Category Archives: Artists

Metro Tracks: Single Tracking with MS MR

The idea for Metro Tracks started last summer when my iPod somehow shuffled a tiny fraction of my library into a blissful commuting mix. It reached aimlessly across genres and generated sonic perfection by combining bhangra, Sigur Ros, Bright Eyes, Keith Urban (?!?!), and lots more – it somehow all yinned and yanged, despite the weirdness.

This is NOT one of those playlists.

I’ve known about MS MR for a while, but for whatever reason, in the past 48 hours, I’ve listened to nothing of note other than their Secondhand Rapture (released May 14 on IAMSOUND). I don’t hate it.

The singer-producer duo is a futuristic Florence and the Machine with slightly less spook and a bit more sex. From vocals to music to presence, there’s the depth of Florence, but it’s all a bit more organic and less guarded. Below, there’s a list of the best songs from Secondhand Rapture. You’d be crazy not to check these out. (Go to Spotify for better audio quality on the YouTube songs.)

MS MR at Sweetlife 2013

MS MR at Sweetlife 2013

Head is Not My Home is the single track that launched this recent obsession. Its first verse seems fairly tame; if you aren’t listening on good headphones, you might miss the foreboding bass drum. Lizzy Plapinger’s talent really reveals itself for the first time in the chorus. The lyrics themselves, their percussive delivery, that faint “oh” paired with a well-placed boom of that cannonlike bass drum – it all makes for a truly epic chorus, one that shows itself even better in the final minute of the song, as Plapinger lets go of all inhibition and just belts. Delicate keyboards and perfectly placed backing vocals accompany the whole ride. It’s invigorating, exhausting, and 100% addictive.

“Hurricane” – MS MR’s first single

“Ash Tree Lane” – Slightly more low-key as a whole, but you won’t get away from a big, textured chorus.

Think of You has some lyrics that could have come from any angry 15-year-old’s diary. That doesn’t mean it’s not catchy as hell.

Salty Sweet – Handclaps, sliding vocals, minimalism. Irresistable.

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‘Tramp’, or The Reason I Don’t Have a Top 10 List This Year

There are two more weeks of 2012, and the Internet is teeming with year-end countdowns of newsworthy moments, reality TV highlights, and – of course – music. While every other college radio DJ/music blogger out there has published a list of what they think was worth listening to this year, I’ve come to an unsettling realization, one that I hope to God does not discredit me in the field I want to enter. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s something I feel the need to share, nonetheless.

I could give a damn about the vast majority of the music released in 2012.

As I examine the iTunes playlist of music I’ve acquired this year, I see 1561 songs – 4.4 full days of music – that have been added in 2012. I’ve listened to half of those songs, but listened to only half of those more than once. A compulsive critic of the tracks in my iTunes library, I find that I considered only 6% of my music added in 2012 worthy of four or five stars.

Thinking about this, I’m ashamed. I started AMPlify in July and wrote a similar column for a student newspaper this semester. I even wrote a piece about what music I did and didn’t like this year, a sort of modified list of top albums. I’ll be frank, though – I was in a time crunch and did not give the full weight (or non-weight, as it were) to the music I wrote about. If I could go back a few weeks in time, this is the column I would have submitted.

I’ve heard Japandroids and Ty Segall and and most of the other artists with whom every music critic seems to have been enraptured this year. The simple truth is that I almost always ignored the new releases after a listen or two and returned to Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp instead. It was virtually the only music that mattered to me this year, with maybe a slight exception for Miriam Makeba and some electronic music given to me by friends. Admittedly my love for this record comes partly from the emotional connection I have with it, but even musically, it’s something I have come to know so well that I don’t think I’ve gone a day without listening to at least one Sharon song since a friend gave it to me ten months ago. Addicted may be too strong a word, though I haven’t been this into to an album in a long, long time. It has officially entered the ranks of The Reminder, Lungs, and Rabbit Fur Coat, all albums by other female artists, all albums that came out three or more years ago.

From cmj.com

Sharon Van Etten’s music was given to me when I was in a dramatic relationship that eventually disintegrated. I resisted Tramp at first; I listened to “Warsaw” and heard what sounded like Alanis Morrissette. I thought about throwing the CD in the trash. I was not going to be an angry woman who listened to angry woman music. But then a couple months later, I was under what can be described as nothing less than true emotional duress, and I credit Tramp for getting me through that. I’m mostly a happy camper now, but I remain attached to this album. Luckily it’s mostly because of the music at this point. That was true before I saw (and met!) SVE at the 9:30 Club in October, but it became even truer after.

It’s the details that make this album such a gem. It’s the perfect harmonies in every song. It’s the lines like “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city/you’re why I’ll need to leave,” from “Give Out,” and the reassuringly simple lyrics of “We Are Fine” sung with Beirut’s Zach Condon. It’s the moment at 3:40 in “All I Can” when the song absolutely blooms. It’s the percussive, purposeful way Sharon sings “I am search-ing for your crimes,” in “Serpents” around 1:46. It’s both the hopelessness of “I’m Wrong” and the way it somehow doesn’t sound entirely unhappy. I could much more easily make a list of my top ten favorite moments on Tramp than I could make a list of my top ten favorite albums this year. There really are no other contenders.

If there’s one thing I’ve been reminded of after being a complete and utter failure at keeping up with the music of 2012, it is this – music is a deeply personal experience. You don’t need to keep up with all the blogs or charts or even your friends’ musical tastes if you’re just not into them. Give it a shot if that’s your thing, but if not, don’t let people give you crap for it. I’ve been told by a music journalist or two that my musical tastes are not diverse enough, which left me heartbroken at first, but today I’m quite all right with that.

If this post makes you want to go fall in love with Sharon Van Etten, please, give me a call, and I will be your guru – I’m sure we will have lots to talk about. But if it sounds massively unappealing, that’s cool too. Go find your soulmate of an album, and I only hope you fall for it as hard as I’ve fallen for this one.

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Catching Up – You Gotta Hear This.

It’s been awhile. And sadly, I don’t have nearly as much time as I need in order to write about all the music that deserves to be shared. I’ve sorted through my current faves, though. It’s all off the charts of the ol’ AMPlifiability scale, so brace yourselves for awesomeness.

From cloudfront.net.

1. ZZ Ward. We hosted this up-and-coming bluesy-pop gal at WGTB on Saturday. Many of us were apprehensive because she’s trying to make it mainstream, and that’s not how we really roll at WGTB. ZZ killed it though. The general consensus seems to be that her recorded music is overproduced and artificial and that her live performances are so authentic and rich. I think she’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants her sound and her image to be, but she’s well on her way to becoming queen of a new kind of pop.

Songs you can’t miss: “Move Like U Stole It” (Yeah, I know. The “U”. But it’s been stuck in my head for the past 48 hours.); “Home”; “Til the Casket Drops”; “Put the Gun Down”

Image from silverdisc.com

2. Kronos Quartet. Yes, this is technically classical music, but don’t blow it off so fast. Probably the most famous string quartet in the world, these people are four of the most loved, hated, talented, and innovative musicians out there. The lineup of Kronos has changed numerous times over the years, but their specialty has always been contemporary classical music, often with international influences. Of their 43 studio albums, only a handful of which I’ve heard, my latest musical squeeze is Pieces of Africa. The album is as old as I am, but every time I listen to it, it sounds more fresh and invigorating and is just the coolest blending of genres. With compositions written for Kronos by several African composers, Pieces of Africa was controversial for its mission, but the music, to me, is a no-brainer in its grandeur, scale, and evocative sound. Listen for the percussiveness of the pieces, provided both by actual drums and by the strings.

Don’t miss: “Mai Nozipo (Mother Nozipo)” by Maraire; “Ekitundu Ekisooka (First Movement)” by Tamusuza (you can find it on Spotify); “White Man Sleeps #2” by Volans

3. Cover songs. I chose not to publish Friday’s column for the guide on here this week. I wrote about cover songs, but I think that’s a category that cannot be adequately addressed without some actual demonstration. So, take a chance and get right into it by listening. I’ve got an 8tracks mix of 25 covers ready for your ears. Apparently other 8tracks users are fans of it. I haven’t even publicized it, but judging from the number of likes, people are into Florence Welch covering Drake, Grizzly Bear taking on Hot Chip, and a whole bunch of songs from the 60s that you might not have known are covers.

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Left in the Dark by Feist’s “Graveyard” Video

I’ve spent a solid third of my life loving the music of Feist, the Canadian musician who I featured a few posts ago when it was just emotions taking me over. Until today, I’d been convinced that both as a solo musician and as a member of the larger collective of Broken Social Scene, Feist could do no wrong. She’s cool, smart, talented, and one of the queens of her genre, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent more than a few hours contemplating what it would be like to be her.

Unfortunately, there comes a time when we realize that the people over whom we geekily obsess can indeed do wrong. That time for me with Feist came earlier this morning, when I watched her new video for “Graveyard.”

On Pitchfork, Feist offers some explanation for the video, discussing the desolation and big-picture thoughts that accompany grief. I understand what she was going for; I’ve lost a number of people in my life, and I was pleased to read that she and the director chose not to interpret “Graveyard” so literally.

Yet when I actually watched the video, I was thrown off both by the cinematography and the connection the video was supposed to have with the song. I get that the stillness of the frames represents the stagnation that grief elicits, that the musicians popping into the scene as the song builds are like spirits or ghosts in a graveyard. Forgive my lack of cinematography vocabulary, but the sliding shots? The butterfly? The fuzzy quality of the video? Those elements make the piece seem all at once cliché and pretentious. It’s exactly the type of thing Pitchfork goes gaga for while the rest of the world tilts their collective heads sideways and thinks what the actual f*ck is even happening here?

Though clearly Feist and director Keith Megna weren’t aiming to gain the mass appeal of “1234,” this clip seems like a total cop-out. Call me crazy or a grandma or an uncultured square, but it looks more like a low-budget project for a film class than a professional music video.

What do you think? Am I totally missing the mark in my interpretation? Or are you also disappointed by “Graveyard”?

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“The Reminder” – Sometimes decisions are tough.

Today I did something for the first time in my college career – I dropped a class. I was getting hardly anything out of the course, and I knew I had room left in coming semesters to make up this one last gen ed requirement. On the surface, it might seem like an easy choice.

Yet this felt like a huge, life-changing decision, and ever since I’d seriously started considering dropping the class, I tried to be logical, weighing pros and cons. More than that, though, I found myself feeling prematurely guilty for dropping the class, trying to convince myself that if I just worked really hard, the class would become enjoyable, and I would maybe learn a thing or two from it. I became really damn emotional about the whole thing. Blame the mysteries of the female psyche or whatever you want to blame, but I was having way too many feelings about dropping a class I despised.

Still riding the emotional roller coaster, immediately after turning in the withdrawal form, I had an “oh-shit-what-have-I-done” moment. It was brief, but it was there. It was the kind of regret that told me I was wasting my parents’ hard-earned college savings, that I was taking the easy way out, that I should just suck it up and keep going.

But then I had another moment. It was a huge sigh of relief, the thought that I could now do things with my newly-free blocks of time on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30-7:45 PM. It was the realization that I could focus on my other four courses and my music classes without having to worry about this buzzkill of a class. It was the fact that I could now work evening shifts some days a week either at my internship or job. It was freedom. And more than anything, it was a feeling of pure fun. I became that weird person who smiles at anyone and everyone in public. I was practically jumping for joy. I’d made the right decision after a bit too much deliberation.

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You’re probably wondering why I spent 300+ words discussing an overly emotional experience that appears to have nothing to do with music. It’s a stretch of a connection, but I think I know of an album that describes similar emotions, though maybe out of order. I thought about this today as I got home after my trip to the dean’s office – I had no idea what to listen to. I settled for the piece I’m playing with my chamber group, but the question of what album could represent this jumble of emotions bugged me all day.

image from centripetalnotion.com/

Feist’s The Reminder (2007) is all at once complex, intelligent, well-thought-out, honest, straightforward, and fun. Obviously Feist’s album is a masterpiece and my emotional experience a farce, but as for an album that represents the whole process, this is the best example that comes to mind.

The Reminder is full of tracks that are so deeply personal and so deeply Feist without being weak or off-putting in a way that I think some female-driven music can be. “So Sorry” is about regret and a sense of the unknown – We’re slaves to our own forces/we’re afraid of our emotions. “I Feel It All,” (because I really did feel it all) “My Moon My Man,” and “Sea Lion Woman” are upbeat and fun, all with an air of mystery. “The Park” is at once emotional and feminine and strikingly logical in the saddest of ways. “Past in Present” carries a lyrical and relative musical simplicity while portraying the great gift of knowledge from past experiences. Relevant comments are admittedly failing to come to me on the topics of “1234” and a few of the other tracks, but “Intuition” has an obvious link, perhaps more than any other track.

Even if my connections are too simplistic and my story uninteresting, I hope you still try to listen to The Reminder. Not only does it happen to convey my recent experiences, but it is an absolute gem of an album and is hands-down one of the best of the 21st century. Additionally, a friend of mine once told me that this album would be the perfect soundtrack to that complex process known as falling in love.

So go find it on Spotify, or Youtube, or iTunes, or whatever- just listen to this. Give it time, and you might also find yourself smiling shamelessly.

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COMING UP

I’m going to see Sharon Van Etten at the 9:30 Club on Thursday evening. Expect a review sometime this weekend.

The AMPlify column will run in the guide this week. I’m really excited about it, so check back on Friday for that.

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