Music

My Top Musical Discoveries of 2012 Thus Far…Or Where Were You When Dubstep Met Kung Fu?

Let’s face it–not all of us can raid the record stores every Tuesday looking for the hottest new releases, nor can we absorb every new album that we hear right away and judge for ourselves whether it is worthy of a top 10 list.

Sometimes we miss a great album when it first comes out only to discover it six months down the line, or stumble across a lost classic that immediately grabs us and becomes part of our everyday listening routine.

So I guess what your humble Monkey is saying is that the following list may not technically qualify as a “best of” list for releases in the calendar year 2012, but a list of the good stuff I have come across this year thus far.

1. The Lumineers, “The Lumineers”

Your Monkey is so glad to see this band’s debut album sitting close to the top of the listening charts on both Rhapsody and Spotify. (Not so glad, however, to have both of their Boston-area concerts sold out before he even knew they were coming).

But this band deserves all the success and respect that they are getting. They crafted an amazing album of American folk music that is timeless and uplifting.

Like Mumford & Sons’ “Sigh No More”, the Lumineers’ self titled debut has enough variety between the songs that they never get repetitive, and yet they all tie together nicely.

To be honest, the one song that clogs up an otherwise superb album is the aptly titled “Slow it Down,” which is the slowest and longest track smack dab in the center of the album. If they had taken a few minutes off of that song and added them to the first track, “Flowers in Your Hair,” we might be talking a Mona Lisa-esque masterpiece.

But enough splitting hairs. Here is an amazing rendition of “Submarines,” the third track on their debut.

2. Plan B — The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Is it a bad sign that the best soul albums that your Monkey has heard over the past few years have all come from white British artists?

Like Amy Winehouse’s powerful debut “Back in Black” called to mind the best of the Supremes, Plan B’s “Defamation of Strickland Banks” has this Monkey thinking back to Marvin Gaye.

But even though it comes from an unexpected source, Plan B’s smooth soulful falsetto, great storytelling and tasteful blend of straight soul and rap/soul hybrid songs make this 2010 album a must listen.

According to the British rock press, Plan B came up as a rapper who wrote about the same frustrated British youth that were behind much of last year’s rioting. The word on the street is that he is planning to return to those roots his next album, the soundtrack to the movie “Ill Manors”, due to be released this month.

(Though again, to be honest, the first single from that new album, “Deepest Shame,” seems a little disappointing. More like watered down r&b than anything else).

But forget about the new album, let’s celebrate the last one.

Dig on this track, which is a good representation of Plan B’s excellent ability to blend rap and soul into one smooth mix.

3. Bassnectar — “Divergent Spectrum”

OK, your Monkey will be the first to admit that he is one of the last primate bloggers to jump on the dubstep bandwagon.

This most recent monkey-music love affair began with the downloading of a few Skrillex tracks, and continued with the discovery of Bassnectar.

Bassnectar is the performing name of DJ and Producer Lorin Ashton (thanks, Wikipedia). His music consists of the high intensity soundscapes that you’ve come to expect from the dubstep genre, but Bassnectar distinguishes himself by being super prolific, making a lot of great sounding noise, and just coming off as a really cool guy.

His Facebook posts are very down to earth, he takes a moment in the middle of each show to take a picture of himself with the audience, and he just seems to be happy with making music, playing shows and discovering the joys of coffee-flavored coconut water.

Compare this easygoing nature to the ridiculously morose look that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke wears during the entire documentary “Meeting People is Easy” and you’ll find yourself liking Bassnectar more and more.

“Divergent Spectrum” is a 2011 album that includes, among other things, a remix of the Gogol Bordella song “Immigraniada” and a remix of the increasingly popular Ellie Goulding dance track “Lights.”

Here is a decidedly non-official video for the “Immigraniada” remix that matches Bassnectar’s remix with classic kung fu footage.

Kung fu and dubstep? It’s like someone sawed open your Monkey’s head and saw exactly what was going on inside.

Music, Shameless self indulgence

Four good emusic finds

Your Monkey has been an emusic member for about six months now, and he’s had fun hunting through the stacks and stacks of music in search of diamonds in the rough.

For those of you who don’t know, emusic is an music subscription service where you get a set number of downloads per month depending on what plan you have. This monkey is on the 37 per month plan.

You pay less per song than you do on itunes, but the catch is that most of the popular music you’d want to download from itunes won’t be there.

In other words, you won’t find any Lady Gaga, Kayne West, Katy Perry or Jonas Brothers on the emusic site.

But you can find some Jimi Hendrix on there, as well as some Van Morrison, some Bob Dylan and some Simon and Garfunkle.

Oh yeah, and lots and lots of indie music, from the relatively well known (the National & My Morning Jacket) to bands you’ve never heard of (and probably should never hear of).

But if you are persistent in your searching, and willing to gamble with your downloads, you can often find good songs/artists in unexpected places.

So here goes my list so far.

1. Eilen Jewell: It seems somewhat odd that this singer-songwriter is currently based out of Boston, since her music has a country swing that is more suited to Nashville or Texas. What is best about Jewel is that she manages to blend country influences with a slightly sultry, film-noirish vibe. Check out “Sweet Rose” and “Codeine Arms.” Find her website here.

2. Dead Heart Bloom: Don’t know much about this band but decided to take a flyer on them when they came upĀ  as an emusic suggestion and really liked what they sound like. Apparently it is a one-man project by Boris Slasky, a former member of a band called Phaser. Check out “Who Will You Love” and “Chelsea Song #2.” Also, this band is currently giving away loads of music for free on its website, which you can find here.

3. The Assemble Head in Starburst Sound: As the name suggests, this is a groovily psychedelic band that manages to be both spaced-out and drenched in sun. It’s as if someone gave the Silver Surfer a guitar and an effects pedal, and sat him in front of a classic rock radio station for 20 years. Check out the smooth waves of guitar on “A Bourbon for Rudy.” Find the band’s website here.

4. Scanners: This English band brings some much needed visceral intensity to your Monkey’s music library. They are a little bit rock, a little bit electro-pop, and a little bit industrial. Check out “Violence is Golden.” The band’s myspace site is here.

Here’s Eilen Jewell doing a cover song:

Music, Uncategorized

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Talk at a Folk Concert

Following up on your Monkey’s post from this weekend, in which he was gnashing his teeth over the overtalkative crowd that ruined an otherwise great performance by the Great Lake Swimmers at the Middle East in Cambridge Friday night.

1. It’s Rude: It’s rude to the performer who is trying to play his songs, and it is rude to the people in the audience who are trying to listen but can’t hear themselves think because you are jammering in the background. Even if you don’t like the music, have some sympathy for the musician as a person and the audience as your fellow man.

2. It’s an embarrassment to us as music fans. What does it say about us as a town (Boston/Cambridge) that we can’t stop talking long enough to listen to music? Your Monkey was embarrassed to be part of a crowd filled with immature jackasses who were too busy thinking about themselves to realize that they were ruining the night. We are the birthplace of the folk revival movement of the late 1950s, a proud tradition that includes Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Don’t lets ruin it with our selfishness.

3. It Makes You Look Like An Ass: You may be a perfectly nice person 98% of the time, but when I see you talking during a show my blood starts to boil and soon I hate everything about you. I hate the way you look and the way to stand and the way you hold your drink. I hate the way to talk and I hate the way you check your phone and I hate the people you are talking to.

4. It’s Bad for Business: I wouldn’t blame the Great Lake Swimmers if they didn’t want to come back to Boston to play here again. And I’m not sure I would go see them again in the same setting because the audience is just too distracting to have a good time. What does that mean for the next quiet acoustic singer-songwriter who rolls into town? Should they not even bother showing up here? Should I not get a ticket for the show because I don’t know if I’ll be able to hear the music?

5. There’s always a chance the Monkey could snap. Your Monkey is not a violent person. But he has to admit that his blood was boiling and his back was sweating and it took all of his self control not to turn around and start screaming at all of the people who wouldn’t shut up during the performance. It would not have been pleasant for anyone involved. And there may have been others like him in the crowd who were reaching the same level of frustration and aggravation. Just be nice and respectful and other people will treat you the same way.

So people, please. Tell your friends, your colleagues and your coworkers. Save your conversations for before or after the show. if you have to shout because the music is too loud, maybe it’s time to stop talking.

Thanks — that’s enough on this subject for now.