If collaborations are the glue that holds the world of hip hop together, mixtapes are the solvent that throws everything back into chaos. Hastily produced, legally questionable and often free of cost, these pseudo-albums typically find rappers appropriating each others’ beats as they spit a few lines in an effort to build hype for upcoming projects. They’re also a great way to get a feel for rappers you haven’t heard before (or simply haven’t heard from in a while). The latter was the case when I first read on Pitchfork about Clipse’s mixtape, Road to Till the Casket Drops. I hadn’t been keeping up with the duo, which is comprised of Virginia-based artists Malice and Pusha T, but I took notice when they released this tape in December of 2008 to promote their Play Cloths clothing line and upcoming album. Highlights include a very tight track in “Addiction,” as well as two songs, “Swagga Like Us” and “Swing Ya Rag,” that borrow beats from T.I.’s commercially successful album Paper Trail. I’d say that both of Clipse’s renditions surpass the originals, but Jay-Z appears on the original version of “Swagga Like Us,” and I’m not about to anger the music gods by insulting the great H to the Izzo V to the Izzay. Let’s just say it’s an awesome mixtape and leave it at that. Check out Clipse’s version of “Swagga Like Us” and click here to download the rest.
It’s a holiday weekend. The weather is perfect. The grill is ready to light and your friends are on their way over, but you were too busy and/or lazy to make a playlist for the occasion. So, who is your go-to band? Who can you count on to set the right mood, so you don’t have to keep running over from the grill to skip all the embarrassing songs that come on when your iPod is set to random? For me, there’s an easy answer: Old Crow Medicine Show. How I started listening to Old Crow stands in perfect contrast to yesterday’s post about Delicate Steve. There are no press releases here, no lessons about public relations or authenticity, just a simple story about hearing a band for the first time and instantly connecting. At Bonnaroo in 2005, I happened to wander over to the tent where Old Crow was playing. To this day, I can remember so distinctly the feeling that their songs felt like old friends I just hadn’t met yet. Their performance was raucous (I swear their shows have gotten even crazier – last time I saw them at the National, people were crowdsurfing … to bluegrass), but their blend of roots music and Americana carried a soulful undercurrent that resonated deeply, and still does today. As a tribute to all the cookouts that will be happening this weekend, check out their song “Humdinger,” which chronicles a nice little get-together.
Just kidding it’s about an out-of-control, 700-person celebration of “wine, whiskey, women and guns.”
The story surrounding Delicate Steve’s album Wondervisions is a one-of-a-kind fable of authenticity that begins with Yale Evelev, the head of record label Luaka Bop. Evelev had a crazy idea. To generate interest in Wondervisions, he asked one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman, to write a press release on the album without interviewing Delicate Steve or listening to the record. What resulted is a hilarious combination of fiction and satire that transforms the one-man band into a five-piece “hydro-electric Mothra,” touching on everything from post-rock minotaurs and a mountain of General Tso’s chicken to Big East football and a band member who will “fight a dog for no reason.” You really have to read it. While the NPR story that alerted me to the whole episode seemed to paint the press release in a somewhat negative light, I think the moral rings true: take the time to explore new music, because shows and albums are often promoted by people who don’t actually listen to the bands. All lessons aside, Wondervisions is fantastic. The real Delicate Steve, Steve Marion, is a wildly talented composer who, with an array of guitar effects, pedals and samples, crafts elaborate melodies that stretch across octaves and lodge themselves deep in your brain. I’m always impressed when an artist can string together so many notes in a memorable way, especially without the benefit of words. He clearly has a gift, and I encourage you to check out “Butterfly” below and the rest of Wondervisions and find out why I’m so excited to have found him, minotaurs or no minotaurs.
I’ve been putting off writing about Helplessness Blues, the new album by Fleet Foxes. I love it too much. I know I can’t offer measured or objective opinions on the album … but who cares? I’m a firm believer that when music makes you happy, it’s your responsibility to tell as many people as you can. I’ve been a fan of the band since hearing their hypnotic song “White Winter Hymnal” on Pitchfork. I couldn’t get singer Robin Pecknold’s voice out of my head. So when Pitchfork posted the title track from their sophomore album way back in January, I listened right away. This was more epic than anything I found on their first album. Where “White Winter Hymnal” feels circular in a really neat way, with the faux-round at the song’s outset, “Helplessness Blues“ goes places. It lights a deceivingly long fuse, shoots you out of a cannon and then leaves you to parachute gracefully back to earth and survey the landscape on the way down. I was sure this would be my favorite song on the album … until I heard “Someone You d Admire.” It’s moving and brilliant and a hundred other adjectives. I love the emotional complexity of bittersweet songs like this one, because they change each time you listen to them. If you’re feeling hopeful, you can find inspiration. If you’re angry, you can find self-righteousness. There are so many amazing moments on the record, and I could spend hours detailing them, but I don’t want to keep you one more minute when you could be on your own journey with Helplessness Blues. Listen to the album’s title track below to get started.
It’s an amazing time to be a music fan. Not just because of availability and diversity, both of which are greater than ever before, but also because the wellspring of creativity that the Internet has tapped flows in music’s consumers and performers alike. Case in point: Yours Truly. This incredible project is based in San Francisco, and is dedicated to filming performance videos that are uncommon and revealing. It’s art born out of art, and each episode is filled with personality and care that leave a lasting impression. One of my favorites features Middle Brother, a band that’s comprised of members of Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit. The video of their song “Daydreaming” is strikingly intimate, with tight camera angles and band members huddled close to one another, singing lyrics that are likewise revealing, as if they could be whispered in a confessional. It’s a beautiful video of a beautiful song, and I hope you enjoy it. If you do, listen below to another fantastic tune from their eponymous album called “Middle Brother.”
Discovering a new band is like moving to an unfamiliar city. Relocating means new street names, new restaurants and new experiences. Finding a new band brings you new sights, sounds and perspectives, along with the hope that they’ll book a concert nearby, so you can dig even deeper. Both make the world seem like a slightly bigger place than it was before. So when you find a band that kicks ass and hails from your beloved hometown, all that’s familiar is filled with renewed possibility. The feeling is electric, and hearing White Laces for the first time was like stepping on a live power line while walking through my living room. I found out about White Laces from Richmond Playlist, an awesome blog that covers both local bands and nationally touring acts who are stopping in town. Right away, I loved how complete they sounded. Complex musical ideas are executed thoughtfully, as chaos and calm work hand in hand to paint vivid and cohesive sonic pictures. I wanted to hear more, and when I saw their 12” EP at Deep Groove, I knew it was meant to be. Check out their song “Sick of Summer” and if you dig, head to their page on SoundCloud to hear more.
There are still people who believe that music can help bring peace to the world, and it warms my heart to tell you I found some of those people today. I just learned about the Voice Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to bring comfort to the women who have fallen victim to the decades-long war in Northern Uganda. To raise money, the organization has asked musicians cover each others’ songs, so that our enjoyment can be turned into sponsorships and donations. It’s a beautiful concept, and I think I found the most beautiful song on the whole site – Kitten covering “The Greatest” by Cat Power. Thanks to my coworker Susie and Hype Machine, I’d heard Kitten’s song “Kill the Light,” and I’d heard Cat Power’s song “The Greatest” numerous times, but hadn’t delved too much deeper into either artist. This captivating rendition is overflowing with soul, and it’s definitely inspired me to check out Kitten’s Sunday School EP. Watch their amazing, 15-year-old lead singer cover “The Greatest” above, and try out “Kill the Light” below. And be sure to stop by the Voice Project’s page to support this worthy cause.
Sometimes music just feels right the first time you listen to it. And sometimes, that feeling is all you have to go on, whether it’s because you’re listening to an artist who sings in a foreign language, or to music that’s purely instrumental, or to a band whose singer is a bit of a mumbler. In the case of El Guincho, I have no idea what Pablo Díaz-Reixa is saying. I know he’s Spanish, that he’s singing in Spanish, and that I took four years of Spanish in high school, but that’s about as far as my lyrical analysis can go. But I do know that his song “Bombay” hit me just right when I first heard it on Hype Machine. “Bombay” is remarkable on a number of levels – it’s rhythmically diverse, catchy, well produced, etc. But more than anything else, it brightened my day the first time I heard it, and I hope it brightens yours as well. Check it out below, and if you dig it, keep listening! His label was nice enough to post the whole album on Soundcloud!
My big sister Cary is the coolest person I know. From an early age, she had awesome taste in music, and was always willing to help me see the light. But of all the recommendations she’s given me over the years, I’m thankful for one above all others: the Beatles. Her Beatles obsession began in middle school, and while mine wouldn’t kick in until much later, she passed on an appreciation for their songs as sacred texts, along with a few of the Beatles posters that once covered her bedroom wall-to-wall. My vinyl collection also didn’t start until long after hers, and it was actually a story I heard on All Songs Considered while driving home for Thanksgiving that made me so eager to seek out my own copy of the White Album.
Clearly Justin Vernon reads this blog. Could he have picked a better day to release the first song from Bon Iver’s upcoming album? Yesterday I wrote about how Later… with Jools Holland opened my eyes to Vernon’s talent for transforming pain into something beautiful. To me, that performance symbolized triumph over loneliness, as if he was shouting, on behalf of broken hearts everywhere, “I’M STILL HERE!” It’s a powerful sight. So what happens next? What happens when your heartache turns into fame? What happens when you’re not just “still here” … but everywhere, instead? For just the price of an email address, you can download “Calgary” and find out. It’s a characteristically thoughtful and touching song, and it highlights the the dichotomy between his falsetto and full voices. His falsetto is so delicate, conveying notes and lyrics as if they’re imagined, more than sung. His full voice appears late in the song, waking the listener from the dreamy tone of the first two and a half minutes. But which is the dream? The falsetto that graced most of his first album, giving him a successful career and a public identity, or the earnest voice that interrupts it? The last line of the song declares, “the demons come, they can subside.” So which is which? Download the song and see for yourself.