Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite Songs of Q2 2022, Pt. 1
Q2 has given us an unholy amount of grief, rescinded personal rights, and endless tales of political malfeasance. As always, music was there to provide a brief respite, to inspire, to provide perspective. In light of all this, we're going to make you two mixtapes for the price of one this quarter, so lucrative was the bounty. Fifty-two songs in random order ought to do the trick. Spread out over two posts. So get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.
01 "Don't Forget You're Precious" | Alabaster DePlume
Given name: Angus Fairbairn. So why the need for alter-ego Alabaster DePlume? After all, both would look just as regal on the spine of a thick British novel. Evidently, this Manchester saxophonist/beat-poet felt the need to create a distinct artistic persona, hence the nom de plume (I see what he did there). And indeed, he does create his own reality with his music, so it makes perfect nonsense. While others have combined spoken word, poetry, and jazz before, somehow his new album, Gold, still seems atmospherically novel. The fragments that make up the record—some fully developed, some marvelously unfinished—are characterized as "wrongly recorded" (his words) improvisational passages. Bewilderingly, they all combine to form an oddly cohesive whole. "Don't Forget You're Precious" is an early-album highlight, and acts as the thematic blueprint for all that follows. DePlume tells of his own struggles to remember his own self-worth. He admits that he knows his PIN number, where to change trains, when to check his Instagram, and hilariously, how to say "calculator" in German (Taschenrechner, as it turns out), but he also is prone to forget his own value; alas, he is worth being seen and heard. Consider this, then, your welcome mat to our Q2 mixtape.
02 "¡Oh, Algoritmo!" | Jorge Drexler (ft. Noga Erez)
Beloved Uruguayan musician, medical doctor* (!!), Academy Award winner** (!!), and Shakira-collaborator (!!!!!), Jorge Drexler pretty much does it all. (My resume just crawled under a rock.) I'm not an aficionado of his back catalog yet, but I can report that his new record, Tinta y Tiempo (translated: Ink and Time), is a wonderful collection that mines myriad rhythms from South America history and injects a contemporary touch that reminds you what century it is right now. With that in mind, enter inspired cameo by Israeli electro-pop star in waiting, Noga Erez, herself a bit of a musical chameleon, on album highlight "¡Oh, Algoritmo!" From the jump, Drexler percolates the fuck out of this track, which may be the fastest acting caffeine delivery system to come out of South America since the yerba maté. Oh, and if you listen closely to (or translate) the lyrics, you'll find the song to be surprisingly high concept. According to Drexler, it's about free will from the perspective of "recent findings in neuroscience." Leave it to Jorge to pull all his passions together with such panache.
*Specialty: otolaryngology (aka ear/nose/throat)
**He won Best Original Song for "Al Otro Lado del Río" from 2004's Che Guevara road trip film, The Motorcyle Diaries.
03 "The El Burro Song" | Calexico
Pickled Priest has been investing in mariachi futures over the last decade or so and we find it far more rewarding than spending our time trying to figure out what the fuck Bitcoin is all about. The ebullient spirit of the music has moved from awkward table-side intrusion to unmitigated respect in recent years as I have come to appreciate the complexity of the craft, the splendor of the performance, and the sense of community the music carries with it. If I could find a sombrero to fit my fat head, I'd probably have one on right now—it would bring me untold happiness. For over a quarter-century, Calexico has been one of Americana's most beloved bands, mainly because their version of "Americana" is the border-straddling variety, a rich mixture of Mexican and American influences. Both musically and thematically relevant, perhaps never more so than today, there's always been more stitched into their music than is apparent on the surface. Their current album cuts to the heart of another America, one often unfairly looked down upon by a large portion of our population. El Mirador (aka The Looker) doubles down on the sense of community that binds us all, no matter what side of the so-called "wall" you were born on. It's not all mariachi, but "The El Burro Song" ("The Donkey Song") is a glorious foray into the form, complete with traditional accompaniment. I've added a live version of the song here because that's how this music is best heard. This song makes my heart soar and I hope it does the same for you.
04 "Daytona Sand" | Orville Peck
Tell the Lone Ranger he has some competition. It comes in the form of a mysterious masked country singer from Canada named Orville Peck. Peck has one of those voices that comes along once in a lifetime. One that at some point had never been heard before. If only to be present when he realized his super power for the first time. What a large screen moment that must've been. On record, Peck's promise has been apparent from day one and has been building up to a full scale gallop ever since. His magnificent first album, Pony, was released by Sub Pop, an odd pairing for sure, but the label saw an artist who defied labels and needed to be heard. Soon, he was scooped up by a major label, Columbia Records, who saw his crossover potential. His first release for the label was a fabulous little stop gap EP titled Show Pony (sense a theme yet?). The EP featured a worrisome Shania Twain cameo, but was otherwise an essential piece of Peck's story. That story goes silver screen with Bronco, and it's a triumphant performance. Let's put it this way: no more ponies for Orville. The cover of Bronco features Peck clad in gold lamé, boldly standing in front of a majestic, rearing black beauty. The intent is clear. This is the big time—a double-LP coming out party on vinyl meant to showcase a major talent. Will a mysterious gay cowboy with a golden baritone be able to make the leap? He should, if people are open to something that operates by its own rule book, one written exclusively by our reluctant hero. Almost all of it works, too, with only the occasional misstep. Opener "Daytona Sand" not being one of them. It's a spectacular entry point into a wildly ambitious record. And once and for all we have the definitive way to remember how to spell Mississippi, and it doesn't involve "crooked letters" or "hunchbacks." From here on out it's MI....SSI...SSI...PPI. Make a note of it.
05 "Resila" | Congotronics International
This record is a mini-miracle. How it originated (ten years ago), how it was recorded (mostly long distance), and how well it works (spectacularly) is a tribute to commitment of everyone involved. At its core it's a record rooted in the rhythms of Africa (courtesy of revered Congolese bands Kasai All Stars and Konono No. 1), but it also includes contributions from guests scattered around the globe. San Francisco's Deerhoof somehow make an appearance, Argentina's Juana Molina represents South America, and a band called Wildbirds & Peacedrums checks in from Sweden for reasons unknown. A host of other guest musicians and vocalists join the party as well. It should be a mess, but instead it's magic. Just about everything works. From a reworking of Deerhoof's "Super Duper Rescue Heads!" (from Deerhoof vs. Evil) to Konono No. 1's epic "Kule Kule Redux" and pretty much everything in between, the contributions are first rate. There may not be a better first 30-minutes on any other album released this year. And good news, after that initial barrage, there's still 40-minutes left to go. You might argue for a nip and tuck in the editing room here and there to provide for an easier commitment, but the vibe is so infectious, good luck with that. Juana Molina's "Resila" is one of many favorite tracks on the record, and since we're big fans, she gets the nod here.
06 "Chicken Teriyaki" | Rosalía
I don't know what the fuck is happening here, but when a song is about, or references, food, we're usually in for a plateful of what's being served. From Kelis's "Jerk Ribs" to Southern Culture on the Skids' "Banana Pudding" to "Breakin' Bread" by Fred Wesley to "More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle" by Mike Doughty, such songs generally find space at the table on one of our mixtapes. Perhaps it's because we're always hungry, but whatever the reason, this track is just the right amount of bonkers and positively pops when it gets its turn to thump on a car stereo. Contrary to popular belief, Pickled Priest loves the occasional mainstream banger and here's a tangy snack to lighten the mood.
07 "Being in Love" | Wet Leg
All I really needed from Wet Leg was the deadpan pop classic "Chaise Longue." Everything else? Gravy. I was both shocked and delighted when I realized these ladies were the real deal. The whole of their self-titled, full-length debut is equally great thanks to smart and snappy songs that stick. In other words, no skipping! That said, I am especially drawn to this simple little song about what we will put ourselves through in pursuit of that delirious feeling of being in love. Spoiler: the pain is usually worth it, for a little while at least.
08 "Panama Canal" | !!! (ft. Meah Pace)
Every !!! record is basically the same, but I end of buying them all. Why? you ask. Because every one of them contains a few genius moments that make sifting through the spoils well worth the time. "Panama Canal" is that track on their new record, Let It Be Blue. There are no shortcuts in love, but this will provide one to the dance floor.
09 "Protection From Evil" | Ibibio Sound Machine
If you're going to call yourself a "sound machine" you better have the goods to back it up. I'd say the Miami Sound Machine lived up to their name based on "Conga" alone, their smash single from 1985. If anything sounded like it was born in a South Beach disco of Latin parents, that song was probably it. Ibibio Sound Machine, based in London, owe their name to a sect of people in southern coastal Nigeria. So you know you're in for some killer African rhythms at the very start, but this band is much more than just another Afro-pop band (like that would be a bad thing). They layer electronic dance music over the top of those infectious rhythms in order to create a nightclub vibe with some muscle behind it. A producer credit to Hot Chip likely tells you all you need to know about the sound of the record. This is well-produced dance music married to timeless rhythms—rhythms woven into the DNA of African culture for centuries. And then there's Eno Williams, an often fierce, always commanding, singer with the swagger of several confident and powerful women combined. On "Protection from Evil," she's sounds positively tough, like an intimidating bouncer at some Soho dance club. At the start, a distinct Talking Heads vibe makes you expect a mellow groove, but the song quickly accelerates into a voodoo dance ritual set to music. The title of their amazing new record tells you all you need to know....Electricity.
10 "Asteroid Witch" | Ghost Power
I like a band that knows how to title an instrumental. If I see a song called "Asteroid Witch" it's as good as on a future mixtape. My instinct on such matters rarely fails me. I don't have ESP. I don't have the batting eye of Ted Williams. I don't have a way with words like David Sedaris. But I do believe I can tell if something is going to be a great instrumental based on its title alone. Such is the case here. After making that initial prediction, I did eventually find out more about the entity known as Ghost Power. One, they are on Stereolab's well-named record label, Duophonic Super 45s (run by Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier, and band manager Mark Pike). So, immediately, my interest was double-peaked. And for a rare triple-peak, I found out that none other than Tim Gane is one of the co-mad scientists behind the project. Not surprisingly, then, this is electronic pop, with sounds seemingly sourced from a 1970's computer game, a high school chem lab, and an episode of The Jetsons. Add in a little Casiotone (for the painfully alone)—mix, stir, blend—and you've got an instrumental perfect for a mid-mix palate cleanser. It comes with a Pickled Priest 100% certified money-back guarantee, too.
11 "For All It's Worth" | Juanita Euka
Everything about Mabanzo, Juanita Euka's fabulous new record, seems rich and effortless. Her voice, no matter the surroundings, exudes a sense of calm and inner peace. It never shows off and always knows when to let the music take over. Just look at the album cover above and you'll see a woman comfortable in her own skin. Inner peace, however, doesn't mean untextured or bland, even though the first line of the intoxicating "For All It's Worth" is "He thinks I'm bland / No longer wants to hold my hand." Nothing could be further from the truth. She was brought up in Argentina, moved to the UK, and incorporates rhythms and languages from all three into her music. If you're looking for a record you can listen to all day, this is it. Eu(re)ka!
12 "Unnecessary Drama" | Belle & Sebastian
If you wanted a song that approximates what our favorite delicate Scottish pop masterminds would sound like if they collaborated with the New Pornographers...
13 "Just Around the Corner" | JD McPherson
JD McPherson is my favorite modern purveyor of old-school 50's rock and roll. His songs keep the raw spirit of those "dangerous" early singles alive while also adding some twist that makes them sound vital and fresh. His originals, as a result, sound less like homage and more like new classics. He also, unsurprisingly, does covers—but not the covers you might expect. On his second covers EP in seven years, Warm Covers, Volume 2, he takes on some unexpected source material. He covers Iggy Pop ("Lust for Life"), Art Neville ("Let's Rock"), Pixies ("Manta Ray"), and Irma Thomas ("It's Raining"), which shows he pulls from a deep well of inspiration. My personal favorite actually does come right from his 1950's wheelhouse. "Big" Al Downing's "Just Around the Corner" was a B-side taken off a 1958 single from the legendary rockabilly singer. Credit JD for uncovering (pardon the pun) a lost gem in the track and he infuses it with just the right amount of rollicking home cookin'. It's an absolute delight from start to finish and the perfect way to end the first side of this mixtape, just around the corner from Side B.
14 "Gimme Some Ice Cream" | Ural Thomas & the Pain
Every year, trendspotters try to find the "Song of Summer," that one ubiquitous track that everyone can agree upon. It's always some pop-star confection, which seems commercially logical, albeit a little closed-minded. I would argue that the scope of possible songs should be much wider. For example, Pickled Priest's song of this summer (and likely every summer from this point forward) is Ural Thomas's "Gimme Some Ice Cream," a tasty treat from the still vibrant 82-year-old Portland soul singer's new album, Dancing Dimensions. Look no further, summer is right here.
15 "Neither Love Nor Money" | Michael Rault
If 70's power-pop is your thang, Michael Rault is your bag. From the gauzy cover that looks like it has been sitting in a record store window for twenty years to the photograph of Rault in his best porn producer pose, and all the way through a series of AM radio-worthy pop singles, Rault seems to be living in the wrong era. "Neither Love Nor Money" won't earn him a whole lot of originality points, but it sounds like a lost classic from another era. So pretend it is.
16 "Bad Love" | Dehd
I give it up to Pitchfork only occasionally, but the writer who said Chicago's Dehd "hit like intravenously delivered exclamation points" summed up the band's sound best. Why waste the brain cells to come up with something better? Their second album, Blue Skies, is just like their other one, 2020's great Flower of Devotion (a Top 50 Pickled Priest record from that year). And that's fine with me. Every dreamy song seems to be short and catchy with a vocal hook built into the chorus that immediately logs into your memory bank. "Bad Love" shimmers like the heat emanating off of baked Arizona asphalt until it is interrupted by a horse galloping through the frame on the way to either find love or get it back.
17 "House That Sailed Away" | Pillow Queens
Dublin's Pillow Queens came out of nowhere to make my Top 25 Albums of 2020 list a couple years ago with the indelible, decidedly queer, indie-pop charms of In Waiting, and now their hotly anticipated second is here. While not as immediate as its predecessor, and perhaps a slight step back, there are still moments that deliver the aching crescendos found routinely on their debit. "House That Sailed Away" ranks as one of their best songs to date, a straight love song about a yo-yo lover who never seems to know if they are coming or going at any given moment. The Queens know how to write a great chorus and here is the album's best, given to us with a pleasing Irish accent that makes even the most basic tenets seem fresh again.
18 "Champion" | Warpaint
The title of Warpaint's new record is an instruction manual of sorts. So tell me, how can I get that effortless, shimmering, dreamy Warpaint sound? Answer: Radiate Like This. I'm happy to report, that their first record in six years finds them radiating once again with no dip in quality. "Champion" is the perfect example of why they remain so revered in indie-pop circles. I love how the song transports you through time. As always, however, what distances them from all competition is drummer Stella Mozgawa, who very subtly pushes these songs forward. If you listen only to the drums for a few passes, you'll notice they're simply remarkable. She brings a complexity to the songs without intruding on the band's trademarked effortless pop haze.
19 "Safe From Harm" | Horace Andy
I'm going to classify Horace Andy's new record, Midnight Rocker, as a modern reggae classic and there's nothing anyone can do to stop me. He and his supple voice have been around for decades, although he was reintroduced to many via his work with Massive Attack back in the 90s. Here, he takes one of those Massive Attack singles (the opening track from their first record, no less) and gives it the full hot Jamaican afternoon makeover. While the conversion isn't a stretch, it does expose the song's essence more than the original. It sounds wise coming from such a lived-in soul, and the same can be said for the rest of the album. It sounds like a tenured professor teaching all of us a thing or two about life. The experience will be rich and rewarding for all who listen.
20 "This is a Photograph" | Kevin Morby
Up to today, I've always preferred Kevin Lessby to Kevin Morby. I couldn't get beyond his singing style, which seemed a touch too affected with Dylanisms for my taste. In retrospect, perhaps I was a little hard on the guy back then, or maybe he just figured it all out since his last record (Did girlfriend Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, tell him to dial it back?). Either way, his new record, This is a Photograph, is by far his best album for my personal taste. Your results may differ. The title track is an early highlight, although the record is really deep. There's been a good deal of "photograph" songs lately. Guy Clark's "My Favorite Picture of You" is a great one. He paints a picture of his late wife through a single polaroid (humorously, it's a shot of her when she's angry). And Jamey Johnson's amazing "In Color" takes a trip through a photo album and adds "color commentary" to the black and white photos enclosed. It chokes me up every time I hear it. Similarly, in "This is a Photograph," Kevin Morby gazes at pictures of someone's mom and dad (he says "your mom" and "your dad", so presumably he's speaking to someone else, perhaps Katie herself). In each photo, we hear Kevin comment that each photo "Seems to say, this is what I'll miss after I die / And this is what I'll miss about being alive." It's a startling moment of hope, that people might be aware of the important moments of their lives as they happen. I'm not sure that's always the case, but it's a heartwarming thought.
21 "Be My Enemy" | The Bobby Lees
Woodstock, NY, garage-punk band the Bobby Lees are back! Signed on the recommendation of Henry Rollins to Mike Patton's demented Ipecac Records on the strength of 2020's amazing Skin Suit LP (#18 on our year-end list), the subsequent blast of new songs comes in the form of the four-song EP, Hollywood Junkyard. It's more of the same unhinged fury, I'm happy to report, but the band seems to be playing better than ever. The whole thing is a must listen, but I particularly love "Dig Your Hips" and this unexpected cover of the Waterboys "Be My Enemy," which with due respect to Mike Scott, the Bobby Lees own now. I'm very interested in how this song got on the band's radar, as it is not an obvious choice, but the band destroys the track in short order, capping off a brilliant return. I'm officially salivating for their next full-length record at this point so bring it on.
22 "What's the Trick?" | Jack White
Jack White is good for rock & roll. He personifies pretty much everything Pickled Priest looks for in a musician. He has a love for music of all kinds, he has a madcap spirit, he appreciates the past, pushes to the future, has a restless spirit, a curious mind, and has a creative spark that generates ideas at a furious pace. The results vary wildly, but that's the fun of it all. His flagrant misses are almost as entertaining as his bullseyes. Here he's asking "What's the Trick" in the context of "making my love stick," but you could ask him that about his music, too. And he probably would say "I don't really know."
23 "The Worst Facts" | Jon Spencer & the HITmakers
On the subject of Jack White, here's Jon Spencer, the man who held Jack's position prior to his promotion. Would Jack exist without Jon? Perhaps, but perhaps not, too. I've been a lifetime fan of Jon Spencer and I doubt there will ever come a day where I won't buy his latest record (similar to Jack). He's earned my loyalty. Even at his most over-the-top he's still an electric performer who doesn't give a shit what anybody thinks of his music. to paraphrase Nick Cave, "this is who he is, this is who he was born to be." So get on board or get out of the way. His latest album no longer features the Blues Explosion (Judah Bauer on guitar and Russell Simins on drums), which is a shame, but his new band does a serviceable job brining Spencer's brand of garage punk to life. "The Worst Facts" laments that fact that "People don't play that way anymore!" and he's right. Rock & roll is way more fun with Jon Spencer in the fold dishing out greasy riffs and frantic exhortations like, "I got the heebie jeebies at CBGBs!"
24 "The Charm" | Body Type
I don't know what I'd do without Australian bands to be honest with you. Absolutely still believers in guitar-based rock & roll, much like I am, they've delivered a steady diet of guitar-centric adrenalin right into my wheelhouse for quite a while now. Last year alone, Aussie bands accounted for five spots on my Top 25 list! Now we get Sydney's Body Type, and a 90's styled alt-rock jam called "The Charm," taken from their ripping new LP, Everything is Dangerous But Nothing's Surprising (even the title sounds like something from the early days of alternative). The great opening line "Birth control for rock & roll / Hold your fire for the baby girl" might account for why the genre has so few convincing offspring, but these four ladies are making a play to bring it back, and if they have to reference Liberace and Bertolt Brecht in the same song to get it done, that only sweetens the pie for me.
25 "Guest of Honor" | The Americans
Could a garage band from L.A. be the one thing that unites us all? I don't know why the Americans haven't made it big yet, but perhaps it's because we're all fucking sick of Americans right now. This is a band that, if you stumbled onto them in a dive bar somewhere, might make you see the country through a different lens, one where everybody has the same basic concerns. No matter who you are, these guys, and singer Patrick Ferris in particular, make it seem like everything will be alright if we can be honest with each other and hold out just a little longer. Openhearted and genuine, they've recorded a killer batch of songs that desire repeated listening to get under your skin. Not a bad tune in the bunch, but "Guest of Honor" is one of those songs that'll make a crowded bar get real quiet real quick. It sounds like it has been around for a while already, doing its thing, making people feel something universal.
26 "Life on Earth" | Hurray for the Riff Raff
We end this session with Hurray for the Riff Raff's beautiful "Life on Earth," a song that can't really be followed by anything else. This is a song to be left with when the day is done, when it's time to contemplate the accumulation of happenings and thoughts that have forced their way onto your mental hard drive. Let it play a few times, then turn the lights out.
Part 2 coming next week...