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Heavy Rotation #26 and Other Summer Sounds


I've been meaning to get to a Heavy Rotation for a couple weeks now and just haven't managed it. I'm a little past the prime period I listened to these albums, which was probably mid-July to mid-August, but I did play them quite a bit during that time and wanted to talk about them.

Jason Isbell/Something More Than Free - I was very excited for this album to come out. For starters, Isbell's previous album, Southeastern, was one of my favorite albums of 2013 (maybe even #1?). Secondly, the two songs that came out before the album's release, "24 Frames" and the title track, were great. Finally, all the early reviews were extremely positive. The good news is that I was not disappointed in the least; in fact, this album will probably make my top ten for the year. Take "24 Frames," for instance: "You thought God was an architect, now you know/He's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow/And everything you built that's all for show goes up in flames/In 24 frames." Wow. Those lyrics are coupled with a soaring melody and a great slide guitar part, which all work together to make a knockout of a song. "Children of Children" is another powerful song, where Isbell sings about his teenage mom: "All the years you took from her just by being born." But the sadness of the song is buoyed by a sneaky bass line, a snare crack, and an fiery guitar solo that lasts almost two minutes at the end of the song. I'm also partial to the country shuffle and easy melodies (especially on the chorus) of "The Life You Chose." Isbell excels at the marriage of lyrics and music. He tells stories in such a visceral way while never skimping on the musicality; his band is sharp and he is a guitar player of the highest order. The album as a whole is a mix of folk and rock, with acoustic guitars having an edge over electric ones. I think it's another winner. Oh, and you should also listen to his set from the Newport Folk Festival from this past summer, which you can via NPR Music in various ways.

INXS/Listen Like Thieves - I think INXS is underrated. That said, I've underrated them myself. This album came out 30 years ago next month but I never picked it up back then, even though "What You Need" was one of my favorite songs when it was released as a single in December 1985. What a lead-off for the album too - the groove is killer and it's a brilliant blast of a pop song. It doesn't sound as dated as some of the music from that time period can sound either. The title track is the second song on the album and it doesn't let up with its sharp guitars and driving bass and drums (there's a little bit of sax in there too!). There are the great pop songs I knew, like "Shine Like It Does" and "This Time," and the great pop songs that I didn't know, like "Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)" and "One X One." Sometimes a solid pop album is exactly what you need.

R.E.M./The I.R.S. years - I went down this particular rabbit hole thanks to the Dad Rock podcast (see below) and their 7th episode, which was all about R.E.M. in the early part of their career. This time period includes the Chronic Town EP, as well as Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life's Rich Pageant, and Document. This was not the period that I got into the band; sure, I heard "The One I Love" on the radio just like everyone else but it wasn't until Out of Time that I got into the band. Of course, I worked my way backwards over the years but it took a long time before I got to everything. And honestly, I'd never really dug into Chronic Town. Mistake. It is jangle pop goodness with amazing drumming by Bill Berry and I have completely fallen for it (favorite songs are "Gardening At Night" and "1,000,000"). While I always liked Murmur, I don't think I ever fell for it the way I have recently. I'm now a huge fan of "Moral Kiosk," "Sitting Still," and "Shaking Through." Reckoning was the R.E.M. album I came to last, some time after the Live From the Olympia album came out in 2009. Outside of the more well-known songs, I'm also partial to "Harborcoat" and "Second Guessing," which has become one of my all-time favorite R.E.M. songs. While Fables remains my least favorite of this era, Life's Rich Pageant might have surpassed Document as my favorite. This is not only due to the strength of the well-known songs but deeper cuts like "Just A Touch," "These Days," and "I Believe" with its banjo opener and classic R.E.M. jangly chord changes. I do still love "Welcome to the Occupation" and "Disturbance At the Heron House," though.

Veruca Salt - Ghost Notes - I was not a Veruca Salt fan back in the 90s. Sure, I liked "Seether" but that's as far as I ever got with their music. This new album is the first one with both Nina Gordon and Louise Post (and the original band too) since 1997. I'd read some positive reviews and decided to give it a try. What I ended up with was an album that could very well land in my top ten this year. This is self-assured rock music, muscular and melodic with harmonies to boot. I dig the lean pulse of "Prince of Wales" with its repeated "I remember that..." lines and how it opens up at the chorus each time and again at the end. I like the piano that comes in on "Love You Less," which works both with the bass that drives the song and the guitars the come forward during the bridge. "Come Clean, Dark Thing" also features the bass prominently but it's all about those harmonies on "You can breathe the air again" while the guitar squeals underneath. Honestly, there's not a bad song in the bunch. It's one of those albums that you want to play again when it finishes. How can you resist?

Wilco/Star Wars - Depending on the day, I might answer Wilco to the question of who my favorite band is. Imagine my surprise when they announced on July 16 that they had a new album and it was free to download. Of course, I downloaded it right away and started listening. I like it. I don't love it but I like it. It's short and while it's not experimental, it's also not typical Wilco. The best description I have for it is angular. There are sharp edges and squalling guitars and Tweedy keeps his vocals in a very narrow range for many of the songs. "You Satellite" is dirge-like and has a Velvet Underground quality to it. "Pickled Ginger" has some great Glenn Kotchke drumming (really, he's the secret weapon of the whole album). "Taste the Ceiling" is the most Wilco-sounding of all the tracks but my favorite is probably "Magnetized," which closes the album and might be the best album closer they have. It features minor-key keyboards, percussion that sounds like a turn-signal, and starts and stops in the early going before everything starts opening up.


Podcasts remain a steady part of my pop culture diet and I was able to listen to a fair amount over the summer, between all my walks to and from the library and my trips to and from the Y for work as well as the usual listening opportunities. There are a few podcasts I discovered or rediscovered over the past few months and wanted to share them with you.

All the Books! - This is the newest podcast from Book Riot and features Rebecca Schinsky and Liberty Hardy talking about the week's book releases. They each pick several books to highlight and their easy rapport and enthusiasm for books and is infectious. I don't have any problem finding books to read but not only do I learn of new books but sometimes their words will make me bump up something from my TBR. An example of that was The Library At Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, which Liberty recommended highly. I loved it so much that it might be my favorite read of the summer. I've taken to listen to new episodes on Sunday mornings while I'm cleaning the house. Don't know why, exactly, but it works for me. If you want to read all the books like I (and they) do, give them a listen.

Dad Rock - I know. I know, I know, I know. And yes, I hate the term too. It's so dismissive and there's no way that having a child automatically puts you in a category of being out of touch musically. Well, Jim Linehan and Patrick Foster of USA Today are trying to take back the name with this podcast. It's a different take on a music podcast and I really like it. Since I discovered it earlier this summer, I've listened to 23 episodes (6 of which are mini-episodes, or "bonus tracks"), which means I'm just over halfway to being caught up. Episodes have ranged from the one on R.E.M.'s I.R.S. years (see above) to overviews of The Replacements and John Mellencamp to single album dissections of Blood on the Tracks and Sticky Fingers to talking to their kids about music. I enjoy listening.

Mike and Tom Eat Snacks - This was one of my first favorite podcasts back in 2011; in fact, it made my Top 5 Podcasts list that year. I started falling further behind as I got into more and more podcasts and I eventually stopped listening. There was no real reason other than inertia. Well, this summer I've finally gone back and picked up where I left off (which was back in 2012). The good news is that they've taken some long hiatuses and I'm not as far behind as I could have been. The better news is that I still find the podcast hugely entertaining as they eat snacks, rate snacks, and goof off together.

Spontaneanation - It's no secret that Paul F. Tompkins is comedy podcast gold. His appearances on Comedy Bang Bang are always worth listening to, for example. He has experience with doing his own podcasts as well but this is something new. PFT starts each episode of this podcast by welcoming the audience and going off on some tangent. He then interviews a guest based around a question from the previous week's guest. Finally, he and three other improvisers build a 30 minute or so scene around a suggestion from the current week's guest. His cast of improvisers rotates but regularly includes Marc Evan Jackson, Chris Tallman, and Janet Varney (I love Varney's laughter in each episode long before she's introduced). The show is completely delightful, often hilarious, and never disappointing.

U Talkin' U2 To Me? - Speaking of Comedy Bang Bang, this podcast of co-hosted by Scott Aukerman (CBB host) and Adam Scott (late of Parks & Recreation). The joke is that their voices sounds so similar they might as well be one person named Adam Scott Aukerman. Ostensibly, this podcast is all about U2 - a comprehensive look at the band from Boy to Boots (get them on, that is). While they do get around to talking about the band and their albums, there are also many hilarious digressions about such topics as Harry Potter, little boys wanting to be big boys, and films (they embed "episodes" of "I Love Films"). I think you could listen to this without caring much about U2. They recently interviewed the band themselves but I'm still working on catching up to that point. This is a good, um, podcast.


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