If you’re looking to add a little healthy competition to your and your (other music nerd) friends’ day, look no further. Esquire has made a quiz that ranks your “music IQ” by seeing if you can match a song with its album cover, and it’s definitely worth fifteen minutes of your time. Check it out here:
For a good chunk of my life as a music consumer, I’ve described my taste as “anything but country.” I’m not sure where this antagonistic view comes from. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a region where country music dominates the airwaves. Maybe it’s my general aversion to corn. Maybe I’ve just pigeonholed myself as an urban elitist liberal and am the reason Hillary lost the election. Who knows.
All of this is to say that I’ve been making an effort to diversify my music library, and venturing into the world of country has been a major part of my journey. Along the way I came across the work of Loretta Lynn. She’s got some pipes, and her tunes are catchy enough that I’ve started humming honky tonk under my breath. “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” has been a repeat offender in this regard. Anyone who’s got a bone to pick could get some satisfaction from singing the chorus out loud.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Byrds ever since my idealistic high school days, which is why I’ve been kicking myself for not listening to Gene Clark’s masterpiece of an album No Other until a few days ago. Since then I’ve been playing the album on repeat, and the grandiose sounds permeate the mundanity of my days with a brilliance I haven’t felt since first hearing the Dead’s American Beauty. “Life’s Greatest Fool” kicks off the album with Clark’s country croon, jangly guitars, a lofty choir. The upbeat tune moves you to perceive your surroundings with rose-tinted glasses, engendering a need for sun soaked road trips while this song blares in the background.
At a first listen, the grandiosity of the production can feel overdone, the lyrics pretentious in their sweeping statements; however, Clark’s delivery subdues the whole thing. He doesn’t give us a concrete perspective on life. He admits that “words can be empty though filled with sound/Stoned numb and drifting, hard to be profound.” And despite this the lyrics are rife with profundity in humbling ways. It’s a song full of questioning, Clark’s unique outlook bundled in the guise of genuine curiosity, open ended and unsure.
Angel Olsen’s stage presence left the audience in the Gothic Theater silent. You could hear a pin drop as she crooned out notes from many hits of her newest album, “My Woman”. At first one could look around the theater wondering why everyone got the memo to act as a phalanx of statues staring straight ahead. But it was not that the crowd wasn’t enjoying themselves. Following their gazes it was not difficult to figure out why; and fall under Angel’s spell and be captivated by her stage presence. Although Angel sounded amazing on stage, her presence was one of the best aspects of the show. She had the complete attention of everyone around, I think even her bandmates had stars in their eyes.
Her set lasted around an hour, where I was left hungry for more (of course) but I knew it wasn’t the end. Soon to follow was one of the best encores I have seen in a while. Featured was an amazing cover of Motel’s “Total Control” and after being subject to that I can’t think of one person in the audience who wasn’t obsessed with Angel.
Just wanted to say a quick happy birthday to one of the most soul-touching, delicately constructed albums of all time –– Elliott Smith’s Either/Or turns 20 today. Speaking (with no authority whatsoever) on behalf of thousands of angsty teenagers and disappointed adults, I want to say thank you to Elliott Smith on this album (as well as some others) for being able to evoke such a wide range of emotions, most stemming from melancholia, in slightly over (or under) three minutes. The expectations for the power that music can have on emotions have shifted a lot in the last twenty years, and we definitely owe some of that shift to Either/Or. If you have a spare three minutes today, pick any song from the album below, hit play and dissolve a little bit.
“Multi-love” is the colorful title track of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s latest album. It’s about a polyamorous relationship, a subject that intrigues me but is rarely explored (from what I know) in music, or even generally talked about. Lead singer and songwriter Ruban Nielson articulates the confusing challenges that polyamorous love poses to his concept of conventional relationships and gender roles with lines like “She don’t want to be a man or a woman/ She wants to be your love” and “We were one, then become three,” singing with an anxious sense of urgency in spite of his playful lyrics. I also love his voice, which is a sort of terra cotta brown and has the consistency of wet clay.* Give it a listen!
When I was about 11 years old, I heard my sister playing a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song (I think it was Runaway) and instantly felt shivers rush down my spine –– the vocals were so haunting, so beautiful; they struck me right to my core. I spent the rest of the day downloading their music off LimeWire (those were the good old days of torrenting). To my disappointment, when I listened to the rest of their music, I found myself at an odds; I felt addicted to the vocals, but could not quite get down with the slightly too aggressive lyrics and drum beats in most of their songs. Thus, with a void in my heart, I put the Yeah Yeah Yeahs away to never be revisited again… Until a faithful day in 2014, when my then-boyfriend and I went to see Her at the cinema. Once again, I heard that captivating voice, except this time it wasn’t screaming at me to dance till I’m dead; it was almost whispering to me, in tones that, for me, matched the singer’s voice perfectly, about love. Later that day, my void was finally able to be filled with Karen O’s solo tracks; here is a beautiful example of the kind of enchantment her voice holds.
One of my favorite sounds in the world is that of the vibraphone, a lesser-known jazz percussion instrument. When I hear it I see* small, luminescent, neon green (a color I’ve never seen in any other sound) orbs that tumble over each other like marbles and constantly swell and contract.
“Bag’s Groove,” composed by vibraphonist Milt Jackson and first recorded in 1952, is a 12-bar blues track with a catchy head comprised of descending notes. It features lively solos by Milt Jackson, alto-saxist Lou Donaldson, and pianist John Lewis. I personally go for the first and less famous recording because it’s concise, its pace is brisker, and (of course) because it has more vibraphone.
For the famous version, check out the Miles Davis Quintet’s recording. This track feels cleaner and more spacious in contrast to the rushed vibe of the original recording, probably because it’s eleven minutes long and has a more laid-back pace. And while Milt Jackson (who was part of the quintet) has a strong presence, it’s definitely more horn-heavy.
Here’s a rough illustration of the song:
A recent favourite of the internet’s music critics, Sampha has previously featured on songs from Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, Drake’s Nothing Was The Same, and one of my favourite electronic albums, SBTRKT’s SBTRKT. The song below, off his new album Process, sounds reminiscent of James Blake in Sampha’s more soulful voice, and of Joni Mitchell in the melancholy evocativeness of the lyrics.
If this song is up your alley, I encourage you to check out the whole album –– while Sampha is very versatile, his stunning voice weaves a thread from beginning to end.
Surreal electrifying energy. “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” is a hypnotic track on Electric Music for the Mind and Body, an album full of psychedelic strangeness. I cannot get over the seamless switches from bluesy garage rock to soaring, euphoric organ that pervade the song. Take a listen.