Welcome to Top Five Music Tracks for January 2016.
I listened to 65 albums that were released in January. This was a pretty good month, with seven albums I enjoyed all the way through. Three of those were debut albums, and none of the others had ever released anything I felt strongly about before.
Before I delve into my top five, and the Spotify playlist, I’d like to mention a few honorable mentions.
First off, the album openers “The Bray Beast Road” from Besnard Lakes, whose driving rhythms, electronic flourishes and Brian Wilson evoking falsetto are a great setup to a consistent album and “Los Angeles“, an ethereal, spooky, epic seven and a half minute song that opens what is apparently Emily Wells‘ ninth album, “Promise”. She says in an NPR interview that the song is about “friendship”. I can hardly make out any of the lyrics to this song, but I could listen to her sing for hours.
I’d also like to give a thumbs up to The Crookes, for their Modern English sounding “I Want To Waste My Time On You“, and the similarly rockin’ “Wear Me Out Loud“, from I Don’t Cares, whose 80’s influences might be excused by the presence of Paul Westerburg of The Replacements.
And now, the Top Five:
1. Doing The Right Thing by Daughter
(from Not To Disappear)
My records show that I listened to Daughter’s 2013 debut, If You Leave, but I have it marked that I found nothing compelling on the album, and I have no memory of it, which seems like a perfect introduction to a song about someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.
The first part of Not To Disappear that hits is the music, which is so textural, and slides easily between soft, quiet and lilting and rhythmic, throbbing and dripping in feedback. They call it dream-pop, but half of the time it could be called nightmare-pop too.
Elena Tonra’s vocals float above the music, usually quite airy but also strong and haunting. It’s quite possible to enjoy this album without having a clue what she’s singing about, Digging into her lyrics reveals a loose concept album about mental illness. While Doing The Right Thing seems to be about Alzheimer’s and/or dementia (“I’m just fearing one day soon, I’ll lose my mind”), there also seem to be other references through the album about PTSD, and depression of both the postpartum and general variety. Elena herself refuses to discuss the meanings behind her lyrics.
Check out the music video below:
2. Good Morning and Goodnight by Cait Brennan (from Debutante)
I don’t know why Cait Brennan’s website plays down the fact that she is transgendered. In fact, the only place I was able to find mention of it at all is when her website lists other press that mentions it in their story.
Certainly there might be some that would refuse to listen to a musician’s work simply because of their trans status, but today, it seems like she would gain an instant following from the LGBTQ community.
While she may or may not be keeping her trans status a secret, I think Cait has an even bigger secret: Debutante, her debut album, is being released at age 46. While music history offers up few musical trans stars, they offer even less for people who record their debut albums so late in life. I can think of a few artists who started releasing albums in their 30’s (Bill Withers, Leonard Cohen), but none who started in their 40’s, much less after 45.
None of this, however, is stopping Cait Brennan from making one of the best pure rock albums I’ve heard in months. Debutante sounds like a huge mashup of the best of 70’s rock, at times sounding like ELO, Big Star, Bowie, Bolan and even the Stones. Never has an album reminded me so much of Ryan Adams‘ breakout hit Gold.
“Good Morning and Goodnight” opens Debutante, and works great as an opening track, setting the stage for the feeling of the rest of the album. While it may seem reminiscent of The Beatles song, “Good Morning, Good Morning”, I often find myself wanting to hear the opening track of Kanye West‘s “Good Morning”. Hmmm….this might be a mixtape in the making.
While this track is not on YouTube individually, Cait has uploaded the entire album to YouTube, and it opens with this track:
3. Widow Maker by Brooke Waggoner
Sometimes all you need for a great song is a driving drum beat, a good organ melody and an extremely short running time.
I took a listen to Sweven on a whim, probably as a result of reading that she was a player on Jack White‘s first solo album. While this is the only track in the list not on an album I like all of, this song is so infectious and fun that I felt compelled to include it.
Widow Maker is a fun upbeat song about possibly dying, and in the spirit of its under two minute run time, that’s all I’m going to say about it.
4. Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich & Famous by Walter Martin
(from Arts & Leisure)
Walter Martin has been releasing music for over twenty years, first with the short-lived Jonathan Fire*Eater, and then with currently-on-hiatus The Walkmen, so it is surprising that to hear that he has so much to say about his career as a blue-collar worker.
“Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich & Famous”, another opening track, serves well as an introduction to Arts & Leisure, it’s playful and casual atmosphere carrying throughout the album.
I realize this is a slight song, a couple of funny rhymes about odd jobs, a funny story, and silly closure, and I realize months from now I might hate this song, but right now, I kind of love it.
5. Fall Me In Love by Benji Hughes (from Songs In The Keys Of Animals)
Some musicians spend decades building their craft and the respect and cred of their fans, only to trade that in to use their songs in a commercial. Luckily, Benji Hughes already writes music for commercials! He’s crafted jingles for Captain Morgan Rum, Acura, Honey Nut Cheerios, Verizon and more. More relevant to my interests, however, is the funky ass grooves that he lays down.
Truth be told, I could have put almost any song on Songs in the Keys of Animals on this list. The clean guitars, deep Bowie vocals and animals references in opener “Peacockin’ Party” to the Elvis-y (the good one) soulful closing time piano ballad “Take You Home” that closes the album out.
In the end, I chose the grammatically confusing “Fall Me In Love”, the reggae-soaked, drum machine backed, croony ballad that feels like it could be in a commercial for the Bahamas.
This album will definitely be getting a LOT of plays from me this year as I dig through all the layered textures here.
The full list of January 2016 albums listened to:
Alex Smoke-Love over Will
Anchoress-Confessions of a Romance Novelist
Anderson Paak – Malibu
Aoife O’Donovan-In the Magic Hour
Benji Hughes-Songs in the Key of Animals
Besnard Lakes-A Coliseum Complex Museum
Bill Frisell – When You Wish Upon A Star
Bloc Party – Hymns
Bonnie Prince Billy – Pond Scum
Buddy Miller & Friends-Cayamo Sessions at Sea
Charles Llloyd-I Long To See You
Daughter-Not To Disappear
Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution
Dylan LeBlanc-Cautionary Tale
Eleanor Friedberger-New View
Ghost of Brooklyn-I Am The Ghost of Brooklyn
Half Japanese – Perfect
Headbangers-Dark Side of a Love Affair
High Llamas-Here Come The Rattling Trees
Hinds-Leave Me Alone
I Don’t Cares-Wild Stab
Jay Kayle-Four (BC)
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon – ST
Majical Cloudz-Wait & See
Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit (EP)
Mick Rhodes-Paradise City
Mystery Jets-Curve Of The Earth
Nevermen – ST
OST-Jane Got A Gun (Lisa Gerrard & Marcello De Francisci)
POP ETC – Souvenir
R. Stevie Moore-Of The Problematic Delight
Rooney Pitchford-Familiar Places
Saul Williams – Martyr Loser King
Sci-Fi Romance – Dust Among The Stars
Sea Pinks-Soft Days
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Sia – This Is Acting
Soda-Without A Head
Sonya Kitchell – We Come Apart
Steven Wilson – 4 ½
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
Temperance Movement-White Bear
Tindersticks – The Waiting Room
Ty Segall-Emotional Mugger
Walter Martin – Arts + Leisure
Wieners-Cashback-Wieners Play Johnny Cash
Yorkston, Thorne, Khan – Everything Sacred