Archive for December, 2020


Cattlemen Don’t Is A Best Of…

A vinyl release of a coveted record is a blessing. There was a time where labels only pushed CDs upon us. At the time, it’s what we demanded. A small, round disc was portable, it could be kept on your shelf amongst hundreds of others; perhaps nice and snug in your car’s center console or stuck in your Discman. Everything has been flipped on its head today. Where once convenience was king, I strategically opt for a slower, more immersive experience. The perfect accompaniment that satisfies my late 90s self and my more mature, wiser ears has arrived: Cattlemen Don’t on wax from the surging Chicago quartet Triple Fast Action.

Like many acts of this era, their CD became a relic in my collection; they created two timeless albums and disbanded. It wasn’t atypical during their era and post TFA to run into fans claiming them as one of the best acts to come out of Chicago. “One of the best bands ever”, a drunken Chicago front man confided in me after his set at Gunther Murphy’s. This release sees Local H’s Scott Lucas penning the liner notes and corroborating my long held belief: the sheer strength this album holds from front to back.

Triple Fast Action possessed the ability to erupt sonically. They had fully charged guitars ready to rip; their sound was typical of a raging roller coaster that slowly ascended, catapulted you down the descent, and jostled your entire body and blasted your auditory system through the flat transitions. This record debuted a tighter, more confident act, one not scared to call out label suits, share a softer side, and crank all dials to 11. Loaded with hooks, masterful songwriting, intense guitar play, emotional ballads, and a regal assemblage of horns, this was an album that was the alternative to the alternative many think of from this period. Where many records from this period consisted of the same song 10 times over, Cattlemen Don’t consists of 13 unique offerings; each song was meticulously chiseled using a mold from the Broadcaster era, but this time, the band dug deep, stayed focused, and crafted a dizzying array of inventive guitar-based power pop to create an album sounding as fresh and formidable today as it was two plus decades ago.

It’s the end of the year, everyone has assembled their Best of Lists. I question how many of these records will be spun 23 years from now. Dropping the needle on a freshly pressed Cattlemen Don’t is cheer, it’s nostalgia, it’s loud, it’s without a doubt one of the strongest records in my collection, and it’s an excellent reminder of why we should all love Triple Fast Action.

And the loudest, biggest props to Forge Again Records for getting these much-anticipated records out to fans before Christmas. When I heard Justin from Forge Again was personally delivering records to Chicago residents, I realized how wise the band was to work with a label of this great integrity. Much respect!


Hawk’s Christmas Cuties…

All great variety shows keep you guessing. The more smiles they generate, the more successful of a run they will have. Hawksley Workman is six episodes deep into his monthly Hawksley Night in Canada extravaganza. One of his specialities is writing a “pet song” for a lucky creature and its owner.

A lucky fan submits a picture and endearing story of how their pet impacts their life; Hawk uses the narrative and photos to craft an original pop song. “Christmas Cutie” is his 2020 culminating project: an Xmas-themed pet song. Workman is an animal aficionado and one who appreciates the holiday season. These two interests independently are common, though together, the combination effortlessly creates this joyous, over the top silly holiday sing-along.

“Christmas cutie/going wild in the snow/You may have eaten tinsel/But how would we know?/The proof is in your poop/That your bum won’t let go/Christmas cutie/Only Santa will know

An upbeat jam wrapped full of cheer. This is Hawksley flexing his holiday creativity over a hard to sit still Christmas-centric arrangement.


Viagra Boys In Spite of Ourselves…

It took me awhile to see the brilliance in karaoke. The all eyes on me thing initially scared me. That egotistical mentality is half-baked though; the chances of the entire bar being fixated on me at any given time isn’t realistic. My first venture into the art of reinterpreting someone else’s art needed to come with a crutch. A duet.

The fear of failure impacts lives, and it caused me to pass on opportunities. Like stepping onto the stage to rage and be pumped of endless adrenaline because of the great sensation poorly singing into a microphone can bring. Someone walking onto the stage with me instantly boosted my confidence and gave me an excuse if we failed. Here’s where I let you down and conclude my story: a friend and I sang “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin.

The back and forth of a duet can build up sexual tension, playfully tease, and proclaim how absolutely rad your significant other is. My favorite Swedish maniacs Viagra Boys pay homage to the sly and brilliant folk songwriter John Prine with their take on “In Spite of Ourselves”. The original appeared on Prine’s 1999 honky tonk folk album In Spite of Ourselves, one consisting of all duets.

Sweden’s Viagra Boys don’t give a shit. They come at you full force with their raging post-punk sound. They are shameless and proudly display their life; drugs, BDSM, stupid jocks, etc. It’s noisy, often chaotic, and exactly what I need more of in my life: irreverent hilarity. On January 8, of the year we all can’t wait for, their sophomore album Welfare Jazz follows the raucously brilliant Street Worms. Viagra’s rendition of Prine’s ’99 duet begins ominous and fully charged but transitions into a moderate tempo ideal for back and forth pleasantries with your loved one.

The original has country twang, is comical and matter of fact as Iris DeMent shares; “he ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays/I caught him once, and he was sniffin’ my undies”. It’s a great ode to the love of Prine’s life; “she don’t like her eggs all runny/she thinks crossin’ her legs is funny/she looks down her nose at money/she gets it on like the Easter Bunny”. If I were to write something in the vein of “In Spite Of Ourselves” for a duet with my wife, it would look something like, “she don’t like my music because it’s crummy, she thinks my inabilities are funny, she earns way more money, and likes sex since it’s so yummy”.

Front man Sebastian effortlessly slides into Prine’s role with his carefree, cocky demeanor. Armed with a sexy Australian accent Amy Taylor of the raw Melbourne punk act Amyl and the Sniffers trades lovey dovey lines with Sebastian in a you’ve had way too much to drink this evening kind of way. Yea, put my name down with my wife, we want to rock Viagra Boys’ “In Spite of Ourselves” for any and all karaoke bar patrons….


Rhye & SG Lewis’ Time…

There was harmony in the music

There was harmony in the behavior of the people

And we had a good time

Harmony brings pleasure. The combination of “the white boy with soul” British producer SG Lewis and my go-to bedroom mood setters Rhye sets up any listener for a harmonious experience. On Lewis’ “Time”, with hypnotic and yearning vocals care of the androgynous Mike Milosh the desired outcome screams let’s bang: initially via the dance floor and then slide over to the bedroom for some more.

Now I’m leaning heavily on Rhye for disco infused dance tracks. Where previously they were the formal mood setters; scented candles, a dimly lit bedroom, a sound the equivalent of long and necessary foreplay before a love making session. But now, a lose yourself in the lasers and strobe light sound that ends in ecstasy-like orgasmic bliss.

When picking my ideal vocal squad for a heavy disco burner, Mike Milosh will be my reoccurring number one pick. Damn, let’s strut, close our eyes, and simply become immersed in the laser-infused bounce. Bang on….


Right. About. Now.

Even though I busted through that barrier, I continue to step out and build upon what I surpassed. It feels good. I can think and enjoy myself for 75-120 minutes. The mental health benefits alone are worthwhile, the physical ones are an added bonus. But the greatest motivation is the ability to spin albums from front to back.

If I were an indoor cycling instructor, my playlist would be strategic. A sprint might mean an uptempo pop number raging at over 120 BPMs; if it’s time to climb in a hard to turn over gear, the tempo might be still high but not at a chaotic level. My protocol is simple: queue up two albums I’m excited to listen to uninterrupted. I opt for one from my past and a current record. This ride’s record from another era was Fatboy Slim’s hook-heavy You’ve Come A Long Way Baby.

Fatboy Slim and his music equal pleasure. A live set makes people lose all inhibitions – I caught him in a small club once. His ability to dig deep in the crate, with a gigantic and enthusiastic smile upon his face is contagious; if he finds a snippet of something he knows to hold potential, it will be sampled and placed on endless repeat over heavy beats. Positive vibes galore, music to immerse yourself in and let it rip. As I’m winding a sharp corner, only a few hundred feet from the descent, “Right Here, Right Now” fades out as Brad phones into WBCN and requests the band of the 90s. “It’s funk soul brother, check it out….right about now, the funk soul brother…” Brad energetically mimics his favorite artist as the seamless transition into the big-beat anthem “Rockafeller Skank” pounds into my ears.

Gravity takes over on a descent; you can choose to fight it by braking or embrace it and push the pedals over and over. With a beat like this, I chose the latter. As the wind is smacking my face, my eyes are beginning to tear and Lord Finesse is propelling me faster and faster down at over 150 BPMs…

The timing of when a track drops is forever intriguing. This miraculous transition into Fatboy Slim’s hard to sit still banger couldn’t have hit at a better time. I climb up to rip down. Thanks, Slim.


Soulwax’s Empty Dancefloor…

In another life, I would attend a rock show at the Metro in Chicago and have free access to their basement. If your body said the evening was just beginning, a flash of your wristband granted you access to Smartbar. This cellar was another world: dark, various colored strobe lights, music so overpowering you had no choice but to move, pretend to hear your friends as they shouted in your direction, or shudder at how out of place you were and sprint back up the steps. Smartbar rarely popped off until after midnight. It wasn’t unusual to descend the steps, walk around the dark corner and encounter a smoky, completely empty dance floor.

Soulwax are not known for empty dance floors. They bring the groove, cause mass congregation of sweaty, hedonistic bodies losing themselves to the sounds the Belgian siblings continue to unleash upon us. An empty dance floor is not ideal; A DJ might question their ability to get people up and lose themselves; the clubgoer might question if it’s okay to step onto the lonely floor, or the conscious dancer might think all eyes will be on them. But now our floors sit vacant, the dust is gathering, the speakers are atrophying, and music lovers lust for a return.

On “Empty Dancefloor”, an ominous Blade Runner-like theme begins this one-off single. A female robotic voice utters, “I can barely remember how it feels…” as the sparks begin to fly and the textured electro beat begins to build and build. This is Soulwax’s sound, it’s an energy they create to let us forget, close our eyes and let dance take over. Though the club’s doors remain shuttered and dance floors are empty worldwide, this isn’t an excuse to forget how impactful this medium is….

“The desire for the return to the dance floor is so huge, we’re convinced it’ll bounce back with a vengeance, but in the meantime we’ve made this track. Originally created as a piece of music to score the AirPods Max product video, we have reworked it into this love letter to the clubs and clubbers who are all suffering with us right now” 


Sandpaper with Jamie Lidell…

It’s reassuring to know that the mastermind who created “Multiply” might have relationship woes, too. We all are imperfect. All relationships have their ups and downs. The ones with our significant others can be the most trying from day-to-day. You’re running smoothly as a unit and then, POP, all of a sudden all shit is awry and both parties are flying off the rails. “If I play this game, what of me remains?” It’s those little things that beat you up over time and as Jamie attests, “wear me down like sandpaper…”.

My Release Radar typically contains artists I’m aware of. It trends towards anyone I have played over the course of my subscription. While perusing this past week’s, an unknown name was near the top. I clicked into the album to dig deeper and discovered the single had multiple tracks; one was a collaboration with soul meets beat boxer Jamie Lidell. The song in my Release Radar playlist was an instrumental by Lorenz Rhodes. But the algorithmic powers that be knew me as a fan of Jamie. This exploration of the unknown isn’t common practice – I question all the singles that have went past my ear by not opening up an unknown artist’s album/single.

Eight years ago Lidell teamed up with producer Lorenz Rhode to create the electric soulful “Any Kind of Pressure”. The experimental, let’s create a bounce duo have returned with “Sandpaper”, a rousing house explosion proclaiming the challenges of living, loving, and longing for others. Feel the bounce, bass, and commiserate with Lorenz and Jamie….


2020’s Top Artists…

This period brings me joy. Best Of lists are popping up and my unique data is unearthed: Spotify Year End stats. Before I dive headfirst, I visualize what the results are. Did a favorite artist release a new record? Was a certain theme running through my life that a specific artist tackles masterly? Or am I as predictable in my middle age as I was a decade ago?

I consider myself strategic with my musical choices. You have to be. I continue to be a front to back album listener. I am true to artists of my past. I have a regular rotation. Spotify is my daily soundtrack.

I updated my account to a Family Plan this year. My wife and I had our own separate accounts. A switch to the Family Plan was common fiscal sense. But I continued to deflect because in my simple mind this would impact my listening stats. Spotify’s Year End Stats are always one of December’s highlights. They must be pure and accurate. If I had a Family Plan, would it display my Top 100 songs; if my daughter plays Taylor Swift, is this skewing my Top Artists? After some doctorate level research and next-level verifying via my Spotify squad, all wonderings led me to my stats staying true.

This plan enabled us to have five logins that would generate five unique year end stats. A peer using Spotify’s freemium option got wind of my upgrade and requested a handout. He wanted to wheel and deal. A Spotify Premium login for HBO GO access. Wait, you want to me to potentially jeopardize my Spotify account so I can view Curb Your Enthusiasm? What if I became blacklisted from my digital record collection? If anything was essential this year, music was it and nothing you can offer me is worth considering.

What’s indicative of this year’s Top Artists are how safe four of the five acts are for all ears. Our family was home a lot. Cooped up together. I opted for headphones when possible. But with kids around, I had to be semi-present. There wasn’t a fear of endlessly blasting these artists with little ears around; sensitive ears were safe around four of the five, too.

All five of these artists released new material. One maybe their greatest output over the course of three decades. Prince’s cavernous vault continues to be explored and excavated for our funky listening pleasure. Sault released a pair of truth telling wake up calls in the form of let’s set aside all the bullshit for a minute while we dance societies’ problems away records. Hawksley Workman is a staple in this home. He’s a game changer, an artist who towed us through 2020’s mucky trenches. Roisin has been whetting our appetite for years with one off singles of laser-heavy disco bliss and 2020 saw the unleashing of the dance floor ready Roisin Machine.

Predictability feels safe, routine makes my days easier than when shit is chaotic. My wife accurately listed four of the five Top Artists when I asked her for my top spots. If at middle age I’m predictable and becoming stuck in my stale ways, I will own that. At least my taste in music continues to be fresh.


Moenia’s Labios Rojos…

I’m a sucker for a synth. Strategically layer those over a groove, perhaps a hypnotic beat, I’m in. Catchy lyrics help but it’s the feeling I crave. This sound needn’t be over the top creative to engage me. But if it’s an intentional listen to improve upon my ability to hear the message, the language, this formula will provide many repetitions.

While searching for an ideal language instructor, an 80s influenced synth heavy act caught my ear. It was billed as a Mexican Depeche Mode. At times, almost a facsimile of the English quintet. It can be challenging to get into a new sound, especially when the lyrics aren’t in your native language. Moenia, the Mexico City trio brandishing keyboards, synths, and a light club sound, are decades into the mix. The familiarity of Moenia’s sound created an instant rapport, one where I wanted to hear more and dive deeper into the Spanish language.

Dark at times, pulsing throughout, forcing consistent head nodding, they’re the dance act not many know outside of Latin America. Their latest “Labios Rojos” continues this trajectory. Sonic waves of club-heavy, let’s get sweaty and lose ourselves sound permeate throughout.

With the abundance of new music, and the ease of sharing amongst like-minded music friends, I don’t seek out new Latin music. This is where my Release Radar becomes invaluable. It’s a nudge, a reminder notification of the great collection of music that is debuted on a daily basis.

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December 2020