Friday, March 16, 2018

Playlust, March 2018, Week 2: Gallic Dream Ninjas and More

Like this, but better. Choirs of angels, etc.
Another week, another playlist. Think I’m getting closer to sustainable model, rue or celebrate that as you see fit, but this feels like the best path I’ve walked so far. Just some fine-tuning to do.

First, and best, the week set up a little weird and, with the new program, open. For one, while I knew this post would feature/star/highlight the French duo, Air, I don’t remember whether I even named the two-three sub-ft.s I intended. This worked out (and didn’t) because, when I bitched at twitter about Spotify’s Discover Weekly planning yet another shitty date night, a good and stout fella (posts on twitter as @BackOfficeGavin) graciously lined up some bands for me to check out. And here’s the beautiful part: I had the time. Instead of death-marching myself through eight albums by two artists, I had space to lose some of his suggestions here (e.g., Anatomy Class; too familiar), dabble there (e.g., Django Django), and then get a little obsessive in a corner all by myself, and can you excuse me, don't you have something else to do? (The Go! Team).

Later in the week, I remembered a couple bands/artists I had intended to check out (might even have mentioned), in Night School and Sam Evian, but it all fit…well, reasonably well (I was cramming far too late into last night, steps). I always want more time and, in this case, the time I lost only leaves time for the briefest notes on the “sub-fts.” (I count three really: Night School, Sam Evian, and The Go! Team), because I still have notes on the songs I want to get in, plus I wanted to dump some stuff on Air because they mark the fairly rare example of a band whose music sunk deep roots into my life - the second part of it, as in happens.

When I hear of Air’s debut album, Moon Safari, it takes me back to the earliest days with my wife, before kids, marriage and nearly 15 years. At the end of our first dates, we’d hit play on the CD player, crawl into bed and, with “La Femme Argent” slinking around the darkness, we’d squeeze together until we found that sweet spot where you finally feel close enough. “Ce matin-la” evokes an even stronger feeling. On one of our first family trips with both kids, after we’d driven through the night to save money on hotels, that song played as we drove into a sun rising on a massive mountain valley. Everything glowed in that moment and, with that song playing, my life felt perfect as what they want you to buy in one of those car commercials. No, no, the classy ones. None of that truck shit.

As seems to happen…more than I really noticed, frankly, I more or less completely lost track of Air. At most, I listened to their third studio album, 10000 Hz Legend, a few times before deciding I liked Moon Safari so much more that I'd play it into the ground. Through the gift of my back-pocket record store (Spotify), this past week caught me up with the Air - who, as it happens, studied architecture (Nicolas Godin) and mathematics (Jean-Benoit Dunckel) in college (from Wikipedia, as usual). Also, they palled around with Sofia Coppola, provided the music for a couple high-profile indie movies (Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation)…and here’s where I stop pretending I put in a ton of research into the band. (Full disclosure: The combination of my deep admiration for and lack of curiosity about the daily thoughts and feelings of actors, musicians and athletes should interest at least a few shrinks. Hmm…)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Playlust March 2018, Week 1: An Accidental Southern Tour...With Some Detours

Among the first 25 entries when you google "riffle." Healthy country.
Because I organized this week’s post the same as last week’s, I…I…don’t need a preamble. Wow.

Well, that’s not totally true. First, I came up with a series title I like: Playlust! It feels pretty slick, speaks to the yearning element of all this, and so on. (This one might even stick.) As for mechanics, I settled on 25 songs this week and think I’ll use the same number in weeks to come (nope! coming down!), or as long as it makes sense. This week it took deciding to bookend the playlist with a pair of songs by Lee Moses. Speaking of Moses and two others, that’s where I’m going to start: with this week’s three (briefly) featured artists. As much as I’ve started to put some thought into which artists I pair up for these posts, I didn’t consciously pick this week’s three with any theme in mind. But, as the title suggests, I found one. Yep, all Southern acts. Total accident. And, for no particular reason, I’ve organized them below in descending degrees of raunchiness, which Birdcloud (emphasis, so you see the names easily) just volunteered to go first because, holy shit.

Open a song with “I woke up in a pool of my dog’s own vomit,” I’ll probably like it. And I’ll give you a shot at a minimum. Throw in another called “Washin’ My Big Ol Pussy” and I’ll sit through a lot of fairly repetitive, twangy music, sometimes aggressively off-key singing, and so on, just because I want to see where you go with it. A respectfully long article on noisey slapped a genre on them that’s new to me: country-punk. Yeah, sure, go for it.

I fell in love with Birdcloud after hearing “Springwater” about halfway through the first time I heard it - and not just because it rhymes “Flowers for Algernon” with “the Parthenon," but for its playful depravity. Jasmin Kaset and Makenzie Green are all there is, and they’re plenty. In a lot of ways, Birdcloud works like a long-form transgressive fit set to music - and the “bit” (the joke, the characters they’re playing, etc.) feels like the meat of the act. According to that noisey piece, they don’t see what they’re doing as comedy - and I think that’s fair. If they have a sensibility, I’d peg it to John Waters’ as much as anybody’s, in that both Birdcloud and Waters know the characters they’re creating and have genuine affection for them. Both that noisey piece and another one I found dub this satire and the sharpness and fearlessness of their writing at least aims at that. Before today, I might have warned people away from Singles Only (a greatest hits, near as I can tell), thinking they might burn out on the sound. That didn’t happen today. Just sat back through the whole thing and, as they put it in “I Can’t Stand Up (I'm Fine),” I had myself a time.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

One Last Pick Through the Bins Volume 55: Aerosmith, Legend & First Impressions

His breath smells like shit. They left that out. And he just farted.
The inspiration for this volume came from Adam Tod Brown’s, Unpopular Opinion podcast (pretty sure that’s the right podcast). I don’t remember if this was the topic of the entire podcast (I recalled the podcast, and that’s my ceiling for memory), but Brown offered the argument that, had Aerosmith quit, or otherwise ended their careers after a hot run of four albums they would have gone down as the greatest band in rock history. What could have “otherwise ended” Aerosmith’s career? Deciding to rent the plane that took out Lynyrd Skynyrd - the one that Aerosmith took a pass upon seeing the crew share a fifth during the inspection - a detail that sticks with you when you read about why that plane crashed.

As Brown’s argument passed into my earbuds, another sentence bubbled up from my memory:

“Oh, Mr.Tyler….Going down?”

Fans from the days when MTV still showed videos will remember that little morsel of cheese as a line to the video for “Love in an Elevator,” one of rock’s dumber fucking songs. Hearing Aerosmith flirt with sexuality on the sophistication level of “look, boobies” didn’t come out of the blue or anything - I’d heard* “Big Ten Inch Record” - but it sounded gimmicky-cheap, they looked too damn old to play it (having graduated high school), and that’s not the strongest piece of word-play (“livin’ it up when I’m goin’ down”) to stretch into an entire song. (* I hadn’t really heard “Big Ten Inch Record” as I knew it was out there via a friend who mocked the chorus, albeit without ever once singing it even sort of correctly; also, song’s a cover and shockingly old, given the content). And, while I’m inside this same parenthetical, I may as well note that “The Train Kept Rollin’” is also a cover.)

The thesis I’m pushing is the tension between Aerosmith, the cheese-inflected band I saw after hair metal got a hold of ‘em and the legend built around a few consensus-great songs - e.g., the classic trio of “Dream On,” “Walk This Way” (went with the relaunch) and, my personal favorite, “Sweet Emotion,” which I would defend with bar-fight-level intensity. I picked up a few more songs as my years piled up - thinking “Back in the Saddle,” “Same Old Song and Dance,” and “Last Child” - most of them from the second-hand buzz of listening in when someone else played their Greatest Hits, and those finally opened up space for me to be curious about what Aerosmith came back from. I was receptive, in other words, by the time Adam Tod Brown dropped his massive fucking marker…and it still took a couple years before I got to it.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Project of Self Indulgence February 2018 Playlist (God Bless the Orphans)

I get no pleasure from this...
I like my beats fat, my bass bumpin’ and my lyrics filthy…

…can someone please pass on word to Spotify? (Except that last bit. I like my filth either high-brow or John-Waters-esque low-brow. Actually, none of that’s consistently true…)

In spite of Spotify’s best (and, frankly, considerable) efforts, I compiled the 30-song playlist below, that will include a link to every song (I can find), plus posting the same songs to a playlist on Spotify. I’m opting against including notes/an explanation for each of the songs because I’ve already explained what I liked about most, if not all of them in previous weekly posts (e.g., “I liked this song because, again, I like my beats fat, my bass bumpin’ and my lyrics filthy”). I've even started to include some bio/research material (that's "biography" and "research," not "bio-research"). That might change in future; we’ll see how this feels (and, of course, feel free to voice an opinion).

Yeah, yeah, I hope I get this shit closer to seamless when the March 2018 playlist goes up, too.

Getting this playlist down to 30 songs involved discarding 60+ songs, some of which I really, really liked (and squirted a few tears over) when I sent them packing with that old-school runaway satchel over their shoulder. As for process, a close friend of mine asked a while back if I select the songs I include on these with an eye toward rescuing songs from obscurity. To finally answer that, yes and no. Put it this way: on the theory that I don’t think anyone needs help finding St. Vincent, The War on Drugs (“Taking the Farm”) or Kendrick Lamar (“FEAR” also, don’t count on that link staying live), so they’re very often the first to come out of the list. (Seriously, you’d have to have the “Full Helen Keller Package” to not know about Kendrick at this point; the man seems to have a standing invite to every awards show – and good for him, because he has a solid habit of knocking shit outta the park.) And, for the record, St. Vincent’s “New York” was probably the song I connected to most this past month, so yanking that neither came easy nor made much sense, at least absent the above context.

I’m also working on doing better with integrating the songs I used to get via the “New to Me” posts with the stuff I’m finding via sources, but without overwhelming the latter. (As noted in this post, I’m wrapping the “New to Me” frame into something more like the “Songs Y’All!” posts.) It’s gratingly hit-or-miss, at least from my perspective because, to give examples, I have too much Richard Swift in what’s below, but I pinched the equally impressive Xenia Rubinos down to just one song. Still more egregiously, I completely stiffed Kitty Pryde, who I actually wrote-up in the month of February (and (who has songs I like in “Sugarwater” and “Overpass”), quite unlike Run the Jewels, who got their (deserved) tribute on the last day of January. And yet they have two songs below…

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Future Project, Vol. 1: Richard Swift, The Symposium and (Too Much) More!

Sometimes, you will be called when you are not ready...
Today is like the final for my first attempt at merging the New to Me and Songs Y’All! posts I’ve been putting up over the last year, because that’s what I did when I came up with this idea, only unconsciously. It went…all right, mostly because I still feel like I’m cramming - and that could be on the weather in the end. To Hell with it, because we’re all that poor freshman who has to walk to the chalkboard with an erection at some point in our lives, today’s just my turn.

This week, on top of dipping into as much new music as I could (and rescuing a song or two from the personal archives), I spent time listening to albums by Richard Swift, The Symposium and The Snails, acts I met by way of “The Bully,” “Tony Stark,” and “Tight Side of Life,” respectively. To knock off The Snails real quick, they’re basically a put-on by some local musicians from Baltimore (“Baltimore’s answer to the California Raisins”). The exaggerated vocals on “Tight Side of Life” hinted as much, but the song was just so damn fun and lively that it worked. As for a whole album of it, they’d be a blast to see live, and…

Richard Swift, on the other hand, comes off as something of a Zelig in American indie rock. The first song by him that I heard after “The Bully” - a super-consciously presented piece of work - was “The Atlantic Ocean,” a “pop” song in the same stubborn vein, but that sounds like it came from a completely different artist (links to both those songs are below; they’ll always be below unless I link to them in the post). That’s about the most accurate frame for Swift, a “multi-instrumentalist,” who can play in multiple, distinct styles - the distance between the sunny 70s sound on “The First Time,” a dub-electronic piece (maybe) like “Du(M)b I,” and the raw garage of “SM60.” He hasn’t put out a full-length solo album for a 5+ years - time he spent playing with bands like The Shins and The Black Keys - but this is clearly an artist you can get pretty deep on…just have to figure out how to do it.

As much as the gap between “Atlantic Ocean” and “The Bully” set up expectations on Swift, The Symposium’s sultry “Tony Stark” made for a sneaky introduction to their music. A song like “Streems” has the same bright, warm sound - and it’s got another quirk of their music, the “is this the next song?” 30-plus-second ending - and even where they sound heavier (see, “A.C.L.”), they can’t help but include at least some bright touches (see, vocals on “A.C.L.”). Even for a band who hasn’t been around so long, they’re thin online. I did, however, stumble on an interview that sheds a little light on that (i.e., “We suck at mostly everything that goes into being a successful band like networking and making long term goals and stuff”). It’s a shame, really, because The Symposium listen easy as you like, but without necessarily being easy. To get back to the “sneaky” theme above, they’re built around guitar sounds in the same way “Tony Stark” is; I hear it as a synth-driven piece, something I can’t even begin to explain.

If I had to pick the easier band to love between Swift and The Symposium, it’s The Symposium hands down. They talk about The Strokes as an inspiration and, so long as you soften everything about them, that’s neither a bad call, nor a bad thing. They’re young too, early 20s from the looks of it. Swift, though, that’s someone to sit with and work on intentions. Older guy, for what it’s worth.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 54: The Afghan Whigs, A Tour With Ranger Dick

Gentlemen received positive reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone, critics would go on to praise it for its unflinching, self-flagellating lyrics and a decisive stylistic break with the grunge style epitomized by Nirvana and Mudhoney.”

Gentlemen proved to be The Afghan Whigs' most commercially successful release. The singles ‘Debonair’ (a Modern Rock Top 20 hit) and ‘Gentlemen’ received regular airplay on MTV and college radio; another album track, ‘Fountain and Fairfax,’ also appeared on the television series My So-Called Life in 1994.”
The quotes above come from various points in The Afghan Whigs Wikipedia page and I start there with an eye to ringing the lede to this volume in neon lights: Gentlemen and “Gentlemen” - i.e., both album and title track - are some of my least favorite stuff by The Afghan Whigs. This probably makes me about the shittiest possible guide for a tour through the band’s work. Think about visiting Yellowstone and having the ranger wave at Old Faithful and say, without so much as a glance, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it. It does this at all the time, so, if you’re done, I’m done.”

To pick at the song, “Gentlemen” - and the opposite of this thought should ring a bell with anyone who regularly reads these posts - I’m a big fan of songs where the vocals just…fit the music, to where you immediately hear how the songwriter held each part in his/her head while writing the other. The vocals and music interact on “Gentlemen,” of course, it’s less a contrast than two roughly complementary things going on at once. That’s a thoroughly honorable aural effect, but it doesn’t work for me. Alternately, I’m just looking for excuses to explain why I got nothing out of something that has inspired multiple artists.

After four days with The Afghan Whigs, and two more days of consciously-in-denial avoidance, and one day of sheer lack of interest in writing this, there’s nothing left but admitting I simply don’t like them. They check all the boxes - searingly personal, pop-structure with just enough organs exposed (mostly), your basic rock band set up, etc. - and there’s critical acclaim and units moved besides (My So-Called Life? Nothing?). Regardless, take Up In It out of the sample, and I still can’t hum a single song until it’s playing into my earbuds. It haven’t spent a week with any band I’ve reviewed so far without finding myself humming at least a snippet of or a tune from one of those songs by Saturday morning, so, hey, guess that’s a first. My only real point of reference still connects the only album I know well, Up In It. Their “grunge” album. Dammit. And I still like a lot of it, just not because it’s grunge. (Maybe?)

That’s their least representative album too, because, as quoted above, The Afghan Whigs stepped away from the Sub Pop/Jack Endino sound shortly thereafter. They step still further away on their 2017 release In Spades, but the balance of their work came into between and, with one clear exception (maybe two; I basically ignored 2014’s Do the Beast, oh, and Congregation), stuck to a mid-tempo indie vibe that’s simultaneously intense and…bear with me, restrained. That - the impression, I mean - could have a lot to do with me coming at everything they did 25 years after it came out. What sounds to me like predictable indie today could have sounded fresh in the mid-90s. Think scraping grunge off the indie sound, while retaining its raw honesty. Like I said, I missed it.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Songs Y'All! February 2018, Week 3 Playlist: The Alternative Future (or Future of Alternative)!

Say, this one looks promising...
I’m still developing the methodology for these posts, but feel like I’m peaking down a couple fresh new avenues for making these both better and more educational and useful. Putting in a little more research (or even some) into the new artists I’m stumbling into/over, or even new projects by established artists, seems like a useful thing. It’s also so very next week. Or next month. One behavioral ruts become fucking trenches past a certain age.

Sadly, and unlike past weeks, I didn’t get much juice out of The Afghan Whigs, the band I chose to research this week. A couple of their songs slipped into the list, but those came off their first album, Up In It, and feel pretty dated (i.e., grunge), for one, and the band moved on from that sound almost immediately besides. Those are good songs - or I like ‘em at least - but I’m just as excited about the two ABBA songs included below…and that’s after landing on the pretty firm opinion that Sweden’s Finest Import is a little thin (they’re more like a reality-altering spell cast on hundreds of millions than a great, memorable band…and yet we all remember them. Halp.)

As for the rest, I picked up a fair chunk of the songs below from Pitchfork’s steadily updated “Best New Music” playlist. Which, I realize now I’ve been approaching in reverse chronological order. Dammit.

At any rate, I plan on shifting the timing on everything about these posts so that I can slip in some notes on the artists, as opposed to just passing on the song and making everything else all about me (e.g., the least interesting part of this whole effort). With that, on to the songs, the meager, self-centered notes I have to share, etc.

In case you remember the version by They Might Be Giants, it’s not theirs.

ABBA - So Long
Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re crap, but I dig this one…even if ABBA sucks the life out of it with that performance.

The Afghan Whigs - Hated
Between their fixation with the minor horrors of white trash life and the line “What’s with the flowers, can’t you smell me?” this song was destined to work for me.