Archive for November, 2020


The Great Motivator…

Music just picked me up over a steep and intimidating wall. Thanks to its propulsive powers, year end physical feats have been met. I didn’t need 12 months to break through annual barriers. All I required was a soundtrack.

During this surreal period, I lost motivation to do what brings me great happiness: ride my bike. I took a chance while cycling and incorporated what the majority of my day entails: music. Safety had been my rationale for not listening. But riding brings joy. I rolled the dice and realized how motivational and simply blissful this addition can be.

I used music to push me on cold days, mornings where most were still sleeping or sipping warm drinks, and as an integral soundtrack to consistent movement. But also to be engaged with albums of my past and records deserving my ear. The sad reality is when listening to anything, I’m multi-tasking. Music was the lesser of the two simultaneous tasks taking place; sure, I heard it, but how engaged was I?

This became a time to dive deeply in records. My playlists became irrelevant, this was going to be uninterrupted time experiencing albums from front to back. The formula was simple: a sound that continued to propel me forward. Staples like Local H, LCD Soundsystem, and Soulwax were in regular rotation; but also pulled new releases out of the crate to analyze their worthiness. Besides plugging into a record player and simply sitting, me, two wheels, and my chosen sound let me hear all of an album.

As someone who monitors physical feats on the bike, I look to the previous season when comparing performance stats. 2020 has been a mess, but I was confident smashing last year’s totals was in reach. Time and flexibility contributed to reaching new heights. But without the extra push from music, I question if I would have had the mental stamina and physical strength to crush last year and set a new standard.


Black Pumas’ Christmas Will Really Be Christmas…

My listening habits are known throughout my house. I have my staples amongst my family, and I have a protocol for independent listening. A few nights back, I placed The Raveonettes’ “Snowstorm” on with its sleigh bells, Christmas references, and snowy aura throughout. My wife was quick to question my selection, “You never listen to Christmas music”, she surprisingly said. No, historically every other genre of music brings me joy.

Christmas lights are going up early this year. The thought is because we lack joy. The data doesn’t lie, Spotify analysts have noticed we are listening to holiday music earlier this year. Now we have an additional 12 songs to add to the Christmas canon with Spotify Singles Holiday Collection.

A diverse lineup of artists reinterpreting Christmastime classics; Julien Baker, Dashboard Confessional, and my modern day soul staples the Black Pumas. The Austin duo chose the prolific, multi-talented professional Lou Rawls to pay homage to and bring a much needed message to 2020’s finale: when hearts are filled with joy instead of worrying in fear we can truly rejoice and experience the moment.

The regal-sounding and uplifting holiday original “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” appeared on Rawls’ 1967 holiday-themed record Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! An updated version finds Burton’s vocals soaring high, sexy backup vocals complementing the joyous arrangement, and a reminder of music’s necessity in a time like this.

“We were really attracted to the message, the lyrics, the arrangement, the feeling,” frontman Eric Burton says. “It’s a message that needs to be heard right now.” Little did I know how this sound, this once a year genre was missing from my listening quiver.


Hawksley Night in Canada at Christmastime…

A Night in Canada sounds enticing right now. Shit, stepping anywhere that’s not my home would break the status quo. In the meantime, let’s accept our reality and invite our favorites over to celebrate the holiday season.

Hawksley Workman has been a regular guest on our virtual stage. He’s bringing his yuletide bangers over for our listening pleasure in December with his Hawksley Night in Canada at Christmastime. Usually a monthly event, Workman is gifting us two shows. An engaging variety show consisting of career spanning set lists. Perhaps he pulls from his two holiday themed records, or shares unique renditions off his latest Less Rage More Tears.

These shows have been Hawksley showcasing his quirks, putting his theatrical and formidable voice at the forefront, and engaging us with his unpredictable imagination. We yearn for a live experience inside of a venue, where a full band is backing this Canadian Treasure, Hawksley Workman knows this. In the meantime, let’s rage holiday style with Hawksley’s sweet cacophony from the comfort and safety of our couch.

Stadium rock, 80s nostalgia, flair for days, and definitely something to dance to, “Tahiti Treat” is given the video treatment it deserves…


Carlos Vives Salutes Billo’s

Lazy labeling is a disservice to potential listeners. Thoughtfully labeled genres lead us to the right sound. “World Music” has been a genre for decades, a catch-all term to classify most music originating outside the United States. The Grammy’s recently acknowledged this.

If I were to relocate, I wouldn’t label American-borne music “International Music”. A potentially divisive term where two countries exist: Us and Everyone Else. Years ago I used music to propel my language learning and diversify my listening palate. Trips to Virgin Music or Tower Records took me to the back of the store, or on the 2nd Floor, where a rack housed the international artists; Colombian, African, Indian music. A well established, joyful Colombian artist was one of my first Spanish teachers.

Carlos Vives creates colorful, hard to sit still compositions. He leans heavily on his native Colombian sound: cumbia and vallenato folk music. A festive sound, one abounded in alegria; infectious rhythms, rapid tempos and emotion created through layers of native instrumentation that give us all a reason to celebrate.

Carlos respects the greats of the past; acts that helped to define who he and his sound are today. On Legendarios, a tribute record to Venezuela’s Billo’s Caracas Boys, the Afro-Cuban orchestra now six decades in the making, 12 well-established Latin artists pay homage to Dominican-borne Billo Frometa’s ensemble.

Vives bring his lively persona to “Tres Perlas” with a more explosive arrangement than the original; both are dance tracks, with Carlos’s alluring voice and celebratory instrumentation placing his unique spin on this updated version. Turn up the dial, close your eyes, and visualize the sheer beauty this Caribbean-influenced track evocatively brings. Don’t fight it, let the music seep in and permit the inevitable gyrations.

A tribute album provides the artists involved to pay homage to the greats of yesterday. Also enlightens less informed listeners to forgotten acts of the past who created and paved the path for today’s sound. Thanks, Carlos, you have provided me Billo’s excellent catalog to experience and inevitably move to.


Marshall Knows Best…

Preview(opens in a new tab)

24 hours ago I wouldn’t have considered my Bluetooth speaker a smart device. This technology knows what’s happening within your house and knows what’s best for its inhabitants ears now, too.

Marshall’s Kilburn II has become our go-to Bluetooth speaker. One of its features is “multi-host functionality”; multiple devices can simultaneously connect to the speaker. If our Bluetooth is enabled on our mobiles while we’re in close proximity, and the speaker is ON, both phones will connect. A function my wife and I never knowingly utilized.

She’s hip to my latest find, and while preparing dinner, was listening to Laura Marling’s “Song For Our Daughter” episode. Upon sitting down to our meal, Laura was still dissecting her art. We encourage dinner conversation, a podcast doesn’t make for ideal background noise if you care to focus on the episode’s contents.

My wife asked if I wanted music on, my face had to declare: fuck, of course. But I politely said it’s more conducive to our meal. She hit next on her mobile to advance to the next file in her queue; but without anything queued up, the Marshall defaulted to another queue and began playing Roisin Murphy’s sizzling “We Got Together”. No one thought much of it.

She utilizes Spotify’s radio feature. You play an artist or song you enjoy and it creates an on the go playlist based on that artist’s sound. Since we do share similarities in – some – artists – it’s not abnormal for her radio station to play something we both gravitate towards. But as “We Got Together” faded out and “Murphy’s Law” faded in, we both became intrigued.

I questioned if her device was still playing and walked over to my phone. The speaker reverted to my queue. I proudly displayed Roisin’s sultry LP to my wife.

My musical transitions can be rather jarring; a Charles Mingus jazz improvisation doesn’t lend itself well to crossfading into a hard-hitting, angst-ridden Local H bomb. But hot damn, Marshall, this surprise transition was seamless and gave me the keys to the dinner’s DJ booth; my wife smirked and annoyingly said, “The speaker obviously prefers your music over mine.” (duh!)


The Antlers’ It Is What It Is…

Hindsight can be a bitch. It always seems to be 20/20. Take that potential misstep and reflect on it. No regrets because a better you just broke through. Artists today are more introspective than ever and their art showcases this.

The Antlers create seismic chamber pop to sway to, cry to, and simultaneously lose yourself in. The Brooklyn duo is responsible for what NME classified as “the saddest album of all time”. Their orchestration could be background noise in a funeral parlor, while relaxing by the fireside, or for a dimly lit dance floor where you and your partner can close your eyes and allow the emotions to take over. Their latest composition contemplates how different actions can cause catastrophic change.

On “It Is What It Is”, their 2nd single this year, Justin Silberman explores hindsight and how “it considers what might have changed had you handled things differently back then, and the reluctant acceptance that it’s late for all that now. It’s the inevitability of changing seasons, transitions that feel like loss in the moment, but come to represent growth over time.”

This slow burner care of a somber arrangement – keys, trumpet, bass, and drums – complements Silberman’s melodic croon oh so tenderly. The duo’s signature sound is ideal for the change in temperature, the lack of daylight, and the inevitable hindsight the close of 2020 will bring.


Song Exploder

I fumble and fail miserably when confronted with musical heroes. Something inside of me becomes confused, the anxiety explodes through the roof, and I do the exact opposite of what I intended. Once I spilled my beer on Matt Mahaffey of sElf fame and when he graced the radio waves and opened up the phone lines to fans, I verbally vomited as I nervously eeked out a question and told a narrative that went nowhere – this Internet radio show was rumored to have been recorded; for an unknown reason, this particular show never saw the light of day. (huge sigh of relief) Thankfully, there’s a podcast for incapables like myself.

The informative, highly engaging Song Exploder removes my idiotic self from the equation. Hrishikesh Hirway has a bi-weekly song dissection lab where he wants artists to answer his driving question: “How did you get from nothing to this?”

Each 15-30 minute episode is centered around one song from an artist’s catalog. Not all compositions become a fully functioning, super engaging, head nodding track in 10 minutes. Inspiration might begin with a stroll through a park, a minimalistic strum on an acoustic, or the need to push out unhealthy emotion. Artists speak of the need to write for therapeutic purposes; to push through a break-up, a deceased loved one, or simply to vent about frustration of life on the road.

We learn about writer’s block, happy accidents in the studio, why a constant reiteration is integral to so many artists final product. A fascinating listen from beginning to end.

This is the closest you might get to your favorite artist. Ideally, we’d sit next to our musical hero, buy them a few drinks, and hear their narrative of how your favorite song went from nothing to sheer brilliance.

Many respected acts this site has featured are guests breaking down their creative process; Black Pumas, Bat for Lashes, Raphael Saadiq, DJ Shadow, Will Butler, etc.

Song Exploder’s premiere episode dissected The Postal Service’s “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”.

The New Yorker’s profile masterly states why a podcast like this was lacking from your listening repertoire:

For fans who favor streaming services, the absence of liner notes, which once offered detailed production and songwriting credits, only exaggerates the mystery. Is that an actual violin, a synthesizer that sounds like a violin, a sample of a synthesizer that sounds like a violin, or a raccoon playing a kazoo that has been digitally manipulated to sound like a violin?

For an interested listener, the episode can feel like briefly putting on a pair of X-ray specs

New Yorker’s Secret Sounds of Song Exploder


The Raveonettes’ Snowstorm…

These dark times are having everyone dig deep for optimism. Acts known for dabbling in cacophonous noise, surf-rock reminiscent of rock N roll’s infancy, and compositions engineered for testing your speakers limits, crave more joy. The Danish duo The Raveonettes are dreaming of a time where we can all dance again.

On “Snowstorm”, Sune and Sharin pay no mind to where they experience this much needed happiness. They trade their guitars and drums for sleigh bells, a music box, and a Hawaiian luau Christmas spirit. The holidays are historically a time to come together, rejoice amongst family and friends. But The Raveonettes are realists:

“But now the world is not the same, not the same/ it’s in flames, we are apart from loved ones/No Christmas time, no sleigh rides in the snowstorm”

This period has done many things to all of us. It’s separated us from friends and loved ones; if your people aren’t local, there is a chance you haven’t been able to connect face-to-face. Let alone dance amongst yourselves.

“I hear bells and snowflakes cry, dreaming of a world where you and I will dance again in the snow…”

It takes a special person to play in the snow for a duration longer than a pop song. When the time arrives, we won’t care where we rejoice amongst people we have missed. “Snowstorm” is a plea for more optimistic times when human interaction isn’t so sparse. It’s toasty, welcoming, and a fresh addition to your holiday playlist.


Triple Fast Action’s Cattlemen Don’t 23 Years Later…

It needn’t be an even anniversary year to place your strongest release onto vinyl for the first time. 23 years post the release of your sophomore record might be the ideal time.

The formerly Chicago-based quartet Triple Fast Action have announced a vinyl release of Cattlemen Don’t. This 1997 record is highly regarded by a few reputable sources for its hooks, roller coaster ride sonics, excitable vocals, and craftsmanship-like songwriting. Chicagoist considered it “one of the best rock records you’ve probably never heard”. It’s not on Spotify, was only released on CD thanks to NYC’s Deep Elm Records and sadly was released less than a year before the band disbanded. This release sounds loaded and ready to rip:

TFA’s drummer Brian St. Clair on this long-awaited release:

Cattlemen Don’t got a really great push when it was originally released in 1997 via Deep Elm Records. Had we stayed together we probably would have moved onto things like a vinyl issue and another record. While we missed the 20-year anniversary of the album, our desire to get it out on vinyl only increased with each passing year. Finally, after rediscovering all of the lost tapes, we set out to make this a reality. Justin from Forge Again Records connected with me about his interest in the band and wanted to do the vinyl release.

And here we are today with a double album collection which covers not only the 1997 release, but also the three outtakes from those sessions. The diehard fans will also be psyched to know that it also includes six unreleased songs, two from a November 1994 session and four more from a sixteen-track recording session we did at our practice space around the same time we recorded Cattlemen Don’t. We hope all the fans out there enjoy the heart and soul we put into this music.”

Local H’s Scott Lucas is guesting on this record. He’s contributing to the liner notes of the double record gatefold. Lucas’ meticulous creative process for his latest record Lifers is proof he respects the physical release. A lot has transpired in close to two decades and a half, but one constant remains: 90s guitar-based Chicago rock.

Forge Again Records

“I’m Ready” from TFA’s Cattlemen Don’t was featured on last month’s Deep Elm Records: 25 Years Vol. 1


Ken Andrews What’s Coming E.P…

Without help, we can’t do it alone. You think the consistent channels that guide you and keep you apprised of everything great cover it all. These resources don’t know all. Not even your Release Radar knows frontmen of acts you have spun for years created something new.

The lead architect of space rock juggernauts Failure has shared a new 5 song E.P. What’s Coming. Ken Andrews, lead creative behind ON, Year of the Rabbit, and an extensive producer/mixer (sElf, NIN, Jimmy Eat World) found inspiration within our current political climate to share his first solo effort since 2007’s Secrets of the Lost Satellite.

These times are challenging, it’s next to impossible to not become political; even if you’ve never shared those tendencies before, this period is forcing you to say something, create something, act out of the ordinary for the good of the group.

“This song has two firsts for me, one is that it is the first overtly political song I have ever written, and two, I wrote the video concept and the song at the same time. Making this video was something I simply had to do. Thankfully, my friend and amazing actor, David Dastmalchian, who was as motivated as I was, took the video to another level with his performance.”

On “Sword and Shield”, Ken utilizes his haunting and driving guitar to bring chills throughout. A dark tone permeates much of today, Andrews masterly presents that on his first – and damn great – manifesto “Sword and Shield”:

Don’t believe what you hear or what you see, the threat is real. You should be scared to death cause they’re trying to take it all from you.”

Ken’s Vlog on this latest release.

Sword and Stone video

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November 2020