October 7, 2017

What if Lu had lived? Top 25 Poor Old Lu Songs

As you may have noticed, I have started naming my top 25 lists:
Please Don't Kiss MeTop 25 Sixpence None the Richer Songs
For the Love of Guitar; Top 25 Aaron Sprinkle Songs
Don't Be Defeatist; Top 25 Eisley Songs
Farewell Walla; Top 25 Death Cab for Cutie Songs
Farther Than I Can See; Top 25 Thrice Songs

If you are familiar with the artists, the titles don't need explanations. The same can be said for the title of my Poor Old Lu list, but I'll elaborate. It is of coursed based upon the Lu song "What if Uncle Ben Had Lived?" which of course is a Spiderman reference. The song didn't make my top 25 from the band, but that theme is a frequent one for me: "What if ______ (fill-in-the blank with a band) had made more music?" So, what if Poor Old Lu had continued as a prolific band for the last 20 years?

Collage I made in 2007 from memorabilia I had gathered. I used two t-shirts, three 
magazine ads, Cornerstone programs, a note from Jesse, an envelope from Jesse, 
the band's mid-90's mail order form, and two stickers. 
(The 7" was not Poor Old Lu FYI, just a junk old red vinyl 7" found in a garage sale.)

Pretty fascinating to think about it, because most bands are not able to do that. The only collaborative bands that are truly able to continue indefinitely are ones that make a lot of money. Of course in this day and age "solo" artists can record and release as much as they want to, but they only will if they are able to find the time to do it. Most of my favorite bands were only truly "active" for a short time, because...life. People move, get married, change jobs, etc. I rarely see or talk to many of my friends from 20 years ago. So it is pretty rare for a band to continue to make music after that has happened. Poor Old Lu's final LP was in 2002, and their 2013 and 2014 singles were treats that I'll hope for more of in the years to come. Jesse Sprinkle was recently interviewed on the Labeled Podcast about Poor Old Lu's break-up, and not surprisingly, he had nothing interesting to add.

Poor Old Lu was only truly active for around a decade, and I am thankful that they were because I have never heard another band like them. I hate comparisons in general in music (RIYL, etc.), but with Poor Old Lu comparisons are impossible. They formed in Seattle during the grunge era, but they are far from grunge. Friends and collaborators indirectly started emo, but they are definitely not emo. Poor Old Lu is completely original and experimental rock band that stunned me at the time, and are blowing me away right this minute as I listen to songs I have heard hundreds of times.

I have so much respect for Poor Old Lu and (the very few) bands like them that are only willing to exist and perform as the original line-up; in this case Scott Hunter, Aaron Sprinkle, Nick Barber, and Jesse Sprinkle. I have written at length about how important I feel collaboration is and how I believe it leads to the best in all fields. All four members are gifted and have done so much outside Poor Old Lu.

Scott sings and plays guitar, and went on to front the short-lived This Diminishing West. Nick wrote and sang lead on a couple of Rose Blossom Punch Songs, and has also played bass for Jeremy Enigk, Fair, Subways on the Sun, and numerous other bands. Jesse played drums in Demon Hunter, Dead Poetic, Morella's Forest, dozens of other bands, and also has released countless solo albums in which he sings and plays most all the instruments. And then I break down all of Aaron's projects here.

All the comments below that are in italics are from Poor Old Lu lead singer/lyricist and are quoted with permission from the official Poor Old Lu website. Two of the songs--"Drenched Decent" and "The Great Unwound"-- didn't have liner notes, so I reached out to Scott Hunter to write them for this post. So they are published here for the first time.

Top 25 Poor Old Lu songs
25. "Hope For Always" from the 1994 Sin LP
'Perhaps our song with the highest "twang factor", Hope For Always was consistently a good concert song. Maybe it was the very fast tempo, the praise-ful "cry" in the lyrics, or the western theme. Who knows. This song has always been very different from other Lu songs... and that's ok.'

("Hope for Always" at 4:00)

24. "Closing Down" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"The last song on '8th Wonder', it was intended to be such -- a last song. Was it intended to be the "final" track for Poor Old Lu? Who knows. It was, however, a good way to end the album. If I had my way, I would make the final build at the end of the song even more dramatic."

23. "In Love With The Greenery" from the 1993 Mindsize LP
'Definitely the oldest song on the album, it was originally recorded on our first album (1990), In Love With The Greenery, when we played under the name BellBangVilla. In 1989, we traveled to Germany for a mission trip with our church. On one of the areas that we drove past a few times were written the words (in spraypaint) "I Love You, All I'm Saying, Pretty Baby, La La Love You". So this song was originally called "La La Love You". We found out before our releasing album that these lyrics came from a Pixies song, which was fine with us. Unfortunately, we found out that that song was also called "La La Love You", which was not fine with us. The song name was eventually changed to just "Love You". I always hated that name. Before Mindsize was released, we changed the name of this song to "In Love With The Greenery".'

22. "Ring True" from the 1994 Sin LP
The A-Zone radio show in Nashville introduced me to Poor Old Lu, and "Ring True" and "Bliss Is" were the two songs I heard first; radically different and convinced me to go out an buy Sin immediately, and then Mindsize a week later.

"'Ring True' is probably the most "intentionally" worshipful song that Lu has. Written just before recording 'Sin' (and finished up in the studio), it is probably most notable for its raw sounds, catchy groove, and the fact that Aaron sings lead vocal. 'Ring True' happened to be one of the most successful singles that Lu ever released and was always a fun song for live shows.

Though 'Ring True' features Aaron on lead vocals, the lyrics were still written by Scott (who wrote all of the Poor Old Lu lyrics *except* 'Army Guy', which was written by Nick and Aaron). Shortly before laying down the vocal tracks, Aaron was facing some writer's block and asked Scott to the lyrics, if possible. 45 minutes later, or so, 'Ring True' was ready to sing."

21. "Slipknot" from the 1995 Straight Six EP
"Of all the Poor Old Lu songs to show up on Napster in great number, this one did. I always found that strange until I heard that there was also a band called Slipknot. I can only imagine all those people who downloaded this song thinking it was the other band! Very amusing.

As the brief text in the album cover eludes, this song is directed primarily towards the topic of 'indifference'."

20. "Crowded" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
"'Crowded' was born musically from something that Nick created, and it's one of my favorites on this album.  Although fairly mellow and "acoustic", I think it fits well.  For some reason, when I listen to this song, though, it sounds to me as if I had a cold during the vocal tracking.  Hmmm.  Strange.  Also, Nick helped me write the bridge vocal line on this song.  Thanks, Nick!

You'll notice a very strong sense of "being pulled" in the words of this song -- whether it be our eyes, our devotion, our priorities, or what have you.  The title, 'Crowded', is chosen accordingly, and there is a claustrophobic feeling in our lives at times, as we can feel overwhelmed by all that is going on."

19. "Sickly" from the 1994 Sin LP
Most Lu fans probably have this song in their top 5, but I personally feel like Lu songs should be at a higher bpm. Great lyrics, and better live than on record, but never grabbed me as much as other people.

"'Sickly' was written entirely in the studio over the course of a few hours. The guys (Aaron, Nick and Jesse) began to jam on a moody song in the main room while I (Scott) tried to work out a suitable melody and lyrics. Without much warning 'Sickly' was born. Very moody. Slightly aggressive. Quiet and loud. 'Sickly' remains one of my very favorite Lu songs - partly because I think it's a good song, and partly because of how mysteriously it came to be. Coupled with 'My World Falls Down' on the tail end, 'Sickly' has also been a favorite concert song. An equally moody video for 'Sickly' can be found on Poor Old Lu's 1995 video cassette, 'Sit & Stare'."

18. "Hello Sunny Weather" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"This song is probably most notable (to me) for being very much *below* my normal singing range. The out-of-range vocals reminds me, I suppose, of 'Untitled' off of The Cure's 1989 release Disintegration, an incredible album. It works, I suppose, and that's what matters.

I've never been accused of writing a whole lot of love songs, and rightfully so. 'Sunny Weather', I suppose, is as close as I've gotten thus far. This song was actually written for my wife, but I never told her ... she figured it out later on."

17. "Slow" from the 1994 Sin LP
I couldn't disagree with Scott more about this being a filler track! Love the bass groove and Aaron's bgv's on the chorus.

"This song is probably one of the 'filler' tracks on 'Sin'. It wasn't a single. It wasn't much of a concert hit. In fact, this song was rarely mentioned at all. Why is that? Who knows. Maybe it's just not that good. It was one of the rare mellow tracks on 'Sin'. Slightly dreamy and somewhat playful. Aaron came up with some good background vocals, and Nick's bass line quite nice. I suppose 'Slow' just helped round out the album. We'll leave it at that.

This song is very much written with 'emotions' in mind - literally. Some lines refer to colors. Some lines refer to common feelings that we have."

16. "Revolve" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
"I don't remember where 'Revolve' ended up in the writing process.  Probably somewhere in the middle.  I just remember this song "appearing" one day during our sessions, and that was that.  A natural opener for the album, if you ask me, and somewhat quintessential "Lu".  Otherwise, it's very much a "power pop" track, with a radio-friendly 3:45-ish time to match!"

15. "Complain" from the 1994 Sin LP
"I don't remember where this song came from... it was just 'there'. Though a number of the songs off of 'Sin' were written in the few weeks before recording started, this song was among those that were veterans by that time, and, in fact, we even recorded a rough demo for 'Complain'. One of the notable items in this song is the two different lead vocal track sounds - one normal (and full sounding), while the other is very "mono" and slightly distorted. This wasn't only fun to do, but also created a "ask a question" and "give an answer" vibe to the various verses. On the last verse, of course, the tracks are switched so that the answering track is then "asking the questions", so to speak. There's something deep there, I imagine...somewhere. I still feel that this was the best song to start the album with. It's rough, strange, and hard to put your finger on... like much of 'Sin'."

14. "Drenched Decent" from the 1993 Browbeat; Unplugged Alternative compilation LP
For the first decade I used the internet, drenchedecent was my screen name on message boards, and login name on just about all websites. Like I said above, this is brand new commentary from Scott Hunter on this song:

One of those songs that never landed on a true Poor Old Lu album, "Drenched Decent" was solicited by our record label for an "unplugged album" that they wanted to release.  That was about all we knew.  We wrote and recorded this song ourselves, and left all electric instruments at home--save for the bass.  The masterful flute was written and performed by a long-time band friend, and may be the most striking piece of the track. The result was surprisingly upbeat and different from our norm--leaning toward whimsical, and light.  When it was later released on the "Brow Beat" compilation, it stood out with it's very stripped-down and playful sound.

The title "Drenched Decent" actually existed before the song--from a short list of names that we considered before finally landing on Poor Old Lu.  The lyrics, however, are a calling--plain and simple.  A calling to take hold of the relief, grace, love, strength, and peace that is right in front of us.  "Now leave your cup and won't you come on in" is a challenge beyond simply tasting for immediate effect, but rather finding yourself awash in the filling of God.

13. "Bliss Is" from the 1994 Sin LP
"It seems that every Lu album had at least one "upbeat and funky" track. "Bliss" is one of those. Though we were never known to be a funk band, we did seem to have an edge where that style could be found now and then - and it was especially fun during our live shows. The gritty bass track is certainly one of the most notable aspects of this song... that and the groovy break-it-down solo type part. A good album song, and a great live song! (Side note: the title "Bliss Is" is strangely close to the title of an Ocean Blue song, "Bliss Is Unaware". I'm pretty sure that my brain took the title from that song, though I didn't know it at the time. Oh, well.)

Lyrically, I'm surprised that this song didn't receive more criticism. It is fairly brash and in-your-face, but also quite true - at least for the time. What's it all about? I'm glad you asked. "Bliss" was written about family. My family, to be exact. I grew up in a good household with loving parents, two older brothers, so on and so forth. We all got along quite well, actually, but after moving out of the house I realized that we had some serious communication problems. In essence, not communicating when needed ("on the floor, out the door, clean the slate")."

12. "Chance For The Chancers" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"Certainly one of the most haunting, melodic songs that we ever wrote. I was personally completely taken by it the very first time that I heard the music, and I couldn't wait to write lyrics. The title comes from the song 'Honeydrip' off of Ian McCulloch's solo album "Mysterio". Like much of our "8th Wonder" album, this song was written entirely in the studio during our 2-week tracking session."

11. "All Pretty For The T.V." from the 1993 Mindsize LP
"We had recorded this song once before at Innovations Music & Media, where Straight Six was recorded. It was rough, but pop-y. At the time, this was probably our most exciting song and, in fact, quickly became a crowd favorite. Eventually, we would have friends 3NP join us on stage for a hip-hop style interlude in the middle. The album version features sound-bites taken from Swirling Eddie's video "Spittle & Phlegm", at our request.

With notions of televangelism sprinkled throughout the lyrics, this song hits on the dangers of self-serving ministries, focused more on money than on the Lord, and its effects on those who believe in it. The other message refers to television itself. The idea being that much of what people do is based (wrongly) upon what they see from television."

10. "Friday To Sunday" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
One of my favorite Easter songs, and the song is unashamedly about Jesus' resurrection.

"Another song that I wished had begun less abruptly, but we were running out of time while tracking this album.  That said, I really love the "delayed" electric guitar lines during the second verses.  Also, the "bongo"-styled drum parts during the bridge was masterminded by Aaron, and works out pretty well.

More story-driven than most Lu songs, 'Friday To Sunday' really sprung out of a long fascination I've had with the crucifixion account found in Matthew 27:54 where we see some of the guards at the crucifixion itself declare, "Surely this was the Son of God".  I've often wondered the lives of those guards was like from that point on.  From there, this song really follows a parallel path of the disciples themselves -- once convinced that Jesus would 'set things straight', and then finding themselves watching him up on a cross.  What were those three days -- between the crucifixion and the resurrection -- really like?  How hopeless and confused did they feel?  What doubts flooded their minds?  Finally, though, they find that the 'stone is rolled away' and a new chapter begins."

9. "The Great Unwound"; 2013 digital single
Such a great song, but such a tease. At the time we were all hoping for more Lu, but sadly not the case. They did release a Christmas song a couple years later. And those are sadly the only Lu songs on Bandcamp.

New commentary from Scott Hunter:
This track stands apart and unique from all other Poor Old Lu songs, yet is quintessentially "Lu" in nature.  It was written and recorded in an effort to raise money for Paradise:Uganda--one of Jesse's passions--and began simply as a studio jam session with Aaron and Jesse laying down scratch tracks.  Nick and Scott ended up in the studio a few months afterward to record their parts, but the lyrics and melody were not born easily.  In fact, it took another year before Scott was content with his parts of the song--most of which were recorded in non-studio locations, including a friend's church office and his mom's living room.  The female backing vocals from our friend, Jen Hirschman, make this the only POL song with such a feature. 

The lyrics are perhaps more difficult.  There is a sadness to them that reflects some personal crises during that time.  Rather than a baptismal-type calling of "join me here, the water is fine", it's written from the outside-in.  It asks "why make those choices when the weight is so much to bear?"  The reply is summed up at the tail of the chorus: "So breathe in deeply, my son.  I swear I've won.  This need not be the sum of the one I've called My own."  It begs the listener to consider that our failures do not define us, but rather our responses to them.

8. "Cruciality" from the 1993 Mindsize LP
Another one of the last songs written for "Mindsize", it became our first real single (though 'More' was the first official single, it was not promoted as such). Within a few weeks, Cruciality hit #1 on one of the popular Christian charts. During a show in Irvine, CA, our record label presented us with a plaque to commemorate the event.

7. "Rail" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"Definitely not the usual way to start an album, but by this time we were doing things our own way, and not for booming record sales. The song was written as is (long intro and all), but the decision to put it at the beginning of the album came later. We weren't concerned. If anything, 'Rail' has a definite vibe of The Cure, one of our favorite bands growing up (except Jesse). 'Rail' still remains as one of my very favorite songs.

This was a difficult song lyrically. I struggled for some time with the chorus. Not writing it, mind you, just accepting that it was "ok" to sing that. At this point, all of us except for Jesse were married. When you get married (or engaged) it often throws you for a loop... and this song shows some of that. The first few lines (Jesus tie these hands...) speak of the wrong decisions that I had made in my previous relationships. Relationships that should never have been. I ended up hurting a lot of people, including myself."

6. "Digging Deep" from the 1995 Straight Six EP
This song is what actually led me to discovering Sunny Day Real Estate. Somehow I was not aware of them until after they broke up for the first time.

"Always one of our more popular songs. I suppose that is because it features our long-time friend, Jeremy Enigk, who also sings with Sunny Day Real Estate. Aaron, Nick, Jeremy and I played together early on, if you can call it playing! We had fun. Since this song was written to be a duet, we thought it would be great to sing with Jeremy again. And so we did. Jeremy changed the lyrics slightly on the bridge (artistic license, I suppose), but it came out rather well. He also dreamt up the great background vocals!"

5. "Where Were All Of You" from the 1994 Sin LP
"As one of the successful singles off of 'Sin', 'Where Were All Of You' may be one of the most representative songs of what Poor Old Lu's sound is like. Aggressive. Dreamy. Deep. Poppy. Something like all of that, but mixed up and jumbled around. This song is especially notable for the driving bass line and very effected vocals. In 1998, a special re-mix was made for the album 'Chrono'."

4. "For The Love Of My Country" from the 1995 Straight Six EP
"The thing that sticks out about this song, of course, is the very quiet beginning until it really kicks in. A lot of fun. As was the rest of Straight Six, this song was written entirely in the studio as we spent a month writing and recording. The song is boomy, repetitive, strange and catchy. The background vocals on the chorus are strangely memorable, though not recorded particularly well -- somewhat fitting for the whole album, rough and disjointed. In the long run, 'Country' ended up being a good show song."

3. "My World Falls Down" from the 1994 Sin LP
"Arguably the most popular Lu song - at least in concert. 'My World Falls Down' was always a slight notch up in the 'distortion' department than most of our stuff, but still fit very well. The beauty of this song might lie in its aggressive nature that soon tapers off. It is at times sing-songy, but then turns to flat out screams. Come to think of it, this song is strangely complex. I doubt very much that it fits the mold for the perfect pop single, yet it works quite nicely. Some have commented that this song is, perhaps, "perfect". I don't know about that, but it's still a lot of fun to listen to and play.

At its very core, 'My World Falls Down' deals with a common struggle of knowing wrong, but doing nothing about it."

("My World Falls Down" at 57:45)

2. "Receive" from the 1996 A Picture of the Eighth Wonder LP
"As I look back, 'Receive' is one of the most complete and well-rounded songs we had. Unfortunately, we only played a handful of shows after "8th Wonder" was released, so it never became a huge concert hit that it normally would've been. The times that we were able to play it were great. I've also felt that 'Receive' is one the most representational songs for the typical "Lu" sound."

1. "The Waiting Room" from the 2002 The Waiting Room LP
As I began writing this list, I never expected a song from The Waiting Room to be #1, as Sin and A Picture of the Eighth Wonder are by far my favorite Lu albums. But this song has only gotten better with age, and this album no longer seems disconnected from the earlier Lu stuff, as it did at the time.

"What can I say about this song?  First of all, it is probably in the top 5 of my favorite songs we've written and recorded.  I find it haunting and beautifully arranged.  In fact, I'm at times shocked that it came out so well.  Secondly, we've never had a 'title track' before, but it would be hard to find one more fitting that this.  From the slow beginning, to the late, wailing guitars, this song has a wonderful escalation to it, and was a great way to wrap up this album.  Some of my favorite parts?  I love the rim shots before the first verse, the bass line during the verses, and the double snare hits as you enter the last verse.  Also, this bridge is without a doubt one my favorites amongst our collection -- particularly the whispering background vocals.  Like the track 'Today', this song pretty much taxed me on my vocal range -- both high and low."

August 24, 2017

LP covers with Old English/Blackletter typefaces

Taylor Swift has a new album on the way in November. Since no music has been released yet, I am obsessing over the album art:

The first comparison I thought of when I saw it?

Then someone on Twitter sent me this:

I have since been digging for more, and found those below. Comment if you find another and I'll add it here:

July 14, 2017

Wolf Alice live in Pittsburgh

After discovering Wolf Alice in June of 2015, they have been my favorite band of the last two years. Ellie Rowsell (lead vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitar, synths, vocals), Theo Ellis (bass, vocals), and
Joel Amey (drums, vocals) create the perfect example of what I am looking for in music these days: creativity, diversity, intensity, and originality.

I have come ever so close to seeing them twice, once in London a week after I was there, and then last fall in Zurich (1.5 hour drive from my home in Germany), only to miss out because of a work conflict. When I planned my month-long trip to the States this summer, I was thrilled to discover their U.S. tour coincided with my visit to Pittsburgh.

Created with flickr slideshow.

To sum it up, Wolf Alice put on the best live show I have seen in years. Specifically, their show was the best concert I have been to since the Sunny Day Real Estate reunion tour in 2009. That is saying a lot, because I have seen many of my favorite bands in that 8-year span (Thrice thrice, mewithoutYou, Mineral, etc.).

I can't remember the last time I have been to a concert in which the live versions of the songs were radically better than the studio versions. Wolf Alice's debut LP, My Love is Cool, is my #1 album of 2015. I have listened to that album countless times, and yet the live performances of the songs I thought I knew inside and out revealed new layers and energy.

Not only did the show feature the best songs from My Love is Cool, this tour is especially unique because Wolf Alice is debuting songs from their upcoming second album. Visions of a Life releases on Sept. 29 and you can pre-order it here.

Sadly, I was not allowed to bring my SLR into the venue, so my iPhone 5 photos leave much to be desired. I shot one video of a new song, embedded below, and a few photos. My only other complaint about the show were the few and poor merch options. Both shirts were fairly hideous, and I had planned to buy one. I also would have loved to have a poster for the tour, but none existed. The only other thing for sale was the debut album which I already own in multiple versions.

The band opened up with new single, "Don't Delete The Kisses", which was the most mellow song of the night. (I shared this song in my previous blog post.) They transitioned into "Bros", which is in the bottom third of Wolf Alice songs, but was much heavier and interesting live.

The most exciting, energetic, and chaotic (controlled chaos) part of the set came next, with "You're a Germ" and the first single off Visions of a Life, "Yuk Foo." Both of these songs were made for live performance, as they are sing-a-longs and intense. Here is a performance of "You're a Germ" from 2016 that gives one an idea about how the crowd reacted last night:

"Lisbon" was 5th, and since first hearing it a couple years ago, I knew it would be a strong live track with its dynamics. I had researched setlists before attending, so I knew the title track from Visions of a Life would probably be next, and I was prepared to film it (below). As you will see, it is long, epic, and has the band branching into even newer, heavier territory.


My favorite Wolf Alice song, "Your Loves Whore" followed, and it gave me chills. I wasn't sure they would play it as they have only done so at about half their tour dates this summer. "Blush" followed, the lone inclusion from their older EP's. More fans filmed this song than any other last night, and I have always thought that this song would be a better opener on My Love is Cool than "Turn to Dust" is. Edit: found a video of "Blush" filmed from another fan at the Pittsburgh show (below)

The ninth and tenth songs in the set were two more new tracks, and had the band branching out into even broader territory. The strength of this band has been variety since the beginning, and as the band matures they are somehow even becoming more diverse. Both of these new songs are fairly brief, and "Beautifully Unconventional" sounded so much different than most of the bands songs that in my notes I wrote "cover song?" (It isn't.) I didn't know the name of "Formidable Cool" until this morning when I Googled the lyric that Ellie repeated, "I knew it was all an act!"

"Silk" is one of the most unique songs the band has recorded, mostly quiet, but builds to an explosion of sound and gorgeous harmony. The final third of this song is my favorite one minute of music the band has released. "Fluffy" followed, another one of my least favorite songs from the band, but is far better in the live setting as it is another sing-a-long and really gets the crowd moving.

Besides the new songs, the song that most impressed me from the show was "Giant Peach", the final song in the set before the encore. The song was radically better live, and was so freaking heavy! I forget about the song when listening to the album, but if I am fortunate enough to see Wolf Alice play again, it is probably the song I will look forward to the most; it shook my bones! Here is a great performance of it I found on YouTube, but every time I see music live I remember one of the most important parts of the experience: not only do I hear the music, I feel the music.

The band returned to the stage for a one-song encore, "Moaning Lisa Smile". This was the band's primary single from their debut album, and once again not my favorite, but once again translated well to the live setting. The band interacted with the crowd more on this song, and it was a ton of fun:

July 12, 2017

New music to listen to this week: Lo Tom, Waxahatchee, Wolf Alice, Jeremy Enigk & more

2017 continues to be a surreal year in music for me. At this point there might already be 10 albums that have been released that surpass my favorite from 2016. I hope to write more in-depth analysis at some point, but for now I'll just continue to share...

Lo Tom (Bazan/Martin/Walsh/Many) officially releases this Friday, but vinyl has already arrived and the LP is streaming in full on Stereogum:

Waxahatchee's new album also drops on Friday, and is streaming in full on NPR. I can't embed it here, but here are the couple songs that are on Bandcamp right now, and the rest will show up on Friday. This could end up being my #1 of the year depending on what Wolf Alice does...

The second single off Wolf Alice's September album was released last week, and it is phenomenal. The first two tracks couldn't be more different. I am seeing them play tomorrow in Pittsburgh, the most excited I have been for a show in years...

The third and final single from the new Manchester Orchestra album, which comes out later this month; it is more rock than the first two, but all three show tremendous maturity:

Another second track off a September album, Mogwai debuted a new song:

Soccer Mommy was a random discovery a couple months ago and the first couple of tracks from the August album are streaming on Bandcamp and fun:

Jeremy Enigk has a new album Ghosts coming in August, and while no studio tracks have been released yet,  this live performance for KEXP last week includes the new song "Ancient Road". The new song is the last one (starts about 16:00), following four songs from Return of the Frog Queen:

The new HAIM album is out! So good, and perfect for the summer. Here is a live song from SNL:

June 17, 2017

Top 15 LPs of the first half of 2017 and the best 15 still to come

This is a follow-up to my January post in which I predicted the top 30 albums that would be released in 2017.

Top 15 albums of 2017 released as of June 17:

1. Allison Crutchfield- Tourist in this Town

2. Eisley- I'm Only Dreaming

3. The New Pornographers- Whiteout Conditions

4. Overcoats- Young

5. Spoon- Hot Thoughts

6. Charly Bliss- Guppy

7. Big Thief- Capacity

8. The Shins- Heartworms

9. football, etc.- Corner

10. Cayetana- New Kind of Normal

11. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister- Planetarium

12. Jesca Hoop- Memories are Now

13. Wild Pink- Wild Pink

14. David Bazan- Care

15. Deb Talan- Lucky Girl

Top 15 albums that will definitively be released in the second half of 2017:

1. Wolf Alice- Visions of a Life

2. Waxahatchee- Out in the Storm

3. Manchester Orchestra- A Black Mile to the Surface

4. Rainer Maria- S/T

5. Jeremy Enigk- Ghosts

6. Stavesacre- MCMXCV
(first track from crowd-funded release has been shared with supporters only)

7. Mogwai- Every Country's Sun

8. Lo Tom- S/T

9. HAIM- Something to Tell You

10. that dog.- TBA

11. Arcade Fire- Everything Now

12. Stars- TBA

13. Emily Haines- Choir of the Mind

14. Ratboys- GN

15. Fleming and John- TBA

June 7, 2017

New songs to listen to this week and one to avoid

Wolf Alice

No music from it yet, but Wolf Alice has a new album coming very soon and they are previewing one track at a time through lyrics and images on their social media accounts. In January I wrote that a new Wolf Alice album had the potential to be my #1 album of the year.


 Rainer Maria  


Prophets of Rage (Warning: explicit lyrics. But the song is important in today's political environment and the word, while offensive, is used appropriately.)

April 18, 2017

It Came Out Magical; Top 25 New Pornographers Songs

I didn't plan to write this list, but the New Pornographer's new album inspired me and I have been listening to the band non-stop for the last two weeks. Narrowing their catalog to 25 songs was incredibly difficult and time consuming, but I will keep the commentary short and simple with just a few embedded live videos (one from each of the seven LPs).

I did not include any Dan Bejar songs. He has some great ones ("Myriad Harbor" is my favorite), but I greatly prefer Carl Newman compositions. Also, after seeing the band live Bejar's antics and overall perceived lack of interest in the band was a turnoff. Specially, he was the only member of the band who did not play on every song. He would come out on stage for his songs, but then go backstage in between. Him having no songs on the latest album "Whiteout Conditions" doesn't bother me one bit.

Final comment: I adore Neko Case, so any song she sings on automatically reaches another level for me.

Top 25 New Pornographers Songs:
25. "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" from 2000's Mass Romantic
24. "We've Been Here Before" from 2017's Whiteout Conditions
23. "My Shepherd" from 2010's Together
22. "Marching Orders" from 2014's Brill Bruisers
21. "The Electric Version" from 2003's Electric Version
20. "Mass Romantic" from 2000's Mass Romantic

19. "Whiteout Conditions" from 2017's Whiteout Conditions
18. "Use It" from 2005's Twin Cinema
17. "Unguided" from 2007's Challengers
16. "Moves" from 2010's Together
15. "The Jessica Numbers" from 2005's Twin Cinema
14. "Go Places" from 2007's Challengers
13. "High Ticket Attractions" from 2017's Whiteout Conditions
12. "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" from 2010's Together

11. "These Are The Fables" from 2005's Twin Cinema
10. "Challengers" from 2007's Challengers

9. "All For Swinging You Around" from 2003's Electric Version
8. "This Is The World Of Theater" from 2017's Whiteout Conditions

7. "From Blown Speakers" from 2003's Electric Version

6. "Letter From An Occupant" from 2000's Mass Romantic
5. "Champions of Red Wine" from 2014's Brill Bruisers
4. "Crash Years" from 2010's Together

3. "Adventures in Solitude" from 2007's Challengers
2. "Brill Bruisers" from 2014's Brill Bruisers
1. "The Bleeding Heart Show" from 2005's Twin Cinema

The New Pornographers albums ranked:
1. Challengers (I know I am in the minority here)
2. Twin Cinema
3. Brill Bruisers
4. Together
5. Whiteout Conditions
6. Electric Version
7. Mass Romantic

April 5, 2017

New music to listen to this week: New Pornographers, Chastity Belt, Big Thief, Charly Bliss...

Lots of great new stuff streaming this week! First of all, NPR is debuting the new album from the New Pornographers. As this excellent Paste review describes, it is more catchy, poppy goodness from the band. Although I do miss the "less accessible and at times gratuitously weird" songs the band has released in the past.

Secondly, Chastity Belt is streaming two new songs from their upcoming June LP. They have been around for awhile, but I just heard them for the first time last night.

Big Thief, whose debut was my #14 album of 2016, already has their second LP to be released in May, and the first track is beautiful:

Charly Bliss debuted a video for another new song from their upcoming Barsuk LP. As a father of two little girls, this video hits very close to home:

Not a new song, but Thrice debuted a stunning video for "Hurricane" yesterday:

Finally, 2017 began with two terrific fundraising campaigns with exclusive songs from nearly 200 different artists. Our First 100 Days is highlighted by new Speedy Ortiz, Rob Crow, Julien Baker, etc. All 100 songs for a $30 donation...

In the second campaign the only way to see and hear all the Rough Trade songs is to subscribe, but they do have a few streaming for free. The best songs though are new tracks from Mates of State and Nada Surf, which can't be listened except through making a donation.

March 28, 2017

For the Love of Guitar; Top 25 Aaron Sprinkle songs

Aaron Sprinkle released his 5th solo album last Friday, titled Real Life. A couple days and a half a dozen full listens in, I sadly don't like it--at all. It's a strange situation I find myself in, because I am one of the few who has been listening to and loving Aaron Sprinkle for now a full 25 years, and have always liked his work. I knew him as a guitarist first, then frontman, then solo artist, then producer. From what I can tell, most of his fans in 2017 discovered him as a producer first, which led to finding his solo work, and then his other bands. Also, from what I can tell, most of his fans in 2017 are digging Real Life, unlike me.

I hope Real Life grows on me, but even if if doesn't, I have 25 years worth of Aaron Sprinkle songs I adore. If you add up his solo albums and his bands Poor Old Lu, Rose Blossom Punch, Fair, and Blank Books, I have well over 200 songs Aaron has written or co-written in my library. Much of my dislike for this new album is stylistic, because I am a primarily a fan of guitar-based rock and folk songs, and generally don't enjoy much electronic programming and synthesizers, which is what this album is written around. I can't place it on style alone though, because I enjoy David Bazan's most recent two electronic LPs (also with a guitar-based background I prefer), and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Chvrches.

Paste says, "On some tracks, Sprinkle even plays around with his own vocals, running them through spaciously echoed or mechanized effects until they become a new component to playfully employ against their original source. It’s rare to see so much growth and transformation from an artist contained within one single album, but that engaged struggle for forward progress is what real life and Real Life is all about." I don't see this so much as growth, but more as a misstep or failed experiment. If you love electro-pop and dance music however, your feelings might be the opposite of mine.

Also, I love Aaron's vocals so much, and he is able to do so many things with them. His voice is multiple-dimensioned, and depending on what part of his catalog you listen to, it can sound radically different, sometimes within the context of a single song. Also, his harmonizing with himself over the years is awesome and powerful. But with Real Life, the ways he has processed and manipulated his vocals I find irritating and bothersome.

As I dive into Aaron's impressive discography and catalog to narrow it to 25 songs, you won't find any more mentions of Real Life. My final word on that album is that it takes someone with a good sense of humor to use a photo of one as a teenager on an album cover when in your 40's; so props to Aaron for allowing us to laugh with him. I can't even pick my favorite song from Real Life yet, but the one I'll embed here includes vocals from frequent collaborator Sherri Dupree-Bemis (frontwoman of Eisley, who I adore):

My love for Aaron Sprinkle's music of course began with Poor Old Lu, who is my co-favorite band of all time. Aaron played guitar and sang bgv's for Poor Old Lu, a very collaborative band in which the songs were co-written by he, his brother and drummer Jesse Sprinkle, bass player Nick Barber, and lead singer Scott Hunter. I could very easily write a book about Poor Old Lu, but I won't. It is important to make clear though that as much I love Aaron's solo work and as the frontman of other bands, I love 90% of Poor Old Lu songs more than any of his stuff outside that band. (At some point I might do a Poor Old Lu top 25 list, but I would only be narrowing it down from around 60 original songs they released in about a decade).

I considered including the only Poor Old Lu song he sings lead on ("Ring True") in my top 25 list, but I am going to leave it out, because those words were written by Scott Hunter. So each of the 25 songs below the words and music (well, at least most of the music) was written by Aaron himself. I did include Poor Old Lu albums though in my top 10 LP list at the end of this post.

When Poor Old Lu first parted ways, Aaron immediately jumped in and fronted his next band, Rose Blossom Punch (which contained Lu bass player Nick Barber). When that band broke up after one LP and one EP, he recorded and released three largely acoustic solo albums in three years. A few years later Aaron then formed another rock band, Fair, which also featured Barber. When Fair parted ways after two albums Aaron began his stylistic shift; after two decades of rock Aaron's 4th solo album was his electronic pop debut, 2013's Water and Guns.

While the shift from the two Fair rock albums to the electronic pop of Water and Guns was disappointing for me, I still enjoyed it because I appreciated the experimentation. However, I didn't expect the experiment to last more than one album. Thankfully, I do look forward to more Aaron rock music, and according to his brother Jesse in a recent interview, their band Blank Books has an EP finished and ready to release. One can hear a clip of the first Blank Books song here (starting at 2:05 in Jesse's snare drum demonstration video), and it is my favorite Aaron song in a decade:

Before I jump into the top 25 my final comment is that Aaron has recorded some great covers over the years, and my favorite of those is a fun version of the Beach Boys' "I Know There's an Answer/ Hang on to your Ego".

Top 25 Aaron Sprinkle Songs:
25. "Alright" from the 2013 solo album Water and Guns
Of the 20 songs Aaron wrote for his two recent electro-pop albums, Aaron nailed it on this song. Super-catchy; you won't be able to get it out of your head. Invisible Creature did a terrific job with the packaging and cover for this album. Right now the only song from Aaron's "new era" that grabs me in any way.

24. "Wayside" from the 2010 Fair album Disappearing World
If you wished this album existed on vinyl I can tell you who to blame for it not being pressed; ME. I was in talks with Fair guitarist Erick Newbill about putting it out. They wanted to release it on vinyl, but Tooth & Nail wouldn't do it. I actually formed my own non-profit record label with assistance of a lawyer, and we had a plan that the profits from sales would go to benefit a cause. Erick and I had done all the planning and were working on the details, but I never went through because I was going to need to personally front the money, and I was unable and unwilling. At the time I was unaware of Kickstarter and crowdfunding wasn't yet "in." A year or two later I would have moved forward and used Kickstarter to raise the money needed to press the vinyl. The timing sadly wasn't right.

23. "So Discreet" from the 2000 solo album The Kindest Days
The Kindest Days is my least favorite of the the three solo albums in three years. However, I love the bookends of this album, and this is the lead track. Aaron has used piano prolifically throughout his career, but at the time this album was released, he had not (except as a sparse background instrument), so this was the first time we heard it as the primary instrument in his music. The song starts with just Aaron's voice and piano, but then explodes in the middle with bass, drums, and an electric guitar solo.

22. "The Boy Who Stopped The World" from the 2001 solo album Bareface

Comartian did an interesting video series of Aaron a few years ago; both interview segments and live performances. The video below is from this. There is also a "rare" 2003 Aaron Sprinkle live album with this same name. As much as I prefer it when Aaron is in full out rock mode, sometimes there is nothing better than just his voice and acoustic guitar.

21. "Sleepily" from the 1999 Rose Blossom Punch Sorry To Disappoint You EP
This EP is probably the rarest of all of Aaron's music, and was released very late as a CD by a random MP3 website (I am blanking on the name, and my CD is in a box on the other side of the Atlantic). The cover was the only original part of the artwork, as the rest of the packaging was generic and appeared to be the same for everything that website issued. The song "Sleepily" also appears on the only Rose Blossom Punch vinyl, a 7". I order most of my vinyl through the mail, and thankfully this is the only time in two decades I have had a record damaged in the mail; it was completely shattered. Thankfully I was able to buy another copy of it a few years ago. There is also no artwork for the 7", just a white paper sleeve covered in stamps by hand.

20. "Disappearing World" from the 2010 Fair album Disappearing World
I mentioned Erick Newbill above, and I will again, because Erick did write a lot of the music on the Fair albums. While Aaron always sings lead, Erick bgv's are prominent, as is his excellent guitar work. Erick has his own band Subways on the Sun, which is finalizing their second album, and also features the bass playing of Nick Barber. Their first is called The Honeymoon Stagecoach and was released in 2013. Erick also fronted the band Wes Dando back around the time Aaron was first doing solo albums.

19. "Haunted Church" from the 1997 Rose Blossom Punch album Ephemere
I think this may have been the "radio single" from the debut Rose Blossom Punch album. Now, whether or not it was actually played on the radio...the only thing I know for sure is that I personally played it on my radio show: the B.A.Zone on WVSU 91.1 in Birmingham, Alabama.

18. "Walking In My Sleep" from the 2010 Fair album Disappearing World
Music videos rarely impact me, and I find them largely forgettable. But this live studio recording of this song is spectacular; the camera work really bring out the best in the band. This album as a whole was largely disappointing compared to the first Fair LP, but this song is one of the highlights.

17. "In the Meantime" from the 2000 solo album The Kindest Days
Aaron sequences his albums well, and the album closers are frequently the highlights. On this solo album the closer is the strongest track on the LP. It begins with a swirling electric guitar line, adding Aaron's quiet vocal, and then becoming a fleshed-out, multilayered track highlighted by a guitar solo and unique harmonies.

16. "All In A Day's Work" from the 1999 solo album Moontraveler
Moontraveler was our introduction to quiet, contemplative Aaron Sprinkle music. This song's second half was unlike anything Aaron had ever done, with the primary instrument being chimes and then moving into a strong bridge with electric strings.

15. "Confidently Dreaming" from the 2006 Fair album The Best Worst-Case Scenario
Some of my favorite Aaron lyrics:
"...I'll take the stand and plead forgiveness
Someone put the blame on you
Desperately feeling, for confidently dreaming of you
When all you have to do is love
I won't escape the feeling, for confidently dreaming of you, my love"

14. "All That's Left Of Me" from the 2001 solo EP Really Something
The Really Something EP contained six songs, two of which are the original version (that later appeared on Bareface) and another acoustic version of the title track. Surprisingly, I never "really" liked this song that ended up as the lead track on Bareface. This EP also contained a cover of the Cure's "Letter to Elise",  a Rose Blossom Punch "cover" I discuss below (#8), and "The Patron", probably the most popular track from Bareface. The sixth and final track is "All That's Left of Me", a long acoustic track that didn't make the Bareface album. The song is simple, but I love the standalone acoustic guitar work.

13. "Sweeter Than Me" from the 2001 solo album Bareface
Bareface as a whole is much fuller and orchestrated than Aaron's first two solo albums, but this song is largely an exception with simple acoustic guitar picking and vocals. It is eventually highlighted by pedal steel and Aaron harmonizing with himself (which he does extraordinarily well).

12. "A Friend I Had" from the 1999 solo album Moontraveler
Seven or eight years into his career, this song was missing something every Aaron Sprinkle song had up until this point: drums. There is no percussion, and also no bass. So it was fairly radical at the time, being almost entirely acoustic guitar; but with multiple tracks of it at the end.

11. "Confused" from the 1997 Rose Blossom Punch album Ephemere
One of the best parts about Ephemere is Aaron's production and the use of left and right speakers. I noticed the left and right differences more on this album than ever had in my life up until this point. Ephemere is a radically different album with headphones on. On "Confused" specifically the song begins with percussion and guitar on the right, and then Aaron's vocals on the left. About 25 seconds in the rest of the instruments kick in and Aaron's vocals move right to the center.

10. "Get You Out Alive" from the 2006 Fair album The Best Worst-Case Scenario
Invisible Creature, the design firm founded and led by Don and Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter, Training for Utopia, etc.) has designed much of (maybe most of) Aaron Sprinkle's album artwork over the last 20 years. Most notably is the packaging for the 2006 Fair album, as it was nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Recording Package" category. You can see some of the packaging here, but one thing you can't see except holding in your hand is the stunning metallic ink used. Back to the song, John Davis (Superdrag) contributes pedal steel and vocals.

9. "Antennae's Wife" from the 1999 solo album Moontraveler
This is the lone upbeat rock song on Aaron's debut solo album, as the rest of it is fairly quiet folk tunes. Structurally it is not that different than many Rose Blossom Songs, but instrumentally Aaron went in a completely different direction with the use of electronic percussion and a guitar tone never before previously used in his music. On a side note, this song began my obsession with the town Kalispell, Montana ("she was on her way to Kalispell") which culminated in a visit the following year, along with Glacier National Park.

8. "See It in Me" Rose Blossom Punch from the 1996 Tooth andnNail Records complication Artcore Volume 2
The first ever Rose Blossom Punch song appeared on 1995's Artcore Volume 1 comp., but Aaron outdid himself with the second song from what was at the time a "side project". Aaron later re-recorded a solo acoustic version of this song for the 2001 Really Something EP.

7. "The Attic" from the 2006 Fair album The Best Worst-Case Scenario
The production techniques are so unique and diverse on this album, bringing out so many textural elements. I didn't notice it until this week, but this song reminds me a lot of the sounds and tones on Death Cab for Cutie's most recent album Kintsugi; but the Best Worst-Case Scenario was recorded a decade beforehand. The female vocal harmonies from Brynn Sanchez add a lot as well.

6. "Hot Rod Horse" from the 1997 Rose Blossom Punch album Ephemere
Probably the most straightforward love song Aaron has ever written. I have an affinity for this track for many reasons, one of which is the line, "Driving through Tennessee", mentioning my home state. Damien Jurado's background vocals also add an interesting twist.

5. "The Patron" from the 2001 solo album Bareface
Always curious who these lyrics were about, and if it is someone specific. Any theories out there?
"All rise here comes the patron
His cause can't be mistaken
His eyes are turning red
'Cause he don't fit in

Talk about pretentious
Do you know now why you've left us out to dry?
So next time you see me
You'll know now how to greet me
Just remember days go by but so do I"

4. "Take Some Risks" from the 2010 Fair album Disappearing World
This is the longest and most epic of the songs on the second Fair album, and that brings out a theme: I feel Aaron is at his best when epic and long, yet he rarely ventures into that territory. Three of my favorite four songs of his are 5:14 or longer, and the best Poor Old Lu songs were also often long ("Rail", "Sickly", "The Waiting Room"). This song is highlighted by a string ensemble and a guitar solo that is reminiscent of an 80's metal ballad (and I love 80's metal ballads).

3. "Cyclone Fence" from the 1997 Rose Blossom Punch album Ephemere
Similar to 1996's Poor Old Lu album opener "Rail", "Cyclone Fence" is once again long, and builds gradually to an explosion of sound. It only took about 45 seconds of the first listen to get me excited about the future of Aaron's music post-Poor Old Lu. Another terrific example of the left-right mixing, with the song opening with guitar on the right, then percussion the left, then piano on the right, until the explosion right in the middle of your head. This song also continues to use the acoustic guitar as a texture in hard rock songs, which is one of my favorite elements of Poor Old Lu.

2. "No Reason To Pretend" from the 2001 solo album Bareface
This is the polar opposite of the other three songs in my top four, as it is brief and simple. It is the shortest song on this list by over 30 seconds, clocking in at only 2:26. Also, there are no bells and whistles; once again only acoustic guitar and Aaron's voice. Aaron's vocals have never sounded better and lyrically the song is my favorite he has ever written: "You'll never know, dear, how much you breath strength and courage into me..." Aaron's harmonies with himself are gorgeous, and the song ends with ghostlike a capella "ahhs".

1. "Unglued" from the 2006 Fair album The Best Worst-Case Scenario
This song has everything I love about Aaron's music: layers of guitars, hooks, vocal harmonies, and contributions from multiple talented musicians: Nick Barber on bass, Joey Sanchez on drums, Erick Newbill on guitar and vocals, and with even more vocals from sisters Sherri and Stacy Dupree (Eisley). There are few live videos of Aaron Sprinkle or his bands on the internet, as he practically never performs live. So pretty cool that this video of "Unglued" even exists, as I doubt Fair performed live more than a dozen times.

April 18 Update: I got in touch with Erick Newbill (Fair, Subways on the Sun, Wes Dando) and learned he actually wrote this song. I asked him to share his memories of the song as it was composed:

"'Unglued' came together entirely in the studio from a few different sources. The main intro section/riff was written on a day where Aaron was in Studio A working on something else and I was alone in Studio B working on ideas/parts for other stuff. I had thrown my capo on the 6th fret for no good reason (odd choice, never done it before or since) and was just playing chords super loud to try and get inspired for something new. The intro came quickly and I started building off of it.

"At some point during the process I remembered these other two demos that I thought might fit with that intro as potential choruses, verses, or something else. The quieter 'speak to me now...' guitar section was definitely from one of those demos, and I think the outro of the song came from the other. So I put all 3 ideas together and it morphed into one song. I was totally unsure of it at first, but it took shape as I started working on the lyrics and final arrangement. I remember wanting to write lyrics and melodies that took Aaron toward the upper part of his range, particularly toward the end.

"When we recorded the drums, Joey had this idea of never quite settling into a predictable pattern (which ended up becoming the pattern) for most of the song which moved things in a cool direction. Nick's bass parts and Aaron's key ideas made it all come together ultimately.

"Aaron had the idea of getting Sherri and Stacy DuPree to sing on it, which was an honor.  We had a great time having them join us live on that song several times on tour as well. I remember us playing the almost finished version for Ryan Clark (who designed the artwork) in the studio as one of the initial reference songs for him to get ideas for the final art and packaging."

Top 10 Aaron Sprinkle albums ranked:
1. Poor Old Lu- Sin (#1 album of 1994)
2. Poor Old Lu- A Picture of the 8th Wonder (#3 album of 1996)
3. Poor Old Lu- The Waiting Room (#3 album of 2002)
4. Fair- The Best Worst-Case Scenario (#4 album of 2006)
5. Poor Old Lu- Mindsize (#4 album of 1993)
6. Rose Blossom Punch- Ephemere (#5 album of 1997)
7. Aaron Sprinkle- Bareface (#20 album of 2001)
8. Aaron Sprinkle- Moontraveler (#10 album of 1999)
9. Fair- Disappearing World (#7 album of 2010)
10. Aaron Sprinkle- The Kindest Days (#25 album of 2000)