Tag Archive for 'Vampire weekend'

11 Songs to Be Thankful For, Vol. 2

For last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For, click here.

I know you’re in pain. The music industry, no less than last year, is inundated with made for radio pop songs meant to burn brightly in the minds of middle schoolers, sell millions of copies and then fade quickly into the one hit wonder used CD bins. Some will make club playlists and stay relevant for another year or two, but most will be either forgotten or turned into the butt of some future musical joke. But these simplifications overlook a large cross section of musicians from all genres that are producing quality music that not only can get stuck in your head, but won’t make you want to put a loaded revolver to your temple to get them out. In fact, months later, these songs are still gripping and enjoyable.

Thanksgiving is over, but while you’re eating some leftovers, there’s still much to be thankful for in the way of music. For each month, a main song that stood out above the others with the album you can find it on, and a second song that I give honorable mention to for being generally kick ass. But since life isn’t a one man affair, I invited my roommate, who receives the same monthly iPod updates (see the “What I’m Hearing” posts… the links in the month names will get you there), to give her input on what songs grabbed her focus this year. 11 months, 1 main song, 1 honorable mention and 2 recommendations from the roommate will give you about 44 fantastic songs you haven’t listened to yet. I say about because in some cases you may have heard a song, and in others, we picked the same one. Enjoy!

Jan: “Breathe Me (Mylo Remix)” (Breathe Me EP) by Sia. Most people had their first introduction to Sia’s heartbreaking song through the final 5 minutes of the HBO series Six Feet Under. The song, steeped in lament and longing, is nostalgic and only further inundated with emotion from Sia’s haunting voice that at times seems to whisper. On this EP version, Mylo remixes the song by fleshing out a lush electronic sound with bass and digital flourishes around the vocals and speeding up the main melody. The result is a moving and dance-able, yet still emotional track. Honorable Mention: “Way Down in the Hole” (The Wire Soundtrack) by The Blind Boys of Alabama

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Nudez” (Rainydayz Remixes) by AmpLive. “Mushaboom (Postal Service Remix)” (Open Season) by Feist.

Feb: “Campus” (Vampire Weekend) by Vampire Weekend. When this album came out, I positively reviewed the whole thing, and now, many months later, it hasn’t lost its luster for me. With “Campus” the group uses simplicity in the vocals and instrumentation to evoke the feeling of days at college and crushes (if your college crush happened to be a professor.) The staccato lead up to the frenetic chorus is an instantly attainable indie pop that also brings to mind a Killers tune on Xanax. With the line, “In the afternoon you’re out on the stone and grass/and I’m sleeping on the balcony after class” the song takes me back to my own college balcony naps. Honorable Mention: “Weightless” (Lucky) by Nada Surf

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (Vampire Weekend) by Vampire Weekend. 2) “The Chills” (Writer’s Block) by Peter Bjorn and John

March: “Front Steps, Pt. 2 (Tough Love)” (Absolute Value) by Akrobatik. This song is haunting both lyrically and musically. The solid production includes a piano sample and string overtone that sound like they’ve been submerged in water. The murkiness is then combined with scratches and a bass and drum line that provide it with a depth that comes off simultaneously polished and street rough. All of this is so that Akrobatik can provide an incredible song about the economic and social plight within the project communities, the current state of hip-hop and the need for change within the criminal justice system. He exhorts the youth to avoid the drugs and black on black violence that help oppress them, and strive for something better by offering them his honest take in the form of “tough love.” His lyrics come from a seriously educated perspective as he recognizes that the format of the ghettos allows the upper middle class to ignore riots and financial losses inflicted by them (“And when we riot they won’t care about the dollars lost/they’re sipping cocktails while we’re throwing Molotovs“) and sees the difference between a middle class white education and the education provided in inner city schools. The entire song is filled with lines that are both mentally stimulating and potent in rhyme scheme (full lyrics here). One of the best hip-hop lines of the year comes from this song, “This ain’t a war on drugs, it’s a war on thugs/they supply the guns, we supply the bodies with slugs.” Easily in the contention for my top 5 songs of the year. Honorable Mention: “Live 4 Today” (Break A Dawn) by Zion I

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Opening Act” (Garbage Pail Kids) by Sene and Chief 2) “Muddy Water Stomp” (Garbage Pail Kids) by Sene and Chief

April: “The Things That We Could Share” (Soundboy Rock) by Groove Armada. Here’s one the roommate and I agreed on. In an age of Craigslist Missed Connections and the disconnect between people, this joyous song about the potential connections is a love song for the person you haven’t met yet. Starting with a groove bass, handclaps and “SB” chant, the electronically strained vocals through the verse beg for a balance with another person (“I need a warm hand to cool me down/I need a soft voice to drown me out”) moves into the chorus about a boy on a bus watching a girl, who is simultaneously telling her friend that he doesn’t care. When the bass line undulates and crashes into the triumphant refrain of “the things that we could share,” if you’re not dancing, you’re not breathing. Honorable Mention: “Far Away” (In Ghost Colours) by Cut Copy.

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “The Things That We Could Share” Groove Armada, Soundboy Rock. 2) “Watch As They Go” (Other People) by American Princes

May: “Winds of Change” (The Show) by EMC. Leave it to a super-group of hip-hop mainstays to write a love song to hip-hop that can surely stand as a classic. With an old static laden and sped sample singing, “Winds of change, that blow forever” EMC rips off a masterpiece devoted to the past, present and future of hip-hop, while never forgetting the overall perspective of fleeting life and inevitable change. Subjects like evolving music (MJ to Usher), technology (Beta to DVD), and clothes (Osh-Kosh to Phat Farm) are all well and good, but the highlight of this track is the last verse that takes a sad hindsight view of a hip-hop career from an old age perspective (“Holding the picture frame wishing that we didn’t age”) and the unfortunate decay that it can bring (“At 55 started forgetting lines, mumbling rhymes.”) As the rap moves to talking about freestyling with his grandchild, the song becomes both melancholy in its reminiscence and happy in the remembrance of the experiences. Honorable Mention: “Mathematics” (The Fashion) by The Fashion

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “27” (Butter and Gun$ EP) by Blue Scholars 2) “O Samba Tai” (Carolina) by Seu Jorge

June: “Watch Out (Remix)” (The 3rd World) by Immortal Technique (click here for exclusive interview). Sounding incredibly sharp over a beat that samples from the Apocalypse sounding symphony from the central battle scene in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith and polished Green Lantern production, Immortal Technique barks through this track that cements his status as one of the most lyrically intelligent and delivery potent rappers around. Starting with his album sales off just a Source magazine quotable and moving onto direct attacks on the music industry (“they push pop music like a religion/anorexic celebrity driven, financial fantasy fiction”) and American government, Tech doesn’t take pause for a chorus here, but why bother when you can deliver like that for two and a half minutes straight? When he ends the song with, “I need more than advancements and a rented mansion,” you know that he means it, and doesn’t care who he pisses off in the process. Honorable Mention: “Let the Beat Build” (The Carter III) by Lil Wayne

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Reverse Pimpology” (The Third World) by Immortal Technique 2) “Dance Dance Dance” (Youth Novels) by Lykke Li

July: “Sittin’ On Chrome (Mr. Flash Sittin on Cr02 Remix)” (Delicious Vinyl: Rmxxology) by Masta Ace. This revamped version of the old school Masta Ace song is given all sorts of synths and electronic overtone. The verses get a video game-like sound backdrop with a fast dance beat. When the hook drops, the whole song slows down and the sample carries it. Honorable Mention: “Built to Last” (Coup de Theatre) by Haiku D’Etat

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Desperada” (Jeanius) by Jean Grae. 2) “GFC” (Como Te Llama?) by Albert Hammond Jr.

August: “Zhaoderen Nana” (Introducing Hanggai) by Hanggai. Another point of agreement with the roommate, Hanggai’s mixture of traditional Mongolian folk music and Western influences gripped us at the end of the summer and made for great lake music. The use of a an upbeat throat singer here and a rollicking strumming are contrasted with moments of full percussion. You’ll have to listen to get it. Honorable Mention: “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)” (Partie Traumatic) by The Black Kids

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Zhaoderen Nana” (Introducing Hanggai) by Hanggai 2) “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)” (Partie Traumatic) by The Black Kids

September: “Transitional Joint” (The Preface) by eLZhi. (full interview here) Beautiful production and a perfectly placed “just because of love” sample back Detroit’s eLZhi as he dissects relationships and the process of moving on from a failed one. Without ever losing a positive outlook, the lyrics don’t dwell on the past, but always look forward to that next glow. eLZhi acknowledges the sour experience of “rolling snake eyes” without losing sight of the feeling of “missing her like when the summer’s gone.” The delivery from verse to chorus are sensational and the beat is addictive. Honorable Mention: “Ship” (Purpleface EP) by Throw Me the Statue (interview)

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Girls and Boys In Love” (Girls and Weather) by Rumble Strips 2) “Honeybee” (Purpleface EP) by Throw Me the Statue

October: “Please Believe” (unknown) by Longshot. I’d give you a breakdown of this very solid hip-hop track, but you can click on this link and go listen to it yourself! Huzzah! Honorable Mention: “Electric Feel” (Oracular Spectacular) by MGMT

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Sadie Hawkins” (Doomtree) by Doomtree, (interview) 2) “Electric Feel” (Oracular Spectacular) by MGMT

November: “Trail of Lies” (A History of Violence) by Jedi Mind Tricks. With a South American melody and lo-fi beat, this offering from JMT’s sixth studio album examines lies perpetuated by the government and mass media, among others. The gruff voice of Vinnie Paz and the lyrics about a system in severe trouble make for a socially conscious song steeped in conspiracy theories. Honorable Mention: “Signs” (Intimacy) by Bloc Party

Jessie’s Picks: “Don Julio” (Vulture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1) by Opio 2) “Trail of Lies” (A History of Violence) by Jedi Mind Tricks

Take Me Away

One of the most satisfying (or least, depending on who and when you ask) aspect of listening to an artist is discovering how that artist sounds live in concert. The instrumentation, the lighting, the changes in the songs all brought out for live performances can usually significantly change the experience. But concert tickets are expensive, bands tour, but usually in limited locations and venues (or for folks living in places like Idaho, maybe never and nowhere), and even in an amphitheater, there’s a certain feeling of disconnect from the band. In conjunction with this is the fact that it usually takes some sort of “unplugged” event to get an artist who would normally not be, to go acoustic. Mathieu Saura, a 27 year old from Paris who goes by the name Vincent Moon, has found the solution.

Fueled by passion for music and cinema, Saura launched Take-Away shows in 2006. A collection of now over 80 music videos, created by musicians, featuring them playing a song in a stripped down, improvised version as they walk through public places and streets, the Takeaway shows are now experiencing a wealth of attention from the media, including CNN. Saura has managed to mix the music video form with the internationalist appeal of music to bring artists from all over the world and all different musical styles together. These impromptu videos, taken usually around the band’s hometown or in the streets of Paris, offer a very real and low-tech look at a variety of artists, and provide a very different backdrop for the songs usually associated with CDs and radio airplay.

Furthermore, Saura doesn’t feel the need to upgrade to a high-tech feel because of the equipment initially available on the launch of the venture, and his desire to keep the product consistent and authentic. The variety of artists is astounding, featuring Arcade Fire, my long time favorite Elysian Fields, and previous Evolving Music blog subjects Beirut (“Beirut. The City. The Game. The Band.” 10/8/07), Vampire Weekend (“When Vampire Strikes,” 2/8/08) and, so we’re told through the grapevine, soon to be included is Crystal Springs Uplands alum Scott Reitherman and Throw Me the Statue (“Throw Me That Home Coming,” 11/8/07) in honor of their re-released Moonbeams album from Secretly Canadian

Whether you’re looking for some new music, or just a new way to look at music you know, the Take-away shows offer you a chance to see both artists you love and artists you’ve never heard of in new acoustic and public ways. The personal and intimate feeling these videos elicit, combined with the diversity and travelogue aspect of the settings creates a musical experience with the power to transport the listener to places further than the radio singles ever could. And all of it, from the blogs, to the emerging artists, to the new interpretations and portrayals of music, falls perfectly into the growing universe that is MixMatchMusic.

When Vampire Strikes

Vampire WeekendConsidering the next band pretty much got its start in the blogosphere, I’m a little late to the party on this one. But I don’t think tardiness has ever stopped me from enjoying myself. And besides…good music can always use publicity. “Blog Bands” as they’re known, groups that achieve status and reputation through the postings and writings of people who have heard them, are steadily on the rise. Even for the groups that get out to tour, have word of mouth and sign a deal, cyberspace writings, tags and search engine results are becoming more and more important to up and coming ensembles. Our friend Scott Reitherman and his group Throw Me the Statue provides a good example of how a few well placed authors and blog articles can help influence the rise of a smaller local group. I’ll also mention that the rise of this next group, in addition to their styles of music, breadth of their album, resemblance to some excellent groups of the past and ability to mix these things together make them perfect fodder for this blog. In 2007, Vampire Weekend started making some noise with a single or two. Coming out of New York (having all met at Columbia), this foursome (Ezra Koenig – guitar/vocals, Rostam Batmanglij – keyboard, Chris Tomson – drums, and Chris Baio – bass guitar) eventually signed a record contract and on January 29th put out their debut eponymous album. And I’m going to tell y’all something…it’s hot.

Most readers here will know my long standing opinion of pop and radio music. So when I say that this group’s 11 track, 34 minute pop inflected album is an achievement, some might think I’m joking. But this group becomes the next in a long line of musicians who have been able to take completely different musical styles and weave them into a cohesive tapestry that can absorb a listener. They also have a knack for emulating the 80s wave of Paul Simon‘s Graceland album, some of the Talking Heads‘ tracks and Peter Gabriel in bringing seemingly incongruous world music into the mix and making it downright fun to listen to, regardless of musical preferences. The album is so diverse in its sound, yet tied to the simpler and shorter blueprints of pop music that I can imagine any listener finding moments of happiness in all the songs, even if the style of one is more enjoyable to them than others. Furthermore, the simple yet poetic lyrics are easy to listen to, sing along with and understand. The group dubs themselves as artists of numerous genres that they’ve mixed and matched, including “Upper West Side Soweto.”

The album kicks off with “Mansard Roof,” an up tempo song leaning towards the indie rock spectrum of things. On first listen, one finds a graceful, short and moving song. On repeated listening, the less noticeable instrumentation becomes more prominent and provides a hint of just what’s in store on the rest of the album: a group of intelligent and accomplished musicians bringing numerous genre sensibilities to all of their songs. On “Oxford Comma,” a simple and out front drum beat backs an almost 50s sounding simple organ-like melody with a simple lead vocal track that ascends to moments of joyous falsetto. The guitar solo is simple and happy, never becoming too enamored with itself or too complex to enjoy. On “A-Punk,” the group takes on punk sounds reminiscent of the Ramones and Sex Pistols, yet again infuses it with a more manageable and less abrasive pop flavor. The end result is a mash-up that I’ve decided to call island punk.

“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” brings out numerous styles. At the beginning, you can hear the South African/Congol rhythms that conjure memories of Graceland. The lightly spaced and simple lyrics keep the sound light before exploding into a chorus where lead singer Ezra Koenig elevates his voice into a simultaneously exuberant and pleading rasp. “M79” moves into a peppy keyboard and string style that would fit perfectly on a Wes Anderson soundtrack. This style is backed with lyrics that oscillate between Simon and Garfunkel in the verses to Talking Heads in the chorus. Throughout, the strings and keyboards play melody and scale style, accentuating and reinforcing the infectious tune. Finally, the bridge brings to mind New Order‘s “Bizarre Love Triangle” further deepening the pool of influences this band pulls from. Now, I know what you have to be thinking at this point…there’s no way this group sounds like all of these things, and this author is just looking for an excuse to name drop. I assure you this is not the case. Somehow Vampire Weekend has managed to take all of these various influences and fuse them together in a style uniquely their own.

“Campus” continues to vary the feel of the album while returning to the indie core that connects the majority of their tracks. The staccato lead up to the frenetic chorus is an instantly attainable indie pop that also brings to mind a Killers tune on Xanax. “Bryn” comes out with a moving and again South African influenced guitar before settling into a verse structure with simple poetry influences backed by an easy bass line and drum rim shots. The poetry falls into place as Koenig sings, ” Lights by the ocean/A westerly motion that moves California to sea/Eyes like a seagull/No Kansas-born beetle could ever come close to that free.”

“One” is the one track on the album that falls a bit flat for me. While it’s sure to have its admirers, the song illustrates the lone time on the album that the heights Koenig attempts to reach just don’t quite work. The simple bass and video game like beeps and blips bring the song back from that, but the repetition of the chorus keeps this song a bit stagnant. “I Stand Corrected” shows a more somber side to the group. While the tempo kicks in with drums after about 30 seconds, the tone of the song and Koenig’s lyrics seem sadly apologetic. The strings in the background help keep this more subdued aura intact despite the driving beat. “Walcott” starts out with a frenzied wall of sound approach before settling into a verse segment that beautifully integrates more strings, this time in a style and structure hinting at the Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby.” Its force and motivation to “get out of Cape Cod tonight” bring to mind a fleeting and almost pleading joy at the release captured in the unstoppable train of the last 40 seconds. This ends abruptly leading into the album’s finale, “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance,” which again captures strings and a well orchestrated band underneath lyrics accentuated with an ABCB rhyme scheme. The trilling instrumental segment at the end of the song provides a lush and fitting fadeout to this incredibly diverse album.

This record and group, while only in their infancy stage in terms of release and recognition, do an amazing job at showing that pop music doesn’t need to be denigrated and reduced to the meaningless lyrics and heartlessly packaged cookie cutter sounds that pervade the radio air waves. It demonstrates that when done correctly, the mixing of pop sense, short and simple songs, poetry as lyrics and diverse genre study can produce an album that will capture listeners regardless of their primary genre affiliation, and remain incredibly listenable throughout…perfect pop. Catchy without being syrupy, intelligent without being pedantic, Vampire Weekend has managed to take what they know and like about music and filter it into a refreshing sound that, while carrying influences from artists and styles past, remains indelibly their own.