[You can hear Mario’s music here and here.]
Stereolab / Nurse with Wound, Simple Headphone Mind: Got this when it came out in the 90’s as I was and still am a huge Stereolab fan. This was a tough pull from the get go but I got lucky. This is mixed by the Krauty mind of Nurse with Wound and the track is a superb wash of Dreamy Collage Electronic Krautrock that sails out far into the watery cosmos.
Sonny Vincent, Diamond Distance & Liquid Fury: Primitive 1969-76: This recent overview of hidden treasures owned by NYC punk legend Sonny Vincent is a real treat. How these remained in darkness for so long is crazy, as the songs are strong from every project featured here. Raw and heavy throb is right!
The Dragons, BFI: This “psychedelic jazz-rock” was recorded in 69-70 and 95% of it was unreleased until 2007 when the Ninja Tune label released it. The Dragon bros have a long history in Surf music and beyond. After The Dragons, one of the brothers was later “The Captain” in Captain & Tenille (huh?), and Dennis Dragon did The Surf Punks and tons of music for 80’s skate vids by Powell Peralta. The music here is like no other. Master musicianship and very creative tunes and the recordings they engineered are so good sounding. Really tasty stuff.
Ghetto Brothers, Power-Fuerza: This is still pretty new to my ears but I am sinking into more and more with every listen. From 1972, it is the lone album by a South Bronx street gang turned activist community organization. Elements of Latin percussion mixed with fuzzy guitar runs, really rhythmic adventures throughout the album, and an amazing story to read about the formation of this band as well. Killer record.
Wipers, Over the Edge: I got this album on my first tour of Europe back in 1994. Timeless and still inspiring to listen too. Greg Sage really upped his song ante on this album. The Trü downstroke guitar warrior.
Rancid X, Voices: One of, if not the first “punk” band to land a major label deal in Italy. While a song or two has a hard punk edge to it, I’d say this album leans more towards Lou Reed, Rolling Stones, and a hint of T. Rex maybe. One of my favorites. Just a solid Rock & Roll album all the way through.
[You can hear Renata’s music here or here, and see her embroidery here.]
Anohni, “It’s All over Now, Baby Blue“ b/w “Be My Husband” (2020): Ok, I know this is just a single but I was way too excited by those 2 covers that Anohni released in the beginning of August. I’ve always had fun trying to decide what’s the best cover for Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and I really think this is a winner. Anohni recorded this song and some other Dylan’s covers with Kevin Barker in one afternoon a few years back, encouraged by Hal Willner who just passed away from Covid 19. She said she listened to it recently and it prompted, “a nausea of nostalgia for the suffering of the present, or even the future.” The other cover on this 7” is “Be My Husband” by Nina Simone and it’s actually a live recording from a show at the Knitting Factory in 1999. I had the pleasure to see her live about 14 years ago and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen. It was just her and her piano and I remember she would tell us anecdotes and jokes between every song. Everyone left the room with a smile on their faces.
Moraes Moeira, Moraes Moreira (1975): This is Moraes’s first solo record after playing with one of my favorite bands Novos Baianos. This record came out 3 years after Acabou Chorare and it’s just an explosion of Brazilian influences and rhythms like samba, choro, frevo, and baiao mixed with straight up rock and classical music. He’s definitely a Brazilian darling and we all felt deeply when he passed away from a heart attack back in April. He’s such a legend with his sweet and beautiful voice mixed with his amazing guitar playing. I admit I cried for a whole day when I heard about his passing. We were so lucky to have him.
Os Mutantes, Mutantes e Seus Cometas no Pais do Baurets (1972): I’m going to disagree with the whole world and call this my favorite Os Mutantes record. This is the last recording of the band with singer Rita Lee, that quit to pursue her career as a solo artist. I’m almost tempted to say this record sounds like a good mess but I’m just gonna go and say it’s more like a perfect salad. This record has everything: Brazilian popular music, rock, latin rhythms, jazz… It’s such a fun record and it brings so many good memories of when I was a young teenager in Brazil that it’s almost impossible to imagine that they were not getting along during the recordings. I had the pleasure and honor to open a show for them a couple years ago with my band Warm Sun at the Black Cat, DC. That was the third time I saw them live and it’s always such a party. First time I saw them it was back in Brazil on their first “reunion” show with Arnaldo Baptista and it was an intense emotional trip. I know it’s not the same with just Sergio Dias in the band but it’s still worth it to catching them live.
Bob Marley, Catch A Fire (1973): Will this record ever get old?I remember being 14 and being hooked on this. I try to revisit it every couple years and it really keeps getting better and better. I’m temped to say this might be my favorite record. I recently worked on a PBS documentary about the recording of it, and even though I always say this is a record I would have liked to produce, it doesn’t seem like Chris Blackwell or Tony Platt (producer and engineer) were having the time of their life. It was also interesting to see John Bundrick and Wayne Perkins trying to understand what they were supposed to do in it and getting instructions and encouragement from Marley even though they didn’t quite understood what he was saying. When Marley was asked if Chris Blackwell was his producer he responded, “No, he’s my translator.” He was so right. The record does sounds like nothing else though. I love it.
Cymande, Cymande (1971): I was on a first date with this guy back in Brazil when all of a sudden he gets out of bed and starts playing this to me. I feel like this would’ve annoyed me in any other situation but immediately the first song caught my attention and we spent the rest of the night just talking about the record. I still can’t stop listening to it. This is one of the records that if you start playing everyone will ask about it and you could literally do anything with this in the background. When Devin and I got married, this was playing on repeat in our wedding reception since we couldn’t afford a proper DJ.
The Up On In, Steps For The Light (2000): Yes Zach, I’ve actually been listening to this recently! This record was BIG in the Brazilian punk scene. There was a time when everyone was recommending this record to friends. It was also the first time that I heard drums as its own separate instrument and not just used to keep a beat or tempo. I must say that this record inspired me to be a drummer and still influences me a lot. I’ve been taking a lot of walks recently and I enjoy listening to this while I do so.
[You can learn more about Uli here and here.]
I’ve decided to put the focus of my posts on 2020 releases. Maybe in an attempt to give this year a bright spot. I haven’t spent much time hitting a select group of records during quarantine. Instead, I’ve been spending time listening to my record collection in order from back to front, alphabetically. I’m currently on letter F at Fugazi‘s Repeater. Now, let’s dive into three releases that I really enjoyed spending some time with this year.
Lamb of God, S/T: Admittedly, I don’t listen to metal much, but I certainly have an open mind and appreciation for it. Now and then, there is a metal record that is every bit groove as it is intense, and LOG’s recent self-titled release is undoubtedly one of them. The more natural fluidity of rhythm in these compositions grabbed my attention. Metal to me is a little too abrupt of a stop and go, but the movement of these songs feel really natural and “right”… whatever that means. What I also enjoy about this record is how well it is recorded. Its such a crisp recording with an exceptional balance of the accompanying instruments. This is really key for me to take in a high energy record. What I enjoyed most of this record and this band is their attention to sociopolitical issues in the lyrics. Overall, this record certainly feels like a record this band was supposed to create. It delivers from start to finish, which I’ve been looking for in a 2020 release.
Phantogram, Ceremony: I’ve been a big fan of this group after coming across them as an opener in a radio winter holiday show that I attended for Weezer in 2016. They possess a really interesting sound that blends trip-hop, electronic dance, and rock. It casts a bit of a dark mood, but it’s energetic at the same time. Their 4th full-length, Ceremony, opens up with a more upbeat dance pop vibe. I certainly felt like it was a proper takeoff for the record. Unfortunately, the energy and excitement that comes from that opening track struggles to remain throughout the record. The journey from track to track isn’t as seamless as their earlier releases, but I still appreciate what this record has to offer. “Into Happiness” gives the more familiar dark electronic dance vibe that is sewn into the Phantogram DNA. Overall this feels like a more abstract approach while trying not to be at the same time. I could see how people could dig this record. I’m stoked on the gems this record has, and if it took building the journey of this album to give life to those tracks, I’m glad this record exists as part of their discography. I’m eager to see what comes after this release. Not so much that I need something closer to their first releases, but I feel this sets them up to transition into the next phase of Phantogram.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Temple: This is another band that I quickly got hooked on by their unique trip-hop vibes. The thing that makes this band interesting is their ability to jump genres so frequently throughout a record, and even within a song, and then perfectly weave them together for a cohesive arrangement. Temple starts off with the album titled single that immediately captured my attention with a really cool twangy guitar riff. Then in comes a FUNKY bassline quickly followed by a more new-wave vibe drum sequence… and off it goes. This track is made complete with really specific and honest lyrics of her mother’s journey as a Vietnamese refugee. One of my favorite things about this album is how much more it showcases Thao’s unique flow as a vocalist. There is a very Missy Elliot vibe to her flow that I really enjoy. I would summarize it as an avant-garde Rap to verses and chorus. The second track “Phenom” perfectly illustrates that. Another high-point for me on this record is just 4 songs in with a unique indie-rock jam, “Pure Cinema.” A little more of a brighter, upbeat vibe. Then comes, “Marauders,” a love song for her wife that gives off a Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” vibe. The album from there keeps on…interesting and authentic to the group’s flawless ability to seamlessly blend in and out of so many genres. The closing track “Marrow” is such a proper closing track that dynamically sets the mood to feel like we’re saying goodbye… for now.
[You can order Jason’s book here.]
Alice Coltrane, Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana (1977): I call this my “morning vibes” album and listen to it almost daily. I really love religious music, whether it’s gospel or old records of cantors singing in gigantic synagogues. There’s just a kind of beauty and purity you get when somebody is singing their praises to whatever they believe and I love that. Alice Coltrane was just on another level. This particular album just blends so much and takes you dancing through the cosmos and is a nice post-meditation album for me.
Drab City, Good Songs for Bad People (2020): When I was in my 20s I went through a heavy phase where I listened to a ton of Portishead and Stereolab and any haunting, beautiful film music that was or sounds like it could be from the ‘50s and ‘60s that I seem to be revisiting. So Krzysztof Komeda and stuff off of Kind of Blue, but also the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Drab City just sounds like a descent into night, like bad things are going to happen in the dark and the only thing that’s going to save you is daylight. It’s been helping me formulate this novel I’ve been playing around with.
Arthur Russell, Love Is Overtaking Me (2004): I’m a massive Arthur Russell fan, but I’ve somehow skipped over this one. I don’t know — I guess I just never thought “Gee, I want to listen to Russell’s country folk album,” but I also make a lot of dumb decisions. That was one of them. This is a really lovely summertime album, but it also shows just how incredibly diverse of an artist he was.
Unwound, Leaves Turn Inside You (2001): It’s funny, there are truly seasonal songs and albums, like I have a difficult time listening to the Beach Boys in the winter or will listen to “The Summer Ends” by American Football all the time towards the end of August. Leaves Turn Inside You isn’t a seasonal album, per se, but there’s just something about “leaves turn” in the album title that makes me think of fall. That, and I once took mushrooms and wandered around a forest listening to it and that was in late October, so I guess there’s some psychological psychedelic connection. The first few minutes of “We Invent You” … that feedback. Damn. It’s just too beautiful. I put it on after I heard Vern Rumsey had passed and I was sobbing by the time “Look a Ghost” started.
8Ball & MJG, Comin Out Hard (1993): I was thinking about growing up and making skate videos with my friends. I feel like homemade skate videos from the 1990s got pretty crazy and artsy if you had a friend that was looking to maybe learn a little more about basic editing. I definitely see skate video influence popping up more and more in unexpected places, but the best thing to me was always the soundtracks. My friends and I made a video once which features me throwing a Slurpee at some security cops that kicked us out of a skate spot we loved. The whole thing moved to “Armed Robbery” by 8Ball & MJG, and putting it on this playlist I’ve been playing around with made me revisit this album. It’s a classic.
Quicksand, Slip (1993): Another one that actually made it onto that skate video. I learned about Quicksand by skating to this album and my friend telling me “The dude was in Gorilla Biscuits.” For some reason I couldn’t wrap my teenage mind around that and figured he was just bullshitting me. Walter Schreifels is one of those guys like Steve Albini or Tim Green who I tend to put a lot of trust in terms of the bands they play in and the stuff they produce, but I think this album has aged especially well. There’s just something really comforting about this one, how certain parts sound like Fugazi and others remind me of You’d Prefer an Astronaut by Hum.
[You can check in with Ralph here.]
Beak>, >>>: I’m a ride or die Geoff Barrow fan. His body of work is a veritable cornucopia of resonant analog bleakness that hits me in all the right spots. I’m talking back to back bangers! From the iconic Portishead to his Stones Throw Records hip hop project Quakers, to his work with droll german/britt singer Anika. The dude has been dropping nonstop flames for a solid 2 decades, not to mention his soundtrack work with Ben Salisbury. In 2018 him and fellow shredders Will Young & Billy Fuller (who apparently plays with Robert Plant) hit us with the Beak> album >>> (not to be confused with their 2012 release: >>) and guess what? IT FUCKING SLAPS! It’s a moody 10 song hypnotic black hole that could work as the soundtrack to a late 70’s sci-fi art film about the end of the world. Think Vangelis’s Bladerunner soundtrack, Can, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, Dr. Who, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop with maybe a splash of Joy Division. It’s a great rainy day album. It’s been in heavy rotation in my lab & is proving to be a prescient soundtrack to this slow-moving apocalypse. Thanks, Geoff.
Rocket Juice & The Moon, s/t: I’m also a diehard Damon Albarn fan. The guy is just full of killer ideas and has this ability to pull together these wicked collaborations. Back In 2008 someone played a song for me called “Hey Shooter.” The song featured Albarn on keys Tony Allen on drums, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Flea on bass, and Erykah Badu on vocals. I mean goddamn! The project was called Rocket Juice and The Moon. The nucleus of this one-shot supergroup was Albarn, Allen, & Flea and it features a revolving cast of collaborators. After hearing “Hey Shooter” I was hyped on the IDEA of the group but for whatever reasons, I hadn’t heard much else. I didn’t see the record on shelves anywhere, I didn’t hear anyone talk about it. It was akin to seeing a shooting star that no one else saw. But then sometime last year on a random trip to the record store with Damon Locks, we happened across a copy of the full length. A beautiful gatefold album featuring killer cover art by Ogunajo Ademola. It’s been in my steady rotation ever since. It’s a great record chock full of ill grooves & It has a fantastic looseness to it. It feels as if Albarn, Allen, and Flea went into a studio, hit the record button & just jammed then went back & added collaborators. This album also introduced me to the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. I love her voice. I’d be remiss not to mention that the album has one major shortcoming. The fucking rapping. M.anifest is the Ghanaian emcee featured on a good portion of this record, he’s not a bad rapper by any means, but every song he’s featured on is GREAT until he barges in and starts unnecessarily rapping all over it. Imagine you’re on a road trip, vibing to your favorite tune, the best part of the song is about to drop, heerrrre it comes in 1…2..thr. NOPE the voice of google maps disrupts your whole shit like “IN 500 FEET TAKE EXIT 3B” That’s what the rapping does on this otherwise beautiful album. Fortunately, there are enough great ideas on the Rocket Juice & The Moon record to keep me on board. The song “Benko” is by far my favorite. It’s a short melancholy masterpiece.
Little Dragon, New Me, Same Us: Speaking of melancholy masterpieces, this new Little Dragon record has been a great counterweight to the times. While the Beak> album feels like a soundtrack to the downfall of our dystopia, the new Little Dragon record feels more like a colorful lush reimagining of the world. Not so much subject-wise but sonically. Of all the newer records I’ve been listening to lately, New Me, Same Us is definitely the most lyrically personal and most polished production-wise. Yukimi Nagano has a voice like chocolate: it’s sweet, it’s rich, it’s comforting and if you had no idea what she looked like you’d ask yourself “Is this a Black lady?” Also, I don’t want to get so hung up on her voice that I ignore the rest of the band because these cats can write some beautifully textured songs. Little Dragon was also one of the first bands I saw do an online concert back in the early stages of the pandemic and they’ve really managed to keep doing cool things online since they were unable to tour in support of their new record. I love this band and this album. They’ve been kind of a beacon in this mess. Now here’s some word association: Swedish, alternative, r&b, synths, dance, trip hop-ish.
A.K. Paul, Landcrusin: This one’s a bit of a cheat because it’s not actually a full-length album. It’s only a single. But I have to insist on including it in my Day’s Plays because I’ve been bumping it HARD for about almost a year now nonstop. Here’s how it started. Fact magazine is a UK publication that focuses on electronic music, hip hop, and experimental music. They started a series on their youtube channel called Re:cover where they feature an artist or band and have them cover a song. One of these videos was a band I’d never heard of called The Okumu, Herbert, Skinner trio covering A.K. Paul’s Landcruisn which I’d also never heard. But I thought the dudes looked cool & I knew Fact usually had some pretty interesting content so I figured I’d give it a shot. I absolutely LOVED IT! I don’t know what it is, that catchy-ass riff, the killer tone of each instrument, the clear technical acumen of the players, the trio’s cool aesthetic vibes. the song just “got me.” But it didn’ stop there, I HAD to hear the original and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint. Imagine if Prince and D’angelo decided they wanted to produce a Devo song. Yes it is absolutely as cool as it sounds.
Reggae Anthology: Niney Observer – Roots With Quality: This 40 song, double LP is full of bangers. A collection of tunes by various artists produced by criminally underrated reggae pioneer Winston Holness aka Niney Observer. It explodes out the gate with the tune voiced by Niney himself, “Blood & Fire.” 70‘s roots reggae was rife with “fire and brimstone end times”-type songs. I consider “Blood & Fire” to be a flagship example of this sort of tune, lyrically evoking the wrath of Old Testament God but juxtaposing it against a tonally pleasant tapestry. It feels very appropriate and on brand with the times we’re currently living in which is probably why it’s been getting a lot of play from me as of late. The album also features a few singers I had never heard before. My favorite has to be Sang Hugh & The Lionaires. If you’re a person who is interested in early roots & dub reggae but don’t know a lot about it i’d definitely suggest this album.
Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble, Where future Unfolds: Where do I begin with this one? I spend a lot of time with Damon Locks so I’ve been fortunate enough to watch BME grow from an idea to a full blown experience. Like the last song on the album “From A Spark to a Fire.” If you have no context whatsoever, imagine the general vibe of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, nods to Eddy Gale’s Black Rhythm Happening album, a black choir, & elements of the early Rza or Madlib -style production. This record is phenomenal.
[You can hear Tierney’s music here.]
Eels, Shootenanny!: I am, as they say, a “big fan” of this band. One of the books that I was excited to finally read this summer was Mark Everett Oliver’s devastatingly deep autobiography Things the Grandchildren Should Know. Coincidentally, I had also watched a series that was suggested to me called Love, and was pleasantly surprised to see that “E” was acting in it as (what I can only assume after learning about his life) a version of himself. Needless to say, these events took me down a path to dig deeper into the albums that I had not fully immersed myself in yet, and for whatever reason (probably the intimidating catalog), I never really got around to this one. But, as any admirer would know, the two main ingredients that make up a strikingly good Eels song are genuine, dry wit mixed with a simple melody that you wish you came up with… and this delightful concoction happens all throughout Shootenanny!.
Amiina, The Lighthouse Project: When touring was still a thing, there were a few albums that I would rotate whenever I needed a relaxed or meditative escape from being in a car or on a plane for hours at a time. Or just touring in general. The Lighthouse Project by the Icelandic group, Amiina, was one that was on automatic repeat. Aside from almost knocking me out (I’m cursed with not being able to sleep in moving vehicles), on a musicality level, I think that they’re absolute masters of simplicity and negative space. They’re able to create these beautiful, perfectly sparse instrumentals using only a minimal amount of instruments like glockenspiels, saws, atmospheric synths, and my favorite, a Rhodes. While I’ve mourned the idea of touring for the foreseeable future, I’ve luckily been able to transfer the calming effect of this music to my quarantime with great results.
Dave Hill, The Pride of Cleveland: Pride! That’s what I feel knowing that I am associated with one of the funniest and most hardworking people on the planet. Dave’s new live comedy album is out now and I would be a terrible friend if I didn’t mention it. All you need is an hour and the slightest knowledge of NYC to enjoy it (which should qualify pretty much everyone)… and maybe a sense of humor. That would help.
Built To Spill, Untethered Moon: I suppose that I should thank the Spotify robot that had the incredible but creepy intuition to include “Another Day” on a playlist that was made, apparently, for me… which again, is kinda creepy. Otherwise, I may not have ever heard my most-played album of 2020. One of the aspects that I love about this band is the use of layering. Doug Martsch has a way of tastefully blending organs, synths, and other textures with his unique brand of guitar playing, that transforms into something bigger than the sum of its parts. I got the same feeling of excitement when this song came over my little pink kitchen radio as I did when I heard Keep It Like a Secret for the first time. Dare I say that this may be my favorite album of theirs, if it’s even possible to pick a favorite…
Matmos, Plastic Anniversary: I’ve admired this experimental electronic duo-couple from Baltimore for a while now, ever since I learned that they were enlisted to work on Bjork’s Vespertine. Apart from deeply focusing on my own demo playbacks, I couldn’t tell you when I last sat down and solely listened to music without any other distractions. But what I can say is that I haven’t heard anything this exciting in a while. Plastic Anniversary‘s sounds were made entirely with recycled plastics, and the record is anything but sterile or synthetic. Utilizing everything from dominoes to PVC pipe, implants, and bubble wrap, it’s best enjoyed when the listener can be fully submerged in the ASMR-like effects via headphones. One of my favorite tracks, “Breaking Bread”, was built from sampled fragments of broken vinyl by the 70’s rock band, Bread. Crazy! There are also contributions from real-life Animal-drummer, Greg Saunier, and members of a high school drumline playing garbage cans. And on top of all of that, the album’s other overarching theme is meant to be an environmental statement on the world’s intense relationship with the pervasive material, with a hopeful call for change.
Mobb Deep, The Infamous: I’m sort of embarrassed to say that as many times as this album has passed through my fingertips during my almost 20-something years as a record store clerk, the only time I ever took the CD out of the jewel case was to check the condition for resale. But thanks to a recent episode of Song Exploder, I was instantly drawn to the haunting “Shook Ones, Pt. II” and it’s backstory, and needed to find out more. I’ve always loved an eerie piano line, and The Infamous is chock full of similar, dark musical bits ingeniously sampled and detuned from the likes of Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones, who were contemporaries of Prodigy’s musically successful relatives. The album feels more like a tragic documentary with a cinematic score more than anything, and the raw lyrical content forces you to step outside of yourself to try and imagine what it might be like to live in impoverished Queens in the mid 90’s. It’s a life that most of us will never know or be able to relate to, and is unfortunately, still relevant in black communities today, making this an even more important listen.
[You can hear Joe’s work here and here.]
Sneaky Feelings, Send You: This album was recently loaned to me by the great Sharon Van Etten. I love rock bands wherein all members write and sing, and Sneaky Feelings is a prime example.
Airto [Moreira], Fingers: Master percussionist Airto Moreira first came to my attention as a collaborator of Miles Davis and band member of Chick Corea. Airto told me he began his career as a child in Brazil, building his own instruments, riding to gigs on horseback, and performing for the wealthy owners of massive plantations. Fingers is my favorite among a series of stunningly soulful, ultra-groovy albums he made with his wife, vocalist Flora Purim.
Lungfish, Pass & Stow: To me, Lungfish was always somewhat of an outlier on the Dischord label. For one thing, they were the only non-DC-based group on the label; and their music— while somewhat rooted in punk— has a singular mystical quality. Pass & Stow represents the band at the height if its powers: massive guitar hooks; Dan Higgs as cosmic cantor; and— one of my favorite drummers — Mitchell Feldstein’s hypnotic, melodic drumming.
Brigitte Fontaine with Areski and The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Comme à la radio: In high school, I was an enormous fan of The Art Ensemble of Chicago; later, I fell in love with Fontaine’s electronic experiments such as Vous et Nous. This 1969 album seamlessly combines those two worlds with perfect arrangements, melodic perfection, and an infectious sense of adventure.
Wendy & Bonnie, Genesis: Psychedelic singing sisters showcasing a sublime sense of harmony, backed by studio legends Jim Keltner, Larry Carlton, and Mike Melvoin (father of Wendy of The Revolution).
Sunn O)))) Life Metal: Meditative drone galaxies populated by visceral yet mellifluous tone planets.
[You can hear Blake’s music here, here, and here.]
Van Halen, s/t: Like so many, the global pandemic has left me with enormous pools and pockets of unaddressed rage and sadness. Rather than post hateful memes or celebrate America’s racist achievements, I have been finding aggressive music to be a pretty vital antidote. Thus, Van Halen’s freshman entry into the hard rock canon. What strikes me at this time is how much Dave carried the band — his wry persona and volcanic charisma really leave the listener with no choice but to laugh or get steamrolled. Also, Alex Van Halen: never gave him much thought other than that he was the scary guy in the band, with those reptilian sunglasses and Freeway Killer aura. Now I’m thinking that the ride cymbal is really his signature — he does a lot of solid work over there, in a place where showier drummers might not waste screen time. And his snare drum is pretty fucking iconic — that hollow, airplane hangar thwap that still retains some mysterious bottom end. Finally, Michael Anthony. Totally under-appreciated. The bass on this record is so dry it sounds like it was just put directly into the board. There are moments where it punches through the mix in a really nasty way, like a garage band, and it delivers the savagery of a Pasadena basement band pummeling their way to momentary freedom.
Nine Inch Nails, With Teeth: I’ve seen hardcore fans trash talk this record as being soft or not experimental enough, but that fails to take the record on its own terms. For my money, this is Trent and his associates delivering a really high quality hard rock album, a little more focused on songwriting than on deep noise tangents. This is an album in the classic sense: beginning, middle, end — an emotional journey with a series of crescendos and denouements. Two songs that were never singles rank among NIN’s finest: “You Know What You Are?” and “Right Where It Belongs.” These are representative of the width of this album’s vision: the first just feral and ecstatically hateful, the second distant and morally wary. Trent, despite his earlier heyday in 90s despair, is a pretty formidable thinker and wan reflector of social and civilizational decay. There is a deep moral compass that often gets overlooked in the broader commercial assessment of his catalog.
Powderfinger, Odyssey Number Five: Look, I love a big rock and roll record — a Superunknown, a Vitalogy, a Powerage — and I’d put this album in that category. It’s also got a beautiful psychedelic through-line that hearkens to The Posies Frosting on the Beater and the like. This is the kind of album where you welcome the lush production, the massive compressions and thoughtful reverbs sprinkled throughout. But mainly, it’s a showcase for Bernard Fanning’s beautiful voice and often surprising lyrics. Surprising for being smarter than you would expect on a big record like this, but also totally basic in the way that radio lyrics can be in a good way. The other thing is the drums. The drums! These are meat and potato, I’m-gonna-give-you-every-inch-of-my-love drums. Not afraid of the big power fills and wet cymbals. I love it and you will too.
Comsat Angels, Sleep No More (YouTube): Lest we forget that everyone is needlessly dying and the industrial giants are profiting from the charnel house of the poor and disenfranchised, Sheffield’s finest, Comsat Angels, bring the urban estrangement and bleak English skies. This album is on a par with Unknown Pleasures as a wholly consummated vision of despair and civic failure. This is a mood as much as it is an album — kind of one long meditation on existing outside of myriad failed systems, looking in glumly from the dole line or beside a poisoned river. It sounds like they ran a final master through another hall reverb, but in the best possible way, evoking a vast wasteland pinned down by leaden skies. In the early days of the pandemic I would walk beside the cemetery in Kensington and find my mortal equanimity with this album. A life saver!
Bob Marley and The Wailers, Exodus: The title track alone makes this record immortal. Its a faster song than you realize at first, with the rhythm section really laying down the urgency of the exodus, of displacement and return, a truly righteous track of a dispossessed people trekking with unity and purpose. There’s something deeply confident about putting all the politically committed tracks on Side A and holding the hits for Side B. “The Heathen” is another standout track for me — a harsh and pithy rumination on survival. The breadth of Marley’s vision really comes together on this record with every member playing at the top of their game. If Sleep No More is about undead perseverance, Exodus is about armed hope and the triumph of revolutionary love.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday: This album unexpectedly became my MVLP of the summer. Like most good records it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth spin that I began to respond to the music, at which point it became my reflexive choice for soundtrack to walking through the COVID ruins of NYC. The playing is above and beyond, particularly the drum and bass arrangements, which always serve the overall jam with restraint but tons of nuance and english (by which I mean, attitude or spin on the ball). You know a record is good when it holds it’s most obvious single (“You Know We Can’t Go Back”) until second to last, after the listener has done the heavy lifting of wading through the deep pyschedelic bog of the album’s main body. To me this feels like the band that Noel Gallagher has always dreamed of being in, probably closer to “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants” in spirit and musicality, more about a band playing as one than a hit-machine churning out pub bangers