Ohhhh What a RUSH! The Rush Discography Project: “Grace Under Pressure” (1984)

May 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rush - Grace Under Pressure

If we thought Rush was ridiculous before – “Grace Under Pressure” turns it up to a whole other level.

The synths are louder and almost used more appropriately here (it is 1984), but they work in a way that actually highlights, rather than overhwhelms Alex Lifeson’s guitars. But man, these synthesizers are everywhere. Just take a listen to “Red Sector A”, a song that I am pretty sure is about internment camps or the holocaust or something similar to that,  but it sounds like this hugely awesome, futuristic anthem with words like:

Sickness to insanity
Prayer to profanity
Days and weeks and months go by
Don’t feel the hunger
Too weak to cry

But you get this persistent, somewhat wonky guitar riff just totally beefed up with these “Final Countdown” synths. And yeah, that’s basically “Grace Under Pressure”. Oh, and there are a lot more “reggae” moments in this album. Which is the direction that Rush really should have gone with as time went forward, it’s like listening to UB40 again while being 9 years old.

Meanwhile, “The Body Electric” might actually be the worst song that Rush has written because it is hardly even a song. It’s fun and it’s the band trying to be all futuristic and science fiction based rather than so superficially political and fantasy based, but I mean c’mon – the chorus is “1-0-0-1-0-0-1” – and the verses are about “bytes” and “plastics” and the machines taking over and all that. It’s terrible, I mean really terrible – but at least it’s fun.

“Red Lenses” is an attempt at a clever song and the  meaning of “red” or “read” or whatever else in as many ways as possible and is almost chance for the band sound like the Talking Heads. It’s also the worst song on the album and probably one of the worst songs in Rush’s catalogue up this point, but at least it gets LOUD. “Between the Wheels” sounds like Kane’s entrance music in the WWF but just not quite evil enough. Good song, but really really cheesy.

But that’s what this album is. It’s more pop-oriented than the last few albums, it doesn’t flow, the songs don’t seem as complete or quite as over thought as previous Rush albums, it’s just a collection of catchy songs that veer between awful and almost awesome, nothing ever truly breaking through. It’s silly, it’s fun, it’s the 1980’s, and while I enjoy the album on a whole – it’s not really something I need to hear that many more times in my life.

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Ohhhh What a RUSH! The Rush Discography Project: “Signals” (1982)

May 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rush - Signals

Well hello 1982.

Right from the get go – you get a blast of synthesizers, synthesizers that never go away. You get a lack of guitars and you get songs that are just a bit more glossy than what you are used to with Rush – already a glossy band. But hey, at least “Subdivisions” is about the suburbs and alienation rather than wizards and labor unions, right?

And it’s a solid song, even if I’m waiting for Alex Lifeson to blow it open for it’s entire duration (and the duration of most of these songs), but they’re going for something new here. Do these songs lean more towards pop music? Not necessarily – they’re just…different? “The Analogy” is almost like a pre-cursor to pop-punk, but with this awful, near Contemporary Christian “you moooooovvvveee me, you moooove me” chorus. I don’t know, it’s an accomplished sound and for people who prefer the improved musicianship and the new wave sound more than the arena rock sound – it’s going to be awesome for them (see most Progressive Rock fans), but for me – it mostly leaves me well, feeling nothing.

I’m a pretty big fan of “Subdivisions” on the whole, it’s like the fanciest song about the horribleness of growing up in the suburbs – a topic that was all but reserved for punk rock up until this point. It’s different and not the usual style of rock music that I dig, but it’s fun enough and like most Rush albums – as an album opener, it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album. “Digital Man” I really love. It basically apes The Police entirely. The guitar tones are completely Alex Summers, the bass lines just reek of Sting and the “reggae” breakdowns, I mean – take your pick at which Police song you want it to be. I love The Police, so it works out – but Rush’s little obsession with reggae breaks in the early 80’s is awful and awesome – but it makes “Digital Man” memorable for me, something that most of the rest of these tracks are not.

And look – I don’t think the album is bad. I don’t think it is particularly good either, like some people. But, the style of music here, just isn’t really what sticks with me. I want things to ROCK, not to be smoother (weird, because I love Steely Dan), but this is Rush, people – I want the ridiculous! That’s the point, isn’t it?

What I’m saying is that this album is just different. Maybe my indifference to it (it’s not anger) is because it’s not the Rush that is the albums before this – but I don’t necessarily have the most favorable view of all those albums either. It’s leaner, the songs are shorter, the lyrics are more relatable and less fantastical, and that should all be a good thing. But it’s not, not for me at least. It’s just kind of…ok.

Ohhhh What a RUSH! The Rush Discography Project: “Exit…Stage Left” (1981)

May 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rush - Exit...Stage Left

If nothing else, “Exit…Stage Left” further cements my opinion that “Xanadu” is far and away the best Rush song. Oh and that for the most part, their big “hits” are justifiably their big “hits”, super die hard fans be damned. This live album demonstrates to me that Rush is not really a band about “deep cuts”, but about rocking  the fuck out to anthems you know and love.

And that’s why this album and performance rule.

I don’t actually know how authentic of a live performance it is, what is added in after the concert, what is straight from the source, what is missing – surely all of those things have happened to make this release, because the fidelity is really quite good for a live performance in the 80’s, so whether this is a combination of real performance recording and studio trickery is likely – it doesn’t matter, because the songs? They hold up.

Apart from “Xanadu” and “The Trees” and “Spirit of the Radio” and “Tom Sawyer” which all sound awesome here (I’ll go ahead and say “Tom Sawyer” isn’t as good as the album version) – this performance get me excited about tracks I don’t really like either. You take something like “Jacob’s Ladder” – which on record is a track that just goes on too long and doesn’t really go onto anything, but here, it just seems amped up. The solos are more impressive, the playing is more passionate and the robotic feel is gone. It’s the same thing with the instrumentals “YYZ” and “La Villa Strangiato” – some of that studio stiffness is gone, though it’s replaced with some extra length, but it’s good. It just feels like a band at the prime of their career, playing the songs that people really want to hear and loving every minute of it.

And when “Closer to the Heart” starts – the people go buckwild, it’s hilarious that song is so big, and every time I hear this performance – I cringe. And I like the song, but it might actually be the low point of the album.

Another awesome surprise is the inclusion of “Beneath, Between & Behind” which is an earlier cut and really fucking rocks. It’s just like a transition from CTTH and JL but it amps up the energy for it’s 2 minute duration.

I don’t like putting “La Villa Strangiato” at the end and would have loved for “Natural Science” to be included (even if people don’t really give a shit about that song), but on the whole – this is my favorite Rush album from this period. It’s a greatest hits played live. Not much filler, some silly experimental effects and it has a solid fidelity. It’s the Rush that I want without all the bullshit.

And it’s great.

Ohhhh What a RUSH! The Rush Discography Project: “Moving Pictures” (1981)

May 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rush - Moving Pictures
Look guys, no matter how you slice it, “Tom Sawyer” is one of the best “classic” rock songs that exists. It’s such an undeniably fun, catchy and awesome combination of hard rock and awful power synthesizers, that you just can’t really deny it. Hear it a hundred thousand times and you’re still going to be like “THE RIIIIIIVVVVEEER” and probably air drum and air synth like anything you’ve ever played along with in your life. It’s a classic, one of the best – really.

And for many, “Moving Pictures” on the whole is one of the best hard rock albums ever created. Certainly by Rush at least, right? Well I don’t know. It’s good, almost really good.

I mean, the first 4 songs on this record are basically the 4 favorite songs by many people just getting into Rush – as this is usually the entry point for lots of those same people, and they’re all really good songs. But the whole record classic – I don’t know. Like every Rush record, there just seems to be something missing here and there.

“Tom Sawyer” aside, “Limelight” is actually perhaps an even more interesting song and one of the better 80’s power radio rock tracks. It’s pretty interesting musically, has this weird screeching, scronky guitar solo and still sounds totally dated, yet as a jaded listener – I can still enjoy it. “YYZ” is a music nerd’s dream instrumental, but to me it’s almost too robotic. I like robots, so I like the track – but you just want it to like explode and just freak out. And it doesn’t.

On the whole, it’s probably the most “rocking” Rush album since their debut. It’s loud, Peart is killing the drums on each track, Lifeson is really extended the guitar solos as much as he can, and they are going back to songs that are actually catchy – but just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean everything. For instance: I hate “The Camera Eye”. Musically, it has some interesting touches, lyrically it is actually one of the better Peart metaphors or topics, but as a song itself, it just annoys me. I can’t explain why – like all the pieces together, the length, it’s just too bombastic. The weird synthesizer sounds at 9:00 are my favorite part of the song, but the odd guitar solo immediately following them is one of my least favorite parts. It’s just a song where the whole time I’m going “Ok…let’s do this…let’s do this…ok fuck this.” I’ve listened to it about a dozen times and liked it maybe once. Kills the album for me.

“Witch Hunt” is probably the heaviest synthesizer song Rush had done up to this point and it really makes the song sound hollow to me. It’s an ok track, it’s a nice change of pace, but is really reliant on gimmicks and not on rocking when it should.

“Vital Signs” alternates between awesome and like a fake radio station jingle. Personally, I love the reggae vibes and the fast blooping synths, but when it picks up is when the track doesn’t work as well. It’s the opposite of most Rush tracks.

So…another Rush album that is front heavy. This might actually be the most front heavy of all their albums though, which is saying a lot. I really do like the first 4 tracks a lot, 2 of them more than others, hate one song and just sort of dislike 2 others. A classic album? Naw…but it gave us “Tom Sawyer”.

And that’s enough!

Ohhhh What a RUSH! The Rush Discography Project: “Permanent Waves” (1980)

May 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rush - Permanent Waves

Computer shorted vocal effects and

Computerized clinic
For superior cynics
Who dance to a synthetic band.

Oh man, “Permanent Waves” is definitely a Rush album.

In fact, according to Rush fans, it might very well be THE Rush album. While “2112” is very well known and respected by critics (it was the first album where Rush was really…Rush. And “Moving Pictures” is probably the one album considered a “classic” (5 stars on AMG!), “Permanent Waves”, based on research and reading review after review over the last couple of weeks seems to, more often than not, be considered maybe the actual essential Rush album, the one where things just went right. People note the stronger writing, the tighter musicianship, the less-high Geddyvoice. It is an album that is more focused, sounds more like an actual album, and could definitely be considered a classic rock album, but for me – it just doesn’t go to the extremes that some other Rush album goes. Which, and get this – means that while it is the first album in the discography that doesn’t have a song that I totally hate, it also only has one song that I totally love.

And “Spirit Of The Radio” is that song – one of the all-time classic Rush songs.

Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free

It is incredibly earnest, but that’s why it works. It’s a love song for a radio station, and it has some of Rush’s most anthemic lines, most impressive musicianship and even when it dips into faux-reggae, you just can’t help but smile. It’s FUN, and not fun because of how ridiculous it is, like most fun Rush songs, it’s just…fun for fun’s sake, which doesn’t happen too often in Peart song. “Freewill” has some of my least favorite lyrics of all time, I even recently made a message board post just about the lyrics, it’s Ayn Rand for the Broadway stage – but man, it IS catchy. Not my favorite, and except for the chorus almost seems too subdued to really become a classic.

“Jacob’s Ladder” doesn’t really go where I want it to go, it never fully explodes like it should, but it’s a decent enough 8 minute song – though ultimately forgettable in the grand scheme of things. The “ballads” on the second half of the album are probably the best mid-tempo songs so far of their career, but again, they don’t really do anything TOO memorable, they’re just solid. And “Natural Science” is great. Hilarious lyrics, science based! It doesn’t quite entertain me as much musically as some of their 9 minute songs, but it still finds itself towards the top of those lengthy ones. It’s no “Xanadu”, but it’s maybe the closest thing.

All in all, it is a GOOD album, but it’s not a great album, and thus – I can’t give it the classic status that many want to give it. It shows the band finally more comfortable of who THEY are, what they want to do, and really is the album that ushers in their sound in the 1980’s.

Ohhhh What a RUSH! The Rush Discography Project: “Hemispheres” (1978)

May 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rush - Hemispheres

4 songs, 37 minutes. It’s another Rush album that has a track that is the entirety of one side of an LP, the difference being – this one is actually worth the time it takes to listen.

Yeah, 1978 – the year Rush finally lived up to their prog promise. While I stated “Xanadu” is probably the best Rush song, “Cynus X-1 Book II” is probably their best REALLY long song, one that improves with repeat listens. On early listens of the song, it didn’t seem nearly as fun as their other side-long tracks, because it didn’t seem quite as silly or quite as audacious, but then I realized, it’s because it ALMOST makes sense musically. What Rush does with the opening track on “Hemispheres” is basically build this tension for the first 10 minutes of the song. The instrumentals throughout are never their most bombastic nor are they the most mind-blowing, but by keeping a basic guitar, drum and bass riff throughout the beginning half of the song, peppered with different musical passages, both loud and quiet – they make you listen intently. It can be grating if what you’re looking for is just something that is awesome, but where the difference is between this and something like “2112” is that it almost sounds like a complete song. You are listening for 18 minutes, and it feels like 18 minutes, sure, but when it ends you say “yeah, that one sort of made sense.”

Which is to say nothing about the lyrics and storytelling which are just as ridiculous ever. Neil Peart, you lovable goof, you.

Lifeson’s guitar solo at the 6:35 mark is sloppy and Van Halen-esque (it IS 1978 after all), but serves as a nice transition back to the constant riff through the song. It’s a song I hated at first and enjoy now…except for that acoustic outro, which still just doesn’t sit well with me.

“Circumstances” is maybe one of the most forgettable songs in the entire Rush catalog. It might be because it’s after “Cynus” and before “The Trees” – but listening now closely in headphones, it even sounds like it was recorded and mastered poorly. The song just does nothing for me. It’s not the Rush that was becoming awesome and hilarious by 1978, nor is it the straight-forward Zeppelin act of the early albums, it’s just a meddling rock n roll song that sounds like anything else released in 1978, and sound about 5 minutes too long (and it’s only 3 minutes long).

“The Trees”…ah, “The Trees”. This was the very first song I knew was a Rush song and knew it well. It’s about trees after all right!? No, it’s about racism! No, it’s about labor unions! No, it’s about – ah, can it. I will always love this song, because it has trees in the lyrics, something we lack in pop music, and hell, I can think the song is about forest succession and competition if I want. It’s a great song, a total anthem.

And Lifeson’s instrumental mini masterpiece “La Villa Strangiato” is so much better without any lyrics, it’s hard to fathom how terrible it would be with them. It veers all over the place musically, but sits well in the album. Would love to hear it in the middle of an album that isn’t quite so good, but where it is now, it leaves a pretty good taste in your mouth as the album closes and is one of the few moments where Lifeson really takes center stage on a Rush album, something that should have happened a lot more. Can this song get louder? Please, let’s make it louder. LOUDER.

It’s not my favorite Rush album and it sucks that “Circumstances” is included here, because 3 of the 4 tracks are good, which means like 33 of the 37 minutes of the record is good. It’s one of t he more solid albums, start to finish, and should be included as one of the definitive releases of the band, something for the basement nerds, something for the prog-o-philes and something for those looking for something a little bit new in Rush’s sound. It might not rock quite as hard as some of their other records, but it DOES rock.

12 Standout Albums from the first 1/3 of 2013

May 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Caitlin Rose - The Stand-InCaitlin Rose – The Stand-In
(March 5) (ATO Records)

Caitlin’s album “Own Side Now” was one of those records that I could put on at any time when not much else sounded good. When it came out in 2010, it sort of snuck up on me – just constantly being pleasant and not world-changing. The way that Caitlin’s voice was just breezy enough to differentiate her from the thousands of other Nashville-ites, but not quite so poppy that she was Regina Spektor. She had a twang in that voice, a knack for songwriting and the song structure itself was just – good. And on “The Stand-In” everything is improved. She’s writing biting songs, love songs, pop songs, classic country songs and although her voice gets a little too close to Zooey Deschanel status on this record, she has the ability to make it still sound country enough that it almost feels like country, but at the same time, it has this Fleetwood Mac, earthy pop quality to it. I don’t know. I can hardly explain it, it’s just great to me.

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To DieGhostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons To Die
(April 22) (Wax Poetic)

Adrian Younge gets a lot of flack from me because his production to this point has been almost TOO akin to Ennio Morricone, but for his collaboration with the always entertaining Ghostface, it works entirely too well. The album on a whole, a concept album that reads like a mob movie has been getting subpar reviews for a Ghostface album, but for me, putting Ghost into this box, teamed with someone that has vision like Younge is perfect – and gives us one of the best Wu-related albums in quite some time. The story is engrossing to me, like I’m waiting for a Tarrantino/RZA movie to come out alongside it. Fuck the DeLuca’s you know? But it’s great, it sounds vintage, Ghost is spitting some angry bars, some that just serve the story, and a lot of the guest spots are fantastic. A Wu-Tang album that brings visuals to your mind more like a 1970’s inner-city crime movie shot by Sergio Leone rather than than a samurai film? Yeah, I’m ok with that.

The Holydrug Couple - NoctuaryThe Holydrug Couple – Noctuary
(January 22) (Sacred Bones)

If you’ve been following me for a long time (you haven’t), you might remember I included Chilean psych-band The Holydrug Couple’s self-released debut EP on one of my 1/4 year lists last year. Their brand of dreamy psychedelics really strikes something in mean, so it was awesome to see them signed to one of my favorite independent labels – Sacred Bones this year. Their sound is more filled out, still on the dreamy side, where the guitars ring out and then reverberate song after song. It’s hard to understand most of the lyrics, as they are also full of echo effects and mainly work as another instrument, but it’s not hard to listen to “Noctuary” and think about earlier Dungen releases or a less pop-oriented Tame Impala, even. Songs can alternate long and short, but it all basically sounds a bit like a psych trip on the beach. Sunny days are perfect for this record, and it’s one of my favorite psych records I’ve heard in awhile.

Iceage – You’re Nothing
(February 19) (Matador)

To me, this is one of the most exciting new punk releases I’ve heard in years. The first Iceage album showed a band that wanted to blend hardcore punk, lots and lots of noise and some interesting post-punk arrangements, but man “You’re Nothing” blows that record out of the water. The band is tighter, the arrangements are more varied, the recording quality is ear-splittingly good. The vocals are strained, change tempo at the drop of a hat, and the band is smart enough to mix it up with some interludes, and instrumentals that don’t sound like anything else on the record. It’s almost like a new era Husker Du album, and that is a very very good thing. I’ve gotten pretty into punk and indie rock again this year, for the first time in maybe almost 4-5 years and this record is the reason why.

Kacey Musgraves – Same Tailer Different Park
(March 19) (Mercury Nashville)

Kacey’s breakthrough single “Merry Go Round” was one of my very favorite songs of 2012, and still gets me goin today. Though last year was already destined to be a year for me dominated by Americana and country music, there was something about that song that really connected with me – almost forced me to really take notice of everything else that was happening in the wide world of twangy guitars and twangy voices. The hype surrounding her second album basically was in the vein of “the woman who will save country music” – which of course she could not live up to, but what she has put out with this album is one of melodies and hooks that are hard to beat. It’s a mix of singer/songwriter oriented pop music and some smirk-ridden, smartass country. Her lyrics are great most of the time, but the melodies of the songs are really what get me. It reminds me of the best moments of The Dixie Chicks, songs that just stick in your head for days and days. I came into 2013 with this record basically being my most anticipated record, and it might just well be my favorite so far.

The Night Marchers – Allez! Allez!
(January 22) (Swami)
It has been way too long since I last got myself lost in the wonderful world of the Rocket From The Crypt band members. As the pre-eminent American dudes who just can’t stop rocking, no matter what band they are in (Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, The Sultans, Obits, etc.), they just always bring the perfect mix of classic punk rock, excellent attention to detail and have a knack for melodies (and choruses) that just can’t be beat. And this new Night Marchers record is full of awesomely shouted, dumb lyrics and music that really…swings. Yeah, it’s like Thin Lizzy filtered through Henry Rollins, but drinking a bunch of shitty beer. And while Reis’ voice was initially putting me off on this release, I have since listened to it a whole lot. The Ric Flair “woos!”, the grit of his voice, it’s just perfect. This is not introspective punk rock, this is rolling down your windows, playing at full volume and grabbing a taco on the road punk rock. Forget it, I’m going to the beach.

Purling Hiss – Water On Mars
(March 18) (Drag City)

I couldn’t get into the early Purling Hiss albums at all, there was just too much noise, too much distortion. It was a during a time when I was starting to be all anti lo-fi, something I had been heavily into when it reared it’s head a few years ago. But when I first heard this record early on in March, I was in the midst of lots of manual labor at my job, and there was something about blasting this record that just seemed right. It’s a perfect amalgamation of 1990s grunge/punk. A mixture of lo-fi and hi-fi sounds, audible and inaudible lyrics. Tracks can rock hard, can have a more poppy or peppy vibe (“Mercury Retrograde”), or can even be a bit slower (“Dead Again” / “She Calms Me Down”). It just sounds like a bunch of cool dudes from 20 years ago making music that sounds a lot like the music they were listening to as teenagers. While Ty Segall and the In The Red bands keep going louder and almost angrier, this just sounds cool and calm. It’s like the grunge era all over again, and it’s great.

Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt – Night
(March 18) (Sony Classical)

What happens when you take one of my favorite country/folk singers and team her up with one of the most impressive young classical pianists for a song cycle about the night time? Well – it could have been awful, but instead, it is fantastic. It doesn’t come off like a country or folk album, it doesn’t come off like a classical album, it comes off like a great traditional vocal album, minimally arranged and just floating in the ether of night. Not every track works perfectly, but the tracks together make a complete whole, and that itself is pretty impressive. Whether Tift is singing her own songs, Patty Griffin songs, traditional pop songs or even Henry Purcell, it all fits together and has been my de facto album to put on before bed this year. Beautiful and even makes songs that have been performed a million times like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “I Can See Clearly Now” sound fresh and bright. But for me, the crowning achievement of the record is Tift’s own reworking of “Still Not Home” – the opening track from her last album, it just makes sense in it’s placement and its new arrangement.

Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain
(June 11) (High Top Mountain)

Sturgill Simpson’s record High Top Mountain is so good, that it’s the first record since Miguel’s last year that I actually pre-ordered. Even though the album hasn’t come out yet, I’ve been listening to it for a few weeks, via a download from his Bandcamp page, and man it is THE country record we’ve been waiting for. It sounds like country music, so if that isn’t your thing, then get outta here, but if what you think is country music is like Sugarland, Jason Aldean, and whatever else, then you shouldn’t have an opinion anyway. It’s not OOH LOOK AT ME IM SO BADASS alternative country either, which I love. No, it’s like a straight up traditional Nashville record, done the way the man wants to do it, and it’s entirely too good. I hope this finds an audience, I hope this helps right the ship that is mainstream country music (it won’t), but like Musgraves, like Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert, like Vince Gill, it just might strike some people as something special, something worth taking a look at. God damn, what a record.

William Tyler – Impossible Truth
(March 19) (Merge)

I’ll come out and say it right now: when the year ends, this might very well end up as my favorite record of the year. It might not, but hear me out – I think this might be the most fully realized, and probably BEST non-Fahey and non-Basho instrumental guitar based record ever. Yeah that’s saying a lot, an awful lot, even considering how much I loved Jack Rose and the various music he was making – but this record, it’s ties to the forgotten American landscape, it’s variation of sounds, from lonesome country whines, to electric guitar, to bluegrass, to manipulated horns and everything else, this record just makes me want to GO. To go do the things I have wished to do, to learn to play guitar, to get the fuck out of everywhere and spend life on an old Harley or Honda or sleep outside without a tent, binging on stale donuts and staler coffee. And while that sounds awful even as I write it, it’s impossibly romantic, just as this record is.

Willie Nelson & Family – Let’s Face The Music and Dance
(March 5) (Sony Legacy)

I hated this record initially. I couldn’t even get through it, disgraced it as another late period Willie Nelson album that just seemed half-baked, which is hard since Willie is one of my top dudes of all time. But after dismissing it initially, I gave it another listen almost a month later, just out of curiosity, and it clicked. And it hasn’t stopped clicking since. It’s Willie and The Family Band doing mostly traditional tracks again (Irving Berlin, Django, etc) and has some sloppy playing by the man himself (and boy is he ever starting to actually SOUND 80 years old), but it’s just smooth and it’s pretty and it’s so endearing to hear this man playing the music he truly loves, those are the records of his that are the best now. It’s more jazz than country, sure, but hell, at this point he’s almost put out as many of those style records as not – and it’s working. Hope the dude as another 80 years left in him.

Yo La Tengo – Fade
(January 14) (Matador)

At this point, it’s hard to not consider Yo La Tengo one of the best bands ever. Even records that don’t connect with me initially always seem to win me over, and I have only been listening to the band for a few years, but these few years have been Yo La Tengo heavy and 13 albums deep – yeah, they are one of the best ever. For me, the best Yo La Tengo albums are probably the more guitar-heavy ones, as Ira’s guitar tones are some of my very favorite ever, love the way he distorts. The records that are more jammy, more whispered are definitely more fully realized, and can evoke certain imagery, but don’t usually get the listens from me as those ones that rock. “Fade” is definitely in that dreamy sphere, keeping it mid-tempo throughout and sounding dense like a Tortoise record almost. It’s most akin to “Summer Sun”, but still not really anything like it. I had this realization about two-three weeks ago when the sun first popped its head out for spring that this is the new essential spring morning record. It’s spaced out, but smooth. Trippy, without having to go to for overly long songs. It’s Yo La Tengo proving how capable they are at making music that’s worth listening to, almost on autopilot. And man, if you listen on headphones, it’s like a whole new world around here.