Category Archives: Listening To…

Listening To…

  • Spoon – Hot Thoughts. I’ve been trying to get into this for weeks. New Spoon records usually take a while to sink in, but this has taken longer. The songs are clearly Spoon songs, a bit funkier than usual, but there’s a thick layer of glossy dance-music production on top that I keep bouncing off of – lots of electronic blips and bloops, lots of compression, staccato everything. This pains me. Am I too old for this stuff now? Has one of my favorite bands moved in a direction I can’t follow? But, last night, I played this record on our Sonos system, and it clicked. For some reason Sonos thinks the first two songs should be at the end of the record (they were released early, so maybe their metadata is messed up). And it turns out what I don’t like about this record is that first song, the title track. Without that, the rest of the record is fine. The sound is still different, but I can handle it now. That first song just puts me in a bad mood! Skip it! This probably won’t be my favorite Spoon record, but at least I can stop worrying that I’m over the hill.
  • Flock Of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes. Jenn Wasner is half of the great band, Wye Oak. And this is her solo project. This has more synths and more electronic percussion, but it actually sounds a lot like current Wye Oak; unsurprising since her distinctive songwriting and singing are the core of each. The synths and heavily-chorused guitar sounds give off a strong 80s vibe – am I hearing Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson ? Whatever it is, I dig it. I like what she does with her vocal melodies.
  • Louie Jordan – #1s. Sometimes called the grandfather of rock and roll, Louis Jordan was a bandleader from the late 30s into the early 50s. He did a mix of danceable jazz and blues that got labelled “jump blues”. The bands were smaller than big-band jazz bands, and the tunes were cheeky and sometimes a bit bawdy (for the time). It wasn’t rock and it wasn’t R&B; the instrumentation and presentation was still in the 30s/40s jazz band style, and there was still a lot of swing in there. But it was close. By the late 40’s, Jordan was right on the edge of what we know as rock and roll. And the people who went on to become the first generation of rockers were clearly listening to him. For example, listen to the first few seconds of “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman”:

    Louis Jordan Ain't That Just Like A Woman

    Chuck Berry, who wasn’t shy about his love of Jordan, built a career off that lick.


Listening To…

  • Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. A couple of weeks ago, A Tribe Called Quest put out a new record – an unexpected and very welcome surprise! They hadn’t put anything out since 1998, and one of the core members had recently died, so there was no reason to expect anything more from them. But, it turns out they had been working on this album for a while when Phife died, so he’s on most of the tracks. Posthumous (what a weird word – “after the soil”) recordings of are always weird. Maybe it’s that they can only use whatever audio they managed to get (no going back to re-do), so things are sometimes a little off from the rest of the track. Or maybe that when I hear his voice, I just can’t stop thinking that he’s no longer with us: morbid. And that Gene Wilder sample at the end of the first track compounds the vibe. Anyway, there’s good stuff here. Q-Tip is always great. Busta Rhymes contributes some classic bluster. Jack Black riffs away in the background of a couple. Elton John samples? It’s not about to bump Midnight Marauders off my List. But it’s good to have.
  • Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome. For the past few years, I’ve been listening to all the guys the Stones listened to: John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, etc.. They’re all incredible. We’ve all heard a million covers of their songs, and I’ve come to think that the originals are usually better in every way. So, why would I want to hear the Stones cover them?
  • Gillian Welch – Boots No 1. The Official Revival Bootleg. Twenty one songs: outtakes, demos, alternate versions from their first record, Revival. I’m a completist, so I find this kind of thing interesting, but if I want to play some Gillian for other people, I’ll probably pick the official release.
  • Them – The Complete Them 1964-66 [v2.0 Revisisted by Prof. Stoned]. Prof. Stoned just put out this comprehensive collection of everything Them recorded – dozens and dozens of songs. I only knew the hits (‘Gloria’, etc), so this is a whole new world for me. Everyone knows Van Morrison’s voice, but it turns out the rest of the band is great, too! It’s also enlightening in other ways: Them, Beck. And Them, Beck.

Et tu?

Listening To…

I just wrote a long Listening To post but FYWP ate it.

Here’s the short version:

  • Beatles – Live At The Hollywood Bowl. Beatles live in 1964-65, in front of four trillion screaming girls! More fun than the BBC sessions or the final ‘rooftop’ concert-ish thing. Faster, more raw, fun! 4 things!
  • Norah Jones – Day Break. She goes back to the sound that made her a coffeehousehold name – that warm and fuzzy jazz/pop/country sound. Good, if not quite as catchy as Come Away With Me. 3 things!
  • Steady Holiday – Under The Influence. Dreamy, sad and sweet with whispered vocals and spacey guitars. Somehow finds a place between early Portishead and late Blonde Redhead – spacey and chilly yet delicate and intimate. 4 things!
  • The Pretty Things – The Pretty Things. Do you need more rough and raw early rock in your life? Think Elvis was too hammy and the early Stones were too wimpy? This is the band for you! 3 things!


Listening To…

When I do these “Listening To” posts, I always have a hard time remembering which albums I’ve recently purchased. So here’s a screen shot of the most recent 16 from my iTunes “Recently Purchased” list to help me…

  • Joni Mitchell – For The Roses. Haven’t heard it yet.
  • The Internet – Feel Good. Haven’t heard it yet.
  • Gastr Del Sol – Upgrade & Afterlife. Haven’t heard it yet. (this is going to be a great post, I can tell already)
  • Attic Abasement – Dream News A band from Rochester NY. They do a version of the scrappy-but-unhurried, dissonant, ever-so-slightly folk-tinged, alt-rock thing: Silver Jews, Kurt Vile, Three Mile Pilot, etc.. There’s some ‘post-rock’ angular noodly stuff in here. Reminds me of 1995.
  • King Crimson – Starless And Bible Black Haven’t been able to get into this one much. The very first line of the very first song is “Health-food faggot with a bartered bride”. And, even though I get that 1974 was a different time, it just sours me right off the bat.
  • Madvillain – Madvillainy. A collaboration between the masked rapper, MF Doom, and producer Madlib. This one zips along with 19 of the 22 songs less than three minutes long, more than half under two minutes. The lyrics and delivery are very clever and the backing tracks include tons of those ironic 90s-style samples of overwrought dialog from movies of the 50s and 60s.
  • Taj Mahal – Taj Mahal. A great straight-up blues record from the 60’s blues revival.
  • Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You I got drunk, watched a documentary about the Muscle Shoals studio(s), and decided I had to have this record. Thankfully, it’s great!
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool. I like this a bit better than some of their other recent records. It’s a bit chilly, tho.
  • Brian Eno – The Ship. My first late-era Eno record. It sounds exactly like what I’ve imagined all of his ‘ambient’ records would sound like. I like it well enough, but I prefer weird glam-rock Eno.
  • Autolux – Pussy’s Dead I think of them as a groovier and more accessible Radiohead. They have that blend of clipped drums, cold electronics and distant, detached vocals, but it’s geared a bit more towards toe-tapping.
  • Prince – Sign O The Times I remember really liking this in 86. Now, it feels very dated.
  • The Underachievers – Cellar Door : Terminus Ut Exordium Sometimes I buy records because the little 30sec iTunes samples hit me in the right mood. And then the record itself makes me wonder what I liked about the samples. Just not my bag.
  • Kendrick Lamar – good kid…; Parquet Courts – Human performance; New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies Already did these in a previous Listening To.
  • Mos Def – The Ecstatic A couple of really groovy tunes. A lot that misses.
  • Andrew Bird – Are You Serious A bit more engaging than his other recent records, but short on the quirky spark of his first releases.
  • Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger Loud and raucous guitar rock, like a modern T-Rex: heavy riff-based stomp with playful vocals on top. Excellent stuff.
  • Tanya Donnely – Swan Song Series The former leader of Belly and member of Throwing Muses has been releasing uniformly-great solo records since Belly broke up in the mid-90s. This is a series of self-releases that came from collaborations of various kinds with various people. Though the styles vary greatly, they’re all unmistakably Donnely. Wish Belly was coming to NC on their upcoming reunion tour.



Listening To…

  • New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies. I’d always avoided New Order because I only knew them from their big shiny hits that I couldn’t avoid in 1988 (Blue Monday, True Faith, Bizarre Love Triangle, etc.). I thought they were just a synthpop band, like a sunnier Depeche Mode. But, I recently saw some old footage from a live show they did in 83 or something and was kinda blown away. Also, I was kinda like “Oh, so The Cure aren’t sui generis. Hmm!” So I picked this up. It’s from 1983, their second album as New Order, and still has a lot of the dark and minimal Joy Division sound (but with better vocals). And to that, it adds synthpop, and actual joy, something that Joy Division was a little short on. 5 eggplants.

    New Order live, 1983, 'Age Of Consent'

  • Parquet Courts – Human Performance. My favorite new band. Today, anyway. They’re clearly fans of so many of my favorite old bands, all those smart punks of yesteryear: Pavement, VU, Modern Lovers, Devo. And with that as their base, they write songs with noisy snarling droning barking guitars, clever deadpan vocals and metronomic rhythms. This one is a more fleshed-out and varied than 2012’s Light Up Gold (the only other album I have from them). But it’s still scrappy and gritty and smart and very NYC. 4 eggplants.

    Parquet Courts – Dust (Official Video)

  • Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city. My quest to find rap that I like but which didn’t come out in 1993 continues. And this will probably be among my favorites. Lamar’s lyrics are impressively clever and perceptive, and the tracks mostly avoid the modern hiphop cliche of minor key strings stretched over big fat dance beats. Sometimes a little too much boasting for my taste (something that’s unavoidable even with the best rappers), but otherwise it’s very good. I hear he has a new record out. I should look into it. 4 eggplants.

    Kendrick Lamar – Backseat Freestyle (Explicit)

    Plus, booty.


Listening To…

That Courtney Barnett record sure is good – especially if you’re a fan of early 90’s female indie rockers. Maybe even if you’re not; I wouldn’t know.

The new Santigold record on the other hand: very commercial, very Top-40, very no thank you.


Listening To…

Protomartyr – Under Cover Of Official Right. Catchy and angular guitar-based post-punk. A bit like The National, a bit like Disappears, a bit like The Walkmen, a bit like Bloc Party. I like it muchly.

Protomartyr – Come & See

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights. Part of the recent retro R&B movement. They’re a bit more true to the original 60’s and 70’s soul sound than most of their peers. Very accessible, still. Fun and funky.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings "100 Days, 100 Nights"

Tommy Guerrero – Lifeboats and Follies. Instrumental, 70’s inspired, funky, rock. Reminds me of the stuff the Budos Band currently does, or of some of those dank and funky instrumentals the Beastie Boys did on Ill Communication. Good stuff.

Tommy Guerrero – Cut The Reins

Opeth – Pale Communion. This was supposed to be my first peek at the current state of European metal. I’m not sure this counts as metal though. The first and last tunes on this particular album seem like a riff on late 70’s prog rock (esp Red-era King Crimson), which I dig. The rest of it is also very proggy, but a bit less edge. It’s all very, very, very crisp and tight and technical, very cleanly produced – nothing at all sounds out of place or accidental or spontaneous. It’s good when I’m in the mood.

Opeth – Moon Above, Sun Below (Audio)

Y’all groovin on anything groovy?

Listening To…

  • The Internet – Ego Death. A fantastic alt-R&B/neo-soul record. So much funky, jazzy, loungey, slinky goodness going on in here. Mellow, but not sleepy.

    The Internet – Girl ft. KAYTRANADA

  • Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It’s his second record; and like he did with Here Come The Warm Jets, Eno pulls off the remarkable feat of making very experimental (for ’74) music that’s also very fun to listen to.

    Brian Eno – Burning Airlines Give You So Much More

  • TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain. Haven’t been able to get into this. The potential is there: a experimental indie-rock core with some intriguing electronic and hip-hop elements. But it just doesn’t click for me: leaves me cold. Also, there’s a “woah-woah” chorus somewhere in there. And that is an automatic ten point deduction.

    TV on the Radio – Hours

Anything you need to crow about?

Listening To…

Brian Eno – Here Come The Warm Jets
I picked this up and in the first 30 seconds, I was hooked. As a piece of rock n roll genealogy, it’s fantastic: you can hear some of the campy glam rock of Roxy Music (Eno’s previous band) in some songs, but you can also clearly hear stuff that foreshadows experimental rock of every era since in there, too. This sounds like Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah. This sounds like Broken Social Scene. Bauhaus probably liked this song. And this is essentially the piano line to Bob Seger’s “Still The Same”, over and over (though it predates Seger’s by 4 years). And, even better, it’s a great listen without paying attention to any of that.

Robert Fripp – Exposure
In the late 70’s Robert Fripp, long done with the Red-era version of King Crimson, was busy doing guest appearances on records by Blondie, Talking Heads, Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Eno, etc.. And in 79, he started work on a solo record. To support him, he hooked up with various vocalists and drummers and with session bassist Tony Levin. And they made a double album called “Exposure”. This was a couple of years before he rebooted King Crimson with Levin, Adrian Belew and Bill Bruford, but it’s clear that Fripp was already in that experimental new-wave mode. And it’s also clear that he was already fiddling around with some of the things that would become those new KC songs. So, it’s interesting in that way. But, that’s about as far as I can get with it.

Parquet Floors – Light Up Gold
There’s a long prickly branch of the R&R family tree that starts with the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Stooges in the 60s; it goes on to produce The Modern Lovers, Wire, The Buzzcocks and The Fall in the 70s and 80s; in the 90s it gave us bands like Pavement and Yo La Tengo and Sleater Kinney. Well, Parquet Floors is right on the end of that branch. You know the sound: quick, simple almost-pop songs with shouted lyrics and often dissonant guitars, a rhythm section that can put its head down and keep things moving despite frequent squalls of feedback from the guys up front. They’re at their most fun when they cut way on melody and turn up the energy. But I dig their slower tunes, too. Good to see that branch is still alive and still growing.

et tu?

Listening To…

  • David Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete. Oh, how this pains me. Their first record as the D.R.M. took a good while to really click with me. I wasn’t quite sure I dug the sillier tunes, and the slower tunes seemed too slow. But over time I came to like it quite a bit. And while their live shows are always fantastic, I’ve been hoping they’d put out a new record so they can have some new material to play. Now they have a new record! And it’s full of stuff they’ve been playing for years. And, most of these songs are and slow and long – and not in the hypnotic style of Gillian Welch’s “I Dream A Highway”, just, sigh, plodding. Of the seven songs on this, only one comes in under four minutes. One is nearly 11 minutes long, one takes 8 minutes, two are six minutes. And 30 minutes go by before you get to a song with a tempo approaching toe-tapping speed. And, there are strings: not fiddles, but violins and cellos! Of all the things to put next to simple acoustic guitars and vocals, a string section would be pretty far from my first choice. I find it totally distracting. I still love the band, but, sadly, this doesn’t satisfy.
  • Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Going Down. Have you ever wondered what a cross between The Meat Puppets, Iron And Wine and the slower side of Modest Mouse would sound like?