Category Archives: Music

Monday Morning Tunes: K’s Choice

K's Choice
frf_kmeron / Flickr

I am not playing fair at all. K’s Choice is not a new band to me by any means. This Belgian band, formed by brother and sister Gert and Sarah Bettens, have been around since the mid-90’s. I have been a fan of theirs since the early 2000’s, when I would walk miles everyday with their albums, “Paradise in Me” and “Almost Happy” blaring through the headphones of my discman.

God, I’m getting old. I should really walk more.

Anyway.

“Almost Happy” has always, since the very first time I heard it, been my go-to companion in times of desperate, unwavering quiet. The quiet that makes your ears ring; the kind of quiet that makes you suspicious of just how firmly rooted your feet are to the ground because the earth just may spontaneously open up and swallow you whole.

It is that soothing, honest, and raw voice that gives words to emotions that should not have words to describe them because they are ugly and all that is wrong with what has become of being human. It makes you remember to breathe in times when you’re not sure you want to.

Right now, I need to be reminded to breathe.

K’s Choice is the only band that I could have possibly written about today, and “Almost Happy” is the only album I will likely have playing until I can adequately stabilize myself.

Monday Morning Tunes: Bright Eyes Christmas Album

Bright Eyes
ffi / Flickr

We are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Christmas is only 9 days away and I am feeling festive. In fact, as I type this, I am enjoying the multi-colored lights of my tree while watching sappy holiday movies in Christmas-themed pajamas.

When not binge-watching holiday movies so sweet they could give Scrooge a toothache, I have been listening to Christmas music. Obviously, there is no better time to share one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums with you than right now, when so many of us are in the Christmas spirit.

Bright Eyes has always been an exercise in extraordinary fandom for me. The moniker in which Nebraskan singer/songwriter Conor Oberst has used as a vehicle for his music for over a decade, Bright Eyes began as a solo act and grew to include a rotating lineup of multi-instrumentalists and even a full orchestra at times.

Bright Eyes is an exploration in gritty folk, country, indie rock, and sometimes even electronica. Oberst’s music has always been written with a biting, harsh, aching honesty that instantly hooked me and never — not even once — let me go.

From the very first time I heard Bright Eyes, back when I was in the ninth grade, I knew I had discovered something special that would stay with me. So many years later, and I have proven myself right. I still go back to the earliest recordings I heard of Conor Oberst’s, of which I still know every single word, and I pour over his new releases.

The release of Bright Eyes’ “A Christmas Album” delights me to absolutely no end. The album was released in 2002 and I have listened to it every holiday season since. The only disappointment of this album is its length, at just over 30 minutes. However, it is beautiful and worthy of several listens.

Monday Morning Tunes: Horse Feathers

Horse Feathers
incubatetilburg / Flickr

Horse Feathers is my favorite kind of folk music. It is the kind of music that commands every ounce of your attention and makes you feel to the bottom of yourself.

The first song I heard by Horse Feathers was “Fit Against the Country” and by the time the song reached the chorus, I was already looking up their full albums. I had to hear more.

I found a really beautiful album in Horse Feathers’ “Cynic’s New Year“. There are few bands out there that make me feel thankful for having heard them, but that is exactly how I feel about Horse Feathers.

The best way I can think to describe the experience that Horse Feathers delivers is that their songs delve into the hurt and the ugly that can speckle all of our lives, but somehow at the end you see the beauty in it all.

Justin Ringle is the constant of Horse Feathers. While he is most often joined by multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick, the rest of the sound consists of the talents of a rotating ensemble of musicians, including several string players that create a very special harmony with Ringle’s unique, soothing, yet still just gritty enough, voice.

Monday Morning Tunes: Emily Jane White

Emily Jane White
alter1fo / Flickr

Emily Jane White is a songwriter, pianist, and guitarist with a haunting and beautiful voice that I want to hear all the time. I will likely forever be in love with the title track of her debut album, “Dark Undercoat.”

The first three albums of Emily Jane White’s tell an underlying story — a story of a songwriter perfecting her art as she truly finds herself and the voice she wants to project to those open and ready to listen. She has accomplished just that in her latest album, “Blood / Lines.”

Emily Jane White is a cerebral experience. Her voice is delicate, then sharp and matter-of-fact. The lyrics she writes are akin to being hit in the face with an emotional 2×4.

This is music that stuns you, knocks the wind out of you, and it hurts in the way that being open and vulnerable and honest with yourself hurts.

Monday Morning Tunes: Rest in Peace, Lou Reed

Lou Reed
24365773@N03 / Flickr

Yesterday, me and my aunt got together for some much-needed girl time. With my birthday coming up (exactly 5 days from today; I’ll be 27 and presents are always welcome) we made a whole early celebratory day of it with morning coffee, all-day shopping, and an early dinner. When I finally made it home, got settled, and opened my browser, one of the first things I saw was the news that Lou Reed had died.

Way to ruin a day, Lou Reed.

Lou Reed was and will always be remembered as a rock and roll god.

The observations and criticisms he made of bohemian 1960s New York City, paired with his unapologetic truth-telling, is said to have put him and the songs he wrote and sang as a member of the Velvet Underground, first discovered by Andy Warhol, ahead of their time. As a result, they achieved very little commercial success. That is, until the 1980s, when their cult following exploded and they were finally given the recognition they deserved and were acknowledged as one of the most important and influential rock bands of all time.

Many have commented that at the time they were making music, the songs that Lou Reed was writing for the Velvet Underground fell on a confused and put-off general public. Lou Reed was a story-teller, and his songs were filled with stories and accounts of the complicated messes humans can make for themselves as they navigate through the complicated web that is the human condition.

I don’t think Lou Reed was particularly dark or macabre in his writing. Not as much so as many claim, anyway. I think that above all, he relayed what he had lived in an honest and poetic way — a way that not enough people took the time to understand then. At least people eventually came around and learned from their obvious error in judgment when writing Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground, off as something not worth paying attention to. It only took them over a decade to do it.

In 1970, Lou Reed left the avant-garde world of the Velvet Underground, took a brief reprieve from music, and ultimately set out on his own. It was during his solo career that he achieved his greatest commercial success, particularly with his second solo album, “Transformer“, co-produced by David Bowie.

Lou Reed lived a full life. A life made up of grand experiences, an open and outrageously creative mind, drug abuse, alcoholism, near-death experiences, getting clean, falling in love, collaborating with other creative geniuses, writing plays, appearing in movies, and reflecting on all of it to create a hell of a lot of music.

We lost a rock and roll god yesterday when Lou Reed passed away at 71, but for anyone who ever heard his music and could remember where they were and what they were doing the first time they were exposed to him, he will always be alive. The music industry will always have him to thank for introducing rock to a new vocabulary in which to compose the narrative of the song around, and his fans will always remember him as the man who walked on the wild side.

Monday Morning Tunes: The Naked and Famous

The Naked and Famous
ultra5280 / Flickr

The Naked and Famous has been in frequent rotation in my life for the past couple of years, ever since I first heard their song “Young Blood.” After that first listen, I was hooked.

I have mostly listened to The Naked and Famous while cleaning my house (I always need upbeat, happy music I can awkwardly dance my heart out to while cleaning), or when I’m just in the mood to listen to music that makes me feel good without any real effort on my part. It’s amazing when a good song can just magically make you happy and want to dance, and that is what most of their first album, “Passive Me, Aggressive You,” does to me every single time I listen to it.

After two years, The Naked and Famous has just recently released their second full-length album, “In Rolling Waves.” While different — slower, and a little more melancholy than their inaugural album — I loved hearing a new side of this alternative rock band from New Zealand.

The first single from “In Rolling Waves” is “Hearts Like Ours,” a perfect choice given that it is one of the few songs on this album that could have sat comfortably on their last. It makes for an easy transition for fans of “Passive Me, Aggressive You” to tread the slower water of “In Rolling Waves.” See what I did there?

Monday Morning Tunes: Nicholas David

Nicholas David
flannigandesign / Flickr

Nicholas David competed on season 3 of the NBC vocal talent show, “The Voice,” which is the only talent-based competition reality show that I watch. Season 5 premieres tonight, so you know what I’ll be doing.

While the first time I heard Nicholas David was on this show, where he scored a spot on CeeLo Green’s team, sang his way to the top 3, and amassed an extraordinary fan base, he had been busy honing his craft for over a decade prior.

Before his success on “The Voice,” Nicholas David released 5 albums, which received ample praise and national radio airplay. His career, like most every other musician out there, revolved around the struggle of getting the music he created into the ears of others. He was afforded that opportunity while on “The Voice,” and it was an awesome treat to watch week after week.

I have mentioned Nicholas David to my fiance multiple times. The last time I did, he could only smile and ask me, “What is it with this guy?”

Well, Nicholas David is soul from the word ‘go.’ It exudes from him in everything he does, the songs he writes, the way his sings them, and how he never looks fully in control of himself. He just moves along with the rhythm of the music and it all comes together effortlessly. His voice always makes me smile.

Nicholas David proved that he wasn’t just going to fade back into obscurity after his stint on live television. He released a 4-song EP this year and it is touching and full of soul, just like him.

The title track of the EP, “Say Goodbye,” is such an incredibly warm and beautiful song. It exemplifies who Nicholas David is as a songwriter and performer through and through.

Monday Morning Tunes: Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox the Ghost
fwyb / Flickr

I have no idea how I have not heard of Jukebox the Ghost until this past week. Seriously, this is a band that I should not only have heard of before, but should be a hardcore fan of by now.

A three-piece alternative rock/pop band native to Washington, D.C. and based in Brooklyn, Jukebox the Ghost has released three albums since 2008 and are frequently on tour, playing upwards of 150 shows a year. Reasons why I should have heard of them well before now include the fact that they have toured with and opened for bands I have long been a fan of, like Jack’s Mannequin and Ben Folds.

Jukebox the Ghost does something I absolutely love. They write very upbeat, happy music that makes you smile and want to dance around in your underwear (come on, you still do it!) But when you catch a line and really pay attention to the words they’re singing, you find out that it is in fact a really dark song.

I have this habit of listening to really upbeat music and not paying close attention to the words, because most of the time I’m either cleaning my house like a madwoman or working and have it on in the background because my brain likes to be kept busy. I was listening to the song “Somebody” and wasn’t paying attention until I heard the lines “I don’t want any more heartbreak / I’m tired of the sound it makes.” And with that, they had me. I started the entire song over and they had my undivided attention from beginning to end.

Love accounts for our highest highs and our lowest lows. It’s what all the great novels, movies, and songs are written about, so when a band or a poet or a novelist or a screenwriter gives attributes like sight, touch, taste, or sound to love, it brings about some very unique imagery that I appreciate.

“Somebody” and “Oh, Emily” are the first two songs on Jukebox the Ghost’s latest album, “Safe Travels.” I highly suggest you give the entire album a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

Monday Morning Tunes: Gossling

Gossling
badjonni / Flickr

No, Ryan Gosling has not abandoned his acting pursuits and status as Object of Feminist Affection Everywhere to release an album I have to rave about. At least not to my knowledge. Yet every time I did a search for Gossling, Google insisted that I had no idea what I was looking for and repeatedly pointed me in the direction of Ryan Gosling. Sometimes Google is wrong. There, I said it.

The Gossling I’m talking about is Australian singer/songwriter Helen Croome, accompanied by a group of musicians she met while earning her Bachelor of Music (Composition) degree.

The first time I heard Helen Croome’s voice, I was completely captivated and utterly confused. The tone of her singing voice made absolutely no sense to me. How does someone get or create the vocal tone I was hearing? Immediately after listening to the very first song I heard by Gossling, “Wild Love”, I searched YouTube for a live version. I was expecting to find some sort of effects machine at play but found none, which only drew me in more.

Not only did Croome’s voice keep my attention, but the sweet and entertaining way she carried herself in that performance, singing and playing a guitar, mesmerized me. She also sings with a smile on her face, making the whole experience of watching a live performance that much more enjoyable. Since then, I have watched this video about 50 times.

I am all about unique voices. I gravitate towards them, always. Sóley is an excellent example of that. Gossling effortlessly manages to fulfill this love of something different in me on a whole new level, and I am so thrilled and delighted by that.

Gossling has released three EPs over three years — two in 2010 and the last, Intentional Living, in 2012. This last EP, in my humble opinion, is their best work to-date; it is a joy to listen to and only disappointing in the respect that it is made up of just four songs. I could tell you how many times I have listened to those four songs, but I won’t. Let’s just say I can recall those lyrics by memory without hesitation and leave it at that.

“Wild Love” was the single from the “Intentional Living” EP, which I think is the catchiest tune on the track list. Another great, must-listen song is “Heart Killer” which was featured during the opening scene of an episode of “Nashville.” That is a pretty big deal for a relatively unknown artist.

From the moment I first discovered Gossling, I have repeatedly wondered why she has only released EPs over the last few years. I didn’t have to wait long for that question to be answered. Just yesterday Gossling released the first single, “Never Expire” from her upcoming full-length album, “Harvest of Gold,” due to be released November 1, 2013.

I am already excited for this album, and what makes it even more exciting is that it will be released the day before my birthday. Thank you, Gossling!

Monday Morning Tunes: The Tallest Man on Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth
lavid / Flickr

I hadn’t planned on writing about The Tallest Man on Earth this week. I actually had another artist narrowed down from my ever-growing list of New Favorite Music Ever and had already begun writing that post before I even knew there was a man making incredible music with mostly just his voice and a guitar under the moniker The Tallest Man on Earth.

That was last night, and in that time I have listened to all three of his full-length albums to-date straight through, and then the most recent album, “There’s No Leaving Now“, twice. I fell in love with it immediately and all of my plans about that other artist I started writing about for this week went right out the window. I was so taken with this particular album and enjoyed it so much that rather than risk my life by climbing up to the highest point on my roof to scream my music recommendations at my neighbors first thing in the morning, I figured this has to be the next best and much safer thing to do.

The Tallest Man on Earth is Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson. Recommended to me based on my ridiculous love of Conor Oberst. Seriously, if you thought my post about Rilo Kiley was an exercise in extreme fandom, you haven’t seen a thing compared to how I feel about pretty much anything Conor Oberst has ever musically touched. Give it time. He is still making music and you are bound to get a post about him eventually.

After listening to everything I could find by The Tallest Man on Earth — literally — I wouldn’t necessarily compare him to Oberst. Their music, while in the same (mostly) folk vein, isn’t terribly similar. They do have one glaringly obvious thing in common, however. Both Conor Oberst and Kristian Matsson have been repeatedly compared to Bob Dylan. I have long been a critic of putting that badge on Oberst, just because I think he has the weight to sit comfortably on his own without the incessant need to compare or lump him into the same bubble as the epic, legendary Dylan. I am generally uncomfortable with comparing one artist to the next to the next as it is, but I immediately, with just the first song I heard Kristian Matsson sing, flat-out compared him to Bob Dylan, in both songwriting and vocal styles.

The first The Tallest Man on Earth song I listened to was “The Gardener” from the first album “Shallow Grave“, and within just the first few words Matsson sung, it was as if I were hearing a young Bob Dylan sing about insecurity and relationships.

It is my understanding that “Shallow Grave” was heavily inspired by Bob Dylan, but I was delighted to see him acknowledge and own up to what he was able to learn and take away from him in an interview I was able to find. He is asked about how he became familiar with the vocabulary of American songwriting and answers with, “I started when I was 15, I started to listen to Bob Dylan… no shit.” Here is the link to the interview. The question begins at the 2:40 mark.

As I listened to the second album, “The Wild Hunt,” which came two years after his debut release, I could hear Matsson getting a little further away from the distinct vocal tone and delivery that is a constant in the first album, and I enjoyed it more because of it. I was able to just begin to hear him as himself, showcasing his real abilities.

Kristian Matsson so obviously matured as a songwriter and vocalist in his third and latest album, “There’s No Leaving Now,” which came out in the summer of 2012. He finally wrote, recorded, and produced an album that is more him standing on his own as an artist than any of the previous releases, and perhaps not surprising at all, this is my favorite album of his.

A phenomenal example of folk music that can be upbeat, make you happy, and give you goosebumps.