EPS-3-05

As mother nature decided not to limit its downpouring to April this year here in the U.S. Northeast, I sneaked one more “rain” song into the mix this month, and it is nothing less than my favorite Beatles song of all. To counterbalance I’ve got a “summer” song in here too, perhaps jumping the gun a bit. The Tammi Terrell I just recently learned about, and in so doing discovered that this terrific Stevie Wonder tune, which appeared on 1980’s Hotter Than July (titled simply “All I Do” at that point), was actually written and recorded in the mid-’60s; the arrangement is both shockingly different and equally effective. Other mainstream performers float in and out of this mix in unusual guises, from Carly Simon’s poignant rumination on adolescence to Joni Mitchell’s Mingus experiment to the Police’s brief, offbeat return to light-hearted, rhythmically engaging pop even as they were otherwise veering towards the maudlin, not to mention their own demise. And most importantly of all there’s Prince, and because all of the tributes we’ve all watched have mostly involved the big hits, I felt good about offering up something lesser-known, from one of his somewhat-overlooked later albums, Planet Earth. This song (how was this not even a single?) has an effortless, timeless vibrancy to it, as did all of his best work, in retrospect.


Full playlist below the widget.

“The Queen of Eyes” – The Soft Boys (Underwater Moonlight, 1980)
“The One U Wanna C” – Prince (Planet Earth, 2008)
“Summertime” – The Sundays (Static & Silence, 1997)
“All I Do Is Think About You” – Tammi Terrell (single, 1966)
“I Don’t Want To Be Here” – Andy Partridge (Fuzzy Warbles, Vol. 2, 2002)
“Not Harmless” – Laura Gibson (Empire Builder, 2016)
“The Man in the Moon” – Adrian Belew (Lone Rhino, 1982)
“The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” – Joni Mitchell (Mingus, 1979)
“Sunflower” – Paul Weller (Wild Wood, 1993)
“That’s When the Tears Start” – The Blossoms (single, 1965)
“Boys in the Trees” – Carly Simon (Boys in the Trees, 1978)
“Sandie” – Devin Davis (Lonely People of the World, Unite!, 2005)
“Martian Saints” – Mary Lou Lord (Martian Saints! EP, 1997)
“Miss Gradenko” – The Police (Synchronicity, 1983)
“Prelude #3” – David Sancious & Tone (True Stories, 1978)
“Ophelia” – Marika Hackman (We Slept At Last, 2015)
“Rain” – The Beatles (B-side, 1966)
“Belleville Rendez-Vous” – Ben Charest, w/ Beatrice Bonafassi (Triplets of Belleville soundtrack, 2003)
“Too Much Time” – Captain Beefheart (Clear Spot, 1972)
“All or Nothing” – Eddi Reader (Mirmama, 1991)

Acapulco Lips

“Awkward Waltz” – Acapulco Lips

With its lead vocals buried almost cartoonishly in reverb, “Awkward Waltz” displays a joyful zing greater than the sum of its garage-rock-y parts. This may have a lot to do with the old-school organ that floats through the mix, and it may have to do with the inherent appeal of a minor-key melody presented in a foot-tapping context. Or, maybe it has to do most of all with the irrepressible “oh-oh-oh” vocal descent we hear throughout the song from Austin-born singer Maria-Elena Juarez, each time delivering a frisson of catharsis, surf-punk style.

In any case, this is half-goofy half-serious fun, a song with a seeming simplicity belied by its unabashed devotion to an aural landscape that sounds more and more timeless as each new half-generation rediscovers it. Listen to drummer Davy Berruyer (who is from France, for goodness’ sake) and remind me again why electronic percussion exists. I know there’s a good reason but it’s slipped my mind in the presence of such precise and evocative pummeling. Listen to Christopher Garland and recall for a brief shining moment why we all used to love electric guitars so much—fingers on steel, sounds squealing and bending in direct relationship to sheer physical force. Juarez, meanwhile, mirroring the lead guitar with her bass, both grounds the song and frees it to splay towards its roiling conclusion. (Note that the crucial, aforementioned keyboards are supplied here by Yann Cracker, drummer Davy’s French pal.)

Acapulco Lips (coined to play coyly off the word “apocalypse”) is a trio based in Seattle. “Awkward Waltz” is the lead track off its self-titled debut album, which was released in mid-April on the brand new (?!) record label Killroom Records. You can listen to the album and purchase it via Bandcamp.

Chris Bell

“Darlin’, I Am Fine” – Christopher Bell

A little bit Tom Waits, a little bit Elvis Perkins, “Darlin’, I Am Fine” is a quirky slow-burner—chamber pop at once dexterous and skewed. An unusual assortment of instruments (brass, winds, strings) trade off in the background with odd little licks and frills, adding to the song’s forceful if carnivalesque vibe, however slowly it insists on moving. Anchoring the ensemble is Bell’s cello, alternating long, melancholic bowings with tetchier scratchings, all in service of lyrics that manage quickly to assert via subtext the exact opposite of the title’s pronouncement.

Two-thirds of the way through, at 2:36, the idiosyncratic arrangement coalesces into an oddball instrumental interlude. Tom Waits famously gave his musicians an instruction during the recording of Rain Dogs to “play it like a midget’s bar mitzvah” (that’s a direct quote; I don’t mean anything insulting by the term and I don’t think Waits did either). Our instrumental passage here may not conjure the aforementioned bar mitzvah but we might be at the after-party.

Christopher Bell is a cellist, multi-instrumentalist, and engineer based in Jamestown, New York. “Darlin’, I Am Fine” is a track from the album Rust, which the prolific Bell released in September 2015. If I’m counting right Rust is Bell’s sixth full-length album, dating back to 2012; before that there were five EPs, the first coming out in 2009. In March 2015, Bell also released two albums collecting all of his work up to 2013; you can see everything on his Bandcamp page, and listen to and/or purchase all of it.

Jayhawks

“Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” – The Jayhawks

Have you heard this before? Of course you’ve heard this before—even if not this exact song. This is not a new sound. But my god, how sweet and solid this is, and how indicative that we lose something consequential when we demand only that everything be so friggin’ new all the time. I mean, come on: it makes no more sense to demand that everything only be new than to demand that everything only be old. Surely we desire and deserve a blend, much as we desire and deserve artists presenting visions and stories from all points on the adult human life spectrum, not just from those under the age of 25. The insidious pressure to require music to sound somehow continually “new” can always be sensed when writers approach a veteran band like The Jayhawks: if a new album is favorably viewed, there are always statements lauding the idea that the band “didn’t just revisit the past”; if unfavorably viewed, it’s either because they’re “stuck in the past” or tried too hard to reinvent themselves. You can’t win for losing when the New police are on patrol. So many witches to burn.

Anyway: that opening acoustic strum, the gracefully descending minor-key melody—this thing hits the ground like archetypal Jayhawks, which is more or less equivalent to archetypal Americana, complete with (say it with me) jangly guitars. As with a lot of Americana when it’s really good, there’s a lingering strain of ’70s country-rock in the air (think Poco, or Pure Prairie League), contributing to the music’s uncanny ability to feel mournful and jubilant at the same time. If Gary Louris’s silvery tenor shows some fetching wear around the edges, it serves merely to accentuate the beautifully crafted melodies he, yet again, sings for us.

The Jayhawks, from Minneapolis, have been playing in one incarnation or another since 1985, with one mid-’00s hiatus. The band still features two original members—Louris and bassist Marc Perlman—while the other two are veterans in their own right: keyboard player Karen Grotberg first played with the band from 1992 to 2000, then rejoined in 2009, while drummer Tim O’Reagan has been on board since 1995. “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” is the lead track on the new album, Paging Mr. Proust, which was produced by Peter Buck, Tucker Martine, and Louris. It was released at the very end of April and can be purchased directly from the band, if you are so inclined, via their website. MP3 via the good folks at KEXP.

EPS-3-04

I don’t usually end up being that seasonally sensitive with these playlists but for whatever reason the idea of “April showers” stuck with me at least a little bit and you’ll see the end result in the song selection.

Beyond that I have no particular explanation for anything here. This month emerged as an intuitive flow; I claim no particular credit. I do know that Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour” is one of the best songs ever. And that I love the timeless feel of the gentle piano instrumental “Lorenz and Watson,” which nearly sounds as if it came from the year 1900 rather than 2000. And that Emma Pollock, has delivered yet another solid and overlooked album with “In Search of Harperfield,” which came out at the end of February. And segue fans? Check out Elliott Smith into Samaris; still don’t know how that exactly works. And Genesis again? Sure thing!; Phil Collins is cool again, didn’t you hear? And why not close out with another instrumental, gentle but jazzy this time? It’s where the flow took me. Oh and thanks to George from Between Two Islands for the Samaris track, the title of which I dare you to pronounce. I have no idea what they’re singing about and yet at the same time I feel I know exactly. In other words, music.


Full playlist below the widget.

“Oh Mandy” – The Spinto Band (Nice and Nicely Done, 2005)
“One More Colour” – Jane Siberry (The Speckless Sky, 1985)
“Criminal” – Eliza Hardy Jones (Because Become, 2016)
“Painted Dayglow Smile” – Chad and Jeremy (The Ark, 1968)
“Emotional Traffic” – The Rumour (Frogs, Sprouts, Klogs & Krauts, 1979)
“Bled White” – Elliott Smith (XO, 1998)
“Hljóma Þú” – Samaris (Samaris, 2013)
“Walking in the Rain” – the Ronettes (single, 1964)
“Eyes of the World” – Fleetwood Mac (Mirage, 1982)
“Lorenz and Watson” – Ryuichi Sakamoto (BTTB, 2000)
“Expecting Your Love” – The Roches (A Dove, 1992)
“Kaya” – Bob Marley (Kaya, 1978)
“Wire Wire” – Jen Olive (Warm Robot, 2010)
“Behind the Lines” – Genesis (Duke, 1980)
“Just Walkin’ in the Rain” – The Prisonaires (b-side, 1953)
“Cannot Keep a Secret” – Emma Pollock (In Search of Harperfield, 2016)
“Paint Her Face” – The Records (B-side, 1979)
“Joey” – Concrete Blonde (Bloodletting, 1992)
“Nashville Shores” – Jemina Pearl (Break It Up, 2009)
“Favela” – Antonio Carlos Jobim (The Composer of Desafinado, Plays, 1963)