I won’t sugarcoat it — it’s not been a great week. Virginia’s politics taking a hard right turn sends an ominous signal to those living both inside and outside the commonwealth, and only time will reveal the cost and implications. I will say that working on this post has lifted spirits significantly, as there’s so much wonderful music made here, whether by Virginians or by those stopping to perform on their way through. There’s a little of both below, and I hope you find something that helps you end your week on a positive note. As a reminder, it’s Bandcamp Friday, so your dollars go directly to the labels and artists who made this music possible.
Before Tuesday the week was going great! I got to see these folks at Richmond Music Hall on Monday night, and I left feeling so grateful that they came to town. It’s a true you-need-to-see-it-to-believe-it situation, given all the sound and intricacy Tonstartssbandht is able to achieve with a lineup of two. I’m posting Petunia here, since it’s their latest LP, but I left the show with multiple Tonstartssbandht albums in tow, and would recommending exploring all the nooks and crannies of their Bandcamp page. I certainly plan to.
Any new DJ Harrison release is always reason to celebrate, but Tales from the Old Dominion will be the omni-talented Richmonder’s second full-length for Stone’s Throw Records, giving this one an added sense of anticipation.
Selfish side note: Did anyone see if there’s going to be vinyl for Tales from the Old Dominion? The Stone’s Throw site says “SOLD OUT,” but it’s hard to tell what had been for sale. All the more reason to pre-order digitally via Bandcamp today!
DJ Harrison isn’t the only multi-faceted member of Butcher Brown with an exciting new LP on the horizon. Tennishu’s latest, entitled Three Sides, is due out 11/19 on Subflora Records (formerly American Paradox). I’ll have lots more to share on this one soon, hopefully, but for now, enjoy the outstanding second single, “Ngoni.”
Sinkane is now part of two Spacebomb serials: the “Alive at Spacebomb Studios” series (I spin Gettin’ Weird regularly, and you should too) and now the collaborative singles series in which the Spacebomb House Band enlists guest vocalists when covering classic songs. Given how great Gettin’ Weird turned out, it’s a thrill to hear more from this well-suited partnership, and this take on the Turtles’ “So Happy Together” is yet another reason to be happy Sinkane and Spacebomb got together.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, I hope you’ll take a few minutes and check out my RVA Magazine interview with Abby Huston. AH HA may be the album I’ve spun most often in 2021, and I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to speak with Huston about their path in music so far, and how this dynamic collection of R&B-leaning indie pop songs made its way out into the world. I know it’s November, but there’s still time for this to be your own Most-Spun-in-2021.
Speaking of Abby Huston, I started that RVA Magazine article off by describing a video in which three bandmates of Huston’s perform inside a second-story room while Huston strums and sings outside on the roof. (It’s such a cool video. Check it out here.) Those three bandmates — brothers Alec and Ryan Gary and Nathanael Clark — are also three quarters of soul/jazz/R&B group E 33rd, which released a self-titled debut EP a few weeks back. It’s stunning all the way through, with excellent vocals throughout from Sydney Murray, but I couldn’t resist highlighting “Side of Your Face,” on which the brilliant Benét is featured. And did I mention Abby Huston is credited with a lyrical co-write on four of the seven songs, “Side of Your Face” included? And did I mention that Benét is also featured on the Huston song I embedded in the last section?!? I’m now realizing that this post has turned into a musical version of the meme where Spidermen are pointing at each other.
Fall is in the air, y’all. You know what else is in the air? mp3s — flying via WiFi from one spot on the interweb to another, payments bypassing Bandcamp’s bank account completely owing to the fact that it’s another bright and beautiful fee-free Friday.
Here are a few recommendations to start your October off right. Keep scrolling for a list of more releases I have my eye on, which I’ll keep updating as awesome stuff comes out of the Bandcamp Friday woodwork:
Kicking things off with a crucial heads up for the cassette crowd: $5 will get you this wonderfully wooly set of jams from Poison Joy, which I can confirm make for excellent walking-around-at-night-with-headphones-in accompaniment. I’m especially fond of “Discovery,” a nine-minute exploration in which low end takes center stage via an ascending motif that sticks with you long after the song is over.
Another cassette heads up: As a writing this, just five tapes of Angélica Garcia’s upcoming Echo Eléctrico album are left on Bandcamp. The EP consists of reimagined traditional Mexican ranchera songs, and you can hear the first one to be released, entitled “Malagueña,” below.
The stunning second installment in the new Psychic Hotline singles series has me falling back in love with “Province” from TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain album, and falling in love for the first time with Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s stunning song “Ever New.” Speaking of Bartees Strange, if you didn’t pick up a copy of his Live Forever album at his recent show at the Camel, click here to fix that. (A snazzy new vinyl pressing is on the way.) And click here to snag his new single, “Weights.” Bartees is busy, y’all.
Spacebomb House Band and Deau Eyes pair perfectly covering country classic “Send Me No Roses,” which was on Tammy Wynette’s 1967 debut album, Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad. I love where SHB is going with these takes on country classics; the previous entry in the series was an also-excellent version of Patsy Cline’s “Back in Baby’s Arms,” with Erin Rae providing vocals. Crossing my fingers for a collection of these covers down the road.
I was so thrilled to see Landon Elliott had a new tune out, and I was incredibly moved by the accompanying video, which was directed, produced, and filmed by Landon himself. The song and video are unflinching in their own ways — two distinct vantage points from which to view Elliott’s honest and precise artistry.
Punch Brothers paying tribute to Tony Rice is a whole heaping cup of “Yes plz.” Can’t wait to hear more of the album. The orange vinyl version has already sold out and been replenished once on Bandcamp, so if those copies are gone again and the vinyl color matching the plumage of the bird on the album cover is your thing, keep checking back, maybe?
Think about a place that’s especially meaningful to you. It isn’t just a place, is it? It’s a feeling too, I bet. Maybe it’s a sound or a taste. A mode. A chapter in your life. You often don’t notice those associations until after the fact — until you’re away for a while, or until you’ve moved on. It’s hard to process meaning when you’re busy. I don’t know about you, but the life-on-hold stillness of 2020 has resulted in waves of meaning cresting and crashing constantly, and as the year comes to a close, I’m flooded with gratitude for Richmond music. It’s been a lifeline. A source of joy. A way to locate myself in the world. A way to remember that the world is still, in fact, out there. A reminder that community boils down to something more essential than physically being together. Charlottesville singer-songwriter Devon Sproule called that “The Gold String,” singing:
I’m imagining a golden string that is connecting Everything but especially, beings where love has been. I’ve imagined it again and again so often, It isn’t even imagining, it is making it happen.
That’s exactly the pull I’ve felt when spending time with the albums below. I bet you’ll feel it too if you give them a listen. You’ll notice there are a few more in this list than the others I’ve posted before. Like I said — it’s been a flood. And my sincerest thanks go out to the artists mentioned below.
I am so happy Eclipse is in my life. There’s a specific sense of joy in putting it on the turntable and knowing that Adam Watkins’ voice is going to be drifting through the house, carving graceful and distinctive contours around their songs’ lyrics. I love this album, and while this may sound obvious, it seems uniquely worth saying that I love listening to it. It’s wonderfully layered and immersive, and Watkins’ singing is a big reason why. If you haven’t heard Eclipse yet, treat yourself to an enjoyably enveloping experience.
Looking back, it seems fitting that Saw Black was the first artist I posted about after the pandemic started getting truly scary. I’ve turned to his music during other difficult times and have found comfort and joy when both seemed hard to come by. In what’s either coincidence or fate, I spent a few sentences in that post playing up Bandcamp as a way to support artists — just before Bandcamp held its first fee-free Friday. The next such event isn’t until February, but there’s not a bad day to buy music at Bandcamp, and while this Horsin’ Around EP may be sold out, the WarHen Records page has plenty more Saw for sale.
In a year that was as eventful as any I can remember, this album shone like an event unto itself. The build-up, the singles, Mothership Mondays, finally getting to hear the whole thing… these were some of my fondest musical memories of 2020. That’s one reason why I put together a bulleted recap of those milestones on the week #KingButch was finally released. In a year that was deeply upsetting in so many ways, everything Butcher Brown did was a reason to celebrate. I feel lucky to be living in Richmond during the Butcher Brown era. If I have grandkids, I’m going to be bragging to them about that fact one day. I’m certain of it.
I didn’t publish many interviews in 2020, but one artist I had the great honor of chatting with was Ali Thibodeau of Deau Eyes. Here’s a snippet from the intro I wrote for our Q&A, which was published by The Auricular:
Over the course of nine beautifully rendered songs, Thibodeau demonstrates vocal skills and versatility that were shaped by a past in musical theater, while giving listeners every reason to celebrate her decision to leave that world behind to pursue her songwriting. It’s an inspiring listen, whether you’re rocking out with the wry and retrospective lead single “Some Do,” or soaking in her soaring anthem to freedom, “Autonomy” — a live set staple that ends, simply, “Let’s begin.”
Did y’all see this teaser clip announcing a 2021 McKinley Dixon/Spacebomb project? Mind blown. Details are scant, but whatever they’re working on, I can’t wait to hear it. In the meantime, I’ll keep spinning this excellent EP, which came out in early 2020. “Sun Back” is on one of the first mix CDs I made from my Bandcamp Friday purchases, and as a result, it’s been a constant — something I’ve come back to again and again to recharge and reset.
It was so rewarding seeing this on Bandcamp Daily’s list of the best beat tapes of November. DJ Mentos’ work has an off-the-charts consistency when it comes to quality and impact. His beats hit hard, and the Bandcamp write-up confirmed as much:
The Maxell Tapes bumps from the middle of a boom-bap and trip-hop Venn diagram. These were beats for fans of Da Beatminerz and DJ Shadow, DJ Premier and Portishead. The Maxell Tapes Vol. 2 picks up where Vol. 1 left off, further mining and moving around that middle ground for more skull-cracking downtempo beats.
2020’s concert calendar was short but illustrious; I made it out to only a handful of performances before things shut down due to COVID, but the ones I did see were phenomenal. The release show for Angelica Garcia’s Cha Cha Palace was one of them. It was as magical and dynamic as the album itself, with decorations around Gallery5 that turned the venue into a living representation of the album’s visual identity. Take a look at that cover art, and imagine being immersed in that beautiful assemblage of personal history. It was so generous of Garcia to invite us in like that, and the energy she brought onstage was utterly unforgettable.
Another artist I feel very fortunate to have spoken to for The Auricular this year (read the interview here) was Will Marsh of Gold Connections, who is as gracious in conversation as he is adept at writing songs that stay with you — both because they’re endlessly relistenable and because they pull zero punches lyrically. The material on Ammunition was written before the lockdown, but the EP feels as pointed and vital as anything I heard this year.
If you’ve been following this Bandcamp bonanza from the very beginning, you might remember that my very first Bandcamp Friday post included music by Avery Fogarty, who fronts the Richmond band Hotspit. That group just released a three-track live session, which is very exciting. I’m especially fond of the first track, which illustrates the range the group has, and how great they sound in exploratory mode. Well worth a download.
I’m a relatively new listener [the The Hustle Season podcast], so I’m in that honeymoon phase of familiarizing myself with all the regular segments and recurring jokes, but no additional research is needed to know that the show’s hosts (Reggie Pace, Gabriel Santamaria, James Seretis, and Kelli Strawbridge) bring a super-deep pool of musical talent to the table, and their Volume 1 LP provides a kaleidoscopic glimpse of those varied interests and abilities.
While the creator of The Harmony of Spheres remains mysterious, the album’s impact has become familiar over the course of 2020, given its release right around New Year’s. With apologies to Radiohead, another fine purveyor of mystery, I put this on when I want to disappear completely. It’s such a great way to zone out or zone in — whatever you’re looking for.
The album packs an abundance of ideas into 28 minutes, grabbing your attention from the outset and keeping it over the course of eight songs that form an exceedingly rewarding encapsulation of Lane’s talents as a player, songwriter, and producer.
I love this album. It’s remarkably poised, capturing moments of quiet turmoil and questioning made crystalline by melodies and structures that make you want to sing along and stay in the moment, however difficult it may be. And while there’s tremendous weight to the lyrics, closing track “Comeback” leaves you with a hopeful mantra I plan to return to repeatedly:
No alarms. No attacks. Today wasn’t that bad. I can take some comfort in that. Try and figure out where my head is at. I need strength and I find that I can Feel it coming back.
The chat with Erin Lunsford that I mentioned ahead of my covers list followed an earlier interview we did for an issue of James Magazine that came out in March. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a hard copy, but you can read the piece here. In it, she previews a solo record that would embrace her musical roots, and The Damsel is the extraordinary result of that sonic rediscovery. Lunsford has a rare vocal gift, and she pairs that power with generous, intimate storytelling for a totally distinctive set of songs — an album only she could produce. No matter where her path leads — and hers is clearly among the most promising of anyone’s in Richmond — this is an album future fans can return to when seeking a more complete understanding of her artistry.
Philip James Murphy Jr has been a Bandcamp Friday MVP throughout this year… His music has a sense of melodic detail I enjoy, as well as a lived-in feeling that I’ve found to be comforting. Great winter listening.
Given that last bit, the song below may seem like an odd choice (the middle-English song it’s derived from references summer), but give credit where credit’s due: You can’t get much more right than releasing a song called “bummer is icumen in” in January of 2020. Come to think of it, WHAT DID MURPHY KNOW AND WHEN?!? We need answers.
Tremendous respect is due to Noah-O, who released an album a week from late April to mid June. Eight straight Fridays putting music out into the world, with sorely needed stories of perseverance and growth. Just incredible. A true inspiration.
Plunky Branch is another 2020 MVP. His front porch concerts were a staple of Byrd Park life for months. What a beautiful scene that was — lawn chairs, dancing, strollers, actual live music… I only made it out a couple of times, and didn’t get to stay long either time. When I did, I wished I could bottle those moments and carry them with me.
On that same day I got to see my first Plunky porch concert, I picked up a copy of this new comp from Deep Groove. The timing was impeccable; I’d just started to get into his music, and I wanted to snag something to spin at home, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Strut Records to the rescue with this excellent sampling of Oneness’ output.
A big part of past Bandcamp Fridays has been music that’s resurfaced — extra copies of pressings that had sold out, or albums that are seeing the light of day after spending some time on the shelf. This Ophelia album is such a glorious example of the latter, as it hit Bandcamp a couple of weeks ago after having been recorded back in 2010. After hearing it and enjoying it tremendously — including a magnificent listen all the way through on a long run at dusk — it’s hard to imagine this not being out in the world.
There’s a specific anticipatory joy that floods in just before you hear a new Opin song for the first time. Their track record of adventurousness means you’re never sure where they’re about to take you. It’s exhilarating — especially when, time and time again, you end up thrilled with where they’ve decided to go with their sound…
While exceedingly deserving of a place on this list on its own, the self-titled PANGEYA tape also stands in for the many other amazing 2020 releases from Ohbliv’s various pseudonyms. Here’s a list of the ones that were on my radar:
I already have my copy of FlySiifu’s, but I thought I’d include the album here for two reasons: 1. It’s excellent and well worth your Bandcamp bucks, and 2. The merch associated with it is A+. Can’t-miss holiday shopping right here. The work shirts are mostly sold out, sadly, but there are still long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts, among other items. Consider it a rule going forward that if your album invents/takes place in a fictional record store, and you then start selling merch for said fictional record store, you have my undivided attention. (Especially when said album happens to be one of the best released all year.)
I got more into cassettes this year, and was thrilled when I saw the Citrus City notification about this Ruth Good EP getting a release on tape. It’s a quick but super-substantive 4-song listen, with contributions from A-plus instrumentalists like Alan Parker and Eric Slick. (Not the last time you’ll see that name on one of these lists!) I’m especially fond of “All My Life,” which has a monster chorus that hits like something that would have been on a Traveling Wilburys album — big and memorable, the kind that makes for a killer live singalong. Hopefully one day.
I’ve spent a ton of time with “Things I Should Have Said” — to the point that the song’s distinctive fade-in has become a piece of music I look forward to in and of itself. No surprise there, given the mastery of sonic texture and detail that DJ Harrison brings to everything he produces.
I’ve been a fan of these Spacebomb House Band tapes since they were released under the “Library Music” banner. They’re uniformly excellent and consistently surprising, and 2020 saw three new volumes added to the series. Picking a favorite out of those three is tough, since they collect so many unique moments and vibes, but I have to single out “The Bigs” from the ninth installment — a super-fierce beat that would have been right at home on Liquid Swords. So good.
Speaking of Spacebomb, this comp is an absolute gold mine, showing how multifaceted the outfit’s impact is, from management and publishing to production. There are gems here from local and non-local artists alike, but I was especially thrilled to see an unreleased Sleepwalkers song on here. As someone who spent the years between Greenwood Shade and Ages eagerly awaiting more of their music, I value new Sleepwalkers tunes very highly, and the sudden appearance of “Why Am I So Sad” was a real treat.
Happy Bandcamp Friday, y’all! I’ve been eager to get this list out into the world since the first item hit the ‘camp a couple of weeks ago, so without further ado, here are this month’s recommendations. Remember, fees are waived, so it’s a great day to show your support.
A big part of past Bandcamp Fridays has been music that’s resurfaced — extra copies of pressings that had sold out, or albums that are seeing the light of day after spending some time on the shelf. This Ophelia album is such a glorious example of the latter, as it hit Bandcamp a couple of weeks ago after having been recorded back in 2010. After hearing it and enjoying it tremendously — including a magnificent listen all the way through on a long run at dusk — it’s hard to imagine this not being out in the world. It immediately feels canonical, given the strength of these tunes and the involvement of two Richmond favorites: David Shutlz (a Bandcamp Friday favorite) and Jonathan Vassar, who you might remember from the excellent Lonely Rooms album I wrote about last month.
PJ Sykes — “Rain in to the Sea”
Speaking of David Shultz, I absolutely love the “Rain in to the Sea” cover PJ Sykes released today. What a perfect illustration how a song can vibrate harmoniously on wildly different wavelengths. (Ocean pun fully intended.) Halfway through this new version, it’s easy to imagine the song having been written with this arrangement in mind, especially when it comes to the delivery of the central metaphor. So cool. And can we all agree this cover art wins Bandcamp Friday?
There’s a specific anticipatory joy that floods in just before you hear a new Opin song for the first time. Their track record of adventurousness means you’re never sure where they’re about to take you. It’s exhilarating — especially when, time and time again, you end up thrilled with where they’ve decided to go with their sound, from their self-titled full length in 2017, to the EPs they’ve released since (including a cover of Mariah’s “Shinzo no Tobira” that I’ve listened to approximately 1.5 million times since it came out). I’m on pace to catch up with that play count when it comes to the first two songs from their upcoming LP, Media & Memory — out 10/30 on WarHen Records. I couldn’t decide which to embed below, so they’re both there. And while I don’t know where the other seven tracks on the album will go, I know by now to sit back and enjoy the ride, because Opin’s sense of sonic navigation is as good as it gets.
We’ve all heard “You are what you eat,” but “You are who (whom?) you hear” seems increasingly applicable the more time we spend with earbuds in catching up on the podcasts that reflect and shape our thinking about the world. The voice that’s been bouncing around my brain most during the pandemic has been Steven Hyden’s; his 36 from the Vault podcast about the Dick’s Picks Grateful Dead live album series has been my primary means of auditory escape. As a result, the line between his thinking on music and mine is starting to blur, and when he tweeted the following, I was eager to snag my own seat on the Bartees Bandwagon™:
Live Forever promises to be one of this year’s most celebrated albums, and today’s the big release day. I’m 100% in. It’s so good. The “Half Orange/Half Bone” pressing I snagged is sold out, but he recently added a “Red with Bone & Orange Splatter” variant, and copies of that are still available. Don’t sleep. As a side note, the Hyden-Strange connection came full circle with the publication of this Uproxx interview. Don’t sleep on that either. No sleeping whatsoever, ok? It’s Bandcamp Friday!
This is the second live album Hiss Golden Messenger has released during the pandemic — click here for my post about the first one. Proceeds are going to the same great cause — the Durham Public Schools Foundation — but not a single song is repeated from his previous live release, which is fun. One other Hiss-related recommendation: If you’re not already signed up for M.C. Taylor “Kitchen Table Speculator” mailing list, I recommend it highly. He includes poetry, books and music he’s been enjoying, and words of hope like these:
I realize that life is chaotic and complicated right now. I’m trying to remember to take some time each day or week to thank the folks that keep showing up, nose to the grindstone, every day. I’m trying to give back to my community with emotions as well as dollars. If you have the bandwidth, please consider donating your time, money, or other resources to an organization doing good work in your community. I’ve found it’s the best way to alleviate feelings of hopelessness.
I plan to heed that excellent advice by downloading School Daze right about now.
If you’ve been following this Bandcamp bonanza from the very beginning, you might remember that my very first Bandcamp Friday post included music by Avery Fogarty, who fronts the Richmond band Hotspit. That group just released a three-track live session, which is very exciting. I’m especially fond of the first track, which illustrates the range the group has, and how great they sound in exploratory mode. Well worth a download.
It’s that time again! Bandcamp is waiving their fees today, so it’s a great time to fill up an electronic shopping cart and support the musicians you know and love. (And maybe discover some fun new tunes along the way.) I haven’t seen whether Bandcamp will keep the fee-free events going after today, so I’m planning to party like it’s 1999/leave it all on the field/go big or go home. Well… stay home, would be more accurate, I suppose.
Here are a few YHT-approved Bandcamp buys:
Lonnie Holley — National Freedom
Songs Lonnie Holley recorded with the late Richard Swift between 2013 and 2014. As it happens, today is the second anniversary of Swift’s passing. If you’ve heard Holley’s outstanding 2018 album MITH, you know these two make amazing music together.
Roberto Carlos Lange — Kite Symphony, Four Variations
My heart did a dance when I learned that Roberto Carlos Lange remixed selections from Trey Pollard’s Antiphone album, and my ears followed suit when I heard the empathetic brilliance that Lange layered on top of Pollard’s already-stunning pieces. (I was so jazzed that I ended up writing a quick review for The Auricular.) It was a great introduction to Lange’s non-Helado Negro output, and I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to explore that universe so soon. These pieces were conceived in partnership with visual artist Kristi Sword in an effort to visualize nontraditional musical notation. The liner notes are fascinating — take a look here. According to Lange, this collection “invites the listener to open their ears to the sky, the sound of cacti, and the feeling of the wind on their skin.”
Anteloper — Tour Beats Vol. 1
Jaimie Branch’s FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise album feels more essential with each passing day, and while I know it came out last year, it feels so connected to the moment we’re in right now that it might as well have come out yesterday. It’s made me a Branch fan for life, and I’ve started getting to know her Anteloper project, in which she partners with drummer Jason Nazary. (A collaborator of Roberto Carlos Lange’s, incidentally.) I snagged a copy of Anteloper’s Kudu tape (supplies running dangerously low on that), and I’m planning to grab Tour Beats as well.
Bonny Light Horseman — Green/Green
When you release one of the year’s very best albums, and then you go on to release songs that were recorded for that album but were cut for whatever reason — in this case “to keep the record simpler (and higher quality for vinyl)” — I am going to be deeply interested in hearing those songs.
Yves Jarvis — “Victim”
I learned about Montreal-based musician Yves Jarvis from a tweet posted by Citrus City founder Manny Lemus:
This is excellent advice. Good Will Come to You is such a powerful album, full of healing energy, variety, and beauty. When it’s spinning, I’m inclined to think there’s no more beautiful album in the whole wide world. I’m so grateful Lemus sent out that recommendation, and I’ve been enjoying “Victim” as well, which Jarvis released near the end of June.
Various — A Little Bit at a Time: Spacebomb Family Rarities
If we’re going by Prince’s example — and we all should, right? — the way you amass an awe-inspiring musical vault is to combine a deep well of musical ability with an exceptional drive to create. Those traits are Spacebomb in a nutshell, and it should come as no surprise that the Richmond-based label, management, publishing, and production powerhouse can assemble one hell of a rarities album. I don’t even know where to start here — there’s so much to dig into, from unreleased music by the Spacebomb House Band and an all-star assemblage of in-town favorites to renowned out-of-towners like Dan Croll, Laura Veirs, and Pure Bathing Culture.
And here’s a quick list of the other releases on my radar. I’ll aim to keep this updated as the day goes on:
Why do people make year-in-review lists? Why do I make them? I make sure to ask myself those questions each year when I start this process, because it’s easy for these things to feel competitive or exclusive. It’s worth making sure you are (as they say on the reality shows) here for the right reasons. For me, it boils down to two things: 1. Wanting a record of the music that mattered to me in the preceding year (I refer back to these posts all the time to jog my memory about what happened that year), and 2. Lifting up artists who have helped me survive another trip around the Sun via their creativity. I’m so grateful for the Richmond music community, and while I know that this is just another list on a blog, I can’t not take this opportunity to send out a message of thanks.
It feels extra fitting publishing this post on the same day President Obama shared his favorite songs from 2019 — a list that included Angelica Garcia’s “Jícama.” So thrilling and well-deserved. You can bet her upcoming LP will be on next year’s list of favorite RVA albums. In the meantime, here are the Richmond releases that meant the world to me in 2019. No rankings — they’re listed alphabetically, with a few exceptions where multiple albums from the same artist are grouped together.
To the folks who made this music, you have my deepest gratitude. Thank you for doing what you do.
The perpetual motion machine known as Noah-O had another big year, with two full-length sequel LPs as highlights. Transmission 001 started the year off in style, giving a name — Analog Suspects — to his partnership with DJ Mentos. The duo picked up right where 2016’s The Rain left off, with generous doses of introspection and inspiration, and a number of piano-based beats that set a no-nonsense tone (“GAS” stands out in this respect). Dirty Rice: Deux dropped in October, adding a second chapter to his collaboration with Fan Ran, this time with vinyl courtesy of the recently founded Fantastic Damage imprint. Both albums are excellent — evidence of Noah’s relentless drive and dexterity. Or, as he puts it during Transmission 001 track “Gary Webb,” “I’m leading by example / See, I practice what I preach.”
I love this so much. I have a fuzzy memory of either Devonne Harris or the official Butcher Brown account posting a question on social media a while back about whether anyone would be interested in a Butcher Brown Afrobeat album. I can’t find the post now, but I remember nodding vigorously and responding as quickly as humanly possible with a gesture of support. One reason that exchange has stuck with me is that the answer to “Do I want a Butcher Brown ___ album?” is always yes. You can fill in the blank with anything, because their combined mastery means they’re capable of making compelling music in any genre. They certainly sound excellent here, paying tribute to the great Fela Kuti.
Each time Lucy Dacus releases a song or album, we’re given new angles from which we can observe her mastery of language, and I’m in awe once again. “Fools Gold,” y’all. Holy shit. The brevity. The pound-for-pound weight of each word. The way you can both picture and taste champagne when she sings “coppery coins.” I’m not sure I’ll ever see or sip that substance and not think of that line. I love this EP so, so much, and while I cherish its cover tunes dearly, I have to agree with Pitchfork, which said of the original compositions on 2019, “These are among the best songs she’s ever written.”
I had the great fortune of interviewing DJ Mentos for River City Magazine, and I consider that conversation to be a top musical moment of my 2019. I have the utmost respect and admiration for his craft, especially his ear for incorporating jazz. (His “Flute Funk Volume 1” mix will change your life. Seriously.) In addition to the Analog Suspects LP mentioned above, he released two top-notch instrumental albums this year: Fresh Air over the summer, and then The Maxell Tapes Vol. 1 on the same November day he appeared on SiriusXM’s Sway in the Morning show. I asked him during our interview about where that tenacious drive to share music with the world comes from:
My dad played a lot of music for me when I was really little, and I cherished that. But growing up and listening to hip hop, there’s a real shared camaraderie between old school hip hop fans. When we talk about the early Def Jam days, or the golden era Native Tongues time to Wu Tang and Biggie, we all shared something really special. There’s a love of that shared musical experience. But I also love talking to people about music that I don’t even necessarily like… I think there are people who love music, there are people who are sort of indifferent, and then there are people like me who are obsessed. I wouldn’t compare it to a drug. I wouldn’t compare it to love, or food, or shelter. I guess for some of us it’s spiritual…
There’s a lot of music to discover. That’s the other aspect — there’s music to listen to again and again, and then there’s that high of finding something that first time. That I would compare to a drug, because when you discover something that you had never heard and seen and it resonates with you on that deep level, that’s so exciting. That’s what I want to share with people. So whether I’m DJing, or making beats, or texting a link to a friend, I’m trying to give you that high that I got.
Speaking of River City interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with Elliott last year, before he’d started sharing songs from Domino, and I could tell way back then that something truly special was on the way. We got to speak again closer to the album’s release day, when he was getting ready to put “Hurricane” out into the world — that was another special moment to be part of.
Domino is an impressive achievement from an artist whose star will continue to rise. I’m as sure of that as I was that Elliott’s initial excitement about the album was justified. What I couldn’t have guessed at is how varied the album would turn out to be — how many styles, techniques, and modes of articulation Elliott and his American Paradox collaborators would display on one disc. I’m wildly impressed, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.
Pete Curry achieved a rare feat in 2019 via his vaporwave nom de guerre — releasing an album that generates such high demand that it’s re-pressed to vinyl and re-released within the same calendar year. I missed out on the first pressing, but snagged the 100% Electronica version the moment I saw it became available. Really neat to see Curry making his mark this way.
Andy Jenkins made his full-length debut with last year’s Sweet Bunch, and he’s kept the winning streak going with a four-song EP that contains one of my absolute favorite songs of the year, “Starfish Fever.” It’s fast, both in terms of track length and pace, with quick picking and lyrical imagery that appears and disappears in the blink of an eye. But that’s “the end of beauty” in a nutshell, isn’t it? There and gone before you know it.
On the day 6131 Records started accepting pre-orders for Ceiling Mirror, I showed up at their store on Patterson Avenue looking like Fry from Futurama in that “Shut up and take my money” meme. Turns out they were instituting a new in-store pre-order system, and I was the first one to try it out. I’ll say this about the 6131 store: They are such friendly people, and even when I don’t end up walking out with a record, either because I was pre-ordering a disc or because I was looking for something they ended up not having, I leave feeling happy I stopped in. If you haven’t been there, I recommend making a trip there soon. I’d recommend Ceiling Mirror just as highly, and for some of the same reasons, interestingly. Lanzetta conveys this amazing sense of energy, and tapping into it is like electrifying your day.
Meacham’s lyrics are affecting, and her delivery is timeless. I can imagine these songs sounding excellent in a zillion different styles, which is what you might say about standards that eventually enter the pop canon. The title/closing track is especially powerful. While I’m on record as praising dynamite first lines of songs, “Property” has a stunner of a closing lyric: “You don’t have to burn the house down to move all your property out.” Her words echo and dissipate, leaving you space to apply them uniquely to your own life. That’s pop music’s highest calling.
On his Sub Pop debut, Andrew Carter expands on the sunny, lyrically substantive sound that made his 2017 And How! full-length such a success story. At just six songs, it zooms by, making it a great candidate for repeated listening. And if you haven’t seen the amazing “Good News Hunting” video for “Museum District,” it’s embedded below. You’re welcome.
I consider seeing No BS! for the first time one of the most significant milestones in my introduction to Richmond’s music community, and A Decade of Noise is represents a vital milestone in the band’s discography. Their studio albums are exquisite, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about them, but sometimes you want to close your eyes and transport yourself to an imagined room where Richmond’s brass powerhouse is lighting up the stage as only they can, and that’s the gift this album gives you. It also acts as a de facto best-of, given how much of the group’s history is packed into these four vinyl sides. Speaking of vinyl, when I bought my copy, they were bundling records with t-shirts for just $5 more. Easiest decision I’ve ever made.
When I pulled this album up on Bandcamp and gave it a listen back in January, I couldn’t have known just how much time I’d end up spending with Ohbliv’s handiwork in 2019. I went from owning zero albums of his (nobody should own zero Ohbliv albums, to be clear), to owning three within this calendar year. I pre-ordered Soulphonic right away, then went down to Plan 9 with my daughter when the man himself was signing copies of Give Thanks. (“Enjoy the vibes,” he wrote on my copy. I certainly have.) I also snagged a copy of the Retrospective compilation during BK Music’s closing sale. That’s eight total sides of beats by the iconic Richmond producer, and while they’re great in just about any situation, I make it a point to spin them when we have friends visiting from out of town, so they can hear what Richmond sounds like at its best.
One of my favorite albums to come out of Richmond this year. This decade, for that matter. The playing (Parker is as complete a guitarist as you’ll hear), the way the collection moves from beginning to end (no two tracks set the same mood), the song selection (a Big Thief cover y’all!)… It’s outstanding at every turn. I’ve spent a ton of time with Parker’s playing over the last handful of years, given his work with the Spacebomb House Band, and hearing him featured like this is tremendously rewarding. If you enjoy jazz and haven’t yet given Everything’s Normal a spin, make it the very next thing you listen to.
On a basic, physical level, music is all about wavelengths. The air vibrates with a certain frequency, your ear and brain work together to translate those vibrations, and bing-bang-boom, you got music. But wavelengths matter on a whole other zoomed-out level involving moods and people and time. Sometimes you find an artist who’s writing the songs you need to hear at a particular moment. That’s how I feel about Saw Black in general, and about Christmas in the Background especially. When you look at the album as a whole, there’s a beautiful ambivalence — an acceptance of the fact that the holidays present a complicated stew of emotions for many people. That’s the wavelength I was vibrating on this Christmas, and being able to spin this record made finding that sense of acceptance a little easier.
I didn’t do much writing on here as much as I would have liked to in 2019, but when the first tracks from Ages were made available, you can bet I got off my Blog Butt™ and put up a post in celebration. I looked forward to this album more than just about any other in recent memory, from basking in the afterglow of Greenwood Shade’s brilliance to interviewing the band for River City Magazine to getting a preview of some early mixes out at White Star Sound to seeing that the group was partnering with Spacebomb. Ages is exactly the Sleepwalkers album we’ve been dying to hear, and it’ll stand for years as one of the city’s great musical achievements.
I am a devoted disciple of the Spacebomb House Band tapes, and I was so thrilled when they announced they’d be compiling some of the best cuts for a Record Store Day release. I mentioned this in my Black Friday post, but I’ll repeat here that I keep the latest tape SHB tape in my car at all times, ready to provide groovy driving music in all sorts of situations. Hauling off to an errand that’s kinda far away. Zooming down the highway with a full tank of gas. Driving just to give myself time and space to think. I can’t recommend these tapes — and this compilation — highly enough. (Small Friend still had a copy last time I was there. Just sayin’.)
I can’t imagine what it was like to select tracks for this compilation. So many performances over the years. So many genres and traditions. (Spacebomb’s site mentions sifting through 1,300 hours of recordings.) But isn’t that the folk festival in a nutshell? It’s this monster exercise in curation, and thanks to the hard work and great musical taste of the organizers, it turns out to be a successful celebration of kaleidoscopic talents, year after year. All Together Now is just that — a wonderfully ranging collection of styles, beginning with the joyous reggae track below by Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band.
I’m away from Richmond this Black Friday, so instead of doing the Record Store Day thing, I’m taking this opportunity to scoop up a few items I’ve had my eye on online for a while. Doesn’t hurt that most labels are sending out discount codes via email. I’ve compiled a bunch of those below, along with a handful of albums I’m set on snagging.
Fiona Apple — The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
I’ve been waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for someone to repress this thing, given the $100+ price point of the existing copies available on Discogs. Vinyl Me, Please to the rescue. “Every Single Night” remains one of my favorite songs from the last decade or so, and I was lucky enough to see Mountain Man do a cover of “Hot Knife” when they recently came through Richmond. Won’t soon forget it. Not for nothing, VMP is doing a site-wide 30% off sale today…
Saw Black & The Toys — Christmas in the Background
Saw Black. War Hen Records. Christmas. Count me in. Just 100 copies were pressed, so don’t sleep on this one.
The Congress — The Loft Tapes
I had my eye on a Loft Tapes ebay listing ever since I interviewed Scott Lane of the Congress and American Paradox Records. While the resulting piece zoomed in on his role as founder of AP, I learned a ton about the Congress’ early days, including how The Loft Tapes served as an on-the-job education when it came to producing albums. It’s a killer collection. Out of print, but there’s one for sale on Discogs, and it’s available for listening via streaming services.
DJ Harrison — Vault Series #9: Thanksgiving Dinnerz
According to Bandcamp, this nine-song set is available for only a limited time. Listened to it on the way out of town yesterday morning, after “Alice’s Restaurant” and before my car’s Bluetooth connection stopped working. Fun times!
Spacebomb House Band — VI: Connected by Birth and Employment
I learned a while back that Mrs. YHT keeps one of those little packets of two saltines in her glove box, just in case some sort of apocalyptic traffic situation unfolds. My first thought was “That seems a little alarmist,” but I realized I do the same thing by keeping a walkman, an aux cord, and the latest volume in the Spacebomb House Band’s cassette series in the car at all times. And guess what? That’s what we listened to when my car’s Bluetooth crapped out on Friday! I’m late in snagging Volume VI, so I plan to remedy that over the next few days.
As promised, here are a few limited-time discount situations I’ve seen marketed. Hope they help you start the holiday season off right.
I realized on Wednesday night that I’d been hearing Kuhl’s saxophone with a remarkable regularity over the course of the last week. Thought I’d share the timeline:
Last Friday, I set a new personal record for earliest Record Store Day arrival time, motivated primarily by Known About Town: Library Music Compendium One — the snazzy Coke-bottle-green vinyl compilation that pulled together tracks from the quarterly Library Music cassettes the Spacebomb House Band released throughout 2018. How motivated was I? Back on February 28, the day Spacebomb announcedKnown About Town, I emailed Bill at BK Music to say “I may end up setting a new personal record for earliest RSD arrival time this year.” I made it to BK a little before 5:30 a.m., when it was still dark and raining cats and dogs. Fortunately the Stratford Hills Shopping Center has a covered walkway perfect for a line of lawn chairs, and even more fortunately, I was near enough to the front to snag one of a few signed copies of Known About Town. Guess who contributed sax to the album? J.C. Kuhl.
Two days later, in the considerably comfier environs of my couch, I took in a live set by Mekong Xpress & the Get Fresh Horns. The band has started streaming their regular Monday night sets at The Answer via Facebook, and joining in has become a weekly ritual. It’s not the same as being there in person, which happened more regularly when the YHT crew lived just a short bike ride from the Mekong/Answer epicenter, but I love that I can still stay connected to the group, which is as stacked and sensational as any in town. And who’s there on sax, whipping songs into a frenzy with screaming solos that make you feel like you are there in person? J.C. Kuhl.
Two days later, Mrs. YHT and I made it out — got a babysitter and everything — to the Tin Pan, excited to see fellow University of Richmond alum (and my former bandmate, briefly) Andrew Schutte play bass with the Latin Jazz Messengers, a group led by trumpeter and UR professor Michael Davison. We were seated front and center and treated to an excellent set, which ranged from standards like “Caravan” and “Guantanamera” to a few unfamiliar tunes I’m looking forward to getting to know better. (I’m especially excited about having heard “The Preacher” and “Sister Sadie,” a pair of Horace Silver compositions that I’m hoping will serve as an overdue entry point to Silver’s body of work.) And guess who was there — and I mean right there, just a few feet away from our table, sipping red wine and trading solos with Davison and the rest of the gang? I think you see where I’m headed here.
J.C. Kuhl: a player for whom “known about town” couldn’t be more fitting.