This week's curator: Wendy Fonarow of the Guardian.
Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Wendy Fonarow, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Glendale College, author of Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music, and writer of the "Ask the Indie Professor" column for the Guardian.
I'm attracted to contradictions. So I like happy melodies with sad lyrics and vice-versa. (I always thought it was a brilliant move to schedule the Christmas-themed Die Hard as a summer blockbuster.) Thus, in the late summer, I often listen to songs that have a slight wintery vibe as if they are sonic ice to counteract the heat.
1. Villagers, Becoming a Jackal
I went to see Villagers at Hotel Café in Los Angeles. Out comes a young man with a guitar and a little witty banter. Then he starts singing. You could hear the murmur of "wow" throughout the crowd. The lyrics are staggering and personal, and they feel like they're about you as much as the boy/man on stage. The album is even better, with fuller instrumentations. Conor O'Brien evokes not only that other special Conor, but fellow Irishman Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy. "Home" was my favorite, and I went back to an empty house to make my own music video to it.
2. Perfume Genius, Learning
Another plaintive voice, but this time accompanied by piano. Perfume Genius is a one-man show with a sound that's sparse and tuneful. You could take the southern out of Palace Brothers and you might get Perfume Genius. The lyrics and music together are intimate and vulnerable. This record tells you all of the singer's secrets, the truth of a damaged life.
3. The Walkmen, Lisbon
Every time a Walkmen song comes on the radio, I remember that I love the Walkmen (so much so that I when I heard the new single from the forthcoming album, I rather inappropriately tweeted that sentiment while driving). I recently read someone complaining that the Walkmen had never again reached the dizzying heights of "The Rat," which is one of my all-time favorite songs. But I hear that same resignation in Paul Maroon's beautifully distinctive voice in all their brilliant songs. That poor writer is missing out.
4. Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid
Janelle Monáe has created a boundary-breaking alternative universe of creativity with her Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society collective. She is one of the most charismatic performers I've encountered — so polished and professional, it makes me question my proclivities towards the ragged, unwashed, and shambolic. Her mesmerizing video for "Tightrope" has two mirror-faced figures reminiscent of the illusive form pursued by Maya Deren in her classic "Meshes of the Afternoon." The connection between these two artists is deep, as Maya Deren's work also created its own alternative universe referencing past artistic movements. In Deren's film Divine Horsemen, she describes a goddess of love who "moves in an atmosphere of infinite luxury, a perfume of refinement. Her arrival pervades the very air." She may as well have been describing Janelle Monáe.
5. Super Hits of the Seventies: Have a Nice Day (Vol. 10)
Every year you need to have at least one Feel Good Hit of the Summer (apologies to Queens of the Stone Age), and over the last few years these have included Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks," MGMT's "Kids," and the Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name." For some reason, this year my go-to party album has been Super Hits of the Seventies Volume 10. I actually recommend the whole series, but it seems like cheating to suggest twenty-five albums as one choice, so my top spot has been Volume 10 with "It Never Rains in Southern California" by Albert Hammond (yes, father of the Strokes guitarist). It's great for late-summer nights on a porch with friends, listening to the music that reaches out to past and future memories at the same time.