Blog Archives

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:


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 – Royals

Are you sick of this song already? I hope not. I actually haven’t listened to it in a while, but gave it a whirl today in honor of Lorde’s Grammy win for Song of the Year. At least the Grammy voters got this right because, in my humble opinion, this was the sound of 2013: knowing, sly, different, with a cool club beat and hip hop sensibility. Yet it’s the high school choir harmonies that strike the strongest cord (chord?). Ringing out a hosanna of girl power. Congrats Queen Bee!

This is the original music video, directed by Joel Kefali. If you want to see more of Lorde singing on cam, you need to watch the US version.

Embrace the Dance

Let’s begin with a little lyrical inspiration, courtesy of a short-lived but lovely television show called ‘Bunheads’. Watch this with your child, it’s beautiful. Then keep reading, then watch this again, because you’ll want to.

I think I’m back. Well, the kids are in school, I’m writing, editing, organizing carpools, meal planning, all the stuff we’re lucky enough to take a break from over the summer. Honestly, having your parents cook and buy groceries when you’re visiting is heaven on earth.

We had a wonderful summer, even if it involved a lot of schlepping around the States on the family roadshow. But the trip made me appreciate how: 1. it’s impossible to get tweens to function before noon; 2. a fast rollercoaster can actually make you cry with laughter; and 3. country-hiphop as a genre (aka ‘Cruise’ by Florida Georgia Line) is just a really, really bad idea.

I also realized that my kids are becoming these people who are amazing and funny and wonderful to be around. I know I’m gushing here, but it’s true. They’ve always been like that  (she says humbly), it’s just that growing up has a wonderful way of banishing those obstacles – car seats, potty training, sippy cups – that can often get in the way of enjoying them as people. We still have our battles, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve hit our stride as a family and it is a delight. I keep saying to EO and YO, ‘You know you can be 10 for as long as you want’ or ‘Why don’t you stay 12 for like 3 more years.’ That would be fine with me.

In a similar vein (bear with me here), lately I’ve had several conversations with Moms about ballet. Their daughters are three, four years old and are keen to take ballet lessons. What’s interesting is that, as we talk, these Moms sound somewhat embarrassed, as if they should apologize for their daughters being girly. That maybe there’s something old-fashioned or retro (and not in a cool Mad Men kind of way) about pink leotards and tights and buns. Not ‘unfeminine’ so much as ‘unfeminist’.

Mind you, most of my friends are sporty types. And my daughters and their friends are all athletic. But my EO took ballet for eight years and she loved it. And I loved being a dance mom. Man, I could put together an awesome bun, I tell you. EO has stepped away from ballet this year to focus on swimming and I feel a little sad that she won’t get the chance to dance. For her, I think, it was 45 minutes twice a week of pure simplicity. One teacher, a bare studio, music, and a small group of girls – friends from different schools – skipping and sashaying and leaping across the floor. How many of us get to enjoy that on a regular basis?

When YO was taking hip hop a couple years back, we went to the Christmas recitals and got to see the kids perform a whole range of styles: tap, classical, lyrical, jazz, street. I always marveled at the older girls who just threw themselves in to their modern dance routines. They ranged in age from 14 to 18, and they weren’t all tall, willowy types. They were good, but to be honest, we were never going to see them on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. But, you know what? That didn’t matter. Dance is one of those things, like singing, that the amateur can embrace as much as the professional. Fully committed, free of doubt or self-consciousness, these girls felt the music; they owned their emotion. And as I watched them, I felt like something was right with the world. That it wasn’t uncool for young girls to express their angst or joy or confusion with step-hops, grapevines and jazz hands. With contemporary routines choreographed to pop songs. With the everlasting, life-affirming idea to turn to your friend and say, ‘Let’s make up a dance!’

So, I tell you sporty/strong/modern Moms out there, embrace the tutu! Let your daughter dance! Self-expression, like a 60 mph rollercoaster, is good for the soul.