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.

Finding the Good in 2016

2016 was a tough year. I broke my leg. My base­ment flood­ed. Rather than dwell on the bad, I took the start of 2017 to think about the things I enjoyed and be thank­ful for those expe­ri­ences.

  • The Felske Files: when the Phillies were good, there was lit­er­al­ly a brack­et-full of Phillies blogs com­pet­ing for atten­tion. Then 2012 hap­pened. It’s been a slog ever since, but last year a light switched on. The first full year of the Felske Files, a Phillies pod­cast host­ed by John Stol­nis, was one of my favorite things in 2016. As the Phillies rebuild, he’s brought in smart guests and great insights to the con­ver­sa­tion about the future of my favorite fran­chise. The Felske Files is the sports pod­cast the world’s been wait­ing for.
  • Iggy Pop at the Fox The­atre: I’m not some­one who ghoul­ish­ly tries to check box­es on leg­endary artists. I’ve nev­er seen Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Dol­ly Par­ton or Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin. But after Bowie’s death last Jan­u­ary, I felt com­pelled to see Iggy Pop when he came to his home­town. I wasn’t dis­ap­point­ed. The band, led by QOTSA’s Josh Homme, was impos­si­bly tight and they stuck to a setlist that not only high­light­ed Iggy’s clas­sic work, but com­ple­ment­ed the new mate­r­i­al per­fect­ly. The crowd was amaz­ing, too.
  • Bruce Spring­steen at the Palace at Auburn Hills: con­sid­er­ing I once wrote a piece called, It’s Time to Fire the Boss, I found myself enjoy­ing every minute of his tour behind The Riv­er. Every­thing every­one loves about Bruce is true and, see above, I’m glad I got to see him live. A few weeks lat­er at a Par­quet Courts show, I found myself tap­ping my foot wait­ing for the band to come on stage at 11 pm. I men­tioned to my neigh­bor that Bruce had been on stage for 3 hours at that point.
  • Char­treuse: is it pos­si­ble that one of Detroit’s best restau­rants is under­rat­ed? If you’re vis­it­ing Detroit in 2017 — and you seri­ous­ly should; the New York Times says so — Char­treuse is can’t miss.
  • LVL UP — Hid­den Dri­ver: it was an anthem for me all year.
  • Pitch­fork Fes­ti­val: I hadn’t been to a music fes­ti­val in 20 years until last sum­mer. Pitch­fork Fes­ti­val was worth the wait. Not only did the line­up keep me engaged and enter­tained — Blood Orange was a per­son­al favorite — the weath­er was com­plete­ly beau­ti­ful and the peo­ple were friend­ly and fun to be around. Bonus: meet­ing mem­bers of Super Fur­ry Ani­mals made my day.
  • My neigh­bors: when Grosse Pointe Park was hit by sew­er back­up on Sep­tem­ber 29th, we weren’t the only fam­i­ly affect­ed. 200–300 homes were hit! We were over­whelmed by the out­pour­ing of sup­port from our friends and neigh­bors, who helped us clean up and get back to nor­mal.
  • My fam­i­ly: when our base­ment flood­ed this sum­mer, we lost every­thing in a del­uge. 3+ feet of water wipes out a lot of mem­o­ries in the blink of an eye. It was a chal­leng­ing time, but we all pulled togeth­er and looked for­ward to the future, rather than dwelling on what we lost. We were safe and had only lost things, pre­cious though some of them may have been. My sev­en year old remains the most resilient, lov­ing kid I know and his spir­it real­ly car­ried us through.

As I wrap up this list, I find myself reflect­ing on oth­er moments and expe­ri­ences I omit­ted. It’s reas­sur­ing to know that 2017 is a new year and a fresh oppor­tu­ni­ty to make new mem­o­ries.