Tunes Worth Hearing: March & April 2012

Super-sized edition this time, combining March and April since I didn’t have time to compile this post for March. But now there’s some certifiably great stuff to include, so I guess it works out okay. I’ve also switched to Spotify play widgets, which I realize are great if you have Spotify and worthless if you don’t. I apologize for that if you’re in an area without Spotify service, but the formatting on the YouTube videos I was including before was driving me crazy, and this is much cleaner and nicer. I’ll still include one YouTube video, of course.

Also, since I was going with the Spotify integration anyway, I’m going to start including a Mix at the bottom of the post with my favorite songs of the month (or two months in this case). Not only is this a good way to highlight my favorite songs off these albums, but I’ll also include songs that I really liked from albums I didn’t care for enough as a whole to include here, so you can find and check those out if you want. You can always head over to my Listening page and listen to my playlist of all my favorite songs for the year, which I update often.

As of right now, the Spotify embeds seem to be a little glitchy, so I’ll include the direct link to the mix in case it doesn’t work in the post. The albums I’ll trust you can look up on your own if you want to. :)

Jack White – Blunderbuss

I haven’t always been as big a fan of Jack White’s non-White Stripes stuff; his solo stuff was too alt-country for me (though my tastes seem to be changing on that front and I should probably revisit those), and The Dead Weather a bit too harsh, though the Raconteurs are admittedly up my alley. So even though I liked the first couple of singles, I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to feel about this album as a whole. I needn’t have worried, because I love pretty much every second of this album. So much so that I will be very surprised if it’s not in my top five at the end of the year. Bold claim, since there’s still a lot of music left to come out this year. I think this is probably the closest to the White Stripes sound he’s gotten since they split up, and for me that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of variety on the album, from the wailing minimalism of “Love Interruption” to the lilt of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and the Elvis-channeling of “I’m Shakin'” – and it’s all good.

The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Jonathan first got me into the Magnetic Fields, who are, it’s safe to say, his favorite band. Stephin Merritt is to him what Jenny Lewis is to me, in other words. I enjoyed the mix he gave me and need to delve deeper into their back catalog, but with this release, I’m definitely a fan as well. Usually I gravitate right toward how the music sounds and choose what to listen to based solely on that, but with The Magnetic Fields, the lyrics grabbed me just as quickly. They’re incredibly clever for one thing, but always with a jab of poignancy that gets you when you’re least expecting it. There’s also a very interesting approach to gender expression that runs throughout the lyrics, especially in the songs Merritt sings himself, but also to some degree in the ones Claudia Gonson sings (which are split about half and half on this album). Just listen to the supremely catchy “Andrew in Drag” to see what I mean. Most of their other albums have kind of a “theme” to them – distortion, 69 songs about love, songs that start with the letter “i”, etc. – but this one is kind of a mix. Lots of different styles and approaches, and yet they’re pretty much all memorable.

M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion

Though I’ve been a fan of She & Him since I first heard them, I haven’t really gotten into M. Ward’s solo stuff before. Part of that is that my She & Him fandom was initially based in my girlcrush on Zooey Deschanel, and part of it is that I thought (rightly or not) that M. Ward was gonna be too folksy for me. But I gave this one a shot, and yeah, there are some folk elements, but it’s got enough rollicking rock to it to appeal to me a lot, as well as a few songs that are more in the retro She & Him style. I won’t deny that the couple of songs with Zooey guesting are still my favorites, but I’m not skipping any of the others either.

The Men – Open Your Heart

This is just good old-school rock with some punk mixed in, and even though it’s not particularly deep, it’s a whole lot of fun to blast. This Brooklyn band was totally new to me this month, and now I’m not even sure where I first heard mention of them – possibly Stereogum. In any case, I’m glad I randomly gave them a listen.

La Sera – Sees the Light

La Sera is the solo project of Katy Goodman, bassist/vocalist for the Vivian Girls. I got really into the Vivian Girls last year, so when I heard about this, of course I was checking it out. La Sera is overall much softer and more polished-sounding, with a more wistful and ethereal sound, but Katy still brings the power when she wants to (like on “Please Be My Third Eye,” which gets some of Vivian Girls’ fuzzy sound). The album actually quite reminds me of Kathryn Calder’s solo album a couple of years ago, in a very good way.

Cursive – I Am Gemini

Okay, technically this is a February album, but I only just finally sat down with it long enough to figure out what’s going on with it. And that is, that it’s a concept album. I need more time with those because listening to lyrics is not my strong point, but I couldn’t just dismiss this one because I really liked several of the individual songs. Once I listened through it while looking at the lyrics (they even have a script version of it on their website, which is very helpful), I like it even more. It’s based on the Gemini twins from mythology (and astrology), Castor and Pollox, but playing up the idea of a long-lost orphaned twin who basically takes over the life of his more fortunate brother. Mixed in are ideas about shadow selves, dark sides, and dopplegangers. Good stuff, but I do recommend checking out the playbill while listening, at least once.

Ceremony – Zoo

This is the fourth album from this northern California punk band, but the first I’ve heard; from doing a bit of reading, sounds like this is a more old-school punk sound rather than the more hardcore sound on their previous albums, which probably means I wouldn’t care for the older stuff anyway. In any case, I went back and forth on whether to include them, but after a few weeks of checking the album out on and off, I realized I was enjoying it far more often than not, even if the vocals are a tad on the screamy side.

White Rabbits – Milk Famous

To be honest, Milk Famous almost lost me on the very first song, which I still don’t really care for, but I enjoyed White Rabbits’ previous album It’s Frightening enough (not really outright loving it, though) to push through and listen to the rest, and I’m glad I did. I really like second song “I’m Not Me” a lot, and the rest is enjoyable if not particularly memorable as well. Definitely worth a listen at least.

Bowerbirds – The Clearing

If you’re going to do calming, clear-vocalled folk-type music and catch my attention for more than a fleeting second, you better bring that to an epic level by the time you’re done, and thankfully, Bowerbirds does exactly that on this album. Just listen to the first single “Tuck the Darkness In,” which starts off pretty quiet and simple, but then builds and builds until you can hardly stay still by the end. That’s what I’m talking about. Fans of Fleet Foxes or Local Natives will like it even more than I do.

The Shins – Port of Morrow

I can’t really claim Shins fandom, both because I didn’t really know about them until Garden State (instant indie poseur giveaway), but also because outside of a few isolated songs, including the ones in Garden State and a few on Wincing the Night Away, I don’t really get that much into them. I didn’t care for Broken Bells that much, either. That said, I was really hoping that this one would make me finally “get it” the way the latest Death Cab album made me get them, but that didn’t totally happen. There are again songs on here that I quite like, and it’s pleasant enough to listen to, but that’s about it. Still good enough to recommend at least a listen-through. Also, this music video is awesome.

March/April Mix

Direct Spotify link