Friday Fresh Picks: Serena Ryder – Harmony

serena ryder

It’s 8:51am right now, on a Friday, and I am so bloody thankful for that. It’s a little early for getting up on a day off, but I passed out practically the moment I hit the covers last night, I was so tired. I’m sitting under my covers, laptop on my lap, a nutty tea nearby, listening to Serena Ryder, having a full day to myself ahead. It’s perfection.

I had no idea what I was going to write for Friday Fresh Picks today when I got up. I’d been making playlists and listening all week, but nothing recent was coming under my radar. I discovered a few new things- Kris Allen’s Horizons, which was a little disappointing after how much I loved his last album. I test-drove Meghan Trainor’s new EP, Title, as well. All About That Bass was the only track I’d listen to again, and the title annoys me. Every time I see it I just think that some overworked intern must have put it in as a placeholder until they found out what the actual title was, and then nobody noticed until they released it that way. The word ‘title’ for an album doesn’t intrigue me at all, and makes me think that someone on her team must be just a little bit incompetent. I mean, that has to be the least creative name for an album I’ve ever seen. Even her name would be an improvement. </rant>

But anyway. My last few album reviews have been less than enthusiastic, and I wanted to share something that I genuinely fell for. I didn’t figure I was going to find anything at such short notice, but I stumbled on a pop playlist in Google Play that led me to Serena Ryder’s Heavy Love, and there’s something about her that hits the spot.

Harmony is an alternative/indie album released earlier this year. It’s got a very acoustic feel, with a heavy piano presence, and Ryder’s voice dominating. Her vocals are beautiful, with just enough of a rough edge to make it soulful. She uses familiar techniques and cliches, but avoids sounding like everything I’ve already heard before, which is a real mark of talent in my books. Overall, there were songs I liked better than others, but none I’d write off completely which is also a rarity.

Heavy Love is a wonderful angry ballad, piano-heavy and moody, and likely the one you’ve heard from her if you’ve heard her at all, as it’s a single. Stompa starts off sultry, and when the bass kicks in, it’s a perfect moment musically. For You sounds like the soundtrack to the typical ballroom dance scene in a spy movie, and has some lovely jazz overtones. Mary Go Round has some country undertones, which would normally be off-putting to me, but it’s a wonderful roadtrip-type track that I’ll listen to on repeat. The chorus is made to sing along to. Nobody But You is an acoustic cover of an old folk songs, and a satisfying sign-off.

Harmony gets 4.5/5 in my book for being so well-crafted and satisfying, so I absolutely recommend that you go find yourself a copy and have a listen. Here’s Mary Go Round for your listening pleasure to give you a sneak peak.

P.S. Check out the interview sheet she filled out for MetroLyrics about some of her songwriting inspiration and habits if you’re curious.

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Coldest Heart Cover

I don’t record a lot of covers. I love making them- I love figuring it all out, singing along, making someone else’s song my own in some small or big way. It’s a part of my ongoing learning process, and playing some old favorites on the piano and singing along is one of my favorite ways to de-stress. Still, I don’t record a lot of them.

Coldest Heart was something I had to do, though.  I’ve been listening to the Classic Crime since my angsty middle school years, and they’re still one of my favorites. They’re one of my lyrical idols, there’s just something so easy to understand and poetic about the way they write. They’re a constant on my bad day playlists, and Coldest Heart is one of those rare songs that I can still listen to on repeat even after so many years. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it justice, but I started the accompaniment on a whim one night, and the project just weighed on me until I managed to finish it, like a story that wouldn’t get out of my head until I wrote it down.

If you haven’t listened to the original, you should- whether or not you throw an ear at my version or not. Mine is acoustic, much softer- just my voice and the piano, nothing else. I couldn’t make myself happy with the vocals for months. There are few things more frustrating than finding something challenging that you usually do effortlessly, but it was worth it in the end. I hope you guys enjoy it too.

On Creativity and Apologies

There are lots of ways to put it. I’ve been in a funk. I’ve lost my mojo. I’m uninspired. I’ve lost my muse. I like to say that while most people get beautiful young women as muses, somehow mine’s an alcoholic, leathery-skinned, 50-something chain-smoking woman in a leather miniskirt who only helps me out when she’s both sober and awake, which is not often. Most often, she spends her time passed out on a sticky table in a dive bar somewhere deep in the part of my imagination where I put my supervillains and unrealistic plots of disproportionate revenge against old slights.

Over the years, I’ve learned that you can’t rely on alcoholics, no matter how long you sit there on your couch browsing tumblr waiting for them to show up. The same goes for inspiration. The truth is, I feel uninspired, lazy and demotivated. Creating something is hard, and there are inevitably parts in it that you won’t like if the act of making is more than a hobby to you. Making something beautiful out of thin air (or basic raw materials) is not supposed to be easy most of the time. When you start to understand exactly why Van Gogh felt like chopping off his ear, that’s when you know you’re doing it right.

Not that I have any right to say that. I don’t know if I’m doing it right. In a lot of ways, in fact, I know I’m not. When it comes to music, or to writing, my two loves in life, I know that a monkey bashing the keyboard with a stick could probably mix a song better than I can, and that I feel as if I should care what an Oxford comma is and that it might make me a better wordsmith, but… well. There’s so many people who do it so much better than I do, and lately the fact that I can write a song about something that means a lot to me, but that a grand total of seven people might ever hear it is getting to me. If a song is written in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it exist at all?

All I know for sure is that creativity doesn’t appear out of nowhere, you just have to get stuck in and finish it, whether your muse is gently strumming a great chord progression by your side or whether she’s sloshing scotch all over you and slurring a wildly off-key cover of Xtina’s Genie in a Bottle (am I the only one that remembers that one? yes? okay.).

The other thing I know is that, regardless of whatever I’m doing wrong or may have done wrong or my own sense of modesty and decency, announcing it to people is only devaluing whatever good I’ve done. If it sucks, it sucks, and excuses and confessions don’t change that. There’s something utterly honest and professional about just laying out what you have and letting it speak for itself. I’m still not good at doing this every time. I feel the need to compensate or to shield myself somehow but I feel better for holding back when the comments roll in, good or bad.

This may not be much advice at all. I have no quick tips, no bright advice, just the cold comfort of the fact that making something, letting it be, and then making something slightly better is all that I know how to do. I suck at a lot of things, but, this is what I want to someday suck at the best, even if only seven people ever hear my songs or read my blog.

Friday Fresh Picks: Back to the Start by The Plasticines Review

back to the start cover

I remember hearing them for the first time on my Last.fm radio years ago. I don’t remember what the first song was (I’m a Bitch, maybe?), but they did make an impression. The French girl-band, whose sound reminds me of a less pop-infused The Veronicas, has been around for awhile, and their latest album Back to the Start was just released last week. To be honest, I had no idea that they were still around, but I’m in need of a new rock anthem to keep me going in the morning, so I thought I’d see if I still liked them as much as I used to.

Back to the Start consists of 13 upbeat tracks, two in French and the rest in English. Overall, the musicality isn’t going to blow your mind. The vocals aren’t great, and they show some songwriting technique but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.  There are some misses, but there are a few solid hits too.

The opening track, Comment Faire, was nothing special. I’m listening to the album as we speak and I’ve already forgotten it by the third track. Ooh La La is a far superiour, catchy tune, and happens to be their first single off the album. It’s kind of a girly anthem, with a fun hook that really plays to the band’s strength and their image. Picture this playing in the background behind that bit of a chick flick where the main character picks herself up off the floor, puts her lipstick on, and prepares to kick ass.

My other favorites on this album are Come Closer, Dancing with the Shadows, and Tonight in London. Come Closer is a nice midtempo track about seduction that had my toe tapping through most of it. Dancing With the Shadows is something you can dance to, and the lyrics aren’t too bad either.

Tonight in London is the other track on the album with French lyrics, but it’s definitely the one I most wanted to sing along with. It’s sultry and sexy and just a little bit melancholic. It makes me think of red wine and femme fatales, and it was the diamond in the rough for me out of Back to the Start. If you listen to nothing else today, at least give this one a shot.

The biggest miss on this album for me had to be Upside Down. Musically, the intro had me interested. I was ready to really like it, but then the vocals hit. There was something distinctly nasal about it, and I just can’t get past it. It could have been my favorite, and if someone does a nice cover of it on youtube, I’d quickly download that version and replace it in my ipod library. It had so much potential, and that’s mostly why it was so disappointing.

Rating: 3/5  There were some hits, but a lot of misses, and while it’s certainly worth a listen, I’ll probably have forgotten about it in a couple weeks, aside from a couple songs.

What did you think?

Looking Pretty: 10 Favorite 2014 Album Covers

It never hurts when music has a pretty face. In the days when we all shopped in physical stores and saw the shelves of albums stacked like books, covers got a lot more attention. Now, they’re just the pretty thing that changes at the bottom of the Spotify or Itunes screen. I used to take a lot more notice, but somehow my attention faded as my listening library got bigger and my time spent on each individual album got shorter.

So, this is my ‘stop and smell the roses’ moment. I’ve compiled 10 of the prettiest album covers of the past nine months. I will not attest to the quality of the music behind the covers (still not jumping on that Kimbra bandwagon, sorry!), but that doesn’t stop my admiring.

 12 5 4 3   

Fresh Pick Friday

I’m going to be honest, this week has been a little rough. I feel like I’ve been running in circles and not accomplishing nearly enough. I want to spend a few days under the covers in a little cabin in the woods in front of a fireplace with a stack of books and a few good albums on repeat. I want to make new friends and go out to a bar with live music, and forget the rest of my life.

But, I can’t, ’cause life goes on with or without me. I’m settling instead for finding some new tunes to share with you. There’s something really exciting about hearing a new favorite song for the first time, something that makes the bad days seem a little less bad. Hopefully you’ll enjoy these as much as I did.

Y’Akoto – Don’t Call (acoustic)

When I first heard her music, I almost turned it off. The intro didn’t sound like anything I hadn’t heard before, and this style has never been my favorite. But then, I heard her voice. It reminded me of jazz singers from the 20’s in a really, really good way. This song is kind of groovy in an old-school Amy Winehouse, Duffy sort of way. You’ll have to crank up the volume to get the full effect here- but you won’t regret it. Her new album, Moody Blues, was released September 6th.

ODESZA – Say My Name (feat. Zyra)

This is a great electronic mix to jam along to. The bass is perfect, it’s very smooth and groovy but without being too boring or outdated. There’s something about it that just feels like scratching a hard-to-reach itch. Their newest album came out September 9th.

Philipp Poisel – Ich Will Nur

Skip over this one entirely if you don’t like music without English lyrics, because this one is entirely in German. If you skip, you’ll be missing out though. This one is for sad, lonely nights. His voice is incredibly soothing and melancholy, and the piano is a perfect compliment.

 

Got suggestions for next week’s picks? Leave them in the comments!

The Bad Day Bubblebath Playlist

I’m not going to lie, things have been a little rough on me lately. Life is not all I had ever hoped and dreamed it would be at this point in my life, and it’s not going to be getting better any time soon. This is a playlist for the kind of day when you’re just tired of being tired. There are a lot of instrumentals in this playlist, sad strings, and poetic lyrics. It’s not a playlist meant to cheer you up. This is the kind of music that tells you that someone else feels the same way, the kind of music that will listen to you as you listen to it. So, go on. Draw yourself a hot bath, sink into the bubbles, and commiserate with the violins for 15 songs. You’ll feel better.

Bad Day Bubblebath Playlist

P.S. Who knew an Eminem instrumental could be so relaxing?