Tag Archives: indie rock

Ten favorites from 2018

What does it mean to write about music when most people can instantly access new music, with or without subscription services? Because music is a relational thing, maybe we need to focus our writing more on the context for the music: people involved in making it, the scene (or lack thereof) that gave rise to the music, how we experience the music, how the music shapes us, and probably even the chicanery involved in creating it.

So, this year, I want to emphasize context a little more than describing how my favorite records sound. I am not going to rank my list, because I think they’re all pretty great for different reasons.

Not Thrilled by Fine China

After some very good reunions by Swevedriver, Loop, The Dream Syndicate, Ride, and Slowdive, “getting the band back together” isn’t as bad as it once sounded. Add Fine China to that list. Sure, Rob Withem has made some great synthpop with Foxglove Hunt since the last Fine China record was released 13 years ago, but I didn’t expect a comeback album to be quite this good. Sure, it’s more of the same Smiths-meets-New Order stuff like they’ve always done (long, long before bands on Captured Tracks tried the same thing), but Withem has also been listening to Dire Straits and working on his vocals. I sure hope this isn’t the final Fine China record.

 

The Sky Looks Different Here by Paper Dollhouse

I don’t really know where ambient pop ends and dreampop begins, but I’m guessing Paper Dollhouse is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes fully-formed, and sometimes only snippets and soundscapes, the songs seem to just float by, as electronica and dub are buried beneath blankets of reverb. It kinda sounds like the group listens a lot of 4AD records that I also enjoy so maybe it’s referential and nostalgic, but the record also feels like the future. Furthermore, nobody seems to mind when they enter my office and I’m playing Paper Dollhouse. It’s kinda like the weird music that I can get away with.

 

Singularity by Jon Hopkins

When we had a baby, I feared that I’d spend my life being annoyed by Imagine Dragons or Hot Chelle Rae or something else that my son would love. But for now, he loves Jon Hopkins (and I’m perfectly fine with that). And since our son is seven and you must play songs to death when you’re a kid, we listened to Singularity a lot.

 

Absence by Kristjan Randalu

With my new job, I spend a lot of my time in an office, not in a classroom. So I find myself streaming quite a bit of music as I do paperwork. Then I become aware of how instant access to so much music might be changing me. Then I started to second-guess my feelings about the albums I enjoyed on Spotify. How could I call an album a year-end favorite if I hadn’t actually purchased it?

Absence is one such album. I haven’t purchased it (yet), so how could I call it a favorite? I’ve bought so many other ECM releases in the past, so what’s stopping me now? Where’s my commitment? Sheesh. I guess these are sorta legitimate questions, but still. Why am I so hard on myself?

Randalu is an Estonian pianist who plays in that airy, spacious, European style. The songs are focused, but they also just kinda float. I like this record a lot. I guess that’s all that matters to make it on my year-end list.

 

September Love by Stephen’s Shore

Another weird thing about music now is how, because it’s too expensive to fill your closet with records that you’ll never sell, some bands will press only a limited number of records. I get it. I still have about 15 three-inch CDs I burnt for a small tour I played back in 2002. But I also don’t feel like paying $80 for a band’s new LP on Discogs just because I learn about an album a month after the band sold out of the 25 LPs it pressed for a short tour. So until Meritorio Records re-issues the record, I guess I’ll just keep streaming it.

 

Portrait with Firewood by Djrum

I think Portrait with Firewood benefits from a single, uninterrupted listen. The album feels like a long journey through drum and bass, sparse passages of Keith Jarrett-ish improvisational piano, and even some unexpected cello arrangements. Sorry, I don’t really know how to describe this record. And I feel that’s a great thing.

 

Look Now by Elvis Costello and the Imposters

By the this point, Elvis is basically like an old friend to me. Sometimes I don’t know how good his records really are; I just buy them. He’s a great collaborator, but there’s no way he’s going to make another full-length albums with Allen Toussaint, The Roots, or Burt Bacharach. And then there was the cancer diagnosis. So I started to wonder if he’d ever release another really good solo album again. But oh my, Look Now feels like a return to Imperial Bedroom, elegant and still a little snarky. Pretty much everything I need from an Elvis Costello record.

 

Both Directions at Once by John Coltrane

Was Brian WIlson’s Smile a new record back in 2004? I’m not sure. Is Both Directions at Once, with its previously unreleased recordings, a new record? I say yes.

The songs here aren’t the usual uninteresting rough drafts for an artist’s later, more realized work. These songs were intended for a release and might have stood up well next to albums like Coltrane and Ballads. (At least I’d like to think so. But who really knows?) Plenty of (digital) ink was spilled to promote this album, featuring some outlandish claims by labels, publicists, and respected jazz artists. Not sure that I can add to the conversation in any meaningful way, but I’ve enjoyed listening to this record this year with my son.

 

Zebra by Arp

I usually buy vinyl, but sometimes I still buy CDs. This was one of the CDs I bought in 2018.

 

The Hex by Richard Swift

By 2003, I had been making music for a while. And somehow, Richard Swift obtained a CD with some of my songs. Then one of my friends got on AOL Instant Messenger after seeing Starflyer 59 play somewhere in Arizona and told me that Swift was raving about my song, “Heart Beat Next to Mine.”

Thing is, I don’t know how he got a copy of my CD. But it led to an interesting pen pal relationship where Swift would email me about his favorite Harry Nilsson records. We met a few times, and he seemed really nice. Swift became sorta like my muse, even when he moved on to playing with and producing much bigger bands.

Over the past ten years or so, Swift dabbled in old R&B, Beefheart, and doo-woppy fragments with varying results. I’d always wanted more songs than sounds and snippets from him, you know maybe a proper follow-up to Atlantic Ocean or something. But he was an artist who followed his own muse and I had to be okay with that. (It wasn’t like he was twiddling his thumbs. Swift spent the past decade producing some truly great albums for other artists.)  And now, The Hex seems like the follow-up I wanted. But since Swift passed before the album was released, it’ll also be his swan song.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Episode 112: Go Easy

image

Listening back through this show, I’m reminded how much I love the deep album cut. Maybe it’s my contrary nature that won’t allow me to enjoy the first few songs on a record (the accessible ones clearly aimed at some amount of radio play) or maybe I just like those moody songs that land after the album’s hype and hooks. Or, could it be those really are the best tracks on the album?

Whatever the case, it feels good to be back, blathering about the music I love.

  1. “Maple Trees” by Cascading Slopes (Towards a Quaker View of Synthesizers / Plastiq Musiq / 2013)
  2. “Four Long Years” by Wire (Object 47 / PinkFlag / 2008)
  3. “Sun” by Echo Lake (Era / No Pain in Pop / 2015)
  4. “English Subtitles” by Swervedriver (I Wasn’t Born to Lose You / Cobraside Distribution / 2015)
  5. “It’s Easy” by Robert Pollard (The Crawling Distance / Guided By Voices Inc. / 2009)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #112 (07/01/15)

Tagged , , , , ,

Episode 111: Something Like That

Guided By Voices at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas (9/28/2012)

Guided By Voices at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas (9/28/2012)

Sometimes you’ve listened to a band for so long that you forget others may have never heard it.  Sometimes when you dive into a band’s catalog, the plunge is so gradual that you wake up one morning and wonder where this stack of 30+ CDs came from.  Both are true with the work of Robert Pollard, primary songwriter for Guided By Voices.

I don’t remember when I first heard Pollard’s work, but I do remember it was the Guided By Voices album, Bee Thousand.  I was ecstatic to find a band making the kinds of records that my step-brother and I had attempted.  We recorded our tapes in his mom’s basement, so the rough, lo-fi sound of Bee Thousand immediately appealed to me.  There was also something familiar to Pollard’s songs, as well.  Immediately, I felt like this guy had listened to a lot of my favorite records by The Who, (Gabriel-era) Genesis and a band I had just discovered, R.E.M.

Pollard’s work, albeit wildly inconsistent, still seems relevant to me.  These days, I feel like the most punk thing you can do is release music how and when you want.  With labels demanding returns on their increasingly astronomical investments, it’s not unusual to expect a three-year gap between albums for many bands.  As a fan, the wait can be maddening.  Maybe the returns are there, who knows.  That’s why I still like Pollard, who put it best, “If we’re paying for it and no one’s listening to these records anyway, if we’re only making them for ourselves, then I’m going to put exactly what I want on them.”

Enjoy..

  1. “Substitute” by The Who (Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Decca/1971)
  2. “The Great Deceiver” by King Crimson (Starless and Bible Black/Island/1974)
  3. “London Girl” by The Jam (This is the Modern World/Polydor/1977)
  4. “London Girls” by The Vibrators (Pure Mania/Epic/1977)
  5. “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones (True Confessions (Singles = A+B’s)/Rhino/2000)
  6. “Fall on Me” by R.E.M. (Lifes Rich Pageant/I.R.S./1986)
  7. “Echos Myron” by Guided by Voices (Bee Thousand/Scat/1994)
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1415312/111radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #111 (4/8/14)

Tagged , , , , , ,

Episode 109: Back in the Saddle

After 108 episodes, my output of podcasts ground to a halt.  I guess a two-year old, super-demanding job and crashed computer will do that to you.  My last show was in October, a whopping nine months ago!  That’s probably nothing for the newbies still trying to play catch-up, but for some close friends it’s seemed like forever.

Anyway, I haven’t bothered with a theme for this week.  I’m just playing some music that’s been released since Episode 108.  Enjoy.

  1. Don’t Forget (To Forget About Me) – The Mary Onettes (Hit the Waves/Labrador/2013)
  2. Love is Lost – David Bowie (The Next Day/Columbia/2013)
  3. Four Teeth – True Widow (Circumambulation/Relapse/2013)
  4. Distance – Beaches (She Beats/Chapter Music/2013)
  5. Islands (She Talks in Rainbows) – Guided by Voices (English Little League/Guided By Voices, Inc./2013)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #109 (8/6/13)

Tagged , , , , , ,

Rotation (1/21/13)

Long before last.fm, Instagram and Facebook sharing, an important tool in musical discovery on the internet was through the sharing of rotations on message boards and email discussion lists. Inspired by radio stations that would post the singles currently in rotation, people would share lists of recently played albums.

While they could be perceived as exercises in elitism or narcissism, these lists also served as recommendations (for albums that required years of scouring local record stores). Hopefully this list is helpful, as not everything I listen to can be scrobbled.

Just a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve been listening to over the past two weeks or so.

10. The Bears for Lunch – Guided by Voices (Guided by Voices / 2012)
9. Coltrane – John Coltrane (Impulse! / 1962)
8. Opus de Jazz – Milt Jackson (Savoy / 1956)
7. Third Stream Music – The Modern Jazz Quartet + Guests (Atlantic / 1960)
6. Out of the Woods – Tracey Thorn (Astralwerks / 2007)
5. It’s a Jungle in Here – Medeski, Martin and Wood (Ryko / 1993)
4. Car Alarm – The Sea and Cake (Thrill Jockey / 2008)
3. A Smattering of Outtakes and Rarities – Yo La Tengo (Matador / 2005)
2. Low – David Bowie (RCA / 1977)
1. Stage – David Bowie (RCA / 1978)

Tagged , , , , ,

DJG Ate Eight

Danny J. Gibson is a dude you need to know about.

He used to design some really cool album artwork for (mostly) local bands and concert posters (for mostly local shows).  You couldn’t walk into Recycled Sounds five years ago and miss his work.  He created the look of much of the indie rock scene in Kansas City and Lawrence.  He work was so cool that I’d buy CDs he designed, even if I didn’t really care for the band.

Nowadays, I think he’s got something close to a real job and his output has slowed.  But he still shows art the end of every year at The Brick.

At any rate, there’s no better opportunity than this show to meet the man and to see what he’s up to now.  I’ll just copy and past from his e-mail:

DJG Ate Eight: An Art Show
All Month of December 2010 at The Brick
1727 McGee St. in Kansas City, MO  USA

Official Opening: Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 6pm.
Prints and original art will be for sale on opening night only.

Starting around 7pm will be music by Kansas City area talent:

Follow DJG on Twitter for art updates and more!

Thanks! -djg

DJGDESIGN.COM

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements