White Laces

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
— Bob Marley

With all due respect, Bob is wrong on this one.

I mean, I get what he’s saying, that music wields a special type of nonviolent power, but some of my favorite songs are the ones that hit you where it hurts — on gut-churning topics like mortality, heartbreak and loneliness — with intensity that you can actually feel. Those are the songs I find most vital. They’re the records I’d grab first before escaping from a burning building. Their impact is essential, in every meaning of the word.

Before I’d even had a chance to listen to it, my experience with White Laces’ debut full-length Moves could already be described as “impactful.”

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1,095 Little Birds

About a month ago, while running with my iPod on shuffle, I hatched a plan. A crazy one. I decided I was going to choose a song and listen to it every single day for a year. I figured that, if it didn’t put me in a padded room, this stunt exercise would help me explore the boundaries of how deeply I could connect with a song. Would I grow to hate it? Would I hear things that had previously gone unnoticed? Would it start to seem abstract, like words do when you say or read them too many times? So many questions, but one stood head and shoulders above the rest:

Which song?

After weeks of careful consideration, I’ve chosen Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Here’s my reasoning:

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The Low Branches

Rock Bottom

Everything tastes better when it’s homegrown, and The Low Branches are taking a refreshingly agricultural approach to financing their upcoming full-length, 100 Years Old.

In order to grow the funds needed to release 100 Years Old, frontwoman Christina Gleixner has been seeding Bandcamp with home recordings, each of which can be purchased for $1 (or more — you have the ability to name a higher price if you’d like to donate extra). The series started with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Leah,” and it continues with an original entitled “Rock Bottom.” Gleixner was kind enough to answer a few questions via email about this latest recording, the status of 100 Years Old, and more.

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Nicki Minaj

With each new release, artists take a risk. No two recordings can be the same, so it’s inevitable that as newcomers are (hopefully) hopping on the bandwagon, a certain subset of fans are going to feel alienated by the new tune(s). So what do you do if you’re part of that alien-nation? What do you do when musicians zig when you were hoping they’d zag? When they twist when you wanted them to mashed potato? When they feed you a Mounds when you were hankering for an Almond Joy?

Here are the options as I see them:

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In My Room

Who you cover says a lot about you.

A pivotal moment in my Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr obsession occurred when I heard their electro-silken version of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” What struck me about the cover wasn’t the degree of difficulty (though it’s true that the original is a musical beast that’s said to have taken 23 musicians and 20 takes to bring down). Nor was it the considerable chutzpah it requires to reimagine one of the most revered songs of all time. What drew me in was the sense of adventure I gleaned from Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr’s recording. In context with their elaborate marketing persona and DIY showmanship, it felt like their cover of “God Only Knows” was channeling the creative spirit that The Beach Boys had in droves — a drive that helped them expand the general sandbox in which future pop musicians could play.

I was so excited when I heard Mercies’ cover of  The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” because that same adventurous spirit comes through loud and clear.

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I’m never going outside again. Ever.

Maybe you’ve seen the footage that was used to create the video for Richmond-based band Wolf//Goat’sMadness Is Sanity.” I hadn’t. And I had no idea that in some mountainous corner of this beautiful green and blue planet we call home, EAGLES ARE PICKING UP BABY GOATS WITH THEIR TERRIFYING TALONS AND FLYING AWAY WITH THEM. I mean, seriously?!? If that doesn’t deserve an Independence-Day-style “My God…” I don’t know what does. My family wasn’t all that outdoorsy when I was growing up, but I definitely remember a mountain cabin trip or two, and I’m starting to think that it’s a miracle I made it out alive.

The video above is grisly to be sure, but it’s edited masterfully, bringing the song’s momentum shifts to life with a visceral brutality that has “recurring nightmare” written all over it. And I love that, in a twisted way, the clip offers an analogue to my short history with Wolf//Goat’s music.

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Okyerema Asante

Yes We Can

Pawn Stars is my writing kryptonite. The History Channel always seems to be showing it at just the right/wrong time, in hours-long blocks of unbridled predatory capitalism, and I can’t look away. It’s the perfect marriage of financial and emotional voyeurism. You get to cast judgement on how people do business — at least, how well they can haggle in a high-pressure situation — AND how they manage their lives in general, because selling something at a pawn shop is, under most circumstances, an act of desperation. The underlying message is chilling: everything has its price, as long as a buyer and seller can agree on one.

A similar battle goes on inside my head each time I step into a record store.

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Animal Collective

Centipede Hz

Welcome to the jungle!

Centipede Hz just became available for streaming, which means it’s time to break out your machetes and slather on the bug spray — we’ve got some exploring to do.

Animal Collective’s world can be a little crazy. There is screaming. There are monsters. Layers of electronic production saturate songs, flooding them with sounds, not all of which are tethered to the rhythm and melody they accompany. It’s a sonic rainforest as dense as any you’ll find, and there’s nothing quite like hacking your way through a new release.

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Paul Simon

The generosity of the interweb never ceases to amaze me. One day you’re drooling over the trailer for an Emmy-nominated documentary about the making of Paul Simon’s Graceland, and the next thing you know, the whole enchilada is streaming for free [link fixed]. Hot damn!

News that Under African Skies is available for all the world to see only hit yesterday, so I haven’t yet had a chance to watch it, but doing so is at the top of my to-do list this weekend. Getting a glimpse of how an iconic album was made is reason enough to tune in (Can you still use the expression “tune in” when talking about a streaming video? I feel old just just thinking about it.), but I’m especially looking forward to learning more about the socio-political side of Simon’s trip to Apartheid-era South Africa. It’s mind-boggling to think that in making this astoundingly beautiful piece of art, Simon was taking a significant risk, crossing a picket line of sorts to collaborate with musicians who wanted their music to be heard despite the cultural boycott that was in place at the time. I still don’t understand it, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to get a more complete version of the story.

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