I’ve been wondering often, “Where do we go from here?” We can’t go day by day ignoring events that are occurring all around us. We’ve all witnessed the death of George Floyd, and no matter what feelings you may have of him personally, it cannot be denied: no one should ever die that way at the hands of law enforcement. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen but it was the first time it was ‘televised’ for the world to see. We’re left with the image of George Floyd embedded in our minds, hearing him calling for his dead mother right before life was drained from his body. People all over the world have heard his cries and have hit streets to protest. He was the catalyst and, well, life was bound to unfold the way it has. There are protests, there are looters, there are anarchists, but one thing is for sure; not all three are the same. I’ve heard from people I know, cries of “They’re trying to tear down the fabric of this nation” which is far from the truth, and even they know it. We need change. We need reform. I don’t have the answers but I’m hopeful that those more intelligent than I am, do.
We all see people crying for change, for justice, for sanity. There are bands that have used their own platforms, which is an amazing thing and I can only hope it continues, not just for this but for other issues we deal with (poverty, homelessness, etc.). People need to not only talk about change but BE about it as well.
So now here we have Built To Spill, a band I’ve always respected and loved, with a new release. Well, it’s a new release as they interpret The Songs Of Daniel Johnston here. Johnston was a fan of BTS as well, inviting them at one time to play as his backing band. The band’s interpretation here gives his songs a fuller sound, and still allow the skewed-pop to take center stage. Doug Martsch does a good job here and I can’t imagine anyone else handling these songs better. I’ve never been a big fan of Daniel Johnston but I did know when to give credit where and when it was due.
There are several artists that refrain from doing much talking, instead, allowing the music created to speak for itself. Decades can fly by and the remembrance of albums created with style and finesse will be remembered.
It’s much like Johnathon Ford and the barrage of releases he’s left in his wake throughout the years. Collaborative efforts with Roadside Monument and Pedro The Lion are testament to his prowess, as well as Unwed Sailor which has continued its momentum for over 20 years now. Ford, along with Matthew Putman and David Swatzell, has just released the band’s seventh album. While the band’s last Heavy Age was filled with a weighty darkness, the new Look Alive (Old bear Records) seems to take a different turn altogether.
Give, Unwed Sailor is one of the last bastions of instrumental rock but done well. Really well. On the band’s latest release, the shift in mood is obviously felt from track to track. The band opens Look Alive with “Glaring,” built around an upbeat repetition that of course, never falls into repetitious trappings. Guitars caress the edges of the song and are layered across it, with underlying dissonant notes as well as sweet melodies. The title track follows and it throws listeners for a loop, engaging with an 80s-styled drumbeat, accentuating it with synths and hollow and dark bass notes.
But it’s the much more aggressive side of this sailor that we can all get behind as well. Songs like “Retrograde” and “Camino Reel,” while they’re not full-frontal assaults on the sense, they do engage with fervor. The band’s energy is captured here within the songs and finds bandmembers reinvigorated and ready for anything. Yes! This is exactly what listeners want to hear, this is what they love. The band completely nails it.
Unwed Sailor closes things out with the opus “Haze,” a magnificently dreamy escapade that almost hits the 9-minute mark. Listening to Look Alive is going to leave listeners refreshed and uplifted. It has that energy and is remarkably what we need right now.
Anyone that knows, understands the impact in music (Mark) Kramer has had, both as a musician/producer, as well as a knowing talent and releasing other artists under his Shimmy Disc umbrella (Ween, Gwar, Galaxie 500, Fly Ashtray, Daniel Johnston, King Missle, Boredoms). His career has spanned decades though working with prominent musicians since the late 70s, with one of his more significant outfits Bongwater, with actress/musician Ann Magnuson. But we haven’t heard the last of Kramer, who has released seven-album under his own name including 2017’s The Brill Building, Book Two w/Bill Frisell
Kramer’s latest project is Let It Come Down with its first full-length Songs We Sang In Our Dreams (Shimmy Disc/Joyful Noise Recordings) which is a challenging effort, filled with sweet sorrowful numbers that are bound to entrance and leave listeners haunted with the beauty in each track. Given, this isn’t a solo effort, as Xan Tyler’s vocal treatments are quite evocative and expressive. The opening “Moonlight” showcases Tyler’s voice while guitars and percussion sway along underneath as Kramer’s deep vocals harmonize wondrously. While comparisons may be cheap, “Forget” is filled with harmonies and deep melodies that may show similarities to Lennon/McCartney compositions, but it’s perfectly placed along with these hallowed numbers.
It’s always fascinating how Kramer’s music is usually pieced together by percussion that’s off-kilter, and “Pennies” is no different in that respect, urging through repetition, harmonies, and drifting keyboard notes. But it’s “Vicky” that has my complete attention here. Kramer builds around a few guitar notes that Tyler can sink her teeth into as instruments slowly creep in to create a beast of a song. Ethereal and utterly captivating as the song rises to meteoric levels. That alone is amazing. There are tracks here that can’t be ignored, as “Fingers” seem to owe a bit to Astrud Gilberto and the like with a pop induced Bossa nova vibe but it’s done well, all too well.
There’s a bit of experimentation throughout Songs We Sang In Our Dreams but obviously not in a dissonant or odd-chord sense. Let It Come Down relies on allowing the music to drift and find its own space within harmonies and melodies, which works to the group’s benefit. This is a release that shouldn’t be ignored or passed on. Excellent songcraft is embedded here from track to track. You don’t want to miss it.