Now this is music: 5 great songs and artists I discovered via The Blacklist

(image via Journalitico (c) NBC)
(image via Journalitico (c) NBC)

 

*The post contains some minor spoilers so tread carefully if you haven’t watched the full season just yet*

A strange and unusual thing happened to me a few weeks ago.

Well, truth be told, not that strange and unusual at all really since it has happened to me a number of times before when a TV show I had previously dismissed, benignly or with great force, came back from the viewing dead, and completely and utterly won me over.

I had seen it happen with Stargate Sg1, then with Fringe, and even with Revolution (although that show later took a turn for the worse again in season 2 leading to its cancellation no doubt), and now with The Blacklist.

Granted, I had liked The Blacklist enough to watch the first 9 or 10 episodes, and even given it a precious Series Record berth on my PVR, but promising though it was, going back to watch those recorded episodes felt like a product of obligation rather than of anticipatory joy.

And then one week, feeling a little under the weather, and with nothing more to do than lie on the couch and recover, I plunged into The Blacklist backlog and found myself completely sucked into the show’s season 1 back half in a way I hadn’t experienced with its first lot of episodes.

It had finally hits its stride, developing the twin threads of Raymond “Red” Reddington’s (James Spader) duplicitous/altruistic motivations in bringing a number of dangerous criminals to heel via his unwilling partners-in-crime-solving, the FBI, and Elizabeth Keen’s (Megan Boone) web of suspect family ties to spectacularly dramatic effect.

And I was completely and utterly hooked as the series revved up the tension, the stakes and the action to an almost unbearable and wholly unexpected degree.

Unexpected too was the fact that The Blacklist would introduce me to a slew of brilliant songs and amazing artists that will keep me entertained while I watched for season 2 of the show to kick off in the American Fall.

 

“RAWNALD GREGORY ERICKSON THE SECOND” – STRFKR

 

STRFKR (image via official STRFKR Facebook page)
STRFKR (image via official STRFKR Facebook page)

 

EPISODE FEATURED IN: “Madeline Pratt” (broadcast 24 February 2014)

Described by The Vine as an “indie three-piece [that] sit somewhere between the lo-fi bleeps and bloops of Grandaddy and a mellower MGMT”, STRFKR (pron. Starfucker), from Portland, Oregon, are certainly a band in demand when it comes to TV placement of their music.

For instance the song in question here, “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second”, a delightfully chilled slice of indie pop that kicks off with gently pounding drums and an insistently laid back beat before being joined by the rich, perfectly-blended relaxed harmonies of Josh Hodges, Ryan Biornstad, and Shawn Glassford, has found itself a home in a 2009 ad for Target and an episode of TV series Weeds, as well as this pivotal episode of The Blacklist, where it provided just the right accompaniment for the end of episode montage.

It may not immediately leap to mind as the first song to slot in a series concentrating on espionage and international criminal skullduggery but the joy of The Blacklist is that it is also every bit as much about the relationships that are both are growing and falling apart and in this respect, this gently percolating track which features lyrics of loss and longing is a natural fit for Agent Keene as her world slowly but surely falls apart.

All my life
There you go
Oh please stay
Just this once
Anyway

All my life
There they go
Oh please stay
For the night
Anyway

Plus it is simply a gorgeous song to listen to, it’s lo-fi, melancholia-drenched sweetness a meditative balm for the soul whatever the state of your life.

 

 

“KEEP IN THE DARK” – TEMPLES

 

Temples (image via Its Nice That via Vevo)
Temples (image via Its Nice That via Vevo)

 

EPISODE FEATURED IN: “Milton Bobbit” (broadcast 31 March, 2014)

A psychedelic rock band who formed in 2012 as a home studio project, Temples (James Edward Bagshaw, Thomas Edward James Warmsley, Samuel Lloyd Toms and Adam Smith) deliver a stomping, thoroughly danceable serving  of vintage ’60s-influenced, backed by solid, tight songwriting and hauntingly rich harmonies that march in perfect unison with the trippy, tautly-luxurious melodies.

The Guardian had this to say about the band, who impress with the commitment to their craft:

“Temples’ sound combines British psychedelia from down the ages. There are echoes of everything from early Pink Floyd to Echo and the Bunnymen and 90s “baggydelic” acts such as Spirea X. However, where some bands can get lost in a psychedelic fog, the Kettering youngsters have a promising grip on the sort of 60s-vintage pop songwriting that took the Last Shadow Puppets chart wards.”

“Keep in the Dark” is the perfect fit “Milton Bobbit”, an episode where FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen finds out that everything “Red” said about her husband is true, a devastatingly turn of events that rips the floor out from under her world, and for which the giddy glam maelstrom of Temples’ psychadelia is perfectly suited and their lyrics about evading an uncomfortable and unwarranted truth are profoundly apt.

“Turn off your light, let’s step into the dark
Sleep away like shining into her
Save your face and get behind, it’s firmly pressed into earth
I feel relief when I talk, eventually comes
Talk of our dreams, you surely have one
Mind your head and keep your hands firmly pressed into earth.”

Critics are predicting big things for Temples, and with songs as strong and evocative as “Keep in the Dark”, it’s not hard to see why.

 

 

“WHO ARE YOU, REALLY” – MIKKY EKKO

 

Mikky Ekko (image via official Mikky Ekko Facebook page)
Mikky Ekko (image via official Mikky Ekko Facebook page)

 

EPISODE FEATURED IN: “Milton Bobbit” (broadcast 31 March, 2014)

A melodically moody episodic companion to Temples grand psychedelic opus “Keep in the Dark”, Mikky Ekko’s “Who Are You, Really?” confronts the central question of identity that runs through this entire episode.

Not only is Elizabeth Keen questioning who her husband is, she is also overwhelmed by the idea that her entire life has been a gigantic, orchestrated lie, that nothing about her is her own, her identity a construct of falsehoods, artifice and deceit.

And everything about “Who Are You, Really?” from its accusatory lyrics to its boisterously dark, ominously playful Southern Gothic Gothic blues-influenced music – it reflects the Gospel-centric upbringing of the Louisiana-born, Mississippi-raised singer-songwriter – screams major identity crisis, with the roiling mass of contradictory emotions that throws up.

“So you’re feeling tied up to a sense of control
And make decisions that you think are your own
You are a stranger here, why have you come?
Why have you come, lift me higher, let me look at the sun
Look at the sun and once I hear them clearly, say

Who, who are you really?
And where, where are you going?
I’ve got nothing left to prove
Cause I’ve got nothing left to lose
See me bare my teeth for you
Who, who are you?”

“Who Are You, Really?” fairly drips with atmosphere and energy, a trademark track for an artist who is attracting attention for music that is authentic, gritty and eminently evocative.

 

 

“SWEETHEART, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO US?” – KEATON HENSON

 

Keaton Henson (image via official Keaton Henson Facebook site)
Keaton Henson (image via official Keaton Henson Facebook site)

 

EPISODE FEATURED IN: “The Kingmaker” (broadcast 28 April, 2014)

This episode and this song are as heartbreakingly impacting as each other, with Keaton Henson’s emotionally rich and fragilely beautiful vocals evoking every last ounce of betrayal and sadness that Elizabeth Keen, still reeling from husband Tom’s (Ryan Eggold) breathtakingly-involved duplicity, feels when she discovers that “Red” was the man responsible for the death of her father.

That revelation would be shocking in and of itself, but coming hard on the heels of so many other uncovered secrets, it is the final nail in the coffin of Agent Keen’s supposedly ideal existence, the last pillar to fall as her life as she knew it tumbles into a debris-strewn abyss.

I am honestly pressed to think of a more perfect marriage between song and show, and it is to English rock musician/poet/visual artist Henson’s credit that he has crafted a song so deeply and profoundly moving that I’ll wager it wasn’t selected as a token end-of-episode musical filler, but rather as the very distillation of the kind of world-destroying heartache that grips Agent Keen to her very core.

“Sweetheart, what have you done to us?
I turned my back and you turned to dust
What have you done?

And oh please, just come here, don’t fight with me
And I admit, think you may have broken it, yeah I admit

And if all you wanted was songs for you
Well here goes, after all that you’ve put me through
Here’s one for you

And don’t call me lover, it’s not enough
It’s got to be tough, cynical stuff
Follow my words to the end of our love

And God, you were the one who told me not to be
So English

Sweetheart, what have you done to our love?”

“Sweetheart, What Have You Done To Us?” is quite simply one of the most delicate and painful songs of lost love anyone anywhere has ever recorded, an immersive experience that carries through to all of Henson’s beautifully-realised songs.

 

 

“ANONYMITY IS THE NEW FAME” – FRANKEL

 

Frankel (image via All the Right Noise)
Frankel (image via All the Right Noise)

 

EPISODE FEATURED IN: “Berlin” (broadcast 5 May, 2014)

There is an airy, almost Beatles-esque quality to Frankel’s gorgeously fey vocals, that despite their light and breathy timber, are redolent with all the emotion needed to do justice to the aching resignation of the cruel realities of life, “Anonymity is the New Fame”.

Part of the season-ending two-parter “Berlin”, the song accurately reflects the sense that Agent Keen is now an anonymous nothing, an empty shell of the person she once thought herself to be.

Having no choice but to plough on and get to the bottom of the case at hand, and knowing that though she wants to kill “Red” that she needs for the many questions still plaguing her about her made-up life, Agent Keen is a shadow of who was, hanging onto the only thing left she has to define her – her job, which like it or not is now inextricably linked to “Red”.

If there is a more perfect reflection of the invisibility and emptiness she now feels, I can’t think of it, with LA-based Frankel’s (aka Michael Orendy), a man known to prefer to his own company wherever possible, writing and singing a song so redolent with sadness and regret, it’s as if it were written just for this pivotal episode (which it wasn’t, finding release way back in 2009).

“Cuz haven’t you heard that anonymity is the new fame, uh-huh.
And didn’t you know ohh woah we’re on the losing end of the winning game.

Tie a rose to the satellite, the petals fill the sky
And Put your arms around everyone you don’t want to die.”

It is rare that one song will propel me to search out everything that a particular artist has recorded but that is exactly what has happened with Frankel, a man who seems born to write that so perfectly marry sweet, heartfelt music and meaningful, life-changing lyrics.

 

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