Tag Archives: Matthew E. White

Phil Cook

Phil Cook

It’s hard to overstate the influence the people in this photo have had on my musical life.

Not long after Phil Cook started playing at last week’s Friday Cheers, I saw Matthew E. White walk through the crowd and settle in near the front, and at the risk of being a little bit of a creeper, I made sure to get a shot of these two hugely important people in one place.

This was my first time seeing Phil Cook play under his own name, but I’ve gotten to see him perform three (I think) times before — twice with Hiss Golden Messenger in Richmond and once with Megafaun in Portland, OR. That 2011 Portland show at the Doug Fir was the seed of something that’s grown much bigger. I’ve written about this idea before, but every single thing the Megafaun diaspora touches or is associated with — HGM, Sylvan Esso, The Shouting Matches, Grandma Sparrow — turns to gold, and those projects and Phil Cook’s solo album have brought me a great deal of happiness in the years since Portland.

Less than a year after that show, the first songs from White’s Big Inner debut (Phil Cook was involved with that too) started appearing on the interweb. I hadn’t been clued into Fight the Big Bull back then, so these songs were my introduction to White. It was a little like when I first heard White Laces — it felt like I’d stepped on a live power line in my own backyard, like “Holy crap! Was this here all along?” I preordered the album and followed White on all possible social media channels, including his Spotify profile.

I’m not sure how many of y’all use the feature that allows you to see what your friends/the people you follow are listening to, but White’s feed changed everything for me. It’s how I found out about Randy Newman. About Harry Nilsson. About Stevie Wonder. And then Stevie opened up the whole world of soul music for me — Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Nina Simone… there’s an entire section of my record collection that probably wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for White’s Spotify feed.

The same goes for one of the happiest moments of my life: In the spring of 2014, Mrs. YHT and I did a long weekend in Corolla, NC while she was very pregnant, knowing we were going to skip my family’s summer beach trip that year. On the last day, before heading back to Richmond — and back to reality, where parenthood was imminent — we spent a few minutes in (what I believe is called) Historic Corolla Park literally sitting on the dock of the bay (OK, the Currituck Sound) listening to Otis Redding. For that short time, I felt completely at peace with the world and my place in it. Peace was scarce in those days, given how anxious I was before our daughter was born, so I’ll never forget listening to that song in that setting in that moment. Without Otis Redding, and by extension, Matt White, I’m not sure I would have found that sense of peace.

Toward the end of his Cheers set, Phil Cook dedicated a song to a friend in the audience, and while I can’t remember the exact words of his dedication, it seemed clear he was talking about White. The song ended up being Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.” Two days later, at the P.S. 321 Flea Market in Brooklyn, I found a copy of Newman’s album of the same name. It felt like all the musical connections I’d been thinking about for those two days came together in that one record I was holding. I’d held a copy of the album before — while flipping through records at Deep Groove a while ago — but on Sunday, it felt like the most valuable record in the entire world.

I really wish I had video of Cook doing “Sail Away” on Friday. My phone’s battery was low because I had already taped Cook playing “Crow Black Chicken,” which Ry Cooder recorded for Boomer’s Story. Here’s that recording — it’s a little blurry, but there’s an excellent bass solo from Michael Libramento. And it seems only fitting, given that this is a story about connections, to share that Ry Cooder played on Newman’s Sail Away album.

Phil Cook — “Crow Black Chicken” (Ry Cooder cover) [YouTube]

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The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats

Step 1: Head to the Answer on a Monday night to interview Kelli Strawbridge and see Mekong Xpress and the Get Fresh Horns.

Step 2: Finish the interview and sit at the bar next to trumpet player Bob Miller.

Step 3: Chat with Miller about being part of the horn section that Matthew E. White and the Mountain Goats shared when they toured in support of their respective 2012 albums.

Step 4: Head to Steady Sounds the next day over lunch to snag an original pressing (!) of D’Angelo’s Voodoo.

Step 5: Take a quick look through the bins and find a used copy the aforementioned 2012 Mountain Goats album, Transcendental Youth, and pull out the liner notes to see if Bob Miller played on the album.

Step 6: See that he did and feel that “Everything is connected and beautiful” feeling.

Step 7: Play the album later that night and soak in White’s smart and reverential arrangements.

Step 8: Listen as a hair gets stuck on the needle, causing the lyrics “I could do this all day” from “Counterfeit Florida Plates” to loop perfectly about a dozen times.

Step 9: Feel that “Everything is connected and beautiful” feeling again.

Step 10: Buy tickets to the Mountain Goats’ September 19 show at the National.

The Mountain Goats — “Counterfeit Florida Plates” [Spotify/iTunes]

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CD Monday

Record Store Day

Rolling around this week with this sampler I got on my way out of BK Music on Record Store Day. I haven’t listened all the way through yet, but I already love it, because it serves as a reminder of a very fun and fruitful Saturday.

What I got:

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” B/W “Maybe In The Night”

Matthew E. White

This was my one must-get item this year. Y’all’ve already heard me freak out about the A-side, but I’m just as psyched for people to hear the B-side, “Maybe In The Night,” which has a fantastic singalong chorus that climbs right into White’s falsetto wheelhouse. And it was mixed at Abbey Road, which is neat. I’ll update this post whenever that one makes it online.

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” (feat. Natalie Prass) [Spotify/iTunes]

Charlie Parr — I Ain’t Dead Yet EP

Charlie Parr

This was a leap of faith, but given how much faith I have in Phil Cook (who recorded a cover of Parr’s “1922 Blues“), I shouldn’t be surprised that it paid off. Parr has such a great, whip-smart writing voice, with a dry humor I’m really enjoying. You can get a taste of that deadpan humor at the start of this video of Parr doing the EP’s title track.

Charlie Parr — “I Ain’t Dead Yet” (live) [YouTube/Discogs]

Allen Toussaint — Live in Philadelphia 1975

Allen Toussaint

Gonna have to report back about this one. I’m waiting for just the right cooking situation — something that involves lots of chopping — so I can get a good listen.

Allen Toussaint — Live in Philadelphia 1975 [YouTube/Discogs]

BONUS: Ryan Adams — Live at Carnegie Hall

Ryan Adams

So BK does a raffle before the store opens on Record Store Day, and by some glorious stroke of luck, Bandmate 4eva Doug and I had the first two numbers, giving us first crack at a bin full of box sets, t-shirts, and other fun stuff. My adrenaline was off the charts when I was walking up to see what the choices were, and it reached Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction levels when I saw this 6-LP Ryan Adams set was there. I love these big, career-spanning live albums — Doug actually got something similar, the one Drive-By Truckers put out last year — in part because they function as greatest hits albums as well. I’ve listened to Ryan Adams a fair amount, but I don’t have physical copies of many of his albums, so Live at Carnegie Hall fills in gaps that would have gone unfilled for who knows how long.

This particular situation feels almost star-crossed, because the album of his that I’ve listened to more than any other isn’t an official release — it’s just a download of the live set he did before his 2011 Letterman performance. I love Adams in that setting, where he can tell discursive stories and jokes and jump between eras of his career. Many have said that Adams needs to self-edit more, but the flexibility of the solo acoustic environment suits him well, I think, and I love having two full nights of his music and storytelling at my fingertips. One hell of a raffle prize, that’s for sure.

One more note before I go — BK Music continues to amaze me with their customer service, from the good-natured way they approach the chaos of Record Store Day, to their willingness to go above and beyond to help you find what you need. If you haven’t been to BK, I recommend going and getting to know the nice people who work there. Such a great place.

Ryan Adams — “New York, New York” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

 

 

 

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Friday News and Notes: Record Store Day Edition

RSD16

These aren’t your usual Friday News and Notes — tomorrow is Record Store Day, so let’s get some special edition, limited pressing, hand-numbered (OK, so they’re not actually numbered) bullets going…

  • As per usual, I’ll be starting the day where so many of my RSD wishes have been granted: BK Music. I have a gig at McCook’s tonight, so waking up early and getting close to the front of the line tomorrow will involve an extra degree of difficulty, but Bandmate 4eva Doug is giving me a ride, and a 7-inch copy of the Matthew E. White/Natalie Prass/DJ Harrison collaboration “Cool Out” is on the line, so there’s plenty of motivation for getting out of bed when my phone’s alarm tells me to. Also I’ll be having bad FOMO dreams all night, so that should help.
  • That “Cool Out” single is the only item I’m dead set on, but there are a few others I’m interested in taking a closer look at: There’s the Etta James At Last reissue, the Allen Toussaint Live in Philadelphia 1975 album (with “Southern Nights” on it), J Dilla’s lost vocal album, Charlie Parr’s releasing an EP (got into him thanks to Phil Cook), the Hamilton Leithauser/Paul-Maroon EP… I love Hoist, but I just want Phish to release twenty-something dollar reissues of some of these albums. I’d still be up for, like, holding it for a few minutes, maybe?
  • Lots of fun stuff happening around town in addition to BK’s celebration: Steady Sounds has DJs and an attractive mention of pizza on the FB event page, Plan 9 is hosting performances by Ohbliv, Lady God, and Zgomot, Deep Grove will have Sugar Shack donuts and a raffle for a Music Hall Turntable, Vinyl Conflict will be continuing their self-styled oppositional Customer Appreciation Day, featuring a Parking Lot Party and a Simpsons arcade game tournament… so many options, so many ways to support stores that bring you closer to the music that you love, past and present.

Hope you find your ideal spot to cool out tomorrow.

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” (feat. Natalie Prass) [Spotify/iTunes]

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Matthew E. White

Matthew E. White

Guys. Guys guys guys.

Matthew E. White. Natalie Prass. DJ Harrison.

It’s like I’m watching Game of Thrones and two of the baddest-ass families — House Spacebomb and House Jellowstone — just joined forces. What’s a good analog… Tyrion advising Dany, maybe? I dunno, I understand about 5% of what happens on Game of Thrones. But I love watching it, and I love “Cool Out.” The beat… the interplay of Prass’ and White’s vocals… the cover art… love it all.

Westeros is never going to be the same.

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” (feat. Natalie Prass) [Spotify/iTunes]

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 5: Top Ten

10. Jamie xx — In Colour

Jamie xx

From when I first wrote about In Colour:

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.

Jamie xx — “Gosh” [Spotify/iTunes]

9. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell

sufjan stevens

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.

Sufjan Stevens — “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” [Spotify/iTunes]

8. Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

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.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

7. Kamasi Washington — The Epic

Kamasi Washington

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.

Kamasi Washington — “Miss Understanding” [Spotify/iTunes]

6. Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

This is White’s third appearance in the 2015! Holy Crap! series. It was one of my favorite physical releases, one of my favorite Richmond releases — only natural it resides here as well.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

“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.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Jason Isbell — Something More Than Free

Cover_hi_res

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.

Jason Isbell — “24 Frames” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty

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.

Father John Misty — “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar

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.

Kendrick Lamar — “Alright” [Spotify/iTunes]

1. Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Record box

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.

Natalie Prass — “Bird Of Prey” [Spotify/iTunes]

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.

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs
Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases
Bonus: Sound Gaze Retrospective Spectacular

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases

Anousheh — Make Noise

Anousheh

When I first wrote about Make Noise, I zoomed in on “Blue Red” and how it’s illustrative of a powerful emotional intelligence:

There is a wonderful specificity to the lyrics — real and focused emotional messages that are often missing from music with the pop signifiers you hear on Make Noise — but my main takeaway has been more general. I hear both sensitivity and boldness in its words, and when you’re going through difficult times, those two qualities couldn’t be more crucial.

Another great example is “Lightning,” The burn is slow, building from the verse to a passage that would serve as the chorus were it not for an even more intense, imploring chorus that follows. All the while, you get a glimpse into this private world of motivations — one where strength and vulnerability are tuned on their heads: “Your lightning keeps on burning holes in my thick skin.” Each track on Make Noise presents this kind of lived-in universe worth exploring with patience and empathy. In that sense, this could be one of your favorite albums of 2016 as well.

Anousheh — “Lightning” [Spotify/iTunes]

Scott Clark 4tet — Bury My Heart

Scott Clark

Ambition is best when paired with honor, and Bury My Heart is proof. In communicating the tragic story of the Native American genocide, Scott Clark has issued an open invitation to consider more deeply a part of American history that is too often (and callously) ignored. The fact that he set out to convey such weighty subject matter wordlessly is where the ambition comes in. To say he let the notes do the talking would be to downplay how difficult it is to imbue an instrumental piece with specific ideas and emotions; the capacity to do this has always seemed borderline magical to me. Clark clearly has that capacity, and it’s inspiring to see the gift used to such a righteous end.

Scott Clark 4tet — “Broken Treaties” [iTunes]

Brian Cruse — Brian Cruse presents: The B-Snap-tet

Brian Cruse

From my interview with Cruse for River City Magazine:

In 2014, he set his sights on recording a new album, and he decided to do so under a new name – the B-Snap-tet… Under the guiding hand of Minimum Wage Recording owner Lance Koehler, who also recorded and engineered Con Legno, Cruse produced a truly eclectic listening experience, from the hip-hop-inspired “Nightlight” to the album’s meditative centerpiece, “26.1,” which takes on the grave topic of the previous year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Brian Cruse presents: B-Snaptet — “Side Steppin’” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Diamond Center — Crystals for the Brass Empire

Diamond Center

From when I first posted about the album in October:

Crystals is excellent; I got my vinyl copy a few Fridays back and felt transported — each track felt like it was dropping me on the set of a different old movie.

The Diamond Center — “Bones” [Spotify/iTunes]

Manatree — Manatree

Manatree

From my review of the album:

A glowing YHT review of this album is long overdue. Same goes for Manatree’s live show — both are polished and powerful to a degree that’s rare for a band promoting a debut full-length. These songs are so sharp, precisely pivoting from clean to heavy, all the while building melodies that hold tracks together. The word “agile” comes to mind. This is the music Fender guitars dream of when they’re not being played.

Manatree — “Fat Jackson” [Spotify/iTunes]

No BS! Brass Band — Brass Knuckles

No BS Brass Band

From my review of the album:

I don’t think No BS! will stop acting as ambassadors of Richmond fun anytime soon, but judging by their new album, Brass Knuckles, they have their eyes set on an even bigger role. By taking up the banner of social justice in songs like “Act Like You Know” and “Tyrannis,” the group is using their force-of-nature arrangements and abilities to amplify the voices of those in the community who are taking progressive stances on issues related to race, inequality, and policing.

No BS! Brass Band — “Brass Knuckles” [Soundcloud/iTunes]

Positive No — Glossa

Positive No

I’ve written about Glossa a few times since its release (check those posts out here, here, and here), and I was so thrilled to see “Pedal Through” included on NPR’s favorite songs list. Congrats to Positive No on an excellent year!

Positive No — “Pedal Through” [Bandcamp]

Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass

From my RVA Mag blurb:

This was the album I reached for when friends and family came for dinner or a visit. I loved playing them “It Is You,” a marvel of a song, and hearing the beat to “Bird Of Prey” and the powerful conclusion of “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” meant pinching myself — reconfirming that this phenomenon, with roots in Richmond, was real.

Natalie Prass — “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sam Reed — This is Love

Sam Reed

From my RVA Mag blurb:

When I first heard This Is Love, I couldn’t get over the one-two punch of “Come Inside” and “Real Feel Sound.” I kept replaying them, amazed by the confluence of soul, gospel, jazz, R&B and hip hop. Reed’s voice soars in spots and seethes in others, and the backdrop provided by the Jellowstone family — especially the gritty bass in “Come Inside” and the enormous chorus of “Real Feel Sound” — had me enthralled. It’s such a lush, detailed landscape.

Sam Reed — “Come Inside” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Trillions — Superposition

The Trillions

From my RVA Mag blurb:

Most bands would kill to be as complex or as catchy as the Trillions can be, yet it’s the balance they bring to those forces that makes them truly exceptional. “Dead Meat” is my favorite illustration yet. There’s more musicality in opening seconds than in some entire albums, yet the intro gives way to a verse that exudes strength via sparse precision. Throw in a sweetly sung, slightly unsettling chorus and you have the Trillions at their best — a powerhouse as discerning as it is dynamic.

The Trillions — “Right ’til Proven Wrong” [Spotify/iTunes]

Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

From my RVA Mag blurb:

White’s taken his hushed vocals and preternatural knack for gathering talent and applied them to subjects ranging from simple pleasures (“Fruit Trees”) to church abuse (“Holy Moly”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Tranquility”) to music itself (“Rock & Roll Is Cold”), all the while lifting up the R&B tradition to which he’s making significant contributions.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 1: Fav Physical Releases

Animal Collective — Live at 9:30

Animal Collective

Animal Collective does vinyl porn right. Hand-numbered (just 2,000 made — mine is 1,998) and meticulously put together — complete with a reprint of the characteristically trippy poster from the 2013 show the album documents — the whole thing is gorgeous. The kicker: From the back cover art, it would appear that the front reacts to black light. I don’t have a black light, which makes this the Schrödinger’s cat of album packaging — as long as I don’t try to verify the black light thing, it’s both true and not true.

Animal Collective — “Did You See The Words” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

Art Angels would have made this list on the stunning cover art alone (designed by Claire Boucher herself), but the vinyl package includes individual pieces of art for each track, and I’d bet the farm — easy for me to say, because I don’t have a farm — that Boucher designed those as well. It’s a flood of distinctive, expressionistic creativity — so fitting for a collection of songs that offers the same.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

Much like Art Angels, there’s an insert for each song in the Divers vinyl package, but these feel more practical. The designs are simpler, and they function nicely as a delivery mechanism for Newsom’s lyrics, which can fly past so quickly that whole stanzas get lost. But practical and amazing aren’t mutually exclusive, and the experience of listening to Divers and reading it at the same time really is amazing. It reminds my of something I wrote about Lucy Dacus recently — “You read the song and listen to it at the same time, like two forms of art unfolding simultaneously” — except even more literal.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

Positive No — Glossa

Hats off to the Positive No gang for this one. When they decided against pressing vinyl for Glossa, they didn’t forget how engaging the medium is — how a physical object with detailed notes and beautiful design can strengthen your connection to a collection of songs. Guitarist and founding member Kenny Close produced 12 unique pieces of lyric art and put them togehter in a 7×7, 28-page lyric book, which came with a digital download of the album and a bookmark. The package I got in the mail even included a copy of the band’s entry in the Negative Fun Singles Club 7-inch series. What an awesome surprise, and what an awesome way to start a relationship with a new album.

Positive No — “Northern Aggressor” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

From my review of the album:

As much as I enjoyed Fresh Blood when I streamed it via NPR First Listen, having the deluxe vinyl edition — which includes an alternate, stripped-down mix of the album called No Skin — is a whole different ballgame. I keep going back and forth between the two discs, and I’d even recommend starting with the No Skin version. It’s a great way to take in the structure of the songs, Cameron Ralston’s amazing bass lines, the texture of White’s voice, the full glory of the guitar build that brings “Holy Moly” to a close…

Switching then to the official version is like opening the shutters on a bright and beautiful day. With apologies to Beyoncé, I’m finding Fresh Blood to be a very visual album. All the depth and shading that come from the string, horn and choral arrangements make the songs feel sculptural, and I think having No Skin as a second vantage point has a lot to do with seeing that third-dimension. (I’m reminded of the “Camera 1, camera 2” routine from Wayne’s World, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Daniel Clarke

Daniel Clarke

I had the pleasure of shaking hands with Daniel Clarke on Sunday when I went to Hardywood to fill a growler.

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Matthew E. White

Matthew E. White

I’m a sucker for intertexuality, so the new Matthew E. White album is like a gift from above.

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Filed under #nowplaying, #rva