BUT HAVE YOU HEARD is our occasional music recommendation column in which we dare to dive into the murky depths of Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube (and more) to bring you our most choice audio selections, new and old. Sometimes obscure, sometimes mainstream, but always interesting, find out what The Grumps are listening to this week!
dead meadows, live from the pillars of god
The Reverberation Appreciation Society — the folks behind Austin’s annual Levitation psych-rock festival — have been releasing a slew of live recordings over the last few months, drawing from sets recorded both at the festival itself and for pandemic livestreams. One of the latter is Dead Meadows’ Live from the Pillars of God, recorded in the fall of 2020 at Camp Mozumdar, “hidden away in the mountains above Los Angeles […] part of a sprawling complex built by A.K. Mozumdar and his followers in the mid 20th century in the mountains of Crestline, California as a place of worship for people of all faiths.” The video of the set is mind-bogglingly cool, with the trio performing in front of five massive stone pillars while lights swirl all over them.
Thankfully, the audio’s been released as an album, as well, and the first single, “Rains in the Desert,” is a brilliantly executed version of the track from Dead Meadow’s 2013 LP, Warble Womb. Yeah, it absolutely pulls from Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath,” but the way the band goes further afield and jams out has me mesmerized. Dead Meadow’s always been one of those psych bands I was a distant admirer of, but I think this live album might’ve made me a fan. — NICK SPACEK
THE HARVEST MINISTERS, LITTLE DARK MANSION
I was first introduced to the music of Dublin folk-rock darlings The Harvest Ministers by a bandmate who had a habit of putting together mix CDs for me of bands he thought I should know about. He told me that when he tried to pull a couple of tracks off the group’s 1993 debut Little Dark Mansion, he found himself totally unable to settle on one, or two, or even five songs that would encapsulate it, and so burned the album in its entirety and gave it to me, confident that it’d hook me. He wasn’t wrong there.
To modern ears it sounds very Britpop, not Britpop as folks at the time thought of it but Britpop as we remember it today, colored heavily by the string-heavy moroseness of the mid-period Oasis songs that still enjoy heavy airplay on American variety stations. But the Ministers’ musical pedigree is more American than anything: the shuffling folk-rock rhythms of Neil Young, the bright, jangly college-radio guitars of REM, the slurring, waves-on-the-sea vocal cadence of Bob Dylan, and the warm home-recording atmosphere of eccentric singer-songwriters like Daniel Johnston and East River Pipe.
These songs come at you in such a low-key manner that you’re surprised by the violence with which they’ll worm their way under your skin. Never has a clean electric guitar arpeggio and a simple violin line done more to blow your heart open. You’ll never bop along to lyrics about loneliness, abandonment, and regret more readily than when they’re sung in Will Merriman’s plaintive yelp and backed up by Gerardette Bailey’s honey-sweet alto. Merriman likes to write lyrics full of arresting turns of phrase and inventive metaphors, full of melancholy, rain-soaked Irish imagery, with rhythms that cruise along just long enough for you to get into a groove and then break off suddenly. Frustrated desire seems to be a running theme on Little Dark Mansion – saxophones and violins play flourishes without ever blossoming into full-on chamber pop, songs end in the middle of phrases, the song “A River Wedding” builds up tempo to a ferocious bridge and then collapses back into its original listless tempo – all played by a band with a fanbase whose obsessive devotion is inversely proportional to its size.
Throw these guys a listen. Come on. They sound so sad, you basically have to. — TYLER PETERSON
sum 41, all killer, no filler
Ok so it’s not TRL, but close enough
I mention this album because the single “Fat Lip” was huge during my introduction to Total Request Live. It was the summer of 2001 and I just completed the grind known as 3rd grade. I remember looking at Carson Daly and thinking “damn that dude paints his fingernails black, he’s probably seen some shit.”
TRL is the one time in my life where I felt voting mattered. I’d be on the phone campaigning hard for “Fat Lip.” The days it hit #1 were the rare instances where I felt democracy was alive and well.
That’s not true, when I was in middle school I was heavily invested in the 2004 Presidential Election. I made my Republican aunt watch Fahrenheit 451 and said “your boy’s going down….and stop saying John Kerry looks like Herman Munster!” Then Kerry lost and I proceeded to slick my hair back and put on a red tie while saying “we have to do whatever it takes to find those WMDs!” Yep, I turned like Judd Nelson in St. Elmo’s Fire.
That’s also bullshit. Around that time I was entering puberty and was more invested in softcore porn starring Misty Mundae on Showtime.
Now that I think about it, this album’s just ok. I like the first half more than the second half. When it comes to pop-punk albums with a consistent energy, All Time Low’s So Wrong, It’s Right is more quintessential. That group was my generation’s Blink 182 when those guys stopped being fun and started influencing emo kids to ruin The Nightmare Before Christmas. — EMILIO AMARO
GONE FROM MY SIGHT, TWENTY TWENTY
With a full-length release named after the shitstorm of a year that we all endured in 2020 – Twenty Twenty – Gone from My Sight is a little-known throwback new wave act that plays incredibly catchy melodic alternative songs that are hard to keep out of your head. The album not only firmly put me back on to the new wave sound but easily became a permanent fixture in my rotation since its October release. The self-deprecating wit, relatable lyrics, and danceable beats all contribute to what was easily the best release of 2020 for this editor of a music/film blog and long-time music nerd.
Standout Tracks: “Selfish,” “Chrome Dynasty”
RIYL: New Order, Depeche Mode, The Human League
— JUSTIN HARLAN
Justin writes a full review of this release at his blog The Farsighted.
ROSIE FLORES, GIRL OF THE CENTURY
Living at a high elevation, an hour away from the Rocky Mountains, late March might technically be spring, but Mother Nature likes to belch out heavy, wet snowfall occasionally until May; she’s a cruel mistress. I got them Springtime Blues (and frequent depressive episodes, courtesy of Adult ADHD), so music is always a welcome respite. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of classic and contemporary rockabilly and one of my favorite recent discoveries has been Rosie Flores, a veteran singer-songwriter. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been spinning her 2009 album, Girl of the Century, frequently and I love its blend of rockabilly, country, and bluegrass. The opening song, “Chauffeur” sets a rollicking good tone–banjo plucking and some old-fashioned fiddling will do that—but the entire album is a sheer delight, a vibrant showcase of Flores’ snappy lyrics and bourbon-soaked vocals. If bouncy rockabilly songs are your jam, “This Little Girls Gone Rockin’,” “Halfway Home,” “I Ain’t Got You,” and “This Cat’s in the Doghouse” will have you tapping your toe (cowboy boots are optional). There are some country-tinged songs like “Last Song” and “Dark Enough at Midnight” that are more sobering, but, thankfully, no images of dogs, empty beer cans, or pickup trucks are conjured to provoke one’s melancholy. Even a bit of sorrow oughtn’t deter one from seeking this album out—it has the right balance of sadness and joie de vivre desired. Now if only this damn snow would melt! —JAY ALARY
WONG CHI-WAI, “I’VE WAITED TIL I’M CRAZY”
The goofy tone of Wong Chi-Wai’s first album, combined with extremely forward thinking and simply strange production made it very hard for me to understand if I was laughing at or with this the first time I heard it. Regardless, I thought it was genius either way and later was excited to learn that most of Wong’s entertainment work is as a stand-up comedian – one that was smart enough to not sacrifice quality when making music one can smile along with. — BRIAN MILLER
BABY DEE, LOVE’S SMALL SONG
The multi-instrumentalist Baby Dee has lived countless lives. Hippy kid; music school drop-out; Coney Island freakshow fixture; church organist and musical director. When she realized she was trans, she ditched her church gig and dove headlong into New York City’s queer underground, finding an outlet in performance art. Armed with not much more than a harp and her playful, infectious personality, Baby Dee tended to transfix whoever crossed her path. She’s collaborated with Swans, Will Oldham and Andrew WK, toured with Marc Almond and The Dresden Dolls, done string arrangements for Antony and the Johnsons and been covered by The Mountain Goats; and yet, despite her many famous fans, Baby Dee and her incredible music remain in relative obscurity.
When I first heard Love’s Small Song, it floored me. It’s nakedly personal and technically imperfect, with a sincerity and innocence that’s refreshing and reference points that sit well outside of traditional pop and rock music (think Brecht and Weill, Celtic ballads and European chamber music). The principal instrumentation throughout is piano, accented by accordion and harp (all played by Dee) and occasional birdsong (robins recorded in the backyard of her mother’s Cleveland home), but it’s her voice — its trembling vulnerability and otherworldly timbre, the way she effortlessly modulates from a soaring wail to half-whispered intimacy, singing of love and loss and the darkest depths of human nature — that transmutes it all from something admirably challenging to pure, mesmerizing magic.
“So Bad,” the album’s second track, opens like the dreamy, mood-setting soundtrack to a fairy tale, and in a sense, that’s exactly the picture Dee is painting. Her lyrical imagery, with mentions of witches across the way and mothers savaged by men of god, evoke the dark folktales of medieval Eastern Europe as a plaintive piano and harp motif carries a powerful, harrowing tale of abuse and persecution. As her voice rises and deepens, Dee mournfully intones:
“Who can save me from the man
that wheels the grinding stone?
He wheels the grinding stone,
watching as the witches burn my bones.”
It’s a tale as old as time, and with the alarming increase in anti-trans fearmongering, hate propaganda, and discriminatory legislation in the United States and UK in recent months, it carries a grim resonance today. — ADRIANNA GOBER
THE PRODIGY, “FIRESTARTER”
Given that this column is called “But Have You Heard?” logically I should be presenting some long-lost or at least semi-obscure release in hopes of really turning you readers on to something new and amazing you can rave to all your friends about. But I don’t exactly feel my choice for this week fits into that, especially for those of you from my generation who paid attention to music in any way whatsoever in the 1990s. So I’m using this entry to look at the title “But Have You Heard?” in a different way: not just asking if you’ve heard this song, but asking if you’ve heard this song.
What I mean is, of course we all remember “Firestarter.” It’s the dark, spastic dance video played late at night on MTV with the dirty-looking guy in the American flag sweater with the demonically spiked hair. (Was it a “Buzz Clip”? It may have been a Buzz Clip, I don’t remember.) Definitely the kind of thing that creeped your Evangelical friends out. But you enjoyed it, maybe not even thinking at the time about where electronic music comes from, taking for granted the creative process behind it.
I’ve been in a real cyberpunk mood lately, and that’s led me to heavily revisiting the electronic music of my youth (The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, et al.) and making new discoveries about those artists and songs. With “Firestarter,” I say “have you heard it” because I recently realized what songs were sampled to make it up. Electronic music is often sneaky that way, disguising components of other songs and making them almost unrecognizable in a wholly fresh and new piece of art (we’re not just talking Mariah Carey sampling “Genius of Love” here). Below are three songs sampled in “Firestarter”: give it all a listen, and hopefully you’ll enjoy a nice surprise realization as much as I did. — ELBEE