on my boombox: my month of travel, in song

9 Oct

September and October 2012 will forever be known as “the months of DC absenteeism.” I’ve been zipping all over the place via plane, train, bus, and roadtrip this month, so DC show-going has been mostly on hold.
That said, traveling is often a great way for me to forever relate certain music to a particular trip or experience. Sometimes it’s the song that plays on repeat when you’re drinking with your college friends during a reunion weekend; maybe it’s a new album that keeps you sane through a long flight delay. Or, maybe you’re lucky enough to see a local band play in a new city you’re visiting.

So, here is the rundown of the music I’ve been digging this month, that I will forever associate with these particular trips. (Note that I’m not including my Lotus show trip to Philly in my list of travels, because I already featured a Lotus track in my last track. But you should still listen to more Lotus).

1. Road trip to Notre Dame: Noosa, “Walk on By (Sound Remedy Remix)”

During a road trip all the way to South Bend, Indiana, to watch Notre Dame crush Michigan, this song played double duty: not only did it get us pumped up enough to turn the end of our 10 hour road trip into a party, but we continued to play the song throughout the weekend. And why wouldn’t we? This song inspires infectious party enthusiasm for anyone who listens to it. I should probably never listen to this song when I am trying to convince myself to stay in one night, because I wouldn’t even last through the first verse before getting off the couch and putting on some make up. Welcome to your fall party anthem, friends. You’re welcome.

 

2. A weekend in New Orleans: Panorama Jazz Band at the Spotted Cat Jazz Club

Any self-respecting music fan knows that when you’re going to New Orleans, you’re going to Mecca. You’re going to the place that gave literal birth to the defining genres of contemporary music: jazz and rock n roll. The music seeps into every aspect of New Orleans life, and I loved visiting a culture that was so immersed in its love of music. After all, we’re talking about the city that fostered the rise of everyone from Weezy to Frank Ocean to Big Freedia (and bounce music as a whole).

Naturally, I was ecstatic when the weekend’s plans included a trip to Frenchman St., a strip in the French Quarter that is bursting at the seams with live music venues. We ended up at a place called the Spotted Cat, a place that forever changed my perception of jazz clubs- for the better. At least in New Orleans, the term “jazz club” need not imply stuffy, fancy, old crowds, or expensive drinks. Picture your favorite funky dive bar, but put a small stage at the front and feature extremely talented musicians there every night of the week- free of charge. Needless to say, i was in heaven. Check out Panorama, the band I had the lucky pleasure of seeing on Saturday night.

 

3. Homecoming weekend in Charlottesville: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, The Heist

For this particular trip, I’m still in the lead up phase. So, this piece of music gets to play the role of “album I listen to while obsessively day dreaming about Homecoming weekend in Charlottesville.” Homecoming in Charlottesville, home of my alma mater UVA, is always one of my favorite weekends of the year. Thus, I usually need a great piece of music to listen to repetitively in the week prior, for several reasons: to get me excited for the unprecedented amounts of fun I’m about to have while reuniting with my old college friends, and to distract myself to make the week go by faster. And, of course, said music will be played repetitively during the road trip down 29 South, lest I burst with impatience during the drive.

THANKFULLY, Seattle-based white rapper-producer duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just dropped a new album that totally fits the bill. The Heist includes songs featuring everyone from Schoolboy Q to Ray Dalton to Eighty4 Fly to Band of Horses.  The whole album is top notch, but a particular stand out track is “Same Love,” a moving tribute to gay marriage, in support of Macklemore’s gay uncles. Macklemore conveys a sense of empathy that is entirely endearing and unexpected, and the input from Mary Lambert is perfect. Yes, I will be listening to this album the entire way to Charlottesville, and the party-ready track below will make more than one appearance during the weekend.

“Thrift Shop”

i was there: a week of shows in review

25 Sep

As I’ve mentioned previously, the tough thing about writing a live music blog is that live music often happens during prime blog writing time. As such, allow me to do some catch-up.

Last week was my birthday week, and in true celebratory fashion, I attended not one, not two, but three shows over the course of five days. What could be better/more appropriate? Also, each of the shows was a totally unique and diverse experience- I traveled to see a cult-status jam band, caught a local up-and-comer at a loft party in my neighborhood, and saw the Pitchfork-band-of-the-moment change lives at the 930 club. I think that covers all of my concert bases, no?

Here is the rundown:

1) Saturday, September  15: Lotus at FDR Park in Philadelphia

For the past 10-15 years or so, a troupe of electro-funk-dance bands have garnered Grateful Dead-like followings with their own sub genre of jam. Usually, if you’re into one, you’re into them all- it’s such a great live experience that once you’ve seen one, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid. The group of bands I’m talking about include festival favorites such as Disco Biscuits, Umphreys Mcgee, String Cheese Incident, and (my personal favorite) Lotus.

Lotus got me totally hooked on this genre when I saw them for the first time back in college, and it’s been a jam love affair ever since. Unlike some of the other bands I mentioned, Lotus’ studio albums are pretty enjoyable on their own; however, your appreciation totally changes after just one live experience. This show in Philly was my fourth time seeing them; it was my favorite thus far, and it certainly won’t be the last.

For beginners, I suggest checking out Lotus’ most recent album, which you can stream for free.99 on their website. Here is a sample. First listen up, then find out when is the next time they’re coming to your town, then buy tickets immediately.

Lotus, “Molluskunk”

 

2. Wednesday, September 19: Margot MacDonald at a “Loft Soiree” in Adams Morgan

Even though my birthday was not until yesterday, my boyfriend and I celebrated on the 19th due to some out-of-town travel this weekend. Well, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as there just so happened to be a DIY show happening in my neighborhood that night.

One can argue that DIY shows are hit-or-miss in terms of quality; but honestly, I’m so on board with the concept itself that I’m willing to see rougher shows if it means that people are putting in the effort to cultivate the DIY scene in DC. There is something incredibly refreshing and special about having the opportunity to see live music in an intimate, personal setting that is not at all driven by profits. It blends the best aspects of a house party and a show into one multipurpose night of fun, not to mention that it’s a terrific way for local artists to build up their following.

Case in point: Margot MacDonald. Standing in that Adams Morgan loft last Wednesday, Margot’s voice kicked me square in the stomach, in the best way possible. Her voice is opera-quality good, and she is blending her vocal talents with some incredibly cool, minimalist Zola Jesus-style beats that I dug so hard. This is definitely a local artist to watch, closely.

Check on Margot’s music here.

 

3. Thursday, 9/20: Grizzly Bear at the 930 Club

A few months ago, or whenever tickets for this show originally went on sale, I made the tough decision not to go after tickets. Don’t get me wrong, I like Grizzly Bear and thought their 2009 breakthrough Veckatimest was great. I also would’ve been thrilled to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra, their weirdo-cool opening act. However, I was trying to save money and cut back on ticket purchases, so I passed.

Then, Shields came out last week, and all bets were off. You guys, this album is incredible, and Grizzly Bear is doing beautiful crazy things with their instruments that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The guys got super ambitious in the composition of this album, and their risks paid off big time. The resulting album is so layered and full of texture that it feels like you could never listen to it the same way twice- and isn’t that the most rewarding kind of album for a fan?

I lucked out big time finding tickets to this show, and I’m so glad I went. As a friend captioned in this show photo, Grizzly Bear “destroyed song structures and changed lives” that night.

Here is a sample track, and then go listen to the full album over at NPR First Listen.

Grizzly Bear, “Sleeping Ute”

two bars, three stars: familiar faces at adams morgan day festival

10 Sep

A few months ago, I moved into a new apartment and became an Adams Morgan resident. I had already spent a ton of time in the neighborhood previously, given that my office, yoga studio, and favorite drinking establishments are all in the area. Naturally, the move was a perfect fit, and I’ve fallen more and more in love with the neighborhood ever since.

I could write endlessly about why I consider AdMo my favorite neighborhood in DC, but a lot of it is nuances that you’d probably have to live here to fully appreciate. For instance, the architecture. Next time you’re stumbling around 18th street searching for a drink/empanada/jumbo slice/falafel, try looking up. It’s subtle, but if you look closely, the buildings in Adams Morgan (particularly up 18th street and along Columbia Road) are so fantastic- each is unique, and full of color and kitschy details. I’ve also slowly learned more about the neighborhood’s long history (and status as one of DC’s oldest neighborhoods), and I’m starting to understand why so many people who call Adam’s Morgan home choose to stay. That’s not even mentioning the most obvious draws of Adam’s Morgan- great food, great nightlife, great shops full of interesting art and clothes, and numerous places to enjoy live music.

Today, all of AdMo’s best traits were on full display at the annual Adams Morgan Day Festival, the oldest neighborhood festival in DC. The festival surpassed my expectations, and I was thrilled to see large crowds of Washingtonians enjoying my neighborhood and all it had to offer. The businesses along 18th street (as well as businesses from all over the city) pulled out all the shops to put on a great festival- there was a plethora of food, art, performances, and joie de vivre to go around.

I was particularly impressed by the music, which was set up at the top and bottom of the 18th street strip- one stage at Vernon, one at Columbia. I walked into the festival at around 5 p.m. from Columbia Road, and I walked straight into the crowd gathered in front of the music stage. There was a go-go band playing, and they had the whole crowd moving.

I was pretty stoked to stumble upon a live go-go performance, because go-go is a genre of music that can be fairly elusive to a recent DC resident. I’ve casually investigated opportunities to see live go-go, especially given that it is such a quintessential DC art form, but I’ve been discouraged at what I’ve learned. Basically, go-go has been somewhat marginalized as many of the clubs that hosted the shows have been shut down. The performances have edged more and more to the peripherals of the city (or even Prince George’s county), and thus would be nearly impossible to attend without a car.

As soon as I got home, I checked the Adams Morgan Day website to find out the name of the band I’d seen. As it turns out, the band was no joke- it was Familiar Faces, a well-established 13-person go-go outfit that includes six members of Chuck Brown’s band, including his daughter. I can’t pretend that I love every go-go song I’ve ever heard, but their stuff is pretty great.

I absolutely appreciate and understand go-go a bit more after finally seeing it come together in a live performance. The way the performers weave together so many disparate beats and sounds into an old school dance tapestry is incredibly energizing- you can’t help but move to it. And I have Familiar Faces to thank for facilitating this experience for me- I’m hoping it won’t be the last live go-go I get to see.

Familiar Faces, “Thank You”

on my boombox: django django, “storm”

5 Sep

I resisted blogging about this track for a little while, simply because Django Django is having their media moment right now, and this song is EVERYWHERE. I think it’s an awesome song, but I try not to flood you all with stuff you may have heard, given that I’m sure some readers frequent many other blogs in addition to RwR.
Then I saw the album art for this song, and I couldn’t resist posting it any longer. Not only is the song great and the band has a cool name (even if it reminds me a little too much of work- kudos if you understand why), but I couldn’t resist having this album art on my page. Enjoy the song (and the visual).

Django Django, “Storm”

on my boombox: jesca hoop, “the house that jack built”

4 Sep

The time between my initial discovery of an artist to when I first blog about them varies greatly. Some artists, like Radiohead, have received nearly a decade of my love and adoration before they make it on RwR. But I often think my most enjoyable posts are artists whom I’ve just discovered that month, week, day, or even hour, as this reflects a certain urgency; an urgency that only comes upon listening to a new artist or album for the first time and going, “HOT DAMN, I love this, this is awesome, I need to shout about this from rooftops!” And shout I do, but usually via WordPress instead of rooftops (usually).

This evening, I’m feeling that familiar urgency, and it’s for a woman named Jesca Hoop.

I stumbled upon this lady’s music over at You Ain’t No Picasso (an excellent music blog if you’re looking to add to the Google Reader), and I was hooked from the second I pushed play on “Born To.” As it turns out, “Born To” is just one of a bevy of excellent tracks on Jesca’s most recent album The House that Jack Built (which I also think is an excellent album name, though not sure why).

Some bio: Jesca grew up in a Mormon family in California, and later lived alone in the woods of California and Wyoming. (Side note: What is it about isolation that seems to spawn great female vocalists? Zola Jesus talking about her upbringing in the desolate, cold Wisconsin forests comes to mind). Somewhere along the way, she was lucky enough to nanny for Tom Waits’ kids for five years (where do I sign up for that gig?). Her musical career, however, only took shape in 2007 with her debut album Kismet.

Now, the important stuff- the music. Jesca’s unconventional upbringing and prolonged time spent away from contemporary society resonates in her sound, which is all at once modern and rustic. I don’t mean to belittle Jesca by tying her to comparisons, but I truly think she fuses the musical aspects of so many female artist whom I admire. She shows the songwriting chops of Fiona Apple, the free-spiritedness of Bjork, the haunting intrigue of PJ Harvey, and the musical power punch of St. Vincent. Though she will automatically gain fans who are inclined to the female-singer-songwriter style, I think the tunes are rich enough to appeal to a wider audience; I suspect they’d pull in casual listeners who wouldn’t have the attention span for Fiona Apple, simply because the sounds are so gosh darn interesting (not to mention beautifully arranged and relateable).

I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite track from The House That Jack Built, so I’ll post a smorgasbord. Please go out and listen to the whole thing on your own. It’s an album to spend an afternoon with, to sing your teeth into, and (I bet) one that you will play over and over again. I know I will.

“Born To”

“Ode to Banksy”

“Hospital”

weekend roll out: generationals, “lucky numbers”

31 Aug

It’s been awhile since I wrote a weekend roll out post, but clearly I couldn’t miss one today- not when we’re rolling out a three-day weekend AND the last official weekend of summer. I have mixed emotions about the season ending, but I do know I had my first pumpkin beer of the year today and it was deeeelicious. When it comes to beer, I welcome you with open arms, autumn!

Like my beer choices, I think the music in my rotation naturally transitions a bit from season to season as well. To be clear, summer music does NOT involve throwing out all music snobbery and tailgating for Dave Matthews and country shows- at least not for me. Instead, summer beach vacations might drive me to pull out some reggae classics and dance hall jams, and prime festival season inevitably leads to Phish and Widespread Panic live sets on heavy rotation.

Thus, as I perused the internets this evening with thoughts of Labor Day in my head, I stumbled upon this gem of a track that, for whatever reason, feels like that absolutely perfect summer-to-fall transition jam. You could play it at your outdoor BBQs this weekend, but I doubt you’ll be tired of it come Columbus Day. Something about fall and up-tempo indie pop go hand-in-hand; I could totally see myself bopping along to this during a glorious fall run in Rock Creek when the trees are on fire with color.

While my music might change seasonally, you better believe I’ll still wear white after this weekend. #fightthepower

Rollll out.

Generationals, “Lucky Numbers”

two bars three stars: local tribute to pussy riot

28 Aug

If you belong to any social media network, there is no way you haven’t seen at least vague mentions of the Pussy Riot debacle currently unfolding in Russia. I won’t rehash all the details, but in case you need an outline: back in March, a feminist Russian punk group called Pussy Riot released their most controversial work yet. The group, which is part of a broader opposition movement to Russian president Vladimir Putin, released a music video of themselves performing a sacrilegious, anti-Putin song in a Russian church. In reaction, Russian police swiftly arrested several members of the group, and they were taken to prison. Currently, three members of the collective are charged with “hooliganism” and received two year prison sentences, while two others have fled Russia to avoid prosecution.

While this story is devastating in so many ways and should outrage every single one of us, the silver lining to this tragedy (and many others like it) is the rallying of support that has bubbled up from all angles. Many world-famous artists, from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Sting to Madonna, have voiced support for the group; Vivian Girls will play a Pussy Riot tribute show; and Bjork is even selling Pussy Riot t-shirts on her website. Most importantly, Bikini Kill, one of Pussy Riot’s biggest influences thanks to their work as part of the riot grrrrl movement in the 1990s, has touted this event’s historical and artistic significance.

But it’s not just international superstars who are rallying to speaking out against this whole mess- local musicians are getting in on the action too. I was recently exposed to this tribute song, “Already Winning,” which was composed by a group of DC artists operating under the psuedonym “Coward Collective.” The song is definitively punk, but tailored to the event at hand: we’ve got an eery, church-like falsetto in the intro, which quickly melts into an aggressive guitar riff. Most interestingly, the lyrics were written based entirely on Pussy Riot’s letters from prison, culminating with the chorus “scared by a punch of pussies.” Whoa.
This track is a solid, well-crafted punk song in its own right (let alone the importance of its message, let alone the creativity behind using Pussy Riot’s letters as  lyrics fodder). Between the aggressive instrumentation, the jarring lyrics, and the sheer weight of the situation that the song speaks to, this song hits hard. Talk about locally-sourced, globally-focused art.

Check it out and spread it around. This is local music of which to be proud.

“Already Winning (Pussy Riot Tribute),” Coward Collective