You may have seen news about the new Father John Misty live album elsewhere, but I wanted to add my own recommendation.
The download is just $10, with proceeds going to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. And it’s an outstanding recording — horns, strings, a nice mix of older and newer songs, and most importantly, a number of tunes whose prescience is unmistakable in light of our current nightmare. “Things It Would’ve Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” and “Pure Comedy” are especially affecting in this sense, and “I Went To The Store One Day” and “Ballad Of The Dying Man” strike me as more poignant than ever. Times like these bring out the relevance of his big-picture thinking, even if that thinking results in shrugging about how absurd life on this “godless rock that refuses to die” can be. And his gallows humor has never been more necessary.
So much of what I loved about the set he played at the Atria Theater in June of last year is captured here. Well worth a download — again proceeds go to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Last list, I promise. I limited this post to 25 albums, which is totally arbitrary, but I had to wave the white flag at some point. I always start writing these year-in-review posts with high hopes of streamlining the process in an effort to siphon as little time as possible from holiday celebrating with family, but something in me can’t help getting absorbed then overwhelmed. It’s a moth-to-the-flame thing. Odds are good it has something to do with mortality/the passage of time/wanting to hold onto and contain experiences so they — and by extension, I — don’t quietly disappear into a scary, nebulous past… but you didn’t come here for existential hand-wringing, did you? Oh, you did? Great! Let’s be sure to catch up after about physical media as an ineffectual bulwark against death!
A few notes before we get started:
I made some additions to the previous lists — Steve Gunn’s tour-only Dusted album was added to the list of live jams, and Elkhorn’s Black River album was added to the Americana list. I snagged both at Steady Sounds with Christmas money and it’s still 2017, so…
This is just the non-live, non-reissue, non-Americana, non-RVA top 25. Doing a ranked top 25 this year would have been really tough. I held on especially tightly to the music I loved this year. Maybe because I needed the distraction. Maybe because new music was just really good this year. It’s probably a little of column A, a little of column B.
Like the other lists, this one is ordered alphabetically.
I kinda regret not doing a list of EPs. Ian Chang’s Spiritual Leader EP was awesome, as was Delicate Steve’s Cowboy Stories. There’s also Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference — I’m still getting to know that one, but I’m fairly certain it’ll become a favorite, based on what I heard at his show at the National earlier this month.
Enough preambling. Here are the best of the rest:
Ryan Adams — Prisoner
I didn’t end up connecting with the self-titled album that came before this one, in part because of the sound palette he was working with — more focused on 1980’s guitar sounds than is usually my cup of tea. Prisoner draws from the same well, but he seems more present in this one. And “Do You Still Love Me?” is a truly dynamite opening track. I was hoping he’d open his March show at The National with it, and he delivered. Love when bands do that.
I went a little nuts over this one. Step 1 was hearing the album and digging it. Step 2 was finding out that he played on Frank Ocean’s Blonde album. Step 3 was feeling crushed when I saw that a first pressing of the album had sold out via his Bandcamp page. Steps 4-18 involved various internal arguments about whether to order the first pressing from an online reseller — something I hate doing. I eventually caved. Not sorry one bit. It’s about as varied an album as I can remember spending time with this year — so many different flashes of brilliance.
Did you know that John Prine has a writing credit on the title track? Or that Prine is pictured on the back cover? These are things I didn’t learn until I snagged a vinyl copy of Waiting on a Song the night Auerbach opened for Prine at The Altria Theater here in Richmond. What a show that was. That’s when this album went from something I enjoyed to something I really loved.
There’s a quiet strength that runs through this whole album. It feels elemental. Inextricable. The Spacebomb flourishes are welcome and wonderful, but that strength never strays from center stage, making for an exceptionally compelling listen.
I believe Pure Comedy was recorded before the last presidential election, and politics aren’t the focal point here, but I’ve found it to be of great comfort these days. Sometimes you need someone to point out life’s absurdities so you can maintain a little distance. As lyrically dense as these songs are, the net effect — for me at least — is like taking a breath of fresh air, or like hitting a reset button.
Speaking of dense… I’m not sure I’ve really cracked the surface of Crack-Up. Listening to the episode of Song Exploder about “Mearcstapa” was startling, in that I didn’t realize how much about the album’s sound was flying under my radar. That said, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and I’m wildly curious as to what this album will mean to me in five or 10 years.
Part of an unholy trinity of excellent albums I’ve been playing loudly when I’m working from home in an empty house. Lots of tension and anger here, but so much light as well. The climaxes of these tunes can feel joyous — the melody at the end of “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” sounds like it could have been lifted from a Christmas carol written a hundred years ago.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — Murder of the Universe
Another member of the unholy trinity. It occurred to me recently that King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard could be the Russell Westbrook of the musical world. Both band and baller set ridiculously ambitious goals for themselves (five albums in a calendar year for KG&tLZ, a season-long triple-double for RW) and it looks like both will be successful. Just amazing. Of the albums they put out in 2017, Murder of the Universe was my favorite by far. It’s pure fun — fast paced and delightfully creepy. On vomit splatter colored vinyl, no less.
I decided not to rank this year’s list, but this probably would have been #1. Lamar is this generation’s lyricist of record, in my opinion. To Pimp a Butterfly may have been more musically immersive, but DAMN. is just as vital to understanding our country and its culture.
I had a chance to see and hear a few of these new tunes when the band came to Hardywood in August  — “Driving In California” for sure, and I think “Nina” and “Electric Abdomen” made appearances as well. It’s a fantastic album, every bit as imaginative, tightly executed, and soul replenishing as Upright Behavior. In fact, Landlady has become one of the bands –maybe you have a similar list — whose shows are more like exercises in spiritual fulfillment than just a pairing of people playing music and people watching those people play music.
A very, very good album that was there for me in a difficult time. Here’s what I said in an April post after typing out the lyrics to the chorus:
What a thing to have sung to you while standing in the backyard of your new home on a windy night, watching clouds zoom past the moon. That place she’s describing — the pocket of time before life grabs hold of the course you’ve plotted and adds twists and turns to it — that’s exactly where my family is right now.
From the post I wrote after seeing Moctar perform in October as part of a screening of his Purple Rain remake, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai:
I also walked away with a vinyl copy of Moctar’s newest LP, Sousoume Tamachek, signed by the three-man band I’d just seen in-person and onscreen. I’ve been spinning it nonstop — it paints a really varied and intimate picture of Moctar’s approach, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitar.
I’ve been seeing Sousoume Tamachek in other year-end lists, which makes me happy. Especially after hearing during the screening’s Q&A how tenuous the initial connection between Moctar and Sahel Sounds owner Christopher Kirkley was. A couple of missed phone calls and this album might not have been in my life.
I listened all the way through once, cried at my desk at work, and decided I needed some time before I listened again. I haven’t gone back yet, though I did almost buy a used copy at Reckless Records in Chicago while we were there on a family trip in November. It’s such a powerful album, and I could imagine it being there for me when I need it, but I never want to need it, and just thinking about needing it is terrifying. I have seen people talk about how listening to A Crow Looked at Me has actually been a life-affirming experience, and I get that, since it made me want to reach out to the people I love and let them know how much they mean to me. Still… it’s a little like looking directly into the Sun, emotionally speaking.
This is the first National album that has grabbed me. Two contributing factors: 1. Reading this Amanda Petrusich piece about it, and 2. Listening for the first time when I was very sad for reasons I’m not sure I want to share here. What I will say is that I found exactly the right kind of musical sadness to soundtrack a moment of real life sadness, and that sense of harmony helped me find peace where I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
One of my favorite assignments this year was writing about an earlier Orchestra Baobab album for Off Your Radar. I hadn’t spent a ton of time considering why that album — Specialist in All Styles — had wormed its way so deeply into my consciousness, and I came out the other side loving it even more. I’m enjoying this one a great deal, as well. Here’s what I said about it in that Off Your Radar piece:
[Original band member Ndiouga Dieng’s] death prompted the band to reunite and release a new album this year called Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Gone is Barthelemy Attisso’s virtuosic guitar — he’s back in Togo tending to his day job as a lawyer — and in its place you’ll find oodles of kora noodling. While I initially missed that brilliant, nimble guitar work, I’ve come to appreciate deeply how different this new release is. Another masterful move from a band whose musical chessboard spans the globe.
I feel like this was one of the year’s most misunderstood albums. While it was reviewed reasonably well, I feel like the reviews I saw missed something crucial about how bold the album is in making his voice the center of attention and using it as a muse for experimentation. This was his big moment to step into the spotlight, and he did so in a way that strikes me as exceptionally brave. It reminds me of a one-word answer he gave in an interview earlier this year when asked what he hopes people will remember him for:
Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is tailor-made for someone embroiled in exactly [my] obsessions, with the spacey aspects of Cosmic American Music, the voluminousness and spirituality of gospel, Tyler’s exploratory spirit, and references to early 1980’s production that remove songs from the present moment, like they’re wandering untethered by time. It’s all here, along with the signature Spacebomb sounds that consistently fill my heart with joy.
I learned just this week that Sproule put out a new album earlier this year called The Gold String, and it’s lovely in all the ways I Love You, Go Easy is, especially when it comes to the way the lyrics flow. In fact, she touches on a similar idea in the title track when she imagines an endless strand that connects everyone and everything. Her description of it is nothing short of elegant, in large part because form and theme are one; she describes this inspiring connectedness using verses that lead into one another and this amazing rolling rhyme scheme that weaves together phrases in ear-pleasing clusters. Her words become the string she’s singing about. It’s really incredible.
So my daughter, who is three and half and loves the color pink, keeps choosing this when I tell her to go pick a record from the shelf that has 2017 albums on it. Let’s just say the cover art is quite the conversation starter. Also, “New York” is one of the best songs of the year. Hands down.
The only album I could envision ranking above DAMN. It’s a towering achievement, both in terms of vocal performance and emotional articulation. While I didn’t manage to win a Vinyl Me, Please pressing at the Triple Crossing listening party in October, I managed to find a used VMP copy on the trip to Reckless Records I mentioned earlier. I know I put way too much stock in getting this or that pressing and having a physical copy of something that I can listen to online, but I love that Vinyl Me, Please did a pressing. It gave me an opportunity to sit around a table with new and old Sumney fans talking about all the ways in which Aromanticism is incredible.
Quick story — when Bob Dylan’s Tempest album was announced and I saw “Scarlet Town” on the track list, I desperately hoped it would be a cover of the Gillian Welch song from The Harrow & The Harvest. It wasn’t. So when I saw that a “Scarlet Town” was on this Thile/Mehldau album, I braced for disappointment…
No disappointment here. Just an hour and three minutes of next-level interpretation and collaboration. And, yes, it’s the “Scarlet Town” I was hoping for.
I liked the first two xx albums, loved Jamie xx’s solo album, and found this to be a great middle ground. It’s funny this comes last alphabetically, because it was the first top-tier album released this year, and it makes me think about how fucking long 2017 has felt. Good lord. Hey 2018, maybe don’t be like that?
One of my favorite spots on this pale blue dot. The Beer Garden in Corolla, North Carolina, a couple of minutes south of the northern endpoint of NC Highway 12. You get your Corolla Pizza slice/cheeseburger, you walk over to the Beer Garden, you hear good music like “Nancy From Now On,” from Father John Misty’s first album, and you feel like a human being again.
In Colour makes me wish I knew more about the electronic genres he’s citing/mining/channeling, so I can stop using EDM as a catch-all term. These songs feel elemental, like Jamie’s taken the basic ingredients of the music he grew up with and combined the best bits with a ruthless and discerning efficiency. I don’t know which ingredients are which — what synth sounds come from house vs. techno vs. drum and bass vs. something else on this hilariously detailed Wikipedia page — but for the first time I can remember, I want to know.
I know I keep harping on how good 2015 has been for new music, but one (admittedly subjective and unscientific) measure of how good it’s been is how many albums could easily be considered the year’s best had they come out in another year. That’s one of the first things I think about when I check to see where Carrie & Lowell is ranked in other lists. In fact, it reopened what was, for me, a closed discussion: Which is the best Sufjan Stevens album? Illinoise. I used to be sure of it. Now, I’m not.
This here is an emotional sledgehammer. The Mike Tyson of chronicling a painful family history and your place in it. Sufjan is simply the best at this. No one else can take a profound sensitivity and turn it into a document that makes me want to compare it to a sledgehammer and Mike Tyson. It’s paradoxical, but that’s Sufjan Stevens, and Carrie & Lowell may turn out to be his best work.
Read the next entry and come back, OK? Done? Much of what I said about The Epic can be said here, except substitute an abundance of notes for an abundance of words. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all that Joanna Newsom has given us in Divers. I could actually say the same of Newsom herself. I found a used vinyl copy of Ys earlier in the year (after I heard “Sapokanikan”), and used that as a gateway to Newsom’s wild, intricate universe. I’m still getting my bearings inside her world, but here’s how I know I’m a happy citizen of it: When Jim DeRogatis panned the album on Sound Opinions, I got really pissed. I started mentally writing a blog post in reaction — here’s a sampling of the thoughts going through my head at the time:
“OK, now you’re just being mean.”
“Would you say these things to her face?”
“I’m boycotting the shit out of Sound Opinions.”
These are the knee-jerk reactions of someone whose feelings were hurt. I did not publish that post, and I have not been boycotting Sound Opinions. All the same, I learned that I’m on Team Newsom for good, even if I don’t yet fully grasp the game we’re playing.
Last year, Black Messiah was the album I ranked somewhat speculatively, because I hadn’t had all that much time with it. (Probably should have been higher than #7.) Kamasi Washington’s ranking is somewhat speculative as well, but for a very different reason: Because it’s so damn long, I’ve only listened all the way through once or twice. I’ve listened on Spotify a fair amount, and I’ve spun my vinyl copy a number of times, usually picking a disc and side at random, but I’m not sure I have a grasp on the thing as a whole yet. Regardless, there’s a magnetism to the project that makes it hard to discount or ignore. Some of that pull comes from the content and its scope, some from his connections to artists like Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar. Some comes from how people are talking about Washington resurrecting a West Coast jazz scene that was flagging (I guess — I don’t really know much about that scene). Whatever it is, I’m not filing The Epic away any time soon.
“Kill V. Maim” sealed the deal. More specifically it was the cheerleader-y pre-chorus — one of those certifiable moments when you decide halfway through a song that you love it, you will always love it, and you love the tracks before and after for just being near it. In truth, if that moment hadn’t come during “Kill V. Maim,” it would have happened eventually, because Art Angels is unreasonably packed with excellent, memorable, marketable songs — “California,” “Flesh Without Blood,” “REALiTi,” “Artangels” — to the point where you start thinking that it’s just not fair. This should be a greatest hits collection, not an album of all-new material.
Side note — if you have a chance, look up “SCREAM” on YouTube and watch the craziness unfold. Can you imagine being there for that? I’m not sure I could even handle it, but I’d love the opportunity to try.
Doug Nunnally wrote some incredibly insightful words about Something More Than Free for RVA Magazine — I’d direct your attention there and zoom in on a particular passage here:
At times, it feels like a companion piece to Bernie Sanders’ campaign as it touches on similar themes of correcting issues that grew from grey areas while simultaneously voicing the frustration of blue-collar workers and the dwindling middle class.
This gets at something I’d been hoping to articulate about these songs, and about Isbell’s work in general. Isbell’s politics run counter to those of many with his accent, and I’d guess those politics are informed by something subtle but powerful that comes through in his songwriting: A consistency in the value he places on each person’s story. He gives his characters a fundamental sense of dignity — a generous allowance for imperfection that’s not apologetic as much as it’s understanding. Factual, even. No life is devoid of pain — not the father in “Speed Trap Town,” not the son; not the older generation in “Children Of Children,” not the younger — and when you build up from that basic sense of generosity, you get a worldview that’s compassionate and wise. It’s the kind I’d like to cultivate as I get older, and the kind I’d like to pass along to my daughter. Listening to Isbell is a good step in that direction, I think.
This album, while home to plenty of pretty singing and playing, is an ode to our ugliest impulses — those thoughts we fight against to get through the day and feel like a normal, contributing member of society. There’s a whole lot of “Fine, I’ll be the one to say it” on I Love You, Honeybear, and while I’d usually associate that kind of speech with attention-craving, I think Josh Tillman thinks this country (see “Bored In The U.S.A.) is operating at a severe deficit when it comes to self-reckoning, and I think he’s right. It doesn’t mean we should all be saying awful things to each other and following our ids wherever they lead us, but it does mean we should spend a little more time thinking about why we do the things we do and how we can collectively reach a more honest place. It might not be pretty, but that’s OK.
Going to retread what I said on Sound Gaze a bit here, but To Pimp A Butterfly reminds us that, despite 2015 being a phenomenal year for new music, not everything that happened this was year good. Police violence. Racism. Poverty. These problems aren’t new, but they’ve rocketed to the front of America’s consciousness (and conscience) as part of — what I hope will be — a movement pushing us closer to solutions. In that sense, TPAB is the perfect marriage of subject matter and timing — the album of the year, in more ways than one.
Yet its timeliness is only part of what makes it great. Lamar’s versatility, the depth and drama afforded by jazz instrumentation, the meta-narrative that builds as the album progresses… it all feels like proof that we’re looking at a once-in-a-generation talent. Let’s hope America listens.
I wrote for RVA Mag that this album was “true north” for me in 2015, and there was actually a physical manifestation of this. Mrs. YHT got me this really nice wooden record case for our fifth wedding anniversary, and I decided at some point that it would hold current-year albums and be emptied each New Year’s day. One side effect is that I can’t help kinda sorta ranking the albums in the box, with the most played, most beloved ones working their way to the front. Natalie Prass’ album spent the entire year there. The top inch or so was visible in my living room all those months, giving me a zillion opportunities to consider and reconsider how much it meant to me, and the only time it wasn’t in the front of that case was when it was being played. Like I said — true north.
Just now realizing that the front of the case actually does face north. Whoa.
I did a full Top 25 for RVA Mag — here’s the rest:
11. Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express — Junun
12. Jr Jr — Jr Jr
13. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
14. Punch Brothers — The Phosphorescent Blues
15. Asaf Avidan — Gold Shadow
16. Shamir — Ratchet
17. Pokey LaFarge — Something in the Water
18. Phil Cook — Southland Mission
19. Mutoid Man — Bleeder
20. Daniel Bachman — River
21. Pops Staples — Don’t Lose This
22. Son Lux — Bones
23. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
24. Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 25. The Trillions — Superposition*
*Because of the principle of superposition, this album technically occupies every position in the Top 25.
Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear album has taken over my life. Well, my record player’s life, anyway. The Decemberists vinyl Valentine’s Day present Mrs. YHT got me managed to break the stranglehold, but Honeybear is still spinning regularly at YHT headquarters. It’s an incredible album. I’d also call it vital.
“WTF?!? Where’d the meerkats go? And is it just me, or did Narnia throw up on my computer screen?”
Do not be alarmed, good people of the Internet! You’re in the right place! You’ve navigated your browser to the same medium-to-long-winded music blog you know and love, just without the brazen misuse of intellectual property sitting atop the page (these Meerkat Manor fellas sure are cute, but my copyright conscience had, over time, transformed their adorably inquisitive gazes into guilt-inducing death stares). In addition to the new banner and background, I’ve also reclassified all 250-some YHT posts to keep things a bit tidier, subject-matter-wise. The 5 categories (links can be found on the left side of the page) include…
#nowplaying — record reviews and recommended listening
#live — concert reviews and performance videos
#features — recurring gimmicks and especially long reads
#rva — music that calls Richmond, VA home
#guest — pieces penned by anyone other than yours truly
Many thanks are due to my big sis for hand-crafting the YHT mascot that’s pictured in the new banner, and thanks also to pixlr.com for making a web-based version of Photoshop, because I’m too cheap to buy the real thing and too guilt-prone to download it illegally.
To celebrate the blog’s new ‘do, I’m posting a video I’ve been meaning to write about for ages — one that tells its own story of physical transformation: Father John Misty’s (NSFW) “Nancy From Now On.”
I love Daytrotter. If this isn’t your first You Hear That rodeo, youmayalreadyknowthat. I believe wholeheartedly that it’s one of the best sites for music on the entire interweb. Actually, “site” doesn’t really do it justice; Daytrotter’s massive archive and mobile platform give it the feel of a streaming service like Spotify, except that it trafficks in exclusive live performances, each one with an incisive write-up and beautifully stylized in-house cover art. The $2-buck-a-month membership fee even grants you the ability to listen to these sessions being recorded, which is a really neat way to get behind the scenes and learn a little about the idiosyncrasies of performers’ personalities.
That being said, there’s a lesser-heralded aspect of Daytrotter that I enjoy almost as much as the site’s actual content: founder Sean Moeller’s twitter feed.