sufjan stevens


V.22 No.51 | 12/19/2013

While I'm not much of a Robin Thicke fan, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked “Blurred Lines” because it reminded me of my favorite Marvin Gaye track “Got to Give it Up.” (Lest we forget that's the reason the Gaye family is suing Thicke.) Regardless, Thicke has released his new video for the track “Feel Good,” and while this one doesn't have the same laid-back, good-time vibe of “Blurred Lines,” I can foresee it becoming a club favorite. I think that's the goal at this point for most pop musicians, right?

Reverend Horton Heat was one of those musicians that various friends played, but never really stuck. Maybe I was sleeping … maybe my mind just wasn't too much into the psychobilly fanaticism that permeated an outsider group of friends around 2008. Regardless Reverend Horton Heat (real name Jim Heath) is prepping a new album, titled Rev, that's scheduled to be released on Jan. 21. You can hear a track from it, titled “Spooky Boots,” (which also gives a shout-out to the Land of Enchantment) over at Billboard. Because why not.

What would it be like if Megadeth released an album of Christmas standards? And what would it be like if Jenny Lewis did a duet with them?

Soul singer Charles Bradley is proof that it doesn't matter how old you are or what your background is. If you have natural, raw talent, people will notice. Having two albums under his belt, Bradley has taken a somewhat unthinkable turn: He's provided a soulful cover of Black Sabbath's “Changes.” And it's fantastic. You can listen to that below.

It's that time again, y'all. Time for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to announce the newest pool of inductees. Among the musicians to be inducted and honored at this year's festivities is Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Kiss, Hall and Oates, Cat Stevens and Linda Ronstadt. The ceremony takes place at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on April 10.

My first introduction to Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez was his cover of The Knife's “Heartbeats.” While that track was excellent, it couldn't have compared to the magnetic prowess that made the original so noticeable. But that's neither here nor there. Now Gonzalez has a few tracks on the soundtrack to the Ben Stiller flick The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And Gonzalez has released a video for the track “Stay Alive,” which was written by Ryan Adams. You can watch that below.

I'm a fan of bare acoustic ditties. Maybe that's why it took me hearing A Sleep & A Forgetting to finally notice Islands, even though a friend had tried to get me to listen to them for years. Nick Thorburn (the front man, songwriter, extraordinaire) released Islands' latest opus, Ski Mask, earlier this year, and now he's shared an acoustic track that he recorded last Friday. You can hear it below.

Girls who were 16 circa 1998 are about to be very, very excited … and cry. For what, I don't know. But, Dave Matthews, Jakob Dylan and a host of other musicians have formed a new band (The Nauts). Apparently they got together at Brady Blade's Studios in Shreveport, La., to record some material, and now they've booked some live shows. Let the crying commence!

Country music legend Ray Price died at the age of 87 this past week. Though a lot of people (myself included) weren't too familiar with Price's repertoire, his indelible imprint in the music country sphere has been felt and ruminated over since his death to pancreatic cancer was announced. It's always hard to see a legend called home. So here's “Crazy Arms.”

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: If it's free, it's me. Texas group Okkervil River have released a third EP of '80s covers, titled Golden Opportunities 3. The mix features covers of artists ranging from Roseanne Cash to Don Henley. You can download or stream the EP (and get the two previous Golden Opportunities releases) here.

Every bit as dark and seductive as they were when they first started, the Dead Weather's latest song, “Open Up (That's Enough),” shows the group in a stylized light that further exemplifies their hard blues rock tendencies. Maybe the cigarettes are helping Mosshart's voice because it's working on this track. But enough of my gushing. You can hear the track below, and you can download it digitally on Jan. 14.

Sufjan Stevens has gotten together with Son Lux and Serengeti to form a trio of ideas (and music, obviously) called Sisyphus. And they're coming out with their eponymous debut on March 18, and they've shared a track, titled “Calm It Down.” Judging from the single alone, it could be interesting, or it could get old really fast. Let's see what happens.

V.22 No.43 | 10/24/2013

It's official. The Donna Summer remix album is set to come out on Oct. 22. This remembrance of a disco-pop icon (titled Love to Love You Donna) will feature various artists from Duke Dumont to Giorgio Moroder. In fact, SPIN is currently streaming an unreleased track, titled “La Dolce Vita,” by Moroder and Summer.

Who says there's a cap on how many alter-egos you can make for yourself? If there is, Snoop hasn't gotten that memo. Snoop Lion (now under the monicker Snoopzilla) has teamed up with Dam-Funk to create a project, titled 7 Days of Funk. They're releasing an eponymous album on Dec. 10, and you can hear a track from said release (“Faden Away”) over at Pitchfork. So if you dig what Snoop does, mark those calendars!

Try as she might, a friend urged me to like Saves The Day for years (years!). Granted they're not bad musicians, but after a while their music seems to get a little samey for my taste. However, when Chris Conley gets an acoustic guitar in his hands, magic happens (see “Take Our Cars Now!”). The band took some time to play at Billboard's Manhattan studio and talk about their new album, one of their most famous tracks (“Cars and Calories”) and more.

You say Creedence Clearwater Revival, and I'm there. One of my all-time favorite bands, it's no wonder that artists are attracted to the allure of these Louisiana-swamp-bayou-centric rockers, what with their fantastic riffs, John Fogerty's voice and their knack for soulful blues tendencies. I could gush all day, so let me get to the point. Social Distortion (that punk band) has covered their track “Up Around The Bend” for the upcoming animated feature Free Birds. You can hear that over at Rolling Stone.

Sufjan Stevens is one of those musicians who experiments and experiments to the point where processed jpegs leak out of the sound bytes he delivers to the masses, which is why I couldn't really come to grips with The Age of Adz. Having said that, sometimes Stevens can make electronic soundscapes sound almost mandatory in that they're so easy on the ears, why say no? He's shared an unreleased demo, titled “Take Me.” You can hear it below.

In my honest opinion, globe-trekking artists are the best kind for one reason and one reason only: They sometimes work with the locals. … which is what Damon Albarn is currently doing in Mali. Recording an album with the likes of Nick Zinner (of Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Idris Elba (of “Rocknrolla”) Brian Eno, aforementioned locals and UK hip-hop artists, Albarn's project is called Africa Express. And you can read more about it at The Guardian.

Screaming Females are one of those revivalist punk rock bands that maintains an air and attitude beyond the constraints of typical self-awareness. What I mean is that they don't give a shit, and it shows in their excellent psych/grunge twinged musicianship and wild rock mantras. Moving along … they've shared a new single that's split with fellow punkers Tenement. The track is is called “Ancient Civilization.”

Blues legend Blind Willie Johnson is just one of many stellar musicians that shaped an iconic sound that many artists still draw from, whether they're yowling blues sentiment over an acoustic guitar or simply touching on love lost. Producer Jeffrey Gaskill has initiated a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to raise money to record a Blind Willie Johnson covers album. Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Sinead O'Connor and more have already signed on to partake in the record (if and when the funding comes through).

I think Bruno Mars is a fresh face within the pop realm. His beats and inspirations convey sort of a whimsical throwback to the pop days of old, and I like that about him. Granted his music doesn't always hit the nail on the head, he's still worth looking into as far as top-40 pop is concerned. Now Mars has shared a video for his track, “Gorilla,” from his latest album Unorthodox Jukebox. You can watch that over at Rolling Stone.

If you've never heard The Kelley Deal 6000, they're definitely worth a listen. Kelley Deal (twin of Kim Deal) made an appearance this week on “Lil' BUB's Big SHOW” and even went so far as to have Lil' BUB help her produce a new single, titled “Shirtcrush.” The track is pretty up to par with Deal's earlier work, making it a nice addition to her repertoire and a nice reminder that she's still got some songwriting chops under her belt.

For those who are interested in hearing Katy Perry's new album (Prism) in full, head over to Consequence of Sound. Otherwise, you can wait 'til next week.

V.21 No.50 | 12/13/2012
Cover art for Sufjan Stevens Christmas hip hop mixtape   Chopped and Scrooged

Music

Sufjan Stevens likes it “Chopped and Scrooged”

I first encountered the weirdo-meets-troubadour genius that is Sufjan Stevens around 2005. After hearing his album, Seven Swans, I was immediately hooked and fell in love with his hipster folk-meets-navigation of the American landscape aesthetics. But, as my fan-ship of Stevens has progressed over the years, so has my reluctancy to continue being an interested party of his music catalog. I’m not saying that I’m disloyal by any means, but after he released The Age of Adz, which showcased his affinity for electronic dynamo with auto-tuned tendencies, it was lost on me.

But, Stevens is certainly someone who does whatever he feels like doing at any given moment, and that’s something I can respect. Having said that, Stevens (in his love-hate obsession with the Christmas spirit) recently released a Christmas box set of over two and a half hours of music. On top of that, he just released a holiday hip-hop mixtape titled Chopped and Scrooged. Yes, you read that correctly. Taking music and samples from his Silver and Gold box set and featuring hip-hop artists like Heems (of the late Das Racist), Busdriver, Nicky Da B, Electric iLL and more, the mixtape can be streamed on Soundcloud below or downloaded here.

V.21 No.12 | 3/22/2012

Music

Sufjan with swagger

It seems like a lot of great Chicago rappers have been transplanting to Cali over the last ten years (Typical Cats and Serengeti come to mind). Bummer for the Windy City hip-hop scene, but sometimes it ends in fresh and unexpected collabos. The album Qwazaar and Batsauce recently dropped would be one example. Another would be an EP released yesterday by a project with the moniker s / s / s. It includes aforementioned witty, oddball indie rapper Serengeti, well-known mystical emo bard Sufjan Stevens, and singer and producer Son Lux. That EP, “Beak & Claw,” only includes four tracks. There’s a lot of spacey synth-and-auto-tuned stuff going on. And when it begins to seem a little diverted, Serengeti brings cohesion with solid, humorous raps that also have enough raw sincerity to match Stevens’ vocals. I’d skip the first track and check out “Beyond Any Doubt” if you want to get a good taste of what the project is all about. Sample lyric: "Are you in need of a breathing device?/ Lonely and depressed eating cold fried rice." It’s not the first time ’Geti and Stevens have collaborated, by the way.