 New Music Playlist and there are a few leftovers from this year that will make an appearance.  For now, enjoy this walk down memory lane for 2011 -- a truly great year for new tunes.

1. Peter Bjorn and John, Gimme Some
This Swedish trio hit one out of the park with Gimme Some, their sixth release since the band formed in 1999.  The single "Second Chance" was all over both TV and online radio with its punchy vibe and feel good refrain.  But the rest of the album is a worthy listen as well, a diverse offering the band presents with confidence.  Their concert last spring was also a top five for the year -- relive it here.

2. CAKE, Showroom of Compassion
As a long-time fan of the band CAKE, I was thrilled that a new album finally appeared after six long years without anything new.  It came as no surprise that the collection was filled with rockin' anthems and quirky sing alongs, such as "Sick of You."  My big Christmas present last year was an overpriced StubHub tickets to a WRXP radio (R.I.P.) holiday show featuring the band and it was well worth it!  They previewed the new songs and I was loving them at first listen -- write up of that show here.

3. Radiohead, King of Limbs
Radiohead released this album last spring and even though it has the shortest running time of any other of their albums, it was enough to easily earn a top ten slot.  The band continues to create innovative approaches to music after almost twenty years together (as well as some new dance moves by Thom Yorke as choreographed by noted UK choreographer Wayne McGregor in the video for "Lotus Flower" below).  After stopping by SNL and The Colbert Report, they played a few dates in the city, but I was not one of the lucky fans to see them.

4. Washed Out, Within and Without
Georgia native Ernest Greene put the term chill wave on the music scene map, with just a few songs composed in his childhood bedroom back in 2009. Hard to think that someone with a proper name like that would choose the sexiest cover artwork of the year... too bad his stage show I saw last summer didn't sizzle quite the same way, even with his new wife on the stage (review link here).

5. Portugal. The Man., In the Mountain. In the Cloud.
This band from the Pacific Northwest (two of the members even grew up in Alaska) have been together for five years, but I only just discovered them.  Their expansive sound reflects their surroundings and lays the foundation for the soulful vocals of singer/songwriter John Baldwin Gourley.  In the Mountain. In the Cloud. was a release I listened to over and over, capped off with a stellar concert appearance at Terminal 5 headlining the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon (review of the festival night here).

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., It's a Corporate World
When I heard this band's single "Simple Girl" I was hooked, but I didn't realize the band had some serious writing chops and depth of talent until I witnessed them live (review link here).  The music pulsed through the venue with layers of synths over a rock band format, encouraging me to revisit the entire release with many satisfying listens.

7. Moby, Destroyed
Moby released his latest CD with a book of photographs taken while out on tour, many of them in the middle of the night.  The reflective mood is found throughout the album, and his singing on the single "The Day" revealed one of his most soul-searing melodies ever.  One of my highlights of the year was definitely interviewing this guy who grew up in my hometown (link here) to hear first hand about the new tunes.  I was also able to catch him doing his big time arena show act at Moogfest 2011, although I was disappointed he only stuck to older hits.

8. M83, Midnight City
Anthony Gonzalez is a charming Frenchman who released two discs worth of world-shaking synth creations this year, then formed a band in order to figure out how to play everything live and tour extensively. I only saw them doing a festival slot at this year's Moogfest, but it was enough to make me a fan forever.

9. Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys
Elbow is another long standing band from the UK (recently chosen to create a theme for the London Olympics next summer).  Their fifth studio album is another stellar collection of tales of life across the pond, as sweetly sung by singer/songwriter Guy Garvey.

10. My Morning Jacket, Circuital
This rock band from Lexington, Kentucky, released their sixth studio album to much acclaim this summer and it's complexities made for an interesting listen.  From the full throttle group singing in "Holding on to Black Metal" to Jim James' solo in "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," there was something for everyone to latch on to and enjoy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Favorite Holiday Tunes Playlist I (2011)

Happy Holidays!  Here's a playlist of not-so new faves that I actually love hearing every year, beyond the usual standards playing everywhere you go.  Happy to revisit the many Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby songs plus the offering of each Beatle: Ringo's fun party of "White Christmas," Paul always the happy family man with "Wonderful Christmastime," John's emotionally-charged political statement of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)," and George's voice giving out though still such a gift of the soul in "Ding Dong, Ding Dong."  Plus I find the 1972 duet of "Little Drummer Boy" by Bing Crosby and David Bowie intriguing, moving and odd all at the same time.  And I can't help but sing along to Wham's 80s hit "Last Christmas." 

This curated listen is culled from my CD collection (!) when a compilation disc from MTV or various record labels was the greatest gift of all -- keeping me sane through many seasons of overindulgence. Back then you couldn't Google a band discovery and even to this day I have no idea who/where/what Local H is but I'm thankful for their track that starts things off.  It also made for many a fun jam in the basement with me on drums...

Link to listen here, enjoy!

1. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- Local H
2. "I Wish It Was Christmas Today" -- Julian Casablancas
3. "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" -- The Ramones
4. "Winter Wonderland" -- Phantom Planet
5. "Merry Christmas Baby" -- Hanson
6. "Christmas Wrapping" -- The Waitresses
7. "Little Drummer Boy" -- The Dandy Warhols
8. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" -- Weezer
9. "The Christmas Song" -- Weezer
10. "Snowball" -- Jimmy Fallon
11. "Father Christmas" -- The Kinks
12.  "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" -- The Polyphonic Spree
13. "Frosty the Snowman" -- The Jackson 5
14. "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!" -- Sufjan Stevens
15. "It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad!" -- Sufjan Stevens

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 5+ Concert Experiences in 2011

What a year for live music!  I just counted up attendance at 30 concerts this year and on top of that I would need to add in three nights covering the CMJ Music Marathon and multiple shows at this year's Moogfest.  No wonder my ears are feeling a big clogged these days... might have to succumb to wearing ear plugs in 2012.  For now it's a happy trip down memory lane to recap the top five concert experiences of the year -- from the blowout of a send off for LCD Soundsystem to newcomers Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. along with the opportunity to enjoy seeing a few favorite bands finally play live.  I'll post best of videos from our NMMatterscorp YouTube channel thanks to my camera guy Paul (and yes you can hear at least one of my "wooooos" on each clip!)  For more info, link to my blog post write up for the concerts as listed.  With fond memories of each one, enjoy.

1.  LCD Soundsystem @ Terminal 5 -- March 28, 2011
This was the first and last time I'll see this oh-so favorite band who cranked out beloved dance hits for me to boogie along with every release.  Terminal 5 is not my favorite venue (a big, mutli-layered space and sound can be messy) but the entire place turned into one big dance party during this three-set night.  Walking around you'd have to jump through circles of people grooving along and there was not one person there who wasn't moving something, my kind of night. This video shows how it all began.


2. Flaming Lips @ Moogfest -- October 29, 2011
I had heard tales of the emotional overhaul that takes place at Flaming Lips concerts (funfetti, colorful balloon balls, frontman Wayne Coyne's antics) but I finally experienced the euphoria first hand this fall at Moogfest.  Supposedly the band plays each show as if it's every audience member's only Flaming Lips show so they are sure to play the hits along with anything new.  This night they also played a fitting tribute to Bob Moog, "Lucky Man" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, with keyboardist Steve Dzord using an ipad to recreate Keith Emerson's famous synth solo.  Discussing the concert afterwards, my son described his concert experience as a "bawler" for him and asked if I cried during the concert -- I had to admit, "yes twice!"


3. Matt & Kim @ Terminal 5 -- June 29, 2011
This popular hipster band took over Terminal 5 on glorious summer night -- both the band (real life couple Kim Schifino and Matt Johnson, who I interviewed here last spring) and their adoring young fans were obviously "totally stoked" to fill the large venue for their own private dance party.  This video shows the energy that began the show and it continued non-stop throughout the night.


4. Peter Bjorn & John-- May 2, 2011
Many bands claim to put on "high energy shows" but this trio from Sweden could be an illustration to the proper definition.  The night I saw them they had two shows on the bill and they certainly did not hold back anything during the early slot.  Guitarist John Erikkson even bloodied his forehead with some crazy shredding and I kept waiting for him to at least wipe his face with a towel they had been using for sweat outbreaks on stage.  As seasoned performers, they obviously love playing their music even after all these years together (PB&J was formed in 1999) and nothing is slowing them down.  Their popular single, "Second Chance" was heard all over the place in 2011. I wish them all thia well-deserved success and more.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. @ Bowery Ballroom -- September 24, 2011
I wasn't sure what to expect when we arrived at the Bowery Ballroom to see the band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. It's easy to venture right up to the stage there, so I introduced myself to Josh Epstein as he was plugging in equipment in order to snag another photo op with an interview subject (write up here).  We had a quick chat on the phone a few days earlier, asking him about the band's quick rise over the course of the year with their debut release, It's a Corporate World.  This duo complements each other so well, meshing vocal harmonies and pop hooks galore.  Then they add in some funky lighting, bubbles and stage outfits to make for a fun live show, including a killer cover for the encore (see below).

HONORABLE MENTION: Art Brut @ Music Hall of Williamsburg -- June 22, 2011
How can you not love this band?  After singing along to three albums worth of fun, tongue-in-cheek pop tunes, I finally saw Art Brut cranking them out live as if they were indeed on "Top of the Pops." I had a phoner with Eddie Argos a few weeks prior so was eager to see him in action (write up here). Argos could give lessons on how to be a charming frontman and he's having as much fun as anyone up at the concert being center stage.  When he jumped into the audience with a lengthy monologue during a favorite song, "Modern Art," I loved every minute. "Modern art makes me want to buy a t-shirt!" Argos was joking how this was their "Glass Ceiling Tour" and he should be thankful for that.  I say the music world is a way better place with Art Brut around and wishing for many more songs/tours ahead!

Monday, December 5, 2011

YACHT @ Santos Party House, NYC December 3rd

I remember hearing the single "Psychic City" on KCRW years ago and loving it immediately.  That voice, the funky beat, and those snarky lyrics about everyday appliances coming alive to party with an immediate sing along, Aye-eye-eye-eye!  It found a spot on one of my new music playlists and I've been a fan ever since.  Having missed them at Moogfest in October (a flight from Mexico City was cancelled), I went on their website and found an upcoming gig in NYC, one of the many perks of living in the area...

YACHT defines itself as a “band, belief system and business,” with a corporate logo known as a smilangle (a smiley face inside a triangle).  They are currently composing some of the most danceable music today, recently releasing a new album, Shangri-La, last June. Songs from the album filled most of the set list at Santos Party House, with room for 2008’s single “Summer Song,” 2009’s “Afterlife,” along with “Ring the Bell.”  Plus their dance hit “Psychic City” provided a suitable encore.  Jona Bechtolt, mastermind for the group since its inception, took the stage with the rest of the band all wearing black before singer Clare L. Evans followed dressed in a white dress.  With her cropped white hair and dramatic eye makeup, her stylized movements brought an additional element of theatre to the live concert.  Bechtoit bounced from keyboards to guitar and singing into a mike, while Evans commanded the audience to get their groove on. 

Everything sounded great and the band was clearly enjoying themselves playing their part, communicating through the pop hooks and layered beats of “Beam Me Up,” “One Step, and “Utopia.”  The group covered like-minded band, The B-52s, for a wound-up “Mesopotamia” and Bechtoit took over the drum kit for “Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire).  However, the show wasn’t just about creating a live soundtrack for their fans to let loose and boogie.  Early on, there was a PowerPoint presentation outlining three stages for audience participation during the evening: 1) preparation, 2) initiation and 3) enlightenment.  A slide show was also utilized to introduce band members (along with their nicknames and astrological signs) and included a map where the group was from (a Western American Utopian Triangle formed by linking Los Angeles, Marfa, Texas and Portland, Oregon).  During a Q & A session between songs, Evans was asked if she could be someone’s girlfriend.  She replied, “Yes, spiritually and metaphysically.”  Another question posed queried about her favorite food and orifice to which she responded, “avocado and sinus.”  For the last song, Evans invited some young, front row fans up on stage to dance with her and everyone was invited to say hello at the merch table afterwards. The overzealous security there had to get a bit physical to break up the line waiting there and Evans was clearly disturbed by it, saying sweetly,"they're being so mean."

YACHT takes its name from an alternative school that Bechtoit was enrolled in for a bit, an acronym for “Young Americans Challenging High Technology.”  He met Evans soon thereafter, but she didn’t join the band full time until 2008.  It’s a match made in electropop music heaven. She’s also a science nerd who pens a popular blog, “Universe,” about the intersection of art and science.  The universal messaging of “Afterlife” speaks to the sun, moon and the light that “makes most of life.”  Yet it quickly turns to a tongue-in-cheek statement about the band’s core beliefs in putting the party first.

If my friends were a crowd,
It might not be the biggest
But it’d be definitely loud
With Clare after the show

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sunbears! @ Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn, December 2nd

Sunbears! are described as a duo but the band plays out on stage weighted heavily towards Jonathan Berlin (singing while playing keyboards, guitars and synths), away from the solid drummer Jared Bowser.  These two are on the road in support of their first full-length release, You Will Live Forever, the title a reference to how the internet will never forget this generation with an eternal online imprint.  Its thirteen tracks are appealing, carefully crafted pop songs, not just compositions in a broad stroke of some musical genre.  However, when presented live at the Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, the thrust of presenting everything exactly as it sounds on the recording kept things from any sort of emotional lift off. With prerecorded tracks of vocal harmonies, additional instruments and ample sound effects, the performance seemed as organic as the bouquet of plastic flowers decorating the drum kit. 

The night even began as the album does, with the solo piano arpeggios of the instrumental lead off track, “You Will Live Forever.”  Then the band followed with the second song, “Give Love a Try,” their single with a simplistic message and basic though uplifting sing along chorus.  Many of the lyrics offered throughout the set were along the same vein, though the vocals buried throughout made a few words hard to discern.  For example in the song “Strung Out! On My Own!” Berlin sings with conviction, Love don’t go away never, so I’m fine with you leaving me. “Together Forever” begins with We know better than you, You know better than me/We’re in this together, forever and ever, can’t you see. His vocal delivery can sound a bit like Wayne Coyne, and with the musicians backlit with strobe lights and footage on a scrim in constant motion, the show was almost like a mini Flaming Lips concert.  It’s difficult to recreate songs produced after spending countless hours in a studio anyway, and the crowd would have enjoyed something different. 

                                           Sunbears!@ Cameo Gallery, NYC 12/1/2011