Friday, November 30, 2012

TGIF: Happy Pills

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Riding into work this morning in the dark, then seeing the fog of my breath as I dashed from the subway station into work - it was official. Winter's here.

I have a weekend of baking (read: eating), big sweaters, decorating, mulled wine with friends, errands and strolling planned. Quintessential quiet winter days, such as the few ahead, wouldn't be complete without the cozy croons of Norah Jones and the latest sounds from her fascinating musical evolution off of Little Broken Hearts. We all remember when Jones started her climb to the top over a decade ago with the celebrated jazz-pop debut Come Away With Me - an contagious soulful release that established her as one of the most capable young lounge singers-turned-jazz phenomenon in New York City.

Years later, following collaborations with Ray Charles, Danger Mouse, Jack White and more, Jones has nearly departed from her adult contemporary repertoire and embarked on a pop-rock journey that further demonstrates her versatility and taste for genre experimentation. This song, in particular, is one of the most pleasant Jones singles to date - sounding both contemporary and classic in its rhythmical and lifting pop-rock arrangement.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Music Round-Up

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For the past month, I've felt like I have a music horseshoe up my behind. Sorry to be blunt, but everywhere I go - radio stations, websites, reviews, stores, old albums - I've been lucky to uncover incredible new tunes to add into the mix. I've consequently acquired listening ADD. Floating on a happy music cloud wherever I go, I excitedly switch from great song to greater song, every two minutes.

I usually finish a book on the ride to work, but not this week. All I want to do is slide on my headphones and soak in my all-star playlist of newly uploaded tracks which make the most mundane activities - like staring at the subway "scenery" whipping by - completely enthralling. I hope you've had the same luck and are enjoying the lovely sounds this season has to offer you.

Here's a November round-up to close out a fabulous month. If you can't already tell, I'm infatuated with New York, and every song that goes well with the idea of it:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Porcelain Raft: From The Heart

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I have this book, that I (for the most part) have completely forgotten to write in, called Music Listography. It's blank pages filled with every kind of musical list title, to help you organize your music thoughts, memories and preferences . And, although over the years I've forgotten to actually populate the empty lines, I always think back to the funny lists and how I'll someday sort my library of favourites into the quirky categories so I have something to look back on. When I first heard this song, I immediately thought of the "Music that instantly transforms your mood" list - and how it's most definitely the home to this bubbly tune.

Composed by Porcelain Raft, Mauro Remiddi's indie pop project, it's powerful in the same respect that M83 or Beach House can be; bringing about an inevitable daydreamy, zoned out, lovestruck haze. The first time I heard the single from the debut Strange Weekend - the thump of the dazzling beat and hypnotizing falsetto vocals preciously twirling around the chorus - I was hooked. I still am. Even if it's only playing in your headphones, the shake of the tambourine, atmospheric guitar pangs and overall gorgeous sentiment are ingredients to build yourself a really anthemic moment.

"And I don't want to listen, unless you speak from your heart." Sometimes it's just so lovely to stumble across a truly heroic lyric. Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Mary Onettes

Case of the Mondays is cured. Today has already been a morning of pleasantly surprising news - Toronto's lacklustre Mayor has, at last, been turfed from office, and I stumbled upon a new single from a classic 15 year-old group who haven’t released new material in what feels like ages.

I had come to terms with the fact that in order to get my fix of The Mary Onettes' likeable dream-rock singles, I would have to rely on recycling their pleasant and melodic discography that stretches far back into the infancy of the quirky indie genre. That was until this weekend, when I stumbled upon a shiny 80s-laced new track set to be released on November 27th. True to form, the echoey rock heard on “Evil Coast” is full of both glittery and melancholic layers – perfect for bouts of end-of-year reflection in the chilly winter city.

Friday, November 23, 2012

TGIF: Favourite Song Right Now

This uplifting and colourful Local Natives earworm, off their second LP Hummingbird, reminds me of something melodically caught in between Grizzly Bear and Beach House's romance-pop anthems. Lead singer Kelcey Ayer's vibrato coo rolling over top of the tune's sparkling swell - which consists of barely there piano, spastic guitars and marching band percussion - resembles a pretty page out of The National (Aaron Dessner produced Hummingbird) or Arcade Fire's effervescent, stadium-rock-ready soundbook. Paired with the organic lyrics, "Breathing out/ Hoping to breathe in/ I know nothing's wrong but I'm not convinced," Local Natives might be hitting their stride with this new release.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Throwback Thursday

Pinned ImageI listen to my iPod all the time. Literally, all the time. Not that I don't love the rotation of new music, but sometimes even the best shuffle doesn't bring me the same joy as pressing the 'skip' button on a dusty, scratched mixed CD from years ago; the ultimate portal to remembering songs that shaped my taste in music.

So, when I'm getting ready for work in the morning, I've adopted the routine of thumbing through my heavy, disorganized binder of CDs - mixed, old and new- and selecting something that, despite the scribbles of black Sharpie lettering, still doesn't reveal the 21 songs it might contain. Lately I've been exploring a few vintage Jess mixes - some dating back as far as 2001 when burning CDs first became all the rage after years spent pausing and playing blank cassette tapes to catch my favourite song on the radio. The throwback mixes tell a heartwarming story of how tastes, genre interests and band favouritism have developed over the years - so, I highly suggest you spend a morning, afternoon or evening doing this soon.

Here are some classics I've rediscovered during the recent dark November mornings spent sipping coffee number one:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

J. Tillman: Fleet Foxes to Father John Misty


Folk singer Joshua Tillman, known as J. Tillman yet currently performing under the moniker of Father Johny Misty, has certainly made the rounds.

Finding his footing with the harmonic folk collective Fleet Foxes in 2008 as drummer, Tillman embarked on his own journey shortly after promoting Helplessness Blues -  one that required a name change and a solo Sub Pop release that showcased his own bold rustic chant and experimental folk sound. Triumphant folk arrangements that layer rattling percussion, clap beats and choral back-up bear certain resemblances to the bohemian sounds of the Foxes - but Tillman's sound is something else. Curving away from what had become a very distinctive group sound, Tillman's compilation Fear Fun is most often than not unexpected - bouncing back and forth between upbeat revelry to mellow and more delicate folk confessions.

So far, I've enjoyed every minute of Tillman's off-the-beaten path. Here are two favouites:


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sister Act: First Aid Kit

For the past two months, the beautiful serenades of young Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg have come with me all over Toronto on multi-hour strolls through the brisk fall days. The more I walk around this city, kicking through the piles of leaves, the more I fall wholeheartedly in love with it.

And, the more I fall in love with this duo - also crooning under the musical moniker First Aid Kit - and their mature folk ballads. Their incredible sound, consisting of melodies so polished and beyond their years, garnered the attention of those organizing the Polar Music Prize awards two years in a row. Performing for Paul Simon and Patti Smith consecutively, the harmonically effortless pair and their revival folk releases - especially the rustic, yodelling singles "Emmylou" and "Wolf" - are destined for the limelight.

Here's a taste of a First Aid Kit cover and performance of my second favourite Simon and Garfunkel song, "America," at the 2011 Polar Music Awards. Beautiful.

Friday, November 16, 2012

TGIF: Songs for Your Weekend

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Happy Weekend, homeboys and homegirls.

A few things have required me to stay downtown today, so I'm working from home. It is the definition of glorious. I really do enjoy going into the office normally - it's productive, full of hard-working people and convenient when tackling deadlines collaboratively. But, there's something to be said about waking up, making a huge mug of tea in my pajamas and working from the comfort of my couch and sun-streaked apartment - overlooking downtown Toronto as it wakes up for the last day of the week. And the loud, cheerful tunes are aplenty.

I had a big week of clean-up - literal and not-so-literal - and I have to say, it feels fantastic to be going into this weekend with a clean apartment, ticked off to-do list, clear head and happy heart. Here are some bright songs to walk with you on this pretty Friday. I suggest going downtown, wherever you are - something tells me cities are extra alive today.


Out on the Weekend - Neil Young
Ah, Neil. One of my main men. Tis entire classic album holds a very special place in my heart. I just finished his autobiography and I can't suggest enough that you read it. It's vivid, conversational and incredibly real - just like every bit of Young's music. In the side panel (>), you'll see one of my favourite quotes from Waging Heavy Peace.

Someone Great - LCD Soundsystem
: When I was younger, I worked at the Gap for almost five years, on and off. No judgment. I have so many fond memories of opening the store first thing in the morning during wintertime, on the bright downtown stretch of historic Kingston, with this tune coming on the playlist. Don't knock Gap. It has great music and you know it.

My Sweet Lord - George Harrison:
I once knew someone who adored this song and played it all the time, from speakers and from their guitar. And I would sing along. I'll always be grateful for having me introduced to it; it's the most plainly beautiful George Harrison ballad, sounding just like George should  - with that coined guitar wail, choral harmonies and perfect melody.

Tenuousness - Andrew Bird: Odd wordplay, a clap beat and a plucking melody make this one of my favourite Bird songs he's ever released. Off Noble Beast, this 2009 sundrenched track sets the lightest tone for the last half of your busiest day.

It Takes Time to Be a Man - The Rapture: Somehow, there are large groups of people who still aren't in on The Rapture's secret. Not only the fact that they've been spitting post-punk glory since the early 2000s, but that they're one of the most melodically versatile and genre experienced veteran groups out there. Listen to the waltzy thump of this piano and electric funk ballad, and then compare with their other diversified jams afterwards. You can't. Crack a cold beer and toast to to both the weekend and this feel-good, smooth operator of a song.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jim James: Solo Debut

My Morning Jacket are undoubtedly one of my very favourite veteran psychedelic rock bands; with the release of Circuital almost two years ago, I found it hard to play much else for months. Even more enticing than the band's five album deep discography and 14-year run, is the pioneer behind the buzzing Americana sound - the scruffy, fearless leader known as Jim James.

The archetypal guitar God (also pegged Yim Yames) has dabbled in so much outside of My Morning Jacket - notably an EP of George Harrison covers and the super-collab Monsters of Folk - that it's hardly surprising when he embarks on a new rock venture like his latest - releasing a long-awaited solo debut. Maybe this self-engineered full-length is no shocker or feat for the seasoned front man, but it's highly anticipated by industry aficionados and rock enthusiasts, to say the least.

The first track off Regions of Light and Sound of God, to be released in February of 2013, is no doubt a sultry solo departure from the full-bodied festival rock of MMJ; his aching, unpolished howl swirling beneath woozy funk-rock. Like a spacier, erratic page out of Three Dog Night's soul bible - James is, so far, shelving his explosive rock capabilities on this six-minute track and teasing with this lethargic downtown disco beat. I'm on board.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Miguel: Pop Pleasure

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always on the top 40s bandwagon the way that other people might be. I rarely go to clubs where the formulaic beats of some of these tunes blare. I dedicate a whole lot of my free time to investigating sounds and uncovering musical rarities, sure, and yes – my lack of sleuthing around the pop billboards or one-month-too-late discovery of “Gangnam Style,” of course, has a little to do with my own personal bias. It’s safe to say I’m not overly pleased with a lot of popular music channels today, as well as the kind of noise they often inundate us with – looping back and forth between the same sounds every commercial breaks.

But I always give the new stuff a listen, regardless of which radio station or website I’m dialled into. It’s just up for debate how many times I’ll give some of it a listen.

Amidst a lot of the meaningless clamour on the pop charts, however, there’s been some incredibly redeeming moments in pop music lately. Katy Perry fascinates me – with her wacky character-driven and likable uninterrupted streak of number ones. Bruno Mars, the twinkly toed boy wonder whose tender voice matches the romantic persona, is a bit of a dream. Adele brought heart and soul back, along with other unprecedented emotions resulting from her proud balladry. She’s not even poppy, necessarily – but she’s popular as hell, and we’re thankful for it.

New kid on the block, Miguel, actually reminds me of Prince. It’s always amusing to scan reviews or press releases to see who the pop artists’ draw a self-proclaimed comparison of themselves to. Or who the critics will note as their obvious influences. Sometimes you want to slap your palm to your forehead. Sometimes you can’t. When a headline read that the 26 year-old recording artist drew obvious comparisons to Prince – the multi-Platinum pop legend who practically trademarked R&B and funk-infused pop laden with sexually suggestive lyrics – I was, of course, a little unconvinced based on my thus far brief interactions with fragments of Miguel’s debut. Until I heard “Do You...”, the gorgeously sultry second single from his critically-acclaimed sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream - a ballad laced with enough soulful groove and velvety declarations to weaken your grandmother at the knees. “Do you like drugs? Do you like love? Me too,” he creamily croons before revealing “I’m gonna do you like drugs tonight”; frank (and frankly, wonderfully off-putting) song writing that earned a rewind to see if I’d heard him correctly. I did.

After being passed along Kaleidoscope Dream, two handfuls of heavily earnest odes to what one can only assume are his many ladies (wrong – he’s in a happily committed relationship), I couldn’t help but mentally flag the several points I’d have to skip past if I ever was in the presence of someone who I wasn’t confident could handle the racy tracks. Romantic, yes – but in a very new age (and Prince) kind of way. His trained vocal murmurs (rarely amplifying to his full falsetto potential, but dreamy when he does) and the evocative sexual narrative heard on “Use Me”, “Arch and Point” and the muggy title track sway effortlessly above thudding beats, panging funk guitars and synth effects. Although you feel a little naughty taking part in Miguel’s fantasy-caked pop pieces, it’s an R&B thrill the young gun confidently delivers.

If the rest of pop artists continues to live up to their comparisons, or, better yet – live up while carving their own stylistic path – then I’ll, most definitely, change the channel less often.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Alt-J (∆)

Heard of ? Or, heard of Alt-J? Aside from their minor case of the "Princes," this funky British indie-rock group is doing incredibly well for themselves after having just taken home the coveted 2012 Mercury prize.

Although they've been around since early 2007, Alt-J's quirky vocals, edgy melodies and overall progressive songwriting are only now flying out from under the radar and onto underground airwaves - making them one of the most talked about quartet's in recent months. Keep an eye on this inconspicuous keyboard function, this is only the beginning for them and their award-winning sound.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sufjan Stevens: Star-Spangled Banner

I stayed up far past my bedtime last night to watch all of the US election coverage, and essentially, to see for myself that the decision was one I felt I could sleep soundly with. It absolutely was.

I'm sure everyone has had their fair share of poltiical opinion overload, so I won't dwell on the many (many) reasons I'm elated with this outcome. I will, however, say that I'm just so very (relieved and) proud of our southern neighbours for re-electing someone who inspires hope, change and a better future. Here are a few memorable photos from the re-elected leader's campaign, and an astounding contemporary take on the United States national anthem. Well done, Sufjan - this building, instrumental spin on the "Star-Spangled Banner" is appropriately every bit as triumphant as last night's results. It takes a talented artist to change one of North America's oldest anthems to depict a new sounding nationalism, in an equally beautiful way.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Ben Gibbard: Solo

Death Cab, the beginning of the emo-indie rock movement for so many of us growing up, the over-enunciated croons that walked us to and from our high school doors, the OC's musical best friend and some of our first live experiences.

I'm convinced that most young people have had a coming-of-age experience that was decorated with DCFC's atmospheric guitar pangs or lead singer Ben Gibbard's plain vocals, at some point during their adolescent life. Their niche kind of melodic alt-rock brought a new sound to the commerical airwaves and arenas, along with the help of other indie clans Modest Mouse and The Shins - and despite hesitation, we all know we were gratefully a part of that.
To hear that DCFC front man Ben Gibbard has ventured out on his own, outside of spin-off band Postal Service, post-separation from Zooey Deschanel and post-seventh studio album with his faithful DCFC crew - I just had to take a peak into his offshoot solo attempt and what it would hold, eight years after he became a very public industry figure and one of the godfather's of trendy alt-rock. What it holds isn't necessarily contradictory to the emotional romance-rock the front man has expertly written for over a decade, and to be honest, I can't see Gibbard venturing far beyond the sunny melodies and boyish vocals he's known to deliver anyway. I kind of like him just the way he is.

So, although not an extensive diversion from his tell-tale pleasing sound, Gibbard unloads plenty of emotional baggage through sweet chord combinations and shoulder-to-lean-on duets with the wise Aimee Mann. It's not experimental, it's not risky - but, it's enjoyable.

You be the judge.

Friday, November 2, 2012

TGIF: You're The One

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Charli XCX, est. 1992

I have to say, this new crop of 1990s pop hoodlums are kind of...killing it. Their fresh indie-pop tunes are, at times, just what the doctor's ordered when you're looking forward to a weekend that's as carefree and frivolous as the artists themselves.

This Charli XCX ditty, in particular, has been a staple on my playlists lately. All of them. Whether I'm up, down, lively, quiet; whatever I'm feeling, it fits the bill. Although both are fabulous, and the original is in every way edgier - this airy, tropical St. Lucia spin is the best kind of remix. It's when they undress the dark elements from the original and add in a more flowery, lighthearted flavour that the song captures a new kind of versatility - all while maintaining Charli XCX's sassy flare.

Happy Friday!

(The Remix)


(The Original)