Category Archives: new music

Monday Morning Music – HBHBHB

“And meanwhile the man was falling from space
And everyday I wore your face
Like an atmosphere around me
A satellite inside me”

How is this song NOT about David Bowie? I wonder every time I listen to it – “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” – the title track from Florence + The Machine’s latest album. I imagine young Florence Welch discovering Bowie as a teenager, sometime in the late ’90s, painting her face with a glittery lightning bolt (everyday I wore your face) and dancing around her bedroom, entranced.

But no, apparently this song is an ode to the California sky, influenced by Florence’s time in the U.S. and her increasing fascination with American music (whether Motown or Laurel Canyon).

The song is stunning, no matter what or who inspired it, and it’s been on constant rotation in my ears. I’m still in a little mourning for the great Starman, and feeling lately like logging on to Twitter or FB is just the daily equivalent of asking: who’s dead now? So songs of comfort and beauty feel quite necessary now.

Here’s a video version of not-quite-the-whole song, filmed (unsurprisingly) under a bright blue sky. The short video was directed by Tabitha Denholm & Vincent Haycock.

Have a good week, x

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2015: The Year in Random Thoughts and Obsessions

For my yearly wrap up of 2013, I wrote, “All hail the return of the king – David Bowie – and the art of the music video.” And I included a link to his surreal collaboration with Tilda Swinton for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. Two years later and RIP, we’re talking and posting about how much we’ll miss Bowie. (My thoughts can be found here.)

Yes, the last year has been especially tough. I’ve lost friends and heard of marriages dissolving, read helplessly of terrorist attacks in France and the continuing assault on women’s rights in the U.S. Not to mention the masses of refugees desperate for safe havens and the innocent lives struck down by gun violence.

“Day In Day Out

Stay In Fade Out”

Yet, in the midst of everyday upheaval, small glories continue to reveal themselves. Glimmers of hope to remind us that we are not alone, that quite simply, wonders never cease. Here’s a small sampling of some of my favorite things from the world of popular culture:

lady story

Yes please! More stories about strong females. (photo taken at a shopping center in Sha Tin, by therockmom)

  1. Serena Williams tops my list for consistent awesomeness. What a joy to watch her match against Heather Watson at Wimbledon. I was with my daughters and nephews on a sunny summer morning, trying to explain the arcane scoring system. All of us cheered on Williams yet at the same time felt inexplicably proud that Watson could stretch her to three sets. Later in the year, the girls and I watched the marvelous doc, Venus and Serena, and although Williams didn’t get her Grand Slam at the US Open, we still knew: she is the greatest.
  1. In movies and television, we sought out strong girls and women and, even in the midst of the industry’s glaring inequalities, still found a few to shout about, namely: Kate (Emily Blunt/Sicario), Riley and Joy (Inside Out), Alex (Priyanka Chopra/Quantico), Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw/Beyond the Lights), Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska/Ida) and of course Rey (Daisy Ridley/Star Wars Ep VII). Recently I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my kids to The X-Files Season One and the complex relationship between Scully the scientist and Mulder the believer. As the new episodes remind us, the X-Files is just great storytelling.
  1. While I still can’t convince EO and YO of the wonders of Jane Austen, school assignments and various recommendations (not quite me shoving a book in to their hands and saying: read this! but close, lol.) have introduced them to classics by Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Golding along with plenty of Judy Blume.
  1. And in the Department of Obsessions, I still can’t get enough of Castle, Mesut Ozil (COYG!), Maneki Nekos and Justin Beiber’s (lack of) facial hair. Say what you want, go on, I can take it 😉

    Imagine Dragons & phones

    The lights! The sounds! The… phones. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. (photo taken at Imagine Dragons’ HK show, by therockmom)

  1. Last but certainly not least, music! Live highlights of the year were Clockenflap in Hong Kong and Taylor Swift in Washington DC. For Swift, it was the girls, Grandma plus me and my dear friend and her daughter. We sat (and stood) in awe at Swift’s seemingly effortless command of the stage. She is a Force, thankfully using her powers for good, not evil. However, due to her dissatisfaction with Spotify, she’s not on my playlist of the year’s best. Instead I’ve included Ryan Adams’ version of ‘Wildest Dreams’, which was my favorite song of hers from 1989. His cover is just okay, kind of standard, sensitive RA. As I listen I realize that his whole take on 1989 has missed the point entirely. The point is that these songs were written by and about a young woman and her very specific experiences with the push and pull of desire. So a guy in his ‘40s? I don’t think he can quite capture what she’s feeling, that moment in time. As much as I love Ryan Adams, he could have given this project a miss.

I’ll finish here with the playlist – 25 songs from fantastic recent releases and a few new-to-me-this-year discoveries (KING, Sun Kil Moon). Interestingly, over half the songs are from female singers/bands and women-fronted bands. Not that I was aiming for that gender balance, it just happened, but I’m pleased nonetheless.

So much good music out there – listen, discover, enjoy!

 

Monday Morning Music – Laura Marling

I have this idea – and feel free to steal it and run with it – for a column called Story and Song. Maybe it’s already been done, probably so, I don’t know. But it’s where writers combine a book with a record and discuss / explain / celebrate the connection between the two. Just like pairing a nice bottle of wine with a delicious meal.

For me, I’d start with Laura Marling’s marvelous new album, Short Movie, and pair that with Lust & Other Stories, the equally provocative collection of short stories by Susan Minot.

Marling, a British folk singer-songwriter, is 25 years old, about the age of many of Minot’s characters in Lust…, and both the real singer and the fictional characters are experiencing the appetites, insecurities and ambivalence (about men) of young women in their twenties. In ‘False Hope’ (shown above), Marling asks straight out: Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be alone? While in the story ‘City Night’, a young woman named Ellen goes home with a handsome cad. Minot writes:

The night flapped on, disoriented and dark. Ellen had given up trying to steer herself through it.

Both album and book are closely connected to place; Marling with Los Angeles and Minot with New York. Opposite coasts but parallel journeys – across attraction, heartache, defiance – in search of identity and connection.

I can’t be your horse anymore / You’re not the warrior I would die for*

What I like most about both women is how they can write about relationships and even one-night stands with intelligence and insight, so that the female characters can be smart and capable and yet still succumb to messy emotion. They’re complex women but not immune to being hurt or cast aside.

Check them out when you can & Have a good week!

*From Marling’s ‘Warrior’

Monday Morning Music: Wolf Alice

It’s the little things, you know? Like finding real (not UHT) cream in the grocery store, on sale. Or the smile on EO’s face after she touches the wall and sees her time in the 100fly. Or the fact that YO will still hold my hand.

This week I’m adding to that list the fricking awesome song “Giant Peach” by North London band, Wolf Alice.

Long live guitar rock is the first thing I want to say about this tune. “Giant Peach” begins with an extended, driving intro before lead singer, Ellie Roswell, spins images of the push/pull connection to her hometown. She says: What the hell keeps me here / In a dark old town another door through / It don’t seem so clear / And changin’ feels like fear. The song plays like equal parts meat and potatoes rock and psychedelic jam – all guitars and drums – all the while building to Roswell’s climactic lyrics and a squalling heavy metal meltdown. In the video’s finale, there’s even a nod to the band’s Spinal Tap brethren as the smoke machine spews out of control and the costumes scream ‘Stonehenge’!

Recent reviews have compared Wolf Alice to ’90s bands like Hole and Garbage, which is just a simple way to say: this is a rock band with three guys and a female lead singer. Lazy! With their ear for melody and shred-tastic (yes, had to say that) guitars, I hear more similarities with Veruca Salt and another lupine band: Wolfmother.

Wolf Alice have released some EPs and their debut full-length, My Love Is Cool, is expected in June. Check them out when you can and have a good week!

Monday Morning Music: Father John Misty

Take one recent Vanity Fair article on the Laurel Canyon music scene of the late ’60s (Joni, CSNY, Mamas & Papas) add an NPR think piece on outrageous musicians plus a dash of the new Kim Gordon memoir. Sprinkle liberally with my longing for new Fleet Foxes material (when, oh when?) and what do you get?

Father John Misty aka Josh Tillman aka my latest obsession.

I may tire of his skinny, hipster swagger – lumberjack beard, ’70s sunglasses – but his voice and his hair are awesome. He was in the Fleet Foxes for a few years while also working on solo material, and his latest album, I Love You, Honeybear is just as earnest, though less inscrutable, as anything from the Seattle band. He writes and sings honestly (and outrageously, per NPR) about sex and love and the power of a good woman; that would be his real-life wife, Emma Elizabeth Tillman. The messages, however candid and explicit as in ‘When You Are Smiling and Astride Me’, are wrapped in such golden melodies and heartfelt singing that you don’t always register him as an agent provocateur. I heard ‘Bored in the USA’ and thought, ‘Oh, a political satire song,’ but as for the other tunes, I didn’t appreciate their underlying themes until I’d read Ann Power’s take on his music (the aforementioned NPR piece).

However, for me, what stands out first and foremost is the beauty of his voice. It definitely has a retro quality to it, as if he’s sitting in a cottage in Laurel Canyon, harmonizing with Linda Ronstadt and sharing a joint with Gram Parsons.

Check out his performance from KEXP (the one at the top) and let me know what you think!

Have a good week 🙂

Monday Morning Music: Jungle

I LOVE dance music videos. Yes to the vintage Adidas. Yes to the fresh choreography. Yes to the perfect medium for showcasing dance and the music that moves hips.

Here’s one of my favorites from 2014: Busy Earnin’ by a group called Jungle. The song is fantastic and the video is so simple yet so effective. Just a group of hip hop dancers in an empty warehouse space, but oh how mesmerizing.

Jungle are known for their dance videos, most notably Platoon, which featured six-year old dancer, Terra, as well as The Heat, with its skating duo known as High Rollaz. Jungle are a two-man British collective that’s only been around since 2013, but their self-titled debut album – released in the middle of 2014 – is a confident, funky mix of midtempo numbers. Already nominated for a Mercury Prize, they’re part of the modern soul resurgence going on in the UK at the moment. Not as pop as Sam Smith or Naughty Boy, but more accessible than SOHN, Glass Animals and the red hot FKA Twigs.

You can check out all of Jungle’s videos at:

http://junglejunglejungle.com/

Monday Morning Music: Trampled by Turtles

YO’s turtles died.

Did I jinx them? I feel bad because I’m pretty sure it was our recent apathy that killed them. One passed away a week ago and the other yesterday. YO said the first one’s head exploded – I wasn’t here at the time thankfully, so cannot confirm or deny that report. The other one just simply closed its eyes and stopped moving. Hubs took care of the funeral arrangements, which greatly improved the general odor in YO’s room. All that’s left is an empty tank, and our memories.

I’m writing about this not with glee or delight (well, maybe some relief) but still with that anger at the fact YO was given those damn poor things in the first place – when she was three years old. Three years old! We didn’t ask for them, we didn’t want them, but now their deaths have made YO cry. And as always, when it comes to your kids you think: we could have done more. The guilt is just automatic, part of your parental DNA.

All I can say is we, actually Hubs, kept them alive for over eight years, which is about a quarter of a terrapin’s natural life span. I don’t know if they would have lived longer if we’d secretly released them in to a reservoir or park pond. Maybe. We didn’t know they were sick, but with a reptile’s slow metabolism, an illness wouldn’t have been easy to spot anyway. Back when we first got them, I packed them in to the car and drove up to Tai Wai (near Sha Tin) to a specialist vet to get them checked out. I told him about the tank we’d bought and what we were doing to care for them – sunny spot, heat lamp, rocks to climb on, etc. He was pleased and said what he usually sees is people keeping their turtles in a bucket under the bathroom sink. So maybe, just a little maybe, I can say they had an okay life. I wanted to google ‘Do turtles feel pain’ but was afraid to.

Instead I searched Spotify for ‘turtle’ and found this group called Trampled by Turtles. They’re from Duluth, Minnesota and play progressive bluegrass. Their song ‘Wild Animals’ is beautiful and haunting and feels about right for the occasion.

Scotty and Tommy, RIP. A pet is for life, so please think before you buy.

Keep wild animals wild.

Monday Morning Music – Elbow

Morning all – guess what? Therockmom turns five years old today. Hard to believe but it was exactly five years ago today that I posted my first inarticulate but heartfelt ramblings about music and motherhood. On that day, I wrote about the K-POP band, Super Junior. As you know, I’m slightly obsessed with their dance moves and particular brand of androgyny. I also lamented the fact that the current Hong Kong concert offerings included Dionne Warwick and El Divo. Well, five years later, Super Junior have just released their seventh album. They’re still hugely popular and strangely compelling. The HK concert scene hasn’t changed much either. Nostalgia acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Tony Hadley and that guy from Westlife are still safe bets, but we have witnessed the rise of Clockenflap and promoters willing to take a gamble on smaller alternative and punk bands (Das Fluff, Japandroids, etc).

To honor therockmom’s birthday, I thought I’d spend the rest of the week looking back at some of my most popular and controversial posts – starting with a band that was one of the inspirations for this blog way back when.

Elbow were already well established in the UK when I discovered their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid. I literally knew nothing about them, but when the second track, “The Bones of You”, came on, I was dumbstruck. Who are you? Why have I not loved you forever? The shimmering guitars, the vivid lyrics, the chorus of harmonies, all crystallized in to a perfect pop love song.

But it wasn’t just the song, it was the realization that there is so much wonderful music out there, waiting to be discovered and coveted. If I’m hearing this fantastic song now, I said to myself, imagine what else I’m missing! So in a way, starting therockmom was like going on a treasure hunt. The blog has given me a reason to devote a portion of my week to listening to new music, reading about new bands and old favorites and, when the HK concert gods bless me, going out to see a live show. There’s room for nostalgia (yeah the ’80s!) on therockmom, but there’s also the hope that you might like to hear some new tunes too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this journey and I thank you for your support.

Have a good week!

Monday Morning Music – Zero 7

From the Zero 7 EP, Simple Science, out now.

Cover art from the Zero 7 EP, Simple Science, out now.

The other day I saw a double-decker-bus-sized ad celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Baby G watch and I thought: the ’90s are truly back. Pop culture has been flirting with a ’90s revival since last year, celebrating all things flannel and scrunchie, grunge and hip-hop. So in the middle of renewed interest in Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, TLC, En Vogue (yes!) and Smashmouth (no!), let’s not forget what other kind of music that decade brought us – trip hop. Or as I like to call it: music for American grown-ups who still want to think they’re cool because they listen to British stuff.

Trip hop was alternative without being too loud, fashion-forward and fresh yet welcoming to, ahem, mature listeners. You could take drugs to it late at night or you could play it while hosting a civilized Sunday brunch. Along with the slightly funkier acid jazz, trip hop was the go-to sound for urbanites who wanted a little edge but still needed to get to work in the morning. Part of the mellow underground for people such as myself who liked discovering new electronica music but didn’t have the stamina or the stomach for monotonous 10-hour raves.

One of my favorite trip hop bands is Zero 7, which is two guys – Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker – who started as sound engineers. Like a lot of trip hop producer-collectives, they use guest singers when they need vocals, so you get a variety of voices on their albums, both male (Jose Gonzalez) and female (Sophie Barker and Sia Furler). Zero 7 formed in the late ’90s but really made their mark in the early ’00s with albums like Simple Things and The Garden. They’re still making super smooth music and have just released a new EP – Simple Science. Here’s a playlist of some of my favorites from them.

In the 90s, I spent three years in Los Angeles while attending grad school, and I was lucky enough to hear about local, non-profit radio station, KCRW, while I lived there. One of their nighttime shows, Metropolis, was like Valhalla for trip hop fans. Massive Attack, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Tricky, Cibo Matto – they were all regulars on host Jason Bentley’s turntable. I used to listen to KCRW late at night while driving the streets of LA after evening classes. Metropolis and trip hop felt like the soundtrack to my mid-20s as I ‘made my way’ in the city. When I was still frivolous but full of adult ambition. Only a couple of years away from marriage and kids but young enough to indulge in the self-absorbed creation of future me.

Now I catch KCRW online, where I can listen to Jason Bentley’s morning show on demand. My life has changed dramatically since the ’90s, but KCRW’s music is still the same, still amazing.

Have a good week!

Monday Morning Music: ’80s ALL WEEK

Hi all, how’s your summer going? It’s EIGHTIES WEEK at therockmom as I revisit and revise one of my most popular posts: Can It Really Be Summer Without ’80s Music? New! Improved! Now with Spotify playlists!

maneaterIt’s a funny thing, nostalgia. Recently, I found myself sitting in the way back of my stepmom’s minivan listening to her Best of Hall & Oates CD as we drove to dinner. Now if that’s not a recipe for summertime teen regression I don’t know what is. But there I was, YO sitting next to me, both of us enjoying ‘Maneater’. See a cover version of that track (by Grace Mitchell) was used in the recent Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. YO’s good pal likes the new, cover song while YO is partial to the original. Me too. That groovy rhythm section to begin, then the sneaky guitar line, a hint of sax and… oh oh here she comes. We sang the chorus together – a small but sweet mother-daughter bonding moment – and I wondered: is it weird to be proud of my child’s taste in music?

On a slightly more musi-cophical note, I don’t know why bands/singers/artists insist on covering ’80s songs because it’s extremely difficult to improve on the original. I’m talking specifically about Moby’s recent ‘Rio’ cover as well as London Grammar’s take on the INXS tune, ‘Devil Inside’ – used for a Game of Thrones trailer. While I’m a big fan of both acts, I have to say these cover tunes were overly serious, dreary and well, just plain boring.

Eighties music is supposed to be fun!* So don’t forget the lightness, the slinky-ness, the insouciance. Guys in deconstructed linen blazers on the bow of a sailboat in the tropics!

I’ll leave you with that image as well as the first of FIVE ’80s playlists – all killer, no filler – to get you through the week. Enjoy!

*Unless of course you’re Morrissey.

 

FULL DISCLOSURE

There was a time when I thought ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was an H&O original.

We grow, we learn…