05.14.2020
Little Wings
Zephyr

It's been over 10 years since I was last compelled to listen to a new Little Wings album. This is partly because in the mid aughts he released a few odder, less interesting albums in a row that I couldn't engage with, a sort of diminishing results of weirdness when all I really wanted was more of his perfectly constructed diy ditties. But it's also partly because he straight up stopped releasing stuff for a while. But then suddenly in April, whether because of the lockdown or Bandcamp's occasional artist-friendly sales, or just because he got bored, he opened up the floodgates. He's released (or re-released) 4 or 5 full albums in the last month or two, and one of them is Zephyr, which according to the description is an official release and reworking of an Australia-tour-only cassette from a few years ago, that he had been meaning to flesh out into a full studio album. I'm glad he didn't, though, because this is a fantastic little collection as-is. It's mostly (or all?) Kyle Field and one guitar, no slapped-together backing band, no extraneous experiments or improvised goofiness, no waste, no nonsense. The songwriting on every track is focused and thoughtful, almost every track showing a more mature side of Little Wings, versus the K-Records teenage-symphonies-to-god fantasias that he often works in. But if that sounds a little too dad rock for you, don't worry, he also released a full band improvised garage recording of his make believe surf rock bar band The Be Gulls if that also interests you. I mean to be honest it interests me, too.

05.09.2020
Pure X
Pure X

The first 5 seconds of this album is the album of the year. The dirtiest, grimiest, distortiest guitar you've ever heard, but it's actually playing rich chords, deep grooves. I think the rest of the album is pretty good too, but all that really matters is that one track, "Middle America," and all that really matters about that one track is that damn guitar. (Also, not actually album of the year, that's just a little hyperbole to make for a fun blog. But shit.)

04.28.2020
Gaytheist
How Long Have I Been On Fire

This band is called Gaytheist and they started as a novelty gay-themed metal band in Portland. And they're way better than those two statements would have you imagine.

04.28.2020
Nicolas Jaar
Cenizas

Cenizas is one of the most perfect walking-around-late-at-night-with-headphones albums I've heard in a long, long time. Probably since the last Nicolas Jaar album.

04.28.2020
Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters

If you're reading this in the future (and of course you are, because that's how this whole reading and writing thing works), more specifically, years or perhaps even a decade or two into the future, I wonder what you think of Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Do you think anything of it? Do you think it's a laughable mess and wonder how on earth it got rave reviews upon its release? Or has it grown into an all time classic, an era-defining work of art? What's Fiona up to these days? What did she do after this? And like, did we ever make it out of this mess?

Those are things I wonder. But there are a couple things I need you to know about this album at this time. Foremost is that, for a brief moment, one late Thursday night through the weekend, it was Special. Truly, genuinely, heart-achingly special. This is a shitty time we're living in—not just the pandemic, but everything surrounding, leading up to, and being borne out of it. The bad guys just keep winning, and everything is hopeless. Shit sucks. And not to go too philosophical, shit has sucked for a lot longer than this difficult time. It's sucked specifically women for a whole lot longer than that. And then, just a couple Thursday nights ago, Fiona Apple (already beloved amongst the more in-touch populations of music nerd-dom, and perhaps even beloved-er over the last year after her classic song "Criminal" appeared in a memorable scene in the pretty-good movie Hustlers), decided she was going to release her new album early, and it was exactly what we all needed.

For a couple days, none of the other shit mattered. Fiona was saying everything we've wanted to hear, spewing fire, line after line, song after song, truths we've all been thinking for years now. This world is bullshit. It immediately got rave reviews from outlet after outlet. It famously, in a matter of just a couple hours, got a 10 on Pitchfork, and you'd have a hard time finding anybody who didn't think it deserved every decimal of it. People on Twitter were losing their shit, changing their screen names to bolt-cutter-related puns, changing their avatars to Fiona. Something about the music on this album—the primitive percussive pounding, the gut wrenching vocal missives, the hot knife sharp lyrical veracity—got into not just the zeitgeist, but deep into people's psyches, like no other music release I've experienced in my lifetime. More than Kid A, more than any Kanye release, more than Lemonade or 1984. Which is especially impressive considering this album is nuts. And beautiful. It brought me to the point of tears 4 different times on my first listen. Which I don't mention because I think bringing someone to tears is a reliable sign of a good piece of art, or that I'm trying to cash in some woke points for being a sensitive male or some bullshit—simply that Fetch the Bolt Cutters contains a power that transcends music.

You're in the future, and I have no idea how that statement will land with you. Maybe we're all suffering mass psychosis. Maybe it's just a noisy, fussy follow-up to her actual masterpiece The Idler Wheel. Maybe everyone makes jokes about that "10" that's still sitting on its Pitchfork review. To be honest, after that first weekend finished and Monday rolled around again, and the bullshit of this world kept on piling up and the people in charge kept on shoveling onto it, we all moved on. But for about 3 days, we felt like we might actually win, and Fiona was leading the fucking charge.

You're in the future, and I hope the bolt cutters have been fetched.

04.18.2020
The Mountain Goats
Songs for Pierre Chuvin

I never got into the Mountain Goats until they (he) was past their (his) extremely lo-fi, record-directly-into-a-boombox-cassette phase. My intro happened I believe around 2009 when The Life of the World To Come was released, which more or less marked the beginning of what might be phase three of the Mountain Goats. We're talking full band, pristinely engineered, studio recorded collections of songs which generally floated around (or directly interrogated) a single theme—not quite rock opera style, but far more linear than the lyrical concerns of most other bands. Life of The World still feels like a wonderful album to me, but in the 10 years since, I have to admit their output has suffered from long, slow, diminishing returns. And despite the thematic differences (one album about professional wrestling, one album about a D&D campaign), their studio sound has sounded more or less the same from album to album. Crisp and clean and full, yes, but the spark from those early boombox recordings has been sanded off almost completely.

But then what happened—have you heard?—is we're suddenly living in these difficult times. John Darnielle is stuck at home, and is sitting on a pile of songs. And whether he came up with the idea, or whether hoards of his fans shouted the idea at him after hearing him play some of his new songs into his smartphone camera, he decided to get his old boombox out and record Songs for Pierre Chuvin

It's a minor revelation. The joy of hearing him shout these words onto a tinny hissing cassette tape is genuinely refreshing. I don't think the studio sheen was ever hurting the Mountain Goats necessarily, but you hear him play these songs and you realize how unnecessary it's been, like we've been missing out on something essential about his songs for the last decade.

But that's the other thing. I don't know if these songs are exactly up to the task. They're interesting, they're clever, they make you want to know what's going on (did I mention the whole album is based off a book by a Harvard historian about the pagan cultures of the 5th century AD who were confronting the new specter of mass Christianity entering their worlds? That's what the album is about. That's what the phase three Mountain Goats do). But no single track on it has the power of his best early work. "This Year," "No Children," "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton", these are the obvious 3, but the list could go on well beyond that. Those songs were deeply human, richly described, absolutely cutting in a real way. I don't remember the last song Darnielle has written that's cut to a core in the way that these do, and none of the songs on Songs for Pierre Chuvin hit that mark, despite the boombox.

Still, simply listening to Darnielle sing his guts out into a boombox was exactly what some of us needed right now. Well, until we were asked to Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

04.17.2020
Laura Marling
Song For Our Daughter

I'm sorry that Laura Marling released this album a week before Fetch the Bold Cutters. Well no, actually I'm glad she didn't release it the same week, because it would've been totally eclipsed by the sheer gravity of that thing (not that we're comparing), and that would be a shame. Because Laura Marling is an overlooked gem of a singer songwriter, and this album is just as pristinely listenable and comforting as her last, oh, five albums (over the same stretch as Fiona made her one. Not that we're comparing).

04.17.2020
Hailu Mergia
Yene Mircha

Just getting some posts out of the way so I can write a few dozen paragraphs about Fetch the Bolt Cutters!

Jk. Well not really. But mostly. Look, I only got into Hailu Mergia with the album Lala Belu he released a couple years ago; I'm not going to pretend like I first heard his obscure 1970s Ethiopian club recordings on some limited vinyl release or something. But that album totally surprised me with its left-field organs and surprisingly soulful accordion jams and one of the most hootin'est hollerin'est upbeat tunes of that year, and one of the prettiest solo piano exercises on this side of Brad Mehldau and McCoy Tyner.

Yene Mircha caught me fully by surprise. I had no idea he was planning on releasing a new album (he'd only released that one in the last 40 years after all), until I saw it on some new release list somewhere. And then it caught me by surprise again. The first run through this album left me a little cold. Where Lala Belu was a made by a simple trio, this one fills out the band with electric guitar and more drummers and backup singers and a full band sound that can veer real close to adult contemporary, jazzamatazz territory. But even by the second listen, I got over that stuff and realized there was still this unique melodic voice underneath it all. And some weird ass keyboard, organ, and accordion sounds. The highs aren't as high as Belu, but it's a dang fun time anyow.

03.28.2020
Fluisteraars
Bloem

Fluisteraars is a Danish black metal band who put out an incredible song, "Oeverloos" a year or two ago. It was just one song one one side of a split single with another metal band, but it was a masterpiece. Part of what made it great—as is usually the case with great black metal songs—is that it didn't necessarily follow the rules of black metal. It had melodic moments, it had moments that sounded like early 90s alt rock, it vibed. And it left me desperate for a full-length from these guys.

Bloem is finally that full-length, and I'm confused. It doesn't seem to be breaking any rules, it doesn't seem to have many outside influences beyond extreme metal, and yet—it vibes. My initial reaction was disappointment of course, but it's one of those albums that somehow hooked into me despite myself, and I've probably listened to it a dozen times already. Something about the melodies on it, redundant as they get from track to track, feel timeless. Like this is the only black metal music ever recorded and we already know it all by heart.

So now I'm just desperate for a follow-up to this one.

03.26.2020
French Vanilla
How Am I Not Myself?

Last Friday Bandcamp had a very nice deal where for 24 hours they gave 100% of purchases to the artists, rather than taking their usual 15% cut (which is actually a totally fair deal, and by all accounts Bandcamp is an honest and decent company who's service to artists is heads-and-shoulders above the big streaming companies, so this isn't an interrogation of them. But good on them anyway). It was a huge day, and the community of internet music weirdos seemed truly engaged with jumping on Bandcamp for a day and hoarding as much digital download loot as possible—help out some small artists, hear some good tunes, what a deal! The site seemingly had a massive day, based on the fact that it was completely overwhelmed and had numerous outages throughout the day. But no worries, I got some stuff, everyone got some stuff, it was a nice little event.

Of all this stuff, the one that's really stood out to me is French Vanilla's How Am I Not Myself?. This album came out last year, and I heard a couple singles from it and thought they sounded fun, but as these things go sometimes, I just kinda forgot about them by the time they released the full length. Thankfully something jogged my memory on Friday, because just like I remembered, this album is hoot! It's tight, upbeat, angular music that's got a fun beat and is easy to dance to. It's music that could have a handful of genre descriptors attached to it—indie pop, post punk, dance rock, twee new wave—but I'm going to dare to go one scary step further:

5th wave ska.

And before I elaborate on that, I'm just going to go ahead and end this music post. French Vanilla is 5th wave ska and I be you'll enjoy listening to them. Stay safe out there.

03.17.2020
Snarls
Burst

Gen Z'ers who are deciding to pick up guitars are also seemingly deciding to pick up Sundays and Cranberries and Ride and Lush records, and we're all extremely lucky for it.

02.16.2020
Walter Martin
The World at Night

Charming.

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Prince Street PizzaManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I biked through SoHo on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, which wasn't a great idea because SoHo on a Saturday afternoon is a shitshow of tourists who think they're too good to be part of the Times Square shitshow of tourists. Plus those brick paved streets. Yikes.

Anyway while I was weaving through the mobs, I noticed two establishments which had roped off lines of people down the sidewalk waiting to get in; one was Moncler, maker of extremely expensive extremely French goose down jackets, and the other was Prince Street Pizza. Maker of pizza.

I don't think I'm super plugged in to the pizza trends in this town, and I thought maybe I'd heard of Prince Street Pizza before, but I was surprised to see the sheer number of people lined up for a slice—not to mention the preparedness of the place to deal with such a line. Clearly they get this every weekend. But I had no idea why.

So a week or two later, I was in the area on a random weeknight and thought I'd go see what the big deal was. Best case, I figured, was I'd get a decent fresh slice comparable to John's—pretty fine New York pizza that becomes so inexplicably popular that its fresh pizza turnover rate allows quality becomes self reflexive—and at worst I'd still get an okay slice of pizza. But Prince Street threw me a curveball: Detroit style!

You know about Detroit style, right? Well I'm not gonna get into it here. Go ahead and google it. But I assume that Prince Street just recently made a switch to Detroit style (or opened anew), and probably got some press somewhere or another, and now they've got lines around the block. Thing about Detroit style pizza is, it's legit. I don't think it's a fad, I don't think it's a marketing ploy, it's not some make believe bullshit like, ugh, Sota-style (thanks Red's Savoy). It's real and it's beautiful and it's almost always delicious. And Prince Street's was more delicious. Seriously fantastic. Maybe the best slice I've had in the city so far? I think it might be.