Monday, February 10, 2014

What We've Been... listening to

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Cancer stories, man. Just go ahead and pass me the Kleenex. So it came as no surprise that last Sunday’s cancer-themed Chevy truck Super Bowl commercial toyed with my emotions. Spinning a poignant yarn about the beauty of America, the safety of trucks and the perseverance of the human spirit it stuck with me way more than that “controversial” Coke commercial.

But it was the song that played over the wordless commercial that stayed with me most — “Don’t Leave” by Ane Brun. I’d never heard the song or of the Norwegian songstress before but from the first lines with her haunting warble over a simple piano and string section, I knew this was an artist I needed to know more about. She instantly reminded my of my piano-happy ’90s homegirls Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. Since last week, I can’t stop listening, over and over. And I’m OK with that. Especially, in this brutally cold time of year, it’s important to listen to melancholy tunes, to really feel the season. And also, to help contemplate the sadness of cancer.


For the last few months, I’ve been trying to teach myself Spanish, alternating between subtlety and brute-force shock-and-awe. Since Spokane isn’t exactly the haven of Spanish immersion, I’ve had to figure out other ways to surround myself with the language. One tactic: I added the Rock en Español station on Pandora. Since then, I’ve been taking in a steady stream of songs about black T-shirts, ma-matadors and a whole lot of mis corazones.

But the ridiculous song I’ve really fallen for is “Malino de Viento” by Mägo de Oz. Yes, the band's name translates as “Wizard of Oz” and yes, it has an umlaut above the ‘a’ — not because it’s required by the Spanish language, but because it looks more metal that way.

The song speeds along with fervent crazy energy (and a wee bit of Irish flavor) as the lead singer shouts out vocabulary words I recognize. “Drink! Sing! Dream!” “Sea!” “Friend!” “At times!” “nose!” “Shout!” The painstaking work of translating the lyrics (“la letra”) made the actual meaning of the song confusing, at least until I learned the whole thing comes Mägo de Oz’s epic rock opera based on the story of Don Quixote. And they say a classical education isn’t useful.

If you are unconvinced, just check out this music video.

Look at that bitchin’ hair and that righteous babe.


From your couch, your office or your smartphone on the bus to work, you order some stuff. Be it diapers or dildos, you know that your stuff will somehow make its way from a fluorescent-lit warehouse to a truck to your front door in a matter of days or sometimes hours. Robots? Magic? Who really cares, right? Well, it turns out there are real people involved. Real people see your order and scurry around a warehouse finding your goods in an effort to get them to you fast and keep their job. In the latest Radiolab podcast, “Brown Box,” find out just how the whole process happens and how terrible (and terribly strange) the life of a warehouse “picker” can be.


Last week the new Hurray for the Riff Raff album, Small Town Heroes, went up on NPR’s First Listen ahead of the release this week. The band is led by singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra, who grew up in the Bronx, hitchhiked around the country after leaving home and now lives in New Orleans. She’s earned comparisons to folk legends like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, identifies as queer and got profiled this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal. So, yeah, the inheritors of folk are not all dudes in Portland with beards and mandolins.

The new album adds a little more rock n’ roll to the mix, along with a number of tunes that could pass as country lullabies. One standout is “Body Electric,” a feminist critique of the murder ballad tradition. Mostly, the new album made me want to go back and listen to the less-polished, self-released CDs like 2008’s It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You — listen to “Daniella” and “Here It Comes” for the contrast.


After a surprising number of failed attempts to rent the movie Grosse Pointe Blank from actual video stores, I managed to stumble on the film streaming free on over the weekend. But this wouldn't really work for the "listening" category if not for the movie's epic punk- and reggae-studded soundtrack produced by The Clash frontman Joe Strummer.

While the movie makes for a decently entertaining, though morbidly violent, comedy about hitman Martin Blank (John Cusack) going home to Detroit for his 10-year high school reunion, the best part was waiting for the next hit on the soundtrack. The film includes a number of Clash tunes, alongside Toots and the Maytals, The Specials, Grand Master Flash and The Pogues.

Cusack's love interest (remember Minnie Driver?) works as a radio disc jockey, so they have a loose excuse to work in a lot of random music. But it makes for a pleasant sonic counterbalance to the awkward romance and gratuitous gunfire.


A problem I encounter quite often, and surely can’t be alone in facing: what to listen to while I type the day away at the computer. I’m a pretty faithful Spotify subscriber, but I am suuuuper lazy at making my own playlists (I get bored too quickly). I’d rather listen to a random radio station or check out new (to me) bands via the Discover feature. But the other day on a whim I thought I’d see what the built-in Spotify-curated playlists were all about. A title that immediately caught my eye was “Workday — Indie,” with the subheading “Get through your workday with 8 hours of indie.” Sold. Whoever compiled this playlist did a great job selecting familiar indie darlings (Passion Pit, Portugal. The Man., Vampire Weekend, etc.), interspersed with lesser-known tracks that I’ve been quite pleased to discover. I’m no music snob, but I’m also no “hipster,” and this playlist fits that bill perfectly. Now I have something that can drown out the overly loud chatter of people in the break room while I write. All day.


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