cute girl

Lights

Lights

So, I don’t know how listening to music works for all of you. Everyone kind of ingests and internalizes these things differently. For me in particular and in service of this particular narrative, I’ve got this one little alcove in my mental musical taste pavilion set aside especially for a certain kind of electronica that I cannot trivially define with a genre boundary. This Department of Lovely Electronica, it has a kind of continuously listening spidey-sense steadfastly monitoring the musics that enter into my ears ever vigilant for the undefinable hallmarks of what it needs. The things that tie these artists and songs together is some nebulous thread determined entirely by this abstract processor but when I find new ones, I know I’ve found them, and a little figurative bell rings and I am compelled to listen to them on repeat for a month. Lights and her most recent record, Little Machines: ding. Ding ding ding. Ding.

Ding.

The best thing about this album is the synth work. It’s gorgeous. It’s vintage-y, almost Casio-keyboard at times, but it’s always gorgeous. Airy, ragged, mellow, jarring, low-fi; synthetic in the very best ways. The other best thing about this album is the beats which can only be defined as phat, punchy drum kicks and tight bass lines with a driving, compelling quality that engenders a deep need for the song to continue. A further best thing about this album (you see what I did there, the whole album is amazing, everything is the best, why are you still reading) is the vocal work. Lights covers a gamut from intimately personal to rave dance commander, which is non-trivial in and of itself, but her sharp highs and lightly affected texture are perfect to the point of bespoke for the music. Little Machines is the complete package, batteries included.

And so we come to the time. The best and worst time. The time of the choosing. I can’t do this album any true justice here. These are great songs. The album is great songs. Go get a copy and listen to them all.

Portal
Same Sea

PS: The brilliant header image on this post came from: Wittefini
Beautiful shot. If I took ten thousand pictures at a concert not one of them would come out like that and it’s one of many great shots in the set. Check it out.

PPS: One thing you can’t see in that photo is that Lights has some really outstanding ink. I’d encourage you not to take my word for it and see for yourself.

Where to find Lights:
Twitter: @lights
Website: music.iamlights.com

Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

I remembered something today.

I was on the Twitters burning time while I waited for a Wimbledon match to get underway when Vienna Teng says:

Honestly folks, I didn’t even know what StageIt was but listening to artists soundcheck is like getting a trip behind the curtain so I clicked that link and made a StageIt account. I put my new analytical headphones in (Etymotic HF5, really nice) and listened to her tune all her levels and check her gear by playing an impromptu cover of Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky". She was bantering with the die-hards that showed up to the internet soundcheck and then it was over and my brain began revolting immediately at the idea of not seeing the actual show, whatever that was. So I gave my monies to StageIt in return for “notes” and got myself a virtual ticket to watch Vienna Teng perform live from her living room. This is when I remembered:

Vienna Teng is crazy good.

I’ve been listening to Vienna Teng for most of a decade, at this point. I got Warm Strangers sometime in aught-n-five when I heard about this ex-Cisco engineer making singer-songwriter piano songs. I became very attached to a particularly funereal (any day when I get to use funereal organically is a great day, as an aside) track called "Passage". I don’t really know why, though I’d wager the acapella didn’t hurt. Anyway, this album also had a bunch of other things going for it. As I think back now, this was probably the first time I’d encountered what I’d now call “chamber pop” but at the time I called “Vienna Teng music”. Lots of great tracks, though I particularly enjoy "Anna Rose", "Green Island Serenade" (which I’ve referred to as “bonus track” for way way too long, apparently) and "Feather Moon" in addition to the song exclusively about the stages of grief and loss.

Dreaming Through The Static and Inland Territory passed me by a little. I don’t have a good explanation for it, wrong music at the time. They’re both good albums ("1BR/1BA" and "Love Turns 40" from Dreaming, "Kansas" and "Augustine" from Inland, do your own legwork) but they never locked in for me. It happens.

Fast forward to last year, she put out Aims and I was sure I didn’t like it. I was sure. I listened to it a few times and I was meaningfully confident I did not like it. There was this kinda dance vibe about a lot of it, like a classy EDM and it wasn’t what I wanted cause I wanted more of the Vienna Teng with the bell-clear voice sparsely arranged over almost-classical piano with the complex lyrics and this was not it. And so that was that, right? Why would I go back to it from my place of meaningful confidence?

Well, imagine a website where artists can play impromptu live shows from their living rooms. ::AHEM::

I’m listening to Aims right now. This album is not Warm Strangers, so I was right about that. What I was wrong about was the part where I didn’t like it, cause it’s good. It’s better than good, it’s actually kind of great. As a sonic entity it is truly, definitively, big. Big arrangements, big sounds, big all the things. Even the acapella track, "The Hymn of Acxiom", is a multi-layered choral megalith. There’s something about this album that tickles a similar cranial region to Elizaveta, if I was forced to make a comparison.

Short version:

  1. I’m back, Vienna Teng, and it’s good to be back.
  2. Live shows are even good over the internet, if you can believe that. Let the power of witnessing music creation in real-time never be doubted.
  3. Vienna Teng is a person who has two names all the time in my head. If I was ever in a position to refer to her in a familiar way, saying/writing merely “Vienna” would, I have discovered while constructing this, be quite uncomfortable. Welcome to the funhouse of my psyche. Mind the gap.

Here are a couple from Aims so you can choose not to take my word for it:

In the 99
Flyweight Love

Where to find Vienna Teng:
Twitter: @viennateng
Website: viennateng.com

Roo & The Howl

Roo & The Howl

Look everyone, I’m not trying to solicit your thanks or praise necessarily, but I think I’m kinda getting you in on the ground floor of a confirmed music situation here. An honest to God happening. Roo & The Howl’s very first full length album has only been out for about a month at this point and that’s a good jump on the game. Also, NoiseTrade. You guys, you’ve got that algorithm dialed in. It used to be hard work finding artists this good, but now I just sit back and wait for NoiseTrade (and PledgeMusic and Bandcamp) to send me an email. Anyway, onward.

If you want to optimize your Roo & The Howl experience, you’ll need to do a couple things. First, be somewhere it’s reasonable to sit on your porch just after sunset, into the early dark. Ideally there will be fireflies. Your chair should be laid back and comfortable. On the table next to you there should be a bottle of bourbon, a glass with two ice cubes and a quality Union beer, Miller High Life or PBR, as an example. You don’t need to be there alone, but be there with those who understand the appreciation of music as an activity. Pour the bourbon, swirl the ice, pick up the beer, press play on the hifi and settle into the magic as Bekah Wagner and friends begin the soundtrack to your life.

ME/WE is a truly phenomenal album. The caliber and tenor of the music is the sort of comfortably worn that’s typically reserved for your favorite blue jeans. There’s weight, but it’s snug, relaxed. It’s a heft that draws you in, makes you stay. The arrangements are wonderfully lush in their sparsity, revolving around a blues core that holds the groove, at times scoring the calm, at others holding center on forays into experimental jams that evoke nothing less than Pink Floyd. Bekah’s voice is breathy and soft, yet still finds the perfect texture to walk ahead of the reverb and steel guitar and firm bass lines, all working together to push the tracks into the rare air of greatness.

I am a Roo & The Howl fan, friends. I’ve already begun evaluating appropriate travel and lodging options to reach the Denver area as she has no announced tour that covers my corner of the burning southwest and I am not content to wait. Her siren song calls to me uncommonly strong. This album stands up to repeated straight-through listenings, so don’t think of these as sufficient.

Give Me Time
To The River

Where to find Roo & The Howl:
Twitter: @rooandthehowl
Website: rooandthehowl.com

Elizabeth & The Catapult

Elizabeth & The Catapult

It’s been a while since we last spoke of Elizabeth and her accompanying Cat (apult). Nearly five years, in fact. I’ll give you a second to catch up on your history. Much has happened, Taller Children was fresh at that time, but we’ve now seen not one but two additional studio albums, The Other Side of Zero in 2010 and earlier this year, Like It Never Happened. It’s this most recent outing that I’m here to wax poetic about and/or sing the praises thereof.

A brief aside, Elizabeth (@thecatapult) has totally favorited my tweets on the Twitters at least once and is generally super friendly and engaging in the medium. This, of course, means we’re basically best friends and calls my ability to be objective (Ha! Right? Objective. ME. Yeah, I’m doing this joke folks, hang on to something.) into question. Much like LeVar Burton, I encourage you not to “take my word for it” and if you could see the look I’m doing right now it’d be the one that implies you should probably investigate the sounds of Elizabethan Catapultery for yourself (as if you haven’t already).

A slightly further aside, if “Elizabethan Catapultery” turns out to be a proper noun for something, anything else, the world is exactly as marvelous as I want it to be.

Alright, music.

Elizabeth is a well-known quantity as a pianist, by which I mean she’s super good at piano-ing and I love listening to her piano. Here’s the thing about Like It Never Happened: she plays a meaningful amount of guitar. As I understand it, a significant portion (potentially all? I wasn’t there, sadly) of the songs on this album were composed on a guitar rather than the piano. This opens up a different toolkit for Liz (Can I call her Liz? We’re Twitter best friends, I’m sure it’s fine) and you can hear it. This is a different album. Experimental. It’s like she found a new wing in her talent mansion and she’s just gotta open all the doors. That kind of thing carries a certain risk of straying into fragmentation and dissonance, but this album forgoes that entirely preferring instead to be engaging and imaginative, at times catchy, at others spacious and always brilliant.

I picked a couple out that I really enjoy but there’s so much to hear on this album that you should not believe in any sense that I’ve given you anything except the narrowest possible idea of what may or may not be in play.

Some Day Soon
I Wish I Didn’t

A small editorial, I PledgeMusic’d this album quite readily cause I’ve been given much reason to believe in her ability to deliver. She could be funding a trip into an abandoned subway tunnel in Bangalore with an assortment of cracked glassware, a dozen differently-bent brass forks, two Chinese singing crickets, a gleam in her eye and a song in her heart and I’d swipe my card, and rightly so. Regardless, I wanted to just go ahead and call your attention to PledgeMusic so you can also feel like you’re part of bringing amazing music from brilliant artists like this into the world. I’ve funded Rachael Yamagata music, Ben Folds Five music, Meiko music, the Presidents of the USA, hell Rufus frickin’ Wainwright is self-funding a recording of his opera Prima Donna over there right now.

Be a patron of the arts, folks. Whatever your personal zeitgeist would have you think of this crowd-funding kind of model, never lose sight of the power it has to directly connect you to the arts and artists in a way that buying ex post facto never will. Be a tiny Medici.

A Fine Frenzy

A Fine Frenzy

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a long time, it’s a rather glaring oversight. I would go so far as to say I owe you an apology, when you get down to it. If you like the kind of music I like and have somehow failed to stumble upon A Fine Frenzy and I, I of all people, have neglected to bring her to you, well. Let us assume that my apologies are of the humblest and sincerest of natures. Be comforted, this is the best sort of failure from your perspective. You get new music now. I envy you, if this describes your current situation. There are three (two and a half-ish, really. I’ll get there.) albums for you to digest.

My timeline with Alison Sudol is both lengthy and checkered. Well. My timeline with Alison Sudol’s music is both lengthy and checkered. My timeline with Alison Sudol is differentiated from such in so much as it does not exist and I assure you said situation is one of a number of entries on a list of ways in which this particular fork of reality has not delivered. Others of note and relevance: A Girl Called Eddy only makes one album, I keep failing to speak to Rachael Yamagata when the opportunity arises, I have yet to hear Feist live and an elf hunting trip with Hafdís Huld continues to elude.

But seriously folks. I was, somehow, all over One Cell in the Sea in 2007. It dropped, and I had it. I wish I could tell you why, I can’t seem to dredge any details from the silty churn of my rapidly moving and increasingly unpredictable memory. What I can tell you, though, is that upon listening I thought then that One Cell In the Sea had a problem and I still think that One Cell in the Sea has a problem, though time has seen fit to make it a quirk that I now adore more than lament. There is something hauntingly artificial about it. Not overproduced. Not poorly arranged. Just, false. Thin. Façade-ish. It is not bad. No, friend, no it is not bad. I like Come On, Come Out and The Minnow and the Trout a lot, Almost Lover, Near To You also. It’s a good album. She has a gorgeous voice, her melodies are original and beautiful and the lyrical quality is consistently high. I was definitely looking forward to her follow-up despite my reservation.

Bomb in a Birdcage: Better. So much better. It blows out of the gate with What I Wouldn’t Do, and it is quite an opener. Frankly it’s so catchy it should be illegal. Then it hits you with New Heights to remind you that this Frenzy is Fine. It keeps on coming with Blow Away, Swan Song, The Beacon. There are songs between those, but you know. Just genuinely such a great album. Whatever was bugging me about One Cell disappeared in the interim and Bomb in a Birdcage hits all the right buttons and as such I have listened to it a very significant amount. It is at this time that I become a confirmed A Fine Frenzy fan (alliteration: fun for the whole family). Whatever happened between One Cell and Bomb, I approve.

And then.

And then there was Pines. I was pretty excited for Pines cause it totally snuck up on me. You know how you kinda lose track of all your favorites and then you find out they dropped new material and you can have it RIGHT NOW? That happened. Bomb was such a monster and so well done that my expectations were quite high. Unfortunately, Pines showed up with a smorgasbord of songs that are just a little too long in general and seem a little uncomfortable under their own weight. I’ve been trapped in a certain amount of consternation about Pines since I got it. I want to be enamored of it, but it just cannot get in my ear. When I want to listen to A Fine Frenzy, there isn’t a single Pines song that comes to mind. I still wake up whistling One Cell songs and for a statistically significant period there was nothing but Bomb songs in my brain, but Pines I barely remember. It’s all…very sad.

And so here we are. My Alison Sudol timeline: revealed. I’ve gone trifecta on this one so you could hear one from each album and not be forced to take my word for it. I highly recommend acquiring the first two and frankly would love it if someone could help me understand the third which would require said someone to get it and listen to it and, in the service of that academic and beneficial-to-me-personally pursuit, I would also encourage you toward that acquisition. These three are not necessarily my favorites, but they are among them. Well, the one from Pines, that’s just the only one that I even vaguely recognized when I went looking for a sample. Truth bombs, I drop them.

Go forth, reader, and listen.

The Minnow & The Trout
Swan Song
Sailingsong