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Heavy Rotation #33

It's just under 2 months since the last Heavy Rotation, which might be the shortest gap between them ever. I also have a few others albums I played a handful of times, such as Violent Femmes' self-titled, but not quite enough to include here. A fact worth noting is that half of these I have been listening to via CD; in fact, I've picked up more CDs in the past few months than I have in years. Anyway, here are some words about what I've been spinning (physically or digitally) of late...

Buffalo Tom/Quiet and Peace - Last time out I wrote about their album Skins and talked a little about the band and my history with them. Quiet and Peace is their brand-new one and the third since their almost decade long hiatus; as much I like Skins, this one is even better.

The opener is "All Be Gone" and it was the first song to be released from the album. I liked it from the start - a charging beat, a soaring melody in the chorus, a tasty guitar solo. It took me a while to catch up to the lyrics, which are about the passage of time. Yes, this is middle-aged rock, but I will soon be 47 and sit squarely in that demographic. Here are the kicker lines - "But now my time behind is greater than my time ahead/Save up the minutes like flowers before they're all dead and gone." Damn. Sure helps that we get them in the context of a rock song with all the features mentioned a moment ago, though. Otherwise, I'd be a puddle of tears every time.

The album is full of other pleasures too. I woke up with "Freckles" stuck in my head the other morning. How could I not with the piano lead and steady bassline that just builds and supports a great Bill Janovitz melody and lyrics about wanting for your partner? "Roman Cars" is mid-tempo power pop with bassist Chris Colbourn taking lead (as he does on 3 other songs). If you want some classic-sounding Buffalo Tom, look no further than "Lonely Fast and Deep," which goes from "eh" to "awesome" in about one-and-a-half listens. The title of the album comes from the lyrics of "In the Ice"; I absolutely love embedded titles. They wrap up with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Only Living Boy in New York," which I wasn't really familiar with; it's a lovely song and a perfect ending to a great album.

First Aid Kit/Ruins - It's been a while since First Aid Kit's last album, Stay Gold, came out...4 years, to be exact. I really liked that previous album and was hopeful for the new one. Honestly? The first time I heard it, I thought it was okay. I kept listening, of course, because sometimes it takes a while. I'm glad I did too, because this one is really good.

The opening track, "Rebel Heart," is emblematic of how I initially felt about the album. I felt the first part of the song was pretty boring and that things kicked up 3:30 in. Now, though, I appreciate how the song shifts from that earlier part to the last two minutes, which are more up-tempo and give us some nice horns. The pieces do fit together. While the album is more subtle than the previous one, the first single, "It's A Shame," brings the goods. The Söderberg sisters layer a bouncing beat and some organ under their soaring harmonies for an effervescent pop song. The dramatic "Fireworks" sounds like an update of that classic girl group sound; "Postcard" leans to the country end of the spectrum, though the best thing about it might be the instrumental break with the call "Pick it, James!" that is immediately followed by a piano solo. The second half of the record is where you really need to listen to pick up those subtleties - handclaps in "My Wild Sweet Love" and the organ in "Distant Star" spring to mind. "Nothing Has To Be True" is a perfect album ender; it's plaintive and pretty and starts quietly before ending up as big as you'd want it to be. Give this album a few spins and I bet you'll be quite pleased.

Lilly Hiatt/Trinity Lane - It wasn't that long ago that I didn't know who Lilly Hiatt was. I mean, I correctly guessed by the name that she was John Hiatt's daughter, but I hadn't heard her music. It wasn't until someone named this album as one of their 2017 favorites on the Rockin' the Suburbs podcast and they played a snippet that I even thought about checking her out. Turns out she shares her father's gift for writing good songs.

"All Kinds Of People" is the first song and a good overview of what you'll get on the album - great lyrics, great bass, music that rides that line between country and rock in the best way possible, and a sense that you're in good hands. "The Night David Bowie Died" uses that night as a an examination of a relationship and a realization that the narrator screwed up with a nice rock beat and an almost new-wave anti-soloish keyboard part. References to other music are peppered throughout the album - Born to Run gets name-checked in "Imposter"; Purple Rain gets name-checked in "So Much You Don't Know"; and there's a whole song called "Records," which features the lyric "That record waited up for me." That last one is a rocker with some great organ and a sharp guitar solo and that ever-present bass holding things down. The album is a pure delight and you should listen. Lilly Hiatt stands on her own.

Material Issue/International Pop Overthrow - Here's where we get away from current albums and go all the way back to 1991. Someone posted this on its anniversary in a music group I belong to and I had to give it a spin. It had been a while, but it took almost no time for me to fall under the band's power pop spell once again. You know, I think '91 was the year I discovered power pop - this and Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend were my gateway drugs. If only I'd given Bandwagonesque a try that year...but I digress.

These songs yearn - "You can't have everything no not everything I want," "Diane you're all these things to me," and "I spend a lot of time thinking about you/Do you think about me?" to name a few. The good news is that the music is alive. We get the crunchy snap of "Diane" and the racing gallop of both "Chance of a Lifetime" and "Lil' Christine," while also slowing it down for "This Letter" and "Very First Lie." I still can't believe that this album and band weren't huge; it's a shame, especially since lead singer and main songwriter Jim Ellison killed himself in 1996. Still, we have this album and a few more (1994's Freak City Soundtrack is my favorite) to listen to and enjoy. If you haven't discovered this band, check them out.

The Posies/Frosting on the Beater - Speaking of power pop and albums from the 90s, there's this. I played this for the same reason as the last record and boy, did this ever stick. I slept on The Posies in the 90s; in fact, it wasn't until their best-of in 2000 that I really checked out the band. Amazingly, I don't know that I ever heard Frosting on the Beater as a whole until a few weeks ago. Yeah, it doesn't make sense to me either. That's the beauty of art, though, right? Always something new to discover and fall in love with.

The album charges out of the gate with "Dream All Day," a song that is just as concerned with the power as the pop - loud guitars and the drums getting a workout, but also a catchy chorus. "Flavor of the Month" is even better, a song with a great riff, snarky lyric, chorus that is instantly sing-alongable, and pounding drums that cause me to air-drum every single time. Granted, I was already familiar with those two songs from the best-of (along with 3 other songs), but there are some gems here with which I was unfamiliar. There's the almost 7-minute "Burn & Shine," a sludgy slow burn that finish with well over 2 minutes of the guitars and drums going absolutely crazy. That's followed by "Earlier Than Expected," which balances all that power in the previous song with a nice pop tune, which even delivers some "la-la-la"s in the chorus. Next up is "20 Questions," which again features some great drums, a spacier bridge, and the very close harmonies of Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. Album ender "Coming Right Along" is moody and features only guitars and harmonies. I love this album and I love that Omnivore is reissuing it (along with Dear 23 and Amazing Disgrace later this year; you can bet I'm going to pick them up.

Superchunk/What a Time to Be Alive - Now we come to the band I should have been listening to since the 90s...but I've lamented that fact more than once. I mentioned that Buffalo Tom was on their third album after a long hiatus and this album follows the same script. It also follows the same script in that it's great.

The album is pretty political - the first line of the album and title track is "You brushed your teeth and found your calling at the bottom of a swamp" after all. Later, Mac McCaughn sings "All these old men/Won't die too soon" and the lyric sheet has those lines in all caps. The music is in all caps through much of the album too, from the fierce and pounding "Lost My Brain" to the cranked-up power pop stomp of "I Got Cut" to the adrenalized "Reagan Youth" to the (again) fierce and pounding "Cloud of Hate." That doesn't even cover great songs like "Break The Glass" and "Erasure" and "All For You" (with a chorus of "Fight me"). I know I'm name-checking almost every song, but this album is that good and the band is firing on all cylinders. "Black Thread" ends things with a plea to "cut the black thread" and maybe move on to something better. I hate that the world is the way it is right now, but at least we have an album as tough as this one to help us push towards better days.

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