Thursday, December 15, 2022

A Round-Up (In No Particular Order) of Albums I Liked Enough to Buy on Vinyl* But Not to Rank on a Year End List This Year

Asphalt Meadows - Death Cab for Cutie

This album got dealt an unfair hand, it came out (1) the week I had COVID and (2) during the first week of the semester. This being my first ever semester at Ohio Dominican, while I couldn't resist the urge to keep a record player at work, I could resist the urge to blast all of my LPs at full bore. You guys hired me? Time for some mother f**king Coheed guitar solos! This, fortunately, did not happen.

This politeness kind of sucked for Asphalt Meadows because it is an album that starts really loudly. "i don't know how i survive" and "roman candles" which are as good as any of the best Death Cab songs are punchy, noisy, Narrow Stairs meets Kintsugi studio fuzz. They rule, especially "roman candles" which I think is my favorite new Death Cab song since the title track of 2011's Codes & Keys. As the needle moves inward on side a, though, the album gets softer. This is to say, at least on vinyl, I basically did not listen to Asphalt Meadows.

Which is too bad. Album #10 for the Cab-crew shows signs of growth, not signs of age. Not weary ones, anyway. The band, including new members Dave Depper and Zac Rae, sent files back and forth using Dropbox during the pandemic to lay down demos for these songs and that distance doesn't show in the tracks. You can really hear nice synergy between Depper, Rae, Gibbard, Hammer, and McGrerr on bops like "here to forever" which is also a bitchin' track. I will not, however, talk about "foxglove through the clearcut." I think a semi-spoken word track is cool, but if this was a CD I'd skip the track almost every time. It isn't bad, and its possible live this might be a neat song, but its kind of boring. Gibbard's voice is this band's greatest weapon and he shouldn't put a silencer on it! 

Not to dwell on it, but flip the record (which is an adorable shade of pink) and you get "pepper" that showcases no cracks in Gibbard's perfect affectation. God he sounds good! This song rules. "Kiss me just this one last time / show me that your love was mine." Are you kidding me? Vintage DCFC! "i miss strangers" also rocks. I'm kind of selling myself on this LP lol.

At some point, Death Cab for Cutie became more of a touring band than a studio band. More and more I find myself listening to favorite songs instead of albums, and I'll see them live any time they're at a venue in my state (except this year - fucking covid). The worst case scenario for an album from Gibbard and crew at this stage in their career is songs I don't mind displacing other songs at the shows and the best slow jams on Asphalt Meadows (which, by the way, is the almost-sublime "fragments of the decade") probably fit nicely mid-set. "Roman Candles" I would expect to be an arena-sized jam and anything else is just a fond reminder of how good these guys are at making music, and that's good enough.

Luckily, Asphalt Meadows isn't a worst-case-scenario album.


As is the case for a high-profile release on the magnitude of a new Beyoncé album, much digital ink has been spilled that goes far, far beyond what I can (or should) say about it. Read Craig Jenkins' essential review.

This was another album that, for me, suffered by circumstances. Let me lead off with the obvious: I very much like this album and it is very, very good. I'll cancel class next semester to fight for tickets for the inevitable tour next summer and it will, surely, be the highlight of our year (if Rachel and I can even go). "BREAK MY SOUL," "CUFF IT", "MOVE" are all essential Beyoncé songs. 

But, boring in my predictability as I am, RENAISSANCE came out one week after the second of two Jack White albums, and one week before the closest Coheed tour date to me. This is to say, headphone time was contentious. I say headphone time because, though this is a list for albums I liked this year that I listen to on vinyl, the massive double 180 gram LPs that collect this incredible hour of music burned the motor on my spinnerette turntable at home, and being a full-time dad this summer, I couldn't exactly leave my baby to go listen to this on a proper turntable with proper speakers when it first arrived at my doorstep.

Still, RENAISSANCE came out on a Friday I was going - by myself - to Youngstown, which meant I could hear these songs they way I believe they are best served: very loudly, and in one continuous listen. As soon as "SUMMER RENAISSANCE" ended I immediately tapped play on "I'M THAT GIRL", totally floored (as I am right now, listening to it loud in my empty academic building while students shuffle around campus from exam to exam). 

I like how low-stakes it feels (that's a compliment) and I like how much it plays like a DJ set, or a playlist. As usual, Beyoncé rewards you for bringing a syllabus to the album, but like LEMONADE before it, the extra-textual readings are enhancements, not requirements. Even more so with the deep music and cultural references all over these songs. Like EVERYTHING IS LOVE there is a lightness not always found in Beyoncé's later work. That's also a good thing. I anticipate continuing to uncover the layers of this record, and I pray for the opportunity to shake my ass like an idiot while she performs these songs soon.

Note: Rachel likes singing this to Ben, which I think is excellent. 

The Will to Live - Titus Andronicus

I maybe should have sequenced these better. Like RENAISSANCE, Titus Andronicus's latest is too a sprawling narrative soundscape with a rich history. The Will to Live tells a more personal story: grieving the death of +@' front man Patrick Stickles' cousin and former bandmate Matt "Money" Miller. The album, in Stickels' own words:
Certain recent challenges, some unique to myself and some we have all shared, but particularly the passing of my dearest friend, have forced me to recognize not only the precious and fragile nature of life, but also the interconnectivity of all life. Loved ones we have lost are really not lost at all, as they, and we still living, are all component pieces of a far larger continuous organism, which both precedes and succeeds our illusory individual selves, united through time by (you guessed it) the will to live.

Recognition of this self-evident truth demands that we extend the same empathy and compassion we would wish for ourselves outward to every living creature, even to those we would label our enemies, for we are all cells in the same body, sprung from a common womb, devoted to the common cause of survival.

Naturally, though, our long-suffering narrator can only arrive at this conclusion through a painful and arduous odyssey through Hell itself—this is a Titus Andronicus record, after all.

The guitar solo on "An Anomaly" is as good a thesis statement for this album as anything I can write, so, go seek that out. If you like it, give the other hour of music on this album a shot.

Let's Never Leave This Filthy World - Craig Brown Band*

The cassette-tape-only follow up to Craig Brown Band's excellent bar-band take on country-rock on Painters Tape records is just about as good as The Lucky Ones Forget. I'd say a critical difference is that Filthy World is that the only place I can listen to it is in the tape deck in my office boom box, which is, technically speaking, a limiting factor. This isn't Craig Brown Band's fault, but my inability to nurse three to seven beers while humming along is kind of a strike against.

But still, like Brown's debut, Let's Never Leave This Filthy World rules. It's such a good collection of songs that play on the various sensibilities that motivate the CBB: country, Tom Petty-style balladry, foot-stomping bar jams: its all here. You just can't really listen to it. Hoping for a wider release, but until then I'll enjoy the hand written X/50 cassette edition. Supposedly its coming on vinyl "later this year," but this year is almost over. I'm 10000000% positive this would have been my third most listened album of the year if I could have, ya know, listened to it more. C'mon Craig, we need tunes!

*this is a cassette tape not a vinyl

Once, Twice Melody - Beach House

Indulge me in hearing a brief story. Sometime this past February, maybe even early March, it was a crisp day, as winter days are oft to be in Southeastern Michigan. I left Detroit Mercy's campus, as I often did, after a nice day of teaching. Ben had started daycare, so I wasn't in as much of a rush to get home, so I found my way to Ferndale to browse the stacks. I found myself eye-level with this:

Now, being into indie music used to be my whole personality, so I was familiar with Beach House, and I was a fan of their big hit record from 2012 but they aren't a band I follow. And yet, the milk and honey color of Once, Twice Melody literally took my breath away. You can sort of tell in the picture that its textured; it feels like an old leather bound book, which I might just be saying because the four sides of the double LP are labeled as "chapters." 

I wasn't swept up enough to get the deluxe, but the standard edition came home with me that day. Rachel was at work, the dog was snoozing, Ben was still at daycare, so I laid down and closed my eyes to listen to my spur of the moment purchase.

Sometimes you should judge a book by its cover. Once, Twice Melody is a haunting, beautiful, spacious piece of music. I appreciate the purity of the vinyl release in its stubborn dis-inclusion of a download code, which means that any of the many times I've listened to this album this year, its been by patiently unfolding each track, each side, each disc. Just great, vibey stuff. If iTunes had a wishlist I'd earmark the mp3s, but I'm just as happy to space out, grey sky in the window beside me, and let Beach House take me away.

Elise, 10th Anniversary Reissue - The Horrible Crowes

At this point, I would listen to Brian Fallon read the phone book. His voice is so good, a nice blend of the (sorry) Bruce Springsteen grit and balladry with the New Jersey punk scene The Gaslight Anthem came up in. Speaking of The Gaslight Anthem, did you know they reunited for a tour this year? It somehow does not show up on YouTube, but one of the highlights of their Detroit tour stop was their cover of INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart" in a medley with "Have Mercy." From the cheap seats I sat and wondered where I'd heard that song before and then it hit me:

The Horrible Crowes covered this during their elite one studio album and one live album (based on one live show). Man, all hits, no misses, that's how you do it. I gotta circle back for a second: when Elise first dropped, The Gaslight Anthem was still touring, was still regularly releasing albums, so I sort of shelved the project which is, admittedly, a little more "adult" than the punky vibe of Fallon's main band. When the Elise reissue shipped early this year it was on constant replay in my office, at home, in headphones, anywhere.

"Nothing gold can stay," says S.E. Hinton? Phewy, says me, admiring the marbled gold LPs of a decade old album I've come to love for its patience, its tunefulness, its bluesy ballad, and shit, even its cover that I knew but didn't know (until Gaslight Anthem played it in October). Sometimes you gotta play the long game with this music stuff, and that's fine by me. I don't mean to make a blurb on The Horrible Crowes all about another band, but after they broke up, after Fallon's run of solo records (Sleepwalkers was my 2018 album of the year), Brian Fallon is both a rare and a hot commodity for me; this year The Horrible Crowes got venerable status from me. And to wit: as "Ladykiller" plays it doesn't sound like a side project. It sounds like an old friend. 

Live @ Studio 4/Farm to Table - Bartees Strange

2020's Live Forever might be my favorite debut album, at least of the last ten years. The raw and eclectic power of Bartees Strange has that "you gotta hear it live" quality so imagine my (and many, many, many other listeners') delight when Strange announced a live album to bridge the gap between the debut and his second album. 

prettiest albums of the year anyway

For these both, Strange rolled out these albums in a way that I'm sure is going to be an industry norm for a while: digital releases with physical copies shipping way later. I think this is a good release strategy: you in effect get two release dates for your albums. The Studio 4 session got a lot of headphone play when it first came out (in October 2021, shut up, I make the list, I make the rules lol the vinyl didn't ship until this year) and added nice texture to Live Forever's songs. "Boomer" sounds like he's playing in an arena, "Kelly Rowland" has a nice instrumental rearrangement but keeps its cooler vibes, albeit hotter and louder. The real gem on Studio 4 is the impossible to find (on vinyl) cover of The National's "Lemon World" which is where Bartees Strange's very good few years in indie music started. This LP makes good on all the promises the debut makes ...

... which makes Farm to Table maybe a bummer? Its a good album! "Wretched" is good. "Mulholland Dr." is really good, and I won't accuse Farm to Table of doing the same shit Live Forever does, but it didn't catch me as much. Maybe it was timing? The album dropped right after we moved, which was right after new Coheed dropped. Maybe I'm bitter because I missed Strange's stop in Columbus later this fall? I know this is a record I'll keep coming back to, Strange is too good, too unique of a voice to shelf. I am impossibly excited for what comes next.

Hard to say for sure, but when he's in town again, I know two things: first, he'll be playing a way bigger room and deservedly so, and two, I'll get to hear the new songs in the best way possible, as evidenced by Studio 4: live.

A Light for Attracting Attention - The Smile

I very much used to love Radiohead. I still really like Radiohead, and at time, still love Radiohead. In 2020, one of the highlights of that year was reading Steven Hyden's excellent book This Isn't Happening: Radiohead's Kid A and the Beginning of the 21st Century, albeit a little on the nose to do a deep dive on a band's pivot away from the humane into digital noise on the alienation of virtual life. But otherwise, in the 15 years since I first heard In Rainbows and subsequently went all in on Radiohead, have cooled. 

To my credit, they cooled too. 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool is (generously) a softer, more contemplative album (honestly: its fucking boring). And what's worse (for me I guess) is that tickets to that tour were Taylor Swift-levels of hard to get, so I didn't have the opportunity to piece those new (and boring!) songs in the broader context of Radiohead's work. They are, if anything else, an excellent live band (and always have been - track down some of the bootlegs Hyden mentions in his book and you'll be sold!). I missed riff-rocking-Radiohead, is I guess what I am trying to say.

Enter, then, The Smile. In May 2021 some mysterious social media posting from Thom Yorke led way to The Smile: a band made up of the Radiohead front man, Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead's guitarist), and Tom Skinner. Their debut performance came packaged with their reveal: a live-streamed set "at" Glastonbury that was 8 new songs long. It was raw, it was frantic, it was unpolished in ways Radiohead hasn't sounded in nearly ten years. It was sudden, it was free of the burden of the legacy band's long career, and most importantly (to me): it had riffs that fucking rip. Yorke's voice bent and wailed in ways that were a breath of fresh, nasty, grueling air. It was like Radiohead had gone punk. I listened to my shitty Zoom recording of that show dozens of times, and when a more technically savvy fan circulated a higher quality bootleg I listened to that hundreds of times. I was so fucking excited for The Smile, a band named after a Ted Hughes poem that, as Yorke puts it, evokes "not the smile as in 'ahh,' the smile as in the guy who lies to you every day." This was the skittish, post-punk, mid-pandemic kind of nastiness I wanted from members of a band who, to my ear, got complacent.

They opened 2022 with a series of shows in London, one of the many livestream concerts I "went to." It was good, very, very good, but it lacked that sudden immediacy of the Glasto surprise. I guess with the cat out of the bag there was less to be excited about? Is Radiohead breaking up discourse soured The Smile's rollout, which while writing this, surprised me for being less than a year long. It felt like forever from May 2021 to the April 2022 release of A Light for Attracting Attention. This is another one that suffered from too-close-to-new-Jack-White-itis, I think, because as I listen to the excellent Rough Trade aLtErNaTe ArT vArIaNt (which I got solely for the included CD of live cuts from the London shows) I'm really, really loving this record. It would be a lie to include this as a favorite of the year - I barely listened to it! But I'm excited to spend more time with The Smile, and that's as in 'ahh,' not as in a guy who is lying to you right now.

God's Country - Chat Pile

This is sort of a speculative post. Thanks to the supply chain issues that has dramatically effected vinyl production, Oklahoma City's Chat Pile's debut might have released on July 29 this year, but I won't be hearing it (the way I suspect it will sound the most potently) on vinyl until the end of January at the earliest. 

I bought the hype around Chat Pile who wore the "only metal band indie guys listen to" crown with grace this summer. The album is excellent, in a terrifying way. Or terrifying, in an excellent way. From its opening notes, which upset my friend Antonio's pets, to the sort-of-funny sort-of-too-earnest social justice orientation in the ham-fisted lyrics of "Why" (Raygun Busch evokes post-punk in a sing talky scree that includes the provocative rhetorical question: "Why do people live outside?"). To be honest, what sold me on this album even more than an Ian Cohen co-sign is the album description on Bandcamp, which says a lot but ends with "this is what the end of the world sounds like." Sign me up!

I'm still dipping my toes into sludge metal, but it isn't a totally new genre - Third Man finally pummeled me into becoming a fan of Sleep. With no other bands occupying this lane on my iPod, Chat Pile took up a good chunk of my ears this summer. I'm excited to let the record wail in my office (when nobody else is in the building).

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