Monthly Playlist – November 2020

Another excellent month for records and I remain glad I’m doing this. I hope a couple of you enjoy the playlists and find one or two things you didn’t know existed. Next monthly hodgepodge is tentatively slated for January but I’m going to work up a playlist to go along with my favorite records of the month blog post sometime in December. Be well.

Continue reading for notes on the songs.

  1. Death Valley Girls, “It All Washes Away” – One of my favorite LA garage rock bands return with the same sun-dappled churning organ and Stooges sax washed along on a riff I can’t get out of my head.
  2. Cam, “Til There’s Nothing Left” – A mainstream country act I didn’t really connect with until this year but her rock-solid album The Otherside boasted a fistful of great songs and my favorite is this soaring paean to backseat summer nostalgia.
  3. Arlo Parks, “Green Eyes” – WFMU, after all these years, still turns me onto artists I love and probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. Arlo Parks has a Little Jackie vibe I find infectious. One song on this playlist that throws gasoline on how badly I wish we could throw a party right now.
  4. Angel bat Dawid and tha Brothahood, “Black Family (Live)” – Sometimes, despite the stars seeming to align people just don’t show up to a show. My biggest regret in that regard lately was last year’s transcendent, blissful Angel bat Dawid show at the Wexner Center – phenomenal press from Pitchfork, extended previews from yours truly for JazzColumbus and Joel Oliphint for Columbus Alive, and nobody. This live record comes as close to that majestic, heart-outside-my-chest feeling in that room as I think anything could.
  5. King Khan, “Hal”- Raucous party instigator King Khan had made moves toward ballad work and diversifying his sonic portfolio lately but nothing prepared me for his delightful jazz/soundtrack record The Infinite Ones. There’s not a bad track on the album but this tribute to Hal Willner featuring Calexico’s John Covertino on percussion and one of my favorite bass lines from Khan himself warmed my heart.
  6. Jim White, “My Life’s a Stolen Picture” – God, I missed Jim White. Those second and third records of his were so massive to me that when I didn’t like the fourth as much, I kind of lost touch with what he was doing. A brilliant essay about his relationship with his daughter sent me back to the rock-solid records I missed, and they primed me for this new one, the same kind of outsider art/hillbilly postmodernism no one does with the same heartbreaking flair.
  7. Kali Uchis, “Quiero Sentirme Bien” – This sophomore record from Kali Uchis might be my favorite pop record of the year. The kind of easy groove with so much texture and nuance, using genres and the history of popular music as jumping-off points for exactly what she wants to say.
  8. Fellwalker, “By The Ocean” – When I think about the artists – in any medium – that represent the last 20 years to me, Cynthia Hopkins would always be high on that list. I first noticed her when the Wexner Center brought her devastating song-cycle and theater pieces, and I’d seen nothing like it. After catching Accidental Nostalgia, I saw Must Don’t Whip ‘Em twice, bought every record by her earlier band Gloria Deluxe, just went from zero to raving fanboy with a switch flip. This new collaboration between Hopkins and James Lavino creates a mood unstuck in time that I can’t get enough of.
  9. Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, “Mexican War Streets (Pittsburgh)” – Speaking of artists I’ve been a fan of for a long, long time, Mary Halvorson dazzles and goes deeper with every new turn. This second album from her abstract pop group Code Girl drifts a little from the Tim Buckley nuances of the debut but keeps that air of beautiful mystery.
  10. Brigid Dawson and The Mothers Network, “The Fool” – This solo record from the keyboardist for Thee Oh Sees plucks a retro heartstring of mine without being beholden to any single era or movement. A last-call slow dance where the half-empties on the bar background glow with the light of promise.
  11. Nels Cline, “The Pleather Patrol” – Nels Cline with his current lineup of The Nels Cline Singers made my favorite record of his in that lane, balancing the singing, hooky quality with the band’s wild flights of imagination and his unshakable rhythm for a record you could see just as readily carrying its Blue Note bonafides in the late ‘60s or ‘70s but without feeling like a recreation or a nostalgia act. This funk abstraction might be my favorite track, starting with noisy drifting before locking in a minute in and pushing the throttle all the way down. Special attention to Mr. Bungle’s Trevor Dunn’s burbling bass and Skerik’s taunting sax.
  12. Flamingo Pier, “Boogie Meltdown” – Auckland disco revivalists Flamingo Pier put out this infectious, unshakable slab of pure joy early this year and I found it at exactly the moment I needed it most.
  13. Milly May, “Gimme Some” – Milly May, daughter of one of the greatest songwriters to ever come out of this town, is carving her own path in contemporary, club-ready R&B. Another track I regret not being able to crank up to a living room or lawn of my friends, or experiencing in a club, and a track that lights the way to the explosive joy when we all get together in a small room again.
  14. Middle Blue featuring Ben Goldberg, “Ben Goldberg’s Sound of Greenpoint” – Thanks to Andrew Patton for the tip off to this, the best titled EP of the year: Weird Funk in Small Bars. Brad Farberman’s avant-funk combo not only lives up to that title with catchy, left-of-center tunes and thick grooves, they capture that magic quality of a New York residency with top-notch guests (clarinetist Ben Goldberg on this track), in this case intimate Greenpoint beer bar Troost.
  15. Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes, “A Night in NY” – There’s a special magic to a trumpet and percussion duo and these two were also on the volcanic Irreversible Entanglements record I drew from last month. A track I had to play repeatedly, just luxuriating in it.
  16. clipping. featuring Jeff Parker and Ted Byrnes, “Eaten Alive” – clipping. take up the mantle of dark, avant rap groups like Dalek and get better with each record. This collaboration with Chicago Underground Quartet/Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker and percussionist Ted Byrnes is a fiery proclamation and clear look at a world crumbling and being born.
  17. Liturgy, “Apparition of the Eternal Church” – Speaking of worlds crumbling and being born, transcendental black metal band Liturgy returned with possibly their most fully realized record Origin of the Alimonies and the minute I heard their rearrangement of this Olivier Messaien solo organ piece, I couldn’t picture it anywhere except at the centerpiece of this mix. I wanted to leap ten feet in the air on hearing it.
  18. Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou, “Monolith” – I liked the sludgy, under-your-skin metal of Thou as soon as I heard it but watching that power fuse with the burning steel songs of Emma Ruth Rundle was that perfect mix of surprising and perfectly organic.
  19. Junglepussy featuring Gangsta Boo, “Stamina” – I was late on the Junglepussy train here, but as soon as I heard JP4 I couldn’t stop listening to it. There’s not a bad track on the record but I have a special nostalgic love for this collaboration with Gangsta Boo who I’ve been a fan of since High School.
  20. Busta Rhymes featuring Q-Tip, “Don’t Go” – Just like there were advocates for the high-and-frantic Iggy Pop versus the low-and-menacing version, I remember most of my friends got excited about the intricacies-and-speed Busta but, while I love those songs, I remain a fierce advocate for the Busta Rhymes coming low-key, in the cut. I’m gob smacked that he came back with maybe his most fully realized record, ELE2, and this perfect, nothing-to-prove cut with longtime comrade Q-Tip scratched an itch I didn’t even know I needed.
  21. Junk Magic, “Laser Beaming Hearts” – Keyboard player and composer Craig Taborn’s metal bonafides are as well-known as his deep jazz roots, but his use of lyrics from Judas Priest’s “Metal Gods”  is a bit of a feint here. This track – and the rest of his masterful new Junk Magic record – is heavy but in a more claustrophobic Aphex Twin or classic DJ Spooky vein. It’s an after-hours floor crusher wrapped in hazy smoke featuring righteous drumming from The Bad Plus’s Dave King and electronically treated interplay from violist Mat Maneri and reeds player Chris Speed.
  22. Sa-Roc featuring Chronixx, “Dark Horse” – Sa-Roc’s The Sharecropper’s Daughter is everything I want in a rap record and this collaboration with reggae singer Chronixx is the perfect mix of crunchy and smooth, with plenty for deep reflection and for hitting it hard in the club or the gym.
  23. Bree Runway featuring Missy Elliott, “ATM” – “Featuring Missy Elliott” was the single biggest guarantor of quality when I was in college and – while it doesn’t appear as often these days – it still is. This gateway for me into London-based singer and rapper Bree Runway is another track I’m itching to play for a Pink Elephant.
  24. Yves Tumor, “Romanticist” – This beguiling interlude is a taste of one of my favorite records to write to all year, Miami producer Yves Tumor’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind. Every time I dip into it, I hear additional details, new textures, new aspects of the landscapes.
  25. Jess Godwin and JC Brooks, “Be a Light” – Jess Godwin teamed up with her Chicago theatre comrade JC Brooks for this sparkling duet about trying to rise above our worst impulses and be better than ourselves. If this speaks to you, please go over and buy it because 100% of proceeds go to My Block, My Hood, My City in Chicago. 
  26. Chicha Libre and La Sonora Mazurén, “Caminito de mi Pueblo” – Chicha Libre have been one of my favorite Brooklyn bands for years and their collaboration with Colombia’s La Sonora Mazurén is a massive, surging track. The music gains added heaviness as it’s in honor of the slain indigenous leader Cristina Bautista, what they called an “homage to the tireless struggle of Latin American indigenous communities for their ancestral territories”.
  27. Powers/Rollin Duo, “Oval” – Jen Powers and Matt Rollin, two of the Columbus artists we should be proudest of, put out their second fantastic record as a duo (with at least one excellent solo record from Rollin) this year. Two long tracks building deep structures I wanted to live in – music as good for meditating as making something, as greeting the day and trying to find some peace at the end of the night. 
  28. Daniel Romano, “Joys Too Often Hollow” – I believe Jen Powers from the previous entry turned me onto Romano – her booking and her social media presence are almost as valuable as her art, I learn more from that than almost anywhere – and this lush, intriguing and timeless song is one of many gems on his rapturous How Ill The World Is Ordered record.
  29. Steve Earle, “Harlem River Blues” – There’s going to be more when the full album comes out but there’s a special sadness even from this corner at America’s master of the elegy, Steve Earle, turns that specialized skill set to his own son (also a damn fine songwriter). This first taste of the tribute record chokes me up every time, even as I wish it didn’t have to exist. “If you see me going up FDR Drive just walking and a-clapping my hands, tell my Mama I love her, tell my Daddy I tried, give my money to my baby to spend.”
  30. Blind Boys of Alabama, “Live Forever” – We draw the curtain closed on with more of the elegy tip, a Billy Joe Shaver hymn that epitomizes how remembrance keeps us in touch with life and noticing is the way we love the world, sung by the great survivors of 20th centuray American popular music, the Blind Boys of Alabama. “Nobody here will ever find me but I will always be around. Just like the songs I leave behind me, I’m gonna live forever now.”

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