January 2015: Cycles, man. Cycles.

Klaus Johann Grobe – Between the Buttons - Faux Sounds friend Scottie McNiece and his bros over at Uncanned Music put together one of the more eclectic end-of-year lists you'll run into. Called Top 20 Albums of 2014, it's chock full of stuff you've never heard of. Squeaking in at #20, this album is one of my favorites on the list, a retro workout for organ, bass, and drums - reflecting the deadpan grooves of groups like Stereolab and Can. Great running music. Read the much more trenchant review from Scottie (and read the rest of the list) over at the Uncanned website

Aloe Blacc – Femme Fatale - Now that I have a car with a functioning radio, lately I've been dropping down on the dial from WBEZ (the local public radio station) to their younger sibling Vocalo, which plays all kinds of pop music, but really does a great job with fresh R&B, hip hop, and soul. Calling themselves "a next generation public media service that connects with younger, culturally diverse audiences through music, stories, and training,"  they seem to do an excellent job of actually reflecting what's going on in the community. In all fairness, they play a lot of local music of all stripes, but almost every time I tune in there's something in the R&B vein that blindsides me. I've loved Aloe Blacc's "I Need A Dollar" for several years, but never could find much to grab in his other stuff. I was driving around loving the feel of this song on Vocalo one day when I suddenly realized it was the famous Velvet Underground song. It works so well in this setting, and the mental exercise of comparing Lou Reed and Aloe Blacc is pretty entertaining. 

Laura Marling – Short Movie - From a forthcoming full album of the same name, her fifth full-length since 2008. As a sign of her prolificacy, this will be the second January in a row she's got a new song featured on Faux Sounds. I just love her voice a ton. 

San Fermin – Parasites - Like, what? I can't figure out if this far-out mix of genres actually works or not (fiddle break downs? choral break downs? fife?), but the song rides its strangeness right up to the line in a way I love. Baritone sax? Yes, please. 

The Carter Family – Give Me Roses While I Live - This was one of the songs we sang in my "Harmony 1" class this month at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Taught by the super Barb Silverman, I think the Monday night class may be saving my life this winter. Standing in a room singing with a group of people for an hour just resets everything for me, warms up my body and my mind. As is the case with so many Carter Family songs, this one manages to elegantly illuminate a simple but profound idea. Gorgeous harmony. And Maybelle Carter's guitar playing, while it may sound pretty pedestrian today, is deceptively simple and groundbreaking. 

Punch Brothers – Kid A & Sarah Jarosz – The Tourist - I stumbled on both of these bluegrassed Radiohead covers by accident in the same day and was pretty amused by their prevalence. The verisimilitude that the Punch Brothers achieve is pretty astounding, especially Paul Kowert's ability to make the bass sound like a digitally-enhanced Thom Yorke. Sarah Jarosz's take is a little more conventional (if there is such a thing in this kind of looking-glass phenomenon), but still really well done and lovely. As much as I love the original versions of these songs, I feel like these different versions really spotlight how incredible the composition is.  

Modest Mouse – Coyotes - Ah, new music from Brock and company after eight years. And a sly environmental tract at that. Leave it to Isaac Brock to describe humans as serial killers. Looking forward to hearing the whole album. On a kind of related note, National Geographic has a great article and video about the estimated 2,000 (!) coyotes that live in Chicago, one of which I saw at night about a month ago in the park by my house.

Habib Koité – Bolo Mala - Another great find from Afropop Worldwides "Stocking Stuffers" show

DJ Raff – Gettosinfonía - The Comedy Central show Broad City is quickly becoming one of my new favorite things to watch. An often off-color, surreal, and incredibly funny little treat about two twenty-something women in New York City. Produced by Amy Poehler and featuring Ilana Glazer and Abi Jacobson, it's kind of like an even wackier version of "Louie." Even though the theme song in the opening credits last only about 5 seconds it always grabs my attention and I started digging to find out who did it. That led me to DJ Raff and this album which has been playing in my ears more than anything recently. Super catchy, full of Latin beats but not exclusively. This is great running music, great driving music, great showering music. Check out DJ Raff everyone!

Wu-Tang Clan – Clan In Da Front - In my desperate quest to find good music for running, my instinct led me back to the Wu, music I've listened to but never really dug into that deep. And, wow, there's some depth there. I've given myself a mission to get to know the Wu-Tang universe a little better, and what better way to start than this classic. 

De La Soul – Me, Myself & I - Gabe and I went this month for the first time to the Promontory, Hyde Park's newest (and only) concert venue. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble with special guests De La Soul! Couldn't miss it. De La's 3 Feet High and Rising was the first rap album I ever owned, and I listened to it over and over and over again, circa 1990. The three songs they did with HBE (including this one) were easily the highlights of the show. On a side note, although there seems to be a lot to recommend venue-wise at the Promontory, I was incredibly put off by the over-the-top marketing for sponsor Heineken, especially in light of the Heineken-only policy at the bar. Note to promoters and venue managers - If I pay $30  to see a show, I shouldn't be subjected to this kind of live action commercial. Not saying I won't go back to the Promontory, but it was definitely not a good first impression. 

Asaf Avidan – Bang Bang - A super cut from the Israeli songbird's eclectic new album, his first proper release in the U.S. I guess there's a funny trend here, as Avidan was also included in last January's list. Cycles, man. Cycles.