After the jump, you'll find contributions from staffers and freelancers including Laura Hutson, Edd Hurt, Lance Conzett, Jewly Hight, Sean L. Maloney, William Hooker and myself. This, by the way, is the fourth installment of What We're Listening To, and you can check out the previous three via this link. Is it all right with everyone if I go first? OK, here we go:
D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor:
Timber Timbre, Creep on Creepin' On (Arts & Crafts, 2011)
I love it when a rock outfit is completely dark and spooky, but totally self-aware of the mild absurdity of it all. Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds, of course, come to mind as far as tongue-in-cheeky darkness goes, and Timber Timbre's fourth record certainly seems to have sprouted off from the same family tree. Slow-crawling, heavy, obsessed, twisted and still funny about it — I mean, it's called Creep on Creepin' On, for shit's sake. Definitely more samey and less singular than Cave and the Seeds, but it's got a subtly spiced-up minimalism to it, and the instrumentation takes cues from Orbison and the other trad-pop balladeer greats.
Night Beats, Night Beats (Trouble in Mind, 2011)
Regular readers may accuse me of being a fairly optimistic fan of garage- and psych-rock revivalism. Sure, guilty as charged. But I also find the vast majority of these kids to be derivative and uninspired — and that's why I latch on so hard to the bands that do it right. Bands like Night Beats, who marry sloppiness and proficiency in a manner that says, "Yeah, I play guitar all day, every day. But I still don't give a shit. We'll do it in a handful of takes, at most." Fuzzy, far out, mildly tortured but mostly sharp and groovy. If you haven't heard the lead-off track, "Puppet on a String," then I need you to listen to it on Soundcloud. Right now. I'll wait. Go ahead. Seriously, right now
As far as jams from the past go, I recently purchased Reigning Sound's Time Bomb High School, which is a primo and surprisingly eclectic LP from Greg Cartwright's top-notch garage outfit. Also, I've been playing virtually every single that Tom Petty released between 1976 and 1989 on repeat — I presume that Spurgeon's recent obsession is sheer coincidence, but who can be sure, really? Petty's as American as they come (in the good way, not the bad way), and I think every Westerner with a pulse dives into the Pet Zone from time to time. No? Oh, I've also been spinning Jessie Baylin's forthcoming Little Spark like whoa, but I'll have a feature on that one in this week's forthcoming dead-tree edish. So hold your horses, and trust me when I say that it's completely remarkable.
Laura Hutson, calendar editor:
Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow (Fish People, 2011)
I love Kate Bush, and I think it's pretty extraordinary that this almost mythical singer can release an album years after she's already been established — and it's as good as anything she's ever done. Maybe better. To me, this album sounds like it was made by someone who doesn't listen to music like the rest of us. Like some sort of otherworldly Nell or something, who's never heard of Kanye West or even Radiohead, and maybe just listens to, like, Karen Finley. It's long and sweeping enough (65 minutes and just seven songs) for me to keep it on repeat, and it makes me feel like I'm hanging out with the cool older sister I always wanted.
Lance Conzett, freelancer:
Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady (EMI, 1979)
I usually have a “no greatest hits” rule for when I'm listening to records on Spotify, because you wind up missing all kinds of great gems in between the singles, but damn if I don't gravitate to this album every time. Yeah, it's not technically a “greatest hits” (it's a singles collection, obvs), but it's a catchy rager of a punk record. It's also one of the first albums I checked out of the main branch library when I started going there after school. Along with Cat Power and something so embarrassing that I won't say (here's a hint though: it starts with “S” and ends with “ublime”).
Final Club, Blank Entertainment (Adagio830, 2011)
A Facebook invite hipped me to this noise-pop band from Denton, Texas — playing Little Hamilton on Jan. 12. I wrote a Critic's Pick, so y'all can read that next week. But, suffice to say, they rule particularly hard. It's lo-fi fuzz paired with sharp melodies, taking Pixies' loud-quiet-loud formula to its natural continuation. The last time I wrote about a band that I discovered in a Little Hamilton Facebook invite, they didn't show up at the venue. So, uh, let's all hope I'm not cursed.
Denali, The Instinct (Jade Tree, 2003)
I loved this band so hard when I was in high school. I have distinct memories of hoping I wouldn't have to go on a family trip to anywhere on spring break so that I could see them play at Blue Sky Court with Murder by Death — I didn't, and it blew my teenage mind. Granted, this was a time where I was listening to a lot of moody bullshit, and, well, this isn't exactly far from that. I just rediscovered this band today, so I'm hoping that it doesn't unlock any repressed embarrassments from high school (see above).
Jewly Hight, freelancer:
Kellie Pickler, 100 Proof
Pickler's music didn't do a lot for me in the past, but this one has me coming back for repeat listens. She teamed with Miranda Lambert's producer to make it, and it's harder country than anything she's done, complete with attitude, personality and a shout-out to Tammy Wynette.
Miss Eaves, Byte This EP
I got an email from a good friend asking me to check out a music video she helped produce, and it turned out to be a playful urban-bohemian video for Miss Eaves' "Diva Pop." That was enough to send me to Bandcamp to download Eaves' Byte This EP. It's the best kind of bubblegum hip-hop: fun, energetic and self-possessed. And it's not often that I get to enjoy hearing a female MC boast about her natural hair, thrift-store clothes, natural curves and carefree carb consumption.
The Black Keys, El Camino
I kinda screwed myself up with this album by reading so many other critics' reviews of it before I listened myself. So my way around that has been to listen to the thing on a more superficial, non-analytical level. It makes for one hell of a physically propulsive rock soundtrack on a long-distance run.
Just for good measure, here's an album I felt like I'd listened to a million times over by the end of 2011 — thanks to the wide critical discussion of how passive aggressive and artfully bummed-out it is — even though I've never even actually heard it: Drake's Take Care.
Sean Maloney, freelancer:
Sharon Van Etten, Tramp
Yes, I know this one doesn't come out til Feb. 7, but I've had it for a couple of months and can tell you that it is A-FUCKING-MAZING. Van Etten's voice — one of the best in indie rock by a mile — is in top shape and her songwriting is more expansive, more nuanced than ever before. It's not as emotionally intense as her first two records — she's in a much better mental space — but that just opens up the floor for more repeat listens. And there will be repeat listens. Lots of them.
Tom Tom Club, "The Man With the 4 Way Hips (Long Version)"
My wife — the awesomest wife ever, BTW — bought me new turntables for Christmas, so I've been relearning how to be an actual DJ and actually mix shit. This has led to a deluge of early-'80s dance hits getting dusted off, not the least of which is this TTC cut. Also in rotation: Was Not Was "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming," Blancmange's "Feel Me" and the dub version of Switch's "Switch It Baby".
And this. I love a good yoga joke.
Edd Hurt, freelancer:
John Cale's new EP, Extra Playful (Double Six), appeared late last year in its "black" edition, which contains a couple of songs the earlier, "white" issue on Domino left off. Cale is a sage old rocker, and this EP ranges across rock history easily — "Catastrofuk" hooks on lines like "She doesn't live here anymore," while "Hey Ray" crawls on its belly through splintered guitar licks out of the "golden age" of 1967 toward our present state of cultural dissolution: "The Americans, oh shit, the British are coming, not again," Cale sings. "Pile A L'Heure" is trip-hoppy and quite lovely; the record itself is playful, detached and confident.
Fans of The Go-Betweens often disagree on the matter of the Australian band's best full-length. I guess it's Tallulah, but their 1984 Spring Hill Fair is an amazing record that contains what sounds to me like the sure-shot mega-'80s hit the group deserved: Grant McLennan's "Bachelor Kisses," a masterpiece of songwriting, and plenty commercial. On a record that is both super-pop and experimental — listen to "Five Words" and "The Old Way Out" — the other great standout is Robert Forster's "Draining the Pool for You," which is superb minimalist rock 'n' roll.
Also listening to Amelia White's new Beautiful and Wild and lots of Akron/Family stuff. Dusty in Memphis bonus track "Natchez Trace." Bobbie Cryner's 1996 torch-soul-country record Girl of Your Dreams (MCA), which leads off with a version of "Son of a Preacher Man" that comes close to Dusty's standard. Jim Ford's The Sounds of Our Time (Bear Family), for his great "36 Inches High." Minnie Riperton's Come to My Garden (GRT), tripped out in 1970 in the high stratosphere with Charles Stepney, Maurice White, Ramsey Lewis and the guitar of Phil Upchurch. And Karen Dalton's studio albums In My Own Time and It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best, reissued by Light in the Attic.
William Hooker, freelancer:
Little Brother, The Minstrel Show
An all-out spoof on post-bellum, African-American entertainment (for the masses), The Minstrel Show embodies a showcase, complete with a welcome and closing theme and interrupted by jingles from fictitious sponsors such as “Fifth & Fashion” (the remedy if your “stained AirForce Ones” got you down). The predominant rapping style is East Coast — a more introverted approach with erudite lyricism and sublime samples in contrast to the West Coast’s extroverted flamboyance. Not much of a Dirty South affair either, despite the group’s hometown of Durham, NC. Overall, the album spins a compellingly old-school, albeit tongue in cheek, concept: a 21st century minstrel show with anachronisms like “I’m playin Rick James / Fuck yo couch, nigga.” The beats are as tight as on a Biggie album and ripe with a pervasive toughness throughout. Listen to “Beautiful Morning,” “Say it Again,” “All for You.”
DJ Quik, Book of David
Unlike Minstrel Show, DJ Quik’s Book of David is a quintessential West Coast affair. The beats bring to mind the dance floor-friendly, funky, futuristic — not to mention rude — and hedonistic attitude of mid-'90s rap, when Tupac was king. Contemporary purveyors of throwback to this era include almost equally enjoyable releases by Dam-Funk, but Quik’s release possesses a more bona fide and less kitschy representation of California love Plus, Ice Cube’s on board; what’s more old-school West Coast than that? Listen to “Due Today” and “Luv of my Life.”
Washed Out, Within and Without
Dismissed this album initially due to its soft-core porno album cover, but Washed Out might have surpassed Air as the sex soundtrack (not that anyone does that, but, if you do, more power to you! Sigur Ros sales thank you!) The album’s lush synths and beats (although hugely simplistic) are easy as Sunday morning. The album is not exclusively a soundtrack for The Biz’nass — for instance, it has scored multiple Radnor Lake hikes, personally. Listen to “Echoes” and “Soft,” plus singles “Eyes Be Closed” and “Amor Fati.”
Telekinesis, 12 Desperate Straight Lines
A darn good, true indie-rock band (think Grandaddy or the Shins) but with a penchant and unrivaled talent for New Order-esque riffage. Listen to: “Country Lane,” “You Can Turn Clear in the Sun.”
Panda Bear collaborator Maus makes wildly original tunes more in the bedroom-hi-jinks, ennui-as-muse tradition of Ariel Pink than Animal Collective’s hyper-psychedelic homages to the heroes & villains. Listen to an Older Maus track, “Pure Rockets,” for a grande dose of genius, and his latest album We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves includes “Hey Moon,” which is tall at least.
Also, Loudon Wainwright III's Attempted Mustache, John Zorn's Naked City, every album by The Durutti Column.