New Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy: The Wild Kindness (ft. Cassie Berman)

Video: Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy “The Wild Kindness” (ft. Cassie Berman)

Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy "The Wild Kindness (feat. Cassie Berman)" (Official Music Video)

Directed by Ben Berman. Single out now on Drag City.

It’s David Berman week, apparently. Yesterday, we featured the video for a song by a member of what was supposed to be Berman’s touring incarnation of Purple Mountains, and today we have a cover of a Silver Jews classic by his Drag City labelmates and his widow.

Bill Callahan and Will Oldham have been releasing covers of classic tunes throughout the pandemic. My favorite of these has been their version of Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” but this one’s pretty good too.

They recruited an army of singers for it. In addition to Cassie Berman, they’ve also got Elisa Ambrogio, Meg Baird, Ben Chasny, Bill MacKay, Haley Fohr, David Grubbs, Cory Hanson, Emmett Kelly, Matt Kinsey, Sean O’Hagan, David Pajo, Todd Rittmann, Alasdair Roberts, Matt Sweeney, Mick Turner, George Xylouris, Azita Youssefi. That’s like half the Drag City roster!

Callahan says, “The infrastructure of this song should set an example to politicians of all type—everybody sings of wild kindness.”

Not sure it can hold a candle to the original but it was probably cathartic to record and maybe even fun. The video is hilariously silly.

Bill Callahan: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.
Bonnie Prince Billy: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy: The Wild Kindness (ft. Cassie Berman)

New Cassandra Jenkins video: Ambiguous Norway

Video: Cassandra Jenkins – “Ambiguous Norway”

From An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, out now on Ba Da Bing.

It’s been a while since an album hit me this hard this quickly. I hadn’t heard of Cassandra Jenkins before Friday, the day An Overview on Phenomenal Nature was released, but I’ve been listening nonstop since then.

The album’s short. Seven songs totaling under 32 minutes and the last song is a seven-minute instrumental. So every moment is important.

“Ambiguous Norway” is near the end at track five, but it was the first Cassandra Jenkins song I heard. It explicitly deals with the subject of grieving that the rest of the album builds up to.

A little backstory is enlightening: Jenkins was set to tour as a member of David Berman’s post-Silver Jews project Purple Mountains, but then Berman committed suicide shortly before the tour’s first date. In “New Bikini” Jenkins tells us, “After David passed away / My friends put me up for a few days / Off the coast of Norway.”

“Ambiguous Norway” reveals what happened on that trip and it’s raw and heartbreaking.

No matter where I go
You’re gone, you’re everywhere.

That’s as eloquent a description of the early phases of grief as anything I’ve ever heard. And while I’m not privy to any personal details, the way Jenkins writes about loss suggests a more intense relationship than just a hired bandmember.

In an interview with Our Culture, Jenkins shares the story of meeting a stranger who tells her, “You know, in Denmark, it’s a very flat landscape, but we have giant cloud formations, they’re giant cumulus clouds. And we call them ‘Denmark’s mountains’ because we don’t have mountains, so we need to find them in other ways.”

Who knows how geographically or meteorologically different Denmark is from its neighbor to the north, but that stranger’s story ended up informing the lyrics of “Ambiguous Norway.”

Farewell, Purple Mountains
I see a range of cumulus
the majesties transmutation
distant, ambiguous
The skies replace the land with air.

So even though, like a three legged dog, part of you may always be looking for what you’ve lost, there’s a chance you will find it in unexpected places. On the other hand, clouds are ethereal and ephemeral and don’t really do much for you. But I suppose if they provide a little comfort when you need it, sometimes that’s good enough.

Cassandra Jenkins: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Cassandra Jenkins video: Ambiguous Norway

“God Only Knows”

One of the more enjoyable TV series of the late ‘00s was “Leverage,” an Americanized version of a better British show, “Hustle.” Both are about grifters. The American cast is led by Timothy Hutton, who plays the “brains” of the operation. During each episode they would find someone who did some innocent wrong in some mean, devious financial way, and then the crew would go after that person in an unexpectedly imaginative way.

Depending on the circumstance of the con, Hutton’s character, after devising the plan, would say, “Let’s go steal a _________.” The object would always be something outrageous in scope, such as a museum or a mountain or a carnival or a town.

That phrase came to mind, albeit in a somewhat different form, when I read that Irving Azoff, long-time manager of The Eagles, started a company, Iconic Artists Group. . .and bought the Beach Boys.

“Let’s go buy a band.”

The purchase from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and the estate of Carl Wilson, includes masters, part of the publishing (Universal owns the music from the 1960s), the brand, and Beach Boys memorabilia.

While we’ve seen musicians from Dylan to Young selling publishing rights of late, this is different.

The Beach Boys become a “thing” that will be brought to market via brand development and the ever-important brand monetization.

Continue reading “God Only Knows”

New Christian Lee Hutson: Betty

Video: Christian Lee Hutson – “Betty”

Christian Lee Hutson - "Betty"

From The Version Suicides, Vol. 1, out now on Anti-.

Christian Lee Hutson’s Beginners was one of my favorite albums of 2020. Taylor Swift’s folklore was another. In a bit of pop culture synchronicity Hutson has just released an e.p. of cover songs, including a version of Swift’s song sung from the point of view of the boy in the love triangle that is explored in a trio of folklore songs along with “Cardigan” and “August.” I can geek out all day on these three songs but I’ll spare you.

“Betty” is my favorite though. It’s the one that sounds most like a real teenager. The other two songs have references to “downtown bars” and bottles of wine, but the narrator of “Betty” talks about homeroom and his skateboard and dances in gyms and it just sounds like a dopey kid who messed up and really, really regrets it.

But if I just showed up at your party
Would you have me? Would you want me?
Would you tell me to go fuck myself
Or lead me to the garden?

In The Long Pond Studio Sessions documentary Swift says something about how she’s written so many songs wishing the boy would apologize and with “Betty” she finally gets her apology. I sincerely hope Betty gives him another chance. He’s only 17, after all. He’s doesn’t know anything.

Hutson plays it straight. He doesn’t amp up the drama but he can’t bury it. On The Version Suicides, Vol. 1 he also covers Abba and Vanessa Carlton. I’m a sucker for acoustic folkie covers of pop songs. Not sure that “Betty” required this re-imagining but it’s not bad. Just not particularly necessary. The original is perfect as it is.

Christian Lee Hutson: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

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New Metz video: Sugar Pill

Video: METZ – “Sugar Pill”

METZ - Sugar Pill [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Directed by Shayne Ehman. From Atlas Vending, out now on Sub Pop.

How great are skateboarding videos? I could watch this stuff for hours.

Here, skaters Jojo Johnson and Sara Smith convert a snow-filled pool in Thunder Bay, Ontario into a perfect bowl while Canadian punk rockers METZ holler about the overwhelming stream of bad news that we are all constantly being bombarded with.

I turn it off, I drown it out, it’s never ending
The tension in the air hits every day
The prefab pull, the sugar pill, ugly and aging
It’s coming faster each and every day

Director Shayne Ehman says, “I hope the winter skateboarding footage carries with it some of the love we have for skateboarding. I hope it contains a spirit of perseverance and the will to make it happen. Come wind, ice, or stormy weather, we shovel snow, we torch frost, we skate.”

Bring on the blowtorches! There’s plenty of snow to go around.

Via punknews.

New Sufjan Stevens video: Tell Me You Love Me

Video: Sufjan Stevens – “Tell Me You Love Me”

Sufjan Stevens - Tell Me You Love Me [Official Music Video, dir. by Luca Guadagnino]

Directed by Luca Guadagnino. From The Ascension, out now on Asthmatic Kitty.

A bunch of skinny young people are squirming around in Soofy’s Valentines gift to us: a new video directed by the Italian filmmaker who made Call Me by Your Name. Meanwhile, a lonely fox looks on and dreams of eating all the tasty hipsters.

“Tell Me You Love Me” is an anthemic highlight of last year’s bloopy The Ascension.

My love, I feel myself unraveling
Tell me you love me anyway.

In addition to the video, Sufjan also issued a new t-shirt, so if you’re feeling a little needy, you can let everybody know without having to say a word.

Stevens likes to release his albums in five-year increments (Illinois in 2005; Age of Adz in 2010; Carrie & Lowell in 2015; Ascension in 2020), so I’ll be over here patiently hoping for another banjo record in 2025. Fingers crossed!

Sufjan Stevens: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

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New Kim Gordon video: Hungry Baby

Video: Kim Gordon – “Hungry Baby”

Kim Gordon - "Hungry Baby"

Directed by Clara Balzary. From No Home Record, out now on Matador.

Kim Gordon already made a video for this song back in 2019, but if she’s going to go to all the trouble of making another video for it, I guess the least we can do is watch it.

This new one stars her daughter Coco who is getting down in a lumber yard parking lot. Kim herself makes a cameo appearance as a grumpy store manager and naturally steals the show.

And the song is still as cool as it was 16 months ago when we first heard it.

“The Middle”

One of the all-time best Super Bowl commercials, and certainly the best-ever ad for a car company, was aired 10 years ago during Super Bowl XLV. The ad, known both as “Born of Fire” and “Imported from Detroit,” shows Eminem rolling through the streets of Detroit. The images were not all chamber-of-commerce shiny and bright. The edge nature of the crumbling environment, a situation that led to people visiting to see the post-industrial archelogy in front of their eyes (not exactly Pompei-like ruins, but certainly not necessarily a place you’d like to take a Sunday walk). The soundtrack is an instrumental version of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” He is driving what was then a new Chrysler 200.

You see the Robert Graham “Monument to Joe Louis,” a sculpture that is better known around these parts as “The Fist,” which is located at the foot of Woodward at Jefferson, and you know that Detroit is not a city that is like any other.

Eminem drives the 200 to the Fox Theatre, a classic movie house opened in 1928 and completely rehabilitated by the company that owns Little Caesar’s Pizza (yes, that is from Detroit, as is Domino’s), where the marque outside reads “Keep Detroit Beautiful.” The narrator to that point had talked about how Detroit isn’t New York, Chicago, Vegas, “And we’re certainly no one’s Emerald City.”

He walks down an aisle of the theater, which has long been a music venue rather than a movie house, and on the stage there’s the Selected of God choir, wearing their Sunday robes and singing, as the instrumental “Lose Yourself” builds.

Eminem turns to the camera, accusatorially points his finger, and says, “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.”

“God damn right,” Detroiters everywhere nodded.

Continue reading “The Middle”

New Liz Phair: Hey Lou

Video: Liz Phair – “Hey Lou”

Liz Phair - Hey Lou (Official Music Video)

Directed by Toben Seymour. Single out now on Chrysalis.

Woo hoo new Liz Phair! Other than a couple of silly little twitter voice tweets last summer, this is her first new song since 2019’s “Good Side” single.

And it’s been over a decade since she released Funstyle, her last full-length album. I remember I was at an Independence Day party on a rooftop in the West Loop of Chicago, and during a quiet moment alone I happened to check my twitter (I know, I know) to see that Maura Johnston had retweeted something from somebody saying that Liz Phair had surprise-released a new album. I downloaded it the next day and quickly realized that she must be smoking assloads of weed again. Aloha, Ms. Phair!

That was a long time ago, a lifetime really. Lou Reed was still alive back then and as prickly as ever.

No one knows what to think
When you’re acting like an asshole

Her new song is sung from the point of view of Reed’s wife, the great artist Laurie Anderson. According to Phair, the song “imagines a day in the life of two music legends, whose union was an inspiration for rock fans.”

She adds, “I was a huge Lou Reed/VU fan, huge Laurie Anderson fan. Both had a big early influence on me musically. When I discovered later that they fell in love & married I was captivated by two icons, two strong personalities, balanced. But was curious, too. Just loved thinking about it.”

Think it’s disrespectful to treat a revered dead hero so cavalierly? Tough shit. Lou Reed was an asshole; that’s irrefutable. “Hey Lou” is irreverent and ridiculous but it sounds great. Liz Phair is playing her own guitar again, and nobody plays like that.

Continue reading New Liz Phair: Hey Lou

New Skullcrusher video: Song For Nick Drake

Video: Skullcrusher – “Song For Nick Drake”

Skullcrusher - Song For Nick Drake (Official Video)

Single out now on Secretly Canadian.

I love it when a band’s name is in total contrast to the band’s sound. Would you guess that a band called Skullcrusher would sing a gentle tribute to one of the gentlest English folk singers, a genre that’s already about as gentle as it gets?

I walked home alone
With your song in my head
Finally understanding something
In what you said.

Skullcrusher is the nom de guerre of Helen Ballentine, who says her song “recalls moments in my life that are viscerally intertwined with [Nick Drake’s] music, specifically times spent walking & taking the train. The song is really my homage to music and the times I felt most immersed in it.”

I’ve told this story before but whenever I hear Nick Drake I think of a girl in Scotland who I met on my semester abroad. She made me a tape with The Best of Leonard Cohen on one side and a homemade collection of Nick Drake songs on the flip. (This was years before the “Pink Moon” Volkswagen commercial.) She was smart and funny and pretty but troubled, and the exoticness of my Americanism only kept her interest for a short time. But I’ll always be grateful that she introduced me to those two artists.

Skullcrusher: insta, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Rock and roll can change your life.