A few days ago in this post I wrote about our theme for ‘Tracks of the Month’ – basically we were all assigned a recipient to choose a track of the month for (Secret-Santa-Style). Stakes is High! High risk. High Anxiety. What if we choose something they hate!?
We decided we’d select 4 tracks for our recipient, one track of the month plus 3 reserves in case we already knew the chosen track. The playlist below features all 16 tracks that were chosen.
A short but functional post today. We only get to review one Album of the Month but of course listen to so much more. I thought I’d share a few of the new albums that have been a big part of my life in the last month or two;
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to guess what albums are going to feature in the end of year round ups, even as early as January. ‘Home’ by Rhye probably won’t be troubling too many of these lists. It’s too nice. It’s too gentle. It’s nowhere near cool enough. But I love it and everyone that I have recommended it to has loved it too, regardless of their usual musical tastes. Listen without prejudice and enjoy.
Next is ‘Deacon’ by serpentwithfeet which is an ambient R&B celebration of big gay love and sex. I am not sure there’s much more to be said. It’s a beautiful, perfectly crafted selection of 11 tracks. Each has something to say on their own but also as part of the wider story. Pull the lyrics up when you listen, revel in the frankness of the stories told.
Finally, is ‘Menneskekollektivet’ by Lost Girls a collaboration between 2 Norwegian artists; Jenny Hval and Havard Volden. Here you’ll find 5 tracks, 46 minutes worth of surprisingly accessible, experimental electronica textured with spoken word, vocal melody and harmony, guitars and at time chuggy beats. Sometimes odd, always fascinating. I know Guy is enjoying this one and he may also post on this album too. I think this album is very much worth investing some time into.
Listeners to the This Is Not Happening Podcast will be familiar with our standard format. The 1st half of each Pod is dedicated to an ‘Album of the Month’ (AOTM), the 2nd half of each Pod is dedicated to ‘Tracks of the Month’ (TOTM). Each pod we have a different theme for TOTM. We’ve had ‘new tracks’ and ‘favourite disco track’ but in Episode 10 (coming soon) we chose a new approach. We would draw straws, Secret Santa style, to find a new track for a specific member of the This Is Not Happening crew.
The track that we were selecting could be literally anything. An old classic. A hidden gem. Something brand-spanking-new that they’d never heard. Just in case we selected something that they already new we agreed to create a 4 track playlist so that we had a few back-ups. I was drawn to play Secret Santa to Guy. At first I thought this was a good thing and that my job would be relatively easy. And then i didn’t sleep for 2 weeks worrying about this selection.
Ahead of the podcast being released into the wild. I thought I’d share the long list from which I carved out my 4 track long list and my track selection.
You’ll find a pretty broad range of track selections here. Some of them I could have selected for Nolan, a couple I could have selected for David but I had good reason to believe that many, if not all, fitted into the overlap in the Venn Diagram of Guy and Joseph. The 2x 12 minute tracks were strictly for Guy!
I hope you enjoy my musical gift to Guy. I am sure he won’t mind you borrowing it.
It’s my turn for Album of the Month and as usual, I’ve not found my selection an easy choice. I’ve selected Ignorance by The Weather Station, the 5th full length album from 36 year old, Canadian Tamara Linderman. I wasn’t aware of her music before the single ‘Robber’ was released late in 2020. Her early albums fit neatly into the ‘singer / songwriter’ folk genre but with each successive release her sound develops in complexity and the band becomes bigger along with the sound. A journey that delivers ‘Ignorance’, which is hard to define by genre but it seems that many still refer to her as a folk artist. This feels like an old label that doesn’t fit this album. But on the other hand, does it really matter?
My hesitation in choosing this album was 100% down to the hype. Last month we discussed Arlo Park’s ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ a new, young artist from the UK managing the burden of expectation of being called ‘the voice of a generation’. The hype around ‘Ignorance’ is of a different kind; to come so early in 2021 but to be touted as a contender for ‘album of the year’. It’s a simple, undeniable fact that this changes your listening experience … at least it does for me. I vividly remember my first experience of this album. I had heard Robber, loved it and then saw an early review massively praising the album. I got on it straight away, and loved it. It was a 9/10 for me. I told the crew this was to be my Album of the Month. Can you tell there is a ‘but’ coming? But then, despite its luxuriant scope, scale and shockingly beautiful soundscape, I failed to connect to it emotionally. Which is odd as it ticks SO many of my boxes. The lyrical context and content being one of them. But it still failed to truly dent me emotionally. I found it a little cold and I stopped listening to it as a result.
So why have I chosen it? I’ve chosen it as I’ve gone on such a roller coaster with this album that I thought it would be an interesting choice for discussion with my friends who I know will have an opinion. I have connected more with this album over time. I think it demands close attention, it does sound best in headphones (I know, I know everything does) but I’d argue this is a different album in headphones. It’s so ‘pleasant’ on a surface level that it can be a perfect background music for life but I think due to the fragility or Tamara’s vocals and lyrics, a different level of appreciation can be achieved through a focused, concentrated listen.
So, on to the music? This a 40 minute, 10 track album. Hallelujah! Thank you Tamara. It is SO dense (I mean this in the ‘good way’) that overstepping the 10 track mark might have been problematic. There are a couple of 5 minute tracks but generally we’re in the 3-4 minute track mark … so this must be pop music right? I think the answer to that is ‘yes’ you could go ‘art pop’ if you wanted people to snigger behind your back but I am going with ‘pop music’ and I’m ok with that. ‘Side A’ (by which i mean tracks 1-6) is upbeat and rhythmically driven giving way to a more melancholic ‘Side B’. Regardless of the tone of the tracks there are tons of melodic, rhythmic and lyrical hooks. Let’s get into a few of them.
‘Robber’ … wow. What a way to open an album. There’s an albums worth of motifs, trills, frills, strings, woodwind and spiky yet intriguing ideas in one track (and of course we all know I love a big organ). It’s a surprisingly anxious, urgent and threatening track to start an album with and I think you could argue that it could have closed the album? It constantly threatens to veer off into jazz noise but never quite carries through on the threat.
The album then opens up into 9 more tracks that, while they rarely play with the oddness and complexity of ‘Robber’, there’s a hell of a lot going on. How many influences can you hear in this album? Are they deliberate? Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Springsteen (Atlantic / Tried to Tell You) and a host of other 80’s radio rock smeared with synths (I can genuinely hear shades of Dire Straits!) but then also the strings and hints of 80’s ‘sophisti-pop’ chucked in for good measure. David will love the disco-tinged-drive of ‘Parking Lot’ and I think we’ll all appreciate the magical backing vocals on ‘Loss’.
There is loads to love about this album; pop hooks with scope, scale, ambition and complexity. An artist playing with a wide sound palette and clearing enjoying the process and the results. I am still yet to fully connect with it emotionally but I can feel that this building slowly over time.
Some questions that I think might be interesting to discuss;
What is hell is this (and as always, does that even matter)?
How do hyperbolic critical reviews impact your experience of an album?
What influences do you hear in it?
What do you think might be preventing my emotional connection (reading a wide range of reviews – I am not the only one)
US Girls take on the big Xmas track. After featuring so highly in my 2020 top albums, I couldn’t resist sharing this one with the blog. This is the explicit version so maybe keep it off the turkey dinner playlist?
I first banged on about Nilufer Yanya back in 2017 when she released her 2nd EP Plant Feed. Last year she released her debut album ‘Miss Universe’ which I completely failed to pick for AOTM … and I am not sure why. In the past few weeks she’s release ‘Crash’ a massive new single and it’s prompted me to reintroduce her to you all.
She’s effortlessly cool. Ballsy. Writes a great tune and obviously surrounds herself with some talented friends.
Listeners to the podcast version of us arguing will be familiar with the structure of each episode. The 1st section is us ‘reviewing’ an album that one of us has selected as Album of the Month. The 2nd section we all bring a single track as our chosen track to represent a theme. In the past we’ve had Lockdown Bangers, Chill Tracks, Afro-Centric and of course … Disco. On episode 5 (coming soon) we chose the simple theme of ‘new tracks’. Anything that we’ve loved from the past few months … that the others might not have heard or appreciated.
In order to select our tracks we all curated long lists that we whittled down to 4 that we could share on a longlist-playlist.
Well, this is going to be an interesting Album of the Month.
Each one of us on the blog/pod has a history with Sufjan Stevens. Some longer than others, some with more passion than others. But that doesn’t mean that we agree on all things Sufjan. Quite the opposite it appears. And if there was a Sufjan album to force a wedge between our personal preferences … then this is it.
My history with Sufjan was a little delayed given the wave of adoration that followed ‘Illinois’. Apparently I was a little slow on the uptake. Illinois was released in 2005 (gulp). I didn’t get to it until around 2009. I can mark the time well as my wife was pregnant with my first child and we (over) played it to death. She didn’t have the greatest pregnancy and now can’t listen to the album as it is so synonymous with feeling sick and bloated. Not Sufjan’s fault but still. I then bought the Age of Adz the day after my daughter was born. This album marked a seismic change in instrumentation from Sufjan … one that came with a very mixed (and in the case of David, surprisingly aggressive) reaction. I loved it, but hey, I’d just had a little girl. I would have loved most things.
Then came a silly Xmas album in 2012 … and then in 2015 we chose Carrie and Lowell (C&L) as album of the month. And I think we all agreed it’s close to perfection. As albums that I love to cry along to go, it’s right up there with Put Your Back N 2 it by Perfume Genius. It’s deeply personal, beautifully sparse, hypnotically produced and perfectly written.
A bunch of oddities have been released between then and now. But The Ascension is Mr. Steven’s first proper album since then. Much to David’s shock, the album is ‘Electro Sufjan’ again. But I would state that it is a very different proposition to Age of Adz. Age of Adz was full of pomp and theatrical posturing. I get why some hated it. I didn’t and that’s cool.
I think this album is at least as personal and introspective as C&L. Sufjan was moving from New York to the countryside of America and didn’t have access to his banjos, guitars and traditional range of instruments. He has said that he was limited to what he could plug into his computer. For me, this album does feel like he was ‘constrained’. But I am not sure if this is in a bad way. It’s a very different Sufjan Stevens we hear on this album and I am ok with that. Some have suggested it sounds like he’s ‘trying to hard’. I think this album sounds like he’s ‘trying’, i.e. this doesn’t feel 100% natural and feels less than 100% comfortable … but I am ok with this. I think I am getting into this vulnerability.
Let’s talk about its length. It’s long! 80 minutes. Exactly 100% longer than my preferred album length. There are some long old tracks on it too. The longest, America (12 mins) was the 1st single so it’s not like we didn’t have warning. He also shared Sugar ahead of the release date which clocks in at 7+ mins. He also shared a 15 strong track list for the album. So I guess this has to be considered as a ‘double album’ which isn’t usually a good thing.
You have to make a commitment to this album. I think it only makes sense when you do. I’ve practically listened to nothing else for a whole week. And I have been rewarded. I don’t ‘love’ this yet. But I am loving listening to it. As each track starts, I know that I like each one. There are no tracks here that I would remove. This is true for very few albums. Some tracks i like. Some I love. I think a few of my all time fave Sufjan tracks are on this album. He’s a great song writer and he’s doing something very different. I think we should respect that and applaud it.
Sufjan Steven’s is one of the few artists that when he’s reviewed, lazy critics don’t simply list a bunch of people he sounds like … cause he doesn’t. Other people sound like him. However, there are moments where for the 1st time I’ve thought … oh … he’s doing a Thom Yorke thing there (Ativan) or a Caribou drum production thing (I want to die happy and a few others). I don’t think he’s mastered the electronic craft yet and is therefore referencing others but again … I’m cool with that.
There are a few moments where someone should have tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘that’s enough Sufjan’ (i) America should be an 8 minute track, the last 4 minutes? Sorry but no (ii) Ativan should be 4 mins for the same reason.
So. At this point in time. I am very glad this is in my life. I am glad he’s done what he’s done. Oh, and Video Games is such a surprise. Where did that come from? Single of the year? (I can hear all of your screaming at me for suggesting that one).
Commit to it. Give it some space and time. It does deserve it.
This is what I’ve wanted. This is literally what I’ve been waiting for. Public Enemy, re-signed to Def Jam and angry. I grew up on Public Enemy, from age 11 they’ve been part of my life, particularly the first decade of their output (I kind of got lost after that). My lens on American politics was massively influenced by Chuck D. Therefore, I’ve been crying out for his thoughts for at least the last 4 years … and here we have them;
Go, go, go, just go Go, go, go (we have)
Whatever it takes, rid this dictator POTUS my tail, Ass debater Prime-time Preemo, rhyme-time crime Like no other in this lifetime White house killer, dead in lifelines Vote this joke out, or die tryin’ Unprecedented, demented, many president’d Nazi Gestapo dictator defended It’s not what you think, it’s what you follow Run for them jewels, drink from that bottle Another four years gonna gut y’all hollow Gutted out, dried up, broke and can’t borrow
State of the Union, shut the fuck up Sorry ass motherfucker Stay away from me
Stay away from meMister, I am the law and you are not In fact, I’m god, I got a lot Mister these united breaks takeover come over Orange hair, fear the comb-over Here’s another scare, keep them hands in the air Better not breathe, you dare not dare Don’t say nothing, don’t think nothing Make America great again the middle just love it When he wanna talk, walk y’all straight to them ovens Human beings of color, yeah we be sufferin’ (come on)
State of the Union, shut the fuck up Sorry ass motherfucker Stay away from me
Go, go, go, go, go Go, go, go, go, go
Better rock that vote or vote for hell Real generals now, not some USFL Not a fuckin’ game, I dare not mention his name Operation 45, yeah it’s the same thing Sounds like Berlin burnin’, same thing History’s a mystery if y’all ain’t learning End this clown show, for real a state bozo Nazi cult 45 Gestapo
State of the Union, shut the fuck up Sorry ass motherfucker Stay away from me