Friday, May 28, 2021

Song Highlight: Junior Kimbrough - Done Got Old

For much of my life, I never connected with the blues. To me, most of the genre sounded same-ish, repeating similar lyrical content ad infinitum. This is a little surprising, given my love of sad and despondent music, and my allegiance to guitar-driven rock music, which arose from the blues. This mindset began to change when a good friend of mine introduced me to the music of Junior Kimbrough, originally by way of an excellent EP of covers by the Black Keys.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Song Highlight: Thou, Emma Ruth Rundle - Out of Existence

The Baton Rouge sludge metal stalwarts Thou have been hard to pin down stylistically since their inception in 2005. While you could just slot them into the Doom / Sludge metal genre and call it a day, that would be underscoring their creativity. It is not uncommon for their tracks to intersperse crushingly powerful riffs with gorgeous post-rock ambient passages. If asked to think of a band that is able to be beautiful and ugly within the confines of a single song, Thou is the first that comes to my mind. Through a dizzying collection of releases, they have explored many different sounds. In 2018 alone, they released an ambient noise/drone EP, a grunge rock EP, a decidedly not metal alternative rock/acoustic EP, a full length record, and a split with the black metal/doom metal band Ragana.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Song Highlight: Rilo Kiley - The Good That Won't Come Out

A friend of mine prompted me to revisit Rilo Kiley’s music via a fantastic article on Pitchfork Media in anticipation for Jenny Lewis’ 2019 album On the Line. Lewis started her career as a child actress in the 1980s, but she grew tired of telling other people’s stories and started Rilo Kiley in 1998 with another child actor, Blake Sennett. The band became known for Lewis’ insightful and clever lyrics overtop fun and bright pop music, often a little at odds with the despondent lyrical content. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Song Highlight: Julien Baker - Shadowboxing

If you have paid even passing attention to independent music in the past few years, you have undoubtedly heard about Julien Baker. The singer-songwriter burst onto everyone’s radar when her debut album Sprained Ankle was re-issued in 2015. The album was recorded while she was still a student at Middle Tennessee State University at just 19 years old. The album is a very personal examination of depression, substance abuse, and questions of faith, all set to sparse acoustic guitar. Before the success of her solo career, Baker toured and performed in the punk rock band The Star Killers (later renamed Forrister). While sonically that music is very different from her solo work, there is a groundwork of earnestness that runs through all of her music.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Song Highlight: Hüsker Dü - Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill

Hüsker Dü was was born out of the hardcore punk scene in the early 1980s but by the time they disbanded in 1988, they had made a lasting impact on more than just punk rock; they helped to usher in the era of Alternative rock of the 90s (Black Francis of the Pixies famously put out an ad searching for a bassist, looking for someone who was a fan of Peter, Paul, and Mary and Hüsker Dü). Unlike their contemporaries in the hardcore punk community, they did not eschew the music of the past (listen to their superb cover of the Byrds’ Eight Miles High). They began to embrace melody more and more, moving beyond the confines of the blisteringly fast, amphetamine-fueled hardcore punk of Landspeed Record. By their 3rd studio album, New Day Rising, the band had finally fully embraced the notion of writing melodic pop songs, though they were still delivered with a punk rock intensity with noisy, buzzing guitars and the vocals buried under it all.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Song Highlight: Drug Church - Weed Pin

Drug Church at Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia, February 11th, 2020.

2020 was not a good year for live music, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic effectively ending social gatherings for the majority of the year. One of the last shows that I saw before the pandemic shut everything down was Thrice, Mewithoutyou, and Drug Church at the Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia. And while I love Thrice and Mewithoutyou, the main reason I was there was to see Drug Church. I had only just started to listen to them a few weeks earlier. They are a punk rock band from Albany, New York that combine aspects of hardcore punk with catchy grunge passages and muscular riffs à la Noise rock masters the Jesus Lizard

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Song Highlight: Lydia Loveless - Wringer

Turning on the local country music radio station is an action fraught with disappointment. Most of what I hear does not feel genuine, almost as if an algorithm was used to generate 4 minute tracks that might appeal to the stereotypical “hard working American.” Throw in something about relaxing by the creek, fishing rod in hand, and drinking a cold beer. Add some objectifying words towards women, and thank God for the USA. Make sure there is some acoustic guitar present and you have a country song fit for the radio.

Fortunately for us, not every country musician is chasing the next big hit and leaving earnestly out of the equation. Whenever singer/songwriter Lydia Loveless puts out new music, you can expect a bevy of emotionally honest songs that came into the world out of necessity, and not simply a need to meet a 2 year album cycle. She released a new album this year, Daughter, which is a follow-up to 2016’s Real. I listened to a lot of music in 2020, and Daughter had my favorite song of the year on it, “Wringer.”

“Wringer” is a jangly guitar-driven song carried by Lydia’s emotive voice. She reflects on a relationship that is falling apart, partly due to unreasonable expectations each participant placed upon one another. All of this is anchored by the evocative imagery of their love putting both of them “through the wringer.” But a careful listen suggests that the song is more interesting than just talking about romantic relationships. The line: “said that you don’t do it for fame, or financial gain. Didn’t you always stick by me through everything?” brings to mind her struggles with Bloodshot Records, who have released most of her albums. They certainly put her through the wringer. Fortunately, she has rid herself of them, releasing Daughter on her own label. Finally, her attention goes to her own aspirations putting a strain on herself: “I want to be a symphony, but I’m just a singer. And all that singing ever does is run me through the wringer.” And while Lydia may doubt her abilities, after releasing a host of excellent albums, it seems like she can do no wrong. By being a singer, she has touched many lives, myself included. 

Make sure to buy Lydia’s music here.