Tuesday, August 18, 2020

10th annual List of Lists


I'm alive! And I'm back eight months late with the feature that used to take me a week or two. However, regular posts should be somewhat less sporadic starting now, although still not on the regular timetable with which this blog established its sterling reputation. I have painstakingly crafted new song lists and playlists for two further archival years, 1959 and 1979; have restructured my 2010s decade lists to incorporate material from 2019; and have rebelled against the facts of quarantine life with quick thoughts on the best live shows I have seen.

BEST ACTS I'VE SEEN LIVE
Obviously I'm missing live shows a lot right now. Where available I linked my attendant blog post; otherwise I said a few words.

1. Yo La Tengo: I've seen them a total of eleven times, counting their experimental soundtrack to a documentary about Buckminster Fuller late last year. It's almost always a transcendent, mind-melting experience, but especially in smaller venues, and particularly my first time seeing them at the Orange Peel in Asheville in 2003, and on a triad of two-night stands at Cat's Cradle (where a large proportion of my favorite live experiences have taken place) in 2007, 2011 and 2018. I love the two-night gigs because you can really feel them settling in, and committing to giving off a different experience at each of the gigs. I can't describe how rewarding it's always been to go back and see them again and I will miss it terribly whenever it (permanently) stops being feasible. But maybe that'll never happen. As long as they're playing I will keep seeing them. I still hold out hope for seeing Condo Fucks and/or a Freewheelin' Yo La Tengo show or maybe even Hanukkah when the pandemic's over and the world is new again.

Unfortunately I only wrote a tiny bit about the first time I saw YLT in 2003, though it's one paragprah that captures my memory of the experience quite well: "The entire thing was made for me by the second song, 'My Heart’s Reflection.' I'd fallen in love with it just a month or so before the show, and then when they played 'Blue Line Swinger' my cool cool facade almost broke entirely. A wonderful set and we will surely see them again." I was nineteen then, which I find unspeakably alarming. But here are my longer posts about seeing them in 2007 (note me obliviously complaining about Mac McCaughan's "hangers-on"), 2009, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018 and (briefly) 2019.

2. The Tallest Man on Earth: Still maybe the most breathtaking single show I've seen, back in 2010 at tiny Gerrard Hall on the UNC campus in 2010, days after he got the then-important "Best New Music" boost from Pitchfork; we'd only paid $5 each for our tickets. Not feeling very verbal at the time of the show (and still suffering from chronic, uncontrolled migraines, including that night), I only said a few words at the time; Amber said a lot more -- with photos that, PhotoBucket bug notwithstanding, give you a good idea of how intimate the show was, at this link.

3. Tune-Yards: At Merrill Garbus' peak in the early part of the last decade it really felt like she was stretching the boundaries of what rock music could be like no one else in recent memory, and I am glad I got to witness this twice with my own eyes; I wrote extensively about her Cat's Cradle gigs that I saw in 2011 (a couple of days after my dad died, so I was very much in need of a life-affirming experience) and again three years later.

4. Joanna Newsom: Durham, NC on March 25th, 2010. One of my favorite people in the world, as you know if you're a regular reader. My records indicate I posted about this somewhere at this blog but I can't figure out where; anyway it was wonderful, she was talkative and it was gorgeous and she played "Baby Birch." An Unforgettable Night.

5. The Walkmen: An actual headlining show by what may have been my favorite active guitar band at the time, at the Cradle in January 2011; I feel lucky to have seen everything listed here (and many things that aren't, like R.E.M. in October 2003 on a night when they were rejoined in the encore by Bill Berry) but this in particular, as they so rarely came our way without opening for some lesser band or another, and I lost an opportunity to see them quite early in their career in '04. Wrote about it here

6. The Mountain Goats: Amber's seen the Goats, her favorites, six times, five with me in tow. I famously heard "No Children" in 2007 and found it absolutely befuddling, and within five years was belting it out joyously in various rooms full of misfits. I wrote about my first time, at Cat's Cradle in 2011, here; my second show of theirs was on an almost unbearably emotional night in an acoustic duo arrangement at the Soapbox in Wilmington, as recounted here. And then we managed three consecutive Decembers: Carolina Theatre 2017, Haw River Ballroom 2018, Haw River Ballroom 2019 (just briefly noted here).

7. Ezra Furman: At Durham's wonderful Pinhook in 2016, we saw balls-out rock & roll from one of its key modern progenitors; it was one of the most sparsely attended shows I've ever seen, but we were given no less ecstatic a performance from Furman and his magnificent band the Boyfriends. Marks the only time we've ever snagged a setlist. More here (this shares an entry with the Charleston YLT show).

8. Cut Copy: A long-running bucket list band ever since I saw some of their live performances online around 2011 or so. The show happened at one of our favorite venues, a converted railway station called the Music Farm in Charleston. Wrote about it here (overlap with one of the Mountain Goats shows).

9. The Soul Brothers/Who's Bad?: From the days when I hung out a lot at a local venue where I later worked as a DJ. Who's Bad was a very competent Michael Jackson tribute band, but the Soul Brothers were an incredible soul revival band who were genuinely terrific live. Here's a ridiculously long post about this night; as you will quickly glean, this occurred at... a very, very different juncture in my life than most of these others.

10. The New Pornographers: 2010, with the full Bejar/Case-inclusive lineup in tow and an absolute dream setlist. Addressed briefly here; I didn't write much about this and I had a horrible headache the entire night but I remember it with great fondness.

11. Sheer Mag: Back to my old ways of having trouble waxing at length about things that aren't movies -- everything feels too singular, too private, too personal these days, even gigs -- I still talked a little about the show here and it's one of the best rock shows I've seen.

12. Kate Tempest: Farthest we've ever driven for a show (and oddly, one of only two I've been to outside the Carolinas, the other being Interpol in Brisbane, Australia in 2008!) because we figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Tempest actually came to NC when touring for Everybody Down but we missed it because we were in the middle of relocating. It was a wackadoodle thing to do and one of my favorite things that's happened in the last few years. More about it here.

Eternal gratitude and love to my girlfriend, wife and lifelong concert buddy Amber (who also took this post's header photo).

2010s ALBUMS: REVISED
The second of what will eventually be three passes at this, this one using the list I posted here last summer and adding my favorite records of 2019. The songs list, below, is structured in much the same way.

1. D'Angelo & the Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA 2014)
2. Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (Drag City 2010)
3. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Interscope 2012)
4. Saint Etienne: Words and Music by Saint Etienne (Heavenly 2012)
5. Tune-Yards: w h o k i l l (4AD 2011)
6. Joanna Newsom: Divers (Drag City 2015)
7. Kanye West: Yeezus (Def Jam 2013)
8. SOPHIE: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (Future Classic 2018)
9. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam 2010)
10. Love Is All: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries (Polyvinyl 2010)
11. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (XL 2013)
12. The Wave Pictures: City Forgiveness (Moshi Moshi 2013)
13. Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy 2010)
14. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic 2012)
15. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada 2014)
16. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia 2012)
17. Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (Other People 2016)
18. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (Warp 2016)
19. The Walkmen: Lisbon (Fat Possum 2010)
20. Das Racist: Relax (Greedhead 2011)
21. The National: High Violet (4AD 2010)
22. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (XL 2010)
23. The Wave Pictures: Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon (Moshi Moshi 2015)
24. Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (Bella Union 2015)
25. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop 2015)
26. Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (Fiction 2016)
27. Anthony Joseph: Caribbean Roots (Heavenly Sweetness 2016)
28. David Bowie: Blackstar (Columbia 2016)
29. Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (Sub Pop 2011)
30. Hot Chip: One Life Stand (astralwerks 2010)
31. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Bad Boy 2018)
32. The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (Matador 2014)
33. Atlas Sound: Parallax (4AD 2011)
34. Cut Copy: Zonoscope (Modular 2011)
35. Lady Lamb: After (Mom + Pop 2015)
36. Charly Bliss: Young Enough (Barsuk 2019)
37. Twin Shadow: Confess (4AD 2012)
38. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Bad Boy 2013)
39. Yoko Ono: Take Me to the Land of Hell (Chimera 2013)
40. Beyoncé (Columbia 2013)
41. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here 2013)
42. Big Thief: U.F.O.F. (4AD 2019)
43. David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia 2013)
44. Tune-Yards: Nikki Nack (4AD 2014)
45. The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans 2010)
46. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge 2010)
47. Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop 2012)
48. Pet Shop Boys: Electric (x2 2013)
49. Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL 2010)
50. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD 2010)

2010s SONGS: REVISED
I only reconfigured the top portion of this, to preserve some semblance of my sanity; you can probably extraopolate the rest with the ample tools I have given you!!

1. Joanna Newsom "Good Intentions Paving Company" [Have One on Me, 2010]
2. Titus Andronicus "The Battle of Hampton Roads" [The Monitor, 2010]
3. Miguel "Adorn" [Kaleidoscope Dream, 2012]
4. Joanna Newsom "Baby Birch" [Have One on Me, 2010]
5. The Tallest Man on Earth "Love Is All" [The Wild Hunt, 2010]
6. Leonard Cohen "Going Home" [Old Ideas, 2012] / Marianne Faithfull "Going Home" [Give My Love to London, 2014]
7. The Wave Pictures "Slick Black River from the Rain" [A Season in Hull, 2016]
8. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever "Tender Is the Neck" [Talk Tight, 2017]
9. Love Is All "A Side in a Bed" [Two Thousand and Ten Injuries, 2010]
10. Allo Darlin' "History Lessons" [We Come from the Same Place, 2014]
11. The Walkmen "Juveniles" [Lisbon, 2010]
12. Courtney Barnett "Depreston" [Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, 2015]
13. Big Thief "Cattails" [U.F.O.F., 2019]
14. Nicolas Jaar "The Governor" [Sirens, 2016]
15. Robyn "Dancing on My Own" [Body Talk, 2010]
16. Spiritualized "Hey Jane" [Sweet Heart Sweet Light, 2012]
17. Kanye West ft. Rihanna "All of the Lights" [My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010]
18. The Wave Pictures "We Fell Asleep in the Blue Tent" [Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon, 2015]
19. Anthony Joseph "Neckbone" [Caribbean Roots, 2016]
20. Perfume Genius "Hood" [Put Your Back In 2 It, 2012]
21. Twin Shadow "Run My Heart" [Confess, 2012]
22. Tune-Yards "Wait for a Minute" [Nikki Nack, 2014]
23. Frank Ocean "Lost" [Channel Orange, 2012]
24. Suckers "Bricks to the Bones" [Candy Salad, 2012]
25. The National "This Is the Last Time" [Trouble Will Find Me, 2013]
26. Owen Pallett "The Great Elsewhere" [Heartland, 2010]
27. Tune-Yards "Powa" [whokill, 2011]
28. Saint Etienne "Tonight" [Words and Music by Saint Etienne, 2012]
29. Leonard Cohen "Amen" [Old Ideas, 2012]
30. Big Thief "Orange" [U.F.O.F., 2019]
31. The National "Bloodbuzz, Ohio" [High Violet, 2010]
32. D'Angelo "Really Love" [Black Messiah, 2014]
33. N.E.R.D. ft. Rihanna "Lemon" [No One Ever Really Dies, 2017]
34. TV on the Radio "You" [Nine Types of Light, 2011]
35. Kelis "Breakfast" [Food, 2014]
36. Janelle Monae & the Wondaland Arts Society "Hell You Talmbout" [single, 2015] / David Byrne "Hell You Talmbout" [live, 2018]
37. Tune-Yards "Doorstep" [whokill, 2011]
38. Fiona Apple "Anything We Want" [The Idler Wheel..., 2012]
39. Superchunk "This Summer" [single, 2012]
40. Twerps "I Don't Mind" [Range Anxiety, 2015]
41. Susanne Sundfor "Fade Away" [Ten Love Songs, 2015]
42. The New Pornographers "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" [Together, 2010]
43. Rihanna "Love on the Brain" [ANTI, 2016]
44. Hot Chip "Alley Cats" [One Life Stand, 2010]
45. Ibibio Sound Machine "I Know That You're Thinking About Me" [Doko Mien, 2019]
46. Joanna Newsom "The Things I Say" [Divers, 2015]
47. (Sandy) Alex G "Bobby" [Rocket, 2017]
48. Janelle Monae "Make Me Feel" [Dirty Computer, 2018]
49. Arcade Fire "Sprawl #2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" [The Suburbs, 2010]
50. Chromatics "Kill for Love" [Kill for Love, 2012]
51. Surfer Blood "Anchorage" [Astro Coast, 2010]
52. The Chemical Brothers ft. Beck "Wide Open" [Born in the Echoes, 2015]
53. Charli XCX ft. MØ "Porsche" [Pop 2, 2018]
54. Courtney Barnett "Sunday Roast" [Tell Me How You Really Feel, 2018]
55. Das Racist "Michael Jackson" [Relax, 2011]
56. Girls "Oh So Protective One" [Broken Dreams Club, 2010]
57. Joanna Newsom "Divers" [Divers, 2015]
58. Hot Chip "Take It In" [One Life Stand / We Have Remixes, 2010]
59. Saint Etienne "Over the Border" [Words and Music by Saint Etienne, 2012]
60. Beach House "Norway" [Teen Dream, 2010]
61. Ray BLK "Run Run" [Empress, 2019]
62. Vampire Weekend "Unbelievers" [Modern Vampires of the City, 2013]
63. Kendrick Lamar "untitled 08" [untitled unmastered., 2016]
64. Leonard Cohen "Show Me the Place" [Old Ideas, 2012]
65. Cut Copy "Take Me Over" [Zonoscope, 2011]
66. Black Marble "A Great Design" [A Different Arrangement, 2012]
67. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down "Millionaire" [A Man Alive, 2016]
68. The Mountain Goats "Damn These Vampires" [All Eternals Deck, 2011]
69. Camp Cope "I've Got You" [How to Socialise & Make Friends, 2018]
70. Yoko Ono "7th Floor" [Take Me to the Land of Hell, 2013]
71. Passion Pit "Take a Walk" [Gossamer, 2012]
72. A Tribe Called Quest "We the People" [We Got It from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service, 2016]
73. Yo La Tengo "Ohm" [Fade, 2013]
74. Nicolas Jaar "Three Sides of Nazareth" [Sirens, 2016]
75. Beyonce "Love on Top" [4, 2012]
76. Rhye "The Fall" [Woman, 2013]
77. Colette "When the Music's Loud" [When the Music's Loud, 2013]
78. Titus Andronicus "To Old Friends and New" [The Monitor, 2010]
79. Royal Headache "Carolina" [High, 2015]
80. Chastity Belt "Drone" [Time to Go Home, 2015]
81. Shannon and the Clams "The Boy" [Onion, 2018]
82. Allo Darlin' "Half Heart Necklace" [We Come from the Same Place, 2014]
83. Eleanor Friedberger "He Didn't Mention His Mother" [New View, 2016]
84. Slowdive "No Longer Making Time" [Slowdive, 2017]
85. Big Thief "Not" [Two Hands, 2019]
86. The Walkmen "Lisbon" [Lisbon, 2010]
87. Fiona Apple "Hot Knife" [The Idler Wheel..., 2012]
88. Titus Andronicus "Theme from Cheers" [The Monitor, 2010]
89. Kanye West "Black Skinhead" [Yeezus, 2013]
90. Tierra Whack "Cable Guy" [Whack World, 2018]
91. Deerhunter "Desire Lines" [Halcyon Digest, 2010]
92. The Tallest Man on Earth "Graceland" {Paul Simon cover} [b-side, 2010]
93. Charly Bliss "Young Enough" [Young Enough]
94. Sheer Mag "Nobody's Baby" [III, 2016]
95. Lady Lamb "Penny Licks" [After, 2015]
96. Curren$y "Breakfast" [Pilot Talk, 2010]
97. Ezra Furman "Love You So Bad" [Transangelic Exodus, 2018]
98. Underworld "Nylon Strung" [Barbara Barbara We Face a Shining Futyre, 2016]
99. Kaki King "Sloan Shore" [Junior, 2010]
100. Disclosure ft. London Grammar "Help Me Lose My Mind" [Settle, 2013]
101. The Wave Pictures "Before This Day" [City Forgiveness, 2013]
102. Kelela "All the Way Down" [Hallucinogen, 2015]
103. D'Angelo "Another Life" [Black Messiah, 2014]
104. Chromatics "On the Wall" [Closer to Grey, 2019]
105. Rolling Blackouts C.F. "Read My Mind" [non-LP single, 2019]
106. Tierra Whack "Pet Cemetery" [Whack World, 2018]
107. TV on the Radio "Killer Crane" [Nine Types of Light, 2011]
108. The National "I Need My Girl" [Trouble Will Find Me, 2013]
109. The Wave Pictures "Hazey Moon" [Look Inside Your Heart, 2018]
110. Cat Power "Manhattan" [Sun, 2012]
111. Vince Staples "Big Fish" [Big Fish Theory, 2017]
112. Courtney Barnett "Houses" {Elyse Weinberg cover} [single, 2018]
113. Flock of Dimes "Birthplace" [If You See Me, Say Yes, 2016]
114. Rolling Blackouts C.F. "In the Capital" [non-LP single, 2019]
115. Khalid "8TEEN" [American Teen, 2017]
116. Charly Bliss "Blown to Bits" [Young Enough, 2019]
117. Vampire Weekend "Diplomat's Son" [Contra, 2010]
118. The Julie Ruin "Just My Kind" [Run Fast, 2013]
119. Shura "Touch" [Nothing's Real, 2016]
120. Belle & Sebastian "The Ghost of Rockschool" [Write About Love, 2010]
121. Danny Brown "Really Doe" [Atrocity Exhibition, 2016]
122. Loyle Carner "Loose Ends" [Not Waving, But Drowning]
123. Twin Shadow "When the Movie's Over" [Confess, 2012]
124. Beach House "Bluebird" [Depression Cherry, 2015]
125. Kanye West "Bound 2" [Yeezus, 2013]
126. Horse Feathers "Fit Against the Country" [Cynic's New Year, 2012]
127. Nadine Shah "2016" [Holiday Destination, 2017]
128. Yo La Tengo "Butchie's Tune" {Lovin' Spoonful cover} [Stuff Like That There, 2015]
129. The Wave Pictures "Atlanta" [City Forgiveness, 2013]
130. Vince Staples "Yeah Right" [Big Fish Theory, 2017]
131. The Julie Ruin "Run Fast" [Run Fast, 2013]
132. PAPA "Ain't It So" [A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, 2011]
133. Jay Som "The Bus Song" [Everybody Works, 2017]
134. Vampire Weekend "Diane Young" [Modern Vampires of the City, 2013]
135. Beirut "We Never Lived Here" [Gallipoli]
136. Azealia Banks "212" [single, 2011 / Broke with Expensive Taste, 2014]
137. Vampire Weekend "Run" [Contra, 2010]
138. Beyonce "Party" [4, 2012]
139. The Wave Pictures "Remains" [A Season in Hull, 2016]
140. Leonard Cohen "You Want It Darker" [You Want It Darker, 2016]
141. Cut Copy "Need You Now" [Zonoscope, 2011]
142. Tirzah "Holding On" [Devotion, 2018]
143. Arcade Fire "Half Light 2 (No Celebration)" [The Suburbs, 2010]
144. The Walkmen "Blue as Your Blood" [Lisbon, 2010]
145. Kate Tempest "Tunnel Vision" [Let Them Eat Chaos, 2016]
146. Twin Shadow ft. D'Angelo Lacy "Old Love/New Love" [Eclipse, 2015]
147. Tirzah "Devotion" [Devotion, 2018]
148. Love Is All "Early Warnings" [Two Thousand and Ten Injuries, 2010]
149. Titus Andronicus "Crass Tattoo" [A Productive Cough, 2018]
150. LCD Soundsystem "I Can Change" [This Is Happening, 2010] / Ezra Furman "I Can Change" [Songs by Others, 2016]

1959 SONGS
Brand new list that took weeks. Given that this was past the peak of first-wave rock & roll, there are a shocking number of classics here, even if the center kind of collapses in favor of subgenres like swamp and the burgeoning golden era of soul. Close to forty stone masterpieces at the top, in my opinion, including a few that were new to me.

1. Ray Charles "What'd I Say [parts 1 & 2]" (Atlantic)
2. The Isley Brothers "Shout [parts 1 & 2]" (RCA)
3. Miles Davis "All Blues" (Columbia LP: Kind of Blue)
4. Eddie Cochran "Somethin' Else" (Liberty)
5. Ray Charles "Night Time Is the Right Time" (Atlantic)
6. Dion & the Belmonts "A Teenager in Love" (Laurie)
7. Chuck Berry "Memphis, Tennessee" (Chess)
8. Vince Taylor & His Playboys "Brand New Cadillac" (Parlophone)
9. The Coasters "I'm a Hog for You" (Atco)
10. Cookie & the Cupcakes "Mathilda" (Judd)
11. Dave Brubeck "Take Five" (Columbia LP: Time Out)
12. The Coasters "Poison Ivy" (Atco)
13. Ronnie Hawkins "Mary Lou" (Roulette)
14. Sam Cooke "Only Sixteen" (Keen)
15. Howlin' Wolf "No Place to Go" (Chess LP: Moanin' in the Moonlight)
16. Del Royals "A Bomb Bop" (Demo)
17. Brenda Lee "Sweet Nothin's" (Decca)
18. Buddy Holly "Crying Waiting Hoping" (Coral)
19. Little Richard "Shake a Hand" (Specialty)
20. The Coasters "That Is Rock 'n' Roll" (Atco)
21. Chuck Berry "Back in the U.S.A." (Chess)
22. Big Jay McNeely "There Is Something on Your Mind" (Swingin')
23. The Staple Singers "I'm Leaning" (Vee Jay)
24. Connie Francis "Lipstick on Your Collar" (MGM)
25. Fats Domino "I'm Ready" (Imperial)
26. Barrett Strong "Money" (Tamla)
27. Muddy Waters "She's Into Something" (Chess)
28. Little Willie John "Leave My Kitten Alone" (King)
29. Frankie Ford "Sea Cruise" (Ace)
30. The Falcons "You're So Fine" (Unart)
31. Ruth Brown "I Don't Know" (Atlantic)
32. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters "The Twist" (King)
33. Lloyd Price "Stagger Lee" (ABC-Paramount)
34. The Drifters "There Goes My Baby" (Atlantic)
35. The Staple Singers "Going Away" (Vee Jay)
36. Brenda Lee "Let's Jump the Broomstick" (Decca)
37. Santo and Johnny "Sleep Walk" (Canadian American)
38. Bobby 'Blue' Bland "I'll Take Care of You" (Duke)
39. Ray Charles "I Believe to My Soul" (Atlantic)
40. Marty Robbins "El Paso" (Columbia)
41. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles "I Need a Change" (Chess)
42. Nina Simone "I Loves You, Porgy" (Bethlehem)
43. The Coasters "Charlie Brown" (Atco)
44. LaVern Baker "So High, So Low" (Atlantic)
45. George Jones "White Lightning" (Mercury)
46. Chuck Berry "Little Queenie" (Chess)
47. Little Richard "Baby" (Specialty)
48. The Coasters "Three Cool Cats" (Atco)
49. The Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes for You" (End)
50. Bo Diddley "Crackin' Up" (Checker)
51. Muddy Waters "When I Get to Thinking" (Chess)
52. The Coasters "What About Us" (Atco)
53. John Lee Hooker "Maudie" (Vee Jay)
54. The Drifters "Dance with Me" (Atlantic)
55. Jackie Wilson "I'll Be Satisfied" (Brunswick)
56. The Everly Brothers "('Til) I Kissed You" (Cadence)
57. Johnny Cash "Thanks a Lot" (Sun)
58. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters "Kansas City" (King)
59. Bobby Darin "Dream Lover" (Atco)
60. Chuck Berry "Almost Grown" (Chess)
61. Duane Eddy "The Lonely One" (Jamie)
62. The Clovers "Love Potion No. 9" (United Artists)
63. Ray Charles "I'm Movin' On" (Atlantic)
64. John Lee Hooker "(Miss Sadie Mae) Curl My Baby's Hair" (Fortune)
65. Lloyd Price "I'm Gonna Get Married" (ABC-Paramount)
66. Johnny Kidd & the Pirates "Please Don't Touch" (HMV)
67. Johnny Bell "Flip, Flop and Fly" (Brunswick)
68. Fats Domino "Telling Lies" (Imperial)
69. LaVern Baker "I Waited Too Long" (Atlantic)
70. Muddy Waters "Tell Me Baby" (Chess)
71. Ronnie Allen "Juvenile Delinquent" (San)
72. The Isley Brothers "Respectable" (RCA)
73. The Coasters "Along Came Jones" (Atco)
74. The '5' Royales "I Know It's Hard But It's Fair" (King)
75. Roy Hamilton "I Need Your Lovin'" (Epic)
76. Eugene Church "Miami" (Class)
77. The Rock-A-Teens "Woo-Hoo" (Roulette)
78. The Platters "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (Mercury)
79. Howlin' Wolf "The Natchez Burning" (Chess)
80. Phil Phillips "Sea of Love" (Khoury's)
81. Sam Cooke "Everybody Likes to Cha Cha Cha" (Keen)
82. Bing Day "I Can't Help It" (Mercury)
83. Sarah Vaughan "Broken-Hearted Melody" (Mercury)
84. John Lee Hooker "Crawlin' King Snake" (Vee Jay)
85. Frankie Ford "Alimony" (Ace)
86. Jody Reynolds "The Storm" (Demon)
87. Ray Charles "Tell Me How Do You Feel" (Atlantic)
88. Lloyd Price "Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day)" (ABC-Paramount)
89. Fats Domino "Be My Guest" (Imperial)
90. Bo Diddley "Say Man" (Checker)
91. Chan Romero "The Hippy Hippy Shake" (Specialty)
92. Little Richard "Kansas City" (Specialty)
93. Homer Denison Jr. "Chickie Run" (Brunswick)
94. J.B. Lenoir "Back Door" (Shad)
95. Johnny Cash "Five Feet High and Rising" (Columbia)
96. Dee Clark "Hey Little Girl" (Abner)
97. Dale Hawkins "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" (Checker)
98. Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs "College Girl" (Selwyn)
99. Buddy Knox "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" (Roulette)
100. Johnny & the Hurricanes "Red River Rock" (Warwick)
101. Bobby 'Blue' Bland "I'm Not Ashamed" (Duke)
102. James Brown & the Famous Flames "Good Good Lovin'" (Federal)
103. The Dubs "Chapel of Dreams" (Gone)
104. The Fiestas "So Fine" (Old Town)
105. The Fendermen "Mule Skinner Blues" (Cuca)
106. Ray Charles "That's Enough" (Atlantic)
107. Muddy Waters "I Feel So Good" (Chess)
108. Wilbert Harrison "Kansas City" (Fury)
109. Jack Scott "I Never Felt Like This" (Carlton)
110. Jackie Wilson "That's Why (I Love You So)" (Brunswick)
111. Dwain Bell "I'm Gonna Ride" (Summit)
112. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles "I Love Your Baby" (Chess)
113. Jody Reynolds "Beulah Lee" (Demon)
114. Elvis Presley "A Big Hunk o' Love" (RCA)
115. Ricky Nelson "It's Late" (Imperial)
116. Bobby Darin "Mack the Knife" (Atco)
117. Buddy Holly "Peggy Sue Got Married" (Coral)
118. Etta James & Harvey Fuqua "I Hope You're Satisfied" (Chess)
119. The Isley Brothers "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door" (RCA)
120. Lloyd Price "Personality" (ABC-Paramount)
121. Marv Johnson "Come to Me" (United Artists)
122. Johnny Bachelor "Mumbles" (Era)
123. Ronnie Hawkins "Southern Love" (Roulette)
124. Little Richard "All Night Long" (Specialty)
125. Sandy Nelson "Teen Beat" (Original Sound)
126. Freddy Cannon "Tallahassee Lassie" (Swan)
127. Sam Cooke "One Hour Ahead of the Posse" (Keen)
128. Jivin' Gene "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" (Mercury)
129. Eugene Church & the Fellows "Pretty Girls Everywhere" (Class)
130. The Bell Notes "I've Had It" (Time)
131. Darrell Rhodes "Lou Lou" (Winston)
132. Fats Domino "I've Been Around" (Imperial)
133. Ronnie Dawson "Congratulations to Me" (Rockin')
134. Paul Gayten "The Hunch" (Anna)
135. Clyde McPhatter "Since You've Been Gone" (Atlantic)
136. The Drifters "Oh My Love" (Atlantic)
137. The String Kings "The Bash" (Gaity)
138. Billy Lee Riley "Got the Water Boiling" (Sun)
139. Bobby 'Blue' Bland "Is It Real" (Duke)
140. Connie Francis "Among My Souvenirs" (MGM)
141. Johnny Kidd & the Pirates "Growl" (HMV)
142. Eddie Cochran "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" (Liberty)
143. Peggy Lee "Hallelujah, I Love Him So" (Capitol)
144. Tommy Blake "$ F--olding Money $" (Recco)
145. Elvis Presley "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I" (RCA)
146. Ray Smith "Rockin' Little Angel" (Judd)
147. Connie Francis "You're Gonna Miss Me" (MGM)
148. Jackie Wilson "Talk That Talk" (Brunswick)
149. Howlin' Wolf "You Gonna Wreck My Life" (Chess)
150. Fats Domino "Margie" (Imperial)
151. Brenda Lee "Weep No More My Baby" (Decca)
152. The Cadillacs "Zoom-Boom-Zing" (Josie)
153. Larry Donn "Honey-Bun" (Vaden)
154. John Lee Hooker "Hobo Blues" (Vee Jay)
155. Sam Cooke "Summertime" (Keen)
156. Howlin' Wolf "Howlin' Blues" (Chess)
157. Little Richard "Lonesome and Blue" (Specialty)
158. Penny Candy "The Rockin' Lady (From New Orleans)" (Flippin')
159. The Fireballs "Torquay" (Top Rank)
160. Eddie Cochran "Little Angel" (Liberty)
161. Clyde McPhatter "You Went Back on Your Word" (Atlantic)
162. Jerry McGill & the Topcoats "Lovestruck" (Sun)
163. Mel Robbins "Save It" (Argo)
164. Freddy Cannon "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" (Swan)
165. Gene & Eunice "Poco Loco" (Case)
166. Andy Anderson "You Shake Me Up" (Apollo)
167. Duane Eddy "Yep!" (Jamie)
168. Johnny Cash "Katy Too" (Sun)
169. Howlin' Wolf "I've Been Abused" (Chess)
170. The Chantels "Goodbye to Love" (End)
171. Lloyd Price "Come into My Heart" (ABC-Paramount)
172. The Impalas "Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)" (Cub)
173. Duane Eddy "Three-30-Blues" (Jamie)
174. The Everly Brothers "Poor Jenny" (Cadence)
175. John Lee Hooker "I'm in the Mood" (Vee Jay)
176. The Drifters "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love" (Atlantic)
177. Brenda Lee "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home" (Decca)
178. Little Richard "Wonderin'" (Specialty)
179. Eddie Cochran "Boll Weevil Song" (Liberty)
180. Brook Benton "So Many Ways" (Mercury)
181. John Lee Hooker "Tennessee Blues" (Vee Jay)
182. Little Richard "Whole Lotta Shakin'" (Specialty)
183. Preston Epps "Bongo Rock" (Original Sound)
184. Connie Francis "Frankie" (MGM)
185. Ronnie Hawkins "Ruby Baby" (Roulette)
186. Jerry Lee Lewis "Little Queenie" (Sun)
187. LaVern Baker "Tiny Tim" (Atlantic)
188. Duane Eddy "Detour" (Jamie)
189. Howlin' Wolf "I Better Go Now" (Chess)
190. The Staple Singers "Downward Road" (Vee Jay)
191. The Crests "Sixteen Candles" (Lana)
192. Nat 'King' Cole "Midnight Flyer" (Capitol)
193. Bill Parsons "The All American Boy" (Fraternity)
194. James Brown "It Was You" (Federal)
195. Ray Price "Heartaches by the Number" (Columbia)
196. Jim Reeves "He'll Have to Go" (RCA)
197. Chuck Berry "Anthony Boy" (Chess)
198. The Platters "Enchanted" (Mercury)
199. Billy Lee Riley "Down by the Riverside" (Sun)
200. Dave 'Baby' Cortez "The Happy Organ" (Clock)
201. Billy Eldridge "Let's Go Baby" (Vulco)
202. Eddie Cochran "Teenage Heaven" (Liberty)
203. Ricky Nelson "Never Be Anyone Else But You" (Imperial)
204. Johnny & the Hurricanes "Reveille Rock" (Warwick)
205. The Genies "Who's That Knocking" (Shad)
206. Sammy Turner "Always" (Bigtop)
207. The Everly Brothers "Take a Message to Mary" (Cadence)
208. Chubby Checker "The Class" (Parkway)
209. Bobby Freeman "Do You Want to Dance?" (Josie)
210. Gene Vincent "Summertime" (Capitol)
211. Little Richard "Troubles of the World" (End)

1979 SONGS
This was the hardest I've ever worked on one of these archival lists; this happens to come at the tail end of, along with the mid-1950s, one of my favorite periods of popular music, and there are so many strands to investigate: disco, punk, new wave, R&B/soul and the mainstream pop stuff. And each of those quadrants comes with multiple layers to uncover. I ended up hearing a lot of absolute dogshit for this but I also found some out-of-the-way DIY singles I'd never have discovered otherwise, some extraordinary dance music I missed and even some familiar stuff I never properly considered. It was an insane amount of work for something that very few people are ever likely to look at, but it was a great experience... and one I'm very, very glad to have finished! But good fucking night, what a wild cross section of stuff was hitting its peak around this time. Even power pop! The proper beginnings of hip hop! It just keeps going.

My rules for song lists in this period allow one song per album unless the song in question was also a single. A loophole, in other words, but one that I think is warranted by the material

1. Michael Jackson "Rock with You" [Off the Wall + single]
2. Michael Jackson "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" [Off the Wall + single]
3. Patti Smith "Dancing Barefoot" [Wave + single]
4. The Records "Starry Eyes" [Shades in Bed + single]
5. The B-52's "Dance This Mess Around" [The B-52's + single]
6. Donna Summer "Dim All the Lights" [Bad Girls + single]
7. The Clash "Lost in the Supermarket" [London Calling]
8. Sugarhill Gang "Rapper's Delight" [Sugarhill Gang]
9. Wire "Map Ref. 41 N 93 W" [154 + single]
10. Donna Summer "Hot Stuff" [Bad Girls + single]
11. Donna Summer "Bad Girls" [Bad Girls + single]
12. The B-52's "Planet Claire" [The B-52's + single]
13. Talking Heads "Heaven" [Fear of Music]
14. The Clash "Train in Vain" [London Calling + single]
15. Gang of Four "Natural's Not in It" [Entertainment!]
16. The Jam "Thick as Thieves" [Setting Sons]
17. The Only Ones "Out There in the Night" [Even Serpents Shine]
18. Joy Division "She's Lost Control" [Unknown Pleasures]
19. Blondie "Dreaming" [Eat to the Beat + single]
20. Funkadelic "(Not Just) Knee Deep" [Uncle Jam Wants You]
21. The B-52's "52 Girls" [s/t]
22. David Bowie "Look Back in Anger" [Lodger + single]
23. Talking Heads "Cities" [Fear of Music + single]
24. Prince "I Wanna Be Your Lover" [Prince + single]
25. Joy Division "Transmission" [Factory 12"]
26. The B-52's "Rock Lobster" [The B-52's + single]
27. Bee Gees "Love You Inside Out" [Spirits Having Flown + single]
28. Blondie "Die Young Stay Pretty" [Eat to the Beat]
29. The [English] Beat "Tears of a Clown" {Miracles cover} [I Just Can't Stop It (1980) + single]
30. Chic "I Want Your Love" [C'est Chic]
31. The Police "Walking on the Moon" [Reggatta de Blanc + single]
32. Neil Young "Powderfinger" [Rust Never Sleeps]
33. Prince "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" [Prince + single]
34. Wire "On Returning" [154]
35. Anita Ward "Ring My Bell" [TK 12"]
36. Chic "Good Times" [Risque + single]
37. The Clash "I Fought the Law" {Bobby Fuller Four cover} [The Cost of Living EP + single]
38. The Police "The Bed's Too Big Without You" [Reggatta de Blanc + single]
39. Buzzcocks "You Say You Don't Love Me" [A Different Kind of Tension]
40. Buzzcocks "Why Can't I Touch It?" [b-side]
41. Blondie "Atomic" [Eat to the Beat + single]
42. Amii Stewart "Knock on Wood" {Eddie Floyd cover} [Knock on Wood]
43. Shalamar "Take That to the Bank" [Disco Gardens]
44. X "I Don't Wanna Go Out" [Aspirations (1980)]
45. The Slits "Typical Girls" [Cut]
46. The Spinners "Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl" {Four Seasons cover} [Dancin' and Lovin']
47. David Bowie "DJ" [Lodger + single]
48. Prince "I Feel for You" [Prince]
49. The Pretenders "Brass in Pocket" [Pretenders]
50. The Cure "Boys Don't Cry" [Boys Don't Cry + single]
51. Fleetwood Mac "Tusk" [Tusk + single]
52. The Isley Brothers "I Wanna Be with You, pts. 1 & 2" [Winner Takes All]
53. Gary Numan "Cars" [The Pleasure Principle]
54. Parliament "Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)" [Casablanca 12"]
55. Gloria Gaynor "Anybody Wanna Party?" [Love Tracks]
56. The Police "Message in a Bottle" [Reggatta de Blanc + single]
57. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark "Electricity" [OMD (1980)]
58. James Brown "It's Too Funky in Here" [The Original Disco Man]
59. The Clash "London Calling" [London Calling + single]
60. The Jacksons "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" [Destiny]
61. Delta 5 "Mind Your Own Business" [Rough Trade 7"]
62. Buzzcocks "Harmony in My Head" [United Artists 7"]
63. XTC "Making Plans for Nigel" [Drums and Wires + single]
64. The Police "Bring on the Night" [Reggatta de Blanc]
65. Leonard Cohen "Humbled in Love" [Recent Songs]
66. Gary Numan "Complex" [The Pleasure Principle + single]
67. Gang of Four "At Home He's a Tourist" [Entertainment! + single]
68. Dennis Wilson "He's a Bum" [unreleased; Pacific Ocean Blue deluxe (2006)]
69. The Clash "Gates of the West" [The Cost of Living]
70. Switch "I Call Your Name" [Switch II + single]
71. The Crusaders "Street Life" [Street Life]
72. Mass Production "Firecracker" [In the Purest Form]
73. Fleetwood Mac "I Know I'm Not Wrong" [Tusk]
74. The Younger Generation "We Rap More Mellow" [Brass 12"]
75. Michael Jackson "I Can't Help It" [Off the Wall]
76. Donna Summer "On the Radio" [On the Radio: Greatest Hits]
77. Fleetwood Mac "Sara" [Tusk + single]
78. The Jam "When You're Young" [Setting Sons + single]
79. The Go-Betweens "People Say" [Able 7"]
80. The Bar-Kays "Move Your Boogie Body" [Injoy]
81. Talking Heads "I Zimbra" [Fear of Music + single]
82. The Clash "Pressure Drop" {Toots & the Maytals cover} [b-side/Black Market Clash]
83. Roxy Music "Dance Away" [Manifesto]
84. Talking Heads "Life During Wartime" [Fear of Music + single]
85. M "Pop Muzik" [New York + London + Paris + Munich]
86. Tubeway Army "Me, I Disconnect from You" [Replicas]
87. David Bowie "Red Sails" [Lodger]
88. XTC "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" [Drums and Wires]
89. Fatal Microbes "Violence Grows" [Small Wonder 7"]
90. Gary's Gang "Keep on Dancin'" [Columbia 7"]
91. Peter Brown "Crank It Up" [Stargazer]
92. Thelma Houston "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" [Ready to Roll]
93. Joy Division "Novelty" [b-side]
94. Cerrone "Give Me Love" [Supernature (1977)]
95. Tubeway Army "Are 'Friends' Electric?" [Replicas]
96. The Beat "Ranking Full Stop" [I Just Can't Stop It (1980) + single]
97. Buzzcocks "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" [United Artists 7"]
98. Urinals "Black Hole" [Another EP]
99. Sham 69 "Questions and Answers" [Polydor 7"]
100. Tyrone Davis "In the Mood" [In the Mood with Tyrone Davis]
101. Stevie Wonder "Send One Your Love" [Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants + single]
102. The Specials "Nite Klub" [The Specials]
103. Lene Lovich "Lucky Number" [Stateless]
104. Bootsy's Rubber Band "Jam Fan (Hot)" [This Boot is Made for Fonk-N]
105. Sister Sledge "He's the Greatest Dancer" [We Are Family + single]
106. McFadden & Whitehead "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" [McFadden & Whitehead]
107. Killing Joke "Turn to Red" [Malicious Damage 7"]
108. The Stranglers "(Don't Bring) Harry" [The Raven + single]
109. Ashford & Simpson "Found a Cure" [Stay Free]
110. The Undertones "Get Over You" [s/t + single]
111. The Raincoats "Fairtytale in the Supermarket" [s/t]
112. Peaches & Herb "Reunited" [2 Hot (1978)]
113. Edwin Starr "Contact" [Clean]
114. Sister Sledge "We Are Family" [We Are Family + single]
115. The Specials "Gangsters" [Specials + single]
116. Eruption "One Way Ticket" [Leave a Light]
117. The Only Ones "You've Got to Pay" [Even Serpents Shine + single]
118. Pere Ubu "Small Was Fast" [New Picnic Time]
119. Gary Numan "Engineers" [The Pleasure Principle]
120. Michael Jackson "She's Out of My Life" [Off the Wall + single]
121. Bee Gees "Tragedy" [Spirits Having Flown + single]
122. The Meanies "Waiting for You" [Vendetta 7"]
123. The Donkeys "What I Want" [Rhesus 7"]
124. Alternative TV "The Force Is Blind" [Deptford Fun City 7"]
125. The Clash "Armagideon Time" {Willie Williams cover} [b-side/Black Market Clash]
126. The Selecter "On My Radio" [2 Tone 7"]
127. TNT "Zuri Brannt" [Voxpop 7"]
128. Monitor "Beak" [World Imitation 12"]
129. The Government "Flat Tire" [33 1/3 EP]
130. The Damned "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" [Machine Gun Etiquette + single]
131. Mi-Sex "Computer Games" [CBS 7"]
132. Maze "Feel That You're Feelin'" [Inspiration]
133. Penetration "Come into the Open" [Virgin 7"]
134. Algebra Mothers "Strawberry Cheesecake" [Aftertaste 7"]
135. Minny Pops "Footsteps" [Plurex 7"]
136. XTC "Life Begins at the Hop" [Virgin 7"]
137. Wings "Goodnight Tonight" [Columbia 12"]
138. Madness "The Prince" [One Step Beyond... + single]
139. Bauhaus "Bela Lugosi's Dead" [Small Wonder 7"]
140. Chic "My Forbidden Lover" [Risque + single]
141. The Jam "Smithers-Jones" [Setting Sons + single]
142. The Adverts "My Place" [Cast of Thousands]
143. The Barracudas "I Want My Woody Back" [Cells 7"]
144. The Ruts "Something That I Said" [Virgin 7"]
145. The Stranglers "Duchess" [The Raven + single]
146. Disturbed "I Don't Believe" [Parole 7"]
147. Angelic Upstarts "I'm an Upstart" [Teenage Warning]
148. Buzzcocks "Something's Gone Wrong Again" [b-side]
149. The Damned "Love Song" [Machine Gun Etiquette + single]
150. Nervebreakers "Hijack the Radio" [Wild Child 7"]
151. The Buggles "Video Killed the Radio Star" [The Age of Plastic]
152. ABBA "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midniht)" [Greatest Hits Vol. 2]
153. Uncle Louie "Full Tilt Boogie" [Uncle Louie's Here]
154. Diana Ross "The Boss" [The Boss]
155. Sid Vicious/the Sex Pistols "Something Else" {Eddie Cochran cover} [The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle]
156. Cabaret Voltaire "Nag, Nag, Nag" [Rough Trade 7"]
157. The Damned "Smash It Up, pts. 1 & 2" [Machine Gun Etiquette + single]
158. The O'Jays "Sing a Happy Song" [Identify Yourself]
159. Patrice Rushen "Hang It Up" [Patrice (1978)]
160. Mother's Ruin "Godzilla" [Godzilla EP]
161. G.Q. "Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)" [Disco Nights + single]
162. The Only Ones "Trouble in the World" [CBS 7"]
163. Fleetwood Mac "Think About Me" [Tusk + single]
164. Van Morrison "Troubadors" [Into the Music]
165. Pere Ubu "The Fabulous Sequel" [New Picnic Time + single]
166. The Jam "The Eton Rifles" [Setting Sons + single]
167. Ian Dury & the Blockheads "Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3" [Stiff 12"]
168. Blackouts "The Underpass" [528 Seconds 7"]
169. Public Image Ltd. "Memories" [Metal Box + single]
170. Donna Summer "Heaven Knows" [Live and More]
171. Cheryl Lynn "Star Love" [s/t]
172. The Scabs "Leave Me Alone" [The Scabs EP]
173. The Cure "Jumping Someone Else's Train" [Boys Don't Cry + single]
174. Cockney Rejects "I'm Not a Fool" [EMI 7"]
175. The Flying Lizards "Money" {Barrett Strong cover} [s/t]
176. Evelyn 'Champagne' King "Music Box" [Music Box]
177. Phyllis Hyman "You Know How to Love Me" [You Know How to Love Me]
178. Rick James "High on Your Love Suite" [Bustin' Out of L Seven]
179. The Village People "Go West" [Go West + single]
180. The Atlantics "One Last Night" [Big City Rock]
181. Chinas Comidas "Snaps" [Exquisite Corpse 7"]
182. The Adicts "Easy Way Out" [Lunch with the Adicts EP]
183. The Gap Band "Open Up Your Mind (Wide)" [s/t]
184. Pleasure "Glide" [Future Now]
185. Joe Simon "Love Vibration" [Love Vibrations]
186. 999 "Homicide" [Separates]
187. The Daze "I Wanna Be a Star" [Motor City Rhythm 7"]
188. The Manikins "Premonition" [s/t]
189. The Simpletones "California" [Posh Boy 7"]
190. Siouxsie and the Banshees "Playground Twist" [Join Hands]
191. Smokey Robinson "Cruisin'" [Where There's Smoke...]
192. G.Q. "I Do Love You" [Disco Nights + single]
193. The Undertones "You've Got My Number" [Sire 7"]
194. Instant Funk "I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It)" [s/t]
195. The Stranglers "Nuclear Device" [The Raven + single]
196. Dead Kennedys "California Über Alles" [Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables]
197. Misspent Youth "Betcha Won't Dance" [Big Bear 7"]
198. The Leather Nun "Slow Death" [Slow Death EP]
199. The Pop Group "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" [Y]
200. Chrome "Half Machine Lip Moves" [Half Machine Lip Moves]
201. Michael Jackson "Off the Wall" [Off the Wall + single]
202. Kleenex "You" [Rough Trade 7"]
203. Switch "Best Beat in Town" [Switch II + single]
204. Herb Alpert "Rise" [Rise]
205. Skams "Konfirmationen" [Konfirmationen EP]
206. Rick James "Love Gun" [Fire It Up]
207. David Bowie "Boys Keep Swinging" [Lodger + single]
208. The Searchers "Don't Hang On" [The Searchers]
209. The Weirdos "Happy People" [Who? What? When? Where? Why?]
210. Psykik Volts "Totally Useless" [Ellie Jay 7"]
211. The Specials "A Message to You Rudy" [The Specials + single]
212. The Cars "Let's Go" [Candy-O + single]
213. Average White Band "Stop the Rain" [Feel No Fret]
214. Sema 4 "Even If I Know" [4 from Sema 4]
215. The Undertones "Here Comes the Summer" [s/t + single]
216. Sham 69 "Hersham Boys" [Polydor 7"]
217. Luxury "Green Hearts" [Angry Young 7"]
218. The Searchers "It's Too Late" [The Searchers + single]
219. Ohio Players "Everybody Up" [Everybody Up]
220. Neil Young "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)" [Rust Never Sleeps + single]
221. The Staple Singers "Chica Boom" [Unlock Your Mind (1978)]
222. Leonard Cohen "The Guests" [Recent Songs + single]
223. The Hoax "Oh Darling" [Only the Blind Can See in the Dark EP]
224. Newtown Neurotics "Hypocrite" [No Wonder 7"]
225. Mekons "Work All Week" [Virgin 7"]
226. Nicolette Larson "Lotta Love" {Neil Young cover} [Nicolette (1978)]
227. Terminal Mind "I Want to Die Young" [I Want to Die Young EP]
228. The Ramones "Rock 'n' Roll High School" [Rock 'n' Roll High School OST]
229. The Rude Kids "Absolute Ruler" [Safe Society]
230. Isaac Hayes "Don't Let Go" [Don't Let Go]
231. Siouxsie and the Banshees "The Staircase (Mystery)" [Polydor 7"]
232. Hot Chocolate "Going Through the Motions" [Going Through the Motions + single]
233. James Brown "For Goodness Sakes, Look at Those Cakes (Parts 1 & 2)" [Take a Look at Those Cakes]
234. Augustus Pablo "Cassava Piece" [Hot Stuff 7"]
235. The Clash "Groovy Times" [The Cost of Living + single]
236. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5 "Flash to the Beat" [Sugar Hill 12"]
237. Art Garfunkel "Bright Eyes" [Watership Down OST]
238. The Tapes "You Can't Just Sleep" [You Can't Just Sleep]
239. Earth, Wind & Fire "Boogie Wonderland" [I Am]
240. Natalie Cole "Stand By" [I Love You So]
241. The Dickies "Banana Splits (Tra La La Song)" [A&M 7"]
242. Public Image Ltd. "Death Disco" [Metal Box + single]
243. Village People "In the Navy" [Go West + single]
244. George Harrison "Not Guilty" [George Harrison]
245. Stevie Wonder "Voyage to India" [Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants]
246. Dennis Wilson "All Alone" [unreleased; Endless Harmony (1998)]
247. Hot Chocolate "Mindless Boogie" [Going Through the Motions + single]
248. GG Allin "Bored to Death" [Always Was, Is And Always Shall Be]
249. Crap Detectors "Police State" [Real 7"]
250. Madness "One Step Beyond" [One Step Beyond... + single]
The Lines "On the Air" [Red 7"]
Curtiss A "I Don't Wanna Be President" [Twin/Tone 7"]
War "Good Good Feelin'" [The Music Band]
The Boys Next Door "Shivers" [Door, Door]
The Jam "Strange Town" [Polydor 7"]
The Records "Girls That Don't Exist" [Shades in Bed]
The Beach Boys "Baby Blue" [L.A. (Light Album)]
Chrome "TV as Eyes" [Half Machine Lip Moves]
999 "Found Out Too Late" [The Biggest Prize in Sport]
Model Mania "No Pride Slow Suicide" [Boob 7"]
Chinas Comidas "Peasant/Slave" [Exquisite Corpse 7"]]
The Searchers "Hearts in Her Eyes" [The Searchers + single]
Kleenex "Ain't You" [Liliput]
The Dark "My Friends" [Fresh 7"]
Kurtis Blow "Christmas Rappin'" [Mercury 12"]
20/20 "Yellow Pills" [s/t]
The Cars "Got a Lot on My Head" [Candy-O]
Tammy Wynette "They Call It Makin' Love" [Just Tammy]
Misfits "Night of the Living Dead" [Night of the Living Dead EP]
Allan Ladds "13 ar" [s/r 7"]
The Beat [U.S.] "Work-a-Day World" [The Beat]

***

So what's next? I've got some serious catching up to do and one gargantuan task still ahead of me is to tackle the Beatles' Nagra tapes so I can put that massive project to bed at last; the next several posts here will be Beatle-related housecleaning leading us up to a numeric milestone, and then, I freaking promise, some good old-fashioned Content and even some reviews of, gasp, new music!! I'll get to work as quickly as I can because I think once the content mill is well-oiled again this blog will actually return to being semi-interesting. Or maybe not! We'll see won't we!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Leonard Cohen: The Future (1992)


(Columbia)

!!! A+ RECORDING !!!

The news of Leonard Cohen's death in 2016 broke one day after Donald Trump's election to the United States presidency; however, his life had actually ended three days earlier. Cohen breathed his last unaware that fascism was coming to power in his adopted country -- or perhaps it's just as likely that he knew it was going to happen before any of the rest of us did. The following Saturday, the wheezing Baby Boomer relic that was NBC's zombie sketch comedy Saturday Night Live -- which had embraced Trump as a guest host one year prior but now feigned outrage at his empowerment -- opened with Kate McKinnon, dressed up in her signature role as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, incongruously singing Cohen's "Hallelujah" at a piano, intended apparently simultaneously as a tribute to Cohen and an uninquisitive requiem for the failures of the Clinton campaign. "I'm not giving up," she announced at the end, "and neither should you." Giving up what, one wondered, along with what degree of good fortune gave her the option to make that decision.

"Hallelujah" is a song from Cohen's 1984 album Various Positions that he never really recorded properly apart from some fine live performances; it became more famous (and more publicly palatable) in reverent covers by a wide range of sullen singer-songwriters ranging from John Cale to Rufus Wainwright to Jeff Buckley, enhancing its simplistic beauty while robbing it of Cohen's swagger, and ultimately became Cohen's signature track, replacing his debut single "Suzanne" as the one song of his that people broadly tended to be familiar with. If SNL's producers had really wanted to tip their hats to Cohen and give a taste of his worldview while coalescing with a snapshot of a nation and world that now sat on some incomprehensible precipice, they might well have had McKinnon take to the bench to croon "The Future" instead.

Whereas "Hallelujah," at least in the more familiar versions, traffics in biblical imagery and the not uncommon Cohen ideal of passionate trembling before beauty -- though not absent of wit or cynicism, it is a song of reverence -- "The Future" is a song about the world crumbling, a prophecy in which the singer is so traumatized by what he has seen laying ahead ("I've seen the future, baby, it is murder") that he pleads the universe for a return to what we once thought were catastrophes and tragedies (from the crack epidemic to the Berlin Wall) because "things are gonna slide in all directions" and soon, there "won't be nothing you can measure anymore." Though not dissimilar in affect from the pessimism exhibited in 1988's "Everybody Knows," which similarly forecast a surveillance state and a class aware that the end was nigh and intending to ignore it, "The Future" feels less paranoid, more directly angry, more matter-of-fact. Like a coolheaded Johnny Rotten, Cohen locks into a groove and runs down the chaos, madness and genocide of the years to come: pestilence, misery, systemized warfare, the dominance of the sneering, a world on fire, Charles Manson as artistic influence, white men dancing, and all traces of organic life sucked into a black hole, beauty and truth along with them -- the only survivors the cockroaches, human and non, who will use what's left to act out de Sade.

It sounds like a news report from a couple of years from now, and Cohen felt comfortable not hedging his bets because he was aware that the things clarified by the Vietnam War, deregulation, fundamentalism made his visions all but inevitable. It's likely that the song's prescience will outlive all of us. (In fact, if people keep going to the fucking park in the middle of a goddamn pandemic, it almost certainly will.) So imagine, for a moment, McKinnon taking to the airwaves on November 11th, 2016 on a live feed -- a less meaningful action than it was a few decades ago, but at least she'd be knocking a few comfortably aging marrieds onto their fainting couches -- and spitting this out, actually confronting the reality of what Donald Trump's election represented but did not originate, and then crying out "live from New York, it's Saturday night." Would it have been a revolutionary gesture? Of course not. We're fucked no matter what our "satirists" say on the TV. But it would have been something more than a comforting lie, and it would have been perceptive and challenging and deliriously funny, and would have made Cohen (himself sick to death of "Hallelujah" by 2009) smile from beyond; it would also have been the only actually meaningful response. Anything else, like what actually happened on the air, is pablum from airheads.

If Cohen had never recorded another album, as was perhaps intended at the time, The Future could well have stood as his final and most lingering statement: the articulation of an entire worldview in all its inherent contradictions, each facet confronted with a full and unwavering focus. This thorny and uncompromising record that was released when he was 58, over twenty years after the beginning of his career as a folk singer, will conspicuously dominate any list of his greatest achievements in songwriting. In a discography with multiple peaks, it is the peak, the one in which his every whim is so inspired and his instincts serve him so well that it nearly feels criminal he can sound so relaxed about it all.

It is not merely on "The Future" itself that he confronts the dread of reality, the doom of the forthcoming, but on "Waiting for the Miracle" -- his most convincing electronic groove slow-burn aside from "Everybody Knows" -- and "Closing Time," both among his most extraordinary songs, he somehow manages to find a way to greet and embrace inevitability as a glorious counterpart to life itself. "Miracle" is seduced by a latter-day love affair with a mixture of gratitude and resignation, with no ecstatic promise beyond the experience of a shared decline, in which Cohen spots a distinct kind of lustful dignity: "we've been alone to long / let's be alone together / let's see if we're that strong." Apocalypse still hangs over it all; he shares no expectations of joy, but finds something that merits survival. Thriving amid unyielding disaster is also the theme of "Closing Time," which could well be Cohen's most evocative lyric of all; it is certainly the prime example of song in which he has a great deal to say and uses every possible moment to do so, never wasting a single word. In the manner of the greatest poets the lyrics create their own music, to which he seems to respond almost incidentally:

So we struggle and we stagger
Down the snakes and up the ladder
To the tower where the blessed hours chime
And I swear it happened just like this:
A sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss
The gates of love, they budged an inch
I can't say much has happened since
But closing time


Cohen's singing, aged and more ragged even than on I'm Your Man, the album on which he finally shed his old troubador voice once and for all, and frankly more so than on his work within the first several years of his 2000s comeback, welds itself to this melody and lyric. There are several points on this album, the title cut included, when he seems like never before to be enjoying the all but unrelated rhythms and tin-can grooves surrounding him, leaning into his hipster old-man persona a bit in a way that's both indulgent and earned, therefore totally forgivable and charming. That sudden subservience to even heavily processed and artificial music, much (but not all) of it played by other people, marks the final phase of Cohen's transition from a traditional singer-songwriter format, a changeover that began with Death of a Ladies Man and had almost taken complete hold with Various Positions... but which here, at last, he seems to fully and unabashedly embrace. One assumes that's the reason the album contains a cover -- for the first time on a studio LP (discarding Cohen's arrangement of "The Lost Canadian" on Recent Songs) since "The Partisan" in 1971; and not even just one cover, but two -- and is the only Cohen record to contain an instrumental, his own ambient piece "Tacoma Trailer."

It's also why it's significant when Cohen clearly feels so strongly about the words to "Closing Time" that he seems, at a few points in the song, to be completely overtaken with passion, thoroughly destroying the apathy with which he began the evening and laying down some of the most moving vocals of his career while audibly straining (and succeeding) to overwhelm the very acquired-taste canned country sound that surrounds his words and music. Listen to his voice on the lines "there's a voice that sounds like God to me," or "we're lonely, we're romantic," or the song's thesis statement, "I lift my glass to the awful truth / which you can't reveal to the ears of youth / except to say it isn't worth a dime." Though he's drowned out by the female chorus just afterward, the lyrics that follow those lines are among the most irresistibly rendered in the catalog:

And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
And it's once for the devil and it's once for Christ
But the boss don't like these dizzy heights
We're busted in the blinding lights
Of closing time


It's no controversial statement that Cohen is among the few performers in the rock or pop or folk idioms who can make you swoon or completely thrill you with a masterful turn of phrase, the way Cole Porter or Irving Berlin once did. The clear contemporary analogue is Bob Dylan, but during this period when Dylan wasn't writing much of anything, Cohen was at some sort of zenith as a writer and lyricist. No one else would conjure up a stanza like "it's coming from the sorrow in the street, the holy places where the races meet / from the homicidal bitching that goes down in every kitchen / to determine who will serve and who will eat." That's from the album's most sharply satiric song "Democracy," the deadpan-sarcastic flipside to "The Future"'s snarling fatalism, which catalogs the emptiness of political transformation in a country with as dark a past as the United States, democracy rising up "from the fires of the homeless, from the ashes of the gay." In all the song's flagrant Churchill-quoting heralding of a new age, one could mistake it for a sincere bow to the hope of upheaval in the 1992 elections, but for the last verse wherein -- again prophetically -- he lays out the situation in which all of us are truly and forever stuck:

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
That time cannot decay
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
This little wild bouquet


Yet casting this as an album -- or a career -- that is about lyrics would be short-sighted. The thinness of the production on Cohen's albums of this period, which made them sound slick and anonymous at the time, terribly dated a few years later and now impenetrably cool yet locked in fleeting style, is beside the point not just because the words and ideas are masterful but because the melodies, the singing, the performances are. Cohen does much more than just deliver the songs like some Brill Building demo artist, which unfortunately is more or less his legacy in some quarters. (But then, the same is true of Dylan; how many people have tried to tell you he's no singer?) The range of emotions on I'm Your Man was already extraordinary, romantic or broken as often as confidently mysterious, but it deepens across the spectrum here. Cohen was in a fresh relationship during the writing of the album, and this sparks an embrace of sensuality that remains infectious all these years later. His own composition "Light as the Breeze" is his most relaxed and wise celebration of the flesh, while he finds a considerable undercurrent of romance and carnality in his lovely version of Marlena Shaw's "Be for Real" (written by Frederick Knight, thanked by name in the recording itself) and an astoundingly funky breakdown of Irving Berlin's "Always." (On that last performance, the microphones for the backup singers are left on and mixed at full volume throughout, so that the listener can be privy to their firsthand responses to Cohen's vocals.) Even "Waiting for the Miracle," for all its shrouding of darkness, possesses a slinky and impressively bottom-heavy groove that addicts and remains welcome for seven full minutes.

All the love and sex that colors this experience of course is an intentional counterpoint to the bleakness that pervades The Future, but neither matter tempers the other, nor is it meant to. When he announces on "Closing Time" that "the awful truth" is nothing finally worth uncovering, it is a resignation that feels like a celebration, the same kind of contradiction as "looks like freedom but it feels like death." Cohen is acknowledging the misdirection and folly of being young while suggesting it constitutes a cycle of inevitability whose crushing disappointments are worth experiencing as much as bemoaning. In "The Future," his pronouncement that "love's the only engine of survival" is a plea for sanity at the same time that it's a retreat, a back turned deliberately toward a world in chaos; perhaps he meant the line as a statement that love could conceivably incite redemption for the doomed and miserable, but its more pertinent application seems to be in the quest is to subsume and preoccupy oneself with matters like those in "Always" and the abandon that's lifting the whole bar off the ground in "Closing Time."

In these ways the record feels exactly like the rebuke of modernism and civilization it would ultimately turn into, whether it was consciously intended as such at the time or not. The begrudging optimism on "Anthem," the album's most reverently beautiful and hopeful song, is of course a balm after a fashion; it's comforted so many since its release with its hymn-like chorus reminding us that "there is a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in." But just as much of the song feels like the final parting shot of someone who has realized the cycle to which we have surrendered ourselves offers no conceivable escape, or as Cohen put it two decades earlier, "carries no survivors." The holy dove "is never free," he now tells us, and he lends censure to "that lawless crowd" and "the killers in high places [who] say their prayers out loud." It is a statement less, finally, of faith than one of clarity, because like the "Democracy" narrator who doesn't leave home on election night, it's a suggestion that our destiny, regardless of what we conceive of as our power, is in the hands of those with no interest in our continued existence. The crack won't expand; it's just all we really have to look for. In Cohen's eyes we are all Kenji Mizoguchi's aged concubine in The Life of Oharu whose life is a cascading procession of tragedies, rejections and losses: as the planet goes up in flames around us, the only path is detachment: a true merging with the darkness.

When we say "detachment" here it means more than just sounding cool while singing about the 1992 post-Rodney King riots; it means a oneness with nothing. In Buddhism, Taoism and other Eastern religions it is the renunciation of suffering through the rejection of expectation. The Future certainly does not renounce lust within its text, but its embrace of cheerful frivolity does amount to an analogy for the unresolvable limitations of physical life. The world is so mad that it causes Cohen essentially to go quiet, to parrot the words of Irving Berlin and then to offer no words whatsoever -- and these choices have the feel of a protective wall. Separation from thought, therefore separation from harm, therefore peace are tenets of Zen Buddhism; after The Future, Cohen would retreat to the San Gabriel Mountains and become an ordained Zen Buddhist monk, as the student of Kyozan Joshu Sasaki (who would ultimately be accused of inappropriate sexual conduct, which is implied in Cohen's Book of Longing to have precipitated his exit from the temple). It lasted around five years before the life of a Monk became intolerable for him, but that it happened at all tells us much about Cohen's mindset in this era. Looking back today, it's hard to disagree when taking in the full breadth of our reality that there is no "way out," only the chance of a walled-off, thoughtless existence: Nekkhamma.

But even this creates ethical concerns for the wrestling that are unanswerable, including the inconsistencies that manifest on this record: how can love be "the only engine of survival" if the only path to perfection requires the repudiation of all pleasure and sensuality? That's why The Future is not an illustration of a philosophy, spiritual or otherwise, but the representation of a worried mind in totality, within and without the context of violent unrest. In the years to follow, riddled with the travails of a crooked accountant, disillusionment with life in the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, and an unexpected outpouring of creativity, Cohen would return and continue writing and touring until his death. He was destined to waver at times from the kind of harshly focused messaging of this album and its unapologetic embrace of anger, hedonism and grace all at once, but the individual records he would eventually issue afterward each seem like a further, if not closer, examination of some tenet within this one, their conflicts forever dangling. He's no longer here for whatever guidance he'd probably refuse to offer, but maybe it would behoove us all to remember in this moment -- and presumably for the moments that remain -- that the only logical answer to anything that confronts us as people or as a society may be the lack of an answer. We could do worse, though, that the one prompted on "Light as the Breeze" by a lover and her body: "for something like a second," he sings, "I'm cured and my heart is at ease." We've seen the future, yes, but it mustn't be all that we see.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

New Music Report #2: 2019 favorites


I didn't expect to be unleashing this modest list of albums and songs from the previous calendar year under these circumstances (or at this late date) but I'm sure you'll agree that circumstances in general are currently rather unprecedented. This will be a straightforward post and won't have a lot of context, but you can flip back through the archives to find out my deeper thoughts on these releases and tunes. This is the format that year-end posts will follow from now on (and they will tend not to appear before December 31 though typically not quite this late either); there will be another major change but I'll explain that later.

My process for making the list was the same as it's been the entire time I've run the blog; for the songs list, I shuffled a huge playlist of every song I found notable throughout the year (limit three per album) and kept a vague ranking in mind. This year I was much less scientific about it because the premise of this blog now is to give me a break, not to require one. For albums, I keep a draft of a ranked list that's updated all year and then listen to the records in reverse order, on vinyl if possible (which these days it usually only is with the very top tier), and adjust the sequence as needed.

There was a bit of an upset this year, if something so undramatic as my personal preferences can be called an "upset." Big Thief's U.F.O.F. spent much of the year as my top choice but, as much as I love it overall and as smitten as I am with the first half, something didn't feel quite right as I went through one last listen -- and then as I idly ran through my list of A-grade albums, the one I suddenly found sparking the most enthusiasm in my memory was Young Enough by Charly Bliss, and the idea of placing it as the album of the year suddenly felt extremely correct. It's not just an expression of faith in a band but in the future; the record gets stronger every time I hear it.

This wasn't a spectacular year musically but it was a good one; they always are. I do not think anything here will threaten the upper reaches of my decade lists when it's revised to include 2019 material in an upcoming post, but that shouldn't be taken as a negative; even the most inspired shiny new thing can't fully compete with music I've forged a relationship with now for years. Future years will be more idiosyncratic by necessity -- I probably won't be able to declare them good or bad qualitatively because I'll be so much more selective about what I hear -- but the annual lists will continue to happen, just a bit more modestly. At any rate, here goes.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2019
1. Charly Bliss: Young Enough (Barsuk) A
2. Big Thief: U.F.O.F. (4AD)
3. Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien (Merge)
4. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri (Out Here)
5. Andrew Bird: My Finest Work Yet (Virgin)
6. Wilco: Ode to Joy (dBpm)
7. Little Simz: Grey Area (Age 101) A-
8. Denzel Curry: ZUU (Loma Vista)
9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (s/r)
10. Loyle Carner: Not Waving, But Drowning (Virgin)
11. Brittany Howard: Jaime (ATO)
12. Hot Chip: A Bath Full of Ecstasy (Domino)
13. Tyler, the Creator: IGOR (Columbia)
14. Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving (The Leaf Label)
15. DIIV: Deceiver (Captured Tracks)
16. JPEGMafia: All My Heroes Are Cornballs (EQT)
17. Peter Perrett: Humanworld (Domino)
18. Jenny Hval: The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones)
19. Black Belt Eagle Scout: At the Party with My Brown Friends (Saddle Creek)
20. Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance (Columbia)
21. clipping.: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (Sub Pop)
22. Jay Som: Anak Ko (Polyvinyl)
23. Sheer Mag: A Distant Call (Wilsuns Recording Co.)
24. Jenny Lewis: On the Line (Warner Bros.)
25. Chastity Belt (Hardly Art)
26. Robert Forster: Inferno (Tapete)
27. Karen O & Danger Mouse: Lux Prima (BMG)
28. Injury Reserve (Loma Vista)
HONORABLE MENTIONS (B+/B)
29. Beirut: Gallipoli (4AD)
30. Chromatics: Closer to Grey (Italians Do It Better)
31. Pharmakon: Devour (Sacred Bones)
32. Megan Thee Stallion: Fever (300)
33. Julia Kent: Temporal (The Leaf Label)
34. Swervedriver: Future Ruins (Rough Trade)
35. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Interscope)
36. Flying Lotus: Flamagra (Warp)
37. Jesca Hoop: Stonechild (Memphis Industries)
38. Amyl and the Sniffers (ATO)
39. Curren$y & Statik Selektah: Gran Turismo (Jet Life)
40. Bill Orcutt: Odds Against Tomorrow (Palilalia)
41. Young Thug: So Much Fun (Atlantic)
42. Jayda G: Significant Changes (Ninja Tune)
43. Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs (Mexican Summer)
44. Tinariwen: Amadjar (Epitaph)
45. Thom Yorke: ANIMA (XL)
46. Ride: This Is Not a Safe Place (Wichita Recordings)
47. Rapsody: Eve (Jamla)
48. Jamila Woods: LEGACY! LEGACY! (Jagjaguwar)
49. Feels: Post Earth (Wichita Recordings)
50. Dylan LeBlanc: Renegade (ATO)
51. The Mountain Goats: In League with Dragons (Merge)
52. Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Interscope)
53. Deerhunter: Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? (4AD)
54. Sampa the Great: The Return (Ninja Tune)
55. Ezra Furman: Twelve Nudes (Bella Union)
56. The Menzingers: Hello Exile (Epitaph)
57. Kedr Livanskiy: Your Need (2MR)
58. Fantasia: Sketchbook (Rock Soul)
59. 21 Savage: I Am > I Was (Epic)
60. Ezra Collective: You Can't Steal My Joy (Enter the Jungle)
61. Lee 'Scratch' Perry: Rainford (On-U Sound)
62. Nerija: Blume (Domino)
63. Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (Interscope)
64. Sneaks: Highway Hypnosis (Merge)
65. Maxo Kream: Brandon Banks (RCA)
66. The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse!)
67. Objekt: Cocoon Crush (PAN)
68. Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar)
69. Danny Brown: uknowhatimsayin? (Warp)
70. Quelle Chris: Guns (Mello Music)
71. Angelique Kidjo: Celia (Verve)
72. Homeboy Sandman: Dusty (Mello Music)
73. Carsie Blanton: Buck Up (s/r)
74. Leif: Loom Dream (Whities)
75. Aldous Harding: Designer (4AD)
76. Cate Le Bon: Reward (Mexican Summer)
77. Moodymann: Sinner (KDJ)
78. Lady Lamb: Even in the Tremor (Ba Da Bing)
79. Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings (International Anthem)
80. AJ Tracey (s/r)
81. Shura: Forevher (Secretly Canadian)
82. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (RCA)
83. Dawn Richard: New Breed (Our Dawn)
84. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (Secretly Canadian)
85. Priests: The Seduction of Kansas (Sister Polygon)
86. Sacred Paws: Run Around the Sun (Merge)
87. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock (Merge)
88. Big Thief: Two Hands (4AD)
89. Penguin Cafe: Handfuls of Night (Erased Tapes)
90. The National: I Am Easy to Find (4AD)
91. Ray BLK: Empress (Island)
92. Kelly Moran: Ultraviolet (Warp)
93. Tinashe: A Song for You (s/r)
94. Joan Shelley: Like the River Loves the Sea (No Quarter)
95. Ex Hex: it's real (Merge)
96. Sudan Archives: Athena (Stones Throw)
97. Laurence Pike: Holy Spring (The Leaf Label)
98. Yola: Walk Through Fire (Nonesuch)
99. Czarface / Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface (Silver Age)
100. Chrissie Hynde: Valve Bone Woe (BMG)
101. Mary Lattimore & Mac McCaughan: New Rain Duets (Three Lobed)
102. Kevin Richard Martin: Sirens (ROOM40)
103. The Cranberries: In the End (BMG)
104. Kim Gordon: No Home Record (Matador)
105. Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend (Sub Pop)
106. Sirom: A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse (tak:til)
107. Mannequin Pussy: Patience (Epitaph)
108. Nilufer Yanya: Miss Universe (ATO)
109. Stephen Malkmus: Groove Denied (Matador)
110. Elva: Winter Sun (Tapette)
111. RAP: EXPORT (Jolly Discs)
112. Mick Jenkins: Pieces of a Man (Cinematic)
113. Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (Interscope)
114. Anderson .Paak: Ventura (Aftermath)
115. Floating Points: Crush (Ninja Tune)
116. Buke and Gase: Scholars (Brassland)
117. Eli Keszler: Stadium (Shelter Press)
118. Nivhek: After Its Own Death / Walking in a spiral towards the house (Yellow Electric)
119. Bedouine: Bird Songs of a Killjoy (Spacebomb)
120. The Japanese House: Good at Falling (Dirty Hit)
121. Sarah Davachi: Pale Bloom (W.25th)
122. Orville Peck: Pony (Sub Pop)
123. Teeth of the Sea: Wraith (Rocket Recordings)
124. Lubomyr Melnyk: Fallen Trees (Erased Tapes)
125. Nick Waterhouse (Innovative Leisure)
126. The Last Poets: Transcending Toxic Times (Ropeadope)
127. Fennesz: Agora (Touch)
128. Pere Ubu: Long Goodbye (Cherry Red)
129. Iglooghost/Kai Whiston/BABii: XYZ (Supernature)
130. Brockhampton: Ginger (RCA)
131. Solange: When I Get Home (Columbia)
132. Tim Hecker: Anoyo (Kranky)
133. American Football: LP3 (Polyvinyl)
134. Lee Fields & the Expressions: It Rains Love (Big Crown)
135. L7: Scatter the Rats (Blackheart)
136. Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore: Ghost Forests (Three Lobed Recordings)
137. Adia Victoria: Silences (ATL)
138. Vagabon (Nonesuch)
139. Kanye West: Jesus Is King (Def Jam)
140. The Flaming Lips: King's Mouth (Warner Bros.)
141. (Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar (Domino)
142. Avey Tare: Cows on Hourglass Pond (Domino)
143. Tegan and Sara: Hey, I'm Just Like You (Warner Bros.)
144. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
145. Swindle: No More Normal (Brownswood)
146. William Tyler: Goes West (Merge)
147. Sam Fender: Hypersonic Missiles (Interscope)
148. The New Pornographers: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (Concord)

***

GOOD EXTENDED PLAYS IN 2019
Surfer Blood: Hourly Haunts (Persona Non Grata)
Songhoy Blues: Meet Me in the City (Fat Possum)
Missy Elliott: Iconology (Atlantic)
Rhye: Spirit (Loma Vista)
Samiyam: One on Each Planet (s/r)

***

BEST SONGS OF 2019
If you're the type who prefers audio illustrations to miles and miles of lists (and who can blame you?) here is a hopefully competently-flowing playlist I made of the top 25 here: via Spotify.

1. Big Thief "Cattails" [U.F.O.F.]
2. Ibibio Sound Machine "I Know That You're Thinking About Me" [Doko Mien]
3. Ray BLK "Run Run" [Empress]
4. Big Thief "Not" [Two Hands]
5. Charly Bliss "Young Enough" [Young Enough]
6. Chromatics "On the Wall" [Closer to Grey]
7. Rolling Blackouts C.F. "In the Capital"/"Read My Mind" [non-LP single, difficult to choose which side is better!]
8. Loyle Carner "Loose Ends" [Not Waving, But Drowning]
9. Beirut "We Never Lived Here" [Gallipoli]
10. Brittany Howard "He Loves Me" [Jaime]
11. Sampa the Great ft. thando & Krown "Diamond in the Ruff" [The Return]
12. Sarathy Korwar ft. Zia Ahmed "Mango" [More Arriving]
13. Little Simz "Offence" [Grey Area]
14. Andrew Bird "Sisyphus" [My Finest Work Yet]
15. Hot Chip "Echo" [A Bath Full of Ecstasy]
16. Denzel Curry "Ricky" [ZUU]
17. Tyler, the Creator "Gone, Gone/Thank You" [IGOR]
18. Jay Som "Nighttime Drive" [Anak Ko]
19. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib "Crime Pays" [Bandana]
20. Black Belt Eagle Scout "Half Colored Hair" [At the Party with My Friends]
21. Wilco "White Wooden Cross" [Ode to Joy]
22. DIIV "For the Guilty" [Deceiver]
23. Jenny Hval "Ashes to Ashes" [The Practice of Love]
24. Maxo Kream ft. Megan Thee Stallion "She Live" [Brandon Banks]
25. Flying Lotus ft. Anderson .Paak "More" [Flamagra]
26. Ride "Future Love" [This Is Not a Safe Place]
27. Leonard Cohen "The Night of Santiago" [Thanks for the Dance]
28. Ex Hex "Another Dimension" [it's real]
29. Cate le Bon "Mother's Mother's Magazines" [Reward]
30. The Japanese House "We Talk All the Time" [Good at Falling]
31. Rapsody "Ibtihaj" [Eve]
32. Sheer Mag "Keep on Runnin'" [A Distant Call]
33. Peter Perrett "Walking in Berlin" [Humanworld]
34. Deerhunter "Death in Midsummer" [Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?]
35. Jesca Hoop "Footfall to the Path" [Stonechild]
36. JPEGMafia "BBW" [All My Heroes Are Cornballs]
37. Solange "Stay Flo" [When I Get Home]
38. Megan Thee Stallion ft. DaBaby "Cash Shit" [Fever]
39. Kanye West "God Is" [Jesus Is King]
40. Lana Del Rey "Mariners Apartment Complex" [Norman Fucking Rockwell!]
41. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba "Kanougnon" [Miri]
42. 21 Savage "a&t" [I Am > I Was]
43. Fantasia "Fighting" [Sketchbook]
44. Ezra Collective ft. KOKOROKO "Shakara" [You Can't Steal My Joy]
45. Sacred Paws "Brush Your Hair" [Run Around the Sun]
46. Vagabon "Every Woman" [s/t]
47. Shura "Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands on Me)" [Forevher]
48. Chrissie Hynde "Caroline, No" {Beach Boys cover} [Valve Bone Woe]
49. Jayda G "Orca's Reprise" [Significant Changes]
50. Jamila Woods "Zora" [Legacy! Legacy!]
51. Chastity Belt "Rav-4" [s/t]
52. Lee 'Scratch' Perry "Makumba Rock" [Rainford]
53. Wye Oak "Fortune" [non-LP single]
54. Feels "Awful Need" [Post Earth]
55. Ezra Furman "I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend" [Twelve Nudes]
56. Titus Andronicus "The Lion Inside" [An Obelisk]
57. The Mountain Goats "Going Invisible 2" [In League with Dragons]
58. Julia Kent "Floating City" [Temporal]
59. Amyl and the Sniffers "Angel" [s/t]
60. Sneaks "A Lil Close" [Highway Hypnosis]
61. Robert Forster "One Bird in the Sky" [Inferno]
62. Gruff Rhys "Ol Bys / Nodau Clust" [Pang!]
63. Thom Yorke "Dawn Chorus" [ANIMA]
64. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy "Dream Awhile" [I Made a Place]
65. clipping. "Nothing Is Safe" [There Existed an Addiction to Blood]
66. Jenny Lewis "Wasted Youth" [On the Line]
67. Bob Mould "Sunny Love Song" [Sunshine Rock]
68. (Sandy) Alex G "Southern Sky" [House of Sugar]
69. Danny Brown "Combat" [uknowhatimsayin?]
70. Karen O & Danger Mouse "Ministry" [Lux Prima]
71. Sharon Van Etten "Stay" [Remind Me Tomorrow]
72. Pusha T ft. Ms. Lauryn Hill "Coming Home" [non-LP single]
73. Dylan LeBlanc "Lone Rider" [Renegade]
74. Tierra Whack "Only Child" [non-LP single]
75. Priests "The Seduction of Kansas" [The Seduction of Kansas]
76. Rosie Lowe ft. Jay Electronica "The Way" [Yu]
77. Quelle Chris "Obamacare" [Guns]
78. Aldous Harding "The Barrel" [Designer]
79. Anderson .Paak ft. Smokey Robinson "Make It Better" [Ventura]
80. Surfer Blood "Around Your Sun" [Hourly Haunts EP]
81. Injury Reserve ft. Amine "Jailbreak the Tesla" [s/t]
82. Yola "Love All Night (Work All Day)" [Walk Through Fire]
83. Jessica Pratt "Poly Blue" [Quiet Signs]
84. Mavis Staples "Change" [We Get By]
85. Carsie Blanton "Jacket" [Buck Up]
86. Lee Fields & the Expressions "Will I Get Off Easy" [It Rains Love]
87. Angelique Kidjo "Toro Mata" {Celia Cruz cover} [Celia]
88. Swervedriver "Future Ruins" [Future Ruins]
89. Piroshka "Village of the Damned" [Brickbat]
90. Nilufer Yanya "Tears" [Miss Universe]
91. Vince Staples "So What?" [non-LP single]
92. Kelsey Lu "Due West" [Blood]
93. The Comet Is Coming "Birth of Creation" [Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery]
94. Michael Kiwanuka "Living in Denial" [Kiwanuka]
95. The Paranoid Style "A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life" [A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life]
96. Objekt "35" [Cocoon Crush]
97. Tinariwen "Madjam Mahilkamen" [Amadjar]
98. AJ Tracey "Wifey Riddim 3" [AJ Tracey]
99. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Ghosteen Speaks" [Ghosteen]
100. Tinashe "Perfect Crime" [A Song for You]
101. Vampire Weekend "Bambina" [Father of the Bride]
102. Durand Jones & the Indications "Don't You Know" [American Love Call]
103. Haelos "Boy/Girl" [Any Random Kindness]
104. Nakhane "Clairvoyant" [You Will Not Die]
105. Billie Eilish "Xanny" [When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?]
106. Stealing Sheep "Girl" [Big Wows]
107. Slowthai ft. Mura Masa "Doorman" [Nothing Great About Britain]
108. Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore "Fair Annie" [Ghost Forests}
109. Mick Jenkins "U Turn" [Pieces of a Man]
110. Buke and Gase "Grips" [Scholars]
111. L7 "Stadium West" [Scatter the Rats]
112. King Princess "Hit the Back" [Cheap Queen]
113. Makaya McCraven "Atlantic Black" [Universal Beings]
114. The New Pornographers "Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile" [In the Morse Code of Brake Lights]
115. Lady Lamb "Oh My Violence" [Even in the Tremor]
116. Battles ft. Merrill Garbus "Last Supper on Shasta" [Juice B Crypts]
117. Elva "Athens" [Winter Sun]
118. Blood Red Shoes "Eye to Eye" [Get Tragic]
119. Julia Shapiro "Shape" [Perfect Version]
120. Dawn Richard "Spaces" [New Breed]
121. Stephen Malkmus "Grown Nothing" [Groove Denied]
122. Tegan and Sara "Don't Believe the Things They Tell You (They Lie)" [Hey, I'm Just Like You]
123. Tame Impala "Patience" [non-LP single]
124. The Claypool Lennon Delirium "Blood and Rockets" [South of Reality]
125. Ciara "Trust Myself" [Beauty Marks]
126. The National "Where Is Her Head" [I Am Easy to Find]
127. Miya Folick "Stop Talking" [Premonitions]
128. Rita Ora "Anywhere" [Phoenix]
129. Orville Peck "Roses Are Falling" [Pony]
130. M. Ward "Motorcycle Ride" [What a Wonderful Industry]
131. The Tallest Man on Earth "I'm a Stranger Now" [I Love You. It's a Fever Dream.]
132. Julia Jacklin "Comfort" [Crushing]
133. Kate Tempest "Firesmoke" [The Book of Traps and Lessons]
134. Charly Bliss "All I Want for Christmas Is You" {Mariah Carey cover} [non-LP single]

***

Next on the agenda: a masterpiece reviewed at length, followed by an abbreviated List of Lists, and then a further cleaning out of Beatles marginalia in anticipation of the big Beatles discography post and finally moving on to something else! (Although, in this household, do we ever really move on from the Beatles?)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Yo La Tengo: Summer Sun (2003)


(Matador)

!!! A+ RECORDING !!!

The months that passed between the seismic jolt of 9/11 and the dawn of the futile, deadly Iraq War felt impossibly cold and lonely. Say what you will about the way that society has fragmented in the era of social media, but one undeniable benefit of it is that very few of us are forced to feel wholly isolated by our dread and distrust at the direction of the world. Despite the fact that the war George W. Bush and his criminal cohorts from Dick Cheney to Joe Biden voted for and/or manufactured says more about American destiny and more about the dire state of our democracy, with consequences that have rippled down longer and more persistently in the last seventeen years, 9/11 was a unique moment -- as the current COVID-19 pandemic will also prove to be -- in the sense that it was unignorable, and seemed to cast everything else in our lives in "before" and "after" terms. What made the period so desperately sad and still, I believe, the darkest that many of us have lived through is that it quickly became clear that terrorism was being made to function as an excuse, as a way of furthering agendas that right-wing zealots had been longing to institute, with very little opposition. The scenario was created in which there was only a binary of "with" or "against" America; communication, even with loved ones, became impossible.

And it was merely setting the table for the fragmentation and misery that has continued ever since, as the moral universe shifted and the darkness of the fascist underbelly of American capitalism came out into the clear daylight; I would never argue that things are materially better except in the sense that waking up every day feeling endlessly disgusted and like you're going insane no longer makes you a pariah. Still, anyone who lived through that first year will undoubtedly recall how traumatic and colorless it all was, the pandering of institutions still determined to fire up consumerism, the Barney and Friends-like coddling of ugly, empty sentimentality. Culturally it felt like the end of so many things that had made life interesting, and not as a result of the attacks themselves but as a result of the jingoistic, racist response to them and the way they were parlayed into a blank check for warmongering. For all the empty chatter about being there for one another, the spirit of community, joy and rebellion that once was rock & roll abruptly fell away. If you were just entering adulthood at the time, certainly if it happened simultaneously with illness and estrangement from family, it felt like you had become untethered from everything familiar -- and all the while, you were forced into hearing the empty pablum of P.O.D., Toby Keith and Enya endlessly repeated. It was the death of love, the death of art, the death of critical thinking, the death of introspection.

***

By the end of 2002 New Jersey's Yo La Tengo were not quite an institution yet despite having been performing for nearly twenty years. They had carved out a comfortable existence as a cult act well away from the mainstream and operated unmistakably on their own terms, but articles about them were not yet suffused with dewy-eyed prattling about how they were "elder statesmen." Indeed, their lineup had only been stabilized with the addition of bassist James McNew for a decade. Nevertheless fortune seemed to be smiling on them; their last two records, issued in 1997 and 2000, had warranted highly visible praise in major outlets and sold briskly at a time when indie rock still operated within its own shadow economy. 2001 had brought their first eight-night Hanukkah showcase at Maxwell's in Hoboken, a soon-to-be legendary tradition in which the band and various guests performed a full residency on all eight nights of the holiday, plumbing the depths of a catalog that could handle it. The stage was being set for a world in which Yo La Tengo were unquestioned as community leaders of their own parallel conglomeration of music makers and fans, but it was not yet a given that they deserved a default sense of reverence and respect.

There was still some derision of them as a "critics' band" or a band whose work spoke stricly to impassioned record collectors. Perhaps there still is now, but the flowering of the internet has allowed a more nuanced sense of their character and creativity to dominate the discourse about them; there will always be people who absolutely will be incapable of understanding what Yo La Tengo is about and what they're actually doing (broadly: whatever they want), or people who simply refuse to understand it. The difference in the early 2000s was that Yo La Tengo still had no choice but to coexist within a "college music" landscape whose face had changed radically from the years when they were opening for the Sundays and My Bloody Valentine and sharing a label with indie breakthroughs Pavement and Liz Phair. The immediate post-9/11 period of alternative rock was dominated by the effervescent, often transcendent expressions of shouted youthful bliss emanating from the New York clubs; and, domestically and internationally, self-impressed parodies of new wave derived from the emptily snide works of groups like the Faint, eventually to be parodied by mainstream radio in the Killers era. The radio was a hellscape of the confused aftermath of third-generation bubblegum grunge and faux-punk. Yo La Tengo fit into none of these arbitrary universes, a fatal condition in a moment when "scenes" all of a sudden seemed to mean everything again. Into this environment the band launched a record that perplexed certain members of their own audience and much, if not most, of the larger indie rock sphere; it was dubbed Summer Sun, a title some interpreted as ironic given the laconic and melancholy nature of the music but that in various other ways seems perfectly accurate to its sullen, stormy mood.

Georgia Hubley's mother Faith, the brilliant filmmaker, animator and editor, died a few days before the first run of Yo La Tengo Hanukkah gigs. In Hubley's own memory, her mother's loss lingers over Summer Sun; Ira Kaplan, her husband and bandmate, would eventually classify the record as one about "coping," presumably with personal as well as worldly losses. In advance of the record's release came a 12" single comprised of four acerbic versions of Sun Ra's absolutely brutal Reagan-era free-jazz anthem "Nuclear War"; reviews interpreted it as a coy joke and failed to discern the anger and pain that drove the project, which serves even now as a searing piece of righteous pop art, kicking against the invisible sources of our collective misery. The world suddenly seemed to be moving at warp speed. Yo La Tengo recorded the album that followed in Nashville with Roger Moutenot, returned to Hoboken to play a second year of Hanukkah shows (this time with such illustrious guests as David Byrne, Ray Davies and, unforgettably, Ronnie Spector), then went back to Nashville to mix the album for an atypically rushed release. Kaplan would cite this as a stressful time for the band, but none of the strain is evident in the music. Rather than a work of art that succumbs to grief, which wouldn't necessarily be abhorrent or inappropriate, it is a record that intimately courts, engages and forges a complex interplay with love and loss, an island of beauty and sane relief in a hungover, unsafe environment. It could have come into existence at no other time, but its utility as an embrace of unforced feeling has not been distorted by the myriad ways the world has changed since that specific moment.

And how does that manifest musically? Generously, to say the least. This is an album that, to ears trained by a certain kind of pop music, nearly overflows with secrets and pleasures. Running along simultaneously with the layering and intricate quiet of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out as well as the flirtation with electronics from the I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One-Sounds of the Sounds of Science-Danelectro era, Yo La Tengo here present themselves as the nearly exclusive grownup inheritors of Phil Spector's ideas about detailed, overwhelming sheets of sound as a tool of soulful expression. In its impeccable combination of pop thrills and morose moodiness, Summer Sun evokes a willfully closed-off world and the discovery of an introspective universe opening up, like putting your head underwater and finding everything renewed. If it is indeed a cathartic moment of coping, it's as profound as they come. The comfort and kindness it captures were evident in the first track the band chose to release near the beginning of 2003, "Don't Have to Be So Sad," which superficially resembles some of the whispered confessionals of the last album. A closer listen, however, reveals the breadth and variance of a full-fledged soundscape that would have been hard to imagine when Yo La Tengo were still lumped in with the shoegazers barely ten years before this. It's still identifiably them -- piano, drum machines, keyboards all put across the unmistakable cadence of their irresistibly poetic melodies and riffs heretofore typically confined to guitars-bass-drums (and feedback) -- but doubles down on mood in a fashion that's initially off-putting and finally breathtaking; and the moment when Kaplan takes the microphone at last with a husky, almost desperate-sounding "you and me," feels like the culmination of every second in his life, their life, our lives, all of which could be pared down to that one simple phrase even though it's just the beginning of a sentence about a goldfish pond. Frankly, if Ira Kaplan's recorded legacy was the way he emits those three words, he'd deserve to be as important to rock & roll as the Edison kiss is to cinema.

The second song released on the band's website, as well as to the scattered radio stations still willing to pay attention to Yo La Tengo at this stage, was "Little Eyes," an even more densely-layered creation that came off like an electrical storm heard from under water, with Hubley's propulsive drums matched in urgency by one of her clearest vocals to date. Despite the way it sounded like something as otherworldly and mysterious as the Rite of Spring sequence Hubley's father John animated for Disney sixty-three years earlier -- Kaplan's squalls of guitar noise sounding like animal cries, the band careening through an impossible night -- in terms of melody and lyric, comfort and kindness continued to reign here. In what would eventually appear to be a theme of the album, Hubley sings to console, to encourage a reawakening. The words -- which sound like they were probably Kaplan's, though this is hard to verify -- are vague but telling, and via Hubley prop the song up with their warmth. A couple of tracks later, on "Today Is the Day," Hubley returns in an more reflective tone, singing words (almost certainly hers, but again, this is impossible to know for sure) that are simultaneously even more mysterious and even more inescapably personal. On this song, the equally elaborate soundscape is slower, more mournful, the desolate guitar hook at its center providing what feels almost like a bodily lift from the haze around it. She sings about specific events that seem to fade into the ether even as she recounts them. The details -- a rusty car, a sister accepting blame, being too old to stay up late -- are well enough established that the dots connecting them aren't needed to establish their importance. They grow more distant each time you hear the song again, and she seems more unsure about them; it's a song that could have been formed only by some kind of indescribable love, but the starkness of its sense of loss, however maturely expressed, only ever grows more evident; and in a way, it seems surprising that a person so private and guarded would allow us to hear it. (Nowadays she is, perhaps understandably, reluctant to sing it live.)

Yet if "Today Is the Day" is -- at least in this version -- perhaps the saddest song in Yo La Tengo's catalog, it's also one that feels so open and inviting that its shimmering regret is irresistible, a haunted night one cannot stay away from, maybe because it sounds like a memory narrated from a very different present. When Kaplan conquers depression directly on "Season of the Shark," the title referring to a wave of national news stories about shark attacks from just before 9/11, it is to chide and cheer with inspirational advice ("I know it's hard, I know that it's that way for everyone") while also offering a shoulder and support so sincerely that his once wildly out of character openness (compare the mildly smarmy Ira of vintage YLT ballads like "Lewis" and "Something to Do," always ready with a kick-in-the-ass barb after an expression of feeling) could move you to tears when you realize how deep it runs, and how perfectly modulated his vocal delivery of it is. (It's not the first Kaplan vocal this effortlessly tender. In particular the Fakebook version of "Did I Tell You" qualifies, but that's an example of him looking inward, not dispensing a direct plea of encouragement as he does here. Perhaps the best analogy is the band's 1997 version of "By the Time It Gets Dark," which of course they didn't write.) The simplicity of the song as a composition and a recording, particularly on an album rife with elaborate sonic tricks, only furthers the sensation that it's a kind of pulling back of the curtain.

It's James McNew, however, who comes in with the unexpected money shot on his second lead vocal on a Yo La Tengo album, the song that ties all of the instincts that seem to be driving Summer Sun together into one elegant, awe-inspiring piece of pop mastery. Of the many things "Tiny Birds" has to offer in its lush, intimate contract with its listener, the confidence and perfection of McNew's delivery of its closing line -- "till there's nothing left in the world to make you cry" -- is perhaps its greatest gift. The song's sheer sound, however, and the forceful fantasia of its composition, provide a sort of Rosetta stone to what makes Summer Sun such an impressive work and one that stands so far apart from the rest of Yo La Tengo's genuinely thrilling catalog. With nothing more than the traditional three-person lineup, the group manages to evoke the room-sized complexity of the Wrecking Crew and their work on the baroque Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys records, one reason the album's title may not be so ironic despite the mood. Instruments run together to create new instruments, and recordings seem beholden less to conventional rock or pop form than to the emotional state they seek to capture; it is a whole world of sound harnessed to emotion so pure you could call it emphatically teenaged if it weren't basically universal. And its many interlocking pieces all are separately engaging but coalesce beautifully into a whole, fusing into a song as delightful in its sadness as in its earnest joy at the act of creation. There was nothing quite like this on And Then Nothing, which had plenty of layers but was comparatively built on ideas cascading incidentally; every second and element of "Tiny Birds" feels deliberate and properly tweaked, and this largely extends to Summer Sun as a whole, which is why it still sounds different than any other Yo La Tengo album.

That's even true of the opener "Beach Party Tonight," a recording so vague it fails to assert its shape even after hundreds of listens, despite which it manages to set the mood effectively. Its fullness of environment is no less pronounced than on the immersive "Today Is the Day" or the lovely ten-minute lounge-jazz showpiece "Let's Be Still" which uses Other Dimensions in Music to fill out its mondo space-pop credentials. (This song more than any other seemed to particularly infuriate the album's detractors, evidently who never chilled out to retro bachelor pad elevator music and therefore cannot verify that in the right moment it sounds wonderful, or perhaps unabashed "beauty" was simply too uncool.) The band's instrumentation and experimentation are complemented by the addition of a piano (Faith Hubley's) that springs up everywhere but particularly drives the instrumental "Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo" and the disorienting, uniquely fussy and pop culture reference-heavy "Moonrock Mambo," materially changing their sound and providing an impetus for both fun and pathos heretofore unexamined. The drum machines and keyboards aren't so new; as noted, flirtation with electronics had begun to take hold around the time of "Moby Octopad" and the Autumn Sweater EP with its freeform remixes, but never before had they added up to the foreboding peculiarity of "Nothing But You and Me" (maybe the first song the band did not even attempt to duplicate on stage, instead singing lightheartedly along to a tape recorded backing track) or to the indescribable sweetness and sensuality of the extended ancedote "How to Make a Baby Elephant Float." And the band's organ had been a fixture as long as McNew, even inspiring a song title in 1993, but was never so gainfully employed as on the "We Can Work It Out"-meets-"96 Tears" gem "Winter-a-Go-Go," another contradictory seasonal number with a breathtaking Georgia vocal and a splendidly thorny arrangement that generates spy movie dreams at the same time that it suggests something warmer and more tangibly longing in its lyric and vocal.

Viewed in terms of sheer songcraft, this is an impossibly high level of material; given that it's almost by definition an album about vibes and mood, that feels almost like an embarrassment of riches -- it never hurt Painful that it wasn't filled with Supremes-like hooks -- but it allows the record to become almost impossible to wear out, because not only are its sounds and sonic caverns a source of endless fascination, the songs themselves are as durable and pleasurable as the highest level of AM radio Brill Building pop music. Even among Yo La Tengo's gaggle of great records, there isn't another one -- at least, not one that isn't composed mostly of covers -- that generates so much simple pleasure out of mere composition. Coming on the heels of a record that had been built on songs designed to sound like intimate confessionals, the lyrics on Summer Sun frequently boast a directness that coincides well with the immediacy of style; they'd arguably never been as straightforward again as they are on "How to Make a Baby Elephant Float," about inside jokes, and "Don't Have to Be So Sad," about cheering up a depressed lover. Ira Kaplan admitted feeling like the spotlight was on their words a little more directly than usual, with pressure mounting for the first and only time as they committed to a follow-up to a distinctively successful and singular record in their catalog, and you can detect a slight self-consciousness in those songs, the accusation being that they are attempts to evoke the effortlessly naked mood of "Our Way to Fall" and "The Crying of Lot G," but less so in songs like "Today Is the Day," "Season of the Shark" and "Tiny Birds" which are no less comforting in their gentle kindness.

As always, though, Yo La Tengo's real bid is to exist out of time, away from the context of what they'd been up to three years earlier, and they find waltzing transcendence in the end, with their achingly poignant country-rock cover of Big Star's "Take Care," sung by Georgia, fitting in both its mournfully begrudging hopefulness and its stark survey of an abandoned destiny. Covering one of the saddest songs by the writer of "Back of a Car," the singer of "The Letter" matches well with the conflicted use of "summer" as a linchpin. Like Brian Wilson, Alex Chilton celebrated community and isolation in equal measure in his music; both were haunted and preoccupied by the experiences and disappointments of adolescence in a way that Yo La Tengo are not, or at least haven't been since the 1980s ("A Shy Dog," "Crispy Duck"). But the associations of joy and despair they reckon with in the music that influences them here presumably come about because of the way that depression and grief reignite the oversized feelings of those times: the intensity of longing to connect and the intensity of isolation, both concerns that almost wholly populate this collection of songs as never before. This sense of focus both musical and lyrical is hard to miss, and impressive; it's also very much not in the typical vein of Yo La Tengo.

Summer Sun was the first Yo La Tengo album since 1992's under-distributed May I Sing with Me not to be met with uniform accolades on release; moreover, it was received as a mediocre entry in their catalog or, at best, a mixed success by nearly every then-major outlet from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone to the briefly influential All Music Guide. Perhaps more damning was that fans seemed equally disappointed with it. (Yo La Tengo acolytes have never been particularly well organized but there were a few active fan webpages at this stage.) What the band and the album's advocates heard as an impressive leap forward in crafting a cohesive, immersive set that served equally well as a mood album and as perhaps their most consistently masterful set of songs to date was instead derided for an absence of change-of-pace moments like the screaming rocker "Cherry Chapstick" from the prior album; the record was criticized both for lacking guitar music and for leaning on influences that were at the time considered out of vogue, not so much the Beach Boys and Phil Spector (although other bands like Beulah had been ignored for similar reasons) as easy listening, lounge-jazz, Jack Nitzsche. Always celebrated for being restless and unpredictable, Yo La Tengo now found the chickens coming home to roost because they weren't being unpredictable in exactly the "correct" way to appease the hip contingent. The frustrating conclusion one had to draw was that indie heads were as fussy and limited in their musical imaginations as the populists in the mainstream ClearChannel galaxy they so loved to deride; indie sincerity would prove all right as long as it had the bombast of Canada's soon-to-be-exploding Arcade Fire, but catch yourself flaunting the endless pleasures of an immaculately produced 45 and you were yesterday's news.

In fact, the band had deliberately chosen to design this album differently -- they recorded more fast songs than they had for the last LP, but ultimately chose to lop all three of them off for an EP release later in 2003 (the excellent Today Is the Day). Two, "Styles of the Times" and "Outsmartener," were boisterous, blistering rockers. The other, "Today Is the Day" in its original incarnation, had more of a "Barnaby, Hardly Working" amped-up ballad eneergy, so it was slowed down and rerecorded for the album to create consistency of sound and mood, an album in the classic sense. Kaplan remembered: "We made a decision at the last second just to leave the loud songs off. We were looking at the material we recorded and just trying to put out the best record that we could. At a certain point, we just thought it seemed right to put out the quiet ones. I've been aware that there's been some surprise about that and people saying it's even quieter than the last record, which has sort of taken me by surprise." The precarious situation for indie rock at the time meant that poor reviews would directly affect sales; the lack of hype around the record clearly hurt it, and sadly Yo La Tengo took it to heart at least in the sense that with a couple of exceptions, most of its songs have not made regular setlist appearances since the tour supporting it in 2003 and 2004. Ironically, the band would eventually return to the notion of recording full albums of pleasingly quiet music and would seemingly have far less trouble selling it, because by the time of Fade and There's a Riot Going On they would indeed be Elder Statesmen, their shows populated by fans ready to be hypnotized by whatever the band deigned to serve them, not the scene kids who wouldn't shut up during the colorfully moody, whisper-delicate shows at the 40 Watt Club in Athens and the Orange Peel in Asheville in 2003.

What all this points to is the sheer radicalism of the existence Yo La Tengo have carved out as a band. Being a fan of alternative rock you're surely familiar with the seen-it-all hanger-on who walks in any room with any band playing and has his entire existence validated by the idea that he has figured it all out within seconds: the aesthetic, the pallette of influences, the image being propagated. Yo La Tengo has been plagued almost from the beginning with a whole world reciting the "oh, I get it" chorus, despite the fact that you almost certainly don't get it, "it" being the fact that music itself is such a lifeblood to these three that it has to encompass every aspect of who they are, and truly understanding them requires you to take the leap of accepting that they do not sound like one given thing or fall under one given category, but that the conglomeration of ideas, influences and impulses becomes the sound. There is a strange need among critics and casual fans to box the band in as "cute," almost an emotional stunting of them by their audience. You see it constantly with the dismissal of the anger in some of their (especially Kaplan's) singing and performing, the unwillingness to permit not just their occasional fury but their humor as well. But these myriad emotional dimensions allow them to seem to some of us like people we almost know; the vulnerability they thereby expose (they really do tell us quite a lot about themselves, including within the silence of what they don't say) creates a given-and-take that is so fragile and so valuable. And Summer Sun feels like a check-in from them to us -- to see if we're all right -- and an important one, and one that richly deserved to be received on that basis rather than whined about because there wasn't a "Sugarcube" on it. It comes from a moment when everything was basically ruined, and you couldn't seem to escape the fear of your own part in ruining it, and to hear its out-of-time seasonal symphonies to life going on somehow didn't necessarily tell you things were going to be OK -- because they weren't -- but it did remind you that there was some kind of warmth still existing somehow out there in amidst all the confusion.

***

To get briefly personal, Summer Sun has been a constant in my life since its release in April 2003, when I was still getting used to being a directionless adult, working a food services job and spending almost all my free time obsessing over '60s pop music, and I have to confess that I was more bothered by its critical reception than I have been by that of any other record whose actual publicity cycle I was awake for. Like so much that was going on in 2003, it really did feel on a daily basis like I was going insane as I grew further and further into the nooks and crannies of the record and felt more and more propped up by it, and as the reviews and comments continued to roll in, nearly all of them incomprehensible to me. It certainly put me off staying on top of the world of indie music commentary for a decent while. I first saw the band live that September in Asheville, and was bewildered by the yawning reception they received. Validation finally came when Robert Christgau awarded it an A, but he talked little about the music in his long analysis of Ira and Georgia as people. But perhaps the essence of this record, which is still one of the best of the century, is that its basic communicative power to me -- coming on the heels of another album that had been so vital to me at an equally turbulent time -- can't really be reduced or explicated by other people's experiences of it. I hope I've captured here even a touch of how good it's made me feel through the last seventeen years.