5 Reasons to give Francis and the Lights a try

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It's hard for me to know where to begin with Francis Farewell Starlight and his musical project Francis and the Lights.

Many of my favorite songs right now are his. Several of my favorite musical artists hold him in the highest regard (Justin Vernon, Chance the Rapper, Ye, etc.). I can hear his highly layered synth-y harmonic influence all over indie pop, rap, and R&B right now. 

And yet. There are times I just want to watch him dance.

Good lord, the guy can dance. Not like how dancers dance. He dances like little kids dance. He dances like your dog dances when she sees you heading to the back door with a tennis ball. He dances like it doesn't matter at all, while at the same time being the most important thing in the world. 

Musically, he's worked as a vocalist and/or producer with some of the biggest names in music (the above mentioned trio, Frank Ocean, etc.). But he's only released a handful of EPs and full-length albums over the past decade or so, but he's evolved his sound significantly along the way.

He's best known for last year's song Friends which also features Bon Iver. (Kanye claimed it as his favorite song of 2016.) Friends is off Francis' most recent album Farewell, Starlight! and showcases the floating harmonic sheen of his most recent work. There's definitely technology at work, but you (or at least I) can feel the humanity behind it all. An example would be a line in the song that hits me for reasons I can't even explain: "I heard you bought some land in Mexico/And I said "Way to go, man!"

And the video. It's a humdinger of simplicity. 

Anyway, here are 5 Reasons to give Francis and the Lights a try:

Looking for more? Try the Farewell, Starlight! album for a nice synth-based float. Go with It'll Be Better for some more traditional, but still damn sweet, songcraft.  

5 Reasons to give Trevor Hall a try

As you might expect, I find myself feeling in an island way from time to time. When that's the case, it brings to mind certain things: The squeezing of limes, for example. Starfruit and fresh fish. Bikini ties and tanlines and open-ended days. And of course at the center of it all is music. 

My problem with music, though, is that when it comes to the island flavors I've wrecked a lot of it for myself. I'm an overplayer, you see, an obsessor. Over the years I've driven poor Bob Marley into the ground, along with Toots and Peter and Yellowman too. It's not that I don't still LOVE them, and reggae overall. I just, damn... I just need to lay off for a while. Until I can actually hear it again. Dancehall has weathered my relentlessness better than reggae, but dancehall isn't everybody's cup of rum when they're looking to chill. And you need a majority in these situations.

Stepping in to fill the island music void for me, over the last 10 years or so anyway, is a bunch of musicians that, for the most part, aren't from islands and don't write songs about islands. It's just that the vibe feels right to me. The group would include people like Xavier Rudd, Michael Franti, Nahko, Mishka, Donavon Frankenreiter and, sure, Jack Johnson would be in there too. (Sidenote: Why are these all guys? I'm at a loss for women in this realm. Jesus. Even Related Artists in Spotify just brings up more dudes. Help?!?)

More than any of them, though, the person who hits the sweet spot for me is Trevor Hall. Working late one night, I heard his song "The Lime Tree" on a compilation album of some sort. I happened to be looking at the wiki page for the island of Carriacou at the time, which has several old lime plantations on it. That night I decided a trip to Carriacou needed to happen, and it did. Several times actually. This was all before Bring Limes existed and, I'd say, those trips and that song played a major role in the inception of this site. 

Anyway: Trevor Hall. His quick story is that he was an incredibly talented kid living on Hilton Head island, South Carolina. He studied classical guitar, recorded his first album at 16, signed a deal with Geffen while still in high school, and... you get the idea. His less specific (but more important) story is that he's obviously a seeker. I can't speak to his success from a mystical standpoint, you'd have to ask him about that. But his search, musically, has lead to a deeply joyful blend of reggae, sanskrit chanting, and just plain old killer hooks.

Trevor Hall strikes me as an old soul. But even old souls know it's important to shake your ass from time to time.

Below is a little sample pack to get your started. If you're looking for an album of his on the island-vibier side, I'd suggest This is Blue

He's great live too. Here's an older version of The Lime Tree that I've always dug. 

5 reasons to give Mike Doughty a try.

You might know Mike Doughty as "the guy from Soul Coughing." Or, if you're like Mike Doughty (and me), you might know Soul Coughing as the band that Mike Doughty was in before he became Mike Doughty. 

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Soul Coughing. Their first album, Ruby Vroom, changed the way I listen to music. Take a slam poet, a sampler, an upright bass and a random crate of vinyl and throw them in a washing machine. Set the switches for heavy soil and hot rinse. Kick one of the legs out from under the machine and press start. When the door finally flies off, and it will, what spills out all over your floor is Ruby Vroom.

That album came out in 1994 which was a big one in music: Pavement and Green Day and Cake were born. Nirvana died. Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Aphex Twin, and Biggie released massive albums. Things were changing and, to me, Soul Coughing was a huge part of it. 

Mike Doughty was the band's singer and main songwriter. I was, and still am, a big fan of Soul Coughing. Mike Doughty, however, is not. He and I will have to disagree on that point. But put aside the sample-heavy sonics for a minute (which he was never on board with). Mike was still dropping lines this:

"Brooklyn like a sea in the asphalt stalks
Push out dead air from a parking garage
Where you stand with the keys and your cool hat of silence
Where you grip her love like a driver's license"

He writes awesome, awesome lyrics. Which brings us to Mike Doughty the solo artist. After the band exploded in 2000 (acrimony, drugs, etc.), Mike was dropped by the record label and he toured the country in a rental car with an acoustic guitar, selling CD-R copies of his first solo album Skittish. Eventually Dave Matthews signed him to his ATO label and released Haughy Melodic which is a wonderful record. Overall, Mike's released 17 solo studio albums, live albums, and EPs since 2000. He also wrote a memoir called The Book of Drugs about the years he spent under the influence of drugs and Soul Coughing, as well as the years he spent recovering from both.

His solo works features same killer lyrics I've come to love, but they're center stage now. His vocals, which have a piercing quality anyway, are up top in the mix: often syncopated and skittering. For songs that are mostly built around an acoustic guitar, he manages to pack plenty of funk in the trunk.

He's lived a rough life, Mike has. But he came out the other side with these wonderful songs. Here are five to get you started:

5 reasons to give Matt Duncan a try

If you think 70s AM radio was a golden era in music, as you should, then I bet you'll like Matt Duncan. 

Full disclosure: I just discovered him a few weeks ago while poking around on Spotify. So I can't proclaim any special insight here. There's not much of his background online, other than he's in New York (currently the bass player in Hedwig & the Angry Inch!). And I think he's originally from Kentucky. That's about what I know.

But dude, these songs!

I've had his awesomely titled 2013 album, Soft Times, on repeat since I first heard it. Why? Because the weather's turned nice. Because I've taken to cracking the windows on the Jeep. And because this is the easiest album to listen to that I've heard in a long while. 

I realize "easy" isn't usually considered a musical compliment. The cool kids like their music artsy, with bold undercurrents of fartsy. I get it. When it comes to music, I occasionally (and delusionally) fancy myself one of the cool kids. Fuck the cool kids. 

Sometimes you just want to hear something that makes you happy. Like right now? On this beautiful morning? I'm not looking for musical quadratics in 32/8 time. I just wanna smile and maybe clap my hands a little while I'm whipping up these pancakes.

His songs are as hooky as they come. Lots of keyboard and bubbling bass. Lots of gently wafting Chicago-ish horns and backing vocals. A touch of Steely Dan sheen. It's a 70s era sound for sure. (I swear I hear the ghost of Couldn't Get It Right in his song The Keys). Lyrically, he's in that same comfy pocket. 

But the familiarity? That's what I love about it most. There's familiarity in the sunrise too, but it's still freaking awesome every single time. Sometimes simple wins. As Matt says on Summer Song: "When days are long, you need a summer song."

You can check out Matt on Bandcamp (where's he's posting a new free song every month). 

Also: as a reader pointed out (holy hell, I've got a reader?), both Matt Duncan albums are available on vinyl from Soul Step. Ooh I bet they sound good on vinyl.

Here's a sampler set to get you started:

5 Reasons To Give Eels A Try

Hey! Is it dreary outside where you are? It's so dreary outside where I am! But I've got just the thing! Eels! The happy songs!

Eels are probably best known for their 1996 video Novocaine For The Soul, the one where they float around. A good enough song, and a good enough video too. But given the incredibly strong output of main dude E (Mark Oliver Everett) over the years, it's kind of a shame more people don't know more of his work. (See also: Flaming Lips > Vaseline, and Radiohead > Creep.)

E's covered a ton of emotional ground over his 11 studio albums, including more than a little anguish. When it comes to melancholy, he's a boss. But on most of the records, there are bright spots mixed in too. Moments of hope or happiness, however fleeting they might be. 

String a bunch of those fleeting moments together? They start to feel more permanent. Here's a batch of five to help get you started.

5 Reasons To Give Ryan Adams A Try

Ryan Adams and I go back to his Whiskeytown days (meaning: I started listening to him in 1995, while Ryan, well, he doesn't know who I am). Since going solo in 2000, he's taken a careening run through 27* genres of music over the course of 323* albums (these are estimates, but Ryan's made a lot of music).

He also just released a song-by-song cover of Taylor Swift's entire 1989 album.

Although his albums Heartbreaker and Gold are damn near perfect as they sit, I've built a lot of Ryan Adams playlists over the years; reconfigured super albums based on whatever emotional/spiritual jag I happened to be on at the time. (I do the same thing with Prince, another prolific guy who I'm sure would also hate me for re-sequencing his work, but, alas, another guy who also doesn't know who I am.)

Ryan's a man of many moods. I might suggest this mellow sampler when you're sipping bourbon by a late fall fire, wistfully.