I spend a lot of time at work with the headphones on. Always have. In the ‘90s I was the music editor at an entertainment monthly in Ann Arbor and was the managing editor of a national trade journal for the radio and record industry when I lived in San Francisco.
I’ve written music reviews for Rolling Stone and wrote my first marketing copy for the world’s largest music retailer at the time, Walmart.com. And I wore headphones in the studio during four years working on the air, spinning records in radio.
Music is still a passion, and finding great new music – or old stuff I didn’t know about – is still exciting.
An older, jaded rock critic once told me over the din of loud guitars in a small rock club that the cliché is that by the time music journalists turn 40, they hate rock music so much that they can only stand listening to jazz.
Jazz! Nothing against jazz, but luckily that never happened to me, though I have branched out in many ways.
So, for my co-workers who have wondered for the past couple of years what’s been going through my headphones, in part to drown out the office radio (Hey, Sirius, why so repetitive?), here are my latest finds…
This Brooklyn-based pop quartet led by Missouri vocalist-songwriter Amber Papini and her Princeton-educated multi-instrumentalist husband Nathan Michel is the tastiest (sorry, never liked that word) breath of fresh air I’ve heard in a long time. I love the unexpected turns the music takes, I love her vocals (she’s an American who sounds British when she sings, like, the opposite of Paul McCartney), and her lyrics – I have no idea what these songs are about – are spell-casting language poetry.
This video of the band performing a hushed acoustic-electric set on NPR is the perfect hypnotic thing for early morning:
While this video of Hospitality performing fully plugged-in on KEXP-Seattle is yang to the yin, and the perfect thing for afternoon listening:
To the other coast, in San Francisco, where the innovation continues… here’s an idea: take electronic compositions to an actual band, who takes a share of the programmed beats and melodies and performs them with real bass, drums and guitar for an approach to electronica that sounds round, warm and organic as it cascades from the speakers.
Bob Mould Live
When I was in college I was passively watching “MTV News” when I caught a 10-second snippet of Hüsker Dü playing live. It was probably a small announcement about them breaking up. In that brief moment, everything ground to a halt – that impossibly massive Gibson Flying V guitar! And that voice. I was simply stunned and mesmerized.
Flash forward 30 years and, with a flurry of appearances on Letterman, Fallon, Conan O’Brien and others, Hüsker frontman Bob Mould is seeing the most commercial success of his career – in his 50s! Bob and Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart invented speedy but melodic punk rock in the mid-‘80s, setting the table for countless pop-punk, grunge and hardcore bands that are household names today.
To see him up on stage in the video below, with his bifocals, a sweaty middle-aged mess, pummeling his audience with “scorched earth” hardcore hooks presented loud and fast enough to peel the paint from the walls of the venue, Bob is not just a tour de force, he’s a freak of nature:
Note: For me, the goosebumps start at 7:27 with “Come Around” from his ‘90s power trio Sugar’s Beaster EP. The Hüsker Dü songs he sometimes ends his shows with (if you’re lucky), start at 12:57.
Now Now Threads
Here’s a young band that writes really, really good songs to filter through their super unique sound. When you’re busy writing and editing, you need albums where every track is a winner. Check.
Washed Out Within and Without
I know nothing about this act. I just really, really like it. Apologies for the not entirely SFW album cover art.
Emiliana Torrini “Speed the Dark”
Emiliana Torrini is an Icelandic singer/songwriter I discovered in the early 2000s. In this new track, I love the hooky New Order bass lines. And, as always, her voice.