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.

Shameless self indulgence, Uncategorized, Work, Writing

The Grumpiest Monkey 150th Post Anniversary Interview Spectacular Extravaganza

In which your Monkey once again shamelessly uses the concept of the self-interview, so effectively used by Dave Eggers in his book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” so ineffectively used here.

Q. So, Monkey. You are 150 blog posts into this experiment. And it’s almost a year since you started.

A. Why, yes. That’s right. Thank you so much for noticing. Of course, my actual 1-year anniversary is later this month, so you can expect me to dig up this dead horse of the fake self-interview for that event as well.

Q. Surely by this point in your illustrious blogging career you don’t have to resort to self-interviews anymore..

A. One would think that journalists would be beating down the door to find out what makes this clockwork Monkey tick. Sure, there are lots of blogs and a boatload of bloggers out there. But how many are written by typewriting Monkeys? Just this blog and the Huffington Post, I think.

Q. OK, Monkey. Enough about you already. Let’s talk pop culture. What is your view on the Jersey Shore?

A. I think the people on the show are assholes, and the people who watch it are assholes. But the biggest assholes of all might be the faux hipsters who watch it and smugly feel superior for doing so. Everyone just go screw with that show and white tank tees and fake tans and Jersey Shore parties and the whole gay phenomenon.

Q. What about American Idol?

A. I’m so tired of seeing the same tired act played out over and over again. How many voice-breaking, note-mangling covers of Stevie Wonder songs can one nation take before anarchy breaks out? Not too many more, I would think.

Q. What else is bugging you lately?

A. I’m tied of people who seem to think that their status updates on Facebook are a suitable place to re-report the news. I don’t need you to tell me that Patriots wide reciever Wes Welker was injured or that the health care bill is in jeopardy. I’ll go to a news website for that. Stop glomming onto current events that have nothing to do with you in a sad attempt to make it seem like you lead a full life.

At least this Monkey is wiling to admit he lives an empty life.

Also, anyone who attempts to use the earthquake in Haiti to scam money or promote themselves should themselves experience an immediate and unpleasant demise.

Q. Well, this interview has certainly taken a turn for the grumpy. Maybe we should end things with a song to lighten the mood.

A. What a capital idea. Here is a snappy little song from a band called “The Love Language.”

Music, Work, Writing

Darkened by the Blues, Lightened by Lightning Dust

Your Monkey has had a tough few weeks at work, my friends. His workload has increased, his department has been downsized, and his life has generally seemed pretty gray and dull.

So dull, in fact, that even the usual roundup of podcast suspects has left him feeling dull and dry. His computer is backed up with unlistened-to episodes of Radio Nowhere, Coverville, and the KEXP Music that Matters podcast.

His ipod is jammed full of Filmspotting episodes that he has not gotten around to yet. He is about a month behind schedule. Even the Adam Carolla podcast is about a week behind schedule.

But things will change.

Things have to change, don’t they?

Sooner or later your Monkey will regain some of his equilibrium and start to be able to enjoy conversations about movies and music and science and life again, right?

At some point work won’t seem so much like a dull gray dungeon. His writing career won’t seem like it has come to a grinding halt, and his mood will perk up again.

Someday, he will feel like posting here again. He will recover his slim and trim girlish writing figure and start writing about movies and music and psychedelic freak out jams.

Someday.

But for today, here is one cool song for your consideration.

Lightning Dust is a side project of the Vancouver-based psyche band Black Mountain featuring BM singers Amber Webber and Joshua Wells.

The band has a softy, more folksy sound than one finds in the riffy space jams of Black Mountain. Webber is a talented singer, but sometimes goes a little too far in letting her voice vibrate.

Here is a song from their previous album. If you like it, most definitely download “Antonia Jane” from their new album.

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

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.

Music, Podcasts

One Great Song from the Great Lake Swimmers

Today’s posting will be a simple one.

There will be no whining about Your Monkey’s failed job search, no belabored attempts to put pop culture into context, no complaining about the general unsound state of the planet, and no bad banana jokes.

Instead we will have a very mellow and melodic song from the Great Lake Swimmers, which came to your Monkey courtesy of the KEXP song of the day podcast. Here is a link to the station’s site.

Thanks to KEXP for putting out the song, to the Great Lake Swimmers for allowing it to be a free download, and to Nettwerk music for posting the video on YouTube.

Here’s a link to the Great Lake Swimmers’ website, too.