Greetings everyone and welcome to the second installment of my weekly mini-review mixtape suggestion listicle. As this is just starting, I’ve decided to play with the format a bit and give each selection a category of sorts to help frame them. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!
Psychedelic Politics Selection of the Week
Flaming Lips – “We A Famly”
I am of the opinion, or perhaps the persuasion, that the release of a new Flaming Lips album is always cause for celebration. These mystical avatars of joyous weirdness are ever entertaining, whether it’s turning Dark Side of the Moon into a neon day-glo rock stage production/explosion or releasing a 24 hour song packaged in a skull. Having said that, however, their newest record isn’t their strongest and it’s partially because, unlike their usual penchant for boisterous extravagance, it’s so damn dour. Don’t misunderstand me, this is in no way as oppressively impenetrable as The Terror, but it ain’t much fun either. Dire sonic landscapes with haunting synth whispers that plod listlessly along only to occasionally perk up ever so slightly like momentary sunlight through a thick haze of fog, this album is a bit too much of a chore for me to really get into. Maybe that’s because it’s meant to be their reflection on the current political/social landscape we find ourselves in and, quite honestly, I’m a bit burnt out on the ‘woe is us’ portion – I’m ready to light some fires (where you at Rage Against the Machine???).
Now, this is not to say the whole album is a total slog as there are certainly some good songs to be had. Lead single “How??” is a pretty lovely plea for political sanity via acid induced libertarian hopefulness but, if you’ve heard it on the radio, you get a pretty good idea at the album’s overall sound – it’s definitely not anything to dance to. There are a few fun moments of “WTF are you talking about Wayne?,” as usual, such as the bass rattling trip hop dirge “One Night While Hunting For Fairies and Witches and Wizards to Kill” or the anti-police state rallying cry “There Should Be Unicorns” that’s delightfully capped off by a shaman-like speech by the incomparable Reggie Watts (this is, of course, my best guess interpretation for a song so concerned with the color of unicorn eyes). The real standout for me, however, is the Miley Cyrus featuring album closer “We Are Famly” which, after so many tracks of weird disenchanted psychedelic mopping, is an incredibly uplifting and hopeful sing along and certain to become a live staple in the coming years.
The whole Miley Cyrus thing is still certainly bizarre but, you gotta admit, they work pretty well together and their whole relationship of high priest and psychedelic disciple is endlessly entertaining. Still, it feels kind of weird admitting that the better recent Flaming Lips release was the collaborative album they did with Miley (Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz). All of this critique aside, I do want to take this opportunity to recommend everyone check out the extremely random companion EP they did for the Ender’s Game movie a few years back (you know, that other Harrison Ford space movie) called Peace Sword. If you need some brighter psychedelia to help you during these trying social times, give it a spin.
Purdiest Picture Selection of the Week
Bonobo – “Break Apart (ft. Rhye)”
Bonobo is one of those artists I’ve listened to in passing but, for one reason or another, never clicked with me at the time. That has completely changed with the British DJs newest release Migration. Now, I can’t get enough. Bonobo’s style of chilled out downtempo electronica is immensely calming and, in these harried days, calming is a good thing. The whole record is incredibly sumptuous and, in its meandering meditative way, mirrors its title perfectly. On this track in particular, Bonobo has paired up with Rhye, aka the band behind the sexiest album of the past decade (Woman). The combination of singer Milosh’s sultry croon and Bonobo’s lush production is heavenly and, if you dig this, you will love the record. But what about the cover, you ask demanding I stick to my naming conventions? Well, I’m not sure if this is necessarily artist Neil Krug’s intention but this is my new favorite depiction of the Burning Bush ever. The bright orange flame nestled in a sea of blue, the towering icon-esque cliffs and the powerful thunderheads rising further still, the off kilter symmetry of the composition – this is an absolutely stunning image. I may very well buy the vinyl simply so that I can hang this in my house, I love it so (but, it helps that the album is awesome as well).
Here’s the album cover in question:
Pink Floyd’s Children Selection of the Week
Holy Sons – “Eyes Can See Clearly”
As with all the great giants of the 60’s/70’s, a large majority of modern music owes a massive debt to the psychedelic poets of Pink Floyd. We all know this – and we all know countless bands who are obvious descendants of their particular brand of way-out wavelengths. Although there have been plenty of straight forward expansive rock outfits like a Dream Theater or a Mars Volta, there is something to be said for the bands who attempt the wide open atmospherics in the confines of more restrained genres like folk and indie music. Portland songwriter Emil Amos is able to produce this in spades. With endlessly rich texturing and soul soothing melodies, his latest record under the Holy Sons moniker, In The Garden, contains exactly the right sort of magic necessary to transport you on a cosmic journey inwards. Self-described as “aesthetically based on the joy of pulling out old 70’s American & British songwriting LPs at night while you’re pounding whiskeys by the fireplace,” the records dark but tender ruminations on one’s own sense of self and purpose really feel like he hit the nail on the head. So whether it’s whiskey or another substance of your choosing, this is a phenomenal album to just put your head phones and just drop out.
Did We Need this Cover? Selection of the Week
Iron and Wine – “Time After Time”
Sam Beam is no stranger to the cover. From his now classic, stripped down take on Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” to the criminally over looked duet record with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell (Sing Into My Mouth), Sam Beam knows his way around making a cover his own. As a massive fan of his, and an obsessive collector or rarities and live tracks, you can imagine I was pretty blown away when the first time I stumbled upon this song was…in a McDonald’s commercial. Now, I’m not sure what confused me more – that Iron & Wine agreed to work with McDonald’s or that McDonald’s needed so saccharine a commercial. Either way, I was elated to hear Beam’s dulcet melodies sing a cheesy 80’s classic and somehow make it tolerable. I don’t think we needed this cover but, hey, anything Iron & Wine wants to make into their own is fine by me (hell, he even totally owned a GWAR cover once).
Discovered Too Late Selection of the Week
Sons of Fathers – “O.G.C.T.a.W.”
One bad thing about living in such an incredible music town like Austin: THERE’S TOO MUCH MUSIC. It’s a phenomenal problem to have but, damn y’all, I only got two ears! But, I will soldier on even if I stumble upon a new love that’s already fizzled out. Having risen to local acclaim during the height of the stomp and holler revolution of the likes of Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, it’s easy to see why their raucous folk rock and beautiful harmonies caught on. Unlike the sentimentality of M&S or the rustic posturing of the Lumineers, however, Sons of Fathers seem to have had what many Austin bands excel at: swagger. Something about their stomp is just a bit meaner and their holler a bit rougher and this song, with its driving drums and almost psych-rock guitar, just gets the blood going. I see that the respective members are still active in the local scene (and that singer Paul Cauthen’s newest is highly praised) so there’s hope of catching them one day but, man, sad to be late to this party.
Fist Pump to the Face Selection of the Week
Flay – “Blood in the Cut”
Who doesn’t like a good F-U anthem? Even if you aren’t feeling particularly scorned at the moment, some songs just viscerally excite the aggression in you and “Blood in the Cut” from lo-fi pop/rap artist K. Flay is such a track. With an exceedingly catchy snarling bass line this track contains no trace of hip-hop but a hell of a lot of black leather rawk’n’roll attitude. While the rest of the EP, Crush Me, is pretty straight forward – and, honestly, not that exciting- electronic pop, this one track has got me quite excited to see what else she has moving forward – provided she stays this entertainingly angry.
Been Sleeping Too Long Selection of the Week
Yes – “Roundabout (Remastered Early Rough Mix)”
Yes is one of those old school bands that I just never got around to really giving the time of day. I mean, sure, there are some songs that I couldn’t escape (and will mercifully not put into your head by simply typing out the titles) so I wasn’t really in a hurry but I’d always heard their earlier stuff was some prog-rock gold. I could’ve just as easily kept going blissfully unaware for the rest of my life, however, until I heard this rough mix of their early hit “Roundabout.” Maybe it was just the right time at the right place with the windows down and the unseasonably warm winter air but literally everything about this bass line just electrifies me! I will most certainly going back to their earlier records and giving them a go now because it sounds like it’ll be some perfect early spring driving music.
Self Help Selection of the Week
WHY? – “Proactive Evolution”
I’ll be honest, I’m not as familiar with California based sometimes indie/sometimes hiphop/all the time alternative artist WHY?/Yoni Wolf as I should be. I’ve listened to his podcast more than his music because he runs in artistic circles that I greatly admire (mewithoutYou, Sage France, etc.) and often has some pretty fascinating conversations about the creative process and life in general. But, he’s definitely one I’ve been meaning to get more into and, from the sound of it, I think this album will finally do it. On top of being exceedingly catchy, with its chipper drum beats and off kilter stuttered chorus, I am particularly drawn to the lyrics of contemplative introspection and positive affirmation. I don’t know about you, but I could use a rallying cry for myself these days and this feels like a great song to put a spring in my step.
Your Band Name, I Like It Selection of the Week
Your Boy Tony Braxton – “Good (Enough)”
Oh man, this is a fun one: delightfully named Your Boy Tony Braxton is the sugary pop alter-ego of Juno-award winning rapper Shad. I just love that sentence. Written in nostalgic honor of the pop music that raised him, Adult Contempt is a delightful ode to the lighter radio faire that wrestles with heartbreak and insecurity with a wink and nudge. The whole album might be a bit saccharine for some but, hey, sometimes, all you need is a great pop song and this is a phenomenal one.
Make America Whatever Again Selection of the Week
Dan Bern – “Waffle House”
We’re one week away from the Inauguration, you guys, and to be honest, it kind of sucks. Hell, even if you’re a supporter, you gotta admit that so much is weighing on this that the potential for disaster is utterly nerve-racking. So, what better way to diffuse the whole situation by taking a step back, taking a deep breath, and boiling it down to the basics? Namely, this is really all a matter of where we get our greasy breakfast foods. It’s so simple!
Actually, no it’s not. Literally no part of me is Red but I will still defend Waffle House to death. TO THE (smothered, covered, chopped) DEATH!!!
Ok, well, that’s all for this week. As usual, let me know if you have any suggestions for me. As you can tell, I always need new music!