The second half of January delivered some great listening – probably my favourite R.E.M. album, Nine Inch Nails’ magnum opus, a couple of local crooners in Tony Daunt and Marlon Williams, a throwback to the Presidents Of The USA, and the delightful fluffy Jeremy Messersmith.
016 R.E.M. – Automatic For The People (1992). I mean, its legendary. I got back on to R.E.M. recently because of their featured episode on Netflix’s Song Exploder series; that episode features “Losing My Religion”, which features on the album right before this one, Out Of Time. But for my money, Automatic is the better album – it features the megahit “Everybody Hurts”, but the highlights here are “Man In The Moon”, “Drive” and “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”. (January 16, 2021).
017 Simon & Garfunkel – Sounds Of Silence (1966). This album is really just a testament to Paul Simon: he writes every song, and the album features a few of his best and most enduring- “April Come She Will”, “Kathy’s Song” and “I Am A Rock”. Also, the opener is an electric version of “The Sound Of Silence” which, fun fact, had guitar, bass and drums recorded without the knowledge of either Simon or Garfunkel. You can tell; the bass is out of sync about half way through the track for a couple of bars. (January 17, 2021).
018 Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994). It took me a while to appreciate this album fully – something like 12 or 15 years, if I’m being honest. These days it is a brutal collection of tracks that plays like a mental breakdown for poor Trent Reznor. I do like how it toys with form though: the vocal mix on opener “Mr Self Destruct”, the time signatures and changes in “March Of The Pigs”, and even the build-and-diminish of “Closer”. And if you need any proof of Reznor’s songwriting prowess, you need go no further than closing track “Hurt” – just check out this stripped back, haunting solo performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQRmCy6LfjI. (January 18, 2021).
019 Mutemath – Mutemath (2006). For a time, this was my favourite album – and that time was during my Christian phase, when I was desperate for good music to listen to and glommed on to any half decent Christian band I could find. Crazy to think that it turns 15 years old in 2021. Honestly, this album holds up; highlight tracks like “Chaos”, “Plan B” and “Stall Out” are still great songs. And Mutemath are the only Christian band that I still listen to with any great regularity (followed by Underoath). But its hard not to think of this album as a relic of a version of myself that no longer exists. (January 19, 2021).
020 The Talbott Brothers – Gray (2017). Okay, these guys have a great sound, and their voices work super well together as they harmonise their way through this collection of acoustic ballads. But all of that said, I found the album repetitive; every song is a variation on what they do well, so it gets a bit samey by the time you get to the ninth or tenth track. Still, definitely worth taking a listen to the opening track, “We Got Love”, which is the boys at the peak of their powers. (January 20, 2021).
021 Tony Daunt & The Dauntless – The Gypsy (2017). This one was recommended by Carla (thanks Carla!). A very Americana collection but in a good way; I enjoyed the disconnect between theme and style, especially on songs like “Misery”, and could hear a ton of influences throughout the album, though shared through a rockabilly lens. Tony himself sounds a bit like Leonard Cohen and I dig that about him. Carla, please don’t be too happy and in love with Tony; I’d hate for his music to lose that melancholic edge, haha! (January 21, 2021).
022 David Bowie – Low (1977). Recommended by Nick. I’ve never been a huge Bowie fan, but Low is an album that I do enjoy – and it features my favourite Bowie song, “Sound & Vision”. The story behind the album is almost as riveting as the music: after a drug addled period in Los Angeles, Bowie moved to Switzerland, then to France in 1976 – there, he helped Iggy Pop record his debut solo album and met Brian Eno, then later that year recorded this album with Eno and producer Tony Visconti in France and Germany. Two more albums – 1977’s Heroes and 1979’s Lodger – with Eno/Visconti followed, referred to as the Berlin Trilogy. (January 22, 2021).
023 Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). This album turns 15 this year – marked by fans, and even by the cover model Chris McClure: https://www.nme.com/…/chris-mcclure-reflects-face…. WPSIATWIN is Arctic Monkeys at their most raw and most raucus, which is something they lost in the following years, and I would argue it was their best album until 2013’s AM. My favourite track is probably “The View From The Afternoon”. (January 23, 2021).
024 Manchester Orchestra – Cope (2014). Rhianon introduced me to Manchester Orchestra, and this is my favourite album by them. Favourite track: “The Ocean”. (January 24, 2021).
025 Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales (2021). A fairly new release, Sullivan is an R&B/soul singer with an incredible voice – the style and the talent combine to great effect on this release, with the emotional “Lost One” the highlight. (January 25, 2021).
026 The Presidents Of The United States Of America – The Presidents Of The United States Of America (1995). I loved this album when it first came out, and I would still tell you that the song “Lump” is one of the best grunge/rock songs of the 1990s. Now, though, I mostly found myself distracted by the number of references to animals. Chris Ballew really likes writing lyrics about animals.
(January 26, 2021).
027 Shriekback – Oil And Gold (1985). Recommended by Karen. I’ve been trying to see the best in everything I listened to, but I have to be honest – I found this one a bit hard to get through. Musically, its clear these guys have talent (especially movie soundtrack legend Hans Zimmer, who provides synth), and style wise they’re reminiscent of mid-80s Pink Floyd and early 80s Talking Heads. But the band had a bit of a split during the making of this album – the first few tracks, sung by Carl Marsh, are easily the highlights and most dynamic tracks on the album, however Barry Andrews takes over the vocals and the entire album seems to lose its energy. Its not clear how much Zimmer contributed, but a couple of the later tracks sound like someone singing over the top of the Lethal Weapon score. Those first few songs are dope though. I wonder if I’d enjoy Shriekback’s earlier work more. (January 27, 2021).
028 Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love (2018). It would be super easy to dismiss Marlon Williams – he sings like an Elvis tribute act (though I think I’d argue his voice is better) and his music sounds like a throwback to the 1950s. However, as you get further into this album, you realise that there is a depth of emotion here that was never part of the music to which this is an homage; Williams’ melancholia provides a dark twist to the style, reaching its peak on highlights “Love Is a Terrible Thing”, “I Didn’t Make a Plan”, and the gorgeous duet with Aldous Harding “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore”. (January 28, 2021).
029 Skyway Man – The World Only Ends When You Die (2021). This album is being touted as an early contender for album of the year, but I found it all a bit meh. Ostensibly a concept album, each song has strands running through it, connecting each musically to those tracks around it – which makes me wonder: is a concept album sometimes just a way to release a whole album even if you only have one good musical idea?! Musically, this lands somewhere between Alabama Shakes and Elvis Presley, but without the ingenuity of either. (January 29, 2021).
030 Jeremy Messersmith – 11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs For Ukulele (2017). I was originally going to listen to something else, but we were on a family trip to Whangaruru and this is what the kids wanted to listen to. One thing I’ll say: it certainly lives up to its name.
(January 30, 2021).
This post is part of my ongoing effort to listen to a new album every single day of 2021. If you have any suggestions on what I should listen to next, send them through to firstname.lastname@example.org.