Tag Archives: Blake Mills

2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

Happy New Year’s Eve, y’all! I’m clicking publish on this just before picking up my kids from daycare and heading to a neighbor’s house to send off 2018 in style. It was a really weird year. Good in lots of ways, bad in many other ways, but I’d argue that the music was truly excellent. Here’s one more list — the albums I loved that didn’t fit into the other categories (EPs, Jazz, Blasts from the Past, and RVA), ordered alphabetically. There’s even a quick list of other jams I enjoyed at the bottom.

Thank y’all wonderful people for sticking with this dusty old blog in 2018. Be safe out there tonight. See you in 2019.

Arctic Monkeys — Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

File this under “Things I didn’t know I needed…” If you would have come up to me and said, “One of the bands you like is going to make a completely sincere album about a space casino,” I’m not sure how I would have reacted, or if I would have guessed Arctic Monkeys were the band. Then again, you could argue that the seeds for Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino were planted in the making of A.M., in which Alex Turner found a new and uniquely convincing narrative voice as a chronicler of messy late night interactions. That’s what makes Tranquility Base work so well: It doesn’t sound like Turner is acting, even though it couldn’t be clearer (ahem, space casino) that what he’s singing about is imaginary.

As a side note, I listened to this almost exclusively while on a non-imaginary trip to Las Vegas earlier this year. My first time there. Alex Turner was my spirit guide. Like I said, “Things I didn’t know I needed…”

Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy

This year’s winner for Difficult Album Categorization. It’s not a reissue, since the songs have been rerecorded, but the original Twin Fantasy was released all the way back in 2011, so this doesn’t exactly feel like a new album. In the end, none of that matters, because there’s power baked into these songs, their themes, and their memorable melodies that transcends how they’re presented. And I genuinely enjoy how Will Toledo forces you to examine your assumptions about whether recording a song means it’s “finished.”

Honorable mention for difficult album categorization goes to Ryley Walker’s excellent rework of Dave Matthews Band’s Lillywhite Sessions, which were never actually released, making Walker’s album the first official Lillywhite release? I guess?

Phil Cook — People Are My Drug

This album has all of spiritual buoyancy of Cook’s Southland Mission album, and it arrived at a time when his brand of relentless optimism is needed most. I’ll never forget giving it a spin when my faith in humanity was especially low, after a creepy encounter I had while canvassing here in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District for Abigail Spanberger. I got home, put this on, made a pot of chili, and the world felt right again. Well, almost as right as it did when Spanberger won 🙂

Jonny Greenwood — Phantom Thread OST

Cooking with mushrooms will never be the same in the Jones household. Not sure what I mean? See the movie, and then try to cook with mushrooms while this soundtrack is playing in the background and not get creeped out. It’s impossible.

Lonnie Holley — MITH

Holley is a true original. I’ll never forget how his 2017 show at the Broadberry was staged — Holley on keys and two cellos. Tons of improvisation. It was wild. I follow him on Instagram, and I still haven’t seen that arrangement repeated. I was ready for anything when MITH came out, and while there’s still a wildness to the way Holley delivers his songs, there’s a sharp thematic focus to the album, with “I Woke Up In A Fucked-Up America” leading the way.

As a side note, this made the Bitter Southerner’s Best Southern albums of 2018 list, and I loved the way Chuck Reece’s podcast explored “I Snuck Off The Slave Ship.”

Jump Little Children — Sparrow

Off Your Radar readers know about my love for Jump Little Children. I was so thrilled to see the band had gotten back together and recorded a new set of songs, but given how much time had passed, I was cautious in terms of my optimism. Lead single “Hand On My Heartache” was a great start, though — and a big hit in the Jones household, given that my daughter loved it right away — and the rest of Sparrow ended up following suit. We’ve listened a bunch as a family, which I love because of how I first learned about the band from my older sister.

I had a really hard time picking a song to feature for this one, because so many of these songs demonstrate what’s been great about Jump Little Children all along. I ended up going with the title track, which opens the album with a nice balance of quiet moments and anthemic builds.

Adrianne Lenker — abysskiss

I fell hard for “cradle,” which I first heard while on a trip to Maine with my family. It seems so fitting in retrospect, and not just because I listened to the song while I was literally putting together a Pack ‘n Play. There’s such a wonderful sense of intimacy to the album. Even when Lenker is singing “No one can be my man/No one can be my woman,” the closeness of her voice makes you feel like you’re on the inside of some warm, small space that she’s constructed with her words and arpeggiated chords. I love spinning the album at home and feeling grateful for the warm, small space in the world my wife and I have constructed together.

Buck Meek — Buck Meek

The two brilliant Big Thief solo albums are back-to back alphabetically! How perfect is it that? Meek is Big Thief’s guitarist, and I love his approach — restless and inventive, not unlike Blake Mills’. I even hear some of the same guitar tones. Meek’s lyrics are just as gripping. I could go on and on about “Joe By The Book.” Who knows how many times I’ve listened to it. It doesn’t even cross the two-minute mark, but it’s a study in how details enrich lyrics, with colloquialisms like “Who’d you fool to borrow this race car?” and “You should get paid to waste my time” that feel so true-to-life that I wonder if they’re one side of a real phone conversation. Either that or the most economical short story I’ve heard since “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Blake Mills — Look

Speaking of Blake Mills and restlessness… Look came out later in the year (I’m actually still waiting for my online order for a vinyl copy to be fulfilled), and I’m still getting to know it. But I love how Mills is constantly looking for new muses — in this case it’s Japanese guitar synthesizers from the 1970s. According to an interview I read, Look is a document of Mills’ learning to use them — like a sketchbook kept by an artist mastering a new technique. Yet Look sounds like mastery to me, and I envision spending a ton more time with it.

Mountain Man — Magic Ship

This one has been within the vicinity of my record player since it came in the mail. In all seriousness, I don’t think it’s left that room. I’ve reached for it in so many situations: Cooking dinner, first waking up on the weekend and making coffee, during chaotic kid dinners. It pairs with solitude and serious contemplation just as well as it accompanies lighthearted moments of communion. Can’t wait to see Mountain Man at Capital Ale House in the coming year. Get your tickets here if you haven’t already.

John Prine — The Tree of Forgiveness

Much of what I said about Both Directions at Once in my jazz post applies here as well, since this is Prine’s first album of original material since I started getting to know his music. But I’m inclined to think this contains some true all-timers. “Summer’s End” packs an incredible emotional punch and reminds me a little of the power of “Hello in There,” and “When I Get to Heaven” offers a beautiful example of Prine’s benevolently dark humor.

Rosalía — El Mal Querer

Hypnotic spareness. Arresting, beautifully ornamental singing that lays bare the link between cante flamenco and musical traditions rooted farther east. Production from the brilliant El Guincho, who shows as much of a knack for listening here as for building out rhythm and atmosphere. Add in a track that incorporates the melody from “Cry Me A River” and you have an unreasonably generous feast for the ears, especially if you’re interested in the interconnectedness of styles from around the world.

Jeff Tweedy — WARM

I guess I never really stopped to think about the opaqueness of Wilco’s lyrics. There’s always been so much to dig into musically, especially since Nels Cline joined the band and became a focal point unto himself (one of the reasons I love Sky Blue Sky). But this whole narrative about how the lyrics on WARM are direct in a way Tweedy’s haven’t been in the past — I totally buy it. It really does feel like a refreshing creative left turn, and I feel like I understand him a little better after listening to WARM. That’s pretty incredible, given how much time I’ve spent with his work over the past decade or so.

Brocker Way — Wild Wild Country OST

I loved Wild Wild Country, and I especially loved the way it used Bill Callahan’s “Drover” in the series’ climactic scene. In that moment, the lyrics of “Drover” bring the show’s dark and complicated narrative full-circle, and the show brings out shading in the lyrics that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. When I first saw this album at Small Friend Records & Books, I thought it would be more of a soundtrack, with songs like “Drover” included, but this is the original score, which was done by Brocker Way, brother of the creators of Wild Wild Country. When I saw it had been pressed to maroon vinyl, I had to snag it. I’m glad I did, because it’s haunting in really interesting ways — controversially so.

As a side note, you’ll see an honorable mention below for Callahan’s Live at Third Man Records album, which (coincidentally?) includes a version of “Drover.” Did I mention the song is where the show got its name?

Thom Yorke — Suspiria OST

Creepy, pretty, and perfectly suited for pumpkin carving. Thom Yorke’s first foray into the world of film scoring. Really impressive. Looking forward to hearing more from him in this format.

10 more 2018 albums I enjoyed:

Nathan Bowles — Plainly Mistaken
Bill Callahan — Live at Third Man Records
Father John Misty — God’s Favorite Customer
Mary Lattimore — Hundreds of Days
Lindi Ortega — Liberty
Screaming Females — All at Once
Shovels & Rope — Busted Jukebox Volume 2
Ryley Walker — The Lillywhite Sessions
Wilco — Live At The Troubadour L.A. 1996
Neil Young: Roxy — Tonight’s the Night Live

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: RVA Part 1

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2018 in Review: EPs

I’m a year older. So is everyone I know. The Warriors have another championship. Sea levels are rising. Each day brings new horrors to America’s increasingly sad and bizarre political stage. Time continues its inexorable march forward.

Then again, some things are exactly the way they were at the end of 2017! Yet again:

  • It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  • I’ve spent the year tracking the albums I listened to (125 in total this time around) via a shoddily organized spreadsheet.
  • I’ve waited too long to start turning that spreadsheet into best-of lists.
  • I’m using last-minute panic as fuel to finish those lists, which mean more to me than they probably should.

Without further ado, let’s get this retrospective party started with a handful of alphabetically ordered EPs that I particularly enjoyed this year, starting with a two-parter that I recommend highly if you haven’t heard it/them yet:

Jackie Cohen — Tacoma Night Terror Part 1: I’ve Got The Blues

Some albums feel like fully formed universes — like you’re being invited to join something vivid and different that’s already in progress and has been for some time. That’s how it felt first encountering Jackie Cohen’s music via Spacebomb’s communication channels. From the off-kilter album art that accompanied Tacoma Night Terror Part 1 to the EP’s sound, which immediately called to mind the girl groups of the 1960s but felt more gothic and organic, somehow. It was one of those exciting “I don’t know what this is, but count me in” moments. To this day, it still feels like I’m entering and exiting a world when I start and finish this EP. Not something you come by often.

Jackie Cohen — Tacoma Night Terror Part 2: Self​-​Fulfilling Elegy

When Part 2 of the Tacoma Night Terror project was released, I started getting my hopes up about an eventual vinyl release that would compile both parts and bring the whole project full-circle, literally and figuratively. Vinyl Me Please to the rescue. The subscription service named Cohen a VMP Rising artist and pressed the Tacoma Night Terror set to gorgeous purple and blue vinyl. Its arrival and time spent on my turntable have provided a fitting sense of punctuation to a musical thread that’s run throughout my 2018.

The Fearless Flyers — The Fearless Flyers

Following along with the release of the Fearless Flyers EP was my way of peering into the greater Vulfpeck universe and looking around a bit. I’m really glad I did, because this is an exceptionally fun and funky set of songs, with a top-notch cover of “Under the Sea,” drums by the great Nate Smith, and a guest spot from Blake Mills, who contributes truly filthy slide guitar to the Flyers’ version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” Take a listen:

Panda Bear — A Day with the Homies

This got the 2018 party started on my end. Released January 12. Exclusively on vinyl, so no sample tune to share. I find that a good measure of how the year went is looking back at the first album you really dug into in the new year and thinking about how long ago that feels. It feels like this record was release about 12 years ago. It’s a good one, though, and I’ve brought it out consistently when I’m cooking dinner and in a good mood. It’s not that the music is aggressively buoyant or anything; I think the title has really shaped my perception of the music, as has the fact that I can only listen while at home — where I tend to be more distracted and less able to zoom in on lyrics.

Moses Sumney — Black in Deep Red, 2014

“Rank & File” is one of the year’s best songs, and it may not even be the best song on this three-song EP. (Don’t sleep on the wordless “Call-to-Arms.”) I’m so glad Sumney decided to share this brief collection of tunes, which have thematic roots in 2014, when a grand jury decided against indicting the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I wrote about “Rank & File” in RVA Magazine earlier this year, and I zoomed in on one lyric in particular: “If we make you nervous, what is your purpose?”

That question calls attention to the mangled power dynamics at work during protests like the one Sumney attended in honor of Michael Brown — complexity that finds a musical parallel in the song’s time signature.

More 2018 in Review to come…

2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

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Friday News and Notes

HyperFocal: 0

Late-breaking Friday News and Notes!

  • Happy reissue day to Lucy Dacus, and happy release day to The Head and the Heart! Also to Wilco, though I grabbed a copy of Schmilco at BK Music’s listening party on Tuesday. It’s excellent. It sounded more understated and mellow when I was listening at BK, but listening at home was a whole other story. Very tense, like bottled up emotions slipping out a little at a time, with more fun weirdness and ornamentation than I heard at first.
  • Speaking of BK, while I was there on Tuesday, I flipped through their amazing new bluegrass/country section and found a copy of Tony Rice’s Manzanita. I’ve been looking for his stuff since I learned that the cover of Daniel Bachman’s Miscellaneous Ephemera and Other Bullshit album was an homage to one of Rice’s. Is Manzanita a good Rice starting point? They had a couple of others, but I kept seeing Manzanita described as a landmark/watershed album when I looked it up, so it seemed like a good bet.
  • Enjoying Amanda Shires’ new album — check out the First Listen over at NPR.
  • Another First Listen worth a… listen… Blake Mills produced Dawes’ new album. I’ve only heard a few songs, but they’re wildly interesting so far. Mills is a brilliant dude.
  • Insane run of shows coming up. Car Seat Headrest at the National on Monday, The Lumineers at RIR on Friday, then The Mountain Goats at the National the Monday after. There’s even a Willie Nelson show somewhere in the middle, though that one’s sold out. Someone please hold me to this promise: I will see him next time he comes to town.

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Top 10 Albums of 2014

Parks and Rec

Fun fact: When you wait until December 31 to finish your top 10 albums of the year post, your top 10 albums of the year post becomes, by default, your New Year’s Eve post! Before getting to the list, I just want to thank everyone who takes the time to read this blog, whether it’s once a week, once a month, or just this once. It’s such a gift thinking/knowing/believing that there are people out there who share your enthusiasms, and to everyone who left comments, retweeted links, reblogged posts, did guest posts, invited me to do guests posts, or interacted with YHT in any other way, thank you for being such awesome Internet buds.

Now for the 10 albums that meant the most to me in 2014:

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Blake Mills

Blake Mills

Big week, y’all. I’m writing this on Thursday night, immediately after confirming that my silver 64 GB iPhone 6 is still scheduled to be delivered sometime on Friday. Given that my current phone qualifies for not one but two recalls — one concerning a sleep/wake button that no longer works and the other concerning a battery that just kind of says “fuck it” and shuts the phone down randomly — you’ll understand why I’ve been looking forward to this Friday for some time.

And yet…

…I might be even more excited about Tuesday’s Heigh Ho release.

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Happy Halloween!

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.

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Blake Mills

Blake Mills

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.

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