Amazon had their annual blowout of $5 MP3 albums this month (they usually feature around 100, but in December the selections balloon to over 1000), and I got my fair share:
Another Green World——Brian Eno Way to Normal——Ben Folds Puberty 2——Mitski World Machine——Level 42 Cardinal——Pinegrove Need Your Light——Ra Ra Riot Wild Stab——The I Don't Cares Light Upon the Lake——Whitney
That's a prettu eclectic group of albums, and some of them I would have never considered buying if not for the price. The Level 42 album is purely nostalgic——I owned it on cassette at one point, but I don't remember anything about it other than the big hit single, "Something About You". Ben Folds and Ra Ra Riot are both artists who've produced work that I've liked in the past, but didn't hold my interest as they evolved, but at this price, I was willing to give them another chance after streaming the albums for a bit.
Mitski, Pinegrove, and Whitney are all groups whose records have shown up on multiple year-end best-of lists, and again, I felt like I couldn't pass them up at this price. The Brian Eno disc is a classic that I didn't happen to own yet, and finally, The I Don't Cares is a collaboration between the Replacements' Paul Westerberg and 90s alt rock superwoman Julianna Hatfield whose release early this year I somehow missed.
I haven't had a chance to listen to much of this yet, but Pinegrove's record is the one that has really caught my attention early on. These probably won't all be keepers, but at $40 total, I only need for slighly more than half of them to pan out for this to be a good deal.
I liked the Avalanches 2000 debut Since I Left You, but by the time they released the follow up Wildflower this year, I had sort of moved on (no, they didn't break up and reform or anything——they were actively touring and playing DJ gigs, it just took them 16 years to make their sophomore disc). Even the near-universal acclaim for the record didn't persuade me to buy it or invest any real time in streaming it, for reasons that I can't really quantify.
But while I was listening to a new song on YouTube in early December
(I think it was the new Tennis track), YouTube automatically rolled into playing another song that I instantly fell in love with, which turned out to be the Avalanches' "Because I'm Me":
I love this song so much that I bought Wildflower immediately, and while it is clearly the standout track, the record overall is at least as good as Since I Left You, and the soul influences you hear on "Because I'm Me" make consistent appearances throughout the record. Definitely worth a listen if you like this song, and if you don't like this song then...how can I say this politely?...what in the name of god is wrong with you?
12.19.16 Spencer Tweedy, the 21 year old son of Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, has played on some Wilco tracks and on a collaborative album with his father under the band name Tweedy, but he also recently released his first solo effort, an EP calle Geezer Love:
I was prepared not to like this at all, especially since the only work I've heard from him has been as a drummer, and here he also plays guitar, piano, bass, and sings. But I am surprisingly smitten with this, and although that may at least partly be because his voice sounds like a less-weathered version of his father's and the music is a lot like what he released with his father on Sukierae, that actually bolsters the Tweedy project as a true collaboration and not just Jeff Tweedy letting his oldest son play drums for him on a solo album.
Spencer certainly hasn't used this EP to escape his father's musical legacy or make a strong statement about who he is as an artist, but it's a nice little EP that's far less weighted down by Wilco's history than anything that Jeff Tweedy himself would be able to produce at this point in his career. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this kid to see what he does once he leaves college and focuses full time on his music career.
12.16.16 The Flaming Lips have shared another track from their upcoming album Oczy Mlody, this one called "Sunrise (Eyes Of The Young)":
There's a section a minute and a half in where they get a little spacey and almost lose me (and another similar section about a minute later), but the more I listen, the more I like the way all the different parts of this song hang together. It's very fugue-like, and it might be my favorite composition from the band in years.
I'm trying not to get too excited about the new album because they've been disappointing me for years, but so far I haven't heard anything I don't like from this record. Maybe this will finally be the album I've been waiting for since Yoshimi.
12.15.16 The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die have shared a new song called "Body Without Organs", the proceeds from which will be used to support the ACLU:
This song itself is okay——there are parts I like and some that I'm still trying to convince myself to get used to (this one sounds like their Modest Mouse-influenced stuff with a healthy does of Godspeed You Black Emperor mixed in), but the real revelation here is that is is an outtake from the recording sessions for their most recent album, 2015's Harmlessness, which I was completely unaware existed until I saw a news article about this song.
Even though I'd been waiting for the follow up to their debut, Whenever, If Ever, since I first encountered that album in 2013, I somehow completely missed it when Harmlessness was released in fall of 2015——well over a year ago. But it's like getting a brand new album from them now, and I'm happy to have some new music to look forward to during what is traditionally an early winter drought for new releases.
12.14.16 Allo Darlin' unfortunately announced their breakup earlier this autumn, but they given us one final track to remember them by, "Hymn on the 45":
I hate that they had to end it, but I can't think of many better ways for a band to go out on top than with a track like this. The saxophone that joins in late in the song adds a soulful earthiness to the increasingly gospel-tinged track that helps transform it from a retro pop rave-up into a prayer for pop songs everywhere and everywhen.
The only thing that would have made it a more quintessential encapsulation of the saving grace of perfect pop songs is if it had come in closer to the classic three minute mark. But with a song this great, I'm not going to begrudge them a couple of extra minutes, especially since this is likely the last thing we'll ever hear from an underheard and underappreciate band. Turn it up, baby.
12.13.16 The Jesus and Mary Chain have announced their first album in 18 years, Damage and Joy, and have shared a song from the record called "Amputation":
I'm not sure what to make of this in the context of their overall career or as part of a continuum from their last album, 1998's Munki, but putting aside some of the stylistic and production choices (the sound of the guitars on the solos feels a little outdated to me), this is a solid little song. It might sound better (or, rather, sound more like what I remember from the band) if it were speeded up and the vocals weren't quite so clear at the top of the mix, but it could have been much, much worse.
I'm curious to see how the rest of the album sounds, and even more curious to see what the songs sound like live——I bought tickets to see them in Athens before I even knew there was going to be a new record they would be touring behind.
I was intending not to write about anymore Christmas songs after last week, but there has been a late entry:
Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos didn't just write one new song for Christmas, he wrote a whole album called Merry Christmas, Mr. Fields, which is the soundtrack for a longform video album he is releasing later this week. In advance of the full release, he has shared a track called "Stained Glass Windows":
It's weird hearing his voice not layered amongst tons of keyboards and drum machine beats, but this works as a simple, melancholy reflection on the holiday season. I'm curious to hear the rest of the album when it comes out later this week——the fact that he's publishing it under his real name rather than the Passion Pit brand leads me to believe the rest of it might also be a stylistic break from what he's done so far in his career.
Perhaps the most interesting song I'm sharing on Christmas songs week is the Melvins cover of "Carol of the Bells":
The most famous arrangement of this song comes to us courtesy of the bombastic Trans Siberian Orchestra, and the Melvins take that same hit-you-over-the-head approach with their cover. I can't tell if they're doing this as a parody of the TSO version or if this is really their best take at what could be loosely categorized as a Christmas song, but I love the Melvins, and either way, I'm pretty happy this thing exists. But I don't think I'm going to have it in the shuffle at our Christmas party.
12.8.16 Tennis' entry into the Christmas pantheon is a cover of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road":
This isn't necessarily a Christmas song even though it has "holiday" in the title (many of you will remember that it was used as the theme song for the Chevy Chase film Vacation, about a family on summer vacation), but with the Tennis yacht-rock style applied it, it would fit very easily onto a Christmas playlist.
12.7.16 Best Coast shared a new song for the holiday season called "Christmas and Everyday":
You'd think that Best Coast's upbeat California sound would work pretty well for an upbeat Christmas song, and you'd be right. I go back and forth on whether I really like this band and, if I do, just how much I like them, but it's hard to deny the holiday cheer in this track. This is definitely going into the holiday party playlist.
12.6.16 Low got in on the Christmas act with a new song called "Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)":
This is pretty much EXACTLY what I would have imagined if you had told me Low was writing a Christmas song, except maybe even at a slower pace than I would have imagined. It's a bit too slow and a touch too treacly with the vocals for me, but if you're going for a melancholy, falling-asleep-a-little-drunk-in-font-of-the-fire kind of song, this might be just your thing.
There have been a bunch of Christmas covers and originals released recently, so this week is going to be about sharing the best of them with you. Let's start off with a song from Los Campesinos called "When Christmas Comes (Boxing Day Version)":
This is a new version of a song of the same name that was the lead track on a Christmas-themed EP the band released in 2014. The difference is that this is basically vocals and strings, removing the guitar, bass, and drums of the original, but Gareth's vocals are also much more upfront wihtout the original's echo, and the background vocals have also been redone. I liked the original song pretty well, but this version is even better.
12.2.16 Tennis have announced a new record called Yours Conditionally that will be out next spring, and they've shared a track from that album called "In the Morning I'll Be Better":
If you described Tennis' sound to me, no matter how you described it as long as it was somewhat accurate, I would probably think that it wasn't up my alley and not even give it a listen. There's a very strong 70s yacht vibe here, with hints of girl groups and easy listening twee pop, but man, somehow it all works for me.
"In the Morning I'll Be Better" is almost a parody of what a songwriter who was told to write a song in the style of Tennis might produce——it's so classic Tennis that it feels like an outtake from their earliest recordings——but I love it just like I love pretty much everything else they do. Normally I complain when a band I like this much doesn't get more widespread recognition, but if people don't like these guys, I kind of get it. But it doesn't change how much I like them at all.
12.1.16 Run the Jewels have shared another new track from their upcoming third album, this one called "Legend Has It":
This is a record I have almost impossibly high expectations for after the brilliant Run the Jewels 2, but so far I haven't heard anything that would make me think it's not going to live up to them. This is instantly recognizable as Run the Jewels, but it adds some nice little touches——the bombastic synths and punctuating horns are used especially well. And there's no way they're going to have to use a sample for the shouted chorus of "RTJ" towards the end——the crowds are going to be doing that for them.