Dec 282014
 

2014 was another stellar year for music and I have the iTunes bill to prove it. I didn’t buy many complete albums, but below are the tracks, artists, and videos that I had on repeat over the past 12 months:

  • Scandinavia continues to produce some of the most interesting and exciting pop music around. Lykke Li made a sweeping vista of heartbreak in “No Rest for the Wicked”. Perennial favorite Robyn and producer duo Röyksopp made a pulsing club track urging us to “Do It Again“. Makthaverskan made an accusation a thing of soaring beauty in “Asleep“. I don’t know if it’s the cold weather or the socialized medicine that’s creating such a vibrant music scene just below the Arctic Circle, but more of this, please.
  • Few artists captivated me this year like fka Twigs. She fuses electronic music and R&B into a sound that is equal parts sexy, dangerous, and arresting. “Two Weeks” is this year’s definitive make-out song and I won’t be surprised if it fuels a slight spike in the birth rate in 2015. The video for “Two Weeks” is also pretty great and should be familiar to anyone who remembers the movie Queen of the Damned.

FKA TWIGS [two weeks] from nabil elderkin on Vimeo.

    • A year ago, almost nobody had heard of Future Islands. And then they appeared on Letterman’s show to perform “Seasons”, a moment that quickly went viral. The song itself is bittersweet and full of yearning, qualities that lead singer Sam Herring captures even while showing off some of the goofiest dance moves ever captured on video. Amidst a wash of New Wave synths, Herring beats his chest as he demands a human connection, something that we can all understand.

    • I can’t stop watching the video for Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”. And not just for the obvious reasons. She is one of the most fluid rappers working today, aided by a wicked sense of humor and  a subversive agenda that has plenty to say about sexuality, feminism, and being a woman in a male-dominated and frequently misogynistic business. Sure, Minaj is drop-dead gorgeous, but that wouldn’t matter much to me if she wasn’t also immensely talented.

Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda” from > on Vimeo.

 

  • I’ll close with a personal anecdote. I attended my first Rock the Garden festival over the summer and I had the opportunity to meet local sensation Dessa backstage. I’ve long admired her carefully crafted songs and I was thrilled to watch her perform live. She was charming, kind, and generally awesome. Thanks, Dessa!

 

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Apr 172014
 

I don’t know if I’ll make it to Coachella next year, but I do have tickets to this summer’s Rock the Garden music festival here in Minneapolis. This is the first year of the festival’s 2-day format and I’m excited to see Best Coast, Spoon, and local sensation Dessa. This will also be my first year attending RTG, which is only a couple miles from my home. Let’s hope the weather cooperates and that I can find a decent sightline to the stage.

Apr 132014
 

Watching the live YouTube stream of Coachella during the weekend has once again stirred my interest in attending the much-hyped music festival. I seem to do this every year; I watch the concert video and think how much fun it would be to be there in person. But after more thought, I decide that the heat and crowds are more trouble than they’re worth. That may be the wrong mindset. If I have flirted with the idea for this long, I should just find a way to do it and not worry about the obstacles. That approach seemed to work well for my trip to Europe and I’m overdue for another adventure.

Stay tuned to see if I can actually make this happen. Coachella tickets aren’t exactly easy to come by.

Dec 032013
 

If you want a 5-minute summary of the state of pop music at the close of 2013, you could do worse than DJ Earworm’s latest annual mashup. It has that same-y club sound found in most of his mashups, but I do respect his ability to assemble a coherent track from so many sources. And I recognized most of the artists (including Lorde, whom I admire quite a bit), so I’ve managed to fend off the creeping forces of fogey-dom for another year.

Here’s the video:

Oct 232013
 

For this brief review, I’m going to write separately about the performance and the venue’s accessibility. Janelle Monae is an artist who loves to perform in front of a live audience. For nearly two hours, her kinetic enthusiasm never flagged as she powered through funk-inspired numbers like “Q.U.E.E.N.” and “Tightrope”. Her best moment of the night came when she performed “Cold War”–a favorite of mine and a song that seems to have a great deal of personal significance to Monae. She also delivered a few surprises, like a pounding cover of “Let’s Go Crazy”.

Now for the bad. The accessibility at the Skyway Theatre is terrible. The only spot that could accommodate my wheelchair was located at the end of the upper balcony, forcing other people in various states of inebriation to trip over my footrest on their way to and from their seats. And because I was sitting in the back, I was only able to occasionally glimpse Monae between the silhouettes of the people in front of me. The Skyway used to be an old movie multiplex, so I understand that accessibility wasn’t a major design consideration back then. But unless the current owners come up with a solution (doubtful), I probably won’t see another concert here.

Oh, and Prince passed within five feet of me on the way to his seat.

Sep 102013
 

The designers of portable ventilators really need to do a better job of anticipating the various environments in which their products can function. As I was leaving the CHVRCHES concert at First Avenue last night, I noticed that the vent was alarming and showing a cryptic VENT SERVICE REQUIRED message. I felt fine and wasn’t too concerned, but it continued to alarm during the walk home. The vent  seems to be functioning normally today; I suspect that the heavy bass at the concert might have caused the freak-out. Considering that my old tank of a vent never glitched like this, I’m a little disappointed. If this vent thinks I’m going to stay home every night listening to archived Hearts of Space episodes, it has another thing coming.

 

And you really should see CHVRCHES live if you can. Not many bands can do electronic pop well in a live setting, but these Scots sounded great. And they should only get better once they have a deeper catalog of songs.

Differences between Medicaid

May 022013
 

The ongoing craziness of the legislative session is sapping my creative energies, so I give you the latest music video from the robot queen of future-charged hip-hop, Janelle Monae. The video is for the single “Q.U.E.E.N.” from her forthcoming The Electric Lady. It’s got a healthy dose of funk, a stylish vision of the future, and Erykah Badu in full vamp mode. It is, in a word, awesome.

Mar 252013
 

Daft Punk, the Unofficial House Band of The 19th Floor, releases their next album–Random Access Memories–on May 21st. The band has already released a couple 15-second music clips (one of which is quite effective as a loop) and it sounds like a promising throwback to the brilliant soundscapes of Discovery. That album was a perfect blend of old-fashioned romanticism and neon-drenched futurism, embodying everything I love about electronic music. Daft Punk hasn’t released anything nearly as good in over a decade, although the Tron soundtrack had a few interesting moments. I’m hopeful enough for the new album that I’ve already pre-ordered it, which is a bit silly in this age of instant availability. But I think I can spare some irrational exuberance for a band that has provided the soundtrack for so many of my daydreams.

Jul 162012
 

This was probably the first show I attended at First Ave where I was more interested in the opening band than the main act. I’ve been a fan of the Chromatics since I saw their video for “In the City” a few years ago. They bring a dark New Wave vibe to their music that makes me want to turn up the collar on my leather jacket and wander the city streets after midnight, looking for love and trouble. Lead singer Ruth Radelet’s breathy vocals give a sweet aftertaste to the rather bitter “Kill for Love”, while “These Streets Will Never Be the Same” sounds like a lost cut from the Drive soundtrack. They closed with brilliant covers of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and Neil Young’s “Into the Black”.

Hot Chip brought a more revved-up dancefloor energy to the club and soon had the whole crowd jumping to songs like “Ready for the Floor” and “Over and Over”. My only gripe was the blinding strobe lights that threatened to send me into convulsions.

On a related note, A.V. Club is running a great article and accompanying video on First Avenue and its iconic status in the Minneapolis music scene.