Tag Archives: pop

Monday Mixtape – Songs I Was Caught Singing (and Dancing to) at Work

working 9 to 5
workin’ 9 to 5.

By Cynthia Almansi

Like so many people, music is what gets me through the day at work. It helps me set the tone and pace for my workflow, and it is crucial for drowning out the sounds of a busy office when high levels of concentration are required. There’s just one thing (I don’t want to call it a problem since it really isn’t): I often can’t help dancing along. Truly, I am infamous for instinctually finding a dance move to match just about any rhythmic sound. Let me remind you, this is happening at my desk. I also lip-sync and, occasionally, even sing out loud by mistake. (That’s okay if you do too, Buzzfeed says it’s good for you!)

This is only a selection of songs that frequently populate my playlist and have the added appeal of triggering my happy feet syndrome.

1. Dirty Projectors – Stillness in the Move

Although this list really isn’t in any particular order, this is the unbeatable No. 1 of the bunch. A while back I caught myself merrily swinging on my chair and silently singing along to this song, making passionate facial expressions every time the lead singer would raise her voice and totally making up the words because I never paid enough attention to the lyrics— all while still managing to pump out eloquent, thoughtful emails. At one point I swung far to the left and found my company’s CEO standing over me. On any given day this man would be stoic and pensive like a wise, old sage. Yet there he was, actually chuckling at the sight of me being utterly ridiculous. This will forever be one of my fondest office memories.

2. Wild Belle – Keep You

I cannot explain what it is about this song that makes me involuntarily howl like a Chihuahua singing the blues but it just does. My voice comes out in a grave bass at first, “Same song, again and again, you wrong me twice and I keep coming back.” Then my neck begins to twist to one side and then the other like a swan’s. By the time the chorus hits— “why can’t I keep you, keep you…”— I’ve managed to produce a high-pitched tone that I am normally absolutely incapable of producing. There is something in the lyrical longing and stylistic weave of this song that I find intensely overpowering.

3. Devendra Banhart – Quédate Luna

This one starts out in an ultra mellow atmosphere. The mild vibrato, yes, instantly makes me sing and I recline as the anticipation builds up in my upper back. Then the heartbeat— or as some might call it, percussion— picks up and my shoulders begin to make waves in the air. Devendra implores the Moon to stay and provide him with answers. By the time the Moon is done enumerating the reasons why she is too old to stick around, I’m completely ensnared by the languid flow of the tune.

4. Foals – Olympic Airways

This one strikes a stark contrast to all the sinuosity experienced within the last three songs. The strong, persistent beat makes me bounce and bob my head like any stereotypical concert goer, I suppose. Oh well. I quite like the escapist yet non-definitive aspiration of this song. The metaphor of an aviary in particular, a place where winged creatures can pretend to be free while remaining within the boundaries of the human construct we call civilization. Back in high school, Sylvia Plath taught me everything I needed to know about communicating in riddles and this is a bad habit I have so far failed to kick.

5. Stromae – Alors On Danse

Last but not least, “Alors On Danse” is incredibly literal and I absolutely love it for this very reason. Dancing and singing might not fix your troubles but it certainly will help you get by. Becoming completely entranced by a club song is an exceptionally common occurrence for me, and anyone who frequents my workspace has at least caught me moving and grooving a few times to Stromae. Can’t say I sing much with this one but, hey, I’ll always take an invitation to dance—“so let’s dance!”

Photo by asndra

Cynthia Almansi is a communications professional with a passion for all of the arts. She is an avid and eclectic consumer of music who enjoys discovering new and old sounds and attending live shows. Look her up on Twitter (@timesofpeace) to say hi!

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Monday Mixtape: Digging Out of the Post-Valentine’s Day Blues

josh feldman: arts writer, photographer, dreamy dreamboat

By Josh Feldman

Seeing as February is wrapping up this week I started feeling nostalgic about this year’s V-day. Hopefully by now you’ve binged out on all the food and drowned your sorrows away. To help all y’all who are still down in the dumps I have made a little mixtape for your broken souls and shattered hearts. Enjoy! And remember: if you eat a whole box of candy’s yourself while listening to this I’ll give you some of my extra Weight Watcher Points.

Josh is a writer/photographer based in the nation’s capital. He is an arts professional both day and night, but you may also see him with a camera in hand as a professional event photographer (he just happens to be the handsome young devil in the photo above as well). In his spare time he enjoys collecting records, making semi-vegan food, and playing guitar in his band project, THE UNNOTICED TRUTH. Feel free to follow him via twitter or instagram @jazzyfeldzle.

New Music Tuesday: Looking at Lorde – Pure Heroine, One Year Later

Lorde Pure Heroine

By Jon Muchin

For something so many people can so easily identify, pop music is hard to adequately define. It doesn’t conform to any real type of genre; the Beatles (at least in their early days) and Daft Punk could be reasonably described as pop artists and yet – perhaps I’m blowing some minds here – their respective music exists in entirely different sonic strata. Folk, R&B, rock, country, rap, even jazz all can coexist within this manufactured label. The name pop comes from an external definition (technically, pop music is music that is popular, in the same way that fan is short for fanatic), but pop, in its most common construction, belongs to that class of definition through distinction in much the same way as the Supreme Court defined pornography: we know it when we hear it. There is undeniably something “pop” about pop music.

And for most of my life, I haven’t really cared for pop music. Sure, I like early Beatles (and late Beatles and pretty much anything even tangentially related to Beatles) and I like Daft Punk and a lot of pop artists in between, but by and large I don’t like pop music. If you were to ask me what I listen to, I would never answer with pop. I just can’t really explain why.

But pop is genre-amorphous! I like many of the styles it incorporates, and yet I don’t identify as  liking “pop.” Some of my distaste is probably the commoditization built into the music, but I’m aware that’s an inconsistent position. Commoditization has never stopped me from blasting the fuck out of some Hendrix, even though his estate would put his likeness on Electric Ladyland Vibrating Condoms if the abundant jump in safe sex didn’t mean risking the next generation of Jimi fans.

So, in the spirit of new beginnings, I’ve decided to use 2014 to throw myself into pop music present and past to try and see what all the fuss is about. Maybe it will turn out that I’m just not a “pop guy,” but I have a feeling I’ll find that I haven’t been giving it a fair shake. This idea is loosely based on (fine, ripped off from) Nathan Rabin’s year-long series of articles acquainting himself with country music, though I don’t know how often I’ll follow up or where this will take me.

First up: Pure Heroine, the debut album from teenage megastar Lorde.

The things I knew about Lorde before yesterday: she’s 17, she writes her own songs, and “Royals” is catchy as all hell. This would be an early test – could I identify what’s pop about her sound and “Royals” in general?

That track stands out for a few reasons. The beat is monstrous from the get go, a booming bass and clipped snare sound and a simple hooky vocal over the top. On Pure Heroine Lorde spends a lot of time in a mid-alto, a place in her range where her voice sounds relatively bland. It’s in the lowest depths of her register that Lorde really stands out, and that’s where “Royals” lies. “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” she struts in her Adele-light voice, kicking off with a burst a song that is both indictment and celebration of the aesthetic pleasures of being alive and a teenager. The song has you from there.

Structurally, “Royals” is pretty similar to almost every track on the album. There’s almost no instrumentation beyond a drum machine heavy on the booming bass and a dub-step-reminiscent synth that pervades nearly every song. The first I remember anything to break up that combination was the on the tenth track, “A World Alone,” which starts off with a mellowed-out Strokesian guitar riff. Otherwise, Lorde and her producers have constricted the Pure Heroine’s instrumental palette in a way that unfortunately begets monotony (the album has some hypnotic qualities, but I found my attention flagging more than falling into reverie).There’s only so much you can do with so few sounds, especially since all the songs lie in roughly the same place in Lorde’s voice (if not in the same key). In lieu of instrumental variety, Lorde offers up stacked harmonic vocals, which propel the chorus of “Royals,” but elsewhere come off sounding like nursery rhyme. Befitting that theme, she is enamored of repeating lyrics, another tactic that occasionally pays off. “White Teeth Teens” turns a repetition of its final few phrases into a beautiful swelling fugue, but also contains cringe-worthy lines like “We got the glow in our mouths. White teeth teens are out.”

The album’s main themes, the alienation-cum-celebration of modern life and consumerism, are well-worn pop tropes; Frank Ocean’s breakthrough Channel Orange returned again and again to these ideas, among other, just last year. There’s a certain sweetness, too, in the childish poetry of Lorde’s songs (and the song titles like “Ribs” and “Swingin Party”). She seems, for one, to have little idea of how to construct imagery. In “400 Lux,” she sings “you drape your wrists over the steering wheel,” though maybe she simply wasn’t old enough to drive when she wrote the track. In the interest of fairness, “Maybe the Internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks” is a great lyric.

Pure Heroine is ultimately a fusion of folky singer-songwriter music – some of these songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jenny Lewis or a Feist record if you swapped in a guitar – with pseudo-dub-step instrumentation. I’m not saying that give her a guitar and she’d run off with Sufjan Stevens to write an album about a rural New Zealand province, but she’s not too far from that world either. Most of it works, and what’s more, she’s 17 and has plenty of time to grow. A solid first effort.

Lorde – Pure Heroine
Motown / Universal, 2013
Rating: A
Listen Now: “A World Alone”, “Ribs”, “Swingin Party”, “400 Lux”

Jon Muchin is a Boston-based musician, blogger, music enthusiast, and self-professed sports junky. He intermittently posts random word associations about athletic goings on at thewhole42minutes.blogspot.com and tweets @allormuchin.

Friday Live Wire: Winter Concert Preview 2014

fine folk (& rock, & pop &...)
what  a bunch of fine folk (& rock, & pop &…)

On Monday it was cold, by Wednesday it was nearing 50, and now we’re looking at the chance of snow this weekend. And just when I was ready to talk about how things were “really heating up.”

Oh well. It’s better this way I suppose. More seasonal.

I don’t really mind the colder weather anyhow, though the uncontrollable shivering that starts from the moment I step out the door in the morning and lasts until I’m just minutes away from my destination is a little much. Perhaps that’s more a function of having an aging, rickety car… hmm…

One thing that definitely is heating up in spite of the strange, wintry weather is the schedule of awesome music festivals on tap for the first half of the year. Lineups have recently been announced for big name shows like South by Southwest in March, The New Orleans Jazz Fest in April, and The Governor’s Ball in June, as well as the smaller, not as widely known ones like the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington state, Shakey Knees in Atlanta, or the Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas. Big or small, these shows all boast impressive lineups.

Of course, if you’re like me, you can’t necessarily afford to jet yourself to a different festival each weekend beginning in March (or, as in the case of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, starting two weeks from now). Lucky for us there’s no shortage of great musical acts coming to towns near us this season, allowing us to save on hefty travel costs and protect us from the temptation of raiding hotel minibars the nation over.

To this end I’ve added a concert calendar page to the site so you can get a taste of what’s coming up on the Boston-area scene and what concerts I’ll be heading to. If you’ve got a concert you’d like to suggest, promote, or go to with someone– let me know, and we’ll be in touch.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the shows I’m most looking forward to seeing this season.

1. Swear & Shake – Friday, January 17 @ Great Scott in Allston, MA

I’m tremendously excited to see these guys tonight. They’re a fun little foursome out of Brooklyn whose brand of peppy, genre-bending indie rock has been pounding the pavement of the northeast for the last few years, gaining them a number of followers and admirers. It’s admiration that’s well placed as they’re wonderfully talented songwriters and versatile musicians, emulating, shifting, and combining musical formats from bluegrass to grunge to driving dance pop rock. The track above is from their forthcoming album Ain’t That Lovin’, due out sometime early this year.

2. A Great Big World (w/Secret Someones) – Tuesday, January 28 @ The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA

If 2012 and 2013 were any indication, these guys are on target to have a bang-up 2014 as well. The last two years have seen them playing some shows, putting out a few singles, and catching the interest of Ms. Christina Aguilera, who brought them on NBC’s The Voice to perform one such single, “Say Something,” with them. This subsequently catapulted both track and these two lovable, recent NYU grads into the hearts and minds of TV producers and loving public nationwide (not to mention adding thousands of views to their YouTube channel). They’re also releasing their first full-length album next week. Their music is nothing if not catchy and the messages are universal, making it understandable how their other song “This Is The New Year” got its share of national airtime as well (the track conveniently fits in perfect with a New Year / New Beginning theme, so if you’re still looking for that one last track to put on your New Year 2014 mix… I highly recommend it).

And if that all wasn’t enough to raise my excitement  and anticipation for this show, my friends from Secret Someones are supporting these guys, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing them at a more big-time Boston venue. What a treat.

3. Josh Ritter – Wednesday, March 5 @ The Somerville Theatre

In March Ritter released The Beast In Its Tracks, arguably his most personal and reflective release to date, dealing as it  does with his recent divorce, the isolation that ensued, and the slow, bumpy road to normalcy, new beginnings, and new love. Then he went out and toured it mercilessly in true Josh Ritter fashion.

Ritter is the consummate performer, and his shows never fail to delight and entertain. I’ve seen him 5 times over the last 3 years— twice last year alone— and each time it’s like seeing him for the first time. Euphoria, love, and compassion— these are the hallmarks of his every show. Touring has always been profound catharsis for him, and is no doubt one of the big reasons that’s he’s now able to face 2014 with open, loving arms and continue sharing his stories with all who wish to be a part of the story with him.

4. Snarky Puppy – Friday, March 14 @ The Berklee Performing Arts Center

As much as I’m looking forward to these other shows, I might be most excited, if not most intrigued and downright curious, to see this group in action. This impressive crew of marvelously talented musicians is known to put on a show that is a full-on hyper-sensory experience. With that in mind, although you can probably get a decent taste of by listening to the track above, you really need to see it to believe it.

Just think: if they can fill your computer speakers with such beautiful grace and form— imagine it live. In my mind, I’m already at the show, cheering in uncontrollable gratitude and ovation.

5. Milk Carton Kids – Wednesday, April 30 @ Brighton Music Hall

Still want a little more? That can be arranged. Comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers are well placed, even if the “Kids” themselves would have you believe they don’t know what you’re talking about. Comparisons aside, these guys are ridiculously talented flatpickers in their own right. Both of their albums are lovely stories, concise yet vivid tales accompanied by dueling arpeggios and galloping runs. Just two balladeers, their instruments, and their delicately wavering voices. It’s a performance that’s perfectly suited for the intimate atmosphere that a small venue like the Brighton Music Hall provides.

Still want a little more? Check out the full playlist of samples from the bands I’ll be seeing, and check out the calendar itself for a look at what else is coming to town.

above photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left): swearandshake.com, ianaxel.tumblr.com, joshritter.com, snarkypuppy.com, and glidemagazine.com.
photo collage courtesy of fotor.com

Monday Mixtape: Finding Your Beach

#cruiselife. #jealous.
jsburka: #cruiselife. nickburkaotm: #jealous.

Whenever it gets cold enough during these long New England winters that my toes feel like they would be better suited to serve as ice cubes in a glass of water rather than the useful instruments of basic locomotion they ought to be, I think about my enterprising younger sister Jenn and where she probably is at that exact moment.

Sometimes she saves me the guesswork as she did the other day by texting me and assuring me that she was just “you know, sitting at a beach in Kauai drinking a daiquiri.”

Poor girl.

You see, my sister works as a culinary instructor on a cruise ship, a cruise ship that is currently somewhere in the Pacific Ocean touring the breathtaking and captivating sights of the Hawaiian Islands. Some people have all the fun.

All jokes aside, it’s an awesome gig, and she’s the perfect person for the job. Growing up she was always in the kitchen cooking meals with our parents (I didn’t learn to cook until later, being happy just to be able to sample the fruits of their labors, showing my gratitude by cleaning the dishes afterwards). She loved it from the start, and over time she became quite proficient in both the art of cooking all sorts of cuisine as well as the similarly important art of hosting of trendy, cuisine-themed dinner parties. So it was no surprise she might one day want to do something with those skills.

So she decided to take it on the road, as it were, and she tells me it’s been a lot of fun thus far. This is her second 5 month contract and her second time cruising in the Pacific (her first contract that ran from May to October had her touring the great Pacific Northwest along the outer Alaskan territories). And in case you’re wondering what the worst thing about living aboard a cruise ship is: “The days at sea,” of which there are plenty this time around, what with the ship alternating  itineraries between tours of Hawaii and tours of the Mexican Baja peninsula.

I don’t know about you, but I’d trade 6 days of polar vortex conditions in a drafty apartment for 15 days at sea on a fully-fueled and fully-stocked cruise ship in the tropics any day.

Whatever the case, this mix is really a toast to my little sister, who’s not so little now, taking on the world in fact, and who showed me how to follow your passions with gusto. Last year while most of us were reveling in the aftermath of another lovely family cruise vacation and thinking aloud how nice it’d be to work on one, Jenn was planning her path to doing it. Here’s looking at you kid.

1. Weezer – Holiday

For when you really just gotta get away. I like number 1’s that start off strong, and this track does the trick with its wailing, simple and concise opening riff and strike (it’d definitely make for a rocking start to a cruise band’s repertoire as the ship is heading out to sea on day 1. Just imagine the casual sunbather’s surprise when the steel drum band kicks this one in to high gear…). Can we start calling this a classic track? Because it is. It’s definitely a classic Weezer track if nothing else. Both music arrangement and lyrics have that playful, unfettered, i-just-came-here-to-rock mindset with the just-a-hint of sonic sophistication that made early Weezer so great (dig that half-step sliding harmony in the chorus, and that delightfully sparse, doo-wop breakdown). I would argue it’s one of the finer pieces of their career.

2. Robbie Williams – Beyond The Sea

Cliche? Maybe (read: yes, definitely), but it doesn’t matter. This one sets the leisurely, leave-your-cares-back-home atmosphere of cruise life down to the very last shuffleboard biscuits (and yes, that’s what they’re called). This tune’s a bonafide classic now, but with all due respect to the original, there’s something about rocker-turned-sometime-crooner-turned-rocker again’s rendition that brings out the peaceful, easy feeling for me in a way that Mr. Darin’s doesn’t. Maybe it’s how easy it is to hear him smiling on every last note and on through the fade out, like he’s already on the ship wondering why you’ve missed the boat.

3. Charles Bradley – You Put The Flame On It

This song speaks not of vacations, cruise ships, or getting away from it all, but it definitely has all the easy-going freshness and vibe to make it a perfect pairing. Heartfelt and sincere, this song exudes unending gratitude and love, and the combined talent of Bradley’s effusive pipes and equally exultant horn section could power any seaworthy vessel the duration of its weeklong voyage.

4. Ben Taylor – Nothing I Can Do

This one’s for the quieter, reflective moments. Times of momentary wonder and awe that can happen as much aboard a ship at sea as they can when on dry land (and, why not, on soft, wet sand): that first sunset or sunrise seen from a windy deck, waking up to a day ripe for new adventures in a new town, or that first dip into blue, crystal ocean waters after a good, long beachside mountain hike. Yeah… that sounds pretty good. How soon can we leave for the airport?

5. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Waiting In Vain

Face it: no compilation of music to accompany you on a trip aboard the seven seas can in my mind consider itself worth its salt without at least one track from Mr. Marley and his faithful band The Wailers. It’s a fact that the sounds of reggae are sounds that will forever be part of the island life and experience, and it’s due in large part to this band’s music and vision. Marley was of course more than just the simple, breezy tracks that are so oft heard in those cloying Sandals ads on television, and this one is truly a testament to that end. It’s a love song, sure, but it goes to a deeper, more vulnerable place. It doesn’t come from a place of pure happiness or tragic sadness, but rather a place of hope. Even still, it’s a hopefulness that aches.

Of course, the musics of the Hawaiian and moreover Pacific islands are distinctly not the same as those that hail from the Caribbean, but I’d put good money on the fact that at this very moment, even while floating in the middle of the Pacific blue, that good ol’ pool deck band is getting ready to fire up another Marley standard just like this one.

Photo courtesy of Jenn Burka