Music Recommendations

While not what I promised in my last post and not at all what I originally imagined I would be writing on this site, I was thinking today that perhaps some music recommendations would be welcome to you readers.

First, if you haven’t yet, go check out NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast. Things they’ve done recently which I liked are:

1) The listeners’ picks for 2007’s best CDs. A number of artists on the list I had heard of but never actually listened to. If you spend some time with this, I think you’ll agree that the list points equally to the fecundity of the “alternative music” scene (that’s what we called it in the 90’s) as well as the good taste of NPR’s listeners.

2) Interview/Guest-DJ sessions with some well known artists like Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Colin Meloy from the Decemberists. I found the following quote from Meloy especially insightful: “I am more interested in writing outside my realm of experience. To be honest, I don’t find my life that interesting or compelling.” He had been asked about why he didn’t write songs about himself (like everyone else, presumably). More and more I find that books and songs that are transparently narcissistic can’t sustain my interest. I heard Tom Wolfe give a talk about this one time: of course, when he writes outside himself it has its own name, “New Journalism”. I guess increasingly I just like stories and good third-person narrative — in that regard, I definitely appreciate Meloy’s comments on the subject. These interviews are valuable, precisely because there is other music involved which the artists can use to exemplify and contextualize their thoughts.

3) Finally, they’ve got an incredible back-catalogue of live concerts from the 9:30 Club in D.C. I really liked the recent Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks concert. The series is called Live in Concert From All Songs Considered.

Second, lately I’ve really been enjoying the following records:

1) The Raconteurs, “Consolers of the Lonely” — there’s something very unpredictable and bluesy about this record. I really enjoyed the first one, “Broken Boy Soldiers”. There’s a number of things to like: musicianship, songcraft, electric guitar bravado. The last is well known from the White Stripes records and I love it.

2) SunKilMoon’s “April” is gorgeous. I am a huge fan of their previous records and am really happy to have a third.

3) Speaking of thirds, one of my favorite bands from college, Portishead, has a new album, “Third”, coming out at the end of this month. This is their first studio album in eleven (11) years. That’s a long time, and I really hope it doesn’t disappoint. (In college we used to turn the lights out in our apartment and turn on Portishead really loud while we played Goldeneye multiplayer on the Nintendo N64. Really spooky, let me tell you. Those were good times.)

4) Gary Louris, the lead singer of the Jayhawks, recently put out a solo record which I like a lot. It’s called “Vagabonds”. If you like the Jayhawks, you’ll dig this.

Third, a few bands I listen to have their own podcasts. They Might Be Giants’s podcast is by far the best. Their Friday Night Family podcast is mainly songs taken from their recent album, “Here Come the 123s”, which my kids like. Their previous album “Here Come the ABCs” is part of our family lore: the song “C is for Conifers” is incredible. There’s also the Radiohead podcast, in which they release live versions of their songs, recorded in their Oxford studio. (FWIW, I used to see Thom Yorke walking his son in the Oxford University Park on Sunday mornings while I was in grad school. The Park is right across from my college, Keble. I never said hi, though I was sorely tempted. He seems like a really decent guy.) Wilco also had a podcast for a while, but it doesn’t seem to have been updated lately.

On the subject of podcasts, I think I’ll try to put a list together soon of things I listen to on a regular basis. I find podcasts and audiobooks really enjoyable and a useful way to “read” or catch up on the news while you’re doing something else with your hands, like writing blog posts.