What I’ve been listening to, part four

September was one hell of a great month for new releases! So much so that it gets its own post! Here we go…

Tricky, Fall to Pieces, released 4 September. His first record after the death of his daughter is a dark and somber affair, but it’s also about healing from that pain.

Throwing Muses, Sun Racket, released 4 September. It’s indeed a racket, with Kristin Hersh turning up the volume and kicking out some great noisy tunes reminiscent of their early 4AD records.

Doves, The Universal Want, released 11 September. They haven’t released a record in ages, having been on a hyperextended hiatus, but the new album is so worth the wait! They haven’t lost their touch at all.

Cults, Host, released 18 September. This band has a way of merging alternapop sensibilities with experimental sounds, and it works like a charm here.

Sault, Untitled (Rise), released 18 September. As mentioned previously, no one really knows much of anything about this band at all, other than that their output is prolific (this is their fourth album in the span of two years!) and it’s all amazing. Highly recommended.

Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP, released 18 September. Wait — Semisonic released a new EP?? Dan Wilson is still an amazing songwriter and this is certainly a welcome return!

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts, released 25 September. Oh man, this was the punk album we definitely needed at this point in time. Mould is pissed off and this is the angriest album he’s dropped probably since Black Sheets of Rain.

Prince, Sign ‘o’ the Times Super Deluxe Reissue, released 25 September. I posted about this one previously, and it was well worth the wait. The deep dive into alternative versions, demos, live tracks and unreleased songs will take you a few days, but it’s a fascinating ride.

Idles, Ultra Mono, released 25 September. These guys deliver powerful lyrics and brick-wall noise, but they have a super-strong conscience that they’ve never lost in any of their songs. Also, check out the video for ‘A Hymn’, which shows their softer side by riding along with their parents on a mundane grocery run during the pandemic.

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Whew! Yeah, that was a great month. More tunage to come later in the season!

What I’ve been listening to, part three

Coming back with a few more releases that have been getting some considerable repeat play here in Spare Oom!

BRONSON, BRONSON, released 7 August. A new side project of Odesza and Golden Features, the cool smoothness of this record is perfect both for relaxation and for my writing sessions!

Glass Animals, Dreamland, released 7 August. They’re a quirky band with weird sounds and vocal deliveries, and yet they’re consistently catchy and fun.

Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber, released 21 August. I had no idea they’d been working on a new record, and it’s just as bold and soaring as their previous releases. And like them, it sounds great when it’s loud!

Cut Copy, Freeze, Melt, released 21 August. This record is a much more chill and laid back affair, but it’s got some of their most gorgeous melodies on it! Another great writing session album!

Bob Moses, Desire EP, released 28 August. This is one of my “I will buy anything they release” bands, and this continuous-mix collection is so worth it. They’ve become one of my go-to bands for many of my recent writing projects!

PVRIS, Use Me, releases 28 August. Another great moody semi-electronic alt-rock band (from Lowell MA!) with a lot of groovy and atmospheric tunes.

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I was going to add more here, but I realized that September is gonna need its own entry (or two) because there was just SO MUCH that came out that I fell in love with! More to come soon!

Fly-by: Local Music

I’m a little busy today with a few projects, so in the meantime I’ll share a recent find: a band called The Reds, Pinks & Purples. They’re a semi-lofi band that’s not quite shoegaze and not quite dreampop. I’d say they bear a very remarkable resemblance to 80s bedsit-rockers Felt, which is a big plus in my book.

They’re also a local band…so local, they come from my neighborhood! Their latest album You Might Be Happy Someday just dropped a week or so ago and it’s quite lovely, but part of what won me over is the cover, taken on the corner of 5th Ave and Balboa, a little over a mile away from our house! (Their other releases have similar cover pictures of houses and shops in the Richmond District, which I also think is kind of cool!)

Go check ’em out!

Mixtapes for writing projects

I’ve made mixtape ‘soundtracks’ for pretty much every writing project I’ve worked on, even for those that I ended up trunking. When I’m coming up with a new story, I will usually already know what mood the story will take. For Meet the Lidwells I already planned for the story to take place in the 90s, so I gathered a number of my favorite songs from that decade that I knew would fit the feel of the story, not to mention what The Lidwells’ music itself would sound like. (“Grapevine”, for instance, is a mash-up between The House of Love’s “You Don’t Understand” and The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection”, both of which are on the mixtape.)

Theadia is no different. This story is going to be a bit different from anything else I’ve written, so the sounds are going to be a bit futuristic, maybe a bit weird and dreamlike. There are a number of dance tunes on there as well, which is very unlike me in terms of mixtapes…I use a lot of electronica and its numerous offshoots in my mixes, but rarely of the “get on the floor” type. Even the slow and shoegazey tunes seem more uplifting and less moody.

Here are a few selections from Theadia: Music from the Waystation. Enjoy!

Secret Machines’ “3 4 5 Let’s Stay Alive” has that Epic Opening Track sound: heavy, grand, and loud. But it also has an overwhelmingly positive message, which is what I was looking for.

Haelos; “End of World Party” is the kind of dance track I’m talking about above. There are a couple of tracks from this band on this particular mix.

Sault’s “I Just Want to Dance” works for me because it happens to capture the thrill of the dance floor (in a very retro way, in this case) yet goes about it in a different and unique way.

The Pretenders’ “Message of Love” is an unexpected left turn for me, as it sticks out amongst all the other more recent tracks, but its gritty bounciness and its positivity works as one of the story’s themes.

Bob Moses’ “Hold Me Up” is similar to Haelos in that it’s a darker dance sound, and one that’s easy to get lost in.

Doves’ “Universal Want” is a moody rock tune hidden near the back end of the mixtape, put there on purpose as a way to say “we’ve sat through most of these songs and moods but this here is the main theme of the entire story.”

BRONSON’s “Dawn” is the last track for the same reason the Secret Machines track was the first: it’s a gorgeous and epic closer that serves as an ending theme. The “Never give it up / Save yourself from doubt” acapella coda is the theme of Theadia in a nutshell.

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Of course, as is typical for me, there is a chance there will be a Volume 2 mixtape. There almost always is. The Infamous War Novel had at least four different iterations. In My Blue World has two volumes. The Mendaihu Universe has…quite a few. Why do I make these, anyway? Well, mostly for something to listen to while I’m working on the project, to get me in the right frame of mind. But they’re also a lot of fun to listen to on their own, pretending they’re Official Motion Picture Soundtracks! Heh.

F**k that noise.

So the Chancellor of the Exchequer over in the UK said this morning that “struggling musicians and others in arts should retrain and get new jobs” because of the pandemic.

I mean, putting aside the most obvious response of “Hmm, oh that’s right, it’s a global pandemic and every country’s having mass unemployment issues and THERE CURRENTLY AREN’T ENOUGH DAMN JOBS YOU TWIT”, there’s the more insidious meaning to the man’s words that every creative person hears and hates: your creativity is a useless endeavor.

I tend to hear this kind of thing at least a few times a year, almost always from some conservative and/or businessman who does nothing but look at numbers for a living. Hell, I even got it from a school guidance counselor or two: are you sure you want to be a writer? It doesn’t pay much. Don’t you want to go into business or something more stable and make more money?

Let me tell you about what it feels like to have to push your creativity into the margins because people like this see creativity as frivolous.

There’s frustration: the fact that you have to spend eight or more hours a day using a completely different part of the brain problem-solving or processing or what have you at a paying job you don’t necessarily enjoy but have out of necessity, plus additional brain time navigating a commute, doing this five or six days a week. Plus some downtime with family so you’re not completely ignoring everyone in your life. This gives you, at most, about an hour and half to two hours a day attempting to shift your brain into creative mode to write a few hundred words. Or sneaking in those words during your lunch or coffee break at the Day job.

There’s exhaustion: the fact that you might work at a company that demands a high level of production all day long. Or maybe you work in a warehouse that demands overtime during the fourth quarter. Or maybe you have kids to care for in addition to this job. This is why creatives wish they could afford to be full-timers: not because they wish they could sleep late and fuck around online and maybe get a few words in before deadline. They want to be able to be able to sit down at the desk or at their easel or with their instrument and take as much needed time as possible, without outside stress, to create the best work they can.

There’s emotional distress: the fact that, after so many months or years, even despite possible creative success, you fear that you’re still stuck in the same place, barely scraping by and running out of energy. You start to question whether it’s worth it to keep this up or just give up and become a faceless chartered accountant. I’ve felt this a number of times throughout the years, and it’s disheartening to be in my forties and wonder if I’d wasted three decades pretending I was a decent writer. It’s not a fun feeling, let me tell you that.

And there’s anger: “You’re a writer? That’s nice. What’s your real job? I mean, the one that pays your bills?” Really? Fucking really? You think so little of what hard work actually goes into writing or art or music?

People like Sunak never understand that the creative world — the world of writers, artists, musicians, animators, filmmakers, photographers, and so on — is just as valid as any other career out there. They only see the end result, that shiny book or the flashy Netflix series or that pop song, and discount it as a waste of capitalist time. [I’ll be honest, whenever I see this, I always wonder how the hell this same person somehow sees a bunch of guys tossing or kicking a ball around a field as more financially acceptable.]

It’s really fucking tiring to have some idiot turn to me, when I’ve been working on my creative craft for almost their entire life, and say “well, maybe you can go and train to be, I dunno, a sales person or something?”

It’s goddamn demeaning is what it is.

What I’ve been listening to, part two

Here’s a few more months’ worth of tunes that have been getting play on my PC! Enjoy!

Run the Jewels, RTJ4, released 3 June. When RTJ surprise-dropped their latest record online and let people download it for free for a few days, who was I to pass it up? They’re an interesting rap duo in that they’ll deliver anger and righteousness on one track and further down the playlist have something utterly silly (such as the track “Goonies vs ET”).

Hinds, The Prettiest Curse, released 5 June. This Spanish foursome delivers some super fun rock that slides between shoegaze and pop-punk and is so worth checking out. (Check out their cover The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” as well, which is a super fun single!)

GoGo Penguin, GoGo Penguin, released 12 June. Still one of my favorite current jazz finds, the trio continues to infuse electronica-style beats into their music, making their songs not just memorable but easy to get lost in.

Wire, 10:20, released 19 June. This is an interesting collection of outtakes and new versions of previous tracks, very similar to their 1989 IBTABA record but with a much harder edge.

Sault, Untitled (Black Is), released 19 June. No one knows who this band is or anything about them other than that they’re a Black collective from the UK, and the group seems to like it that way. They dropped two albums in 2019 and two in 2020, and they are absolutely amazing.

Hum, Inlet, released 23 June. One of the positives of 2020 is that so many fantastic bands we thought were long gone or on an unending hiatus released new records! This is a welcome return from an underrated 90s guitar band.

The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers, released 10 July. A shiny, bouncy and bubbly alt-pop record that hints at some of the best 90s bands like Letters to Cleo, it’s a super fun listen that’ll definitely get you in a good mood!

Fontaines DC, A Hero’s Death, released 31 July. This Dublin punk band delivers a surprisingly dark and melodic record that took quite a few people by surprise. It’s also much tighter and more polished than their previous record.

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More tunage coming next Tuesday!