Pay Attention Now

The last few months have felt pretty bland for me musically speaking. I’ve listened to a lot and acquired several albums that, while each good in their own ways, all failed to live up to the high expectations that I placed upon them. Each was purchased on the strength of a single song that hinted at the possibility of a wider, more innovative album. And each has left me feeling unsatisfied. Nothing has moved me. Nothing has… wowed me. And unlike the teenager I used to be, these days I really want to be wowed.

But I am excited to report that I have recently found two new artists who have not only wowed me, they have literally blown me away. Both are fairly new artists–one of them literally just released his first album last week–who employ layered/altered vocals; beats that change unexpectedly and often during the course of a single song; some rather inspired drumming; electronic influences; and well… Let’s just say that these two are kinda hard to define. They genre-bend like mad and the result in each case is something truly intriguing. Despite their similarities, their sounds are worlds away, yet both fall under what is currently called indie music–whatever that means these days. And most importantly, each of them literally had me itching to visit every record store in town until I could get my grimy little hands on their albums. You have no idea how wonderful it feels for me to be this excited about a new artist after this awful dry spell. There honestly are no words. But who, you may ask, has inspired me to such a frenzy with such a long introduction? Once again, dear readers, you ask a great question. So let’s get to it.

Artist you should absolutely know about #1: Tune-Yards.

This New England project is led by the crazy-talented Merrill Garbus, who literally records and loops vocals and drum tracks on the fly during live performances!!! (Yes, she totally earns those 3 exclamation marks.) Pulling in electronica, Afro-beat, R&B, and something affectionately called “wonky pop”, Garbus and her small band of experimentalists create some really interesting soundscapes. And her voice? Holy crap! Don’t even get me started. I literally had to hunt down a live performance for you because you will not believe that this voice can come out of one little white girl otherwise. I highly encourage you to check out some of their other songs, but for now here’s an in-studio version of Gangsta from their 2011 album Whokill. (Pro tip: Stick around at the end for a short interview. Highly informative.)

Artist you should absolutely know about #2: Robert DeLong.

This guy is so new that, despite having already started to gather acclaim, he doesn’t even have his own article on Wikipedia yet, but I’m sure that will change soon. There is something really fascinating about his sound, which is created through the use of a whole host of different drums and electronic devices, not the least of which is a Wii-remote. Aside from sporting a smooth voice, some major lyrical chops, and an obvious talent at drumming, DeLong manages to fill his songs with a sense of youthfulness that is invigorating and a philosophical world view that feels ageless.  His first single, Global Concepts, is a great example of this. Listen to him wax existential as he wanders through a variety of electronic flourishes, pounding drum beats, and changing time signatures. Suitable for black light raves, massive arena shows, and maybe even a mosh pit (do people even do that anymore?), this is one not to be missed. The video pays tribute to both his talent and his creativity by showcasing his many instruments, along with an impressive use of light tubes and some frenzied dancers. Expect to hear a lot about this guy in the coming months, both from me and from the wider music industry. I predict that Robert DeLong will be a name everyone will know soon. And if you didn’t already know about him, brace yourself and hit play. You can thank me later.

Johnny 5 is still alive

Please excuse my radio silence during the last few weeks. If anyone figures out what happened to the month of June, please let me know because I completely lost the page on it this time around. Granted, that is kind of what happens when one of your non-vital organs unexpectedly decides to go supernova on you. Between an emergency trip to the ER, being admitted for surgery within hours of darkening their doorstep, and the subsequent recovery process that abdominal surgery demands, all of my other pursuits in life came to a complete and sudden halt. I have never been sideswiped like this before and it is almost like I am coming back to life. But I’m still here, my gut has healed, and I am finally starting to feel like a whole person once more. All of this means that the itch to start writing again has finally become too great to ignore.

Given the life-altering events of the last few weeks–along with a few other unexpected hiccups–there is one song that has appropriately been running through my head lately. In the perfect melding of irony, dark humor, and a bit of desperation, This Year by the Mountain Goats is the ideal front-runner in the race for my current theme song. With frontman John Darnielle’s snarky lyrics and his clipped delivery, it is no surprise that this song resonates with something deep in my psyche. Falling somewhere between a battle cry and an oxymoron, he vows “I am gonna make it through this year… If it kills me!” If that isn’t a mantra worth repeating in times of stress, I don’t know what is!

I’m hoping that regular posts will resume next week. In the meantime, give a listen to This Year by the Mountain Goats. Enjoy!