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Heavy Rotation #31

I can't remember the last time I had such a short span between Heavy Rotation posts. I am going to only talk about 4 albums and 1 EP, which might have something to do with it. My listening has been more scattershot and less concentrated than usual, which has a lot to do with this being my first year as a teacher. Still, I've listened to these albums quite a bit in the last 5 or so weeks and I wanted to get down some thoughts on them, especially with the big releases coming up in the next month or so. Stating the obvious here, but boy, do I love music!

Middle Kids/Middle Kids EP - I first heard this band on KEXP (side note: I miss summer because I my schedule doesn't allow me to stream John in the Morning right now), specifically the song "Edge of Town." It begins it muted fashion, just some guitar and getting the melody established. It starts expanding as the song goes along, with a simple yet effective guitar solo almost 2 minutes in, then it pulls that great trick of quieting back down before exploding around the 3 minute mark. If you're curious about the band, play it and you'll be hooked. The rest of the 6-song EP is pretty great as well. Opener "Your Love" is total indie pop with a soaring melody and some interesting flourishes mid-song. "I'll be your tornado, baby/Twisting through the air" is an early line in "Never Start," which has a drumbeat you can dance to underpinning another plaintively soaring melody. And yes, I release I keep mentioning melody, but I want to emphasize how easy it is to be captivated by these songs and how easy it is to sing along after only a couple listens. Middle Kids reminds me a bit of Deep Sea Diver, especially on the guitar freakout and the end of "Old River." This is a good thing, because Deep Sea Diver is also great. Album closer "Doing It Right" is piano and voice and reminds me not only of DSD, but Fiona Apple. All of this is to say, I highly recommend you check this EP out - at under 20 minutes, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Sheer Mag/Need To Feel Your Love - I'd heard of Sheer Mag long before I heard their music, in large part because their initial EPs weren't on Spotify. They did release a compilation of those EPs earlier this year, but it wasn't until I knew the album was coming out that I even discovered that fact. I gave it one spin, thought the songs got stronger as it went, and felt ready to hear their debut album. Turns out I actually wasn't ready, because I was prepared for how much I would love it. This thing rocks. "Meet Me in the Street" starts of with a blast of a nifty guitar riff and pounding drums and the raw vocals of lead singer Tina Halladay - she even belts out a couple "hoo-uh!" The song even brings it the roar of a crowd. Honestly, it feels a bit like AC/DC. The next song, the title track, is a different kind of rock song, bouncier and a bit more angular, but just as catchy. "Turn It Up" reminds me of Ratt at times - this is not a problem. Every song is worth a mention but I'll just hit a few - "Can't Get Enough" is a classic rock song and would be a good test for whether you're into what this album is selling; "Suffer Me" brings the bass to the fore a bit more, where it gets to interact with two snaky guitars; and the bird sounds that randomly appear in the more plaintive "Milk and Honey," which starts with "In a dream I heard you call my name/We pass our ships in the night." The "rock is dead" debate has been going on for years; this album is proof that there's plenty of life left.

Matthew Sweet/Tomorrow Forever - In Heavy Rotation #30, I wrote about the lead single from this album, "Trick," and at the end of that section said, "There have been two more songs released since this came out and I think it is going to be a really good album." Guess what? I was right. You might think a 17-song, hour-long album from Sweet in 2017 would be a bloated bad idea, but that is not the case at all. Sweet sounded energized when I saw him in concert almost a year ago, playing much of Girlfriend, and it seems to have carried over into his songwriting and the studio. "Trick" is the first track and it's a perfect nugget of power pop. "You Knew Me" finds Sweet in ballad-mode, with beautiful self-harmonizing and a sprightly guitar line. "Circle" starts off with some power chords and "Dumbstruck twice in the face of my life/Somehow I never heard/There was time, time to get you back/Into my little world" and has an appealing chug with those harmonies and a more muscular guitar. "Music for Love" is all jangly guitars and goes directly to the pleasure center of my brain. "Carol" is a classic Sweet song, all power pop goodness with a soaring melody, harmonies, crunchy guitars, and a really good solo. Finally, "End Is Near" is a moody, slow burn that closes the album in fine fashion. All those great songs and yet that's only about a third of the album. We're 26 years past Girlfriend at this point (in my all-time top ten) and it's an amazing gift to have an album from Sweet that's this good.

The War On Drugs/Lost in the Dream - I was talking with my friend Scott the other night about how I slept on this album for years. I did love "Red Eyes" (because how could you not?), but when I listened to the whole thing a few years ago, I just didn't get it. However, in the run-up to their new album (A Deeper Understanding, released this past Friday), the band put out some great songs and I knew I had to revisit LitD. Sometimes you need to come to music at the right time and sometimes you need to give a few listens to let it sink in; I think those are both the case here. Take "Suffering," for example. I probably felt it was incredibly sleepy when I first heard it; now, however, I love the descending piano that pops up, the two different guitar tones, and the sax that creeps in at the end. "Eyes to the Wind" has an epic sweep - a little jangly at the start, piano prominent throughout, layered guitars, a soaring vocal, and more of that sweet sax at the end. Adam Granduciel has certainly listened to a lot of Springsteen in his life. Speaking of Springsteen, "Burning" has that Bruce-dynamism, charging drums and driving guitars and a slathering of organ and "woo"s and "yeah yeah yeah"s. "Love's the key to the things that you see" is a line in the title track, which is another favorite. That song also features some tasty harmonica and it the shortest song with lyrics (the instrumental "The Burning Idle" works as a 3-minute palate cleanser). I feel like I haven't done the best job is describing this album. It's been working its magic on my for the past few weeks and I may still be too much under its spell to be that coherent about its beauty and power. I am glad I finally found it and I'm ready to let the new album work its way into my brain.

Waxahatchee/Out in the Storm - "I spent all my time learning how to defeat/You and your own game it's embarrassing" is the first line when hear on this album, which is a bass/drum-driven power pop gem that also features stacked guitars. The first track should be the one that makes you want to listen to the whole album and "Never Been Wrong" accomplishes its mission and then some. "Silver" is another power pop gem, its drive balanced by beautiful "ooh"s and a great guitar solo to tie it all together; its lyrics also give the album its title and I love embedded album titles. The album isn't all power pop, though. "Recite Remorse" is rather sparse, mostly keys and bass for the first 3 minutes of its 4:38 run time; lyrically, it deals with the end of a relationship. "A Little More" is acoustic and contemplative. The point I'm making is that there is a great flow to this album, with the songs working together to form a whole that is compulsively listenable...and I've listened to it a lot since it came out in July. I hope that you listen to it, and all the other albums I've talked about here, as well.

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