Friday, November 17, 2017

Songs, Y'All! 11 17 2017

I blame all the weird songs I’ve ever liked for “I Love theValley OH!” by Xiu Xiu. It’s not criminal or anything. It’s also not hanging around my world going forward unless it kicks down the door, a la Beat Happening…

This morning is mostly about wrapping up the week, a concept I’m not sure I’ve totally nailed down just yet. Personal problem, personal problem…moving on.

I think the most interesting thing I can throw into the ring is the question of which songs joined (for example), Magna Carda’s brilliant “The Root,” or Dan Reeder’s (perhaps too) clever, reference-packed “Clean Elvis” on the giddy ride to renewal, what the people of my world call, Carrousel. (Again, the Logan’s Run thing…I just like that framing for a song that rises out of a playlist.) And the stuff that’s still stuck on the fence feels like the right place to start.

These come in different categories, for one. On the one hand, you’ve got The Clash’s “Charlie Don’t Surf,” not their best or anything, but a useful reminder that you don’t really know much about Sandinista, arguably The Clash’s “lost album.” It's a case of save it now, or forget it for another 10 years. On the other hand, you’ve got…picking at random…let’s go with “Black Rice” by Women. I’m guessing the parents of everyone involved with “Black Rice” have urged its members to keep whatever day jobs they have – i.e., it’s not an obvious song to love (but what has a week with The National taught me about obvious? That I’m unfamiliar with it, generally). That song has a certain numbness to it, and it’s up to the listener to pass or pick up.

There’s also Gillian Welch’s “Black Star,” a song that’s going to knock it out of the park for the right person. So close to a spot in the knockout rounds....hold up, another cover? (Is playing country versions of songs by bands people like me like one of Spotify's favorite shortcuts to the psyche?)

Turning now to the songs that rode the Carrousel to freedom by the end of this week – tentatively, most of them - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson’s “Buriedfed” has a vague “Modest Mouse Unplugged” thing about it. It picks up nicely too (god knows I hate songs/bands that just sit there), so it might survive. Hop Along’s “Tibetan Pop Stars” kicks off great, but it’s pretty straight alt-pop, down even to arrangement. Still, it’s a good song…the “creeping on you so hard” line does draw the attention. Finally, Spotify included an ALL CAPS act named BOBBY and their song “Sore Spores.” I think I have at least two songs to blame for this one, maybe three, but the algorithm could do worse.

That’s pretty well it for now. I have dreams/delusions of trying something else next week, maybe cutting into the research on the features, but that’s fucked everything up in the past (...hold on, that BOBBY song is still going…do I like this?). At any rate, that’s it for this week. Well, the post on The National goes up tomorrow, but that’ll kill it off.

Good morning.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

New to Me, No. 20: Hinds, Leave Me Alone (et. al.); Garage Princesses

Inspiration/issue for band name. Which I don't explain.
When a guy meets a band who checks a lot of personal boxes…

Hinds, Leave Me Alone (and, factually, The Very Best of Hinds So Far, plus three singles)

The Gateway Drug
Garden,” and it took only knowing that a Spanish, all-woman garage band existed (good video, too).

The Backstory
Even within my peculiar personal mix (and, is it? peculiar, I mean?), “Garden” came out of nowhere. I hadn’t heard a band recording with garage audio effects in years, and had generally thought its tiny part of the music world had ceded the entire genre to the male chromosome. (Am I missing something, or several things? Almost certainly.) Assuming that surrender ever happened, Hinds puts in a solid shift with grabbing some back with “Garden.”

The song opens with a fuzzy, treble guitar, simple as drawing a straight line, and it’s all strings, bass and guitar after that come to a rumbling boil before easing into the dreamy swaying guitar that plays under the verses. But what left me so smitten was the (bear with me) pre-chorus, a passage that builds into an actual caterwaul the second time around, with one singer (Ana Garcia Perotte) singing in off-rhythm counter-points against the other (Carlotta Cosials) - and it's goddamn wonderful. That’s the moment I trusted Hinds as fans; the spirit of that particular sound felt…just authentic. Hinds loves the genre and sounds at ease playing in it and, better still, making it their own.

Back to the “Garden,” it’s what I call a “build” song – one that starts quiet and simple, and gets bigger, louder and more urgent. Also, the actual chorus boasts the natural singability (is that a word?) that makes for a better-than-average chorus, plus I never stopped being enamored of the part that starts with “I can take you dancin’,” because the vocals sound like dancing. And that detail matters…more later*. It’s just a really simple, well-constructed pop song, recorded a certain way. It’s a sound you just don’t hear much anymore, at least not where I’m loitering. Their voices aren’t the best, though…I also don’t think that’s the point.

Songs Y'All! 11 16 2017: Breadcrumbs

Hm. Maybe I don't want them to come home...
My apologies if I’ve covered this already, but I swear there’s some oldies version of the song “When It Comes to You” that (again) Hinds covered. Something…I don’t know, Jan & Deans-y, a kind of beach bum tune, but with a good, driven beat. When I look it up, though, the webs pull up a Wikipedia page and a song by a country singer named John Anderson (and written by Mark Knopfler)…

…well, factually, the first thing that comes up is the David Guetta jam, “2U”ft. Der Biebs. And those are all three different songs. The Hinds’ one is good, though, a soft, sleepy tune steeped in melancholy. The Hinds post should go up tonight, so I’ll stop talking about soon. Very soon.

If there’s one thing about Spotify’s Discover Weekly algorithm that I’ll never get, it’s how shy it is about noting a band that the listener seems to like and serving up other songs by that same band. That’s no fool-proof plan for happiness – e.g., sending me a Beat Happening song besides “Indian Summer” won’t make me like that band because “Indian Summer” is the only Beat Happening song I even remotely like – but there’s a ready logic to that whole thing that seems like it should come up more often than it does.

It did this week, even if Spotify had no reason to think I liked one of the bands it served up.

First, there’s Father John Misty, who’s “Real Love” quite possibly showed up on one of my very first Discover Weeklies. That track has been irremovably wedged into a playlist for over a year now, but the only other time I saw/heard Father John from that time to this week was his lightly overwrought performance on Saturday Night Live. His “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” showed up this week and it’s decent – lacks the springy goofiness of “Real Love,” but still decent. Better than, say, Delta Spirit’s “Bushwick Blues.” (Which sounds...I dunno, generic?)

Next, there’s Richard Swift, who wrote “The Bully,” one of my favorite songs I’ve heard in the past year. Though smarter than the average joke (at least two levels), a bopping, early-60s-style song plays under a fourth-wall-breaking monologue that alternates between narration and singing; too say I’m over-fond seems fair. “The Atlantic Ocean” landed in this week’s playlist, and it’s a very different song, if only in terms of the music (brighter) and production (cleaner). Haven’t had time to pick through the lyrics yet, but Spotify doesn’t seem to pay so much attention to repeat listens, because I’ve played the hell out of “The Bully.”

Finally, the outlier. I found “Jonathan’s Hope” by Why? years ago, probably through one of Pitchfork’s free downloads. That song felt pretty original at the time, mostly in terms of style, subject matter, and area of concern, etc. I actually gave Why? a longer look a while ago, but it didn’t take; he/they reminded me too much of They Might Be Giants, and not in a good way.

Good Friday,” which paints from the same pallet as “Jonathan’s Hope,” might have piqued my interest again. We’ll see.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Songs Y'All! 11 15 2017: The Dessert Menu at the Diner + That Davey Crockett Song

Because I spent yesterday marveling at the hiccups in Spotify’s algorithm, I thought I’d take time today to praise Caesar. Wait, bury Caesar? Bury Caesar. By that I mean I want to throw out some promising songs Discover Weekly delivered to my inbox. And I still have a good theme for tomorrow’s post as well...these things write themselves on a good week…

Only three songs experienced “carrousel” on the first go-‘round (by which I mean, I immediately moved them to this month’s playlist, aka, the knockout rounds; the specific word, “caroussel” was inspired by the high-IQ film, Logan’s Run; and we had better dystopias), and there are a freak’s handful (six or seven songs/fingers) on the bubble besides. The songs that immediately graduated include: “The Root” by Magna Carda (jazz-hop with musical flourishes that play over semi-monotonic vocals); “Astonished Man,” by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (a electro-alternative, beats-heavy tune with a strapping chorus); and “Clean Elvis” by Dan Reeder (fits the recent dry, spare mood (like this one) with too-smart lyrics/call-backs). All three of those songs make me…no, compel me to deeper into each artist’s work. Some day. Holy shit, you would not believe the back-log on this thing…or literally every other thing I’m curious about.

I’ll get to the songs on the bubble later in the week, probably Saturday morning. Maybe Friday. Depends on how things shake out.

(* In case you’re wondering, on the “Panookie” subhead, it ties to the post’s title. And where I live.)

Project(s) Corner
As for the other projects, I think I finally have a handle on The National – i.e., some sense of where one thing ends, and another thing starts. The only thing I’d like to note for today is that I didn’t think that The National’s singer, (crap…hold on; ah) Matt Berninger, had a good, pained yell in him. Well, Berninger throws down the anger gauntlet on “Slipping Husband” and “Available,” both songs off 2003’s (holy!) Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. In other The National-related news, I have my research materials for The National – i.e., the albums I finally settled on reviewing for the band. Those include, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, High Violet (which feels like their high-water mark, popularity-wise), Sleep Well Beast, and, finally, Alligator (because, when a guy I know gave me five songs he liked from two albums, three of those five songs came off Alligator).

Suggestion Box
Now feels like the time to say, feel free to drop me a line about just about anything shy of trying to chase me off the internet for incorrect opinions, or just being a libturd. For instance, if you think I’m making a major interpretive mistake by way of the albums I chose as representative of The National, enlighten me. Or just guide me, argue with me, pitch your own tent…shit, that came out wrong. All I mean is, let me know what you think about any of this. I won’t always do what anyone wants, but, I'll happily look at anything that tickles my curiosity.

Finally, as for this week’s other project, the New To Me post on Hinds…

Davy/Davey Crockett
I’m about 63% sure you’re thinking of another Davy Crockett song, the one that celebrates “log cabin” politics and Crockett’s time in Washington, and fondly recalls the time when “the Western march had just begun,” without a word about how got marched over, and that cut out right before the Alamo. Here’s that song (and, speaking of pioneering, the creator of that video made some solid choices on the stills).

Here, I’m talking about the iteration (not version) of the “Davey Crockett” song Hinds covered. It’s clearly inspired by the version put out by Billy Childish’s Thee Headcoats…as noted in this video, and, to me, that’s a huge part of what makes Hinds stand out, something I’ll get to that in the New to Me post. I had high hopes that this bawdier version of “Davey Crockett” (it’s the “e” that tips you off, I guess?) had some kind of deep history, say, some throwback connection to Sam Sham & the Pharaohs, The Ventures, or ? and the Mysterions, or even The Shandels. Near as I can tell, nope. And I love that so many of the references I’ve come across refer to Hinds as “the Spanish girl group.” I mean, sure, they are all of those things (Spanish, from the younger side of the female gender, and yes, there are four of them, so, group), but…still….

On the plus side, the little bit of research I did introduced me to The Parrots, who partnered with Hinds on this double video. (And, introducing, The Parrots; also, the audio on the song is way better on the video one paragraph up).

Also, can’t wait to get to Thee Headcoats, Thee Headcoatees, and Billy Childish, generally.

And, in closing, good morning!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Songs Y'All! 11 14 2017: When The Machines Run the Diner (+ More!) served.
At the Lottery Diner
Discover Weekly served up the Meat Puppets' “Up On The Sun” this week for at least the third time… like some weird diner that insists on serving the same daily special over and over again. Repeats like this can only deepen my fascination with the power and perspicacity of Spotify’s algoritm. I think it’s tried The Descendants’ “Good Good Things” at least twice now. It’s not so weird because I used to like both songs. Still OK with The Descendants’ tune, cute ditty, just a bit tired of it (and them, really; though I’m suddenly curious about who they were and what about). Don’t know what I ever heard in “Up On The Sun,” though. Flat, flat freakin’ song, man.

To stick up for the algorithm a bit, it pulled a personal favorite, “Autumn Sweater,” from Yo La Tengo’s vast oeuvre with something like psychic clarity. Might be the second time there, too…

Sorry to keep harping on the incredulity at the weird stuff Spotify’s algorithm does – or the stuff that I might make it do, if very unconsciously (or does it work like tarot cards – e.g., fate decides, we can only accept?). I just…want to understand. Specifically, I want to understand how The Akron Family’s “Ed Is A Portal” ever turned up. That’s how The Polyphonic Spree sounds in my imagination, which is precisely why I’ve never given them a try…goddammit! Having dumb Spotify means I can always try just about anything. Just gave Polyphonic’s top 5 (on Spotify) a shot, “Section 12 (Hold Me Now),” “Lithium,” “Soldier Girl,” “Light & Day/Reach for the Sun,” and “Town Meeting Song.” As for Akron/Family sounding like Polyphonic, I’ll go with plausibly, as in I bet they could share the same stage. I’m more confident about other things (e.g., the wisdom of giving The Polyphonic Spree a wide berth; just inexcusably choral…and their “Lithium” sounds like Kidz Bop, and “Town Meeting Song” sounds like a community college drama project). And if I had to listen to one band for a day, it’d be The Akron Family.

I guess this is why the machines kill humans when they rise; they can’t figure us out.

A Show I Almost Went To
I had a chance to see a band called Hot Snakes Saturday night. Had the bar seen set lower (e.g., show not sold out, loose ticket available, etc.), I probably would have gone – especially after the friends who did go mapped out Hot Snakes’ connection to other acts like Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and, the one I like best out of that whole tangle, Rocket from the Crypt. The only Hot Snakes song I can name off the top of my head is “Automatic Midnight,” which comes off an album of the same name. Because I remember that song fondly enough (and they look pretty solid performing it), I thought I’d dip into that album today to hear what I missed.

And I can see why I lost track of Hot Snakes a little. They pour into a mold shared by a lot of bands I liked over the years – too many of ‘em, probably. Take a song like “Past Lives,” and the driving “bom-bada-bom-bada-bom-bada-bom” rhythm that plays under it and many, many songs of my tender years. It’s less a question of good or bad, than one of which band I heard, and in what order. Thanks to that post I did on The Didjits a couple months ago, when I hear songs like “If Credit’s What Matters I’ll Take Credit,” or “10th Planet,” my brain tells me it sounds like Didjits (and less ballsy, at least to my ear). This less true of other songs on Automatic Midnight, but you get idea.

There’s also the thing about Hot Snakes being a side project that lets me hear a song like “Mystery Boy” and think, “oh, hey, they borrowed that guy (John Reis) from Rocket from the Crypt.

I don’t know. Something about that feels unfair, like Hot Snakes lost a race they didn’t know they were running. But I guess that’s what every band/act does on some level.

Pop Backstory, Chapter 13: 1860-1869 (Largely Coincided with Something)

Dearest Martha: the new GFR has dropped, and it's the shit.
In a break from past tradition, I don’t need to frame the times that the music of the day played over. The American Civil War squats over the entire decade. In fact, if you compare the musical “events” recorded on Wikipedia’s timeline for the first half of the decade against the number of events from the second half, you’ll see a spring run dry. And that makes sense – war is destructive, it swallows resources, google “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” if you don’t know what that is, etc.

Still, why not record a couple oddities - e.g., the short ride the Pony Express had (19 months? really?); the Homestead Act carved up Native American lands, including the “Indian Territory,” now known (of course) as Oklahoma into plots for white settlers; also, google “Sand Creek Massacre,” because that shit will piss you off; wow, Andrew Johnson (Abraham Lincoln’s “replacement” successor) vetoed a federal law giving civil rights to African Americans; America bought Alaska (1867); Horatio Alger published his first “Ragged Dick” rags-to-riches novel; finally, the “Golden Spike” was driven into the dirt, thereby completing the Transcontinental Railroad, and Wyoming, of all places, became the first state to allow women the vote.

All that played under war, Reconstruction, assassination, an impeachment trial, the establishment of The Three-Ring Asshole Circus (the Ku Klux Klan), and so on. With that, it’s time to turn to the music of the times. For each year below, I’ll list the “most popular” song, as identified by the Youtube page I’ve taken to calling “The Motherlode,” and lard that up with some other songs I found on Wikipedia’s musical timeline page. Not surprisingly, more than a few of the songs referenced the war. Just a little bit….

Dixie, Daniel Emmett
The authorship of this famous song was lightly disputed, and it probably came out of the “homesickness” tradition and developed on the minstrel stage pre-Civil War, but it blew the hell up with the beginning of hostilities. It became an anthem for Confederate troops, for obvious reasons. I linked to a pretty bland version up top (and avoided the comments; for they get weird), but, contra panicked Confederate fan boys, this song has been covered over (Civil War reenactors) and over (Elvis Presley, if briefly and in a medley) and over (Bob Dylan..and what’s that movie?).
“The First Gun Is Fired, May God Protect the Right!” George Frederick Root
And yet, to credit Southerners with an insight, it’s a hell of a lot easier to find versions of “Dixie” than it is to find versions of this, the Union’s first fight song (#KeepingHistoryAlive); I’ve got one accordion version and one (sorry!) whatever this is. Still, the South’s attack on Fort Sumter, must have pissed Root off something fierce, because he kicked out the final draft just three days after.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Songs, Y'All! 11 13 2017: Recovering, The National and The Week Ahead

Last week.
I’ll start (the Best Week of Posting to This Site Ever) with this: seeing The Front Bottoms kill a live show led to a fixation on Japandroids, who I think would deliver a really solid live show. I...didn't have enough kind words to say a couple months back, but I’d also argue that this, this, this, this, and this makes me think they'd be better than all right live. Keeping an eye out going forward…again, this is a two-piece band.

I’ll start with a confession: yeah, I bit off more than I could chew last week. Esquire’s Top Songs of 2017 came in at 39 songs (at that point), and I was trying to wrap up Beirut (done) and The National (hold on), all while trying to figure out a legendary-lite band like Bauhaus (of which, good impression on the first pass…reminded me a little of The National, in fact). Again, I peg the greatest number of songs any given person can reasonably absorb in a week at about 80 songs – and go lower for better results too.

Moreover, a funny thing happened on the way to trying to dismiss The National. Long story short, right after I learned they went way back (we’re talkin’ dawn of the W. Bush presidency), I learned they come from my hometown. All that means that, like them or not, hometown pride demands that I give The National a real chance – i.e., more than listening to High Violet, and their latest album, Sleep Well Beast. There’s also the thing about going 4-of-7 on critical acclaim. I did hear enough changes on Sleep Well Beast – something the Genius lyrics propaganda over “Day I Die” told me I should expect – to make me wonder what I missed on their earlier stuff. Their entire career reads a little like winning friends and influencing people one influential someone at a time, and good for them.

As such, The National will take Beirut’s place in the next Bins Project post, thereby replacing the actual band I failed to delete timely – e.g. Beirut – and I’m just going to make peace with that.

This week’s New to Me band (that’s band, not whole damn playlist from a genre(s) I barely recognize) will be Hinds, a Spanish lo-fi garage quartet introduced to me by Spotify sometime last year. Samples abound (and I still love my “Gateway Drug” song), but I’ll stick with using this video as a teaser, and mostly because it captures my sense of their sound (as I know it).

Finally, I will get Pop Backstory, 1860-1869 posted by Tuesday, or literally fucking pass out trying. Everything’s lined up, honest. There’s just a massive pile of typing to go.

Last week was, again, a mess. The burden I put on the saddle shifted me out of it in the end – and that means I missed my (semi-usual) hours with new discoveries. The half-assed attempt at amends made during a distracted Friday dredged up a few new songs that I wanted to pass on when the time was right (e.g., this morning). Some felt more like stretches than future “New to Me” candidates – e.g., Wolf Parade’s “Shine a Light” – but Jarvis Cooper’s “Black Magic” piqued plenty of curiosity, along with Shannon and The Clams’ “Point of Being Right.” All those songs have something different for me, even as all those songs sound like throw-backs.

Based on only one time through, Discover Weekly coughed up that kind of a week. It goes beyond the best songs sounding old, but the service pulling up the same songs I’ve passed on in the past – sometimes multiple times. For instance, everyone in the world but me seems to agree I’d just loveJacking the Ball” by The Sea and Cake, or “Indian Summer,” by Beat Happening. That's the fourth attempt at the latter, so I'm guessing they don’t know that the latter song always made me want to run out of the room every time I saw it live…Beat Happening had that effect. I’m mostly struck by the fact that, one year and with a ton of fresh inputs added, Spotify keeps sending me to songs I know and love (like X’s “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”) or songs that I’ve long since figured out I didn’t like “Boy Blue,” by the Electric Light Orchestra, only without Spotify picking up on it.

On the plus side, they served up another song by Wand (“Melted Rope”), which sounds like trippy, if tonally different/yet not insane against their “M.E.” (which is a cover. Damn it. Hate when I’m late to that party). All in all, Discover’s an imperfect conduit, a standing argument against AI fooling any human for long. So far, my fear of a mind-reading algorithm still feels distant…then again, that could just be what the machines want us to think.

All right, all for this morning. Really want pull off the schedule this week, but we’ll see. Or, rather, I’ll see. Not a lot of people read this. Also, the holidays are going to wreck unholy chaos on my schedule about two weeks from now. To hell with it…happy Monday, y’all!