Nicole Atkins: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

It has been said that Nicole Atkins is untethered to decade or movement, or even the whim of the hipster elite. Drawing inspiration from soul and R&B, 1950s crooners and girl groups and the Brill Building School of Classic Songwriting, Atkins is closer to being the heir to the legacy of Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Carole King.

The highly esteemed Asbury Park, New Jersey singer and songwriter entered the scene with her debut full-length, Neptune City, in 2007 and has steadily launched critically acclaimed albums since.

Atkins’ latest album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, came this July on Single Lock, the Florence, Alabama-based label founded by Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Will Trapp. Single Lock was primarily an outlet for music from the Shoals, including Dylan LeBlanc and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, but now the Nashville-residing Atkins fits more than perfectly into the fold of Southern greatness.

Goodnight Rhonda Lee was yet again met with deservedly rave reviews, but the album came to fruition in a difficult transitional time for Atkins, involving struggles with sobriety and her father’s lung cancer diagnosis. The album title refers to her alias for bad behavior and how it was time for her to put that person to bed. She also reconnected with her old friend Chris Isaak, who encouraged her to write songs that emphasized her vocal strengths (the pair co-wrote the opening track, stunningly beautiful and tellingly entitled “A Little Crazy”).

In order to pursue a timeless sound, she enlisted Niles City Sound music studio in Forth Worth, Texas, including two members of four-piece rock band White Denim, who rose to fame a couple years back for their pivotal role in shaping the sound of Leon Bridges. “We spoke the same language,” says Atkins. “We wanted to make something classic, something that had an atmosphere and a mood of romance and triumph and strength and soul.” Five days of intense live to tape recording made the modern classic Goodnight Rhonda Lee, another giant leap forward for an artist seemingly without the ability to misstep — at least when it comes to creating art.

To dig deeper into her musical roots, we asked Nicol Atkins to share five life-changing albums with you all.

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The Who: Tommy
This is the first record I can remember hearing as a kid. It put me in another world, and I was already new to this one! I used to answer the door at four years old for the mailman and tell him I was the Acid Queen like Tina Turner. I was obsessed.

Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die
When I was 12, I was trying to fit in at my school and asked my Uncle Chuck to take me to the record shop so I could buy a New Kids on the Block tape. Like I said, I was just tryin’ to fit in. We got to the shop and he made me buy Traffic instead. As soon as I heard the playfulness, soul and downright epic-ness of “Staring at Empty Pages,” I forgot all about my need for middle school acceptance.

James Brown: Live at the Apollo
Many, many hours spent in my room to this record pretending I was there at the show dancing and throwing hands at my imaginary band. This record also made me seek out Maceo Parker records, which led to the Funky Meters, which led to Allen Toussaint and so on. James Brown was my gateway drug.

Erykah Badu: Baduizm
When I first heard this record, I thought it was so refreshing. Still do. It was a modern take on jazz and R&B, and it was so personal. She was a poet and so authentic, and I really felt like I knew her listening to this record. She wasn’t dialing in a style. It inspired me to start writing poetry and my own songs.

Denise James: It’s Not Enough To Love
Denise is a singer-songwriter from Detroit. I was working for her record label in 2004. I must’ve listened to this record on repeat that entire summer. It was classic songwriting in the style of Dan Penn and the production took a nod from 1950s’ girl groups. It inspired me to want to give the music my parents grew up with a place in my own time too.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Reklamer

Dan Wilson: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Dan Wilson is a gray eminence looming in the shadows of the glamorous world of pop music. His career spans back to the late 1980s and leads up to critically-acclaimed and commercially successful songwriter and production credits for artists like Adele, Dixie Chicks, Chris Stapleton, John Legend, Dierks Bentley, P!nk, Taylor Swift and many others. He’s received a couple of Grammys on his way, but even though he’s highly cherished, he’s still an unknown name to broader audiences.

Wilson started out as a member of the alternative Minneapolis outfit Trip Shakespeare, led by his brother Matt, who released a number of great (and sadly overlooked) albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s (including gems like 1988’s Are You Shakespearienced? and 1990’s Across the Universe). While Trip Shakespeare was a pioneer band in the alternative ‘90s boom, his next band, Semisonic, turned out as a more commercially appealing act of its decade. The band is still mostly known for their major breakthrough single “Closing Time” from their charting 1998 album, Feeling Strangely Fine.

Semisonic demised in the early 2000s, but Dan Wilson has continued to craft great tunes both as a solo artist and working with others. He has become a highly sought-after songwriting collaborator. Mainly known for Grammy award winning “Not Ready to Make Nice” (co-written with Dixie Chicks) and “Someone Like You” (co-written with Adele), he also co-wrote nine songs on Phantogram’s album, Three.

Dan Wilson has also released a couple of wonderful solo albums. Love Without Fear (2014) is a particularly lovely and eclectic collection of songs, backed by folks like Blake Mills, Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. His upcoming solo album, Re-Covered, is a collection of his reinterpretations of songs he wrote for and with other artists and will be released on August 4, 2017.

We invited Dan Wilson to share his list of 5 Albums That Changed His Life.

“I came of age musically in the ’70s, a great time for albums,” Wilson tells us. “Recording artists aspired to make great LPs, and listeners devoted the time to get immersed in them. Unlike now, at that time, it was commonly agreed that albums were among the highest forms of popular art — movies, paintings, albums. Singles were cool, but the real question was, ‘Can they make the great long playing record?’”

“So as a music lover and aspiring musician, I grew up dreaming of making albums as great as the ones that moved me and transported me to new places,” Wilson continues. “As Stevie Wonder said, ‘To the vision in my mind.’ I could probably make a ’Five Albums That Changed My Life’ list for every decade since 1970; there have been so many. But this list concentrates on early days and albums that set me on my path as a songwriter.”

Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changin’
When I was in junior high school, I lived in a western suburb of Minneapolis called St. Louis Park. The route of the number 17 bus ran past both my high school and my house on its way uptown and then to downtown Minneapolis. It was about 25 minutes from my house to the Walker Library uptown. Walker Library had a collection of popular LPs, which you could listen to there or borrow. I was mostly interested in their Bob Dylan section. They had The Times They Are A-Changing, Bringing it All Back Home, John Wesley Harding and a bunch of other Dylan albums, and I listened to them all. But the one I kept going back to was The Times They Are A-Changing.

[The album] was so apocalyptic and prophetic. Dylan’s voice was resonant but calm, and he still managed to sound like a lone voice of rage on a mountaintop, heralding the doom of mankind. He made all the other singers seem soft and syrupy. The album had my favorite two sides of Bob Dylan, the romantic croon and the howl of outrage, but it leaned heavy on the latter: “Hollis Brown,” about a poor farmer murdering his starving family, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Only a Pawn in their Game” and the title song, one of my favorite songs ever. And on the crooner side, there was “Boots of Spanish Leather,” which still slays me.

Joni Mitchell: Hejira
I had heard a few of Joni Mitchell’s folk hits — “Both Sides Now” and “The Circle Game,” among others — when this album hit me like the number 17 bus. It wasn’t a folk album. Not even close. If anything, it was a rock album hybridized with jazz. I was already getting into jazz through Weather Report. That band’s bassist, Jaco Pastorius, affected me in the way I imagine Jimi Hendrix might have affected young musicians ten years earlier. And Jaco played on several of Hejira’s songs. His electric bass a liquid and bittersweet countermelodic voice to Joni’s wry and pitiless revelations. As she laid bare her own hypocrisies and fears, his bass flew up above her voice and cast a golden glow of hope on the songs. And she gave that bass all the room in the world. It was the best of jazz and pop in one record and I’ve never quite shaken the spell.

Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness’ First Finale
I could do a “Five Albums that Changed My Life” with all Stevie albums. This album was the biggest revelation of them all. I first heard Fulfillingness’ First Finale in the basement of a friend. He played me the song “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” and it blew my mind. A pop song about God, religion, mankind’s fate, hope. It was almost too huge for me to take in and so very beautiful. This album also had fiery political protest: “You Haven’t Done Nothin’;” sexy love: “Creepin’;” breaking up: “It Ain’t No Use;” and the darkness of “They Won’t Go When I Go.” It had everything, a whole world in ten songs.

Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville
In 1991, I was trying to figure out how to write songs about my own life, my circle of friends, my small adventures and large-scale dreams in Minneapolis. My friends and rivals in the band scene seemed like enough of a cast of characters for a song, but I wasn’t sure how to write it. So when Exile in Guyville came along, it was doubly funny and joyful for me. First, even though she was writing about the scene in Chicago, it might as well have been my friends she was skewering for their contradictions and covertly retro values. I recognized those people and laughed along with Phair’s ultra-frank narrator. And second, she was showing me, through the example of this album, how one’s own circle of friends and lovers could be more than enough to populate a lifetime’s worth of songs.

Oasis: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
“Live Forever,” from Oasis’ first album Definitely Maybe, was already enough to put that band’s songwriter Noel Gallagher into my personal pantheon of rock. But Morning Glory took it to the next level. “Some Might Say,” “Champagne Supernova,” “Wonderwall,” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” were all first-listen classics to my ears, and they’re still shockingly fresh and alive. How much nonsense can you pack into a song and still have it make perfect sense? How little heavy metal can you include in a song and still have it rock? How much hopeful uplift can shine around the snarl of dimed Marshall stacks? When that album came out, I felt a rush of permission. You could make great rock records without being able to sing like Chris Cornell or Layne Staley. What a relief! Not that I sounded much like Liam Gallagher either when I sang, but on a good day, I could keep pace with his brother, Noel.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Fugazi: Never Repeating

Legendary post-hardcore outfit Fugazi is one of the most important, respected and influential bands of 20th century American underground. Playing a crucial role in the growth of the alternative music scene, its musical, political and social legacy can hardly be overstated.

Between forming in 1986 and entering an indefinite hiatus in 2003, Fugazi crafted a remarkable album catalogue, always pushing forward and tapping into the unknown with each new recording. Their legacy is important on so many levels: from contextualizing the DIY punk spirit and spreading the straightedge ethos, to shaping the sound of multiple genre in their wake, including indie rock, emo and post-hardcore.

Washington, D.C., was the hardcore capitol of the 1980s (also known as ‘harDCore’), with Fugazi bandleader Ian MacKaye playing a central role from early on. Back in the late ‘70s, MacKaye played in the landmark hardcore band the Teen Idles, which is, in part, how he and Jeff Nelson came to found the now-legendary record label Dischord in 1980. By the time Dischord released the Idles’ debut EP, Minor Disturbance, the band had already evolved into iconic hardcore outfit Minor Threat, which Nelson played drums in.

Alongside fellow D.C. act Bad Brains and Southern California’s Black Flag, Minor Threat are credited for setting the standard for all hardcore to come. With their song “Straight Edge,” they became synonymous with a punk subculture that abstained from using drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

By the mid 1980s, the hardcore scene had gradually immersed into a stagnant musical force characterized by violent, reckless behavior, on and off stage, and Ian MacKaye confronted those consequences by dissolving Minor Threat entirely. He then started up Embrace, a short-lived band connected to the 1985 ‘Revolution Summer’ movement (together with Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty and others), who took a clear stance against the violence and sexism plaguing the hardcore punk scene. A year later Fugazi was born.

Composed of MacKaye (guitar, vocal), Dag Nasty’s Colin Sears on drums (soon to be replaced by Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty) and Joe Lally on bass, the band’s lineup solidified when Rites of Spring’s Guy Picciotto (guitar, vocal) joined full-time in 1987.

Fugazi rejected the standard hardcore motifs in favor of a something much more dynamic, complex and exploratory. Not too unlike the Clash, PIL or Gang of Four a couple of years prior, Fugazi embraced reggae, dub, funk, art rock and post-punk and became a paragon for legions. Twenty years later, highly inventive albums like Repeater (1990) and Red Medicine (1995) still shine. Fugazi reached their artistic zenith with the critically acclaimed sixth album, The Argument (2001). They’ve been on hiatus since 2003.

Bjørn Hammershaug

JD McPherson: Rock & Roll Savior

JD McPherson grew up on a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma where he from early on caught up on music, discovering ’70s guitar rock and punk before, as a teen, digging backwards in the archives of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, country, R&B, soul, delta blues and guitar jazz. Sometimes dubbed a rock revivalist and roots resuscitator, his music is highly potent by its own merits.

After graduating from college McPherson worked as an art teacher in Tulsa for a couple of years until his school board let him go, a blessing in disguise that allowed him to spend more time pursuing his musical aspirations. By then, JD had dug deeper into the music of yonder and started to fully shape an authentic retro-sound based on profound musical knowledge and vintage gear.

His debut album Signs and Signifiers saw the light of day via Chicago standup bassist Jimmy Sutton’s Hi-Style label in 2010 before receiving a major re-release by Rounder Records two years later. Rounder also launched his 2015 sophomore album, the more expansive and critically acclaimed Let The Good Times Roll, which was described as ‘flat out sensational’ (Uncut), ‘a foot-stomping, ass-shaking thing of beauty’ (Popmatters), and lauded by American Songwriter, who wrote that ‘to pigeonhole McPherson as some well-intentioned-but-why-bother? retro minded relic is missing the point.’

McPherson has gradually expanded his circle of associates and partners, including Eric Church, Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Butch Walker and fellow Oklahoman Parker Millsap. And as his musical scope has broadened along with his geographical horizon. He recently decided to move his family from Oklahoma to buzzing scene of East Nashville, where the new album was initially born.

The first attempt on recording the material was not successful, however. And while fumbling to find the right direction, JD flew over to California by the invitation from his pal, Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme. Along with QOTSA and Dead Weather multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, the three blasted out the songs way outside of McPherson’s comfort zone. Suffice to say, he returned with a clear head, new perspectives and even learned that legendary RCA Studio B was willing to host his band for making the record.

He might never be the latest craze or biggest hype, but JD McPherson is making music meant to last based on some basic, time-tested principles. As he once said: “Everybody likes rock & roll. They just either won’t admit it or don’t know it yet.”

We talked with JD McPherson about his upcoming album, the recording sessions, new directions in songwriting and why Fun House is the most perfect album ever made.

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Congratulations on a new album. What do we get?

Thanks for that. You’ll be getting a truly romantic garage record.

When you started writing songs, did you have a clear idea of what was to become Undivided Heart and Soul?

These songs first popped up when I was producing The Cactus Blossoms’ record a couple of years back. The title track was written during that time, and songs slowly began to appear in the months following.

What inspired you the most, and is there a red thread throughout the album?

I was listening to a lot of rowdy music at that time: Link Wray, The Creation, The Stooges, Broncho… A lot of that music influenced the direction of this record. This album marks three notable – notable to me, anyway – new directions in my songwriting:

1. The first time I’ve purposefully co-written songs with strangers
2. The first time I’ve told secrets in lyrics
3. The first time I’ve told a story about strangers I’ve observed in life.

These may seem normal things to do, but it was all new territory for me.

What can you tell about the recording process and working with this material in the studio?

I think that this record was greatly influenced by where it was recorded

Because the record is so gnarly, you’d never guess where it was recorded in the historic RCA Studio B: home of hundreds of country music hits through the ’50s and ’60s, home of the early Everly Brothers hits, home of the Roy Orbison Monument recordings, home of Elvis Presley’s post-Army career hits… The place is full of phantoms.

It’s a museum in the daytime, so every day, we had to wheel in all of our equipment, record, and tear it down at night. We brought in a ton of old equipment, but there are still a few instruments and pieces of gear there that definitely informed this record

For instance, the vibraphone you hear on recordings such as “Crying” by Roy Orbison is all over the record. The piano that Floyd Cramer played on “Last Date” is on the record. Ray and I wrote a couple of songs on that piano. It was a magic piano. We couldn’t keep our hands off all that stuff.

Another thing to note is that RCA Studio B would seem to pull out songs that sound like RCA Studio B from us… lush, orchestrated… At first, that’s what I wanted… but the longer we were there, the songs got louder and fuzzier and more irreverent. It’s almost like it was in the air, like something in that room was wanting some rebellious music to happen.

How will you pair Undivided Heart And Soul with Let the Good Times Roll?

It has more in common with tracks such as “Head Over Heels” than the other R&B material. More ratty, fuzz guitar, less saxophones. Lots of electric bass. It has a bit of a punk rock streak.

How do you think you’ve developed as a songwriter since your debut?

I’ve been doing a lot of writing on the side the past two years, and it’s caused me to pay more attention to the crafting of a song. What you call ‘songcraft’. My old method was much more stream-of-consciousness; I just wrote what came immediately to mind, and that’s the way it stayed, without really analyzing it too much.

Also, I think about the recording process while I’m writing. I’m always thinking about guitar sounds, grooves, rhythms, instrumentation… even while I’m just writing lyrics.

Please describe the ideal setting to ultimately enjoy your new album.

My friend LJ listened to it and said it was ‘Good in the evening, and it’s good in the morning, too.’ Try to listen on a good system. I’ve been listening to it on good headphones.

Most perfect album ever made and why?

Ask me another time, and I’ll give you a different answer, but for now I’ll say Fun House by the Stooges, because it’s built up from the most salient ideas of the entire history of rock n’ roll up to that point in time. It’s very primitive, and somehow still carries a bit of sophistication. It’s got brains, but it breathes through its mouth. I think I may listen to Raw Power more frequently, but Fun House has the best ideas of the Stooges records.

And finally, how would you pair Undivided Heart And Soul with a meal or beverage?

Black coffee (caffeine) and bananas (potassium).

Bjørn Hammershaug

Jane Weaver: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

When BBC Radio 6, the British channel for cutting edge music, recently celebrated the best music of 2017 so far by showcasing 20 essential albums, it was no surprise to see Jane Weaver’s Modern Kosmology prominently placed on the list. Described as an album that “masterfully darts from avant-pop to euphoric kraut via what can be best described as psychy party music,” the listing is just another addition to what has become one of this year’s universally critically lauded albums, and will more than likely appear on numerous year-end lists in six months’ time.

Modern Kosmology is Jane Weaver’s eight full-length as a solo artist, but despite her voluminous creative output and strong critical standing, she’s still considered mostly as an unknown star outside of a circle of devoted music lovers. Weaver’s career is actually traceable back to the early 1990s to indie/folktronica bands Kill Laura and Misty Dixon. When the former demised towards the end of the decade, Weaver began working under her own name, quickly establishing her identity and unique voice (as heard when Coldplay sampled her on their “Another’s Arms” for Ghost Stories), but she never kept in one particular direction. Rather, she’s always been eager to experiment with new sounds, including psychedelic folk, synth-pop, library music, experimental avant-garde and beyond, finding a near perfect balance between pastoral bliss and retro-futuristic electronica on more recent albums like The Silver Globe (2014) and this year’s Modern Kosmology.

Modern Kosmology is a mesmerizing listening experience. Rarely can an album capture such a musical breadth and emotional depth. Mojo magazine compared her kraut-ish repetition, analogue synths and beguiling vocal melodies to Hawkwind, Sandy Denny, Neu! and Velvet Underground, but added that “in lesser hands, such building-blocks might suggest hipster tedium of the kind that now clogs up so many record racks. Weaver is light years beyond that, using motorik rhythms and ancient technology to create music that brims with urgency, and originality.”

We asked Jane Weaver to write about five albums that touched her life and music. It’s wonderful read that helps fills the puzzle that is the musical enigma of Jane Weaver.

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Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
I was 5 or 6 when I first saw Kate Bush on TV. I’d never been so captivated by a singer before; her originality struck me like a bolt of lightning and it was at this precise moment I said to myself, “This is what I want to do! I want to be her!” I spent a lot of time dancing around the living room with Kate Bush on TV, and my parents bought me The Kick Inside for Christmas on tape. It’s such a strange record: mystical, mature and musically expansive in sound. I would listen to pop music primarily, and disco (around that time I was also in love with the Bee Gees), but this was different, more other worldly; a mixture of fairy tale and melody. I love the whole story of the record, it’s such a joy to me that David Gilmour from Pink Floyd was instrumental in her success and gave her a chance, and that serendipity played a part in her music being heard, because he was on downtime between albums and tours, which led to her being signed by EMI. The string arrangements and production is pretty sublime, the words are evocative and sensual, although I didn’t obviously understand what she was alluding to at the time. I can barely believe she was so young.

Hawkwind: Church of Hawkwind
I grew up in a small industrial town between Liverpool and Manchester. As a teenager my friends and I started hanging around with bikers and hippies, anyone who looked a bit different and was into music and counterculture. This record for me represents this time… me as a 17-year-old hanging around in someones flat, having fun, spending time listening to lots of rock albums and psychedelic stuff I’d never heard of, like Gong and The Pink Fairies. There was also the [Windsor] Free Festival scene, which Hawkwind were pioneers of. I knew Hawkwind’s more popular stuff, but this record represents a musical awakening, not only because of some of the expansive sound, production-wise – its the perfect three-way marriage of rock, krautrock and electronic – but there’s also TV commentary of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald – so it’s a rich soup!

I think Dave Brock is an absolute legend. as a songwriter and producer. I think this record shows how good he is. It’s really experimental, but melodic too. I sampled “Star Cannibal” as the backing for “Electric Mountain” on my last album. I was able to forge a new pop melody on top of it; the music is such a great loop, I had to ring Dave and ask him for permission. He was cool about it, which I was glad about because it was important for me to have his blessing. I think most artists who have historical record deals and publishing are flexible about sampling, but the red tape involved can be ludicrous. Publishers are sometimes renowned for wanting to charge ridiculous “corporate” usage fees, even on an indie release, so it was a nerve wracking time. If I can share some of the joy that Church of Hawkwind gives me to other people then I’m happy.

The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath
I didn’t really know much about this album, other than hearing “Holy Are You” as the lead track, and being a fan of David Axelrod. I love “Earth Rot” and the tape echo female vocal on the warnings, for instance. I love the sleeve and it’s been in the house for years.

This record gives me the shivers and makes my feel like crying (in a good way). It’s as if it’s so evocative it belongs to some higher astral plane. It’s connective and spiritual in equal measure; it’s almost not enough but when you hear some of the string arrangements it makes you want to burst. I have no idea about Axelrod’s spiritual beliefs but as a raised Catholic it has the powerful nostalgia and presence of choraled church vocals and brooding emotive passages like the crescendo of a hymn.

My string reference points are normally Axelrod and [French composer] Jean Claude Vannier; I think those are probably the best. Production-wise this has clarity, but also seems unstructured – for instance if you listen to the drums, they sound like the patterns change within the song like someone is still working it out – and yet it’s totally perfect. The fuzz guitar lines and bass sound; sonically there’s a definite link for me when it comes to Vannier and Axelrod. Maybe it’s because it’s got everything I love about the beginnings of symphonic rock, and I never tire of it.

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
It’s a record that everyone nods to as a masterpiece. When it was initially released it took a while to gain momentum, but it’s now regarded as a cult classic. Although the subject matter is provocative and uncomfortable (in the book Melody Nelson by Gainsbourg he is obsessed with an underage girl, played by his then-girlfriend Jane Birkin) music-wise it’s Jean Claude Vannier and Serge Gainsbourg at their best. Gainsbourg’s reputation outside of France was based on his pop hits, not much was known about his artistic genius as an innovative songwriter and lyricist. His delivery always so matter of fact… part narration, part melody.

The beauty of “Ah Melody” when it starts and then the groove of the bass and drums, and then later “En Melody” is so original, there’s almost too many good points. My only complaint is that, its all just not long enough. It’s like these amazing snippets of perfection that make you sad when they finish, but maybe that’s why its so good.

Some years ago now, I was lucky enough to see Jean Claude Vannier perform these songs with some of the original and associated library musicians at The Barbican in the UK and The Hollywood Bowl. It was an emotional experience, a testament to its genius.

Broadcast: Work and Non-work
Even though this is a compilation of early singles, it was the first Broadcast “album” I heard and loved. Its a mixture of melancholy and joy for me. When I first heard it I was going through a breakup and then realized that my newfound freedom was to be short-lived, as I fell for someone else. It’s funny, when you are emotionally charged, how you interpret lyrics, and I was lucky that [singer Trish Keenan’s] poetry found me.

Initially I didn’t realize it was a modern record because the instrumentation sounded to me like Silver Apples or 50 Foot Hose. The drum pattern rolls and electronics but vocal-wise always so melodic. Even when Trish is sounding sad it’s uplifting because she has the gift of drawing you into her voice and story.

I was pretty devastated when she passed away; such a tragedy. Broadcast’s music still gives me so much joy, and later albums prove the weight of their artistry and writing, how they were flourishing sonically and becoming more expansive, but this is the one that initially stopped me in my tracks.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Molly Burch: Hot Chocolate & Past Loves

Originally hailing from Los Angeles, California, Molly Burch is an undeniable talent on the rise. Following in the aesthetic footsteps of Dusty Springfield and Patsy Cline, the singer-songwriter relocated from L.A. to Asheville, NC, before settling in her current base of Austin.

You can hear each of those places in her wistful sound, which sports the sort of melancholic, down-and-out twang so often associated with the best of the old school country’s more emotionally affecting offerings. That much is perfectly manifested on the somber and smoky A/B singles “Downhearted” and “I Adore You,” her debut releases on the venerable indie label Captured Tracks.

* * *

Who is Molly Burch? Can you please introduce yourself?

I am a singer and songwriter living in Austin, TX, originally from Los Angeles. I’m 25 years old and a Scorpio.

Tell us a little about your recent single release. What do we get?

I was signed to Captured Tracks this year and in September they released my 7’’ record which featured two of my songs — both love songs. “Downhearted” is more upbeat and “I Adore You” is a slow ballad. You get 10 minutes of fun, romantic melancholy.

Who were your musical heroes growing up?

My main musical heroes were Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill and Billie Holiday.

When and how did you first get into music?

I always loved to sing but was very shy. I didn’t start writing music until college. The first times that I sang in front of others were semi-forced requests of Britney and Christina impersonations during lunch in middle school. I realized how much I liked performing, but it definitely took me a bit to gain confidence and find my own voice. I will still do Christina on request.

Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?

First Take by Roberta Flack was one of the first albums I owned and I remember listening to “I Told Jesus” on repeat. It had a strong impact on my personal style and how I viewed vocalists and general musicality.

What’s the best new song you recently discovered?

“Read U Wrote U” by RuPaul featuring the Cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2.

Can you share a fun fact about you or your music?

I was born on 10/23 at 10:23 a.m.! Is that fun?

What’s your favorite activity besides music?

Any activity that I can do at home in my nightgown is my favorite.

What’s coming next for you?

My debut full-length album will be released in early 2017 via Captured Tracks! I’m extremely excited and grateful to them.

Looking one year ahead, where would you like to see yourself?

I would love to be touring a lot.

And finally, if your music was a food what would it be? Please describe.

My music would be hot chocolate, because it’s comforting and dreamy but could also make you think of past loves.

Bjørn Hammershaug
(originally published on read.tidal, October 20, 2016)

Unsung Heroes: Buffalo Tom

Boston was a pivotal nerve center for Eastern seaboard punk and hardcore in the early 1980s. A tight-knit musical community of often politically charged bands on either side of hard drinking or straight edge, commonly bonded by intensity and violence, Boston hardcore breathed through the city’s various college radio stations, Newbury Comics and the whole fanzine culture.

The scene also enjoyed the luxury of dedicated local record labels, in particular Taang!, that paved way for the alternative music boom to come. The hardcore scene waned within a few years, but the cultural impact it made is far more everlasting, and Boston had by then established a well-oiled infrastructure for fostering underground music. Taang! also gradually evolved beyond its hardcore roots, releasing hometown alternative pioneers like The Lemonheads, Moving Targets and Swirlies.

Another crucial point of interest in the growth of New England’s alternative sound was Boston recording studio Fort Apache, which housed seminal bands like Pixies, Throwing Muses, Belly, Dinosaur Jr., Bullet LaVolta, Sebadoh, Blake Babies and literal thousands more over the years. This further fortified Boston as one of the major ports of emerging indie rock of the 1980s and 1990s, continuously being fed each year by new hordes of students and local kids, including Bill Janovitz.

In 1982, at the age of 16, Bill and his family relocated from Long Island to Massachusetts. The move brought the aspiring musician straight into a honey bucket of independent creativity and vibrant teen spirit. Janovitz soon discovered usual suspects like Black Flag and the Replacements, who roamed across America and played every town and every club at the time. Attending the post-punk breeding ground of UMass Amherst, he met up with soon to be bandmates Chris Colbourn (bass) and drummer Tom Maginnis, and also befriended J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., who later became an important patron of the band soon to be baptized Buffalo Tom.

Their eponymous 1989 debut album, Buffalo Tom, recorded by Mascis at Fort Apache, introduced us to a band peppered with teen angst and a knack for loud, distorted walls of guitars that couldn’t quite hide an obvious flair for pop hooks underneath it all. Propelled by the lead single “Sunflower Suit,” a regular at MTV’s 120 Minutes back in the days, the debut established the band as immediate indie darlings.

But Buffalo Tom soon replaced the charming ramshackle noisefest in favor for a more coherent slacker sound on their 1990 sophomore effort, Birdbrain, gradually leading up to the power trio’s classic mid period, defined by the critically acclaimed albums Let Me Come Over (1992), Big Red Letter Day (1993) and Sleepy Eyed (1995).

The remarkably steady line-up has continued to release quality albums up to the present, albeit at a slower pace than the years of their youth. Without ever losing their initial spirit, later albums like Three Easy Pieces (2007) and Skins (2011) are characterized by as always-intelligent songwriting, thoughtful and mature without ever losing their biting edge. Buffalo Tom has always balanced on this thin line, between gorgeous melancholy, in-your-face quiet-loud dynamics, jangly post-punk and arena sized anthems.

Of all the albums in their consistently strong catalog, Let Me Come Over holds a special place amongst many of their fans. Celebrating the record’s 25th anniversary this year, it is a flawless tour de force of poignant songwriting, packed with hook-laden, angst-ridden anthems like “Taillights Fade,” “Velvet Roof,” “Porchlight” and “Mineral.” In a fair world, Let Me Come Over would have secured Buffalo Tom among the stars.

And of course, they lived through an exciting time of alternative American guitar rock, witnessing firsthand the insanity of the Nevermind-fueled craze of major label deals, radio airplay and TV-appearances. Buffalo Tom surely benefited from this boom, but they never received their deserved mainstream recognition.

In a recent interview with Stereogum, Bill Janovitz wisely reflects on their lack of commercial success: “I can give you theories why I think we weren’t bigger. I think our lyrics are opaque, but we’re not like Pavement with opaque music. A lot of our music was very emotional, but it wasn’t really direct songwriting. There really wasn’t a compelling frontman. It was faceless and nerdy, but not ‘nerdy cool,’ like Weezer. It was a bunch of things that were never quite right. I wish I could blame a press agent or a manager or a label. But I think we were given an ample shot.”

But time might still be on their side. While a huge lump of their peers has fallen back to obscurity, Buffalo Tom still shines as a beacon of guitar rock. Their timelessly crafted songs have never been in style – and they’ve never gone out of style. BBC praised its songs as “a deeper take on the usual indie fare – slightly more intense than your Lemonheads, not as drunk on soul as Afghan Whigs, but not quite the self-loathing of Nirvana,” while Magnet magazine defined it “by the contradictions between Buffalo Tom’s rock-star aspirations and its inability to stomach the posturing that comes along with it, choosing instead to lay waste to its imperfections with some of the most devastatingly beautiful guitar rock of the ’90s.”

As a songwriter that has influenced generations to come we talked to Bill Janovitz about 5 albums that changed his life, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Let Me Come Over and their ongoing anniversary tour.

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Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads

I received these two LPs on the same day from the next-door neighbors of my grandparents when I was about 8 years old, in 1973-74. I had no older siblings, so the only records I had around the house were from my parents’ and they were not real rock and rollers or record buyers, so there was a scarce collection of Elvis Presley, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, Bossa Nova stuff, etc. But I was obsessed with AM radio and carried around a yellow Panasonic transistor radio wherever I went. But mostly spent hours in my bedroom listening to it.

Receiving these two mono LPs as a hand-me-down, though, was a huge revelation. I knew almost nothing about Dylan and had only heard a relative few Stones songs by that point. These two albums, both released in 1965, were truly life changing. This is not an overstatement; they were so mysterious and dark, and made me want to know more about the artists, depicted so enigmatically lackadaisical or aloof on their respective covers. Both records are steeped in the blues and filled with arcane references. In Bob’s case, there is the surrealist symbolism and amphetamine-driven stream of consciousness, Biblical, Shakespearean, Americana, and other obscure allusions. With the Stones, they are variously lampooning an “Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man” or dropping London references, like “an heiress” who “owns a block in St. John’s Wood.” And the Stones had all these covers of classic soul and blues songs making up half the album. So I eventually went on to find the originals.

It took me years to figure out what the hell all of this was about. And in Dylan’s case, I am still not sure. But it was all driving, compelling, and sexy music and I became hooked to smart rock and roll from that point.

The Beatles: The Beatles (The White Album)

I had bought Sgt. Peppers when I was 12, though the first LP I recall buying was Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Both were hugely important in my life, but as I picked up the guitar to learn at age 12, they were both distant from what I felt I could even possibly learn how to play. Meanwhile, the White Album was far more approachable, with the exception of some of the darker experimental corners. One of the first songs I learned how to play was “Rocky Raccoon.” It might still hold number one Beatles record in my heart.

Talking Heads: Remain in Light

My “cool uncle” from NYC bought me three records (I later discovered it was his younger and hipper boyfriend who picked them out) for my 14th birthday, clearly intended to open my mind, which was begging to be opened, having grown up in the decidedly more conservative suburb of Huntington, Long Island, where ’60s and ’70s mainstream rock was holding strong in 1980. They gave me a Nina Hagen EP, the first U2 record, Boy, and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. The Hagen record was a hoot and a mild shock. My buds and I knew about punk rock but I could not yet figure out that Nina was a poseur/train jumper. No one had heard of U2 yet, and that sounded so new and fresh, yet accessible. I am not sure if I knew they would become so huge so fast, but neither was I surprised when they did.

But it was Remain in Light that drew me in immediately and I keep listening to though all my years. The Eno-driven production; the loops; the Fela Kuti and African rhythms; the off-kilter paranoid and funny poetry of David Byrne’s lyrics; but most of all, the still-insane-sounding guitar work by Adrian Belew, who I think was the most innovative guitar player since Jimi Hendrix — all of it blew my mind and made me ambitious to be an artist, to make music that was new and at least attempted to be innovative. I had known the Heads for a few years, “Psycho Killer,” “Take Me to the River,” “Cities,” and “Life During Wartime,” were all getting lots of airplay in NY. But this record was revolutionary for me and I became a huge fan, going to see them in Providence on the tour that was filmed for the Jonathan Demme (RIP) movie, Stop Making Sense.

R.E.M.: Murmur

My trajectory of seeking out new music continued, and became especially easier when I turned 16 and my family relocated to the suburbs of Boston in 1982. College radio was and continues to be a strong presence around here. I finished my last two years of high school in a tiny conservative town, with a graduating class of 180 (compared to around 800 at my New York school). But lots of the kids in my class were into new wave, punk rock, etc. The Clash were huge and kids were buying the Violent Femmes first record, the Specials, Police, plus the more adventurous of us were going into Boston to Newbury Comics record store (there was only one at the time) and buying New Order, Mission of Burma, the dBs, Echo and the Bunnymen, and that sort of thing. It was just an exciting time. So much seemed to be changing rapidly from 1980 to 1984. One of the bands that everyone loved was the English Beat, who played the Walter Brown hockey arena at Boston University in the spring of 1983. A bunch of us loaded into a few cars and went to skank our skinny asses off.

But the opening band, R.E.M., stopped me in my tracks. No one had heard of them. Instead of the light and bright ska-pop of the Beat, R.E.M. was this murky, yes, jangly group that looked like artsy hippies in flannel shirts, long hair, white shirts with vests, Rickenbacker guitars, in blue lights and shadows. Occasional lyrics floated to the surface of this mysterious, dreamlike music. Just as with the Stones and Dylan records, they were the proverbial portals and I wanted to dive in and learn more, and just as with those artists, I became a lifelong fan of R.E.M. I felt like they were my discovery. It was not hand-me-down music. It was an unparalleled thrill when Buffalo Tom was invited to stay at Peter Buck’s house in Athens on one of our first tours. He was an exceedingly gracious host who kept us up until dawn playing records and talking about music.

If I were to go past five of these, I would add Let It Be by the Replacements and Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü, both of which directly changed my pathway and helped lead Chris, Tom, and I into forming Buffalo Tom. But that’s for another day.

Bjørn Hammershaug