What a lovely night of Merge Records indie pop rock last Wednesday — despite starting at 10:30pm (much too late for this old person), the Love Language’s set was shimmery delicious danceable goodness, and Rock*A*Teens made me doubly sad that I missed their set at Merge 25, because they were equally great. Give me hooky choruses and great guitar rock any day, please. I approve this message etc.
Full photo set on Flickr.
I’ve had this stuck in my head since #merge25. Yesterday my brain mashed it up with JKutchma’s “Teenage DMZ” (because I put them both on a mix for Trav, and we listened to it driving around last weekend, and honestly? It’s a pretty good mashup. Thanks, brain!). Pretty psyched to see them twice in ten days, and really ready to see ROCK*A*TEENS after missing their set at Merge 25. Cradle Back Room, tonight, do it.
In June 1993 — on the mouth was out, but Flat Duo Jets’ White Trees was due out “that month” — I ripped an article titled “Goin’ To The Chapel” out of Sassy Magazine. It asserted that Chapel Hill was about to be the next Seattle; bands featured in it include Superchunk, of course; Dex Romweber’s amazing Flat Duo Jets; Dillon Fence, an early Greg Humphreys project; What Peggy Wants, Tom Maxwell’s pre-Squirrel Nut Zippers band; the Connells, who with “’74-’75” had one of the only non-Superchunk radio singles of that scene; and Queen Sarah Saturday, a Zeke Hutchins/Johnny Irion band whose single record remains, after Foolish, my favorite Triangle record of the period; among a number of others I don’t know as well. (But frankly, honestly, I should probably dig into. There’s an old Greg Elkins joint called Vanilla Trainwreck in here that I’d totally forgotten about.) In June 1993, my beloved Tar Heels were just off Dean Smith’s second national championship, and I already thought Chapel Hill was unbelievably cool. This sealed it for me, though: Chapel Hill was the coolest place in the universe.
Jim and Laura and Mac all look young in the Superchunk photos; Wurster doesn’t look like he’s old enough to drive.
I’ve told variations of this story to a lot of people; it’s a chorus now, but it remains completely true. Merge threw a pretty fucking great birthday party for themselves this past weekend, and all it did was remind me that Chapel Hill is the coolest fucking place in the universe.
Happy Birthday, Merge. In 1993, Superchunk gave a sad, lonely teenager something to aspire to. In 2014, you just made her a really fucking happy grown-up.
My photos will be going up slowly on the Bottom String, Speakers, and Flickr over the course of the next few days. There’s lots of Wursterface. It’s pretty awesome.
I hate making these lists. Everything was good! If it was bad, I didn’t keep it, thus, all the albums in my iTunes from 2012 are excellent! Agggh. But anyway: I contributed to the Speakers In Code list, of course, but this one is mine and ended up getting a hefty end-of-the-list tweak from my SiC list.
- The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten: This is probably too mainstream for music bloggers and too weird for normal people, but this album made me have more feelings, both joy and heartbreak, than anything else this year. Brian Fallon, leave your wife for meeeeeee.
- Micah Schnabel – I’m Dead, Serious: Micah’s songwriting always moves me, and I think this is his best yet – it’s one of the few albums in my iTunes, along with Handwritten, that is composed of entirely five-star songs.
- The Lumineers – The Lumineers: perfect roots-pop songwriting; “Ho Hey” got the most press, but “Classy Girls” makes me happy every time I hear it.
- Damien Jurado – Maraqopa: unbearably heartbreaking and intimate; “Working Titles” is my favorite song of the year.
- Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Going To Change The Way You Feel About Me Now: a perfect fusion of Memphis soul and JTE’s standard country songs; Justin was already an amazing songwriter, and this record pushes his musical boundaries in a fantastic way.
- Gross Ghost – Brer Rabbit: The best pop record in the Triangle, and maybe the country, this year. You probably haven’t heard it, and that’s a shame.
- Spider Bags – Shake My Head: This is a disgustingly close second for Triangle record of the year, all shake and shimmy and guitars and hooky choruses.
- Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes: Not everyone loved this one, but I think it’s among Finn’s finest songwriting and sharpest observations about fucked up people just trying to live their lives; it was gorgeous live.
- First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar: “Emmylou” was one of the greatest songs of the year, one of the best love songs I’ve ever heard, and the rest of the album does that song justice in setting.
- Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone: probably wouldn’t have made my list, except for how it hits me right in the chest when it’s played live, and I got three sets to discover that punch of emotion and heartbreak this fall.
- The Orwells – Remember When: like the Smith Westerns a few years ago, this record is a bunch of Chicago teenagers leaning back to roots that are older than them and making a kickass retro record, except these guys are better than the Smith Westerns.
- Admiral Fallow – Tree Bursts In Snow: spend two days with these guys, learning the intimacies of their lyrics and their accents and their laughs, and this record will move your heart in wide open sky ways.
- Bob Mould – Silver Age: Bob called it a “big dumb rock” record, but if anybody gets to make a genius big dumb rock record, it’s Bob Mould, and this one is genius.
- Delicate Cutters – Ring: the best band from the South that you’ve never heard of; this record is creepy and gothic and gorgeous, and you will fall in love if you hear it, but I bet you haven’t heard it.
- The District Attorneys – Slowburner: smart, hooky, guitar-driven Southern rock – one of the best high-energy live shows I saw this year, and while the album really is more like its title, it’s well-worth it.
- Archie Powell & the Exports – Great Ideas In Action: perfect retro pop songwriting, some of my favorite guys to follow on Twitter, exactly amazing for a late night one person dance party, the best band from Chicago that you’ve never heard of. Listened to this one in the car like whoa.
- Heartless Bastards – Arrow: a slow burner for me, this one didn’t really take hold until I saw HBs play on Halloween, when I realized fully realized the morose and epic power of the songwriting and Erika Wennerstrom’s haunting, terrifying, gorgeous voice.
- Corb Lund – Cabin Fever: this is filthy in the same way that Black Keys records are filthy, country like only Alberta can be, and funny like you never expect your brilliant songwriters to be. “Cows Around” was one of my most-listened 2012 tracks.
- Dr. Dog – Be The Void: this spent, cumulatively in total, about six weeks of this year, 24/7, in my car stereo. I listened to “That Old Black Hole” 173 times. They were one of my favorite shows of the year.
- Corin Tucker Band – Kill My Blues: because fuck you, that’s why.
- Cory Branan – Mutt: Branan’s first Bloodshot Records release, and first full length LP in many years, this was a roots rock gem that really got overlooked in the glut of releases this year; Branan is a sharp, funny, irreverant, and moving songwriter, and the clean production doesn’t polish off the rough edges that make him a charming performer.
- Will Johnson – Scorpion: Will is one of the most talented songwriters and composers out there today, and Scorpion isn’t my favorite of his releases, but it’s delicate and sad and a lovely introduction to Will Johnson’s epic catalog, if you haven’t discovered him already.
- Japandroids – Celebration Rock: this is not the best rock album released this year, Stephen Thompson, but it was a good one; I have spent a concentrated amount of time with it in the last few weeks after it started turning up on lists, and it is solid and rocking and unique from start to finish. (Spider Bags made the best rock record of 2012.)
- Kelly Hogan – I Like To Keep Myself In Pain: this should probably be higher, but I just didn’t spend enough time with it; Hogan’s voice is unmatched, her own songwriting is great, and when you can line up a list of friends to write songs for you like Kelly Hogan can, it’s an amazing one from the start.
- Passion Pit – Gossamer: listen to this late one night, in the dark, on your headphones, when you’re feeling really sad; then go out and see Michael Angelakos and his masterful band absolutely control a crowd. The sold out show at Disco Rodeo this year, and my lovely Clea’s joy in them, sold me on the power and talent behind this album.
Honorable mentions go to The Menzingers; Wintersleep; Waxahatchee; the Avetts; and Black Prairie, whose records might have made the list if I’d spent more time with their records. (The lack of time I spent with The Carpenter is ridiculous.) Rayland Baxter’s Feathers & Fishhooks was the last one off, like Virginia Tech at tournament time only way way better than any of Seth Greenberg’s teams.
The Speakers in Code list is here, and contains our multitudinous opinions.
I can’t summon words for how powerful it was to stand at the edge of the Cradle stage and watch these four amazing women rock the place to the ground. They were fierce and frenetic and they were so fucking good, they are all such great musicians, and it was a pleasure and a privilege to watch them make rock and roll like it was a religious experience.
Full set, including shots of Eleanor Friedberger, here.
I’ve been lucky enough to see the Mountain Goats a couple of times over the last few years; in 2006 at Troika, in an old garage, and John solo at the Durham Armory, and a sold out show at the Cradle in 2008. A sold out show in 2008 the night after the election in November, a joyous and almost scarily fierce crowd. t. and I stood to the side — I chose not to shoot the show — and it was one of those strange and surreal and gorgeously validating nights in the Triangle music scene and in the world. It was a crowd of people high on the idea of change, and John closed the show with “This Year”, a shiveringly triumphant version, and “Going to Georgia”, which made me stand there and cry silently (the most remarkable thing about coming home to you is the feeling of being in motion again).
We are unbelievably lucky to count the Mountain Goats among our local bands here. Yesterday was a hometown show for them, probably as many friends and people who know and love John as a person packed as tightly into the Cradle as rabid Mountain Goats fans who’ve never met him. It was, once again, joyous and triumphant and validating, in a completely different way. I had one of those weeks that was lovely and terrible all at once, stress and fear warring with love and familiarity and people I care about, and what I wanted at the end of it was to feel pressed in amongst a crowd of people who wanted nothing more than to sing and dance and let everything go.
Megafaun was great, the Mountain Goats were great; better than great. Loud and happy and transcendent, thrilled to be home. The hipsters danced and sang. The set list was amazing. I sat outside the Cradle during the spectacular encore, cried helplessly during “Woke Up New”, and closed my eyes and felt the thump of Wurster’s drums and Peter Hughes’ bass and the thrum of the crowd screaming “HAIL SATAN!” through the wall during the rest of it, the sound of what it’s like to live here and be, mostly, happy.
Full photo set here.
Setlist: Liza Forever Minelli/Southwood Plantation Road/Jeff Davis County Blues/Birth of Serpents/Estate Sale Sign/Rotten Stinking Mouthpiece/Family Happiness/Solo: My Favorite Things/Bad Priestess/There Will Be No Divorce/Outer Scorpion Squadron w/Yuval/Full band: Age of Kings/Dinu Lupatti’s Bones/Broom People/Damn These Vampires/Prowl Great Cain/Never Quite Free/This Year/Encore 1: Woke Up New (solo)/No Children/Palmcorder Yajna/The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton/Encore 2: California Song