Priest Picks #21: Our Weekly Top 10 (Special Top 18 Edition)
Welcome to week #21 of Priest Picks. This has been a busy week here as we do some catch-up maintenance in preparation for winter. So while I was weather-treating our squirrel picnic table, putting our last remaining can of Lysol in the wall safe, and reorganizing my record collection from least angry to most angry, I’ve been spending some quality time with the second Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy compilation released on Bandcamp last Friday (and only Friday). The project benefits the Voting Rights Lab which works to curb voter suppression and other voting shenanigans in all 50 states. The comp features 77 unreleased tracks featuring covers, live recordings, remixes, demos, discarded songs, and other ephemera from minor to major artists of all shapes and sizes. To acknowledge the magnitude of the effort, I thought I would do a one-sentence take on each song, which I’ve split into categories for easy consumption. At the end, I've high-lighted my top 10 favorites. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
1. The Live Tracks
The Postal Service / “We Will Become Silhouettes”
Well-chosen track that includes the timely lyric, “I wanted to walk through the empty streets and feel something constant under my feet / But all the news reports recommended that I stay indoors,” but if you’re looking for a revelatory performance you’ll be mildly disappointed
Black Pumas / “Colors”
I like my live songs to sound live, otherwise what's the point, but this song doesn’t, which doesn’t mean it’s still not a powerful song with a profound message—it just doesn’t offer anything new or exciting on stage.
Guided By Voices / “Game of Pricks”
This GBV gem was the 97th song on a 100-song setlist (23 songs longer than this compilation!) for this legendary 2019 New Year’s Eve gig in L.A., which means Bob Pollard was probably well into his second case of beer at this point, but it still brings that classic crunch we all adore and miraculously he nails all the lyrics, too.
Arcade Fire ft. David Byrne / “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”
I didn’t put this in the covers section since Byrne sings the lead vocal, so this qualifies as a pretty decent, if poorly recorded, boot of a magic moment for fans in attendance.
Hippo Campus / “No Poms”
This hometown gig at Minneapolis's legendary First Avenue wasa rousing affair for these local faves and this lives up to the billing even though the audio quality isn’t the best and the song loses some impact as a result.
Jack Johnson / “My Mind’s for Sale”
Lyrically somewhat relevant (“I don’t care for your paranoid ‘Us against them’ kind of walls”), but this is borderline insufferable jam-pop that is Jack’s stock and trade, unfortunately.
Tenacious D / “Rize of the Fenix”
This live dynamo comes 23 songs into a 77-track compilation and it’s the perfect palate cleanser for the long trek that’s still to come—the only downside is there’s not another dose of triumphant bombast again for the rest of the proceedings.
Beach Bunny / “Dream Boy”
Strong live version of this year’s super-crunchy Honeymoon single that does the original justice and proves the band can bring it live, too.
Sturgill Simpson / “All Around You”
If you’re going to replace the original’s horns with fiddles for an appearance at the Ryman, you risk making the song sound anemic by comparison, as is the case here.
Bob Mould / “In a Free Land”
Not the best recording of this Hüsker Dü classic, but the message is the key, so it’s forgivable: “Saturation of stars and stripes don’t mean a thing / The only freedom worth fighting for / Is for what you think.”
Chicano Batman / “Invisible People”
Not a dynamic live track, but this song tackles race head-on in its lyrics, “The concept of race was implanted inside your brain / It’s time to start all over,” and that’s what’s most important.
Fleet Foxes / “Drops in the River”
If any venue is a perfect match for the Foxes' harmony-rich sound, it’s the Ryman in Nashville and this overrated band makes the most of the opportunity and somehow manages not to send me to snoozeville in the process, which is what usually happens when I spend more than three-minutes in their presence.
Calexico / “All Systems Red”
“The numbers rise on the death toll And the chimes of freedom flash and fade,” warns this sleeper cut from the band’s 2006 record Garden Ruin—recorded in front of their hometown fans in Tucson, AZ.
Whitney / “Valleys (My Love)”
Their easy, relaxed songs sound real pretty live and here they’re in an intimate venue outside of Chicago (SPACE), so it works pretty well even if it fails at achieving transcendence.
2. The Remixes / Demos / Different Versions
David Byrne / “People Tell Me”
Kind of a demo, done for the Joan of Arc musical (ooh, any tickets left?), that’s pretty typical 21st century Byrne, and while I think he’s released some great songs lately, this isn’t one of them.
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band / “There’s No Goodbye Between Us” (Remix by Deakin of Animal Collective)
You don’t turn away Yoko if she wants to contribute something and that’s a rule of thumb we’ll all have to live by whether we like it or not.
Big Boi and Sleepy Brown ft. Killer Mike, Cee-Lo, & Big
Rube / “We the Ones” (Remix by Organized Noize)
Lots of star power and the message is relevant, but why does this still not add up to the sum of its parts?
Michelle / “Sunrise” (Remix by Kaufman/Kilgore)
Catchy little pop tune from this NY collective that ends long before it overstays its welcome, which is ideal.
Rhye / “Hymn” (Becky and the Birds remix)
How can you go wrong with a “Hymn” on Rhye?
Nick Hakim / “QADIR” (Extended)
For some reason this is 11:37 in length, and while sonically inviting, Nick will be left off the guest list next time we do a charity project.
Flume x Toro y Moi / “The Difference” (slowboi version)
Gets the distinction of being the final song on a 77-track mix and it manages to be a fitting elegy worth hearing as we go back to our normal, dreary existences.
Mark Ronson & Ilsey Juber “No Time to Die” (Bond Demo)
They made the right choice by using Billie Eilish's submission for the new Bond movie theme song, but this is a solid runner-up if the original theme cannot fulfill its duties.
Perfume Genius / “Jory” (Demo)
Not as provocative without the porno visuals that accompanied the video for the final version, so it’s a fleeting distraction at best undressed in demo format.
The Marías / “Hold It Together” (Demo)
There’s not much consolation in liking the demo of a song you don’t like more than you like the final version of a song you don't like.
Charly Bliss / “Ohio” (Demo)
It sounds like something they’d do, but is that alone enough?
Gossip / “Room For You” (Demo)
Too bad this was never released because it’s a pretty good song and seems like an ideal sentiment for 2020.
My Morning Jacket / “Big Decisions” (Jim’s Demo)
This is the kind of track they used to tack onto the CD reissue of an artist’s albums and it is for fans only—mildly interesting but inessential in all ways.
Matt and Kim / “Let’s Go” (Acoustic)
We should’ve never let them in and now they won’t leave—insufferable.
Bright Eyes / “Pan and Broom” (Demo)
I’ve yet to hear the version on the new album, but even Conor Oberst’s demos sound better than most other’s final product.
3. The Covers
Phoenix / “No Woman” (Whitney)
Could not be less interested in an electro version of the winsome, absolutely perfect Whitney original.
Yola / “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (Aretha Franklin’s arrangement of Nina Simone song)
A bold choice to cover Nina and Aretha at once (Yo La Tengo seems a safer and obvious choice), but it’s a logical song to bring back in 2020 and she does an admirable job with it even though she over-sings it in spots.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs / “Criminals” (Atlas Sound)
I don’t know the original in this case and every time it ends, I’ve completely forgotten it moments later which is never a good sign.
Feist / “Human Touch” (Nina Simone)
There’s really no reason to listen to anything but the original, but if this song leads someone there, then it has done its job.
Phantogram / “You Are So Beautiful” (Joe Cocker)
OK, who wants to tell them they haven’t pulled this off?
Courtney Marie Andrews / “America” (Simon & Garfunkel)
When I saw this in the track list I had high hopes for a new version of one of my all-time favorite songs and I didn’t get it…at all.
Madi Diaz / “Home on the Range” (Trad.)
Harmless and sweet take on this campfire chestnut but I’ll likely delete this the moment I finish typing this sentence (delete) if not before.
Old 97’s / “Southern Girls” (Cheap Trick)
This makes some sense on paper and sure enough a more rollicking version by these North Texas favorites actually works as a late-show romp in the band’s setlist.
Colin Meloy / “Bring On The Dancing Horses” (Echo & The Bunnymen)
A good song choice by Meloy because it really sounds like he could’ve written it, and it appears he felt the same way.
Tunde Adebimpe / “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd)
I love TV on the Radio, but as much as we all feel this in 2020, I still can’t endorse this version.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit / “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (Elvin Bishop) (Live)
You kind of have to be there for unexpected flashback moments like these, but since we can’t go to shows anymore this is the next best thing.
Bedouine / “Let Me in Your Life” (Bill Withers)
Not in love with the original, so I welcome another attempt to revive it, but ultimately no dice.
Faye Webster / “Vanishing Twin” (Blake Mills)
Let’s pretend this one never existed and listen to anything by Elliott Smith instead.
4. Unreleased Tracks
Pearl Jam / “Get it Back”
Pearl Jam has recorded a lot of songs over the years and this is another.
Stone Gossard / “Near”
Eddie Vedder is the singer in Pearl Jam, and not Stone Gossard, for good reason, but I suppose this isn’t a horrible stab at a modern rock song, but do I even have to say it's only for die-hards?
Little Dragon / “Night Shift”
Front-loaded on the mix for good reason—it’s a low-key little electro pop number with a cool looped background vocal that simmers throughout the song.
Cold War Kids / “Almost a Crime”
All the worst things about modern corporate rock in one convenient location.
Alex Ebert / “No Jokes Left”
There’s a lot of timely lyrical content here, but why do I feel compelled to smack Alex upside the head for being so annoyingly “clever”?
!!! / “Feels Good”
This will do until the next track they produce gets here.
PUP / “Edmonton”
They couldn’t fit this one-minute track on one of their real albums, but maybe that’s because it’s pretty dark and loaded with regret, which to me makes good fodder for punk rock.
Andrew Bird / “Tables and Chairs”
If you find him charming, which I do on rare occasions, then this is for you, but the line “We can’t let the human factor / Fail to be a factor at all” is for everybody.
Aimee Mann / “Batten Down”
When skies have shifted from grey to black and the waters are coming to sweep everything away, to whom will you turn?
Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell / “Wish In Vain”
She rings like a bell through the night and if Rhiannon’s name is on a project you’ll know it’s going to be authentic and well worth a few minutes of your time.
Wolf Parade / “ATA”
Strong unreleased song from the revitalized (clearly) Wolf Parade!
Dan Deacon / “Rally Banner”
Even is you love this sound wizard’s audio collages, I can’t imagine you’ll get your rocks off to this snippet of tape from his cutting room floor.
Girlpool / “Babygirl and Mental”
Slight, but pretty, little nugget just begging to be fleshed-out a little more.
Nada Surf / “Stories Going ‘Round”
If this had been added to Nada Surf’s superb album from this year Never Not Together, it would’ve been a favorite.
Surfer Blood / “New Direction”
They can’t all be winners, but this one is not a loser either, just an also-ran.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down / “Chosen”
I sat that there waiting for it to do something interesting and it never did.
NNAMDI ft. Lala Lala / “Dislocate”
Good enough to make me interested in what else he has to offer, which is one of the main goals of a hodge-podge collection like this.
Ciggy / “Flypaper”
I have an innate attraction to this song’s sticky groove and I really want to land on it, but I just can’t bring myself to stay put right now.
Shakey Graves / “Good Listener”
This is a fully-realized Shakey Graves song that is better than your average unreleased track, so if you’re a fan you’ll dig this, too.
Caleb Giles / “Focus”
A pretty good idea gets kind of lost in this meandering hip-hop track.
The Dip / “Friday Mixer”
Pretty good white soul band from Seattle offer up a refreshing afternoon cocktail for undemanding types.
MUNA / “Walk On Water (Toyin’s Song)”
If this is the quality of their unreleased tracks it bodes well for their released material which I will check out forthwith.
Mexican Institute of Sound / “La Cura”
I’m a fan of M.I.S. but this track isn’t their best work.
Marginal Prophets / “What the Man Don’t Know (Won’t Hurt Him)”
I’m going to assume their released tracks are much better, but I do love some humorous old-school raps as much as the next guy, just not this one.
Deaf Charlie / “Something Real”
Side-project of Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament makes us all wish we were as lucky as Charlie.
7 - 17. The Ten Best Tracks Overall (not ranked)
John Prine ft. Margo Price / “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”
You’ll never get a complaint from me about another version of this classic Prine tune, especially with Margo Price as duet partner, which is particularly relevant in our current political shitshow.
Songhoy Blues ft. FOKN Bois / “Don’t FOKN Worry”
Two A+ exports from Africa combine for a track that whets the appetite for more from both (coming soon!) and hopefully more collaborations like this one.
The War on Drugs / “Eyes to the Wind”
It’s pretty presumptuous to send along a 9-minute live track for a compilation album, but this epic showstopper combines Adam Granduciel’s Dylan-esque vocals with saxophone-infused Springsteen drama—complete with full band introductions—and it all sounds gloriously majestic.
Nilüfer Yanya / “Day 7.5093”
She’s incapable of making anything that doesn’t sound wholly original and amazing it appears.
Jenny Lewis / “Callaloo”
The rich sessions for On the Line meant this was left off the album, but it’s of equal value to the songs included which debunks the myth that all unreleased songs are unreleased for a reason.
Buzzy Lee / “Cinderblock”
Steven Spielberg’s daughter, who I didn’t even know was a musician, has come up with one of the compilation’s biggest earworms with this song, which I was humming to myself later in the day, long after five hours of demos and remixes had stunted my development as a human being.
Margo Price / “Devil’s in the Details”
A great track that’s now shortlisted for the Pickled Priest theme song that tells us (as Curtis Mayfield first observed) “We’re all going to hell if we don’t change our ways,” and also clarifies that “If you turn your back on Jesus Christ / You really think he cares?”
illuminati hotties / “content//bedtime / superiority complex (big noise)”
Two short, sharp, live killers welded together and delivered with bite by Sarah Tudzin, who clearly has some major stage presence.
KHEMIST / “40oz of Freedom”
Easily the best hip-hop track on the collection, I’ll take this over Olde English 800 any day.
The Harlem Gospel Travelers / “Keep On Praying”
Our motto is “Records as Religion” and this life-affirming new gospel classic combines both elements in one place (just swap "and" for "as") and is worth the price of admission all by itself.
THE 18 SPOT
The Pickled Priest's 1st Annual “Records as Religion” Art Contest: Finalist #1
The first finalist in our “Records as Religion” artwork challenge is this drawing submitted by Alice B. from Mayor’s Income, TN. Congrats on being picked, Alice! Love the drawing and the attention to detail in the Black Sabbath cover art! (I’ve included a photo of the original album for comparison purposes.)
"The Conversion" by Alice B.
That's all for this week. More new stuff next week and another in our yearly mixtape series sometime before Friday!