The days are getting shorter. The leaves are turning brown and quietly tumbling to the floor. The silent transition from summer to fall always seems to happen too quick for me to notice. It is apparent only when it's glaringly obvious, perhaps a failure of my attention, but I'm always happy to realize that autumn's here, even if it snuck by me initially.
The early dark and the night have always been a creative boon to me, and with daylight savings ending this morning, I feel myself transitioning into a more musical mindset than the last few months. I'm very excited to curl up with a blanket and lounge in the Music Den discussing some of my favorite songs with you all this cold, gloomy Sunday morning.
who are you now?
Starting off the fall discovering some new americana felt like providence. I've been disappointed in a lot of new pop releases this year; the ones I've found myself being completely captivated by have been bordering on americana (the Lizzy McAlpine record being the main contender for AOTY so far).
This find popped up completely randomly to me due to a killer YouTube suggestion. All I saw was a trio of two women and a man, and what I heard was some of the freshest, most tastefully minimal blues/americana arrangement I've heard in a long time. Immediately after digesting the first of three songs in the set & being wowed almost instantly by the guitar work, I went to download the debut record this 2018 performance was taking songs from, and started listening.
Who Are You Now? by Madison Cunningham is one of my favorite rock records this year. It is equal parts Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Buckley, St. Vincent, and Radiohead, while also being bluesier than any of them and uniquely hook-y.
It's really hard to name a single standout track on this, Cunningham's debut LP. Pin It Down was the first song I heard in that set (and the first on the LP) and the growling guitar work and flittering drums do a great job welcoming you into the world of the record. The third track Something to Believe In almost sounds like Frances Quinlan of Hop Along singing a lost Freddie Mercury B-side, but with a sense of voice leading more quiet in its brilliance than either of them (Freddie was a master, but he was very loud about it). If I had to pick one song that really sticks with me though, it's gotta be Song In My Head.
This track screams "americana" louder than the rest of the record, and wears the influence of Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, & Tom Petty on its sleeve. It is the catchiest song on the record, sporting about 3 or 4 different sections that could be choruses if they wanted. The chorus in earnest is an incredibly catchy cry, begging not to be forgotten because part of existing in this world is knowing that you eventually will be. If you liked Lizzy McAlpine, like any of the prior named influences, or just like rock music... definitely don't miss this record.
I was ecstatic to find another great record in who are you now? after a relatively boring summer for new music releases, but to find out Cunningham had just released a second record this year was a massive cherry on top, for sure. Especially since it has some serious progression from the last record in many aspects.
The opener All I've Ever Known sports a more circular, whirling feel, punctuated by ghostly behind-the-bridge guitar plucks plus a hammering-on-and-off guitar motif permeating the whole of the arrangement. The melodic sensibility and rhythmic language sounds more like Radiohead or Sufjan Stevens than any of the prior cited americana influences, and as such this serves for somewhat of an surprising opener compared to the relatively tame mood of the last record.
The second song Hospital has a much grimier guitar tone at its core, and the rhythm is much more blues-tinged, but the approach to arrangement and section partitioning speaks to a level of craft that I don't really hear in many artists with this kind of sound going on. The closest analog I can think of for this is St. Vincent's earlier records, and honestly I prefer Madison's take on this kinda sound.
My favorite track on this record was actually a grower, as I didn't love it early in my listening to this record. Sunshine Over The Counter has the same vibe I loved about the first record (and Song In My Head in particular) while having a much more expressive sonic palette and diverse approach to rhythmic motif.
Overall, Madison Cunningham is my second favorite find of 2022 (behind Lizzy McAlpine) and is serving as a perfect complement to the distinctly American phenomenon of our transition into autumn and the colder, darker months.
Nicks and Grazes
This record is fucking crazy.
Palm's Nicks and Grazes is easily the most "out there" record I've recommended here on TMD but I'm telling you, I'm telling you... it's so worth it.
Parable Lickers, the third track on the album, sounds if you were at a punk show and asked a math rock band to "play that Super Mario Sunshine heat." It's distinctly tropical but all over the place texturally and rhythmically such that it's basically equivalent to being in a broken washing machine with a bunch of hawaiian shirts and colorful bandanas... In a good way.
The highlight of the record and likely the most accessible song is On The Sly, which has a distinctly 3/4 guitar part overlaid on a lurching 4/4 drum beat, and where they meet is a messily neat mix of Beach Boys intonation and Omni-like wiry guitar virtuosity.
I can't say this record surprised me entirely, as Palm's music has always been on the wacky/mathy side, but it really just serves as another easily lovable record if you're already into the sort of thing that they're doing (which I, firmly, am).
Quality Over Opinion
Make way, everyone. The new king of pop is here.
No, I'm not joking.
Pop was profoundly disappointing this year. Caroline Polachek only released 2 (or 3) songs, which were good but not enough. Charli XCX's new record was profoundly middling, and the same can honestly be said for Rina Sawayama's newest. Carly Rae Jepsen's new record was actually super fun (and that'd be on the list if this record didn't come out this week) but it wasn't nearly as good as the best pop album of the year: Louis Cole's Quality Over Opinion.
After opening with a somehow goofily earnest spoken word + orchestral track like a post-internet Serge Gainsbourg, the record begins in earnest with Dead Inside Shuffle which sounds like a slamming, self-effacing, bitcrushed take on whatever Stevie was trying to do when he recorded Higher Ground. Cole's drums hit like a house being demolished, and the swing is locked so tightly in the grid that it's impossible not to bob your head and groove with it.
I could legitimately talk about every song on this record because it's so goddamn unyielding. The next song You're Not Needed Anymore is a quick, almost Bron-Yr-Aur-like stomp with delicate falsettos typical of Cole, punctuated by fleetfooted acoustic guitar rollicking. Two songs later we get an electroclash/dubstep song called Bitches consisting of dirty bass, crazy drum fills, and a saxophone solo. Two songs later we get the densely chromatic, confrontational Failing In a Cool Way, which sounds how fans of Cole (and associated acts like KNOWER) like their drum-n-bass tinged oddball jazz. That's to say, ridiculous.
Two songs later still we get what is IMO the first of two highlights of the entire record with the song I'm Tight. The song itself isn't entirely unlike the prior song I mentioned, similar in tempo and drum-emphasis, but the lyrical subject matter is some of the hardest shit I've ever heard. My favorite excerpts follow:
Bitch, I'm still the same. I will never change. That is why I'm tight.
Swim up the stream, 'cause I have different dreams. That is why I'm tight.
You think I'm weird, but I'm still fucking here. That is why I'm tight.
I give a fuck, and don't give a fuck. That is why I'm tight.
Above the hope, and below the hype. That is why I'm tight.
Dude has every right to be that confident. He owns the game just by being his extremely talented but goofy self.
Following this song is... one of the sweetest pop songs of the year? True Love doesn't sound like anyone else yet sounds distinctly timeless, bathed in a haze of reverb and arpeggiated synths, it speaks to the lament of true love taking its toll through monopolizing your thoughts and feelings entirely, being "happy crushed beneath its weight".
The last song I'll mention is the highest of highs of the album, a track called Park Your Car on my Face. Getting near the end of this album and hearing this song is what cemented Louis Cole as one of the best pop songwriters of our time and the person responsible for IMO the best pop album of the year. Preternaturally jazzy, the vocal hook on this song is right out of the Michael Jackson Off the Wall or Stevie Wonder Innervisions playbooks, but it's done in a way that is all LC's own. The part writing and pedigree is jazz, the drums are DnB, the synths are GameBoy, the lyrics are... stupid. But I can't level enough praise at this song, this record, this man. Pop has been mostly dominated by female voices for me in recent times, and rightfully so: female-fronted pop has been incredible for the last few years. But if there's one dude we need to be paying attention to in the pop sphere, it's not Harry Styles or Shawn Mendes, it's Louis F**king Cole.
Summer was a bit of a slump for me, regarding finding new music. It comes in waves, as they say. Luckily, as the summer wound down and the cold rolled in, I was blessed with some sorely needed bangers. Fall is here now, and I'm gonna spend the rest of my lazy Sunday on the couch listening to music, writing, and enjoying the feeling of being in a warm apartment on this cold, cloudy day.