Tag Archives: Phil Cook

2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

Happy New Year’s Eve, y’all! I’m clicking publish on this just before picking up my kids from daycare and heading to a neighbor’s house to send off 2018 in style. It was a really weird year. Good in lots of ways, bad in many other ways, but I’d argue that the music was truly excellent. Here’s one more list — the albums I loved that didn’t fit into the other categories (EPs, Jazz, Blasts from the Past, and RVA), ordered alphabetically. There’s even a quick list of other jams I enjoyed at the bottom.

Thank y’all wonderful people for sticking with this dusty old blog in 2018. Be safe out there tonight. See you in 2019.

Arctic Monkeys — Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

File this under “Things I didn’t know I needed…” If you would have come up to me and said, “One of the bands you like is going to make a completely sincere album about a space casino,” I’m not sure how I would have reacted, or if I would have guessed Arctic Monkeys were the band. Then again, you could argue that the seeds for Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino were planted in the making of A.M., in which Alex Turner found a new and uniquely convincing narrative voice as a chronicler of messy late night interactions. That’s what makes Tranquility Base work so well: It doesn’t sound like Turner is acting, even though it couldn’t be clearer (ahem, space casino) that what he’s singing about is imaginary.

As a side note, I listened to this almost exclusively while on a non-imaginary trip to Las Vegas earlier this year. My first time there. Alex Turner was my spirit guide. Like I said, “Things I didn’t know I needed…”

Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy

This year’s winner for Difficult Album Categorization. It’s not a reissue, since the songs have been rerecorded, but the original Twin Fantasy was released all the way back in 2011, so this doesn’t exactly feel like a new album. In the end, none of that matters, because there’s power baked into these songs, their themes, and their memorable melodies that transcends how they’re presented. And I genuinely enjoy how Will Toledo forces you to examine your assumptions about whether recording a song means it’s “finished.”

Honorable mention for difficult album categorization goes to Ryley Walker’s excellent rework of Dave Matthews Band’s Lillywhite Sessions, which were never actually released, making Walker’s album the first official Lillywhite release? I guess?

Phil Cook — People Are My Drug

This album has all of spiritual buoyancy of Cook’s Southland Mission album, and it arrived at a time when his brand of relentless optimism is needed most. I’ll never forget giving it a spin when my faith in humanity was especially low, after a creepy encounter I had while canvassing here in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District for Abigail Spanberger. I got home, put this on, made a pot of chili, and the world felt right again. Well, almost as right as it did when Spanberger won 🙂

Jonny Greenwood — Phantom Thread OST

Cooking with mushrooms will never be the same in the Jones household. Not sure what I mean? See the movie, and then try to cook with mushrooms while this soundtrack is playing in the background and not get creeped out. It’s impossible.

Lonnie Holley — MITH

Holley is a true original. I’ll never forget how his 2017 show at the Broadberry was staged — Holley on keys and two cellos. Tons of improvisation. It was wild. I follow him on Instagram, and I still haven’t seen that arrangement repeated. I was ready for anything when MITH came out, and while there’s still a wildness to the way Holley delivers his songs, there’s a sharp thematic focus to the album, with “I Woke Up In A Fucked-Up America” leading the way.

As a side note, this made the Bitter Southerner’s Best Southern albums of 2018 list, and I loved the way Chuck Reece’s podcast explored “I Snuck Off The Slave Ship.”

Jump Little Children — Sparrow

Off Your Radar readers know about my love for Jump Little Children. I was so thrilled to see the band had gotten back together and recorded a new set of songs, but given how much time had passed, I was cautious in terms of my optimism. Lead single “Hand On My Heartache” was a great start, though — and a big hit in the Jones household, given that my daughter loved it right away — and the rest of Sparrow ended up following suit. We’ve listened a bunch as a family, which I love because of how I first learned about the band from my older sister.

I had a really hard time picking a song to feature for this one, because so many of these songs demonstrate what’s been great about Jump Little Children all along. I ended up going with the title track, which opens the album with a nice balance of quiet moments and anthemic builds.

Adrianne Lenker — abysskiss

I fell hard for “cradle,” which I first heard while on a trip to Maine with my family. It seems so fitting in retrospect, and not just because I listened to the song while I was literally putting together a Pack ‘n Play. There’s such a wonderful sense of intimacy to the album. Even when Lenker is singing “No one can be my man/No one can be my woman,” the closeness of her voice makes you feel like you’re on the inside of some warm, small space that she’s constructed with her words and arpeggiated chords. I love spinning the album at home and feeling grateful for the warm, small space in the world my wife and I have constructed together.

Buck Meek — Buck Meek

The two brilliant Big Thief solo albums are back-to back alphabetically! How perfect is it that? Meek is Big Thief’s guitarist, and I love his approach — restless and inventive, not unlike Blake Mills’. I even hear some of the same guitar tones. Meek’s lyrics are just as gripping. I could go on and on about “Joe By The Book.” Who knows how many times I’ve listened to it. It doesn’t even cross the two-minute mark, but it’s a study in how details enrich lyrics, with colloquialisms like “Who’d you fool to borrow this race car?” and “You should get paid to waste my time” that feel so true-to-life that I wonder if they’re one side of a real phone conversation. Either that or the most economical short story I’ve heard since “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Blake Mills — Look

Speaking of Blake Mills and restlessness… Look came out later in the year (I’m actually still waiting for my online order for a vinyl copy to be fulfilled), and I’m still getting to know it. But I love how Mills is constantly looking for new muses — in this case it’s Japanese guitar synthesizers from the 1970s. According to an interview I read, Look is a document of Mills’ learning to use them — like a sketchbook kept by an artist mastering a new technique. Yet Look sounds like mastery to me, and I envision spending a ton more time with it.

Mountain Man — Magic Ship

This one has been within the vicinity of my record player since it came in the mail. In all seriousness, I don’t think it’s left that room. I’ve reached for it in so many situations: Cooking dinner, first waking up on the weekend and making coffee, during chaotic kid dinners. It pairs with solitude and serious contemplation just as well as it accompanies lighthearted moments of communion. Can’t wait to see Mountain Man at Capital Ale House in the coming year. Get your tickets here if you haven’t already.

John Prine — The Tree of Forgiveness

Much of what I said about Both Directions at Once in my jazz post applies here as well, since this is Prine’s first album of original material since I started getting to know his music. But I’m inclined to think this contains some true all-timers. “Summer’s End” packs an incredible emotional punch and reminds me a little of the power of “Hello in There,” and “When I Get to Heaven” offers a beautiful example of Prine’s benevolently dark humor.

RosalĂ­a — El Mal Querer

Hypnotic spareness. Arresting, beautifully ornamental singing that lays bare the link between cante flamenco and musical traditions rooted farther east. Production from the brilliant El Guincho, who shows as much of a knack for listening here as for building out rhythm and atmosphere. Add in a track that incorporates the melody from “Cry Me A River” and you have an unreasonably generous feast for the ears, especially if you’re interested in the interconnectedness of styles from around the world.

Jeff Tweedy — WARM

I guess I never really stopped to think about the opaqueness of Wilco’s lyrics. There’s always been so much to dig into musically, especially since Nels Cline joined the band and became a focal point unto himself (one of the reasons I love Sky Blue Sky). But this whole narrative about how the lyrics on WARM are direct in a way Tweedy’s haven’t been in the past — I totally buy it. It really does feel like a refreshing creative left turn, and I feel like I understand him a little better after listening to WARM. That’s pretty incredible, given how much time I’ve spent with his work over the past decade or so.

Brocker Way — Wild Wild Country OST

I loved Wild Wild Country, and I especially loved the way it used Bill Callahan’s “Drover” in the series’ climactic scene. In that moment, the lyrics of “Drover” bring the show’s dark and complicated narrative full-circle, and the show brings out shading in the lyrics that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. When I first saw this album at Small Friend Records & Books, I thought it would be more of a soundtrack, with songs like “Drover” included, but this is the original score, which was done by Brocker Way, brother of the creators of Wild Wild Country. When I saw it had been pressed to maroon vinyl, I had to snag it. I’m glad I did, because it’s haunting in really interesting ways — controversially so.

As a side note, you’ll see an honorable mention below for Callahan’s Live at Third Man Records album, which (coincidentally?) includes a version of “Drover.” Did I mention the song is where the show got its name?

Thom Yorke — Suspiria OST

Creepy, pretty, and perfectly suited for pumpkin carving. Thom Yorke’s first foray into the world of film scoring. Really impressive. Looking forward to hearing more from him in this format.

10 more 2018 albums I enjoyed:

Nathan Bowles — Plainly Mistaken
Bill Callahan — Live at Third Man Records
Father John Misty — God’s Favorite Customer
Mary Lattimore — Hundreds of Days
Lindi Ortega — Liberty
Screaming Females — All at Once
Shovels & Rope — Busted Jukebox Volume 2
Ryley Walker — The Lillywhite Sessions
Wilco — Live At The Troubadour L.A. 1996
Neil Young: Roxy — Tonight’s the Night Live

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: RVA Part 1

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2016 in Review: EPs

It’s hump day for 2016 in Review! Part three of five lists a handful of EPs that I enjoyed this year:

1. Moses Sumney — Lamentations

moses-sumney

Just as Moses Sumney’s voice can reach up and up, his music seems to find new heights of beauty with each song he releases. I’ll take a choir of looped Sumneys over just about any other vocal group out there.

Moses Sumney — “Incantation” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. Phil Cook — Old Hwy D

phil-cook

What a perfect companion to the outburst of joy found on Southland Mission. This compact set of pensive guitar tunes is great for working, driving, running… anything where you want to turn your active mind off and let the quiet murmurs of your soul bubble up.

Phil Cook — “Old Hwy D” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Spencer Tweedy — Geezer Love

spencer-tweedy

Apologies for getting all parental about this, but my heart was warmed by Geezer Love in part by the combination of Spencer Tweedy’s voice — how much it sounds like his dad’s — and how he’s managed to make something all his own while building on his dad’s songwriting strengths. That thing Tweedy Sr. does by offering ear-pleasing patterns and then subverting them slightly via structural tweaks and manipulation of phrasing — Tweedy Jr. has it down pat. There’s a wonderful irony at work here: If the style you inherit is dependent on offering variation, you’ll never be a copy of what came before. In “Fawn,” Spencer sings “I want to be what you want me to be/I want to do what you want me to do,” and I can’t help thinking that in being himself, he’s already being and doing what his dad would want.

Spencer Tweedy — “Walking Home” [Bandcamp]

4. Heartracer — Eat Your Heart Out

heartracer

I had an opportunity to write a quickie review of this for RVA Magazine. Here’s a snippet:

Eat Your Heart Out’s literal centerpiece, “I Just Want U,” is an expertly crafted pop ballad that’s a joy to get lost in — lost in the harmonies, the guitar, and in time.

Heartracer — “I Just Want U” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Thunder Tillman — Jaguar Mirror

Thunder Tillman

From my initial post about Thunder Tillman:

I love how narrative Thunder Tillman’s music is. I was hooked halfway through the EP’s first song, “Exact Location Of The Soul,” in large part because I felt like added elements and changes in mood were advancing a story.

Thunder Tillman — “Exact Location Of The Soul” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Friday News and Notes

caroline-shaw

A few quick pre-weekend notes:

  • Congrats to Bob Dylan on his Nobel Prize in Literature. It couldn’t have been a more fitting selection — choosing him transcended the honor’s boundaries just as Dylan gave songwriting a transcendent push in the twentieth century. It’s been fun watching tributes roll in, from favorite lyrics to pictures of tattoos of favorite lyrics to evidence of Dylan binge-listening. Inspiring all around.
  • And congrats to the organizers of the Richmond Folk Festival, for putting on another excellent event — this year in the face of shitty weather. I was only able to stop by on Sunday, but I will never forget what I saw: Rahzel doing “If Your Mother Only Knew.” I saw that. In person. It’s still sinking in. I have a crappy video I may upload at some point for the audio’s sake if folks are interested.
  • Last Friday’s Lucy Dacus show was outstanding. This review did a great job of explaining why.
  • New Phil Cook out today! Gorgeous, contemplative stuff.
  • My mom’s been sending me some delightfully out-there music recommendations lately. Here’s one — a movement from Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices. It’s a wild ride. I won’t say another word, because going in cold, without context or expectations, is really, really fun.
  • Another mom recommendation: Sacred Harp singing.
  • Were you lucky enough to get tickets for tonight’s Big Freedia show at Strange Matter before they sold out? I am envious. Post pics and videos plz.

Have a great weekend, y’all. Hope these links make it a little weirder.

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Friday News and Notes

Friday Cheers

Lots of fun stuff to check in about:

  • CD Monday update: New Lions & the Not-Good Night is a gift that keeps giving and giving. Even more in love with it than I was before. The band is heading out on tour today — get a taste of what those shows will be like here, and join the band in figuring out what their tour hashtag will be (current frontrunner is #thisisandisnotTOURture2016).
  • One Week One Band did Punch Brothers this week! I  read a fair amount of it, but I’m planning to go back through and make sure I saw everything. Might be my favorite OWOB week since I started following along. Really thorough.
  • Y’all see the Lincoln commercial where Sharon Jones covers “Midnight Rider”? It’s fantastic. You even get a little Matthew McConaughey at the end.
  • It was so rewarding following along on social media as Sleepwalkers played Red Rocks two nights this week. This may be the most excited I’ve been for shows that I wasn’t even going to. The pictures are breathtaking — hit up their Twitter account to check a few out. Prepare for goosebumps.
  • I dunno about you, but I’m fixin’ to hop on that there Bonnaroo live stream a fair amount this weekend. I wrote a thing a while back about about how much I love festival live streams. As a substitute for being able to co-locate and do all of the things at all of the times, they’re pretty snazzy.
  • Another song from the new Avers album hit the interweb! It’s called “Santa Anna” and I’m enjoying it very much. Listen over at USA Today’s FTW site. Speaking of FTW, they came out with a list of the 16 best songs of the first half of 2016 and Clair Morgan’s “Rogue Island” is ranked #5, between Chance the Rapper and ANOHNI. How cool is that?!?
  • No gig tonight, but I feel compelled to share with the world that, at last Friday’s gig, I got to say — all in seriousness — the following sentence into a microphone: “This one’s for the dude in the bouncy castle who requested Skynyrd.”
  • Tonight’s might be the season’s most anticipated Friday Cheers show — Kurt Vile and Richmond’s fast-rising phenom, Lucy Dacus — and I will most assuredly be there. Might even bring my copy of No Burden in hopes that Dacus will sign it. I did just that with my copy of Phil Cook’s Southland Mission album and, while I definitely felt like a nerd doing so, it was well worth it. Also bears mentioning that the National has a crazy run of shows coming up: Death Cab for Cutie tonight, M83 on Sunday, Fitz & the Tantrums on Tuesday, Violent Femmes on Wednesday… not too shabby. And the Broadberry has Lucius on Wednesday. Lots of good stuff to see.

See y’all at Cheers!

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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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Friday News and Notes

Simpsons

A few Friday News and Notes items to finish out the week:

  • CD Monday update: The Sufjan song is excellent, and I enjoy the Rafter track, but the real winner is the Helado Negro song I posted on Monday. Baby YHT (who isn’t really a baby anymore — maybe she should be Toddler YHT for now?) even liked it and gave it the “Again!” seal of approval a couple times.
  • I can’t remember what day this week it was, but I had to get out of the car right when Marketplace was starting a story about Radiohead’s finances and, presumably, how they start new companies for each record they release. Bandmate 4eva Doug unknowingly came to the rescue by sending me this Guardian article about the same thing a day or two later. Interesting stuff, I think. Maybe I need to start a couple corporations for YHT, especially now that I bought an actual domain for the site.
  • Hey! I forgot to tell y’all! I bought youhearthat.com, so there’s that. Feels like I got my own little plot on this great big internet, and it feels like I should be saying that while standing with a cup of coffee in one hand and a suspender strap in the other, looking out over my growing crop of blog posts through the early morning haze. That’s how the internet works, right…
  • James Blake? Gooood. Radiohead? Goooood. BeyoncĂ©? I trust that it’s good, but I still haven’t heard more than a couple songs. I don’t want to pay to download it, since it might come out on vinyl at some point, and it’s not on Spotify, and I’m not about to sign up for Tidal while I’m still paying for Spotify Premium, so…
  • A+ Friday Cheers tonight, y’all: Phil Cook and Shovels & Rope. Don’t miss it. And might I suggest heading to the Broadberry after for The Big Payback and Life on Mars?

I’ll be heading up to NYC this weekend, which makes three trips up 95 in four weekends. Yet somehow I still get a kick from zooming through E-ZPass only toll lanes. It doesn’t take much.

Have great weekends! See y’all tonight at Cheers!

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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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