Last Year (Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party)

Posts to this official Greater Listening Area full site were next to non-existent this past year, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening. Through the miracle of modern streaming I had the chance to listen to over 275 new albums and EPs from 2015. (Don’t worry, though, as my new vinyl collection grew substantially this past year with the best of the best releases.) Individual tracks were highlighted throughout the year at our Facebook page because sometimes you just have to get the music to the people on the fly.

These are my 20 favorite new releases from 2015:

1) Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs (Drag City)

2) Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit… (Mom + Pop)

3) Biters – Electric Blood (Earache)

4) Wreckless Eric – AmERICa (Fire)

5) Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)

6) Bill Fay – Who Is the Sender? (Dead Oceans)

7) Simon Joyner – Grass, Branch and Bone (Woodsist)

8) Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (Drag City)

9) Gun Oufit – Dream All Over (Paradise of Bachelors)

10) Zane Campbell – Zane Campbell (Emperor Records)

11) The Cairo Gang – Goes Missing (God?)

12) Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon (True Panther Sounds)

13) Promised Land Sound – For Use and Delight (Paradise of Bachelors)

14) Saun & Starr – Look Closer (Daptone)

15) Ryley Walker – Primrose Green (Dead Oceans)

16) Vetiver – Complete Strangers (Easy Sound Recording Co.)

17) Howlin’ Rain – Mansion Songs (Easy Sound Recording Co.)

18) Dungen – Allas Sak (Mexican Summer)

19) John Krautner – Fun With Gum Vol.1 (Burger)

20) GospelbeacH – Pacific Surf Line (Alive Naturalsound)

Note/Public Service Announcement (updated for 2015): The Greater Listening Area believes that one would be out of their mind to not take advantage of the available streaming services and the ability to listen to almost anything and everything one’s little ears might desire (unless it’s on the Drag City label or by Adele). With that said, it’s no secret that recording artists and songwriters don’t get fairly compensated in this modern music biz model. It’s my belief that one should pay into the stream with a premium subscription, and we should all be mindful of the importance of purchasing physical or digital recordings and other artist merchandise and getting out to live shows.  Better yet, we should purchase music at a show from the artist, through a label’s website or at your local independent record store.  Finally, when you hear something that deserves it, share it with your friends and readers from your various social media platforms. 

Happy New Year and here’s to uncovering the Top 20+ of 2016.

Box Full of Letters

The remarkable entity that is the band Wilco really knows how to celebrate an anniversary. Their debut album, A.M., turned twenty years old this past Spring, but their commemoration of two decades as a group really began late last year with a “best of” compilation and a boxed set of rarities. 2015 has brought a coffee table book of show posters, a film celebrating Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival and then the triumphant return of the festival itself. Oh yeah…and Jeff Tweedy and Co. seem to be on the road touring all the time. (You can of course check out all this stuff and make purchases at Wilcoworld.net.) If all that wasn’t enough for us already, July happened. On the evening of Thursday the 16th came the announcement of a surprise album, STAR WARS, which is still currently available as a free download. The following night Wilco performed the new material in i’s entirety and more as a headliner of the Pitchfork Festival in their hometown of Chicago. It was their week, and it turned out to be their month.
 wilco-star-wars
Through the wonder of Twitter, I read about the surprise release of STAR WARS that night and immediately provided my e-mail address for the download. After a short delay I was soaking it up on my screened-in porch.  As with most of the group’s 21st Century output, the more that you listen, the more you will unpack and the more you will be rewarded. It struck me on this occasion, though, how few bands have remained relevant for two decades or more. Sure the Wilco line-up has changed through the years, but that makes it even more amazing that folks still care what the band is up to. Yo La Tengo might be the only other band that has endured continuously for twenty-plus years and remained really relevant in my book. Sure there are bands that I love that have been around that long — Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr. and The Cynics come to mind if you overlook some hiatuses  — but their post-heyday catalogs don’t have me reaching for their respective shelves in the collection all that often. There are bands with the longevity out there, but I am thinking of artists that have had consistently great output and keep us anxiously waiting to hear just what they’ll do next.
Wilco A.M.Wilco’s evolution has been well documented in print and on film so that’s not really what we’re here for.  Of course this wouldn’t be a Greater Listening Area post unless we made it about me and how the music intersected with my experience. Wilco’s A.M. album being released just over twenty years ago is significant as I consider it the subject of my first published record review. That is, the first in a publication that I did not print by myself at Kinko’s.
The June 1995 issue of MOO Magazine out of Columbus, Ohio was where you could find it. My ramblings ran as part of a point-counterpoint feature that would kick off the review section each month.  In this case I provided the “thumbs-up:”
IMG_0197
Except for that last sentence which comes off as a bit of a cliché, I think it holds up pretty well. This particular review was a submission of my own because I was excited that a member of Uncle Tupelo was putting out new music, but I was assigned a few things for the issue as well. An LP from East River Pipe, a compilation from Tsunami and a 7″ single from the Smoothies were all part of my MOO debut.
MOO June 1995

Hi-Five (Plus Five + Five + Five + Five): My Favorite New Albums of 2014

2014 was yet another stellar year for new music, but then again aren’t they all?  The good stuff has always been out there. It just takes some digging to find the records that might be worthy of your time.  This year I listened to over 225 new albums and EPs. These are the 25 titles that rose to the top (Artist /Title /Record Label):

1) Wussy – Attica! (Shake It Records)

2) Reigning Sound – Shattered (Merge Records)

3) Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)

4) Sweet Apple – The Golden Age of Glitter (Teepee Records)

5) Ex Hex – Rips (Merge Records)

6) Withered Hand – New Gods (Slumberland Records)

7) Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain)

8) Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son (Secretly Canadian)

9) Pure X – Angel (Fat Possum Records)

10) Sonny Knight & The Lakers – I’m Still Here (Secret Stash)

11) Pink Mountaintops – Get Back (Jagjaguwar)

12) Ryley Walker – All Kinds of You (Tompkins Square)

13) The Fauntleroys – Below The Pink Pony EP (Plowboy)

14) Allah-Las – Worship the Sun (Innovative Leisure)

15) Paul Collins – Feel The Noise (Alive)

16) Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers (Merge Records)

17) Nude Beach – 77 (Don Giovanni)

18) Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else (Bloodshot Records)

19) Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)

20) Twin Peaks – Wild Onion (Grand Jury Music)

21) Natural Child – Dancin’ With Wolves (Burger Records)

22) Warm Soda – Young Reckless Hearts (Castle Face)

23) Sylvie Simmons – Sylvie (Light In the Attic)

24) Beck – Morning Phase (Capitol)

25) Budos Band – Burnt Offering (Daptone Records)

Note/Public Service Announcement: The Greater Listening Area believes that one would be out of their mind to not take advantage of the available streaming services and the ability to listen to almost anything and everything one’s little ears might desire (unless it’s on the Drag City label or by Taylor Swift). It’s also our belief that one should pay into the stream with a premium subscription, and we should all be mindful of the importance of purchasing physical or digital recordings and other artist merchandise and getting out to live shows.  Better yet, we should purchase music at a show from the artist, through a label’s website or at your local independent record store.  Finally, when you hear something that deserves it, share it with your friends and readers from your various social media platforms. 

Happy New Year and here’s to uncovering the Top 25+ of 2015.

Bang The Drum

 

I recently uncovered a copy of the final installment of my little zine that surfaced sporadically from 1990-1994. We happen to be just a few weeks beyond the 20 year anniversary of when I served that final batch of The Stew.

This is the “epilogue” that put a coda on that endeavor:

Well, there you have it folks. The last trickle of The Stew is running down your chin. I hope that you garnered some enjoyment out of this erratic series. I hope that at the least you were intrigued by our rantings and musings. Hopefully we were able to coax you out to see a show or listen to a CD. Maybe you were appalled by our head-over-heels pursuit of the “Rock moment.” Maybe you had a good laugh. The important thing is that you felt something.

The Stew, however rare in its actual fruition, was a labor of love. Not the love of struggling for words or a love of late nights at copy shops, but a love of the music and subjects that were documented. Whether or not The Stew fell on deaf ears or was even understood did not always matter. At the very least, personal experiences were documented.

Ah yes, the head-over-heels pursuit of the rock moment, this is what powered these pages. THE MOMENT. That moment when a band kind of makes you grit your teeth and smile at the same time, and you think “this is IT. “It” is something that is felt and is nearly impossible to convey on the printed page no matter how hard this was attempted.

Punk rock. Indie Rock. The labels do not matter, but if you get it… “It” can change your life.  Maybe for you it was seeing The Clash, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Sebadoh or Bikini Kill. For me it was these moments and several in between that prompted a serious gut check. The Stew was about defining those moments and urging others to search out their own.  So keep taking a chance. You may see people and things differently or at least experience some great music.”

                                                                           Yours in concluding sappiness,                            

                                                                           M.R. Sumser

Looking back at the shortlist of life-altering rock shows that I rattled off there, it should be pointed out that while I did see The Clash in 1984, it was the short-lived Mick Jones-less band that recorded and toured behind the CUT THE CRAP album in 1984. The happening was still a pretty “Punk Rock” moment for four teens from Stark County as a mohawked Joe Strummer led the band through an opening rendition of London Calling and then promptly proceeded to send his guitar bouncing off  the floor to stage right. This was the first time my cohorts and I witnessed slam dancing (which began on the floor of Cleveland’s Public Hall even while the local reggae band First Light opened the evening). This era of The Clash is just a footnote to most, but it was the late Joe Strummer, and wouldn’t we be thrilled to see him now backed by anybody?  

I haven’t compared the excerpt above to my initial ramblings on this site, but I don’t think the passing of a couple of decades has done much to diminish my earnest approach to devouring music and pursuing those rock and roll moments.

I Love My Label

Nick Lowe accidentally became the Patron Saint of our trip to North Carolina for Merge XX in 2009. We were heading down to celebrate the Merge label’s 20th anniversary for four days and nights of live music, and the closest connection that could be made between Lowe and Merge at the time was that he was recording for the neighboring Chapel Hill-based imprint Yep Roc. I had brought along a couple of recent CD reissues for the ride down, and after hipping my fellow traveler (We’ll call him Rick.) to the wonders of COLD FACT by Rodriguez, we popped the deluxe reissue of Lowe’s JESUS OF COOL into the player. When I Love My Label, Lowe’s mostly sarcastic ode to Stiff Records came on as a bonus track, we pondered aloud how great it would be if one of Merge’s bands would cover that classic during the fest. Sure enough the amazing (and now sadly missing) band Oakley Hall did perform a heartfelt rendition and credited Saint Nick. The capper was when, I heard  Cruel To Be Kind overhead in the Food Lion, forever linking Nick Lowe to the trip.

 

 

Southern Nights

A couple of friends and I drove south this week for Merge 25, a four-day celebration of the Merge Records silver anniversary. For the fourth time we’re immersing ourselves in North Carolina’s Research Triangle (or more specifically its small-town neighbor, Carrboro) to toast the record label that has meant more to us than any other since 1989.

It’s been said that there’s something in the water in places like Chapel Hill and Athens, GA, that fuels the spirit and leads to fertile underground music scenes. For me there’s just something about heading south PERIOD.  Sure it’s hot and more humid, but I like it when shade is valued and ceiling fans become indispensable. I get a feeling, a vibe, from certain locales to the south — the places where you can feel your hair getting a little messier, your cut-offs getting a little more frayed, and the beer getting a little colder. It’s The Flat Duo Jets. It’s The Rock*A*Teens. It’s the Elephant 6 Collective. It’s Superchunk.

I think I first felt it in a little burg called College Corner in southwest Ohio. It felt like a frontier at the edge of my buttoned-up college town.  It was there at the Southgate House in Newport, KY. I’ve felt it in The Triangle, Richmond, Hampton Roads, and at a little treasure of a place called Mex-Econo in Kill Devil Hills. It was heavy in Austin, and I know it will be there someday when I get to Memphis, New Orleans, and Athens.

I have felt it as far north as Columbus, OH, where one of these same buddies (We’ll call him Rick) and I went to see Superchunk, Merge’s flagship band, play with Cowtown faves Scrawl almost exactly twenty years ago. That road trip expanded to two nights and included a Mekons show at Stache’s and an afternoon hanging out at the annual Boho-gathering Comfest.  Heck, that trip gave me one of the final pushes to relocate there a couple months later.

OK. So I acknowledge that this whole feeling may not be defined by a place’s geographic relationship to the Mason-Dixon line. It also has to do with hitting the open road and usually involves a journey to a live music event and a temporary freedom from the daily grind. The fact is, too, when you’ve spent the larger part of your life in close proximity to Lake Erie — and what many around here call The North Coast — that journey has to almost always start by heading south.

Of course, one could head east to NYC or west toward Detroit or Chicago. I drive south.  It just feels right.

My Impression Now

I have long sung the praises of the month of March. The promise of the impending Spring and baseball seasons, the widely distributed Girl Scout cookies, and yes, the pull of those brackets all contribute to the month running a close second to Rocktober. It’s the musical climate, though, that has really made the month in recent years.
As the calendar flips to March, the floodgates open for new releases. Bands and labels of the indie variety set a course for the South By Southwest Festival. Even if you’re like me and can’t make the trip to Austin, podcasts, webcasts and social media bring you the build-up, the highlights, and the aftermath. You can practically hear the buzz and smell the barbecue all the way up here in Ohio. Here’s a six pack of artists that made a serious impact on me this month who also happened to play SXSW:

As a kid I would read “Strange But True Baseball Stories.” Now I listen to The Baseball Project. Their new album “Third” is out now on Yep Roc. They get better with every release. Happy Opening Day!

Ex Hex is the latest outfit from Mary Timony who’s best known for her work in the nineties band Helium. She most recently brought a cool 1970’s rock sensibility to the band Wild Flag, and that carries over here. (From my snowy environs in NE Ohio, I caught a webcast of an Ex Hex set at Waterloo Records in Austin, and they even covered Johnny Thunders.) They are signed to Merge Records, and their debut 7″ just hit the racks.

Why wouldn’t I like the post-punk band Protomartyr? Some have observed that their vocalist, Joe Casey, appears somewhat older than his Detroit bandmates and doesn’t resemble your average indie circuit musician. We have a fine tradition of unlikely frontmen here in Ohio as well (Robert Pollard, Ron House, Jim Shepard, David Thomas), and Casey’s vocal style and world outlook are welcome. Protomartyr’s next longplayer, Under Color of Official Right, is due out 4/8 on the Hardly Art label.

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness out now on the Jagjaguar label.

Natural Child – Dancin’ With Wolves out now on Burger Records

Withered Hand‘s “Black Tambourine” might be the perfect pop song: Jingle-jangle verses, tasteful backing vocals, a soaring chorus, a mini-bridge that soars even higher, a distorted guitar solo, lyrics about loneliness, a lingering organ outro and yes… tambourine. The astonishingly good LP “New Gods” is available now on Slumberland Records. .

See It My Way: My Top 25 LP’s of 2013

2013 was bursting with great new music from beginning to end. Due to the wonders of modern access, headphones at the day job, and a long commute,  I spent time with upwards of 175 releases this year including reissues.  These were my 25 favorite new albums of the rock & roll sort that emerged from the heap (Artist /Title /Record Label):

1) Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge Records)

2) Mikal Cronin – MCII (Merge)

3) Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar)

4) Califone – Stitches (Dead Oceans)

5) Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw (Paradise of Bachelors)

6) John Murry – The Graceless Age (Evangeline Recording)

7) Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You  (Anti)

8) Charles Bradley – Victim Of Love (Daptone)

9) The Julie Ruin – Run Fast (The Julie Ruin Records)

10) Lee Ranaldo & The Dust – Last Night On Earth (Matador)

11) Sonny & The Sunsets – Antenna To The Afterworld (Polyvinyl)

12) Adam Green & Binki Shapiro – Adam Green & Binki Shapiro (Rounder)

13) Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)

Top 11-25

14) Yo La Tengo – Fade (Matador)

15) Holydrug Couple – Noctuary (Sacred Bones)

16) Phosphorescent – Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

17) Jacco Gardner – Cabinet of Curiosities (Trouble In Mind)

18) Barrence Whitfield and the Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot Records)

19) Chris Forsyth – Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors)

20) La La Brooks – All or Nothing (Norton Records)

21) Steve Gunn – Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors)

22) Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl)

23) Wooden Shjips – Back To Land (Thrill Jockey)

24) Promised Land Sound – Promised Land Sound (Paradise of Bachelors)

25) King Khan & The Shrines – Idle No More (Merge)

After everything shook out, it was interesting to see how the labels fared.  North Carolina labels registered almost a third of the spots and “the majors” really weren’t anywhere to be found.  The tops: Paradise of Bachelors (4), Merge (3), Matador (3), Dead Oceans (2), Polyvinyl (2)

These hits and other Greater Listens will be spotlighted daily over at the Greater Listening Area’s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/TheGreaterListeningArea

Visit us there for the Now Sounds and a few surprises on Wayback Wednesdays as well.

Note/Public Service Announcement: The Greater Listening Area believes that advance listens and streaming are wonderful things, but that we should all be mindful of the importance of purchasing physical or digital recordings and other merchandise and getting out to live shows.  Better yet, we should purchase music at a show from the artist, through a label’s website or at your local independent record store.  Finally, when you hear something that deserves it, share it with your friends and “Shout it Out” from your own social media platforms. 

Happy New Year and here’s to finding the Top 25 of 2014.

Down In The Bowery: Soaking Up CBGB

CBGB, the movie, is available tomorrow on DVD.  I haven’t read/heard anything positive about the film set around the famed NYC music venue.  Apparently it displays such outright atrocities for fans of the early punk rock scene as a depiction of Patti Smith performing “Because The Night” at her club debut. (Of course that song would not emerge until a couple of years later.) One would think that the music history aspect would have been the easy part to get right.  Negative buzz aside, the temptation to see portrayals of folks like Cheetah Chrome, Stiv Bators and Genya Ravan is just too much for me.  I am currently 14th out of 102 on the “holds” list through my county library system.

Just over twenty years ago, I made my one and only pilgrimage to this legendary dive in the Bowery.  It was my last night in NYC for the New Music Seminar, an adventure that has surfaced on this site before (and probably will again).  Here’s my brief description about my visit to CB’s as originally shared in The Stew:

We would be closing out the week at the venerable punk rock club CBGB on Bleecker Street. Everything that we had heard about the famous “hole-in-the-wall” was true.  The club was soon celebrating its 2oth anniversary, and the original dust was still on the baseball pennants behind the bar.  The bathrooms are literally backstage, and nobody pays any mind to modern concert trappings like security.  I was just happy to hang out in the hallowed hall that was the old stomping grounds of The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Richard Hell.  I was nearly starstruck too as Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth brushed by my barstool on their way out.

CBGB

“Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers”
The famed CBGB awning now hangs in the lower level of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Unfortunately the performances on stage that night were not as memorable as the mystique of the room. The bill was made up of bands from the Caroline label.  We learned that St. Johnny was average, the Action Swingers have a bad attitude, and Paula Kelley from Hot Rod is not afraid to display affection publicly.  Walt Mink, who most everyone was there to see, played at a chest-vibrating volume level that easily surpassed The Fluid as the loudest band that I have ever heard.  (This also confirmed reports that the club’s regular soundman is already deaf and would like to inflict that disability on others.)  Richmond’s Fudge closed out the night, but by this time it was anticlimactic. The next day we were to head back west.

Sure that’s just a memory snapshot and just one segment of an article about a jam-packed week of live music, and I am sure that I figured I would return to the venue many more times.  I can still picture those small dusty baseball pennants on the wall including one featuring the Washington Senators, a team that hadn’t existed for over twenty years. Most of all, though, I think one never forgets the bathrooms, scuzz monuments which are well documented elsewhere.  It will be interesting to see if my recollection of the long, claustrophobia-inducing room with the big sound matches up at all with the setting of the film.  CBGB was shuttered for good in October 2006.