Category Archives: music

i’d rather be a hippie than a hipster

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The new album from Grouplove is here, and much like their debut, 2011’s Never Trust a Happy Song, it’s all over the place — in the best way possible. Spreading Rumours, their sophomore effort, is loud, messy, frenetic, and fucking incredible. The jumble of musical styles and obvious references to other musicians seem on paper like they would never work, a blend of reggae, rock, rap, funk, soul, pop, and stomp so audacious that it’s actually quite perfect. It’s impossible to listen to this album without wanting to immediately get up and dance — or have an impromptu solo air band concert on your couch.

I suppose I’m Grouplove’s target audience, since I’m a fan in one way or another of most of the above referenced genres, and I’m a sucker for pomp-and-circumstantial pop. You say bombastic, I say fantastic. And that last sentence pretty perfectly summarizes Spreading Rumours. You’re either going to love this album or start shaking your cane and asking those damn kids to turn that noise down. And that’s okay. I’ll just be in the former camp rocking out.

Going back to the aforementioned blend of style and influences permeating Grouplove’s work, the usual suspects from Never Trust A Happy Song are back for round two on Rumours, including the Pixies (“Raspberry”) and Beach Boys (“Shark Attack” — though really just the acoustic guitar breakdown and harmonies; that track is an explosive surf rock/dancehall concoction that might give even fun fun fun-lovin’ Brian Wilson a headache). Joining them this time around are The Beatles (“Bitin’ the Bullet” — see if you can pick out strains from “A Day in the Life”), the Flaming Lips (“News to Me” sounds eerily similar to “She Don’t Use Jelly”), and Better Than Ezra (“Save the Party For Me,” the album closer, which to my ears echoes BTE album closer “Happy Endings”). “Sit Still” could be a lost collaboration between Feist and En Vogue (can someone make that happen for real?). I’m sure there are many more that will jump out at me in the days and weeks to come.

One of the things I love best about Grouplove’s use of such referencing, both obvious and subtle, is that it doesn’t seem forced. Maybe they meant to write a hook that riffs on Black Francis’s best; maybe they just really enjoy the Pixies and their work is always in mind when writing. Either way, Grouplove has found a way to take their reverence and turn it into something wholly their own. Even the very name of the band (and the title of this post, which comes from a Rumours lyric) implies their free-spirited attitude toward other musicians: it’s a group full of love for other groups.

That statement may be a bit of a reach and a more than a little cheesy, but if Grouplove doesn’t care about unabashed sentiment, then why should I? As they sing on “News to Me”:

And if you’re living for something, that’s something / Yeah, you might have it all.

Looks like Grouplove and I suffer from an embarrassment of riches.

come up for air


I adore Cold War Kids’s debut album, and thanks to my penchant for putting artists’ first releases on a pedestal, I’ve been pretty disappointed with everything they’ve done since. So it was with trepidation that I hit “Play” on the lead single for their new album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, due out in April.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

To call the song “joyous” would be an understatement; it soars, and that persistent plinking piano carries me right up along with it. And while its lyrics certainly convey a melancholy undertone (the song opens with the line, “I was supposed to do great things”), the tune ultimately bears a message of hope, something a lot of us are holding on to after the recent ringing in of the new year.

If “Miracle Mile” is any indication, we’ve got a lot to look forward to, at least from this year’s crop of music. And maybe, just maybe, something more.

i was once a loyal lover


The release of Ben — sorry, Benjamin — Gibbard’s excellent solo album last week got me thinking about how much I used to love Death Cab for Cutie. Not just love — like, LOVE love. (In case it wasn’t clear from that eloquent proclamation, this love blossomed most brightly during my freshman and sophomore years of college.)

I wore out my digital downloads of Transatlanticism tracks, gobbled up Plans as soon as it was released, saw them on tour, and then… things just kind of fell off.* When Narrow Stairs debuted in 2008, I was mildly obsessed with epic eight-minute-plus single “I Will Possess Your Heart,” but I didn’t really care for the other singles, and when a friend lent me a copy of the entire album I just kind of shrugged and the music rolled off, not leaving any sort of strong impression, good or bad.

By the time Codes and Keys came around last year, it was the same story. I liked “You Are a Tourist,” but NPR’s advance stream of the entire album left me cold. I didn’t even bother seeking out a copy until last month, mostly out of guilt at my fairweather fandom. During that same transaction, I also finally got myself The Open Door EP, which I had heard about and wanted to acquire upon its release but for some reason just never purchased.

Wracking my brain for reasons as to why that could be — after all, I had already heard a couple songs off the tiny tracklist and liked them a lot — I looked up the release date, and then realized that its early April 2009 debut was smack dab in the middle of my harried completion of a soul-sucking, time-thieving magazine prototype production project at grad school. So, of course, some things were bound to fall by the wayside, right? I mean, I was barely sleeping, spending hours upon hours in the computer labs staring at slapdash layouts, even making arts and crafts projects in my failed attempt to be a creative art director while also making my life even more difficult than it had to be.

Honestly, sometimes I think my membership in the music fan club should be revoked. Yes, I was beyond busy, but I knew about this EP’s existence, and should have made more of an effort to acquire it. It would have come in handy to have on my Zune for all those long hours in the lab, and probably would have provided a nice respite from the craziness swirling around me, if only for those five tracks.

Rather than regret my musical transgressions, I’m just going to enjoy what I have now — and boy, am I ever. As the chorus goes in this post’s title track: “You can’t even begin to know how many times I’ve told myself, ‘I told you so.'” I still may not be a very loyal fan (I can think of many other bands against whom I’ve committed similar sins, and for that I am sorry), but I’m trying. In this age of  overstimulation and distraction, digital or otherwise, sometimes “better late than never” is the best that you can do.

*Many people will note that I could never have been a true Death Cab fan in the first place since I sort of ignored their earlier releases, which apparently all the cool kids think are really their best work. Fair point. But to give me back some credibility, I do have a handful of illegally downloaded tracks from Something About Airplanes, The Photo Album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords, and even LIKE some of them. But I’m a simple girl with simple tastes and if I don’t care for music I move on, no matter how much I love the band in question. Sorry.

i need you right now

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, adjusting slower than I’d like to my new life as a Midwesterner. And as I’m still without gainful employment, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to contemplate my inner conflict, and thus have been taking every and any opportunity to distract myself, devouring pop culture with a voraciousness I haven’t felt in years.

Enter Howler.

Thanks to stumbling upon a recommendation from Paste, I decided to seek out their debut album (which, yes, came out waaaay back in January, I’m late to the game, blah blah, etc.), and I couldn’t be happier that my wasting time on the internet led me to this band. Mindless link-clicking can be good for the soul, kids.

In the week since America Give Up entered my life, I’ve listed to the album countless times (okay, that’s not entirely true, thanks to Last.fm’s diligence), and its third track has inspired me to hit “repeat” on more occasions than I can recall. I’m not sure the last time I was this obsessed with a single song — maybe December 2008? Either way, I am seriously in love with “This One’s Different.”


It’s difficult to put into words what exactly it is about this track that has me so transfixed. Maybe it’s because the guitar and bass hooks are buoyant and infectious, the delivery is snappy, and the lyrics are dripping with clever turns of phrase, like the narrator declaring that in writing a song, he’ll “put the pen onto the page, let the ink scream along.” I also really dig the Replacements reference in the following couplet:

Paul said, “I could live without your touch if I could die within your reach.”
I say that damn line way too much, like it’s something I have to preach.

Other standout tracks include back-to-back-to-back trio “Told You Once,” “Back of Your Neck,” and “Free Drunk,” though really, the entire album is worth your time (and clocking in around 31 minutes, it’s certainly a short journey to take for such a big reward). I’ve read several reviews comparing these guys to The Strokes, an observation I think is apt, especially when considering their vocal stylings and penchant for fuzzed-out melodies. I’d also venture to say they’re taking some influence from Weezer and the Beach Boys (in addition to the aforementioned Replacements) with their affinity for surf rock, straight-up rock, and tight harmonies, and I am totally on-board with them further exploring that sound on future releases.

As frontman Jordan Gatesmith croons on “This One’s Different,” “When the feeling is there, it’s there.” For me and Howler, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

everybody, put your best suit or dress on


While not technically the new year yet, I couldn’t resist the Death Cab reference. This time of year always brings out the nostalgia in me — as I’m sure it does in just about everyone else, too — and what better time to get sappy and reflective than at the end of this year and on the cusp of the next? I’m pretty sure it’s what the holiday was designed for. (Nevermind the whole changing of the calendar thing.)

Aside from a few mishaps along the way, 2011 was a pretty kickass year, at least in my personal life. My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary in May. My brother got married in June and shortly after found out he and his wife are expecting their first child (baby Claire is due in March, and Aunt Katie can’t wait). My adorable nephew, Dante, turned 1 in November, and after spending some time with him around Christmas I can already tell he’s a brilliant child, if his ability to figure out a toy basketball and hoop after one attempt is any indication. (Scholarship, anyone?)

And of course, the best thing happened in August. After months of planning and planning-related headaches, I married my fantastic, goofy best friend, and four months in, we’re as happy as ever. I don’t want to gush too much (my Facebook friends are more than familiar with my ability to wax poetic about my happiness, sometimes to the detriment of others — apologies for that), but suffice it to say, the day itself was wonderful, and so far, the life we’re building together is pretty great. I’m looking forward to many more years of this fabulous existence with my husband by my side.

I hope to write a more exhaustive end-of-year pop culture recap in the coming days/weeks (I’m currently working on a retrospective music mix, which is taking much longer than anticipated, mostly because I keep coming across new tunes to add to the pile), but for now, let me end this one with a few of the things I enjoyed in 2011:

This commercial • Spontaneous trips to Boston & NYC to visit much-missed friends • Seeing “Starry Night” in person • Bossypants • My first iPod • Dancing to Lady Gaga with my father- and mother-in-law at my brother’s wedding • 50/50 • Randomly discovering new music • Repeatedly singing the chorus of LCD Soundsytem’s “Drunk Girls” with my husband apropos of nothing • Leslie and Ben’s coupling and Ron Swanson’s wisdom & ‘stache on Parks and Recreation • The first half of Mindy Kaling’s book, which I started yesterday and absolutely love already • WEQX • Sam Roberts Band • “Internet Killed the Video Star” • Continuing my obsession with Chris Jones and Esquire, especially this piece • Honeymooning in Maine and everything that went along with it, especially the copious amounts of seafood and Dark & Stormies • Mike and Tom Eat Snacks • The Muppets and its fantastic soundtrack • Buying way too much music on Amazon • Inadvertently becoming a USC fan (sorry, Dad), to the delight of my husband and his college friends • Giant teacups filled with Strongbow • My teal skirt from H&M • Big metal chickens • To-die-for dessert at New World Bistro • The soups/sandwiches/smells at Placid Baker in Troy • The “New Girl” theme song • A signed copy of Simon Pegg’s book with a personalized wedding message (thanks, Jaime!) • Hilarious and heartfelt presents/cards/speeches from our wedding, and our sunglasses favors • Having a husband and becoming a wife •

…and Mondoro champagne, which Nick and I drank on one of our first dates, at our wedding, and many times in between, and what we’ll toast with tonight to ring in the new year.

Cheers to 2011; bring on 2012.

hey, hey, it’s a working day

Since I missed the boat on blogging about Lonely Avenue when it was released last year, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally, belatedly discuss it in this space thanks to a fortuitous Twitter posting from Mr. Folds this morning.

Ben just released the video for “A Working Day,” the album’s opening track and my favorite in the collection. (Close second: “Saskia Hamilton.”) Perhaps it’s because I, too, have had several guys (and gals) on the ‘Net (and on the phone — two just today) tell me I suck, thanks to my day job writing mostly about small towns and their accompanying small town bickering. Perhaps it’s because like the song’s protagonist, I also think that “everything I write is shit,” including this very blog post. Either way, I love this song if for no other reason than it’s an excellent tune to crank in the car. Rolling in my Nissan, listening to Ben Folds wax philosophic about his own inadequacies, I am nothing but the epitome of cool.

Anyway, the point is, this song makes me happy. And — as if it could happen any other way — its accompanying video makes me equally, if not even more so, ecstatic.


The energy and unadulterated joy behind this clip is contagious. I watched it twice before work this morning, and both viewings left me with a big, goofy grin on my face. I’ve been to a bunch of Ben Folds’s shows over the years and have gladly taken part in his a capella arrangements for songs like “Army” and “Not the Same.” But seeing it done for the first time with a new song — and wishing to God I could have been there to do it, too — is like witnessing Ben’s process for the first time. It’s at once cool and confounding — how on earth did he get it to sound so seamless? How long did he craft the arrangement by himself before trying it out on his audience/guinea pigs? It always works in the end, but the obvious preparation he put into this video in particular warrants new appreciation for his musical genius.

When I first heard Ben was collaborating with Nick Hornby, one of my favorite authors, for this album, I was thrilled. It didn’t immediately occur to me that I would get the chance to hear these songs live if I went to see Ben solo — they lived so perfectly together as one entity on Lonely Avenue that I couldn’t picture them out on their own in the wild concert halls across the continent. Now, I’m ready and willing to jump right in, playing living instrument to Ben’s madcap conductor.

As the song says,

I’m a genius, really, I’m excellent
Better than them, I kick their asses

The next time Ben needs someone to participate in a viral video, he knows who to call.

there is nothing like someone new

I’m moving to Albany next Friday.

I keep saying it, but it still seems unreal. The last few weeks have been teeming with Major Life Changes: I got a new job (in journalism! Finally! Huzzah!), I bought my first car (the brightest of bright reds), and I’m moving back to a city that I love and miss to move in with someone I love and miss. (I’m also pretty sure the laptop — or at least its hard drive — is lost and gone forever. Sigh.)

Frightened Rabbit‘s “Nothing Like You” has been another breath of fresh air,  soothing me amid the stress of all these changes and captivating me for the better part of last week, swirling still about my head six days after it first caught my ear.

This latest single from their forthcoming album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is nothing short of miraculous, joyously buoyant and ever so catchy. I dare you to watch this delightfully DIY video (far superior to its glossy counterpart) without cracking a smile:

As one YouTube user put it, “I can’t understand how this band aren’t a total chart destroying, globe-shagging phenomenon.” Indeed, these Scots have been pumping out great, slightly-under-the-radar albums since 2006, particularly 2008’s fierce, lovely The Midnight Organ Fight. But shout-outs in the pages of Esquire and repeated plays on shows like Chuck prove that the world is starting to take notice.

The greatest thing about “Nothing Like You” is that it’s essentially a scathing rebuke of an ex disguised in a shimmering pop package, topped off with a ribbon of jangling tambourines. The video depicts various band members and company bopping about to this chorus:

She was not the cure for cancer / And all my questions still asked for answers / But there is nothing like someone new/ And this girl she was nothing like you

All my Major Life Changes are exciting and terrifying, and as much as I try to assign them meaning, they will probably not end up as grandiosely Life-Changing as I assume them to be.

But there is nothing like something new — job, car, roommate, song, or otherwise — and I can thank Frightened Rabbit for that realization.