Music, Podcasts, Uncategorized

Five Top Singles of 2011 That I Downloaded for Free (Legally, Too!)

Your humble Monkey spends a lot of time at work listening to music.

Since his addled brain needs constant stimulation, he is always seeking out new bands to listen to.

He currently subscribes to two different Song of the Day podcasts (Thank you very much KEXP and 89.3 the Current), and the following videos represent some of the best free songs that he has heard this year.

If not for these radio stations and artists giving away something for nothing, your Monkey may never have discovered these songs.

As an added bonus, you probably won’t find many of these on most critics’ top 10 lists, so perhaps you will find something here that you might have otherwise missed.

Editor’s note: Please, dear friends, do not think that all the free songs that come your Monkey’s way are as good as these gems. Your Monkey has had to kiss a LOT of frogs to find these princes and princesses. 

1. Austra “The Beat and the Pulse”

This Toronto-basedgroup makes some great atmospheric music that is part dance, part industrial gothic and part electropop.

This video is a little on the explicit side, so if you are offended by blurred nudity and webbed appendages you may want to proceed with caution. This is the “clean” version, too. For purists, the explicit version can be found with a pretty quick web search. That version apparently does not lend itself to embedding on blogs written by Monkeys.

Before you think your Monkey is just a typical male having a knee jerk reaction to a little female skin, you should know he fell in love with the audio version of this song long before he ever saw the video.

2. Fistful of Mercy “Fistful of Mercy”

This indie pop supergroup of sorts features Dhani Harrison (son of George), Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur.  This song features great chord progressions and wonderful harmonies, and this video does an awesome job of bringing together all the parts to make a whole.

3. Polica “Wandering Star”

This song is immediately striking, and this live radio performance is utterly unforgettable. Do not hate the voice altering vocoder, my friends, it can be put to good use. And for god sakes, let’s talk about the double drums for a second. They give you the chills. At least they should give you the chills. If they don’t, you may be a Blade Runner-esque replicant unaware of your own wretched artificial existance.

4. John Grant “Marz”

This song proves that lyrics don’t mean all that much when there is emotion and melody behind them. A melancholy piano backdrop accompanies a series of apparently nonsensical words and the effect is sad and bittersweet.  Here is a cool enhanced performance from the Later with Jools Holland show.

5. PJ Harvey “The Last Living Rose”

Ok, so PJ Harvey might be a little more of a household name than some of the others on this list, and her album “Let England Shake” is certainly well represented on top 10 lists this year. But this song is just too damn good to leave off the list, and your Monkey may never have fallen in love with it if he hadn’t gotten it as a free download.

Podcasts

The Adam Carolla Podcast Gets Legit

It is year #2 for the Adam Carolla podcast, and the word from the Aceman is that the show is going forward full steam for another year. That’s good news for all us working Monkeys who need something interesting to listen to during the day.

The Carolla podcast is also a good business model for the early part of the 21st century. The long and short of the story is this: Carolla gets laid off from his LA radio gig and decides to use his newfound spare time to start a daily podcast. The podcast catches fire, becomes a consistant top pick on the itunes site, and it has broadened his audience and brought him a whole new level of visibility.

Carolla can now start to make money to support the show by selling some limited advertising spots, making some content available for a premium, and taking the podcast on the road for paid events.

This Monkey does not mind listening to a few commercials to get a huge amount of content (at least an hour per day M-F) for free, and he does not mind spreading the word about the show, either. It is worth it.  

Plus, the Carolla network is going to start expanding with other shows that share the same sensibility. Frequent Carolla collaborator Kevin Hench and former NBA player John Salley are going to be hosting their own sports show. Andy Dick was a recent guest and is planning to bring his show to the network.

All in all, it’s encouraging to see that there’s room for someone to build a new entertainment platform from scratch and without charging people up front. Build the audience first, and the funding will come.

Here is a link to the show that explains in better detail what your Monkey tried to summarize above.

Here is an intro to today’s podcast.

P.S. This Money might have a crush on Teresa the News Girl.

Music, Podcasts

NPR’s Newport Folk Festival Coverage

When your Monkey first saw the lineup of bands for this year’s Newport Folk Festival, he nearly dropped his banana and fell straight out of his tree.

The Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, The Avett Brothers and Gillian Welsh all on one stage? Are you kidding me?

It sounded like a great show, but tickets were expensive and your Monkey had a vacation already planned. So he had to pass on it.

Luckily NPR and the All Songs Considered Program was there to cover the event and has been providing your Monkey with enough live music podcasts from that day that he almost feels like he was there.

All he needs now is a pair of Birkenstocks, a sunburn, and a guilty white liberal conscience.

But seriously folks…

Let’s talk about the good, the bad and the surprising from that day.

The Good:

Oh Gilllian Welsh! Your talent as a singer and songwriter is matched only by your suprising knowledge of Red Sox folklore.

Sure your flight was delayed and you barely made it to Newport in time for your show, and sure you had to get a police escort to the festival grounds like a certain Red Sox catcher once needed to get to Fenway, but boy did you knock your performance out of the park.

Awesome job with your standard stuff (The Revelator, Look At Miss Ohio) and a great cover of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

Find her performance here.

The Bad:

OK, bad is a little harsh for this act. Maybe disappointing is a little bit better. Your Monkey has had a love/hate relationship with Iron and Wine’s music for a long time now. Sometimes it is great and sometimes it seems so soft and dull that it almost disappears.

Sam Beam (the singer and guitarist behind Iron and Wine) started off strong with a cover of the Postal Service song Such Great Heights, but his performance then seemed to fade away into less interesting stuff.

Your Monkey would have been much happier had he played “Boy With a Coin” from his previous album or his excellent new song “Belated Promise Ring.”

But alas, how much can the non-paying, non-attending customer complain?

Judge for yourself. Iron and Wine’s performance is here.

The Surprising:

The Low Anthem. There is a great do-it-yourself story behind this Rhode Island band’s appearance at this year’s festival that you can listen to on the NPR All Songs Considered Saturday Roundup podcast here.

But aside from the story, the band’s performance of “Oh My God Charlie Darwin” from their new album of the same name beat out material from the Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists, Billy Bragg and others for the honor of most memorable song of the day. (At least in the opinion of a Monkey who wasn’t there and has only heard highlights.)

Here is a song from the Low Anthem.

Also, your Monkey has only listened to day one of the festival coverage so far. Perhaps there will be another update for day 2. Stay tuned to find out more.

Music, Podcasts

KEXP Live Performance Podcast Roundup

Your Monkey has been hard at work this week typing away and feeding the beast with new copy, but he has had a chance to catch up on the past three weeks of KEXP live performance podcasts.

A good mix of new bands, old bands, and one talented female singer with amazing potential.

Japandroids — This duo from Vancouver, British Columbia are the critical darlings of the moment. Another guitar and drums duo like the White Stripes and the Black Keys, the Japandroids make a huge wall of sound using just two instruments. They are nice guys and well worth a listen, but your Monkey is wondering if their sound will sustain itself for an entire album. Three or four tracks at a time seems just about enough for the moment.

The Vaselines — This Scottish band is perhaps best known for being an early favorite of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain. Nirvana memorably covered/interpreted the Vaselines’ song Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam during the band’s MTV unplugged performance. What this Monkey did not know is that two other Nirvana songs from the Incesticide EP (Molly’s Lips and Son of a Gun) are Vaselines covers as well. It is fascinating to hear the male and female vocal harmonies on these original tracks.

Bat for Lashes You don’t need this Monkey to tell you that Bat for Lashes (real name Natasha Kahn) is the real deal. She has a soaring voice and a talent for writing atmospheric songs that are laced with mysticism. Or something like that. Once again this is a good listen, though your Monkey can’t help feeling like it’s not quite as great as it could be. Perhaps Kahn hasn’t reached her full potential yet. But hey, she’s young, she’s talented, and she’s got plenty of time.

Plus she makes a great video. Check this out.

You’ll have to click through and watch it on youtube because embedding is disabled. The video is worth it, though.

Music, Podcasts, Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Random Thoughts Part II

It might be the insufferable heat and humidity here at Monkey central, but once again the inspiration just doesn’t seem to be coming. Therefore it’s time for yet another episode of random Monkey thoughts.

  1. The Adam Carolla podcast continues to deliver an amazing amount of free content each week. We’re talking an hour of solid programming each day, and apparently there is also a car-themed podcast that the guy is doing as well. Your Monkey is not a grease monkey and has no business with the car-themed podcast, but the regular podcast is really hitting the mark. Recently we’ve had good turns by Curb Your Enthusiasm Star Jeff Garlin and Rotten Tomatoes TV cohost Brett Erlich. Erlich in particular proves that you don’t have to be a name guest to make a good podcast. Click here for link to site.
  2. Everyone should read at least one article from the New York Times each day. Not because it is a pretentious thing to do, but because the Times is home to by far the best set of journalists anywhere. They have a marvelous talent for digging up interesting stories, finding unique angles to explore, and capturing the imagination without resorting to cheap sensationalism. Check out this piece that explores a series of bad omens leading up to a horrific car crash in Long Island over the weekend. It’s everything you want good journalism to be  (i.e. informative without being insensitive).
  3. It’s a wonder George Orwell wasn’t more of a pessimist. Listening to Dan Carlin outline the devastation that was caused during the war between Germany and Russia in World War II makes one realize that we are truly fortunate to live in a time and a place where copywriters pretending to be Monkeys can write long blog posts complaining about the unfairness of the world. We are so far removed from true suffering that it is all too easy to lose our perspective.  Check out Carlin’s Ghosts of the Ostfront series here, and then realize that Orwell started writing 1984 only a few years after this awful mess.
  4. Someone owes Iron and Wine an apology. A couple of days ago a certain Monkey may have praised the Great Lake Swimmers for doing mellow acoustic folk without being sleepy and dull. This same Monkey may have then suggested that Iron and Wine might be guilty of putting people to sleep with his “so soft you can barely hear it” mellow acoustic folk. But then Iron and Wine has to go and deliver a great new song called “Belated Promise Ring.”
  5. Your Monkey is usually against posting YouTube videos that are just one still shot of the album cover with the song playing underneath. Let’s face it, this practice is just one step below illegal file sharing. But since this song is available as a free download as part of the Current’s Song of the Day Podcast, a video is included here.
Music, Podcasts, Shameless self indulgence

Random Thoughts

In an effort to keep this blog going during a period of low creative inspiration, your Monkey will now attempt to type a catch-all report of some thoughts from the past week.

  1. KEXP Live Performance Podcasts are perfectly timed at about a 1/2 an hour each. There was a time when your Monkey was greedy for more and larger podcasts, but lately he has been finding it hard to listen to two hours worth of anything. The NPR All Songs Considered Live Concert podcasts, for all the great artists that are featured, sometime seem a little too long for this Monkey’s tastes. As far as KEXP goes, the last two weeks of live performance podcasts have featured English duo The Kills (doing an acoustic set) and English electro-folkie James Yuill. Both are worth checking out. Here is a link to the KEXP live performance podcast.
  2. George Orwell’s 1984 was written under bleak circumstances that fit the book’s pessimistic world view. Few “required reading” books from high school left as strong an impression as Orwell’s 1984. This excellently written piece in the UK Guardian explains the struggle that Orwell (nee Eric Blair) went through to birth this book.
  3. You can tell Neil Gaiman is a hugely talented writer just by reading his blog posts. Whether he is reminiscing fondly about his kids or talking about a quiet evening with a friend, Gaiman turns descriptions of everyday events into marvelously written prose. Highly recommended reading. Here’s a link to the blog
  4. People who run secondhand shops are usually odds and ends themselves. This is the kind of whimsical observational musing that you will find on my new radio show, Lake Grump-be-gon Tales, in which I play the slightly curmudgeonly Monkey editor of a local newspaper in small town Minnesota.
  5. The Mermen play excellent psyche-surf rock. This San Francisco band has an excellent mellow sound. Here is a video that is fittingly shot in an aquarium.
Podcasts, Uncategorized

KEXP Live Music Podcast Roundup

Your Monkey seems to go through cycles in his podcast listening habits.

Sometimes all he wants to hear is talk show podcasts and documentaries, and at other times all he wants is music.

Lately he has been in the music mood, which has given him an opportunity to catch up on the last four offerings from the KEXP Live Performances podcast series.

Country rocker Steve Earle was first on the plate. Earle stopped by a few weeks ago to promote his new album of Townes Van Zandt covers (simply called “Townes”). Van Zandt is a widely respected but somewhat obscure country singer-songwriter who is perhaps most famous for the song “Pancho and Lefty.” Willie Nelson made the song famous, but for this Monkey’s money the Van Zant original is probably the best. Earle does an admirable job covering Van Zant on this podcast, though his version of Poncho and Lefty from the Sound Opinions podcast last month is probably a little better. Here is a link to Earle’s website.

Then came a short set from popular French rockers Phoenix (click here for myspace page), who have had a modern rock hit with the song Liztomania. Phoenix are pretty much the buzz band of the moment, so your Monkey was a little afraid that they would be all hype and no substance. But to his surprise, the band played a short, tight acoustic set and they seemed to be pretty down to earth guys.

The highlight of the four podcasts would have to be the Brooklyn rock band Pela (link to band’s myspace site is here). The magic of this band is in the voice of frontman Billy McCarthy, who has a blistering delivery that is apparently matched by a high energy stage show (there have been some broken bones in the past).

Last on the docket was El Ten Eleven (band’s website is here), an instrumental duo from Los Angeles that played a couple of pretty good tracks.  This band recently lent their skills to the soundtrack for the cult fave documentary Helvetica, and are apparently featured on the director’s follow-up film as well. Perhaps this band paid the price for being the last of four performances that Your Monkey listened to today, but there didn’t seem to be anything particularly unique. Just good, groovy, high energy stuff.

The excellent KEXP podcast can be found here.

Thanks again to the station and artists involved for delivering so much good stuff for free.

And here is Pela. This performance is pretty good, but if you want to hear Pela at its best, check out their studio track for Tenement Teeth. The only version of that song on You Tube is a live one, and it doesn’t quite do the band justice.