The War On Drugs

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A little over ten years ago, Logan and I holed up in my college apartment with a Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready pizza and started rifling through my CD collection to figure out what to call our music blog. I don’t remember many details about that night (there was a lot of root beer involved), but I do remember reading lots of lyric sheets before stumbling onto Andrew Bird’s “Plasticities” and together being enamored with the line that eventually gave us our name, “This isn’t our song, this isn’t even a musical / I think life is too long to be a whale in a cubicle.”

Now, over a decade later, things have changed a bit. We wrote pretty regularly for a few years, but eventually graduate school, then careers and families started to consume more and more of our time and attention, leaving less time to tend to this place. At the same time, the shape of the internet was changing dramatically–with the rise of social media and the fall of personal blogs, it made it harder to find and keep a readership without adding more and more content constantly, so when we did write there were fewer and fewer people around to read it. Slowly we just ended up writing less, and the site would sit fallow for most of the year.

That is, until year-end list season. Each November or so Logan and I would exchange multiple calls and emails as we began hashing out what should make up our year-end list. We’d make lists, compare, whittle, compare again, divvy up writing assignments and get to work. The whole process has easily become my very favorite part of writing this blog, and honestly one of my most cherished experiences. I still find so much joy in reflecting on the things I loved each year, and then trying to articulate why I loved them so much.

But it’s still a lot of work, and the last few years have proven particularly difficult as we’ve tried (and failed) to get our lists done before the end of the year (I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re the only people reviewing last years music in August). It seems silly, but it seems we can’t even get one good post up a year, at least not on time.

So we’ve decided to hang it up, and our tenth year-end list seemed the perfect time to sign off. For all four of you who still check in on this thing, we’ll still keep the domain so you can, you know, re-read your favorite posts or something. 😉

As always, these were our favorite records of the year – the ones we kept returning to, the ones that moved us, changed us, kept us sane. In another ten years, these are the records that will make us think of 2017 the most. We hope you enjoy.

(I want to quick give a special thanks to Logan, who’s been the best partner these past ten years. It’s been such an amazing experience to create something like this with one of my very best friends, someone who’s passion for great music is contagious. Considering I first met Logan sixteen years ago as he was feverishly scribbling down Cat Stevens lyrics on a classroom assignment, it seems fitting that the last entry in our last post is his review of Mr. Stevens’ latest record. Thanks for the fun ride my friend.) -Chris

 

Chris’s Favorite Album of 2017

 

Life Will See You Now

by Jens Lekman

[Secretly Canadian]

In the fall of 2007, I sat in my college apartment looking up NPR podcasts on iTunes for the first time. A friend of mine had suggested I listen to a podcast they produced called All Songs Considered, and although I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know what a podcast was at the time, I downloaded the most recent episode to my 160GB iPod Classic and started listening. That episode happened to be guest DJ’d by an affable Swede named Jens Lekman, who played a few songs from his latest record, including “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” and “Your Arms Around Me”–and I was mesmerized. I went out the very next day and bought it on CD. That CD, Night Falls Over Kortedala, has since become one of my very favorite albums of all time.

Fast forward a few years. I’m married and living in Indianapolis and I get wind that Jens is doing a one-week residency in Cincinnati. He’s calling it “Ghostwriting” and he’s inviting people to submit personal stories that he’ll use to write new songs on the spot over the course of the week. I nagged my wife to submit a story, which she finally did hours before the deadline. Jens picked her story (because of course he did), and she got to go spend an afternoon with him to flesh out the story (incidentally, she reports that he is, in fact, just as charming as he comes off in song).  That week in Cincinnati yielded a clutch of charming songs pulled from several strangers’ experiences, including one about Kristin’s misadventure with a therapist and an emotional support animal (neither of which were particularly good at their jobs).

At the end of the week we went to see Jens perform a number of those new songs, along with some old classics. He opened the show with a new song called “To Know Your Mission,” which recounts the story of a teenage Jens running into a pair of Mormon missionaries twenty years earlier (in the summer of 1997) and getting into a conversation. It’s a touching account of trying to find your place in the world and wrestling with what your ultimate calling is, as Jens asks the missionaries “how (does it feel) to know your mission / to know what you’re here for / to know who you’re serving / to know what to do?” I left feeling moved by the whole show, but that song in particular.

Fast forward again to 2017, and that song now opens Jens’s latest record. At the song’s conclusion, Jens comes to an epiphany of sorts–singing “I just want to listen to people’s stories / hear what they have to say / …in a world of mouths / I want to be an ear / if there’s a purpose to all of this / then that’s why God put me here.” What follows are nine stories about nine different individuals–a man who’s 3D-printed a model of a tumor that was removed from his neck, a couple having their first fight, a bride having second thoughts at the end of the world, and Jens himself facing up to some nameless fear. Each story is beautifully told, shot through with humor and empathy and sung over disco beats and obscure samples. In other words, it’s a standard Jens Lekman record. But to me it feels like the culmination of a lot of things, an example of so much that I love about music–it’s generous and optimistic, thoughtful and playful all at once. It also feels appropriate that my very favorite record this year was created by an artist I fell in love with at the same time I started writing this blog ten years ago. -Chris

mp3: Jens Lekman – To Know Your Mission

 

Logan’s Favorite Album of 2017

 

Rocket

by (Sandy) Alex G

[Domino]

I am often wrong. Looking back on my life, it’s largely a series of mistakes and well-intended but ultimately incorrect ideas punctuated by the occasional good decision. Marrying my wife? Good. Praying for new seasons of Arrested Development? Bad.

So it is with all of our previous year-end lists. For every album included on my list that has stood the test of time and which I find myself returning to over and over, there are two albums that are, at best, rarely revisited and at worst, regretfully remembered as having included them in the first place.

One positive of preparing my 2017 list over eight months after 2017 ended (sorry Chris!) is that I have spent more time with these albums than any in the past. I’ve really had time to come to the conclusion that yes, Rocket by (Sandy) Alex G is my most beloved album of 2017.

Eight months later I’m still amazed at what Alex G has created here. He has a folksy feel in his songs but each are twisted at times by other genres like psychedelia, pop, and even screamo/metal and they work beautifully together! It isn’t for everyone but this is one of the most brilliant albums of whatever year you’re reading this. -Logan

mp3:(Sandy) Alex G – Poison Root

 

The rest of the best….

 

 

Antisocialites

by Alvvays

[Polyvinyl]

Right after we moved to Seattle we caught Alvvays opening for Courtney Barnett at the Moore Theatre—at the time they only had their full-length debut to their name, but fully half their set was made up of new songs that all sounded remarkably fully-formed, like a natural extension of everything they were already doing. Those songs, “Dreams Tonite”, “Not My Baby” and “Saved By A Waif”, finally found their way onto this record—and they sound as good on wax as they did onstage. As a whole, Antisocialites is the perfect sequel to their self-titled—a logical extension of that record without repeating it, sharpening the lines and refining the edges, shaping this thing into weapons-grade indie pop. Whereas the highs on their first record towered over the valleys, Antisocialites is consistently gorgeous throughout, offering a record-full of indie pop delights, from the woozy organ that opens “In Undertow” to the widescreen wash-out of closer “Forget About Life.” It’s a perfect little record, and a complete pleasure from start to finish. -Chris

mp3: Alvvays – Not My Baby

 

Guppy

by Charly Bliss

[Barsuk]

I was 13 when Weezer released Pinkerton in 1996. In the wake of that album’s relative critical and commercial failure, Rivers Cuomo retreated, Matt Sharp left for the Rentals, and the band went on indefinite hiatus. It would be five years before Weezer released another record—which is an eternity when you go from seventh to twelfth grade in that same span. I cannot overstate the impact of Weezer’s absence on my adolescent musical self—they became something much more than the power pop band they actually were. They became myths, legends, heroes in exile. I would listen rapt as a friend recounted every detail of seeing them on the Pinkerton tour, I’d spend hours tracking down every B-side I could find on the nascent Napster. I tracked down the Meet The Deedles soundtrack just because it had a one-off song by Homie, a Rivers side project. (Side note: that song is called “American Girls” and it rules.)

And I wasn’t the only one. About this time there were tons of bands springing up in my part of the world trying to capture the magic of those first two Weezer records—bands like Ozma or Teen Heroes or The Promise Ring or anyone on the later Hey Brother compilations. I devoured this stuff, along with anything else I could get my hands on—The Rentals of course, but also That Dog or anyone on the DGC Rarities compilation. I was tirelessly trying to fill the Weezer-shaped hole in my musical heart.

While you certainly didn’t have to experience all that to enjoy Guppy, the insanely good debut album from Charly Bliss, knowing I did might give you a small glimpse into why I adore this record so much. This is the record I was looking for during all those years in the Weezer wilderness—with it’s unrelenting hooks and chiming riffs, with it’s wall-of-crunch rhythm guitar, with it’s songs named after women with no romantic connection (no way “Ruby” and “Julia” aren’t direct nods to “Jamie” and “Suzanne”). Guppy sounds like some lost masterpiece from 1997, something I would have stumbled on in a used CD bin at Warehouse Music and bought on a whim, then played incessantly in my blue Ford Explorer and burned to CD-R for any friend who’d let me with hand-drawn sharpie swirls and a title like THIS RULES. While most of the things in that sentence no longer exist, this album does, and well, IT RULES. -Chris

mp3: Charly Bliss – Black Hole

 

Lotta Sea Lice

by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

[Matador]

On paper, these two slacker guitar idols should make pretty awesome music together. In practice, they actually do! Sometimes things just work out! 🙂 -Chris

 

 

 

 

mp3: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Over Everything

 

Crack-up

by Fleet Foxes

[Nonesuch]

The first two Fleet Foxes records mean a whole lot to me. They each came along at just the right time for me and became the soundtrack to some pretty crucial times in my life. Now, almost ten years after their debut, their third LP has arrived—but into a very different world; a fractured and uncertain cultural moment, where the significance of an indie-folk record is easily questionable. What’s the purpose of a record like this when there are so many people suffering and afraid? What’s the purpose of art in a time where sacred institutions seem less certain than ever? It seems that Fleet Foxes’ chief songwriter, Robin Pecknold, has grappled with those same questions. With this record he said he wanted to use his “particular set of cultivated talents to make a Use Object, something useful, a balm, something experientially or aesthetically moving, a reprieve.”

Crack-up only sounds tangentially linked to the records that precede it. It’s uniformly gorgeous, but the song structures are loose, if they exist at all. The music exists in movements and themes more than distinct songs with verses or choruses. Motifs rise and fall, harmonies swell then grind to a halt, songs bleed into one another with very little to ground them. It’s difficult to parse, but taken as a whole, it’s not difficult to enjoy. That’s because every recorded sound is so lush, so full, so obviously loved into existence. I’ve listened to this record less like my other indie or folk records, and much more like my classical or jazz records – I’ve just let it play on repeat for long stretches at a time, letting the music just fill the house. In that sense, I’ve found it’s more than met Robin’s hopes- Crack-up has indeed been a reprieve and a balm. A place to retreat to in the best possible way. -Chris

mp3: Fleet Foxes – If You Need To, Keep Time On Me

 

The Far Field

by Future Islands

[4AD]

I’m tempted to discuss lead singer Samuel Herring’s dancing on David Letterman. It would be a fine intro and it was my first exposure to Future Islands, but that was over four years ago and gosh darn it, they deserve to be and are more than some electric moves. The bright pop of their last album, Singles, largely remains and though it’s familiar it’s still as delightful and peppy as it ever was, but the tone of the album is darker, moodier, and almost desperate at times. I’ve been drawn to this dynamic in the past. Music that sweeps you along with its poppy rhythms and a leading man pouring his heart out. At the time of The Far Field’s release, a lot of attention was given to the track “Through the Roses”. Rightly so. It’s a powerful song that delves into loneliness and the all-too-frequent and private terror we feel when we don’t believe we’re strong enough to continue. However, the track ends with a repeated statement that, although scared, “we can pull throughtogether.” The next entry I’m writing is largely concerned with butts and farts (see the Bob’s Burgers soundtrack below), so I thought it was okay to get a little serious and even us out. -Logan

mp3: Future Islands – Through the Roses

 

Everybody Works

by Jay Som

[Polyvinyl]

Melina Duterte’s first official album as Jay Som is a masterclass in name-that-influence indie rock. But she isn’t satisfied just pillaging the established indie-rock canon—instead she pulls from a wide array of influences, expanding the idea of what a bedroom pop record can sound like—pulling gleefully from dream-pop to punk, from lo-fi ambient to straight-up ‘80s throwback jams. It’s especially telling that in interviews Duterte cites everything from Carly Rae Jepsen to Phil Elverum to Yo La Tengo as influences, and Everybody Works could only have been made by such a pop omnivore.

The album’s highlight comes early and emphatically in “The Bus Song,” the single best encapsulation of what’s so special about Duterte—what starts out as a lo-fi exercise in indie rock guitar explodes into twinkling piano, multitracked harmonies and exultant brass figures, stretching into a bonified jam, complete with a fake-out ending and blissed out coda. Elsewhere her ideas shine just as bright but sometimes burn up a little too quickly (both “Lipstick Stains” and “Remain” are gorgeous but don’t stick around long enough to go much of anywhere). This renders the record more like a sketchbook than a finished piece, but that ultimately adds to its charm. Duterte sounds more interested in exploring than actually arriving anywhere specific, and Everybody Works explores some pretty breathtaking places. -Chris

mp3: Jay Som – The Bus Song

 

Harmony of Difference

by Kamasi Washington

[Young Turks]

My knowledge of jazz is neither deep nor broad — I can’t intelligently parse bop from hard bop, and I’m not totally sure what separates free jazz from jazz fusion. But the jazz records I love I really love. Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Davis’s Kind of Blue, Jobim’s Wave, plus a couple minor works from Dave Brubeck and Wes Montgomerythese have all become bulwarks of my musical taste, and I return to them often. Though I haven’t lived with it long, Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference seems to have already joined that small but illustrious group of records. In the short time it’s been in my life I’ve listened to it almost exclusively, letting it wash over me every chance I get. It somehow sounds like everything I needed this year—a missive against the noise and a balm for the bludgeoned soul. Though it’s not overtly political, its track titles (like “Humility,” “Knowledge” and “Integrity”) seem practically insurgent in today’s political climate—this reaches its climax in the final song, the 13-minute odyssey “Truth,” wherein Washington returns to the themes and motifs from earlier songs, this time joined by angelic choirs to drive home the messages contained in the melodies. Like I said earlier, I’m not nearly qualified to detail what makes a jazz record great, but like those other records I mentioned, I can tell this is one I’ll live inside for some time. -Chris

mp3: Kamasi Washington – Knowledge

 

Wonderful Wonderful

by The Killers

[Island]

Brandon Flowers is, in my opinion, the greatest living rock vocalist (if Freddie Mercury were still alive, Flowers would be the second-greatest living rock vocalist). I came to this conclusion in a conversation I had over 5 years ago with a friend who was trying to ‘frankenstein’ the world’s most perfect band. Flowers on vocal, Prince on guitar, etc. It was an interesting thought experiment and made a 3-hour road trip disappear but ultimately, a supergroup composed of Flowers, Prince, Dave Grohl, and Vinnie Paul would sound TERRIBLE.

But Wonderful Wonderful is far from terrible and having Flowers back at the helm of The Killers is fantastic. I’ve always been able to count on The Killers to provide intimate arena rock music. Big sounds, catchy hooks, and deeply personal and oftentimes sad music. This is best exemplified in the lead single, ‘The Man’. Flowers struts and swaggers through this bombastic song with obvious self-consciousness and such insecurity that it’s humorous and unbelievably enjoyable. We still have moments to see the mature and overtly introspective Flowers beautifully bear his feelings in songs like “Rut” and “Some Kind of Love” but the greatness of this album comes during the swelling choruses of hits like “Tyson Vs. Douglas” and “Run for Cover”.

With all that said, how much better would this album have been with Tom Morello on guitar and Max Weinberg on drums? (A: Not better. Probably terrible.) -Logan

mp3: The Killers – The Man

 

American Dream

by LCD Soundsystem

[Columbia/DFA]

As far as I’m concerned, “Call The Police” single-handedly justifies the resurrection of LCD Soundsystem. If it were the only good song on American Dream—LCD’s first record since their supposed-swan-song seven years ago—I’d be disappointed, but I’d still be grateful. It’s just incredible—taking all of James Murphy’s swing-for-the-fences moves and channeling them through Another Green World-era Eno and using that to light a fuse that takes a full seven minutes to combust. When I finally saw them last summer they played it alongside classics like “Someone Great” and “Dance Yrself Clean” and it absolutely sounded like it belonged in that rarefied air. But “Call The Police” is not the only good song on American Dream, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s co-single “American Dream” is just as stunning, if a touch less grand; “Tonite” is the best pop single to ever dissect what it means to be a pop single; “Emotional Haircut” is the best song title of the year (and also a great track), and “Oh Baby” is, almost certainly, one of the absolute best songs Murphy has ever put to tape. Maybe even better than “Call The Police.” Maybe. -Chris

mp3: LCD Soundsystem – Call The Police

 

Melodrama

by Lorde

[Republic/Lava]

If you want to get me feeling melodramatic, have my wife and kids leave for a week while I stay home to work. This is what usually happens: Day 1 is fun, I spend way too many hours in record stores, get Chinese take-out, order too much, watch some music documentary that my wife probably wouldn’t be interested in, and fall asleep on the couch in my jeans. This seems fun until like Day 4 when I’m still eating that same Chinese take-out, but now I’m re-watching The Wonder Years on Netflix, choking up at every grown-up Kevin platitude and trying not to lose it before the week is out.

This year, Lorde happened to release her sophomore record, Melodrama, on the very same week my wife happened to be out of town, and boy did this thing mess me up. I bought it primarily on the promise of “Green Light” (which is basically perfect), but songs like “The Louvre” and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” and “Writer In The Dark” absolutely floored me with their beautiful idiosyncrasy, both musically and lyrically. Nobody’s making pop music like this right now, and although most of these songs will probably never be hits, they strike that perfect alchemy in pop music, sounding both melancholy and exultant at the same time, making every moment feel so much bigger than it actually is. It’s, well, a bit melodramatic. Which is exactly what I need sometimes. -Chris

mp3: Lorde – The Louvre

 

Goths

by The Mountain Goats

[Merge]

John Darnielle’s gifts as a lyricist are profound and profoundly needed. His ability to empathize with the sidelined and the forgotten, to give eloquent voice to those usually ignored in particular, is more needed than ever. In the past his narrators have ranged from young heroin addicts to doomed pop stars, from professional wrestlers to the poor guy in Super Mario who waits in a dungeon just to relay that he’s not the princess the hero is looking for. Darnielle not only treats these characters with compassion and respect, but draws us so fully into their world that their tragedies become our own, compelling and painfully relatable.

This time around Darnielle’s unlikely muse is the Southern California goth scene in the 80s. He uses its brief cultural moment and those who participated in it to poignantly explore themes of mortality and the passage of time, of coming to terms with loss—not just of people and things, but of identity and place. Ultimately it’s a record about being a part of something—a music scene, sure, but just as easily a community, a class, a family—and coming to terms when that something ends. People grow up, move on, die. Neighborhoods morph and change, buildings get torn down, miles separate you and those you were once closest to. Things that once seemed immutable eventually fade away and the world keeps spinning. Take this short bit from “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds:”

“There’s a rusted fog machine

In a concrete storage space,

Letter-number combinations

With no meaning on its face,

They won’t make these anymore

It’s a wooden coach-n-four,

No-one will even steal it

If you leave it by the door,

No sign to mark it’s going

No tombstone for its grave,

There will be goodbyes by dozens

So practice being brave,

No-one anticipates the rush

The breezy feeling of the faceless crush,

At the end of things, where the salvage bleeds,

Andrew Eldritch is moving back to Leeds.”

Like most of the best art, Goths is simply about being mortal—it’s just wrapped up in studs and eyeliner and platform shoes. We all hope we’re part of something special, but like Darnielle sings over a beautiful brass section on the last song, “however big that chorused bass may throb, you and me and all of us are gonna have to find a job.” -Chris

mp3: Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds

 

Sleep Well Beast

by The National

[4AD]

If you follow any members of the National on Instagram, you’ve likely witnessed the building of Aaron Dessner’s new studio in upstate New York—a pretty and understated little structure overlooking a wooded pond. The building is fairly classic and looks a bit rustic in the pastoral context, but there are some little details like its asymmetric window that give it a more angular, modern feel. It reminds me a bit of the music that was recorded within its walls, the songs that eventually found their way onto Sleep Well Beast (and not just because the studio came to grace the records cover). In general, these songs sound fairly natural and intuitive, like they’ve always existed, but each has some subtle details that set it apart from anything else in the National’s catalog. A great example is “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” which sounds just like a classic National anthem while at the same time sounding nothing like any National song before it (it even has a bonafide guitar solo!). My personal favorite is “I’ll Still Destroy You”—a glitchy slow burn that winds between Berninger’s evocative non-sequiturs and these euphoric melodic lifts before descending into noisy mayhem for the last minute or so. It’s a mess but it’s completely perfect, and it’s got my favorite line on the whole album (“I’m just trying to stay in touch with anything I’m still in touch with”). In some other iteration these songs would have slotted nicely onto other National records… but just the way they are, they could only ever belong right here. -Chris

mp3: The National – I’ll Still Destroy You

 

Moonshine Freeze

by This Is The Kit

[Rough Trade]

Bashed Out was my favorite record of 2015 by a good margin — so I had high expectations for Kate Stables’ next go-round as This Is The Kit. I’m happy to say that Moonshine Freeze  is at least on par with that amazing record, and in some ways surpasses it.

For one, the music is more buoyant. For example, on the Aaron Dessner-produced Bashed Out there were plenty of horns, but it was primarily used for texture and shading (much like Dessner’s full-time band)—here the brass takes a more central role, sometimes calling back and forth with Stables’ purr of a voice, other times stealing the show entirely (as in “Hotter Colder” or “Two Pence Piece”). And let’s talk about the rhythms on here—Stables’ music has always been deceptively rhythmic (she has more in common with krautrock than straight-up folk music in my opinion), but the stuff here is entirely different—some of these songs, like “Moonshine Freeze”, legitimately swing, and it’s a treat to hear her cut loose like that.

In other places, the instrumentation might have fit on any of Stables’ earlier releases, but her lyricism has never been sharper—as on opener “Bullet Proof” or “Easy On The Thieves”. I had the privilege of seeing her perform twice this year, and both times the thing that struck me most (aside from how tight her band sounds), was how perfectly written these new songs are. Each one is a gem, and I’m grateful she blessed us with 11 new ones this year. -Chris

mp3: This Is The Kit – Bullet Proof

 

The Bob’s Burgers Music Album

by Various Artists

[Sub Pop]

If you don’t smile just a little bit at butt jokes, you probably won’t find much to love about Bob’s Burgers.

Now approaching its eighth season (eighth!), Bob’s Burgers is still just as quick and hilarious as it was when its first episode premiered, but it really wasn’t until this album was released that I realized how perfectly the showrunners incorporated music into Bob’s Burgers. Other television shows have included original songs with varying degrees of success; however, no television show has so frequently and reliably created songs that only ever add to the humor and heart of the show. The tracks that will get the most attention are those sung by the Belchers and the other members of Bob’s Burgers weird and wonderful cast of characters. Linda’s Thanksgiving carols, Gene’s ode to farts, the fictional boy band Boyz 4 Now, and of course the transcendent “Electric Love”. But the songs that serve as an accompaniment to the myriad of antics we find the characters getting up to are perfectly implemented. “Lifting Up the Skirt of the Night” and “Groping for Glory”, can almost be missed since they’re played during montages but they compliment the scene and take funny situations to another level. Other artists have discovered the brilliance of Bob’s Burgers and lent their talents to the show and this album through some covers (The National, St. Vincent, Cyndi Lauper are just a few).

I’ve always held the position that in order to create a great parody song, you’ve got to thoroughly understand the genre your parodying and the writers of Bob’s Burgers have nailed it every time. -Logan

mp3: Bob’s Burgers – Electric Love

 

A Deeper Understanding

by The War On Drugs

[Atlantic]

If you read only one thing about this album, don’t waste your time here. Go read Michael Nelson’s review on Stereogum. Trust me. It’s great.

Alright, did you read it? And you’re back here? For more? That’s crazy, because that thing was a Master’s thesis or something (but with more YouTube links)…. so I’ll just keep this short. I’d never really gotten into TWOD’s 2014 hit Lost In The Dream–every time I’d listen to it I’d think “wow, I don’t remember this being so good,” but afterward I’d barely be able to recall what impressed me so much. I considered this a weakness and ended up not returning to it often. But something in Nelson’s review flipped a switch for me. It was this: “These songs (are) like recurring dreams. I know what’s going to happen, and yet (even after listening about 4,000 times in the last three years) I have no idea what’s going to happen. Every time, they sound new.” That same ambient ambiguity that had turned me off was what imbued these songs with durability for Nelson. I’ve since returned to Lost In The Dream and had a totally different experience. That record might be a masterpiece. And A Deeper Understanding definitely is.

It’s evident right in the opener, “Up All Night,” when it takes a Hornsby-ish piano line and somehow spins it into a fuzzed-out krautrock jam. It’s evident on the second track, “Pain,” when the guitar solo that closes it out stacks up over and over and over like a ridiculous jenga game that should topple but somehow never does, until it circles back to the main lick, now oozing with some kind of chorus effect and sending shivers down my spine every time. It’s evident on “Strangest Thing” when every last element of that song builds so inevitably to the its climax at 4:28 that when it finally hits it feels like the entire world just clicked into place. It’s evident in the alternating bass and glockenspiel arpeggios that wind their way beneath the chorus of “Clean Living,” like the beating heart under its beautiful melody (fwiw: the bass playing on this record is uniformly excellent, which certainly warms this latent bass player’s heart). Basically every second of recorded music on A Deeper Understanding is evidence of some kind of genius. So don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t write it off. -Chris

mp3: The War On Drugs – Pain

 

The Laughing Apple

by Yusuf/Cat Stevens

[Cat-O-Log Records/Decca]

Cat Stevens fans, as you may already know, are a passionate and belligerent group, so I’m about to ruffle some feathers when I make the bold proclamation that The Laughing Apple is the greatest Yusuf/Cat Stevens album since Teaser and Firecat was released in 1971.

Now, as my fellow Yusuf-ians are sharpening their pitchforks, let me defend myself. Many fans will recognize that about half of the tracks on this album are actually some of Cat’s earliest work. Back when, for every two songs about love, loneliness, and isolation, he wrote a song about an archaeologist digging up moonstones or anthropomorphic smiling fruit. I understand the exclusion of those tracks back then (they range from the simple to the silly) but now, on an album written by a grandfather, they make perfect bedtime lullabies to be sung to a beloved little one. There are plenty of musicians and rock stars that become grandfathers but few embody that mantle quite like Yusuf, and it’s the heart and soul of this album. His devotion to that sacred role is evident throughout The Laughing Apple.

There are warnings, there is advice, but weaved throughout every song is love, which is the most grandfatherly thing ever. Cat Stevens has lived the life of a rock star but we find him at his happiest as a grandfather (and c’mon, the man is still a rock star). -Logan

mp3: Yusuf / Cat Stevens – Mary and the Little Lamb

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WiAC 2014 Songs HeaderWell we weren’t planning on doing a favorite songs post for 2014, but then Logan sent me an email with his favorite songs and some brief write-ups, then I couldn’t help doing the same, and before we knew it, we had a list that we both agreed should probably be shared. But we didn’t want to do too much more work, so we present to you our favorite 30-ish songs from 2014, un-ranked and accompanied by our first-draft non-proof-read write-ups!

Logan’s list is on top, Chris’s is on bottom, and both are in alphabetical order. Click on and enjoy!

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