Tag Archives: hip-hop

#NewMusicTuesday (on a Wednesday) – Summer 2014 New Music Preview

Clockwise from Top Left: Neil Young, Felice Bros, Allen Stone, Common, and The First Aid Kit
Clockwise from Top Left: Neil Young, The Felice Brothers, Allen Stone, Common, and The First Aid Kit

(photo credits clockwise from top left: theguardian.com, americansongwriter.com, hipstervrealworld.wordpress.com, houstonpress.com, vogue.com)

Summer’s upon us, and though the memorable, sure-to-delight summer blockbusters of old have been on their way out for quite a while, summer music releases never fail to delight. These may not be on any big, honkin’ billboard list, but these are a few of the titles I’m most looking forward to hearing this season.

1. Neil Young – A Letter Home (Released 5/27)

I’ve been listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash and this guy lately, and it’s fantastic stuff to use up an afternoon with. Each member of this iconic foursome found success in their respective solo careers, and Mr. Young was no different. His last few albums, however, left much to be desired. Call me a stubborn traditionalist, but I preferred his songs more when the political jabs and searing social commentary was folded in like good metaphors ought to be, not just piled on like some over-sugared meringue.

That said, lately Young has been getting back to basics, though not necessarily of the original lyrical sort. Instead he’s turned his attention to the basics of sound production and the impact it has, good or bad, on our listening experience. One way he’s done this is by becoming something of a sonic evangelist, making sure everyone can hear music properly. That is, high quality (192 kHz). “The way it was meant to be heard” (As opposed to the compressed versions of the tracks heard on CDs or MP3s– less than 40 kHz– that sound as good as if you were, as Neil puts it “underwater”). The result is Pono, a new music service that gives listeners the ability to purchase and play high quality sound versions of their favorite songs.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s his new album, A Letter Home, which features a decidedly more low-fi– but not low quality– sound. The album features 12 covers of popular folk, country, and rock tunes from the last 70 years, all performed by Young himself and recorded using a 1947 Voice-O-Graph Recording Booth. Once a staple of carnivals and county fairs nationwide, Young recorded the album on one of the few remaining models, owned by fellow sound enthusiast and music nostalgist in the best way Jack White and his Third Man Records label in Tennessee.

It’s just Young, his guitar, sometimes a harmonica, and the sparse, warbly sounds of an old vinyl record machine making beautiful music. Sounds good to me.

2. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (6/10)

The Swedish folk duo that brought you the 2012 sleeper hit “Emmylou” is back with another round of spooky, mysterious late-60s-era psychedelia folkie stuff. Expect more beautifully haunting vocal harmonies, sweeping, arpeggiated strings, and stories of estranged lovers getting their just rewards. If you’re still unsure of what to expect, think She and Him minus the Him part or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros minus Edward and the other boys of that posse. Or just take a peak at the advert for their new disc / homage to 70s B-movie wonderment.

3. The Felice Brothers – Favorite Waitress (6/17)

Now take the male half of the bands previously mentioned, add to the mix the raucous bluegrassy, folksy stylings of The Lumineers or the roots-rock vibe of Kingsley Flood, and you’ll have these guys, The Felice Brothers. They are to bluegrass and roots what deviled eggs and turkey bacon are to brunch: slightly updated standards, but still satisfying. These guys are also a ton of fun live. They opened for Josh Ritter during his spring tour last year and got the crowd plenty ready for a long evening of good tunes and good times. Go see them when they come by this summer.

4. Common – Nobody Smiling (TBD)

I’d lost track of this guy for a time, so I was excited to learn that there’re plans on the table for a new full length release sometime this year. A Chicago-based MC, this album is inspired by and dedicated to the young people of the hometown he loves so much. It reflects its troubles while also celebrating its successes. In the artist’s own words it’s meant to be a “wake-up call” for those who haven’t been part of the positive solution. It has been some time since anything else was mentioned about this project, though he has been awful busy supporting his nonprofit’s community events and initiatives around town. Can’t be mad at an MC with a track record of doing good in his community. No doubt it’ll be worth the wait.

5. Allen Stone – Title TBD (TBD)

Talk about much anticipated releases. Back in November of 2013, this golden-voiced soul singer announced plans to drop his next record sometime this year and soon thereafter released the first single from that album “Million.” Since then, however, it’s been relatively quiet. Like Common he’s also been rather busy with a world tour, spreading the love and good vibes through his music, his Instagram account, and his ridiculously wide grin, so it’s understandable that he may not have had the time to let the people know when to expect his next release. Still, with pipes like that, it’s surprising that he wouldn’t have had things ready to go by now. He’s got the sort of voice that’s made for summer beach mixes.

For now, we’ll just have to wait like good boys and girls and let treats like these hold us over.


#FridayFinds: Beastie Boys Flashbacks and Nuovo Neapolitan Music

photos courtesy: ourstage.com, bostoniano.info, nbc.com, legacyrecordings.com
photos courtesy: ourstage.com, bostoniano.info, nbc.com, legacyrecordings.com

The last few weeks have I’ve been terrible about putting up new stories here, and I feel terrible about it. I talk a lot about keeping positive, pressing on, and pressing through, and yet I still have trouble committing to a few hours a week to share some of my favorite music with you.

It’s a fresh new season and I’m ready to turn over a new leaf. And it all starts with this new segment I’m calling #FridayFinds, a space where I can share some of the excellent odds and ends I’ve discovered over the last few days that didn’t fit elsewhere in the week’s entries.

And so, without anymore overture… #FridayFinds

1. Rediscovering An Old Favorite Album

I had not been under the swoon of adolescence long when I bought the Beastie Boys’ record Hello Nasty at the local Borders Books and Music. The entire duration of the trip home from the store I must have turned the CD cover over and over in my hands, marveling at the artwork– the sight of the three MCs literally “packed like sardines in a tin” on the cover and the outer space themes and motifs that carried o’er the rest of the carefully folded, biodegradable cover. I felt much like a young father bringing a young babe home from the hospital, my heart all aflutter with feelings of excitement and pride coupled with nervousness and anxiousness as I brought it inside, up to my room, and laid it down on the bed of my Aiwa 3-CD stereo.

It wasn’t my first introduction to their stuff, having heard whiffs of their work on local rock radio, but it was definitely my first formal introduction to the larger, more complex arc of their oeuvre. And I ate it up. The sheer amount of material on the record was impressive to my formative mind that had until then not seen so many tracks on cassette or CD (21—nay, 22 tracks!). And all those samples, intros, and outros so meticulously sampled and spliced to create a masterful cacophony of cool. It was with me throughout middle school, high school, and on through college.

And then, at some point, it disappeared from my library. Never to be seen again. Even though it was still available to me on my computer, it was a crushing blow.

Then this week I happened to see it again as I was browsing the stacks at the local Newbury Comics. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular that day, but then that’s when the best things happen– when you least expect it.

And it’s still just as good as I remembered it. I’d even wager it’s gotten better with the time that’s passed since I last listened. One thing’s for sure: I definitely get a lot more of the references now. And for all their playful and gonzo antics lyrically and otherwise throughout the album there’re some particularly deep and poignant moments as well. It’s the album of a band confidently hitting their stride.

2. Making Musical Connections in Rather Unlikely Places

I’ve never thought of asking the tellers at the bank for music recommendations, but I might start doing so after a trip to my local branch the other day. I’d gone to make a deposit, not to mention take a much needed break from work with a midday stroll around the neighborhood. Over time the guys at the bank have gotten to know me, and although I really shouldn’t be surprised by this since it’s probably part of their job to be personable and friendly, considering the number of people they must see day in and day and the fact that I come by so infrequently, it’s worth mentioning that they’re really good at it. Really, really good.

For example they know that I not only play guitar but also that I play guitar every so often at a restaurant nearby. Whereas on other occasions I might have made my deposit and left, this time around I stayed and chatted with the 3 tellers behind the counter about music and culture. Which brought us to sharing stories of time spent abroad; which brought us to sharing our favorite folk music; which led us to the shores of Italy and the Neapolitan music tradition, and which led one of the tellers, Victor, to recommend this nouveau Neapolitan music band out of Boston called Newpoli. You don’t have to understand the music, Victor said, to know that the stories in the song are crafted from only the most delicate but deliberate language. When the protagonist is in love, feels betrayed, or even makes a simple observation on the transient nature of life– you know it’s the real deal.

Amazing how in just thirty minutes we were able to travel halfway around the world, and all it required was a quick walk down the street from my office. Music is powerful stuff.

3. Finding New Ways To Discover Music

It was just a simple little NPR Music Spring Survey, nothing major or earth shattering. Little did I know that one simple question would alter the way I listened to music. Forever. Or, at least, for a few weeks.

When I got to the question about where I usually go to find out about new music, I noted that I was familiar with every source it mentioned. With one exception: Stitcher. It’s an online, made-for-mobile emporium of radio shows and podcasts that lets you make playlists of thoses shows. No sooner had I started exploring than I fell in love. In addition to the shows I knew I loved– All Songs Considered, Alt. Latino, and WBEZ’s Sound Opinions, i found some awesome new ones too from their impressive library including the New York Times Popcast, KQED’s Noise Pop Podcast, and non-music centered gems like WTF with Marc Maron and Go Fork Yourself With Andrew Zimmern. If you’ve been on the fence about downloading podcasts before like I was, this is definitely a great way to get familiar with the medium in a way that keeps things organized and leaves your iTunes uncluttered.

And check out Marc Maron’s recent interview with Jason Isbell. It paints a colorful version of modern southern rock history.

4. Centering Idea of the Week: Keep Your Promises

Never have I been more appreciative of Elvis impersonators. Well, I suppose not all of them, just this guy, a high school teacher in Oklahoma by the name of Frank Cooper. He’s as charismatic a teacher as ever I’ve seen, and he does a really, really good Elvis impression, not from time to time, but for every day of Elvis’s birthday month. To do this you’d have to be wildly courageous, and he’d have to decide a long time ago that if he was going to do this, he was going to have to commit to it. And he does.

And his motto: Keep Your Promises. It’s a wonderful window into how he’s able to carry out this philosophy. If you say you’re going to do something- do it. Make it so. Make it happen. Deliver. And I think being humble is part of that too. Because you’re going to have your share of troubles. You’re going to make mistakes, get of track, even loose sight of the goal from time to time. But carry on and follow through.

5. Song of the Week: Bill Withers – Lovely Day

I’ve had it with this cold weather. I want weather that, like this song, makes me want to do nothing more than take a leisurely walk in a vibrant, green garden or lay around all day in the sun like a contented little puppy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- this song’ll keep you feeling fresh and clean all week long, which isn’t to say it’s any substitute for a good ol’ fashioned shower. Practice good hygiene y’all.

And have a great weekend!

Monday Mixtape: Talkin’ New Years Music Resolutions Blues

the circle of life

Today’s mixtape is going to be a little different. Up until now, Mondays have been for mixtapes and Tuesdays have been for new music reviews, but as we’re closing in on New Year’s Eve and I’ll be ringing it in with some good friends, I thought it would be fitting to combine the two by considering my top 5 new year’s resolutions in music.

By and large new year’s resolutions are hard to keep since they usually don’t have a great enough reward-per-task ratio. To set a new year’s resolution that can be kept all year long requires some ability to get some positive benefit from it. Music-centered new year’s resolutions therefore rate rather highly on that reward-per-task scale.

That said, here are my five resolutions for music exploration and discovery in the new year.

1. Listen to More Hip-Hop

2013 was a great year for Hip-Hop. 1993 was also a great year for Hip-Hop apparently, but between then and now my hip-hop taste buds have only rarely ventured far from the safe and comfortable rhythms and rhymes of the Beastie Boys. An artist and/or song here or there perhaps, but these flash-in-the-pan-type diversions do not a three-course meal of block rockin’ beats make.

It’s not that I’ve ever been cold towards or simply opposed to the genre as I have been with pop music (more on that below), it’s just never been top of mind either. I don’t want to simply listen to the music– I want to understand it too. Last week a friend formally introduced me to the work of Donald Glover (alias Childish Gambino) and suggested I review his most recent full-length LP because the internet for one of my upcoming new music reviews. After just one listen I was awestruck, but even as it captivated me with impressive lyrical breadth of referential sources, dizzying yet controlled speed and delivery, and sheer emotional intensity, I felt my tenuous knowledge of the hip-hop world would not do the album proper justice when reviewed (fully understanding the rich and deeply layered lyrics alone would require days of research). Not yet anyhow.

2. Listen and Appreciate Pop Music

Pop music will often dazzle and sparkle, rarely surprise you, and it will never go away. It’s cloyingly cute, maddeningly repetitive, terribly unoriginal, and yet I can’t honestly deny its catchy if not insipid charm. Since even the most banal and redundant of its offerings has some ounce of endearing quality to it, I resolve to keep an amused eye on the pop music grist mill this new year as opposed to writing it off completely. After all, if it truly is “popular music” and thus something of a zeitgeist of our generation, catering to the whims and preoccupations of the people, then at the very least there’s some value in tracking the socio-political implications and repercussions of the art form, right?

3. Learn to Salsa or Swing Dance

I like to listen to music, and I like to tap my feet to music, so I may as well learn to move with the music. Attempts to this end have been made before, all with mostly unsuccessful results or less-than-stellar outcomes. It turns out it’s one thing to move and sway with a stationary, inanimate object (like, say a guitar), and quite another thing to learn how move in tandem with another human being. Here’s to putting your best foot forward in the new year (and learning a few other steps in the process).

4. Learn to Play the Songs that I Love on Guitar

I’ve played guitar for many years, but recently I’ve found that the only songs I can seem to play all the way through are the same ones I learned in my first few years of playing. Gigging around town and reconnecting with fellow musician friends in the last year has helped me to  pick up new songs as well, but rarely are the songs learned well enough to be committed to muscle memory or even just more than chords and lyrics on a page. This year I want to update that repertoire and really get familiar with the songs I’ve grown attached to.

5. Get Back in Touch With the Music That I Listen To

Even with the consistent, healthy harvest of music passing through my headphones all year, I’ve felt a drought of the deeper connection with the experience. I’m quick to gush about how I love the harmonies on this track, or how enamored I am with the instrumental prowess on that one, but I’ve been slow to consider what the interest of a particular song or artist means about where I’m at during a particular year. Music is for me, as it is for many people, a full-on, three dimensional experience, that gives additional texture and weight to different points in life, reinforcing and recording these moments for all posterity. So now it’s time to return to being a fully active participant in the capturing and recording of those memories.

I’m ready to listen, ready to learn, and ready to reconnect to all of it. I’ve got a starter kit of artists and other helpful referential sources too, as well as a positive outlook. Here’s to 2014. May it be a filled with good times, good vibes, and great memories all around. Let’s rock.

*Artwork courtesy of HappyCreA