you open the door to another door to another door

The title of this post is a reference to my first new album of 2020. Which came to me in a dream, believe it or not.

So this is what happened. I was lying on the bed reading (the third book of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, called Solea, after the Miles Davis album), with Spotify playing over my headphones. At some point, I drifted off, floating along with the music in that happy blissful state of lucid dreams and semi-awareness. When you know that you are asleep but you haven’t quite lost control yet.

I found myself hovering back into reality, coaxed out by this beautiful voice singing, and through the haze of my not-quite-nap. The song meshed with the random visuals in my head, in the best way possible. “Caroline Polachek”, I read on the phone. The song was called “Door”, and committing that to memory, half-worrying that maybe I was still dreaming all this, I fell back to sleep.

I played the song later that evening, in the car. The chorus was like hot chocolate and pine-wood smoke, smooth, sophisticated, but very tender. But hold on, the voice sounded familiar. I have heard her before. I stop the car on the side of the road and google the artiste’s name.

Yup, Caroline Polachek was the singer on the Brooklyn band Chairlift, whose album Moth was one of my favorites of 2015-2016. It also so happened that despite buying tickets to their show at the Observatory, and driving 45 miles one Sunday evening to see them, I couldn’t. Because the show was cancelled. I got my money back, but the tinge of regret remained with me. More so because they disbanded a year later, in 2017, after playing a final show in Brooklyn.

And now, four years later, Ms Polachek has released a solo album, called Pang. It released in October, and for whatever reason, I had no idea of its existence until two weeks ago. Of course, in that time span, I have heard the album an umpteen number of times. I love every minute of it, from the haunted opening of ‘The Gate’ flowing into the title track ‘Pang’, to the closing notes of the tender ‘Parachutes’. Even though I could recognize her voice on the album, the mood, and the production were both very different from that on the Chairlift albums. For one, this was clearly an album about love and heartbreak and all of the feelings. It’s an album where slide-guitar licks morph into dance patterns, otherworldly beats and rhythms coalesce into splashes of intensity and adrenaline, and through all of these, Caroline’s voice weaves and wends through various moods and tonalities, gentle whispers to full-throated vocal riffs that advertise absolute control. And possibly a fair degree of auto-tune, but the electronic effects are tweaked to just the perfect degree of alien and human.

This is one of those rare album that feels like each track is better than the previous one. No wonder, then, that the first single, and accompanying video, was ‘Door’, which is the penultimate track of 15 songs, and runs a radio-unfriendly 5 minutes and 23 seconds. But it goes places. believe me, both visually and in sound and mood. The opening guitar riff, and the way the beat builds up slowly into that chorus is sublime. The alien vocal echoes on the word “door”. The guitar bridge. And that final humming that closes the track. Holy shit.

My personal favorite in the album, at the moment, is ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’. Many reasons, including the upbeat 80s vibe, the catchy vocal riff that begins the track, the “woo” when she sings the chorus, that sharp intake of breath just before she sings “I get a little lonely”. And of course that semi-awkward, all-Caroline dance routine in the video, so reminiscent of ‘Ch-ching’ from the Moth album. The chorus, when I first heard it, sounded like “Show me the banana”, and I ran to check what it actually said. “Show me the love, nanana”. Pooh. I prefer “show me the banana”.

I could listen to it all day, except ‘Door’ starts playing just after, and then once the album finishes with the downtempo ‘Parachute’, I have to go back to track one again.

‘Ocean of Tears’ comes closest to the Chairlift sound. You could play the opening to me and I would have identified the song as one of theirs. Of course it’s fantastic, the bass throbs and then the rock guitars playing over the chorus.

Caroline plays at the Fonda Theater on February 1, and even though tickets are sold out, something tells me I will show up there, somehow.

Mixtapes, Music

The First 2016 Playlist

I might as well stop arranging playlists by month. I started calling this the January 2016 playlist, but it’s already middle of February – and you will admit that’s kind of dumb.

Chairlift’s Moth is the first album I have fallen in love with this year. ‘Ch-Ching’ is the hallmark of the lot, featuring not one, not two, but three different hooks that latch on to your brain. Add to it the vogue-happy dance video featuring the lovely Caroline Polachek in that orange dress; the sexy brass riffs that sneak in and out of the vocals; the random “ow”s and “whoo”s punctuating the track. Patrick Wimberly’s drum programming – specifically the use of the rimshot and finger-clicks, and that wonderful ratatat drum phrase – also a winner. 27-99-23, y’all.

I saw Father John Misty live at Treasure Island Music Fest last year, and this zany song —accompanied by a video that is filled with Kanye-West-level of self-love — is one of my favorite tracks from his new album I Love You Honeybear. 

Gunship makes tripped-out electropop. This video has He-Man, Hellraiser, and a host of other B-show video tributes in claymation.

Is ‘Kamikaze’ the solo song that makes MØ explode on the mainstream scene? The lady made her name with her 2014 album (‘Pilgrim’ featured on one of my earlier playlists) and collaborations with Ariana Grande and Major Lazer, but the upcoming studio album with Diplo producing sounds like it’s on another level altogether. The tune’s so infectious, and the main instrumental riff (which sounds like a shakuhachi blended with a celtic violin) gets into your head faster than the fumes from a 43-year old bottle of Glendronach. ‘Take me to the party/kami kami kaze’ doesn’t make much sense, but sometimes a song doesn’t have to. Yet another vogue video, and it’s not a coincidence.

If you think Lana Del Rey is vapid and commercial music, you haven’t been paying attention – I don’t care if she is. She has her West Coast gangsta style melded with classic pop/rock  routine down pat (listen to the guitar riff and the tonal shift at 1:18. Isn’t that a Beatles chord from ‘And I Love Her’?), and it works so well. I have heard three different versions of this song, and they all bring different things to the table. The original is classic Lana, and the (mostly) black-and-white video gets bonus points for being shot in Marina del Rey, my hood till a few months ago.

One of the many songs that sample Quantic Soul Orchestra’s track ‘Pushin On’, ‘Triburbia’ is a delectable goblet of funk served chilled. Caution: It will stir and shake you.

Speaking of delectable, Pal William introduced me to the joys of New Jersey-born Melody Gardot. Add to that velvety-chocolate voice some old-school orchestral strings floating in the background, with a jazz brush-drum beat that patters like raindrops on windows, and you have ‘Baby I’m A Fool’. Yum.

If there was a playlist of music videos to get high to, Rone’s ‘Bye Bye Macadam’ would fall squarely under the psychedelia section. Observe how deceptively simple the song is, a miasma of sawtooth waves over a drum and bass track. I am starting to get into Rone’s discography now, and have high hopes.

NEW FALLULAH ALBUM END OF FEBRUARY, BITCHES! She has released 4 singles from the new album so far, and they are oh-so-wonderful.The tremolo in her voice makes my knees go weak every single time, and her use of the female chorus is flawless. Lovely to see an artiste grow so much over the years and still maintain a unique identity. Go check out ‘Perfect Tense’, the titular single from the album, also out on Youtube.

I heard the second part of this schizophrenic song first – ‘Dystopia’. ‘The earth is on fire/We don’t have no daughter/let the motherfucker burn’ was something that got into my head instantly. Found out the first part ‘Utopia’, and it was like Kraftwerk ate mushrooms and had wild monkey sex with a Korg arpeggiator to come up with alien disco music. SO much fun!

Fenech-Soler is an electronic outfit from Northamptonshire in the UK, which puts them in the same geographical location as The Magus of Northampton – consider this a gratuitous way for me to mention my favorite writer, who I haven’t talked about in a while. But their music is great. This song’s from their second album, which came out in 2013, and

Jarryd James’ ‘Do You Remember’ feels me with dread for some reason. Maybe it’s the ominous chords, or the layered voices. Or maybe the earnestness in the voice appeals to me and I am in denial.

I keep getting turned off by the sameness of the Indian live music shows – Coke Studio, MTV Unplugged, Dewarists and so on, but occasionally a song pops out and makes me jump right back in. Ram Sampath’s set, in particular his cover of the traditional Oriya ‘Rangabati’ did that recently. Sona Mahapatra puts heart and soul into her rendition, and watching the video makes me grin at the sheer joy of her performance – obviously her familiarity with the language helps, observe the change in expression when she says “Tuhu tuhu’ at 2:51. Tony & Rajesh’s rap kick your teeth in (not as much as when they sing the other Bharatiyar Love Rap) and Rituraj Mohanty is stellar. What a song!

The Chainsmokers’ ‘Let You Go’ is a perfect LA song. Shout-out to the Last Bookstore – and holy shit, never thought of it as a make-out zone. Runyon Canyon too, ha! The first comment on that video tells you exactly what to expect though, so er, be warned.

Yeah, there’s a band called British India. Yup, they’re pretty damn good. They’re from Australia, and contrary to my aversion to standard guitar bands, they have proved to be a good exception. The video is weird in a nice way.

Toldja I am a Chairlift fan, so had to end the playlist with the other song from their album that’s stuck in my head. This one has a crunchy rock guitar, pumping beats, and Caroline at her awkward best in the video. ‘Hey Romeo/Put on your running shoes, I am ready to go’ makes me want to go start running again. I probably should, right?