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.

Of course, the Wyoming sessions, too.

Pusha T – DAYTONA
Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West – ye
Nas – NASIR

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

Superchunk’s What a Time to Be Alive Handles the Turbulence with Confidence

The world feels like it’s coming apart at the seams, some new scandal or piece of terrible news hits daily, or sometimes with even more frequency. It takes more effort to simply keep up than it does just to be able to digest the news. The result is mind numbing. Then you look to find respite from these things. There’s music. Superchunk knows this well, and somehow they found a way to channel the rage and anxiety of this turbulent time in history into their 11th album, the sardonically titled What a Time To be Alive.

Since the band’s return to recording at the top of the decade after taking most of the ’00’s off, 2010’s Majesty Shredding reintroduced listeners to Superchunk as a punk band with power-pop leanings, but imbued with an immediacy that at times make them sound like a different band from their earlier years. This continues on the album’s opener, the title track, a cascading ripper which pretty much puts this administration in the crosshairs – “There’s a crooked line that runs/through every crease in this map/and you want to take us all the way back” singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan sings. There’s virtriol in his voice – by the time the chorus hits “the scum, the shame, the fucking lies/oh what a time to be alive”, there’s barely a moment to catch your breath.

Just as that song halts, the punk stomp of “Lost My Brain” begins. McCaughan echoes the sentiment felt by so many pretty early – “I surrendered to the flow of shit/I gave up all my all my sleep/and I didn’t learn anything from it”. It’s a sobering lyric, but the rhythm section of bassist Laura Ballance and drummer Jon Wurster are pummeling, keeping the band buoyant despite the desperation of the lyric. If it already wasn’t clear,”Lost My Brain” makes it crystal – this is an album about trying to make it day by day living under the Trump administration.

Yet, the record is hardly downcast. McCaughan is pissed, but many of the album’s angry statements are filtered through classic Superchunk – the hooky as hell earworm “Bad Choices” with guitarist Jim Wilbur’s zig-zag leads and the similarly catchy “Dead Photographers”. Among these is the soaring standout “Erasure,” which is like a Merge Records roster showcase with Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields guest on background vocals. What these songs all have in common is that Quicksilver energy and pitch perfect execution of a band who has played together for decades.

Perhaps that is what makes What a Time to be Alive a great record. Nearly thirty years in, Superchunk are not only still making music, but they’ve made a vital record that rivals even their classic material. It’s a near impossible task, yet they keep accomplishing it time and time again. Now, during a time where getting up every day means feeling like you have to brace yourself for something terrible, there’s a record that comes out swinging in the face of that ugliness. It’s an album referencing a time and a place that somehow feels timeless. Superchunk’s exuberance and confidence in pushing forward is a good example that everyone can learn from.

What a Time to Be Alive is out February 16 on Merge.

Favorite Songs of 2017 and Other Stuff

My Top Songs of 2017 playlist, favorite non-2017 discovery and Honorable Mention albums, as well as my Favorite Moments of 2017.

My Top Songs:

Also, 4:44 by Jay-Z.

Everything I Listened To:

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out. This will have additions through December 31.

Favorite Non-2017 Discovery:

Silkworm – Lifestyle
Culture Abuse – Peach

Honorable Mention Albums:

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
Daddy Issues – Deep Dream
Thundercat – Drunk
Cory Branan – Adios
Jay Som – Everybody Works
Iron Chic – You Can’t Stay Here
Worriers – Survival Pop
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
Telethon – The Grand Spontanean
Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Other Stuff

Personal: Writing for Noisey, being published in an actual magazine writing about music for the first time in New Noise Magazine. All the cool opportunities through Riot Fest, VinylMnky, Scene Point Blank and others. Seeing Springsteen on Broadway. I think about it every day. Hamilton on New Year’s Day. Meeting musicians I admire all year long.

Travel: Louisville, Memphis, New York a few times, my first trip to Vegas (which I loved). Eau Claire for a quick weekend trip (It’s a cool little town!)

Health and Wellness: PRing my fourth 5K on the April 29 Race to Wrigley. Going to the chiropractor, massage and acupuncture for the first time in my life.

The Hold Steady: Two residencies in Chicago and Brooklyn. The Empty Bottle show is and will remain a great and perfect show in my memory. Stage invasion. Helping develop the coffee blend with Dark Matter is a personal sense of pride for me. Brooklyn, also fun, crazy busy as usual. Watching everyone freak out about “Entitlement Crew” and “Snake in the Shower” was awesome, too.

Wrestling: Witnessing Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate at NXT Takeover: Chicago, Finn vs. AJ, Cena vs. AJ at the Rumble. Good shows generally all year. I purchashed my first Bullet Club shirt. Found myself watching less this year than last, but it was still very enjoyable and match quality is so good these days.

Food: SO MANY great spots.

Chicago area: Mi Tocaya Antojería, Fat Rice, Wyler Road, MingHin Cuisine, Bleuroot, River Street Tavern, Proxi, Big Jones

Cleveland: Bakersfield Cleveland, Sokolowski’s University Inn, Mabel’s BBQ

Eau Claire: The Lakely

Grand Rapids area: Spanky’s Pizza

Las Vegas: China Poblano, Yellowtail Sushi

Louisville: Grale Haus, Milkwood, Steel City Pops

Memphis: Hog and Hominy, Tops BBQ, Catherine and Mary’s

New York: Frankel’s Delicatessen, Má Pêche

Music: Trash Pandas released an album this year called Apocalypse Nah. No one bought it. We were very tired and in a hot basement.

Shows

I saw a personal record 47 shows this year. Take a look.