This month’s playlist is about energy.
2018 was a tough year for me; I’ve been eager for 2019 to come around. I’m hoping to start the year with some new energy. And apparently that was no secret. I heard from some people that this playlist immediately sounded different.
It’s about balance.
Energy with calmness. Light with dark. Male with female. Lost with found. Remembering with forgetting. Equality with inequality. Love with hate. New with old. Hope with fear. Strong with delicate. You can listen for the metaphorical meanings and make your own interpretations. But this was also about the most literal forms of balance. Hip hop, Baroque guitar. New finds, old favorites. New Justin Vernon, old Justin Vernon. (Really though, Justin Vernon appears 5 times.)
It’s about a prayer.
Because I heard somebody say that the best prayer sounds like ‘Godspeed’ by Frank Ocean. And the world today gives a lot to pray for. Many of those emotions can be heard in these songs. This prayer’s for you. For me. For all of us.
Here’s to 2019.
Note: if the playlist displayed is no longer of the current month, find the appropriate month at the link below.
Everybody knows that Garden State featured one of the best soundtracks ever compiled. When I think back on my senior year in high school (yep, I’m that old), every single one of those songs comes to mind. I went to a wedding this past weekend that ended with the bride and groom walking down the aisle to a live string version of “Such Great Heights” and as I sat there in excitement for the bride and groom and marveling at the beauty of the music, I was also immediately taken back to my Garden State days.
What does this have to do with anything? One decade after Garden State, Zack Braff is back with a new movie called Wish I Was Here that is rumored to have a soundtrack that may be on the same level as Garden State. The Shins released a track called “So Now What” two weeks ago that was made exclusively for the film. Now Bon Iver has released their creation for the film, titled “Heavenly Father.” Others to be featured on the soundtrack include Cat Power and Coldplay.
“Heavenly Father” features Bon Iver’s frontman Justin Vernon using electronic tools to loop his vocals into a choral backdrop that lie beneath a powerful presentation of lyrics that metaphorically compare finding love to finding faith in a “heavenly father.” It’s another stunning performance by Bon Iver, and it’s a welcome reminder of the simple beauty of his complex writing.
Hit the jump for the full lyrics.
Covers are an interesting thing. A lot of times, they leave me feeling stupid and worthless as I tell myself I’ve discovered this great new band who instantly put out a classic, only to find it’s a cover. But the silver lining to that feeling is that usually it means the cover was done right. The artist covering the material needs to bring an element of uniqueness to the original song in order to make it a bit of their own, but not a complete ripoff of the maker’s creation. And when done right, it’s a magical moment. Here are ten covers done exceptionally well.
It’s no secret that I love a song with a good piano section in it. If you were to get a dollar every time I said that on this blog, you’d likely be a rich fool by now. I hope it doesn’t get too repetitive when I write about it, but it probably does. The thing is, though, that can really make a song for me. I came across this cover of John Cale’s “Fear A Man’s Best Friend” by ANR (Awesome New Republic) today, and the piano melted my heart immediately.
I started to ask myself today why it is that I love piano in songs so much. Is it that the sound pleases my ears more than any other instrument? Perhaps. But I think it’s got more to do with the memories it brings up in my mind. I started taking piano lessons in Kindergarten with this incredibly kind old man named Louis Pizzolato. I’m not even sure if that’s how you spell his name because he was always referred to as Mr. P. He was a white-haired man, very old (never knew just how old, but appeared to be in his 80’s or 90’s), and he always had a bucket of candy in his office. To call it an office might be an extreme, because really it was a room next to the cafeteria at my school that could fit an old man, a piano, some candy, a couple shelves of music books, and a kid eager to learn. Nothing more than that. The lighting was always dim in that room, maybe because the window to the outside was about 6 inches by 6 inches, if I recall correctly. There were two other rooms just like this one, one on both sides, but I never knew much about those rooms. The most I ever heard was that those piano teachers rotated in and out a lot. They didn’t stick around for long. Mr. P, on the other hand, was there day in, day out, for years.
[Hit the jump to continue reading]
It’s Tuesday morning and I’m tired as shit. I’m sitting on a bus, again, and finding a couple minutes to blog. It’s sad I have so little time these days, but I can’t find it in me to let it all go. So here I sit, struggling to keep my eyes open, but desperate to continue my love for sharing music. It’s funny, you know, trying to strike a balance between work and personal life, because I can’t honestly say that this blog doesn’t take work, but it’s part of my personal life. So where does it fall? It all comes down to passion, I suppose. And being inspired by real music.
One of the artists who has inspired me the most over the couple years is Bon Iver, and I think if you’ve been reading this blog for even a little bit of time, that’ll seem obvious. But it’s true, and sometimes I forget that. I’ll go on spurts where I don’t listen to a favorite artist’s music (hell, I didn’t listen to much Macklemore for about 2 years, and then that fucker came back and punched me in the face for it…thank God), and then I’m reminded why they’re a favorite in the first place. This reminder came last night when I was perusing through my Instagram feed and saw that my best blogger friend, Confusion, was taking these incredible pictures at a Bon Iver show in New York City, and I felt a longing for a bit more Bon Iver in my life.
Coincidentally, I received an email this morning from the remix artist Manila Killa saying that he was recently inspired by a Bon Iver show at Radio City Music Hall, which led to him creating this remix of Bon Iver’s “Perth.” And at a time when I’m fighting to keep my eyes open, the intrigue of the remix is just enough to keep me interested, but it doesn’t rob too many elements of perfection from Bon Iver’s original. There’s a line, and it hasn’t been crossed. Very nice work, Manila Killa. Thanks for bringing me back.
still alive who you love
So here’s the deal on this one. Terence Ryan released an impressive 7-track project last year. He is one of those rare artists that actually does it all: he writes, records, produces, and engineers all of his material. And if you don’t believe that that’s talent, Terence got you again with this entirely remade version of Bon Iver’s “Holocene.” Literally all of the production on this soothing rendition is original. There are no samples. It is as if Terence wanted to make it just to prove to himself that he could. Amazing.
Sunday morning. Feeling like shit? I have some stuff that might just make you feel a little better. Five covers that will blow your mind. Ready?
1. Young The Giant Covers “Ignition” (Remix) by R. Kelly
I’ve been telling myself for years that if I could sing, I would be sure to put on a fur jacket and do a cover of R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix at least once a day. What a fucking coincidence that Young The Giant came around and did the exact same thing. Whatttt?! Mind: blown.
2. Niia Covers “BTSTU” by Jai Paul
Jai Paul’s “BTSTU” still gets multiple rotations on my iTunes, particularly when I’m driving to work and needing to get excited about the day ahead. What could be more excited than getting to sing “don’t fuck with me, don’t fuck with me” in a high-pitched voice? Nothing. Niia seems to think so too. She’s shared with us her sexy version of BTSTU, admittedly sexier than my car rendition.
3. Niia Covers “Mad World” by Tears for Fears
While we’re on the topic of Niia, she also created a beautiful cover of Tears for Fears’s “Mad World.” By adding a harp, a harder beat, and a bit of speed, Niia might have just created the best cover of this oft-covered song that I’ve heard yet.
4. Benjamin Francis Leftwich Covers “Look at Miss Ohio” by Gillian Welch
Benjamin Francis Leftwich doesn’t have a shortage of balls. Wait…that’s weird. Um…what I’m trying to say is that he doesn’t fear covering superstars. He recently covered The Beatles and now he’s taking on Gillian Welch, who might as well be folk music’s superhero. Subtle and sweet.
5. Bon Iver Covers “Coming Down” by Anais Mitchell
One of the best thing about Bon Iver covers is seeing the instrumentation. This cover features piano, guitar, and a saxophone. It’s really beautiful, as you may have come to expect from a Bon Iver performance. This is a video clip from a visit to Triple J Radio studio in Australia where he chose to cover a song by a friend of his, Anais Mitchell. He says he chose this one because “there is no way not to have feelings about it.”
I’ve never been so high, I’ve never been so high, I’ve never been so high, I think I’m coming down. I’ve never laughed so loud, I’ve never laughed so loud, I’ve never laughed so loud, I think I’m coming down. Nothing going to stop me now, nothing going to stop me now, nothing going to stop me now. Please, don’t leave, easy feeling. Don’t leave me like that. Not yet. Don’t set me free. Free.
If you ever doubted the natural talent of Justin Vernon, or all of Bon Iver for that matter, stop now and watch this video. Justin Vernon and Bon Iver’s Sean Carey got in a studio with little more than two grand pianos and some microphones to create this beautiful version of some of their songs from the latest album, some from the Blood Bank EP, and another take of the stunning cover of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me. My heart melts at the moment when Justin starts belting out the chorus of I Can’t Make You Love Me.
Being that I’m a huge sucker for pianos, I am absolutely love-stricken at the sight of this video. Thank you, Justin and Sean. And a thank you to 4AD and Jagjaguwar for putting this together.
And if you knew some of those people who watched The Grammys this year and wondered afterwards who ‘Bonny Bear’ was, show them this video. Guarantee you they’ll never ask that silly question again.
Arjun’s Edit: Also, show them this video, and they’ll be scared of Bonny Bear forever.
More live Bon Iver? Yes.
This absolutely blew my mind.
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver recently dropped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to perform ?uestlove’s favorite Bon Iver “jawn” with the frontman.
The version they came up with is a strong diversion from the original opener to Bon Iver, Bon Iver and boy, does it sound beautiful. It’s much longer than the original, which allows for a lot of improvisation both on Vernon’s part and on the part of the “most legendary band in late night television.”
Vernon’s voice sounds as good as it’s ever sounded, and I think their use of autotune adds a really interesting element to the song–there was some of it in the original, but nowhere near as much as there is in this version.
Anyone else think it would be downright criminal to not hop in the studio and get an official recording of this? It’s too beautiful not to record.
Really, really love the way Vernon and The Roots compliment each other here–of course Quest is unbelievable and his drums always add another level to anything he touches, but the whole group here really meshes in an awesome way, allowing for a lot of creativity. Vernon seems to be genuinely stimulated by those around him here. Really awesome.
Justin D.E. Vernon and co. made an appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, playing their songs “Holocene” and “Beth/Rest” for the crowd assembled in New York City. A great performance, as can be expected by this crew–if you ever find yourself lucky enough to have the opportunity to see Bon Iver live, you’d be foolish not to take that offer. I don’t know if it’s the horns or Vernon’s angelic pipes that do it, but boy do they do it.
They were asked to perform with an unnamed other band at the Grammy’s and refused, saying that only those with “guitars on their backs” should decide who they want to play with. Kind of hoighty-toighty and douche-like, but if anyone can say something like that and get away with it it’s them. I guess.
PS— A little word to the wise: don’t listen to Bon Iver with someone you have romantic feelings for. If it’s a fleeting love, the effects of Justin Vernon’s voice are soul-crippling after the fact. Truuuust that.
When the end of the year rolls around, it dawns on me that it’s time to put together my “Best Of” lists. It’s a daunting task, and one that comes with risk of heavy criticism and/or incredible envy from megafans out there who wonder how in the world I come across all of this music and fit it into my already busy life. Don’t worry, I know you exist. (Kidding. Seriously.)
I find it very important to start this time of year with a predecessor: I am not perfect. I haven’t listened to every single album that was released in 2011. Something tells me it’s actually not possible. There must be more than 8,765 hours of music that was released in 2011. So obviously there may be things that I have missed. But what I can say is that I have listened to a TON of music throughout the year. Whether it’s through my own perusing, PR contacts getting in touch with me, trusting my blogger friends when they recommend an artist or an album, or artists asking me themselves to listen to their releases, I have listened to hundreds of albums over the last twelve months. And through it all, I have somehow come to the conclusion that these 20 constitute the best that I heard.
I tend to have a very eclectic taste, so you’ll find a very wide variety of music genres and types on this list. Though we live in an era of free singles and file sharing, I really encourage you guys to purchase any and all of these albums. I’ve provided a purchase on iTunes link for each one of them. Just click on the name of the album. Support the artist. It’s what your mother would want you to do. Unless you’re using her credit card. She might not like that. But do it anyway.
*All write-ups below are written by Lydia, unless otherwise noted
Click through to continue reading and sample one song from each of our Top 20 Albums of 2011