Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Swing Lo MagellanIt’s nice, amidst the playground of bullshit that the music industry has in many ways become, to see genius projected out into the great unknown. Listening to Swing Lo Magellan I smile and nod, I gape in awe, I listen over and over again questioning, but mostly, I just hover on that brink of emotion right between crying and laughing. This is the first record by the Dirty Projectors I have ever listened to for some reason, and though I look forward to hearing the rest of their back catalogue, I’m glad it was this one I fell in love with. I explained how I felt upon hearing this record to a friend last night as something like discovering a new window in a house you’ve lived in all your life. Familiar like childhood, far away like home and funny like fate, this record is the answer to a question I was too scared to ask for fear no one knew the answer.

But receiving the answer without having to ask? A meeting of many souls within a black vinyl record? This is the type of exultant space the ear and mind occupy while listening to thundering guitars of  take-no-prisoners album opener “The Offspring Are Blank.” This song delivers unabashedly powerful Guns N’ Roses guitar noise and drums, heedlessly skipping past the over-used and over-worshipped Beatles and Stones rock tones.

But to hear Longstreth’s lyrics, the band’s harmonizing, his philosophizing, the birth of innumerable new weird electronic noises, the incorporation of tribal-like drums on the second track? It sounds like no one. It sounds like no one else. It sounds like the Dirty Projectors. This secretly unique sound that starts off “About To Die” contains a sex appeal and a foreignness usually reserved for steamy jungles and ancient rituals.  Following upon the heels of this is the James Bond drama of “Gun Has No Trigger” adorned with choir-like harmonies that would put the Mormons themselves to shame. To hear it hung all together like a series of trapeze artists or the most elaborate airborne mobile decoration, is pure bliss.

There’s a certain yearning that exists among some of us, that denies our involvement in a culture that has produced the monstrosities we now live with, that begs there must be more, that looks around helplessly for companions among a sea of blank, pallid faces. “Dance For You” captures this yearning with a pinprick precision so full of pain, hope and wonder I started crying before I even finished my first listen and cry every time since. “There is an answer / I haven’t found it / But I will keep dancing till I do.”

When I listen to this record I feel a connection to something I have been searching for my whole life. I hear my same concerns and visions spun into incredible melodies and harmonies that sting me with their similarity to my own emotions and that stun me with their vivid originality.

The ability to weave in and out of the past and the present, to sift through the expanses of time we are confronted with, that long dry desert of time, and come across the only oases within that deathly stretch, without falling prey to the mirages, is a feat within itself. While songs like “Swing Lo Magellan” and “Maybe That Was It” tip their hats to the past, they’re never mired down in navel-gazing folk obsession or rock imitation, both tracks raise their weary heads and march forward, leaving the tempting genres of the past to the past.

The correspondence of the best parts of the past marching alongside soldiers of future sound is what turns this record into a cipher for us. We’re the generation of too much debt, very little chance at any sort of job we care about and even less chance at finding any love or meaning in a fractured, phobic and foolish society. We’ve seen too much, spent too much, we’re too cynical and too broke, we’re too tired and too guarded. We are constantly hungry and flush with plenty, we are indolent and impoverished. This record calls out the strength in us to drop all that we’ve been saddled with, to instead search out, cull our past for its wonders, not with backwards glancing, but with our eyes fixed firmly on our own time, our own purpose. Not to ignore the future or wonder about it — but to create it. The Dirty Projectors created 2012 with this record, they shaped the attitude surrounding music for the rest of the year. They re-instilled within me the singular will to contribute to a better future. To look to the horizon with hope and power instead of despair and exhaustion.

The ingredients through which a feat this large was achieved include self-realization, love and passionate performance. Has anything good ever come into the world without at least one of these three things? Don’t think there’s a chance that in an age of achievable digital perfection “Unto Caesar” is accidentally set in the mode of a live recording session. A hodgepodge of purposefully imperfect harmonies, a hair or two off the mark, the inclusion of criticism of the song in the recording, a solitary male performer clapping at the wrong times and indiscernibly wailing along with the rest. Longstreth gives us the poem and the marginalia – a feat that reflects not only his artistic stance in a world of filler and fluff – but fleshes out our perspective on the band in a way we crave, in a way that with a record like this, we need. The heavenly realization that these are kids, just like us, messing around in the studio, just trying to make some art they love.

In closing, Dave, for he feels like a first-name basis best friend at this point, delivers “Irresponsible Tune” with the solemnity of a closing benediction and the sturdy hope of a pioneer. He takes out the secret talisman usually kept safe in a carved ivory box or only passed down in oral tradition and freely gives it to us: “with our songs, we are outlaws / with our songs we’re alone / but without songs we’re lost and life is pointless, harsh and long.” We are outlaws, the structure of our society forces us to head for the hills out into the back country and make our own way, because those in charge have become irresponsibly corrupt. We’re alone out there as we scheme with our meager supplies and the powers that be against us, but within this freedom we also find the strength to rediscover what we want our lives to be, and the will to make them into that.

If for some reason you haven’t heard this record yet, do yourself a favor and stream it over at The Guardian, (top notch publication that Guardian too).

Get to know the Dirty Projectors: Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Mermonte – Mermonte

mermonteLike a music box that suddenly realized it had vocal chords, and began to sing as well as tick away lovely refrains, Mermonte pitter pats out of nowhere across landscapes of nursery rhymes and French countryside. Releasing their first LP on Father Figure Records, the Danish based independent label recently started by Mimas frontman and Dad Rocks! mastermind Snævar Njáll Albertsson, Mermonte feels both foreign and wonderfully familiar. I feel like I have certain ideas in my mind when I hear about a “French Pop Band” but this self-titled release by Mermonte blows these prefixed notions out of the water.

The aching, tumultuous “Monte” is the perfect introduction for a band that relies on the synergy of their sound rather than focusing solely on vocals like many American pop bands tend to do. The vocals don’t even hit in this song until a third of the way through, beautifully setting up the track as a whole. “David Le Merle” follows a similar structure, placing the entrance of vocals again, late in the song, and using them more as just another noise than any sort of central fixture.

As someone who studied French for five years, I appreciate that some of the vocals, when they’re there, are sung in French. There is a crocheted sort of elegance in the way French words mesh in and out of rhythms with each other that English is incapable of capturing.  But as someone who studied French now five years ago, it’s nice that there are English songs included as well. My favorite track might well be the second one, “We’re On The Same Way” that feels like a celebration of two hearts in tune, two minds in agreement.
I can’t really escape the ocean as a metaphor for these songs, partially due to the cover art which features a woman walking along the surf, right where the water and sand meet. That playful, beachy scene reflects a lot about how the album sounds as well. The music roars and swells, laps and falls into rip tides. Choruses and verses stretch out like beautiful beaches, littered with bright hints of glockenspiel like shells embedded in sandy shores.

Speaking of which, can I for one just say how happy I am that glockenspiels are used on this record? That funny little chirp of an instrument adds this feeling of birdsong to so many songs on this record. It creates a feeling that wouldn’t be possible.

But the acoustic guitar parts on tracks like “Jamie” or album closer “Filtz” bring their sound right back into the folk realm, as do their crystalline harmonies. This little record shines like a ray of sunshine on a white, barren beach, perfect for drives to the sea, quiet evenings alone, or to soundtrack a romantic dinner for two.

Get to know Mermonte: Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp

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The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen occupy a special place in my heart because the first time I ever heard them I was visiting New York for only the second time, and I still lived in LA. I was toying with the idea of moving here and I was in a coffee shop in Brooklyn called Cafe Pedlar near where I now live. Ironically, I often go there now to write album reviews, especially if I have bad writer’s block, for some reason it always clears up if I go there. Anyway, Lisbon had just been released and the barista was playing the record. When I asked him who was playing he began to excitedly tell me about this band The Walkmen and how good their new record was. It might be hyperbole, but I think that was the exact moment I decided to move to Brooklyn. When I got back to LA, I immediately downloaded “Lisbon” and was helplessly drawn into the mirroring circuitous rock these men make with no hope of returning. So the gossamer strands of their recent release Heaven have fallen upon open ears.

Listening to this band is like encountering a package that needs to be carefully unwrapped, that includes lots of little pieces which must be carefully assembled. It’s time consuming, but when the endeavor is finished, it feels more valuable because of the energy and attention you had to put in. That’s always how it is for me with their records, they grow and grow in magnitude upon each listen until I finally feel as if I have some cursory understanding of the heart of the record.

What is the heart of Heaven? It’s the marriage of the pony express and gas stations, the wild wild west and the freeway, the magnificence of a palatial ballroom and the unending track of a dirt trail. The queen who fell in love with a peasant – an unending combination of elegance and meagerness – and an upending of their stratified separation. This is the essence of why they’re such a renowned rock band – their tinge of of folk, just the slightest hint, like honey in your tea.

This album is called “Heaven” and with good reason. It’s clouds and sunshine and all the loved ones you lost and maybe God himself on some of the songs, like on that final crescendo of the opening track ‘We Can’t Be Beat’, he appears in marvel and glory, then goes back to his magisterial business so we can focus on the real joy, the music.

Take the initial easy jaunt of ‘Heartbreaker’ which is suddenly buoyed by guitar parts so stringent they sound like horns and lead to the climax of the song with so much tension that it captures the feeling of unrequited love itself. Then there’s the apocalyptic tunnel of sound punctuated with wailing ahs and organ on ‘The Witch’.  Give me plucked out, subdued and naked honesty of ‘Southern Heart’ and then take me over to the rawness and ache of ‘The Love You Love’.  These men are walking circles around other contemporary “rock” bands. Their sound is simply more adult, there’s more flesh on the bones and the bones themselves are assembled in more complex skeletons.

Hazily royal, this record feels like a peek into the sumptuous lives of Victorian aristocrats, that is, if aristocrats could shred guitars and sing in indolent harmonies. Buy this record.

Get to know The Walkmen: Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Heart Skips A Beat – Jen Storch’s “Head Colds”

Aridly sparse but populated with living forms, who are all the more precious for their rarity, the landscape woven in “Head Colds” is the medicine for heat sickness or frost bite alike. Listen, and find your every ailment cured.

You can download it free below or at her bandcamp, which includes three other tracks: jenstorch.bandcamp.com.

You’re gonna hear a lot of I-told-you-so’s from me when this lady finally hits the airwaves.

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Inside Beat – Spirit Family Reunion Video Premiere ‘The Night Replaced The Day’

Inside Beat will be a new feature for the site that highlights local or lesser known acts. Or bands and people that I’m friends with. You know, the real close stuff. It’s gonna be good.

Americana, it runs deep in my blood. Why? I’ll never know. Maybe it is because you can trace most of my family lineage to some Appalachian ancestors that immigrated from Scotland and Ireland and had a thing for stringed instruments. Whatever the reason, I’m in love with that bluegrass sound, and few bands have recently given me a folk fix like Spirit Family Reunion does. I recently saw them perform live at the Living Room and I was pretty enamored.

Though I missed their recent Record Release show at Mercury Lounge which was sold out and met with rave reviews, I’m happy to premiere this video of one of their finger-lickin tunes ‘The Night Replaced The Day’. The first track off their brand new record “No Separation” this song features wood cabins, preachers, prodigal daughters and plenty of harmonies, what more could a girl ask for in a folk tune? Listen, watch and love.

 

Oh, and their next live performance in Brooklyn is on Saturday August 4th in Prospect Park, part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series. Don’t miss it.

Get to know Spirit Family Reunion: Facebook | Website | Soundcloud | Bandcamp

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Beach House – Bloom

                                                  Can I wait the hours / Till you find me?

Why do I love the music that I love so much? What drives the whirlwind of emotions that tunnel up like a cyclone when I hear specific songs or records? This question has honestly been haunting me this past week. I think it’s the same one as why do we love the people we love? What draws me to a certain man? A certain friend? Why does a certain baby seem like the cutest one on earth? The human experience is so subjective and so beautiful in its individuality. I remember I used to adore records and love them simply because I didn’t know anyone else who listened to them but me. I thought they were solely mine and that was the largest part of why they were so close to my heart. I’d stop listening to them when they hit the radio waves, kicking them to the curb like a cheating husband.

So now that I’ve questioned everything about existence I can circle back around to the subjective, individual question of today, why is it that I love Beach House so much? I have actually faced a great deal of harassment and ridicule for the magnitude of love I have for their latest record “Bloom.” Sure, everybody on earth loved “Teen Dream,” that seems kind of like a given with an album title like that. I still wake up some days with refrains from ’10 Mile Stereo’ in my head. I was also finishing up my senior year of college when I heard that record, so we’ll say the staying power of those memories had something to do with a significant moment, but they are still among the best pop songs I have ever had the privilege of loving.

So “Bloom” why? I think it may have something to do with the fact that I loved reading fantasy and sci-fi novels when I was younger, that I loved comic books and those endless series of books that stretched on and on about magical powers and freakish islands where wizards quietly saved the universe while everyone else complained about the temperature of their tea. Album opener ‘Myth’ isn’t just about a myth or talking about stories of ancient half-gods, it addresses the myths we try to build for ourselves, how we try to make these fantasies real. It talks about people like me, the people who are still obsessed with the idea that somehow our lives hold magic and wield powers beyond human comprehension, we just haven’t discovered them yet.

‘Wild’ ? It is the perfect soundtrack for my adventure through the west and discovering new land, ‘Other People’ is the story of the outsiders who want to get inside of the perfect love story I’m going to have. ‘Lazuli’ is the name of the planet I’m going to discover when I’m an astronaut. ‘The Hours’ is the haunting heartbreak of how long I have to wait to be back with the love of my life, the only one who makes any of this world make any sense at all. I haven’t heard a recent song more full of hope than ‘New Year’ or one more filled with longing than ‘Wishes’.

There’s a reason they call Beach House “dream pop”, but it goes beyond the sound or the need for a trendy new genre name or the airy feeling of aura based melodies that the band has created. Beach House is built upon dreams, the name itself tells you that, as a beach house is part of the vague American dream of happiness, wealth and intrigue. Vacations and love and good things are all supposed to be contained in beach houses, part of their mystery lying in the fact that they remain empty for most of the year. Same with our lives all too often, they remain empty and we don’t express the fantastical notions we used to treasure.

We forget about Indiana Jones, Star Wars and The Never Ending Story (see, I’m not just obsessed with Harrison Ford). We forget about magic and we forget about dreams. We forget that we can be ethereal and spiritual, we forget that buildings used to not be here, just beaches and oceans and waves crashing and sea shells and there was a reason myths were made up, because life was just too beautiful to make any logical sense. The myths and fantasies contained on Beach House’s record “Bloom” remind us of those things. The people who find it boring or sleepy aren’t listening to the lifeblood of dreams that runs through this record. They aren’t remembering their own childhood dreams or singular love affairs with unknown records.

If you haven’t given this record a chance, then you should. If you have and you haven’t felt what I’m talking about, then I feel sorry for you, but I think there’s still hope. Try listening to it with the windows down on a long road trip along a deserted highway. Try listening to it in a forest or under a starry sky out in the quiet away from everyone. Try doing something out of the ordinary just because you personally want to. The idea of a bloom is to grow, blossom, open, to be free and beautiful. This record makes me want to try for that all over again despite the fact that I know all blooms eventually die. All we have is the one magic moment when we live, all we have is the fantasy that eventually fades. But while it is here, it is worth everything.

Get to know Beach House: Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Heart Skips A Beat – Woods “Cali In A Cup”

Can Woods do any wrong? The answer is no, those dreamers in the band Woods, running the Woodsist label, hanging out in hippie enclaves in rural areas all over America it seems, can do absolutely no wrong in my book. Last year’s “Sun And Shade” was one of my absolute favorite records of the year. In fact you can read my thoughts about it right here. However, just when New York summer is hitting in all it’s finest sweat-drenched-everything-smells-like-shit and oh-my-god-it’s-humid glory, I have been missing Los Angeles a bit. It has also been almost a year since I’ve been there which is the longest I’ve been away from the City Of Angels since I moved there in the fall of 2006 for college. So, of course the do-no-wrongers at Woods release a gorgeous tune called “Cali In A Cup” that is not only a sampling of their upcoming record “Bend Beyond” but it also references my recent longing for California, or Cali, to dreamers. Oh and the cover art has a cool snake. Just another reason to venerate these bearded geniuses. Listen and love.

Get to know Woods: Facebook | Woodsist Twitter | Woodsist | Woodsist Soundcloud

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