Exactly one year ago, Vampire Weekend donned some pretty sinister face paint and performed “Unbelievers” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!‘s Halloween show. If memory serves, these were the first notes I heard of what would become Modern Vampires of the City. It’s crazy looking back on that now. For me, MVOTC is one of those special cases where you listen to an album so many times you damn-near internalize it, and then it becomes surreal to think about how, at one point not so long ago, it didn’t exist at all.
The end of last week was… eventful. Fateful, even. On consecutive nights, I got to see Father John Misty at the National and Fiona Apple and Blake Mills’ “Anything We Want” tour at the Lincoln Theater on U St. in Washington, D.C. Both shows were incredible, and I’m still trying to sort through all the ways in which the two experiences were related. I’m not going to dive in right now, since I’d like to write something longer when I have a better map of those relationships (and when I manage to put a leash on my impulse to use superlative language like “best concert I’ve ever seen” and “so beautiful I was moved to tears”), but I did want to take a quick moment and share a song Blake Mills performed on Friday night in D.C.
In August, I found out about this Buzzfeed list of “27 Breathtaking Record Stores You Have To Shop At Before You Die” from a tweet posted by the proprietor of one of my favorite music blogs, AnEarful. At that point, I’d been to two of them — Mississippi Records in Portland, OR and Grimey’s in Nashville — which, as I confessed at the time, made me feel like some sort of low-grade jet setter. Really, what it makes me is the kind of person who, when exploring a city for the first time, disappears for a few hours to feed a habit that’s already overfed back home. (Quick plug: I can think of a few Richmond shops that deserve to be on the sequel to that Buzzfeed list, if’n one’s ever assembled…)
I knew about Reckless Records before that list came out — I’ve gotten my brother-in-law a Reckless gift certificate or two in years past via the interweb — but reading about the store on that list gave me the nudge I needed to make seeing it firsthand a priority, and I got the opportunity to check out the Milwaukee Ave. location last weekend, when Mrs. YHT and I were in town for a wedding.
Around 11 p.m. Central Time on Thursday night, Mrs. YHT and I landed in Chicago and were promptly picked up by my sister, who you might remember from this post about her Beatles fandom, and her husband, who you might remember from this post about his band, Czar. When I woke up the next morning, my head propped up by two pillows and the world’s most comfortable air mattress, I spent some time ogling their record collection, which was just a few inches away from my face.
And then I got jealous.
Listed below are the five records I really, really wanted to steal.
I’m still sorting through the mess of pictures I took in Chicago this weekend, but I wanted to check in quickly and spread the word about a show that’s taking place tonight.
If anyone needs me this weekend, I’ll be in the Land of Lincoln crossing #12 off this list.
As a side note, I’ve been prepping for the trip by listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois album, which I hadn’t heard all the way through in ages. I’ve lost touch with Stevens’ music in recent years, and I’d forgotten how bonkers-good Illinois is. Makes me wanna give The Age of Adz another shot.
Does quicksand have grains?
I ask because the first time I started writing about Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain Of Sand” and the outstanding cover version just released on the new Blind Boys of Alabama album, the post got dragged down and consumed by religious — or irreligious, as the case may be — hand-wringing. The idea was that I would talk about how Dylan’s so-called “Christian-period” weirds me out, and how that’s probably unfair, because his born-again faith gave us this amazing song, and besides, there’s tons of great gospel music out there, and who am I to judge someone else’s religious beliefs when my own are somewhat complicated…
And that’s when the post became more about how my mom became a priest when I was in college and about how long it had been since the last time I’d gone to a Sunday service regularly than about how Justin Vernon helped the Blind Boys craft a recording that deserves way more attention than it’s currently getting.
So here we are. Take two. Without wiggling too far into the same quicksand I ended up in the first time, I’d like to make two points — one about the religiosity of the lyrics in “Every Grain Of Sand” and one about this recording of it.
I’ve written about this before, but my big sister is my Beatles hero. Maybe you have one, too — that person who led you to the Liverpudlian water for the first time. When I was in middle school, my sister’s room was covered wall-to-wall with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Posters. Books. My sister draws beautifully and she did these awesome, larger-than-life charcoal illustrations of their faces. I wish I could show you pictures of the whole scene; it was amazing. She led by example, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for it.
When my sister went to college, my mom/writing hero wrote a book about what it’s like to shepherd a child off to college for the first time. She called it She’s Leaving Home, and the Beatles song it borrowed its name from has held a special place in my heart ever since. (You can, ahem, buy said book here.) So I got really excited yesterday when I was doing some mild Spotify stalking (a certain long-hared, long-bearded Richmond musician listens to THE BEST music, just FYI) and found my new favorite version of “She’s Leaving Home.”
A few hours before Monday’s show at Strange Matter, I went for a long run down Grove Avenue with this weekend’s episode of This American Life. Titled “Secret Identity,” the show included a lengthy segment about people afflicted with a rare psychiatric condition called delusional disorder — a distant cousin of schizophrenia that causes otherwise-high-functioning people to convince themselves of fictional yet totally plausible delusions. This was either the exact right or exact wrong way to prepare for seeing Angel Olsen perform. That’s because, for entire sections of her set, which followed enjoyable opening performances by Richmond’s own Nelly Kate (who I’ll be posting about separately) and Chicago-based Pillars and Tongues, I thought Olsen was staring directly at me.
On Saturday, I stopped by Deep Groove Records and brought home the four used records pictured above. On Sunday morning, I played those four records while Mrs. YHT and I were making coffee and cooking brunch for some friends who were visiting from out of town. Forgive the superlative-speak, but I’m inclined to think it was the best Sunday morning of music my living room has seen/heard in the four years we’ve been in our house. A few words about each title: