So here we remain, still with a dearth of live arts and entertainment, and for the most part still shut in. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but my diet of home music listening has continued to explode during the pandemic. Here’s just a few of the tunes that have been percolating from my headphones, sequenced like a flowing playlist.
Rhett Miller, “Wave of Mutilation/I Wanna Be Sedated”
You can’t go wrong with any track from this Old 97 frontman’s The Interpreter album, a live acoustic set of covers that have inspired him over the years, and ranging from David Bowie to Elliott Smith to Simon & Garfunkel. My pick is the most unexpected for an Americana/roots musician: a medley of Pixies and Ramones classics that Miller transforms into minimalist folk numbers while maintaining their eternal vitality.
Logan Ledger, “(I’m Gonna Get Over This) Some Day”
Hands-down my favorite song of 2020 so far. Ledger is an alt-country crooner with a take on the genre’s humble beginnings that’s so accurate it’s hard to believe “Some Day” wasn’t some outtake from the cutting-room floor of a Sun Studios session circa 1955. This instantly hummable tune is catchier than coronavirus on its most virulent day, and it was produced, magisterially as always, by T-Bone Burnett.
Lucinda Williams, “Wakin’ Up”
My favorite cut from Lucinda’s great new album Good Souls Better Angels is a bilious slow-burner full of righteous rage, foul language, and some of the edgiest music her extraordinary band, Buick 6, has yet to blanket the singer-songwriter’s world-weary voice. It has the otherworldly, psychedelic shards of the Doors at their best.
Belly, “Slow Dog”
Ah, the pleasures of reuniting with music from your youth. Belly, a “120 Minutes” and college-radio staple from the time those mediums still mattered, is mostly remembered for its gauzy shoegaze hit “Feed the Tree.” But it’s the slam-dancing and pogo-friendly bopper “Slow Dog” that most feeds my ‘90s alternative addiction; this has been a staple in my earbuds during my evening runs. As for the lyrics? I have no idea what they mean. Oh well, whatever, nevermind.
One of my favorite vinyl discoveries of late is a 2019 reissue of Unisex, the second LP from the essential and underrated ‘90s UK dream-poppers Blueboy—a gift from the collector gods, given that pressings of the 1994 original fetch hundreds. Unisex is divided between ethereal, string-enhanced ballads and more driving, sing-a-long foot-tappers. My favorite tune from the LP is the closing vocal track “Imipramine,” which fits in the latter category despite its sobering lyrics about pill addiction.
Road trips have been largely jettisoned over the past few months, but I did manage to escape up to North Carolina last month on a 13-hour drive to visit my mother. I insisted on playing this sprightly Krautrock masterpiece during a particularly empty stretch of nocturnal highway, and just letting its 22 minutes of Moog mastery wash over me. Its evocation of automobile travel at its most liberating, complete with sound collages of revving engines, brought me back to a more carefree time than our present.
Miles Davis, “Flamenco Sketches (Alternate Take)”
I presently own three copies of Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time, which I’ve been spinning a lot lately—the first-press LP, the 180-gram reissue, and the CD. As much as I’m a vinyl nut, the good old compact disc has its benefits; in this case, my copy has an alternate take of “Flamenco Sketches,” one of Miles’ visionary experiments in improvised modal jazz. This is bliss defined.
Terry Riley, “In C”
This pioneering 1968 instrumental work is often cited as the first minimalist composition, and its influence on artists from Brian Eno to Aphex Twin is evident. As the title suggests, the entirety of the two-sided album features music in C, and only C, and you don’t miss the other keys. Riley plays sax on the recording, and he assembled an ace lineup of trumpet, vibraphone, viola, bassoon, clarinet, flute, marimba, oboe, trombone and piano players, the instruments layering and layering until they collectively hypnotize the listener into an altered state.
Amanda Palmer, “Idioteque”
One of the musical oddities of this generation, Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele EP is an expectedly eccentric suite from the Dresden Dolls frontwoman. Her versions of “Creep,” “No Surprises” and “Fake Plastic Trees” are pleasant enough, but don’t necessarily warrant repeat listens: “Idioteque,” though, is instantly replayable, with Palmer’s ukulele strums weaving around rhythmic lo-fi percussion that presages the homemade clangor of Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Furthermore, one of Radiohead’s best songs loses none of its beguiling mystery under Palmer’s jittery interpretation.
Dead Milkmen, “Bleach Boys”
I’ll leave it up to our virologist-in-chief for sparking a memory of this classic nerd-punk tune, with its sardonic call to bleach-guzzling action: “I see disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning.” The Dead Milkmen were way ahead of their time!
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify below: