From time to time, I like to reach out to our stable of Cream contributors and see what folks have been listening to in their spare time. As we've explained before, we professional music writers spend much — probably most, really — of our time listening to albums that we're currently dissecting and analyzing for some sort of assignment. But occasionally, on our least cynical days, we do indeed turn on the record players, Spotifys, iTuneses, iPods, stereos and radios just for pleasure. And that's what What We're Listening To is for. Have a look after the jump to find out what records the Cream has been spinning. We've got contributions this go-round from freelancers Edd Hurt, Jewly Hight, Lance Conzett and Seth Graves, not to mention a little something from yours truly. Here, I'll go first:
D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor:
While I typically have at least a little pile of new discoveries at any given time, I've found myself revisiting my all-time favorites lately. You know when someone — for the sake of illustration, let's say a "normie" ... perhaps someone who works in your company's accounting department and enjoys MOR post-grunge stuff — asks you what kind of music you listen to, and you just provide that same rote list you've been giving people for a decade? Broad and easy for anyone to digest, but still consisting of genres and bands that truly do inform your entire sense of taste? Well, my answer — the one I give to relatives over Thanksgiving dinner and co-workers by the water cooler — has long been something along these lines: "You know, a lot of '60s and '70s psychedelic and classic rock and pop, like ELO, The Beatles, The Zombies, Harry Nilsson, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, The Who and Queen. Plus punk and post-punk, and the more pop-minded rock and indie-rock of the '90s, especially Built To Spill and Pavement and Radiohead, and then all classic soul — Curtis Mayfield, Sam and Dave, Bill Withers, James Brown and all the girl groups, obviously."
And yes, obviously, that's extremely broad. But I've grown quite used to dropping those names without giving it a second thought. I find it important to remind myself why my favorite bands are my favorite bands. So recently, I dove back in — especially in regard to The Beatles, Radiohead, ELO, Built To Spill and The Misfits. To remind myself why Rubber Soul is, in my mind, among the most flawless albums of all time. To remind myself that OK Computer fits together in a way that permanently changed how I listen to records. To remind myself why I'd rather listen to ELO's On the Third Day than any record released in the 1980s, and that Built To Spill's "Distopian Dream Girl" and "I Would Hurt a Fly" feature what I believe to be some of the most satisfying lyrics and guitar parts ever written. And also to remember that The Misfits were absolutely hilarious, whether or not they knew it or cared. I've got something to say!
Am I copping out, just revisiting my comfort music rather than broadening my horizons? Maybe, who cares. This shit is good. Also, sometimes these sorts of revisitation kicks will lead you to changing an opinion. For instance, I've always sworn that All Things Must Pass is the finest post-Beatles album by a Beatle, but Ram is closing in fast. My opinion is on the brink of shifting.
Edd Hurt, freelancer:
Bill Wilson, Ever Changing Minstrel (Columbia 1973)
A very obscure album recorded in Nashville with producer Bob Johnston and a contingent of first-rate session players, Ever Changing Minstrel is the sound of motel rooms in small towns, pool halls at mid-day. Musically, a cross between the Texas school of first-person songwriting and something akin to Southern rock — but with all bravado out the window. Tompkins Square is reissuing this long-lost album at the end of the summer, and Wilson died in 1993 without receiving the money or the recognition this album deserves.
Jimmy Hughes, Why Not Tonight? (Atco 1967)
A Muscle Shoals soul album, Why Not Tonight? features great songs by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, and Hughes — vocally a near-counterpart to both Syl Johnson and Gene Chandler — proves himself one of the better soul singers of the '60s. "I'm a Man of Action" and "The Loving Physician" are first-rate.
Darondo, Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions (Omnivore 2011).
From the Bay Area, Darondo cut these sessions in the early '70s. As with Jimmy Hughes and Syl Johnson, Darondo sounds a lot like Al Green. But he had his own style, and this is as funky and as good as obscure '70s soul gets.
Also: Tim Maia's '70s output. Maia was a Brazilian singer in love with North American soul music, and he did it well. He joined a UFO cult in the '70s and sang about spaceships and the "rational planet," but his music remained rooted in The Isley Brothers, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. Most of his '70s records are titled Tim Maia, and he did one called Disco Club that is pretty fine. I avoid his ballads, but the uptempo numbers will get you moving.
Jewly Hight, freelancer:
Today I gave Cherub’s Mom & Dad a spin, and yesterday I was listening to Jamey Johnson’s Hank Cochran tribute Livin’ for a Song. I was surprised to find that they have a little something in common: throwback keyboard sounds. Of course, those are lot subtler on Johnson’s album. Which reminds me, I’ve also been listening to the latest from Dylan LeBlanc, Cast the Same Old Shadow. What caught my ear was that he and Johnson both have that big, lush countrypolitan sound behind them, which hasn’t been a particularly hip or manly thing to do in a while. LeBlanc does some bruised, angsty singing on the melodramatic ballads. Iris Dement’s new album, Sing the Delta, also knocked me out last week. Way deeper into country-blues than anything she’s done in the past, and there’s a real plainspoken power to the songs. And the stuff I’ve been putting on just because it’s fun? Gossip’s A Joyful Noise, Shovels & Rope’s O’ Be Joyful, Usher’s Looking 4 Myself and an assortment of Bonnie Raitt albums.
Lance Conzett, freelancer:
Les Savy Fav, Inches (Frenchkiss Records, 2004)
How come Nashville doesn't have any legitimate Frenchkiss-style dance-punk bands? Is it because it isn't 2004? I've mainly been filling that void with old Thunderbirds Are Now! and Controller.Controller records, but this Les Savy Fav compilation keeps popping up in my Spotify listening — especially the one quasi-hit "The Sweat Descends." It seems like only dudes of a certain age (early to mid-20s) are even remotely interested in this particular branch of indie rock, which is making me wonder if dance punk is just "Ska Phase II." Dear God.
Philip Glass, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Nonesuch, 1985)
When not blowing out my eardrums with high-pitched white dudes wailing over four-on-the-floor disco beats, I've been on a real Philip Glass kick — especially his score for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I haven't actually seen Mishima (though, thanks to a random samurai history class I took at Belmont, I'm familiar with his failed coup and subsequent ritual suicide) but Glass' score is everything I want in work music. Glass' music is repetitive by nature, but it isn't so obvious in its repetition that it becomes noticeable or annoying. Also, it has some cool guitar parts that you don't usually hear in his scores.
Jaill, Traps (Sub Pop, 2012)
I caught a little bit of Jaill at Foobar a couple of weeks ago and really dug it. But, then again, I'll listen to any jangly indie pop record you put in front of me. It's a tremendously straightforward record that mashes up all of the things I already liked about The Shins, pre-acid-freakout Of Montreal and sunny beach punk bands like Wavves. I would've liked to have caught their whole set, but they went on around midnight and working in an office means you can't be up until 2 a.m. watching indie-pop bands.
Seth Graves, freelancer:
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes
Even as a long-time fan, Pink lost me with Before Today a couple years back. Having scrubbed up his sound with a full-fledged backing band, everything unique and bizarre I loved about his early recordings was gone. His latest is a return to form in almost every way, save for those layers of cassette hiss which are replaced with clean, crisp fidelity and a far more focused approach to song craft. I'm absolutely jumping the gun by proclaiming it my favorite of his works so far, but then — i'm anti-gun all the way.
The Maloneys, Practice
Don't you sometimes wish these professional music snob blowhards would — since they know so much — put their guitar strings where their mouth is and show us what good music sounds like? Well, it's either to their benefit or detriment in that case that The Maloneys can't — certainly by industry standards — play. But that doesn't stop Scene contributor Sean L. Maloney and his wife Mandi from doing their their family band thing. Nothing strips away the pretension like their EP Practice's total disregard for technical prowess and audio fidelity and a title that unironically describes exactly what's inside: Sean and Mandi jamming on rough-hewn, sloppy garage riffs, grrrl-powered twee punk and generally old-school raw power in their living room.