Suggestions: January 26, 2014

Fantasy” by MS MR: Over my mini-winter break (I took two blissful weeks off work) my boyfriend’s brother introduced me to this duo.  In a musical landscape where male and female duos are the emerging niche of aesthetically pleasing auditory escapes (or in other words, the new popular demand of the music scene) this group is swiftly rising to the top, at least for my ears.  I am a big fan of Matt and Kim, Phantogram, and Mates of State (all falling into this subcategory) however MS MR has managed to eclipse these other dynamic duos.  It could be the all-encompassing sound, with strong rhythm sections, or the overlapping vocal harmonies that float atop the music; it doesn’t hurt that the lyrics poise questions that are relatable and poetic.  Where many lyrics reflect on either broken hearts or unbreakable relationships, MS MR opens the door to the darker more sinister thoughts caged in our minds and subconscious all the while done with vocals that sound as if they came from the love child of Florence + the Machine and Adele.  My favorite lyric from this track: “How many hours will I let slip away before I realize existing and living are not the same, are not the same.” Other highly recommended tracks from their first full length, Secondhand Rapture: “Ash Tree Lane,” “Hurricane,” and “Think of You“.  Also, they have an amazing cover of LCD Soundsystem‘s “Dance Yrslf Clean” on their EP of remixes entitled, Fantasy.

Dissolve Me” by Alt-J: First off, let me say this, one of the major reasons I like and appreciate this group is because of lead singer Joe Newman’s voice.  It is extremely unique and hypnotizing.  Hailing from the UK, this band offers an intriguing combination of diverse music composition and vocal shock and awe.  The first time I listened to their album An Awesome Wave I was unsure what to think.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this was not a negative thing, I honestly believe it was because I was so engrossed and pleased that when attempting to describe them to a friend I barely managed to say anything but: “His voice, man, that voice.”  And I can say that this is one of the few bands that it doesn’t matter if you listen via headphones, on an iHome or other speaker system, or in the car, there is no detraction from the music.  Layered rhythms and distinct melodies, this group plays with sound allowing a full-bodied experience.  I have not listened to one of their tracks and thought to myself, “there were empty spaces,” but rather I have been left with pleasure at their ability to fill those spaces with an almost religious accompaniment of notes, both instrumentally and vocally.  At the risk of sounding clichéd, Alt-J has provided me the closest thing to a mind-expanding and spiritual experience, especially with the opening track aptly titled “Intro”.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Intro” and “Breezeblocks“.

Learn to Dance” by Andrew McMahon: To give you a bit of background, Andrew McMahon is the lead singer of Something Corporate and the voice behind Jack’s Mannequin.  He is an extremely talented individual who belts out insightful lyrics while providing full-bodied piano accompaniment to pop-punk and alt-rock anthems.  If you went through high school in the early 2000s, you probably know about Drive-Thru records and Something Corporate, and you probably lamented and prayed for McMahon when doctor’s diagnosed him with leukemia in 2005.  In 2013 he released his début solo album The Pop Underground, which this track is from.  Though this album is easily identified as McMahon, it is his first to explore combining electronica and his distinct forte on piano.  Additionally, the lyrics are probably his most revealing to date, as well as at times most disturbing.  Despite some dark imagery, you can sense pure relief and joy.  The music composition reflects these insights providing the auditory equivalent to beams of sunlight poking through dark clouds.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Synesthsia” and “After the Fire“.

“Bravado” by Lorde: This talented 16 (possibly now 17) year old vocal phenom released an EP before her critically acclaimed Pure Heroine called The Love Club.  You can find this track on the EP.  It definitely showcases her vocal chops and intriguing ability to combine saintly choral singing with hip hop rhythm and beats.  This particular track begins slow with not much more than her voice and an organ, soon combining over lapping vocals that rise up like a church choir.  Right when you wonder where the song is going an 808 beat begins and your mind gets blown.  What I find most intriguing and beautiful is that these two distinct types of music, a cappella like vocals and hip hop measures, occupy the same auditory space without one overpowering the other.  Somehow Lorde has managed to mate chamber music to popular composition.  Again, mind blown.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Tennis Court” and “Royals“.

Reflections” by MisterWives: Recently discovered by pure coincidence, I am happy that I tripped into their music.  With Duffy-esque vocals and BeeGees disco rhythms, this group just invites you to dance (and in fact, I have often been swaying to their music at work).  This particular track subtly begins and builds until it breaks into a Saturday Night Fever combination of electric guitar, drum beats, and vocal harmonies.  I beg you to listen to this song without physically reacting to it, either by tapping your foot, swaying, or straight up dancing disco style through your living room.  Ironically, the lyrics discuss the tumult of realizing affections are not mutual, and dealing with the “how-to” in moving on.  Bringing an iconic and very era specific sound into modernity is a difficult thing to do, especially when the era is an extremely stereotypical one, like the 70s.  However, MisterWives spins it in their favor by adding variants in rhythm and harmonies that differentiate their sound just enough to not be confused with epic 70’s disco ballads.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to dance à la John Travolta with my puppy.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Twisted Tongue,” “Kings and Queens,” and “Imagination Infatuation“.

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Music Suggestions: February 24, 2013.

Dancing On My Own” by Robyn: This song has had me hooked ever since I downloaded volume one of the soundtrack to HBO’s Girls.  Originally I purchased the compilation for the fun. single “Sight of the Sun” (because I am a full-fledged, bona-fide fun. fan, much to the annoyance of my co-workers who have heard every song from their two albums played at least one gazillion times), but this song caught my attention and it has been on the playlist rotation ever since.  Aside from the catchy synth beats that cause an involuntary dance spasm (seriously, the head just starts moving, followed closely by the feet, and then you’re in a full body paroxysm grooving to the techno-rrific track), the lyrics definitely hit upon something I am sure most girls, and yes, even men, have felt.  She is singing about seeing a guy she likes and realizing that no matter what she does, he is not going to choose her to go home with him.  It’s a bit heart-wrenching, but the musical choice of a poppy rhythm only emphasizes her lyrics.  Any girl in any club could be dancing to the song and feel the meaning behind the words as she watches that guy pair off with another woman.  The combination creates a delicious twist of being a power ballad for the hopeless romantic girl dancing on her own.

Beta Love” by Ra Ra Riot: I remember the first time I discovered Ra Ra Riot.  It was the summer of 2009 and I could not stop listening to “Can You Tell” from their album The Rhumb Line.  The sound has changed somewhat, moving from a more full band sound to a produced electro-pop culmination of instruments, but their genius for catchy melodies and beats combined with simplistically deep (I know, I know, how can something be simple AND deep, but they use simple language to discuss complex ideas and emotions) lyrics is still present.  The band has a difficult history, which can account for some of the changes a listener can detect between earlier albums verses later ones.  Additionally, vocalist Wes Miles had a side project with Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend (band name Discovery, which I suggested in this very blog!) and the similarities are there in more recent singles.  Whether it was Wes Miles who influenced Discovery, or Rostam Batmanglij that influenced Wes Miles in Ra Ra Riot, it’s hard to tell, but either way the sound is alluring and addicting.

Halfway to Heaven” by POP ETC: I have taken the pill and become addicted to these guys.  I loved them as The Morning Benders when they had a more Dylan-esque appeal, but I can also say that they have me with their revamped sound.  Moving from the West Coast to Brooklyn sure does change a person, if the complete tear down and rebuild of this particular band is any indication.  Electro-pop (a common thread running through these recommendations) combined with overlapping vocals riding the wave of R&B and you have yourself a little slice of heaven (pun intended).  Repetition of sound and lyrics makes this song easy to get stuck in your head.  I often find myself singing it at work, and in the process getting strange looks.  I blame it on not many people knowing about these guys, so I am spreading the word.  Even though it might be because I am walking down a hall sans headphones singing.

Submarines” by The Lumineers: This track is off of the self-titled album, The Lumineers (which is you follow the link you can buy from Amazon for just $3.99).  Many people know this band for earlier singles “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love” (two songs I happen to adore), but I want to push this particular song because it might be my favorite on the album.  A very rustic sound, and somewhat coarse recording, but it adds a certain appeal to this band, giving it a generic song.  Every time I listen to their album I always find myself cruising their website for tour dates aching to see them live.  Vocals and piano dominate this particular track , with a very clear-cut melody flowing through it.  A hint of military march touching the music helps to add oomph to the lyrics.  It is the story of a man who sees a submarine and no one believes him.  They laugh or tell him he is seeing things.  The story is a simple one, discussing credibility.  It’s a contained story, which can make it easily overlooked.  But trust me, it’s something you want to give a listen to.

Sweet Nothing” by Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch:  If you have ever read this blog, you know I have a small obsession with Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine).  Maybe small is the wrong word.  I love the woman.  I love her voice.  I love the music.  And though people may call her overrated, I simply say the heart wants what the heart wants.  This particular track is found on Calvin Harris’s album 18 Months.  He is a wiz kid with techno beats making his mark in the EDM scene producing track after track of above par dance music.  It seems that everything this guy has touched in the past twelve to twenty-four months has turned to gold.  First stepping into main stream attention being the beats behind Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Calvin Harris scored high-profile artists to collaborate with him for his debut album.  This track was one such collaboration.  The music, if possible, reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie.  Try and figure that one out.  Aside from making me want to dance, the lyrics of this particular song spoke very strongly to me.  It is a love story, or I should say a story of unrequited love.  Being so enveloped by someone who gives you nothing back, but not being able to tear yourself away from it you beg for sweet nothing.  The chaotic rhythms of this song help to appreciate the words, mirroring the emotional confusion and devastation of such a situation.  Though I typically only post snippets of lyrics to drive home my point, I am going to post the full song:

“You took my heart and you held it in your mouth, and with a word all my love came rushing out, and every whisper, it’s the worst, emptied out by a single word.  There is a hollow in me now.  So I put my faith in something unknown (I’m living on such sweet nothing), but I’m tired of hope with nothing to hold (I’m living on such sweet nothing), and it’s hard to learn, and it’s hard to learn, you’re giving me such sweet nothing, sweet nothing, sweet nothing, you’re giving me such sweet nothing.  It isn’t easy for me to let it go, cause I’ve swallowed every single word, and every whisper, every sigh, eats away at this heart of mine.  There is a hollow in me now.  So I put my faith in something unknown (I’m living on such sweet nothing), but I’m tired of hope with nothing to hold (I’m living on such sweet nothing), and it’s hard to learn, and it’s hard to learn, you’re giving me such sweet nothing, sweet nothing, sweet nothing, you’re giving me such sweet nothing.  And it’s not enough to tell me that you care when we both know your words are empty air.  You give me nothing, nothing… sweet nothing, sweet nothing.”

SUGGESTIONS: SUMMER EDITION (Plus I forgot what number I was at…)

“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen:  Okay, I know what you’re all thinking, “That song is generic and being repeated a thousand times on the radio?  Really?  Really Stephanie?!”  But, yes.  It’s a good summer pop song.  Remember the days of “California Gurls” and “Blow” and other I’ve-heard-this-so-many-times-I-want-to-barf songs that come on in the summer and then remarkably every time you hear them you think, “Wow, what an awesome summer?”  This is 2012’s version of that song.  Catchy, with the chorus dominating the entirety of the song (making it easier to remember) and almost too sugary you seriously believe you might go into a coma post listen; that’s this song.  The music is generic with string ensemble courtesy Apple’s garage band (no doubt) and a basic beat that makes it easy to bounce around your apartment to.  The lyrics are nothing great, no depth or insight, but it does give confidence to those young listeners.  It’s a girl giving her number to a guy.  Coy, cute, and slightly embarrassed, this song promotes female action and not inaction when it comes to that first awkward introduction.  Why is it always up to the guy?  Come on, girls, we have femme-balls!  Best line: “And all the other boys try to chase me, so call me maybe.”

“Midnight City” by M83:  Okay, without a doubt if you have walked into a Forever Twenty-One or hipster dive bar, you have heard this song.  With a beat reminiscent of 80s pop and softly spoken or sung vocals, this song takes the cake in did-I-step-into-a-wormhole-and-end-up-in-1984-somehow singles.  Off of the most recent album from M83, the French solo (once duo) continues to awe with their reverb focused electronic pop music.  Not going to lie, was pretty sure I fell in love with this song when I first heard it, wishing the rest of the world would soon follow in benevolent worship because despite the repetitious beat, this song digs deep into your subconscious where an “I love the 80s” sticker sits waiting for recognition.

“Warrior” by Kimbra (feat. Mark Foster and A-Trak): This song has become one of my favorites, often times put on repeat much at the annoyance of anyone around me.  Kimbra, also known as that girl in the “Somebody I Used to Know” song and video, delights with her vocals once again, with the beats of A-Trak and guest vocals from Mark Foster (of Foster the People).  This song is actually part of an advertisement for Converse sneakers (there is my plug), but despite its origins, it kicks some serious electro-pop ass.  Like any good dance-based song, it uses repetitive rhythm and beats to encourage hip swivels and head bopping.  Also, friendly tip, good for highway driving.

“Some Nights” by fun.:  Okay, we all know that I am truly and rightly obsessed with Nate and his musical and lyrical kingdom.  An original lover and follower of The Format, it was with great pride that I began to follow fun. and enjoyed his musical intensity and imagination with the combination of Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff.  Loving songs like “Walking the Dog,” “Benson Hedges,” and “All the Pretty Girls,” it is no surprise that I have fallen head over heels in love with fun.’s second single (“Some Nights”) from their sophomore album of the same name.  Gaining popularity this past year with the annoying repetition of “We Are Young” (another single I actually enjoy), fun. was able to propel themselves into commercial success.  Usually having a feeling of disgust when a band “sells out,” I have nothing but love for these guys.  They are doing something so beautiful, and undoubtedly for them, something that they have striven for.  What I love about this track is the use of percussion.  The anthemic chorus is beautiful, as well.  It’s so easy to sing along to, even shout to.  And they are relatable thoughts.  I have so many favorite lyrical moments from this song that it’s hard to choose.  I always agree with and shout out “Who the FUCK wants to die alone?”  Never one to hide from sharing some of this life, Nate often brings up familiar feelings about growing up, leaving home, questioning about love, life, and pursuits of happiness.  It’s a great summer song, and especially one for those twenty-somethings that are floundering looking for what their passion and calling are.  Only negative (sorry guys!) is the use of auto-tune.  Nate, I know you can do so much vocally, why did you use auto-tune?!

“Heartbeats” by The Knife: And I now throw in my wrench, my relative unknown, my indie song, my not-commercially-known anthem for the summer.  This song was introduced to me LAST summer, and I have yet to STOP listening to it.  An electro-pop song that is crudely constructed (comparatively speaking to the above mentioned songs), this underground gem sounds like a nintendo game met classic Asian music and they gave birth to an 80s pop addiction.  Give it a listen and you will not be able to stop listening to it.  It vibes with the summer sun.  Just put it on and let yourself sink into it.

 

SUGGESTIONS XV.

Florence + the Machine, He is We, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Patrick Stump…

Florence + the Machine.

Those who know me know that I am stubborn.  For example, when the Harry Potter books began circulating, and people were beginning to consider them as one of the greatest series in literary history, my friend tried to get me to read them.  She had read them and loved them and expressed to me that I would fall head over heels for the books, the characters, the adventures.  My mom and my sister were also on board, and trying to pull me up out of the water constantly saying how much I would love J.K. Rowling‘s writing.  I balked, I backed away, I shook my head no, and ran from the idea of picking something up just because everyone on the planet was reading it.  I had no interest in it before, so why should I read something just because the world was turning page after page of something?  Despite being relatively self-aware and not really caring if people think I am a pretentious poser, I still fall into the trappings of having low self-esteem.  Did I want people thinking that I was doing something just because of the rest of world was doing it?  Hell no.  I held off for as long as I could before casually picking up the first book and devouring it in a day.  Thus started my obsession with Harry Potter.

What does this have to do with Florence Welch and her machine?