Wearing a suit for the occasion, Christopher Owens (formerly of Girls), premiered his debut solo album “Lysandre” at New York’s Bowery Ballroom on January 21, 2013. His 7 piece band includes a flutist and it gives his songs a medieval vibe to them. Beginning with the instrumental “Lysandre’s Theme,” Christopher Owens said very little to the audience (aside from an occasional “thank you” after songs) and let the music speak for itself.
Christopher Owens and his band
The songs on “Lysandre” are all quite short and like you’d hear on a Girls album, some songs are quite slow, but there are also a few upbeat rockers and the theme of heartbreak is featured prominently. Songs like “Love is in the Ear of the Listener” sounded like it could fit in on an episode of Sesame Street and there were several love songs featuring New York as their locale. “Lysander’s Theme” (on flute) was featured towards the end of many of the songs and it gave the set a nice cohesive feel to it.
Christopher Owens also covered “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel and it fit in perfectly with the rest of the songs. If you missed Christopher Owens’ last night at Bowery Ballroom, you are in luck – he’s also playing tonight (January 22, 2013) and if you are willing to brave the 10 degree weather, you will see a great show.
2011 was a better than normal year for good tunes. In no particular order, here’s a list of 21 songs that made my world a lot groovier. I don’t think that all of the tracks were released as singles, and if they were, many of these gems were probably not played in a mainstream way (like the radio). That’s sad, especially when over-produced pop songs that sound good on ONE LISTEN ONLY are played ad nauseum to the masses while they open their mouths wide for something to suck on.
“Love is Blindness” by Jack White. This came out of nowhere! For the 20 year *gulp* anniversary of U2’s epic album “Achtung Baby,” UK Magazine Q enlisted a ton of A-Listers to cover the entire record. The whole thing is great and features the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Depeche Mode, The Killers, Glasvegas and Patti Smith, who all newly recorded covers for this collection. Jack White’s cover of the final track “Love Is Blindness” is so freakin’ amazing, the first time I heard it, I knew it was immediately on this list. It’s gut wrenching and though I already loved the original version, this version is even more emotional.
“Superlove” by Lenny Kravitz. I am a big Lenny Kravitz fan and I’ve been really disappointed with his last 3 studio albums. So much of his newer material sounds really uninspired, unfortunately. However, when you hear a track like the 70’s laid back jam “Superlove,” it just proves that Lenny still has “IT.” Also great from Lenny in 2011 is the funky as hell track “Come On Get It.”
Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost!
“Hold My Breath” by Holy Ghost! I actually like every song on Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut album, but looking at my iPod stats, this is the song that I listened to the most (aside from “Do It Again,” but that song technically came out in 2010). Holy Ghost! Recently offered a free download of their cover of Ministry’s “I Wanted To Tell Her,” and it’s amazing! Search the archives and download it for a limited time!
Christopher Owens of Girls
“Vomit” by Girls. This is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. In case you have not heard the song, it has nothing to do with puking, but it’s a gut wrenching song. Chris Owens’ vocals are so vulnerable as he sings about looking for love. The song has a nice build up and the climactic ending features backing vocals that would make Pink Floyd proud. When Owens sings the final lines “Come into my heart,” you will want to beat up the person that broke his heart! I highly recommend the entire record “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” as it’s epic from start to finish.
“The Man Who Stole A Leopard” by Duran Duran. Ever wonder what “classic era” Duran Duran would sound like in 2011? Just pick up their album “All You Need Is Now” to find out the answer! Mark Ronson, a huge Duran Duran fan, produced their new record and he suggested that Duran Duran don’t try to sound like anyone else – except themselves. The result is one of their best albums ever and “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” to me sounds like it could be “The Chauffeur 2011.”
Jonny Pierce of The Drums
“If He Likes It Let Him Do It” by The Drums. This song has a little bit of everything. It’s got some rock, surf, pop and dance elements to it and the chorus (which features the title of the song) is hauntingly catchy. I’ve read that The Drums will be taking a dancier direction for their next record (hopefully a’la Jonny Pierce’s other band Elkand), and I am very excited to hear it.
“Lotus Flower” by Radiohead. Finally a band who knows how to get Lotus Flower right! This song is an uncommonly catchy Radiohead track. It didn’t help matters when the video was released and it shows front man Thom Yorke living in the moment and dancing like the world is about to end. Every time I hear that song now, I can’t help but do the “Lotus Flower” dance. It’s extra fun when I am in a crowded subway.
Lana Del Rey
“Blue Jeans (Penguin Prison Remix)” by Lana Del Rey. This is a rare case when the remix is better than the original song. The album version has a “noir” feel to it and this version is a club banger! Lana Del Rey recently debuted many songs in concert from her 2012 release “Born To Die,” and I have a feeling she’s going to be a big star. Put her on your radar now!
Chris Glover of Penguin Prison
“Don’t Fuck With My Money” by Penguin Prison. Speaking of Penguin Prison, I of course love every song on their debut record, but I’ve listened to the opening track more than all the others. I don’t see how a person wouldn’t fall in love with this song immediately because it’s catchy as hell, just like every song on the album. I am not even saying these kind things because I appear in the music video for this song, but I can say, that is definitely a highlight of the year too!
Chris Martin of Coldplay
“Up In Flames” by Coldplay. I appreciate that Coldplay decided to go against the grain and make a pop record for 2011’s “Mylo Xyloto,” but overall, I am not digging the album too much. I do like the song “Up In Flames” though a lot. It’s your typical Coldplay ballad, which is one of the reasons I fell in love with them in the first place.
Hanni El Khatib
“Come Alive” by Hanni El Khatib. Hanni El Khatib’s music has a little bit of everything – blues, soul, garage, doo-wop and punk. I’ve seen him in concert many times and this track is one of my favorites to see performed live. I hope that one day Hanni El Khatib will release a live album because the studio versions of his songs sound a little bit too polished as compared to the raw intensity of his performance.
“Hurting” by Friendly Fires. Disco! I love this song! Over the course of this year, I’ve gone through obsessions with this song where I listened to it over and over and over again. It was just released as a single, which is great news! Now the rest of the world can enjoy it as much as I have.
“Rolling In The Deep” by Adele. This song was played to death, but I will say one thing – I have never gotten sick of it. The song is just epic in every way. From Adele’s amazing voice to the torch song music, the track is flawless. She sings “We could have had it all,” but this song is proof that she HAS it all! I find some of her music to be a bit snoozy, but this song is one I can listen to on repeat (and I have) and it’s great and more powerful with every listen.
“Why You Always Here” by Katy B. British newcomer Katy B has made a great dance record with her debut “On A Mission.” It’s a perfect album to listen to before you go out clubbing for the night. It was hard to pick a favorite song on the record, but once again, I let my iPod be my guide and I listened to this track the most, edging out “ Hard to Get” and “Lights On.” As of press time, Katy B. is not that popular in the USA yet, so people – discover her music! You’ll like it!
Philip Oakey of Human League
“Night People” by Human League. Just when you thought Human League had dropped off the face of the earth, they returned with the 2011 album “Credo.” The album has its moments, but one of the best ones is the extremely dancey “Night People.” The melody and lyrics are very catchy and you’ll know exactly what they are talking about when they sing “There is a place that only the night people know.”
“In Our Own Time” by Lindsey Buckingham. Lindsey Buckingham just gets better with age. On his latest album “Seeds We Sow,” the songs range from reflective ballads to the rockin’ anthem “In Our Own Time,” which assets, “It wouldn’t make any difference. We crossed the line. From the fire we will rise again. In our own time.” It’s such an empowering anthem! It was a toss up between this song and “Stars Are Crazy,” which is a reflective look at questioning yourself.
Madeline Follin of Cults
“Abducted” by Cults. I love Cults. Their music is dreamy pop that recalls the Mamas and Papas crossed with a 50’s soul sound. “Abducted” starts off with just guitars and when the beat kicks in, it’s a party for your ears. This song is responsible for many great work outs I’ve had and grooving my ass off while straightening up my apartment. Thanks Cults!
Elizabeth Harper of Class Actress
“Keep You” by Class Actress. Class Actress works it! Their music has deep, lush dance beats that fall sonically somewhere between New Order and Madonna. When you hear Class Actress’ music, you’ll want to set up some strobe lights, set up the smoke machine and dance like nobody’s looking. I’ve done it and, let me tell you – a highly recommended experience!
Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine
“Breaking Down” by Florence and the Machine. I really like this song! It sounds like it belongs in a movie soundtrack as it is quirky and whimsical, but the lyrics are about having a meltdown and falling apart. Florence is massively entertaining in concert and I look forward to seeing her perform her new album “Ceremonials” live.
Fitz and the Tantrums
“Moneygrabber” by Fitz and the Tantrums. Fitz and the Tantrums have had quite a year. They began 2011 by playing small venues and before the end of the year, they blew up and are playing to much larger audiences. Their song “Moneygrabber” was offered as a free download at the beginning of the year and I grabbed it! The song is soulful and has a full band sound which makes me appreciate real music by real musicians in an era of bedroom assembled recordings.
Morris Day of the Original 7ven
“Strawberry Lake” by The Original 7ven. For some lame reason, Prince decided The Time could not use their name, so they rechristened themselves The Original 7ven. The Original 7ven proved that grooving is the best revenge and out-funked anything Prince has done in years with their song “Strawberry Lake.” It brings us back to the glory days of when music was full of jamming, crowd shout-outs and funk in your face! That’s what time it is!
“California Song” by Hedi Slimane. Now showing at MOCA in Los Angeles through January 22, 2012
Los Angeles! Make sure you check out “California Song” by Hedi Slimane at MOCA. The exhibit focuses on the period where Slimane spent in California, photographing architecture and rock stars. Featured prominently in the exhibit is Christopher Owens from the band Girls, whose album “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” was one of my favorite albums of 2011. On the ground floor are black and white photos laid out in a similar manner as you see above and on the top floor, Slimane’s photos are projected onto 3 sides of a cube that change every few seconds. It looks really cool in person!
Christopher Owens (left)
MOCA is located at 8687 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. “California Song” by Hedi Slimane runs until January 22, 2011. Don’t miss it!
“Penguin Prison” by Penguin Prison. While most of the albums on this list are in no particular order, my favorite record of the year is definitely the self-titled album “Penguin Prison.” In early 2010, I caught Penguin Prison in concert as an opening act and before the set was over, I became an instant fan. Lead singer and PP brainchild Chris Glover is so talented. Every song on his debut record could (and should) be a hit. The record definitely sounds like a greatest hits album instead of a major label debut. Sonically, Penguin Prison sounds like Off the Wall era Michael Jackson but as produced by LCD Soundsystem. As a result, each song is pop perfection from the catchy-as-hell opener “Don’t Fuck With My Money” to the Radiohead-esque closer “Someone got Everything.” As Chris Glover has cited hip hop, rap, pop, dance and country music as the music he listens to, I would not be surprised if his future records infuse these diverse styles. In an era where music is so dispensable, it’s very refreshing to have an album that I can listen to over and over again without getting sick of it. Thanks PP! Cannot wait to see what you come up with next!
Christopher Owens of Girls
“Father, Son, Holy Ghost” by Girls. This album took me by surprise. When 2011 began, I’d never heard of Girls and by the middle of the concert, I couldn’t wait to make my way to the merch table and buy this album. The album has a little bit of everything – power pop, gut-wrenching ballads and heavy metal! The album flows great from start to finish and I have to limit myself from listening to it too much because they lyrics deal with love, loss and reconciliation and sometimes it’s too much for me to take. You should definitely investigate lead singer Christopher Owens’ back story from cult-member (with his mom!) to drug addict. It helps complete pieces of the puzzle and in my opinion makes the album even more beautiful. I highly recommend the heavy metal song “Die” as well as one of the most heart wrenching songs I’ve ever heard – “Vomit.” The background vocals are worthy of a slot on a Pink Floyd record and Christopher Owens is so beautifully vulnerable when he sings the line “Come into my heart,” it gives me chills every time.
Mark Foster of Foster The People
“Torches” by Foster the People. Foster the People have had an amazing 2011. They started off the year playing small venues and they ended the year playing 2 sold out nights at the 3,000 capacity Terminal 5. Rightfully so too. Their debut album “Torches” is packed with catchy dance/pop and it’s another album that sounds like a greatest hits record instead of a debut. A lot of people have perhaps rightly criticized the band for sounding too much like a fusion of MGMT, Peter Bjorn and John and Two Door Cinema Club, but luckily for me, I love all three bands so I am not bothered at all. Their live show is a seizure inducing light show which allows the audience to dance like nobody’s looking, so if you like this record, definitely see Foster the People live. I recommend the songs “Houdini” and “Miss You,” if you are looking for a place to start, but I think you’ll enjoy the entire record.
“The Defamation of Strickland Banks” by Plan B. This album was released in the UK in 2010, but it didn’t see a US release until 2011 so I am including it on this list. Plan B is a rapper turned crooner, whose voice sounds like Smokey Robinson and he is not afraid to show off his rapping skills in his songs. The album is a masterpiece from start to finish and the songs (and videos) connect the audience to the story of Strickland Banks, a singer who gets locked up for a crime he didn’t commit. The only crime that has been committed is that Plan B is not a superstar in America. There are so many sub-par artists out there and this record outshines all of them! The entire album is great, but I highly recommend the silky smooth “Prayin,” the rockin’ “Stay Too Long,” and the funky “She Said.”
“Seeds We Sow” by Lindsey Buckingham. So many artists that I’ve followed for most of my life have unfortunately reached a creative zenith and have been putting out material beneath their greatness for years. Not Lindsey Buckingham. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer/guitarist/creative director for the off again/on again Fleetwood Mac seems to get better with age. A few years ago, he released a solo album “Under the Skin” and it was the beginning of a new creative chapter in his life. In a short few years, Lindsey has released 3 solo studio albums (“Under The Skin,” “Gift of Screws” and “Seeds We Sow”) and all three are excellent. Lindsey’s guitar playing is better than ever (which is hard to believe because I think he’s one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen); his vocals are more powerful than ever and his melodies are so beautiful that if you’re having a reflective moment when you listen to his music, you might shed some tears. “Seeds We Sow” is a near perfect album with rockers like “One Take,” the gorgeous ballad “Gone Too Far,” and the empowering anthem “In Our Own Time.” Though we are talking only about 2011 here, I recommend you get all three of these albums and listen to them back to back because they are perfect companions to each other.
“Anna Calvi” by Anna Calvi. It’s hard to describe Anna Calvi’s sound, but the words “noir” and “otherworldly” come to mind. Musically, the tracks are dark and moody and Anna’s voice is powerful. Fans of Siouxsie Sioux or Florence Welch will enjoy this record too as Anna’s voice will give you chills. I highly recommend you catch her live as well as she is great in person. She’s very stylish, plays electric guitar like one of the great virtuosos and can hit all the notes in person. My favorite songs on the album are “Suzanne and I,” “I’ll Be Your Man,” and “The Devil.” The non-album track, her cover of Edith Piaf’s “Jezebel” is also fantastic!
Cody Critcheloe of Ssion
“Bent” by Ssion. Lead singer Cody Critcheloe gave away this entire album for free during the summer and if you are a regular reader of this site (and I thank you for your patronage), you have been enjoying this album ever since. The album serves as a great party record for any mood. If you are listening to it before you go out, you’ll want to put on “Listen to the Grrrls,” “Psy-Chic” or “Blonde With U.” If you are just coming back from a night out and you need some chill-out grooves, “LuvBazaar,” “Growin’” and “Earthquake” will put you in the right frame of mind. Ssion is another great band to see live as you won’t just be seeing great songs being performed, but you’ll also see great performance art.
“Timez Are Weird These Days” by Theophilus London. Mad props to Theophilus London because I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a rap album since Outkast’s last record which came out years ago. The master of the mix-tape released his debut album this year and it’s great. He mixes rock, rap and new wave in the best way possible. He is a big fan of The Smiths, Prince and Kraftwerk and it shows in his songs. I for one, appreciate the diversity. Highlights are “Stop It,” “Wine and Chocolates,” and “I Stand Alone.”
“All You Need Is Now” by Duran Duran. Parts of this album were released as a preview in 2010, but the full album was not released until 2011 so I am including it on the list. It’s my pleasure to say the following sentence – Duran Duran are back! After making one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard, 2007’s disastrous “Red Carpet Massacre,” Duran Duran decided that working with one trick pony producers like Justin Timberlake and Timbaland do nothing for their music. For “All You Need Is Now,” Duran Duran enlisted producer Mark Ronson, a fan of the band, and he produced a modern classic Duran record. The album has the classic elements of their first 2 records while still sounding fresh. The song “the Man Who Stole A Leopard,” is like a modern day “Chauffeur,” and “Girl Panic” would fit in on the “Rio” album with no problem. It’s really disappointing that the record didn’t do better, but perhaps it had to do with the singles they released – like the weakest track on the album – the title track. If you can get your hands on the special edition, I recommend that as there is a bonus DVD where the band and Mark Ronson talk about the making of every song. It’s a really great thing to see for a really great collection of songs.
“What Were You Hoping For” by Van Hunt. If you follow Van Hunt’s career, you know that there are a lot of ups and downs. On the negative side, a label dispute prevented his amazing third album “Popular” from being released. On the positive side, Van Hunt is one of the most exciting artists out there. He continues to expand his musical and stylistic vocabulary and that growth is ever present on “What Were You Hoping For?” I think even the title alone suggests that Van Hunt is a real artist and he’s going to do what he wants. It’s evidenced by some of the most atrocious album artwork I’ve ever seen. But if you can get past the exterior, you’ll find one of the most exciting albums of 2011. Van rocks a lot harder on this album than in the past, but one thing is certain, his lyrics are extremely deep and he is really pushing himself to take his music to the next level. Songs like the punk-infused “Watching You Go Crazy Is Driving Me Insane” may not be a commercial hit, but I applaud Van Hunt for taking a creative risk. It paid off! The final track, “It’s a Mysterious Hustle” is probably my favorite track on the record as he just describes the craziness of life when things aren’t always what they seem. A very appropriate final statement for the record, according2g.
Guy Garvey of Elbow
“Build A Rocket Boys” by Elbow. I love Elbow. The only way to describe their music is with this word – Epic! Each song is like a mini-symphony and this album is no different. The record opens with the 8 minute epic “the Birds.” Lead singer Guy Garvey asserts that “looking back is for the birds” and I couldn’t agree more. While the album is slightly less perfect than their masterpiece from 2008, “The Seldom Seen Kid,” there are many great moments like the rocker “Neat Little Rows,” and the single “Lippy Kids,” which mentions the album’s title. Once again, I highly recommend seeing Elbow in concert if you get the chance because they sound just as great live as they do on record with one major difference – when you see them live, you get an ocean of people singing along!
The other night when I saw Girls in concert, I didn’t know what to expect. Their new album “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” is burning up the internet with great buzz, but I like to find out for myself before I believe what I read. From the second San Francisco’s Girls hit the stage until the moment they exited, my jaw dropped open in amazement. The album scored a place in my best albums of 2011 on my first listen. Their music is epic. Spanning genres from Surf music to gorgeous ballads to punk rock, Girls know how it’s done. The song you are about to see, “Vomit” instantly became one of my favorite songs of 2011 the first time I heard it. I challenge you to listen to this song and not fall head over heels in love. When you hear the end of the song with lead singer Christopher Owens singing “come into my heart,” you might need to get the Kleenex because you probably won’t hear that much emotion and vulnerability again in 2011. The backup singers harmonizing with him at the end of the song are powerful enough to make Pink Floyd tip their hats. Please note, when I uploaded the video, it seemed to have cropped the top of the screen, so apologies for that. The music should make up for it. Girls are amazing. Spread the word!