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Heavy Rotation #24

It's been well over a year since the last Heavy Rotation but I've been hitting these albums pretty hard over the past couple weeks, so it's time for a new installment...

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals/Cold Roses - I think I've mentioned by big Ryan Adams listen last fall in the run-up to his great self-titled release. I'd been a fan in the early 2000s and then lost touch due to the sheer volume of music he put out. Out of all the albums that were new to me, Cold Roses made the biggest impression. It's a double album and while that can sometimes lead to bloat, I've always admired the ambition of doing one (and I don't think there's bloat in this case). "Magnolia Mountain," a perfect shambling rocker, opens the album and it's followed by the more melancholy "Sweet Illusions"; a great 1-2 punch. Later on the first disc, I love the repeated "I could never close/I could never get close enough/I could never get close enough...to you" in the last 2 minutes or so of "Cherry Lane." The second song on the second disc, "Let It Ride" is a catchy country rock tune that was featured on Adams' recent Austin City Limits appearance. It would be silly to talk about every song but a quick couple of other highlights are the title track and "If I Am A Stranger," which starts with a nice guitar line and serves up a great melody on the chorus.

Band of Horses/Mirage Rock - A friend of mine recently did some artwork based around lines of songs she and her husband love and shared them with me. One piece focuses on "No One's Gonna Love You," from Band of Horses' 2007 album, Cease To Begin; that makes me happy because I turned her on to BoH a few years back. Add to that a recent announcement that the band has a new album coming in a few months lead me to circle back to this album, their most recent, which came out in 2012. I bought it when it came out, of course, but only listened to it 3 or 4 times before shrugging my shoulders and giving up. I'd loved 2010's Infinite Arms and this record was clearly not that. Cut to now and while it still isn't quite Infinite Arms, it's also a lot better than I gave it credit. I always liked the crunch and chiming guitars of opener "Knock Knock" as well as its wonderful "woo"s but a couple other songs have knocked me out. Take "How To Live," for example. After a short rave-up opening section, it settles into a steady groove with a great melody and excellent harmonies before a nifty guitar solo after the bridge and a cool drum fill to return to the verse. The drum fill comes back one more time too and so does the rave-up to close out the song. It's now one of my favorite BoH songs. That's followed by "Slow Cruel Hands Of Time," which has their classic sounds, and later by "Dumpster World," which starts with a loping little bass line and a shuffle with a CSN sound and crashes into heavier guitar for its middle section before reverting to the previous sounds in the outro. The other song that bowled me over and made me wonder what I thought I originally heard was "Long Vows." It's a ballad with some nice guitar over slow acoustic strums and has gorgeous harmonies. So good. I'm definitely excited for the new material but am content to stay immersed in this album until that happens.

Buffalo Tom/Big Red Letter Day - Sometimes I wonder what music I was listening to in the 90s. Sure, I was down with Matthew Sweet and R.E.M. and The Jayhawks (for a very small example) but I was not listening to Superchunk and Teenage Fanclub and Pavement (same). I know, I know. Buffalo Tom is another example of what I missed out on for so many years. I grabbed their 1992 album Let Me Come Over via eMusic 4 or 5 years ago and really liked it. It's only now, however, that I've given 1993's Big Red Letter Day a go and this was the album that had their alt-rock hit, "Sodajerk," a song I really loved. Again, stupid. Call it power pop or rock but this is a sound I love. The albums leads with "Sodajerk"; the song is propelled by the bass and drums and is a great example of two vocalists working together with one echoing the other throughout the verses. Also, there's no chorus. If you were around in the early 90s and listened to the radio, you probably know it. "I'm Allowed" begins with "Waited for an answer/But I waited for 25 years" and is emotional melodic rock music before "emo" ever existed. Two other highlights are 'Torch Singer," which lyrically gives the album its title and musically is a great 3 minute pop song, and album closer "Anything That Way," which brings back the emotion and the dual vocalists and all the band's strengths.

Ex Hex/Rips - Yes, the album was my #5 in 2014 and I wrote a brief bit about it not that long ago. I haven't gotten tired of their brand of rock music. It's hard-charging and melodic and Mary Timony gives us some great guitar solos. I love love love it.

Ben Kweller/Changing Horses - After I went back to Mirage Rock, I decided I should give this album another go as well. I absolutely love Kweller's self-titled 2006 album; in fact, were I to make a list of my favorite albums ever it would have a place. I also really love Go Fly A Kite from 2012; those two albums are power pop at its best. Changing Horses came in between those albums and I've always had a hard time with it, mostly stemming from the musical style - it's much more of a country-leaning album. I obviously don't have a problem with that sort of music but the fit just seems off. That said, I have been enjoying listening and songs like "Fight," "Wantin' Her Again," and "Things I Like To Do" are quite enjoyable. Maybe the song that best synthesizes Kweller's typical strengths with the sound of this album is "On Her Own," where the melody is strong and the piano is just as prominent as the steel guitar.

Sleater-Kinney/No Cities To Love - This band falls into that same category of bands I should have been listening to in the 90s. I only got into them with their last album, The Woods, which came out back in 2005. It was a monster of an album but when they went on their hiatus, I mostly forgot about them. I've dabbled in their earlier albums a bit in the last year and was ready to hear this new one. It is so good that I was sure it would be in the top ten for the year when I first heard it. The interplay of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker's guitars is always compelling and Janet Weiss is one of the best drummers working today. Tucker totally owns the vocals on the album but Brownstein's vocal contributions aren't lesser in any way. It's a tight ten songs full of fire and fury. How many bands could be gone for so long and come back like this?

Twerps/Range Anxiety - Here's a band I knew nothing about before this year. They are from Australia and this record is being put out by Merge Records (and if you know me, you know I always give Merge acts a shot). I would describe them as jangle pop and they remind me a bit of The Go-Betweens, which is a very good thing. After a short instrumental, the album kicks off with "I Don't Mind," which starts with a languid drum beat and guitar line and builds from there. "Back to You" is a bouncy pop tune with a sneaky little synth riff. "Simple Feelings" stands out for its bass riff and the guitars that get layered over top. The band also uses its two vocalists well - while the underlying music remains similar, the juxtaposition between the male and female singers is a pleasant one. This is a charming album that will worm its way into your head.

I hope my ramblings have persuaded you to give at least some of these albums a listen - they're all on Spotify!

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