“Be Careful”

Sparkle
Sparkle & R. Kelly
Sparkle, 1998

So … I saw R. Kelly in concert three weeks ago. That was a real thing that happened, to me, in the Year of Our Lord, 2014. It was … it was okay. He did that weird outdated hip-hop thing where it’s just him and a DJ, and no song gets more than one verse or chorus. And while that was annoying, it served as a nice reminder that Kelly’s back catalogue is deep not only with hits, but simply good songs — hundreds in fact, many of them strong enough to stand alongside his massive hits in concert. Setting aside the controversy that has trailed him everywhere since the start of his career, there’s no denying the man’s singing or songwriting ability. “Be Careful,” a duet with former protégé Sparkle, is one such example from 1998, all but forgotten now. The opening half of a domestic dialogue continued on Kelly album track “When a Woman’s Fed Up,” “Be Careful” is packed with enough narrative detail to feel like more than just a song; there are enough grace notes here to make the story believable. In today’s bone-dry radio-R&B landscape, this is a nice reminder of the genre at its finest. Sad, relevant post-script: Sparkle testified against Kelly during his 2009 criminal trial alleging he appeared in a videotape with her-then 14-year-old niece engaging in sexual acts. As you probably know, Kelly was acquitted.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/04%20Be%20Careful.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Overtones”

mast
Jonny Greenwood
The Master OST, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master wouldn’t be half the film it is — whatever film it is — without Jonny Greenwood’s original score. Churning, poetic and confused, Greenwood’s work does nearly all the emotional heavy lifting, adding depth and texture to a film that wouldn’t be much more than an extended acting class without it. Any conclusions I’ve drawn about the The Master’s thematic weight or insight over the years stem directly from how it feels to hear this music over those images. I have no idea how Greenwood arrived at this specific set of sounds given what he had to work with, but that mystery keeps me coming back to the film.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“Maidenhead”

avatars-000091805788-bt3kde-t200x200
Protomartyr
Under Color of Official Right, 2014

You’re gonna swear you’ve heard Protomartyr before, and you won’t exactly be wrong. Punk like Detroit, post-punk like Wire, Ian Curtis like Ian Curtis (that’s Joe Casey on vocals), Under Color of Official Right successfully amalgamates a hand-picked assortment of rock flavors you’ve come to know and love. They’re not the first band to try this kind of thing and they won’t be the last, but the success-to-failure ratio is admirably high. You’re getting the sweet without the sour on “Maidenhead,” even with lines like “Shit goes up, shit goes down/What am I, a dead moose?” Bitter comes after and never quits: dedicated punk on “Want Remover,” modern resignation on “I Stare at Floors,” culture-baiting fight song “Tarpeian Rock.” The band’s willingness to bend angry to just the right shape is admirable, even when it’s a shape we’ve seen before. In some fields, dedication is prized above invention.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“Till It’s Done (Tutu)”

d
D’Angelo and The Vanguard
Black Messiah, 2014

What a special record this is. Set aside for a moment the idea that any album could possibly be worth a 14-year wait — an extreme posture from which to evaluate success or failure. Consider Black Messiah instead for what it rightly is: a worthy successor to a previous masterpiece, D’Angelo’s second album, Voodoo (itself a departure from his Brown Sugar debut). The man’s body of work to-date is bulletproof, and Messiah continues in the tradition of previous recordings by paying homage to his influences while expanding on them in equal measure. Early reviews pegging the album as a mere continuation of the Voodoo aesthetic must have been written by critics who need to listen to Voodoo again; where that album was precise, calculated, in thrall to minimalist flourish, Messiah feels warm and expansive, live-band “tossed off” despite the long delay. Note this shift on “Till It’s Done,” a living study in the art of playing around the pocket. However this recording came to life — either through a band playing live off-time, recorded in a single take; or one man alone, multi-tracking himself to glory — the end product is anything but contained. This is music as energy, light, meditation, mediation, active culture: something that existed before us and will outlive us too. The shadows of Sly, Marvin and Prince may continue to haunt his work, but it’s the ghost of D’Angelo himself that looms largest. Turns out he was here the whole time.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Till%20It’s%20Done%20(Tutu).m4a]

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“Hallogallo”

neu
Neu!
Self-Titled, 1972

Two days in a row — let’s keep the ball rolling. Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay any artist is to call their work “timeless.” Since we’re on the topic of Krautrock, help yourself to some classic Neu! today: same bat-time, same bat-country as Can. Here we have what may be the finest example of Motorik drumming in the history of music or drumming: a taut 4/4 timekeeper so cool it actually becomes the song — everything else is just well-executed window dressing. The last 40 years of popular music have conditioned us to the effect, but prior to the era it was rare to hear a rock sound so driven, so bloody-minded, so precise. These 10 minutes pass quickly; this record just turned 42. And in related news: time flies.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Hallogallo.mp3]

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“Halleluhwah”

tagomago
Can
Tago Mago, 1971

So this is the New Year! Let’s make a deal: if I resolve to be a little more consistent about posting to TBSYHAD (5 songs a week, like I told myself in the beginning), will you resolve to check the site more often? Really? You will? As a sign of your loyalty, will you also promise to listen to “Halleluhwah” in its entirety today? I’m not gonna ask that you stay seated the entire time — it’s cool if you need to get up to do the dishes or something. I mean, 19 minutes … that’s about how long it takes to do dishes anyway. I promise it’ll be worth it. I was reminded recently how much I love this band — specifically for this album and Ege Bamyasi — when I heard the spooky “Vitamin C” over the opening moments of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. “Halleluhwah” captures a similar anxious groove, then stretches it beyond all reasonable measure.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/04%20Halleluhwah.mp3]

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“On Molasses Lake (Treading)”

7027
Roadside Monument
Split EP w/ Puller, 1997

Roadside Monument were a ‘90s math-rock band that played without the clean precision of a Don Caballero or Hella; their murky, detuned wanderings fell more along the Shellac/Jawbox end of the spectrum (fitting, as Bob Weston and J. Robbins both engineered records for the group). As a dedicated 3-piece seemingly un-enamored of overdubs, they were limited in range but excelled with what they had. I suppose their album-length high water mark would’ve been 1998’s I Am the Day of Current Taste (best song title: “OJ Simpson House Auction”), but my personal favorite is EP orphan “On Molasses Lake,” which steadies the band’s erratic impulses just long enough to allow two very indie, very ‘90s verses to take hold. After that of course comes the requisite explosion: surging guitar, syncopated drumming, and a dramatic cry of “May we not be forgotten!” Doing my part to make that happen.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20On%20Molasses%20Lake%20(Roadside%20Monument).mp3]

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“Damage”

faith_in_strangers
Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers, 2014

Andy Stott picks the best fucking album art. You see the cover for Faith in Strangers above, but take a look at this. This. And this too. The guy has his aesthetic nailed down, that’s for sure: sleek, stark, dangerous but well-appointed. 2012’s Luxury Problems had perhaps the ultimate Andy Stott album title — it was the sound of shit breaking down, as heard from the most expensive seat on the Titanic. “Damage,” from the new album, is a fitting follow-up: knotty, clanging percussion, a relatively leaden tempo, a three-note bass melody torn from some larger, more elaborate production. Minimal, abrasive, selective … luxuriant. Proceed at your peril.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Damage.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“See You Later”

Mic_City_Sons
Heatmiser
Mic City Sons, 1996

This sounds dramatic and probably is, but I haven’t listened to Elliott Smith much since the day he died … and that was more than 11 years ago. I had previously been a serious fan, and to this day I’d still cite him as a formative influence (inasmuch as holds meaning for a non-professional musician), but the tragic, almost unbelievable nature of his death effectively ended my interest in revisiting his music. It became much harder to listen to his solo records (I still cite Either/Or as my fave) once it became clear that, yes, that was the real Elliott we’d been hearing in those songs: brilliant but addled, solipsistic, hopelessly addicted to love and other substances. It was one form of intrusion to merely hear this as a fan; quite another to realize that, emotionally at least, it had all been true. It became impossible for me to spend time with those old records without also feeling somehow complicit in one man’s disintegration. I am trying to express this with as little judgment as I can, and perhaps I am not succeeding, but the point is the man’s music simply meant too much to me for his life to not also carry equal weight. To lose one felt – for me anyway — like losing both. It was/is no longer my place to live in his world as a listener, but that shouldn’t stop you, or anyone really, from remembering his considerable gifts as a songwriter. In an ideal age, we’d all be able to hear a song like “See You Later” and it would feel like the first time every time, and the name of the artist would never be known, and we’d all be better for it. Because the music was truly special.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20See%20You%20Later.m4a]

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“Firecrackers”

marissa
Marissa Nadler
July, 2014

I’m not sure I fully comprehend “Firecrackers,” and in some ways I’m glad for that. It’s not for lack of curiosity — the part of me that finds the song fascinating would have a hard time saying no to more backstory. But generally speaking, any song where a woman alerts an attacker to her presence is going to give me the spooks, whether or not the sentiment is metaphorical. Maybe that says more about me than the song, I dunno. Wherever the truth lies, Marissa Nadler’s songwriting succeeds at unsettling; there are moments on July that make my hair stand on end no matter how many times I hear them. “Firecrackers” just happens to be the most sinister. You might be surprised at first to learn that Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn handled production duties on this one. You’ll get over it pretty quickly.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Firecrackers.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Cuttooth”

rh
Radiohead
Knives Out single, 2001

Are b-sides even a thing anymore? I know, of course, that there will always be songs artists choose not to release on a grand scale, or even at all — there will always be throwaways. But as the traditional album format declines in relevance and songs matter only at face value — either $.99 or “free” to stream, and immediate enough to warrant repeat listens or forgotten on first pass — the playing field is leveled for both old and new material. A song becomes just a song, of interest to as many as want to hear it, with only the artist’s wishes providing context. In the new listening economy, b-sides mean as much as singles, as much as track 10 or 12 or 200, as much as radio. The songs either exist by virtue of being revealed or they don’t, and their commercial/critical fortunes rise and fall alongside all other noise. Radiohead’s two decades of b-sides outline a fascinating parallel history of the band — this is a group whose reputation was made in and because of the traditional album era, which itself enabled the b-side model as much as the singles format before it. Anything that didn’t make the cut on OK Computer or Kid A or Amnesiac was certainly intended by the band to be experienced apart from those albums. But today, an interested fan can listen back to those singles and EP’s featuring non-album material … and it’s all just Radiohead. And B-side Radiohead strikes me in general as less conservative, a little less measured, more willing to engage in traditional rock-band theatrics than the willfully obscured “final cuts” marked for canon. Witness “Cuttooth,” a piano-driven rocker that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Coldplay record from the same era were it not for its more adventurous production. I can scarcely imagine Thom Yorke & Co. sanctioning this track for The Bends, much less Amnesiac, their most experimental record. And of course they didn’t, they picked it for the scrap-heap, but here we are 13 years later and sure enough, it’s a Radiohead song. As a fan, I like it about as much as anything else they could’ve chosen to put on an album. The future audience may be unaware there was ever a distinction.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/2-07%20Cuttooth.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Careless”

Clash The Truth by Beach Fossils
Beach Fossils
Clash the Truth, 2012

It’s raining in L.A. this week, and that’s news — it never rains in L.A. anymore. Something about this music sounds right in this weather, in this city. It’s Beach Fossils, after all — not Beach House, not Best Coast — the threat of drought is right there in the name. Wet music for a gloomy day, or perhaps no day at all — breezy, simple, memorable, melancholy. Shades of The Cure. Shades of DIIV (naturally). Shades of I don’t know what else, but some other band we all recognize. Best heard at night, through a windshield in the rain? Sure, that’ll do.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Beach%20Fossils%20-%20Careless%20%20(Clash%20The%20Truth).mp3]

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“Motivators”

Beats-Rhymes-and-Life-Cover
A Tribe Called Quest
Beats, Rhymes & Life, 1996

Before the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s final album, 1998’s The Love Movement, rapper/producer/majordomo Q-Tip promised nothing less than hip-hop’s Dark Side of the Moon. That prediction seemed remarkably off-base upon release: even with the breakup hype, the record was not a smash, and in the years that followed most die-hard Tribe fans chose to remember the group’s first three albums as the pinnacle of the band’s career, if not hip-hop in general, while ignoring their later work. But listening to Beats, Rhymes & Life today — the album that first signaled a break from the old ways — I think I understand what Tip was going for. On a cultural and commercial level, of course, there is no reasonable comparison to be made. But sonically it’s a different story. There’s a consistent, subtle energy to Beats that finds its way under the skin over time, not unlike those better Floyd records. The music molds itself to Q-Tip’s mellow, laid-back persona. BPMs stay steady from track-to-track, samples are filtered well below the rhythm section in the mix and the energy never flags. This is hip-hop reimagined for rooms: dense, ambient, sophisticated and above all extremely well-considered. What seemed cold in ’96 strikes me as nothing less than prescient today.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Motivators.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Nobody’s Perfect”

bazan
David Bazan
Bazan Monthly Volume 2, 2014

Dave Bazan may have given up on Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he’s ever going to stop singing about him. As the erstwhile Pedro the Lion, Bazan was Sufjan Stevens back when the decimal-rating system was just a gleam in Pitchfork’s haughty eye — a Christian indie rocker it was okay to like because he openly wrestled with his faith instead of extolling it. Then, after years of intimation, Bazan did the honest thing and ditched his nom de plume. The religion soon followed, but not the struggle. “The crew have killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice,” he confessed on 2009’s Curse Your Branches. “All this lethal drinking is to hopefully forget about you.” Five years later, his feelings may be settled but the subject is the same. The character in question this time is the Lord himself, who sheepishly admits that hey, maybe he was overreacting with that whole don’t-eat-from-the-tree thing … take Him back? Believers current and former will find a lot of meat on these ribs; atheists may continue to wonder why all the fuss.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Nobody’s%20Perfect.mp3]

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“The Dance #1”

day of
Laraaji
Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, 1980

Part of Brian Eno’s groundbreaking Ambient album cycle, Day of Radiance was performed exclusively by multi-instrumentalist Laraaji, with Eno layering and tweaking the original recordings to develop the final result. “The Dance #1” in particular is fascinating because the effort taken to produce the music is so at odds with its effect. The song is built from aggressive, almost assaultive hammered dulcimer patterns, looped under and above each other to create a rhythmic, hypnotic sensation not unlike the one found in Steve Reich’s “pulse” music. The difference here lies in Eno’s minimalist approach — all that sound and feeling from a single instrument. Listen long enough and you’ll find your thoughts slipping away into the music, which of course is the idea.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Dance%20No.%201.m4a]

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“Put Your Number in My Phone”

ariel_pink_pom_pom
Ariel Pink
Pom Pom, 2014

Ever since he decided to come out of the bedroom on 2010’s Before Today, there have been a handful of tracks on each Ariel Pink release that just about anyone can get into: that album’s “Can’t Hear My Eyes” and reworked “Round and Round”; “Only in My Dreams” and “Baby” from follow-up Mature Themes. And on the brand-new Pom Pom it’s “Put Your Number in My Phone.” Even without the scuzz and confusion of Pink’s defiantly weird early lo-fi, listeners must still contend with the glossier persona left on the table, and you could certainly forgive some for wanting to tap out. But then one of these songs comes on and it’s a reminder of just how good and — holy fuck — how universal Pink’s music can be. Whether or not “Phone” is a sincere come-on or a nasty taunt — the voice message on the bridge suggests the latter, which doesn’t do much for Pink’s reputation — it’s tunefulness is enough to satiate safe listeners and obscure-pop nerds alike.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/06%20Put%20Your%20Number%20In%20My%20Phone.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“When the Party’s Over”

nights
Allen Toussaint
Southern Nights, 1975

While I don’t think this song necessarily gives it away, Allen Toussaint is known and respected as one of the most important figures in the history of New Orleans music. With his reputation as a pianist, songwriter and producer already secure, 1975’s Southern Nights was a swing for the fences — his attempt at a concept record a la Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone or the other album-format heroes of the day. The end result isn’t nearly as diverse or well-remembered as the best from those performers, but a handful of classics still made the cut, notably the title track, “Basic Lady” and the easy Sunday-morning funk of “When the Party’s Over.” Like all the best songs in the genre, it sounds as warm and inviting on the first listen as on the fiftieth.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/09%20When%20the%20Party’s%20Over.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“How Do You Do”

600full-david-grohl
Dave Grohl
Touch Soundtrack, 1997

Dave Grohl: your new music sucks, dude! You’re in classic-rock hell now: too much actual singing, too many boring ‘70s weak-ass riffs. The Colour and the Shape still holds up, man. I know, because I listened to it this week right after streaming the new one, Sonic Highways, which … the less said about that title (or album art) the better. Tom Petty’s latest is named Hypnotic Eye, for crying out loud — it’s like you guys switched bodies. Anyway, there was a stretch of time after Nirvana in the 90s — a span of several years in fact — where you ruled as a power-pop songwriter. It was like the perfect blend of kind-of-still-grunge-but-cleaner and kind-of-moving-into-radio-pop-but-not-quite-there-just-yet. And then the same year as Colour, you flipped the script and scored a Paul Schrader indie flick, based on a book by Elmore Leonard. I mean: that’s pretty edgy, dude! And you wrote a great song for that movie, a song which almost no one knows but I’m lucky to have stumbled across in my dorm room c. 1999 thanks to Napster. “How Do You Do” is everything that used to be good about Foo Fighters all in one song, and it proves once and for all that you were what was good about Foo Fighters because you recorded it on your own. It’s catchy, it’s high-energy, the drums kill and like the best pop songs — from The Beatles to yep, Nirvana — it never wears out its welcome. In Your Honor, I’m playing this one on loop today. Everyone still likes you here — how could we not?, you’re our Dave Grohl, the only one we’ve got! — and we’ll keep rooting for you until you decide to call it a day. But seriously, dude. Sonic Highways?

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20How%20Do%20You%20Do.mp3]

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“The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers”

mingus
Charles Mingus
Let My Children Hear Music, 1972

Mingus said Let My Children Hear Music was his best album, and the guy was a beast so I’m not gonna argue. “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers” kicks things off and fittingly, it’s a masterpiece of complexity that flits from Ellington-esque big band to free jazz and back. His ability to wrangle an orchestra into the shapes and sounds he required is truly stunning; this is both a first-class composition and a first-class recording. The first time I heard it, I realized I’d never heard anything else like it — the highest compliment I can pay from my meager blog perch.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Shoes%20of%20the%20Fisherman’s%20Wife%20Are%20Some%20Jive%20Ass%20Slippers.m4a]

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“Ja Funmi”

ksa
King Sunny Ade
Juju Music, 1982

I must confess I don’t know too much about King Sunny Ade, the jùjú genre or Nigerian culture in general. My understanding is that Juju Music, KSA’s major-label debut, made quite a splash in America when it was released in the early ‘80s, paving the way for the minor Afro-Pop wave that followed. It’s not too much of a stretch to listen to “Ja Funmi” and understand how this music, or music like it, would’ve captivated Paul Simon, David Byrne and other white artists of the time. (I’m probably getting the influences all wrong — in theory, Graceland was built more on South African sounds, and Talking Heads were Fela Kuti devotees. Still, for an uninformed WASP, the similarities are clear.) What’s fascinating about this record, and even more so follow-up Syncro System, is the way KSA successfully integrates his singular guitar sound with modern-for-the-time production: drum programming, deep bass and a pristine mix that sounds phenomenal through a good set of speakers. Since Ade’s playing is inimitable, the music has aged remarkably well and continues to be popular among “world music” fans and crate diggers alike.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“Coming Back”

jay stay paid
J Dilla
Jay Stay Paid, 2009

Got a quick one today, but it’s one of my favorite Dilla beats ever. There’s not much left to say about the Detroit hip-hop legend that hasn’t been said better elsewhere, so I’ll skip the myth-building and get right to the music. Just like with Dylan, the best way to acquaint yourself with the work of an acclaimed artist like Dilla is to simply find a song you like and go from there. Sequenced by Pete Rock, posthumous collection Jay Stay Paid is an ideal way to do this, as it features beats from every era of his work. If you’ve any interest in hip-hop, at least a few should stick with you. “Coming Back” is a standout, a straightforward loop of an obscure soul track (Brother to Brother’s “The Affair”) that seems so mind-blowingly simple once you’ve heard the original sample, you realize only a producer of Jay’s caliber could’ve put it together. Listen on repeat!

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/26%20Coming%20Back.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“More Yellow Birds”

sparklehorse
Sparklehorse
It’s a Wonderful Life, 2001

“More Yellow Birds” is, for me, the definitive Sparklehorse song from the definitive Sparklehorse album. Musically gorgeous, lyrically oppressive, childlike, beautiful and slow, sad but somehow still hopeful — all of the things Mark Linkous’ songs came to be known for, all in one place, perfected. It feels borne of a yearning, defensive posture he likely knew well given his history of severe depression. “Will my pony recognize my voice in hell?” — a question that might read as ridiculous delivered by any other songwriter — is par for the course in Linkous’ apocalyptic mind, like asking your wife if she brought in the mail. Crucially, it all seems to add up in the world of these songs; the instrumentation delicately embodies the artist’s concern. While he couldn’t save himself, as a listener and a fan I hope Linkous managed to find some measure of deliverance in his music.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“Renata”

holden-inheritors
Holden
The Inheritors, 2013

James Holden’s The Inheritors was one of the most fascinating records I heard in 2013. By turns inventive, engaging and exhausting, it has also proven to be one of the hardest to shake. Long a respected electronic musician, The Inheritors represents a foray into more organic instrumentation for Holden. The net effect is something akin to the relentless attack of the feistiest krautrock, with all the experimentation and none of the traditional rock signifiers. Shimmering and explosive, “Renata” is the closest the record has to a traditional four-on-the-floor stomper. And yet even at its most conventional, with all of the build-ups and breakdowns, “Renata” can wear you out. As the album title alludes, this is music willing to outlast its audience in every sense of the word.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“Love Will Keep Us Alive”

eagles-hell_freezes_over_a
The Eagles
Hell Freezes Over, 1994

For some reason — okay wait, I know the reason: it’s because I just watched that three-hour Eagles doc on Netflix — “Love Will Keep Us Alive” has wormed its way into my skull this week. And I’m both deflated and surprised to report that this has been a mostly positive development. For while it sports all the radio-pap trappings its whitebread progenitors built their mansions upon, the fact alone is not enough to dismiss that bloody-minded acoustic guitar line, a hook so simple and so catchy that one listen is enough to remember it forever. Nor can I fight the nagging sensation that, well, maybe there’s a little more going on here than appears at first listen. As much as I’d like to dismiss a song that delivers the line “I would die for you/Climb the highest mountain” as if a thousand other pop songs hadn’t already beaten it to the punch, when taken in context, I’m actually quite touched by the expression. After all: “The world is changing/Right before your eyes,” suggesting that, shit, no matter who or where you are, the universe has the potential to be a dangerous and lonely place. Even (especially?) for rich white old dudes. Why walk that road alone? Why not turn to love in the face of so much uncertainty? Hell can be cool indeed.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Love%20Will%20Keep%20Us%20Alive.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Honey Joy”

royal2
Royal Headache
Royal Headache, 2012

Australia’s Royal Headache make scuzzy rock that’s most notable for its determination to break away from the genre. While there are no shortage of garage bands in this world willing to flaunt their love of Motown, very few sport a lead vocalist who sounds like he could’ve been a soul-music star in a parallel universe. Shogun (he goes by first name only) is that outlier, and the band’s biggest virtue: whatever soul is — and I’m not sure I’m qualified to speculate on the particulars, or that I’d even want to — it’s clear he has it in spades. Sometimes the music catches up to him and follows suit; sometimes it stands still in predictable punk fashion. Both ways, it works.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20Honey%20Joy.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Prison Song”

toxicity
System of a Down
Toxicity, 2001

It’s Election Day here in California, and that has me in a civic-minded mood. At ballot today in my home state, among other measures promising, is Proposition 47, a proposal to reclassify personal drug use, small-scale shoplifting and other current felony charges as misdemeanors that carry reduced sentences. The goal of legislation like this, in addition to freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses and an already overcommitted corrections system, is the relaxation of drug policy many view as predatory and biased against disadvantaged populations. As of “press time,” results are undecided. Now if you’re an out-of-stater, you could spend the next hour of your night reading up on this proposed legislation and all arguments pro and con, or you could spend three minutes listening to a thrash-metal song that’s more than a decade old. Your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate System of a Down, if in fact you’re inclined to do that sort of thing. It’s not often politics and pop music make such easy bedfellows; I find that artists who are the most willing to embrace hysteria are often the most effective (see also: Rage Against the Machine). When someone’s screaming at you, it’s hard to let the words just roll off your back. This song may not ultimately change your mind, but it’ll definitely make you defend your position.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Prison%20Song.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Farther Up the Road”

VOL
Vigilantes of Love
To the Roof of the Sky, 1998

I’ll always love this band, this album and this song for the words. Veterans of the same Athens, GA scene that birthed R.E.M., Bill Mallonnee and his Vigilantes of Love were a staple of my Christian music diet in the mid-90s, when I’d come home with an armful of new CD’s and my parents would do their best to appear disinterested in the catch. Though VoL albums were sold in Christian bookstores, the dirty secret was that they didn’t have much in common with their peers. Mallonnee was far too literate to survive alongside the younger, goofier, more popular bands being hawked at the time. He was a real artist after all, not prone to easy answers or pat statements of faith. You can imagine how well this went over with the Evangelical gatekeepers of the day. “Farther Up the Road” sounded pretty damn remarkable to a sheltered 17-year-old kid. The ambiguity, the weary resignation, the poetry — these were not attributes typically associated with the faith of my childhood. This was something tougher, altogether more humane, and ultimately more lasting than the dreck that surrounded it. This was the real thing.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/15%20Farther%20Up%20the%20Road.m4a]

iTunes

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“Night Tracking”

jacques_greene
Jacques Greene
Phantom Vibrate, 2014

I don’t always listen to house music, but when I do, I want it to sound like Jacques Greene. My intro to the Canadian producer/DJ came in the form of his unforgettable 2011 Radiohead “Lotus Flower” remix, a standout in a series of frankly lackluster offerings from more prominent names (Caribou, Jamie xx, et. al) as part of that year’s “TKOL RMX” debacle. Since then I’ve kept tabs on his R&B-leaning, dancefloor-ready singles, which strike me as just interesting enough to appeal equally to production heads and mainstream fans alike. “Night Tracking” closes out the recent Phantom Vibrate EP on a melancholy note, a succession of subconscious melodies fighting for attention under a prototypical house beat. I’d accuse the whole thing of being a little too simple, were it not for the fact it’s been rattling around in my head all week.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“Waiting”

rentals
The Rentals
Return of The Rentals, 1995

At this point, I guess I’m something of a Weezer “truther.” Several albums and more than a decade removed from the band’s distinctly underwhelming Green Album return, there’s no logic or benefit to arguing that Rivers Cuomo’s post-Pinkerton output stacks up to past glories, because It. Just. Doesn’t. Cuomo’s written plenty of good songs since, but something was lost in those intervening years that he’ll never get back, and who the fuck am I to complain when I can barely play three chords? One strong theory though: Weezer lost more than a bassist when Matt Sharp left. The Rentals’ debut, released shortly after The Blue Album, was lower-fi and more keyboard-heavy, but otherwise sounded a hell of a lot like the work of a guy who played (and possibly even co-wrote songs) for Weezer. Sharp’s distinct background vocals snuck onto those first two albums, and in live performances, he was the guy who kept the energy up. So maybe he’s the Man Behind the Curtain, maybe he’s not — see yesterday’s Song for proof that Cuomo can still hold his own when he feels like it. More likely though, in some unspeakable sense, Sharp contributed to the band dynamic in such a way that things could never be the same without him. Because they weren’t.

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

iTunes/Amazon

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“The Angel and the One”

weezer
Weezer
The Red Album, 2008

“The Angel and the One” is a fascinating entry in the post-heyday Weezer discography. In sentiment and execution it’s something of a mid-life rejoinder to Blue Album finale “Only in Dreams,” widely acknowledged by people who used to love Weezer to be, like, maybe the best song Rivers Cuomo ever wrote. What’s interesting about “Angel” is just how closely it contradicts its forebear. Instead of a hapless, unknown, twenty-something dude praying for a shot at getting laid, we’ve got thirty-eight year-old rock icon Cuomo telling a groupie to step off. At the other end of his remarkable career, he’s no longer the nerd begging for attention, he’s the millionaire who’s had enough. And where “Dreams” was lyrically direct, a pure sentiment boiled down to purest form, “Angel” is high-minded, awkwardly phrased and almost comically overblown, ending with an unlikely benediction: “Peace, shalom.” But divorced from the words, the song soars — the music here is as strong as anything on the band’s first two albums, and Cuomo sings with such conviction it doesn’t really matter what he’s saying. No comment on that cover art though.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Angel%20and%20the%20One.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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