Dreamy new song from alt-j

The British 3-piece are back with the first single from their forthcoming album – and it’s very lovely – a full minute of woozy instrumentation before we hear the almost Gregorian voices of Gus Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman. I love the classic soft rock in the chorus at around the 2:38 mark (think REO Speedwagon), and of course Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowtree making a cameo appearance in the last minute of the song. Bliss.

In Each Other’s Pockets

I admire those couples who can both live and work together harmoniously. Given there are a swag who can barely coexist, these star twosomes deserve a happy stamp on each hand. It’s even better when the fruit falling from such compatible pairing is in the form of one magical album after another. So who are these rare and envied beings? And do they write songs about who forgot to put the rubbish out? Continue reading

A Bright Boy

The Decemberists "The Crane Wife" al...
The Decemberists “The Crane Wife” album cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Recently I attended a reader’s and writer’s session given by Patrick Ness, author of the fantastic young-adult ‘Chaos Walking‘ trilogy, six novels and a collection of short stories. His most recent novel, ‘The Crane Wife‘ is a damn good read. When I first saw ‘The Crane Wife’  in my local bookshop, I didn’t immediately think of the Japanese fable but rather of the album of the same name by indie folk rock band, The Decemberists. I picked up the book and, on the first page, these lyrics:

‘And all the stars were crashing round

As I laid eyes on what I’d found.

The Decemberists.’

In the R & W session Patrick talked about his love of music and how he endeavoured to create stories that have the same feel and mood as the songs he loves. Each one of his books is crafted with a particular song in mind and, in the case of ‘The Crane Wife’, it is The Decemberists’  The Crane Wife Part 1 & 2.  Here it is here – hang in until the 5.35 minute mark when the languorous and melodic second part starts:

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How to find new music…with a quick how-to about Spotify


I find a lot of new music from public or student radio stations that can be streamed into my living room from all over the place. A couple I listen to regularly are: The Current, Minnesota Public Radio http://www.thecurrent.org/listen; and, because I’m a Kiwi and like to hear what’s going on in my back yard, Radio Active, Wellington NZ  http://www.radioactive.co.nz/.  If I like a song, I’ll jump onto Spotify on my computer and listen to the artist’s top tracks (Spotify lists them in ‘popularity’ order), and entire albums if I love what I’m hearing.

Listening to radio ad infinitum can be very time consuming, particularly for the frantically busy individual. This is where Spotify is brilliant. All you need is the name of a band, or even a song, that you’ve recently heard and like – perhaps a friend’s recommendation or one from this Blog, let’s say ‘Death Cab For Cutie‘ – plug it into ‘Spotify’ and it will throw a whole bunch of similar artists right back at you.

Here’s how you do it:

First you need to download the Spotify App. which you can do by visiting the official Spotify website. I recommend the ‘Premium” service simply because you can then listen to songs on your mobile phone – perfect if you’re trying to multi-task by combining listening time with dog-walking/running/power-walking/supermarket shopping/traffic-crawling…. The Premium service costs NZ$12.99/US$9.99 per month. There is a free service (with limited listening hours) and an ‘Unlimited’ service but then you are chained to your desk.

Once you have Spotify up and running on your computer, find and click the ‘radio’ button in the menu on the left of the screen. Now, click the ‘Create new Station’ on the top right. In the search box that appears, type in ‘Death Cab For Cutie’. Click their name when it appears under “Artist” and, voila, Spotify will start to play music that is similar (by genre and decade) until you decide enough is enough and press ‘pause’. You can also make playlists of all the songs you hear and like, share songs with friends or listen to specific genre radio stations.

Two important thoughts:

  1. If you like what you hear please buy the album, particularly if you have subscribed to the free service.
  2. If you have linked your Spotify account to your Facebook account (or joined Spotify through Facebook) everything you listen to will be up in lights on your FB friends’ news-feeds. If you don’t want people to see what you’re listening to, go into the settings menu and check ‘private session’. You’ll need to do this each time you use Spotify.

I’ve included a link to an article (courtesy of Mashable) comparing Pandora and Spotify for those in the US: http://mashable.com/2013/03/01/spotify-vs-pandora/

Staying on the computer, there are a myriad of excellent music sites to browse – here’s a few I like: Pitchfork; Drowned in Sound; The Quietus; Stereogum; and Sputnik. These sites have ‘Best of’ lists of albums and songs which are a quick and easy way to get started. A helpful site to investigate, when you’d like to know more about a particular album, is Metacritic. It usefully collates all the critic reviews in one place and provides an overall rating for the album.

A lot of people use the Shazam app. for songs they hear and like. Shazam identifies the artist/band and song name.

The more traditional ways of finding new music generally involve moving away from your gadgets. It’s all very well sitting in a darkened room in front of a screen, comfy in your shabby dressing gown and polyester sox but it can be hard on both your vitamin D levels and rapidly-waning social skills. Trust me, I know. You can save yourself a post head-phones headache and go and see a band you’ve never heard of. If you don’t like them, well, at least you’ve had a night out with some real humans. You may become an obsessive fan. I talked to a classical pianist the other day who had just discovered Radiohead. He now knows their entire back catalogue, every lyric Thom Yorke has ever uttered and every instrument they’ve ever played – I’m impressed by that sort of commitment.

I know it seems obvious but if you hear something you like, in a cafe or at someone’s house, ask (or download Shazam). Commit it to memory (aka put it in ‘Notes’ on your phone) and check it out later on Spotify. I discovered Gillian Welch years ago in cafe in Wellington (thank you, Deluxe). A lot of my music recommendations also come from friends – the ones who are mad about it – and I mean ‘mad’ in an entirely unhealthy way. Talking to people about music can be a revelation in itself and a helluva lot more interesting than house renovations, university deadlines and badly-behaved pets.

The New Pornographers


Listening to a New Pornographers’ album is like being driven at high speed in a VW Beetle, safe in the knowledge that you’re never going to cross the centre line, veer wildly off -course or, simply, run out of gas. There’s a blissfully warm feeling of security as, great song after great song, you realise there’ll be no blips or excruciating pitch issues. You know that the drummer can really drum, the singers can certainly sing and the song-writers have done a damn fine job. This Canadian indie rock super-group knows exactly what it’s doing and how it’s doing it.

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This Is Not Dinner Party Music

Someone has asked me if I could do a post on music that would complement a dinner party. While I muse on this, I’ve decided to write about music that would, instead, go down like a lead zeppelin over the creamed celeriac and braised pork belly (this is an easy job as the bulk of my collection falls into this murky category(!)). Continue reading

It’s Hip To Be Square…

You’ve  got to love a band that takes its name from a song from the 1967 Beatles film ‘Magical Mystery Tour”. I certainly do.  Death Cab For Cutie are a quirky (read, nerdy) four-piece indie-rock band from Seattle. Who else could get away with writing a song that compares relationships to mathematics

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So Happy Together…

Collaborations between artists in the music industry have always been commonplace and no more so than now. However, over the years I’ve often wondered at artist’s  motives for getting together and who emerges better off. There have certainly been some interesting pairings and one that comes to mind is smooth-groover R. Kelly (the man behind songs ‘Sex Me’, ‘Bump N’ Grind’, ‘Feelin’ On Yo Booty’) and titanic-lunged Celine Dion when they teamed up to record the saccharine ballad ‘I’m Your Angel’ . This song went straight to the top of the Hot Adult Contemporary Chart (whatever that is) but surely R. Kelly fans were somewhat traumatised?

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The Bearded Ones

In the mid-2000’s a Seattle-based band, the Fleet Foxes, was garnering attention with gorgeous harmonies, acoustic arrangements and pure four-part hymnic vocals. Their sound was an eclectic mix of folk, choral baroque and americana, interwoven with references to Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young and the Beach Boys.  Fleet Foxes released a five-track EP, ‘Sun Giant,’ in early 2008. This was followed by a full-length album, ‘Fleet Foxes’, in June. Music media and listeners alike immediately flew into overdrive, firing out rapturous remarks such as: ‘a landmark in American Music, an instant classic’ from The Guardian;  ‘It’s like watching the sun rise over the distant mountaintops, over and over, familiar and captivating all at once’ from Paste Magazine; and, succinctly, from Q Magazine, ‘a pure pleasure’. I think the painting by Bruegel on the album cover says it all. With quaint song titles like ‘Meadowlarks’ and ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ plus lyrics to match, the album feels ye olde worldely. This is not a sparse album, unlike Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ released the same year. Instead, it’s jam-packed with lushness and depth – there’s a lot going on. Lead singer, Robin Pecknold, has a voice that I feel very safe with (unlike the uncomfortable vulnerability I experience when watching a contestant on ‘X-Factor’ or ‘Idol’ – it’s the price you pay). Robin is fully in control of the vocals and is supported beautifully by the rest of the skulk (ah, that’s a great word) of foxes.

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