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Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite New Songs of Q2 2023, Part Two

You've been a pious congregation this quarter (except for that blatant commandment break the Thursday before last), so here's a second mixtape of Pickled Priest-curated songs for you loyal bastards to feast upon like you're at a fucking smorgasbord or something. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em (and please no more knuckle tats, people), just be openminded. You tell all your friends you listen to a little of everything. I heard you say that at a party just this last weekend. So prove it.



SIDE A


01 "Sugar Babies" | Spoon

Why We Like It

I assume 2023 won't bless us with another new Spoon record, but the band is still letting some choice cuts trickle out of the production mill. Earlier this year they dropped an excellent cover of David Bowie's, "I Can't Give Everything Away," (from Blackstar) on what would've been his 75th birthday. Now we get a sweet three song EP titled Memory Dust to keep the momentum from Lucifer on the Sofa going (our #6 record of 2022). The leadoff track, "Sugar Babies," was immediately dragged onto my 'Best of Spoon' playlist after the first listen and so was the pretty "Silver Girl" (an homage to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" perhaps?) Even the Bo Diddley cover, "She's Fine, She's Mine" is well done. But it's "Sugar Babies" that simmers and pops the most. While Britt Daniel delivers yet another great vocal, what puts this cut over the top for me is everything but the vocal. The beginning, when it sounds like they're fucking around in the studio and then suddenly just lock into the opening groove at will is a golden moment. Daniel's wordless grunts that track behind the chorus throughout. The subtle little synth/horn line mid-song. The unhurried downshift at 3:33 that prepares you for a fadeout that doesn't come until minutes later. The church organ at 4:36. Only a confident band could pull all this off and still make it sound almost effortless and intuitive.



02 "Death Wish" | Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Why We Like It

Sometimes I think Jason Isbell is almost too aware of what a Jason Isbell song sounds like. It's happened to other great songwriters along the way, too, and it doesn't mean he's still not one of the best songwriters on the planet. He is. But, just sayin', it may be time for him to try something a bit more daring with his music. Nobody will complain if he doesn't, of course. Until then, we'll still get a few classics from each album and "Death Wish" is clearly one of them from Weathervanes, a song where every individual line is equally considered amounting to a brilliant whole. This is a Jason Isbell song through and through. So why then am I so ready for him to push the boundaries of his music even more? Because I want to see what else he can do.



03 "Bed of Roses" | Ian Hunter

Why We Like It

When I was 30, I was over the hill / Fifty years later I can still kill 'em all." -Ian Hunter, "This is What I'm Here For"

Turns out Ian ain't wrong. He's still got it. Not only has he released a full-throttle rock 'n' roll album at age 83 he's also cranked out an A-level classic rock song in the process with "Bed of Roses." I'm not sure how he does it, but having a little help from his friends doesn't hurt. The guy has always had a serious Rolodex if the guest stars on his latest record are any indication (I say latest and not last because he pointedly titled the album Defiance, Part 1, so there's even more defiance on the way!). On "Bed of Roses" alone, old reliable Ringo Starr is on drums and a fiery Mike Campbell of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers is on guitar. But all the Johnny Depp and Slash cameos mean nothing if the songs aren't there, of course, and "Bed of Roses," along with several other crackers, proves that age means almost nothing in music anymore. The songwriting is there, the voice is there (weathered but strong), and the support, and then some, is there as well. And if you're still mourning the loss of Taylor Hawkins, here's a little gift for you; he played on three of these songs as well.



04 "Hunter" | Jess Williamson

Why We Like It

Jess Williamson is the real thing and "Hunter" is just one of many ways to verify her authenticity. Coincidentally, Jess is hunting for the real thing—no, not a Coca Cola; I'm talking about love here—throughout the entire song. She's not one to fuck around with short-term commitments and she's here to tell you so, "My love is pure as the universe / Honest as an ashtray." I don't even know what that even means exactly, but Phoebe Bridgers would've cut your throat to have written it. In fact, there's a distinct Phoebe vibe throughout the song's chorus and if that's your vibe, don't pass this over. For everyone else looking for true love, go on the hunt with Jess. She'll show you what's real.



05 "Prizefighter" | Youth Lagoon

Why We Like It

I've fallen in love with this song and I don't care who knows it. Shortly after a shaky takeoff, a heavenly chorus appears like sunshine above high clouds and I could bask in it all day. Youth Lagoon is Trevor Powers, an introverted melodocist with a fragile heart. His songs are barely there until they are, but somehow they slip into your subconscious mind; the part of your brain that stores pleasing sounds for later.



06 "Milanesa al Pan" | Juan Wauters

Why We Like It

Two lovers, long separated by the pandemic, reunite and spend most of this song doing you know what...that's right, eating! The title of the song is the name of a beloved Argentinian sandwich, and later, when finally digested, it's finally time for the dirty deed...that's right, fried cake! Have you two forgotten something perhaps? This Spanish song from Queens resident and world traveler Juan Wauters may be the most universal melody on this whole tape. Can a song sound overjoyed to exist? If so, this little island hopper is stone in love with itself. Be prepared to nibble on this exotic hors d'oeuvre all summer.



07 "Chosen to Deserve" | Wednesday

Why We Like It

Nearly every song on Wednesday's Rat Saw God has a lyrical moment I adore. It's not always wry humor that wins me over, although present all over the record, sometimes it's just a simple observation or occurrence. From watching Formula One on TV (which I've become addicted to myself) to watching a gas pump TV blare in the dark to nobody in particular (more evidence of our overly-entertained society), there's a sharp observational eye behind the lyrics to these songs. "Chosen to Deserve," a love story so depressing it's almost sweet, is my choice for today mainly because it has the biggest guitar riff, which I've gotta think is a perfectly good reason in Wednesday's skewed worldview.



08 "Celebrate Me" | Baxter Dury

Why We Like It

Baxter Dury, a British bohemian born and raised (his father is Ian Dury of "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" fame), is among the finest purveyors of quick-witted, often insightful, commonly ridiculous, nocturnal pitter-patter. On his new record, I Thought I Was Better Than You, the barfly poet is generally on the attack throughout with what he glibly calls "faux confrontational" songs. If you love a good non-sequitur like me, then lines like "Lick my forehead you white bread eating cockroach" will hit the bullseye like a sharp dart in an English pub. It's not for everyone, perhaps, but if you're looking for a leisure-suited breakfast imposter and honey sucker, Baxter is your man. To make it go down a little smoother, he splices a peepsie refrain into "Celebrate Me" sung by what sounds like a 12-year-old schoolgirl (but is actually Madelaine Hart) to add some contrasting flavor to this semi-ludicrous creation.



09 ""Waking Up in Los Angeles" | Fruit Bats

Why We Like It

It's a clinically proven fact that it is almost impossible to write a bad song about Los Angeles. There's just so much inspiration to be had out there. That said, in a novel twist, singer/songwriter Eric D. Johnson of the long-running (and Chicago-born) Fruit Bats puts a lyrical disclaimer right in the opening verse of "Waking Up in Los Angeles" to clarify its true intent: And the words to this song, while geographically specific / They could apply to anywhere, or any of you. While I appreciate the attempt, tell that to someone from Newark, NJ, or Calumet City, Illinois. I just don't see this song translating as well in certain places. Credit for the attempt, but I'm sticking with the L.A. sunshine, the ocean breeze...



10 "Eu Gosto Dela" | Rogê

Why We Like It

In honor of Brazilian music legend Astrud Gilberto, of "The Girl From Ipanema" fame (the singer, not the subject), who passed away earlier this June, I present a song that would surely make her smile with delight. It's a simple samba that could become another beach café staple that we'll be humming along with for decades to come. It's by Roger José Cury, aka Rogê (inexplicably pronounced 'haw-zheh'), and his new album, Curyman, is being touted by those in the know (me not included in that group) as a new Brazilian classic. It's hard to argue with such a claim at this point as this record is absolutely brilliant. The kind of record the Girl From Ipanema might've listened to on her headphones as she made her daily stroll to the shore.



11 "Face Time" | Billy Woods and Kenny Segal (ft. Samuel T. Herring)

Why We Like It

This is another in a long tradition of touring songs, tales of musicians moving from one city to the next, living in hotels, not quite comfortable with their ever-changing surroundings. Not quite Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" or CCR's "Lodi" (I could go on), but "Face Time" is similar in concept. One key difference: technology. While Seger and Fogerty would've been forced to a feed coins into a phone booth at a truck stop to connect with home, Billy Woods has Face Time when he needs a spiritual lift only a familiar face can provide. However, he also admits that he's a road dog, almost thriving on the isolation at times. A Face Time call is declined... strangely I feel right at home on my own. Add in a cool cameo from Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring, a man accustomed to pulling off lyrics others would balk at, and you have a perfect track for your next road trip.



12 "Il M'a Vue Nue" | Cécile McLorin Salvant

Why We Like It

The best vocalists on the planet list had better include Cecile McLorin Salvant or I'm calling bullshit. There's literally nothing she can't do. Jazz, Broadway, blues, soul, standards, originals, a Kate Bush cover, and now a whole record in (mostly) French for her latest album, Melusine. It may be my favorite record of hers to date. Built upon an old story of a woman who, due to a curse, turns into a half-woman, half-snake on Saturdays (she couldn't negotiate for a Monday?), the songs vary from modern originals to standards, now hundreds of years old in some cases. Somehow the whole thing comes together perfectly. Like I said, she's a miracle worker from Miami of all places. "Il M'a Vue Nue" is the moment where her lover sneaks up to see her while she's taking a bath in order to uncover the mystery of why she never goes out on Saturday nights. Suffice it to say, he's in for a shock. You wouldn't know any of this unless you Google translated the lyrics or read a review (or speak French of course), but it's the "moment of truth" of the whole story. You might expect Shakespearian drama, but instead the song is a jaunty, borderline comical French chanson given just the right amount of whimsy by Cécile, a master at knowing how to sing anything put in front of her. Even if you knew none of this, the song is a playful gem, just the right background for an afternoon of feather dusting or pastry baking.



13 "Runaway, Yeah" | Eyelids

Why We Like It

Every review of the Eyelids new album, A Colossal Waste of Light, is exactly the same.


- Semi-supergroup with past or current members from some bands most know (Guided By Voices, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Camper Van Beethoven, the Decemberists).

- Peter Buck co-produced.

- Power-pop band from Portlandia.


Bottom line: Are the songs any good? That's all that matters. I'd rank most of them as good to very good depending with "Runaway, Yeah" my personal favorite. It has just enough of a subtle hook and not a lot of overplaying. I don't like it too obvious, appreciate nuance, but I also want it to stick. I ask a lot, I know. This song isn't going to change the world, but I guarantee you that the power-pop cult will likely anoint this album as a lost classic years from now, fully deserving or not.



SIDE B



14 "Sister Tilly" | Natalie Merchant

Why We Like It

One of my favorite voices ever so I'm always pleased when a new Natalie Merchant record arrives, especially when it's all new material from her own pen (unless she borrowed someone else's I guess). "Sister Tilly" is a tribute to old-school feminists, but not one in particular. She's called it an "amalgam" of several stalwarts from her mother's era. When I wasn't aware of this approach, all I could think was 'Wow, I wish I could've met this Tilly!"—a complex woman who cranked Led Zeppelin, wore Joan Didion sunglasses, sang like Buffy Sainte-Marie, attended protests for this cause and that, and even wore "Pashmina shawls" when Tilly was chilly. (Only Natalie could put a Pashmina shawl in a song and get away with it—others advised not to attempt.) The impetus for the track is the fact most of these women have left, or are imminently going to leave this world. There aren't a lot of other artists with the gravitas to pull off such a song, but Natalie has the patience needed to deliver a nearly 8-minute opus like this one and still keep you captivated the whole time while she's doing it.



15 "She's a Fighter"/"Tender Years" | Robert Forster


Why We Like It

Ex-Go Betweens co-founder Robert Forster gets two songs on this tape and nobody better bitch about it. Both of them are about his wife, who is battling cancer at this very moment, and both are glorious tributes to her. They form one piece, the first a mantra about her toughness, a born fighter. Amazingly, the song was written prior to her diagnosis. So she had that natural fight long before she needed it. The second track is a chronicle of a long love affair between her and Robert and it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime tracks that almost writes itself. It's a must hear for all and I can't imagine what it would be like to have it written about you. Personally, I find it both beautiful and crushing simultaneously. I hope she gets to hear it every day for years to come.



16 "Manic Attraction" | Guardian Singles

Why We Like It

Since we're on the backside of tape two, I figured it was just the right time to fire up some rock & roll for a while. We start with Auckland, New Zealand's Guardian Singles, yet another great, snarling punk band from a seemingly never-ending supply down under. In and out in 2:35, some killer riffing guitar, thundering drums, and a group chorus that rips on our world's conspiracy culture. Reason enough to get worked up for a few angst-fueled minutes. Let it out.



17 "On the Chain" | Killer Kin

Why We Like It

In the real world, one Killer Kin track at a time just won't fly. They just wouldn't allow it to happen. You don't just get to waltz in and out of their airspace like you're at the mall shopping, you're gonna be put on the chain for the duration and like it, just as the song says. New Haven, Connecticut's Killer Kin are the kind of group that brings a flamethrower to light your birthday candles and a blowtorch to toast your morning bagel. It's overkill, full-throttle, in-the-red, on-two-wheels, garage skank 'n' roll like we used to drink from a firehose back in the day. It's about time some band treated us how we need to be treated behind closed doors.



18 "A Comforting Notion" | Heartworms

Why We Like It

As the saying goes, if you still have hope, all is already lost. Or something to that effect. One woman show JoJo Orme seems to live by that mantra as she sings, So low on the food chain that you're underground /

This slippery slope slips forever / There is no hope around. Admittedly, not the feel-good track of the year, but she's not wrong. While I admit I slotted this track here because its chorus Remove the chains, my wrists are in strain ties in perfectly with the Killer Kin's "On the Chain" one song earlier, there's an intangible gothic creepiness to this Brit's music to which I'm mysteriously attracted. Sometimes it's better to close all the blinds, light some candles, and wallow in the bleak reality that you're chained to the wall in a dungeon. It's only an EP, so you won't be down there long.



19 "Lads Lads Lads" | Lambrini Girls

Why We Like It

I'm not a press release quoter generally, but this Brighton dynamic punk duo give the full scoop on this blistering takedown track way better than I can. Be on the lookout for the Lambrini Girls' new EP, You're Welcome (which has a steaming pile of shit on the cover), as it's a fucking venom-spitting dragon:


In order to be a lad, make sure to follow the following guidelines: excessive drinking, harassing anyone with a pulse and starting fights. Most importantly, make sure to never talk about your feelings as this simply cannot be associated with manliness. Lad culture is the shit stain on the bathroom floor and toxic masculinity is the toilet paper that refuses to unstick from the shoe of society. Nobody wins.



20 "Bad Weather Girl" | The Damned

Why We Like It

Haven't had a Damned song on a mixtape since the late-70s, so this is significant. Somehow Dave Vanian's pipes are still in working order and Captain Sensible can still rip on guitar, so good for them. If only Rat Scabies (one of my all-time fave pseudonyms) could still be on drums, the event would be even more notable. This isn't the Damned of that era anyway, but they sound positively reinvigorated here. "Bad Weather Girl" is a pretty straight rock track, but it's a catchy one with a super-amped chorus and even a mid-song guitar solo. Neat, neat, neat.



21 "Anti-Romancer" | Body Type


Why We Like It

I find the transition from 2022's promising Everything is Dangerous But Nothing's Surprising to 2023's Expired Candy somewhat humorous. How quickly their concerns have been tempered! Nonetheless, the Sydney, Australia, band (Another one? You have got to be joking!) continues to deliver killer pop-punk songs with some pretty awesome lyrics. I chose "Anti-Romancer" from the album just so I could lay this one on you...


She’s a violent preteen anarchist

Your oxymoronic protagonist

See her hand feed her bichon frise

While the microwave zaps her macaroni and cheese


At this point on the mixtape, this is about all I need to be happy.



22 "Yer All in My Dreams" | Purling Hiss

Why We Like It

Where did all the guitars go?

Did they all disappear?

Where did all the guitars go?

What is this shit that I hear?

McFly, "Where Did All the Guitars Go?"


I've gotta admit that I get a kick out of McFly's incredulous, bombastic new single, "Where Did All the Guitars Go?" (vid included below). It's intentionally over the top with a sense of humor too, but there's also real truth in it. Will guitars ever come back, you wonder? If you need to ask, you haven't been listening to Philly's Purling Hiss and their leader Mike Polizze, who, along with likeminded players like J Mascis and Ty Segall, are keeping the riffs scuzzy and loud every day of the week. "Yer All In My Dreams" is a double-stack of guitar riffs on top of a real rock song with a discernible melody. It's the best thing on Drag on Girard, which has enough guitars to allay fears of a complete K Pop takeover. There are enough purists out there for you old schoolers if you know where to look.



23 "Sebastian's Gone On a Ridealong" | Jim Bob

Why We Like It

Like Sebastian, I went on a police ridealong whilst in college, but mine wasn't nearly as entertaining. In fact, it was downright depressing. No action at all. We got called "pigs" once, but that's about it. I tried to make it more interesting by slumping down in the back seat with a mean face like I was just nabbed for sticking up a liquor store or something but I don't think I was very convincing. Here, Sebastian spends his time watching cops "sweeping up drunks and belligerent cunts in the town square." I would've killed for just one belligerent cunt. Anyway, I just appreciate a rock song, one with lots of guitars I may add, with original subject matter. So here's to all the passive adventure seekers out there. May you get to "ride with the siren on" just once.



24 "Hard to Build. Easy to Break" | Cowboy Junkies

Why We Like It

You can feel an emotional weight on this Cowboy Junkies record. Coming after their father's battle with dementia and his eventual death (which hits painfully close to home) you can feel this "family band" (three siblings and a friend) had some serious healing to do. Two songs directly deal with the passing of their dad and other songs, including "Hard to Build. Easy to Break," speak to the fragility of life. The totality of a life is hard to build, but it often takes only a single crack to let death into the room. You can hear Margo lamenting this fact in the song's final seconds as she repeats the phrase Hard to build...Hard to build...Hard to build almost like she's in the middle of a reckoning at that very second. Michael Timmins' guitar and an unaltered since inception rhythm section stay in lock-step in order to provide just the right intensity to remind us all to cherish what we have while we have it.


25 "New September Song" | Those Pretty Wrongs

Why We Like It

Those Pretty Wrongs is former Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and friend Luther Russell (formerly of the Freewheelers if that does anything for you). Their latest album is titled Holiday Camp (After Tommy's Holiday Camp, I presume?). The whole record is enjoyable, but I'm stuck on the familiar vibe of "New September Song" and have been since I first heard it. It reminded me favorably of Big Star's classic single "September Gurls" from way back in 1974, one of my all-time favorite songs. No, it's not as great, but it does approximatehave the feel of a legitimate sequel, albeit almost 50-years after the fact. It has that same wistful Indian Summer melancholy hanging over every note and Jody's boyish vocal is just perfect, preserved nicely over time.



26 "In Returning" | Trapper Schoepp

Why We Like It

I've been following Trapper Schoepp ever since I saw him perform a raucous opening set for Ha Ha Tonka years ago and this Minnesota-born, Milwaukee-based singer/songwriter keeps getting better and better, deserving of far greater acclaim than he's received. His latest, Siren Songs, was recorded at Cash Cabin in Tennessee and has a distinct nautical theme running through its well-crafted folk-pop songs. No wonder he's photographed on the cover sitting in the lake next to Johnny's log cabin. There are several top-tier songs throughout the record ("Good Graces," "Secrets of the Breeze," and "The Fool" on the first half), but there one particular run on side two that really alerted me to the presence of a damn fine songwriter. First, there's "Diocese" about a woman's struggles within the Catholic church (always a favorite topic around the Pickled Priest offices), "Silk and Satin" about a businessman who dresses in drag in the off hours (also a favorite topic here, wink wink), 'Queen of the Mist," which tells the tale of Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel (at 63 years of age!), and finally the sublime song of the sea, "In Returning," which ends the album in breathtaking fashion. About a sailor heading out to sea for a long voyage, it centers around the lure of the sea, which sometimes is stronger than love, aware of its affect on the latter:


It's not the leaving that worries me

It's what I will find in returning


I imagine it's not dissimilar to a musician going on the road for a long tour. A place where some are more comfortable than they are in "normal" society. With simple piano accompaniment, Schoepp inhabits the song, and I found myself hanging on his every word. It reminded me of a similar gulp moment from Looking Glass's hit from 1972, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," that hinges on the line, He made it clear he couldn't stay / No harbor was his home. What is it about the wild blue yonder that captivates people so? Personally, I would've chosen Brandy, and that's not even because there's not enough Dramamine in the world to keep me on a raging sea for more than an afternoon. "In Returning" might not be the obvious song choice from Siren Songs, but it's the one that I find myself returning to again and again.



OUTRO: "Cicadas" | Gia Margaret

Taking us out delicately is Chicago's Gia Margaret and her piano instrumental "Cicadas" featuring, you guessed it, a tree full of cicadas (uncredited). It's from her slight but stunning 26-minute record, Romantic Piano, released this year. The whole record is absolutely beautiful in the simplest of ways, with nature performing along with her at times ("Cinnamon" features a steady rainstorm). It's an intimate, deliberately unpolished presentation that sticks with you long after it runs its course, the perfect music just before you hit the sack for the night.


_________________________


Not another word for you!


Cheers,


The Priest

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