Publicist's Playtime Vol.1
Music recommendations, plus thoughts on folklore-gate
Welcome to the newest Abundant Living newsletter! I’m glad you’re here. I love all your feedback and I love the money some of you give me, but I do not love those who pay more than I do those who don’t. I love the attention all of you give me just by clicking and not unsubscribing. I even love those of you who rarely open the newsletter. Just seeing your name on my subscription list makes me feel like a big shot. (If I find out who the one person who unsubscribed is, I will surely endeavor to destroy them.) Even as I have devoted my writing life to being an utter prick about those who sentimentalize art as a mere tool for “saving” their lives, I can’t deny that having you all bothering to show up, week after week, has made my particular lockdown experience bearable. I’m endlessly grateful.
I’d like to show my gratitude this week by doing two things. First, by not devoting 4,000 words to the insider baseball bullshit I was initially going to rattle on about and, second, by recommending some new music. The latter is also my way of showing gratitude to all the wonderful current bands that, in the face of complete decimation of both life and industry, are still making music that sustains me. And gratitude to all the hard working publicists of said bands (the ones that have them) for sending me emails that I rarely respond to, and for breaking their own lil’ spirits trying to get a centimeter of press for their artists from a music media that, with its attention to non-celebrities arguably already intermittent and arbitrary, has been largely razed to the ground by the fickle ineptitude of its hedge fund overminds. I hope this new monthly feature, preciously named “Publicist’s Playtime,” will help musicians move a unit or two and give publicists a small bit of good(ish) news to include in their reports and, most importantly, turn some of you onto some music that will mean so much to you and your loved ones that it’ll be played at your funeral or your child’s bris. Hope Baby <insert self-consciously classic name here> likes stadium crust!
Publicist’s Playtime! Volume 1.
So, I’ve been planning to do a Consumer Guide since this newsletter’s inception. I was going to wait until my readership was large enough that it was worth including in a band’s clippings. But, numbers be damned, recent poptimism hoo-hahs have forced my hand. Back into the pyrrhic flames of futility that I, as musician, writer, and bartender, have lived and died and lived again, for all my earthly existence. It me, the eternal bullshit phoenix. So yeah, my good fuckers, let’s talk about the new Taylor Swift album.
Briefly, Taylor Swift is an extremely popular singer and songwriter. Her popularity with the population at large is enormous, consistently so. Her popularity with critics is also largely consistent, though it does tend to wax and wane a bit depending on her interpersonal/public relationships with other popular musicians. Currently and for the foreseeable future, barring her ringing the doorbell of the Knowles estate and running away, Swift’s work is held in high critical esteem. As to my opinion of her art… I think she’s fine. I like the trashy electro-clash stuff, The Archer, Lover (except the bridge), and probably a few other songs I haven’t heard. But really who cares what I think. I’m a 45 year old straight cis male whose favorite band is Sheer Terror. I don’t have the critical/cultural faculties or interest to tell a good Taylor Swift song from a bad one. And no one is asking me to.
Anyway, Taylor Swift has a new album. It’s called folklore. It’s apparently an indie (in the meaningless meaning of the term) folk record. It was made in collaboration with a dude from The National, who I’ve never heard an entire song by because I take my coffee to go, and dude from Bon Iver, who I never fucked with as I didn’t care for Mike & The Mechanics the first time around*. Anyway, Swift’s album sounds swell to me. The music ain’t my bag but the lyrics are strong (depending on your threshold for wordplay/inversion of romantic lyrical tropes… mine is pretty high). Folklore won’t tell you anything about heartache that the Clueless Soundtrack hasn’t already, but it’ll get you where you need to go. ANYWAY. While folklore got the rote overpraise often paid to both low-bar-expectations Pop releases and A-list performatively beeeeeeautiful “indie” music, it also got a very good and thoughtful review by Jill Mapes in Pitchfork. An eight out of a possible ten. Mapes took the album seriously and praised it as serious, meaningful art. In response to this, Mapes had her personal information shared online and her life threatened by Taylor Swift fans.
I have been reading Maria Sherman’s wonderful new book, Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS, and therefore am hyperconscious about appearing (or being) misogynistic about young fanhood. So I’ll make clear that I don’t think young pop fans are any worse or more susceptible to inhabiting a corny viciousness through their enthusiams than sports fans, Biden/Sanders fans or, say, 45 year old hardcore fans who name their newsletters after Iceage songs. But I don’t think they're any better either**. Humans in mob form often are real stinkers. Taylor Swift in no way encouraged her fans to harass Mapes. She didn’t need to. Like many violent crowds, the minority (and obviously they were a small minority… though I doubt it felt that way to Mapes) of “Swifties” who sent vile messages to the offending critic were compelled by no force other than, the case of the teenagers, the adolescent impulsive cruelties we all come to regret or, in the case of the adults, the mediocrity of their own internal lives.
In response to all this (and other fan/artist reactions in the very recent past), I went to twitter dot com and (modestly) proposed that music sites stop reviewing mega stars’ albums. I couldn’t see any practical way to deal with the abuse and, as pop music is entirely non-dependant on criticism for sales, It just didn’t seem worth the abuse. So I made the proposal of either not covering future releases at all, waiting a few months to write the thoughtful essays, or just give everything a “!0” with the implied understanding that numerical ratings of art are silly so “here ya go, Ms. Gaga or Mr. 75 or whomever, nice job.” Get them clicks and get out alive.
Jill Mapes response to those like me calling for the end of megastar reviewing was a simple and perfectly brave, “I like writing about pop.” She does it well and she likes it. I can’t argue with that. Consider my suggestion rescinded, until the next time.
I guess all I can add is that, while shared cultural moments are rare and potentially thrilling/comforting, the ever shrinking media means that space given to megastars is space taken away from everyone else. In theory, with a ginormous internet, every deserving artist can get coverage. But we all know that’s simply not the case. Now, besides the initial superstar coverage, there is coverage of the coverage etc etc. You know… The Discourse. I’m doing it right now. And I’m not even saying I want to stop. As Karen O once said, “it’s a dull life.” Gotta fill those hours, not spent eating healthily and working out, somehow. But we all have talented friends/favorite artists who spent years sweating blood and trust funds to make a record and then having the misfortune of seeing their triple album song cycle about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, reimagined as scruffy pop-punk road dogs touring a pre-Hyborian Age Atlantis, released the same day Harry Styles takes a shit, subsequently having their magnum opus met with complete radio silence except for a brief mention in New Noise, and, whoopsie doodle, the press cycle is over and it’s back to the DIY mines for them, while Mr. Styles thrives beyond measure in his cloud castle made of watermelon and panties, blissfully wiping his toned heinie with pages torn from The Pitchfork Review. If I’ve seen it once… Anyway. All I can do, for my part, is write about some of the music that fights for the remaining air after the omniculture gets done vacuuming. If that sentence reads elitist or, worse, rockist, please know that this is not Pop versus Rock. I’m even less inclined to write about most guitar bands, as most are tedious beyond measure. I wouldn’t have devoted the last five paragraphs to Taylor Swift if I thought she wasn’t interesting. When she eventually gets around to making a Power Violence album, I will give them shits an 11 out of 10 no sweat, and bask in the adulation of her newly backpatched fandom. And if all this till seems smug, please know that I realize I’m a horseshoe salesman outside the first Ford factory. And I know horses aren’t aesthetically or morally superior to cars.
I just prefer… long faces.
On that hilarious high note, that I will never surpass even if I live long enough to see pop music on Mars, let’s get into some new music I currently love! (obviously not even close to complete… forgot to include wonderful albums by Impotentie and No Home and Gum Country and and and… and now I’m out of space. Dammit.) Also, it occurs that more than half the bands in this playlist don’t have publicists. Whoops. Anyway. Let’s begin the begin.
Long Knife Night of the Hunter b/w Rough Liver I have, all over my pastepot body, a veritable sticker book of garbage tattoos. Garbled flowers with non-existent bible quotes in banners, sub-Dragonlance mythical creatures, a flaming lucky number THAT I ACTUALLY PAID FOR. Basically I look like I was slapped around by all 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo. The reason for all this cornball desecration is, in the micro, wanting badly, in my twenties, to be the Murder City Devils. And, in the macro, wanting, in my twenties, to also be all the other Pacific Northwest born-to-loser punk rock bands. ZIPGUN’s “8 Track Player” is honest to god one of my favorite records. Defining all sense or aesthetics, I have Zeke’s “Fuck All Night” stuck in my head at least once a month. I love all that blackrim glasses ‘n’ sideburn, over-signifying bad-assery. I never wanted to be Johnny Thunders. I wanted to be a Johnny Thunders fetishist who couldn’t hold down a job at whatever the Portland equivalent of Kim’s was. What I’m saying is that Long Knife rules so hard. Best Rock and Roll single I’ve heard since I stopped going to Motor City Bar because of the weird smell. I bet dating these goombas is exhausting on both heart and wallet, but occasionally totally worth it.
HURAÑA Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas 7" Straight out of Chiapas, Mexico, this new HURAÑA 7" is killlleeerrrrrr. If all those years of middling garage rock killed your joy for hella echoed vocals, prepare to have your love reignited. Yeah, I copy and pasted my initial tweet about this scabrous beastie but people keep telling me that “not everyone is on twitter,” which feels unlikely but I’ll use it. HURAÑA makes darkly wild and free punk music; surf music for punx who, knowing how much squares dig the daytime, hate the sun on principle but still dig the ocean, for however long that shit lasts.
Sweeping Promises Hunger For a Way OutSweeping Promises’ bio does the band no favors by comparing the band to every pre-Smiths Rough Trade band except maybe Shockabilly. Not that musically the comparisons are too wacky or that Sweeping Promises suffers in comparison (obviously working in ye olde post-punk tradition but also apples, oranges). But such claims do a disservice to the band’s vocalist Lira Mondal. What keeps Sweeping Promises from being “just” a perfectly fab contemporary post-punk band (and the full band is genuinely fab) is the fact that Mondal doesn’t sound remotely disaffected, while also avoiding the all-too-common temptation of pop-punk melody mongering. The vocal lines are delightfully inventive and I, a man who has bored literally hundreds of happy hour bartenders referencing bands both popular and obscure, can’t come up with a single boring point of comparison that’d hold up in post-punk court. Maybe the Mo-dettes? Maybe?!?!?!?! Easily the best “gun-to-my-head I guess I’d make a Go-Go’s reach?!?!?!” band since Flasher.
Big Joanie Cranes in the Sky b/w It’s You Am I flying too close to the cancellation sun by admitting that I prefer London “Ronettes filtered through ’80s DIY and Riot Grrrl with a sprinkling of dashikis” post-punk band Big Joanie’s Solange cover to the original? In my defense, the only pop music I regularly listen to is Gorilla Biscuits’ Start Today and, also, few people really care what I think. Nor should they! Regardless, as Jack Gilbert wrote, “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” Anyway, without taking anything from the (excellent) original, I love Big Joanie’s version more than I can express. The vocals cooly soar and the guitars purr, then grind, then explode sideways like Sonny Sharrock playing “The Chain” in a Blue Cheer cover band. Consistent with Big Joanie’s PERFECT 2018 debut full length, the rhythm section sounds HUGE. Pretty sure Chardine Taylor-Stone keeps a baby brontosaurus curled up in her kickdrum. Consequently, Cranes in the Sky (which admittedly has a hella sick drum sound as well) is taken (further????) into Bonham/The Woods territory. Basically it sounds like an AmRep song if any of the bands on that label besides Cows could write a hook. I hope that the last sentence ensures that everyone, not already mad at me for the first sentence of this review, is mad at me now.
Gulch Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress- Contender for album of the year. Youth crew made immortal through vampirism. A bunch of red-eyed bats let loose in the studio, mistaking the snare for a way out and howling about their own ruined blood. Now that black metal is largely a sauna-level exhausting ambient dead-end proposition, evil needs to do something with its time. Gulch has kindly offered up its body as a vessel and, in return, Satan has made their combination of low end grunt trucking, sandpaper guitar drag, and a vocalist who sounds like a spittoon kicked into a tornado, wildly popular. If Robert Johnson knew the end result of his crossroads networking would be Gulch, he would have bought New Balance*** stocks early and saved himself a lot of heartache. In less spiritual terms, Gulch sounds like what I always wished all those Massachusetts metalcore bands with too many parts sounded like. As with Converge, I do occasionally wish the lyrics were either more direct or less so. But that’s really more my problem than Gulch’s.
Divine Horsemen Mystery Writers I love this shit. “Mystery writers write blues in high heel shoes/ transcribe history on the astral plane/ in the blink of an eye, sacred to profane/ spilled wine, it’s just…an old… bloodstain” I’ve always had a weakness for the kind of Los Angeles punks who were born divorced, with a hypodermic needle and a used DVD of “Out of the Past” gripped in each lil’ pink fist. That being said, as much as I enjoyed Chris D’s old (and reunited) band The Flesh Eaters (and Allison Anders’ Border Radio), I kind of slept on his band with then wife Julie Christensen, The Divine Horsemen, and, in recent years, have been more attentive to the noir-blues survivors who got out (like Kid Congo) or the young ‘uns who use The Gun Club catalog as a starting point rather than a bible (Death Valley Girls, Iceage). If this single is indicative of what D has been up to all these years then I, like Jim Bouton betraying a (pre-Friends) doomed and beautiful Elliot Gould, have been really fucking up. Actually, Mystery Writers, a strapping, semi-mystical, and self-aware stomper, may even be stronger than Christensen (whose solo work is excellent btw) and D’s original band’s ‘80s songs of countrified punker dissolution. If the entire upcoming album is like this, I’m reinvesting in cowboy shirts.
Cities Aviv Accompanied By A Blazing Solo A single fantastic track in nine parts, Accompanied By A Blazing Solo (which Cities Aviv describes as “3rd in a string of deconstructive works. Following Gum and Immortal Flame.) transcends whatever academic impetus to “deconstruct” that may have inspired it. Obviously it helps to dig repetition as much as I do, but I don’t think it takes too much patience to let the composition envelop. Chopped and repeated romantic balladry, half a century of soul jazz, muttered dread and memory amongst scattered tones and chimes. Kind of like “Gymnopédie No.1” if that bop was 40 minutes long and interspersed with a shit-ton of “yeah”s and “eh”s.
Captain Planet Ghazal feat. Alsarah This is actually one song from a full length Captain Planet (DJ Charlie Wilder) album. I’m going to do Cap Planet, you the reader, and myself the favor of not attempting to write about electronic dance music. The world is embarrassing enough. But I’m a longtime fan of Alsarah, the Sudanese-American songwriter/ethnomusicologist (for whom Captain Planet has done a number of remixes in the past). Alsarah’s song in solidarity with the Sudanese Uprising, “Men Ana / من انا,” was an artistic (and moral) highlight in 2019, a year short on both, and her two full albums (with her band The Nubatones) are thrillingly iconoclastic combinations of traditional East African pop and urbane, freewheeling sophistication. On Ghazal, Persian poetry, in voice ranging from whisper to croon to plea, is interwoven with a polyglottal tapestry of snaps and burbles (See: my previous warning about me trying to describe electronic dance music). Despite my inability to convincingly discuss any EDM that isn’t specifically Prodigy’s “Poison,” you trust me that Ghazal is a jam.
Rigorous Institution Survival/Despotism EP Ever since Tao Cross’s Rob Miller came out as officially Just Asking Questions about the veracity of the Holocaust, listening to his seminal first band, Amebix, hasn’t felt too sick. Which is a shame because, in 2020, the lurching, crust punk Amebix (arguably) invented feels, even thirty years in, relevant to the point of absurdity. Luckily for those of us who dig the patented sound of stinkin’ and existin’, Portland, Oregon’s Rigorous Institution are here to bear aloft the frayed thread banner. Keeping the glacial creep, serrated guitars, and Dick Dastardly/Muttley hybrid vocals essential to the genre, Rigorous Institution adds a touch of sinister synth and dynamic songcraft, just for pissy kicks. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of history knows that we aren’t experiencing the end of the world but Rigorous Institution has the good taste to question whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. After all, America is currently a non-stop plague party, hellbent on reveling in its own well deserved immolation. At this juncture, Rigorous Institution are practically our B-52s.
Lauren Bousfield Palimpsest I almost didn’t include this one because I don’t know how to describe it without indulging in non-sequitur and bad poetry. But that’s hardly fair to Bousfield, who clearly put a lot of work setting up an entire game of Mouse Trap within her skull to make this record. Sometimes Palimpsest sounds like a universe populated entirely of gacked out drum ‘n’ bass DJs collapsing in on itself, causing multidimensional reverberations that results in the death of all the pantheons of all the gods. And sometimes it sounds like Paula Abdul. Occasionally both. The entire album gives me knots in my back but in a good way, and no more than Missing Foundation ever did. Overall, it’s pretty boss.
Moor Mother Forever Industries More Post-Millenium Tension from Philadelphia’s resident end-times prophet. Well, maybe “prophet” isn’t the best word. While she raps with the authority of someone privy to heavy, beyond-the-veil formulas, Moor Mother is less inclined to predict the future than interrogate the Now like it owes her back rent (not that she’d ever associate on friendly terms with a landlord). While she usually records full length, full sound jeremiads for the gloriously feisty Don Giovani Record Corporation, this time, for the Sub Pop Singles Club, Moor Mother offers up two tracks of potently lowkey clatter, beauty, and dread. She says “mutants at work” like it could go either way; either insult or affirmation.
Iceage Lockdown Blues There’s a fine line between profound and idiotic and, baby, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is fine as hell. Lockdown came out all the way back in April, which feels like a century ago. But it would be ungrateful, in the first playlist of the Abundant Living, to not include the band from which the newsletter got its name. On their newest, a borderline novelty ode to Covid-19, Iceage continue their current trend of Primal Scream boogie-esque blues hooey, bolstered by Jesus levels of charisma/chutzpah. Is it good? Fuck if I know. I’m a Swiftie, but for Iceage. I fucking love it. And if you give it less than a 9.7, I’ll leak your mother’s home address to all the heaviest hitters in the Danish goth mafia.
*This is a less than generous dismissal of both bands, I know. By all accounts the men in The National are truly lovely people and any aesthetic issues I may have with them is prejudice of small differences to an almost comical degree. I’ll cop to it and get around to exploring their discography once I run out of all the Bridge 9 bands I haven’t heard yet. As for Bon Iver… probably also a delightful human person but shit sucks and you’re all insane. *smiley face emoji*
**Maria Sherman would perhaps disagree with me here. Her book, which I’m still reading, discusses the overwhelmingly positive aspects of young fandom at length. She makes a compelling argument. I suggest you check her book out even if (or especially if), like me, you have distrusted the tastes of teenagers since you were one yourself. Even if it doesn’t change your mind, it’ll make you slightly less embarrassing.
***I don’t know what kind of sneakers hardcore kids prefer these days. I’m too shy to ask.
Thanks for reading!