For some people it was the death of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain or Jerry Garcia that made time stop. For me it was Lou Reed.
My seminal Lou Reed moment took place on a brisk Fall evening in 1988. I was a freshman in college and off on an East Coast road trip stopping by Wesleyan and Tufts, eventually making my way to Providence for an evening with an old friend at the Rhode Island School of Design. I had never been to Providence and I remember being instantly jealous of everything about the place as we walked across town to a cheap and delicious Vietnamese restaurant surrounded by a whole city of smart artsy hipsters. By the time we returned to my friend Tom’s apartment, a dozen beverages into the evening, we got right down to the business of playing records and talking about music. At some point he dropped the needle on the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded.” Immediately, and I mean within the first few notes of “Who Loves The Sun,” my mind was blown, and my musical life was changed forever. Then came “Rock & Roll” and “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” which were even more transformative for me. We must have played the album four times straight before we passed out, bleary-eyed, but high on music.
I had certainly heard Lou Reed many times before, but “Walk On The Wild Side” - albeit cool, was not the Velvet Underground (VU). The band, I would learn, was managed by Andy Warhol, and became a symbol for the New York art scene in the late 60’s. While The Dead and Jefferson Airplane played the Fillmore and the Warfield, VU played Warhol’s Factory. They can almost single-handedly take credit for igniting what would ultimately become genres as far-reaching as punk, new wave, and later “alternative” or “indie rock.” What the Beatles did for pop music, Dylan for folk, and the Stones for rock and roll, VU did for what would become “independent music.” There were many things that made them so unique beginning with their attitude, the all black fashion sense, the fact that they had one of the first female drummers (Mo Tucker), the incredible music (thanks largely to Reed and John Cale), and their devastating and authentic lyrics. But mostly it was that the band made music so far ahead of its time it still sounds like the future - even today.
“Loaded” was the last VU album, made with Lou Reed halfway out the door, and although their most accessible album, it is likely “The Velvet Underground & Nico” will remain the one in which they will be most remembered. Featuring the iconic Warhol banana image, and the vocals of European supermodel turned actress singer Nico, Reed created an album filled with gentle melodic ditties like “There She Goes” and “Sunday Morning” and juxtaposed them with gritty classics like “Heroin” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”
VU disbanded in 1970 after four proper albums, but this was just the beginning for Lou Reed. He literally created the art rock universe that still exists today. Without his influence, there would have been no Bowie/Ziggy, no Iggy Pop, no Ramones, Patti Smith, Strokes, Luna, or thousands of other bands that played in his wake. There were plenty of drugs, which oriented his music not only lyrically and emotionally, but unlike most of his peers, he persevered, never seeming to lose a beat. His storytelling describes primarily a hardscrabble NYC during the 70’s and 80’s. This was the era of Needle Park, city wide blackouts, the ultra sketchy East Village and Times Square and Harlem, but it was also the era of CBGB’s, the rise of independent record labels, and punk rock.
Lou Reed, was a musician from childhood. He played doo-wop songs in high school, studied poetry in college, and wrote pop songs for Pickwick after college. He was always all in, and smart and talented enough to have gone in any direction he might have chosen. Real artists are born artists. They don’t compromise and spend a lifetime evolving and experimenting. They inspire future artists, and leave a canon that will endure forever. His music was never easy. “Berlin” and “Metal Machine” were dense, impenetrable works that divided critics and fans, but “Transformer” established him post-Velvets as one of the most talented songwriters of all time. Less heralded classics like “New York” and “Magic and Loss” represent Reed becoming comfortable with middle age, and doing so with all the relevance and vigor of the Velvets Reed from 20 years prior.
In some ways Reed defined what cool would mean for nearly 50 years. It was most superficially the look and attitude, but more than anything there was that voice and that beautiful and distinctive guitar. It was unlike anything that had come before it. A kind of talk-singing-poetry set to music. At times it’s bleak and jarring, at other times it’s raucous and fun, but most of the time it’s just sublime and cerebral in a way that is largely impossible to describe.
New York is a vastly different place than the one Lou Reed chronicled between the mid-60’s and late 80’s. CBGB’s is long gone. Many of the great artists from that era are no longer with us. There is a Starbucks on every corner, the Disneyfication of Times Square, and the gentrification of the East Village. The death of Lou Reed surely signifies the end of something, but he will always be with us. That is the beautiful thing about music. The best of it will live on, finding new audiences, inspiring new artists, and leaving us with a portrait of a time long gone.
Like “Catcher and The Rye,” “Harold and Maude” and a handful of other exquisite works of modern art that changed my life in immeasurable ways, Lou Reed’s music set me on a very different course. I can’t imagine who I’d be without him.
Reed said it best in the classic tune “Rock and Roll:
But one fine mornin’ she hears a New York station She doesn’t believe what she heard at all Hey, not at all She started dancin’ to that fine fine music You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll Yeah rock ‘n’ roll
Yes, my life was saved or at least shaped by rock n’ roll. Long live Lou Reed.
“CURATE, LISTEN TO AND SHARE COLLECTIONS OF THE ARTISTS YOU LOVE.”
Today is the first day of the new TastemakerX, where music lovers can do what they most want to do with music online: discover, listen and share their tastes. We’ve spent the last 18 months evolving our platform to combine all three of those aspirations into one cohesive experience - one where people can discover music by exploring other people’s curated artist Collections. It is a much needed and engaging layer built on top of Spotify, Rdio, Soundcloud, YouTube, iTunes™ , Songkick, Twitter, Instagram and other services. Let’s face it, finding music should be fun and easy, but it really hasn’t been since the days of “High Fidelity” where Jack Black and John Cusack worked in that hipster record store eons ago.
WHAT ARE TASTEMAKERX COLLECTIONS?
In the past, you amassed beautiful posters and physical collections of vinyl, 8-Tracks, cassettes and eventually CDs of your favorite artists. Now they have been probably relegated to the garage, or worse yet, abandoned completely. These walls and collections of art and music were not just about the music but proud badges of self-expression - they defined who you were and who you aspired to be. With Collections we want to bring that experience and those sentiments into the present day digital era.
TastemakerX Collections allow you to build online artist collections that let you play the music of individual artists or the playlists from a collection as a whole. Collections will be constrained by size, to help provide clear insight into a person’s taste. Every artist in your collection will power your homepage feed with information valuable to music fans such as Instagram photos, Songkick tour updates, YouTube videos, new track releases on SoundCloud, Tweets, news and reviews.
WHY ONLINE MUSIC NEEDS A UNIFICATION LAYER
There are quite a few amazing music services that provide almost limitless access to playing or watching music on the interwebs (YouTube, Spotify, Rdio, SoundCloud, Amazon, MOG/Daisy and others). We use and love them all, and they’re great at what they do. That said, they are siloed and in need of a connective layer built on top of them to enhance the overall experience of sharing music and playlists.
Getting news and information about specific artists happens everywhere in our connected but still fragmented world. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Songkick and others don’t solve the problem of pulling this all into one central place. TastemakerX taps into all of these sources and creates a simple cross platform feed personalized for your curated Collection. Now you’ll no longer have the issue of missing a new tour date announcement, a contest on Facebook, a new track released on SoundCloud, a video on YouTube, and all those killer Instagram photos that bands post on tour.
Finding like-minded music fans is nearly impossible, and really what you need is the ability to be connected to the ones who are most likely to lead you to a lifetime of discovery and shared passion. Sure you could hope that your favorite social network happens to surface people who follow the same band or MP3 blog, but wouldn’t it be easier to merely search for a band, scan the Top Fans of that artist and then explore and follow their Collections? That’s how easy it will be.
NEW FOR 2.0 AND BEYOND…
COLLECTIONS 2.0 + RANKINGS
A critical change to Collections 2.0 is the ability to produce a finite collection of music that might reflect a particular genre, time period, or mood. In turn this encourages people to be more focused and current with their selections. Users will also have the option to rank the artists in their collections to express their level of affinity for a particular artist. The end result is a curated expression of a person’s current musical taste and passion.
Artists will also have Top Fans which will be generated by looking at the date a player adds an artist, the player’s rank in Top Fans, and their levels of engagement and influence around that artist. Top Fans allows us to distinguish the fans of an artist from the passive masses, which is something the broad fire hose of big social media platforms makes impossible.
Fans will also have a Taste Score (T-Score) which looks at their Top Fan rankings, overall engagement and influence, and the aggregate buzz-worthiness of their Collection. This T-Score will allow people to quickly gauge their music savviness.
Ultimately, Collections, Top Fans and T-Scores are all about more easily discovering and connecting with musical kindred spirits and providing artists with new transparency into their most engaged and influential fans
INTRODUCING THE TASTEMAKERX FEED
The feed is a new and exciting feature on TastemakerX because it answers the problem of catch-all social feeds - people missing critical and interesting content from their favorite artists. The feed is visually rich; a stream of Instagram photos, Tweets, Songkick concert announcements, SoundCloud clips, and YouTube videos from just the artists users care about. In addition, the feed will also share activity from people users are following to help foster discovery.
Almost two years ago when we founded TastemakerX, our goal was to build a better mousetrap for discovering music. Algorithms had never worked for us but people did. Record store clerks, DJs on college radio stations, friends, great music critics and bloggers – they thrust music upon us with a passionate urgency. TastemakerX is all about people turning people onto music.
Everyone loves music. It’s worth seeking out, enjoying and sharing. We have put a lot of love into the new TastemakerX and we’re hoping you love it too.
As you all know, for the past 18 months we have been building, evolving and expanding TastemakerX. When we started our goal was to turn music discovery into the best game imaginable. Over this period of time we listened, learned and iterated on the core platform. We added a robust web environment to compliment iOS, and integrated loads of cool services. For the past six months we have leveraged all your great user feedback to build what we hope is the missing link in social music curation and discovery.
We are absolutely thrilled to announce that we will be unveiling the new and improved TastemakerX very soon and beginning Friday morning, TastemakerX, as it currently stands, will be turned off in preparation of the things to come.
But before we say goodbye to the first generation of TastemakerX, we want to give a shout-out to the top 25 players with the most valuable Collections. In order, from 1st on down are: basketoflight, SoSimpull, anna, drugs, Eron, russell, BigT, Daniroo, MusicMogel, Lucretia, jtriest, lunamick, deeps, noiserec, jerkpine, Jhodak, OrenJosep, BurningEar, fifix, kitchenfloor, jaymillar, designisgo, christian, montgomer174, and sulli310
To all of you who have been with us since the beginning, or joined us along the way, or who have been rooting for us from afar, your support greatly shaped the new TastemakerX experience. You all rock and we really appreciate you embracing the platform.
"Music In The City: A Tale of Two Summer Festivals" - Marc Ruxin
For the past few years, I have been reliving a youth spent in a world without the equivalent of the modern music mega-festival. Too young to have experienced Woodstock, Monterey Pop, or Newport in its prime, and too American to have attended any of the big European festivals like Glastonbury, Reading, etc. the closest I ever came to a big music festival was 1993 Lollapalooza in Philadelphia. From what I remember, it was brutally hot, there were only two stages, the JFK Park local was scrappy, the food was awful and the bands were largely loud and grungy. I think I loved it, but the details are foggy, and my expectations were considerably lower.
The rebirth of the modern American festival can be seminally traced back to the Summer of 2002. That was the summer of the first two-day Coachella festival where Bjork, Oasis and Siouxsie and the Banshees hung an indie rock shingle. That same year across the country the inaugural Bonnaroo festival debuted in a big field in central Tennessee, largely stocked with a thick roster of jam bands including Widespread Panic and Gov’t Mule. Coachella exploded to three days and eventually two weekends over the next decade, while Bonnaroo expanded its empire West to San Francisco with Outside lands, and the rest was history. In their wake came Lollapalooza V2, ACL, Sasquatch, Pitchfork, and Electric Daisy and an explosion of EDM festivals.
In the beginning each festival prided itself on having vastly different lineups. They each stuck closely to a core set of musical genres, pulling different audiences and sensibilities. But over time indie rock bled into dance, metal into grunge, jam into folk rock, and hip-hop into everything; the breadth of these festivals exploded. Where there is something for everyone at any given time on some specialized stage somewhere within the grounds. These days, most of the big festivals share many of the same acts and will headline most of them (Phoenix, The Postal Service, The National, Band of Horses, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pretty Lights), and the smaller stages will similarly share artists (Alt-J, Grizzly Bear, Local Natives, Jessie Ware, Dawes, Kurt Vile).
None of these inevitabilities are necessarily a bad thing. In fact, unless you attend as many festivals as I will be lucky enough to attend this summer, it will relieve much of the envy the attendee has who will only go to one festival. Of course with scale and commercialization come things like increased prices, a confusing litany of passes with widely variable and enviable access, and longish lines for everything. That said, the modern festival now often highlights legitimately solid food options, ripping pages from local food cart culture (Korean Burritos, Poutine and Lamb Banh Mi), better sound systems, and beverages that exist beyond just 16 ounce cans.
With a major festival happening almost every weekend somewhere, it seems sensible to compare the back-to back Lollapalooza and Outside Lands events I just attended. They were both very different and very similar.
Lollapalooza was reborn in Chicago in 2005, hosted in the sprawling Grant Park in downtown Chicago. For 5 months of the year Chicago is one of the world’s best cities, and then the cold, rain and snow begin. I had never been to the new Lolla before this year, despite the city being my birthplace. The weather was mercifully overcast, and hovered in the high 70’s for much of the three day extravaganza. Unlike Coachella’s impeccably flat, grassy polo fields, or ACL’s rolling Zilker Park, Lolla extends almost a mile between the two main stages, across a mélange of dusty fields, concrete bike and walking paths over baseball diamonds and around fountains and shady coves. With seven core stages and a kids stage, the grounds are surrounded to the West by Chicago’s sublime skyline, and to the East by Lake Michigan.
Twenty or so festivals into my own renaissance, there are a few rules you must follow (7 Rules For Summer Festivals ) but by the end there are always a few sets in particular that tend to stick with you. The performances that just suit your mood, suit the weather or time of day, or on a more basic level, the ones where the band is just in the groove. I saw parts of 25 sets at Lollapalooza. The 10,000 hour theory matters more in a live context than in a recorded one. Take Local Natives and The National. Both bands make incredible records, but the live difference is clear, and largely attributable to ten or more years of playing to live audiences. Holding one of the big stages at a festival is hard to do but at Lollapalooza bands like The National, Band of Horses, Nine Inch Nails, Phoenix and others play big load music that blankets the grounds.
For me the highlights are always the sets that are unexpectedly great. The LA sisters act Haim was infectious and surprisingly tight playing at the shady Grove Stage. Cat Power, cruelly programmed at the same time as The Cure and Phoenix, played a transcendent set of darkish dance music. It’s hard to forget how much ground Thievery Corporation has covered over the past two decades, and under the blazing afternoon sun, reminded me just how good they still are. Time of day and weather also matter. The Postal Service played a sublime set to close out Saturday, even covering Beat Happening (always a clincher for me). New Order and The Cure proved that not only does their epic music age incredibly well, but that they can still play triumphant, anthemic music live. Other highlights included Alt-J, Wild Nothing, Jake Bugg, and Father John Misty all proving again how quickly the buzz machine can thrust a band into the limelight. But for me the highlight of the festival was the mind-blowing set by Grizzly Bear, whose dark brooding set the standard.
Lollapalooza is definitely a city festival, filled with loads of young kids (largely well-behaved) in addition to aging hipsters with head-phoned kids in tow. It is also a Midwestern festival and the fashion and attitude of the attendees look just different enough from those at Bonnaroo and Coachella to be noticed. You can see the city surrounding every stage, which occasionally seems odd, but in the end is quite excellent, especially when you stumble out of the grounds at 10PM and the whole city is open for dinner and drinks. During a hotter summer, I can see how the festival could be excruciating, but this year it was just lovely. But in the end great music sounds great anywhere, especially at dusk, when the temperature drops, and lights start bleeding into the sky.
In the same way that the heat is often a problem at festivals, deep in the heart of Golden Gate Park in August, there is a different kind of survivalism at play. Summer in San Francisco is typically a cold and foggy place, so instead of bikinis and misting stations, you can buy coffee and hot chocolate in addition to blankets at the merchandise stand. But it all suits this crowd and this festival and the deep history of music in the park.
A few generations removed from the summer of love, but still home to the Burners who will invade the desert later this month, SF has always mashed up a hobbiest innovation culture with a California free spiritivism. There is almost no public park in the country as beautiful and diverse as Golden Gate Park, surrounded at times by fragrant Eucalyptus trees and rugged traverses through the forest, the music just oozes serenely throughout the landscape.
Lolla and Outside Lands run on back-to-back weekends, and although much of the lineup overlaps, there is plenty that is different. Extreme highlights included Sir. Paul McCartney, proving again that he is pretty much easily the greatest living songwriter and still looks and sounds incredible at 71. Nile Rogers and Chic proved again that disco will never die (props to Daft Punk for inciting this resurgence). Other very high points included a good set by Wild Belle, now elevated to a big stage, Foals whose take on 80’s goth-wave is simply magical, and Gary Clark Jr. whose modern take on Jimi and the whole history of blues and R&B is always breathtaking. Smaller but also excellent moments included Thao and the Get Down Stay Down channeling everything from Karen O to something funkier, to the gender bending Rhye (who you have to see to believe), Kopecky Family Band who brought a poppy Nashville sound, and the modern classic rock of Kurt Vile and Dawes to take things home. Of course, I caught bits and pieces of bigger acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix, Hall and Oates, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The National, and Band of Horses but trying not to overlap was key. There is something surreal when as night falls and a thin foggy mist blows into the park, the music tends to take on a different richer texture.
Live music will always be one of the greatest and broadest reaching cultural experiences on the planet. But there is something about devoting 10 hours a day to watching music for a full weekend. You get into a specific rhythm, on a quest for pure joy, and a shared experience. Somehow the fact that cell service is shoddy and social media is not immediate, that softens the urgency to have your head down buried in a phone. It frees you to take a quick picture, and then get back to the show or the crowd. Although you often share this sense of community at a sporting event, music’s diversity makes the overall energy of a festival much different.
For everyone seemingly too “old” or “out of touch” for festivals, think again. Music festivals are now broad cultural experiences with stages devoted to comedy and performance art, legitimately destination-worthy food and wine, and of course enormous amounts of music. In the event you missed one or both, here are a few playlists to pour over.
Last week we stumbled across a number of awesome tracks on the interwebz that we shared on our Facebook, Twitter, and SoundCloud but we love them so much that they deserve a consolidated home on Tumblr. We hope you like them!
BON IVER- BLOOD BANK // FLICFLAC EDIT
BLOOD ORANGE // DINNER
FMLYBND // ELECTRICITY
RALIEGH RITCHIE // STAY INSIDE
ANGEL HAZE // NEW SLAVE
JOEL COMPASS // FUCKED UP
And if you come across tracks that need to be heard, please share them on our Facebook Page. We always have time to check out new / remixed tracks.
What We Learned About Mr. Carter on Twitter Last Night...
On Monday, July 8th, our man Jay-Z decided he wanted to talk to us normal folks on Twitter, the democratic medium for global communications. Some people nearly passed out trying to get HOV to answer their questions. It was pretty much chaos between 12 pm and 7 pm on Twittersphere.
For 7 hours, Jay-Z scrolled and scrolled through questions + thoughts and answered the ones he fancied. One of our favorite questions came from celeb amigo Aziz Ansari. Hilarious.
Here’s a synopsis of what we learned about Jay-Z and his opinion on some $h*t. It’s nothing revelatory or headline worthy but fun stuff to know if you’re a Hova minion.
His favorite movie is The Godfather 2, but True Romance is a close contender. Makes sense, True Romance is a modern day Bonnie + Clyde.
If you don’t wear Tom Ford and can only afford to rock Hanes t-shirts, yes, you should definitely write a song about it.
Favorite Cereal: Captain Crunch
Twerking should replace the electric slide at weddings.
Listens to James Blake - very cool.
MCHG recording videos will be released
Favorite Britney Track: Toxic
"Open Letter" was taken out of #MCHG because it’s vinyl and Jack White is handling it. Update: Yesterday on Hot 97 Jay shared, “It’s in a letter… you can play the letter… it’s amazing. You open the letter, and you can actually play the card.” —> Jack White owns a vinyl shop called Third Man Records.
Working on 6 pieces of art for MCHG
Doesn’t own a Picasso
Favorite track as of July 8th: “Ocean”, the first track recorded 2 years ago.
We plucked out a few conversations…
TastemakerX: They’re talking about Range Rovers.
TastemakerX: Mo Money More Problems
TastemakerX: Hope Jay didn’t develop carpal tunnel.
And to close, here’s RapGenius’ break down of “Holy Grail”:
One. Word. GLASTONBURY. The most epic music festival of the year /slash in the world, this weekend, on a farm in the UK town of Pilton. The line-up is stellar. When we first laid eyes on it we nearly had a heart attack. Yes, sounds dramatic but there are so many awesome British bands that rarely, if ever, make it over to the States and on top of that our favorite American bands are also playing at Glastonbury! Heavenly.
HAIM. Arctic Monkeys. The 1975. The XX. Jake Bugg. Rufus Wainwright. Vampire Weekend. Foals. Alt-J. Tame Impala. Palma Violets. Cat Power. Local Natives. Kodaline. Savages. MS MR. Daughter. Phoenix. Tyler The Creator. James Blake. Tom Odell. Toro Y Moi. Public Enemy. AND The Rolling Stones.
And that’s just a sample. With taste like this we put complete trust in Sir Glastonbury and will ecstaticly let him lead us around the Glastonbury Garden of Earthly Delights to give us an education on who we should pay attention to. But the reality is, we’re not in Pilton right now… so…
For the legions of us who can’t be at Glastonbury physically, our friends at BBC Radio 1 have made it possible for us to tag along as their plus one via BBC Presents Glastonbury. Yep, the BBC is what’s up.
Now we can pretend to stomp ariound the farm and get a high resolution view of all three stages; the Pyramid Stage, the John Field Stage, and Greenfield. You can watch the festival live via webcam or check out the video section where a slew of performances from Friday and Saturday have already been posted. The list, so far, is pretty mental.
To add on more awesome, there’s also a BBC Introducing Stage which will feature unsigned artists who need to be heard. All hand selected by local BBC stations. As an artist, you can also use this section as a resource for music industry advice and upload your tracks for the BBC crew to check out. If they dig your sound, you get featured. The BBC is doing it right. #Respect
So far, of all the BBC Introducing videos posted, the best act is We Bite The Buffalo, these lads can best be described as gritty down home rock n roll.
Is Yo La Tengo The Greatest Indie Rock Band of All Time?
In the mid ‘80s a young rock journalist named Ira Kaplan and his wife Georgia Hubley started a rock band. Their band, Yo La Tengo, was named after a Spanish baseballer’s lingo for “I’ve got it.” Their name has always been as accessibly irreverent as their music. Growing up in the late ‘70s early ‘80s the band’s influences included everyone from Love to the Velvet Underground. Punk music had come and gone and a different kind of American independent music scene had just begun. Enough time had passed that bands could now comfortably start to explore what had come before them with a sense of nostalgia and admiration, but not enough time had passed for it to not seem a bit ironic. But that is exactly what independent music has always been about: evolving the recent past while at the same time creating just enough original nuances to inform the future. But implicit in this pact is that only one of two outcomes were inevitable: mainstream success which involved alienating core fans by creating easier to swallow and broader reaching songs, or eventually fading into an adulthood that didn’t involve touring in vans and playing college towns. For twenty-eight years now Yo La Tengo has managed to live somewhere in the middle. Like their hometown of Hoboken, NJ just across the river from Manhattan, they seem most comfortable just one deviation from the center.
Twenty-seven years have passed since the debut Yo La Tengo album, “Ride The Tiger.” It was a fairly straightforward collection of jangly guitar sounds cut from the same cloth as the early REM and Feelies efforts. But as their career would progress, Yo La Tengo would evolve ever so slightly with every record. Much like trying to watch sap run down a tree, it would take a time lapse camera over a very long period of time to see fully the shape of the path it would take. Although most great bands manage to build gradually on their sound, very few of them have the patience and fortitude to see it play out over such a long period. Radiohead, The Flaming Lips and Spoon have all adapted to the times by embracing, to varying degrees, electronica and keyboards, but none quite so subtly as Yo La Tengo. Bands like Pavement, The Verve, and others would break up before being forced to confront the golden age of MP3’s and EDM. Perhaps much of this has to do with the fact that Ira and Georgia are married, and that their life together has presumably been spent making art. This is what they do, and they do it together. Having bypassed parenting for art, I’d imagine that this is what they will always do. Only Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth hold a candle to the idea that domestic life and art can coexist over such a long period of time. But sadly, as Sonic Youth wound down as a band, so did their marriage. Or perhaps it was the other way around.
After a handful of mostly guitar rock and acoustic cover albums between 1987 and 1992, the band was signed to the venerable Matador label and effectively transformed into the band that exists today. It was the first record with multi-instrumentalist James McNew and the first to showcase, in a very real way, keyboards. If the band’s music had been largely considered “college” music before, the new Yo La Tengo elevated the band to something far bigger, more important, and original with 1993’s “Painful”. “Indie rock” has long been dominated by smart, college-educated hipsters who often write about the world as seen through the lens of the suburban malaise of their childhoods. The Pixies, Arcade Fire, Liz Phair and others translated this shared experience into song with both an irony and passion that their largely college audience could relate to. In some cases these bands punched through to the mainstream, but in most cases the bands had their moment in the sun, and then eventually went back to graduate school or got real jobs, leaving a small legacy of time boxed records representing a specific time and place. But with “Painful” Yo La Tengo seemed to have committed to a project with infinite possibility. There were long loud dreamy anthems filled with raucous guitars and keyboards alternating with gentle ballads where the band created something as pristine and fragile as anything.
This new Yo La Tengo has just turned twenty this year. They have been incredibly consistent releasing a proper new album every two or three years – still on Matador, and a smattering of side projects that also help define just how serious and relentlessly creative the band’s ambitions have become. Albums like 1997’s “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One” and 2006’s “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass” are two of the band’s best and most consistent records, and highlight how ambitious they had become. These albums were filled with elements of raucous walls of guitar and keyboards turning a dime into quiet folk.
But as much as their studio efforts were meticulous and unhinged, to have watched the band evolve as a live band is almost just as curious. Most bands don’t play long enough together to really master their instruments and the abilities and constraints of the individual musicians in the band, but 10,000 hours into it Yo La Tengo has crafted something truly unique on stage. As evidenced by a recent two night residence at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the band played two sets: the first set was a mesmerizingly patient acoustic experiment in minimalistic grooves, and a loud groove-based transcendent series of Ira Kaplan guitar freakouts, Georgia Hubley drum driven crescendos and James McNew’s steady plodding bass lines. As with any Yo La Tengo show, all songs start innocently enough before erupting into a wall of sound. The band is as much about tempo as it is about maintaining a single thread of melody throughout. The band also routinely switches instruments. You will always see every band play drums, guitars and keys, and each member tends to sing at least a handful of songs during a show. In an age of non-hierarchical progressivism, Yo La Tengo could be seen as organizational anachronists.
In 1996, the band performed as stand ins for the Velvet Underground in the film “I Shot Andy Warhol”, which they made look easy having covered countless of their songs over the years. Between 2000 and 2010 they scored an underwater sea documentary called “The Sounds of Science”, and indie films such as “Junebug” and “Old Joy”. On top of this they wrote the score and performed during a live narrated documentary of R. Buckminster Fuller.
Yo La Tengo are truly professional artists, nowhere near the end of the line, and has made it work. In an era where downloads trump CD sales, subscriptions are rapidly eclipsing downloads, live music and festivals seem alive and well, and there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that bands like Yo La Tengo can still make a comfortable living making the kind of music it has made for three decades now. Being a professional musician has never been easy, not then and not now, but at least an artist can truly reach a global audience. They can book their own tours, record and distribute their own music, license their own music and sell their merchandise directly. Yo La Tengo has also proven that in an age where ephemeral stardom can being achievement overnight with a single YouTube video, there is still room to do it the old fashioned way, honing your craft, building a loyal fan base and continuing to innovate.
Pitchfork Music Festival Playlists to Kick Off Your Weekend!
To help kick off your weekend, we have a few playlists to share with you!
The Pitchfork Music Festival, in Chicago, is a month away and the full line-up and set times were released yesterday. It does not disappoint. In fact, it’s a pretty good compendium of emerging music. The line-up has quite a few artists that are new to us. We love this because it speaks to the awesomeness of music festivals: The opportunity to expose yourself to new music in its native environment.
If you’re considering single day passes [3-day passes are sold out] we’ve created three playlists with a few tracks from each artist in the line-up. And even if you don’t plan on going to Pitchfork, jump in and stumble around, you might find some interesting sounds.
SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS // PITCHFORK FESTIVAL’S 3 DAY LINE-UP
[In Order of Set-Time]
Pitchfork Festival Day 1 Frankie Rose / Daughn Gibson / Trash Talk / Mac DeMarco / Angel Olsen / Woods / Mikal Cronin / Wire / Joanna Newsom / Bjork
Pitchfork Festival Day 2 White Lung / KEN mode / Pissed Jeans / Julia Holter / Phosphorescent / Parquet Courts / …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead / Merchandise / Savages / Metz / Swans / Ryan Hemsworth / The Breeders / Low / Solange / Andy Stott / Belle & Sebastian / Rustie
Pitchfork Festival Day 3 Tree/ DJ Rashad / Foyxgen / Autre Ne Veut / Killer Mike / Blood Orange / El-P / Waxahatchee / Yo La Tengo / Sky Ferreira / Lil B / Charlift / Toro Y Moi / Evian Christ / M.I.A. / Glass Candy / R.Kelly / TNGHT
NEW ON TASTEMAKERX // LISTEN TO THE 30 DAY CHARTS ON SPOTIFY
Lean back and listen to the “Up and Coming” and “Most Popular” Artists of the past 30 day on Spotify.
Another great year for films large and small, but in reality I think it was the bigger films that were better than the indies. Perhaps it’s that the indie film marketplace has never been more difficult than it is today. Art house screens are disappearing and the ones that exist are often not much bigger than the screen in your living room. Add to that the compression of release windows, and you’ll find most indies on Netflix or Amazon within a few months. But the big films were smarter, longer and largely better than any year for the past decade, and any of the most respected auteurs working had films this year (Tarantino, Haneke, Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, Speilberg, Russell). Half of this list is already streamable and the other half should probably be seen on the screen, so go make it happen.
1) Django Unchained – Dir. Quentin Tarantino (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz)
Picking up where “Inglorious Bastards” left off, “Django” is the perfect canvas to enjoy watching bad guys get slaughtered comically, while the good guys toe that fine line. The violence is funny, but the drama is real, and for almost three hours, Tarantino entertains you mashing up spaghetti westerns with “Roots.” In almost anybody else’s hands, a bloody slavery revenge film would watch like a sloppy mess, but Tarantino is a film buff with brass balls, so anything goes.
Christoph Waltz is again brilliant as a German bounty hunter who ends up freeing Jamie Foxx’s Django from a chain gang early on to help him kill the Brittle brothers. As in all of his films Tarantino spins a great yarn, juxtaposes good and evil, uses music as well as can be imagined, and extracts exquisite performances from everyone. Django the character, represents the underdog who not only overachieves, but blows off the roof when given the chance. Of the two anti-slavery films this year, “Django” wins, if for nothing other than originality.
You have never seen a film like this before. That is because the topic is so specific and the performances are so convincing that you’d swear you were watching life unfold, albeit a strange and almost surreal one. This world is inhabited by the remarkable Hushpuppy, a six-year old survivor from the Bathtub region – an impoverished island-like area off the coast of New Orleans. She lives in a ramshackle trailer with her alcoholic father until the storm comes and turns everything into a swampy jungle.
Cast largely with first time actors, and shot on a shoestring budget in the ravaged post- Katrina bayous, “Beasts” plays like a slow motion, waking dream. And although each character seems pathetic and worthy of our sympathy, they are all beautiful fighters who neither want our pity nor expect it. Life in the Bathtub is filled with fragrant colors and characters who form a dysfunctional family, rag tag yet indestructible. You will not see another movie quite this rich in so many ways this year.
3) Moonrise Kingdom – Dir. Wes Anderson (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand)
Most people either are or aren’t Wes Anderson fans. There is no middle ground. If you’re a fan, this will be one of your favorites - right up there with “Rushmore” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Everything is so small, nuanced and twee that it would be almost impossible to not appreciate his obsessive detail focus. In fact the film almost looks like you are peering into a dollhouse of tiny real people, scattered across a rustic wonderland filled with strange caricatures.
Largely a story of young love and the minor adventure that ensues when the community gets involved in a search, this film is mostly about getting to know a dozen or so genuinely unique characters: Ed Norton’s super serious boy scout leader, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand’s detached parents, and Bruce Willis’ wacky Captain Sharp. The film is a visual feast, but also one of the most creative films of the year where watching everything happen couldn’t be more entertaining.
4) Robot and Frank – Dir. Jake Schreier (Frank Langella, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon)
I love this film. It is small in scale but huge on humanity, realism, empathy and a bunch of other good qualities. Frank Langella, who just seems to be getting better with age, this time plays a cranky white collar ex-thief who is sent a robot by his son to keep him company. Living in quiet isolation in a quaint New England town, he occasionally ventures into town with stops at the library (which is closing) where he flirts with Susan Sarandon, a soon to be out of work librarian.
Although the film moves briskly through a pretty straightforward plotline, it is wonderful in that it juxtaposes the technological advantages of the present with the beautiful simplicity of the past. No film this year except perhaps “Amour”, personalizes both the realities of growing old and the genuine human need to have meaningful companionship as a reason to survive. And yes there is a surprise twist, so pay close attention.
5) Argo – Dir. Ben Affleck (John Goodman, Alan Arkin)
Ben Affleck is on a helluva run these days. “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone” and now “Argo” are all nearly perfect films. There is nothing flashy, but everything is rock solid: cinematography, acting, and the overall texture. Perhaps it took him a while to get rolling, but his films are beginning to have the substance of Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts.
“Argo” tells the story of the Iran hostage crisis, and the outrageous plan to free them by staging a fictional film. Affleck is perfect in his role of producer, but John Goodman, Alan Arkin and the rest of the cast are superb, bathed in a crisp 1980 authenticity. There was no film easier to watch than this one in 2012.
6) Lincoln– Dir. Steven Spielberg (Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field)
Watching “Lincoln” is like eating vegetables, but the ones that taste good – onion rings perhaps. Weighing in at nearly 3 hours, it flies by. In it we learn much about the politics of getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed, but mostly we learn about Lincoln. If we believe the film, we learn that he was laugh out loud funny, a consummate and talented storyteller, and perhaps our country’s most gifted politician.
Daniel Day-Lewis makes very few films, and as a result he is staggering in nearly all of them. This might even be his best role yet, not only physically becoming Lincoln, but creating a character so nuanced (he sounds a bit like Bill Clinton on vicodin) you’ll forget at times he isn’t the president. Conversely, Spielberg makes loads of films, and they cover a massive amount of ground, but with “Lincoln” he plays right at the intersection of his passions: history and quashing bad guys. It’s really good.
7) Zero Dark Thirty - Dir. Kathryn Bigelow (Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton)
If you watch and love “Homeland” you will no doubt like “Zero Dark Thirty” but perhaps a little less than if you didn’t watch the television show. As great as the film is, unlike “The Hurt Locker” which was just raw, gritty, fresh, and unexpected, this time you are seeing a story you have likely been following for a dozen years, and whose theme and setting is much more topical today than it was even five years ago.
That said, this is truly solid filmmaking with an incredibly deep cast, led by Jessica Chastain, but featuring a deep bench of familiar faces. Given that we know how the story begins and ends, watching the fat middle unfold is surprisingly intense and compelling. Katherine Bigelow has all of a sudden seemed to hit a kind of Ridley Scott stride.
8) 2 Days in New York –Dir. Julie Delpy (Chris Rock, Julie Delpy)
I miss the “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” era Woody Allen films, which is why I was so delighted to see Julie Delpy pick up where she left off. Everything is there in spades, the cramped but homey NYC apartments, the improbably contrived situations, the hilarious rapid-fire dialogue and lovable characters. Instead of a nebbish Allen, we get a hipster Chris Rock, and an irresistible Delpy and her real life father.
This film is far superior to its Parisian predecessor, and might be the best performances to date from Rock and Delpy. The dialogue is relentlessly comedic, and revolves around the disastrous visit of Delpy’s French relatives as they descend on her tiny Manhattan apartment. The film is both laugh out loud funny, and genuinely sentimental.
9) Cloud Atlas – Dir. Tom Twyker / Wachowski’s (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry)
In a year filled with long movies, “Cloud Atlas” is the one that probably deserves the longest running time, as it is derived from an enormous original work, and actually tells six interconnected but separate tales spanning 300 years. Although you might find the underlying “past lives spiritualism” a bit hokey, there is much to love even at a superficial level.
Of the many visual and plot gimmicks, the most clever, and almost always effective trick is that Hanks, Berry, and the rest of the cast play different characters in each of the six stories, which begin on a Polynesian island in 1849 and end in futurist Seoul, Korea 2044. The scale and ambition of the film is among the most ambitious of the year, so despite holes here and there, I think it fair to describe it as remarkable.
10) Your Sister’s Sister – Dir. Lynn Shelton (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt)
This is a bona fide chick flick that even self respecting dudes will no doubt relate to. In part this is because at some point, everyone probably wishes that they could go back in time, not have kids, mortgages, and the anxiety of adult life. This film feels more like a play shot on film than a film, but it doesn’t really matter because this is all about the dialogue.
Mumblecore superstar Mark Duplass is increasingly becoming a legitimate, card-carrying movie star, but it is in roles like this where he really thrives, as a dude kind of lost in the middle of his life. Thankfully he is shuffled off to recuperate at the beautiful cabin belonging to his best buddy (Emily Blunt) where he finds her irresistible lesbian sister. The rest unravels like a beautiful sweater.
11) Liberal Arts – Dir. Josh Radnor (Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins)
After seeing the film at Sundance, I assumed it would be the runaway indie comedy of 2012. Perhaps it’s that the film has a whole bunch of personal relevance, having spent a bunch of lost weekends on the set (i.e., campus) when I was younger. In the film a 30-something graduate returns to his alma mater, Kenyon College for a weekend to watch his second-favorite professor (Richard Jenkins) honored after a lifetime at the school.
While there he falls in love with both the past, and a beautiful, precocious girl half his age played by the most talented Olson sister (Elizabeth). Although it won’t stretch your mind too much, there are plenty of bittersweet reminiscences and a handful of wonderful cameos including a brilliant one from Allison Janney as a cougar-esque English teacher. This film was criminally under seen.
12) The Deep Blue Sea – Dir. Terrance Davies (Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston)
Rachel Weisz is one of the most underrated actors working today. She always delivers perfectly understated performances, but this time around her patience and sadness is as good as anything this year. The film has an incredibly slow but compelling pace, in part due to the fact that the film is a remake of a film that was adapted from a 1955 play. But director Terrance Davies manages to execute the authenticity of the time and place (post WWII London) convincingly.
But the story is largely about love, or the lack thereof, and features Weisz in an almost Sylvia Plath “Bell Jar” role, despondent, but with a sliver of hope shining faintly. She is married to a rich older man, but this gives way to an affair with a much younger but volatile man. For people looking for an upbeat feel good film, this is not the one, but “The Deep Blue Sea” harkens back to an older more formal kind of filmmaking.
13) Marley – Dir. Kevin McDonald (Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff)
Who doesn’t love Bob Marley? Maybe there are two other artists in the history of rock music who are as universally loved as he is, but oddly most people know almost nothing about how he started and how his life ended. Although this is not a film that shines a particularly bright light on the mind and soul of Marley, it does a more than adequate job of outlining the basic details of his life, all set to a wonderful soundtrack of rarities and hits.
Directed capably by Kevin McDonald, “Marley” features interviews with friends, family, band mates and business associates, concert footage, and rare photos. It is a delight to revisit Marley as a younger man making his way, and then established, and then dealing with a fatal illness. There are no real revelations here, but I’m not sure there need to be.
14) The Sessions – Dir. Ben Lewin (John Hawkes, Helen Hunt)
When I saw “The Sessions” at Sundance last year, it was called “The Surrogate.” I loved it for many reasons, but mostly because it was the combination of the fact that it was based on a true story and because of the blunt courage of the actors. In it, the great John Hawkes plays a man trapped in an iron lung for most of his life, and his relationship with a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt, is easily the finest performance of her career.
Although much of the film involves quite graphic and awkward sex between the two, the film really revolves about the relationship they develop over the course of their sessions. In an age increasingly divorced from actual human contact (Facebook, Twitter), watching two people interact as intimately as this, reminds us how important it is to be alive and living in the physical world.
15) Silver Linings Playbook – Dir. David O. Russell (Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper)
It is hard to see this film without lofty expectations unless you’ve been hiding under a rock. That said David O. Russell, manages to take what could have been a painfully cliché mass dramedy and turn it into a near perfect romantic comedy. Bradley Cooper’s manic lead is spot on, as a recovering bi-polar former teacher looking to restart his life from his parents’ blue collar Philadelphia home.
Ripping what seems like a page from Frederick Exley’s brilliant novel “A Fan’s Notes,” DeNiro plays the football obsessed patriarch (although his team is the Eagles, not the Giants) and delivers his best performance in years. As good as Cooper is though, Jennifer Lawrence is adorable and more importantly, believable as the girl who will help him start again. This film won’t hurt your brain, but is very easy to swallow, and makes you smile throughout.
16) The Master – Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (Joachin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman) You will either love or loath this film about the leader of a Scientology-like cult, and one of his rabid followers. More sheer power from PT Anderson.
17)Bernie – Dir. Richard Linklater (Jack Black, Shirley McLaine). Off character brilliance from Jack Black as a small town mortician caught up in murder and winding weirdly towards something genuinely original.
18) Looper – Dir. Rian Johnson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt). The mind-bending “Looper” sends assassins from the past into the future to kill, and then dispose of bodies in the past.Yup, awesome even for non-sci-fiers.
19) Amour – Dir. Michael Haneke (Jean-Louis Trintignant,Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Riva) The story of two retired music teachers and their daughter who re-enters their life when it flips it upside down.
20) Arbitrage – Dir. Nicolas Jarecki (Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth) This wonderfully topical film about a loathsome hedge fund master of the universe whose world is crumbling around him.
21) Sleepwalk With Me – Dir. Mike Birbiglia (Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose) A breezy little romantic comedy starring an incredibly lovable aspiring comedian and the incredible girlfriend who for some reason still loves him.
22) Dark Horse – Dir. Todd Solandz (Selma Blair, Christopher Walken) Another painfully sad suburban tale of loneliness and longing from the indie sad sap Solandz. Heartbreakingly hilarious.
23) Oslo, August 31 – Dir. Joachim Trier (Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner) As stark and patient a film as you are likely to see, also as bleak and depressing as you are likely to watch.
This year, building a music discovery platform called @TastemakerX, I was looking harder than usual at new music. I was doing this primarily to prove my thesis that music discovery is becoming increasingly more difficult. This is due in part to the enormous decrease in the costs of producing and distributing music, thanks in part to technology (for production) and the internet (for distribution). As a result there is much more music being produced than ever before and, not surprisingly, it is nearly impossible to stay on top of it all. You’d think that the internet would have solved this problem, but algorithms don’t turn people onto music, people do, and for the most part digital music hasn’t been very social up to now. With that said, this has been another stellar year for music. You should make a point to try it all.
I didn’t pay much attention to Angus & Julia Stone last year, so when I stumbled in to see Angus playing a gig supporting his new solo album I was woefully unprepared. As history will prove, I am a sucker for the warm modern but nostalgic music of today’s bearded neo-hippie indie folk scene (Fleet Foxes, Head and the Heart, Midlake). “Broken Brights” is far and away the album that has stuck with me most deeply.
Although, Stone is an Aussie, the 13 songs on this record are cut crisply from 70’s Americana lore. There are all sorts of obvious reference points from Neil Young (“Bird and the Buffalo”) to Dylan (“Monsters”) but there is nothing merely derivative here. The band, which features a lovely assortment of strings, brass, guitar and banjo, is just sublime. Every year there is one that raises above all others, and this year it is Angus Stone. This is that warm, woody music that will never feel out of time or place. Read more about Angus Stone
Some music just gets under your skin. Alt-J is an acquired taste but once you turn onto it it sticks hard - like the first Violent Femmes record for a dated example. “An Awesome Wave” is a delicate, textured experiment in genre bending rock. There are quiet pianos, and soulful vocals, that come across almost like B-sides from a Windham Hill record juxtaposed with songs held together by a broad smattering of loops, blips, and drum lines that bounce around like bare feet on hot pavement.
A bit like Zappa filtered through a lava lamp, but every song here is sliced from the same pie in an impeccably produced series of soundscapes as potent as anything this year. From the edgy and beautiful “Dissolve Me” and “Fitzpleasure” to the pristine balladry on “Mathilda” or “Bloodflood.” Like Django Django, Alt-J runs the modern history of rock through a psychedelic sieve and comes up multi-colored roses. Read more about Alt-J
As much as I love mellow countrified indie rock, my other real musical love is for groove based new wave music. This includes almost any music that probably uses the Velvet Underground as a starting point, passing through Pink Floyd en route to Radiohead. Django Django is one of two bands that broke through using that blueprint this year (the other being Alt-J).
The band is another in a series of great Scottish bands (The Beta Band, Hot Chip) that fuse incredibly catchy songwriting with approachable electronica. “Django Django” is a relentlessly upbeat album (“Default” and “Hail Bop”) although it is more light bursting through the shadows than beach music. It’s hard to resist the toe tapping beats, and bite sized chorus’ throughout, and they rarely give you time to catch your breath. Read more about Django Django
Polica’s singer Channy Leaneagh, a former member of Minneapolis supergoup Gayngs, and starring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, is a legit star. Just watching her move on stage is something else, and then she starts to sing. On tracks like “Lay Your Cards Outs” and “Dark Star” you fall immediately into the smoothest grooves, with the double drum tracks steering gently towards something on a hazy horizon.
I first saw Polica at SXSW in 2012. I knew almost nothing about them, but the music felt immediately recognizable yet brand new. Like a torch passed from the great female vocalists from the 90’s (Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Frazier, and Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards), trip hop it seems is again alive and well. Read more about Polica
Although it’s fair to describe “Swing Lo Magellan” as the Projectors most “accessible” album to date, it is still a challenging record. “Swing Lo Magellan” is truly a brilliant accomplishment: complicated, melodic, harmonious, discordant, catchy, and somber. It is the most unique “pop” record of the year by a city mile, bathed in lush instrumentation and Ivy League lyrics.
The band is the brainchild of Yale dropout David Longstreth, and what is most distinctive about Dirty Projectors music is both the ridiculously difficult guitar lines and tunings, and the incredible transitions. In the end what we get is a collage of sweet discovery (“Swing Lo Magellan” and “Impregnable Question”) mixed with strange pop incarnations like “Dance With You” and “About to Die.” It is a weird and wonderful joy. Read more about Dirty Projectors
Not since the 70’s masterpieces by Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes, Rodriguez (and others), has there been a record this soulful and authentic. Kiwanuka is a 24 year old Brit with a voice as smooth as anything you are likely to hear. Discovered by The Bees Paul Butler, himself a musical revivalist, “Home Again” is an album of anachronistic magic, and old-fashioned modern soul.
Kiwanuka originally imagined himself primarily as a guitarist, but on instant classics like “Tell Me Take” and “I’ll get Along” you hear Hendrix filtered through Van Morrison, silky and smooth. The production and instrumentation is a perfect compliment to the truly special magic that happens on “Home Again.” It doesn’t get much better. Read more about Michael Kiwanuka
I remember the first time I saw Jeff Buckley live, solo and plugged into a small amp at Sin-é Café on St. Marks in NYC. I had heard the tapes, but to see him live was to get the context that made it all make sense. I feel the same way about Sharon Van Etten. She is a blossoming genius with a heavenly voice, hugely personal lyrics and a presence that is both surprisingly whimsical yet profoundly intense.
Some artists write beautiful lyrics or music, others have voices like angels or devils, while others bleed passion and genius across a complete spectrum. But the very best of them transport us to a totally new place, they get hold of us and don’t let go until the last chord is strummed, the last lyric falls, leaving us longing for more. Sharon Van Etten is that rare combination of raw honesty and accessible emotion. Three albums into what will hopefully be a long career, Van Etten, has found a middle ground between the precious, raw and spare “We Are Fine” and the straight forward rock ““Serpents”. I’m in love. Read more about Sharon Van Etten
8) Foxygen – Take The Kids Off Broadway (Jagjaguar)
When two kids about a third the age of their apparent idols: Bowie, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, and Nick Cave, reinterpret the 70’s, the result will either be disastrous or incredible. “Take The Kids Off Broadway” is a brilliant breezy trip to the past channeled through something uniquely modern. If Wes Anderson were looking to score his movies with modern artists, Foxygen would be his house band.
On tunes like “Waitin’ 4 U” you are hurled back into a Stonesy state of mind, and a moment later on “Make it Known” it is more like David Johansen’s New York Dolls swagger. For most people born after 1965, this whole era of music was missed completely, which is a tragedy. Thanks to bands like MGMT and Foxygen, dirty, dirgy rock music is alive and well again. Read more about Foxygen
Australia’s Tame Impala is an old school, big time psychedelic rock band. From the very first chords on “Lonerism” (the sublime “Got to Be above It’) you feel transported back to an epic Pink Floyd show from an age long gone. Most of the band members were born a decade after “The Wall” but with a breadth of keys, swirling guitars and a steady baseline, everything just falls neatly into place despite the controlled cacophony.
To see the band live is to re/experience what a rock show used to be like: extended jams, trippy lights, and long improvisational moments of musical theater. Songs like “Elephant” thump and thud with an irresistible hard rock beat, while much of the rest of this minor masterpiece reflects the past through a two way mirror into the future. Read more about Tame Impala
Like the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear aspires to something well beyond conventional rock music. Their musical abilities have finally caught up with their ambition. Alternating between precious and raucous, the band refuses to play it straight and instead chooses a stranger road paved with unexpected transitions and odd tunings.
Occasionally they make it easy on the listener with tunes like “Yet Again” and “Gun Shy,” which seem to glide on a careful pop structure, filled with crystalline vocals exchanged among the band’s multiple vocalists. Other times they tend to push you into an entirely different direction, as in “Sleeping Ute,” where the melodies explode into a wall of sound. “Shields” is a magical place, filled with magical players and sounds. Read more about Grizzly Bear
Frank Ocean’s music is way outside my sweet spot, but it is impossible to deny how good this record is. I suppose it’s broadly R&B, slow jam style, but it is the lyricism that makes much of the difference. Like Stevie in his heyday, Ocean glides through this 17 track classic, bending genres but cohesive throughout.
The clear single “Thinkin Bout You” best showcases his smooth delivery and commitment to telling real stories, but the rest of the album is quite a bit subtler. The nearly ten minute “Pyramids” is something different entirely, with a few songs that bleed into each with some contemplative guitar solos punctuating transitions. Ultimately, I’ll usually go the soul and folk route when I want a vibe like this, but this is something entirely different and oddly new. Read more about Frank Ocean
It was only a matter of time before the space that the Black Keys reopened for rock and blues loving indie rock lovers, began to be filled by a blues rock revival that would eventually find its way into the mainstream. Alabama Shakes is a four piece Southern rock band lead by the incredible Brittany Howard, a former postal worker turned rock goddess.
From the initial chords on the signature track “Hold On,” the band channels the Allman Brothers through Janis Joplin, bringing together a few of the most uniquely authentic American musical styles: blues, rock and country. Sure, perhaps the music hype machine has placed insurmountable expectations on this band, but in an age of computer music, it sure is nice to hear the real deal. Read more about Alabama Shakes
I have loved Hansard since his debut in “The Commitments” eons ago, and throughout a half dozen beautifully emotive Frames albums. But it was the film “Once” and the beautiful collaboration with Marketa Irglova as The Swell Season that finally brought Hansard to the quasi mainstream.
“Ryhthm and Repose” is another bitter sweet masterpiece by one of the finest songwriters since Astral Weeks era Van Morrison. Hansard wears his heart on his sleeve, but does so in such a genuine way it is hard to judge “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” as anything other than the best love song of the year. To see Hansard live, strumming his tattered acoustic guitar, is to understand again how powerful live music like this can be. Read more about Glen Hansard
Lush, orchestral, and deadly serious. Beach House has evolved from almost too sleepy and precious early on, to a band who creates some of the biggest warmest, songs on the planet. In fact this album is so good, it almost seems too obvious to include. After the epic “Teen Dream” a few years back, you had to wonder where they would go next and what they would do. The answer is, they didn’t move very far, but it was just the right amount.
Led by the other-worldly vocals of Victoria Legrand, “Bloom” is an overall optimistic affair with tracks like “Myth,” “Other People,” and “Lazuli” all thrusting you into some weightless space adventure, drifting calmly about the stars, gravity all but gone, like listening to a dream. Read more about Beach House
Gary Clark is a guitar savant in the same mold as Hendrix. He plays blues, R&B, crunchy roots based guitar rock, and even a bit of hip-hop. This is a blessing and curse. I almost wish he covered less ground, or at least compartmentalized the styles better. He has the unique power to take you on many journeys but they tend to meander mightily.
Although it’s impossible to translate what he does live to a recording, there is no real solution for this, and part of the reason this album doesn’t track higher for me. Like the Black Keys, this is loud in your face old school American rock music (see “When My Train Pulls In”) and the album tracks are merely appetizers for the live main course. A musician like this appears only once in the bluest moon, so make sure you check it out. Read more about Gary Clark Jr.
16) Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams (IAMSound) Luscious, alterna-country-folk,from LA-based Michigan transplant Ben Schneider. Half the record is as gorgeous as anything you heard this year, echos of Fleet Foxes and Palace Brothers abound. Read more about Lord Huron
17) Husky– So Far (Sub Pop). Like Australia’s version of Rogue Wave, Husky makes perfect pop music. It is a sound drenched with a soulful optimism - a kind new wave revision of 70’s era California rock. Read more about Husky
18) Lower Dens- Nootropics (Ribbon Music). Weirdly and transcendently gorgeous, like Beach House on Xanax, Baltimore’s Lower Dens spin deep mellow grooves. Read more about Lower Dens
19) Cloud Nothings– Attack on Memory (Carpark Records). Like many of the eclectic Ohio rock bands before them (GBV, Pere Ubu) Cloud Nothings play straight forward punk rock from a wonderfully wholesome place. Read more about Cloud Nothings
20) Japandroids– Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl). Not since the Glory days of SST, with Husker Du, Buffalo Tom and Dinosaur Jr. has there been a committed punk rock band this melodic and soulful. Read more about Japandroids
22) Miike Snow - Happy to You (ATO). Swedish pop phenoms Miike Snow combines all the elements of what is great about electronica music but with an orchestra of beautiful voices. Read more about Miike Snow
24)Cat Power– Sun (Matador). Chan Marshall is a emotional open book, and “Sun” is perhaps her sunniest most pop-oriented effort, written in a post break up haze, that glows brighter than anything since her classic “The Greatest.” Read more about Cat Power
25)Here We Go Magic - A Different Ship (Secretly Canadian). This is an impeccably produced, impossible to pinpoint, amalgam of indie goodness, filled with jangly guitars, trance like vocals, and the deep colorful grooves that make it impossible to resist standing still. Read more about Here We Go Magic
26) Grimes - Visions (4AD). Blissed out ethereal vocals, mixed with unshakable beats, and the genuine artistic glow from Canadian Claire Boucher = something truly special. Read more about Grimes
27) Woods – Bend Beyond (Woodist). Folk pop preciousness from another of the great Brooklyn bands, that mixes moments of Ween with that of something much more homespun. Read more about Woods
28) Chromatics – Kill For Love (Italians Do It Better). It’s hard to not fall immediately for the unassuming beats and melt-in-your-mouth vocals of Ruth Radelet - that plus the best Neil Young cover of all time (“Into The Black”). Read more about Chromatics
The beginning of the end of the beginning. I guess that’s where we are today, a year’s worth of making, iterating, reformulating, and building out what we hope is becoming the most robust social music discovery platform on the web.
In the last few months we have been evolving TastemakerX to include quite a bit more information about artists and the tastemakers who care about them. Our goal from the beginning was to point people to music they wouldn’t otherwise know about. We do this through a combination of things people do directly and the signals produced through buying and selling.
This new evolution now includes:
Artist Music & Videos
A completely redesigned Artist profile which now provides the ability to listen to and watch content from Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube. Because there are a bunch of incredible ways to listen music, we want to make sure you select the platform you prefer. Stay tuned for more of your favorite listening choices in the future.
More Artist Information
Artist pages also include real-time tweets from authenticated artist twitter accounts, artist news, TastemakerX activity and artist charts. Each page will now allow you to click directly through to the artist’s Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and Wikipedia page as well in case you want to dig deeper.
Enhanced 1-Year Artist Graphs
With regards to historical charts, we have known from the beginning that a one week chart only tells part of the story, so our new charts will now look back up to a year. If you want to know what has happened to bands like Of Monsters and Men, Alabama Shakes, Frank Ocean and others, this chart tells the story pretty succinctly.
Connect with people & their tunes
We have redesigned the player pages as well so that it’s easier to find people connected to you and listen to their personalized Spotify playlists based on their portfolios. We have also made it easier to invite friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter to TastemakerX and get credit for doing so.
New Monthly Artist Charts
We’ve also rolled out new monthly charts of the most popular (by number of trades) and most up and coming Artists (by number of shares purchased) in our ecosystem. You could call these our Artist leaderboards :)
An updated iPhone App
We’ve made a bunch of improvements and bug fixes to the iPhone app to make it faster and more usable. Most notably, we’ve enhanced the iPhone5 compatibility, improved the Social Login flows with Facebook & Twitter, and made the trade flow faster. Download our App now.
Collections are coming…
We have been listening very closely to what you have to say and after a long series of interactions and conversations, over the next few months we will be changing a bit of the language on TastemakerX. Portfolio’s are becoming “Collections,” shares are becoming “Records,” and users will be “Adding” and “Removing” records from their collections. This has always been a deep internal debate for us. The stock market mechanic is pretty easy for most people to grok, but it does come with quite a bit of unnecessary negative baggage. By early next year, you will begin to see your “Collection” visualized in a completely different way.
A little Something Extra…
Over the next few months we will be putting the finishing touches on TastemakerX V.1 and a handful of secret projects. Until then enjoy our current mix: TastemakerX V.11 “Indian Summer”
Thanks again for your loyal usage, and please invite your fellow music loving friends to join! Remember, the more people that play the sharper the signal, the better we are able to surface what is happening.
Fall's here & we've got a huge update for you with Spotify, Songkick, Achievements & a new Player Profile (oh my)
We wanted to thank you all for continuing to make the TastemakerX platform an active place to spend time discovering new music and like minded music fans. It’s important to remember that we are still working feverishly to finish what we originally set out to do, so we appreciate your patience throughout. Believe us, we can’t wait to get there!
Over the next few months you will begin to see the things evolving to be much more social and personal. The new version of the website has some killer new features that we hope will make it easier and more productive to spend real time listening to the music you are discovering and connecting more directly to the people turning you on to the best new stuff.
In addition to a better faster experience, we have:
integrated the SpotifyPlay Button into the website so that you can kick back and listen to the artists you find charting or through your individual feed
woven in Songkick concert listings, so that you don’t miss your fav band playing in your backyard
rolled out a new and & improved Player profile to make it easier to find other like minded fans to follow and engage with
rebuilt the Achievements from the ground up so you will be able to earn more Notes and accolades by just being active, and also added a Daily Interest bonus so play every day to keep earning Notes!
Every day we add more artists to the platform long before they hit any radar through the player base. So far you all have picked up every signal imaginable to send an artist trending: new release, tour announcement, festival slot, untimely passing, etc. The more active you all are the better we become at surfacing the artists as they bubble up. Remember to invite your friends to join to make things even more social.
Next month, among other things, we’ll be launching the first ever Fantasy Music platform as well so that you can throw down in a league to see how good you are at finding the next big thing, or just have some quality TastemakerX time with just your closest buds.
Again, we wouldn’t be here without you. The ride is only beginning. Enjoy some free notes on us using code THEFALL (redeemable in your Settings on the website, or in the Me section of the App), and have a listen to the latest TastemakerX playlist: TastemakerX V.8 “Summer’s Over”
Like Beach House on Xanax, Baltimore’s Lower Dens spins deep mellow grooves build on the beautifully androgynous vocals of Jana Hunter and the metronomic drum and bass lines. The ten songs here crash like gentle waves and then build into tightly spun futuristic dreamscapes. Weirdly and transcendently gorgeous.
2) Glen Hansard – Rhythm and Repose
I have been loving Hansard since his debut in the Commitments eons ago, and throughout a half dozen handful of beautifully emotive Frames albums. But it was the film “Once” and the beautiful collaboration with Marketa Irglova as The Swell Season that finally brought Hansard to the quasi mainstream. “Ryhthm and Repose” is another bittersweet masterpiece by one of the finest songwriters since Astral Weeks era Van Morrison.
3) DIIV – Oshin
I have a sweet spot for 80’s new wave music as I spent much of that period in my room reading Option and Spin Magazine, and drunk on Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order. DIIV, the side project from Beach Fossils Zach Smith, revisits that period with impeccable precision. Old wave for a new generation.
4) Friends - Manifest!
It’s been quite a while since I can remember a record as funky and beat laden as Friends debut “Manifest!’ In fact you could argue that the last band to channel this specific energy was Luscious Jackson. Singer Samantha Urbani has unearthed the sounds of Summer from the mean streets of Brooklyn, and in the process has put the East Coast on the same planet as Best Coast.
5) The Lumineers – The Lumineers
I am a sucker for earthy Americana indie folk bands. To that end, this summer’s answer to Fleet Foxes, Dawes, and The Head and the Heart, is Colorado’s Lumineers. These guitar-based rustic balladeers flirt dangerously with being overly sentimental, but I won’t hold it against them.
6) Young Magic – Melt
The Aussie/Malay Brooklyn transplants Young Magic mine the bins for eclectic relics and in the process channel MBV’s “Loveless” but mash it up with a more tribal Yeasayer vibe. The band’s dreamy angular world music drifts here and there, but eventually ends up under your skin in the best possible way.
7) Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship
Over half of the bands I am obsessed lately seem to be from Brooklyn. The best of which have to be Here We Go Magic. The impeccably produced “A Different Ship” is an impossible to pinpoint amalgam of indie goodness. There are jangly guitars, trance-like vocals, and deep colorful grooves that make it impossible to resist standing still.
8) Husky – Forever So
Like Australia’s version of Rogue Wave, Husky makes perfect pop music. It is a sound drenched with a soulful optimism. Like a new wave revision of 70’s era California rock, singer Husky Gawenda has a voice like a hipster angel and the band accompanies with just right balance of orchestral goodness.
9) Hospitality – Hospitality
I guess I’ve been a girl singer kind of mood these days. Hospitality is a band that asks very little of you, but gives you so much so easily. They write slender pop songs about everyday life, cut from the same cloth as Camera Obscura and Allo Darlin’. The bright and approachable vocals of Amber Papini, carry an otherwise straight forward indie pop sensibility into another strata.
10) Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Every once and a while you need a straight up rock record, with giant guitar riffs accompanied by melodious punk ballardry (think mid-career Husker Du, or select Hold Steady). Although Japandroids have been making music for five years, “Celebration Rock” is exactly that, and tribute to all that has come before it and all that will hopefully follow. Put the top down and play loudly.
I’ve been going to Coachella for many years now and I have also been to almost every other festival of its kind, but somehow Coachella is different. In many ways, depending how you play it and like all great festivals, Coachella can be a genuinely spiritual experience. It is not just about the groove of any individual set, but the overall vibe of the festival that continues on a beautiful three-day loop. First, the painted-desert surrounded by exposing mountain views cultivates a surreal dream-like state. Then there’s Coachella’s programming that for certain kinds of music fans (i.e. indie rock, electronica, and certain flavors of hip-hop), there’s just no comparison.
Other festivals cater to different musical preferences. Bonnaroo and Outside Lands favors rootsier rosters. JazzFest speaks for itself and draws an eclectic crowd. The ACL and Lollapalooza line-ups appeal to broader audiences whereas smaller festivals like Picthfork and Sasquatch are hyper-focused on the indie hardcore. There’s even Ultra and Electric Daisy that focus on electronic and dance. It’s all good because regardless of what people prefer, it’s just important that they see live music, whatever the flavor, as often as possible.
The resurgence of musical festivals in the US is worth noting because of three major cultural drivers. First, there is a desire for like-minded people to converge into communities and experience their passions ‘together’ despite the connected yet impersonal society we live in (see Sherry Turkles’ “Connected, but alone?” talk at the TED conference this year).
Second, efficient and popular social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and, the subject of my last year’s Coachella update, Instagram (now Facebook) enable artists to communicate with fans. For the first time ever, indie musicians are using social media to build massive followings and reach audiences that would have been impossible 5 years ago.
Finally, landmark changes to the amenities have altered the overall experience of these outdoor gatherings. Music festivals have evolved into legitimate cultural events complete with diverse food options (Korean BBQ, a poutine truck, and fish tacos), ever-creative art installations, and a mass convergence of the creative class.
So, it’s clear that people need, crave and want events like Coachella to look forward to and organize around. They want to drop out of real life and immerse themselves in a different world for three glorious days. But these same people, now hooked on the most potent drug in the world - the internet, “expect” to be able to publish all of their experiences to the broader virtually-connected world and in real time. But just when the urge to share seems strongest, you notice one bar on your phone and the moment passes without a chirp. We’re all accustomed to the sea of bright “fail notices” pulsing brightly from smartphones during concerts and festivals. Mobile users are now accustomed to their favorite apps failing at large events - Foursquare, Instragram, Twitter, and our own TastemakerX Music app struggle with this and just when you want to use them.
Perhaps if festivals weren’t the ripest place on earth to harvest legitimately interesting content, photos, videos, deep thoughts, shallow thoughts, occasional moments for real clarity, it would be easier to accept, but we now have these amazing apps, so not being able to use them is frustrating, preoccupying and time seemingly tragic. As much as we’d like to just blame AT&T for incompetency, the problem, although addressable, is also a non-trivial task. It’s a complex problem and one hand, deprives the world of incredible content and on the other, spares us from a mountain of banality. Either way, one thing is clear: we live in a world where people want and need to share.
And so it begins. Coachella 2012 began Friday afternoon with youthful Dinosaur Jr. revivalists Yuck, playing a tight homage to past and present. Coachella’s trademark juxtaposition of old and new is always interesting, so one must see James for a song or two to see how they have held up, and they did just fine. And then there was the groovy chill wave of Neon Indian playing to the kind of crowd that signals this band will only get bigger, hipsters shaking there hips and head in uniform synchronicity. Next to the throwback guitar genius of Gary Clark Jr., whose Hendrix meets Shuggie Otis and Stevie Ray Vaughn in 2012 energy neutralizes the pounding deep house directly next store. Some artists are born rock stars, and others will it into existence. Gary Clark has a bit of both. This bleeds right into a few tracks from one of the last living reggae legends- Jimmy Cliff, decked out in a gold suit and sounding as smooth as ever despite his 64 years. “The Harder They Come” has never sounded better.
The strongest back-to-back sets of the festival commenced with the ethereal modernism of Girls, a near genius SF band who mixes the pop songwriting of Elvis Costello with the introspective intensity of VU. Next up, the bright and beautiful Americana rock of Dawes, accessible like Jackson Brown, while still edgy enough to appeal to critical fans. Also performing was Wu Lyf, the raspy, percussive Manchester new-wavers with the growl of Tom Waits and the dark energy of Joy Division. Shivering in the desert night, Pulp played nostalgically to a large crowd, followed by Mazzy Star who performed their first live set in over a decade blissfully into the night. The Black Keys sucked most of the festival towards the main stage as they pounded out bluesy rock tune after bluesy rock tune (which they single handedly resuscitated back into the mainstream).
But Coachella is as much about serendipity as anything else so the mind-blowing instrumentals of Explosions In the Sky, just kind of happen as you drift from stage to stage following the magnetic energy. Occasionally, bands are assigned to stages they have already outgrown, as was the case with M83 where crowds spilled mightily out of the tent. The rest of the evening belonged to Swedish House Mafia, where massive beats pounding to what seemed like the whole festival.
With the threat of rain now over and despite temperatures colder than I can remember, this was one of the best single Coachella days in quite a while. The soft jazz indie music of Destroyer was the perfect way to reenter the day, followed by the Brit wave rockers, The Big Pink, who pick up a bit where Coldplay left off after “Parachutes.” This was followed by the old school rock of Grace Potter, and the much-heralded reunion of fIREHOSE. Then things got serious. The Head and the Heart, still my favorite band of 2011, just keeps getting better before my eyes (it’s a good sign when everybody in the crowd knows every word to every song). Kaiser Chiefs played during the last bit of warm sun, and proved to be perfect music for the yoga session my posse spontaneously started on the grass beside me. Andrew Bird’s orchestral pop-smithing bled nicely into the sublime folk of Laura Marling, who at 22, sings with remarkable old soul wisdom.
The much anticipated set featuring Neutral Milk Hotel (aka Jeff Mangum) was on an outdoor stage that was too big and too late in the day, but he’s still a genius. St. Vincent, an art-rock goddess who exists between Bjork and PJ Harvey, ripped into a swirling frenzy while, on the main stage, The Shins played to a crowd acquainted with almost every lyric. Feist played up against Bon Iver, the folkie from nowhere to Grammy-winning savant. Iver performed one of the most blissful sets of the festival, well beyond the preciousness he exudes in the studio. Yet despite a day filled with incredible, passionate, inspired, creative music, it quickly became evident that there’s everybody and then there is Radiohead. No live band on the planet touches the intensity, complexity, and range as they do. Really.
My first show of the day was Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, big mountains of seminal Afrobeat under and blazing son from Fela’s youngest son. Santigold ripped away at her infectious genre-defying blend of punk, dance, electronica on the main stage next door. In some ways, one of my favorite sets of the weekend was the blissful dreamy guitar rock of Real Estate because it gave me an excuse to merely sway rather than dance after I had found some shade. Phone cameras were snapping mightily but the web was nowhere to be found. Fitz and The Tantrums played a typically upbeat set while Wild Flag proved, once again, that girls totally rock. Thundercat’s Afro-funk jammed and was the logical primer for Parliament/P-Funk.
It’s not often, but occasionally Coachella “miss-stages” acts but validating how good they are and the pace at which this band blew up (thanks to “Somebody That I Used to Know,”) the crowd at Gotye was massive. Every year there’s a band like this. Last year it was Foster The People. Beirut was brilliant with Balkan brass blazing, real instruments bumping up against the distant sounds of Girl Talk, blasting into the night. My favorite electronic show was DJ Shadow who mixed his signature genre bending beats with a guest shot from Zach de la Rocha. By the time Snoop and Dre hit the stage with their Tupac hologram, I was done.
As all this occurred in the Indio Valley, people could watch the YouTube live stream from their homes. At one point, the audience peaked at hundreds of thousands of people from around the world watching the festival in real-time. This virtual audience is growing exponentially every year and I believe it’s a very good thing. Music is inherently social and intensely personal. For some, the festival is purely social, with music as the backdrop. For me, it is all about music, from beginning to end, genre to genre, all day and all night. But like the web, to fully experience the right parts of the festival you need a Sherpa. Someone or some way to better know what you need to see. Social platforms are one way, but as I mentioned, they are tough to use in highly populated and bandwidth constrained environments. I know this will change, and for the sake of TastemakerX, Soundtracking and other platforms best used at live events, I hope it happens soon.
In the end the chance to spend 3 days, wandering from stage to stage, in the presence of genius, show after show many times over is an enormous privilege. You are showered in song and surrounded by the pure joy that music inspires in people. It is easy to forget how many people love the music you love, until you stand in tents and around stages with thousands of people wearing the same immensely satisfied smile on their faces as they are transcended at least for a moment into a completely different place.
When I look back at my life and choose the one thing that has mattered the most and defined me as a person, without question it would be music. I’m not sure when it started but somehow, imagined or real, I have this vague but powerful image of myself as a child riffling through the records housed in an antique armoire belonging to my parents and stumbling upon the curious cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I asked my father to drop the needle on the record, and within moments my life changed. The scratchy, groove worn melodies began to flow from the old speakers right into the rest of my life. I was transfixed, or so I imagine it to have been.
Ever since that day, music was the one thing I could always depend on. Music is a drug, any drug you need it to be at any given time: Prozac, ecstasy, aspirin, vicodin, dopamine, or caffeine. Despite the fact that taken in the right doses it is often habit forming, music is not a pill. Those familiar sounds carry with it memories, the times and places all but forgotten, triggered by a few notes or choruses. It transports you back to great loves, crippling breakups, perfect summer nights, endless road trips, or the birth of a child. There is nothing in this world that even comes close to the associative power carried in song.
Beginning with REM’s “Chronic Town,” the mournful optimism of anything by the The Smiths, Nick Drake’s gorgeous “Bryter Layter,” Jeff Buckley’s heroic “Grace,” Neutral Milk Hotel’s astonishing “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea,” Midlake’s soulful “The Trials of Van Occupanther,” to the blissful eponymous Fleet Foxes debut, these are a few of the records that comprise the soundtrack of my life. Everyone has one but most people they don’t play theirs enough.
The first thing I did after getting my drivers license, was drive 30 miles to Cleveland to a record store that was light years better than the one in my small Ohio town, or the chain store in the nearby mall. This was a ritual that continued until recently when I finally relented and began to embrace that infinite record store in the sky. These trips were literally journeys towards self-discovery. The vinyl and CD fruits of each of these voyages changed my life a little bit every time.
There are also those incredibly transcendent moments when you find yourself standing before a stage of musicians who are so completely in the moment, so at ease with each other and the crowd before them. If I were religious, I suppose these moments would be those moments. You are somehow transported to a different, better place, at least for a short period.
My eldest child has been sick for years. When I look back at how I have dealt with the helplessness that I have felt there are only two things that helped me get through it: the smile he wears so effortlessly and music. I have no idea what else I would turn to in its place. Somehow the two together have helped me see life in a different way than I could have possibly expected.
But music is also a game. For some it is the game of “I discovered that band first.” This is ammunition of hours and hours of spirited debate. For others it is the game of trying to figure out another person, and steering them towards that perfect record that they didn’t know existed. There is no better feeling than turning someone on to that album that might change his or her life, or at least brighten a day. The best part of the game of music is that it never ends. Every day there is another great band or album to discover. For every current artist there is a new record or tour to look forward to someday.
And so, after four decades of trying to fit a passion into a profession, TastemakerX will launch, beta warts and all. It’s a game about music, for anybody who cares about music, or wishes that he or she still had time to stay tuned in like they did when they were young. If I were a doctor at the top of the list of daily musts, along with fruits and vegetables, I’d prescribe at least one uninterrupted song a day or one album a week listened to front to back, away from the internet, just the music playing. It doesn’t matter what you choose, music is a kind of food for your soul. Just listen intently, voraciously and to as much as you can.