Priest Picks #11: Our Weekly Top 10
Welcome to week #11 of Priest Picks. We did our mid-year list of favorite songs of 2020 (so far) last week, but we weren't entirely satisfied with it to be honest. Since many of the songs naturally came from records we had already written about at one point or another this year, we though we’d give you ten more songs we dig that we haven’t mentioned even once during our reign as the popes of pop. So here are 10 bonus songs free of charge.
1. NADIA REID / “Oh Canada”
WHY WE LOVE IT: It’s easy to be overlooked when you’re from New Zealand, but thankfully Nadia Reid makes a strong first impression. A festival performance caught the eye of the folks at Spacebomb Records in Richmond, Virginia, the same people who brought us Angelica Garcia, Natalie Prass, and Bedouine, among others, and soon after we picked up Out of My Province, one of those under-the-radar records that invariably end up on “overlooked album” lists at year-end. Co-producer and label head Matthew E. White knows how to add just the right instruments and atmosphere to bring out an artist’s natural talents and Nadia’s got writing and vocal talents to burn so we shouldn't be surprised at this sleeper of a record. It makes sense that her voice and her lyrics were put right out front where we can all hear them loud and clear. With this record, it seems like she’s given us a wide-eyed travelogue made by someone who doesn’t seem to completely know how talented she is or how her music will translate to the rest of the world. Clearly her travels frame an inner struggle she can’t quite reconcile. “Oh Canada” is the perfect example. Here, her pleasing Kiwi accent and understated soulful voice seem restless to explore uncharted territory, both geographical and emotional. “I would like to go to Canada/I have never been there before,” the song begins. Later she sings, “I am lonely for you in Norway, I am lonely for you in Spain/Could you hold me in the darkness?/Would you tell the world my name?” Meanwhile, the accents added from the Spacebomb House Band take what could be a basic singer-songwriter affair and move it to another level entirely. A rich, complex record that intrigues from any angle. I keep coming back to it.
2. A GIRL CALLED EDDY / “Two Hearts”
WHY WE LOVE IT: It’s not uncommon these days for an artist to make a comeback record long after their career was presumed dead and buried. We see marketing hype all the time to the tune of “The band’s first record in 10…20…30 years!” The results are often a crapshoot, but sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised, even amazed, at the results. But this case isn’t the typical triumphant return story. A Girl Called Eddy is actually the stage name of New Jersey’s Erin Moran (no, not Joanie “Shortcake” Cunningham from Happy Days) who put out a well-received self-titled record way back in 2004 and then fell off the map. When I bought the record at the time it seemed to announce a bright young artist with an old soul and songs to match. She was clearly enamored with the classic Brill Building songwriters of the early 60s and had a soulful voice that perfectly complemented the style. The table was set for a long career. Then nothing happened for sixteen years. And then out of nowhere, she’s back. The title of her new record, Been Around, amusingly anticipates the first question she’ll get in every interview, “Where you been?” with a very evasive street corner response, “You know, here and there, keeping busy, I’ve been around…” This record picks up pretty much where she left off thankfully, but in my opinion she’s got even better songs this time, which makes sense. She's had a little time to pull herself together. It was hard picking a single track from such a consistent record, But here’s “Two Hearts,” the album’s most no-brainer single, which bounces along with strings in pursuit as Erin pines away for a lover and it doesn’t appear she’s worried about how long it will take for him to find her. She’s already proven herself to be almost sarcastically patient so we shouldn’t be surprised. I assume when he eventually finds her and asks what she’s been up to, she’ll say “Oh, I’ve been around.”
3. CHUBBY & THE GANG / “All Along the Uxbridge Road”
WHY WE LOVE IT: By the name, it would seem easy to dismiss Chubby & the Gang as a schoolyard joke or Saturday morning cartoon, but these London pop-punks sound like the real deal to me (or they will do until one gets here). They can let it rip as only young punks can and the album certainly lives up to its title, Speed Kills, but they also provide moments that hint at a more multi-faceted future (“Grenfell Forever” and “Trouble (You Were Always on My Mind)” both slow it down and show depth). On the title track, “Speed Kills,” I love how they pause multiple times throughout the song to almost ponder their own warning, only to continue pressing forward at the same dangerous pace each time. It’s often little creative decisions like that that elevate one record above another. “All Along the Uxbridge Road” is one of many gems from the Gang and, even better, shares its title with the classic Monty Python skit “Climbing the North Face of Uxbridge Road” where “sidewalk climbers” horizontally make their way down the street in full mountain climbing regalia. Nice job gents, look forward to more in the near future.
4. YVES TUMOR / “Gospel for a New Century”
WHY WE LOVE IT: Sean Bowie, which sounds like an alias to begin with, is known by his actual alias, Yves Tumor, which sounds more like a British butler or chauffer or fashion designer than it does a cutting edge electronic artist, and even then his new album Heaven To a Tortured Mind doesn’t really sound like an electronic record at its core anyway, rather a futuristic form of rock & roll that might be capable of luring the kids back to rock music again, even though in reality this isn’t traditional rock music, which is good, because rock is dead anyway and the only way to lure fans back might be to trick them in some way and bring them in through a back door, and who better to do that than an eclectic, eccentric visionary with a tendency to shed personas and sounds like his birth surname did back in the 1970s, but I’m not sure there’s really a good way to explain his sound in words, so I encourage you to open your mind to an artist who’s trying to take a slightly tired sound and reinvigorate it in a most thrilling way, I think you’ll find there’s more than enough to keep die-hard rockers and those with modern attention spans fascinated simultaneously, and perhaps a little mind-altering substance would help it go down easier, especially with the world collapsing in on itself and all, but even without a snort of coke or a hit of acid or a belt of gin, we still would benefit from a new context for a familiar sound, especially now when we’re at our most challenged perhaps our tortured minds do need to find some utopian dream in which to hide out…
5. FOUR TET / “Baby”
WHY WE LOVE IT: Master sound manipulator Kieran Hebden is back at the controls again this year with a new record titled Sixteen Oceans. On “Baby” he teams up with singer Ellie Goulding for what was surely once a relatively conventional pop track. But in Four Tet’s hands, it gets sliced, diced, looped, pickled (!), and spliced with all the panache of a chef at Benihana and the reassembled into a cool, glitchy, repeating phantasm (a real nasty one, too) that takes on earworm status in the flick of a switchblade.
6. GREG DULLI / "Pantomima”
WHY WE LOVE IT: When I think 90s alternative rock, there are a few bands that come immediately to mind and Greg Dulli’s Afghan Whigs are one of them. They brought a new kind of rock and roll into the mix, one with a dark, almost sinister sounding sexuality. And people liked it, and even better, some identified with it. Now solo, he’s lost none of his trademarked back-alley lecherousness over the years and if anything, proves you don’t have to lose your vim and vigor as you get older, you just need to redefine it. It’s a fine line though, so I recommend you leave such pursuits to the experts. Rock stars might be able to pull if off, but you might want to get a second opinion for your attempt to pull it off. I love “Pantomima” personally, but the whole record is basically one long announcement that a feared predator, once thought tamed or tranquilized (maybe both), is back out on the prowl again.
7. NADA SURF / “Something I Should Do”
WHY WE LOVE IT: Nada Surf have a loyal fan base and there’s not much hope for much more beyond a cult audience, but Nada Surf, to their credit, are doing anything but phoning it in these days. Their gift for writing sparkling power pop tunes for now people is undiminished by time and those who appreciate well-crafted, melodic pop songs that don’t require seven co-writers and twelve producers will go radio gaga all over their latest album, Never Not Together. The one knock I can agree with regarding the Surf is that their sound is sometimes too consistent and songs that are individually great tend to blend together collectively losing their identity in the whole. That’s not the case here, however. Interestingly, the song that brought them their 15 seconds of fame initially, “Popular” from their 1996 debut High/Low (a song I’ve never loved, although it’s their only hit single to date), holds some common ground with “Something I Should Do.” Both provide a spoken word element, the former a sarcastic takedown of how to be popular in high school, the latter an indictment of the narcissistic social media-based society in which we live. The common theme of distorting who you are to maintain a more appealing public image is particularly sad since the songs were written almost a quarter-century apart—we’ve learned nothing as a society, and if anything, we’ve gotten much worse, failing to learn as adults what we should’ve figured out when we were pimply teenagers. “Something I Should Do” is a far more ambitious song than "Popular" in the end, though. It shows us what we’ve become in this divisive day and age: “And now the lines of non-facts waiting to get in the conversation are getting longer and longer/And some people can’t be beat in an argument.” At the end of the song they appeal to common sense, which, they should know, doesn’t work any more, “Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad/Holy math says we’re never not together.” Will we ever learn?
8. AUBRIE SELLERS / “My Love Will Not Change”
WHY WE LOVE IT: Aubrie, the daughter of country singer Lee Ann Womack, is a roadhouse warrior to the core and does things her own way. Perhaps she’s learned through her mother what she likes and doesn’t like about Nashville. It makes sense, then, that the album is called Far From Home. If you’re a visitor to music city, this is really the kind of artist you should see in some back road saloon. Someone who really knows their way around—not some cookie-cutter country act being propped up by money-grubbing industry types. “My Love Will Not Change” is a stomping duet with independent legend Steve Earle and finds Aubrie pledging consistency and loyalty in perhaps the most convincing way possible; by pumping some wattage into your cottage. She’s the real deal and the 100-proof is in the pudding on “My Love Will Not Change.”
9. DENISE CHAILA / “Chaila”
WHY WE LOVE IT: This is “calling card” rap. I love when artists deliver a manifesto right outta the box. And when it's Zambian-Irish rap, even better! In the bargain, you get a brief summation of the artist—what they’re about, how they roll—to set expectations for the listener in case there’s interest (and I’m interested). Among the things Denise clarifies: “I do what I want with my pronouns/Keep it low key on my profile,” “I’ve got drive, don’t need gas/I wanna go far, not go fast,” “I don’t go Dutch when I checkmate” (whatever that means), and “I work hard so I can harvest/Won’t pick my fruit from the low branches.” It’s the song equivalent of an FAQ link on a website. But she doesn’t stop there, she settles her last beef on the chorus, which acts as a musical pronunciation guide for her last name, which apparently is often butchered. “It’s not Chillay/It’s not Chilala/Not a hard pill to swalla.” So get it right people or fear reprisal. You have been schooled.
10. JEFF PARKER / “Build a Nest” / “C’mon Now”
WHY WE LOVE IT: Jeff Parker (most known for his past work with Tortoise) is a busy man in the fertile and collaborative Chicago jazz scene. Just recently we were awed by his guitar work on Jeremy Cunningham’s moving tribute to his murdered brother, The Weather Up There (see Priest Picks #7), but we have been delinquent in also praising Parker’s own record from this year, the innovative and downright adventurous Suite for Max Brown. I wonder what the real Max Brown, Jeff’s mother (Brown her maiden name), would make of this record—I imagine she must be one cool lady if this is what she inspires her son to create! This is not your mother’s jazz record, perhaps, but it may be Jeff’s. There’s still plenty of accomplished jazz here for traditionalists, but there are also beats and samples and loops on the record that take familiar jazz forms to fresh new worlds, and the hip, contemporary feel should appeal to listeners who get off on cross-genre pollenization. “Build a Nest” is the album’s opener and quickly sets the tone for what you’re about to experience. It’s a short introduction to the album’s ambitious premise—jazz can mutate into just about anything you want it to be as long as you're open-minded. The rest of the album proves that point again and again, culminating with the sensational 10-minute opus “Max Brown.” As an added bonus, “Build a Nest” is followed by a short Otis Redding sample taken from “The Happy Song” which is a nice tough (and right up our alley), although I would have loved it more if Parker had fleshed out the sample to a full-length composition instead of leaving it in raw form a la J Dilla. A minor quibble on an excellent record.
Thanks again for reading. It’s our privilege to spend a small portion of our week with you. Until we meet again, keep the peace and keep away from me. And find some new music while you’re at it. You owe it to yourself.