I’m only one dude. I essentially have four jobs. I have no idea when I find the time to listen to enough music to come up with 100 favorite tracks. My 2013 playlist contains more than 7 days worth of music. And that doesn’t even count all the stuff I check out on Spotify and dismiss. But even with all that listening, it’s blind, dumb, stupid luck when a certain song catches my fancy. On some occasions, a song is thrust in my face with the force of the 800 lb. mainstream music machine and those songs must endure hundreds of listens. Staying power, m’f’ers. See: Arcade Fire, Daft Punk. Other times I fall instantly in love with a record. The songs grab me immediately. Those are the easy ones. The bands and the songs I control. See: Frightened Rabbit, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Polica. And then there’s that final category. Hearing a song, being in the right frame of mind to accept its advances. You might hear a song a dozen times before it catches you at just the right moment. See: half the songs on this list. For every great song on this list, there are hundreds of equally worthy songs that I just didn’t hear or didn’t hear at the right time in the right place. And to those songs, my apologies. Try harder next time. Everyone else, enjoy the list. Find some new music. Support great artists and music worth listening to and so on and so forth. And keep in mind that the ranking system is just for fun. Any of these songs could movie ten spots in either direction given my mood…
I never get to experience the broadest variety of music. There are only so many hours in the day. I don’t dabble as much as I’d like. 2013 in particular saw me stick pretty close to my favorite genres, micro-genres and retro-notions. And I have to say that for similar minded fans of music, 2013 was a very good year.
The comeback had been festering, just beneath the surface, for a number of years now, but 2013 may finally have brought about a pop music renaissance. I’m not talking about Top 40 – the days that permitted consistently “good” music on the Top 40 charts have long since disappeared. The term “pop music” doesn’t need to be derogatory – it should imply a level of accessibility, not the derivative and over-produced slush we’ve come to associate with the term. The new wave has been inspired by the deep wellspring of 1980’s pop sensibilities. Hall & Oates. Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks. Tears for Fears. The Pet Shop Boys. New Order. Bands that crafted killer jams. Lyrics. A catchy hook. A solid beat.
When I think back to my favorite bands and tracks of 2013 the list is dominated by bands who sought inspiration from the pop music of their youth. 2013 was the year that put craftsmanship back into pop music. In most circles the bands still fall under the indie umbrella, but that term lost most of its luster long ago. It’s been distilled to dozens upon dozens of micro-genres. Indie isn’t so much a style of music as it is an identity. You either listen to “indie” or “Top 40,” but ever so slowly the gap between the two seems to be lessening. So-called indie bands are winning Grammies, topping sales charts and pulling requests on FM radio.
The 30Hz Top 25 Albums of 2013
The Almost Rans:
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold, Arcade Fire – Reflektor, Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe, Danny Michel with The Garifuna Collective – Black Birds are Dancing Over Me, Depeche Mode – Delta Machine, Disclosure – Settle, Grey Reverend – A Hero’s Lie, Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat, Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle, Local Natives – Hummingbird, Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, We/Or/Me – The Walking Hour Continue reading 30Hz Top 25 Albums of 2013
Music, On a Communal Level: An Interview with Bahhaj Taherzadeh (We/Or/Me)
by James David Patrick
We/Or/Me is Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a Chicago-based singer-songwriter that deserves your attention, but he’s pretty okay if he doesn’t get it. Of course, like any artist he wants to find a following that appreciates the work he’s doing, but there’s a grounded realism about his approach to writing and recording music – he understands that he’s one of many talented voices all vying for your fractured attention.
I first corresponded with Bahhaj after posting a small write-up for his first full-length LP Sleeping City on my own music-related blog in 2011. He contacted me via Twitter and thanked me directly for the support. I appreciated the note. After all, I’d been a fan since the first few notes of his debut, the Ghostwriter EP. I just wanted more people to hear this music.
I read through his bio. An Irish-born Iranian. A husband. A father of two twin girls with a modest apartment a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Employee by day, musician by the wee hours of the night. I felt a kind of kinship. This was a regular guy producing extraordinary music, being compared to legends like Leonard Cohen and Scottish folker Bert Jansch. Bahhaj became an inspiration. He was a family man that endeavored to conquer the work/family/creative balance with which many artists struggle, myself included.
But it wasn’t just the endeavor that impressed me; it was also the music. There’s a common thread among critics to describe We/Or/Me’s sound as the music of life’s quiet moments. The songs are reflective and meaningful without forcing the listener to wallow in tales of soul-crushing burden and despair. It’s in his guitar. It’s in his voice. He’s soft-sung and soulful. So when I received notice of his Kickstarter campaign in my email box, I contributed immediately. He followed up with another message of thanks. I suggested an interview based on his experience with Kickstarter, once the whole process had come to completion – the money collected, the record released, praise received. I’ve always been curious how the artist perceives the process of collecting buy-ins from fans and how it changes the creative process. Thankfully, he was enthusiastic about the idea. I began scribbling notes and questions. The first question on my mind was pretty broad. I asked Bahhaj what had attracted him to Kickstarter to help fund his latest LP, and how the experience had benefited him as an independent artist.
“I think art is at its best when it cultivates some sense of community and forges meaningful relationships between people. Some record labels have been able to cultivate that in the past, and some still do, but the vast majority of us independent musicians are just out there doing our own thing so it’s important to find ways to reach out to the people that care about what you’re doing. The crowd-funding thing creates a very direct and personal relationship with the listener because they are committing to your record before hearing it, and that implies a certain level of trust and it elevates the relationship between the artist and the audience. At its most basic, Kickstarter is about money. I need X amount to achieve my goals, please help–but I found that was not really the aspect of it that excited me. The exciting thing was the sense of community that I got from the experience. I have lived in three different countries and I know people all over the world, and thanks to the Internet my music has traveled to a lot of places I’ve never been. When we launched the Kickstarter, and I saw my inbox fill up with all these names from all over the world – some I know, and many who I’ve never met but who have continually supported my music – it was a very moving experience and it was very empowering. So, for me, Kickstarter became a tool in the community-building process, and that was the most significant aspect for me.” Continue reading Music, On a Communal Level: An Interview with Bahhaj Taherzadeh (We/Or/Me)
The holidays are the one time of year that we can and should embrace nostalgia and all of its gooey center. The holiday routines of my childhood remain some of the fondest and most pure memories. As I grew older, of course, those routines adjusted and changed and dissipated. Santa Claus and gift counting, weighing and measuring eventually gave way for the comfort of family, friends, food, the records that get dusted off every year — these things become our traditions. During a certain point I forgot the comfort of these things. It’s not until they’re gone and reappear that we realize the odd, irrational place they hold in our hearts. I hope to share a number of my holiday traditions, both new and old over the next few weeks. Maybe something I write stirs memories of your own favorite family traditions. I’d love to hear yours too. Here are the Essential 30Hz Christmas Albums. Not the best (because let’s be honest here, Christmas music isn’t necessarily around all year for a reason), mind you. Merely the ones I can’t do without.
Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album
I grew up a Star Wars geek. I’ll forever be a Star Wars geek but there are some irrefutable classics on this record such as “What do you get a Wookie if he already has a comb?” And these three minutes of perfection sung by C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2… seriously… perfection. Continue reading The Essential 30Hz Christmas Albums
It’s been awhile since I dished out a new music recommendation but this guy has forced my hand. I loved this record from the first listen, but my esteem has only grown for this debut LP from the Liverpool-based producer/artist Matthew Barnes. I had this record on during a workout the other day– I know, not exactly workout tunes but I couldn’t help myself — and I had to stop what I was doing to listen. How many records do you hear each year that force you to stop… and just get lost in the music? One? Maybe two?
Listen to the Forest Swords LP Engravings and you might just add another to that short list. It’s creeping, lush orchestration with accumulating layers of guitar, low-key loops and simple beats. It’s difficult to shoehorn into any particular micro-genre because just when you feel like you can pin down Barnes’ sound he shifts into something new. It’s glorious. Push play. Now.
Here’s Forest Swords: “Thor’s Stone”
Don’t look now but I also just happened to agree with heartily with a Pitchfork album review. *Gasp* Don’t get too used to the idea. I’m sure I’ll throw up some tirade about their obtuse writing style or championing of atonal noise any day now. Just give me the word, Pitchfork.