THE MOMENT YOU ALL HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR: Sunday Monday Tuesday George’s 21 Best Songs of 2021

I know there has been some concern within the hallways of the venerated Indie Pong office about my lack of… contribution as of late.

Fear not though, because I’ve returned with my BEST write-up of the year: one in which I lace your Spotify with my top 21 songs of 2021.

This is a challenge every year, and I had to make some hard calls here…

No Between the Buried and Me representation? Nothing from Adele, or… Drake?

Drake will actually NEVER make my end of the year list, so let’s just shut that shit down right now.

In any case, after careful consideration, I’ve arrived with my list. There’s no order here, I’ve simply sequenced things below in a way that made for the most enjoyable listening experience. I’d encourage not shuffling.

1. Passage- Rafael Seyfried

Did I stumble across a more delightful winter anthem this year?

I don’t think so.

I spent many nights at my drafting table, writing or drawing to this piece of music, and I can’t compliment it highly enough.

Effortlessly beautiful, if not melancholy, there is both whimsy and hope creeping out from under the rug here— something that ultimately speaks to optimism, and a sincere belief that things will get better.

It’s wonderful.

2. Sandman- ASAP Rocky

When it comes to ASAP Rocky rapping, I can take it or leave it. That said, I have no doubt in my mind that we will look back upon Clams Casino as one of the early 21st centuries great sonic architects, and here, his work is in very fine form. 

What can be said about this beat that hasn’t been said already? Here, Rocky may well have been so in awe of the production, that he blessed the track with the patented* “Get em Girls,”-era, Cam’Ron Harlem flow. 

Excelsior.

3. Lord I Need You- Kanye West

Truthfully, there are four or five cuts from Donda that could have graced this spot, but as the song’s last 40-some odd seconds rank amongst the greatest thing Kanye has ever given us, I think it needs to be this one.

The closing section of this tune reveals Kanye at perhaps his most vulnerable? Bringing nuanced, delicate communication to life in a song, is a tricky thing to do well, and Kanye’s note choices, combined with his delivery make for an incredible masterful statement.

This is heartfelt shit.

4. Pyrocene- Genghis Tron

Man, this is just like the best thing that’s ever come down the pipe.

Apparently, non-electronic drums are new to the proceedings for Genghis Tron, and the way in which they situate themselves amongst an army of synthesizers is nothing short of glorious.

Truth be told, I’ve been afraid to listen to anything else from this album because this song is so damn good. I know I should, and I will soon, but I’m fearful that the other songs will fall short of this tune’s brilliance.

5. GERONIMO- Trippie Redd and Travis Barker featuring Chino Moreno

I believe my brother might have initially refused to listen to this on principle, due to Trippie Redd’s involvement. I’m hoping he eventually relented, but this is an A-1 slice of widescreen, shoegaze bliss.

Can you hear all of my favorite colors from a desert sunset?

I can.

There’s pink, off-brand orange, deep purple, blue blue, ore, sand, and a flash of white.

If this song was embalming fluid, I’m trying to smoke, and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about a piece of music.

6. Sad Mezcalita- Xiu Xiu & Sharon Van Etten

I feel like this is the soundtrack that wasn’t for one of Gomez and Morticia’s tango dance routines circa the 1990s Adams Family movies.

You can hear it, can’t you?

This is both spooky, and gorgeous. It’s a perplexing piece, taking into consideration the specifics of its switches, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a hypnotic, sublime piece of music.

7. Xiu- Yu Su

Me and Mates have been cool in 2021, after some beef involving— uh… Timber Ridge?

Look, I still don’t know what a Timber Ridge is. Sounds like all the trees got cut down to line the pockets of some fat cats.

Strange, considering the school didn’t even have a locker room?

Like really? The board couldn’t pony up for that?

Perhaps that’s what led to the Bessie Rhoads rebrand?

In any case, Mates put me on to this song, and it’s a monster.

In our conversation, he said it was an early song of the year contender, and it’s on this list for that reason.

Do you need the greatest song in existence for your next kitchen dance party?

Look no further, because this is it.

8. Marie- Lost Horizons featuring Marissa Nadler

No disrespect to the blonde-haired women (actually, all the disrespect to the blonde-haired women, cuz you all keep losing 😂😂) but dark-haired songstresses RULED THE ROOST this year, with Ms. Marissa Nadler and Ms. Chelsea Wolfe leading the pack, for the spooky summoning ritual set.

If you put this on Cocteau Twin’s, “Treasure,” back in 1984, it wouldn’t be out of place.

It’s THAT GOOD.

And this is not to say that Ms. Nadler seeks to emulate Ms. Fraser either. She simply understands the lane in which she’s cruising, and brings the most glorious of aspects of her ethereal voice to this: the perfect soundtrack for a nostalgic morning walk along a foggy beach.

9. Happy Birthday- Hospital Bracelet

This song has some SWAG and some MATH.

That might sound weird, because math can’t (or shouldn’t?) factor into swag, but that’s the best I have.

There’s probably a time signature in here that I can’t count, but there’s also some LEAN behind the drum kit, and some DOOM in those power chords.

This song changes up on a dime, and it’s all the more delightful for it. I hear shades of The Beths, and also Sleepy Sun, wrapped up in something that’s unique and fully comfortable being it’s own thing.

I can’t wait to dig into further into this band’s discography.

10. Straight Lines- VOLA

Folks, sometimes the Youtube algorithm throws you some bullshit.

But sometimes, it blesses you with a JEWEL.

This is an example of the latter.

A djent-y opening gives way to a key-change, proggy grandeur, and a MEAN, MEAN synth solo from this band who I’d heard nothing of until just a few short months ago.

It’s very rare that I have an, “oh, wow,” moment the first time I hear a song, but when that first chorus drops in here, I about lost it.

I can’t recommend this highly enough. Listen to it loud, and listen to it often.

11. Lonely- Sofia Valdes

I believe it was Karl who put me on to this one, so thank you Karl.

It’s not easy to make delicate sound effortless, but here, Ms. Valdes does so.

There’s a warmth about this song that makes me wonder about where it was recorded. If there was a fireplace crackling in a dimmed room, accented by saturated earth tones as Ms. Valdes sang, I wouldn’t be surprised.

There’s a nostalgia about this song that I appreciate as well. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it almost makes you long for a very particular loneliness one might encounter in the winter— something with a light at the end of the tunnel, that will arrive with spring.

In any instance, this is wonderful.

12. Easy- Pale Waves

THE Interlude/breakdown of 2021?

Found within the confines of this song.

From 2:06 to 2:16, we are treated to one of the year’s flat out MASTERSTROKES. A song that has previously been marked by its candy-coated bombast is stripped down to simply guitar and voice, recalling every great thing about the summer of 1999 that you’d forgotten until now.

You can literally HEAR the fireflies, vividly recall how gangster the final lightsaber fight in Episode I was, the specifics of playing Final Fight on the TV in your Cedar Point hotel room, AND…

Well, the list would get too long.

To be clear, this is just a great pop song too, but man— that ten-second stretch?

A monster.

13. Jitterbug Perfume- Sam Birchall

At 34, I find it more and more unlikely that anyone’s guitar playing is going to really blow me out of the water because— I’ve just heard it all at this point?

For the most part, yes, but then a player like Sam Birchall comes along, and flips everything on his head.

In my listening experience, devastating technical proficiency, unfettered expression, and pure joy are a tri-pronged unicorn: it’s uncommon that you’ll find all three within a lead player’s lines.

You can probably have two of them working for you if you’re really good, and most of people get by on one, or, perhaps, one and a half.

Mr. Birchall hits the hat trick though, managing to somehow fuse bluegrass, post-djent (did I just make that a thing?) jazz, and math into a blinding, beautiful concoction that’s 100 percent his.

His sense of melody is wildly adventurous, and the composition here has life that’s uncommon within such technically dazzling music.

This was one of my favorite things that I just happened to stumble across this year. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.

14. Crimson Stone- Converge & Chelsea Wolfe

Y’all— when this song explodes, it BLOWS UP.

The march to 3:58 is a murky, eerie trek in which Ms. Wolfe’s voice is in tip-top shape, with her collaborator Stephen Brodsky more than up to the task of both supporting, and responding to her words.

When Jacob Bannon enters the mix though, his howls offer the perfect launching pad for perhaps the most haunting vocal harmonies of the year, as Wolfe and Brodsky elaborate on his shouted statement(s).

This song is six minutes and 47 seconds long, and there’s a part of me that wants the whole song to encompass what we get from 3:58-4:45. 

I fully expect Ms. Wolfe is at least a sorceress part-time, and she’s found some very able-bodied collaborators in the legendary Converge.

As this comes from an album called “Bloodmoon: I,” I’m very anxiously awaiting what comes next from these folks.

15. X- Bicep featuring Clara La San

As I noted earlier in the year, I feel like this song has finally answered a long burning question of mine: “What might it have sounded like if Autechre continued forging the sound they established on, “Garbage,” and, “Tri Repetae,” as opposed to discarding it?”

The answer is, perfection, and this song can’t get enough spins.

16. Outside (Better Days)- MO3 and OG Bobby Billions

MO3 was tragically, murdered in late 2020, so this piece of music is all the more chilling and sorrowful in light of that.

Perhaps the most startling and powerful part of the song comes in the form of a short saxophone solo that closes the song out. Haunting and pleading, it leaves you feeling shaken, after the final note sounds.

17. Ritchie Sacramento- Mogwai

This was another tough one, because there are four or five other songs on this album that could have also made the cut, but we’re going with Ritchie.

Mates is the reason I gave this one a second chance, actually. When I first heard it, I didn’t really think much of it. Upon further listens though, I became more and more enamored with the fact that it was able to split the difference between sounding crystalline and warm with such little effort, to say nothing of the bulldozer bassline that pops up in the chorus.

Vocals are not a regularly occurrence in the band’s music, and here, they’re very, very, strong. It’s not the happiest piece of music perhaps, but there’s a particular kind of peace that I feel while listening to it, and I appreciate that.

18. Skyfall- SION

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of this collaboration, when I first heard about it.

A quote-unquote, “YouTube musician,” partnering with one of the greatest vocalists across ANY genre, for the last 20 years?

I just didn’t know.

Needless to say, when I heard the first single, I was sold hook, line, and sinker.

Jared Dines has done a tremendous job with the music on this album, managing to call to Jones-era Killswitch, while keeping things fresh within the formula.

And there is a formula— the verses tend to be rugged and raw, giving way to an explosion in the chorus that encompasses everything great about a 1,000,000 gigawatt sunburst. It works for the entirety of the album, and I’m here for it.

Jones voice is arguably at its most raw, and devastatingly beautiful here, and while pretty much any song from this album could have made the list, I think this one deserves a spot the most.

I’ll be playing this album well into next year, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

19. Save Your Tears (Remix)- The Weeknd & Ariana Grande

I can’t stand the Weeknd, but here, he has Mrs. Grande in tow, so it’s all good. She’s hitting some of the best songbird notes of her career, and coming with some gorgeous vocal harmonies, so I’m all in.

20. Traitor- Olivia Rodrigo

I’ll admit, I was (wrongly) clowning this when I first heard about it.

One of my cousins who’s flag is planted firmly within camp Gen Z was breaking down this album, and I just couldn’t take the idea seriously.

An 18-year old, making a thoughtful, well-put-together album about a failed relationship?

I had JOKES, but as it turns out, the joke was on me, because this is a masterful piece of work.

What Ms. Rodrigo sings about on here is likely, universal. We all have probably had an ex who moved on a little too quick for our liking after the breakup, and there’s a very particular kind of pain and distrust that pops up, when it happens.

Ms. Rodrigo comes across as truthful and sincere here, and her performance left me feeling humbled.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next.

21. Mombasa- Deafheaven

Ooh, boy.

Closing out the playlist with what may well be the best song Deafheaven ever releases?

It’s the only way to go.

Found within here are some of the most beautiful vocal melodies and harmonies of 2021. The song’s bridge, one that leads to the catharsis of SCORCHED EARTH and blast beats, has no business being as beautiful as it is.

It’s something that leads you to believe all is safe, beautiful, and warm, before yanking the rug out from under you, and plunging you headfirst towards the planet’s molten core.

And the lyrics, when Mr. George Clarke finally begins to scream?

Worthy of a reflective essay penned by anyone who dedicated themselves to pursuing a creatives life during their 20s, I think:

“Travel now,

Where they can’t let you down,

Where you can’t fail them now,”

This song is a masterful movement, and I’m truly not sure if the band can eclipse what they’ve done here.

When the decade ends, this will most certainly be in the conversation for the top 10, and I’m looking forward to continuing to appreciate its brilliance.

Advertisement

Tuesday Time Machine: May 2020

Hello and welcome!

For those reading my column for the first time, these monthly playlists which I’m re-visiting (and continuing to create) came about as a result of an idea I had back in January of 2010: an idea that woud see me create one 80 minute playlist a month.

The reason for doing this was two-fold: I wanted to create and re-enforce very specific lived experiences and memories tied to music, and I wanted a rather consistent set of songs to propel me each month as I created my art.

In creating these playlists, I tried to make things flow— I wanted songs to segue very effortlessly (or abrasively) creating a sense of narrative.

Going forward, bi-weekly, I’m going to update the Spotify playlist that you can find below. 

I’d recommend not shuffling the songs, as they were sequenced the way that they were for a reason. To get the full experience, listen to them in the way in which I’ve arranged things.

Included below is a short description of the tune I’ve included, and/or a description of the specifics memory associated with it. If you’re not trying to read all of that, just hit play on the link above!

May 2020

1. Different World- Iron Maiden

This number kicks off Iron Maiden’s 2006 album, “A Matter of Life and Death,” and what an opening salvo it is.

For an album fully of slower and proggy (albeit excellent) songs, this is the only tune that harkens back to Maiden’s glory days in the 80s. Its highlight is its triumphant, panicked chorus, one that make you want to attempt hit the notes Mr. Dickson is hitting.

2. You Make it Easy- Jason Aldean

I have it on good authority from my friend who really, really, likes country music, that this is, “superficial small-worldview trash pop,” but I can’t help but love this song.

It’s easily digested, and doesn’t require a lot of attention, but sometimes, when you’re out chilling by a body of water with a drink in hand, that’s all you need.

3. Falls Apart- Sugar Ray

I think I’m gonna get run off of this blog for putting this on here, but hear me out…

If you play this for someone whose childhood included the late 90s, see if it doesn’t get a reaction out of them.

Within seconds of hearing those opening chords, they’ll laugh, or they’ll smile, I guarantee you.

The summer of 1999? This shit OWNED pop radio, and when I hear it, I think only of sunshine, and being too young to understand just how great those childhoods summers were.

This will always be a winner.

4. Teenage Dirtbag- Wheatus

When I first heard this, circa 7th gradeish, I thought it was an unfathomably stupid piece of music.

That chorus? 

What?

Thankfully, I’ve grown to realize the error of my eyes, and now recognize this as a slice of pop perfection.

The turntable scratches might not have aged too well, but the rest of it is pure gold.

Hate on it at your own risk, because it’s nothing short of a classic.

5. My Time- Zoey Dollaz featuring Gashi

Zoey Dollaz makes some solid tunes. Modern Miami rappers both confound and fascinate me, as some of them can really, really, rap, and some of them… can’t.

Mr. Dollaz is thankfully in the former camp, and this is a solid showcase for his storytelling abilities. I dig it.

6. Girl of my Dreams- Rod Wave

We all know that I believe Rod Wave will to save music for Gen Z, or something, right?

iTunes says I’ve played this song over 100 times in the last year, and I’m surprised that that number is not higher. This is prime, deep-concentration drawing music, and I love it.

7. Thingamajig- Miya Flock

Mates put me on to this one, folks.

He was PREACHING too.

And you know what?

This was worthy of his sermon.

This is one the most tremendous vocal performances I’ve ever heard, and probably the best vocal performance I heard in 2020 (even though this is from 2018).

This is a truly astonishing piece of music, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

8. In a Yard Somewhere- Bosse-de-Nage

This is a really uncomfortable/borderline-terrifying piece of music that you kind of have to be in the mood for.

That said, when you’re in the required mood, there’s actually nothing better in the world.

The section that kicks off at 4:22?

There has been nothing more perfect recorded in the last 10 years, for people who are going through it. 

If you’re ever in a place where you really want to allow yourself to be crushed just listen to that, and let it flatten you.

You might cry, but it’ll be great.

9. Embers- Elder

Did you miss Elder’s album from last year?

It was a towering, incredible achievement, that should probably be a part of your life.

This was probably my favorite song on the album? It fuses At-The-Drive-In and Thursday with early 70s Weather Report, and 80s King Crimson, which is essentially all that I want out of life.

10. I Have Nothing- Whitney Houston

I’ve gone on the record about how Whitney Houston’s music showed up throughout the earliest years of my childhood, so I won’t re-tread that.

I will say that this is my second or third favorite song from the soundtrack to, “The Bodyguard,” and it features a vocal performance that’s nothing short of top-tier.

11. Teenage Dirtbag- Sega Bodega & Dorian Electra

So, this is a lo-fi (Skype duet?) cover of the Wheetus song from earlier in the playlist.

And it’s great, right!?

Seriously, when I heard this for the first time, I thought it was genius. Full of bold decision-making, and two weirdo vocal performances, it’s a winner, through and through.

12. Fade Into you- Sega Bodega & Eartheater

Hate to say it, but this might be more successful than Mazzy Star’s original, in certain places?

It’s quite the achievement. I challenge you to not like it.

13. Limelight- Rush

This is kind of a classic, so I’m not sure that I need to go on at length about it.

For the uninitiated, Rush became superstars around this time, and this song got radio rotation and a music video.

The song is incredible as a whole, but the real showstopper is Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo— a wildly original cruise through the lane that Eddie Van Halen reigned over at the time. Here, Lifeson’s whammy bar, and harmonic work here at the very least rivals Sir Edward’s, and it’s a tremendous thing to hear.

14. Just Like Heaven- The Cure

Everyone loves The Cure’s unabashed pop songs, right?

If you don’t, check your pulse.

I feel like this is the perfect song for the beginning of summer— emblematic of the coming three month’s joy and sunshine.

Play it on Memorial Day Weekend, or else.

15. Won’t Back Down- Fuel

I’m not sure if you all are ready for this…

This is a song about Daredevil.

To be specific, Ben Affleck as Daredevil.

It was recorded SPECIFICALLY, for the movie’s soundtrack.

And man— if you could bottle everything that made early 2000s hard rock what it was for better or worse, it’s RIGHT HERE, in ALL of it’s glory.

If you want to hate on this, you can leave, because I’m not hearing it.

16. Raindrops- John Paesano

I liked season 2 of, “Daredevil,” on Netflix.

I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but I thought it was pretty solid.

Early on in the show, there’s a scene that’s soundtracked by this, and it’s kind of incredible.

Love it, and it will love you back.

17. Porcelain- Red Hot Chili Peppers

It pains me to pay Anthony Kiedis a compliment, but this is as good as he ever got.

This might be the best song from, “Californication”?

I think?

This will chill you out, and think heavy thoughts. In a beautiful way, but yes— something for the quiet moments.

18./19. Conveyor/boxes- Moses Sumney

I kind of refuse to discuss these songs in detail, because I really just want you to listen to them, and be 100% floored by how EFFING good they are.

Seriously. Just listen, and let yourself be bowled over.

20. Helter Skelter- The Beatles

There are days where I believe this to be The Beatles greatest achievement.

I’ll fight people on that one, too.

Let’s talk about Paul McCartney’s bass guitar tone on here.

He’s playing like he was trying to put Jack Bruce out of WORK.

Let’s run that back…

Jack Bruce.

Out of WORK.

It’s like his mantra for all 4 minutes and thirty seconds of this song were, “I’m only into bow-legged women these days.”

For the record, bow-legged women, you all run the show, so don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Anyways, if you ever hand me the aux cord, and say you want to hear The Beatles, don’t get mad when this comes on, because I already told you what time it was, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

Tuesday Time Machine: December 2014

Hello and welcome!

Alright, here we are for Tuesday Time Machine Week 16, featuring my monthly playlist from November of 2014.

For those of you who are checking in for the first time, these monthly playlists which I’m re-visiting came about as a result of an idea I had back in January of 2010: an idea that would see me create one 80 minute playlist a month.

The reason for doing this was two-fold: I wanted to create and re-enforce very specific lived experiences and memories tied to music, and I wanted a rather consistent set of songs to propel me each month as I created my art.

In creating these playlists, I tried to make things flow— I wanted songs to segue very effortlessly (or abrasively) creating a sense of narrative.

Going forward, once a week, I’m going to update the Spotify playlist that you can find below.

I’d recommend not shuffling the songs, as they were sequenced the way that they were for a reason. To get the full experience, listen to them in the way in which I’ve arranged things.

Included below is a short description of the tune I’ve included, and/or a description of the specifics memory associated with it. If you’re not trying to read all of that, just hit play on the link below!

November 2020

1. Really Love- D’Angleo and The Vanguard

I remember being at a holiday party for the organization that I used to work for, talking with an older co-worker about the surprise(ish) album release that D’Angelo had coming up the follow week.

He laughed in disbelief, and then went on to talk about how he got burned, trying to see him at a music festival in the early 2000s. Apparently, D’Angelo didn’t show up.

I feel bad re-visiting this song, because I remember getting stuck on one or two songs from the album, but not really going back through the rest of it.

This is an effortless and slinky piece of music that’s also, a low-key showcase for why Pino Palladino got this gig with The Who when John Entwistle passed away.

Walking basslines aren’t especially tricky, but making them sound this nimble and bouncy is an art-form. My hat’s off to Mr. Paladino.

2. Spilling Lines- Polica

Of all the bands that hit it big in the local scene during my Minneapolis years, I liked Polica the best.

No disrespect to Lizzo, (who I actually had dinner with once, before she got famous, as my friend did her logo) but Polica was like a new millennium version of the Cocteau Twins, and we’ll always need something like that.

This is one of their most outwardly electronic numbers, and maybe a little chilly in retrospect, but I still dig it.

3. Don’t Leave me- Blackstreet

Probably my 2nd favorite Blackstreet song, right behind, “Deep,” which will pop up in May of next year, if I remember correctly?

Idk y’all— R&B just isn’t gonna ever be as good as it was in the mid-90s, and this is the cream of the crop.

I challenge you to NOT sing along. The power of the music will compel you to, I promise.

4. Porn Star- August Alsina

Before he was famous for his, “entanglement,” or whatever the buzz word was earlier this year, August Alsina was making some top-notch, X-rated bedroom jams featuring some swagged-out, wet, wet, guitar solos.

If you want it extra nasty, listen to it, slowed and throwed.

5. Impossible Germany- Wilco

Ooh, boy. This is the song that convinced me that Nels Cline is really the best we have right now, in the under-60 category.

One part John McLaughlin, and one part Jeff Beck, with a pinch of Adrian Belew and some punk rock swagger thrown in for good measure, Mr. Cline turns in a career-best performance of perhaps his most famous Wilco guitar solo here. 

I used to jam to this hard-core back in the day— I love it so much.

6. Live Like you Were Dying- Tim McGraw

Unfortunately, one of my good friends and artistic collaborators Seth was battling cancer when I made this playlist. Sadly, he would lose his battle the following April, but this song came across my radar during that time, and it makes me feel some kind of way.

He was a magnificent person, and I miss him.

7. Love Brings Changes- Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx has an Oscar, for a movie in which he was singing, and sing he does.

This was made for an HBO movie starring Queen Latifah from the late 2000s. The movie was solid, but the producers made a particularly good call, closing the film out with it.

It borders on cheesy in certain places, perhaps, but as a whole, I think this is a pretty heartfelt performance.

8. Hay- Crucial Conflict

This samples one of my favorite Funkadelic songs ever, and manages to throw some rodeo cowboy flavor into something that never had any in the first place?

Yeah, this is a song that’s really just about smoking weed, but so it goes.

9. Calm Like a Bomb- Rage Against the Machine

Once or twice a year, I go through The Battle of Los Angeles front-to-back, and more often than not, I think this is the album’s (and maybe, the band’s) crowning achievement.

Tim Cummerford’s bass tone here is FILTHY, and Tom Morello’s riffs in the chorus hit harder than an atomic piledriver from Zangief. Seriously, he almost gets another three strings of heaviness out of the dropped D bulldozer he crafted here. 

It’s outrageous.

10. Eria Tarka- The Mars Volta

Did you know that Flea played bass on this whole album?

True story.

I love most everything about this song, but the highly textural, layered drumming of Jon Theodore is perhaps the show-stealer. 

Can you count the time signature in the chorus?

I can’t.

11. Changeling- DJ Shadow

Man, if there’s a better song for a late night walk on a really cold evening in December, let me know, because otherwise, I think this is as good as it gets.

Effortlessly laid back, and a masterful piece of groove, this is something for a slow stroll, and a wandering mind.

Sip something.

12. The Pecan Tree- Deafheaven

So, the the opening minutes of the song are about as furious and unhinged as music gets, but then at 4:18, something magical happens, and rides clean through to the end of the song.

More so than any of the other moments (including the title cut) on an album called, “Sunbather,” this particular passage perhaps most aptly conjures the imagery of the album’s title— a collage of earth tones, sunlight, and early evening bliss. Of course, this is complimented by deep, and particular appreciation of a woman who is most likely, supreme empress of dark-haired, brown-eyed women, and in possession of trance-like gaze that will invite you deeper, until you’re swallowed whole, bathing in rapturous euphoria.

If you know this woman, please tell her that George doesn’t want a lot for Christmas…

There is just one thing he needs…

Sorry, I actually really like, “All I Want for Christmas is you.” I don’t understand the Mariah hate.

13. Blast Pt. 2- Robert Fripp, Trey Gunn, and Bill Rieflin

Bill Rieflin passed away recently, which is a sad thing.

I got to see him live with King Crimson a few months before I heard this song for the first time, and while his performance was just fine live, he really shines here.

His playing her is nothing short some sort of jazz improv freakout masterpiece, and both Robert Fripp and Trey Gunn, are more than happy to bring fireworks of their own to the proceedings.

14. Get ‘em Girls/The Mizzle- Cam’Ron

If people want to hate on Cam, I guess they can, but you know what?

This is a great song.

Everything about Cam’Ron that’s both ridiculous and wonderful is on full-display here… yeah, I dunno, how can you NOT like this?

Tuesday Time Machine: November 2020

Hello and welcome!

Alright, here we are for Tuesday Time Machine Week 15, featuring my monthly playlist from November of 2020.

For those of you who are checking in for the first time, these monthly playlists which I’m re-visiting came about as a result of an idea I had back in January of 2010: an idea that would see me create one 80 minute playlist a month.

The reason for doing this was two-fold: I wanted to create and re-enforce very specific lived experiences and memories tied to music, and I wanted a rather consistent set of songs to propel me each month as I created my art.

In creating these playlists, I tried to make things flow— I wanted songs to segue very effortlessly (or abrasively) creating a sense of narrative.

Going forward, once a week, I’m going to update the Spotify playlist that you can find below. 

I’d recommend not shuffling the songs, as they were sequenced the way that they were for a reason. To get the full experience, listen to them in the way in which I’ve arranged things.

Included below is a short description of the tune I’ve included, and/or a description of the specifics memory associated with it. If you’re not trying to read all of that, just hit play on the link below!

November 2020

1. Dry Fantasy- Mogwai

Listening to this song, I couldn’t help but imagine a flower endlessly in bloom— lots of fuchsias, lots of violets, and a quiet optimism that is much needed, going into this coming year. 

I feel good about that, as the person who did the visuals for the music video seems to have felt the same way.

If all the pretty colors in the world were to simultaneously explode, drenching the world in their brilliance, it might sound something like this.

2. Running With the Night- Lionel Richie

I think one of the re-occurring motifs throughout this month is going to revolve around me hating on someone/something HARD-CORE, and then realizing the error of my ways.

I never thought too much of Steve Lukather as a guitar player until I heard this song. The only reason I’d put some respect on his name had to do with him once saying something to the effect of, “God plays guitar with Jeff Beck’s hands,” which is, of course, true.

That said, when he hits the toggle switch mid-way through his marathon outro guitar solo on here?

Ooh, buddy.

Those who know me well, know that I like it when something gets pulled straight out of the gutter. Once he sends it to the neck in here, it’s a wrap for everyone else who thought they had it, back in ’83.

To be clear, Lionel Richie performs a very admirable, and fine pop song here too, but the star of the show here is Lukather’s leads.

3. Friends in the Corner- Foxes

Mates put me onto this one, and I’m super thankful for that. 

I feel like if Karen O. was in the business of making A1 dance tunes, it might sound something like this.

This definitely went on repeat during a great many drawing sessions this month. Love it.

4. There’s No Need- Silver Liz

This has so many things that I like.

The hi-hat in here sounds filthy, the four-on-the-floor isn’t too overbearing, and I feel like this would be right at home booming throughout the caves of Zion during the freak-fest that we see taking place in Matrix Re-Loaded.

As an aside, Re-Loaded is actually, a lot better than it gets credit for.

I still have no defense for the trainwreck that is, “Revolutions,” but I’ll stand by my belief that The Matrix, The Animatrix, and Re-Loaded form one of the better sci-fi trilogies in pop culture.

5. Death Wolf- Taking Back Sunday

Circa 2006/2007ish, the “scene” band that I was PROBABLY quickest to hate on was Taking Back Sunday, because… boy, did I think they had a lame name.

Of course, I’d never actually HEARD a Taking Back Sunday song, and honestly, this might be their first song that I’ve listened to all the way through?

I’m not quite sure, but I am quite sure that I’m pretty okay with the fact that I think “the scene” actually produced some great bands in the mid-2000s and I was wrong with my misplaced disdain.

6. Crawl- Two Tongues

This is like splitting the difference between Sunny Day Real Estate and Wheatus?

I feel like this song has shades of both the former’s, “In Circles,” and the latter’s, “Teenage Dirtbag,”, and both of those songs are STONE-COLD CLASSICS.

Had I heard this in 2009 when it originally came out, I would have probably dismissed it, because I was STILL hating on “the scene.”

George circa 2009 also though pink and blue polos with boot cut jeans, and a haircut that was not dissimilar to the one favored by Screech on, “Saved by the Bell,” was a good look too, so, he also had ZERO credibility.

7. Chemtrails- Beck

Look, the drummer and bass player in here are pretty much only playing fills, on some old Billy Cobham/Rick Laird shit. On top of that, the last bit of the song contains a truly magnificent, guitar solo in the, “noise holocaust,” mold, so I’m all in.

I recall this album being a big deal when it came out, but I never listened to it because Beck was an artist that I looked down upon as a, “CMYK hipster.”

In case it’s not yet been made obvious, art school George talked PLENTY of shit, folks. 

8. Last Stand- Kwabs

As haunting as haunting comes.

But also, really stunning.

9. Love Cry- Four Tet

This is something for a trance or hypnosis, which I suppose are they same thing.

Shapeshifting, and wonderfully textural, this is perhaps, one of the ultimate work songs of the 2010s. 

Top-tier stuff.

10. Groceries- Rich Jones and Montana Macks featuring Mykele Deville

https://richjonesmusic.bandcamp.com/track/groceries-w-mykele-deville

So good.

Sonically, this might be my favorite type of hip-hop production, with flows to compliment.

The Fender Rhodes in here manages to both float and twinkle atop a particularly voluminous bassline— one that allows both Jones and Deville to flex, speak their peace, and be out before the 3 minute mark hits.

I’m with it.

11. Rotten Apple- Alice in Chains

Unfortunately, my connection to this song comes with a somewhat naughty anecdote, and as Indie Pong is a FAMILY OPERATION, I might have to keep that in the tuck.

That said, this is as good as Alice in Chains ever got when it came to their moody numbers, save for perhaps, “Nutshell,” which is also on this EP.

Jerry Cantrell’s guitar playing here is beautifully lyrical, and Layne Stayley’s voice is the perfect compliment.

12. To the End- My Chemical Romance

Want to see if she’s really READY FOR THAT RING?

Tell her this is gonna be the song for the first dance at the wedding, or, it’s time to break up.

You’re welcome.

13. Jupiter- Gallant

Some might argue that no one really picked up the gauntlet when Maxwell threw it down back in 1997, but if anyone’s come close, I expect it’s Gallant.

On top of having an outrageous voice, he’s got a crack band to back him up too.

The short laser beam blasts that his guitar player shreds through during the final blow-out manage to be both clean and frantic, and that’s a hard balance to hit.

14. Starless- King Crimson

My senior year of high school, I used to sit in my parent’s minivan listening to this with the volume all the way up, waiting to pick my brother up from his bass lessons.

I’m still not sure if drummers have recovered from the percussive onslaught that Bill Buford recoded for this track, and John Wetton’s bass tone never again sounded as mighty and outright brutal as it did here.

As far as final notes go for bands, mid-70s King Crimson couldn’t have gone out with more style. This is a forever piece of music.

15. Today- Fruit Bats

What would happen if Mazzy Star covered Smashing Pumpkins’, “Today,” in the style of, “Fade Into you?”

Here, we are given the answer.

This is daydream music, or, something you put on while you’re cooking in early November.

Pretty wonderful, in either instance.

Sunday Tuesday George is out of control

Who does George think he is, changing the date of his weekly post around all the time. Classy Cassie and I were discussing today the boulder rolling down a hill that is George right now.

George’s assent into blog stardom started with his extremely well written and often emotionally charged ‘Sunday With George’ reviews, hence the nickname Sunday George. As the fame continued to engulf him alive he branched out and started a new column- ‘Tuesday Time Machine’, curated playlists from different years every Tuesday, which skyrocketed in views (he just started a playlist if you want to follow along), extending his nickname to Sunday Tuesday George. But now he’s trying to take over Mondays as well with his new (Monday) Tuesday Time Machine and I frankly have no idea what’s going on anymore. That’s basically half of the week, completely taken over. I honestly think he let the internet fame go to his head thought he could take over the whole week, he ‘got too big’ as they say.

Basically this is what happened to George in gifs:

Lindsay Lohan Eating Alone GIF - LindsayLohan EatingAlone MeanGirls -  Discover & Share GIFs
Sunday With George
Shut Up! GIF - MeanGirls Cafeteria ShutUp - Discover & Share GIFs
Tuesday Time Machine
Mean Girls' Turns 10: The Iconic Movie As Told In 35 GIFs | StyleCaster
(Monday) Tuesday Time Machine (wtf)

Anyways I don’t know what to do about this unhinged poly-columnist anymore. Cassie has some thoughts too or Cassie said some great thoughts above depending on which one of these she puts on top.

-Mates

This is an outrage.

Where does it end, George? WHERE DOES IT END?

Are you trying to be an entire calendar? Do we call you 2020 George?

At this point, it feels like a personal attack on the other days of the week. Are you Days-ist? That’s not very PC, man.

Is this the mf’n Days Inn? This playlist is dedicated to the MADNESS that Sunday Tuesday Monday George has ignited.

Sincerely,

Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Classy Cassie

Sunday with George: Between the Buried and Me- The Great Misdirect

Back in 2009ish, (before they were our monolithic corporate overlord), Amazon used to do something kind of cool on their website.

Once a week, on their digital music page, they’d have a, “deal,” that saw them offer a digital download of a new or classic album, at a bargain price— somewhere between $1.99 and $4.99.

I would check in on this page RELIGIOUSLY.

I picked up some great albums as a result of it too, chief amongst them, Ornette Coleman’s, “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This way,” and maybe, “Let it Bleed,” by the Rolling Stones?

I know there were many others as well, but the greatest amongst them was Between the Buried and Me’s, “The Great Misdirect.”

Now, before stumbling across BtBaM (as they’ll be referred to henceforth) on this page, I’d never heard of them.

In retrospect, I’m somewhat surprised I bought the album, because save for Mastodon, (who a few months earlier had released their crossover hit album, “Crack the Skye”) metal was not really a part of my life back then.

For the most part, my musical philosophy at this point revolved around asking 2 or 3 questions before listening to something—

1. “Did this person play with Miles Davis at any point in the late 60s or early-mid 70s?

2. “Is Robert Fripp involved?”

3. “Is this some, “scene,” shit? Some Prior Lake or Zumiez shit? Some, “skinny jeans and can’t play a guitar solo,” shit?”

If the answer was, “no,” to the first two questions, or, “yes” to any of the last three, I wasn’t going for it.

Naive, and outrageous, I know, but when you’re 22 years old at art school, naive and outrageous are your bread in butter.

In any case, BtBaM’s album was going for a steal at 5 bucks, so I grabbed it.

I’ve been listening to the album for just over ten years now, and it’s become one of my all-time favorites.

Most likely, it’s the only metal album that sits in my top 10.

As an aside, metal is a weird thing for me.

I love it, but I don’t.

Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Mastodon, Deftones, and Megadeth, are all near and dear, but outside of that, things can get spotty, and go on a song-by-song basis. It’s hard to me to stay consistently engaged with with the genre, due to things that a band like BtBaM both does and does not do.

As someone whose gateway drugs into the genre were Led Zeppelin, and Metallica, it took a long time for my ears to adjust to (and appreciate) harsh or screamed vocals. Sometimes, I kinda love them now, but the “cookie monster voice” that a number of bands (including this one) choose to employ can be a bit much.

Coming back around though, BtBaM are particularly unique amongst their peers as their brand of metal pulls from a LOT of different genres.

Over the course of the six songs found on this album, the band manages to run through polka, contemporary (smooth?) jazz, country, bluegrass, prog, and something that approaches Indian raga Rock?

That sounds absurd, I know, but they pull it off, and they manage to not sound silly in the process of doing so.

The album opens with, “Mirrors,” a tune that perhaps, serves more as a device than a song— a ruse to lull the listener into a false sense of safety.

It’s a serene tune: one that features no screamed vocals or distorted guitars. Tommy Giles Rogers, the band’s lead vocalist throughout, (save for one song) sings beautifully. He could probably do the white boy R&B thing if he wanted to, but thankfully he doesn’t.

In any case, his short vocal intro gives way to a jam the features some magnificent polyrhythmic jolts, a funny time signature, especially nimble bass work from Dan Briggs, and wonderfully uncommon resolutions from guitarists Paul Waggoner, and Dustie Waring.

Things turn foreboding in the last 40 seconds, and segue directly into, “Obfuscation.”

Obfuscation sees the band kick into high gear with spiraling guitar lines, time signature changes, and some particular rough vocal work from Tommy Giles Rogers.

The song is frequently a dizzying spasm of guitar that alternates between sounding spastic and groovy.

Throughout the album, there are a number of motifs that would not sound out of place, coming from Robert Fripp’s guitar amplifier. Figures ascend and descend, not unlike the gamelan-inspired parts that he played alongside Adrian Belew in the early 80s. Needless to say, I love this, and I think a great part of my appreciation from the album stems from the fact that many parts of this music call so clearly to 80s Crimson, albeit from the realm of metal, as opposed to Talking Heads-influenced New Wave.

In any instance, halfway through the song we get a wonderfully out-of-box guitar solo from Paul Waggoner, whose note choices are not predictable in a single instance, and are frequently, delightful.

Metal guitar players like to lean on funny scales, and sometimes, things just sound too dissonant or clever for their own good, but that’s never the case here.

Disease, Injury, Madness, follows. While it begins as a rather blunt exercise in brutality, it shortly gives way to a floating section that features lots of guitar swells, fairy dust, and some drumming that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Dennis Chambers’ kit, during his tenures with Santana.

There are perhaps shades of Tool here too, but the vocal harmonies, are a bit prettier, and the basslines are rooted more in Jaco-Pastorius-era Weather Report.

Particularly lovely flamenco-indebted guitar gives way to a return to the bludgeoning business, and it’s glorious. Shortly thereafter, a horse’s neigh is used as a transitionary device to a section that might be best described as a West Arkansas, “still chopping, still cooking,” hoe-down: one that needs only a cowbell to send things fully overboard.

The last bit of the song leans hard into a kookie carnival thing that features some swirling organ, and demented choir vocals that wouldn’t be out of place in Danny Elfman’s score for, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“Fossil Genera- A Feed From Cloud Mountain” is another exercise if genre-hopping that goes all the way from ragtime or Polka-esque piano to jazz-country?

The metal bits pop up in there too, of course, but the songs closes with a section in which we’re treated to fully soaring vocals from Tommy Giles Rogers, and a string accompaniment delivered via synthesizer or the real deal.

It’s a magnificent closing blow-out, one that transitions effortlessly into the album’s most unique piece of music, that’s also the first song from the album that I fell in love with.

“Desert of Song” is the lone track from the album to feature vocals from lead guitarist Paul Waggoner. His voice is truly magnificent, one that’s in the mold of the down-home country singer.

I see it as the aural equivalent of watching a lone tumbleweed roll through a desert landscape: one replete with off-brand orange earth tones, and sparse greenery, completed by a sky that grades very cleanly from a dark brown in the sky, to orange, to yellow at the horizon.

That’s a surreal sight to be sure, but this is also a very particular respite from an album that’s tended more towards brutality than beauty at this point.

It’s a necessary, kind moment, that also happens to feature a guitar solo from Waggoner that’s rooted in good old-fashioned box blues, but with more informed note choices.

The song ends with the same set of notes that it began with, and leading the listener towards their final trek, the album’s sprawling finale “Swim to the Moon.”

“Swim to the Moon” runs 6 seconds shy of 18 minutes, and to go through the song as a whole would be a daunting task.

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t like to use the word, “epic,” as it’s overused: fully at risk of parody at this point in time.

Here though, it’s the best word for the job.

The song has more twists, turns, and segues than you can shake a stick it. It’s almost disorienting, and hard to keep up with. It’s also wildly hypnotic, so you’re kind of locked in your seat as the music marches forward.

A masterful closer, and a fairly effective summation of everything that’s come before, it’s one of the greatest closings I’ve heard on an album. Mastodon did a similar thing in the same year, in closing their album, “Crack The Skye,” with, “The Last Baron,” but “Swim to the Moon” is more impressive for my money, ascending to the heavens, and disappearing into the ether.

In closing, “The Great Misdirect” is not an album that will be met with an initial warm embrace by all ears.

It can be a rough and tumble experience in certain places, and listeners who are turned off by the harsh nature of the vocals in certain instances are well within their right to not dig the screams and growls.

If you give it a chance, and try to absorb the album as a whole though, it’s a really magnificent thing.

I can’t recommend the investment highly enough, and hope new listeners find as much to love in the album as I have, these last 10+ years.

Sunday With George: Coheed and Cambria- The Afterman: Descension

I had two introductions to Coheed and Cambria’s music— 3 years apart from each other.

My first introduction was in 2009. Partly by chance, “The Willing Well III: Apollo II: The Telling Truth,” made its presence known to me.

I was pretty much head over heels, though I didn’t do anything about it.

There have been a few instances in my life where something like this has happened. I’ll hear a song that I love so very much, and because it’s so great, I’m somewhat terrified to seek out anything else by that artist or band, lest it not be as good.

Over the year’s there’s been, “No Cigar,” by Millencolin, this particular version of, “Strong Persuader,” by Robert Cray, and “The Visitors” by Hamza El Din.

Coheed and Cambria seemed as though they’d be relegated to a similar fate, until I became friends with an outlaw from rural Wisconsin a couple of years later.

To be clear, my friend Jaid is not actually an outlaw, but he is big on, “raising hell” and “eat(ing) cornbread,” and a wonderful person. We went to college together, but we didn’t officially meet until we were both working on 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. He was driving delivery for Pizza Hut, and I was parking cars at a Mexican restaurant.

He’d become one of my best friends, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as I did while living in Minneapolis had I not met him.

In any case, in addition to being friends, the two of us formed a very short-lived guitar duo, a few months before he moved down to New Orleans. One of our tunes is below, with him playing rhythm and me playing lead:

Before we got to recording our songs, we had a routine, that would involve us chilling on my screened-in porch, and listening to whatever songs he deemed worthy of our time that day.

Usually, he wouldn’t say anything before plugging his iPod in, but one day it was different.

As he made his way into the apartment, he said something to the effect of, “now, I want to play you this band today, but you’re gonna have to trust me.”

As I was on board with about 90% of what he played, I remember being alright with that, but I also kinda pestered him for more information, as he’d never offered a disclaimer before.

He eventually gave in, and said, “alright, it’s Coheed and Cambria.”

I recall moaning and groaning because of what I’d mentioned earlier about being afraid to listen to anything else by them, but I rolled with it.

He put on, “Time Consumer,” and something about music fundamentally changed for me, hearing it for the first time.

A likely assortment of my thoughts, in that moment:

– These lyrics don’t make any sense, but this dude can sing.

– There are DOG WHISTLE, S-Q-U-E-A-L-I-N-G pinch harmonics in here, and that’s all I care about in life.

– This is devastatingly beautiful.

– Is this kind of some emo shit?

– Is it okay for me to like, “scene,” music?

– Angsty high schoolers probably bump this out in Prior Lake.

– Fuck the Minneapolis suburbs.

– I have family and friends from the suburbs.

– I guess some of the suburbs are okay.

– This is really, really, good.

I wish I remember more about what we recorded that afternoon, but I don’t.

If you’re reading, Jaid, thanks for this, if I’ve never said so before.

I was going to write about, “The Second Stage Turbine Blade,” as a whole, but I’m going to talk about “The Afterman: Descension”, instead, because it’s the first album of theirs that came across my radar independent of anything else.

It features a number of my favorite songs by the band, and start-to-finish, it’s just a really strong statement by the band.

Off the rip, I’d like to make a disclaimer that I’m not really going to attempt to get into the band’s lyrics for the most part, nor will I talk about the ongoing “Armory Wars” story. I don’t understand it, and my one friends who’s followed it more closely than I, said it was essentially, a Christianity allegory.

The album kicks off in earnest, with its second song, “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant.”

It contains any number of Coheed hallmarks:

– Impassioned, alternately ferocious and crooning vocals from lead singer Claudio Sanchez.

– Acoustic guitar that manages to jump out from under a maelstrom of crunch.

– Drumming that has a hefty bit of swag for a, “metal,” band.

– A 4/4 time signature, that sounds mathier than that.

“The Hard Sell”, follows, and it’s a fine piece of music, but its guitar parts also doesn’t sound unlike, “Prayer,” by Disturbed in certain sections, so there’s that.

“Number City” is a much more upbeat offering, that personally brings to mind, a mix of Bruno Mars, and the music from the Casino stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

On the surface, that probably sounds bizarre at best, and unappetizing at worst, but it’s actually pretty magnificent. There are some really wonderful horns in mix, and a back-mixed Moog (?) towards the end that could ruin the song, but thankfully they don’t.

“Gravity’s Union” follows, and it’s the first of two masterpieces found on the album.

Like most of the music that Coheed makes, it’s an ear-candy song, best listened to with headphones. On the verge of going overboard in the early choruses, it never crosses that line.

Persistent, in its pummeling nature, the song is a death march towards the 3:49, and then, 5:03, which is likely the aural equivalent of someone literally having their nose slapped off.

One of the better beatdowns that the band has recorded, featuring chanted background vocals, searing Robert Fripp-worthy guitar leads, and a caustic, final gasp from Claudio as the song comes to a close.

Naturally, this segues into the lovely, “Away We Go.”

A sunny piece of music that sounds like a distant cousin to My Chemical Romance’s, “Summertime,” from three years earlier, it’s a pallet cleanser, and just a lot of fun.

“Iron Fist” follows, moving into even lighter territory, complete with electronic flourishes, fretless(?) bass, and glitchy effects. It’s fine, but I feel as though its only purpose is to lull listeners into a false sense of security, before they get flattened by the next song.

“Dark Side of me” is the album’s penultimate track, and second masterpiece.

It’s one of those rare pieces of music that is friendly enough to succeed on the radio, but also a damn fine piece of legit music, not unlike Miguel’s, “Coffee,” or, Deftones’, “Digital Bath.”

While masterful, it’s also a sorrowful piece of music. At low points in my effort to find balance in an artist’s life, I saw myself in the lyrics— throwing myself at my art, then throwing myself at the wrong woman, watching my relationship to one (or both) blow up, retreating back into my art, and then repeating the cycle.

It can come across as a bleak look at love to be sure, but there’s healing in it. A brutally honest look at what doesn’t work, I see it as challenging the listener to find better solutions, if they too are struggling.

Kindly, the album ends on a very true, and optimistic note with, “2’s my Favorite 1”, a really heartfelt profession of love and dedication.

The lyrics, at their best, are moving and true, almost poetic towards the end,

“Oh, this is her,

No regrets,

I embrace your defense,

Took the best,

You were my wish,

I admit that I will never feel,

No, I will never feel alone,

I stumbled in mighty tone,

Where the records spins around,

Please turn me over,

Find me into sleep,

Oh girl,

Please wait,

Bring me home”

In closing, I don’t know if I have anything really profound to say outside of the fact that this is the most personally endearing thing the band has done.

Re-visiting it with a nice breeze blowing through my window recalls wonderful friendships, the highlights of those summers in my mid-20s, and the joy that comes with realizing that I can put the album back into regular rotation.

Give it a shot, and hopefully, you’ll dig it too.

Sunday with George: Stevie Wonder- Fulfillingness’ First Finale

“Fulfilliness’ First Finale”, is a piece of art.

Featuring only 10 songs, with six of them ranking amongst Stevie Wonder’s absolute best, it’s my favorite album from what people call his, “genius,” period, and it features perhaps the first song to move me to tears in my adult life.

The album came into my life partially by chance. I bought it in a second-hand record store, owned by the father of a woman who I worked on my high school newspaper with.

Shortly before I was set to head back to college for my senior year, I’d decided that I was going to make the deep dive into Stevie’s music. FFF (as it will be referred to, from here on out) was one of maybe five or six albums they had in the store. I had a little bit of cash on me in the moment, but not a lot. I wasn’t ready to put down 30 bucks on, “Songs in the Key of Life”, and, “Hotter than July”, marked the start of  Stevie’s, “commercial period”, in the mind of music snobs, so I picked up FFF.

I can’t remember the first time I listened to it, but I can remember the first time I fell in love with it.

It was sometime during the fall of that year— a particularly rough patch of my college experience.

Up until the previous spring, I thought of myself as someone who had a strong-ish relationship with God. I prayed every night, and tried to abide by the more basic tenements of Christianity, (love thy neighbor, do unto others… etc.)

To be clear, I thought the idea of church was very silly, (8 years of Catholic school song practice on Friday morning will do that to you) but yes… I thought God was a solid part of my life.

Due to a really rough winter and spring, my faith in all of that kind of evaporated. I came to scoff at the idea of a larger power.

In any case, I was in my apartment one night, trying to draw.

Unfortunately, I’d very much fallen out of love with that part of my artistic expression. Focusing almost exclusively on graphic design that semester, I felt starved, and I yearned to find joy in even just doodling again.

The night had not been going well, and then, “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” came on.

I began to cry.

On top of being a beautiful piece of music, and perhaps, the standout song on that album, it spoke to something that just really overwhelmed me. It’s a sorrowful piece of music in places, speaking of racism’s evils, but it also speaks to Stevie Wonder’s faith.

In that moment, it allowed me both grace, and confidence.

Also, it took 10 years, but I’m thankful to say that prayer made its way back into my life, late last year. While 2020 has certainly challenged anyone whose life includes prayer, I do believe in a higher power– something beyond human comprehension.

Likely, that higher power is something intangible, not necessarily a, “being”, as we understand the word, but I do believe in a greater energy and trajectory than we’re able to perceive as humans.

In any case, I got stuck on that song for a very long time, but I came to realize that the rest of the album is just as great, with a few particular standouts.

The first would be the album’s opener, “Smile Please.”

It’s an inviting piece of music, one that excludes warmth, and is likely, the sonic equivalent of the world’s most genuine smile— fitting considering the song’s title.

It’s a wonderful way to start things off.

“Too Shy to say”, comes up third, and it’s notable for a synthesizer melody that’s simultaneously both timid, and arresting.

While not exactly at the forefront of the mix, its ethereal and earnest. You WANT it to be higher up in the mix, but its beauty lies in its understatement. I don’t want to make it sound as though Stevie Wonder exclusively traffics in the literal, because he’s much more sophisticated than that, but the synthesizer is a perfect compliment to the song’s lyrics and theme. It’s too shy to get louder, so you have to pay attention in certain instances, to hear the love.

“Boogie on Reggae Woman”, follows, and kicks things into gear with one of the most raucous synth bass parts I’ve ever heard.

I’m sure any number of people have blown their speakers out playing it VERY loudly.

As an aside, I don’t think Stevie ever really got enough credit for this kind of thing, because he’s pulled at least a FEW of his basslines, straight out of the gutter.

Inquiring minds are encouraged to seek out his playing on his ex-wife Syreeta’s cover of his own song, “I Love Every Little Thing About you,” and his own, “Jesus Children of America.”

In any case, “Boogie on Reggae Woman”, features a top-notch groove, and a playful harmonica solo that speaks very directly to Stevie’s joy. It’s probably the most well-known song on the album, and also, the most accessible.

The next show-stopper arrives with, “They Won’t go When I go.”

A song that Alicia Keys counts amongst her favorites, it’s a haunting, outrageously powerful piece of music. Stevie’s vocal performance here is of particular note, as he throws his voice around like a rag doll, popping octaves, and making his vocal chords quiver in a startling, humbling way.

It’s certainly, the most down-beat song on the album, but it’s also a sonic-masterclass that is rewarded by repeated listens.

The last showstopper on the album arrives in the form of the closer, “Please Don’t Go.”

A plea, and a profession of love, it’s a forceful performance that features some of Stevie’s most impassioned piano playing, closing out the album, just as strong as it began.

It’s lovely.

I’ve been listening to FFF for over 10 years now, and it only delights me more and more, as time goes on. Truly one for the ages, and just as enjoyable on a Sunday morning, as it is on Tuesday night, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Sunday with George: George Duke- Faces in Reflection

It’s always kind of bothered me that George Duke gets left out of the conversation regarding the 20th century piano and/or keyboard giants.

Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarret, and Chick Corea might have had better chops (and they all played with Miles Davis) but I’ll take a George Duke album over something by them, almost every day of the week.

Mr. Duke first caught my attention on a Frank Zappa song called “Eat that Question”.

Duke’s keyboard solo runs almost half the song and sums up his MO pretty well. All it lacks is a headfirst dive into perhaps his signature weapon, the mini-Moog.

Many a keyboard player has gone to war with said instrument, and in the early 70s, it was still somewhat of a novelty— perhaps the greatest weapon that a keyboard player could use, if they wanted to compete with the guitar pyrotechnics that were in vogue at the time.

And Mr. Duke does manage to get any number of guitar voicing and colors out of his instrument. The way he bends his notes makes it so he doesn’t really need a guitar player in his bands, and for the early part of his solo career, his albums were usually guitar-free.

“Faces in Reflection” is not Mr. Duke’s most commercially successful album, and it might not even be his crowning achievement, depending on what day of the week you ask me. It’s fully magnificent though, and the last album that he recorded that was a mostly instrumental affair.

The album begins with, “The Opening”, a particularly propulsive number that shows drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancellor will be running a very tight ship. Fresh off stints with Miles Davis and Santana, but before he’d record “Tail Spinnin’” with Weather Report, Chancellor plays like a more efficient Billy Cobham, whom Duke would actually form a band with in the coming years.

It’s followed by, “Capricorn,” the first song on which Duke sings.

It’s hard to say which is more impressive— Duke’s voice, or his keyboard playing. Both are truly wonderful, but his voice is truly unreal.

Thundercat is certainly a fan as he’s more or less has made it his career-pursuit to sing EXACTLY like Duke, to the point that I thought he’d actually recruited Duke to sing on his cover of Duke’s, “For Love (I Come Your Friend).”

A slower number, “Capricorn,” is a showcase for the more sexy things Duke can do with his mini-moog. The specifics of the notes and bends he’s able to coax from said instruments are the centerpiece of his respective solos— very soulful and slick stuff.

Two piano solos follow, appropriately named, “Piano Solo 1,” and, “Piano Solo 2.”

Here Duke flexes some classical muscles in addition to injecting some afternoon beach flavor into the mix.

“Psychosomatic Dung” follows, and continues the upbeat energy from the first track. The track sounds like a hybrid of early 70s Mahavishnu Orchestra by way of Herbie Hancock. Chancellor’s drumming is particularly airtight here, and some of his flourishes are particular impressive, especially a few of the percussive tricks from his tenure with Santana that he pulls out of the bag, towards the song’s middle section.

The two songs that follow, “Faces in Reflection No. 1,” and “Maria Tres Filhos” act as both a palette cleanser and appetizer for the album’s centerpiece, and perhaps Duke’s crowning achievement, “North Beach.”

A song sampled by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest (“Midnight”) Pete Rock, J Dilla, and Slum Village, “North Beach” is a sonic odyssey that demands darkness, a cool breeze, and headphones.

I’ve not visited L.A. in over 10 years, but it’s my dream to cruise through the Hollywood Hills at about 2 in the morning with the top down listening to this as the wind blows over my head.

If there’s ever been narrative in sound, it’s to be found here. Duke’s keyboards sing, stutter-step, seize, and belch for just over 6 minutes, much to the delight of the listener. Recorded in 1974, this song still sounds 30 years ahead of the curve, and is 100% mandatory listening for anyone even mildly interested in texture or sound.

“Da Somba” is an exclamation point at the end of a grand statement, featuring top-drawer performances from Duke and Chancellor, and a particularly nimble (fretless?) bass solo from John Heard.

The album closes with “Faces in Reflection No. 2” in which Duke finally unleashes his singing voice’s full potential. In places epic, and in others understated, it ends the album nicely, teeing up the next part of Duke’s career in which his vocals would more or less come front and center.

I had the opportunity to see Mr. Duke once in 2012 and I passed, because the ticket price was too rich for my blood at the time.

I regret that. To have been able to bear witness to his obvious joy, and true love for music in-person would have been humbling to say the least.

If you’ve never heard his music, I hope this album makes you a life-long fan. Most all of his work with Frank Zappa is top-tier, and he has a few other album outside of this one that are 100% worth tracking down and investing in.

Play it with headphones, and play it with love.

Sunday with George: Explosions in the Sky- The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place

Toward the end of high school, my ears began to wander, and develop a deep appreciation for instrumental music.

This was brought about by Led Zeppelin.

I know that sounds ludicrous, as they might have three(?) instrumental songs in their catalogue, but as a live band, they liked to jam. The summer between junior and senior year, saw me collect any number of bootleg recordings from their heyday in the 70s— recordings that made plain this particular predilection.

Take for example, this version of No Quarter from 1975. The 1973 studio album version runs 7 minutes. This version runs almost 30 minutes, and bassist/pianist John Paul Jones is given several of those to simply play his piano.

Beautiful, right?

In any case, there’s a purity, and particular beauty about music involving simply instrumentation.

Perhaps there’s a humility about it— a surrender to the fact that this expression is perhaps, more difficult, and maybe, imperfect, as it’s channeled not through something internal, but external.

Potentially, there is more effort required, and therefore, more concentration is involved.

Performance is meditation— a highly-focused one.

I’m fairly sure, I first heard Explosions in the Sky’s music when I was 19. I was living in Minneapolis, and I was in the Electric Fetus with my buddy Phong. They band had recently released, “All of the Sudden, I Miss Everyone,” and it was BLARING over the speakers in-store.

I remember being struck by how powerful the music sounded. At best, I truly did feel like I was floating, bearing witness to some particularly epic-looking clouds blast each other with yellow light, against a backdrop of baby blue sky– appropriate considering the band’s name.

It would be a little while before their music made its way back into my life, but when it did, it was because of this album: one of a handful I’ve heard that may be perfect, all the way through.

I know, I know, this is their most famous album.

Also, yes… “Your Hand in Mine” has most certainly been overused, but I still think it’s an effortlessly beautiful piece of music, and I’ll turn it up, when it comes on.

It’s an album worth giving just a little more shine to, so I’m going to do that.

Things kick off with, “First Breath After a Coma,” and it sounds just like that.

It begins with a pinging guitar, mimicking either the rising and falling of the chest, or, a heartbeat. The rest of the band soon joins, approximating a rush of all the other senses and vital functions, once again, making themselves known to the body.

Marching steadily towards full-consciousness and function, the music builds to fall, and repeats, all very earnestly. It’s masterful headphone candy, and about as pretty an opening number as you could hope to hear, one that segues directly into, the second track, “The Only Moment we Were Alone.”

Again, effortless beautiful and shimmering, the guitars dance atop each other, stopping to touch ever so briefly, before spirally off if only to circle back, and begin the dance anew.

This is the band’s stock-in-trade, and this album sees them do it so very well.

As the music is so very truly earnest, as opposed to flashy, I truly do believe it to be in the service of beauty and nothing else.

The band isn’t trying to stunt, or flaunt how effortlessly arresting their arrangements are. Their playing, even when it does ultimately, explode, doesn’t sound like macho power violence– it’s heartfelt, cathartic, and deeply emotional.

Some might say it sounds over-dramatic, but I’m inclined to believe the emotions I hear. The weight that’s there truly does feel sincere.

In the interest of being transparent, and not setting myself up for double entrendres, I lost my virginity to, “Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean,” so anything I might have to say about it is colored by that experience.

She was older than I, so what could have been awkward or meaningless, was actually lovely and intimate, and I do believe the music helped allow for that.

There was grace there.

“Memorial” follows, and like the album’s first song, it sounds quite like its title.

The guitars that open the song sound almost purposefully out of step in places, or at least just a bit behind each other, not unlike conflicting recollections attempting to fight their way towards clarity.

As the song progresses, everything falls into line, and the persistent truth of whatever it is that’s been remembered, comes bulldozing through our headphones. The last minute or so sees the band rather brilliantly find a way to exorcise their emotions, tempering sonic fury with a steady forward march.

The ending feedback squeals and hiccups that close the song give way to, “Your Hand in Mine,” which has rightly become the band’s, “Stairway to Heaven.”

As the song is so well known, and probably means so many different things to so many people, it’s difficult for me to say anything that hasn’t been said before.

It’s a very pretty piece of music. It brings about wistful feelings or nostalgia— childhood summers, southwestern sunsets, or, whatever intimate truth there might be in finding someone who you’re gonna spend the rest of your life with.

It allows things to close as brilliantly as they started.

This album is many things, but as we’re now entering June, I can’t help but remember how much of a summer album it is.

Listening to the music, you hear a lot of greens and blues— all the trees have their leaves, and the lakes sparkle in the sun.

It’s the quintessential album for the 11AM summer weekend wake-up: one brought about by chirping bird voices, and a light breeze through a cracked window.

It’s balance, it’s meditation, and it’s joy.