Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Life got in the way, and I got myself a little behind – the sheer volume of good music released in March didn’t help either…
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – Tearing at the Seams – 12 songs / 46 minutes
These road warriors release an album that is even better than their breakthrough.
Son of a bitch – this album is good! A soul-filled romp with a garage-y, live production feel. This is the work of a pro, which is exactly what he is. Recently a friend of mine pointed out that this guy had been touring and playing live shows for years before he finally made it big, and that fact is clear in everything about their music. To say that all of the songs sound the same would be unfair, but these guys do have a style and they do not stray too far from it on this record. Fortunately, it is a sound that works really well for them, and one that they have mastered. There are lots of horns at just the right times, great beats that give much of the music a funky bend – oh and it rocks a little too. They are perfecting this mix of 60s/70s soul meets southern rock.
From start of “Shoe Boot”, this is evident. We hear roughly 90 seconds of music before Nathaniel gets started in his trademark drawl; this mostly instrumental track is very funky, indeed. “Be There” features a catchy handclap beat with horns galore and Nathaniel’s trademark growl, and the piano in the background reminds me of Blunderbuss-era Jack White. I dig it, in other words.
The two songs that include the gals from Lucius on backing vocals both work very well: “Babe I Know” and “Coolin’ Out”, while “Hey Mama” is a slower ballad that covers a conversation with his mother that concludes with him repeating that he has not tried hard enough or long enough to feel entitled to give up. I am quite sure this has been Nathaniel’s mantra over the last decade or more as he struggled to rise to the top.
The ironically titled “Intro” is not really an intro to anything, but in fact is a badass song on its own, a super-catchy jam on which Nathaniel wants someone to “tell me that you want me, tell me that you need me, tell me that you love me”, and features a terrific sax solo. Also, this song reminded me of something that I am going to put out there – sometimes I find Nathaniel to be nearly incomprehensible. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, its adds to the swampy swagger.
The mega-hit “You Worry Me” is probably my favorite song on the record, both musically and lyrically. Rock radio has been playing the shit out of it, so I guess those folks get it right occasionally. Do yourself a favor and turn off the radio before this song gets added to the long list of those ruined from being over-played. I won’t digress on this one as everyone has already heard it and it’s two-note guitar goodness, but there is a lyric here that I really enjoy: “I feel fine today, I had dreams of you in places I’ve not seen before”.
Key Tracks: “You Worry Me”, “Intro”, “Be There”
David Byrne – American Utopia – 10 sings / 37 minutes
One of my musical heroes continues to keep it weird on his latest solo venture, with mixed results.
David Byrne, the former mastermind of seminal art-rock band Talking Heads, has never been one to play it safe or keep it normal. If he had, there would be no “Once in a Lifetime”, “Love-> Building on Fire”, or “Psycho Killer”. Even as he advances into his last act as a songwriter and musician, he continues to keep it weird. Like another aging rocker who follows his own muse, my man Neil Young, this often comes with successes and failures, but it sure makes for a fun ride. This latest effort is no exception. We are treated to songs that talk of a wide range of subjects: donkeys, cockroaches, chickens, dogs, the Mona Lisa, the Pope, gasoline, heaven, and so much more.
Leadoff track “I Dance Like This” is true pop madness but does keep things interesting with its wild fluctuations between quiet verses accompanied by soothing piano and its abrasively loud techno-style pounding chorus. The lyrics may be a bit throw-away (“I dance like this, because it feels so damn good; if I could dance better, you know that I would”) but the music is sure worth the ride.
Do yourself a favor and listen to the bizarre and beautiful “Every Day Is a Miracle” – and do so with an open mind. The lyrics center around the brain of a chicken, complete with visions of a heaven full of roosters and plenty of corn, and allusions of God being an old wise rooster and his eggs being like Jesus. We are also informed that the Pope doesn’t mean shit to a dog, which I guess is a fair assumption. Again, some definite Byrne weirdness, but the music is absolutely amazing. The chorus line “every day is a miracle, every day is an unpaid bill” is a solid reminder to enjoy our own journeys, even if we are not as interesting as David is.
There is so much strange beauty here, including “It’s Not Dark Up Here” and “This is That”- but this album also has the prettiest song about a gunshot that I have ever heard. “Bullet” describes a man being shot but does so in such a whimsical and lovely way that it is a must-hear. “The bullet went into him, it went its merry way; like an old gray dog, on a fox’s trail”.
Listening to David’s solo work always makes me want to spin a Talking Heads record – which is not so much a commentary on the quality of his solo work, but rather a reminder of just how amazing his former band’s work was.
Key Tracks: “Every Day Is a Miracle”, “Bullet”, “I Dance Like This”
Nap Eyes – I’m Bad Now – 11 songs / 46 minutes
This is the best outing from these guys yet, and although it continues to feature some melancholy and monotone vocals, it works for them. There are more than a couple earworms here, and if you are not familiar with this band, this is a great place to start.
I’m Bad Now feels looser and more organic than their previous efforts, and it starts with the solid “Every Time the Feeling”, with it’s super catchy riffs and chorus line “I cant tell what’s worse, the meaninglessness or the negative meaning.” This is followed by “I’m Bad”, which feels like a Nap Eyes version of a tell-off in the vein of “Like A Rolling Stone”. A favorite lyric from the record appears here: “Nothing gets past you now, because you always see it come. You said it moves even slower than you, which is amazing because you’re so dumb”.
“Judgment” laments wasted time and features a nice flurry of jangling guitars towards its end, while “Follow Me Down” is super mellow, evoking a 60s folk sound and is probably the prettiest song musically. The chorus and drumming on “White Disciple” are still stuck in my head several weeks after I first heard it – beware. The album closes out with seven minutes of soothing ramblings on “Boats Appear” with its stream-of-consciousness lyrics including the realization that “the more you know the more you know you don’t know”. If you are in the mood for catchy but calm folk/rock that won’t necessarily make you want to dance, this band is here to serve.
Key Tracks: “Every Time the Feeling”, “White Disciple”, “I’m Bad”
Jeremy Messersmith – Late Stage Capitalism – 11 songs / 37 minutes
Jeremy is a new discovery for me – his absolutely terrific album title sucked me in and I am glad I gave it a listen, although some of this stuff was way too flowery 60s pop for me.
Late Stage Capitalism is an interesting mix of too-pretty 60s-influenced pop and songs that have earnest songwriting and Josh Tillman-esque themes. However, there are several songs here that are worth a listen or three, including the leadoff track “Purple Hearts” and its shifts between soft melody and periods of pounding drums, all backed with lovely strings and piano. “Fast Times in Minnesota” builds up to a nice soft-rock climax and is a rewarding listen, leading in to “Jim Bakker”, the tongue-in-cheek homage to the televangelist who is infamous for his felony convictions for a sexual assault cover-up, embezzlement, and other interesting accounting practices.
The music on “Fireflower” is something to hear: beautiful strings and keys with Jeremy’s pretty but pained voice lamenting a love that is gone, and wondering where she could be now. The album closer, “Once You Get To Know Us”, is my favorite of the tracks and features Jeremy explaining humanity to an alien race. He tells them that although we spend a lot of time and resources on finding ways to kill each other and destroying our own planet, we really aren’t so bad once you get to know us. This thing is very reminiscent of some of Josh Tillman’s recent work under the name Father John Misty, and although it is not quite up to that level of songwriting, the strings rule the day and sound great over his dark subject matter.
Key Tracks: “Purple Hearts”, “Once You Get To Know Us”, “Fast Times in Minnesota”
Also heard (but not recommending):
Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble
Pop/rock hooks abound, and I did enjoy “Set to Attack”, but I didn’t feel the need to hear this album more than the two listens I gave it. Disclaimer: I never cared much for Mr. Hammond’s former band The Strokes either.