Archive Page 2

13
Mar
21

Black Pumas and Catnip…

I don’t consider myself the average listener. Casually listening to the radio was never my thing. It’s my time, I know what I want to hear. When using Spotify, I select the music and cue the queue to my desire. Those curated playlists and the scientifically algorithmic “State of Music Today” folders don’t get play. It’s not that I don’t listen to popular music, it’s I’m lost inside of my musical bubble that rarely do I know what tops the charts or is up for awards. But clearly, I’m immersed in at least one mainstream artist. And now I can’t steer clear of blurbs and dedicated articles to this weekend’s Grammy’s.

Speculating on potential Grammy nominees and winners is irrelevant. Is the committee of this six decade plus tradition still relevant? Was it ever? When an artist I do respect is nominated for an award, it makes me smile. This is great exposure, most likely positive press, and an opportunity for the masses to experience a worthwhile act.

Stereogum, the self-described world’s best music blog, recently upped an article that is intriguing but also pains me. Their Senior Editor helps his viewers to understand why an act like Black Pumas are so coveted by the Grammy’s. He’s making an “anthropological observation”. They’re digestible, do what they do well, and perform in classic genres. The ideal formula to create “catnip for TV Producers and certain kinds of yuppie authenticity fetishists”.

Ultimately, though, Black Pumas is a deeply conservative listen, a painstaking re-creation of throwback sounds. Whereas someone like Michael Kiwanuka (a nominee for Best Rock Album this year) will step these kinds of sounds into the present in surprising and rewarding ways, Black Pumas pretty much play it straight.

The discourse on the Grammy’s race dilemma is engaging, as is why the Pumas are nominated for top-tier awards. But criticism on their lack of originality is banal. Pumas are label mates with Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket on ATO Records, two acts that Stereo’s writer considers more adventurous than the Austin soulful duo.

Do those adventurous acts warrant repeatable listens next year and half a decade later? I recall my own previous Best of Year lists and question what I was thinking. When I randomly retrieve a Best Album list from a Stereogum or Pitchfork-like site from say 2008, that at the time had a list of novel sounds, today more often than not falls flat.

Yes, Pumas are a revival act, one masterly taking the soulful sounds of yesterday to create original songs on topics of today. The blueprint for this trusted and dusty sound the Pumas utilize works. It’s a pick me up sound, it’s one I can play no matter the company I keep, it’s a throwback theatrical production. Where many albums are mood and time of the day dependent, the Pumas concoct a timeless sound. Morning, evening, during a meal, or five years from now, I want to drop the needle on this sound.

This author’s profile pic is none other than the cover of Emergency & I, the spastic, indie darling, genre-bending 1999 album from Dismemberment Plan. An album where this D.C. act’s influences are crammed in an industrial blender and placed on high until their indescribable creation is a sonic puree. Historically, fans of this holier than thou record think that no song, album, or movement could ever create something better than Emergency & I. And it’s with that sentiment I realize Black Pumas are up against impossible odds.

Last year Pumas one upped themselves with a Deluxe Edition of their self-titled debut. This week they take it to another level as they unleash the Expanded Deluxe Edition, a collection of everything from the Deluxe Edition plus 11 additional tracks; including the hypnotic “Colors” rendition done up big by Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the Pumas’ Capitol Studio A sessions. If they are a less adventurous sound it would be fitting for the me of today. I’ve already owned prioritizing bedtime over shows. Why not transition into enjoying a sound that’s engineered for the Recording Academy and the masses?

12
Mar
21

It’s March Plaidness!

64 teams, but only one can be the ultimate victor in a tournament’s bracket. March basketball hosts a major collegiate battle. Equally important, and way less fleeting than a two hour and 15 minute game, where most cease to ever think about again, is March Plaidness. A 64 song bracket of the Grunge Era. A period where many want to forget. But others, are still happily immersed in its sound: cacophonous guitars, quiet/loud/quiet/explosive patterns, sullen lyrical themes, and angst a plenty. Each artist of this period created their own unique story by their recorded output and off stage actions and shenanigans.

Where in basketball the teams are seeded based on talent, winning record, and historical value, this bracket is ranked based on popularity. Of course Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains are ranked higher than Sunny Day Real Estate, Hum, and Local H. But music is subjective, what you consider brilliant and timeless, I haven’t hit play on since this plaid soaked period. Time can be a bitch on acts of this period, only so much truly holds up. Upsets are inevitable.

This bracket includes play-by-play analysis in the form of an essay for each competitor. Here is where this competition is worth participating in: reading someone else’s interpretation of an artist that’s been essential to your listening canon. Or engaging in a great riff on a single from that period you still can’t hear enough of.

I stumbled upon this greatness care of Local H, where their ’96 “Bound For the Floor” single went face-to-face against Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” off 94’s Vitalogy. Artists I love, singles I used to adore, and still spin to this day laced up for this battle; Veruca Salt, PJ Harvey, Breeders, Placebo, etc. Advance or go home, who gives a shit. This is the Internet doing good: bringing my favorite musical decade back into the spotlight.

07
Mar
21

Yard Acts’ Fixer Upper…

Can’t believe I’m a two homeowner…

Finally I’m a two homeowner…

Graham also drives a Rover. He’s the lead protagonist in “Fixer Upper”, from Yard Act. A confident, groove-inciting quartet outta Leeds. Jerky guitars, a slightly inebriated, cocky sing-speak, and enough musical bravado to question why I’m hearing them for the first time.

On “Fixer Upper”, frontman James Smith impersonates your new neighbor. He’s an avid IKEA shopper and proud of his recent deeply discounted score: a prosecco o’clock poster. He’s about to bust through a wall or two as he renovates his new fixer upper. He’s gutted because the bloody -Polish- builders have put a stop to his renovations. A slight bigot, he is. Where I’m from home improvement is a mess, it’s right up there with moving. But damn if Yard Act hasn’t given me a whole new perspective…

02
Mar
21

Hawkley’s 2021 Night in Canada…

We’ve pressed pause on live entertainment. The once escape from reality is on hiatus. You’re having a shitty day, perhaps week, but your calendar states that live gig is in a few days. You can put your head down and power through the muck to arrive at the needed escape. But today, what is driving you when enough is enough? And artists, for many, this has been a bleak period with minimal light peeking through the end of the tunnel.

This pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs, for some, that’s their purpose. Without a purpose, many fall flat. If a musician can’t perform, their inspiration for creating new art dissipates. Luckily after some dark and reflective periods, some chose to continue to create. Others chose to create and share. Either I know how to pick innovative, fearless artists, or I got damn lucky in 2020 and 2021 on who I still support.

I received an introspective email recently from Hawksley Workman, the Canadian glue that began the binding process between my wife and I. He thanked us listeners for helping him reach deep from within to tackle this trying period. His Night In Canada pulled him out of the doldrums, sparked motivation to continue doing what he does best: musically entertain. Without his experimental “Tommy Hunter meets Pee Wee’s Playhouse type variety show with music and chat” he might have burrowed himself into a deep and dark hole. Workman expressed his gratitude that we fans were receptive to this experiment and helped him to rediscover what drives him: music.

His variety show returns for its first episode of 2021. Hawksley Night in Canada has become a legitimate excuse to place an engaging device in our children’s hands, go out of our way to order take-out from a special restaurant, and pretend we’ve stepped away from reality. This special edition sees our host celebrating his birthday and transparently stating, “It’s my birthday and I’ll sing what I want to.” If this is what live music looks like today, I have accepted it. But now I know that these shows aren’t only for us, they’re for Hawksley, too. Without them, our match-maker extraordinaire might share an ominous trait with the live music industry: dormant.

Hawk’s Promotional video

26
Feb
21

Black Rain

The sex you up sound of Rhye is always welcome. When their “Black Rain” single fell upon me, I had trouble sitting still, its sound was reminiscent of a strobe-strewn disco. The thought of pulsing energy, bright lights, the chance to feel the overpowering music encapsulating us is dream-like. A former life it seems. British Columbia’s Jayda G, the piano-house extraordinaire behind “Both of Us”, brings her energy and uplifting devotion to Rhye’s standout single.

She’s cranked the tempo, incorporated Conga-like percussion, and added enough of that Chicago house bounce. Milosh speaks of this version bringing the feeling of summertime. Perhaps he’s referring to the carefree attitude many take during the warmer months, or maybe Milosh knows this version smokes. And there aint much better than a slow cruise with the windows down, the dial just a notch below ear-deafening while the summertime air wafts in and out of your ride. While we wait for the optimal cruise season, queue up Jayda’s re-work and make an absolute ruckus in your kitchen.

21
Feb
21

Another February, Another Podcast…

While Chicago is living through a February, they also continue to be immersed within a global pandemic. The latter has decimated live music. With more home time than we care for, many urban folks snow stuck, this might be the opportune period to create a podcast. Many would ask, Another podcast? This format is oversaturated many would state. But if you already have the fan base, and you have something to share, this couldn’t be a more optimal time.

Scott Lucas, front man of innovative rockers Local H, is taking a chance on this format with the Lifers podcast. The man is a self-described Lifer. A Lifer is a person who has skin in the game, has determined that this is the life for them. It doesn’t matter if they’re making it, or can barely piece together enough to keep themselves afloat, this is the path they have chosen to indefinitely follow. This podcast is a deep dive into the why and how of people that continue to persevere in their chosen art; music, film, production, all artistic forms are potential topics. This is a Local H podcast but so much more: never heard stories, unique banter, and an opportunity to hear how these inspiring artists continue to thrive when others fail.

At one point I dismissed podcasts as another thing vying for my attention. Where was I going to find the time to experience a two hour episode? But shit, this medium has endless potential. It’s educational entertainment.

When I want to learn more on a topic I will utilize a podcast. After completing a book, I will search for the author on a podcast. This provides the opportunity to sit with the writer, hear their stories, the why into their project and further understand the material. Today I asked myself why am I not doing the same for artists after they unleash a new record? If Episode 2 of Lifers is any indication, this might be where I look first.

18
Feb
21

But I am down with Prince…

We all want credibility. There is a desire to one up the next guy, be more in the know. This was never more prevalent than when I was coming up as a music fan. I strived to listen to the unknown, wouldn’t waste my time with someone mainstream, and claimed to know more than I truly did. A poseur of sorts, one claiming to be down with something or someone hip to appear hip. London’s Hot Chip, a quintet of laptop totin’ hip-hop lovin’ funk fans simply don’t play that.

On “Down With Prince” they have zero tolerance for fake-ass credibility whores. Frontman Alexis Taylor, in his best you don’t want to step to me impression, states, “I’m sick of motherfuckers trying to tell me that they’re down with Prince/I was just a baby when I heard him playing Vanity 6.” That right there, that name drop of the early 80s female trio orchestrated by Prince is his chest puff, a warning to the amateurs that you can’t begin to step to his long term standing relationship with Minnesota’s most coveted treasure. Alexis’ entourage flexes hard behind his words. There is enough bounce, absolute madness, and body movin’ eccentricities to do the Purple One proud.

Coming on Strong, Hot Chip’s debut from 2005 is seeing a special wax release.

14
Feb
21

Floorplan’s Right There/Holy Ghost…

At what age do you realize your father is the founder of a musical genre? Some grow up in their parent’s store, their plant, the kitchen of their restaurant, Lyric Hood may have grown up in the club. Consider yourself lucky if your parents were employed. Consider yourself fortunate if they were gainfully employed. Consider yourself hipper than most if your parent created a movement through music.

When your father is considered the founder of minimal techno, and a prolific DJ and producer known throughout the house and techno world, music has been your oxygen. Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric are Floorplan. Far from a misnomer, this funky duo creates foot stomping, move your body dance floor ready bangers. Hood understands what motivates people to move and take action.

Floorplan’s latest “Right There/Holy Ghost” begs you to exorcise all those 2020 demons by musical detox. House music laced with an uplifting spoken gospel is hard for me to ignore. It’s the energy, the pulse, and the adrenaline that courses through the beat. The tempo pushes your intensity, challenges you to try and keep up. It makes you crave a sweaty, packed floor of strangers cathartically healing themselves through music.

When the gates open back up for the dark and smoky club, I know you’re more than ready. Floorplan is prepared to fuel your evening with enough four on the floor propulsion to build that endurance you lost around this time last year…

12
Feb
21

Deliver Me a Hit…

I consistently receive other people’s mail. If I’m gettings yours, you must be seeing some mine. Perhaps it’s the mail carrier’s short attention span, the inability to focus and slow down to give a shit. Or maybe it’s the lack of worldly experience our carrier has. Over in Minneapolis, their carriers have pizazz, super sex appeal, and a knack for writing a soulful experience worth returning to.

This last year has decimated many industries. Many in the musical arena have innovated and taken chances. Those gambles have perhaps kept them afloat, or at least kept me entertained while I sit shackled in my house. And the artists who depended upon touring and selling merch to support themselves? They turned to alternatives. This era has anyone out of work thinking hard on what careers are recession and pandemic proof. Enter the essential worker, the ones who are reporting to work no matter the situation.nThe soul strutting Har Mar Superstar is moonlighting, perhaps now it’s his music is the side hustle, as the man is now taking over 25,000 steps daily as a mail carrier. Mpls St. Paul has an excellent write-up on his new beginnings.

Thankfully, the man is still an artist and continues to create. His forthcoming record Roseville debuts in March via BandCamp.

“It’s a weird salvation album,” he says. “Melancholy, piano ballad–based. I’m excited to release it in the middle of winter.” 

In the meantime, he’s unleashed two singles, “Where We Began”, with horns a plenty and the perfect complement to a strut down your local Main St. as you walk with that extra pep in your step and just enough swagger to catch the eyes of most onlookers; “Sleight of Hand” has Superstar bring out a full production that creates an easygoing sound around the one that got away.

During these troubling economic times, do artists turn their backs on our major streaming options to exclusively share via Bandcamp? My hope is they don’t, I want to use one app to play music while outside of my home. Regardless, let’s continue to support those that do so much for us.

05
Feb
21

Natalia Lafourcade gets re-worked…

I won’t be traveling in the near future. In the interim, I can drop the needle on a record for much needed escapism. When I was younger I was fortunate to immerse myself within cities of Latin America. I investigated the music of those countries and sampled their sounds. I wanted genres unique to those countries, music I wasn’t hearing stateside. Spotify is aware of this previous period in my life and continues to alert me.

My weekly Release Radar isn’t giving up on my Latin tongue. This sound, one of upbeat rhythms, a warm aura, and intricately plucked flamenco guitar is temporary bliss. Natalia Lafourcade, a diverse and multi-talented singer from Mexico City, is charming and possesses the ability to whisk me away. A new artist to me, but by no means in the infancy of her career. Switzerland’s Michel Cleis caught inspiration in her 2017 “Tu Si Sabes Quererme” and added an extra bounce.

A remix is hit or miss for me. Some bump, can inject a whole new dynamic to the original. Others fall flat or radically alter the original to the point of why did you bother? But when an artist and their catalog is new to me, and is given the remix treatment, I can objectively listen. The original is moving, Lafourcade’s light and beautiful voice complement the guitar and the song’s uplifting aura. Cleis likes a tribal, rapid-fire tempo, one that incites a benevolent riot amongst the village. His sound is Carnaval meets a hedonistic Ibiza 16 hour rave.

He ratchets up the BPMs, challenges our feet to attempt to keep up with the Latin rhythms, and begs you to move. His sonic signature asks us to keep pace with his tweaks and formidable maracas that make this version shake. If you’re not moving, my hope is your eyes are closed and you’re sitting outside of today’s reality.




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