Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday Listening - Glen Hansard

I would like nothing more than to sit down and have a pint with Glen Hansard.

There are plenty of topics to cover- how he started busking on the streets of Dublin, his time with The Frames, Once, The Swell Season, and now, his first solo album Rhythm and Repose, released last week.  I have had an affinity for his music for some time, as his music is the rare type that remains utterly pure, untouched from overzealous producers and weird machines that remove the soul from a song.  His songs overflow with soul.  Unapologetically.

Thank goodness for that.

Anyway, back to the pint.

I'm sure he's a nice fellow and all, and there'd be plenty to talk about over the foamy rings on our pint glasses, but primarily I'd be hoping that at any moment he'd pick up that old, worn guitar of his and just start singing.  Just him and his guitar, the essence of what his music is. (The pints don't hurt, either).

As a busker, he essentially got his start as a solo artist.   He's since spent most of his career playing with other people, so it is at this point that a solo album by Glen Hansard gives one the sense of 'Hmm. Yes.  This makes sense.'  He's mentioned in recent interviews how this solo album came about almost by accident via sessions at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC.  Most of his fans, however, would probably say this solo album is a long time coming.  Given his busker start, it only makes sense.

It also makes sense, then, that the album is full of music that stays in the vein of Glen's past works, but with a more evolved sound.  The first taste of this is on the very first track, "You Will Become", which has a serious tone juxtaposed with soft strumming that eventually turns wide and sweeping.  If this album is a meal, "You Will Become" is a tasty yet unsettled appetizer, and "Maybe Not Tonight" is the decadent, delicious, longed for main course.  On this second track, his voice is tempered.  There is a seductive sway in the tune, like watching ocean waves rise and fall, leaving the listener a bit weak in the knees.

Those looking for the more 'traditional' Glen sound, with his trademark highly emotive singing can look towards "High Hopes", where this singing style brings the song to an extreme climax before lightly settling back in.  With lyrics like "Why must a man lose everything/to find out what he wants", it is one of the standouts on the album.  Songs like "Bird of Sorrow" and "The Storm, It's Coming" bring forth the wistful and hopeful-yet-melancholic side of his sound.  Swell Season fans will get their fill on a track like "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting", which has a "Low Rising" feel to it.  There is also the remarkable, climactic "The Gift", complete with a female vocalist we've grown accustomed to hearing with Marketa and Glen.

There are widely varying tones, tempos, and emotions on this album, but it all comes back around again on one of the key tracks, "Song of Good Hope".  Written for a friend who was going through some rough times, it is a simple, beautiful song, with just Glen and his guitar and meaningful lyrics that at times can sound like an Irish blessing: "You'll be fine now/Just stay close to me/and may good hope, walk with you through everything".

Some tracks sound like a new direction for him, but at the same time they sound like exactly where he should be as a musician at this point in his journey.  Perhaps that's why it's taken till now to get a solo album out of him.  In some sense, he is going back to his beginnings.  No longer a full time busker on the streets, he's a musician whose sound has progressed but who has managed to weave in the roots of where it all began.  One can imagine each of the songs on his new album being stripped down and played simply with just him and his guitar.  This is the essence of his music.  At its core, it belongs to a busker's heart.

You can Rhythm and Repose on iTunes:

More Glen Hansard:

NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Glen Hansard at the Rolling Stone offices:

Glen Hansard on World Cafe's Sense of Place with David Dye

At SXSW with KUT

Monday, June 25, 2012

Midsummer's Night Mixes

Summer is now fully upon us and there is an abundance of sunshine, as well as an abundance of great new summer tracks and mixes.  With alluring thoughts of intoxicatingly long days of warm breezes and outdoor fun, I thought there no better time to highlight some wonderfully summery music.  Here are some sunny tracks and mixes to get you going.

There is simply no better way to kick off summer than with any song by The Beach Boys, and just in time for the season, The Beach Boys are back with a brand new album, brand new tunes, and brand new Brian Wilson-influenced tracks.  I don't care who you are, or what your musical leanings, you owe it to your summer to give the below tracks a listen.  From the "Kokomo"-esque "Daybreak Over the Ocean" to the old school vibe on "Strange World", and the pure Brian Wilson-ness of "Pacific Coast Highway", this is the perfect start for summer.  There's also a stellar standout in "Summer's Gone", but we'll save that for our list of songs for Fall...
That's Why God Made the Radio - The Beach Boys

John Mayer's latest album, Born and Raised, is full of wistful introspective songs, but "Queen of California" stands out as a track with a sunny disposition. Born and Raised - John Mayer

California indie pop band Best Coast's video for their song "The Only Place" is just about as close to an advertisement for the awesomeness of California as you can get.  The song says it all:

"Leave the cold behind
we're gonna make it to the beach on time
Why would you live anywhere else?"

Exactly. (video via Pitchfork) The Only Place (Deluxe Edition) - Best Coast

There is something about "Man on Fire" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros that just fits in perfectly here. Upbeat tunage.  A simple beat and melody.  And a guy who just wants the whole damn world to dance with him.  (Video via Rolling Stone) Here - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

The Smashing Pumpkins have released the long awaited new album, Oceania, and while I'm still letting the album settle before making any hasty decisions on what I think about it, I do love these tracks.  The chord progressions seem uncharacteristically upbeat (especially on "Pinwheels") for Billy Corgan, making for a good add to any beach soundtrack.  Oceania - Smashing Pumpkins

Summer Mixes
Want more summery songs?  Here are a few summer mixes from the music blogosphere.

Music for Ants
Music For Ants just released their annual summer mix.  You can download it at that link (and also get the playlist on Spotify).  They do a mix for each season, and never disappoint in introducing some great new tunes.

Songs for the Day
I've linked to this before, but its so good it bears repeating.  Songs for the Day's summer mix is fantastic, which you can listen to via 8tracks here:

New Music Collective
For an especially cooling summer mix during the hot days of summer, I also suggest checking out the summer mix over at New Music Collective. 

The always amazing Heather over at Fuel/Friends has put together an outstanding summer mix.  I don't know how she does it, but every track is perfect.  Simply perfect.
Listen here at Fuel/Friends Blog

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday Listening - John Mayer

John Mayer's new album, Born and Raised, has been out for a couple of weeks now, and more reviews seem to have been written on this album than on most new releases lately.  Many have harped on this album's Southern California rock vibe, which is entirely true.  This is a far different album than John Mayer's put out before.

Aside from the overall vibe of the album, the biggest change in this album is what he's singing about.  This isn't an album full of forlorn love songs, or songs that seem to be written as if he were inside the head of every woman in America. This album is different.  This is the album where John Mayer finally grows up.

But first- the sound.  Although the album has been out for a couple of weeks, I hesitated to write about  it because I wanted to give it a good, solid chance to sink into my brain and see which tracks stood out after repeated listening.  I liked Battle Studies when I first heard it, but I hardly ever listen to anything on it now, and I wondered if the same would happen with Born and Raised.

Before even listening, this album was already intriguing.  We are all aware of the infamous Playboy interview and the aftermath from a few years ago.  After years of being an over-sharer, he had to face the music for his own comments, quit Twitter, and basically kind of went away. The moment he first seemed to get it- that its not about what he wants to talk about, its about the music- is when he said just after the brouhaha, "I quit the media game. I'm out. I'm done. I just want to play my guitar."

Which brings us to Born and Raised. It is most definitely an album full of lyrics from a contrite writer, perhaps most poignantly in the chorus of his first single, "Shadow Days": "I'm a good man, with a good heart/Had a tough time, got a rough start/ But I finally learned to let it go", and the track "Born and Raised".  But the mood of the album isn't completely overshadowed with this tone- instead, its there, as if to acknowledge it, and then move on. Move on to the music.

So what is the music, and what stands out? This album is a pure throwback to 70's Southern California rock, in the vein of America, The Eagles, and Crosby Stills & Nash (Crosby & Nash even provide backing vocals on this album, as if to add to the authenticity).  There's also a bit of country twang ("Shadow Days"), a bit of John Mayer bluesyness ("Something Like Olivia"), and a bit of a pop driven love song ("Love is a Verb").  "Queen of California" opens up the album like a road trip up the PCH in a "Ventura Highway" style, with its muffled beat and sunny SoCal style grooves.  It is completed with lyrics about "heading out west with my headphones on" and looking for the place where "Joni wrote Blue in her house by the sea" and "looking for the sun that Neil Young hung", making it clear what he is trying to conjure up.  But it is the second half of "If I Ever Get Around To Living" that sealed the old school SoCal vibe for me.  It's a tempered sound with repeating vocals of "When you gonna wise up, boy?" in a softened style, a la "Tin Man" by America.

"Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967" is pure storytelling, with a steady rat-a-tat drum beat and a melancholy yet resolved tone.  It completes the journey of this album as an album that wants to be blues, country, rock, and with this, good storytelling.

We love a good story, and this album draws on the backstory of the Playboy interview and the troubles he's had over the past year with his vocal chords.  But in the end,  the music is what makes it complex- there's hints of all of his talents on here, as well as his ability to take a different sound and style than what he normally does and make it sound, well...normal.  Not contrived.

What's ironic is some of his most mature sounds have come from previous albums, when he was in his twenties.  As he got into his early thirties, he seemed to start down a different path, one not so much about the music, but more about the caricature of John Mayer.  This album is not secretly his attempt at reclaiming who he used to be - a guy with his guitar who has an insane talent.  What he chooses to do with the talent is up to him.

 Listen & buy here
  Born and Raised - John Mayer