There are two belated and related birthdays I’m excited to acknowledge jointly:
- America! Your birthday was last week and I didn’t even say anything! I did get to see some fireworks in Hilton Head — someone was firing loud-ass mortars on the beach right in front of the house we were staying in, yet Toddler YHT somehow slept through the whole thing. Not sure if I should be proud of her sleeping skills or worried about underdeveloped startle reflexes. A little bit of both?
- Kevin Walsh! A happy belated birthday to the multi-talented drummer of The Most Americans, the Boston-based band you might have seen me praise in the past. They’ve just released a new album with a fantastic title: International Conflict for Beginners. That title and the group’s name may seem tongue-in-cheek, but the lyrics demonstrate genuine concern and care for the way we interact with the media, politics, entertainment, and ourselves. The past couple of weeks have shown that Americans are in desperate need of self-reflection, and that questioning spirit can be found all over ICFB, as can rhythmic fireworks and gravity-defying harmonies and melodies courtesy of Mr. Walsh himself.
Happy birthdays, Kevin and America. Love you both.
The Most Americans — “1,000,000 Views” [Bandcamp]
Can a blog post be both long overdue and perfectly timed? You bet your stars and stripes it can!
It’s customary to start year-end lists by chewing some fat about how making them is strange and difficult work, and in general, I find that these intros can be exceedingly skippable. Everyone knows that album rankings are subjective (even when they’re created on behalf of a publication or website), and no one needs to be reminded that the list maker didn’t listen — and couldn’t have listened, of course! — to every single thing that came out in the preceding 12 months. You don’t share Santa Claus’ knack for bending the space-time continuum. Understood. But before I get to my Top 10 albums, I would like to share a quick story about how I came up with my list, and how Beyoncé helped me find meaning in this whole strange and difficult exercise.
I have a pair of hugely patriotic updates to share, and because they’re time-sensitive, I’m switching to bullet format… NOW:
On Sunday afternoon, I decided to close out the long holiday weekend in patriotic fashion by going for a run with The Most Americans’ self-titled debut full-length, which is a collection of songs that get stuck in my head with abnormal frequency. I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about why they stick to my brain so effectively (I even asked the band about it when I interviewed them a few weeks ago), and here’s what I’ve settled on: The Most Americans excel at creating capital-M Moments.
Certain lyrics, harmonies and transitions stick out/shine/demand your attention, making them exceedingly easy to remember and — more to the point — hard to forget, like I had a highlighter in hand the first time I listened and involuntarily singled out certain snippets. The perfect blend of vocal textures when “So sad to not be in love” is sung in “Two Dreams.” The utterance of the title lyric in “Cassius.” I look forward to these spots when I start listening, and they bubble up well after the album’s done. That’s because real, dyed-in-the-wool Moments never really go away — they float at the periphery of your consciousness, ready to zoom back into focus whenever they’re given an opening.
You know who else knows how to make a Moment? Laura Mvula. Her debut full-length Sing to the Moon is chock full of ’em.
There’s this Radiolab segment that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it a few years ago. It’s about how electronic devices are designed to sound — not what comes out of built-in speakers or plugged-in headphones, but the sounds that the object itself makes. That soft, round clap that let you know that your old flip phone was closed. That sharp, plastic-y snap that came from closing and locking your Walkman. These sounds weren’t accidents; they were carefully engineered by human people. Isn’t that wild? People sat around thinking about how the materials of a Walkman should be assembled so that, when it closed, you’d feel a sense of security. This thing is definitely shut. There’s no way my Paula Abdul tape is going to unexpectedly pop out.
When I’m listening to the self-titled album that Boston-based group The Most Americans recently released, I can hear that snap. It wasn’t used as a found sound on any of the tracks, or sampled to make a beat; it’s the album itself. The whole thing snaps because it sounds like the work of bandmates who have totally locked into one another — the harmonies, the guitars that carefully paint on different regions of the same canvas, the subtle but confident time variations — it all sounds secure and pleasing in a truly extraordinary way.
A flow that natural can seem effortless. But the truth is, as with the electronics mentioned above, it’s actually the result of years of hard, collaborative work by human people, and since I’ve been dying to know more about the album (“Two Dreams” has become one of my favorite songs released this year), I sent the human people responsible for it a few questions via email. The group’s two lead vocalists — guitarist Jon Braun and drummer Kevin Walsh — sent back the following responses:
So raise your hand if you’re excited about the new Ginger Baker documentary! Good friend of the blog Greg recently passed along this New York Times review, which paints a pretty intriguing picture…
Animated sequences depict a ship, rowed by the drummer’s red-haired avatars, zigzagging the globe — from London to Nigeria to Los Angeles and other spots on the way to his current home in South Africa — leaving a trail of not entirely metaphorical smoldering wreckage.
Animated sequences? Red hair? Not entirely metaphorical smoldering wreckage? Count me in!
In full disclosure, Beware of Mr. Baker will, whenever it gets distributed more widely, be my formal introduction to a figure I’m only just now learning about. Though I own a few Cream albums and have heard “White Room” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” as many times as any living, breathing human should have, I can’t say that I would have been able to tell you a single thing about him before I read that Times review. As it stands now, I can tell you that he was the drummer for Cream, was nicknamed for his hair color, and seems to have racked up a substantial amount of antipathy in his time, despite being, according to some, the greatest rock drummer ever.
The weird thing is that, before reading that review, I had already sketched out a post about a red-haired drummer who I consider to be the greatest I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t going to be about Ginger Baker. It was going to be about Kevin Walsh.