Protest Music pt. 1

With recent events where Fascists are making their presence more known in the United States, I’ve decided to push forward part one of two about protest songs. This will not be a comprehensive history by any means, but will focus on some artists and songs that have made an impact on me. I’ve listened to protest music for my entire life. I grew up with a mother who was active in the civil rights and anti-poverty movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s so protest music was never “protest music” it was just “music”. As I got older and started to determine my own music preferences, I gravitated towards socially aware music (primarily from the UK). As an adult I spend a lot of time listening to this type of music, both new and old.

In the United States, protest music can easily be traced back to the time of the Revolutionary War. Later, it was prominent during the Civil War, in regards to both the military fight, but it also was present in the “spirituals” or songs sung by the African slaves. In the early 20th Century many protest songs were born from the labor movement (e.g. “The Preacher and the Slave” by Joe Hill)

In the 1930’s and 1940’s songs dealt with labor issues, but also addressed the dark past of the United States (“Strange Fruit” as performed by Billie Holiday)

and “Joe Hill” as sung by Paul Robeson (who was also persecuted for his left-leaning political beliefs)

Another prominent singer who addressed both racial injustice and economic inequality was Lead Belly. One of his more well-known songs is the very catchy “Bourgeois Blues”

While there were many protest singers in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, there are two who are arguably the most prolific and still currently widely recognized. These two individuals, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, carried the folk protest flag from the 1930’s all the way until the 2000’s with the passing of Seeger. There songs, like those before them, often dealt with labor issues and economic inequality, but also were directly aimed at issues of their time. One such song, “All You Fascists Bound To Lose” was directed at the rise of Fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

Guthrie is most well known for a song that is now (ironically enough) often sung as a very patriotic song, “This Land is Your Land”

Pete Seeger will figure more in the next edition, along with many of the singers from the 1960’s.

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I Hear You Like Sad Songs…

Ok, maybe you do not, but I do. As mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been listening to a lot of melancholy or “sad” music lately. Its not quite dark or emo, but its not “happy”. The exceptions have been for those bands who I’ve seen over the last few weeks.

There has been some amazing sad music come out in the last few months. One of the albums I was most looking forward to is the first release from Phoebe Bridgers, a singer-songwriter based in LA. I first heard her through a Spotify list. The song that hooked me, “Georgia” is haunting, simple and beautiful. After the release of her first album Stranger in the Alps I was able to experience more of the emotion that filled her songs. The song that first struck me (and still continues to) is “Funeral”. I quite appreciate this very understated live performance.

I’ve listened to Seattle based singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen on and off for the last few years. I first heard him as a recommendation from Spotify based upon my listening to his friend and fellow emotional singer David Ramirez. While not from his most recent release, White Noise, “First Defeat” has been a constant the last few weeks. It is another raw and heartbreaking song.

We are going to go way back with this last song. As a teenager I loved Radiohead. I loved all things BritRock. Other than electronic music and gangster rap, I was not a fan of the American drivel (my how the times have changed). Radiohead had a lot of sad songs early on and one of my favorites was “Fake Plastic Trees” from The Bends which in my opinion is the 2nd best Radiohead album. Second only to Ok Computer which defined much of my late teen years. Here is “Fake Plastic Trees”:

“I can’t promise you anything”

September is always a busy month with both LouFest & Life Is Beautiful taking place. This year there were a few bands who were at both of these festivals (as typical). One of the bands who has stuck with me since I started listening to them before LouFest is LA based Mondo Cozmo. The band is the brainchild of Josh Ostrander who is not new to the music life having been in two previously signed bands. While touring, Mondo Cozmo includes a live band including former Imagine Dragons drummer Andrew Tolman. Prior to LouFest as I was listening to the bands who would be playing, I was struck by the honest lyrics and powerful songs. Hearing and seeing the songs performed at both Life Is Beautiful and LouFest exceeded expectations. After having watched a couple of the music videos that accompany the songs, I am even more enamored with Mondo Cozmo. I am excited to see them again in November for the Emerge Music + Impact conference.

My favorite song prior to LouFest is “Hold on To Me”. It can be found on the recently released Plastic Soul. This video is beautiful, and it hits close to home for me. I needed this song and this video.

“Shine” is raw and Josh Ostrander has an almost Bob Dylan quality in his voice during this song. I believe I heard the term “hippie jesus” used in reference to this song at Life Is Beautiful.

My favorite lyric from “Shine” is “My friends are so alone, it breaks my heart. My friends don’t understand we all are lost”. Pure poetry.

“Plastic Soul” is a song I will find myself humming and thinking about all day long. When I first heard it, I had swore I had heard it before. Maybe I had, but one thing is clear, the song sticks with me.

Mondo Cozmo is currently touring, and it seems like they will not be stopping any time soon. If you get the chance, check them out!

“You Can Count on Me to F*ck Up Everything”

If you have ever read a post by me on this fine blog, you will know I like folk music and I like sad music. What happens when you combine the best of both worlds? You get bands like England’s Bear’s Den. A dear friend of mine first told me about this trio due to our shared love of all things melancholy.

There have been 3 songs that I cannot get out of my head, so I keep them playing frequently.

The first song, “Auld Wives” is off their most recent release Red Earth & Pouring Rain. 

 

The first song I listened to from Bear’s Den was “Agape” from their first full length release Islands. This one is a little bit more folky, which is definitely what got me hooked. The word “agape” is a Greek/Christian word for love. The song may be about a person, but I like to think it is about the concept of love, especially with lyrics like this:

“So tell me how long, love, before you go, And leave me here on my own, I know that I don’t wanna know, Who I am without you”.

Finally, the third song from Bear’s Den that keeps sticking my head is “Elysium” which is also from Islands. The video has also taken on a life slightly independent of the band. You can read about the creation of the video here.

I quite like how this band uses their videos to make their songs something different. And we all know how I feel about music videos.

Songs of Summer

I know the summer just technically started, but here are a few songs I think will help define my summer. While it is true that my recent Repeat One post highlights some of the songs that say Summer of 2017 for me, but there are more (always more).

First up is Margo Price who is bringing us back to the country music of Patsy Cline (with a bit more sass and a lot of weed). I am late to the game with Price who has been a Nashville staple for a while. Her Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an instant classic.

Here is “Hurtin’ on the Bottle”:

 

If you could pick a new song that is the other side of the spectrum from Margo Price, that song would probably be the first single off of Arcade Fire’s forthcoming release. “Everything Now” is a disco jam made for summer. The video, like all of their videos, is a work of art and to me is reminiscent of one of my favorite podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale. 

 

Let us mess with genres some more, okay? I was not a fan of Dispatch until LouFest 2013 when @begutierrez introduced me to State Radio and Dispatch. Now I cannot get enough of Dispatch, State Radio or Chadwick Stoke’s solo stuff. Their newest record America, Location 12 has been a pleasant summer surprise for me. My favorite song off the record is a great road trip song, “Painted Yellow Lines”. This version was filmed at the Paste studio.

 

Finally, and on a slightly more somber note, Nahko & Medicine for The People has been one of my favorite live bands since seeing them at Life is Beautiful a few years ago. I had the pleasure of seeing them earlier this summer with a few more mainstream reggae acts. Nahko, always the activist, put on an incredible show. The live version of “Love Letters to God” from the most recent release Hoka both destroyed and inspired me. This incredibly emotional video captures that feeling.

Summertime Repeat Ones

With the official start to summer last week, and Spotify releasing personalized Summer playlists, I have been reminded to share some of the music that I’ve been obsessing over the last few weeks. This summer will bring a bit of travel and excitement into my life, which is fantastic, and as usual, I am sure the music will keep me grounded and help me enjoy the fun (and challenging) times ahead.

My newest musical obsession is Ásgeir, an Icelandic singer-songwriter. Now, I love Icelandic music, probably more than anyone who is not Icelandic. I was shocked I had not heard (or maybe paid attention is a better phrase) to the genius of this man. Earlier this month he released his 2nd full length record Afterglow. On his first record he sang in Icelandic (and later released an English version). I could listen to Icelandic being sung all day, but I am so happy I get to understand the lyrics in English. Some of them are from the poetry of his father.

The song I am listening to the most is the the title track from Afterglow. I will be honest, it is not everyday you hear and song and know that this song will be with you forever. I listen to a lot of music, and love a lot of songs, but as soon as I heard this song, I knew I had heard a song that will be a life-time favorite. For met it is in the same league as Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and The Killers’ “Read My Mind”…the real deal. Here is a pretty spectacular live version (along with another great song “Stardust”).

I first heard The Collection because of my Spotify discover list (aka my weekly present). They have many of the elements of the bands that I am currently listening to, so after I heard the first song, I had to dig deeper. They currently have two full-length records and an EP. The lead singer and lyricist, David Wimbish also has a new solo record. His lyrics are very introspective and full of emotion. The song that I keep coming back to is “Some Days I don’t Want to Sing” from Ars Moriendi.  With lyrics like this, how can I stay away:

Is this the end? Are we in?
Do I watch all my friends just take dives off of cliffs ‘cause their heads are full of questions we can’t know now, unless we go?
And the weight of the world does not rest on your shoulders
No, it strains and it bends on the same arms that hope sends
So don’t carry it now! Lower it down!
When faith dies and hope flies, then love must prevail or else this all means nothing

Up next is The Brevet out of Irvine, CA. I first heard this band when they were on the lineup for the never to happen Goosenecks Music Festival. I really liked their music from day one. Last week I was able to see them as they opened up for Sister Hazel. Here is “Moving Mountains”.

Up next and no stranger to Sandy Beats is the newest song from The National Parks, “Places”. I cannot get enough of this band, and I am super excited for their upcoming new record. I do hope they hit up Las Vegas this summer. I’ve seen them twice, and that is not anywhere near enough.

The final song for the day is “Long and Happy Life” from the forthcoming new album from Delta Rae. This is one of my favorite live bands (who also sing one of my top favorite songs – on the same list as mentioned above), and one of the more outspoken “Americana/country-ish bands” out there. With their Fleetwood Mac style songs, and high energy it is difficult not to like them. This new song is a bit more “country” than much of their previous work, but they were recently signed by a country label and have been doing a bunch of radio station gigs. I am looking forward to seeing them in August.

Spring 2017 Repeat One(s)

Spring is in full effect here in the beautiful Mojave Desert. I am already thinking about summer, but am not really ready for those super hot days and slightly less hot nights. I am, however, excited for a summer of music. By last count starting in April-August there are 11 shows on the docket. I am sure more will be added. As I am currently procrastinating doing homework, I will be more brief. The following songs have been on heavy rotation for me this Spring. Good news is that I’ll get to see some of them soon.

First up is “Can We Hang On?” by The Cold War Kids. Their song “First” from the previous record is one of my all-time favorite songs, and this one is very powerful and gives me some of those same feelings.

Until I finish my allegedly epic (in my head) post on protest music, the next Repeat One from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit may have to suffice. The first single is called “Hope The High Road” and it is a protest rock and roll song if I’ve ever heard one. Isbell is not ashamed of his politics and his disdain for ignorance. His former bandmates Drive-by-Truckers had  one of the best albums of 2016 that also happened to be filled with social commentary, so its no surprise that he is more overt with this newest song.

“There can’t be more of them than us”, while I am not a praying man, Jason, by god, I hope you are right.

Next is my second favorite set of hometown boys, Imagine Dragons, with “Believer”. I’ll just leave this freaking incredible video to speak on its own. Plus Dolph Lundgren. If this song is any indication for what is next for one of Vegas’ favorite sons and his crew, I can’t wait.

One day my cubicle neighbor and friend asked if I had heard of LP. I had heard the name, but had not really ever given her a listen. That was an error on my fault. I’ve since remedied that, and have been listening almost obsessively. My favorite song is “Strange”.

Last year the band MUNA opened up for Grouplove and my life was forever changed. Since that time they’ve released their first full-length album and have been touring on their own. This version of their song “I Know a Place” is so hauntingly simple and beautiful.

And finally, the one not new song on the list comes from Bhi Bhiman and features Rhiannon Giddens (solo artist and of the Carolina Chocolate Drops). The song “Up In Arms” could also be placed in the aforementioned Protest Songs post, but we can enjoy it hear. This song gives me chills normally, this version even more so.