Staff Picks: Music
Brian Eno once said that there are two kinds of artists; those who influence the general public, and artists who influence other artists. It’s hard to imagine what the landscape of popular music would look like today without the influence of Lou Reed. Lou’s roots with the Velvet Underground helped pave the way for a multitude of others, and his career as a solo artist pushed the boundaries further still.
But even if you’re not a fan of Lou’s work, chances are that one of your favorite artists is. Imagine... had there been no Lou Reed or Velvet Underground, there would likely be no Patti Smith or David Bowie or Iggy Pop. There would have been no Talking Heads, no R.E.M., no Joy Division, no Sex Pistols, or no Television. No Roxy Music or Cars or Dream Syndicate or [insert most any other contemporary artist here]. From the dark streetwise tales of Heroin and Sweet Jane to the stratospheric drone of Metal Machine Music to the full-scale crunch of his collaboration with Metallica (at the age of sixty nine, no less), Lou never failed to push the limits, and the respect he earned among his contemporaries (and fans) is nothing short of astounding.
Thanks to Lou, our world is a much more interesting place. He will be deeply missed.
If you like your music with a bit of country dust on top, that leaves a folksy aftertaste shot through with a rootsy twang and a side of acoustic lyricism and sweet melody, check out these acclaimed musicians and their new and upcoming releases.
Dream River, Bill Callahan
Magpie and Dandelions, The Avett Brothers
Gone Away Backward, Robbie Fulks
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case
About Farewell, Alela Diane
Honky Tonk, Son Volt
Wilderness, Handsome Family
The first time I heard a Porcelain Raft (the project of Mauro Remiddi) song was their contribution to the film Celeste and Jesse Forever; an infectious, electro-pop tune called Drifting In and Out. It's a great song that epitomizes their sound: a mixture of melodic, mid-tempo numbers that are filled with lyricism and sorrow. The singing is rock solid and recalls the anguished melancholy of Jeremy Enigk's work with the band Sunny Day Real Estate. Both albums really hit the spot as the gloomier, Midwestern skies turn gray and leaden. Give it a try.
Washed Out's last album Within and Without was a breezy collection of melodic and tuneful songs bathed in a heavy coat of synthesizers, subtle jabs of electronica and the ocassional sample. Their newest record doesn't deviate much from that template so if you enjoy music that is unpreteniously simple in form, that is beautifully overgrown, whisper-soft and sensual, and that sounds like "daytime psychedelia", this is your band and album.
Every year on January 1st, I start to think about my “Best of…” list that I will be compiling throughout the year. This year is heavily tilted towards music and movies. I’m sure my recommended reading list will grow as the weather grows colder. Here is my ever-expanding list of favorite albums and a few singles that have been released this year.
- Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Self Titled
- Rhye, Woman
- Caitlin Rose, The Stand-In
- Jake Bugg, Jake Bugg
- My Bloody Valentine, mbv
- Smith Westerns, Soft Will
- Eleanore Friedberger, Personal Record
- Washed Out, Paracosm
- Porcelain Raft, Permanent Signal
- Relapse by Chvrches
- Where Are We Now by David Bowie
- Just Make It Stop by Low
- Man by Neko Case
- Life Is Hard by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The third album from the Chicago indie rock band Smith Westerns is a decent collection of very catchy, wistful rock and roll that accentuates their obvious taste for British groups like The Beatles, T-Rex, The Smiths, and Pink Floyd. There is no shortage of big, meaty hooks and gorgeous, synthed out melodies to go around on their newest long player, Soft Will.
The 1980’s produced a plethora of really, terrible music and yet as much musical detritus as should rightly ring the rim of the dustbin of history, there were groups that were visionary and prescient and whose work continues to sound fresh, new and vital today. One such album that if you knew nothing of it, would never guess that it was released in 1987 is the third Love and Rockets’ long player Earth, Sun, Moon. This was not the sound of MilliVanilli or Huey Lewis and the News. Forming out of the ashes of Post-Punk/Goth pioneers Bauhaus, Love and Rockets’ hard to categorize album flows effortlessly through 13 wonderful songs that range from noisy rockers to lyrical folk songs and everything in between. Of course, the haircuts haven't held up as well as the tunes.
Earth, Sun, Moon
Big Star, like many cult bands, only emerged from obscurity to be heralded as power pop innovators years after they had broken up. On the eve of a new documentary that chronicles their short but influential career, find out what the hype is all about by checking out their beautiful mixture of soul, pop, and rock.
Keep and eye on the sky
I wasn’t a huge fan of Vampire Weekend before the release of their third album but I have to admit, I think they’ve hit on something special with their newest, Modern Vampires of the City. Their music is still as erudite and as catchy as ever, but where their early output came across as precious and affected, the new tunes exhibit an abundance of creative skill, lyrical depth and narrative complexity. One of the best albums of 2013, get your ears on it.
Modern Vampires of the city
Yep, she's done it again. Eleanor Friedberger, formerly of the brother/sister duo The Fiery Furnaces has released her sophmore album Personal Record and it's as great as her 2011 debut Last Summer. Friedberger composes quirky, idiosynchratic lyrics that blend seemlessly with her equally unique and recognizable voice. The music is smart, immaculately recorded pop-rock that is both innovative and endlessly catchy. Pick it up and crank it loud.