Musical taste is subjective, of course, and what I've been in a mood for recently is popular music (my usual staple being jazz), but of a particular variety: wistful, slow-drag, plaintive, romantic folkie songs with a certain gentleness.
Rats. This is the spot for a great quote I ran across recently about the difference between tradition and nostalgia. But I've lost the link. (I think I ran across it in a book, so the link should be in my brain. Not there. Typical.) Anyway a few of these songs are backward-looking in style.
Off we go: if you like psychedelic rock, which enjoyed a brief brief sunburst of popularity in the late '60s (I kinda had a thing for Tommy James and the Shondells at one point when I was a kid, and I prefer post-LSD John Lennon to pre-*), you might like the song "Lavender" by Ray LaMontagne, which makes use of certain cues from psychedelia to fine effect.
If your taste runs more to neo-R&B (if you favor the Black Keys, for instance, or the late Amy Winehouse), see if you like the Nick Waterhouse album Holly. He apparently doesn't want anyone to know about it, if the album cover is any indication. It looks like something you'd flip past in the LP bins at Goodwill. But it's a fascinating, tight, tense album, featuring sax and organ no less. I don't own it, but have heard it.
I'm a total sucker for banjo as an accent instrument—just love it. Old example, "Seaweed" by the Fruit Bats. When the banjo comes in it's heartrending—gets to me every time. Unfortunately, that song belongs on the "coulda been a classic" list—beautiful melody, beautiful arrangement, but a woefully wrong turn with those awful lyrics. It's a product of that short-lived fad of putting trivial lyrics with grand music, the pinnacle of which was the so-called sweater song by Weezer. Oh well. Anyway, a nice new song with banjo in it: Beck's "Say Goodbye" from the album Morning Phase. (Another album I don't own—I have to say I don't entirely get Beck, and I'm not sure he does either.)
Local boy plays good: Peter Mulvey
For those who like acoustic guitar, check out Milwaukee's own Peter Mulvey playing "Black Rabbit." The iTunes download features better (and very fine) sound.
Easy segue from there: I've unofficially become kind of an aficionado of covers since our big post about them a few years back. Recent favorite: "Seven Nation Army" covered by Zella Day as a single (iTunes is the best source). Sounds pretty great for leaving out the famous bass riff altogether. Don't know a thing about Zella.
I'm not very good at writing about music, because I don't know the vocabulary and I don't have any technical background. But there seems to be a strain in hip-hop that is slow and mournful and full of drones and refrains. A song I discovered that's been on replay in my head is "Eve's Perspective" by Lorine Chia of Cleveland, Ohio. Other bits and snippets from the album I've heard sound interesting so I'll probably investigate further. (She covers "Strange Fruit," which is either a good sign or a bad one.)
All the above are from albums I don't own and generally by artists I don't know anything about. It's harder to find whole albums you like. My major personal discoveries are unfortunately few and far between, coming along at the rate of maybe one a year. Slint's classic Spiderland has been on heavy rotation at sprawling TOP World Headquarters lately, in case anyone is interested in '90s post-rock masterpieces. I think the latest Mikey fave (I can never quite tell until some time has passed and I find out if it has legs) is "The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas" (note that it's also available on vinyl) by an Australian youngster named Courtney Barnett. I liked it the first time I heard it, and, as rarely happens with me, I seem to be liking it more with every hearing.
In photography one of the qualities I value is an offhand, casual feeling-tone, which you sometimes have to work very hard to achieve. I used to say I aspired to make photographs that look like you just picked up the camera and made a single shot (even if it took you all morning and five rolls of film to get to it). Courtney Barnett's languid singing and interior-oriented compostions achieve the musical equivalent. (I miss the days when musicians smoked lots of marijuana. It's very beneficial for them. Nothing worse than a bunch of musicians trying too hard to please, which you see all the time now. Calm down, kids.) Anyway, I think I'm in love again.
All you fans of Sri-Lankan-American Pete Seegers doubtless already know about Bhi Bhiman, but those of you who don't should check out his extraordinary paeon to 1930s hobos, "Guttersnipe." An anthem, I think you'll agree. For what, I don't quite know.
Happy music gets no respect, but people like it anyway. No matter how isolated you are from pop culture, you're probably aware of Pharrell Williams, he of the exaggeratedly big hat and constant mentions on the Ellen show. His song "Happy," which he performed at the Oscars, is one of those, well, happy hits that everybody needs to dance along to (remember "Walkin' on the Sun" by Smashmouth?). It overstays its welcome by the third time you hear it, true, but let's not be grumpy. Anyway, Pharrell used to be part of an act called "N.E.R.D" (which stands for "No one Ever Really Dies"—okay, the less said) that once received a description I prize: "a hip-hop duo consisting of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley." Ya gotta love a duo with three people in it. It's a duo with more. Anyway what I'm getting to with painful slowness is that a N.E.R.D song I like, "Run to the Sun," has been resurrected due to Pharrell's recent newfound stardom, and you could listen to that too.
We could get into Jake Bugg, but that's enough for now I guess. In recent weeks I've already been feeling the gravitational pull of jazz gathering me home again (Tord Gustavsen Trio, a trio with only three people in it, is playing as I type), although I do enjoy my occasional toe-dippings into the vast ocean of pop.
And for those who would like a little gear-porn to leaven all this content talk, here are some neat snaps of a turntable I sold yesterday. A sweet one, but I'm into vintage direct-drive Japanese 'tables now.
Enjoy the last day of the U.S. Open. (I think we should get some country without its own golf stars to adopt Martin Kaymer, since Germany is preoccupied with soccer.) Or have a nice Sunday relaxing with tunes. I'll depart with another delightfully loopy quote I heard that somehow gets it right despite getting it wrong: "Music is the music of the soul."
*Are you only sleeping? Are you looking into a glass onion? Does tomorrow ever know? If you were a large flippered marine mammal, which one would you be, goo-goo-goo-joob?
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP, when we let Mike off his leash to write about his various wayward enthusiasms.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
HT: "Some of my favorite banjo moments: The opening of 'I Believe' by R.E.M.—which I believe falls under the definition of pastiche. The bridge of 'To Sheila' by Smashing Pumpkins (starts at 2:23)—which marks the first and only time banjo appeared in their music. This isn't the most traditional use of banjo but I love how it sounds like raindrops."
Mike replies: Beautiful. Thanks.
John Camp: "Since you like both banjo accents and good covers, you'd probably enjoy Town Mountain's cover of Springsteen's 'I'm on Fire.' And you being you, I suspect you'd also like Gillian Welch's 'Elvis Presley Blues.' For all the criticism of YouTube that you hear from time to time, I love following musical threads across the different genre landscapes. I mean, you could start out with something delicate by Gillian Welch and wind up at this."
Mike replies: Isn't it interesting how YouTube is evolving as a way to listen to music? I never would have guessed. My son and his friends prefer it to iTunes samples because you can listen to whole songs.
Judith Wallerius: "It looks like Youtube is about to significantly change in how useful it is to discover new music. Apparently they have a new music service coming and will simply remove the videos of all record labels and artists that don't sign up to license for it. That hits mainly smaller independent labels (a.k.a. music you might not know and have to find by chance) that would get significantly worse deals than the big labels, so are reluctant to sign on. Let's hope there's enough protest to make them reconsider."