Monday, March 7, 2011

New Music Monday - Back Again . . .

How often do we hear songs and say, “I like that . . .I wonder who sings it,” only to forget all about it, later discounting it as something that probably sucked anyway? I'm guilty of it . . .I know I am. I'm also guilty of going through music like a madman, like it's my crack or something (cause it kinda is, to be honest), but it really can't be helped. Music, for the most part, is the one time when my head is clear, when my brain slows down long enough to seriously focus on something for longer than a few minutes.

What that does is make me so ridiculously aware of what I'm hearing that I immediately start seeing this musical family tree in my head. “This song sounds like X and the drums in this song remind me of Y.” There are some times, however, when a band or musician just sort of draws you in slowly, song by song, lulling you into a trance that infects your ears without your knowledge. It just floats around your head like a cloud that blocks out the sunshine so you can see on a summer day or like a warm blanket when you're shivering from the cold.

For me, it always starts with a voice. It could be Jim James on “I Needed It Most,” or Sam Beam on " My Lady's House,” or Paul Banks (Interpol) halfway mumbling, “I wish I could eat the salt off of your lost faded lips,” from Obstacle 1 in this baritone voice that's filled with this desperation that you can't help but keep listening . . .song after song, it's there . . .this simple emotion that somehow shines through a stranger's voice.  Never is it more gut wrenching and beautiful as it is when Kurt Cobain belts out the words to "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" closing out their Unplugged session.  Just listen . . .towards the end of the song, the pain is palpable.  You can FEEL the pain in his stomach.

These four voices also represent some seriously distinct voices, not to be confused with anyone else.  That, boys and girls, leads me to this week's artist/band.

A three piece from Gothenburg, Sweden, Junip is the cumulation of the musical talents of Tobias Winterkorn (keyboards), Elias Araya (drums) and Jose Gonzalez (guitars,vocals).  Some of you may recognize Gonzalez. He took the reprehensible song "Heartbeats" by The Knife and made it his own, just him and a guitar.  If you haven't heard the original by The Knife, go listen.  I'm not going to lie to you.  I HATED this song when I first heard it.  As I listened, I wanted to shove sharpened pencils (number two, of course) up my nose and slam my head on the desk.  Alas, I think too much of myself to actually go through with horrible music induced suicide, so I suffered through the song.  It was only after hearing Gonzalez's version did I actually appreciate the original.  Now, the song is just a novelty . . .it makes me smile.  

I bought Veneer, the solo effort by Gonzalez, and was immediately hooked.  The more I listened, the more his voice just stuck with me.  So, the more I heard, the more I wanted to hear.  That, like so many other things, led me to Google to find out more.  That's when I discovered his band, Junip, which had been around since the late nineties. 

How in the world had I missed this band?  How had I missed such a distinctive voice?  However it happened, I missed it and I missed big.  When I finally got what I wanted, I was happy.  I bought the EPs to go along with Veneer and delved into this music.  I listened and listened trying to place the voice I was hearing.  It reminded me of someone, but I couldn't place it.  Then it hit me.  It faintly reminded me of the god of soft rock, Christopher Cross (yes, i just mentioned christopher cross.  i'm THAT good.) and, despite what you might think, it DID NOT deter me in the least, but I digress.

Time passed and I moved on, listening to other bands and periodically revisiting Veneer . . .all the while, checking in Junip to see what they were up to.  They released two EPs, but to be quite honest, the success of Venner probably hindered the development of Junip so there was never a full length release.   While Veneer was selling a million albums, Araya spent a few years studying art in Finland and Norway while Winterkorn busied himself as a teacher and constructed his own studio for personal recordings.  Gonzalez would go on to release his second solo album, In Our Nature, and when his solo responsibilities were over, it was time for Junip to do something.

The result of all this time and effort is Fields, a band produced album full of hazy, psyche folk that somehow manages to incorporate African inspired beats and soul (Araya's mother is Ethopian), Winterkorn's heady keys and Gonzalez's quietly seductive voice.  The album is great.  For a band that spent the last half decade doing their own things, respectively, Fields is tight without being preachy or overly technical.  Tracks like "To the Grain" with it's Massive Attack inspired drums (see "Teardrops"), the tension laden "Without You" and "In Every Direction" (this version, filmed at KEXP is AWESOME) weave softly textured journey through the album.

Bottom line: I love this album.  I've caught myself going back obsessively listening to each song, picking out parts that I like, then going back and listening over and over.  To me, that's the sign of a great album.

Go get the album and their previous EPs, along with Gonzalez's two solo albums.  You won't be disappointed in the least.

Be good, boys and girls. . .and if you can't be good, be good at it.