A Break from the Election Blues: LxListening

This election season couldn’t be over soon enough. This fall’s music has offered both a respite from the political ugliness and also has spoken straight to the urgency of it like the David Egger’s led 30 days for 30 songs now 40 songs in 40 days for a Trump-free America. Whether you are feeling righteous anger towards this election cycle, feeling existential and maybe a little hopeless, or just seeking some peace and quiet, this fall has delivered good music for all three. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Amber Coffman – “All To Myself”

The eclectic Dirty Projectors have been one of my favorite bands in the last 10 years, and I’ve always thought their guitarist and co-vocalist Amber Coffman should split off for a solo career. She finally has here in 2016, with a solo album to come soon, but led by “All To Myself” a lovely mid-tempo ballad which isn’t a far cry from her sound in Dirty Projectors. The Dirty Projectors themselves are coming out with an album soon, and it appears based on their lead single, frontman Dave Longstreth doesn’t seem too pleased about Coffman going solo.

Moses Sumney – “Worth It”

LA’s Moses Sumney is one of the more refreshing up-and-coming artists today, mixing soul and folk in creative ways. A Sufjan Stevens touring mate and disciple, Sumney’s songwriting is similarly informed by his faith, with his debut EP Lamentations finding him wrestling with God, and lead single “Worth It” sort of being an open-hearted, auto-tuned confessional.

Jim James – “Same Old Lie”

My Morning Jacket’s Jim James’ musical heroes (Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Roger Waters) have a knack for writing politically urgent yet timeless lyrics to fit their time and to last beyond. James strikes that balance well on his first single “Same Old Lie” for his upcoming second solo album Eternally Even, singing a Mayfield-esque protest against the hatred and violence that perpetrates our world.

Swet Shop Boys – “T5”

One of the most surprising new duos in music is Swet Shop Boys, which combines world-class British actor Rez Ahmed aka Rez MC (hot off starring in HBO’s stellar Night Of and soon to be star in Star Wars Rogue One) with Himanshu Kumar Suri aka Heems 1/3rd of goofball rap troupe Das Racist. What the two have in common is being of South Asian descent, with Heems being an Indian-American from Queens and Rez being a Pakistani-Brit from London. On “T5”, the two furiously and humorously break down what it’s like to be brown post 9/11, facing Islamophobia, xenophobia, government surveillance, racial profiling at the airport, and much more.

Nick Cave – “Skeleton Tree”

For those feeling straight-up existential and depressed this election, maybe wait to listen to Nick Cave’s latest Skeleton Tree until November 9th. While Skeleton Tree is certainly the saddest listen of 2016, it is also the most moving and human. In the summer of 2015, Cave experienced unbearable tragedy with the loss of his 15 year old son Arthur who fell of a cliff to his death while on LSD. This happened in the middle of the recording of Skeleton Tree, and was captured in Andrew Domenik’s black-and-white documentary One More Time With Feeling. Over spare piano ballads, Cave pours out his soul, the sort of primal scream album like John Lennon’s therapeutic Plastic Ono Band. It’s certainly not for everyone, but music was made for healing, and hearing Cave work out his tragedy can help someone else going through hardship to know they aren’t alone.

For more of my favorites from the fall, check out my Spotify playlist.

I Can Be Your Hero, Baby: The 10 Best Music Superheroes

LxL_TopTenThursdays_900x300

Editor’s Note: This list originally published in 2013, but with the new Avengers movie releasing tomorrow, it seemed like a great time to revisit the list.

In a concerted effort to make it seem we do not take ourselves too seriously, perhaps out of a fear of taking ourselves too seriously sometimes, we like to mix up our more scholarly lists with those that make us out to be a handful of nerdy jackasses.  This is one of those lists.  There has been a lot of hysteria surrounding superhero movies this summer.  I mean, damn, a Batman, Spiderman, and Avengers movies all in the same summer.  We are all extremely partial to Batman, especially those of the Nolan/Burton persuasion, and decided to save this dopey collection for around the time The Dark Knight Rises was released.  As comic-book/superhero movie fans,  we thought we could fantasize a little bit about which musicians would make the best superheroes, and speculate a little bit about their key attributes.  For awhile there, we considered doing a joint heroes/villains list, but ultimately decided to make two separate lists, with the heroes list today, and the villains list coming at you next Thursday.  Enjoy.
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Top Ten Thursday: Best Bonnaroo Acts of 2013

Bonnaroo, main stage, 2013, Paul McCartney

This one is pretty self explanatory. As our final recap of the event, here is our favorite acts of our favorite festival. I’ll give you a hint, Mumford and Sons didn’t make the list … or did they.

 

10. Tame Impala
Tame Impala, live, Bonnaroo, 2013

Tame Impala’s groovy Aussie vibes translate well to the stage. Especially for an afternoon festival setting. There is no doubt these guys will only be growing in fans as the years progress. I wouldn’t be surprised seeing them graduate to a stage soon enough.
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Bonnaroo 2013: A Full Recap

Bonnaroo 2013

Bonnaroo 2013 was quite the success. This is my fifth year attending what I believe to be America’s greatest music festival, and out of those five years, 2013 goes down as my favorite thus far. This is even aside from the fact I had to miss the entirety of Sunday, a day I know I would have enjoyed immensely, due to a work conflict. A lot of things fell into place very well this year. A great crew of friends, incredibly high caliber acts, a conducive schedule for my taste, more alcohol than I should have consumed, and some of the best collaborations I have ever seen. Paul McCartney shined as an untouchable legend, R Kelly reigned down from the heavens, and artists collaborated with each other in ways that I could never have imagined.

R Kelly Bonnaroo, 2012, fly, crane
I wasn’t lying, he literally came down from the heavens.

As our first recap, I decided to give a full, but quick breakdown of everything I saw last weekend. This is modeled after a successful post written by a fallen member of past Roo crews that could not be in attendance this year. Wes helped cover the acts I missed due to either physical or even mental absence. I don’t know what set me back more this year, work or whiskey. Anyways, onto the breakdown:

Thursday

JD McPherson, live bonnaroo, 2013JD McPherson

Retro rock and roll that will groove into your soul.

 

 

 

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Jim James Show Review

Jim James
The Vic Theater
Chicago, IL
4/20/2013

Jim James, the vic, chicago,  Live

As Jim James took the stage last Saturday night, I was overtaken by the nostalgic feeling that one gets when seeing an old friend for the first time in a while. The first time I’d ever seen the man perform live was My Morning Jacket’s epic 3+ hour performance at Bonnaroo in 2006. Since then, I have seen MMJ many more times, and have been hard pressed to find a better modern live act. Not surprisingly, both times I have seen Jim outside of his brothers of Kentucky outfit (which would be with Monsters of Folk and this solo show), he has only exceeded expectations to replicate the same live energy and endearment that fans are accustom to when he is in his usual element.
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Jim James Review: Regions of Light and Sound of God

Jim James

Regions of Light and Sound of God

Jim James Regions of Light and Sound of God album cover art

Louisville native Jim James has made a name for himself by heading one of the best bands going today in chameleon Southern rockers My Morning Jacket, but that isn’t so say that’s all James has done. James has made himself known throughout the musical landscape, from singing and playing on records for Bright Eyes, Dr. Dog, Laura Veirs, and Preservation Jazz Hall Band, shacking up in supergroups with Conor Oberst and M. Ward for Monsters of Folk and Jay Farrar and others for a Woodie Guthrie project known as New Multitudes, and notoriously showing up as a guest seemingly everywhere, playing with a diverse range of acts from Erykah Badu to the late great Levon Helm. Not only has James made an imprint in music, but he has also made notable appearances in Elizabethtown and I’m Not There. So it’s a bit surprising that it has taken him this long to release a proper full-length solo album, but the wait is over with Regions of Light and Sound of God. The results are mostly positive, with James doing a very different type of record than he is known for with My Morning Jacket; a sweet, restrained, and spiritual 40 minutes of music that doesn’t hit you over the head, but gently ships you off to outer space.

The story behind Regions of Light and Sound of God has already become a bit of folklore, with the album being inspired by a period of time following a freak stage accident James suffered. James ended up in the hospital and was handed a copy of Lynd Ward’s 1929 wordless novel-in-woodcuts, God’s Man. God’s Man is about a young man who seeks redemption while struggling with personal demons, and then figures things out to only have death sneak up on him. Through the book and this time, James reconciled these weighty themes of love, mercy, suffering, art, and death in his life and has now used Regions of Light and Sound of God as a sort of pronounced meditation on these subjects. Often when artists tackle such themes they get a little ambiguous and messy, but for the most part, James shows a surprising amount o restraint to make a quiet and searching album that is still signature quirky James.

In terms of music, James plays every instrument on the record beside some of the orchestral arrangements, and covers a wide array of music genres but stays within a unified record sound. “A.E.I.O.U. (State of the Art)” builds around a serene jazz piano line and the stillness of James’ voice before slowly picking up steam to form one of Regions’ best tracks. The spacey shuffle of “Know Till Now” sounds like a disco taking place only in James’ mind or on a rocketship to the moon, but still sounds romantic even if it’s a bit dazed out. “Dear One” follows a pattern of My Morning Jacket tracks “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 1” and “Day Is Coming”: elementary, hypnotic pop songs that build off one mid-tempo yet entrancing melody. Second single “A New Life” is as good as Regions gets, with James doing his best hiccupy Buddy Holly impression singing a sweet and innocent love song about starting anew. It’s a not-so-distant cousin to classic love song Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”, and sounds instantly just as classic.

Not only are all the lyrics spiritual in nature, but the music itself lays steeped in sounds from the otherside. One of James’ biggest musical heroes is my favorite Beatle, George Harrison (James even has a Harrison tribute EP called Tribute To), who was also famous for spiritually searching music, pulling influence from Ravi Shankar and Hindustani classical music, gospel music, and folk spirituals. James does much the same here, pulling New Age sounds for “Of The Mother Again”, Middle-Eastern sounds on “All Is Forgiven”, soul and gospel on “Actress”, and airy meditative folk on “God’s Love To Deliver”.  While across the board spiritually, the album doesn’t feel jumbled or messy but rather wholly cathartic.

Probably my biggest issue with Regions of Light and Sound of God is not the concept or overall sound of the record, but rather the songs themselves. Every My Morning Jacket record usually delivers at least 3-4 gripping and instantly epic songs that I will play for years, and outside “A New Life” and maybe “A.E.I.O.U. (State of the Art)”, the songs are pleasant and moving but not stuff I feel like continually retreating back to. James is usually not one for restraint, and he uses it here which I think helped with dealing with huge themes, but I think it also removed some of his oddball personality which is one of the most endearing features to James’ music.

Regions of Light and Sound of God is definitely worth a listen, but isn’t guaranteed to warrant repeated listens the way much of James’ other work does.

7.5/11

Can’t Miss: “A.E.I.O.U. (State of the Art)”, “A New Life”, “Know Till Now”

Can’t Hit: “Exploding”, “Actress”

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Jim James “Know Til Now” Review

Jim James
“Know Til Now”

Jim James solo song review "Know Til Now"

There is no hiding the fact that we at LxL love Jim James and his Kentucky bearded brethren in My Morning Jacket. I was admittedly ecstatic when I heard that the long-awaited Jim James solo record was finally announced (called Regions of Light and Sound of God), which also came with the release of the album’s first single, “Know Til Now”. Jim James had previously released an EP (under the silly pseudonym Yim Yames) in tribute to my favorite Beatle, George Harrison, called Tribute To, which was full of stripped-down and southern-tinged Harrison covers. This new single couldn’t be more different from that solo material, as the song swings with an electro-soul swagger only to finish off with an instrumental jazz close.
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