Call Me Medici

20 January 2022  •  Filed under

I’ve recently started buying music again.

Even with all the personal audio and video tools available these days, it’s still strangely easy to equate slick production and visuals with runaway success. That cool new album I just streamed a hundred times, and can’t get enough of? It may have been recorded in a makeshift blanket fort in the keyboard player’s rented flat because that’s all they can afford, and that’s who lives far enough away from trains and traffic to record in peace. That amazing music video I’m watching on repeat? It may have been recorded on the drummer’s iPhone because he had the most available space to store the footage, and the reason it looks so good is because another band member’s day job is editing video.

It’s been kind of sobering to discover how many of the bands that are giving me such great energy right now—keeping my head up and plowing forward into the mess of life—aren’t enjoying the kind of success I want for them. One band still lives at home with parents. There’s no shame in that, but I imagine that it would be nice to have the financial freedom to be able to make that a choice rather than a necessity. Yoga instructor, illustrator, session musician, boutique manager, and concert promoter are just a few more jobs that members of some of my favorite bands hold down when they’re not actively recording & touring. These are the jobs that largely fund new music when streams and music sales are lacking. Sadly, that happens too often.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard that it takes around 1,500 song streams to measure up to the income of a single album download. That sucks. Having the means to afford music is definitely a privilege, and one that I feel obligated to exercise. I’ll buy directly from the artist’s store whenever possible. Bandcamp is my second choice, because they famously pass on the lion’s share of the income to the artist, and—because Bandcamp only sets a minimum purchase price—I’ll often bump that up and pay more. Beyond that, the distribution of income gets sketchy, but any album sale helps.

Sometimes I don’t even download the music. I’m still streaming music, after all, adding pennies to artists’ income all day long. I like to think of my purchases as receipts from my contribution to the artist’s tip jar. It’ll be there if I ever need it, but the important part is that I’ve supported someone who has given so much to me. In return, my purchase gives them the promise of continuing to do what we both love. 🖤💜


2021 Music Report

5 January 2022  •  Filed under ,

Last year was uneven in so many ways. You would think that being on lockdown for much of the last two years would have resulted in more music consumption than usual, but it turns out I was on track to listen to less music during this pandemic than at any other time over the last 17 years (that’s how long I’ve been tracking my listening activity with Last.fm). I’d blame the unprecedented onslaught of Zoom meetings, but my listening time had already been in slow decline for years; lockdown just accelerated the trend. I also escaped into gaming a whole lot in 2020, and a bit into 2021. So, it was really only in the last three months of 2021 that the floodgates opened back up, and I started listening to music again with mucho gusto.

(I’ve written at length about some of this music. Look for the star ★ symbols if you’re interested in reading more.)


Top Artists

1

Pale Waves

🎵 3,810 songs played

2

Softcult

🎵 747 songs played

3

CHVRCHES

🎵 491 songs played

4

The Cure

🎵 215 songs played

5

Metric

🎵 208 songs played

Pale Waves

No surprise here. Pale Waves are my most meaningful musical discovery in recent memory, and I have played them like there’s no tomorrow. I guess I’m emo now.

Softcult

Softcult released their first music in 2021 and continue to impress me with every new song they put out. My excitement over this band has only grown since I originally wrote about them, and I can’t wait for their next EP to drop in February.

CHVRCHES

I’m a sucker for good synthpop, and CHVRCHES did not disappoint this year. Screen Violence is so good, and it got me listening to their whole back catalog again.

The Cure

I played The Cure a lot last year because so much of the other music I listened to seemed to emphatically point me back to them. I’m not at all surprised that they continue to inspire artists more than 40 years later, but I am delighted.

Metric

Metric didn’t release anything new last year, but I’m still enjoying 2018’s Art of Doubt quite a bit.


Top Albums

1

My Mind Makes Noises

Pale Waves

🎵 2,429 songs played

2

Who Am I?

Pale Waves

🎵 733 songs played

3

ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID

Pale Waves

🎵 602 songs played

4

Year Of The Rat

Softcult

🎵 432 songs played

5

Screen Violence

CHVRCHES

🎵 290 songs played

Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises

Pale Waves’ My Mind Makes Noises is the album that burned through the haze and reignited my love of music last year. What a shimmering, effusive, emotionally unguarded, 80s-inspired coming-of-age pop-rock revival. It’s not only my most played album of the year, but possibly my most played album of all time.

Pale Waves – Who Am I?

As much as I like Pale Waves, I have a complicated relationship with their second album. They went in a very different direction on Who Am I?, changing influences from the likes of The Cure and The Primitives to early-2000s pop-punk and singer/songwriters like Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch. Talk about stylistic whiplash. Still, thanks to some irresistible songs, this album ended up having enough appeal to push it to the top of my listening this year.

Pale Waves – ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID

YEAH, IT’S PALE WAVES AGAIN. 🕶 I discovered their 2018 EP ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID this year, too, and I’m tempted to call it their best work overall. It’s just a bit more bright and plucky than the darker pop rock of My Mind Makes Noises, and a clear predecessor to bangers like “Television Romance” and “There’s A Honey”. I defy you to listen to “The Tide” without bopping your head at least a little bit. So freakin’ catchy.

Softcult – Year Of The Rat

Softcult’s Year Of The Rat was my second most exciting discovery of the year, and my favorite music released in 2021. This tight EP packs up all the best parts of 90s shoegaze, alt rock, and dream pop and pairs the music with socially conscious themes. I love this so much.

CHVRCHESScreen Violence

Huh, I wonder if I’m super into mid-80s to mid-90s new wave revivalist music. CHVRCHES often gush over Depeche Mode, The Cure, and New Order (and justifiably so; those bands are awesome), but I think Screen Violence is the first album where those influences are so plainly and literally present (e.g. Robert Smith’s guest vocals on “How Not To Drown”). I love hearing more guitar and real drums find their way into this band’s songs. It’s a really pleasant evolution of their sound, and probably their strongest album to date. Plus, drawing a line between horror films and all the trauma pushed through our screens over the last few years is pretty genius, if you ask me. It’s a very 2021 album.


Top Tracks

1

Kiss

Pale Waves

🎵 223 plays

2

Television Romance

Pale Waves

🎵 219 plays

3

Black

Pale Waves

🎵 204 plays

4

Red

Pale Waves

🎵 201 plays

5

Drive

Pale Waves

🎵 193 plays

I was am clearly obsessed with this album. “Kiss” is the best song The Cure never wrote.


Notables

Some of last year’s musical discoveries didn’t make my top fives, but are still worth mentioning:

BAND-MAID

The whole Japanese music scene is incredibly interesting to me right now, and this band is one of the best. I didn’t do them justice when I shared their live performance of “onset” with just a pithy blurb. I may write more later, but for now I’ll just add that watching this band’s live videos has—as the kids say—given me life. Unfortunately, a lot of their best live performances have been DMCA-ed off of YouTube, but some of them have survived as reaction videos. It’s worth enduring the reactions, though, to witness how tight and talented this band is.

Courage My Love – SPECTRA

This is the previous band from Softcult’s Arn-Horn sisters. A lot of their earlier music was squarely in the pop-punk genre, but their last two albums—Synesthesia and SPECTRA—shifted to synth-pop. SPECTRA in particular is quite good, though both albums start to hint at the sounds and themes that would eventually become Softcult.

The Joy Formidable – AAARTH

The Big Roar is one of my all-time favorite albums, so I eagerly awaited what came next for The Joy Formidable. Wolf’s Law, was pretty good, but Hitch just didn’t land for me at all. As result, I kind of stopped paying attention. Whoops. Last year, I caught a wild hare to listen to the band’s whole catalog, and AAARTH really stood out this time around. I hear a lot of the same sort of heavy, weird, experimental choices that I loved in The Big Roar, and it’s become my second favorite The Joy Formidable album.

HANABIE. – Girl’s Reform Manifest

Can metal be fun? This metal sounds fun. It’s also super heavy. I shared the music video for the song “We love sweets” recently, and since then I’ve listened to the whole album multiple times. Nothing else quite captures the magic of “We love sweets”, but this record still roars. “L.C.G – 2019mix” and “Reiwa dating apps generation” are a couple more fan favorites, if you’re interested.

Fickle Friends

I forget how I ran across Fickle Friends—the last 3 months was kind of a blur of music—but this band is delightful. They’ve written some of the strongest pop hooks in recent memory and have a tight-as-a-drum production sound right up there with Now, Now and HAIM. “Glue”, “Love You To Death”, and “Midnight” are absolute earworms. Really looking forward to their next album coming out this month.


Listening Highlights

Total Time Listened

667 Hours

Longest Listening Streak

89 Days in a row

Artists Played

550

Albums Played

917

Total Tracks Played

10,781

Unique Songs Played

3,079

Average Plays Per Day

30


New Music

New Artists

182 (33%)

New Albums

440 (48%)

New Tracks

1,324 (43%)


Vibes

  • Indie Pop (30%)
  • Indie (20%)
  • Synthpop (20%)
  • Pop (15%)
  • Shoegaze (15%)

2022

1 January 2022  •  Filed under

No

shame.
hesitation.
toxic politics.
fear of the future.
holding it all inside.
pushing others away.
watching others struggle.
comparing yourself to others.
waiting to tell someone you love them.
assuming there’ll always be another sunset.

Yes

love.
music.
stories.
gardens.
transformation.
faith in yourself.
the sun on your face.
lifting up others in need.
time to be alone and to think.
long drives through the country.


花冷え。(HANABIE。) - “We love sweets”

22 December 2021  •  Filed under ,

You're going to think you're ready for this. You're not ready.

Hang on to your wigs and keys.

HANABIE. is a four-piece metal band out of Tokyo. They initially formed as a high school music club and have kept kicking around for about 6 years since then, as best as I can tell.

I’m not into many metal bands, though I do listen to some artists—like Rolo Tomassi—that mix metal with other styles to give it a more varied, melodic, (occasional) pop sound. I have a love/hate relationship with genres already, and in this case I’m fully out of my depth in describing the genres that this band draws from. So, borrowing from descriptions written by others: HANABIE. play a mix of metalcore, death metal, and nu-metal with kawaii, rap, and pop stylings. Hope that helps. 🤷

“We love sweets”—specifically, the song’s music video—was my introduction to this band, and it’s one of those things that is so delightfully surprising and different that I didn’t know quite what to think after watching it, except that I totally loved it. I’m not alone; I’ve watched dozens of others’ reaction videos to the song, and the consensus is the same: that was amazing, but what just happened? It’s an incredibly tight, roaring, teeth-rattling, kawaii death-metal shredder with a surfeit of machine-gun double-kick drums than must somehow violate The Geneva Convention. This song is unconventional, shifting structures and bucking expectations as it goes along—“Bohemian Rhapsody” style—yet it remains cohesive. It’s total brain candy, and keeps me coming back again and again—a legit headbanger that is also catchy as hell.

True to my penchant for surprise and juxtaposition, part of the appeal here is the contrast between the harshness of the music and the humorous, cutesy appearance of the band. You will not believe that a petite Japanese woman could make her voice sound like that. It’s bananas. But when the novelty wears off, this band still has the chops to transcend the spectacle. The whole Girl’s Reform Manifest album is really solid, front to back—30 minutes and 57 seconds of legit face-melters.

(Sorry for any neck injuries or dental surgery that may result from watching this video.)


Pale Waves - Who Am I?

8 December 2021  •  Filed under

From 80s goth-pop to pop-punk. That's quite a change. (Photo: Jenn Five for NME)

I’ve been sitting on this article for a while now, thinking I wasn’t going to publish anything else about this band, especially after gushing like a teenager about their first album. But here we are.

Honestly, there was no chance that this album was going to stack up to the first (2018’s My Mind Makes Noises). Still, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I can’t help but feel a real sense of disappointment about the band’s total departure from the 80s-inspired sound of their EP and debut album. Shifting influences from the likes of The Cure and The Primitives to pop-punk and early 2000s singer/songwriters like Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch is radical, to say the least. This sounds nothing like My Mind Makes Noises.

On the other hand, I generally like artists that refuse to put out the same album year after year. The days of placing an artist into one easily-definable box for their entire career is long over, and time inevitably changes us whether we like it or not. Pivots are unavoidable. The truth is, Who Am I? has some really good songs, and even some that manage to escape the overt Avril homage.

This is a big change. But that’s what this album is all about.

Who Am I? has been out for almost a year now, and I’ve had plenty of time to think about it. As bummed as I am about the abrupt stylistic shift, I clearly remember my twenties; when you’re young, the days are longer, and a lot more growth happens in a shorter amount of time. It’s tempting to look at the roughly three-year gap between the band’s first recorded material and this second album and grumble that nothing should change so dramatically in so narrow a window. But that’s exactly what it means to be young, and—honestly—4 years is an eternity to a twentysomething. Those years are a time to try on styles—sometimes suddenly and drastically—and figure out who we are. Let us never speak of my nu-metal phase.

And there’s been a lot of change for this band. They’ve traveled the world, attracting a devoted fanbase and having success and experiences that few people can relate to. They also endured a tour bus crash in early 2020 that surely served as a harrowing wake-up call. Ciàra (producer, songwriter, & drummer) finally came out as trans/non-binary and started treatments and surgery. That’s huge. Heather (songwriter, vocalist, & lyricist) fell in love, and realized that she had a lot to say—that as an openly gay artist, there were things she could do through music that could help others struggling with their identity, and become a hopeful standard to rally around.

Who Am I? is the antithesis of My Mind Makes Noises in nearly every way.

My Mind Makes Noises—as brilliant as I may think it is—definitely follows a very specific aesthetic. I’ve read in interviews that Heather felt like that sound no longer reflected who she was, and the band needed to evolve. Not that major life changes couldn’t be expressed with an 80s pop aesthetic, but it does make sense that feeling so differently as a person would translate into something that also sounds musically different. That desire broke up the foundational songwriting partnership between her and Ciàra, because the new songs they’d been writing together sounded like a continuation of the first album. Heather went off to write with a handful of producers in L.A. That must have been a hard decision to make.

All of this brings us to the result of such consequential changes. Who Am I? is the antithesis of My Mind Makes Noises in nearly every way. Heather’s voice has absolutely bloomed over the years, and demands a larger stage. Instead of tight, densely-layered, synth-heavy production, there’s a looser, organic, acoustic guitar-rooted sound. In place of bittersweet tales of desire, longing, and loss, we get actual love songs, messages of self-acceptance and affirmation, and declarations of identity and inner strength. And, sure, there is still some angst in there, but the overall theme is one of positive, personal transformation.

For me, “Easy” is the best song of the bunch, a straight-up heart-melting masterpiece of a love song. The acoustic guitar verses give way to a pulsing, blissed-out chorus that probably best bridges the sounds of the the two albums. But more than the blended sound, I love the sentiment; it bottles that feeling of connecting with someone so deeply and easily that you can’t imagine how you lived without them. “I Just Needed You” comes to the realization that there is no success or possession that can replace love. “Odd Ones Out” fights for love despite the specter of failure. “She’s My Religion” recognizes the flaws in her partner, but also doesn’t care; love embraces everything about the other. There’s a newfound sweetness in many of these songs. In a way, this album is a diary of falling in love.

Awww. See? Pretty positive vibes from start to end.

Well, almost. The album’s namesake song closes out the tracklist, but this is clearly where it all begins. It’s a curious choice to name the album after the lowest, most anguished track. “Who Am I?”—the song—is a heart-rending cry for help that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the album. It’s easily the most powerful song, though. Haven’t we all asked ourselves this question at one time or another? It’s a doorway to the most private and protected parts of ourselves, and is often asked in the depths of struggle. Anyone asking this question should expect to answer this song with tears.

There is plenty to like about this collection of songs, to be sure. The more time I give it, the more it sinks in. It’s unfair to compare, but hard to avoid: that first album—the style, the sentiment, the timing, the callback to my youth—will always be special to me, and impossible to replicate. But the genre-shock is wearing off a bit, and I’m looking at the new material with more appreciation.

So, mixed feelings. Maybe I’m just getting softer as I grow older, but—despite all I’ve said that may indicate the contrary—it’s heartwarming to listen to this album reveal another human being’s arrival at such a clear-eyed sense of self. And there are a fair number of songs that connect, despite the crosswise musical style from the first album. Heather’s knack for telegraphing her emotions is as strong as ever, and that remains the core identity & appeal of Pale Waves.

“Who am I?” she asks.

She seems happy. Isn’t that a good start?


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© Jared Christensen

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