Summer Solstice is here! Not that that means anything weatherwise here in San Francisco, as our weather usually stays around the low 60s for the entire season. (In a way I’m glad I’m no longer heading to the East Bay, as the weather fluctuates wildly there: it’ll be low 50s early in the morning and almost 100 by day’s end. Bleh.)
Anyway! Here are some summer songs for you. Hope y’all have a good season!
I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.
I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.
Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.
I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…
…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…
…or Fetchin Bones…
The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.
Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.
What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.
And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!
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”
First off, I should say that 1) I’m quite the latecomer to K-Pop. I’ve been well aware of it, but never paid all that much attention to it until relatvely recently, and 2) I am so not a gamer, so I have little to no background or interest in League of Legends.
That said, I cannot seem to get enough of the LoL virtual spinoff band K/DA (its name of course being a reference to a player’s kills, deaths and assists), as a part of Riot Games’ plan to include more original music in the LoL universe. It features Miyeon and Soyeon from the k-pop band (G)I-DLE as well as soloists Madison Beer and Jaira Burns playing the in-game characters Ahri, Akali, Evelynn and Kai-Sa respectively.
The 2018 single “Pop/Stars” came to my attention due to a few gifs of featuring a masked Akali (the tomboyish ninja assassin) rapping in a subway car, and after falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found the video and was blown away by the creative animation.
Sure, they’re eye candy for the gamer boys, but damn if this song didn’t get stuck in my head on a daily basis! I’d put it on my mp3 player that I brought to the gym and found myself playing it on repeat. It wasn’t just a great video, it was a damn fine pop song with some tight production work. It sounds absolutely amazing in headphones, so I imagine it would sound great on high-end speakers as well. It ended up on my end-of-year mix and I still throw it on now and again. And yes, it got me interested in (G)I-DLE as well!
League of Legends continued to release a few more tunes and videos to coincide with their World Championship event (2019 saw the badass track “GIANTS” by True Damage, and 2020 featured “Take Over” by Worlds 2020), but apparently the K/DA track proved to be so popular that it was announced they would release more music as a virtual band.
In late August of this year they dropped the news that a new EP would be released, and released the lead single “The Baddest” soon after. And wouldn’t you know, this song got stuck in my damn head as well! While it’s merely a lyric video with minimal animation, it’s still a great track and has already gotten over a million watches on YouTube.
The accompanying EP, All Out, was released this past Friday (11/6) and it features the above song as well as the follow-up single “More”, which returns us to another high quality virtual band setting and featuring another LoL in-game character, Seraphine, as a special guest. It’s another visual feast with all kinds of eye candy but also a lot of fun blink-and-you’ll-miss-it drop edits (such as Akali causing Serpahine to bust up laughing near the end). And just like the previous singles, “More” is a hell of a fine earworm. This one’s going on my year-end mix, of course.
The rest of All Out is just as fun and worth checking out if you have the time!
Hey there! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted one of these, and I’m trying to be good and keep up this time out. There promises to be some interesting new albums coming out this year, some from new bands and some from old favorites. And now that I’m able to listen to my favorite station at work via a phone app, I’m going to try to stay on top of this again!
Here’s a few new releases worth checking out:
Stabbing Westward, Dead and Gone EP, released 3 January. Well, this was unexpected! I had no idea they’d gotten back together (their last record was their self-titled fourth album waaaaay back in 2001), but their new record is a banger. They’re still loud and noisy as hell, and that’s just how I like them.
Field Music, Making a New World, released 10 January. On the other end of the spectrum we have a band steeped in that quirky angular sound that feels and sounds very much like Eno, Belew and Byrne. A bit odd but still catchy.
Beach Slang, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, released 10 January. Not as frenetic as their previous albums, they seem to have embraced that 80s new wave guitar group sound, and they wear it really well. I’m really digging this one a lot.
Deserta, Black Aura My Sun, released 17 January. I know I’ve posted this track earlier, but I just cannot stop listening to it! The entire album is full of that soaring guitar reverb slicing its way through tracks, gorgeous spacey passages and dreamy vocals. This one’s been getting the most play on my mp3 player lately!
Holy Fuck, Deleter, released 17 January. Another band I knew of (due to its, er, distinctive name, of course), but I hadn’t expected them to be so groovy! And bonus points for having Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on the vocals on this excellent track.
Wire, Mind Hive, released 24 January. I’m intrigued by the last few Wire records, as they feel like hybrids of both old and new sounds. This one in particular sounds a lot like their early 00s Read & Burn / Send output but also is quite similar to the darker melodies of 154 and Chairs Missing, and I love it. Great to see they’re still consistently amazing after all these years.
It’s a few days late, but as promised, here’s my best-of list for 2019! I have KEXP to thank for pretty much all of my listening habits these last few years…after slipping between a few online and satellite stations, I found myself returning to a station I’d listened to briefly a few years ago, and realized just how much their playlist resonated with my musical tastes. So much so that when I moved back to the office for the Day Job, I found I truly missed listening to that station. [I’ve since found that I can stream the station on my phone, which I am doing only for a few hours a day so my phone data isn’t all screwy.]
This past year’s soundtrack and purchases also showed a significant change, in that there’s a lot more in terms of inclusivity as well as flavor. So many more albums and songs in different genres, different countries, different genders. I found myself listening less in terms of “this is a great writing soundtrack” and finally returning to “this is just a damn fine album/single” enjoyment. And I haven’t had that in a long time.
So without further ado…
TOP 15 ALBUMS 15. Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy 14. Hatchie, Keepsake 13. Honeyblood, In Plain Sight 12. Jay Som, Anak Ko 11. American Football, American Football (LP3) 10. Lamb, The Secret of Letting Go 9. Lemolo, Swansea 8. Elbow, Giants of All Sizes 7. The Beatles, Abbey Road Anniversary Edition 6. The Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe 5. Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won’t Hold 4. White Lies, Five 3. Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror 2. Coldplay, Everyday Life 1. Haelos, Any Random Kindness
TOP 15 SONGS 15. True Damage, “GIANTS” 14. Deserta, “Hide” 13. Beck, “Saw Lightning” 12. Boy Harsher, “Face the Fire” 11. Drab Majesty, “The Other Side” 10. New Age Healers, “Satellites” 9. Hatchie, “Without a Blush” 8. Jay Som, “Superbike” 7. Toro y Moi, “Freelance” 6. Silversun Pickups, “It Doesn’t Matter Why” 5. White LIes, “Tokyo” 4. Haelos, “End of World Party” 3. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, “Life On Mars?” 2. DJ Shadow feat. De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel” 1. The Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”
And of course, here’s my Singles 2019 mixtape for your pleasure…
Oops! I’m a month late on this, so this is going to be a slightly longer one, encompassing the various releases I’ve been raving about from June to September. Enjoy!
Silversun Pickups, Widow’s Weeds, released 9 June. Always twitchy, always off-kilter, and always amazing.
Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, release 21 June. A rather laid back and mellow record for them, bu this style suits them extremely well.
Hatchie, Keepsake, released 21 June. One of my favorite finds thanks to KEXP, they’re good alt-poppy fun with some killer bass riffs!
Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror, released 12 July. Highly recommended if you like that 80s gothy synth sound. Definitely reminds me of Clan of Xymox.
311, Voyager, released 12 July. As said before, whenever 311 drops a record I will always pick it up. Good funky fun.
DJ Shadow featuring De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel” single, released 24 July. Another KEXP find, this has to be one of my top favorite songs of the year. It’s a fantastic throwback rap tune you’d have heard in the late 80s. Definitely a nod to Run-DMC on this track.
Jay Som, Anak Ko, released 23 August. Light and lovely guitar alt-rock topped with dreamy vocals. But not shoegaze! “Superbike” is another track that’s been stuck in my head for months.
NAVVI, 25O2 EP, released 30 August. Filed alongside HAELOS as one of my go-to bands for blissful dance alt-pop. It’s a short five-song EP, but it’s got some ace tunes on it.
Tennis System, Lovesick, released 6 September. This band reminds me of Swervedriver with their loud and dissonant shoegaze guitar crunch. Surprisingly a great listen for my writing sessions!
Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie, released 13 September. The long-awaited new Pixies record is strangely spooky this time out. I’m not too surprised considering Frank Black’s forays into weird subject matters, but the creepiness translates well in this case.
Brittany Howard, Jaime, released 20 September. The Alabama Shakes singer brings us an amazing soulful and jazzy solo record filled with blazing funky riffs. Excellent stuff.
blink-182, Nine, released 20 September. We got to see this band live at Outside Lands this year and they were just as amazing as I thought they’d be. Older and ever so slightly more mature, they’re still tight as hell.
The Beatles, Abbey Road Super Deluxe Edition, released 27 September. Of COURSE I have to have this on the list! I’ll give you all a much more detailed response to the release once I finally get my copy (it’s in the mail at this time), but from what I’ve heard via streaming, Giles Martin has remixed it just enough to improve on what is already a fantastic album. The extras are also a hell of a lot of fun!
Eric Alper, one of the music writers I follow on Twitter, sometimes throws out Questions of the Day just for fun, to get a conversation going. A while back he asked “What song has the best intro?” And of course about twenty different tracks popped up, some more obvious than usual. Here are a few tracks that contain some of my favorite openings over the years. As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of the Slow Reveal. 🙂
That decade definitely had its share of one-hit wonders and almost-hits, didn’t it? From a former record-store-clerk standpoint, there was definitely a HARD push to get everything and anything out there to cash in on The Latest Sound. This was pretty much across the board in multiple genres. I remember the weekly visits from the distribution reps as they upsold the big names as well as the copycats and the underdogs. Some of it worked, a lot of it didn’t. Sometimes the music just wasn’t as good, but sometimes it was just luck and timing.
Here’s some tunage from the 90s that I thought was well worth the attention but unfortunately didn’t get past the first few hurdles here in the US. I’m pretty sure many of you have never heard of these, or will spark that wonderful ‘oh, that song!’ memory.