Sunday, 11 March 2012

15 Bands to Listen to 
With Tea, Blankets, Candles and Christmas Lights

            ...Or at least some kind of introspective atmosphere.

We all need time to ourselves every once and a while, and it’s just not ‘me’ night without the proper playlist. Now I’m not one to brag very much, but one thing I am explicitly proud of my musical library. I have spent many an hour endlessly searching and accumulating discographies and underground sounds; a worthwhile endeavour when at long last the musical goose bumps run down my back once again. It’s a hobby fueled by my obsession with that exact moment of euphoria. You know, when the perfect combination of instruments and a dash of musical genius can change your perspective and crawl under your skin to a place you’ve probably forgotten about. That connection is universal and has the power transcend language, politics, culture.....

            We already know of the medicinal value of music and how including your favorite bands into what you do can help relieve stress and maintain emotional balance. Sometimes, though, all you need is to recoil into that personal space for some you time. And nothing works better than some mellow tunes and an evening barricaded in your room with excessive amounts of pillows, green tea, a good book, and whatever else your personal recipe for happiness is. For your referencing pleasures, here’s a list of my top 15 personal favourite artists (in no particular order) who will help you unwind while you tell your life to calm the hell down. Enjoy.

1) James Vincent McMorrow

            JVM is an Irish singer-songwriter who wrote and produced his debut album early last year during a self-imposed seclusion in a beach house. If that doesn’t scream ‘perfect for solitude’, give his material a listen and you’ll begin to understand why Irish singer-songwriters are well known for being charged creatures of raw human emotion. Maybe it’s ‘something in the water’, but it sure works for them. And us. And probably most straight women in America. 

2) The Album Leaf

            Contemporary instrumental music arguably tends to work harder to evict any sort of response from its listeners, and it usually entails more imaginative work from its producer. Jimmy LaValle began his solo (mainly) instrumental project The Album Leaf in full knowledge of these challenges, and has been successfully creating music for over a decade in spite of them. After five full-length studio albums, eight singles and four compilation appearances, you might say LaValle is bringing a new, more personal style of instrumentalism into the 21st Century. You be the judge. 

3) The Antlers

            The three-piece Brooklyn-based alt-rock band The Antlers first gained notoriety after writing and releasing their first full length album Hospice in March 2009, a themed record dedicated to a story of a hospital worker who falls in love with a terminally ill patient. As you can clearly figure out from that last sentence, many of the songs originating from this set of work are downbeat and melodic with punches of electricity and the humming of background machines, not the mention the lyrics are downright haunting when given attention. That’s right...Hit the replay button.

4) The National

            Another music-engine to burst out of Brooklyn is the indie rock band The National. I chose this band for a specific reason: lead singer Matt Berninger’s unconventional yet soothing low-toned voice. The success of this band’s work, spanning over a decade, proves that you don’t have to be flashy to be good. In this band’s case, you can also add amazing, original, majestic and sublime as appropriate adjectives. 

5) Fionn Regan

            Let’s go back to Ireland as homage to the soon approaching Saint Patrick’s Day. If you find yourself a little tipsy and pining for company on the 17th, allow Mr. Fionn Regan to accompany you into jubilation. He won’t judge - instead the new-age folk inspired pieces he bashfully strums may just leave dreaming of a grassy moor somewhere along the Cliffs of Moher.  

6) Bon Iver

            Once upon a bitter 2007 winter in northwestern Wisconsin, a gentleman by the name of Justin Vernon spent three months in a remote cabin recording a masterpiece now known as For Emma, Forever Ago (the theme of complete seclusion is evident here). Vernon has since accepted a growing fame in the indie music scene, a phenomenon that has all but changed the integrity of his music. His second self-titled album proved a significant maturation of his creative capabilities, all the while staying true to the emotional lumberjack we’ve come to know and love. 

7) The Wooden Sky

            As the first Toronto-based band to appear on the list, The Wooden Sky is a perfect excuse to be taken away by lead singer Gavin Gardiner’s incredible voice. This band is currently standing on two full length albums and a tour history with bands the like of Elliott Brood, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Yukon Blonde. And that, my friends, is about as Canadian as one can get.

8) Goldmund

            My eighth installment is a little unconventional by comparison – Goldmund is another instrumental project by American composer Keith Kenniff. The ambient, almost transcendental quality of Goldmund captures the most intense and the most subtle of human conditions, all without speaking a single word. His music is left for interpretation, allowing to listener to engage with each piece on a very personal level – an incomparable experience. 

9) Iron & Wine

            It’s hard to create a list the likes of this and leave ourt Iron and Wine, the all-American symbol for southern country meeting popular folk. Samuel Beam writes music that is accessible, easily relatable, simple yet extremely poignant in its untamed form. Not to mention, the calm whisper of Beam’s voice keeps you listening and almost transfixed in a lullaby he has been creating over four separate albums since 2002. Congrats, Sam, on becoming a household name in the world of 21st century folk. 

10) Noah Gundersen

            Noah Gundersen of ‘Noah Gundersen and The Courage’ (now known as just ‘The Courage’) began playing music like many other popular artists – at the age of 10 and to the forceful decisions of his parents, who made him take piano lessons. Fast forward to 2010 and the band, headlined by Gundersen, releases their first EP with incredible reception. Gundersen writes and plays with his sister, Abby, who are together a powerhouse on and off stage. The clever lyrics and guitar riffs tell all, leaving the listener wanting more. 

11) Sufjan Stevens

            If ever a MacGyver of musicians existed, Sufjan Stevens would indisputably take the title. On an album to album basis (and there’s nine of ‘em), it’s hard to tell you’re still listening to the same person. That’s because (thanks to a multitude of instrumental talent) Stevens has consistently recreated his act, touching on themes of love, faith, sorrow, childhood wonder, and, oh yeah, a now dwindled desire to create an album for each of the 50 states of America. Hey, if anyone’s going to accomplish that ridiculous feat, it’s this guy. 

12) Explosions in the Sky

            Try and think of this selection as not specifically for Explosions in the Sky, but the entire post-rock movement, most of which would be fairly appropriate for the list. The guitar work and imagery created by this instrumental band evicts a certain epic climax of passion unrivaled by many. All six of their studio albums theme a sort of passing wave that can be found in each song, from the silent melodies of a single clean electric guitar to the screaming of an entire band in unity. My advice is to close your eyes, lay back and enjoy the show.

13) Nick Drake

            As the only deceased member of this list, it’s important to note that Nick Drake has been credited by many as single-handedly starting the new-age folk singer-songwriter style of music we have come to know today. What is even more interesting is the fact that Drake was never widely known while he was alive, and only became popularized after his early death at 26 years of age, proving that he was actually way ahead of his time. Drake’s failure to reach fame was also attributed to his unwillingness to appear in public, do interviews or sign on to show bills – a product of intense depression and a theme he touches on in many songs.

14) Regina Spektor

            Although Spektor achieved popularity from her upbeat tunes such as Fidelity and On The Radio, she appears on this list for the more sombre tunes. Spektor seems to find her homestead behind an electric piano, creatively using her vocal range to find tones of content and devastation – often in the same song. Although born in Moscow, Regina Spektor found her musical niche in a place many others have – New York City. Her work shows influences of rock, jazz and classical combined with a certain original playfulness in song writing and lyricism. 

15) The Middle East

            Last and definitely not least is The Middle East, a native Australian ‘musical collective’ that formed in 2005 and played their last show in July 2011. As unfortunate as the break-up was, the band left behind an assortment of whimsical works that have been hard to define. The wide array of musical instruments used ingeniously within each song is captivating, as is the content and substance of their writing. As a final selection on the list, I bid farewell to a band that was well beyond their time.


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