Who can resist the charm of Kingsbury Manx? Many people, as it turns out. They are not a famous band (this seems like a fair assessment). I know of only one other person in real life who likes the band’s music as much as I do. But they were (are?) a talented band, and they released some stone-cold classic records. I don’t know if they would have had more or less success if they’d existed in an earlier or later time, though their music, to my ears, has an undeniable appeal. All their songs have an essential quality of calm companionship, I think, in the full sense of the “sharing bread together” origin of the word ‘companion.’ Their music has always given off the vibe of a visit to a friend’s or relative’s comfortable house—a place where you know you’ll be received with hospitality and good cheer. Silver Trees is a little bit different, in some ways, since it’s more of a self-examination song, a retrospective look—though the music here, still, is so warm and inviting. A music-box tumble of guitars, a whispering organ/synth, a hint of percussion, and forthright declarations. It’s all so good. Their first three albums are pretty much unassailably great (start with one of those three if you're interested), and everything else has been pretty fantastic too.
This album came out so long ago! And now it's back out, remastered, etc. If you have never listened to Islands' first album, you owe it to yourself, really, to correct that mistake. It is fun and easy to listen to. Catchy, weird-ish songs. I remember at the time the album was originally released that there was some, or much, consternation about how indebted to P. Simon's Graceland this album was. Officious folks who disliked fun thought and wrote long and exasperatedly about the depth of Paul Simon's influence on Nick Thorburn; this was the way of the world in 2006, music reviewing was a grim game of brinkmanship and pedantry. Now, not so much, people don't care in the same ways, which is probably a good thing.
I will soon compile a list of favorite albums (and books, probably), though I don't know what I'm going to do with respect to songs. Most of my favorite songs are probably on other people's lists. If I can find a clutch of songs that I listened to in 2016 that I think are actually deserving of more attention and that haven't already been mentioned 1000 times by others, I'll put them up here. In the meantime, I will recommend the always-awesome end-of-year lists put together by the sweet and smart and wonderful folks over at Said the Gramophone, Fluxblog, and Recommended Listen--they all listen and write harder and better than I do, and their mixes and lists are incredibly comprehensive and worthwhile.
If I were you, I would prepare for the holiday season by laying in some provisions in the form of good, hard synth songs. There is no better way to get yourself and your family through cold weather than electronic music, which provides more BTUs per minute than any other type of music. The Pressure is a perfect example: listen to the bounce and pucker (technical terms) of that synth at the start of the song. That's heat. That's energy. Roxanne Clifford's voice, too, is a source of comfort and warmth. (NB, this song reminds me so much of early Belle & Sebastian electronic experiments, like Electronic Renaissance, though I can't tell if that comparison only occurred to me because Clifford recorded this song in Glasgow).
"I loved you/badly/I loved you." Good song, good chorus. Lulu feels like a song that emerged from a tiny kernel, and I bet it was that phrase in the chorus. Hang a drumbeat on that, see what happens. All you need are some notes for decoration, like tinsel, and you're there. Simple, heartfelt, almost accidental. A coming together.
Jay Som is Melina Duterte of San Francisco. I don’t know anything about Jay Som except for the way this music makes me feel: energized and psyched in sort of wistful way; the song makes me feel like it’s possible for a long-unseen acquaintance from the past to suddenly step between the posts of my office doorway and say hi. I’m thankful for music like this, a sweet fall adornment, a momentary respite.
NB: Today's post is a book review. The song above is included merely because it's an awesome song.
Fish In Exile, by Vi Khi Nao, is a novel that's such a great blend of experimental and traditional. I mean, the shape of the story itself is sort of classic--fighting through grief and mourning to re-embrace the world--but the way it's told is all Nao's style, which means having a dozen or so sentences every page that deserve to be underlined and highlighted. Fish in Exile reminds me, at least in terms of execution, of Ben Marcus's more recent stories (and of Flame Alphabet), because he has lately seemed to embrace the momentum of story, but while still preserving his own style, his sentence-level experimentation, etc. The book is so moving. The ending blew me away. I said out loud, "whew, jeeze, so good," when I put the book down after finishing it. Catholic and Ethos are such great characters, I liked spending time with them. And Callisto and Lidia too. The ending is like the ending of Ulysses for speed and power and beauty. Pick it up, it's so worthwhile.
The return of Dante DeCaro! Last seen solo in Johnny and the Moon, which released their debut (and solitary) album a decade ago. That album was incredibly good and came out of nowhere; full of vicious full-band folk songs like “Scarlet Town pt. II” and “Oleanna.” But now, 10 years later, DeCaro is back with a new EP, Kill Your Boyfriend. “Love Like Thieves” reminds me of what he did with Johnny and the Moon, though it’s a little less wild-eyed, a little more controlled than his earlier work. And the whole EP moves in that same way: contemplative, relaxed, but still full of passion.
What's the phrase for word-historical despair? Or species-wide shame? Is there an evolutionary precedent for stepping aside to let another clade have a go at the top? Can we just take a back seat and let some quadrupeds see what they can do? I think I've seen others talk about this before, but I'm reminded of these sentiments by Fujiya & Miyagi's song Outstripping, which is about time passing too quickly and life disappearing, etc., which is the subject of other carpe-diemish songs too, but I think lately that there is something more urgent and real about this kind of message, especially when placed in the context of facts like bees being placed on the endangered species list, or the world passing the 400 PPM of CO2 threshold maybe forever . Anyway, enjoy this great song as you make your plans to escape cataclysm (tunneling into the Earth? Space? Deep-sea habitation? Keep me posted on what's good).
[BUY EP 2]
One of the albums of the year, easy. Paradis have delivered on the promise of all their early singles with a big album full of bright, catchy, fun-as-hell songs. This album has danceable hits (most of the songs), slow-burning sweet-gazing hand-holding ballads (Quand Tu Souris), and intense reflection (Miroir (Un), no pun intended). The closest relation to what Paradis do, I think, is probably something like mid-period Junior Boys, or maybe Phoenix at their absolute danciest, so if that sounds good then you’ll enjoy this a whole lot. It’s in French, which I can understand could be a stumbling block for some folks, but it’s enjoyable even if you don’t know a word of the language; and if you do know even a little bit of French, you can get into the lyrics and walk around singing “Un p’tit peu toi et moi,” or “c’est juste une idee, a considerer,” etc. The album doesn’t seem to be easily purchasable in digital form except through iTunes, though you can go through Discogs or elsewhere if you’re interested in grabbing the LP for the price of a good cut of meat. However you choose to do it, listen to the album, it’s good, you’ll like it.
This is new Faint, taken from Capsule: 1999-2016, a retrospective of the Faint's output. What I remember from the early days of the Faint was that many college radio DJs loved them, and, when I heard the band's music, I could tell why: it offered something both complex and fun. You could talk about it, parse it, etc., and you could dance to it. If you drew a line from the dance-influenced music of the early/mid 2000s back to groups like the Faint, Six-Finger Satellite, Braniac, Turing Machine, et al., it is a tenable position--those bands were the ones who put all that in the air (again). If you never got into the Faint before, now's your chance. Capsule: 1999-2016 is a good collection of their previous work, plus it comes with their 2016 single and two brand new songs (ESP & Skylab1979).