Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday Shuffle #430

It's been a pretty big weekend already.

I can't believe I'm typing up a Sunday Shuffle with the Cubs in the World Series. Last night's clinching game was great, from the outstanding performance by Kyle Hendricks to the way the Cubs hitters went after Clayton Kershaw. I watched when they were 1 game away from the Series in both 1984 and 2003 and saw it all slip away, so last night was even better. I've been a Chicago baseball fan ever since I was a kid and I was never someone who thought you had to love one team and hate the other. 2005 was magical for the White Sox and that playoff run came at a difficult time, as both of my grandmothers passed away that fall. I hope this year is just as magical for the Cubs...and that it only helps me get through my schoolwork this week. Go Cubs!

Musically, I'm still on a high from Friday night's Teenage Fanclub show. They sounded so good and their set list was so strong that I couldn't complain at all. I'm here to tell you that the harmonies you hear on the records are not studio trickery - their voices blend so well. Ray McGinley is a pretty great guitar soloist too. I put up a Spotify playlist that features what they played, so check it out if you're so inclined.

With all that out of the way, let's get to today's ten...

1. Hardcore Ufos/Guided By Voices (9) - last played on 1/24/16
2. Cadillac Ranch (Live)/Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (2) - last played on 1/25/16
3. Common People/Pulp (20) - last played on 7/26/16
4. Rosalie/Alejandro Escovedo (6) - last played on 12/2/12
5. Fake Empire/The National (15) - last played on 4/9/16
6. Gumby/Aimee Mann (18) - last played on 3/16/16
7. Bottom of the World/Tom Waits (7) - last played on 9/27/15
8. In A Radio Song/Okkervil River (5) - last played on 7/14/13
9. Dirty Thing/Telekinesis (24) - last played on 9/20/15
10. Ending of Me/Admiral Radley (9) - last played on 11/18/12

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Sculpt #2

I enjoyed doing the first Sunday Sculpt, so I thought I would bring it back this week. My focus today is Teenage Fanclub. I know they've been featured on my one artist Sunday Shuffles twice, once at the end of June and the other on my 44th birthday in March of 2015, but I'm seeing them in concert this Friday and I'm really excited about it. I think I've mentioned before that I missed them in the 90s, but they have become one of my favorite bands since the early 2000s and I have never seen them in concert. Their new album, Here, is just as fantastic as their classics. The band has 3 songwriters - Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley - and all of them have written a bunch of great songs. I'll represent each one of them on this playlist, but know that this will only scratch the surface of this fantastic band. I hope you take the time to listen and discover the band if you are unfamiliar with them.

1. The Concept (from Bandwagonesque) - I have to start with the opening track from their 1991 breakthrough, an album that was famously chose as Album of the Year by Spin over Nirvana's Nevermind. This is a Norman Blake song that opens with "She wears denim wherever she goes/Says she's going to get some records by the Status Quo/Oh yeah" and features wonderful harmony vocals, a great guitar solo, and a soaring minutes long outro that features another guitar solo. Six minutes plus of power pop heaven.

2. Don't Look Back (from Grand Prix) - Speaking of power pop, this seemingly effortless song from Gerard Love is prime example. There's a great melody, cool harmonies, a hint of organ, and guitars all over the place while Love sings "Don't look back/On an empty feeling." I won't.

3. Planets (from Songs from Northern Britain) - This is my favorite album and I absolutely adore this Blake song. The lyrics are absolutely lovely, telling the story of Norman moving to the country. The music matches that loveliness - the melody is perfect, the strings aren't overpowering, the repeating drum fill accentuates the song in just the right way, and that synth solo is sublime. I don't usually listen to songs on repeat, but I could with this one.

4. The Fall (from Shadows) - The band has only put out three albums since 2000, including the new one, which could be disappointing if you look at it from a quantitative perspective. From a qualitative perspective, though, there is nothing to be sad about. Take this Raymond McGinley song from 2010, for example. It's quieter than some of their 90s output, but it is just as well-written. A bed of strummed acoustic guitar is accented by keys and another cool drum fill, with a beautiful darting guitar solo. The song make a shift with about two minutes to go, and we get this amazing lyric - "When I light a fire underneath what I want/I won't feel sad/Only warmed by the loss." Wow.

5. Born Under a Good Sign (from Man-Made) - Anyone who claims that Teenage Fanclub stopped rocking somewhere in 1997 need only listen to this Love contribution to the band's 2005 album (and their first for Merge). It's a 3 minute guitar workout and it's great.

6. Escher (from Thirteen) - This album tends to be the one I overlook. I shouldn't because it's really good, but it comes after Bandwagonesque and right before the one-two punch of Grand Prix and Songs from Northern Britain, so... Anyway, I'm partial to this McGinley track, called "Escher" because the chorus is "Don't know if I'm going up or down/With you/Don't know if I'm coming going up or down/With you/And I don't mind," which is perfect, right?

7. I Need Direction (from Howdy!) - This Love song is a rarity in that it channels The Beach Boys rather than Big Star or The Beatles, with its "ba ba ba"s and its organ solo. Actually, this whole album is a rarity, in that it's a bit more eclectic than the typical TFC album, but it works.

8. I'm in Love (from Here) - This was the first song released in advance of their new album and it's a perfect song. Blake's songs tend to speak directly to me and this ode to how all you need in life is the love of a partner speaks loud and clear. It helps that it's a driving power gem with a great little guitar solo. Can't wait to hear it in concert.

9. I Don't Want Control Of You (from Songs from Northern Britain) - This one starts with chirping birds and a banjo before slamming into gorgeous harmonies. Blake sings the lead and remember what I said about his songs speaking to me? This one could be my theme song for my relationship with my wife - "I don't want control of you/That doesn't matter to me" and "Every day I look in a different face/Feelings getting stronger with every embrace" and "Don't want this love to stay the same/Growing with every year" say it all. The music matches perfectly and there's even a key change! Our wedding song was Springsteen's "If I Should Fall Behind" and I still love it dearly, but if we were ever to renew our vows (which, granted, isn't really our style), this would be the song. I hope I hear them play it Friday night.

10. Don't Hide (from Man-Made) - I decided to close out this playlist with the closing song from this album. It's a McGinley song where he does that great trick of a great first half that morphs into a different, yet equally great second half. It's an ode to being yourself ; "Why dim your own star?" he asks in the first half before going onto to state in the second half that "I didn't know that my life was wrong/Until the right person came along." That could sum up my feelings about this band. I didn't know what I had missed out on all those years until the band came into my life. For that, I have to thank B. Clay Moore, who put "Is This Music?" on a mix CD he made for my in the late 90s called Eine Kleine Steinmusic and sent me down the path of discovery. I hope this playlist can do the same for at least one of you.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sunday Shuffle #429

Lots to do and I want to be able to do some reading and watching for me as well, so let's get right to today's ten...

1. Sleep Tonight/Stars (9) - last played on 5/1/16
2. Wet Cement/The Morning Benders (8) - last played on 12/22/10
3. Sweet Tooth/King Khan And The Shrines (5) - last played on 12/16/12
4. Neglekted/The Afghan Whigs (29) - last played on 8/15/14
5. The Next Messiah/Jenny Lewis (7) - last played on 10/27/13
6. The Hill/Ty Segall (13) - last played on 11/1/15
7. Got It Bad/The Broken West (10) - last played on 9/2/12
8. The Meat Of Life/Clem Snide (18) - last played on 3/11/15
9. Apocalypse Dreams/Tame Impala (4) - last played on 11/3/14
10. 15 Step/Radiohead (18) - last played on 3/13/16

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Shuffle #428

Today feels like a shuffle day, so let's get right to today's ten...

1. Nothing Is Good Enough/Aimee Mann (5) - last played on 11/1/15
2. Atom/British Sea Power (3) - last played on 3/13/11
3. Kingdom of Love/The Soft Boys (9) - last played on 4/10/16
4. House Of Cards/Radiohead (22) - last played on 11/13/15
5. Jealousy/Spoon (11) - last played on 6/20/15
6. Museum Of Flight/Damien Jurado (15) - last played on 3/22/16
7. Little Hill/Telekinesis (14) - last played on 9/1/15
8. Revenge/Spoon (10) - last played on 6/5/15
9. It Takes All Kinds/Aimee Mann (4) - last played on 3/10/15
10. Baby, We'll Be Fine/The National (5) - last played on 3/4/16

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Sculpt #1

I mentioned about a month ago that I was unsure whether I wanted to go forward with the Sunday Shuffle on a regular basis or not. I've had the idea of the Sunday Sculpt in my head for many months, but I wasn't sure if it was something I really wanted to commit to. Well, I can at least try it out and see if I like it. So, here we are.

What is the Sunday Sculpt? It's a way for me to include music by artists that I mostly have on CD. Obviously, I can't shuffle massive amounts of albums, as would be the case for, say, Springsteen or Tom Petty. I still don't want to ignore all this music I love. I also like creating playlists, but I haven't really put one together in a while. The Sunday Sculpt is a way to combine those two desires. I'll come up with a spontaneous playlist for one artist (or maybe based around a theme at some point) and instead of putting play counts and last played information, I'll write a few words about why I chose the song or what have you. I'm not necessarily going to abandon the Sunday Shuffle either; perhaps some months will be equally split between the two, or maybe I'll get into a groove with one or the other. Please let me know what you think of the idea and if you have any suggestions.

For the inaugural edition, I'm going to focus on the Drive-By Truckers. They're putting out a new album, American Band, on Friday and I'm really excited to hear it. Three tracks have been released ahead of the album and I've liked them all. I became a fan of the band when I first heard them on KEXP when The Dirty South was coming out in 2004. I went to visit my brother that fall and heard Decoration Day for the first time; I was all in. I have every one of their albums, including the B-sides collection, the three live records, and a couple DVDs. Ten songs can't begin to cover everything I love about this band, but it's a start. For today, I'll just focus on songs by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, who are currently the only members of the band writing for their records. I hope you check out the songs on Spotify.

1. Lookout Mountain (from The Dirty South) - This was my first favorite song of theirs. The riff is so strong and crushing that you can just get lost in it. Once you listen to the lyrics, you're crushed even further by this tale of despair. Who's going to lay there passing blame, indeed, Patterson.

2. Marry Me (from Decoration Day) - "Well, my daddy didn't pull out/But he never apologized/Rock and roll means well/But it can't help telling young boys lies" is how this Cooley track starts and it's a perfect example of his way with words. His way with music is pretty good too, as this song is a prime slab of Stones-like rock.

3. Sinkhole (from Decoration Day) - Here's another angry Hood song about bankers set to a galloping beat and another great riff. This one is dark - the narrator goes so far to suggest murdering the banker man and still being able to go to church and look the preacher in the eye. I love it.

4. Carl Perkins' Cadillac (from The Dirty South) - "Life ain't nothing but a blending up of all the ups and downs" is how Cooley starts this tale of Sam Phillips, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash back in the Sun Records days. It's a great story set to a lighter beat with some twang in the guitar. I could keep going with songs off of these two albums, but let's move on to something else next...

5.  That Man I Shot (from Brighter Than Creation's Dark) - I love this album and I wanted to make sure it was represented. This song is about a soldier wrestling with killing a man, even though that killing may have been justified. The lyrics are raw and the music matches it, wailing guitars and all.

6. A Ghost To Most (from Brighter Than Creation's Dark) - "I guess I'll never grow sideburns/It's a shame with all I got to go between" is yet another killer opening line from Cooley. Frankly, this song is full of fantastic lines. It's also a more-acoustic based song with some great slide guitar acting as the main riff.

7. Let There Be Rock (from Southern Rock Opera) - This is Hood's story of growing up, getting drunk, and going to rock shows. It is so full of life that I can't help but smile when I listen. It rocks well enough to live up to its title too - check those twin guitar leads at the end!

8. Birthday Boy (from The Big To-Do) - Cooley with another great story song about a stripper who has no illusions about the men who come to ogle her (and more). It's sad and smart and full of wry humor - "Pretty girls from the smallest towns/Get remembered like storms and drought/That old men talk about for years to come/I guess that's why they give us names/So a few old men can say they saw us rain when we were young." Great, right?

9. Zip City (from Southern Rock Opera) - My favorite Cooley song, though, is this one right here. It tells the story of a kid who's looking to get laid, but his girlfriend isn't putting out. He's also looking for something more in life and knows that this girl isn't his only chance. For now, he's marking time and waiting to make his move. The riff is perfect and Cooley sings the hell out of it.

10. Grand Canyon (from English Oceans) - Hood has a knack for writing sprawling, ruminative songs that close many of their albums (see also "Angels and Fuselage," "A World of Hurt," and "Monument Valley"). This one was written for their merch guy, Craig Lieske, who passed away much too young. It's a beautiful song and a great way to close out this first Sunday Sculpt.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Shuffle #427

I've still been on a high from last weekend's Matthew Sweet show and have shuffled his music a handful of times since then. Heck, I'm even wearing my brand-new Matthew Sweet shirt that my wife bought me. Rather than subject you to yet another Sunday Sweet, I decided to just make this a regular episode. Usually, I let the shuffle run all day, but I started the great Drive-By Truckers live album, It's Great To Be Alive!, last night and I want to get back to that. The new DBTs album is less than 2 weeks away! Okay, enough geeking out about music; it's time for today's ten...

1. Reptile Style/Reigning Sound (6) - last played on 4/5/15
2. Care of Cell 44/The Zombies (14) - last played on 3/6/16
3. NW Apt./Band of Horses (30) - last played on 6/8/16
4. Uglier/Redd Kross (5) - last played on 3/14/15
5. Heartbreaker/The Walkmen (24) - last played on 11/7/15
6. The Rake's Song/The Decemberists (7) - last played on 12/13/15
7. Charmer/Aimee Mann (19) - last played on 7/16/16
8. I, The Kite/Centro-Matic (11) - last played on 12/20/15
9. What Jail Is Like/The Afghan Whigs (21) - last played on 11/29/15
10. Never Coming Home/Reigning Sound (6) - last played on 6/29/16

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Heavy Rotation #29

One problem I've had with listening to a majority of music via Spotify is that I don't have a record of what I've been listening to...which sometimes means I forget about music that I really like. I decided to start writing down what I listen to back on July 10, so I have a pretty good idea of the albums I've listened to quite a bit since then. So, here's what I've been into...

Big Thief/Masterpiece - I first heard the title track on All Songs Considered and was immediately taken with its rock crunch, jagged guitar solo, and the sweeping voice of lead singer Adrianne Lenkar. I was happy that the rest of the album lived up to the promise of that first song. The opener, "Little Arrow," is bare bones, just an acoustic guitar and Lenkar's voice; it feels like a field recording, with some slight distortion or maybe a blown speaker effect. It's an affecting little tune and makes the guitar and drums opening of "Masterpiece" that much more effective. As much as I love "Masterpiece," my favorite song might be "Real Love," which takes everything great about "Masterpiece" and doubles down - the drums crash, the guitar is all over the place, and "real love is a heart attack." Other songs of note include "Interstate," with its guitar line right in sync with the vocals and the coda of a little girl singing about liking cars and trucks; "Paul," a dissection of a relationship that quietly pulses yet has emotive guitar that comes out of nowhere; and "Parallels," which closes out the album in a stirring, chiming fashion. This is Big Thief's debut album and I'm already looking forward the hearing their next one.

Car Seat Headrest/Teens of Denial - I hadn't heard of Car Seat Headrest before last year's sort-of compilation Teens of Style, but I really liked it. This new album? Even better. Teens of Denial comes barreling out of the gate with "Fill in the Blank," all guitars and drums and "I'm so sick of/Fill in the blank." The second track, "Vincent," takes its time with a long guitar intro before delving into horns, a groovy bassline, feedback-laden guitar, and more over the course of almost 8 minutes. "Destroyed By Hippie Powers" announces its presence with authoritative guitar and drums before backing off a bit...and then building back up again; I love to air guitar and/or drum along. That's the first 3 songs and 17 minutes of this 12 song, 70 minute album. Some songs have ridiculously long titles and the whole album feels overstuffed, but in the best way possible. Does that make any sense? TL; DR, it's great and you should listen.

case/lang/veirs//case/lang/veirs - That's Neko Case, k..d lang, and Laura Veirs, if you don't know. I've loved Case for years, both as a solo artist and as a member of New Pornographers; only knew lang from "Constant Craving"; and have heard a couple Veirs albums (and own one!). I was interested to hear what this collaboration would sound like. They smartly open the album with "Atomic Number," where they trade lines and sing together beautifully on the chorus. From there, they take turns signing lead and back-up. lang's "Honey and Smoke" is all swoon and Veirs' "Song for Judee" is elegant, melancholy folk pop. Case's first lead comes on the fifth track, "Delirium," and opens with "I kissed you in the morning/But only in my mind's eye," which is followed by a little twang in the guitar. Love those little moments. This is classic Case and I love it. I also love the bounce, background "ba da ba da"s, and strings of Veirs' "Best Kept Secret." Then there's Case's "Supermoon," which has some driving acoustic guitar that's accented by ominous guitar plucks and strings

Dinosaur Jr./Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not - This is already Dino Jr.'s 4th album since they reformed a decade ago and released Beyond in 2007. That album and the two subsequent albums, Farm and I Bet On Sky, are all really good. If you're not familiar with the band, pressing play on this new one and listening to "Goin Down" will give you a really good idea of their sound - buzzing guitars, the narcotic vocals of J Mascis, and the decidedly non-narcotic guitar soloing. Seriously, the solo on "Goin Down" is fantastic. And really, the solo on "Tiny," the second song, is pretty darn great too. I don't want to forget about Lou Barlow, bassist and the other songwriter. I really enjoy his surging and tuneful "Love Is...," which also benefits from Mascis' guitar. Murph's drums sounds really good this time around as well. I'd also like to note the sludgy "I Walk For Miles," which could have been on You're Living All Over Me" (this is a compliment) and "Lost All Day," which is a seemingly effortless rocker that is of a piece with the early 90s output of the band. If you like rock music, this is one to check out.

Lydia Loveless/Real - I didn't know Loveless before her last album, Somewhere Else, came out in 2014, but that album was one of my favorite that year. Real has a slightly different sound, a little more pop and a little less twang, but it still features her powerhouse of a voice and her direct lyrics. "Same To You" opens the album with a cool bassline, some wailing guitars, and great chorus. "Longer" adds a nifty synth part to the proceedings. "Heaven" is the poppiest song on the album, but the bass is the through line and holds everything together. My favorite just might be the smoldering "Out On Love," where Loveless' voice is the star of the show, raw and full of longing. I'll admit I wasn't feeling this album so much the first couple listens, but it really opened up the more I listened. So, if it doesn't grab you right away, keep giving it a chance. After all, an album with a song that references Pyromania ("Midwestern Guys") has got to be good, yeah?

Martha - Blisters in the Pit of My Heart - One of the reason why I keep up with new music is that I love discovering a new or new-to-me band that I instantly fall in love with. My first exposure to Martha came via a friend's Spotify playlist of his radio show (hi, Josh!) and their song "Goldman's Detective Agency." It's a bouncy power pop song with the bass and drums as the engine in the verses and the guitars as the jet fuel thrust on the chorus and bridge. Speaking of the chorus, "Come on, gumshoe/Be the one to/Help me out" is pretty darn great. I've seen reviews calling this pop punk and I said power pop earlier, but those two styles are all of a piece. Like the best power pop, it takes a few listens for the songs to reveal themselves as the gems they are. Also like the best power pop, the lyrics are playful, such as "You're good for my mind/But not my productivity" (from "11:45, Legless in Brandon") and the many nods to Westerberg songs in "St. Paul's (Westerberg Comprehensive)." In addition, this album employs some of my favorite things - songs bleeding into the next one, multiple lead singers (plus harmonies and great background vocals), and an embedded album title ("Ice Cream and Sunscreen" provides it). All of that said, my favorite song is probably the 7 minute penultimate track, "Do Nothing." It comes on like Weezer's "Only In Dreams," with everything resting on the bass at first, adrenalized guitars coming in, and an epic build...but then it shifts to a new section buoyed by acoustic guitars and yet another bouncy beat before giving way to a great guitar solo all while repeating "Everything is infinite/But nothing is eternal." So good! I know I've written a ton about this, but I've had such fun listening to this album and I want to encourage everyone to check it out.

Modern Baseball/Holy Ghost - Speaking of bands who work in the pop-punk vein that I didn't know anything about, Modern Baseball has been around for a few albums. I remember seeing the name but never bothered investigating further. Steven Hyden, one of my favorite music writers, was very high on this album, which pushed me to check it out. Hyden was not wrong. There are two songwriters in the band, Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, and Holy Ghost splits their songs down the middle with Ewald's half first. After my first few listens, I decalred the Ewald's side was my favorite but Lukens had my favorite song - "Apple Cider, I Don't Mind." Since then, however, I've come to appreciate the balance between the two. The album opens with the 1-minute title track, with its acoustic guitar and "my third wish has always been three more" as feedback starts layering in and then it slams into "Wedding Singer," which is a straight-up rocker. The lyrics are raw, honest, and sharp throughout. The music is anthemic in places, more restrained in others while still offering forward propulsion. "Apple Cider, I Don't Mind" is churning and yearning; album closer, "Just Another Face" is atmospheric and bleak and beautiful while still bringing the rock. The album is over in 27 minutes, but it doesn't feel short; in fact, it just makes you want to press play again.

The Sun Days/Album - We close out this edition of Heavy Rotation with another band I didn't know. I'm pretty sure I heard "Don't Need To Be Them" on a Music That Matters podcast from KEXP, always a reliable source of good music. I was instantly captivated by its jangly guitars and the vocals, which reminded me of Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura. In fact, if you imagine Camera Obscura as a more upbeat, jangle pop band, you'd have the right sound for this album. I really like it. This is another 8 song album released this year (Pinegrove, for example) and it's over after 30 minutes, but I think the brevity works. We get just enough of this sound without feeling burned out. I'm not saying every song sounds the same but they are certainly of a piece. They are also all high quality and "Fear" sends the album out on the perfect (ringing) notes.