Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

Happy Bandcamp Friday, y’all! I’ve been eager to get this list out into the world since the first item hit the ‘camp a couple of weeks ago, so without further ado, here are this month’s recommendations. Remember, fees are waived, so it’s a great day to show your support.

Ophelia — Ophelia

A big part of past Bandcamp Fridays has been music that’s resurfaced — extra copies of pressings that had sold out, or albums that are seeing the light of day after spending some time on the shelf. This Ophelia album is such a glorious example of the latter, as it hit Bandcamp a couple of weeks ago after having been recorded back in 2010. After hearing it and enjoying it tremendously — including a magnificent listen all the way through on a long run at dusk — it’s hard to imagine this not being out in the world. It immediately feels canonical, given the strength of these tunes and the involvement of two Richmond favorites: David Shutlz (a Bandcamp Friday favorite) and Jonathan Vassar, who you might remember from the excellent Lonely Rooms album I wrote about last month.

PJ Sykes — “Rain in to the Sea”

Speaking of David Shultz, I absolutely love the “Rain in to the Sea” cover PJ Sykes released today. What a perfect illustration how a song can vibrate harmoniously on wildly different wavelengths. (Ocean pun fully intended.) Halfway through this new version, it’s easy to imagine the song having been written with this arrangement in mind, especially when it comes to the delivery of the central metaphor. So cool. And can we all agree this cover art wins Bandcamp Friday?

Opin — Media & Memory

There’s a specific anticipatory joy that floods in just before you hear a new Opin song for the first time. Their track record of adventurousness means you’re never sure where they’re about to take you. It’s exhilarating — especially when, time and time again, you end up thrilled with where they’ve decided to go with their sound, from their self-titled full length in 2017, to the EPs they’ve released since (including a cover of Mariah’s “Shinzo no Tobira” that I’ve listened to approximately 1.5 million times since it came out). I’m on pace to catch up with that play count when it comes to the first two songs from their upcoming LP, Media & Memory — out 10/30 on WarHen Records. I couldn’t decide which to embed below, so they’re both there. And while I don’t know where the other seven tracks on the album will go, I know by now to sit back and enjoy the ride, because Opin’s sense of sonic navigation is as good as it gets.

Bartees Strange — Live Forever

We’ve all heard “You are what you eat,” but “You are who (whom?) you hear” seems increasingly applicable the more time we spend with earbuds in catching up on the podcasts that reflect and shape our thinking about the world. The voice that’s been bouncing around my brain most during the pandemic has been Steven Hyden’s; his 36 from the Vault podcast about the Dick’s Picks Grateful Dead live album series has been my primary means of auditory escape. As a result, the line between his thinking on music and mine is starting to blur, and when he tweeted the following, I was eager to snag my own seat on the Bartees Bandwagon™:

Live Forever promises to be one of this year’s most celebrated albums, and today’s the big release day. I’m 100% in. It’s so good. The “Half Orange/Half Bone” pressing I snagged is sold out, but he recently added a “Red with Bone & Orange Splatter” variant, and copies of that are still available. Don’t sleep. As a side note, the Hyden-Strange connection came full circle with the publication of this Uproxx interview. Don’t sleep on that either. No sleeping whatsoever, ok? It’s Bandcamp Friday!

Hiss Golden Messenger — School Daze: A fundraiser for Durham Public Schools students

This is the second live album Hiss Golden Messenger has released during the pandemic — click here for my post about the first one. Proceeds are going to the same great cause — the Durham Public Schools Foundation — but not a single song is repeated from his previous live release, which is fun. One other Hiss-related recommendation: If you’re not already signed up for M.C. Taylor “Kitchen Table Speculator” mailing list, I recommend it highly. He includes poetry, books and music he’s been enjoying, and words of hope like these:

I realize that life is chaotic and complicated right now. I’m trying to remember to take some time each day or week to thank the folks that keep showing up, nose to the grindstone, every day. I’m trying to give back to my community with emotions as well as dollars. If you have the bandwidth, please consider donating your time, money, or other resources to an organization doing good work in your community. I’ve found it’s the best way to alleviate feelings of hopelessness.

I plan to heed that excellent advice by downloading School Daze right about now.

Hotspit — Hotspit Live Session

If you’ve been following this Bandcamp bonanza from the very beginning, you might remember that my very first Bandcamp Friday post included music by Avery Fogarty, who fronts the Richmond band Hotspit. That group just released a three-track live session, which is very exciting. I’m especially fond of the first track, which illustrates the range the group has, and how great they sound in exploratory mode. Well worth a download.

Other items on my radar today:

Sam Gendel — DRM
Spacebomb House Band — X: Kernel Eternal
Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol 6
Phil Cook — From the Kitchen: Winston​-​Salem, NC – 10​/​27​/​​2018 @ Ramkat
ragenap — “masters of war” (benefits Sustain Chicago Music)
Various — Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy, Volume 2 (benefits Voting Rights Lab)
John Moreland — Live at The Grey Eagle – Asheville, NC – 6​/​9​/​19
addy — re call/bug (benefits MAD RVA)
Durand Jones & The Indications — “Power To The People
Avery Fogarty — “sunken cities

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Elkhorn

I’ve been leaning on music like never before these last six months. The records I’m spinning at home have been helping to drag my soul from one anxiety-ridden day to the next, and my copy of Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions, which came out on physical formats in February, has been doing quite a bit of that heavy lifting. Its origin story is tailor-made for this frightful time; two side-long improvised pieces that represented the lemonade made when life gave the guitar duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner lemons in the form a gig-killing blizzard. Snowed in with multi-instrumentalist friend Turner Williams, Elkhorn made magic. In turn, I’ve made it through this ordeal more emotionally intact than I might have otherwise.

Speaking of accumulation, I was recently organizing the records I’ve bought during COVID era — definitely more albums than usual, given the way ordering online provides a boost both in the present and the future — and I stopped when I got to The Storm Sessions. Should it sit with 2020 live albums, maybe next to that excellent Joan Shelley Live at the Bomhard set that came out a few Bandcamp Fridays ago? Should it hang out with conventional studio albums like Waxahatchee’s masterstroke, Saint Cloud? The sessions did take place at Drew Gardner’s home studio in Harlem, yet their searching sound and the circumstances that brought them about seem antithetical to the premeditation that defines the latter end of the live-studio continuum. Improvisation requires real-time reaction. It’s singular. There might not be an audience, but it’s as “live” as it gets.

Does it really matter where I file my records? No, but improvisation does matter. It’s what we’re all doing right now. Faced with a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and more time at home than even Daniel “I Like to Be With My Family” Tiger knows what to do with (don’t worry, he’s working through it), we’re being forced to adapt on a near-constant basis. Each day, we scan the most up-to-date dimensions of this weird and difficult situation, and we adjust, because not doing so would be like wishing the sky were green instead of blue, or wishing that it hadn’t snowed so much on the night you had a gig you were really looking forward to. Maybe it’s unsurprising that skilled musical improvisers made the most of a bad situation. (Maybe we could stand to follow musicians’ lead more often.)

To be clear, this isn’t about force of will, or about grinning and bearing it. Quite the opposite. It’s about a type of strength that can only grow out of an appreciation of one’s vulnerability — of the fact that being in the world means being changed by it. The most compelling music I’m hearing these days reflects the moment we’re experiencing, not just by addressing current challenges and opportunities lyrically, but also by letting our broken, unvarnished humanity show through. Whether it’s a collection of covers captured imperfectly on home recording equipment, or experimentation with new techniques and tools, I’m finding the most fulfillment in music that dares to document — faithfully — who we are after we’re knocked down but before we’re back on our feet. That’s certainly where I find myself these days.

It’s why I continue to find comfort in The Storm Sessions, and it’s why I was so thrilled to learn that The Storm Sessions has a companion album on the way. Elkhorn has teamed up with the Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz labels to release an addendum in the form of The Acoustic Storm Sessions — another pair of side-long pieces improvised at Gardner’s home studio during that fated blizzard, captured the night before the recordings that made up the original album. This is Elkhorn’s first entirely acoustic album, and while Turner Williams does appear on these recordings as well, the tighter instrumental focus remains a compelling facet — a narrower passageway for a two-stage journey that’s no less ranging. The way the guitarists are able to draw in close to one another in spots affords the moments of contrast a whole other richness, and their expansion and contraction along that axis makes for rewarding listening wholly distinct from where they end up traveling.

Still, as with all of Elkhorn’s work, the “where” is such a gift. Oh, the places you can go while sitting and listening to Sheppard and Gardner (and Williams, in this case) build musical landscapes and chart winding, serendipitous courses through them, all while leaving you room to fill in your own imagined details along the way. I have a silly, wordless ritual for when I put on an Elkhorn album: I tend to imagine myself settling into a dream alongside one of the architects from Inception, ready to experience a world that transforms in front of my eyes. (The fun parts of the movie, minus all that stressful corporate espionage.) That ritual started as a result of an Instagram comment penned by James Adams of the Aquarium-Drunkard-hosted Bob Dylan bootleg show, Pretty Good Stuff. He concluded, “It’s like you can walk around inside this music and find new and instant friends. It’s a tonic.” So well put. If there were ever a time when we needed internal experiences that have the power to transport and connect us, this would be it. I suppose it’s ironic, then, to be so thankful these gifted improvisers were stuck in place when and where they were, but I am. Doubly so, now that we have these new acoustic sessions.

Click here to snag a copy of The Acoustic Storm Sessions in the US, here for the UK/Europe, and check out samples of both sides below.

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Butcher Brown

So much is happening in the Butcher Brown universe, y’all. Every time I try to start a post, more stuff happens, so I’ve put together a bulleted list to keep track of it all, starting back in January, when the conversation around an upcoming album started getting louder…

  • Butcher Brown has long represented a creative North Star amid the beautiful universe that is Richmond music, and in early 2020, they started shining brighter than ever. A new partnership with the prestigious Concord Jazz label. Intriguing tweets like this one. Confirmation of an upcoming album, and a lead single that hit in early March. (I stayed up until midnight that night to hear it, and “Tidal Wave” did not disappoint.)
  • Unfortunately, we all know what else hit in March. Nevertheless, this impossibly versatile and endlessly proficient group kept the momentum going with their “Mothership Monday” video series — covers ranging from Bob James’ oft-sampled “Nautilus” to “African Rhythms” by Oneness of Juju. (Here’s a news story on the series.) They played a surprise show at the reclaimed Marcus-David Peters Circle. They announced their upcoming album was called #KingButch, and when preorders were made available, I ordered my copy just about as fast as is humanly possible.
  • Over the course of the six months that followed, they released three more songs from #KingButch — “Cabbage (DFC),” the title track, and most recently, “Gum in My Mouth” — and yet, with the album’s release day in sight, they blew everyone’s mind in a whole other way when it was announced that they’d lent instrumentation to the song that would replace Hank Williams Jr.’s Monday Night Football intro music — a new version of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up.” It debuted just a few hours before I typed this sentence, and the world was a better place for it.
  • Micro-Chop just published an excellent piece entitled “Visualizing the Process of DJ Harrison.” Not directly related to Butcher Brown, but still very much worth a read.
  • That brings us to present day. Whew. It’s a lot to look back on, and I’m sure I’ve left plenty out, but it’ll all come full circle this Friday with the release of the album we’ve been looking forward to since January. Click here to snag a copy. Or a hat. Or a slipmat. As I mentioned, my preorder is in (still gold vinyl variants left!), but there’s not a single thing in that merch store I don’t want.

A quick personal note: I had the honor of interviewing Butcher Brown guitarist Morgan Burrs in January for a magazine article. The idea for that piece was that I’d speak to a few of Richmond’s leading musical voices and get a sense for the scene at that point in time, and one thing that struck me was how often Butcher Brown came up — not just in my conversation with Morgan, as you’d expect, but outside of it. They are a true source of inspiration and collaboration for so many other musicians in town, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see their innovative influence spreading so broadly. In that sense, their new album has one of the most fitting titles I’ve ever seen.

Long live #KingButch.

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Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

Here we are again, my fee-free friends. My Bandcamp buddies. We made it. Another big, beautiful Bandcamp Friday. I dunno about you, but I’ve definitely started using these events as quarantine mile markers — something to look forward to, look back on, and generally use as a temporal tool for resisting the Groundhog Day grind of life these days. And it’s such a great feeling seeing the music community light up all at once and celebrate the value of create work — whether it’s a new album recorded under these unusual circumstances or music made ages ago that’s just now wriggling free from obscurity.

Here are a few releases I have my eye on:

Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes — Heritage of the Invisible II

Album announcements from the International Anthem label are an immediate cause for celebration, and this one was particularly intriguing. “Telepathic Afro-Caribbean improvisational trumpet-and-percussion duo”? Members of Irreversible Entanglements? An instant classic lead single? Count me in.

DJ Mentos — “1989

This here is a vibe. Combined with the video, “1989” is like being dropped down in the middle of a narrative that you get to finish writing yourself. It’s easy to get lost in those possibilities — despite the video’s six-minute running length, it feels like a lifetime has passed when its finished. So fun. Another demonstration of DJ Mentos’ masterful ability to make the past feel vital in the present.

Alex Ingersoll — Ruins Form

Speaking of vibes, this is where I’ve been on a nightly basis. This vibe. This place. This sound. Laptop open, typing, listening to music that opens up an imagined, uncanny space where time and gravity are different and whole worlds appear and disappear at the whim of music that dodges familiar melodic pathways. I’d compare it to the Valley Beyond in Westworld, but I’m only 50% certain I’d be referencing the right thing, given that I’m 100% confused by Westworld at all times. One thing I do know is that Alex Ingersoll’s Ruins Form album is wonderfully immersive, combining modular synthesizer, live instrumentation, and field recordings, and I highly recommend letting it bend your personal space-time continuum for a while.

left.hnd — ad mausoleum

I’ve been looking forward to this record since the day I interviewed Scott Lane for River City Magazine. While the resulting article mainly focused on his American Paradox label, he mentioned in that conversation that he’d been working on recordings of his own, and that itself was music to my ears, given that he’s had a hand in making so many of my favorite albums to come out of Richmond in recent years. (And that’s on top of his outstanding work with The Congress.) If you’ve been following along with these Bandcamp posts, you already know that I recommend his Mira EP from April in the highest terms. Judging by the bright, bold, and impeccably detailed tracks released from ad mausoleum so far (check out the latest of those below), his debut LP as left.hnd is going to meet and exceed all the hopes that started forming during our interview.

John Calvin Abney — Familiar Ground

This is another one where anticipation runs high. How high? So high that my very first act after gaining consciousness on Tuesday morning was checking the Black Mesa Records site to see if the preorder was available. You know you’re excited for an album to be announced when you literally can’t and don’t wait for the announcement to go out.

Lonely Rooms — Until We Have To

Joshua Quarles, Jonathan Vassar, Christina Gleixner… these are some of the first names I learned to look out for when I started following Richmond’s music scene. They’re names that have come to stand as synonyms for craft, and while I’ve heard them make wildly divergent music separate from one another — from hushed folk to jazzy Turkish-language pop to wind ensemble music that incorporated the sounds of SCUBA diving in real time — their shared capacity for making music of great depth (not a SCUBA pun, I swear) and substance gives Lonely Rooms a powerful sense of cohesion. I love this album. It’s remarkably poised, capturing moments of quiet turmoil and questioning made crystalline by melodies and structures that make you want to sing along and stay in the moment, however difficult it may be. And while there’s tremendous weight to the lyrics, closing track “Comeback” leaves you with a hopeful mantra I plan to return to repeatedly:

No alarms. No attacks.
Today wasn’t that bad.
I can take some comfort in that.
Try and figure out where my head is at.
I need strength and I find that I can
Feel it coming back.

Daniel Romano’s Outfit — How Ill Thy World Is Ordered

I am absolutely crazy about the live album Daniel Romano’s Outfit put out earlier this year, entitled Okay Wow. Good lord, y’all. It’s so good. This is one hell of a band, and not just in the sense of rendering songs well or being proficient. They have that elusive thing that makes the whole endeavor feel grander and more meaningful than just people on a stage playing instruments. The harmonies feel triumphant, and there’s grace and power to the way the group moves together. If you haven’t heard Okay Wow, please listen to it now. Then join me in being really, really excited for How Ill The World Is Ordered, which has a dynamite lead single called “A Rat Without A Tale.”

As always, here are a few other items of interest (I’ll keep this list updated throughout the day):

William Tyler — New Vanitas
Various — Good Music To Avert The Collapse Of American Democracy (benefits Fair Fight)
DarkTwaine_ — L’enfants Sauvages
Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol 5
Dogwood Tales — Live in the Velvet Rut vol. 2
ragenap — “hard rain” (benefits My Block My Hood My City)
CZAR — Gore en Regalia
Irreversible Entanglements — Who Sent You? (a few Implacable Maroon vinyl versions were made available!)

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Landon Elliott

I know, I know, musical appreciation is subjective. But I’m convinced Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” is the type O-negative of songs — a universal donor that has the power to revive anyone who hears it. I play it when I’m sad. I send it to other people when they’re sad. It’s kind. It’s effective. When this whole storm of awfulness is over, and we emerge squinting and blinking into the sunlight of a relatively normal presidential administration, COVID-19 vaccine in hand, it will be impossible to calculate how many dark days “Rainbow” helped to brighten.

Musgraves’ ode to perseverance seems poised to become a standard, and Landon Elliott has recorded an arresting new version that leans into its powerful affect with care and grace. He’s also leaned into the song’s imagery via the beautifully composed video above (directed by Daniel Bagbey), and a fundraising project whereby the art he commissioned to create the video is being sold to benefit Side by Side, a Richmond-based organization “dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong, and flourish.” My own daughter (a prolific rainbow artist) submitted a watercolor work for the project, and I can’t tell you how proud I was to see it appear in the video. Okay, so I’m like 99.4% sure hers is in there. As far as my daughter could tell, I was 175% sure, though, and she was so thrilled. I’m just as thrilled that Elliott’s given us an opportunity to support a great organization.

Watch the video above, and click here to buy a piece of the artwork that appeared in it, with proceeds going to Side by Side.

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Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

We’re back, baby! Bandcamp has generously decided to waive its 15% cut on the the first Friday of each month through the end of this godforsaken year, which is pretty awesome in my book. Also awesome? The albums below, which I submit for your consideration as you browse the ‘camp and decide which artists you’ll support.

Carlos Niño & Friends — Actual Presence

If you’re as smitten with International Anthem Recording Co. as I am, you likely already have your pre-order in for a copy of the album Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson released in late June via the Chicago label. Atwood-Ferguson is among Niño’s “Friends” on this set as well, and another name jumped out among those who contributed to Actual Presence: Sam Gendel. I wrote about Gendel and his innovative album Satin Doll in connection with the May Bandcamp event, and I love how his unique sax treatment moves within in the space Niño creates. (To be clear, this isn’t their first collaboration. I’m late to the party. Very happy to be here, though!)

Reginald Chapman — Prototype Remixes 

Reginald Chapman may have moved away from Richmond, but “Hoodie” remains one of the core compositions I think of when I picture in my mind’s eye (as we’re forced to these days) the glory of seeing Richmond’s most overwhelmingly outstanding live act, the No BS! Brass Band. I love this Foisey. remix of the version of “Hoodie” that appeared on Chapman’s 2018 Prototype album, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of these Prototype Remixes. (Full album out in September.)

Kate Bollinger — A word becomes a sound

If there were ever a chorus to keep in the front of your brain in order to maintain sanity during a global pandemic, it would have to be:

Grey skies, they don’t scare me
I find them unnecessary
There’s no tellin’ when the bad’s gonna come around
And it’ll come around no doubt

It’s like a badly needed pat on the back from a friend who’s reassuring you without bullshitting you. And Kate Bollinger’s gift for phrasing means the words slide through your consciousness so gracefully the toxic parts of your psychology don’t have a chance to play defense.

Bollinger’s 5-song album A word becomes a sound is available on cobalt colored vinyl, and I can’t wait to have it spinning at home, and have my head spinning a little less as a result.

William Tyler — Music from First Cow

I’d totally planned see this movie before I bought the soundtrack. That seemed like the right order of events — as if there were a “wrong” time to buy a William Tyler album. (There’s not.) Then I listened to Music from First Cow a third time, and a fourth time, and I feel hard for how beautiful, musically economical, and evocative these pieces are, and I started to develop the kind of emotional responses you might expect to have after actually having seen the film, like how “The Arrival” triggers the kind of nostalgia you feel when something’s not even over yet but you already miss it… I’m still going to see this movie, but I’m not waiting to but its soundtrack a moment longer.

Ohbliv — LewseJoints Number 8 (a) and LewseJoints Number 8 (b)

Where Ohbliv goes, I’ll follow. His DarkTwaine_  pseudonym? Yup. The PANGEYA tape that became available last Bandcamp Friday? I’m there. The two new volumes in his LewseJoints series that hit the interweb earlier this week? Yes, please.

As always, here’s a running list of the other stuff I have my eye on, updated as needed throughout the day. Yay for Bandcamp Fridays, y’all. Now go forth and get some great music.

Mary Lattimore & Elysse Thebner Miller — And the Birds Flew Overhead (60 vinyl copies were made available today, but they’re going quick)
Philip James Murphy Jr — I went to sleep
Bon Iver — “AUATC
Christian Lee Hutson — The Version Suicides
Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol. 4
Alabaster dePlume — “Seen” (will be deleted tomorrow)
Various — Habibi Funk 014: Solidarity With Beirut (proceeds go to the Lebanese Red Cross)
left.hnd — ad mausoleum

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Dogwood Tales

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been making mix CDs from purchases made during Bandcamp’s fee-free Friday events. Part of the intent there is to contain the chaos — to retrospectively slow down a blur of new albums, rarities compilations, and live sets. It’s also part commemoration, since these Fridays feel meaningful to me. I love the idea that everyone’s stopping what they’re doing to acknowledge the value of music. We’ve been criminally undervaluing songs since file sharing took hold, and I’m genuinely hopeful that what Bandcamp is doing can evolve into a framework for sustainably funneling funds to musicians who so clearly deserve it.

It’s ironic, given that I’m buying mp3s like I haven’t in years, but my fetish for physical media has flared up in the process. I made my share of mix CDs during and after college, when iPods weren’t yet commonplace, but I never put much effort into the track lists, aside from writing on the discs themselves. Now I’m tearing pages out of magazines, borrowing my daughter’s glue stick, improvising insert design schemes, and hand-numbering to create limited runs nobody even knows about. I’m typically on the other end of that dynamic as a collector, so it’s fun to be the one writing “# ___ of ___” and deciding whether to make, like, five copies or four.

The first of these mixes was called “Still Here” and began with the poised and poignant David Shultz tune of the same name. (I ended up writing about it for the Auricular.) The title was also a nod to the fact that, even in May, it felt like we’d been cooped up in our houses for ages. Hilarious, in retrospect, though it doesn’t exactly inspire laughter. I kept that theme going by taking the title of my second mix from the fantastic calvin presents/Sam Reed collaboration “here,” which was released on Juneteenth. While counterintuitive, the fact that “here” follows “Still Here” in this little series makes me smile. Reminds me of that scene in Empire Records where Ethan Embry’s character describes naming his band after a misspelling of his own first name. “Always play with their minds.”

The third and most recent installment is called “Hard to Be Anywhere,” and it opens with a track from Closest Thing to Heaven, the new LP from Harrisonburg-based Americana/country outfit Dogwood Tales. It’s an incredibly moving song, and it’s no exaggeration to say I needed to hear it right now. The start of the chorus certainly hits home, no pun intended:

It’s hard to be in the right place for the right thing all the time

The more connected we all are electronically, the more it can feel like you’re never where you’re supposed to be. (Quick pause to acknowledge Jason Isbell’s own crystallization of that idea.) Even now, at a time when my family is swimming in, ahem, quality time, that sense of togetherness is short-circuited by the strange shape of this situation — limitations on where you can go and what you can do, daily risk assessment, constant stress, and the fortunate-yet-crazy-making task of folding parenting into working from home. At any given moment, it’s hard to know whether “the right place” is at my laptop, being the work version of myself, or in our backyard, pushing the kids on the saucer-shaped swing I hung from a sturdy branch of our maple tree near the start of this mess.

Then again, the “hard” part isn’t always about prioritization. Sometimes you know what the right thing to do is, but following through is what’s difficult.

Of the members of our household above the age of three, I’m probably the most content with settling into a groove around the house, carving ever-deeper ruts in the paths between my desk, the fridge, the downstairs bathroom, the couch, and the sink. (It can’t be coincidental that I’ve formed a close connection with the albums that comprise Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy,” as well as his recently released lost Ditch-era gem Homegrown.) I know that carefully planned and appropriately distanced activities — picnics, walks, drives — are a crucial component of our bubble’s collective sanity, but I’m not great about initiating them, and I’m trying to kick my habit of opting out when given the opportunity to do so. As hard as being out in the world is right now, I have to remember that the “rightness” of other places is diminished by my electing to stay home. This dynamic truly came into focus as a result of hearing “Hard to Be Anywhere” in the car at the start of a family outing I had mixed feelings about. Meditating on the song’s lyrics transformed my outlook on the trip completely. It was like the opposite of a dad yelling “I’LL TURN THIS CAR AROUND RIGHT NOW” at his screaming kids — more like “I’LL CONTINUE DRIVING THIS CAR AND MY MOOD’S SUDDENLY IMPROVED.”

WarHen Records already sold out of vinyl copies of Closest Thing to Heaven, but I wholeheartedly recommend heading to Bandcamp and downloading the album. It’s winner from start to finish. And Bandcamp has announced that they’re going fee-free on the first Friday of each month through the end of the year. I’m excited to see how this initiative grows and changes, and I’m hopeful that fans will continue to show up and demonstrate a growing collective conscience around the value of the music we love. And you better believe I’ll be making more mixes.

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John Prine

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been paying closer attention to musicians’ birthdays lately. I’ll see a tweet or Instagram post about whatever legend was born that day, think about whether I have a record of theirs to spin, and if I do, I’ll host my own little social distancing celebration that way. Santana’s is today! Herbie Hancock’s (April 12) was fun; I made sure to spin my two favorite albums of his: Maiden Voyage and Mwandishi. The other day I gave Live at El Matador a spin to mark Bola Sete’s birthday (July 16) after seeing a video — posted to social media by the the Dust-to-Digital reissue label — of the Brazilian guitarist performing alongside jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. If you’re not already following Dust-to-Digital, I recommend doing so highly. Best birthday party on the Internet, as far as I’m concerned.

I have to admit that, before the whole coronavirus shitstorm started, posts marking musicians’ birthdays mainly registered as eye-roll-worthy — an excuse for opportunistic vinyl collectors to show off. (Probably says as much about me as it does about them.) Lately it’s been a way to add definition to days that feel uncomfortably similar to the ones that preceded them, like mile markers on a flat stretch of road where the horizon is the only thing worth looking at.

Deaths are the grim and unavoidable other side of this coin. So many deaths. Ellis Marsalis. Bill Withers. McCoy Tyner. Emitt Rhodes just yesterday. Too many to list. You see the news, sigh, check whether it was COVID-related, curse the virus either way, curse our pathetic president, wash your hands for 20 seconds, then play something by the deceased to join the fractured observance already in progress online. That last part could also feel performative before the quarantine started. Now? Grief is so plentiful and valid — the rules on how to process it seem to have shifted.

I’m still really sad about John Prine. In the days following his passing, I read beautifully written postscripts and kind remembrances penned by the people close to him. I watched the touching and star-studded “Picture Show” streaming remembrance. I listened to the albums of his that I had on the shelf, and picked up one that I didn’t — a copy of the hard-to-find The Missing Years that became available online via Nashville record store Grimey’s. I’ve also made a handful of pilgrimages to the new tribute outside Black Hand Coffee Company on Patterson Avenue, created by the brilliant Richmond-based street artist Nils Westergard and pictured above. (Westergard met and photographed Prine last November in preparation for painting a mural in Chicago. If you’re a customer of Prine’s Oh Boy Records label, you may have gotten a postcard version of Westergard’s tribute in the mail. I rushed to the little library that serves as the tribute’s canvas when Westergard posted to Instagram about dropping a few copies inside, but they were gone by the time I got there.)

I’ve cried at a handful of points along this virtual funeral parade (looking at you, Brandi Carlile), and each time that happened, I wondered whether it makes sense to shed tears over the death of someone I didn’t know personally. Someone whose physical location I shared only once — his November, 2017 show at Altria Theater. He’s not family, and I’m extremely lucky in that my family members have dodged the virus, as far as we know. But Prine isn’t separate from my family, either. Alongside the Band and Allen Toussaint, he’s one of the foundational musical reference points on which my father-in-law and I built the great relationship we have today. Our interests overlap and diverge in a zillion other ways — we’ll never see eye-to-eye on Bob Dylan, that’s for sure — but we both hold the Singing Mailman in the highest esteem. We’ve also bonded over Prine’s good friend Steve Goodman; I remember picking up a copy of Tribute To Steve Goodman at a record store in Colorado and immediately looking forward to showing it off the next time the in-laws came to Richmond. How many other families and friendships are glued together in this way? Just as the people in a John Prine song feel exceptionally real, a mutual appreciation for Prine is the stuff of genuine, lasting connection. If you know someone likes John Prine, there’s a really good chance they’re worth knowing.

When listing my life’s happiest moments — kids being born, getting married, really good sandwiches — I’d have to mention that 2017 show at the Altria Theater. It’s not just that I saw some of the greatest songs ever committed to verse-chorus form performed by the person who wrote them, though that certainly was a thrill. I remember particularly enjoying “Lake Marie,” and getting a kick out of seeing this old man dance around the stage despite having been to hell and back, health-wise. What I remember most, though, is how I felt sitting next to my wife that night. It was as if something had encircled the two of us and started glowing — a profound goodness that didn’t come from the stage, exactly, but that grew from inside us as a result of being in that room, in that moment, in Prine’s presence, together. I’ll never forget it. By writing uncommonly disarming, incisive songs, John Prine drilled way, way down, through the stuff we typically worry about, through the many rotten and rocky layers of this life, so far down that he tapped into the wellspring of humanity that connects us. And being at the Altria Theater that night was like dipping our hands right in and taking a sip. I’m so glad my wife and I were able to share that experience. I believe it brought us closer.

I’ll never know what it was like to share a stage with John Prine, or to call him a friend. And I can’t begin to imagine how hard it would be to have that taken away — after having gone swimming in something other people feel fortunate to have sipped from. Still, I’m sad. So many of us are these days, and for so many reasons. It’s hard to know where to put all that sadness. It sloshes around, bubbles over, crashes into other people’s overflow, and turns into anger when we’re not careful. That’s one thing Prine knew how to help with: He could take something ugly — loneliness, despair, addiction, jingoism — and turn it into art that, in addition to being beautiful, was useful. He boiled suffering down to a pocket-sized truth you could carry around with you, in case you ever found yourself in need of it. The nugget I find myself reaching for most often these days is from “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)”:

You can gaze out the window, get mad and get madder
Throw your hands in the air, say ‘What does it matter?’
But it don’t do no good to get angry
So help me, I know

For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow

These lines have become a mantra — a way to hit the brakes when I feel my sadness metastasizing. I say them when I think about what we’re going to do about sending our daughter to school in the fall, and when I think about how John Prine would probably still be with us if we didn’t have a con man in the Oval Office. Maybe these lines will help you when you’re feeling frustrated and helpless. I gave my father-in-law’s old copy of Bruised Orange a spin while I was writing this and found a number of other spots to be helpful, as well. (“That’s the Way the World Goes Round” resonated in some new ways.)

I won’t go so far as to say John Prine will cure all that ails you, or that there’s nothing worth getting angry about. But if we’re going to make it to the other side of 2020, we’re going to need reminders that deep down, beneath the mess that’s been made of this country, we’re all connected. John Prine may be gone, but that river is still down there, flowing as strong as ever, and always will be. Now it’s up to us to drill down there.

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Eric Slick

The cover. The suit. The fog. The fonts. Everything here screams “Pre-order Wiseacre as quickly as you can,” so that’s just what I did. And I’m very excited about it.

In truth, the real reason for putting in your pre-order isn’t the cover art; it’s Eric Slick himself. The Dr. Dog drummer has repeatedly shown his versatility as a creator in his own right, whether you’re looking at his work with with Lithuania, the Palisades LP he released via EggHunt Records, or the dark and evocative Bullfighter EP that followed. Where Slick’s creative impulse leads, compelling art follows.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Slick around the time Palisades came out, and while that “I had the pleasure” expression is used so commonly you probably zoomed right past it at the start of this sentence, my chat with Slick truly stands out as a joy. We talked about meditation’s role in the writing process, balancing darkness and light as a performer, and the grace we have to give ourselves to improve as people. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I’d been given something important, and I feel the same way when I hear a new piece of music he’s made.

“When It Comes Down To It,” the lead single from Wiseacre, is a great example. Direct and indelible, the song represents an elegant marriage of form and function — a beat that shines via understatement, and a lyrical hook that elevates the elemental: “I’m a simple person / When it comes to down to it.” It’s an idea that expands as you spend more time with it, and it ends up (for me, at least) taking on an aspirational quality. There’s peace in being able to say those words with confidence, and getting there can involve lots of hard work.

Early in 2020, Slick started posting drum cover videos to his Instragram, and while there’s been plenty of complexity to marvel at, from Rush and Zappa to CAN and Outkast, my favorite clip of all might have been his take on Andy Shauf’s “The Magician.” In the caption, Slick described the song as “deceptively simple,” and he praised the album it’s on (The Party — a favorite of mine as well) in saying “you can hear the hours of rewriting to make it effortless.”

I hear that exact same magic in “When It Comes Down To It.” Take a listen below, and click here to pre-order Wiseacre.

Update: Here’s the second Wiseacre tune to be released, “Closer to Heaven,” which features vocals from the great Natalie Prass:

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Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

It’s that time again! Bandcamp is waiving their fees today, so it’s a great time to fill up an electronic shopping cart and support the musicians you know and love. (And maybe discover some fun new tunes along the way.) I haven’t seen whether Bandcamp will keep the fee-free events going after today, so I’m planning to party like it’s 1999/leave it all on the field/go big or go home. Well… stay home, would be more accurate, I suppose.

Here are a few YHT-approved Bandcamp buys:

Lonnie Holley — National Freedom

Songs Lonnie Holley recorded with the late Richard Swift between 2013 and 2014. As it happens, today is the second anniversary of Swift’s passing. If you’ve heard Holley’s outstanding 2018 album MITH, you know these two make amazing music together.

Roberto Carlos Lange — Kite Symphony, Four Variations

My heart did a dance when I learned that Roberto Carlos Lange remixed selections from Trey Pollard’s Antiphone album, and my ears followed suit when I heard the empathetic brilliance that Lange layered on top of Pollard’s already-stunning pieces. (I was so jazzed that I ended up writing a quick review for The Auricular.) It was a great introduction to Lange’s non-Helado Negro output, and I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to explore that universe so soon. These pieces were conceived in partnership with visual artist Kristi Sword in an effort to visualize nontraditional musical notation. The liner notes are fascinating — take a look here. According to Lange, this collection “invites the listener to open their ears to the sky, the sound of cacti, and the feeling of the wind on their skin.”

Anteloper — Tour Beats Vol. 1

Jaimie Branch’s FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise album feels more essential with each passing day, and while I know it came out last year, it feels so connected to the moment we’re in right now that it might as well have come out yesterday. It’s made me a Branch fan for life, and I’ve started getting to know her Anteloper project, in which she partners with drummer Jason Nazary. (A collaborator of Roberto Carlos Lange’s, incidentally.) I snagged a copy of Anteloper’s Kudu tape (supplies running dangerously low on that), and I’m planning to grab Tour Beats as well.

Bonny Light Horseman — Green​/​Green

When you release one of the year’s very best albums, and then you go on to release songs that were recorded for that album but were cut for whatever reason — in this case “to keep the record simpler (and higher quality for vinyl)” — I am going to be deeply interested in hearing those songs.

Yves Jarvis — “Victim”

I learned about Montreal-based musician Yves Jarvis from a tweet posted by Citrus City founder Manny Lemus:

This is excellent advice. Good Will Come to You is such a powerful album, full of healing energy, variety, and beauty. When it’s spinning, I’m inclined to think there’s no more beautiful album in the whole wide world. I’m so grateful Lemus sent out that recommendation, and I’ve been enjoying “Victim” as well, which Jarvis released near the end of June.

Various — A Little Bit at a Time: Spacebomb Family Rarities

If we’re going by Prince’s example — and we all should, right? — the way you amass an awe-inspiring musical vault is to combine a deep well of musical ability with an exceptional drive to create. Those traits are Spacebomb in a nutshell, and it should come as no surprise that the Richmond-based label, management, publishing, and production powerhouse can assemble one hell of a rarities album. I don’t even know where to start here — there’s so much to dig into, from unreleased music by the Spacebomb House Band and an all-star assemblage of in-town favorites to renowned out-of-towners like Dan Croll, Laura Veirs, and Pure Bathing Culture.

And here’s a quick list of the other releases on my radar. I’ll aim to keep this updated as the day goes on:

Father John Misty — Anthem +3
David Shultz — “The Sea
Dogwood Tales — Closest Thing to Heaven
DarkTwaine_ — The Hainted
Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol. 3
Animal Collective — Bridge to Quiet
Kenneka Cook — “My Universe” (Lefthnd Remix)
Philip James Murphy Jr — “althea & juniper
DJ Harrison — Vault Series 10 : Covered

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