October 2013: Lindblom High Music Appreciation

Robert Johnson – Come On in My Kitchen (Alt. Version - Take 2) Last week I had the privilege of visiting my friend Johnny Suh's music appreciation class at Linblom High School and playing some music for them. The opportunity to blather on about music for 45 minutes to a group of people who have to listen and can't leave the room is a dream come true for me. After introducing myself, I played this song and then asked, "What did you hear?" Their observations throughout this exercise tended to be pretty insightful. When I asked how many people were playing on this song, the class agreed it was probably two or three people. I told them that, even though they were technically wrong, it said a lot about Robert Johnson's uncanny (supernatural!?) ability to transcend the one man with a guitar paradigm.

Sandro Perri – Love & Light I saw that Jon Martin was listening to this one day and decided to check it out. It's kind of perfect Jon Martin music, actually. I like this song. It manages to have that smooth Latin thing without being weak tea the way a lot of bossa nova sounds to me. (Sorry, bossa nova fans.) It reminds me of a latin M. Ward.

Tanya Morgan – Worldmade I got into Tanya Morgan last year for a while, digging their version of the Native Tongues sound. I thought that they had probably broken up or dissolved, but no, they're still at it. And still growing, as this song demonstrates. Smart. Tuff. Angry for a reason. It's nice to think that the Native Tongues vibe is still being updated and grown.

Joseph Spence – I Bid You Good Night Spence. Oh Spence. There's nobody like Joseph Spence, and there's almost no way to really classify him. Clearly, a lifetime spent in the Bahamas shows dramatically in his wildly sur-rhythmic playing, but first-hand accounts suggest that even other Bahamian guitarists don't play anything like this. And then there's the singing. I know this is an acquired taste, but I love it. My dad recently told me a story he heard about an interview of some women from the island where Spence lived, in which they described their habit of ranking the men on the island based on their musical ability. After rattling off a long, gossipy list of men, the interviewer asked if they had forgotten to include Spence. They laughed wildly at him, and then explained that Spence is so far above everyone else on the island it's not even worth including him. If you like this, I highly recommend recordings of him with his wife and her family, the Pinders, singing along (which you can hear on this comp). Weird and sublime.

The Oscar Peterson Trio – Jet Song Bizarrely, impossibly, I never listened to (or was aware of listening to) Oscar Peterson before this month. I was in the car with Gabe and she had 90.9 WDCB, our local jazz station, on the radio. "What is this?!," I thought hearing this unbelievable piano playing. "I bet I can guess who it is," I said, knowing that was potentially (probably) untrue. Bud Powell, is what I came up with. Nope, Oscar Peterson. Alternately pristine and dirty. Agile and thumpy. Love that left hand, stride-style, playing. Plus Ray Brown on bass!? Oh man. It's so wonderful to discover a new artist, knowing there's a giant treasure trove of music to dig into. Lucky me.

Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal I've started to realize that there's a certain type of electronic music that tickles my earbones the same way classical music does. I think a big part of it is the way the repetition of verse/chorus typical to pop music is missing. The process of listening to something like this, and something like the Chopin pieces I wrote about last month, requires my brain to accommodate a much larger chunk of music at a time. Since there's no way to parse it from moment to moment I tend to get lost. To listen passively. It's relaxing. Great textures. Amazing production. And, let's face it, kind of sexy.

U2 – Out Of Control I know, I know. U2. I'm aware of what they are these days. But I'm eternally head over heels for War, and by extension anything from that era. They definitely had that "U2" sound, but still bear traces of the punk/new wave world of music they came out of. Remove your prejudice, and this first album of theirs really doesn't sound too different from Joy Division. Right? Without all the fancy production, you can hear what a great rhythm section this is, and imagine how electric it would have been to see them in a small Dublin club in 1981.

Linda Thompson – Versatile Heart Linda Thompson has a new album out this month, but I haven't gotten to listen to it yet. The press around it did inspire me to check out her back catalogue though, and I'm pumped about that. I love the records she did with Richard Thompson, but I ignorantly assumed that anything she did without him would be not so good. Another great surprise, and I'm very happy to be wrong. I love the horns on this, and her singing is so wonderfully understated. She seems connected to her musical heritage in all the right ways, which, considering the musical milieu to which she belongs, really shouldn't be surprising.

Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener In discussing this new musical love affair of mine with Gabe, I had to acknowledge a soft spot for deadpan female vocalists, à la Nico, the queen of deadpan. Cate Le Bon has a new record coming out soon, and I've fallen deeply back into a pit of Julie Doiron. But I digress. I got turned on to Barnett by the All Songs Considered coverage of the recent CMJ festival in New York, where she made a rare Stateside appearance. Her voice just gets to me. I love how unmediated her Australian accent is. The way the music sounds veeeery loose without being ironically sloppy can't help but recall Blonde On Blonde-era Dylan. And when you listen to the song after this on the record, it's clear she's doing plenty of Dylan-recalling herself. Ultimately, I'm kind of jealous of her. Making a mundane autobiographical lyric interesting is a talent that feels way outside my grasp as a songwriter and performer. It takes guts, sure, but also the kind of unquantifiable charisma she's exhibiting in spades. See, slackers can get r done.

L7 – Shove I probably haven't listened to L7 since putting my cassette tapes away in 1995, but they just randomly popped into my head one day. I spent a happy afternoon with them in my headphones. I'm sure I'm clouded by nostalgia, but this still sounds great to me.

Arctic Monkeys – Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High? I know some people, notably Helean, are creeped out by the way you can spy on what people are listening to on Spotify, but I kind of love monitoring what my friends are listening to. I've learned not to magnify the creepiness of it by emailing people with play-by-play commentary, but I'm still watching a bunch of people. (Don't worry, Helean - I can't see your music, damnit.) I noticed over a long period of time that my friend Dan was listening to this album over and over again. I'd really only ever read about Arctic Monkeys, and was pleasantly surprised after I succumbed to curiosity and checked out this album. It actually reminds me a lot of the most recent Queens of the Stone Age album, but a little more confident in its pop appeal. It's not groundbreaking music, but very well done and super fun to listen to.

Dirty Projectors – Desire To Love - Bonus Track Pygmies Of The Ituri Rainforest, Zimbabwe – Agba'a Dirty Projectors was another one of the artists I played for Johnny Suh's music class, largely as a way to further illustrate my thesis on how the contemporary interaction between American and African music is dynamic and reciprocal. Besides the fact that the vinyl has a great holographic cover that the kids thought was cool (I agree), the singing on this track exemplifies the incredible polyrhythmic singing that makes this band stand out among their indie-rock contemporaries. I followed it with this field recording of pygmies, which I hope demonstrated the roots of that kind of singing, and how wildly innovative the act of borrowing can be.