POTW #6: I Heard These Songs, They’re Alright

All right, I’m going to finally give myself a break from writing about Radiohead all the time! And in the process I’m going to resurrect a feature that, thanks to my lengthy hiatus from the ol’ blogosphere, has been buried since October of 2009. It’s time once again for my Picks of the Week!

Of course, maybe in this case I should change the name to Picks of the Year or something. Or maybe just Picks of the Month. I mean, even back in ’09 I was only doing Picks of the Week posts every couple months or so. So maybe it should be Picks of the Last Couple of Months? …Nah, Picks of the Week rolls off the virtual tongue a lot better. Plus, it only requires me to think of songs I’ve been listening to a lot in the last seven days, which is a lot easier. This edition of Picks of the Week features some brand-new music and a couple older songs from perhaps a wider range of genres than in any other POTW post. And it’s coming up after the jump…

…and also this new single from TV On The Radio, which just came out two days ago. Enjoy!

Foo Fighters, “White Limo”

HELL YES.

I have been waiting for the Foo Fighters to write another song like this for a long time. While the rest of their upcoming album Wasted Light makes me think of late-’90s Foo, at least from what I’ve heard in live videos on YouTube, “White Limo” is a throwback to their self-titled debut. That first album remains the rawest and heaviest work of their career to date; Dave Grohl wrote, played, and recorded everything except one guitar part by himself at his house about a year after Kurt Cobain died and some of the songs have that rougher punk edge that Nirvana often brought to the table. Think “Weenie Beenie.” Think “Wattershed.” That’s what “White Limo” sounds like, and it rules. You know your song rocks hard when you get Lemmy from Motorhead to help out with the video.

Tyler the Creator, “Yonkers”

I’m not usually much of a rap fan. I do like some stuff — the Roots, Eminem, Jay-Z, the Beastie Boys, some Kanye West, and so on. So I’d like to think I have some idea of what makes for quality rap, though I’m certainly no expert in that particular field. Now that I’ve got all that out of the way, here’s my point: This song is sick.

Tyler the Creator is the leader of a young Los Angeles rap collective called Odd Future (short for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), which has been hyped in some circles as potentially the next Wu-Tang Clan. “Yonkers” is the first track I’ve heard from any of these guys, but what a first impression it is. Tyler’s about to turn 20 and drop his second solo album, but he still delivers with all the ease, confidence, and wit of a seasoned veteran. He does all his own production too, giving “Yonkers” a sinister backing track with lots of Psycho-like screeches. And his performance on Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon with Odd Future comrades Hodgy Beats was a lot of fun to watch. Keep an eye on this guy and his crew. They’ll be going places.

(Fans of Paramore, B.O.B., and Bruno Mars might not be too thrilled, though…)

The Tallest Man On Earth, “King Of Spain”

Here’s another genre popping up in Picks of the Week that I don’t typically listen to — folk music. The Tallest Man On Earth is the alias of Swedish singer-songwriter (jeez, try saying that five times fast) Kristian Matsson, whose music has earned comparisons to early Bob Dylan. And by that I mean Bob Dylan before he started plugging in his guitar. It’s not hard to see where such comparisons come from — the Tallest Man is a folk singer with a scratchy and somewhat nasally voice who writes smart lyrics and accompanies himself with minimal instrumentation (usually acoustic guitar, though Matsson also plays piano and banjo).

“King Of Spain” can be found on his latest full-length album The Wild Hunt, and it is fantastic. I cannot stop listening to this song. It’s remarkable to think how much you can find to enjoy in a song where there’s so little going on musically; it’s just a guy with a guitar and that’s all. So with the focus squarely on his voice and guitar skills, there doesn’t seem to be much room for error. But he nails absolutely everything here — skillful guitar with a fast-paced galloping rhythm, thoughtful lyrics, and insanely catchy hooks. The first time I listened to “King Of Spain” I found myself immediately looking up the lyrics just so I could sing along. That’s how catchy this is.

Destroyer, “Savage Night At The Opera”

Destroyer is the solo project of singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, who’s also a member of the New Pornographers. His new album Kaputt just came out a few weeks ago and has been earning all sorts of critical acclaim, so I figured I should take a look… or listen, as it were, and sampled it on iTunes. The first song that really jumped out at me was “Savage Night At The Opera,” which has a very ’80s new wave/post-punk vibe going on. I’m trying to trace this sound back to a particular artist and for some reason I keep drawing a blank. You ever have that happen? Where something reminds you of something else but you don’t know what that something else actually is? Whatever, now I’m just rambling. My point is, “Savage Night At The Opera” is a really good song.

Burial, “Archangel”

Ahhh, dubstep. I have heard so much about this apparently amazing genre over the last few years, be it music critics or random people discussing music in Internet forums or Thom Yorke featuring a bunch of tracks in his “office charts” on Radiohead’s website. And I’m still not entirely sure what it even is.

Currently the It Boy of the dubstep scene in the UK is a guy named James Blake, whose debut album has earned all kinds of rave reviews. I’ve listened to some of that album and for the most part I don’t really get it. But before Mr. Blake came along, the genre’s biggest name was a guy calling himself Burial. I say “a guy calling himself Burial” because up until a couple years ago nobody had any idea what his real name was. He was like the Phantom of the Dubstep Opera or something.

Oh, and his sophomore effort Untrue was one of the best-reviewed albums of 2007. That album is where you can find “Archangel,” a dark but still irresistibly danceable track that features samples from VH1 reality-show star (and also singer) Ray J and — I kid you not — Metal Gear Solid 2 (start at 1:40). It’s kind of bleak but still toe-tappingly catchy, and it also comes with an enticing aura of mystery that makes you want to listen to it over and over.

Bon Iver, “Skinny Love”

Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know. I just said that I don’t listen to much folk music. Well, I don’t. And I know this came out a few years ago. But that’s just me… I’m usually one of the last people to catch on to something. That said, the more I listen to Bon Iver the more I like Bon Iver. (Not to be confused with Bon Jovi… but then again, who would confuse the two? They sound nothing alike.)

By now everyone’s probably heard the story behind Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon and For Emma, Forever Ago, the band’s debut. But here it is again: Justin Vernon used to be in a band called DeYarmond Edison, a steady relationship, and also good health. Then the band broke up, his girlfriend left him, and he came down with mono… all at around the same time. Yikes. So then he moved into his father’s hunting cabin in Wisconsin with a guitar and some old recording equipment and ended up writing and recording a whole new solo album that would eventually earn him widespread acclaim and attention.

Among those songs was “Skinny Love,” which has often been pinpointed as the highlight of the album. It’s probably one of the most devastating breakup songs I’ve ever heard, and a lot of that has to do with Vernon’s vocal performance. He sings much of his well-written lyrics in a vulnerable falsetto and raises his voice to a shout at just the right moments. “Skinny Love” is the sound of a man who just really wants everything to work out okay… but knows it probably won’t. And that knowledge absolutely crushes him, perhaps even moreso in the Jools Holland performance above than in the album version.

So that about wraps it up for this edition of Picks of the Week. I’ll try to get the next one posted in less than a year.

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