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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of our most trusted music aficionados joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Justin Jacobs!

For today's 9:13 Buzz, we asked Justin to bring in his favorites from 2015.

Favorite songs:

Beck, "Dreams" - Even though Beck won tons of accolades for his last album "Morning Phases," I couldn't help thinking it was a little, well, boring. The world just didn't need a less-good "Sea Change." So when he dropped "Dreams" this summer, I was thrilled. Here's the Beck I know and love: off-kilter, endlessly funky and catchy as all hell. I probably listened to this song 50 times this year, and it never gets boring. Maybe even cooler is that "Dreams" isn't attached to an album — Beck just dropped this red-hot little gem as a teaser, to get us excited for whatever it is that comes next. Whenever he decides that will be.

Kurt Vile, "Pretty Pimpin" - Kurt Vile's been releasing laid back odes to Neil Young for a handful of albums now. But with this year's "b'lieve i'm goin down," he dusted off the edges of his folk into something with a bit more modern momentum. "Pretty Pimpin" is the album's lead single: a gorgeous, gentle, thumping, meditative guitar anthem with tons of delicious Vile lyrics: "I wonke up this mornin', didn't recognize the man in the mirror, then I laughed and said, 'oh silly me, that's just me,'" he sings. "Then I proceeded to brush some stranger's teeth."

Favorite Albums:
Allen Stone "Radius"
Tame Impala "Currents"
The Weeknd "Beauty Behind the Madness"
Courtney Barnett "Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit"

Favorite Show:

Kanye West, Tel Aviv, September 30 - We don't get a ton of amazing international shows here in Tel Aviv (I mean, thanks for coming Bon Jovi...), but I would've been hyped for this one no matter where I was. Who else can rip through a 2-hour set alone onstage — and make it completely captivating? And who else can get a stadium of people shouting obscene one-liners in their second language? Nobody looks quite as dedicated onstage (dude can sweat like nobody's business) quite like Yeezy.

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Cindy Howes and Joey Spehar talk about some favorite Fourth of July memories and songs associated with the holiday. What are some of your favorite July 4th songs?

Fourth of July 2015 by Cindy Howes on Mixcloud

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TRAVEL

 

Justin Jacobs, music writer for Relix, Paste and Billboard and contributor to WYEP's The 9:13 Buzz, recently returned home to Tel Aviv after a 7 month journey to India. Naturally, that trip included a lot of listening to music, so Justin very kindly put together a Travel Guest DJ set. Listen to his selections and learn more about them below.

Yemen Blues, Um Min al Yaman - This is a favorite band of mine from Tel Aviv - and when I realized they were touring India while I was backpacking, I had to catch them on the road. I ended up seeing the band tear up the stage at a very formal Indian classical music festival that took place inside a 500-year-old fort on top of a mountain. Epic doesn't begin to describe it.

Vampire Weekend, Hannah Hunt - This was probably the album I listened to the most during my trip. Not only is it an album that my girlfriend and I can agree on all the time, but it's also packed with songs about youth, adventure and love. "You and me, we got our own sense of time." That's pretty much the motto when you're backpacking through India.

Asaf Avidan, Reckoning Song (One Day) - Another Israeli favorite of mine, I found myself singing this song all the time while traveling. The message is perfect: "One day, baby, we'll be old and think of all the stories that we could've told." Basically, don't waste your time, because before you know it you'll be 75.

Justin Jacobs Travel Guest DJ by Cindy Howes on Mixcloud

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On the occasion of MTV Unplugged's 25th anniversary, Joey Spehar and Cindy Howes discuss their favorite moments on the monumental music show. Listen to the conversation below:

Joey and Cindy MTV Unplugged 25th Anniversary by Cindy Howes on Mixcloud

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"Kitchen sink music" is one of those useless terms in music journalism. It's thrown out for eccentric, often energetic, and even "exotic" music that doesn't quite fit into the pop spectrum. Little Comets, a trio out of England, often receives this irritatingly vague label, while their music is anything but. The roots of their bouncy, light guitar-driven, and polyrhythmic tunes comes from the same place as Vampire Weekend— afro-pop, by way of Paul Simon's Graceland.

"The Boy in the Bubble," "You Can Call Me Al," and especially "I Know What I Know" are the major reference points for Life Is Elsewhere, Little Comet's sophomore album from this past year. But the synths are for the most place replaced with breezy, noodling guitar, making this October record more of a summer companion. "Jennifer," the lead single, would feel right at home on the first Vampire Weekend album, and "Jennifer, why you have to be so taciturn?" sounds like it could be the direct product of Ezra Koenig. It's a poppy chorus, though, infectious and easy but with the music behind it hiding rhythmic complexities.

"Waiting in the Shadows in the Dead of Night" stands out as the richest song on the album, densely textured with guitar riffs and a echoing sonic background that Brian Eno might smile upon. And it's in the repetitive chorus that exhibits the metrical singing of lead singer Robert Coles, something that defines many of the songs on the album. Almost as a bonus track, an acoustic, piano version of the same song explores a different mood entirely, one where the shadows in the dead of night are not exciting and adventurous, but deep and solemn.

At 13 songs (not including the "Shadows" alternative take), Life is Elsewhere is burdened only by its length. It rounds out to a solid 50 minutes altogether, but that feels almost excessive, as the second half of the album doesn't quite match the distinctive feel of the first half. A better choice would have been to leave more contemplative tunes like the slow "Woman Woman" for a follow-up EP, keeping album as a whole at a more or less brisk pace, and leaving you wanting more. The listener gets his or her fill of afro-pop from Life is Elsewhere, which may be its only flaw. But it's a healthy fill, and hopefully, Little Comets did not use up all its ideas on this wonderful collection of songs.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott:

Neighbours, "Tell the Truth" - You gotta love a new song that sounds like it could have been on the "Nuggets" boxed set of classic garage-rock and soul. That's part of what producer Derek White (The New Shouts) brings to the table for this Pittsburgh band that features singer-keyboardist Michael Cunningham, singer-guitarist Ross Reilly, bassist Joe Tarowsky and drummer Andy Mulkerin (heard here on the 9:13 Buzz). This is the opening track of an album that shows influences ranging from the Zombies to the Jam.

Blue of Colors, "This is A Story" - Blue of Colors is the spinoff project of Punchline singer Steve Soboslai, who stretches out from the pop-punk formula on this finely crafted set of songs about love on the rocks.

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Producer-superstar collaborations are often fraught with danger. When the producer is established, famous for a signature sound and star in their own right (see: Dan Auerbach, Danger Mouse, Brian Eno), they can easily overshadow the band itself. Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and gospel queen Mavis Staples found the holy middle ground with their 2010 collaboration, You Are Not Alone. Staples’s 12th solo album after being part of the famous Staples Singers in the 1950s and 1960s, You Are Not Alone won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album for its combination of gospel classics and original songs written by Tweedy for Staples.

One True Vine, Staples and Tweedy’s just-released follow-up to that album, reinforces the brilliance of this particular producer-superstar collaboration. The central reason for its success is Tweedy’s subtle touch, guiding but never overbearing. Staples’s voice is an institution; it doesn’t need any padding or interference, and doing so would be almost sacrilege. Instead, Tweedy’s arrangements place Staples in the forefront of every song, with backing choruses in the distance to flesh out the harmonies but never attempting to add power. His guitar is rhythmic but rarely takes the spotlight, and drums provided by his son Spencer get the job done.

In songs like “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today,” plucked from the public domain and arranged skillfully with sweet horns, Staples takes her sweet time but delivers just as effectively as on the more upbeat “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus).” The selections of covers here, however, prove some of the most interesting choices on One True Vine. The title takes its name from an unreleased Wilco song, on which Tweedy switches out the original piano for acoustic guitar, using space and silence for maximum contemplative effect. “Can You Get To That,” the rousing single, does a solid job of matching George Clinton in funk, and “Holy Ghost” is a quick turnaround on a Low song just released months earlier. “Far Celestial Shore,” Nick Lowe’s original contribution to the album, finds a call-and-response choruses much to its liking.

Staples achieves her best on “I Like the Things About Me,” a Staples Singers original reinvigorated by a driving electric groove. On an album that’s otherwise more laid back, especially in its first half, the tune is a welcome pickup. “I Like” is a confident soul tune about finding pride in one’s flaws as well as attributes, and it’s a high point for Staples, finding critical success and a new, younger audience in these albums. Tweedy briefly brings his guitar into the forefront for a brief solo, fuzzy and distorted, bringing these roots closer to roots-rock. Staples continues to prove that she still has more in her than any singer alive, and Tweedy cements himself as the sole producer who can handle her talent.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Justin Jacobs (talking to us from Israel via Skype!), contributing writer to Billboard & Relix Magazine.

In case you missed it, here is what he played with commentary by Justin:

Bastille - "Pompeii" - How is this song not a gigantic hit in the US? It's a mystery, because this track by British act Bastille is about the catchiest thing I've heard since my dad introduced me to "Thriller" when I was five. The band is blowing up in England right now (and on YouTube, with 25 million views), but pretty unknown in the States. You can say you heard this track first on WYEP.

Houndmouth - "Houston Train" - Here's a band that isn't breaking any astounding new ground, but what they do, they do well: country-leaning rock and roll. The band just released their debut album, "From the Hills Below the City," and it's full of great rootsy rock begging to be played at your next barbecue.

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If ever there were a song to make you feel zen and at ease with your place in the world, it is “Song for Zula,” the 6-minute-long single from Phosphorescent’s newest album Muchacho. Lead into by “Sun, Arise!”, an album intro that feels like a morning stretch with its elongated harmonies, “Zula” is the meditation that comes right after. The rippling bass line and breezy strings bring front man Matthew Houck to the level of space rock, the territory of musical astronauts like Spiritualized front man Jason Pierce.

Where Pierce experiments with noise and disorder, however, Houck invests more in beauty of the bright, organized kind, and this album of redemption and revival is both Phosphorescent’s best yet and one of the most well-crafted this year. Although not a concept album per say, Muchacho does center its 10 songs around similar styles and themes, building off of the soulful country-rock of 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy. The roots are still there, in the almost-gospel choruses of “Sun, Arise!” and the outro “Sun Arising,” the sweetness of the pedal steel guitar in “Terror in the Canyons,” and the chugging, driving rhythms of songs like “Ride On/Right On.”

But Muchacho isn’t grounded the same way its predecessors were. In songs like “Muchacho’s Tune” and “Zula” especially, Phosphorescent uses horns and synths to draw out the melodies like sunlight streaming in through windows, voicing the instruments as he might a choir (besides the choir he already uses). Even in the downtempo moments, such as the understated and glacially paced “A New Anhedonia,” Houck’s voice carries through as a soothing preacher. It’s an ultimately triumphant album, and, claiming as he does in “Zula,” “I am not some broken thing / I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee,” Phosphorescent achieves the personal redemption he seeks.

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From the onset of “Harper Lee,” the opening song of Little Green Cars’ full-length debut Absolute Zero, you wouldn’t guess that this indie rock quintet hails from Ireland. No, they sound more along the lines of Dr. Dog (from Philadelphia) or Good Old War (also from Philadelphia— is there a trend here?) with 1960s-esq harmonies galore. But Little Green Cars is full of surprises.

Absolute Zero is a twisting, turning album of constant variation. Three different band members take turns writing songs on the album, and all five contribute vocals at some point or another. As a result, the band has a lot of space to maneuver stylistically. “Harper Lee” is the obvious radio-friendly single, enthusiastic and instantly catchy, and named after the author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a bold piece of American literature to reference, as lead singer Stevie Appleby declares, “Harper Lee I’ll kill me a bird / I sit back and I just watch it happen / And just like you I won’t say a word.”

For an Irish band, Little Green Cars sure likes its American references, taking the icon John Wayne as a central symbol of dangerous love in the thumping lead single “The John Wayne.” More surprising is the melodic switch in “My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me,” beginning like a folk song but spinning into Florence & the Machine-type powerhouse anthem. “Red and Blue” is a gorgeously layered song placed strategically in the middle of the album, breaking up the overwhelmingly guitar-centric music with a restrained synth-and-vocoder meditation.

What Little Green Cars possesses that their Philadelphian semi-contemporaries lack is this ability to mess around with song form. Beyond their sharp musicality and expertise on their instruments, and beyond the multi-part vocal harmonies that are always welcome in indie music, Little Green Cars can craft an entire album that feels thought-out, cohesive, and at the same time, easy.

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