[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 Brasilon 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’sPink 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.
[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.
I recently had to confront a new bad habit: I wasn’t listening to enough music. It was a carryover I think, slurry from the very beginning of COVID, when it seemed like everything took forever while any larger sense of time vanished, absorbed into a kind of recursive panic and withdrawal.
Days became weeks became months, and in October I decided to set aside time each day to listen to one record in its entirety without other distraction or complement. It was a good start, but I missed some days and thought logging the nightly plays for the entirety of November would hold me to the plan.
It worked. I’m not sure I’ll do this again but if I do, I might include CDs and digital releases as well, instead of limiting the exercise to vinyl. I’m pretty attached to putting on music though, so I’m not sure how that would shake out. We’ll see.
It’s worth noting that these listenings offered no escape as such — I’ve had enough of that — but have rather given me something to experience outside of my usual routines, which is, of course, why I got into music in the first place.
11/01 Paul Bley, Alone, Again LP (Spotify)
11/02 Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sonny Murray, New York Eye and Ear Control LP (Spotify)
11/02 Luke Stewart, Exposure Quintet LP (Bandcamp)
11/03 Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns LP (Bandcamp)
11/04 Benjamin Britten, String Quartets Nos. 2 & 3, performed by the The Alberni Steing Quartet (Spotify)
11/05 Aquiles Navarro + Tcheser Holmes, Heritage of the Invisible II LP (Bandcamp)
11/06 Rob Mazurek, Alternate Moon Cycles LP (Bandcamp)
[You can hear Chris’s music here, here, and here.]
Way back in the simpler times of Jan/Feb 2020, one of Zach’s groups (Jawbox) asked one of my groups (Hammered Hulls) to play a few shows with them down south. Watching him kill it with J., Kim, and Bill those winter nights that seem so long ago has been a nice memory to look back on during this global pandemic that we’re still in the middle of.
Speaking of that global pandemic…. A) Wear a mask B) beginning the month after everything shut down, and recently extended through the end of the year, the great website Bandcamp has been doing “Bandcamp Fridays” where the 1st Friday of every month they waive their fees and givie 100% of the money made on purchases to the artists. Almost everyone mentioned below (along with Zach’s and my bands) have music on there. In this age of no live music, every little bit helps.Hugh Masekela, Masekela: I became aware of this record in the summer of ’99 while on tour with Sean Tillmann’s Sean Na Na. We did a few shows on the east coast with my future longtime bandmate Ted Leo, who was at the time playing with a backup band of himself on a reel to reel. He would open those shows by covering the opening track on this record, “Mace and Grenades.” This is one of those albums that is huge to me, but there’s very little info about it online. The wiki page for it can’t even pin down exactly when or where it was tracked, saying “the album was recorded in Los Angeles, possibly between September 12 and 30 1968.” Fitting that the back cover reads “The music contained herein speaks for itself, Nothing more need be added. All there remains to do is to do.” If you can find a copy of his autobiography Still Grazing, pick it up.
Crumbsuckers, Beast on My Back: I bought this a couple years after it came out when the Camelot Music in the mall of my hometown of Hot Springs, AR moved all of their Combat Records releases into the clearance bin giving me access to some late period albums by GBH, The Exploited, and Circle Jerks that don’t hold up super well, but also some metal classics by Possessed, Exodus, Tankard, and this gem. I’d like to say this is my favorite crossover record but by this point they had dropped any of their lingering NYHC roots, and went full on thrash. Mad riffage, and….a robot voice!
Unwound, New Plastic Ideas: While not necessarily their best (that distinction might go to Repetition, The Future of What, or Leaves Turn Inside You, which is about as perfect of a closing statement as any band has ever made), this one has always been my favorite. And now that autumn is here, it’s a great listen during those first sweater wears of the season. Always hoped that someway somehow i’d get to see them live one more time, but that’s not to be. Never met Vern, but he was one half of one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time. RIP.
Go Go’s, Beauty and The Beat: We all know that The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke of an institution. But would you believe that it’s also an incredibly misogynistic institution? If you need an example to verify that claim, look no further than The Go Go’s. The only all-female band to write their own songs, play their own instruments, and go to the top of the charts (and if you need an example of how misogynistic the entire music industry is, think about that. There have been thousands upon thousands of all female bands writing their songs and playing their instruments, but The Go Go’s are the only ones to achieve that level of success). Guess how many times they’ve been nominated for entry into the R&R HOF? Exactly zero. While they are fully deserving of every accolade sent their way, maybe the Hall of Fame should keep fucking off because they’ll probably just treat them like some cute novelty act. Speaking of fire rhythm sections, Kathy Valentine’s bass playing is perfectly busy, and Gina Schock is perfectly rock solid. One of my favorite records since I was old enough to have a favorite record, and Our Lips Are Sealed is one of the first two 45’s I ever bought. The other was “Pop Musik” by M. Don’t judge. I was 7.
Ghosh, Get Ready to Die/LYAOF: A few years back I did about a dozen shows flillig in on drums for a Philly band called Lantern. When they split, Emily formed Louie Louie who put out one absolutely perfect record called Friend of a Stranger, and Zach co-founded this duo who have released four two song digital EPs this year. I hope someone puts them all together on a single LP like Get Better did for the three Sheer Mag 7″s sooner than later. They describe themselves as Nu Jungle and US Grime which are two genres they claim to have totally made up. The B side is about working in the service industry, and especially in the time of COVID it should be a protest song for all of those who have been putting their lives on the line to make sure some ungrateful under tipping bastards have a great experience dining outdoors on hot asphalt while cars whiz by.
Carnivorous Bells, The Upturned Stone: Speaking of new genres, this is the first time I’ve heard of Cave Prog, and it’s a genre I’d like to hear more from. If this record had come out a couple decades ago, or if they were still releasing music by current groups today, this band would find a cozy home in the Touch and Go/Quarterstick stable of artists. Like some crazy combination of Nomeanso, Dazzling Killmen, Hella, and Pissed Jeans (while at the same time sounding like none of those bands), and featuring the most inventive drummers I’ve heard in quite some time. Rumor has it, he has a double kick pedal, but one of the two pedals hits a cowbell instead of a kick drum. Hope to see them live when we’re able to do that thing again.
[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
[You can learn more about Peter here.]
Víkingur Ólafsson, Johan Sebastian Bach (Deutsche Grammaphon, 2018): When Ólafsson released his extraordinary versions of Philip Glass’s piano pieces in 2017, I became a committed fan. So much poise. His Bach double LP is so forceful, so good, such a refreshing tonic. It’s accompanied by Bach Reworks, full of appealing electronic versions and remixes by a host of mostly Icelandic artists. Ólafsson just released another double LP putting Rameau, the late-Baroque French composer, in conversation with Debussy. Also: So photogenic!
Susan Howe/Nathaniel Mackey, Stray: A Graphic Tone (Fonograf/ROMA, 2018): Neither Howe nor Mackey, two of the greatest living American poets, is a stranger to recording and performing their poetry. For years, Howe has ingeniously collaborated with David Grubbs to create soundscapes of language and pattern repetition. Likewise, Mackey, who has issued a CD of readings from “Song of the Andoumboulou,” one of his two ongoing serial poems (the other is called “Mu,” named after Don Cherry’s series), has taken to performing his poetry readings with improvisers. “Stray: A Graphic Tone” makes use of archival and more recent recordings to give a sense of these poets’ excellence. In an age of poets’ recordings proliferating on the internet (which is very much a good thing), I gotta say, nevertheless, it’s nice to have poetry on vinyl.
Laurie Spiegel, The Expanding Universe (Unseen Worlds, 2018): I prefer to listen to repetitive, minimalist, and ambient music when I work – by which I mean, when I am grading student essays, which pins me to my computer. I discovered Spiegel’s groundbreaking work from 1980 thanks to an algorithm on Spotify. My gratitude for that artificial semi-intelligence is immense. These grooves are hypnotic. In a lucid self-interview printed on the cover this vast triple LP, Spiegel, who worked at Bell Labs, describes, “This music is for listening.” This prompts her to ask herself, “When I asked that, I meant what instrument is it for?” To which she replies to herself, “It’s composed specially for record players, and I made it on a computer.” “Patchwork,” the opening track, “consists of relationships among four short melodic motives and four rhythmic patterns.” It’s deep – and hard to stop listening to. Here’s an interview with Spiegel from 1984. “A synergistic oscillation.”
Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015): I love this album, which Zach encouraged me to buy when I met him at Dusty Groove a few years ago. Of epic, Georg Lúkacs wrote that epic creates distances and that epic distance “means happiness and lightness, a loosening of the bonds that tie men and objects to the ground, a lifting of the heaviness, the dullness, which are integral to life and which are dispersed only in scattered happy moments. The created distances of epic verse transform such moments into the true level of life.” Washington’s “Epic” contains everything I want in an art of grand distances and minute perceptions. I had the good fortune to see Washington and his band perform at the Riviera in Chicago on November 3, 2018, one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I was especially struck by how attentively Washington listened to his bandmates – he was so focused on their solos and collaborations. He was the consummate visionary bandleader, and reflecting on that concert, he offered a model of how to proceed during these tumultuous times: leading with imagination, performing when called on, and listening always.
Rush, various singles (1970s/1980s): Rick Wojcik, Dusty Groove’s proprietor, gave these singles to me as a Christmas gift. They came from a juke box collection. Rick knows – and shares – my deep love of Rush. You don’t necessarily get to choose what encounter at which time in your most formative and impressionable period is going to alchemize your elements and transmute them into art, but for most artists this happens rarely. Awkward kid alienated from his suburban surroundings with a love of fantasy and sci-fi turns into an artist (a poet in my case) is not in itself so unusual. But how fortunate to have had Neil Peart to initiate that transformation! When he died back in January, I felt a pang of loss which compelled me to listen repeatedly to the music and to watch all the documentaries one more time. (“Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” is so good.) One song that’s been running through my head repeatedly in the past month is “Natural Science,” the track that concludes Permanent Waves. Specifically, these lyrics (and forgive the long quotation), “Art as expression, / Not as market campaigns / Will still capture our imaginations / Given the same / State of integrity / It will surely help us along // The most endangered species / The honest man / Will still survive annihilation / Forming a world / State of integrity / Sensitive, open and strong.” Okay, very proggy, but can you think of another rock song that uses “sensitive” as an adjective of praise?
Knapsack, “Twelve Degrees,” (2020): Knapsack plays all of the instruments on this song, except the drums, which are played by underscores. Note the glockenspiel in the opening. This choice is extremely prejudiced. Knapsack is Gabriel O’Leary, my son. In his own words, he’s studying how to be a pop musician at the Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music at NYU. It’s okay!