April 17, 2009

From Indie Pop to Classic Rock: Summer Listening Assignments

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Last week, I did an unprecedented thing. I changed, for the first time in almost two years, the music on my iPod. I realize that this is a sad confession for a music columnist to have to make, but I blame it entirely on laziness. I even blame my reason for finally changing the tunes on laziness. I was procrastinating. As usual.
So anyway, when I updated my pod (doesn’t that sound so wonderfully futuristic?), I put on a bunch of music that I have been meaning to try out for quite some time. Quite a lot of new music, actually. And in listening to that new music at work the other day, I happened on some that I really, really liked. Quite a lot that I really, really liked, actually. I would like to recommend some of this music to you. Which brings us to the theme of today’s column: five bands / musical groups / singing people that you really ought to listen to. Since we’re (finally) coming up on the end of the semester, I’d like you to think of this as a summer listening project. Are you excited?
First up is British quartet Fujiya & Miyagi, whose name comes straight from The Karate Kid, so how can you not like them? My favorite album thus far is their 2006 release Transparent Things, but I admit I have not yet heard their newest undertaking, Lightbulbs, released last year. The band claims to be influenced by ’70s krautrock and ’90s electronica, which I know might make some of you wary right off the bat. But don’t write ’em off, because these four guys make some of the catchiest krautrock / electronica that I have ever heard. The beats are danceable, the bass is irresistible and David Best’s swanky-low vocals are repetitive in just the right way. I would challenge even notorious humbug Ebenezer Scrooge to stand still when these guys get to playin’. Song of choice? “Collarbone.”
Okay, number two for you to listen to is Canadian singer-songwriter Jason Collett, a member of Broken Social Scene, but also a successful solo act with four albums to his name. Collett’s sound, with backing band The Dark Horse, features upbeat guitar melodies and breathy vocals. I like to think of it as super-happy-Bob-Dylan-folksy. Collett’s songs are soulful in a joyful way, the music often deceptively simple, but beautiful nonetheless, something you really want to sing along to. Hey man, who’s not for “marmalade sun for everyone?” Fav track? “I’ll Bring the Sun.”
Numero tres, you ask? Uzi & Ari, a Postal Service-esque indie rock band hailing from good old Salt Lake City. (I’ve never been to Salt Lake City. Is it good? Old?). The band’s members are many and frequently changing, but at its heart is Utah native and founder (and yes, he is Mormon), vocalist Ben Shepard. Uzi & Ari play what I would describe as beautiful rock — more subdued than Postal Service, but also more lyrical. The band uses a lot of pretty piano melodies interspersed with more conventionally rockin’ guitar and drums verses, but also throws in some violin, organ, french horn and a few crazy sound effects just to mix it up a bit. The result is a unique blend of indie rock that’s not just for indie rockers. Song assignment? “Patron Saint.”
Next: Handsome Furs. Handsome Furs, Handsome Furs, Handsome Furs. (No animals were harmed in the making of this band). Handsome Furs are another indie rock group from Canada, in disguise as husband and wife. Husband Dan Boeckner rocks the guitar and vocals, while wife Alexei Perry creates the beats with synth and drum machine. These guys definitely take some getting used to: It’s repetitive, and it’s supposed to be, and it’s dark. I suggest you start by concentrating on the drums — let the beat get in your head and your toes, and then let the lyrics wash over you. It’s not “beautiful” rock per se, but it’s definitely interesting, and their just released album, Face Control, is supposed to be just a little less one-dimensional and just a little more awesome. So I’ll be checking it out for sure. Instead of picking just one song here, I’m assigning you the whole album. Go ahead, try it on for size.
The last band you’ve heard of, assuming you’re not dead, comatose or actually a rock. The Beatles. What really is there to say about The Beatles? Well, I was going to say that I was brining them back, but then I realized that implied that they had gone out of style, and let me tell you now, The Beatles absolutely positively will never go out of style. The things they did with music were innovative in their day; in ours they’re classic. Listen to them. Don’t forget them. I love them. Song you’ll listen to over and over again? “Blackbird.” “Take these broken wings and learn to fly … ”