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
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.