Notes, February 2020 Edition

Here’s some music that I’ve been listening to, thinking about, or discussing lately.

MCIII, by Mikal Cronin. This is a common path for new music for me – one song by an artist will appear on the soundtrack to a movie or show that I like, and since I tend to pay a lot of attention to the soundtrack choices in visual storytelling, I’ll give them a deeper listen. The songs that really stand out when listened to in that way then entice me to pick up an entire album and maybe an entire discography (thank you, Spotify). That’s how I found Mikal Cronin, and he’s great. I can hear his influences in both British Invasion-style music, the 90’s alt scene he clearly grew up through, and a lot of singer-songwriter influences. Despite the clarity of these impacts, he has a very original sound and very emotional resonance.

Volume 1, by The Traveling Wilburys. I’m absolutely ashamed to say that I was sleeping on the Traveling Wilburys. Despite Tom Petty being one of my favorite artists of all time, and definitely loving to various degrees the other members of this supergroup, it just really slipped through the cracks. I vaguely knew of the existence of this project but had never really gone deep into it. Now I have, and it was like coming home. I miss Tom Petty dearly and hearing what to me was “new” music with his voice was wonderful. Just because something was popular doesn’t mean everyone knows about it, and of course this project was over 30 years ago, so plenty of people today might not know how good this is. Give it a listen. If you like, you can also listen to their second and only other album, titled – hilariously – Volume 3. George Harrison was a prankster.

Revolution Radio, by Green Day. Yes, Green Day two months in a row. They’re one of my favorite bands, and a few days ago they dropped a new album. I gave it a listen and it’s pretty good, but it also reminded me to go back to the last album they released, which is amazing. Green Day’s career has divided itself neatly into specific eras with distinct sounds, and with the release of “Father Of All Motherfuckers” (pardon the cursing, it’s the actual title of the album) a new era has clearly begun. That makes Revolution Radio the capstone in their most commercially successful era, spanning from American Idiot to that album, and listening to it knowing that context makes it even better.

Social Distortion, by Social Distortion. I generally try to act in a civilized manner. I pay my bills, I brush my teeth, and I never ever throw a whiskey bottle through the windshield of a police car to cause a distraction so I can break a pool cue over the head of the trucker that tried to put his cigarette out on my leather jacket, and then take his Zippo and pack of Lucky Strikes off his unconscious body and light one up just before the cops tackle me and throw me in handcuffs. But sometimes you want to feel like you just did all that without actually suffering the consequences – and for those times, this album has you covered.

Barabajagal, by Donovan. Something I always absolutely love is when I find music that has really good underlying technical proficiency supporting a kind of music that is just unabashedly weird. This is why I love They Might be Giants, Cake, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and of course Donovan. If you can get me really tapping along with my eyes closed and letting music wash over me, but at the same time your album is both about the fictional mythology of the lost continent of Atlantis and also how much you love your shirt, then let me tell you that you have me hooked. In the same way that Social Distortion gives me that sweet post-street-fight high without the broken nose, Donovan makes me feel like I did a whole bunch of great drugs that I didn’t actually do.

Enjoy, everyone. May your life be filled with wonderful music – and if it is, share it with me!

Notes, January 2020 Edition

I’m going to share some music that I think is really great. As always, there’s no theme; obscure or mainstream, old or new, genre agnostic. Just stuff I like to listen to, so maybe you will too.

Warning, by Green Day. A criminally-underrated album from Green Day’s “middle years.” One of the things I love about Green Day is they’ve had a real evolution and have never tried to go back and duplicate the tone of earlier works. That means that they’re not one consistent sound, and I know a decent number of people who are fans of only one specific era of them. A lot of people pass over the years between the commercial success of the Dookie/Insomniac era and the band’s resurgence with American Idiot, but those years had some real gems, and this album is I think the best from that time.

Heroes From the Future, by Junction 18. One day in the early 2000’s I was in a record store in Delaware, and they had a paper grab bag: 5 CDs for 2 bucks, but you couldn’t look. You just had to trust fate. That seemed like a great deal to me and I spent my last two dollars on a collection that included this album. Over the next several months, I wore it out. When I got my first MP3 player, this was the first thing I put on there, because the band was obscure enough that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find another copy of the CD. It’s poppy alt-rock and isn’t too unique for its time period in that sense, but it always seemed like real pain and experience was dripping out of the speakers when I played this. There’s a hopefulness buried in there too, and that makes it special.

The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways, by Crown The Empire. I just discovered this band this month, and I’m really into them! They’re like a combination of Muse, Dream Theater, System of a Down and My Chemical Romance. The end result is some very weird but very cool metal concept albums and I was really captivated the whole time. This one might push your boundaries some because you might not like anything even adjacent to this, but it’s still worth the experience – as all new music is.

Zoot Suit Riot, by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Okay, so just in case you didn’t pay attention to the blink-and-you-missed-it attempt in the late nineties to resurrect swing music into the mainstream, it happened. I mean, the attempt happened, not the actual resurrection. But one good thing to come out of an otherwise not-so-great experiment was this album. Here’s the thing: the main hit single, “Zoot Suit Riot,” was hands-down the worst song on the album. It’s all anybody heard, and it’s not bad, but every other song is a million times better. Even if you heard the single a bunch on the radio, get the album anyway and just skip it (it’s the first track), and listen to the rest.

The Wind, by Warren Zevon. I absolutely love Warren Zevon. He was just so freakin’ weird and great and inspired. In 2002 he found out he was dying of cancer, and he raced into the studio with a bunch of his friends, other musicians, and the support of both his studio and his loved ones and just cranked out this album, wanting to make sure he got in one last record before his end. It is absolutely divine. It rocks, and it’s heartbreaking, and it’s fitting. It was a fantastic sendoff. It was released two weeks before his death, and I first bought it the day it was released. Every song was fresh in my memory, having been listened to on near-repeat for that whole time, when I read the news that one of my favorites had passed. You can’t take it with you, man, but you can sure leave it behind.

Tell me what music you keep in your heart for a while.

Notes, December 2019 Edition

I love talking about music. I specifically love sharing it and hearing about it. There are a small number of people that just have this gift of direct soul-to-soul communication, while the rest of us languish under the burden of having our truest and deepest feelings trapped behind walls, isolated in the silos of our selves. The music those rare few create is like a secret language the rest of us can use, messages in bottles thrown from one island to another, and the more music you know about, the more of that language you can use. So here you go!

Romantic Warrior, by Return to Forever. There is a really strong chance that you’ve never heard anything like this. I’m not even sure how I’d describe it if I were trying to connect it to something you’ve already heard. It’s jazz/rock fusion, but that description falls so short. This is impossible music; if I described to you the notes and structure independently you’d never believe it could be as good as it is. It puts you in the mindset to remember a great story.

Why Me? Why Not., by Liam Gallagher. Yeah, I’m definitely a sucker for good heavy blues rock, but Liam Gallagher is putting a spin on it that’s different than a lot of what I’ve heard from the genre recently. For one, he doesn’t overly rely on the heavy riffs to carry the song; the lyrics are great and his voice has a sort of Sgt. Pepper quality that I really like. He also puts in some weird sounds that you don’t hear in a lot of blues rock, especially over his voice. It’s like if Paul McCartney wrote and sang on an album with The Black Keys.

Cheap Thrills, by Big Brother and The Holding Company. The last album from this band with the incredible Janis Joplin singing lead (she started her solo career shortly after). This features my favorite Janis song ever, Piece of my Heart (though credit where it’s due – that’s a cover of an Erma Franklin song!), but the rest of the album is just as powerful. This is the sort of music that the modern currents of the music industry just can’t produce anymore, so enjoy it – it won’t come again.

Villains, by Jonathan Young. Jonathan Young is this fantastic metal singer who covers songs from movies, television themes, or Broadway hits in this incredibly cool metal style. This isn’t deep, it’s just fun as all heck. He’s not only a great musician, but he has a perfect understanding of what makes a song “cool” and knows how to amplify those aspects. This is an album where he specifically covers a bunch of great villain tunes, and it’s just awesome. Pick your favorite song off the track list and give it a listen, you’ll be hooked.

tryhard, by The Band CAMINO. This is really fun music. It’s a modern update of a lot of the best aspects of synth-pop from the 80’s, and the upbeat sort of “dance ballads” that came out of the early 2000’s. It’s kind of like A-ha and The Postal Service doing a thing together, with maybe a little Weezer thrown in. There was a time in the late 90’s when I really didn’t like what pop music was becoming, and I kind of always hoped it would turn into something like this. I’m glad it did.

Listen to something new today – add a few more words to your vocabulary in the language of the universe. You won’t regret it. And as always, share more with me!

Notes, November 2019 Edition

Here’s some very cool music for you to enjoy. As always, no rhyme or reason (well, I guess some rhymes), but remember that listening to music that you don’t already know is one of our true exposures to the sublime.

Tragic Kingdom, by No Doubt. Gwen was, and still is, cool as hell. My long-standing love of that certain whiskey-and-cigarettes female vocal style very likely started here, but this album is so much more than that. It ranges all over and plays with so many different stylistic influences, and remains an absolute classic, so defining of its era. This is road trip music, heartbreak music, and party music – and few albums represent that kind of diversity while still being a cohesive whole.

The Grand Wazoo, by Frank Zappa. I’m certain Frank Zappa is not human. There’s no way the same process that evolved the rest of us could possibly have created that mind. Whatever unique combination of genetics and environment produced that genius, I’m thankful for it. This is a “jazz”(?) album by Zappa, and it’s so thoroughly deep it just takes over your thoughts while you’re listening. This isn’t background music. Put this on when you need your body to do one thing and let your mind take a trip, like working out or taking a 40-minute shower or something.

The Next Hundred Years, by Ted Hawkins. You can’t feel pain the way Hawkins can, but if you want to come close to the divine experience, listen to him sing about it. In the same way that working out damages your muscles in order to let them heal stronger, this will do that for your soul; damage it and then let it come back more robust than it was.

Plum, by Wand. If the Smashing Pumpkins were a Beatles tribute band, you’d get close to what this is all about. I’ve only just started living with this album in my rotation (and thank you for the recommendation!), but I’m enjoying the vibe so far. I definitely think they’re both talented and not afraid to mess around with structure a little, and that’s a good recipe.

The Black Parade, by My Chemical Romance. I’m a sucker for a good concept album; storytelling in this medium fascinates me. A lot of the songs on this album don’t stand well on their own, but the whole thing comes together so well as a complete tale. When I first listened to this album, it was definitely not cool for my demographic to like MCR, but that taught me a lesson as well – (not/)liking music because of your social demographic is so unbelievably dumb I can’t believe there was ever a part of me that entertained the idea. Great music is great no matter who listens to it.

Enjoy all that music has to offer, my friend. And if you offer me some suggestions in return, I won’t complain!

Notes, October 2019 Edition

Here is some of the music I want to share with you. As always, no particular theme nor reason, other than that it’s super good.

A Night At The Opera, Queen. I definitely don’t have to explain why this album is great, but it’s possible you’ve never listened to it. If that’s the case – do so. Get ready to rock. My oldest daughter, age 7 and notorious critic of everything that carries a shred of nostalgic joy for me, absolutely adores a few small artifacts of the generations before her. Among them are The Neverending Story and all things Queen. If it’s good enough to penetrate her aloof-before-her-time exterior, it’s good enough to melt faces much older.

Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey. This album is beautiful. The whole album flows together so well that it’s hard for individual tracks to stand out in my memory, but I have a soft spot for long, powerful ballads like “Venice Bitch.” This is worth getting lost in, as I now have several times.

Moment of Glory, The Scorpions/Berliner Philharmoniker. Sadly unavailable on Spotify due to various international rights issues, this album is none the less so freakin’ good it’s worth buying the actual CD. The German glam-metal legends recorded an album of remixed hits and original songs alongside the amazingly talented Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the end result is one of the greatest works of metal or classical-style music you’ll hear. The entire album is like the musical equivalent of the greatest airbrushed van art ever.

A Perfect Contradiction, Paloma Faith. I discovered Paloma Faith very recently and quite by accident, and I’ve been so blown away. This album is so fantastic from start to finish, but “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” is probably my favorite track. Faith’s vocals are so powerful they have a physical impact on me; I can’t be handling fragile things while I listen. If you were hit hard by the tragic loss of Amy Winehouse, go listen to this album – I’m not saying she’s a replacement, but if you liked one you’ll like the other.

Bombs and Butterflies, Widespread Panic. Widespread Panic has been putting out albums every couple of years for like four decades, and they just consistently rock. They’re old-school cool and now they’re the kind of old guys that are just calcified music down to the core. You could really pick any album to start and have a good time, but one of their best hits, “Hope in a Hopeless World” was off this album, and the rest of the tracks are just as great.

As always, I listen to music like a drowning man, always desperate for the next new life preserver to keep me afloat just a little longer. Throw me one if you’ve got one!

Notes, September 2019 Edition

Here’s some music that I love. Some old, some new, some popular, some weird. Just good stuff to fill out your playlists.

Bastille – All This Bad Blood. This was a suggestion made to me, and I was excited because it wasn’t the style of music I gravitated to naturally. It turned out to be incredibly powerful music. “Daniel in the Den” is probably my favorite song on the album, but the whole thing was very emotional and rewarding to listen to. Give this one a listen on a long drive or some other time when you can really absorb it.

The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree. I’ve been crazy into The Mountain Goats lately. Something that happens to a lot of people, I think, is that they naturally rate music from their own adolescence really highly; the power of nostalgia is really strong. Even though I only discovered these guys in the past year, their music is exactly the theme of my own adolescence and so they manage to evoke as much emotion from me as any of the fight songs of my youth. I’m not sure if that’s a good endorsement or not, but they’re incredible.

Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense. This. Holds. Up. Whether you’re an old fan of this absolutely brilliant band or you’ve barely heard of them, you should listen to this. This is the live album from what is quite possibly the greatest musical performance that ever happened.

Keb’ Mo’ – Oklahoma. Keb’ Mo’ has been around for a long time, though he hasn’t been on my personal radar for almost as long. I discovered this new album recently and was absolutely demolished by how good it is. I suggested it to my dad, and he told me that when I was a kid I apparently accompanied my dad to a local blues festival where Keb’ Mo’ was playing and was enraptured by him. So despite the gap, I guess you could say I’m a life-long fan! (It’s funny how that can happen; children don’t always have the same capacity to “save” things they like in the way adults do. Make a note, parents – if your kid likes something, save it for them!)

Live – Throwing Copper. This album is pretty dark and heavy – “brooding” is probably the term I would use, despite the fact that there’s also a lot of intensity in many of the tracks. While they were never one of the primary flag-bearers of the alternative rock scene of the 90’s, I think they had a really solid entry here and this album is still great 25 years later.

Enjoy, everyone. And as always – tell me what you’re listening to!

Notes, August 2019 Edition

Here’s some music I like!

Let’s Rock” by The Black Keys. The new Black Keys album is great. I know I’m not sharing some huge insight by revealing that the newest album by a popular band is awesome, but maybe you’ve never listened to them before and you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000. I hope so!

Rambler 65” by Ben Vaughn. Ben Vaughn is this very prolific and very weird musician and music aficionado. In addition to recording a number of fantastic albums, he’s also done music for movies and television (so you’ve probably heard him even if you don’t know it) and has a great radio show himself. He recorded this album of awesome old-school rock entirely in a car, rather than a studio.

Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth. This album is just so freakin’ good. Nazareth is way underrated, in my opinion. Every song on this album cooks.

Give It Back To You” by The Record Company. Poetic lyrics combined with incredibly soulful blues rock. This album was so powerful it kept me entirely from doing whatever I was doing when it started playing. It was so good as soon as it ended I replayed it.

More Seduction” by Manda & The Marbles. There’s this very specific style of female vocalist that I just adore, and Manda is it. This album has a strong nostalgic component for me, but I still think it’s objectively great. It’s the kind of music that makes you feel great about feeling sad, like “ennui pop.”

There’s a certain age (or maybe just life stage) where you stop organically encountering new music. Where your tastes freeze over and you can keep listening to the same songs forever. I don’t ever want that to happen to me. I seek out new music all the time, fighting against that trend. That’s why I post this series – just talk about music with me! Tell me what you’re listening to!