The Joys and Annoyances of Being in Love-a DJ Kelsey Playlist

October 2, 2012

Into the Mystic/ Van Morrison

“Into the Mystic” was originally released as the last song on side one of Van Morrison’s third album, Moondance, in February 1970. Moondance, issued 15 months after its predecessor, Astral Weeks, was a very different record for Morrison. Astral Weeks had been dominated by meditations on his youth in Belfast, Northern Island, with an unusual musical mélange that combined elements of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, played by session musicians. By the time of Astral Weeks, Morrison had moved from New York City to rural Woodstock, NY, and organized his own backup band, which played on Moondance. The new album was imbued with the bucolic pleasures he had recently enjoyed, as well as his domestic harmony with wife Janet Planet. The exception was the ethereal “Into the Mystic,” the only song on the album that might have fit on Astral Weeks. The song has an easy groove, beginning with acoustic guitar and including isolated horn and string charts, as Morrison evokes a sailor’s pledge to come home from the sea to his lover and “rock [her] gypsy soul.”- All Music Guide

Be Mine/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jones and the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock. Unlike White or his Great Lakes cousins the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes aren’t entirely enamored with what they can re-create in the studio — they’re too attached to the power of a live performance, making them an ideal candidate for a T-Bone Burnett or Joe Henry production somewhere down the road — but they bear no special allegiance to the didactic needs of retro-rock.- All Music Guide

That’s What’s Up/ Edward Sharpe &The Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros wear the whole communal free-living throwback hippie jamboree persona to the point where they dip into goofy character sketches and threaten to detract completely from some pretty catchy songs. The album opens strongly, with the undeniably catchy pair of tunes “Man on Fire” and “That’s What’s Up,” both rising to hand-clapping summits of old-fashioned Southern revival and jug band jubilation. Lead vocalist Jade Castrinos reprises her role trading verses with Ebert on these songs and later takes center stage on the electrified “Fiya Wata.” Castrinos’ contributions feel spirited and from the gut, whether they’re put on or not. -All Music Guide

Hot Knife/ Fiona Apple

Much of the charm of Apple’s music isn’t decoding what it all means but learning its internal clockwork, letting the songs take root, so the love songs (“Jonathan”) seem sweeter, the braggadocio (“Hot Knife”) funnier, the pathos (“Valentine,” “Regret”) and paranoia (“Werewolf”) feeling fathomless. Once the startling Spartan surfaces of The Idler Wheel become familiar, similarities to her three previous albums are apparent — she takes certain jazzy strides that hark back to Tidal, there’s a rigorous dexterity reminiscent of  When the Pawn — but what’s new is an unwavering determination and cohesion. Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so.- All Music Guide

In the Colors/ Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

His lyrics are uplifting, full of determination and hope. This is underscored by the next number, “In the Colors,” which bleeds Southern soul and a killer reggae bass line bubbling underneath. The theme of hope is right there, propping the first track by underscoring in poetic terms the true, just, and beautiful. “Fool for a Lonesome Train,” a backwoods country-rock tune, is maybe the strongest cut on the set; its high lonesome sound is borne out not just in the grain of Harper’s vocal but by the band’s unobtrusive yet utterly engaging support. The lyrics are there; they have the wild and restless in them but it takes a group effort to make restraint an art, underscoring the blood and sinew in Harper’s words. That’s not to say there are no “rockers” on the set. “Needed You Tonight” comes right out of the shouting gospel and electric blues with electric guitars blazing; it alternates its dynamic between that vibe and sweet soul. “Having Wings” is a gorgeous follow-up, with acoustic piano and electric guitars flowing under Harper’s voice.-All Music Guide

Wedding Song/ Anais Mitchell, feat. Justin Vernon

Hadestown retells the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in an America of hard times economically, socially, and politically. Hadestown’s narrative, like the myth, steeps itself in ambiguities more than dead certainties. It moves past dualities of good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, while examining how commonly held beliefs about class reinforce poverty, how our desire for security is complicit in giving away our freedoms, and what real generosity in love actually is. This 57-minute work goes by in a flash. Artfully conceived, articulated, and produced, Hadestown raises Mitchell’s creative bar exponentially: there isn’t anything else remotely like it.- All Music Guide

Northern Sky/ Nick Drake

Compiled by Nick Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd, Way to Blue features a selection of 16 tracks from all three Drake studio albums and the Time of No Reply collection. Of course the music is excellent, but Drake’s albums stand so well on their own that this collection of piecemeal offerings doesn’t quite work as the best way to experience his distinctively haunting brand of folk-rock. Though a good starting point, ultimately it will only whet your appetite for the highly recommended, four-disc Fruit Tree box, which contains his complete catalog.- All Music Guide

This Orient/ Foals

Total Life Forever is considerably more subdued than its predecessor, lacking much of the uptempo thump found on Antidotes. In its place is a mellower, more spacious sound. While this new sound is still danceable, it’s far more refined than the angular post-punk riffing that fans might be expecting. Right from the beginning, the album-opening, “Blue Blood” makes it clear that Foals are taking a different, more patient approach to songwriting, letting the song build and build on itself as it methodically works itself into a frenzy before leaving the way it came in. Because of the changes here, fans of the early, pre-Antidotes singles may find Total Life Forever to be too restrained, lacking the youthful vigor of their debut. Where some see restraint, others may very well see refinement, and those who appreciated Antidotes’ more spacy passages will find that Foals’ reinvention of their sound is a calculated risk that definitely pays off.- All Music Guide

More of This/ Vetiver

Tight Knit is Vetiver’s slickest, tightest record so far. From the opening ballad “Rolling Sea” onward, Andy Cabic and crew make music that can only be called easy listening. Not the kind you hear in a dentist’s office, but the kind of music that makes no demands on you as a listener and just wraps you in cottony coziness. Apart from the peppy, perfect for a soda pop commercial “Everyday” and the almost rocking in a lazy bar band way “More of This,” the record is perfectly constructed for lazy days and hazy nights. It takes skill to create a record filled with so little energy and drive, and again, that’s not a criticism though it probably sounds like it should be.- All Music Guide

One Match/ Sarah Harmer

Harmer’s winning blend of country, folk, and indie pop is propelled, in part, by her even, expressive tenor, which comes off as a well-maintained bridge between Suzanne Vega and Leslie Feist. Likable and accessible, it would be easy to write her off as just another capable singer/songwriter in an industry stuffed to the rafters with capable singer/songwriters, were it not for her ability to take a simple melody and turn it into something special. Oh Little Fire is filled with those moments, whether it’s the delayed “t” at the end of the word light on the driving single “Captive,” the damp, dirt-road pacing of “Washington,” or the way she and Case wrap their voices around “Silverado” like two sisters on the back of covered wagon. It’s a subtle record to be sure, but one that rewards those who are willing to take the time to let it enter the bloodstream.-All Music Guide

Hold You In My Arms/ Ray LaMontagne

The best songs on Trouble, the debut release from songwriter Ray LaMontagne, draw on deep wells of emotion, and with LaMontagne’s sandpapery voice, which recalls a gruffer, more sedate version of Tim Buckley or an American version of Van Morrison, they seem to belie his years. The title tune, “Trouble,” is an instant classic, sparse and maudlin (in the best sense), and songs like “Narrow Escape,” a ragged, episodic waltz, are equally impressive, with careful, cinematic lyrics that tell believable stories of wounded-hearted refugees on the hard road of life and love. Most of the tracks fall into a midtempo shuffle rhythm, so the words have to carry a lot in order to avert a sort of dull sameness, and when it works, it works big, and when it doesn’t, well, LaMontagne is so serious and sincere about his craft that you tend to forgive him instantly.- All Music Guide

Heartbeats/ José González

Don’t let the name fool you; singer/songwriter José González is a Swedish-born and -raised son of Argentine parents. His debut album, Veneer, is a striking collection of hushed and autumnal indie pop bedroom songs that reside on the hi-fi end of the lo-fi spectrum. González is definitely a member of the “quiet is the new loud” school as founded by Elliott Smith and the Kings of Convenience. Veneer is about as intimate as they come; it sounds like he is sitting right on the end of your bed singing just for you. At times, González is a little more forceful than most of his schoolmates, often working himself into a tightly spinning ball of emotion (as on the driving “Lovestain” and the bluesy “Hints”). At these moments his voice is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek, only without the wild flights of pretension. Mostly though, he is content to cruise along on mellow vocals double-tracked behind gently plucked and strummed acoustic guitars. The beautiful “Heartbeats,” “Deadweight on Velveteen,” and the gently rollicking “Stay in the Shade” are the high watermarks of a remarkably focused and promising debut. González is a welcome addition to the q-school of indie pop.- All Music Guide

I Will Follow You Into the Dark/ Death Cab for Cutie

Thematically, Plans is the Death Cab for Cutie suitable for graduate students, world-weary and wiser from their experiences, realizing they can no longer be love-starved 20-somethings without a clue yet hopelessly cursed to face the same issues. And there’s merit to be had in acknowledging that maturity, for even blink-182 figured out their age and released their “serious” album. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it’s this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.- All Music Guide

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