Now Listening: Lorde, Mazzy Star, Emmylou Harris, FKA Twigs and Other Ladyish Things

Just some lovely ladies making music for a Sunday afternoon! This is what I’ve been listening to lately. I go through cycles of being open to new music, and then just obsessively listening to a few things over and over. Like a spiral, perhaps: it widens and expands and goes upward at times, and then narrows and funnels down to deepen into one point. I’m at the wide, upward point now and open to suggestion. What are you listening to that you’d recommend? I’m up for anything!

Lorde, “Tennis Court”

Suddenly everyone is all “Lorde! Lorde! Lorde!” and she’s everywhere, even at the top of the Billboard chart. It’s super-tempting to be a hater, but you know, I really like how minimal her pop is. There’s just something innately elegant and self-possessed about her music, which is kind of amazing considering she’s 16. When I was that age, I was pretty much the opposite of elegant and self-possessed — I was a dang mess. Lorde is also something I can listen to with my nephews or niece, which makes me feel like I’m exposing them to something more interesting than some other pop tart on the charts. She uses the same pop vernacular, but what she says with it is different. Of course, one day as the crazy auntie I play to expose my kiddos to the Raincoats and the Slits and Huggy Bear and the like, but Lorde’s a nice baby step to that goal on the wide horizon.

Mazzy Star, “California”

I am beyond excited Mazzy Star is back! I always kind of had a crush on Hope Sandoval, and it’s nice to know the years haven’t blunted their romantic, slightly hallucinogenic take on Paisley Underground-ish folk. I remember when “Fade Into You” was the big alt-makeout song, though I was always more partial to their cover of “Five-String Serenade.” The new record is really nice: swoony, dreamy and pretty much everything you want from Mazzy Star, and perfect for Sunday afternoon listening.

Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”

I really liked this record when it came out last year, but this is the song I keep going back to, again and again. There’s just something really happy and buoyant about it, but in this non-dippy way. Who doesn’t love a non-dippy happy love song, where you’re just stoked that the person you’re into is just hotness galore? I love how simple the video is as well, just Fiona singing with slightly crazy-face with her sister now and then, but of course I love it.

Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”

I can’t believe I’m putting this here, because I actually really loathe this band. I have never liked them; they have always irritated me beyond belief. You know how people are like, “Ugh! I hate U2!” and it’s this viscerally vehement reaction? Well, that’s what happens between me and Arcade Fire. It’s like gnash-teeth-narrow-eyes-clench-fists when I hear them. (And, they were once complete douchelords to an ex-boyfriend of mine who did sound for one of their shows, so there’s a bit of a grudge there as well. But I didn’t like their music before he worked for them!) And yet, I like this, mostly because it’s pretty disco-y and that’s pretty cool and not their usual thing. I can pretend they’re not Arcade Fire for a few minutes, and then it works pretty well.

FKA twigs, “Water Me”

I’m always going to have a place in my heart for left-of-center electronic music with evocative female vocals. I practically came of age with Bjork, you know? That’s bound to affect you in some way, kind of like having Pluto in your first house in your astrological chart. The influence is from deep space, but it’s definitely an undertow. I love how ethereal this is, and how it manages to be both distant and intimate…and her voice, of course, is supple and lovely. I don’t know much about this London-based artist, but I’m definitely curious to hear more.

Emmylou Harris, “Making Believe”

Emmylou Harris in the 1970s is pretty much my new style icon. I mean, just watch this and look at her, right? But more importantly, listen to her: so soulful, so clear, just kind of relaxed and perfect and plaintive. I’m on a big Emmylou jag; maybe I’ll write more about it later.

Sparks & Beauties: 5 Jams for the Summer of Minor Ailments

I’m just about ready to dub this the “Summer of Minor Yet Irritating Ailments.” No sooner than my bee sting chills out than I get an infected hangnail! Now my middle finger on my right hand looks like it’s incubating a small grape inside of its tip. (Graphic, I know, but truth.) It hurts like hell to type! I had all kinds of beautiful nonsense and lyrical gorgeousness to share, but instead, please settle for these 5 YouTube videos anTd brief yet potent (I hope) descriptions. Hope your week has been amazing, lovelies!

Lately, being beset with all these weird little physical ailments, I’ve been gravitating towards songs that have an ostensible energy to them, but yet with an undertow of almost ghostly melancholy. Like trying to keep my chin up on a rainy day, maybe? It’s like extended June gloom — it’s summer and I’m supposed to be carefree, and yet there are all these little reminders that remind me how one little thing — a bee sting on my almost-butt, a swollen middle fingertip — can really get in the way in small yet significant ways. A pebble in the shoe. Anyway, that’s what this little group of songs is about. Enjoy!

Beck, “Youthless”

I didn’t listen to Modern Guilt very much when it came out, but lately I find it’s just about right in terms of that weird upbeat yet melancholic feel. I’m sort of into listening to almost break-up music by boys recently — hearing how dudes process grief and sadness. Sea Change by Beck is kind of a great boys’ break-up record, but that’s almost too bleak when you hurt in weird, small places on your body…but Modern Guilt still has this core of loneliness and isolation, even when it’s dressed up in Danger Mouse beats and Beatles-y melodies.


The Agony and Ecstasy of the Summer Music Festival

Gen X vs. Y confusion aside, I consider myself part of the Lollapalooza Generation, I suppose — I went to the original fest ages upon ages ago as a wee one, back when it toured arenas and outdoor amphitheaters. Isn’t that nuts, especially now that the big music festivals function more like pilgrimages now that you have to travel to and often camp at? So it’s always with a modicum of amusement that I go to Pitchfork Music Festival. I have been to Pitchfork pretty often because I grew up not incredibly far from Chicago, but it’s always a touch-and-go affair. Some years I go; some I don’t, and it often boils down to sheer whimsy.

This year I went. I wasn’t planning on it, but then my friend Tobey came to town to film it and had an extra pass and, well, I certainly couldn’t turn it down, especially for one afternoon, right? You can do anything for one afternoon. So I improvised with an old summer dress, some flat sandals and hoped for the best. I didn’t really have any goals but to spend time with my friend, and basically make like a social anthropologist, keeping my eyes and ears open for anything intriguing, fun or interesting.


I Heart Wild Belle, Sagas About Thomas Cromwell and Other Beautiful Randomness

Here it is, my weekly-ish Sparks post, full of what ruled my world this fortnight or so. What’s been making you happy this week?

I Love To Be Excited About Music: Wild Belle Is My Mid-Winter Music Pick-Up

Wild Belle are a brother-and-sister duo from Chicago. They were brought to my attention by a friend, who described them as “Lana Del Rey, but reggae.” This is both slightly true and not true at all. There is a lot of reggae influence in their bright, lush pop music, and a slight jazzy smokiness to lead singer Natalie Bergman’s voice that might invite the LDR comparison. But for something that sounds on paper like it could be high-concept, their music is much less studied — there’s a kind of naturalness and ease that seems to emanate from their pleasure at making their music. Maybe it is those reggae rhythms, but it’s emotionally open and just so fun — a perfect tonic on a bright, cold winter’s day. They have an EP out, but their full-length Isles is coming in March, which I am excited for — I think it’ll be a perfect herald to the springtime.

I have a feeling this will become one of those omnipotent bands that you hear in stores, on TV and in commercials, but I’m okay with this.

Bring Up the Bodies! Bring Up the Bodies!

by Hilary Mantel is one of those lovely, rare books that I became engulfed in, and when I was done, I shut the cover and wondered how it worked its magic. Like: how did that happen? Never did I think I’d become engrossed in the saga of Thomas Cromwell, one of the chief ministers of King Henry VIII, and never did I think it’d be as compelling and spellbinding as this. And I’m still trying to figure out how it worked to snare me in.

On some level, every chapter is action-packed: there is scheming, political intrigue, sex, rumor, and scandal. But it’s all filtered through the sieve of Cromwell’s dark, labyrinthine, analytical yet strangely objective mind: it’s like he’s laying out three different chess games at once, calculating probabilities, weighing other players’ motivations — and then acting swiftly. Part of the pleasure of the book is seeing him calculate and seeing how these play out — whether or not he’s right or wrong, and how. He’s an enigmatic figure, yet strangely sympathetic — moments of memory, grief and sorrow dapple his consciousness beautifully throughout. Anyway: this isn’t a book for everyone, and it’s not your typical historical novel. But if you are willing to play along with Cromwell, it’s excellent and captivating.


++++ Chronicle Books is . ++++ ‘Twas a prolific writing week ++++ Gingerbread and toffee coffee in the morning…it smells heavenly ++++ My head is so full of ideas and energy, it’s a bit overwhelming…I think next week I need to chill out a bit and take some time to sift through them all and figure out where to put my energy +++++ But of course, first I have to FINISH OFF MY BOOK PROJECT! Hoping to dig in and do it this weekend +++++ 12 excellent short films at Sundance ! Speaking of Sundance, one of the nicest guys in my class at film school — a great screenwriter — just got his film acquired at Sundance for a sweet deal after high praise and buzz. Congrats! So great to see great people succeed +++++ I love Jenna Lyons, the head designer at J. Crew, and her personal style, so I was very psyched to see this slideshow and profile in the New York Times on her.

Have a beautiful weekend, lovelies!