¡Hola, amigos! As I type this here sentence, I’m situated a terrifying 33,000 feet above South Carolina, just an hour or so away from completing the last leg of my trip back to Richmond from a beachy Mexican locale called Playa del Carmen. And despite the fact that I derive very little enjoyment from being this high in the air, I’m excited to be writing these words, because I’ve been looking forward to this post for a while now. About five months, in fact.
In October of last year, Mrs. You Hear That and I took a trip to Portland (this one, not that one), where we tried some amazing restaurants, flipped through some excellent record stores, stumbled across an absurd number of tasty breweries and made sure to include a stop at the storied Powell’s City of Books. Why storied? Well, size, for one thing. A number of people told us about how Powell’s takes up an entire city block (it’s true, check out this screen grab from Google Maps), giving the store an almost legendary aura. It’s also storied in the sense that there are multiple floors in this city-block-sized bookstore, with separate rooms for different genres, meaning the shelves really do go on forever. And lastly, they’re storied because, ya know, that’s what they sell, and the story I decided to buy couldn’t have been more appropriate for the trip.
Another thing about my top 10 albums from last year stands out in retrospect — I walked down some pretty well-traveled roads in 2011. Awesome roads, but well-traveled ones, nonetheless. I can just feel Robert Frost’s disapproving glare from the afterlife. And even though I refuse to fetishize obscurity and can’t claim to be an expert in any esoteric genre (aside from editing the semiannual Journal of Postmodernism in the Underground Hip Hop of Botswana), I could probably stand to stray a little further from the recommendations of major criticism sources. Besides, finding out about music from friends is way more fun and doesn’t come with arbitrary, distracting and dehumanizing rating systems. My resolution to get by with a little less help from the grid started unofficially on New Year’s Day, when I saw a Facebook post authored by Greg, a fellow writer/musician (we prefer to be called wrisicians — don’t we, Colin Maloy?) who has shared some excellent recommendations in the past. Greg’s post was about an artist named Jesca Hoop (NO, it’s not Jessica. It’s Jesca. Stop being so mainstream), and I couldn’t be more glad I Spotify’d her. Hoop’s album Hunting My Dress offers a staggeringly beautiful mix of darkness and light, with songs that feel tempestuous one moment and fragile the next. As you listen to the full-album stream below, I recommend closing your eyes and imagining yourself lounging in a screened-in porch as a summer thunderstorm passes violently overhead. If you enjoy the ride, click here to buy her album on iTunes; and if you’re interested in submitting a scholarly article for the next issue of Journal of Postmodernism in the Underground Hip Hop of Botswana, please mail a copy of your manuscript to Botswana. I’m sure they’ll find it very interesting, and they… um… actually exist.
In the good old days, before it was taken over by Groupon and Living Social, people used to use email for all sorts of things… checking in with friends (“Hey asshole, you still owe $50 for fantasy football.”), coordinating bachelorette parties (“I don’t want to do anything too crazy you guys, maybe just some wine tasting or a spa day and then I guess we can go out for a little later that night but NOTHING TOO CRAZY YOU GUYS FOR REAL”), even staying in touch with family (“Mom I need $50 for fantasy football can you send a check thanks love you bye”). Email also used to be one of my favorite ways to follow bands. I’ve always enjoyed Guster’s updates and studio journals, penned by drummer-who-could-very-well-be-a-writer Brian Rosenworcel (not to be confused with singer-who-wrote-a-really-cool-children’s-novel Colin Meloy of the Decemberists), but I haven’t kept up with email lists as much lately — especially since so many seem like they’re coming directly from record companies, sporting rich HTML and graphics, and don’t come close to fostering a one-on-one connection with the artist. I’m happy to say that Lianne La Havas has snapped me out of my complacency. The first few messages to her list have been refreshing in their lighthearted humor and sense of intimacy. In addition to updates about shows and releases, she imparts weekly advice, like “Eat more soup. You stay fuller for longer,” and “Remember never to swallow the snot” — both excellent tips. In her most recent email, she included a link to her hypnotic Take-Away Show, which everyone should stop what they’re doing and watch immediately, and she also reminded us that she’d be appearing on Later… with Jools Holland. Her companions on Later…’s circular sound stage last night included Bon Iver and Feist, altogether a perfect storm of “Shit… does Verizon get BBC2?” The answer is no. Or I couldn’t find it. In any case, I waited patiently for video of the proceedings to show up online, and La Havas gave a performance of her song “Age” that was well worth the wait. Standing at the convergence of two spotlights, alone on the massive Later… stage, she brought to life the song’s sophisticated marriage of vulnerability and assertiveness, finger picking an electric guitar and singing in a voice that was sultry one moment and forceful the next. All throughout, her smile and apparent warmth echoed the personality I found in her electronic correspondence, filling the studio and leaving me all the more excited to receive her next update. Check out her Later… performance of “Age” above and the version from her Live in L.A. EP below, which you can snag for the meager price of an email address (rest assured, this is one email list you won’t bemoan joining).