For a year in music, 2016 was well… sad. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t all suck, but 2016 is a year that will go down in history for things “stranger” than music. What we did have were some great melancholy albums and only a few breakout newcomers. From my turntable, here are the standouts.
It’s too late to articulate it / That empty feeling / You share the fate as the people you hate / You build yourself up against others’ feelings / And it left you feeling empty as a car coasting downhill / I have become such a negative person / It was all just an act / It was all so easily stripped away / But if we learn how to live like this / Maybe we can learn how to start again / Like A child who’s never done wrong / Who hasn’t taken that first step
Almost out of thin air, indie rocker Will Toledo emerged under the awkward moniker Car Seat Headrest with anthem after anthem for a generation of Millennials who have seemingly gone MIA. Maybe they’re too loaded to climb out of their sleeping bags at Bonnaroo, but I’m predicting (hoping) young artists have more to say in 2017 than they did in ’16.
Having moved to the UK only a few months ago, Biffy Clyro has not always been on my radar, but after an awakening of sorts last night, I have now seen the light. It absolutely blows my mind that one band can be so massive in one country but never quite break through in another. Such is the case with Biffy. Back in the States the band plays 500 or so capacity clubs (and I regret not going when I had the chance), but in the UK they sell out 20,000 seat arenas. It begs the question; what’s the US missing and why does the UK get it?
This is an age old question that’s been haunting record labels for decades. All it takes is one spark to ignite an audience anywhere around the world and for one reason or another Biffy reigns supreme seemingly everywhere but the US. After hearing the band’s seventh album Ellipsis, with my pick for song of the year in “Howl,” you would think that world domination is right around the corner—and that still might be the case.
I haven’t been to an arena show in years. I mean, how many bands can even fill an arena these days? Maybe a handful. Standing in the world famous O2 Arena and watching the capacity crowd sing along to every single word while simultaneously whipping themselves into a frenzy, it’s undeniable that this band has something for everyone.
I’ve really come to look forward to the annual WXRT Big Holiday Concert. It’s always a great lineup, a great concert, a great venue, and a great excuse to run into Terri Hemmert and tell her you love her.
This year’s was no different, as Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats headlined with special guest—local legend and natural treasure Mavis Staples. As usual, Mavis, a recent Kennedy Honors recipient, exuded such joy that the grinch would’ve been clapping and singing along with her. It was a stripped down set with the spectacular Rick Holmstrom on guitar as her lone accompanist.
The Night Sweats were the next to hit the stage and they dove into their bluesy soul right away keeping the energy high. The audience was treated to a Mavis encore when she joined Nathaniel and company on stage to sing a beautiful version of “The Weight.” Another notable cover was Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” Rateliff’s solo acoustic version was a lovely tribute to yet another icon we’ve lost in 2016. The crowd stood and danced for the majority of the evening, shimmying and singing along to Ratecliff’s originals. It was a perfect ending to a year filled with incredible shows.
“The first albums I heard were from my father’s collection, among them the red vinyl The Lighter Side Of Lenny Bruce and the Nonesuch Vachel Lindsay album. I was mesmerized by The World Of Harry Partch, but it was a Kingston Trio record that had the most enduring impact. On it was a version of “Worried Man Blues” and, to this day, I can’t get the song out of my head. I suspect that I’ve been trying to rewrite it for the last forty years. Ten to fifteen years ago I had a long conversation with Greil Marcus midway up a flight of stairs at a Dutch festival about the lineage of that song back to Babylonian times.”
“As a teenager, my favorite pop group was Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. The first record I bought was the single “In The Year 2525” by Zager & Evans. Then I bought “Lay Lady Lay” by Dylan and then Uncle Meat happened. It was my first trip to a “real” record store, located in the local mall—the first in Cleveland and the biggest east of the Mississippi. My high school buddy had been an advocate of the Mothers and I went to buy Uncle Meat. Hot Rats was just out. I bought that, too. I considered briefly a John Sebastian record. Flipping through the bins was an intoxicating experience, looking at the sleeve art and reading the liner notes.
I got up the nerve to approach the guys at the cash register. They were elevated on a dais behind a monolithic counter. They were high priests. I was sweating bullets that they’d sneer at my purchases. That afternoon I listened to Hot Rats and was intrigued by the singer on “Willy The Pimp.” The next day I returned to buy everything I could find by him—Trout Mask Replica and Mirror Man. The latter is still my favorite Beefheart record. Trout Mask is a work of genius but not as likable.
PHOTOS: BENOIT ROUSSEAU | Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright’s Christmas show, “Noel Nights” was inspired by Kate McGarrigle, Rufus and Martha’s late mother. It has been a family tradition since 2005 when Kate and Anna McGarrigle released their classic album, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour.
Kate turned the seasonal show into a benefit after she was diagnosed with sarcoma (a rare cancer with underfunded research) in 2006. After Kate’s death in 2010, the family revived the annual benefit Christmas show tradition. This year “Nashville Noel Nights” will benefit the Kate McGarrigle Foundation and the Epilepsy Foundation of Tennessee. Featuring three generations of the Wainwright and McGarrigle families along with Emmylou Harris and friends, this holiday masterpiece will bring the seasonal spirit to Ryman Auditorium, December 18 and 19, 2016.
Nashville and The Ryman Auditorium hold special memories for Rufus. “I have enjoyed playing Nashville for years because of my very personal relationship with Emmylou Harris who I have known since I was a child,” he reflects. “And certainly now that my mother Kate McGarrigle has passed away, going to sing with her in her beautiful city is kind of like going home a little bit.”
New Orleans band Gravy will be throwing down uptown at Gasa Gasa tonight while celebrating the release of their latest recording. Produced by Ben Ellman and Robert Mercurio of Galactic, Get Busy Living is the strongest effort to date from a band that preaches the gospel of New Orleans funk.
The group, which came together as a band of experienced and working musicians hailing from different parts of the country, is the latest descendent in a long line of bands influenced by the original stream of New Orleans funk going back to the 1960s. According to Mercurio, Gravy, “created their own very original sound with…a bit of neo soul mixed with some indie rock smothered in a whole bunch of New Orleans funk.”
I concur. The lead cut, “Uptown Getdown” percolates with a classic funk groove and tells a Carnival tale familiar to any young reveler in the Crescent City, …”though I haven’t seen the sun in days, I know it’s still shining.”
In the rearview is 2016—and we won’t really miss it. We’re counting down the new releases you shouldn’t have missed; the platters that easily got us through it. Here’s the second installation of our favorites spun. Part one is here.
5. Noura Mint Seymali, Arbina (Glitterbeat) + Maarja Nuut, Una Meeles (Self-released) With Arbina, Mauritanian griot Seymali follows up her stunning 2014 Glitterbeat debut Tzenni with an equally impressive excursion into funky-psychedelic desert blues, her rising international profile benefiting from a multifaceted approach; the songs’ expansive toughness can easily satisfy adventurous rockers (particularly the guitar of her husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly) while the grooves (and there are many) should engage those desirous of body shaking.
It’s a combination that’s nicely doubled by Seymali’s blend of newness and tradition (she plays the ardine with a deft hand). Her vocals, heartfelt yet precisely delivered in accord with the music’s thrust, accrue emotional heft vaulting the barrier of language, though English lyrics are included; it’s just one gesture among many elevating Glitterbeat to the apex of contempo global sounds. Those currently digging Tinariwen and Tamikrest would do themselves a great solid by scooping up Seymali’s latest.
Estonian violinist and vocalist Maarja Nuut’s Una Meeles is also a sophomore effort, and one that seems to have flown largely under the radar of 2016. It’s a self-released item, so this situation isn’t terribly surprising, but as the contents, which offer a truly solo yet multidimensional experience via looping and layering (of both voice and violin), are such an intriguing pleasure that the neglect of the disc (its title translating to In the Hold of a Dream) is something of a bummer.
The inclusion here is not a favor, for it compares well to Seymali’s album as they essentially sound nothing alike; Nuut’s CD springs from the traditional foundation of Estonian folk tunes as her considerably more novel method achieves hypnotic results. Some of her ingredients might lead some to suspect a measure of indie-ish preciousness on hand, but that’s off-target, as Nuut leans toward the avant-garde. By no means is Una Meeles a difficult listen; to the contrary, as stated above it’s quite compelling.
So just the other day I was at my girlfriend’s place and I told her I’d been listening to Belle and Sebastian. And she said in amazement, “You? You?? But they’re so… emo!” To which I replied, my voice reaching that high and buzzard-like Geddy Lee pitch that I can only attain when genuinely flubbergumbled, “Emo my ass! I hate those emo fuckers! Those irony-deficient shitbags! They’re too busy setting their wretchedly sensitive and self-absorbed high school diary poems to music to realize life is a hilarious cosmic joke at their expense! Belle and Sebastian are twee, damn it, and have a sense of humor! Just listen to “This Is Just a Modern Rock Song”! I mean, gak!… Grrr!”
And after that I descended into uttering outraged gibberish while my poor girlfriend cowered at the far end of the sofa, fishing around for her son’s bb gun, which she occasionally uses to put a sudden stop to my insane ranting. There is nothing like a bb to the solar plexus to shut you up, and fast.
In hindsight, I got all heated up because while the music of Belle and Sebastian is precious beyond words, and unremittingly lovely to boot, front man and pop genius Stuart Murdoch undercuts all that divine loveliness with smart and very sexually ambiguous lyrics in which boys who love boys settle for girls (they’re not as much trouble!) and girls who love girls settle for boys (they’re not as much trouble!).
Why, the unbearably sublime “Stars of Track and Field” from 1996’s If you’re feeling sinister alone is a hilarious study of the polymorphous perverse sexual mores of our oh so very sophisticated young people, what with the girl in question playing track and field for only one reason: to wear “terry underwear/And feel the city air/Run past your body.” And Murdoch finishes his “requiem” for said star of track and field by singing, “But when she’s on her back/She had the knowledge/To get her into college.”
How Can We Make the Vinyl Boom Sustainable for Fans? Vinyl sales were up 30 percent in 2015, according to Nielsen, bringing the number of records sold from 9.19 million in 2014 to 11.92 million last year. But it’s hard not to wonder how sustainable that boom is: The highest-selling records of that record 2015 were by Adele and Taylor Swift, favorites of casual fans more so than of the collectors who have long fueled vinyl purchasing.
Tables turned as vinyl sales overtake digital sales for first time in UK: Vinyl sales hit £2.4m last week compared with the £2.1m made from digital music purchases, further proof that record shopping has gone mainstream. The interest in buying a physical format of music on vinyl has experienced a resurgence in the past 12 months. This time last year, the sale of vinyl albums reached £1.2m while digital sales were £4.4m. Vinyl has also experienced eight consecutive years of growth, despite almost dying out around 2006.
Back to Black: The record revival in Nottingham: Jono works at Rough Trade and attributes the recent success as a reaction against download culture. “It makes albums a thing again, people like to listen to a full album in the sequence that it was intended.” He added that while some people say they sound better, that can be extremely dependent. “If you take a picture with a DSLR camera you know it can be technically brilliant, whereas if you take a picture on an old Polaroid it may not be perfect but it’ll have character.
Is this the vinyl countdown? Wellington’s Death Ray Records facing closure: A Wellington record store has put out a desperate plea for secondhand vinyl in an effort to stay afloat. Death Ray Records in Newtown has been stung by a ballooning tax bill, competition from online sellers, and low stock volumes. Now owner Apa Hutt fears he may not make it through Christmas unless people bring in used vinyl as trades, for sale, or as donations. “It’s all up in the air,” he said. “This is a really important cultural hub for Newtown, but it could close and that will be a really difficult decision to make.”
PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The recollection is still quite vivid—my pal Shawn sidling by my room with a copy of The Posies’ 1990 release Dear 23 in hand. He’s tapping the CD jewel case deliberately. “I know you…you’re going to love this record.” And, as it turned out, both were true. Plus, it didn’t hurt one iota that I was, in fact, 23 at the time.
Hooked since then through stylistic turns, rhythm sections, break-ups, solo projects, Big Star status, reformations, and happily new (vinyl) releases, The Posies’ brand new full Length LP Solid States is in stores as you’re reading this right now. Touring to support Solid States, Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow, and new drummer Frankie Siragusa embarked on a set of band-booked, intimate house concerts.
The day after what was apparently one hell of a Washington, DC show, The Posies joined us at DC’s Som Records for a rummage through the racks—warm, chatty, and hilarious throughout.
So, onward—we’re record shopping with The Posies at Washington, DC’s Som Records.