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: 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.

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.