Ear Whacks Vol. 4 Issue 1
It’s been quite a while since I’ve published this list so it will include more artists. Here’s what music has been tickling my ears for the 18 months or so.
Wolf Parade. I’m a big fan. Have been for a while. They released Cry Cry Cry last year. It was their first LP in 7 years. It’s a really solid offering.
Mekons. I started listening to Mekons about this time last year. I stumbled across them in college, passively listened to them around 2002, and then forgot about their immense catalog. How immense? Well, they’ve been putting out music, consistently, since 1985’s Fear and Whiskey. Each release since has stood on its own. Mekons are one of those giants in music that everyone should know about. Sadly, they’re not as well known as they should be.
When I was 18, I dug into my dad’s record collection and listened to Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: As Bold as Love. I thought it was one of the most incredible things I had ever heard. I still think this album is timeless. One of the things that I can’t get over is that "Little Wing" is so short. If there was any justice in this world, that track would be 25 minutes. Minimum. I’m prepared to go on the record here and say that I think Jimi Hendrix was good. #courage
Patti Smith. I’m definitely a latecomer to Patti Smith’s work. That’s regrettable. Early Patti Smith is truly phenomenal.
Face to Face. One of my favorite Punk bands. Another group whose catalog extends over a large period of time and is solid, start to finish. One of my favorites of theirs is their cover album, Standards and Practices.
Dexter Gordon. I stumbled on Dexter Gordon about six or seven months ago. Gordon was a jazz saxophone musician who recorded for the better part of 4 decades. Releases I really like include Tower of Power (’69), Our Man in Paris (’63), and Tangerine (’75).
Neurosis is another band I’ve started to listen to more and more lately. I feel like I must not have given them my full ear when I came across them in the past. They’ve got an incredibly comprehensive and solid catalog. While the industry has changed, and the metal scene has morphed (in some ways good, in others, bad), Neurosis has consistently made quality music.
The first Lush LP I really embraced was 1996’s Lovelife. I still think that album is a borderline masterpiece. 1994’s Split is a great release as well. It contains some of the best shoe gaze music from any area but it’s also just a timeless work that everyone should listen to at least once. …and if we’re naming names here, the track “Never-Never” is some of the best shoe gaze you’ll ever hear.
:Of The Wand and The Moon’s The Lone Descent is one of the more interesting LPs I’ve come across in the last many years. The dark, looming, Neo-folk (I’m struggling with descriptions so bear with me) is the product of Dane - of course, he’s Danish - Kim Larsen. The entire LP is packed with great individual tracks but I think it’s best enjoyed as a complete work.
Mastodon put out Emperor of Sand 18 months ago or so. I felt like I needed to be cautious with my expectations; I’ve been hurt before. What we’re all thinking here is, “Man, there’s no way this band can continue to churn out this great content. A turd is around the corner.” That’s possible. Emperor of Sand isn’t it though.
I realize there may be a few cranks out there that don’t like the harmonies and some of the other effects that were mixed into the tracks. I hear you but I just don’t agree. I also acknowledge the sound and approach Brendon O’Brien brings may grind the gears of some metal purists. Again, I respectfully disagree. What I hear in Emperor of Sand is a band that is evolving while not abandoning its roots. But if, for some reason, you wish every album of theirs could sound like 2002’s Remission, there are plenty of other bands out there with that sound. Mastodon isn’t one of them.
Roxy Music. My first record - and I mean a vinyl record - of Roxy Music’s was Siren (1975). I found it by accident at a record store in Chicago in 1995. I was struck by how raw and unique it was back then. …and 1995’s signature sound was raw and unique (or I should say, attempting to be unique). I’ve heard people describe Roxy Music as the second-best British rock band or one of the most important rock bands ever. They were truly great.
A number of years ago, they released a box set inclusive of all of their LPs. It was only then that I realized just how amazing they were, for how long, and how impactful they were on the industry.
Thelonius Monk needs no introduction and one certainly doesn’t need or want me to explain his greatness. A few releases that I enjoy - and thus, I think would be good starts - are 1967’s Straight, No Chaser, 1956’s The Unique Thelonious Monk, and 1957’s Brilliant Corners.
Arctic Monkeys. I’ve been an Arctic Monkey’s fan for a long time. With the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, they took a left turn like few other bands have taken. Arctic Monkeys have been a pretty straightforward rock band since their inception. I wouldn’t describe anything they’ve ever released as being inaccessible to fans and casual Rock listeners alike. But TBHC is highly unique and esoteric; it sounds nothing like any Arctic Monkeys release to date. So is it good? Yes. I love it. Did I love it right away? No. Like almost everyone else, it took me about 10 listens to even begin to have any kind of appreciation for it. …and I totally understand how the passive listeners out there will listen once or twice and bounce. TBHC isn’t made for those listeners.
Dimmu Borgir is a metal band from Scandinavia. After the shock of reading that wears off, know that they’re a more symphonic, over-the-top, big production Metal band. The concept of what they’re doing is really fascinating and I strongly feel the niche they are filling needs to be filled. In my opinion, much of what they’ve done recently falls a bit flat. Their music isn’t for everyone but if you’d like to sample what they do, perhaps start with 1997’s Enthrone Darkness Triumphant.
Car Seat Headrest. A few years ago, Spotify recommended the track, “Something Soon” from 2015’s Teens of Style. The track was pure perfection from a truly wonderful LP. It was the first track I ever heard from Will Toledo’s band. I became an instant fan. CSH re-recorded and re-released 2011’s Twin Fantasy last summer. I’m fascinated by the concept alone of re-recording and then re-releasing an album. I’m not sure I can remember that ever being done. …and keeping with standard practice, the LP is great.
Beach House. Beach House released their seventh full-length, 7, in May. I’ve long been a fan of Beach House and this record delivers exactly what fans like me have come to expect. 7 has Beach House dabbling with higher-tempo tracks and different sound mixtures. I’m not sure it’s my favorite but that’s a pretty high mark.
Django Django. I’m a big fan of Django Django and I have been for about 8 plus years. They’re one of those bands, like Interpol, that I seem to like no matter what. I think their sound and vibe are unique and I think they have a special place in modern music. With Marble Skies, they deliver another solid LP with all songs, from start to finish, being strong. The one track that REALLY stands out is track #2, Surface to Air, featuring Rebecca Taylor. Listen for yourself. It’s like few - if any - other Django Django tracks.
Hank Mobley was a jazz saxophonist who recorded and released music for the better part of 3 decades. His style is sometimes referred to as “hard bop.” I highly recommend his entire catalog and suggest perhaps starting with 1965’s A Caddy For Daddy.
Pink Floyd. There came a point last summer when I asked myself, “Self, have you actually listened to all of Pink Floyd’s earlier stuff; start to finish?” Granted, I own The Piper at the Gates of Dawn on vinyl and CD but there were three LPs that I wasn’t as familiar with that I was honestly blown away by: 1970’s Atom Heart Mother, 1971’s, Meddle, and 1972’s Obscured by Clouds.
Interpol. I’ve always been an Interpol fan. I always will be. Marauder - their sixth - isn’t my favorite. What concerns me the most is that when El Pintor was released, I listened to it for about 2 or 3 weeks. Marauder was a few days. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Back when I was in grade school, everyone liked Michael Jackson. I didn’t. I loved Prince. For me, Prince was, right to the end of his life, much more interesting. He was more dynamic, bolder, more independent; he pushed himself and music. We’re all better for it. ….Piano & A Microphone 1983 reminds me, yet again, why I love Prince’s music. At its core, there’s just a man and his music. This sounds trite. Simplistic. I get it. But the guy that performed on TV in assless chaps in 1991 was also the same artist that could produce simple, stripped-down, peaceful yet powerful music. He was an amazing musician. Piano & A Microphone 1983 gives us a glimpse into his music at its most raw, basic, and elemental levels. It’s a stirring, human experience.
Alice in Chains. For a long time now, I’ve treated nostalgia as a pernicious comfort. Nostalgia scares the hell out of me. I’m especially guarded when talking about music, from turning into “that guy” that listens to only to the music from his high school or college years. Much like Home Simpson in this clip. So it was with real reluctance that I listened to AIC (the Staley years) again recently. What stunned me was first, how timeless it was. There were no gimmicks, no over-produced nonsense. It was - and is - just classic; always relevant. And in my opinion, “relevance” is one of the highest compliments you can pay.
And yes, of course, there’s a flood of emotions starting with 1990’s Facelift and ending with 1995s self-titled. But that doesn’t change the fact that the music is there. The anger and isolation is there. The songwriting is there.
AIC was and is my favorite band from that era. Every note and every dark harmony reverberated through me. It still does. That doesn’t concern me anymore. Because AIC isn’t a grunge band from the ‘90s. They’re a rock and roll standard that represents the pinnacle of one particular style. And that style, the way they did it, is timeless.
I never really sunk my teeth into Ramones like I should have. They’re one of those standards that are always there. It’s like when you walk into a great hall. You see the pillars and you recognize their significance, but you don’t really take some of them in and focus on them; they’re there and the place is better for it. That’s all you need to know. In the halls of Rock, Ramones are one of those pillars.
Some months ago, I started listening to Ramones from 1976’s self-titled through the entire catalog. I won’t get into a critique of the entire catalogue but I’ve latched on to 1981’s Pleasant Dreams, 1977’s Rocket to Russia, and 1978’s Road to Ruin. (Also of note, Supergrass released their Road to Rouen in 2005; I’m a big fan).