Can you not get into this groove? Corollary question: why would you not desire to get into this groove? It is a downcast groove, sliding, sure, but it's there, it's supportive in its way, it's accommodating. Guitar and horns say, Welcome, friend, sit yourself right there, you look tired, take the best spot on the couch. Do you want a beer? Help yourself to the snacks there on the table. Casual and charming. Low-key as hell. Like a bizarro Steely Dan, but way less fussy. The Spirit of Hang-outs presides over this album.
Jay Som’s Everybody Works is one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2017. 100% enjoyable from beginning to end. There are the songs that rush, like Take It and 1 Billion Dogs, full of energy and the spirit of Yo La Tengo at their most sprightly; carefully observed songs like The Bus Song, Baybee, and One More Time, Please (which has what sounds like a beautiful little piano move that reminds me of early Microphones tracks); and songs like (BedHead) and For Light that are slow and striking and elegiac. This is an album packed with ideas and awesome melodies and it all flies by so fast. So many good lines too--one that just popped into my head, from Remain, "Our pinkie promises/were never meant for this."
Everybody Works is that rare type of album that’s both immediately rewarding and stands up to repeated and intense listening. I’ve been listening to the album once a day or more for the past month and a half and I’m still finding new things about it that I love. This album definitely deserves a ton of attention.
Walking in Austin, through frightening heat. To a grocery store for a $6 bottle of water to share between 5 people. The streets were full. Partiers, revelers, motorcycles. Everything radiated. We walked and wandered. Barbecue at a place down the street. One of us didn’t love the okra. Someone broke the glass on the front door of the place we were staying—not us. Outside, smoking cigarettes, talking for the sake of talking, listening to the conversations of passersby. Cold beers inside. We watched the Euros when we could, through the doors of bars and on the TVs in the airport.
Restraint and control. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are restrained on Fireproof, and it sounds good on them. You can hear that there’s energy there, waiting, ready to be released, but that tension is put to use in service of the song. The guitars on Fireproof sound a little like those on Radiohead’s Morning Mr. Magpie—truncated, cut-off, but also permitted to progress through a cascading series, with a spare note here and there flying off and ringing out; it’s all tension, suspense, the stress of keeping it together while not having it together at all.
Knife in the Water. A perfect Texas band. Space, heat, desolation, rock, river, light. You can hear it all in One Sound and on their debut album, Plays One Sound and Others, now reissued for the first time on vinyl. Knife in the Water later recorded Watch Your Back (which I wrote about a long time ago and resurrected from the ancient archives of Molars), a matchless song that I recently thought would fit perfectly somewhere in an episode of AMC’s “Preacher.” Plays One Sound and Others is subtle and good, a slow tumble, a whispered threat.
He sulks the hardest sulks, the leader does. He lets his chin rest on his chest and his shoulders slump. He emits sighs of high volume and intensity for seventy minutes. The leader will rise to continue his sulk, but only if someone asks him what the matter is. Then he goes to the window and looks into the middle distance, saying nothing. He frowns. He screws his lips up into a poutier pout than you or I have ever before witnessed. He invokes oaths upon the heavens, upon hell, upon a single god and other, lesser gods, but does so without providing explanation. The leader’s sulks can be provoked by the slightest disappointment or infelicity—say, butter not covering the entire surface area of a piece of his toast in the morning, or an insufficiently sincere compliment given to him regarding the gold leaf wallpaper that adorns the interior of his private jet. His sulks can be terminated by diversions: television, a steak, professional jesters, or the promise of an audience with important men.
All I need to say with this song is the following: Did you ever love Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World?” If so, you will fucking love this song by Porcelain Raft. It has the same hazy dream-life feeling. This song suggests to me the scenario of surfing a wave of liquid yearning only to fall gently upon a beach of tenderness and acceptance. Let us all take shelter in songs of this ilk. Gentle. Accommodating. Fantastic. A glimpse of another world.
There is always going to be room for bands who write brief, quiet, and catchy guitar songs. I posit that, after most of civilization has collapsed, people cowering in rafts on the surface of underground lakes will still hold close to their hearts the memories of sweet and simple songs like the ones made by the Proper Ornaments. I’ve written about the band a few times before, and their new album is just as good and listenable as their previous ones—though I think there’s also a pretty remarkable bleakness in the lyrics on Foxhole that wasn’t as present on the old albums (bleakness seems, to my mind, an entirely appropriate tone right now). Proper Ornaments are, like the Clientele, talented makers of consistently good music that is delicate and pretty but also possesses depth and feeling. Consider letting them into your life.
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.