I got married in November, which means I’ve been celebrating my way through the last few weeks instead of listening to new Christmas music. This means that instead of meaningful reviews, I have a large list of things that you and I should both listen to. I regret nothing. ONWARD!
The Good Shepherd Band, which released a beautiful Christmas album in 2011, are back with a new one entitled All the Bells Shall Ring. If it’s anything like the opener “O Come Let Us Adore Him” (starting off with an Advent hymn; I approve) and the last album, we’re in for big, church-style hymns in oft-triumphant arrangements. Wonderful!
Quirky, reverb-heavy indie-pop band SUNBEARS! offer up a 10-minute EP of Christmas music. It’s sure to be as thoroughly enthusiastic as its name: SUNBEARS! Do CHRISTMAS!
Vintage-style acoustic duo The Singer and the Songwriter are dropping 12 songs (in video form!) for the 12 Days of Christmas. Sounds lovely! Check it at their YouTube.
Athens, GA is a huge music town with a lot of history. This means that there are iconic pieces of architecture that are getting lost, destroyed, or run down. Nuçi’s Space is working to restore a historic steeple in Athens that’s associated with R.E.M. (first show ever was there!), Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and many other Athens bands. They’ve got a pretty huge crowdfunding goal to make this happen, but they also have some incredibly awesome rewards: clothes from Of Montreal, the pylons from Pylon, etc.
Sleeping at Last has started a company called Emphasis that allows bands to make one-of-a-kind t-shirts based off a band’s lyrics. The shirts include designs as well, so it’s not just words on shirts. This is incredibly cool for bands that have very wordy music (The Mountain Goats! Please sign up! Please!) to connect with their fans. So if you’re a fan or a band, jump on this.
Along those lines, Noisetrade has expanded their services to include fan accounts, which makes a lot of things really easy that were somewhat complicated before. I’m pretty excited about that. I love Noisetrade, and I’m glad to see them grow.
And finally, the RunHundred for November! –Stephen Carradini
This month’s top 10 list makes three things clear:
#1. Iggy Azalea isn’t going anywhere. The Levi’s model and rap phenomenon shows up in the list below with two different collaborators—Rita Ora and Jennifer Lopez.
#2. Calvin Harris is quickly becoming the face of electronic dance music. He also turns up twice this month—in a pop hit alongside John Newman and a club track with Alesso and Hurts.
#3. 128 beats per minute (BPM) is the Iggy Azalea and Calvin Harris of tempos. By that I mean it’s omnipresent. Seven of the ten songs below are within a few beats of this tempo.
In terms of working out, 128 BPM’s dominance in pop music means that–if you can find an exercise routine that approximates this pace–you’ll never be short of new workout music. If you’ve already got fixed a routine, you can swap in any of the songs from that range and see how they fit. If not, you might try walking, kickboxing, or a bootcamp-style workout—all of which are good matches for this speed.
Whatever this month’s top songs lack in tempo variety, they make up for in the genre variety thanks to a woozy remix from Tove Lo, some Australian folk from Vance Joy, and the fervent rock of Walk the Moon. Whether it’s the eclectic mix that draws you in or the four-on-the-floor beats, there’s something here that will invigorate your workout.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn
1. “Flare Gun” – In Tall Buildings. Like a more perky Album Leaf + chillwave-y, lightly reverbed vocals. I’m totally digging this upbeat, pleasant work.
2. “Hey Blood” – Born Joy Dead. You won’t be able to figure out this wild, careening rock track by listening to a fragment: this one’s a whole experience.
3. “Sophie So” – Hippo Campus. Put everything we know about indie-rock in 2014 into a blender and put it on frappe: out comes Hippo Campus. This joyous, entertaining track is fun on its own, or as a game of “spot the influence.” The overall track has its own vibe, so this isn’t a knock: on the contrary, it shows good musical knowledge. IN OTHER WORDS: YES YES YES.
4. “Picture Picture” – Tall Tall Trees. Kishi Bashi is on this track, which means it’s a complex, giddy, post-everything pop track that is absolutely, totally fun.
5. “It’s Not the Same” – ET Anderson. Some psych is all up in your face with bright flashing colors. Anderson’s psych creeps in around the edges of your vision and makes things slowly more chill and weird.
6. “For the Sun” – Close Talker. Complexity is at its best when it’s present enough to impress but not so obvious that it’s ostentatious. Close Talker’s winding, moody, Bloc Party-esque indie-rock has the best sort of complexity going on.
7. “Chinese Trees” – Lake Malawi. Sometimes you just want a big, happy pop song.
8. “All I Really Want” – The Plastics. I don’t know where we acquired the sky-high male backing vocal as a style, but it’s here to stay. Some nice mid-tempo, mid-’00s indie-rock vibes goin’ on here.
9. “Left, Right, Left” – 12KO. Lake Street Dive is on the forefront of the upbeat neo-soul/jazz movement, and 12KO fits right in there. There’s a bit of funk influence, but generally, this one’s a upbeat, fun, head-bobbin’ tune.
10. “Anthem” – The Maytags. Who doesn’t need some chipper, enthusiastic neo-soul in their life? Boogie down on this.
Here’s November’s singles, over the next few days.
Sing Yr Song
1. “Echo” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders. Some people have the greatness inside them, and it’s present in flashes that don’t reveal the whole thing. That was Squires’ previous work, and “Echo” is the revelation: the yelpy vocals, the singer/songwriter lyrics, and propulsive indie-rock arrangements all come together to give me shivers. Color me thrilled for the new album.
2. “Strange the Way” – James Hearne. Here’s a tight country arrangement paired with a great chorus. There is some great country in the world, y’all. I’m not even throwing “alt” on this. It’s country. And it’s good. You won’t be aurally injured by listening, I promise. You’ll like the chorus, for sure. You like Jason Isbell, you know? It’s okay. Admit it. Country.
3. “Pretend With Me” – Great Spirit. Remember a couple of years ago when back porch-style folk was in? Great Spirit is on that porch, still doin’ its loose, warm, optimistic string band thing. Break out your mason jars. (I love mason jars. This is not ironic.)
4. “Breathe Your Last” – Jameson. Banjo, bright production, swamp shuffle percussion, and some grit on the edges of the vocals make this track a keeper. Oh, also the giant chorus.
I’ve got a ton of videos in queue, so here’s a big drop of them!
Craymer’s “Underneath You” is a glamorous, beautiful “one take”-style video set in a mansion and party.
Devereaux’s “Ponytails” is a really impressive action movie with a surreal twist.
Little Cinema’s “Birdwatchers of the World, Unite” is a clever, interesting video with a fun ending.
Tetherball’s “Spring Chicken” comes from an album called Whimsy, and it’s clear that the album is perfectly titled. This is about the life adventures of a stuffed puppy dog. Now press that to its surreal extreme.
Vinnie Ferra’s “God Forbid” is the sort of video that I wasn’t sure what was happening and then I watched the whole video and I found out that I liked it–without ever knowing what as happening.
PSA videos don’t always catch my attention, but this one did because it’s so tastefully done.
New York folk/indie-rock duo Supersmall‘s This Other World captures the balance between composed and wide-open songwriting that is common in artists from across the pond: Johnny Flynn, Fionn Regan, and Eoin Glackin.
Big, warm, resonant acoustic guitar chords are held in line by calm, distinctly enunciated tenor vocals on the title track; rattling drums add to the ambiance. “Goodbye Old Friend” continues the cheery, upbeat folk vibes. The more serious “Wherever We Are” and “This Grenade Will Love You” invoke a little Ben Folds plaintiveness in the vocals, giving the EP some firm grounding and diversity. Tasteful keys appear in several areas, providing some atmosphere on tracks like the more romantic, swooning “Everywhere.”
Overall, This Other World is a neat introduction to a warm, friendly folk duo. There’s a lot of promise throughout in this short EP, as the band has given themselves a lot of ways to spread out from here. It will be interesting to see which of their strengths they play up as they continue to produce music. For now, there’s a cheery few minutes for you in This Other World.
1. “Great White Shark” – Hollands. Maximalist indie-rock/pop music with groove, noise, melodic clarity, effusive enthusiasm, strings, harp, and just about everything else you can ask for. If the Flaming Lips hadn’t got so paranoid after At War with the Mystics…
2. “Coyote Choir” – Pepa Knight. Still batting 1.000, Pepa Knight brings his exuberant, India-inspired indie-pop to more mellow environs. It’s still amazing. I’m totally on that Pepa Knight train, y’all. (Hopefully it’s The Darjeeling Limited.)
3. “Peaks of Yew” – Mattson 2. I love adventurous instrumental music, and Mattson 2 cover a wide range of sonic territory in this 10-minute track. We’ve got some surf-rock sounds, some post-rock meandering, some poppy melodies, some ambient synths, and a whole lot of ideas. I’m big on this.
4. “Firing Squad” – Jordan Klassen. Sometimes a pop-rock song comes along that just works perfectly. Vaguely dancy, chipper, fun, and not too aggressive (while still allowing listeners to sing it loudly), “Firing Squad” is just excellent.
5. “Droplet” – Tessera Skies. There’s a tough juggling act going on in this breathtaking indie-pop tune: flowing instruments, flailing percussion, cooing vocals, and an urgent sense of energy. It’s like if Jonsi’s work got cluttered up with parts and then organized neatly.
6. “Available Light” – David Corley. If Alexi Murdoch, Tom Waits, and Joseph Arthur all got together and jammed, it might sound something like this gruff yet accessible, vaguely alt-country track.
7. “Blue Eyed Girl” – Sam Joole. I’d like to make a joke about blue-eyed soul here, but it’s actually closer to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” than that. Lots of laidback guitars, good vibes, but not Jack Johnson twee, if you know what I mean.
8. “By the Canal” – Elephant Micah. I’m a big fan of people who aren’t afraid to let an acoustic guitar and voice splay out wherever they want and however long they want. Here, EM acts as an upbeat Jason Molina, putting the focus on his voice instead of the spartan-yet-interesting arrangements. Totally stoked for this new album.
9. “If It Does” – Robin Bacior. In this loose, smooth, walking-speed singer-songwriter tune with maximum atmosphere, shades of early ’00s Coldplay appear. That’s a compliment, people.
10. “Storm” – Dear Criminals. Not that often do I hear trip-hop, even in an updated melodic form. Way to go, DC–you pick up that torch that Portishead put down.
11. “You Open to the Idea” – Angelo De Augustine. Beautiful, delicate, wispy, earnest whisper-folk. They don’t make ‘em like this very often anymore.
12. “Billowing Clouds” – Electrician. The mournful, affected spoken word over melancholy, trumpet-like synths makes me think of an electro version of the isolated, desolate Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats.
13. “Blue Chicago Moon (demo)” – Songs: Ohia. Until Jason Molina, I’ve never had a personal connection to the art of a troubled artist who died too early–Elliott Smith was gone before I knew of his work. Now with unreleased demos coming out consistently after Mr. Molina’s death, I feel the sadness of his passing over and over. Each new track is a reminder that there was work still to be made; it also feels like a new song from him, even though it’s objectively not.
Is this how a legacy gets made in the digital era? How long will we keep releasing new Molina songs, to remind us that he was there, and now he is not? (Please keep releasing them.) Will the new songs push people back to “The Lioness”? Will we keep these candles burning to light our own rooms, or will we bring them to other people? “Endless, endless, endless / endless depression,” Molina sings here. Is it truly endless? Are you still depressed? Does your permanent recording of the phrase make it truly “unchanging darkness”? “Try to beat it,” he intones, finally. Try to beat it, indeed. Keep trying until you can’t anymore. And then let your work stand forever. I guess this is how I mourn.
Surreality and absurdity have specific meanings to me. Surreal is the type of weird that’s just left of normal; you can feel that it might be normal, but something is just off. It’s the creepy weird, the weird that everyone accepts as normal except you–and you don’t know why. Absurdity is when completely nonsensical things happen all at once and everyone realizes it’s bizarre. Creating absurdity is much easier than creating surreality. The Landing’s video for “We Are” is surreal, in the best way.
Springtime Carnivore’s video for “Name on a Matchbook” is the funniest video I’ve seen all year. Subverting gender stereotypes and tropes? Re-envisioning Springtime Carnivore as a girl-band Beatles? Be still, my fluttering heart.
Quiet Stories’ “When I Come Down” is not necessarily quiet in volume, but the story he tells in this video definitely is a quiet little tale.
Sometimes it’s a single image that gets me in a video. In Bobby Bare Jr.’s “North of Alabama By Morning,” it’s a two-second clip (0:37-38) of the keyboardist grooving so hard. Total dedication to the sound, right there. Also, this song rules.
I watched the whole 5:16 of Sharon Van Etten’s “Your Love is Killing Me” clip because I wanted to know what was happening. Let’s just call the end a baffling one. Van Etten is a towering presence on this track, so if you’re into huge, emotional songs, you can stay for that as well.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.