Waking Life: A Music Mix For December 2016

<p>(Photo:&nbsp;Marcelo Krasilcic / courtesy of the artist)</p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;">&nbsp;</span></p>
<p>The Magnetic Fields</p>
Photo: Magnetic Fields press photo
The Magnetic Fields

There was a time not long ago when the space between Thanksgiving and mid-January found us scavenging for scraps, like so many unfortunate creatures on the musical tundra.

Labels weren’t keen on late-in-the-year releases, lest they get lost in the holiday shuffle and see sales suffer as a result. So we made do with the annual glut of holiday-themed releases and the occasional random number that managed to cut through that glut: One might theorize that “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was that much bigger a hit because of the dearth to which it arrived, but I digress.

Oh, but things have changed! Though many -- myself included -- have bemoaned the rise of digital music, it’s that format that has kept us fed during these once-dormant months. Yes, the new release schedule still slows to a crawl, but digital enables artists to release music without a label (as Dr. Dog did just this week), and allows labels to inexpensively tease the goods to come in the new year. Surprises abound and that’s progress: I mean, just look at this playlist!

Hope springs eternal, but especially when there’s a new 50-song album from The Magnetic Fields on the way. "50 Song Memoir" is out March 3 from Stephin Merritt’s (un)merry band. While such a project might seem like novelty for most, I’ll remind you that this is the same band that released the brilliant "69 Love Songs" once upon a time. The band has released the first five songs and the cut included here, “’74: No,” shows Merritt’s dour wit endures:

"Is there a man in heaven looking out for you?

Is there a place dead loved ones go?

Is there a source of wisdom that will see you through?

Will we have peace in our time? NO.”

Also here are excellent new cuts from Foxygen, Sallie Ford and Surfer Blood, whose swaggering but melancholic “Six Flags in F or G,” is included on the upcoming "Snowdonia." It’s the band’s first release since the death of guitarist Thomas Fekete this past May.

It’s almost impossible to fathom how new records months and perhaps years in the making could arrive as if scheduled to match the darkly-hued chaos of the times. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone could have ordered up a more perfect yin and yang for now than Leonard Cohen’s "You Want It Darker" and A Tribe Called Quest’s "We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service." Like most great records, these are worth getting lost in in their entirety, which isn’t necessarily to say that it’s comforting listening.

Also worth noting…

  • Swedish singer Amanda Bergman, who returned this year with a solo record after her band, Amason, released one of my favorite records of last year.
  • Repeat Waking Life appearances from Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, The Radio Dept., and recent CPR's OpenAir in-studio guests The Lemon Twigs.
  • Denver turning up the volume from new records out by CPR's OpenAir favorites Colfax Speed Queen and SPELLS.

Lots more, too, as always! Dig in and let me know what you think in the comments below or tweet @OpenAirJeremy.