I listen to Femenine quite frequently these days. Walking to my studio or to the shop, or sometimes when I’m writing in the morning, I’ll grab 20 or so minutes of it. I listened to it in its entirety, a rare treat, on a recent drive to Baltimore (for both Jawbox rehearsal and a New Freedom Sound recording session: a big music day!) and on the drive home. This version of this piece utterly captivates me. It seems to contain much of what I look for in music, a capacity for immersion, some rowdiness, some sheer beauty, wiggle-room, improvisation, and a fairly wide range of instrumentation. Alex Ross wrote about it with characteristic enthusiasm and intelligence. You’ll learn more about Eastman and his music by reading that article than skimming this post, but I will say that Eastman’s approach, his sense of minimalist grandeur, generates a kind of monumental quality notable as much for its duration as its density.
On March first of this year, not a note of this music existed. I had much of it in mind one way or another for some time but didn’t know where to start or how to capture it. It came to me, finally, that I could put together a modest but effective studio, sing the primary chords of each piece, record them over basic drum tracks, and send the results to cellist Gordon Withers. Gordon then sent me his cello ideas for each piece, frequently several at a time, which I edited and shaped into skeletal versions of enumerated compositions eventually called “Freedoms.” From there, the sketches were sent to J. Robbins and Mark Cisneros, and we all met at Magpie Cage in Baltimore to record their ideas and improvisations. I finished the pieces back at my studio, sent the files to J. for mixing and Dan Coutant for mastering and that is the story of these recordings.
“But why ‘Freedoms?’ Freedom from what?” one might ask. Freedom from oneself, perhaps, as one is freed when captivated by acts of creation; freedom from the limitations one has habitually and wrongly set for oneself; freedom from the despair and fear of the cascading and escalating crises of the last several years and especially the last couple of years. These freedoms are temporary, of course, and rarely concurrent. But they are at times all we have, and it seems suitable if humble tribute to capture and share some of their spirit in music. Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoy it.
[You can learn more about Jacqueline’s work here and here.]
Various Artists, I’m Waiting for the Day (Spotify): I made a playlist of low-key tunes to listen to while waiting for video meetings to begin. I prefer it to awkward chit chat. But I’m a Capricorn, which means I’m basically dead inside.
Various Artists, iCalm: Through a Dog’s Ear (Spotify): Oh, the manifold joys of loving an anxious dog. Like listening to Erik Satie, played at half-speed, for hours on end, all in the name of soothing the frayed nerves of my canine life companion.
Philip Glass, Etudes for Piano, Vol. 1, No.1-10 (Spotify): I recently moved to London to pursue a PhD in History of Art. I prefer instrumental music as a soundtrack for reading and writing. Philip Glass’s piano works are in heavy rotation, along with William Basinski, Cluster, Harmonia/Brian Eno, How To Disappear Completely, Faten Kanaan, et cetera.
Various Artists, No Wave: New York Noise (Spotify): The subject of my PhD project is the artistic community of Downtown New York from 1973 to 1987, so I guess this counts as research? Lots of No Wave and New Wave these days, to get myself in the ‘Bad Old Days’ headspace.
TR/ST, TRUST (Spotify): Remember going out? Me neither. No, wait. I remember listening to TR/ST on the B train. Heading into Chinatown over the Manhattan Bridge, staring at the city lights, hungry for the night. I listen to it now to remind myself that, one day, we will again dance with our friends and strangers in the dark. Start with the 2012 album and work your way through the discography.
Brian Eno, Ambient 1/Music for Airports (Spotify): I have listened to Music for Airports at bedtime for decades at this point. When I started dating my long-term partner and realised that they shared my nocturnal Eno habit, well, it sealed the deal.
[You can see some of Stephen’s work here, here, and here.]
The Three Sounds, Soul Symphony (Spotify): My relationship with music changed soon after the birth of our daughter in March 2019. Thinking about it now, things had started to change even before she was born. Rather than search, often obsessively, for the strangest, most obscure, or most challenging pieces of music, I searched for sounds that would immediately soothe and consistently delight. A number of soul-jazz, blues, and funk albums from the late-sixties Blue Note catalog are great for this. I was probably drawn first to the cover art, which almost seems specifically designed for sleep-deprived parents and their young, restless children. As it turns out, Soul Symphony is the final entry in The Three Sounds’ long discography, and it features original member, Gene Harris, agile and poised on piano; the strong and versatile Henry Franklin on bass; a wonderfully funky and stirring Carl Burnett on drums; an orchestra conducted and arranged by Monk Higgins; and soulful backing vocals by the Specialties Unlimited—Clydie King, Mamie Galore, and Alex Brown. We rarely make it past the title track, but that’s okay. It’s a 26-minute suite that courses through various rhythms, waltzes, and chants—all of which are pretty perfect for keeping babies, toddlers, and parents in good spirits. Also, I would not be surprised if second, third, and fourth copies of this album are kept tightly locked away by savvy DJs and beat hunters.
Andy Bey, Experience and Judgment (Spotify): For about 30 minutes each weekday morning and evening, on drives to and from our nanny’s apartment, I listen almost exclusively to Newark’s own WBGO 88.3FM — the world’s greatest independent radio station. In that relatively short (but awesomely restorative) period of time, I’m treated to all sorts of soul, jazz, blues, funk, and Latin music that I almost certainly would otherwise neglect. You would not believe the number of times WBGO’s DJs have forced me to pull over, put the car in park, and Shazam their playlist. You would not believe the number of times I’ve Shazam’ed Andy Bey. What is it with this guy? His voice is concrete and pain, cashmere and blood. From what I understand, 1974’s Experience and Judgment stands out in his discography, boasting a sort of celestial spirit that his earlier work rarely revealed. There are funk guitars, funk keys, funk grooves, and Bey’s funky-ass voice, which works as well here as it would in an opera or on a street corner. Born in Newark in 1939, openly gay and HIV positive, Bey likely knows more than a thing about experience and judgment. I’m here for all of it. This man is a king and I rejoice every time I hear his intoxicating, confounding voice.
The Koreatown Oddity, Little Dominiques Nosebleed (Bandcamp): As the album art explains, when The Koreatown Oddity (Dominque Purdy) was a little kid, he was in two serious car accidents that would change the rest of his life. With virtuosic rapping that gracefully weaves through decades of jazz and soul, atop the pop and crackle of dirty old vinyl, recalling a childhood of video games, cartoons, professional wrestling, and street fights, Little Dominiques Nosebleed tells that story — little Dominique’s origin story — in remarkably vivid detail. He shows us where he’s from. And, although Los Angeles is 3000 miles from Newark, it feels a lot like home. This is a rollercoaster of a record: funny, frightening, illuminating, and absolutely necessary.
Jeremy Cunningham, The Weather Up There (Bandcamp): Straight from the Bandcamp page because I can’t describe it any better: “Chicago drummer and composer Jeremy Cunningham wrote The Weather Up There in response to the loss of his brother Andrew, who died in a home invasion robbery in 2008. Co-produced by Jeff Parker and Paul Bryan, and engineered by Paul Bryan and John McEntire, this work confronts the tragedy of violence and examines the acute ripple effect on several lives through the lens of memory, response, and collage. Further deepening the textural and emotive impact, Cunningham formed a “drum choir” for these recordings, comprising close mentors and colleagues Mike Reed, Makaya McCraven, and Mikel Patrick Avery. Cunningham also taps regular collaborators Ben LaMar Gay, Jaimie Branch, Tomeka Reid, Dustin Laurenzi, Matt Ulery, and Josh Johnson.” This is a special record, an urgent story beautifully told through song, a gripping and tragic document of life lost and what happens after. It’s fragility, vulnerability, forgiveness and love. It’s empathy, courage, the human spirit — a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Tony Joe White, Homemade Ice Cream (Spotify): Typically, I can trace my musical interests or whimsies — returns and departures — to a moment in time, a specific response for or against something seemingly large and immovable. After Trump was elected, for instance, I spent the better part of the following 18 months listening to nothing but doom metal and noise. But at some point during this terrifying, suffocating pandemic, the illogical algorithm that shoots ones and zeroes through my weary brain pushed me into Tony Joe White. I first became acquainted with his work during my days at Stereophile magazine. He was sort of that kind of artist — relatively unknown, for those who knew, whose songs were hits for others only. Even I’d forgotten about him until one night in bed, having nearly sung myself to sleep along with our daughter, I blindly swiped through the app and stumbled upon Homemade Ice Cream. And I don’t know, it must’ve had something to do with the album art because, well, look at him — wavy-haired and belly-proud and glowing in the soft sunlight. Who doesn’t want to feel like that? “Saturday Night in Oak Grove, Louisiana” tells us: “You get home just around sundown and jump into the shower / And now you’re starting to run around / And you know you’ve only got an hour / To comb your hair.” Huh. Maybe it makes perfect sense after all. Maybe I’m mourning a thing or two, hair to wash and comb. There’s a dirty blues riff and a driving beat and an animal snarl. The rest of the album is very different and worth every moment.
Cigarettes After Sex, Cigarettes After Sex (Bandcamp): It was near the end of August or early September, after months of settling for indoor activities and the occasional long walk, that we finally felt ready to take our daughter to a playground. Weighed down with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, we moved carefully from swings to slide as the brightest smile and bluest eyes came charging into our lives. The little girl seemed to absorb sunshine, regenerate it, cast it out as purest joy. “This one,” I must’ve thought then. “I want ours to be friends with this one.” Not long after, we would indeed become friends — a fact that, when set against our current circumstances, is undeniably miraculous. As friends do, we’ve shared music. Among many others — The Cure, Metric, Morrissey, and more — I’ve gained this one, the eponymous debut from Texas slow-core band Cigarettes After Sex. The song “Apocalypse” seems fitting for today, not just because of its title, but for its quiet hope and enduring wonder. At around 3:35, just after the lines “You’ve been locked in there forever / and you just can’t say goodbye,” the music fades to blackest black, momentarily fooling the listener into thinking it’s over, only to return with more ecstasy, more love, and a reminder that we’re not alone.
[You can hear some of Fred’s music here or here.]
Tamikrest, Tamotait (Bandcamp): This was my heaviest spinner of the year. This was the most satisfying go to. This one is like floating over the desert on a warm summer night under a billion stars in a clear sky. With a gentle breeze. This brings me to peace every time.
Tim Maia, Racional (Vol 1) (Spotify): So ever since Wayne Montana dropped Jorge Ben’s Africa Brasil on me 20 years ago, I’ve had a thirst for that heavy mix of samba vibed with American funk and soul. A couple years after that, I heard Tim Maia on the City of God soundtrack with the song “O Camihna Do Bem.” That is a deep groove. So I went out and got some Tim Maia records and they fell flat for me. Wrong era or whatever. Earlier this year, a buddy of mine dropped a Tim Maia compilation on me. World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever – The Existential Soul of Tim Maia. It’s like a collection of super bangers from the 70’s. Killer and relatively recently released. It put me back on the hunt and I finally came across one of the original studio albums. The compilation is great too, but so cool to find one of the originals. Psychedelic, funky, original.
TJO, Songs for Peacock (Bandcamp): Just put this one on today for the first time but spun it three times already. Dedicated to her late brother, Tara Jane revamps a bunch of 80’s covers and some other tunes that were on a mix tape he made her. Super beautiful broken down renditions of Aztec Camera, Siouxsie, Bananarma, Depeche Mode, Leonard Cohen. For me the striker here is her rendition of Cher‘s “Believe.” Believe it!
Khruangbin, LateNightTales: Khruangbin (Bandcamp): Ok so I’ve been jamming Khruanbin heavily the last year or two. And I picked this up thinking it was their new record. Instead, it’s a compilation curated by the band. A happy accident for me because it introduced me to a bunch of new killer musicians from their neck of the woods to all over the world. Great deep cuts from Houston, New York, Russia, South Korea, Tokyo etc. And a very familiar sounding one from Ethiopia in the Roha Band, which according to them is the “Funk brothers or Muscle Shoals guys of Ethiopia.”
Shabaka and the Ancestors, We Are Sent Here by History (Spotify): This is the perfect continuation of that spiritual Impulse vibe from back in the day mixed with a modern sound like what is coming out on International Anthem. Big nods from me to Black Monument Ensemble and Jeff Parker here, who are also in heavy rotation. A little Eddie Gale and Lonnie Liston Smith vibe in the mix too. We put this one on out in the back yard on the fourth of July when we were trying to drown out the big boom of the fireworks. Full volume Shabaka with a light show!! That fixed it.
Tame Impala, The Slow Rush (Spotify): Yeah. Not sure where this came from for me. I did a deep dive on Tame Impala this year after never having any of their records before. It hit the spot for me. I love the funkiness. I love the lushness. This one has been a boomerang for me all year. Keeps coming back.
[You can learn more about John here.]
The Nude Party, Midnight Manor (Bandcamp): I started mixing this record March 2nd of 2020. The band was on tour. They stopped into to Kaleidoscope Sound on the the afternoon of the 3rd to meet and listen. My last day of mixing was March 10th. We didn’t finish the record on the 10th but we were very close. Coincidently, they played the show on the 10th in Raleigh at Kings. I suggested my wife Sharon go to check em out. They were great. I know a bunch of people that were there and young and old, everyone thought they were great. I drove down to Raleigh on the 11th. Soon after that, the entire country shut down. I finished mix tweaks over the next few weeks and it was released on October 2nd. They are really a fun and exciting band. They are really young with great taste in music. When shows start up again, they are gonna crush it.
Billie Eilish, Live At Third Man Records (YouTube): I happened upon this on one of Record Store Days this fall. Whenever I drive my daughter around with her friends, we listen to “her music”. There’s some shit, but there’s some cool music. Along with a few other artists, Billie Eilish sounds cool to me. I love how it doesn’t sound like anything else on popular radio. Her vocal delivery is understated and powerful at the same time. The songs are quirky. I really like everything about it. On this stripped down live record, she messes up in one of the choruses on “Bad Guy” and just starts laughing. That’s it. Live and real. She’s special.
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy: If this was a book, I’d read it. The lyrics are so great. Every story tells a picture. “Leaving LA” is a 13 minute epic that’s just verses. But each verse is a special bit of storytelling. “Pure Comedy” is a scathing look at the country today. He’s relentless and doesn’t sugar coat it. This is the first FJM I really dug into. I like the previous ones, but this is one of my favorite records of the decade. The sound of his voice and his inflections are perfect. Musically, I feel like he is channeling Elton John sideways on some of the material. Each song has a different dynamic and it flows wonderfully. Like I said, one of my favorites if not favorite from the 2010’s.
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (Spotify): J Mascis turned me onto the record. It was the mid nineties. He couldn’t believe I never listened to it. The Eddie Hazel shred fest that is “Maggot Brain” and starts the record is a glorious 10 plus minutes. It’s all mood and sound and vibe. So fucking good. And then you realize the rest of the record is fantastic too. Directly after “Maggot Brain” you get the soul/folk/pop of “Can You Get To That”. It is a classic on a very different level. It’s so much fun. The song is a party. Although late in the game, I cherish this record.
Mark Lanegan, I’ll Take Care Of You (Bandcamp): I made a few of the Mark Lanegan Sub Pop records in the 90’s. I had nothing to do with this one. It’s a covers record. It is one of, if not my favorite of, his records. He sings the shit out of every song. His voice is rough but clear. Tough but beautiful. I also love that I don’t really know any of the original songs. So to me there’s a bit of a bonus. It sounds like his record, but then I discover The Gun Club or Fred Neil. He really picked some great songs. I also just finished his book. Sing Backwards And Weep is a dark recounting of the events that lead to him getting sober. I knew him before and I knew him after. I’m happy to say, we are still friends. His singing inspires me.
Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque: One of my favorite records from the 90’s. Also, the band that got away. I was so into this record that when I found out that I might engineer the next one, I was crazy excited. Sadly, it fell through and I was left crushed and sad. I always wanted to record them but it was not meant to be. What struck me about this record was how every song was fantastic, no matter who sang it. Their voices were all complimentary to each other. Harmonies for miles. And song-wise, hooks, hooks, hooks. They also, got some interesting sounds. And they weren’t afraid of guitar feedback. They start “The Concept” with it. And some of my favorite opening lyrics. “She wears denim, wherever she goes, says she’s gonna buy some records by the Status Quo. Oh yeah, oh yeah!” So good.
[You can learn more about Ian’s music here.]
Nils Frahm, Spaces (Bandcamp): I am fortunate to have seen Nils once at the Cedar Cultural Center in MPLS. It was pretty amazing to watch him perform. He had the stage completely full of pianos, synths, analogue delays and whatever else. It was sort of like watching a mad scientist at work. This record, Spaces, is a collection of live recordings, which might be why it’s one of my favorites. Although, you tend to forget it’s live because the music really does take you some place else and it’s only when you hear the occasional applause that you are reminded of it. The music is ambient, beautiful, often minimal, and I’m almost always in the mood to hear it.
Tiny Ruins, Brightly Painted One (Bandcamp): For me this record fits in nicely between Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and Jeremy Enigk’s Return of the Frog Queen. Holly Fullbrook is a songwriter from New Zealand who crafts really beautiful songs that seem effortless and genuine. She plays finger style guitar, which I am a sucker for and is accompanied by very tasteful musicians. To top it off David Lynch produced a 7 inch of theirs, which sounds made up.
Shiner, Schadenfreude (Bandcamp): One of my favorite rock bands of all time came back after 20 years to prove they’re just as good as ever. I wasn’t surprised by this considering who they are as musicians and people — each one uniquely talented and badass. This record goes beyond the total sum of its parts for sure. I don’t always listen to rock, but when I do I listen to Shiner!
David Bazan, Care (Bandcamp): I liked the band Pedro the Lion well enough at the time but feel David Bazan keeps getting better with every record he’s released since. I remember being completely surprised and taken in by the record he did under the name Headphones shortly after Pedro the Lion broke up. Then his solo record Curse Your Branches made me a full-fledged fan. I don’t usually give too much attention to lyrics unless they’re really good or really bad and thankfully his are the former. Such a good songwriter. This record is more electronic based and dark which he does really, really well.
The Kinks, Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround (Spotify): Probably my favorite Kinks record but that’s also impossible to say for sure. I never seem to go very long without playing them on the stereo. There are still so many bands trying hard to write songs like Ray Davies. He was able to take the same chords as everyone else and make magic. This record in particular is full of that magic and spans so many different styles and moods. It’s impossible to put The Kinks in a category and you just can’t go wrong with this record.
Grouper, Ruins (Bandcamp): I guess Liz Harris grew up in a commune and has an interesting backstory but I don’t really need to know any of this to be interested in everything she produces. Her music stands on its own without sounding like anyone else which is good because you can enjoy it for what it is, super beautiful. It’s like watching a bonfire. This record is mostly her voice and a piano. It’s minimal and moody and doesn’t contain any unwanted surprises.
Links to plays will continue to provide what I understand to be the most useful destinations. In the cases of streaming plays, I’ll add the streaming service I used to the usual stuff (e.g. providing both the Tidal and Spotify links to the Kashkashian set). I imagine most of these recordings are available on YouTube as well but since I don’t listen there, I don’t know.
I missed several days in the second half of the month, no doubt in part to busy-ness but also due to feeling ground-down by the fatigue of our moment. Austin Kleon, in a blog post addressing resolutions, favors February as the month of resolution. I’m not one to argue.
1/01 Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise LP (Bandcamp)
1/02 Olivier Messiaen, L’ascension: Le Banquet céleste LP (Spotify)
1/03 Bruce Langhorne, The Hired Hand (OST) LP (Bandcamp)
1/04 New York Art Quartet, New York Art Quartet LP (Bandcamp)
1/05 Tomeka Reid Quartet, Tomeka Reid Quartet CD (Spotify)
1/06 Arthur Russell, World of Echo LP (Bandcamp)
1/07 Hu Vibrational, The Epic Botanical Beat Suite LP (Bandcamp)
1/08 The Best of Black Jazz Records 1971-1976 LP (Discogs)
1/09 Cecil Brooks III, The Collective LP (Discogs)
1/10 Masahiko Togashi, The Face of Percussion LP (Discogs)
1/11 Hamiett Bluiett, Birthright: A Solo Blues Concert LP (Spotify)
1/12 Alabaster DePlume, To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 LP (Bandcamp)
1/13 Jamie Branch, Fly or Die LP (Bandcamp)
1/14 Philp Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, On the Beach LP (Discogs)
1/15 Arthur Russell, Corn LP (Bandcamp)
1/18 Quin Kirchner, The Shadow and the Light LP (Bandcamp)
1/19 (Wadada) Leo Smith, Rastafari LP (Spotify)
1/23 Asher Gamedze, Dialectic Soul LP (Bandcamp)
1/24 Carl Aagesen, Evening Airs (Bandcamp)
1/27 Jeff Parker, The Relatives LP (Bandcamp)
1/30 Kim Kashkashian, J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo (Tidal Master, Spotify)
[You can hear Chad’s music here.]
Like a crazy person, I took a small stack of records and laid them out on the lawn in front of my studio. Here they are, strewn among the autumn leaves. I did this for musician/poet/photographer Zach Barocas’s Days Plays series.
I’m going to give you a little guide. I’m going to try to be brief. I don’t want to talk too much and try your patience. However, I am not famed for brevity. Here we go.
TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (Spotify): An album with a blithe, absurd title with pretty dark content. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, but I feel like this album captures the madness of the post-9/11 Bush era. Favorite song is the opener “I Was A Lover,” which has conspicuously hallucinogenic, druggy lyrics, but it’s druggy in a vivid, authentic way and I like it.
I respect this band and think they’re one of the finest things that’s happened to music in the last 20 years. Consistently substantive and interesting.
In my opinion, TVOTR topped this album with the two subsequent albums, Dear Science and Nine Types Of Light, but Cookie Mountain is still a very strong work and worth revisiting.
Spoon, Transference (Spotify): Man, this record is SO GREAT. I’m told that many devoted Spoon fans find this album weird and irritating. Me, I think it’s BADASS. It has a lot of “imperfect,” grainy, and deliberately scuffed-sounding textures… It sounds alive and physical to me. It is a self-produced album, following two hit albums produced by an outside producer. A bold move to seize the reins at this moment. I like Spoon’s experimental attitude and minimalism. For most Spoon fans, Transference is regarded as a detour. But for me, this is their zenith.
PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love (Spotify): PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love was where she became very interesting to me. I had heard the first two albums and I thought they were cool. But I didn’t become a serious fan until To Bring You My Love. The lore around the first two albums was that PJ Harvey was the name of a trio and Polly Jean Harvey was merely the singer of that trio. But with this album, she dropped that conceit and this is a solo record. My favorite song is the spooky and suggestive “Working For The Man,” which has the best most subsonic bass track. What is being said in that song? It’s not entirely clear, but it has power.
Full disclosure: I bought this vinyl reissue and the accompanying Demos album, but I have not actually opened either or listened yet. Everything I wrote above is based on loving the CD.
Björk, Debut (Spotify): This is a little-known Icelandic singer named Björk. She’s pretty zany, but I think she’s going to make some waves someday. Keep your eye on her.
Blossom Dearie, Blossom Dearie (Spotify): Blossom Dearie was a great American jazz singer and pianist. She had a very clear, airy, flute-like vocal tone… It was clear and resplendent throughout her life. I was introduced to her music when she was an old woman, so I tend to think of her as an old woman. But she was once very young. You can hear that on this fresh-sounding reissue of her 1957 debut. It’s a much younger version of her… and it’s fun to hear her sound so… new. I don’t know how to explain it. Recommend getting this fantastic-sounding piece on vinyl. The medium just suits the vibe and “analog truth” of the recording.
The Sea and Cake, The Sea And Cake (Bandcamp): The Sea and Cake is a consortium of clever, stylish, white Chicago musicians who unabashedly and lovingly traffic in African sonorities. But it never feels like some cheap pastiche. This is organic, pleasant, sweet, breezy, supple music. This was their debut. It is very different from the very sophisticated, streamlined terrain they later mastered, which involved lots of esoteric analog synthesizers and drum machines. This is a great day-time record. That is something to appreciate. You could play it on a Sunday morning while you make pancakes. Pancake-making music is rare and precious, I say.
[You can hear Krista’s music here.]
Khalid, Free Spirit (2019): I love every song on this record. I can sing along, dance to it, exercise to it, clean my apt to it, work to it. I would describe this album as indie R&B pop. It has this strand of positivity throughout it that just makes me feel good about life. I didn’t think I could get behind an artist that all the millennials are into…. but I can’t deny how good this album is.
Fontaines DC, A Hero’s Death (2020): Their first album I wore out and this one is growing on me. Although I definitely had a “not as good as the first” moment. Its songs have a very simple repetitive recipe which somehow makes it catchy and not predictable. It’s punk spoken word. It also angers me because their first album was such a success! Their FIRST ALBUM! So annoying when youngsters get acclaim from their first attempt. I am just jaded and jealous (I guess?).
The National, High Violet (2010): Oh man, I remember the day I bought this record. I listened to it every day for months! It reminds me of being depressed in a beautiful setting. Which is what this record is to me… depressing and beautiful. Perfect for COVID times. The velvet deep vocals with almost danceable beats; but maybe you’re just too tired to dance. Lots of hooky choruses… so you can sing along even if you don’t know the words.
Cate LeBon, Reward (2019): Every song has a surprise! interesting instrumentation, a little experimental with hooks! Her voice is feminine but not too girlie. I really like to clap along or shake a shaker to this album. It inspires me to be braver with my writing.
FACS, Void Moments (2020): Massive crush on the female bass player of this band (she also plays drums in other bands). I am quoting someone else here but FACS is like “gothic Fugazi!” Dark, loud and hypnotic. Playing this album in the car is the best, you get to hear all of the intricacies from behind, in front and from both sides.
The Shins, Oh, Inverted World (2001): I haven’t listened to this album in
years and pulled it out for nostalgia. Oh goodness, James Mercer’s voice is like a cologne from your past. You can’t remember who wore it… all you know is that is gives you “feels.” I don’t have an accurate review of this album… I just love the whole thing, for what it reminds me of: my first attempt at my own music and first experiences of city life in Seattle on my own.
[You can hear Dave’s music here, here, and here.]
Paul Motian Trio, One Time Out (Spotify): Sounds like this only come from these three masters. Joe Lovano, Paul Motian, Bill Frisell — totally personal and powerful music.
Django Bates, Summer Fruits and Unrest (Discogs): One of the most unsung geniuses of creative music this is a masterwork of large ensemble composition with incredible, unique improvisers from the UK.
Little Jimmy Scott, Dream (Spotify): The best evening-cold-weather-jazz-vocal album from the last 40 years by an outsider art master.
Keith Jarrett, Bop Be (Spotify): A super-swinging deeply personal sound from the great American Quartet-era of this genius of the music.
Deerhoof, Future Teenage Cave Artists (Bandcamp): I’m a new fan after not knowing them much and this record is really interesting, like a prog/glam band with West Coast confidence if there is there is such a thing.
Van Halen, Fair Warning (Spotify): Eddie Van Halen was the Charlie Parker of rock music, bar none. RIP.
[You can learn more about Matt here and here.]
They Might Be Giants, Flood (1990): Like many children of the 1990s, I enjoyed listening to “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” way back when. But revisiting the album now, I can’t get over what a gloriously improbable and incoherent hodgepodge the whole thing is. This record has two gratuitous trumpet solos, one and a half sea shanties, a country-power-pop song that name drops the dB’s and the Young Fresh Fellows, an opening chorale announcing the album’s release… it shouldn’t make any sense, and it doesn’t make any sense, but it makes its own kind of vaguely sense-like thing and I love it. The song “Dead”, an off-kilter ditty about boredom, reincarnation, and groceries that apparently lifted its vocal interplay from the Proclaimers’“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, has become a private anthem for the darker moments of this strange time: “Now it’s over, I’m dead, and I haven’t done anything that I want / Or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.”
Absent City, Continue Normal Living (2020): The title kinda says it all; this record was intended to be a balm, and it is a balm, and it is just so lovely and comforting without being naive or heavy-handed. It’s a real tightrope act to make a record that feels needed and relevant in these times without self-consciously winking and nodding to “in these times”. I’ve been appreciating this record the same way I appreciate the plants in our living room, which I think/hope registers as the King Lear-style reverse-backhanded compliment it is intended to be. Start with “California Afternoons” and keep going.
Miss Eaves, How It Is (2020): This EP makes me miss New York, makes me miss my friends, and makes me wish that the early 2000s “Electroclash” moment had been less self-conscious, more inclusive, and more fun. I had the pleasure of mixing a track that Miss Eaves made with my friend Casey Dienel four years ago, and it’s been amazing to watch both of them become even stronger, funnier, and more fearless artists since then. The song “Stacks” captures the sandwich-and-not-much-else-rich life of a NYC freelancer better than anything else I’ve ever heard, and specifically makes me nostalgic for the varied and plentiful sandwiches at Hana Food in Williamsburg.
Joni Mitchell, Hejira (1976): I started digging into this album in earnest earlier this year, and “Amelia” has been haunting me ever since. The song is built around a circular chord progression that modulates up and back without ever settling into anything that feels predictably like a verse or a chorus. It’s a mind-blower when you stop and think about it, but it never asks you to stop and think about it–it just works its magic, subtly, invisibly. I don’t think there’s a higher achievement in popular music than that. We spent all of 2018 living in a house off a dirt road in New Mexico, and this album sounds like the color of the sky and movement of the planes flying overhead and I don’t really know how else to describe it.
Cynthia Gooding, The Queen of Hearts: Early English Folksongs Sung By Cynthia Gooding (1955): Cynthia Gooding was a friend of my father’s family, an unsung pioneer of the American folk music movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and the owner of a strong and singular voice that I wish more people had the opportunity to hear. I grew up hearing these songs as performed by my father, but I never had a recording of them until I tracked this album down on Discogs. Most days, I’m not prepared for the emotional timewarp that this album triggers–but some days, it’s exactly what I need.
Jawbox: For Your Own Special Sweetheart (1994): One way I’ve been keeping (relatively) stable and (relatively) healthy this time is to practice drumming as often as I can. I’ve played drums since I was 15–first in an awful high school band with hated pharma exec Martin Shkreli and then in an excellent band called Lame Drivers with my dear friend and Get Him Eat Him bandmate Jason Sigal–but I didn’t own a drumset until we moved to New Mexico in 2017. Since then, I’ve maintained a “drum practice” playlist with a mix of old(er) and new(er) songs. A handful of songs from this record have been mainstays on that playlist, and have served as informal markers of progress; first, I could comfortably play “68”, then “Savory”, and now, slowly but surely, “Motorist”. It’s amazing to feel my brain, hands, and feet talking to each other in new ways–so let me close this out by expressing my gratitude to Zach, Scott Plouf, Devin Ocampo, Dan Didier, Chris Wilson, Orestes Morfin, and every other musician whose work has kept me going, both mentally and physically, during this [insert string of adjectives here] time.