Obsessive Listening

Music of note so far in 2016

I have been busy trying to keep up with all of the new music that has been released thus far in 2016. It is not easy to do when you work full time! I have been eagerly adding songs to my 2016 Spotify play list, and my collection of songs for the decade has grown to over 300. And I keep finding tracks that were produced in previous years that I missed. Like I said, it’s really hard to keep up!

Here are some of the many highlights that I have been obsessively listening to so far this year.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By  My favorite album thus far in 2016. In fact, this will likely be one of my favorite all-time desert island albums. It has been in regular rotation at my house since its release. And I usually only choose one or two tracks from one album to add to my favorites lists, but I love each and every one, so they all appear on my 2016 list and my decade list. Susan Tedeschi (vocals and guitar) and spouse Derek Trucks (guitar) have assembled a group of musicians who are talented enough to stand on their own. Together, they are a powerhouse. Watch the whole band here on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

Bonnie Raitt – Gypsy in Me She’s still Rockin! I love Bonnie.

Mavis Staples – Livin on a High Note This is like an industry tribute album for her. It’s a collaboration with some more currently popular and respected names in music right now, each paying homage to a legend, a hero to many. Her voice is more sandy and gritty, and even more soulful than before.

I got to see Mavis Staples and Bonnie Raitt in concert together a few years ago. It was one of those profound moments in life, two legends performing together who you know they absolutely love and respect each other. I get chills thinking about it.

Ray Lamontagne – Ouroboros – Very psychedelic for Ray, suitable for his ethereal voice.In early April, he played the entire album at the World Cafe here in Philly. You can listen to the whole concert, and watch this video of Hey, No Pressure.

Dylan Leblanc – Cautionary Tale – Very pleasant to the ear, similar style to Ray Lamontagne.

Lucius – Good Grief Fun pop music. I don’t love the single they’ve been playing on the radio so much, Born Again Teen. It’s okay, but I think there are much better tracks on this album, like All Mighty Gosh.

Single Notes

ANOHNI – Drone Bomb Me – The video for this is just devastating. ANOHNI’s voice is haunting. This song has been described as and ” indictment of the drone campaigns carried out by the United States and elsewhere, delivered from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed in a drone strike.” She has confirmed that she will release a new album on May 6, Hoplessness. A tangential opinion here: She really should have won the Oscar for best song.  She absolutely should have been invited to perform on the show. What a missed opportunity.

Kindness – A Retelling – I learned about Kindness (solo project of Adam Bainbridge) last year, and this is his latest track. He recorded it for the The Long Road project, a collaboration between musicians and refugees.  Just lovely.

Anticipated Obsessions

case/lang/viers – Atomic Number This trio is nothing but a miracle, something I never would have conceived of, but when I heard about it I knew it would be amazing. Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs (who I admittedly am less familiar with) are releasing an album together, and touring this summer. They’ve released a couple of singles to give us a taste.

Beth Orton – Kidsticks This beautiful single was released on March 2. Looks like she’s getting back to combing her folky style with electronica, and it’s just a lovely combination. This track definitely makes me want to hear more!

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth Sturgill Simpson is a new discovery for me, just this week, as a matter of fact. I heard a cut from this new album on the radio while I was on the way to work one day, and I was blown away. I looked him up first thing when I arrived at my office, and found that NPR was streaming the entire album. The web site says “At the artist’s request, songs from this album cannot be played individually.” After listening all the way through it, I can understand why. It is totally worth listening to from beginning to end. I don’t know what to say except that this album is like nothing I’ve heard. Twang, funk, soul, spiritual….the Dap Kings play on five of the tracks. He plays a mellow country western version of Nirvana’s In Bloom for gosh sakes! I heard a reviewer say “I just want to hug him.” So do I.

The new album comes out next week, April 15. Meanwhile, thank goodness you can stream it on NPR. I predict this is going to be one of my favorite albums this year, and maybe even make my Desert Island list.

There is a lot more! And a lot more to come! You can find my 2016 curated play lists on Spotify.

Music Worthy of Your Attention in 2015

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 was to listen more intentionally to new music. I have done a pretty good job of reaching that goal, if I do say so. I have compiled my list on Spotify of favorite songs that were released in 2015 (you must have a Spotify account to view and listen). I have attempted to make a list of my top ten albums. There was a lot of really great music this year, so picking only ten has been difficult. This has been so enjoyable a task that I will definitely keep it up in 2016.

My primary resources for music discovery are Spotify, KCRW, WXPN, and SOMAFM, as well as music reviews from Sound Opinions, Fresh Air, Dinner Party Download, and NPR Music. Ben Watt of Everything but the Girl fame has a list on Spotify which has helped me discover some new music. This seems to be a random collection, and it is not all new music, but a lot of it was new to me. Also, recommendations from friends have been very welcome.

I chose the albums that I have enjoyed listening to from start to finish. The following (in no particular order) are the albums that I have become obsessed with at some point in the last 12 months, listening over and over, and all have tracks that will make it to my Desert Island List.

Enjoy!

Brandi Carlisle – The Fire Watchers Daughter

Florence and the Machine – How, Big, How Blue, How Beautiful 

Lizz Wright – Freedom and Surrender

Low – Ones and Sixes

St Germain – St Germain

Melody Gardot – Currency of Man

Leon Bridges – Coming Home 

Judith Hill – Back in Time

Bob Moses – Days Gone By 

Fink – Horizontalism

Addendum January 1, 2016

Since compiling my list of favorite albums from 2015, two more have come to my attention that I would have chosen to include, extending my list to twelve. These albums are just beautiful and are worthy of obsessive listening. 

Loyalty – The Weather Station

The Chopin Project –  Ólafur Arnalds and Alice Sara Ott

Emphases for October: History lessons on race and class

Of the many things I have been reading and hearing recently, the topics of race and class stand out. I was pleased to find many very good pieces that I have been mulling over and sharing with others.

The Stuff You Missed In History Class podcast dedicated two fascinating episodes on the history of redlining in the United States. The show astutely illustrates how early twentieth century policies on real estate and housing were overtly and unapologetically discriminatory against blacks. The two episodes show how these policies and now illegal practices have consequences that are still with us today.

The excellent podcast Decode DC did an episode about the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moinihan’s study in 1965 on poverty in the United States, which has, for better or worse, created a commonly held belief that poverty is caused by dysfunctional family and culture, and as a result the conversation essentially ignores the legacy of slavery.

Today I listened to the Philadelphia Free Library Author Events Podcast featuring an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates about his life and his new book, Between the World and Me. Coates provides a tangible illustration of the damage done by the history of racist and classist policies in American institutions. For hundreds of years, for multiple generations, an entire class of people has been exploited, and effectively blocked from social and economic advancement.

I appreciate the widening interest and scholarship on this aspect of American life. I am hopeful that the information and insight coming to light will continue to advance the conversation on race, and help us all have a clearer understanding of our relationship and responsibility to work to change institutionalized racism and unjust policies.

Other recommended listening and reading:

2015 – The Year In Music So Far

I am a music geek. I used to write a music review column for my college newspaper, and I have always listened to popular music with a discerning ear. I don’t claim to be a purist or an expert. I like what I like, and some times LOVE, and I’m driven to obsession at times to listen unceasingly to a new favorite album, or an old one, and to find out every little thing about its production and composition. But I haven’t acted like it in the last decade or so. I’ve been more of a dabbler, just turning on the radio and occasionally tuning in to my favorite music critics.

Spotify has inspired me to listen critically and intentionally again. My New Year’s resolution last year was to listen to music more intentionally again, and I have done that. It has been very enjoyable. As a result, I have created numerous playlists, and I have become more aware of new music.

So, I am making annual lists on Spotify, composed of the albums I am checking out, and the songs that I like best. I’m rather proud of my lists for 2014 and 2015. I’m particularly proud of my list for the current decade. There is a lot of good music out there!

In particular, the following are so far my favorites for 2015. I’m pretty sure these will stay in my top ten, as I cannot stop listening to them:

There are more albums I’m considering for my top ten or top twenty. There are still three months left of the year, so I look forward to having more to say in January!

Paradoxical Readings – June 28, 2015

This week I cried tears of grief and joy, as the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples, and as the funerals proceeded for the nine fallen in South Carolina. While the Confederate flag is being lowered, and the rainbow flag raised, I am acutely aware that there is much more work to do to.

Changing the Flags

President Obama summed it up beautifully in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney:

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

It’s a terrible thing that nine beautiful lives had to be lost in order for the history lesson of the Confederate flag to sink in for many Americans. Finally, many are starting to understand that the flag, as Ken Burns said “is not about heritage, it’s about resistance to civil rights.” So perhaps some good can come of this. The momentum for the removal of the flags continues.

Why it still hasn’t happened in South Carolina (by the time I am writing this), I don’t understand. It is incomprehensible that something so offensive, so hurtful to so many continues to exist on state property. So, clad in tree climbing gear, Bree Newsome took matters into her own hands. Admirers and supporters abound, myself included. Just take the bleeping thing down!

Bree Newsome, our new super hero. Ava Duvernay tweeted that she wants to direct the film about her.*

Gillian and I took in the week’s events, observing the memorials for the fallen nine, and celebrating the Supreme Court marriage equality victory on Friday night with a bottle of bubbly and a beautiful meal (pan seared scallops with arugula, tomatoes, corn, avocado, and a gorgeous herbacious dressing – yes, my spouse is a genius in the kitchen, and that’s how we roll). We’ve been waiting a long time for this, trying to be married for the last eleven years, succeeding once and for all in 2013. Yesterday’s victory is just a sweet conclusion to our personal struggle, and our witness to the national struggle for marriage equality.

The week’s best Twitter hash tags were, hands down, #UrbanOutfittersbelike, mocking Urban Outfitters for ridiculous prices, and #AskTheNearestHippie, making fun of Antonin Scalia’s screed of a dissent of the marriage equality ruling. There was also this tweet from UHaul, who finally seems to get the classic lesbian joke. I can’t believe they haven’t cashed in on it before now.

Tears and laughter are both healing in their own ways. This week was certainly an opportunity to find the paradox of finding hope within sadness, and a realization of work left to do in the same moment we celebrate a significant success.

The wind is at our backs. Let’s not get complacent.

* Ava Duvernay Reportedly Directing Marvel’s Black Panther