December 22, 2020

Best of 2020


It goes without saying that 2020 has been rough and I won’t elaborate on that topic. However, the significant silver lining is MUSIC. It has been a phenomenal year in that regard (also, Boba Fett!). 

As the word “unprecedented” has been used by all of us in a more negative way this year than ever in the past, I would say that 2020 is unprecedented in the massive amounts of high-quality music recorded and released this year. Comparing two random years in music is an impossible task, but as I review my year-end lists, it is hard to find a year in the last dozen or so that comes close to the depth of 2020.

Despite prioritizing buying music directly from artists and labels (and especially this year through "Bandcamp Days"), I have somewhat joined the dark side when it comes to streaming services. While I will continue to unabashedly promote Bandcamp as the best, and really the only digital music service actually operating in a way to serve artists, I did subscribe to Apple Music this year.

I subscribed primarily for my family (wife and two kids also with iPhones), but I will admit I have enjoyed the benefits. It makes it far easier to preview music, and having access to lyrics was an unplanned surprise. The plan that I will do my best to hold both myself and my family members accountable to: if you stream a song or album three times, and plan to continue to do so, then either buy a physical copy, or support the artist financially in another way. Ideally that would be attending a concert (whenever those resume), but in the meantime buying merch directly from the artist is the best route. For me this is typically buying vinyl records.

Preaching the gospel of supporting artists continues to be a central them of this blog. Despite the fact that I now rarely post here, I do constantly discuss and promote music on Instagram and Twitter. 

I began writing this post on December 3. Early that morning I saw this tweet:
And then the night before I saw this:
Both of these are in response to the flurry of “Spotify Wrapped” social media images shared prolifically by musicians and fans alike the first week in December. While I understand the fun behind it, I wish there were a better way. Sharing what music you listen to is in theory a great way to help the creators, but in the case of Spotify, the musicians are only getting literal pennies.

Subscribing to streaming services is inevitable because it’s so easy, and most people don’t have the time to curate a library of digital music; nor the interest in having shelves full of records, CDs, and cassettes. My solution is this: subscribe to whatever service you prefer, but then use your “Spotify Wrapped” or the equivalent to help you make decisions about what concerts you are going to attend, t-shirts you are going to buy, or for independent artists, just send them some money through PayPal.

My use of Apple Music is not without significant frustration. Most notably, merging my 17-year-old detailed, curated, massive iTunes database of MP3s with the Apple Music streaming service. I have a copy of my database that I do not "sync", and I do not use iTunes match. However, even something as simple as sharing playlists is more challenging than it should be (as if I have a a song in my database that I ripped from a CD or bought digitally years ago, and even if it is also in the Apple Music library, it won't appear on a shared playlist unless I remove my original copy and replace it with a new Apple Music version of the song). I will occasionally do the work to create shared playlists though, as I think playlists are maybe the single best benefit of Spotify and Apple Music (and I continue to mourn the lack of playlists on Bandcamp). With this in mind, I did create a best of 2020 Apple Music playlist: 


(Note the playlist was created as a cohesive album [that starts quiet and ends loud], and is not in order of my favorite albums as seen below.)

As I write these year-end lists, I will commit to only including albums I have purchased full copies of (and not simply streamed). Most of the time this means vinyl, but my budget has limits and so sometimes that album purchase is only digital, or in the rare case, a CD or cassette.

Top 20 LPs of 2020:

1. Taylor Swift- folklore 
Hometown: West Reading, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Apple Music

This is, simply, the pinnacle quarantine release. No one, including Taylor Swift herself knew that she would release an album this year. And these past two weeks have thrown me off completely in writing about this album, because Taylor Swift released ANOTHER 2020 LP, evermore. For now, I am going to consider evermore a 2021 release, as I am so positively overwhelmed by the existence of both albums, it is hard to know what to do with them. Long-term, I may think of them like a double album in the vein of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

In the Disney+ special about folklore, Swift explains that in May she began writing songs, and it unexpectedly became a new album that was not a part of her plan (and typically her plan is thought out and long-term). Now we know that her songwriting sessions actually led to two albums, for a total of 34 songs. 34 new songs in one year! (Quick thought on this--it is REALLY hard to compare that many songs from one artist to only 8 or 9 from another. Seven of my top 20 albums as seen here have 8 or 9 songs, and despite preferring quality to quantity, 8 definitely is not enough.)

Despite evermore being great, folklore is far better. folklore is more realized; a more immersive and stunning experience. folklore is the album I always hoped Taylor Swift would release, but never actually thought she would. I was late appreciating her music, with Red being the first Swift album I bought (digital only). What I found most appealing from her initially, besides the music being fun, catchy, and different than most of my collection, was that Swift writes all her own tunes and is CEO of her own corporation. 

1989 was the first time I took Swift really seriously stylistically--obviously that album was a major step and huge risk (not enough can be said about the fact that the album cover only shows the lower half of her face). While really enjoying Reputation and Lover, neither came close to 1989 for me. The pop is fun, but I still found so much of it childish. Taylor has grown up, and her music speaks to me like never before.

folklore is far and away my favorite album from Swift. Obviously I am an indie-folk fan in general, looking over the the rest of my top 10 below. I didn't know how much I needed folklore during COVID, and I have listened to it an insane amount (since it's release on July 24, if you add up all the minutes I have listened to all other music, that may not equal the number of minutes I have listened to folklore.

I enjoy folklore so much as a whole, I almost never skip around, and it wasn't until this month that I finally claimed a favorite song from the album ("Illicit Affairs"--oh, that last line). The Aaron Dessner-Taylor Swift collaboration is one of the highlights of 2020, and I have become far more interested in his music because of it. 

In reading an interview with Dessner this week, some questions I had about the timeline and process of the two Swift albums were answered. I wondered initially if maybe all 34 songs were recorded prior to folklore being released. They weren't, and in the case of both albums, a song or two were written and recorded and tagged on only days before the album was released to the public. evermore was birthed during the filming of the Disney+ special, as Swift was writing with Dessner while they were filming. Unlike folklore, that was recorded almost entirely remotely, evermore was tracked in Dessner's studio.

2. Fiona Apple- Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Hometown: New York City
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Apple Music

When I first heard this album I assumed it would be my album of the year. We don't get Fiona Apple music very often, so when it drops I am sure to pay attention. I didn't like The Idler Wheel... much, so I had tempered my expectations for this one--but Fetch the Bolt Cutters blew me away. The percussion is aggressive and wild, and the album as a whole is intense.

3. Haim- Women in Music Pt. III

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Apple Music

This is my first Haim vinyl purchase, which is a clue to the level of my previous fandom. I enjoyed their first two albums enough to buy them on CD, but excitement for this one built early as they released a variety of singles and a digital EP of what would become album tracks. I heard "Hallelujah" over a year ago, at the time my favorite song Haim had written. This was the perfect summer album, and another long one rich and full of 16 terrific songs.

4. Waxahatchee- Saint Cloud
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Like Fiona Apple and Haim, Waxahatchee was once in the running (in my head) for my album of the year. With a March release date, it was the first great album of 2020, and could not have come at a better time. It was released as quarantine began, and was a light in the darkness. While I will probably always prefer the edgier and more rocking previous album Out in the Storm, this is quintessential Katie Crutchfield. Originally being from Alabama, this Americana album captures Crutchfield's roots and features her strongest songwriting. Four of my top six albums this year were given Grammy nominations, and it is sad and inexplicable that Waxahatchee was not included in that bunch.

5. The Beths- Jump Rope Gazers
Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I first heard the Beths in 2018, but I didn't listen to their debut Future Me Hates Me enough to buy it or appreciate it. This time around the New Zealand band impressed me though, taking it to the next level with stronger songwriting and dynamics. They are still aggressive much of the time, but when they quiet down they are at their peak: the title track, "Do You Want Me Now" and "You Are a Beam of Light" are three of my favorite songs of the year.

6. Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

This was potentially my most anticipated album of 2020, and while it is of course terrific (and seemingly the consensus #1 album of the year around the world), I was actually disappointed by it. Honestly I greatly prefer Bridgers' debut Stranger in the Alps. Punisher sounds great, and "Chinese Satellite" and "Graceland Too" (which could have been on the boygenius EP) are standouts, but as a whole I think Stranger has a significantly stronger group of songs.

7. Katie Malco- Failures
Hometown: Northampton, United Kingdom
Format purchased: Vinyl 
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

First album on my list from an artist I had never even heard of prior to this year. Katie Malco released a couple of EPs six-plus years ago, but this is her debut, and it's phenomenal. At times she is heavily Pedro the Lion influenced, and the song "Let's Go to War" is essentially a sequel to the Bazan song "Hard to Be." She is at her best when she's the quietest, for example with the song "Fractures."

8. Stay Inside- Viewing

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Another debut comes in next, with the perfect band name for 2020. While I spent most of the year listening to singer-songwriter music, this was the first and best heavy album I got into. It is all over the place stylistically though, and isn't always hard.

9. The Casket Lottery- Short Songs for End Times

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Format purchased: Vinyl (ships in 2021)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I was really late to the party with the Casket Lottery, and it wasn't until 2020 that I listened to a full Casket Lottery album. I was aware of them in the late 90's, and have some CD comps from that time with their tunes. Somehow I never got into them though, and Furnace Fest 2020 (now rescheduled for Sept. 2021--I'll be there!) is what spurred me on to listen to their old work. I wasn't even aware this album was in the pipeline, so I was pleasantly surprised when it dropped. I don't have the best perspective because of my late listening, but I find this to be the best album they have ever put out.

10. The Innocence Mission- See You Tomorrow

Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

The Innocence Mission has amazingly been putting out terrific music for over 30 years, and I have been buying their releases for 25 of those years. While I felt like the quality was waning in the 2000's, over the last 5 years Karen and Don Peris have recorded some of their top work. It's hard to rank all their countless albums, but this is near the top. Now if someone would just get the rights to issue my favorite two Innocence Mission albums, 1995's Glow and 1999's Birds of My Neighborhood--on wax.

11. Mountain Time- Music for Looking Animals
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

While I love Chris Simpson and all of his music, quite honestly everything he has done since The Gloria Record disbanded has disappointed me. Simpson remains one of my favorite lyricists of all time, but his solo work (primarily under the moniker Zookeeper) never grabbed me. Until this! Now using the name Mountain Time, Simpson has definitely hit his stride with the folk-rock. Unlike the last Zookeeper album, which was stripped down, Music For Looking Animals is layered with tons of instruments and a full sound. While I might be more excited about the image of all five members of The Gloria Record on Zoom Simpson put on Instagram recently, this album is great. I may never like Simpson's solo work as much as Mineral or TGR, but that doesn't mean it's not good.

12. Black Bra- Black Bra

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Format purchased: Vinyl 
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Potentially the most obscure album in my top 20, Black Bra is the new band from Beth Cameron of Forget Cassettes. She has a new group of band members and collaborators, and with the exception of the opening song, "I Was A Young Girl', the rest of the album is less aggressive and more atmospheric than her past work. Writing this short paragraph is reminding me that I need to spend much more time with this album in 2021.

13. Nada Surf- Never Not Together
Hometown: New York City
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Despite being a big Nada Surf fan now for 17 years (I discovered them with Let Go in 2003), even I have a hard time telling their songs and albums apart. Many of their songs and albums blend together as the band rarely experiments and the guitar-bass-drums instrumental rarely wavers. Thankfully, Never Not Together is an exception, and the band's best work since 2008's Lucky.

The expanded digital version of Never Not Together is essential, which includes three new songs that are better than much of the original release. This album as a whole features Matthew Caws' positive, infectious songwriting, layers of strings, keys, and a choir of vocals. If someone new to the band asked me which Nada Surf album to listen to first, I would actually recommend this one.

14. Frances Quinlan- Likewise

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

While I prefer Hop Along, this Frances Quinlan solo album is great and compliments her band's discography. More experimental, and at times electronic, but with her strong story-telling lyrics. Album ends with a cover of one of my fav Built to Spill songs, "Carry the Zero."
15. Hum- Inlet

Hometown: Champaign, Illinois
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp

I inexplicably barely listened to Hum until a few years ago when I FINALLY bought 1995's You'd Prefer An Astronaut. Inlet is only my second Hum album purchase, and I adore how insanely heavy it is. Since Billy Corgan seems to have gone away from the layer upon layer of guitars, I'm glad someone else is still rocking in that way!
16. Touché Amoré- Lament

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp

2020 is also the year I finally checked out Touché Amoré. I'm not sure why I waited, but there was definitely some kind of prejudice I had that prevented me from ever even exploring (maybe the band name?). Having Apple Music to stream and check our ALL their tunes definitely helped, but the song "Limelight", a collaboration with Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, is what definitely pushed me over the edge into Touché Amoré fandom. I bought Lament and Stage Four digitally on Bandcamp, and I also have an order in for the Casket Lottery split 7", which I bundled with the upcoming Casket Lottery vinyl pressing of Short Songs for End Times.

17. Beach Bunny- Honeymoon

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Format purchased: Vinyl
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Perfect band name. I feel like I am on the beach when listening to this album. With that in mind, I haven't spun it much in 2020 as it hasn't really worked as a soundtrack for my year.
18. Lo Tom- LP2
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Format purchased: Digital on Kickstarter
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

This second full-length collaboration between Martin, Bazan, Walsh, and Many picks up where LP1 left off, this time adding keys. I would have liked to purchase this on wax, but that was only available on Kickstarter for nearly $40 including shipping. Considering I bought their first album on vinyl from Barsuk for less than half that, I went into a Twitter tantrum.
19. Sufjan Stevens- The Ascension
Hometown: New York City
Format purchased: Vinyl
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I was browsing Rob Mitchum's spectacular Google Spreadsheet while writing this, and I noticed the genre for this album is "indietronica". I don't know if that is a joke or actual genre, but it is perfect. It also somewhat explains why this album is so low on my list. I love Sufjan, but greatly prefer his songs when he uses organic instrumentation.
20. Snarls- Burst
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp

This was a random Bandcamp Day purchase earlier in the year; had never even heard of the band. But one play of the song "Marbles" was enough for me as I needed to add some punk to my 2020 rotation.

Best Compilation of 2020


Top 5 EPs of 2020:
1. Starflyer 59- Miami

Hometown: Riverside, California
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp


2. The Beautiful Mistake- You're Not Broken. I Am

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp


3. Left Neglect- Children

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp


4. Death Cab For Cutie- The Georgia EP

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp

(This EP was only on sale for one day only, digitally on Bandcamp, as a fundraiser. However, I would be shocked if we do not see a widespread physical and digital streaming release in 2021.)


5. Gladie
(released three EPs and one LP in 2020)
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Digital on Bandcamp





Top 9 vinyl Reissues:

A couple of my potential top reissues of the year I don't have in hand yet. One, the Lost Dogs- Little Red Riding Hood has been shipped to me, but is caught in the USPS backlog. I missed that Kickstarter in 2019, but the extra copies finally went up for sale in November. Then a Kickstarter I did support is for Poor Old Lu's Sin, and it is running behind schedule due to COVID. I have the original white vinyl version of Sin, but I am super-excited about the reissue as it has been expanded to a double LP and was remastered from the original analog master tapes (and I ordered the pink!).

May 20, 2020

The four eras of Starflyer 59


Last night my friend Joel tweeted out his thoughts on Starflyer 59’s “three eras.” I loved his concept, but as I thought about it, it became quickly apparent that there are four eras for me.
Joel asked me to elaborate, but as he is on the West Coast, I am on the East Coast, I was headed to bed. But thinking about this kept me awake for a little while last night, and now I am putting my thoughts into words. I’m not going to dive into a ton of detail here, as if you are reading this, you are probably already a pretty big Starflyer fan and know much of what I could include. (And note to you crazy Starflyer fans [like me], I am not including everything below; meaning I have intetionally omitted singles, live albums, demos, etc.)

ERA 1 (1993-1997) 

LPs: Silver (1994), Gold (1995), Americana (1997)
EPs: She’s the Queen (1994), Le Vainqueur (1995), Plugged (1996) 

I was fortunate enough to discover Starflyer just as their 1994 debut album “Silver” was released. I first heard the band (“Second Space Song”) on a late night radio show (“The A-Zone in Nashville), and my brother went out and quickly bought the CD. I had never heard or heard of shoegaze, so it was revolutionary to me. Not only did I love the music, visually it was next-level artwork and packaging.

Musically this era is defined by heaviness and guitars, and visually by solid-color metallic covers. The EPs were equally important (and EPs were a huge part of the Starflyer output for the first decade of the band). “She’s the Queen” introduced the slow-core sound, that while a contrast from the heavy rock songs, was still was a perfect part of the puzzle. My favorite song from this era is the title track of the “Le Vainqueur" EP. I saw Starflyer on the tour in fall of 1995, and Morella's Forest opened. I desperately hoped Sydney would do the "Let's Go" line in the bridge of that song, and while they played it, she did not. :(

For most of the songs in this era, Martin played all the instruments himself. Wayne Everett began drumming on some of the “Gold” songs, and remained the drummer through “Everybody Makes Mistakes”. With the addition of Eric Campuzano on bass, “Americana” was Martin’s first attempt at collaboration with two accomplished other song-writers. However, Campuzano’s stay was only for that one album, as Martin held on to creative control. Martin then turned to Jeff Cloud for minimal, basic bass lines for the next few releases.

 5 songs that define Era 1:
“Blue Collar Love”
“She Was My Sweetheart”
“When You Feel Miserable”
“Le Vainqueur”
“The Boulevard”

 

ERA 2 (1998-2003) 

LPs: The Fashion Focus (1998), Everybody Makes Mistakes (1999), Leave Here a Stranger (2001), Old (2003)
EPs: Fell in Love at 22 (1999), Can’t Stop Eating (2002) 

From the opening synth and acoustic guitar strumming of “I Drive A Lot”, the second era had begun. Gone were the loud guitars and distortion (except for “Too Much Fun”, which is incredible yet somewhat out of place), and Martin had begun his experimentation with “The Fashion Focus”. Honestly, at first I was pissed. I was really into heavy music at the time, and I wanted more. But over time the album grew and grew and I recognized it’s superior song-writing.

This era is defined by the influence Martin’s collaborators, producers, and players had on the Starflyer sound; arguably more influence than any other era. Wayne Everett, Gene Eugune, Terry Taylor, Richard Swift, and Frank Lenz all took part for some of this period, and at times, it is incredibly obvious (in a good way). While Gene Eugene helped produce and played on “Gold” and “Americana”, his stamp first obviously appears on “The Fashion Focus”. While that album is all over the map stylistically and is maybe too long, Martin and Eugune really dialed it in for the laser-focused “Everybody Makes Mistakes.” The songs were better and the album was limited to nine songs.

After Eugene’s death, Martin turned to Terry Taylor to produce “Leave Here a Stranger”. The result is a sound that harkens’ back to the Sixties, which was even more amplified by it being mixed in mono (I think the stereo mixes on the "Can't Stop Eating" EP sound better). For this release Martin had an all-new band of guys whose first names began with “J”.

Era 2 ends with “Old”, which in my view is the first Starflyer 59 album that features true collaboration from the players. Cloud was still playing bass, and Richard Swift (keys and vocals) and Frank Lenz (drums and vocals) joined the band. Swift and Lenz are both accomplished solo artists, and their contributions were not only strong, they were obvious. Martin also used Aaron Sprinkle for production, which resulted in a crystal-clear sound that was quite a bit different than “Leave Here a Stranger.”

5 songs that define Era 2:
“I Drive A Lot”
“Fell in Love at 22”
“No New Kinda Story”
“I Like Your Photographs”
“Underneath”

“Delimiter” (thanks Ryan), no era:
 I am the Portuguese Blues (2004) 

First off, this is my least favorite Starflyer album. Honestly, I find it strange that it even exists. The story from my perspective is this: Martin had continued pressure to return the original Starflyer sound (and a return to the original look with another solid metallic cover), resurrected some old demos and unfinished songs from the mid-90’s, and went into the studio to record this album as an appeasement to fans. For one, he was so far past this as a musician and song-writer, and secondly, while it was heavy, it is over-produced. While Sprinkle’s crisp production was perfect for “Old”, he is far too much of a perfectionist for this release. All rawness and needed “sloppiness” was lost, and it just doesn’t sound right.

ERA 3 (2004-2015)

LPs: Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice (2005), My Island (2006), Dial M (2008), The Changing of the Guard (2010), IAMACEO (2013)
EPs: The Last Laurel (2004), I Win (2006), Minor Keys (2009) 

Era 3 is defined by Martin taking complete control. While Lenz was still in the band, Martin began self-producing his albums, and has ever since. This era begins with the fantastic independent “Last Laurel” EP, which was strangely released around the same time as “I am the Portuguese Blues"; They are polar opposites musically. “Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice” followed, built around the “Last Laurel” song “Softness, Goodness,” which is a top-5 all-time Martin tune for me.

“My Island” is distinct because Martin brought a new bass player into the fold- Steven Dail. Dail was in Project 86 and he had a noticeable style that for the first time brought the bass to the front of the Starflyer mix; and was a major shift from the bass minimalism of Cloud. Dail has played bass for Starflyer ever since (15 years!), but his work stands out the most on “My Island”.

 “Dial M” was an interesting album for me because Martin did a project with Burnt Toast Vinyl in which demos from the sessions were released a couple at a time for nearly a year before its release. That 10 7” box set remains one of my favorite pieces of my vinyl collection. However, when the album finally dropped, I already knew all the songs, and the studio versions, while better, didn't blow me away.


My wife and I had our first child in 2008. I bring that up because we had two more in 2009 and 2012 and that was a CRAZY time for us. During my years of fathering babies and toddlers, Starflyer put out “The Changing of the Guard” and “IAMACEO”. While I pre-ordered both albums on vinyl, they did not get listened to much. I find these two of the weakest releases in the Starflyer catalog, and I am not sure how much that is because they actually are--or maybe it was just that I was distracted. This era is arguably too long, but it did feel like it drug on for me before era 4 began with a bang.

5 songs that define Era 3:
“Softness, Goodness”
“I Win”
“Mic the Mic”
“Minor Keys”
“Bicycle Rider”

 

ERA 4 (2016-present)

LPs: Slow (2016), Young in My Head (2019)
EPs: Miami (2020) 

During the break between eras 3 and 4, I honestly wondered if maybe Martin was done with Starflyer 59. I don’t remember any news for a couple years, and who could blame him if he was “retired”. So with that in mind, I didn’t expect another Starflyer album.

Then “Slow” dropped, and I was blown away. For me it was the first time Martin had actually blended his original sound with his current work--two decades later. The title track reminded me of the “She’s the Queen” slowcore. I spun “Slow” more than I had any new Starflyer album in over a decade. Martin seemed re-energized, and he had brought in his son as the drummer to play with him and Dail.

And then before I knew it, ANOTHER Starflyer album was out-- “Young in My Head.” Martin’s output and brief time between releases was reminiscent of the Nineties. And now, only a year later, we have a new EP on the horizon! “Miami” drops June 19 on Velvet Blue Music. While EPs were frequent in Starflyer’s early years, this is the first one since 2009.

 5 songs that define Era 4:
“Slow”
“Cherokee”
“Remind Me”
“Smoke”
“This Recliner”

 


March 6, 2020

Every Concert I Have Ever Attended

Google sheet being updated "live" as I remember old shows and attend new ones:


January 7, 2020

2020 music: listen/pre-order now, and what to look forward to

2020 is my eighteenth year running this blog, which has been focused on music since 2006. Before I get into the main subject--2020 music--a brief summary on buying music in the present age:

If you are reading this post and this blog, it means you enjoy independent music. With that in mind, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to BUY music, not stream it. And I don't mean "buy" it through subscribing to Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon Unlimited (more below on how to use those services effectively with personal accountability). While those can be great supplementary tools, if you want independent artists to create, and create more often, make sure your money is going to them, and not massive corporations.

For more info on streaming and how much artists are making off these scams, visit The Trichordist. And here is an infographic from Information is Beautiful:



The most direct way to support independent musicians is to buy physical merchandise (vinyl, CDs, shirts, posters) from shows, their specific website, or their label website. When buying digital downloads, purchase from Bandcamp as over 75% of the profits go to the artist (which is less than 1% for the previously mentioned streaming services). Bandcamp isn't only digital however; it is often the best place to buy physical music or merch.

If you are physical media person like me--vinyl, CDs, or cassettes--same suggestions apply. If you can't get to shows, or can't find what you want on artist or label websites, the next option is to go to independent record stores. Not only does your money help those stores survive, it also results in the artists getting a higher percentage (than they would through an online retailer like Amazon or Target). While I can't go to stores on a regular basis, I do when I travel, and recently visited five Washington, D.C. area stores:








A post shared by AP (@turnofftheradio1976) on


If you don't live near a good independent record store, or if you are unable to make it to a store often (like me), then find an independent record store who also sells product online. My newest suggestion, and a vendor I began using in 2019 is Bull Moose.
Bull Moose is based out of Maine and New Hampshire, two of the eleven states I have sadly never visited. But they have a great online store with prices that are nearly as good as Amazon's. And as I try to stop using the evil empire Amazon, paying a little more is totally worth it. They have free media mail shipping if you spend $30, which means two LPs for me. I'll admit I have used Amazon to buy way too much music, but I am trying to stop.

Final comment on streaming services, because I know almost everyone uses them: I'll admit they are great for music discovery or listening to an old radio hit you want to just hear one more time. But set boundaries and limitations on yourself. The rule I wish Spotify and the others had in place would be that you could only stream each song a limited number of times (3?). Then after you streamed three times, you had to then make a donation to the artist (with the artist getting 100%), or buy the album. Bandcamp already has this system in place, with the artist being able to decide how many times you stream until you get this pop-up message:


And now, on to the music you should be buying in 2020. I'll start with music that is either available now, or able to be pre-ordered; then move on to albums that are probably or maybe going to be released later in the year.

Left Neglect- Children
January 1, 2020
Stream/buy on Bandcamp
I had never even heard of this band until today, but a link popped up in one of my social media feeds. The backbone of the band is one of my favorite drummers, Matt Johnson, of Roadside Monument and Blenderhead. After one stream on Bandcamp I fell in love and bought it ("pay what you want.") Listening to these songs was my final push and inspiration for this blog post.
Vekora- EP2

January 1, 2020
Stream/buy on Bandcamp
Another band I follow because of the amazing drumming, this time from Jesse Sprinkle. Surprise guest vocals from former Poor Old Lu bandmate Scott Hunter are a terrific addition to this band's music. Scott has formed a new band with 3/4 of Vekora called Bright and Harrowing that should release music later this year.

Frances Quinlan- Likewise
January 24, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
Pre-order on Saddle Creek
This was the first 2020 album I pre-ordered, which I did back in November. This is Quinlan's first solo album after three Hop Along LPs. I pre-ordered on Saddle Creek to get an exclusive vinyl color variant.

Nada Surf- Never Not Together
February 7, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
While I included the Bandcamp link, I actually pre-ordered from Bull Moose. I'd prefer the pink vinyl on Bandcamp, but it is EU only and the overseas shipping is understandly expensive. So I bought the black for $18.97. While I have loved Nada Surf for nearly two decades, most of their recent work I have found fairly blah. I am more excited about this album as the first two singles, especially "Looking For You." Matthew Caws seems to be experimenting more, which is exactly what the band needs.

The Innocence Mission- See You Tomorrow
January 17, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
This band has been around 30 years! Have loved them since I first heard Glow (which needs a vinyl release!). Haven't pre-ordered yet, but will soon.

Worriers- You or Someone You Know

March 6, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
This band is new to me (was a recent recommendation), but they have been around quite sometime. I enjoy their new single more than their older work, so I'll be sure to listen to this full album when it releases.

Gladie- Safe Sins
February 28, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
Pre-order exclusive vinyl variants from Lame-O Records
The email for this new album arrived while working on this post. This is the new band from Augusta Koch, frontwoman for Cayetana. My impression is that Cayetana is inactive/broken-up. This new outlet is fun and excited to see what the full LP holds.

Har Adonai- Now is Golden
January 14, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
Indie-folk rock from Israel; a meditation on the value of work, the purpose of art, and the meaning of life in the gig economy. Produced with the help of Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, The Pixies) and Benjamin Esterlis (Morphlexis). Mastered by Kramer (Galaxie 500, Low, Danielson Famile).

Wayne Everett- Two Ghosts
January 24, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
While loving Wayne's work as singer of the Lassie Foundation, and as drummer of the Prayer Chain, I admittedly did not enjoy his first solo album Kingsqueens back in 2002. However, the first single from his upcoming album is different, and 18 years later, I am excited to hear what Wayne has been working on. Speaking of the Prayer Chain...

The Prayer Chain- ???!!!
When Chris Colbert posted to Instagram last month, my initial thought was that he must be remastering or mixing some older Prayer Chain tunes, or doing something with one of the live shows from 2018. However, considering almost all existing Prayer Chain music has been reissued, and the reunion shows are already on Bandcamp, I feel pretty strongly this music must be new Prayer Chain song(s)?!


Finally, other albums that are definitely or probably coming later this year:
Black Bra- New band from Beth Cameron of Forget Cassettes. Album is finished and will be releasing soon. As I tweeted, this may be my most highly anticipated album of 2020.

Mountain Time (Chris Simpson of Mineral, The Gloria Record, Zookeeper)- has taken him years, but I think it's really close

Phoebe Bridgers- seems definite, almost certain it has been recorded based on Instagram

Manchester Orchestra- recording/pre-production is in progress (lots of Instagram posts)

Waxahatchee- No specific proof, but seems probable based on clues and timing

Sleigh Bells- Definite per band Instagram

Fiona Apple- Probable per published interviews

Grimes- Definite, February. However, concerned quality of her work has significantly diminished.

Luxury- They are playing a show in Septemeber at Furnace Fest XX in Birmingham, and Lee Bozeman has mentioned he has written new Luxury tunes.

Fleming & John- They Kickstarted the funds almost 5 years ago, so surely we are getting close? They do provide updates every 6-9 months, but it has been awhile.

Haim- Probably considering the release of recent singles. Speaking of those, this is one of my favorite songs of 2019 that I didn't mention in my year-end post: