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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.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Top 20 Songs of February 2015

It was a 'go big or go home' kind of month for new music in February. Artists were dropping big sounding singles all over the place in preparation to take 2015 by storm with new albums. This could really be an interesting year for music. There's a lot of innovative sounds that have brewing in the underground for a little while now, and finally seem poised, ripe and ready, to break forth fully formed.

First, punk seems ready for a come back, but this isn't your dad's lo-fi, 'fist in the air high above a mohawk' punk or even the stripped down no-fi emotional outpourings of hipsters pretending that they learned their instruments last week. New artists are clearly nodding to the punk aesthetic of noisy guitars while making the most of new production techniques, and being free to explore lyrically outside of the traditional ideology: anarchy and being young bored. With a number of ladies leading this charge, Courtney Barnett is at the forefront. The Aussie's witty, deadpan vocals are one step removed from insane ramblings in the best way possible and come drenched in distortion.

Readers, I think folktronic will become a full-fledged THING this year. This isn't underground per se, since it's genre almost single-handedly invented by Avicii, but as more artists explore the intersection of these two genres it may develop in intriguing ways. As a sucker for house anthems and banjos, I must admit I'm keeping my fingers crossed. New singles from Coleman Hell, a member of the Toronto-based Sideways Collective, are the most promising new additions to the nascent folktronic canon.

If you're more of a electronica purist, and folktronic's got you down, then you may be happy to learn that I'm not the only one predicting a world-wide resurgence of UK garage. NPR Music agrees, and I cannot urge you enough to read this article: A Rational Conversation: Is EDM Easy Listening Now? It's the most intelligent thing I've read about the current state of pop music. If you're looking for new music in the garage vein, I recommend my favorite indie label of late, Black Acre Records. They just released a new album from Romare called 'Projections'.

Besides, folktronic, another guilty pleasure genre I'm not-so-secretly gunning for is electro swing, and this random track I found from Lunchmoney Lewis is seriously hitting the spot. His name says it all. Lighten up and give this fun ditty a try.

Several indie darlings from Alabama Shakes to Unknown Mortal Orchestra are gearing up for new releases, but the one that has me the most excited is Lord Huron. I've been waiting for new music from this LA nu-folk band for 3 years, and 'Fool for Love' did not disappoint. I must see Lord Huron live ASAP, but their shows here keep selling out. (Honorable mention to Murder By Death, who have been going strong since 2000, and just released their 8th full-length that's just as good as ever.)

Finally, Kendrick Lamar is moving away from 4am party anthems, and towards some unapologetic socially conscious rap the likes of which haven't been heard in years. 'The Blacker The Berry' is so blatantly real that it's hard not to hear it as a very loud call for activism. Dead Prez would be proud. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Kendrick Lamar is saving hip hop.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Top 20 New Songs of January 2015

Are ya'll ready for a new year filled with awesome new tunes? January was already chock full o' new songs, which bodes well for the rest of the year before us. Been too busy fulfilling your new year's resolutions to keep track of all these new releases? Fret not!

This year I’m launching a new series with a different approach to music curation. While my love for student radio will forever go on, I get that a lot of my fellow busy millennials don’t have the time to listen to hours of complete radio shows. (Likewise, I do not have time to produce a weekly radio show during this era of my life.) The solution: monthly curated playlists, broken down by song, and easily sharable with friends.

I will select the 20 best newly released songs every month and publish them on this blog as a Spotify playlist. You can listen to the playlist, or just pick a couple songs. Plus, if you hear something you like, you can easily add it to one of your own playlists on Spotify, or send it to a friend. Follow me on Spotify to watch theses playlists evolve in real-time as I add new songs every week.

Without further ado, I proudly present the top 20 new songs of January 2015. We kick things off with a song from Mark Ronson, featuring Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, from Ronson’s star-studded album Uptown Special (it’s a sonic roller coaster for people with broad musical tastes). We also welcome the triumphant return of several artists that have not released new track in awhile including, The Dodos, Sleater-Kinney, and Jose Gonzalez.

Then we start to wrap things up with some electro tracks, several from brand new breakout acts. Discover The Avener, a French deep house producer, and Ibeyi, twin sisters with Afro-Cuban influence. The final cherry on top is “Paper Trail$” from Joey Bada$$ off the album B4.DA.$$, which just might save the future of hip hop while referencing the genre’s illustrious roots.