It seems odd that, in an era when music of all genres and quality levels can be readily accessed via technological means (my favorite method of new discovery being Spotify), mainstream culture continues to stubbornly gravitate toward the lower end of the musical spectrum. For the life of me, I can't figure out why this "sells."
Still, though, there is hope. When The Colbert Report has music, for instance, you can pretty much guarantee it's legit. Case in point:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile|
I know, it was just the interview and not the music. For some reason Colbert's website took it down. I guess in a sense that kind of negates my whole point. Dangit.
Anyway, the thing is that over the years I've been in the habit of sharing, for what it's worth, some of the music that's currently occupying my sonic airspace. As always, a short disclaimer: if you're looking for in-depth musical and lyrical analysis, you're probably not going to get it here. I paint with broad strokes, so let it simply whet your appetite. I welcome not only your thoughts on the bands and artists I highlight, but your own recommendations as well.
MERCYLAND: HYMNS FOR THE REST OF US - Admit it: the title alone piques your interest. It should. I'm not typically a fan of compilations, but this one made a pretty quick jump from my free Spotify playlist to the iTunes catalog. Think cutting edge artists of the day making music that is spiritual but not steeped in doctrine; opening the pearly gates wide rather than standing a big huge bouncer at the door. Musically, you simply can't go wrong with the likes of The Civil Wars, Shawn Mullins, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Emmylou Harris. Lyrically, you can't go wrong with songs like Mullins' "Give God The Blues:" God don't hate the Muslim / God don't hate the Jew / God don't hate the Christian / But we all give God the blues. Indeed we do, Shawn. Maybe "the rest of us" needs to be "all of us."
CHRISTOPHER SMITH, EARNING KEEP - Man, those Canadiens can make some music. Although this guy doesn't hail from the prolific Toronto scene (read: Arcade Fire, Barenaked Ladies, Broken Social Scene, The Most Serene Republic, etc) - he's a Vancouver boy that's vying to give the West Coast some props. In a word - mellow. For some reason I stumbled on his latest album I had a good friend mention his latest album, Earning Keep, while working on a sermon this past week at a New Years Eve dinner party. Turns out its good sermonizing music. Usually I can't write and listen to someone singing, but this album is an exception. Subtle vocals and ambient guitars that at times hint at Radiohead. But again: mellow. Be advised. And I mean that in a good way.
THE LUMINEERS - The challenge for any new acoustic folk band breaking into the scene is to ride the wave created by the likes of Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons without sounding too much like Avett and Mumford. It's not easy, but this trio from Denver does a pretty good job of it. Your foot will be tapping and you'll be singing along, but it won't be to "Little Lion Man" or "The Perfect Space." Instead it will be to songs like "Submarine" or the catchy "Ho Hey." This is one of those albums that I'll listen to in one sitting and immediately play it again, because the good vibe it left me with the first time is something I want to feel again.
THE GOAT RODEO SESSIONS - I could've easily gone with the more recent Punch Brothers album, but I decided to stick with this one since I already teased you a bit. Forget that it's nearly nine months old - it's got Chris Thile in it, and anything that has Chris is timeless (in case you hadn't noticed, I'm a bit of a fan). But here's the difference: for the first time in his young but already legendary career, and with all apologies to Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek, I think that with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer and violinist Stuart Duncan, Thile is finally among equals. He's that good, the others are that good, and this album is that good. Call it bluegrass, call it folk americana, call it jazz, call it classical, call it whatever. It's all of it, and it's delightful. All I need now is for Thile to release that Bach/Radiohead mandolin cover album he promised me when I met him back in 2010.
COLDPLAY: LIVE 2012 - Coldplay flirts dangerously close with being one of those bands I mentioned earlier, but the fact is that I still like them. I think that, for a pop band, they come up with clever hooks and decent songwriting (that song with Rihanna being an exception). This live album, which is also a full concert DVD, does a good job of capturing the band's live sound, which is when I personally think they're at their best. It also represents a nice cross-section of their body of work over the past twelve years. I still prefer 2009's LeftRightLeftRightLeft (which apparently isn't available anymore, bummer), but you can't go wrong with this one. One note: there's an explicit edition where Chris Martin uncharacteristically drops the "F" bomb (why...?). Get the other one - all the songs are still on there and you won't know that you've missed a thing.
GODSPEED YOU, BLACK EMPEROR!: ALLELUJAH! DON'T BEND! ASCEND! - Alright, this one's a bit of a curve ball, so get ready. We're heading back up to Canada again; Montreal specifically. It's a nine-piece (yep, you heard me) comprised of three guitars, two basses, two percussionists, and a violin. No vocals. The songs are anywhere between six and twenty minutes long and weave in and out of a dreamlike state. Some songs are barely songs at all, at least in the classic sense: "Their Helicopters Sing" begins with some a high-pitched buzzing that morphs into a bagpipe-ish drone that lasts for a good five minutes. There's a level of patience that's involved with listening to GYBE's music. It's not for everyone, but that's the fun of music - listening and checking out to see if it is.
And a bonus:
DOUG DAVIS AND THE SOLID CITIZENS: A PAGEANT OF GOLD - I wrote what turned out to be the very first Amazon.com review for my good friend and former Mediocre Bad Guy bandmate's second album, and here's what I said:
If you're looking for cut-and-paste music with zero passion and production quality that sounds like it was created by your nephew in GarageBand....go somewhere else.
If you're looking for music that comes from the heart, vocals that exude soul, well-written and well-crafted songs, impeccable performance and production that is so spot-on that adding anything else or taking anything away would make the songs less than what they are, you've found the source of your next six bucks. And the beauty is that you'll wind up getting something worth much more than that.
I gave him five out of five stars, cause I'm that kinda guy.
So, there you have it. Give 'em a listen and let me know your thoughts. And tell me what kind of music you're into these days.
And a quick heads-up: U2's apparently got a new album coming out in 2013. The new year is looking up already.