Frontier Psychiatrist

One thing I love about local radio stations is they don’t play by the rules. You won’t typically tune into your local community radio station and hear the same 40 songs that air on all the other stations. Instead, you hear new music. You hear local artists and international artists. You hear deep cuts and B-sides. You hear genres you never would have tried listening to otherwise. You hear older tunes that don’t get airtime anymore. You hear DJs who want to share things with you, not sell things to you.

I know, I know; that is a romanticization of community radio and a rather naive look at how they work. However, I believe that is what those stations should aspire to. Yes, you will hear repeat songs, sometimes multiple times a day. I got pretty sick of Portugal. The Man for a little while when my local station played “Feel It Still” 5 times a day over the summer, but I still prefer that to standard radio.

Commercials.

Enough said.

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I occasionally find songs from my local high school station, KOHS, and my local community station, KRCL, that push my musical boundaries. For example, I had never been into club music/electronica most likely due to my exposure to that style being limited to the basic beats you hear on standard radio stations and at dance parties (not my thing either). To me, it just sounded like an overdose of dubs, wubs, and wahs that get old really fast. Especially when you start getting headaches, and… Just, no thanks. It’s not for me.

However, my eyes have been opened somewhat. I believe that epiphany began with a song I heard a few years ago on KOHS, “Frontier Psychiatrist” by The Avalanches.

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The Avalanches are a group from Australia who is fairly hard to describe. Their first album has a supposed 3,500 different audio clips sampled into it. After listening to that album, I believe it. The things these guys do are amazing, weaving hundreds of separate samples together to create one cohesive song is a ton of work. I couldn’t do it, though I can certainly appreciate it. And they even do live performances of their music; at one point they had 4 sets of turntables onstage at once along with other various instruments.

I looked up the Wikipedia page for the group as well as read a few blurbs describing them, and I can’t say I have ever found a band before whose genre has been described as Plunderphonics or Neo-Psychedelia before. They also hold the labels of Electronic and Hip-hop, and while I can hear that in their music, that description doesn’t do justice to the complex and nuanced sounds produced by The Avalanches.

Here’s the video for “Frontier Psychiatrist” if you’re interested. It was a runner-up in the Soho Shorts Film Festival in the UK; it’s pretty weird, but it fits the song really well.

This music has a groove to it that is persevering. Something they do really well are transitions between tracks. If you listen to their first album, Since I Left You, the transitions are completely seamless. It’s pretty hard to tell when one song ends and another begins. That makes picking out favorite tracks kind of difficult, so I recommend listening to the album straight through if you feel like giving this band a shot. And if you like that album, make sure to check out Wildflowers as well. It has less of a continuous feel, and they feature a lot of other guest artists that amplify the music deftly. All in all, an excellent follow up to the first album.

If you would like my top 5 tracks instead of listening to an album, here they are:

“Frontier Psychiatrist”

“Because I’m Me”

“Going Home”

“Since I Left You”

“Colours”

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Who knows if we can expect another album from this group. I would like to hear more of their music, but it did take them 16 years to put out a second album. It might take longer for a third, or maybe there just won’t be another one.

In the end, I’m still pretty picky about electronic and club music (frequently the only thing I get out of it is a headache). But I will always at least give it a shot, I never know when I might end up really liking it.

Im glad I found this group, it is completely different than anything I was listening to previously and I feel it illuminates the boundless ways we can pursue music. I hope I continue finding new musical innovations for the rest of my life as well as try to keep a more open mind to new things, even the ones that give me headaches.

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A Rose Is Still A Rose

First off, let it be said there is no shortage of Aretha Franklin music out there. I mean, holy crap, there are more than 40 albums on Spotify alone and that’s not counting the singles and compilations. Actually that’s why it took so long for me to post again; I was busy listening to that massive library of Aretha Franklin music.

And she’s still going, by the way. Her most recent album was in 2014, and she still tours and performs.

It was interesting listening to the different styles and recording qualities as I listened backwards through time. Current era Aretha’s voice shows her age just a little bit. If you want an example, listen to her cover album Sings the Great Diva Classics.

00’s and 90’s era Aretha left me a little tickled. It sounds just like the rest of the R&B/soul music of that time that I remember. Recommendation: listen to the songs “Wonderful” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

80’s Aretha was par for the course (but don’t be fooled, par on this course is fantastic) though I would note she recorded a jazz album in 1984 that stood out. It’s called Aretha’s Jazz, and it shows off her voice in a beautiful way.

Classic 60’s and 70’s Aretha will probably always be my favorite. Her voice is and always has been incredibly beautiful and strong. There are so many amazing songs from this period, I would recommend all of it. Really, just check it out. If you want specific recommendations, I will include a list of some of my all time Aretha favorites at the end of this post.

When you get back into the early 60’s she was mostly recording Gospel tunes. As with many famous soul and gospel artists, religion was a huge part of her upbringing. Her father was a well known pastor and she had been singing in churches since she was a little girl. There are some excellent tunes there as well, a good collection of which can be found on the album Amazing Grace.

All in all, Aretha Franklin has earned her title as Queen of Soul ten times over. She is extremely talented and skilled. If you like soul music at all, you are probably already quite familiar with much of her music, but I would suggest checking out some of the deeper cuts.

However; if you want to just listen to a good sampling, there are many great compilation albums available that have the best of the best of her music.

Fun fact! She famously stepped in at the Grammys one year for an ill Luciano Pavarotti, singing the famous opera tenor piece “Nessun Dorma” and absolutely nailed it. Here’s a video clip: https://youtu.be/5PONptwUo-Y

She shaped a genre, her music moves people, and her legacy will last for a long time to come.

Happy Listening!

As promised, here is a short list of some of my favorite Aretha tunes:

“Today I Sing the Blues”

“Think” *

“See Saw” *

“I Say a Little Prayer”

“Chain Of Fools” *

“The Weight” *

“Fool On The Hill”

“Respect”

“I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You” *

“(You Made Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”

“A Song For You”

“A Rose Is Still A Rose”

“Wonderful”

“Rock With Me”

“Son of a Preacher Man”

“Love For Sale”

Well, that turned out to be longer than I intended. I starred my top 5, if you want a shorter list. They are all great songs, though. And there are many more! Go check it out!

Do I Wanna Know?

I don’t exactly recall the first time I heard Arctic Monkeys, but they have such a recognizable sound I can always identify their music when I hear it. While they can be categorized as indie rock or garage rock, they have a very distinct British punk influence and a just altogether dark sound that is not often found in popular groups.

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Don’t they look like they could have opened a show for The Clash or Buzzcocks back in Britain’s punk rock heyday?

If you’ve been following my blog, you are probably aware I’m a big fan of music videos, and honestly, that’s what stuck out to me about this band in the first place. The main imagery of their music video for the track “Do I Wanna Know” is distinctively an animated sound wave pulsing to the beat of the song, only to transform into a hypnotic and very strange animation centering around a black and white sound wave. It… gets a little weird at the end. However, that returning image is also incorporated into the album cover for AM as seen here:

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I wouldn’t say that one is my favorite video by them, but it is memorable, and it is an amazing song as well as a surprising earworm. That guitar riff in infectious.

My favorite video is the one I will post under this paragraph, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” It has a minute and a half intro, playing a part of “Do I Wanna Know” before it gets into the actual song. It’s a slightly unusual video, and instead of trying to explain it I’ll just let you watch it. Note the Parental Advisory warning, please.

Those are two well-known hits by Arctic Monkeys, both of which are from their most recent album, AM. As far as I can tell, that is the album that really took off in the U.S. though they had been popular in their home country of England before then.

Arctic Monkeys have that iconic British punk sound influencing most of their stuff while still adding a flair all their own and pulling little influences from other contemporary artists. All together, they really make it work for them. While they haven’t produced another album since AM in 2013, they are reportedly back from a two-year hiatus and are working on another studio album in L.A. I certainly will keep an eye out for it, and I hope they make more music with their distinct style while also breathing some new life into it.

Other songs I recommend: “Arabella” “R U Mine” and “I Wanna Be Yours” all from their AM album (my favorite, obviously), and “Love Is A Laserquest” and “She’s Thunderstorms” from the album Suck It and See, and “Fluorescent Adolescent” from Favorite Worst Nightmare.

If you like classic punk rock or garage rock, you should definitely give Arctic Monkeys a try.

Thanks for reading!

Choice Kingdom

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this band. I have been looking forward to this post for a while.

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alt-J released their first record in 2012 and I seriously regret that I didn’t become aware of them until about a year ago. The odd name comes from the band’s symbol, the greek letter for Delta: Δ, which can be typed with the keyboard shortcut of alt+J on a Mac computer. This symbol is an indicator of change or difference in scientific equations, which I think it is an apt description of the band.

It was once mentioned to me that no other band sounds like alt-J and I have to agree, they are very unique. This is most evident in the style of their vocals and the way they use common instrumentation that has been arranged in a different and strangely hypnotic way. The almost ethereal sounds on their tracks are really something else. The internet tells me their genres are Indie rock, Indie pop, Art rock, and Folktronica. All of that is accurate, and I had no idea how much I needed art rock and folktronica in my life until now.

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There are a few standout tracks on both of their albums, some of which you may have heard if you listen to alternative radio stations. The ones I can think of that you might know include “Breezeblocks” and “Left Hand Free” If you like intense and well-made music videos, you should check out this awesome video for “Breezeblocks”

I can be found listening to this music at any time, and while listening to individual tracks is fine and good, it really hits home when you listen to an entire album at once. Their albums as an entire piece are impressive and flow really well. I especially like their second album, This Is All Yours, which ends with a bonus track I consider to be my favorite, “Lovely Day.” It is just trippy enough that I tend to close my eyes to tune out of other sensory input to focus on the music just that little bit more.

On that note, I will say that some of their stuff that doesn’t get radio play is a bit more psychedelic than most popular music and many people will likely find it difficult to listen to. However, for me, it hits just right. The way they layer and build sounds together is truly brilliant. If you want a good example of that, check out the track “Intro” from This Is All Yours.

These guys are true artists. They know how and when to add, subtract, or intensify the textures they incorporate into their music. It’s subtle and almost seamless the way they weave together the many small strands of sound into a cohesive unit. Rarely do they include a sound that overpowers another without purpose. Similarly, the sounds they include in each track have a purpose and reason. There are many artists, good artists whom I love, who never quite achieve that level of cohesiveness whether it be due to long or loud solos or vocals that seem to command sole attention. Sometimes those things are exactly what you want, but I always find it fascinating when the instruments don’t immediately identify themselves to me and I have to think a little more about what exactly I am hearing.

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One thing that especially impressed me while I was perusing their music was the quality of their live tracks. I have heard many bands who sound fantastic on a recording but are less than stellar live. Based on the styles alt-J has, I would have expected them to have a difficult time recreating their music in a live setting. I must emphatically say this is not the case. Every song I heard from the live EP they released was fantastic; they stayed true to the songs as they are meant to be and still imbibed the feeling and necessary energy required for a live show. I would jump at the chance to go see them perform.

Overall I am so very pleased to have found alt-J, they are one of my absolute favorite bands to come out of this decade. They have a new album coming out in this summer, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what they come up with for it.