Sunday, January 8, 2023

GL.22.21: Carl Anderson


GL.22.22: Tom Morgan


Deep Thoughts for 2022

How are changes in the circumstances of production changing the content of what you get? — is a question everyone should always be asking, if you care about what it is that you get. Well let’s talk about music. Decades ago, the vinyl record unleashed the age of automated reproduction on popular music and changed everything. That revolution was baked-in by the time we came around. But I’ve lived through the whole of the second revolution, as the internet and cheap-ass electronics removed almost all of the remaining capital friction on music consumption. We all got a pocket-sized universal jukebox. It’s popular to wax ambivalent about the totality of the consequences of that, but the bottom line is we all use it and it would be ridiculous to give it up. So we live and learn. 

This year I’ve been thinking about a kind of second order effect on some of the new bands on this list. Kids can now hear whatever they want whenever they want, and they have grown up listening to EVERYTHING. The kids in Momma, not even born in the 90s, seem better attuned to 90s music than I was when I was listening to it in the 90s. I spent so much time hunting for alternative music in those years, and Horsegirl probably listened to all of that and more while they were still in high school. History has lowkey dissipated. Madison Cunningham’s “Hospital” could have been written any time in the last 50 years or so (tho’ most of that time Cunningham could not have found an audience). And these hyper-literate kids have much improved opportunities to share their performances of “brief moments of incredible beauty.” True, it doesn’t pay them squat, but folks never got paid beforehand either. 

Consider: in 1988 Sonic Youth used all the cash they could get their hands on for studio time to record their masterpiece Daydream Nation. They didn’t have a major-label contract, the usual way for a band to finance studio time. They did have three or four albums, and I doubt there was a more critically acclaimed band in NYC at the time. So they scraped together about $30K (which for reference was about twice the price of a new Ford Mustang) and went for it. The result was shopped to Enigma, who had enjoyed some success with Christian rockers Stryper and faux-metal hair band Poison. Enigma, in turn, had a distribution deal with Capitol, who could actually get records into stores. Well, in theory anyway. There was this hangup about pricing, where the 70-minute length meant a vinyl double LP, and some jerks in the distribution chain required that a CD of a “double album” retail for proportionately more than a “single album” CD. But most thought that was stupid, including probably every Sonic Youth fan. Distribution was poor, and sales were, as they used to say, “disappointing.” Those are a few highlights of the epic bullshit that the best established “alternative” band in NYC had to endure to get their album distributed in Tower Records. 

That crap is now all blown far, far away like litter on a windy Chicago day. Let us give thanks. 
01  Madison Cunningham — Hospital

This is first on the list because it is perfect in all ways — perfectly written, arranged, performed, recorded. I feel grateful for this track. And I think it could be timeless. To the extent it is of a style at all, it’s the style of post-Revolver guitar music. Which is a pretty damn broad field. And this still stands out pretty brightly in that field. 

02  Martha — Baby, Does Your Heart Sink?

Once again the world is divided across a bright line, and we learn there are two distinct kinds of people. The first is those of us who walk down the sidewalk in our headphones, singing out loud:

Baby, does your heart sink? 
Baby, does your heart just sink? 
Baby, does your heart sink 
When I call? I know it does.

And then there are those of you who look at us funny and need to experience more joy in your life. I recommend as a first step listening to more Martha. 

03  Camp Cope — Seventeen Going Under (Triple J Like A Version)

If I could see one band live right now, here it is and this track shows why. There’s no holding back, just killing it on all fronts. 

But I couldn’t see them live this year, and the reason why is enraging. Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, the bassist who is carrying the melody here, got pregnant. She had a miscarriage shortly before the pregnancy. So she faced the very practical question, Can an at-risk pregnant woman from Australia tour the U.S. with her band in 2022? No, she cannot. What foreigner would dare ride a bus across Texas during an at-risk pregnancy? You’d need a private jet on standby to take you back to civilization (and an army of lawyers too, and let’s not even mention private health insurance). If you doubt this political movement is fundamentally about hating women, consider hatred is the only thing that explains a preference to destroy your society rather than to let women live in it as equals to men. The plain truth is that we are so deep into this drive to manifest some more crazy version of The Handmaid’s Tale that civilized folks have to shun our pariah state. Fuck this shit, fuck it 100%. 

Hellmrich had her baby. Hope lives. 

04  Camp Trash — Lake Erie Boys

Heavy on melody and, uh, light on instrumental and vocal technique, there’s plenty of room in the indie music scene for this. Maybe it even defines what counts as indie rock post-1990? This track has a cool structure, in addition to the sing  along melodies that are plentiful on this album. Maybe that, maybe it’s just so catchy, all those things together added up to a lot of listens for me. 

05  The Beths — Knees Deep

I listened to The Beths’ new album more than their earlier efforts. This song is so good, and it's so predictable that I would like it, but it’s not as if they had a big change of direction or some breakthrough in writing or recording just right here. It’s of a piece, just a little more of what I want. And the fact I like this more than the other tracks is, of course, a totally opaque mystery to the algorithms. They have always loved recommending everything by The Beths to me. I see why. Almost every adjective you can apply to this band registers positively with me. If I were to have a personal shopper for music (we used to call that a “local record store worker”) then surely I’d have The Beths waved in my face. It’s not wrong! I should listen to The Beths more, and you should too!

06  Harry Styles — As It Was

The internet did not solve the information problem, specifically what new music is worth listening to (and why). Once upon a time I thought it might. In my 20s, Gina Arnold was a local music critic that my friends and I read regularly. This was mostly a happy coincidence of having a local writer who was truly one of us, who got excited about the shows we did, and who showed up, often on weeknights, in a crowd of dozens at best, and danced. When we hated Arnold’s opinions, it was just more proof that she had strong opinions on what mattered, i.e. was one of us. Every community needed its own Gina Arnold. I thought the bottleneck was the cost of distribution. Nope. Totally wrong on that. 

Was there ever a time when you thought the internet might give every community its own public square, when it promised to raise up the authentic voices and take power back from the privileged few? Instead the internet is making ours a troll planet. It killed local news, it may kill journalism altogether. 

Anyhow, no algorithm could have predicted how much I enjoyed this. To a first approximation, all algorithms predict I will like the new Taylor Swift. Lacking the ability to select and extrapolate from the relevant data, the automatons mostly advertise to you the biggest selling X. Cars, clothes, movies, music, whatever. The machines also don’t understand that music fans are fickle bitches: I love Swift but hearing her new album makes me physically angry; I don't think I've even liked a Harry Styles track before, but wow this was a highlight of my year. 

The internet is now poised to make the information problem much worse. 

Note this is actually more informative than most Pitchfork reviews. How is anyone, anywhere, going to publish any cogent opinions on music in the future? 

07  Lizzy McAlpine — All My Ghosts

McAlpine is said to be a TikTokker. What I know is that she is a great singer and this track proves her songwriting chops. It might have been a generic version of the “maybe it will be different this time” ballad but for a couple of really great ideas. First, the motif of having “all my ghosts” follow the narrator. It communicates most of the theme of the song in one phrase and you don’t have to go through any details about what has NOT been working in the past. And the line “I hope that’s true.” It just flips the saccharine sentiment on its head: “maybe it will be different this time, well I can hope so anyway.” It puts some distance between the narrator and the way too adolescent bridge about the “marriage of the year.” And it fully rescues the last lines, “Cause I hate all of my habits / But I happen to love you / I hope that's true.” Of course you don’t fucking love them, you barely know them. But yeah, you hope that. Of course! 

08  Horsegirl — Anti-glory

My most thought-provoking album of the year was from Horsegirl, though many of those thoughts were recollections about Sonic Youth in the 80s (see above). I heard something about how they signed with Matador because they all love the 80s SST albums. And then the label set them up with Steve Shelly, who is one of my all-time hero drummers, and Lee Ranaldo too. Well that’s a good story (“I hope that’s true”). The good news is they totally earn it. This is no tribute band. In fact, they’re probably more similar to mid 80s Yo La Tengo and Meat Puppets than the actual sound of 80s Sonic Youth, which even at its most commercial was much more earnestly noise rock (IMHO, the best ever at it). 

All of which raises the question, how did these teenagers produce this? Well much praise and glory to the universal jukebox, without which not. When I first heard this album, I thought OK, these teenagers were hearing all those 20-somethings revive the 90s independents, and to be different and cooler a natural choice was to go back to 1986. Just listen to everything weird and obscure from back then. Maybe there’s truth in that, but by God it doesn’t explain how good the result is. 

One choice they have in common with Sonic Youth is they are less concerned about having something to say and way more concerned about how to say it. That is admirable and correct. One thing that went wrong in the 90s was, as the music entered the mainstream rock audience, it became conventional to act like these dashed-together songs had some deep meaning and relevance to your life. I’m sorry, but the idea that some dopey Foo Fighters lyric is going to tell you how to live is just stupid. Instead, if it sounds good, enjoy how it sounds. 

09  Alvvays — Tom Verlaine

I’m a little disappointed in this album on a subjective level, as I was hoping for something different. My private name for it is “Ride The Whammy Bar.” Some of the songs sound better to me live on tape from KEXP. But the appeal of this song shines through for me. The lyricism of Molly’s songs are top notch. 

10  Momma — Speeding 72

Sometimes it's hard to tell how you feel about something so new and so familiar all at once. As a song both exemplifying being obsessed with Pavement and about listening to a Pavement song, it strikes a deep nerve. I may have been obsessed with Crooked Rain when it came out. When your three roommates, who like Pavement, complain that you are listening to too much Pavement, you take note. Back then it felt like the end of something, like a requiem. Whatever was ending had so much to do with Cobain’s suicide, and I say respectfully that there is no way in hell some college sophomores today have an authentic grasp of how Crooked Rain hit in those times. Still, Crooked Rain is a deeply unserious album from a deeply unserious band, and listening to “Speeding 72” helps me recapture some of the pure joy of listening to this kind of music. 

11  The Mountain Goats — Mark on You

Aaron’s tradition of year end lists has developed a kind of sub-tradition regarding what is the best Mountain Goats track of the year. I’m a Joshua Tree lifer, so this one hit the hardest for me this year. 

12  Plains — Problem With It

If I were able to explain how much joy I got from Katie Crutchfield’s Saint Cloud (and boy have I tried) maybe I could also convey how great it was to hear this track for the first time. I’m completely in the tank for her; this song will keep me there; and I love all of that. 

13  Lucy Dacus — Kissing Lessons

These days when your favorite song writer has a track that doesn’t make the album, you don’t have to wait 5 or 10 years to hear it. You just get it. I am really glad Dacus had this reflection on a memory and wanted to write a song about it. It probably seems a little like 2/3 of a song and also at the same time as finished as it can be. Everything she has to give is worth taking. 

14  Queen of Jeans — Hiding in Place

I am late to appreciate this band and may be overcompensating. It’s a “passion of a convert” thing for now.

15  Big Thief — Change

This album got so much attention from folks in my orbit. There’s many interesting songs, to be sure, but this is really both the essence of the project and the purest execution of it. Just so simple and lovely.

16  Ceramic Animal — Up In Smoke

When I was in high school I spent time driving along highways through the exurbs of the mid-Atlantic states. This track sounds exactly like the soundtrack for that. And when I learned these guys are from the Philadelphia exurbs, I felt really good about that. Definitely better feels than the fact I only heard this band because of their famous producer, Dan Auerbach. 

17  Good Looks — Almost Automatic

Let us also praise the old ways. This year I was trying to decide whether to go to a show at The Bottom Of The Hill, and perhaps as a way of deciding but also as a way of procrastinating I checked the opening band. That led me to this track. For other reasons, I didn’t go to the show but ended up liking this. 

The opening lines rhyme “west Texas town” with “sun go down” and I would have sworn I heard that somewhere before. Like Phoebe Bridgers does sometimes, you come away convinced you’ve been listening to this track for a long time even though you just heard it this year. 

18  Oso Oso — computer exploder

This is another track where everyone tells me I’ll like it, and they are right. 

19  bigfatbig — Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Things I know about this band: (1) northern and proud of it, (2) friends of Zuzu, a band so obscure in the U.S. that for a while I thought they chose to exist only in odd numbered years, (3) appropriately horny for Phoebe Bridgers, and (4) according to Aaron, friends of Martha. Enough said, you’re worth a listen. 

20  White Reaper — Pages

Didn’t hear much from White Reaper during the pandemic (which is totally OK) but that they did some touring with Pearl Jam and some cross-promotion with Metallica. Well this new track seems very promising, so let’s hope the new album kicks.  

21  The Wonder Years — Old Friends Like Lost Teeth

Here’s another band from the eastern part of planet Pennsylvania. They have at least 10 albums out now. If you want to listen to an album from a veteran band that knows how to rock, these guys deliver the goods. There’s music you love because it sounds so new, and there's music you love because it delivers what you keep wanting again and again. This is that second thing. 

22  PUP — Totally Fine

The hardest band on this list delivers the most poignant line: “Lately I’m starting to feel like I’m slowly dying / And if I’m being real I don’t even mind.” That's haunting me. 

Also, “Woo!” of the year indeed! I love the part of the video where they reveal We’re going to fuckin’ space!

23  Margo Price — Been To The Mountain

If there is anyone who has the credibility to deliver a new “I have seen all of this shit” banger it’s Margo Price. You can hear it in her voice. More evidence that there is no point in calling anyone “country music artist” any more and I wish that would just die already (see also Brandi Carlile). 

24  Grace Ives — Lullaby

Is it possible to be nostalgic for 2017 already? That’s what I think when I hear this, not in a bad way. 

25  Rina Sawayama — This Hell

This year Rina Sawayama may have been my “most heard artist” of the year. Every bar and club in my neighborhood seemed to be playing this hourly. Going to get groceries? Gonna hear “This Hell.” Heading out for a burrito? Choose between the place where the bar across the street is playing “This Hell” and the place where the club next door is playing it. Not even Lady Gaga achieved this sustained level of saturation, I think. What does it mean? I don’t know. Maybe not so much competition? Maybe it's just a dumb algorithm: if GAYBAR then play(This_Hell). I can understand why Sawayama has achieved diva godhead with this track. Interesting to see if she can keep it. 

26  Karol G — PROVENZA

For a short while this summer there was a rival on the sidewalks of San Francisco. I don’t know much about this track other than that if you were here in summer 2022, it arrived, you heard it a lot, and like the summer it rolled away too soon. 

27  Cate Le Bon — Moderation

And the winner of this year’s Joanna Newsom award for not-that-kind-of-diva, it’s Cate Le Bon. 

28  Arlo Parks — Softly

I chilled to Arlo Parks last year, and this year too. This track got added to the mix. Even though I don’t know what relation the recording bears to Collapsed In Sunbeams, it seems to fit. 

29  First Aid Kit — Palomino

These sisters have that thing going where it seems like non-Americans can understand American music in some ways better than we can. I would see them live someday if there’s a hope they’ll do this banger cover of War Pigs again. 

30  Hurray For The Riff Raff — PIERCED ARROWS

In 2017 when I first heard this band, I noted “Alynda Segarra has such a compelling voice it is worth paying attention, even though it’s hard to understand what this band is about,” and that take has really held up. Still compelling. Still don’t understand what it’s about. 

31  Horsegirl — World of Pots and Pans

Yeah it was a lot of Horsegirl this year, and I’ve started to listen to this track more and more. Gets closer to having something to say, and if that mattered more to me maybe this would be my favorite track. 

32  Camp Cope — Running with the Hurricane

Georgia Maq says this song is about “championing yourself.” We live in a world in which it takes so much work to be hopeful about almost anything. This track helps. It gives us something to look forward to. It helped me. 

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