November 2012: Transcendental Oddness & Insufferability

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop - feat. Wanz At any given time you can find me obsessed with an album, in about 1-2 week intervals, which I listen to non-stop over and over again. That's how I listen to music, generally - in album-sized chunks. Every once in a while I get obsessed with just one song, and listen to it over and over again - which I'm sure, if you are someone who spends a lot of time in my company (like, say, a really patient girlfriend), can become insufferable. This is one of those songs. Why did I allow it lead me deep into realms of insufferableness? It's just so damn catchy and fun, and sounds GREAT! Although I like hip-hop, it's only one of the threads in my listening tapestry, and I'm not inoculated to its genre-specific quirks the way a more devoted fan would be. I tend to get turned off by MCs whose subject matter and delivery sound like something I've heard a bunch of times before (ex. - I don't get the Kendrick Lamar hype, at all), and am drawn to an MC whose subject matter moves away from the usual tropes. Clearly, in this song and others on the album (see Same Love, from the same album), Macklemore is out to tell us more than the typical MC. The whole gist of the song and the video very effectively subverts the clownish materialism that smothers so much hip-hop. Plus, I identify pretty strongly with the sentiment. Plus, the video is pretty entertaining and big ups the idea of community, in the most down-to-earth sense of the word.

Caetano Veloso – A Cor Amarela [The Color Yellow] Caught this one on the fly while spying on Gabolina's listening on Spotify.

Andrew Bird – When That Helicopter Comes I fell in love with Andrew Bird back in the aughts, when I first heard The Mysterious Production of Eggs. The songwriting was idiosyncratic and advanced, the musicianship impeccable, and I'd never heard anything quite like it. Since then, Bird's albums have seemed to stick a bit too closely to that formula, with ever-diminishing returns. There's a cycle that some artists get into where they sink deeper and deeper into their own aesthetic, which can lead to really original, idiosyncratic art - or become mere repetition. For years, every time I hear a new Bird song I feel like it falls into the latter category. His latest album, though, paradoxically achieves something new by hewing to things that are old - namely covers, in this case of a Handsome Family song. The folksiness of the whole project roots him and seems to help him avoid falling into the same old "Andrew Bird" sound. Still idiosyncratic, still an impeccable musician - but much less precious and self-enamored. I hope he does more like this.

Karriem Riggins – Round the Outside From the debut solo album of this accomplished drummer and producer.

John Fahey – Lord Have Mercy I was recently on an L platform downtown watching this virtuosic flamenco-y guitarist, apparently like a hawk. It wasn't my kind of music, but the guy's technique was clearly impeccable. He stopped and asked if I was a guitarist, which I copped to. Chatty, he named three guitarists, implying that they were influences, and asked did I know them. The names sounded vaguely familiar, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to converse about them, so I said no. He was incredulous. I said that that wasn't really my kind of music. He said the three of them played very different kinds of music. As a good-hearted defense, I named two guitarists and asked had he ever heard of them. One was Richard Thompson, one was John Fahey. He hadn't. Any finger-style guitarist residing in the United States should, at very least, know who John Fahey is. (You can start here if you don't.) This song, and others on this album by John Fahey and His Orchestra, are slightly anomalous - having more than just solo guitar - but I can't resist those horns and the way they flesh out his guitar.

Sinkane – Jeeper Creeper Another in the movement of Brooklyn-based indy bands trafficking in African sounds, Sinkane is the work of Ahmed Gallab. The fact that he is actually African, having moved to the U.S. with his parents as a kid, might be important to the music, and it might not. He has played with Yeasayer and Nomo and other bands in the aforementioned "movement", and his music is clearly more related to them than what one thinks of as more pure African music. No matter! The song is crazy groovy.

Hound Dog Taylor – Give Me Back My Wig In my opinion, the world would be a noticeably better place if all 20-year old white kids being praised for their "garage rock" were locked in an actual garage for two years with a guitar and the complete works of Hound Dog Taylor. Listen to more!

Thao & Mirah – Rubies and Rocks One of those unexpected pairings which make sense immediately, this album is actually more of a semi-supergroup trio, with the fingerprints of producer Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs, a highlight of that indy/African genre) all over it. Through collaboration, both singers get outside of their comfort zone a bit. It's fun to hear them stretch, and the album as a whole benefits from the tension between their two distintive voices. I got to see them perform this music a while back at a summer street festival, and their all-female band just killed it. At one point one of them was using a Wii controller to make sounds on some kind of sampler, which was pretty awesome.

Luna – Rhythm King This has been a favorite song of mine for a long time. It's just so unabashedly positive, without being hokey. "Wait for an answer, good things will come. Good things will happen, you're going to get some. Good things are coming, aaaaaaaaah." Perfect.

Dirty Projectors – Desire To Love Although Dirty Projectors are one of my favorite bands, I've been less enthusiastic about the most recent album. It seems to me like they've abandoned the musical elements that really make them stand out - namely, the crazy vocal harmonies of the four singers, and the sophisticated synthesis of African idioms and American rock. Oh yeah, then there's David Langstreth's incredible guitar playing. Clearly, this stripped-down, back-to-basics track is free from most (all?) of the cacophony Dirty Projectors so often traffic in. The band has covered Dylan recently, and I get the feeling that Langstreth is focusing on the song and songwriting as the band's goal. On the upside, it looks like the band will continue to evolve and avoid becoming a parody of itself. My hope is that they'll take the lessons they learn from this stripped-down period and come back with music that incorporates them into the "old sound."

Cody Chesnutt – Don't Follow Me This album has been very long in the coming for those who appreciated The Headphone Masterpiece. Ten years, to be exact. The professionalism of the new album overrides the bedroom kookiness that made so much of the previous one so winning, but there's still plenty of contradiction and idiosyncrasy. This track really demonstrates his ability to walk the line between hero and villain, between trustworthy and suspect narrator. Plus, I just like the spookiness of it. It makes me think of a vampire movie starring Marvin Gaye.

Billy Bragg and Wilco – One By One One of the highlights from this great collaboration, recording original music with words by Woody Guthrie. I love the way it fades in and out, as though it goes on forever and we just get to hear a part of it. Perfect for cruising silently down the highway with someone you love through a forest on a sunny winter day, on the way somewhere special, saying nothing just listening.

Thao & Mirah – Little Cup "sic-a-do, sic-a-do, sic-a-do, sic-a-do." I love how Thao uses this whispered beat-box to spice up this pretty Mirah tune. A perfect, off-beat kind of duet.

Tricky – Overcome There's nothing like the music on this first Tricky album. The startling combination of Tricky's groundbreaking production and Martina Topley-Bird's seductive voice (not mention Tricky's own froggy croak) make for one of the sexiest records I know. (Seriously. Like, for real.) To me, Maxinequaye (along with Dummy) is the definitive trip-hop album. He's done a lot of interesting stuff since this album, but the loss of Martina on subsequent albums just robs them of that special magic.

Karriem Riggins – Esperanza More winning oddness.

Solange – Locked in Closets I love that the queen of commercial R&Bs little sister is the one providing the world with an equally sexy, but genuinely gritty and "indy" version of this sound. Proof of what can happen when soul princesses dig hanging out with funky nerds. The two of them make a unique study on the effects of the music business machine.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Can't Hold Us - feat. Ray Dalton I just, well... This was clearly Macklemore's month in the Faux Sounds household. A less jokey take on the Macklemore magic. Watching this live performance of the song, it hits me what I think really hits me about Macklemore - he's not so much about "me" than he is "us". Think about it.

Björk – Virus (Hudson Mohawke Peaches and Guacamol Remix) In a righteous world Björk would be queen of everything. As it seems to happen a lot of the time, this remix version of the song reveals something the original doesn't. And, I just like it better. Check out this crazy video for a song from the original (unremixed) album:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps It took me a while to get into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I'm not exactly sure why, because I've now kind of fallen for Karen O. Oddly, I think it was the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack that provided my "in," demonstrating the backbone of genuine musicality she has. I know this is their big hit, but I still think it's outstanding.