1. Pop Pick: Allison Weiss
Weiss got her start where new acts do these days, on the YouTubes. I fell in love with her adorably earnest cover of Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life.” It was a love deep enough to prompt me to try some of her original stuff. For your starter pack, give her video “I’m Ready” a view/listen.
It demonstrates Weiss’s perfect pop non-princess essence. Her music has everything I love in pop: it’s sweet but not sickly, cute but not cutesy, catchy but not vapid, and true without (much) clichÃ©. She self-describes as someone who “writes catchy songs about her feelings and plays them for audiences all across the USA and beyond,” and “loves pizza and loves you.” Hers is the type of music I wish was featured on episodes of MTV reality programming (which is the only place you hear music on the Empty V anymore), as the perfect backdrop to a heartsick teen’s discovery that boys lie, or some other newfound yet old-as-dirt truth. To be very clear, Weiss is better than MTV reality shows, but I think she’d elevate their programming and pick up some devoted fans were she featured.
Weiss entertains me and speaks to my inner undergrad, and I mean that in an entirely complimentary, non-ironic way (Weiss lives in Brooklyn, and I live in Seattle, so I feel like I need to emphasize the non-irony of my point, since we both hale from ironic mustache hubs).
2. Rock Pick: Transfer
Transfer got their start the old fashioned way, playing dives and rocking people’s faces off. They’ve been a San Diego favorite for years and have more recently built a substantial following in the PNW and UK, even getting the chance to rock Paul McCartney’s face off while performing live at Abbey Road.
The band’s newest album, Future Selves, encompasses a rock sound that is simultaneously modern and nostalgic, sounding like gospel, classic rock, and experimental rock all at once, with very satisfying syncopation. And while I LOVE it (for a demonstration of why check out this wonderfully, hauntingly weird video for “Take Your Medicine“), one of Transfer’s earlier albums, Faded Signal, and their Sunken Eyes EP, make even more intimate love to my ears. To get the full picture of Transfer’s wholesome goodness, both the old and new must be consumed. Lead singer, Matt Molarius, has the best man voice I have ever heard, Faded Signal features his dulcetness especially well. “Sunken Eyes” features a lot of horn (I really, really like horn in non-ska, non-mariachi music), and if that isn’t enough to win you over, Jason Cardenas on ax WILL (aside: is my tone more Greg Brady trying to be rock and roll, or your mom trying to be rock and roll?), because, to use some highly technical music terminology, he is super good.
San Diego Reader recommends Transfer to people who like Radiohead, Built to Spill, Pinback, the Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, and Arcade Fire. I like most of those bands, and I like Transfer, so maybe they’re on to something.
Transfer has toured with Kaiser Chiefs and Brandon Flowers, but they’re better than both.
3. Americana Pick: Star Anna & The Laughing Dogs
I first heard Star Anna at The Song Show, City Arts Magazine’s semi-weekly live show (and podcast) in Seattle featuring performances and interviews with northwest songwriters. She looked and sounded gritty, though her dramatic sound and plain demeanor created a sort of cognitive dissonance for me. Actually, plain’s not the right word for her demeanor, she seemed uncomfortable in her own skin, physically awkward. There was something very authentic about that, which was appealing. NPR’s Barbara Mitchell wrote that Star Anna “exudes hard living.” I think that’s right. I don’t remember what songs Star Anna sang at The Song Show that night, but I’ve since gone back for more of her offerings.
Star Anna & The Laughing Dogs are most commonly described as Americana or alt-country, and their full length album, Alone in This Together, has that ancient quality that endears those two genres to many of us. The song of the same name is an excellent representation of the album, and an excellent representation of what Star Anna does best, write and sing convincingly about broken heartedness, with a strained weariness that you can feel in your ol’ bones.
4. Country Pick: Willie Nelson
Clearly I know you’ve heard of Willie Nelson, but are you listening to him? Are you playing his new stuff? When was the last time you saw him live (he tours pretty much every summer, he’s coming to a county fair near you in his peanut oil fueled eco-bus!)? Nelson’s 2010 studio album, Country Music, should inhabit your music playing device. The last track, traditional tune “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” is so old it’s new! How nowtro. Familiar instruments sound like porches and farm implements somehow; Trigger, Uncle Willie’s trusty guitar, gets a workout, as usual; the total affect is super bluesy. And the only music I love better than the actual blues is country blues.
Because Willie Nelson is such an icon, it can be easy to forget that he tries new things all the time. He’s a stalwart collaborator–Uncle Willie has teamed up with Snoop, Norah Jones, Ziggy Marley, Wynton Marsalis, Toots & The Maytals, Ryan Adams, and The Chieftains, among countless others–and he’s managed to evolve his sound, while still maintaining the ability to be classic Willie. If you haven’t given anything he’s done beyond the outlaw country days a try, now’s the time.
And honestly, his tour bus does smell delicious. Get in its proximity.
5. Indie-Something (Pop? Twee? I shouldn’t be writing about music I don’t know enough about genres) Pick: The Echo Friendly
The Echo Friendly makes the kind of music you’ll like upon first listen. While I appreciate a slow burn, I also love something that can get under my skin instantly. And I’m self-absorbed enough that I hear a song like “Same Mistakes” and feel like it’s about me. That’s a bad thing for me (because, hey, I’m an adult, I should stop being so egocentric), but a very good thing for the band.
According to Twitta (Twitter said with, for no reason at all, an English flare), The Echo Friendly considers itself both a band and a vibe. I like that, it makes me think this duo is as self-indulgent as I am, that makes them relatable in addition to being very listenable. Also, in this interview with Kelly Knapp, we learn that The Echo Friendly are over-sharers and night people. That would cause me to like them even if they weren’t so talented. But they are. Talented.
If you’re in or near New York, The Echo Friendy’s doing a Valentine’s Day show at the Mercury Lounge, 217 East Houston.
Lia Ices. For your listening pleasure, “Love is Won.”
Laura Viers. “I Can See Your Tracks.”
First Aid Kit. “Emmylou.” (It was especially important to me to include a second country submission. I feel like country needs my help (more egoism) more than other genres. First, I don’t want to give the impression that I think only classic country has value, there’s a lot of great newer country music out there. And second, the fact that there is a lot of good country music out there is something I’d like to point out to those folks who like to say, “What kind of music do I like? Everything BUT country.” Blasphemers.
Alela Diane. “Rake,” featuring Alina Hardin.
Have a musically delicious day. And make your plugs for music’s unsung heroes in the comments below.