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.