Positive Feedback Logo

Old Ears, New Tracks: Volume One

11-22-2018 | By David Williamson | Issue 100

The premise is simple enough:  I key in on seven albums that are brand new to me. They could have been released at any point and time throughout history. Their format may be CD, Vinyl, Cassette Tape, or Streaming…who cares?! The albums may technically be singles or they may be EPs…again, who cares?! This is at its core all about the music, however I can get to it. The albums are beholden to no style, no genre. I'll be listening to one album at a time, each one for a day. At the end of seven days I'll have seven short takeaways that will show up here. Onwards!

(Side-note: This music in this edition was thoughtfully and expertly curated by my buddy/pal/guy/friend Sean Kelly, he of most spectacular musical taste and insight. Thank you so much for your recommendations! You sir, Rock!)

Side-note specific to this edition: All listening was done with the intriguingly lively and fun ESS 422H Headphones…which, coincidentally I wrote a few words about, soon to be published.

Gosky's Zygotic Mynci, SLEEP/HOLIDAY

The harmonica! And the flute. All of the flute! I'll confess, the name alone had me convinced that I'd picked the "quirky" one to start off with, though I get the appeal almost instantly. I'm picking up complimentary artist comparisons left and right and I'm impressed! It's at turns delicate and beautiful then it kicks into some up-tempo psychedelia-lite…fun! Speaking of, half the said fun of this whole series is coming across the forebears of the sounds I already know. It's beneficial, IMO, to reach back in time and become educated about the musicians who heard the same muses and sought similar sounds as the contemporary musicians one is into. Anyways, this is a very comfortable album for me. I'm liking the instrumentation and the tempo and delivery is like a friend-of-a-friend, welcome and inviting. Without the benefit of overt familiarity, I'm not connecting as deeply on first listen as I might have hoped I would. It's reminiscent of my first listen-through of a Dawes album, where it took a few listens to key in on what I was really grooving to. An enjoyable listen and one I'll surely revisit another day.

Standout Track: Waking for Winter—I don't know that I'm going to find anything more enjoyable on this album then the opening track. The rousing cadence and the Welsh enunciation give way to a brief violin interlude, a palate cleanser if you will, before launching back into one final uptempo coda. Good stuff!

Townes Van Zandt, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt

I'm passingly familiar with Townes Van Zandt due mostly to my (recommended!) Vinyl Me, Please subscription, which sent me Townes Van Zandt's For the Sake of the Song last month. So, it's great to get another crack at his catalog and to dive deeper into his artistry.

The feel of the record, if you will, sounds like it's planted firmly in the 60s-70s folk/country wildlands that housed such luminaries as Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, and Billy Joe Shaver. I've been flirting along the edges of a full-blown deep dive into this era/genre lately, so this album is part and parcel of what I've been getting into. Tangentially, the spectacular and not to be missed season one of Mike Judge Presents Tales From the Tour Bus helped stoke my interest in these musicians, so check that out as well if you can. I was aware prior to listening to this album that Pancho and Lefty is the song most closely associated with Townes Van Zandt's legacy. Knowing that tidbit of musical trivia did precisely nothing to diminish the brilliance of the song, as it immediately pushed my "This sounds like John Hiatt!" button. Since that button has been a reliable indicator for me as far as deciding if I'm into an album or an artist, the rest of this impression is pretty much preordained.

As I'm already going this way musically currently, I think I'll just wrap this impression with a thumbs up for Pancho and Lefty, a "Yes!" rating for the album and a quick move on to something I'm totally unfamiliar with.

Richard & Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

A bit of UK Country and Western? John Denver with brogue?

Whatever the origins of this mish-mash of sounds, I'm really digging it! There's a certain tone, awash in reverb the likes of which I haven't heard for a while, that really comes across with punch and, one might say, sincerity. This duo could be the proto-The Civil Wars I never knew I was missing and maybe, just maybe, that's why I'm so into this album already. There's such a varied collection of sounds here, it's positively delightful! I'm hearing the exploratory roots of countless 90's singer-songwriter types. The baritone vocals are vaguely reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, in a complimentary way.

Side bar: Could Richard and Linda Thompson be the inspiration for Mitch & Mickey? There's a heck of a lot to unpack here…I'm coming back to this album again, for sure and certain! Could this could be the best of this batch of albums?

Standout Track: The Calvary Cross (Live)—I unexpectedly found this live track on the Tidal version of the album. It's a bit looser and rawer then the album cut, but a touch of grit makes this version of the song that much more impactful and impressive.

Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque

Fuzzy and sad all the time…what's not to love? That the opening track could be Elliot Smith on Prozac didn't color my impressions too much I hope (this is all lies, it was a brilliant surprise and totally fueled my interest in this band). I'm 1000% positive I've been listening to the spiritual children/successors to this band from way back when times.

A quick note, I'm not researching any of these artists or albums before or during when I listen, so I don't know where in the Teenage Fanclub catalog timeline this album falls. In fact, if this predates Oasis at all, then Oasis clearly owe a debt to Teenage Fanclub (yeah, I said it).

I suppose for my purposes it doesn't matter because This. Is. My. Jam. Back to the opening track, I'm a fan of "statement" album openers and if a six-minute song titled "The Concept" doesn't scratch that itch, well, what will? Lots of fuzzy, noodling nonsense that resolves into a Foo Fighter-esque outro gets me there too. Heck, if I go on any further in on these tracks and this album, I may run out of space and have to scrap the other album impressions altogether…and then the whole system falls apart. I can't do that. This album rocks as an epic collection of "alternative" English with a capital "E" sounds and I can't recommend listening to it enough!

Beachwood Sparks, Beachwood Sparks

Wowsers! What range! What a fun bag of styles and structures the band got to play with and what unique results they accomplished. There's a variety of influences that adds up to something special on this album. I somehow got a left-hand adjacent to The Shins vibe one time I spun this disc, which I'm still at a loss to fully explain, but totally loved in that instant. The Hammond (I assume) organ and bouncy bass that are sprinkled throughout the album give this a decidedly throwback country vibe, in contrast with what I'm assuming is an electronic whip-poor-will doing an impression of a rotary telephone ringtone. As I'm a sucker for steel guitar and a bit of twang, two things this album delivers in buckets, I just leaned in to the experience. Throughout my many listening's of the album I noticed a couple things, namely that the harmonizing and melodies remained sweet, the tempo stayed mostly up beat and the smile on my face remained honest. A gem of an album!

Standout Track: Something I Don't Recognize – It starts with what sounds like a Space Hog riff and blasts off into sparkly bright trails of celestial cosmic cowboy fuzz!

Labradford, A Stable Reference

I was recently introduced to Sun Kil Moon (great stuff!) and had a direct and immediate moment of enjoyment upon first listen.

That I had a similar visceral reaction upon hearing Labradford for the first time seemed auspicious. I'm curiously stuck on the fact that I'm not sure how the band's name is pronounced…is it "Lab Rad Ford" or is it "LaBradford" (nifty name either/or) (post-writing research leads me to LaBradford as the correct pronunciation).

My first listen was while stuck in some appallingly bad traffic, where my attention was split between the bumper in front of me and the songs I was hearing. As such, while listening to the track "El Lago" I found that I kept expecting to hear one big over-flourished drum count off, followed by Phil Collins voice echoing through the speakers. And that's in no ways a bad thing, just an attempt to explain the inherent pomp and circumstance that the album reaches for. Big sounds, done bigley (I'm taking/claiming that word for everyone). As an exercise in thoughtful soundscape crafting, this album absolutely delivers. The low end gets plumbed for maximum effect in service to occasionally moody atmosphere music. I can easily picture myself around the fire pit late one chilly night in January, listening to this album with earbuds while sipping a hot adult beverage. Moody and calming.

Jim O'Rourke, Disengage

Clearly I was mistaken in what I was saying about Labradford. Clearly I meant to say those things about Jim O'Rourke's Disengage. Disengage is the aural equivalent of sitting quietly and listening from a distance as Bjork and Trent Reznor compare soundboard preferences over tea and cakes…? Sure, close enough.

There are five tracks, that I would better describe as movements, which comprise the hour-and-a-half-plus album. I'm still not sure I can separate out one standout track over the others as each one works in unison with the others to provide the overall milieu that defines this album, that being, well, disengagement. For me, the feeling of separation, of alone-ness that the album carried and conveyed was near to overwhelming. This album consistently evoked stark and chilling isolation in a way that nearly transcended the aural and passed into the physical realm. I could feel the dread, the creeping sensation of other, the sudden and pressing need to look over my shoulder weighing on me throughout my listening sessions.

These intensely urgent sounds took me back decades to a spot on my grandmothers' porch, on a bright and crisp fall day with the eaves legion of windchimes dancing haltingly and wild in the wind. Even the way that the tracks came to an end and the silence that filled up the spaces between songs made me unexpectedly anxious, though not quite nervous. While I can't imagine this album was ever meant to be for everyone, those whom it is meant for will find it a veritable trove of suspenseful delights.

To wrap: Boy howdy that was a lot of good music! A stupendous amount of thought went into this impressively synergistic music collection, so thanks again to Sean Kelly for the effort! I'm proud to launch this series with such a solid curation, one that gives me hope for even more adventurous future installments. It'll be some work to gin up another seven heretofore unheard pieces of music that can give this batch a run for their proverbial money…but I'm game! See you next time…

Lead image by David Williamson