What Am I Listening To? – March 2020

To say that this month didn’t go as planned would be a massive understatement. At the beginning of the month, I was gearing up for a relaxing vacation in Hawaii, which is where I figured I’d be when writing this column. Then the Coronavirus happened – or rather, America finally got serious about defending itself against it, and most of us went into a prolonged period of self-isolation. The upside is that I’ve had even more time than usual to binge on music while working from home (and I’m fortunate to have a job that lends itself well to telecommuting). The downside is that, try as I might to be objective, some otherwise good music released during this season is going to be forever entwined with the memories of being stuck at home and praying to God that none of my family members or loved ones get sick. Maybe I’ll be able to turn that around and come out remembering some of this as the music that helped keep me company and lift my spirits during an intense and difficult part of my life? Only time will tell.

Here are my first impressions of the latest from Phantogram, SHEL, Alex Wong, Hayley Williams, Leigh Nash, Cindy Morgan, Holden Days, Collective Soul, Peter Bjorn and John, Mandy Moore, Matt Wertz, Jason Wade, Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams, Pearl Jam, Elbow, and Sleeping at Last.

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Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams: Oh, I've been listenin' to books never written, I'm gonna read to the end.

Artist: Lord Huron
Album: Lonesome Dreams
Year: 2012
Grade: A-

In Brief: An astounding debut that immediately transports me back to the days when the indie folk revival was still going strong. Lord Huron’s unique habit of weaving together pieces of a story in anachronic order, told from the perspective of a not-so-reliable narrator, as well as their occasional use of electronic and worldbeat elements, helps to set their songwriting style apart from influences like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket that they quite obviously wore on their sleeves at this point. The band has evolved a bit in the years since, but nothing they’ve done since then has hit me nearly as hard.

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Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling: A Long-Awaited Resurrection

Artist: Drive-By Truckers
Album: The Unraveling
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s surprisingly short for a Drive-By Truckers album, but it’s also much more focused than I’m used to from these guys. The politically charged lyrics and caustic criticism of the status quo graft incredibly well onto the band’s gritty alt-country style and their slice-of-life songwriting approach. This is the first time in a long time that a Drive-By Truckers album hasn’t either bored me or thoroughly grossed me out – when I do feel disgust, it’s because I know they want me to.

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Tall Tall Trees – A Wave of Golden Things: Together’s so much better than apart.

Artist: Tall Tall Trees
Album: A Wave of Golden Things
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Don’t judge this album by its meager eight-song tracklisting. These songs are jam-packed with delicious folk and indie rock instrumentation, mostly centered around the banjo, but clearly benefiting from Mike Savino’s talent on various instruments and his tendency to stack up a lot of layers in the studio. He’s trimmed the fat in a way that allows him to put his best foot forward with most of these songs, and the result is a delightful record that I’m likely to remember for being a welcome source of joy during a grim time in human history.

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Colony House – Leave What’s Lost Behind: I want to be original material (?) for once.

Artist: Colony House
Album: Leave What’s Lost Behind
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: The young band’s third album finds them taking risks and stretching their musical horizons, but not always putting their best foot forward. They established themselves as such great entertainers with the boisterous live band sound of Only the Lonely that it’s kind of a bummer to hear them backing off from it a bit here.

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What Am I Listening To? – February 2020

A combination of new releases that dropped in February, and entries from some of my colleagues’ 2019 best-of lists that I wanted to check out, has expanded my new music column to a whopping sixteen albums this month. Whew! It might be a few months out before I actually get around to fully reviewing any of this stuff, but for now…

Here are my first impressions of the latest from (deep breath…) Tall Tall Trees, Drive-By Truckers, Bruce Hornsby, black midi, Cage the Elephant, Caroline Polachek, Weyes Blood, The Lone Bellow, Green Day, Holden Days, Tennis, Tame Impala, Tyson Motsenbocker, John Reuben, Derek Webb, and The Secret Sisters.

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Miike Snow: These are NOT songs for no one.

Artist: Miike Snow
Album: Miike Snow
Year: 2009
Grade: A-

In Brief: With a sharp mix of club beats, idiosyncratic synths, and live drums and piano, Miike Snow had an intoxicating blend of sounds on their remarkably consistent debut record. I’m bummed that it took until this album was a decade old for me to fully realize that.

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