Heard

We all need to have a soundtrack in our lives. This is mine.

April 2, 2014

Currently Spinning

Artist: First Aid Kit
Song: Stay Gold

New song from First Aid Kit, a Swedish duo from Stockholm. They also happen to be my former students! I saw their very first public performance together. I think everyone knew right away that they were going places.

bild

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July 1, 2013

Currently Spinning

Artist: Black Milk
Album: Synth or Soul

The Detroit Hip-Hop producer returns with his sixth album and gives a soulful mix that sounds at times funky, soulful and electronic, but always fresh. Easy on the ears, easy on the mind.

blackmilk

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July 1, 2013

Currently Spinning

Artist: NoNoNo
Album: Olympia

Amazing blend of ethereal synth layered on top of pulsing beats. This Canadian trio’s follow-up to their debut album is a real listener. Stina Wäppling’s voice is as beautiful as it is unusual as it glides through clouds of softly gyrating rhythms that lift you above the mortal world and let you look down upon it as the wind flows through you. Wonderful music!

nonono

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January 8, 2011

Currently Spinning

Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: It’s Blitz!

Stunning. Simply stunning. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s third album, Blitz!, is stripped down pop punk with a romantic edge and sophisticated rawness that gets your ass out of the sofa without leaving you feeling cheated by having done so. You will dance to this. And so will your mom. Vocalist Karen O picks up where Dale Bozzio left off when Missing Persons went…er…missing…with a breathy voice that purrs like a kitten in one phrase then growls like a lion in the next. Hers is the voice I heard in my teenage fantasies. And her video fashion statements, woah. Think Lady Gaga for the Salvation Army set and amazing Chrissie Hynde hair. The duo behind her are no slouches, either, with Nick Zinner’s ethereal guitar and atmospheric synth work coupled with Brian Chase’s back-to-basics drumming. The three of them have fashioned an amazing album that ranks as one of the best female-vocal record I have ever heard.

Zero
Heads Will Roll
Runaway

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January 8, 2011
Currently Spinning

Artist: The Rapture
Album: Pieces of the People We Love

This follow-up to The Rapture’s highly-satisfying 2003 album, Echoes, is at least as good, if not quite as dark and tortured. Filled with bewitching grooves that betray a bastard heritage of funk, punk and disco, Pieces of the People We Love will get you dancing in your living room even when you are in your apartment alone and naked, with the lights on and the window blinds open. Trust me on this. Or ask my neighbors. Luke Jenner’s falsetto vocals and static-infused Les Paul Jr., Vito Roccoforte’s surprisingly fresh drum rhythms and Chris Relyea’s sensible-yet-hip synth riffs have produced a collection of ditties with a clearly-defined soul that gets better with each subsequent listen. And, of course, there is the cowbell. Add this to your Spotify party track list if you want to impress your friends and seem more cutting edge than even your 1960’s-era IKEA table lamp suggests.

The Rapture talks about the album, Pieces of the People We Love
The Rapture on Grand Theft Auto soundtrack
The Rapture on Letterman (from Echoes)

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February 16, 2009
Currently Spinning

Artist: Miles Davis
Album: Kind of Blue

This is the most essential album of Mile’s completely essential body of work. No collection is complete without Kind of Blue, even if said collection is composed mainly of 1950’s surf-rock. If you want to relax after a long day, kick it in the bathtub, or make it with that special someone who’s name you can’t quite remember, this is the one for you. The jazz section of your CD shelf begins here. End of story. It was released 50 years ago, actually, yet remains as relevant today as it was then. This is not fast jazz. It’s easy, soothing, smooth. Listening to it, you’ll feel like Isaac Hayes, and that is never a bad feeling.

Kind of Blue on Myspace
A cool Kind of Blue tribute on YouTube.

kindofbluecover

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January 28, 2009
Currently Spinning

Artist: Tobacco
Album: Fucked Up Friends

If you liked Black Moth Super Rainbow – and I’m digging them hard lately – then you gotta check out Tobacco, which is actually the pseudonym of one of the members of BMSR rather than the name of the band here. So this could actually be considered a side project of BMSR…or a solo album from one of their members. Whatever, it gets rather confusing after a while. What isn’t confusing is that the album kicks. That is, if you can take this retro-electro-groove sound…and not everybody can. Fucked Up Friends is very similar to Create a People, but a bit harder-edged and heavier on the beats. Trying to figure which album I prefer is a ridiculous pursuit but it doesn’t really matter, now does it?

Tobacco on Youtube 1
Tobacco on Youtube 2
Tobacco on Youtube 3
Tobacco on Myspace

tobacco
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January 25, 2009
Currently Spinning

Band: Black Moth Super Rainbow
Album: Start a People

Start a People is from 2004, but I just picked it up today and it is destined to be one of those albums that will stay in my collection when everything else gets sold off in garage sales. I can’t stop playing this album over and over. The retro-electro-lo-fi sound takes me to places I haven’t been in decades. It is fresh and infectious with great beats and unusual melodic progression. With analog electric sounds (think theramins, Moogs, novatrons and vocoders) and heavily processed guitars, it reminds me of what Stereolab might have been like in the early 70s…or what Radiohead could be if they weren’t already the best band in the world.

BMSR on Youtube 1
BMSR on Youtube 2
BMSR on Youtube 3
BMSR on Myspace

blackmoth
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January 24, 2009
Currently Spinning

Album: Sahara – Blues of the Desert
Artist:Various

This album is marketed as a “roots-of-blues” collection of songs from northern Africa, claiming that the music of American black slaves was grounded in this area of their ancestral homeland as much as anywhere. Some would argue that most American slaves came from west Africa, but that was just the pick-up point; they could have arrived in west Africa from anywhere. I was surprised at how good this album was and could clearly hear the blues in all the songs, although it is possible that since these songs are quite modern they could have been influenced by modern American blues instead of the other way around. There was one point on CD one when I was amazed at how much the song sounded like Led Zepplin, hearing clearly the connection between this African feel and ’70s blues rock. Even the vocals sounded amazingly familiar. I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized it was Robert Plant singing. In any case, this is a highly enjoyable album and an excellent foray into modern African music that hasn’t strayed too far from its roots.

blues-of-the-desert1
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January 21, 2009
Currently Spinning

Artist: Watcha Clan
Album: Diaspora Hi-Fi

Creating world beats influenced by the music of places like Jerusalem, NYC, Cairo, Marakesh, Marseilles, and Madrid, and with lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic, French, English, Yiddish, and Spanish, this album is ambitious if nothing else. But luckily it is more, and it succeeds enough to make it a worthwhile listen. I really got sucked into several of the tracks with their intense electronic beats propping up the more ethnically traditional vocal sounds. It is not what I expected and it isn’t what you expect…and that is a good thing.

watcha_clan_cover.indd
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January 18, 2009
Currently Spinning

Artist: Minus the Bear
Album: Highly Refined Pirates
I heard this album the first time a couple of years ago and found it to be the most refreshing sound coming out of the American indie rock scene in years. Not all the tracks are winners, but enough of them are to hook you. The subsequent album, Menos el Oso, is also excellent, but I have not heard anything beyond these two. I need to check out more of their stuff. You should check out this one.

minus-the-bear-hrp2

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January 16, 2009
Currently Spinning

Artist: Femi Kuti
Album: Fight to Win
Another West African star and the son of legend Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti has put together a collection of killer up-to-date African dance tracks here. With elements of African jazz, soul, and funk, this is essential Afrobeat. My little Molly dances to it with a big smile and so do I.

femikuti2

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January 13, 2009
Currently Spinning

Artist: King Sunny Adé
Album: Gems From The Classic Years (1967 – 1974)
Lately, my foray into African music seems to have been focused on the sounds coming out of West Africa. King Sunny Adé is the latest in a line of Nigerian artists to find their way onto my system of late. This album has mesmerizing rhythms, hypnotic vocals, funky bass lines, and that ever-present late-60s west African electric guitar sound. Very nice.

king-sunny-ade

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December 17, 2008
Currently Spinning

Album: 100% Dynamite
Artist: various Jamaican artists from the 60’s and 70’s
This collection of hard-to-find ska, rocksteady, and soul cuts from Jamaican roots artists is a must-have. In the past four years, I haven’t listened to any other album as often as I have this one. I’ve got it #1 on my Ipod. It always puts me in the right mood, no matter what I’m doing or who I’m doing it with. If you love music, you’ll love this.

dynamite

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December 16, 2008
Currently Spinning

Artist: Elvis Costello
Album: Best of, The First 10 Years
Sure, it’s a Best Of album, but when it’s Elvis Costello, you can’t go wrong. So many amazing tracks on this one. It’s seminal rock-n-roll with the obvious nod to reggae roots but so much more than that. Jazz, blues, and punk flavors come through clearly.

elvis-costello3

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December 13, 2008
Currently Spinning

Artist: Emmanuel Jal and Abdel Gadir Salim
Album: Ceasefire
I got this album when it came out back in 2005 and I haven’t grown tired of listening to it. Emmanuel Jal is a former child soldier from southern Sudan who was forced to fight in Ethiopia and later in his own homeland by the SPLA resistance against the fundamentalist and oppressive Islamic Sudanese ruling government. His life journey so far has been tragic and incredible and he has found redemption in his music. This is his first of (so far) two albums where he raps in Arabic, English, Kiswahili (Swahili), and Nuer (an ethnic Ethiopian language). Abdel Gadir Salim is a successful music star from northern Sudan. Their songs on this album seek to build bridges across political and religious boundaries. You can sample some of the tracks from Ceasefire here. The rootsy grooves are infectious and the message is moving…even if you don’t understand Swahili. You ought to check it out.

emmanuel-jal

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December 9, 2008
Currently Spinning

Band: Antibalas
Album: Who is this America?
I first heard this group out of Brooklyn, NY, about three years ago while looking for something fresh at the city library. Excellent African beats with lots of other influences and enough political misgivings to make Noam Chomsky proud. Fab background music for cruising the city or biking from work. All the tracks are winners.
antibalas1

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December 2008
I Still Listen to Music

I love music. I play music. Not very well, mind you, but enough to keep the dream of spandex superstardom alive. Music used to be a huge part of my life. Too huge a part, actually. I let music define me far more than I should have. I think it was because I wanted to be just like my big brother, who was a professional musician and lived the rock-n-roll lifestyle. I never had his talent, but I did have his passion. So I adopted the band fan lifestyle. It was fun then, but kind of embarrassing now that I’m a parent. It must have been quite annoying for my dad to introduce me to his acquaintances from the country club and there I was in ripped jeans, profanity on my jacket, a couple of goofy earrings, and a mohawk. Sorry dad. If it is any consolation, I’m sure at least one of my kids will come home sporting the latest fashion misstep right before college admissions interviews.

But something happened back in January 1995. I joined the Air Force in order to straighten myself out – which is another story for another time – and I abruptly stopped listening to music. I stopped listening, I stopped buying, and I stopped going to shows. I don’t know why, but I did. And I haven’t returned to that way of life since.

Still, I love music and my musical taste reflects the gap I’ve had since the mid 90’s. I love jazz and listen to quite a bit, though I am no expert and have never pretended to be. Same goes for classical, reggae, ska and world music. Lately, I’ve been listening to loads of African sounds, which are amazing and incredibly diverse. But at my essence, I’m not much different than your typical American 40-something rock fan, plain and simple. I’ve listened to loads of crazy stuff, experimental stuff, really (really!) bad stuff. I’ve even claimed to love stuff that I hated just because my friends thought it was cool – can anyone say Jesus Lizard? To give you a bit more insight into who I am, here is my list of my all-time favorite music. It isn’t necessarily what I am listening to today, but it is a strong part of who I was and who I am. If you were around before 1980, you’ll recognize a few of these.

Top bands:
U2 – You can’t deny it, these guys are amazing. Boy, War, October, The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum…their musical library defines a generation and with good reason. They did not sound English and they did not sound American. You could claim they sounded Irish, but I have no idea about that, really, as I’m sure The Pogues, Thin Lizzy, and the Cranberries all must have sounded Irish, too. But when it comes to rock, these guys changed the landscape for everybody and forever. I never get tired of listening to any of their early stuff, though I admit I haven’t paid any attention to them after Rattle and Hum.

The Police
– Before U2, there was this little trio, who also changed everything. It doesn’t get any better than Regatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta, Ghost in the Machine, or Sychronicity. Who else had as much raw musical talent and used it to create such atypical sounds? They were nothing like any of the other music of their time. Now that was punk.

The Clash – I was a late-comer to the Clash’s bandwagon. But nevermind that, these guys also changed everything. I was a Sex Pistols fan (still am) but the Clash was smarter and infinitely more listenable. London Calling? Combat Rock? Sandinista? Give ’em Enough Rope? Come on, people, these are essential listening.

Dead Kennedys – American punk was nothing like British punk. Both were fab and I can’t say I preferred one to the other. But these guys came with something different, something big. They put on a great show and had something to say. Heck, they even made me laugh. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, In God We Trust, Bedtime for Democracy, Plastic Surgery Disasters, Frankenchrist were excellent albums. California Uber Alles and Holiday in Cambodia had great lyrics and were damn infectious rock songs. Their political statements took a back seat to nothing and we’re all better off for it.

Minor Threat
Out of Step was smart, unusual and of major importance to me when I was younger. Heck, they went on to create another fabulous and groundbreaking act, Fugazi, though I prefer the sound of Minor Threat.

AC/DC – More than Kiss, more than Iron Butterfly, more than Black Sabbath, it was AC/DC who launched the heavy metal revolution. I’m not a heavy metal fan, but if I’m playing pool and there’s a jukebox nearby, you can bet that I’ll be looking for the AC/DC first.

The Cure – I got into them when I moved from my Tennessee high-school, where everyone listened to Van Halen, Boston, and Night Ranger, to my St. Louis boarding school, which had a significant number of students from California. I had not been exposed to too much New Wave until that point (just Devo, Kraftwerk, and The Fixx) but I’ll never forget walking the halls of my school and seeing all the Flock of Seagulls haircuts and being totally in awe. Totally. It was straight out of The Breakfast Club. Then I met Cindy, the girl who changed everything for me. She was a deathrock fan and I was a fan of hers, so one thing led to another. Seventeen Seconds, Pornography, The Top…these were all incredible albums but the standout was Head on the Door. Listen to it.

New Order – Joy Division may be fashionable, but just like Jesus Lizard, I think people liked/like them because it was/is fashionable. New Order was infinitely better. Their first four albums from 1981 to 1986 – Movement; Power, Corruption and Lies; Low-Life; and Brotherhood are seminal.

OMD – Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, what a strange name, and what a strange band. Some of their albums were borderline unlistenable, although in the best of ways (Dazzle Ships), but two albums were fab: Crush and Junk Culture.

Echo and the Bunnymen – These guys created a signature sound that heavily influenced countless later artists who saw greater success than these originators. Generally underappreciated by the mainstream music media when they were in full swing, they finally started getting recognition for their contribution to modern rock a decade after they broke up. Classic albums such as Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine, Ocean Rain, and Echo & the Bunnymen contained unforgettable tracks like Rescue, Do It Clean, The Cutter, Back of Love, Bedbugs and Ballyhoo and Lips Like Sugar. This, too, is essential listening.

Oingo Boing – I was introduced to these guys by my old roommate, Paul Laubscher, in 1985 and I fell in love immediately…with the band, I mean (Sorry, Paul). The album was Good For Your Soul, which remains my fave Boingo album. Earlier albums Only a Lad and Nothing to Fear were excellent, but this was the best. To me, this album was the clearest, cleanest connection between punk and new wave. Few albums take me back to the Spring of ’86 quite like this one.

The Psychedelic Furs – Another band I learned about from Paul (see Oingo Boingo above), the Furs also represented the pinnacle of mid-80s new wave. Unfortunately, even though they have put out a total of 15 albums, for me they were a one-album band and Mirror Moves was the album. Whenever I hear them, I immediately return to my high-school breakfast club days in St. Louis when the only cares I had were Friday nights at the pub social and sunny Saturday afternoon excursions to the city with my buddies.

The Smiths – Sort of new wave, sort of punk – postpunk was the popular label – and with obvious roots in the blues-infused rock of the previous decade, The Smiths were one of those bands that nobody could label with confidence…so they put them into the “alternative” category, whatever that meant. Alternative to everything else, I suppose. Still, these guys had a cult following that made them seem bigger than the Beatles for a moment there. Just as The Edge defined a specific guitar sound for U2, Johnny Marr created a completely recognizable sound for The Smiths. I’ve never heard a Smiths album I didn’t love, but if you are going to have only one, The Queen is Dead is THE one.

Kraftwerk – The grandfathers of industrial and techno. I remember my older brother, Penn, slapping Computer World into the cassette deck of his brand new, baby blue Mazda RX-7 back in 1982 and taking me cruising around the hot summer streets of the city. If you ask me, the album sounds as fresh today as it did then…well, for the most part.

Ministry – This was the band to whom I gave my allegience during the last year of high-school and early years of college. In 1986, my good friend, Todd Beck, loaned me their album, With Sympathy, and I was hooked. It was simple synthpop but it fit perfectly with the other music that defined that summer: Book of Love, A-ha, Simple Minds, ABC, Bronski Beat, and the Pet Shop Boys. Then came the coup d’état: Twitch. That was the album that sealed my fate. I’d never heard anything like it and – judging from the musical revolution that came behind it – few others had, either. Industrial was born and then hit full stride with Ministry’s two subsequent albums, The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. I saw them in concert and can remember it like it was yesterday. It was an excellent show.

(Check back for my take on the rest of the bands on my list)

Skinny Puppy

Radiohead

Coldplay

Nirvana

Miles Davis

The Beatles

The Rolling Stones

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December 2008
The Current Soundtrack

Here are the sounds I’m experiencing these days. If it is in this list, I recommend you check it out.

Toubab Krewe

Anoushka Shankar

Manu Chao

The Killers

Minus the Bear

Enon

Built to Spill

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Guided by Voices

Devo

The Police

Shiny Toy Guns

The Von Bondies

Doves

Gym Class Heroes

Poster Children

Tim Fite

Bugs Multiply

Responses

  1. ok you need to here Gnarls Barkley!! I’ll send you a link on facebook

  2. Umm remember The Fixx when thy played at Dayton back when we were stationed together? And The Cardigans in Cincinatti? I remember.

  3. The Cardigans!! THAT’S why you came to Sweden!! Ha!!


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