What I’m Hearing, Vol. 1

How do you organize yourself and your music listening when you add somewhere between 50 and 150 songs, MixMatchMusic style, to your collection every month? That was the issue confronting me at the beginning of this year as I reflected on 2007 and saw that sometimes my iPod updates and music purchases (yes, I still purchase music) were erratic and not organized to the best possible use. With that in mind, I concocted a new system this year. As I add songs throughout a month to the library, they stay there. At the end of the month, I organize several playlists…album specific lists that are titled “A: Artist-Album,” and an overall update titled “A: Month Update” that includes all songs added since the last update. Then, at some point during the month, the new playlists go onto the iPod, and the old ones are retitled “B:” which keeps the newest stuff at the top of the playlist while also retaining the older updates further down the line.

As it isn’t always possible to do an album review for every one I pick up, and I get some amazing music in the course of a month, I’ve decided it might be beneficial and fun for all if I start a monthly post, “What I’m Hearing,” glossing over and talking about some of the music I’ve been listening to that’s good for your ears. With that in mind, here’s some information about the April iPod Update…

First, I should start by saying that the 80s revival that has been bubbling up for a while now is most decidedly here. I’ve noticed, for the past 8 months or so, a steady and heavy influence of 80s synths, drums and instrumentation coming back to the music scene. And in the past 4 months, I’ve heard an increasing number of groups picking up different styles from the 80s and tweaking them just enough to retain that wistful electronic feel of some of the better songs of the era while omitting some of the more foolish and unlistenable aspects of the original genre.

The Beatles, Let It Be: Sure, it’s an old album, and granted most people think of The Beatles now as that quaint collection they have in their library but rarely get into anymore, but delving back into this late album of the most influential band in history (yes, you read that right), offers quite a few gems that have matured over the years. For a while I thought of Let It Be as the weaker younger brother of the other albums, notably Revolver, Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But hearing these original songs again after so many remakes of most of them (see the I Am Sam soundtrack, Pleasantville soundtrack and others) gives them a fresh perspective. The simplicity of the songwriting meshes perfectly with a group obviously quite comfortable with their musical abilities at this point in their careers. Don’t Sleep On: “I Me Mine,” “Dig a Pony,” and “Two of Us.”

The Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead: This group out of Oregon weaves an electronic feel into songs that delve into Indie and singer/songwriter varieties. On their fourth album, following the near destruction of the lead singer’s vocal chords which prompted him to take time off recording and re-teach himself to sing, the group brings a number of simple and melancholy songs in the style of Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan interspersed with slightly heavier sounds that would have been right at home on the FM airwaves of the mid-80s. Don’t Sleep On: “Hallelujah,” “Broken Afternoon,” and “The Captive Mind.”

Groove Armada, Soundboy Rock: Andy Cato and Tom Findlay sure like to keep us waiting. Released last year, Soundboy Rock was the first full album since 2002’s LoveBox. What I find interesting about dance music, especially full out dance records like this one, is the lag time sometimes associated with it. It’s not like a pop, rap or rock album that hits the radio airwaves, goes viral, makes the summer BBQ playlists and then disappears. More often, solo tracks will gradually seep through the cracks, slowly filtering from listener to listener. While I can’t say I’m a fan of this entire album, some of the songs are just pure energy. Don’t Sleep On: “Soundboy Rock,” “The Things That We Could Share,” and “Love Sweet Sound.”

M83, Saturdays=Youth: For M83’s 5th album, the soundscapes and emotionally taxing lyrics are as blunt as ever. Drifting piano melodies reminiscent of NIN’s Fragile album, eerie synth work that could support the Blade Runner or Risky Business soundtracks and sometimes wailing guitars provide the backdrop for the spoken and lightly sung lyrics of this shoegazing style album. While it’s out there enough to sound fresh, the songs are unmistakably M83, which I wouldn’t recommend for long drives after dark. Don’t Sleep On: “Couleurs,” “We Own the Sky,” and “You Appearing.”

American Princes, Other People: Sometimes, fantastic bands don’t always show up when and how you expect. This group managed to get 3 albums out before I heard of them. While that makes it impossible to compare Other People to their previous work, what you can compare it to is the rest of the current musical landscape. American Princes does an almost unbelievable job of mixing sounds and genres from Police to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bravery to U2, Reggae to easy pop, this album covers it all in a spectrum that allows every song to create a different feeling. An incredible album all the way through with a great depth of lyrical emotion and musical intensity. Don’t Sleep On: “Real Love,” “Wasted Year,” “Watch As They Go,” and “Son of California.”

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours: Australian Cut Copy’s sophomore release is a show-stopper, and in my mind, Other People and In Ghost Colours rule the roost of this particular iPod update. This album has it all, from instrumental wall-of-sound interludes to full out 80s new wave dance songs. The ambient chill sounds of some tracks help to artfully balance the bursting energy of others. This group is an excellent example of what can come of taking the best portions of 80s music and stripping away the garbage. Don’t Sleep On: “Strangers in the Wind,” “Hearts on Fire,” and “Far Away.”

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