First, a quick follow-up to yesterday’s American Tunes post — if you have any songs you’d recommend for the series, please let me know. Would love to get more people involved.
I’ve been on a serious Steve Gunn binge. After getting the split Record Store Day 12-inch he released with Angel Olsen, I’ve snagged used copies of two of his older albums, Time Off and Way Out Weather. Deep Groove had both, and after chatting with Chris at the counter about Steve Gunn for a bit (he said this era of Gunn’s career was when his John Fahey and Jimmy Page influences intersected), I decided to keep the pair together.
I’m very much digging the new Ryan Adams tune, and I got way too many chuckles out of the “interview” he did with Lil’ Bub. “Do You Still Love Me” has signifiers that date its influences pretty clearly (it’s hard to hear that first big hit without thinking of Survivor), but his use of space on the song is really interesting. It sounds so empty, and given the emotional place he was writing from, there’s a solid form-theme relationship happening there. Really neat, I think.
Noam Pikelny — the banjo player from Punch Brothers — has a new album coming out soon, and he’s shared a track called “Waveland” that’s simply amazing. If this is any indication, Universal Favorite could pick up on some of Punch Brothers’ more classical tendencies, which would be very exciting.
Heading to Gallery5 tonight for Nels Cline’s sold out show. Very psyched. I haven’t heard much of his non-Wilco work, and I haven’t done much research on the other two members of this trio, but all that was intentional. I know his jazzier stuff can get way out there, and I’m walking into Gallery5 tonight with no expectations. Blank slate. Let’s get weird. If you’re not headed there, I suggest Strange Matter, where Futurebirds, The Trillions, and Camp Howard will be playing. Great night for music.
Y’all seen the Kazoo Kid meme? I started seeing gifs and snippets from “You on Kazoo” a couple months ago and decided unequivocally that the Kazoo Kid was awesome. My favorite was (and still is) the “Who are you?” line, which people have used as a reaction to shitty Internet comments. I love it.
A few days after I started seeing all this, I learned via Twitter that the Kazoo Kid is [insert drum roll] my buddy Brett — one of my favorite people in the entire world and a former bandmate (the same group that included Bandmate 4eva Doug). “You on Kazoo” was one of his first acting jobs, and he’s had many since — he’s an extremely talented dude. Incredible voice.
That double verification experience — saying “I like this kid” and then “No, wait — I actually know and like this kid” — it was wild. Like truth itself was confirmed. It was also a little like “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” but the plot of that song makes my skin crawl, so let’s pretend I didn’t mention it.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because the same thing happened with Thao’s new album: I heard it and loved it when NPR did a first First Listen, and then weeks later learned via Instagram that one of my absolute favorite Richmond musicians — the amazingly talented Charlie Glenn of the Trillions and Avers — has guitar and keyboard credits all over A Man Alive. Made me so happy. Double verified: A Man Alive kicks ass. Need triple verification? Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs produced it, and that influence — the focus on rhythm and general sense of mischief — is strongly felt throughout. So damn good.
There is a wonderful specificity to the lyrics — real and focused emotional messages that are often missing from music with the pop signifiers you hear on Make Noise — but my main takeaway has been more general. I hear both sensitivity and boldness in its words, and when you’re going through difficult times, those two qualities couldn’t be more crucial.
Another great example is “Lightning,” The burn is slow, building from the verse to a passage that would serve as the chorus were it not for an even more intense, imploring chorus that follows. All the while, you get a glimpse into this private world of motivations — one where strength and vulnerability are tuned on their heads: “Your lightning keeps on burning holes in my thick skin.” Each track on Make Noise presents this kind of lived-in universe worth exploring with patience and empathy. In that sense, this could be one of your favorite albums of 2016 as well.
Ambition is best when paired with honor, and Bury My Heart is proof. In communicating the tragic story of the Native American genocide, Scott Clark has issued an open invitation to consider more deeply a part of American history that is too often (and callously) ignored. The fact that he set out to convey such weighty subject matter wordlessly is where the ambition comes in. To say he let the notes do the talking would be to downplay how difficult it is to imbue an instrumental piece with specific ideas and emotions; the capacity to do this has always seemed borderline magical to me. Clark clearly has that capacity, and it’s inspiring to see the gift used to such a righteous end.
In 2014, he set his sights on recording a new album, and he decided to do so under a new name – the B-Snap-tet… Under the guiding hand of Minimum Wage Recording owner Lance Koehler, who also recorded and engineered Con Legno, Cruse produced a truly eclectic listening experience, from the hip-hop-inspired “Nightlight” to the album’s meditative centerpiece, “26.1,” which takes on the grave topic of the previous year’s Boston Marathon bombing.
A glowing YHT review of this album is long overdue. Same goes for Manatree’s live show — both are polished and powerful to a degree that’s rare for a band promoting a debut full-length. These songs are so sharp, precisely pivoting from clean to heavy, all the while building melodies that hold tracks together. The word “agile” comes to mind. This is the music Fender guitars dream of when they’re not being played.
I don’t think No BS! will stop acting as ambassadors of Richmond fun anytime soon, but judging by their new album, Brass Knuckles, they have their eyes set on an even bigger role. By taking up the banner of social justice in songs like “Act Like You Know” and “Tyrannis,” the group is using their force-of-nature arrangements and abilities to amplify the voices of those in the community who are taking progressive stances on issues related to race, inequality, and policing.
I’ve written about Glossa a few times since its release (check those posts out here, here, and here), and I was so thrilled to see “Pedal Through” included on NPR’s favorite songs list. Congrats to Positive No on an excellent year!
This was the album I reached for when friends and family came for dinner or a visit. I loved playing them “It Is You,” a marvel of a song, and hearing the beat to “Bird Of Prey” and the powerful conclusion of “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” meant pinching myself — reconfirming that this phenomenon, with roots in Richmond, was real.
When I first heard This Is Love, I couldn’t get over the one-two punch of “Come Inside” and “Real Feel Sound.” I kept replaying them, amazed by the confluence of soul, gospel, jazz, R&B and hip hop. Reed’s voice soars in spots and seethes in others, and the backdrop provided by the Jellowstone family — especially the gritty bass in “Come Inside” and the enormous chorus of “Real Feel Sound” — had me enthralled. It’s such a lush, detailed landscape.
Most bands would kill to be as complex or as catchy as the Trillions can be, yet it’s the balance they bring to those forces that makes them truly exceptional. “Dead Meat” is my favorite illustration yet. There’s more musicality in opening seconds than in some entire albums, yet the intro gives way to a verse that exudes strength via sparse precision. Throw in a sweetly sung, slightly unsettling chorus and you have the Trillions at their best — a powerhouse as discerning as it is dynamic.
White’s taken his hushed vocals and preternatural knack for gathering talent and applied them to subjects ranging from simple pleasures (“Fruit Trees”) to church abuse (“Holy Moly”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Tranquility”) to music itself (“Rock & Roll Is Cold”), all the while lifting up the R&B tradition to which he’s making significant contributions.
Been so anxious to share this: My interview with the brilliant and talented Trillions went up late last week over at Richmond Navigator. You can find it in print in River City Magazine — copies should be hitting newsstands this week.
It’s hard to believe, but year-end lists are starting to appear. I just saw Rolling Stone’s, which placed the U2 album at #1. OK then. My top-10 is in the works… sort of. I’ve been keeping a list of every new album I’ve listened to in full — first time I’ve done that — and I’ve made a spot in my living room for the albums released in 2014 that I bought on vinyl so I can give them a few extra listens. I’m certain this means they’ll get preferential rankings, but whatever.
While I’m in the process of making lists and checking them twice, I thought it would be fun to preview a few of the albums I’m looking forward to in 2015. You know what? “Looking forward to” is putting it mildly. I’m like a cat staring at a printer, impatiently waiting to grab what comes out. Here’s why:
I bought a fancy new camera not too long ago, and I’ve started, with no small amount of timidity, to take photos at the shows I’ve been going to. I haven’t managed to wean myself off the camera’s automatic settings (I was signed up to take a photography class but got sick when the date rolled around), nor have I gotten over the weirdness of moving through the crowd and putting myself directly in front of a performer, but I’m enjoying the learning process and I thought I’d share a few shots I took of the Trillions at last night’s RVA Playlist birthday party at the Camel. Hope you dig ’em.
Some things are hard to measure. Like peanut butter. Have you ever tried to measure out a half cup of peanut butter? It sticks to the spoon on the way in, it sticks to your finger when you try to level the top to see if you’ve got the right amount, it sticks to your measuring cup, and just for fun, it sticks to your finger again when you try to get it out. Sure you can heat your measuring cup with warm water before getting started, but c’mon. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Just as hard to measure — for slightly different reasons, I suppose — is the effect that Andrew Cothern has had on Richmond’s music scene.