Welcome to February 17th. It’s pretty much President’s Day Eve already. If hearing President’s Day Eve doesn’t feel sobering, I congratulate you on being a stone-cold rock in a hail-storm. But about the music.
I’m scrapped for time, but seeing as how I’m trying to be consistent in recommending top-notch tunes week after week after week I can’t take Week 4 off. Maybe Week 12 but not Week 4. Especially considering that I’ve spent most of the day with headphones in my ears and half-listening to everyone around me. It would be a disservice to everyone I’ve ignored today if I didn’t post my new release findings.
As always, music fans, share good music. It’s one of our few pure joys, a renewable resource of life blood and energy. Music, you guys. #NotSoDeepThoughts
30Hz New Music Radar: Maggie Rogers – Now That the Light is Fading EP
Maggie Rogers teased us last year with the song “Alaska.” Just the one song. Something to whet our whistles. And just like that first sip of whiskey, we shuddered. Not the bad kind of shudder. The good kind. The kind that just gets us acquainted with this new, bold flavor. But that’s all we had — that first sip.
Today, Maggie Rogers released an LP. So it’s not a full glass; it’s a larger sample. A fingerfull, perhaps. And it’s as good as we hoped. Her bio suggests a merging of folk, dance, pop, whatever. These bios don’t do anyone justice. Maggie Rogers has soul. No. She has SOUL. Singer/songwriters more often than not could be lumped into categories like “pleasant” or “cloying” or “annoying.” It’s all too easy to dismiss their output as ephemeral twee. Not so with Maggie Rogers. Unless I’m unfairly falling over myself about five tracks, Maggie Rogers is one of the most exciting young artists in music.
Legend has it that Maggie Rogers wrote her breakout hit “Alaska” about a hiking trip in college with Pharrell Williams… in under 15 minutes. Legend also has it that Pharrell was moved to tears after first hearing the track. Those legends are tricky things.
Let’s boil Maggie Rogers down. She’s a banjo-laced electro-soulstress and you should listen to everything she’s ever released, which will take you all of 17 minutes.
Welcome to February 10th of the year we all turned to Tom Waits and whiskey for comfort.
Our psychological well being has taken a hit, but our attention to new music doesn’t have to. Good music, in fact, is the thing we all desperately need. I sift through the dozens of new releases each week trying to find you a few albums worth your time so you don’t have to sift through all the riff raff for that one record that hits your own personal frequency.
Many of you have asked about my evaluation methods. Okay, nobody has asked. But I’ll tell you anyway.
“Surely you can’t listen to all of these records in one day!”
Indeed. That would be impossible. I sample tracks 2, 4 and 7 on each record. If I like what I hear then I go back for more.
“Why 2, 4 and 7?”
Based on a scientific study — me listening to records all my life — tracks 2, 4 and 7 provide the best cross-section of any album. Go ahead. Try it on your favorites. Track #1 is showy. It’s meant to be ear candy. Or it’s meant to be an introduction. Either way, it’s not helpful. Tracks #2 or #4 are almost always the money track. #7 is the B-side sample. If there’s a hidden gem on the flipside, odds are it’s #7.
“Doesn’t this mean you also miss some good stuff?”
No more questions.
Stay tuned for more riveting 30Hz Q & A in future installment of New Music Radar.
30Hz New Music Radar: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
Imagine if Alice Liddel of Lewis Carroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice, Through the Looking Glass performed art-pop as an indie singer-songwriter.
I’ve been a big Jesca Hoop fan since her 2010 debut Hunting My Dress. Her sophomore record Kismet became an essential record and goddammit just buy her stuff. I’m ecstatic to announce Memories Are Now as my Radar pick for this week.
At first listen, take in the face-value pop sensibility. Off-kilter and somewhat askew, but still inherently pleasurable. With your second listen, dig deeper — immerse yourself in the layers of orchestration as they rise and fall, teasing minimalism, and how her voice plays in and around the cadence of her songs. Memories Are Now resists easy interpretation. Not as accessible as Hunting My Dress or Kismet, it challenges the listener, at least at first. Stay here awhile, it says. Linger here. Come down the rabbit hole.
Partake of the Eat Me cake and the Drink Me potion. You’ll be glad you did.
Sample tracks:Memories of Now, The Lost Sky, and Songs of Old
I’ve had this Zatoichi Criterion box set on my shelf. It’s a very pretty box set, filled with lots of movies, 25 to be exact. After procuring the set for Christmas some years ago, I watched the first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi. What a superb film!
And then there was silence.
I don’t have an explanation. I just have SHAME.
So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 1
Last year for my Cinema Shame, list I vowed to complete the set. The 24 other Zatoichi films. This in addition to my regular allotment of SHAME. It might come as no surprise that I failed in this endeavor. But this is a new year, with new lists and new motivation. I’ve made certain promises to myself. That I will watch more, read more, write more. I promised to be better to myself and ignore the noise that has distracted me from doing the things I love. Noise is the urge to pick up my phone for no good reason and scroll through social media bullshit. Noise is a DVR filled with episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I haven’t actively wanted to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory in years.
For January, I began my journey (and my 2017 Shame) through this Zatoichi set once more. To make this exercise more manageable, I’ll break the massive word-spewing down into a few different posts. I’ll watch four Zatoichi movies per month and leave my thoughts here for you to consider.
Gawkers consider the lowly masseur/legendary swordsman in The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)
The first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi, showcases a potent character study about the friendship between two warriors (with elevated moral codes) on opposite sides of a clan dispute. Light on swordplay, long on philosophy — but effective at establishing the cavernous division between the moral right and the moral wrong with a conservation of action and language. Our blind, pacifist swordsman vs. a world of human ugliness.
Another rotten week of the upside-down. But at least we have Besty Devos. God save you, Betsy, for giving us all hope. Hope that in this brave new world, nobody is unqualified for any job. Like just today I decided I’d become Nickelback’s new tour manager. One would have though that my well-documented tweets about how Nickelback’s music causes hemorrhaging in deaf children would have precluded me for consideration! But thanks to Betsy Devos, I’m convinced that my constant attempts to undermine the terror that Nickelback has brought to the general populace in now way prevents me from becoming the person most in charge of Nickelback’s career. In fact, before coming here to tell you about some amazing new music (that’s not made by Nickelback), I stopped over at LinkedIn to declare my candidacy for the position.
And when I get the job, for which I’m totally qualified, I’ll have to stop writing all this nonsense and start on my memoir — On the Road with Nickelback: Aural Regurgitation and the Blood of Bleeding Baby Brains.
Anyway, while we wait for that, let’s check back in with the New Music Radar. This was supposed to be the week we all got time to digest the handful of solid records that came out last week. But what ho?!? No rest for the weary. The first week of February has offered up a trio of records that require your attention.
Sampha’s first full-length LP Process had been on my list of most anticipated records of 2017 after his track “Blood On Me” stormed onto my Best of 2016 list. Sampha Sisay — singer/songwriter, keyboardist and go-to producer for Drake and Beyonce — blends pop and R&B with subtle, almost seamless electronic production. His soundscapes envelop the listener, yet his vocals are present but largely unremarkable. They hover in a narrow but well-trodden band of traditional, breathy soul singers. That would normally be a criticism, but Sampha uses this predictability to his advantage. Note how he uses his upper range on “Blood On Me” to shake the listener’s cobwebs of complacency, inspiring a “call to action” or more appropriately a call to intent. Conscious music appreciation relies on intent. To be present and accountable. Divided attentions account for the majority of our listening. Which is why I’ve returned to vinyl as my preferred listening source.
After “Blood On Me” switch gears and sample stripped-down Sampha on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” It’s a moving portrait of family and nostalgia. He again uses his upper range to float his chorus along with the notes on the piano before again bringing both down a level for the verse.
Just when you think you’ve got the artist pinned down midway through the record, he increases the electronic production, adding blips and bloops for tracks that would likely normally linger as tossaway B-sides on a lesser record. The more overt production causes the listener to adjust and recondition. Process grounds the listen, reminds of the importance of intent and consideration. It will no doubt hang on to become one of the finest records of 2017.
Sample tracks:Blood On Me, (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, Incomplete Kisses
We’re living in a world of the waking nightmare. We can’t wake up. It won’t go away. The upside-down time. The boogie-monster in the emperor’s clothes continues to disassemble forward progress. If we keep marching backward, slipping against time, we’ll soon be back in the 1950’s. And as much as that thought haunts me… at least there’ll be good music. I could see all of those original icons of jazz up close with a glass of gin in hand. We could witness the birth of rock and roll, like Marty McFly. Believe in harmony. Believe in the power of time travel to fix all that ills us. We’re in the future with the Gray’s Sports Alamanac.
Silver linings, I suppose.
I had this week marked as a prime-choice release week. January 27th did not disappoint. Though I found myself facing four fantastic records, all worth your time and needing to pick just one. And quite honestly, I’m still digesting some other releases that weren’t even on my radar at all. Those sleeper picks that will reveal themselves as the year carries on, ceaselessly.
Julie Byrne is a bit of an anomaly. A singer-songwriter with bombastic, breathy range. She can scar and she can heal simultaneously. One minute she’ll drop down into fragile, seductive Julie London come-hitherness before pulling herself gradually up, up, up, hope breaking through the haze of modern disillusion and moral distrust. The power of her voice overcomes, a fragile warble warm enough to remind you that she’s indeed a human folk singer and not an ethereal being waiting for her call back to her mothership docked in the Horesehead Nebula.
I cannot recommend this record more highly — which is why I’m placing this record at the top of your listening pile. Ahead of the new Cloud Nothings (which disappointed), ahead of the new Japandroids (which did not), ahead of — yes, indeed, the new Bell Biv Devoe (which just exists and that’s pretty cool).
Julie Byrne will seduce you. When you fall in love and stop listening to other records, I’m sorry.
Sample tracks:Follow My Voice, I Live Now As a Singer, All the Land Glimmered
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.