In a Mellow Mood

This has been a fun week at RMC.  I started my Facebook page, and finished my Spotify playlist for February!  I also got to check out a friend’s band playing a local show; and managed a few extra minutes listening to vinyl albums around the house – so my entire weekend had a musical focus that kept my spirits high and rocking.

A note about Spotify –Since February is super short, I had to add more of my own favorites to this month’s playlist.  I noticed that most of the CDs I’ve been listening to lately have been extra-mellow, so in keeping with the theme I chose some subtler songs by artists you’ve probably heard before:  Townes Van Zant, Jackson Browne, Mindy Smith, and CSN.

Please enjoy on “shuffle” mode for best effect!  And don’t worry; I’ll make sure that the March playlist has a little more edge.

Hannah

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rockmycommute

Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/user/rockmycommute

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A Chance to Check-out Something New

Sadnecessary – by Milky Chance

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This album was suggested by a colleague months ago, but I forgot the group’s name!  Milky Chance is apparently a musical duo from Germany that published their debut album in 2014.  The vocal style reminds me of a cross between Andre 3000 and Beck – sort of gritty and grainy, sometimes playful; sometimes monotone.  It alternates between a little hip-hop and indie feel, depending on the song.

Even though Milky Chance seems to have created a distinctive and identifiable “sound”, there are still many style variations on the very different songs from this album. There is a copious use of electronic elements here – without being “dance” or “techno”.  Milky Chance has instead found a way to incorporate these fresh electronic beats with the more laid-back, moody, singer-songwriter style of music that appeals to the “Indie Folk Revival” crowd.  The result is actually excellent – the album is well done, and feels very novel compared to other music popular today.

“Stunner” starts the album with a great beat background, and fun lyrics.  Almost danceable!  “Flashed Junk Mind” is also really good; I love the use of a classic rock-band guitar with other electronic elements and piano.   This is actually one of the few upbeat songs on the album.  “Becoming” is slower and in a minor key, but the backing vocals create a great theme – as they also do on the next song “Running” (featuring a gunshot sample, or what could also be the sound of angrily broken chalk).

“Sweet Sun” is my absolute favorite, built on a 50s-style rhythm guitar, with Jonathan Richman-style of spoken-word lyrics broadcast over a truly rocking background.  It also gives a shout-out to “Jimmy and Janice” and I just love this acknowledgement to two music greats of another era.  “Feathery” and “Indigo” start to lose me a little bit, because they are more melancholy in tone and slower in beat.  And I’m sorry, but “Down by the River” sounds like your expected cautionary tale of long-lived regret, told over ballad-style guitar (complete with backing vocals reminiscent of howling coyotes).  Sigh.

My conclusion is that all of the fun songs are towards the front of the album. After a few mellow songs that seem to stretch out towards the end, everything sounds the same to me – sleepy and slow.  The chorus on “Fairytale” comes across like a well-meaning guyfriend slurring his confessions of love after too many beers.   It just goes on and on!  After this one comes “Feathery” then “Loveland” – even the song titles are kind of blah and they just blend into eachother.

Thankfully, “Stolen Dance” is shoved back here to keep you listening, and it breaks things up a bit.  This is the radio single you are most likely to know, with an upbeat chorus and recognizable hook over a good beat and acoustic guitars, that mix with the gritty vocals to create that unique Milky Chance style.   And don’t forget “Sadneccessary”, the title track –this invented word describes the tone of all of their songs, and feels like a smoothly read poem.  A bit moody, but tolerable in the way it is presented – so shake it off and enjoy.

I’m giving this album a B+, because although it is VERY good and you should totally check it out, I find that the slower songs at the end just kind of fade into the background of my commute, instead of standing out and making me want to really listen.  I’m curious about what this duo will do next, because this is a remarkably unique first album, and I’m sure there is more greatness to come!

Link to Google Play to Preview Tracks:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Milky_Chance_Sadnecessary?id=Bphknggobnipqbxnbvwejq64ila&hl=en

Link to Amazon to Purchase Album:

http://www.amazon.com/Sadnecessary-Milky-Chance/dp/B00L4P6AX6/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1424748210&sr=1-1&keywords=sadnecessary

Rested and Hopeful

RMC took an extra-long holiday trip this past weekend, for some much needed R&R.  I am emerging from my vacation-state feeling relaxed, rested, and hopeful for what is coming next!  It will be a busy week at work, but thankfully my little car is well-stocked with exciting music suggested by all of YOU to help me prepare for each crazy new day.  My review of Manu Chao’s 2000 album is a little late, but well-timed for a welcome diversion to the winter blues and the radio blahs.  Please check it out!

In other fun news for this past week, I also received a special Valentine’s Day gift from my most supportive fan – a reminder to stick with the blog and to keep exploring new tunes this year!

Earrings

I hope that each of you feel rested and inspired this week – there is plenty to do and see, so get out there and GO!

Hannah

Next Station – Hope!

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza by Manu Chao

Manu Chao

I can’t believe I have been missing this 2000 album for so long!  For some reason I expected a Spanish album, but the first song was mostly in English, and I guessed that the second one was in Portuguese!  For a brief moment, I thought perhaps this was featuring Esperanto (which Wikipedia calls “a constructed international auxiliary language”) but no, there are actually multiple languages used across the various songs, sometimes within a song.  Various musical styles from around the world are featured.  This gives the album a very international, world-tour feel that is exciting.  I believe the artist is actually from France; however per Google Play “Chao and others sing in Arabic, English, French, Galician, Portuguese, and Spanish on this album.”  Aha!

I remember being in Toulouse in 2001, when reggae was very popular.  A lot of the bars had live music that summer, and I had the opportunity to hear a fun band and purchase an album.  Manu Chao reminded me of that special experience – the reggae beats, the sweaty crowded smoky bar, and a friend’s comment to me – “il faut que tu lèves tes pieds!”  I suspect that Manu Chao was all over the place at French music stores back then, but in my generally overwhelmed state at being in a new city speaking only French, I never noticed.

I cannot provide valid comparisons for you, because I have not been exposed to many of the international music styles used (for no good reason). I loved this CD, and will certainly keep an eye out for music similar to Manu Chao in the future! This tidbit I pulled from the Google Play page is very telling, as to what kind of treat you are in for: “In 2010 Esperanza was listed at #65 in Rolling Stone magazine’s “Best Albums of the Decade.” In 2012, the album listed at #474 on the Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Description provided by Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution CC-BY-SA 4.0.”

The two songs I most enjoyed really got stuck in my head.  “Le Rendez Vous” is my favorite.  This has a 40s jazz styling, with quick and clever English/French lyrics delivered in a way that feels like a musical number from some 40s Broadway show à la “Kiss Me Kate”.  Track #6 “Me Gustas Tu” has a very repetitive chorus that you will be singing all day; the lyrics are in French and suggest dealing with confusion, complacency, misguided tolerance, and passivity about important issues.  Interestingly, #5 (“La Primavera”) is basically the same song as #6 from a musical perspective, with the same chorus.  The first sounds more stripped down and serious (I heard the word “Washington” so I’m guessing this is political) while the second one is more playful, even if the subject matter is not.

This repetition of musical themes happens again later on in the album: Track #15 “Homens” has the same musical themes as “Mr. Bobby” (Track #11), featuring a singular repeating tone that provides a modern feel over a fairly traditional song played in a minor key. Finally, “Infinita Tristeza” takes the slide whistle sounds and musical structure from #6 again as the background for more vocal samples – police loudspeakers, news clips, and a conversation between a child and his mother.  This last song provides a significant closing to this album that pulls together all of the various multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-musical and socio-political elements into one unified project at the end. While each of these Manu Chao songs could stand alone, to fully appreciate this album it should be considered in its entirety.  You will enjoy the experience!

Link to Google Play to Sample Tracks:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album?id=Blw7rbecuzg57aguj6czqoofdoq&tid=song-Tyz76spgf767levcoy3m37v6wky

Link to Amazon to Purchase Album:

http://www.amazon.com/Proxima-Estaci%C3%B3n-Esperanza-Manu-Chao/dp/B00005BF9Z/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1424231888&sr=8-2&keywords=Manu+Chao

Happy Valentine’s Day from RMC

I didn’t realize I’d be reviewing an album by “The Head and the Heart” so close to Valentine’s day, but I have now decided to make things official with a super sweet theme photo on the main post.  There’s nothing wrong with love, in fact it’s all we need – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with loving  yourself enough to check out some new and rewarding music.  I hope you enjoy!

I need to communicate a small change to my format this month – I’m skipping the track-by-track posts for now.  They are very time consuming for me, and they are just not getting the exposure at this point in time to be worth it.  If you have a particular request on a specific album, then I probably have enough information on hand in my notes to share this detail with you – just let me know.  For now you’ll just see the full album reviews and my “news” notes on the blog each Tuesday.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to heartily congratulate my college roommate on being the only person who entered the drawing for January’s CDs, and so she gets to take her pick!  Maybe we’ll get a few more takers next month.  There are some good albums coming up, and I’ll have the February playlist up on Spotify soon to prove it.  Until then, Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy listening.

Hannah

A Hearty Recommendation

“Let’s Be Still” – The Head and the Heart

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When looking up this artist to make a purchase, similar ones popped up – The Lumineers, Of Monsters And Men, Vance Joy.  My Pandora station for “Indie Folk Revival” plays all of these songs, and while they’re fine, I find they all sound virtually identical with vocal stylings à la Conor Oberst.  I wasn’t expecting to love this album by the Head and the Heart (let’s call them H&H), but I really do!  I chose their 2013 release “Let’s Be Still” instead of their debut album, hoping to get a more established feel of their better [perhaps more polished, or at least more established] work, and I was not disappointed.

H&H has three main singers that alternate leading on various tracks.  For some groups this bothers me – makes it hard to recognize “their sound” when hearing new songs – but in this case it keeps the whole album interesting and fresh.  My favorite of the three vocalists sounds almost exactly like David Gray; then there is a female singer similar to Feist; and finally there is the “other” guy who does NOT sound like David Gray but is otherwise unremarkable yet not offensive.  Actually, David Gray is a good artist comparison for the whole CD – singer/songwriter style songs, with lots of piano, acoustic guitar, and heartfelt lyrics.

My favorite tracks on the album are #2 (“Another Story) and #10 (“10,000 Weight in Gold”).  They are both sung by the David Gray-esque vocalist, and they both break my heart a little bit.  The strong emotional response to these two may be the result of an unfair advantage, since I realized had heard these songs before (while I was working on art projects over the summer), and they definitely play on my nostalgia!  Tracks 4, 5, and 6 don’t do much for me, but I don’t actually hate them:  “Summertime” has some silly vocal stylings that I don’t like; “Josh McBride” seems unnecessarily  somber; and “Shake” seems kind of like a contemporary Christian worship song with its too-obvious structure and cadence.  Forgivable sins in the context of the whole album, really.

I don’t know why this genre of music has become so popular.  I’m sure there is a legit writeup on this somewhere, but I suspect that in the world of overproduced, super-shiny pop and with the resurgence of dance music in the US, people are longing for something that feels more home-grown and timeless.  I generally like the music – but since it is timed with the emergence of flannel shirts, copious beards, and LL Bean boots, I can’t shake the feeling that this is as much of a fashion trend in music as it is in apparel.

The observations above are the reasons why I am so skeptical of any artist that falls into this “Indie Folk Revival” category – it seems easy to take advantage of, so why not?  Plenty of people can play the banjo while lamenting something personal in a gravely voice.  H&H seems like one of the best quality examples I have come across in this category, so if you are going to try some of this stripped-down music, I suggest that you pick up this album.  I give this an A- rating because there really isn’t a bad track on the CD!

Link to Google Play to Preview Tracks:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/The_Head_And_The_Heart_Let_s_Be_Still?id=Bfjignwsqaucvcaptfd3zdstl7e&hl=en

Link to Amazon for Purchase Info:

http://www.amazon.com/Lets-Be-Still-Head-Heart/dp/B00ECL7ZR4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423536547&sr=8-1&keywords=Let%27s+Be+still

Celebrating First Successful Month of RMC!

It is a shame to wrap up my first full month of music reviews with something kind of disappointing, but please check out this week’s Guster review to either 1) completely disagree with me (if you are a huge fan), or 2) do yourself a favor and avoid the latest album!  I couldn’t even think of a clever photo idea for their Evermotion CD, so I snapped an image of the odd Amazon scenario that shows only 10 reviews for a three-week-old release!  Supposedly a picture is worth 1000 words…

Even with the occasional less-than-thrilling album to check out, this past month of RMC has been an excellent experience for me.  I have truly enjoyed the decadent feeling of an abundance of new tunes to savor during my commute, and I have had many wonderful conversations with new contacts and old friends about this project. Mission accomplished!  Just 11 more months to go, and I’m looking forward to the journey.

There is no way I’m parting with my copy of BTE’s “All Together Now”, but to celebrate my first month of RMC I’ll gladly pass along the other five CDs to the first five people who send an email to: contact@rockmycommute.com

Now to get started on my February playlist!

Hannah