Day’s Plays Guest Post: Sohrab Habibion



[You can hear Sohrab’s music here, here, or here.]
At one point I’d pulled out recent records that various friends have made, as I thought it’d be nice to give a nod to fellow travelers (Contractions, FACS, Grey Hairs, Green/Blue, Mint Mile, Paramount Styles) still at it in this eternally rewarding and thoroughly absurd pursuit of making music. Then I considered it might be more representative of what I listen to if I picked out albums from different genres of music. As I flipped past the Bangles effervescent self-titled EP from ’82 to get to Jorge Ben’s A Tábua De Esmeralda, my favorite if not gentlest Ben, though you really can’t go wrong with any of the first 16 or 17 of his LPs (an insane feat even by, I dunno, Duke Ellington standards?), my eye caught the stack of records I’d listened to most recently and had yet to put back. Truth being valued at an all-time low these days, I figured I’d bet the odds and just go with what was already in front of me. So here are the 6 records 1 I’m about to tuck back into their alphabetized bunkbeds . . .
J.J. Cale, Really (1972): Do you like J.J. Cale? I feel like he gets unfairly lumped in with some unflattering company due to his elbow rubbing with Slowhand. As if it’s music for dudes whose domestic lager bellies carve out a ketchup-catching crease in their Lou Gramm/Asia/The Guess Who/Foghat monster jam tour tees. And, sure, there’s some guitar wangling that could be accompanied by the classic, dyspeptic, fret-tickler face. But it’s J.J. Cale’s voice that sets the tone. And often his songs are just single riffs that percolate for a few minutes in a state that’s simultaneously woozy and articulate. There are few things I enjoy listening to after, yes, midnight more than a tune like “Right Down Here.”
(YouTube)
Neu!, Neu! (1972) : For rockers of a certain age it seems like there’s music made before having heard Neu and then everything that follows. The perfect 10 minutes that is “Hallogallo,” which opens this album, sets a pulse for floating into the astral plane. It’s as if you’re suspended at the horizon line while the sun slowly sets over some distant ocean. But what I love about Neu is that the gearshift is not only set for motorik monotony. For every cruise-control “Hallogallo” there’s a happily-lost-in-the-weeds “Sonderangebot” that wiggles and swells and bzzznrrrffs for 5 minutes. It’s a transporting soundtrack to familiar stories that never repeat themselves.
(YouTube)
Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Blank Generation (1977): Late to the party on this one. I got caught up in the hallway chatting with Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, not realizing that just over the threshold, causing a real ruckus in the kitchen, were Ivan Julian and Robert Quine. The electric guitar is a curious instrument. Often misused as either a brutality-dispensing cudgel or in very corny displays of masculine gallantry in 20th century suburban mating rituals, it turns out this apparatus can be exquisitely expressive in the hands of the right reject or urchin. Julian and Quine take familiar vocabulary from 1950s rhythm and blues narratives and literally strangulate the last bit of life out of them. It’s exhilarating. And the songs are catchy as heck, with Mr. Hell alternately snarling in the corner or strutting past with his chest bare and heaving with syllables.
(YouTube)
That Petrol Emotion, Manic Pop Thrill (1986): Sometimes album titles are poetic in their abstract relationship to the albums they adorn. Not the case here. As advertised, these 12 songs are delightfully crammed with hooks. The two guitar patterns intertwine over a throbbing rhythm section. And even when things slow down there’s a piercing urgency present. This record would be the perfect flip side to Echo And The Bunnymen’s Crocodiles on that C-90 you’re getting ready to mail to your cousin in Denver. Searing, capacious and endlessly melodic. While each of their later records have great songs on them, the production often falls into the trap of drums-and-vocals-BIG-n-LOUD, which maybe satisfied 90s alt-radio music director fantasies, but is the audio equivalent of what Pepperidge Farm does to baked goods.
(YouTube)
Träd, Gräs Och Stenar, Djungelns Lag (2016): Be forewarned: a bunch of stinking hippies occupy four full sides of why-nils here. All recorded live in Sweden and Norway in 1971/1972—no doubt the shows were herbal healing experiences for Scandinavian söner och döttrar exhausted by decades of sleek, minimalist design. They let it all hang out here. Mouth harps, fiddles, tambourines, a choogle of riffage riding wild into the North Sea on a Crazy Horse. I’m not into hippies, though. I’ll gladly gorge myself on food coop tabouleh while I shake my fist at the man, but the Grateful Dead overcook their bulgur wheat into a soggy mess and all the baggage that’s nestled into the matted fur of those rainbow dancing bears on the bumpers of Tesla Model 3 luxury sedans is just too much. So why is Träd, Gräs Och Stenar exceptional? I’m not sure how, but they manage to sidestep the cliches. Like Dead Moon or Fugazi or Can or late-period Talk Talk, they have created their own inner language and listening in feels voyeuristically exciting. Then before you know it you’re lost on a tangent and twenty-odd minutes have passed. I got to see them play last year and it was affirming in the way that seeing The Ex live is affirming. Zero affectation, zero rock’n’roll silliness, zero ego. Pure, universal id.
(YouTube)
X, Aspirations (1980): I think the first Australian punk bands I heard were The Celibate Rifles and Lime Spiders. Or maybe the Hard-Ons? Then The Birthday Party, for sure. It wasn’t til later that I devoured The Saints, The Scientists, Radio Birdman, let alone Feedtime or The Victims. For some dumb reason X, like the first Sunnyboys album, totally escaped me until maybe 10 years ago. I’ve tried to make up for lost listening time by playing this record as often as possible. It lurches, it cracks, it ducks and jabs. The rhythm section impressively predates what I could easily mistake for being an early 90s band on Touch and Go. But the guitar has that unmistakable, period-perfect rock’n’roll, chugging downstroke and slightly out-of-tune Chuck Berry note buckling. Meanwhile the vocal has a growl that sticks out like the arm on a Heisman Trophy, sweetly countered by the occasional deadpan backing vocal. This is the record you might find me jumping on my parents’ couch in my underwear to.
(YouTube)

  1. In case you want to run through these records all at once, here’s a Spotify playlist Sohrab put together for us.

Day’s Plays Guest Post: Kenichi Hoshine



[You can have a look at Kenichi’s work here.]
Palace Music, Viva Last Blues: I love all of Will Oldham’s various projects/monikers/identities, but this album is one of the stand outs in that it’s a solid listen from beginning to end. It’s one of those rare albums that you don’t skip any songs and you can just listen to it from beginning to end. The lineup of his backing band on this album is wonderful as well.
Rex, Waltz: This was a great EP released by the band Rex. It’s a slow, swell of emotions and has the feel of a smouldering fire. I found out about this band because the drummer, Doug Scharin, also played for Codeine and June of 44.
Drive Like Jehu, Yank Crime: A legendary band from the San Diego scene. I believe I found out about them after I heard Rocket From The Crypt. High energy, screaming vocals, and well-structured songs. You can’t go wrong. I can never understand what Rick Froberg is singing about, but that’s part of the charm.
John Fahey, Death Chants, Break Downs and Military Waltzes: Not much to say about John Fahey. Legendary super talented guitarist and musician. He can make a single guitar sound like a full band. So brooding and so good. 
Joel R.L. Phelps, Warm Springs Night: Joel was a member of the band, Silkworm. His solo project with the backing band, The Downer Trio, is very moody and is a gut punch of emotions without coming off as too saccharine. All of their albums are incredible, but I chose this one because I believe it was the first one I purchased by them.
Rodan, Rusty: An incredible band from the Louisville, KY scene. One of my all-time favorites. They released this one incredible album and they were gone. Rodan produced a lot of wonderful off-shoot bands like Rachel’s, June of 44, and Shipping News. The songs are complex and incredibly layered. I wished that they had released many more records.

Day’s Play Guest Post: Jonathan Cohen



[You can learn more about Jonathan here.]
Hum, Inlet : Few things satisfy me more than giving a signal boost to bands I love but who forever reason never got the due they deserved during their lifetime (Jawbox, I’m looking in your direction. BTW, thanks for reuniting in 2009 on the TV show I was booking and see you on the road in 2021!). Hum is definitely one of those bands. A few people still remember them for their ’95 one-hit-wonder “Stars,” but they were dreadfully misclassified at the time as Pumpkins/Nirvana wannabes and in general they remain criminally underappreciated for their heavy/stoner-friendly Midwestern shoegaze vibes. Inlet is their first studio album since 1998, and after 22 years, the band has delivered eight sprawling new songs that thankfully feel and sound like they never left. Here we have big, drop-D riffs galore to inspire some dad-bod headbanging (the aptly named “In the Den”), expansive tracks that morph from Isis-like sludge to reverb-y bliss (“Desert Rambler,” which seems to be about a slow descent into an alien planet) and concise, punchy rockers that flash us right back to “120 Minutes”-era alt-rock (“Step Into You,” “Cloud City”). If you ever tripped out to Failure, Swervedriver or pre-“Bittersweet Symphony”-era Verve, methinks you will love Inlet. Welcome back, fellas.
Bitch Magnet, Bitch Magnet: Continuing on the same tip as above, Bitch Magnet are another crucial missing link in the lineage of 90’s American indie rock, deftly straddling the post-Hüsker Dü underground and the emerging math-y malevolence of Slint, Rodan, Bastro and Shellac. The group only lasted a couple of years (1988-1990), with frontman Sooyoung Park going on to form the beloved Chicago sadcore band Seam. Previously almost impossible to find, Bitch Magnet’s entire catalog was reissued by Temporary Residence Ltd. in 2011 as individual albums as well as on this three-disc set. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but I can’t find any current/new rock bands that please my ears quite like this. Favorite jams: the 9-minute slap to the head that is “Dragoon,” the 154 second live wire “Mesentery” (the best Spiderland track that never was?) and the major-key “Motor,” which shares the scruffy energy of early Superchunk.
Kokoroko, Kokoroko: This London-based octet is led by the amazing trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, and its music is the closest thing to Expensive Shit-era Fela Kuti that I’ve heard in a long time. “Adwa” and “Uman” are the kinds of songs I am absolutely desperate to dance to alongside actual other humans in an actual club, their delicious bass-and-drums grooves tickled with perfectly placed horn melodies. But the four songs on this self-titled EP aren’t just about the funk. “Ti-de” is a gentle comedown reminiscent of fellow innovative instrumentalists Khruangbin, while “Abusey Junction” sprinkles in a touch of dub bass and bongo drums for a breezy island feel. Highly recommended for a momentary escape from … well, you know.
Jo Johnson, Weaving: Remember the early ’90s British riot-grrl band Huggy Bear? Good – neither do I. I’ll tell you what is memorable, though: Weaving, the debut album from Huggy Bear guitarist Jo Johnson, which is one of my favorite electronic releases of the past five years. Weaving is informed equally by the hypnotizing minimalism and repetition of 20th century classical pioneers Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt as it is by synth-powered New Age bellwethers such as Tangerine Dream. The result is five uncommonly immersive soundscapes that will stretch your brain in a different way each time you listen. On opener “Ancestral Footsteps,” arpeggiated progressions ping side to side and are slowly overtaken by synth drones and fuzzy mechanized beats. “Music For 18 Musicians”-style phasing propels the 9-minute title track, while the pseudo-dulcimer tones and cheery melody on “Words Came After Music” evoke mid-period Tortoise on a Gamelan odyssey. Chilly vibes turn invitingly warm on “In The Shadow Of The Workhouse,” another lengthy piece which evokes the wonder of deep space and other assorted conundrums of humanity. Closing track “Silver Threads” brings things back to Earth, its formless ambiance suddenly congealing into a sparse but danceable beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Plastikman set.
Various Artists, CARE4LIFE: Proceeds from this new 45-track compilation benefit essential and frontline workers from the U.K.’s National Health Service, and the contributors are a who’s who of electronic artists encompassing a welcome breadth of styles and sub-genres. B.Trait’s “Rest” gets things off to a soothing, Eno-ish start, but from there, the BPMs stay consistently peppy. “Workin’” has the kind of smiley, Hot Chip flavor we have come to expect from that group’s Cosby sweater-loving Joe Goddard, Luke Vibert’s “That’s Ill Folks” splatters chopped-and-phased synths atop his signature beats and the ping-pong programming of Maya Jane Cole’s “Keep It Moving” makes me (sort of) miss the Coachella dance tent. A few other highlights: Chris Clark ditching his MacBook for acoustic guitar on the hilarious Syd Barrett sendup “Laptop Stand” (“EasyJet won’t let me take my vinyl on a flight / Fabric booked me all the way from 1 a.m. ’til 5”), the Basement Jaxx boom-bap of Patrick Topping‘s “Totality” and the classic techno of Laura Jones and Karousel’s “No Borders,” which kind of reminds me of Coldcut’s “Plastic Man” without the samples.
Rush, Different Stages: Like most Ohio males growing up in the 1980s, I enjoyed my fair share of Rush (and was subjected to a fair amount of friends wanting to play “Tom Sawyer” for me on their basement drum sets). But my love for the band really only blossomed around the release of this 1998 triple-disc live collection, primarily recorded outside Chicago the year prior. I’m not a huge fan of Test for Echo, the album they were promoting at the time, but I will forever go to the mat for its 1993 predecessor Counterparts, the closest Rush ever sounded to a grunge band. That album’s “Stick It Out” is an absolute beast here; throw Chris Cornell’s vocals on top of the instrumental, and you’d have one hell of a Soundgarden song. The Counterparts instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone” has a nice blend of everything these three guys do best, from Neil Peart’s exotic percussion accents to Geddy Lee’s zig-zag bass melodies to Alex Lifeson’s planetarium light-show guitar solo. I quibble with the omission of “Red Barchetta” and ’80s chestnuts like “Time Stand Still,” but alongside excellent versions of war horses like “YYZ,” “Freewill” and our old pal “Tom Sawyer,” we get the only officially released live performance of the complete “2112” suite. Miss you, Neil.

Day’s Plays Guest Post: Amy Domingues



[You can learn about Amy’s music here and here.]
Les Filles de Illighadad, Eghass Malan: This is one of my favorite music groups of the past few years. Tuareg music is hypnotic in its simplicity and repetitive rhythms, and it induces almost a meditative state. Fatou Seidi Ghali and her bandmates hail from the desert in Niger, and she is the first woman to play Tuareg guitar professionally. I was lucky to see them play live last year. The combination of the responsorial vocal chants, minimal guitar repetitions, a simple leather drum, and the pounding of a calabash half-submerged in water creates a compelling soundscape.
Joe Wong + Nite Creatures, “Minor”: This is the new single from Joe’s forthcoming debut album on Decca Records. Joe is an old pal from DC back in the day, and he’s been churning out quality TV/Film soundtracks in LA for the past decade. He also has a really great podcast, The Trap Set, interviewing musicians. I’ve known Joe to be an amazing drummer, but it turns out he’s also a great singer and songwriter as well! This new solo album brings to mind Scott Walker’s epic album Scott 4 with its crystalline vocal production and lavish orchestration. Technically, I’m playing cello in his backing band for NYC/Philly shows in October…. I hope it still happens!
Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters: I wasn’t a Fiona Apple aficionado previously, but I had read some good things about this record when it came out in April, and I have a lot of respect for an artist who can record an entire album herself and then have the balls to release it in the middle of a pandemic. I deemed it a little chaotic upon first listening, but then after a few more I was really struck by the variety of musical sounds and uninhibited vocals with razor sharp narrative lyrics. So I keep listening and find new things each time to appreciate.
Hailu Mergia, Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye: Ethiopian jazz accordion? Why yes, please. This album was recorded in 1985 shortly after Mergia relocated to DC from Ethiopia to study music at Howard University. It was recorded in 3 days and largely improvised pieces for accordion, Rhodes piano, synthesizer, and drum machine. The accordion had been popular in Ethiopia in the 1950s, and Mergia’s inspiration for the album was to bring back this instrument from his youth and blend it with traditional Ethiopian melodies and current music technology. It’s my go-to chill out record. Incidentally, Mergia still lives in DC and drives taxis.
Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest: Bill Callahan’s ability to spin a completely original narrative tale in 3-4 minutes is a rare talent. Combined with his signature  economy of sound, this prolific songwriter never disappoints. In songs such as “The Ballad of The Hulk” and “Watch Me Get Married” his confessional lyrics mix with surprising metaphors, and there is always some new layer of meaning to decipher upon each listen.
Musica Secreta, Lucrezia Vizzana: Componimenti Musicali 1623: Lucrezia Vizzana was a 17th century Bolognese nun at the convent of S. Christina who managed to publish a remarkable set of sacred motets at a time of great prohibition in religious music. Convents were basically the only option for women who wanted to be educated and free to express themselves musically and not be shunned by society as having loose morals. Vizzana’s collection reflects her piety and her musical influences of Banchieri, Monteverdi and the new stile moderno which was taking the European scene by storm. This is a gorgeous recording of vocal music which transcends the centuries to offer us peace and tranquility if we choose to listen.