Man, these are exciting times. Beyoncé dropped Lemonade and I’m still taking it in–in fact, the current trends in hip hop and R&B generally are damned exciting. Bob Mould has come roaring back with his best album since Sugar’s debut; the revival of 70s AOR sounds is picking up steam; Wax Idols and Savages are still carrying the post-punk flag. Hope you enjoy.
OK, I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now. I’ll go into more detail about each of these albums later, but for now here’s a YouTube playlist featuring songs from my favorite albums of the year.
Back when I was a college radio programmer (that an a buck will buy you a cup of coffee) Chapel Hill, North Carolina was one of the most musically exciting communities in the world. One of my favorite rock and roll bands, Southern Culture On the Skids, helped organize a local festival called Sleazefest. It’s been going on and off ever since, but this was the very first one, and they made a documentary about it. There was never a DVD release–this was 1994, kids!–but you could find it on videotape if you were lucky. Apparently it was available online at one point, but that site’s gone dark.
So I’ve rectified that. If you want some great performances from underground American music in the early 90s, check out some of the great psychobilly performances of Sleazefest.
And I’ve got a handy-dandy YouTube playlist to help you hear some! As always it tends towards indie pop and alternative rock, but I like to sprinkle in influential songs from hip hop, country, metal, and top 40 pop music. It’s good to know what’s going in in the culture around us after all, even if not all of it’s gonna be quite your cuppa. In any case, let me know if you enjoy it.
Hop Along, a Philadelphia rock band
Let’s talk about Frances Quinlan’s voice first. Best to get that out of the way because it demand and requires our attention: a yearning like Janis Joplin, a bold surety like Patti Smith, a gravel like Lucinda Williams. Quinlan’s voice–both the physical instrument and the lyrical perspective–is all about American aspiration. But for my money what puts Hop Along over the top is guitarist Joe Reinhart. He (along with bassist Tyler Long and drummer Mark Quinlan) have stepped up to collaborate on songwriting duties for the new album and the results are intriguing. Painted Shut rewards close attention; it’s made for sitting down and, you know, listening to a whole album like we did back in the day. That way you’ll hear the little unexpected guitar licks and rhythm flourishes that were obviously never part of the song’s original idea. In lesser hands it would disjointed or muddy, but here it’s accomplished. “Waitress” looks uncompromisingly at the singer’s own failure; “Sister Cities” invites you in to the dangerous lives of drifters on the edge; “Texas Funeral” is simply the car song of the year. The band is going down the East Coast for a few weeks before heading off for a European tour; the album Painted Shut can be listened to on Spotify or purchased wherever fine music is sold.
Album cover for The Woods of Heaven
All right, post-punk band, jangly guitars, 80s retro sound, dark goth vocals. I KNOW you’ve heard it before, but here’s why you should listen to Pleasure Leftists: they rock HARD. The band comes out of the Rust Belt hardcore scene and their rock and roll shines through in every song. The drumming in particular is some of the strongest, most engaging rhythm I’ve heard all year. I am always, always a sucker for a good janglepop guitar line, and this album has them in abundance–it’s like the Mighty Lemon Drops were asked to help out at a punk show. The singer . . . Haley Morris has a great voice. Not just raw talent, but real control and passion, throwing herself into every song. However, I think that after this VERY solid album (The Woods of Heaven on Deranged Records) she should work on finding her on voice. We’ve heard Siouxsie, Ian Curtis, Wayne Hussey: what can the new century of post-punk sound like?
The Woods of Heaven can be heard on Stereogum’s website. Looks like a brief summer tour is ended, but I hope they make it up to the Northeast sometime soon.
All right, as usual I’ve been listening to a ton of new music over the past few months. Some folks I know rightly bemoan the lack of 120 Minutes, etc. where you can just tune in and hope to hear some cool new music. Well a curated YouTube list makes that process EVEN BETTER in the 21st century. Don’t like a song? Hit next! More good songs, fewer commercials, everybody’s happy. Enjoy!