Aug/Sept 2014 ~ Free At Last

In light of the summertime, I gave myself a vacation from playlists last month. I'm back!

Ahmad Jamal – Yellow Fellow - Live Version - I first heard this album way back in the day when I lived with Steve and he played it quite a lot. Even though I recognized the talent present, something about the sound of it didn't quite jibe with me back then. These past few months, partly through my Stalkifying (Stalkify: verb to surreptitiously and creepily observe someone's listening habits on Spotify) of Steve's voracious jazz consumption, I've started to try to push myself out of my hard-bop straight jacket. This record has logged major spins on my record player while I work, often getting flipped over and over again. I've even grown to love the sound of James Cammack's hyperactive electric bass. However you slice it, this is the sound of four world class musicians playing at the height of their abilities and utterly in sync. And yes, I know it's slightly perverse to start a mix with a 15-minute jazz freakout, but I guess that's just the kind of pervert I am. Deal with it.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Lucia - I'm basically in love with the sound of MC Taylor's voice, and very glad to hear it in fine form on this new release, Hiss Golden Messenger's first for Merge Records. The warm production on this whole record just melts my insides, starting with the pure morphine of that opening guitar waaaahhrrrrr. Sparkling imagery, romance, and the perfect interplay between laid-back grooves and lyrical crypticism. Mm. 

Mexican Institute Of Sound – México - One of two tracks good old Jon Martin turned me on to in a surprise phone call the other day while he was stuck in LA traffic. MIS first appeared on Faux Sounds back in February, with their masterful cover of The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony", retitled (obviously) "Sinfonia Agridulce". 

Alex Clare – Addicted To Love - Speaking of masterful covers. I heard this one Saturday night at home with Gabe listening to Vocalo radio (the youth-oriented little sister of WBEZ, which I don't listen to nearly enough). I was pretty surprised to learn the next day after some internet digging that the singer was in fact a young, white, bearded Englishman. Ok... The more startling surprise came later that day when I happened to hear a completely different cover of the song playing in a grocery store. There are actually a lot of covers of it! Crazy. 

Paul Simon – Crazy Love, Vol II - Graceland has always been an outlier in the happy pasture of my love for Paul Simon. I'm not exactly sure why. I think it might have partly to do with the way a lot of the production hasn't really aged well outside of the 80's. Maybe it's the way the album sometimes seems to openly invite the "cultural appropriation" critique (which I consider to be somewhat hackneyed anyway). Maybe it's the saxophone. Okay, it's probably the saxophone. Either way, I recently pulled the album for a couple spins on the turntable and found plenty of charm embedded. The lyrics to this song, particularly the totally left-field opening gambit ("Fat Charlie the Archangel slipped into the room..." What? Really?) get me, and I'm kind of jealous of how Simon's solved the problem of shoehorning English lyrics where they don't belong. Listen to it again sometime, "You Can Call Me All" is still pretty damn catchy. And like, that was a HIT!? Huh?

Robbie Fulks – Long I Ride - I recently had the privilege to introduce Robbie Fulks and his killer band at a CHIRP-sponsored concert at the Old Town School of Fold Music. The thrill of it continued as they took the stage and put on a serious show, featuring this and a bunch of other tunes from the recent Gone Away Backwards (recorded by the incomparable Steve Alibini!). As Gabe put it after the show, "I thought the opening act was really good, and then Robbie Fulks came on stage and I realized the opener had actually been just ok." Watching him on stage is like a master class in how to humbly but professionally put on a great show. If you hear he's playing somewhere (as in almost every Monday at the Hideout), go.

Blonde Redhead – Dripping - In a recent email exchange, Jon Martin, reflected on his perceived difficulty in loving a second album of an artist who's first album he fell for, asked me "Can you name a group that you fell in love with one of their albums and then fell into equal grace (or greater) with a different album?" My first answer, of course, was Ry Cooder. Second I named Blonde Redhead, whose Misery Is A Butterfly was rocking my ear-world back when I first moved to Chicago. I haven't felt drawn to either of their intervening albums. But I found the minimalism of their new Barragán kind of shocking, in the best way. I also never thought of the band as even remotely groovy, but this track is damn groovy, man. Still obviously Blonde Redhead, but groovy. Great stuff. 

Ane Brun – Do You Remember - This is the second gift from Jon Martin on this list. I had heard her name before, but never really put it to a sound. What a goddamn killer voice! I love this song. I haven't gotten to her other stuff yet, but this whole EP is great, and ends with a gorgeous and pretty convincing song in Spanish, a neat trick for a Swedish/Norwegian chanteuse. 

The Coasters – Poison Ivy  - Steve started sending me great old soul compilations recently, and this stood out among a pack of stellar classics. It reminds me how much I love this mode of songwriting, where it's clear that the song is simply an outcropping of a gimmick or simple hook, but it doesn't matter because of the gusto, inventiveness, and heart employed. Plus, "You're gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion" has got to be one of my favorite rhymes ever. 

Ryan Adams – Am I Safe - Ryan Adams is probably my guiltiest pleasure. I don't love everything he does, and actively dislike some of it, but I'm a straight sucker for him when he's in this mode. I remember the first time I visited Tucson, how something about the air, the plants, the sky - the whole desert-ness of it - felt like I was returning to a neutral environment, that in all other places at least a small part of my biology was always struggling to adapt. Ryan Adams feels like the musical equivalent of that for me. For some reason, inexplicably, it just feels like home. Like returning to zero. 

alt-J – Every Other Freckle - On a recent All Songs Considered podcast, Bob Boilen predicted that alt-J will end up being his favorite band of the decade. High praise, considering we're not even halfway through it. I have to say, there's plenty of evidence on their new record (This Is All Yours, their second) to support that claim. Incredibly smart, odd, and catchy, alt-J have crafted an incredibly vibrant patchwork of musical textures, references, and moods - often juxtaposed in incredibly cheeky, but winning, ways. Ever wonder how a rock band could seamlessly intertwine medieval choral melodies, cutting edge electronic music, and marching band drumming? You have found your album. To add to my delight, they've subtly taken on music industry sexism with twinned videos for this sneakily sexy song (being sneakily sexy seems to be a major project for alt-J), one gazing on a girl, one on a boy. Spend some time with this record, it'll pay off, I promise. 


The Cars – Got A Lot On My Head - On a trip to Savannah, GA this month to meet my new nephew, I stopped by the Graveface Records shop and picked up a couple of things, including this gem. I'm not sure how common this perception is, but I've always had the idea that The Cars were a kind of shallow, commercial band that surfed the wave of MTV with a lot of glimmer but not much artistic substance. Listening to this whole record though, I've got to say they come off like a peer to bands like Devo and Talking Heads, whose musical bona fides are firmly established at this point. Flirting with all of the purposeful weirdoness of other new wave bands with a subtle and keen pop instinct - it's clear that Ocasek and friends actually have something to say. And so GD catchy! Lots of rotations in the Faux Sounds clubhouse. 

Violent Femmes – I'm Free  + The Soup Dragons – I'm Free - A double dose of "I'm Free," in honor of my favorite lady, who landed a little bit of hard-won freedom this month. Woohoo!