Thursday, August 18, 2011

What We're Listening To: Check out the Records the Cream Is Currently Checking Out, 8/18/11

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 9:00 AM

If you're doing your job right, being a music writer doesn't necessarily take the joy out of listening to music. But it does require a lot of time and a lot of patience. So much of the time — and I'm mainly speaking for myself here, of course — the bulk of what I'm listening to also happens to be what I'm writing about. And, like I said, if I'm doing my job right, then I'm mostly listening to stuff I like, and stuff I want to tell readers about. But most of what I'm listening to directly relates to its timeliness. Are they playing here soon? Are they local? Do they have a record coming out this month?

Well, what about the other artists? Like most music writers (hopefully), I listen to records a lot of the time. Like, almost all of the time. And plenty of those records were made by dead people, or people who are into different things now, or people who aren't playing here anytime soon. So why not talk about those records, too? After the jump, you'll find a list of the albums we Cream contributors are currently peeping — some of these records we're listening to for research/opinion gestation, and others we're listening to just because we think they're great. Have a look at submissions from Scene/Cream full-timers and freelancers — among them Sean L. Maloney, Steve Haruch, Laura Hutson, Adam Gold, Edd Hurt, Lance Conzett, Jewly Hight, Ryan Burleson, Ashley Spurgeon, Elizabeth Jones, Luke Schneider and yours truly. So long as my contributors don't mind me bugging them about it roughly once a month, I think I might try to make this a regular thing. Whattya think?

I'll go first:

D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor:

As I say, a good portion of what I'm listening to is stuff I've recently written about or will soon write about in an "official" capacity. The Features' Wilderness, The Ettes' Wicked Will, JEFF the Brotherhood's We Are the Champions. All solid, noteworthy stuff.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Mosaic (Blue Note Records, 1961)
I had a birthday recently, and former music editor Steve Haruch — who you'll hear from below — got me a copy of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' Mosaic. I am, by no stretch of the term, a jazz cat. As a player, I'm nowhere near there in terms of chops, and as a listener, I'm a relative virgin. But I like to dip my toes in every now and again, and I feel like Haruch has done me a solid. This record is riddled with the sort of fluidity and musicianship — and, every once in a while, imperfection — that puts me closer to "getting" jazz than I've ever been before. These players — Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Jymie Merrit and band leader/drummer Art Blakey — are absolutely out of this world, and this album, I feel, has the power to access an underutilized portion of the brain. It makes you want to write Lynchian screenplays and do word puzzles. Plus, all of these guys played in loads of other projects, making this record an excellent jumping-off point for the discovery of other albums.

King Tuff, Was Dead (Tee Pee, 2009)
I wrote a little bit about King Tuff when he/they passed through some weeks back. It's the project of Kyle Thomas, who fronts the stoner-metal (one of the few offshoots of metal I can actually get into) outfit Witch — that band J Mascis plays drums in, who you'll hear more about courtesy of Seth Graves below. Anyway, 2009's Was Dead is a grimy, sloppy, psychedelic treasure trove of semi-glam punk. It's riddled with gritty riffs, charming mistakes and lyrics about wearing freaky clothes — sun medallions and pointy boots and so forth. Ideal bone-roasting music, if you catch my drift.

Past that, I've also been listening to a lot of the Stones' Aftermath, Costello's This Year's Model, Fucked Up's David Comes to Life (one of this year's best releases, for my money), '70s Turkish psych-folk singer Selda's self-titled record, Black Lips' Arabia Mountain and everything by Thin Lizzy.

Steve Haruch, Culture Editor:

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Talk About the Weather (Red Rhino, 1985)
People usually return a blank stare when I refer to Interpol as "a second-rate Lorries," but as the original second-rate Joy Division, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry really don't get enough credit. Talk About the Weather is a great listen for when you want skeletal drums, scrap-heap guitars and blanket despair but can't take Unknown Pleasures for the 7,000th time. Which I guess is how I feel right now, since I've got both on my iPod. Also: "You say you love me but not quite yet" is a great, silly bummer of a lyric.

Taylor Swift, Speak Now (Big Machine, 2010)
I'm listening to this partly as research for something I'm writing, but also because the opening 1-2-3 punch of straight-up radio hits — "Mine," "Sparks Fly" and "Back to December" — is undeniable.

Liturgy, Renihilation (20 Buck Spin, 2009)
I really wanted to revisit Renihilation before listening to their new one — kind of a mental reset, since, admittedly, I haven't listened to much black metal in the last few months and didn't want my reference point for Aesthethica to be, I don't know, Taylor Swift. Like, you shouldn't write a review of a steakhouse if you've been on a juice fast. Or something like that. Anyway, listening to this record again reminds me of how ecstatic this music is at certain points, when berzerk speed collapses into sudden, relentless heaviness.

Adam Gold, Music Listings Editor/Staff Writer:

Maybe signing up with Spotify (which rules hard and is totally worth the price of premium, BTW) has finally roped me into the 21st century. A quick scan of my still-set-to-pre-bake playlist reveals a lot of post-Y2K indie rock. Lots of Deerhunter, Walkmen, Constantines, Real Estate, Dr. Dog and a Black Keys track here and there. Familiar territory, but I rarely plant my ears in one decade, let alone the last one. And even the aesthetically '60s jams I've been bumpin' are by bands the likes of Thee Oh Sees, The Reigning Sound and Box Elders.

Laura Hutson, Calendar Editor:

Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky, 2011) Sounds like early Sonic Youth recorded by Brian Eno, and the dreamy-spooky-minimal soundtrack in The Shining. Hecker uses recordings he made of a pipe organ in a Reykjavik church, looped and layered until it's more noisy than celestial, and not polite enough to be ambient.

Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the ’80s Underground
A compilation that's like Nuggets for the ’80s. It features some of my favorite songs (“Running Up That Hill,” “This Corrosion”) and some of my favorite bands (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Gang of Four). There are also several songs I'd never heard before and now love — like Ultravox's “Vienna” and Japan's “Ghosts” — but I basically just keep the four discs on constant rotation in my car, as if it were an imaginary radio station.

Edd Hurt, freelancer:

Little Beaver, Party Down (Cat, 1974)
Little Beaver's Party Down is a seemingly innocuous party album that starts off with Beaver telling some girls that it is time to "let it all hang out" and "make love together." The Miami session guitarist seems to be making some of it up as he goes along, but this is one of those rare records where the smooth and the dirty coexist perfectly. His guitar sound is raw yet jazzy, and the tunes employ some really cool jazzy changes that never get too complex. The songs all have titles like "I Can Dig It Baby" and "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Let's Stick Together," but none of these is a cover of a more well-known song with the same title. Little Beaver, whose real name was Willie Hale, played on many of the Miami soul hits of the late '70s by such artists as Betty Wright and Clarence Reid. Hale even writes one that doesn't sound like a public domain R&B tune — "Money Vibrations," which uses a Sly Stone-style vocal hook and opens up the groove with clavinet and a four-on-the-floor beat. The band favors a slightly Latinized sense of rhythm throughout, with the rhythm-guitar park that carries "Let the Good Times Roll" the absolute winner on a consistently great album. The casual little bridge features some cool Steely Dan-lite chords and some really dirty lead guitar. What's great about this kind of music is its economy and its good humor. Yet it contains a subtle, simultaneous critique and celebration of "good times" that indicates Beaver was doing some serious psychological analysis of what must have been a lively scene in the cocaine-laden pre-disco disco era. (That's not a typo — this music anticipates disco in every way. And that's a good thing in my book.) Betty Wright sings background vocals. A great lost record.

George Jones, Alone Again (Epic, 1976)
A lot of people think George Jones peaked with his late-'60s work on the Musicor label, and I won't argue with that. But I do know that Jones' voice got even more fascinating as he progressed into the '70s under the tutelage of producer Billy Sherrill. The elastic phrasing and uncanny changes in register and timbre are still there, but Jones' voice sounds so much more knowing — not exactly old and lecherous, but saddled with some uncomfortable wisdom he can barely keep contained within the strict parameters of Nashville songwriting — on this underrated record from American's bicentennial year. "A Drunk Can't Be a Man" and "Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me" are about how he's a drunk and a genius of a loser. "Stand on My Own Two Knees" continues the theme. What makes Jones so great is his insistence on casting himself as a common man with common problems while shooting those problems in the foot with his voice, which transcends everything. I'd rank this with the best records Jones ever did — up there with 1968's If My Heart Had Windows and 1989's One Woman Man. Bobby Braddock's classic "Her Name Is ... " uses some kind of genetically altered novelty-music sound — a clavinet, a guitar, Peter Frampton as mystery sound effect? Jones asks us to fill in the blanks about his woman, probably because he's already forgotten himself. This is the most consistently good of his '70s records, although I really like I Wanta Sing and The Battle — the latter is the Possum's concept-record move that I characterize as the country equivalent to Sinatra's similarly arty Watertown.

Also in the stack: Fountains of Wayne's brand-new Sky Full of Holes, which seems a bit harder to read than 2007's amazing Traffic and Weather; Genesis singles from the late '60s and early '70s; NRBQ's NRBQ and Tapdancin' Bats; Caroline Peyton's Mock Up and Intuition; Jon Hassell's Dressing for Pleasure; Miles Davis' The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions; Nikki Lane's Gone, Gone, Gone EP; Cass Elliot's 1968 Dream a Little Dream of Me.

Seth Graves, freelancer:

Brian Jonestown Massacre, Give it Back!
With this, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins, I've found myself lately listening to a lot of stuff I've openly and vocally scorned for years. I didn't see the big deal about BJM in the '90s, and while I dug Dig! as much as anyone, it still failed to make a very strong case as to why essentially making the same album three times with the same three chords could ever be considered "genius." While i still don't see the genius, and I still think they're all basically the same record, it's still a pretty good record — and the kind only a drug-addled gaggle of homeless neo-hippies playing music like it's their job ('cause they have no jobs) can make. And even if that's not an entirely accurate description of the band, it's the one I'll have to maintain to keep enjoying these records.

Witch, Witch
I've also essentially buried myself neck-deep in druggy psychedelia — which at my age is a much more pleasurable and healthy alternative to psychedelic drugs themselves. Anyway, when the fact that J Mascis plays drums in your band is the least awesome thing about it, you're doing it right. OK, yeah. I'm way late to the Witch party. Maybe I just wasn't ready for any whimsically dirty, dope-smokin' wizard rock quite yet.

Little Wings, Harvest Joy
Little Wings is the moniker for a dude named Kyle Field who writes some of incredibly witty indie-folk music. It's not as quirky and straightforward as Kimya Dawson, but definitely nowhere near as earnest as Bon Iver. About once a year I find myself revisiting the more familiar hits from his impressively prolific (and consistent) catalog, eventually honing in something i haven't heard much. Harvest Joy runs the gamut from playful to sincere to playfully sincere. I'm gathering it was recorded live amidst a room of players hearing these for the first or second time, tops. And somehow that doesn't suck. It's loose, spontaneous, fun, free and a whole bunch of other hippie shit I probably wouldn't take off anyone else.

Lance Conzett, freelancer:

Tate Eskew, Modality (2011, Functional Equivalent Recordings)
I met Tate Eskew a few weeks ago when some mutual friends invited me to a party at his house deep in the Nolensville boonies. Tate's a Linux engineer now, but, once upon a time, used to be a recordist for The Simpsons and King of the Hill, which struck me as being intensely cool. Knowing all that, I figured I'd give his recently released EP a spin when I came across it on Facebook, knowing full well that avant drone isn't exactly my bag. (My bag, for reference, is usually two minutes long and involves lots of power chords.) So you'll understand how surprised I was to discover how much I liked Modality. It's only about 20 minutes long, but something about it speaks to the Godspeed You! Black Emperor-loving teenager in me. It's a tense, foreboding set of songs, but it never feels pretentious. It's certainly an acquired taste, but it doesn't feel like outsider music, which I find to be almost always off-putting and unpleasant. Really cool, really spooky, definitely worth a listen.

Sean L. Maloney, freelancer

AM & Shawn Lee, Celestial Electric (ESL Music)
One the world's most talented and slept-on producers, Shawn Lee, joins up with some dude from the West Coast to make deep, soulful dub-pop.

Van Hunt, What Were You Expecting? (Thirty Tigers/godless-hotspot)
Sly Stone sitting in with Van Der Graaf Generator to cover Zen Arcade; or Prince and Flipper pop a bunch of bennies and listen to Yes. Not sure which.

Razika, Program 91 (Smalltown Supersound)
Four Norwegian teenage girls make New Wave-inflected ska, and make me wonder if it's easier to make ska puns in Norwegian.

Luke Bryan, "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)" (Capital Records Nashville)
A backwoods strip-club anthem if there ever was one. You can almost smell the meth breath.

Ghostface Killer, Ironman (Loud/RCA)
Somehow this and some terrible Christian indie-rock CD somebody gave me are the only things in my car at the moment. Needless to say, I've been listening to a lot of Ghost lately.

Ashley Spurgeon, freelancer:

Some jerk broke into my car recently and stole all of my "driving to work" CDs — except two. One is Myths of the Near Future by Klaxons. It was actually in my CD player at the time, which is how it escaped detection from the thieving piece of garbage who happily took The Features' Wilderness (THAT I JUST BOUGHT) and Diva by Annie Lennox, both of which were on heavy rotation. Last week.

The only other CD I own now is this six-episode Flight of the Conchords BBC radio series from 2005. It was made before the TV show, and the overall premise isn't that different, except it's set in London instead of New York, is narrated by Rob Brydon, and every episode features a phone call with "the white Bob Marley of Wellington," Neil Finn.

Feel free to send sympathy mix CDs to the Scene offices, c/o Ashley Spurgeon. No demos, no metal.

Ryan Burleson, freelancer:

A Winged Victory for the Sullen, s/t (Forthcoming on Kranky/Erased Tapes)

HUM, You'd Prefer an Astronaut (RCA, 1995)

Canon Blue, Rumspringa (Out yesterday on Temporary Residence Limited)

Balmorhea, Live at Sint-Elisabethkerk (Forthcoming on Western Vinyl)

Big K.R.I.T., Return of 4Eva mixtape (Out now via the artist)

Jewly Hight, freelancer:

At home, Beyonce’s 4 and Roy Hamilton’s “You Can Have Her."

In the car, The Black Keys’ Brothers and Connie Smith’s Long Line of Heartaches.

On the iPod, Pistol Annies’ Hell on Heels.

Elizabeth Jones, Art Director:

I've been listening to Caitlin Rose's record [Own Side Now] obsessively. I think it's because it's such a good mix of sad and upbeat songs. Since my family's going through a tough time, the lyrics are just indulgent enough without turning myself into a sobbing fit. You're up ("Learning to Ride"), then down on "Own Side Now" and picked back up pretty quickly with "New York." Also, it's great belting-in-your-car, windows-down, hand-blowing-wind music.

Luke Schneider, freelancer:

Jim Ford, Harlan County and The Unissued Capitol Album
Harlan County was just reissued by Light in the Attic. It is just as stellar as the rest of their (re)releases. Most of you are probably familiar with him, but Jim Ford was an under-sung Appalachian country funkster who moved to LA and made some cool records, but bad luck kept him from stardom ... although some of his corny lyrics may have contributed to that ("I'm gonna make her love me till the cows come home"). Keltner and Dr. John played on this record. I actually like the unissued Capitol album even more — the songs are better, but that one i can only find on Spotify. Worth checkin' out.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, s/t
This one is hard to describe, and that is always a good thing in my book. Lo-fi groovy summer record. Fat Possum. Dude is obviously a badass guitar player. Plays some way-out-there chords that sound huge but chill. Yeah, it's like if Deerhunter made a chillwave record? Maybe? Shit is heavy and washed-out at the same time.

Julian Lynch, Terra
I became a huge Julian Lynch fan after his release Mare last year. Freaking awesome lo-fi, organic instrumentals. Chilled-out droney pieces with very tasteful instrumentation. Again, it's mostly acoustic and organic instruments, but when you hear something electronic it is perfectly placed. Awesome cooking music, or something to enjoy while toking up around dusk. Might be my favorite record of the year. This is pretty much exactly the music i want to be making for my solo project. And check out Mare. I still like that one even better.

Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts
Thurston makes an album with Beck, obviously to get that Sea Changes sound. They nail it. Samara Lubelski plays gorgeous violin on it. Dare I compare this to some of Nick Drake's best moments? Or the best moments on Sea Changes? And you get the Thurston Moore chord change sensibility. Yes, it's all a bit derivative, but nevertheless, it's one of the best things I've heard from solo Thurston.

Not a recent release, but if you guys haven't heard Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir's Like a Ship Without a Sail then Spotify that shit immediately. Re-released by Light in the Attic last year. Incredible long-lost funky gospel album. And it's not like a lot of the Numero stuff that sounds bad and is kinda out-there and not accessible. This is like if a Chicago church's gospel choir made Pet Sounds.

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