Aside from the occasional cover song or demo recording, we haven't been all that active this year, for personal reasons that involved a divorce.
But why dwell on that shit, right? Because it certainly hasn't stopped the first half of 2017 from bringing a lot of exciting new music to enjoy! Here are my favorites so far-
Japandroids / Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Canadian rock duo Japandroids decided to kick January right in the nuts by putting out a new batch of epic arena rock songs. Some fans might have been put off by the direction this album takes and the additional elements they added to their sonic palate. But I'm perfectly fine with all that, because as much as I adore Celebration Rock, I don't necessarily want to listen to it all the time. Sometimes I want to hear this instead:
Los Campesinos! / Sick Scenes
January's glorious nut punch was followed quickly in February by a sublime bitch slap from the Welsh indie rock powerhouse Los Campesinos!, and I gotta say this is hands down my favorite album right now. Listening to some these songs makes my heart want to explode. As much as I tend to prefer duos and trios and simple musical arrangements lately, these guys brought it hard for this record, getting enough musical mileage out of their seven piece situation to carry them back & fourth across the Atlantic several times. From the tight AF rhythm section to the next-level vocal harmonies, everything recorded here is top notch. And as always for a LC! record, it's lyrically a cut above most everything else I hear going on out there.
Ok instead of going on and on and on gushing over Sick Scenes, let me just wrap up and say I think it's pretty much a perfect record.
TW Walsh / Terrible Freedom
I stumbled across ex-Pedro the Lion player T. William Walsh a few years back when his 2011 record Songs of Pain and Leisure was included in a digital bundle Jilian happened to download. Anyway, I liked it a lot. (And fun fact: he actually mastered our first two EPs.)
He broke new sonic ground last year with his somewhat experimental (and downright excellent) Fruitless Research, and I really wasn't sure if he could follow up so soon with anything nearly as good. Oh me of little faith, because Terrible Freedom delivers, and probably even surpasses everything else he's done to date. A high fidelity record awash with synthesizers and an 80's vibe, I heard someone describe it "like a funky Neil Young," and I can't disagree.
David Bazan / Care
Ex-Pedro the Lion frontman David Bazan (seeing a pattern here yet?) was not resting on his laurels either, following up last year's Blanco, released in May, with his new album Care this year in March. His stuff always takes me more time to process, but it's always rewarding. He knows how to write a song that cuts right into the human condition and, at least for me, often exposes a sadness that I was maybe trying not to acknowledge. The song "Make Music" is a wonderful, albeit heartbreaking, example of this for me right now.
The Prids / Do I Look Like I'm in Love?
I wasn't sure if I'd ever hear anything from Portland dark-pop quartet The Prids again, after their brilliant 2010 release Chronosynclastic, and some extremely trying times in the years that followed. So I was excited to learn about and support the crowdfunding campaign last year to release a new record, and when Do I Look Like I'm in Love? arrived this year, it did not disappoint. I can try to describe it more, or you can just do yourself a favor and listen for yourself.
(As a side note, theoretical astrophysicist and science blogger Ethan Siegel has some interesting analysis on the concept of parallel universes from a more mathematical/cosmological perspective- if you're interested then check out his Starts with a Bang! podcast, episode 14.)
So I just realized that for me now, it is this first demo recording of a new song (regardless of whether it should be heard by other humans or not) that represents the point where the arrangement comes together and it transforms from a sketch/concept into an actual thing, a song. For instance, when I started recording I wasn't sure exactly what to do at the end, but it just didn't sound right ending just ending with the chorus, so I tried reprising the intro with a new vocal hook, and it just made sense (both sonically and thematically) to repeat that part a bunch and fade it out. The lead guitar part that I really like at the middle & end was cooked up about 30 seconds before I hit the record button for that track. And what I thought were the lyrics going in got a heavy dose of editing as the Monday evening grew late and the bottle of wine emptied. So all this is pretty typical when I try to record a first demo of something, but it was just particularly fun for this song because it all happened over the course of a single evening instead of across several weekends.
The recording was about as straightforward as it gets, with the acoustic guitar and vocals both being recorded in one or two takes each in Audacity using my basic Proslogan DM-1208 mic. However, for the end of the song I switched it up and used my my new crystallized Anthenite microphone, and if you listen closely you can hear copies of me in right as they split off into the branching multi-verse. I hope those guys are having fun out there!
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