Your Civic Duty: Record Store Day

I think this might my longest radio silence since I began this blog almost 2 years ago. (Holy crap! Has it been so long?) Suffice it to say that spring has sprung and the day job is positively humming away like a steam locomotive heading straight for a bridge that is no longer there (read: no end in sight and picking up speed). Add to this the bitter reality that my brain has simply not been cooperating enough lately to even contemplate putting my fingers to a keyboard outside of work and you have the complete recipe for a silent blog. (I know, excuses, excuses! Whine, whine, bitch, bitch, etc.) But what, you may ask, could possibly be so important that I would attempt to overcome my stifling writer’s block on a sunny spring day after a long day at work. Only one thing my friends: your civic responsibility.

Yes, just like it is the duty of every American citizen to vote, to help wayward turtles across the street to safety, and to wave at your friendly neighborhood crossing guard, you have the duty to support your local, independent small business owners in mid-April. And not that creepy hole in the wall storefront that sells crabs. No, no, I mean the ones who will sell you that new Vampire Weekend album you’ve been jonesing for. That’s right, folks! Saturday, April 20th is Record Store Day (my very favorite secular holiday!)

If the next question bursting from your lips is, “What the heck is Record Store Day?” then obviously you’ve had your head stuck in the clouds. Well never fear, my dear deprived readers, for all will be explained with my handy-dandy Record Store Day fact sheet:

What: Record Store Day
When: Saturday, April 20th (all 4/20 jokes unspoken)
Time: All day
Where: Participating venues in every state and most cities. Click here to check your local listing.

But the most important question is why? In the modern world, music is available everywhere, sometimes even for free. All you have to do is grab a computer or IOS device, punch a few keys, and music is practically thrown at you. No muss, no fuss, no dragging your butt down the street, no shirt or shoes required. But also… no soul, no joy, no heart. Some of my happiest memories are roaming the miles of aisles in record stores; walls crammed with posters; teenagers running loose in the stacks; brushing elbows with both young and old, black and white, hipster and redneck. And there is no substitute for riffling through piles of albums, finding that one that you absolutely HAVE to have, plunking your money down on the counter, and rushing home to listen to it before your heart rate returns to normal. It is an experience that fewer and fewer people are having these days and–in my opinion–that is just downright tragic.

Heed my warning! Don’t wait! Make the pilgrimage to your local record store before it is too late. Grab that album you’ve been meaning to pick up, peal back the plastic, pop the disc into the nearest player, and savor your musical good fortune while you still can. As a bonus, you’ll also be helping support a local small business owner. Your local chamber of commerce will thank you for doing your part to keep the economy alive. It is your duty as a citizen of [insert country name here]. Oh come on, you know you want to! All the cool kids are doing it!

And to help you get your brains in gear (and mine), here’s just a few of the bands that I intend to search for this weekend. Enjoy!

TRAILS AND WAYS

Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
[Technically this one is a remix, but it is brilliant, so listen to it anyway!]

Tinted Windows

The Flaming Lips

Tegan and Sara

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Pennsylvania Recharge

Continuing with this year’s theme, my life is a freaking whirlwind. So much to do and never enough time to do it in. For that matter, so much to write about and even less time to sit down at the computer. It’s the same old excuses with me these days, my poor neglected readers. But it hasn’t been all bad and I promise I’ll fill you in on some of my recent adventures… eventually.

For the moment though, I am carefully blocking it all out in favor of my impending journey into the backwoods (relatively speaking) of Pennsylvania. My husband and I are heading up there for a little unofficial grad school reunion with some dear friends. It’s going to be a positively jam-packed weekend of sleeping in, cooking, watching movies, talking until we can’t talk anymore, and (most importantly) laughing. Who knows what kind of shenanigans we might get up to? Oh yes, dear readers, it’s going to be nothing but non-stop action. Hell, we might even go to a bar!

And you have no idea how much I am looking forward to this. I can’t even put into words how much I need this. These are some of my favorite people in the world, who for all intents and purposes became my family while I trudged my way through grad school in the frozen wilds of downtown Boston. It’s going to be glorious and it is putting me in mind of some party music. As you would expect, I am the defacto DJ at these shindigs and I am already combing my collection for appropriate tunes to share.

In that vein, I leave you tonight with Polite Dance Song by The Bird and the Bee. This lovely little California synthpop duo really knows how to pour on the irony. I particularly love the contrast between the lyrics and subdued sound of Inara George’s vocals. This is a band that I really love and honestly they deserve far better treatment from the likes of me. But while you’re waiting for me to write something more substantial on this pair (good luck with that by the way), why don’t you check out this video?

Polite Dance Song by the Bird and the Bee

Whatever gets you through the night

Holy smokes! My life currently resembles a working case study in insanity. It feels like I am swimming upstream these days with a whole laundry list of stuff to tackle trailing behind me, which somehow never seems to get any shorter. Between taking on a load of extra responsibilities at work, prepping for 2 plane trips and 1 road trip, staring down the barrel of another birthday, valiantly (read: vainly) trying to get/keep my house clean, and desperately trying to find time to write, I am beat. And with the changing of the seasons literally happening as I type, I know that if I am not careful, I could have a really bad Fall… and don’t even get me started on the upcoming holiday season. It doesn’t even bear contemplating. *sigh*

What can I do but keep moving? For now at least, it is full steam ahead around here and in light of this I would like to present to you a little playlist. I think I’m going to call it my Holy Crap! Mix. If it has a frenetic beat and some unstoppable energy–mixed liberally with a sense of desperation–then it belongs here. Please enjoy!

Whatever Gets You Through the Night, John Lennon

(Probably the closest thing to disco he ever did, but don’t be discouraged!)

Excuse Me Mr., No Doubt

(My very favorite. Gwen Stefani will mess you up!)

I Hear Noises, Tegan and Sara

(From my favorite Canadian twins. When I am frustrated and tired, I literally can’t play this song loud enough. )

Forever Yellow Skies, The Cranberries (Live in Detroit, 1996)

(Blistering guitars and drums not withstanding, just watch lead singer Dolores O’Riordan’s blur of an arm as she plays rhythm guitar.)

Paper Romance, Groove Armada

(Rather awkward video, but amazing song.)

Out of My Head, The Black Eyed Peas

(The moment I hear that base line, I literally breathe a sign of relief. Best sonic release valve I know.)

This is a list destined to grow. If you have any suggestions for additions, please drop me a comment and let me know.

Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica

I have to admit that I was rather tempted to simply post a review on some album or something and not comment on my radio silence during the last month at all. But then I thought, where is the fun in that? And I had absolutely nothing in the pipe line beyond a few vaguely scribbled ideas… so here we are then.

There are many excuses I could give for this lapse in activity. Insanity at work in the form of an archival collection more complicated than initially expected is a great excuse and has the advantage of being fairly accurate. Exploring the possibility of some new opportunities could be another. And of course we can’t forget that old stand-by: sickness. I had a really pesky cough that stuck around long enough to evolve into a full-fledged, anti-biotic-resistant case of bronchitis, which plagued me for the better part of two months (news flash kids: inhalers suck when you can’t stop coughing at 3am). That might have had something to do with it. And then there is the possibility that when an old friend from back in the day flies 2/3 of the way across the country just to see little old me, I could be a bit distracted while in hostess mode. And I won’t even dignify that unspoken question on your lips that concerns that most feared of all conditions for a blogger (*cough* writer’s block *cough*) with anything more than snide derision… and a perhaps a barely perceptible nod. I don’t really know what to tell you, my dear readers. The plain truth is that the rest of life ganged up on me. You can pick whichever excuse you like and we’ll all just go on about our business.

(However, I have to say that I do find it rather funny that my readership stats always seem to climb when I take an unscheduled hiatus. My hits last month were through the roof, but I think that has to do with my brilliant/ill-advised choice to use song lyrics as entry titles more than anything else… But if anyone out there is really interested, thank you for your support. Hopefully some of you brought in by song references to Walk the Moon are sticking around to read more.)

But while we’re on the subject of being a hermit and avoiding your (albeit completely voluntary and optional) responsibilities, I can think of no greater or more applicable song than Of Montreal’s Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games. This intriguing –and apparently quite prolific–band that hails from Athens, Georgia, is probably best known for their refusal to be tied down. With 11 albums released since 1997, these guys have roved through countless genres from R&B and funk, to twee pop (I am not kidding, that is an actual music genre), to indie rock and neo-psychedelia, all the way through vaudeville and music hall. Evidently they are part of what is known as the Elephant 6 Recording Company, which is a collective of American musicians who embrace the experimental side of music (notably among them is another one of my favorites: the Apples in Stereo). And from what I have heard so far, this troupe must surely feel at home there.

But this is by far my favorite song from these musical chameleons–in fact it is my ringtone for anonymous callers because it amuses me that much. With Kevin Barnes’ eccentric lyrics and subtle delivery, the most amusingly buoyant bass line, and a certain child-like air, this song is sure to please. And if you know me at all, you know that I love the juxtaposition of upbeat melodies and pessimistic lyrics. In this case the result falls somewhere between a person with acute agoraphobia trying to make the best of a bad situation and a pair of kids playing hide-and-seek in a big empty house. It is truly endearing in its dysfunction.

Normally I would limit myself to one video, but today I just can’t resist so you are getting a two-fer. First up is the official video, which is all sunshine, lollipops, and demented little cartoon animals cheerfully dismantling themselves in candy-colored sprays of blood. It is like someone wanted to animate a really, really happy acid trip… in Japan. The first time I saw this video, it actually took me a minute before I fully comprehended what was going on. Amazingly, it doesn’t come off as gory, so no worries if you have a weak stomach.

Wraith Pinned to the Mist And Other Games – Official Video

And because it made me laugh, as well as for being a pretty impressive exercise in creativity, the second video is a performance from Washington University’s The Stereotypes. A quirky and suitable fit for this song, this all-male a capella group–that sounds like the peculiar lovechild of Rockapella and an enlarged barbershop quartet–found a way to remain true to the original song while undeniably making it their own. Seriously folks, you have got to check this one out. Enjoy!

Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games – The Stereotypes

I watched, I let it burn

Music has always been a cathartic experience for me. When something is bothering me, exciting me, or depressing me, 9 times out of 10 I will reach for my headphones to deal with it. And considering the myriad of addictive choices out there that I could reach for (food, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc), I think this is a pretty healthy choice. Sometimes I roam through my music library in search of that one song that just hits the right nerve. I compulsively hit the skip button on shuffle mode, pausing only long enough for the opening bars to register before moving on, until that song that feels right right now hits my ears. As you might imagine, this is often times a frustrating and occasionally an unsuccessful way to go about things, being dependent on both the level of my agitation and the caprice of the shuffle algorithm. But other times I get lucky and the song finds me.

This is what happened to me last week when several large pieces of news (some good, some… questionable) were rather unceremoniously dropped in my lap. An agitated coughing mess with a lot of folders to label, I decided to indulge a little and listen to All Songs Considered while I worked. And right there in the middle of the podcast, a song that I had already heard once in passing without taking much notice pulled out a sledgehammer and said, “This is your song. Right. Now.” And all I could do was listen.

I’ve talked before about the art of the cheerful fuck-off song. There really is nothing quite so endearing (and sometimes profane) as a song which tells the world where to stick it in a bright and upbeat manner. The juxtaposition of a vicious dressing down with a rocking beat is one that I consistently find intriguing and amusing. These songs are extremely useful for burning through a store of nervous energy. Sometimes they even provide a sense of closure. Surprisingly, there appears to be a statute of limitations on taking someone to task and a chipper song that flips the bird at your regret of choice can really work wonders for your peace of mind.

During the last year or so I’ve been slowly compiling a list of songs like this and the latest edition has got to be I Love It by Icona Pop. Hailing from the Swedish club scene, this female electropop duo is spearheaded by DJs Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, and their latest single is positively infectious. Hands down, it is one of the most energetic songs in my catalog. Featuring pulsating industrial tones and a throbbing beat sure to please even the most discerning of club crowds, Jawo and Hjelt paint the picture of someone who has reached such a height of frustration that they no longer care about the consequences. The result is impossible to listen to without rocking out and some of the lyrics will leave you chuckling.

The only problem with the song is the abrupt–and I mean abrupt–ending. There is no climax or even a winding down period. It screams along at an insane pace and then just stops. The effect is more than a little jolting and means that the song is highly sticky. You’ll find that you are still humming along hours or even days later. And if you are anything like me, you’ll spend a good chunk of a night lying in bed and staring at the ceiling while it blares in your head on repeat. Given this unfortunate side effect, do you dare to risk listening to it?

Oh, come on! Trust me, this is such a satisfying song that it is worth losing a little sleep over it. Go on and listen. You know you wanna!

I Love It by Icona Pop

The fine line between irony and toilet humor

Now I already know what you are thinking. What does a literary rhetorical device denoting an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually stated and a brand of off-color humor meant more to shock the viewer than make them laugh have to do with each other? And while we’re at it, just how fine a line can there be between the two of them? To which I will exclaim over how astute you are, my dear readers! I’m so glad you have asked these very pertinent questions. The answers are really quite simple when you are talking about The Magnetic Fields. In their case, irony and toilet humor are hopelessly entwined and the line between then is… well, there is no line!
Originally hailing from Boston and releasing records since 1991 (how’d I miss out on this?), the Magnetic Fields is the satirical and oft-times amusingly vulgar troupe that is helmed by indie music mastermind Stephin Merritt. Delivering cynical, tongue-in-cheek lyrics in his distinctive deadpan bass voice, Merritt proves that he is sharp of tongue and even sharper of wit. Aside from penning the majority of the songs and serving as the primary lead singer, he is also their producer and a multi-instrumentalist. On past albums he has shared the role of lead singer with other band members and this is true of their latest offering, 2012’s Love at the Bottom of the Sea. Approximately half the album is sung by band mates Shirley Simms and Claudia Gonson, although their voices are so similar please don’t ask me who sings which song.
Ranging from quirky synth pop with occasional industrial influences to folk-tinged rock, the band pokes fun at sex, religion, violence, and gender roles in a less than subtle fashion. Think of They Might Be Giants without the sense of childlike innocence or perhaps a mellower version of the Butthole Surfers. And with all the springy little electronic embellishments added in, Devo certainly must have been an influence to some extent. The mood of the album fluctuates between the maniacally cheerful to the endearingly despairing–with many stops along the spectrum. And Merritt goes out of his way to write songs that obscure the singer’s gender identity and sexuality, leaving the interpretation open to the audience who are free to identify with whatever orientation they choose. The result is a clever, naughty, and at times surprising album. And the songs are strong, with just enough pop appeal to keep the album afloat, and every line is delivered with a completely straight face. The real kicker though is that like Discordians and Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’re never fully certain whether or not they are joking with you, but you’re pretty damn sure they are laughing at you behind your back… Probably…
Opening the album is the techno composition called God Wants Us to Wait, which flirts with industrial with its distorted tones and pulsing beats. In it a detached, rather mechanical attitude competes with the overt sexual references sprinkled throughout the lyrics.
One of the high points of the album is the melodic Andrew in Drag, which would be downright sweet if it weren’t for a few crude but clever double entendres. The video is wonderful though and I love that they chose to feature a drag king as counterpart to Andrew’s drag queen. Be warned, this is not safe for work (mind the boobs!).
Showcasing the blackest of humors, Your Girlfriend’s Face is the height of buoyant brutality. Probably one of the most chipper songs on the album, it focuses on a spurned lover who hires assassins to exact their revenge. It was about this time that I really started wondering just what I’d gotten myself into. Ironically, it is the song that seems to get stuck in my head the most and I have found myself randomly singing lines from it during the past week. Kind of makes me wonder what that says about me…
The album closes with the slow-paced, heavy-on-the-horn-section tune entitled All She Cares About is Mariachi. Employing some classic sounds from that characteristically Hispanic genre but dragging out the melody to a snail’s crawl and peppering the lyrics with peculiarly convenient rhymes, the song skirts around cute and into the just plain odd. But it is catchy, I’ll give Merritt and his cronies that much.
The first time I listened to this, I truly was unsure how I felt about it. After listening off and on for the last few weeks, I’m still not sure. But I’m still listening, which has got to count for something, right?

2 for 1

It has certainly been a crazy couple of weeks for me out here in Charm City. Between car accidents (without injury, thankfully), navigating between our insurance and crazy-lady-who-ran-a-red-light-and-hit-my-car’s insurance, trying to get our car fixed, and dealing with the fatigue that inevitably sets in after the shock wears off, I’ve been hard-pressed to convince myself to write. My head felt like it was packed with cotton all last week. I could barely put together two brain cells outside of work and I finally had to just put off last week’s entry. Which is a shame because I am literally overflowing with fodder for album reviews and recommendations from all the amazing music I picked up on Record Store Day (my new favorite holiday). So to make it up to you, I’m going to treat you to a two-for-one deal. It’s a double-headliner tonight folks, so sit back and enjoy!
First up is a beauty of a London indie rock band called Bombay Bicycle Club. Their new album, A Different Kind of Fix, is a satisfying collection of songs that call to mind the vocal harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the quiet intensity of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, while presenting something instantly more radio-friendly. The over-all feel of the album is even and low-key, but not for a lack of energy–more for lack of variation. For the most part the flow is steady and constant, without major highs or lows, but there is a whole lot more going on below the surface than you might be conscious of on your first listen. Each song is rife with great bass lines that propel you through the track list and keep the fire burning bright. Jack Steadman’s vocals are velvety and understated with an occasional outburst of discord that is reminiscent of Robin Pecknold without dredging up the sense of tight-lipped dread that seems to accompany all of his songs.
Beggars is a great example of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ability to mimic Fleet Foxes’s harmonies, but with an instrumentation and a beat that manages to hit a sweet spot that the other band never quite seems to achieve. Here’s a pretty little live performance they did last August that while done well, lacks the punch of the studio version. Still it is a great showcase for their talent in an off the cuff environment (that thankfully, is not filmed by an amateur with an iPhone), so it is definitely worth a look.
My favorite song off the album is called Your Eyes, and it is everything that I love about this band: Suren de Saram’s vigorous drumming strategically building the energy of the composition, the rollicking guitar of Jamie McColl, and Steadman’s rather tremulous voice rising above it all. But it is the driving, relentless bass work of Ed Nash that really makes the song for me. I have always been a sucker for an intricate bass line and this song has one of the better ones I’ve heard in quite a while. The result is an addictive song that gets your blood flowing with every listen. Here again I found a decent live version of the song which someone was kind enough to film without shaking their phone around until my eyes watered. I’d love to see these guys live, but if you prefer to hear the version off the album then you can find it here.
The second half of this double feature is devoted to an intriguing singer-songwriter named Eleanor Friedberger. Perhaps better known for her work with her brother Matthew Friedberger and their experimental indie collaboration called Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor released her first solo album, Last Summer, in July of 2011. Throughout the album, she seems to waver up and down a spectrum with her exploratory music roots at one end and a more traditional brand of folk pop at the other. She alternately displays an amazing pop sensibility for turning out catchy, yet deep songs, and a willingness to abandon all those tried and true song-writing rules in favor of indulging in her poetical lyrics. The result is some surprisingly catchy songs that on occasion seem to have more syllables than melody. Honestly, she appears to be the nothing less than the tuneful love child of Joanie Mitchell–the queen of the quixotic lyric– and Carole King–the supreme monarch of pop-craft. But what really clinches it for me is Friedberger’s voice, which decisively asserts her spiritual connection to Carole King (I am absolutely convinced that she would do a killer cover of I Feel the Earth Move). Her mellow alto flows throughout the album, giving everything an easy-going sheen that is evident even in her darkest songs.
In honor of her musical split personality, I present to you one example from each of her styles. First up is the superbly crafted conventional folk pop ditty, I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight. Here’s an acoustic live version that is a bit more minimalist than the album version, but is somehow more moving in the simple presentation of a small venue performance.
To contrast the polished pop glow of that first song, I present to you Friedberger’s Roosevelt Island, where she employs an almost spoken word approach to her lyrics. Placed over top a funk-inspired instrumental track, this is a prime example of the syllables and the melody not quite matching up. But while it is miles away from her more traditional compositions, it still makes for an interesting listening experience.