Fly-By: Still here, just…

…busy and distracted with a lot of different things at the moment, including two projects and submission research, leaving me with little extra brain juice to come up with anything exciting to post about. Sorry for the lack of posts this month! I’ll try to get back on the ball next week!

(In the meantime, posting a fun boppy tune by Oceanator I discovered a few weeks ago that I’m really digging. Enjoy!)

Spare Oom Playlist, January 2021 Edition

It’s about that time to post a monthly update of what I’ve been listening to over the past few weeks! This got me thinking a little bit about how the pandemic has affected the music biz over the last year, specifically in fact that it seems the heavy lean towards quarterly sales that we’ve long experienced has significantly changed. In the past, some bands would wait until Q4 for maximum sales or until just before they head out on tour to drop an album, but now many bands (and labels) have realized that the worst thing they could do is wait. So instead we’re seeing a slow but steady trickling of records and singles coming in early in the year. And instead of touring, they’re making special video appearances, whether as a pay-to-stream concert or as a remote connection to their fans.

Has this changed the sound of music? I think it has, in different ways. Productionwise, I’m hearing a significant change in the shape of the sound picture (as they call it): instead of everything glossed into a perfect letterboxed stereo production, it sounds more organic; maybe even a little rough around the edges. These are musicians recording on ProTools in their back offices instead of in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. That’s not to say it sounds worse; in fact, it sounds refreshing in an odd way. Like it’s a little more real and a little less flashy.

Compositionally, I think there’s a lot more introspection, which is not a big surprise at all. It’s been a hell of a year since this pandemic started, and not every musician is going to be in the mood for writing in their usual style. Being a writer stuck at home makes one rethink their creativity, both as a career move and as a creator. [I can confirm for instance that my own writing style has definitely shifted between last March and today.] In the process these new albums may sound less grandiose and more contemplative.

Sometimes I wonder if all of this will change the music industry significantly enough to cause a monumental shift in how it works and how musicians can work within it. The fallout of this pandemic has definitely changed the process of a lot of things; I’m only hoping that it’s changed the music, and the industry, for the better.

Let’s begin…

Wax Tailor, The Shadow of Their Suns, released 8 January. Wax Tailor kind of reminds me of bands like UNKLE and tweaker in that it’s essentially a one-person production (French trip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoût) featuring a rotating cast of musicians and guest singers. It’s somewhat darker and less goofy than previous albums (Dusty Rainbow from the Dark veered more in the quirky direction of The Avalanches).

Grandbrothers, All the Unknown, released 15 January. This was an amazing find! They’re a jazz duo with a mindset similar to GoGo Penguin in that their music is infused with elements of techno. In this instance, it’s literally an organic infusion: all the noises you hear are played on a grand piano and processed through samplers, with the piano melody laid on top. [If you want to understand what I mean, watch this video as it shows just how the above song was created sonically.] It’s an amazing album and it’s getting a lot of repeat plays here in Spare Oom.

Matthew Sweet, Catspaw, released 15 January. Good to hear that Sweet is still writing fun and groovy pop after all these years. It’s a fun album full of his trademark quirkiness and wit.

Shame, Drunk Tank Pink, released 15 January. A few years on from their stellar punk debut and they sound better than ever. This one’s a hell of a lot more angular but it’s just as racous and fun.

(G)I-DLE, I Burn EP, released 15 January. This K-Pop girl group releases another fantastic EP of catchy beats and attitude.

Arlo Parks, Collapsed in Sunbeams, released 29 January. Funky, groovy and laid back alternative soul that’s also catchy as hell. “Hurt” is one of my current earworms and I have no complaints!

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, I Told You So, released 29 January. More funk, this time with a Seattle trio that really sinks into that boozy jazz groove. Also check out their damn fine cover of Wham!’s “Careless Whisper”!

Steven Wilson, The Future Bites, released 29 January. Wilson, these days better known as the guy behind all those award-winning 5.1 remasters of classic albums (oh yeah, and former Porcupine Tree leader) constantly recreates himself with every new solo project, and it’s always a pleasant surprise. (This particular video is a lot of fun, considering all the unexpected facial cameos!)

*

Stay tuned for February’s playlist in a few weeks — looks like there’s some more great records dropping this month!

Let the Golden Age Begin

Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.

I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.

This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.

A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.

Fly-by: Taking next week off

I’ve decided to take next week off for a few reasons: One, it’s my birthday on the 22nd. Two, we’ll be installing the new President (Version 46, now available with Vastly Improved Intelligence Capability) and I feel like celebrating that. And Three, I just want to get some offline creative work done and get myself caught up.

See you in a week!

Headhunter

Getting a job during the pandemic has been an interesting job in itself, to be honest. I know I’m not the only one looking for remote work, and I know I’m not the only one who’s getting up there in years looking for work, either. And in the meantime, I’ve been honing my creative skills to open up that market just a little bit more.

I’ve been getting the occasional employment agency reaching out to me, whether by email or by phone, to offer various positions. Some of them have been tempting but not in the direction I want to go…and some have been a hard pass (I’m looking at you, “the hours would be 7PM to 6AM PST”). And some have been tempting but end in “we’ve chosen someone with a bit more experience”.

Still — it does feel good to get a positive connection and potential position every now and again.

Escape from Noise

We had a day yesterday, here in the US. A lot of us are still trying to process it.

Sometimes you need to escape from the noise that comes after an event like this. It’s not healthy to keep doomscrolling and tweeting and blogging when you’re already running on fumes. It’s okay if you need to unplug. Adding your own words isn’t always necessary…there’s no reason you have to prove your stance to anyone if your friends and family already know what it is. They’ll understand.

It’s still okay for you to keep posting your art or your music or your stories, whether or not you’re a pro in the field or just starting out, or even if you’re doing it to feel better. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Being angry and being creative can coexist, whether together or separately. We all process traumas in different ways, whichever works best for ourselves. If you’re getting yelled at by people online because you’ve posted your WIP or a song or a cat gif instead of an angry screed, you have every right and reason to mute, unfollow and/or block them. You are under no obligation to have any preset level of feels about anything that happens in life if they don’t work for you…or if they make your life and health worse.

We’re all in this together. Others are already being angry for you if you just don’t have the spoons right now. Go ahead and create. Celebrate that. Find a way to process these events in your own way.

We’ll be here, together, when the dust settles again.

Listening at the start of the year

So the Best of Year mixtapes have been made, the top albums/songs lists have been made, and the new year is upon us. No new albums have dropped — at least none of import other than a few playlist EPs and one or two reissues — and it’s probably going to be another week or so before any major releases hit the internet shopping carts.

I’m always torn between wanting to listen to new things or reminiscing with older releases. Sometimes there will be a few late-in-the-year releases, like 2019’s Everyday Life by Coldplay or last year’s McCartney III that became favorites. But more often than not I’ll just stick with the mixtapes and the internet radio.

Quite often when I do this, I’ll stumble across a release I somehow missed over the last few years, and those are always a great discovery. I rarely have those nowadays, considering how musically plugged in I can be. In my high school and college days, I spent just as much time discovering new bands as much as I did catching up with old releases I should know about. Sometimes that will garner a download or two, or if I’m really drawn to the music, I’ll do a discography deep-dive.

So it’s not as if I’ve run out of things to listen to…I just get a bit untethered about it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Best of 2020 and Singles Mix

Source: cover of ‘Ultra Mono’ by Idles. The image seems to fit this year’s events quite accurately.

What a weirdass year. Yeah? Let’s not do that again. Or if we have to, let’s do it without so much of the drama, okay?

ANYWAY. Here it is, the last day of the year, and I’m squeezing this post in during the last few remaining hours of the day/month/year. I don’t use Spotify that much at all so I don’t have any “this is what you listened to most” (or, to follow the recent meme, the “your playlist sucks because…”). I know I listened to KEXP the most, with the rest of my mp3 collection coming a close second. The station kept me sane, somewhat distracted, and in a calm mood for the most part, for which I thank them, especially morning DJ John Richards and midday DJ Cheryl Waters.

Do I have anything left to say about 2020? Not really. It was a year of difference and change for me and I’ve already talked about it over at Welcome to Bridgetown. Other than that…I just want to keep moving forward.

So! Here’s the top albums, songs, and a few other bits of enjoyment that kept me going this past year. Enjoy! (NOTE: I left off the YouTube links on the mixtape on the second half here, but I may edit them in at a later date.)

TOP ALBUMS:
20. Hum, Inlet
19. PVRIS, Use Me
18. Indigo Girls, Look Long
17. Phish, Sigma Oasis
16. Nation of Language, Introduction, Presence
15. Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor
14. HAIM, Women in Music Pt III
13. Taylor Swift, Folklore/Evermore
12. Sault, Untitled (Rise)
11. Pearl Jam, Gigaton
10. Idles, Ultra Mono
9. Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)
8. Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber
7. The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers
6. Bob Moses, Desire EP
5. BRONSON, BRONSON
4. K-DA, All Out EP
3. EoB, Earth
2. Deserta, Black Aura My Sun
1. Doves, The Universal Want

TOP SINGLES
20. Deserta, “Monica”
19. Green Day, “Father of All…”
18. EoB, “Olympik”
17. HAIM, “The Steps”
16. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance”
15. Secret Machines, “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive”
14. The Psychedelic Furs, “You’ll Be Mine”
13. Sault, “Free”
12. Bombay Bicycle Club, “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong”
11. Bob Mould, “American Crisis”
10. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
9. Hayley Williams, “Simmer”
8. K-DA, “The Baddest”
7. BRONSON, “Dawn”
6. The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited”
5. K-DA, “More”
4. Fontaines DC, “Televised Mind”
3. Bob Moses & ZHU, “Desire”
2. Doves, “Carousels”
1. Idles, “Grounds”

….and more Best-Ofs…

Welcome Returns: Bands Reformed/Reactivated and Newly Recorded
Stabbing Westaward, Dead and Gone EP
Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida
The Boomtown Rats, Citizens of Boomtown
X, Alphabetland
Badly Drawn Boy, Banana Skin Shoes
Hum, Inlet
Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber
Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP
Michael Penn, “A Revival”
Midnight Oil, The Makarrata Project EP
The Network, Money Money 2020 Pt II: We Told Ya So!

Surviving the Pandemic: What Kept Me Going
Elbow, #elbowrooms videos
Crowded House, Live from Home videos
Seatbelts, Session Starducks videos
KEXP, Live from the Front Yard series

Box Sets, Reissues, and Remasters
Depeche Mode, MODE
Supergrass, The Strange Ones 1994-2008
Porcupine Tree, In Absentia (Deluxe Edition)
The Primitives, Bloom! The Full Syory 1985-1992
Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection)
Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)
John Lennon, Gimme Some Truth (Deluxe)

***

THE SINGLES 2020

SIDE A
1. Secret Machines, “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive”
2. The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited”
3. Bob Moses & ZHU, “Desire”
4. Fontaines DC, “Televised Mind”
5. Idles, “Grounds”
6. Bob Mould, “American Crisis”
7. Pearl Jam, “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
8. Bombay Bicycle Club, “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong”
9. K-DA, “More”
10. Deserta, “Monica”
11. Cut Copy, “Love Is All We Share”

SIDE B
1. Doves, “Carousels”
2. The Psychedelic Furs, “You’ll Be Mine”
3. Green Day, “Father of All…”
4. Pet Shop Boys, “Will-O-the-Wisp”
5. Sault, “Free”
6. Hayley Williams, “Simmer”
7. HAIM, “The Steps”
8. Run the Jewels, “Ooh LA LA”
9. Nation of Language, “The Wall & I”
10. BRONSON, “Dawn”

SIDE C
1. Annie, “The Countdown to the End of the World”
2. EoB, “Shangri-La”
3. Hinds, “Good Bad Times”
4. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
5. Green Day, “Oh Yeah!”
6. Semisonic, “You’re Not Alone”
7. beabadoobee, “Worth It”
8. Billie Eilish, “My Future”
9. Bruce Springsteen, “Letter to You”
10. Hum, “Step Into You”
11. Cults, “Spit You Out”
12. Paul McCartney, “Find My Way”

SIDE D
1. BRONSON, “Heart Attack”
2. Secret Machines, “Everything Starts”
3. Pearl Jam, “Superblood Wolfmoon”
4. Gorillaz, “Désolé”
5. GoGo Penguin, “Atomised”
6. Hotels, “Queens (West African Peanut Soup)”
7. Idles, “A Hymn”
8. Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto”
9. Working Men’s Club, “John Cooper Clarke”
10. The Avalanches, “Interstellar Love”

SIDE E
1. Gorillaz, “Strange Timez”
2. Billie Joe Armstrong, “Kids in America”
3. Throwing Muses, “Dark Blue”
4. Hayley Williams, “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”
5. Glass Animals, “Your Love (Déjà Vu)”
6. Phantogram, “Ceremony”
7. Doves, “Universal Want””
8. Deserta, “Save Me”
9. EoB, “Olympik”

SIDE F
1. Gerogia, “About Work the Dancefloor”
2. K-DA, “The Baddest”
3. I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, “Leave Me Alone”
4. Holy Fuck, “Luxe”
5. The Naked and Famous, “Recover”
6. Future Islands, “For Sure”
7. Michael Penn, “A Revival”
8. Kestrels, “Don’t Dream”
9. Soccer Mommy, “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes”
10. Supercrush, “Be Kind to Me”
11. Wire, “Cactused”

SIDE G
1. I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, “Nobody Likes the Opening Band”
2. Secret Machines, “Everything’s Under”
3. Gorillaz, “Aries”
4. PVRIS, “Use Me”
5. Tunde Adebimpe, “People”
6. Semisonic, “Basement Tapes”
7. Destroyer, “Crimson Tide”
8. Pearl Jam, “Alright”
9. Annie, “The Streets Where I Belong”
10. Ty Segall, “Jump Into the Fire”
11. BRONSON, “Keep Moving”

SIDE H
1. Indigo Girls, “Look Long”
2. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, “Texas Sun”
3. Hinds, “Spanish Bombs”
4. The Avalanches, “Running Red Lights”
5. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance”
6. Idles, “Mr. Motivator”
7. Bob Mould, “Next Generation”
8. Stone Temple Pilots, “Perdida”
9. Phish, “Leaves”
10. Jónsi & Elizabeth Fraser, “Cannibal”
11. Death Cab for Cutie, “Fall On Me”

***

See ya on the flip side, y’all.

End of Year Review IV

Whew! It’s another long one, as September had quite a few great records that dropped, some of which I had to skip due to space. This was definitely not your typical fourth quarter, as we weren’t inundated with thousands of new releases looking for a quick cash-in or a spin on the charts. In any other year, I’m sure the sales departments would be tearing out their hair because of this, but instead, we’re all running with what we’ve got, and in the process we’re getting some solid records out of it.

Throwing Muses, Sun Racket, released 4 September. I always love when Kristin Hersh releases a Muses record, because it’s always guaranteed to be weird and noisy fun!

Doves, The Universal Want, released 11 September. Another 90s fan and critic favorite returns with a surprise record that just blasts so many other 2020 records out of the park. This album contains the same power and drive of their previous albums, and it was well worth the wait. It’s one of my favorites of the year.

Sault, Untitled (Rise), released 18 September. The second of two Sault albums dropping this year, this one is slightly shorter and features more pop and radio-friendly tunes.

Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP, released 18 September. Yet another great surprise return! This is a super fun EP full of catchy melodies.

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts, released 25 September. After several loud-but-introspective records from Mould, he lets out all his anger and frustration over the current administration and the pathetic situation it’s gotten us into. A powerful record and one of his best.

Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition), released 25 September. If there’s one record I’ve been waiting for all year, it’s this one. If you thought the original 1987 record was amazing, this one provides so much more that went into making it, including tracks from the aborted Camille, Crystal Ball and Dream Factory projects, plus a complete live show.

IDLES, Ultra Mono, released 25 September. A fantastic third album from this Bristol band, one that’s no less aggressive than their previous but also inserts some surprisingly heartfelt melodies and lyrics as well. “Grounds” is in my top ten of the year, not to mention my Top Song To Crank Up Insanely Loud.

Annie, Dark Hearts, released 16 October. A lovely and dreamy record produced by Stefan Storm of The Sound of Arrows, and one that’s been playing during my writing sessions for the new projects. I definitely need to check out her back catalogue!

Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You, released 23 October. Some of Bruce’s best songs are when he’s in an introspective mood, and this year has been a perfect time for that. This record kind of reminds me of Tunnel of Love, in that it’s got some great radio-friendly tunes but also some dark and ponderous songs as well.

Michael Penn, “A Revival” single, released 28 October. We haven’t heard any new music from Penn in years, so this surprise release hits just that much harder. Extra points for being quite possibly the only rock musician to use the word “commonweal”!

K-DA, All Out EP, released 6 November. I’m finding myself drawn more and more to k-pop and this kind of genre, especially when it’s produced to sound absolutely effing amazing in headphones and speakers. This project could easily be so throwaway, yet the songwriters behind it all keep pushing out such fun sounds!

The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You, released 11 December. This quirky group releases yet another stellar record packed with cameos, guests and unexpected samples, and it’s all sorts of fun.

Paul McCartney, McCartney III, released 18 December. Like 1970’s original and 1980’s II, this is a solo record in the truest sense of the word, done on his own during the pandemic (or “recorded in rockdown”, as the teaser says…). It’s Macca doing what he loves best, experimenting with sounds and soundscapes.

*

Thanks for sticking around! We’ll have one more post on Thursday, this one being my end-of-year lists and mixtape track listing!