Friday, January 3, 2020

GLW 018: Carl Anderson




This year I got back to listening to a lot of new music.  Good job, me!  And a lot of it is really good.  Good job, bands!

1. Julia Jacklin - “Pressure To Party”

I got so much pleasure from this perfect song this year.  The first time I heard it I got hooked by the end of the first verse.  I know where you live / I used to live there too.  Bang.   That’s how you make folks sit up and listen.  There’s something Lennon-McCartney about this song.  Maybe several things.  A great middle eight, pushing right to the peak emotion: God how it hurts.

Pressure to act the right way around him
We're both in the crowd with people surrounding
Us, what do I do? Don't know how it works 

Pressure to not let the inside of my mind
Spill onto the floor for our friends to find
It, oh, what do I do? 'Cause God how it hurts

That little guitar riff after each of these verses, it’s all you need.  The guitars, bass, drums, all playing rhythm.  A final verse and then it’s just rocking so hard you can’t help but “ahhhahhha” and then wrap it up at 2:59.  Wow.

A premise of indie rock is that if you can write good songs, you don’t need virtuoso technique or novel production tricks.  Technically speaking, everything you need was well in hand by 1970.  You just need the songs.  Like this one.

2. Frances Quinlan - “Rare Thing”

This is the most beautiful track of the year, and the most unexpected to me.  No phrase cools my enthusiasm as consistently as “solo project.”  As in “Mick Jagger solo project.”  Ugh.  You already know it won’t work, and everybody knows exactly why it won’t work.  Even Spotify lists this track as “Frances Quinlan, Hop Along” as if it can’t bear to admit it.  So you can imagine my pleasure finding that this track is effing great.  “I know there is love that doesn't have to do with taking something from somebody.” My entire worldview is shook.  Let’s hope the album delivers on this promise!

3. Tacocat - “Hologram”

Tacocat’s new album definitely sounds like another step away from the garage, which is risky.  But it worked.  And it seems like everyone in the band stepped up.  Is that gated reverb on the drums?  “Sounds like Phil Collins” is not a phrase you would expect to see applied to Tacocat, at least not as a compliment.

4. Beach Bunny - “Dream Boy”

Very high expectations satisfied.  I thought last year’s “Prom Queen” was good but not exceptional.  (Now it has 33 million listens on Spotify.  How does that happen?  Not sure they can sell 100 tickets in San Francisco.  Not sure I even know anyone else who listens to them—Aaron?).  Well “Dream Boy” is exceptional, so don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more from this band.

5. illuminati hotties - “I Wanna Keep Yr Dog”

Tenderpunk pioneer Sarah Tudzin delivers again.  Everyone who has ever dated someone with a dog can relate—how has this not been done before?

You're alright but I wanna 
Keep your dog
This is the last night unless you let me 
Keep your dog
I know you want me close
But when you're gone it's her I miss the most
I'd rather keep your dog

Maybe this is one of those things that in retrospect seems like a totally obvious topic to write a song about, but if you approached it from a blank page it could seem an impossible challenge.  That could be right.  Tudzin can do amazing things.

6. Ra Ra Riot - “Bad To Worse”

Turning back to surprises, I would not have guessed that I would even listen to Ra Ra Riot this year.  I have a vague recollection of 2010-era singles from them. Come to find out they’ve kept on making albums for the last nine years and I’ve ignored them.  Are any of those tracks this good?  This song deserves some kind of best-achievement-in-storytelling award.

7. Woahnows - “Skin Peels”

There are three people in this band.  There are four in Martha.  So on a per person basis, these are the best songwriters in the UK this year.  Is anyone in the US listening?  Thank you Aaron for working to right this small injustice.

8. Martha - “Heart Is Healing”

I listened to this track the most this year because it is the first on the new album that I started listening to like 100 times.  Debatable whether there are one or two songs better than this one, but why would anyone fight over that, they are all great.

9. Better Oblivion Community Center - “Dylan Thomas”

We should all be grateful for how well this combination works.  I felt trepidation.  Bridgers is coming straight off one great solo album and one great supergroup album; Oberst peaked for me many years ago, and seems to form a band every few months.  Also, I wondered about Bridgers’ choices.  I mean, going from “You were in a band when I was born” to “you were in a band when I was four” did not seem promising.  Well I was wrong.  On this track together they manage to sound exactly like the best possible version of themselves.

10. Vampire Weekend - “This Life”

If not for being fully gobsmacked by the Ra Ra Riot album, I’d probably call this the comeback of the year.  This album sounds great, find a way to listen to it loud.

11. Jenny Lewis - “On The Line”

In my world, Lewis has grown from not-even-the-best-thing-about-Rilo-Kiley, to a you-really-should-listen-to-this artist, to pop royalty.  Long may she reign.

12. Sharon Van Etten - “Seventeen”

There has been plenty written about this song.  I’ll just agree it is a highlight of the year.  It even made Barack Obama’s list.  Put on your dad jeans and rock.

13. Wallows - “Remember When”

Another first album here, this one pretty solid, but only this track stood out for me.  Looks like it will not be released as a single.  In fact, this might be the best thing the band has done despite releasing almost everything else as a single.  Maybe there is something embarrassing about this track I’m missing.

14. MEMBA - “Schools Out”

This track was my electronic jam and played throughout my summer the way Purity Ring (R.I.P.) used to.

15. Mura Masa, Clairo - “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again”

The lo-fi, dreamy lounge stylings of Clairo with a crazy drop.  I lose focus if I try to listen to Clairo for more than a minute, but just putting a giant EDM drop in the middle turns out to break up the plainness very nicely. 

16. Sir Babygirl - “Pink Lite”

No idea what this song is about.  Don’t even get what “pink lite” is.  Gotta respect taking a handful of lines that only sometimes even make sense and turning them into this rager.

17. Better Oblivion Community Center - “Little Trouble”

This is another summer tune I played a lot.  Is there a coherent theme behind the catchy verses and couplets?  Some of them seem to be just clever updates on “get off my lawn.”  Come on, Gen Z is too easy a target right now; we should be punching up, not down.  I wish I could find more to approve of, ‘cause I like listening to this track a lot. 

18. Alex Lahey - “Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself”

Best song on her sophomore album, you could do worse.

19. Nil├╝fer Yanya - “In Your Head”

My brother-in-law and I were sitting around playing “you should listen to this” and when I pulled up this track, after 10 seconds he said “No, no, absolutely not.”  I was like, WTF, you’ve only heard the intro, not even the song. Fortunately I am very good at ignoring what he thinks.  This rocks.

20. Martha - “Love Keeps Kicking”

You read this blog, and you can’t expect me to say anything more about Martha than what you’ve already read.

21. Sports Team - “Fishing”

Easy to imagine this middle England band is the social opposite of Martha.  In any event, they are nearly as conventional as Martha is radical, and that’s OK because they seem to own it.

One of my favorite band names of the year (slightly trailing pronoun in late polling).

22. Mannequin Pussy - “Drunk II”

This is not tender punk.  Is it even punk?  I remember Philly from the 80s as a classic rock town, where WYSP ruled and WXPN was for college nerds.  Now WYSP is long gone, and WXPN is a powerhouse in Alternative Rock (or whatever).  I don’t know Mannequin Pussy but imagine they grew up listening to hard rock canon.  Certainly this rocks the way you would expect.  “I still love you, you stupid fuck.”  I would hold up a lighter for that.

23. Jenny Lewis - “Red Bull & Hennessey”

Jenny Lewis can put together a jam band, and a damn good one.

24. Hand Habits - “placeholder”

A wise man predicted this would show up.  Easy to make it happen.

25. Slaughter Beach, Dog - “Tangerine”

Philadelphia continues to represent in the alternative universe too.  I heard of this project because of Nick Harris on guitar (from All Dogs, listen to "That Kind of Girl" please).  Now I hear it is also a guy from Modern Baseball.  That’s the kind of happy thing happens when a scene is so full of talent.

There’s a Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, I don’t know if this song references that one, but if so it fits. 

26. The Regrettes - “I Dare You” 

File under: catchy LA garage pop.

27. Alex Cameron - “Divorce”

Cameron is a strong songwriter and gifted mimic, who usually adopted in his stories the perspective of the kind of guy we don’t really feel any need to hear from right now.  Maybe those stories of failure and frustration weren’t meant as grievance, maybe irony is not dead, let’s not fight about all that.  Here’s my pitch:  when he sings “I got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch / If that's how you want to play it”—that’s pathos.  Hear the desperation and fear in the delivery of those lines.  “All you gotta do is say it: divorce.”  Or if you don’t hear it, move on, sorry to waste your time.

28. Maggie Rogers - “Light On”

Another summer favorite artist of Barack Obama (but it was for “Burning”).  I heard this playing in the mall and my mind went back to this Twitter moment.

Heart warming and stomach turning at the same time.

29. Andrew Bird - “Olympians”

Andrew Bird packs more musical ideas into one song than anyone else on this list.  Listening to this album puts more demands on the ear than I’m used to, and sure that impacts how much and how often I enjoy it.  But if that sounds like more of a feature than a bug, this is a must listen.  Plenty of other high points on this album. 

30. Twin Shadow - “Truly”

Another year, another hit from Twin Shadow.  One of these days he has to get huge.

31. Faye Webster - “Room Temperature”

Granted this song is about three minutes of her chanting “I should get out more,” but it really does make me think that I should get out more.

32. Rosie Tucker - “Lauren”

This is a very sad song that doesn’t exactly sound sad and I find it hard to say why that is.

33. Beach Bunny - “Ms. California”

I heard this song about three days before I made this list, so not sure how it will last.  It does seem like a fine expression of a certain role California plays in the American imagination, and therefore in our pop music.  Definitely better than Katy Perry’s song in any event.

34. Vampire Weekend - “Harmony Hall”

To repeat:  this is a great album and several other tracks could easily be on anyone’s list.

35. Aldous Harding - “The Barrel”

Her voice is so smooth, and this is a beautifully played track.  Another song I have no comprehension of at all:  “It's already dead / I know you have the dove / I'm not getting wet / Looks like a date is set / Show the ferret to the egg / I'm not getting led along.

Show the ferret to the egg?

36. Frankie Cosmos - “Windows”

The story so far: I listened to this album and liked it.  This seemed like a good track (also listen to the album please, it’s 17 tracks and not really singles).  Then today I found out who her parents are and not quite sure how that is going to play out.  On the one hand, Frankie Cosmos is about the most dumb-obvious stage name, so it seems a bit lame-ironic to use it.  Would it really matter if you went by Greta Kline, which is a perfectly fine indie singer-songwriter name?  Greta Kline from the upper east side – why yes, her dad is the actor.  Boy, I hope she doesn’t have some terrible relationship with her dad driving this.  Then I would feel really bad.  She picked a stage name and that’s cool, not like she needs any special permission to do that.  But the fact that she can talk to any creative person in New York with a phone call from dad is just weird to me, really weird for someone whose ambition is to sign with Polyvinyl Records or to open for Mitski (at least that’s what I imagine from this album).

37. Bibio - “Old Graffiti”

If you like to chill to somewhat ambient electronica that still sounds like pop music, this was a standout track this year.

38. Sambassadeur - “Foot of Afrikka”

While I personally was very excited about the return of Sambassadeur, they didn’t make that much of an impact.  Maybe their sound no longer strikes folks as current (fair enough) but I can’t help but think this track would have killed about four years ago.

39. Julia Jacklin - “Don't Know How To Keep Loving You”

Let’s have Julia play us out with a slow burn, it was her year.

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