Non-stop train to Jamtown, all aboard.
A year in the making. Of adding and subtracting, one song at a time. Of nudges, big and small, in one direction or the other. Here is my playlist concerning my favorite albums and songs of 2017.
A little elaboration: the first 101 songs are my picks for the best albums, in order. After that, after Beck's "Dear Life", the ranking stops and a mix of 2017 songs begins. From 102 to 222 or so you'll find singles as well as many songs from albums that did and didn't make the top 101. I tried to keep this whole thing limited to two songs per artist, but in a few occasions I couldn't help myself. Why did I stop at 101 and not find a spot for the Thurston Moore or Lee Renaldo album? I don't know. Why are only two of the three Moon Duo albums from this year on the list? And why is Occult Architecture Vol. 2 so much higher than Vol. 1? I don't know. At any rate, you'll still find around 150 artists on this playlist, and hopefully some of them will be exciting new discoveries for you. I'm sure there are some great ones that are missing simply because I wasn't aware or I just never found the time to sit with them. For that, I'm not going to apologize -- that's fodder for my What Did I Miss? playlist.
I'm not sure if it was a matter of having my antennae more intently attuned to the new releases every week this year or just a matter of timing, but it felt like 2017 was an especially strong year for new music. There are big stretches in this list that are essentially a tie, and picking one over an other feels pretty arbitrary, but I suppose that's why making such lists is rather nonsensical anyway. Some days the Jack Cooper album will sound better than Julie Byrne -- other days there's no beating "Sleepwalker", period. The real point here is that it's all good, and by December 31st I can finally stop messing with it and start a new playlist to futz with.
What's your take on algorithms? Good, bad, a little of both, completely indifferent? Whatever it is, you have to admit that every once in a while the damn things can hip you to something mind-blowing. Well, maybe mind-blowing is a bit of a stretch. But I've been going around considering myself pretty well-versed in the output, musical or otherwise, of both David Berman and Will Oldham and was completely in the dark about the existence of these two videos.
Both of these videos come from the fine folks at Drag City who have blessedly made their videos open to all regions, so that here in Berlin I don't get the cursed fuzz screen that tells me "sorry but Sony and/or Universal own everything and you're out of luck, ya commie."
Palace Music - "Horses"
The first one is attributed to Palace, and Drag City should be considered a solid authority on the band name, though the song "Horses" is off Lost Blues and Other Songs, which is filed under Palace Music. Those familiar with this band will appreciate the continued obfuscation around the band name here. And perhaps at this point we all should just go with Palace and leave the Music, Brothers and Songs in the past.
I love this video for a few reasons. Not only is it a charming and simply funny blast from the past, it reminds me of all those wonderful and awful student films that were such a strong presence in my late teens and early twenties. This is innocence and energy, propelled by the same inspiration that countless other young filmmakers have experienced, which is, "Hey I have a gun and a car and a couple of suits so let's do this thing." Brilliant.
I think Will Oldman's shirt might even be a nod to Breathless, right? After all it was Godard that said, "All you need for a movie is a gun and girl, and for a music video you can even get by without the girl as long as you've got a car." Not many people remember that send part, but it's this video is proof he was right.
Silver Jews - "Random Rules"
So, not long after Lost Blues, the Silver Jews released their landmark album American Water, the first cut of which is this tune.
I'm far more of a Silver Jews obsessive than I am of Palace or Will Oldham -- likely due to the relative brevity of David Berman's output compared to Oldham, who occasionally gives Robert Pollard a run for his money in the productivity department. So I'm even more surprised to see this video pop up in the sidebar. In my mind, Silver Jew music videos became a thing around the same time that Berman and the band started playing live, around 2004 or so.
The video for "Random Rules" is more polished than "Horses" but if the Palace video is like Breathless, then we'll stretch that analogy far beyond any tasteful limit and call the Silver Jews video like later, more experimental Godard, what with its odd use of jump cuts and whatnot. But what we really have a whole lot of ramshackle charm and some simple yet cool and effective techniques, like the shower curtain shot, the multiple Berman's walking into the bar, the shovel switcheroo, and so forth. You can tell that the lighting didn't quite work out for the disappearing-into-the-shadows shot, but hey, it's a solid idea.
I don't think I'll ever get used to a beardless Berman without glasses, but it would seem that this is a look he's returned to recently.
Like the Palace video, the images in this little "Random Rules" movie offer a powerful transport back to the late nineties. In this case, to penniless yet youthful cold days in Eastern Coast Suburbia and turning one's collar up against the wind. But that's just me, your own reaction to these time capsules may vary.
A very likely to be recurring feature here in the music section where I highlight a Spotify playlist that I'm currently obsessed with. This time around, it's Henry Owings's "The Cooler" playlist.
Do you like semi-obscure garage rock from the 1990s? Or how about super-obscure British psychedelia from the 1960s? Do the words Pylon, Cows, Flipper and Harvey Milk also evoke musical connotations? Do you nod knowingly when someone talks about the important difference between Rocket From the Tombs and Rocket From the Crypt? Are you hoping that next year's Riot Fest lineup features a reunion of the original Don Caballero trio?
Then this playlist is for you, my friend.
The chunkletguy, aka Henry Owings, has been a vital fixture of the American indie music scene since the early 1990s, when Chunklet magazine first started appearing every so often, much to the delight of music geeks who like a good Modest Mouse joke. It is our good fortune that just this past March, Owings decided to dump over 2,000 songs into a behemoth of a playlist (some 100+ hours of music) that doesn't just cover the Athens, GA music scene that Owings is a significant part of, but spans deep cuts from Wilson Pickett, The Sonics and The Stooges, The Cynics, New Bomb Turks, Naked Raygun and hundreds of others bands -- many that will surely be new discoveries for most people. There's classic rock, new wave, no wave, psychedelic rock, punk, metal, math rock, essentially anything with a guitar and an attitude.
This is one of those, "If I could only listen to one playlist for the rest of my life..." kind of playlists. Pray it stays around forever so that you might find the time to listen to all the amazing music it has to offer. Right now it sits at 12 subscribers, so be the first cool kid on your block to add The Cooler to your collection.
As J. Mascis once said, "What a mess." If there's any silver lining to the turmoil that much of the world finds itself in as 2016 crawls to a merciful close, it's that such conditions have often led to great art. This past year was filled with a sense of unease and uncertainty, until it finally succumbed to churning upheaval and dread. A lot of this can be found in the year's music as many songs could be distinguished by representing either a tentative dance or a defiant march into the unknown. As always, there was also a healthy mix of longing, reflection and good-old-fashioned love songs.
One of music's greatest qualities is how it can reflect the difficulty, danger, pain and rewards of opening up and being honestly expressive and receptive with the world around you. Lord knows 2017 is going to need more of this - more honest expression about what really scares and motivates us and more active listening and understanding toward the concerns of others. In other word(s): empathy. With that in mind, here's a playlist - or a 7 hour mood piece, if you will, of songs that captured a little bit of 2016's essence, for better or worse.
I know there isn't anything that really qualifies as a "bootleg" these days. It's a nostalgic term. But like all those pesky words it has become something else - or at least I think it can still serve a purpose - as a term for an alternate version of a song by the original band.
In the Submit to the Boot series I'll do some infrequent highlighting of songs that you find in the fringes of a band's catalog that beat the ones on the record. In a way, it's a spotlight on some of the stuff you find on the endless re-issues and box set filler that can easily pass by the frugal consumer. Also, demos and live versions.
The first is something that falls into one of those categories, I'm sure. It's the beautiful Lou Reed tune "Satellite of Love" as found as a bonus track on one of the many reissues of Loaded by The Velvet Underground.
Originally found on Lou Reed's Transformer.
I didn't last long in Brighton, MA. Even those who do somehow manage to persevere in that environment, I'm not sure they're any better off for it. I was on the border of it and Allston. Allston... And I had to deal with a landlord that would tack up an eviction notice on the door if you were more than a couple days late with the rent. He had a picture on his desk, in a office in the basement of an unfinished house, of him smiling with his arm around what certainly appeared to be an ayatollah of some sort. Everyone I talked to who were landlord-ed under Alpha Management had no illusions that our money wasn't being quickly funneled out of the country.
There aren't many bands that meant as much to me in my twenties as The Silver Jews and David Berman. The line from "Buckingham Rabbit": "When you're 15 you wanna look poor.../I don't wanna look poor anymore" sums up a lot of the feelings I had walking around the dilapidated dorm town. The albums American Water and The Natural Bridge were gospel for me at the time and fortunately the Silver Jews catalog is strong enough that it grows up with you. Like the best art it takes on new meanings as you gain experiences.
Bright Flight is the cleanest sounding Silver Jews record and in hindsight it might have something to do with the state of Berman's affairs at the time. You can read the interviews about his legendary benders but what ended up on the album is very tidy and holds up to Tennessee professionalism. Some might find it a little dishonest or betraying the Silver Jews cassette tape mythology but I dig it. It's a transition album of sorts - the first with his wife Cassie and without Malkmus.
Sometimes with Berman's songs I think he's speaking in the past tense - even if he starts out a song with "I'm drunk on a couch in Nashville". Maybe it's in his voice. But it's in something in the past and it's pain mixed with humor and even a certain longing.
Wanting to be like water hits on just about every existential longing you can come up against. Or maybe you're more like lightning or rain, or you're drinking and lying and loving and dancing and stuck, broke and trying to run away. I guess this is music that never really leaves you. With this selection, I'll admit Bright Flight is filled with tunes that have not left me in the time since I parted with this CD.
You know, that old idea, that one about dying. I really like Cassie's voice alongside David's on this tune and the others that would go on to fill the more ragged Tanglewood Numbers and what appears to be the band's final album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. It feels like a natural progression that Berman would end up singing duets with his wife on the second part of his band's life.
Ugh... I certainly haven't given up on this band or D.C. Berman putting out more music in some form or another. He left a pretty powerful statement when he wrote of the end of the Silver Jews. Maybe we'll still see a movie or a book or something in the near future - something bigger coming from the mentholmountains? I hope so.
Always trying to leave on a up-note. The CD single for Tennessee has a beauty on it called "I'm Gonna Love the Hell Out of You". I think it sits comfortably among the great SIlver Jew take on love songs. Like "Honk if You're Lonely" or "Sleeping is the Only Love".
David Berman, we love you and we're waiting.
Oh shit. Even if I haven't listened to this album since we parted ways, I have not forgotten its power. Fantastic Damage is a vicious rap album from 1985 via 2002 and wholly crap it is a classic. The beats are undeniable, as are lines like, "get signed to Rawkus?/I'd rather get mouth-fucked by Nazis unconscious". (Sorry, Talib. The label gets a "You coulda been a contender" in the liner notes. ) Yeah, it's not all from 1985 but throughout we hear about growing up, Back to the Future, Reagan and Vietnam PTSD and it may be, as they say in the album, the time when motherfuckers could rock.
Listen to "The Nang, The Front, The Bush & The Shit" and try not to feel a whole range of emotions and practically get worn out by the time it lets go of you.
It rocks, it flows, it stings when he says, "Sign me up!" It's a hell of a song - hell, it's three songs worth of magic. These songs are so packed full of ideas and energy you could easily get enough runoff for three albums of your standard rap output.
This was, again, the days of Hyde Park Ave. and this song especially reminds me of walking, walking, walking past the laundromat, the strip-mall, the last days of Blockbuster...
Smart and creepy, right? Honestly it is criminal to separate some of these songs from the album as Fantastic Damage really is something to sit down and reckon with as a whole. The songs bleed into one another in impressive ways and there is a strong urge to play TOJ, the track following "Stepfather Factory".
This time, we'll go out on some positivity with assistance from Mr. Lif, who is featured on the last track of the album, "Blood". Also, I wanted to tag El-P 2012 appearance on Letterman as a testament to this guy's perseverance. He's not the kind of artist that makes it easy on fans to like his work. He's held onto a lot of credibility over the years and it was great to see El-P on stage with Letterman and getting some well-earned respect under a big spotlight. That video has been taken down - but - there's one from Conan that ain't too shabby.
The forgotten Spiritualized albums? I seem to recall them arriving with little fanfare or maybe it was just everybody still reeling from Ladies and Gentleman and figuring "Mr. Spaceman isn't going to top that anytime soon so whatever". These are albums, especially after the more recent Songs in A&E and Sweet Heart Sweet Light, that deserve attention and reward revisits. They may tread the familiar, druggy territory of previous Spaceman records, and maybe they don't have quite the heartache of Ladies and Gentleman..., but Songs in A&E was a reckoning in a couple of ways and Let It Come Down and Amazing Grace are the relapse and raging party that leads to the reckoning. It really is easier to see how they fit into the larger story now and so maybe it is easier to enjoy their indulgences.
Let It Come Down came out first in 2001 and is filled with yearning and recovery pains and a lot of drug and treatment references. The first standout is an ode to stasis:
The centerpiece song, "The Straight And The Narrow", sums up the general feeling, or theme - if there is one, of the album. Though, in true Spiritualized fashion we're at full speed singing our hearts out with a choir aimed at the heavens by the end of the album. I think Spaceman knows he's at his best showing the fragility in the rage.
Amazing Grace came out just two years later and it does feel in many way a Pt. 2 to Let It Come Down. The centerpiece song on here, "Lord Let It Rain On Me", even has the line "let it come down" repeated in the chorus.
Spiritualized has never really left my iPod for too long. It is therapy music - it does give you a dose of secular spirituality and is good for healing wounds. This is a band that has packaged its music in pharmaceutical trappings and intake instructions. There is equal parts anger management (in the distortion filled rockers) and wound salve music in these albums and I recommend storing them in an easily accessible place - maybe next to your rescue inhaler.
Let's go out on a high note here. One of Amazing Grace's loud, propulsive songs. Spiritualized is a loud band with ear-ringing live shows. In some ways Spiritualized is like Bonnie 'Prince' Billy or The Flaming Lips (we'll get to them yet), bands with music and live shows that provide me with that needed aforementioned secular spiritualism that gets me through life. Here's a short Maggie's Farm blast that'll shake you loose with drum fills and electricity.
Not sure why Stephen Malkmus' solo/Jicks albums popped out of the box first. There are a good many better albums in the same box but, well, they were nicely grouped together, I suppose, and damnit if I don't hold a warm place in my heart for these first two post-Pavement Malkmus albums. I want to play The Hook, off the Stephen Malkmus album - the one the label wouldn't let him use the name The Jicks on. But you'll find the name on my preferred cover of the album (versus the dreamy sunset portrait):
The Hook is one of the first of Malkmus' straightforward story songs - something The Jicks have gotten pretty good at but in the first album The Hook and the single Jenny & The Ess-Dog were the two otherwise mixed in with the non-sequitur filled songs that somewhat defined Malkmus' Pavement-era lyrical leanings. But The Hook comes first on the tracklist so...
Pig Lib, the second album, is still tied closely with a brief, intense flirtation with a high school sweetheart. Especially the tune Vanessa From Queens, which I think sums it all up in its own catchy, toe-tappin way.
Why won't you let me, let me, let me love you?, indeed. Also, this album is ripe with memories of Jamaica Plain. The turnstile blues of Forrest Hills station and the morning exhaust fumes of Hyde Park Avenue. Pig Lib is an excellent album to ward off these commuter foes and put a purposeful strie in your step.
Well there we go. One, two, three - yes, I'm including the Jenny & The Ess-Dog CD single in with this post. The questionable purchase on my part contains three covers of varying success that were recorded live in Germany. We'll go out on fairly rockin jam That's What Mama Said (originally from an Australian 70's band called... Coloured Balls).
A tragic event found two crates and a box, all full of CDs, unexpectedly back in my possession today. I parted ways with these CDs somewhere around 10 years ago. So some of these CDs, and bands - I haven't listened to their songs since (Ed Harcourt?, Hot Hot Heat, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci anyone?). Others, or rather, most, I've kept up with every album they've put out since (see next and most posts in this project). Overall the collection is made up of CDs I bought (or a copy a friend may have burned for me) between the mid nineties to early oughts and ranges the spectrum of genres. To put it mildly, this is an amazingly ass-kicking collection of music on a near obsolete format.
Some photos. (And these are more or less untouched order-wise from how I received them today. I just dusted some spines, hope you can make out most of the titles.)
Oh, and in the middle of all this was the mystery CD travel jacket that holds probably the oldest stuff. Don't remember seeing this thing since high school, honestly. But no, I haven't even opened it yet.
So you've got an idea of what I have and my project is to burn all this old shit onto to my (fairly) new computer and jot down some thoughts and listen to some songs and dust off some memories. Please join me, won't you?