What We're Listening To: Check out the Records the Cream Is Currently Checking Out, 3/7/12



Hey! One of these again! It's been about two months since our last go-round, so I figured it was high time for this, our fifth installment of Nashville Cream's "What We're Listening To." (Find links to our previous WWLTs right here.)

Now, typically when I kick one of these things off, I mention that most of our contributors are in the middle of penning full, fleshed-out reviews on some of the records they're currently listening to. And most often, WWLT acts as an outlet via which to blather on about what we're all digging just for kicks. But kicks and obligation overlap an awful lot in our game, and really, who's keeping score? After the jump, you can see what's on the turntables and iPods of the Scene/Cream's stable of hardworking music scribes — scribes including Laura Hutson, Randy Fox, Lance Conzett, Edd Hurt, Ryan Burleson, Sean L. Maloney, Seth Graves, Jewly Hight and your boy, me.

Also, all of our contributors deserve a big thank-you for taking time to write about music simply because they dig writing about music. I'm in constant awe of these folks (seriously), and here they are, giving up the goods for free. Why, after the jump you'll see a local-hip-hop fan/critic checking out some local psych rock, and a pop/rock/country fan/critic listening to local hip-hop! It's wild out there. I'll start, if I may be so bold.

D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor:

Grinderman, Grinderman 2 (Mute Records/ANTI-, 2010)
Last time, I mentioned that the spooky, mellow sounds of Timber Timbre's Creep on Creepin' On got me thinking about Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds. I think Cave has been pinging around in my brain ever since, as I've found myself drifting toward his now-defunct outfit, Grinderman, more and more in recent weeks. This, their second and final LP, is a brutal, jarring, hyper-sexual blast of bitter electricity. There are graceful and subtle little moments in the arrangements here and there, but mostly, it's this crushing, violent mix of fuzzy, red-lining bass, a kick drum that threatens to cave your sternum and Nick Cave howling wildly with hyperbole and outrage and dry wit. You might find yourself asking, "Is ... is he talking about sex there?" And I'll tell you, the answer is most frequently "Yes." Still, the first record's "No Pussy Blues" is perhaps the most overwhelming dose of Grinderman ever committed to tape. I beg you to watch their performance of that very tune on Later With Jools Holland.

Mikal Cronin, Mikal Cronin (Trouble in Mind, 2011)
When Gold and I were penning our cover story on the Bruise Cruise, I made myself a little Spotify playlist of BC artists. You know, to keep myself in the right (read: boozy and party-addled) headspace as I wrote. And yes, I quite thoroughly dig the tunes of Thee Oh Sees, The Dirtbombs, Fucked Up and King Khan. But, despite the fact that Mikal Cronin is a warmly embraced, card-carrying member of the national garage-rock community (along with his pal Ty Segall), I think Cronin's pop-minded take on psych rock diverges from the template the most successfully. He really bowled me over with his cover of Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World" on the Bruise Cruise. There isn't a cut of that on the record, but Cronin has a sharp sense of melodic pop that he couches in noisy psych-rock and punk aesthetics. There's even a weird flute solo on the first track, and I don't even feel moved to make a Jethro Tull joke about it. Great vocal melodies here. Cronin is playing this week's Freakin' Weekend, and I wrote a piece on that, which you can read tomorrow.

Laura Hutson, calendar editor:

I just moved into an honest-to-God house, so I'm feeling very adult these days. I haven't been listening to much, but when I have, it's followed suit.

Red House Painters, Songs for a Blue Guitar
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the Christopher Cross song "Think of Laura," and I still have a very pure-feeling appreciation for him. To me, Mark Kozelek is like the indie version of Cross, but I can never overplay this album (not so with Cross' Another Page, which I'm already sick of after mentioning it just now).

Sound Opinions 1967 podcasts
On the same grown-up tip, I'm listening to public radio a lot these days. Sound Opinions is one of my favorites, and the exploration of 1967, especially the Monterrey Pop Festival episode, is seriously fascinating. I've never been a classic rock fan (make "Freebird" your high school's class song and watch how quickly kids turn their nose up at anything even remotely '70s), so the context of intelligent, informative storytelling is the easiest way for me to appreciate Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix — stripped-down and free from the visual imagery that has always seemed so corny to me. I've listened to this episode a few times, at least.

Randy Fox, freelancer:

You’d thunk that with records being declared obsolete over 30 years ago and a vinyl revival that’s been gathering steam for the last five or so, that all the great stashes of primo vintage LPs were thrown into landfills or snatched up by hipsters and dealers long ago. But recently, I’ve been finding some unusual LPs in beautiful condition at antique malls, formerly only home to beat-to-hell copies of Whipped Cream and Other Delights and The First Family. A recent road trip to Kansas City resulted in a stack of 30 LPs, all for less than $3 (!) apiece. Here are some great ones with a Nashville connection:

Johnny & Jack, Smiles and Tears (Decca, 1962)
The non-brother, “brother” act of Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin was the very definition of the term “hipbilly” (if I may use that word ... ) during the '50s, as they recorded hit after hit for RCA that got down and dirty with rhythms borrowed from R&B and vocals that were hillbilly as all git-out. In 1961 they moved to Decca and got a slight name change courtesy of a misspelling on a label. While not breaking new ground, this album found the boys still in good form as they tore through their first hit for Decca, “Poison Love,” and various chart-toppers of the time backed up by some hot guitar from the great Grady Martin and various other members of the A-Team. The surprise track is the hubba-hubba harmony of “Thirty Six-Twenty Two-Thirty Six.” Hey, they might have been hillbillies, but they knew “art” when they saw it.

Nancy Sinatra, Country, My Way (Reprise, 1967)
This one had me salivating as soon as I put my mitts on it — and not over the cover pictures of Nancy. (The other Nancy S. LP I picked up, Sugar, wins the “Great Googly-Moogly!” Award for cover art, but I digress ... ) Nancy’s official Svengali, Lee Hazlewood, was one of the master purveyors of “mutant country” in the '60s, so a whole album of country tunes recorded in Nashville — SHAZAM! However, even though it’s a fun, sexy and stylish country pop record, Lee never really unleashes the hillbilly weirdness like on some of his other projects from that time. The standouts are the two Nancy & Lee duets, “Jackson” and “Oh Lonesome Me,” and the one Hazelwood original “By the Way (I Still Love You).” Still, it’s a timely find with the recent death of the great Billy Strange, who is featured on some tasty guitar alongside several A-Team players. (BTW, this one is available on CD [remember those?] from Sundazed.)

Brenda Lee, Johnny One Time (Decca, 1969)
A knock-out from Little Miss Dynamite at the height of her adult pop period of the late '60s —recorded in NYC instead of her usual base of operations on Music Row. The title track, an awesome bit of operatic heartbreak written by Doddles Owens and Dallas Frazier, was a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. The album also has Miss Lee exploring the songbooks of Jacques Brel, Noel Coward and Hal David & Burt Bacharach, but the biggest surprise is her smokin’ hot cover of The Box Tops tune, "The Letter." A track that could almost make the most hardened hipster say “Alex who?” and makes me long for the never-recorded Brenda Lee Sings Like Flies on Sherbet.

Lance Conzett, freelancer:

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL Recordings, 2010)
I'm not usually a lyrics guy. Which is probably an insane thing for a person who quasi-professionally writes about music to say, but it's true. Lyrics fall out of my head almost as soon as they enter it, so you'll understand my meaning when I say I've listened to “Theme From 'Cheers'” by Titus Andronicus so many times over the past two weeks that I can recite the first three verses from memory.

I've already said my piece about Titus Andronicus' Freakin' Weekend-inaugurating show on Wednesday in this week's Critics' Picks section, but you really owe it to yourself to give this record a spin — especially if you're into any of the following: The Hold Steady, Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey, punk concept albums loosely relating to the American Civil War. If nothing else, “Theme from 'Cheers'” is both the most honest song about drinking I've ever heard and the only song I've ever heard to adequately use the word “shitshow.”

Bomb the Music Industry!, Vacation (Quote Unquote Records, 2011)
This one probably shouldn't count since I'm in the midst of writing a feature about Bomb the Music Industry's upcoming show on April 4 at Cafe Coco (?!), but I've been listening to BTMI's latest record almost constantly since stumbling across it a month or two ago. Formerly a ska-punk band, now more like a slightly aggressive power-pop group, BTMI takes all the things I loved about Weezer in high school and gives it a freewheeling punk-rock edge. “Vocal Coach” sounds like a long-lost song off Pinkerton, right down to the guitar tones and synth parts. I don't know if it retroactively has become my favorite record of last year, but it's coming damn close.

Edd Hurt, freelancer:

Crowbar, Bad Manors (Paramount 1971)
This near-forgotten album sounds like its time — Bad Manors harks back to New Orleans R&B and other '50s and early-'60s rock 'n' roll styles in the same bad manner as The Velvet Underground's 1970 Loaded or The Flamin' Groovies' Flamingo. It also sounds oddly modern, with pedal steel on several cuts. Spare, folkish interludes frame a very good revisionist rock album.

In the same vein, I've been into Fleetwood Mac's Kiln House (Reprise 1970), a record similar to Crowbar's. "Station Man" is the best example of extended blues form on the record, with nonchalant, laconic riffs chugging along over Mick Fleetwood's steady-as-she-goes drumming. Also: a song about Buddy Holly, an ode to rock 'n' roll itself, and an instrumental, "Earl Gray."

Lambchop's Mr. M (Merge 2012) continues to fascinate me. Kurt Wagner's songwriting really gets at some kind of American-fried dislocation, which has something to do with the record's dedication to the late Lambchop associate Vic Chesnutt.

Much like fellow obscure folk-rock acolyte Linda Perhacs, Bonnie Koloc is remembered today as a singer who attempted to fuse jazzy vocals, folk song form and blues in the early '70s. Unlike Perhacs, who released good small-label work in the early part of that decade, Koloc did eventually make it to a major record label, with a definitive 1977 Epic LP to her name. However, I've been investigating Koloc's work on the Ovation label from those long-ago '70s. After All This Time (1971), Hold on to Me (1972) and Bonnie Koloc (1973) are records that could be condensed onto one excellent CD. Koloc's big, all-American voice is similar to Perhacs' or the jazzy pyrotechnics of fellow Joni Mitchell-ite Caroline Peyton, if a shade less austere, a touch more ingenuous. She's good — Hold on to Me features covers of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" and David Bromberg's "Diamond Lil." I also like the muted Carole King-isms and psychedelic folk jazz of the Bonnie Koloc track "Charmer."

If you like jazz piano in its purest state, I can think of fewer better records than 1974's Jimmy Rowles (Halcyon), which the great pianist cut with bassist Rusty Gilder in a New York apartment in April of that year. Rowles died in 1996; his impeccable touch is missed.

Ryan Burleson, freelancer:

Damien Jurado, Maraqopa and Maraqopa B-sides (Secretly Canadian)
Desert folk, soul, psych and doo-wop blend majestically (yes) beneath the lonesome crooner's always evocative and very American tales. Richard Swift's presence as producer and spirit guide push this thing into heights yet unseen for Jurado. Might be his best work ever — a tall claim given the gems he's released over the course of a long, storied career.

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia)
Revisiting on the a.m. commute thanks to a recent reading of the late Ellen Willis' 1967 essay on Mr. Zimmerman for Cheetah ... The very same essay which landed her a job (unsolicited) as The New Yorker's first pop critic.

Cursive, Domestica (Saddle Creek)
Revisiting on the p.m. commute because Tim Kasher & Co. just released a new one and I'm deathly afraid it can't touch their early-Aughts material. Working my way up to that one.

Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream (Virgin)
Bought the re-issue last weekend in Austin, and it's since made for the perfect soundtrack to grilling out far too early in the year thanks to our finicky weather. One of those records that's best played loud (pardon the rock-crit cliche), which suits the distance the sound needs to travel from my living room to the porch.

Sleigh Bells, Born To Lose (Mom + Pop)
Kind of silly, but I think that's kind of the point. The music probably has a short shelf life (maybe all pop culture does now?), but it's fun to shirk my cynicism and get caught up in the acts of Now every once in a while. Especially this one.

Burial, Street Halo (Hyperdub)
One of the day's finest manipulators of sound. Biding my time with this single until Mr. Bevan's label makes the new Kindred EP available on vinyl. I will pay too much for the import. Sue me.

Sean L. Maloney, freelancer:

Turbo Fruits, Butter
Has this even been announced yet? I don't think so and I don't care, 'cuz it's mother fucking awesome and I want to tell everybody. Butter is like The Flamin' Groovies' Teenage Head meets, um, Turbo Fruits. I'm going to go ahead and call this one as local rock album of the year right now.

Diamond Rugs, s/t (Partisan Records)
This one is in the "local by association" category, recorded over in Sylvan Park by our own Adam Landry and Justin Collins. If you haven't heard about the Rugs yet, it's John and Robbie from Deer Tick, Ian from Black Lips, Steve from Los Lobos, Hardy from Dead Confederate and Justin from Six Finger Satellite. And they made one of the best party records in a long long time — maybe the best party record since J. Geils Band's debut. The album hits stores April 24.

Pond, Beard, Wives, Denim (Modular Records)
So there's going to be a feature on this Aussie psych outfit in next week's paper, but I'm throwing it on here now because it's awesome and it came out yesterday. Holy shit, I'm listening to a record that other people can buy! This is weird. But anyway, the band is going to be playing an in-store at Grimey's on March 19, and you should go. This record is super-duper fun. Check out the weird-as-shit video for "Fantastic Explosion of Time":

Various Artists, Trax Records Classics Volume 1
Trax is literally "The house that Jack built." It was one of the pioneering labels that helped revolutionize dance music in the wake of the disco burn-out, and every song on here still sounds fucking incredible. Funky, sparse, anthemic, this record is basically some of the finest electronic music ever heard.

Big K.R.I.T, 4evaNaDay (Cinematic Music Group)
OK, I'll be honest: I've only listened to this once — a dude's gotta work sometimes, and it's only been out for, oh, 24 hours — but I'm going to say it's the Mississippi MC/producer's finest work. As always, the beats are top-notch — there's a lot of sax on this tape, and I love me some sax — and the lyrics are deep, well-thought-out and atypically mature for the hip-hop scene. This is definitely hip-hop for grown-ups, but it isn't "adult" to the point of being lame. Needless to say, this one's going to be getting A LOT of play in the coming days. You can grab it for free here.

Seth Graves, freelancer:

Obnox, I'm Bleeding Now
This veteran Ohio rock 'n' roll duo graced the greasy, yellowed confines of Dino's a month or so ago, and impressed me enough to invest three seconds of my precious time to immortalize I'm Bleeding Now into its own Spotify playlist. The songs are fast, dark, loud and easy to dig. They aren't, however, always so easy to listen to. This thing was recorded on someone's iPhone for all I can tell. The songs often times disappear into a wash of fuzz and reverb, leaving you waiting for a hook to come bubbling back.

Neon Indian, Era Extrana
As you'll notice soon enough, I've already put my 600 words on this record in the upcoming dead-tree edition. The difference here is, I'm not getting paid. A week since i turned in my final draft of its review, this sparkling, chillaxed, analog wash of synth-kissed melodies and artificially-flavored ear candy is still in heavy rotation. It's got warm sounds with a cold thematic undercurrent, which pretty much matches perfectly with the weather as of late.

Jewly Hight, freelancer:

Robyn, Body Talk
What can I say? I'd been craving some straight-up dance pop by somebody who can sing about robots without sounding like one (see: "Fembot").

Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
It's been seven long years since she put out an album, and, I'm happy to report, there's a lot of grit, spirit and comfortable-in-her-skin sensuality on this one.

Openmic x Ducko McFli, Molotov
I'm seriously impressed with Openmic. He can hold his own as a lyricist with anybody in any genre.

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