Tag Archives: Paul Simon

2016 in Review: Top 10 Albums

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

Lucy Dacus

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 national acclaim 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.

Lucy Dacus — “Strange Torpedo” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. David Bowie — Blackstar

David Bowie

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.

David Bowie — “Girl Loves Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Frank Ocean — Blonde

frank-ocean

It was an honor to blurb this one as well for RVA Magazinetake 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.

Frank Ocean — “Self Control” [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead

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.

Radiohead — “Burn The Witch” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Car Seat Headrest — Teens of Denial

car-seat-headrest

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.

Car Seat Headrest — “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” [Spotify/iTunes]

6. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — I Had a Dream You Were Mine

rostam

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.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — “Sick As A Dog” [Spotify/iTunes]

7. Drive-By Truckers — American Band

drive-by-truckers

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.

Drive-By Truckers — “Surrender Under Protest” [Spotify/iTunes]

8. Bon Iver — 22, A Million

bon-iver

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.

Bon Iver — “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]” [Spotify/iTunes]

9. Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger

paul-simon

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.

Paul Simon — “Wristband” [Spotify/iTunes]

10. Angel Olsen — MY WOMAN

angel-olsen

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.

Angel Olsen — “Shut Up Kiss Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

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.

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American Tunes

allen-toussaint

Since the election, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this little corner of the Internet more… something. Productive isn’t the right word. Influential? Helpful? I just don’t want to keep feeling like there’s more I could and should be doing to make a difference, especially when it comes to the political realm.

A week or so ago, I decided to start a series of quick posts that each share a song that reflects what’s happening on the national stage. Protest songs. Thoughtful, incisive songs. Songs that help when you’re feeling like all is lost. Who knows what the next four years have in store, but I know this much: We’re going to need to stick together and motivate one another. The only thing stopping me from starting the series was a title. I was coming up pithy crap like “2020: Are We There Yet,” but I don’t want to count down the days until this crazy person is out of the White House. We need to make these days matter, and sarcasm doesn’t feel like the right the way to do that.

I was mulling this over on the way to lunch with a friend. We were going to Mission BBQ, a spot that has great brisket, pretty good mac and cheese, and more patriotism than any other restaurant I’ve been to. Tributes to various branches of the military and first responders line the walls and everything stops at noon each day so patrons and employees alike can stop, remove their hats, and salute the flag while the National Anthem is played over the PA system. There’s even a flag hanging down in the middle of the dining area that everyone faces. It reminds me so much of the start of NASCAR races at RIR (minus the flyover).

I started going to those races not long after I graduated college, when George W. Bush was president. That was a time when patriotism had been strategically claimed by the political right, and in some ways, being at those races and participating in gushing displays of patriotism felt transgressive. Like I was signing off on something I didn’t agree with. At the same time, it felt transgressive in a positive sense, like I was reclaiming something that should never have been taken from me in the first place. Being proud of where you’re from can certainly go off the rails and turn into an ugly form of nationalism, but patriotism isn’t inherently bad — and it’s certainly isn’t exclusively owned by the party that won the most recent election.

While I was driving to Mission, I caught myself dreading their noontime ritual. I wasn’t looking forward to standing there and wondering how many people in that restaurant voted for Donald Trump, but I thought back on those late 2000’s NASCAR races, and that’s when it hit me: American Tunes. That’s what I’ll be sharing. Some will be quiet, some will be loud. Some will be sad, some will be angry. Some won’t even be by Americans. But my hope is that each one will help on the rough road that lies ahead, because I’m not willing to let the right wrap themselves in the flag and claim this country as theirs. Let’s stay focused, stay inspired, and maintain our stake in a shared and crucial project that’s been going on for nearly 250 years.

Each post will include a song, maybe a few key lyrics, and a recommendation for when I think the song will be most useful. We’ll start with Allen Toussaint’s version of the Paul Simon classic that this series and Toussaint’s final album borrow their names from. I’ve been listening more closely to its lyrics, and they describe this perplexing and worrisome moment in America pretty aptly:

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong

This one’s for when you need to be reminded that we’ve made it back from the point of despair before, and we can do it again.

Allen Toussaint — “American Tune” (Paul Simon cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

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Friday News and Notes

A few Friday news and notes items, starting with the video above…

  • Holy crap — have y’all heard this Angelica Garcia songMatthew E. White tweeted about her yesterday, and Ted, the bass player for my band, saw her at The Tin Pan last night and raved about it. Can’t wait to hear more. (BTW s/o to a fellow son [daughter in her case] of a preacher [Episcopalian priest in both our cases] man [woman in my case].)
  • Mrs. YHT and I finished Stranger Things last night. No, YOU were a sobbing mess. Did you hear that the band that contributed the original score — they’re called, appropriately, Survive — is going on tour?
  • Speaking of soundtracks hitting the road, Seu Jorge is doing a David Bowie tribute tour, reprising his role in The Life Aquatic. He’s coming to D.C., but it’s on a Tuesday, and that Tuesday happens to be election day. Not sure I’m brave enough to go to that city on that day, but hot damn do I want to see that show. And hot damn to I want to get my hands on a copy of this.
  • So Delicate Steve played on Paul Simon’s last album. Which I love. I had no idea. I found this out because a press release celebrating his signing to ANTI- mentioned it. (Here’s the new tune of his they linked to in that email.)
  • David Vandervelde — one of two people named David who played music at my sister’s wedding — is putting out a collaborative EP with Tess Shapiro. It’s streaming over at Brooklyn Vegan, and I’d recommend listening all the way through. The whole thing is good, but I’m really digging the last two tracks.
  • The only thing better than friends who make mixtapes are friends who make mixtapes and also link you to other excellent mixtapes. Thank you for sending a link to this wonderful Aquarium Drunkard mix, Giselle!
  • I’m turning 33 tomorrow, and I’ll be celebrating the first few hours of my birthday by joining Doug Nunnally on Sound Gaze. Not sure when I’ll be jumping in, but the show runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WDCE. Listen online, listen on the radio, peer into the windows of the station… whatever it takes.
  • Gigging tonight at bdubs, so no show recommendations. As for bdubs recommendations: spicy garlic. Now and forever, spicy garlic.

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Record Store Report: Chicago

RSR4

Was just in Chicago for Mrs. YHT’s brother’s wedding, and I managed to sneak in a couple record store stops.

I struck out at the Madison Street location of Reckless Records — just a few blocks down State Street from our hotel — on Friday afternoon, but I took advantage of a free hour on Saturday morning by Ubering over to Dusty Groove, which was a couple of miles away. I had to hurry, which was unfortunate, because their jazz section was something to behold. Dozens of albums behind each alphabetical divider. I’ve become monomaniacally focused on finding this one Chico Hamilton album — El Chico, thanks to AnEarful — and they didn’t have it, but I would have happily flipped through every jazz record thy had, just to take in the panoramic beauty of that kind of collection.

RSR2

I quickly poked around elsewhere. I ended up passing on a new repress of Max Richter’s Songs from Before, which will probably haunt me, but I did latch onto a copy of the posthumous Allen Toussaint album that just came out. I’ve been listening to it via Spotify a bunch, both at work and at home. I first gravitated toward “Mardi Gras In New Orleans,” a song I played repeatedly in the hotel room while Mrs. YHT and I were in New Orleans in December. That was Professor Longhair’s upbeat version, but this version is slower, almost elegiac. Really affecting, especially given Toussaint’s recent passing.

RSR3

The other song I’ve gravitated toward is the cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” It suits Toussaint’s soft voice, and having a hard copy of that song might have been justification enough for buying the record and schlepping it all the way back to Richmond, but Side D sold me. The three bonus tracks — not available on Spotify as of yet — including two extra Longhair tunes and “Moon River,” which tends to rip my heart out of my chest every time I hear it. I’m typing this on the plane ride home, so I haven’t listened yet and don’t know if it’s instrumental or if Toussaint sings those sweet, fatalistic lyrics. If it’s the latter, I may never recover.

Allen Toussaint — “American Tune” (Paul Simon cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

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Covered: Snow

Another new feature for 2016! (I’m just gonna keep saying that, and hopefully one of these will stick.) Let’s pick a bunch of albums to play based on how situationally appropriate the cover art is. The current situation? Snow. A shit-ton of it. Here’s what I’ll be playing to chase away the cabin fever:

The Band — The Band

The Band

Dudes in coats. Levon looks the chilliest. Garth looks the chillest. Danko is challenging Richard Manuel’s signature claim to creepiest, while Robbie is clearly trying to have sex with you. Or maybe just making it known that he’s open to having sex with you. One or the other.

Good point just now from Mrs. YHT: “Levon is the chilliest because he’s the only one from the South.”

The Band — “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Beatles — Help!

The Beatles

More dudes in coats. And the cover shot is from the movie’s skiing scene, which was filmed in the Austrian Alps. Those crazy moptops…

The Beatles — “Help!” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bon Iver — Blood Bank EP

Bon Iver

From which Kayne got the sample for “Lost In The World.” Great EP.

Bon Iver — “Woods” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — Brandenburg Gate: Revisited

Dave Brubeck

Achtung! It’s cold out there!

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — “In Your Own Sweet Way” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jerry Butler — The Ice Man Cometh

Jerry Butler

What’s cooler than being cool?

Jerry Butler — “Only The Strong Survive” [Discogs]

Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars — Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars

Levon Helm

Levon. Paul Butterfield. Steve Cropper. Booker T. Jones. Dr. John. Duck Dunn. Robbie. Garth. Madonna.

OK, so Madonna’s not really on there. But all those other people are!

Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars — “Washer Woman” [Discogs]

Joni Mitchell — Hejira

Joni Mitchell

Anyone else invent an alternate universe in which “Coyote” is about Robbie Robertson?

Joni Mitchell — “Coyote” [Spotify/iTunes]

Paul Simon — Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Winner: Dude in a Coat category.

Side note — this may be the record that gets played most often in our house.

Paul Simon — “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bruce Springsteen — Nebraska

Bruce Springsteen

Saving this one for when cabin fever is really getting to me and things are looking peak-bleak.

Bruce Springsteen — “Atlantic City” [Spotify/iTunes]

Stephen Stills — Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

This one qualifies twice — there’s snow on the cover, and the first song is “Love The One You’re With,” which is basically the theme song for cabin fever! Love the one you’re with… because leaving the house really isn’t an option right now.

Stephen Stills — “Love The One You’re With” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sufjan Stevens — Michigan

Sufjan Stevens

Some impressive average annual snowfall numbers for Michigan cities. Houghton gets 207.7 inches a year. If you know anyone living in Houghton, Michigan, definitely send them this blog post.

Sufjan Stevens — “Holland” [Spotify/iTunes]

They Might Be Giants — “Don’t Let’s Start” maxi single

They Might Be Giants

Let’s all hope this storm doesn’t get to the point where snowmen gain sentience, kill us all, and start burning our money. Kinda feels like it might tho. Stay warm out there, y’all.

They Might Be Giants — “When It Rains It Snows” [Spotify/iTunes]

 

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Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Quick addendum to Wednesday’s post:

When I wrote about KONGOS, I talked about how the combination of bass, accordion and guitar reminded me of South Africa and Paul Simon’s Graceland, a comparison that was helped along by the fact that I looked the Kongos brothers up on Wikipedia while I was listening to their album for the first time and saw that they had roots in South Africa. Meanwhile, sitting in my drafts folder were the beginnings of my Hurray for the Riff Raff post. I’d listened to Small Town Heroes all the way through (and have been enjoying it a great deal), but I’d forgotten/failed to notice that it employs that same combination of instruments on “End Of The Line.”

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KONGOS

Kongos

In a recent blog post, Mark Richardson described three different ways music can be processed by the listener:

Some music I hear with my body, I actually receive the sound partly with my body and want to move muscles when I hear it. Some music I hear more with my brain, like I turn over images and consider ideas and so on, it’s a cerebral experience. And music… works in a third way, which is that it seems someone wired directly into my nervous system. When I hear it i don’t want to move and I don’t want to think, I want to sort of sit back and let it wash over me. It feels like an electrical current or something, a wavelength I tune into that makes me very happy.

I didn’t realize it right away, but I have experience with that third way.

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