I'm bringing the music to you a day earlier as I will be spending tomorrow in the company of old friends, getting up to old troubles if I'm not mistaken. Every so often, I feel it's important for me to remind readers why I do this music list. It's not only because music is probably my biggest hobby, taking up even more time in my life than books, but it's also because music is a huge influence on me as a writer. I listen to music at every stage of the writing process and could certainly give a short list of albums that were in heavy rotation for each book. The two arts are very connected for me and I like to share what sounds have been occupying my mind. So that's the deal. Without further rambling, here's this week's list...which is unintentionally geared to the indie kids.
Jenny & Johnny - I'm Having Fun Now: The first album by the musical pairing of Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) and Jonathan Rice takes it's cue from a nearly identical concept known as the band She & Him. To be honest, I had high hopes for this, but in the end it turned out to be an average indie folk pop album. It's all very easy to listen to and easy to forget. One of these days Jenny Lewis is going to make an album I adore, I know it. This just wasn't it.
Skunk Anansie - Wonderlustre: It's been ten years since this political London band's last effort and they seem to have become less angry in that time. The music is still powerful and aggressive and the lyrics are still message driven, but lead singer Skin seems to be less in your face with what she has to say. This album is certainly more mainstream than the band's '90s albums, but as always Skin's voice is so incredible and makes it worth the time. If you don't know the band however, don't start here. Begin with the band's superior 1995 debut, Paranoid & Sunburnt.
Papermoons - New Tales: An album leftover from my 2008 wishlist, this was is one that I definitely shouldn't have waited so long to acquire. This is a subtle indie rock album, bordering on Midwestern folk in the style of Saddle Creek bands such as early Bright Eyes and Lullabies for the Working Class. It's very mellow and sounds to my ears like what Built to Spill might sound like re-imagined as a folk band. Good stuff.
Ladyhawk - Fight for Anarchy: This EP from one of my favorite bands of the last several years dates back to 2007, but I finally got my hands on it this week. Falling between the Vancouver band's two full length albums, these six songs rank among the band's best. There is an incredibly intimate feeling to this album that makes it sound like the band is playing around a campfire, singing Neil Young inspired indie rock.
The Village Stompers - Washington Square: This 1963 debut album from Village beatniks is pure Dixieland heaven. Having spent my college years in the Washington Square area, I felt obligated to listen to when it popped up. I wasn't expecting such a treat. There's something about Dixieland music that stirs the imagination. There's a line in the movie Killing Zoe where one character expresses his love for this kind of music stating that nothing else on the planet sounds like it. He's right. Pure cartoon jazz that seems to tap right into the mind.
Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown: Gone is the furious rage of the band's early catalog and here to stay is the softer sound of last year's breakout album. Having been a fan of this band since the days of their 2003 debut EP Holly Roller Novocaine, I must confess to missing the band's raucous youthfulness in the days of indie stardom. But as we all do, the band has grown up and mellowed out. That said, they still know how to craft deeply emotional songs. This album, probably in response to such grand success of their last album, does see the band take a small step back into Southern Rock sound of their roots and it benefits from it.
Piano Magic - Home Recordings: This London dream pop band has been around for nearly a decade, but up until this, their 2010 effort, I'd only heard one wonderful single. Using slowcore vocals mixed with dreamy folk music, they create a very enjoyable sound reminiscent of Low. Of course the line about being fed "a steady diet of Brautigan" on the song "I am a Sub-Librarian" surely made me bias to like it.
Johnny Flynn - Been Listening: The new album from London folk singer/songwriter is certainly no sophomore slump from 2008's A Laurm (one of my favorites from that year). Johnny Flynn has a gift for clever songwriting and apt observations of our current culture that make him one of the best of the ever growing number of folk artists. He also sounds original. A lot of his contemporaries are busy aping the sound of '60s and '70s folk artists whereas he is simply inspired by them. There is a deluxe edition with an extra CD of bonus tracks (demo versions of album songs) that is very worthwhile.
Lou Ragland - He says "Understand Each Other": This 1977 debut from Cleveland native Lou Ragland is something of a soul classic. Though solid, it sounds like a standard soul album to me. There isn't really anything that sets it apart from other well-known artists in the genre that I've heard before. I enjoyed it, but would much rather put on some Marvin Gaye when in the mood for such a record. But if soul music is your lifeblood, this one is probably not to be missed.
Jason Webley - Counterpoint: It's easy to compare Seattle's Jason Webley (also of Evelyn Evelyn) to Tom Waits because they have similar rough voices, but the sentiment is very different in my opinion. This 2002 album certainly has a familiar sound of such Waits' classics, but Tom is more of a storyteller, telling tales of characters. Jason Webley's songs are more spiritual testaments, songs of personal salvation more in the style of Leonard Cohen. Either way, it's a totally engrossing and brilliant album. I can't wait to hear some of his others.