Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Free Download Tuesday

Those of you who follow the blog know of my love/hate relationship with Coldplay. I kind of can't stand their bloated, self-important whiny Brit-pop, but then they come out with "Viva La Vida," which I have always grudgingly admitted is the greatest pop single of the past decade.

Due to my Coldplay-centric inner conflict, I have never actually purchased a Coldplay album, but now that Coldplay is offering a free download of their new live album as a thank-you to fans, I am powerless to resist. (I am a sucker for a free download, and this one does feature a live version of "Viva.")

Follow this link to download leftrightleftrightleft.

And while we're on the subject of free downloads, Vampire Weekend's first single from their upcoming album is available via this link, thanks to the greatest radio station in the world, 93 XRT.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Live from Austin, via Hulu

If you couldn't make it to the Austin City Limits festival this year, Hulu is here to rescue you. They're currently streaming live and delayed performances from Austin via this link. Today's schedule includes Airborne Toxic Event, Bon Iver and The Decemberists. Tomorrow look for Passion Pit, Ben Harper and the Relentless 7, and the B-52s, among others.

I've heard Hulu also plan to compile a "Best Of..." selection on Monday as well. It's the next best thing to fighting the heat and crowds in Texas. Or... maybe even better?

Friday, September 25, 2009

A thousand hugs from 10,000 lightning bugs

Scanning the Red Eye today, I saw that Grey's Anatomy darling Kate Havnevick was opening for a band called Owl City last night at Metro in Chicago. Intrigued, I headed over to Owl City's Myspace Page and was quickly blown away.

Bright Eyes-style, Owl City appears to be the name of a one-man band, and that one man is Adam Young, a Minnesota native who creates the perfect poptronica sound I've been hoping for in other bands like Phoenix, Mute Math, and Passion Pit but have always been slightly disappointed by. Until now.

Among Young's listed inspirations are Imogen Heap, Sigur Ros, Cary Grant and optimism, four of my favorite things, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that I love every single track I've heard so far. Young has a very similar voice to Ben Gibbard's (of Death Cab and Postal Service, among other indie exploits), but unlike Gibbard, Young uses his child-like, speak-songish tenor to perfect effect, balancing it with clean, light, happy, major-key electronic pop arrangements that get in your ears and bounce around happy in your brain for hours.

Further research revealed that Owl City's major-label debut album, Ocean Eyes, has a perfect five-star rating from 73 reviewers on Amazon, and the show at Metro was sold out last night, so the secret is out on Young, and yet somehow no one has ever heard of Owl City yet, either. If you fall into the latter camp, do yourself a favor and fix that situation.

Check out this witty video for "Fireflies" (it features a Speak 'N Spell!).

If he wanna rock, he rocks; if he wanna roll, he rolls...

One big benefit to Conan taking over the Tonight Show is that the musical guests seem to have come up a notch. I caught Eric Hutchinson there, on an otherwise unremarkable Friday night a couple of months ago, and fell in love so instantly and totally that I went out and bought his album without hearing another track on it. I was not disappointed.

On Sounds Like This..., Hutchinson combines the neo-Rat Pack vocal stylings of Michael Buble or Jamie Cullum with an irresistible, acoustic singer-songwriter pop sound with hooks that don't quit.

Favorites include the album opener "Ok, It's Alright with Me," a musical Zen meditation that hints at the difficulties Hutchinson faced in putting out this album (hint: it took over five years and three labels,) "Food Chain," and "Rock & Roll", (which in my opinion would make an excellent soundtrack for another obsession of mine, "Gossip Girl.")

Don't believe me? Watch the video for "Rock & Roll" and fall in love yourself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

James Taylor Live at 1

I find it absolutely impossible to pick a single desert-island disc, so instead I often play the Desert-Island Artist game: If you had to pick one artist whose entire discography you could bring with you on the desert island, who would it be? I still can't really choose, but for me, James Taylor would definitely be on the short-list.

Check out his intimate, acoustic set for the Borders Live at 1 series and you'll hear why - basically it's because I feel fine anytime he's around me.

The setlist includes interviews as well as "Something in the Way She Moves," "Suzanne," "Carolina in My Mind," "Secret o'Life," "Sweet Baby James," and "Mexico." The perfect soundtrack for August.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Truth Be Told

They're streaming the debut from Dublin-based R&B singer Laura Ibizor over at AOL Music and it's definitely worth a listen. It's a flawlessly produced combination of soul, gospel, classic R&B and pop, perfect for lazy summer nights with all the windows open.

Unlike some of the other soul-infused efforts to come out of the British Isles recently, this doesn't feel nostalgic - it's perfectly current and yet timeless at the same time. Check it out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Help save Paste!

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know of my undying devotion to Paste Magazine. They have impeccable musical taste and they love to share new music with their readership - every single issue of Paste comes with a 20-song sampler of new music. I've discovered some of my favorite new bands thanks to those editorial ears.

But right now, Paste needs our help! It would only take $1 from every single person on their email list to keep the magazine alive through the current economic crisis, and as an incentive to make a donation, Paste has posted more than 70 exclusive music tracks that all become yours - FREE! - when you make a donation to help keep Paste alive.

It is a star-studded roster of indie music, all yours for FREE when you donate as little as $1. Pretty amazing, right? Artists include Ben Folds, Bettye LaVette, Brandi Carlile, Cowboy Junkies, G. Love and Special Sauce, Gomez, Greg Laswell, Jamie Lidell, Josh Ritter, Katie Herzig, Loney Dear, Marc Broussard, Matt Nathanson, Meiko, Matthew Sweet, Neko Case, Of Montreal, Over the Rhine, Rosie Thomas, Robert Pollard, She & Him, the Decemberists and SO many more.

All this for as little as $1, and it's for a great cause. So come on, everyone, let's SAVE PASTE!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Somebody's heart is broken and it becomes your favorite song

I've been nostalgic for high school lately, which led me back to Dave Matthews Band and their first two major-label albums, Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash. It's hard to explain to people now, but at the time, in the atonal, minor-chord angry-pop world of post-grunge, Dave Matthews really did sound revolutionary. His return to complex major key melodies and polyphonic harmonies was such a welcome respite to the simplistic emotive punk of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Live (et. al.) It's easy to dismiss that contribution now, but it had a major impact on pop music that still resonates 15 years later.

In revisiting this welcome return to musicality, I discovered that Dave Matthews Band has a new album coming out on June 2 called Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, and you can listen to an exclusive track right now on Pandora. The album is a memorial to fallen band member Leroi Moore, and it feels like a return to DMB's earliest material, which was a true collaboration among musical equals.

While there, check out a couple of videos of the band in the studio, where they talk about the difficulty of losing Leroi and how his death brought them all back together in the studio. (Loved the shot of Dave talking about how much "the hippies will love this!")

Only at Pandora. Check it out.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Flying high on life

From his earliest albums, Ben Folds has always exuded a certain college-rock vibe. (Whatever and Ever Amen provided the soundtrack to an entire month of my freshman year, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.) Capitalizing on that quality, Folds has recruited the help of college students on his latest album, University A Cappella, which is actually a collection of covers of his songs performed by college a cappella groups from around the country.

Groups "auditioned" for the gig by posting video to YouTube - Folds himself picked the winners, who represent UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Chapel Hill, Ohio University, the University of Georgia, Washington University, Sacramento State, the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania at West Chester, the University of Rochester and UW-Eau Claire, as well as one lucky high school in Newton, Mass. Then Folds added two new songs written specifically for the album (he sings all of the parts.)

The result is quirky, it's creative, and it's infectiously likeable, just like the rest of Folds' work. Highlights include "Not the Same," as interpreted by the UNC-Greensboro Spartones, "Landed" as interpreted by the University of Chicago Buffoons and "Fair" as interpreted by the UW-Eau Claire Fifth Element.

If you occasionally find yourself nostalgic (as I do) for the strange tradition that is college a cappella, for that mix of raw vocal power and prankster ridiculousness, then here is the answer.

To hear two songs from the album, visit his MySpace page.

To get an idea of how he recorded the groups and watch a behind-the-scenes look at the college a cappella world, check out this 15-minute "making of" documentary:

Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella! The Documentary

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sometimes the only way is jumping

I first heard Gavin Degraw several years ago in his very first television appearance, on Last Call with Carson Daly. (I think he and Carson were friends from way back, if I remember correctly, which is how he landed the gig.) I was immediately impressed by his bluesy piano-heavy style, but he didn't even have an album out yet, so I went out and downloaded a bunch of his live stuff.

Of those live songs, one of my absolute favorites was "Dancing Shoes," which has finally made it onto one of his albums - the recently released Free.

Here he is performing a beautifully sleepy version of that song on Regis and Kelly:

I'm also digging his self-titled 2008 album, which is much poppier and heavily produced, in a good way - it's pure ear candy. (This is the album that spawned the radio hit "In Love with a Girl," though I think there are several songs on the album that are even better top-40 radio hit material, such as "Next to Me," "Cop Stop," and "Untamed.")

Degraw's music is such a likeable mix of blue-eyed soul, blues and piano singer-songwriter, it's hard not to love.

As evidence, here's a live version of "Meaning," my favorite song from his first album:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

It may be four hours long, but the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers doc "Runnin' Down a Dream" is the best two nights of television I've spent in a long time. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, this comprehensive documentary chronicles the entire life of the legendary rock star and his iconic backing band. You'll learn that before they were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they were a country-rock band called Mudcrutch (under a slightly different lineup) whose first album tanked hardcore.

The first third of the doc is my favorite - you see the kinetic power of the young band as they go from obscurity to darlings of the British club scene to major American megastars. There is no shortage of sheer magical serendipity in the story of their formation and their initial record contract. You get the feeling that this band was literally destined to be successful.

But the power of the documentary is in its completeness. The story of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has a little bit of everything - addiction, battles with the record company, creative genius, wild travel, music videos, crazed fans, infighting, reconciliation and, of course, heartbreak. But through it all shines the zen soul of Tom Petty himself, who in his reflections and interviews sounds more like a Buddhist sage than a rock star from the Deep South.

The doc runs so long because Bogdanovich is not afraid to let the music speak for itself. He includes tons of live footage, sometimes whole songs at a time, preferring to let the power of "American Girl," "Free Fallin'," "Learnin' to Fly," "Won't Back Down," and "The Waiting," (among many others) make the point for him.

I was extra thrilled by this doc because, after spending four hours absorbing the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers story, Bogdanovich chooses to close on an anecdote from Eddie Vedder about a joint show they did in Milwaukee - and I just happened to be at that show! (I feel strangely immortalized in film as a result.)

Don't let the long running time scare you away - this doc is not just for diehard fans. In many ways, it tells the story of every rock band and it gives a clear picture of the changes that took place in the music business between the late 1970s and the present day. It is as much a documentary about music history in general as it is about one specific band. (MTV Executive Bill Flanagan is interviewed in this doc and without exception, every single thing he says about the music industry and the Heartbreakers specifically is stunningly insightful.)

As a sample, check out this clip about "The Waiting:"

Seriously, watch the whole doc. And when you're done, make sure you own Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Power Soul Pop

What ever happened to the Honey Cone? What ever happened to music like this?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just enjoy the show

I've been loving the self-titled debut from Australian singer-songwriter Lenka this weekend. The album is a whimsical blend of strings, bells, horns, piano... all with a wry message of realistic heartache in the endearing lyrics. In that way, Lenka reminds me of Aimee Mann, though her voice is much breathier and more melodic than Mann's.

Though this is only her debut, Lenka has garnered tons of critical support. After playing at the prestigious Hotel Cafe in LA (a venue that has launched lots of quirky female singer-songwriters recently), her songs were adopted as media darlings and made the requisite appearance in Gray's Anatomy, among others.

All the accolades are warranted in this case - the sound is happy, catchy indie-pop but the message is deeper than you'd expect. When she sings "The writing's on the wall/ you gave nothing and I gave it all/ But I want something better/ And I won't let this burden bring me down," there is a truth that belies the light poppiness of the music.

Check out her MySpace page to listen to a few of the tracks or watch the video for "The Show."

Happy listening!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Crack the darkest sky wide open

And speaking of great music in advertising, I saw a sweet Liberty Mutual ad during American Idol tonight that features Hem's "Half Acre" - another amazing indie gem with medieval folk influences. (Is anyone sensing a trend?)

I first heard about Hem thanks to my favorite movie of all time, Elizabethtown. (Hem is not featured on the soundtrack, but they do make an appearance on one of the mixes that Claire makes for Drew's road trip - yes, I'm that geeky for Cameron Crowe movies.)

You can listen to "Half Acre" on their MySpace page, along with a few other songs, all of which make a lovely companion to the Sleepy Rebels.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Maybe unbelievable

Have you seen this JC Penney ad?

The song is "Unbelievable" by the New York-based Sleepy Rebels and you can listen to two different versions of it on their MySpace page, plus a few other songs by this up-and-coming band. They somehow manage to mix a 1920s radio sound with medieval English folk with indie pop (!) for a result that is totally charming ear candy.

Their album is called World Record - check it out!

Monday, March 02, 2009

The ladies of alt-country

It's a very fine line for me between the "good" country music (singer/songwriter-style, grassroots-Americana, lyrical alt-country) and the downright twangy, trite and silly "modern country." Here are three women who do it right and do it well:

Tift Merritt

If Marilyn Monroe ever showed up in a dive bar to sing about a man that done her wrong, you'd have Tift Merritt. An airy, adorable voice (and beautiful, fleshly figure!) meets the blues. One of a kind.

Shelby Lynne

Lynne's music can swing wide from angry rocker to quiet folky stuff, always with that hint of alt-country thrown in. This song almost sounds like an old standard, with elements of classic jazz in it. Easily my favorite of her repertoire.

Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin is the total package - that raw, true voice that rises above the simplicity of song and haunts long after the album has stopped. In a world of false emotion, there is nobody more authentic than Patty Griffin. Every song is great. I just picked this one because of the high sound and video quality. Listen to that voice!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Japanese Pop-tacular!

Japanese pop is having a moment right now and a couple of great songs have crossed my ears this week.

First up it's "Parachute" by Shugo Tokomaru (courtesy of this month's Paste Sampler.) There is something totally infectious and adorable about this song, which is heavy on the bells/xylophone and yet somehow manages to remind me of Sondre Lerche's excellent Dan in Real Life soundtrack at the same time. (A soundtrack I absolutely loved, if you recall.) Tokumaru hails from Tokyo and has a new album out right now called Exit.

Next up is the LA-based Fol Chen. You can listen to their song "No Wedding Cake" on NPR Music. The band's goal of making people dance seems like a good bet in this single, which has some Of Montreal elements blended in with the Japanese-sounding bells/xylophone again. For more Fol Chen, check out their Myspace page.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

UK Top 40

I was listening to the UK Top 40 charts on BBC1 this week and a couple of songs caught my ear.

The Script is an Irish band - their "Break Even" is an instantly likeable pop gem, combining the emotive lyrical power of Howie Day with just a touch of R. Kelly-style r&b/funk in the rhythm.

Also, remember this name: Aussie Daniel Merriweather has collaborated with Mark Ronson and opened for Justin Timberlake and Kanye West - he has his own album coming out in April. His "Change" is in the UK Top 10 this week and it reveals an impeccable blend of British neo-soul (replete with a horn arrangement) and r&b/rap. ("Change" features rapper Wale.) This sound is perfectly fresh, sure to be a big hit in 2009. Remember, you heard it here first.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Listen again: Sonya Kitchell

We're quickly approaching that time of year when my love of French jazz and pop ratchets into overdrive. (Hello, Valentine's Day - I've missed your delicious chocolate cheesecake and your love of all things pink and heart-shaped.)

To get into the spirit, I've been spinning Sonya Kitchell's Words Came Back to Me.

You may remember a couple of years ago when Starbucks was really pushing this teenage phenom - she was signed to their Hear Music label. I don't know why she didn't catch fire then - she's got a unique, bluesy voice not totally unlike a Duffy or an Amy Winehouse and a sound that segues gently between Madeleine Peyroux and Joss Stone. Absolutely perfect for soundtracks or quiet evenings at home with a honey. So it's the perfect time of year to revisit this underappreciated album.

To get an idea, check out this live performance of "Can't Get You Out of My Mind:"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pitch perfect: The Kinks

Long before there was a Vampire Weekend and their self-described "Upper West Side Soweto," there were the Kinks. The crazy, amazing Kinks:

Pete Townshend of the Who (a musical genius in his own right) once said of the Kinks' Ray Davies, "I've often thought he should be made a national treasure." The Kinks pioneered a grittier approach to the British Invasion, combining impeccable three-minute pop hits with dirty guitar licks and imperfect vocals - as a result, they sound pitch perfect among today's indie bands. (And it's not just because they have a song about gas being prohibitively expensive.)

In today's indiescape, bands seem to trip over themselves to prove that they are NOT professional singers, as if that somehow destroys the integrity of what they're trying to do. But long before it was hip to have a quirky-voiced lead singer, the Kinks had Ray Davies. He was far from golden-throated, but when he warbles above that irresistible guitar lick in "You Really Got Me," there is simply no resisting:

And from that inauspicious beginning has launched an entire modern genre in which the vocals are allowed, even expected, to be slightly off-kilter. But Ray Davies did it first, and he did it best:

So if you've somehow missed the Kinks, check out their greatest hits, aptly titled Come Dancing with the Kinks. You'll hear kernels that would eventually blossom into bands like the Eels, Vampire Weekend, even Flight of the Conchords.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Singular Obsession: Obsessed With You, the Orion Experience

It's been a while since I heard a single that inspired the kind of passion necessary to declare it an LTF "Singular Obsession," so it seems appropriate the song that finally makes the cut is a song about (what else?) obsession: "Obsessed with You" by the Orion Experience.

The Orion Experience has a neo-glam rock sound (a la Scissor Sisters) that combines with an almost Abba-like pop dynamism to create a totally infectious sound. On "Obsessed with You" all the elements combine to make 3 1/2 minutes of total blowout eargasm.

(By the way, it's worth mentioning that I discovered the song through Fred Flare awesome podcast, where you can hear a higher quality version of "Obsessed With You" on the Staff Picks mix.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Going the Distance

Now I know you've been wondering, "How did Lost Things Found ring in the new year?"

Thanks to the wonderful people who maintain the Pabst Theater's Website (though the show was technically at the Riverside,) I can share the whole awesomely wackadoodle night with you. (Click the link for tons of pictures and a show review.)

There were Polka Kings. There was a trick Chihuahua. There were Racing Sausages. There was a guy in a bird mask. There was an Elvis impersonator. And oh yeah... there was Cake. The first song I heard in 2009 was an EXCELLENT live version of "Short Skirt and Long Jacket." Any year that starts that way has to be good. Here, 9 minutes before we said goodbye to 2008 forever (phew!), we heard another Cake classic:

If you ever get a chance to party with Cake on New Year's Eve, take it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Little Bit of Feel Good

Happy 2009! If you'd like to start your year with a little upbeat soul, check out Jamie Lidell's excellent album, Jim. This British electronic-music guru had a change of heart last year and made a retro soul album worthy of the masters. Just the latest in a long line of excellent retro soul to come out of the UK lately (see Joss Stone, Duffy, Adele, Amy Winehouse.)

Standouts include the impossibly catchy "Wait for Me," the minor-chord triumph "Little Bit of Feel Good," and the sunny album opener "Another Day:"