As it’s already been made abundantly clear by my posting history on this blog, it’s safe to say that I have my fair share of obsessions in both the film and television mediums. This post, however, will focus on yet another one of my obsessions and to say it’s been a long time coming would certainly be an understatement. This obsession is of course music.
I grew up in a household obsessed with music, only highlighted by the fact that my father rarely went a week without purchasing a new album to add to his already exorbitant collection. From The Beatles to The Beach Boys to Eric Clapton on a seemingly endless loop, it’s safe to say that my knowledge of rock music from the 60s and 70s grew with each passing day. For the record, The Beatles are still my favorite band of all-time and that will never change. It may be a cliche answer, but it’s also the right answer. Trust me.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because for as long as I can remember, the music of the decades preceding my birth (1986) was all I knew. While my fellow classmates were obsessing over Green Day and frontman Billy Joe, I was obsessing over Billy Joel’s The Stranger. Eventually as I got into high school and subsequently college, my music taste became more varied as I began to realize that the music of my lifetime wasn’t too shabby itself. Although my film obsession always came first, I started to branch out when it came to music and would spend endless hours of the day just listening to the albums that I had missed out on. With these hours spent came many new obsessions, most of which I am still very much in the thick of.
With the recent passing of one of my all-time favorite musicians, Lou Reed, and the late-October release of Arcade Fire’s new album, Reflektor, I feel like it’s the perfect time to let people in on some of my music taste. While I debated with myself as to whether I should do an all-time list, I figured it would probably be best to start with current musical acts. That way, if I do this right, some of you will possibly be turned on to some current music, which you either were not aware of or which you simply avoided so you weren’t labeled a…shhhhh…hipster.
Anyway, here is a collection of my favorite musical acts that are currently active. Welcome to The List.
5. Grizzly Bear
A Brooklyn-based rock quartet that formed just over a decade ago, Grizzly Bear is a band that quickly became one of my favorites after being introduced to them by a fellow film-buff who moonlights as a music obsessive (or perhaps that’s the other way around). They’re a band that uses traditional rock instruments along with their fair share of electronic equipment which results in their unique sound that my friend so aptly calls ‘The Beach Boys on acid’. They currently have four full-length studio albums to call their own, the first of which, Horn of Plenty (2004), was mostly a solo project for frontman Ed Droste who was joined soon after by the remaining three members, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear. Their following three albums, Yellow House (2006), Veckatimest (2009), Shields (2012), all achieved their fair share of critical acclaim and wound up on various year-end lists as one of the best albums of their respective years. While I personally find it hard to choose a favorite amongst them, if you’re going to start somewhere with Grizzly Bear it’s probably best to start with Veckatimest, which is considered to be their most accessible work. And of course, I can’t go without talking about their presence in the film world. They provided various songs for Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, which marked one of the first times I had experienced their music in full. And guess what, Blue Valentine ended 2010 as my favorite film of the year. Coincidence? Well, maybe, but regardless, Grizzly Bear is still that damn good.
Listen to Grizzly Bear’s ‘Alligator’, off Veckatimest, at the link below:
4. The National
A band I had the fortune of experiencing live for the first time this past May, The National are probably not the type of band most people picture when they think of indie rock. Led by frontman Matt Berninger and his dulcet tones, The National have a much darker tone than the likes of Vampire Weekend and The Shins, highlighted by often pitch-black lyrics and an incredible deep melancholy present in even their most rock-heavy tunes. Another Brooklyn-based band (although originally formed in Cincinnati), they have six albums to their name, all of which have achieved wide critical acclaim. Their most recent album, this year’s Trouble Will Find Me, ranked as high as no. 3 here in the States and will no doubt be near the top of many year-end lists in the coming weeks. For me, their live performance at this May’s first-ever Boston Calling festival is without question my favorite live concert experience to date. When Berninger waded deeper and deeper into the crazed crowd while belting out ‘Mr. November’, it was a once in a lifetime experience I’ll certainly never forget. I mean, I touched Matt Berninger! Anyway, if you’re looking for a place to start with The National, I recommend checking out 2005’s Alligator, which is the album that helped bring them even more exposure and wound up on various ‘best of the decade’ lists. Lastly, to bring it all home, I’m going to provide you with their rendition of the most infamous song in the Game of Thrones universe.
Listen to The National’s ‘The Rains of Castamere’, done for HBO’s TV series Game of Thrones, at the link below:
3. Fleet Foxes
A music list without some folk music love is like a breakfast plate without bacon, it’s no friend of mind. Perhaps the band most vastly different from its counterparts on this list, Fleet Foxes is a Seattle-based indie folk band led by the recently de-bearded (oh the humanity!) Robin Pecknold. Having only released two full-length studio albums to date, Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues, the Fleet Foxes rank up there among my favorite bands because they wear their influences on their sleeve. From Bob Dylan to Brian Wilson to even some Van Morrison for good measure, Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset and the rest of their crew have used their taste to form a sound that, although current, certainly wouldn’t have been out of place back in the 60s. Both of their albums have garnered an incredible amount of acclaim in a short period of time and with their last album hitting no. 4 on the charts in the US, it’s safe to say that they’re probably gonna be around for awhile. And because they only have two albums, it should take you no time at all to call yourself a fan without much in the way of effort. So just sit back, relax, and let some Foxes regale you with tales of red squirrels and a man named Oliver James. If you’re ever driving through some mountains, this is without question the perfect soundtrack.
Listen to Fleet Foxes’ ‘Ragged Wood’, off Fleet Foxes, at the link below:
2. Arcade Fire
It’s safe to say that before the Grammy Awards of February 2011, a whole lot of people had no idea who Arcade Fire was. Well after their third studio album, The Suburbs, shockingly won the award for Album of the Year at that very ceremony, it’s safe to say that people knew who they were. A Montreal-based indie-rock band of seemingly endless members at times, the most visible of its members are husband and wife couple Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. They use an endless array of instruments, which even includes a hurdy-gurdy, and are essentially the face of indie rock as it currently stands. They’ve released four full-length studio albums to date and their most recent, Reflektor, which was just released on October 28th, currently stands at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s quite a departure for the band, influenced by both Haitian rara music and its producer James Murphy (former LCD Soundsystem frontman), but it’s no less of an achievement than their previous three albums. If you want to start somewhere though, don’t start with Reflektor. One of the great joys of Arcade Fire as a band is seeing their evolution, so it’s probably best if you start at the beginning with Funeral. I had the pleasure of seeing Arcade Fire live at Lollapalooza in 2010 and boy do they put on one hell of a live show. A whole lot of people didn’t know them then, but boy, do they know them now. What a wonderful world it is.
Listen to Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’, off Funeral, at the link below:
1. The Flaming Lips
The weirdest, craziest, strangest and perhaps most lovable band on the planet, The Flaming Lips have been my favorite band for quite some time now. They’re the kind of rock group that fans are all too proud to proclaim their favorite because there’s no other band really like them. Their inception precedes all of the other bands on this list by at least 15 years, forming in Oklahoma all the way back in 1983. They’ve been through their fair share of members, but none have ever been as prominent as legendary weirdo (I say it lovingly) frontman Wayne Coyne. Pinning down their sound is hard, although I simply refer to it as psychedelic acid rock. The Lips have to date released sixteen studio albums and remain beloved for their extravagant live shows, weird experimental side-projects (an alien Christmas movie!) and their unwillingness to conform to expectations. They’ve had many phases to their discography, but perhaps they’re most beloved and the one that provided them with their mainstream breakthrough began in 1999 with the release of The Soft Bulletin. Undoubtably one of the most influential albums on my life, The Soft Bulletin marked the Lips at their most pop-heavy, with catchy melodies and the heavy use of synthesizers. The album was so widely acclaimed that it drew comparisons to even the most hallowed rock albums of all-time, most notably The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. It remains one of my all-time favorite albums and it would have been enough to keep me a fan for life, they just so happened to follow it up with another classic, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
In recent years they’ve only gotten more experimental, which I’m sure has alienated a number of fans, but not me. They’re as fun as ever and maintain a sense of humor unlike any other band out there. I mean, Coyne once painted a band poster using his own blood; that’s my kind of rock star. He can also currently be seen in those Virgin Mobil television commercials imploring you to ‘Retrain Your Brain’. Although I have yet to see The Flaming Lips perform live, I plan to change that very soon. It is my duty after all to support the weirdest of the weirdos, this indelible band of fearless freaks. Without The Flaming Lips, the world would certainly be a much darker place, or at least, there would be a whole lot more usable confetti.
Listen to The Flaming Lips ‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate’, off The Soft Bulletin, at the link below: