December Theme: Perhaps the only other people making lists in December more feverishly than my 5.5 year old are music critics, pundits, and fans. Top Ten Albums! Best Album of the Year! Best New Artist! Broken out by genre and category!
I suck at this sort of ranked list making, so I don’t do it. But, I do spend time each December thinking about what music has stayed with me most over the course of the year. During the next four weeks, I’ll highlight four of my favorite albums from 2017 (ones that hang together, top-to-bottom) and share the In My Ear-2017 playlist.
This week: Spoon, Hot Thoughts.
This band just keeps cranking out distinctive, rocking records! They’ve got that ability to evolve their sound, incorporate different influences, grow as musicians, and yet still produce music that is instantly recognizable as “Spoon.” I caught their live show in Portland this fall and they absolutely killed it. Easily, one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last couple of years.
Their 2017 record Hot Thoughts is just packed with great tracks. I couldn’t find a freely accessible version of my favorite one from the album, “Shotgun,” so this is a live performance of one of their singles “Do I Have to Talk You Into It?”
In honor of one of my favorite places and where I spent most of this week, a gem of a song from the dynamic St. Vincent.
*Warning: Earmuff it. Lyrics NSFW or little ears.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. I love and struggle with this holiday. I honor the simple act of coming around a table to break bread with friends and family in a spirit of gratitude. But, the historical myth of the holiday is pervasive and gratitude comes a bit hard in an era of so much inequality, inequity, need, vitriol, and hate.
And, so, today’s post features an artist whose music I love, whom I’m grateful has the change to put his music out for the world to hear, and who — on only his second studio album, after many, many mixtapes and EPs, and at the age of 22 — takes on heavy issues, gets political, and pushes back on oppression.
I first heard Joey Bada$$ on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, of all places, in 2014. He was clearly performing at the invitation of The Roots crew and they jammed out on Waves, the first single from his debut mixtape and still my favorite track of his. He released that first album at age 17; I saw him on The Late Show at 19. Now, at 22, he’s a veteran…and his still growing and getting better.
As you celebrate the holiday: Be grateful for what you have. Be mindful that others don’t. Have the courage to ask, learn, and seek to change why.
It’s a special post! My first opportunity to feature someone I know. Like, actually know.
Jenn and I met back in 2004 (wowwww, Jenn, that math just sunk in) when we were briefly enrolled in the same graduate program….until she realized she had miles to go, albums to make, and many additional degrees to earn before she slept. She has an extensive bio and while the role or position that music has taken in her life has changed over the years, it’s always been core to her being. Her Jenn-ness.
For some reason or another (helping me out with a fundraiser for an organization I was involved with, I think), Jenn played a small house party concert at my apartment. The memory of that night was firmly in my mind when I thought of this blog and so I’m really, really happy Jenn agreed to feature her music here.
Jenn live, breathes, and inhabits all that is indie and folk and about indie and folk music. She’s in the singer/songwriter tradition of raw, down-to-earth lyrics about the everyday shit we all encounter, backed by her own acoustic guitar melodies. Example: her Me, Too playlist.
“You’re Like You” is off of her 2014 album, Allora Eccola. Here’s what Jenn had to say about it:
“Lately, I’ve been trying to get some of my music up and out into the world. Sometimes I listen to it and I feel kind of wistful that I never really got it out into the world the way I wanted to. Allora Eccola [especially] deserves some airtime. It is my least heard album because I was already beyond the exhausting process of publicizing when I made it. I just made it for love. ‘You’re Like You’ is a happy, darling song about my sweet, feisty husband.”
Hands down, one of my favorite bands, The Lone Bellow performed a great — albeit undersold — show two nights ago in Portland. Holy crap, they are an amazing live act. They are one of the rare groups whom I would (and will!) see every time they play a show locally; no questions asked.
Their energy is infectious. Their musicianship and harmonies are off the charts. Their intensity boggles my mind.
At their shows, they just command the room with their songs. You’re dancing one minute, clapping and foot-stomping madly along the next, then swaying quietly to an unaccompanied, aching three-part harmony (seriously, I have cried at their shows. No tears this time, but the same chills up the spine), then you’re up dancing again, and then closing with a house-lights up sing-along. Fuck, they’re just so good.
They are touring their latest album, Walk into a Storm. Rather than embed an audio clip alone, I’m including a video clip “Deeper in the Water,” one of the stand-out tracks from the new album. It doesn’t do their live shows full justice, but it’s enough to give you a taste of what they bring to each and every performance.
Bonus: I really enjoyed the opener: The Wild Reeds, a new discovery for me. Check out the track “Only Songs” from their new album The World We Built.
I had a different song picked out to post today. A good one.
But, after a couple of “meh” days — days when I’ve been trapped in my head and my thoughts and my brooding — it didn’t feel right to put that song up. And, since this blog is an opportunity for me (and hopefully an invitation for you) to feel more through this music — really feel — I’m putting up this track by Odesza instead.
When I’m in the headspace I’ve been in much of this week, my mind feels heavy (literally weighted; anyone know what I mean here?) and my thoughts spiral around on an endless loop and my entire field of focus narrows. “Higher Ground,” on the other hand, makes me feel light, and soaring, and expansive. I need all of that right now. Maybe you do too.
I was first introduced to Rapsody a few years ago when she kept showing up on tracks by other favorite MCs of mine…and absolutely crushing her solos.
In my mind, she is one of the best MCs and artists out there. Period. Full stop. I’m not surprised that she often gets categorized and set up only against female contemporaries (even by people and on sites that are promoting her music — looking at you Apple), when she stands toe-to-toe with any male rapper. But, it still drives me crazy.
She has an ear for great beats and production, she can rhyme over any sample, and her lyrics are on par with any artist of any genre: authentic, smart, creative, often funny, highly autobiographical, and rich with meaning. She is the rare musician whose songs I listen to repeatedly and keep discovering new things about them.
This track off her new album, Lalia’s Wisdom, is catching lots of attention because 1) it’s awesome; and 2) it features Kendrick Lamar, who will make his debut on In My Ear in a few weeks time (an opportunity I’m sure he’s been coveting). But, if you dig this track and Rapsody, check out Black & Ugly from this album — where her full artistry and skill is really on display; four minutes of raps over a sparse beat with only two choruses — or her 2014 album, Beauty and the Beast, which I actually like even better than this one.
FYI – She cusses on this track, so be sure to earmuff it.
Hippo Campus was a new discovery for me when they released Landmark this past February, their first full length album.
The entire album is a good listen, but this track in particular has stuck with me all year. Unlike last week’s track, this is a quiet one. It’s a “stare blankly out the window” song. I am rarely able to quiet my mind; this record does that for me. The tone is hushed and the melody is both beautiful and haunting.
For those of you in Portland, they play Port City next February. Join me?
A new, recurring feature for the blog! Posts featuring artists I see live!
Last night, I saw Leslie Odom, Jr. perform. Those of you who are Hamilton fans will recognize him (or at least recognize his voice) as the actor who played Aaron Burr. With the huge commercial success of Hamilton, Leslie Odom, Jr. has the rare opportunity for a Broadway performer to do whatever the hell he wants.
He talked about this at the show last night. Paraphrasing his remarks: “When the guys in cigars asked, ‘What do you want to do kid. We’ll make you a star’ I said I wanted to sing — and perform like Nat King Cole would perform today.”
So, he’s a crooner. And, a damn good one. He’s also backed by a phe-nom-e-nal band: Michael O. Mitchell (piano), Orlando Le Fleming (stand-up bass), John Davis (drums), Steven Walker (guitar) and Senfu Stoney (percussion). The song on which they each did extended, individual solos was worth the ticket price alone.
He and his quintet released an album last year of jazz, blues, and Broadway standards and performed many of the songs last night. This is my favorite track…a quiet, delicate cover of a 1950s Broadway song.
Refresh your memory about what this blog is all about (here and here) and then come back to read the rest of this post. It’s about music I love — pretty much full stop.
And, I fucking* love this song. The pulsing beat. The melody. The drop at 1:23. So good. It’s been in my head (and on repeat to start many-a-workday) ever since Phoenix released their album in June, as have plenty of other tracks on the record.
If you don’t find yourself belting out (or desperately wanting to) the chorus on your 2nd listen, well then…..we can’t carpool.
*-Warning: Avert your eyes, sensitive readers, there will be cursing on this blog. It makes me feel better (borrowed from GFOB Bo Bigelow, with a shout out). You’ve been warned.