What Have You Been Listening To Lately: The Back To School Edition: Monae, Mazzy, HAIM (I knowww) and The Stepkids

OK, so yes. A lot has happened since I’ve actually “blogged” on my own blog. School has started and I’ve kind of been all over the place: meeting new people, going on friend-dates, arranging words into sentences, reading said sentences in public, tormenting the cats that live in my apartment and trying to remember what its like to be a student again. Also, I just did some laundry. So let’s hear it for adulthood. (And for “contributing” to other blogs.)

Throughout all of this, there has been some serious music happening. That summer lull, that was a big pain in everyone’s ass, seems to be gone for good.

Let’s just get to it.

I feel the need to tell you that I’m in love with this Janelle Monae record, even though I haven’t listened to it all the way through yet. And even though I barely know anything about her. She has a previous record The ArchAndroid – which seems to be thematic too. Shout out to thematic records, because there are never enough of them. I’ve seen her around a bit in CoverGirl commercials and maybe in a few computer and/or phone commercials. I’ve admired her fashion from a far and strangely have never gone looking for her music. True confessions: I can’t help myself with the Best New Music label. I complain about The Fork plenty and love talking shit about them, but (true confessions part two) they really kinda do know what they’re talking about. (OK, sometimes. They kind of shit-talked all over the Elvis Costello and The Roots record, which is shame on them. Because that record is gorgeous. We’ll get to that later…) So when The Electric Lady showed up with the “BNM” label, I was surprised. But then I immediately went to do my homework. (Which will further include reading that Fork cover story. Dammit, Fork. Your web design is killer. I don’t know what to do with myself.)

At first listen, this record really blew me away. It continued to do so when Erykah Badu rapped on “Q.U.E.E.N.” and then again when Solange FINALLY won me over (took her long enough) – also rapping – on “Electric Lady”. Then, naturally, the radio interludes “Good Morning Midnight” had me at hello. You know me, I love radio and I love radio anywhere. Especially when DJ Crash Crash rhymes and brings classic soul emceeing out of the crates and onto the cloud. [Hear it below.] Furthermore, I was drawn to the cover. The theme record has been done. As has the alter ego record. But has it ever looked this good? Here’s the story: listen to this record.

Remember when I shit-talked HAIM? Because I’m about to revisit that for a quick second. Just yesterday, I made a new friend. We bonded over our love for Jack White, Zeppelin and hatred for U2. Naturally, we’re soul mates. When we were getting knee deep in the “I like this band a lot” conversation, I may or may not have laughed too long when she told me she’s really into Fleetwood Mac. Which brings me to HAIM. The other night, I heard this record for the first time. A number of things:

First of all, I might like this record but I still cannot tell. Likely, it will go like this: I’ll spend too much time listening to it (because I’m “giving it a chance”), it will get stuck in my head, I will listen to it because its stuck in my head and then it will find its way onto some list I make somewhere on a legal pad. So fuck me. Why? Because everything about the Southern California smooth-rock shitz these girls were raised on, and sound EXACTLY LIKE, pisses me off. But I can’t lie: this is a pop record. These girls can SING. And they know how to write a pop song. The hits are good, but we’re all sick of them by now. Especially “The Wire” because that’s an Eagles song and I skip over it every damn time. But the fact is, the album tracks are even better. I am still upset about all this. But that’s the way of the world. (I still want to call it: Lindsay Zoladz will give it a Best New Music next week.)

That same friend who made me laugh too long, mentioned something about Mazzy Star to me yesterday too. Then our great Internet friend Dave did the same. I was intrigued, as I had seen the name in a number of places. It was around midnight, which, in retrospect, was the most perfect time to be introduced to this record (and artist.) Having no preconceived impressions or notations about who this artist was or even what genre they are, I fell instantly in love. You can hear the record over at NPR and, at the same time, try to figure out what the LA “neo-psychedelic indie-rock scene” actually entails.

This record is breathy and romantic. Sometimes it will make you sad and other tracks are meant for an afternoon drive. (Or, I suppose, an afternoon on the quad – which is actually a thing in my life again. Its still strange.) Last night I got caught up free-writing on an assignment for about forty minutes to this record. (You can go to graduate school too: write 787 words, a story that has a surprise in it, “something that you would call memoir.”) So I was just in lust over everything I was hearing. Hearing back again right now, I’m still in love. Seasons Of Your Day sounds tiny and huge at the same time. 

Up next, I’ve had The Stepkids bookmarked for over a week and I wrote them on a post-it note above my desk. (You know those lists you make, “Records To Check Out”: Factory Floor, Joanna Gruesome, MGMT, Body/Head, Deertick, All Dogs, etc.) Today, I finally made the move after Eric Schuman told me to listen to this record. (If you live in the glorious parts of the world where the WXPN FM air waves reach you, listen to his Indie Rock Hit Parade show tomorrow night/the station in general. Or stream it here.) Again, I had no idea what to expect. I saw three dudes in suits in all their press photos. And then when it started I was like, hot holy shit.

It kind of sounds like Steely Dan – which is fine with me – and then it does a lot of synth fills and drum machines that kind of sound like hand claps. There are horns, there’s soul, it slows down, their harmony is killer, and, really, this record is as smooth as silk. [Listen to “Desert In The Dark” below.] These three dudes are from Connecticut (I’m learning) and their brand of psychedelia must be why, lately, when I ask people if they like psychedelic rock their answer is, “well, what do you mean by psychedelic rock?” I just came across the words “neo-psychedelia” so I guess its a thing.

Troubador is a lot of things. And sometimes it gets weird. But, honestly, this record sounds like nothing else out there. I am so glad I strayed from my Arrested Development binge this afternoon to turn to the Internet. I can’t remember the last time I was this interested in new music. GET OUT THERE, YOU GUYS. ITS THRILLING. The Stepkids have everything a band could be offering. Insert a rant here about free information, the Internet and why technology is good for all of us.

Also, my friend from college who directed this Kicking Spit video, has a band called Wild Rice. They are tight. Listen to them.

And because I said I would mention it, I reviewed the new Elvis Costello and The Roots record Wise Up Ghost already. It’s a terrific collaboration record that does everything right. (Actually, Stereogum did a nice job chatting about it today too.) Please and thank you listen to it. You won’t be sorry.