Priest Picks #31: Our Favorite Songs of Q3 2021
We want to get with you, so we've made you a mixtape of our favorite songs from the last 90 days to hasten the courtship process. We really hope it works because we worked hard on it, digging through countless tracks to reach a final 26, with 13 allocated to each side for symmetry. We even sequenced the songs to seduce, which means we mean business (it also means they aren't ranked in order of preference). We expect your response to this audio overture soon, so start listening. We impatiently await your reply.
1 GA-20 | “Let's Get Funky”
Let's get the obvious out of the way. There's no substitute for the original albums from Chicago's six-fingered (see album cover for proof) blues legend, Hound Dog Taylor. But this surprisingly good tribute from Boston's GA-20, a nitty-gritty white power-trio named after a classic Gibson amplifier, is at the very least a timely reminder to go back and revisit the genuine houserockin' articles. At best, it's a more accessible way for new ears to be introduced to the Dog's raw and nasty blues-rock sound. If even a few of those new listeners end up going back to the source, the project will have been worth it. Hound Dog was ground zero for Chicago's revered blues label, Alligator Records, who released Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers as their very first record 50-years ago this year. So it makes sense that the bluesman is finally getting some retro love from a new generation of musicians clearly in awe of his distinct brand of rollicking gut-bucket blues. And GA-20 does Hound Dog proud, too, as they run through some of Hound Dog's best tunes with higher production values, but without losing the nasty feel of the originals. I normally balk at such projects, but GA-20 have won this skeptical purist over. It surely helped matters that the project was curated by Ohio's preeminent soul label, Colemine Records, in affiliation with the folks at Alligator—I imagine they kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. I guess we should be thankful GA-20 got to it before the Black Keys muscled in on the action. I picked "Let's Get Funky" because it's Hound Dog's de facto theme song of sorts, so it works as the perfect opening shot for a mixtape. Plus, you get copious amounts of greasy slide guitar in the deal. For extra credit, seek out Taylor's live version from 1975 Alligator record Beware of the Dog, recorded at Cleveland's fittingly named Smiling Dog Tavern. It's late (1:55 a.m. to be exact), he's clearly been hitting the brown liquid, and the vibe is raw and loose. The way this music was meant to be heard.
2 TEKE::TEKE | “Yoru Ni"
I didn't get too far beyond "Montreal-based Japanese psych-punk band" before I was scrambling—more like begging—to cough up my money to make it mine. And it's everything I hoped it would be and more. Each track on the band's debut album, Shirushi, is like being randomly dropped into a pivotal scene from a Tarantino film, perhaps for a showdown with the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad or for a frantic car ride with Mr. Blonde and Mr. Pink. "Yoru Ni" is like surfing on a tsunami right into a nuclear meltdown with an AK47 strapped across your chest. Totally preposterous, totally thrilling.
3 TAMAR APHEK | “Crossbow"
Next, we jet off to Israel for Tamar Aphek's "Crossbow" which approximates an acid trip featuring a drum-pummeling Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt tailing Nadine Shah through a rabbit hole into an illegal nightclub in uptown Jerusalem (recommended name of said club: The Unholy Land). Just when you've oriented yourself to your exotic surroundings, Aphek bursts in, guitar shards flying, for the last 50-seconds like she's just seen Jimi Hendrix's ghost nailed to a cross in the women's bathroom.
4 AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS | “Freaks to the Front”
Almost every song on Amyl and the Sniffers new record, Comfort to Me (on Australia’s red-hot Flightless Records), is a snarling rebuke of something or someone, but “Freaks to the Front” stands out as a drop-dead punk classic. Apparently, a direct response to some drunk fan who called her ugly on the streets of London during the band’s last tour, Amy dismisses the soused Brit like the insignificant lout that he is. “If they don’t like you as you are / Just ignore the cunt.” And it’s raining cunts, hallelujah, from that point forward. To put it mildly, Amy is an Aussie who is not afraid to stand up for herself, or anyone else for that matter. “Choices,” a cut about a woman's right to have control of her own body, should be piped over the PA system in the Texas legislature (and in chambers of the SCOTUS immediately). “Knifey” finds Amy sadly needing to pack a blade just to walk through the park at night (“You think that’s a knifey? Now THIS is a knifey!) And on “Don’t Need a Cunt (Like You to Love Me)” Amy lays down the law to douchebag suitors worldwide. But that doesn’t mean she still doesn’t want love. She does. And at times she lets her guard down in the process ("Security"). Amazingly, this Aussie band has gotten substantially better since their 2018 debut record and singer Amy Taylor is positively a force to be reckoned with here, there, and everywhere. Be on the lookout, you stupid cunts.*
*It's official: a new record for use of the word "cunt" in one review in Pickled Priest history!
5 THE TUBS | “Illusion"
It's sad to hear that Welsh punk band Joanna Gruesome is no more, but from their ashes rises this new band that sounds nothing like the old band at all; not one bit. Instead, we get this strange hybrid of 80s pop stylings—a little jangle, a little folk, a little Morrissey-esque self-obsession. Surprisingly, I'm up for it—and I was alive in the 80s, so I shouldn't be. The key to overcoming historical trauma is, as always, songwriting. Most of the songs on the band's new EP, Names, could've been hits back in the day and maybe, in some alternate reality, they were. I love the dopey bounce of "Illusion," with singer Owen Williams giving us the full ennui treatment from the first moments. Later, "The Name Song" seems inspired by both Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and Them's "Gloria," and they do so without abusing the privilege. If you want proof of their 80's pop bona fides, they also do a Felt cover, ending with "Crystal Ball" from that band's classic album, The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories. Impressive all around.
6 TOMMY RAY! | “One Step Forward”
I thought the exclamation point after his name might be a joke and I surely assumed the album's title, Handful of Hits, was one, too. It turns out that this Portland power-pop cult idol (if he isn't, he should be) earns the right to use both. One listen to this treble-heavy stack of compressed, nasally guitar-pop singles and you'll wonder why nobody's heard of this guy. "One Step Forward" is as good a pick as any, but this is like a lost greatest-hits album packed with short, sharp shocks begging for someone to discover them. If he had been born 30 years earlier, Stiff Records would've snapped him up without a second thought. I wouldn't begrudge him a second exclamation point in the future if he keeps putting out records like this one.
7 ORLA GARTLAND | “Codependency”
Dublin's Orla Gartland (said properly, it should sound like a plugged drain suddenly opening up) is in need of some therapy, that's for sure. Her excellent new record, Woman on the Internet, is basically one long struggle for some kind of emotional freedom—"Codependency" being one of the more pronounced couch-worthy issues on the menu. Amazingly, the record doesn't bore, nor does it wallow. Instead, it's deceptively upbeat musically and at times it positively rocks. If this is the sound of problems being worked through, maybe I've been missing out on my own version of psychological catharsis.
8 FAYE WEBSTER | “Better Distractions"
There are a quarter million female singers baring their souls softly, slowly, and intensely these days—we must hang on their every word!—and some of them can be downright compelling at times, although rarely for an entire album's length. A lot of it wears me out, to be honest. It took me the better part of three months to stay awake through Phoebe Bridgers' Punisher last year just once. I understand I'm not the target audience and that's OK with me. That said, Atlanta's Faye Webster, based on her new record, I Know I'm Funny haha, is one of the most original and amusing of the bunch. She's got all the talent and all the lyrics, but she never forgets to give each song a sneaky little melody, a knowing wink, or a fluttering hook to ride on. And, most importantly, she can be amusing, too. But, as with most funny haha people, there's always some damage lurking under the surface which adds fuel to the fire. So it is with "Better Distractions," a heartbreaker with a nifty little chorus that sidles up next to you while you're eating a tub of ice cream and smoking a cigarette on the fire escape watching other people living their lives.
9 CIVIC | “Radiant Eye”
I've always had a genetically-programmed predilection for Australian punk (it started with the Saints and Radio Birdman and continues to this day with the aforementioned Amyl and the Sniffers and Pist Idiots, not to mention the late, great Royal Headache and the Eddy Current Supression Ring, among others). I don't know what causes bands from Australia to naturally exude a snarling, bratty attitude, but whatever it is, it just works for me. Civic is yet another rising band from Melbourne (home of Amyl & the Sniffers as well) signed to the seemingly infallible Flightless Records. "Radiant Eye" is just the tip of this album's iceberg, favorably recalling the epic early singles of peak-period Radio Birdman in the process. The record has at least five songs that could soon be downunderground classics. And, like my beloved Saints, horns, glorious horns!
10 CHUBBY AND THE GANG | “Pressure”
Chubby (singer Charlie Manning-Walker) is in serious jeopardy of blowing out his vocal chords on The Mutt's Nuts (sing from your diaphragm, Chubby!), but that doesn't stop him and his gang from speeding through school zones and parade routes without a care in the world for a second joy ride around their West London neighborhood. Truth be told, thie new record isn't quite the careening thrill ride that their debut, Speed Kills, was, but it still sounds like it was recorded post-Arsenal football game—which means they were soused. That said, there's more to the album than meets the eye on first listen. Soon enough, you'll be appreciating the melancholy of "Take Me Home to London" or the vulnerability of "I Hate the Radio," but before you get to those, check out the hair-metal guitar solo freakout at the end of "Pressure," which basically put this track on the mixtape all by itself.
11 THE DIABOLICAL LIBERTIES | “Mostly Indoors”
Let's stay in the UK for one more. One great thing about the London music scene is that there's something different around every corner. The Diabolical Liberties are the polar opposite of Chubby and the Gang, but there's something equally special about what they do, which I won't even attempt to describe here. All I know is that the narrator of the song is an agoraphobic who spends most of his time surfing the internet, eating modern bread (whatever that is), and learning how to re-skill workers to do other jobs. Imagine Blur's "Parklife" as told by Roy Kent of Ted Lasso fame and you're getting close to what this sounds like.
12 WANDA JACKSON | “Two Shots”
If any artist deserves to release one last album and call it Encore (no exclamation point?) it's rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson (this is actually the second time she has used the title, but I think a second encore is more than merited at this point). Clearly fellow rock & roll pioneer Joan Jett felt that way, too, because she and her cronies assisted in making this record happen. Nine years after her last album, which was titled Unfinished Business, it finds the 83-year-old in absolutely spectacular voice (especially considering she had a stroke three years ago). The cover features a young, resplendent Wanda, but I would've preferred a current photo instead. It would only drive home the point that talent doesn't always drift away slowly. Here, Wanda sounds full of life, her voice still in possession the girlish twang that put her on the map in the 50s, and the songs fit perfectly in her chosen niche. Joan and Elle King feature, but no help was really needed. Wanda, as always, owns everything she sings. And she's not messing around in her silver years either. "Two Shots" isn't a drinking song—it's a threat. And there's a 12-gauge shotgun involved if you cross the line. And if you think an 83-year-old woman can't handle the kick of a big ol' shotgun, you haven't been paying attention.
13 LOS LOBOS | “Los Chucos Suaves"
For their 30th anniversary album, The Ride, from 2004*, Los Lobos collaborated with a host of well-known artists like Bobby Womack, Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, Tom Waits, and Richard Thompson. It was a testament to the wide impact they've had on other musicians during their career to that point. Now it's almost 20 years further on down the road and the band is again taking some time out for another special project. Native Sons finds them covering songs that influenced them during their formative years in East L.A. The songs feature a wide range of artists, including Jackson Browne (a sweet take on "Jamaica Say You Will"), Buffalo Springfield (a medley of "Bluebird" and "For What It's Worth"), The Beach Boys (on album highlight "Sail On, Sailor"), and a killer take on War's epic "The World is a Ghetto," the album's thematic centerpiece. Those are but a few of the more recognizable tracks on the record, but if you've followed Los Lobos closely over the past 40 years or so, you know that they have never forgotten their roots. In each show, they work in a suite of Spanish folk classics, and for me, those are some of the most amazing moments to witness. They clearly kick into another gear when it's time to play those songs.
Back in the early 70s, when they started playing the East L.A. wedding circuit, they had a robust repertoire of Mexican folk songs at their disposal. They also had their own local heroes as well. On Native Sons, they cover "Love Special Delivery" by neighborhood legends Thee Midniters, Willie Bobo's "Dischoso," and the Jaguars' "Where Lovers Go," which absolutely begs to be played in the final minutes of a wedding reception (and probably was a part of the band's set in the old days). For this mixtape, I've chosen Lalo Guerrero's "Los Chucos Suaves" because it absolutely brings the band to life unlike any other song on the record. The affection they have for Lalo is palpable on the track and his spirit is alive and well in their playing and singing. It's not a surprising choice, especially since the band did an entire album with Lalo, called Papa's Dream, back in 1995. But without a doubt, their long friendship brings out something special. It's an absolute joy to behold.
*Note: I interviewed the band for Magnet Magazine back then and I just found my tapes of the interviews which I am planning on transcribing soon for a future post. I rank the discussion as one of the highlights of my musical writing life.
**If you compare the covers for the two albums, The Ride shows them walking (not riding, ironically) through a desert, seemingly still actively on their journey. The cover of Native Sons finds them finally stopping to reflect for a bit, propped high above L.A. Intentional perhaps?
14 RODRIGO AMARANTE | “Maré”
In conversation, this deep-thinking Brazilian will boggle your mind with a circuitous stream of high-minded thoughts that presumably will coalesce at some point into a spiritual jigsaw puzzle of his own design. I've heard him interviewed a couple times and by the end I didn't know what he was on about, but I was buying all of it nonetheless. His enthusiasm for life is so infectious, you want in no matter what he says. And his music is the natural extension of his philosophies. It clarifies everything even though I can't understand a word of it. As I was playing "Maré" again this afternoon while walking my dog, I felt like I was the best version of myself. I was hearing every rhythm, every pitter-patter, every instrument. I was swept up in a vocal I couldn't even understand, My ears were having the time of their lives.
15 LA MARISOUL | “Detonantes (Little Triggers)”
Finally, a reissue idea that doesn't suck! From within the shameless stream of reissues, super-deluxe box sets, and, worst of all, endless anniversary celebrations (the bane of my existence) comes a fresh take on Elvis Costello's classic album, This Year's Model, packaged as a bonus to the anniversary edition. If you're going to rape an artist's fans, at least be creative about it! In this case, Elvis thought it would be cool to farm the arrangements out to a bunch of notable Mexican singers and have them remake the songs with Spanish lyrics. Miraculously, the hit ratio of the tracks on Spanish Model is amazingly high. I had a real hard time picking one, but I eventually settled on this version of "Little Triggers" done by La Santa Cecilia lead singer La Marisoul, one of my favorite vocalists on the planet. She takes the familiar and makes it completely fresh again. She's a magician is what she is. In an interesting move, Elvis made a note that only the vocals should be new, so the underlying music was kept exactly as it is on the original record. I get it. They wanted the album to be tied to the original recording, but with new vocalists. But I think he would've been better off letting the collaborators add a little local instrumental flavor here and there. It would've spiced things up even more. Perhaps we can upgrade to a full mariachi version of the record the next time around? Surely, there will be another opportunity to repackage the record. If only I could think of a reason.
16 LITTLE SIMZ | “Fear No Man”
As a card-carrying introvert, this album drew my attention immediately. How can this spectacularly coiffed and clad woman on the cover be an introvert? She seems built to be seen and heard, not cloistered at home with a book or sequestered in a remote corner of a bustling party. In reality, of course, she can be both. Almost everyone is an introvert/extrovert hybrid of varying degrees; where the percentage allocation swings determines your dominant personality type. So, Simbiatu "Simbi" Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, the British-Nigerian rapper known simply as Little Simz (thank god), could certainly have moments where her introverted side emerges unexpectedly. There's a good chance that battle for supremacy is what makes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert such a remarkable achievement (wouldn't "Introverted" have been a better word choice though?). She is at all times fascinating and her music compelling. I haven't heard a record this year that teems with as much creative energy as this one. She's a major talent and her ability to shape-shift from one song to the next is the key to making a 63-minute album, normally the kiss of death for me, seem almost short. "Fear No Man" is one of many must-hear moments on the record, a spectacular anthem of female empowerment that is especially critical in Nigeria, where there's still a long road to travel to get anywhere near gender equality. The rhythms are distinctly African but Little Simz brings her own energy to the track that makes it unforgettable.
*Her nickname, Simbi, is an anagram of the album's title in case you haven't noticed.
17 LADY BLACKBIRD | “It'll Never Happen Again”
Jesus H. Christ with a credit card! Every once in a while a record comes seemingly out of the blue and provides me a "Holy Shit!" moment and Lady Blackbird's impeccable Black Acid Soul is that record. Lady Blackbird is actually L.A.'s Marley Munroe, but despite being an American, I still had to get her record from the UK as an import. Why and how does that happen? Now in my clutches, I find that the album title turns out to be a touch deceptive. This is mostly a smoky soul-jazz affair without much acid to be found; perhaps she considers her brand of music an acid-washed version of either soul or jazz, perhaps both. Well, it's not quite either, but it is nightclub ready. This record is so intimate, you can approximate what seeing her in an intimate club atmosphere might be like. And it is spellbinding. The record is perfectly produced to sound like you're sitting at a candlelit table right in front of the stage (kudos to producer Chris Seefried) and Lady turns in a bold and hypnotizing performance that is nothing short of a coming out party for a major new talent. She's already proving herself a master song interpreter as well, with seven of the album's songs covers of material from all over the spectrum. She starts with a predictable choice, Nina Simone's "Blackbird," that is as big a risk as a young black singer can take—sacred ground, plain and simple. It's an audacious opening salvo, but she pulls it off and then some. I don't know how she sources her material, but there's been some overtime put in. Next, she moves on to a drop-dead performance of an obscure Southern soul single, "It's Not That Easy," by the Casanovas. Then she works her way through a Bill Evans number, which she predictably dominates. Later, you get a knuckle-curve thrown at you with "Collage," an unexpected James Gang song written by Joe Walsh for the band's debut album from 1969. Who in her entourage had this track cocked and loaded in their arsenal? Of course, this too works beautifully in her capable hands. Which brings me to my personal favorite of the moment, Lady's take on Tim Hardin's 1966 nugget "It'll Never Happen Again" from his debut record, Tim Hardin 1. When I first heard the song, time stopped. It's one of those breathtaking moments that I'll never forget. Every moment, sheer perfection.
18 YOLA | “Whatever You Want"
When I first heard Yola she was a secret, now she rightfully belongs to everyone. She's clearly ready to take the artistic capital she earned with her surprise smash debut and do her own thing. The variety of styles featured on Stand for Myself prove she's more than ready to control her creative destiny. Does the cover image leave any doubt? The whole album demonstrates that she doesn't want to be stuck in one predictable rut her whole career. Even better, she writes really good songs, too, and it goes without saying that she can sing the shit out of all of them. If you're looking for proof, Exhibit A is "Whatever You Want," which wouldn't have sounded out of place onstage at L.A.'s Troubadour club in the early-70s. (Ronstadt would've ripped it off and sold a trillion copies of this song, so maybe it's best it came out in 2021.) When she kicks into high gear near the end of the song, straining the edges of her substantial vocal range, you know it has to be the last song of the night. There's really no following it. I imagine her dropping the microphone on her way out the door and strolling triumphantly into the West Hollywood night.
19 TWIN SHADOW | “I Wanna Be Here (Shotgun)"
As I was getting ready to write this entry, I was surprised to find that I own every Twin Shadow record ever released. What is it about George Lewis Jr.'s songs that draws me in every time? I wanted to figure it out. So, while working from home the other day, I let the songs roll for a few hours and found that there's rarely a bum track in the bunch. I also found that I don't get tired of listening to his music—in fact, most of his songs have something I want to come back and hear again and again. His main quality is that he's listenable, then, which sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's really high praise. Even better, his albums don't sound the same. He's unpredictable. Unpredictable and listenable. There's your answer. He can do dark, he can go light, he can chill out, he can ramp up, he can bring drama, he can bring joy. On his new album, he's taken another road. It seems to have been written with a beach in mind, perhaps near his home in the Dominican Republic. The album is effortless and easy—something you'd hear in an oceanfront bar on a gorgeous summer day. I didn't know it, but I needed a record like this. I'm not a beachcomber myself, but I aspire to be. This song makes me want to pack my shit, fill a dumpster with useless material possessions I don't really need, and head South. It's a song about seizing life and witnessing it from the front seat...
I wanna be here, not dragged down
Raised up, not background
I want to be here, not backseat
Everybody calls shotgun. Why? Because it's the place to be. No responsibility, feet out the window, wind in your hair, perhaps a joint in hand, not a care in the world, living in the moment. This song is the perfect soundtrack for such moments. Even without all that, it'll take you there in spirit for a few minutes.
20 L'ORANGE | “Delonte Needed Help/Che's Theme"
L'Orange is 29-year-old North Carolina beat-maker and crate-digger Austin Hart, whose specialty is fashioning hypnotic beats by looping samples sourced primarily from old soul and jazz records. He jams 22 tracks into 37-minutes on his new record (tenth overall), The World is Still Chaos, But I Feel Better, and while there are no traditional songs per se, the record's brief, interwoven soundscapes still hold together as a unified piece of work. There's even some timely advice for dealing with challenging times along the way. If you need a reference, think J Dilla's classic Donuts record, but with more vintage source material—the kind of stuff you might find hiding at church rummage sales, charity shops, or in the basement storeroom of your local record store. I've included a two-track medley here to give you a three-minute taste, but the record is best absorbed in one extended soul-soothing dose; press play and let the cumulative effect work its subtle magic on your psyche as you negotiate the business of your day. This is a high-quality background record, but it gets even better when you lock into it and appreciate the artistry involved in its creation.
21 LIARS | “My Pulse to Ponder”
I will never be able to predict what Liars is going to sound like next and that's what makes this 20-year-old band one of the most interesting and underrated ongoing bands anywhere. I use the word "band" loosely now, as Liars has basically been reduced to one Angus Andrew these days. Back in the day, Andrew, with his partner Aaron Hemphill, were inarguably the most difficult act to pigeonhole from New York's early-2000's musical explosion that launched the Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and many others (read Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman for all the sordid details). Two decades later, after distancing himself from his New York home—is a small town in Australia remote enough for you?—he's given us what may be his most "accessible" record to date. Which doesn't mean it'll fall conveniently into a specific genre in your record collection; you'll need to keep it off to the side with the other class-defying shit that you don't know what to do with. "My Pulse to Ponder" was plucked from the track list here solely because I love to scream "I'll cut your throat!" repeatedly in the car during its chorus. I think that's enough reason to put the song on a mixtape. I've added songs for less.
When the newsprint's chopped into a ransom note
They should duly pay it mind
Or I'll cut your throat!
I'LL CUT YOUR THROAT!"
22 NAKED RAYGUN | “Suicide Bomb”
The fact that Chicago punk legends Naked Raygun are back with their first album since 1990 makes me feel very, very old. I was around when they were cranking out classics like Throb Throb and Jettison in the 80s. What makes me feel young, however, is how alive the record feels. They've still got the drive! Maybe I do, too! I also like that they didn't make the exact same type of record they were making back then just to recapture some long gone magic. Instead, they made the record they wanted to make now. And they're still fucking good. Lots of highlights, but I was immediately drawn to "Suicide Bomb" because it doesn't sound like anything else they've done, but it still sounds like they're the coolest band in town. And the message is clear: I'm not going to contribute to your downfall. I'm not going to be your way out. Face the music on your own and take the consequences.
23 JAMES MCMURTRY | “Canola Fields"
James McMurtry is a national treasure and one of the best songwriters America has produced in the last few decades, so it's no surprise he's done it again on the nearly flawless The Horses and the Hounds. Few writers can create character sketches as economically as James without losing depth in the process and this album demonstrates that finely-honed skill over and over. This is basically an audio book of short stories about regular people. That may sound boring to some, but it's never less than absorbing. You get to know these unique characters, flaws and all. So gather round and spend some time with a master. In case you're wondering, his vocal skills are undiminished, too, not that his singing style requires polish and precision. But he sounds as good as he did when he released "Painting By Numbers" from his 1989 debut, Too Long in the Wasteland. "Canola Fields" finds McMurtry on top of his craft, telling the story of a long-lost love rekindled by a chance meeting in Brooklyn. (It doesn't hurt that the girl's name is Marie—my wife's name!) James pens one great verse after another, but a prime example is this tossed-off section that most songwriters would kill to have written:
In the way-back corner of a cross-town bus
We were hidin' out under my hat
Cashing in on a thirty year crush
You can't be young and do that
You can't be young and do that
The song highlights a very basic human need—the age-agnostic desire to find someone that won't let you go. He's always had a way of making simple things sound profound. And usually, the most profound things are right there in plain sight waiting for you to notice.
24 WILLIE NILE | “The Justice Bell (For John Lewis)”
Willie Nile deserves better, there's no doubt about that. For those who love his distinct brand of New York rock & roll, they know his passion hasn't waned one bit since he debuted in 1980. He's a great songwriter and he has a unique voice that lands somewhere between Steve Forbert and Bob Dylan. And at 73, his writing and singing skills haven't diminished one bit. If anything he's grown wiser and more thoughtful. His new record, The Day the Earth Stood Still, is fantastic front-to-back and will rank with his best albums ever. He also has some earned wisdom to impart, as the rousing "The Justice Bell (For John Lewis)" proves. It's an anthem of equality by a scrawny New York white guy and its stirring, wordless chorus puts chills down my spine every time I hear it. I understand that it is easy to get caught up in the artists and hits of the moment, but spend some more time digging for treasures off the beaten path, too, and you'll be rewarded. I know it's easy to pass up late-period albums by artists presumably past their prime—I'm guilty of it as well—but this song, and numerous others on the album, proves that approach is a big risk. I'm glad I took the time to revisit Willie Nile, as this will surely end up as one of my favorite albums of the year.
25 DEL AMITRI | “Close Your Eyes and Think of England”
As it turns out, this is not a stirring anthem about "England's green and pleasant land" as I had hoped. Initially, I envisioned a homesick British ex-pat pining for those "pleasant pastures" of home, only to be soothed by a moment of patriotic reverie before having to continue the day as a fish out of water in culturally bankrupt America. As it turns out, the title's origin was taken from advice given to women forced to suffer through unwanted sexual advances by powerful men back in early-1900s England. In other words, take one for the team, ladies, and just get through it. Perhaps you can think of something pleasant until it's over. Seriously, this is how they thought back in the day. And let's face it, not that much has changed since then. While many of us have become more aware of sexual power dynamics in recent years (#metoo, Epstein, Cosby, Weinstein, etc.), there's no hope in sight for an end to the abusive and predatory behaviors, unfortunately. Which is where Del Amitri's Justin Currie comes into the picture. Here, he does his part to set a new narrative where the perpetrators of such acts, now exiled from home as a result, have to close their eyes and think of England, because they've all been gathered on a boat and shipped out to sea, their place in history reassessed. Thankfully, Currie is a strong enough songwriter to pull off such an ambitious reversal. It comes from the band's first album in twenty years (something that seems to be happening more and more these days), and it finds Currie in fine voice and with his deft songwriting ability sharp as ever. In my opinion he was one of the most underrated songwriters of the late-80s and early-90s. If you know his hits ("Roll to Me" and "Kiss This Thing Goodbye" in the States) you know only a part of the story. His best songs are elsewhere, waiting to be discovered over repeated listens. "Close Your Eyes" could be too heavy to register with a large audience, but it, and its message, are definitely worth your time.
26 MODEST MOUSE | “The Sun Hasn't Left”
The family down the street from me has a vanity plate on their car that reads M MOUSE. The first thing that popped into my head when I first saw it was that there might be a Modest Mouse fan living inside the house, because that's how I think. Perhaps this person is a kindred spirit hiding out steps from my front door. I lack neighbors who like the same music I do, so I immediately fantasized about future fire pit discussions about our favorite Modest Mouse albums (I think The Moon and Antarctica is their masterpiece, but maybe this person prefers The Lonesome Crowded West, or maybe even This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About, which would be a cool choice as well) or maybe a critical dissection of the band's disappointing last decade where they seemed to have lost the plot somewhat, perhaps dealing with the perils of unexpected artistic longevity. We'd put another log on the fire and I would sadly point out that this low period is what forced me into the lapsed fan category, but I'd counter that I'm always hopeful the band returns to form someday. But we all know how this ends don't we? Moments later I saw another car in the driveway with a Disneyland license plate frame and my dreams were shattered in an instant (fucking Disney people). It's really too bad, too, because I would've loved to be a part of a discussion of the band's new album The Golden Casket, which is a return to form in my opinion. Easily their best work since Good New for People Who Love Bad News. The hive mind that is rock criticism these days won't give it a fair chance, but I think Isaac Brock sounds revitalized here; like he's discovered who and what he is supposed to be over twenty years after the band's inception. Finding a way to keep the creative fires burning this long is much harder than it seems; keeping your old fan base even harder. Especially hard when you have such a distinctive sound like Modest Mouse. Even better, Brock sounds downright optimistic on "The Sun Hasn't Left," a song for all you pandemic buzzkills out there who have spent the last 18 months immersed in self-obsessed, mopey bedroom pop records. Live a little! Find a reason to go on and let the chorus lead the way. This album might not be the happiest place on Earth, but at least you don't have to walk around in abject sadness with mouse ears on your head while you listen to it.
Well, there it is, the last quarterly mix of 2021. Next up, a year-end wrap-up will soon be upon us. Next week or the week after, I've got another mixtape brewing for you that will include some of the odds and sods from 2021 so far that I think it worth highlighting. So see you soon, congregants!