Semi-New Song Sunday: Thundercat

I’m embarrassed I’m only just now finding out about Thundercat.

There’s usually no shame in the Semi-New Sunday series. After all, the whole point is for me to acknowledge that I’m out of touch with what’s going on with music, and I’m making an effort to broaden my horizons. But I’m genuinely embarrassed that I’m only just now finding out about Thundercat.

Because he’s straight-up hilarious, and I am 10000% behind this new weird genre of Nerd Funk that he’s created. Plus he’s made what might be the best album cover ever.

I feel like I’ve seen the video to “Dragonball Durag” before, but I just assumed it was some Adult Swim thing, and I didn’t think much of it. Thinking of it as just a weird comedy video, I didn’t appreciate that he’s so brilliant at playing the bass and coming up with a groove that he doesn’t need to take anything all that seriously. He can treat it as just a vehicle for him to be weird and write songs about his cat and playing Diablo, and making a video of himself trying to hit on women and getting turned down repeatedly until he finally gets some traction with Este Haim.

This NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert from 2017 gives a better idea of what a great bassist he is.

That talent — combined with what seems to be a total lack of concern about looking uncool — results in a kind of freedom that I think is just amazing and inspiring to see. It feels like unapologetic, unfettered enthusiasm. Without hesitation, or self-censorship, or fear of being too earnest.

For instance: the video to “Them Changes”, which you know is about a samurai simply because he thinks samurai are cool and wanted to dress up as one. And the video is set up like a gag, but there’s no wink to the camera. There’s no line where the gag stops and the earnest part begins. It’s not using something silly to hide a serious message; it’s kind of suggesting that everything is always cool and dumb and silly and sad and serious and funny, all at the same time.

That story is continued in the video to “Show You the Way,” which also has Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, also simultaneously a stunt and an earnest appreciation of their music. There’s a feeling of celebration in all of it, even the melancholy parts. I know that funk and R&B have a long history of being weird and funny, but this is the first time I felt like I’ve really connected with any of it.

Feels Like the First Haim

My entry in the Haim fan club and a near-fifty-year-old’s lament of the Tik Tok generation.

I want to start by saying I don’t feel the least bit guilty about this post’s title, considering that the band themselves were promoting last year’s tour with a version of Daft Punk’s “One More Haim.”

I was proud of myself for not letting this turn into a Dirty Projectors fan blog, but then Haim snuck in on the Seth Meyers show dressed as vampire brides, and the next thing I knew, I was a fan. It’s kind of the same trap I fell into with Neko Case: I had no idea they were funny! With Haim, on top of the title of their third album, there’s their Twitter and Instagram accounts. They make it clear that while they take the music part seriously, everything that comes with fame and self-promotion is really just an excuse for them to wear nice clothes and have fun.

Granted, most people who know me will know that I’ve always had the spirit of a twenty-something Los Angeles millennial Jewish woman, trapped in the body of a big hairy, nerdy WASP. But even if you don’t have an affinity for it like I do, they’re doing a hell of a job of selling a lifestyle: being a young, successful woman in LA. They keep getting Paul Thomas Anderson to direct their videos of them walking around the city, taking their clothes off, racing each other through the Forum parking lot, wandering through car washes, or having a make-up-related breakdown while complaining that you don’t understand me, and it just seems like even at its grimiest and most suburban sprawling, the city would be a fascinating place to live in.

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Early 2000s Mix Tape

Today’s two tunes appeared on 99.9% of my playlists in the 2000s

Remember the early 2000s, which were just a few years ago and not 20, so shut your lying mouth? Instead of all these uninspired present-day bands who insist on making “new music,” back then, they dug up under-appreciated albums from the 60s and 70s and did electronic remix version compilations. They were crazy about that stuff, and we liked it that way.

One was called The Now Sound Redesigned, a bunch of remixes of songs by The Free Design. The Free Design have an album called Kites Are Fun and they seem to me as if they were inspired by The Association, but wanted a sound that wasn’t so intense and edgy. “I Found Love” is by far my favorite track from that project. Putting the original men’s vocals weaving in and out of Sarah Shannon’s more prominent lead vocals is the perfect move, elevating the original from something slight and treacly to something genuinely pretty.

Another was “Batucada” by Towa Tei & Bebel Gilberto. (It had already been out a few years before I discovered it). Hearing this song brings back memories of driving around the Bay Area listening to Pizzicato Five, Fantastic Plastic Machine, the Samba de Amigo and Jet Set Radio soundtracks, and imagining living in a swinging future bachelor pad that overlooked the megalopolis of Rio de Tokyo.

Semi-New Song Sunday: Quakers

Quakers is a sprawling hip-hop sampler, and the samples are my favorite part

A decade old but new to me: Quakers, with “Fitta Happier.” The project is three producers, including one of the guys from Portishead, with a rotating line-up of MCs. The track uses samples from a marching band medley of Radiohead songs.

I’ve never cared much for Portishead or Radiohead, and I only tend to like the most pop/rock-oriented hip hop, but this track is fantastic. It’s from the first album from 2012, which is full of some amazing samples.

They released a sequel last November, but so far it hasn’t grabbed me like the first one. “Test My Patience” isn’t bad, though.

Edited to add: If you’re curious, here’s the marching band performance that’s sampled in “Fitta Happier,” from the 2006 Pride of Arizona. (If you’re as impatient as I am, it starts around 6:00).

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: In Search of Lost Fountains

YOU CAN’T MISS DISNEY WORLD IF YOU KEEP IT IN YOUR HEART ALWAYS

There are many books that I’ve never read and will never read, but still like to make easy references to in order to sound more literate, the same way that lazy TV writers reference A Christmas Carol around December, and traitors to the United States reference 1984. One of those is Remembrances of Things Past, which I only discovered today is more often translated as In Search of Lost Time.

And the one thing about that work that everyone knows is the part about vivid involuntary memory conjured by eating a piece of cake. Maybe I should stop pseudo-referencing Proust and instead update it to something I have actually seen, and compare it to the end of Ratatouille?

Anyway, the older I get, the easier it is to narrow down my favorite place on the entire planet Earth: the area stretching from Crescent Lake to the center of Future World in Epcot.

When I want to go back there mentally, there are two pieces of music that never fail to deliver. One is “Linwood Road” by Billy Joe Walker, Jr. This was (is?) part of the background music loop playing just outside of the Yacht & Beach Club. Hearing it now, I can actually feel that muggy heat of central Florida in late spring, not yet hot enough to be oppressive, because it’s early morning and because you can still feel the perpetual cold of constant air conditioning. I can actually taste the blueberry muffin I had from the lobby just about every morning, which like a lot of stuff at Disney, is good but nowhere near as good as you were imagining. I can hear the kids screaming in the pool and feel the calm of knowing that they’re not my responsibility. And I can see the Friendship Boat coming from the BoardWalk, on its way to take people to MGM Studios.

The other is, not surprisingly, the music from Epcot’s Future World/Innoventions area. It’s funny that this is so easy to find online these days, since I can remember a few years when I was desperate to be able to listen to it outside the parks. I ended up getting a copy from some anonymous person from a small Disney music-obsessive message board, who had access to the original tracks, and it felt dangerous and illicit, like meeting Deep Throat in a parking garage.

Hearing it now puts me right outside the Mouse Gear store, sitting and watching the fountain that used to be at the center of Future World. (And smoking, but I don’t miss that part). Or leaving for the monorail right after it’s gotten dark, and the fiber-optic patterns in the concrete have started to light up.

I think part of the reason I can’t get too upset about all the changes in the works at Epcot is that I’ve got even more vivid memories of that place than I do of apartments I’ve lived in.

Semi-New Song Sunday: Aaron Frazer

Even the most faithful recreations of “vintage” music can add something new

The video to Aaron Frazer’s “Bad News” is remarkable: a fascinating dance performance around a section of Brooklyn, set to a song that’s such a faithful recreation of 70s R&B that you’d wonder if the dance was the entire point, not the music. Which I think is a bold move for a singer making his solo debut.

As I understand it, Frazer was drummer and occasional singer with Durand Jones & The Indications, a band that Jones started with three of his classmates. I keep seeing that band’s music, as well as Frazer’s solo album, described as “vintage” and “nostalgic,” which can come across as a tactful way of saying “looking backwards without adding anything new.”

And since I’ve never been a particularly big fan of R&B or soul, it does kind of blend into the background for me — I like it quite a bit, but I need some kind of hook to make me genuinely interested. Here, there’s an undercurrent of activism and social consciousness; it’s not accidental that it calls back to the music of the Civil Rights movement. It’s a reminder that music can be more than just escapist and commercial, but an agent of change.

The bigger hook for me with Frazer’s music, though, is the variety of arrangements. I first heard of him yesterday courtesy of a live performance of five songs for KEXP, which makes every one 10 times more interesting than the album versions I’ve heard so far.

Honestly, as soon as I saw a young man sit down with an acoustic guitar and start singing in a high falsetto, I was reminded of James in one of the greatest scenes in Twin Peaks. But the string quartet, and the earnestness of it, won me over quickly. The second track seems to lean even harder into the Twin Peaks vibe, with a clean-cut guy singing at a mic in what seems to be an annex of the Roadhouse. But with each song, they change up the instrumentation a bit and show a different side of the music.

It all calls back to R&B and soul from around 1960 to 1977 or so — I’m not musically literate enough to pinpoint it better than that — but instead of feeling like just a slavish recreation, it feels more like a celebration. I started out skeptical, but over the course of five songs I became a fan.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Simmer Down Now

SpectreCollie.com, your soft rock FM in the AM

Last night, we decided to forgo my usual white noise and try Apple Music’s playlist for so-called “Peaceful Sleep.” Apparently, I fell asleep eventually, but it was a battle. I’ve never been able to sleep with music playing, partly because a part of my brain is always waiting for the next bar to finish. Maybe too many years in band trained me to pay super-close attention to music, so I don’t miss my cue.

But there is some music that can calm my brain, like the two tunes for today. First is Angelika Suspended, which was from a short side project by Poi Dog Pondering. I first heard this in college and it’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.

Next is Super Triangle by the Go! Team. It already made me think of 1970s educational animation even before they made that excellent video. It’s very calming to have nostalgia for a time when all I had to worry about was when 3-2-1 Contact was going to be on.

Semi-New Song Sunday: Miike Snow

“Discovering” super-popular bands is part of the whole reason for this weekly series

The video for “Genghis Khan” has over 48 million views on YouTube, so stop me if you’ve heard this one. I first saw it last week after being reminded of St. Vincent’s “Fast Slow Disco” and wondering why I never see as slickly-produced videos made by actual gay men. A google search for “gay videos” turned up a list including this one, which is either tone-deaf or insulting, I haven’t yet figured out which.

I like the video — which is about a super-villain and secret agent who want something more from their relationship — a lot, but calling it “gay” is dumb, because it’s played entirely for laughs. One of my continued annoyances is that people seem to be unable or unwilling to tell the difference: it’s like whenever someone would post a meme showing Trump & Putin making out, and people would get all up in arms calling it “homophobic.” The point isn’t that they’re two men, the point was that they had a relationship inappropriate for the supposed leaders of two rival nations.

Anyway. “Genghis Khan” is a good video, and the two performers carried on, coincidentally, as the peace-loving leaders of two rival Cold-Warring nations in the video for “My Trigger,” which is almost as good.

But the band isn’t new, and as it turns out, they’re not even new to me. I’ve been a fan of “Animal” for a while, but never knew the name of the band. Ever the trend-setters, they were wearing masks long before COVID-19 even became a thing.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: For the Boys

Two videos I just want to watch, so back off, okay?

Is there a word for when you feel like something is blatantly, shamelessly pandering to you, but you’re still into it for reasons beyond your control? That’s how I feel whenever I watch the video to “Fast Slow Disco” by St. Vincent.

But maybe I’m being dismissive of its artistry. Perhaps I should watch it again.

I can’t get too into this video, because I get irrationally and unfairly annoyed whenever I see women in gay bars. I also think that while I’m still a huge fan of St. Vincent, sometime around Masseduction she started over-estimating her own coolness by about 10-20%, and she could stand to pump the brakes a bit.

But it’s still a pretty good song, and I can hardly ever turn down a chance to watch guys with their shirts off making out with each other. And even though it feels a little like she’s wearing a gay bear leather bar as a costume — similar to how Lady Gaga’s meat dress probably wasn’t intended to make people think about cows — it’s nice to see someone fairly mainstream normalizing body types like this as being sexy and fun. This video isn’t all that sexier than the one for “Cold-Hearted” by Paula Abdul, and that one ran constantly in 1989 — on network television, even! — back when I was still trying to figure out why the scenes with Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? were clearly connecting with me in a way they weren’t intended to.

Completely unrelated, here’s Michael Sembello lip-syncing “Maniac” for American Bandstand in 1983. Kudos to red beret guy for making the most of his camera time!

Semi-New Song Sunday: Arlo Parks

Poet and musician shows that “calming & relaxing” can have some amount of substance

I’ve had good luck with the algorithm this week: just five minutes ago, I checked Apple Music to see if there were any interesting recommendations, and it offered up Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks. “Hope” is a standout song because it’s the mission statement of the album: uplifting music about a topic with substance.

It first reminds me of Morcheeba, probably because that’s the only frame of reference I have for a British woman singing over a lofi electronic track. Parks’s music isn’t as musically complex or unusual as even Morcheeba’s (which deliberately is about “chill”1In quotes because using chill as an adjective is a huge pet peeve for me more than challenge) but the lyrics are much more complex.

I also like “Portra 400” from the same album.