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Heavy Rotation #25

It's become more difficult to become immersed in any particular albums over a concentrated period of time. I love the fact that Spotify exists because I get to hear way more music than I ever used to...but it also makes it harder to remember what I've been listening to in any given week. I also don't really listen to music in the car or while I'm walking in town or even doing the dishes; instead, I'm listening to podcasts. I love that medium and am always trying to catch up (and usually failing) on the ones I like while also trying new ones. All that said, I am still just as passionate about music and do get into grooves with some albums. Here are the ones I've been listening to the most in the past month or two...

Courtney Barnett/Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit - I first became aware of Barnett when I heard her song "Avant Gardener" (possibly via All Songs Considered). I loved her lyrics, which were delivered in a singsong style and laid on top of excellent indie rock. That song was part of a collection of EPs she put out in early 2014; she has now come out with her first full-length album and it is great. Her lyrics are just as sharp if not sharper and she piles words upon words and it works brilliantly. An example: "You said we should look out further, I guess it wouldn't hurt us/We don't have to be around all these coffee shops/Now we've got that percolator, never made a latte greater/I'm saving twenty-three dollars a week" (from "Depreston") Another example: "I'm growing older every time I blink my eyes/Boring, neurotic, everything I despise/We had some lows, we had some mids, we had some highs/Sell me all your golden rules and I'll see/If that's the kind of person I wanna be/If I'm not happy I'll be glad I kept the receipts" (from "Debbie Downer") If the lyrics don't get you, the song titles will - "Aqua Profunda!" and "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party" are highlights. The music is great here as well, from the blistering rock of "Pedestrian At Best" to the sleepy chug of "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)" to the acoustic beauty of "Depreston." Barnett's guitar is all over too, mostly notably on "Small Poppies" and "Kim's Caravan." That last song gets me every time as she sings "Take what you want from me" over and over again with background ohs and an ever increasing guitar build that smashes into raging chords and then some fiery playing. This album is one of the year's best.

Dawes/All Your Favorite Bands - I consider myself a fan of the first two Dawes albums, North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong, but for whatever reason I skipped Stories Don't End in 2013. Well, if I think about it I probably skipped it because a lot of bands were taking up their sonic space, bands I didn't like as much, and it bled over. Anyway, I figured I should check this one out and when I did I was very pleasantly surprised - either I had missed their sound or this album is particularly good or maybe a little of both. These are sturdy pop/rock songs, full of melody and insightful lyrics and harmonies and organ and some really interesting drum flourishes and a lot of solid guitar soloing. I feel like I'm damning with faint praise at this point but that isn't the case. These are songs that get stuck in your head and make you want to sing along. What more can you want from music?

Mac McCaughan/Non-Believers - I first came to McCaughan's songwriting via his Portastatic project, more specifically their 2005 album Bright Ideas. From there I started checking out Superchunk and fairly soon he was one of my favorite songwriters. Non-Believers is his first proper solo album and has a slightly different sound than his usual work, even if you factor in Portastatic. Synthesizers are a big feature with a sound harkening back to the early 80s in some respects but also totally of this time in others. I really like the interplay of the synths and McCaughan's usual guitar-based music. I also really like that he quotes Yoda: "There is no try/there is only do" from "Only Do." That song is a prime example of the interplay between guitar and synth - after the first chorus they intertwine lead lines and it works perfectly. And then he also puts heart on sleeve with "my compass is you." Even the more classic guitar-based songs like "Our Way Free" benefit from some synth. If you've never listened to McCaughan in any form, this would be a good place to start.

Spoon/Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - I've talked about Spoon a lot. They're one of my favorite bands. When I was shuffling through their music, I realized I hadn't listened to this album as a whole in a while. It's definitely in my top 3 as far as their albums are concerned. It starts with the blistering rock of "Don't Make Me A Target" then gets ethereal with a piano loop and spacey vocals on "The Ghost of You Lingers," which is followed by the bouncy pop of "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb." I love the jaunty horns of "The Underdog" and how the simple opening of acoustic guitar, piano, and shaker opens up into a fuller band sound in "Black Like Me."

Superchunk/Come Pick Me Up - The beauty of coming to Superchunk during their long 2000s hiatus meant that I was able to approach their albums in any order and without any preconceptions of what the band should sound like. Come Pick Me Up is their 7th album (it came out in 1999) but it was the 2nd one I heard, as I worked my way backwards from 2001's Here's To Shutting Up. The band just put out a reissue, which is what brought me back to it. The album opens with "So Convinced," which has an oddly flat drum sound that works with the buzzy bass. It is not the blast of power from their earlier work, though over the course of its 2 minutes the song pushes the pace faster and faster before slamming into "Hello Hawk." There's some unusual sounds in that song too, with a woozy undertone during the chours (which, by the way, gives the album its title via the lyrics "Hello hawk, come pick me up") before charging back into some prime guitar. Jim O'Rourke produced this album; he also worked with Wilco in the early 2000s during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost Is Born era. There are nice touches all over these songs - the "ooh ooh ooh"s of "Cursed Mirror" and the sneaky violin in "1000 Pounds" and the unexpected horns in the last minute of "Pink Clouds" to name three. Remember how I said earlier how Mac was one of my favorite songwriters? "Good Dreams" is a particular favorite with its heartfelt chorus ("Hold me all night/Give me good dreams") sung in falsetto; another favorite is "Pulled Muscle" with its chorus of "The heart's a muscle/I pull it constantly/Pull my muscles/Pull my muscles, please." Then there's 'Tiny Bombs" which gives us "How honest can I be?" with some sing-song "bongs" laid overtop and then a great guitar freakout to follow. I just love this band.

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