It's a short mix this month—I didn't hear a lot that got to me—and it's a bit somber, too, starting with the stunning version of "Cotton Eyed Joe" by Terry Callier.
It's a short mix this month—I didn't hear a lot that got to me—and it's a bit somber, too, starting with the stunning version of "Cotton Eyed Joe" by Terry Callier.
Given the approaching end of year, I thought I'd be spending November catching up on records I missed earlier in the year, for maximal list-making capabilities. Not so, for whatever reason. I'm just as tuned out as ever, apparently. Only picked up two new-to-me albums this month. Sort of an odd pairing for a blog post, but so be it.
Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica
I spent most of November listening to this album over and over, trying to love it more than I did. Only in the last week or so have I finally been able to admit to myself that, despite the brilliance of Daniel Lopatin's last album as Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica just doesn't do it for me. It's quite different from Returnal—there are more beats, more chopped up sounds, less spacious ambient tracks—and that's okay. I don't mind that it's different, I just want it to be better. Or, I want to connect with it on a more substantive level and I've just been incapable of doing so. In that way it reminds me of albums by the Books (only less humorous); it's odd and screwy and a little IDM-ish and, importantly, interesting... but not compelling. It's just good, not great.
Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman
Technically it's only half-new to me, but the half that is new is just as good as the half I've known for twenty-plus years. More thoughts.
Putting together these monthly mixes has become one of my favorite things to do on Pretty Goes with Pretty. It's not like putting together a typical mix, which usually has some unifying theme. No, these are mixes made with strict rules:
This sounds simple but in many months can be quite challenging. First, I'm letting my tastes dictate what must be included in the mix—whether it's country, soul, ambient, indie, whatever. Then I need to figure out how to make that all run in a way that seems natural. This month was probably the most challenging all year. I must have listened to these ten songs in varying orders for the last two weeks, before finally settling on this one tonight. It's probably not my most elegant mix, but I do like some of the weird juxtapositions, especially hearing the sound of the keyboard in Roedelius Schneider's "Single Boogie" echoed by the sound of the Equals' guitars).
Anyway, have at it: press play on song #1 and just let the rest go. Hope you enjoy. If you want to hear the other mixes I've done this year, click here and scroll through the various "Favorite Downloads" mixes.
I love my iTunes smart playlists, especially my "60s Best" group, which gathers every song in my library made between 1960 and 1969 that I've rated four or five stars. Currently that count sits at 1,280 songs. Of all my smart playlists this one most consistently turns in great mixes. I was playing it yesterday and it spun out this series of gems, including my favorite Donovan song and Hearts & Flowers' "Try for the Sun," which I realized on hearing last night might be one of my top five all-time favorite songs.
After months and months of scrolling through the muddle that is my RSS feed, I finally weeded out a bunch of blogs that I realize I'm just never interested in, and I also created a new sub-category for "trustworthy sources," which are the six or so blogs that, for me, consistently display solid taste. Now it's a lot easier for me to make sure I don't scroll past those posts that have a high chance of scratching my itch. For most of the tracks below, I've included my source; if you like what you hear, check those links for more from the same artists, or nice mixes, or just a heads up that you should be following those blogs regularly.
All that said, this month's mix of favorite downloads is a little more packed than usual. This month's batch is heavy on 2011 releases (though a few from '67, '68, '71, '07, '10 sneak in too). As with every month, it's meant to be listened to in order, so click the play button in the corner and let it go for the next 67 minutes or so. If you like psyche, ambient, nü-kosmiche, and good ol' fashioned songwriters, there oughta be something in here for you.
Unlike previous months most of my random downloads this month were older songs (and country, too). But there were a few 2011 tracks that snuck into my craw—My Morning Jacket's newest, which has me excited for their album coming out in a few weeks, and Matthew Cooper's "Expectation," a lovely ambient track. This mix is thus a little strange but is nevertheless meant to be listened to in order. Enjoy.
7:45 am: My wife plays a YouTube clip of Joni Mitchell performing "California."
8:45 am: On a damp and overcast morning, I put on Rene Hell's The Terminal Symphony again, this time on headphones. I give up after a few tracks because it can't compete with the noise of traffic while I wait for the bus. I switch to the "We've All Got Wheels" playlist I mentioned on Monday. I make it through most of the playlist on my commute, which takes about 40 minutes—30 of which are spent standing around waiting for the bus.
9:30 am: In my office, I finish out the playlist and my iPod glides right into the stuff I was listening to the night before—the Sea and Cake (same old same old from them), Gang Gang Dance (not as good as the other song they've released from their new album), Phil Ochs. Then it's a few Merle Haggard songs, so from Monday—though I feel like I'm hearing them for the first time today.
10:08 am: Needing instrumental music so I can focus on an editing project, I return again to Rene Hell. When it's over I switch over to my "Writing" playlist and shuffle through more instrumental tracks by the Dirty Three, Isan, Oval, Papa M, Four Tet, Tied & Tickled Trio, the Books, Arvo Pärt, Belong, and Philip Glass. Eventually I take my headphones out and don't return to any music for the rest of the work day.
6:08 pm: My wife has a quick dinner ready for us—this is like two hours earlier than usual!—since once again she has to work tonight. While we're eating I feel the urge to listen to the two Michael Nesmith songs we have in the library—"Roll with the Flow" and "Some of Shelly's Blues." It's the latter that I was compelled to hear, ever since hearing an inferior version by the Stone Ponys in the "Wheels" playlist in my morning commute. When those two songs are over I skip ahead in the library to Midlake's first album, Bamnan and Silvercork. It's such a great and underrated album—underrated maybe because it lacks the 70s-isms that made so many people love The Trials of Van Occupanther (itself a genius album). This becomes the soundtrack to Coop's bedtime ritual, which is code for "I didn't really pay attention to any of this because I was giving my kid a bath and reading him a story and putting him to sleep."
8:07 pm: After an hour of silence I put on the Amarillo Highway playlist, also from Monday. I realize that I much prefer the Wheels playlist to this one.
9:15 pm: I've had the BBC4 Krautrock documentary from a few years back bookmarked on my browser for months and months, but I never remember to watch it when I'm home alone. Tonight I finally remember and it is awesome (though I watched it on YouTube and the final segment's audio is unfortunately totally bungled). Snippets of Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust, Harmonia, and Cluster. It's awesome.
10:28 pm: Cluster's Zuckerzeit followed by the first part of Harmonia's Musik von Harmonia, both downloaded within moments of finishing the doc—and both albums I'd been meaning to get for a while now. I can't actually make it through the whole Harmonia album—dad's gotta go to bed so he's not a zombie in the morning.
Here's a mix of my favorite new-to-me mp3s I downloadead from various blogs in the last month. I must say I didn't do so well keeping up with the blogs this month. The Art Garfunkel track came from one of Aquarium Drunkard's L.A. Burnout mixes; the two 1960s Asian girl groups came from the ever-dependable Cargo Culte, and the rest came from miscellaneous corners of the web. For the record this mix is intended to be listened to in order.
Usually around the three-month mark of the year I do my quarterly listening report. Well, I totally missed that one this time around. Been busy, as you might suspect. I do hope to do some kind of roundup, maybe not as detailed as usual.
Meanwhile I've been a whole lot less interested in what I'm listening to and a whole lot more interested in what Cooper's listening to. He's three months old, as of Thursday. So perhaps we ought to do a different kind of quarterly report.
As best I can tell, Coop's favorite song of ALL TIME is the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. He gets immeasurable pleasure when I sing it to him, and lately has tried his hand at singing along. He's got the words right; all he lacks is rhythm and tunefulness.
For a while there Coop's fussier moments were alleviated by my singing the Lovin' Spoonful's "Rain on the Roof" or the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love." Lately though one of us, I'm not sure who, has grown tired of those songs.
Coop's latest favorite—rivaling the Morricone—is Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer." We discovered this when some moaner on American Idol took it upon himself to butcher the song into a kind of tortured Nickleballad. Still, the Idol version did enough to put the song in our heads and we started singing it to Cooper. He seems to especially like it when we simulate the booming drums in between all the "Lie-la-lie"s.
We've got an unspoken rule—actually we've spoken this rule a couple of times—that we don't really want to subject ourselves to actual children's music until we absolutely must. And yet we both skirt that rule in strangely contrarian ways. My wife likes to sing "Surfin' Bird," which is stupidly hypnotic and ever repeating and usually hilarious. I like to sing "Witch Doctor" ("Ooh-eee, ooh-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla bing bang"). Somehow these songs are more palatable than Old McDonald.
Then there are all the fragments of songs and stray lines that seem to crop up with some frequency. When he has gas I like get all Fugee and say "How many farts do we rip on the daily?". When he's got a particularly dirty diaper my Baha Wife inevitably asks "Who let the poops out? Coop, Coop, Coop." When he's being kind of a punk I tell him he's getting "buddy buddy buddy all up in my face."
As the recent posts list might indicate, things are a little dead around here. Chalk it up to the August heat and a dearth of new music purchases. Also, book writing is and will be in full swing, plus various real life matters taking up my time. So things here will likely remain a little quiet at least for another week or two. I'll have my quarterly My Listening Hours posts toward the end of the month, and I've a few other things planned but have not had time to make them a reality.
An—oh yeah, the reason I'm posting something today—I thought I'd bring your attention to a guest post I did yesterday for the Post Punk Tumblr. In the midst of everyone else prematurely reviewing the 00s, Tristan time-traveled back to the 80s to count down the best songs of that decade. He asked me to contribute one post on one of my favorite songs from that decade, so I chose Paul Simon's "Graceland." Not very post-punk of me, I know.
Usually I follow up "the rest" with a brief rundown of "the worst"—albums I picked up that I wound up actively disliking. Happily for me, that didn't really happen in the last three months. That said, there were plenty of albums that I just didn't connect with. Maybe it's their fault, maybe it's mine. Maybe they're actually mediocre; maybe I just need to hear them in another mindset, some other month or year. I'd still recommend most or all of these albums, with reservations and/or personal caveats that may not apply to you.
David Bowie: Low
For whatever reason, I seem only to connect with Low—supposedly Bowie's apex—on an intellectual level. It's certainly a daring record, thanks to the Eno-aided second, instrumental half. But I'm just not connecting. The first, more "pop" side, has a couple of high points (most notably "Sound and Vision"—a song no Of Montreal fan should hear, lest their illusions be shattered), but there are just as many tracks that are kinda ho-hum. The instrumental half, too, has its peaks, though I don't think it ever rises above Eno's best work. Low isn't a bad record—actually, it's a good record!—but it fell flat in the face of the expectations I'd built up for it.
Emitt Rhodes: s/t
I stumbled across Emitt Rhodes with no prior awareness of him whatsoever. The album was recorded in 1970, apparently in Rhodes' own garage with Rhodes playing every single instrument and backing vocal. The blog I picked the record up from claimed the result was something as transcendent as Oddessey and Oracle or Pet Sounds, which it clearly isn't. Rather, Rhodes sounds like Paul McCartney's star pupil. The pop craft at work here is near-flawless, though I think the record lacks that intangible quality that takes it to the next level. I can't hear any soul behind Rhodes' lyrics or in his delivery. When he sings "live til you die," I kind of want to slap him. It gives you a renewed appreciation for how much feeling McCartney could eke out of a platitude. But! At his best, as on the opener, "With My Face on the Floor," Rhodes' songs can sound like perfect little McCartney b-sides, which I mean as a compliment.
Karen Dalton: In My Own Time
Karen Dalton, on the other hand, has the opposite problem from Rhodes. On her second album, 1971's In My Own Time, Dalton's voice is nearly all ache and emotion—to the point that it often overwhelms the song itself. Like Rhodes, Dalton is able to hit a few unquestionable home runs, but her album becomes a bit tedious by the end.
Josh Ritter: The Animal Years
I picked up The Animal Years at the same time as The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and for that reason this album might have suffered a little. It's a slower, less fun—almost turgid—record compared to its followup. There are no real low points, and a number of high points—the first four songs are solid pop songs, and the epic "Thin Blue Flame" shows an ambition not seen on the later record. But somewhere around the midpoint the whole thing starts to feel, not exactly boring, but inessential. Still, when Ritter is at his best he can really knock it out.
The National: Alligator and Boxer
The National are one of those bands that I just never dove for. I've had a handful of mp3s for a few years, and I like them, but I always had the sneaking suspicion that they were... boring. Hearing both Alligator and Boxer, that sense is somehow dispelled and reinforced at the same time. On the one hand—especially with Boxer—each time I put it on I get the sense that everything is about to click. I hear something new, lock in on a lyric I hadn't heard before, pick up on some musical detail (by the way, the drummer for the National? Secret weapon). But by album's end I invariably feel deadened by Matt Berringer's insistence on using the same four notes for every single melody. I think it didn't help, too, that I got these albums at the exact same time (in fact, through the generosity of a friend, I got everything by the National at once—these two plus Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, Cherry Tree, and Virginia, the latter two I still haven't even listened to yet). The National strikes me as a group you need to take slow, song by song, over the course of many focused listenings for many days or weeks or even months. I haven't given them that kind of attention. Each time I listen to Boxer, or a song from either album pops up on shuffle, I think this will be the week that I give it that attention. But it hasn't happened yet.
Jorge Ben: África Brasil
I've got a song by Jorge Ben, "Pais Tropical," that is absolutely one of my favorite songs ever. It's like Os Mutantes, only better than just about anything Os Mutantes did. But I didn't have an album by Ben. I'd heard this was one of his classics, so when I saw it a couple months ago I snapped it up. For what it is—tropicalia with an afrofunk edge—it's good. But it's not what I wanted. This album comes from 1976, about seven or eight years later, I think, than the era of Ben I'd most like to investigate.
Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei
My previous review of this record pretty much said it all. Phallus Dei has its moments, but most the time the band finds a way to irritate in the middle of what might otherwise be a great track. Yeti, the only other album I've heard by them, tempers the irritating moments better than here (though it doesn't eradicate them).
Grizzly Bear: Yellow House
Grizzly Bear is one of those bands I feel I'm supposed to love. People I know whose tastes run similar to mine flip for this band, and this album in particular. But I just can't feel it. I've had a handful of songs by the band for a long time—I like them, don't love them. But I was told they were an "album band," so when their discography showed up on eMusic I finally took the plunge. Nothing has really changed: I still think they're okay but not game-changing. I'm curious to hear the new album when it comes out, to see where they go next—so I'm told, it might be a direction I'll like more.