New Music: Best Songs of 2012…So Far

 Every week on my radio show, “Pitchfork vs. StereoBear,” I round up the best new music the internet has to offer. Stepping into the black hole vortex that is the world wide web is, needless to say, daunting– clicking through countless SoundClouds and RSS feeds, shuffling back and forth between multiple Google Chrome tabs, switching between “play” and “pause,”  sensory overload is imminent and indeed inevitable. But through the sonic sludge, true winners emerge. Here’s what you should be listening to to start your 2012 off right:

1. Porcelain Raft – Unless You Speak From Your Heart

Jangly, Italian power-pop with a MGMT Oracular Spectacular-era stomp. With a chorus made up of entirely of whirring noises layered seamlessly into singer Mauro Remiddi’s pitch-perfect “whooo-oooh’s,” this track off the album Strange Weekend, released in January by Secretly Canadian, is sure to keep you satisfied throughout the summer.

2. Moonface – Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips

In the wake of Wolf Parade’s demise (R.I.P.), both lead singers Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug have taken on darkly catchy synth-pop side projects, Boeckner with Handsome Furs and Krug with Moonface. At only more than slightly two and a half minutes long, “Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips,” manages to pack in a span of instruments- – electric guitars, synthesizers, drums, keys and bass. The thread that ties them all together are Krug’s distinct vocals and lyrics. This song, recorded in conjunction with the Finnish band Sinaii, comes off of Moonface’s upcoming second album Heartbreaking Bravery, to be released in April by Jagjaguwar.

3. Julia Holter – Goddess Eyes II

Conservatory- trained pianist Julia Holter makes music that is beautiful, pure and simple. Maybe not classically beautiful, but surely haunting, ethereal, delicate and moving. With a backing track and a voice that would make Annie Lennox jealous, the whole song swells and then rises up again, despite only consisting of probably four lines of lyrics (don’t ask me to count, the song is almost 7 minutes long). If you like Kate Bush, Grimes or Bjork, I highly recommend you check out Holter’s blend of inspired chamber-pop.

4. Ava Luna – Wrenning Day

After I found their EP Ice Levels on some random corner of the Internet, the genre listing for Ava Luna’s thrashing “Wrenning Day” curiously came up on my iTunes under the label “Soul-Punk.” While certainly quite the melange of musical styles, this categorization is actually strangely apt.  Juxtaposing a thick bass line over back-up singers Becca Kauffman, Anna Sian and Felicia Douglass’s angelic harmonies, the song reaches crescendo with lead vocalist Carlos Hernandez’s outright wailing. Recently signed to Infinite Best Recordings, Ava Luna are without a doubt some of the most creative, energetic musicians performing today. See them live if you get the chance!

5. Usher – Climax

If you live in Fairchild House, you might have heard Usher’s unmistakable falsetto emanating through the halls of the third floor on what unfortunately appears to be an embarrassing regular basis. Uh, that was me….. Sorry I’m not sorry but this song is just too good. Partially arranged by classical music wunderkind and honorary member of Grizzly Bear, Nico Muhly, “Climax” is a perfectly constructed pop song, replete with a catchy bridge, chorus, verse, and you guessed it, climax. I am not kidding you, this song is actually addictive. If you disagree with me about this (there has been a fair amount of controversy among my friends recently as to whether this or “Burn” is actually the best Usher song, so you’re allowed), fine. If not…. you know what music to play next time I invite you to my room.

-Julia Pressman (Listen to “Pitchfork vs. StereoBear” Fridays at 9am!)


Album Review: Phedre – S/T

Phedre – In Decay

Released on Valentine’s Day, French-Canadian psych-pop-cum-rap-cum-experimental noise trio Phedre’s self-titled debut album is a wacky and weird ode to all the aspects of love and lust. Marketed on the group’s Facebook page as a “sleazy/dirty/sexy/romantic” hybrid of sound, the album combines electronic melodies with catchy and sometimes nonsensical wordplay to serve up  a delicious, sweet, sticky stew of fun.

Leading off Phedre is the slow-burning noise droner “Tragique” which melts into the strangely haunting “Aphrodite,” a track whose instrumentals are partially composed of the sounds of an automated barking toy dog juxtaposed next to hymnal backing vocals. This first half of the album, ending with the bass-heavy, punky lament of “Ode to the Swinger,” firmly establishes Phedre as the Quebecoise answer to Ariel Pink, or at the very least, a goofier, less ear-splitting John Maus. The song most representative of Phedre’s oeuvre is the groovy, Of Montreal- esque “In Decay.” Accompanied by a very much NSFW music video, the song combines child-like vocals and an infectious hook to deliver what the band itself has described as a  “spontaneous, half-drunken explosion.”  The sense of longing explored on the following tracks “Dreams” and “Love Ablaze” are a first for the band but they connects sonically to the rest of the album through their use of ambient, head-bobbing bleeps and bloops and use of found sound. “Love Ablaze” is a stands out as an especially notable track on the album due to its lyrical content. Oddly reminiscent of 1960s’ wall-of-sound girlpop, full of swooning “oohs” and “aahs,” not dissimilar to the the music of the Shangri-La’s, the song provides an interesting detour from the rest of the fare otherwise heard on the album.

Clocking in at roughly 30 minutes, the entire album produces the effect of eating a bounty of foreign, off-brand sugary snacks–odd and full of flavors, but certainly tasty. Sure, you might get a stomach ache, but as the album’s last song “Glitter on Her Face” suggests, “What does it matter?”: You should do what you wanna do all the time, even if the whole world tells you no.

Stream all of Phedre’s self-titled album at Soundcloud.

-Julia Pressman



From the Vault: Shel Silverstein – “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball”

Shel Silverstein – Stacy Brown Got Two

You know Shel Silverstein, right, RIGHT? Uncle Shelby, the man who wrote “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “The Giving Tree,” “A Light in the Attic,” etc. etc. etc. AKA Children’s Story-tellter, cartoonist, performer, beat-poet, a sort of everything-talented-kinda-guy.

What you might not know is that Silverstein was a counter-cultural icon who was popular for his bawdy, sexual, drug-infused, profane, obscene, subversive and surreal performances (also wrote for Playboy. Make of that what you will). He made one studio album, the classic FREAKIN’ AT THE FREAKERS BALL (1969), which is far from being a children’s story-telling album or heart-warming poetry reading. No, Freakers Ball is one giant middle-finger to contemporary society. It’s an absurd cry in the face of respectability in which he sings about dangerously kinky sex, pornographic girls-next-door, giving heroin to your significant other (and how it’s kinda a drag), fascist pigs, sadomasochistic drag balls, double-endowed men, group sex songs, spoken-word diatribes (including the rather benign sounding Sarah Cynthia Sylivia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out) and other oddities that are still fresh. Some highlights include Liberated Lady 1999, Polly in a Porny, Stacy Brown got Two, and the rather surreal The Man that Got No Sign, a great, poignant beat poem which, amidst the album’s madcap antics, resonates.

It helps that Silverstein is a great singer, with a voice that is equal parts warbling, gravelly, smoky, and hilarious. The atmosphere is festive, anarchic, and free-form, with a healthy does of juvenile humor and potty jokes to make you feel extra dirty at the end of the day. At times you feel like you’re at some sort of late-after-hours nightclub filled with all your good friends, talking about art, politics, sex, and all that jazz in the most facetious way possible. Put on this record with a good sound system: you can almost smell thee weed emanating from the speakers.

-Robben Muñoz


FROM THE VAULT: Jack Nitzsche – St. Giles Cripplegate

Jack Nitzsche and the London Symphony Orchestra – #4

Mostly remembered for his production on Neil Young’s albums in the late 60s, Jack Nitzsche’s varied musical talents served him well in the 70s where he rose to prominence as a film composer, which include works as varied as The Exorcist, Performance, An Officer and a Gentleman, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He initially began his career as conductor and arranger for Phil Spector, eventually having musical encounters with the Wrecking Crew, The Rolling Stones, and even Doris Day. However, Nitzsche’s musical arrangements and production skills with Neil Young were so impressive that he was given the chance to compose original orchestral music. St. Giles Cripplegate is the result.

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New Music: Beach House – “Myth”

Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House has released a new cut entitled “Myth” via their website. Singer/keyboardist Victoria LeGrand and guitarist Alex Scally posted the track last week as a teaser for their forthcoming LP Bloom, to be released May 15th on Sub-pop Records.

If “Myth” is any indication of the sound of the new record, Beach House fans can expect a similar vibe to the group’s last full length, the critically-acclaimed Teen Dream. The song starts out with a nod to the lo-fi drum samples of Beach House’s early work, and then quickly picks up the cathedral-sized, gazey sound of their more recent music when Scally enters with a double-guitar lick moving in a slow, reverb-drenched counterpoint. Steady head-bobbing is unavoidable as bass and drums enter the mix and LeGrand’s soaring vocals fill out the soundscape. If the purpose of Beach House’s sound is to create some sort of dream or myth for the listener, LeGrand’s voice is what keeps you from waking up. The track is a promising taste of progress and high production in the Beach House repertoire, while still retaining a strong sense of the band’s lo-fi, dreamy aesthetic.

Beach House hits the road for a US and international tour in may. You can find the dates via the band’s website, beachhousebaltimore.com.

Beach House – “Myth”

-Adam Hirsch



Alphabeat – Vacation

The first single off of Danish pop sensation Alphabeat’s upcoming third studio album, “Vacation” , may not be the perfect song to listen to during record high temperatures in Oberlin, but it comes damn near close. With 80’s inspired beats, vocals, videos, and color schemes, Alphabeat has consistently produced bubbly pop dance jams, perfect for any pool party anywhere, and “Vacation” keeps up the band’s previous successes with Hole in My Heart, The Spell, Boyfriend and 10,00 Nights. This time though, Alphabeat seem to be more comfortable to move further into the future, and away from their 80’s roots, all while keeping up a level of cutsey energy that seems almost impossible.

Although “Vacation” may not count among this year’s most technically prefect, or intellectually best songs of 2012, it must be in the running for one of the most enjoyable.(And after all, shouldn’t pure, unadulterated fun and joy be an integral part of music?)

Although there is a high bar for 80’s inspired songs about vacations (The Go Go’s and Madonna made sure of that!), Alphabeat’s riff on the same summery theme manages to stand its own, ready to be listened to with sunglasses on and a nice iced drink with a little umbrella in hand. By a pool. With flowers blooming. On a tropical island.

-Petra Seitz


FROM THE VAULT: Alice In Chains – Sap

Alice In Chains was one of the great bands of the 1990s. Being a lead act in Seattle’s music scene, Alice In Chains released three albums and three EPs within the span of five years. Their music made an immense contribution to not only grunge, but rock music in general. They’ve influenced numerous bands, including already established Metallica. The harmony between lead singer Layne Staley and guitarist and backing vocalist, Jerry Cantrell was the most important asset of Alice In Chains. Their contrasts brought a compelling listen to their audiences. As Alice In Chains are mostly known for their heavy metal sound that was present in all three of their studio albums, the band, however, wanted to experiment with a softer sound, which ultimately led to the creation of their respective alter ego EPs, Sap and Jar of Flies. The band went into the studio in 1991 to record demos for their next album. However, the songs they recorded ended up being five acoustic songs. According to drummer, Sean Kinney, he had a dream about creating an EP called Sap. The band decided to leave the recordings as they were and release the short collection of songs as an extended play, Sap. Released in 1992, Sap was intended to experiment with a new sound, regardless the risk of losing fans of the band. Sap was successful and was certified gold. The EP had great acknowledgement in the light of the newly formed genre of grunge and Nirvana’s release of Nevermind in 1991. In 1994, another version of the song “Got Me Wrong” was featured on Kevin Smith’s film, Clerks. This brought more attention to the songs and the EP.

Alice In Chains – Got Me Wrong

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