20 Songs For September 2015

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Every month I make a playlist of the songs, old and new, that I listened to the most this month, and I write about why I picked each each song. At the bottom is a Spotify playlist with all these songs.

Grandaddy – “A.M. 180”

(This month Grandaddy announced that they were making a new album. It was the perfect excuse to go back through their discography and rediscover some great songs that I forgot about. Under the Western Freeway and The Sophtware Slump are the two albums you want.)

The New Pornographers – “Use It”

(I don’t listen to the New Pornos a lot, but when I do I really get into it for a couple of listens. Twin Cinema is a great starting place for newbies.)

Elvis Costello – “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”

(This month I went through a pretty intense, albeit brief, early Costello phase. This is one of his best singles off his debut album.)

Tweedy – “Nobody Dies Anymore”

(This is one of those songs that you can listen to a million times and each time you hear something new that will blow you away, whether it be in the cryptic all-meaning lyrics or in the disarmingly simple arrangements. This is also a great “Summer is ending and Fall is finally here and it makes me sad but it also makes me glad” kind of song. Sukierae has really grown on me and I can see it gaining some sort of cult status, much like how 808s and Heartbreak was a low key influential album until Pitchfork decided to do a thinkpiece about it.)

Blink-182 – “What’s My Age Again”

(Because I turned 23 this month…)

IGBO – “Creamy”

(It was on one of my Friday Mixtapes, yet I still love this song oh so much.)

R.E.M. – “King Of Birds”

(See my note about Elvis Costello.)

Craig Finn – “Newmyer’s Roof”

(I’m a big fan of this album, especially this song. It’s a genuinely strong song that tackles 9/11 and doesn’t try and force or exaggerate any dishonest feelings for the sake of imagery or patriotism.)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Bottled In Cork”

(Ted Leo was one of those musicians I always heard about from friends to check out. For one reason or another I never did, but this month I was finally given a specific starting point: The Brutalist Bricks. It’s a fun album, bouncing around between different styles and, like the best rock & roll, it never takes itself too seriously. If you like this then you’ll want to check out the rest of his work.)

Bob Mould – “The Descent”

(I ignored this album when it came out 3 years ago because I wasn’t a Hüsker Dü fan back then. Now I know better, and Silver Age is a worthy solo album that makes a case for Bob Mould The Songwriter instead of Bob Mould The One Guy In Hüsker Dü.)

The Libertines – “Anthem For Doomed Youth”

(Anthems For Doomed Youth is a great album in the same way that the most recent Strokes albums are great; it’s good music that has virtually no hype or press trying to turn it into an event. All you have is the music, but for some people that’s not enough. Oh well. It won’t convert you into a Libertines fan, but for the rest of us it’s a nice thing to have another Libertines album in the world, especially one this good.)

Gillian Welch – “I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll”

(Like a lot of musician I love, I discovered Gillian Welch through Ryan Adams. She sang and played instruments on Heartbreaker and she was an associate producer and performer on the Grammy winning and essential listening O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Time (The Revelator) is a great album if you also like Heartbreaker.)

Deerhunter – “Breaker”

(I’ve always liked the idea of Deerhunter, a band that combines nearly every great genre of the past 30+ years, throws them into a magical blender, and churns out Amazing Southern Americana Gothic Rock that is brilliant down to the very jangly riffs that they steal from their fellow Georgia neighbor R.E.M. However I can never finish an album without getting bored. Both Microcastle and Halcyon Digest are considered masterpieces (and they probably are) yet I can never listen to them from start to finish. Sometimes it’s just too ~weird~ man. However “Breaker” is already my favorite Deerhunter song because it sounds like the Deerhunter that I want to fall in love with. I’m sure that this new album won’t be the masterpiece that triumphs Halcyon Digest (though you ever know), but I have a feeling that this new album will be this band’s gateway drug.)

Josh Ritter – “Right Moves”

(Josh Ritter is one of my favorite songwriters, and when he premiered a new song off his upcoming new album I celebrated by listening to all his albums. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter is probably the album I’ve listened to the least, but I still fall in love with the wide range that this album covers.)

The Promise Ring – “Is This Thing On?”

(The best part of this year’s emocore revival is probably all the old albums that I’ve discovered from the late 90s and early 2000s. Nothing Feels Good (a very emo album title indeed) is getting a reissue, thus I play this song in celebration.)

Ryan Adams – “Bad Blood”

(Of course.)

Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Ke Sakihitin Awasis (I Love You Baby)”

(I had no idea who Buffy Sainte-Marie was when she beat out Drake at this year’s Polaris awards. So I wrote about her.)

Built To Spill – “Velvet Waltz”

(I was going to go see Built To Spill this month so I spend some time with their old albums. It didn’t work out, but at least I have a few new favorite BTS songs.)

Jeff Tweedy – “The Ballad Of The Opening Band”

(I usually try and stick with one song per artist, but this song is one of my cornerstones of my Fall Playlist, so it belongs here.)

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “You Can’t Live There Forever”

(This Album Is Not The Masterpiece That It’s Hyped Up To Be & That’s Ok Because Because It Still Has A Lot Of Great Songs.)

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Week In Review (2/6/15)

My Midnight Heart – “Drown”

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This should hold you over while you wait for the next Disclosure album

Cheers to 19-year-old Zak Abel, who is already making a splash in the UK.

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Bouquet – “Stacks On Stacks”

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Jeff Tweedy continues finishing songs for awesome deceased musicians

Actually this time it’s Mavis Staples’s project finishing the many demos of her late father, the great Pops Staples. Tweedy is just helping out on this track. That’s also his son Spencer Tweedy on drums!

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I know you’ve already seen the Super Bowl halftime show, but I also know that you want to see those dancing sharks again!

Oh yeah, Missy Elliott, Lenny Kravitz, and Katy Perry were there too.

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Matthew E. White wrote a song for Philip Seymour Hoffman

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In honor of the one year anniversary of the late actor’s death. Listen here via Stereogum.

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The new Jay Z movie got lots of accolades at this year’s Sundance Film Festival

Some are calling it the next Boyhood.

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Bob Dylan continues to be the greatest with his Frank Sinatra covers album

And his voice actually sounds good here!

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Pink Gloves – “80’s Girls”

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Pharrell Williams is still going strong in 2015 with this Major Lazer collaboration

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Girlpool – “Chinatown”

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Watch out Bruno Mars, here comes Taylor Locke

https://soundcloud.com/taylor-locke/running-away-from-love

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Body Language – “Really Love”

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St. Tropez – “Cut Me Loose”

Garage rock never gets old.

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Mesita – “Hostiles”

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My weekly reminder that there’s a lot of great WTF songs out there, like Mochipet’s “Psilocybin Samurai”

The new Pokémon?

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Tica Douglas – “I Didn’t”

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Skizzy Mars – Time (Ft. G-Easy & Olivver)

Reminds me of Chance The Rapper with a different voice. Good stuff.

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Playlist: Zach Braff’s iPod

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This new playlist combines many of the songs from the Garden State and Scrubs soundtracks in addition to some other songs that I think match Braff’s great range of taste in music. There are also some songs on here from his new movie Wish I Was Here released in limited release July 18th.

 

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You’ve Never Heard Of…Wilco?

Today I am introducing a new kind of post: “You’ve Never Heard Of?”  This is dedicated to all the bands/artists that are well respected among artists and the music industry but may not be as well known among the general public. While “You Should Know” focuses on new and upcoming bands, “You’ve Never Heard Of?” will focus on credible and established bands that deserve some more acknowledgment.

To begin this new series, let’s talk about a little band from Chicago called Wilco…

Among music critics and among all your annoying hipster friends, Wilco’s name always gets mentioned for various reasons.  Their weird mix of Americana and experimental makes Wilco a hard band to pin down.  Are they the American Radiohead?  Is Jeff Tweedy trying to sound like Paul Westerberg backed up by Television covering Gram Parsons?  Hell, Wilco could pass for Krautrock on some songs.  What I’m trying to get at is that Wilco has never belonged to one genre, alienating fans but also attracting those who admire Wilco for trying to write pop songs in the weirdest way possible.  Through countless lineup changes and internal struggles, Wilco has made some of the best, though sometimes arduous, popular music for over a decade, and I’m about to give Wilco-newbies a little history lesson.

Let us start from the beginning.

Wilco began as alt-country band destined to further the legacy of Jeff Tweedy’s former band Uncle Tupelo, one of the seminal alt-country bands that helped popularized the genre.  At first that was exactly what Wilco was – a mix of Gram Parsons songwriting and punk attitude that sounded exactly like Uncle Tupelo.

A.M. was Wilco’s first release in 1995, and it underwhelmed Uncle Tupelo fans with music that was uncomfortably familiar.  The album has some great tunes (“Dash 7” especially), but fans of Uncle Tupelo enjoyed Trace more, the debut album from the other half of Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar.

Trace was the better album, but A.M. still enjoyed modest success, enough to keep Wilco going to make another alt-country record.  Except Wilco didn’t make another alt-country record…

A year after A.M., Being There was released, and fans were in for a curveball.  Two disc full of songs that literally went all over the place in style and volume, I can’t even call this an alt-country record – it could only be described as a Wilco record.  The twang was still there, but now it shared the space with heavy distortion, psychedelics, and complex pop songs.  For being a double-album, the music never seemed dragged on and each song feels right on the record.

The album was a hit and made Wilco a band to watch out for.  Jeff Tweedy knew he was onto something, so for the next record he would go further down the rabbit hole.  But before he did that, he took a little detour to Mermaid Avenue.

Mermaid Avenue was a special project started by Woody Guthrie’s daughter after Being There.  Young Guthrie had a box full of her father’s lyrics that she wanted to be recorded for a new generation to hear the famed folk singer in a whole new way.  The result was a collaboration between Wilco and British folk singer Billy Bragg, and what a collaboration it was.  Every song on the record is great, and it is a great introduction to Woody Guthrie.

This album was exceptional, but their next one would be even better.

Summerteeth was even weirder than Being There, but the songs are so catchy!  I would call this Tweedy’s Brian Wilson album, a mix of layered arrangements with deep and sometimes cynical lyrics.  A lot of this change had to do with the the larger involvement of fellow band member Jay Bennett, who pushed Tweedy to further his songwriting into uncharted territories.  The album’s beauty is striking, but hidden under those beautiful melodies are some eerie, sometimes disturbing images (“I dreamed about killing you again last night / and it felt alright to me” from “Via Chicago”).  This is not an easy record to get into, especially for those unfamiliar with Wilco, but like all great records it grows on you. Personally this is a top three Wilco album for me.  The whole album feels tight but the individual tracks stand out on their own.

The album was successful and now Wilco started to have more of a following.  However, what they would make next would be a game changer.

Wilco is still making great music, but it’s safe to say that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is THE Wilco album.  Just when things couldn’t get better, they did.  Jeff Tweedy and the gang created their own world, a world in which American aquarium drinkers (with minds filled with silvery stars) try to break our hearts while saluting ashes of American flags, all on top of falling in love with heavy metal drummers and telling Jesus not to cry.  Sounds strange doesn’t it?  It should, because this is by no means a conventional album.  This is not a pop record, and this sure as hell ain’t an alt-country record.  YHF is a scattered record that was made during a very scary period of American history, and all we were looking for was a little beauty, and music fans found it in this album.

So how did Wilco follow up a near-perfect record?  They made a perfect record.

While not as accessible as YHF, which itself is already a hard album to get into, many Wilco fans have dubbed A Ghost Is Born the band’s best album, which is hard to argue against.  The songs are longer and take more time, but the payoffs are worth it.  From the insane guitar work in “At Least That’s What You Said” to the acoustic buzzing of “Muzzle Of Bees”, the highlights of the album showcase Wilco at a creative peak.  For some people there is an uncomfortable amount of “noise” and a lack of “music”, and I would have to agree.  When I say this is perfect, I mean that every song fits wonderfully into each other and creates a true listening experience.

After A Ghost Is Born Tweedy went to rehab and became sober.  The question of an artist’s creativity after becoming sober is a bullshit question, but there is no doubt that Wilco’s music chilled out after Tweedy got clean.

Nothing seems to divide Wilco fans more than Sky Blue Sky – either you hate it or you love it.  I love this album because it was the first Wilco album I ever heard, and it got me into the band.  It is one of their most accessible albums, even if it’s their least exciting.  The best thing about Sky Blue Sky is guitarist Niles Cline, whose solo on album highlight “Impossible Germany” is one of my favorite guitar solos.

Even from the album title, you can tell Wilco The Album  is a very tongue and cheek album.  Much of the album sounds generic, and its best moments don’t stack up to their past albums.  This was Tweedy’s first album completely sober, so some undeserved backlash came upon the band.  Still, there are hidden gems on here, “Country Disappeared” and “Wilco (The Song)” are both excellent.

Last year’s The Whole Love was a huge relief for Wilco fans at this point in their career.  The band sounded like they were actually trying again, and the songs sounded weird and poppy again!  Both the album opener and closer are experimental and over seven minutes long, but everything in between will remind fans of the poppy days of Being There.  A very appealing album from Wilco hitting their stride.

So there you go – you’ve now heard of Wilco.

So as you can tell from the band’s history, Wilco is one of the few popular bands that truly has evolved.  This is one of America’s most beloved bands, and you need at least one Wilco album in your collection.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of Wilco songs I recommend to anyone who isn’t familiar with the band.  It’s a mix of songs that I consider essential for any listener to know and also more appealing songs for those who aren’t used to what Wilco has to offer.  Enjoy!

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Top Lists: Top Bob Dylan Covers

Part 2 of his 70th birthday celebration!

I just did a list of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, now here are my favorite Dylan cover songs.  If you cannot get over this guy’s voice – you know who you are – maybe you’ll appreciate his songwriting when someone else does his songs.  Some of these covers are very familiar (I think we’ve all heard Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” many times) while others are unexpectedly great (how about Dave Matthews doing “All Along The Watchtower”?).  Most of these songs are from the soundtrack to the Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There, highly recommend for any Dylan fan and even for those unfamiliar with him.  Hopefully these songs make you appreciate this man more before he bites the dust – he isn’t going to be around forever!

Jack Johnson/The Band – “I Shall Be Released”

Jimi Hendrix/Dave Matthews Band – “All Along The Watchtower”

Yo La Tengo – “Fourth Time Around”

Jeff Tweedy – “Simple Twist Of Fate”

Calexico and Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Just Like A Woman”

The Hold Steady – “Can I Please Crawl Out Your Window?”

The Black Keys – “The Wicked Messenger”

Jason Mraz – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

Calexico and Roger McGuinn – “One More Cup Of Coffee”

Mason Jennings – “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”

Calexico and Jim James – “Goin’ to Acapulco”

Sufjan Stevens – “Ring Them Bells”

Norah Jones – “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

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Hidden Gems: Uncle Tupelo – March 16-20, 1992

Proof that the Ramones and Johnny Cash wrote the same music.

Nineteen years ago to this day, Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and the rest of Uncle Tupelo finished recording their all-acoustic third album March 16-20, 1992.  The band’s pervious two albums were alt-country masterpieces, the genre they helped create was named after their debut album No Depression.  However, this album could be the one that truly represented this band as a country band that loved punk music.

Half the songs here are traditional covers and the other half are originals that sound like traditional covers.  Tweedy would go on to create incredible music with Wilco, but for now he is still growing as a songwriter.  His cuts like “Black Eye” and “Fatal Wound” are great, but this was Farrar’s band, and his presence is the strongest on the album.  His singing of “Criminals” and “Coalminers” makes you really believe he is a criminal waiting to be called or a coalminer done wrong.

However these guys were not criminals or coalminers, they were middle class midwesterners who loved Johnny Cash as much as the Ramones, and they knew how to write and sing songs that sounded like they could have been written eighty years ago.  This is the only album that doesn’t show any hints of their huge punk influence, except for them covering the Stooges’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and even that sounds like something Hank Williams could have written.  Just goes to show Husker Du is as American as the Carter Family.

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