Weekly Playlist – In Focus

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Featuring The National, St. Vincent, and DJ Quik

Last week we had some new faces on the playlist. They shared the likes of The Roots, the Gospel Youth, and St. Vincent. This week, we’ve got some more new faces and some great tracks on our most expansive playlist yet!

Brandon Allin: Make Do and Mend – St. Anne

Make Do and Mend have an unusual way of making me feel something; really feel something. Perhaps it’s James Carroll’s imperfect delivery that allows me to connect to the humanness of his songs. Maybe it’s simply the subject matter that I connect to on a personal level. Whatever the case may be, every listen is an emotionally exhausting experience. No song draws more out of me than “St. Anne.” Carroll himself describes its effect perfectly: “it folds its hands across my heart and holds me down.”

Premal Bhatt: N.O.R.E feat Pharrell Williams – Uno Mas

This track is another certified jam and reunited N.O.R.E. with Pharrell, whose relationship producing N.O.R.E.’s work goes back to the late-90’s. This one is perfect for the end of summer, with its tropical aesthetic. Skateboard P provides “Uno Mas” with its catchy hook, boasting a mature, less hardcore sound. It’s still the same charisma we’ve come to expect from N.O.R.E. though. He reflects on his long career in the first verse before the celebratory theme of the song takes over. This is a good song for when you’re trying to get that one friend from going home early.

Holly Bloom: The Dangerous Summer – Northern Lights

Nothing makes me happier than the pairing of fall weather and the Dangerous Summer. There is something about a crisp September morning that calls on me to blast Reach for the Sun. As someone who has been traveling a lot recently, I’ve become quite good at missing people. Therein lies the central theme of their 2009 record and the reason why I’ve kept this one on repeat. The song “Northern Lights” has been hitting me the hardest this week. I highly recommend giving the song, and the newly reunited band, a listen.

Matt Bram: Gang of Youths – Fear and Trembling

I always like hearing how people describe a new band to someone. Earlier in the month, someone described to me this band that sounds like a mixture of Bruce Springsteen, The Hold Steady, and the National. Admittedly, I balked at the description. Those are three unique acts by themselves, so the notion of someone finding a middle ground seemed far-fetched. Turns out, they were right. Gang of Youths open up their second album, Go Farther in Lightness, with “Fear and Trembling,” an epic, piano-driven rock song, sung with shockingly similar delivery to Craig Finn. “I’m missing out on human things by cowering away,” he sings with barely contained frustration. Having already been knocked on my ass by the first four minutes of the track, the final verse is a killer.

Brooke Curry: Speak Low If You Speak Love – Confusion

With so many artists out there, it’s easy to hit a music plateau. You feel like you’ve heard every song that piques your fancy and any new track you decide to listen to never resonates. When this happens to me, I play a game called “Related Artist Roulette.” It doesn’t always end well, but the elated feeling of a new discovery more than makes up for the misfires. I wasn’t sure of what to expect when I found Speak Low If You Speak Love’s first record. Acoustic guitar poured out of the speakers, filling the room with calm rhythms and emotional vocals. I enjoyed the quirky (and brutally honest) lyrics paired with the simply spaced and carefully chosen instrumentals. I felt myself freeze when I first heard the lines: “I’ve cried in airport terminals, I’ve wept in the car. It’s funny how the places we hate make us who we are.” It was such a simple explanation of every emotion I’ve had over the last three years. Without thinking, I started the song over. And over and over. “Confusion” by Speak Low If You Speak Love is the track that made me fall in love with the artist. It’s what changed a game of “Related Artist Roulette” into an appreciative and avid listener.

Cody Conley: Tenement – Witches in a Ritual

I put on Tenement’s self-titled album with no knowledge at all of the band other than I heard a song of their’s on some playlist. They seemed like an interesting, scrappy indie outfit. I figured I’d be in for a nice little pop-punk treat, given the brief 18 minute run-time of the album. Yet, five or six listens later, I’m no closer to knowing what to make of it. Country soul punk? CCR motorik? “If Pavement were Motown?” Whatever Tenement is, they’re very cool.

Grant Evan: EmiSunshine – Ragged Dreams

I’m digging around the Internet for some solid Americana music when I stumble upon this mandolin wielding gem. Her heartfelt, seasoned voice instantly had me wanting more. Turns out, EmiSunshine is only 13 years old and writes all her own music. And has a the lyrical sophistication and incredible knack for storytelling that honors the roots of folk music. Still, she has her own individual flair and adds something unique to the genre. At only 13.

Berto Gonzalez: DJ Quik feat Jon B. – Real Women

DJ Quik is too quickly forgotten in the landscape of great West Coast rappers. His self-made beats are the unique and genuine turntable hip-hop that I still hold close to my heart. This 2011 single is from his eighth studio album, The Book of David, and is an instant head bopper from the second the melody plays out. It’s a smooth, light dive into Quik’s thought process towards the women in his life and the world he journeys through. It’s his question to the ladies in the world to inquire if they’re really looking for that deep connection or just the benefit of being someone’s short-term shorty. His questions make the song stick to me. Jon B sings the hook and chorus, anchoring the song with a sing-a-long effect and a satisfaction that demands repeated listens.

Charlie McDonald: Vulfpeck – Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together

With the first single released off their November release Mr. Finish Line, Vulfpeck came out swinging with “Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together.” Accompanied by the dulcet tones of Antwaun Stanley, the band puts forth this calming R&B groove. Though it is a bit of a departure from their normally upbeat, toe-tapping funk, the warmth of this song can be felt in it’s minimalist sound. Band leader Jack Stratton weaves together the bass, vocals, keys, and drum machine so eloquently and creates a mix you wanna snuggle up in bed with it on a Sunday morning. His skill as a producer has been improving with every Vulf release. This track leaves myself and many others excited for the new record out November 7th.

Will Muckian: Bright Eyes – The Brakeman Turns My Way

I had the pleasure of discovering Bright Eyes this weekend. Yeah, I know. All I can say is how disappointed I was that I was just now starting to listen to them. “The Brakeman Turns My Way” is a perfect track for showing people the brilliance of Conor Oberst — the soulful singing, good chorus harmony, and lyrics that hit me right in the chest. I literally listened to this whole album in a dark room by myself and it was a religious experience. For people who find themselves enjoying anything from Lewis Watson (also on this week’s playlist) to Bob Dylan, there’s something here for you. While this song fits certain moods, namely the moods that might inspire someone to sit alone in a dark room, the album itself is wide enough in scope and style that it isn’t confined to a given emotion.

Joseph Nation: James Blunt – Time of Our Lives

James Blunt, of “The One You All Know” fame, as he refers to “You’re Beautiful” in concert, has rebuilt his already solid career. In his newest album, The Afterlove, Blunt works with Ed Sheeran and Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. “Time of Our Loves” sees the trio working together, and the result is a beautiful tale of James Blunt and his wife. While there are cool poetic devices in the lyrics — the paralleled lines in the verses about “staying,” the move from eighth notes to primarily quarters when he’s “feeling time move slow,” and so on — the song itself is mostly just valuable in its simplicity. It makes you want the same kind of love he’s found.

Akshat Singhal: The National – Dark Side of the Gym

I hope you guys aren’t tired of the National, because we’re back with more this week! Sleep Well Beast was released last Friday and if you haven’t listened to it yet, do so ASAP. “Dark Side of the Gym” is the penultimate track on the record and, much like the rest of the album, it features Matt Berninger’s somber vocals over a slow, oddly comforting melody. It has a pleasant feel to it and I can’t help but play it repeatedly. Without spoiling it, take an hour out of your day and give Sleep Well Beast a listen. You won’t regret it.

Drew Steele: St. Vincent – Los Ageless

With Taylor Swift getting a significant amount of attention, let’s not forget about another big-name artist who also cranked out two singles this year. St. Vincent is back and still kicking ass. She dropped her latest single, “Los Ageless,” last week and it brings the heat. The song appeared in last week’s playlist, but I felt compelled to discuss Annie Clark this week all the same. It’s distinctly different from her guitar-less single, “New York.” St. Vincent brings out the guitar, synth, and her signature sound. I cannot wait to hear what this album has in store for us.

Izzy Woods: Aly & AJ – Take Me

Aly & AJ are back. Suddenly I’m 16 again, screaming along to “Potential Breakup Song” while speeding down the highway, windows down and angry with my (non-existent) boyfriend for not calling me back on my birthday. The sisters dropped “Take Me,” their first release in 10 years, earlier this summer and reminded us all why we loved them so much. With an 80’s inspired synth sound and their always relatable lyrics, they also showed us that they’re ready to dominate the world of pop music. The duo announced their EP, titled “Ten Years,” due to be released later this fall. After spending the last few weeks with this one on repeat, I’m already impatient for more. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia or maybe it really is just that good, but either way you’ll find me listening to this one with the windows down and the volume up.

 

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