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november 2016

11.1.16
Run the Jewels have shared the first track from their long-awaited Run the Jewels 3 album, due out early next year, and it's called "Talk to Me":

A solid track in the RTJ style, with a little bit more of a political point of view and more psychedelic, spaced out samples——it seems somehow influenced by George Clinton, whatever the means in this context.

I cannot wait for this album——each Run the Jewels album has been one of my favorite releases from that year, and RTJ2 ranks as one of my favorite rap albums of all time. They're obviously referencing old school rap from the late 80s and early 90s when gangsta rap was in its infancy, but their sound is also completely modern and doesn't feel like a nostalgia trip——it just makes you ask the question, why did rappers stop making music like this?



11.2.16
Filthy Friends is a new supergroup featuring Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), and Scott McCaughey (the Minus 5), and they recently shared a song called "Despierta":

It oddly sounds like exactly what you would expect knowing that Tucker is taking on frontwoman duties: Sleater-Kinney bolstered by stadium-sized rock chords and a classic rock solo. There's nothing revolutionary going on here, but if you like the Sleater-Kinney sound in a more traditional rock approach, you're going to find a lot to like here.



11.7.16
The Flaming Lips have a new album called Oczy Mlody coming out next year, and they recently shared a track from it called "The Castle":

I haven't bought a Flaming Lips album years, even though there are always a few tracks that I like (I even liked a couple of songs they did with Miley Cyrus as the Dead Petz)——I just can't take the psych-prog-noise stuff that seems to take up about half of each record.

This is one of those tracks that I like——it sounds like it could have fit somewhere between The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which remain my two favorite release from them——but I'll have to hear the whole record before I can commit to buying it. Based on their track record over the past decade, I don't have a lot of hope that they'll be able to reign in their worst, most eccentric impulses and make a record that's listenable all the way through.



11.8.16
The Japandroids are returning with a new album early next year, and they have shared a new song called "Near to the Wild Heart of Life":

I've liked the Japandroids previous records, but there are a couple of disturbing trends towards the ordinary that could make them a lot less interesting if this song is a harbinger for the rest of the album. First, their lyrics are typically not their strong point, but the vocals are way up in the mix and the overall production is much slicker than in the past.

Second, the song itself feels much more major key than their best songs so far, and the erstwhile chorus of being "fired up" feels more like mainstream rock anthem than their slightly skewed versions that have been their signature up until now.

I'll reserve judgment about the record as a whole until I actually hear it, but I was all ready to preorder this one until I heard this track, and now I want to wait to hear more before I decide.



11.9.16
There have been very few moments or event in my life so traumatic that even music couldn't provide an immediate salve as I processed them. Yesterday was definitely one of those days...



11.10.16
Cloud Nothings have shared a second track from their forthcoming album Life Without Sound, this one called "Internal World":

I have pretty much the same opinion of this track that I do of the other one they've shared from this record, "Modern Act": a nice return to the poppier roots that are what I originally loved about the band, but this song would be well served by cranking up the pace from midtempo to frantic.

This is even more midtempo than "Modern Act", but the chorus is a little hookier, so they're pretty equivalent on balance. All in all, both of these songs give me hope that this is going to be a solid new release from a great band that deserves a bigger audience.



11.11.16
I've purchased every Cymbals Eat Guitars album so far, but I've never loved them as much as the critics seem to, and I've liked them less and less since their debut disc, 2009's Why There Are Mountains. So when their latest album, Pretty Years, came out, it was far from an automatic purchase for me.

But as I started to listen to clips, I became cautiosly optimistic, and then, after I made the purchase, I started to fall in love with these songs, in some ways so different than what this band has produced before. The opening track, "Finally", settles into a comfortable groove that reminds me of the songs from My Morning Jacket that I like (and I generally don't like that band), which is followed by "Have a Heart", which is influenced by the more pop-oriented songs from Built to Spill or maybe the Shins.

But even though both of these songs seem out of the traditional comfort zone for this band, they are both very comfortable with themselves——even while the band is stretching in new directions, these tracks feel very lived-in and natural for them.

The other standout songs on the album get even farther from their traditional sound——"Wish" brings in a horn section to add an element that you'd never imagine was so critical until you hear it and can't imagine the song without it, and "4th of July, Philadelphia (Sandy)", uses synths to add bombast to great effect. The most intriguing track, though, is "Mallwalking", which combines a weird 80s vibe with verses that sound like Prince's "Little Red Corvette" being dragged through a vat of syrup.

So I'm really enjoying this record, partly because it's just a good listen and partly because it's such an unexpected surprise from a band I had already put into a certain kind of box. I'm not sure if it's worthy of a top 10 mention this year (although this hasn't been a strong year for new releases for me), but I've had fun getting to know it, and I'm excited to see what the band might do next.



11.14.16
Andrew Bird shared a video of himself and the National singer Matt Berninger doing an acoustic cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect", and it's pretty well worth experiencing if you like any of those three artists:

This is one of my favorite Lou Reed songs, and the only sour note for me here is the early whistling from Bird. But the plucked violin, and the later bowed use of the instrument are pretty beautiful, and make this much more than your typical acoustic/folk cover. I'd love to hear a more professionally recorded, slighly more rehearsed version of this (Berninger doesn't seem to have done many takes——his vocal seems a bit tentative), but this is a pretty great thing to have in the universe even if they don't revisit it.



11.15.16
Last week I went to my penultimate concert this year, a double bill with Surfer Blood opening for Guided By Voices, and it was a pretty solid show. I'm actually more familiar with the Surfer Blood catalog than I am Bob Pollard/Guided By Voices——I own some of the early lo-fi classics from the 90s, but the sheer volume of material and the lack of consistency/quality on any given release have made it hard for me to be an engaged fan of GBV.

Surfer Blood played a pretty short set, but it was a pretty satisfying one. It's been a year and a half since their last album came out, which isn't that long ago in the contemporary era, but if they have a new album up their sleeves they didn't appear interested in playing any tracks from it that I can remember——I'm pretty sure I recognized all of the songs they played.

I don't know if bands in general have changed in the past decade or if this is an Atlanta thing, but almost every show I go to that's at a venue smaller than the Tabernacle (this show was at the Variety, which is a small step down from the Tabernacle) I see members of at least one of the bands hanging out in the crowd or at the bar, or chatting with fans at the merch table. That was the case with Surfer Blood——I almost knocked over the bassist walking to the bar, and the only reason I knew for sure it was her is because she was had on the same dress she had worn on stage.

When I was younger and going to my first club shows, I only remember getting to meet band members if you could get permission from someone at the club to keep hanging out after they emptied the crowd out into the night and the bands started to emerge from the backstage area to hang out. I'm no longer starstruck and in awe of band members like I was then, so I don't really do anything with these opportunities, but it always warms my heart to see a 17 year old kid wide eyed and gesticulating animatedly while chatting with one of their idols.



11.16.16
Even though I'm probably a bigger fan of Surfer Blood than Guided By Voices, I was blown away by the GBV set. If you have the chance, go and see this band——it's just an amazing experience. They tear through songs at a pace that I've never seen before, and even though the total set was right around two hours with a couple of short breaks between encores, they played at least 40 songs (I counted the number they played in one half hour period, and it was an even dozen). There was very little banter or introducing the songs——they just went right from one song into the next, covering the entirety of frontman Bob Pollard's impressive output.

Every song was amazing, a fact which reinforces one of the main problems I have with Pollard's habit of releasing anywhere from three to six albums every year (under the Guided By Voices name, as a solo artists, and through various other side projects like Circus Devils, Psycho and the Birds, and ESP Ohio): there are great songs on every record he releases, but there are also a lot of mediocre to terrible ones, and a little editing to reduce his output to one or two albums a year that collected all his best material would make for a stronger catalog and also make it easier to be a fan.

His setlist was composed only of his best stuff, and as such it was pretty amazing. If you saw this band cold, without the context of the dozens (hundreds?) of extraneous tracks that other groups would have used as fillers on EPs or just not released at all, you wouldn't be looked down on for thinking this has to be one of the best rock bands in the history of the genre. Because they were certainly one of the best rock shows I've ever seen, despite the lack of showmanship——it was just stripped down, straight ahead, pedal to the floor rock, and I don't think there are a lot of bands with the material or the chops to pull it off better than GBV.

I'm probably going to invest some time in re-listening to the records I already own and try to figure out which of the dozens that I don't own are worth picking up (that is, more wheat than chaff). But after seeing that show, I'm pretty sure that if Pollard focused on formally releasing only the very best of what he writes, I would probably own every GBV album and be one of their biggest fans.



11.17.16
Tribe Called Quest released their first album in 18 years, which will also be their official swan song due to the death of founding member Phife Dawg during the creation of the record. The title is a mouthful——We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service——and that needless excess is indicative of one of the major problems with the record.

Don't get me wrong——no one is more happy to have a new Tribe record than me. They were the first rap/hip hop group that I really got into back in the early 90s after they released their seminal The Low End Theory, and even though Q-Tip released three albums in the 2000s, it always felt like something was missing without his collaborators Phife Ali Shaheed Muhammad. But in many ways, this album still feels like a Q-Tip solo effort——if it had been releasd as such, no one would have batted an eye, and it would have been very easy to fit into the continuum of his solo career.

The album is divided into a Side A and a Side B, and honestly, there are just too manhy songs on here. Swap a couple of the weakest songs on Side A for the best ones on Side B, and you could have had a much more solid, compact release. Side B's tracks seem to drag on and on, even when the runtime isn't that long. Out of the sixteen tracks presented here (eight per side for symmetry), there are at best ten that feel finished and worthy of inclusion on such an important album, the final release by a legedary group.

I'm not sure if they had a vision of sixteen tracks and just didn't have the creative juices left to fill all those slots with quality songs, or if they left some tracks less than complete in order to get the record out by a certain date, but either way, it's disappointing that the disc isn't closer to the masterwork that we all wanted for them to cap off their career with. It's still a solid record for longtime fans, and even if it was just a Q-Tip solo outing it would still be a welcome addition to his catalog, but this record just doesn't quite live up to the hype and long-building expectations for it.



11.18.16
Los Campesinos have been one of my favorite bands since their debut album came out in 2008, and even though their recording output and touring schedule have slowed down in the past few years, I live in perpetual fear that they will officially break up without releasing anything else, or worse, just fade away into the unknown.

So it was with great joy that I received the news that they will be releasing a new album, Sick Scenes, early next year, and I was even happier to hear a new track from the album, called "I Broke Up in Amarante":

This is very much in the more mature style of the band that became evident on 2011's Hello Sadness and it's follow up, No Blues, and while it's a solid song, I missed the teetering-on-the-edge-of-disaster style of their earlier work. In the context of Los Campesinos, this is very controlled even though it's still pretty energetic, and it's polished and perfected in a way that my favorite songs from them are not——their early imperfections make them even more perfect for me.

I have a friend who has a theory that the band changed when they lost their original drummer, Ollie. Ollie was not nearly as competent and reliable a drummer as their current drummer Rob, but he did lend an element of chaos to the proceedings that really seems to make a difference you can hear in the songs. This theory fits pretty well with my own personal evaluation of their catalog——Ollie's last album was 2010's Romance Is Boring, which is their final album before their mature period and which is also the last album of theirs that I was head over heels in love with.

Don't get me wrong——I still love this band to death, and they still reliably create great albums with more than a few strong compositions. But I do miss the version of the band that seemed slightly more combustible, with their raw nerves a little more exposed.



11.21.16
After seeing Guided By Voices in concert a few weeks, I've spent some time revisiting the albums that I already own, and I even bought Alien Lanes, another record from the early 90s that is considered by fans and critics to be one of their strongest releases.

I've enjoyed getting to relearn some of the material I was already familiar with and hearing the Alien Lanes stuff, but even though I now own four of their albums, it's still daunting to think about really becoming a fan of their recorded work. Over the past 25+ years, there are 23 GBV records, another 22 full solo albums from frontman Robert Pollard, and probably at least another 20 from various side projects, meaning that the four records I own (which would normally constitute at least a third of the output over two decades for a normal band), I own only a small fraction of what's out there.

Here's what Bob needs to do: hire a longtime fan as his archivist and editor, not to prevent him from releasing tons of material every year as is his wont, but to facilitate a better relationship between non-diehard fans and critics by compiling the very best songs from his many releases every year into one or two albums worth of material that will just blow people away. I can guarantee I'd buy every single one of those records, but there's no way you're going to get me to invest in three or four (or five or six) full albums that only have composed of decent tracks.

Right now his release style is like the archival version of a great album that's released a decade or more after it origiinally came out, featuring demos, outtakes, unfinished ideas, and anything else that might have been put to tape during the sessions, which is fine if you're in love with every little nuance and stray thought that an artist produces. But most fans aren't like that, even those of us who consider ourselves somewhat diehard——I've never bought any of those repacked deluxe editions of albums, even for ones that I've loved for decades that are still a big part of my musical world. I just don't want all that stuff——I want the great stuff that was worthy of making it to the final release.

And that's what non-obsessives need from the GBV universe——a way to hear the best stuff without having to slog through all the stuff that would have been edited out by just about any other artist. I don't know if Pollard really thinks all his songs are equally deserving of a place on an album and he just doesn't know how to distiguish between his strongest material and his weakest (his setlist selection at his concert would indicate otherwise), or if he's just sticking to this ethos of constantly recording and releasing everything no matter what the quality as some sort of principled technique, but either way, it's not serving him well in terms of building up a fan base or creating documents that critics can laud as truly great works.



11.28.16
I went to my last concert of 2016 last week, seeing the Good Life at the Earl, one of my favorite spots to see bands in Atlanta that I haven't made it out to in many months (maybe not since last year). I took my customary spot to the left side of the stage, which is oddly where frontman Tim Kasher chose to set up his microphone, so I had a nice view of his performance.

The Good Life is the newer and lesser known band fronted by Kasher——Cursive is his other, and it was considered his primary band with the Good Life being seen as a solo project initially. But both bands have been around for a while now——Cursive since the mid 90s and the Good Life since 2000——and he tends to alternate releases between the two groups. And the Good Life actually is a group now, a different set of musicians he works with in the same way he works with the Cursive format. Cursive was also originally more guitar-focused while the Good Life had more electronic instrumentation, but those stylistic distinction between the two brands have also blurred as the years have gone on.

They opened with "Some Bullshit Escape", which may be my all-time favorite Good Life song. In that context, the rest of the show was almost necessarily downhill from there, but it was a pretty good set focused on the group's strongest songs from many of their albums, with a few deeper cuts thrown in.

The concert actually took place the night before Thanksgiving, so there was a melancholy looseness from the Good Life and their openers, Field Mouse, as they played to a crowd of maybe 150 people (at most). I was a little surprised by the size of the crowd——the last time Kasher played the Earl (under the Cursive moniker), he sold it out, but it was far from full for this show.

I recognize that the holiday might have played a part in the attendance——in-town folks may have decided to stay home with family or may have already left to visit family out of town, and the students who normally make up a big part of the audience at these clubs were likely already back home as well.

It must be a strange experience, being in a band and on tour during a time of year when most people are orienting themselves around their home life, whatever that may mean to them, and the time and place of the show created a deeper sense of the pathos that suffuses the Good Life's music. So it was a little sad, but sad is what the Good Life does best.



11.29.16
Even though the concert season tends to wind down a bit in December and January, I already have tickets for a show next year: a two-night stand by the Magnetic Fields. Frontman Stephin Merritt turned 50 in 2015 and started work on a massive collection of 50 songs (one for each year of his life) that will be released as a five disc set called 50 Song Memoir.

He'll be 52 by the time it is actually released in March of next year, but he's supporting the album by playing a series of two night engagements during which he will play the first 25 songs on night one and the remaining 25 songs on night two.

He's playing the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on this tour, and I decided to splurge and buy a reserved seat for both nights. Me being me and not realizing that my affection for this band is greater than many people's, I was afraid these tickets would sell out, so I was online as soon as they went on sale to make sure I got the seats I wanted. It turned out I had the opposite problem of what I expected——the tickets weren't selling fast enough for me to get the seats I wanted.

See, the ticketing system for that theater doesn't let you pick the seats you want from the remaining available seats, it gives you the best seats available at the time. And although there were seats in row B when I first logged on, I didn't want to sit in row B, I wanted to sit somewhere around row F or G because there's a standing-only section right in front of the reserved seats, and the first few rows of the reserved section are low enough that you could end up with someone standing right in front of you and blocking your view.

I kept checking back throughout the day, but rows B and C were my only options, so I lost interest and didn't check back again for a few more days. I missed my ideal row during that time, but I ended up in the center of row G, which is a good option——very good view of the stage with no possibility of having that view blocked. And I'll have the seat for both nights since I bought the two night package. Now I just have to hope the songs on this album are as good as I hope they'll be...



11.30.16
I know I'm not alone in hoping that there is some undiscovered trove of unreleased Smiths tracks somewhere, and although I know it's not possible given how well-documented all of their recording sessions were, I completely fell for a Pitchfork headline that read: "The Smiths Announce 7" With Two Previously Unreleased Tracks".

Of course, once you get into the article, these two "unreleased" tracks turn out to be a demo version of "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" and an alternate version of "Rubber Ring". So not really new tracks at all, just evolutionary versions of songs we already know.

Yes, technically these specific recordings are unreleased, but that headline is beyond misleading, especially for Smiths fans who have been hoping to hear something genuinely new from somewhere in the group's archives for decades now.