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Some of the Best New Music of 2020 so Far…

Some of the Best New Music of 2020 so Far…

There’s nothing better than listening to music while you are sheltering in place, so I have put together a few video tracks of my favorite albums that have been released this year.

I learned of Porridge Radio a few weeks ago, and I have been listening to them via YouTube because before the pandemic when I was able to go to Easy Street Records in West Seattle or Sonic Boom Records in Ballard, neither store had any of their music in stock. I guess I will have to order it and have it delivered.

Anyway, here is how Alexis Petridis describes “Lilac” in his review of their album Every Bad for The Guardian.

Lilac, meanwhile, turns that emotional journey on its head. This time around, Margolin repeats: “I don’t want to get bitter, I want us to get better, I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other.” What looks like a self-help platitude on paper slowly builds up a power at odds with its sentiment, becoming increasingly frenzied and raw-throated, in a way that completely undercuts any optimism. By the end of the song, it sounds confoundingly like a threat.

This tension of opposites is a recurring theme, not just in Margolin’s ability to destabilise a lyric with her voice, but in the words themselves. They’re big on inconsistency – “I don’t know what I want, but I know what I want” – and frequently sound like frantic internal dialogues that capture a very twentysomething brand of angst, where the realisation that you’re now an adult crashes against uncertainty about whether you’re doing adulthood correctly.

This next one is by Destroyer, a band, or basically a guy named Dan Bejar who I discovered from reading this Pitchfork review of his latest album, Have We Met.

In the extraordinary “Kinda Dark,” he delivers his apocalyptic verses in a distracted whisper over subdued electronic scenery. When the drums hit and the electric guitar attacks out of nowhere, it feels genuinely startling: the appearance of the looming threat he’s been slowly backing away from the whole time.

This sense of unease spans the record, making uptempo songs like the glittery “It Just Doesn’t Happen” and the soaring “Crimson Tide” sound like dispatches from a doomed adventure. Other songs exist in the cloud of smoke that’s left behind.

I first heard this new “supergroup” Bonny Light Horseman while wandering around Sonic Boom Records a couple months ago. The band members are Eric D. Johnson, Anaïs Mitchell, and Josh Kaufman – all of whom I am not that familiar with, but I guess many people are because they are SUPER. I was struck by the clarity of their sound and their perfect vocal harmonies, so I bought their eponymously titled debut album. The video is from a live performance and it sounds very muck like it does on the album. No Depression wrote this about it:

That winter [of 2018], they made the trek to Dreamland Recording in Woodstock, New York, for another quick session to finish what they hoped would be enough for a record. “When we went to Woodstock, we knew we were trying to finish a record, and I think the question became, how to record in a way that felt of-a-piece with the Berlin stuff in an environment that was so different,” Mitchell says. They had a blast over the course of two days, again standing close to one another, playing live without headphones, and joined by Michael Lewis (bass, saxophone) and JT Bates (drums, percussion), as well as engineer Bella Blasco and mixer D. James Goodwin. That live sound results in an intimate, but atmospheric vibe that permeates every song on the album. These sessions took on that same sense of immediacy the band felt in Berlin, particularly with songs like “Deep in Love” and “The Roving,” two of the album’s standouts.

This last one is by another singer I learned about this year while reading No Depression reviews. Her name is Kyshona Armstrong. Here’s a snippet from the review.

Kyshona Armstrong honed her craft in the state mental hospital. Not as an inmate, but as a teacher. She broadened her musical healing abilities in prisons and also in schools, working with children diagnosed with emotional behavior disorders.

The singer, who records under her first name, has said that she never wanted to be in the spotlight. Armstrong had aspirations to be a psychologist, but a music scholarship opened up new possibilities for her in the field of musical therapy. She eventually realized that her message could do good from the stage as well.

On the title cut, Kyshona urges people within the sound of her voice to start their activism by the simple act of listening: “I know you wanna help / but you’re deaf to the mission / Even when you see the hand I’m dealt / You pretend it’s my decision.”

And last but not least, Pearl Jam is releasing a new album titled Gigaton tomorrow. Alexis Petridis wrote this about “Quick Escape” for The Guardian:

Quick Escape does a lot of Pearl Jammy stuff – big soaring chorus, more guitar histrionics – but sets them against an atmosphere that’s authentically spacey and strange, as again befits lyrics that have taken on an entirely unwitting kind of currency. If you’re going to release a song about the human race facing such catastrophe that escaping to another planet feels appealing, now is probably the moment to do it.

That’s all for this week. I’ll try and do this more often – maybe every couple of weeks or so.

Amyl and the Sniffers plus Gary Oldman and the Poppers

Amyl and the Sniffers plus Gary Oldman and the Poppers

If you like seventies punk rock, you will like Amyl and the Sniffers from Melbourne, Australia. Lead singer Amy Taylor says, “We call it pub punk because we spend a lot of time in the pub”. It’s loud, fast, and noisy. Read about the band at NME. Here’s a quote from the article:

The Aussie four-piece party hard, but, somehow, play even harder. They’ve become an unmissable live prospect, resurrecting the energy of the snotty, trashy punks of years past. The result? Riotous gigs at which you might end up bruised or spat on, but you’ll probably have the night of your life.

When NME meets them, midway through their UK tour, they’ve already been leaving chaos in their wake. Shortly after arriving in London, a gobby pre-teen shouted at Amy, calling her “ugly”; in response, she offered to fight him and delivered a stinging putdown: “Fuck you mate – bet you’ve never even had a blowy”.

Here is the video for “Got You” from their debut album.

Of course when you think about the band name, you think of amyl nitrite, and when you think about that, you think about this scene from Léon: The Professional featuring Gary Oldman at his utmost creepiest.

Now go by the album and watch Léon again.

Anna von Hausswolff gives me chills

Anna von Hausswolff gives me chills

I’ve read reviews of Anna von Hausswolff’s previous albums in print magazines and online, but I had never bought any of her music. Then I read a four-star review of her new album, Dead Magic, in the April issue of MOJO Magazine where James McNair described her vocal performance for the song “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra” as “…astonishing. With its whoops, shudders and sandpaper-throated expulsions, her singing sounds like an exorcism”. Okay then, tell me more! McNair describes where and how the album was created:

Recorded in nine days, largely using the hulking 20th century pipe-organ at Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken, or Marble Church, …With it’s spidery strings, drones, suspensions and drama-rich support from Hausswolff’s five-piece backing band, Dead Magic comes on like a horror soundtrack-in-waiting, its 47-minute journey bridged by just five songs. Thematically, it’s big on myths, legends and oblivion, and the darker more esoteric kind of magic you wouldn’t likely associate with Ali Bongo.

( I didn’t know who Ali Bongo was either.)

After reading the MOJO review, I searched around and found this article by Laura Snapes in The Guardian.

Never mind other people’s perceptions; she’s more perplexed by her reaction to her own music. “When I start becoming ugly, or raw or unfiltered, that’s also when the most interesting things happen,” she says. “But I feel shame because that’s not how you’re supposed to present yourself as a female. I’m quite a modern girl – and luckily in Sweden we have a very open mind towards women in arts – but I still get that feeling that I’m in a place I shouldn’t be, doing things you really shouldn’t do, like I’m fighting the ideals projected down from our ancestors.”

The paucity of women in extreme music means these stereotypes are even tougher to break: “They have to defend what they’re doing so hard because they’re in a male-dominated genre, so there’s more focus on them being female than on their work. It’s still weird for people to see someone screaming her nuts out, playing loud music. I think, how can it be shocking any more? We still haven’t broken down our idea of how the genders should be.” Old, male pipe organ custodians just about manage to avoid patting her on the head when they show her around their instruments. “Usually I just smile and let the music speak for itself, and then afterwards they’re always shocked and don’t know what to say any more.”

And then I watched this video, and you should too, like right now.

And then I bought the album.

It’s right in my wheelhouse. It’s like P.J. Harvey circa To Bring You My Love melded with Nick Cave’s Let Love In, Richard Wagner’s organ music, and the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. It gave me chills and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Buy it now and play it LOUD!

Chuck Berry died today

Chuck Berry died today

Back in my radio days at KUGS at WWU in Bellingham, Chuck Berry was a staple of the Saturday afternoon “Roots Rock” show. He was perhaps the first rock n’ roll guitar god, he was a talented songwriter, and a master showman. His disciples include first and foremost The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, The Animals, and many more.

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” – John Lennon

The Best Albums of 2016

The Best Albums of 2016

2016 was a terrible year in many ways, but it was a great year of music. Here is my list of the best albums of 2016.

1. Skeleton Tree, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This album was started before Nick’s son Arthur died in 2015. Understandably, that tragedy weighed heavily on Nick as he wrote the songs for this album. The album is sad in a beautiful way. If you haven’t seen the movie, One More Time with Feeling, that played in cinemas around the globe on the eve of the release of this album, you should.

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The Best Albums of 2015

The Best Albums of 2015

I don’t know why it took me so long to put together this list of The Best Albums of 2015. Just too busy I guess. But now that football season is over, I’ve not much else to do this Valentine’s Day Sunday. Right now I’m just sittin’ around listening to vinyl, drinking Batch 15 IPA and eating some chocolate. Just the right combination to get me motivated enough to list the best albums of 2015 and embed some cool videos.

Coming in at Number One on the chart is Courtney Barnett‘s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. This album also topped KEXP’s 2015 listener poll, and here’s the song they played to end the countdown.

Sleater Kinney reunited in 2014 and released No Cities to Love in early 2015. They didn’t miss a beat during their ten-year break.

Wilco surprised everyone by dropping Star Wars for free! Not that I would download a crappy mp3 or anything like that. I waited for the hard copy and also saw them live at Marymoor Park on a warm summer evening last August. Here they are live on Stephen Colbert’s show performing “Random Name Generator”.

Julia Holter topped MOJO Magazine’s list, so I went out and bought Have You In My Wilderness to hear what all the fuss was about. I really liked it. It’s a real album, so you have to sit and listen to start to finish a few times to appreciate it.

Melody Gardot is not on a lot of people’s radar, probably because her albums are found in the Jazz section of your local record store. Her latest album, Currency of Man, is jazz leaning towards blues and rock, and it has a sharp political edge to it. Perfect for the troubled times we live in. Here is the real standout track “Preacherman”. It’s a pretty intense video with a long introduction, so be patient. The song starts at about 2:50.

I’ve been a big fan of Johnny Dowd ever since I heard his 1999 album, Pictures from Life’s Other Side, and saw him live at The Tractor Tavern. His new album is titled That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse, and here’s a quirky video for “White Dolemite”.

Kurt Vile has been pretty prolific over the past few years, and every album he puts has something really great on it like “Pretty Pimpin'” from b’lieve i’m goin’ down.

I had not heard of Houndmouth before 2015, but they got some airplay on KEXP, and I liked what I heard, so I bought Little Neon Limelight. And I’m glad I did.

Nadine Shah has one of the most powerful singing voices. I love what she does with it on Fast Food. Too bad she isn’t appreciated much on this side of the Atlantic, because she should be. Then maybe she would tour here and I could see her live.

I heard about Israel Nash from friends who are really into his music. I bought 2014’s Rain Plans some time in 2015 and loved it. I missed his sold out show at The Sunset Tavern, but I did see his ridiculously short 30-minute set at Bumbershoot, and then saw what was one of the best shows of the year at The Crocodile in December in support of his latest album Silver Season. Here’s “Have You Seen L.A. Lately”.

And here’s ten more favorites from 2015 listed without video support.

LowOnes and Sixes
Laura MarlingShort Movie
Royal HeadacheHigh (a shoutout to Troy Nelson at KEXP for turning me on to this band this summer)
Paul WellerSaturns Patterns
Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free
CalexicoEdge of the Sun
Alabama ShakesSound and Color
Julien BakerSprained Ankle (an album that is almost too personal)
Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow Is My Turn
The Oh SeesMutilator Defeated At Last

That’s twenty. There’s more great stuff from 2015, but this post is too long already. You can check out The Guardian’s list here and Pitchfork’s list here.

Who Fucked Up Bumbershoot?

Who Fucked Up Bumbershoot?

For reasons unknown to me, Bumbershoot lost money last year even though it drew pretty big crowds and had one of the better musical lineups of the past decade, including The Replacements. As a result of the loss, One Reel handed over the reigns to AEG Live for 2015.

I hadn’t bought tickets in advance, and heard on Saturday that it was sold out that day. I really wanted to go on Sunday to See Israel Nash and Neko Case, so I checked the paper Sunday morning and read about how the torrential thunderstorm shut it down for a while. I’m glad I didn’t go that day. But that wasn’t the only thing wrong. I read this by Danny Westneat:

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Songs for your Summertime Soundtrack

Songs for your Summertime Soundtrack

Today is the first full day of summer, so you need a list of songs that sound great on a hot sunny day. I’ve been listening to summer-themed songs and music that just feels right on a sunny day, and here’s my final list with a few comments and videos.

Where is the Sun? – Stag (2014)

I heard this song on Quilty’s show on KEXP a few weeks ago on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. Seattle is normally cloudy and damp until July 5th every year. So it’s no wonder a Seattle band would ride a somewhat melancholy song asking when the sun will show up. I stayed away from most songs that were a bit of downer, but this one works for an opening track because by the end it’s pretty upbeat. I should also mention that Seattle has had a great summer so far, even though summer didn’t officially start until today. We’ve already had seven days with high temperatures over eight degrees in June. We don’t normally get this kind of whether until July.

Pipeline – The Chantays (1962)

Perhaps my all-time favorite surf song. I never get tired of this classic.

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys (1966)

Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues – Eels (2000)

Summertime Boy – Seasick Steve (2015)

I hadn’t really listened to Seasick Steve until this year when he put out Sonic Soul Surfer. Here’s the video.

Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

Low Rider – War (1975)

Yes I know they have a song titled “Summer”, but I like this song in this set because it feels like summer, and if you are a fan of War, then it makes you think of “Summer”.

Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo (1983)

Driving and listening to the radio, and sometimes not understanding a word that is said.

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini – Brian Hyland (1960)

Got to have at least one cheesy summer song.

Rockaway Beach – Ramones (1977)

Aloha Steve and Danno – Radio Birdman (1978)

Radio Birdman’s tribute to the 1960’s TV show, and it includes them playing the theme song in the song. Double fun!

Misirlou – Dick Dale and his Del-Tones (1962)

Another great surf song made even more famous when Quentin Tarantino included it in the soundtrack for Pulp Fiction.

Soft Hand – Willard Grant Conspiracy (2003)

This song just feels like summer to me.

Double Vision – Houndstooth (2015)

From the great new album, No News from Home, that will probably make the Best of 2015 list.

On My Balcony – Flunk (2004)

A perfect summer song. About summer, feels like summer, and I just want to hear it over and over.

Plastic Radio – Viva Voce (2011)

This song might not have anything to do with summer, but it sounds like it does.

Who Loves the Sun – The Velvet Underground (1970)

Summer Nights – Marianne Faithfull (1964)

Blue Sunshine – Blue Giant (2010)

Summer Wine – Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood (1967)

I wasn’t familiar with this song. I found it searching for songs about summer, and I think it’s the best find for this setlist. Here’s the video.

Coconut – Harry Nilsson (1971)

Doctor! I love this song. Another one that just sounds like summer.

Working on My Tan – Tim Curry (1981)

A staple during my college years. It’s a song that has to be on every summer compilation.

Stupid Marriage – Specials (1979)

Naked woman, naked man,
Where did you get that nice sun tan?
You live in a castle built of sand
Naked woman, naked man…

Mr. Moto – The Bel-Airs (1961)

This had to end with a surf song, and this was the perfect one.