Tag Archives: Sufjan Stevens

2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past

I know there’s virtue in living in the moment. We could all stand to put down our phones and more fully appreciate what’s happening right in front of us. Then again, escaping the present is pretty damn attractive these days. Nostalgia is a thriving racket, and to be fair, not all musical blasts from the past are about wishing for a time machine. From archival releases that uncovered hidden gems to reissues that made owning a piece of history a little easier, here are some noteworthy old sounds that were made new again in 2018.

Duck Baker — Les Blues Du Richmond

I picked up some pretty snazzy Record Store Day stuff this year, but this is a clear favorite. I didn’t actually get it on Record Store Day, though; it wasn’t really on my radar, but the more I read about Duck Baker and his Richmond connections, the more intrigued I was. Fortunately, a copy was still available a few days later. This set ranges from highly templated tunes like “Maple Leaf Rag” to discursive compositions that wander to unexpected places before reemerging. Really interesting, really fun. The folks at Tompkins Square do really great work with archival releases like this one. So glad I didn’t miss out on this.

Jack DeJohnette — Hudson

A blast from the recent past. This was released just last year, but it got a snazzy new vinyl reissue on Record Store Day in April of this year. I’m crazy for John Scofield’s guitar tone, so getting to hear him “sing” on creatively constructed versions of Dylan, Hendrix, and Band songs is a real treat.

Jonny Greenwood — Bodysong. OST

For a number of years, I’ve had a 45 with two “extras” from the Bodysong. score, so I was thrilled to see they were reissuing the score itself, which is wonderfully varied, creepy, and intense. Now I just need to see the film…

Hiss Golden Messenger — Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children

This was one of those “Whoa they made this just for me!” moments. Early Hiss. A rarities disc. Liner notes by Amanda Petrusich. I couldn’t resist, though parting with my old copies of Haw and Bad Debt wasn’t easy, even if it was the sensible decision. I think that copy of Bad Debt might still be at Deep Groove, if anyone’s interested. (And dammit you should be! It’s an incredible album.)

Jason Isbell — Sirens of the Ditch

I’d been meaning to get to know this album better, and I was happy to see some non-album tracks included here. While the new-old songs are well worth a listen, “In a Razor Town” remains a masterstroke.

Jess Sah Bi & Peter One — Our Garden Needs Its Flowers

An absolute gem from the gang at Awesome Tapes from Africa. This album radiates a powerful sense of warmth, even as it deals with themes as weighty as Apartheid.  I have the proprietors of Small Friend Records & Books to thank for this being on my radar. I saw it on their Instagram, listened, loved it, and zoomed to Shockoe Bottom to pick it up. I have a feeling it’s going to be an even more radiant listen in the spring.

Ben Kweller — Sha Sha

I’ve written about why Ben Kweller occupies such a special place in my heart. It has to do with my dad’s recommending Kweller’s old band Radish when I was young and in the process of learning how to play the guitar, and how the meaning of that recommendation has grown over time. I hope reissues of On My Way and Changing Horses are also (forgive me) on the way. The latter exists on vinyl, but I’ve never seen a copy in real life.

Joseph Spence — Bahamian Folk Guitar

While the reissue game can seem like a cash grab at times (especially when there are plenty of reasonably priced used copies available online), this is a great example of how upping supply can make spinning something really special — and Joseph Spence’s loose, complex playing is truly a wonder — less of a pipe dream. What a wonderful album to put on at home. If you have this on as background music, the air in the room feels lighter. If you listen intently, it’s like following discursive but gripping storytelling.

Sufjan Stevens — The Avalanche

If I could magically conjure stats on which I’ve listened to more — Illinoise or The Avalanche, I’m not sure The Avalanche wouldn’t win out. As far as extras albums go, it’s uncommonly strong. And I’d consider it an essential part of a full appreciation of Stevens’ gift. His is a story of impossible productivity, and few artists throw away ideas of this quality.

Gillian Welch — Soul Journey

I jumped on the Gillian Welch bandwagon with both feet when The Harrow & The Harvest came out in 2011, and I ended up ranking it as my favorite album of that year. But I’ve been slow to listen backwards in the Welch-Rawlings universe; so slow that — and I know I’m writing this on the Internet but please don’t tell anybody — I confused the announcement of the Soul Journey reissue with news of an upcoming album. WHATEVER. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Welch and Rawlings perform a number of these tracks live in the last few years, though I’m not sure any of them tug at my heartstrings like “Back in Time” does. “I wanna go back” is right, am I right?

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

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2017 in Review: Live Albums

Let’s get this retrospective party started! Five posts to come, hopefully over the next five days.

A few notes:

  • No rankings this year. I do reference what might have been ranked the album of the year, however.
  • Everything is listed alphabetically. I think. I hope.
  • There are five categories: Live Albums, Blasts from the Past, Americana, RVA, and 25 Favorites. I usually do an EPs category, but everything I was planning on listing seemed to fit better elsewhere this year.
  • Aside from the last category, I didn’t shoot for a certain number in each. The main priority was writing about as many albums as possible — around 60 total.
  • Each album appears in just one category. And if something could reasonably be placed in the RVA category, it was. So Butcher Brown’s excellent Live at Vagabond album isn’t listed here, even though it was one of my favorite live albums of the year.

Without further ado, here are the other live albums I enjoyed in 2017:

Animal Collective — Meeting of the Waters

My biggest regret from this year’s Record Store Day. I saw it with my own two eyes. I could have picked it up, taken it home, and there wouldn’t be this empty feeling in my soul. Oh wait, that’s because of the current political climate. Still, though… I thought this wouldn’t be my cup of tea because Panda Bear isn’t involved, but it’s great. Loose yet intense. Wild yet measured. Seeing it described somewhere as a return to the style employed on the group’s earlier recordings helped. By the way, 2017 turned out to be the year I got an OG copy of Sung Tongs. Good stuff.

Animal Collective — “Blue Noises” [Spotify/iTunes]

Drive-By Truckers — Live In Studio · New York, NY · 07/12/16

I did snag this one on Record Store Day. I’m likely not alone in saying that many of my most meaningful DBT experiences have taken place in the live setting, and it’s great to hear tracks from American Band come to life like this. Especially “Ramon Casiano,” which showcases the great combination of depth and specificity that makes Mike Cooley’s songwriting so interesting.

Drive-By Truckers — “Ramon Casiano” [Discogs]

Steve Gunn — Dusted

Tour-only live album. No digital version, as far as I can tell, so no sample track to share. Just grab it if you see it. Gunn and frequent collaborator James Elkington at their best.

Jason Isbell — Live from Welcome to 1979

This is what I was obsessing over while I was overlooking that Animal Collective jam, in large part because of the cover of “Atlantic City.”

What can I say about “Atlantic City”? It’s on a very short list of “All Time” favorites on Spotify and I wrote a mini-essay on the song after spending time in the city for the first time, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Isbell perform it. I’m sitting here trying to think of a combination of artist and cover that would make we wake up earlier in the morning… Thom Yorke singing “Hallelujah”? Donald Trump singing “2 + 2 = 5”?

Jason Isbell — “Atlantic City” (Bruce Springsteen cover) [Discogs]

Old Crow Medicine Show — 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde

Say what you want about “Wagon Wheel,” ban it from being played by cover bands in your bar, whatever. I’ll always love the song, and I think it’s genuinely inspiring how it founded a mutual admiration society between Dylan and the Old Crow folks. The respect the band has for the man really shines through on 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde.

Old Crow Medicine Show — “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (Bob Dylan cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell Live

I do a spectacularly shitty job of keeping track of the shows I see. In the alternate universe where I manage to put together a “Top Shows I Saw this Year” list, Sufjan’s set at the Altria in May of 2015 — less than two months after Carrie & Lowell came out — would likely have topped that year’s list. This was recorded later in 2015, in November, but if I close my eyes and let it take me away, I can picture myself in the intense atmosphere of that Altria show, especially during the extended “We’re all gonna die” coda to “Fourth Of July.”

Sufjan Stevens — “Fourth Of July” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review

2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

 

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Friday News and Notes

Simpsons

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

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

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

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

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CD Monday

Sufjan Stevens

Per local ordinance, Sufjan Stevens must be played ASAP after snow starts hitting the ground. It’s on the turntable, it’s the car… it’s the law.

Sufjan Stevens — “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Covered: Snow

Another new feature for 2016! (I’m just gonna keep saying that, and hopefully one of these will stick.) Let’s pick a bunch of albums to play based on how situationally appropriate the cover art is. The current situation? Snow. A shit-ton of it. Here’s what I’ll be playing to chase away the cabin fever:

The Band — The Band

The Band

Dudes in coats. Levon looks the chilliest. Garth looks the chillest. Danko is challenging Richard Manuel’s signature claim to creepiest, while Robbie is clearly trying to have sex with you. Or maybe just making it known that he’s open to having sex with you. One or the other.

Good point just now from Mrs. YHT: “Levon is the chilliest because he’s the only one from the South.”

The Band — “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Beatles — Help!

The Beatles

More dudes in coats. And the cover shot is from the movie’s skiing scene, which was filmed in the Austrian Alps. Those crazy moptops…

The Beatles — “Help!” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bon Iver — Blood Bank EP

Bon Iver

From which Kayne got the sample for “Lost In The World.” Great EP.

Bon Iver — “Woods” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — Brandenburg Gate: Revisited

Dave Brubeck

Achtung! It’s cold out there!

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — “In Your Own Sweet Way” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jerry Butler — The Ice Man Cometh

Jerry Butler

What’s cooler than being cool?

Jerry Butler — “Only The Strong Survive” [Discogs]

Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars — Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars

Levon Helm

Levon. Paul Butterfield. Steve Cropper. Booker T. Jones. Dr. John. Duck Dunn. Robbie. Garth. Madonna.

OK, so Madonna’s not really on there. But all those other people are!

Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars — “Washer Woman” [Discogs]

Joni Mitchell — Hejira

Joni Mitchell

Anyone else invent an alternate universe in which “Coyote” is about Robbie Robertson?

Joni Mitchell — “Coyote” [Spotify/iTunes]

Paul Simon — Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Winner: Dude in a Coat category.

Side note — this may be the record that gets played most often in our house.

Paul Simon — “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bruce Springsteen — Nebraska

Bruce Springsteen

Saving this one for when cabin fever is really getting to me and things are looking peak-bleak.

Bruce Springsteen — “Atlantic City” [Spotify/iTunes]

Stephen Stills — Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

This one qualifies twice — there’s snow on the cover, and the first song is “Love The One You’re With,” which is basically the theme song for cabin fever! Love the one you’re with… because leaving the house really isn’t an option right now.

Stephen Stills — “Love The One You’re With” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sufjan Stevens — Michigan

Sufjan Stevens

Some impressive average annual snowfall numbers for Michigan cities. Houghton gets 207.7 inches a year. If you know anyone living in Houghton, Michigan, definitely send them this blog post.

Sufjan Stevens — “Holland” [Spotify/iTunes]

They Might Be Giants — “Don’t Let’s Start” maxi single

They Might Be Giants

Let’s all hope this storm doesn’t get to the point where snowmen gain sentience, kill us all, and start burning our money. Kinda feels like it might tho. Stay warm out there, y’all.

They Might Be Giants — “When It Rains It Snows” [Spotify/iTunes]

 

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 5: Top Ten

10. Jamie xx — In Colour

Jamie xx

From when I first wrote about In Colour:

In Colour makes me wish I knew more about the electronic genres he’s citing/mining/channeling, so I can stop using EDM as a catch-all term. These songs feel elemental, like Jamie’s taken the basic ingredients of the music he grew up with and combined the best bits with a ruthless and discerning efficiency. I don’t know which ingredients are which — what synth sounds come from house vs. techno vs. drum and bass vs. something else on this hilariously detailed Wikipedia page — but for the first time I can remember, I want to know.

Jamie xx — “Gosh” [Spotify/iTunes]

9. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell

sufjan stevens

I know I keep harping on how good 2015 has been for new music, but one (admittedly subjective and unscientific) measure of how good it’s been is how many albums could easily be considered the year’s best had they come out in another year. That’s one of the first things I think about when I check to see where Carrie & Lowell is ranked in other lists. In fact, it reopened what was, for me, a closed discussion: Which is the best Sufjan Stevens album? Illinoise. I used to be sure of it. Now, I’m not.

This here is an emotional sledgehammer. The Mike Tyson of chronicling a painful family history and your place in it. Sufjan is simply the best at this. No one else can take a profound sensitivity and turn it into a document that makes me want to compare it to a sledgehammer and Mike Tyson. It’s paradoxical, but that’s Sufjan Stevens, and Carrie & Lowell may turn out to be his best work.

Sufjan Stevens — “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” [Spotify/iTunes]

8. Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

Read the next entry and come back, OK? Done? Much of what I said about The Epic can be said here, except substitute an abundance of notes for an abundance of words. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all that Joanna Newsom has given us in Divers. I could actually say the same of Newsom herself. I found a used vinyl copy of Ys earlier in the year (after I heard “Sapokanikan”), and used that as a gateway to Newsom’s wild, intricate universe. I’m still getting my bearings inside her world, but here’s how I know I’m a happy citizen of it: When Jim DeRogatis panned the album on Sound Opinions, I got really pissed. I started mentally writing a blog post in reaction — here’s a sampling of the thoughts going through my head at the time:

  • “OK, now you’re just being mean.”
  • “Would you say these things to her face?”
  • “I’m boycotting the shit out of Sound Opinions.”

These are the knee-jerk reactions of someone whose feelings were hurt. I did not publish that post, and I have not been boycotting Sound Opinions. All the same, I learned that I’m on Team Newsom for good, even if I don’t yet fully grasp the game we’re playing.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

7. Kamasi Washington — The Epic

Kamasi Washington

Last year, Black Messiah was the album I ranked somewhat speculatively, because I hadn’t had all that much time with it. (Probably should have been higher than #7.) Kamasi Washington’s ranking is somewhat speculative as well, but for a very different reason: Because it’s so damn long, I’ve only listened all the way through once or twice. I’ve listened on Spotify a fair amount, and I’ve spun my vinyl copy a number of times, usually picking a disc and side at random, but I’m not sure I have a grasp on the thing as a whole yet. Regardless, there’s a magnetism to the project that makes it hard to discount or ignore. Some of that pull comes from the content and its scope, some from his connections to artists like Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar. Some comes from how people are talking about Washington resurrecting a West Coast jazz scene that was flagging (I guess — I don’t really know much about that scene). Whatever it is, I’m not filing The Epic away any time soon.

Kamasi Washington — “Miss Understanding” [Spotify/iTunes]

6. Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

This is White’s third appearance in the 2015! Holy Crap! series. It was one of my favorite physical releases, one of my favorite Richmond releases — only natural it resides here as well.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

“Kill V. Maim” sealed the deal. More specifically it was the cheerleader-y pre-chorus — one of those certifiable moments when you decide halfway through a song that you love it, you will always love it, and you love the tracks before and after for just being near it. In truth, if that moment hadn’t come during “Kill V. Maim,” it would have happened eventually, because Art Angels is unreasonably packed with excellent, memorable, marketable songs — “California,” “Flesh Without Blood,” “REALiTi,” “Artangels” — to the point where you start thinking that it’s just not fair. This should be a greatest hits collection, not an album of all-new material.

Side note — if you have a chance, look up “SCREAM” on YouTube and watch the craziness unfold. Can you imagine being there for that? I’m not sure I could even handle it, but I’d love the opportunity to try.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Jason Isbell — Something More Than Free

Cover_hi_res

Doug Nunnally wrote some incredibly insightful words about Something More Than Free for RVA Magazine — I’d direct your attention there and zoom in on a particular passage here:

At times, it feels like a companion piece to Bernie Sanders’ campaign as it touches on similar themes of correcting issues that grew from grey areas while simultaneously voicing the frustration of blue-collar workers and the dwindling middle class.

This gets at something I’d been hoping to articulate about these songs, and about Isbell’s work in general. Isbell’s politics run counter to those of many with his accent, and I’d guess those politics are informed by something subtle but powerful that comes through in his songwriting: A consistency in the value he places on each person’s story. He gives his characters a fundamental sense of dignity — a generous allowance for imperfection that’s not apologetic as much as it’s understanding. Factual, even. No life is devoid of pain — not the father in “Speed Trap Town,” not the son; not the older generation in “Children Of Children,” not the younger — and when you build up from that basic sense of generosity, you get a worldview that’s compassionate and wise. It’s the kind I’d like to cultivate as I get older, and the kind I’d like to pass along to my daughter. Listening to Isbell is a good step in that direction, I think.

Jason Isbell — “24 Frames” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty

This album, while home to plenty of pretty singing and playing, is an ode to our ugliest impulses — those thoughts we fight against to get through the day and feel like a normal, contributing member of society. There’s a whole lot of “Fine, I’ll be the one to say it” on I Love You, Honeybear, and while I’d usually associate that kind of speech with attention-craving, I think Josh Tillman thinks this country (see “Bored In The U.S.A.) is operating at a severe deficit when it comes to self-reckoning, and I think he’s right. It doesn’t mean we should all be saying awful things to each other and following our ids wherever they lead us, but it does mean we should spend a little more time thinking about why we do the things we do and how we can collectively reach a more honest place. It might not be pretty, but that’s OK.

Father John Misty — “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar

Going to retread what I said on Sound Gaze a bit here, but To Pimp A Butterfly reminds us that, despite 2015 being a phenomenal year for new music, not everything that happened this was year good. Police violence. Racism. Poverty. These problems aren’t new, but they’ve rocketed to the front of America’s consciousness (and conscience) as part of — what I hope will be — a movement pushing us closer to solutions. In that sense, TPAB is the perfect marriage of subject matter and timing — the album of the year, in more ways than one.

Yet its timeliness is only part of what makes it great. Lamar’s versatility, the depth and drama afforded by jazz instrumentation, the meta-narrative that builds as the album progresses… it all feels like proof that we’re looking at a once-in-a-generation talent. Let’s hope America listens.

Kendrick Lamar — “Alright” [Spotify/iTunes]

1. Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Record box

I wrote for RVA Mag that this album was “true north” for me in 2015, and there was actually a physical manifestation of this. Mrs. YHT got me this really nice wooden record case for our fifth wedding anniversary, and I decided at some point that it would hold current-year albums and be emptied each New Year’s day. One side effect is that I can’t help kinda sorta ranking the albums in the box, with the most played, most beloved ones working their way to the front. Natalie Prass’ album spent the entire year there. The top inch or so was visible in my living room all those months, giving me a zillion opportunities to consider and reconsider how much it meant to me, and the only time it wasn’t in the front of that case was when it was being played. Like I said — true north.

Just now realizing that the front of the case actually does face north. Whoa.

Natalie Prass — “Bird Of Prey” [Spotify/iTunes]

I did a full Top 25 for RVA Mag — here’s the rest:

11. Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express — Junun
12. Jr Jr — Jr Jr
13. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
14. Punch Brothers — The Phosphorescent Blues
15. Asaf Avidan — Gold Shadow
16. Shamir — Ratchet
17. Pokey LaFarge — Something in the Water
18. Phil Cook — Southland Mission
19. Mutoid Man — Bleeder
20. Daniel Bachman — River
21. Pops Staples — Don’t Lose This
22. Son Lux — Bones
23. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
24. Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 25. The Trillions — Superposition*

*Because of the principle of superposition, this album technically occupies every position in the Top 25.

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs
Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases
Bonus: Sound Gaze Retrospective Spectacular

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Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney

Took this iPhone photo while Moses Sumney was opening for Sufjan Stevens at the Altria last Wednesday. It is and is not representative of what that experience was like.

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