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Monday, June 29, 2015

Longwood Gardens

If you're ever in Philly (and have access to have a car), you need to make sometime for a picturesque drive out of the city to the rolling fields and shady glens of Chester County. Down Route 1, know to locals as Baltimore Pike, past Brandywine Battlefield State Park and the Brandywine River Museum, home to a large collection of Wyeth family artwork, but before you reach Kennett Square, you'll find Longwood Gardens. Once the private estate and grounds of Pierre S. du Pont, the gardens are now open to the public and in addition to being otherworldly gorgeous, they have fountain shows, theatrical events, and a working horticulture school. When I visited last summer the new edition was a native plant field. While this may not be as stunning as the Italian water garden, I love it because it embodies all that make this area beautiful. This is the land that inspired Andrew Wyeth's paintings. This is what home looks like to me.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Top 20 Songs of May 2015

It's late, but it's here: the Top 20 Songs of May 2015! Sorry for the delay, dear listeners. I've been exploring Mexico on a much needed vacation, and will eventually make it up to you with beautiful adventure photos. Now for your regularly scheduled programming.

Yep, yep, you know that I go
This is me on the regular, so you know

'On The Regular' - Shamir

First up on the top 20 tunes, is Shamir. Don't let his voice fool you. He's burst on the scene this past year with sounds that are both reminiscent of the best that 90s hip hop had to offer and strangely push the limits of the genre. He clearly owns his distinctive voice, and is looking for meaningful things to say with it. Keep an eye on this kid. Hot on his heals are a couple of more upbeat, dance-y tracks to get you in a good summer time mood. There's a new track from the bird and the bee called 'Will You Dance?', which offers a new more synth based sound for this indie pop duo from Los Angeles. Then Goldroom makes it rain with the help of vocals from Nikki Segal in a breezy track appropriately titled 'California Rain'. Up next, brace yourself for the raw talent of filous, a 17 year-old producer from Vienna, Austria. His pure catchy beats on 'How Hard I Try', made especially earnest thanks to guest vocals by fellow Austrian, James Hersey, are almost impossible to for your feet to resist tapping.

Zach Yudin released a couple lovely tracks under the name Oregon Bike Trails, before forming a band with his twin brother Ben called Cayucas. After a couple years of obscurity, Cayucas is finally releasing a full-length album on Secretly Canadian at the end of June. This first single, 'Moony Eyed Walrus', is a fun, rambling song that manages it keep a wide range of sounds cohesively together into something that sounds like a trippy beach day. It is quite promising. Django Django are back with a new album Born Under Saturn, their second release after their lauded self-titled album from 2012. 'Beginning to Fade' is a representative song for the album: their signature psychedelic sound remains, but it seems to have slowed down to take a little time to think. This could be a good thing, and certainly seems to have allowed the band to side step the sophomore slump. Surfer Blood also has a new album, 1000 Palms, and increasingly seem to be channeling Brian Willson, particularly on 'Saber-Tooth & Bone', which is actually making me like them a whole lot more. This is a more mature sound for a band that had previously sounded a little too much like inchoate garage rock jam sessions, and in a way that just did not sit well with me. ALSO, guess what, dear listeners?! Tame Impala is releasing a new album - THANK YOU SWEET MUSICAL GODS. This single 'Eventually' is a masterfully produced journey that bodes very well for the album, Currents, which will be released in July.

The Helio Sequence have released their 8th album, and have finally gotten around to a self-titled effort. These guys have had some ups and downs, but kept at it for 16 years, which is absolutely admirable. 'Stoic Resemblance' is a solid effort on a sold album. Mac Demarco has a new single, 'The Way You'd Love Her', with some truly spaced out guitar that makes his narrative lyrics all the more engrossing. 'Compound Fracture' is off The Waterfall, the seventh studio album from My Morning Jacket, and is a predictably solid effort from these indie veterans. Unpredictably, the new single from Destroyer, 'Dream Lover', is big and brassy with almost nothing in common to his last album besides the signature monotone vocals. It's a pretty brilliant departure, and I love it.

If you have not heard Leon Bridges yet, you need to get on that, like yesterday. In the past year he's released a string of soulful singles that have attracted a lot of attention, gaining his an opening spot for Sharon Van Etten and a deal with Columbia Records. The man sounds like Sam Cooke reincarnate. His songs, like 'River' will rip the heart strings right out of your chest.That's followed by 'Say What' from My Brightest Diamond, an artist I've admittedly been on the fence about. That said, this song has potentially made up my mind for the best. It's a really unusual song with unique guitar riffs and primal rhythmic vocals all layered with bold complexity.

William Fitzsimmons let's us take a softly quiet moment in this playlist with 'Pittsburgh' off an album by the same name, and also where this artist happens to be from. That's what this song sounds like: home, a hearth in winter, sun breaking through the boughs of a favorite backyard tree, and wistful homesickness. This makes way for new music from two of my favorite folk artists. First, The Tallest Man on Earth has finally released a new album, Dark Bird Is Home, and it sounds more like his break out Wild Hunt from 2010 than that bit of a slump that was last album. 'Darkness of the Dream' has that wide open quality that makes it perfect for singalongs on western road trips under big skies. King of banjo and songs that require hand clapping so hard that your hands hurt, Langhorne Slim, has a single with his band The Law called 'Strangers' that also requires whistling along, which I can only see as a plus (even though I can't whistle). It also has some pretty rad organ and horns. This is clearly the kind of song you'd end a set with at a sold out show, and everyone would be joyfully shouting the doo-doo-doos with you.

This playlist ends a little more than eclectic, but please bare with me, dear listeners. Be fearless in your listening. Listen to ALL the music! It's an important part of expanding your ears and your mind. Pokey LaFarge is a fun swing revival artist with southern leanings that perfectly walks the fine line between kitschy and quaint, somehow 'Something In The Water' works. Philly rap legends Jedi Mind Tricks have a new single 'Deathless Light' which has epic string samples and raw, ripping lyrics that sound as fresh as ever. Finally, Brendan Philip is a Toronto-based artist that is laying down some seriously weird sounds that he calls post R&B. This is some next wave shit for a genre that's seriously been needing some reinvention. Give 'The Feels' at least a couple listens and see if it doesn't oddly grow on you.

That's all for this month, dear listeners! June's top 20 songs will be published on time, so be sure and check back in a couple weeks for your monthly dose of new tunes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Top 20 Songs of April 2015

March's top 20 songs playlist was so well received that I felt compelled to try particularly hard on this April's playlist. Perhaps too, with Coachella in full-throttle and SXSW over best-album-of-the-year contenders were released in droves. Or, is it just a celebration of spring? Whatever the reason, I think we can all rejoice that April was a particularly good month for new music. Without further ado, here are the top 20 songs of April 2015.

We kick things off with a new single from Jamie xx, of The xx, who's gearing up to release his debut solo full-length this summer. 'Loud Places' is both big and dreamy, catching summer vibes without seeming trite, which bodes well for his forthcoming album, In Colour, and for the next release from The xx. Keeping it smooth, we move along to 'California Girls', a track from NoMBe, a.k.a. Noah McBeth, a new artist with 90's R&B vocals and contemporary production. With slickly thick bass lines The Knocks get us ready to strap on our dancing shoes with 'Dancing With Myself', which sounds exactly like 4am in NYC after you leave the club and you decide to dance in the middle of the deserted streets instead of catching that cab with your friends -- complete with echoing sax solo.

BUT WAIT! YOU FOUND THE AFTER PARTY! And, you discover this rad new band called Fickle Friends, who sound like all your favorite new wave 80's sounds mashed up into that summer in between high school and college that brimmed with warm possibility. By 6am your mind is buzzing and reality is slipping back and forth between sunrise and sleep, and that's what this kind of trance-y number from veteran house producer, George Fitzgerald, sounds like. The song, 'Crystallise', is off the new album Fading Love and features Lawrence Hart.

While this is where my NYC party analogies end, I'm not sad, because this brings us up to 'Aftergold' by Big Wild in the playlist. I'm going to double down here and say that this is my favorite song on the entire playlist this month. LA-based Big Wild is the second artist to be released on Foreign Family Collective, ODESZA recently launched label, and his sound is infectious. 'Aftergold' is almost impossibly catchy of for a song that melds so many disparate genres: trip hop, electro swing, chill wave, old school hip hop, and more. It's like Flume, Kid Koala, YACHT, and What So Not had a radiant baby. I'm obsessed.

Continuing with confession time, The Japanese House has almost made the top 20 playlist the last two months. I've been on the fence about this artist, who's released a number of singles recently that sound like stream of consciousness dotted with found sounds. The result is a little disconcerting. It's hard to know how intentional the song is, and in a few minutes what starts as singer-song-writer devolves into experimental weirdness that in and of itself isn't necessarily groundbreaking. Still, the pairing is intriguing and The Japanese House remains enigmatic. True music nerds are encourage to explore these singles more, starting with 'Pools to Bathe In'.

Up next, a new single from Son Lux with anthem-like vocals and big booms of distortion appropriately titled 'Change Is Everything'. Followed by 'Destruction' by Joywave of their new album How Do You Feel Now?, which presents a nicely updated approach to indie dance post-punk. Then I quickly switch gears into soul. Allen Stone gives us his new single 'Upside', and solidly joins the ranks of white-men-with-soul who have been liberated by Mayor Hawthorne. It's cool, though. We ain't mad atcha. More soul can pretty much only be a good thing. Which is why the next song is 'Sugar' by Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, which I think I'll affectionately describe as revival soul.

At this point in the playlist my ears are good and ready for some folkiness, so I'm freaking thrilled to present a new song from Good Old War, 'Tell Me What You Want from Me', their first new song in three years. Their last full-length, Come Back As Rain, has been a staple singalong record for me, and I've been yearning for new harmonies from these Philly kids. Plus, this new album of theirs can only mean a new tour, and I highly recommend their live shows as a participatory rollicking good time. There's also new tunes from several other established artists, who also carry the folk banner: 'Zero in the City' by Great Lake Swimmers off their new album A Forest of Arms, 'Burn Card' by The Barr Brothers off their new EP Alta Falls, and 'I Do Not Feel Like Being Good' by Ryan Adams. Adams presents a new sound in this single, a rambling, bluesy, lonesome, story-telling sound, which blows past Bob Dylan to speak to even older roots. I hope we hear more like this from him soon.

I transition the playlist out of quite time with a new single from The Weepies, 'Crooked Smile' off Sirens. After the second listen you'll catch yourself singing along to the doo-doo-doo-dooos on this song that is almost painfully short at 2 minutes and 20 some odd seconds. The Weepies are still so good at capturing all my emo feels that it might be witch craft. This band has been around for 15 years, and still captures all the beautiful awkwardness of teenage love even though their first songs are now old enough to be in high school.

Speaking of things that sound like high school, Girlpool has a new single, 'Before The World Was Big'. This deceptively simple song sounds like your best friend's band in high school, until you consider the pristine production and the artfully layered rounds of chorus that end the song. Then there's new music from Young Fathers, an irreverently driving and buzzing song titled 'Shame'. Finally we finish with 'Mene', a new single from Brand New. Bring the heat. I still stand by my firm believe that every time I start to question whether or not I've grown out of this band they release something new that sounds like exactly where I've grown too. 'Mene' is surprisingly rocking with noodling guitars, and could signal yet another new direction for Brand New, a band that seems to constantly, and almost effortlessly, be in a state of reinvention.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eastern Sierras

Last summer, my boyfriend and I took a long weekend trip to the eastern sierras. We just picked a point on the map that seemed like it had potential, based largely on the fact that it was in a national forest, and that neither of us had been to that region of California before. While plans like this might seem like a crazy roll of the dice, in my experience they more often than not yield the best accidental adventures, and this occasion was no exception.

We ended up camping at North Lake in the Inyo National Forest, just a half an hour west or so from Bishop. It was perfect. We got a permit and went fishing for trout, hung out with the pack ponies by the back country outfitters, and took a short (but steep) hike into the John Muir Wilderness area to see some classic high sierra views. The weather on the east side of the sierras was completely different, and afternoon storms would hurl themselves against the mountain tops and explode in epic storms. These photos catch some of the dramatic light shows that resulted.

The drive up and back to eastern side of Inyo proved to be equally excellent. We left in the evening and camped the night in Red Rocks State Park, waking up to crazy rock formations that looked like they were melting. That morning we drove past Mount Wilson, the highest point in main 48 states, and stared up at snow from the sweltering Owens Valley. We stopped at Manzanar National Historic Site, and had a moving tour of the museum, which documents the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The photos below show the restored original entrance to the interment camp, and a memorial that was erected in the camp's graveyard.

TLDR: Eastern Sierras, quite possibly better than the western side of the range, and certainly less crowded. Plus, a surprising number of hidden gems and things to do.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Top 20 Songs of March 2015

This month's top tunes playlist kicks off with MNEK, a British musician who skillfully blends 90s R&B vocals with poppy electronic hooks and UK garage embellishments. While this talented 20 year-old has been producing top singles for other artists since 2011, this track is off his first solo album, an EP called Small Talk. It's a fine intro for a few more electro leaning songs, including two Swedish dance acts, Kate Boy and PANG!. Followed by the diamond of this set: 'heartsigh' off another eternity, the second full-length from Purity Ring. After a breakout debut in 2012, Purity Ring have neatly sidestepped the proverbial sophomore slump and hit it out of the park with this collection of songs. another eternity is full of high points, and has just enough experimentation to hint at an unfolding artful maturity, budding with the possibility of even greater things to come.

Brits Mt. Wolf and Will Joseph Cook lend a hand in transitioning this playlist towards more organic sounds. Each artist takes a very different route towards minding the gap (horrible pun - couldn't resist). Mt. Wolf explores the quite expanses where forever-echoing synths effortlessly frost over scratchy acoustic guitars, while Will Joseph Cook morphs a classic singer/song-writer opening with increasingly upbeat refrains that spin around in repeating cycles that beg listeners to clap and sway, reminiscent of the structure of more electro-based songs.

Whoa boy, oh boy, listeners! Tap into your inner lonely cowboy,'cause the middle of this playlist is chock-full-o' folksy ballads as slow moving as the muddy Mississippi. Jake McMullen fills wide prairies with sorrowful slide guitars and classic female harmonies before The Milk Carton Kids give a nod to an older California than the one they live in by keenly picking their guitars through a lullaby dedicated to 'Monterey'. Next up is Cam, who I describe with utterly sincere respect as a contemporary mix of Dolly Parton and Jewel with a good dollop of authentic sincerity. She must be hell-bent on making her own unique mark, since she named her EP Welcome to Cam Country. Holly Miranda adds a dash of brash with distorted vocals and a couple of fucks given, which nicely segues into the indie rock portion of the playlist.

Best Coast come roaring back with their new single 'Heaven Sent' of their forthcoming third album California Nights, which is set to release May 4th. There's something very retro at the heart of this band that's so obscured by contemporary hipster-ism, the thick blare of Silverlake, I can't quite put my finger on it. I spent a good bit of time listening to songs from previous decades trying to identify it, and only ended up coming up with vague references... Best Coast sounds like the movie 10 Things I Hate About You when Kat is intro'ed with 'Bad Reputation' by Joan Jett... or if SoCal pop-punk bands of the early oughts had female singers and went to Coachella. Whatever this je ne sais quoi, I can't stop listening, so it must be working.

Drenge plows into the playlist with youthful anarchy drenched in grunge and apathy. The two-piece band (I'm such a sucker for two-pieces) is made of of brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, who set a relentless driving tone to 'We Can Do What We Want' that can probably only truly be appreciated live in the heat of shoving bodies and screaming throats with fists raised high above a throbbing crowd. Unfortunately all their tour dates are in Europe as of right now. Next up is 'Ondine', a new song from Lower Dens with some delightful nu-wave influences, off an album of the same name. Followed by new music from those venerable indie kings, Modest Mouse. As a stalwart fan of their first full-length released almost 20 years ago (jeeeeeezzz I'm getting old), I'm happy to report that Modest Mouse appear to have come full circle and returned to sounds that harken back to their humble beginnings with Strangers to Ourselves.

With thick bass lines Warpaint and Toro Y Moi begin to jazz things back up each with their own uniquely arty signature sounds. While I've appreciated Chaz Bundick's many musical outfits, I must say it's nice to hear him back as Toro Y Moi. No one blends hallmark funk sounds so originally with the bleeding edge of whatever chillwave is doing this week, and 'Buffalo' is no exception.

I'm proud to say this month's playlist finishes strong with some soulful tunes from old heads and new kids on the block. Is soul coming back? YES, PLEASE! Oddisee has a new single called 'That's Love' that digs deep into my marrow with bold horn sections, classic organ sounds, and rapid rhymes. New on the scene is Lion Babe, the duo of multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goodman and singer-songwriter Jillian Hervey. Hervey sounds like Erykah Badu and dresses like Chaka Khan, add to that the gold sheen of Pharrell producing this single, and it's clear that Lion Babe is sure to blow up soon.

Still it will be decades before these newbies can compete with venerable dame, Mavis Staples, who shows no sign of slowing down in the 7th decade of her iconic career, and just released a new single 'Your Good Fortune'. This song is burgeoning with the kind of blues that only wisdom and experience brings. It tears at your soul while dripping in the pure human emotions that elicit knee-jerk empathy. To end on a high note, I close this month's top 20 songs playlist with some rollicking licks from Anderson East in 'Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em'. Recommended if you sometimes wish Mayor Hawthorne would step away from the Jackson-Five-puppy-love shallows and go for a deep dive a la The Temptation with 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' #realtalk.