We’re in the days of indecisive weather and confused clocks. It feels deceptively like fall in the daylight but nighttime’s dark, cold fingers close around the plants from summer extinguishing what optimistic reaching for the sun they had left. The days are shorter and even if you race home from a day at work, the dark is nipping at your heels reminding you that before long it will be settled in around you. A long winter’s guest. As you pull the last of summer’s shorts and tees from the wash– only to be banished to a drawer until the earth is warm– you wonder what you can do to stall the inevitable.
River Glen Breitbach is a member of the extensive and musical Breitbach clan from Dubuque. Performing simply as River Glen, he is a multi-instrumentalist that mixes a blend of Folk, Pop, Rock, and Hip-Hop and Friday night he’s bringing a full band to Dick’s Tap & Shake Room promising a sunny and warm respite from the impending weather. What I’ve listened to so far fits pretty well with artists like Keller Williams or Jack Johnson.
If that wasn’t enough, two of my favorite artists are opening the show.
I’ve been following St. Louis singer/songwriter Beth Bombara‘s career since the beginning and three albums and one EP’s worth of rustic and yearning Americana prove that she’s in it for the long haul and a songwriter to keep an eye on. I was excited to hear her on SiriusXM’s The Loft this summer! Her latest album Map and No Directionis a more rock-leaning record than the previous two, but shows how her songwriting fits pretty much any mold. She draws easy comparisons to Natalie Merchant, I think. I love the George Harrison-ish slide hooks in “I Tried.”
Also opening the show is Dick Prall– daytime proprietor of Dick’s Tap & Shake Room and nighttime purveyor of pristine pop as DICKIE. After a few albums as Dick Prall and The Dick Prall Band and Starch Martins, he relaunched with a new name and a self-titled biographical song cycle in 2015 which I said in my review for Little Village Magazine, “…has the introspective pop we’re used to from Prall-—the head-hanging desperation, the wistful turn-of-phrase, the hopeful wishes all delivered in a brigade of earworm-wrangling hooks.”
Maybe we can’t completely avoid the cold, but with this line up on Friday night, we can stall it a bit as we listen to three really amazing musicians bringing their art to the stage at Dick’s.
At the time of his death in 2013, Scott Miller of seminal power pop bands Game Theory and The Loud Family was working on a new record. He was in varying degrees of completed on a bunch of songs– some songs had vocals and guitar, some of them had detailed notes. His wife Kristine reached out to Ken Stringfellow of The Posies to help coordinate finishing this record titled Supercalifragile based on conversations she had with Miller about the album (which, incidentally always included collaborations of singers and co-writers). In May of 2016, a Kickstarter was established to help fund the completion of the record. By July 4th it was 161% funded! At the time of the launch of the Kickstarter, they had already been recording for over a year, so the fundraising was primarily to wrap up some of the sessions, get mastering done and the rest of the process to get physical and digital product completed and distributed.
The list of contributors to Supercalifragile include former members of Game Theory (Jozef Becker, Nan Becker, Dave Gill, Shelley LaFreniere, Gil Ray, Donnette Thayer, and Suzi Ziegler) and notable guests including (of course) Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, R.E.M., Big Star), Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star), Aimee Mann, Ted Leo, Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Will Sheff (Okkervil River), Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Nada Surf), Mitch Easter, Alison Faith Levy (The Loud Family), Anton Barbeau, Jonathan Segel (Camper Van Beethoven), Allen Clapp (The Orange Peels), John Moremen, Stephane Schuck, Chris Xefos, Dan Vallor (GT Reissue producer for Omnivore), The inclusion of the former Game Theory members helps add continuity of this release to the Game Theory catalog, which has enjoyed renewed focus in the Omnivore Recordings reissues.
In a post to the Facebook group dedicated to Scott Miller, his wife has posted a lot of wonderful insight into how she and Stringfellow curated the release.
“This album is as close to what Scott would have created as is possible. I knew the artists he wanted to work with (he had even contacted a couple himself before he died as the artists confirmed this with me), and in a few cases which instruments he wanted them to play or which songs he wanted them to sing. Yes, he wanted guest vocalists and cowriters all over the record. Scott and I talked about his ideas and as he had worked with (and socialized and played tennis with) Ken Stringfellow, he proposed Ken help him organize and help produce this project. Scott spoke of having various artists bring their “arcs of influence” to the record. He said he would ultimately have veto power if anything got too out of hand (😉), but he was looking forward to having lots of great artists he admired and/or worked with to participate. (Scott even considered making track breaks mid-song when a new artist was introduced to the album. This was an idea we went with in the traditional sense by bringing on artists for entire songs. Not sure Scott would have brought this unusual idea to fruition or not.) So, in this case, with this record, completed without Scott’s final “veto,” no, we can’t possibly make the exact record Scott would have made. (And in fact, even Scott wouldn’t know what it would become until after working with everyone and it was done!) But with so much overwhelming respect for Scott’s work and in honor of his life, we all kept as much of it “Scott” as we could. All his ideas, all his lyrics, all his riffs, all his ideas for bridges and choruses…everything preserved and used as much as musically possible. In some ways, it might in fact be more “Scott” than the record Scott would have made. ❤️ And that’s why I think we all love it so much.”
In August of 2017 the finished product was shipped out to everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter and early reviews and posts to the Facebook group have been glowing. Now that the Kickstarters have been shipped out the team is ready to make the release generally available. In an email sent to people who signed up from the website, the album will be available on Bandcamp (the link isn’t available yet) this week: August 24th in download, CD and vinyl.
Here is a video of a rough take of “I Still Dream of Getting Back to Paris” shot at Abbey Road Studios in London during the recording sessions with Anton Barbeau on vocals. Miller (credited as The Loud Family) and Barbeau put out a kind of split release in 2006 titled What If It Works?
As a long-time fan of Scott Miller’s work, I’m really looking forward to getting this release. Like many, Miller’s sudden and unexpected loss was painful; too early in a career arc that certainly would have generated more significant releases. Supercalifragile brings some closure with this release in that regard and should provide influence for future artists the way the Big Star catalog has.
I think the heyday of bands like Boards of Canada, Autechre, FourTet and Aphex Twin was in the early 2000’s. To be fair, all of these acts are still recording today, but I know I was listening to a lot more of bands that sounded like this back then. One band I discovered back then, through a friend of mine was a duo out of Philly/New Jersey called Loess. Something about Clay Emerson and Ian Pullman’s particular approach to this music really spoke to me, and to this day I still add songs from their catalog to my rotation. There is a loneliness or desolation to their music. Spare beats and distant melodies form the structure for loops of distressed samples. To me, it’s the audio equivalent of a Quay Brothers film.
The last release of all new songs from Loess was 2006’s Wind and Water, its sounds inspired by a relocation to a woodsier southern New Jersey. After a compilation release in 2009 that had some new songs and some rarities titled Burrows, we’ve had radio silence.
Until now. Seemingly out of the blue, we have the announcement of a new album from Loess titled Pocosin, and from the two tracks we’ve heard already it has the sound I’ve come to love over the years. Also, the album art is the trademark desolate and manipulated black and white photos that always fit the mood. The album is on n5MD, the label that also released Wind and Water.
Coming out on February 17th, we have a few different formats– digital download and CD, but also two different versions on vinyl. One is transparent and the other is a white with black splatter. You can listen to “Petrel” and “Striae” from the n5MD Bandcamp page, where you can order it. You can also order it from n5MD directly.
2016 was the 10th birthday of It’s Time to Play B-Sides, as unreal as that seems. This blog started as an offshoot of the regular conversations about music I was having at work with my friends and co-workers. At the time there wasn’t the proliferation of music sites that there are today, and informed or researched information about music was tough to find. With encouragement from my friends, I started this as a way to capture some of the tangents we’d get into at work. It also ended up being a return of sorts to doing a music website after shuttering the somewhat popular website I was running about DJ Shadow. The name of the blog came from the signoff post I made to the DJ Shadow boards and was also a line from “Burning For You” by Blue Oyster Cult which always represented the desire to dig a little deeper into music– to flip the record over and listen to the songs on the B-Side.
The focus of It’s Time to Play B-Sides has morphed a bit over the years, some of it due to the amount of time I have to dedicate to writing on it, some of it is because I have focused a lot of my music writing since 2009 as a contributor to Little Village Magazine. This also explains why this list includes a lot of Iowa artists since that’s what we review. That said, there are some really amazing bands in Iowa and even after I review the albums, they stay in regular rotation for me and earn spots on my list.
As many will note, 2016 was a really strange year for music– sadly, mostly notable for the striking number of losses: Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, and Paul Kantner. The one that really hit me hard was the loss of Prince. Prince represented for me the first artist that I discovered on my own. Most of my formative music taste came from my father and that music is still a big part of the foundation of what I think is good in music. Prince came onto the larger music scene for me with Purple Rain, and from there I followed his career, and bands he worked with closely. I don’t think that we’ll see another artist quite as influential or as boundless in talent and genius again. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like part of his ability to branch out was due to the fact that he hit it big during a time when the music industry was creating huge stars and he could afford to make some albums that were more daring and experimental.
The list below is in no particular order, but represent the albums that I listened to the most in 2016.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million – Justin Vernon got back on the horse. It really seemed like he wasn’t going to do another record as Bon Iver– he was burnt out of the attention and visibility he got from his Grammy-winning second album. He debuted a couple of the songs at the inaugural Eaux Claires Festival in 2015 with a glorious live show. It took the prodding of his friend Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Polica, etc.) to make him finish (or even keep working on) it. The resulting album seems related to the last album, but the textures and production are unexpected and frankly jolting in comparison, which was exactly his intention, I think. Lots of samples, and heavily affected recording techniques. I expect that this album will influence a lot of artists going forward. At the root of the album is still the perspective of Vernon. His losses and heartbreaks, the stories
Kalispell – Printer’s Son – Kalispell is the name of Shane Leonard’s solo music when he’s not working with other bands like Field Report and JE Sunde. Printer’s Son is a beautiful record, period. From my review on playbsides: “Printer’s Son is one of those rare records that is so completely imagined and executed that when you first listen to it, it seems to drop unexpectedly out of the ether. It’s a record that defies any convenient genre classification. Elements of ambience and folk and jazz come together to help deliver a grippingly emotional and personal album.”
Lissie – My Wild West – Rock Island-native Elisabeth “Lissie” Maurus becomes homesick and moves back to Iowa and self-releases an album based on the experience. Full of hooks, driving and anthemic, it’s a great start to a career back home. Here’s my review from Little Village.
King of the Tramps – Cumplir con el Diablo – A later addition to the list. King of Tramps from Auburn, IA packs a lot of classic guitar-driven rock remniscent of Black Crowes into their latest effort (which comes in a super-cool transparent vinyl version). Here’s my review from Little Village Magazine.
Durand Jones and the Indications – Durand Jones and the Indications – New release on the fantastic Soul and R&B label out of Ohio, Colemine Records. In 2016, Colemine Records started a kind of subscription series where they email you upcoming releases to allow you to opt-in to the special first-pressing variations. This is a much better approach to this idea than the forced-in versions that are the trend today. They let you listen to the releases and you can decide to be part of the drop or not. One of the releases was the debut release of Durand Jones and the Indications on transparent blue vinyl. Fantastic classic R&B in the tradition of Stax/Volt and Otis Redding. Check out the video for “Make A Change.”
Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee – MC Taylor’s second full-length on Merge started as a project to create musical accompaniment to an exhibition of photographs taken by William Gedney in 1972 of an Eastern Kentucky coal-mining camp. Initially the songs were going to be based on the photographs, but eventually took their own direction. The album is distinctively HGM with Taylor expressing the developing perspective of a man coming to terms with balancing a family life and a music career. I’ve been a fan from before the first release as HGM and eagerly await the next releases.
Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Lines – I found out about Steve Gunn through his connection to Hiss Golden Messenger– a one-off collaboration called Golden Gunn. His 2016 release is his debut on Matador Records. To me, his music is influenced by the great UK guitarists like Richard Thompson and Michael Chapman (whose upcoming release 50, he produced and played on).
William Tyler – Modern Country – Nashville guitar wizard William Tyler, who works with a lot folks including Hiss Golden Messenger and Lambchop, released another album of his particular atmospheric guitar acrobatics. For me, his albums add a wide cinematic soundtrack to whatever I’m doing.
Scott Hirsch – Blue Rider Songs – Scott Hirsch is the silent partner in Hiss Golden Messenger, but for his debut solo album (which has been a long time coming, frankly) he delivers a breezy laid-back album that sounds like JJ Cale’s best work.
Bo Ramsey – Wildwood Calling – Bo Ramsey returns with his first album since 2008’s Fragile. This album, recorded in his kitchen is instrumentals showcasing his distinctive country blues style he is reknowned for. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.
The Pines – Above the Prairie – It’s safe to say that any time The Pines release a new album, it will be on my favorite albums for that year. Their signature atmospheric take on folk and blues has developed slowly over the releases to the point where it is nearly its own genre. I can’t think of any other bands that sound quite like The Pines. Read Matt Steele’s review in Little Village Magazine.
Chrash – Things My Friends Say – Chris Bernat of 90’s alt rock band Tripmaster Monkey released their first album of angular pop rock on Quad Cities indie label Cartouche. From my review in Little Village Magazine: “Things My Friends Say is an album that distinguishes itself in the landscape of new releases by the determinedly outsider approach to songs which, in the end, are damn catchy.”
Freakwater – Scheherazade – This reboot of Freakwater was a long time in the works, but turned out one of the best albums in their catalog. Scheherazade is a more rich and expansive version of their sound thanks to the band, which includes Jim Elkington of seemingly every band related to Chicago. Read my interview with Janet and Catherine in Little Village Magazine (Part 1, Part 2).
Halfloves – (self titled) – The Iowa band The Olympics reboot with the guiding hand of Brendan Darner to create a dark pop record of singular vision and execution. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.
SIRES – Soul For Sale – Another rebrand/reboot of an Iowa band– this time the former Dylan Sires and Neighbors become SIRES and also work with Brendan Darner to create a moody masterpiece (I think I see a trend here). Fantastic record, though– from my review in Little Village Magazine, ” They’ve crafted an album packed with smart, bright classic hooks as well as dark, lusty bombastic rhythms: an impressive juxtaposition in contrast.”
Max Jury – Max Jury – After a run of amazing singles and an EP, Des Moines native Max Jury releases his debut album, and the anticipation built by the singles was justified. Max Jury is a jaw-droppingly solid album. From my review in Little Village Magazine, “a balanced delivery of Spector-esque wall-of-sound and an updated take on early ’70s R&B and soul.” It’s too bad that it’s going to take Jury moving to the UK and blowing up over there before his native country takes notice.
TWINS – Square America – More Sires, please. This seeming dynasty of anyone with the last name Sires cranking out amazing pop rock continues with Cedar Falls band TWINS, whose second album on Maximum Ames takes their guitar rock guns and point them at 70’s big hitters like Cheap Trick and KISS. These guys continue to slug it out on bar stages, but could easily fill an arena with their big sound if given the chance. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.
Devin Frank – The Vanishing Blues – Devin Frank of Poison Control Center releases an album influenced by 60’s psych. “With The Vanishing Blues, Frank has made a refreshing stylistic statement by using a sonic palate derived from psychedelic rock’s dawning era — using bits of Syd Barrett, Donovan and the Zombies. This makes the album a delightfully unique and compelling standout in the landscape of releases this year.” – from my review in Little Village Magazine.
The Multiple Cat – Intricate Maps – This was an album I feel like I waited a long time for. I first heard these songs when Pat Stolley brought the band to Mission Creek Festival in 2015 opening for The Sea and Cake at The Mill. Really fantastic album that is tough to summarize. Lots of vintage tones in the guitar sounds, but not really a retro record, “It’s tempting to suggest that Stolley’s use of these elements makes Intricate Maps somehow retro. However, this stitched fabric of sound is more than the sum of its parts. It is a polished work that both honors the tradition of alternative rock and puts a current spin on it with Stolley’s signature production work.” from my review in Little Village Magazine.
Christopher The Conquered – I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll – Dramatically bold anthemic rock that can barely be contained in a record. Christopher the Conquered is a one-man tour-de-force of pop, funny poignent and self-aware. Here’s my review for Little Village Magazine.
For me, the early Nineties sent Leonard Cohen crashing into my consciousness thanks to a couple of covers and a couple of soundtrack appearances. The Cohen song “Everybody Knows” was featured prominently in the 1990 Christian Slater film “Pump Up The Volume” both as the original Cohen version as well as the Concrete Blonde cover version. In 1991 we were treated to another in that very 1990’s tradition of tribute albums– this time the I’m Your Fan album, which I bought as a completist of the R.E.M. catalog due to their cover of “First We Take Manhattan.” Other notable covers on that soundtrack were “I Can’t Forget” by The Pixies and Lloyd Cole’s cover of “Chelsea Hotel.” But, the cover on here that would launch a million others was the album closer “Hallelujah” done by John Cale as a stripped down midtempo piano and vocal. According to an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, Cale heard Cohen do the song live and was moved to cover it himself. When Cale asked Cohen for the lyrics, he was faxed fifteen pages of lyrics. Cale edits the song into the version that is best known. From the podcast, “Cale says, that for his version, he took the “cheeky” parts. He ends up using the first two verses of the original combined with three verses from the live performance. And Cale changes some words – most importantly, he changes the theme and brings back the biblical references that Cohen had in the album version.”
This is the version that Jeff Buckley heard and was moved to cover for his debut album Grace, which is pretty much the gold standard as far as “Hallelujah” versions go.
Getting back to Cale’s version, it would also make an appearance on his 1992 live album Fragments of a Rainy Season, described by Trouser Press as an “auto-retrospective” of Cale’s career made up of solo performances from his 1992 tour. I happened to hear it being played in a record store in Dubuque and bought it on the spot. I was a fan of the Eno/Cale record from 1990 Wrong Way Up, (from which the version of “Cordoba” on this album comes), so I saw this release as complimentary to that. It’s an album I played a lot and still dig out on occasion. It’s a good distilling of Cale’s solo career in that he experimented a lot with sound over the years, so a compilation of his studio work to me would be uneven at best, and in the minimal solo acoustic setting, the vocals and lyrics really shine. Admittedly, Cale’s piano playing is rudamentary, and his use of repeating pedal notes can be a bit grating, but the energy and emotion Cale brought to those performances draws the attention away from that and still ranks as one of my desert-island discs.
The 1992 CD version of Fragments of a Rainy Season kicks off with five performances that, for me really set up the energy of the album: “A Child’s Christmas In Wales,” “Dying On The Vine,” “Cordoba,” “Darling I Need You” and “Paris 1919.” For the upcoming expanded reissue of Fragments on Domino Records the track sequence of the album is dramatically changed up for an unknown reason, and as someone who listens to the album a lot, it’s jarring. But, not so much that it detracts, and in initial listens for me seems to also set the performances up. The album proper (not including the bonus tracks) still ends with “Hallelujah” appropriately.
I’m looking forward to having Fragments of a Rainy Season available in vinyl so I can play it in my living room along with other essential records in my collection. The version of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” on Fragments kind of makes it a Christmas-y album a little. The song is a musical interpretation of the Dylan Thomas poem that was originally on his 1989 album of Thomas works Words for the Dying which was produced by Brian Eno.
Limited to one pressing, Fragments of A Rainy Season will be released on triple gatefold 12” vinyl featuring an LP of 8 previously unreleased tracks.On Heavyweight Vinyl With Download Card
01. A Wedding Anniversary (Live)
02. Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed (Live)
03. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (Live)
04. Cordoba (Live)
05. Buffalo Ballet (Live)
06. Child’s Christmas In Wales (Live)
07. Darling I Need You (Live)
08. Guts (Live)
09. Ship Of Fools (Live)
10. Leaving It Up To You (Live)
11. The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (Live)
12. Chinese Envoy (Live)
13. Dying On The Vine (Live)
14. Fear (Is A Man’s Best Friend) (Live)
15. Heartbreak Hotel (Live)
16. Style It Takes (Live)
17. Paris 1919 (Live)
18. (I Keep A) Close Watch (Live)
19. Thoughtless Kind (Live)
20. Hallelujah (Live)
21. Fear (Previously Unreleased)
22. Amsterdam (Previously Unreleased)
23. Broken Hearts (Previously Unreleased)
24. Waiting For The Man (Previously Unreleased)
25. Heartbreak (Previously Unreleased)
26. Fear (Previously Unreleased)
27. Paris 1919 (Previously Unreleased)
28. Antarctica (Previously Unreleased)
Though some would debate this, it’s my opinion that American Idol’s Season 9 in 2010 was the last season worth watching. The winning chemistry of American Idol to me was always a combination of the judges and the talent, and 2010 was the year that Paula Abdul was no longer a judge and in 2011, show creator and longtime judge Simon Cowell was gone. My wife and I– longtime followers of Idol– didn’t tune in for Season 10.. Over the nine years that we watched, there have been standouts in the talent, Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Season Five’s edge-of-the-seat powerhouse of Chris Daughtry/ Katherine McPhee/ Kellie Pickler/ Elliott Yasmin, Jordin Sparks, David Archuleta, David Cook and Chris Allen. One of my favorites for that nine-year run was Ohio native, by way of Chicago Crystal Bowersox. Though most of the highlights of American Idol have been squarely Top 40 types, Bowersox was an honest-to-goodness songwriter who could play and sing. She, with her slightly crunchy hippy personae topped with questionable dreadlocks, came off somehow as an underdog contender that I had hoped would take the top honors, but complications related to her Type-I diabetes (of which she is a spokesperson) cost her the top spot (Though, it could be argued that taking the top spot doesn’t always help your career– I’m looking at you Ruben Studdard and David Cook).
Since Idol, Bowersox has released three albums, with her most recent full-length All That For This released in 2013 and produced by reknowned Los Lobos member and producer Steve Berlin and features guest Jakob Dylan. Notably, she also shed her dreadlocks in 2013. Her most recent release is a self-released 7-track EP titled Promises. It’s difficult to glean what her next steps will be in her career based on her website, but she’s touring quite a bit. I’m certainly interested to see her live. Check out this great performance of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah.”
Crystal Bowersox will be performing for the 2nd time at CSPS this Friday night with a small band. The show is at 8PM (the doors and box office generally open an hour before) at tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door (if there are any left). You can purchase tickets at the CSPS box office or online. Details at the Legion Arts website.
Printer’s Son is one of those rare records that is so completely imagined and executed that when you first listen to it, it seems to drop unexpectedly out of the ether. It’s a record that defies any convenient genre classification. Elements of ambience and folk and jazz come together to help deliver a grippingly emotional and personal album. The album reminds me another album that slips from the grasp of genre: David Sylvian’s 1987 landmark solo record Secrets of the Beehive. For his second release Sylvian took another step away from the New Wave-ish synthpop of his band Japan. He enlisted some Jazz artists including Ryuki Sakamoto and Mark Isham which gave that album a delicate ambience. Printer’s Son carries a similar jazz folk vibe. Additionally, the dry production of Leonard’s vocals suit the intimacy of the album.
Printer’s Son owes some of its woody atmospherics to the fact that it was partially recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios and was engineered and co-produced by Brian Joseph, who was on the boards for Bon Iver’s 2012 Grammy-winning album. Bon Iver is another album that similarly made beautiful soundscapes out of impressionistic personal stories and accounts. Leonard takes recent painful events and uses them as the basis for Printer’s Son. He talks about this on The Current show Radio Heartland:
I had this wildly unforseen year of just this radical change. I thought I had my path pretty set– music was going well and I was living in Chicago. All within this year, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and his passing forced me– ultimately I think in a really important and helpful way even though very difficult– to reconsider a lot of assumptions I had. And, right after he passed our family dog died and then my dad’s father also passed. It was all at the same time and I was moving and also moving away from a relationship that I had been in a long time. So, it was like the world got turned over and then I just started thinking differently as a symptom of that.
Some albums have stories that we can identify with. On Printer’s Son, I feel the sentiments, the memories, the connections. Leonard tells his stories and like a good book or film, they become part of the listener’s own fabric. I can picture that canyon climb with the banded walls in “Windfall.” I feel the ghost itch from the overgrowth scratching skin on the fading road in “Parting Ground.”
David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive has become part of my permanent soundtrack. I feel that Kalispell’s timeless tapestry of folk and jazz in Printer’s Son is destined to be another album that I will hold onto.
By the time I first heard Pylon, they had already broken up. They were featured prominently in the documentary film Athens, GA: Inside Out and its associated sountrack on IRS Records. I bought the soundtrack first– I had heard that R.E.M. had a couple of songs on it, so the completist I was, I needed to own the soundtrack.. The R.E.M. songs were good, and the band I had at the time did a similar version of “Swan Swan H” though we couldn’t really tackle the harmonies of “(All I’ve Got To Do is) Dream.”
But, the real eye-opener was all of the other unknown bands on the album. I really loved Love Tractor, and to this day is still one of my favorites, and The Squalls, and Dreams So Real (who were swept up by a major and then lost forever). I wasn’t sure what to make of the dissonant and angular music of Pylon, whose live version of “Stop It” was kind of the centerpiece of the soundtrack. It wasn’t until I finally saw the film on VHS that I really understood that Pylon was one of the early bands in the scene and all of the other bands really looked up to them, including my heroes R.E.M., who covered “Crazy” which was included in the odds-n-sods compilation Dead Letter Office. I started college later in 1987, and found friends who were really into the Athens scene and I borrowed the two albums Chomp and Gyrate and made a tape of them and was quickly a fan.
The band broke up because they were tired of the pressures that come with a band that was rising from obscurity. In 1990, seemingly out of nowhere the band was back. In an interview with Perfect Sound Forever, they said that they realized that interest in the band wouldn’t die, and they were all still living in Athens, so they decided to reform. The put together a “greatest hits” of sorts called Hits, and then recorded a new album Chain in 1990. By that time, their unique sound wasn’t as leftfield as it was earlier. In fact, bands like The Sugarcubes probably owed a lot to the groundbreaking Pylon. But, they wouldn’t stay together for long after that.
Some time in 2004, the band reunited again and enjoyed notoriety spurred on by the CD reissue campaign of Chomp and Gyrate by DFA Records (now out-of-print again, and going for insane prices). The band played shows and, I for one was happy they were back. The band broke up officially again in 2009, following the unexpected death of Randall Bewley.
So, in 2016 we have some developments in the Pylon camp. In March it was announced that a 1980 performance at Danceteria by Pylon in the archives of Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong as part of the Nightclubbing TV show from NYC that captured the early days of Punk and New Wave. There were select screenings of the show with Q&A from the band. Then, in April the band announced a 7″ of live tracks from their last show in Athens, GA in 1983 at the Mad Hatter. This show was captured to video and multitrack audio for a pilot for a failed PBS series called Athens Shows.
It turns out that the 7″ was a taste of what was to come. On July 25th– Randal Bewley’s birthday– Pylon is releasing a 2 LP and digital download version of the last show in Athens titled simply PYLON LIVE. Pylon was a force to be reckoned with live and this album captures them at the peak of their powers with a setlist that picks the great tracks from the 2 LPs and drops in a couple of rarities. “Party Zone” was only available on a rare DB Recs compilation and Pylonized cover of the Batman TV theme with new lyrics.
The vinyl package comes in three different colors– 200 on magenta vinyl (which compliments the cover well) and 200 on clear vinyl. The rest are on black vinyl. The LP’s are a reasonable $29.99 plus about $5 shipping. The digital download is $8.99. If you pre-order, you get immediate download of “Volume.” Here it is in their Bandcamp player:
PYLON LIVE is available for pre-order at chunklet.com, chunklet.bandcamp.com, iTunes, Amazon, and wherever digital music is sold.
Limited to 200 on magenta vinyl.
Limited to 200 on clear vinyl.
Unlimited on black vinyl.
Working is No Problem
Italian Movie Theme
Feast On My Heart
We’ve made it through another year of music. 2015 was another year of the music industry trying to figure out the future. Heavy hitters like Taylor Swift and Adele removed their music from online streaming services like Spotify– which might be interpreted as an ego move on both parts. Jay-Z’s Tidal enjoyed a bit of press due to Prince releasing two albums exclusively on it, though I still don’t know anyone who is using it. Adele’s last-quarter release of her much-anticipated 25 album has just surpassed 5 million copies sold. There is a lot of debate about the significance of this as it applies to the general health of the industry. Ultimately, though, I don’t think you can use this as any kind of barometer– certainly not an indicator of “rebounding.” One thing is for certain, though, her 50+ date tour in 2016 will be the top grossing.
In other re-warmed news, a reformed Grateful Dead with Trey Anastasio as “Jerry” played some high-grossing shows in LA and Chicago showing that baby boomers and Gen X’ers are willing to shell out lots of money to recapture even a brief glimpse of their youth. The shows seemed like a fitting celebration of 50 years and a kind of closure to the promise of the remainder of the band getting back together. The following “Dead and Friends” tour with John Mayer as “Jerry” has been benefiting from the exposure and in my opinion are an improved version of the Dead. His vocals and guitar work are top-notch and add a real polish to the proceedings.
Looking this list over, it shows that I spent most of 2015 listening to local artists. Iowa has really been stepping up its game for music and we’ve got some of the best music around. There were a lot of notable releases outside of Iowa, but I just didn’t find myself putting any of them on repeat. It says a lot– you don’t have to go far from your back yard to get world-class music.
Looking over other Best of Lists, I see some albums that I listened to and thought were good, but they just didn’t stick with me: The Decemberists – What A Wonderful World, What A Terrible World, Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell, Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear, Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly, Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.
Here is the list in no particular order–
Dickie – Self Titled : Dick Prall moved back to Iowa and started a new project with Kristina Priceman crafting a wonderful string-wrapped package of retro-inspired pop rock. Somewhere between the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly sits this collection of autobiographical songs with heart.
Younger – Self Titled : This one from the new Iowa City band Younger was a late discovery for me, but no less brillant. Former members of The Wandering Bears and Emperors Club have put out a Riot Grrl-ish album that people are drawing comparisons to The Breeders and Bikini Kill. To me it sounds more like Pylon and Throwing Muses. In any event, a fantastic record that I’ll be spinning a lot in 2016, I expect.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit : Yep. More edgy Riot Grrlish rawk. On almost everyone’s list for 2015.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Self Titled : I’ve been a fan of Nathaniel Rateliff ever since I saw him on the Daytrotter Barnstormer shows back in 2010 along with Delta Spirit. I’m a sucker for his well-crafted folk albums to date, but his transformation into an R&B powerhouse and seeing the nearly-universal embrace of it is pretty unexpected. Fantastic record and the return of Stax Records!
Holy White Hounds – Sparkle Sparkle : Des Moines band Holy White Hounds are gaining momentum by word of mouth. These guys make some pretty fantastic rock coupled with a great live show. Kind of 90’s throwback metal/grunge reinvented for the new century.
Phil Cook – Southland Mission : Hiss Golden Messenger sideman, member of Megafaun, producer and all-around great guy Phil Cook releases his first solo album with him singing. Due to a stupid security issue at Eaux Claires Festival this year, I missed his set, though it’s on YouTube. Rootsy, bluesy gospel-influenced boogie rock. I could put this album on every day and it puts the same dumb grin on my face every time.
Tom Jessen – Hunting Season : Former Iowa musician Tom Jessen released his first album in years– and that pent-up potential created what has to be the best snapshot of current American dystopia ever. Pretty damn fantastic portrait of how fucked up things are. LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM.
Charlie Parr – Stumpjumper : Speaking of Phil Cook, he produced the latest album from Minnesota retro blues and folk historian Charlie Parr. He was picked up by Red House Records which is a good home for him. This is the first album he’s done with a full band and the fleshing out of his sound really benefits the proceedings. “Over The Red Cedar” gives me goosebumps every time I play it.
Calexico – Edge of the Sun : Calexico tends to swing back and forth between full-on Latin-influenced albums and albums that lean a little more towards Americana-rock. This one ends up being more the latter. For me, I welcome the changes the band goes through– continually pushing the identity of what Calexico is.
Ryan Adams – 1989 : I did listen to this one a lot as soon as it appeared. It’s a really great album, but it seems like it is just an extension of last years self titled release– which isn’t bad at all. I like it, but I just about didn’t include it on the list because, for me anyway, Ryan Adams is a complete musician and songwriter, so I prefer to have more complete work rather than covers. I suppose some of this feeling is due to my relative unawareness of Taylor Swift’s blockbuster album it’s based on.
Dagmar – Afterlight : I can’t say enough about this Iowa duo. Atmospheric and sublime harmonies with unique counterpoint and rhythm. Jawdroppingly gorgeous album– somewhere between Philip Glass and Sufjan Stevens sits this baroque choral folk.
Pieta Brown – Drifters EP : The “lost” tracks from 2014’s fantastic Paradise Outlaw album. Brown is using this to launch her own “underground” imprint Lustre Records. Includes a remix from Justin Vernon!
The Pines – Pasture: Folk Songs EP : A kind of surprise drop from The Pines this year in the form of an EP of covers from Joe Price, Mance Lipscomb, Iris Dement, Mason Jennings & Greg Brown. No new ground broken here, but is a tribute to the songs that The Pines have included in their sets over the years.
Jim Viner’s Incredible B3 Band – COMANGO! : Jim Viner– Iowa drummer extrordinaire– assembled a collection of musician friends to create a retro B3-driven album with influences from The Meters and Booker T and the MGs. A really fun album that recalls the pre-Diplomette-vocals days of The Diplomats of Solid Sound. Destined to be part of the soundtrack to a cable TV show near you!
Kamasi Washington – The Epic – If I have any complaint about this sprawling masterpiece of Jazz, it’s that it can’t reasonably be digested in one sitting. But, if you’re willing to dedicate the time, this album is impressive in its diversity. I consider myself a fan of Jazz, but I don’t listen to much contemporary Jazz as I haven’t found much that really keeps my attention. I hope this signals a new generation of jazz artists who are willing to explore and innovate.
Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam – Thundercat works with Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington, and all three worked on the Kendrick Lamar album How To Pimp A Butterfly — noted for its adventuresome approach to the music. His short album (16 minutes, but Flying Lotus said it’s an album, not an EP) from this year featured him front-and-center singing and leading most of the music with his jazz and funk bass riffs.
Aero Flynn – Self Titled – Justin Vernon raves about Josh Scott as a songwriter. After a lot of years not performing music, he comes back with Aero Flynn. Atmospheric and swirling it sounds like a distant cousin of Radiohead when they made more straightforward songs (OK Computer, maybe).
Beth Bombara – Self Titled – Beth is back with her most polished and accomplished record to date. She continues her shuffling, pining folk and country. Dusty and awesome.
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free : Brilliant record– literary and scenic songwriting. Isbell continues to impress with one of the great records from this year– almost unanimously agreed.
Lyrics Born – Real People – Lyric Born has never been shy to work with live band. He did one tour with a full band behind him (documented on the Overnite Encore Live album), he contributed vocals to the 2007 Galactic album From the Corner to the Block. His new album Real People includes members of Galactic as well as a who’s who of New Orleans musicians including Ivan Neville, Corey Henry, Trombone Shorty, the Revivalists’ David Shaw and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Typically upbeat and tongue in cheek the album is a funk overload. Great record– not sure why more people aren’t calling it out (see what I did there?).
The southwestern corner of Ohio might not be on the list of notable hotbeds of soul music like Memphis, Philly or Detroit but Loveland, OH is the home of Colemine Records. Label head Terry Cole has been diligently curating releases of hot Soul 7-inches and LP’s since 2007. I’ve been following his releases closely since about 2009 and next to Daptone, I think that Colemine is an important documenter of the new resurgence of R&B and Soul.
One of Colemine’s early releases was a 7″ from Brooklyn “Cinematic Soul” ensemble Ikebe Shakedown. Released in 2009 to acclaim, the record has been out-of-print for a few years and copies on discogs.com have gone for up to $60! For Black Friday Record Store Day, Colemine is re-issuing this landmark single in yellow transparent vinyl. There are only going to be 300 of these Ikebe Shakedown yellow 45s available on Black Friday Record Store Day and you’re going to have to go to an actual physical shop to get them. Ask your favorite record store to hit up Colemine if they are interested in stocking this rare single or any other of the fine releases.
So, you get this all sorted out and you’re asking yourself, “How can I avoid ever missing another Colemine release?!” Well, Colemine is here to help. Starting this week they have announced a groovy subscription service. This service seems to be MUCH more convenient than others I’ve looked at. For one, you are opting in to be informed of a new release (which will include rare pressings and alternate pressings) and will have one reserved for you. They’ll send you a PayPal Invoice for the release plus shipping and you have ten days pay the invoice before the offer expires. Easy-peasy and you don’t have to worry about being on the hook for a release.