Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Musically Inclined's Top Finds of 2014

It was a quiet year for music. While 2013 gave us Jay-Z, Kanye, Beyonce, Daft Punk, the return of My Bloody Valentine, The National, and whole bunch of other musical heavyweights, 2014 gave us… (a mild sense of unfulfillment?) much less. St. Vincent, Spoon, and Jack White were absolutely respectable, but it was like music this year forgot to take its vitamins.

The upshot is that 2015 almost has to be a knockout year. We already know we’re getting records from Sleater Kinney, Punch Brothers, and San Fermin. Hopefully there will be more to follow from folks we haven’t heard from in a while.

But, we’re not quite there yet. There are three-ish weeks left in 2014, and it would be unfair not to celebrate what did keep us turning the volume knob, up and up and up.

Even if there wasn’t one album this year that slayed all, there were so many great singles – probably enough to merit an extra five slots on this list, if my inner editor were a little more self-indulgent.

For the seventh year running, here are The Musically Inclined’s Top 10 Finds.

Gameplay is as follows:

1. Any artist or band TMI hadn't listened to before January '14.
2. Songs have to have a stick factor to survive the year. Catchy? Bouncy? Quirky? Sure, but mostly they just have to be solid. Doesn't hurt to be fun and mildly screwy, either.

For any interested parties, the full Spotify playlist is available right here.

Otherwise, scroll on.

10. Fire Extinguisher : Howell Dawdy

The tenth spot on the list usually goes to some song that’s too ridiculous or weird to ignore. This year is no exception. Louisville’s Howell Dawdy deadpans his way through “Fire Extinguisher,” listing off the oddball things he needs – a brick on a string, a 12 pack of moist towelettes, a driver who’s also a student in something interesting. His train of thought is inexplicable and incredibly amusing, especially when it veers from things like jackets into the way he sees the world.

9. Dark Sunglasses : Chrissie Hynde

While the Pretenders have been around for a while, this was the year Chrissie Hynde went solo. “Dark Sunglasses” was an immediate favorite. The song tells the story of a guy who’s lost his social status and hangs on to the last shreds of his glamour and style by hiding behind dark sunglasses. Cool is elusive, folks. 

8. Lead Me On : Joe Henry

Woefully, I’d never heard any of Joe Henry’s preceding 12 albums. “Lead Me On” is delicate and wistful as hell. If I ever stop listening to this track on loop, I might check out the rest of his stuff.

7. Out on the Street : Spanish Gold

A few weeks after I moved to Louisville, I found “Out on the Street” from Spanish Gold’s debut album. The group is patched together from bits of other bands like My Morning Jacket, Hacienda, and Fantasma. “Out on the Street” is So. Much. Slink.

6. Of Nothing : GRMLN

“Of Nothing” turns solid surf rock into something more searching and earnest. It almost doesn’t matter what the rest of the lyrics are. When singer Yoodo Park asks, “Are you alright, tell me that you’re alright,” the repetition in the chorus traps the listener in his appeal. Maybe if he asks enough times, he can will the answer into a positive form. 

5. Coffee : Sylvan Esso

So many good things were said this year about the debut album from Sylvan Esso. And rightly so. “Coffee” makes the list for being one of the most different songs I heard all year. They blend light blippy electronicpop sounds with singer Amelia Meath’s pure vocals -- Meath was in Mountain Man, a mostly a cappella folk trio with some really nutso harmonies from a few years back. Here’s to contrast.

4. Move : House Ghost

The final Louisville-based entry on this list comes from House Ghost and their wonderfully smart-ass song. Aside from having a buzzy bassline and some cool shifts, “Move” gets points for the fake-out that comes with the lyric “Hey, I really like you. No, the girl behind you. So please move.”

3. Avant Gardener : Courtney Barnett

Australia’s Courtney Barnett produced some of the most naturally-flowing, detail-stuffed songwriting this year. In “Avant Gardener,” she recounts a nervous breakdown brought on by weeding the yard – but probably not just that – and she bats around with the metaphor of having trouble breathing in. When the paramedics revive her she thinks, “I get adrenaline straight to the heart. I feel like Uma Thurman post-overdosing kick start,” which, if you ask me, is a great pop culture pull.

2. Love Ain't Enough : The Barr Brothers

In 2013, it was easy to find big songs, the kind with layered sounds that were warm and enveloping. There was “Hey Doreen” by Lucius and “Sonsick” by San Fermin – this year that wasn’t quite the case. However, “Love Ain’t Enough” swooped in this September with its gorgeous weave of harp, banjo, marimba, and dulcimer, making a request counter to its own title: “Forget I ever said that love ain’t enough.”

1. Archie, Marry Me : Alvvays

“Archie, Marry Me” might have landed the spot solely based on how many polysyllabic words are in its opening line: “You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony/You’ve student loans to pay and will not risk the alimony.” A surf-rock ode to commitment might be the last thing you expect from the youthful-sounding Toronto band Alvvays, but the way they straddle the line between innocence and preconsciousness, makes for an incredibly endearing song, where the narrator’s ideal for love is let’s just sign the papers. And somehow this sounds romantic. Go figure.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Year Without Albums

Sort of. 
I can never get to sleep on Sunday nights. It's like a bad joke -- maybe the one night of the week when I'd really prefer to be unconscious by 10 p.m. and well-rested by 7 a.m., I am, without fail, wide awake hours after I've turned off my light. 

Part of this bad joke is that I always get a little caught up in some topic that seems more important at midnight than it really is. 

Last Sunday, what kept me up was the realization that in the past 11 and half months, I'd failed to really love any one album. 

I dug the Spoon album. I spent a few weeks with The Both. But out of everything that came out this year from St. Vincent to Jack White, nothing aggressively demanded my attention. At the risk of sounding dramatic, this was a crushing thought. 

So, was it me? Or was it them?

In October, the big story was that no albums went platinum in 2014. Of course, T. Swift put an end to that just a few weeks later, but that was no big surprise. 

Also not a big surprise is how disparate all the year-end lists are. Rolling Stone's album of the year was Songs of Innocence by U2. (Boy, finger on the pulse, over there.) Consequence of Sound went with The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream. If you're seeking guidance from the critical consensus, these lists will leave you as lost as when you started. 

2014 saw neither monster releases, nor the earnest championing of much-loved, borderline lost causes. 

I'm going to say it was them.

What's still unclear is if this year was merely weird, or if it was indicative of a world where there really is so much out there, it's impossible to rally more than a few people around anything. Maybe music eventually peters out when the tail gets too long. 


As I'm writing this, I'm also working on The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2014. What I realize is that even if albums didn't do much for me this year, there were so many songs that did. 

And many of those songs came to me from the radio. 

In March I moved to Louisville, KY and was fortunate enough to fall right into the arms of WFPK, the local public radio station with an alternative-ish format. It's a place where you're just as likely to hear the Chuck Berry and the Talking Heads as you are to hear Hozier and Sylvan Esso. Most of the time, it feels like you're rattling around in the brain of whoever is on the air instead of trapped inside a strict playlist. (Which is fitting because most mornings, I'm like GET OUT OF MY HEAD DUKE MEYER) For WFPK, I'm endlessly grateful, and constantly wishing there were a Shazam button built into the steering wheel of my car. 

When the Top Finds list publishes later in the week, know that it exists in no small part due to what I heard on the radio this year. 

That doesn't mean I'm not still thrashing around for one last shot at really loving an album in 2014, but I'm not quite as bothered by absence of that album. Also, the irony of drifting away from a "dying" format toward one that is already "dead" isn't lost on me. 

I think that also means anything could happen in 2015. What exactly that means will undoubtedly be a topic for next Sunday night. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Razor Love" by Neil Young

This song popped up on the Amazon Prime show Transparent. It was a good choice.

Why you should listen: Perfectly sweet and nostalgic. "All I've got for you is a razor love that cuts clean through."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Stolen Dance" by Milky Chance

The arrangement has this Alt-J thing going on.

Why should you listen:  Milky Chance is a German duo. How much German music are you taking in these days? Not much? Start here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Q&A with The Last Bison

Photo: The Last Bison

One of my favorite albums of the late summer and fall this is year is VA by The Last Bison. There's lots to appreciate about the album. You'll find a range from soft strings to explosive percussion, all coated in a folk-y warmth specific to The Last Bison's sound. 

I had the chance to chat via email with lead vocalist Ben Hardesty about the record. Here's what he had to say about cabins, swamps, drones, and Journey.

Tell me about the new album.

Firstly, I love summer. When I think of my most memorable times or gatherings in my life with the people I love, I think of sunshine and warmth. I wanted songs that captured how I feel when I plunge into the ocean and I’m covered by wind and water. I wanted the songs to convey the joy I experience when I'm canoeing down the Northwest River, with swamp to my left and right. I wanted the songs to capture the nostalgia I get when I think of my favorite summer pastimes. Or the memories of where I grew up, and adventuring with the people I love most. Those themes were a central force driving each song written for this album. The energy of the album captures the joy and thrill of what summer is to me. Then there are songs that mellow out. Those parts of the album are a look back on the dark nights by a blazing fire where no words are spoken, but there is mutual comfort in the silence.

I read you guys worked on the album in a cabin. That seems to be a popular choice these days. What is it about cabins that make them a good spot for writing?

Haha, we kind of recorded in a cabin, yes, but not your typical log cabin in the mountains. The Wigwam is a building was used as a cabin for the summer camp, Triple R Ranch. It sits in the forest along the banks of the northwest river and her A-frame shape points high into the trees. The Wigwam has its own vibe, that feels free and earthy. Yet, because of its sharp geometrical shape it has a modern edge to it. I think for that reason it was the perfect place to record VA, as the record has those old time elements, yet also has a more progressive newness as well.

Describe your songwriting process.

When I sit down to write a song I don't know what direction it's going to take at first. Nor do I know when a melody or lyric will come into my head, or for that matter, if they will at all. Writing, for me is an organic process. I seldom sit down and say to myself, “this is how I will write this song” with the end in mind. Sometimes a melody comes first, sometimes a lyric comes first, and whichever does usually sets the pace and trajectory of that song. The makings of songs are already out there, you just need to reach out and find them.

Tell me about "Cypress Queen," what's the concept behind the song and how did it come together?

The Northwest River, the river the Wigwam sits so close to, flows through the land I grew up exploring. The Cypress Queen is a boat that was used to explore the deep surrounding swamps and bends of the Northwest. As a child my wandering nature took me deep into the swamp to find solitude and adventure. I would go by myself when I wanted to think, and go with friends to “seek thrill” and jump from trees into the rivers black water. Even now, when I can, I journey into the swamp and down the river. I do that because it's a place of rest for me. Its wild thrushes and cypress trees are comforting to me. It's mysterious, and often times can be intimidating, but I love it. The "Cypress Queen" is about the place I grew up, and the swamp in which I find a sanctuary.

Is there a song on the album you're most proud of? Why?

That's a difficult question as different songs have elements that I am proud of. They are each close to me, and each are about themes or experiences that I hold tightly. I'm proud of "Bad Country" because I feel it conveys the adventure that it was a reflection on, in a great way. I'm proud of "Endview," because I feel like it is haunting, yearning, yet hopeful. I feel that its message rings true for lots of people. The song is a love song, and a song of commitment. It says, I love you and I'm sticking with you, and someday we will be closer. Lastly, I'm proud of "She Always Waves at the Gate."  I wrote that song when I was 17. The song has through the last 6 years crept in and out of band conversation, and I feel that it finally found its perfect home on this album.

Is there anything from the writing or recording process that sticks out as memorable?

Our good friend Jonathan Hildebrand, or Hildy, was filming lots of the recording experience. He had just purchased a drone helicopter for his GoPro to get those overhead sweeping shots. Well, Teresa asked him how high it could go, so naturally Jonathan being a young adventurous man, was going to push the limits. Long story short, the drone went a good 200 feet up into the sky, and the battery died. As they looked up they saw the drone dropping rapidly to its certain demise. Jonathan ran to catch it but it landed inches from his grasp. Because of its warranty all damaged was fixed for free! Also, the footage from 200 feet above the tree tops that surround The Wigwam was stunning, and the footage of it falling was awesome as well.

I saw on your site that you all wanted to approach this album as "summer music," what's your quintessential summer album? Why?

U2's War. Not because I feel like the album is inherently summery. Actually the branding of that record is quite the opposite. I chose War because I listened to it on repeat as a young man in the summer as I mowed our large country lawn.

What's a song you wish you could have written and why?

"Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, because I would love that royalties check....

On a serious note, probably "Ragamuffin" by Michael Hedges. The song is one I heard growing up on a regular basis. My dad played parts of it on the guitar, and I spent lots of time just watching him. When I started playing guitar more seriously I listened to a lot of guitarists – Phil Keaggy and Michael Hedges were the best to me. The Keaggy song "Shigeo" and the aforementioned Hedges song were my absolute favorites. The song "Ragamuffin" defined the way I listened to and thought about guitar. I wish I wrote it. If I had, I could likely actually play it.

What's next for you guys?

Touring, and continuing to work as our own label. Hopefully we will get some SXSW love and showcases in the spring. Who knows what else, we take one step at a time! Whatever comes next, we will embrace it, I can tell you that!

Connect with The Last Bison

Thursday, November 13, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Lead Me On" by Joe Henry

If you're in one of those "Honey and the Moon" kind of moods and don't know what to play next, try this.

Why you should listen: It's a lovely and well-written slow burn that might just melt your cold little heart.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Fire Extinguisher" by Howell Dawdy

Louisville's own Howell Dawdy delivers a very clever deadpan spoken word tune in which is he lists off the things he needs, including "driver who's also a student in something interesting."

Why you should listen: For shiggles.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Up Up Up" by Givers

At some point, Microsoft will try and use this song to sell a tablet.

Why you should listen: Other than the fact it's bouncy and indie-fab? The female singer has a pretty solid rasp.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cloud sounds: What the latest tech revolution means for the future of making music

Part of the reason things have been a bit quiet here at The Musically Inclined lately is because for the past three and a half months, I've been working on a giant feature piece.

It's a beast weighing in at roughly 4,300 words, and I'm pretty proud of it.

In short, it all started when my editor asked if I could do something with "the cloud and music production." It ended with me finding a Paris-based company called Ohm Force that makes a digital audio workstation called Ohm Studio, which functions like Google Docs. Multiple users can edit the same project at the same time. They're sharp guys and I hope more people tune into what exactly they've accomplished.

Beyond telling their story, I also got to talk to a lot of folks in the industry who have opinions on what it could mean to be able to collaborate without being in the same room, and with an immediacy and intimacy not found in merely swapping tracks via Dropbox or YouSendIt.

This article even took me to Boston, where I met up with the Ohm Force guys at the Advanced Audio  and Application Exchange, a first-year conference focused on future tech in music.

The week that followed was a blur. I wrote a lot (read: A LOT) and tried to keep my head in Boston.

Anyway, I promise it's an easy read. I had an immensely good time reporting and writing this, and I  hope you check it out.

After all, every time you read a long form, a writer gets his/her wings.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Hey Rose" by Streets of Laredo

I found this song buried in my iTunes library. Streets of Laredo is an indie folk band from Brooklyn, but they sound like they're from out West, and I always find that immensely appealing.

Why you should listen: "Hey Rose" has a wistful gallop and pretty harmonies. At times, the harmonies remind me of the Everly Brothers, so if you're into that you might dig this.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Q&A with Vacationer

Vacationer's Kenny Vasoli
Photo: Matt Schwartz

Vacationer's debut album Gone came to me through a friend when I was finishing up J-school at Syracuse. If you've ever spent time in Central New York, you'll know that warm weather takes forever to arrive and leaves before anyone is ready. Gone's warm, retro exotica sound endeared itself to me immediately and ushered in the summer season regardless of what the thermometer said. 

Their sophomore album, Relief, came out this June and offered another round of vibey, auditory escapism. The Musically Inclined chatted via email with frontman Kenny Vasoli.

TMI: I’ve really liked the idea of Vacationer(and debut album
Gone) as a concept, how did you decide to focus on travel and the idea of getting away?

Vacationer: Almost right away, we found ourselves naturally going toward exotica influences. I took to that right away and wanted to explore the vibe of escapism even deeper. The song names and subject matter of "Gone" and "Trip" pointed us directly to the Vacationer name.

I’ve seen Vacationer described as Nu-Hula, can you talk about how you came to your sound?

I like to think of NuHula as exotica over hip hop tempo. When people ask me who don't seem to be music aficionados, I tell them that we are like The Beach Boys with hip hop beats. I hope that's an accurate ballpark.

Tell me about the new album, Relief.

It took about a year and a half to get Relief where we wanted it. I love how it came out. It feels multidimensional to me, and the search for relief is something I believe we all have. Hopefully, people can share that connection through the music. It's intended to be relaxing with that in mind.

On your Facebook page I was reading a bit about what you’ve been up to since Gone came out, including bands with whom you’ve spent time, what should fans expect from the new album in terms of progression?

Everyone can expect a more ramped up energy on this one. All of the time we spent on the road performing showed us clearly where the energy gaps are in the first record's songs. I do love those songs, but I wanted the new batch of songs to have more acceleration in the dynamics. I feel like the production is deeper as well, we took a lot of cues from the classic exotica recordings. That style of production doesn't seem to be prominent in many albums that I hear these days.

How do you guys write/put together songs?

Typically, Matt and Grant will send me loops, beats, and ideas they've recorded on the fly. I'll take those ideas and play bass or guitar over top of them while I sing some gibberish. Eventually the gibberish will take on a melody and a few words will formulate to get the momentum flowing. Those first few ideas from all of us are the key to getting the creativity circulating. 

Do you guys use samples? And if so, how do you pick them?

We can't really afford to use samples on the record. We are inspired by many old records, but we hire ensemble players to play raw compositions that we can chop to our liking or use whole. This last record we had strings, winds and even an opera singer. We've been know to layer vinyl crackle over top of our recorded samples to give it that warm, classic vibe.

What’s a song on the album you’re happiest with (in terms of songwriting or production etc), and why?

I love how "Heavenly" and "Onward & Upward" turned out, they were both big undertakings in terms of production. "Heavenly" took me forever to finish writing the vocal. It's difficult for me to pick favorites, I dig them all for different reasons.

How’s the tour with HelloGoodbye so far? Is there a city you were/are particularly looking forward to playing? Why?

We had a blast with those dudes. San Diego was a stand out, we always have fun shows down there.

Describe your live shows.

I always want people to feel comfortable. I want them to enjoy themselves as much as possible. I'm not an "everybody clap your hands" kind of guy. I want them to dance with out having to ask them to.  So, I like to frame us as being seasoned vibe-setters. It's more energetic and somewhat punked-up than on record, but over all its very breezy and vibey. 

Photo: Matthew Schwartz

What’s next for you guys? 

We'll be heading out in fall for a bunch headlining dates with our homies Brick + Mortar. After those we'll be supporting St. Lucia for a string of shows.

What’s your ideal vacation spot?

I loved getting to chill and surf in Costa Rica. I love Holland, a lot! Although if I had my choice. I'd like to visit somewhere I'd never been. South America is next on the list. I have my sights on Brazil.

Connect with Vacationer

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Video: 'Every Mumford and Sons Song Basically'

I doubt I was the only one who played Mumford and Sons' second album and got the sneaking suspicion I'd heard it before... like on the first album.

In case you missed this earlier in the week, check out this video of a guy showing the internet how jittery strumming, soft vocals-- with the occasional outburst, and folk-drenched heartbreak are the ingredients to just about any Mumford song.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Archie, Marry Me" by Alvvays

I found this song shortly after Archie Comics announced the titular Archie Andrews was going to take a bullet in the Life of Archie series. The two are unrelated.

Why you should listen: If you're like me and gravitate toward anything vaguely retro-sounding, especially if there's a little lo-fi surf guitar involved, you'll probably like Alvvays, and "Marry Me, Archie" is a strong representation of the band's sound.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Dark Sunglasses" by Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde's been the lead singer of The Pretenders since 1978. I dare you to tally up how many older female rock singers you hear on the radio these days.

Why you should listen: Hynde sings with a halting cool about a guy who's lost his posh social status and now wears dark sunglasses in a small effort to maintain and remind himself of whatever glamour he used to have.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When is a Band Not Itself Anymore?

Wikimedia Commons
Bummer news today– Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla announced he'll be leaving the band after their current North American tour.

Walla is a founding member of the 17-year-old band, and has produced all their albums, with the exception of their 8th, untitled record which is slated for early 2015, according to Atlantic Records.

This got me thinking about what DCfC might be without him, and when a band is no longer itself anymore. On one hand, you can look at a case like the Shins, where frontman James Mercer essentially cut lose the original lineup in 2011 and still put out an album that sounded like the Shins.

Though, in instances of significant departures or personnel changes with limited impact, there seems to be one central figure who you realize is basically the band, whether it's James Mercer or John Fogerty.

Or, you wind up with a situation where the band is comprised of parts that function to maintain what was, more than will ever be– if you ever catch the Temptations, you'll be paying to see one original member and four other guys lacking in any cultural currency. You might have a good, time, but you're not really seeing The Temptations.

Death Cab's situation is tricky, though, because Walla shares the bulk of the creative weight with frontman Ben Gibbard. If you listen to Gibbard's solo album Former Lives, it's easy to see the aesthetic composition of the group– on his own, Gibbard is a great songwriter, but far folkier and far quirkier than that quintessential indie rock sound that made Death Cab one of the most important bands of the '00s.

None of this is to say that all hope is lost, as a friend pointed out on Facebook today, but it is undoubtedly a signal that Death Cab won't quite be Death Cab anymore. Whether they'll be better or worse off is about as pointless and counter-productive a speculation as talking about whether Gibbard is miserable enough to write a proper DCfC record.

Of course, in 17 years, who can say what a "proper" Death Cab record is? Just because Narrow Stairs didn't sound anything like the more stark indie rock of We Have the Facts and Are Voting Yes, didn't mean that anyone would reject it as part of their discography. Walla's not even the first member to split the band.

And yet– there's that pang of worry, the reluctance to say goodbye, the impulse to pour one out as if they flat out broke up.

The biggest fear, in my mind, especially for those of us who grew up with them, is to hear Death Cab without Walla, and run into the very sentiment Gibbard wrote about in "You are a Tourist," the sensation of being somewhere that should be familiar, and still feeling like you don't know it at all.

Bonus round: Here's that one time in 2008 when I was an uber spunky college journalist fresh from getting to conference call with Chris Walla. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Hand Me Back My Life" by Bob Schneider

When I first heard this, I was sitting in traffic thinking, "Oh man. This guy's situation is getting progressively worse."

Why you should listen: Getting involved with a Russian mobster lady sounds absolutely cheeky. Schneider's concern ratchets up and he asks for his life back with all the aggression of a mid-album Sugar Ray song. It's delightful.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Infographic: The Anatomy of Songs

Found this ridiculous little infographic on Facebook, which ultimately reminded me of that scene from The O.C. when Summer said that Death Cab for Cutie was "one guitar and a whole lot of complaining."

Anyway, enjoy the above cynicism.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Baby, Now That I've Found You" by Alison Krauss

This song is bit of an oldie, on two levels: Alison Krauss covered The Foundations' 1967 debut single... but back in 1995.

Why you should listen: A cover's highest achievement is to make the lister appreciate a familiar song in a whole new way. This version, which is slower, quieter, and more tender than the brassy original, does exactly that. Whereas the Foundations exerted a certain confidence, Krauss' spin communicates an almost weariness of the realization that "I need you so, baby even though you don't need me."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Music App: White Tiles 4

A few weeks ago a co-worker introduced me to a maddening little iOS app called White Tiles 4. The game, which is free, is comprised of 23 variations on the concept of not touching the white tiles (think white and black piano keys).

So for example, in the classic mode, you have to play 50 black tiles as fast as you can without missing any or hitting the white tiles. In the process, it plays a little piano tune. The arcade mode gives you a scroll of tiles that speeds up until you inevitably hit a white tile, swear, and throw your phone on the couch cushion beside you. Theoretically.

If you're into simple, nerve-wracking games and dig the instant satisfaction of playing "Für Elise" without actually knowing how to play the piano, then White Tiles 4 is a good bet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Long Distance Love" by Sabina

To be honest, when I first heard "Long Distance Love," I thought the singer was a dude with a high-pitched voice. I was wrong. It was Italian-born electronica artist Sabina.

Why you should listen: Sabina doesn't really commit to singing or talking on this track. She's got a languid delivery that I initially hated, but as is the case for me, not infrequently, it grew on me. "Long Distance Love" has a particular flavor of quirk (read: retro Euro-artsy whatever) that should land it on the soundtrack of whatever Zach Braff is working on these days. There are also French lyrics because OF course there are. Bonus round: Check out "Toujours" off the album of the same name.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

[Thursday Track Back] "Move" by House Ghost

Since moving to Louisville, Ky, I've found more than a few things to love. One of them happens to be the song "Move" by local band House Ghost.

Why you should listen: If you're like me and appreciate general smart ass-ery, you'll dig this song whose chorus says: "I really like you, no the girl behind you. So please move." The down shift right before makes you think some kind of indie rock sap is about to gunk up your gears. In fact, you'd be as surprised as the first girl in the song to find out that's not at all the case.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Q&A with Emmy Wildwood

Photo: Shervin Lainez

Emmy Wildwood is having a busy summer. The Brooklyn-based artist released her new EP Mean Love at the end of June, and what's more, she did it on Tiger Blanket Records, a label (and boutique– more on that later) that she owns and operates. 

If you're into synthy slink and Cyndi Lauper, you'll probably dig Wildwood. She chatted via email with The Musically Inclined about the EP, building a community, and what exactly she means by "ghost pop."

How'd you get into music?

My father was a musician and he taught me my first three guitar chords when I asked to learn at 10 years old. I wrote my first song with those three chords.

Tell me about the EP.

The EP was a series of songs I had written over the last few years, through a decade-long relationship's break-up. I knew I wanted to make an EP of the most significant songs, so I called upon my friends Zach Jones and Greg Mayo to help me realize that dream.

"Mean Love" is definitely a standout, how did the song come together?

"Mean Love" was a term I came up with that is a play on words. It references those relationships where couples fight passionately and love passionately, to the point of dysfunction at times. I think everyone knows something about that. I came up with the term and knew it needed to be a song.

A lot of artists have their hands full just focusing on their careers, but you've also got your own label. Why start Tiger Blanket Records? 

I started the label to bring a community together. That's still the purpose of the label. You do well as a musician, brand, and company when you do "good" within your community. Those are the building blocks and core values of this company. We hope in shopping the boutique, folks will find out about the bands on label and vice versa. Also dressing up is a huge part of performing. I wanted to create a place where bands and fans alike could come to play dress up.

I'm always interested in the descriptors musicians chose– tell me about "ghost pop."

Ghost pop is something my boyfriend came up with. It's a term for pop that feels eerie, creepy or even sad– pop that has darkness to it. I said it one time in an interview with New Now Next and it stuck. :)

Photo: Shervin Lainez

I read you're based in NYC. What's something you wish you'd known before moving there?

That it was going to be really tough. It never gets easy! Ever. It takes time, energy, and persistence. Everyday. Never giving up. Always thinking about your next move. But there's nothing to prepare you for it. If you love what you do, it's natural to keep fighting for the things you want.

What's next for you?

Tiger Blanket Records will be releasing its first piece of clothing specific to the brand! I'm really excited about that. Also thrilled to announce my new project PAGEANT at the end of the summer. More details on this 60's girl group meets garage rock outfit to come!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Review: 'Mistaken for Strangers'

About midway through Mistaken for Strangers, a tour documentary (barely) about The National by frontman Matt Berninger's little bother Tom, the younger Berninger expresses worry that people think the only reason he's on the tour is because he's Matt's brother.

Matt regards him with a look that becomes all too familiar in the doc. It's a look of slow-burning incredulity and unwarranted patience– The only reason you are on tour is because you're my brother, he tells Tom gently.

This exchange mostly sums up Mistaken for Strangers. If you wanted a super behind the scenes look at the critically acclaimed indie rock band through the lens of a close relative, what you're really getting is a 92 minute therapy session where Tom tries to work out his issues with his older and more successful brother.

The basic framework given is that Matt was the golden boy and Tom was not. It's not a very sympathetic story, though. A few shots of their upper middle class childhood home, and their upper middle class parents who still have their art hanging on the walls doesn't exactly scream unfairness. Their mom is still convinced that Tom will find great success himself. Some people just don't pan out– Tom might be one of those people.

Still, he struggles to understand, as the tour manager puts it, that he's not in the band. He's on the crew. This struggle paints less of a portrait of a sibling relationship– after all, the tension between them is fairly tame– and more of a half-bitter, half self-indulgent pity party. Tom has access to one of the best bands out there, and he spends his time asking dumb questions like "Do you carry wallets on stage?" or seeking family counseling from the other band members who are perplexingly patient.

Moments where Tom rambles over their answers or instructs them to look one way or another, or to make a certain face feel like they would be better suited on a blooper reel, or better yet, left in the recycling bin. And yet– that's a large chunk of the film. In a smaller dosage, it could be funny. Instead, it's frustrating. In the opening scene, Matt reprimands his brother, asking if he's written any questions down, or if he has a plan. No, Matt. He did  and does not.

There are two scenes where Tom's questions lead to the kind of insight diehard National fans were probably hoping for, like perspective on putting together new albums (45 minutes of sounds that take two years to make, says drummer Scott Devendorf). The rest of the interviews? Awkwardness, bemusement, crummy sound quality.

To his credit, Tom is not shy about showing himself failing and flailing. The audience sees the tour manager chew him out multiple times, and then fire him. Matt scolds him for leaving his wet bathing suit on the table in the bus ("Where were you even swimming?!") Tom just comes off so pointless, sometimes– he gets distracted by the reflection of his own arm in the mirror of a Paris hotel room while his brother does a phone interview. He really is an annoying little brother– the kind who shines a flashlight into people's bunks and films them as they sleep.

The thing is, annoying little brothers are common place. And with these two, there's not enough conflict to support a story (which is probably a credit to their parents). Neither hates the other, nor do they have a particularly strong bond. Though, it's obvious they both want good things for the other.

Maybe, however, Matt and Tom do have something in common in their storytelling. The National's always had a knack for singing about the problems of 30-something-year-old men. If you strip out the poetry and the strings, though, it's a bunch of stories about middle class people who are recognizably normal.

Mistaken for Strangers is in select theaters, and also available to rent on Amazon.

Monday, May 5, 2014

'47' : Anders Osborne

Just a quick hit tonight– this Anders Osborne tune has been following me around lately, both on the radio, and in the fact that it's living in my head. The song's hook involves a look back at few keys ages (think a funkier "It Was a Very Good Year") and settles on how 47 is kinda boring (but probably only if you're not Anders Osborne, amma right?)

Anyway, take it for a spin.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Gigs Reflex: Louisville with The Apache Relay and Moon Taxi

The Apache Relay
Last week I went to my first show here in Louisville, Ky., where I now live. The funny thing was that the bands I caught– The Apache Relay and Moon Taxi– are both from my home turf, Nashville. Check out what I had to say about the experience of sharing some of Nashville's best with a Kentucky audience, over at the always fun Gigs Reflex.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Someone Should Start a Band...

Saw this piece of ridiculousness over at I Waste So Much Time and thought someone really should try it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Q&A with The Alarms

Left to right: Robert Gay, Anthony Jorissen, Zach Robinson, Brady Surface
Photo: Penny Felts

For every 20 kids you meet with a guitar and some hazy hope of being a musician, there's a guy like Robert Gay– super talented, and super focused, the kind professional who leaves little doubt in your mind that he's going to do some great things. Since I first interviewed Gay when we were undergrads at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., I've been interested in whatever project he might get up to next. Lately, he's fronting a band called The Alarms. This week we chatted about the band's upcoming record (Real Tough Love), balancing musical influences, and playing music in Music City.

Tell me about how the band came together.

The Alarms is a four-piece band that developed out of my own solo project. Probably about three years ago, I had a bunch of songs that really didn’t fit anywhere else. All along in my career as a songwriter, I’ve dabbled in doing some solo stuff, so it grew very naturally out of that. The nature of songs is always that you never know what’s coming. I got a new batch of songs that felt a little bit more aggressive, and when I started showing them to the band – the same guys who helped me record my solo record – it took on this very particular flavor and we found an interesting niche. It was more ‘60s influenced, more garage kind of stuff, whereas the other one was sort of jukebox pop. For a while we tried out “Robert Gay and the Alarms,” but it felt more like a band than anything else, especially with the contributions the guys were putting in.

Something I’ve enjoyed about the album is that it feels very well-informed by its influences, versus being derivative. Could you talk about some of the things you’re pulling from?

I think there’s a really important balance between finding the bands that inspire you and maybe carrying on elements of their tradition mixed with some other things – it’s definitely mashup culture these days, everything is a mixtape – and so for those reasons I think that’s a really strong argument to borrow the best bits and make sense of what you want to hear, and what it sounds like in your head. Translate that rather than go for what’s popular, or pulling only from a certain artist.

I’ve always enjoyed going after specific influences in my own way. I love The Beatles, but I don’t try to sound just like The Beatles. I try to think, “What were they doing? How were they doing it? What was their thought process behind the way they did things?” And carry it on from that perspective, instead of copying one specific thing.

On The Alarms’ Facebook page you list The Zombies as an influence. I happen to love The Zombies. Let’s talk about that for a second. 

I love their songwriting, first of all. It's brilliant because there’s not necessarily that much instrumentation going on, they’re very much a band, and sometimes really stripped down, but then you’ve got these lush harmonies. They were really specific about all the sounds. They took an old piano and made it a tack piano. The sound of that on “Care of Cell 44” is just incredible. They also made everything as hard hitting as they could in all the right ways. Every element was interesting, and thought out, and particular. If you’ve got a song about a guy who’s coming back from the war and re-experiencing these terrible dreams, you’re going to use a pump organ and that's it. If you’ve got a song about “this will be our year,” and it’s very triumphant, you’ve got these great lifting key changes pulling you up. It all says the same thing with a lot of intentionality and it’s never contrived, even though it’s very different and grand. I really like that balance.

Photo: Penny Felts

You've done solo work, you've played with Vitek, you were with The Nova Ray; I think of you as being pretty well dug into the Nashville music scene. For the folks playing at home, give me a snapshot of being a young musician in band in Nashville right now.

It’s different for everyone, definitely, and I’m in a really unique position because not only as a band member, not only as a songwriter, not only as a musician, I get to combine a lot of different things that don’t usually wind up going together. Also as a trumpet player and multi-instrumentalist, I get to see and work with more bands than I would otherwise.

Yesterday, I had Easter with my family, and then I went over to the Sol Cat guy’s house and worked on some trumpet stuff. They’ve got some new songs that they’re wanting some horns on, so that was a fun thing for me to do yesterday. Today, I’m doing my own life, and talking with you about this band, but in the coming weeks, and even through the end of this week, I’ll have sessions that are with a bunch of different bands and be going to see a lot of different shows, and guesting. Sometimes I’ll have a couple in one night. What it looks like for me is, thankfully, some shade of all music all the time. It means that I am, at this point, my own manager, my own bandleader, my own writer. You have to wear a lot of hats. I think the more you’re able to study in-depth everything that goes into making the stuff that you produce, the better off you’ll be. I’m finally getting to the point where I’m doing the things I want to do and then having to say “no” to some things. I’m just starting to get to the point where it’s like, I finally have some bandmates and some labelmates that can help me do my job because I’m running out of time, but until that point, if you’ve got any free minutes, you’ve got to do as much of it yourself as you possibly can, and anything you can’t do yourself, just ask people and then try.

That dovetails well into the next thing I wanted to talk about. Tell me about Science Camp Records.

It’s a collective, and it’s really the brainchild of Jess Harrelson, who is an amazing writer and artist in her own with Sly Boots, and under her own name. She interned with Thirty Tigers based out of Nashville. They are the indie smörgåsbord kind of label. That’s the branch of Sony RED. She did really well there and got to go up and work directly with Sony in New York. She’s used all that experience and connections to help have the vision for what a label could be. We have a dream for building a label from it. It’s mainly three bands (Sly Boots, The Alarms, Layla the Wolf).

Let's talk about the record.

Real Tough Love is in some ways an answer to the coming of age record that I did solo, When I Was Young. If that record was a look back, this record is a look at what’s really going on right now. It’s a little bit of a look ahead: “Where do I want to be, and how do I get there?” in this time when everything is so unpredictable. It seems like the rule book was thrown out for nearly everything in life compared to what’s expected. There’s a song called “Make it Better” that I think is about the closest thing that The Alarms have in the way of a mission statement. It’s about taking that dreaming, youthful spirit and using it as a mirror instead of just a lens. A lot of the time, it can be one of the most difficult and frightening way to turn your creative outlet. For me, it was a process of figuring out who I was and where I wanted to be.

One of my favorite songs is “The Only One.” Tell me how the song came together. 

That was actually one of the earlier songs that we recorded. We were doing a bunch of songs in December of 2012, and we probably had about nine or so that we recorded, and at that time it was expected to be a Robert Gay release. Like a lot of songs that I’ve done over the past couple of years, it started as a voice memo, sung to myself while driving in the car. It was a late night drive and I was, for whatever reason, feeling simultaneously tired and a little bit alone. It was probably around the time of a lot of life changes. It was a way for me to take a look at loneliness and what it means and what it does. When I get into that kind of place, I can get fatalistic in a way that I’m not really inherently. You start looking for failure. You start looking for good things to come to an end, and I think that’s a lot of what that song really deals with.

Photo: Penny Felts

What's next for you guys?

What's next for the Alarms is a fun question, and it centers on the question of what will happen this new album. We've raised the record the way we wanted to, and now it's time to make some introductions and see where it goes in life. As a career musician, I feel my work is to make true and distinct art, and my joy is to share that art.

We'll follow the music wherever it leads. While we build a name and some business connections, we'll be playing out a lot and spreading our focus outside of just Nashville, although we are scheduled to play the International Pop Overthrow here in town on the first week of May. This week will mark the release of a digital single, "Real Tough Love" backed with a cover of The Toys' "May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone," soon to be followed by some content from Science Camp's 8 off 8th extravaganza [at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge]. The release of Real Tough Love is yet to be announced.

Connect with The Alarms

Friday, April 18, 2014

'Out on the Street' : Spanish Gold

Periodically, I like to sift through my Shazam tag to see if there's anything worth retuning to. Here's one from this past week. I was driving to work and this song came on the radio. It's "Out on the Street" by Spanish Gold, and it's a relatively new tune. The band is patched together from bits of other bands like My Morning Jacket, Hacienda, and Fantasma.

I'll let Rolling Stone fill you in on the rest. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

White Denim Talks Hi-Fi Systems

Some of my favorite videos and stories are the ones that delve into "how." Sometimes the nitty gritty details of things like processes and even equipment can be more interesting than vague statements about inspiration.

Check out this video from McIntosh Laboratory (high-end audio equipment) featuring White Denim talking about they approach their sound. And if you're not familiar with White Denim, they're some pretty solid rock from Austin, Texas.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Imogen Heap's Wearable Mi.Mu Gloves

The week before last, I got to work on a really interesting story for TechRepublic about Imogen Heap's Kickstarter. She and a team of (very smart) people have been working on these gloves that basally allow her make music out of movements. For the full story, click below.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Miley Gets Doo-Wop Treatment

A few months back, the Gregory Brothers turned Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" into a lovely bluegrass tune. My latest finding in the effort to de-trash Cyrus' music comes from Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox, an outfit that puts interesting and retro spins on current pop songs. Give it a listen.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lorde/M.I.A. Mashup

Just wanted to briefly draw your attention to this killer mashup of "Royals" by Lorde and "Paper Airplanes by M.I.A. Not only does the mashup sound great, but it makes sense from a conceptual standpoint. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

'XO' : Haim [Cover]

Beyoncé overwhelms me sometimes. If this is the case for you too, you might dig this version of "XO" that sister-trio du jour Haim did for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. The cover is fairly faithful, but Haim keeps it a bit more simple. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review : 'Nashville' : 'Guilty Street'

This is not the week to make Rayna mad. She might fire you. Here's what happened on the newest episode of ABC's Nashville.

You'd think pancakes with Luke would put Rayna in a better mood, but it's going to take more than delicious buttermilk breakfast items to soothe her soul. First, she's pissed at Tandy because her sister/CFO dropped the ball and Highway 65 Records is bouncing checks all over town. GET IT TOGETHER TANDY, Rayna says. Then he walks in on Scarlett and Liam invading each other's personal space at the piano. She first has a mom-esque convo with Scarlett and then fires Liam. What a day. Rayna complains to Luke. He offers to spot her some cash. She's like... noI couldn't... get us... tangled… and he's like no, really…and she's definitely thinking about it.

Luke, basically.
The Bluebird Brigade could hardly be less interesting. Gunnar got them a gig at Mercy Lounge. Avery bails on rehearsal. Gunnar makes a crack about him having a rick girlfriend, and I walk out of the room when Zoe says, "Can we at least get through one gig without having a huge band fight and breaking up?" What a gross line. It's like it was written for some educational video on teamwork that's trying to be edgy.

The gig goes well. But what you, the viewer, need to understand if you're not from here, is that Nashville audiences are almost NEVER that excited about anything, especially a band no one has heard. They fold their arms and nod to the beat. Hopefully.

Layla's career is just about fried. Jeff is basically going to drop her. Will feels responsible for getting her ally Brent fired. He also feels bad because she's blaming herself for their bedroom troubles. So much guilt for Will.

Speaking of guilt, Deacon and Lady Lawyer Friend spend the night apart when he goes on the road. He gets tempted by a girl he used to know. She gets tempted by an emotionally vulnerable Teddy who has just discovered that Peggy was never pregnant. Deacon walks away from the situation and calls LLF, who is in the backseat of her car with Teddy not playing travel Scrabble.

Anyhoodle, Juliette is fielding offers from smaller labels post NYT piece. While at dinner, she and Avery have a short convo about who is going to pay. Avery's been feeling emasculated lately. Evil Bossman Jeff sends over an EXPENSIVE bottle of champaign and Juliette shakes it up and lets it explode on his table. He does end up making Juliette an offer to come back to Edgehill. She gets an imprint and a producing deal for Avery. Avery doesn't want it. He tells her Jeff is never going to respect her. And so when Juliette goes and asks Rayna if she can join Highway 65, it's like the biggest non surprise ever.

And of course the previews for next week make it look like the union will not last. DRAMA.

Stray Observations: 
+ Luke being weirded out by the giant portraits of Rayna's kids in the bedroom.
+ Big Machine got name checked three times. $$$
+ I want to know what favor the booker at Mercy Lounge owed Gunnar. Like, does Gunnar have a picture of him in culottes?

'Beneath the Brine' : The Family Crest

Things have been busy in these parts. Nashville recap to come later tonight, but in the meantime, take "Beneath the Brine" by The Family Crest for a spin. It's delightful– theatrical, orchestral, epic and absolutely worth your time.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review : 'Nashville' : 'They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore '

E'rbody's listening to fresh tracks as this week's episode of Nashville starts. Here's what happened in the wake of Lamar's transition to a new job as Lucifer's Executive Assistant.

Scarlett and Liam play her new song for Rayna. Scarlett, who has zero self worth, assumes Rayna will hate it. Of course, that's not true. Scarlett's going to have another rough episode as her unhappiness spills out everywhere. She has dinner with Liam and he, as they would say on The Bachelor, opens up to her about being a lonely workaholic. He hasn't really been able to work on his own stuff because he's hiding from his own music (3 cheers for self analysis!). Liam even shows her his lyrics. The thing you've got to remember, is that on Nashville, songwriting bears a certain intimacy. When Liam kisses Scarlett on the street, it comes as no surprise. Yet, she spurns him. Which is smart, but merely a delay because after having jealous feelings about her uncle and exes (and then crashing at the studio), she kisses Liam and it's like...

… this isn't going to end well.
Anyway. Juliette really loves the mix Avery did on her flip off ballad to country music. He tells her that some critic from the New York Times called her a "serious artist." She says he's the only one in Nashville who reads the New York Time. WELL.

Perhaps being the only Nashvillian who take the Times is a turn on because they hop into bed. Glen walks in and it's like COME ON DAD. He says some muckity-muck named Howie V (B?) wants to work with Juliette. The fly out to L.A. and this Howie guy is like the most insincere schmoozer you've ever met, like you'd have to stand in the shower for half an hour scrubbing furiously to get all the crap off. They re-record the song with strings and a brass section, and then he arranges a photo shoot that looks like something between Lady Gaga and Katy Perry's Grammys performance. When he references stripping the last little bit of twang out of Juliette, you just really hate him. Howie also treats Glen like dirt. Glen tries to step out of Juliette's way, but in the end she decides that she's just gotta do Juliette and not anyone else.

That's more than you could say for the Bluebird trio (Avery, Gunnar, and Zoe) who are basically going to be the Lumineers. They back Deacon at a show and then decide to be a band. Thus, the Bluebird Brigade is born. I will say, they do have some nice harmonies.

Backtracking, Teddy had to tell Rayna that Lamar died. He'll be wracked with guilt the rest of the episode that he let his ex father-in-law die, to the point where Teddy fesses up to Deacon's Lady Lawyer Friend. When the person you call in your darkest moment is someone else's significant other, and they turn up, you've got to wonder where that relationship is headed. Anyway. Rayna's freakily detached. Tandy's distraught. It all culminates with Rayna smashing up Lamar's study.

Bless her heart.

Stray Observations:

+ Loved Rayna's face when Daphne asked if Lamar was in heaven.