Tag Archives: Pokey LaFarge

2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

Last list, I promise. I limited this post to 25 albums, which is totally arbitrary, but I had to wave the white flag at some point. I always start writing these year-in-review posts with high hopes of streamlining the process in an effort to siphon as little time as possible from holiday celebrating with family, but something in me can’t help getting absorbed then overwhelmed. It’s a moth-to-the-flame thing. Odds are good it has something to do with mortality/the passage of time/wanting to hold onto and contain experiences so they — and by extension, I — don’t quietly disappear into a scary, nebulous past… but you didn’t come here for existential hand-wringing, did you? Oh, you did? Great! Let’s be sure to catch up after about physical media as an ineffectual bulwark against death!

A few notes before we get started:

  • I made some additions to the previous lists — Steve Gunn’s tour-only Dusted album was added to the list of live jams, and Elkhorn’s Black River album was added to the Americana list. I snagged both at Steady Sounds with Christmas money and it’s still 2017, so…
  • This is just the non-live, non-reissue, non-Americana, non-RVA top 25. Doing a ranked top 25 this year would have been really tough. I held on especially tightly to the music I loved this year. Maybe because I needed the distraction. Maybe because new music was just really good this year. It’s probably a little of column A, a little of column B.
  • Like the other lists, this one is ordered alphabetically.
  • I kinda regret not doing a list of EPs. Ian Chang’s Spiritual Leader EP was awesome, as was Delicate Steve’s Cowboy Stories. There’s also Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference — I’m still getting to know that one, but I’m fairly certain it’ll become a favorite, based on what I heard at his show at the National earlier this month.

Enough preambling. Here are the best of the rest:

Ryan Adams — Prisoner

I didn’t end up connecting with the self-titled album that came before this one, in part because of the sound palette he was working with — more focused on 1980’s guitar sounds than is usually my cup of tea. Prisoner draws from the same well, but he seems more present in this one. And “Do You Still Love Me?” is a truly dynamite opening track. I was hoping he’d open his March show at The National with it, and he delivered. Love when bands do that.

Ryan Adams — “Do You Still Love Me?” [Spotify/iTunes]

(Sandy) Alex G — Rocket

I went a little nuts over this one. Step 1 was hearing the album and digging it. Step 2 was finding out that he played on Frank Ocean’s Blonde album. Step 3 was feeling crushed when I saw that a first pressing of the album had sold out via his Bandcamp page. Steps 4-18 involved various internal arguments about whether to order the first pressing from an online reseller — something I hate doing. I eventually caved. Not sorry one bit. It’s about as varied an album as I can remember spending time with this year — so many different flashes of brilliance.

(Sandy) Alex G — “Powerful Man” [Spotify/iTunes]

Dan Auerbach — Waiting on a Song

Did you know that John Prine has a writing credit on the title track? Or that Prine is pictured on the back cover? These are things I didn’t learn until I snagged a vinyl copy of Waiting on a Song the night Auerbach opened for Prine at The Altria Theater here in Richmond. What a show that was. That’s when this album went from something I enjoyed to something I really loved.

Dan Auerbach — “Waiting On A Song” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bedouine — Bedouine

There’s a quiet strength that runs through this whole album. It feels elemental. Inextricable. The Spacebomb flourishes are welcome and wonderful, but that strength never strays from center stage, making for an exceptionally compelling listen.

Bedouine — “One Of These Days” [Spotify/iTunes]

Father John Misty — Pure Comedy

I believe Pure Comedy was recorded before the last presidential election, and politics aren’t the focal point here, but I’ve found it to be of great comfort these days. Sometimes you need someone to point out life’s absurdities so you can maintain a little distance. As lyrically dense as these songs are, the net effect — for me at least — is like taking a breath of fresh air, or like hitting a reset button.

Father John Misty — “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” [Spotify/iTunes]

Fleet Foxes — Crack-Up

Speaking of dense… I’m not sure I’ve really cracked the surface of Crack-Up. Listening to the episode of Song Exploder about “Mearcstapa” was startling, in that I didn’t realize how much about the album’s sound was flying under my radar. That said, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and I’m wildly curious as to what this album will mean to me in five or 10 years.

Fleet Foxes — “Mearcstapa” [Spotify/iTunes]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Luciferian Towers

Part of an unholy trinity of excellent albums I’ve been playing loudly when I’m working from home in an empty house. Lots of tension and anger here, but so much light as well. The climaxes of these tunes can feel joyous — the melody at the end of “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” sounds like it could have been lifted from a Christmas carol written a hundred years ago.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” [Spotify/iTunes]

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — Murder of the Universe

Another member of the unholy trinity. It occurred to me recently that King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard could be the Russell Westbrook of the musical world. Both band and baller set ridiculously ambitious goals for themselves (five albums in a calendar year for KG&tLZ, a season-long triple-double for RW) and it looks like both will be successful. Just amazing. Of the albums they put out in 2017, Murder of the Universe was my favorite by far. It’s pure fun — fast paced and delightfully creepy. On vomit splatter colored vinyl, no less.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — “Altered Beast I” [Spotify/iTunes]

Pokey LaFarge — Manic Revelations

Pokey’s sound has grown bigger and bolder, as has the St. Louisan’s writing voice. “Riot In The Streets” speaks to the Ferguson, Missouri protests, concluding:

Our past won’t go away
It haunts us to present day
There’s so much left to learn
As the bullets fly and the buildings burn

Pokey LaFarge — “Riot In The Streets” [Spotify/iTunes]

Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

I decided not to rank this year’s list, but this probably would have been #1. Lamar is this generation’s lyricist of record, in my opinion. To Pimp a Butterfly may have been more musically immersive, but DAMN. is just as vital to understanding our country and its culture.

Kendrick Lamar — “LUST.” [Spotify/iTunes]

Landlady — The World Is a Loud Place

A few words from my February post about the album:

I had a chance to see and hear a few of these new tunes when the band came to Hardywood in August [2016] — “Driving In California” for sure, and I think “Nina” and “Electric Abdomen” made appearances as well. It’s a fantastic album, every bit as imaginative, tightly executed, and soul replenishing as Upright Behavior. In fact, Landlady has become one of the bands –maybe you have a similar list — whose shows are more like exercises in spiritual fulfillment than just a pairing of people playing music and people watching those people play music.

Landlady — “Nina” [Spotify/iTunes]

Aimee Mann — Mental Illness

A very, very good album that was there for me in a difficult time. Here’s what I said in an April post after typing out the lyrics to the chorus:

What a thing to have sung to you while standing in the backyard of your new home on a windy night, watching clouds zoom past the moon. That place she’s describing — the pocket of time before life grabs hold of the course you’ve plotted and adds twists and turns to it — that’s exactly where my family is right now.

Aimee Mann — “Patient Zero” [Spotify/iTunes]

Mdou Moctar — Sousoume Tamachek

From the post I wrote after seeing Moctar perform in October as part of a screening of his Purple Rain remake, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai:

I also walked away with a vinyl copy of Moctar’s newest LP, Sousoume Tamachek, signed by the three-man band I’d just seen in-person and onscreen. I’ve been spinning it nonstop — it paints a really varied and intimate picture of Moctar’s approach, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitar.

I’ve been seeing Sousoume Tamachek in other year-end lists, which makes me happy. Especially after hearing during the screening’s Q&A how tenuous the initial connection between Moctar and Sahel Sounds owner Christopher Kirkley was. A couple of missed phone calls and this album might not have been in my life.

Mdou Moctar — “Sousoume Tamachek” [Bandcamp/Spotify]

Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked at Me

I listened all the way through once, cried at my desk at work, and decided I needed some time before I listened again. I haven’t gone back yet, though I did almost buy a used copy at Reckless Records in Chicago while we were there on a family trip in November. It’s such a powerful album, and I could imagine it being there for me when I need it, but I never want to need it, and just thinking about needing it is terrifying. I have seen people talk about how listening to A Crow Looked at Me has actually been a life-affirming experience, and I get that, since it made me want to reach out to the people I love and let them know how much they mean to me. Still… it’s a little like looking directly into the Sun, emotionally speaking.

Mount Eerie — “Ravens” [Spotify/iTunes]

Mutoid Man — War Moans

This completes the unholy trinity! Come for the masterful riffing, stay for the lyrics about impregnating Satan’s daughter!

Mutoid Man — “Kiss Of Death” [Spotify/iTunes]

The National — Sleep Well Beast

This is the first National album that has grabbed me. Two contributing factors: 1. Reading this Amanda Petrusich piece about it, and 2. Listening for the first time when I was very sad for reasons I’m not sure I want to share here. What I will say is that I found exactly the right kind of musical sadness to soundtrack a moment of real life sadness, and that sense of harmony helped me find peace where I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Sleep Well Beast — “The Day I Die” [Spotify/iTunes]

Orchestra Baobab — Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng

One of my favorite assignments this year was writing about an earlier Orchestra Baobab album for Off Your Radar. I hadn’t spent a ton of time considering why that album — Specialist in All Styles — had wormed its way so deeply into my consciousness, and I came out the other side loving it even more. I’m enjoying this one a great deal, as well. Here’s what I said about it in that Off Your Radar piece:

[Original band member Ndiouga Dieng’s] death prompted the band to reunite and release a new album this year called Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Gone is Barthelemy Attisso’s virtuosic guitar — he’s back in Togo tending to his day job as a lawyer — and in its place you’ll find oodles of kora noodling. While I initially missed that brilliant, nimble guitar work, I’ve come to appreciate deeply how different this new release is. Another masterful move from a band whose musical chessboard spans the globe.

Orchestra Baobab — “Mariama” [Spotify/iTunes]

Rostam — Half Light

I feel like this was one of the year’s most misunderstood albums. While it was reviewed reasonably well, I feel like the reviews I saw missed something crucial about how bold the album is in making his voice the center of attention and using it as a muse for experimentation. This was his big moment to step into the spotlight, and he did so in a way that strikes me as exceptionally brave. It reminds me of a one-word answer he gave in an interview earlier this year when asked what he hopes people will remember him for:

Fearlessness.

Rostam — “Gwan” [Spotify/iTunes]

Skyway Man — Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye

From my May post about the album:

Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is tailor-made for someone embroiled in exactly [my] obsessions, with the spacey aspects of Cosmic American Music, the voluminousness and spirituality of gospel, Tyler’s exploratory spirit, and references to early 1980’s production that remove songs from the present moment, like they’re wandering untethered by time. It’s all here, along with the signature Spacebomb sounds that consistently fill my heart with joy.

Skyway Man — “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” [Spotify/iTunes]

Devon Sproule — The Gold String

Another artist I nominated for Off Your Radar consideration. Here’s what I said about The Gold String in May:

I learned just this week that Sproule put out a new album earlier this year called The Gold String, and it’s lovely in all the ways I Love You, Go Easy is, especially when it comes to the way the lyrics flow. In fact, she touches on a similar idea in the title track when she imagines an endless strand that connects everyone and everything. Her description of it is nothing short of elegant, in large part because form and theme are one; she describes this inspiring connectedness using verses that lead into one another and this amazing rolling rhyme scheme that weaves together phrases in ear-pleasing clusters. Her words become the string she’s singing about. It’s really incredible.

Devon Sproule — “The Gold String” [Spotify/iTunes]

St. Vincent — MASSEDUCTION

So my daughter, who is three and half and loves the color pink, keeps choosing this when I tell her to go pick a record from the shelf that has 2017 albums on it. Let’s just say the cover art is quite the conversation starter. Also, “New York” is one of the best songs of the year. Hands down.

St. Vincent — “New York” [Spotify/iTunes]

Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

The only album I could envision ranking above DAMN. It’s a towering achievement, both in terms of vocal performance and emotional articulation. While I didn’t manage to win a Vinyl Me, Please pressing at the Triple Crossing listening party in October, I managed to find a used VMP copy on the trip to Reckless Records I mentioned earlier. I know I put way too much stock in getting this or that pressing and having a physical copy of something that I can listen to online, but I love that Vinyl Me, Please did a pressing. It gave me an opportunity to sit around a table with new and old Sumney fans talking about all the ways in which Aromanticism is incredible.

Moses Sumney — “Lonely World” [Spotify/iTunes]

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

From a Friday News and Notes post earlier this year:

Quick story — when Bob Dylan’s Tempest album was announced and I saw “Scarlet Town” on the track list, I desperately hoped it would be a cover of the Gillian Welch song from The Harrow & The Harvest. It wasn’t. So when I saw that a “Scarlet Town” was on this Thile/Mehldau album, I braced for disappointment…

No disappointment here. Just an hour and three minutes of next-level interpretation and collaboration. And, yes, it’s the “Scarlet Town” I was hoping for.

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — “Scarlet Town” [Spotify/iTunes]

Tinariwen — Elwan

This is the year I truly fell in love with Tuareg desert blues. So glad BK Music had a copy of this. I was wearing out Sousoume Tamachek.

Tinariwen — “Sastanàqqàm” [Spotify/iTunes]

The xx — I See You

I liked the first two xx albums, loved Jamie xx’s solo album, and found this to be a great middle ground. It’s funny this comes last alphabetically, because it was the first top-tier album released this year, and it makes me think about how fucking long 2017 has felt. Good lord. Hey 2018, maybe don’t be like that?

The xx — “Say Something Loving” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA

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Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge

Now that popular culture has fractured into tiny bits, with a niche community for pretty much anything you could take an interest in — old or new — the idea of cultural revival feels a little obsolete. You don’t need to wait around for something to become stylish again. Just do your thing, post a selfie where a community of like minds will see it and you might as well be living in the time and/or place of your preference. Let your freak flag fly and someone somewhere will start singing the corresponding national anthem.

That’s a little how I felt about Pokey LaFarge’s last few albums. He was flying his retrospective flag, and man was it fun to sing along. This is what I wrote about him last time around:

Setting aside for a moment that Pokey’s songs would sound great no matter how they were drawn, I think it’s unfair to say his style is borrowed from another time. Different genres may have their heydays — see Age, Jazz — but carrying on a lapsed tradition doesn’t have to feel like a resurrection. Music isn’t technology. It doesn’t become obsolete. You can employ whichever style works for you… as long as it flows through you genuinely and you have something to bring to the table.

Here’s the thing though: His new album, Something in the Water, takes that idea even further.

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Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge

The fact that it’s a first world problem doesn’t make it any less true — coming back from vacation sucks. The better the trip, the harder the fall. I don’t know about you, but I can usually sense with bitter consciousness the spell slipping away in the days after getting back, like watching smoke dissipate when someone turns on a ceiling fan.

If you caught my musical away message, you already know that I spent last week in Greece. (And if you actually listened to that Yanni song I posted — wasn’t it kind of fun?) Mrs. YHT and I took something of a second honeymoon, splitting time between Athens and a pair of islands that were just obscenely beautiful. I mean look at that. It’s unreasonable. It’s the kind of vista that makes you feel unworthy. I bet the seagulls even feel lucky to live there. Leaving wasn’t easy, and memories of the near-pornographic views, the absurd amount of feta cheese I ate and the ocean of pleasure reading time I left behind have made for rough reassimilation.

But sandwiched between yesterday’s serving of “welcome back to the real world” reminders was a momentary reprieve — a lightness when the weight of routine and responsibility was settling back onto my shoulders. It came while I was taking “Central Time” — the lead single off Pokey LaFarge’s day-old self-titled album — for a test drive. For a short time, it felt like the tremendous gravity of everyday life didn’t apply to me. The song ended, and I went back to coming back to things, but that weightlessness felt so real, and it seems to me that there’s more at work here than just a happy-sounding song.

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Pokey LaFarge

MIddle of Everywhere

Note to songwriters everywhere: if you want me to lose all objectivity and immediately love a song, just mention Richmond, VA. As of August, I will have been living in Richmond for 10 years, and I’m a sucker for songs that shout it out. Justin Townes Earle’s “Ghost of Virginia“? Yes, please. Old Crow Medicine Show’s “James River Blues“? A sacred hymn. I even give an ironic “Woohoo!” every time Levon gets to the part about Richmond falling in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (Is that bad? I really can’t tell, at this point). The latest song to win my heart by mentioning my beloved River City is Pokey LaFarge’sShenandoah River.” I came across the tune thanks to the fine people at NPR music — and not just because they’re currently streaming his upcoming album, Middle of Everywhere. I first heard about Pokey thanks to a Tiny Desk Concert he performed with his band, the South City Three, at Bob Boilen’s desk back in April. Of all the things I liked about that performance, his personality and (please forgive me for using this word) panache stood out the most, and it’s remarkable to hear how he managed to bottle that same charisma in the studio. Though his musical style reaches back to the Dust Bowl, his showmanship is timeless. His whimsical lyrics and delivery make you forget what year it really is, along with anything that may have been worrying you. After all, the Shenandoah River doesn’t actually flow through Richmond, but as the song explains, “It doesn’t matter now, for we could float forever.” Have a listen to a live performance of “Shenandoah River” below, and click here to listen to the album version, along with the rest of Middle of Everywhere.

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Pokey LaFarge

I started the week off by pimping one NPR Music service … why not kick off the weekend the same way? Bob Boilen, the host of All Songs Considered (and my personal hero), also hosts a series of in-office performances called Tiny Desk Concerts. The bands actually play at Bob’s Desk. Neat idea. Even neater bands. They recently featured the amazing Pokey LaFarge and his band The South City Three. Pokey hails from St. Louis, and carries an old-timey swagger as he deftly performs a lively brand of blues and swing music your grandparents might recognize from their childhood. To my ears, the style has aged well, and I’d like to think we’ll hear more. I know I will … because I couldn’t stop myself from hitting up ebay for a vintage parlor guitar like the one he plays in the video.

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