Words by Art Jipson
Every month Off Shelf contributor and Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative host Art Jipson brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find nine highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist. Please follow our Spotify account so you don’t miss any future playlists!
After 2017’s ‘Ken’, Destroyer – Dan Behar’s – on going Bowie fixation is alive and well on the late January release ‘Have We Met’. The eleventh album from Behar is a mélange of different styles and approaches built around the idea of a singer/performer/vocalist. ‘Cue Synthesizer’, a stand out on the record, jokes about the composition approach that Behar takes to his music while still creating an energetic ride. This song evokes classic synth pop of the late 70s and early 80s (I hear several Gary Numan asides in the music – was that on purpose?), experimental soundscapes (read the direct Bowie references), and the thoughts of some elliptical self-deprecating discourse to the point of pretention, if only other musicians were this reflective. Also, recommend giving a listen to the instrumental title track when you have some time.
This excellent collection of songs about the unraveling (see what they did there?) of community, social bonds and connection to one another in the current political theater that passes for American civic life is a record that should be heard, digested and debated. Few songwriters capture the working class pathos, ethos and down and dirty artifacts of everyday life like Patterson Hood. ‘Armageddon’s Back in Town’ is not simply about the larger geo-politics that don’t mean anything to those of us who are just trying to live our lives, pay our bills and not harm people who live in our neighborhoods, it is about the challenge to stay bonded to one another in a real way. Not to mention the fact that the last minute of this song begs to be a set closer. Also highly recommended from this album are the songs ‘Slow Ride Argument’ for a catchy refrain and the beautifully critical about uselessness of inaction in ‘Thoughts and Prayers’.
Part folk, part neo-psychedelic, part gothic, ‘Out of The Woods’ feels dark, foreboding, well… dangerous. The harmonic vocals only create higher levels of uneasiness. Trying to decipher the lyrics is going to leave the listener down into a path of shadows: “You wait like the spineless things That sleep ‘til they grow their wings In the dirt they find their worth And go swarming over the streams.” The percussion drives this track from ‘Darkness Brings the Wonders Home.’ I, for one, do not want to meet these women in a dark alleyway unless it is to talk about their influences and how they expertly mesh such different musical styles. This song is tough and dark in a way that neo-folk often avoids.
The 80s resurgence is alive and well with the latest EP from Wild Nothing and that is pleasing to this reviewer’s ears. This song could easily fit in 1983. That is not a criticism. The driving track captures 80s synth pop without pandering or over playing too obvious arrangements and hooks. The five-song EP collects unreleased songs that capture the same feeling and style as Wild Nothing’ 2019 slick glossy, synth-based record ‘Indigo’ without feeling like they are trading on the same old 80s arrangements that seem to dominating the reunion circuit. Taking those ideas in new directions while still being catchy is a difficult task musically and it serves this song – and the entire EP – quite well.
The return of Wire continues with the 2020 release Mind Hive. It has been about three years since Wire’s last record (2017’s excellent Silver/Lead – do yourself a favor and listen to ‘Short Elevated Period’ from that record). ‘Cactused’ demonstrates the debt that so many post-punk bands continue to owe to Wire. On the compact Mind Hive – a little over 30 minutes – the band sounds as fresh and innovative as ever. On this their 17th album, the legendary post-punkers continue to reorganize and re-invent their musically complex guitar rhythms and in doing so reinforce their enduring strengths as they discuss humanity’s viciousness to one another. If you have a spare minute, give a listen to ‘Off The Beach’ and ‘Hung.’
Supergrass – Diamond Hoo Haa Man from The Strange Ones (The Echo Limited Label)
The group celebrated their 25th anniversary and ten years since they stopped recording in spectacular fashion in 2020. The first track on the collection ‘Diamond Hoo Haa Man’ illustrates the reason that for so many, this band has had a huge influence. A rhythmic and guitar driven 70s sounding rocker. A song that pushes the expectation of the listener in directions that are simultaneously surprising and comforting. Supergrass reunited for a handful of concerts and released ‘The Strange Ones: 1994-2008’, a monster collection this year containing virtually everything the group released as a band. The box itself is simply massive. This comprehensive collection contains picture LPs of the band’s six albums, 13 CDs including seven discs of B-sides, live recordings, and rarities! And just in case you wanted print materials, the band included a 54-page book with essays and commentaries but wait that is not all, they also threw in a 7″ single containing two new remixes of “Caught by the Fuzz” and “Richard III” that were clearly silly and not meant to be taken seriously. It is a ridiculously generous set and one that you should own if you love Supergrass.
Basic Plumbing – As You Disappear from Keeping Up Appearances (Basic Plumbing Records)
This excellent lo-fi indie pop is perfect. It should feel that way. Patrick Doyle ex-Veronica Falls drummer built on that melodic guitar based indie that were a hallmark of the excellent Veronica Falls and launched numerous other projects such as Ultimate Painting and The Proper Ornament. Catchy, chiming guitars and vocals that complement the arrangements rather than dominate. A lesson that too many indie bands have failed to learn. There is nothing on this record that needs more sheen! Rough yet perfect and driving grungy influenced indie pop with a fragile heart on the sleeve that captures attention. ‘As You Disappear’ – the kick off track for the album – reminds the listener of so many great bands yet still sounds fresh and exciting. The drums are exceptional on this and the other songs on the record. The sad fact must be acknowledged that Doyle passed away in March of 2018 and that family and friends collaborated to release this record with the proceeds being donated to LA LGBT Center and CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
Guitar maestro Nick Kizrnis returns with the long awaited ‘The Distance’. This record was crafted differently than Kizrnis usual approach. He took an sweeping approach with a powerful team of musicians – Mark Patterson (Son Volt), Kate Wakefield (LUNG), Crazy Joe Tritschler, Tod Weidner (Shrug), Paige Beller, and Patrick Himes (simply too many bands to list here!). For the record, Kizrnis opened his songs to team-based collaboration with each performer adding to the songs and transforming them through a collective process. Kizirnis has made a solo record unlike anything he recorded in the past. The Distance veers from an Americana feel to a smooth almost jazzy record, but with female lead vocals. Kate Wakefield, in particular, provides brilliant vocals on ‘The Distance’ adding unique qualities to every song on the record.
One that got away from us… yeah we know it was not released in January but this song has to be heard!
Although the album came out in January, the fourth track on the record, ‘Tommy in the 80s’ was available in November. This song – a reference to the late amazing indie power pop musician Tommy Keene – is emblematic of all the terrific guitar rock that Beach Slang is creates on their records. This song continues the effort at solid hooks, melody and vigorous guitar-drum arrangements. The vocals on this song – and most of the record – sound very much like Paul Westerberg! Beach Slang clearly waving the flags of their influences. The lyrics make a direct reference to hearing Tommy Keene on the radio and having your understanding of rock and roll music changed. A perfect tribute.