Sunday, February 28, 2021

Day 58: Corner Of My Sky

Kelly Lee Owens' "Corner Of My Sky" is a truly cosmic slice of bouncing electronica, and this video is wonderful, too. At first I wasn't sure about John Cale's vocal appearance. He sounded so old at first, almost too familiar. But as the song kicked in, the years fell away from his voice. When I listened to this song earlier today it wasn't raining, but now it's nighttime, and it is. The rain, the rain, the rain. Thank God, the rain.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Day 57: I Know How It Feels

Since it's Friday night and Chez Charlies is closed (or maybe isn't, but might as well be) and I no longer live a short bike ride away and couldn't smoke inside if I wanted to, which is essential if you go to the bar by yourself to hear the wasted DJ play soul 45s like this on into the night, I'm going to have to bring that energy to this virtual space, a couple minutes until midnight on this final Friday of my thirties. And if you think this is an exercise in self or group pity, please don't misunderstand me, just listen to that lovely little trumpet intro one more time and I promise everything will be OK.

Day 56: The Turning Point


Time for a slow dance number. Whether you have a partner or not.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Day 55: I'm Not Ashamed


Putting on this album and hearing those first three guitar notes, the splash of crowd noise, and Baby Neal's vocals is like going to church, if church was a 1960s nightclub/restaurant in Wichita, Kansas, run by a family and hosting some of the most theatrical, outrageous soul groups the Midwest ever saw. That's the story of the impeccably researched "Smart's Palace" release in the Eccentric Soul series from Numero Group. It's a beautiful compilation, 2x pink vinyl with one of the most striking cover photos of all time. If I had to choose a "desert island record label," Numero Group wins every time.

Day 54: Diamond Meadows


The day after praising Ty's T. Rex covers as potentially stronger than some of the originals, a flood of Marc Bolan's recordings began rattling around in my head as a reminder not to take him for granted. I originally shared "Chateau in Virginia Waters," which is misty and enchanting, but if this mix is really more of a legacy than a passing playlist, I've got to amend that to "Diamond Meadows," one of the most sweetest songs he ever wrote. It's also the first T. Rex song I ever heard, courtesy of the "Velvet Goldmine" soundtrack, and I found it a bit creepy and strangely wonderful, lisping and orchestral, a ballad of love and friendship and refusing to see those two things as at all separate from each other. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Day 53: Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart


Marc Bolan was the self-proclaimed Dandy of the Underworld and even though I think he died in a car wreck decades ago I'm not sure he really died. If you want evidence of this consider how convincingly he's been brought to life by tireless Bay Area garage rocker Ty Segall, who, instead of being content with just a T. Rex cover or two, decided to record a whole album's worth. Ty's a great songwriter in his own right, but I appreciate the study he undertook here, and some of these tracks he re-engineers so that they hit even harder than the originals. If you listen to these and then the covers for comparison, you can hear Ty doing some interesting things with the timing, stripping out the shambolic folk swagger and putting them on a more straightforward rhythm track, while also stretching out words and emphasizing different beats to create something new. Two outstanding musicians, but in some way their fate is one.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Day 52: Send It On


From the "Kool Jazz" sample to the wave of vocal harmony, the opening of "Send It On" washes over you like joy and sunshine. I think the SZA song is what put this back in my head again after a long time of not listening to Voodoo, one of those albums you should probably break out at least once a year. A joyful song,  but you can feel the hurt behind it. Like anything D does, it's conflicted. Though if you really want to get into that you're going to have to pour at least one more gin.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Day 51: Get Thy Bearings

 

Remember watching "Don't Look Back" and laughing at how quaint and unhip Donovan and his fawning coterie seemed in comparison with the impossibly cool Dylan? Well only one of them wrote this song, a highlight of '60s breakbeat compilations, and it wasn't Dylan. Donovan's catalog in general is so unabashedly cheesy that it almost seems like he wrote this cool of a song by accident. That's being a bit unfair, of course, and in the end it doesn't matter. All the world knows what he's saying.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Day 50: Territory

 

Speaking of music videos with 56 million views: Have you seen "Territory" by The Blaze? The intensity of this video is incredible, the choreography of smoking and shadowboxing on the beat, the overall Algerian masculinity. You see it the first time and can't help but wonder what the guy's story is, the details of his troubled past, his family reunion after an implied exile or estrangement. "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins said he watched it over 100 times. I'm not anywhere close to that number, but I highly recommend watching it at least once.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Day 49: Hit Different

  

I always love "discovering" a music video that already has 50 million+ views. Better late than never, I guess, at least in the case of SZA's "Hit Different," which I saw on a top videos of 2020 list and has since taken root in our household, where the clean version got no less than four plays yesterday between living room and car stereos. This video includes the opening verse of "Good Days" as well. It all makes me want to dance on top of hay bales and truck beds, even more so than usual. I challenge you to sing the song's title/chorus and not move in rhythm. Well maybe you can do it but it won't feel right.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Day 48: I Don't Think I'll Ever Love Another


I just bought this 45 recently—not an original pressing, which run about $700, but one of the reissues that costs a mere $10. It arrived just in time for an extended Valentine's hangover, the sweet heartache shining through in the four-part harmonies and hard-hitting percussion. I don't know why I've been so stuck on this song, as it's certainly not out of any romantic disappointment. Instead I think what resonates is the pain of breaking up with the past, specifically letting go of the life that we might have all led had the pandemic not thrown everything off course. Individually we're each finding our ways to deal, but collectively it can be overwhelming to think about what might have been. But once spring comes, I'll flip the record, turn it up, and—if past experience holds—an entirely new mood will set in.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Day 47: Midnight Morning


I'll be driving tomorrow and don't know if I'll get to post, so I'll just put this out here, one minute after midnight, below six degrees outside, the coldest night in decades. I am only just hearing this song for the first time, but I like it. The title fits, the mood is just right, and that snake looks so at home there on the candleholder. Good morning to you, too. 

Day 46: Faded

Last night Jenn and I watched the last 20 laps of the Daytona 500 with her dad. It was almost midnight, the race having been delayed due to crashes and bad weather. It was mesmerizing, the roaring engines and cars going around and around and around. This reminds me of shoegaze music, I thought, the noise a kind of crushing comfort, the repetition of the chords/laps creating an underlying sense of calm. The race itself was kind of boring, just a line of Fords holding off would-be Chevy/Toyota challengers, but Dan urged us to wait until the end. Sure enough, in the final lap, several cars attempted to break out and were rebuffed, a few spinning out of control and going up in flames. I was impressed. And today, in lieu of the reassuring roar of car engines, I opted to listen to this album, my favorite in the genre of "bands that sound like MBV when you don't actually want to listen to Loveless." Faded, ephemeral, forever nineteen ninety something. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Day 45: When The Springtime Comes Again


I am snowed in in Joplin, Missouri, sending this dispatch from my phone. This afternoon we played cards and looked out at the snow piling up below the deck, and this song came on the travel speaker. I remembered it as “May The Springtime Come Again” but I looked and saw it’s “When The Springtime Comes Again." So I was pleased to see the conditional switch to an eventuality. Spring will come, someday. In the meantime my hair is turning silver mid-strand. Or else maybe it's been frozen too many times in one week. It doesn’t matter. John Fahey’s guitar playing, much like Christ, is neither East nor West. It has no beginning and it has no end. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Day 44: Evil


When it's deathly cold outside it makes sense to listen to music made by people who live in very cold places, like the 2014 album "Shrink Dust" by Calgary native Chad vanGaalen. "Frozen Paradise" is probably the most apt track to cue up on a day like this, -2 degrees outside as I sip my coffee and listen to records. But I'm going to go with the trudging, glorious "Evil." One bleak workday in December 2019 I went to Messenger Coffee and sat at the spot at the bar facing the baking operation and heard this song come on. I was eating biscuits and gravy washed down with some fancy natural Ethiopean coffee and a thimble of their artisanal hot sauce and maybe even a Topo Chico, and all of that combined with the song gave me an extraordinary sensation of life in spite of the low temps and long workday. I've heard people say this past year that they didn't realize how good they had it. I think in that moment I did know exactly how good I had it, and I also knew on some much deeper level that there's no way it could last.

Friday, February 12, 2021

*Interlude*

Hi! Now that I'm finally letting some people know about this site, I wanted to also share a link to the accompanying Spotify playlist. So far only a couple songs aren't available (Days 5 and 12). If you're new here, which would be almost everyone, you can scroll all the way down to the intro to get a sense of the theme. Or just browse at will. Either way you will have to zoom in since this ancient Blogspot theme looks terrible on mobile. And though you probably already made the connection, the blog title comes from William Carlos Williams' famous statement, "No ideas but in things." Please feel free to comment on any songs you like or have your own stories about. There's just one spammy fellow commenting so far and he could use some company.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Day 43: Yağmur


I was so obsessed with Turkish folk/psych music for a while that I had ambitions of learning the language and music, and eventually making some kind of musical pilgrimage. I got as close as befriending one of the Kurdish students in the English class I taught in Berlin, who was impressed at my recognition of his musical heroes, Edip Akbayram, Cem Karaca, Erkin Koray, and others. We made plans to play music together, using the his uncle's insurance company office in Neukölln as our studio (after hours, of course). After jamming we would go eat Köfte at Gel Gör Inegöl, a legendary Imbiss where I spent many nights hanging out, drinking Uludag, and waiting for grub. We failed to take the music scene by storm, but our guitar/Baglama rendition of "Yağmur" did not sound half bad.

Day 42: Aeroplane

Jessica Pratt's music creates a mood unlike anything else, inhabiting a mystic L.A. the rest of us only dream about. The songs sound similar to each other at times, and completely unique at others, and they each unfold in ways that you can't predict or neatly diagram. I only saw her live once, and it was a disaster. She was opening for Beach House at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, an event sponsored by INK Magazine, and the only people not talking through it were the employees of the Love Garden. Instead I like to listen to her albums on vinyl, with all the requisite hisses and pops. Each time I put them on, I make sure to give my full attention.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Day 41: Winter Dawn


I've been bundling up and taking walks the last few nights. It's so cold that hardly anyone is out. Fewer cars are on the road, sounds are muffled, the air is still. It's the perfect conditions for meditative music like French cellist/sound artist Colleen's 2017 album "A Flame My Love, A Frequency." Even though the actual sounds were confined to my headphones, the layered, looped synths seemed to bounce off the snow and echo from the naked branches of the trees. Walking back from Loose Park, I found the secret swing someone had hung in a large sycamore tree in the field near Brush Creek. There's no outrunning this polar pandemic vortex, so I just sat still, breathed through my mask, and listened.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Day 40: It's Not Always Funny

 

Devendra Banhart is about my age. Some friends of mine have played music with him, and I've heard rumors about how much money he spends on healing crystals. I don't know if that's true, but if so he is a product of his time. His 2002 album "oh me oh My..." was a staple in the old apartment, the warbly vocals and ragged finger-picking either spooky or warm depending on whether it's a minor or major key. When I first heard this song last year, I didn't realize it was him at first, but the catchy groove and "last call in hell" lyric won me over instantly. This song blog is mostly my own musings, but it's only fair to quote his statement here: "I was thinking about the touch of your eyes ... and now that eyes have become our faces, I find going to the supermarket the most intimate experience ... since the lockdown we have been hyper developing the language of looking into each others' eyes ... "I was thinking about how they say it’s important to laugh, especially when there's nothing to laugh about, I'm not sure if that’s true but it stuck with me."

Day 39: No Aloha

Hawaii seems so far away right now. So do the '90s. I used to listen to this CD on my discman on road trips with my parents and my siblings. Staring out the car window at the Rockies, the Tetons, the Salt Flats, the highway. My brother grew up to play drums in a band and spent a few months on tour opening for the Breeders. I only ever saw them once, at a small club in Köln. For some reason I woke up today with this song in my head. It sounds like a postcard from somewhere distant and sunny. And in the depths of this impossibly cold winter, even a small ray of imagined postcard sunshine provides a little warmth. 

Day 38: My Sweet Baby (Instrumental)

 
 
I think after all those words we could use an instrumental.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Day 37: Song To Pass The Time

 
I saw Bright Eyes open for J. Mascis and The Fog in March 2001. None of us had heard of this 21-year-old kid from Omaha before and his emotional ferocity on songs like "A Perfect Sonnet" was breathtaking, even if the whole spectacle made my friends and I a bit uncomfortable. The next week I downloaded what I could find of his on Napster, and the gentle, shambolic  "A Song To Pass The Time" became a favorite. For some reason I never listened to any of his music that came out after that. By that point Bright Eyes was what your little sister listened to, what people who got married right after college played at their weddings. But I still like how low-fi and honest these early songs sound. Why do we cling to an artist's early recordings even when they've gone on to do objectively much better work? I don't know, but when it comes to rambling journal entries in song form, Bright Eyes didn't get any better than this.

Day 36: Here's Where The Story Ends


"A little souvenir of a terrible year" seems like the perfect description for anything positive that's happened in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. I first heard this song at YJ's, the legendary 24-hour cafe/coffeeshop in Kansas City's Crossroads neighborhood run by artist David Ford and a loyal contingent of bohemian baristas and line cooks. That day they had the stereo up so loud it's like they were trying to prove something, but I was eating dirty rice by myself in the window counter and pouring on the hot sauce without a care in the world. Still, I found it a bit odd that, of all songs they could have turned up to uncomfortable volume, they chose this one. Listening to it now, two years after YJ's has closed, I realize that might be the only way to listen to it.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Day 35: Search For LIfe


This post originally talked about how I used to listen to Dave Longstreth's "Lay Down Your Restless Bones" by candlelight and feel sad and alone, but the song itself was painful to listen to after so many years, and it felt like I was venturing too deep into the personal jukebox. Instead I found this new track, "Search For Life," specifically this live acoustic version in which Dave and the current Dirty Projectors vocal trio perform live in a park sometime in April 2020. It's a very COVID-era performance, specifically those early days of lockdown that felt so reflective it was almost spiritual. It's a beautiful song. The search continues.

Day 34: I Hear You Calling

I remember first seeing this album cover at a record store in Toronto and thinking "what on earth is this?" And then hearing it and realizing the intensity of that enigmatic portrait is everywhere in the music, songs that call out to something inside you that you realize has been long neglected, a fire that's in danger of going out if you don't take a clear look in the mirror and revive yourself with music, poetry, and truth. I stumble on Bill Fay's music when it seems I need it most — a burned CD on the shelf, a reference in an interview, a cover by a popular musician that instantly sends me back to the source instead. "All my time is lying on the factory floor," he sings. I've never worked in a factory, but I know exactly how he feels.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Day 33: Fingertips


Now that the recent ambient suite is complete let's gently reintroduce the presence of vocals via the compellingly hypnotic "Fingertips" by Brian Jonestown Massacre. The riff arrives fully formed, like a distant comet just coming into view and quickly setting everything ablaze in its path, including any tension or cares that might have been piling up. You can listen to "Fingertips" in English or the French version, "Boit des doigts," or play them back to back and marvel at how the ecstatic guitar pattern never gets old. When we moved to Berlin in 2010, my wife's sister told us excitedly that Anton Newcombe was living there, too, as if we were going to run into each other routinely. It never happened, but hearing the music he's still making with his friends today, I wish it had.

Day 32: Don't Mind Me


I'd love to say I spent the first hours of February sober and alert and ready to run several miles and write many pages and complete lots of goals, but no, I was up late at the kitchen table listening to blissfully woozy ambient passages of music like this track from Nosaj Thing, aka California electronic music producer Jason Chung. This is from the 2015 "Fated" album, which I've only ever listened to late at night, almost to the point where I don't even know if it would properly play if I tried to cue it up during daylight hours. No need, though, the night is vast enough for this deepening gauzy expanse of beats and synth to unfold in just three minutes, with pitch-adjusted cries punctuating an intensely emotive inner dance floor of exploration and truth, one strobe-lit percussion hit at a time.

Day 31: Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase

If I would have had this Karen Gwyer EP when I was studying biology in high school, I definitely would have got more than a low B. The percolating bass bubbles in this make cellular mitosis seem mysterious and sexy. You can put this on your headphones and think, "oh, so this is what dividing cells sound like." Or at least that's a thought I had one Saturday night on a walk between rains, when even the lamplight on the puddles began to look strange and exotic. If there's a better combination than low-grade edibles and warm electronica, I have not found it yet.

Day 81: Isolation

For the first few weeks of lockdown I would start every morning listening to Joy Division's "Isolation" as I started the work-...