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.



Brian Eno — Reflection

David Bowie was, to me, my Dylan. He was one of the few artists I always felt I could spend more time with and nev­er spent enough. When he died last year, I wres­tled with how to mourn him.

Short­ly there­after, I must’ve been watch­ing the doc­u­men­tary 5 Years that I learned how Bowie adored Eno’s Dis­creet Music, a record that I’d enjoyed but hadn’t devot­ed myself to in any mean­ing­ful way. I must’ve lis­tened to it night­ly for weeks, if not months, while putting the boys to bed, let­ting the open­ing track 1/1 envel­op me in the dark­ness.

Imag­ine my sur­prise when I opened my music app to dis­cov­er Bri­an Eno has released Reflec­tion, an hour of ambi­ent music, informed by his ear­li­er work and equal­ly sat­is­fy­ing.

More inter­est­ing is how Eno refers to it as gen­er­a­tive music. Bob Boilen men­tioned on All Songs Con­sid­ered that for $40, you can pur­chase an app that iter­ates the sounds from Reflec­tion in unique new ways and, thanks to an algo­rithm, with­out repeat­ing. I plan to spend as much time or more with this music in 2017 as I did mourn­ing Bowie last year.


Spoon — Hot Thoughts

I haven’t been this excit­ed for new music from Spoon in some time. Maybe since Gimme Fic­tion? I loved Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, liked a few tracks on Trans­fer­ence and then I’m embar­rassed to admit that I slept through They Want My Soul alto­geth­er.

The lead sin­gle, “Hot Thoughts,” strikes a famil­iar chord: it is unmis­tak­ably a Spoon record, find­ing a groove and lock­ing it in. I’m look­ing for­ward to hear­ing more in March.