guitar

Beck

Beck

So, story time. I got some new speakers for my home audio setup, they're very spiffy and they sound great and I was looking for interesting music to listen to on them. Whilst stumbling haphazardly around various audio review sites looking at what songs they used as test tracks, I saw a mention of a 2013 Blu-ray Audio release of Beck's 2002 album, Sea Change, mixed for full surround sound and in a lossless format. At this point in the story I'm not really a Beck fan. I mean, I knew the older radio singles (Loser, Where It's At, etc) but I don't listen to Beck as a rule and I hadn't listened to any Beck in years, that I could remember. Since I had lived in an essentially Beck-free bubble since Odelay, I had never heard a single track from Sea Change and considering what Odelay and Mellow Gold sound like, I was very curious why an audiophile stereo reviewer would be playing a Beck album to test out speakers in the Honda Civic price range.

Here's the thing about Sea Change. It's categorically amazing. As it turns out, a lot of people said that when it came out, but I wasn't listening to Beck then. I didn't care if Beck made more songs like the Beck songs I knew. They were fine, my "Where It's At" supply was stable. No. That's not how Sea Change works. That's not how any of it works.

For me, coming at this from 1/10 on the Beck familiarity scale, Sea Change is kind of like putting Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and a string section in a blender with Beck, but a different Beck, a Beck I didn't know was out there. Beck′.

Beck′ might be a musical genius. The arrangements on Sea Change are flawless; direct and sincere and seeded with a mellow ennui that reverberates on a level just beneath consciousness. In case you didn't think it could get better than that, the surround mastering on the BD-A release elevates his already-unassailable work with a command of space and ambience that's honestly breathtaking. Dumbfounding, even. I put this on all casual like and minutes later I found myself, hand-to-god, frozen in place. I was staring directly at my speakers, confused, as if I hadn't heard sounds before. I did not understand what was happening.

I know I play the embellishing, smitten rube on here often for laughs and because many times I actually am one in some way or another, but this is not that thing. This is the feeling you only get when you hear something and you immediately realize that you've Heard Something. Something profound. Something unequivocally brilliant. I don't have a crush on this album, I think this is honestly an album that everyone should hear. It's beyond my normal mania for new music, this is timeless wonder.

Sea Change is a masterpiece.

The Golden Age
Already Dead

Where to find Beck:
Twitter: @beck
Website: beck.com

Lights

Lights

Yes. I did just do a Lights post, like, 10 minutes ago in CGPLS time. I know. I KNOW. Look, alright? I didn’t know this other album was out there. I didn’t know. It is so good and also so wildly different that it deserves…no, no it demands recognition. I was musically smitten with Lights before. Strongly Musically Smitten, official classification. I’m in Stage Ten Incurable Musical Love with her now. Good/Bad news, Lights: I’m here to stay. There’s a show in Phoenix next month that I think now qualifies as a Certified Moral Imperative.

The thing about Little Machines (and I expect you understand that there is no way for me to level criticism at Little Machines as I find it to be a virtually perfect electronic pop album so this is not and cannot be criticism, it is exposition for the purpose of demonstrating contrast) is that it is electronical as all get out. I love that about it. I love the synth-y joy and the effected everythings and it is a truly magical album. In a certain way though, it’s easy to lose sight of the pure musical artistry at work in the glorious electronic wonderland. That isn’t to say that I have any less respect for an electronic artist than I do for a more traditional artist, just that it’s easy to forget they’re both doing the same thing. It’s not common, in my experience, for great electronic artists to also be great acoustic artists and it is for that reason that Lights’ acoustic re-release of Siberia is truly a beautiful and unexpected surprise from an artist I had saddled with my own limited expectations.

I had listened to Siberia (the original) a little but I wasn’t really into it. It’s a sound that feels like a lower-gloss version of what happens on Little Machines and I just wasn’t there with it. I didn’t leave with any significant notion of any of the songs on the album and I contentedly moved back to playing Little Machines tracks on repeat, no harm, no foul. When I found out there was an acoustic follow-on to Siberia that stripped down the tracks, I had to give that a listen, right? So I did. What I found there were revelations, in the purest sense. Things. Were. Revealed.

First, Lights is a truly wonderful vocalist. I loved her over electronic music, but I can die happy now with her over a solo acoustic guitar or a grand piano. Just beautiful. Delicate, affected, expressive, novel phrasings, breathy falsetto. So so good.

Second, her electronic songs have amazing arrangement potential for acoustics. This is not a thing I’ve found to be any sort of given, it must be treasured and the rare opportunity is not squandered here. There’s no overproduction, no unnecessary complication. Everything feels necessary and deliberate. A string fill here, some reverb there, but in concert with the instrumentals. So good.

Third, she knows Cœur de pirate. I love every single conceivable thing about that. The first time I was working through a full play-through of this album I was about half-way in and I distinctly remember thinking “It would be amazing if she did a song with Cœur de pirate. I hope that happens” and then track seven came on, “Peace Sign” and the second verse was in…French. And I had not, to this point, known Lights, though a Canadian, to sing in French. I was contemplating how much different she sounded in French and whether that was just related to the language differences or if there was an electronic effect in play or maybe it was recorded at a different time and the other half of my brain that isn’t a pedantic mess mind-slapped me hard like “Hey. HEY. That’s Cœur de pirate, man. Get it together, you’re in the tall grass.” “Thanks, self. I’m here now. 5×5.” “Ok.”

Fourth, there’s no fourth. I’m just playing games with your heart now.

Here’s a couple. I don’t even. I mean, also listen to “Siberia” and “Suspension” and “And Counting…” and “Flux and Flow” and “Peace Sign” and do you get it yet you have to listen to the whole album why are you still reading go listen to it right now.

GO.

Banner
Heavy Rope

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

Fleurie

Fleurie

Her eyes kind of look right into you, don’t they?

It is only recently that I’ve become aware of Fleurie, though the Fear & Fable EP I’m currently wearing a figurative hole through was released in 2013. Once again our ever-generous overlord The Great and Powerful Spotify has gifted me with bounteous musical joy and once again the beneficiary of such is you, dear, silent, likely imaginary, reader. The good news is that she has new music on the horizon, so, soon there will be more than this.

Before you wonder if we’re once again in an episode of “Music Adam Listens To In Foreign Languages He Does Not Understand”, fear not. Though her nom de plume is of the French persuasion, her songs are in English delivered by way of Nashville, though as I understand it, she hails originally from Michigan. Her sound is sparse in a powerful way, overlaid by a delicate vocal style that plays beautifully through both piano and guitar driven arrangements that share as much with a rougher indie style as a retail-ready sound you might hear on a finer radio station or television soundtrack. I’m honestly quite surprised I haven’t heard her on a show yet, “Hymn” and “There’s a Ghost” have a quality about them that I’d find very comfortable over a montage.

I capital-A Adore “Chasing All The Stars” and I’m listening to it non-stop with the same sort of casual indifference Yogi Bear shows toward picnic baskets. I’m also including the amazingly strong at a mere two minutes “I Never Wanted”. Neither of these does much of a job at showing the other side of this album which is a little more energetic, but you can’t win ’em all, ok? Go get a copy and then you can know.

Chasing All the Stars
I Never Wanted

Where to find Fleurie:
Twitter: @fleuriemusic
Website: fleuriemusic.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.