It’s customary to start year-end lists by chewing some fat about how making them is strange and difficult work, and in general, I find that these intros can be exceedingly skippable. Everyone knows that album rankings are subjective (even when they’re created on behalf of a publication or website), and no one needs to be reminded that the list maker didn’t listen — and couldn’t have listened, of course! — to every single thing that came out in the preceding 12 months. You don’t share Santa Claus’ knack for bending the space-time continuum. Understood. But before I get to my Top 10 albums, I would like to share a quick story about how I came up with my list, and how Beyoncé helped me find meaning in this whole strange and difficult exercise.
“Give credit where credit is due.”
It’s the kind of idiomatic expression that any non-sociopath can cosign without thinking too hard about it. Like “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” or “Let’s order a pizza when we get back from the bar.” But GCWCID’s promise often goes unfulfilled, and there doesn’t even have to be a good reason why. No villain, no deliberate deception or cover-up. Sometimes credit is hiding in plain sight. Or in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song everyone in the country has heard between five and 500 times:
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?
“The Swampers” is another name for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a handful of session musicians who provided the backbone for a string of huge hits in the 60’s and 70’s. Whether you’ve heard of the Swampers or not, Muscle Shoals, the new documentary about their work, the town they hail from and the producer/studio owner who gave them an opportunity to record with some of music’s most legendary artists, is an absolute must-see.
[Editor’s Note: Fall Line Fest took place nearly a month ago, but I have one last recap post to share. If you missed the first two, you can click here to check out the first, which is about Kopecky Family Band, and here to check out the second, which is about Positive No and an intrusive alley cat.]
After I finished my volunteer shift at Gallery 5 a little after 8 p.m. on Saturday of Fall Line Fest weekend, I made the short walk over to the Hippodrome for the festival’s big finale. There were three bands left to play: Photosynthesizers (their set was underway when I arrived), No BS! Brass Band and Big Freedia, who’d been billed as the weekend’s headliner. I hesitate to write about Photosynthesizers’ performance, because I only caught their last few songs, and I enjoyed what I saw way too much to give a half-baked impression of what they have to offer. I will say, though, that their presence was extremely powerful, and I’m looking forward to digging into their material.
I hesitate to write about Big Freedia for very different reasons.
I love when my sense of perspective gets messed with. Good art — books, music, movies… whatever — should leave you thinking slightly differently than before you were exposed to it. Take “I Am A God,” for example. There’s a good chance that, if you’ve heard the song a few times, a croissant is no longer just a croissant to you. It’s a threshold. A dividing line. Between two classes of rich people. Between faking it and making it. It’s also a punchline, delivered in a way that makes it hard to take the word at face value anymore (I have to think that people’s patience when waiting on an order of croissants won’t be the same, either).
I don’t know that Jason Isbell intended for it to — and this may be an entirely idiosyncratic reaction — but Southeastern has done something similar, though considerably more uplifting, with the word “down.”
Just last night, Mrs. YHT and I had the pleasure of sitting in section 18 of the Robins Center and watching our alma mater, the University of Richmond, mount an unlikely last-minute comeback and beat #19-ranked Virginia Commonwealth University in overtime.
It was fantastic. Probably the best college basketball game I’ve ever seen in person.
That said, I had low expectations going into the game (VCU has been playing extremely well — UR, not so much), so when VCU started pulling away near the end of regulation, I wasn’t exactly shocked. What was a little jarring was how much louder the VCU fans were, despite the fact that they were the away team. It was impressive. Also embarrassing. At times, the VEE-CEE-YOU chants were so loud, the only thing that could take your mind off the ticket sales/team spirit disparity was the music pumping out of the arena’s possibly new and definitely booming PA system.
Since I failed to DVR the game and am desperate to relive it, and since the music they played in the arena during breaks wasn’t half bad, I thought I’d share with you a sampling of the songs that helped carry the Spiders to an unlikely victory.
Did you know that Cher’s record company wanted to remove the now-famous auto-tuning that producer Mark Taylor added to the vocals of her 1998 hit, “Believe“? Crazy, right? What do you think the world would be like nowadays if Warner Brothers had gotten their way? Would we have flying cars? Would Lehman Brothers still have collapsed? Would there be an independent Palestinian state? What would T-Pain be doing at this very moment? We’ll never know, because Cher responded to her label’s request by saying that the digital effect on her voice would be removed “over [her] dead body.” Well then. But with all due respect to “Believe,” it stands to reason that, much like a synthesized disease that squirms its way out of a top-secret government lab, setting in motion a zombie apocalypse that sweeps the entire planet, leaving nothing but horror, violence and destruction in its wake: auto-tune was bound to get out at some point. OK, maybe that’s a hyperbolic analogy. And in truth, I’m not campaigning against auto-tune at all. On the contrary, auto-tune is a fascinating phenomenon to think about, especially when you’re dealing with a group like Fun. and a singer like Nate Ruess.
I was in New York City for a wedding this past (long) weekend, and had a super fun, action packed few days — I ate at some amazing restaurants, visited a museum exhibit that included a working slide from the 4th floor to the 2nd, conducted an unscientific study on regional differences in transactional conversation (saying “Thank you!” enthusiastically to store owners and waiters to see if they return a “You’re welcome” — they usually don’t, which I know isn’t considered to be rude, but it’s still fun to try) and saw an amazing band that I didn’t even know I’d be seeing. Saturday’s wedding reception was packed with great music, thanks in large part to the fact that the couple of the hour answered “Both” to that age old question, “Band or DJ?” The DJ provided an excellent chronological progression from Motown to “Otis,” deftly managing the inverse relationship between time and mean age, but it was the band, Brooklyn-based Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, that totally blew me away, playing a short set of dynamite soul songs that packed a serious punch. It can’t be easy to come into that environment and get people dancing with original music, but Sister Sparrow, fronted by Arleigh Kincheloe’s booming yet feminine voice and bolstered by a 4-man horn section (I think it was 4, but don’t hold me to that — the Brooklyn Lager was a-flowin’), did just that, playing tunes off their self-titled album alongside a few covers, and everything just worked. The horns were great, the vocals were great, the lead guitar was great, the harmonica was great — to paraphrase our good friend Thom Yorke, everything was in its right place, and I eagerly found the album on Spotify so I could preview it on the train ride back home to Richmond. Check out a full stream of their album below, and buy it on iTunes here.
Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds – Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds
The lights are back on at You Hear That headquarters, and I couldn’t be more excited, relieved and guilty at the same time, since so much of Richmond is still without power. With this ambivalent joyfulness in mind, I can think of no better day to observe Kanye West’s obsession with lights. It’s no secret that Kayne is both fascinated and tortured by fame, and lights embody the disorienting scrutiny under which he lives. His last three albums have included songs with “lights” in the title — Graduation’s “Flashing Lights,” 808s & Heartbreak’s “Street Lights,” and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s “All of the Lights” — but the most recent example goes the farthest in establishing a relationship between lights and the pitfalls of fame. “All of the Lights” paints a terrifying picture of light, with a frantic chorus and Rihanna ratcheting up the intensity. It’s clearly evidence of a person in distress, but it’s also an astoundingly good song. It’s hard to know what do to with that as a listener, but that’s what makes Kanye so brilliant — when he releases an album, you’re not just hearing songs, you’re hearing how Kanye is doing. Join him on his emotional roller coaster by listening to “All of the Lights” below and buying My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy here.
I’m on earthquake watch tonight. The biggun happened on Tuesday afternoon, but I slept through both of the subsequent early-morning aftershocks. As I try to stay awake long enough for tonight’s edition, I thought I’d try something totally new — Read It Later roulette. If you don’t use Read It Later (or something like it), it’s an incredibly useful and simple tool (it’s a plugin for many browsers, my iPhone Twitter client uses it as well) that lets you add links to one central list for future perusal. It’s great for when you don’t have time to freely surf the world wide web of information by day, and great for keeping up with music news. Without further ado, let’s play! The following are links I stumbled across at some point today:
Apparently, Kate Miller-Heidke, whose song “Are You Fucking Kidding Me” still has me rotflmao-ing, once sang in an opera about Jerry Springer, which she calls “sheer brilliance” (the opera, not Springer). I think she’s brilliant, and I’m excited she’s recording an album in October! Read an interview with KMH at the Village Voice.
I hope Pearl Jam plans to update the liner notes for their next best-of album, given that the true spelling of some key lyrics to “Alive” have been unearthed. Thank to you Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr for documenting this important archival discovery on their Twitter feed.
St. Vincent released the video for new song “Cruel,” in which she has the worst kids and husband ever. Let’s find Annie Clark a better family, because she seems like a nice lady to me. And if anyone can think of what commercial(s) the husband is from, PLEASE leave a comment. It’s bugging the hell out of me.
Kanye performed a 20-minute version of “Runaway” in Portland, and Rolling Stone posted a fan video. Just when I was ready to cry senseless self-indulgence, he brings the free-form epic to a close by pointing out that he “had the nerve to play you this song.” That is why Kayne is the best. Never ever change, Yeezy.
Lastly, music blogs asploded (and I nearly spat out my lunch) last Wednesday when James Blake cryptically announced a collabo with Bon Iver. The gorgeous tune is called “Fall Creek Boys Choir” and it just made it’s way online. I would like to place an order for an entire album of that. Kthx.
So, still no aftershocks, but I’m going to bed. I need my sleep — hurricane watch is on tap for tomorrow…