The NHL shut down one year ago today. It’s been a super weird year, which is code for “a very bad year”, but the world is slowly creeping back towards what we’ll eventually think of as normalness. (Please get your jabs as soon as you’re able.) Eventually, when it’s safe, we’ll go to games in person and do high fives, and then we’ll throw some massive RMNB makeout party, but we’re not there yet.
I’ve found myself listening to a lot more music in the pandemmy, and some of that music has been really helpful for me, so I thought I’d share this super off-topic, non-hockey post listing a bunch of good tunes that might work for you in this scary world. Also, there’s a shame-ridden plug for my own music at the end.
Twelve records for twelve months of COVID. In no particular order:
Soccer Mommy’s second album came out just before lockdown started. One day as the weather was getting warmer but everything was getting scarier, I went for a walk and listened to it.
Old memories, ribbons running down from my bare knees
I ran too fast, fell down on my face in the concrete
I guess the lesson’s learned, I’ve barely left my room in the past week
It’s a very pretty record with lots of fuzzy guitars and warm analog keyboards to complement Sophie Allison’s songcraft.
The last concert I saw before the world ended was Arch Echo, Plini, and Periphery at the Fillmore in Bethesda. Plini is an Australian fella with strong slacker vibes and virtuoso guitar chops. I’ve never seen someone look so relaxed when melting faces. His new album pushes his progressive sound even further. “The Glass Bead Game” above has a subdivision I can’t quite figure out, but the groove is so solid that it doesn’t bother me. It makes me feel energized without anxiety, which I suppose is exactly what Plini’s all about.
In that weird moment between high school and college, The Avalanches’ first LP, Since I Left You, was huge for me and my friends. You basically cannot make sample-heavy music like that these days. But the Avalanches came back just two decades later with an album just as profound, but far less expensive to clear. They sample some very old, barely surviving music here, combine it with their own performances, and bring in a ton of guest vocalists to fill them out. The Smith’s Johnny Marr (aka the not-reprehensible member of the Smiths), my first musical crush Neneh Cherry, and even Foreigner’s Mick Jones are on the record. Perry Farrell is too, but it’s good in spite of that.
In “Cover Song”, Mister Goblin, aka Sam Woodring, sings:
There’s nothing less interesting than describing a dream
About what a tedious apocalypse it’s been
Woodring lives in Indiana now, but he’s a Maryland boy, raised on the same regional guitar-based rock as a lot of people around here. Mister Goblin (and his previous band Two-Inch Astronaut) has a lot that same wizardly guitar work, but it’s mixed in with sophisticated details.
I watched the back half of Arch Echo’s set at that last concert I mentioned above. I like instrumental progressive music a lot these days, maybe because it’s got so much ambition and exploration at a time when we’re all living these banal, homebound lives. Listening to the soaring keyboard/guitar solos of Arch Echo’s most recent EP while going on an Adventure to pick up a burrito while trying not to touch anything except the bag of food is all the adventure I get these days.
Also let’s bring back all the fun orchestra/philly hit keyboard sounds from the 1980s. Every day we get closer to a full-on new jack swing revival.
It’s way too easy to overlook the Haim sisters. I thought their first song, The Wire, was fun, but I didn’t realize how talented they were until I heard them re-arrange it in live performances. It’s obvious now that they are serious students of songwriting, musicianship, and audio recording. They can do tight little Wilson-Phillips-y pop songs, but they can do Beat-inspired grooves with languid Joni Mitchell-vocal delivery, and baritone saxophones as well. They have drum machines, but they also have super-saturated live drums with a roomy sound. They let Danielle’s voice get distorted when she’s really belting it out. They do it all on their latest album, whose rollout got jammed up by COVID but is still worth your time and attention. It’s good walking music.
One of my favorite songwriters, Justin Townes Earle died of an accidental drug overdose in August. His also-famous father, Steve Earle, with whom “JT” had a difficult relationship, mourned publicly by recording an album of covers of his son’s songs. It’s a devastating album to listen to, but by the end it’s stirring in a good way. Steve Earle made the record so that all proceeds go to his granddaughter Etta.
SAMHSA has a national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and 1-800-487-4889. It’s 24/7/365, confidential, and multi-lingual. If you or someone close to you is having mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. There’s also a free online treatment finder.
With Chick Corea gone (RIP), Matthew Shipp is maybe my favorite living jazz pianist (him or Robert Glasper). Shipp used to have a reputation for being one of those aggressively crunchy jazz guys — bold and maybe sometimes hard to approach. I don’t think that’s true at all of his recent work, which is lovely without ever being cloying.
I think my friend John started playing guitar after me, and he was definitely worse at it than me for a weeks there. That ended quickly, and now he’s a beautiful songwriter too. John’s recorded-at-home EP has delicate guitar work, a gentle baritone, and some songs that will trick you with their simplicity so he can hit you with lines like this:
On most days the lies work / But some days that truth cuts like a knife
I love it.
Fiona Apple’s latest album is a off-the-walls and I love it. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is filled with improvisation and unorthodox percussion choices to create a product that is unsettling and kind of vicious. Maybe not good music for doing puzzles and relaxing on a Sunday morning, but I am certain there are lots of people right now that this music will be indispensable for. There’s a couple metal records on this list, but Apple’s album is by far the heaviest one.
I’m a huge fan of Bad Snacks. Some people might hear her work and think “ah, cool vibe music.” They’re right, and I absolutely vibe out to it, but don’t sleep on the artistry here. Snacks often starts from lofi, J Dilla-style beats, but she sends them soaring with pretty synth pads and violin solos. Bathtub Bumps is for everyone: people who like their peanut butter chunky and people who like their peanut butter smoooooth.
“No Más” is probably my favorite song to come out last year. It’s jazz, it’s punk, it’s international — hell, it’s post-national. Last spring, it was the right music and the right time, and it still is. I bet you’ll like it.
Also, I made a record. It’s called Asperitas, and it just came out last week. It’s all about how tough the last year has been, how it’s felt like being at the beach as a kid and you get caught in a big wave, and you wipe out, and you’re just tumbling, not sure which way is up, and time just sorta pauses, and you’re not sure when it’ll start up again. That’s Asperitas. It’s got a bunch of genres on it, but no choruses.
Here’s a super out-of-context snippet from the last track, “Drowning Dream”
— Peter (good tweets only) (@peterhassett) March 3, 2021
If you have any music recommendations, especially particular to this historical moment, pleas share ’em below.
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