Author Archives: jyergs

The Sunday Best of 2017

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By Jeff Yerger

If you’re a music nerd like me, you’ve been scouring every publication’s year-end list, looking for albums or songs you may have missed, or getting the pitchfork ready for when you discover Stereogum didn’t even consider Japandroids as one of their top albums (I mean, come on guys! Really? I trusted you!). You may also notice a common theme among these year-end lists: 2017 sucked!

Yep, 2017 sure did suck big time. This whole year has been one hot mess. This time last year, I wrote that 2016 was surreal. Well, if that year was surreal, then 2017 has been downright shit show. With everything that’s gone on (and I don’t need to remind you), I feel like it’s already been over 100 years since the Cubs last won the World Series.

But as much as there has been a collective 2017 exhaustion among these year-end think pieces, there is also another unifying theme: hope, specifically through music.

Hope may be all some of us has left, and it is the reason people like me continue to obsess over new music, or await for that next new song to punch us in the heart. Hope is the reason we still wake up every day, believing with good reason that we’ll find even a glimmer of good in the world we inhabit. I know this sounds all hippy-dippy, but I do believe that the best music that was released this year offered a hopeful glimpse into the power and resilience of the human spirit. There are some really talented young artists and dreamers out there, willing to put their lives on a record and tap into their own creative frontiers. And we, as listeners, are lucky to be a part of it.

In 2017, younger artists like Kendrick Lamar, Waxahatchee, Sylvan Esso, Laura Marling (actually forgot her album came out this year), Charly Bliss, Paramore, Father John Misty, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Lorde, Alvvays, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and Julien Baker all created beautiful, powerful records about the human experience atop vital, urgent music. If these musicians are the future, then I think we’re going to be okay. 2017 also found veterans like Jay Z, The National, LCD Soundsystem, Jason Isbell, The War on Drugs, Ted Leo, and yes, even our old friend Liam Gallagher, making some of the best, most important music of their respective careers. I could go on… and these are only from albums I’ve actually listened to! I know there is WAY more out there than my little list can do justice.

See, to me, 2017 shouldn’t be about drowning in despair or worrying about what our President is going to tweet next. It should be about the amazing music that we have had the privilege to listen to over the past 12 months. It’s inspiring, and none of it should be taken for granted. Among the ever-growing chaos, absurdity, and noise in our world, never forget that like Waldo, hope is always there waiting to be found.

As you will see below, there is one album that came out in 2017 that delivers that very message, which happened to resonate with me the most this year. Of course, at any given moment, any of these songs or albums (especially in the Top Ten) could be number one. They’re all great in their own way, and they deserve your attention. While there is always way more great music out there than there is on this list, here are my personal favorites from 2017.

BEST SONGS OF 2017

There are at least a hundred or so songs I wanted to put on this list, but I had to narrow it down to 30, for the sake of sanity. Below is the top ten list, but I also made a 30 song playlist of some of my favorites from this year. Feel free to put it on at your Holiday parties. It’ll be a big hit I’m sure.

10. LCD Soundsystem – “Call the Police”

9. White Reaper – “Judy French”

8. Sheer Mag – “Just Can’t Get Enough”

7. Alvvays – “In Undertow”

6. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”

5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “If We Were Vampires”

4. Japandroids – “ Near to the Wild Heart of Life”

3. The National – “Dark Side of the Gym”

2. The War on Drugs – “Pain”

1. Father John Misty – “Ballad of the Dying Man”

BEST ALBUMS OF 2017

Again, there were so many here, it’s hard to leave off a few of them. Some honorable mentions that still deserve your attention, but didn’t quite crack the Top TEN:

  • Charly Bliss – Guppy
  • The National – Sleep Well Beast
  • Jessica Lea Mayfield – Sorry Is Gone
  • Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
  • Alex Lahey – I Love You Like A Brother
  • Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah Anyhow
  • Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
  • Partner – In Search of Lost Time

And now for your Top Ten…

  1. Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love

Rock ain’t dead people, not as long as Philadelphia band Sheer Mag has anything to say about it. Like a mix of Thin Lizzy and AC/DC, this album and this band brings the attitude, the punches, and not to mention, the groove. KEY SONGS: Just Can’t Get Enough, Suffer Me, Expect the Bayonet

  1. Ryan Adams – Prisoner

What else could Ryan Adams do after a bitter divorce but turn to music? Prisoner is quite possibly the best album of his career, front to back, and it plays like a modern-day version of Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love.  KEY SONGS: Doomsday, Do You Still Love Me?, To Be Without You

  1. Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life

The good ol’ Canadian boys came back strong in 2017, using the same formula from their 2012 classic Celebration Rock, but mixing it up with power ballads, acoustic guitars, and one 7-minute rising epic. KEY SONGS: Near to the Wild Heart of Life, North East South West, Arc of Bar

  1. White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band

Again, rock ain’t dead, so stop saying it people! It takes guts to name your album “The World’s Best American Band,” but it takes talent to actually sound like it like White Reaper does here. This album kicks ass! KEY TRACKS: Judy French, The World’s Best American Band, Daisies

  1. Alvvays – Antisocialites

Yet another Canadian band that capitalized and expanded on the sound of their previous record, Alvvays created a succinct and highly enjoyable power pop record. On Antisocialites, everything the band did on the previous record has been brought up to a new level. KEY TRACKS: In Undertow, Plimsoll Punks, Saved By A Waif

  1. The Menzingers – After the Party

It ain’t easy growing up, and The Menzingers hit a quarter-life crisis, so to speak. We can’t all be carefree punk rockers forever, right? Well, the Menzingers aren’t pretending, and so they made a pop punk record about coping with adulthood. I realize this sounds so lame, but I promise you, the record isn’t. KEY TRACKS: Lookers, Tellin’ Lies, After the Party 

  1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

The main thing I love about DAMN. is that Kendrick Lamar, after two masterful concept records, finally decided he wanted the spotlight. Aesthetically, every song on here is a different genre of rap, and Kendrick lays claim to each one of them as king. “Kung Fu Kenny” defeats all his enemies on here, whether it be Drake, Fox News, or his own ego. There is no doubt he is now the greatest rapper we have. We all need to sit down and be humble. KEY TRACKS: HUMBLE., DNA., ELEMENT.

  1. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

On their major label debut, still with full creative control, The War On Drugs absolutely go for it. There is so much going on in this record, I’m still trying to figure it out. With his guitar and seemingly endless supply of pedals/synths, Adam Granduciel invites us to his beautiful world of frontier, heartland rock. The record sounds incredible, and the guitar solos are boundless. KEY TRACKS: Pain, Strangest Thing, Thinking of a Place

  1. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

One of the best records of the year, Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound takes everything you think you know about Country music these days and burns it to the ground. There is more patriotism and love for country in this record than any other run-of-the-mill honky-tonker toasting a beer to the troops. Isbell loves his country, but he’s also angry, anxious, and frustrated… and he no longer drinks. He’s a white man living in a white man’s world, a world that may not be as open to his wife, musician Amanda Shires, and his daughter as it was for him. Isbell tells stories about the everyday struggles of those who may not have a voice, who may feel lost or looking for another life in, say, Tupelo, or anywhere outside of the Cumberland Gap. He also sings about love and devotion to his family, promising to cherish the moments they have, and passing on advice to his young daughter to find her passion in life. This isn’t a country album. This is honest Americana Rock and Roll. In many ways, this was my favorite record of 2017, and probably the one I return to the most. However…

KEY TRACKS: Hope the High Road, If We Were Vampires, Anxiety

  1. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Father John Misty, Pure Comedy

In 2016, amid the craziest the US Presidential Election campaign in history, Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, found himself in front of a sweat-soaked crowd of festival goers in Camden, NJ, and he had a lot on his mind. Whether it was the heat from the relentless July summer sun, or the events of the Republican Convention the night before, Tillman seemed to have finally snapped.

Instead of playing a promised 30-minute solo acoustic set, he went on a delirious rant about America, the entertainment industry, and Leonard Cohen. The only original song he played was a rambling, 13-minute, chorus-less diatribe titled “Leaving LA,” which is now the beautiful beating heart to his latest album Pure Comedy. Only Father John Misty could find darkness underneath a bright summer sun, and out of that darkness comes the best album of his career.

Pure Comedy is nothing short of a masterpiece. Actually, at 74-minutes long, there’s nothing short about it. It is a sprawling, beautiful album about the human existence and the chaos it brings, whose eloquent narrator is as witty as he is serious. It’s a lot to tackle, but Father John Misty went for it, and he sure as hell nailed it.

Based on his interviews and previous albums, you’d be right to assume that much of Pure Comedy is a cynical view of the world, and a lot of it is. “Ballad of the Dying Man” tells the story of an internet troll who needs to check his newsfeed one last time before he croaks. “Things That Would’ve Been Helpful To Know Before the Revolution” is a fantastic Father John Misty song title, but it is also a look into an inevitable dystopian future. He sings about people of the future finding our wasted bodies glued to the TV screen, and God coming down from the heavens on judgement day, wondering what the fuck we did to destroy the once beautiful world he created.

At times, it can all be a bit much, but he says all of these things (and more) over a gorgeous backdrop of 70s folk-rock that is beautifully arranged and orchestrated throughout. It’s one of the best-sounding records of the decade, invoking sounds of the past while still pointing towards the future.

The last two songs, in particular, are what makes the whole epic journey before it so worth the time. “So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain” is a simple folk ballad, until Father John Misty decides to shut up and soak the listener in cascading synths and piano while the song gently disappears. But the record isn’t over yet.

In “In Twenty Years Or So,” Father John Misty puts it all out there: who are we, what are we doing here, and what does it even matter, since he read somewhere that the world is going to end in about 20 years. Yet, despite this existential crisis, we find Waldo: hope. “But I look at you / As our second drinks arrive / The piano player’s playing ‘This Must Be the Place’ / And it’s a miracle to be alive.” Despite all the bullshit, tragedy, despair, cynicism, chaos, and the battles between light and dark, right and wrong, good and bad he spent the previous 70 minutes lamenting about, there is still hope, even if that hope is something as small as sitting across from a loved one at a bar while a Talking Heads song plays. In the end, hope is all we need, and THAT’S the comedy.

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That Sunday Barrel Mixtape: Distracted

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We’re all so easily distracted, aren’t we? There’s so much noise around us that gets in the way of what we set out to do every day. Texts, tweets, TV, and other things that start with “T” (total inevitable annihilation?) weigh down on us, and it’s utterly exhausting. I mean, even right now as I’m typing this, I have the TV tuned to soccer. As a millennial, I’m contractually obligated to have at least 3 different forms of media occupying my senses at any given moment during the day.

Over the past year, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to write for The Hockey Writers and my favorite music site Stereogum, but in turn, I kinda left this site neglected. I’ve been too distracted to write even the smallest post on this little site. But in an effort to keep my writing chops fresh and to share some of the music (both new and old) that has been keeping me sane through the weeks, I plan to write on here more. Hopefully, this will provide a new distraction for me.

Here are some songs I’ve been digging lately. Give yourself a chance on this beautiful Sunday to turn off the extra noise, and turn up the music while you nurse your hangover and inevitable dread for the week ahead.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – “Continental Breakfast”

(side note: isn’t this just the most adorable music video you’ve ever seen? The whole album is like this, and it’s absolutely delightful. Go listen to it NOW!)

The War on Drugs – “Pain”

Alvvays – “Plimsoll Punks”

The Replacements – “Unsatisfied” (Live at Maxwell’s)

(side note: this album does, in fact, rock like murder)

Jessica Lea Mayfield – “Sorry Is Gone”

The Sunday Best 2016

As I stare out onto the balcony of my small third floor apartment outside of Philadelphia, I notice the Christmas lights I have wrapped around the posts are starting to lose their luster. It’s only 4 o’clock, so the winter sun has not completely set yet, but I can still tell the lights are fading, if they aren’t completely black yet. I didn’t bother taking down my Christmas lights last year. Part of it was laziness (ok, most of it), but I also wanted to keep them up for the summer, when I sit out on the balcony at night listening to the ocean-like drone of I-76 humming in the background. The warmth of the colors was comforting, even if they did seem out of place in the middle of July. It was like having a miniature beach bar in your own home, where the company is always good and the DJ always plays your favorite song.

In any normal December, the summer feels distant. But in December of 2016, this past summer feels like another point in time all together. This summer was a well-deserved breather in the middle of what was a tumultuous year. In any given year, the calendar flip to June begins a brief reward for surviving the winter and all that it brings. This year, it seemed like we really deserved it. It was halftime in the biggest, weirdest game of our lives, and since then, we’ve just been grinding it out to the finish before the lights fade.

It’s hard to say whether 2016 has been a good or a bad year. In many, many cases, this year has been a bad one. But some good stuff happened too! I think when it comes down to it, 2016 has been the most surreal year I’ve ever experienced. According to Merriam-Webster, “surreal” is the 2016 Word of the Year, and looking back, that is the only way to describe it. Name any major, newsworthy event to happen this year – Bowie, the Chicago Cubs, Trump, Pokemon, Prince, Brexit – it’s all so damn surreal.

A lot of the music released in 2016 reflected the growing unease of the world at large, as artists like Kanye West, Car Seat Heardrest, Beyonce, Danny Brown, and Parquet Courts followed their muse in ragged directions that made for jarring, schizophrenic listens. On the other hand, you had veterans like A Tribe Called Quest, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, and David Bowie releasing some of the most razor sharp and vital albums of their careers. Plus, Radiohead finally released a studio version of “True Love Waits,” proving that life isn’t so bad sometimes.

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that music is still needed to keep balance in this world. Music still and always will be the most accurate representation of human nature and emotion. For those who felt alone or overwhelmed with the events of 2016, music was there to comfort and to relate, and it always will be. Nobody can take it away from you.

Best 50 Songs of 2016

… but first, some honorable mentions!

Charles Bradley – “Changes” (Black Sabbath cover)

Phosophorescent, Jenny Lewis, & Friends – “Sugaree” (Grateful Dead cover)

Margaret Glaspy – “You & I”

CRX – “Broken Bones”

Case/Lang/Veirs – “Best Kept Secret”

Hurry – “Nothing To Say”

and now the list:

50. Fine Me, Kings of Leon

49. No More Parties In LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar), Kanye West

48. Vertigo Flowers, NOTHING

47. U-Turn, Tegan and Sara

46. Into You, Ariana Grande

45. Feel Right, Esme Patterson

44. Young Hearts, Beach Slang

43. Two Deliverances, The Hotelier

42. Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, Car Seat Headrest

41. Pimp Hand, Vince Staples

40. Gardenia, Iggy Pop

39. Human Performance, Parquet Courts

38. Below, White Lung

37. Cheap Thrills, Sia

36. Thank You, White Denim

35. All Night, Beyoncé

34. Heart Shaped Face, Angel Olsen

33. Heart Like A Levee, Hiss Golden Messenger

32. Dreams of Flying, Mudcrutch

31. Piano Player, The Hotelier

30. Daydreaming, Radiohead

29. Back, The I Don’t Cares

28. I Can’t Give Everything Away, David Bowie

27. Ablaze, School of Seven Bells

26. When It Rain, Danny Brown

25. Same To You, Lydia Loveless

24. Secrets, The Weeknd

23. Fill in the Blank, Car Seat Headrest

22. 4th of July, Philadelphia (Sandy), Cymbals Eat Guitars

21. Brace For Impact (Live A Little), Sturgill Simpson

20. Decks Dark, Radiohead

19. Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah), White Denim

18. Sunday, Iggy Pop

17. Pink + White, Frank Ocean

16. Sun, The Hotelier

15. Really Doe (feat. Kendrick Lamar & Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt), Danny Brown

14. Same Old Blues, Phantogram

13. Ultralight Beam, Kanye West

12. Kiss It Better, Rihanna

11. Sister, Angel Olsen

10. Lookers, The Menzingers

9. Solo, Frank Ocean

8. Goodness, Pt. 2, The Hotelier

7. DVP, PUP

6. Burn The Witch, Radiohead

5. We The People…., A Tribe Called Quest

4. Real Friends, Kanye West

3. The Ballad of the Costa Concordia, Car Seat Headrest

2. Lazarus, David Bowie

1. Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar), Beyoncé

Here it is in Spotify form, sans Beyonce because she’s mean and doesn’t provide her songs anywhere except for Tidal and HBO… neither of which I’m shelling out the dough for:

 

Best Albums of 2016

30. Ritualize, Lushlife & CSLSX

29. Tired Of Tomorrow, NOTHING

28. City Sun Eater In The River Of Light, Woods

27. We Were Wild, Esme Patterson

26. New Skin, CRX

25. Revolutionaries, You Won’t

24. Love You To Death, Tegan and Sara

23. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, Beach Slang

22. Guided Meditation, Hurry

21. The Life of Pablo, Kanye West

20. Real, Lydia Loveless

19. Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop

18. Wild Stab, The I Don’t Cares

17. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson

16. Blonde, Frank Ocean

15. Human Performance, Parquet Courts

14. Paradise, White Lung

13. A Corpse Wired For Sound, Merchandise

12. SVIIB, School of Seven Bells

11. The Dream Is Over, PUP

10. Pretty Years, Cymbals Eat Guitars

9. My Woman, Angel Olsen

8. Stiff, White Denim

7. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead

6. Goodness, The Hotelier

5. Lemonade, Beyoncé

4. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, A Tribe Called Quest

3. Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown

2. Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest

1. Blackstar, David Bowie

With all due respect to the fantastic albums and artists listed here, David Bowie’s Blackstar is the best album of 2016, and it’s not even close. No other artist has released an album like this in decades, let alone 2016. David Bowie stared down the face of death, molded it into his image, and created his best album in two decades. He turned his own death into performance art. There is so much going on Blackstar, it’s going to take WAY more than one year to digest the whole thing. There are secret doors hidden all over the place on Blackstar, and we may never find them all. While David Bowie’s death hovers over every last note here, the music on this album is absolutely alive. Album highlights “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days,” and Bowie’s beautiful final transmission, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” provide a fitting send off to one of music’s true pioneers. There will never be another artist like David Bowie, and there is certainly nothing like Blackstar. God’s speed, Starman. Thank you for your service. We got it from here.

Weekend Barrel Mixtape: Bored in the USA

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Introducing the “Weekend Barrel Mixtape”: a set of songs with a (loose) theme to get you through the weekend and straight to your inevitable Sunday hangover.

This election season has been entertaining hasn’t it? Who knew our country had such ridiculous people to trot out like mangy butt-sniffing show dogs and who just happen to hold the fate of the United States in their (tiny) hands? On one side, you have a orange clown who can’t keep his hands and words to himself, and on the other, you have a malfunctioning political robot who deletes emails like she’s Lorraine Bracco frantically flushing cocaine down the toilet in Goodfellas. And for bonus comedic relief, you have Gary Johnson, who is basically Forrest Gump but without the accidental success.

These people are reality TV characters who make The Situation look like Tom Hanks, and the series finale is nigh. You can’t make this stuff up. This is high end entertainment, and on Tuesday, it’ll all be over. What the hell are we going to talk about now? Admit it, you’re going to miss the daily controversies and stupidity. This election season was the biggest entertainment roller coaster since the fifth season of Breaking Bad, and EVERYBODY was watching. Hell, the presidential debates were more popular than football, and we Amurricans love our FOOTBAW!!!

Personally, I think this whole election has been one big conspiracy by “Big Government” to get people to care about politics again. Well, guess what, it worked! We’re all watching, America. Thanks Obama! I bet you more entities are going to adopt the same philosophy to get viewers back on the wagon. Look at the MLB: baseball ratings are down? No problem. Let’s put the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in the World Series and bring it to an exciting-as-hell Game 7. Presto! Ratings are up again! Coincidence?

The election has been a frightening dog and pony show, and now, it’s all over. No matter what happens on Tuesday, know it’s all going to be okay and we as a country will still continue to move forward. We’re just gonna be a little bored.

‘Costello Music’ Turns 10

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In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were on the verge of something great. With a team built around two of the NHL’s most talented young stars – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – the Blackhawks were seeking to end a 49 year long championship drought. The organization also needed to bring back those fans who may have become disenfranchised over countless years of futility and poor management. They wanted to hit refresh and change the team’s aesthetic, starting with the celebratory goal song.

When looking for a new goal song for his team Tom O’Grady, the Blackhawks’ Executive Producer, didn’t take the task lightly. “We aggressively searched for a memorable goal song,” he said, until they heard a song called “Chelsea Dagger” by a band who called themselves The Fratellis. O’Grady heard it while watching a [Scottish Football Club] Celtic FC match and was “immediately struck by the song’s quirky and contagious chant.” Since then, every time the puck wrinkled the back of the net in Chicago, “Chelsea Dagger” blared over the cheers, becoming the team’s unofficial anthem (and the soundtrack to every opponent’s nightmares). Oh yeah, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that year (and two more times since). Call that “The Fratellis Effect.”

“Quirky” and “contagious” are perfect words to describe The Fratellis and their debut album Costello Music, which turns 10 this weekend (October 30). Hailing from the persistently damp streets of Glasgow, Scotland, lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Fratelli (born John Lawler), bass guitarist Barry Fratelli (born Barry Wallace), and drummer and backing vocalist Mince Fratelli (born Gordon McRory) introduced the world to their raucous take on Britpop normally found within the beer-soaked local pubs in the northern UK.

Every music nut has that special album in their lives that awakened previously unused musical tastebuds. For me, it was Costello Music, and it hit me out of nowhere. This wasn’t a Beatles record I borrowed from my dad, nor something I had heard on the radio. For the first time in my  life, I had found something new  and completely unheard of on my own as a high school anglophile with access to iTunes (yeah, I know, I’m SUCH a millennial). The Fratellis were MY band, and I wanted to tell the world about them.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I saw those three voluptuous women on the album cover of Costello Music, but when I heard the first few moments of “Henrietta,” the playfulness of the guitars and brass hooked me instantly. The rest of the album didn’t disappoint. This music was fun! At the time, I wasn’t sure people even made music like this. I had grown out of the “angry white boy music” phase of my life (thank God), and I was over the heavily compressed guitars and post-grunge on rock radio. So, The Fratellis found me at the right time.

The music on Costello Music was loud, fast, infectious, and unapologetically glam. Every song was one big drunken sing-a-long, with one arm around your neighbor’s shoulders and the other with a fat mug of beer raised high as you sing the chorus to “Baby Fratelli” at the top of your lungs. Jon Fratelli sang stories in a thick Scottish accent about fictional characters named Henrietta, Chelsea, Vince the lovable stoner, Little (pronounced “Lih-ull”) Steven and Joanna – all of whom made the people from “Piano Man” look like designated drivers. The Fratellis knew how to party, and the whole album sounds like one big celebration.

But why should you care about Costello Music? After all, I was an impressionable high-schooler with… let’s say… an underdeveloped musical taste. That’s hardly a vote of confidence, I know. Yet, when I revisit Costello Music today, it sounds just as fun as it did 10 years ago. I think a lot of that has to do with the production, as the band recorded the album at Sunset Studios due the vintage equipment there and  Jon’s desire to create an old-fashioned, analogue sound.  More importantly, the songwriting is strong. “Whistle for the Choir” and “Ole Black and Blue Eyes” remain two of the most endearing ballads I’ve ever heard, and “For the Girl” is another rambunctious album highlight that belies the aching love song inside. This album is full of drunken anthems, but it never staggers. It’s one of the most fun albums I’ve ever listened to, and it continues to be this day.

So, go! Go grab a pint, grab a friend, grab another pint, and come live amongst the has-beens and the addicts with the Fratellis and their memorably zany debut album, Costello Music. 

A Deeper Side of Phil Collins

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Phil Collins, 2016, in need of a shave

Do you like Phil Collins? If you’re anything like me (or Patrick Bateman), you answered that question with a rabid “HELL YEAH I DO!” before realizing that you’re the only person in the room with foam coming out of your mouth.

Believe it or not, Phil Collins isn’t exactly the most popular person on the planet today (I know, I’m surprised too). Peter Gabriel would rather go on a nostalgia tour with Sting than team up with Collins and the Genesis gang again. Even Adele isn’t answering his calls, and as we all know, she LOVES talking on the phone.

Why has Phil Collins been seemingly shunned by the rest of society? Well, it’s probably because there was a point in time when you couldn’t get enough of Phil Collins. For most of the 80s and 90s, the man was EVERYWHERE: your car radio, MTV, both locations of Live Aid (Philadelphia and London), and Miami Vice. He couldn’t even take a shower without having to entertain somebody somewhere. Not only was Phil Collins’ solo career taking flight, that other band he was in, Genesis, was reaching the peak of their commercial success at the same damn time.

But one can only be under the spotlight for so long before burning up, and Phil Collins was in it longer than usual. Is it better to burn out than to fade away? Well, Phil kind of did both.

Other than his Academy Award-winning single for the Disney movie Tarzan, “You’ll Be In My Heart,” (which spent 19 weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart), the critics were relentless towards Phil’s music, as was the case throughout most of his career in front of the drums in Genesis. Collins’ last original studio album, 2002’s Testify, was the worst-reviewed album at the time of its release.

Physical health was beginning to become a concern as well. At first, he was having issues with his hearing. After his reunion tour with Genesis in 2007, it was revealed that Collins could no longer play the drums after dislocating vertebrae in his upper neck, affecting his ability to hold a drumstick. All these years of constant performing (not to mention the constant dissent from critics) had physically and mentally worn Collins down. His self-esteem, once his defining trait on and off the stage, had hit an all-time low. In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Collins was painted as a lonely old man who was more interested in collecting artifacts from the Alamo (of all things) than playing music again. He even alluded to feelings of depression, claiming that he had contemplated committing suicide, but resisting for the sake of his children. So, for the first time in his career, Phil Collins stayed quiet.

For decades, Phil was always there – always ready to provide a drum fill or score a Disney movie. So, we in turn took him for granted, and you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, right? For Phil Collins, the recent years of solitude have done wonders for his reputation. During Phil’s time off the face of the Earth, Genesis has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and festering Genesis reunion pleas from fans have only grown stronger. More telling is the fact that many of today’s top musicians have found an appreciation for his music. For instance, members of Arcade Fire, The Strokes, and Bon Iver covered “In the Air Tonight” a few years ago in Montreal. Electro-pop duo Phantogram recently released a cover of “Take Me Home” (so did JoJo, who apparently still does things). Even rappers like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Nas, Cam’ron, and Action Bronson have all sampled Collins’ music (because, you know, when I think of rap, I immediately think of Phil Collins). As the kids would say, it’s lit! Now, notable indie music blogs like Stereogum and Pitchfork are even covering Phil Collins news (including his recent performance at the US Open tennis tournament in New York in September) in between their daily Kanye West features.

It seems the time is right for Phil Collins to stage a comeback of sorts. After rereleasing his solo albums earlier this year with his now age-worn, wrinkly face spread on the covers, Collins is now set to publish his new memoir Not Dead Yet on October 25. We’ve all seen his face on those album covers, and now we’ll finally get a glimpse inside his head.

The book promises to be an honest look at the iconic pop singer’s life and career, one which many people think they know when in reality, only the surface has been scratched. Phil’s rise to stardom is already a fascinating story, because there was a chance it never was going to happen in the first place. The drum kit was Phil’s sanctuary – a fort of cymbals and toms to hide behind while the theatrical and charismatic Peter Gabriel ran the show in Genesis. When Gabriel quit the band, Collins was shoved into the spotlight on a whim, and in turn, he managed to overtop Gabriel at his own game, without the help of any mask. It’s sure to be an entertaining and enlightening read.

So, since the world is about to get a deeper view into the life of Phil Collins with Not Dead Yet, I figured why not take a moment and listen to some of the deeper cuts from Phil Collins’ storied musical career (“Gabriel-only” Genesis fans need not apply).

Genesis – “Please Don’t Ask”

One of Phil’s first tracks he wrote for Genesis, “Please Don’t Ask” is a brutally honest song about a man going through going through the motions of being newly-divorced and learning to deal with his new life. It’s Phil at his most vulnerable, which you can hear clearly in his voice, and it’s perhaps his most endearing performance.

Genesis – “More Fool Me” (live 1973)

This early live rendition of “More Fool Me” (from the Genesis Archives box set) features a young and uncharacteristically timid Phil Collins at the mic for the first time as a member of Genesis, and only Phil could deliver a song so touching. Collins practically coos into the microphone, with his voice soft to the touch. His singing would become more powerful and confident in the years to come.

Genesis – “You Might Recall”

I don’t understand why Genesis decided to leave this song off Abacab and put the goofy “Whodunnit?” in its place. It would’ve made for a perfect centerpiece to an admittedly disjointed album. But hey,   Abacab has since become certified double Platinum – selling 2 million copies worldwide – so what the hell do I know?

Genesis – “Los Endos”

Hard core Genesis fans know this gem from A Trick of the Tail, as it has been a staple in their show for years, but casual fans may have missed this frantic instrumental. On the band’s first record without Peter Gabriel, Genesis sounds rejuvenated with Phil at the helm, and “Los Endos” sees them firing on all cylinders. Although Phil doesn’t sing on this one, his finger prints are all over this. This was his baby.

Genesis – “Fading Lights”

We Can’t Dance might not have been a fan favorite, but you have to admit, THIS is how you close out an album. On “Fading Lights,” Genesis not only ended the album in style but they also put an emphatic punctuation mark to close this chapter of the band’s history. (By the way, can we all pretend that We Can’t Dance was the last Genesis album? Yes? Great! So it’s settled: there were no Genesis albums recorded after We Can’t Dance… none whatsoever… certainly none with a different singer and drummer, because that would be ridiculous. In fact, that wouldn’t be a Genesis album at all.)

Brand X – “And So To F”

Oh yeah, Phil Collins had another band: Brand X. Collins played drums for this British jazz fusion outfit on and off in his spare time for about 5 years before finally leaving to focus on Genesis and his solo career full time. This track, off the band’s 1979 album Product, is a great example of Phil’s unique drum styling and timing.

John Martyn – “Can’t Turn Back the Years” feat. Phil Collins

British singer-songwriter John Martyn collaborated with Phil Collins a few times over the years, with Collins playing drums and singing backup vocals on Martyn’s albums Grace and Danger and Glorious Fool (which was also produced by Collins). Before Martyn’s death in 2009, he and Collins recorded this track (originally on Collins’ Both Sides) for an album that was later released posthumously in 2011 titled Heaven and Earth. Martyn’s weary vocal delivery here adds new meaning and depth to Collins’ words. While Martyn made the song great, it’s still nothing without Phil Collins’ knack for a catchy ballad.

Phil Collins – “Colours”

Say what you want about Phil Collins, but there’s no denying the man has a knack for writing epic songs that provide the most bang for your buck. Sometimes they’re in short, compact tunes like “Against All Odds,” but other times, Phil can’t help but write a longer song that could’ve fit on a latter-day Genesis record like this one from …But Seriously.

Phil Collins – “It’s In Your Eyes”

Ok, I realize this isn’t THAT much of a deep cut since it has an official music video, but any chance to see Phil Collins play a guitar is pretty rare. Since this song is from an album that was released WAY later in his solo career (1996’s Dance Into The Light), it’s been unfairly neglected. It’s a delightful little pop song in the vein of George Harrison. Speaking of whom, did you know Phil Collins played the congas on “Art of Dying” from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass? I guess being an audience member in the film for A Hard Days Night wasn’t Phil’s only Beatles-related claim to fame. The more you know!

Phil Collins – “Thunder and Lightning”

Funky Phil Collins is the best. And… wait… this song has a music video too?! I thought I was being so clever with these “deep cuts.” What the hell, man? You’re making me look bad! I think Phil just loves being filmed while walking around casually as he lip-syncs his songs. He’s probably making a music video right now while he brushes his teeth. I bet he’s wearing suspenders too.

Phil Collins – “We Said Hello, Goodbye (Don’t Look Back)”

As a B-side to “Take Me Home,” this song tends to get overlooked, which is a shame because it’s one of his best ballads. No way would this song have fit on No Jacket Required, one of the most essential albums of the 80’s, but it’s a clinic in tasteful pop songwriting. That echo-y piano plunk, the build-up, the climax… it’s Phil Collins pretending to be Elton John, but without the glam.

 

 

 

 

 

To WXPN, with love

I’m in love.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something here, but I have a burning in my heart that MUST be shared with the world. I feel like Buddy the Elf, twirling into his father’s big meeting with the “angry elf”. I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!

Yes, I am in love. I am in love with 88.5 FM WXPN, Philadelphia’s best and most vital radio station.

How did this happen? Well, as chance would have it, I was driving on I-76 into Philadelphia (well, “driving” may be a stretch… more like slowly seeping eastward), and I felt the need to listen to something other than my collection of music on my iPod. So, I turned to my old friend the radio, something I don’t normally do. The last time I honestly enjoyed listening to the radio was probably when I was still driving around with my mom and “How Bizarre”  was being played.

After I switched the radio on, WXPN was the first station I landed on, right there at the beginning of the dial. And what to my wondering ears should appear but the XPN Morning Show with Kristen Kurtis and Bob Bumbers, playing one of my favorite artists – Courtney Barnett – on the radio of all places, a medium usually reserved for teeny-boppers and Rihanna.

From there, I was hooked. It didn’t take much. That morning, I was serenaded by some current & old favorites of mine, but was also introduced to artists like Sarah Jarosz, Lake Street Drive, and Oh Pep!. They even played a few great tracks off of the Day of the Dead compilation (including the great rendition of “Sugaree” by Phosphorescent, Jenny Lewis & Friends). It was love at first listen, I tell ya.

WXPN, a non-commercial, member-supported radio service of the University of Pennsylvania, strives to connect artists and audiences with a particular emphasis on new and significant artists and music. You won’t hear any commercials clogging up airtime (other than the occasional PSA). What you WILL hear is a celebration rock, blues, folk, and world music, giving many local and indie artists an opportunity to be heard. The next song you hear could be your new favorite band, and your new favorite band could be living next door (or hey, it could be me… sorry for the shameless self-promotion).They’ll play The National, David Bowie, Car Seat Headrest, The Strokes, Kurt Vile, Bruce Springsteen, and… well, you get the picture. Hell, any radio station that is willing to play “Watcher of the Skies” by Genesis in the middle of the day has my heart forever.

Since that fateful day cupid took a hold of my car radio, DJs like Helen Leicht and Dan Reed and programs like “New Music Tuesday”, “Throwback Thursday”, and “Friday Mixtape” have given me faith that radio, at least in Philadelphia, can still play a vital role in a community. WXPN also produces the live music program The World Cafe with host David Dye, a program that distributed nationally to over 200 stations across the country through NPR Music. 88.5 FM WXPN is proof that radio can still expand your musical tastes and not simply pander to it.

Yes, I am in love with a radio station, and it is a love that grows stronger with every listen.

You too can fall in love with WXPN on your computer here: xpn.org.