Monday, November 30, 2020

He said captain, I said "wot?"

I finished another rewatch of Legion over the weekend—if you're looking for an extremely rewatchable TV show that shifts its skin from episode to episode while still managing to tell a compelling, overarching tale, this could be your jam—and every time Captain Sensible's "Wot" comes up on the soundtrack I am absolutely floored with how much the song sounds like it could've been recorded yesterday. I am almost embarrassed at the number of times I've Shazam-ed the tune each time it comes on because I've completely forgotten its provenance.

So this seemed like the right thing to share of a cloudy Monday when we could probably use a little jolt to add some pep in our collective step.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Soundtrack your Thanksgiving break with the summery sounds of Hey, Chels.

File this as yet another in the category of "meant to write about it but never found the right time" and then forgive me for never finding the right time, because the right time is now!

Most of you likely have the next couple of days off due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and I'm also guessing most of you won't be celebrating the same way you have in previous years. So if, like me, you are celebrating the holiday solo, you may as well kick off the long weekend with something summery and fun, right? No reason to let the isolation get you down!* 

Hey, Chels is a quartet out of San Diego led by the commanding vocal presence of Jacque Mendez, resting within the easily digestible chunky, chuggy musical sugar pills constructed by guitarist Ricky Schmidt, bassist Kevin White, and drummer Stephanie Presz. It's all very '90s indie guitar, it's all just oh-so catchy, and it's all just what I needed this morning. 

And since you're reading this, that might be what you need too. Lemme know how it hits you.

*Actually, there are a ton of valid reasons for isolation getting you down. So instead view this as an isolation-management tactic.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A rare endorsement of a contemporary holiday album that could very well become a classic.

Photo by Chris Edwards
This is the year I know I've softened when it comes to the approaching holidays, because for the first time I haven't thrown into an irrational rage over Christmas decorations coming out before Thanksgiving. Given the state of the world, I'm realizing the power in even the smallest gestures of joy.

But I've held onto my disdain for most contemporary holiday albums as half-baked cash grabs with little to no personality. Or, even worse, those that simply turn pop songs into "holiday songs" by adding obnoxious sleigh bells to tunes that 100% don't need them.

The key word here is "contemporary," though. I love the heck out of older holiday music, which was no less a cash grab at the time but ended up being timeless despite that. 

So when Kelly Finnigan's A Joyful Sound showed up in October I listened begrudgingly ... for about 10 seconds before that initial resistance turned into an open embrace. When I went back to actually read the press release alongside the albums (when possible I listen to tunes first and read the bits about the artist intentions after) it made a ton of sense:
Featuring members of Durand Jones & The Indications, The Dap-Kings, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Monophonics, Thee Sinseers, Orgone, Ikebe Shakedown, Jason Joshua & The Beholders, The True Loves, Neal Francis, Jungle Fire, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Ben Pirani, The Jive Turkeys, The Ironsides, The Harlem Gospel Travelers, Rudy De Anda, Alanna Royale, and more! Inspired by records like Atlantic's Soul Christmas, Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You and Rotary Connection's Peace, this album will appeal not only to lovers of holiday music, but lovers of SOUL music in general!  
In light of that, Finnigan and his compatriots absolutely delivered an album I seriously consider a new holiday classic. In this world, Christmas is snowy and beautiful but also dusty and groovy. This could turn even the most sedate family gathering into an all-ages dance party—I guarantee grandma is gonna love these songs just as much as the dour goth tween sitting sullenly at the other end to the table grousing about the lack of vegan options.

In fact, this is the rare holiday album I could see playing all year round. It's that fucking good.

Don't take my word on it though, get into the holiday groove and see for yourself!

I mean, Grohl is cool and all, but Nandi RULES!

At least one adult in the U.S. knows when it's time to properly concede.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Wherein I finally get the point though that certainly wasn't a certainty from the beginning.

I’m doing the same thing every music fan is probably doing right now, going through albums I listened to this year to start putting together personal “best of” lists. My list has always been based on music that hit me hard and stuck with me throughout the year, and right now I'm finding that a barrier. Because of the nature of the music world n 2020 a lot of great music was released only to too swiftly disappear. Even the monsters of pop couldn't hold onto public attention, even if they did rack up decent sales/streams (e.g., Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, Green Day (?!), and on and on ad nauseam). And those are just some of the expected heavy hitters that swiftly vanished instead of leaving a lasting cultural impact.

The author, hard at work looking like a dork.
Back in the spring the year looked to be stacked with promising indie or smaller releases, and while that proved to be true this environment wasn't exactly conducive to keeping anyone as a frequent conversational topic (unless you are Phoebe Bridgers, in which case you became the reliable focus of many music outlets when they needed something to write about everyone could agree on ... but even her Punisher has quickly faded in my personal estimation—a fine and solid album but not the masterwork many hail it as).*

Then there's the unexpected tripod of Dua Lipa, Annie, and Kylie Minogue, who all recorded albums entirely or mostly before the pandemic, but their release throughout the lockdown seemed to perfectly coincide with exactly what I needed from music in the moments they entered the world. In a way they built upon each other to create a triptych that I've come to rely on whenever I need a lift or an escape. In retrospect this feels like a cosmic alignment.

It's Monday, so forgive my rambling while I look for the point. I usually know what I'm driving at but now realize I started writing this to try and sort out my own thoughts, and as I go on I feel like I'm only confusing myself more. Do I want my "best of" to be grand artistic achievements or a catalog of alternate realties I escape to as needed? I guess my perfect list would include music that's both, right? And come to think of it, that's how I always build these things, so what's my problem?

Oh yeah, 2020. That's my problem. Something as simple and supposedly fun as creating a list of what I liked is brought down by the reality that even the tasks that seemed enjoyable in the past have to rub up against the friction that nothing is normal or expected right now. And my critical parameters have had to reckon with that in ways I'm less used to.

Hey! What do you know? I figure out the point I was trying to get at! Yay me. So now that that's sorted out, lemme go work on it for a while. Here's a fun song to reward you for slogging through all that.**

*No shade intended since it is a terrific album with a few truly outstanding songs (I still think "Kyoto" is an instant classic.) It just didn't have the staying power with me that other albums have, thus far.
**Oh yeah, did you even know Badly Drawn Boy released a new album this year? Probably not! It's rather good, even though I admit there are a few lyrics in "Is This A Dream" that feel oddly prophetic now.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Twitter finally makes their first smart move in a really long time.

I've had many issues with Twitter at the years progressed—oh how innocent it all seemed way back in January 2008 when I first joined—but am so far appreciating a few of the latest privacy options they're rolled out. While I know everyone still wants an edit button for their tweets, I've never been convinced tat wouldn't undercut the basic nature of the platform. But giving users the control over the conversations connected to their tweets seems like an excellent idea.

Yes, one could argue that this would only reinforce the echo cabers Twitter tends to foster, but after years of trying to figure out how to deal with the issue in a manner that might appeal to people's more rational nature and seeing everything fail on that front, this at least gives you control over whether or not your tweets are hijacked by vitriolic conversations.

I do wish they hadn't rolled this out in conjunction with their lame Stories ripoff Fleets, since that dominated the conversation around the latest update, so I think it's worth reminding you that you now have this option of additional control over the content you put out there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A vaccine is coming! But that doesn't change our current situation one whit.

It's not often I post something on Facebook first and then replicate it here, but after writing this I reckoned it couldn't hurt.

A vaccine is coming! And that is super exciting! But it's still probably 6 months away or more for most of us, so keep wearing your mask, washing your hands, and socially distancing, because I see everyone getting excited by the news as if we're at the end of this, and we aren't.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • None of the vaccines have been submitted to the FDA yet, and even an expedited review doesn't mean they'll ignore data or results that are concerning
  • I want the efficacy that's being touted to be true, but until we see the data all we have to go on are press releases, for the most part
  • Even if the vaccines are approved in record time, you're not getting one until next summer at the earliest, probably. Best case scenario would be spring, but I'm not confident in that happening right now
  • Everyone I've spoken to in the last week has said they expect to be one of the first to get the vaccine for this reason or that, so if you're in that cohort of thinking but not a first responder or medical professional, that isn't gonna happen
  • I still haven't seen any concrete distribution plans or vast networks of the specialized freezers that will be required to transport and store some of the vaccine candidates. (There is this, but I take it with a huge grain of salt.) This was the one primary responsibility of the current administration under Operation Warp Speed, and I have zero confidence it's been addressed.* So we could all be waiting even longer for a vaccine if they need to figure out most of the actual on-the-ground logistics after Jan. 20
So stay safe and keep following guidelines to stay masked and apart from each other, and we will all get through this together! 

*Trump telling scientists to "work faster" does not count as assisting in the actual work of creating the vaccine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The surprising delights of 'Manbird,' revealed!

Photo by Julia Boorinakis Harper
The photo above, and the album cover below, were my first introduction to Anton Barbeau's new Manbird double album. And yes, the art appears as if it was pulled together for an Angelfire website circa 1998. Luckily for me I ignore art and bios until I actually listen tenth music, so while I went in with low expectations, I still dove into the music headfirst and without preliminary judgement.

Talk about not judging a book by its cover!

Manbird is a densely stuffed album of psychedelic pop that has drawn comparisons to Julian Cope, only I don't think I've ever heard anything this consistently enjoyable from Cope.* And while Barbeau clearly wants to align himself with the more lysergic end of music genres, there's a steady supply of power pop humming along under the hood of Manbird's songs. Imagine if The Cars got even weirder, lost in their internal wanderings, then hit the speedway to a land covered in cartoonishly pink clouds and magical beasties all around.

It's an escape. And honestly? Who couldn't use an escape right now? We can't go out so you may as well get lost in your own head with Manbird as a temporary guide.

*I do love Peggy Suicide, and it's my fave piece of Cope's music, but even then Cope has a hard time keeping up the quality and maintaining the focus. 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Miss The National? Maybe it's time to step OUTSIDE then!

Photo via the OUTSIDER Facebook page
Look, I enjoy and appreciate and genuinely really like The National—I booked one of their earliest Chicago appearances way back when—but I am not a superfan by any means.* But this year has honestly given fans two de facto The National albums: Matt Berninger's solo album and Aaron Dessner's little album with some singer named Taylor Swift both carry the group's aesthetic beyond its core members.**

But maybe that's not enough for you?

If not, might I recommend OUTSIDER a.k.a Seán Ó Corcoráin? His debut Karma of Youth has all the aural benchmarks of The National but gives it a slight twist so every song brims with exultant choruses, twisting the darkness into the light to reveal a mixture more beautiful than the equation on paper might imply.

Karma of Youth came out in April, so you are again forgiven for missing 'em. And my apologies for taking so long to write about them, because I liked them enough when I first heard Karma Of Youth earlier this year that I went ahead and bought the album because sometimes when something's this solid you've just GOTTA have the WAV files, right?

Oh, one other thing—as the album progresses yes, you're gonna start asking yourself if this is what it might sound like if Berninger and Dessner added Jack Antonoff to their weekly songwriting coffee klatsch, and admit it, reading that makes you wanna hear this even more. In fact, I'll admit that the Bleachers influence actually grows stronger as the album goes on, so sorry if that's a spoiler or too easily explains why I fall under OUTSIDER's spell so thoroughly each time I spin this album, but it's a fact.

And to Mr. Ó Corcoráin, I'm sorry for resorting to the "compare your sound to other bands' sounds" tactic here, but sometimes RIYL really is a strong argument to make in a short span of time, right?

*Every time I walk past Big Star in Wicker Park I wonder if the patrons eating near the rear of the room realize that The National once played in that tiny space.
**For the record, I thought the first was a nice Sunday listen and the second was pretty terrific all around, so I'm not knocking either effort in the least. I'm not a superfine but I am certainly a fan!

Friday, November 06, 2020

Big Triple Fast Action news!

It's not a reunion, but it's almost as good: Triple Fast Action is reissuing their sophomore album Cattlemen Don't in an expanded version and I could not be more excited! Read all about it!

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Sometimes the remix truly is superior.

Some Thursday levity for you!

Take a refreshing dip into Mundy's Bay. You have more than earned it.

Photo by Véronique Lévesque
Mundy's Bay released their debut full-length album on March 13, 2020, so if their name doesn't ring a bell, that's understandable. There was a lot going on that weekend.

Luckily for you (and very luckily for me) I listened to the album earlier this year, then slotted it in the category of "revisit to see how it stands up later this year" a.k.a. the list I pull most of my "best of" albums from at year's end after listening to all of them again. But there's no reason to wait one second more if you haven't heard this yet.

The Canadian quartet traffics in a mixture of indie-pop and dance-rock to craft a bubbly blend of absolute good time jams. Their bio mentions they come from the punk and hardcore scenes of the rough and tumble North, which tracks. I mean, even Sloan's members were in hardcore bands at one time, but there's something about the Canadian air that just triggers melodic rock and/or pop explosions to erupt in the midst of any songwriting session. They simply can't help it, much to our benefit.

Another reason to listen to this? It was released on March 13 of this year, which means it's an artifact from a different time, despite being a recent release. Thank god it's an artifact of all the positive things that went into its development, and not a reflection of a world threatening to tumble into a new Dark Ages. 

Lonesome Valley may be come off as an intimidating title for Mundy's Bay's debut LP, but for me the album has been a long drink of incredibly rejuvenating fresh water, courtesy our Canadian neighbors.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Count every vote!

I'm flabbergasted. Again. While it appears Joe Biden is on track to easily win the popular vote, we still have about half a nation that is voting in ways I simply no longer understand, and Trump could still take the Electoral College. But the votes are still being counted, no matter what the current President says. So we just have to sit tight.

Instead, for today, I went through the archives and here are my reactions to all the elections since this website launched and thought I'd share them with you.

2004: This was the year I just shared some of John Resh's thoughts and ... it is shocking how timely it is when you re-read it.

2012: I was so optimistic!

2016: It took me well over a week to stop posting short, scattered blasts that illustrated just how thrown I was, but I finally did manage to collect a few thoughts at the time.

2020? We'll see. No matter what the final results, the U.S.A. is. not the country I thought it was and, for the first time in my life, I don't know if it ever will be. But hang tight—giving up simply isn't an option.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

What's your post-voting plan?

There was so much talk about creating a voting plan to ensure your ballot is cast and counted, but I don’t think anyone extended that plan to cover what to do after you vote. What do you do in the gap between doing your civic duty and the final results?

Four years ago I spent election night alone, growing steadily more horrified as the evening went on. 

This year I’ll be spending the evening alone again, fervently hoping that the results will at least give me hope, even if it’s not gonna immediately solve all our problems. But I will probably not be watching TV in real time for most of the night, instead opting to catch up with season two of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. There’s nothing I can do about the results of the election at this point, so I’m trying everything I can to keep from obsessing over them right now.

Whatever your voting plan may be, make sure it includes some voting post-care. Look out for yourselves and each other. 

We’re all in this together. Except Trump. He’s a dick. Still.