Tag Archives: music

Comfort food.

Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s my loquacity. But I’ve realized that habitually expressing my opinion is an easy way to pigeonhole myself. So when I’m frequently solicited for music recommendations, I feel pressure to offer mind-blowing suggestions. I feel like I have to live up to some imaginary perception as a tastemaker. Sometimes I just want to discuss songs I enjoy. Not necessarily the ultimate or epic ones. These songs* are my comfort food. When I first heard these songs in college, I knew I was home.

For that reason, I can’t really describe the songs or explain them. To me, they’re great as they are. Maybe they won’t be as revelatory to you as they were to me in college, but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. (For your convenience, click on the links to open the songs in Spotify.)

“Black Velvet” by The Lilac Time

“Walls Come Tumbling Down!” by The Style Council

“Frost and Fire” by Everything But the Girl

“When Love Breaks Down” by Prefab Sprout

*I realized early on that I was probably born in the wrong decade. In most cases, I found myself more interested in influences of the nineties bands I liked than the nineties bands themselves. That love for historical context inevitably drew me to bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and The Bunnymen, etc. Bands that immediately preceded the big nineties alternative/indie rock bands. For the sake of simplicity, I’m not going to discuss those bands right now. (Besides, hasn’t enough digital ink already been spilled on them? I don’t know that I can meaningfully add to that discussion.)

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After everything.

Personalities of its members aside, The Church is my ideal band. In the past 35 or so years, it has matured from jangly post-punk to a mix of psychedelia, ambient and dreampop. To me, the romantic ideal of a two-guitar band is embodied in The Church, as the guitarists refused to adopt the usual lead/rhythm guitarist roles. Both Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper interwove lead riffs and panned them hard-right and left. (Sadly, Wilson-Piper is no longer a member of the band.)

Last weekend, I fell back into After Everything Now This, my favorite album by The Church. The band had started falling into the usual trap of recording covers and endless jams, and After Everything Now This marked a return to songwriting. While it’s not necessarily the band’s best or most historically important record, it was the first album by The Church that I bought on its release day. The riffs (especially on this almost-title cut) bring back that warm feeling of basking in the summer sun in my Ford Aspire and impatiently waiting for the air conditioning to finally get cool.

Guess I could say more, but why don’t you just listen to the song for yourself?

 

 

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Episode 112: Go Easy

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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)

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Top Ten of 2014

Before I begin with my list of ten favorite albums from 2014, here are a few of the usual caveats.  This is a list of my favorite, most frequently played, records released in 2014. In no way is this an objective list of the year’s best albums. (You won’t find Swans or Scott Walker here. While releasing some of the best albums of this year, or any year, I rarely listened to them in their entirety.) Also, a couple albums were unexpectedly released after I had finished this list. Since their vinyl releases won’t be until next spring, I’m just going to pretend they’re 2015 releases and discuss them next year. (Yes, I’m referring to Luxury, Steve Taylor and D’Angelo.)  And finally, there are some albums I’ve recently purchased that I’m still processing, still trying to get my head around.  (Maybe I’m just being difficult, but I don’t feel like including the Iceage and Protomartyr albums in this list.  Please forgive me, but I’m still trying to figure them out.)

1.  Rising Son / Takuya Kuroda

Rising Son was, by far, the album I listened to the most in 2014. It provided great background music while students worked, and it was excellent for my planning periods. At first, I felt the album was a Xerox of a mid-seventies Roy Ayers or CTI-era Freddie Hubbard record, but then I realized that Kuroda really does bring some strong, memorable hooks.  The drumming also brings it up to date, with Nate Smith playing up to his hip-hop influences and tipping his hat to Questlove on nearly every track.

2.  Hendra / Ben Watt

There’s absolutely nothing new about Ben Watt’s first solo album in 30 years, and that’s the best part. Invoking influences like Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, this could have easily been an exercise in nostalgia, but Watt brings pop hooks and some decent, thoughtful lyrics. The packaging is gorgeous, including a poster for the lyrics. The art is incredible, insulting anyone who’d be content with a download.

3.  Atlas / Real Estate

Believe it or not, I don’t intentionally try to be difficult.   So why have I been so hesitant to admit that I enjoy Real Estate?   I think I’m finally at the point where I’ll admit to liking its last album, but I really, really love Atlas.  It’s one of those rare albums where I imagine the band just walked in, laid down its tracks and left.  (Obviously, bands don’t really do that anymore, but uncluttered arrangements lend themselves to that impression.)

4.  Bécs / Fennesz

Somehow I doubt that Christian Fennesz cares for all the micro-subgenre labels in electronic music.  Sure, he’s influenced by glitch and ambient, but his music feels more alive than that.  Bécs is a great example of how an artist can treat a laptop as an instrument, especially on the tracks “Static Kings” and “Liminality.”  His music allows me space to think, to work and to dream.

5.  Syro / Aphex Twin

As time went on, I felt like I was alone in my love for drukqs, Richard James’ last album as Aphex Twin from 2001.  Sure, it was a bloated double-disc, but I enjoyed all of it: all the weird electronic stuff, the minimalistic piano exercises and experiments with prepared piano.  So obviously I was ecstatic at the promise of a new Aphex Twin record, but I also feared that James might feel pressure to get aggressive and do EDM to be relevant or something. The best part about Syro is that it’s just a continuation of his unique vision to write real songs and make technology groove and breathe. No idea yet where it fits into his canon, but it sure is a great album.

6.  Fortuna / Popstrangers

Apparently nineties indie rock has become the thing to imitate.  And the fact that I’m complaining about that probably means I’m getting old.  Sure, Fortuna sounds like a Deerhunter record, but it feels more cohesive than what Brandon Cox usually delivers.  I’ve been rewarded with how Popstrangers takes its time to develop even the murky songs.  Maybe not the best album of the year, but with many long hours at work, Fortuna just made sense.

7.  Home Everywhere / Medicine

Brad Laner and his band Medicine are like old friends.  Or maybe more like that older brother who schooled me on good music.  (But unlike my real-life stepbrother who introduced me to Dinosaur Jr. and The Cure, Laner hasn’t grown boring with age.)  After nearly two decades apart, the band Medicine reformed in 2013 and released a new album, To the Happy Few, with its trademark mix of psychedelic pop and tape-mangled industrial noise was still in tact.  This year, the band took things a little further, testing listeners’ limits with dense layers and almost too many musical ideas in each verse.  So of course I loved it, especially because it’s on beautiful people vinyl.

8.  You’re Dead / Flying Lotus

Steven Elison has tinkered with jazz on his previous Flying Lotus albums, but You’re Dead finally feels like his first jazz record.  The electronics are still compressed to the point of absurdity, but he uses more live instruments on this album.  Elison’s great success is in creating his most cohesive album.  So much so that it becomes difficult to discern between tracks, at times.  Given the complexity of the arrangements, it’s remarkable how short the album feels.  It’s a mind-trip, but I was quick to start the album over many times this year.

9.  Deep Fantasy / White Lung

Remember when you first listened to “Whirring” by The Joy Formidable and the band ripped off your face for nearly seven minutes straight? That’s kind of the feeling I still get from listening to Deep Fantasy, except that the intensity lasts for the entire album. Heavy, aggressive, melodic and brief.  Just what the doctor ordered.

10.  Into the Lime / The New Mendicants

The New Mendicants feature Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Joe Pernice from Pernice Brothers, two of my favorite bands. But I’m not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed when I first listened to Into the Lime. I hoped for big power pop, but the record feels a lot more front porch-ish and acoustic. The vocals are upfront and mostly unaffected, Blake’s acquiescence to role as a background vocalist is frustrating and gone are many lush layers I’d come to expect from either artist.  But the songwriting is great, and I just lived in this album for a couple months. Some of my favorite albums are the frustrating ones, and Into the Lime was the difficult album that grew into a favorite this year.

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Discovering Satchidananda.

I played alto and baritone saxophone in jazz bands through high school and into early college but rarely listened to jazz for enjoyment.  Early in college, when I started listening to Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie for fun, I discovered the Red Hot on Impulse compilation from Impulse Records.  Looking back, this should have been an insane leap for me, but it completely made sense at the time.  See, I loved the music of Charlie Peacock, he loved John Coltrane, this CD featured music by both John and Alice Coltrane, and it was in the record stores bargain bin.

Red Hot on Impulse opens with Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda.”  At that formative time in my discovery of music, I had never heard free jazz, I only knew of sleigh bells in Christmas music, and the only context I had for sitar was Indian music (this was before I listened to The Beatles).  The collision of jazz and world music was unlike anything I had ever heard before.

Pharoah Sanders’ solo in “Journey in Satchidananda” is captivating. Quite possibly my favorite tenor sax solo of all time.  Effortlessly bridging bebop, free and out there astral jazz, he weaves together nearly a quarter century of jazz history with cascading arpeggios.  Sanders’ solo is one of longing, searching, yearning.

His restraint and melody are especially uncharacteristic, especially after all his experimenting with John Coltrane’s quartet and sprawling work on his own solo albums.  Although his playing on Don Cherry’s Symphony for the Improvisers was memorable and breathtaking, it’s not especially melodic.

Anyway, I feel the term spiritual is thrown around too freely when describing the music of John or Alice Coltrane.  While they both had spiritual motivations and wanted to convey spiritual lessons, perhaps visceral is a more accurate term in describing much of their music that eludes easy description.  Sanders’ solo isn’t merely an academic exercise; it’s. His solo has to be felt.

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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)

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Episode 106: The middle of July in a stocking cap.

Dan Billen, performing with The Billions

I don’t know what the weather’s like in your neck of the woods, but it’s been insanely hot in Raytown this summer. About the only thing worth doing is watching my son play around in the living room and listening to records. Fortunately for us, a ton of great music has been released in the past few months.

I’m occasionally accosted by dudes who want me to play their music on my show. (As if they’ll see a substantial uptick in albums sold, right??) Usually their music is, at best, mediocre. But when Michael Edwards told me to check out his band, I was blown away. Not because it was the best thing I’ve ever heard or that it was something entirely new. No, the band impressed me with how comfortable it feels with itself and the audience. In this episode, I play a song from Genetic Engines’ new EP, Feed My Mind. Please buy it. It’s only four bucks.

I’m also petitioning discerning music lovers to buy Dan Billen’s new EP, Not Alone. Billen is a long-time friend who played bass in The Billions. Since the band broke up, he has quietly sat by as his brother amassed quite a catalog of indie pop. (Truth be known, he and his wife were trying to get their family started, a focus of many of his songs.) Like his best work in The Billions, Not Alone, boasts diverse styles and honest lyrics. Name your price and buy it.

I’m excited to record another episode. It seems like it’s been forever since my last one. I hope you enjoy. (For some reason, WordPress won’t allow me to stream episodes like I used to, so just use the download link at the bottom.)

  1. “Into the Cold” – Genetic Engines (Feed My Mind / independent / 2012)
  2. “When We Come To” – Michael Miller (When We Come To / Shiny Shiny / 2003)
  3. “Flying Backwards” – Doug Gillard (Malamute Jute / Cushion Records / 1998)
  4. “Let a Dreamer Dream” – Dan Billen (Not Alone/ independent / 2012)
  5. “See Right Through Me” – The Bats (Free All the Monsters / Flying Nun / 2011)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #106 (7/20/12)

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Plotting my next move.

It will probably be another week or so before I post my 100th episode. It will be a special show, with my friends discussing some of their favorite songs (as opposed to my usual monopolization of your time). These are dear friends who have influenced my own tastes, and they contribute some great conversation and enthusiasm.

And like any of the other 99 episodes that have preceded it, you can expect a rather eclectic mix.

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Episode 93: It’s a New Generation

Thinking about The Lassie Foundation, I reflect equally on its mind-blowing output during my formable college listening years as well as all the bands it referenced in its playing (that I would, in turn, get hip to).

The band’s first EP and first two full-length albums still stand up well alongside the best work of bands like Medicine or The Boo Radleys, so it’s easy to revisit them and not just defensively snap to your friends, “Well, you just had to be there.”

Wayne Everett and Eric Campuzano (the primary forces in The Lassie Foundation) were responsible for much of my musical discoveries in college.  When I read them name-drop Ride, The Boo Radleys, Loop, The Beach Boys and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in interviews, I immediately sought out any of those bands’ records I could find.  (Remember, this was still before Napster…it took me a year to find even one CD by The Boo Radleys!)

In retrospect, I was bound to be smitten by The Lassie Foundation’s work.  The band was a collective of guys from Starflyer 59, Fold Zandura and The Violet Burning…three of my favorite bands at the time.  But The Lassie Foundation was totally different than those bands; it had a cool, surfy, California vibe.  Enjoy, and remember, enlightenment is its own reward.

You’re welcome.

  1. “I’m Stealin’ to Be Your One in a Million” – The Lassie Foundation (California | Velvet Blue Music | 1996)
  2. “I’ve Got the Rock and Roll for You” – The Lassie Foundation (Pacifico | Shogun Sounds | 1999)
  3. “She’s the Coming Sun–She’s Long Gone” – The Lassie Foundation (Pacifico | Shogun Sounds | 1999)
  4. “Conquer Me” – The Lassie Foundation (El Rey | Shogun Sounds | 1999)
  5. “Look All Ways” – The Lassie Foundation (I Duel Sioux and the Ale of Saturn | Grand Theft Autumn | 2001)
  6. “Face Your Fun” – The Lassie Foundation (Face Your Fun | Northern | 2004)
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Fall bands (not to be confused with the band, The Fall)

I didn’t have time for a show this week (and I imagine that, upon Ian’s arrival, it’s unreasonable to expect them to arrive weekly).  My friend runs an excellent coffeeshop here in Raytown and, recently, Low’s music has been in heavy rotation at his store.  That, and the leaves cluttering my yard, have got me thinking a lot about fall music.

So I decided to compile a list of artists that almost excusively release make plangent, autumnal music.  For this discussion, I’m intentionally avoiding one-off fall albums.  Someone like Beck has released a couple great fall albums, Sea Change and One Foot in the Grave, but I wouldn’t consider him a fall musician.  I wanted to make a list of artists’ who always make fall music.  You know, guys like Nick Drake, whose catalog is to this season what the second chapter of Luke is to Christmastime.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it includes artists who usually appear on my annual fall mixes.  As a courtesy, I have posted a link to a song by each artist.  The songs may not be the artists’ best, but they are surely indicative of their work.  (My choices are also limited by what’s available on YouTube.)

Enjoy.

  1. Nick Drake
  2. Bela Bartok
  3. Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon)
  4. Grant McLennan (The Go-Betweens and Jack Frost)
  5. Simon and Garfunkel
  6. Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500 and Luna)
  7. The Innocence Mission
  8. Low
  9. Robert Deeble
  10. Junior Boys
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