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Monday, September 2, 2013

Best of August, 2013


The summer comes to its unofficial end this weekend.  But that does not mean the music stops.   I have had the pleasure, and sometimes misery, of driving from Toronto, Ontario to Savannah, Georgia over the past few months.    It has been several thousand miles of rest stops, bad food and, thankfully, radio. 

There was some television time too, including last weeks MTV VMA awards.   The real tragedy of that show is not Miley Cyrus or the uncomfortable N’Sync “reunion.”  Gaga, Robin Thicke and Katy Perry did little to distinguish themselves either, save for their ability to elevate their standing as performance artists, rather than “musicians.”

And therein lies the dilemma.  Contemporary “music” continues to distance itself from instruments, live shows and authentic artistry.  If I was not witness to several shows a year and only watched the VMA’s I might believe what many have argued for years:  “Rock is Dead.”

Vampire Weekend was on stage last Sunday, but they were presenters only.  And they are hardly what you would call “rock stars.”  But they do play instruments.  They do write their own material.  They can play live, and employ the use of (gasp) guitars. 

People can talk about Gaga’s g-string, Miley’s tongue, and whatever the hell Kanye does all they want.  That stuff makes for great headlines and titiliating water cooler conversation.   The problem is, like much of our pop culture, it is all a superfluous waste.

We should behaving a discussion on why we care about those things in the first place?  Should we not be more concerned that Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk are more computer programmers and cheap hacks, than songwriters?  Where is Carole King when you need her?  Neil Young?  Can a brother get a guitar solo and meaningful lyric??  

The whole sordid mess played more like a twisted video game than celebration of music:   A Tomb Raider/Grand Theft Auto/Naughty Bear mash up if you will.  Seriously, what is with those plush furry bears Ms Cyrus is fixated with?

There is good news.  Contrary to what MTV and every media outlet around is telling you, there is a cure.  Real music lives.  It’s in bars, and in cars.  It’s in every City in this nation and every country known to man.  It need not use autotune and can provide the cathartic release your teenage girl craves as well as the adrenaline pumping fury you need on your commute home. 

And it is what this space dedicates most of its time with. 

Tune out the white noise.   Turn off the incessant chat about all that is wrong with the music industry today.   Take a look/listen to all that remains unheard and unseen.  You might be surprised what you find.  

The Head and The Heart "Shake"

Pacific Northwest (Seattle to be specific) act The Head and the Heart are releasing their second album October 15th.  Their debut record was full of rich lyrics, warm harmonies and memorable melodies.  Judging by the first single from Let's Be Still, we are in for more of the same.  That is a very good thing.  For those of you who love The Lumineers and all of their folk brethren take a hard listen.  And if you can score tickets do check them live.

Frankie Rose "Know Me"

Brooklyn girl Frankie Rose spent time in the Vivian Girls, and Dum Dum Girls, and was an original member of post-punk act Crystal Stilts.  Her second record is well over a year old, and this track is technically 2012.  Whatever.  It has taken a while for it to A) get air time and then B) capture this space's attention.  She has it now.   And she should have yours too.

Family of the Year "Hero"

This band and song also can call 2012 the year of their arrival.  The cable shows Weeds and Girls picked up their songs and featured them prominently.  They call LA home but have roots in Wales, Massachusetts and Jacksonville, FL.  It is nothing more than a  ballad, refreshing in its simplicity.

J Roddy Walston and the Business "Heavy Bells"

Cleveland rockers, now based in Baltimore, are a more straight forward rock act.  Guitars, bass, pulsating vocals and a blend of piano thrown in will have you thinking about My Morning Jacket or Kings of Leon.  These guys have been around for well over a decade (5 records) and are working on their 6th LP under a new label.  This track will surely appear on it.

Cut Copy "Let Me Show You"

Aussie electronic act had one of my favorite records in recent memory, 2011's Zonoscope.   They have remained quiet since then, but did provide this tease a few weeks back.  Perhaps another record IS coming.  Better yet perhaps this means another tour!

Royal Teeth "Wild"

New Orleans youngsters follow in the footsteps of fellow Bayou band Givers.  They have a man and woman singer.  They have catchy grooves and a feel good attitude.  This song has been making the rounds since early this year and probably should have appeared much sooner.   Their debut album, Glow, was released last month.  A tour will follow including dates in NJ, PA and NY.  Enjoy.

Smallpools "Dreaming"

When this year began these guys were not a band.  In June they had yet to play a live show.  Now, with an EP behind them and some gigs behind them they seem destined for much bigger things.  This song is what has been their calling card and an alt anthem for Summer 2013.  They call New Jersey their home and for that we root for them, hard.

The 1975 "Chocolate"

English pop act The 1975 have just released their debut record, Dirty Hit, today 9.2.13.  Fitting that they drop it on Labor Day since they have worked their asses off in promotion.  It was easy to ignore this song the first hundred or so times.  It shares its sound with John Mayer, The Kooks and various other alt-pop acts of the past 5-10 years.  No, they are not re-inventing the wheel.  But they are adding some air to an often flat tire.

The Olms "Wanna Feel it"

New Jersey born Pete Yorn and JD King are the duo, The Olms.   It is an upgrade for Yorn, who recorded a record with Scarlett Johansson not long ago.   Together the two men have a soft, easy-going West Coast self titled debut record on their hands.  The above song is a stand out.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (featuring Mary Lambert) "Same Love"

All due respect to the overlong and over-produced Justin Timberlake VMA appearance, Macklemore's live version of this "equal rights for all" anthem was the highlight of the show.  It speaks to an old man like me that the milennials accept a white boy rapping about accepting EVERYONE, regardless of sexuality and race.   They won the "Social Message" award for this song.  Funny that MTV failed to show clips of this video and the other nominees and did not even bother to display the names of the artists on screen.  Miley and Kanye got plenty of attention, but strong messages like this do not an awards show make.

Soon these songs will be a thing of the past.  Younger generations are more accepting of homosexuality and all the things that come with it.  Gay marriage has steam rolled its way into the mainstream.  It is a non event and Macklemore, at this point, is preaching to an ever growing choir.

But it is still good to hear him singing it, or talking it, or however you define it.

It is a whole lot better than "Thrift Shop."  That is a fact.

Until next month folks...  Happy Go Back to School month!!  Enjoy Autumn!!  It is easily the best time of the year.

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