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 five 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!
The Who – All This Music Must Fade from WHO (Deluxe) (UMG/Polydor Records/1 Music Rights Societies)
It has been a while. The Who is down to two with Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey still along for the ride. Nevertheless, with this band there are always several unexpected turns in the journey. Who (so sorry) would have thought that The Who would deliver an album and a song like ‘All This Music Must Fade’ in 2019 that would turn out to be this strong. Townsend once famously wrote – and Daltrey sang – “hope I die before I get old” – and alas, we now know the punchline, but this song and the collection that it comes from demonstrates that there are still a few interesting musical tricks and moves from The Who. In addition, with his ironic detachment and wry sense of humor still intact, Townsend’s ‘All This Music Must Fade’ both critiques the popular music industry and at the same time The Who itself. Nicely done, welcome back.
Greg Dulli – Pantomima from Random Desire (Royal Cream/BMG)
Returning in many ways to the unapologetic guitar-based indie that made The Afghan Whigs so damn impressive (think prior to the Whigs’ 1965), Greg Dulli’s first song from his upcoming solo record demonstrates that he has some ideas and concerns that we need to talk about. No one talks about passions whether unrequited or resolved like Dulli has done in the past. This driving song is going to not simply be as result of The Afghan Whigs Part… well whatever number we are actually on right now… nor is it a return of the brooding and atmospheric Twilight Singers. This grungy dark (okay, would we expect anything else from Mr. Dulli?) tale of human appetite hits the listener direct and smartly. After hearing this song, February cannot come soon enough.
Beach Bunny – Ms. California from Honeymoon (Mom+Pop Records)
Yeah, I am a sucker for indie pop. It is true. The latest from Beach Bunny demonstrates the reasons that guitar and vocal based indie pop with a solid bass and driving percussion will always capture this reviewer’s heart. The percussive vocal only adds emotional dimension to the tune. Don’t we all wish we could be someone else, be somewhere else, and be something else? This song, the first from Beach Bunny’s upcoming new record, captures that idea of alienation with one’s sense of identity. The fact that the music feels happy, almost satisfied runs a lovely counter to the idea in the lyrics. Confronting the challenge of wanting to be something else that others care about will only expand the emotional reach of the song. Wanting and not having is one of the central contradictions of being human. Songs like Ms. California make that contradiction slightly more bearable while we try to figure out how to manage our identities.
Nada Surf – Looking For You from Never Not Together (Barsuk Records)
This first single from the forthcoming record, NEVER NOT TOGETHER is an announcement of a shift in the beautiful indie pop that Matthew Caws and company are so damn good at doing. The slow build of the song until the punch of the chorus half way through is an excellent emotional pay off for the listener. The operatic beginning of the song sends a subtle shift in the classic catchiness that Nada Surf have used to great effect throughout their career. What feels like a nursey rhyme is about needing a drink – “there is always a bottle waiting for me if I find my way there.” This band knows the sweetest melodies are not always obvious and build over time rather than providing a simple and quick fix at the very beginning.
Duster – Letting Go from Duster (Muddguts Records)
The lo-fi guitar cadences of Duster derives not simply from the unassuming nature of their music, often recorded live direct to recording – it is also the atmospheric, moody and at times downright dark and melancholic vibe of their music. Much like musical heroes, Guided by Voices or Sonic Youth, Duster creates melodic sonic texture from what appears to be random scratches, scrapes and noise. What’s the fun in a perfect guitar tone or loud drums? Sometimes the hidden nature of instruments is more powerful when the musical soup is finished. The use of static and breaks along with vocals that are less prominent in the mix – akin to Diiv or early R.E.M. or the aforementioned GBV and Sonic Youth – gives greater emotional depth to narratives about alienation, disconnection, isolation and just plain ol’ sadness without having to scream to get a point across to the listener.
MGMT – In The Afternoon from In The Afternoon (MGMT Records)
Channeling early Depeche Mode, Bauhaus and The Cure, MGMT have constructed a catchy 80s-like electronic-Goth inspired tune. Sounding as if it is far older than it really is – this wall of sound part synth-heavy plea for commonality in the human search for solidarity and friendship through the prism of emotion – “But you looked sad, In a reassuring way, And I don’t want to leave, So we can both be the same.” The repetition of the final line “A kid in a candy store” sounds more like a plea than a repeated statement about the ephemeral grasp of relief and resolution. MGMT have done a terrific job of playing with the musical toys of the past while making their own game.
David Payne – Orange Glow from Orange Glow (Magnaphone Records)
The New Old-Fashioned frontman steps out with an intimate second solo outing that captures the lush and lyrical sensibilities of everyday life on this compelling record. Those who know Payne’s songwriting from his work with TNOF will find a pleasant surprise of intimacy that feels fresh and relatable. Songs such as the outstanding title track, ‘Even Ghosts’ and ‘Nowhere to Go’ demonstrate an expansive journalistic ability to examine the fine details of living without feeling preachy or moribund. The category singer-songwriter used to mean something where artists built their musical reputations around an ability to make something new and powerful from their observations. The exceptional ‘Outta Town’ not only captures that feeling of disconnection when one is away from those that they care about but also features members of TNOF, Amber Hargett and other notable Dayton, Ohio musical luminaries on the catchy chorus. Mr. David Payne returns us to that all too overlooked terrain of getting through each day and night with this distinguished new record. Based on this record alone, he is a true singer and songwriter in the tradition of Neal Young, Hank Williams and other pioneers.
One that got away from us… yeah we know it was not released in December but this song has to be heard!
Upset – Tried & True from Upset (Lauren Records)
What happens when two powerful indie rock drummers write music together? You get indie melodies and hooks for days and days. This song – and the entire album for that matter – showers the listener with brilliant indie that has the power of classical grunge, indie and alternative. Ali Koehler (ex-Best Coast, ex-Vivian Girls) and Patty Schemel (ex-Hole) released the excellent eponymously titled Upset this past November. Upset released an excellent debut record in 2013 (She’s Gone) and the criminally overlooked ’76 two years later. The latest songs gestated for several year and were worth the wait. While the record is incredibly well produced and well recorded it does not feel glossy or stretched, this record mirrors many of Koehler and Schemel’s influences and combines the pop, indie and lo-fi elements while still sounding new, exciting and inviting. Here’s to hoping that we do not have to wait too long before another great recording!