Last updated on January 6, 2022
1. “This Land is Your Land” – Kris Orlowski. Seattle-based singer-songwriter Kris Orlowski connects to Woody Guthrie’s historic anthem, weaving tapestries of American diversity. In addition to the version’s light Pacific Northwest vibe, Abby Gundersen’s violin creates a lighter-than-air essence to the track. (All performances of this iconic tune add to the subtle sonic palette’s reimagining.) Orlowski’s quest to make this land our land comes with a call for fans to provide images of America to be used in a video for the song. Orlowski’s video for “This Land is Your Land” captures the ‘essence of America’ as seen through the collection of photographs submitted to the artist. —Lisa Whealy
Lisa and I have never both written about a song before, but this song in this moment calls for it. Lisa is spot-on with the musical analysis: it’s gentle Pacific NW folk and Gunderson’s violin is beautiful. I’m thinking about something else. I’m writing this on November 3, Election Day. This blog has only rarely been overtly political, although we have supported politically-oriented work for many years. In this troubled year, we have been supporting politically-oriented work much more frequently than we usually do. I sat down to this song to cover it as I would any other politically-oriented song, but it struck a deep chord with me.
See, I have a pretty even split of friends from both sides of the aisle. I have lived in conservative-leaning states all my life–but I’ve worked in media, arts, and academia in those states. I know the conservative folk of those states through my church and religious organizations, and I know the liberal folk of those states from my professional life. I am the most conservative person in most liberal rooms, and the most liberal person in most conservative rooms. In this election, I know people voting for at least four (yes, four) different parties. Like everyone else, I have experienced the difficult polarization of the last few years ramp up to seemingly-absurd levels this year. I experience that polarization primarily as a deep sadness: my life is split in two. People who I talk to in one area of my life do not trust people from another area of my life, and vice versa. No matter who wins this election, roughly half of my friends will be disheartened.
It’s into this deep sadness that Orlowski’s tune speaks. I long for a country that feels like the way this video feels: peaceful, unified, harmonious, and hopeful, while not ignoring the difficulties of our time. (Catch that multi-layered juxtaposition of protestors being threatened with guns vs a shot of a patriotic monument.) What more kindness can we grant to each other than to say “This land is your land, this land is my land”? What more kindness can we summon than to put other people in front of ourselves and yet to include ourselves in the gift (and the work) of this country? Both sides feel that the other doesn’t understand the country, doesn’t respect the people of this country, doesn’t know what is best. Yet, I want a country where we can work together to be the country. Hear that hope in these words from a fellow Okie-who-left: “When the sun comes shining / and I was strolling / the wheat fields waving / a voice come chanting / and the fog was lifting / this land was made / this land was made for you / this land was made for you and me.” I cried when I heard Orlowski’s performance. It speaks to the country I want. It has always been the country I want. I hope it makes you cry too. Happy Election Day.
2. “Yes Electronic” – Be a Bear. A slick, polished house techno cut that rides a smooth beat, blaring synths, cyberpunk melodies, and occasional vocal interjections. The song is fully club-ready. (Bonus: apparently the whole thing was constructed on an iPhone.)
3. “Swell” – Trevor Ransom. Ransom’s last single featured downright punchy electronic/techno bits. This one returns to a more ambient flavor, although there are still plenty of stacked pad synths and big swells going on. The thrumming heart of the piece is an arpeggiator-esque bass thump, so it’s more a matter of how things are used this time. It’s icy, glacial, and yet somehow triumphant. A compelling piece.
4. “Tokyo Solo 2002 Encores” – Keith Jarrett. Jarrett’s music soared from his fingers, dancing across grand ivory pianos around the world. In this 2002 solo concert encore in Tokyo, he reminded us that music’s language is universal. His 2017 Carnegie Hall appearance turned into his final public performance. A few days ago, the 75-year-old classical and jazz pianist revealed he has experienced debilitating strokes and announced his retirement via the New York Times. The support of his Budapest Concert (Live) via ECM is not surprising, given Jarrett’s iconic artistry, in addition to his outspoken voice for social change that resonates across generations. —Lisa Whealy
5. “Spa” – Icona Pop and Sofi Tukker. Two of my favorite producers of electro-pop club bangers get together to announce “I’m done with the club / just take me to the spa” via some of the most club-ready beats, vibes, and vocals of 2020. The club’s loss is the spa’s gain.
6. “Tokyo” / “Maggie” – Jeremiah Fraites. Fraites is known for being part of the Lumineers, and the folk-pop outfit’s infectious melodicism is fully present in these peaceful piano ruminations. These piano compositions have the sort of light touch and subtle melodies that fans of piano will love, but also has some of the heft and pop that keeps his other band’s folk songs so snappy (see in particular the thundering toms of “Maggie” for a big dose of heft and pop, while “Tokyo” is the lighter end.) Both tunes are powerful compositions without going overboard on high drama. Highly recommended.
7. “remix by madam data” – Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes. International Anthem puts out lots of skittering, chaotic, cutting-edge electronic-meets-jazz work. Some of it is too much for me; I’m new to both genres, and as such I’m not really ready to blend the far edge of techno and the far edge of jazz yet. Navarro and Holmes do have some skittering, thick-beat, wub-heavy electro punch underlying this piece, but the jazzy processed horn work smooths out some of the tough edges here. That process creates a productive tension that is exciting and edgy without losing those of us who love melodies.
8. “Another One for Slug” – Dougie Stu. As a bass player, I have found myself attracted to jazz written by bassists (even when I didn’t know it was written by bassists). Such is the case with Dougie Stu’s work here, which is a funky, jazzy, deep-groove piece. The song is not obviously led by the bass (as with composers like Joshua Crumbly), but the bass is prominent, meshing with the complex percussion to create the driving force of the tune. The keys and guitars add flavor on the groove, but this one is about that tight groove. The horns that come in mid-way through give a huge lift to the piece and shift the vibe from downtempo soul to an easygoing Sunday morning vibe. Solid.
9. “Västernorrland” – Tobias Svensson. Led by a bouncy, pizzicato string line, this delicate composition has a light, airy feel that contrasts with a melancholy streak. The staccato strings and the gently cascading piano runs offer a unique contrast that fuses into a clever, engaging piece. The arpeggiator that phases in over time joins the two ideas perfectly, creating a strong conclusion.
10. “Dodola” – EYOT. This nine-minute journey rides on enthusiastic bass work, rolling piano, and insistent percussion. Reminiscent of the piano-led epics of GoGoPenguin, this outfit leans heavily on keys to create wide, sweeping landscapes with sound. The framework provided by the bass and drums lets those soundscapes grow and flourish. It’s a great piece of work.