What am I listening to?
Hey Jack, what are you listening to right now?
Well internet person, I’m glad you asked. Really, I am — It’s one of my favorite questions and I wish people asked me that more. Which is why I created this page. I’ll update it so that its always true. And find links when possible.
March 22, 2015 –
- King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar
Dare I say this song is an improvement on Uptown Funk? Well I said it. It’s far more substantial, and just as catchy.
- Heartbreaker by Mariah Carey (feat Jay-Z)
I can’t believe I forgot about this song for so long. It has all the key ingredients for a ’90s Mariah gem (big. simple bassline; discofunk rhythm guitar and an amazing hook), plus a welcome appearance from Jay in his prime. Yes please, thank you.
- Big Pretty Bridges by Open Mike Eagle
I tend to listen to more rap in the winter, and I’ve really been enjoying Open Mike Eagle at the end of this long snow nightmare. The restrained air of quiet helps his lyrics land nicely and make it much easier to take him seriously, which is absolutely deserved because Mike’s lyrics are thoughtful and astute. This track is especially ethereal and the hook has been looping in my head for weeks now.
- Open Book by Jose Gonzalez
I’m putting up back-to-back Jose Gonzalez because his new album came out and it’s everything I hoped it would be. After spending some time in the layered sonic land of Junip, Jose is back in solo songwriter mode and it wounds great. His guitar playing is just perfect, and his vocal melodies have never been more interesting. Paired with the doubletracked vocal, the mood shift at the end of this tune elevates it (literally) in a really satisfying way. This is how good songs sound.
- The Other Side by Public Service Broadcasting
There are infinite ways to tell a story, and PSB has figured out a fascinating way to inject gripping narrative into their catchy electronic music by sampling historic audio clips. This track, which follows the dramatic moments when Apollo 8 briefly lost radio contact with mission control as it passed around the dark side of the moon for the first time, is both amazingly historic and a suspenseful bit of performance. “Now we are in our period of longest wait” and “there is a cheer in the room” are two wonderfully-worded, heavy phrases that sum everything up perfectly, and PSB do a great job scoring the conversation for maximum narrative effect, dropping to complete silence in the tensest moments. For a long time I have felt that silence is one of the most useful tools a musician has, in terms of creating contrast and building emotional effect, and it is used masterfully here. Rarely does a song fill you with pride and optimism for humanity, but this is one of those rare songs.
February 9, 2015 –
- Hold Me (feat. Pusha T) by Janine and the Mixtape
This song on its own is interesting, but the version with Pusha T takes it into an amazing new place. It also stands contrary to so much to so much of the preaviling wisdom in hip hop today — it’s understated with plenty of space, downmood but not depressing, contemplative and relaxing. It isn’t trying to hard. So many rap songs try too hard. Just let it be.
- Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez
Where do I begin? This song, with it’s words and music by Ryan Adams and performance by Jose Gonzalez, might be perfect. It’s serious in a lot of ways, especially philosphically, but it’s also really uplifting and calming. The music is simple but there’s plenty to unpack, and it always resolves in satisfying ways. They lyrics are aspirational in a way that songs really should be — when you have a blank canvas it makes the most sense to fill that space with what you want the most, and this song creates a simple, beautiful world to be explored while encouraging a sense of clear-headed resolve to best experience it. I want to live in the song (and I’m trying, kinda). Look into the sun as the new days rise. The dawn is coming, open our eyes. That’s all you need right there. I want to keep listening to this song forever. Also Ryan Adams uses one of my favorite lyrical devices: referencing the practicalities of life (there’s no place to run and no gasoline, the engines won’t turn and the train won’t leave) as a way to capture a larger concept or feeling. It breaks down something inconceivably massive into terms that we can digest, even when you’re doing something deeply human and modern like driving to work or eating a flatbread footlong at Subway. It also rewards close listening, but the chords and timbres can still be satisfying if it just comes on in the background and you’re focused on something else. This song has a lot of strengths and I think my relationship with it is still developing.
- Django by Joke
In it’s own specific way, French rap is better than American rap. It always has been and always will be. The movement of the language opens the door for a whole different kind of flow, and it’s hypnotic and wonderful to listen to.
January 1, 2015: I made a big list containing a year’s worth of tunes here: http://www.jackmcman.us/the-songs-that-made-my-year/
September 25, 2014-
- Come And Get Your Love by Redbone
First of all, this is a Native American rock band and I never knew that and that’s awesome. Also, the verse melodies are incredible and the bass line thuumps.
- Warm Foothills by Alt-J
This might be my favorite song of the year. I’m powerless against things like its floaty mood, Steve Reich/Sigur Ros melodies, and chopped-together vocals. And the whistle solo! This is one of the most satisfying tunes I’ve heard in a long time, or maybe ever.
- Weeping Mary by Sam Amidon
I heard Sam and Thomas Bartlett play this song together at Freshgrass this weekend, and it was incredible. As good as the album recording, which is saying something. It has a lot in common with Warm Foothills actually, they’re both so pretty and they take you to this amazing warm place full of pillows where it always looks like sunset.
September 3, 2014-
- If I’m Unworthy by Blake Mills
I’ve thought about it and there’s no better way to say this that doesn’t accidentally include a pun: Blake Mills has finally recorded a song worthy of being called a Blake Mills song. The guy is a genius at making exactly the kinds of sounds he does in this tune – the disarming sensitivity, monster lead tones, and warm, styley verse riff especially. His first solo record sounded totally different from the incredible way he has been playing recently, but this upcoming album promises to be the real thing. Can’t wait. This video is also perfect for critical listening.
July 15, 2014-
- Beachball by Dan Reeder
I’ve been rediscovering Dan Reeder recently, after hearing his cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale” years ago and occasionally discovering new crazy genius tunes of his over time. If you have a taste for unfiltered weirdness, definitely go check out his three albums. This song is just perfection in simplicity – he tells a simple, relateable story in straightforward language, and we know what he means. It’s very relaxing.
- Hattie’s Jam > When It Rains It Pours (Solo Acoustic) by Twiddle’s Mihali Savouldis
I had a pretty indescribable time at the Frendly Gathering a few weeks ago (which I have since described in a long review for the Banner), and it changed my views on Twiddle. They don’t take themselves too seriously and they seem to just completely enjoy playing music. This song is a tribute to a friend and a message of optimism and I just love it.
- Family Tree by Shady Graves
Another Frendly Gathering discovery, Shakey Graves just seems like an interesting, real dude. This song prepares you for weirdness with a funny little conversation clip that reeks of druggy fun friend times, and then breaks into a quasi-abstract, slightly irreverent and very charming lo-fi acoustic tune.
- Suga Suga by Baby Bash
Remember this song? It’s perfect vintage summer pop-rap. Wood grain and rawHIDE.
May 26, 2014-
- Mangrove by Young and Sick
This whole album is fantastic, but this is my favorite track by far. I’m always a sucker for bouncy, light, major-key melodies, especially when they’re as purposely happy as this one. It’s a great sunny day song. The rhythmic elements of this song grab me too, especially the snaps, snares, rests and general airiness. I’m always impressed when musicians use silence well, it takes an amazing amount of restraint and vision. This will be one of my top summer songs for sure.
- Redeye by Haim and Kid Cudi
Like the last song, this track won me over at this year’s Coachella. It’s essentially a Haim song written by Kid Cudi, built around an amazingly singable hook. The layered synth and boppy drums keep everything moving, and the lyrics are just ambiguous enough to be universal but still have meaning. It’s just a cool pop song, especially for driving on the highway.
- Animal Arithmatic by Jonsi (<-Amazing video too)
A couple weeks ago I pulled an impromptu all-nighter, spending most of the night writing and then heading out to my roof with my headphones and a cup of tea to listen to Jonsi’s solo album and admire the new leaves on the trees. The frantic rhythms of this song gave me this awesome energetic, excited feeling about the summer coming up. Then I went inside and danced by myself. This song has some amazing primal energy and a feeling of optimism that I really believe in.
Feb 14, 2014-
- Good Sex by Kevin Drew.
If you can put on your mature faces for a second, this is a song that you can really get lost in (if you can take it seriously). It’s core is sweet and warm, and the production does this really interesting thing where it introduces cheesy, early-oughts Keane sounds into the spacious world that today’s electronic producers are creating. Again, if you can take it seriously, it’s a pretty rewarding listen.
- This Song.
I admit, mashups are sometimes a guilty pleasure of mine (when done with some actual thought). I like them for a lot of the same reasons why I like cover songs. Anyways, this song knows exactly what it is (goofy), and that’s huge. And it just plain sounds cool. The video gets bonus points for Fresh Prince dancing.
- Crazy For Ya by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. feat King Chip and another guy
If you haven’t heard Dale Jr. Jr.’s new mixtape, go do that now. If you haven’t heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at all, you really should listen to their last few releases. They’re great. Anyways, this is a great example of the experimentation on this mixtape. Usually they’re a band, with guitars and bass, but on this tape they’re trying on some different hats, and they wear them well. I really like their sample of What’s Going On, and the hook they sing is pretty masterful too. The verses hold their own, and there you have it. A good rap song.
Feb 14, 2014-
Jan 22, 2014-
- Betting on Us by Francis and the Lights.
So simple. Bouncy and happy too. This guy has serious piano chops, but he likes making fun pop music. I give him tons of credit for that.
- Step (Remix) by Vampire Weekend (ft. Danny Brown, Heems, Despot).
A great winter song, with three solid verses from some great young rappers. I’ve always loved the laid-back ssound that Heems goes for on his verse, its really relatable.
- Open by Rhye.
This song is just hypnotic. The smooth vocals, finger snaps and shapeless, boomy bass get me every time. Also a fantastic use of the word “faded.”
- The Power of the Heart (Lou Reed Cover) by Peter Gabriel.
Really emotional, gorgeous interpretation of Lou’s classic, amazing less-is-more lyrics. This song says so much in so few words.
- Annie’s Song (John Denver cover) by Brett Dennen and Milow.
One of the best love songs ever, performed with the appropriate balance of joy and respect.