Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Monthly Mix: August 2020


(1) Me Rex - "Stellar Abattoir"

I don't remember the last time I was this thoroughly obsessed with a song. I don't remember the last time I actually put a song on repeat. I absolutely cannot get enough. And, to be honest, I can't figure out why.

There are obvious positives. It has a strong Los Campesinos! influence. It does that thing I love where the pre-chorus and chorus have the same chord progression, so after going through them a couple times the lead and backing vocals diverge and sing both at the same time (I need to figure out what this is called, there must be a term for it, listen starting at 2:48). Also, it's just a really good song.

But there's something else here, and I'm going to figure out what it is. Stay tuned, I guess.

(2) Meet Me @ The Altar - "Garden"

Many of you know my shameful secret: I love guitar music. Really. Still. In 2020. I know that shows my age even more than my ever-greying hair, or the fact that I still care about baseball, but it's true. And it makes me sad that guitar music, be it rock, indie, punk, whatever, seems to be dying. I'm not upset about the rise of hip-hop, or the continuing dominance of pop. I don't need my rock stars to be the biggest celebrities in the world. I just want people to keep making the music that I love. I want garage bands playing claustrophobic clubs, I don't need them to play the Super Bowl.

As I see it, guitar music is dying for the same reason that everything is dying: racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia ... the prevailing view is that guitar music is for straight white dudes with beards who stand at the back of the concert venue with their arms folded, watching other straight white dudes with severe haircuts standing still onstage, refusing to show any outward signs of enjoyment because that doesn't fit with the aesthetic. Sadly, I can't really argue with that stereotype. If anyone who is not a straight white dude feels iced out by indie rock culture ... I get it. It makes me sad, but I get it.

The more I started going to pop shows, the more I realized how much I hate the crowds at rock shows. It turns out that music is more fun when people are enjoying it, and when every member of the crowd doesn't look exactly the same. Who knew?

I don't think there's anything wrong with guitar music itself. We just need to open the doors. All I really want is for us as a society to take our historically male-dominated genres and put them in the hands of women, POCs, queer and non-binary artists. Call it rock reparations.

So here is Meet Me @ The Altar, three women of color making some of the best pop punk I've heard in a long time. Since they show up first on this month's playlist, they get this extended blurb, but this could apply to a bunch of artists on this month's mix (Oceanator! BLACKSTARKIDS!), and last month's (Pinkshift! beabadoobee! Bartees Strange!), and all through 2020. 

There has never been a better time for guitar music made by non-straight white dudes.

So I guess what I'm saying is: I'm planning to print a run of shirts that say FEFE DOBSON DIED FOR YOUR SINS. Please let me know if you want one.

(3) Rico Nasty - "IPHONE"

It is not possible to listen to this song loud enough. This is what the Spinal Tap amps that go to eleven were made for. Are you listening to it right now? Not loud enough. Turn it up. More. MORE.

(4) Dream Nails - "This Is The Summer"

It's a climate change anthem, which is a depressing series of words, but it's even more depressing that it was written in 2018, and has only gotten more relevant in the summers since. I'm pretty confident in its continued relevance going forward.

Preceding paragraph aside, it's somehow also really fun? I don't know how that works.

(5) Fresh - "Going to Brighton"

In honor of how much I love that Me Rex song above, here's Myles McCabe's other band (which is to say, his main band). This came out last year, but it's great and I think you need to hear it.

Fresh is on Specialist Subject Records, along with a bunch of my other favorites (Muncie Girls, ONSIND, Jeff Rosenstock, Woahnows). For whatever reason, Myles put out the Me Rex EP on Big Scary Monsters, a label which features two other bands on this list (Oceanator, Into It. Over It.) as well as Illuminati Hotties and the best band in the world, Martha.

I bring this up for two reasons. One, when trying to find new music, it turns out that starting with a band you love, figuring out which label they are on, and then listening to other bands on that label works better than any algorithm. Two, I think if I could have any job in the world, I would either run an indie record label or a very small concert venue. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but maybe I just need to put statements like that out into the world. I mean, really, how much could it cost to start a record label?

(6) Oceanator - "Heartbeat"

Third single from the wonderful Things I Never Said, which came out last week, and it's amazing that all three sound so different, yet the album works as a cohesive whole. Elise Okusami is a magician.

(7) The Killers - "Caution"

You know that 2020 feeling where you see a stray bit of news, maybe a headline, maybe the first few words of an embedded link on social media, and you think, "hmm, that sounds bad," then later you learn more about it and it is inevitably even worse than you thought it would be?

Well, here is the exact opposite of that. I could not possibly have had lower expectations for a Killers album, but somehow it's great? Like, really, legitimately great? I don't get it either, but I am so excited to use the words "pleasantly surprised" for the first time in what seems like years.

(8) Into It. Over It. "We Prefer Indoors"

I often joke about how there is a very "Philadelphia" sound to a lot of lo-fi indie rock, but it's worth noting that there is also a distinct "Chicago" sound, and here it is. You still have a chip on your shoulder, and it's still cold and dark all the time, but you also kinda like Fall Out Boy, so you haven't totally given up on melody.

(9) Pharrell Williams - "Entrepreneur" (f/ Jay-Z)

There are so many things to dislike about this song. I don't really care for Pharrell's whispering or his falsetto, and the entire first two minutes are bland and forgettable. On top of that, we are long past the point in his career where Jay-Z is likely to say anything interesting, and the bootstrap-y nonsense that these lyrics are built around, the idea that capitalism could ever be a tool for Black liberation and not the actual, proximate cause of Black oppression, is so harmful that I almost feel guilty by association just talking about it.

And yet ...

And yet, from the moment Jay starts his verse (2:25), Pharrell starts building something behind it. Don't listen to the actual substance of Jay's lyrics, listen to his voice as an instrument, propulsive, energetic, driving. Listen to Pharrell start layering the backing track - the strings at 2:42, the "black man, black man" backing vocals matching the return of the "you wanna be let out of here" sample (2:52), the return of the falsetto (it makes sense now!) (3:05), the horns (3:30) - to the point where the horns hit that high note at 3:32 and the song has been fully transformed, the first two minutes forgotten (or maybe they were necessary to set the stage), you didn't even realize that Jay's verse ended almost twenty seconds ago and it's just the backing track now, riding out, on a loop, getting bigger and bigger, hitting a level of texture that can really only be described as symphonic, and it feels like it should just keep looping forever, you would be fine with that, if it just never stops ...

And then it does stop, abruptly, at about 3:50, dropping down to the sparse initial beat, and as a listener it feels like you've gone somewhere, in less than 90 seconds. Pharrell remains one of the greats, even if he doesn't show it very often anymore.

(10) The Japanese House - "Dionne" (f/ Justin Vernon)

If you're too cool to love "exile," well, I feel sorry for you. "exile" is great and you're missing out. But, if you are that person, and you're looking elsewhere for your fix of Justin Vernon guest vocals on a moody, atmospheric track readymade for headphones and colder weather, well, here it is.

[Pointless Aside: "exile" is credited as Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver, but "Dionne" is credited as The Japanese Hose featuring Justin Vernon. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what could account for that distinction. It turns out that, while I just think of Bon Iver as Justin Vernon alone, there are other people who are technically in the band, and one of them, Rob Moose, plays violin and viola on "exile." So it turns out both credits are accurate. (This is why I'm a pretty good lawyer and maybe not always that much fun at parties.)]

(11) Bon Iver - "AUATC"

In 2001, the delightful Welsh band Super Furry Animals released an album called Rings Around the World, including a song called "Receptacle for the Respectable" which featured the sound of Paul McCartney chewing carrots and celery as a percussion track.

I bring that up because both Bruce Springsteen and Jenny Lewis contributed vocals to this track, but I had to break out the good headphones to get to a point where I think I can hear them. Even then I'm not sure.

(12) Mo Troper - "Your Boy"

Indie rock feuds are painfully embarrassing. Mo Troper makes great power pop, as evidenced by this song. He is also a dedicated student of the genre, and earlier this month he self-published a list of his 100 favorite power pop artists of all time, along with 8,000+ words of commentary. It was a great piece. I learned a lot, and discovered a few great new artists.

However, within those many thousands of words, Troper said some fairly unflattering things about one of the guys from The Posies (though he still ranked the band near the top of his list). This led to an extended rebuttal from the Posies guy, then a Twitter flame war, and ended with Troper deleting both his Twitter account and his blog, which means that (a) the post that started this whole thing no longer exists, which is a real shame, and (b) the vast majority of music fans still have no idea who Mo Troper or The Posies are.

(13) Lydia Loveless - "Wringer"

It turns out that the stereotype that country music is nothing but breakup songs is not entirely inaccurate.

(14) Samia - "Big Wheel"

Samia is getting an incredible amount of positive press right now, and it certainly seems like she deserves it.

(15) FRITZ - "Arrow"

Let's get back to basics: this blog is here to share awesome songs made by hyper-talented Australian teenagers.

(16) Supercrush - "On The Telephone"

From Seattle, which means you'd think they would know that there is already a Vancouver hair accessories company called Supercrush which is really going to mess up your SEO when someone googles you looking for a few fun facts for a blog post.

(17) Gum Country - "Somewhere"

The band refers to themselves as "harsh twee" which is not a genre I am willing to accept yet. Maybe eventually.


It's hard to figure out what "success" means for an indie band at this point, when both "record sales" AND "ticket sales" are terms from a bygone era, but this is three kids from Kansas City who just signed to The 1975's label and got this song on Spotify's New Music Friday playlist last week, so I'm choosing to believe they are blowing up, as they should.

(19) Burna Boy - "Time Flies" (f/ Sauti Sol)

I need to spend more time with this album. When in doubt, pick the Sauti Sol feature.

(20) Phoenix - "Identical"

Hey, Phoenix has a new song! You remember Phoenix! From, like, 2009?

Sarcasm aside, this is a pretty good song, and it will feature on the soundtrack to an upcoming Sofia Coppola film, which is how I learned that Coppola and Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars have been married for almost ten years and have two kids. So, your definition of success may vary, but "start a band, become both commercially successful and critically acclaimed, marry an artist as interesting and talented as you are, then just kinda hang out and sometimes make music for your wife's movies" seems like one that we can all agree on.

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