Thursday, March 25, 2021
One of the last shows I went to before lockdown was a concert by Aldous Harding. At one point she broke a microphone and stood there staring at us while her bandmate screwed a new one back into place with the frantic help of the local sound guy. It was a very uncomfortable five minutes. When they started up again, they picked up on the exact chord they'd left off. Somehow I doubt she'll be back here anytime soon.
Who woulda thought a Thai funk-influenced trio from Texas named Khruangbin would become a near household name? I certainly didn't back in 2014 when I first heard this song on a Late Night Tales comp and immediately fell in love. I'm a sucker for that Hendrix major ninth chord stuff, and this band seemed to be playing from such warm soulful depths that it gave me chills. I thought of it again recently while talking with my uncle about a recent night he spent at the ranch in negative 16 degree weather keeping an eye on the calves that wouldn't survive unless they were tended to within minutes of being born. If you like this song, definitely watch the video and read the description for their song Friday Morning. It's an incredibly powerful concept at a time when we're all struggling to stay connected.
Shy Boys are the dreamiest, stoniest band to ever come out of Kansas City, at least in my era, and I fondly remember those early shows at Harling's or at house parties, the relatively hushed silence in the crowd as the super echoey guitars and vocals rang out live and on our record players. "Talk Loud" came out in 2020 and maybe got a bit lost in the shuffle, or else it just felt that way since we weren't able to get together at parties, concerts, or late- night hangs. Things will never be the way they were before, Colin sings, and there's no denying it. So excuse me while I put on this record along with a pot of tea.
(Video not available, listen on Spotify here)
It's foolish to try and plan things in advance right now, but this week I've been looking at flights to Greece, where I'd love to revisit the town of Napflion, a seaport town with an old Venetian castle where I spent a few blurry days in 2005. I had felt a fever coming on the night before in Thessaloniki, but decided to drink it away with retsina wine, which backfired completely. In Napflion I booked a bed in a massive hostel room that was completely empty except for me. Once I did start feeling better I remember walking lightheaded through the streets and listening to this song from Dylan's Basement Tapes. Since then the Jim James version has become much more famous. And it's good. But (no surprise) I like this one better.
Mercy, I fell asleep again, slumped against the jukebox here in an otherwise empty dive bar. No worries, though! We've got a lot of records left to play. Let's start with "Lucky" by Dehd, a song that often pops up on my Spotify once it's gone off the rails. It's a cotton candy musical pleasure, and watching the video for the first time it feels right that they smash jello cake and other delicacies against each other's faces. Spring is coming, vaccines are here, life is still difficult and the world is a mess, so let's accept a little lightness and fun where we can. Is 2020/21 the end of the road? I hope not!
Monday, March 15, 2021
Oneohtrix Point Never has been following me around for weeks on my wanderings through the hanging gardens of a place I can't quite put my finger on, not on any recent map, at least, and certainly not tonight, tracing the patterns of the cyclones forming over Loch Lloyd just east of State Line. No sirens around these parts, though, just a few brilliant sunshowers and a near certain chance of this song sneaking on to the old headphones if I stay up late enough.
Sunday, March 14, 2021
I wound up listening to this album last night while going through old documents and drafts, and quickly found myself smiling at the lyrics. It's been a while since I heard in a song something I really needed to hear, and this little message of personal acceptance was much-needed on a low point in the nearly-post-pandemic. At this point in life, we sort of are who we are. No? So I agree with Mavis. Why be surprised at your appearance in the mirror? Why not embrace yourself instead?
Ariel Pink may be persona non grata, but not to be thrown out with the Haunted Graffiti bathwater are talented, non-toxic musical collaborators like Chris Cohen, or my more recent favorite, Jack Name. His 2020 album "Magic Touch" is pleasantly melodic and mysterious throughout. Opening song "Karolina" is a blast of helium and sunshine, but listen all the way to the closer and you'll be rewarded.
On the night ahead of the one-year anniversary of U.S. society at large shutting down indefinitely, I rented a cabin at Pomona Lake and stayed up looking out over the lake until my vision failed and my scintillating scotoma kicked in, waves of red and blue strobes flashing before my closed eyelids. It was supposed to be rainy the whole next day, and you could feel it. The smoke that had been rising from distant pasture fires was now eclipsed by clouds, and as if by magic "Stormy" by The Meters appeared on my playlist. It's the rare melancholy Meters song, not a lovesick blues, either, but something a bit more serious and soulful. Portending stormy days ahead and a stormy year behind.
My favorite Outkast song is 13th Floor/Growing Old, but that's strictly a November jam for me, and I couldn't wait until fall to post something by Outkast, so instead here's another old favorite I enjoyed throughout 2020. It's a great jam and also speaks to the act of crumbling herb as a means of passing time, waiting until this situation passes, until you can get out and enjoy life and see your boys again. At least that's part of what's contained in the chorus. The rest of the song I can nod my head to but the situations it describes are far beyond my understanding. But some things, a la weed and beats, are universal.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Do you have a signature song of the pandemic? I'm not sure I do exactly, but if so it might be "Human" by Molly Sarle. The song itself precedes the current crisis by about a year, but her emotive stretch of the word "Human" makes me think about how vulnerable and interconnected we all are, and have been this past year. It's been a year that for many of us is incredibly insular and limited socially. But also a year in which we reached out to other people, including some we didn't previously know all that well, and found a genuine connection. I'd much rather that take place for me on a glitter-covered floor of a dive bar, too, but my own "high hopes for the future" instead led to solo headphone dances in the garage. If nothing else, listen for that high-pitched backup vocal on the chorus. I guarantee that when I hear it 10 or 20 years from now, I will either laugh or cry.
I haven't been to a Wilco show or bought a Wilco album in almost 20 years, but Jeff Tweedy's newest release is pretty dang good. I really love this song, too. Weird video. Great creative take on the strangeness of faces in 2020, using the masked area of Tweedster's visage as a community green screen. Like so many catchy songs I first hear outside Kyle's garage while drinking far too many beers, I can listen to this one again and again.
Hearing this song for the first time was such a revelation, one of those moments when you can hear so many genres of music all at once and see how perfectly they overlap and fit together. I loved both Parliament and Funkadelic so much and still play their albums frequently. In maybe 2010 or so a group called Sleigh Bells sampled this song and added some vocals on top. It was a minor indie hit and I remember being pissed about it, like here was this already perfect song from a group of black psychedelic soul pioneers from Ohio and now it's been reworked by this hip lil duo from Brooklyn. That was before "cultural appropriation" was a household term, but that's what it felt like, at least to this frequent offender. Though I admit, while it's hardly Mavis Stapes, the Sleigh Bells' spinoff was pretty catchy, too.
5ive Style, the best guitar-based band you never heard, unless you hovered around the mid-'90s Chicago scene and caught them live by accident or happened to be friends with someone who had. This song made me fall in love with the Danelectro before I even knew what that was. I guess it's nothing that special, riff-wise, but it's so cheerful and uplifting and fun, especially if you play the guitar. If you don't, just look for Bill Dolan's videos showing you exactly how to play it, find a $250 Danelectro on Craiglist, and the dream of the post-rock/bluesy '90s can be yours forever.
Readers have been calling and emailing me, asking: How will you ever make up this deficit in daily song blog posts? Never fear. I have enlisted the help of my brother David, who made a special mix for my 40th birthday including the songs he remembers most from our morning drives to high school together when I was a senior and he was a freshman. It was an almost entirely jazz-funk playlist back then, including this Sly & The Family Stone cover by Funk, Inc. This will be the first in a run in that vein. Fire up the humble V-6 engines of your mid-'90s Jeep Cherokees and let's go for a funky ride.
I discovered Michael Nau by accident, combing through $1 cutout CDs at Love Garden and seeing a pretty digipak and buying it on a whim. I like to think I would have heard him eventually anyway, but who knows. It stayed in my car for weeks that winter and when my sister borrowed my car for a few days she turned into a fan as well. I flew up to Chicago (those were the days) the next November to join Lois for a Michael Nau concert. It was lovely.
Speaking of surreal moments on the beach, there's nothing quite like dipping your toes in the sand of this 1994 Palace Music classic. The lyrics are so goofy you almost expect him to start laughing, except he sounds dead serious. "The Earth has swallowed him up, he's a memory now." BPB remains an enduring, endearing mystery.
Friday, March 12, 2021
Mercy. No posts since March 1. I have fudged a couple days before but nothing like this. We have some ground to make up. So? Less writing, more music. Although I have to introduce this one by saying it's one of my favorite videos, both this one and the 15-minute short film version, "Whateverest." I first heard this while camping out at Clinton Lake with a group of friends for my brother's bachelor party. Andrew put it on and when those cool synths kicked in I though they were coming out of the woods. Such a perfect mix of electronic music and nature. The Norwegians are really on to something.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Earlier tonight, while watching the last indoor fire of the season die down, I put on this record, which in the dim light I mistook for Harold Budd's A Pavilion of Dreams. But instead of those extended, meditative cuts, I was hit with the compact fury and cosmic wonder of The Moon and The Melodies, the recently departed composer's collaboration with Cocteau Twins. The sudden turn in Elizabeth Fraser's vocals just after the first minute of the album is a reminder to not give up, that there is still wonder in the world, friends we will someday surely see, new places we will one day visit, and so so much else beyond our mortal understanding.
My mom gave me "After The Gold Rush" as a Christmas gift when I was 20 and my family came to visit me in Bad Godesberg. She told me how in college she used to sneak down to the lobby of her dorm at night and play the title track on the piano. I've listened to Neil quite a bit ever since, and even worn the grooves out on a few tracks, like "Cripple Creek Fairy," which for some reason I played twice in a row last week on the way to the glass recycling station. And more than once this month I've found myself singing "Bad Fog of Loneliness." But this Massey Hall performance of "On Our Way Home" is the perfect mix of classic and slightly less familiar. A year into the pandemic, this song about missing friends rings especially bittersweet and true.
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