Well, once again I’m a bit tardy and we have the music I was listening to in August being posted on the first day of September. But, better late than never, and the August music, while a bit late, is pretty spectacular. The August iPod update covers 94 songs from 7 artists (yes, a lot of full album downloads this month), and stayed largely (and surprisingly) away from Hip-Hop. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m hearing lately.
As Tall As Lions, You Can’t Take it With You: Having been kicking around in various formats since 2001, ATAL has released their third album. The band, originally from New York but recording a good portion of work in Chicago, flirts with rock, Indie and folk in darker soundscapes. The sometimes low, sometimes high or falsetto voice of lead singer Dan Nigro works with lyrics often dealing with depression or anxiety over brooding tracks. Through all of these songs, a feeling of being trapped somehow persists, with snips of guitar rifts floating through deep bass lines or horns whispering in the background. But despite this, the melancholy at times reaches crescendos that speak of freedom through misery. At other points, ATAL is a runaway train of energy on a track like “In Case of Rapture,” where the drums keep a frenetic pace. Don’t Sleep On: “Sixes and Sevens,” “We’s Been Waitin,” and “Home Is Where You’re Happy”
Beats Antique, Tribal Derivations: Fusing old and new, Beats Antique uses World and specifically Eastern-inspired music while adapting it to Western downtempo, glitch and hip-hop. Indian chants, thick stand-up bass, lightly picked harps, sitars and other string instruments are thrown in the pot with tablas and hand drums, frequently to be sprinkled with drum machines and electronic effects. The result is an album with driving, lounging or club music. In some cases you can imagine the hookah smoke drifting around you as dancers move slowly to the tunes, while in others you can imagine a dark lounge. On “Derivation,” they take portion of melody from “Summertime,” and pepper it with a digeridoo and deep drums. If you’re a fan of World music, this is an album for you. Don’t Sleep On: “Derivation,” “Intertwine,” and “Discovered.”
Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band: After working on the fringes of music, Eric D. Johnson, the frontman of the Fruit Bats, signed with Sub Pop in 2002 and have been labeled by music publications as “Zoology Rock,” “Boot-Gazer,” and “rustic pop.” The Ruminant Band is their 5th studio release and offers a sunny panoply of pastoral and easy to listen to (which is not the same as easy listening) rock tracks that feel like they could have come out of another era. Up-beat acoustic guitars back moving guitar riffs, piano dances playfully across the spectrum and Johnson’s voice, high and plaintive, is reminiscent of some of Led Zeppelin’s tracks. The tracks are on the shorter side, content to bring the listener along, get the idea across and move onto something else without brooding on one sound. An upbeat album perfect for a ride or camping trip, early mornings in the sunshine and dusty backroads. Don’t Sleep On: “Beautiful Morning Light,” “Primitive Man,” and “Singing Joy to the World.”
M.R. Shajarian, Night Silence Desert: Where Beats Antique took traditional music and mixed it with new themes, M.R. Shajarian stays strictly classic here in his World music. The tracks are light on percussion and heavy on atmosphere, with songs that feel as if they’re literally drifting away into the night of a desert. The instrumentation is skilled, an almost Middle East Béla Fleck sound permeating many of the tracks. Don’t Sleep On: “Silence of the Night (Sokout-e-Shab),” “Rain (Baroun),” and “Setar Instrumental (Torgheh)”
The Morning Benders, Talking Through Tin Cans: Berkeley natives The Morning Benders, who recently garnered “Best Of” for a local band in the yearly San Francisco round up are a pleasant mixture of rock and Indie pop without trying to be too much of either. The songs are laid back and pleasant melodically. Simple drums, guitars, a Rhodes and tambourines paint a picture of sunny California in much the same way the Beach Boys did, but with urban flare and a nod to slightly less-polished pop. Like the Shins without the depression, The Morning Benders are a group to keep an eye out for over the next few years. Don’t Sleep On: “Waiting for a War,” “Boarded Doors,” and “Wasted Time.”
Oumou Sangare, Seya: Hailing from Mali, Sangare weaves traditional African hunting songs with lyrics of social criticism attacking the position of women and marriage in the society, among others. Seya is her first album release since 2004 and it is full of sound. The rhythms and melodies of her native land meet superbly with her voice which is smooth and slightly musky. The arrangements are lively and moving, and as her voice soars over the songs, you don’t need to speak her language to hear her emotion. Don’t Sleep On: “Kounadya,” “Senkele Te Sira,” and “Wele Wele Wintou.”
Owl City, Maybe I’m Dreaming/Ocean Eyes: Adam Young is the one man behind Owl City. He started making music to combat insomnia, and the tracks carry an energized dreaminess that speaks to the line between dusk and dawn. Fans of Postal Service will recognize his electric and synth symphonies, while fans of Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service will find in Young an eerily identical voice to Ben Gibbons. Young is soothing, his melodies are light and sound pure, and his balance between sweet sentimentality and sad longing creates almost a joyous balance between joy and pain. For some, these tracks might be too syrupy, but for others, a slightly more electronic and upbeat Postal Service will be just the delivery they need. Maybe I’m Dreaming is a 2008 release and Ocean Eyes from 2009. Don’t Sleep On: “Fireflies,” (video below), “The Technicolor Phase,” and “On the Wing.”