So I’m going to attempt to end this jerk of a year with five wrap-up posts in five days. Fingers crossed this works. I tend to overwrite these things until they become albatross-y, so I’ll try to keep things snappy, starting with a quick list of links to music writing I did in 2016. Add in weekly contributions to the Off Your Radar newsletter and an August appearance on Sound Gaze and I can definitively say that this is the most blabbing about music I’ve done in a year.
Many thanks — seriously, too many to mention here — to the people I interviewed and the people who made what I wrote sound better and look prettier. Y’all know who you are, and I hope you also know how awesome and appreciated you are. Lots of fun stuff in the works for 2017. Until then…
It’s customary to start year-end lists by chewing some fat about how making them is strange and difficult work, and in general, I find that these intros can be exceedingly skippable. Everyone knows that album rankings are subjective (even when they’re created on behalf of a publication or website), and no one needs to be reminded that the list maker didn’t listen — and couldn’t have listened, of course! — to every single thing that came out in the preceding 12 months. You don’t share Santa Claus’ knack for bending the space-time continuum. Understood. But before I get to my Top 10 albums, I would like to share a quick story about how I came up with my list, and how Beyoncé helped me find meaning in this whole strange and difficult exercise.
Putting a face to a name is always nice, and I’m thrilled to finally have a set of images to associate with the words “Tiny Telephone.”
I can’t remember how I first heard about John Vanderslice’s Mission District-situated studio, nor have I ever been there, but in the last few years, it’s been built up in my mind to the point where it’s become a place of real significance to me — a pulsing, glowing thing on the other side of the country, where special stuff is made with analog equipment and integrity.
Much of that building-up came from a pair of conversations I had with the gents from Pretty & Nice. All the way back in April of 2011, I was talking to the Boston-based group about this awesome place in San Francisco where they were going to mix their next album, and they sang the studio’s praises again when I interviewed them last month, a short time after that (spectacular) album finally saw the light of day. On both occasions, when they spoke about Tiny Telephone, there was something elevated about their speech, like they enjoyed the taste its name made each time they said it. If I were to extrapolate a bit, I’d guess that enjoyment came not from delight in name-dropping but from a genuine sense of pride at being associated with a place that shares their values. Attention to detail. Respect for good equipment. Love of analog.
As for me, I’d guess that the enjoyment I get from saying/typing “Tiny Telephone” comes from a different place, though I think it reflects just as well on the studio.
In case you couldn’t tell from my post about Golden Rules for Golden People, I’m rather fond of Pretty & Nice. I’m extremely happy to report that I had the chance to interview them a few hours before their recent show at Strange Matter, and the interview just went up over at rvamag.com. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look it over and learn a little more about how their amazing new album came together.
Just for fun, here’s the Us You All We track I mentioned in the interview, along with its remix.
So what makes a band’s work valuable? It is, of course, an intentionally broad question, and you could answer it in a zillion different ways. A song that reminds you of the day your son or daughter was born would have emotional value. (I’m told Aaron Copland’s Billy The Kid was playing on the radio when I popped out, which is a tad bit creepy when you consider that my father’s name was Bill.) That first pressing of Meet The Beatles your parents never let you touch has some serious historical/monetary value, while the EDM you blast to keep yourself awake while driving long stretches at night has a very specific, practical value. We could keep going, but you get the point. Circumstances, time, our needs… all these things turn a piece of music into something more than just notes and words.
That said, Golden Rules has me thinking about a totally different kind of value. Something more objective and less ascribed. Something inherent in the recording itself.
For those of you who missed Volume 1 of YHT’s Tournament Album Coverage, I spent last weekend glued to my couch, watching the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament in a most gloriously sloth-like fashion. I can think of no better occasion for acting like a shut-in and no better way to enhance the experience than muting the television and choosing your own soundtrack for each game. (There’s only so much of Jay Bilas’ voice I can take before I just start yelling at the TV screen like a crazy person.)
With a few exceptions, things took a decidedly more contemporary turn after Friday night’s Garfunkel-fest. Below, I’ve posted the art for everything my friends and I listened to on Saturday and Sunday, along with a sample song and a context-free quote from someone in the room about each record.
So raise your hand if you’re excited about the new Ginger Baker documentary! Good friend of the blog Greg recently passed along this New York Times review, which paints a pretty intriguing picture…
Animated sequences depict a ship, rowed by the drummer’s red-haired avatars, zigzagging the globe — from London to Nigeria to Los Angeles and other spots on the way to his current home in South Africa — leaving a trail of not entirely metaphorical smoldering wreckage.
Animated sequences? Red hair? Not entirely metaphorical smoldering wreckage? Count me in!
In full disclosure, Beware of Mr. Baker will, whenever it gets distributed more widely, be my formal introduction to a figure I’m only just now learning about. Though I own a few Cream albums and have heard “White Room” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” as many times as any living, breathing human should have, I can’t say that I would have been able to tell you a single thing about him before I read that Times review. As it stands now, I can tell you that he was the drummer for Cream, was nicknamed for his hair color, and seems to have racked up a substantial amount of antipathy in his time, despite being, according to some, the greatest rock drummer ever.
The weird thing is that, before reading that review, I had already sketched out a post about a red-haired drummer who I consider to be the greatest I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t going to be about Ginger Baker. It was going to be about Kevin Walsh.
When my vinyl habit started gaining steam a few years back, I set a few ground rules that were designed to keep things from spinning out of control, wallet-wise. “Just old stuff” was the first one. I told myself I’d stick to records released in vinyl’s heyday, and I tried for a while, but that notion was doomed from the start. As financially convenient as living in the past — a past I wasn’t even alive to see and hear for myself — would be, it doesn’t make sense. Too many amazing new songs are pressed to vinyl each year, and depriving my turntable of the chance to spin them is just plain cruel. (Nobody puts Pioneer PL-510A in the corner, OK?) Once the floodgates opened, I had to come up with new new-vinyl-buying rules, one of which comes into play when thinking about Pretty & Nice’s new Us You All We EP.
Imagine for a moment that scientists working 500 feet below the Franco-Swiss border got a little tipsy and loaded up the Large Hadron Collider with concentrated musicianship quarks, particles of perfect pop intuition and a brand new, multicolored pack of highlighters that was taken from the lab’s supply cabinet. Imagine that these punchy scientists then flipped the switch to “ON,” sending the three aforementioned types of matter careening toward one another at an energy of 7 teraelectronvolts. Somewhere inside the accelerator’s 17-mile, ring-shaped tube, there would be a dramatic collision. And, by my calculations, that collision would look and sound exactly like the video posted above.
Shot in one take (!) in a brightly bedecked attic located in the band’s hometown of Boston, MA, this Love Drunk Studio-helmed performance video of “Yonkers” offers a wonderful glimpse of what makes Pretty & Nice so special.
Important Two Day Coverage, Part II … The Artist: Pretty & Nice.
Last night, I got to see Pretty & Nice at the Southern, a cool venue that’s nestled in a pleasantly dank basement, just steps off Charlottesville’s downtown mall. With some in the crowd sitting campfire-style at co-frontman Holden’s request, the band tore through a magnificently manic-yet-precise performance. Familiar songs like “Tora Tora Tora” and “Piranha” sounded sharp, and we got to hear a number of new ones (see above for “Yonkers”), all oozing the same mastery of melody, pace, dissonance and dynamics that made me such a fan of their last full-length, Get Young. After the set, co-frontman Jeremy shared that they’ve tracked these new tunes, and plan to mix at John Vanderslice’s new B studio, Minitel, eying a late summer or fall release. I’m super excited to hear the result.