Sophisticated Lady

Sarah Vaughan strikes a mood. Vaughan had a voice like silk and satin, and she made everything she touched sound refined. So, she could almost be singing about herself, for she was an icon of sophistication in her time. The refinement must always be tinged with melancholy, implying that it has been gained at great cost, for otherwise it wouldn’t be anything more than a pose.


I’m settling down to listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing the Gershwin songbook for the next three hours. Fitzgerald did those whole songbook projects, recording an entire library of great American standards. She did the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and others. That’s years of work and days of music. Apparently Ella had a heckuva of a work ethic. It’s hard to imagine being that much of a completist that you have to put your touch on what amounts to someone’s entire life’s work, and then doing it again, and again. As a result, of course, Ella Fitzgerald is the definitive interpreter of practically any hit song from the first 50 years of the 20th century. Name any famous standard, and it’s Ella’s.

Something in the Way You Are

Kimbra is underrated. She deserves to be well-known as an innovative vocalist. She uses technology and her own vocal range to create a sensual wall-of-sound effect. She’s an example of the way the full range of digital technology can be used to make a very rich sound filled with layers and centered with heartfelt songwriting. Kimbra may be techie but she’s also, deep down in her bones, an earnest girl who like to write about love a lot. She could easily give many of her songs an acoustic makeover and play them in coffeeshops. That just shows that it’s a damn shame that so many writers of intimate songs are content to just stick with the piano-and-guitar format.

Something Good

When we’re looking back with the warm glow of nostalgia at the decade that was, we’ll remember Alt-J as one of the highlights of 2012. We’re almost into 2020, and the decade reviews are about to ramp up soon. It’s too early to feel truly hazy about it; we’ll really dive into nostalgia pains around 2030, if we’re still alive that long. For now, I have to say that I’ve heard some really great music being made in the last few years. I wish there’d been more weirdness, of course, but some real gems floated to the top. Alt-J was definitely among the odder acts to become popular. They gave some psychedelic flavor to a period heavy on twinkly pop. I’m sure that An Awesome Wave is going to be one of those records that survives for years to come, and not just as an artifact of fond memories.


Goodness, this kid again. I really, really love this record, though. Partly, of course, because it puts me in mind of 2012, which I think may have been a really good year. Also, I like music with English vibes (as opposed to English music that just sounds American.) And pretty young men, I like pretty young men, especially when they’re all sad and shit.

Someone Told Me

Jake Bugg was basically a sentient walking fetus when he made his first record, but damned if he doesn’t write world weary tunes about love and heartbreak like a man old enough to drink. There’s no conceivable way he actually would have known the feelings he was writing about. But you wouldn’t guess it, because the feelings are there. It’s a sad song that takes you by the heart like the singer has lived all of your life with you. And that is, damn, good songwriting right there.

Some Boys

My emo phase was more murder ballads than sk8er bois, but I’m right there with my generation in that I spent my young adulthood being earnest to Death Cab for Cutie. Death Cab was always great company, being melodic pleasant music that talked about feelsy stuff without touching on anything too sad or disturbing. By 2011 I was well past the emo phase and thought Codes and Keys was fairly blah. It’s well worth revisiting, though. There may be less need for gently mournful chamber pop or romantic ballads, but it’s still good company.