Friends, Romans, NoiseTraders, lend me your ears. No, seriously. Lend me your ears for a few minutes and I promise to make it worth your while. I’ve got a really cool batch of music recommendations this week that includes an Americana trailblazer, a cello-spiced indie-folk band, and a guy who raps in Portuguese over vintage bossa nova beats. Even this week’s book offering is music-related, as author Justin McRoberts has a robust catalog of fantastic singer-songwriter material from the last 15 years or so. Oh yeah, I believe there’s also a pretty big-deal, primetime gathering of commercials with football breaks in between planned for this Sunday, so GO (insert the team you like here) AND BEAT THOSE LOUSY (insert the team you don’t like here)!!
While Sean Watkins is mostly known for his musical contributions within the format of a band (you may have heard of his platinum-selling, Grammy-winning band Nickel Creek or his side project with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman called Fiction Family), his solo work is equally impressive in its stark individuality. His most recent solo album is titled All I Do is Lie and songs like “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “This Will End in Tears” are heart-lifting in their impressive instrumentation and heart-breaking in their lyrical intimacy. All I Do is Lie is currently being offered in full while Watkins is out on his first solo headlining tour, so be sure to grab it before it’s gone!
As the EP’s title and idyllic cover art suggest, The Speedbumps’ Cabin EP is a warm, inviting sonic escape that feels comfortable in its delivery and stirring in its atmospherics. Singer-guitarist Erik Urycki has an engagingly soulful thread running through his vocals and the addition of Sam Kristoff’s cello to the standard acoustic string-band mix adds a uniquely beautiful layer to their acoustic ballads. The unassuming percussion that propels each track never gets in front of the other instruments or vocals and truly cements the indie-folk groove of tracks like “Montreal” and “Breakdown.” Even after the sonic snow melts you will not want to leave this Cabin.
Brazilian rap over bossa nova beats? Uh, yes, PLEASE! Vinicius Terra’s fantastic bossa-rap album is called Quando a Bossa Encontra o Rap (which translates to When Bossa Meets Rap) and that’s exactly what you can expect from this guaranteed party-starter. While it may take a second to gain your equilibrium on the first listen, you’ll soon be transported to an incredible world of sophisticated instrumentation, slick live drum beats, and raw vocal flow. “O Inverno” is such a standout track and I can’t recommend it enough.
I first encountered Justin McRoberts in the late 90s when he released a couple of albums on one of my favorite (now defunct) indie labels, 5 Minute Walk Records. After a decade and a half playing music, McRoberts is now working as an author as well. He released his first book, CMYK: The Process of Life Together, in 2013, and just last November he released his second book, Title Pending. Title Pending is a great collection of stories and essays about things McRoberts has learned regarding his own creative process that are all both informative, inspirational, and definitely worth your time.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Greetings and salutations, NoiseTraders! May I be the first to welcome you to the weekend and here’s hoping yours is full of whatever it is that floats your boat. Me? Well, I’m hoping to partake in a whole lot of not-a-thing-to-do sprinkled with heavy dashes of snow-gazing, movie-watching, and diner-brunching at The Golden Apple with my lovely. I have a feeling this week’s musical recommendations will be appearing at various points throughout the weekend as well, especially the Velcro Mary track. Just can’t seem to get enough of it so far. Dig in, friends. Yours ears will thank you for it!
If this winter weather has you feeling a bit too chilly, put on these sizzling tunes from Canadian soul singer Nuela Charles and you will feel your frostiness melt right away. This four-track sampler features three songs from her most recent album, Aware, as well as a bonus industrial-pop remix of “You Got Me” courtesy of producer Jeff Olson. The slinky smooth piano-and-horn flirtations of “Unfortunate Love” are beautifully bolstered by the guest vocals of Darren Frank and the stutter-step rhythms of “Good in Me” will have you yearning for the nearest dance floor.
Slospeak Records has a roster-full of exciting bands and this sampler of live acoustic sessions eloquently illustrates the point. From Golden Youth’s metronome-pulse sway of “Where’s Your Heart Gone” to Fever Fever’s plucky “Hypnotized,” Slospeak’s talented grab bag of groups all really shine in this live setting. After sampling through this acoustic sampler, be sure to track down the original albums these stellar songs come from as well. In fact, Golden Youth’s entire Quiet Frame; Wild Light is available in full here on NoiseTrade to get you started.
While I’ve heard that the dream of the ‘90s is alive in Portland, Velcro Mary are doing their part to bring a little of it to Charlotte, NC as well. “Whatever Helps You Sleep At Night” is a glorious slice of nostalgic-and-now nineties-ness that thankfully relies far more on inspiration than imitation. With splashes of Dinosaur Jr., Sparklehorse, and Folk Implosion, Velcro Mary expertly brings up fond musical memories and promises new ones at the same time.
While most instructional writing books deal almost exclusively with what happens between ink and page, Tyler Ward’s The First Forty broadens the scope a bit. Ward’s book promises to show writers how to “be more intentional with what they consume, who they admire, what they think about themselves, and who they spend their time with.” Ward also offers practical time management and relational tips that feed into creating a positive writing process as well.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t living all over you, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Well, hello there, NoiseTraders! With it being such a strong week for new album releases from some of my favorite artists, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit some of our coinciding NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions from a couple of them. After enjoying the “in the room” feel of those exclusive live EPs, be sure to check out their new releases from this past Tuesday as well. Rounding out this week’s music recommendations is a remix EP from Madi Diaz that is more than well worth your time. Plus, there’s never a better time than the cold days and early nights of winter to pick up a literary classic, so settle in to the dog’s-eye-view devolution of The Call of the Wild and keep the tissues close!
With the release of Dr. Dog’s unbelievably magical live record (Live At A Flamingo Hotel) this week, I thought it might be appropriate to remind you of another killer live release of theirs. We recorded Dr. Dog for a NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions around the release of their last studio album B-Room and catching them in a live environment is truly a mesmerizing experience. Check out their unique mix of Philly soul, alt-folk, and fearless experimentation on tracks like “Distant Light,” “That Old Black Hole,” and my can’t-get-enough favorite “Too Weak To Ramble.”
With Justin Townes Earle also releasing a stellar new album (Absent Fathers) this week, I thought it might be appropriate to you remind you of the intimate NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions we did with him last fall around the release of Single Mothers, his prequel/companion album to Absent Fathers. With just his resonant rasp and his unique acoustic work, Townes seriously wows in the one-voice-one-guitar environment. Take just one listen to his stirring Billie Holiday-influenced “White Gardenias” and there’s a good chance you’ll be seeking out every album he’s ever released.
Madi Diaz’s most recent album Phantom was labeled “the most danceable break up record ever” by LA Weekly and a listen through her remix EP Stripped Chopped +Screwed will show you why. While the tracks on Phantom feature Diaz’s pop-perfect voice soaring lightly over big beat productions and a slick sonic sheen, the acoustic and remixed versions of the same songs presented on Stripped Chopped + Screwed prove she’s no creation of studio trickery. The acoustic version of “Stay Together” is as strong in its vulnerability as its Phantom counterpart is in its tenacity.
Jack London has been called “the most widely read American writer in the world” and with a literary resume that includes classic novels like The Call of the Wild and White Fang, as well as a mesmerizing collection of poems, plays, and short stories (“A Thousand Deaths” and “To Build a Fire” are both must-reads), that claim may not be all that far-fetched. The Call of the Wild is a fantastically pastoral return-to-nature story that follows one dog’s harrowing journey from domestication to primitivism during the Klondike Gold Rush period of the late 1800s. It’s a guaranteed great-read page-turner (or screen-swiper) from beginning to end.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t minding the usher, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
While a band containing a set of siblings isn’t exactly a new thing, one containing two sets of siblings certainly is. The Vespers are made up of two sisters (Callie and Phoebe Cryar) and two brothers (Bruno and Taylor Jones) and the familial bonds are wonderfully apparent in the way they interact, write, perform, and even do interviews. The Vespers are getting set to release their brand new album, the aptly named Sisters and Brothers, on February 10 and to prime the pump a bit, they’ve compiled Sisters and Brothers Primer - an engaging sampler of new songs, live cuts, and a couple tracks from their widely-praised last album, The Fourth Wall.
I recently spoke with the Nashville-based folksy foursome about their expanded sound on Sisters and Brothers, what it was like to record the album with Paul Moak, and why it’s important for them to keep it all in the family when it comes to their career.
NoiseTrade: Your new album Sisters and Brothers showcases an eclectic musical evolution that builds upon your previous folk and bluegrass sounds. Were their specific influences that fed into your new songs or do you feel it’s just a natural progression of playing and writing together for the last five years?
Phoebe: I think it’s a combination of both. My tastes as a music lover and listener have evolved a lot in the last few years and naturally that changed the way I write. I want to make music that I like and so the songs that came out and ended up on Sisters and Brothers were a result of my love for the latest projects from John Mark McMillan, Arcade Fire, Wild Cub and many others.
NT: Your Sisters and Brothers Primer features two studio tracks from Sisters and Brothers (“New Kids” and “Break the Cycle”) and two live versions of songs (“Sisters and Brothers” and “Out West”) that will appear on the new album as well. What made you pick these specific tracks to introduce the record?
Bruno: Keeping in mind that Noisetrade is a huge platform for discovery, we choose to introduce the album version of “New Kids” for the first time here and have it kick off our NoiseTrade sampler. As a pretty upbeat song with a sweet-pop flavor or two mixed in, we thought some folks who might just be discovering the band may jump in a canoe and paddle out a little further with us after we broke the ice with something a little more mass friendly.
“Break The Cycle” showcases a rock/jam side of the band, which is new, and the live cuts are there to showcase what the band sounds like live to encourage folks to maybe think about experiencing the record in a live setting. We also put two previously released tracks up to showcase our roots.
NT: In true indie artist fashion, you guys don’t rely on many outside voices or hands in your creative process or day-to-day career logistics. What’s behind your staunch DIY ethic and what advice would you give to other bands thinking about taking the same approach.
Bruno: Our goal as a band has always been authenticity. So, on the creative side we’ve just focused our energy and made decisions based on what felt would assist in creating the most authentic music. Our DIY ethic to get that music out there comes from the vision we had to develop our sound and brand first, before exploring outside voices and hands in the day to day.
We’ve always had mentors and a couple of team members around us, but up until right around the five-year mark last year, we never had an official manager, or felt like we were “next level” ready. My advice from an authenticity point of view would be to carve out your sound, show some growth, and then seek professional help to assist in scaling that.
NT: How did working with producer Paul Moak influence the performances on Sisters and Brothers?
Phoebe: Paul was our muse and motivation for this record! Paul’s name actually means good vibes (look it up, it’s Greek) so anytime we were discouraged or mechanical in our performance, he needed only to walk into the room and flick his fiery dreadlocks and all was well. I remember Callie was tracking vocals on “The Curtain” and Paul cut her off, ran into the vocal booth, snatched her lyric sheet, and cried indignantly “I can TELL you’re reading the LYRICS!”
NT: Having successfully navigated around the sophomore slump trap with your last album The Fourth Wall, were there any differences in the way you approached going into the studio this time around?
Taylor: This time working with Moak at the Smoakstack was unique because it was the first time we recorded everything for the record in the same place. On our previous records we were a little more spread out, usually over two locations or so, while we were tracking. For instance, we’d do drums at one house & vocals at another, just depending on what was necessary and what we had access to. In this case though, Smoakstack was a one stop shop for us. Everything was there that we could possibly want or need so we didn’t have to move around at all.
Musically, our approach was different this time because there were four or five songs that we had never really played together. “Not Enough,” “Curtain,” “We Win,” and “Signs” (and maybe one more I’m forgetting) were all written but not arranged yet. So, we got to listen to Paul and really get down and dirty with him to come up with the way we all wanted the song to sound. With that process came a freshness when we went to actually tracking them since those songs were so fresh to us. It made for a really fun and creative time.
The recording processes for us have been unique from album to album. Each process has been appropriate for where we were at the time on a personal and professional level and Sisters and Brothers was no exception.
NT: Finally, you can’t have a band of two sibling groups and not have some interesting road stories to tell. Cryar sisters, tell us something about tour life with the Jones brothers and fellas, please return the favor.
Phoebe: Touring with the guys is a lot of fun actually. They treat us girls like queens and let us sleep on the bunks while they do all the driving. However, they have the best (worst) senses of smell and we can’t eat anything but dry crackers or they’ll complain and roll down the windows. That’s what’s so fun about that one time we put Taylor’s leftover pancake from Denny’s in his seat to welcome him back from the bathroom.
Bruno: Traveling with the Cryar sisters is awesome. They are great. We grew up completely opposite on everything though. My brother Taylor and I were always in to WWE wrestling growing up, and one time we had the night off near Cleveland where Monday Night Raw was happening on that night. We thought it would be fun to check that out. We BEGGED the girls to go with us. They finally agreed. We made signs… Whole nine yards. It was a blast for my brother and I. The girls… not so much. They thought it was completely ridiculous and a total waste of time. We still owe them for that!
When writer Will Hodge isn’t keeping the car running, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Americana phenom Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, Works Progress Administration) has played with a wide variety of other musicians during his two-and-half-decades-long career as a band member, sideman, and special guest. However, for the first time ever in his 25-year career, Watkins is about to embark on the first full-band tour of his solo material behind his most recent album All I Do Is Lie. To help celebrate the milestone, Watkins is offering the album in its entirety here on NoiseTrade. Watkins was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy tour prep schedule to chat with us about All I Do Is Lie and what it’s like to be in the solo spotlight after so many years of collaboration.
NoiseTrade: Your most recent solo album All I Do Is Lie is far more relaxed and introspective than your releases with Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, or Works Progress Administration. Was that an intentional direction on your part or a natural outcome of only having to answer to (and speak for) one voice?
Sean Watkins: It wasn’t an intentional direction as much as I wanted to make a record that I really felt was “me” – whatever that meant. I wanted the lyrics to be largely autobiographical and I wanted the music to be a clear and honest representation of who I am as songwriter and composer.
My goals were to write songs that I felt had a strong and clear message or meaning and then to record them in a simple, non-dressed up way. Not that I didn’t have fun on the production side of things, I did, but my hope was that these songs would hold up alright in just a guitar/vocal situation. I guess it was sort of half intentional direction and half natural outcome.
NT: From a songwriting perspective, do you approach your solo material any differently than you do your band member/sideman output?
Watkins: Writing for a solo project can be equal parts fun, terrifying, rewarding, and disappointing. I feel like it’s a case of one creative situation needing the other. I love being creative in a band situation and I’ve been fortunate to be in bands with people and musicians who I love and respect. I realize that that is not always the case and I am very appreciative of that. I have tried to take advantage of it and soak up all my times in those situations.
I also like the idea of having to stand on my own two feet, whatever that means. It’s fun and good and healthy to do as an artist of any kind, I think. I love it all and I think each creative situation can help the other if you let it.
NT: In what ways do you think being a part of multiple musical groups has impacted your solo material?
Watkins: Being in more than one band is really important. If you can make it happen, you should. It alleviates the pressure on one or the other, especially if one band is more successful than the other. It’s good to have multiple outlets. That way you aren’t trying to cram all your ideas through one voice.
NT: I read that some parts of All I Do Is Lie were recorded in hotel rooms instead of an actual recording studio. Was this just a logistical decision or a purposeful move to capture specific moments in the creative process?
Watkins: That is true. It was done out of necessity. I did a few songs in a studio near my home in Los Angeles and a few other songs in my own garage studio. I also did a few while I was out on the road a couple of years ago with Jackson Browne. He doesn’t like to sing more than 2 or 3 nights in a row, so we had 2 or 3 days off a week. I had started my record right before leaving for that tour and I was antsy to stay productive while on the road. So there were a couple of small midwest studios and a few hotel rooms that were appropriated along the way. It was fun and challenging and a good use of downtime.
NT: You’ve planned a full-on tour for All I Do Is Lie starting this month, which is a first for one of your solo albums. Are you more excited or nervous about being front and center for a whole show?
Watkins: I’m totally excited. I’ve done a lot of solo shows but mostly just at home around Los Angeles. I’m taking out a couple of my closest friends and respected musicians along with me. It’s going to be a blast. I’m really looking forward to it.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t up against the wall, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
H-H-H-Hello there N-N-N-Noisetraders! Warmest greetings from chilly Chicago where we’ve been initiated into our first Chicago winter with gusto! It’s wonderfully cold, amazingly beautiful, and I couldn’t be more excited to start the new year off in a new city with new adventures (and diner food) to be found around every corner. I hope you’re as equally jazzed about your own January so far and if not, maybe a sampling of this week’s recommendations will help lift your sonic spirits!
It’s impossible to hear the infectious grooves and slick production values of No One Is Lost by Stars and keep still. Whether you’re in need of a Friday night party starter, a windows-down road song, or just a solo cubicle dance-off, Stars will hit your ears and command your smile. This 5-track EP features two songs from their latest release, a track from their previous album The North, and two exclusives that can only be found on this EP. I can’t stop listening to “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,” so if anyone knows how to get these synth lines out of my head, please don’t tell me!
It’s no exaggeration to say that SideOneDummy Records is one of my all-time favorite labels. They consistently put out rad bands that don’t have very many “sounds like” contemporaries. Their 2014 Winter Sampler features many of the incredible bands on their current roster, along with a bonus cut from Superheaven (originally on Run For Cover Records). Take a listen to the MBV-esque slow-burn fuzz of The Lees of Memory’s “We Are Siamese” and the Springsteenian folk-thump of Chuck Ragan’s “You and I Alone” and you’ll see why SideOneDummy is one of the coolest and most exciting labels around.
The melodic sway of The Fleeting Ends’ newest single “Can’t Say No” mixes together elements of late-70s new wave and mid-80s alternative in a refreshing way that makes you think you might’ve heard it somewhere before. The EP is rounded out by the single’s B-side (“7 a.m. Again”), as well as a nice trio of demos capturing some of their songs at their earliest embryonic stages.
James Dargan’s humorous short story Out of the Cage is self-described as “A black comedy/mystery story which mockingly describes the little man’s fight against the rest of the world.” What’s not to love about that? Dargan’s biting wit and deft portrayals of the everyman bring to mind Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins and if you like what you read, his Spaghetti Junction book is available here on NoiseTrade as well.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t soft as snow (but warm inside), you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
10! 9! 8!… Oh wait, just a tad late, huh? Hope you had a rockin’ New Year’s Eve and a New Year’s Day filled with family, friends, collards, and black-eyed peas. If you’ve got plans to hit the ground running into the New Year, I’ve got some killer recommendations this week to help soundtrack your sendoff. Ben Arthur’s astounding album/eBook combo, Service Unicorn’s embryonic EP, and ATO Records wonderful Winter Sampler all have amazing songs ready to ignite and inspire. Glynn Young’s book is a really encouraging read as well. So take a cup of kindness yet and cheers to you and yours!
Singer-songwriter-author Ben Arthur has crafted an amazingly creative dual-medium project titled If You Look for My Heart and the album/eBook combo is as compelling in its individual components as it is engaging in its simultaneous consumption. Okay, that sounds a bit too pretentious. Let’s try this again… Both the album and the novel are excellent enough to be enjoyed on their own merits, but the reader/listener experience is enhanced even more when they are taken in together. (So make sure to download them both!) The title track is one of the strongest songs on the project and special guest Rachel Yamagata adds an emotional depth to “Desolate” that really takes the song to another place.
Finding the music of Service Unicorn was such a fantastic musical discovery for me last year and this EP of past and present material will hopefully tide me over until their new (recently-funded-via-Kickstarter) EP is released into the wild. For now, Maps of Melodies is a wonderful 5-track EP that features three songs from the pre-Unicorn incarnation known as MelodyMap, as well as the Service Unicorn singles “A Single Thread of Silver” and “Christendom Chrysanthemum.” Washed in waves of synthesizers and disembodied, robo-cold vocals, Service Unicorn brings to mind both late-70s/early-80s New Wave and modern day electro-pop influences.
With such a strong roster of past and present artists, ATO Records never disappoints with their offerings on Noisetrade. Their Winter Sampler this year is certainly no exception to their precedent, featuring standout tracks from Brandi Carlile, Old Crow Medicine Show, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Mariachi El Bronx, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and more. If you’re looking for a couple songs to sample, “No One is Lost” by Stars and “We Are Undone” by Two Gallants are both infectious numbers that will have you going back for more. As ATO continues to top themselves with each sampler, it’s hard not to overly anticipate what’s next.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at poetry (or become a better poet) and feel that your 9-to-5 grind is keeping that from being a reality, then you’d really benefit from checking out Glynn Young’s Poetry at Work. Even if you don’t have writing aspirations yourself but are looking for a few pointers on discovering beauty in your workplace, this book has helpful suggestions on how to accomplish that as well. If you think phrases like “the poetry of PowerPoint” and “the poetry of the organization chart” sound a bit far-fetched, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by Young’s outlook on the office.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t in the sky tonight, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan! Merry Christmas, NoiseTraders!
Short and sweet this week… Hope you all had an absolutely wonderful Christmas and that these songs help you ease off that holiday hangover in style. See you next year!
While listening through Amy Stroup’s You Make the Cold Disappear, it’s perfectly normal to have thoughts of “Isn’t this song from that commercial… ?” or “Wasn’t this song in that episode of… ?” because “YES!” to both. The five tracks of holiday songs on You Make the Cold Disappear float along on Stroup’s warmly unassuming voice that is packed with crystal clear tones and delivered in gentle waves of audible molasses. In fact, she possibly might have recorded my favorite version of “Mele Kalikimaka” (just don’t tell Courtney Jaye). If you can’t get enough of Stroup’s take on Christmas, you can also check out 2012’s Snow Angel from Sugar & the Hi-Lows, her side project with Trent Dabbs.
Man, Whitewater Worship Band’s digital single for “Go Tell It On the Mountain” has quickly become one of my absolute favorite Christmas releases that we’ve ever had on NoiseTrade. Their version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” struts along with a slick bluesy-folk sway and I guarantee you’ll be joining the choir in no time. As a bonus, the other track on the release is “Christmas Story,” an incredibly cool Bible story reading that sounds like one of those old plastic kid’s records that would be included with your “My First Record Player.” With multiple character voices, moments of overly drenched reverb, and warbley instrument splashes, this thing is a piece of pure sonic gold.
The 8-Bit Hymnal 2 (Christmas) combines two of my favorite things that I don’t often find sharing the same sonic space: hymns and chiptune. Imagine a candlelight Christmas Eve service officiated by Mario and Luigi and you’ll be in the right headspace for this unique mix of sacred nostalgia. Some songs sound like title screens, some like water world free plays, and others even take on a little minor-key fight-the-boss feel, but all of them will take you back to church and your first Nintendo.
If you’ve ever read anything that Donald Miller’s written, you know the guy can tell a story, again and again and again. How To Tell A Story details Miller’s “secret,” the 7-part story structure he developed from analyzing hundreds of films and books. This book is the equivalent of a Houdini-written How To Do A Magic Trick or a Rockwell-penned How To Paint A Masterpiece, it’s that informative and that important. Whether you’re a writer or just interested in being able to tell your own story, don’t miss this gem!
When writer Will Hodge isn’t wondering what are you doing New Year’s Eve, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Season’s greetings and salutations from the Windy City, my friends! With only a few more sleeps until Christmas, I hope everyone has had a spectacular holiday season and is looking forward to ye olde twenty-fifth of December. I can only hope these past few weeks of festivity and frivolity have been enhanced, even if only slightly, by some of the Christmas music that’s been available here on NoiseTrade. It never ceases to amaze me to hear the quality releases that are being offered by such talented musicians on our site and it thrills us to no end to see and hear about all of the connections that are made through music. Alright, I’m putting on the parking brake before I get all mushy and start talking about that new Apple commercial with the cross-generational, decades-in-the-making duet. On to the never-dwindling batch of Christmas tunes!
If you’re not already familiar with Over the Rhine’s music or are a new fan that isn’t sure where to start with their Christmas albums, then Even the Snow Turns Blue is waiting under the tree with your name on it. This seasonal sampler features tracks from all three of their Christmas-themed releases: 1996’s The Darkest Night of the Year, 2006’s Snow Angels, and this year’s Blood Oranges in the Snow. Husband-and-wife duo Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler write gorgeously moody Christmas songs that fully embrace the typically untouched aspects of the season and also go down smooth with atmospheric splashes of jazz, folk, rock, and classic country instrumentation.
The Oh Hellos is a Texas-based sibling duo that plays eclectic indie-folk and blends their voices together like only a brother and sister can. From quiet and pensive moments to explosive and celebratory singalongs, Maggie and Tyler Heath have crafted The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album to be a four-track record of musical movements that incorporate well-known Christmas hymns and instrumental interludes. Played all together as one piece, The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album creates a stirring emotional arc that employs some really great gang vocals for its most joyful sections. This record is great for listening to by yourself or with a group; the more the merrier.
“Has anybody here seen Christmas?” If the opening line from Ike Reilly’s “Christmas Star” resonates with you, you’ll love the seasonal slant of this song. While the sentiment fondly reminds me of Charlie Brown’s questioning in A Charlie Brown Christmas, it’s understandable that there’s not a lot of warm and fuzzy coming from the songwriting pen of a former gravedigger. While Reilly’s take on Christmas is certainly one that is easy to relate to at various points throughout the season, he’s been nice enough to provide a sonic soothing aide to get you through.
To hear that there’s less than a week to go before Christmas is finally here is either going to thrill you or terrify you. If you’re in the latter camp and the speed and chaos of the season has become all a bit too much to bear, Dave Magill’s Twelve Days at Christmas just might be able to help. This reflective eBook features twelve devotionals based on the Gospel narratives of the Christmas story and there’s still time to download it and double up on the reading before the big day!
When writer Will Hodge isn’t wishing it was Christmas today, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Amanda from NoiseTrade Books here. Will was kind enough to let me take over the blog for a moment to introduce you to Pierce Brown. Brown’s Red Rising is being featured December 17-23 on NoiseTrade and he was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions for us. There’s an excerpt below, you can download the whole interview here. An extended excerpt of Red Rising is available exclusively through NoiseTrade, and the full book can be purchased for just $1.99 through your favorite digital retailer through December 26.
NoiseTrade: Can you please give our readers a really quick summary of Red Rising in particular and the series in general?
Pierce Brown: Red Rising is about a boy in love with a woman better than him, with dreams greater than his. When she dies for those dreams, he has a choice, does he die with her, or does he show his love by helping make her dreams come true? That is the heart of the series for me—the declaration that true love is more than just blushing cheeks and #instalove. It is sacrifice, pain, and selflessness.
NT: I’m incredibly intrigued by the caste system in Red Rising. I’ve read that you drew inspiration from, among other things, Nazi Germany. Besides history, there was obviously a lot of psychology and sociology that went into the development. Can you talk about your research process? I know the first draft came very quickly (6 weeks???!!! That’s incredible!) Was this all knowledge you already had? Did you do any research during the writing process, or did you have to go back and do some after that first draft? Are you a history buff?
Brown: I’m obsessed with history. It’s the greatest story ever told! Fortunately, that obsession meant I had to very little research for the sociological, historical, or psychological bits that went into Red Rising. Most of what’s in it was in my childhood—in the books I loved, the classes I took, the stories I’ve devoured under the covers by flashlight. I read mythology texts now, old plays, history books, etc so that I have a compendium of knowledge I can draw on. The science of it is my weak point. I’m constantly referencing planetary guides and the NASA website. The inspiration for the castes came from Plato’s Republic, which you probably already figured out.
I was struck by the number of times I found you were asked about political undertones in your books and how deftly you field those questions. Was this something you considered a possibility during writing or before publication, or was it a surprise? How do you feel about these interpretations?
Brown: I’m just flattered people think my work has undertones!
Red Rising is meant as a broad commentary on power: how governments use it as authority and how people in control generally use it to stay in control rather than assisting those with less. It’s a fact of the human condition. It was with us in the past, it is present, and it will be in the future too.
As for the interpretations, I’m not surprised. Dystopian books are often intended as commentaries on contemporary societies. The Hunger Games was a commentary on reality programing. Fahrenheit 451 was a commentary on censorship. It’d be silly of me to say, “Oh, no. My work alone exists in a vacuum. I intended nothing.”
But take all my opinions with a grain of salt, because I hate telling people what to think, especially about contemporary politics. I don’t have the answers. It would be presumptuous of me to even consider that I have them because I’m 26-years-old with comparatively little life experience. I tend to think that if someone thinks they have all the answers, then there’s a high-probability that they are a self-absorbed dunderhead.
NT: What is your favorite scene/line? (If this is going to be a spoiler, pick your second, or third, or…)
Brown: PAX AU TELEMANUS!
NT: How far into book three are you and when will it be out?
Brown: I’m in the first act right now. We’re shooting for 2016.
NT: Tell us about the sequel (without giving away anything from Red Rising!)
Red Rising is about Mars. Golden Son is about the Solar System.
Read the rest of the interview here.