I just spent several hours going through a list of this year’s GRAMMY nominees, finding videos, for each nominated song, a task associated with my day job at Radio.com. It was at times tedious but also, in many cases, fun and eye-opening. There’s a lot of, shall we say, less-than-inspirational music on the list, especially among the categories that wind up on television. But dig deep and you’ll find some gems.
For instance, I knew nothing about Woodkid, a French singer-songwriter and director (real name Yoann Lemoine) who’s probably best known for the video work he’s done for artists like Katy Perry, Pharrell, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift. Woodkid was nominated for Best Music Video for his song “The Golden Age” (featuring Max Richter).
Taken from Woodkid’s 2013 album of the same name, both the song and the black-and-white video are quiet, dreamy and melancholy, sharing nothing much at all with the pop of singers like Perry or Swift. Carve out a few minutes (OK, actually more like 11) and watch it below.
I threw together a Top Ten list of the best albums of the past year for the CBS site Street Date. It’s a fun task, but not always easy, as anyone who’s done it knows–you inevitably miss a few things, and weeks or months (or more) later, you may come to regret your choices. Either way, though, it stands as a capsule of where your head is at at a specific point in time. Here’s where mine’s been at lately.
One of the bands that’s been slowly burning its way into my consciousness the past few years is Phosphorescent. It started with their head-turning 2009 album To Willie, which contained all Willie Nelson songs redone with a laid-back approach that both pays tribute to Nelson’s own songwriting and arrangements, but also brings the music inside the circle of 21st century indie-rock. Meaning, Phosphorescent does a fantastic job reinterpreting Nelson’s music with arrangements and voice born from the alt-country side of the tracks, and makes the classic songs like “Too Sick To Pray” and “Pick Up The Tempo” feel fresh all over again.
Listen to the lead track, “Reasons to Quit”–a Nelson song that may have not grabbed your attention before; in the hands of Matthew Houck, however (he’s the main force in Phosphorescent)–with his gently raspy voice that sounds on the verge of breakdown–it’s a clear standout, capturing a moment in time where the characters are teetering on the edge between too much and not enough.
OK, not teetering anymore, they’re slipping into darkness.
One of the best quality Richard and Linda videos I’ve seen on YouTube to date. The song alone kills me, but seeing it sung with such conviction, and by these two at such a fresh age, adds to the knockout.
Last night (2-5-08) I caught James Blackshaw at San Francisco’s Aquarius Records–hard to see the guy from the back of the room, but I managed to squeeze up front for a few minutes and fire off a few shots. If you haven’t heard the guy, he’s a young U.K. 12-string maestro in the John Fahey or Robbie Basho camp–a lush, cascading sound that’s both delicate and, in the right moments, intense. The site Download Music has a free MP3 download of the song “Running to the Ghost” if you’re curious to hear something.
Traveling to Cambodia for the first time is an eye-opener. The average western has likely never seen poverty on this level–and on top of that, a tragically huge number of people continue to be killed or injured by land mines (set mostly by the Khmer Rouge, but some likely left over from the Vietnam War era). People with missing limbs are everywhere, many left with no choice but to beg on the street. Some, though, are finding ways to get around their handicap–including music.
Walking around the temples at Angkor Wat, I came across three different disabled-musician bands, each performing traditional Khmer folk music for passing tourists. They sold CDs for $8 and $10 (I bought a couple), and the music (all acoustic) was pretty interesting–not the stuff you’d put on during a dinner party or to soothe yourself to sleep, but plenty raw, earthy, intense. The songs on the CDs are a bit simple and repetitive, but the sound is like nothing I’ve heard.