There is something about this cold weather that makes me retreat to a musical place that is a little isolated, quieter, and cozy. Like a good wool blanket this music warms me up and helps me deal with the cold Wisconsin winter.
Sufjan Stevens’ new song is a touching look back at his relationship with his estranged mother, Milk & Bone is like a hot shower, ALA.NI warms my old soul, and Iron & Wine’s archival release takes me back to a more innocent time. Milwaukee Photographer Chrissy Kruger-Gruendyke adds to the warmth with a pick that fits right into the theme. Cozy up with this week’s 5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To.
1. Sufjan Stevens – “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
Sufjan Steven’s new album is titled Carrie & Lowell, after his mom and step-father. And much of the album deals with the death of Carrie in 2012. Not Mom, Carrie. She left Sufjan and the rest of his family when he was just a year old. “She just wandered off. She felt she wasn’t equip to raise us,” Sufjan says. Carrie struggled with depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and substance abuse. Sufjan even admits that her decision to abandon them was in the best interest of the family. But, when Sufjan was 5 years old, Carrie married Lowell. The marriage only lasted 5 years, but in that time, they spent three summers as a family in Oregon. Those summers provided some of the only memories that Sufjan and his mother had together. During that time she was loving, caring, creative, and funny. Sufjan and his siblings just wanted to be around their mother. “They were like puppy dogs,” Lowell says. And in this song, she isn’t Carrie, she’s mother.
- Sufjan Steven’s new album: Carrie & Lowell will be out on March 31.
- Listen if you like: Iron & Wine, finger picking guitar, confliction.
2. Milk & Bone – “Pressure”
The first thing that my college roommate checked when we were looking for a place to rent was the water pressure. He told me that he could not live in a place with weak water pressure. And I respect that. Good water pressure is warm, comforting, and relaxing. It’s the little things.
And as I have listened to this song on repeat, it has been like good water pressure. Her voice is comforting and relaxing. It pours over your ears as she sings this song. And the synths in this song. they are warm and deep. At one point they oscillate, and you can almost feel the water tingling the back of your head. So let this song pour over you like hot water pressure during a cold Wisconsin winter.
- Listen if you like: female vocals with minimal electronic beats, harmony, good water pressure.
3. ALA.NI – “Cherry Blossom”
I’ve always been an old soul. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cowboy, specifically from the 1850’s through the 1890’s. My apartment is packed full of vinyl records, yellowing pictures, and other useless junk from years gone by. I watch old movies and read old books. I just like old stuff. And I love old music. Or new music that sounds like old music. And as an old soul, I fell in love with this song right away.
It has this blue guitar tone that was used in a lot of old songs, maybe used best by Julie London. And ALA.NI’s voice just lilts along. I like to imagine that she’s a Victorian lady, walking along a pond in the 1800’s, far too overdressed for the summer’s day, and she has her handkerchief out, wilting in the heat, as she sings this song to a memory of a man she’s never met. And if you’re an old soul like me, you might like this too.
- Listen if you like: Julie London, The Ink Spots, old stuff.
4. Chrissy picks The Avett Brothers – “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise”
Every week I have a guest on 5 Songs to pick a song that they can’t stop listening to. Usually I have an artist that is in town, or a music writer, but this week I felt that I should ask someone in our community to share with us. I wanted to get a perspective that was not in the music industry. A true taste of what Milwaukee is listening to. So I talked to Milwaukee photographer Chrissy Kruger-Gruendyke. She’s lived in Milwaukee for many years, she is plugged into the community, and she has a great taste in music. Listen to her intro in the Soundcloud link below.
- Listen if you like: Folk, Head and the Heart, following your dreams.
5. Iron & Wine – “Freckled Girl”
There is something special about an artist’s first album. It’s before they had a big studio, before they had a record deal, and before they had expectations from fans and critics. We often look at that first album as the artist at their purest. And because of that we tend to glorify first albums, or “the early stuff.” When I think of a band like Iron & Wine, you know, I love their newer albums like Kiss Each other Clean, and Sheperds Dog, I do, but there is really nothing quite like their first album, The Creek Drank The Cradle. It’s so paired down and personal. A whispered lullaby. Truly beautiful. There hasn’t been anything like it since. But, Sam Beam, who is Iron & Wine just released Archive Series, Volume No. 1, an album of 16 home recordings done at the same time as The Creek Drank The Cradle. And they are just as delicate, beautiful and pure as that very first album.
- Listen if you like: early Iron & Wine, song one this week, something relaxing.