Back in the day (like, five years ago), I consumed music avidly. I bought CDs, I went to shows in crappy dives, I read music journalism (really!), and I created annoyingly intense mixes for friends, complete with verbally diarrheal liner notes about why X or Y song was worth the three minutes of your life it would take to listen to it.
For example, this came from a mix I made in 2007:
Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe | Okkervil River
The lyrics are a bummer, all about how the real world can never live up to the drama of the silver screen. (“It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax.”) But the music! It’s the way the floor tom hits at the :26 mark and then at :40 when the entire band comes in, backed by gospel-like whoops. Very exciting! But perhaps the most touching part, for me, is right around 2:20, where this freaky thing happens with the piano and some weird electronic knob-turning, and then the song cuts to a sparse verse that includes the phrase, “From the speakers your fake masterpiece comes serenely dribbling.” I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing the first time I heard that.
So, yeah: I’m sorry if you were one of the friends whom I subjected to that.
Then, bit by bit, all the seedier local clubs closed, the cool music sites folded, Paste magazine started covering video games and craft beer, and music started to get pretty boring for me.
Lately, though (thanks in no small part to my stellar niece and god-daughter Rachel and her super-cool musician husband John, plus the exceedingly nifty James Uden), I’ve started to hear bits of things that intrigue me again. I find myself streaming KXT, the listener supported radio from Dallas, and noting song titles and artists.
(NB: I rag a lot on growing up in Texas, but that place has THE BEST end of the dial radio.)
Here’s a bit of what’s been tickling my ears for the last few months. I’m hoping to rein the pretension-level in from my past missives. Not all this stuff is brand new, but what strikes me as I listen to them together is that none of these songs would have been out of place on an episode of The O.C.
(Another NB: Oh, man, say what you will about the soapiness of The O.C., the music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, broke some great ground for soundtracking television shows. She is a game changer.)
Let it Go, James Bay
Bay sounds to me like Brendan Benson, the non-Jack White half of The Raconteurs, and whom I declared very vehemently to be the real genius in that group after I saw Benson perform in Paris. (Also: sorry if you knew me in 2009.) This track, thankfully, bears no resemblance to the omnipresent Frozen ditty that shares its name.
I’ve written of my love for Jack Antonoff’s oeuvre before, so I’ll abstain now. Still loving this album and “Rollercoaster” is just a great pop song.
The Promise, Sturgill Simpson
Simpson came to me courtesy of Rachel and John. The entire album is great old-school country music. This particular track is an outlier, a cover of the 80’s song by New Order knockoff band When in Rome (you might remember it from the closing scene in Napoleon Dynamite). Simpson’s stripped down version made me truly appreciate these beautiful lyrics.
Queen, Perfume Genius
My musical-savant friend James Uden gifted this song to me as a part of a much-coveted 2014 year-end compilation. I love the Brian Eno meets Portishead feel of it all (indeed, Portishead’s Adrien Utley co-produced the album). It’s all very spacious and atmospheric, but also glittery and glam. Bowie could have done this song, which is always a plus in my book.
All I’m Saying, James
You may remember James from their super-catchy 1993 song “Laid” from their awesome eponymous album. James Uden included this song on his 2014 year-end compilation as well. The first time I heard it, I was on a plane and I started crying at this stark expression of loss and grief. So raw, so beautiful.
Gimme Something Good, Ryan Adams
Actually, the whole new album is pretty excellent, and I say this as an unapologetic Ryan Adams fan, so…grain of salt and all that. Rachel and John turned me on to this, too! This reminds me of early Tom Petty in the best possible way (as if there is any other way, right?).