Three for December
Just when I thought this year was going to end dull with nothing very new in music coming my way, I was jolted by a bunch of new sounds. Here are three musicians who’re doing overtime on my playlist this December.
Some singers hook you at the very first listen. V. V. Brown is one such. When I first heard Travelling Like the Light, her first album released in July this year, I knew I was on to something good. The 26-year-old British born, half Jamaican and half Puerto Rican singer does upbeat pop songs but with a strong punk edge to them. On the album there are electronic sounds borrowed from vintage (well, late 1980s, really) videogame devices like Nintendo’s Game Boy as well as the soul and R&B of the 1950s.
But V.V. Brown (or Vanessa Brown) is not an R&B singer and refuses to be slotted as one. In one interview she relates how on her first foray into Los Angeles, record companies tried to make her do R&B songs and she was unhappy. As it happened, she went back to London and rediscovered herself and her genre of music, which she herself calls “musical mashed potatoes”. Actually Brown’s music is very infectious and perky. And, although many of the songs on her debut album are about a relationship that went wrong, the mood is remarkably bubbly.
As I heard V.V. Brown—the album and an interview—and read a bit more about this young, talented musician, I discovered a host of other things. That she writes songs, quasi-anonymously for other musicians; runs a line of vintage clothing (do check out the orange shorts she sells on her website; and is even a model (she’s tall with a retro hair-style) who has posed for Vogue magazine. How does a 26-year-old manage to pack in so much in so little time? I’d recommend catching V.V. Brown, either on her debut album, which is very good, or the various singles that are easily accessible all over the web. She’s clearly an artist to watch.
What happens when you lead a successful indie Christian rock band (yes, there are such things) for more than a decade, build up a following of loyal and devout fans and are totally committed to your religion and then you suddenly lose faith? If you said, “alcohol”, you’re absolutely right. When Pedro the Lion, his rock band finally broke up, David Bazan, 33, chucked the Lord and hit the bottle – so hard that it threatened to take down his musical career. But Bazan managed to come back from the edge sober and with his sanity intact to do a solo album, Curse Your Branches.
Narrative and autobiographical, the album tells the story of the Christian-turned-agnostic questioning his erstwhile religion. I’m not sure what fans of his earlier band, Pedro the Lion, have made of it but this album, which came out in September this year, put Bazan straight up on my list of top singer-songwriters of the year.
If you heard a band called Verbena (mid-1990s to early 2000s), it’s likely that you thought they were a rip-off of Nirvana–albeit an Alabama version of the grunge heroes but nevertheless a rip-off. After three albums, which you can safely ignore, when Verbena broke up, frontman A.A. Bondy (his given name is Auguste Arthur) retreated to a barn in upstate New York and recorded a folk music album, American Hearts, which got released in 2007.
It took me nearly two years since then to hear it. Bondy’s soul-baring vocals and minimalistic backing music make the album a compelling listen. Moreover, it makes you marvel at the transformation of a grunge musician into a folk-rocker much like how Bazan changed from a Christian rocker to a questioner of the faith.
If American Hearts was an album that hooked me to Bondy, it was a pleasant surprise to get his second solo album just a few days back. Although I’m still listening to it, I think When the Devil’s Loose (September 2009) establishes Bondy as a solid solo musician whose future work I, for one, will look forward to.
This week’s download reccos:
- Umphrey’s McGee: The improvisational sextet from Chicago scorches at a two-and-half hour gig in Rochester, NY on November 18, 2009..
- Doveman: He’s also known as Thomas Bartlett and debuted in 2005 with his album, The Acrobat. This song, Angel’s Share, is a perfect example of his whisper-style singing.
- Her Vanished Grace: Soothing, atmospheric pop from a New York band, run by husband-wife duo of Charles and NanceNieland; they’ve been around for a while but are under-rated.