I’m knee-deep in some non-bloggy writing, so this’ll be an abbreviated celebration of Bandcamp Friday. Nevertheless, I’m here to: 1. Encourage hitting the ‘camp hard today in support of artists who will be getting a bigger piece of the financial pie as a result of Bandcamp temporarily waiving its cut, 2. Recommend the gorgeous album of harmonium/synth accompanied guitar pieces by Cloud M & Gregory Darden entitled Tape One (I sure hope a Tape Two ends up happening), and 3. Share a list of links to other items I have my eye on today (down there below Tape One).
I posted earlier this week about how buying from Bandcamp is a great way to support artists right now, and today is an excellent day to act on that. Bandcamp is waiving their cut of all transactions today, meaning more of your dollars will go directly to artists, many of whom have seen steep declines in income as a result of COVID-19.
Here are a few recommendations, based on my buying plans:
FM Skyline — Liteware
Been looking forward to putting in a preorder for this since a few Thursdays ago, when I stayed up until midnight for the live YouTube premier of “polygon park.” With the backing of the 100% Electronica label, Pete Curry’s vaporwave project represents one of Richmond’s most ascendant acts at present. The first pressing of his Advanced Memory Suite album sold out, so if vinyl is your thing, I’d recommend acting quickly.
Avery Fogarty — #($%&@*&)!
Fogarty is the frontwoman of Hotspit, another ascendant Richmond act. When we’re on the other side of all this craziness, I recommend seeing them in person ASAP. Their live show is nothing short of arresting, characterized by big dynamic swings and complex guitar work. Forgary’s solo material focuses more on studies in mood and texture, and I do a joyful dance inside every time a new one shows up on Bandcamp.
The Blue Hens — Heavenly Sunlight
Brand new gospel EP straight outta Galax, Virginia, courtesy of Dori Freeman and husband Nicholas Falk. I had the chance to see them perform the title track at the Richmond Folk Festival. It’s gorgeous, not to mention rhythmically hypnotic.
Elkhorn — The Storm Sessions
A snowstorm caused Elkhorn to cancel their show, so they decided to make an impromptu album, making this a real-life manifestation of making the most of being stuck indoors.
Philip James Murphy Jr — bummer is icumen in
Murphy is a friend of a friend, and I’m so glad the intermediary introduced me to this album earlier this year. Really beautiful and varied. (How about that prophetic title?)
Whether or not you dig the tunes above, what’s important is that we keep finding ways to support musicians right now. For a way more extensive list of Bandcamp options, check out the Auricular’s amazing rundown.
Y’all make it out to the Folk Festival this weekend?
Our weekend was packed, but I made it out for two sets I was especially invested in: Petroloukas Halkias and Vasilis Kostas playing traditional Greek music from the Epirus region (the style Christopher C. King focuses on in his book Lament from Epirus), and a performance by the Galax, VA-based Willard Gayheart Family, which included a mini-set from the namesake patriarch’s granddaughter, Dori Freeman. (If you haven’t heard Freeman’s excellent new album Every Single Star, make that the very next thing you treat your ears to.) Both groups were excellent — well worth the hectic micro-scheduling that seeing them required. As a side note, if you happened to see a grown “adult” running in plain clothes around the festival grounds in the neighborhood of noon on Saturday, Sunday, or both, just know that he felt exactly as undignified as he looked, and that he regrets nothing. (Keep an eye out for YHT-branded “Will Run for Folk Music” bumper stickers.)
As luck would have it, we’re zooming toward another opportunity for Richmond-based old-time fans to enjoy the sounds of Galax. Tomorrow (Oct. 15) evening at 7:15, the Byrd Theatre will be showing a new documentary about the Old Fiddler’s Convention, the multi-day competition that brings old-time instrumentalists from all over — and outside — the country to Galax each August. The film is called Fiddlin’, and it’s billed as “a foot-stomping celebration of true Americana and artistic expression.” I’ve never been to the convention myself, though I’ve seen a few clips and spoken to folks who are involved. It’s already on my Virginia music bucket list, and I bet it’ll be a few notches higher after tomorrow. Did I mention Dori Freeman is listed among the Fiddlin’ cast?
The showing is free (presented by JAMinc) and open to the public. Best of all, if you leave your house early enough, you won’t have to run from your car to the theater to catch the start!
My first time splitting Americana out into its own category. It’s an admittedly nebulous distinction that’s useful in this case because it means I can list a bunch more albums that meant something to me this year. Here they are:
Bright Eyes — Salutations
Combine a wildly positive Friday Cheers experience this summer with the fact that the Felice Brothers provide a different backdrop than I’m used to hearing in Bright Eyes tunes, and you have an album that feels distinctly 2017 to me. The Felice Brothers even served as his backing band at that Cheers show. Just excellent. And yes, I did grab an official Conor Oberst harmonica at the merch table. The inscription: “Sorry for everything.”
Wrote about this album on Thanksgiving. It was the kind of peaceful moment you wish for and rarely experience:
Was just in a crowded kitchen, mashing potatoes, listening to Dori Freeman’s new album, and thinking about how great a Thanksgiving soundtrack it makes… Her arrangement of “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” is as simple as it gets — just her voice — like an old recipe rendered with care. It made for a moment of calm contentment amid a chaos for which I’m very fortunate.
Year-end list are silly, but they can produce meaningful moments of agreement. Seeing this on Amanda Petrusich’s top-10 made me jump up and down on the inside. And if I’d gotten my shit together in time to do a top songs post, I would have put “Furniture Man” in it.
From the cover art to the name “Kernal” to the fact that Taco Bell figures so prominently in the lyrics to my favorite song on the album… I have no idea what’s going on here. And I don’t want to know. I just want to spin this album and be happy. Light Country is about as quick a route from wherever I am to my musically induced happy place as I’ve found.
Deep emotional intelligence. Earnest introspection. A testament to how profoundly sad music, when made honestly, can be a force for healing. Looking forward to his show at The Camel on January 14. Saw Black opening. Should be outstanding.
I’m posting “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” below because my daughter and I sang it together a few times and thinking about that makes me smile, but listen to the lyrics to “Yup.” Knocked me back when I saw it live at the National earlier in December.
Got way into this after seeing Watson sing “Samson And Delilah” at that David Rawlings show in November. He also sang “Keep It Clean,” which is the last track on Vol. 1. I love that Rawlings passes the mic around like that.
Was just in a crowded kitchen, mashing potatoes, listening to Dori Freeman’s new album, and thinking about how great a Thanksgiving soundtrack it makes. It hit me during “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog,” a tune written by Freeman’s grandfather, Willard Gayheart — Letters Never Read is what it sounds like to be surrounded by family. Carrying forward traditions and putting your own spin on them. Enjoying the company and quirks of aunts, uncles, kids, and in-laws. Her arrangement of “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” is as simple as it gets — just her voice — like an old recipe rendered with care. It made for a moment of calm contentment amid a chaos for which I’m very fortunate.
Whatever you’re spinning, I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.
Lots of good music in town over the weekend. On Friday, I left work, picked Toddler YHT up from daycare, and headed in the direction of Hardywood, where a three band bill was kicking off at 6 p.m.
My daughter almost always asks if she can come when I’m getting ready to head out for a show, even when it’s a later show and she’s already in her pajamas. Still, she needed a little coaxing when on the way out of daycare.
“Guess what? We’re going to a concert!”
“The concert will have a food truck that makes grilled cheeses…”
Dori Freeman was my main motivating factor. She has a new album coming out next month, and I’d hoped to hear that new material, but it turned out that hers was the second set. Knowing that we’d probably only be able to hang around for a few songs past 7 p.m., we stopped by the food truck, ate dinner at a table in the parking lot, and headed inside to split an ice cream sandwich and catch what we could of the first act, NYC-based Brother Roy.
The voice I heard while we were outside eating sounded quite a bit like Conor Oberst’s, but once I could follow the lyrics a little more closely, Brother Roy — performing solo with a keyboard — reminded me more of Randy Newman. The tune that really grabbed my attention was “Carolina,” a montage of idealized southern living images with a hint of Newman’s wry, hyperbolic humor. Really neat.
Brother Roy made a fan out of Toddler YHT as well. She even made me hold our ice cream sandwich so she could clap.
Last 2016 in Review post — I promise. That said, I lied about the “Top 10” part. I’ve included the rest of my top 25 at the bottom, as well as some albums that I couldn’t resist mentioning, because they’re also amazing.
Without further ado…
1. Lucy Dacus — No Burden
Earlier in December, in a New Yorker piece about her favorite songs of 2016, Amanda Petrusich wrote something that helped me name the reason I so badly wanted to place Lucy Dacus’ No Burden at the top of this list:
Whole musical worlds were invented this year, and, perhaps most notable, listeners seemed better equipped than ever to accept and navigate them. I sensed both a collective ache for progressive work and a willingness to metabolize it.
Between the in-town excitement that accompanied the February release of No Burden, the wave of nationalacclaim that rushed in, the consistently excellent shows she played all over town, and the poised atmosphere she commanded at each of those performances, Dacus really did establish her own new world here in Richmond. It never ceases to amaze me how truly talented musicians can create something out of nothing but their own experiences and insights. It feels like an exception to the rule in physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.
The second part of the Petrusich quote above also resonated — the idea that audiences are looking for something progressive. Something that will move us forward. I sense that in Dacus’ music in large part because meaningful change hinges on truth, and her writing displays an honesty that’s both outwardly and inwardly directed. It’s why she was such a joy to interview, and it’s why her lyrics have so much substance. Would this country still be in the mess it’s in if people took a hard, unflinching look at their own motivations? Probably, but the mess might not be quite so bad.
In these last days of December, I find it impossible to imagine what this year would have been like — what my world would presently be like — without No Burden in it. For that reason, it’s #1 in my book.
In a word, transcendent. Blackstar turned out to be RVA Magazine‘s #1 album, and I was given the opportunity to write about it. I tried to put in context why it loomed so large over 2016, and talking about it ended up being strangely therapeutic. Here’s the first bit:
2016 will be remembered as at least these three things: The Year We Hated and Wanted to End Early, The Year Donald Trump Was Elected and Brexit Happened, and The Year All the Famous People Died. David Bowie’s death in January, just days after he released his dark and jazzy masterpiece, Blackstar, cast a pall over months ahead in which we lost one towering cultural figure after another. Like Prince, Bowie dying felt especially cruel, because of the life-affirming, self-empowering spirit he brought to his art. Bowie was evidence that you can take control of your identity and invent yourself in the image of your choosing, and he carried that artistic approach with him from life into death. His last artistic act was nothing short of transcendent.
It was an honor to blurb this one as well for RVA Magazine — take a look here. I couldn’t help throwing a little shade at the start:
While plenty of artists in the realms of pop and R&B were out there cultivating a public persona drenched in faux sensitivity, Frank Ocean was quietly at work, making some of the most powerfully vulnerable music I can remember hearing.
Another one I wrote about for RVA Magazine’s year-end bonanza. Such a beautiful album, such heavy subject matter. A Moon Shaped Pool acts as a reminder that lists and rankings pale in comparison to the lived experiences that make music and lyrics possible.
To say that Teens of Denial grew on me would be misleading — you usually hear people say that when they were unsure about an album initially but learned to love it. But Teens of Denial did grow in my estimation in the sense that, every time I listened, Will Toledo’s genius would seem more profound. I was one of the people for whom Car Seat Headrest’s newest album acted as an introduction, despite the fact that Toledo’s already released more albums than many artists release in a career and a half. That said, I recently snagged a used copy of 2015’s Teens of Style at Plan 9, and I hear that same undeniable (sorry) gift for fusing melody and energy. I may be late to the party, but it’s great to be here regardless.
6. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — I Had a Dream You Were Mine
This one probably has the highest ratio of number of times I listened to it to number of words I wrote about it. I did write a quickie review of it for the Winter RVA Magazine, and here’s how I closed it:
Hamilton Leithauser’s smoky vocals ascend seemingly without limit; when paired with Rostam Batmanglij’s knack for producing in styles both old and new, that voice — “the same voice I’ve always had” — soars with an inspiring freedom.
Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are in a really interesting position right now. They have roots in a red state but personal politics that lean blue, and because they’ve been consistently making some of the best and sludgiest Southern rock around for decades, they have the ears of fans from all over the political spectrum. In my mind, that’s why this album was and is so important — it represents a bridge spanning the huge chasm that separates America’s populated coasts from its rural center. It’s honest, just as the band is honest at their shows about where they stand when it comes to social justice. (“Black Lives Matter” was prominently displayed in their stage setup when they came to The National in November.) At a time when social media algorithms are making it harder and harder to encounter opinions that conflict with your own, the Truckers make me hopeful. Fingers crossed people are actually listening.
I thought Bon Iver’s self-titled album would be a tough act to follow — maybe impossible — given that it was the realization of such a big, colorful, well-rounded vision. But 22, A Million is proof that Justin Vernon’s vision is a renewable resource. An unexpected joy this album has brought is seeing who it resonates with — identifying other people who like their musical beauty laced with a healthy dose of obfuscation. It’s like we looked at a Rorschach and all came up with the same answer.
In terms of style, Stranger to Stranger is cut from cloth similar to that of Graceland, Paul Simon’s 30-year-old masterpiece. That said, his new album doesn’t feel retrograde, in part because Simon’s witty, acerbic writing seems sharper than ever. (Who else could turn concert wristband drama into a genuinely enjoyable, insightful song?) A piece of advice: If you missed Simon on this year’s tour — I did — check out his recent Austin City Limits performance. It’s excellent and has probably earned squatter’s rights on my DVR by now.
I thought about splitting this year’s lists into weirder categories like “Albums I Was Going To Like No Matter What” (Hiss Golden Messenger, Sturgill Simpson) and “Albums I Know I’m Going to Like Later But Haven’t Spent Enough Time With” (Beyoncé, Solange). MY WOMAN made me want to create a category called “Albums By Artists Who Had A Whole Other Gear We Didn’t Know About.” I thought Angel Olsen had truly found her form with her last album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, but Olsen’s direct, intense writing is just as effective in a setting that calls to mind early rock and roll. This may be my dad’s Memphis roots talking, but I hear a ton of Roy Orbison in MY WOMAN, and “Shut Up Kiss Me” is quite simply one of the strongest songs of the year.
Here’s the rest of the Top 25 I submitted for RVA Magazine…
11. Hiss Golden Messenger — Heart Like a Levee
12. Wilco — Schmilco
13. Lambchop — FLOTUS
14. Clair Morgan — New Lions & the Not-Good Night
15. Sturgill Simpson — A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
16. Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines
17. Allen Toussaint — American Tunes
18. Dori Freeman — Dori Freeman
19. A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
20. The Lumineers — Cleopatra
21. Julian Lage — ARCLIGHT
22. Solange — A Seat at the Table
23. Avers — Omega/Whatever
24. Durand Jones & the Indications — Durand Jones & the Indications
25. The Head and the Heart — Signs of Light
…and here are 15 more albums I loved dearly but am too tired to rank…
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down — A Man Alive
Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book
Cian Nugent — Night Fiction
Daniel Bachman — Daniel Bachman
Kyle Craft — Dolls of Highland
Nels Cline — Lovers
The Avalanches — Wildflowers
Colin Stetson — SORROW
Anna Meredith — Varmints
Carl Broemel — 4th of July
Blood Orange — Freetown Sound
Animal Collective — Painting With
Negative Gemini — Body Work James Supercave — Better Strange Andy Shauf — The Party
OK, I swear I’m stopping now. If you’re still reading, you’re a peach. See you in 2017.
EggHunt, man. They could easily be sitting back and basking in the brilliance of their recent successes, but it’s full steam ahead with another preorder-worthy release, Omega/Whatever. Out July 29. Love the cover art.
I’ve gotten to see Avers a number of times, and have favorite tracks from both their Empty Light LP and their Wasted Tracks EP, but a song I wasn’t familiar with grabbed my attention. “These are the days when everything hurts” it said. “I feel ya,” my internal monologue responded. Turns out it’s one of the tracks on Omega/Whatever, “Everything Hz,” and Consequence of Sound just wrote it up. Very cool.
Avers is packed with capable songwriters, and I’m not sure who penned this one, but the title reminds me of the way The Trillions (another Charlie Glenn outfit) name songs — references to technology, with lyrics that often convey an uneasy feeling about internet culture and digital-age relationships. According to EggHunt’s site, Omega/Whatever traffics in similar concerns: “It’s an album about balance, too, centered around the struggles of living in the modern world.”
Sounds like this is going to hit extremely close to home. Balance is something I’ve been struggling with lately, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what Avers have to say on the subject. “Everything Hz” is certainly a strong, relatable start.