I like music, but I’m not a “music person”. I don’t read up on the industry, look for new releases or know who used-to-be-with-who and so forth. Most of the music I buy is either stuff that I’ve been listening to for years or stuff that I get introduced to through unconventional sources. Here are five albums that were introduced to me through odd channels that ended up becoming some of my all-time favorites.
Curiouser , Kate Miller-Heidke
The formula to become a pop-star in the United States has become frighteningly efficient. Massive corporations breed little girls specifically designed to impress other little girls and make fathers uncomfortable. They put them on TV for a few years to season them and destroy any sense of self-worth. When they turn legal they put together an album with ghost-writers and autotune, then push them straight into stadiums. The tweens buy every shitty album they put out and the dads are distracted by nip-slips and drunken bikini tweets.
Apparently they still do things the old-fashioned way in Australia. Kate Miller-Heidke is a celebrated, classically trained opera singer who moved into alternative pop. She (and her creative partner/husband) wrote a trove of clever, intelligent and just-plain-fun songs. She played bars and clubs and all of the crappy places that you’d expect somebody starting out to play. She honed her skill, got some attention and eventually became successful.
I was first introduced to her when I searched for Tim Minchin’s insanely wonderful secular Christmas carol, “White Wine in the Sun” and found this video. Damn, kids – listen to that voice! So I tracked down her album “Curiouser” and found out that her own music was just as incredibly smart and enjoyable. Highlights are the infectiously catchy anti-dance dance number “Can’t Shake It” and the deeply emotional “Caught in the Crowd“. Also check out the awesome “Facebook Song (are You Fucking Kidding Me?)” and her other albums – every single one is amazing.
Midnight Organ Flight , Frightened Rabbit
This band produces some of the most depressing, uplifting, maudlin, hopeful music I’ve ever heard. Maybe it has something to do with Scotland (which is why you’ll hear more than a few strangled “fucks” in the lyrics I suppose) but the emotional depth in this work is almost alarming at times. The memorable hooks and smart lyrics coupled with some of the best imagery I’ve ever heard made this a favorite album immediately. I don’t think I’ve gone a week without listening to it at least once since I found it.
Although it’s not technically an atheist song I first heard of them when the then single “Head Rolls Off” made the rounds of atheist bloggers. The song is instantly likable and the sentiment, “while I’m alive I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”, is universal. Other album highlights include “The Modern Leper” and “My Backwards Walk” which includes one the best lines in any song, ever: “You’re the shit and I’m knee deep in it.” There isn’t a single weak track on the album and the other albums are just as strong.
Something Fierce , Marian Call
A friendly, affable, genius lyricist with the voice of an angel who loves “Firefly” and works tirelessly to please her fans? Yes, please! Marian Call is impossible to pigeon hole. She mixes classic torch-songs with geek-culture-inspired ballads with upbeat love songs and folksy acoustics. She also never seems to do anything half-assed. For her Kickstarter Campaign to support her European tour she created an elaborate fan-driven fantasy game to determine where to play.
I found her through a post on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog a few years ago. After listening to a few samples I quickly ordered her entire catalog. Although I adore everything she’s done I find myself playing “Something Fierce” most often. It’s impossible to listen to “Good Morning Moon” and not smile. Sometimes I’ll put it on loop just because I feel like smiling and the world feels like I shouldn’t be.
Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike , Gogol Bordello
Sometimes you need something special. Sometimes it’s an evening out. Sometimes it’s a bowl of ice cream. Sometimes it’s a wild man with a giant mustache and crazy eyes screaming at you in broken English. This random mix of genres – including punk, dub, Ukrainian folk and traditional gypsy – has seemingly no chance in hell to actually work. But it does.
I found these guys in a more traditional way: flipping channels one day I saw them on the short-lived “Henry Rollins Show”. The energy! The motion! The bizarre collection of instruments! The barely organized but oh so compelling noise! The gateway song for the group has to be “Start Wearing Purple” which carries you in gently then grabs you and shakes like a dog with a knotted sock. You can then graduate to “Not a Crime“, “Sally” and all the rest.
Walking Down Rainhill , Jake Shimabukuro
Sometimes you need screeching, uninhibited punk and sometimes you just need to relax. The ukulele was designed specifically for those times and nobody does the ukulele better than Jake Shimabukuro. This is perfect music for coding, reading or otherwise focusing positive brain. Everybody that hears it will like it (and those that don’t simply aren’t to be trusted).
Most people probably heard about him first when a grainy video of him covering George Harrison’s signature song, “While my Guitar Gently Weeps“. The video, first posted in 2006, became one of the first viral videos. Personally I first saw him doing an unspeakably amazing rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” for TED. Although you can’t go wrong with any of his work, his albums tend to vacillate between extremely simplistic solo acoustic works and highly polished multi-instrument arrangements. “Walking Down Rainhill” falls square in the middle of the extremes and, in my opinion, is the best introduction to this amazing artist.
There’s five of my favorites and how I found them. I’m not sure about the clichéd desert island but I haven’t gotten tired of any of them so far. Got anything I should be listening to as well? Let me know!