Favorited ex.fm Songs

Friday, February 25, 2011

Josh Ritter and Scott Hutchison concert

Life and school have been busy lately, which has led to the lack of blogging of late. Fortunately, part of what had me busy was a trip to the Twin Cities to see Josh Ritter and Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) perform at First Avenue.

Over the last couple years, Scottish band Frightened Rabbit has really solidified their place as one of my favorite active bands. Their 2008 release, The Midnight Organ Fight, would probably make my list of my 5 favorite albums if I was forced to make one. Just about every track on that album has been my favorite at some point or another. The album is a really emotional, post relationship album with some absolutely wonderful song-writing and lyricism. Their follow-up album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, breaks from the post-relationship mold and features some more uplifting tracks. I placed it #2 on my year end albums list last year behind only a phenomenal Tallest Man On Earth album.

With all that being said, I was really excited to see lead singer Scott Hutchison perform as the opener. It was a little weird hearing him perform group arrangements (some of which I've probably heard close to 100 times) by himself on acoustic guitar, but his emotion in his singing still came through just as well as on the albums. He eschewed set lists and instead just called out for fan suggestions. Additionally, on Twitter (@FRabbits), he said that he would cover one song by another band every night and called for requests from followers. Seeing that the show was at First Avenue, a venue that Prince helped popularize, I suggested "Purple Rain," which led to a pleasant surprise when that was the song he chose to cover! I'm sure dozens of other people suggested the same thing, since it is a pretty obvious choice, but it was still pretty cool to have my suggestion picked. It was great seeing him perform, but I still have Frightened Rabbit near the top of my list of bands I need to see live.

My roommates, who I attended the concert with, were more excited to see the main act, Josh Ritter (my favorite person from Idaho and also the only one I know off the top of my head). I used to listen to Josh Ritter more, but I have kinda drifted from him some in recent years. Regardless, his album The Animal Years, is still one of my favorites and is wonderful every time I listen to it. I also learned that the man knows how to entertain. The whole show he had a huge smile on his face. He bantered with the audience between songs (about representative Michelle Bachman and the impending snow storm that would trap us all in the venue) and just showed a lot of energy and excitement the whole time he was on stage, which is always refreshing when attending a concert.

Below are two of my favorite songs by the performers. There are way too many Frightened Rabbit songs I love, which makes it hard to choose just one, but the first is the music video for "The Loneliness and the Scream" from their 2010 album "The Winter of Mixed Drinks." The second video is for the song that introduced me to Josh Ritter and remains my favorite song of his to this day. The song was featured in the closing moments of season 3 of House, which remains one of my favorite moments in one of my favorite shows, so it was a nice intersection between good music and good TV. Anyhow, the song is called "Good Man" and is from "The Animal Years."

Am I here? Of course I am, yes.
All I need is your hand to drag me out again.

Babe we both had dry spells, hard times in bad lands.
I'm a good man for ya. I'm a good man.

Both artists actually have a good deal of music you can pick up for free if you want to hear more by them.

Josh Ritter recorded a Daytrotter session that has 6 tracks and can be downloaded here. He also has several live versions and covers that you can download on his website here.

Frightened Rabbit has visited the Daytrotter studios twice, so there are two separate four song sessions that can be downloaded here and here. If you enjoy those, support the artists and buy some of their other music or catch them live when they visit your town!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Otis Redding kind of day

I was all set to write a blog post about a different artist, but then I headed outside into the 65 degree weather here in Iowa City, popped in some headphones with Otis Redding playing, and took a walk, and it just seems wrong to write about anyone else. Days like today were made for Otis Redding.

He is probably most well known for his early death, at the age of 26, when his plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" is the song most often associated with him. It was recorded just 3 days before his death, and released posthumously. It's sad to think of how much wonderful music the world missed out on by an artist who really seemed to be hitting his stride, but we can take comfort in the fact that he put out a lot of great music before he died that is still being enjoyed to this day.

Few people could put as much soul and raw energy into their voice as the young Otis Redding did. He has so many wonderful songs, that it's hard to choose just one, but below is a live version of one of my favorites, "Mr. Pitiful."

A 22 track album of his songs called "Remember Me" is available at Amazon for $9.49, and it is a heck of an addition to any music collection.

While we lost Otis far too early, his influence can be seen directly and indirectly in many others. Almost everybody is familiar with Aretha Franklin's "Respect," but far fewer are aware of the fact that Otis Redding actually wrote the track. Obviously Aretha really took it and made it her own in a wonderful way, but without Otis, that doesn't happen.

And in an attempt to finally write about another artist I have been meaning to cover, since I teased it in my January 25 post, Charles Bradley is a current artist who has some strong Otis Redding sound in him. He is a 62 year old singer who just released his first album last month. I haven't heard the whole album yet, but from the two songs that I have heard, it's clear that the man had some music pent up in him. There's a lot of soul in that voice, and it's a good throw back to artists like Otis Redding and plenty of his contemporaries. Below is his song "No Time For Dreaming."

You can download another song from the album for free from Seattle radio station KEXP here, and the album can be found from Amazon or wherever else I'm sure.

Enjoy the weather and the tunes!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Florence + The Machine

This post will roughly continue (and likely be the last of) my Grammy themed posts. I jumped on the Florence + the Machine (or Florence and the Machine) bandwagon about a year after everyone else, but better late than never! I picked up their debut album, Lungs, about a month ago, and it is one that I have returned to often since then. The band is fronted by British singer-songwriter Florence Welch, with a group of studio musicians making up "The Machine." The music is a mix of indie rock/pop, with probably some soul and who knows what other influences. They remind me a little bit of another British singer, Kate Nash, who I've listened to a bit longer.

The Grammy tie-in comes from the fact that Florence + The Machine was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys along with Mumford & Sons from my previous post and Justin Bieber from none of my posts. I have absolutely no idea what their criteria for "new artist" is since Florence + The Machine's album came out in 2009, but I'll go with it. Florence Welch also apparently performed with Super Bowl goat Christina Aguilera and four other singers in a tribute to Aretha Franklin during the telecast.

I keep going back and forth on my favorite song from their album, but I think right now it is a song called "My Boy Builds Coffins." Below is a video of the band performing the song in a park somewhere (with the drummer using a fence instead of a drumset):

You can stream four more of their songs in a player on their website here, including my other favorite song "Kiss With a Fist."

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's a two post kind of day

How fitting on Valentine's Day to post a song that starts with the line "It's empty in the valley of your heart," but I figured I'd stick with the Grammys theme for my second post today.

I didn't watch the Grammys live last night (homework got in the way), but I knew there were a few performances I wanted to scour the internet for this morning. While it was cool seeing Arcade Fire win best album, seeing Mumford & Sons getting some recognition for their blend of folk/bluegrass/rock may have been even cooler. They performed the song "The Cave," followed by The Avett Brothers performing "Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise," and both bands joining Bob Dylan for "Maggie's Farm." I haven't been able to find a very high quality video of the performance, so it probably isn't worth posting here, but below is a video of Mumford & Sons performing "The Cave" in a bookshop somewhere. I absolutely love when the banjo comes in during this song.

If you enjoy this song, you'll probably enjoy their album. If you listen to 89.3 The Current in Minnesota, you are no doubt quite familiar with them already. Their end of the year reader's poll for best songs of 2010 had Mumford & Sons occupying 3 of the top 7 spots. I wouldn't go quite as far as that, but they do have several really catchy songs on the album. Unfortunately, this appears to be just about the only album that Amazon isn't selling for $5, but you can still get it for $7.99 here.

Arcade Fire wins the Grammy's

I'll post something longer when I get more time, but for now... congrats to Arcade Fire for winning album of the year at the Grammy's last night! It's not often an album I enjoy wins that award, but good for them. They were on The Daily Show a few months ago, and Jon Stewart said they were the nicest rock stars ever (or something to that effect).

Enjoy the end of their acceptance, and their performance of "Ready To Start" to closeout the awards last night:

Also... I know the Grammy's need to make money and keep on a time constraint and whatnot, but interspersing commercials into the band's performance at the end seems exceptionally tacky... I'll forgive it though because of the sweet performances by Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and Bob Dylan earlier.

If you don't already have Grammy award winning The Suburbs, you can pick it up for $5 from Amazon right now.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Hanalei

Hanalei is a hard band/artist to write about because he/they is/are hard to follow. How's that for a coherent sentence?

My roommate my freshman year of college, Todd, introduced me to Hanalei. Todd was from Chicago and a pretty big music fan. He was probably one of the biggest influences in shaping what I listen to today, which I am immensely thankful for. It took me a while to realize that Hanalei wasn't an artist that most people, or really hardly anybody knew about. Hanalei is by far the least listened to of the artists I have written about so far. A quick check of Last.fm band pages shows that Hanalei has a total of around 3,000 listeners. This is 10 times smaller than Joe Pug (the next least listened to artist I've covered) and anywhere from 100 to 400 times smaller than every other artist. The band's MySpace page is rarely updated and information regarding tours or releases are hard to come by. Sometimes I worry that the band will break up and I just won't find out about it.

Hanalei started as a solo project by Chicago-area musician Brian Moss. The first album, We Are All Natural Disasters, was filled with acoustic guitar mixed with electronic elements from a laptop. It isn't really the same as The Postal Service album, but I've seen the comparisons made. That album was my introduction to Hanalei, and I loved it. At some point after that, Moss moved to California and added members, turning Hanalei from an indie pop solo project to a indie rock/alt country collaboration that resulted in the band's second album, Parts and Accessories. The change in sound caught me off guard since I had fallen in love with We Are All Natural Disasters, but the new album grew on me more and more and eventually I found that I actually liked it better than its predecessor. Around the time I realized that, I heard that the band had disbanded, and it was returning to a solo project. Last year, Hanalei released their third album, this time another solo album, called One Big Night. It is currently my least favorite of the three, but like the others, the more I listen, the more it seems to grow on me.

I really wish Hanalei had a bigger following. Brian Moss is a wonderful lyricist (one of my favorites at coming up with good lines), and the music is pretty fantastic on its own. Hopefully he/they will find a bit more of a following at some point, so that Hanalei doesn't just disappear like so many other talented bands that never gain traction. I really can't recommend We're All Natural Disasters and Parts and Accessories enough. Both albums are available from Amazon for $8.99.

Since information about the band is hard to come by (which is made harder by the band name being the same as a region in Hawaii), good videos are no different, but here is a video of possibly my favorite song on the second album. It is called "Resonate Remain":

To finish the post, below are a few of my favorite lines from Hanalei songs:

I lock all the doors when I sleep
You always find a way to break in
My tired eyes, they don't wanna trace your face
You always find a way to make them

-MLK, You're OK

The buildings, they are so tired of the lives inside
Eternal tenants of sedated dreams
Communicate this through the radiator hiss
The creak in the floorboards and bad pipes


Up on the Oregon coastline, where the forest kisses the sea
Laid back on the backwoods backroad is where I'll, it's where I'll be
Off the map and under the stars, running in the redwoods, getting caught in the rain
Out of the rat race and into the good life, where it's beautiful oh and it is plain

-Better Days

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tom Waits and how my blog got a name

I have no idea where to start discussing an artist like Tom Waits. He's one of those artists that I just absolutely love. I have almost every album of his, have read 2 books about him, and love watching interviews and performances by him. He is 61 now and doesn't tour very much, but he is at the very top of my list of artists I want to see.

Waits released his first album in 1973. Since then, he has released 21 of his own albums, guested on countless other albums, been the subject of numerous tribute albums, acted in 27 movies, and recently provided poetry for a book to raise money for homeless people in his area. While he has never quite reached a big mainstream audience, other artists seem to embrace him. He has been covered by a ridiculous number (and variety) of artists including Bette Midler, Primus, The Ataris, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, The Ramones, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, and Norah Jones. He also was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past year.

On top of his prolific work, Waits has one of the most interesting personae (hmmm... apparently personas isn't correct) of anyone around. His live recordings are littered with stories and jokes in between songs. In 2009, he released a 2-disc live album, with the second disc consisting entirely of between song banter, filled with random facts that he found interesting, terrible jokes, and anything else he felt like talking about. At times he mentions that he should stop talking and play some music and people seem to be disappointed (which is not an indictment of his music, just an indication of how captivating he can be).

When I was trying to come up with a name for my blog (which is way harder than it seems like it should be), I originally scoured various song names, brainstormed bad music puns, and tried anything else I could think of. I kept running into dead ends wherever I turned, so I started looking through some Tom Waits lyrics, knowing that he is never short on good lines. I ended up settling on one of my favorite lines from the song "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (In Lowell)" from his 1976 album Small Change. The first line pretty well sums up the theme of the song: "Well I got a bad liver and a broken heart. Yeah, I drunk me a river since you tore me apart." Later, in the song he sings "No, the moon ain't romantic. It's intimidating as hell." I've always related to that line and it sticks out as one of my favorites of his. And now it is immortalized (or something like that) in my blog name.

Some people dislike his gruff voice, making it hard for them to listen to him. I love the way his rough voice mixes with the soft, pretty piano in this song, and many of his other early works though. Plus his songs are never short on spirit and emotion. Below is a video of him performing "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (In Lowell)" way back in 1977.

Here is another song, "Whistlin' Past the Graveyard," that I found myself rocking out to today. Be warned, this is probably not like most other songs you've heard:

The following passage, from an article in the Dallas Observer in 1999 seems to get at why I love Tom Waits:

Everything you are about to read is a lie. Well, perhaps that is an exagggeration, much like most of what comes out of Tom Waits's mouth. It's not as though he doesn't know the truth, it's just less fun to tell it. Every interview, and he has handed out only a handful in conjunction with the release of the brand-new Mule Variations, reads as though it were granted by a stand-up trying out new material, throwing out anything with the hope that at least some of it will shtick. Ask him what took so long between the release of 1992's Bone Machine and Mule Variations, and he's likely to respond that he's been in traffic school or breaking in other people's shoes.

Often times a clever lie is more fun than the truth.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Is there a ghost in my house?

I've been watching a lot of the TV show Fringe lately. I had started watching the show when it first came on, but I lost interest about halfway through the first season. Since then, I heard from numerous people that the show got way better after the first season, so I decided to start with season 2 and take another crack at it. Boy am I glad I did! I just finished the season 2 today, and I am ridiculously hooked.

What does any of this have to do with a music blog? Well a few episodes back, the storyline involved (tangentially) a waitress at a diner that served lots of truck drivers and people passing through from point A to point B. For the regulars, she would make them mix CDs to help them pass the time on the road. I love the idea and would love to frequent any place where this actually happened. Anyhow, one of the main characters in the show stopped at the diner, and he convinced the waitress to make him one too. Without going too much into what happened the rest of the episode, when he finally got the CD and laid on the bed to listen to it, the first song was "Is There A Ghost?" by Band of Horses.

Some people may recognize the band's sound from a few of their songs being featured in TV shows, movies, or commercials. This song is a sort of haunting sounding indie rock song. It may carry the distinction of the best song that employs only 14 words, as the phrase "I could sleep when I lived alone. Is there a ghost in my house?" is repeated in some way over and over throughout the song. Honestly, I had hardly noticed that fact though because it is just a really well done song. The band ended up kinda losing me with their most recent release, but their 2007 album Cease To Begin that this song is from is a really good album top to bottom. Two other stand-out tracks from the album are "No One's Gonna Love You" and "Detlef Schrempf." How can you not love a band that names a song, for no apparent reason, after a random NBA player (who happens to share my birthday) from the 80s and 90s?

Below is the music video for the song. It involves a woman breaking into houses and stealing pillows from people in the middle of the night.

"No One's Gonna Love You" is available to download for free from Amazon here. I actually might like that one better, so I recommend grabbing it if you don't have it yet.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

I meant to write this post a couple days ago, but between a massive snow storm and our internet cutting in and out the whole time, I didn't get around to it until now.

I was listening to my iTunes on shuffle when Gimme Sympathy by Metric came on a couple days ago. Wow. I hadn't heard the song in a long time, and I had managed to forget how catchy it is and how much I love it. I immediately switched from shuffle and listened to the entire album. Looking back, I rated the album Fantasies #8 on my year end list for 2009, right in between excellent albums by The Antlers and Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. I never posted a list of my favorite songs from 2009 online, but I found one in my iTunes that had Gimme Sympathy rated as my 4th favorite song of the year.

Enough about where I ranked the song/album though. As seems to be a trend for some of these artists I have talked about, I hadn't listened to Metric's previous releases too much until Fantasies. I was aware of Metric due to them being a part of the indie rock scene from Canada that had produced artists like Stars, Tegan and Sara, and The New Pornographers. What I had heard from Metric never really interested me too much though. When I first heard the album Fantasies, it didn't seem like my style and I ignored it too. I can't remember for certain what made me reconsider back then, but I think it was likely hearing the song on The Current and realizing I was enjoying it even if it wasn't something I might normally listen to. The new album is a little more poppy and radio friendly than their old albums, but it is a heck of an end product, so who cares.

Here's the music video for Gimme Sympathy, which was the third single released from Fantasies. It shows the band performing in what looks like an empty basement of a club or something. Throughout the video, the musicians trade places despite everything still sounding the same. Kinda weird seeing a male as the vocalist while lead singer Emily Haines' voice comes out.

You can currently pick up Gimme Sympathy for free from Amazon here.

Also, the band is giving away an acoustic version of the song if you sign up for their mailing list at www.ilovemetric.com.

I highly recommend picking up the whole album somewhere (or at the very least the song "Help, I'm Alive").