Author Archive

December 26, 2012

Stuff I Liked in 2012 — Leah’s List


This time of year, I always like to reflect on all of the music I dug and compile a playlist that best encompasses the experiences, great memories, and the bands and artists that have become the soundtrack of my life in the past 365-odd days.  I like to pop the older editions into the CD player and laugh/groan to myself in some nerdy form of reminiscence therapy.   Plus, the discs make great stocking stuffers!

My criteria were simple:  the song didn’t necessarily have to be released during this year (though many were), but if I discovered/rediscovered/liked it this year, it counts.   I’ll attempt to give a brief description and justification for each song’s inclusion and provide links and background info whenever possible, should anyone choose to further explore these fine artists.

1)   Band of Horses – “Knock Knock“:  I love these guys and I was super-stoked to hear they were coming out with a new album.  This song was their early-released single and aptly leads off the record.  While the rest of Mirage Rock was somewhat of a disappointment compared to their other albums, this song makes a great track one.  I love the lyrics, the “ooohs” and the handclaps, and it puts me in a hopeful, anticipatory mood for the rest of my day/life.

2)   We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Medicine”:  Man, I am such a sucker for Scottish bands, particularly singers with pronounced accents.  I had the pleasure of seeing these Edinburghers at an awesome sold-out show at the Bottom Lounge last May, and they did not disappoint.  They rock hard with driving guitar riffs and some awesome drumming, but (duh) the vocals are the cornerstone for me.   Their latest album, In the Pit of the Stomach, kicks ass and is getting some decent, fully warranted attention, so I hope we continue to hear more from these guys.

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August 22, 2012

The Very Best’s MTMTMK: AfroPop for the Modern Masses

ImageThis album has been my jam for several months, but I wanted to wait until the end of summer (and attending their show in Chicago) to make sure.  The duo are Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who met in a London thrift shop and soon became musical collaborators as The Very Best.

We’ve come a long way from Paul Simon’s Graceland, but I can imagine what it must have felt like the first time people heard Ladysmith Black Mambazo emerge from a sea of new wave and hair metal.  Inherently danceable, with Hugo’s infectious, bouncy, edgy beats offset by Mwamwaya’s joyous multilingual vocals, MTMTMK embodies the spirit of modern globalism. This music would not be possible without internet technology and travel capabilities, and TVB’s growing mainstream notoriety is (hopefully) indicative of Africa’s broadening appeal beyond typical “world music” enthusiasts.

Recording for the duo’s second LP began unsuccessfully in New York, but their inspiration flowed once the duo ventured to Lilongwe, Mwamwaya’s hometown.  You can practically taste the heat and the pent-up, flavorful energy of West Africa’s clubs in each track.  With distinguished featured guests such as Baaba Maal, Xuman, and Mo Laudi, and a wide range of instruments from flutes to synths, it’s a zazzy, eclectic mix whose range from hip-hop to dancehall to dubstep and reggae-inspired (inspiring?) cuts.

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May 22, 2012

Beach House’s ‘Bloom’ is better than Wyld Stalyns

Remember that scene in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” when Rufus shows them the future and everything’s perfect and there’s this crazy music playing in a weird temple?

Okay, that wasn’t Beach House, it was “In Time” by Robbie Rob, but it should have been, because that’s what I imagine when I hear this Baltimore duo’s sumptuous third EP, released by SubPop on May 15th. Like some sort of utopian choir living inside a pipe-organ-future-temple.

The male-female vocals sound as though you’re hearing them from the inside of a womb—echoey, remote, but wise and comforting, with lush, parental harmonies. Ever-present drum machine beats offset the eerie drone effects of the synth/organ, throbbing bass lines and wavy guitars.  They take their time, deliberately adding layer upon layer of sound, driving verses (and the listener) to the brink, until their chorus bursts triumphantly open like some jungle flower in the steaminess of it all.  (Get it?  Bloom?)

My favorite track is “Lazuli”, which makes me feel as though I’m dozing next to a waterfall.  The beginning dissonant “ahhhhs” of “The Hours” sound like a nod to the Beatles’ “Because” and fool me every time, but then the track goes in a totally different direction.  The lyrics are simple but hit poignant nerves too: “Other people want to keep in touch/something happens and it’s not enough/never thought that it would mean so much”, they advise, and I am tempted to tell all of my faraway friends how much I love them, just in case.

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February 27, 2012

Album Review: ‘Who’s Feeling Young Now?’ by Punch Brothers

This summer, a friend of mine turned me on to these guys in an “Avett Brothers/Punch Brothers bluegrass-nerd compilation mix exchange,” and I’ve been hooked on this band ever since.  Bluegrass doesn’t quite describe it; neither does neo-classical or folk.  They are a string quintet like no other, weaving complex, frenetic tangents of dissonance and thrilling dynamics transcending genrefication.  Admittedly disconcerting at first, they get better and better with each listen.  They’re like ear pilates, hurting at first but forcing me to become more and more flexible until I’m exhilarated and can’t imagine my life without them.  (*At least, that’s how I think I’d feel about pilates if I ever stopped geeking out on bands and went to the gym.*)

I feel that my vague/failed attempt at playing the mandolin last year lends me just one tiny shred of justifiability in my worship at the shrine of frontman Chris Thile.  Besides being a total dreamboat and a mandolin virtuoso (see also: the Goat Rodeo sessions with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Edward Meyer and Stuart Duncan), he’s an insanely talented singer and songwriter.  He makes good use of his delicate pipes, with thin, tight often-falsetto harmonies, accompanied by equally talented and/or dreamy dudes on upright bass, fiddle, guitar, and banjo.

Who’s Feeling Young Now?, the band’s third release, is an absolute marvel.  I’d like to alternatively title it “Who Needs Drummers and Electricity Anyway?”  The opener, “Movement and Location,” pulls in some amazing hooks and winds around surprisingly poppy twists and turns.  There’s a great variety within the tracks, at times traditional bluegrass folk jams like the instrumental “Flippen (the Flip),” others incorporating complex elements of jazz, R&B, and soul.  “Hundred Dollars,” their bittersweet diatribe against city girls (“are all the same/they play you like a pinball game”), I will argue, sounds downright Justin Timberlake-y, but with a twangy twist.

Punch Brothers – Hundred Dollars

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February 7, 2012

Review: Blvd Park, ‘The Sound’

I feel like the vaudeville gypsy caravan has rolled into town, much to my delight. Seattle-based six-piece Blvd Park vaunts countless acoustic instrumentations, including guitar, mandolin, trumpet, accordion, banjo, upright bass, and tambourine.  The band’s versatile horizontal structure features multiple lead singers/songwriters (every member sings at some point), always weaving dense, varied male-female harmonies.  This “spaghetti western” acoustic ensemble’s formula and technology is simple, yet they achieve complex results, incorporating gospel, country, doo-wop, jazz, and klezmer elements.  I just don’t have enough eclectic adjective glitter to sprinkle about this bunch.

The Sound, their sophomore album, is equally multifaceted.  Like the band’s California desert “browngrass” roots and named after the watery basins of their adopted Northwest, some tracks are sparse, desolate and hauntingly mournful, others undulating and warm.  The upbeat tracks are downright triumphant and bawdy and joyful, and others build slow anticipation and explode into celebration.  There are toe-tappers, slow-swayers, and wrist-cutters.  You will simultaneously fancy yourself lonesome cowpoke, dastardly outlaw, and cheeky burlesque star.  In a good way.

BLVD Park CD Release Poster 2/9/12

BLVD Park are performers in the truest sense: not afraid to get a little silly, they operate with capable fluidity but maintain a sense of playful carnival-esque flair. They aren’t afraid of vocal ad-libs, fun whistle parts, trumpet flourishes, a capella duets, or failure.  They careen tightly around the turn of gimmicky vs. genuine, but their sincerity always comes across.  Trust me, you’ll enjoy this music just as much as they are enjoying making it.

The Sound is available for download and listening at  Check out their CD release show this Thursday, February 9, at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle.

For more details, see: