Mixtapes, Music

The Return of the Monthly Playlist: August 2015

Yeah, I seem to have been remiss in updating the monthly playlists, so here’s a double-dose of music for the last two months. I did create the playlists, but somehow did not get around to creating a post.

Commentary below:

Chvrches is one of those bands that I like the sound of, but kind of feel that their first album got lost in the wave of similar-sounding synthpop albums that came out around the same time, with female vocalists. Or maybe it’s because there are way too many such bands in my ambit. This is the first single from their new album, due to release end of September, and to say I am obsessed by the song and the video is understating it. The sound and themes are linked to Purity Ring’s ‘Another Eternity’, an album that has captured my heart since it released early this year. It is the three-note sawtooth riff that got my attention, but the pulsating chorus is what really drew me in. And holy shit, Lauren Mayberry (singer, song-writer, drummer girl and journalist? Talk about over-achieving!) is so SHINY in that video, in the Whedonian sense of the term.

I stumbled on ‘Hanging On’, and it took me a few anguished days of confusion to figure out why it sounded so maddeningly familiar – Ellie Goulding had covered it. The original version runs circles around the cover, Pat Grossi’s voice and arrangements are just heartbreakingly beautiful. It always struck me as a water song, for some reason, and it’s gratifying to see the video.

I have no idea how Hot Chip manages to make every single one of their albums sound so fresh and intriguing. This track is from their newest album Why Make Sense?, and it’s dancey as fuck.

I heard Trifonic’s Emergence around the same time as BT’s This Binary Universe, mostly because the latter got me searching for albums with a similar sound. I was listening to BT’s pseudo-follow-up to TBU, called If the Stars Are Eternal So Are You and I, and obviously revisited Emergence. Much like the revisiting old haunts, this took me down a different head-space. ‘Good Enough’ is the last song in the album, and the acoustic guitar strum is what gets me every time. (1:52, wait for it)

Kyla LaGrange is an English singer with South African/Zimbabwean roots and the kind of voice that feels like a delicious scoop of ice-cream on a warm summer day. The steel drum loop gives it a bouncy calypso vibe. Love it.

Pretty fucking genius to use GTAV (that’s the iconic game from Rockstar Studios, for those who came in late) game-play and cut-scenes to make the video for this song. Reminds me of Com Truise. I would try and describe their sound but the official description works just fine – “a neon soaked, late night, sonic getaway drive, dripping with analog synthesizers, cinematic vocals and cyberpunk values, all exploding from the front cover of a dusty plastic VHS case which has lain forgotten since 1984”. Like a Nicholas Wending Refn wet dream.

Israeli band Garden City Movement’s ‘Move On’ is the kind of track you want to get high and make out to. ‘Nuff said. Oh, and kinda NSFW video. So’s M83’s ‘Wait’, that comes along a few tracks later and Alpine’s ‘Gasoline’.

Jazz and electronic music come together in BadBadNotGood’s works, and ‘Can’t Leave The Night’ definitely goes places. I love how the drum and bassline takes over around 1:00, after the dreampop beginning. Breakestra’s ‘Come On Over’ is more funk than jazz, and I love the ever-loving shit out of it.

Trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf pays haunting tribute to the place of his birth in a trippy 11 minute track. The lead instrument, at times, sounds like it’s talking to you; at times a whisper, at times raucously laughing along to a joke it knows and wants you to hear, and sometimes, it just wants you to give in. I gave in.

Sir Sly’s ‘You Haunt Me’ sounds way better in the AMTRAC remix. Seriously, try listening to the original after you have heard this, no comparison at all. Wonderful when a song’s texture and feel changes completely in a different mix.

Kate Boy makes the dirtiest, illest riffs ever. Such a distinctive sound this song has, with just the right kind of thematic connection to their earlier ‘Northern Lights’, which blew my mind a few years ago. A song like this needs to be followed by something as dreamy as ‘Technicolor Beat’, just so your heart calms down. An aural relaxant, let’s say.

Don’t you love the name ‘Whilk and Misky’? The flamenco guitars and claps, the voice, and especially the moment when the bass drums jump in – this feels like the perfect summer song.

Laura Welsh’s moment of fame came this year with the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, but it is this song that made me fall for her. Reminds me of the likes of Modern Talking and Laura Brannigan.

Sometimes, you just want a song like ‘Cheerleader’ playing in your life. No pretension, no deep lyrics, just something you can bop your head – and body – to.

The saddest thing about listening to Burial’s ‘Archangel’ for the first time is wondering why I hadn’t it heard it so far, and the crippling thought that there is so much great music that I haven’t heard yet. This song (and album) came out in 2007, can you believe it?

Did you like this? Which track did you like/hate the most? Do you know music that you think I may like? Did you think my commentary is annoying? Does my taste suck? Talk to me at beatzo@gmail.com, or leave a comment.

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Music

Compact Discs lol

I upgraded my phone recently, so the phone adapter to the music system in my car no longer works. I am too cheap to spend 30$ to buy a new adapter (and too broke to buy a new car), so there was no alternative but to make use of the 6-CD changer that lies unused all this time. Well, except on road trips, when I take some backup discs along in case my phone runs out of battery, not an overly infrequent occurrence with the older model. I don’t buy too many CDs nowadays. Who does, really? Spotify satisfies nearly every musical itch and then some. T-mobile, bless their soul, does not charge for streaming music, so it’s no longer necessary to keep everything cached offline, eating up precious phone drive-space. But the biggest problem I have with playing CDs is that scrobbling comes to a standstill. And believe me, I love my scrobbling.

Look ma, it's 2002!

Besides, who needs accessories like this?

So there are six CDs in my car now. And this is a post about what they are.

Disc 1: Sylvan Esso – their self-titled album.

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I heard this band when they opened for the Tune-yards in May this year, at the Fonda theater. (That concert, FYI, resulted in me being hearing-impaired for the better part of two days, a scary but well-deserved situation because I braved a cold to go attend it. )

Everybody I talk to thinks Sylvan Esso is a person, but apparently the name comes from an Assassin’s Creed character. The band is vocalist Amelia Meath and producer/knob-twiddler Nick Sanborn, and the two came together from different ends of the musical spectrum. Meath was an indie folk artist who was part of a 3-member band called Mountain Man (who sound exactly like you think they would) and also part of Feist’s backing band during her Metals tour. Nick Sanborn was bassist for alt-rock band Megafaun and occasional DJ/producer operating under the name Made for Oak. What gets me about them, other than the lovely way the vocals, lyrics and the music mesh to create their unique sound, is the relentless energy both of them brought in their live performance. Hard to explain that about from a lady with a mic and a guy hunched behind a table full of audio gear, but that is why live shows kick ass. You see the way the two of them are into the music, and that elevates the songs from ear-friendly pop candy to something primal. To get an idea of what I mean, check out this live version of ‘Wolf’, one of my top three songs in the album.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSXPvY8og-g[/youtube]

I tend to enjoy this album at two levels. There are times when the energy of the songs carries me along on weekday mornings, bringing an extra bounce to my step as I park the car and walk into the office. Other times, I focus on the words – contemplative, thought-provoking and deep – and they bring me peace. Yes, it’s that kind of an album.

Between the time I first heard them and now, Sylvan Esso seems to have exploded into the mainstream scene, with lots of airplay, an appearance on Jimmy Fallon, and a bunch of sold-out headlining concerts around the country. They totally deserve it.

Disc 2: Oh Land – Wish Bone

oh_land_wish_bone

I have talked about Oh Land before, and when I heard tidings of her new album last year, it made me giddy with delight. After I heard the album, of course, I may or may not have had a seizure, from the different ways in which Ms Fabricious’ music hit my pleasure centers. The production on the album is top-notch, and every song is a gem. From the percussion-driven guitar and synth riffs of ‘Bird in an Aeroplane’ to the harp-and-choir-backed ‘3 Chances’ ; from the quirky near-dissonance of ‘Boxer’ to the joyous feel-good chorus of ‘Cherry on Top’; the foot-tapping ‘woo hoo’s in ‘Pyromaniac’ to Wish Bone covers a wide range of emotions, musically and lyrically. ( The most memorable lines, to me, appear in ‘3 Chances’ – “If kittens all got 9 lives/and zombies resurrected/could it be with you and me/the pattern’s neverending”).

Sure, I realize that my repeated playing of this CD brings even the tail-end tracks into my ambit. (the term ‘B-side’ should be officially retired from any music discussion, I find it somewhat demeaning. The unfortunate placement of a song in a sequential list should not lead to the implication that it is inferior to the first few members of that list) There is one called ‘Green Card’ towards the end of the album, co-written by Sia Furler, which could take on lead singles of other, lesser artistes head-on. Fitting that the album comes to end with ‘Love You Better’ and ‘First to Say Goodnight’, two of my favorite songs.

Disc 3: Suzanne Vega – Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs

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I love Suzanne Vega. If you have a soul, you do too. She makes music that refuses to be associated with a genre or a moment in time, or be affected by musical trends and styles – much like herself. The Close-up series of albums is her attempt to rerecord her older songs in stripped-down versions, with minimal instruments and  studio theatrics. She also grouped them by theme, the other three volumes being ‘People and Places’, ‘Songs of Family’ and ‘State of Being’. I bought ‘Love Songs’ because hey – love songs! But really, it was because of ‘Caramel’. Listening to this version was as much a shock as hearing it for the first time – it’s just her voice and a single acoustic guitar, quite a difference from the bossa-nova trappings of the original. Time has passed since then, and right now, I feel like if the original version of ‘Caramel’ is a first-date song, seductive and thrilling, this interpretation is the song you would want to play when the two of you are watching the sun go down on a beach, twenty years later.

The songs in this album, sadly, have replaced the originals in my head. When I go back to Retrospective, the 2-CD set that pal Chandru gave me a long, long time ago, and which got me hooked to Ms Vega, I find the reverb and the beats somewhat over-bearing, the orchestral effects that drew me to the music seem really out of place. Close-up puts the focus squarely on her voice and the words, and it works so well. ‘Stocking’ gives me a boner every single time I hear it (and it makes me want to clap along when she says ‘Oh yeah’). I smile to the words of ‘If You Were In My Movie’, and I try very hard not drive off the road while bopping along to  ‘(I Will Never Be) Your Maggie May’. I have managed well so far, I guess.

(1000+ words, so the next three CDs will be in a future post. They are sort of connected, so it makes sense. Sorta.)

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Music

My Favorite Music of 2011 (2 of 2)

Best song finale of the year: Bjork –  Crystalline.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvaEmPQnbWk[/youtube]

I’ve already talked raved about this song in detail here. The glorious drum-and-bass-soaked last minute made my year. Seriously.

Feel-good song of the year: Fallulah – Bridges

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05d7VWTm9dI[/youtube]

Everything about this song – the “woo-woo”s, Fallulah’s quirky voice, the “hee-yah”s that punctuate the middle of the song, the outrageously stylish video (which is linked here from Vimeo because apparently it’s not officially released in the US yet)  – every single thing about this song drives me nuts. Geronimo!

Favorite bit from a Soundtrack: The Chemical Brothers – Hanna’s Theme

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZtEtiJxQxM[/youtube]

I found other OST albums more fulfilling as complete packages, but the main theme from Hanna, a gentle melody that marries layered humming with echoey guitars and a growling bass. The vocal version by Stephanie Dosen adds to the wintry charm, and adds chunky beats towards the end. Very unlike what one would expect from a Chemical Brothers track.

Mash-up of the Year: RajStar – Billie Chikku

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCvxXiinKfQ[/youtube]

NY-based DJ RajStar’s Rahman Noodles, cringeworthy as the name may be, caused tiny explosions of wonder in my brain cell. He mashes up AR Rahman with artistes such as Kanye West, M.I.A, and the one that mixes Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean with Chikku Bukku is a clear winner. The rest of the album’s not bad, either. Go download it for free from his website, right here.

The Other Mash-up of the Year: Muchuu – Tornadoes, Moons, Bridges and Balloons

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Gss11caMEw[/youtube]

Because I can afford to cheat and put two instead of one in the same category. Because this is one of the most innovative mash-ups I’ve ever seen. Because the video is hynotic and it will make you smile. Because this song mixes SIXTEEN different tracks into one cohesive melody.

WTF Song of the Year: Himesh Reshammiya – Mango

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qnA2qS3JIU[/youtube]

“I miss you baby, like mango.” Is this satire? Is this post-modern Bollywood? Is it Himesh Reshammiya going beyond limits of human comprehension in terms of blending style, humor and viral marketing? Does any of it matter? Why are we here? Why were we born? Because this song demanded it.

Favorite Video: Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZYbEL06lEU&ob=av2e[/youtube]

This song is huge in Romania, and it’s only fair that pal Cristi pointed me to it. I am not much of a video person, but I loved the somewhat-open-to-interpretation nature of the video.

Ok, you know what? Fuck this shit, I think I’ll just come up with a mix-tape again, with my favorite songs, instead of just talking about them. (Actually, I totally want to go finish Lee Child’s Killing Floor, and am too half-assed to finish this post. So there)

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Music

My Favorite Music of 2011 (1 of 2)

My music habits last year were … conventional.

Some graphical observations:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Some non-graphical observations:

  • 10640 plays: an average of 200.75 songs per week and 10439.25 per year (thanks to Last.fm tools).
  • My 2011 folder (i.e all the music that I stumbled onto this year) comes to 20.6 GB. That’s not counting saved Spotify playlists.
  • Definite skew towards electronic music. Ok, who am I kidding? It’s all electronic music.
  • Female vocalists/songwriters/musicians dominate the list, like always.
  • Very less Indian Film Music. Only two albums make the cut, but just because I did not find most of the new releases adventurous enough. Entertaining, yes, but not adventurous.
  • I was introduced to a bunch of new artistes that I had not heard before, which made me very happy.
  • Most of the music last year was legal, and I also hit up a lot of concerts – 24 in all. Good times.
  • There was a definite Scandinavian bias to my listening, which got all the more obvious the second half of the year. This list does not reflect this, though.

The list below features  albums released in 2011, including two that are not officially out so far.

 tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

Merrill Garbus kicked my teeth in when I first heard her album this year, and later on went on to knock me half-dead when I saw her live. Whokill is pure aggression at times, whimsical vocal calisthenics at others, a mind-melting package of stunning originality. You won’t find a single filler song on this album. Every track forced me to pay complete attention to what I was listening, and that is primarily what I look for in an artist – the ability to grab me by the scruff of my neck and not letting me budge for the duration of their album. I am hard to please. This album is harder to resist.

Oh Land – Oh Land

Too little, too late. I wish I knew of Nanna Øland Fabricius’s music a little early this year. She came up in a chance conversation during a Feist concert, when a friend and I were talking about our musical tastes and I mentioned Bat For Lashes and Lykke Li. She was a little surprised that I hadn’t heard of Oh Land, and once I checked out this album, I figured out why. An ethereal voice, and a musical sensibility that makes you think of moonlit nights and wide open spaces. Oh Land was making this album for me, I can tell.

Muchuu – On Beyond

I would sell my soul to this brother-sister duo if I could. They’re immensely talented, Millie’s vocals and lyrics shimmering and gliding over George’s breathtaking arrangements. This is their second album, and I loved that the band stayed clear of repeating the formula of 2010’s whimsical Adventure We Go. Their music reminds me of reading Enid Blyton novels in the winter sun, of finding magic in the shape of random rocks on the ground, of wanting to run away from school and spend the afternoon exploring. It’s hard to categorize this band – the closest I can get to describing them is ‘pure’. Pure magic.

James Blake – James Blake

The first time I listened to James Blake, I nearly got arrested. I had bought new speakers – the splendiferous Audio Engine A5, and was..umm…test-driving them. At 11 PM in the night. My neighbors called the police, just when the epic build-up to ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ was on, and it is to Blake’s credit that despite being scarred by this incident, I still adore this album. It’s creepy and comforting at the same time.

Dev – The Night the Sun Came Up

Before you dismiss Dev as another dance-floor-happy Lady Gaga-wannabe, I suggest you take a good look at yourself in the mirror. There’s nothing wrong with being dance-floor-happy. Dev’s music is catchy, sassy and with the right kind of crunchiness. Funnily, the album hasn’t been released in the US yet, except for the singles ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘Bass Down Low’, both of which kick maximum ass. But what surprises the most are the understated, low-key ones – ‘Dancing Shoes’, for example, and ‘Shadows’. You have my complete attention, madam.

Justice – Audio,Video, Disco

These guys made me wait a long while – I heard Cross in 2009, cruising through the mountains of Romania with a Finn. This album is like a demented electro-prog-rock mashup that is confused about its eighties-ish existence in a non-eighties world – and I do not mean this in a bad way at all. Robotic voices croon in falsetto ; phased synth leads play hide-and-seek with orchestral violins simmering with suppressed fury. And ‘Canon’, the highpoint of the album is an anthemic riff-fest that makes my heart pound just as madly as D.A.N.C.E did. This is how you live up to expectations.

Ram Sampath – Delhi Belly (OST)

Sure, weaving a song around a sophomoric swear-word gets your attention, but it’s the unpredictability of Delhi Belly that sucker-punched me. Laugh-out-loud funny, brash and dripping with wicked satire, Sampath’s  musical chutzpah can easily induce nightmares in genre purists. And in the middle of all the attitude and oomph, there’s ‘Tere Sivaa’, a tender little gem of a love song that makes me all warm and fuzzy. Now when’s this guy’s next release?

AR Rahman – Rock Star (OST)

Every time I convince myself that Rahman is done with surprises, that his music is familiar enough for me to casually dismiss any new release, the man goes and proves me wrong with stunning aplomb. The soundtrack to Rock Star deserves a post in itself, and I have allowed sufficient time to pass, to distance myself from the emotional reaction and allow an objective, balanced look at the album. But my knees still go weak when ‘Tum Ho’ plays, and ‘Phir Se Ud Chalaa’ still makes me fly. Fuck. This. Album.

Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (OST)

Reznor and Ross collaborated for the first time on the soundtrack of The Social Network, three years ago. They won an Oscar. While the two have been keeping busy (check out their side-project How to Destroy Angels), it took David Fincher to bring the two to film scoring again, and the three-hour long soundtrack was my work-soundtrack for most of December. Grim, dark, pulsating with tension, perfectly conveying the psychotic dread of snowy Swedish expanses, and the disturbed mindscape of our heroine.

Various Artistes – The Dewarists

The Dewarists was an exciting concept in a year when every music channel in India seemed to discover the wonders of unplugged music. Most of them, like the rehash of Pakistan’s Coke Studio Sessions, crashed and burned under the weight of their not-quite-and-yet-there Bollywood hangover. But this show combined the visual splendor of a travel show (throaty voiceover included) with unlikely musical collaborations and managed to do justice to its own concept. Imogen Heap with Pentagram front-man Vishal Dadlani, folk-rockers Indian Ocean with Silk Route’s Mohit Chauhan, veteran rock bands Agnee and Parikrama collaborating with singer Shilpa Rao were some of the acts that showed the magic of good old-fashioned jam sessions, free of vacuous market-oriented pap.

Honorable Mentions: Lamb – 5,  Metronomy – The English Riviera, Cliff Martinez – Contagion OST, Bjork – Biophilia, Feist – Metals.

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Music

Pieces of Sound

I hum to myself a lot. All these pieces of sound that rattle inside my head, like this non-stop radio station playing my favorite and non-favorite tunes, they sort of simmer and then overflow. Not complete songs, mind you, those only play when I am really bored, and I haven’t been bored in a long while now. What I hum are just fragments of tunes, sonic branches that come and go as they please.

It’s a harmless habit that inches more towards annoying  if you are the person sitting next to me in office. Somewhat creepy if I am doing it in the bus and you’re sitting next to me, so I don’t.

It could be worse. There was this time in college when I absentmindedly whistled in class. I did not do it on purpose, I swear, but the subject and the lecture were boring and the tunes, they wouldn’t just stop. I do not blame the lecturer for thinking someone was trying to disrupt his class. He took it in his stride initially – would just stop and look around trying to read the faces of the students sitting in the general direction of where the sound came from. It sort of helped that I do not pucker my lips when I whistle.

I consciously stopped doing that. It was stupid. But some of my classmates felt more mischievous than I did, and began using it as a  thing to disrupt the class. The next time it happened, the lecturer threw a fit and refused to take any more classes until the culprit came to his room and apologized. Nobody did, and finally I went and confessed to having done it before. He was remarkably nice about it, I remember, just asked me not to do it again and came back to take classes from the next day. I am not sure he believed me saying that I had not done it that time.

The other major class disruption had to do with the bassline of ‘Urvasi’, back in school. It’s possible for an impressionable fifteen-year old to come up with a way to generate something similar to the sound of a synth-bass from the back of his throat. It’s also completely possible for said fifteen-year-old to figure out that others cannot localize the source of a sound produced that way, especially if one keep a straight face. Someday, when I am back in Guwahati, I want to confess to Rana-sir that I was the guy messing with his Advanced Mathematics class, and not someone playing Kaadhalan from the road, and that it was not necessary to shut all the windows every day before class to block that sound. This was done totally on purpose, oh man, I was a total douchebag.

On the plus side, I do hum in tune. It’s loathsome to be in tune when the song in question is Mika’s ‘Grace Kelly’, but I manage.

On the hum-list right now:

  • The first few lines of Zeb & Haniya’s Chup, especially the main trumpet line.
  • Random lines from the Rock Star album. The lines translate to “All that I wish to say/is ruined/by the words I employ”. I also try to hum parts of the first song of the album, called ‘Phir Se Ud Chalaa’, which is devilishly tough to transcribe on a single vocal line, let me tell you.
  • The main bass-groove in the Attack the Block OST.
  • The opening to ‘Tom’s Diner’ by Suzanne Vega.

It’s interesting – well, maybe just to myself, but that’s the whole point of this blog, isn’t it? – that some of these tracks just come out of nowhere. The Rock Star tracks are fairly obvious. ‘Chup’ comes from my recent rediscovery of the Zeb/Haniya album thanks to the Dewarists episode that I talked about a few days ago. Attack the Block, when I began humming it and realized what I was doing, became a mystery to me, until I realized that the bass-line is somewhat similar to a loop that plays in Monsters Ate My Condo. (Which is this awesome iPad game that I am playing at the moment, and it has gotten me interested enough to miss my bus-stop a few times)

Funny things happen. ‘Sahara’, from the Sivaji OST began playing in my head when I was reading Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen, because Sahara is the name of one of the characters in the series. That morphed into an upbeat rendition of the ending of Dil Se, which I’ve mentioned earlier as the inspiration behind the main melody of Sahara, and suddenly became a mashup of the opening melody to ‘Tom’s Diner’ and Fallulah’s Bridges’.

That’s not just it. The guitar and trumpet line from ‘Chup’ are trying very hard to remind me of ‘Mrs Robinson’, and I have no idea why. ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ floats in every now and then too.

It gets awkward sometimes. Especially when I’m humming something and someone asks me what the tune is, and I realize that I have to backtrack, in my head, to figure out what it was. That takes time. And makes me appear completely stupid.

The worst it gets is when I pause and realize that I am in the middle of a tune that I should not really be humming. ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, for example, the song by Deep Blue Something. Or ‘Two of Us’ by the Beatles. That’s when I shake myself out of it and change channels, in my head. Some pieces of sound do not belong there anymore.

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