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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.

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