It’s Friday afternoon in California, and I submit to the general public another list of songs that are flying far and wide under the big endless sky that is recorded music.
Go here to see what I featured in Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, and Volume 6.
This week’s picks:
La Negra Tomasa by Compay Segundo. This legendary Cuban guitarist is still making records 99 years after his birth, and they’re more vital and authoritative than most records made by artists who are 1/4th his age. He’s an alumnus of the Buena Vista Social Club sessions, so any fans of that will dig this, but he’s been active since the 20’s. This is a new record, and I chose a traditional song accompanied by a clarinet section, among other delicacies. Been listening to lots of Latin music lately as we build the catalog and I try to keep up. Everyone should hear this for sure!
Outgoing Behaviour by Crystal Skulls. Here’s a great piece from a current Seattle-based indie band. It’s got a little of that cool clean Death Cab for Cutie vibe, but as Allmusic says, it has more “airy melodies and AM radio hooks.” I like the slight dissonances and harmonic adventures in this song. There’s lots more going on than meets the ear on first listen. Check it out!
Silver Screen Shower Scene by Felix Da Housecat. There’s something about this repetitive, lean synthy track by Chicago-based house music producer Felix Da Housecat that gets to me. Four on the floor people…
Cold Day In Hell by Gary Moore. Changing gears to represent an overlooked blues boy. This is a fully orchestrated (some might say overproduced), horns, background vocals, kitchen-sink style blues. Kind of in the Robert Cray or festival circuit BB King mold, there’s a cool solo in this song, kind of like a turkey sandwich snuggled into the middle of a banquet. Or something… go there…
Life On Mars by Happy Rhodes. First of all, anyone named Happy Rhodes gets a listen from me, and in this case it’s quite worth it. Her voice is lovely and lilting in this minor key, vaguely gothic song. It’s like “Greensleeves” meets “Space Oddity:” traditional ballads about outer space. Right on! Might make an interesting station.
The White Arcades by Harold Budd. Ambient composer Harlod Budd has been making great music for decades. This is a simple piece, synths, pianos and similar fare over a rich, low pad. Not much “happens,” from one point of view, but the effect of that is sometimes more powerful than something more active and catchy. This is catchy like the sea is catchy.
The Sword In The Stone by Kayak. From the record “Merlin – Bard of the Unseen.” Yes, that’s “Merlin – Bard of the Unseen.” This is priceless fantasy prog rock that is so far out you can’t believe it. For serious fans of dungeons and dragons. This tells the story of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone. Not subtle, not allegorical, just thick, energetic, gleeful, completely wholehearted hobbit rock! By Gandalf’s beard, I love it!
Tire Swing by Kimya Dawson. Careful, transitioning from the last song to this one might give you whiplash. This is lo-fi, twee indie folk from a member of the Moldy Peaches. It’s cute, unassuming, and dedicated to magnifying life’s minutiae. Her voice is hoarse in a really charming way. I find this very fresh.
Damascus by Nerina Pallot. This is a song with one of those immediate voices that seals the deal from the start in many ways, and where the voice is really well-matched to the song. The writing is pretty traditional, and there aren’t the kinds of surprises that I like best, but there’s something to this one that I sort of like.
Big Eater by The Bad Plus. Allmusic calls these guys post-bop, but questions where they fall on the pop-to-jazz spectrum. I have an answer: they fall on the part of the spectrum that is “cool.” At times, mathy, punky, jazzy, this stuff always stays tasteful, which is hard. It’s like juggling chainsaws. Brilliant!
The Barstow Sizzler by Happy Apple. More contemporary creative jazz. This piece by Happy Apple is more in the traditional jazz idiom as far as instrumentation, but in general they share lots of characteristics with the Bad Plus, including a vaguely rock attitude and a willingness to go where the music takes them. Superb.
Svefn G Englar by Sigur Ros. This album was huge a few years ago, and deservedly so. When I first heard this song I listened to it 5 times in a row, which is a lot considering it’s 10 minutes long. A heartbreakingly lovely, slow, dark bit of scandinavian midnight. Exquisite.
See you next week!