The one single thing I like about this time of year is, if the music is good I can stay indoors, pretend the weather isn't there and JUST LISTEN!
My batting average hasn’t been great the last few years but things are different this time around. Perhaps it has something to do with my almost utter failure to stick to this decade, which was one of my New Year resolutions.
Plus, I did some mental traveling. I barely do the physical kind, so it’s a start.
And where did I (fake) go?
Not the place that comes to mind in January (then again…), but then there is Black Panther, so...
Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2005)
I wanted to get something by these guys for a while and when it came time to choose I ended up going with their 2004 debut. Doh!
I love the idea of this record. A bunch of guys make their own instruments and amps by pulling parts from junked cars and other crap, and then plug them in and play. A real garage band.
So you get a weird mix of the rhythms you’d expect, but with a raw distortion. And not like electric guitar distortion, unless it’s in your friend’s basement, and the amp’s been dropped a few times. Not slick at all, so you feel like you’re there.
It’s evocative, but over the course of an hour, a bit repetitive. Probably good for dance parties, though.
PM Dawn: The Bliss Album…? (1993)
How could I go wrong with a “band” that brightened my 1997 with their first album - a mix of hip-hop and melody (And why hadn’t anyone thought of that by then?) - making both better?
Their love for the Beatles - only alluded to on their first record - just comes bursting out here with their cover of “Norwegian Wood”, which doesn’t top the original (how could it?) but is both faithful to it and all PMD anyway.
But it doesn’t quite measure up to the first record. When you do the same thing a second time round, it’s got to be much better to really knock you on your ass. If I heard this one first, no doubt I’d love it but I didn’t.
Waxahatchee: Out from the Storm (2017)
Ah, the joys of simple rock n roll! Especially when wedded with straightforward lyrics from a new (to me) voice.
Thanks to her ex for inspiring such pointed lyrics. Bad relationships should always produce such good music.
Straightforward (musically and lyrically) neat (maybe a little too neat), and very, very consistent.
"Never Been Wrong"
Mt. Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (2017)
Just a guy strumming his acoustic, singing very simple, direct songs about the untimely death of his wife.
Although history proves otherwise, he believes death - or at least this particular one - is not something to make art about. And he tries to stick to this by making the songs so unadorned and matter of fact that you simply can’t escape the subject matter by focusing on the music.
And not melodramatic. Just troubling and uncomfortable - as he describes in one of the songs - when you’re having a dinner party and someone just starts talking about their spouse’s recent death. Because, like he says, death is real.
No grade, because I don’t know what to make of it yet.
Quiet, haunting, devastating.
And in its way, perfect for the cold grey days of February.
Mom interrupted all of this with the one year anniversary of her death.
At the time I made a playlist for her, and found myself listening to it several times during the week of the anniversary. It’s fucking long - 95 songs - but I got through it three or four times, and in an odd way, it provided a break from my explorations by focusing on the very familiar.
Ever fearful of pointless nostalgia, I typically avoid doing this. But this time it really helped.
Wes Montgomery: Smokin' at the Half Note (1965)
Browsing amazon.com is the new record store trip for me. It's where I trip across stuff I've had my eye on for a while, but then because I see it now, it seems like the right time to try it.
So here’s this jazz guitar guy I’d always wanted to hear. But since, aside from Charlie Christian, I never warmed to jazz guitar since I’d only hear muted chords when I want ringing leads, I’d held off for quite a while.
And WM isn’t much different from what I expected/feared, but at least he had Miles Davis’s old rhythm section (circa Kind of Blue) backing him up, how bad could it be?
At first, it was a bit flat, but that rhythm section is so tight it keeps you listening. And eventually, you come to like his tone, his leads, and yes, his fast, smooth chord changes.
Good for mornings and nights. Play Charlie Christian during the day, though.
Superchunk: Majesty Shredding (2010)
These guys came out of the early nineties amongst the grunge acts and never got quite the level of attention that Nirvana or Pearl Jame got.
I was so impressed with this on first listen! Right out of the gate, it’s fast, loud and tuneful. But each subsequent listen struggled to keep up. I think it's one of those records where your mood has to match it; otherwise, it’s just clatter. But when they do match, it’s the best record of the year so far.
But for now, I’m gonna grade ‘em tough.
"Digging for Something"
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Lovely Creatures (2017)
And while all of this is happening while I do a deep dive into the Nick Cave oeuvre via this three-disc retrospective, none of which I’ve heard before. Ah but that's what winter is for! Unless it sucked, in which case, it could have gotten ugly.
The first disc is all arty poetics and gothic pseudo-Americana like only a pretentious Englishman can concoct. Not terrible, but it didn’t exactly encourage me to move on to discs two and three, which are an improvement.
Disc two leans toward ballads. Since mediocre poetry/gothic Americana can devolve into really awful and embarrassing soul-bearing. I was relieved to find that Nick actually has a bit of a heart. The melodies don’t hurt either.
In my year-end wrap-up I described disc three as Dylanesque, but I was mistaken. It’s really Springsteenian (ish? ist?). Again, a risky move, but Nick pulls it off with surprising grace.
I’m still finding my way through this extravagant (haven’t watched the DVD yet) box set (thanks, kids!), but for now, I don’t regret the plunge I've taken.
“Where the Wild Roses Grow”
By my count, decade-wise I’m 3 for 6. Not bad for me.
Happy St. Paddy’s day, by the way.
But I'm done with it, so now let’s get this f*cking season over with, okay?