Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!
Lots of year-end list-y fun coming up next week, but for now, dig into Sleepwalkers’ brand new holiday tune. Love these guys. Love y’all.
Back in October, I had the opportunity to see Evan McKeel perform at In Your Ear studios for one of their Shockoe Sessions. I even got to chat with him before his set. We talked about basketball — Duke, the NBA, how the Warriors would fare with Kevin Durant joining the team — and we talked about Richmond’s music scene and his excitement at immersing himself in it.
His set at In Your Ear was short, but he needed only sing a few lines for me to hear what millions of fans of The Voice had already heard — a truly incredible singing voice, able to ascend with ease and smokier than his years, with a natural distortion that provides texture and complements his precision. When I thought about the literal and figurative stage that he’d occupied on TV, sitting in that studio listening to him seemed like such a gift. It quickly sank in that he could sing pretty much any song he wanted to, which begs the question: What do you do when you can do anything?
The immediate answer for McKeel is a forthcoming album of earnest and original compositions that will be released under the name Skinny-E. The lead single from the album, “Love Again,” was just made available last Friday, and it’s an impressive, poised opening salvo. It’s sparse — vocals and guitar dominate the mix — and while that sense of space puts his voice front-and-center, it also gives you a chance to appreciate McKeel’s amazing facility with chords and structure. In that sense, I hear a great deal of Stevie Wonder’s influence (Wonder is a stated point of reference, and “Overjoyed” figured prominently in McKeel’s Voice run).
It’s crazy to think of “Love Again” as a starting point, but here we are, and it’ll be interesting to see where Skinny-E goes next.
I know I’m late to the Giving Tuesday party, but it’s not too late to support three great organizations (the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood) via the 42-track Friends for Equality compilation.
This got on my radar thanks to Feral Conservatives’ inclusion, and wow is the track they contributed a winner. “Captivated” is a beautifully harmonized piano ballad about striking out into the great unknown, and the massive size of the song’s sound wonderfully reflects the abyss that lies over an uncertain horizon. Best of all, the lyrics leave lots of room to pour your own experiences in. I’m guessing that, whatever you’re longing for in the near or distant future, “Captivated” will offer a few minutes of inspired reflection, if not some outright motivation.
And that’s just one of the songs on the Friends for Equality comp. 42 previously unreleased tracks for $5, man. Pretty amazing. Click here to check the rest out and make your contribution.
I tend to overrate coincidences — or worse, imbue them with meaning — and Black Friday’s got me all twisted up.
I woke up early this morning to line up outside a record store in hopes of landing a copy of The Lagniappe Sessions — the Aquarium Drunkard-facilitated covers compilation I wrote about on Wednesday. Those hopes were dashed, unfortunately; the store I chose to wait outside had disappointing Record Store Day policies that involved letting regulars in earlier than everyone else in line and not letting customers browse the exclusive stock themselves. It was weird, but hey — I am a visitor here.
It wasn’t a total loss. I multitasked during the chilly, hour-plus wait by listening all the way through Frank Ocean’s Blonde for the first time. Before I left this morning, I saw that Ocean has opened up a one-day window to order Blonde on vinyl, and because I had, for months, incorrectly filed it under “Albums I can’t listen to on Spotify and will wait to buy on vinyl,” I hadn’t gotten to know these songs very well.
After listening once while in line and a bunch more while driving around Northern Virginia, I was still on the fence. With shipping factored in, the price point is pretty high, and I’m not sure I’ll end up connecting with Blonde the way I did with Channel Orange. I reread Pitchfork’s glowing review to see if that would help me decide, then remembered I’d saved the link for a recent New York Times interview with Ocean, and that’s when I saw it: lagniappe. The titular word I’d waited faithfully for this morning. The word I’d uttered timorously to a clerk at the record store just after 9 a.m. and just as shakily to two other area stores over the phone later on.
Ocean used lagniappe — which is defined as “An extra or unexpected gift or benefit” and pronounced “lan-yap” — to describe how it felt to release Blonde after maneuvering out of unwanted business entanglements:
With this record in particular, I wanted to feel like I won before the record came out, and I did, and so it took a lot pressure off of me about how the record even would perform after the fact. Once the goal is met, everything else is lagniappe. It’s not essential for me to have a big debut week, it’s not essential for me to have big radio records.
Seeing that word again brought my day into sharper focus. How much of what we buy on Black Friday is extra? A bonus? I can certainly live without that Aquarium Drunkard compilation, just as I can carry on if I’m forced to keep listening to Frank Ocean via Spotify. And I promised myself, in the wake of the election, to slim down to a leaner, meaner version of myself. More exercise. Less excess. I bet there are a zillion ways I could use my record budget to fight the oncoming storm of discrimination and shortsightedness our government is set to unleash in the next four years. Austerity suddenly feels righteous. Political, even.
Then again, records make me happy — listening to them, reading about them, writing about them, keeping them organized. Is turning away from that happiness wise? And the monetary reward I’d send Ocean’s way by buying a vinyl copy of Blonde is greater than I’d ever be able to send via Spotify; is denying him that money helping in any meaningful way? I really don’t know. I’m scared about the future, like a lot of people are, and I’ve built up this particular decision to the point where it seems like there is no right answer. Things feel very hazy right now.
How’s this for a coincidence: The first song of Ocean’s I could find to embed (after failing to find anything official on YouTube) was “Self Control.”
Remember my friend Gormie? He wrote guest posts a while back about the Flight soundtrack and about listening to blues in an MRI machine. During a post-election postmortem phone call, he mentioned that he had a Turkey Trot coming up and was looking for some new running music.
I made a Spotify playlist, and while the majority of songs on there wouldn’t necessarily be described as new, it should do the trick. If you have a third helping of stuffing and gravy tonight and need to run a few extra miles tomorrow, I reckon it’ll help you along. (Especially if you like the Pitch Perfect soundtrack.)
Check out the playlist below. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.
The YHT crew is heading up to Northern Virginia for Thanksgiving, which means I won’t be making my semiannual early morning pilgrimage to BK Music for Record Store Day festivities. I haven’t decided if I’ll seek out a participating store near Alexandria. Previous attempts to celebrate RSD out of town have been haphazard, but if you have suggestions, I’m all ears.
That said, uncertainty hasn’t stopped me from drooling over a few of the limited releases that will be hitting shelves on Friday…
Two people I admire and respect tremendously, both of whom I’ve gotten to see live — Olsen at Strange Matter and Gunn at Steady Sounds. Sign me up for this split live LP, which features some seriously snazzy cover art.
I know that, when I need a live Otis fix, I can turn to one of the Stax/Volt Revue albums, or my copy of the Historic Performances Recorded At The Monterey International Pop Festival album that features Jimi Hendrix on the other side. But I seriously doubt I’ll be able to put Live at the Whiskey A Go Go down if I pick it up. (I’m just realizing how fitting it is that Redding and Hendrix share that Monterey album — both would be very, very high on my list of acts I’d travel through time and/or raise from the dead to be able to see live.)
This is the one I’m dying to find a copy of. I’ve followed along with Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions, and Matthew E. White has done two now. One of those featured a cover of Randy Newman’s “I’ll Be Home,” and that’s the track that was chosen for this compilation. Given White’s prominent role in helping me find my way to Newman’s music, this feels like the nexus of something important.
Today is a great day to stop by Positive No’s Bandcamp page.
The band is selling $5 “Posi 6 Pack” packets of buttons — featuring messages like “You are not alone” and “Believe women” — alongside their propulsive and impassioned new song, “Reinvent The Space.” Even the single’s cover art, designed by multi-talented guitarist Kenneth Close, makes a powerful statement — the hands you see were submitted at the band’s request by harassment survivors, and the proceeds are going directly to Hollaback, a non-profit that focuses on fighting harassment in public spaces.
Positive No is a force for good on so many levels. I got to stop by Pedro Aida’s Audio Verite studio while they were recording recently, and it was such a gift to spend some time with them and see them work. I made sure to snag my buttons first thing this morning to support good music and a good cause, and I hope you’ll do the same.