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Why Prince is a Gen-Xer
Published on March 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Toure makes the case.


Better Late Than Never: Favorite Albums of 2012
Published on March 11, 2013 by guest author: Eric Perkins

Though we're well into 2013 at this point, I listened to enough great (or at least really good) albums in 2012 that I would be remiss if I didn't try to convince some people to give them a listen. In general, I thought there were a lot of good songs in 2012, but albums ... not so much. In fact, three of the albums I listened to most in 2012 technically came out in 2011:


- Bombadil: All That The Rain Promises
  
With the exception of the opening track, which I didn't feel fit particularly well with the rest of the album, I liked every song here. I couldn't possibly classify their genre, though folk would be in there somewhere. I ordered this album as a CD directly from  the band and it was by far the best package I have ever had delivered, complete with a personally written note from one of the band members. This band makes me wish I was back down in North Carolina so I actually had a chance to see them live. The song that first hooked me was "Laundromat," which you can stream here.

- Veronica Falls: Veronica Falls

This album came out so long ago (though still 2011) that Veronica Falls already came out with their next album a few weeks ago. There self-titled debut became my go-to summer album and I played it in the car with the windows down a ridiculous number of times. Though hailing from London, the band channels an American west coast vibe and their sound scratched a surf guitar itch that I feel every year when the weather starts to get warm. Stand-out tracks include "Bad Feeling" and "Come On Over." 

- YACHT: Shangri-La 

I would normally hesitate to recommend YACHT to the general populous. They're a bit weird and often profane. But this album reaches for a broader audience. There's still some weirdness here, but the title track (and album closer) is a ridiculously catchy pop wonder that will have you singing along by the second time the chorus rolls around. Plus, I'm always a sucker for any song that drops some "la la las."

And as for the albums that actually came out in 2012:

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Five Songs
Published on February 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list the five new songs I'm currently enjoying.

Click here to see what they are.


Two Great Concerts
Published on February 27, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Tegan and Sara, and Sean Rowe.

Click here to read more.


Jeff Mangum, Live
Published on February 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review Saturday's Jeff Mangum concert at Mass MoCA.

Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t get into the indie-folk band Neutral Milk Hotel until about five years ago, when their album, 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,' marked its 10th anniversary, and the Albany band Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned performed it from start to finish at Valentines. I’d heard very little about the album at the time of its release, but in the years since it had gained an enthusiastic cult following, and Sgt. Dunbar’s energetic tribute made me an immediate fan.

The more I learned about Neutral Milk Hotel, the more intrigued I became. In 2008, the online magazine Slate ran an article on Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum titled 'Jeff Mangum, the Salinger of indie rock' in which writer Taylor Clark described Mangum’s retreat from the public eye. Clark wrote that Neutral Milk Hotel, and its mysterious leader, had essentially disappeared, and that as 'Aeroplane’s legend began to build, Mangum kept himself busy by having a total nervous breakdown. Laura Carter, his then-girlfriend, told the Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing that he spent entire days sitting in his house in a state of near panic, wearing a pair of old slippers and doing absolutely nothing. He became paranoid, hoarding rice for the inevitable post-Y2K apocalypse.' This bleak period was followed by a period of rebuilding, Clark writes, in which Mangum traveled the world, spent time in a monastery, and released a disc of field recordings of Bulgarian folk music. His reclusiveness angered some of his fans, who felt that Mangum’s failure to release a new album and tour was unnecessarily depriving them of a great talent.

Well, over the past few years Mangum has slowly re-emerged, and is now in the midst of his first tour in years. I saw him Saturday at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass., where he played a solo set before a rapt audience. He was engaging and friendly, though I wouldn’t go so far as to describe him as gregarious or effusive, and sang and strummed guitar with intensity and passion, breathing new life into Neutral Milk Hotel’s beloved songs. These rollicking songs are both deeply weird — 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' is said to have been inspired by Anne Frank, and the lyrics are contain bizarre, almost surrealistic imagery. For instance, in the song 'Holland, 1945,' Mangum sings, 'The only girl I’ve ever loved/Was born with roses in her eyes/But then they buried her alive/One evening 1945/With just her sister at her side/And only weeks before the guns/All came and rained on everyone/Now she’s a little boy in Spain/Playing pianos filled with flames/On empty rings around the sun.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Passion Pit, In Concert
Published on February 12, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review Monday's Passion Pit show in Troy.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve been a fan of the electro-pop band Passion Pit ever since their song 'Sleepyhead' hit the airwaves, but I developed more of an interest in them after I learned, via Rolling Stone, that band leader Michael Angelakos has been battling bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. I don’t know why, but this knowledge made Passion Pit’s music seem both more endearing and complex, as if the band itself is locked in a constant battle to balance its undeniably upbeat dance music with an angstier, more conflicted sensibility.

Their hit song 'Take A Walk' might make you feel like dancing, but the lyrics — 'but then my partner called to say the pension funds were gone/he made some bad investments now the accounts are overdrawn/I took a walk' — suggest mounting dread and desperation. Or at least the terror of living through the financial crash after you’ve gone and lost all of your investors’ money.

For better or worse, most of Passion Pit’s music is not that topical. The band played the RPI Fieldhouse on Monday night, and Angelakos revealed himself to be an energetic and generous showman, eager to get people dancing and waving their hands in the air. From the first songs, which included 'I’ll Be Alright,' of the band’s 2012 release, 'Gossamer,' and 'The Reeling,' from their previous album, 'Manners,' it was clear that Passion Pit is a band that doesn’t slow down, and there was a brief period where I was beginning to feel a bit exhausted, as many of the band’s songs are delivered in the same heightened, and synth-heavy, emotional pitch.

I really like 'Gossamer,' but the second half of the album threatens to dissipate into clouds of vacuous electro-pop, and I worried that the concert would do the same. Fortunately, the band kicked things into another gear when it slowed down and played 'Constant Conversations,' an R&B-style make-out song in which Angelakos seemed to be channeling Prince (or perhaps Beck in his 'Midnite Vultures' phase).

Click here to read the whole thing.


Living Through 2012: My Year in Music
Published on February 12, 2013 by guest author: Tony Are

Living Through 2012: My Year In Music

(in which an eccentric music buff contemplates guitar/drum pop duos, Taylor Swift, a couple of songs about abortion, choosing aesthetic sides, and what sort of truth guttersnipes may or may not know, while briefly discussing 10 cool things)

*******

This started because Sara was wondering if I would do a year-end music wrap. First I said no. Then I changed my mind. The reason for this wavering was that I figured out quite some time ago that my relationship to the mainstream of the popular music thought-o-sphere is something like one of those comets that is on a long elliptical orbit around the sun. Sometimes I'm completely in sync with the music everyone seems to think is wonderful, like I was last year. I had a copy of every album on most of the “best of” lists, and mainly agreed with the so-called “critics” about the veracity of each.

But this year, not so much. Now I will say that I'm not sure that 2012's offerings were quite up to the level of the year before. A lot of interesting stuff happened in 2011. Although the critical glow around tUnE-yArDs has dimmed somewhat, Merrill's unique rhythmic constructions, combined with DIY ethic, seemed refreshingly new. Kanye West and Jay-Z joined forces to attempt a blockbuster and nearly pulled it off. PJ Harvey and Wilco made albums that at least recalled the work that drew us to them in the first place, even if they didn't equal the quality. In 2012, a lot of people just seemed to be waiting for something to happen, and it never quite did. A lot of the more solid albums I heard, like The XX, Japandroids, and even Jack White, seemed to be riding on pretty well-worn tracks. I had been eagerly awaiting Beach House's followup to the beloved “Teen Dream,” but “Bloom” just seemed to be recycling the same dream pop with even more distancing layers of studio cream filling. And the so-called “EDM” and “dubstep” that is now echoing through the halls of middle schools all over the country is just a less interesting version of the electronic dance music that we were listening to in 1996. Even many of the albums I liked quite a bit — Frank Ocean, Tame Impala, Taylor Swift — were not so much breaking new ground as they were retrofitting.

This could be because even people much younger than me are searching for something that resonates on a deeper level. I was at a party at Christmas time that was mainly musicians and their friends, ages from around 18 to mid-thirties (if you don't count me) - the kind of people who are creating much of the music people are listening to now. It included all sorts of people, from a hip hop artist all the way to pop-dreamer Daoud of Art Sorority for Girls. Different people played DJ from the host's vinyl collection. What did we listen to? Pet Sounds, Rumours, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea — all with much nodding of heads. The newest of these albums is 15 years old, the oldest 46. When I was their age I wasn't listening to any 46-year-old albums (although in retrospect, I probably should have been). But it was clear that these people thought there was something captured on those old albums that struck a deeper, louder chord than what has recently rolled off the assembly line.

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Why Do Scream At Each Other?
Published on February 11, 2013 by Sara Foss

A flow chart for understanding "When Doves Cry."


Winter Concert Preview
Published on January 29, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list some of the concerts I'm looking forward to this winter.

Click here to read it.


New Prince
Published on January 24, 2013 by Sara Foss


Musical Traditions
Published on January 24, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about listening to U2's "The Unforgettable Fire" in honor of Martin Luther King.

Here's an excerpt:

"There are songs for all sorts of big events — birthdays, weddings, funerals.

But I like to find songs for other types of occasions, such as election day. On election day, I pull out my copy of The Replacements song 'Election Day,' and play it before I go vote. The song reflects a far more apathetic attitude toward elections than my own, what with lyrics such as 'I don’t care who gets elected/til I find me one to love,' but listening to it has become something of an annual tradition.

This week I pulled out my copy of U2’s 'The Unforgettable Fire' in honor of Martin Luther King. This 1984 album contains two songs about King: 'Pride (In the Name of Love)' and 'MLK.' 'Pride' compares King to Jesus, and describes his assassination: 'Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your life' before shifting into the song’s catchy refrain. 'MLK,' the final song on the album, is a haunting elegy disguised as a lullaby: 'Sleep tonight/And may your dreams/Be realized.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


How I Feel About Frank Ocean
Published on January 23, 2013 by Sara Foss

This piece over at the A.V. Club sums up how I feel about Frank Ocean pretty well.


Favorite Albums of 2012
Published on January 7, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some of my favorite albums of 2012, such as the Alabama Shakes' "Boys & Girls," and Dr. John's "Locked Down."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Bach Is Best
Published on December 6, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about solo violinist Jennifer Koh, and her show "Bach and Beyond" at EMPAC last weekend.

Click here to read more.


I Hate Local Music
Published on December 3, 2012 by guest author: Tony Are

I hate local music.

Well, I sort of hate it — that is I hate thinking of local music as “local music,” and I hate being told that I need to support it.

I guess I should explain. Over the last month or so, at least seven of my Facebook “friends” have forwarded some version of a “support local music” meme. They are mostly musicians, or people with an active interest in music, and some of them are in what you would call “local bands”, so I guess I can understand why they thought they agreed with this enough to pass it along. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that something was bothering me about this whole deal.

First of all, when people say “local music” I'm not sure they are thinking about what it means. I live in NY, so for instance, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, and Madonna are all “local.” But I don't think I'm being implored to be sure to catch the “MDNA tour” as it blows through town. The idea seems to be supporting struggling, mainly unknown artists from your home town — you know, the ones playing in that bar just up the road. Now that seems like a worthwhile thing. But supporting local artists is not like supporting your local farmer. Fresh eggs and tomatoes are actually better than the ones that have spent time in the distributor's warehouse. And there is the thing about cutting down your carbon footprint, although I guess the jury is still out on whether buying local really makes a significant difference. But art is a different type of thing, a form of communication that intends to make you feel something, to re-connect with the world in a way that combines the artist's intentions with your own experience. It's a thought process made physical.

And that has nothing to do with being local. One of the problems with the meme is that it cuts out the art. I'm pretty sure that's not the intent, but focusing on the local support ends up in that place. Yes, supporting art needs to be about fostering a creative community where new things can be invented before being tried out on the national stage. But what we need to be encouraging is aspiring to make that flash of communication between the artist and the audience revelatory. That's a tall order — it's hard, and frankly, a lot of art doesn't make it. But even an attempt to do this creates its own type of pleasure, and when it does happen — that's when it all becomes worthwhile. What people need to be supporting is good music, not local music — and by good I don't mean only music that I happen to like, but I mean any music that is made by someone trying to connect something profound within themselves to an audience.

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