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

2012 Closeout

It has been a very crazy, stressful, happy, sentimental, geeky, tear-filled, music-crammed year. For many reasons, 2012 really put me through the ringer and for much of the year I was more distracted from this blog than I care to admit. A lot of good and bad things happened this year. Looking back now on the last twelve months, all I can say is that I’m one year older, my joints are a little stiffer, perhaps I am a tiny bit wiser, and I am definitely a tad more cynical. But I’m still here. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that pays the bills, a loving husband who puts up with my moods, dear friends, faithful family, and snuggly cats. And I try to appreciate all of it, and give them their much-deserved credit for keeping me sane.

But enough introspection. The year is coming to an end and I’ve got a backlog a mile long! So let’s cut to the chase and fill you in on a few of the amazing albums I’ve been obsessed with this year, but have been just too darn busy to write about until now. Put on your thinking caps and open up your ears, my dear readers, because we’re going to hit them fast and hard and it is definitely going to get loud.

First on my list is an intriguing little synthpop trio from Brooklyn called Class Actress. This group was brand new to me, but turned out to be oh-so-appealing. Elizabeth Harper’s voice and lyrics bring to mind classic pop princesses like Tiffany and Blümchen (two of the artists on my list of guilty pleasures), but she manages to ditch the teeny bopper innocence and bubblegum in favor of sexy lyrics and a jaded world view. And when paired with Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal’s synthpop production, it is not surprising that their 2011 album, Rapproacher, is nothing short of top-notch. The bouncy beats, techno flourishes, and New Wave influences actually mask a lyrical content that is much heavier than is apparent at first. Much of the album is spent dealing with the problems of an almost obsessive love affair that is obviously coming to an end. Starting out strong with the upbeat and endearing Keep You, by the end of the track list all you are left with is the sad, echoing, and introspective plea of Let Me In. There is definitely more than meets the eye here, and the result is an album that is hard to put down for long.

Weekend by Class Actress

Next up is the emo-tinged pop-punk outfit known as Motion City Soundtrack. I loved 2005’s Commit This to Memory, but I kinda lost track of these guys until 2012’s release, Go. (Oops!) However, I was downright thrilled when I heard they were releasing a new album this year. Their first single, True Romance, is positively stellar and perfectly evokes all the things I loved about them years ago, yet somehow manages to feel amazingly fresh at the same time. The most likely culprit in this is Justin Pierre’s lyrics, which have changed a lot over the years. What happens to the neurotic emo singer that grows up? They start talking about the mid-life crisis that 30-year-olds across the country seem to be experiencing these days, that’s what. This is probably why I keep coming back to this album. Nostalgia pulled me in, but the way it speaks to my own experiences as an unwilling adult is what keeps me listening. As a whole, the album is a little unbalanced, starting strong but getting darker and more depressing as the track list progresses. The opening songs of Circles and Wires and True Romance start the album out on a high note. But when you hit the contemplative Everyone Will Die at track 5, you start to realize that this is a different kind of album than they would have released eight years ago. And it only gets darker from there, with the second to last song, Happy Anniversary, which is a rather chilling account of a man who believes he is dying. Pretty heavy stuff, I must say, and the mood only partially recovers in the closing track entitled Floating Down the River. Surprisingly, this all feels even more introspective than their previous work and throughout the album there is a keen awareness of the passage of time and the changes caused by it. However, despite the slightly depressing finish, there is some major potential here, which renews my faith in the viability of the post-punk rock alternative genre.

Timelines by Motion City Soundtrack

Moving away from the heavier (read: soul-crushing) stuff, we now come to the amazing riot girl rock of Wild Flag. This indie rock supergroup (if there really is such a thing) is made up of former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and The Minders. The list of members would be familiar to many a hipster, I’m sure, but I found this straight up rock ‘n’ roll band through NPR’s All Songs Considered–confirming that I still like new music, while simultaneously publicizing my advanced age (listening to cassette tapes when dinosaurs roamed the Earth). Rejecting all traces of bubblegum, Wild Flag’s 2011 eponymous album is nothing short of indie rock bliss with a hard-rocking edge that avoids sounding overly heavy or dirty. Devoid of all the usual synthpop and electronica influences I so often gravitate towards, they feel like a real successor to Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees. Tough and intelligent, empowered and full of bravado, with just a touch of vulnerability, the result is downright brilliant. The album is filled with strong guitars, pounding drums, good bass lines, and the clever use of a Hammond organ that completely sidesteps being cheesy. And on some of the songs you can hear that they are just itching to be a jam band, which I’m willing to bet must be the case with their live performances. Clocking in at only 41 minutes, my only real complaint about this album is that it is always over too soon.

Black Tiles by Wild Flag

And last but not least, my absolute top album of 2012 is Master of My Make-Believe by the fantastic Santigold. This is a juggernaut of an album from start to finish. Well-balanced in both genre and mood, she ranges from boastful, arrogant, and tough as nails, to quiet, introspective, and understated. Throughout the track list there are touches of punk rock, synthpop, industrial, electronica, rock, rap, R&B, reggae, and a whole lot more. Hailing from Philadelphia with the title of A&R representative for the likes of Epic Records on her curriculum vitae, the unsinkable Santi White embraces all genres and bends them to her will. Everything, and I mean everything, is fair game. This is evident in every aspect of the album, from the music, to the lyrics, to the album cover, which features her in some of her many and varied guises, including an oily looking man in a suit lounging in a leather chair, two bikini-clad amazon gatekeepers flanking him, and a grinning country noblewoman posing in a massive portrait painting hanging in the background. She is everything and all. Not afraid to genre bend, she moves around and through them freely, both throughout the album and within each song. Displaying a talented voice, she is not afraid to push to the far reaches of her range, and her use of overdubbed vocals in the background is clever. And I have got to say that her collaboration with Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the opening track,Go!, is one of the more brilliant match-ups I’ve seen in a while. I truly adored her first album, and (if you couldn’t already tell) I can’t say enough good things about this second album. I love that she pushes the boundaries of my musical tastes and encourages me to get out of my rut, as all truly worth while artists should. I am anxiously waiting for her next project and just about ready to kick myself because I have not seen her live yet. So what are you waiting for? Hit play now!

The Keepers by Santigold

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

Terror from Ontario

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a horror-flick fan. Anything creepier than the Simpson’s Halloween specials and I am officially not allowed to watch it. The reason for this is very simple: I have the over-active imagination of a 5-year-old. This means that as a child I had spectacular adventures with my imaginary friends, never had trouble entertaining myself or my childhood playmates on a rainy afternoon, and could reliably be found shivering under a blanket whenever something even vaguely scary was playing on TV. The examples of my overactive imagination running away with me are liberally sprinkled throughout my childhood.

At the age of 6 upon watching alone Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth, I became convinced that if I even thought the words, “I wish the Goblin King would come and take this baby away,” that my younger sister (conveniently an infant at the time) would be whisked away by furry little goblins to live with David Bowie in a magical realm and that somehow I would get blamed for it. At the age of 8, I was plagued by fears of the evil doll Chucky–not because I actually saw the movie, but because my best friend did and apparently childhood fears are contagious. The first Jurassic Park movie had thirteen-year-old me looking for raptors in the shadows of the hall outside my bedroom for months after leaving the theater, leading to my poor father being greeted by shrill screams just about every time he set foot in the hallway. Tolkien’s twisted little creation, Gollum, tormented me throughout middle school, a fear not to be tackled until years later when Andy Serkis’s performance in The Lord of the Rings proved slightly more comical than horrific. I can easily blame my exuberant imagination for making me sleep with a nightlight until middle school. And as for stuffed animals… well to be honest, my blasted imagination ensured that they were a regular bedtime accessory until I found the greatest teddy bear ever created, namely my husband.

One always hopes they will grow out of such childish tendencies–that the zombies, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night will lose their powers as you mature. But in my case, this wondrous transformation to an adult with an innate sense of what is real and what isn’t never seemed to happen. To this day I loath getting into bed in the dark alone, an especially creepy episode of Dr. Who can give me nightmares (read: weeping angels are creepy!), and long-time readers may already know how I feel about sharks. Now the perfectly rational part of my brain knows that most of these things are not real and that I shouldn’t let myself get carried away, but it is this rational part of me that always seems to get me into trouble. I keep trying to convince myself that I am adult now, that this is silly, and that I can handle it. And in the light of day I can. But then the sun goes down and the images and ideas that didn’t bother me earlier in the day suddenly start to bother me… a lot. I am still learning this lesson at the age of 31 and–let’s be honest here–I probably still will be learning it at the age of 81.

Now given my hyperactive imagination–alongside my long and storied history of being freaked out by things that most people stopped being bothered by as children–you’d be surprised to know that for the last several weeks I’ve been story-boarding a horror movie in my head.  Visions of breathless figures running through an ancient pine forest in the dead of night under the flare of the Aurora Borealis, witches dancing wildly around a cauldron under a full moon, and scaly monsters rising from still mountain lakes to feast on hapless campers have been flitting through my brain for weeks. Now what could possibly inspire me to dabble in such an obviously unhealthy (for me, anyway) habit? Well, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, then the answer should be clear to you already: music.

Specifically it is the 2011 album, Feel It Break, by the synthpop darlings of Toronto known as Austra. Featuring an amazingly beautiful, layered, and slightly morbid brand of techno affectionately known as Dark Wave, this album is filled with frigid beats, dreamily beckoning vocals, and at times frankly disturbing lyrics. And with song titles like Choke, Hate Crime, and Shoot the Water,  it is completely understandable why my imagination keeps drifting into the macabre every time that I push play. But for all its impressive creep factor, Feel It Break is a highly impressive, well-produced, and refreshing work that should rank highly on the list of any fan of electronica. And even a wimp like me can’t help but pay homage their undisguised, if ominous, talent.

Think I’m playing up the sinister nature of this album simply for creative license? Then check out the band’s official videos. They don’t do justice to the colorful and freakish visions that they have inspired in my daydreams of late. But looking at the video evidence, it is obvious that Austra is acutely aware of the eerie effect that their music can have on fans and they are not afraid to embrace it. Fair warning, some of them are not for the faint of heart. Enjoy!

Lose It

Beat and the Pulse (NSFW)

Spellwork

Frogs and shoegazing

Little did I know when I picked up M83’s recent double album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, that it would include the formula for human-amphibian transformation. Think I’m kidding? Well… Maybe a little, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s get some business out of the way.

This Saturday, April 21st, is Record Store Day. This is an amazing chance for every music lover in the States (as well as some places in Europe) to go out and support local businesses, local and regional music, the concept of the traditional music store (something that is in danger these days), and well… the good old-fashioned album. Plus, there are exclusive national, regional, first, and limited-run releases in honor of the occasion. What is not to love? And I am by no means encouraging you to just go browse the CDs at the big box store of your choice. No, my friends! I’m talking about a real honest to goodness record store–preferably one that is participating in the event. I will personally be wandering up and down the aisles of The Sound Garden here in Charm City. You can get all the info at the official Record Store Day site, where you can also search for a participating store near you. Mark those calendars, folks! You won’t regret it.

And now back to our original premise: frogs… in a moment…

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming  is a gorgeous romp into the highs and lows of dreamy electro pop from one of France’s most popular exports, M83. Throughout the double disk there is a pervasive fantastical quality, only partly because of band leader Anthony Gonzalez’s exploration of his childhood and the concept of dreaming. Every song features extensive progressive layering of electronic tracks and guitar riffs. Although there are lyrics aplenty the vocals are soft–featuring muted and sometimes incoherent lyrics–that are often as not treated like just another instrument (I actually had to look them up! I’d been listening to this album for over a week before I realized I didn’t remember any of the lyrics!). And through some amazing feat, the double album is rife with infectious beats that somehow manage to lull rather than energize. Just how Gonzalez and his mates manage this trick I’m not quite sure, but it makes for a trance-inducing listening experience. With the exception of a few stronger songs on each of the disks in the form of Intro–closely followed by the stellar Midnight City–and Steve McQueen, the majority of this beautiful work is more ambient than danceable. Apparently, these are some of the prime traits of what is called shoegazing, a lesser known UK subgenre of alt rock that was pushed out of the limelight by American grunge back in the early ’90s, but that has been making inroads on American radio for the last year or so.

I’m really smitten with many of the songs featured on this album, but by far and away my favorite is Raconte-Moi Une Histoire, which translates to Tell Me a Story. This is an exploration of what dreaming is like to a child and it focuses on (you guessed it!) frogs. The song consists of a building electronic beat, layered with ethereal wordless vocals, and the voice of one child (possibly two?) speaking in English. It is truly something to behold and it made my husband laugh really hard when I played it for him. I dare you to listen to this without smiling!

Enjoy and remember to visit your favorite record store this Saturday!