“American Money” – BØRNS

Jams

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought BØRNS would be a one-hit wonder after “Electric Love.” The song had all of the ingredient for a typical one-hit wonder: a virtually unknown artist, infectious pop melodies and an androgynous vocalist all packaged neatly into a 3:38 song performed by a band with a crazy foreign letter in its name. Seriously, look at the top charts for indie/alternative and you’ll find a surprising amount of artists with foreign letters in their names, including Låpsley, MØ, LÉON, etc. Who do these people think they’re fooling with their fancy foreign letters?

“Electric Love” was one of those singles that became exhausting to me because it was so omnipresent on the radio and streaming, its popularity lasting the duration of the summer. I needed a detox, and as a result, avoided listening to the rest of “Candy” (BØRNS’ EP) and completely overlooked the first album, “Dopamine,” which dropped in the middle of October.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist came through for me once again with yet another W. The first song on my playlist this week was “American Money” by my now-favorite artist who spells his name with a crazy foreign letter. It’s a song that contains similar elements to the more well-known and radio-friendly “Electric Love,” while diverging from the formula to give listeners something more to chew on.

It’s clear from the beginning that “American Money” isn’t going to be as airy or bubbly as “Electric Love.” While the latter begins with a burst of pure light, reminiscent of the energy brought with regularity by The Mowgli’s or The Polyphonic Spree, “American Money” brings a different vibe. Thumping and initially paired down, lead singer Garrett Borns delivers lyrics that wrap the listener up, bracing you for impact just as the synth and lustrous vocal arrangements hit.

It’s a totally different experience than listening to “Electric Love.” “American Money” has more complicated depth in its production, making the uber-popular “Electric Love” seem simple and superficial. While a basic love song at its core, “American Money” really delivers with its sound, finding that sweet, sultry spot somewhere between the bright soundscape of “Electric Love” and the darker, brooding synth melodies predominant among artists like Broods and Banks.

One-hit wonder BØRNS is not. “Dopamine” reached 24 in the US charts while the band’s top four songs on Spotify (other than “Electric Love”) combine for more than 40 million listens. “American Money” is the kind of pop music that I can get down to. I’ll even look the other way at the silly “Ø” character, which at this point just seems like a band name gimmick, albeit one that works. With that in mind, please consider attending a show on Friday night in Kansas City, where I’ll be playing with my new band, MØRNĭŅĜ ŜØŊ.

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“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” – Mass Gothic

Jams

I filter music in my head into various categories depending on its sound, tone and applicability to a given situation. To put it less robotically, I like the idea that the music I listen to acts as a soundtrack to my life. I’m sure plenty of people also feel this way. Kid Cudi has a song about it, and if he’s rapped about it before, you can be certain that plenty of white people are at least familiar with the subject matter.

Following this thinking, I’ve noticed that there’s a long list of endlessly upbeat songs that are the perfect accompaniments to optimistic montages in movies. “Light & Day” by The Polyphonic Spree is a prime example. So too is “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Both make you want to sway back and forth like a flower child on their cloud (or, if you’re on something a little more psychedelic, gyrate like one of those inflatable things used to attract people to used car lots).

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” by Mass Gothic fits right in with this imaginary list of upbeat montage movie songs. It’s also a song that you know sounds good live. Big, bright and jangly, “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” belongs at an outdoor music festival, the kind where the performers jump off the stage and walk through the crowd without missing a note.

It’s a simple song with simple lyrics. But when paired with thumping drums, raucous tambourining and harmonious backing vocals, the tune sticks with you (and make you feel good). Just to illustrate how cheerful “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” is: I’ve already exhausted my list of appropriate synonyms for the words “happy” and “cheery” (because, let’s be real here, nobody would believe that I didn’t look up “buoyant” if I’d used to describe this song).

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” is the kind of song that almost convinces you to quit your job to pursue your true passion of joining a theater group that travels around the country, playing free shows for underprivileged youth, eventually falling in love with a person named Flower and naming your children after horoscope signs. It’s that optimistic.

I can’t seem to shake the image in my head of a joyous Jesus Christ Revival Band performing this song. Everyone is wearing white robes (think The Polyphonic Spree again) and they’re led by a charismatic, dubiously handsome granolaman (Edward Sharpe). I know it’s unfair to pigeonhole this group based on what one of their songs sounds like, because now that I’ve watched the video, it’s clear that they don’t look or act anything like those other two bands, so you should instead ignore me and listen to this song. The band has less than 1,100 likes on their Facebook page, and if you tell all your friends about Mass Gothic before they blow up, you’ll look really cool. And then I’ll look really cool and take credit for them blowing up.

“The Sound” – The 1975

Jams

The rules of radio control in the car are simple and universal. The Driver is allotted complete, omniscient authority over the music selection for the duration of their tenure as Driver. Disputing this fact puts the arguer on the wrong side of history, much like claiming that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job or that the pyramids weren’t built to store grain.

My girlfriend finds herself in this same camp, as she seems to think that the passenger gets to choose the music. This is an egregious error on her part, because her initial inclination upon hearing an unfamiliar song of my choosing is to skip it and continue on to the Pop2K SiriusXM radio station (which, for some unknown reason, plays an unusually large amount of Nelly and Ludacris). However, I’m convinced that “The Sound” by The 1975 is a song that she would skip immediately, and I would like to convince her otherwise.

“The Sound” starts with a muted choir of children chirping the chorus before the lead bursts through 25 seconds later. For many this Children’s Crusade of an intro might be a skippable offense. I plead these individuals to push past the opening seconds, because while simple and a tad repetitive, “The Sound” is another excellent pop song by an excellent pop band. The song is reminiscent of the brightest and liveliest hits from the 1980s thanks to its cheery beat, funky guitar and infectious piano that punctuates the syrupy lyrics with multitudes of exclamation points.

I haven’t fallen completely in love with The 1975’s other new singles quite the same way as I have with “The Sound.” (If I had to rank them, it would be 1. “The Sound” 2. “Love Me” and 3. “UGH!”.) However, all three songs have a familiar yet refreshing sound, as if the entire band were hipster time travelers: too cool to play 80s music in the 80s, so they jumped ahead three decades for the 80s revival.

If you’re still unconvinced about the authenticity of the music, let this statement ease your mind: I have no idea whether The 1975 have a keytarist. It’s really impressive to be so obviously influenced by a particular sound from decades ago and somehow manage to feel new, albeit a bit familiar.

But there really isn’t anything wrong with that. Hollywood has found success in the last few years with rebooting and refreshing decades-old source material for modern audiences. Why not The 1975 too? Listening to “The Sound” does just what I want this kind of music to do – it scratches my 80s Music Itch in just the right spot, inspiring me to listen to classic 80s pop music, including New Order and INXS (the bands I’m immediately reminded of when listening to The 1975), among others.

So how do I convince my girlfriend to listen? Not so simple. I’ve pretty much accepted that it’s easier to listen to music we both like while riding together than music that just I like. However, I have found a loophole: she proofed this whole article, which means that she listened to the song. And once it starts playing on SiriusXM (after Twenty One Pilots hopefully disappear), she’ll jam along with me.

“Ex’s & Oh’s” – Elle King and my (sort of) apology to 102.3 BXR

Jams, OP-ED

I take no pleasure in admitting that I’ve conducted a 5-year smear campaign against Columbia’s local “alternative” station 102.3 BXR. Any time Columbia radio stations ever came up in conversation, I was quick to dismiss BXR as having gone downhill, down the furthest hill you could possibly find with a camp set up at the bottom.

My parents even talk of a time when BXR was cool. Way back in 1997 when we first moved to Columbia, BXR played the good stuff. They invited new artists into “Studio X” to perform live acoustic versions of their hit songs. Artists like Dave Matthews, Wilco, Sheryl Crow, Los Lonely Boys, etc. all made BXR hip, cool and relevant.

However, as with many radio stations, being hip and relevant doesn’t last long. BXR’s problem over the last few years is that they haven’t really moved on from this era of music. There’s nothing wrong with hearing “Low” by Cracker every once in a while, but this shouldn’t be a mainstay on the only alternative radio station in town. And Cracker is hardly the worst offender.

U2, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Counting Crows. These are all regulars on BXR. And while it’s okay to like these artists, I think that BXR and Cumulus Radio aren’t giving Columbians enough credit when it comes to new and interesting music.

This is why I was shocked to hear Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” last night on BXR. I did an actual double take, the exaggerated kind you see in movies and TV shows, just to make sure that my eyes hadn’t deceived me.

I was shocked for several reasons:

  1. I’ve never heard “Ex’s & Oh’s” before
  2. Elle King, as far as I know, isn’t playing a show in Columbia any time soon
  3. It’s actually good

This is coming from the same station that introduces “new” artists months after they’ve been popular two hours away in Kansas City. This is the same station that pretty much ignored Arctic Monkeys (arguably the biggest rock band in the world) until they miraculously PLAYED A SHOW IN COLUMBIA, MISSOURI last winter. Arctic Monkeys have five albums under their belt and BXR plays only three of their songs: two from last year’s release and one from their first album, which came out eight years ago.

“Ex’s & Oh’s” is a great song. Elle King has a raspy, throaty voice that makes you wonder just how many cigarettes she must’ve smoked to acquire it, but you don’t care because she got the combination right. She’s an infectious mix of Gin Wigmore and ZZ Ward, which is the perfect concoction for Columbia.

This might be the beginning of a new time for BXR. It seems as though Cumulus Radio is finally allowing the station to seek out new music that still fits Columbia’s tastes (while still insisting they play The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” five times a day.) Baby steps.

I heard another song just this morning that I’d never encountered before, “Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves feat. Esmé Patterson. It may not conform exactly to my music tastes, but the beauty of great radio is that it can change what listeners like and what they want to listen to. Plus, if you play upcoming artists often enough, they may actually come to your town and play there. And that’s infinitely cooler.

“From Afar” – Vance Joy

Jams

I’m the weird guy who still likes to purchase physical CDs. There’s something about actually holding the album in my hands that makes it feel like it’s mine. And if you’re like me, then you think that one day Apple will unleash their evil iRepo devices to take back all of the music on people’s iTunes and iPhones. Then I’ll be the one laughing in my self-driving car, filled to the brim with 30-year-old CDs that are useless because they stopped putting CD drives in cars years before.

Another, non-apocalyptic reason I prefer to purchase physical albums is that I can more easily play them in my non-futuristic, present day car. This allows me to listen to an album in its entirety, even if I’d rather listen to just a few songs, because I’m too busy playing Simpsons Tapped Out to fiddle with the dash.

Oftentimes I’ll completely forget that I’ve got music playing. And then, there’s this magical moment where time stands still. The sounds of the outside world disappear and a moment of clarity hits me, reaches my ears and strikes me in the profound way that only hearing a good song can.

“From Afar” by Vance Joy did this to me.

The first minute or so opens with a pretty traditional acoustic guitar. Vance Joy sounds melancholic, but it isn’t until 1:15 that my moment of clarity hit me. “I always knew that I would love you from afar.” The line hits like a punch to the gut, delivered by your 8th grade crush, using Amazon’s convenient and reasonable $3.99 One Day Shipping. It’s just so practical! But it hurts so much.

Vance picks up the volume in his second verse, but at this point it doesn’t matter, because you’re already in as much pain as he is. To anyone who has ever been turned down by someone they loved or thought they loved, this song is especially truthful. And that’s what makes it so beautiful.

“But I’ve been living on the crumbs of your love, and I’m starving now.” Good God, could he make it any worse? It’s like driving a wooden stake through a lovesick werewolf’s heart, except Vance is a sadistic Van Helsing who presses really slowly just to see you squirm.

The song ends with even more heartbreaking lyrics (“It shouldn’t come as a surprise, what I’m feeling, what I’m feeling now”), but by this time you’re already convinced that Vance can time travel. He got into his Delorean, hit 88 mph, found you in your weakest moment, and took diligent notes on everything you said and did.

I’ve always believed that great art is truthful, even in its simplicity. “From Afar” is so truthful that it hurts, but it makes you feel good that someone knows what you went through.

“Coulda Been My Love” – Foxygen

Jams

Foxygen are weird.

Forget the name, all band names are weird. It’s their sound. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. And the way I’ve always processed new music is by comparing it to something I’ve previously heard. But sometimes I’ll hear a song, enjoy it, and think to myself, “Now why the hell did I like that song?” This is one of those songs.

“Coulda Been My Love” sounds like a studio outtake on the B-side of a later Beatles album. Now hear me out before you poop your Pampers, because there’s enough distance and qualifiers between a proper Beatles album and my previous sentence.

The song begins with a haunting piano playing in an ill-lit basement. Immediately the listener is pulled through the doorway and down the staircase by duet vocals just as tortured as that lonely piano. What I’m getting at is that Foxygen sound like they’ve got a case of the bummers in “Coulda Been My Love.”

The drums come in soon after with a simple rhythm that provides a backbone to the pain. Complementary vocals echo alongside the chorus to add depth and harmony to otherwise-simple lyrics.

So back to The Beatles. “Coulda Been My Love” sounds and feels like a “White Album” outtake. It’s like they invited Paul McCartney to sing their song on Rock Band (and then he decided to stay the night because mom bought a bunch of Totino’s pizzas for everyone). I am a bit biased though, as I spent a lot of last year listening to Foxygen’s “Take The Kids Off Broadway,” a 7-song album that twists and swirls its way through the late 1960s.

The song leaves its impression on the listener right around the 1:30 mark. We get a little wail from the Sam France (the lead vocalist I think?) that leads into a brilliant, satisfying progression that reaches its apex at 2:15 and the song coasts the rest of the way home.

“Coulda Been My Love” is a song that’s grown on me by a group that’s grown on me. Foxygen’s sound is elusive (and often eclectic), which makes it difficult to easily label them. They feel like a group that’s still figuring out their sound, which makes me excited to see where they’re heading.

“Gooey” – Glass Animals

Jams

Glass Animals are a band very much like alt-J in that both are English, both have complex musical arrangements, and both have lyrics that are almost unintelligible, making it nearly impossible for anyone to sing along to. Every one of their songs reminds me of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World” only because I can sing maybe four or five lines of each and the rest just confuses the hell out of me.

This is less a post about a single song and more about a whole album, as it would be a disservice to feature one without its proper context. Glass Animals’ debut album, “Zaba,” was released June 2014 and I’m kinda sorta pissed that it took me this long to listen.

It’s dishonest to say that I’m addicted to this album. Addiction suggests an abnormal appetite that needs to be sustained. Something that has a clear beginning, middle and end. “I was hooked on painkillers for two years before I went to rehab.” “Zaba” is the opposite of this. It’s beginning, middle, and end all at once. It’s the hypnosis wheel of albums, spinning in that never-ending circularity, drawing the listener in deeper so that you’re fixated, stuck in unblinking catatonia.

The fun part about “Zaba” is that you might not like it at first. I was unimpressed myself. But after a few listens, it worked its way into my consciousness. It was all over after that. I’ve logged 8 full listen-thrus and I haven’t wanted to listen to anything else. Much like a Quentin Tarantino movie, there’s plenty to uncover within each song.

Jungle sounds blend with spacey tones to create an otherworldly, out-of-body listening experience. All of this becomes actualized with the first single, “Gooey.” This song demands your full attention. But that doesn’t mean that it’s difficult. It opens with sleepy reverberations that transport you into another dimension. Bubbles of sound pop around you as whispery vocals lull you into a trance.

Each successive verse adds another layer of sound, which creates an immersive listening experience that makes Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound seem like a production style for ants. Instead, “Gooey” brings the listener into a 3-D sphere, a fully realized world of sound that’s hard to leave once you arrive.

Other artists with dense production (like Sufjan Stevens or MGMT) have similar styles, but where they’re overwrought and pretentious, “Zaba” is the opposite.

There’s not much else I can say about “Zaba” or “Gooey” without seeming like I’m being paid to promote the band. Listen to it, embrace it, love it. It’s infectious and brilliant and stop reading this sentence so you can go listen to it.

“Talk Is Cheap” – Chet Faker

Jams

I have the tendency to judge a book by its cover. I mean this both literally and figuratively, as I’m only interested in reading books with sweet covers and, in the broader sense, I prefer things that sound right, look right or feel right. Which is exactly why I didn’t want to listen to Chet Faker, because it’s a stupid stupid name.

Chet Faker is an Australian electronica musician who does have a pretty cool beard and a plethora of headshots on the Internet. When I first heard his name, I assumed he was some kind of Timeflies/Hoodie Allen/Jackass Jones artist who relied solely on a semi-unique, tongue-in-cheek name and rearranged covers of 90s R&B songs to get white college kids to play his music during pregames. His fourth most popular song on Spotify is currently a cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” (It’s very good but you get the idea).

I recently rediscovered Chet Faker on the New Music Tuesday Spotify playlist and was blown away by how stupid my initial gut reaction had been. “Talk Is Cheap” is a single from the 2013 album “Built On Glass” that Chet Faker released earlier this year and it’s the perfect early winter song.

The intro features a saxophone that guides you naked into an icy pool of water somewhere deep in the middle of the woods, so deep that the animals are unbothered by your presence. You wade into the water, expecting tendrils of ice to shoot up your leg, but somehow it’s warm.

The beat fades in, simple and relaxed. There’s a yearning in his voice that warns you of pain but doesn’t push you away. It’s not a sad song, I don’t think. It’s just a song that makes you feel. I imagine that this would be the kind of song I’d listen to sitting by my fireplace, warm drink in hand, toking on a bubble pipe (because I don’t smoke, it’s bad for you silly!) and reading my former roommate’s most recent copy of GQ because he hasn’t changed the address yet.

I was silly to assume that Chet Faker was nothing more than a YouTube artist with a fun name. He’s got a great sound, a cool beard, and he’s got cool album artwork, which makes it even easier to like him, because I still judge books by their cover. Until I’m proven wrong.