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Heavy Rotation #36

I spent a large part of January just listening to one thing after another and not getting into any sort of groove. That changed toward the end of the month (and into the start of this month), when a handful of albums started getting more spins. These are those albums (CLUNG CLUNG):

Bonny Doon/Longwave - This album and band have been championed by an fellow listener of the Rockin' the Suburbs podcast, so I decided to check it out. Their sound is all jangle and chime, the pace is almost languid at times, and the lyrics have a lot of repetition. The more you listen, the more is just gets lodged in your head. Take, for instance, the way the guitar solo blossoms out of the steady pace of "A Lotta Things," which is all acoustic guitar to that point. "Saved" reminds me of Pavement, with its loping beat and repeating "Are you a believer or not?," but it has some subtle notes on its way out like the one ringing chord on the guitar that just changes the overall sound enough. "Saw a Light" has an organ in the mix and quotes The Rolling Stones ("wild horses couldn't drag me away"). "Try To Be" turns up the guitars for maybe 15 seconds at the end. Overall, no one song stands out, but that's a feature, not a bug. It truly is an album, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it is well worth spending time with.

Guided By Voices/Space Gun - The new GBV album came out a couple days ago as I type this, but I'm not quite ready to jump in. Why? I haven't given this one enough listens yet. Space Gun came out last March and I didn't really give it much of a listen. Not sure why, really, but these things happen. When the calendar ticked over to 2019, I thought it might be good to check out some of what I'd missed last year, you know? Turns out I really missed the boat on this one.

Robert Pollard has a way with melody and the ability to write songs in different modes. He can dial up crunchy classic rockers, surging anthems, more contemplative ballads, and those oddball songs that don't seem to make sense at first before making a ton of sense on listen five or six. The title track is one of those classic rockers that morphs into a surging anthem, or maybe it's just melding of those two modes. It starts out with some stabbing guitars under his vocals before crashing in with the full band. The next song, "Colonel Paper," has a chunky riff and the first line is "Who is this Colonel Paper?" and you would think Pollard and the band have done this sort of thing too many times for it to be interesting anymore and you're probably right...except you're not. "Liar's Box" has a great riff and packs a punch and "Blink Blank" starts with an almost New Order-like guitar line and has some great "bum-bum-bums." I really love "I Love Kangaroos," which is all jangle pop and singsongy vocals. I've talked about 5 songs...and there are 10 more, all at least solid. What's not to love?

Pretenders/Pretenders - I didn't really discover the band until the early 90s when I listened to WXRT in Chicago all the time. They played the band quite often and I always liked what I heard. Some friends had this album in the mid-90s and I borrowed it, but it isn't until now that I really got into it. There is so much to love here. There's the way the guitar comes in like a siren on "Precious," as well as Howard the Duck reference. "The Phone Call" has a great nervous energy. How about the great opening riff of "Up the Neck"plus all the oohs and aahs? "Space Invader" has a tasty bass riff. Honestly, "The Wait" might be my favorite - it's got a great hook, it knows how to rock, and the Chrissie Hynde snarl is perfect. That doesn't even cover the well-known songs like their Kinks cover, "Stop Your Sobbing," the more plaintive "Kid," and the slinky and satisfying "Brass in Pocket." The album closes with "Mystery Achievement," where the bass is back in a big way and the guitar is great. This is a classic debut album for a reason.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers/Years - This is another album I checked out due to the RtS podcast. Honestly, I loved the first song the first time I heard it and was a little underwhelmed by the rest. However, when I went back to it again everything else started to come into focus. Still, "Good As Gold" is an album highlight, with a shuffling beat, a catchy chorus, and some nice lap steel (I think). I really like the way the guitar solo works with the rest of the music in "New Ways to Fail" and "The Bottle Never Lets Me Down" sounds like it could be an Old 97s song, especially with that smoky, twangy guitar solo. "What It Takes" gets a nice head of steam going before ending in dueling guitars. Shook shows off the power of her voice on "Lesson," with the band getting raucous behind her to match. Overall, this is a really strong collection of what used to be called alt country, but is really rock music with some county tinges.

Sharon Van Etten/Remind Me Tomorrow - You always worry when an artist your really like changes their sound. On the one hand, you are excited to see them take their art in a direction that appeals to them. On the other, what if you just don't like it? I had nothing to worry about with this new one, as the change in sound has led to her best album yet. I was not prepared for the eerie sax loop on "Memorial Day," but it is an unsettling (and great) earworm. The driving and synthy "Comeback Kid" is also memorable, not only for the sound, but for the way she sings the hell of it. "Jupiter 4" is a slow burn with Van Etten singing about how her "love is so real." "Seventeen" is all drama in the best way possible...and it sounds like there's a bit of Springsteen in its DNA. I love the organ intro of "You Shadow," which is a song that has a St. Vincent feel (that's a good thing). I always forget about "Hands" until I hear it, which should be impossible because it is churning and yearning and steamy. This is both a fantastic collection of songs and a fantastic album and will probably end up on quite a few year-end lists. That's hard to do for an album that comes out in January, but Remind Me Tomorrow has what it takes to last.

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