Two and a half years after the rocking Entertain You, Bronze Radio Return, uhh, return with an album befittingly named for the songwriting whims indulged. If its predecessor was designed to be featured in commercials, the acoustic-based Chillers is full of tracks longing to occupy those sappy scenes of reconciliation between two leads when everything aligns for the titular character. The vibe is not an accident. It's a collection of previously released, uhh, chillers, from the Connecticut-based band, along with a handful of demos, which in at least one case is better than the official version. Whether or not the tunes were tailored for film or TV, they nestle in nicely with the arrival of cooler temperatures.
Previously, I've used the last Album Notes each year to reflect on the preceding 12 months in music. The easy take is that the return of live music was undoubtedly welcomed and served as a cathartic release. Unfortunately, we find 2021 concluding in a manner far too similarly to where we were a year ago, and as 2021 comes to a close, I am left with a broader feeling of, "Wait, what really happened this year?"
Music aside, last New Year's Eve feels like it was half a decade ago. The events on the January 6 seem as if from another lifetime. Or reality. Did the Tokyo Olympics actually take place this summer? What a blur. I find it almost unfathomable that we're about to turn the calendar over to 2022. With that, I have no grand observations and will attempt to make no pithy summaries on this current state of life. Too much retrospection leaves my brain feeling little more than a "wow" of disbelief. Thank goodness for music.
And on that note, here are my ten favorite albums of 2021, in alphabetical order:
Cheeckface - Emphatically No.
Aaron Frazer - Introducing...
Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Butterfly 3000
Lord Huron - Long Lost
Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
Ol' Buger Beats & Vuyo - Dialogue.
Turnstile - Glow On
Typhoon - Sympathetic Magic
White Denim - Crystal Bullets / King Tears
If I had to pick an absolute favorite from the above list, I would go with the one I've found myself spinning the most: Long Lost. Not only did Lord Huron's fourth album fail to leave my rotation following its May release, but it made me dig out their previous three LPs, all brilliant, and listen more intently than I have in years, which led me to conclude that these guys just might be my favorite thing in music over the past decade. There's a simplistic charm in their Americana stylings that is classic without being retro. Maybe that's why I find their music so enchanting when we're living in a time warp.
While we're at it, for more listening pleasure, here are ten other records, in alphabetical order, I enjoyed but didn't feature in Album Notes:
The Artisanals - Zia
Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last
Lee DeWyze - Ghost Stories
Douglas Firs - Heart of a Mother
The Felice Brothers - From Dreams to Dust
Mustafa - When Smoke Rises
quickly, quickly - The Long and Short of It
Andy Shauf - Wilds
Silk Sonic - An Evening with Silk Sonic
Yola - Stand For Myself
Finally, as has become tradition, below are two mixes of some of my favorite tunes of the year from albums not featured in this space, in no particular order other than the one I listen to them in. Part 1 is the more rocking, upbeat collection, part 2 more chill.
This Also Happened in 2021 - Part 1
Tracklist (Artist - "song" - Album)
La Femme - "Paradigme" - Paradigmes
Altin Gün - "Yali Yali" - Âlem
Grouplove - "Scratch" - This Is This
Carpool Tunnel - "Forget My Name" - Bloom
Good Morning - "Depends On What I Know" - Barnyard
Holiday Ghosts - "Told My Baby" - North Street Air
Jon Batiste - "I Need You" - We Are
Teleman - "Simple Like Us" - Sweet Morning EP
Inhaler - "Cheer Up Baby" - It Won't Always Be Like This
The Limiñanas and Laurent Garnier - "Promenade oblique" - De Película
Silk Sonic - "777" - An Evening with Silk Sonic
Islands - "Closed Captioning" - Islomania
The Bamboos (feat. Durand Jones) - "If Not Now (Then When)" - Hard Up
This Also Happened in 2021 - Part 2
The Notwist - "Into Love / Stars" - Vertigo Days
quickly, quickly - "Shee" - The Long and Short of It
Nick Hakim and Roy Nathanson - "Small Things" - Small Things
Monster Rally - "Imaginary Palms" - (Single)
Run River North - "Spiders" - Creatures In Your Head
The Wallflowers - "Maybe Your Heart's Not In It No More" - Exit Wounds
The Dodos - "Annie" - Grizzly Peak
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills - "Ekuté" - Notes With Attachments
The Artisanals - "Way Up" - Zia
Balthazar - "On a Roll" - The Sand Castle Tapes
Having written about the 50th anniversary deluxe reissues of The Beatles (White Album) and Abbey Road, I was somewhat glad that, math aside, the same treatment bestowed upon Let It Be occurred in the midst of our Obscure October, if for no other reason than I could put off the inevitable write-up to follow the Thanksgiving weekend release of Peter Jackson's eagerly anticipated three-part, eight-hour epic Get Back. Hearing the five-LP set first on vinyl left me not only with greater appreciation of the original work (and bewilderment over what Glyn Johns presented as the album Get Back that was rightly rejected by the band – check out the fourth disc of the reissue), but drooling with glee after hearing the raw beauty of those extra tracks, all while wondering the part they played within the mini series. It turned out pretty much everything in the audio format can be seen on Disney+. And that's what makes Get Back the unique experience it is. We are granted fly-on-the-wall access to a legendary band making new music, sometimes out of thinair, with no filter between us and the musicians themselves, except the limitations of the recordings and the whims of a director who is also documenting a filmmaker making a film about a band making a film or TV show or album or whatever they decide it will be. Wow.
In the few weeks since its release, as with all things Beatles, Get Back has already been covered by seemingly every outlet and social media user. The spectrum of responses has been almost (well, not really) as fascinating as the series itself, particularly on the perception of each member of the Fab Four. My personal conclusion is largely, "your opinion of how you see the four of them says a lot more about you than it does John, Paul, George, and Ringo themselves." My overly simplistic takeaway for each band member based on this series alone? Glad you asked.
Ringo, did you sleep at all during the month of January 1969, or are your constantly bloodshot eyes the result of something other than excessive drinking? Either way, it doesn't matter because you were the first to show up, ever at the ready, happy-go-lucky, and the steady rock of the band. Was your first "real" post-Beatles solo album the only one on which John, Paul, and George all performed? Yes, yes it was. That says it all.
Paul, you really are a goddamn genius and are more skilled at every single instrument that you and your fellow bandmates play, other than Ringo on drums. Were you overbearing at times? Eh, maybe. Do I think you operated with what you perceived as your best intentions for trying to keep the group together? 100%. The scene with you almost coming to tears after George quit the band while wondering whether Lennon would show up is arguably the most touching moment among the many filling the eight hours. By the way, it would have been nice if you had made an effort to recognize George as an actual musician.
John, wow, you (probably) would kind of bug the shit out of me if I had to hang out with you, unless I was on the same stuff, then we would have giggled and talked in affected voices endlessly. But at least you were (probably) not on heroin by the time the band regrouped at Apple studios. And when locked in, you were a damn good rhythm guitarist. Also, thanks for bringing Yoko. I know I wouldn't have wanted to do crossword puzzles at home alone while paying little attention to my partner making some of the greatest music in pop history.
And George. I should have been clued in by the song "Taxman," but boy do I wish I had kept track of the number of statements revealing your inner miser. You seem to love the guitar, but for someone who admits that the sessions were productive, if for no other reason than to force you to improve by playing every day, your stream of consciousness is revealing. But your boot game is second to none, and even the internet hasn't caught up to the epic displays brought forth thanks to your late 60s cordwainer.
The fact that we are able to witness not only a band, but one almost universally regarded as the most important of the 20th century, create what would be their final release, although not final effort, is what makes Get Back as singular as the quartet themselves. I land firmly in the camp of "no, it is not too long, give me the deluxe edition of this." More so, it supports the prevailing thought I've long held and one in which I undoubtedly reside in the minority, if not as the sole adherent: I'm glad the Beatles never got back together.
Their recording career was pretty much perfect. It's easy to forget that throughout Get Back, George Harrison is 25 years old. John and Ringo 28, Paul 27. In about six years, the four Liverpudlians made a lifetime's worth of music that will live on for generations. In our current era of widespread nostalgia, TV and movie reboots and remakes, bands from our youth reuniting for Vegas residencies, the yearning for things we previously held so dear is frequently met with derision when the results don't align with our desires, or the new narrative presented changes our perception of what was understood before.
We're left with a cultural vacuum in which our fondest memories are diluted by seeking an unquenchable endorphin thirst. All of which is to say, for things we have forever adored, more often than not, it's best not to long, but rather cherish it for what it was. In other words, let it be.
We're starting off 2022 with an album from this past October, one I intentionally didn't include in my "enjoyed but didn't send out" in 2021 list last week, but nothing says "Happy New Year!" like a big ass tuba, am I right? Well, no, I don't think anyone has ever said that, but c'est la vie. Or literally not.
Anyway, you may or may not know the name Theon Cross, but the sounds of his brass have been popping up in many places in recent years, most notably as a member of Sons of Kemet, but also backing Jon Batiste and Emeli Sandé, as well as Makaya McCraven and Little Simz, two artists previously featured in Album Notes.
Cross' sophomore effort is rooted in the Londoner's jazz instincts, but the electronic, dancehall, and hip hop leanings create a canvas that's so far removed from expectations of the tuba as to render the instrument imperceptible at times. All of which is to say Intra-I is an eclectically cohesive wonder.
We're kicking off our foray into 2022 music with an album that is straight up lazy summer vibes. As it should be, when 'tis the season for Angus Stone aka Dope Lemon, the Sydney, Australia native.
On his third LP, Dope Lemon does what he's always done under the moniker: create mellow soundscapes that set a mood and are in no hurry to move on. My only criticism of the record is that arguably none of the songs need to be stretched past the four-minute mark, which nearly all do, and this is coming from someone who has the patience for 20-minute versions of "Tweezer" and lengthy "Eyes of the World." Shit, now I just kind of want to go listen to the Dead. But I digress.
Anyway, Rose Pink Cadillac is the follow up to albums titled Honey Bones and Smooth Big Cat, which, collectively, kind of explain the aesthetic the Aussie is going for. "Stingray Pete" and "Every Day Is a Holiday" recall previous Album Notes artists Balthazar and Glass Animals, respectively, but overall, Cadillac is Angus Stone through and through. The record just might hit you right, provided you've got some time and a relaxed mind.
If you saw the last name of today's artist and thought to yourself, "I hope that is one of the brothers from an album featured here back in autumn 2019," well my friend, you are in luck. Unless, of course, you were wishing for a retread of that soulful R&B/blues brand of music that Sam, his older brother Josh, and the rest of the Teskey Brothers have built a steady following upon.
On this solo debut, Sam trades in his Otis Reading fan club subscription for one blatantly Meddle-era Pink Floyd. If there weren't significant country influences mixed with moments downright reminiscent of the Barr Brothers scattered throughout, one wouldn't be wrong to question whether the junior Teskey listened to anything other than early 70's Floyd while his native Australia was on lockdown. Don't mistake this as a complaint.
That the output largely succeeds in matching the ambition is a testament to Teskey's skills as a musician and recording artist. By endeavoring to pull off an eleven-song sequence that flows seamlessly from start to finish, four of the tracks either intros or outros, the results lay bare Teskey's design on creating a cohesive work, much like the aforementioned fellow Commonwealth quartet to whom he generously lent an ear. His intent is also revealed in the album's name: Cycles.
While this album will be getting the full 50th anniversary super deluxe special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions treatment featuring a smattering of demos, alternate takes, live versions, etc., on, curiously, November 12, it was in fact October 1, 1971, when Cat Stevens gave the world Teaser and the Firecat, solidifying his genteel place in the industry, and building upon the success of the more-fondly remembered today Tea for the Tillerman, released just 10 months prior.
Depending on your familiarity with Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam, aka Yusuf, aka Yusuf / Cat Stevens, you'll likely recognize multiple songs. "Peace Train" is the enduring tune, but "Morning Has Broken," "Bitterblue," and "Moonshadow" may well spark memories for listeners in melody if not in name.
There are no frills on Teaser and the Firecat and no grand desire from the songwriter to make art for any other reason than channeling that which he knows, a necessary release valve. Pureness is the pervading quality. There is also no filler, just top-notch songwriting across this 33-minute masterpiece. And although Teaser's predecessor is widely regarded as the Englishman's peak, to me this 10-song effort represents the pinnacle of a fantastic career and comfortably resides in the upper echelon of the folk rock genre.
We haven't done this since 2019's Nordic November, but it's time for another themed month: Obscure October. (Yeah, my absolute adoration of alliteration abides.)
Granted, there is some inherent difficultly in the proposition. Obscure is relative to all axes of proximity. Not to mention that for some, many records featured in Album Notes may already land in this category. That said, the idea is to dive deep and shed light on a few albums and artists that deserve far more attention than they have (at least in my mind) heretofore received.
Obscure October Week 1: The Grandad Galaxy Date: July 14, 2011 Location: Stourbridge, England The Skinny: Half instrumental, half catchy Beach Boys/Beatles vibes. All good.
What's in a name? The Voluntary Butler Scheme reads like something spit out of a band name generator. The musical product is far more intentional. Rob Jones released three albums under the moniker between 2009 and 2014. All are very much worth checking out, and while a favorite is hard to pick from the trio, The Grandad Galaxy stands as the best balance of production and songwriting. The 15 tracks are at once modern but old-timey, all the while dreamy and hypnotic. Whether or not the nonsensical name contributed to the lack of stardom, Jones delivered three quality records worthy of wider recognition.
New week, even older obscure oddity, and one that is likely my favorite of the four that will be featured this month.
Obscure October Week 2: Familijesprickor Date: 1980 Location: Uppsala, Sweden The Skinny: There's nothing lean about the virtuosic prog rock excursions from this Swedish outfit that land somewhere between Zappa, Mr. Bungle, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
I don't even know where to begin with Zamla Mammaz Manna other than to say that if you like the aforementioned artists, or pretty much any jamband from the 90s or 00s, or are curious about 70s Scandinavian prog rock, do yourself a favor and check out Familijesprickor. It is something that truly has to be heard to be understood. And even then the latter may prove difficult.
While changing their name from Samla Mammas Manna to Zamla Mammaz Manna and back again doesn't quite put them in John Dwyer of Orinoka Crash Sweet / OCS / Orange County Sound / The Ohsees / Thee Oh Sees / Oh Sees / Osees territory as far as trying to make cataloguing one band's releases as challenging as possible, the act of doing so, combined with the musical stylings, no doubt did little to help their broad appeal.
Released in 1980, the Zam's seventh album comes across today as simultaneously dated yet fresh. Many of the keyboard sounds really are something else, for better or worse, while the songwriting is right at home with what a number of bands of a certain ilk have tried to accomplish over the past few decades. One could hear snippets, taken in conjunction with the song titles and band name, and assume these guys are from the school of those inspired by Phish. The difference between this and any number of jambands who attempt such aural adventures is that these Swedes are not only technically proficient on their respective instruments, but pen quality compositions to boot. Not to mention they rarely bother with trying to sing. Familijesprickor may translate as "Family Cracks" but there are no fault lines here. Only quality tunes and even better chops.
Obscure October Week 3 Date: June 4, 2001 Location: Japan The Skinny: Ambient, piano-driven chill Japanese DJ does it his way
I have no interest in being verbose to describe a largely instrumental album. As someone who never felt at home in the electronic scene, I am the first to admit that the late Susumu Yokota may not qualify as obscure for serious fans of the genre throughout the 90s and 00s. "Ambient" is the label laid upon Grinning Cat, the prolific Japanese DJ's umpteenth release, but calling it such seems unfairly reductive to artist and craft. Yes, Yokota's wares frequently supply a calming effect that leave the listener in a state of contemplative bliss, but for years I've been struck by this record for reasons I can't explain. Something just keeps calling me back.
Listening to Grinning Cat, it's easier to picture a painter taking stabs at a fresh canvas than it is to see a DJ splicing together that which results in these 13 tracks. An inventive, playful nature lies at the heart of the album from start to finish. One can easily imagine Yokota smiling like a Cheshire as he put the final touches on this set.