Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer 2014 playlist

Every few months, I send my parents a CD of music I'm enjoying. This is the CD for summer 2014. Thanks to rights limitations, it's missing "This Year" by Andreas Moe, which I've embedded below the playlist. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Electronic heartstrings

Bright Light Bright Light and Rowsy Bosch. I've written about both artists before, but given that they've both just released outstanding new songs, I feel compelled to write about them again in the hopes that my little blog might help spread the word about artists who deserve greater exposure.

A year ago, I called the debut album from Bright Light Bright Light a contender for album of the year. I will amend that slightly to remove "a contender for" and just call it my favorite album of 2012. I can still listen to it from start to finish and hear new details, enjoy it fully as if it were my first listen, and be sad when it seems to be over too soon. (Happily for me, Bright Light Bright Light are performing a few shows around the US, including a stop in San Francisco with Slow Knights later this month. I cannot wait!)

June 3 saw the release of the final single from Make Me Believe In Hope, the melancholic and melodic "Moves". The release includes a lovely video, along with a remix and two bonus tracks, "Blueprint" and "This Is Me Without You", the latter of which is the standout track.

With a tinkling piano to start, the song features a lovely build to cathartic rhythms with lyrics detailing with no small amount of sadness and acceptance the end of a relationship and the need to heal. "On your breath, even simple words / Felt much louder than the streets around me" goes one verse; "But I made my peace with what you couldn't say / Now I move on without you / And hope that you are doing the same" comes the refrain.

It is achingly beautiful, a fitting companion to the A-side, and the perfect conclusion to the Make Me Believe In Hope period. Buy the Moves EP on Amazon MP3.


Now let us turn our attention to the stellar track dropped this week from Rowsy Bosch featuring Jeb Havens. I wrote about their debut EP last October, and in the meantime they've been hard at work on new material.

"Turn Me On" is a suitable companion to "This Is Me Without You" in several ways: it's an uptempo electronic track, it features a male vocalist, and its lyrics are far more melancholy than the arrangement might lead you to expect. (This will come as no surprise to fans of Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Robyn, ... ). Where "This Is Me Without You" seeks to move past a failed relationship, however, "Turn Me On" seeks to make peace with a world that cannot or will not give everyone the room they need to breathe and realize their full potential.

"There are days / I just get home and it's on to the next beat / I can't shake this autopilot seeping into my life"

"There are wars being waged on the airwaves / Who am I supposed to be?"

This song marks an evolution in the band's sound, upping the tempo but holding on to the elements that give a song its heart: melody and lyricism. I am very eager to see what comes next for them!

Buy "Turn Me On" on Amazon MP3, and catch Rowsy Bosch featuring Jeb Havens at San Francisco Pride.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Concert Season!

April is upon us already, which can mean only one thing: concerts galore!

In a pattern in keeping with previous years, the spring thaw means a flurry of touring activity. With the abundance of riches the San Francisco Bay Area provides, it is not unheard of to forego one show in favor of seeing another, to have two artists I admire playing at different venues on the same night. This month's calendar is chock-full already:

  • Lindsey Stirling at the Warfield. A fun, entertaining show! It's been great seeing Lindsey rise to fame thanks to that 21st-century invention, YouTube. April 3.
  • Sparks at The Chapel. The day I discovered this show, I lost my shit. It's the first of two nights, and the second had already sold out. Even though it's a stripped-down format—not for nothing is the tour called Two Hands, One Mouth—Sparks is one of the bands I feared I'd never get to see live, despite having been a fan for nearly twenty years. So when I managed to regain my shit after reading the SonicLiving email, I promptly snagged a pair of tickets. April 9.
  • Jessie Ware at The Independent. She's about to blitz North America with a re-release of her debut album, and I am very excited to hear what she's like in person. April 11.
  • Purity Ring at The Independent. A recent discovery, they're not my usual cup of tea, but I'm warming up to them. April 16.
  • Metric at the Fox Theatre. I need not say much about Metric; their most recent album is a delightful listen. I fell in love with them thanks to Black Sheep, which features to great effect in one of my favorite films of all time, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. April 18.

Phew! All that, and still nearly two weeks left to fill. It's not just a blip, though; the next month has shows from Little Boots, Marina and the Diamonds, and the xx...

As a bonus, give a listen to Sparks' 1995 album Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, the album that made me fall in love with them. (Little did I know they'd already been around for over twenty years!) Can you guess who Russell is imagining a relationship with in "I Thought I Told You to Wait In the Car"?

New Hotness: April 2013

Apologies, Dear Reader. It's been a busy few months for me, leaving me precious little time to listen to music, much less write about it. And I'm not going to write about it right now; instead, I give you an Rdio playlist with ten recent releases that I am thoroughly enjoying right now. Yes, there's a guilty pleasure or two–hello, Jonas Brothers–but just because it's a guilty pleasure doesn't make it bad! Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Favorite Tracks of 2012

2012 was a pretty great year for pop music, at least in terms of singles if not for entire albums. It was a year that saw a resurgence of male-led pop music (Bright Light Bright Light, Alex Clare), some strong sophomore efforts (Ellie Goulding, Sam Sparro, Adam Lambert, Bruno Mars), and some outstanding live shows in support of great new music (Dragonette, Beats Antique, The Ting Tings).

This year's best-of list includes several acts local to San Francisco, as I've had more opportunities to catch local bands than in prior years. The list includes quite a bit of music not available on Rdio; they are, of course, all worth checking out.

Tracks not available on Rdio:

Check out the rest in the embedded player:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: The year in gigs

January

  • 6 – Return to Mono, Stripmall Architecture – Rickshaw Stop
  • 19 – Katy B, The Good Natured – Rickshaw Stop

February

  • 18 – Pomplamoose, A B and The Sea – Great American Music Hall

March

  • 22 – 2:54, Stripmall Architecture – Rickshaw Stop
  • 25 – The Ting Tings – The Fillmore
  • 27 – Midi Matilda, Peck the Town Cryer, Beam – Cafe du Nord
  • 30 – Beats Antique – The Fox Theatre

April

  • 4 – Sam Sparro, Polaris at Noon – The Independent
  • 5 – K-Flay – Rickshaw Stop
  • 9 – Oh Land, Midi Matilda – The Independent
  • 12 – Miike Snow, Penguin Prison – The Fox Theatre
  • 27 – Tanlines – Rickshaw Stop

May

No shows, life demanded more attention than usual.

June

  • 17 – Scissor Sisters – The Fox Theatre

July

  • 11 – Marina and the Diamonds – The Fillmore

August

  • 23 – Alex Clare – Mezzanine

September

  • 11 – Hot Chip – The Fox Theatre
  • 26 – Dragonette, The Knocks – Mezzanine

October

  • 12 – The Presets – The Independent
  • 19 – Major Lazer – The Fox Theatre
  • 20 – Stars, Diamond Rings – The Fillmore
  • 23 – Two Door Cinema Club, St. Lucia – The Fox Theatre
  • 26 – Lights – Great American Music Hall

November

  • 4 – Justice, Girls & Boomboxes – The Warfield
  • 8 – Diamond Rings, Sky Ferreira – Rickshaw Stop

December

No shows, ERMAGERD HERLERDERS!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fresh: Rowsy Bosch

Male-fronted synth-pop has been in short supply since the glory days of the 1980's. With rock's resurgence and hip-hop's rise to prominence, pop music seemed to be a "no boys allowed" club, at least when it came to lead vocal duty. And maybe there's something to that. Maybe women are more naturally given to lead a fabulous show, maybe audiences are more willing to accept a big show if there's a woman out front. Maybe synth-driven pop music is just a naturally better fit for a woman's voice. Who knows?

All I know is, the times, they are a-changin' – and that's a good thing! Already this year, we've seen the astonishing love letter to 1990's dance-pop that is Bright Light Bright Light's debut album, Make Me Believe In Hope. There's 9AM to 5PM, 5PM to Whenever by The Young Professionals, in which they take up the dance-pop baton from Information Society. And let us not forget Adam Lambert, Alex Clare, Pengiun Prison, perennial pop princes the Pet Shop Boys, and the next wave of boy bands including The Wanted and One Direction.

Now there's a new collaboration that should help put to bed the notion that synth-pop projects are better served with female vocalists. San Francisco's Rowsy Bosch is a partnership of singer/songwriter Jeb Havens and electronic music producer Oliver Voigt. They showed their intent and made waves with an excellent, heartfelt cover of "Shake the Disease" – a Depeche Mode original:

Their debut EP, Corralitos, is now available, and features five original songs, each with a different mood. They eschew driving 4/4 beats in favor of moody arrangements that give Havens's outstanding voice room to breathe. In fact, with the exception of "Space In Between," the template seems to be mid-career Depeche Mode: slower tempos, atmospheric electronics, a dark mood. The gritty "We Are" is a standout among quality songs.

The result is a strong collection of songs, each of which has its own identity but also feels a vital part of the whole. The emotions are raw and potent, the production crisp but restrained, the vocals beautiful.

Catch Rowsy Bosch live on 13 November at Beatbox in San Francisco, with Darling Gunsel and Adonisaurus.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Autumn listening

I recognize I've been neglecting this blog recently; I chalk it up to a mixture of new job, busy social life, and simple laziness. But never fear! I continue to soak up as much new music as I can, and my concert calendar is looking pretty busy this month. In the next few weeks, I'll be seeing The Presets, Major Lazer, Stars, Diamond Rings, Two Door Cinema Club, and Lights.

In the coming days I'll have some posts about recent shows and albums that have stuck with me (I'm looking at you, Dragonette!), but in the meantime, please enjoy the latest mix CD I made for my parents. (See the summer mix CD I sent them.) It is missing one song, which is not in Rdio's catalog (yet): "Save Our Souls" by Garçon Garçon, which I strongly recommend buying.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Young Professionals : "9AM to 5PM, 5PM to Whenever"

I'm still really enjoying (and evangelizing, whenever possible) Bright Light Bright Light's debut album, which readers in North America can get for just $5 at 7Digital. But more great music has been released recently, and it merits some exposure.

The debut album from The Young Professionals is consistently interesting, often quirky, and thoroughly enjoyable. It's what I imagine Information Society might sound like if they'd gotten started 25 years later. Even the cover of Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" is good—in fact, it's vastly superior to the original. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bright Light Bright Light - Make Me Believe In Hope

Remember how my favorite album of last year was Voyage by The Sound of Arrows? Halfway through 2012, we now have the strongest contender yet for that title: Make Me Believe In Hope, the debut album from Bright Light Bright Light.

Nearly a year after releasing the best Robyn song Robyn never made (Disco Moment), the album that follows is full of songs that fully engage the ears, the mind and, above all, the heart. It plays simultaneously as tribute and heir to the dance-pop of the early 1990s. Many songs, especially Feel It, Waiting For the Feeling, and Cry At Films, would feel right at home in a mix with early Cathy Dennis and CeCe Peniston.

The album traces a series of emotional highs and lows, embracing the euphoria of new love (Feel It), rebirth (Love Part Two), mourning (Cry At Films), despair (Moves), resignation (Disco Moment), and acceptance (Grace). Hope is a recurring theme, so the album's pleading title is a perfect fit.

Though there is but one "slow dance" ballad (Debris), the writing is so solid that each and every song would work perfectly well as a spare piano piece. (For proof, check out the Blueprints EP, which contains stripped-down versions of four songs from the album.) Each time I listen to the album—and I've listened to it start-to-finish over a dozen times—the stretch of sad songs beginning with Cry At Films and finishing up with Disco Moment brings me to the point of tears. The album is just that good. On top of that, Rod's voice is evocative and perfectly matched to the instruments, with no Auto-Tune to be found. (Thank the heavens!)

Rod Thomas and his collaborators are to be commended for releasing such a strong, cohesive, confident collection of music. They put a whole lot of love into this album, and it shows. I hope the album gains traction in North America, because I would like nothing more than to hear these songs performed live.

Make Me Believe In Hope is out now. Buy it on iTunes, stream it at AOL Spinner. Buy the Blueprints EP on iTunes or on Amazon.