Sunday, January 31, 2021
Friday, January 29, 2021
This song makes me think of "hipster Christians," the kindly, serious, often bearded/tattooed folks who love indie music and really good coffee. But I'm not sure how different I am. I grew up in the church, as did many close friends, none of whom seem to be practicing Christians now. But it still gives us a shared language of weird conversations with parents or grandparents about sin, death, or eternity—getting dragged to church on Sundays and spacing out for significant chunks of our childhoods. Ruban, the known quantity behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra, seems to have more amusement than hostility here. Separate fun fact: the woman on the cover used to be my neighbor at a loft apartment in Lawrence, Kansas. She and her beautiful, bearded boyfriend always smiled at me but at night I could hear them tearfully fighting. She sold flowers at a sidewalk booth on the corner, and the mist of the plants being watered made her look extra mysterious. I don't know if she's a secret Xtian or not, but she certainly had her secrets.
I apologize in advance to anyone who has googled this song title looking for something totally different and instead wound up here. Actually, I take that back—you should be thanking me. You were looking for an object of physical attraction and instead you wound up with this dreamy aural exercise, an instrumental cover of a Cate Le Bon song by duo Group Listening. I listened to it today walking down Broadway, past not-yet-renovated buildings and a man offering "fire-ass kush," a gray afternoon filled with depressing news of COVID variants and cynical politicians. But this song made things seem not quite so glum, the piano reaching me across a distance that made the bad times feel temporary and the sunlight not so terribly far away.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Toro y Moi's album Underneath the Pine is one of my favorite albums of all time. If I put the first song on, I want to hear the whole thing. But if we're talking favorite individual songs by Chaz Bear, his cover of "Ordinary Guy" by fellow Afro-Filipino musician Joe Bataan is endlessly thrilling. The update is so smooth I never would have guessed it was a cover until I read about how the two musicians met at a Filipino restaurant in New York City, the song's composer expressing joy and approval upon hearing the younger artist's freshly recorded cover. What a special moment that must have been.
Galt MacDermot's funky, sometimes cheesy instrumentals pop up often in films, samples, and on mixes, but unless you own the sheet music to "Hair," you have likely never seen his name in the print. It's the kind of thing you would have heard at the fabled Blow-Up club in Bonn circa 2002, halfway between a Michel LeGrand theme and a Serge Gainsbourg outtake, part Library music; part Swinging London. My favorite collection of his work is the "Up From The Basement - Unreleased Tracks" comp from 2002. "Woe Is Me" is sexy and downright sinister. "Piano Concerto Pt. 2" sounds like the Peanuts gang getting high for the first time. But I like the mellow, measured "If Our Love is Real." No wah-wah, blow, or breakbeats, just a pleasant trio of bass, drums, and electric piano. Something dreamy to nod off to, your fingers touching the stem of your wine glass, your foot absently tapping to the rhythm, your eyes closed, your cigarette still burning while your lover stands up and accepts a dance with the man in a dark brimmed hat.
Monday, January 25, 2021
"Melted Rope" is a 4-minute mind-melter that feels twice that long thanks to a spiraling guitar riff that shatters all sense of time and space and carries the listener away like the floating feather referenced in the opening lyric. I saw Wand open for Stereolab in Seattle in November 2019, just a couple months before live music shut down indefinitely. I was in the second row and loved every moment of it, and by the time Stereolab was a few songs in I decided to go eat sushi instead. No disrespect to Stereolab, but after Wand's set my heart just wasn't in it. Thanks to my good pal Douglas Huppe for turning me on to this group and giving me a copy of this record, a go-to platter for whenever I have an afternoon at home alone and need to turn the stereo so loud the furniture shakes.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Kikagaku Moyo's "Blanket Song" evokes the sensations of campfire smoke on a crystalline night of sleeping bags, psychedelics, and stars. The band played in Kansas City a few years ago and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen, all that cosmic noise and chaos somehow squeezed into the tiny Riot Room, the compact venue that is now apparently closed for good. The closing track on an otherwise raucous, Dungen-esque album suite, "Blanket Song" is soothing acoustic psych for the reverent pre-dawn hours.
This is the kind of song you hope will follow you down the road as you fade into the distance. Yesterday I listened to it on a walk through the Kansas countryside at just about sunset and almost instantly went from feeling cold and outright depressed to warm and comfortably gloomy. Doug Sahm is a true Texas tornado, a country and rhythm & blues pioneer who, in the fashion of fellow statesman Willie Nelson and Roky Erikson, got tangled up in Texas' draconian laws against cannabis (arrested by a young Joe Arpaio, no less). While he's nowhere near as famous as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Sir Douglas may yet be getting his due. When I went to Austin for my sister-in-law's wedding in 2012, and the girls were all posing for pictures in the park, I took a walk with my then-infant daughter and saw a sign that I was at Doug Sahm Hill. At the peak of a spiral walkway was a colorful plaque featuring a picture of Sahm, a short bio, and his most famous lyrics: You just can't live in Texas, if you don't got a lot of soul.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Speaking of flute-powered party jams, I love how the fuzzy vocals on "Flute Loop" contrast with the song's crisp instrumentation and production. I also love the piano breakdown about halfway through. This was the first Beastie Boys album I ever owned, and far from the last.
After the music and events at the party described in the previous post (Day 20: I've Got The Blues), my mood improved dramatically. Sometime after midnight, Mike McGee put on "Jayou" by Jurassic 5 and decided to breakdance, which resulted in the destruction of the living room table. Twenty years later, Mike owns buildings and properties all over Kansas City, but at the time his prospects as a successful businessman seemed unlikely and remote. The song itself—which I had misremembered as being titled "Flute Loop"—still sounds pretty fresh. I especially like this remix in which Tuna Fish's incredible flow has a bit more sonic space to "conjugate verbs and constipate nerds." And of course there's the dynamic flute sample that has led to the accidental destruction of so much cheap furniture across the rented living rooms of the American Midwest.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
One night over winter break when I was maybe 18, I went to the house of some friends who played soccer for one of the local colleges. We were all drinking beer, and at one point someone handed me a bubbler. I didn't smoke much then and could tell right away I was literally over my head, spinning backward in slow motion like I was on a reverse Ferris wheel. I picked up a book on the coffee table to steady myself. "Fear and Loathing in America," Hunter S. Thompson's collection of letters. You don't need to be reading that right now, the host said, gently taking it from me and setting it back down. I went to smoke a cigarette on the front porch, but Glenn Hackberry and his baseball buddies were talking about a sports injury where one of their arm bones was visibly poking through the skin. I could almost feel it happening to me. I winced and went back inside. "Sticky Fingers" had been playing for a while, but I didn't really notice until Katie Weiss walked in, right at the first note of the slow, beautiful arpeggio of "I Got The Blues." A wave of warmth and sound washed through the room as she looked over at me and smiled. We hadn't seen each in almost a year and exchanged a warm hug, her coat still damp with snow. We were never more than friends who liked each other, but the small flame of her surprise entry was a saving grace, and I've loved that song ever since.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
"Fair play to you," a colleague messaged me the other day after I made a particularly pointed joke on chat. "Killarney's lakes are so blue," I almost typed back before stopping to ask whether she was, in fact, referencing the opening song on Van Morrison's 1974 masterpiece, "Veedon Fleece." Never heard of it, she said. But by that point my mind was elsewhere, specifically a train from Hamburg to Munich, then overnight to Rome, then to the coast, then a 19-hour ferry ride across the Adriatic to Greece. An almost three-day journey I took in 2005 during which I listened to Veedon Fleece throughout. It's definitely a breakup album, written on his journey back to Ireland after a divorce from his wife in San Francisco. My girlfriend and I were living in different continents at the time, and I wasn't sure how things would turn out. A few months later I decided to drop out of grad school in Europe and head home to find a job and resume our relationship. But I never forgot the melancholy of this album and decided that for my next epic train trip I did not want to go alone.
Monday, January 18, 2021
The soul and positivity of "The Freedom Affair" is contagious, and this song is the perfect 45 to put on the home stereo on this grey, cold, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The band members share songwriting duties, and the diversity of their lineup reflects the diversity, talent, and heart in the larger community of Kansas City. The music is unfailingly funky, and the lyrics dig into a variety of social and personal issues, from gun violence and toxic relationships to love and connectivity. If you like soul/jazz/funk music, I guarantee it will lift your spirits. This was the last group I saw play before lockdown, and I hope it's not too much longer before it's possible to see them play again.
Saturday, January 16, 2021
I can still hear this song rattle out on the speakers of my 1989 sky blue Ford Taurus, the soundtrack to my own aimless teenage award tour. With vibes, keys, a fat bassline, and lots of rhymes about having the mic in your hand, this was music for mobility, a black-and-green CD that slid into my car stereo on Friday afternoon and didn't come out until after Saturday night. There weren't many real parties at age 16 and we often didn't have anywhere to go, but listening to this track helped us get there in style.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
I don't make ranked lists of songs, but for me the most anthemic track of 2020 was easily Yves Tumor's "Gospel For A New Century." I would put this song on the car stereo when I drove into work the first weeks of lockdown, steering into an empty but brightly lit downtown, borderline manic at being out of the house but also deathly terrified of germs. I was going in to the office to pull archives from the basement. It was dark and no one else was in the building except for periodic security checks. I listened to a few spiritual podcasts on my headphones and various audio links people sent. But when I got back up to my desk on the third floor above the streetcar stop, I'd turn the computer speakers facing out and blast this song. "I think I can solve it," Yves sings, with conviction, and riding those heroic stop-start blasts of brass, you believe you can, too.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Some songs seem specifically designed to repair your brain, to ease you out of the swirling madness of the world or your own mind and lull you back into a comfortable, easy-breathing state of coolness and equanimity. This, for me, is one of those songs. I used to have it on a CDR mix I made of songs to come down to, usually in the early early morning, looking out the window of my second-floor room on Louisiana Street into East Lawrence, listening to the birds and waiting for the gentle light just before the sunrise.
Monday, January 11, 2021
In Stephen Hyden's newish book about the cultural impact of Radiohead's "Kid A," he talks about how their 2007 album "In Rainbows" became a cult favorite among millennials. Which makes sense—it's fluid, upbeat, even sexy, and doesn't seem to carry the baggage or weight of their previous albums. But I didn't really see any evidence of the millennial theory until hearing British singer/songwriter/guitarist Lianne La Havas's cover of "Weird Fishes," which builds on the original and turns it into something truly special. I've had a few friends send it to me now and we've all watched/listened in awe. The rest of her album is incredibly refreshing as well, proof that—musically at least—2020 was not 100% bad.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Friday, January 8, 2021
Angel Olsen's version of Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely" applies the weight and tension of the present moment to a classic song. I can picture her singing it alone in a spotlight on a dark stage, all of us hushed and humbled in the audience, more than a few tears dotting our faces. I've played it on repeat this week, a heavier week in American history than any I've lived through, and it seems to grow in force with each listen. "I wish that I could go back home," she sings, and so do we.
Thursday, January 7, 2021
I don't know much about who Sault is, and it sounds like not many other people do either. They're a collective of rhythm and soul musicians from the U.K. who have so far mostly kept anonymous, putting out no less than four incredible albums since 2019. Many of the songs deal with black identity and empowerment, and the most recent album came out this year on Juneteenth. My favorite track so far, however, is more of a love song, if not without strains of longing and heartbreak. Naming a song "Masterpiece" is a bold move, but this song more than lives up to it.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Dolphins are amazing, mythical creatures. I can't prove anything scientifically, but I'm pretty sure I was visited by the greek God Apollo in the form of a dolphin during a sunkissed trip to Ancient Florida back on Bastille Day 2016. Another person with a deep affinity for dolphins is New Zealand singer Connan Mockasin, whose 2011 debut album is called "Forever Dolphin Love." The title track is a jazzy, mystical journey that sounds as if it was either recorded or produced underwater. The music video is incredible, a splash of puppetry and high theater, comedic on first glance but also unblinkingly serious in its depiction of romantic—or perhaps spiritual—obsession. I listened to it on a November drive to the woods outside Baldwin City, Kansas, a region with a history of secret psychedelic gatherings that few of us have heard about, much less attended. Listening to the entire album, which apparently Connan only released after his mom encouraged him to do so, is like being in a sustained musical trance, calming but also uplifting, like there's a mysterious force driving it forward. Dolphins, maybe. Or love. Or both. Forever and ever.
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Oh man, I missed this song. It used to be on streaming services years ago and then some dubstep artist by the same name filed a complaint and *poof* all the good Run DMT was gone, vanished from my party mixes and nearly out of my life. I couldn't even remember what this song was called, but after a bit of searching, here we are, reunited in bliss. The groove on this track is endless, the cover art is perfect, the way the beat drops out around 48 seconds in and then comes back a second later gets me every listen. Run DMT is Baltimore musician Michael Collins, also known as Salvia Plath, later to assume the moniker of Drugdealer. Overall his output is pretty uneven. But wow, when it hits.
Monday, January 4, 2021
For emotive, melancholy, soulful children of the grunge era, this song is an undisputed classic, even if it feels more suited for a decadent piano lounge than a dank Seattle warehouse. The opening piano line is almost impossibly dramatic, and the nakedly personal and poetic lyrics still resonate 30 years later. And of course the whole thing is overshadowed by the death of the singer/songwriter Andrew Wood. The song itself is about a doomed love affair with a mystical woman from the French Quarter, and for a teenager listening at home on his Discman, the jaded descriptions of adult vices sounded no less evocative for being out of reach. Though for my slightly older cousin, who loved this song above all others, those problems were something she could relate to on a more literal level. We used to talk about music a lot, and she described what I could expect once I got old enough to drink, party, experiment, etc. I lost track of her for several years, but eventually heard from a family member that she had a baby daughter. Guess what she named her.
Saturday, January 2, 2021
This is a strange song to write about at 4 in the morning. But songs get in your head when they want to, and in the case of this crushingly beautiful ballad, "Daylight Matters" pops into my head almost exclusively at night. It's a song about two people who are very much together in their loss and separation, but who no longer have access to each other. I know nothing about them as actual people, but it's hard for me not to hear this song as the dissolution of the close creative partnership between Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley (aka White Fence) who began playing together in the band Drinks before he got sober and more or less stopped writing music. While he wrestled with those issues in California, Le Bon wrote this album in isolation on the coast of her native Wales. The warmth on this album is much darker than on 2013's "Mug Museum," blood red rather than pink. It's the sound of moving on, growing up, and actually reconciling the "daylight matters" we all must face rather than continuing to exist in obscure, bohemian twilight. I know a thing or two about that, even if I know nothing about the lives or actual artistic motivations of the artist. I also know that this song sounds incredible on a Sunday night walk along the beaches of Southern California, after everyone has gone home from the picnics and surfing competitions but a few fires still continue to burn in their pits. While you stroll an empty beach, the waves continue to crash, and as a specific and seemingly infinite sense of loss arises, the only thing keeping you from disappearing into the surf is Cate's repeated incantation in your headphones to keep on keep on keep on keep on.
Friday, January 1, 2021
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