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!
McCartney’s latest record and single is a classic example of self-direction. Recorded and co-produced by McCartney. He played all instruments on the record in his personal studio. The result is not a study in self-indulgence; instead, it is an experiment in sonic creation. Textures explored in ways that McCartney’s recent work has avoided. The willingness to create songs is not in question with McCartney. The approach on the album is captured clearly in the song ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ with it long intro that meshes drums, rough guitars, mandolin in a simple repeated refrain. The song is driving in its directness. There is a lankiness to the patience in the song. It is not until almost a minute and a half before any vocals appear. Much will be made of the irregular titles on the record and the title of the record which with previous albums (McCartney and McCartney II marked turning points in his musical career and direction with the dissolution of The Beatles and Wings). However, a song like ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird can be enjoyed for its own sake rather than some ponderous or pretentious statement. The idea of McCartney crafting what feels like an indie song and, for this reviewer, an indie record should be applauded. Also, recommend ‘Slidin’ and ‘Seize the Day.’
After many decades, Half Japanese continues to make strangely optimistic and engaging music. The band continues to investigate angular rhythms and surprising juxtapositions in their music and lyrics. Half Japanese continue to follow the alternative style of Jad Fair. Under his direction, he has brought an album and a song – ‘Wonderous Wonder’ – that begs the listener to see the world as having potential rather than bleakness and despair. As Fair sings: “Here it is, a brand new start, here it is, a brand new start for a brand new heart, it’s a brand new day.” Half Japanese have always been willing to wear their emotions on their sleeves and as we, all look to positive changes that we all feel are just around the corner. “Wonderous Wonder’ is the song from an album that shift focus away from the Dark Age we have been living within recently. The positivity of this song (and the entire album) beseeches and cajoles us to feel and stand in the light. Also, recommend ‘Dark World’ and the title track ‘Crazy Hearts’.
Sometimes you just want to hear a song that puts a smile on your face and then you realize that the song is not at all happy. Frances Forever’s ‘Space Girl’ is one of those sneaky smile-inducing yet seductively sad songs. The arrangement reminds of Varsity with allusions to Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. There is a slinky jazziness to the song that lead the listener into a comfortable embrace where we are linked at least in our minds if not in reality. The song creates associations between space, horoscopes and relationships – even if only imagined. Now, we all love sad songs with upbeat and happy melodies and that is the case here with ‘Space Girl.’ The song cleverly explores a love/obsession/ relationship within a space metaphor. The metaphor expands into astrology within the chorus: “Girl, are you a Cancer, ‘Cause you make me cry, When we kiss.” The horoscope reference that expands on the space theme hides a deeper purpose. The bouncy almost joyous arrangement covers a deeper lyric that explores via metaphor queer youth culture. Perhaps one of the meaningful associations in ‘Space Girl’ is that love is always a bond that feels more real when imagined.
Cincinnati Ohio’s Motel Faces continue to expand their driving guitar-based rock and roll. In an era where direct approaches are avoided as being too easy, it is so incredibly fun to hear a band that just wants to play loudly and brashly. Swagger has become a cliché when used awkwardly or unconvincingly. Motel Faces’ swagger is real. It is heartfelt in way that is not just genuine; it is who they are as a band. Their latest single, ‘Give It Away’ not only captures the band’s high-energy performances but also does so with a subtle nod to classic rock of the 1970s while still sounding fresh and engaging. Merging classic and contemporary rock styles reveals the strength of Motel Faces. They are able to synthesize various influences and create something unique from them while still sounding damn exciting. The band has one hell of a vocalist whose wail will remind you that we all join a musical bond in the experience of a great rock song. If you are not familiar with this band, highly recommend exploring their catalog.
As part of an effort to support some political efforts in the state of Georgia, Death Cab for Cutie have released an EP of covers. While avoiding politics feels like a full time job these days, the band have made an interesting extended play of five versions of other group’s songs. The cover of R.E.M.’s ‘Fall on Me’ will not expand the interpretation of the song as Death Cab for Cutie pretty much stick to the original arrangement, however there is clear love for the song that the band exudes in their version of it. The depth of the idea of avoiding being overwhelmed is powerful felt. And, sure we all may find that hearing Ben Gibbard deliver Stipe’s lyrics in a clear and ringing voice changes the feel of the song. However, that is not a bad outcome in of itself. Also, recommend the cover of TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ and their version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘King of Carrot Flowers. Pt. 1’.
This song takes full advantages of the assets of the band by drawing together a pile driver of a song. A great song is one that builds on the virtues of each player and creates something unique from the individual contributions. The Wild Feathers were well on their way to a breakthrough before the pandemic placed innumerable obstacles and life challenges that we are all experiencing. However, songs like this remind us of the energy and merits of human community. The lyrics explore relationships, love and the comfort of home while demonstrating the importance of knowing that we are cared for/about/missed: “On my way, way back home, We were wild and free down in soul country, On my way, way back home, Oh I’ve been a fool for sure, To ever think she’d come knocking at the door, Help me, help you, I need love and so do you.” Those sentiments are wrapped in a driving beat, kinetic bass line, crunchy guitars and passionate vocals. Singing with strong conviction is critical in making a tune like this work for the listener. The emotions of the players transcend the conveyance of the pop song and make it something more. What more could we wish for in a song?
Missed or something Like that…
Late in November – The 1984 Draft conjure a gem of two songs that faces maturity, family dynamics and the challenge of holding on to faith over time. Appropriately titled ‘Destination Boulevard’ – these songs explore the difficulties of the current moment that we find ourselves facing together and separately where we are sheltering in place. The first song, ‘Shame about Grace’, uncovers the problems of managing family, work and the centrality of holding on to beliefs in the face of challenges. The song propelled by a clever guitar melody that crosses various genres, a pulsating bass line and strong dynamic percussion, ‘Shame about Grace’ is evidence of growth in the songwriting and further development of the band’s sonic qualities that captivate the listener. The “other” song on Destination Boulevard ‘Counting Up’ starts with a jazzy instrumental interlude that leads to Joe Anderl singing about the anticipation of adulthood and the freedom that comes with controlling our destiny. Then the narrative changes as the idea of the pandemic creating a pause in the idea of future better days takes those freedoms away. Yet there are still some joys left around us if we care to see them. The twin guitar attack of Eli Alban and Joe Anderl creates a swinging swirl of guitar cacophony while the narrator discusses all of the tasks and blessings accomplished and experienced during quarantine. Consider these two songs the musical equivalent of soulful perspective. Also, recommend The 1984 Drafts’ previous album ‘Makes Good Choices.’
Glenn Donaldson’s self-made project is a pitch perfect collection of lovely ringing guitars, laconic vocal, pulsating bass and reverb-laden melodies that carries the listener for days. The hooky ‘Last Summer in a Rented Room’ leads the album’s eight tracks of melodic indie goodness. Part Belle and Sebastian, part lo-fi Lemonheads, part Ultimate Painting – this is what beautiful indie pop is supposed to sound and feel like – and should feel like this far more often. The lyrics have an immediate impact for the listener that roll around like a confessional diary entry and the pleading of a kind friend who has taken the time to truly respond to the “How are you doing today?” question that most of us ignore and answer with a false, hollow “fine.” This album and especially the lead track – ‘Last Summer in a Rented Room’, ‘Your Parents Were Wrong About You’, and ‘Worst Side of Town’ provide material for the gristmill of our consciousness. The entire album has a personal power drawn from the fleeting moments of fitting together that drift away while we watch the distance expand all around us. Recommend the entire album.
If you have recommendations for future editions of this column, please contact Dr. J at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember the brief before you contact us, the music either needs to be released in the particular month or is a song that should be celebrated as a “missed” catch. You can find Dr. J on social media on twitter and Instagram at drjytaa.