One question I don’t care for is “what do you listen to?” 90% of the time you’ll get, “I like everything,” and while I would love nothing more than for that to be true, unfortunately, 100% of the time, it is false. No one listens to EVERYTHING. Even me, with all my arrogance, can't sell that lie. The question is too general. If they try to answer with specific groups, it won’t represent them fully; five bands can't define your listening sensibilities. “But Spenser, so wise and true, what should we ask, if not that?” Great question everyone. Love your desire to grow. The question I like to ask is, “What have you been listening to this past month?" Asking this will narrow it down to a few artists, giving you an idea of what they like that isn’t as broad and ambiguous as ‘everything’ or a general breakdown of well known (or the opposite) list of artists. From there you can branch out. It’s my favorite question concerning my favorite topic. With this question in mind I figured I’d start making Sunday posts talking about what I’m listening to each week, outside of the new releases that are more or less a requirement, giving focus to past albums and songs (though there will be a lot of recent stuff as well) so you can get a better handle on my tastes while allowing me to share some music that I otherwise might not talk about.
Due to this being the first time I’m doing a weekly breakdown, I’m going to get overly ambitious // give your attention span too much credit, and write way too much. Then you’re only going to skim through it but pretend you read it all when you see me by throwing me a compliment which you’ll follow up with an enthusiastic thumbs up to further cement the lie. I know you. We aaaaaall know you. I'm ok with that scenario, so let’s get on with it. I’ll start with my latest obsession, which isn’t so much a ‘latest’ obsession as it is an ongoing obsession that comes and goes depending on my mood and the season. I’m talking about Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. Though it was officially released in 2004, it’s been in the works since the late 60’s but was never completed due to a handful of complications. My recent return to it was ignited by seeing Brian’s 50th Anniversary performance of Pet Sounds at the Hollywood Bowl last Sunday, which was an incredible evening to say the least (if I elaborated any further I don’t think I’d ever stop, so we’ll leave it at that). And while that album is recognized as one of the greatest of all time, as well as the cornerstone of Brian’s genius, it’s SMiLE that is the standout to me. It’s an epic, sprawling, psychedelic, pop masterpiece that finds it's beauty in experimentation with sound and structure, going in 100 different directions, yet maintaining harmony and fluidity throughout. The orchestrations are both light and complex, the transitions are pristine, making it flow like one long, gorgeous piece of music. It ranks high among my favorite albums of all time and lends itself flawlessly to the California summer atmosphere. It features two Beach Boy staples in “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations,” (albeit with slightly different arrangements) which play even better within the context of the album, so listen to it in full! Here's a single to get your feet wet. TREAT YOSELF.
The other notables I have been giving serious play to are courtesy of a couple of new artists’ who both dropped their debut records recently. The first is Shura, whose album Nothing’s Real has all the sweet stylings of 80’s glam pop with modern sensibilities. Her vocals, while limited, fit perfectly into her style. The album is fun, addictive and most importantly, it’s fresh. A quality that’s often lacking in contemporary pop. The other record I’ve been looping is Palmistry’s PAGAN, which might be the slickest offering I’ve heard in awhile. But I've got to warn you, those who find a songs weight in it’s lyrics might have a hard time with this one, as his delivery is anything but clear. Though, for me, the lack of articulation is part of the appeal, as he mumbles over minimalist beats with catchy vocal melodies, relying more on feel and ambience to get his message across. While I could see how the album could feel monotonous to some, I really enjoy it's consistency. It doesn’t seem concerned with breaking new ground, it knows exactly what it is, and I found warmth in that. Two great electronic dominated records that have me under their spell in completely different ways. Not a bad start to what I could see becoming two fruitful careers.
Aside from that I’ve been all over the place, and I promise I’m almost done. I'll keep it to five or six more artists and bullet point the rest of the way.
Marian Hill’s debut, Act One, still gets quite a bit of attention. To put it plainly, they're just so damn cool. "I Want You" might be my song of the summer.
I continue to sample Chance’s Coloring Book at least once a day (for those of you who have been living underground, comfortably I hope, for the last few months, it’s the best album of the year so far).
Morrissey has snuck his way back into my ears after a long hiatus. Sometimes I get so caught up in the 'now' I forget to go back and listen to the music, and artists, that shaped me. Morrissey is definitely a major influence when it came to developing my tastes and it's his 1991 record Kill Uncle that introduced me to him. Here's my favorite tune off the record.
Grace has given us a pretty massive hit with her take on Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me," the lead single off her debut album. And while I enjoy the single, it's the rest of the album that deserves our attention. Smooth and soulful, Grace has definitely crafted something worth our time in FMA. She sets the tone perfectly with the opener "Church On Sunday," but my favorite song has to be the silky sweet "Coffee."
I'll finish with a shout out to Sturgill Simpson, whose album from earlier this year (April 15th to be exact), A Sailor's Guide To Earth, keeps creeping back in my mind week after week. Though I would definitely say it operates in the realm of country, where Sturgill's voice shines brightest, we've got jazz, pop, classical, rock, etc. making constant appearances throughout. Those of you craving a modern day Van Morrison, look no further. Look for this album to be in my top 10 of 2016. The opening track says it all.
To be perfectly honest this list could go on and on, but I think it might be wise to cap it before I get too carried away. If you want to know what ELSE I've been listening to just shoot me a message! I'll answer it immediately because no one ever messages me. So do it. Please. Give me a task to do! I'll leave you now with some well wishes and to remind you that it's OK to quit your job and only listen to music all day. Everyone who is counting on you to provide for them will think it's a really cool decision and definitely not have a serious sit down conversation concerning your sanity and your future. I promise!