“Ex-Ravers”

face tat
Zach Hill
Face Tat, 2010

More toe-cutting and thumb-busting today with an idiosyncratic Zach Hill banger. This is the stuff I love most, when experimental artists wrangle their sound into something vaguely resembling songwriting. Face Tat is full of this approach — nontraditional electro/rock hybrids with verses, choruses and weird lost bridges. The pop-friendly pieces are all here, you just gotta look for ‘em. Hill is best known for Hella and Death Grips but his solo material has always been my favorite, and I still play this one regularly 5 years on.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Ex-Ravers.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”

oh sees
Thee Oh Sees
Floating Coffin, 2013

When I decided on Thee Oh Sees for today’s tune, “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” was the first song that came to mind. It was also the last song I wanted to use, not because it isn’t deserving, but because it’s the one track anyone even remotely familiar with the work of John Dwyer is guaranteed to have heard. In fact, it became something of a mini-hit upon its 2013 release — as much of a hit as Thee Oh Sees have had and likely ever will. There’s no denying the charming, smart/dumb hook at the center, and gun-to-head, this is probably the track I’d pick for uninitiated listeners looking for a quick fix. Today I’m gonna assume that’s you. Do you like a little sweet with your sour, some candy with your crush? Does that kaleidoscopic cover art freak you the fuck out while simultaneously piquing your interest? Does it conjure mental images of jawbreakers, sweet teeth, cavities and bloody fingers scraping bass guitar strings? Are you interested, at all, in well-recorded, overdriven garage rock played by experienced professional musicians who know the genre inside and out? Have you given up on chasing trends, chasing lost youth, chasing money or career, chasing anything but the elusive self-conception of whoever and whatever you truly are? Well then, well then. Have Thee Oh Sees got a song for you …

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Toe%20Cutter%20-%20Thumb%20Buster.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Farmhouse”

phish
Phish
Farmhouse, 2000

This isn’t a post I wanted to write, and not just because it’s about Phish. As a fan of The Dead and other assorted jam acts, I don’t have an aversion to the band like some do. Phish’s output as a recording entity is fine, just fine: inoffensive, technically accomplished, whitebread like nobody’s business. And I can see the appeal of their live shows and the community that’s grown up around them. But listen, they’re … they’re just not for me. And like little else in life, I can state this fact with integrity knowing I’ve put in the time thanks to Scott Aukerman and Harris Wittels’ hilarious and now-departed “Analyze Phish” podcast. Wittels, as you may be aware, passed away two weeks ago at just 30 years old, leaving behind not only his popular podcast and a respected career as a writer and comedian, but perhaps the thing he loved most of all — Phish itself. Wittels aficionados know he was a devoted “phan” who followed the band on tour when he could. He also made no secret — on the podcast, in interviews — of his heavy recreational drug use, how it went hand-in-hand with the concert experience, how it inevitably crept into his daily life. The problem is clear now, of course, in the light of day. All the anecdotes that used to amuse listeners have betrayed darker meaning in the wake of his passing. But life marches on — Harris’ memory, and his work, and the music he loved are still with us. Here’s to you, Harris … I didn’t know you personally, but you mattered just the same. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Did you want me to write about the song too? Well listen, it’s a fine song, just fine … a kind of weird, knowing (I think) mash-up of “No Woman No Cry” and “Let It Be.” About as safe as 21st century songwriting gets, I suppose — and in a world like ours, there’s nothing wrong with that.

iTunes/Amazon

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“Meaning of Dub”

dub
Dub Club
Meaning of Dub, 2014

Modern-day dub is something of an anachronism. As the earliest form of remix music, many popular dub techniques originated with the live-mixed studio technology of the day (reverb, echo, delay), effects that sound clumsy and dated today. In 2015, when any laptop comes preloaded with more sophisticated recording technology than the Kingston studios of the 1960s, cleanliness and precision — two characteristics not traditionally associated with the genre — are pretty much foundational. This yields modern-day compositions that mimic early dub soundscapes in practice but actually have more in common with hip-hop production. Witness Meaning of Dub — a collection of 10 modern “versions” built around the same instrumental track, spearheaded by DJ/producer Tom Chasteen, who also hosts a weekly Dub Club night at L.A.’s Echoplex. Nothing about the instrumental feels rough or handmade. Rather, this is music made by modern studio heads who’ve clearly internalized the lessons of the genre while updating the technique. The end experience is as absorbing as all the best original dub, just not in the same way.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/10%20Instrumental.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“I Don’t Want It”

ween
Ween
Quebec, 2003

I’ll open with a full disclosure, which will doubtless turn all true Ween fans away immediately: I came to Ween ridiculously late. Like full-on, post-official-breakup late. I also realized pretty quickly in my deep-dive into the holy core of Weendom (Chocolate and Cheese, The Mollusk, this record)—and here’s where I lose (or else satisfy) those fans still hanging around only to see what an ass I make of myself—that while plenty of tracks are downright great, others either pale in proximity or else annoy after repeated listens. This is the risk, after all, that novelty runs, is getting old. (Sidenote: The exception is The Mollusk, an absolute masterpiece of weird, eclectic, experimental joy, complete with things braised in sand, drunken-brogue sea shanties, and whales with polka-dot tails (the astute reader perceives a theme)). Setting that aside, I’ll reach back to my first exposure to Ween, about a decade ago at a Santa Cruz house party where Quebec was playing. Until that moment I’d always believed Ween to be responsible for “Teenage Dirtbag.” Anyway, years later, as cheesy, as pop-centric, as downright obvious as the song may be, “I Don’t Want It” still hits me harder than anything on The Mollusk. Many consider Ween a joke band, and I’m not sure I can fully argue with these people. Serious bro-humor indeed abounds, and I shudder to imagine the frat contingent at a Ween show circa 2004. “I Don’t Want It,” though, is Everyman’s Ween. It could even be (and here’s another shudder) your Dad’s Ween. There’s no dick jokes, no drugs, no weird sonic fuckery, no arcane references to midcentury Ethiopian emperors, no oh-by-the-way thrash-rock asides. Just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo and we’re done. I mean, for all I know the whole thing could be an in-joke designed to root out the clueless idiots like myself—its luscious (banal?) McCartney background “ahhhhh”s and (put-on?) wistful lyrics are certainly suspect. But remember, we’re alone here; the true fans have all shuffled back to their darkened living rooms and their bongs, and, shit, you guys, here comes that guitar solo, and . . . ahh, yes. Yes, there we go.

My friends, you’re welcome.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20I%20Don’t%20Want%20It.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Fire Back About Your New Baby’s Sex”

don
Don Caballero
American Don, 2000

Gotta love old post-rock song titles. And band names. And cover art.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Fire%20Back%20About%20Your%20New%20Baby’s%20Sex.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Music is My Radar”

blur
Blur
The Best of Blur, 2000

Blur were always more of a singles band to me. I’m hard-pressed to name an album I love all the way through, but at a moment’s notice I could probably write a list of 20 great songs spanning their entire career — “Girls and Boys,” “Tender,” “She’s So High,” “End of a Century” and “Coffee & TV” would be just the tip of the iceberg. So it’s fitting that when it came time to bang out the requisite greatest-hits bonus track in 2000, “Music Is My Radar” was unsurprisingly awesome. They pulled off a neat trick with this one: the bounce of their early, class-conscious pop crammed right up against the later experimental stuff. And I want to get excited for the new album too — after all, Graham Coxon is back for the first time since 1999. At the very least I’m sure we’ll get a few more gems to add to the collection.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/18%20Music%20Is%20My%20Radar.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)”

honest
Future w/ Andre 3000
Honest, 2014

As long as we’re being honest … I’d be okay dropping Future from his own song. Sorry Future, but you’re getting in the way of another terrific post-Outkast verse from Three Stacks, and I take those wherever I can get them. Considering the reunion was just for money and the rumored solo album is approaching Detox-levels of delay, moments like these matter more than ever. And it is a truly notable verse, even if Andre’s sounding bored again. Ya’ll just gon’ have to make amends, I guess. Props to Future, however, for keeping the Dungeon Family flame burning in the modern era. And for picking another terrific Mr. DJ beat.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20Benz%20Friendz%20(Whatchutola)%20%5Bfeat.%20Andr%C3%A9%203000%5D.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Place To Be”

moon
Nick Drake
Pink Moon, 1972

It’s been a downbeat week here, musically if not emotionally. For whatever reason, yesterday’s Sufjan selection put me in mind of Pink Moon, a record I play regularly for comfort and relaxation. Believe me, this one works wonders on an unquiet mind. Despite Nick Drake’s relentlessly moody songwriting, I can’t help but smile when I hear “Place To Be” or “Which Will” or (obviously) “Pink Moon.” The way recorded music ages — grows in reputation or diminishes in stature through the years — is endlessly fascinating to me. Never forget that this man died alone, penniless and near-forgotten. Or that with the passage of time, his small catalogue (and this album in particular) has taken its place among the most beloved and influential in singer-songwriter history. Such a triumphant outcome for a master of small gestures.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Place%20To%20Be.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”

suf
Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell, 2015

After 10 years spent avoiding Sufjan Stevens like a plague (and the previous five in unhealthy admiration), here’s one that finally got me again. Everything I used to love about his music is still in evidence here. It’s a sad song, overly literate, with pretty finger-picky guitar and dramatic vocals — aesthetically, this is no sea change. But he’s not singing about saints, or states, or someone else this time. He’s singing about himself, and it’s a rawer, more honest presentation than we’ve heard before. Sufjan Stevens has sex? Sufjan Stevens does drugs? I wouldn’t have guessed either back in the days of Illinois or Seven Swans. There’s a vulnerability in this new work that helps make up for the old affectations. And Christ is still in there somewhere too, just like you knew he would be, harder to find than ever.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/10%20No%20Shade%20in%20the%20Shadow%20of%20The%20Cross.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Out of This World”

bloodf
The Cure
Bloodflowers, 2000

I love tracking down little-known gems from big-name, established artists. Bands only become “iconic” after they’ve put in the work; I’d guess it takes three or four records widely acknowledged as “great” before any group can qualify. Underground acts on par with Suicide or Shellac — to name two very random examples — are influential, but the sum of their respective outputs isn’t enough to justify elder-statesmen status. As it turns out though, icons are in no short supply. I don’t think anyone would dispute that The Cure are an iconic band and have been for decades, both for their distinctive sound and their fantastic run of classic-era material. In 2000 however, after the commercial air ball that was Wild Mood Swings (an album I still love), Robert Smith and company were invisible to all but the hardest of hardcore fans. Bloodflowers was conceived as the bookend to two earlier critical favorites, Pornography and Disintegration, both of which represent the band at its darkest. As you might expect from any product of equally hubristic conceit, Bloodflowers does not live up to its pedigree. But just try to tell me “Out of This World” isn’t wonderful. Tell me you can listen to all seven minutes without falling under the familiar morbid sway of all the band’s best material. Tell me the guitar lead doesn’t pluck heartstrings you forgot you had. Late-era treasures like this seem to arrive at exactly the moment their creators need them most. For fans, they serve as a reminder that greatness is not simply something that happens.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Out%20Of%20This%20World.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“The Golden Age”/”Morning”

beck
Beck
Sea Change, 2002
Morning Phase, 2014

It’s a languid-folk deathmatch on the blog today, kids. In one corner, weighing in at a scant 90 pounds, your favorite former slacker Beck and his “The Golden Age,” from much-lauded 2002 breakup album Sea Change. And in the other, weighing in at 95 pounds (it’s the hat) … uh, Beck again, this time with “Morning,” from the newly-Grammy’ed, semi-controversial Morning Phase. Though 12 years separate the two, musically not much has changed — even the glockenspiel lands with about as much force as it used to — and the fact that both these songs, both album openers, both feature glockenspiel pretty much says it all. Your preference may depend on which you hear first; I’m partial to “Morning” right now, but that may be because I haven’t had a decade to get tired of it. Both are accomplished, downbeat, beautiful and undeniably Beck. Their similarities say more about the 12 years he’s spent in stasis than talent or craft.

“The Golden Age”:

“Morning”:

iTunes/Amazon

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“Dream House”

sunbather
Deafheaven
Sunbather, 2013

See that album cover above? Beautiful, isn’t it? You can buy the exclusive typeface if you want — only $30. Or how about a limited-edition jacquard woven throw blanket? Sit tight, friend — they’re sold out right now but expect more soon. All the Nordic metal bands did this too, right? No? You mean to tell me Venom never licensed its name to a line of free-trade organic coffee? Or that before the arrest, Burzum wasn’t in talks with IKEA to sell branded ceramic housewares? Odd, because when I think “black metal,” I think lifestyle music. Then again, Deafheaven is pretty much the only black-metal band I listen to. They’re that kind of metal — the kind sweetened with somber, post-rock instrumental passages and shoegaze guitars. With an album title that sounds like it belongs to a lost John Cheever story. Basically, black metal for people who use throw blankets. People not unlike yourself, perhaps.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Dream%20House.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart”

thebadplus_neverstop_jk
The Bad Plus
Never Stop, 2010

What the hell do they do to those drums? For my money, whoever is mic’ing/engineering The Bad Plus is pulling down the most unique drum sounds in modern music: snares that sound encased in plastic, thundering floor toms, cymbals that get right between your ears. It doesn’t hurt that David King is one of the best working today, summoning emotions minute and grand with the exact touch required. His sound is perfectly suited to The Bad Plus’ avant-garde, pazz & jop tendencies. It’s a thrill to hear music this forward-thinking from a traditional piano-trio lineup.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Radio%20Tower%20Has%20a%20Beating%20Heart.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Push the Sky Away”

cave
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push the Sky Away, 2013

I certainly like Nick Cave, but I’ve never felt compelled to love him. I’m fascinated by a tendency I’ve noticed in his best work though: the ability to capture a beautiful notion — the idea of God, the thrill of falling in love, the aspiration of the self — before sentencing it to a slow, miserable death by melancholy. You hear the same principle at work in “Push the Sky Away.” Lyrically, this is motivational, no-limit, follow-your-dreams stuff — you’d almost expect to read these words in a self-help manual. Musically, of course, it’s a different story: dirge-like keys, atmospheric loops, a creepy children’s chorus. The effect is memorable — beautiful and spooky at all once — but sometimes you wanna tell the guy it’s okay to ease up.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/09%20Push%20the%20Sky%20Away.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Done”

bts
Built to Spill
There Is No Enemy, 2009

If you had asked me, say, 15 years ago which of my favorite ‘90s-era guitar bands I’d still be obsessed with all this time later, I wouldn’t have guessed Built to Spill. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely in thrall to the band’s quirky blend of Neil Young guitar rock and panoramic pop-psychedelia — particularly the “Holy Trinity” of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Perfect From Now On and Keep It Like a Secret — but those records felt distinctly grounded to their era. Pavement or even Modest Mouse, to me, stood the better chance of surviving the decades. But something about the earnestness of Doug Martsch — the wide-eyed, almost childlike puzzlement in his songs — rings truer for me now. And I know of no other traditional guitar band that’s covered more musical ground over the years while remaining fundamentally unchanged at the core. Seriously, throw on something from Ultimate Alternative Wavers after “Done” and you’ll see what I mean. I made a rule when I started TBSYHAD that I’d never repeat an artist, but 90-some posts later I’m breaking it for Built to Spill.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/08%20Done.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Sway”

stones
The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers, 1971

To watch them on stage or in interviews, no matter the era, they just come off like a bunch of rakes, right? But the best Stones songs harbor a tension within them: the pull of rock-life decadence vs. an acute sense of human limitation. Very few people will leave this planet having lived faster or fallen harder than The Rolling Stones. They’ve lusted and been loved, harmed and been hurt, and if anyone knows how it feels to live “that demon life” it is most assuredly Mick Jagger. But it wouldn’t mean a thing without the sting of regret — that most knowing, most human of sensations in the pit of every stomach. The voice that warns you when it’s time to leave the party.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Sway.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“#CAKE”

palaces
Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty, 2014

I read a quote once — but wait, there’s more! — and it went something like this: “All the best novels teach you how to read them.” I found that pretty intriguing, because A) what the hell does that really mean, honestly? and B) whatever it was supposed to mean didn’t really seem to apply to the book it was referring to. I’ve since forgotten which book that was, but in scratching and crawling, kicking and clawing, I think I’ve grasped some semblance of meaning in the years since. Whatever effect a work of fiction works on you — it can only be whatever it is. Any relevance divines itself. And maybe, just maybe, incoherence can be a means to that end. Is Shabazz Palaces some of the best music? Well, the answer is subjective. But I don’t think anyone can deny that this is music without precedent. No one can tell you what to do with this, because nothing like it has really existed before. And whatever you can take from it is going to be valid, if only for you. No one’s gonna hold your hand on this one.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/12%20%23CAKE.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Become the Enemy”

lemon
The Lemonheads
The Lemonheads, 2006

Evan Dando strikes me as a guy who doesn’t know what to do with his own talent. He’s written some of the catchiest pop songs I’ve heard in my life, but nothing about the work seems effortless — for him or his fans. Following a run at the Boston punk scene, The Lemonheads morphed into a ‘90s alternative concern, and they landed a few radio hits back when those existed — “Into Your Arms,” “It’s a Shame About Ray,” a cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” There were a few more records and a healthy handful of songs I’ll take to my grave, and then they just kind of stopped. Dando had long been plagued by substance abuse rumors, and a scattered 2003 solo record did nothing to dispel them. The last time we heard original work was this self-titled record nine years ago. “Become The Enemy” — a catchy cut about relationship conflict — makes the most of its crack, this-album-only rhythm section (The Descendents’ Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez) and Dando’s smooth way with a melody. God knows how long it took him to write, or when we’ll hear from him again.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Become%20the%20Enemy.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Rano Pano”

mogwai_hardcore_will_never_die_but_you_will
Mogwai
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, 2011

Will Mogwai ever call it a day? I ask not out of exasperation, merely curiosity. We’re a long way from prime-era post-rock and not coincidentally, from the band’s best work (think of those first four records, from Young Team to Happy Songs). What’s left is always good and sometimes excellent — if you know a more consistent living rock band on the planet, please name them — though it’s not hard to wish they were more eager to step out of their comfort zone now and then. “Rano Pano” marks a refreshing change of pace from most of the band’s recent work: rather than the usual serving of sleepy electronic rock, it’s just one riff, a climbing figure that takes exactly 20 seconds to complete on first pass, gradually picking up speed as it builds to a crushing conclusion. Not exactly Sleep-caliber stoner metal, but not exactly not that either. If they want to take things in a different direction next time, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Rano%20Pano.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Spiders (Original Version)”

wilco
Wilco
Live, 2002

The first time I saw Wilco live was in 2002 at London’s Astoria, on the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tour. They opened with this then-unreleased song, performed more or less as you hear it here, and I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. Two years later, of course, they turned it inside out for A Ghost is Born, a recording that stands to this day as one of the most beloved and alienating tracks in the band’s catalogue. With time I’ve grown to love both versions equally, but there’s no denying the original’s mellow, hooky charm. One advantage here: the relative stillness of this live presentation leaves plenty of room for the lyrics, among my favorite in Wilcodom.

[audio http://www.jasongonulsen.com/wlco_2002-09-02_d1t01.mp3]
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“Int’l”

classic
M.E.D.
Classic, 2011

Pitchfork opened their review by calling M.E.D. “the rap equivalent of a middle-relief pitcher asked to go eight innings,” and while I get the sentiment I think it underestimates both the artist and the hunger fans feel for music like his. It’s true: there’s nothing surprising or cutting-edge about this record, but in an era where Iggy Azalea and Meghan Trainor are afforded commercial and sometimes even critical cred for high-flash cultural appropriation, the M.E.D.s of the world matter all the more. Somehow along the way it became cool for white journalists to dismiss hip-hop traditionalists, but in 10 years I’m still gonna be listening to this shit and blog monsters will forget they ever pretended to find “Fancy” amusing. Suum clique pulchrum est maybe, but I question the allegiance of any hip-hop fan who can’t find something of value here. Medaphoar will never be major and your mom will never know his name, but the Stones Throw MC puts in the work and he does it with real skill. Classic was aided and abetted by none other than the legendary Madlib, and for my money (and hopefully yours), the material edges close enough to its title to earn more than grudging respect.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Int’l.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“London in February”

coast
Coastal
Halfway to You, 2004

A nice, unassuming post-rock ditty that floats along of its own accord until there’s nothing left to do. Subtle, slow and just a little too short. Most of Coastal’s other work featured vocals of the dramatic, sub-Low boy/girl variety — I’m not saying they weren’t good songs, they just weren’t for me. This little piece of wordless driftwood is a nice change of pace. There was a time, you’ll recall, where half the bands your friends were in made music like this.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/08%20London%20In%20February.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Massive Attack”

nicki
Nicki Minaj (feat. Sean Garrett)
Single, 2010

Fuck it.

Listen, it’s not like everything you do is perfect either.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Massive%20Attack%20(feat.%20Sean%20Garrett).m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Stonemilker”

square-200
Bjork
Vulnicura, 2015

And just like that, Bjork is back. She’s a monolith, isn’t she? An artist we’re accustomed to hearing little about for long stretches of time, giving her the energy and space she needs to do whatever she does next, while we (some of us, anyway) wait patiently for her next big move. That’s been the arrangement for more than 20 years, and it was supposed to be the arrangement for Vulnicura too. Then in true 2015 fashion, a disruption: the album leaked almost as soon as it was announced, release plans for March were scrapped, and the project was rushed to iTunes. In a way, the element of surprise is strangely fitting — Vulnicura is a song cycle exploring the dissolution of the singer’s relationship with artist Matthew Barney, each track an emotional milestone around the breakup. It’s clearly not a loss she was expecting, though opener “Stonemilker” (written 9 months before the split, according to liner notes) smells trouble ahead. “Show me emotional respect/I have emotional needs,” she pleads in the frankly broken, open-hearted chorus. “Find our mutual coordinate.” Her immeasurable loss has been transformed, somehow, into a listener’s gain.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Stonemilker.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”

parkay
Parkay Quarts
Content Nausea, 2014

I feel comfortable proclaiming “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” the best Parquet Courts song to-date. (Er, Parkay Quarts, whatever — I guess the distinction on Content Nausea is really just the 4-track recorder, right?) Anyway, they saved it all for this song. It’s like hearing the last 50 years of guitar rock on one track: the skewed-heartland lyricism of Bob Dylan; the sometimes-sincere slack of Pavement; the blocky, amateurish guitar of The Velvets. Throw in some kind of abstract southern-Odyssey storytelling and baby, you got a stew goin’. I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly new about this, but it’s rare to hear it done this good. I like this look on Parquet — more of this next time please, less “Stoned and Starving.”

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/12%20Uncast%20Shadow%20of%20a%20Southern%20Myth.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Don’t Carry It All”

king
The Decemberists
The King is Dead, 2011

“We are all our hands and holders.” Would that it were true, right? Now I’m no Decemberists apologist — I generally object on lyrical grounds, finding Colin Meloy too precious for my blood about 80 percent of the time. But on a longer-than-expected drive from L.A. to Bakersfield to see an old friend in 2011, I needed something to take my mind off an impending breakup and “Don’t Carry It All” proved much-needed medicine. “A neighbor’s blessed burden within reason/Becomes a burden borne of all and one.” That’s a line I needed to hear then and an idea I still want to believe in, even when I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. The split happened a week later and I felt generally miserable for a few months, but then I got better. And like always, music was a big part of the recovery. This morning I was stuck at a light and needed something to take my mind off worrying about work. I grabbed a CD from the center console — a mix I’d made a few years back with a random name, “Saturday Songs” or something like that — and this was the first thing on it. I started skipping through the tracks and it soon became clear that these were the songs, the ones that helped pull me through a darker time in the not-too-distant past. That mix is the story of me moving on, and it started here.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Don’t%20Carry%20It%20All.m4a]

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“It’s All Too Much”

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The Church
A Box of Birds, 1999

I don’t know if there’s a right way to cover The Beatles, but I feel pretty strongly that The Church’s take on Yellow Submarine’s “It’s All Too Much” is one good way to do it. For starters, in the vast reinforced canon that is The Fab Four’s, “Too Much” is more curio than crowned, arguably the least-known song in the film. Second, it’s not like The Church’s version is even all that different from the original — it’s the same psychedelic attack only more, aided by a 30-year advance in studio technology. The guitars are bigger and more distorted, and there’s a bounce to the rhythm section that was missing in George Martin’s watery original mix, but other than that? No new tricks. Steve Kilbey’s multi-tracked vocals don’t even deviate all too much from George Harrison’s. So go figure: a great song by a great band can still be great even when someone else plays it. The trick, as ever, is knowing your lane.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/Church%20Its%20All%20Too%20Much%20Beatles%20cover.mp3]

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“Small”

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Portishead
Third, 2008

Portishead crushed it with Third. Sure, I was a fan during their 90s run, which was really just three albums long (two studio, one live), but I could never have guessed at the staying power those songs would have. There was something in the music that felt intrinsically tied to its era, and sure enough, most of their peers have now been forgotten. But disappearing for 11 years proved to be a good career move. Third was something of a magic trick: a record so good it not only justified the wait, it made you forget about genre entirely. You can’t ask for more than that.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/09%20Small.mp3]

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“Green Grow the Rushes”

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R.E.M.
Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985

I suppose song-for-song, Fables represents the slowest of early R.E.M. Certainly the darkest, the most mysterious. Perhaps even the most Southern, by which I mean it feels the most foreign to an American born elsewhere. It might also be the most inconsistent, but the highs are formidable (“Driver 8,” “Maps and Legends,” “Feeling Gravitys Pull”). Early R.E.M. holds a special place for me; the first five records make me nostalgic for a time and place I’m too young to remember, and there’s a sweetness to “Green Grow the Rushes” that feels eternal. It’s not hard to hear this music and imagine the world it came from, or to wish you knew it too.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Green%20Grow%20The%20Rushes.mp3]

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