Bring Limes – Float Songs.

You know how some people dedicate their lives to their community or the environment or the betterment of humanity? I'm the same way! Only I've dedicated my life to ridiculously overthought playlists.

Anyhoo. For that reason, or other reasons, or maybe no reason at all, some of you have been asking for a Bring Limes playlist. Something summery and new. So without further ado, here are The Float Songs. 33 tracks hand-picked with floating in mind: On a placid lake, or a shimmering sea, or in the state of Colorado if you know what I mean.

I'll post some additional lists throughout the summer. Enjoy.

Oh Eaux Claires!

I spent some magical time in Eau Claire, Wisconsin this past weekend. I wasn't aware that I needed a weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, magical or otherwise. But ho-lee-shit. As it turns out I needed a magical weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. 

Eaux Claires is the music festival Bon Iver built. In its third year, the Justin Vernon created/curated event is unlike any I've experienced. The musical portion, as you'd expect given the event's pedigree, was eclectic, cohesive, and stellar throughout. You want Chance the Rapper? Yup, he's a friend of the fam. How about five tenor saxophones playing a surprisingly moving 45-minute drone note in the woods? They got that too. 

Although the music was fantastic, the part that's stuck with me the most is the forest. Step away from the stages and you'll find a mulchy network of trails leading to all kinds of art installations and random whatnot. Some of the ideas fit in the woods perfectly: wooden sculptures, feather poetry, a box of crickets with a mic and a big-ass speaker. Other ideas didn't fit, also perfectly: a full Sconnie living room, for example, playing an old packer game on the hi-fi. Or a Mom's booth, staffed by Mom's who were there to offer sunscreen and life advice and games of Connect 4.

A little precious? Yes! Sometimes, though, a little preciousness works wonders.

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.  

On catching songs and other things

There was a pretty awesome article in the New York Times a few days ago called Three Iconic Musicians on Artistic Creation - And Its Importance Now. It features Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits, all three of whom I adore. And all three of whom are really articulate about their music. 

This quote right here though, from Tom Waits, really stands out to me. It's about songwriting, of course. But in a way it's about life writing too. Good energy attracts more of the same. 

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. 

Let's dance. Yes?

I know what you've been thinking...

"Bring Limes" is okay I guess, but it could really use a few more Friedrich Nietzsche quotes.

Well, have I got just the thing for you!

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

So with no further ado, I present Matt Bray, this perfectly silly dancing guy that will make you happier than Nietzsche ever did, even during your angsty freshman year of college when all you did was quote him and Kierkegaard and Morrissey, like some goof-ass, when you could have been dancing instead.

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:

NPR Tiny Desk Concerts make me damn happy

If you're not familiar with NPR Tiny Desk concerts, you should get familiar! 

The premise is simple. NPR invites musicians to play in a cramped corner of their office. Fair enough, lots of places are doing that kind of thing these days. "Generating Content" as we call it in the biz. 

But whoever's in charge of selecting the musicians for the Tiny Desk Concerts is like a genius. I assume it's Bob Boilen who hosts "All Songs Considered," especially since the bands are playing at his desk, he's introducing the bands, he's shooting the video, and he's doing the edit. But the real star is whoever's running sound because, despite the setting and regardless of the nature of the band, the sound is consistently stellar.

I've discovered a lot of new bands here. And I've fallen in love with a few older bands all over again. I've you're looking for a musical rabbit hole to fall into, seriously kid, you gotta check out the Tiny Desk Concerts.

I included a few favorites below to getcha started.

They just released a session with Anderson Paak last week. I love me my Anderson Paak and this one is stellar, although NSFW. Good thing today is Sunday and you're not working today right? Right?

And here's an old favorite with Phoenix.  Thomas Mars looks like a shy 11-year-old who's been asked to sing for his grandparents after Thanksgiving dinner. Adorable! I want to adopt him. Since he's 39, I figure there won't be much paperwork required.

And finally... Madison's own Phox! Alright, technically Baraboo's own Phox! At a lake party late one night last summer, a friend and I stole some french vanilla custard from the freezer. We snuck down to the lake and poured a mason jar's worth of homemade black-plum-infused brandy right on top of the custard and shared a spoon slurping it down. The way that tasted? And the way that night felt? That's what Phox sounds like to me.

Your summer anthem is ready for pick up: Wow by Beck

Well, it's officially the first day of summer. And I've found my official summer jam.

I didn't realize this was the case the first five or six times I heard Wow by Beck. My initial take was that it's another one of those interesting style exercises that Beck does from time to time. A reverb-y flute-EDM mashup with a hip hop bottom end. AKA "interesting style exercise" right?

But no! Upon the next 500 listens I came to realize it's as good as anything he's ever done. His downbeat 2002 album Sea Change is one of my favorite records of all time. But nothing beats happy Beck. And this is Beck at his happiest. 

Wow shimmers and glistens. It makes you wanna shake your ass, but slow and grind-y even though you know you're too old for that shit. And the lyrics, a perfect mix of positivity and wtf.

It's my life, your life
Live it once, can't live it twice
So nice, so nice
Song's like a tidal wave, take you on a getaway
My friends, your friends
Love 'em every day like it's just about to end
Now we're pissin' in the wind cause it's so pine fresh
Right now
Yeah I, I wanna get it like


I love this song.

Hey ho rock and roll! J Roddy Walston!

Last Friday found me bouncing through a variety of airports, making my way home from a Craft Brewers Conference. The departure from Philadelphia was early. It was raining. And I was wrapping up a week where the ale flowed fast – America's finest beers officially sanctioned and entirely free. 

It’s mornings like that where no one would blame you for listening to an Ambient Chill mix. Just close your eyes and zone out to the sound of gently cascading synth pads buttered over the shimmery cooing of angels. But no. Not me. Not last Friday. And not this Friday either. Maybe never again.

Because last week I saw J Roddy Walston And The Business play live. And holy shit.

For the record, I love music. All kinds of music. Hip hop, classic country, EDM, reggae, pop, whatever ya got. I go through crazy phases, weeks or even months at a time, where I'll obsess over, say, Pretty Lights' second album. Eventually though, life always seems to lead me back to the front of a small stage, looking up at four men with amps and hair and disorderly intent.

All music has the potential to steal your heart. But the right rock and roll band? On the right night? They'll do more than steal your heart. They'll rip it from your chest and hold it out in front of you so you can watch it. Beating and glistening and alive.

That was J Roddy Walston And The Business last week. They're a phenomenal live band – proof of how powerful live music can be. I strongly suggest you catch them the next time they roll through your town. They'll remind you of stuff you maybe forgot: That pianos are better than keyboards. That drums aren't necessarily machines. And that neither are we. 

Here's a little taste, toned down a bit since they're playing inside a van. 

And here's their most recent album called Essential Tremors


Do you realize?

Do You Realize is a pretty fantastic song by The Flaming Lips. If you're in a hurry, or if you're opposed to hippies singing in cemeteries, the video below probably isn't for you. But if you've got the time, this is quite gorgeous...

Do you realize? That you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize? We’re floating in space,
Do you realize? That happiness makes you cry
Do you realize? That everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

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:

The best road trip song ever? I'm pretty sure this is.

Spring break is nigh(ish). It's almost time to hit the road.

If you prefer the overnight driving shift, like I do, the secret is the right playlist. One song to be sure to include is Windfall. It's the first track on Son Volt's 1995 album, Trace, and it's one of my all-time favorites.

A little bit of history in case you're not familiar with Son Volt...

Back in the late 80s and early 90s there was a mighty and fearsome band called Uncle Tupelo. They ruled from Belleville, Illinois and held dominion over all the alt country land. The band was led by the mostly brooding Jay Farrar and perkier (by comparison) Jeff Tweedy. Jay and Jeff were two extremely talented songwriters who eventually ended up hating each other's guts. This seems to be what extremely talented songwriters do. So Jay quit the band, took the drummer, and formed Son Volt. Tweedy took the rest of the band and formed Wilco. 

Back to Windfall. There are a number of road and river related songs on Trace (Tear Stained Eye is another one that's highly recommended.) But Windfall, in particular, has always killed me. I honestly believe it captures the experience of the open road better than any song I've ever heard.

I sang it to my son every night for the first three or four years of his life. On his fifth birthday I woke up, my truck was gone, and I haven't seen him since.

I included the lyrics below. 

Now and then it keeps you running
Never seems to die
The trail’s spent with fear
Not enough living on the outside

Never seem to get far enough
Staying in between the lines
Hold on to what you can
Waiting for the end, not knowing when

May the wind take your troubles away
May the wind take your troubles away
Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel
May the wind take your troubles away

Trying to make it far enough
To the next time zone
Few and far between past the midnight hour
Never feel alone, you’re really not alone

Switching it over to A.M.
Searching for a truer sound
Can’t recall the call letters
Steel guitar and settle down

Catching an all night station
Somewhere in Louisiana
It sounds like 1963
But for now it sounds like heaven

May the wind take your troubles away
May the wind take your troubles away
Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel
May the wind take your troubles away
May the wind take your troubles away
May the wind take your troubles away

Hazy & Unfiltered

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The lake is looking a little different than it did in June and July and August. 

It was somewhere in there, July I believe, that I came across perhaps the best description of summer that I ever read: "Hazy and Unfiltered." Now, I was reading the label of my beer bottle at the time: a fine wheat with a wedge of homegrown lemon crammed down the neck.

"Hazy and unfiltered," of course, was describing the cloudy nature of the Bavarian-style wheat beer inside. But I'll be damned if it didn't nail the essence of summer too. Especially right then: Boat adrift. Sun and skin. Music shimmery and alive.

The boat (and the sun and the skin) have all been put into storage for the winter. But the music? I held on to that. Give this mix a try if the weather's got you down these days. It's a mellow mix of a thing. It might make you happy. It might make you sleepy. It's the dank nug of playlists.

This weekend: just breathe

I've been thinking lately about the courses our lives take.

Beginnings and middles and ends. Indeterminate trajectories and the rolling onward of wheels. To be clear: I haven't fallen into a mood hole. I'm just feeling very aware.

What's at work here, mostly, is the fact that I've had some opportunities for quality thinking lately. Combine contemplation time with a shift in seasons and the upcoming holidays and, yeah... you find yourself thinking/writing screwy shit like "indeterminate trajectories and the rolling onward of wheels."

On a lighter but related note, I've also been reading Willie Nelson's autobiography "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." In addition to being a king hell songwriter (Patsy's "Crazy," Faron's "Hello Walls," and Waylon's "Good Hearted Woman," not to mention his own hits), Willie is a king hell lifeliver. He's clearly my kind of people.

Anyway, the book had me in a Willie way over the weekend, listening to a Willie playlist in a cabin in the snow. After a bulletproof mix of Willie songs I had heard a thousand times before came one I wasn't familiar with: a cover of Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe" that Willie did with his son Lukas. 

Just like Johnny Cash singing NIN's "Hurt" gave it immediate weight, so too does Willie singing "Just Breathe" with his son. But while "Hurt" mostly makes you hurt, "Just Breathe" is a perfect reminder of the things in life that really matter.

If you have a few minutes, give the video a watch. It might add some perspective to the time you'll be spending with family and friends this weekend. At least it did for me. The whole thing definitely puts me in a thanks-giving state of mind.

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.