Tag Archives: kansas city

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Teen daze.

It’s not everyday that I find an artist like Jamison Isaak. He releases music under the name, Teen Daze. It’s not merely that he writes great pop hooks or creates luscious soundscapes (both of which he does exceedingly well), it’s that I get this irrational feeling that he understands me.

I know, I know, this is a weird thing I project on some artists. Sure, I’d like to think that some of my favorite songwriters would get me, but that’s purely one-sided. If I found myself in a room with, say, Paddy McAloon or Tracey Thorn, I wonder if we’d really have any fruitful conversation. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’d just stare at the carpet and wonder when we can go home. But I digress.

With his Teen Daze project, Isaak has been refining his idea of what pop songs and electronics can be, not unlike how the mid-nineties group Virus tried to reconcile techno, mid-tempo pop songs, and ambient music. I feel like he references a lot of sounds I enjoy: from new age music to Aztec Camera to Durutti Column and maybe a little like Sound of Ceres. Soothing electronic music with lots of major sevenths and pop hooks.

And just last week, Isaak released an EP under his own name. From the beginning with acoustic piano and pedal steel, it’s obvious why this is not a Teen Daze release. Nothing synthetic here, but it’s still that melodic wallpaper that I love.

As a special education teacher, I do a lot of paperwork and need zen-like ambient music for hours of work alone on student plans and progress reports. And as it feels like the world seems to get louder and more chaotic, I need artists like Jamison Isaak who encourage us to sit back and listen.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Regional rail.

Yesterday, one of my wife’s long-time friends was in town with her family.  To give her time to visit with Katy, I took her six-year old daughter for a walk.  When we crossed the 63rd Street bridge, I hoisted her up over the side to see the railroad below.  She remarked, “I know why they don’t use those train tracks down there.  There’s grass all over them.”

+++

Last week, I attended a presentation by folks analyzing options for better public transportation in the Kansas City area.  (This isn’t just another Clay Chastain pipe dream; it’s a proposal set forth by Jackson County executive, Mike Sanders.)  Since they’ve found that the Federal government could pay up to 50% of the cost for a project like light rail, they feel compelled to formally weigh their options.

I figured I’d pass along information so you can learn about their work and, perhaps, get involved.  Here are sites regarding Jackson County Regional Rail:

Official web site to follow the process – www.kcsmartmoves.org/projects/jacksoncounty

You can also join the KCRRR: Kansas City Regional Rapid Rail group on Facebook.

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 , , , , , , , , ,

Episode #17: Monkey Gone to Heaven

I didn't have the foresight to take a picture of Recycled Sounds before it closed, so I found this picture on flickr by Brett Wilms.

Have you ever tried to understand a friend by meeting that friend’s relatives and friends?  I invariably remark, “Oh, that’s where so-and-so got that saying” or “That makes sense now that I met so-and-so’s brother.”

Yesterday was like that for me, as I attended Anne Winter’s funeral.  I first knew her through her work as owner of Recycled Sounds, then I saw her in action at the International Association of Assessing Officers, as my wife’s boss.  (I remember her coming home from the interview, excited that the lady who just interviewed her knew all about the magazines for which she had done freelance work.  That was for good reason; Anne sold Copper Press, Bandoppler and Paste in her store.)  I knew Anne was involved in the community, but I had no idea the many, many things she did until the past few days.

At any rate, Episode 17 is in memory of Anne.  All of the music is from albums I bought at her store.  As I think on her funeral, I realize how this show only represents a very small piece of who she was. I guess I shouldn’t apologize.  Anne would have loved to hear this show.

  1. The Boo Radleys – Upon Ninth and Fairchild (Giant Steps 1993)
  2. Trans Am – Let’s Take the Fresh Step Together/I Want It All (Red Line 2000)
  3. Jud Jud – side two of No Tolerance for Instruments 1988
  4. Ugly Duckling – Fresh Mode (Fresh Mode EP 1999)
  5. Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven (Doolittle 1989)

I should also mention that the background songs, “The Jaunt” and “Survival of the Freshest,” are taken from Poets of Rhythm’s 2001 album, Discern/Define (also purchased at Recycled Sounds).

Radio Free Raytown – Episode 17 (10/28/09)

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,