Hey! A Top 10 Popped Out!


Shoulda waited a day to post last time: turns out Friday was a pretty good one for new music, good enough for me to cobble together a 2020 Top 10 list! You can all breathe a sigh of relief for me! And maybe for the year, because 2019 was a hard act to follow.

I’m not saying these are all just freakin’ stellar, not just yet–I have simply actively enjoyed these to the tune of at least two reps. I am Halsey novice and am frankly under the influence of Hannah Ewen’s FANGIRLS chapter on her. Apparently, Kesha’s on some throwback shit, but that album makes me happy. The new album by crafty Texan Terry Allen isn’t enough like Moby Dick to avoid slightly disappoint me, but–a lot like Michael Hurley–Allen zings you several times right as you’re about to nod off. This is the third iteration of GSH’s final recordings–it’s already been reimagined once–but McCraven’s magic makes it the best. The Buenos Aires recordings were released in late 2019, so I’m cheating–but dang they’re good! Chris Kirkley has 11 more Saharan WhatsApp EPs, one per month, coming our way. I think Fat Tony is the most underrated rapper in America, but I lean more toward words and concept than beats and flow. Shopping’s other albums didn’t really move me completely, but their Pylon-cum-Gang of Four actually has me wanting to (wanting to) dance this time–dance in the dumpster fire. Full disclosure: my history of personal interactions with Natural Child, newly emerged from a chastening that led to a hiatus and that I trust they took seriously, probably causes me to overrate them, but their return is much less bland and much more weird than their previous two records. The mercurial music scribe Phil Freeman’s morning tweet about previously-unknown-to-me Mythic Sunship delivered a tenth item…and Bob Xgau’s your uncle:

  1. Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven: We’re New Again–A Reimagining
  2. Kesha: High Road
  3. Fat Tony and Taydex: Wake Up
  4. Various Artists: New Improvised Music from Buenos Aires
  5. Shopping: All for Nothing
  6. Mythic Sunship: Changing Shapes–Live at Roadburn
  7. Natural Child: California Hotel
  8. Etran de L’Air: Music from Saharan WhatsApp, Volume 1 (EP) (hear the whole thing above)
  9. MONO: Before The Past
  10. (Tie) Terry Allen and The Panhandle Mystery Band: Just Like Moby Dick / Halsey: Manic





What’s The Matter with Me?

I don’t have much to say. We’ve been buffeted by snow here in Misery, USA, so I’m definitely not sitting on a bank of sand, watching the river flow. I’m squirreled away down in my computer bunker, keeping cats from between me and the monitor, scrolling through my iTunes/Apple Music adds for 2020 and realizing I can’t even make a Top Five list of new records I have truly enjoyed–and I have listened to around 10. I’m also troubled by the fact that, while I was able to listen to more great new music than ever last year and effectively track my listening with the hopes of aiding readers, the sheer time, attention, and effort required–and, folks, I barely write, I’m just listing (slightly to the left–this danged labyrinthitis, I tell ya)–was at times reminiscent of twelve months on a fuel-injected gerbil wheel. Was it worth it, especially, as I said to a friend recently, that I don’t think I took (had?) the time to listen a Velvet Underground album in 2019? I’m not sure. Complain, complain. Perseverate, perseverate. That’s about all I ever write here.

So I’ll just substitute some music-related observations from January, some clearly related to future lists, if I ever make them:

1) Blossom Dearie. I resisted her for awhile because of that name and that voice. But didja know it’s her real name? And the voice–at first too little-girly, then gradually taking on nuance, humor, and weirdness–grows on one. I bought one of them Real Gone Music “Six Albums By” sets of Blossom (her first six albums for Norman Granz, which all happen to be pretty stellar end-to-end) and probably played it more than anything else last month. She was a great pianist, and she knew a great song.

2) Fania All-Stars. Hadn’t listened to ’em in a bit, then the above video sent me on a wild Discogs ride through their first-decade catalog. Talk about shit-hot.

3) Chrysalis’ Dance Craze VHS. In the Fishbone chapter of John Doe’s second LA punk oral history, More Fun in the New World, ’tis revealed how influential the above documentary was on the scene. Hell, I was wild, loose, and youfull in those days–why’d I not seen it? My quest to obtain it ended in two eBay disasters: the former seller cagily advertised it so a smarter consumer than I would have known it was a dub, which it was, and a BAD one, and an expensive one at that; since I had not been embarrassed enough for my liking and I still wanted it badly (“The end of all wanting / Is all I’ve been wanting”–yep, Mr. Berman), the latter one I ordered, legit, in great condition, and cheaper, only to find it was PAL-formatted and wouldn’t play on my VCR (yes, just a reminder that these are VHSes I’m talkin’ ’bout!). I was like, “Dude, you did not mention that in the listing; Dude was like, “Did you look at the photo of the VHS cover?” FOCK! Anyone need a PAL Dance Craze VHS for cheap? By God, I will HAVE it some day.

4) Drive-By Truckers and Kesha and Aroma Coffee Shop. Retirees like me have a tendency to drift to coffee shops and post up. I’ve never done this, but a new cafe opened up near my domicile that’s inviting and promising, so last Friday, I thought I might as well do as fellow geezers do and find a corner. Another motivator was some new records were just waiting for me to listen to: the DBTs’ The Unraveling and Kesha’s High Road. There was a time when anyone who knew me could easily predict my takes–accent on was, because I don’t truck with foolish consistency. From the looks of things, I am among the few to hear The Unraveling as sodden, merely topical, enervating, and possibly ominous in terms of the band’s future (what’s up with Cooley’s two–and not that great-songs?). I, too, believe that we have serious fucking problems in this country, but records like this one don’t help me. SPARK, man! SPARK! On the other hand, Kesha, an artist I’ve learned a lot about from teaching young students at a women’s college, has created something liberating, jubilant, triumphant–even if in some ways it’s a return to an earlier persona–in High Road that made my morning without my having to take deliberate action to escape the daily shitstorm. I am sure I am the only one comparing these two acts in this way, but in pop music it be’s that way sometimes. I go way back with the Truckers, as a fan, but also on a personal level, as they once played the high school I taught at for free and kicked almighty ass, but I cannot tell a lie.


5) That de Sade album. Speaking of the end of all wanting, long ago I’d cast a line out for the above on Discogs Lake and just waited for the bobber to dance. Finally, and for a pittance, I got the chance to yank, and it sits waiting to be spun, smelling just a mite moldy. I am no Sadist, but such an item is difficult to resist and especially in these times, metaphorically at the very least; however, do I listen alone or in company, and if in company, with whom? I’m stuck in a state of suspended animation, so maybe I’ll stall a little longer and digitize it. Love that label name!

6) THE GOATS. Someone asked me recently if I ever had the chance to write a 33 1/3rd book (basically, I do have the chance, just not the drive), about what album would I write mine. I reeled off several but knew I was forgetting one. The arrival in 2019 (I initally missed it, thus didn’t list it) of a freakin’ raucous live album of a ’93 performance by ultra-underrated Philly crew The Goats, which I just learned about the other day, reminded me that I’d first try to write about their durable and still-relevant Tricks of the Shade. Our flag is not a peace sign, indeed.

7) If you’re ever in Springfield, Illinois. Definitely hit Cozy Dog, the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and Lincoln’s tomb (supposedly the man once said, “You’d have to shoot me to get me to go back to Springfield!”), but there’s a record store on Adams Street that can swallow you up: Recycled Records. Besides music, they have stereo equipment, memorabilia, VHSes galore (I didn’t look for Dance Craze, alas), even porno mags. I skipped that stuff and snagged two sealed Willie John comps on Ace for $6 a piece and a great three-disc Abbey Lincoln career overview I didn’t know existed for $17 (and with Gary Giddins liner notes). If you ask for help, you will get it–and more.

8) Tomeka Reid. I think Reid is my favorite musician-I-hadn’t-heard-about-til-recently. I’d actually heard her inimitable jazz cello on records I owned by others, but–two things about her two solo releases, the 2019 Old and New and 2016’s Tomeka Reid Quartet (now impossible to find in physical form): her playing and composing are rich, expressive, and surprising–she stretches the cello’s usual jazz role fascinatingly–and they also spur quartet member and guitar genius Mary Halvorson to some of her best playing ever. That’s saying something.

9) Natural Child. I stumbled upon this Nashville group in Lawrence, Kansas, in 2010, at an amazing and free garage-rock festival sponsored by Scion. We arrived on Massachusetts Street, found a parking spot, which just happened to be in front of The Granada, one of the festival’s four venues, and wandered in to see whoever happened to be there. The group immediately charmed and rocked us with their extremely casual stage manner and their delightfully fucked-up songs–a nicer, funnier Royal Trux, maybe. I bought up all their 45s—that was it for their output at the time–and they held up in the absence of the band charming, rocking, and delighting us in person. We saw them several times in several places, and they were always worth it. As their sound starting to lean toward country–much harder stuff to pull off than tire-kickers think–they lost their je ne sais quois, and though our enthusiasm for their output dimmed, we still saw ’em when they were close. A member of the band brought some trouble upon himself and them in an incident I only know about third-hand and thus will not report, and retired themselves from the action to work on things, a wise choice. Suffice it all to say, the band is back after several years with a new record, I’m happy to see it, and I hope (and trust) that they’ve put in work on more than just the music. I am rooting for them.

10) International Anthem. IA’s the first label in a long time–maybe ever–that’s seriously tempted me to just buy its entire output sans investigation. Their most recent release, Jeff Parker’s Suite for Max Brown, would be my record of the year in 2020 if I were able to muster a list, and Irreversible Entanglement’s upcoming Who Sent You?, based on early indications, may be challenging it. All of their releases are fired by skilled, passionate players, and the label’s accent on liberation and commitment to warm, present production standards make for a unity of sound and vision reminiscent of legendary labels I surely need not name for you. I’m heading to Chicago soon, and if they have a physical home, I may well visit and bow.