Sufjan Stevens' Best Record Since 2015
Feat. Dijon, Alexis Taylor, Activity, Brown Acid, and two funky Germans!
It’s another Friday filled with new music, and I’m here to guide your precious ears through the dreck to only the most Unskippable tracks of this week.
In addition to new music, there’s been some fascinating new writing on the business of music - Dada Drummer took a look at potential fraud in Spotify artist earnings and the bots that build the flywheel for potentially fraudulent payments. As someone who has made tens of dollars from streaming services, I was interested - but it took Rusty Foster’s breakdown to understand what might be afoot with streaming royalties.
THE UNSKIPPABLES #8
Sufjan Stevens / Angelo De Augustine - Lacrimae
Sufjan Stevens’ music at its best has always been cinematic - the grandeur of “Chicago,” the atmospheric sadness of Michigan and Carrie & Lowell, and, of course, his Oscar-nominated songs for “Call Me By Your Name” - but this may be his first record inspired directly by watching movies. Written and performed with Angelo De Augustine in upstate New York, A Beginner’s Mind actually lists the songs that inspired each track. The melodies are dense, thanks to Stevens and De Augustine’s intertwined vocals, and there’s a glimmering sheen to every track. But it’s the bone-dry verses of the final song, “Liminae” that might work best, providing a stark counterpoint to the dreamy chorus that only appears once.
Alexis Taylor - Violence
Alexis Taylor, most famous as the voice of Hot Chip, dropped his second solo record Silence last week, built during COVID-19 isolation and inspired by his 2019 tinnitus diagnosis. Both inform the album’s austere sense of loss and longing, with “Violence” a meditation on solitude that belies the song’s title. Washes of white noise and cello are the only instruments accompanying Taylor and his piano, letting the track feel like it fades out to television static as it ends.
Activity - Text The Dead
Sometimes a song about loss isn’t about processing the big feelings. Sometimes it can just capture the too-bright disconnected buzz of life while you’re carrying grief that makes life seem impossibly alone. Activity’s new song, inspired by the death of singer Travis Johnson’s mother, feels like floating through the day while trying to comprehend tragedy, with a lurching backbeat thud pushing the song forward, dropping out as Johnson sings “I go outside/ then I go inside and text the dead.”
Gary Del Vecchio - Buzzin
Brown Acid is a compilation series that collects the early 70s sounds of heavy rock/blues, bridging the gap between Nuggets fuzzy gems and early arena rock riffage. The records are filled to the brim with jams feel deeply yellowed, loaded, and threatening, all Schlitz and uppers and bad attitudes.
This track, from the just-announced thirteenth entry, is a series of deeply dumb and awesome riffs, culminating in a Hawkwind-worthy hook anchored by a dude grunting “BUZZIN.” I rate it 3/3 Alright Alright Alrights.
Dijon - Many Times
For a band that was massive in the 2000’s, you rarely hear TV On The Radio’s influence come through in new music. That makes the strong resemblance in Dijon’s “Many Times” even more striking - is it Dijon’s echo of Tunde Abedimpe’s edgy, ranting rhythmic pocket? The clattering drums? The unusual textures, especially the piano solo that closes out the track? Perhaps its just that the track balances being off-kilter and obtuse while also being direct, poppy, and human - and that I want a whole album of it ASAP.
Whitefield Brothers - Safari Strut
Imagine the cognitive dissonance of hearing this song at a bar, going full funk stink face, Shazaming it, then deciding to write about this very cool cut of Mulatu Astatke-esque funk ONLY TO FIND OUT ITS TWO GERMAN DUDES??? Look, it still hits, but the emotional journey of prepping for this blurb…my poor head can’t handle it.
That’s all - see you next week!