Author Archives: M is for Music
Put in the context of the past couple weeks, that is one timely quote from Virginia Woolf’s great novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In just ten words, (only eleven syllables!) the quote delivers a brusque promise, not an empty threat. Woolf brilliantly captures a sense of stark anxiety and certain danger.
Something mightily fucked up is coming. Really coming. Not if, but when? What will it hit? When? And with what crackling, savage severity?
The knowledge that the lash is up and is certain to strike somewhere leaves us wrapped in a thick fog of unknowing. It leaves us with a crippling sense that nothing will ever be the same as before.
Stick around. Or don’t.
This evening I should be packing my bags. I am scheduled to take a six o’clock flight tomorrow morning. Jude and I were going to take a trip to visit friends, hike, and get away. Instead, for the foreseeable future, we will be getting away, as usual, to the local bike path and the neighborhood sidewalks for our hiking.
No complaints – it makes me happy that we can do that. Among the many confusions and disappointments of these days, something like the normalcy and simplicity of these neighborhood excursions will provide a consolation and a boost.
Anyway, instead of packing, I sat down to think a few things through. What would I want to tell my current self with the hindsight of coming weeks or months? Maybe this.
Don’t play down big disasters, but stay positive – you have very much to be grateful for.
Keep making plans, but accept things you can’t control.
Don’t waste time, but relax.
Identify problems, but focus on solutions.
Keep listening to lots of music, it will make you feel better.
And especially this, look out for others whenever you can.
Maybe we’ll all know a little more about what’s happening on April 3, when bass master, Thundercat, releases his new album, It Is What It Is. The man’s long list of collaborators includes Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino, and Kamasi Washington. He has a distinctive but familiar sound; funky and soulful. He has favorably addressed past comparisons to the magnificent artist Shuggie Otis, and OH MAN the single below sounds like a Shuggie song. Hope that the whole thing is in this vein. Dig these.
Black Qualls by Thundercat, (with Steve Arrington and Steve Lacy,) from It Is What It Is (2020 Brainfeeder).
Inspiration Information by Shuggie Otis from Inspiration Information (1974 Epic).
Please note that the musical artist is no relation to the master pouncer, Thundercat, who shares space with Judy and me. The name is quite a mouthful, but I love the nickname that our sister, Linda, has given him: Thundy.
Meow meow. Ciao ciao.
19 March 2020
Breezes from the south are intoxicating with the nuzzling promise of springtime. Days shine brighter longer. Occasionally, we walkers of the Great Plains can even move about outside without keeping our shoulders reflexively up around our ears, and we can roam free of the constraints of layers of protective gear. Come, spring!
And talking of throwing out constraints – MUCH LOVE to the artists who resist working within the constraints of a particular genre. They make more exciting songs. Check out these two genre-bending artists.
Archy Marshall is King Krule. He is my dude. On the two singles that you may link below, you’ll hear why there is SO much anticipation for the release on 21 February of his newest, Man Alive! At just 25, London’s King Krule is already a full, growling decade into his recording career.
Marshall keeps listeners off-balance with a thick and woozy swirl of guitar, bass, and electronic effects. His vocal delivery creates constant drama by mixing tons of restraint with sudden bursts of urgency and abandon. It is like watching and listening to someone who is hypnotized. They grab your attention with steady whispers, then in a flash they shake out of their thousand-yard-stare trance, and they give you the loud, wild-eyed meat of a mystical message.
There are elements of jazz, trip hop, and rock, threaded through with King Krule’s own brand of demented lounge. So many great sonic ideas – all of them shrouded in darkness and even danger. (Listen for the 10CC sample in the second tune below.) Dig it.
Alone, Omen 3 by King Krule from Man Alive! (2020 True Panther Records).
(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On by King Krule from Man Alive! (2020 True Panther Records).
The composer/drummer Moses Boyd is also based in London, and he has a wonderful new release called Dark Matter. It is a great example of a jazz artist embracing the possibilities of multiple musical genres. The Guardian calls Boyd’s efforts “cross-pollination,” and “London-hybrid jazz” — those descriptors seem just right. This new record is a powerful cocktail of jazz, dance, afrobeat, grime, and electronica.
Boyd and his players give us highly imaginative, super energetic music. There is a half and half mix of instrumental tracks to tracks that feature vocals. Sounds like the future. Get funky.
Y.O.Y.O. by Moses Boyd from Dark Matter (2020 Exodus Records).
Shades of You by Moses Boyd with vocals by Poppy Ajudha, from Dark Matter (2020 Exodus Records).
Time for a check-in from you-know-who — Our Thundercat instinctively diversifies the genres he works in — refusing to be pigeonholed. He is as comfortable helping with the dishes as he is with laundry, with sweeping, and making beds. Thunder says, “I am not just one thing. A whole host of amazing talents will not be contained.”
Ciao ciao. Meow meow.
20 February 2020
You look like you could use a hug, and Thundercat is here to answer your wish.
Oh, dear lads and dear, dear lassies, ‘tis February on the Great Plains, and this shortest of months, with its still-shortened daylight, typically takes what feels like a long and very cold time to pass us by. Along with your warm embrace from a sweet snuggling kitten, here are some glowing new tunes to help get you through until the bright spring comes. 2020 is shaping up.
Sparkling guitars, lush synthesizers, and pretty vocal harmonies are all wrapped in a fresh swirling breeze of electronic effects. These sounds have characterized the music of Pia Fraus for over two decades. The five-piece outfit from Tallinn, Estonia, have created a lovely, easygoing new entry to their dream pop catalogue called Empty Parks. It has quickly become a favorite from this young year.
The group’s influences, Stereolab, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, are in evidence here. Insistent drumming drives the songs along, and the band continues its experiments with feedback and pedal effects. The assured and soothing sweetness of the vocals are in counterpoint to the urgency of the instruments and the surprisingly playful sonic effects, and they serve to balance the intensity.
Keeping shoegaze vital, check out Pia Fraus.
Some deep grooves are being laid down in Florida. The new act, Flow Ensemble, has a haunting new self-titled release. This is the fine experimental jazz project of the charismatic multi-instrumental artist Chad Jasmine and the superb trumpet player Marcus Parsley. Jasmine, who is also an extraordinary vocalist, has put together Flow Ensemble as a purely instrumental and super vibey exploration of tone. This is a soundtrack for contemplation and reflection, and it stars trumpet and bass guitar.
Jasmine handles the bass, providing a superior, cool rhythmic foundation. The duo share keyboard and drum programming duties. Dipping into comparison, the effect of Parsley’s delicious, meditative brass playing puts the listener in the mind of saxophonist/genius Joseph Shabasen, whose solo work, as well as his work with Destroyer and War on Drugs, has been commended on this page for years. Both players are comparable in that they are always effortlessly elevating the ambience with their amazing fluidity and flow.
Are you looking for something marvelous to play at the cookout or the cocktail party? Check this out and turn your friends on to it. Available on Apple Music, or streamable in its entirety on youtube with the link below.
Flow Ensemble by Flow Ensemble.
My main man and poetic ghost, Dan Bejar, leads Destroyer, and you need to get involved with the group’s latest, Have We Met. This is Destroyer’s best since 2011’s masterpiece, Kaputt, and it will be in heavy rotation around here.
Piano and guitar are often out in front, and complex arrangements provide a platform for Bejar’s elaborate lyrical genius.
Keeping Adult Oriented Rock vital, listen here:
1 February 2020
A century ago, the years of the 1920s roared in and started becoming memorable for flourishing innovations in art, fashion, and style. The era became so deeply influenced by a musical style that it is memorialized in name by that great American invention, Jazz. Just like the Jazz Age a century ago, our 20s have the opportunity to roar instead of bore. It is exciting thinking of what might be next.
So, the new decade has arrived, and before looking fully forward, a little glance backward. Hopefully the music (and this page!) will flourish and roar with wonderful treats for our ears in the 2020s. First though, a little look back at the final year of the teens. I can recommend some great music, and also a couple of worthwhile books that I read in 2019, that both share music as their threads.
Please pick up the beautiful, fascinating, messy 590 page sprawl known as Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz (2018 Spiegel & Grau.)
This is a graphic, photographic, and wordy treasure for fans of the Beastie Boys, (an all time favorite,) yet I also encourage casual readers to treat themselves here. This book is a feast of information, storytelling, and fun visuals. It’s like a little microcosm of what Beastie Boys did so well for so long: they took existing forms of music and remade them into awesome new forms. And they sounded unlike anyone else. So it is with Beastie Boys Book, familiar in its form, (oh, it’s a book alright,) yet so unlike any other book I have ever seen.
They have documented their backgrounds and beginnings, their fame, their influence and their debts, their foibles, their times, and their fuck-ups in glorious detail. The book is also a love letter to their dear friend, beautiful soul, and fellow Beastie, Adam Yauch, who died in 2012. Even just flipping through Beastie Boys Book is entertaining.
Another good music read is Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019 Ballantine Books, 355 pages.) The book is set up like an oral history of the swift rise and blazing success of a (fictional) group of rock musicians who come together to form a legendary band in California in the 1970s. The interview/oral history format works well as a pacing device, (the book really moves along,) and the format is effective for getting the multiple perspectives, opinions, and egos of the vibrant characters involved with the band.
Reid really captures the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll indulgences of times. She also grounds readers in that golden age of California rock that took over the world. And maybe her best trick is making us think of the fictional Daisy Jones and The Six as being as iconic as actual bands and performers like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.
The book is being turned into a 12 part TV series, (it would not be a surprise to learn that the rights were sold before the book was even published,) and I will be tuning in.
And here are a dozen recommendations for listening from 2019, in case you missed them.
Swim Team – EP by Christelle Bofale.
The Age of Immunology by Vanishing Twin.
Placeholder by Hand Habits.
U.F.O.F. by Big Thief.
Deceiver by DIIV.
Quiet Signs by Jessica Pratt (Mexican Summer Records.) Pure witchy magic. Casual, almost effortless-sounding, Pratt mixes her distinctive vocals with folk guitar. Try: This Time Around
SASAMI by Sasami (Domino Records.) Shoegazey at times, great 60-s influences of jazz and pop. Try: Morning Comes
Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend (Columbia.) Brilliantly varied. Masterful. Try: Sympathy
Chastity Belt by Chastity Belt (Hardly Art.) These pretty songs probably logged more time playing in my headphones this year than any others. This group provides superbly laid back, slightly shaggy guitar rock with lovely lyrical self-reflection. Try: It Takes Time
FAVORITES — TWO artists at their individual PEAKS:
Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey. Nearly perfect in capturing it’s weedy southern-California vibe. Her singular lyrical abilities and the production set her apart from the rest of the pack. Just listen to the whole darn thing, ok?
All Mirrors by Angel Olsen (Jagjaguwar.) It has been critically noted that some of Angel Olsen’s songs sound as if they have always existed. Here, she is so confident, so big, and so, so beautiful. Try: All Mirrors
Finally, I wish to introduce readers to Thundercat, our new family member, and probably a regularly featured beast on this page for the future. Meow meow. Ciao ciao.
1 January 2020
Possibly attributable to the great thief and aphorist Oscar Wilde:
“Talent borrows – genius steals.”
It is sometimes surprising when something can trip our tastes and tip the scales of our opinions. What if that something is stolen?
If you’ve liked but not loved Angel Olsen, and you are a wild fan Annie Lennox and her work in the duo Eurythmics with Dave Stewart, prepare for a tripping and a tipping. Olsen’s lovely new work, consciously or not, reaches into the past for a Lennox-y vibe that embodies both nimbleness and strength. Her new album is due this week.
Olsen’s newest singles, Lark, along with the title track, All Mirrors, are already available to listen to. The pairing of her exquisite singing with the huge sweep of cinematic production on the latter song is thrilling.
I love what Sam Sodomsky wrote about Olsen in his Pitchfork review of the song All Mirrors: “Some of Olsen’s songs feel like they’ve always existed—lost country standards or themes from old romantic films…” That seems just right – and in addition to reminders of Annie Lennox in All Mirrors, think of the best James Bond film themes like Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever.
This is so confident, so big, and so beautiful.
All Mirrors by Angel Olsen from All Mirrors out 4 October (2019 Jagjaguwar).
This staggering song of deep longing and the willingness to risk everything to make a human connection will celebrate its 35thanniversary in November. Wow–I love it beyond description.
For the Love of Big Brother by Eurythmics from 1984 (For the Love Of Big Brother) music from the motion picture Nineteen Eighty-four (1984 Virgin).
Another track that is available to hear and also feels like it has existed forever is Haim’s Summer Girl. At first, it seemed like a guilty pleasure pop song, and on repeated listens it revealed itself as a genius reworking of elements from a couple of masterful mega-pop songs: Annie Lennox’s Why, and Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed. There is the propulsive trap and bass line essentially lifted from Reed’s song and modified to move us along. Summer Girl even features a rework of Reed’s signature “doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo” Also, there are the horns and strings that are mixed in David Bowie’s production of Reed’s song. Near Summer Girl’s end, there is an elegantly rapped set of lyrics that are inflected and driving the song in the way Lennox rapped/sang the insistent, familiar pleas of Why.
Summer Girl by Haim (2019 Polydor).
Why by the brilliantAnnie Lennox from Diva (1992 RCA/Arista).
Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed from Transformer (1972 RCA).
1 Oct 2019