Monday, December 22, 2014

Music Monday: Christmas Music Edition 2014

     Well chaps Christmas is almost upon us! I'm sorry that my blog has been all Monday posts lately; December has been crazy for me. For example I'm typing this from a new timezone! That's right, I'm back in Ireland! Tune in tomorrow and I'll finally be able to give you the details.

      With Christmas in just a few days, I wouldn't feel right not doing a Music Monday without a post on Christmas music. So, I decided to give you some of my favourite Christmas albums this year; some old and new. In no particular order:

1. Snow Angel by Sugar and the Hi Lows

2.  A Very She & Him Christmas by She & Him 

3.  Noel by Josh Groban

4. The Oh Hellos Family Christmas Album by The Oh Hellos (available for free on Noisetrade)

5.  Christmas by Michael Buble

6. Vintage Christmas by David Ian

7.  Silver and Gold by Sufjan Stevens 

8. Christmas Collection 2014 by Sleeping at Last (available for free on Noisetrade)

9.  Prepare Him Room by Sovereign Grace 

10. Campfire Christmas Volume 1 by Rend Collective

So there you have it. I love Christmas music and these are definitely some of my go-tos. If you want to check out some more of my favourite Christmas music, I've got a playlist on Spotify:

And here's the video to Rend Collective's Joy to the World, because just look at it!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Music Monday: Brutal Romance

     Brooke Fraser is an artist that I've loved and respected for a long time. The once Hillsong singer is one of the few artists I know that puts her blood, sweat and tears into her art, and still loves every minute of it, to a ludicrously, giddy degree. Brooke Fraser's last album Flags came out in 2010 and brought a brilliant close to her folk-pop sound. Now, four years later, Brooke has moved on into edgier, synth-pop territory. It's a completely new sound for Fraser, but not completely unforeseen. Even Flags was an artistic stretch for her, and Brutal Romance makes sense. With each of her previous three albums, Fraser seemed to develop and grow, taking bigger and braver strides each time, and this new album is her at her bravest and boldest. It's clear from interviews with the New Zealand artist, that she's extremely proud of her newest work (practically beaming), and presents her new sound with a mixture of excitement and humility.

     The album opens with Fraser's raspy, sultry vocals introducing Psychosocial, a dark, take-no-prisoners number about social media. Thunder is a more upbeat number, but equally fierce. This is followed by Start a War, highly reminicent of a Lana Del Ray track, but Fraser honestly, is the superior vocalist and it shows in this number. Kings and Queens is the most appealing track to the universally, followed by Bloodrush which continues the motivational themes. In case you forgot or were momentarily distracted by the impressive audible aesthetic, Fraser reminds the listener that she's a poet, with the title track Brutal Romance. Fraser has always weaved highly intelligent lyrics in an audibly attractive package, and Brutal Romance is a solemn, grand poem put to slow building horns and piano. The track muses on the "spinning slow dance" of "life and death" the proverbial "brutal romance" we all know. 

"All shapes and colors, rolled and stained in aging hands
Sculpted explosions, histories unfold
Our Jackson Pollocked earth turns
A silent witness.
Lonely asylumed, poets bequeath attempts
Romanticizing the brutality of the ages and of us
Avarice and lust

     Je Suis Prêt, named after Fraser's Scottish family's historic mantra, continues the solemn themes about facing the darkness with courage and faith. Magical Machines use of technology as a metaphor is little derivative, but much stronger tracks  New Histories and New Year's Eve end the album with returned lyrical muscle. 

     Brutal Romance is a complete turn around for Fraser in a genre sense, but it's as calculated and logical as it is daring and audacious. Fraser is spreading her artistic wings a little further, and we reap the sweet benefits.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Monday: My Favourite Faded Fantasy Review

     It is often said that an artist is sometimes undone by his best work. In some ways this was the case with Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice. If you're a fan of his, then you're no doubt familiar with his majestic solo debut O. This album was a beautiful and transcendent piece of Indie perfection, and it was difficult to see how he could do any better. Indeed, his rushed follow-up album 9 was a disappointment (at least for me), and then Rice disappeared all together. Now Damien Rice is back after an eight-year hiatus. 

      His newest work, My Favourite Faded Fantasy (yay for European spelling!), is not an album for the impatient listener. There are no radio-worthy tracks here, no Cannonball or 9 Crimes. These are, on average, 5 minute-long suites, slowly and painstakingly brought to life, and with dramatic crescendo's brought to fruition, and then ending in transcendence. At first, I thought it was better than 9, but in no way lived up to the glorious O. Now, after a week of listening, I know O has been surpassed. 

     Rice, who's comparison to artists like Jeff Buckley is more than earned, approaches his indie folk with the passion, and gusto more in common with the opera performer on opening night, than a folk artist. His voice, which ranges from breathy whisper, to impassioned, gut-wrenching cry, lends itself well to material that touches on heartbreak, severed relationships, and paralyzing self doubt. Rice's own artistic and personal turmoil, has no doubt provided more than enough fodder for Faded Fantasy. 

      Electric/acoustic guitar, full string orchestras, horn section, and delicate piano make each song a thrilling, sorrowful, and sometimes hopeful journey. It is hard sometimes not to miss Lisa Hannigan's backing vocals and cello accompaniment, but Rice is more than enough to carry the album. As mentioned before, it's an album which requires patience on the side of the listener (just as it did to produce it), but speaking from experience, once you finally "get it", you won't want to listen to anything else. 

Thanks for coming back Damien, you were so missed!      

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The John Lewis Christmas Advert 2014

     I know it's not socially acceptable to be talking about Christmas before Thanksgiving in the States, but I'm from Ireland and we don't celebrate Thanksgiving so, sorry. I can't abide by your rules America!!! I want to do a longer post on the greatness that is Christmas in Ireland, until then, I want to talk about a special staple in Anglo/Irish Christmas commercialism; the John Lewis Christmas advert. 

The John Lewis (a UK chain) Christmas advert encompasses all the whimsy and heart that characterizes the season, features covers of famous past tunes sung by upcoming artists (they usually become chart hits during the Christmas season), and are basically little pieces of art. The latest one entitled "Monty the Penguin" came out two weeks ago. The advert is unsurprisingly heartwarming, precious and features a cover of John Lennon's Real Love by Tom Odell. While it's not as good as last year's "The Bear and the Hare" and it was kind of blown out of the water by the Sainsbury Christmas advert (I mean have you seen that!), it's still a solid entry from one of the most highly anticipated Christmas advert of the season. Here's a posting of "Monty the Penguin" and some of John Lewis' best.


"The Bear and the Hare", song is a cover of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know sung by Lily Allen 

"The Journey", song is The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, covered by my girl Gabrielle Aplin 

The 2011 entry, song "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" by The Smiths, covered by Slow Moving Millie  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Music Monday: 1989 Review (kind of)

     Okay, so I have a confession to make...I sorta kinda semi-love Taylor Swift! She is one of my ultimate guilty pleasures. Don't you dare ask me what my others are, there's only so much humiliation a girl can bear! Say what you want about Taylor Swift, she always known her target audience, but has managed to stay unashamedly honest in her song writing, even when said honesty has been criticized. 

       It's no secret that Taylor has been moving away from the Country music scene ( I don't know if she was ever really considered Country), but even 2012 release Red held onto what was left of her Country persona, 1989 however, is straight up pop. Aaaand I kind of love it.

      This isn't so much a review as it is a confession. 1989 is essentially Taylor's coming of age album; she no longer sings about the fairy-tale ending, but now she's boldly proclaiming her independent 20s, which maybe there lies the appeal for me. It's fun, it's mindless, it kind of makes me feel powerful, and more importantly I can dance to it! 

Now to pick up what's left my hipster-cred and listen to some Sigur Ros or maybe some Dry the River. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Music Monday: I Forget Where We Were Review

     When I first heard Ben Howard's 2011 debut Every Kingdom, I dubbed him the "British Jack Johnson." Even then, it wasn't really a very good description. Ben Howard's debut was another indie, melancholy with a good hook and an acoustic guitar, albeit a good one (Every Kingdom was rather critically aclaimed). I fell in love with Howard's unassuming, slow building, and earnest acoustics, but it wasn't enough to make him a hit commercially, I'm not sure if second album I Forget Where We Were is either, but it is a much more unique, and daring undertaking.

     Although only 10 tracks, this album feels long, in a good way. Howard takes his time, sprawling each song out across an average of 5 minute running time (with the exception of two tracks), building a dark, intoxicating sound. I Forget Where We Were experiments with a more electronic, vintage rock sound, than the acoustics of its predecessor. Synth guitar echoes in an empty space, in the opening Small Things. Subtle harmonies, and subdued percussion accompany throughout the album, but Howard relies heavily on electric guitar and synth, reminiscing artists like Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. Howard doesn't alienate his old fans, and the acoustics are still there in tracks like In Dreams, She Treats Me Well, and the gorgeous End of the Affair, but there is an urgency now that wasn't present in Every Kingdom. 

     I Forget Where We Were isn't a great stretch for Ben Howard, who seems more interested in developing his sound naturally, than making huge sales or appealing to a larger audience, but this is part of what makes him so endearing to his fans. I Forget Where We Were is a much more sophisticated undertaking, but it's still the Ben Howard we know and love.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Goodbye Autumn, I'll Miss You

     Snow! This is what greeted me at 7am on my way to work today! Yesterday had been another blissful, autumn day, that I had taken lazily, for granted. Autumn, like it's predecessor season, is cruelly short-lived in Wisconsinland. Too readily Wisconsin defaults to the extremism of the long, bitter, northern winter: a rather sadistic state wouldn't you say?! The breathtaking bursts of colour-as creation takes on her most lavish garb-the slight chill in the air, wooly socks, and cozy cardigans, all washed down with a generous mug of pumpkin spiced latte: all this is gone in a matter of weeks. Wisconsinland is not kind to my favourite season.

     Today was a blustery, icebox, interrupted periodically by shy, snow flurries. This is only the beginning my friend, WINTER IS COMING! And she is not kind. Still, even in the death of the world around me, there is an eerie beauty in the bare tree branches, and the silver grey sky. Best of all, the close of Autumn and the commencement of Winter brings me one day closer to being back on Irish soil once more. More on that later. In the meantime, let's send Autumn out with the dignity she deserves.          

"Hello, hello, hello, hello,
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye,goodbye,
That's all there is.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown." 

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