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12

Jun

2013

The Place Where the Music Died

By Craig McManus. Posted in Pop, Rock | No Comments »

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I admit it.  I have a little Clark W. Griswold in me.  So when the family was taking a trip down Interstate 35 to Omaha, NE for a wedding, I informed my wife and toddler that we would be making a stop in Clear Lake, Iowa for a little Americana road side experience.  This particular road side experience, however, is a little macabre as well as a two parter: 1) The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, a/k/a The Big Bopper, played there final show; and 2) the cornfield just north of town where their plane went down killing each of them as well as the pilot Roger Peterson.  That’s right, we were exploring “The Day the Music Died”.

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Here it is finally, my list of the best of what I found among 2012’s new releases. (I found a lot of great jazz from before I was born too, but that’s another story.) I no more listened to everything out there than anyone else did, but these are releases from 2012 that I listened to repeatedly and expect to be returning to in 2013 and beyond. The exact order is arbitrary and could change on any given day, though albums are probably roughly in the right quarter of the list. I’ve included at the end an honor roll of another 20 that did not quite make my list but were also greatly enjoyed. After all, I think the main function of lists like this is help folk find things (at least that’s how I use all the other lists out there).

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#1 Pjusk – Tele
Norway’s Pjusk have become one my favorite ambient/electronic artists on the strength of three stellar releases. Tele (full review here) takes us deep into the glacial cold of northern Norwegian landscapes – the tracks are themed around layers of rock and ice. Deep in the earth, we are taken on a dark and resonant atmospheric journey that ends in light and life. Creation is not all sunlit beaches, and this release gives us a masterful aural tour of its frozen recesses.

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It’s the time of year when folks post their “Best of” lists, and MiG is no exception.  So without further ado, here are the Top 20 albums (and some others that deserve recognition) according to Craig McManus:

Top 20

Purity Ring1. Purity Ring – Shrines: 2011 introduced us to Purity Ring through the singles “Ungirthed”, “Lofticries”, and “Belispeak”, and each of these songs could have made my best of list. Accordingly, I was highly anticipating the release of the band’s debut full length. When news broke that each of these songs would be included on Shrines, however, I grew concerned that Purity Ring didn’t have the depth of quality for a full LP. Obviously, Shrines’ placement on this list demonstrates that my concern was unfounded. With tracks like “Obedear”, “Fineshrine”, and “Crawlersout” added to the early singles, Purity Ring created a dark synth pop gem. The only real negative to the album is the inclusion of the frankly dreadful, “Grandloves”.

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Last night I was at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for what turned out to be one of the more memorable shows I’ve ever attended. I was there for Tinariwen (on whom more below). I had never heard of the opener, Kishi Bashi, not even via the use of his music (as I now learn) in a familiar Windows 8 commercial, and even if I had made the connection I would not have expected his music to be my thing. Support bands you’ve never heard of are often a bit of a lottery, and as two guys with a violin and a banjo took the stage I was ready for anything, but little expected what followed. Working with an amplified violin, various looping devices, and the assistance for half the set of Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees on banjo and bass, Kishi Bashi (real name K. Ishibashi) strung together a series of loop-based pieces that defied genre categorization. He is blessed with formidable skills on the violin, a pure and powerful voice, and apparently boundless energy and musical imagination. Picture Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós singing bluegrass-classical-folk-pop-experimental pieces structured like miniature progressive rock epics interspersed with beatboxing and driven by double-speed loops created live and you’ll be half way there.

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This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.

Whether you have a special someone to be your valentine this year or not, we’ve got you covered with this genre hopping “two-fer” mixtape of old and new songs ranging from easy listening to rock, pop, R&B, and lesser known indie singer-songwriter folk stuff.   Side A is just the thing for happy couples to play while celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic evening alone – or, if the love affair’s over, flip it to Side B and let the music keep you company this Valentine’s Day.  Either way, it’s a night spent with some great music.

Links to artist websites are provided for each track – a good way to learn more about the artists or to catch up on their latest news.  Many of them are working on new recording projects for 2012.

SIDE A:   VALENTINE

1. Galileo (Someone Like You) – from Since Kyabram by Declan O’Rourke

When Irish troubadour Declan O’Rourke wrote this song, he thought no one would want to hear it. But he liked it and says he only finished it because he thought his family might enjoy it.  He was more than a little surprised when he learned Josh Groban picked it up for inclusion on one of his albums – and a little sad to say goodbye to “his little song.”  Since then, it has been covered by numerous artists and is destined to become a romantic standard.

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On January 24, 2005, Minnesota Public Radio launched 89.3 The Current with the playing of Atmosphere’s hidden track off the Seven’s Travels album, “Shhh”.  “Shhh” is an ode to Minnesota and being proud of where you’re from regardless of what others think of your hometown.  It was an incredibly appropriate first track to air on a station who’s mission is to bring its listeners the best new local and national music alongside the music that inspired it.

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Here as elsewhere, 2011 finished with the customary best-of-year lists, inevitably confronting the dedicated music lover with large numbers of as yet unpurchased albums said to be the cream of the crop; catching up would cost a small fortune, even if 2012 held no new promises. Well, 2011 also saw the release of some excellent albums offered for free download, and a few of the Music is Good authors have put together a list of their favorites across several genres. All of the albums listed below can be downloaded either for free or on a “name your own price” basis (donations encouraged, but with no minimum) from the artists or labels or at bandcamp. You can also stream some of them below. Our thanks to these artists for making such good music freely available.

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Every so often an area sees its scene explode not just locally, but nationally and internationally.  This has happened before in the Twin Cities when the late ’70s funk scene exploded behind Prince and The Time, then in the early to mid ’80s the local rock scene had its turn led by Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, and the hip hop world of the early to mid 2000s was greatly influenced by Atmosphere and Brother Ali.  Following developments in 2011 it is quite possible we are standing on the verge of the Twin Cities pop scene taking its place at the top of the heap.

The Twin Cities pop movement is led by three bands who started to break through last year, and now find themselves at the edge of stardom.  All three are most certainly pop bands, but they come at the genre from very different perspectives.  One is garage influenced guitar pop, another uses electronics to create a smooth dream pop, and the last features dark, smoldering synth pop.  Each have an album due in 2012, though, and are set to make lots of noise locally and internationally.

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This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.

Every December I put together a mixtape of what I find to be some of the best tracks of the preceding year.  I say ‘some of the best tracks’ because in addition to including great songs I have two main goals: 1) For the mix to actually be a mix of sounds and styles; and 2) for the parts to make up a coherent whole.

As I noted in my best albums of 2011 post, I found the year somewhat weak when it came to top shelf albums.  When I sat down to put together my favorite tracks that was not an issue, though, and I had to do some serious cutting.  So while this list gives me a chance to recognize a number of bands that do not appear on the album list, tracks like Bon Iver’s “Holocene” (ridiculously good despite my indifference to the rest of that album), Tom Waits’ “New Year’s Eve”, Low’s “Witches”, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “Heart in Your Heartbreak” ended up being elbowed out.

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This is a part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.

I truly believe that music discovery is a life long process and one that should cross all genre barriers.  It is absolutely dumbfounding to me whenever I hear someone claim that “there isn’t any good music these days” or that a particular genre (usually hip hop or country) “is all crap”.  I certainly realize, mostly because my wife loves to remind me, I’m not a ‘normal’ person when it comes to music, but it seems elementary to me that if anyone explores a genre a bit they will find something that speaks to them.  Below are the 10 albums (in my personal chronological order) that have had the biggest impact on my life, and led me down my musical paths.

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