concentrated awesome: recent song obsessions, part 2

August 27th, 2010

Jonsi @ Coachella, by Natalie Kardos
Jonsi @ Coachella by Natalie Kardos

This is a continuation of part 1 of my recent song obsessions. Just a bunch of great songs that have been running through my head over the last few months.

  • Paul Jacobson & the Madison Arm – Six O’Clock News (mp3) (unreleased, band website)

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    Heather turned me on to this song. A cover of the Kathleen Edwards original, it stunned me. Built in a heartbreaking narrative, it’s so melancholy and yet so beautiful. It’s a great arrangement with near perfect harmonies.

  • Jonsi – Hengilas (mp3) (buy)

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    From my first listen through Jonsi’s Go, I was obsessed with this. The big, open, gently moving chords–like something from Copland’s Appalachian Spring[1]–are gorgeous and welcoming. I can’t understand the lyrics, but the vocals move me as if I understand them. Just a fantastic ethereal song that leaves me wanting to hit repeat at the end of every listen.

  • We Were Promised Jetpacks – It’s Thunder & Lightning (mp3) (buy)

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    Deep inside of me somewhere there’s still a bit of High School Adrian, still listening to Seam and Sebadoh’s Bakesale, still a bit angry and still with plenty of angst. That part of me loves this song, from the first guitar notes to the Scottish brogued vocals to the build up and strong, huge guitars and fast strumming to the way the song winds down with an almost whimper. The secret is, the rest of me loves it too.

  • S. Carey – In the Dirt (mp3) (buy)

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    After NPR started streaming this album from Bon Iver’s former drummer I listened to it a few times. Initially I was a bit dismissive; “sounds like he’s trying too much to be like Bon Iver.” But it’s grown on me, particularly the beautiful moments in songs like this. This song, in fact, chocked full of them. It manages to be complex, interesting and beautiful all at once. In the end a song like this draws as much from minimalists like Steve Reich as it does Bon Iver.

  • Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart (mp3) (buy)

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    This song, the final track from Zevon’s final album–the album he knew was going to be his last–is almost begging to be called cheesy. The sentimental repeated refrain, the simple structure. But it’s not. Even after so many listens it can make me feel like someone tied a rock to my heart. On a more technical note, the tres solos are a really nice touch to the arrangement.

[1] Or, perhaps “Prarie Night (Card Game at Night)” from his Billy the Kid

concentrated awesome: recent song obsessions, part 1

August 23rd, 2010

scott of frightened rabbit

To be continued in part 2, Just because I don’t do a weekly column on song obsessions anymore doesn’t mean I don’t listen to songs obsessively. These are just some of the songs that have burrowed their way into my ears in the past few months.

  • Carissa’s Wierd – Die (mp3) (buy)

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    It’s difficult to describe what makes this song so obsession-worthy but it’s a song that I’ve listened to dozens of times in the last few months first alone as a promo mp3 download and then as part of of the newly released Carissa’s Wierd compilation They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996 – 2003. Maybe it’s the layers of instruments and vocals. Maybe it’s the hypnotic way the instruments loop that draws me in. Maybe it’s the slow breakdown. Who knows why, but I know what: it’s good.

  • Lushlife – Meridian Sound [Part One] (mp3) (buy)

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    I’ve really been enjoying Lushlife’s Cassette City which I decided to check out after rewatching some of his acoustic hip hop covers. This is a favorite. There’s something particularly compelling about the juxtaposition of the subdued music with the sharp rhythms of his rapping.

  • Guided by Voices – Game of Pricks (mp3) (buy)

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    Some people missed “Web in Front”; in the indie rock cannon I somehow missed “Game of Pricks”. After a friend recommended Owen Pallett’s lovely and somewhat goofy cover of it, I checked into the original and I’ve been listening to it tons since. It’s classic classic indie rock; a perfect representation of ’90s indie rock in my mind.

  • Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – Home (mp3) (buy)

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    After I heard a snippet of this in Community, I found that it was by one of those buzz bands that perhaps I’d unfairly written off. Certainly a catchy song–I listened to it 33 times in the first week–but the part I really like is the beginning, the whistling over the straight-beat kick drum.

  • Frightened Rabbit – Nothing Like You (mp3) (buy)

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    This is not as much of an ear worm as the others but it’s been the song I’ve listened to most over the last three months. “This is a story // and you’re not in it uh huh” is as fantastic an opening line as I know of. And it’s a great song with a buoyant chorus.

Stay tuned for part 2.

great retro soul and funk: kings go forth + sharon jones

August 19th, 2010

Sharon Jones Outside Lands
Sharon Jones @ Outside Lands, photo by Natalie Kardos

I have no never-ending mental catalog of soul but I know my stuff–my collection includes all of Stax’s and Motown’s singles from 1959-1968 among other stuff. It makes me happy when I hear a new artist doing soul right, like Mayer Hawthorne, Raphael Saadiq or Candie Payne.

In the last few months, I’ve heard two albums that I really think have done soul and soul-funk right–it’s soul that’s authentic but still fresh and invigorating. It pays tribute without being a cheap imitation. They’re both thoroughly enjoyable for many hours of listening.

The Kings Go Forth (myspace) are from Minnesota Milwaukee. A ten-piece soul and funk outfit, they’re not the standard sort of band coming up right now, but, man, is The Outsiders are Back a fantastic album. From the upbeat and almost exuberant opener “One Day” to the hard-swinging, hard-hitting, falsetto-voiced ballad “Fight With Love”, it’s a worthwhile listen.

Kings Go Forth – One Day (mp3) (buy)

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You can get another track from KEXP or preview the whole album.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings (myspace) are an established band by this point, playing big venues and festivals from coast to coast. While their previous albums (like 2007’s breakout One Hundred Days, One Hundred Nights) were enjoyable, the recently released I Learned the Hard Way is the first, I feel like, that sounds right. Though the songs don’t all sound alike, it’s stylistically similar in a way that transports me; there were multiple times that songs from the album came on and I thought I was listening to some ’60s b-side. “Better Things to Do” has a nice swagger and melody to it, while the title track could have been a Stax single from that time.

My favorite track, though, is the closer, “Mama Don’t Like My Man”. The simple, distorted guitars under the anguished lead vocals and back-ups reminds me uncannily of ’60s soul gospel numbers. I often thing an acoustic session with a modern indie pop band will tell you if they actually have good songs, so does this song reveal that Jones and Co have good songs and plenty of style.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Mama Don’t Like My Man (mp3) (buy)

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You can grab the title track in exchange for your email address or hear more at their myspace.