Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads

maryThat’s it! That’s just fucking it! The best folk or country album of 2018. Ya, I know it’s only January! But you don’t understand, I haven’t heard an album in this genre that is this good in fucking years! F-u-c-k-i-n-g Y-e-a-r-s! Shit, it’s because of albums like these that country and folk were made in the first place.

If you don’t know Mary Gauthier, I’m sorry for you. But, because she’s got the most folk/cowboy upbringing of all time, alongside johnny cash, I don’t mind introducing her to you.

Born in New Orleans to a mother she never knew, she was left in St. Vincent’s Woman and Infants’ Asylum. Eventually adopted by an Italian Catholic couple, she ran away from home at 15. For the next several years she lived in halfway houses and rehab. She spent her 18th birthday in a jail cell. Trying to change, she enrolled as a philosophy major but dropped out her senior year. She then became a cook and opened a Cajun restaurant in Boston. After being a full on alcoholic for most of her life, she was eventually arrested for drunk driving at 28. After which, she dedicated herself full time to sobriety. As a way away from the bottle, she started writing songs. Her first songs were written at 35. Now her songs are taught in American literature classes in universities, appear on Tom Wait’s and Bob Dylan’s playlists, and even though she’s openly gay is a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry. Ya … that’s fucking Mary Gauthier.

“Rifles & Rosary Beads” is an album written by U.S. veterans and their families alongside Gauthier. This album took years to make. And, it wasn’t made for money or awards (note that the grammy’s just passed). it’s there to tell a truth that needs to be heard. It’s 11 tracks of deeply personal stories coming from veterans and their spouses. Gautier gave a voice to those whose experience of life is made of the same shit as our worst nightmares, and she played this shit in major chords.

The lyrics and melodies on these songs are FUCKING PERFECT. They don’t talk over people’s head, they are honest and poetic, and they are sang in the true and clear vocal of Gauthier. She sings clearly so no one misunderstands what these veterans have to say. The songs are a classic 3-5 minute length. It may seem odd to the modern ear to hang on for that long. It may even be more odd that the songs have guitar solos. But the guitar solos are there so the listener can contemplate the lyrics, and the length is there because that’s just how long it takes to say the message. These songs aren’t filled with fortune cookie lyrics. They tell stories of real lives.

I don’t fucking care what your aesthetics are like or if you happen to find country or folk music, “cheesy”. The songs themselves, not the performance, is the key. Will you cry? Maybe. Probably. It’s highly likely unless you’re broken or you don’t listen into the lyrics. Gauthier already wrote depressing shit before she got lyrics from veterans, so this shit is pure struggle and misery sung alongside an acoustic guitar. Like I said before, it’s pure country/folk. It might ruin your day a bit to listen. You might end up melancholy and sad. Well boo-fucking-hoo! Call the whambulance! The guys who wrote these songs had more than just a bad day. The reason we are all not constantly getting butt fucked by German rifles and wearing stylish ISIS jackets is because of people like this. I understand if you don’t want to know how sausage is made, or if you want to keep your head in the sand. But, all this album is is a window. It’s 11 songs. I promise you it ends. And honestly … it’s the least we can do.

These songs will eventually be played and covered by wide array of artists cause these songs aren’t gimmicks. They aren’t just good for veteran songs. They will become standards simply because they are really, really, really, really, well written. If they aren’t, then there is something deeply wrong with artists these days. So take a breath, understand that some stories need to be heard like medicine is drunk, and sink into these beautifully written songs and stories. Welcome to one of the greatest living songwriters taking a step back so that people who need to be heard can be heard.

 

 

Nils Frahm – All Melody

nilsSome days I want my music to be atmospheric as shit. I just don’t have the energy. On the spectrum of bitchy white girl, I’m somewhere in between, “Whatever” and “I can’t even”. Those days where I don’t want to deal with words. I can’t cope with stories or emotions. I just want to put on a toque and that wonderful and international sign of, “fuck off” headphones, and just leave the world for a bit. If it says Nils Frahm on the cover then you’ve got the right album for the job. 

Frahm is classical meets electronic, or electronic meets classical, all depending on whom you ask. He invented “Piano Day”, the 88th day of the year cause of the 88 keys on a piano (nerd!). On the second piano day, he, along with David Klavins, created a piano called “Modell 450” a successor of the two-story “Modell 370”. Just in case that went by too quickly for you, the guy makes pianos and then plays them. How fucking awesome is that? Even though he loves taking shit to the limit, the music he makes is so easily digestible you’d never think of him that way. His style is similar to Ólafur Arnalds and F.S. Blumm, with that Sigur Rós vibe and chill but with less focus on singing and more focus on electronics and instrumentation. If you want to go back in Frahm’s catalogue to listen I suggest, “Felt,” or, if you’re wanting to hear him live “Spaces”. 

That picture on the cover is a picture of his new studio. Cool (I say ominously rubbing my hands together) Frahm gots more toys, boys. This album is his first I can recall that includes human vocals. The choir arrangement is simple and effective. I’m happy he didn’t get all giddy as a school girl on giggle juice and just record a thousand tracks of vocals. His recording choice on the acoustic piano is perfect. You can hear every soft hammer swing and each movement the piano makes. Nils wants you to hear how the instrument works; he wants you to hear it as a machine. There are some sounds on the album that remind me of keyboards in the ’90s, and it’s probably cause the keyboards used were made in the ’90s. Usually I really hate that sound. Yet, the mix with this old school keyboard tech alongside the choice acoustic instruments just works. Aesthetic junkies like Frahm pay attention to this shit. If the vibe doesn’t work to the smallest degree then the entire composition will collapse. Frahm is incredibly dedicated to his craft, innovative, curious, and talented. If you don’t like a song at first, just wait a bit cause usually he has a plan. 

So, that welcomes you to the newest audio space shuttle. Ready to get the fuck off of earth and just chill on the moon for a bit? Countdown begins when you push play. 

 

 

Daniil Trifonov – Chopin Evocations

daniilUn-fucking-believable. I could leave it there, but it’s just not enough to understand.

12 recordings since 2010 and look at him in that picture. How old do you think he is? 38? Younger you think? Okay, let’s go for 32. No, this motherfucker was born in 1991. He’s 27 at most. “Well, who gives a whore’s fuck?” you might say, “there are lots of talented pianists at a young age.” Don’t be fooled. Daniil is not just talented, he is probably the most talented pianist of our age. That’s not just me saying this either, The Times said the exact same thing. And, honestly? If you just listen to this guy, you’ll understand instantly. Those lanky ass fingers move like clouds. Some pianists hammer on those keys with precision. They’re piano machines. It’s played perfectly. But… Daniil’s fingers float above the piano and touch each key like he’s softly feeling the petals on a rose then, in the next moment, moves as quick and as swift as someone flicking dew drops off the top of dried leaves without a single crack. When I hear him play, I can’t think of hammers or pedals. That wood box just becomes something else. In short, this Russian motherfucker plays the living fuck out of Chopin. Before he starts a piece, you think he’s going to start sobbing directly onto the piano keys. He sweats and tears up and contorts his face every-which way. He opens an emotional vat within himself then, in a single instant, shuts it down as soon as the song is over. It’s so fucking cool. 

Look… I get it. This may not be your thing, Chopin competitions or the who’s-who of whateverthefuckingville. Names like Sviatoslav Richter, Horowitz, Argerich, or Kissin might sound like names I’m reading out of a weird phonebook. But these people are regarded as the greatest pianists of all time, and this kid is being lined up right next to them.

Here’s a confession: I’ve always enjoyed Chopin competitions and the piano world because I find it as silly as it is enthralling. It’s such a small little group of people who really keep up with this shit, yet, somehow, it’s amazing. Take Ivo Pogorelic. Dude’s interpretation of Chopin back in the day was called a “historic betrayal” by most, but then Argerich, one of the names I put alongside the greatest of all time, resigned as a judge in the Chopin Competition cause people didn’t’ recognize his genius. What drama! What crazy emotions! I imagine insanely talented pianists just pounding bottles of vodka and snorting bowls of cocaine for getting second place. People who give a fuck about this shit, really give a fuck about this shit. It’s live or die. It’s the, “if I don’t win this, my entire existence is useless” type of mentality. It’s these backroom dealings with thin-wristed milquetoast motherfuckers about weighted piano keys. It’s a whole society about Chopin, and it’s super interesting. So, if this kid is seen as the Moses and Jesus Christ hybrid of Chopin of our age at such a young age, that really says something. It’s either this guy is baller as fuck or corrupt as balls. Give it a listen, decide for yourself. It’s all part of the fun. 

 

 

Nai Palm – Needle Paw

nai palmIt’s Sunday and I wanted some chill shit. So, I threw on Nai Palm’s new album. The little blue-eyed soul and R&B singer (don’t actually know if she has blue eyes or not, it’s just the name of the genre where white people sing soul) is the lead singer of one of my favourite new finds, Hiatus Kaiyote. The band’s songs have been sampled by Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak in the last year from their release in 2015. You will hear this band in the future whether you like it or not. I think they’re going to be big big.

The tone of her voice is contagious to an ear. It’s got that ’90s R&B vibe that feels like you’re sitting in a really big bowl of warm milk, smoking a cigar, and laughing. It’s got that thick vocal tracking where boys and girls can really show off those vocal riffs, runs, and trills. Most of the album is a simple guitar, barely changing in style or tone, and vocal mashings and orchestrations thrown together in 7ths and 9ths and shit. It’s broken down, simple in instrumentation, but thick vocally. I could hear someone complain that the album just kind of bleeds together. But I think that’s kinda the fucking point. It’s a bowl of warm milk motherfucker, you want chunks in that shit?! 

Her writing is on point as it sits side by side with a cover of Canadian singer Tamia’s “So Into You”, and a cover of Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)”. She doesn’t mind paying tribute in the least. This album feels like something that needed to be done, something personal, after her band got overnight famous. My favourite cover on this album is her cover of Bowie’s “Blackstar” (which she got rights to by writing a passionate letter to his estate in order to perform) mixed in with Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”, in the song called, “Blackstar/Pyramid Song/Breathing Underwater”. It shows how far songs can be stretched when they are written well.

I think this album will go under the radar for most. It doesn’t wear enough bright colours or draw enough attention to itself. It’s not that beefed up muscle head that always wears a tight red speedo on the beach. This album dips their feet into the ocean just to feel the warm water rush between its toes and smile. This does not mean that this album is simple. By fuck not! I dare anyone to try to cover one song on this album. Those harmonies are planned motherfucker, and they took weeks to plan and execute. When something sounds this slick, it’s just cause you’re listening to something done that well. For me? This is the perfect Sunday music today, before the rush of Monday hits ya in the face with that stupid bulge in that tiny red speedo. 

 

William Basinski – A Shadow in Time

ashadowWarning: Do not listen if you are in the mood to rock.

Hold on to those asses, we’re going for a ride. 

Basinski deals in ambient tape processing music? Okay, that sounds fucked up, let’s try that again. Back on September 11, 2001, Basinski was sitting on his rooftop in Brooklyn listening to old ambient tape loops he made, when he noticed that the tapes were gradually deteriorating as they passed the tape head. They were slowly being ripped apart by time. He decided to record this deterioration process when the unthinkable happened. While looking out on a New York in shambles, recordings he made 20 years earlier were slowly breaking apart. For some reason it seemed to fit. Or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York thought so 10 years later when they played this recording to mark the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. These deteriorating tapes became a symbol of mourning and passing time, something slowly getting stripped away and never being the same again. 

So, the day Basinski found out David Bowie died, he took out a deteriorating tape that his roommate’s cat had chewed up, and started to record it as it passed through the tape head. The first track on this album is called “For David Robert Jones”, Bowie’s real name. The art is bizarre, I’ll give you that, but if you listen you’ll notice it just makes sense. Time passes differently when listening to these tracks. It’s kinda the perfect music for the end of the world. I thought the symbol of a slowly dying tape loop wouldn’t fit at first when I saw the track for Bowie being that death is an ending, I even had a thought that some piece of shit artist was trying to profit off of tragedy and death, but I didn’t feel the same way after I listened to it.

There are no lyrics or anything to analyze, but there is a saxophone loop slowly going away on the first track that sounds really similar to the sax on Bowie’s “Low”. Beautiful homage. Remember, Basinski only controls the process of how these songs are recorded, he doesn’t really “create” it himself. Thus, process music. The ambiance in the end is contemplative, nostalgic, and introspective.

The reason I put this on is because I fucking love Bowie. He, as well as others, were a big deal for me when I was a teen. The dude could wear an eyepatch for looks and everyone, not only accepted it, but thought it was cool as fuck. Listen to Bowie long enough and you’ll feel like you’re able to do anything. You’ll think that anyone who isn’t 100% themselves are fucking losers, and you’ll have the power to back up your claim cause David-Fucking-Bowie is on your team. Whom does the other team have? Tom Cruise? Kim Kardashian? Ya, good luck with all of that. I’ll happily wear the eyepatch. Plus, when this album came out in 2017, Bowie himself would’ve been happy with it. It reminds me of what can be done in the face of tragedy, or at any point in life. Art can be made to help us process the shit and grim of life. And once the shit is over, there’s something there in the end to look back on and remember. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have a morning coffee one day, look back on it, and smile like I am right now. 

“Some people feel the rain; others just get wet” Unknown (most likely the king of the road himself, Roger Miller).

 

 

Antonio Sanchez – Bad Hombre

badhombre“We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.” Donald Trump. Oct. 19, 2016. 

Well, fuck … he went and pissed off Antonio Sanchez. What? You don’t know Antonio? Have you ever seen “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”? It was a pretty big movie. Well, that’s him drumming in the back. Which part? The entire fucking movie. It’s his soundtrack and he won a grammy for it. He’s also a jazz drummer extraordinaire but I’m reluctant to say this. I don’t want people listening to this album and thinking of a jazz drummer, they’ll get the wrong idea.

His grandfather is Ignacio López Tarso, a famous Mexican actor. His voice begins this record. It coats the record with its message. This is a protest album influenced by bands like Hiatus Kaiyote, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Bonobo, and Little Dragon. Those famous drum programmers (exempting Hiatus Kaiyote, no programming in there) just happen to be replaced by a jazz drummer with chops enough to move at the speed of electronics and mutiny. When Richard D James (aphex) built robots to play acoustic instruments he asked the question, “Is this still electronic music? When does it stop being electronic music and just become music?” With this album we have an echo of this, “At what point does it stop being jazz? When does it just become music?” And this is why I’m reluctant on bringing up that Antonio is a jazz drummer. It’s better to just listen.

There is something fascinating about the drums. Alligator skin drums were used in Neolithic cultures in China dating 5500-2350 BC. That’s way old. Like way older than your grandfather and his balls and just look at those fucking things … they’re so old and droopy and wrinkly. It’s fucking gross. In the 19th century junjungs were used as a war drums in Gambia. Drums have been used for protest and war for thousands of years. I’ve heard theories that it has something to do with the heart beat. That makes sense to me. It’s that beat that keeps you alive. When in a full rage, you hear it pulsing in your ears. After hard physical work, you can feel it thump inside your neck. Whenever the rubber needs to hit the road, when shit has got to get done, that beat is with you. So, what sound do you think Antonio heard when Trump said shit about Mexicans? What sound would drive through your ears if someone painted your entire being, culture, and family name with the broad stroke of a phrase, “bad hombres”, and say, “we’re going to get them out”. I know what would be hammering in my ears and it goes, “Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom.”

 

 

Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge – Mount Royal

mountEveryone has the same reaction when they hear about Julian Lage, “No. Fuck off. That’s not real. Oh, come on! That’s not fair! How is this even? … what about? … you know what? Fuck it. Fuck this! Fuck everything! But, most of all, fuck that fucking guy!” And everyone is right to react this way and here’s why:

Lage was a child prodigy. There’s a documentary on him called “Jules at Eight”. So, what makes him so special? He plays guitar. Not that interesting? Wrong. At 13, he played the Grammy Awards. At 15, yes … 15 fucking years old, he became a faculty member at Stanford Jazz Workshop. From there he went to study at San Francisco Conservatory Sonoma State, Ali Akbar College of Music, and Berklee. Now he’s 30 years old and he doesn’t ride the coat tails of his child fame. Not even close. He put every bit of natural talent he had and worked it to death. Born with this unnatural talent, he also developed this work ethic so his talent wouldn’t fade. Is Julian Lage better than you at guitar? That’s not even a question. Of course he is. You will never be a better guitarist than Julian Lage. The real thing that makes people react is that he’s also not a bad looking guy. He’s charismatic and personable, he’s not antisocial or narcissistic. So, in the end, is Julian Lage just a better human than the most of us? Maybe. What might help you sleep later is to think that this guy is just a freak occurrence. A once in a lifetime type of thing. Problem with that logic is Chris Eldridge, the other guitarist on this album, is basically in the exact same ballpark. So ya, fuck this. 

Do the guitars sound good on this album? Fuck off, just … fuck off. Okay? Okay!?

These reasons are not why this album is up here. There are tons of technically great players that I couldn’t give a flying fuck about. Someone will one day build a robot that plays the entirety of Chopin in 8 seconds. Sure, it will be great mechanically but, so fucking what? It’ll still sound like garbage and won’t inspire anyone but Sarah Connor to do something more with their lives. 

The reason I put this album on here is cause I fucking love this genre breaking shit. It’s not jazz, it’s not classical, it’s not bluegrass. “Who needs labels anyway?” you might try to argue while taking a hoot from a 4-foot bong. My answer to this? Everyone dude. Just try to ask someone for a fucking banana without using “labels”. You want a long yellow what? Where? It’s how we communicate. The barriers separating styles of music and ways to play are breaking. Bluegrass players are strumming Bach. Classical musicians are singing folk. What connects them? Technique. They are all crazy technically advanced music. How cool it is that a fiddle player can now interpret Tchaikovsky?

This is a solid album. I find that it is actually played a bit robotically. If you’re a guitar geek, you’ll cream yourself instantly. Outside of that it’s beautiful, but I still prefer more freedom with tempo and whatnot when I hear a folk song. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2017, which seems to be a thing that I’m doing on this album a day thing so far (speckled with whatever shit I wanted to hear for that day). Plus, these guys have made 3 albums together and they aren’t stopping anytime soon, so there’s more to hear if you like. It’s just a great listen and mood to have sometimes. It’s just kinda fucking inspiring.