Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Corinne Bailey Rae lets her hair down

I first heard Corinne Bailey Rae on Louisville's awesome independent radio station WFPK last year in advance of her her album release. From the moment I heard "Put Your Records On," I knew she was destined for stardom. (Seriously, ask Gil. I made him sit in the van until the song ended because I was so blown away.)

Well,now that the rest of the world has discovered the same genius I heard a year ago in Kentucky, Bailey Rae has a live DVD coming out April 3.

This is particularly good news since, if it's possible, I love Bailey Rae's music even more in its stripped-down, acoustic format - it places more emphasis on her astonishingly lovely voice.

To tide you over until April 3, watch this live performance (posted on YouTube) from Scotland's "T in the Park" festival.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Stranger than... Gimme Fiction

Just Netflixed the Will Ferrell movie Stranger than Fiction, and it renewed my love of Austin band Spoon, who are featured prominently on the movie's soundtrack.

In fact, Spoon is something of a soundtrack darling, as I first encountered them thanks to Veronica Mars.

Head to their MySpace page to listen to two of my favorite Spoon songs, "I Summon You" and "I Turn My Camera On." Their Web site offers some cool features as well, including the ability to listen to full versions of many of their songs as well as listen to and download demo versions of some songs. Cool feature. More bands should do this.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Retro soul from across the pond

Modern soulman Jamie Lidell was one of the artists I discovered thanks to Alex Patsavas and Grey's Anatomy. Browsing around the Web site of Seattle's KEXP (one of my favorite online radio stations these days), I discovered that you can listen to a live in-studio interview/performance with Lidell here.

M. Myers of KEXP has this to say:

"Blues and Soul Magazine describes British producer/vocalist Jamie Lidell this way. 'Imagine Prince producing Otis Redding at an early '90s warehouse rave.' In this live at KEXP session, Jamie pulls the dance beats back and lays down some stripped-down organic soul over some subtler samples."

Definitely the soulfullest set I've heard in a long time.

For more Lidell, check out his album Multiply or his MySpace page.

Oh, and: Just read in the Washington Post that my personal hero, Alex Patsavas, is starting her own record label. I can't think of a better person to run a label.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Morning (or early afternoon) becomes eclectic

I was having trouble deciding what to listen to this morning, so I cued up AOL Radio on and browsed through their copious selection of stations (over 200!), everything from indie music to classic soul and funk, from movie scores to regional ethnic music. And still I couldn't seem to choose.

Finally, the answer presented itself in the form of Los Angeles radio station's KCRW and their excellent "Morning Becomes Eclectic." Eclectic is the watchword here, mostly featuring new and/or independent artists, though the occasional classic will pop up too. Right now I'm listening to a beautiful live version of Jeff Buckley covering Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The best part is that the show runs for three hours (9a to noon Pacific) every morning.

Perfect for those days when you just can't seem to choose.

Oh, and: Due to a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board, the future of online radio streams is in serious jeopardy. For more information or to sign a petition to save the streams, visit this Web site.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

It all starts here

I have deep love of Appalachian culture forged during four years of living in central Ohio, in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains (one of several mountain ranges that make up the Appalachians.)

Despite the fact that I generally dislike modern country music (too much silliness and musical simplicity), I have to admit that I do love some of the old bluegrass and American roots music that inspired it. It was an interest in these that led me to Netflix The Carter Family: Will the Circle be Unbroken, a PBS/American Experience documentary about the first family of Appalachian music.

Their story is as compelling as anything you would see on Behind the Music, with themes of heartbreak, innovation and the trappings of celebrity. The fact that many of these mountain songs have been preserved for the ages is due to Carter family patriarch A.P. Carter's love of music and tenacity in collecting and recording it. But his drive to preserve the music he loved so much lost him everything else he loved. It's really a remarkable story, with an amazing soundtrack.

For a good introduction to all things Carter Family, this CD does a nice job (or so sayeth the AMG.)

And while we're on the subject of things I love related to American roots music, try this movie (and corresponding soundtrack), just named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the Definitive 200 albums, this CD, or this CD.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Apples in Stereo at SxSW

I sang the praises of the Apples in Stereo a couple of months ago. Well, their album is out now, it's excellent and they're gigging around SxSW as we speak. To listen to a great live set broadcast on Seattle's KEXP yesterday, visit NPR.org. And don't forget to check out other archived SxSW performances while you're there!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

SxSW in my office

The internet is SO cool - even if you can't be at the legendary South by Southwest music festival (happening in music mecca Austin, Texas right now,) you can feel like you're there thanks to the miracle technology of live streams and free internet radio. My favorite coverage so far is Minneapolis's The Current radio station, who is broadcasting live all day today and tomorrow. I'm listening to an exclusive Current set with The Sights right now, but I'm most excited about Andrew Bird tomorrow at 1:45 p.m. (Central time).

If you're new to the awesomeness that is SxSW, it's basically just a HUGE music festival - this year, over 1,300 bands (yes, you read that right) will perform in over 60 venues throughout downtown Austin. It's pretty much the gold standard for indie music festivals in this country.

For a fuller schedule, visit NPR's Web site. But be warned: It's a little complicated and I haven't actually figured out how to listen to live feeds there yet. (According to smarter people than I: "The site culls performances hosted by NPR member stations (KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif.; KUT in Austin, WFUV in New York, KEXP in Seattle and WXPN in Philadelphia)."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

I've had this album in my collection for five years now and it's just been waiting for the right moment to make itself indispensable. That moment has finally arrived. Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot often sounds like a lost late-Beatles album, which I guess shouldn't really come as a surprise, since the AllMusic guide informs me that the album was mixed by "mixer/multi-instrumentalist/'fifth Beatle' Jim O'Rourke."

The songwriting is held together by a general theme of wry heartbreak. The sound is very unusual, warm acoustic melodies laced throughout with often-dissonant sonic augmentation. When I first tried to listen to this album five years ago, the general dissonance of the sonic experimentation was just off-putting enough that I didn't hear through to the genius melodies and warm timbres. Now that I can hear them, I think this is a heartachingly beautiful album - possibly my favorite "breakup" album to date.

Highlights for me are the subversively lovable "Kamera", the strangely soulful "Jesus, Etc.", the danceable "Heavy Metal Drummer," and the charming major-minor "I'm the Man Who Loves You."

But I don't really recommend listening to these songs individually. This album's true genius comes from the fact that it expertly navigates every strange nuance of emotion that accompanies a heartbreak of any kind. And because of this, the album works best when listened to in its entirety, so that the false toughness of the opening track ("I Am Trying To Break Your Heart") gives way to the sweet vulnerability of "Kamera" ("Phone my family/tell them I'm lost/and no it's not okay,") before delving even deeper into the bleak despondency of "Radio Cure" ("Cheer up honey/ I hope you can/There is something wrong with me.") From here, the album shifts to a theme of getting over it, from the morbid rebirth of "War on War" ("You have to learn how to die/if you want to be alive,") to the weary reassurance of "Jesus, Etc." (Jesus, don't cry/You can rely on me honey/You can come by any time you want/I'll be around,") to the wispy hope of "Ashes of American Flags" ("I want a good life/with a nose for things/a fresh wind and bright sky/to enjoy my suffering".) Then it's time for bittersweet nostalgia to kick in with "Heavy Metal Drummer" ("I miss the innocence I've known/Playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned") and "I'm the Man Who Loves You" ("If I could, you know I would/just hold your hand and you'd understand/I'm the man who loves you.") Finally, there's a shift to overcoming anger on "Pot Kettle Black" ("I'm tied in a knot/But I'm not gonna get caught/Calling a pot kettle black") and grieving the loss on "Poor Places" ("My jaw's been broken/My heart is wrapped in ice/My fangs have been pulled/But I really want to see you tonight".) And finally, the album ends in a kind of heart-wrenching, self-blaming acceptance with "Reservations" ("How can I convince you it's me I don't like/and not be so indifferent to the look in your eyes/when I've always been distant/and I've always told lies for love/I've got reservations about so many things/But not about you/It's not about you."

Much like a good breakup, this is one remarkably complex album. Give it a listen. And if it's not time in your life for it right now, hold on to it. In my recent experience, it'll always be there for you when you need it.

Oh, and: Head over to Wilco's official Web site to listen to an entire live set from the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC last October. SO SO SO SO good.

Patti Smith, poet and performer

On the eve of her induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight, Patti Smith has written a beautiful op-ed piece for the New York Times. Although the main point she is making is a bit twee, the language is LOVELY and she brings up some beautiful images.

"Rock ’n’ roll, at that time, was a fusion of intimacies. Repression bloomed into rapture like raging weeds shooting through cracks in the cement."

Highlights of this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, featuring inductees R.E.M., Van Halen, the Ronettes and Grandmaster Flash in addition to Smith, will air at 9/8C on Saturday night on Vh1.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Great Gap ads

The Gap started out selling clothes and records in San Francisco back in the day, and their love of music is still evident today in the many innovative Gap ads that use music and musicians in really interesting ways. Here's a list of some of my faves from the last 10 years or so (in no particular order):

1. Favorite Song - This is the full-length DVD version of the "What's your favorite song?" campaign they did in fall of 2005. Musicians interviewed include John Legend, Joss Stone, Alanis Morissette, Brandon Boyd (of Incubus), Jason Mraz, Michelle Williams, and Keith Urban. Listening to Boyd's triple-tracked vocals on Elvis Costello's "Allison" gives me full-body chills every time. There is nothing I love more than listening to musicians talk about their favorite music, which is why I think this is possibly the best ad EVER.

2. Denim Invasion - Directed by my idol, Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Jerry Maguire). Love the look on Orlando Bloom's face when they start running.

3. "Give a Little Bit" - The classic Supertramp song gets a new interpretation from Sheryl Crow, India.Arie, Left-Eye Lopez and Liz Phair. SO much talent in 30 seconds.

4. "Dress You Up" - I just love the modern interpretation of Madonna's song, and the fact that they stagger several voices on the melody line.

5. Bike Riding - Ashton Kutcher, Zooey Deschanel, Scarlett Johannsen and Jay Hernandez riding bikes together? I never actually saw this one on the air, but it's GREAT. Excellent use of the song.

6. Old School - I like the simplicity of this one. It's just Nikka Costa a cappella. Powerful and beautiful.

7. "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" - Rufus Wainwright's interpretation of a classic holiday song. Possibly my favorite version of this song.

8. Denim Swings - I never saw this one when it was on the air either, but this is one of my favorite songs of all time. Truly lovely.

9. Back in Black - The recent Audrey Hepburn-meets-AC/DC mash-up. Props for combining such an unlikely combination in such a cool way.

10. Feelin' Groovy and September - There were two Gap ads that I just loved that I can't find on YouTube anywhere. I believe both were from the Fall 2003 ad campaign. The first featured a modern take on Simon and Garfunkel's "Feelin' Groovy" and the other used the original version of Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." Both featured models wearing clothes and dancing in streets, as I recall. Both were excellent. If anyone finds a link for either of them, post it please!

Update: Two version of the missing "September" ad have finally been tracked down on YouTube. (Thanks Fred!) Check them out below. (9/20/08)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Really cookin'

I've mentioned a few of my desert-island discs before, and I just thought of another one: G. Love's Philadelphonic. I first heard it on a bus in the English countryside and I have never loved America (and especially Philadelphia) more than at that moment. There's just something so appealing about G. Love's blend of blues, funk, and white-boy rap - he just makes you happy.

Well, his latest album, called Lemonade, came out last summer, but I've just gotten around to listening to it today. So far, I really like what I hear. This is a PERFECT summer album - it's sunny and funky and fun. If you live in a warm climate, check it out now. If, like me, you're still looking at a foot of snow, it might be better to save this one. But don't forget about it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New technology: Fine Tune

I spent two hours at work today compiling a playlist on Finetune.com - and I'm only halfway there. If you haven't discovered this useful, Pandora-like site yet, check it out. From the site's cavernous selection of music (the limits aren't quite endless, but pretty close), you create a playlist of at least 45 songs. Then, the site lets you listen to your playlist (on shuffle mode) for free. It's basically music listening on-demand for free. Of course there are a few restrictions (no more than three songs by any one artist can be added to a playlist, for instance), but it's remarkably hitch-free and fun to play with. Got a few hours to kill or a really boring job? This will keep you amused.

Update: Just noticed that this was named one of Time Magazine's Top 10 Web sites of 2006.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Spotlight on: Grey's Anatomy

I am not actually allowed to watch Grey's Anatomy (or any other medical dramas, for that matter - I find them upsetting), but Grey's has one of the best soundtracks on television right now, so I like to check in at the show's Web site to see what made Grey's music editor Alexandra Patsavas's cut. (The Grey's team is so into music, many of their ep titles references songs and song lyrics, such as this season's "Time Has Come Today," "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Wishin' and Hopin'", etc.)

Patsavas has what I consider to be one of the coolest jobs in the universe - she earned her current gig by working at other musically hip shows like The OC and Rescue Me, as well as one of my favorite cult classics, HBO's now-dead Carnivale. She was even nominated for a Grammy this year for the second Grey's Anatomy Soundtrack in the "Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture, Television Series or Other Visual Media" category.

Anyhow, I recently went through seasons 1 and 2 of Grey's and wrote down a list of artists whose songs appeared on the show. I thought others might benefit from the list, so here it is (it's not quite comprehensive, but it's fairly complete):

Get Set Go
Sylvie Lewis
Roisin Murphy
Inara George
Maria Taylor
The Delgados
Blue-Eyed Son
Cowboy Racer
Way Out West
BC Camplight
Emiliana Torrine
Mark Joseph
The Chalets
Nouvelle Vague
Kendal Payne
LeRoy Stagger
The Monotypes
Ursula 1000
Ambulana Ltd.
The Weepies
Foy Vance
The Devices
Joshua Radin
The Headlights
Boy Least Likely To
New Moscow
Joe Purdy
Anya Marina
Jim Noir
The Moonbabies
The 88s
Kraak & Snaak
The Cary Brothers
Slow Runner
St. Etienne
Mike Tarantin
Sam Winch
Carey Ott
Adrienne Peirce
Kate Earl
Landon Pigg
Kate Havnevick
Gran Bel Fisher
Snow Patrol
Jamie Liddell
KT Tunstall

Where indie music meets Dr. Seuss

Musician Rich Aucoin must have had to watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" 8 million times to make his excellent piece of YouTube art, but it was well worth it - Aucoin's excellent Grinch "album" (think "Dark Side of Oz" but with Dr. Seuss and cool indie music instead of "The Wizard of Oz" and Pink Floyd) is as impressive a piece of music as it is a triumph of computer synching skills. Hard to believe this guy is still unsigned. I have a feeling that won't last much longer. In the meantime, visit his MySpace page to listen to tracks and find out more about him.

(Thanks to Whitney for this!)