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Ramsayings

A Blog About Nothing in Particular

Grails – Deep Snow II

I met Grails in Fishtown, before or after a show upstairs at the old Circle of Hope on Frankford, I don’t quite remember. The show itself was phenomenal. They were out in support of  2007’s Black Tar Prophecies Vol 1-3, a collection I really enjoyed and a sound NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich describes as “doomy Americana.”

He’s not wrong. After I heard, Earth’s great 2005 album Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, I was intoxicated by this sound. For the uninitiated, imagine an instrumental soundtrack to True Detective Season 1. For me, it was a counterpoint to what had started to frustrate me about freak folk popular at the time.

The guys themselves were really great. I planned to interview them, but Fishtown Tavern was way too loud, so we ended up talking about music and shouting at each other like the regulars. I’d later catch them when they came through on subsequent tours and was surprised to see Emil Amos’ holding down the drums for the mighty Om.

Chalice Hymnal, their first record since 2011, is out in a few weeks. Checking out the new tunes on Temporary Residence’s Soundcloud, it’s a departure from that doomy Americana sound. The title track has elements of dub that were completely unexpected.

“Deep Snow II” is more of the foreboding pastoral I fell in love with when I first heard the band. It’s less witchy and more space rock than the stuff they were doing 10 years ago, but it’s familiar in its tone and mood.

If there’s something I especially love about 2017 musically, it’s that so many of the bands I loved as a music critic are getting back together and making fantastic music. Grails are no exception.

The New Pornographers – High Ticket Attractions

The New Pornographers are an international treasure. Everything I wrote in this post I want to take back. Their only crime was giving us so much joy. You have no idea how elated I was to find their new song, “High Ticket Attractions,” from their forthcoming record, Whiteout Conditions, posted to YouTube.

“High Ticket Attractions” picks up where Brill Bruisers left off: uptempo, vocal interplay between Carl Newman and Neko Case, loaded with buzzy fun. It’s exactly what you’re looking for from them and they deliver.

The New Pornographers are headed out on tour in support. Shame they’re not coming to Detroit this time around, but if they’re coming to your town, don’t miss them. I regret every time I did. I’m hard pressed to think of a band that’s better at banter.

 

Gorillaz – Hallelujah Money

When I think about the artists I grew up listening to there are few I admire as much as Damon Albarn. Sure, much of that is owed to my year in Denmark, where I witnessed up close Blur’s battle with Oasis, but when I look back on that time, I still think The Great Escape held up much better than What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

(Before I get too far down that path, can we talk about how Gorillaz’ debut came out 16 years ago? This is like realizing the Jicks have been together longer than Pavement were.)

“Hallelujah Money” is their first record in six years. Can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Steve Gunn – Eyes on the Lines

It may be my 19125 showing, but Steve Gunn’s Eyes on the Lines seemed criminally underappreciated last year. It was a perfect summer record that split the difference between the Grateful Dead and those late Sonic Youth records inspired by the Grateful Dead, with a dash of the fun of those early solo Malkmus records (“Full Moon Tide”).

Wilco – Schmilco

2016 was a funny year. One of the year’s biggest surprises for me was Wilco’s Schmilco. For me, Wilco was a casualty of overexposure; to be a relevant music critic in the ’00s meant killing your idols and really trying to distance yourself from indie rock to the extent it was possible.

In some ways, the divorce was painful. Wilco were probably one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite band, at the end of the 90s. I fell hard for Being There, loved Summerteeth, fell hook, line and sinker for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and felt like they’d reinvented themselves all over again with A Ghost Is Born.

But then something happened. It was a confluence of factors, to be sure, but the overexposure and the superserious treatment the band got — and seemed to embrace — was a bit much. The band I saw ripping through a set on the banks of the Cooper River was a distant memory. Moreover, the weird got much weirder. Wilco’s art rock machismo didn’t fit the mood. I never cottoned to Sky Blue Sky and tuned out a band I’d seen on every tour between 1999 to 2003.

Albums came and went. I read tweets about Nels Cline’s sublime guitar, but I wasn’t moved. When I listened to Star Wars I was entranced by “Magnetized,” but I didn’t trust my emotions. Could it be that Wilco had found their way back, much in the same way one-time tourmates Sonic Youth did with Murray Street?

They had, but I couldn’t admit it yet.

It’s a crummy rock critic thing, but in the interim, even as Jeff Tweedy morphed into an elder statesman of Great American Songwriters, the all caps idea of Wilco had become something else altogether. Star Wars felt different, but with Schmilco, Wilco were underdogs all over again, a rock band at once completely out of time — didn’t they get the message the idiom had passed them by? — and simultaneously right in the pocket of the Zeitgeist in the most understated fashion imaginable.

In short, once Wilco were unburdened by the challenge of being the coolest rock band on the planet, it freed them up to make really fantastic records that captured the creativity and feistiness of their early years. If Schmilco is Wilco’s Sonic Nurse, then I can’t wait for their Rather Ripped.