Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

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On Saturday, February 6th 2016 I was finally able to go see Black Sabbath in concert. I went with an old friend and had a blast posing with protesters, taking in the heavy metal music, and basically enjoying life. It was quite honestly a concert highlight for me, in a year that has seen me attending the most concerts of my life (cue up the mid-life crisis jokes). That night – me + a friend living out our heavy metal dreams – was also the last night of life in the Philadelphia suburbs for an Aunt that I was very close to.

I woke that Sunday to a somber message from my Mom asking her to call. Bleary eyed and confused, I called her. My Aunt had passed away early that morning after an unexpected asthma attack w/ complication. I had been very close to my Aunt in the days after college – I had even worked with her for a year after she put in a good word for me. The 3000-mile distance between Seattle and Philadelphia never felt far away when I saw her on my visits home. We had a natural relationship that I expected to last another 35 to 40 years. I broke down on the phone that day, then later again on the phone with my Mom and Great Aunt. Then…nothing. I’ve blocked out the pain and have distracted my thoughts when they present themselves.

In the summer of 2015 Nick Cave lost his 15-year-old son Arthur in a tragic accident. He died after falling off a cliff near Ovingdean Gap in Brighton, England. I remember reading the articles and wondering “How does someone recover from something like that?”. I felt the pain would almost be insurmountable. When Skeleton Tree – the 16th studio album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – was announced, I was intrigued. How can an artist regroup and move forward in the face of unimaginable tragedy? Little did I know, this album would help me to deal with the grief and pain that I have suppressed since my Aunt passed away.

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U2 – Staring At The Sun

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

In the mid to late 90’s U2 were restless and relentless in their musical experimentation – beginning with 1991’s Achtung Baby and ending with 1997’s Pop (including 1995’s Passengers project w/ Brian Eno). For me personally, that is the 2nd Golden Age of U2 (the 1st period is their post punk masterpieces encompassing their 1st 3 albums). Pop was not universally embraced and was even later bashed by the band as feeling forced. I can see that on some songs, but Staring At The Sun doesn’t fit within that narrative. The 2nd single lifted from the album, it hit #3 in the UK and #26 in the US. Slightly less electronica based than other songs from the record, it has that classic U2 sound w/ sonic embellishments. Lyrically, it is one of my favorite U2 songs. Weren’t we all told not to stare at the sun when we were kids? Do we always listen to what we are told? Images of summer passing, pushing yourself to try something new, dealing with fears. The one lyric that really makes an impression on me is during the musical interlude. Adam Clayton’s bass sounds positively menacing (looped, sampled, and played live) while Bono sings “God is good but will HE listen”. As an artist who has continually put himself on the line by proclaiming his faith, those words pack a punch. A sometimes overlooked anthem in the U2 canon, Staring At the Sun is a song I continually return to. Perfection.

The Lemonheads – The Outdoor Type

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Ah, the great outdoors. In Washington State I have no lack of friends who rough it – camping in tents under the stars in the great outdoors. And there is a certain beauty in that and something that I admire. But I’ll be honest – 9 times out of 10  it just isn’t my thing. I like the comfort of a bed at night. And I might also like comfy pajamas, hot cocoa, and checking Facebook by the glow of my phone. It is a battle to be sure. A cabin isn’t so bad though. Back in the mid 90’s Evan Dando’s The Lemonheads brought these exact conundrums to a wider audience. The Outdoor Type was a single released from the 1996 album Car Button Cloth. An album that still confounds me to this day, it is made up of dark masterpieces and slight alternative rock throwaways in equal measure. Little talked about fact – The Outdoor Type was written by Tom Morgan and 1st recorded by his band Smudge in 1994. So The Lemonheads version is a cover. Evan Dando imbues the song with a sense of being lived in, and is equal parts funny & honest. In some ways, the sound points towards his 2003 solo album Baby I’m Bored – melodic, wistful, and just a tad country. For me, this is the quintessential song by The Lemonheads. I’ve played it more times than I know in the last 20 years, and I’d imagine the next 20 years hold more of the same in store. I don’t usually post the entire lyrics from a song, but this one still makes me smile and demands it.

Always had a roof above me
Always paid the rent
I never set foot inside a tent
Couldn’t build a fire to save my life
I lied about being the outdoor type
I’ve never slept out underneath the stars
Closest that I came to that was one time my car,
Broke down for an hour
In the suburbs, at night
I lied about being the outdoor typeToo scared to let you know
I knew what you were looking for
Lied until I’d fit the bill
God bless the great indoors
I lied about being, the outdoor type
I’ve never owned a sleeping bag, let alone a mountain bike

I can’t go away with you on a rocking climbing weekend
What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again
Just as well I’m not invited
I’m afraid of heights
I lied about being the outdoor type

Never learned to swim
Can’t grow a beard or even fight
I lied about being, the outdoor type

Minor Victories – s/t

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Minor Victories carries that heavy term “super group” that can be the kiss of death in the music world. Comprised of Rachel Goswell (Slowdive, Mojave 3), Justin Lockey (Editors), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), and James Lockey (film-maker, also Justin’s brother) – it truly is an alternative music world super group. Fortunately in this case the group exceeds all expectations. Braithwaite had claimed in an early interview (before the album was released) that the group sounded like the best bits of the members main bands. And, well – he wasn’t wrong. The album also features contributions from Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) and James Graham (The Twilight Sad). Each contribution adds something to the overall atmosphere of the record. In fact, I expected this to be a nice stop-gap to hold me over until the forthcoming Slowdive album. Instead what I got was an album that I’ve had on repeat since the day of release.

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Low – Especially Me

Especially Me

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

You don’t often expect to find your favorite song by a band 9 albums into their career, but that’s just what happened with me and the band Low. Low had made quite a name for themselves playing a type of music dubbed slowcore – music marked by slow tempos and minimalist arrangements. By 2011 the band had broadened their horizons a bit, incorporating electronics and a harder edge to some of their songs. That year’s C’mon was favorably reviewed by just about every publication and all was well. Especially Me was the 2nd single lifted from the album and has been on repeat for me over the last 5 years. Impassioned vocals by Mimi Park punctuate the song as orchestration swells behind her. What really gets to me though is all of those elements in tandem with the lyrical content. Doubt, hope, and hopelessness coexist here. The feeling of thinking someone feels the same as you, but leaving that sliver of doubt in your mind. It never fails to give me chills. “Cause if we knew where we belong / There’d be no doubt where we’re from / But as it stands, we don’t have a clue / Especially me and probably you”.

Counting Crows – Round Here

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It is somewhat rare for a song that resonated with me in high school to resonate more deeply on a visceral level many years later. To expound on that – most songs that I loved back then I still love. But the context is mostly the same – the same reasons I loved it then are the same reasons I love it now. Not so with Round Here by Counting Crows – the 2nd single lifted from their debut album August and Everything After. As a teenager finding his way in life, I related to the existential angst emanating forth from the lyrics spewed by singer Adam Duritz. 90’s alternative rock imbued with a sense of isolation and longing – what’s not to love, right? In some circles, Counting Crows were derided as the radio friendly version of alternative rock in the aftermath of Nirvana. I always thought that was a bit harsh, and I admittedly loved everything the early and mid 90’s offered up. The teenager version of me couldn’t escape the imagery of the opening lines “Step out the front door like a ghost / into the fog where no one notices / the contrast of white on white”. The approaching middle age hipster version of me can’t escape the imagery of this verse “she parks her car outside of my house / and takes her clothes off / says she’s close to understanding Jesus / and she knows / she’s more than just a little misunderstood / she has trouble acting normal when she’s nervous”. It helps that the lyrics are wrapped in a pop folk package with emotive vocals from Adam Duritz. The questioning of where life is going is more than a little open-ended in your teens – in your 30’s it is more like WHERE IS LIFE GOING? And I think most people have those feelings from time to time. Let this song be your soundtrack.

Paul Draper – EP One

EP One

When I think of the mid to late 90’s era of Britpop, I gravitate towards a select few bands. Sure, I love Oasis, Blur, and Pulp. But my absolute favorite bands from the scene were the ones that were just a bit more slightly off kilter. Suede, Strangelove, My Life Story, and of course…Mansun. A bit glam, a bit prog, a bit Britpop – Mansun took those disparate elements and made them all their own. I remember driving to the Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ (of course) to buy any release I could get my hands on. Each EP had quality b-sides that were the equal of their album counterparts. In fact, I think there are more non album singles & b-sides than total album tracks. After 3 studio albums & multiple singles / EP’s, the band called it a day. A posthumous box set was issued in 2004 comprising the 4th album sessions along with assorted b-sides & rarities. Singer Paul Draper participated in one-off collaborations with artists from a variety of genres in the intervening years, but really announced his return to music with his work with The Anchoress in 2014. Now we have the 1st Paul Draper solo EP, fittingly titled EP One.

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The Monkees – Good Times

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It goes without saying that I am one of those people that considers himself a Monkees fanatic. I have every album in various deluxe editions that have been released over the years. On lesser albums I’ve sifted through the filler to find the gems (there are not too many lesser albums though.) John Lennon may be one of my musical idols, but sometimes I just prefer to listen to The Monkees over The Beatles. Those late 60’s albums by the “Prefab Four” stand up to anything their peers were putting out at the time. Live, I’ve never seen all 4 at the same time. In 1997 I saw Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork in Valley Forge, PA for the Justus tour. In 2012 I saw Micky Dolenz solo at a small casino just weeks after Davy Jones passed away. And in 2013 I saw Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork in downtown Seattle. All shows were memorable and expertly performed – the band members have come a long way from their origins as a make-believe band put together for a television show. A few months ago it was announced that The Monkees would be releasing a new album for their 50th anniversary. I wondered – would this be like The Beach Boys album from a few years ago (I can’t remember anything from that one) or would it be something special? The fact that the project was being produced by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger gave me hope – I love Fountains of Wayne’s unique power pop perspective.

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