The Best Music You’ve Never Heard

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February 22, 2014 by Julia

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I love discovering new music; don’t you? And I have found some of the best stuff through blogs and friends, so in the spirit of compulsive music sharing, I am going to inflict my musical taste and opinions upon you! Hopefully, you don’t mind.

A few disclaimers:

1. Contrary to what the title implies, I know you may have heard some of this music before (especially if you know me in person). If so, yay!

2. This is only some of the best non-mainstream music I’ve heard. And I couldn’t even get to all of my non-mainstream favorites because who wants to read a blog post for that long? And I realize, of course, there is more great music out there of which I am not yet aware. If so, enlighten me! I am insatiable.

3. I stuck to an indie, folky, singer-songwriter vibe with most of these albums and songs, because when I tried to encompass more genres (like classical) it got out of control. For the record, I do love music from every genre (she said haughtily), but I am probably, predictably, most partial to this kind.

4. I am a music geek, and must geek out every once in a while or my head will explode. If you are not a music geek, it’s okay to skip this post and just read the next one in which I will probably spill my guts or say something personal and/or embarrassing! Don’t worry, it always happens eventually…in life AND in the blog.

5. All cover art is sourced from Amazon unless otherwise noted. You can also link to the albums on Amazon by clicking on the cover art. I do link to some choice tracks (where available) from each album if you’d like to hear them in their entirety on YouTube. (Some of them are even accompanied by student films or montages because that’s all I could find!) But if you’re really interested, just search for the album on Spotify or buy it on iTunes. Am I saying stuff you already know? Sorry.

Whew! Deep breaths.

Okay. Geek Time.

3…2…1…The albums:

She

She – Harry Connick., Jr. (released 1994)

See, this exercise isn’t going to be as hipster-ish annoying as you thought, right? I mean, your parents probably know of this guy, and everything.

My parents did in fact listen to Harry Connick., Jr.’s early jazz albums when I was a kid, and I always liked his soulful, swinging delivery, both on the piano and vocally. The original music on the album She, though, is his first real departure from the more traditional jazz standards of his previous work – it is more modern, and it is grittier, funkier and crackling with vitality. I heard it first as a teen and thought it was amazing; it still holds up for me to this day. It feels both spontaneous and perfectly executed, like all the best jam sessions. Try these tracks: She, (I Could Only) Whisper Your Name, Here Comes the Big Parade, Honestly Now (Safety’s Just Danger…Out of Place)

Jill Sobule (self-titled debut, released 1995)

If you like quirk and whimsy as much as I do, you’ll love this album. You may remember Jill Sobule as the two-hit wonder of “I Kissed a Girl” (long before Katy Perry did it) and “Supermodel” (from the classic Clueless soundtrack). But her other songs here are more than novelties, and each song is a wonderfully crafted gem of a story, sparkling with humor and inventiveness and pathos. Try these tracks: Margaret, Trains, The Jig is Up, Vrbana Bridge

Want One – Rufus Wainwright (released 2003)

This was my first Wainwright album (although it’s his third release – his first two albums are also great), and so it holds a special place in my heart. The whole album has a haunting, classical, romantic, gorgeous, over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, melancholy quality to it (is that enough adjectives for you?), and Rufus is a unique character. His voice is distinctive, and depending on your taste, you might call him whiny, or you might call him an old soul. Personally, I adore his voice and whole persona. I mean, check out his awesome album portraiture. Try these tracks: I Don’t Know What it Is, Go or Go Ahead, My Phone’s On Vibrate for You, Want.

I Am Sam soundtrack (released 2001)

Simply put, a fantastic Beatles covers album. The right artists are chosen for the right songs, so that each song is infused with new life. Also, a perfect introduction to non-Beatles fans, as a way of saying – see? They wrote this huge variety of songs! They were brilliant! Try these tracks: Sarah McLaughlin’s Blackbird, Rufus Wainwright’s Across the Universe, Eddie Vedder’s You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Sheryl Crow’s Mother Nature’s Son, Chocolate Genius’ Julia

When the Pawn… – Fiona Apple (released 1999)

You know how Fiona Apple hit the music scene with her first album, Tidal, and people thought she was a little too crazy and assumed she was on drugs because she was so skinny but they loved her song Criminal because it’s so freaking awesome? And then her second album came out a few years later, and it has this super-long title (see above) and there were no clear singles and people other than critics and well, music geeks, kind of forgot about Fiona Apple after that. I really connected with Tidal, and was disappointed at first that When the Pawn had a less accessible feel. But the more I listened to it, the more I could hear the layers of beauty, texture, raw emotion and shadow. Yes, it’s full of dark clouds and anger. But the songs ring true, and Fiona draws you in, and you know she is articulating her interior as truthfully as she can, with no regard for genre or expectations. What results is a melancholy, passionate kaleidoscope of sound.  Try these tracks: Paper Bag, A Mistake, Limp, The Way Things Are

We Are Born – Sia (released 2010)

Sia is a unique artist, and her music lighter than that of some of the aforementioned artists. If you’re looking for smart, upbeat, intricate pop that’s off the beaten path but still dance-able, then look no further. Again with the layers of sound. I’m a fan of the interesting layers. Try these tracks: The Co-Dependent, Bring Night, Be Good To Me

Rabbit Songs – Hem (released 2001)

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You know how some music can quietly settle on our shoulders, and suddenly you feel as though the moment is golden, and all is right with the world? This is one of those albums for me. It feels wholly domestic and comforting, like an old quilt and a cup of tea and an oil lamp while a storm brews outside over the corn fields. (Yes, we are in the heartland of America as painted by Andrew Wyeth, in my imaginings.) It is the aural equivalent of dust floating in afternoon light. Sweet and good background music for quiet time at home. Try these tracks: Half Acre, Idle (The Rabbit Song), Sailor

Wind From the Sea – Andrew Wyeth

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And now for some songs:

Shake Our Tree – The Rosebuds (2005)

A hand-clapped, call and answer delight sure to lift your spirits. Dennis and I once imagined a music video for this done in old-school Disney Silly Symphony style – happy bird choruses in swinging, rubbery, walking trees. Listen here

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Real Love – Regina Spektor (2007)

Spektor takes the John Lennon classic and imbues it with deeper feeling than the original. It’s stunning. Listen here

Kathleen – Josh Ritter (2003)

This is a song I have yet to tire of. In fact, if I had to pick favorites, it would probably be in the top five. The melody has a bittersweet, timeless feel but the beauty and warmth are uplifting. Perfect for an aimless drive with an old friend under the stars. Listen here

Oh Marie – Sheryl Crow (1996)

A confection of irresistible harmonies and guitar. It’s just lovely. And the fact that “Marie” is such a recognizable type from literature – the fun and sweet yet misguided and messed-up lady – is just icing. Listen here

Swansea – Joanna Newsom (2004)

The lyrics are like an old poem, enchanting and evocative, and they flow along with the harp into a beautiful melody to match. I am transported to a creepy underwater wonderland every time. Who would make a better mermaid than Joanna Newsom?

If you want to come on down,
down with your bones so white,
watch the freight trains pound
into the wild, wild night

How I would love to gnaw,
to gnaw on your bones so white,
and watch as the freight trains paw,
paw at the wild, wild night.

Listen here

The lovely Joanna Newsom

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The Way the Lazy Do – Dr. Dog (2007)

Another one of my true favorites. I am partial to the retro sound, the gravelly voice singing the romantic lyrics, the building verses to the chorus, the layers of sound and the edge of the electric guitar juxtaposed against the honky-tonk piano. It’s got a bit of everything. Listen here

Speaking in Tongues – Eagles of Death Metal (2004)

This band is all jokey and dumbed-down on purpose (which actually makes them really smart?), but they know how to rock. I feel like a dork saying that, but it’s true. THEY KNOW HOW TO ROCK OUT. Speaking in Tongues is by far my favorite song of theirs, for it’s crazy-ass beat and weird vocal voodoo. This video shows you everything you need to know about them.

Sweet Virginia – Gomez (2004)

One of those songs that starts out in minor key and then the chorus blooms out into major like a sunflower opening to the sun. And then it sneaks back to minor, and then back to major. I love that. Give it time, it will grow on you. Listen here

Built for This – Ben Sollee (2008)

When I am feeling down, this song heartens me with the simple message: we were built for this. The cello and understated singing give it a folksy Americana feel that perfectly underscores the feeling of camaraderie and support. Listen here

Ben Sollee. You’re welcome, ladies and gents.

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It has taken AGES and AGES to round up all these links, but music-sharing is a compulsion and I can’t help myself. Okay, one more, bonus round:

Watchin’ You Sleep – Bleu (2003)

Ultimate stalker anthem extraordinaire. Catchy, whimsical, creepy. Listen here

I don’t really know how to end this, because my brain has been fried by the internet. Hope you enjoy the music – and tell me about some about some of your lesser-known favorites!

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No, I mean it! Please do. For real. I need more music.

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10 thoughts on “The Best Music You’ve Never Heard

  1. As one music-lover to another, thanks for a brilliant post Julia. I adore the Rufus Wainwright album and you’ve just sent me back to my CD rack to play it for the first time in months. I also love the song “Swansea” which is coincidentally where I’ve just spent the last week, although I am doubtful that she had this Welsh town in mind when she wrote it!

    Can I recommend . . .

    anything from the album “Laid” by James – folky, understated, produced by Brian Eno.

    For some “proper” folk you could do a lot worse than Seth Lakeman’s album “Freedom Fields” – although all his albums are excellent.

    And unless you’ve played and fallen in love with Belle and Sebastian’s “If You’re Feeling Sinister” then your life remains incomplete.

    Happy listening.

    • Julia says:

      I was hoping you would see this post – I’ve been listening to the Divine Comedy album since your last mention of it! In fact, I plugged it into Spotify to find similar music, and one of the first songs it played was Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World,” which was as you know is from my favorite album of his. (Brilliant minds…)

      And I like to imagine Swansea is about some sad lovesick mermaid off some old fishing town seashore, but I think in actuality it is about a depressed, ugly town in California, ha. I couldn’t read any more about it, because I much prefer my own mental image!

      Thank you for reading – I knew this one wouldn’t get many views, but I was hoping it would prompt some comparing of notes on favorite albums. Mission accomplished! I look forward to checking out your suggestions.

  2. I had completely forgotten about Fiona Apple! But we did this awesome dance to one of her songs when I was in Year 12, choreographed by a very talented classmate. I think I’ll have to buy this album immediately. 🙂

  3. Vike Thurston says:

    Ju, I was experiencing my normal post-performance let down this morning (Schubert Piano Sonata in G major – yesterday with my Piano Society). Your song picks were the perfect pick-me-up! I listened to most and enjoyed all. If I had to pick a favorite artist among these, it would be Jill Sobule.

    I’ll add a recommendation for a recording (classical, of course) that I’ll bet you’ve never heard – Debussy’s Piano Etudes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FymZsN_NiB4).

    Love,
    Dad

    • Julia says:

      Thanks, Dad. I actually have this memory of listening to Jill Sobule’s song Trains on repeat in my basement bedroom as a teenager, and you were on the computer out in the family room, and you came in and said you really liked it, too! I guess it still holds up, nineteen years later. 🙂 And I am flattered that you listened to most of these. I will have to see if I know those Debussy Etudes- clicking on them now!

  4. […] The Best Music You’ve Never Heard (thejoyunderneath.wordpress.com) […]

  5. Julia – Been listening to Hem since the weekend. You are right; it is stunning.

    • Julia says:

      Oh, I’m thrilled! And I’ve been listening to the James album. (I also plan to check out the other suggestions.) I recognize their hits (they bring me back) but wasn’t familiar with the rest of the album. I’m a fan of the whole vibe.

      I wish there were music clubs like there are book clubs.

  6. Julia – send me an email to longarmfilms@gmail.com and I will send you a link where you can see the new film should you be interested. Hope you are very well.

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