Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top 15 Alternative Songs of 2015

Ah, music. How dare we presume to judge this ethereal art of the muse with the basest of subjective opinions from one presumptuous listener? I'm sure there were actually more like 1500 great alt music songs that various people made in 2015 (and that Kat likely bought most of them), but the 15 below managed to grab my attention more than the rest. So, here they are in alphabetical order (since attempting to further rank them would be even sillier). Note that I only included one song per artist; many of their albums should be examined for multiple great tracks. Giddy up.

Andy Gabbard “Fluff”

A member of Cincinnati-based rock band Buffalo Killers, Andy Gabbard reportedly cranked out his entire solo album during an inspired 12-hour session. The result was Fluff, including the title track here. A neat combination of grunge and power pop, its cool melodies and hypnotic chord progression have made it a regular on my new music playlist this year.

Buy on iTunes

Beck “Dreams”

I don't love every piece of music Beck does, but I always pay attention when he puts out new music, because... Beck. "Dreams" was released as a single right at the start of summer, and while it's extremely poppy for my typical tastes, it has tons of hooks and dammit, I'm allowed to enjoy fun music as much as anyone. I'm naming this 2015's "Best Song To Dance To In Your Underwear".

Buy on iTunes

C Duncan “For (Autumn Rebuild)”

Oh man, am I glad I found out about C Duncan recently. He's a youngish guy from Glasgow who is the child of two accomplished classical musicians, and I haven't heard much from him, but it's been impossible to stop playing this tune on repeat over the course of the fall season. I am very much looking forward to any new stuff he puts out in the near future.

Buy on iTunes

Courtney Barnett "Pedestrian at Best"

I really love good debut albums, and I love fun, vibey music. So while I tend to eschew any artist that rock critics seem to universally adore -- almost every critic has this album on their "Best of 2015" list -- Courtney's album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is full of good stuff, particularly this song that helped put her on the map. Plus, she's a cool Aussie chick. What's not to like? If you enjoy this one, check out the rest of the album. It's got a lot of good stuff.

Buy on iTunes

David Bowie "Blackstar"

Trying to explain David Bowie in mere words is a pointless exercise. Take the ten minutes and immerse yourself in his latest work of art. And don't bother trying to explain it to others; why bother? Just listen and thank whatever god you believe in that you live in a world where there's a Bowie.

Buy on iTunes

Deerhunter “Duplex Planet”

Deerhunter creates some very evocative music. Led by main songwriter and frontman Bradford Cox, this band really grabbed my attention with their 2013 album Halcyon Digest. While that probably remains my favorite of theirs, the new album Fading Frontier made almost every list of the year's best for good reason. The songs may be less confrontational and thought-provoking, but they are truly enjoyable. Most people focused on the lead single "Snakeskin" (a surprisingly funky track for Deerhunter), but I've always preferred the more ethereal side of this band. Good stuff.

Buy on iTunes

Here We Go Magic “Ordinary Feeling”

The words "indie band from Brooklyn" are usually a big warning sign to me. I don't get into music for the sake of being a hipster, regardless of what anyone else seems to like. But Here We Go Magic retooled its lineup for the new album Be Small, and I truly enjoy "Ordinary Feeling", a song that uses its airy sparseness to envelop you in a great vibe.

Buy on iTunes

Jib Kidder “Appetites”

Jib Kidder will likely win the award for "artist you have least likely heard of" on my list for 2015, but he's also one you should check out... with a caveat. His voice takes some getting used to, and he tends to process it very heavily, and after about six straight songs of that vocal sound on the album Teaspoon to the Ocean, you might yearn for something a little more organic. That having been said, his psychedelic collage-based songs are terrific, and I seem to have an affinity for people who are both visual and musical artists, as is the case here. Anyway, the guitar playing in the fadeout of "Appetites" is worth the ticket on its own.

Buy on iTunes

Joanna Newsom “Sapokanikan"

Admission: I didn't get Joanna Newsom in the earlier stages of her career. Her voice was too little-girly. I thought she was a poor person's Kate Bush. And of course, this was all my fault for not giving her enough of a deep listen to really get her genius in both lyrical composition and tremendous musicianship. My bad. I made up for it a little bit this year with my repeat listenings of her new album Divers, and especially what she did on "Sapokanikan"... a daring arrangement and production that truly doesn't sound like anything else (which is apparently really hard to do in this day and age).

Buy on iTunes

Kurt Vile “Pretty Pimpin”

Unlike most of the artists listed above, I was already a huge Kurt Vile fan for the last few years, and when I heard that he was working on this album in Joshua Tree at Dave Catching's Rancho de la Luna studio, my fanboy brain nearly exploded. When b’lieve i’m goin down came out this fall, it didn't disappoint; a lot of critics feel it's his best effort ever, and as I continue to immerse myself in it, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree (though my love of his last album Wakin on a Pretty Daze is still pretty overpowering). Kurt is pretty typical of the musician I tend to like; pretty weird, rather awkward, and seemingly not able to express himself very well until you put a guitar in his hand. But the moment I heard "Pretty Pimpin", I knew this album would be among my favorites of the year.

Buy on iTunes

Martin Courtney “Northern Highway”

In case you're not as hip as me (and let's face it, few are), you might not know that we're in the midst of a massive trend toward retro sounds. That's hardly unusual, but the way many bands are going about it shows a massive dedication toward the authenticity of the songwriting, instrumentation, and production to the point where many songs that came out in 2015 are sonically indistinguishable from those that debuted in 1965, or 1973, or thereabouts. I find much of this music contrived... a little too purposeful of an homage to be considered innovative. But Martin Courtney, who is also known as the frontman of New Jersey-based Real Estate, created his solo album Many Moons with the opposite effect. The songs may sound like an unearthed treasure trove of unreleased tunes by the Byrds, but there's a feeling of honesty in the vibe, and I can't help but enjoy it.

Buy on iTunes

Outfit “On the Water, on the Way”

Based in Liverpool, Outfit is one of the other bands on this list that you probably haven't heard of. I wouldn't have either, except for the fact that I go out of my way to find obscure bands for cool sounds, thanks to online resources like Amoeba Music. Not everything this band does connects with me in a big way, but this song from their album Slowness has a cold feel but employs a great progression that sticks with you after the last synthesized note trails away.

Buy on iTunes

Pixx “Fall In”

If I had to pick a favorite newcomer for 2015, there's no doubt in my mind that it's Pixx, a 19-year-old woman named Hannah Rodgers from the countryside south of London. She's only released an EP thus far and is working on her first full-length album, but it's mind boggling that her music has the depth it shows from someone so young. And i've already planned on stealing the amazing vibrato vocal effect she employs, so keep an ear open for that on some upcoming tune of mine, eventually.

Buy on iTunes

Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Necessary Evil”

Do I like UMO's 2015 album Multi-Love as much as I went completely nuts for their 2013 album II? No, but I'd be hard pressed to do so, and this album has plenty of great stuff. First, the expansion to being a four-piece band with the addition of keyboardist Quincy McCrary allowed Ruban Nielson to spread his arrangements out a bit, and the vibe is still very cool. Definitely a more danceable album with tracks like "Can't Keep Checking My Phone", my personal pick of "Necessary Evil" has plenty of funk while still being chock full o' the fuzzy neo-psych that attracted me to UMO in the first place.

Buy on iTunes

Wilco “Random Name Generator”

According to Jeff Tweedy, he had no idea that a new installment in the "Star Wars" film franchise was even coming out this year when he named Wilco's latest album. And then, with no fanfare (or any pre-announcement at all, heh heh), the album came out... and was free. I find Star Wars to be a fun album, with the typical vaccinations between experimental rock and Americana-tinged songs that are the hallmark of any Wilco album. I picked "Random Name Generator" from Star Wars, but give the whole album a listen and choose your own favorite.

Buy on iTunes

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Benefit for Brandy (12.13.15)

One of the best aspects of the SL music scene is how willing we are to help out one of our own when needed. Photo by Kat.

One of the downsides of not having as much time as I'd like to perform in Second Life is the relative lack of blog posts I've been doing as a result. Instead of just telling you about yesterday's successful fundraising show for my friend Brandy Maltas, I should probably fill you in on some other goings on.

1. It's The Most Stressful Time Of The Year
I suppose most people get stressed out around the holidays for reasons that are different than mine. As I'm sure I've mentioned plenty of times before, I work in the musical instrument and professional audio industry, and our biggest event of the year is called the NAMM Show. It's every January, and for people like me, it requires a whole lot of work to prepare for. It's almost laughable how much I have to work in November, December, and early January to make sure my clients are prepared for the show. Like, 14-hour workdays are very normal. If you're in my industry and looking for sympathy about being insane in December, you're in the wrong place.

2. And The Band Played On
Time and tide, they say, wait for no man. Well, neither does music. It keeps going on whether you choose to remain involved or not. In that regard, my band They Stole My Crayon has a few things happening. Our music is being mixed by our Canadian godlike engineer Spencer Crewe. Meanwhile, last week, we started on a cover recording of a song by Eagles of Death Metal. No, we're usually not a cover band, but this is for a good reason. EODM requested for people to cover their song "I Love You All The Time" so that any sales of the cover could go toward the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. You might already be aware that EODM was onstage at the Bataclan when the horrible event happened. Anyway, in true Crayon fashion, we weren't about to do a faithful rendition of their original tune. It started with Bunny analyzing the song and turning it into a slower, minor key version. After that, I went to town on an arrangement of the song which came out about a million times better than I would have expected. We're still making additions and tweaks, but by the end of next weekend, we'd like to have it wrapped up. More to come on this topic.

3. Down With The Sickness
It's been a rough couple of weeks among those near and dear to me. Kat had been dealing with a very bad tooth for quite some time, and finally went to get it checked out... way too late to save the tooth. So, she had to have it pulled, which is never fun. Immediately thereafter, she came down with the same cold that seems like 85% of Los Angeles has had recently. And then, it being the season of giving, she gave it to my son and I. There's nothing more lovely than working from 7AM to 11PM for days on end while not being able to breathe and generally feeling like shit. Anyway, the cold is on its way out, but in the meantime, I have that terrible leftover cough. Up until Sunday morning, in fact, I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to perform for the benefit show that had been scheduled for that afternoon. And that brings us to...

A Benefit for Brandy
Brandy Maltas -- also known as Kalli Birman in SL -- is a cool lady. I didn't know her very well until around 2010, when the San Diego SL Jam was being put together. At the time, she was managing a popular SL performer, and I had concerns that the jam was going to become some showcase for that artist, which was not something I was interested in attending. I actually called her at the time and we spoke, and I found that she seemed like a very straightforward and honest person... something I always appreciate. She reassured me that my fears were unfounded, and the Jam -- the first I attended -- turned out to be really fun. Since that time, we've gotten to know each other better, and I think it's safe to say that our respect for each other goes both ways. I'm a no-bullshit kinda guy myself, after all.

It bummed me out when I first found out that Brandy had been diagnosed with cancer. She's a single mom and doesn't have all the resources that some other folks might have in that dire situation. But I was extremely happy and relieved to find out that after her various radiation and chemo and surgical treatments, her cancer seemed to be in remission. Then, not very long ago, she got the news that no one wants: her cancer had spread to other parts of her body. Without going into detail, it's a serious situation, and I was wanting to try and do something to help her. When I found out that her friend Ayesha Lytton was arranging a series of benefit shows to help her out, I was ready to jump in immediately.

A very pretty location for the show, courtesy of Ayesha Lytton. Photo by Kat.

Brandy with her... ferret? Photo by Kat.

We didn't get a huge crowd, but those who came were supportive and helpful to the cause. Photo by Kat.

Of course, life being what it is, I was barely able to croak a sound with my cold-ravaged voice even the day before the show. It was a legitimate concern that I wouldn't be able to sing at all, and that led me to start thinking through how I might be able to do some kind of all-instrumental show. I'm a good guitarist who could indeed pull that off if required, but SL audiences aren't generally known for appreciating live music shows without singing. But then, for whatever series of random circumstances and luck, I got up on Sunday and found that I was at least capable of getting some sounds out of my larynx. It wasn't the best singing performance I'd ever done by a long shot, but I was at least able to do a show that would work under the circumstances.

We had a decent crowd... not as big as I'd have liked, but it still served the purpose of the event, and I'm pretty sure we did pretty well in terms of raising funds for Brandy, which was the only reason we were there. So, that worked out, and I felt good that it did.

Brandy Benefit set list...
Shame Shamber (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Cat's In The Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Friday I'm In Love (The Cure)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Our Lips Are Sealed (Go-Go's)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Do They Know It's Christmastime? (Band Aid)
Walk On the Wild Side (Lou Reed)

Many thanks to everyone who is helping Brandy through this difficult time, especially all who came to see/hear me perform yesterday!