Songs of Summer 2018

I’ve found myself going back to music from my past this summer. That is pretty unusual for me. But, that does not mean I am not listening to new music, just less of it.

Last year at LouFest I got to see and hear the amazing Middle Kids, hailing from Australia. I had never listened to them before, but was hooked after hearing the first song. Their debut record Lost Friends came out in May and the song “Mistake” has been a constant on repeat for me. I feel like they are from the 90’s but with a sweet indie vibe.

 

I was fortunate to see Norwegian singer Aurora open up for Alt-J during Coachella Weekend. As much as I love Alt-J, I was more excited for Aurora as I’ve been listening to her for a couple years. A few days before the show she debuted the song “Queendom” which has a positive message and a nice dance beat. In 20 years I am sure that Aurora will be her generation’s Bjork.

 

The summer of 2018 saw a much needed resurgence of British rock in my life. That was kicked off with the newest record from Snow Patrol. The mid-2000’s saw Snow Patrol as a soundtrack for many of my fondest and toughest times. I immediately listened to their newest record Wildness as soon as it was released, and the song “Don’t Give In” hit me on the first listen. The lead singer of Snow Patrol has seen some hard times, and he sends us all a message with this song.

 

This is not the first time The Decemberists have been highlighted, and it will not be the last. I am just days away from seeing them (at the time of writing) and I cannot wait. I’ve loved the new record I’ll be Your Girl and the song “Once In My Life” quickly became my favorite. I would recommend reading about the creation of this video for the full effect. It is a simple, yet beautiful song of hope.

 

In rare fashion, I will end the post with a love song. Young the Giant is one of my favorite bands to see live. They are amazing performers, and write spectacular song. This song is no exception. I feel such joy listening to this song. This video is all something special. Here is “Simplify”.

 

What are your songs of Summer 2018?

 

 

 

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Woke Up Hurting

I’ve been thinking about this post since May 11th. A few days prior to that date Scottish Band Frightened Rabbit lead singer Scott Hutchison was reported missing. Hutchison suffered from mental illness. He never shied away from talking about it in his songs or in interviews. Late May 10th/ early May 11th his body was found having been washed ashore after he committed suicide. Just two days ago, celebrity chef and commentary Anthony Bourdain died as a result of suicide. As a society we talk about suicide in hushed tones. Mental health is a conversation best left for the confines of private spaces. This needs to stop. We have to talk about mental health. We have to let people know it is okay to get help. We would not stop someone from going to the doctor if they had broken a bone, we must be willing to talk about professional help for mental struggles as well.

Hutchison’s death hit me hard. He was 36. He was just a couple years younger than I am. He was a successful musician for all intents and purposes. He headed two successful bands, Frightened Rabbit and Mastersystem. He also had a strong solo career with Owl John. Yet he still fought his inner demons constantly. I am not a mental health professional, but I have experience with anxiety and depression. I know they are not easy to kick. They do not just go away. We need to remember this for our friends and our loved ones. We need to check in on each other.

I have not been a long time fan of Frightened Rabbit. I only started listening a few years ago, and only through a friend who had recommended their label-mate and fellow Scots We Were Promised Jet Packs. But, their songs and the words of Hutchison resonated with me immediately. With the release of Painting of a Panic Attack I became a devoted fan. Never before had I heard an album with such raw emotion, heartbreak and hope. I listened to that record more than any other during that year (and in the time since). I was fortunate enough to see them at LouFest 2016, and even more fortunate to meet 3/5 of the band at City Museum later that night (3/5th did not include Scott or his brother Grant sadly). I did get to tell the rest of the band how much Painting meant to me.

The specter of Scott Hutchison will be with me for a long time. His words will live with me and will continue to comfort me and thousands of others long after his death. I am thankful he shared his genius with the world. I hope that others can learn from him and find hope in his words.

I could share many Frabbits songs, but I will stick with a few that have impacted me. First up is “Woke Up Hurting” from Painting of a Panic Attack. Even prior to Hutchison’s death I listened to this entire record at least once a week.

Up next is “The Woodpile” from Pedestrian Verse. 

Hutchison had a close relationship with many bands, including Manchester Orchestra. Andy Hull and Hutchison wrote a beautiful song together called “The Architect”.

After the passing of Hutchison, many of his friends and fellow musicians played his songs in tribute. These can be difficult to watch as the emotions run high, but they are beautiful nonetheless. My new favorite Frabbits song is “Modern Leper”, particularly due to the tribute from English singer Frank Turner.

Fellow Scots The Twilight Sad have been closely tied with Frabbits for years. Scott and Twilight Sad’s lead singer James have written more than a few songs together. Recently The Twilight Sad has been playing “Keep Yourself Warm” at their shows. The emotion shown in this video is completely heartbreaking.

Life is hard. Be more kind to your fellow humans. Be more kind to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Songwriter Overdrive

It is no surprise that I listen to a lot of singer songwriters. I post about a lot of them here. If you aren’t a fan of them, well, you may want to stop reading. Except you would regret not listening to these songs.

There are times when you know singers know each other, and there are other times when they use their relationship to make something incredible. Two of my favorite sad singers, Phoebe Bridgers and Noah Gunderson (who both were featured in this past post) joined forces to each perform one of their own songs with the other. The result was this beautiful “mashup” of “Killer” and “The Sound”. I’ve watched this 20 times…at least.

Two other singers who have joined forces are Welsh singer Novo Amor and English singer Ed Tullett. Novo Amor has a voice reminiscent of Bon Iver, but I think he packs more emotion. The 2017 collaboration album between these two singers, Heiress, has been getting a lot of airplay from me. One of my favorite songs off that record is “Vantablack”.

The northern Midwest is home to many amazing songwriters. S. Carey, who is a member of Bon Iver’s band, is one of them. I like to think I can hear his native Wisconsin in his music as I see pictures of cold winters and green summers when listening to his at times minimalist and other times lush sounds. His newest record, Hundred Acres, has turned into one of my favorite records so far this year. I like all the songs, but this video for “More I See” seems to show some of what I feel when listening to him.

 

Both S. Carey and Novo Amor were recommended to me (the latter being recommended by the band Paper Lights). What other singer songwriters should I be listening to?

Cover Me Up

I am not a musician, but I feel like covers are often times the best way for one band/artist to show they have respect for another band/artist. Now that may not always be the case. My favorite cover is from Travis who covered Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” which is a damn revelation. But, I do not know if Travis really respects Spears, or whether or not they did at the time they did this cover (almost 20 years ago).

Sometimes, the band’s are very upfront with their love of the original song (and/or artist). The reason I decided to write this post is due to a cover released today from Manchester Orchestra  (side note: their 2017 record Black Mile to The Surface was my favorite record of the year). Today Manchester Orchestra wrote a note to their fellow southerners, Avett Brothers, about the song “No Hard Feelings”. This song has a ton of emotion as it was written after Seth Avett’s separation and divorce from his first wife. The song also plays a role in one of the more emotional moments in the very beautiful documentary May it Last. While I adore the Avett Brothers version, I love what Manchester Orchestra did with the song.

Delta Rae frequently has a cover (or two) in their live sets. Sadly, I’ve never seen my favorite cover of theirs live. Before I heard this song, I always thought that they seemed like a modern re-imagining of Fleetwood Mac. Their cover of “The Chain” seems to illustrate that pretty well.

The Cure is one of my first musical loves (still are). There are probably thousands of covers of their songs. One of my favorites is one of the newest by one of my favorite bluegrass bands, The Infamous Stringdusters. Bluegrass bands cover a lot of music. So its no surprise, but this song has been reborn in strings. I cannot listen to their version of “Just Like Heaven” enough.

Finally, The Head and The Heart seem fit for singing covers. The newest song to become a part of their set is “Don’t Dream It’s Over” originally from Crowded House. The song has some amazing harmonies between Jonathan and Charity, which make it even more perfect.

 

What are some other amazing covers?

The Woods are Calling

I am very interested in where a band or singer comes from. I think that they are ambassadors of their home, but also I think it at times can show in their music. From the more blatant (The Killers) to a more subtle approach (Trampled by Turtles). When I first listened to The Pines  I could sense their home in the music. They are from small town Iowa, but spent some time in southern Arizona before settling as a band in Minneapolis. Listening to the music its easy to pick up on the feeling of open spaces and small towns. This music feels like the north woods of the upper midwest, but also the desert expanses of the southwest. There is a melancholy in the music, and a sadness, but there is also hope.

Over the last two weeks, I think I’ve listened to their most recent album of original material, 2016’s Above The Prairie at least a few dozen times. It is difficult to not listen to the entire album in one sitting its a compelling progression of songs. There are three songs off this record that I cannot get enough of. The first is also the first song on the album “Aerial Ocean”. I love the mix of the very “country” sounding slide guitar, and the very ethereal synthesizer.

The next song is the second song off the album, “There in Spirit”. The song is haunting and reeks of a realistic despair.

The final song is the last song on the album, “Time Dreams”, which features the words and voice of John Trudell, a Native American activist, writer, and actor. There is so much beauty in this song.

 

I have listened to the other Pines albums on Spotify, but they definitely do not strike me like this one does. That is not to say that they aren’t also amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Jams…so far…

I know the year is young, but I’ve already been jamming out to some new music (and enjoying some new music videos as well).

First up is CHVRCHES with “Get Out”. The “video” is interesting, and the song is catchy as hell. I have a love hate relationship with CHVRCHES (not unlike that with The XX), but if this song is any indication, I will enjoy the forthcoming record.

 

The Decemberists are unique. They tell stories, their sound changes, but they are still such a strange and weird group. Their newest single “Severed” is a departure from their folky ways, but it is still every bit as Decemberistic(?) as every song they’ve ever released. The video is amazing, and is politically relevant, which we know I love. I cannot wait to see this band for the first time (!!!) at Innings Festival in March.

 

I’ve been enjoying English punk/folk singer Frank Turner for a few years. I’ve always enjoyed his raw sound. Despite many of his forefathers in the English punk/folk scene being explicitly political (think Billy Bragg), Turner has typically stayed away from those tones. His newest song, “1933” is very much a departure. He addresses the neo-fascist thinking that exists in our current environment while still having the typical Turner “lets go have a drink” ethos. I do quite love the statement “don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn”. Such a vivid picture of our world today.

 

We all know how I feel about Moby. So it is no surprise that his newest single “Mere Anarchy” is here. The video is dark, but I think that is where Moby is (in his view on the world) at this time. If this song is any indication, I am looking forward to the new record.

What is Love?

It is February, which to many means the celebration of Valentine’s Day. I am not and have never been much of a fan of this “Hallmark” holiday. It is not that love isn’t important, its just that I know that love is not chocolate hearts, sugary sweet cards or flowers. I could wax poetic on love, but I will resist. I have a liberal interpretation of love songs. Love includes heartbreak and sadness. Love also means joy and comfort. Here is a selection of “love” songs that hit one (or more) of those marks for me.

The first song is a more traditional “love” song with a pinch of sadness and an understanding of mortality. Jason Isbell is a master songwriter. He is also madly in love with his wife and fellow artist Amanda Shires. Here is “If We Were Vampires” off of Nashville Sound.

The National Parks are one of my favorite bands of recent. Their songs are a bit more poppy and happy than much of the music I listen to. “Birds Eye” from their first record Young is no exception, though it may be a bit more melancholy as it is story of a lost love.

On a more somber note, “Empty” from Ray LaMontagne tells the story of the loss of love in a different way. His haunting tale has a way of filling up the quiet spaces.

It may seem at times that I do not enjoy good old fashioned pop music. I like a sing along as much as the next person. One of my favorite pop bands over the last few years has been Royal Teeth. Their songs are catchy as hell and have that sweet male/female harmony that I cannot get enough of (probably doesn’t hurt that the two singers just got married – to each other). Their first record Glow is a go-to album for good ol’ fashioned pop love songs. Here is “Vagabonds” from that record.

I believe that we only know the best that love has to offer when we understand it at its worst. I’ve heard some sad songs, but sometimes they do not seem to capture that feeling. “Play that One Again” by Greg Laswell is one of the few that captures that heartbreak and despair. Laswell wrote his newest record Everyone Thinks I Dodged a Bullet after his divorce from fellow singer Ingrid Michaelson. The entire record is amazing, and will hopefully be featured in a post about records made after a divorce or ending of a relationship.

In an unusual fashion, I will end on a high note. Now, I don’t love the String Cheese Incident. I am not a huge fan of jam bands (even ones from Colorado), but this song is a such a beautiful exception. “My One and Only” features Bonnie Paine, the lead singer of Elephant Revival (which makes this a Colorado Collaboration, if you will). The song is a mix of bluegrass, folk, and delightful harmonies.