Monday, December 30, 2013

What We've Been... listening to

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Each week we print For Your Consideration, a feature where we take turns telling you about worthwhile stuff we’ve been reading, watching, listening to, etc. Now we’re trying the inverse: Each Monday we have a single topic with recommendations from several Inlander staffers. Read previous posts here.

With local indie-rock band Cathedral Pearls on some sort of (hopefully not permanent) hiatus as two of its members launch the city's newest music venue, The Bartlett, I've been counting on Spotify to get my fix. So when I heard that CP member Max Harnishfeger had started his own electronic project, Water Monster, I was eager to check it out. In a house show environment at the last Collect Secret Show, Harnishfeger played an all acoustic set — "put the beats in your head," he told us — which was dazzling in its own right, but I soon went searching for the full sound. There's only one Water Monster song on Soundcloud, "Take Me Back (Demo)," but the distortion, Harnishfeger's haunting vocals and, yes, "the beats" have been perfect for these foggy winter days.


For the past few weeks, the new album from Portland-based Typhoon has dominated my headphones. Released in August, White Lighter combines a songwriter's intimacy with the soaring dynamics of a symphony. Frontman Kyle Morton traces a thin line through mortality and heartache while the 10 other band members — using a wide array of percussion, keyboards, horns and other instruments — push the melodies into grand, sweeping arrangements of thunder and catharsis. I first heard Morton while listening to this excellent recording of "Atlantic City" on an online album of Springsteen covers. The song is a duet between Morton and Danielle Sullivan of Wild Ones. Lucky for Spokane, both Typhoon and Wild Ones have shows scheduled at The Bartlett in the coming month. So give them a listen.

While I was searching through Typhoon's label, Tender Loving Empire, for more music, I also recently stumbled upon The Weather Machine, whose song "Back O'er Oregon" can be pretty addicting. The six-piece Portland folk group put out a debut, self-titled album earlier this year with some catchy arrangements and entertaining songs about undead skeleton kings. They've recently started working on a second album, but for now just squirrel "Back O'er Oregon" away for your next West Coast roadtrip.


There are albums you like, and there are albums you can leave playing continuously in the car for multiple months without going crazy or even really thinking about swapping it out. The new Marshall McLean Band CD, Glossolalia, is the latter. Last week we briefly poked around on the radio looking for Christmas tunes, and that’s when I realized we’d been idly listening to Glossolalia pretty much every minute on the road since mid-November. And you know what? All that repetition mostly makes me feel sorry for anyone driving across some frozen, scrubby stretch of the Inland Northwest without listening to it.


We all know the romantic feeling that accompanies discovering an epic new (to you) band/artist, and then said band’s work becomes your favorite, go-to music to listen to 24/7, for 3-plus months. Your spirits are instantly lifted when you hear one of their songs, and down the road, whenever you hear them you’re transported back to the 3-month period when they were all you listened to. That’s exactly what happened to me when I discovered Future Islands. They’re not a new band by any stretch (the group’s members originally started making music together back in 2003), but in today’s oversaturated world of online music discovering new sound is easy and challenging all at once. The Baltimore-based synth pop outfit is everything I love in music — catchy hooks, pounding rhythms, belting vocals and swelling synths. Not to mention that I have a softness for untraditional-sounding male vocalists (in the style of the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett, etc.), and Future Island frontman Samuel T. Herring’s rich, sometimes nasally, other times gravelly, bellow fits the bill perfectly in my mind. Start out with Future Island’s most recent record (2011), On the Water, which includes the memorable tracks “Balance” and “Give Us the Wind.”


His new album doesn't come out here until Feb. 11, but Neil Finn had my undivided attention as 2013 came to an end. For close to 40 years, the pride of Te Awamutu, New Zealand, has been a standard-bearer for thoughtful, literate pop that's anything but disposable as a member of Split Enz and Crowded House, through collaborations with older brother/Enz founder Tim and numerous side projects, and for the past 15 years as a solo artist. Dizzy Heights, his first solo effort in more than a decade, continues a long tradition of bittersweet, offbeat songwriting, featuring otherworldly melodies and harmonies and hooks that move into your head and take up residence. Live and studio versions of more than half of the album's 11 tracks have surfaced online; so far, the highlight is "White Lies and Alibis," a gorgeous, wistful five minutes of simple, orchestral pop that stands with the best work this Kiwi icon has ever released.


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