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”).
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.
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.
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.
I heard this song at the end of an episode of Chapo Trap House earlier this year and found a link over on the Chapo subreddit. This hits all the right notes for me, blending memories of my favorite 90’s pop acts, notably Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet.