In this time of difficulty and challenge, there are not many places to turn. When I can discover what brings me peace and joy, then I should take the opportunity to embrace it. There is one thing in particular that brings me joy, and that is music. It’s been a long-standing salve for my suffering. And there’s always plenty of music to discover.
What’s on my playlist today? In no particular order.
Kali Malone, The Sacrifical Code. Peaceful organ music from this American-living-in-Sweden composer. Discovered through the recent Thom York zine.
Elbow, Giants of All Sizes. I’ve always been an Elbow fan and this new release has just landed in my queue. Comfortable and happy pop music.
Tambour, Constellations. Modern classical discovered through one of my favorite music podcasts – Hypnagogue. Lands between classical and ambient.
Ben Vince and Jacob Samuel, I’ll Stick Around. Experimental jazz. Horns and piano.
Mario Diaz de Leon, Cycle and Reveal. Another classical release with Latin flavors. Flute and xylophone.
The Comet is Coming, The Afterlife. Following the first track, which is a mix of jazz and hip-hop, the album moves into a more experimental jazz release. By the time I get to the second half, and near the end, I want it to keep goin.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen. Nick can’t go wrong in my book. This melancholy and peaceful release from the Bad Seeds has beautifully crafted lyrics with common Nick Cave themes.
Laurie Anderson and Tenzin Choegyal, Songs from the Bardo. A meditation on death. Chants and gongs. Violin. Soft and touching voice. The Heart Sutra track is great!
Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love. A new favorite. Reminds me a bit of Kate Bush. Sweet melodies. Deep lyrics exploring the earth, being childless, and relationships. Favorite track so far is “High Alice”.
Barker, Utility. Electronica.
Patrick Watson, Wave. Waiting for the full release, but four songs out now on Apple Music. Lyrical and melodic.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bryce Dessner,When We Were Human. A typical low-key release of songs. Sparse.
Tool, Fear Inoculum. Nothing quite like a 15-minute prog-rock song. Check out “Invincible”.
Bedouin, Bird Songs of a Killjoy. Reminiscent of early 70s folk music of the greats.
Jonsi, Lost and Found. From the Sigor Ros musician, this release is ambient and electronic. No voice.
Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. But if you have to start with one, put down Blood on the Tracks. You won’t be disappointed.
Black Pumas, Black Pumas. Plain and simple blues with a modern flair. It doesn’t disappoint. Seeing these guys at the Lodge Room on October 24.
Bon Iver, i,i. Experimental pop music with deep and dark lyrics and wacky sounds. Be surprised and happy.
The National, I am Easy to Find. Love and relationships. Sophisticated and fulfilling.
Thom Yorke, Anima. From the frontman of Radiohead we get a mix of pop and electronica. Maybe even dance a little
Oh, I also have Ryuichi Sakamoto, serpentwithfeet, and Zola Jesus playing as I prepare for a live show on October 18 at the Ace Theatre in Los Angeles.
That’s probably enough of a list for now. So pick up your player, cleanup the turntable, head to the record store.
I hope you find something here you like. Or at least be inspired to play some music of your own.
To discover new music is not always simple and easy. It takes time and effort for the music lover to find those gems. I am an avid listener of music and yet only scratch the surface of new music released each week. Given time constraints, I can only manage about twenty releases per week and then curate from that point. To some extent, what I listen to is based upon my past purchases and past music listening. There are some tried and true methods for curating new music releases.
My music listening began with KKDG 105.9, a traditional album-orientated radio station in Fresno. In 1982 the radio ratings service Arbitron reported KKDJ as having the largest market share ever in the history of California radio and it still holds that record today.
Back then, I visited Tower Records on Blackstone (the old location between Shaw/Barstow) on Tuesday afternoons. For decades, all new music was released on Tuesdays, but even that was changed to Fridays. My first official purchase was just before my 14th birthday when my dad drove me to Tower and I bought Ghost in the Machine by The Police. I saw The Police live on September 11, 1983 at Ratcliffe Stadium located on the Fresno City College campus. The opening acts were Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo, and The Fixx – not all particularly popular at the time. And what a lifetime ago!
Every year I write up some of my favorite music for the year. Check out my 2018 List or browse my music category. Use these links to discover new music and add them to your library.
The 6 Methods
Finding new music means listening to new music.
Every Friday I browse all the new releases on Apple Music and add anything that looks interesting to my weekly playlist. This is often based on (a) prior knowledge of the artist, (b) genre category, and (c) album artwork. I then spend some time in the coming days giving each a listen or two. Sometime the first song alone says “yes” or “no”. If it’s a no, then I delete right away and not be bothered with it any further. In addition, I also listen to a number of podcasts that feature new music. My favorites are Hypnagogue and KEXP Music that Matters. I inevitably identify a one or two new artists per episode. My other go-to places are Bandcamp and Soundcloud.
Finding new music means reading about music.
My first avenue is my RSS feed (currently self-hosted using Fever°) where I’ve collected websites that have proven useful in learning about new music. In addition to artist sites, my favorite writers on music come for The Quietus, Who the Hell, and Pitchfork. In addition to the feeds, I also receive a newsletter from bleep.com, a UK-based distributor, every week. They focus primarily on ambient, electronica, and dance. Reading can also include mainstream sources like the New York Times or the LA Times. These all provide a doorway into music that I might never hear of otherwise. Taking their suggestions, I switch over to Apple Music and add songs and albums to my playlist.
Finding new music means reading liner notes.
The digital age makes this a bit challenging because it may mean visiting the artist site directly to learn who plays on the album and who produced or engineered the album. One of the reasons I still buy records is to get all the notes and track information (and virtually all new albums come with a digital download). Why read the liner notes? Maybe there’s a guitar player or drummer that I like. Or perhaps the producer or engineer has made music that I’ve liked in the past. For example, I’ll buy almost anything produced by Daniel Lanois. It’s truly amazing what you can learn from liner notes. Readers can gain true insight into the mind and music of the musicians.
Finding new music means going to see live music.
Between 1981 and the present, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to witnessed more than 1,400 bands. As you may know, most bands travel with an opening act or two. Often these are unknown or up-and-coming bands. This is a great resource! For example, when I went to the Broken Bells at the Music Box in Los Angeles, the opening act was The Morning Benders whom I found to be skilled performers, friendly (I met them at the t-shirt stand), and they created very pleasant music. I bought the album that night!
Finding new music means having others who are passionate about music.
For many years, I had a “music friend” whom we would trade off on what we’ve discovered and what we are appreciating. We lived in different cities and different primary genres of music and this supported broadening both our music collections. Get a friend, or more than one.
Finding new music means paying for music.
In the age of music streaming, there is no reason to not explore new music. If you subscribe to a service like Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, or Pandora then dig into the new music sections of those services. You won’t be disappointed. If you like an artist you find on a streaming service, then make an effort to buy the track or album. Support the artists directly by visiting their website, Bandcamp, or Soundcloud channel and buy direct. It’s important for musicians to get paid for being creative and the new music continue to be offered and to allow musicians to grow. In addition to the Apple Music service, I continue to pay and download complete albums and I continue to buy records in their analog form.
If you get confused just listen to the music play.
As we reach the end of 2018, it’s time to reflect upon the music released this year. With the advent of streaming services, it feels a bit like being in the 1980s when I could buy a release at Tower Records and then exchange it if I didn’t like the album. This year, 106 new releases made it to the end of the year. And still being an “album” kind of guy, I am focusing on full-length releases or EPs. No singles. My purchases are a mix a vinyl and digital download. When buying vinyl, I am happy to support bleep.com from the UK.
Starting with over a hundred albums created some challenges for picking the top five, so I started with a shortlist of twenty.
Abul Mogard, Above All Dreams
Anna von Hausswolff, Dead Magic
Bob Moses, Battle Lines
Cat Power, Wanderer
Chris Carter, Chemistry Lessons Volume 1
The Field, Infinite Moment
How To Dress Well, The Anteroom
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
Laurel Halo, Raw Silk Uncut Wood
Low, Double Negative
Marie Davidson, Working Class Woman
Ryuichi Sakamoto, Async Remodels
Tune-Yards, I can feel you creep into my private life
Young Fathers, Cocoa Sugar
Clearly this list crosses several different genres of music from country to pop to electronica to alternative so my top five will draw from across the spectrum.
The unbroken sound of Infinite Moment by The Field is perfect for headphones and needing to get work completed. Turn it up and focus on writing or a project and the hypnotic and ambient sounds will carry you through. The electronica starts slow and quiet and builds into repetitive sounds of drums and keyboards. This is the sixth release by the Swedish producer Axel Willner. It is melodic and hypnotic. Popmatters writes, “The Field’s Formula for Musical Escapism Has Yet to Fail.” You can grab it on Bandcamp.
Sticking with the electronic theme, the next nod goes to Chris CarterChemistry Lessons Volume 1. Bleep writes, “Drawing great influence from 60’s radiophonic wonderment as well as the darker strains of traditional English folk music and wrapped up in an entire history textbook of industrial and electronic diaspora, Chris Carter’s first solo album in two decades Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 was a testament to his thirst and endless quest to craft innovative, mind-blowing electronic music.” I hadn’t heard of Chris Carter until this year and from the moment I heard “Blissters,” I knew it was my kind of music. Even though the tracks are short, especially compared with The Field mentioned above, they easily carry me and lift me up into the beauty and comfort of music. Carter is certainly someone I will revisit since I didn’t really listen to electronic music back in the 90s (except for the annoying DJ who lived next door to me at the time).
The number three and four spot are going to remix albums. I loved both the originals and these remixes make it even better. Ryuichi Sakamoto is a genius and Async Remodels revisits his 2017 Async release through the ears of Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz, ARCA and others. The gentle piano brings tears of joy and appreciation. Allow yourself to sink in and be moved. And when you are done listening, go watch the documentary CODA. The other remix is completely different by bringing a hip-hop and soul sound to Alt-J’s 2017 Relaxer. Reduxer’s hip-hop artists from around the world include Australian Tuka, France’s Lomepal and Kontra K from Germany. The blending of the sound of Alt-J is clearly present bringing a harder edge to the softer Relaxer. To be honest, I am not a huge hip-hop fan (though I like the new Vince Staples) so walking into the familiar sounds of Alt-J made it easy to appreciate.
By this point, you are probably wondering where the traditional lyric album is on my list. Picking from Anna von Hausswolff, Cat Power, Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Rhye, and Trizah is a tough call but I am thrilled this list includes only women! What have I enjoyed listening to and singing along with the most? The number five spot goes to Janelle Monáe. Certainly she has made many lists this year. Pop and soul at its finest along with the vulnerability and politics of being a queer woman of color in America. And the track “Make Me Feel” clearly points to her Prince influences. Guest artists include Grimes, Zoë Kravitz, Brian Wilson, and Pharrell Williams.
Naturally, I don’t only listen to new releases. A few that I particularly enjoyed this year were Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett, Let it Die by Fiest, Eulogy For Evolution by Ólafur Arnalds, Exile in the Outer Ring by EMA, Singularity by Jon Hopkins, and probably my favorite being Apocalipstick by Cherry Glazerr (can’t wait to see them in March!).
And for the complete list of 106 releases from 2018 …
I listen to a lot of music in my car. And I also don’t like pushing buttons on my phone while driving. And using Siri to add a track to my music library is super easy, but it interrupts the music playing. Yuck!
If you’re an Apple Watch owner, then you’re in luck. While the track is playing, you can activate Siri on the watch by pushing on the crown (it’s a little safer than handling the phone while driving and I can keep my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road). Then just day, “add song to my library.” That’s it! It will add the currently playing song.
This year is turning out to be a decent year for new music. I’ve got so many new releases in my playlist and I’m happily making my way through the material. Here’s a few tracks that I’ve been particularly enjoying in the last week.
Frightened Rabbit – Get Out
I have the last couple Frightened Rabbitreleases and while I have enjoyed each, none of truly grabbed me in a big way. With the release of Painting of a Panic Attack, I’m finding myself really digging each track when it plays. This is one in particular is really good.
The Field – Pink Sun
One of the places that I buy music is bleep.com. They mainly focus on electronic music and I’m rarely disappointed by their recommendations. This was recently recommended and I started listening to it with great interest. The release is called The Follower from The Field.
Sinead O’Connor – Trouble Soon Be Over
As a 30-year fan of Sinead, I always appreciate when something comes from her. This track is from a release called God Don’t Ever Change, a compilation of artists sings songs by Blind Willie Johnson. There are a ton of great songs on it but this is one of my favorites.
Underworld – I Exhale
Not much to say about this track, and never really owned any Underworld in the past. But with the Karl Hyde and Brian Eno collaboration last year, I thought I’d give Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future a spin. I like it. And what’s not to like about breathing.
Yeasayer – I Am Chemistry
Like Frightened Rabbit, I have a couple of Yeasayer releases. I like them but don’t super-love-them. The opening track on their latest release, Amen & Goodbye, is a dead ringer for the Beatles and it sounds really awesome. This track here follows immediately after. And, like Frightened Rabbit, I’m thinking this release is pretty strong overall.
Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian at Best
I tried to keep the list to five, but needed to include Courtney Barnett. What’s not to like from someone who names their album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Leslie and I went and saw her perform last week in Pomona and it was a fun and rocking show. She writes great lyrics and definitely knows how to have fun. Enjoy this recording from her latest release but recorded a couple years ago.
Enjoy the music and maybe I’ll post another set of tracks in another month or two.