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Iron & Wine Bird Stealing Bread from Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop) Add to Collection
by Josh Friedberg
Smokey Robinson was called the greatest and most influential songwriter in R&B history by Rolling Stone, and he has often been acclaimed for bringing exceptionally sophisticated lyrics to many Motown hits of the 1960s. In fact, in addition to his hits with the Miracles, he wrote or co-wrote hits for the Temptations (including the immortal “My Girl”), Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar”), and Mary Wells (“My Guy”), among others.
I don’t know if 2005’s My World: The Definitive Collection was the first single-disc overview of Robinson’s entire career, but it is a satisfying listen with some all-time classic moments, including “Cruisin’,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and “I Second That Emotion.” It can feel surprising, as it is not in chronological order, so the transitions between the Miracles’ classics and the solo material can be slightly jarring, but overall, this is an excellent compilation whose material deserves many listens.
The collection opens with two new recordings, “My World” and “Fallin’,” and the classic R&B style of the former—with electric piano and a bass-saturated groove—is complemented by the more jazz-influenced chords of the latter. The lyrics on both are spare, and though some might laugh at a line like “Palpitations, heart beating so erratic/ Whenever I think about you, these things are automatic,” it works with Robinson’s classic falsetto and smooth delivery.
On December 3 and 4, 1996, tape manipulator and sound collagist Phil Milstein got together with Sonic Youth guitarist, singer, and songwriter Thurston Moore to take a musical trip. They didn’t physically travel far to record their two duets, one at the Iron Morse Music Hall in Northampton, MA and the other at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA. But what they created might help send a listener to the inner or outer limits.
Their recordings stand as the ultimate in “Anti-Pop” music: There are no 3-4 minute chart-friendly singles, no twenty-something starlets singing passages from their diary, no breaks featuring this month’s hot rap star. What you do have is two middle-aged dudes who recorded two very long tracks (Vol. 1 is 42 minutes long and Vol. 2 is 44 minutes) that set aside verses and hooks in favor of an approach similar to drone and noise music, something they’ve both been doing for decades.
Moore layers his guitar improvisations and effects over Milstein’s found-object sound structures as musical themes and ideas drift by like clouds. Their interactions are not unlike what jazz musicians do when they improvise, listening and responding to each other through the sounds they make.
Both volumes of this 2-record set are the kind of music where you can put your headphones on, press “play,” and lose track of time for a while. It’s good stuff if you need to add some active yet low-key abstraction to your life.
Music has always been a reliable outlet for protest in turbulent times. At least, it used to be. It’s been a while since commercially released music embraced the spirit of protest. From the 1960s to the late 1980s, a protest or “issue” song that addressed everything from war to the environment to equal rights to government corruption could be found somewhere on the pop charts courtesy of a broad collection of major artists from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Marvin Gaye to the Sex Pistols to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Starting in the 1990s, when major labels consolidated into today’s corporate monoliths, music that overtly criticized social issues protest music started to decline. By the 2000s, message music disappeared entirely as pop artists learned not to risk their livelihood by taking a stand on something, not when Fox News and an invisible army of Internet trolls stood ready to shame and shout down anyone who dared criticize power and by definition didn’t “support the troops” (otherwise known as getting the "Dixie Chicks treatment").
Morgan Delt | Morgan Delt | Trouble In Mind Records
"I think we've become unstuck in time and everything is going to move all at once from now on," Morgan Delt said of his approach to music. Do you hear a transcendence through the decades by way of 1960's production trickery, or simply a map to our roots? It may be only the reflection we deduce from experience. Regardless, Morgan Delt's debut self-titled album landed #7 on Norman Records Top 50 Albums of 2014. The album's flow of low percussion tones, intense bass, layered with colorful drums and Delt's wispy lyrics inspires one to grab a crown of flowers, or at least a tambourine. You may've already picked up Morgan Delt's cassette-only release, Psychic Death Hole, in December 2012. Careful: the 2014 album offers five additional songs to get lost in. These 11 tracks will add up to 32:45 you may need to repeat. Then repeat again. If we all thoroughly digested this album, then came together for a healthy discussion, there would be just as many opinions on its meaning. Which is all good, since that's just the way Mr. Delt wants it.
The Presidents Of The United States of America | Kudos to You! | PUSA
There's something to be said about not giving a f*ck when it comes to worthless opinionated pressures around you. Instead of settling for less of yourself, why not embrace the irreverent and let go. The Presidents Of The United States Of America seem to have mastered this approach for over two decades now. It seemed their last album released in 2008, These are The Good Times People, would in fact be their last; but alas, in February 2014 they released Kudos To You! It was for fun. It was for play. But that's what we love about PUSA. What more could you expect but a shit eating grin growing wider as each track passes by with lyrics of fruit, spiders, fleas, mites, a finger monster, and one crappy ghost. The indie rock, gotta keep some twang, with a smear of grunge that launched PUSA in the early 90's is sprinkled throughout, but it's relevant and genuine to who they are today. Well, it's relevant to all of us really. Who hasn't looked in the rearview mirror of a heartbreak and laughed at the hilarity of wallowing in self-pity. Thank you for reminding us in "Poor Little Me", PUSA. And raise your had if you're scared of a little "Finger Monster". Anyone? This is an album to lift your spirits or rotate at an upcoming shindig. Possibly next summer when you're swinging from a "rope (tied) around a branch, flying into a swimming hole / in Oh-hi-oh".
Chris Ballew (vocals, bassitar) | Jason Finn (drums, vocals) | Andrew McKeag (guitbass, vocals)