Saturday, December 25, 2021

General Comments

This is the place for any comments you have that don't relate to a specific post. This is a place where you can leave any requests, suggestions and opinions that you have about this blog. It will always remain at the top of the blog so that it is visible to everyone. We can use this as a forum for an open discussion on music in general, as well as just simply saying hi. Let's get the ball rolling.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Favorite Albums of 2015

2015 was a long, strange year. Throughout the year, I experienced many hardships, while at the same time being the recipient of great fortune. I purchased and listened to more music in 2015 than any other year since starting this blog, but a lack of time and energy prevented me from dedicating much time to it whatsoever.  I have thought about packing it in countless times, but each time the thought crosses my mind, I always come back to the feeling I get when I have a new idea for a post. It's really difficult to put into words, but suffice it to say that listening to music fills me with joy, and I enjoy sharing music that delights my readers.

While most people have probably already started focusing their efforts on the most anticipated records for 2016, I have just begun to wrap my head around my favorite albums released in 2015. Last year I spent more time thoroughly listening to records, rather than dismissing them after a cursory listen to get through a stacked listening queue. For me, 2015 was the year that female musicians and hip-hop artists came into their own, crafting interesting and innovative albums in an age where most people buy their music in bite-sized digital increments. It was a year where Kendrick Lamar went against everything that he knew would guarantee popularity to create his masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, and would go on to be nominated for 11 Grammy awards, and a year where Alabama Shakes would shake the foundation of their patented southern soul sound to create a more varied, distinctive aural experience that is all their own on Sound and Color. I am hopeful that many artists will continue to go down this road less traveled, forging it's own path by crafting thought-provoking, soul-baring artistic statements that absolutely had to be made.   

Each record on this list is one in which I spent a considerable amount of time with, poring over the lyrics, melodies and tempos until they were firmly embedded in the musical jukebox in my mind. I hope that you are introduced to some new artists from this list, and please give money to the artists if you like what you hear.

1) Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp a Butterfly

I imagine it's fitting that I discuss this record first as I listened to it more than anything else this year. What Kendrick was able to accomplish with this album is unprecedented in hip-hop, especially hip-hop in an era of sound-bite news and social media.  In essence, this is a concept record about the trials and tribulations of dealing with the pressures of being a famous hip-hop artist that is political, conscious, poetic and aggressive. The music is a heady stew of funk, jazz, soul and rock anchored by an all-star cast of producers and musicians including Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Snoop Dogg and George Clinton.  With To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick has set the bar high for rappers, and the record could be the catalyst to shifting mainstream rap's focus towards positivity and lyrical consciousness.

For Free (Interlude) and Momma

2) Drinks- Hermits on Holiday


When I heard that Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley of White Fence were collaborating on a new project, I was positively intrigued. On this record, the two artists are able to mix and match styles effortlessly, careening wildly between punk rock, psychedelia, post-rock and noise often in the same song. In a year where their weren't too many albums that rocked, Hermits on Holiday was there to give me the caffeinated rush that I needed to get my day started.

Focus on the Street and Spilt the Beans

3) La Luz- Weirdo Shrine

On their follow-up to It's Alive, the four piece from Seattle, WA enlisted Ty Segall to produce, lending to a heavier, fuzzed out sound without sacrificing any of the crucial elements that made the debut so enticing.

 You Disappear and I'll Be True

4) Ryley Walker- Primrose Green

Previous albums by Walker have been low-key acoustic affairs, but On Primrose Green, he has enlisted a full band to flesh out his phenomenal guitar playing, and it pays off in spades. While it's hard to deny that Walker's vocals are directly influenced by Tim Buckley, the band manages to carry him to another level on the extended instrumental workouts.

Sweet Satisfaction and The High Road

5) Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba- Ba Power

I've had the pleasure of seeing Kouyate in concert, and it's nothing short of electrifying. On Ba Power, the band is able to capture the intensity of Kouyate's blistering ngoni solos filtered through fuzz and wah-wah pedals. This is absolutely essential music!

Siran Fen and  Ab Sumaya

6) Brian Ellis Group- Escondido Sessions

Thanks goes out to J Hubner for turning me on to this album, and the rest of the roster on the El Paraiso label. Typically, contemporary jazz is either too avant garde, or too generic for me to bother with it. Escondido Sessions is spiritual cosmic jazz that verges on dissonance, but doesn't go so far out of the pocket that it can't find its way home. If you haven't heard of the other acts on this label, get hip to it now!

Via De Mi Rancho and Memories of Pubby

7) Peacers- S-T

After Sic Alps released its swan song self-titled record in 2012, it was hard to tell what direction Mike Donovan would go.  Decidedly, he has come full circle with this frizzle-fried, acid-soaked collection of songs that recall the best of psychedelia and classic rock from the 60's.

R.J.D. (Salam) and Kick on the Plane

8) Pops Staples- Don't Lose This

While the initial sessions for this record began 18 years ago at Chicago's Hinge Recording Studio in 1998, the album didn't come to fruition until 2015. Another interesting thing to note is that Jeff Tweedy took the rough digital recordings, and fleshed it out with a little guitar and drums. What results is a raw recording that sounds amazing, especially considering that the only things kept from the original recordings are the vocals from the Staple Singers and drums and bass on two tracks.

Somebody Was Watching and Nobody's Fault But Mine

9) L'Orange and Jeremiah Jae- The Night Took Us in Like Family

L'Orange's cinematic soul-noir samples are the perfect compliment to Jae's low-key rhymes. As I said before, this is gangster rap for people who are tired of the same old tropes that have plagued the genre since the demise of N.W.A.

Ignore the Man to Your Right and Kind of Like Life

10) Built to Spill- Untethered Moon

Earlier in the year, I overheard a conversation where someone compared the new BTS album to Perfect From Now On. While this is quite the statement to live up to, I would say that this album measures up to the best in the Built to Spill oeuvre. From the yearning melodies to the extended guitar solos, there is so much to sink your ears into here.

On the Way and When I'm Blind

11) Helen- The Original Faces

When Liz Harris approached Scott Simmons and Jed Bindeman about starting a thrash-rock project, I'm sure none of them thought it would come out quite like this.  What resulted was a hazy, ethereal shoegaze sound with the vocals buried beneath layers of reverb. This one came out of nowhere and never left my playlist last year.

Covered in Shade and Right Outside

12) Dr. Yen Lo- Days with Dr. Yen Lo

Under the guise of Dr. Yen Lo, Ka along with the producer Preservation has crafted one of the most dense, cerebral hip-hop records in recent memory. The production is all tripped-out guitar, cinematic strings and subtle cymbal splashes, providing the perfect backdrop to Ka's poetic, revelatory rhyme schemes. As far as hip-hop goes, it doesn't get any better than this!

Day 811 and Day 110

13) Alabama Shakes- Sound and Color

When the first words spoken on Sound and Color are "A new world hangs outside the window, beautiful and strange," it's pretty apparent that Alabama Shakes weren't going to be content with simply repeating the formula that worked for them on their debut. This is a transitional follow-up record where the group experimented with the studio as an instrument. Each sound on the record has been tweaked to fit the context of the song perfectly, while retaining the grittiness and punch of the debut that earned them such a loyal following. I don't know what direction Alabama Shakes are headed, but I'll certainly be along for the ride.

Sound and Color and Gemini

14) King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard- Quarters

On the latest long player from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, they decided to make each track ten minutes and ten seconds, making the album 40 minutes and 40 seconds. Each song unfolds, winds, twists and takes on another form every couple of minutes. Aside from the opener "The River," they mostly keep the guitar solos to a minimum. Instead, these songs have multiple verses and repeatable choruses that tickle the pleasure centers of your brain. If you haven't heard of these guys yet, I highly recommend checking them out.

The River and Lonely Steel Sheet Flyer

15)  Jessica Pratt- On Your Own Love Again

Jessica Pratt's follow-up to her self-titled debut contains more haunting vocal melodies laid over a bed of acoustic guitar strumming. If you hadn't told me that this record was released last year, I would have thought that it was a long-lost folk chestnut from the 70's that was shelved indefinitely due to poor promotion. Thankfully, Pratt is alive and well, producing exceptional records like this.

Strange Melody and Greycedes

16) Oddisee- The Good Fight-

I heard the first single from this album called "That's Love", and I instantly knew that the record was going to be something special. From the upbeat tempo, to the positive message in the lyrics, the song has an infectious, crackling energy that can't be denied. Also, in an unprecedented move for contemporary hip-hop music, Oddisee managed to create an entire record containing no profanity at all. With a steady lyrical flow juxtaposed with live instrumentation and soulful choruses, Oddisee has clearly won The Good Fight.

Want Something Done and A List of Withouts

17) Chastity Belt- Time to Go Home

Time to Go Home is a meticulously recorded, angst-ridden rock record that just happens to be created by four female musicians. The fact that the album is so great has everything to do with the bands ability to write catchy melodies couched in lyrics filled with doubt and desperation. But don't get me wrong, the band can just as easily write a song like "Cool Slut" where they celebrate female promiscuity with a playful spirit, sending a clear message to women that it's okay to be "slutty". Subtlety is clearly not Chastity Belt's modus operandi, but we love them all the more for this fact.

Cool Slut and Joke

18) Eternal Tapestry- White Strawberries

After founding member, and virtuoso guitarist Dewey Mahood left Eternal Tapestry a couple years ago, I figured that this would be the last I would hear from them.  Then, in the beginning of the year, this unsuspecting gem of a record found it's way into my listening queue. Often, I feel that the term "psychedelic" is used so much that it practically has no meaning, but this album is so saturated in trippy guitars, synths and organs that it literally sounds like the aural equivalent of an acid trip.

Wild Strawberries and White Adders Tongue

19) The Ghost Ease- Raw

While the debut S-T record by The Ghost Ease contained epic songs that rarely strayed from the darkness, the new one lets a little light peer through the pervading sense of doom with playful vocal melodies on "PJM" and "4BV, and a symphonic closing track called "Bye Love" that could hint at a new direction for the band.  The songs on Raw are an exercise in restraint and catharsis, pushing and pulling the user in opposite directions, often keeping them guessing as to what is just around the corner. Slow ballads can turn into pummeling fuzz rock, and vice versa. At just under 30 minutes, the record is over before you have time to think about it, but hopefully you will be able to muster enough energy to hit the repeat button. 

Neptune Sun and 4BV 

20) Sleater Kinney- No Cities to Love  

 After an extended hiatus, Sleater Kinney have returned to the fold with an album that fulfills every expectation that one could possibly have for a follow-up to The Woods. Usually reunion albums are sad affairs that are created specifically because the band members need a quick cash-grab. In Sleater Kinney's case, they went on hiatus because one of the members was chronically ill and continuing on due to these circumstances would have been futile. Fast forward ten years later to No Cities to Love, and Sleater Kinney have crafted an aggressive, cathartic record filled with punchy drums, sing-along anthems and fuzzed-out guitar. Here's to hoping for another new record from the ladies in 2016!

Surface Envy and No Anthems 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Future Queens Redux- Vol.12

It's hard to fathom that I've been kicking around this mortal coil called the blogosphere since 2006. In the current social media addicted world, a music blog seems to be about as relevant to current times as parachute pants and jean jackets. But, in the fall of 2006, when I first decided to try my hand at spreading the word about music through the now antiquated format of a blog, I stumbled upon a peculiar corner of the internet named Prostrate Before a Periwinkle. Aside from the off-putting name, it was a brilliant resource for discovering esoteric artifacts from a wide variety of musical genres. Even though the link for the blog has not been active for several years, it is still possible to view small traces of it via The Wayback Machine, a magical portal into the internet's graveyard.

Back in September of 2007, I posted on Eclectic Grooves about the impact that Prostrate Before a Periwinkle had on my listening habits, and contributed a new episode to the Future Queens series that originated on their blog, a feature that highlighted the various female artists who have made a significant contribution to the musical landscape to date.  While I had hoped to make Future Queens an ongoing feature on Eclectic Grooves, this didn't come to pass at the time. Though the inspiration and the passion was present, a lack of time and energy stalled this project for an indeterminate amount of time.

Fast forward to eight years later, a time where female musicians have been shown a little more appreciation, though they have still been largely ignored by the blogs, newspapers and social media.  Considering this, I couldn't think of a better time to give this series a fresh start.

As you can see from the track list posted below, this is an eclectic mix featuring blues, folk, country, gospel soul, rock and pop music that was made solely by innovative female musicians who were determined to make it against great adversity in this male-dominated musical world.

I hope that you enjoy this new Future Queens mix.

Future Queens Vol.12
1) Anne Briggs- Lowlands Away
2) Shirley Anne Lee- I Shall Not Be Moved
3) The Slits- I Heard It Through the Grapevine
4) La Luz- Sure as Spring
5) The Bermudas- Donnie
6) The Ghost Ease- Full Super Moon (In Scorpio)
7) Thee Headcoatees- Wild Man
8) Fifty Foot Hose- If Not This Time
9) Grouper- Alien Observer
10) Broadcast- Corporeal
11) Juana Molina- Wed 21
12) France Gall- Poup E De Cire, Poup E De Son
13) Ros Sereysothea- Chnam Oun Dop Pram Muy
14) Marisa Anderson- Electricity
15) Bessie Smith- Good Man Is Hard to Find
16) Jessica Pratt- Greycedes
17) Coleman Family- Peace on Earth
18) Aretha Franklin- I Never Loved a Man  (The Way I Do You)
19) Buffy Sainte-Marie- Gonna Feel Much Better When You're Gone
20) Lhasa- Fool's Gold

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Mix 2015

I had planned on getting this year's summer mix completed before Summer Solstice.  As usual, my perfectionism stepped in, preventing me from completing the mix until a couple hours ago. While the process of gathering tracks began in the middle of May, I didn't get into finalizing my choices until last week. I feel that this years mix is filled with songs that are perfect for summer road trips, backyard barbecues and pool parties.  In keeping with the theme of the blog, it is an eclectic mix spanning genres such as rock, glam, garage, jazz, soul, funk and hip-hop. For those of you who still burn CD's, I have trimmed the length of the mix a little so it will fit on a single CD.

Dive in, and let these songs make a splash in your eardrums this summer!

Summer Mix2015

1) Witch- Introduction
2) Andres Landero- Perdi Las Abarcas
3) The Hombres- Let It Out (Let It all Hang Out)
4) White Fence- Raven on White Cadillac
5) Gene Harris- Put on Train
6) Shirly Ellis- The Nitty Gritty
7) Iggy Pop- Lust for Life
8) Sparks- Girl from Germany
9) Barbara Lynn- Club a Go-Go
10) A Tribe Called Quest- We Can Get Down
11) Wild Tchoupitoulas- Meet De Boys on the Battlefront
12) D'Angelo and the Vanguard- Til It's Done (Tutu)
13) Boogaloo Joe Jones- Right On
14) The Blendells- Love That I Needed
15) Eddie Harris- Instant Death
16) Little Ann- Lean Lanky Daddy
17) The Sweet- Fox on the Run
18) Devo- The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise
19) Stereolab-Emperor Tomato Ketchup
20) Oddisee- That's Love
21) Unknown Mortal Orchestra- Like Acid Rain
22) Atlas Sound- Walkabout

Download it here!

Please drop me a line in the comments to let me know what you think of the mix.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Unknown Mortal Orchestra- Multi-Love

Unknown Mortal Orchestra- Multi Love

The trajectory of Ruban Nielsen's career has never been predictable. After becoming completely disenchanted with the record industry when he was playing in the punk band The Mint Chicks, Ruban was really close to leaving music in his rearview mirror. While working as an illustrator for Jacob Portrait's brother, he was working on a self-recorded project that would eventually turn into UMO's self-titled debut record, despite his feelings that no one would be interested in hearing a bunch of guitar solos. Then, after a year of touring left him feeling alienated and desperate, he poured these feelings into the band's second record II, and toured the globe for another world tour. 

Within the past year, his polyamorous relationship with his wife and another woman has provided the lyrical inspiration for the band's soon to be released third record entitled Multi-Love.  Even though the official street date for Multi-Love is May 26, the accolades have already been pouring in from news sources like Pitchfork and Spin, touting it as UMO's best, most accomplished record to date.

When I first heard that UMO had started working on a new record, I was hoping for a better-produced record that was reminiscent of their live show with Ruban's extended guitar solos being pushed to the forefront of the mix alongside the stellar rhythm section of Jacob Portrait and Riley Geare. Instead, Ruban has opted to take this record in the opposite direction, mostly eschewing guitar solos and the band's trademark psychedelic sound for a seemingly more conventional synth-pop sound with elements of jazz, soul and disco.

I have to admit that it took me several listens to wrap my head around this album, but I'm finally starting to appreciate the dedication that it must have taken to achieve the various sounds that make up the record. While the album was taken to another studio to be mastered, it's astonishing that the bulk of the recording process was completed in Ruban's in-house basement studio. You would be hard-pressed to find another album with this level of sonic clarity whose recording took place in the confines of a home studio. This clearly speaks to Ruban's talent as a musician and producer to be able to craft a record with exceptional sound quality without resorting to a big-name producer or professional sound studio. 

The opening track "Multi-Love" was the first single that was leaked to the public back in February. Along with the news of the new album coming in May, this was the public's first taste of what to expect from the new record. Essentially "Multi-love" is an introduction to the new sound that Ruban is going for on the record, a heavily processed, technicolor version of UMO with the vocals way up-front, and a symphony of synthesizers and digitized handclaps serving as the backdrop. This directly leads into "Like Acid Rain", a song that travels back in time to the mid 80's with a sound reminiscent of soul groups like New Edition and Ready For the World, with the slightest tinge of Sly and the Family Stone. It's a short burst of a track whose candy-coated melodies explode with so much energy and enthusiasm that you will be humming along to it for days. Then comes "Ur Life One Night", the song that best exemplifies the UMO sound: complex vocal patterns, upbeat drumming, an infectious sing-along chorus and a compact guitar solo. Next, is the second single released from the album called "Can't Keep Checking My Phone". This is the most overtly pop song in UMO's catalog thus far, and with it's pop-disco sound it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit if it was chosen as the music for the latest Verizon commercial, or as the soundtrack for the latest mainstream, coming-of-age movie.

From here, things get really interesting though. "Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty" features a lightly-strummed acoustic guitar melody with an array of synthesized squiggles that come in and out of the mix.  For the most part, Ruban's vocals are distorted beyond comprehension, but with lyrics that are as poignant as "If we were just strangers, then we'd fall in love again- Abandon extreme wealth and casual cruelty",  you can't help but be moved by the thoughtfulness. Then, a spacy sax solo comes out of nowhere, and takes the song to another level that you didn't think was possible. Immediately following this solo, all of the music drops out except for the vocals, bass and light drumming, putting the focus on the vocals one last time before the bottom drops out into the guitar freakout section of the song.  It really is a phenomenal song that gets better on each successive listen.

The thick bass line is the first thing we hear on "The World Is Crowded", and while it is clearly influenced by D'Angelo and Prince, the song manages to retain it's own identity. It's also the song that features the most soulful vocals from Ruban, and you can actually understand some of the lyrics (Here's hoping that the lyrics will be included with the album). "Stage or Screen" is most reminiscent of UMO's earlier records with extensive phasing on the drums, and twisty melodies that won't leave your mind, until the last minute where it suddenly switches the tempo with a mellow synth outro. On "Necessary Evil", we are treated to a soulful song with bubbly saxophone, eerie keyboards and a brief guitar interlude that is a welcome return to the sound of II.

The closing track "Puzzles" is aptly titled as it's difficult to ascertain how each part of the song fits together, but somehow it all works. Starting off with the sound of glass breaking amidst ominous synths for the first minute of the song, it slowly segues into a beautiful acoustic melody with shuffling drums and what sounds to me like a cello.  Then, a distorted synthesizer or guitar line comes out of nowhere, and thus begins the next part of this song. After the first verse of the song, it goes into an infectious bridge with fantastic drum fills, heavy on the hi-hat. An aggressive guitar riff begins to form right as Ruban sings the chorus in multiple overdubbed voices "I don't want to solve your puzzles anymore". After revisiting the first verse, bridge and chorus, the song switches on a dime to a mellow guitar outro that closes the album on a perfect note.

On Multi-Love, UMO have managed to both exceed and confound expectations. While I would have liked to hear a couple more tracks with extended guitar solos, there will always be the live shows to fulfill this need.  Even though the world is crowded, there is plenty of space for an orchestra of unknown mortals, but they won't continue to be unknown with music of this caliber.

UMO- Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty and Ur Life One Night