Thursday, August 06, 2020

Unexpected connections with worlds greatest dad.

Last weekend I discovered I had created a playlist of all the worlds greatest dad albums available on Bandcamp, only I couldn't remember why. I searched my email but there were no press releases in there for the band, so I figured I must've read a post / tweet / Facebook post / suggestion from a friend, snagged the tunes, and saved them for later listening.*

At first listen, worlds greatest dad sounds like they grew up on Matador '90s indie records. An obvious soft spot for me. But as the songs went on that superficial comparison fell away as I was enthralled by Maddie Duncan's emotionally drenched vocals. The chords inside her throat bend and shred to her will, revealing a raw honesty that can literally make your head whip around in wonder. The band's secret weapon in that Duncan is a raw conduit for delivering lyrics with a weight that punches straight through your brain and deep into your heart.

Case in point, and the moment I realized I now loved this band, is one plaintive yowl of a lyric delivered with shuddering effect starting 0:37 seconds into "A Song For Mogis." Duncan sings, "And goddamn I’m almost 25 / I thought i’d feel a little better a quarter through my life."

And when Duncan hit that "better" and then that "quarter" in my headphones I felt the connection and a plaintive longing blanketed me as that lyric became a universal reality that I suddenly felt through to my bones. It's just so, so ... sad. And relatable. Even to an old guy like me.

Speaking of old, Duncan does look into the future later in the song, updating her potential situation to "goddamn I’ll be 35 / sleeping in somebody's basement the rest of my life" and it's at that point I want to reach out and say a lot can change in ten years, just you wait. But then again, you may be right.

Only one way to find out.

*I looked, and it was Kip (of course, because he has excellent taste) who clued me into the band at the end of April via a bunch of texts. So that answers that!

Monday, August 03, 2020

The repetition of "Requirements" is a Monday stopgap to help soothe the mind.

I noticed it'd been almost a week since my last post (?!) and while that wasn't the plan—I've learned to be pretty flexible with "plans" these days, as have you, I'm sure—I can't be the only one who feels there weird tension between feeling like there is so much to do, you'll never get it done, while simultaneously struggling to fill "free" time in the classic sense of that practice.

So anyway, yesterday I was listening to random songs on the tankPHONE, looking for something surprising that might fit my indeterminate mood at the time. And Operator Music Band's "Requirements" rose from the depths of history (and long-forgotten playlists on my phone) to perfectly fill that need.

I've noticed I've been gravitating towards music that has soothing, repetitive qualities—anything from choral singing to exploratory prog-rock—and Operator Music Band's tune fits that inclination (with more than a nod to Stereolab, their obvious heaviest influence on this song). Simple and driving, with lyrics that serve more as brief stabs of color instead of prolonged or coherent messaging, the song had a profound calming effect on me when I rediscovered it yesterday. I'm hoping it has a similar effect on you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

My "glamour shot."

A few months ago one of those posts challenging you to type in your name followed by "glamour shot" was making the rounds, and when I took part the image above was the number one result.

Every time I look at it I laugh, hence my sharing it with you.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

You need some Jeff Rosenstock in your life right now.

While 2020 has already offered us a ton of new music, some of the albums that are really sticking with me are coming from unlikely artists. Let's take Jeff Rosenstock as an example, since he's a musician I've long known about and appreciated, even if his torrential output of music rarely really hit hoe with me.

That all changed with NO DREAM, as Rosenstock fearlessly flaunts he and his band's technical skills  by cramming intricate progressions into a garage rock squall. At first it just sounds like a band bashing out some extremely loud, extremely catchy tunes, and I clearly remember the shock as it locked into place and I realized the dexterity it took to pull all this off while making it sound effortless.

Rosenstock released a video for the album's latest single "Scram!" and it's a terrific entry point for anyone unfamiliar with Rosenstock's work in general, and the genius of NO DREAM in particular. Check out the video and stream the album below.

As always, I endorse buying the tunes if they hit you as hard as they did me. In fact, I think I've bought the album twice already (once digitally and later when I purchased the vinyl, as it became apparent NO DREAM would probably make it through as one of the albums to really emotionally / physically move me in 2020)!*

*If you can't afford the album, and these days I can totally understand that being the case, Rosenstock is a staunch DIY kinda guy and offers free downloads of NO DREAM for those that can't afford to buy it (though there is an option to donate money to various charities through his label).

Monday, July 20, 2020

A cover new to me, and how the Hushdrops became an "Overnight Sensation."

I spent a ridiculous amount of time searching for a band photo before realizing any photos I had were deep in a back-up drive, and the band is seemingly allergic to posting photos of themselves, so I'm resorting to these color bars instead.
I've known John San Juan for well over two decades now, and have been a huge fan of all his musical endeavors, including his primary outlet The Hushdrops.* I've long had tons of stuff from the band, much of it various tapes and CD-Rs of tunes in various states as they were recorded, as well as their two "official" album releases.

A few months ago San Juan finally threw up all the band's music on Bandcamp (thank god!) including a few live recordings and a compilation of non-album releases and various tidbits "from the vaults."

In that compilation sits a cover of "Overnight Sensation" that was recorded for a mid-'90s tribute album to The Raspberries that I had never heard before and it blew me away. It's massive and epic in all the right ways, with a lyric delivered with the knowing wink of people in their 20s that simultaneously believe a hit record is dumb while clearly really wanting one anyway.

"What was the story behind this?!" I wondered. Some of the vocals were clearly not San Juan or drummer Joe Camarillo (and I don't think bassist Jim Shapiro was officially "in" the band yet), so who was singing at times? And seriously, how had I never heard this?!

Sometimes the universe aligns just right, and as I did a brief check to see what I could learn online about the tune—something I didn't have a lot of confidence in finding since The Hushdrops, while deserving of it, have never gotten the "cover every move" type of press other Chicago up-and-comers tend to get—but lo and behold, there was a podcast episode dedicated to the recording of that song and featuring San Juan as its guest just last month!

What are the chances?!

So I invite you to fall in love with this cover, and then get the story behind it. And then you'll play the cover again. And again. And probably a few more times after that.

Also, and I hope it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, be sure to check out the band's whole catalog. The albums are must-haves, but the price for their entire catalog is so low you should just hoover up everything they've got up there so far.

*It is no exaggeration when I say that San Juan is one of the most naturally gifted musicians I have ever known. The man's abilities are astounding. Like, mind-boggling. Just had to say that.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Some of the best music of 2020 ... so far.

Photo by Anders Printz.
Last week I was thinking of a quick and easy post about my favorite albums of the year thus far, based entirely on the spreadsheet rankings I use to track each year's listening.* I thought I could just grab anything rated over a 7 and build out a list of ten albums, easy.

And then I realized I had forgotten just how much excellent music has been released this year. Which is not terribly surprising given our warped sense of time right now. I mean I forgot one of my favorite active bands, Peter Bjorn and John, put out an album this year ... the week everything shut down because of the pandemic (March 13).

I've already been publicly musing about my concern over so much great new music just disappearing into a black hole this year, with no tours or shows or any of the usual means to get the word out. It's scaring the living daylights out of me, if I'm being totally honest.

So when I fired up the spreadsheet and put the albums in their ranked order I was shocked to see so many rated an 8 or more on my personal scale of 10. Usually by this point of the year there are maybe one or two albums in that region, but we're already up to six in 2020. There is a good chance all of these will hold on until the year-end list of 20 albums, but I can already see one that might slip down a notch since my initial scoring, so you never know.

Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
Local H - LIFERS
2nd Grade - Hit To Hit
Jeff Rosenstock - NO DREAM
of Montreal - UR FUN

This next batch are all 7s, but in my head any of these could end up on the year-end list. It's usually this sector that provides sleeper favorites that may launch upward to a higher rating. But again, I'm withholding any editorializing or score adjustments until I have the whole year to consider. So, at the very worst, you now have a list of terrific albums to dip into if you need any new music in your life.

Peter Bjorn and John - Endless Dream
Soccer Mommy - color theory
Ratboys - Printer's Row
Beach Bunny - Honeymoon
Kesha - High Road
Lily Konigsberg - It's Just Like All The Clouds
Lizzy Farrall - Bruise
Locate S,1 - Personlia
Grouplove - Healer
Brendan Benson - Dear Life
Nada Surf - Never Not Together
Selena Gomez - Rare
Sunshine State - The Mess
Sweet Spirit - Trinidad
Buth Walker - American Love Story
Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B
Fire In The Radio - Monuments
Badly Drawn Boy - Banana Skin Shoes
Run The Jewels - RTJ4
The Sounds - Things We Do For Love
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

I noticed after putting this together that Heart Bones' Hot Dish—the excellent new project from Har Mar Superstar and Sabrina from A Giant Dog / Sweet Spirit—and ROOKIE's amazing self-titled debut were not in the 7s, which is why I stress this list is by the numbers only for now. At year's end the task turns towards the editorial as rankings are used to help group consideration sets, so numeric scores are not the ultimate arbiters of what makes the list and what doesn't.

What's rockin' your turntable so far this year?

*Here's a refresher on how I view my own numerical rankings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Taking a brief disco break, so let's dance!

Earlier I was working on a list of albums that have ranked high in my personal estimation thus far in 2020, which reminded me how much I adore Dua Lipa's latest LP, Future Nostalgia, leading me to see what she's been up to most recently, resulting in my discovery of this playful new video for her latest single, which I hope brightens your day and lifts your mood.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Lees Of Memory take their 'Moon Shot' into the musical stratosphere.

I listen to tons of new music and am often searching for under the radar stuff to turn you onto, but this is an example of how there is so much out there I can miss releases by bands I already love! Luckily the Dig Me Out crew mentioned The Lees Of Memory recently released a new album so I paid to download it right away.

The Lees Of Memory features John Davis and Brandon Fisher of Superdrag, along with drummer Nick Slack. Their last release was 2017's The Blinding White Of Nothing At All, a sprawling double album exploration of the group's groovier and psychedelic pop inclinations.* I loved it, but it was a lot to take in.

This year's Moon Shot pulls the focus back in and (I hope Davis doesn't hate me for saying this) is the most "Superdrag" sounding thing the group has done so far. My impression is that The Lees of Memory began as a broad playground for the trio to indulge all their various interests, but on Moon Shot the band is ready to rock and have picked a unified direction for doing so, and you're in for a thrilling ride.

Stream the whole album below, but if you want an immediate adrenaline hit, fire up "Crocodile Tears." It manages to stuff all the band's strengths into a single tune, and it honestly made the hair on the back of my neck stand up the first time heard it. Literally.

*If you dig the vibe of The Blinding White Of Nothing At All I highly recommend you check out the entire Hushdrops catalog that recently made it's way onto Bandcamp as well.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

New neighbors!

I stepped outside last week and was startled when a bird flew past my head, only to discover she was flying away from a nest she'd built in an upper corner of the porch. This morning I discovered she has some new nest companions—two baby birds!

My initial reaction to this was pure joy. When happiness strikes unexpectedly it is sometimes far more overwhwlemong and delicious a sensation. I suddenly loved that mama and her two babies.

Almost as immediately, I started to worry about their wellbeing, and envisioning all the potential disasters that lay in wait for this new trio. I wanted to build a fence around the nest, or at least stand sentry for the next few weeks a la a British palace guard to see them through the most dangerous times.

Why can't I just enjoy a small miracle without allowing it to be tainted by paranoia? I don't have that answer, but for now I'm gonna cheer those birdies on and hope for the best!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Another year older.

I survived another year! My last few birthdays have been quiet affairs, each one marked by a small amount of disbelief that I actually made it through another year, and a large amount of hope that things couldn't possibly get any worse, so sunshine times just had to be around the corner!


So this year I'm level. Routine. Boring. Living is a mental state where disbelief is suspended by actual reality and the resulting world we all inhabit is, right now, a very scary place. This year my only real hope is that it will be less scary this time next year. But I've given up saying "it can't get any worse" because I'm tired of proving myself wrong over and over again.

So let's see where we're all at next year. Maybe I'll even be feeling festive enough by then to actually regain the celebratory joy that used to mark my birthdays. This year I'll just be content with working part of the day and then spending the rest of the day walking and trying to find a quiet place to do some reading.

That seems pretty cool to me right now.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Feeling alright?

Here's a quick one to get your weekend started. I've written about Ryan Allen multiple times here and elsewhere, mostly in relation to various bands he's been in, but during the pandemic he's been cranking out some excellent new music so I wanted to share his recent effort with you.

I'll just let the music speak for itself, but I did plunk down some of my own hard-earned cash for my own download of it. And if the music ain't enough top open your pocketbook, maybe the knowledge that Allen says, "100% of my proceeds for downloading these songs will go to the Black Lives Matter movement." Win-win, people. Win-win!

Psssst. Pssssst! Also, between you and me, I am endlessly amused with Allen's "record label" for this release. Now if only he were wearing a "Loser" t-shirt in the shot...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Some movie and TV and recommendations I meant to share last month and, well, better late than never!

Over the last few months the file of ideas to write about has grown overstuffed, so who knows what from that pile will ever make it's way through to live on at some point or another. But I did come across a text file on my desktop created in early May that I clearly meant to post, and just never did!

So with that in mind, here's a list of stuff I was going to recommend back then to anyone looking to fill their free time. Come to think of it, we're still not getting out much, so this is still relatively useful to most!

The Lighthouse
I've been putting this off since I expected it to be a brainier watch and wanted to make sure I was in the right mood. I shouldn't have waited! Visually brilliant. And so entertaining! Yes, it's dark, but I actually had a rollicking good time viewing this one. And I'll definitely be rewatching it a few times in the near future. So much better (IMHO) than Robert Eggers' debut The VVitch.

Normal People
Read the book first and then watch this adaptation of the material. It's rare when a book comes to life onscreen the way I envisioned it, but in this case that's what happened! And that is probably due in no small fact to author Sally Rooney's involvement with the series. They actually listened to the writer!

After seeing Devs, this feels a little sim pie and flat at times since it goes over similar ground. But it's enjoyable and the characters are deep enough that when they take unexpected turns it actually fits with their development instead of just being stunts to carry the story along. In other words the characters feel more lived-in and "real" than I would've excepted from a comedy about a digital afterlife. I guess given that it was created by The Office's Greg Daniels I guess that shouldn't have come as a surprise though.

The season's conclusion feels a little out of place, primarily because the series resorts to cliffhanger in obvious hopes for a second season, but the twist feels earned so I'll keep riding along if there is another season.

The Leftovers
I'm going through a re-watch of this. I know, I know, how could I find a show where a percentage of the world's population just up and disappears during this pandemic? But there is so much feeling in the show itself that I find great human comfort in it. And this rewatch surprised me with the discovery that this is possibly one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Who woulda thunk?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Never stops?

I finally had a second to think to myself today after sprinting non-stop since the early morning hours, and then I got the most disturbing snippet of news about a loved one so now I'm sitting here with a thousand questions and no answers. I don't wanna get into any of it right now. And I want to know everything about it right now.

Sorry to be all vague and such, but some days you just don't want to feel alone, even if you don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Who taught you how to shave?

I had never been able to grow a full beard, and the less said about the goatee and soul patch I wore for a portion of the '90s, the better. But a few years ago I discovered that hair had suddenly decided to grow on my face in all the places a beard would usually go! Luckily for everyone I always shaved before things got out of hand.

When the lockdown began last March, I had been just about to schedule one of my twice-a-year haircuts, so I was shaggy and unshaved. Once we were all sheltering-in-place I decided to just let the hair go where it wanted to and figure out what to do about it once my stylist's salon opened back up.

So now I look like Grizzly Adams' slightly hipster cousin who's bordering on, and beginning to encroach into, dad-bod-land.

And I have no idea how to groom something like a beard!

I love my dad, but while he was on this planet he wasn't the strongest when it came to relaying manly information on doing manly things (like shaving) so I am in new territory. Once I realized that though, I began to really miss my dad and while I'm glad he's not still here to see all the stupid mistakes I've made, I wish he was here so I could ask him questions about so many things, including those stupid mistakes. And how to trim a beard.

Funny how that all started with me simply realizing he never taught me how to shave.

Friday, June 19, 2020

One songwriter, 31 interpretations.

Usually tribute albums are understandably hit and miss affairs, and at 31 tracks Saving For A Custom Van—a celebration of Adam Schlesinger's catalog—has a couple experiments that maybe don't land perfectly, but it's still 31 songs written by Schlesinger so the source material couldn't be much more solid.

Also, I betcha there are many many people who will be surprised to learn Schlesinger was involved with so much of the music they've probably taken for granted. I know even I forgot he had a hand in the sublime "Way Back Into Love," and who knew Sarah Silverman could sing?

And thank god Rachel Bloom, who collaborated with Schlesinger on so many Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs tackles "Stacy's Mom," taking it in a wholly unexpected direction to give a song Schlesinger might have tired of over the years a new twist.

*Well, actually I knew that. And so do many other people. But admit it, Silverman ain't the first person you expect to see on a tribute album to a power-pop legend.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A new way to keep dancing on your own.

Photo by Chantal Anderson, from Robyn's Facebook page 
In the early morning the world always looks fresh and full of potential to me. As the day wears on that fades, but I try to hold onto at least a sliver of that mentality through the day. It just helps me reframe the day and balance out the suffocatingly bad with the potentially good.

This take on Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" takes the yearning power of the original and reformulates it for a more consistent strut-worthy experience that perfectly pairs with long afternoon walks better than I envision it playing out on an actual dance floor. It doesn't carry nearly the same emotional power of the original, but it keeps just enough of that original intent and spices it up with just enough new twists to make an old and familiar friend seem new and fresh, even if no longer as close an old friend.

Monday, June 15, 2020

You're gonna love The Sounds' 'Things We Do For Love,' I betcha!

It seems almost fitting that The Sounds' first album since 2013 should be launched into the world during the grey area that is new music releases during our pandemic times. I say fitting because The Sounds have always existed in an area that, to me, always felt just outside "the normal." In a "normal" world these Swedes would be a globally dominant music force, based on their outstanding output of consistently hook-filled, rock-tinged dance floor anthems. But here we are, in 2020, and for a while I had a hard time even finding links to where you can actually buy their latest album, Things We Do For Love.

That just isn't fair. But the world isn't fair and here I am, again championing a band that should need no help from a pleb like me to get the word out about them.

So instead of convincing you about why you need The Sounds in your life right now, I'm just going to appeal to your inner laziness and simply urge you to click on the player below, and don't hit stop until the album's end.*

It's at this point I predict you will be as upset by The Sounds still being a band adored on the margins when they should be conquering the mainstream. But here we are.

*The fact I'm including a Spotify embed given my personal hesitation to use that platform except when absolutely necessary should give you an idea of how much I want you to listen to this album!

Friday, June 12, 2020

I'm still here...

I avoided posting much this week. There are other and more important things to worry about, and confront, and change, and fix. But I'm still here and as O.K. as anyone else who has a conscience and is just battered and horrified by the world around all of us right now. I do take a small amount of solace in the fact that maybe, just maybe, this time we'll all keep up the pressure to institute real and systemic change when it comes to addressing racism. It certainly feels different to me, this time around. And that gives me hope—but we all need to stay vigilant. That doesn't mean we have no time, or it's some sign of laziness that we might want, to hear about good things or new bands or movies or books, or any of the other stuff that honestly seems pretty irrelevant right now. I firmly believe art is a most excellent "distraction" in these times, especially since that "distraction" often helps us make sense of the world around us. But, like I said, these things should offer us comfort without dulling our passion to implement real, lasting change.

I do feel incredibly hopeful about our prospects for success, but I also fear this may be our last chance to get things done before we slide irrevocably into a deeper, darker, and more chaotic abyss.

So we ALL need to keep at it and not give up!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Well, that's one potential way to bring live music back...

I mean, it does keep everyone safe whilst enjoying the show!

[Credz to my old friend Sean for bringing this to my attention since I fell asleep early last night and missed its original airing!]