The Incredible String Band – The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion
Released July, 1967 on Elektra Records
Incredible String Band were a couple of Scottish folkies who got their start wanting to be Donovan and Bob Dylan and ended up being mainstays of the lysergic road of the Hippie Trail. Their 1966 self-titled debut showed the former as being big influences; this follow-up included a number of then-exotic instruments (sitar, gimbri, mandolin, etc.) that were incorporated in such a blissful way that “psychedelic folk” leads it’s long, bizarre trail directly back to it. If 1967 was indeed the fabled Summer Of Love, then The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion is the most Love-y album of that summer. This is meant in two senses. In the first sense, 5000 Spirits is pretty much the epitome of psych-folk, which was the driving soundtrack of the naked, wild, flower-dancing hippie children of 1967. In the second sense, it is also the epitome of the more teeth-grinding aspects of that era; it’s overly fey in spots, cutesy beyond credibility (“The Hedgehog’s Song”), incorporates blues music without really understanding the grinding poverty that underpinned the blues (“No Sleep Blues”, “Blues For The Muse”), and plays fast and loose with the era’s regrettable love for freewheeling, womanizing men (“The First Girl I Loved”). There’s little wonder, then, that Paul McCartney called it his favourite album of 1967. Still, as far as documents of a decade’s music go, there’s few records that sum up the 1960s quite as well as 5000 Spirits.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Released July 8th, 2007
Before 2007, Justin Vernon was a folky college rocker with an obscure band (DeYarmond Edison) and a girlfriend. In 2006, after college ended, Vernon and the band moved to North Carolina; the band and the relationship both ended in short order, and Vernon was left with mono and a liver infection, as well as a frustration with songwriting, shitty jobs, and the creeping sense of mediocrity that was building in him at the age of 25. Rather than get a 9-5 and try to settle into obscurity, Vernon exiled himself to his father’s hunting cabin in remote Wisconsin and lived alone for a while, trying to find himself and a new way to write songs without crushing his spirit. He lived through three months of Wisconsin winter, hunting for food, chopping firewood, and at one point fending off a bear. Songwriting came along, developing out of ideas he’d had shortly before a wave of depression drowned everything; they were built out of simpler arrangements, and wordless melodies that were sung in a falsetto.
The eventual result was For Emma, Forever Ago, which Vernon self-released ten years ago today. Originally he’d emerged from the Great Midwestern Wilderness with nine songs and vague plans of using them as a demo to try to convince some label or another to give him money to record a slicker version of it. His stint as the touring guitarist with North Carolina band The Rosebuds convinced him that, much like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Vernon’s recordings already were an album. He released it as such, and he quickly began fielding offers from big indie labels. Everything that came after – the fame, the Grammy (“Who da fuck is Bonny Bear?”), the job as hook man for Kanye West – stems from this, a musical act of coming to terms with the past and the things you can’t get over. “Flume” was written just prior to his breaking up with his girlfriend and retreating to the wild – he claims that it’s the song that pushed him into going in the first place. The subsequent songs dwell in questions of love, of the direction of life, and the sense of being trapped; “Re: Stacks” makes reference to his being trapped in a cycle of online gambling.
I think that this album turning a decade old is the surest sign that I am, in fact, slowly growing old. When an album like Warehouse: Songs And Stories turns 30, it doesn’t hit me as hard because I was 5 when that album came out, and I came to it much later. For Emma, Forever Ago came out when I was 25, the same age as it’s creator, and it’s sense of creeping mediocrity spoke loudly to me. It still does, ten years on, and I hope that I can eventually come to terms with it in as glorious a fashion as Justin Vernon did.
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Released May 13th, 2016
During the wild, chaotic run-up to the release of The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West announced that it would be a “gospel album”, inspired by the African-American tradition of blending worship in church with soaring choral music that God himself might hear. Despite the label, the only gospel moments on the album were the admittedly brilliant opener “Ultralight Beam” and “Lowlight”, an intro to the more traditional (and Young Thug guesting) “Highlight”.
Fellow Chicago musician Chance The Rapper was on the former, and it’s Chance The Rapper that is now bringing out what ‘Ye promised: a full-on gospel hip hop record, embracing the worldliness of life in often-violent Chicago, and simultaneously the glory and life guide of his religion. Rather than the lysergic uncertainty of his breakthrough Acid Rap, Coloring Book finds a man confident in his faith and in sorrow for his city and his people. “Blessings (Reprise)” has him saying “They never seen a rapper practice modesty, I never practice, I only perform”, and this serves as a good overarching theme for the record as a whole. It’s an album that stands in direct contrast to the nihilistic, violent drill scene that Chicago is known for; rather than a finger-waving sermon, though, tracks like “Summer Friends” seem to offer a prayer for those caught up in the summertime violence that is endemic to the drug and gang-ridden city streets. The problem with overtly “Christian” artists is that the music often seems to take a backseat to the message; they’re so concerned with connecting with “the kids” that they don’t take the time to actually figure out what makes the secular music so appealing in the first place. Chance succeeds exactly where “Christian rap” or “Christian rock” fails: he lets his faith infuse his music, rather than supersede it. He’s intensely relatable, even when you’re outside of the continuum of his experience.
Even better in this day and age, Chance is staunchly independent. He doesn’t need a label, and he doesn’t need to sell his album just to fulfill label quotas. Coloring Book is free, and as such it’s technically classified as a mixtape. It’s a subject he addresses on “No Problem” with Lil’ Wayne (no stranger to label problems himself) and “Mixtape” (with ultra-prolific fellow mixtaper Young Thug), but it’s also a subject he brought up originally on “Ultralight Beam”: “He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”. Mixtapes are ineligible for Grammys, and if there’s an album that deserves a Grammy it’s Coloring Book – a fact that perhaps led Chance to release it on DatPiff and then shortly after make it a short-term iTunes exclusive. Nonwithstanding whether having it on a paid streaming service makes it “for sale”, Chance’s Twitter fans ended up tweeting all of the lyrics to Coloring Book. They’re a loyal group and Chance is the sort of artist to reward them for their loyalty with both quality and (between his own work, his guest spots, and his gig fronting Chicago experimental pop group The Social Experiment) quantity.
Chance deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other giants of modern hip hop – your Weezys, Drizzys, Yeezys, K. Dots, et al. He’s got a killer flow, has a Kendrick-like appreciation for intricate wordplay, and has the ability to ride a vibe for all it’s worth better than pretty much anyone else. In a genre dominated by a careful balance between artistry and crass mercenary sales grubbing, Chance takes the left hand path and is all the better for it.
AND THE REST…
Always Strive And Prosper
04/22/2016 on Polo Grounds Music
The perennial also-ran to A$AP Rocky comes into his own with a solid album of hard-hitting verses backed with a staggering amount of high-profile guest spots.
04/22/2016 on Pink Flag Records
Eight songs from 2015’s Wire record were redone for this mini-LP. As it turns out, the pioneers of jittery indie rock fall apart when they try to hold themselves still even for a moment.
04/22/2016 on Carpark Records
Toronto has a reputation for noisy rock ‘n’ roll – emphasis on the noise part. In the grand tradition of METZ, Fucked Up, et al. comes Greys, who pile noisy parts on top of each other until they approximate songs. While their sound has expanded somewhat from their debut, it’s still fairly limited in terms of it’s overall impact. Still, for something to crank up to ten and annoy the neighbours with, you could do worse.
Plants And Animals
Waltzed In From The Rumbling
04/29/2016 on Secret City Records
A pleasant surprise from a band that’s been very hit and miss since their stellar debut, Parc Avenue. Strives less for radio play than it does for campfire grit.
Paging Mr. Proust
The veteran alt-country band has lost quite a bit of oomph over the years, and their ninth album can’t hold a candle to their earlier career. Decent enough stuff, but unexceptional.
The standard-bearers for the modern Riot Grrl movement get a little slicker and a bit more commercial on their third album. It works, but I miss the fireworks and slashing of old. At least the punk rock feminist righteousness is still intact.
Because there aren’t any albums in this list I want to take the time to commit more than 300 words to.
City Sun Eater In The River Of Life
04/08/2016 on Woodsist Records
The veteran Brooklyn lo-fi folk group plays it safe on their latest album – entirely too safe. Everything here sounds like Woods, even when it’s trying hard not to.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
Call It What It Is
04/08/2016 on Fantasy Records
Ben Harper’s first album with his Innocent Criminals backing band since the first Obama election is a solid return to form, a slick and professional amalgam of his styles: funk, rock, soul, reggae, and old school R&B.
The Dandy Warhols
04/08/2016 on Dine Alone Records
The poster children for diminishing returns approach the singularity. Why even bother at this point?
04/08/2016 on Dualtone Records
The band doubles down on their folky Americana tracing, with a graver tone than the first time around. The best that can be said is that at least they didn’t just go full-on Coldplay like a certain other indie-folk band of saps.
Royce Da 5’9″
04/15/2016 on Bad Half Entertainment
The veteran Detroit rapper isn’t gunning for radio singles or memorable street bangers here. Instead, he leans on his top-notch lyrical skills to deliver a solid, message-driven album that also happens to feature some great hooks.
04/15/2016 on Because Records
The French psych-garage band combines a variety of European traditions – Italian giallo soundtracks, French ye-ye music, Spanish guitar melodies – with hard-hitting American psychedelic garage rock. Features New Order bassist Peter Hook in an obvious cameo on one track.
04/15/2016 on Suicide Squeeze Records
Like Drew Storen, The Coathangers are a once-reliable outfit that has lost its velocity and therefore it’s meaning by 2016. They try to develop some new tricks but, also like Storen, it remains to be seen whether they can pull that off in the long-run.
04/15/2016 on Dead Oceans Records
The former Woods bassist puts out a lush album of moves cribbed from the Bob Dylan playbook. Not exactly essential, but not a throwaway album either.
04/15/2016 on Secretly Canadian Records
A sort of lazy-eyed post-punk, like if Thom Yorke fronted an underground band. There’s nothing here that reinvents the wheel or even improves upon an aspect of their influences, but it passes the time well enough.
Surgical Meth Machine
Surgical Meth Machine
04/15/2016 on Nuclear Blast Records
After putting Ministry to bed with a trio of albums that all said the same thing (“George W Bush sucks”), Al Jourgenson returns in 2016 with a project that blends industrial oblivion with the blurred effect of speed metal. It doesn’t have the hard-hitting punch of his Ministry days but it’s funnier than anything he’s done in years, and the latter half of the album has more hooks than a bait shop.
Love Letter For Fire
04/15/2016 on Sub Pop Records
The Iron & Wine frontman teams up with Jesca Hoop to put together an album of rich country-tinged folk ballads that I can’t remember a blessed thing about as soon as they’re over.
04/15/2016 on Livity Sound Recordings
When it comes to electronic music meant to get you moving, Utility is competent. That’s not really a compliment but it’s not altogether denigrating either. You could do worse.
04/22/2016 on Susannasonata Records
An effective blend of the baroque majesty of Joanna Newsom and the cutting-edge mystique of St. Vincent. It would be a much better album if it wasn’t so overly long.
Asphalt For Eden
04/22/2016 on Profound Lore Records
Dense, thick, and lo-fi, the hip-hop group’s first album in six years (with new members) hits all of the right notes from their previous, critically acclaimed efforts. Noisy without being willfully so, and brief without being truncated.
Special Friday Edition!
Friday is the day on /r/music where the mods like to turn off the ability to post YouTube videos in the hopes of the subreddit actually becoming one for music discussion and not, say, where Reddit likes to dump it’s garbage fire taste in music. Ha. Ha ha. Well, they try, that’s the important thing.
If you tuned in yesterday, you’ll get the basic gist: I take a look at the top ten songs posted on /r/music in the last 24 hours and tell you how terrible Reddit’s taste in music is. In much rarer occasions, I’ll tell you where they get it right. Fridays will be fun because of the phenomenon mentioned above: it’s going to be a collection of those songs with the staying power to make it through the discussion posts.
Also, for the record, no I don’t plan on this being an everyday thing, but I would like it to be an everyday I can manage it thing.
June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 3rd, 2016 (12:30 PM)
#1: Mr. Bungle – “Air Conditioned Nightmare”
Reddit manages to kick it off with something weird and cool, courtesy of Mike “Weird and Cool” Patton. Goes through four different changes in tone and structure, each completely different than the one before. In anyone else’s hands, it would be a gigantic mess, but Mike Patton isn’t anyone else.
#2: Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel The Pain”
Sirius XMU’s favourite Dinosaur, Jr track is also Reddit’s most commonly posted DJ song. Thankfully it never gets old, although I’ve heard it three times today between the radio and this particular set. Two good tracks in a row, Reddit, maybe Fridays are your thing.
#3: Beck – “Wow”
Ah, the new Beck track. The one that starts off like a generic hip hop beat, or maybe something like what Beyonce might have rejected for her self-titled 2013 album. Then Beck manages to bull through it in a display of sheer Beck-ness. Still, it feels a little empty and it’s not until 2/3 of the way through that Beck lets his freak flag fly in even a limited fashion. Honestly it feels a little like Beck chasing a hit and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Holding out opinions for the album, we’ll see.
#4: The Cult – “Love Removal Machine”
The Cult were an Eighties goth band that scored some hits when they decided to be an AC/DC tribute band instead. My mom knew the lead singer in high school at one point, to no one’s surprise he was a dick. Trust Reddit to go ga-ga for generic hard rock because “it has guitars”.
#5: A Day To Remember – “Bad Vibrations”
Why do metalcore bands have such fucking awful band names? Why do metalcore bands all recycle the same damn low-end chugging? Why do metalcore bands mistake sung choruses for depth? Why do metalcore bands insist on breakdowns that are cheesier than a Wisconsin hamburger?
Anyway, you can always tell when the pre-teens are posting, because there will be metalcore.
#6: The Monkees – “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”
Okay, show of hands. Who was crying out for a Monkees comeback? Anyone? Put your hand down, dad, Jesus Christ. Wait, this is actually sort of good. I…I kind of like this. Noel Gallagher co-wrote it? I suppose that explains some things.
#7: Portugal. The Man – “Plastic Soldiers”
Who gave the indie kids access to the internet? They managed to find a Portugal. The Man track that isn’t all that great. It’s about as middling a work as you can find from a middling also-ran indie act. You thought you were doing something good, but instead you fucked it all up. Good work, Reddit.
#8: Soundgarden – “Rusty Cage”
The rest of the post title literally reads: “I know this has been posted before, but not for months & I think it’s well worth posting again.” Oh, well, I guess that makes sense except wait IT WAS LITERALLY POSTED YESTERDAY AS THE JOHNNY CASH COVER.
Who are you trying to fool, anyway? We all know where the inspiration to post this came from.
Decent tune though.
#9: Link Wray – “Rumble”
Link Wray poked a hole in his speaker cone with a pencil and invented hard rock single-handed. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Reddit of course knows it from its multiple pop cultural appearances, including Tarantino. At least it’s better than just posting the songs from Guitar Hero .
#10: Joywave – “Nice House”
Lyrics are the only really halfway interesting part of this song, the rest is a really generic and straightforward electro-pop song, like what Hot Chip would write if they got really, really boring all of a sudden. The outro is rather nice though.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: B- (Not bad, Reddit!)
And now for a new sequence, brought to you by the…ahem…”tastemakers” of Reddit’s infamously awful /r/music community.
It’s often said that Reddit has shitty taste in music. Granted it’s usually 4chan’s /mu/ community saying that, but let’s be serious here. Whether it’s the constant love of Queen and Foo Fighters that makes me roll my eyes or the circlejerking over how superior they are because of their love of Tool, /r/music is a bottomfeeder in terms of music communities.
Or is it? I’ve decided to start an ongoing series where I listen to the top ten songs posted to /r/music in a 24 hour period and assign them completely subjective ratings based on my own insane whims and thought processes. Then we’ll see if /r/music’s taste actually sucks as badly as I’ve always thought.
Without further ado, I give to you:
June 1st, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM)
#1: Rancid – “Ruby Soho”
The most poppy and milquetoast of all of the Clash-rip-off’s poppy and milquetoast songs. /r/music loves punk rock, but only if it’s from Le Nineties and it’s been beaten to death on the radio since then.
#2: The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”
The first time since 2001 that Australian sample-stackers The Avalanches release new music AND it’s fucking stellar? You win this time Reddit. You win this time.
#3: Dethklok – “I Ejaculate Fire”
I’d say something snarky about how the only way metal gets to the top of Reddit is in cartoon form but I can’t hate on Dethklok. This isn’t completely dildos.
#4: Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage”
The best that can be said of this is that at least Reddit took a break from jerking off over “Hurt”. At least with “Rusty Cage” I don’t have to read about how “REZNOR TOTALLY SAID THAT SONG BELONGED TO JOHNNY CASH NOW BECAUSE THE COVER WAS SO MUCH BETTER!!1!11!”. In fact, one of the top comments is the exact opposite. Thank you, Jesus.
#5: The Distillers – “The Young Crazed Peeling”
Man it has been a long time since I thought of Brody and The Distillers. It still sounds like Courtney Love fronting Rancid to me, and as the years have gone by that prospect appeals to me exponentially less. Also, those fucking spikes. Jesus Brody, how much money did you shell out to get that look down just right? How punk rock of you.
#6: Huey Lewis And The News – “If This Is It”
Jesus Christ Reddit, Bret Easton Ellis was being ironic. What the hell is wrong with you?
#7: Lagwagon – “Island Of Shame”
Apparently it’s awful pop punk day on Reddit. Lagwagon was that band that was there for you if Pennywise was too edgy for you. Completely indistinguishable from anything else on Epitaph in the mid-90s.
#8: Grand Funk Railroad – “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”
GFR got a lot of hate back in the day from critics because, well, they’re not really that good on average. Still, they were capable of moments of brilliance, and “I’m Your Captain” is one of those. For more on Grand Funk Railroad, consult your local library.
#9: Men At Work – “Down Under”
Goofy Eighties pop rock from the Gowan of Australia. I often wonder who posts these sorts of songs. Kids nostalgic for a time they never had to live through? Adults putting on rose-coloured nostalgia glasses? Mouthbreathers who listen to bland Mix FM stations at work? At least in dying you don’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time.
#10: The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (aka The KLF) – “It’s Grim Up North”
Reddit’s sizeable school shooter community comes through in the clutch.