love songs

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

Hafdís Huld

Hafdís Huld

It likely does not come as a surprise that I kind of like (adore) Hafdís Huld a little (a lot). I was quite enamoured with Dirty Paper Cup and though I didn’t write up Synchronized Swimmers, I also enjoyed it immensely. Here’s the thing though, reader: this album is particularly wonderful. I’ve listened to it repeatedly, excessively, even for me, even for me and a Hafdís Huld album.

I think I’m in love.

Home is the name of this outing and I can’t imagine a more perfect title for the album. It’s a simple but elegant combination of literalism (most of the songs seeming to be in some part inspired by her actual home in Iceland), figurativeness (the abstract concept of the people and places and sights and sounds that lend their familiarity to the broad definition of home) and emotion (the relaxing comfort and intangible safety that are indelibly bonded to being wherever or whatever home is). The lyrics are still singularly Hafdís Huld, a seeming combination of excerpts from her diary and conversations you might have with her over a coffee, but the sound, while familiar, is especially smooth, soothing even. The power this album has to silence the lesser demons that erode calm and extort unrest is nigh on medicinal for me and that is a rare gift indeed.

Here are two. There are more than two and you should really listen to all of them.

Sunrise
Treasures

PS: You should really roll back in her Twitter feed/site news and check out all the amazing photos from her recent tour of Iceland. A combination of Hafdís’ travelogue and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has instilled in me a deep and pressing desire to travel to Iceland. I’m not even really a “wonders of nature” traveler, I’m much more likely to aim at urban and historical interests, but the things I have seen of Iceland from just these two sources demand attention.

PPS: She’s done some covers recently on the YouTubes and I’m all for that: Creep

Where to find Hafdís Huld:
Twitter: @HafdisHuld
Website: hafdishuld.com

The Wind + The Wave

The Wind + The Wave

In a Quixotian tilting exercise, I endeavoured to take on use of a Windows Phone 8 device for a while. It was actually pretty good, but synchronizing music from a Mac to it was not, so I decided to take that opportunity to investigate a paid account with Spotify. I have to say I’ve been quite impressed with the catalog breadth and due to the excellent coverage, the rate at which I could take on new random music was increased immensely, not to mention they now send me these emails that say things like “You like (artist), you should listen to (new artist)” and these imperatives are eerily accurate (data mining is getting really effective). I tell you this such that you might have some context for where I found them and also as a sort of continuing thread that runs through many of my posts talking about my various music inputs. I now have a very lengthy offline playlist in my clients (I call it “The Fitting Room”. I’m really quite proud of myself for that one.) full of music to suss out. I suppose there is some method through which this playlist might be “followed”, as the kids say. I may consider making it public. I’m not sure you people want to see the sausage being made.

The Wind + The Wave is the first (of others, I expect) to shake themselves loose of their neighbors in The Fitting Room and become a constant target of my listening desire. Dwight A. Baker (The Wind, I believe) and Patricia Lynn Drew (The Wave, as I understand it) chose a very apt name for their collaborative effort as the melody sounds and rhythm noises they form from the formlessness are well described as a force of nature. Patricia’s voice is lovely and runs a nice gamut of texture from gravely and smokey to light and vulnerable, often put through a mild overdrive filter that gives the vocals a comfortable feel of vintage blues that compliments the arrangements that run throughout the album. She’s also not afraid to drop the f-bomb and I’m a sucker for some well placed cussin’. Dwight, being a successful record producer, songwriter and musician in his own right, brings to bear a wonderfully eclectic toolbox of sounds that makes them virtually impossible to put in a genre box. I tried. Bluegrass-pop? Alt-country? Southern-indie-folk-rock? Nothing fits. I think the genre here is “good music you want to listen to”. I feel like that fits pretty well. I’m putting all of them in the tags though. You can’t stop me.

Here are your two samples From The Wreckage (you see what I did there), the going rate, I believe. This album has such a breadth of sounds that I would caution you from making any generalized determinations without taking on the fullness of the experience. There is much to hear. So much. To hear.

With Your Two Hands
Every Other Sunday Morning

Where to find The Wind + The Wave:
Twitter: @TheWindTheWave
Website: thewindandthewave.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