Lucero Address Change on the Magnificent Among The Ghosts

Lucero – Among the Ghosts


2018 marks twenty years together for the Memphis-based Lucero, a group no stranger to making classic record after classic record. That’s why it’s not surprising that their ninth, Among the Ghosts might just be their best. On the whole, the album sounds like Ben Nichols coming to terms with a new phase in life – both as a husband and a father, and the double edge sword that can be.

It’s an album that shows the true breadth of their talents – the album’s title track starts on a mediation about a lot of things – Nichols talks about leaving his family behind on the road – specifically his young daughter – and the toll it takes. “The first words she said to me were ‘goodbye’”, he sings. It almost breaks your heart to hear the resignation in his voice.

Nichols sounds a little hard on himself about how life transforming has impacted those around him. That’s apparent on “Everything Has Changed,” charged by Rick Steff’s inimitable keys. “Looking like darker days/ain’t nobody else to blame/somewhere down in hell they call my name.” It’s a classic Lucero slow-burner, but seems to hold so much more weight in the light of the birth of his daughter.

One of the album’s best tracks, “For My Dearest Wife” was inspired by Civil War soldiers writing back to their families, however, it’s really feels like a storytelling device about Nichols missing his wife. The band offers an interpolation of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the song, backed by Roy Berry’s marching drums. It’s a beautiful piece to talk about something personal and relatable with a historical context in a way that many musicians could not execute as well as this, or even bother with attempting.

Has this band ever written a song as tender as “Loving”? That’s debatable, “It might not be good enough for them/but I just want to be good enough for you” may be one of the most realistic and honest lines in a love song in recent memory. It’s a song Nicohols originally wrote for a film of the same name about Richard and Mildred Loving, whose interracial marriage in the late 50’s was illegal where they lived, and their challenging of the law resulted in a Supreme Court decision ruling the law unconstitutional. While the song is referencing the film, the feeling is universal.

Among the Ghosts shows a band still growing after two decades together. For a band to be making music this good, an album that feels so consequential and full this late in their career is incredible. Yes, the stakes are higher, but Lucero is there to meet them.

Among the Ghosts is out August 3 on Thirty Tigers.

Wild Pink’s “Yolk in the Fur” is Grand Ambition Unfolding in Real Time


Wild Pink – Yolk in the Fur

Any band’s second album is cause for concern. It can go two ways – a retread of the first, a brand new direction, or something entirely forgettable. Yolk in the Fur is none of those. In every way, it’s the sound of a New York-based Wild Pink accumulating mass, becoming something bigger than they seemingly ever intended, reaching beyond what they previously thought possible and forging something far different than you’d expect from a band out of New York City.

Opener “Burger Hill” is an excellent table setter, kicking off the record with placid synths and reverb-heavy guitar. “Lake Erie” is a majestic, sweeping single reminiscent of the last few The War on Drugs albums, while “Jewels Drossed in the Runoff” with it’s crashing riffs and Ross’s slightly above-a-whisper voice creating a song that’s both anthemic as it is gorgeous. Shortly thereafter comes “There Is A Ledger”, that churns only in a way that 1980’s pop-rock singles do – it’s a hard sound to describe here, but the jangly guitars and whooping synth feel so out of time but amazingly refreshing.

Yolk in the Fur is a major leap forward for Wild Pink. It communicates that they’re a band that’s deploying only a modicum of their skillset. The first two records show potential and possibility. Whatever is next feels like the scope will be much wider. Wild Pink’s wave is about to crest. This is your chance to catch it.

Yolk in the Fur is out today on Tiny Engines.

Hear/Here: Snail Mail, Culture Abuse and more


Snail Mail – Lush

Lindsey Jordan’s debut album is a confident collection of indie rock that could fit well in any decade – they’re confident, full-bodied anthems that have endless playback. “Pristine” is an amazing example of this – “Is there any better feeling than coming clean?” I’m marveling how “Heat Wave” starts as kind of a dreamy ballad before it nosedives into a straight-from-1993 speaker blaster. “Let’s Find An Out” brings things down with its simple strums as does the breezy vocals of “Golden Dream”. It’s an instant classic from a young artist on her first full length. With Lush as an example, whatever Snail Mail shows a ton of potential. She’s already an artist without limit. That’s so exciting.

Culture Abuse – Bay Dream

A runaway album of the summer in so many ways. Listening to their 2016 debut Peach, you’d think it’s an entirely different band. In some ways, it is. Frontman David Kelling is singing a lot more here, and it shows. While Peach had plenty of sludgy, ugly riffs, in place there’s big, bright riffs about songs about being kind to the bugs (Bee Kind to the Bugs), the sweetness of “S’Why” with lyrics like “I feel you pushing me forward/To the place I wanna go/There is no melody sweeter” and the California pop of “Bluebird On My Shoulder”. It’s the sound of a band spreading its wings in a totally unexpected, totally welcome way. I mean, it’s all really good. Get on this train now. Culture City Rockers forever.

Also enjoying:

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever – Hope Downs – Breezy, jangly Melbourne-based indie rock that I’m still unpacking.

The Carters – EVERYTHING IS LOVE – A few requisite bangers, a nice way to cap off Lemonade and 4:44 but nothing totally major I think.

Flasher – Constant Image – D.C. punks from ex-Priests member Taylor Mulitz and others.

Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past – Great songwriter, “Short Court Style” is awesome.

Hear/Here: John Prine, Courtney Barnett and Maps & Atlases

John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

John Prine’s first album of new material in 13 years is a great place to start with the legend’s career, as it kind of covers the ground of the sometimes funny, sometimes terribly sad songs he’s known for. Working with Dave Cobb (known for producing both Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton) Prine focuses on the mundanities of everyday life, and some of those songs like the humorous “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” and the tender “I Have Met My Love Today” is a gorgeous little love song that comes and goes in under two minutes. “Summer’s End” is probably one of the most beautiful, weightless ballads I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a record that’s a small gift, one that you’re welcome to have but did not at all expect. That’s the best kind.

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett’s output is usually a sure thing – which is why it’s strange her latest, Tell Me How You Really Feelis weirdly disappointing. It’s not bad, it just lacks the punch found on 2015’s Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. “Hopefulessness” is a strange, dissonant opener that casts a bit of a pall over the record, while first single “Nameless, Faceless” is a fine midtempo rocker that’s hook doesn’t really burrow in, say, like the classic “Pedestrian at Best”. There are some great moments like “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence” buoyed by contributions by Kelley and Kim Deal and the relationship ballad “Need a Little Time”. It has been home run after home run until now. It’s just a bit of a bummer to hear Barnett sound tired and and actually a little bored. Sure, she’s sang about it, but it’s never really felt like it until now.

Maps & Atlases – Lightlessness is Nothing New

Chicago natives Maps & Atlases first new release in six years shows them down a member and finding that their tightly constructed guitar and rhythm pieces turning up to something a little brighter and buoyant with synths taking more of a larger role in their sound. First single “Fall Apart” sounds just as slick and rubbery as singer/guitarist Dave Davison’s voice, while “Ringing Bell” has a mechanical riff with a punchy rhythm accompaniment that will sound great coming out of a car stereo. It’s an album where Maps & Atlases just *sounds* the biggest they’ve ever been. They’ve always had the chops. All that extra time produced something really great.

Hear/Here: New Hop Along, Young Fathers, Kacey Musgraves and Wye Oak

Hop Along – Bark Off Your Head, Dog

Hop Along have been on a tear since the release of their 2012 debut, Get Disowned and came to proper prominence with 2015’s Painted Shut, a showcase of a young band coming into their own, and placing the extraordinary voice of singer/guitarist Frances Quinlan center stage. It’s a low-key classic in it’s own right, so the release of Bark Off Your Head, Dog comes with some high expectations. Happily, it doesn’t disappoint.

The nine-song collection adds some new hues to Hop Along’s rapidly kaleidoscoping sound – the rawboned riffs of the first single “How Simple,” the acoustic guitar and strings of the gorgeous “How You Got Your Limp” and the funky-mathy rhythms of “The Fox in Motion”. Then there’s some littler experiments: “What the Writer Meant” starts with brushed drums that break into a gorgeously power-pop chorus while “Look of Love” fucks with some serious psychadelic-era Beatles harmonies. Bark Off Your Head, Dog is album that pushes Hop Along forward, showing band striving to find what’s possible in their sound, opposed to making something that sounds like them. It makes sense – that’s never quite been their DNA. Hop Along sound a bit restless here, but that’s why it works. It’s very clear that Bark Off Your Head, Dog is just the tip of the iceberg.

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

Every once and a while there will be an album that pretty much levels the musical plane, one that becomes an earworm in the most serious of ways, rendering everything else kind of secondary. For me, right now, that is “Cocoa Sugar” by Young Fathers.

It’s hard to classify exactly what genre the Edinburgh, Scotland-based group are, because they encompass so many different ones at once. It’s a little hip-hop, it’s a little indie rock, and then there’s some weird touches of R&B. They won the Mercury Prize in 2014 for their debut album Dead and were featured prominently on last year’s Trainspotting 2 soundtrack. “Cocoa Sugar” is a densely layered collection melding Gospel choirs, skitter-stop raps and Radiohead-inspired sound beds.

I keep coming back to it time and time again because I’m always hearing something a little different each time. There’s not really any sort of comparison I can make for it from anywhere. Listen to “In My View” for some burnout balladry, the buzzing aria of “Lord” or the narcotic daze of “Wow”. It all changes from song to song and it couldn’t come from anywhere else. Don’t sit on this record or this group. It’s an excellent record which centers them on the cusp of greatness. They’re building a hell of a case for it.



Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Let’s get it out of the way: Believe the hype. All of Kacey Musgraves’s records are the real deal – slices of contemporary country that don’t sound like shit and hint at something greater and more progressive. Hint no more. Golden Hour is Musgraves best and most fully realized record, one that transcends country, or any genre really, with the focus on crystalline songwriting, gorgeous arrangements and something entirely different with the startling disco bump of “High Horse”. It’s the defining career achievement of which there are already many moments that have had that mantle previously. Just don’t waste any more time not listening to it.

Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs

Wye Oak have never made the same record twice, and on The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, it’s not about to change. Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack grow by leaps and bounds on each release, and this, their first proper studio album since 2014’s Shriek has them taking the synth heavy sounds of that record and Wasner’s excellent Flock of Dimes side project and bridging that with the hypnotic drum and guitars found on 2011’s classic Civilian in a way that sounds panoramic. “Lifer” sounds like a conservative synth track before it blows wide open into Wasner’s gargantuan guitar solo, while “Symmetry” sounds like a track from an 80’s action flick doused in nightmare fuel and lit ablaze. Wye Oak always make records worth checking out. Dig right in and stay for a while. This one is damn near untouchable.

What I’m Listening To: February 2018

Lucy Dacus – Historian

I first heard about Lucy Dacus the way a lot of people hear about new bands: from the playlist of the 2016 VP-nominee, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Seriously. He included her song “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” on a streaming playlist. Turns out his daughter is friends with Dacus. Obligatory next door neighborly plug it wasn’t: Dacus’s 2016 debut No Burden is seriously great. Historian is even better.

The Richmond based singer-songwriter builds on the confidence and songcraft of her debut by re-teaming with producer Collin Pastore, which was then mixed with John Congleton, who is known for his work with St. Vincent, among others. The result is a record that feels weightier and enveloping in sound opposed to the lo-fi sounds of No Burden. Dacus is 22, but the rich tone of her voice begets a singer whose doing it much longer. From the chugging opener “Night Shift,” a classic breakup song – “You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it/In five years I hope the songs feel like covers/Dedicated to new lovers” the sweeping, gorgeous “Body to Flame” and pop bite of “Next of Kin” – “I am at peace with my death/I can go back to bed”. It’s a career defining collection that’s worthier than the words written here, or like she says on “Addictions” – “invest your time in what’s worthwhile”. Historian might be the album of the year.

Titus Andronicus – A Productive Cough

If you’ve followed Titus Andronicus for a few record cycles, you know they tend to work on an odd-even structure: They start with a relatively straightforward rock record (2008’s The Airing of Grievances) coupled by an ambitious high concept record (2010’s all-timer The Monitor). Repeat with 2012’s Local Business and follow it up with the even more ambitious The Most Lamentable Tragedy, released in 2015. The band’s latest A Productive Cough seems like the most personal record yet from Patrick Stickles, something that plays less like a shambolic punk collection and more like “Exile on the New Jersey Turnpike”. “Number One (In New York)” is a bombastic opener that never really crests, while “Real Talk” feels a lot like the Stones “Rip This Joint”. “Crass Tattoo” pretty much eschews Stickles’s vocal, instead, sung by Megg Farrell who brings the house down. There’s also a really fun cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan that Stickles changes the tense to first person. It’s totally unnecessary, but what really is here? Ultimately, it’s a minor work in the Titus canon that will have its fans and detractors.

Caleb Caudle – Crushed Coins

If you haven’t heard Caleb Caudle yet, start here. The North Carolina native has been making records for years, but on his eighth, Crushed Coins, his classicist country voice bends to explore different genres. Whether it’s the Laurel Canyon expanse of “NYC in the Rain” or the 60’s psych elements of “Empty Arms,” Caudle winds them together with ease. Guided by the steady hand of producer Jon Ashley, Caudle’s made his best record yet. There’s so many great moments, but the stripped down acoustic ballad “Until It’s Over”, is probably the sweetest. “There’s a light inside of her/cuts through my darkness/steals away these broken blues/punch for punch I’ve got an honest love/it’s true,” Caudle sings. He nails the words exactly. Way to put the rest of us to shame, dude.

Also check out

Screaming Females – All at Once
Turnstile – Time & Space
Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends