May 2019 Playlist

It’s impossible for me to analyze new music in a vacuum. I can’t mute my own expectations. Neither can I ignore a band’s discography. Nor can I stop making comparisons. But I’ve tried. In order to drop the weight of wanting to like something because I’m a fan comes down to the most personal of observations: how does it make me feel? If the songs evoke an emotional response then I think the band has done its job, and, I’ve done mine.  

I tried to pretend that listening to Father of the Bride was the first time I heard Vampire Weekend. Not an easy to task—ignoring an outstanding bunch of records that I’m inherently attached to—it was like trying to nail French Onion soup to the wall. I autopiloted to comparisons (can they top “Unbelievers?” Will there ever be another “M79?” Can they match the frenzy of “Cousins?”) I just couldn’t let go of their shared history with me.  

Eventually, after many listening, I found myself singing along to almost every song. I discovered that this record really makes me happy, it’s like distilled summer. It’s about feeling after all; songs like “This Life” and “Unbearably White” are pure pop bliss, and they still pay off after many, many listens. But it’s the deeper cuts that are the real earworms. There are a collection of 90-second-ish songs scattered throughout (“2021, “Big Blue” and “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin”) that highlight short, confident songwriting. These songs glue FOTB together, like little excursions off the larger trip. It’s an expansive listen, and yes there are a few terrible songs, but the real test of an album like this is how I will feel about it years later. Only time will tell.  

Adrianne Lenker’s hushed vocal delivery has an imperfect quality that’s equally disarming and deeply personal. Every time I listen to U.F.O.F I’m transported to a place where I feel like I’m right there with her, as if we were passing a flashlight to one another, telling ghost stories, like kids at a campfire. It’s an otherworldly, transformative experience. The album is a masterpiece, it swells with tension and its emotional core is hypnotic. The one-two punch of “UFOF” and “Cattails” might be the best I’ve heard all year. “Jenni” will haunt you, it’s a song that smolders like embers from a dying campfire. 

It sounds ridiculous when I type it and re-read it, but ALASKALASKA have found a way to blend electro-pop with jazz. And it works. Throughout the songs on The Dots there are instrumental moments that are just astounding. Walls of synths and beats pulse so high and loud, then suddenly wash away into screaming saxophone scales. “Moon,” “Monster” and “Meateater” are excellent tracks off a very surprising record. 

A great opening song should be like an amuse bouche. It should burst with the first bite and hint at what’s to come. “You Had Your Soul With You” achieves just that; when Gail Ann Dorsey’s voice comes out of nowhere supplanting Matt Berninger’s baritone, it announces that I Am East to Find is a different kind of National album. Each track feature’s a woman’s voice and it’s a welcome change because this would have been a really boring record otherwise. I applaud the riskiness and the song-craft, songs like “Oblivions” and “Not In Kansas” are a seamless harmony of two very different singing styles. The real standout is “Where Is Her Head,” a propulsive number where Berninger plays seconds fiddle to Phoebe Bridgers’ powerhouse vocals. It’s demonstrative of a band that seems re-energized.  

If Springsteen played an 808 instead of a guitar I think he’d sound like Operators. Montreal’s Daniel Boeckner is a savant. He’s been in so many innovative bands over the years, from Wolf Parade to Divine Fits to Handsome Furs, that you forget he can also be the star of the show. Radiant Dawn is peak Boeckner, “Faithless” might be the best song he’s ever written.  

IGOR is a super weird record. It’s unclassifiable. I think Tyler, The Creator wants to annoy and challenge you. Just when you are head-nodding to a beat, it breaks, changes and morphs into completely different. It’s manic and clearly intentional, he wants to take you on a couple long, strange trips, the best of which are “I THINK” and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME.” 

I have a bottle of Icelandic aquavit called Brennivin that I’ve never opened. You’re supposed to shoot it with a bite of pickled herring. I would like to drink this spirit with Justin Townes Earl because The Saint Of Lost Causes is moonshine blues. It’s wood smoke, lonely nights, regret and redemption. Whether he’s weaving a murder ballad (“Appalachian Nightmare”), a country barn-burner (“Flint City Shake It”) or sad, sad blues (“Over Alameda”) his pedal steel swoons and sings. If you’ve never given Justin Townes Earle a good listen, this is a good place to start.