Ryan’s Music Picks 🌸 25 May 2017

Looks like I’ve shifted to roughly monthly for these. Thanks for your patience. This is a lot of music that fits well into the late spring season (an important time for music, IMO). There are 3 different albums from 1968-69 in here this time, and a bunch of baroquely complex pop. That’s just what happens in the spring.

Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now (Apple Music, Spotify)
I discovered Benjamin Clementine thanks to this post on MetaFilter. He’s pretty much a straight-up genius, making incredible piano songs that are equal parts rambling and purely pop. I keep getting lost in his songs and I love it.

David Axelrod – Songs of Innocence (Apple Music, Spotify)
This 1968 album is legendary. It’s been sampled tons of times, and it truly is gorgeous. I know how this sounds, but it’s kind of a jazz rock odyssey, with horns and chimes and drums. It’s definitely a music nerd album, but it’s also a gateway drug, so watch out.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (Apple Music, Spotify)
I’m late to the game on this album and on Kendrick in general. I would say he’s unequivocally the best rapper alive if Run The Jewels weren’t around, but he’s defintely operating on a different level than most rappers out there. If he’s this good now, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when he’s the age of the RTJ dudes.

The Mountain Goats – Goths (Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp)
John Darnielle hasn’t been shy about how much he loves heavy metal and black metal, and it’s led his trademark wordy guitar-driven story songs to veer down a dark path. Goths is darker and heavier than most Mountain Goats albums, with songs that highlight the inherent ridiculousness of the goth lifestyle by taking it deadly seriously.

Jai Paul – 2013 Leak (DOWNLOAD)
This album appeared unexpectedly in 2013, basically inventing the surprise album release. The Fader recaps what happened in this recent article. It turns out that it was an unauthorized leak, and, though it was unbelievably well-received, it caused the already-introverted Jai Paul to go into hiding, and he hasn’t released any more music under his own name since. But it’s an incredible mix of beats, samples, and guitar-based pop.

Marina and the Diamonds – FROOT (Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s understandable that Marina Diamandis has a cult of personality among teen girls on tumblr. Her songs have a strong emotional element, unstoppable pop tendencies, and anthemically address issues people like tumblr teen ladies are also dealing with.

TW Walsh – Terrible Freedom (Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp)
TW Walsh has released two of my favorite albums in the last two years. He writes devastating songs and keeps it experimental without getting too weird. TW is in a new band, called Lo Tom, with David Bazan and Jason Martin (of Starflyer 59) and you better believe I’m going to talk about that album once it comes out.

Leon – Bird World (Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp)
Leon is well known on weird twitter as leyawn, and though he’s mostly good at sick burns and excellent jokes, he composes as well. He’s created a fun soundtrack to an imaginary game that’s equal parts Super NES platformer, a Playstation JRPG, and an 80s Studio Ghibli film.

John Fahey – The Yellow Princess (Apple Music, Spotify)
Another album from the late 60s, this one is literally a whole album of acoustic guitar improvisation. It’s basically the original one, though. Classic.

Collin Strange – How I Creep (Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp)
This is 4 tracks making up 31 minutes of driving, violent techno, like angry synthesizers and drum machines having a fight club.

Wintergatan – Wintergatan (Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp)
I found Wintergatan thanks to this youtube video. He has a penchant for making syncopated pieces played by oddly automated instruments, and though his album is a bit more complexly produced than the music in that video, it’s no less entrancing.

The Zombies – Odyssey and Oracle (Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp)
The third late-60s album in this collection, this one is absolutely the MOST legendary. You’ve definitely heard several of these songs on movie soundtracks, I know I have. This is the perfect album to blast on a day off while spring turns into summer.

Ryan’s Music Picks 🍔 12 April 2017

Whew, it’s been more than a month since my last one of these. I had nearly 30 albums stockpiled in my working playlist, and I’ve cut it down to 11, but I probably will have more next week or the week after.

Mastodon – Emperor of Sand (Apple Music, Spotify)
At what point do we just crown Mastodon as kings of metal? Do they have to take out Metallica in a fistfight? Does Kanye have to rush the stage during the Grammies and announce that he’s going to let you finish but Mastodon is the greatest metal band of all time?

Geotic – Abysma (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Geotic is the name of the alleged side project from Will Wiesenfeld, who has also released his intricate bedroom/laptop experimental electonic music as Baths. I say alleged because, at this point, there are more Geotic albums than there are Baths album. This is the closest his two projects have come to crossing over, as previous Geotic releases were strictly ambient affairs, whereas this gorgeous piece of work has beats, moments of pop, and even vocals. It still has the patented Will Wiesenfeld touch, which is the ability to get you directly in the feels and install itself there.

Monster Movie – Keep the Voices Distant (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Monster Movie is pure shoegaze and I love it. It’s totally sing-along-able kinda bummed out songs, drenched in reverb and noise, with a emphasis on epic choruses and guitars making noise. Monster Movie are masters and this album is here to wrap you up in sound.

Unwed Sailor – Take A Minute EP (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’ve been a big fan of Unwed Sailor’s instrumental jams since the early 2000s but haven’t heard much from him recently. This EP brings back the touchstones of Unwed Sailor of old: syncopated drums and quiet guitar and chimes, with a bit more density than the old stuff, and some synthesizers too. It’s perfect driving music for these beautiful spring days we’re having in So Cal.

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Brutal and crushing in a soul-rending kind of way. I mean, we’ve all had days like that, right? Just the feeling that nothing’s going right and everything is garbage. I believe in many things including hope, but there are days that just suck, man. And it’s nice to have a band like Inter Arma who has been there too. Self-care on days like that is important. Sometimes you need a good cry, or a quiet evening with a nice book, and sometimes you need the most punishing black metal imaginable to remind you that, yeah, you’re not alone and other people have bad days but they survive and darn it, you will too.

Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF – Cascades (Apple Music, Spotify)
Music for quiet contemplation that might bleed over into the transcendent. It’s solo piano compositions front and center, with CFCF’s electronic sounds playing in the edges. This type of duo is really a novel concept to me, as the non-piano sounds really heighten the drama and push things to the next level for me. A meditative album, to be sure, but one that moves. Fans of Philip Glass and Steve Reich will really enjoy where this goes.

Sin Fang Bous – Clangour (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Maybe I’m just out of the loop, but I don’t think we get so many of these kitchen-sink bedroom pop albums anymore. You know, the kind where one person constructs the whole thing and throws in every instrument and sound they can find, just burying some achingly twee pop songs underneath toy pianos and recordings of wind in the trees. This is adorable and precious and, well, I guess I cannot fairly judge the level of irony here, but I like to think it’s super sincere.

Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s…interesting what passes as punk in the year of our lord 2017. Pitchfork, and iTunes, etc. call Priests a punk band, and, well, I mean, okay sure. They rock, they’re snotty. The tempos are fast and it feels like it’s a no-frills guitar/bass/drums setup (but I think I hear some saxophone peaking around the corners?). But I guess punk has meant so many things over the years that we need more words for it. Priests harken back partially to punk’s New York origins and roots in surf, but there’s also a lot of bleed into what I would personally classify more as New Wave. Anyway, genre classifications aside, this album makes me want to give people the middle finger, which is, I think, a sign of a good punk album.

Teengirl Fantasy – 8AM (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Teengirl Fantasy is what it sounds like when you take all of the pop elements out of pop songs. It’s like listening to Britney Spears through a wormhole. Imagine if you somehow became just slightly out of sync with our dimension but realized that you’d left Rihanna playing. All of the pieces of radio-ready dance pop music is there, just assembled by timeless beings with no concept of the self or something.

Pallbearer – Heartless (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Pallbearer is the band my dad imagines when I describe the darkest of the black metal (see Inter Arma, above) to him. It’s got crunch and riffs, but the singing has harmonies, and there are tons of guitar solos. Like, Pink Floyd levels of guitar noodling. It’s got a bent for the old school and the theatric, but it’s still heavy metal, just a bit too slow for headbanging.

Dosh & Ghostband – Def Kith II: The Price is Ill (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Imagine if you had a epic cage match showdown between a bunch of drum machines, synths and arpeggiators. Fights rise, and fall, opponents get tossed out of the ring only to come back and grab the feet of the champs or hand up folding chairs in a moment of chaos. That’s what’s happening here, and we get to sit back and enjoy these machines fighting in lockstep with each other.

Anamanaguchi – Capsule Silence XXIV (DOWNLOAD, Spotify)
Somehow I didn’t fully process what was happening with Anamanaguchi’s weird Capsule Silence video game until recently, but it looks like they have given us between 16 and 35 tracks that represent demos, experiments, b-sides and other detritus from the last couple of years. I feel like this is a housecleaning of sorts before the finally release their next album.

Ryan’s Music Picks 👽 10 March 2017

The theme of these picks is “dreamlike” in the sense that they are transportative, slightly off-kilter, and a little unworldly. This week is full of slow-burn jams with varying levels of dance-floor, headphone, stadium, and sitting-alone-in-a-dark-room listenability.

Landlady – The World is a Loud Place (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Classic psychedelic rock in a 70s but not self-serious early 2000s way. This album makes me ready for summer right now, as do all the blockbuster movies coming out (as well as global climate issues). It rocks in a gorgeously sunny way, all wide open and happy.

Money Mark – Push the Button (Apple Music, Spotify)
Money Mark is considered the fifth Beastie Boy (after the 3 originals and Mix Master Mike). He’s a synthesizer fanatic who has been recording gloriously funky keyboard songs for years. His music is a half-and-half combination of instrumental hip hop vamps and totally chill indie pop (back when indie pop meant “I don’t know really how to classify this but it’s cute and good, you know?”). This album, which turns 20 next year, is very much a 90s college rock album, but it still feels fresh and brings the jams.

Grails – Chalice Hymnal (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This album is a pretty heavy album, but it’s not really metal at all. On the surface, it’s droney instrumental jams with curious instrumentation and noodly fuzz guitars. Underneath is a sinister undercurrent of magic that runs so deep that if you told me that the music wasn’t so much played as it was conjured into being by a dark wizard, I would just shrug.

Roman GianArthur – Ok Lady (FREE DOWNLOAD, Apple Music, Spotify)
One of the things I have always appreciated about Radiohead is their rhythm section. The drums and bass in their music (not just the instrumentation but the lines, the groove) is always what has set them apart from their imitators. Roman GianArthur, guitarist for Janelle Monáe and Wondaland, has tapped into the underlying grooves in a handful of Radiohead songs and brought them out with full Prince-style guitars and Wondaland production. Paranoid Android works as art-damaged funk as well as All I Need works as a slow jam. But No Surprises (featuring the android queen herself) is unstoppable in this tragi-romantic incarnation, and High and Dry has never had never had so much heart and soul. Fans of R&B and fans of Radiohead need this in their lives.

In Love with a Ghost – Healing (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
In Love with a Ghost is ASMR pop. It’s a mix of ambient sounds and video game and/or soundtrack but not at all vaporwave. It doesn’t feel like it’s distorted through a corrupted rar file, it feels like it’s being played out of your PC speakers or your crappy earbuds at 1 in the morning. This album is a loose narrative about a couple of witches who meet and become friends in a forest, which adds a both charming and spooky RPG element to the music.

Blanck Mass – World Eater (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Blanck Mass make music similar to Grails in the sense that it feels heavy without being, like, actually metal-style heavy. But this time all the arcane dimensions are being opened by machines who have gained sentience.

David Bazan – Care (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This is the erstwhile Pedro the Lion lead singer’s first album with producer Richard Swift, and it sounds like both of them bonded over their love of synthesizers and decided they should make a Yaz record. Actually, like the lyrics, the music is still unmistakably Bazan: bleak with glimmers of hope (but not too much). This time there’s no guitar, just synths and drum machines and flawless songs.

CAPSULE – Wave Runner (Apple Music, Spotify)
I mentioned stadiums, right? Electronic dance music is what we have instead of arena rock in 2017. CAPSULE infuses j-pop with killer drops, and counts the dudes from Anamanaguchi among its biggest fans.

The Octopus Project & Black Moth Super Rainbow – The House of Apples & Eyeballs (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This insane almalgamation is a team-up album between a psych rock group (the Octopus Project) and total synth weirdos (Black Moth Super Rainbow) and it’s just a blast of bright, candy-flavored light right into your earholes. Yeah, it also might induce synesthesia.

Artificial Fear – LoZ: Metal (Bandcamp)
So I hear some sort of new Legend of Zelda-playing device came out. I hear it’s awesome. But is it as awesome as classic Legend of Zelda music played in a symphonic metal style? I’ll let you be the judge.

Playlists:

Ryan’s Music Picks ✈️ 20 February 2017

It’s been a while, huh? A lot of stuff happened since my last one of these: Trump became president, my youngest daughter turned one, I turned 34. I’ve been listening to a ton of music and making lots of mental notes and aspirational playlists for this email, but nothing has been actually written down until right now. I just got off a plane not too long ago during which I read (more Cryptonomicon–I’m nowhere near the end still) and so I thought I’d just give you what I listened to in the air and the train ride to my hotel. It’s mostly instrumental and relatively chill because I have travel anxiety and can’t listen to music with words while I read. I’ll also throw in a few albums I can’t help but mention because how much I like them.

Plane Inst:

Balmorhea – Stranger (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Less “epic” than some other Texas-based sweeping instrumental music, Balmorhea (say bal-mor-ayy) is syncopated and soothing with interesting instrumentation like piano and cello. It hasn’t been commodified and added to commercials or movie soundtracks yet, but it’s certainly ripe for that kind of exploitation.

Frankie Rose – Interstellar (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
My take-off music. Having travel anxiety but also a working understanding of aerodynamics (not a useful one, just enough to make me annoying), I’m cool with airplanes and takeoffs and landings, but I still get kind of worked up during a take off. Having good launch music does help with that, and Interstellar is amazing, driving dream rock, with a good balance of a killer rhythm section and floaty vocals/guitars/synths. Highly recommended. I own this album on vinyl!

This Will Destroy You – Another Language (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’m just getting into these guys. They have that loud/quiet dynamic like Explosions in the Sky, but it’s darker and broodier when quiet, and has way more of the slams when loud. Killer.

The Mercury Program – New Myths EP (Bandcamp, Apple Music)
One my favorite and first instrumental rock bands, which led me to telling people that I was “way into post-rock” for a few years, which, uh, I don’t even know what that means at this point. Their trademark is delayed guitars and overactive drums and this EP, their first recording since 2009, is right on par with their classics from the early 2000s (which I recommend you also get into).

Teen Daze – Themes for Dying Earth (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’m a huge fan of Teen Daze, in spite of their (his, really) pretty kinda played-out name. It’s like a sea of warm waves and boops with icebergs of perfect pop floating by you occasionally. Super soothing but not boring or too spa-music-like.

Nanook of the North – The Täby Tapes (Apple Music, Spotify)
Adorable early-2000s indie pop that’s lushly produced and has back and forth boy/girl vocals. Opus recently tweeted his 13-year-old review of this album and I’m so glad he did, it’s still great.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This is one of those albums that sounds totally different depending on if it’s being played loudly or quietly. If you crank it up, it’s punishing guitars and stadium synthesizers but, if you turn it down, it’s hushed vocals adrift in a sea of noise and tamborine. Don’t ask me how it works.

Other Cool Stuff that I Wanted to Tell You About (quick shots)

Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sinkane makes music that triangulates a ton of music I love and then turns it into something astonishingly new. There’s elements of so much good stuff here, but it’s the heart that wins out and really holds everything together. The grooves are unstoppable, no question, but the real humanity in this music grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Delicate Steve – This Is Steve (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Instrumental guitar-fronted rock where the guitar functions as much as the lead singer as the main instrument. Delicate Steve plays the most lyrical guitar in the galaxy, and he rocks harder on this album than on any of his (spectacular) previous releases.

Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods (Download/Stream)
On one level, this is a mixtape of funny, “bad” mashups of songs that are so popular that you probably know the words even if you haven’t heard them in a decade and never made any effort to learn the words. On another level, this is a brilliant, brain-destroying lesson in recontextualization and post-post-modernism. If you have not, definitely check out the two previous releases in this series: Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence.

I tried a thing:

Top 12 Albums 2016

12_2016

Here’s my Favorite 12 Albums of 2016.

12 because 10 isn’t ever enough, and “favorite” (as opposed to “best”) because objectivity in art is impossible.

There are a lot of albums from 2016 that I didn’t listen to, and a lot of other albums that I heard once but never spent time with, so expect plenty of 2016 music to trickle out here in the next several months. I don’t make definitive lists because I change my mind too much, but this is stuff I have listened to the most over the last year.

(presented in alphabetical order)

The Avalanches – Wildflower (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 11 July 2016) This is only their second proper album but so far I love it, from the Biz Markie song The Noisy Eater to some of the quieter interlude bits. It’s heavy-sampled and heavily tropical with that same perfect nostalgia/sadness feeling that Pet Sounds really perfectly handles. This was the band I discovered when I first got into new music after high school and they remain one of my favorites of all time.

Beyonce – Lemonade (iTunes (for purchase)Tidal)
A ton of amazing music was released this year. When it comes to Tidal-exclusives from legendary artists, Beyonce has Kanye beat, hands down. It’s packed with perfect tracks that push the boundaries of pop music into new and exciting places. It’s pretty inescapable and that’s for good reason.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (DatPiff, Apple Music, Spotify)
I mentioned Kanye above, and Chance had a crucial role in the single best Kanye song from this year, but then his 3rd mixtape (album? I get that it’s…not, but maybe we should just call them albums at this point?) blew The Life of Pablo out of the water. Chance stretches his style in this mixtape, trying different styles and cadences while he matches with his guests. His voice is versatile, both as a rapper and singer as well as his voice as a writer. His exuberance is infectious, and this mixtape gets better with each listen.

clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 14 September 2016) This is a hell of an incredible album. It’s a dark afrofuturist science fiction story, told by insanely precise, heavily rhythmic raps over avant-noise soundscapes. It’s unquestionably the evolution of noise-hop, and a clear next step from the noisy Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein, and afrofuturist scifi rap of Deltron 3030.

DM Stith – Pigeonheart (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 1 August 2016) This is, without question, a headphones album. I tried listening to it a few times this week in the car with kids and playing out of the speaker of my phone and I was not moved. Then, after the kids were all asleep, I donned my preferred listening headphones (Sony MDRZX110 – less than $15 on Amazon) and this album exploded before me into sound-shapes and mind-colors or something. Stith’s trademark haunting ghost vocals are there, backed by a dazzling array of sounds both organic and synthetic. This album is deep, unfolding with multiple listens, and it somehow stays unpredictable, like some sort of weird audio fractal. Highly recommended.

Eola – Dang (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) This is absolutely my favorite album that I’ve stumbled upon recently. I saw it described on twitter as “lo-fi droney gospel” and I flipped out–I am the exact target market for that. It’s gorgeous and meditative at times, and playful and honestly pretty dorky at other times. But I’m in love hardcore with this record. I will be listening to this for a while.

Helado Negro – Private Energy (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) I have a confession: I love Helado Negro’s music. I mean, I guess it’s not much of a confession, but every single thing that Roberto Lange has released as Helado Negro has gripped me and I am a buy-every-album fan for life at this point. This album, his fifth full-length (there are also several EPs), really exhibits his growth in songcraft. There’s still the dense electro-acoustic production, and the psychedelic interludes, but everything (even the songs en Español) are so much more singalongable this time around.

Jamila Woods – HEAVN (only on Soundcloud)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 18 July 2016) If, like me, you’re into Chance The Rapper, you probably will recognize Jamila Woods’ voice. She is the driving force of Sunday Candy and Blessings (I) and her solo album is incredible even given the high expectations I had going into it. It turns out that she is a poet and playwright in her spare time, and that’s hardly a surprise after listening to the album. It’s a free download from soundcloud and you should absolutely not sleep on this.

Justice – Woman (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016) Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (free download on runthejewels.com, Apple Music, Spotify)
With this third album, Mike and El have cemented themselves in the list of greatest rap duos of all time. They’re still angry and they drop more knowledge in a verse than most rappers do in a whole album. El-P’s production is still singularly top-notch and neck-snapping, too. It’s the kind of album that you put on when you need to feel like you can throw refrigerators through walls.

Sound of Ceres – Nostalgia for Infinity (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s weird how sometimes you find a band who make music just for you. Sound of Ceres hits that sweet spot for me that’s right between tiki-bar-era tropical exotica, shoegaze with whispery feminine vocals, warm ambient noise, and perfect-chorus pop songwriting. The music is so inviting, and it reaches right into my heart like little else. I want to live inside of their songs.

TW Walsh – Fruitless Research (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
TW Walsh is a hell of a songwriter, and I’ve been a big fan of his work with Pedro the Lion, with David Bazan, with The Soft Drugs, and on his solo albums. But this time, he’s augmented his sound with some noisy synths and other experimental elements, and it really makes a big difference to me. The sonic textures on this album really highlight his songwriting skills and production knowledge. I bought this on tape and couldn’t stop listening for months.

Ryan’s Music Picks 🎄 20 December 2016

There are 3 or 4 different kinds of Christmas songs, really. There are songs about Santa coming to town, songs about how it’s cold and romance is in the air, songs about the fact that it is winter, and songs about baby Jesus being born. I tend to gravitate to types 3 and 4, but I’m an equal-opportunity Christmas music listener. I have written extensively about Christmas music because I love it so. I especially love “new” Christmas music, meaning either redone classics in an interesting style, or new songs that evoke the season just right enough for them to earn there way into my personal Christmas music canon.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sharon Jones just died about a month ago, but she has long been an ambassador of soul, bringing the classic sound to the modern era. She left us with this album of toe-tapping Christmas tunes that’s a nice mix of funked-up classics and inspired originals.

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Night (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
In a bygone era, David Bazan as Pedro the Lion recorded yearly Christmas singles on 7″ records. His relationship with Jesus has become a bit more complicated since then, but he still celebrates Jesus’ birth on this new album. Some of the songs from those old singles have been rerecorded, along with some new covers of classic holiday tunes (and a cover of Low’s Christmas song Long Way Around the Sea) and an original. Bazan reworks some of the classics too, adding his own modern and inspired verses in. All around, it’s a pretty dark Christmas record, not exactly the cheery sort, but the kind that we really need this holiday season.

Josh Garrels – The Light Came Down (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
What we have here is a dreamy album of lush, dark holiday tunes, a good mix of originals, classics, and hymns. This is one of a couple of albums this time around that is particularly Jesus-focused, but this one in particular acts less as the antithesis of Bazan’s album as much as it is kind of the other side of the same coin. They are, in a sense, companions, illustrating the doubt and hope that comingle in the Holiday season and the Winter Solstice. The production on this album is particularly gorgeous, and I have found myself craving this album more than most other seasonal albums this year.

Various Artists – Over the Hills and Everywhere (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
If you prefer your Christmas music to be a bit more overt about the whole Jesus thing, this is the one for you. Gospel Song Union is a record label that focuses on particularly modern Christian worship music, and these tracks are really quite good and they’re definitely not ashamed of the Gospel. I’m a fan of the Kings Kaleidoscope track that takes the tune of Auld Lang Syne and adds some very hymn-like lyrics. The Modern Post track features lead singer Dustin Kensrue who also happens to sing in Thrice, so that’s a good one too.

Tartelet Records – North Pole Boogie Vol. 16 (Bandcamp only)
Sometimes for Christmas you just want jazzy house music. This is a pay what you want/free collection of slightly off-kilter electronic music that’s much better than any Jingle Bells remix could possibly be.

Ryan’s Music Picks 🌲 8 December 2016

Quick update for the rest of the year: after this, sometime in the next week or so-ish, I’ll do a roundup of Christmas music. It might be an extra long one, because I have feelings about Christmas music. If you’re curious to see, you can click here for 3 pages to links to Christmas music from my old blog. (Sorry, some of the links will be dead. The internet is in a constant state of decay.)

After the Christmas roundup, I’m thinking about doing a year-end list of my favorite albums. (I gave up making a list of the “best” albums years ago, because I can’t be trusted to be objective about art.) After that, who knows what’s going to happen in 2017?

Scholastics – Live From the Library, Volume VII (Soundcloud, Podcast/Download)
My good friend Ezekiel makes mixes that give me feelings. This one is emotional on both ends of the spectrum: on one end acknowledging how a lot of us have felt in the wake of the election and its aftermath, and on the other end reminding the listener that there is joy still inherent in life that shouldn’t be neglected.

Damien Jurado & Richard Swift – Other People’s Songs, Volume 1 (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
In case you haven’t been following singer-songwriter Damien Jurado’s career over the last 5 years, he has brought forth a series of albums with a cultish, we’ll-form-a-commune-and-live-off-the-land appeal, aided by weirdo church basement assistance from Richard Swift. This album of covers predates all of these albums, and was originally released in 2010, when they began to draft their plan for the albums that they’ve since released. I said in 2011 that it contains “the best damn cover of a Kraftwerk song I’ve ever heard” and that’s still true.

Coins – Daft Science (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This album is a mashup album of 9 Beastie Boys tracks with beats constructed from Daft Punk samples. It feels obvious and groundbreaking at the same time, and is a hell of a calling card for sample-master Coins. This music taps into that pure party joy that both the Beasties and the Robots can deliver like no other. I could do with more sample diversity (fewer Around the World samples would be nice) but overall this is killer. It’s not available for download anymore because of obvious rights issues, but, uh, well, maybe click this link if you can’t resist.

Air Credits – Broadcasted (Bandcamp, aircredits.org)
Air Credits is Chicago rapper SHOWYOUSUCK with production from legendary internet mashup kings The Hood Internet. The beats on this album bang; they’re a nice mix of sample-based, synthy, and experimental, with a neck-snapping amount of head nodding. But more surprising to me is MC ShowYouSuck’s brainy and complex verses which trade heavily in deep pop culture references that pay off more than just some hashtag rap. I mean, the first track mentions both The Craft and Daft Punk right off the bat. All I Need Pt 2 is a full-on jam, and it’s not even close to the only one on this excellent album.

Brother, Sister – Brother, Sister (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It must be tough to operate in a genre (ornate chamber pop, in this case) so heavily dominated by a few pretty popular bands. It’s almost impossible to talk about Brother, Sister without referencing Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes, for instance. I mean, if you like those bands, dive into this by all means, you’ll love it. But those comparisons miss the baroque country elements of this music, or the choral arrangements that are not at all like the harmonies in those other bands. This is pastoral music to be enjoyed out of doors or at least with a scarf (ironically, this band is from Southern California). It’s beautiful and intricate and dense and rewarding on multiple listens.

Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sleigh Bells are the most metal pop music, or the most pop metal band in existance. I love them to an unreasonable degree, even in the face of this, their most experimental album yet. Refusing to rest on their tried-and-true formula of killer guitar riffs + huge beats + pop vocal hooks, some of these tracks don’t even have guitars! Beats are still here, and some songs (It’s Just Us Now is a standout) still bring the crunch I love from them, but there’s a lot of pop experimentation that push this album more towards noise pop and experimental pop music than I had ever expected. Once I got over the sadness over their lack of killer riffs, a lot of these songs have grown on me significantly. I can’t wait to see how this trickles down into mainstream pop music.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love” (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Donald Glover channels Sly and the Family Stone and brings the funk noise forward to the post-rap era. Believe the hype, this is great.

Tiny EP Corner

It’s been a while since I did one of these.

Avalon Emerson – Narcissus in Retrograde (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I found out about Avalon Emerson when a friend tweeted a link to this Resident Advisor article and I was not disappointed when I finally looked up and jumped into her most recent EP of house tracks. It’s nicely bleepy with an honest heart at their core. These songs are working with you–they want to make your day better and help you get things done. Give in to them.

Ducky – Don’t Give Up Yet (Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify)
This and the next two tiny EPs are from Secret Sounds, home to Ryan Hemsworth’s friends tracks that he likes. Ducky’s EP is careful and alive, remniscent of the glory days of lap-pop before the Postal Service blew the genre apart. There’s a club sensibility to these in a theoretical way–they’d be bangers live but I bet you’d somehow have more fun with this album in your headphones by yourself on a bus or in a library.

Happy Doghouse – Above The Stars (Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify)
These are still electronic pop tracks, but they’re guitar-heavy in basically the opposite way that Sleigh Bells is. The guitar is a friend, a companion used to carry the tracks, not rip them open and set them on fire. This feels personal, like I’ve eavesdropped on an album recorded between friends.

Celadon City – Summeryoung (Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’ve written before of my love for video game soundtracks as well as the work of popular commercial and podcast soundtrack band Lullatone. This hits right in that sweet spot. It feels adorably plucked from the garden and like the product of a console’s particular chipset at the same time. If a handheld video game system made an album in an xylophone tree, it might sound just like this.

Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016

It’s been a bit. I’m sure you’re getting lots of emails about black friday deals, but I though you might want some good driving music. I took (am taking?) a break from Twitter and did some stuff with my family. This week we drove up to the Sierras for a family camp, and then took a detour through Yosemite on the way home. Here’s some of what we listened to:

The Blind Boys of Alabama – Atom Bomb (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I love gospel music, and this Blind Boys album combines their classic gospel harmony sound with some pretty fun covers, including a Fatboy Slim cover featuring Gift of Gab. It’s a great way to start a car trip.

Justice – Woman (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Monster Rally – Mystery Cove (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I love Monster Rally. It’s the ideal combination of kitsch, beats and vintage soundscapes from the 50s and 60s exotica records. I could listen to it all day, and it’s mellow enough that my kids can fall asleep to it while I drive through the dairies between Bakersfield and Fresno.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Fleet Foxes’ music is perfect for the California mountains. I know all of the words to their debut and to this album, so it’s a no brainer for driving music while I’m going up and down twisty mountain roads. Rumor has it that they have a new album, and I hope it continues the combination of gruff pastorality with song structure experimentation.

Circle of Birds – Circle of Birds EP (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
A gorgeous tiny instrumental EP from some people in Ester Drang and Unwed Sailor, from 14 years ago. Have you even driven into Yosemite valley from the 41? You go through a long tunnel through a mountain and then pop out with a incredible, majestic view of Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome. It’s breathtaking. This three-song EP is some good music for experiencing that.

Calexico – Feast of Wire (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
We drove home through the breadbasket of California and Calexico captures the feeling of those rolling hills and wide expanses populated by orchards, cows and tractors.

Ryan’s Music Picks: 7 November 2016

It’s election week this week, and I am stressed. I’m not going to bring politics into this email list, but if you’re curious, you can take a look at my twitter. So, with stress comes plenty of beautiful, mostly instrumental music for me. Check it out:

Delicate Steve – Positive Force (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This album is therapy. This is the album I reach for when I need comfort, when I am stressed. Delicate Steve’s lyrical guitar playing taps into some sort of emotional lock down in my lizard brain, and it allows me to just stop freaking out better than any other musical force I’ve found. Seriously, it’s one of the most aptly named albums on earth.

Casino Versus Japan – Frozen Geometry (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This guy has been making quiet, extremely relaxed albums for 15+ years now, but it’s been a while since the last one. So he’s given us 80 tracks of hazy perfection, with some synthesizers in places, some guitars in others, but pure space heart distributed throughout. This is a “wrap you up in a blanket with sound” kind of album, which is exactly what you need sometimes.

Pogo – Wonderland (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This little EP has been around for a while. It’s four little dubstep tracks built entirely of samples from Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland (1951). It’s tiny and charming and surprisingly transportative for only 4 tracks constructed from a children’s film. It’s pay-what-you-want on bandcamp!

Douglas Holmquist – PinOut OST (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I recently discovered PinOut through a friend on twitter. It’s a supremely-addicting combination of pinball and an endless runner-type game, with great Tron aesthetics. The most important element of that Tron feel is the synth-tastic soundtrack from Douglas Holmquist. He absolutely gives Daft Punk a run for their atmospheric money in this gem of a soundtrack.

Geotic – Mend (ONLY ON BANDCAMP)
Geotic is an ambient side project from the guy behind the band Baths, mostly consisting of guitar loops and reverb. It is the most relaxing, put-your-kids-to-bed music the world has ever produced, and I have successfully used it on the iPod in my kids’ room for the last 6 years. It’s pay-what-you-want on bandcamp, and your life should not be complete without listening to this album.

Mesarthim – .- -… … . -. -.-. . (ONLY ON BANDCAMP)
Another total gem from these atmospheric ambient metal dudes. It’s equal parts brutal and beautiful, partially depending how loud it is, and partially based on how well you deal with screaming. I deal well with screaming. Only $1 on bandcamp!

Ryan’s Music Picks: 👻 Halloween 2🎃16 Edition

I made a mixtape! I didn’t expect it to happen after I realized that Traktor for iPad and Apple Music tracks didn’t play well together. But I figured it out. So here it is:

Moon Cities – Silent Sandy Circuitry (PodcastSoundcloudMixcloud)
This is kind of a fall mixtape and kind of a Halloween thing, so beware that it’s not 100% ghost and ghouls. There’s a lot of noise, but it starts with violins. I had fun making it and I think you’ll like it. It’s part of the LAMPSHADE (iTunesRSS) music mix podcast that a friend and I run, which, now that I think about, is about 50% Fall/Halloween mixes anyway.

Other halloween music? My go-to is:

The Chiller (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
The Chiller Part 2: House on Haunted Chill (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
The Chiller III (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
The Chiller IV: Night of the Living Chill (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
This ongoing series of spooky compilations lives somewhere in the lo-fi punk/chillwave continuum of cool internet music. These are all a lot of fun and pretty laid back (hence the name) with instrumentals, skits, honest-to-Skellington songs and pretty Halloweeny vibes without getting gothy. Buried in these four compilations are some songs that will be your mainstay Oct 31 tracks for years to come.

Dope Halloween Fuck (Bandcamp only)
Another, pretty similar compilation that’s a but noisier, a bit lower fidelity, and a bit gothier than The Chiller comps. I once said that this: “…skews nicely lush and lo-fi, like a fourth-hand thrift store version of Pet Sounds outtakes. It’s organic and maybe a little undead like some kind of collective effort of partially-decomposed forest animals.”

Happy Halloween!