Tag Archives: Sturgill Simpson

2016 in Review: Top 10 Albums

Last 2016 in Review post — I promise. That said, I lied about the “Top 10” part. I’ve included the rest of my top 25 at the bottom, as well as some albums that I couldn’t resist mentioning, because they’re also amazing.

Without further ado…

1. Lucy Dacus — No Burden

Lucy Dacus

Earlier in December, in a New Yorker piece about her favorite songs of 2016, Amanda Petrusich wrote something that helped me name the reason I so badly wanted to place Lucy Dacus’ No Burden at the top of this list:

Whole musical worlds were invented this year, and, perhaps most notable, listeners seemed better equipped than ever to accept and navigate them. I sensed both a collective ache for progressive work and a willingness to metabolize it.

Between the in-town excitement that accompanied the February release of No Burden, the wave of national acclaim that rushed in, the consistently excellent shows she played all over town, and the poised atmosphere she commanded at each of those performances, Dacus really did establish her own new world here in Richmond. It never ceases to amaze me how truly talented musicians can create something out of nothing but their own experiences and insights. It feels like an exception to the rule in physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

The second part of the Petrusich quote above also resonated — the idea that audiences are looking for something progressive. Something that will move us forward. I sense that in Dacus’ music in large part because meaningful change hinges on truth, and her writing displays an honesty that’s both outwardly and inwardly directed. It’s why she was such a joy to interview, and it’s why her lyrics have so much substance. Would this country still be in the mess it’s in if people took a hard, unflinching look at their own motivations? Probably, but the mess might not be quite so bad.

In these last days of December, I find it impossible to imagine what this year would have been like — what my world would presently be like — without No Burden in it. For that reason, it’s #1 in my book.

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

2. David Bowie — Blackstar

David Bowie

In a word, transcendent. Blackstar turned out to be RVA Magazine‘s #1 album, and I was given the opportunity to write about it. I tried to put in context why it loomed so large over 2016, and talking about it ended up being strangely therapeutic. Here’s the first bit:

2016 will be remembered as at least these three things: The Year We Hated and Wanted to End Early, The Year Donald Trump Was Elected and Brexit Happened, and The Year All the Famous People Died. David Bowie’s death in January, just days after he released his dark and jazzy masterpiece, Blackstar, cast a pall over months ahead in which we lost one towering cultural figure after another. Like Prince, Bowie dying felt especially cruel, because of the life-affirming, self-empowering spirit he brought to his art. Bowie was evidence that you can take control of your identity and invent yourself in the image of your choosing, and he carried that artistic approach with him from life into death. His last artistic act was nothing short of transcendent.

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

3. Frank Ocean — Blonde

frank-ocean

It was an honor to blurb this one as well for RVA Magazinetake a look here. I couldn’t help throwing a little shade at the start:

While plenty of artists in the realms of pop and R&B were out there cultivating a public persona drenched in faux sensitivity, Frank Ocean was quietly at work, making some of the most powerfully vulnerable music I can remember hearing.

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

4. Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead

Another one I wrote about for RVA Magazine’s year-end bonanza. Such a beautiful album, such heavy subject matter. A Moon Shaped Pool acts as a reminder that lists and rankings pale in comparison to the lived experiences that make music and lyrics possible.

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

5. Car Seat Headrest — Teens of Denial

car-seat-headrest

To say that Teens of Denial grew on me would be misleading — you usually hear people say that when they were unsure about an album initially but learned to love it. But Teens of Denial did grow in my estimation in the sense that, every time I listened, Will Toledo’s genius would seem more profound. I was one of the people for whom Car Seat Headrest’s newest album acted as an introduction, despite the fact that Toledo’s already released more albums than many artists release in a career and a half. That said, I recently snagged a used copy of 2015’s Teens of Style at Plan 9, and I hear that same undeniable (sorry) gift for fusing melody and energy. I may be late to the party, but it’s great to be here regardless.

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

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

rostam

This one probably has the highest ratio of number of times I listened to it to number of words I wrote about it. I did write a quickie review of it for the Winter RVA Magazine, and here’s how I closed it:

Hamilton Leithauser’s smoky vocals ascend seemingly without limit; when paired with Rostam Batmanglij’s knack for producing in styles both old and new, that voice — “the same voice I’ve always had” — soars with an inspiring freedom.

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

7. Drive-By Truckers — American Band

drive-by-truckers

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are in a really interesting position right now. They have roots in a red state but personal politics that lean blue, and because they’ve been consistently making some of the best and sludgiest Southern rock around for decades, they have the ears of fans from all over the political spectrum. In my mind, that’s why this album was and is so important — it represents a bridge spanning the huge chasm that separates America’s populated coasts from its rural center. It’s honest, just as the band is honest at their shows about where they stand when it comes to social justice. (“Black Lives Matter” was prominently displayed in their stage setup when they came to The National in November.) At a time when social media algorithms are making it harder and harder to encounter opinions that conflict with your own, the Truckers make me hopeful. Fingers crossed people are actually listening.

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

8. Bon Iver — 22, A Million

bon-iver

I thought Bon Iver’s self-titled album would be a tough act to follow — maybe impossible — given that it was the realization of such a big, colorful, well-rounded vision. But 22, A Million is proof that Justin Vernon’s vision is a renewable resource. An unexpected joy this album has brought is seeing who it resonates with — identifying other people who like their musical beauty laced with a healthy dose of obfuscation. It’s like we looked at a Rorschach and all came up with the same answer.

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

9. Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger

paul-simon

In terms of style, Stranger to Stranger is cut from cloth similar to that of Graceland, Paul Simon’s 30-year-old masterpiece. That said, his new album doesn’t feel retrograde, in part because Simon’s witty, acerbic writing seems sharper than ever. (Who else could turn concert wristband drama into a genuinely enjoyable, insightful song?) A piece of advice: If you missed Simon on this year’s tour — I did :/ — check out his recent Austin City Limits performance. It’s excellent and has probably earned squatter’s rights on my DVR by now.

Paul Simon — “Wristband” [Spotify/iTunes]

10. Angel Olsen — MY WOMAN

angel-olsen

I thought about splitting this year’s lists into weirder categories like “Albums I Was Going To Like No Matter What” (Hiss Golden Messenger, Sturgill Simpson) and “Albums I Know I’m Going to Like Later But Haven’t Spent Enough Time With” (Beyoncé, Solange). MY WOMAN made me want to create a category called “Albums By Artists Who Had A Whole Other Gear We Didn’t Know About.” I thought Angel Olsen had truly found her form with her last album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, but Olsen’s direct, intense writing is just as effective in a setting that calls to mind early rock and roll. This may be my dad’s Memphis roots talking, but I hear a ton of Roy Orbison in MY WOMAN, and “Shut Up Kiss Me” is quite simply one of the strongest songs of the year.

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

Here’s the rest of the Top 25 I submitted for RVA Magazine

11. Hiss Golden Messenger — Heart Like a Levee
12. Wilco — Schmilco
13. Lambchop — FLOTUS
14. Clair Morgan — New Lions & the Not-Good Night
15. Sturgill Simpson — A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
16. Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines
17. Allen Toussaint — American Tunes
18. Dori Freeman — Dori Freeman
19. A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
20. The Lumineers — Cleopatra
21. Julian Lage — ARCLIGHT
22. Solange — A Seat at the Table
23. Avers — Omega/Whatever
24. Durand Jones & the Indications — Durand Jones & the Indications
25. The Head and the Heart — Signs of Light

…and here are 15 more albums I loved dearly but am too tired to rank…

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down — A Man Alive
Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book
Cian Nugent — Night Fiction
Daniel Bachman — Daniel Bachman
Kyle Craft — Dolls of Highland
Nels Cline — Lovers
The Avalanches — Wildflowers
Colin Stetson — SORROW
Anna Meredith — Varmints
Carl Broemel — 4th of July
Blood Orange — Freetown Sound
Animal Collective — Painting With
Negative Gemini — Body Work
James Supercave — Better Strange
Andy Shauf — The Party

OK, I swear I’m stopping now. If you’re still reading, you’re a peach. See you in 2017.

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Doll Baby

Doll Baby

I’m enjoying this new Doll Baby EP. Funny that the tides of 2016 have washed two “polliwog” references ashore. The first track on Sturgill Simpson’s new album is called “Welcome To Earth (Polliwog),” though he’s referring to an inexperienced sailor, whereas Doll Baby may have actual tadpoles in mind. Not sure. Fantastic word either way.

You know what else is great? “Drift.” Lots to like here: Vocals that dip and rise with that combined sense of style and purpose that makes Marissa Paternoster’s singing so compelling, a great drumming passage at the 2:00 mark, guitar sounds that levitate in the verses and swiftly crash down in the choruses… My brain wants those thunderous moments to last longer, but the brevity of that payoff is part of what keeps me coming back. MUST HEAR THOSE TWO MEASURES AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN.

I keep finding myself listening to “Drift” at the intersection of Staples Mill and Dickens, for whatever reason — waiting at that light and looking over at the Comcast building, with that ridiculous shrub area that runs along the front, like the building has a big, green mustache. It’s on the way to daycare, so Toddler YHT is probably developing the same insatiable appetite for the song. Not sure if she has an opinion on the shrubbery.

Check out the rest of the Doll Baby EP here, and if you’re digging them, you can hear a live track (I’ve heard they’re excellent live) on Polliwog producer Bryan Walthall’s latest installment of the Live from G5 series, which is now three volumes deep.

Doll Baby — “Drift” [Bandcamp]

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Friday News and Notes

Ralph Easter

Happy Easter weekend! A few news and notes items to crack open before you go hunting for eggs:

  • Going to start giving a quick CD Monday update at the end of the week. I enjoyed rolling around to Daniel Bachman, though I’m not sure if Baby YHT did. Not much of a reaction. Then again this was some pretty out there stuff — some drone-y songs, diverse instrumentation… really neat. While that disc isn’t available, I don’t think, it reminds me of Miscellaneous Ephemera and Other Bullshit, which you can still buy.
  • Have you heard the Sturgill “In Bloom” cover yet? Really interesting I think — takes cojones to give the major-key treatment to such a dark song. The video is wild as well — definitely worth a watch. Apparently the rights were almost denied because of a changed lyric…
  • I know I’m late to the party, but I listened to last year’s Nathaniel Rateliff album for the first time this week and hot damn. Floyd Fest is suddenly looking pretty snazzy.
  • So Hrishikesh Hirway from the excellent Song Exploder podcast started a West Wing podcast with his friend… Joshua Malina. They’re going to do an episode for every single episode of the show. 100% on board — the first one was super cool. Perfect for West Wing fans and newcomers alike (if you up for watching and listening to 150 of something).
  • Lots going on Saturday — Horsehead at the Camel, No BS! at the Broadberry. I’ll be at home watching the tournament with basketball-loving in-laws, but I might spin my copy of Brass Knuckles in No BS!’s honor.

Happy Friday!

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Friday News and Notes

Baketball gif

Happy tournament y’all! Crazy first day of games. Early exits for Baylor, Arizona, and Purdue… should be a fun weekend. Until then, a few news and notes:

Whether you’re out and about or glued to the TV like I’ll be, I hope your weekend is a [dribbles up to the basket and unleashes a 360-degree windmill jam] slam drunk. [Winks]

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Top 10 Albums of 2014

Parks and Rec

Fun fact: When you wait until December 31 to finish your top 10 albums of the year post, your top 10 albums of the year post becomes, by default, your New Year’s Eve post! Before getting to the list, I just want to thank everyone who takes the time to read this blog, whether it’s once a week, once a month, or just this once. It’s such a gift thinking/knowing/believing that there are people out there who share your enthusiasms, and to everyone who left comments, retweeted links, reblogged posts, did guest posts, invited me to do guests posts, or interacted with YHT in any other way, thank you for being such awesome Internet buds.

Now for the 10 albums that meant the most to me in 2014:

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RVA Magazine

rva magazine

Merry Christmas Eve, y’all! I thought I’d check in and recommend some reading in case you need to grab your laptop and abscond to a guest bedroom after downing one too many gingerbread stouts and telling your in-laws what you really think about their political views…

RVA Magazine‘s Top 25 albums countdown! For the second year (Thanks for having me back, Doug!), I had the opportunity to submit a ballot and contribute a few blurbs, and the one I wrote about Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music just went up today. Check it out here. I’ll keep updating this post as the rest of the list is published.

[Update: The top five albums were posted today, including a Flying Lotus blurb by yours truly — read it here.]

[Update Update: Last installment (best RVA releases of 2014) is go — I got to write about Sleepwalkers’ outstanding Greenwood Shade album.]

Hope you enjoy, and good luck facing your in-laws at breakfast tomorrow morning!

Sturgill Simpson — “Turtles All The Way Down” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson

On a trip to the Outer Banks weekend before last, Mrs. YHT and I managed to HBO Go our way through the entire first season of True Detective. Have you seen it? Parts are hard to stomach, but overall it’s pretty damn fantastic, thanks in no small part to Matthew McConaughey’s character — a brilliant-but-damaged fish-out-of-water detective nicknamed “Rust” with a penchant for philosophical self-torture and a belief that “human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.” He’s part deep South and part deep end, somehow managing to feel authentically in the dirt and in the clouds at the same time. I can’t remember a character like him, nor can I imagine a better spirit animal for the album I became enamored with a few days after Mrs. YHT and I got back from the beach.

This is the first I’ve heard of Sturgill Simpson, and I might not have taken notice had it not been for NPR’s First Listen and the album’s name (which I love): Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Ray Charles’ classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is one of the more frequently spun records at YHT headquarters, and Simpson’s twist was intriguing: Country music about country music. Now, I didn’t grow up listening to country, and the listening I’ve done in recent years hasn’t been comprehensive enough to chase away the feeling that there are allusions and in-jokes lurking in these 10 tracks that I’m not wise to — details that would lend additional credence to the “meta” piece of the title. The genre-bending aspects of the album — nuggets of psychedelia like fuzz, drug references, heavy reverb and panning sounds so they travel from your left headphone to your right and back again — feel plenty meta though, showing a desire to poke holes in the membrane that separates country from other styles. That said, there’s a meta moment that hits even closer to home for me, and while it comes and goes quickly, it shows how one tiny detail can open a whole other set of considerations, like a wormhole leading to another universe.

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