We love making music mixes ñ there's a particular pleasure to assembling songs into the collage of a playlist,
where the spaces between them form something altogether new. And since our work constantly exposes us to exciting,
provocative, moving and otherwise memorable musical creations, we decided to make a special mix for you.
Thus was born the Editorial Emergency sampler.
Why did we call it a "Sampler With a Mission?" Because we get fired up about great music, and though we regularly write about it, we always want to do more to bring it into the lives of our readers. The material included here ranges from the raucous to the reflective, from the freshly hatched track to the venerable reissue. What brings it all together? It touched a chord in us.
Since pressing CDs or offering free downloads was out of the question, we were determined to present the music in a streaming-only form. Turns out this method of safeguarding content is actually far more difficult than simply posting MP3s for all and sundry to right-click onto their desktops. What's more, the streaming-media waters are patrolled by sharks; imposing often extortionate per-listener fees, they essentially set up a punitively pricey tollbooth on the Net. Fortunately, we found our way to the goodly people at GravityLab Media, a smart, service-oriented tech boutique located in Eugene, Ore. With bandwidth aplenty and a reasonable pricing structure, they made the delivery of our playlist possible. We owe them, big time.
Some thank-yous are in order: to all the artists, managers and other people who gave us permission to include their songs, including but not limited to Michael Badami, Martin Kirkup, Bob Bernstein, Tony George, Erika Schultz, Meredith Sloan, Jeff Castelaz and Juliana Plotkin; to J.D. at GravityLab and the ever-invaluable Jim Dinda for technical assistance; and to Les Watkins for strategic advice. You all have our deepest gratitude for helping bring the sampler to fruition.
Obligatory parental advisory: Some of these songs contain naughty words. If you're not old enough to enjoy such things, please go do something deemed wholesome by your government. We thank you.
Click on the graphic below to start listening; read on to learn more about this terrific batch of songs. You may want to pause our streaming player before clicking on the band links, as many sites and MySpace pages begin playing their own music upon loading.
The Sounds: "Song With a Mission"
The first single from the Swedish band's astoundingly great sophomore disc, Dying to Say This to You (New Line), "Mission" delivers an obliging kick in the teeth to all doubters. With its barreling tempo and singer Maja Ivarsson's fierce, uncompromising vocal, it's a call to arms rarely heard in these days of test-marketed cool. Equal parts New Wave style, post-punk fury, dance-savvy drive and pop savoir faire, the tune could well find a home on multiple radio formats. But it's only the tip of the iceberg; the Sounds combine rock, punk, disco and multiple subgenres on this album with an assurance that recalls Blondie's peak. While many of their contemporaries are mining the sounds of the '80s underground, it's The Sounds who are finding the substance. Their U.S. tour is underway; expect a free-for-all at every stop.
It's hardly surprising that this soaring track earned these O.C. rockers some prime TV placement (including the debut ep of the CBS series Courting Alex and the WB's Beauty and the Geek). Nor is it shocking that they snagged Orange County Music Award noms for Best Song and Best Alternative Band. Nor were we stunned to learn that their superb, swoony songs and explosive dynamics garnered them front-page real estate on the Internet's top hangout, MySpace.com (resulting in swarms of starry-eyed converts within 48 hours). Considering the formidable pop-rock chops of frontman Chris Karn and his bandmates, what's surprising is that Deccatree isn't already one of the biggest bands in the world. But give them a minute ñ if this intensely emotional tune from their album, The Battle of Life, is any indication, they'll get there.
Quincy Coleman "Mary"
We recently raved about this gifted singer-songwriter's forthcoming album, Come Closer, but we're hardly the only ones showering her with accolades. No less than Dolly Parton praised her expressive pipes, while Nic Harcourt ñ host of SoCal NPR outlet KCRW's acclaimed "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show ñ has given her his benediction. No doubt she's being discovered by myriad renters of the Crash DVD at this very moment, as she appears on the soundtrack of Oscar's 2006 Best Picture. "Mary" is a pop treasure bejeweled with old-timey musical touches like swing-era clarinet, pocket trumpet, C-melody sax and Hot Club banjo, but it's the gorgeous, bittersweet melody that gets under your skin ñ along with Coleman's understated but heartbreaking vocal.
Curt Kirkwood "Snow"
As the voice and guitar of the groundbreaking band Meat Puppets (which he co-founded with his brother, Cris), Curt Kirkwood was an architect of modern rock, merging art-punk squall, prog-rock virtuosity, acid-damaged fretwork and high-lonesome melodies with such impeccable originality that Kurt Cobain, among other leading lights of the alternative world, worshipped at his shrine (check the three Meat Puppets covers on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged set). Kirkwood's new solo release, Snow, issued by alt-country wizard Pete Anderson's Little Dog Records, showcases the Arizona native's mellower side; the songs are generally beautiful, rural meditations like this lovely title track. With its sweetly plaintive refrain and intimate, acoustic arrangement, it's country psychedelia for the 21st century.
k.d. lang "Pullin' Back the Reins"
Before she hit the pop mainstream with 1992's Ingenue, k.d. lang blazed a confident, unorthodox trail as a country singer, reviving the classic sounds of Patsy Cline and other bygone heroines at a time when Nashville was eagerly trading in its sterling legacy for plastic pap. It was evident pretty early on that lang was one of the most thrilling vocalists on the planet, and she invested the tearful honky-tonk genre with playfulness, irony and an almost terrifying intensity. 1989's brilliant LP Absolute Torch and Twang, which included this stellar track, earned the singer her first Grammy. The country establishment nonetheless rejected her for not fitting its suffocating mold, so she moved on to greener pastures. Fortunately, Rhino/Sire's new anthology, Reintarnation, serves up a superb overview of her Western wanderings. "Pullin'," a powerhouse of a song about the tug-of-war between intimacy and independence (with overtones of bondage that a lesser singer would've overstressed), is a splendid example of lang's fine work with co-writer/producer Ben Mink.
Peter Walker "39 Stars"
The vocal on this stirring elegy ñ a key track on the singer-songwriter's excellent second album, Young Gravity (Dangerbird Records) ñ actually comes from Walker's demo, and marks his very first attempt to sing the song. He nailed it, as you'll know when you hear him utter the phrase "opening my heart." Though suffused with loss, "39 Stars" has a silver lining of spiritual uplift. Walker's music is an appealingly rough amalgam of rootsy punch and power pop, and he uses his scruffy pipes to maximum effect. One of the first records recorded in Elliott Smith's studio since the celebrated troubadour's untimely demise, Young Gravity (produced by Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza and Jim Fairchild from Grandaddy) is marked by that setting. "His vibe," Walker says of the late Smith, "was all over the place." The singer-songwriter is likely to get some extra attention due to his attachment to Dangerbird's mighty indie roster (Silversun Pickups, La Rocca). But more importantly, Walker has a genuineness and edge most of his peers would kill for.
Lizz Wright "Hit the Ground"
"I like songs that create moments," says Wright, a young singer of great nuance who recalls precursors as diverse as Nina Simone, Cassandra Wilson and Me'Shell NdegÈocello. Memorable moments abound as soon as she wraps her supple alto around a song. With a feel for jazz, blues, folk and pop, Wright wrings rich emotional resonances from every note. She first grabbed the world's attention with 2003's Salt, prompting worshipful prose in The New York Times and elsewhere. The smoky, melancholy "Hit the Ground" appears on her Craig Street-produced sophomore disc, Dreaming Wide Awake (Verve), which also boasts an incandescent version of the standard "A Taste of Honey," among other great moments.
New Buffalo "Recovery"
It's difficult to classify this Aussie band's winsome pop, but it seems to fall somewhere between the Sundays' melancholy melodicism and Frou Frou's savvy beat-mongering. With a refrain of otherworldly beauty and intervals of trippy, shuddery falsetto filigrees by frontwoman Sally Seltmann, "Recovery" is quite unlike anything around ñ and manages to provide a kind of aural healing equal to its title. Grabbing samples from old swing records and blending them with delectable pop choruses, Melbourne native Seltmann has essentially created her own subgenre; no wonder that New Buffalo's full-length Last Beautiful Day made Rolling Stone's Top 50 Records of 2004. The band will be opening for Broken Social Scene in Australia, and given the reputation Seltmann has already accrued as a live act, it might be worth purchasing a plane ticket.
Our fondness for L.A.'s one-man power-pop institution is no secret, but his latest disc, Parador, ups the ante by simultaneously smacking the pleasure center and fingerpicking the heartstrings. This title track (which may or may not reference Paul Mazursky's banana-republic farce Moon Over Parador) conjures a lush terrain of the soul, but with each repeated injunction to "slip inside this dream of mine," Wisely's territory stretches into grander and grander vistas ñ it's as though an inviting hammock has turned into a flying carpet. A gifted writer, musician, arranger and singer, Wisely is arguably the leading talent of the pop underground, and his flair for both melodic cogency and sonic atmosphere is hard to beat.
Abby Travis "Now Was"
Cabaret artiste, punk trailblazer, monster session bassist, mercurial glamour-puss ñ L.A.'s Abby Travis occupies a category of one. She's backed up the likes of Beck and Spinal Tap, appeared in indie films, and posed in towering, feathery headdresses for top fashion photographers. Her new album, Glittermouth, due out this spring, is a sleek affair that demonstrates her mastery of glam-rock tropes while stirring in slinky R&B, torchy ballads and off-Broadway broadsides. "Now Was," a stunningly ambitious tune about the ravages of time, is right in Travis' wheelhouse; kicking off as a sweetly mock-tragic waltz, it explodes into one gloriously melodic section after another as she harmonizes with herself and lays down one of the hottest bass lines ever.
Paul Plagens "Don't You Think I Know"
Plagens first assaulted the gates of rock wearing a dress, as the lead singer of the alternative band Greta; he later segued to Beatlesque pop-rock with Peal (just so you know how Beatlesque, Peal's lead guitarist is now in Sir Paul McCartney's band). He has since experimented with folkie solo performance (under the nom de guerre Pablo Diablo) and more rockin' projects like this one. Plagens' latest batch of material reflects his typically acerbic-yet-compassionate worldview, as exemplified by this bouncy ditty about codependency. With its circa-Rubber Soul hooks, roiling beat and buoyant harmonies, "Don't You Think I Know" is a darkly funny garage-pop tune that delves into what happens in a relationship when one partner gets sober and one doesn't.
Candypants "Nerdy Boys"
Candypants mastermind, singer and songwriter Lisa Jenio knows her subject matter; her "extreme bubblegum" band has long been a stellar attraction on the L.A. indie-pop scene, where her fan base was weighted with the sort of lad profiled in this delightful confection. Only someone intimately acquainted with the geeked-out subculture could write a line like "he only listens to the mono version of 'Surf City.'" In addition to releasing a self-titled CD on Sympathy for the Record Industry, Candypants has been featured on TV shows like Rich Girls and Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, not to mention such films as Pauly Shore Is Dead and Ratz. This track initially appeared on Sympathy's compilation Alright This Time Just the Girls, Vol. 2. Best of all is Jenio's pillow-talk coda ("Is any part of you bionic?").
The Lift "For the Broken Hearted"
With arena-sized hooks and intimate emotions, L.A.'s The Lift turn out big, cathartic rock that suggests Radiohead's sonic adventurism filtered through Cheap Trick's crowd-pleasing payoffs. Singer-guitarist Matt Docter delivers the material with great power and feeling, and he and his bandmates (Matt's twin bro, Jason, on keyboards, bassist Todd Beeson and drummer Chris O'Brien) are an exceptionally resourceful musical unit. They call their sound "cinematic," and in addition to gracing some indie film soundtracks, they've garnered placements on the Fox TV series Roswell, ABC's Life as We Know It and MTV's The Real World, among other shows. The foursome is currently at work on the follow-up to their strong debut CD, Road to Hana; "Broken Hearted" will be among its tracks.
Linda Good "Un Chien Est Un Chien"
A virtuoso keyboardist who's played with Jane's Addiction, the Mars Volta, Lisa Marie Presley, Stew and even fellow EE sampler participant Wisely, Linda is also half of the Twigs (with twin sister Laura) and ñ most importantly for our purposes ñ a gifted solo artist who's comfortable in a variety of genres, and whose songs have garnished Emily's Reasons Why Not, Summerland and the film Cruel Intentions 3, among other diversions. "Un Chien" is, unsurprisingly, the French version of her song "A Dog Is a Dog." It showcases her keen grasp of cabaret atmosphere; her graceful piano figures and forlorn phrasing conjure visions of smoky boÓtes and jaded expatriates, a world in which, mais oui, a dog is a dog. And yet, somehow, it is also not a dog.
Ginger Sling "Are You Gonna?"
After years on the road with the Halo Friendlies (and a few USO shows in Bosnia and elsewhere with Loball), bassist Ginger Reyes decided to venture out on her own, taking her band's name from George Harrison's White Album treat "Savoy Truffle" and issuing a strikingly well wrought EP (which also features a killer version of Paul Simon's "Kodachrome") in 2004. This slice of punked-out power pop epitomizes her style ñ plenty of rock edge but never at the expense of the hooks, which dig in deeper with each listen. Her voice, meanwhile, conveys a balance of urgency, earnestness and attitude that brings to mind the Runaways.
Abbey "Girl in America"
A meeting of two offbeat musical minds ñ Jordon Zadorozny, who made some wonderfully sophisticated pop noise as the leader of Blinker the Star, and Sofia Silva of the highly praised Hotel ñ this Canadian concoction occupies an intriguing zone between classic pop, New Wave and electronica. The duo, who met when Zadorozny was called in to work on a Hotel album, cite influences ranging from the Beach Boys to Air. "Girl" kicks off with an aggressive synth progression suggesting vintage post-punk before exploring some languidly pretty Brian Wilson-esque terrain and then bringing the two strands miraculously into one.
Nina Gordon "The Blue Hour"
As the more pop-savvy of Veruca Salt's distaff duo, Nina Gordon developed a keen knack for creating indelibly melodic choruses with guitar crunch aplenty. Her criminally overlooked solo bow, Tonight and the Rest of My Life, took her rapturous rock to the next level with perfect-pop refrains and massive arrangements. Find that one and buy it while you wait for her soon-to-be-completed follow-up, Bleeding Heart Graffiti; the sessions for the latter yielded this very groovy B-side. Slinky and raw, it's a nod to Gordon's alt-rock roots, but with a European twist. We admit it: We like it when girls sing in French. Gordon also contributed the track "Alone With You" to the Abrazos compilation benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; check it out.
Lior "Bedouin Song"
An Australian singer-songwriter of Middle Eastern descent, Lior brings the beguilingly intricate melismatics of his ancestors to an array of pop subgenres; with a startlingly elastic voice reminiscent of Jeff Buckley (and claiming influences like James Taylor, Led Zeppelin and Rufus Wainwright), he's at home crooning everything from prayers to roots-rock. His 2005 disc Autumn Flow won multiple awards in his native land and went gold; he followed it up with a live disc and is currently touring Down Under, supporting kindred spirit David Gray. "Bedouin Song" is an exquisite, evocative example of his incantatory delivery and storytelling prowess.
Alice Peacock "Sunflower"
After earning critical love and a loyal fan base with her major-label debut, this Chicago-based singer-songwriter departed the majors and recorded the glorious Who I Am independently. A lush pop record in the classic mold of Carole King and Carly Simon, Peacock's Andrew Williams-produced record is confidently written, smartly arranged and gorgeously sung. The delicate "Sunflower" represents one of the disc's quieter moments, but its easy melody blossoms into something suprisingly grand, augmented by shining, Beatlesque bursts of horns and strings. Peacock is also the founder and head of the nonprofit Rock for Reading, about which you can read here.