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.

Brock Winthrop — Pastoral Scene

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.