After the jump, see contributions from staffers and freelancers including Laura Hutson, Randy Fox, Matt Fox (no relation to Randy), Edd Hurt, Lance Conzett and yours truly. It's an eclectic spread, from baroque pop to punk rock, trip-hop to indie rock, soul country to country rock. Allow me to start us off ...
D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor:
The Searchers, Hear Hear
Picked this one up for a couple bucks on Record Store Day. One of the flagship bands of the early-'60s, Liverpool-based Merseybeat movement, The Searchers — like The Beatles and a lot of other English rock 'n' roll acts of the time — spent many a gig honing their sound in Germany. Hear Hear was recorded live at Hamburg's Star Club, and while some of these tunes are included elsewhere (their Pye Anthology is a good place to start), most of them I haven't heard before. The most exciting thing about a record like this is — even though this set was recorded half a century ago — you can hear the excitement and growing confidence in the voices of these 21-year-olds as they deliver the "Liverpool Sound" (called the "most playable sound around" on the record sleeve) to a crowd of anglophilic Germans. Of course, the liner notes drop The Beatles' name a time or two; it's clear that labels were trying pretty transparently to replicate the success of the Fab Four around this time. Still, The Searchers are among the most stand-out of the Liverpudlians as far as breezy pop tunes about young love go. Also, it's fun to hear "danke schoen" uttered over and over in a thick British accent, and this record fits in pretty well with all the Buddy Holly I've been listening to lately.
Mind Spiders, Meltdown
Every time I think to myself, "All right, I just can't do the garage-punk thing anymore right now," I stumble across an outfit that does it right. I mean, really does it right. I first took notice of Mind Spiders with last year's eponymous EP, and this, their debut full-length, is a more confident step in the same direction. Furious, up-tempo, incredibly rhythmically tight and lo-fi (but not obnoxiously so, as I'm not as much a fan of the overly fuzzy aesthetic that most garage-rock outfits employ), Meltdown sounds like a Ramones record if The Ramones had more complex guitar parts, more dynamics and a better vocalist. The songs are concise and infectious, and the track "Skull-Eyed" breezes in out of the blue with a sinister synth-pop spine. A fun little new wave cherry on top of a punk rock sundae. Great, energetic listen.
And it shouldn't come as any surprise that I've been listening to Graceland a lot lately, as it's in my Top Five Records of All Time, but watching the Simon doc Under African Skies put my dome back in Paul Land pretty hard. I've also been spinning a lot of ELO (On the Third Day, Time and Face the Music, mostly), not to mention Sharon Van Etten's latest and, as previously mentioned, a lot of Buddy Holly.
Laura Hutson, calendar editor:
Willis Earl Beal, Acousmatic Sorcery
I heard "Evening's Kiss" on the radio and thought it sounded like Sebadoh. I'm a sucker for lo-fi tape sounds, so I looked him up when I got home and was really surprised by how varied the tracks are. All the songs on this album are so strange compared to one another, and "Masquerade" is a creepy favorite. I haven't heard anything like this in a while, but the closest comparisons I can come up with are maybe Nick Drake and cLOUDDEAD and old Prefuse 73.
Harry Nilsson, bunch of stuff
This is how the listening to music on the Internet works: Davy Jones died, and it was all over the news. I was reminded of my childhood love of Jones in the movie Head, specifically the scene where he dances around to "Daddy's Song." I found the clip on YouTube, and watched it for the first time since I was too young to recognize that it was actually a Harry Nilsson song, who was also responsible for The Point, another childhood touchstone for me. That led me on a days-long Nilsson-only listening spree, obsessed with his version of "Daddy's Song," "Everybody's Talkin' " and "1941," especially. Then I rewatched The Point, and then I watched the Nilsson bio-doc Who Is Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?). All this without ever actually buying any records.
Randy Fox, freelancer:
Jason and the Scorchers, Fervor and Lost & Found (EMI America, 1983 & 1985)
I’ve actually been listening to the entire catalog of Jason, Warner, Jeff and Perry over the last few weeks because of a project I’m working on, but I keep returning to these two over and over again. The most extreme hyperbole possible cannot adequately describe the musical one-two punch these records gave me when they originally came out in the decade of hair metal and “alternative” rock. Suddenly everything made sense to me — the country music I loved as a kid but grew disdainful of as a teenager, the punk conversion that gobsmacked me my first semester of college, and even my secret shame at liking AC/DC though the first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide had instructed me not to. These two pieces of vinyl sent me off carousing down the back alleys and seemingly dead-end streets of American music, a bender that I’m proud to say is still going on almost 30 years later.
The Clash, Sandinista! (Epic 1980)
This is a massive mess of an album, but a glorious, wonderful mess. Many considered it one of the most bone-headed career moves of all time, but looking back, God bless The Clash for throwing all this trash and treasure out in one heap. The standard line is it would have made a five-star single LP, or perhaps a four-star double LP, and maybe that is true. But it’s also probably true that if Joe and the boys had followed either of those courses, and then released the whole thing 20 years later as an “Expanded Edition CD,” it would have been hailed as one of the most brilliant reissues ever. In some ways, Sandinista! is the perfect album for the Digital Age. It’s a musical warehouse for any fan to pull from in order to edit or create their own track order. It’s an album that demands listener interaction — an activity that I suspect Joe Strummer would whole-heartedly approve of. Once again, “The Only Band That Mattered” was way ahead of their time even if no one (including themselves) knew it.
Matt Fox, intern:
Allow me to preface this choice: I still don’t forgive Nick Zammuto for breaking up The Books. Old grudges die hard, and this one has a half-life of never. That being said, his solo effort is everything I could have wanted to emerge from The Books’ rubble. With an instrumental density previously forbidden in the minimalist Books formula, Zammuto now has the ability to spread his wings and compose in ways previously off limits ... still not forgiving you, Zammuto.
Damn my Achilles’ heel for finely polished pop. Yuna’s the type of artist with music so unbearably sweet and optimistic I can’t help but get invested. Her bluntly honest lyrics and track-to-track genre variance have yet to wear on my ears, and honestly probably won’t for a long while.
Groove Armada, Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub
If there’s one surefire way to make a quality record, simply fuse hip-hop collaborations with an electronic act. Trip-hop icons Andy Cato and Tom Findlay of Groove Armada do exactly this on Goodbye Country, following up Vertigo’s sexy elevator music with a more stoner-laden, funkier rendition of The Chemical Brothers’ Push the Button.
Edd Hurt, freelancer:
Jeannie Seely's Monument, Decca and MCA recordings are interesting soul-inflected country from the late '60s and early '70s. "Don't Touch Me" was her big hit, but she did some cool duets with Jack Greene, many great broken-marriage songs, and the insanely catchy '70s single, "Farm in Pennsyltucky." She was a bit like Tammy Wynette, but a touch more forceful.
Bob Mosley's 1972 self-titled solo album (Reprise), on which the Moby Grape bassist does a great version of the biker anthem "Gypsy Wedding."
Numero Group's Record Store Day compilation, WTNG 89.9 FM: Solid Bronze, yacht-rock from the '70s by the likes of Cream & Sugar, Leder Brothers and other incurable optimists of pop.
Lance Conzett, freelancer:
Macro & Treekeeper, Welcome to Bohemia (Self-Released, 2012)
Although the 8 off 8th I was booking ended up canceled due to a double-booking, there was one silver lining to that whole arduous process: Macro & Treekeeper. If you hit up electronic shows in town on the reg, you may be familiar with Treekeeper's glitchy electro beats, but they really shine in this collaboration with Macro, a local MC who rhymes like Atmosphere. I'm a little late on this EP — it dropped in January — but I'm excited to keep an eye on what else comes out of them and Bohemian Hype Cult, the collective they belong to.
Schoolboy Q, Habits & Contradictions (Top Dawg, 2012)
Speaking of hip-hop that I'm kinda late on. Schoolboy Q's debut record has dominated my Spotify "Top Albums" for two months solid, and I don't see it letting up any time soon. I don't know what it is about Q — maybe it's the spaghetti Western hook that opens "Sacrilegious" or the aggressive stoner rap sound on "Hands on the Wheel" or the Odd Future-styled track "Raymond 1969" — but I'm completely on board. Which is more than I can say for Kendrick Lamar, who I find vastly less interesting.
Silver Jews, American Water (Drag City, 1998)
At risk of having my music journalist license revoked, I have to admit that I never really listened to Silver Jews before about two weeks ago. I mean, yeah, I was familiar with them. I knew they closed out their time on earth with a show in a cave. I knew that David Berman is famously eccentric and I once considered applying to be an intern for him in college. I just never listened to the records. So when I came across American Water in the used bin at Grimey's, I felt like I had to grab it. And boy was I not disappointed. Not only is American Water a fantastic record, but "Smith & Jones Forever" rocketed straight to the top of my favorite things in indie rockery. Now I feel like an asshole for skipping that cave show.