If a new album from Fred Thomas wasn’t enough, the news that Chan Marshall will be releasing her first record in six years made my week. I’m not usually crazy about album trailers but I’ll make an exception for Cat Power. She’s one of those artists I don’t know I need until I hear it. The Greatest still haunts me twelve years later. Now I just need something to distract me from the fact that this won’t be out until October.
I saw Fred Thomas open for Eleanor Friedberger last year at Third Man Records downtown. His verbose indie pop on last year’s Changer caught me completely off guard. How had I overlooked an artist whose music so resonated with me? “Open Letter to Forever” is the perfect mix of poignancy and comedy. It’s a song that makes me smile every time I hear it.
Yesterday, Fred’s first single from Aftering debuted at The Fader. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album in September.
We all stare into the infinite scroll. Sure, it was once a questionable UI solution that created an even more dubious UX for surfacing content on websites — don’t like what’s on the menu, well, what if that menu were endless — now defines how we consume content online, interrupted only occasionally as the timeline lags. It’s an exhausting, indiscriminate way to interact with media, but what’s the alternative? We literally look at mobile devices hundreds if not thousands of times a day and the social web waits to scratch an itch our brains have to be constantly entertained.
Ever since the election, I’ve striven — unsuccessfully- to change my media diet. As someone who consumes a ton of content that streams through my various timelines for professional reasons, I’m trying to be more mindful of and intentional about my media consumption and the habits that enable it.
I’ve long admired Jason Kottke’s work and lately I’ve appreciated how he’s documented his media diet in much the same way one might keep a food journal. Here’s a recent example.
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of things I’m engaging on purpose!
- Yo La Tengo — There’s a Riot Going On. Seriously just what the doctor ordered to start an unseasonably cold spring. I didn’t think they’d match the brilliance of Fade, but this is a great coda on a wonderful career.
- Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks — Sparkle Hard. Ever since I heard the first single, “Middle America,” which sounds like it would fit comfortably on Terror Twilight, yet still sounds fresh.
- The Breeders — All Nerve. Ugh I know this has been very “Remember the 90s” but the new Breeders has so much attitude! “Nervous Mary” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
- Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth. A perfectly defiant record. It’s how I start Sunday morning in 2018.
- Abbott. Saladin Ahmed’s phantasmagoric thriller set in the ’70s about a Detroit reporter investigating murders in Cass Corridor is reminscent of Lauren Bewkes’ fantastic novel, Broken Monsters, but less nouveau Detroit.
- Reddit. I remember when Reddit was castigated as being the internet’s cesspool, but now the notion of self-moderated communities that you can visit intentionally feels pretty great.
- Everything trail and ultra running, starting with The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young. The Barkley Marathons aren’t an insane race, they’re an existential crisis. A friend of mine from high school went this year to observe the race and he witnessed its brutal majesty firsthand. There were no finishers this year. Check out The Year Barkley Won in Trail Runner Magazine, too.
- Babylon Berlin — Jason wrote a bit about the music here, but I was positively spellbound over 16 45-minute long episodes. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” is a showstopper. Babylon Berlin is thrilling and punctuated by fantastic song and dance numbers.
- The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies. I’ve been bullish on the Phillies’ rebuild, but had not expected them to lead the NL East in the first half. I also didn’t expect the Braves to be at the door so quickly either.
I’ll try to update this on a quarterly basis. How do you manage your cultural consumption habits?
“Let’s fake our way through Bad Blood for John.”
Neil Michael Hagerty was trying desperately to get through a gorgeous, disastrous set at El Club’s first birthday party with a Royal Trux classic, dedicating it to Negative Approach’s John Brannon, the first son of Detroit hardcore. Hagerty’s bandmate Jennifer Herrema had spent most of the show seated or laying down onstage, joining in on vocals sporadically.
It was everything I’d imagine it would be and more. Thrilled to see them back together again and back out on the road.
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.