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Music Notes


I know that I just did one of these, but I had the chance to listen to a bunch of new albums this week and didn’t want the list to get too long. Plus it’s Sunday night so who cares.

How about in this thread, we don’t have an endless conversation about how great Yes is as happened in the last music thread. It’s like you people have learned nothing in 35 years of much better music being made. I mean, really. Have some shame. There’s a bunch of albums discussed below. Maybe listen to some of them instead of Tales from Topographic Oceans for the 7000th time. Rant over.

Maybe some nostalgia for punk will be less annoying. I started subscribing to Filmstruck a couple of months ago and have really enjoyed it. The combination of Criterion and TCM is pretty much the best film streaming service possible. Anyway, I managed to check off a movie that I really can’t believe I had never seen before–The Decline of Western Civilization. The classic 1981 documentary chronicling the Los Angeles punk scene in 1979 and 1980 is pretty fantastic, as I am sure many of you know from having seen it. In part it works because some of the bands became pretty famous. X was already on the way, Black Flag later became famous after Henry Rollins joined the band but at the time of filming they were fronted by Ron Reyes, and the Circle Jerks. Other bands that went nowhere are featured too, but no one could have known then. Some of them were pretty good. I liked the footage of Catholic Discipline quite a bit. I enjoyed the X interviews the most, just because I like the band more than the others. A hilariously drunk Exene, John Doe giving the roadie a home tattoo, and Billy Zoom, the least punk person in the entire punk movement except maybe that made him the most punk, just hanging out and looking upon these tattoos with skepticism. Obviously the worries about punk destroying society were overrated, but the film is good at facing the racism and the homophobia of the movement head on. The last scene, with the band openly inciting the fans to riot, is genuinely a little scary. I wouldn’t want to be there! It’s interesting that while punk and punk-like forms remain pretty central to American and British rock music, the super aggressive hyper male energy seems to have faded into a more tolerant era. Maybe that’s not true in the black metal movement. But after the moshing era in grunge, it mostly seems to me that people are pretty chill at shows. Or maybe that’s just my lucky experience. And I haven’t been to that many punk shows, as I will explain below.

Anyway, next I need to watch the sequel, featuring the LA glam metal scene of the 80s. I don’t like that music at all, but it should be good.

As I imagine is clear at this point, I listen to a lot of music and have a large music collection. I buy at least one album every week (a Friday ritual), often the albums I have reviewed here, sometimes older albums. Recent albums I’ve purchased include the latest from Jason Isbell and from Richard Buckner. Older albums I’ve picked up recently include Sir Douglas Quintet’s 1+1+1=4, Billy Martin (from Medeski Martin and Wood)’s Starlings, Bill Frisell’s 1984 album Rambler, Buffalo Springfield’s Buffalo Springfield Again, an album of Johnny Horton’s greatest hits, a collection of black singers from the 1970s covering country songs, Captain Beefheart’s Safe as Milk, and the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks Volume 3. Listening to music is a lifelong project that is also impossible to fulfill in any meaningful way. Not only is there always great music being made, but there’s an endless number of older albums worth listening to. And there is only so much time in the day.

I mention this because upon the deaths of Walter Becker and Grant Hart, I realized I have never listened to a Steely Dan or a Hüsker Dü album in my life. Of course, I knew Steely Dan from classic rock radio in the early 90s, the last time I really listened to commercial radio. I don’t know if they are played on classic rock stations today. It wasn’t really the type of music likely to appeal to a 17 year old in 1991, but I don’t think I ever had the objections to it that I had even then to crap bands like Journey and Foreigner and Kiss. Obviously it was smart music. But then I never came back to them later. They just sort of disappeared from my radar. I need to fix that problem.

Hüsker Dü is perhaps a slightly more interesting story. I have a friend whose first ever show he went to by his own choice was Hüsker Dü. That instantly gives him a cool factor way higher than most of us. My first show was Sir Mix a Lot. And not the “Baby Got Back” era. That was for you poseurs. No, this was after the Swoss album came out. Think “Posse on Broadway” and of course the timeless classic “Beepers.” Not so cool. Anyway, I was always on my own journey when it came to music. I started moving away from my friends’ choice late in high school, not to any particularly interesting place, but from whatever was on Top 40 radio to bands like Pink Floyd and then by the time I was a freshman in college, King Crimson. Luckily, I realized even then that Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes were completely embarrassing bands and I avoided them like the plague. From there, it was on to people such as Frank Zappa (unfortunate yes, but the guy was not only a hell of a guitarist but a great composer of pretty interesting music too. Too bad he was a sexist cynic when it came to lyrics), Miles, Coltrane, and then to people such as Sonny Sharrock and John Zorn by the end of my college days, which really endeared me to others as you can imagine. I entered my country phase in graduate school and anyway, I kept listening and listening and finally came around to punk, which I hated when I was a teenager, in my 30s. Maybe I have more angst now than then, I don’t know. But because of that backwards way into it, I never really had people telling me to listen to this album or that and while I knew I should probably listen to Hüsker Dü at some point, I never have, even though I now love bands such as X and Gang of Four and Sleater Kinney, who I completely missed when they were big in the late 90s and early 00s.

Point being, no matter how hard you try, you will never listen to everything you should hear. Given how much I love an unattainable goal, I plan to trying until the day I die and falling far short.

The answer to Vacuumslayer’s question is The Coathangers’ “Dumb Baby”:

Also, Rolling Stone is being sold. I don’t actually care about the magazine except for their political reporting. God knows that the old joke about a person who bought every highly reviewed album in Rolling Stone would have the worst record collection in history still seems true to me. But it’s historical importance is certainly clear enough.

Album Reviews:

Africaine 808, Basar

As I’ve stated in these posts before, I really try to listen to the occasional album in a genre I don’t really like. It seems like the right thing to do and keeps the mind fresh. Africaine 808 is a pair of Berlin club musicians, which sounds like something I would hate. But they also include west African sounds in their music and not in a dumb, derivative, or cheap way. Even though I don’t like house and techno music, this is genuinely a pretty good album. It goes on too long, as is common with this type of music. I don’t need 74 minutes of it. But cut to 40 minutes, and I might even listen to it again.


Fred Frith Trio, Another Day in Fucking Paradise

The legendary experimental guitarist goes all the back to playing in early bands with Syd Barrett, his years with Henry Cow, and playing in a huge variety of musical settings, usually with his guitar or bass, but sometimes with a violin. Not all of his music is easy to listen to of course, but he’s just a great musician. Now living in Oakland, he put a band together with a couple of local musicians–Jason Hoopes on bass and Jordan Glenn on drum–and made a really good album. Again, it’s not background music. It demands your attention. Mostly for good reason. Good loud rock music that would blow the mind of a whole lot of rock kids if they heard it.


Julia Jacklin, Don’t Let the Kids Win

This Australian singer-songwriter has a fine debut album from 2016 that has earned positive reviews. I didn’t find it particularly revelatory, but she sure doesn’t sound like a 25 year old making her first album. With lyrics focused a lot on growing old, it has an atmosphere beyond her years. It’s a fine first release and I look forward to hearing her in the future.


Ana Tijoux, 1977

Tijoux is an interesting story, the daughter of exiles from Pinochet’s Chile who grew up in France. That experience dominates this album, but it’s not necessarily what makes this 2010 album really good. My Spanish is exceptionally mediocre so I can’t follow the lyrics that closely, but the music is fantastic and she is very talented. This is almost anti-club hip-hop. I don’t know that one even really could dance to it. It’s just really smart and interesting music and Tijoux’s approach to rapping works very well for me. She’s someone I really need to explore more.


John Luther Adams, Become Ocean

I always felt a little bad for Adams because he shares a name with a more famous composer. But his own work is the equal of the more known John Adams. Become Ocean, recorded by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 2014, is an absolutely magical recording. It is just a beautiful composition. I listened to it on Bandcamp (where I try to listen to new albums if I can instead of Spotify) and one of the sponsors of his page said about this album, “Maybe the title influenced my reaction, but this album feels like being underwater. Not drowning, but floating, safe, alert, and at peace, while still in awe of the immensity of the ocean’s scale.” This is a really appropriate comment for this album. First rate piece of modern composition.


Sunny Sweeney, Trophy

I first heard Sweeney a decade ago, with her 2006 debut Heartbreakers’ Hall of Fame. That was a really good first album, very down home Texas without much adornment. Good solid country. Then she disappeared. I guess she released an album in 2011 but I missed it. I did hear her 2014 album Provoked, but I felt it was disappointingly Nashville, with all the negative connotations that meant. It was a long ways from her early days and felt it was too made for country radio. So I was skeptical about her new album, but now I need to go back and listen to the last one again because this is really good. Like a lot of the women who are making a good name for themselves in country music right now, this is an antidote to the douche country platitudes of garbage bands like Florida Georgia Line. A lot of the songs are about drinking too much or doing too many drugs, which of course can be a total cliche of their own, but these work well. Overall, a worthy album.


Father John Misty, Pure Comedy

I never know what to make of this guy. I enjoyed 2012’s Fear Fun quite a bit and still listen to it not too infrequently, but his bad boy persona got way over the top on 2015’s I Love You Honeybear. I didn’t need to hear songs about all the drugs he does and all the women who want to fuck him and have him choke them and the like. It was just too much. Some people loved the album, but I found it tiresome. But this is a very smart man, whatever one says about him. And that comes through on his new album. He leaves the most egregious of his semi-bragging bad boy image behind and instead writes odd but fascinating songs about show business, about capitalism, and about all the issues the guy has. He’s still arrogant, but in a more interesting way than before. Musically, he would have fit really well within the 70s Los Angeles folk-rock singer-songwriter scene, but his lyrics are more edgy and odd than those acts. I don’t think this is a person I would want to know, but I am always going to be interested in what he has to say. I feel like this needs more listens before I can really evaluate it, but I will do so tentatively now by saying that this album is more than a little too long and yet is captivating.

B (for now, but it could range anywhere from A to C in a year, depending on how this ages on me)

Daddy Issues, Can We Still Hang

I maintain this is one of the most fun bands working today. Grunge-pop songs about sex, the lack of sex, and the problems of women? What is not to love? That said, this is not my favorite of their releases, although “Unicorns and Rainbows” is pretty excellent and “Blue Haired Boy” and “Shitty World” are pretty good.


This is an open thread for all things music. Except for people defending Yes, for Christ’s sake.

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