Welcome to the last Unskippables of 2021! Thanks everyone for subscribing and reading this year - I’ll be back in January with more Extremely Good Opinions!
But first - the time I was tricked into liking a very fake band.
In high school, I was deeply and painfully pretentious - something I haven’t totally shirked, to be fair, but at 17 I wanted so badly to be on the edge of Cool New Music, eating up online reviews and bad mp3 rips of indie garbage. White belts. You were there. This led to four of my friends creating a fake band they “found” on a jazz band trip (yup) to Seattle, knowing I would tell them “I haven’t heard them, but I’ve heard of them.” With that, they spent a year fooling me into thinking it was a very real band.
The band was called Dojo, and my friends went as far as to record fake demos of the songs and form a ‘cover band’ of their music:
Not only was I the only person not in on the joke, I didn’t know the band wasn’t real until three years later. I was the only person who couldn’t admit they had no idea who their fake band was, and thus they performed the joke for an idiot audience of one.
So with that context, I’ve done my best to make “Best Of” season a month of being open to the music I haven’t heard, admitting I missed probably the truly ground breaking tracks, and spending more time digging in and changing my opinion of what band was the best of the year, real or not.
With that, on to the READS!
RIP Greg Tate. Jon Caramanica’s tribute is great, but Tate’s obituary for Prince, shared by Alex Pappademas might be the best read to celebrate his work, adding “line-editing this was like valet-parking God's Miura.”
Care for the definitive history of trance?
Year end lists keep going! I’ve added Aquarium Drunkard, the FADER, First Floor’s and others to my collection of what people thought was great in 2021.
THE UNSKIPPABLES #19
Sleep 300 - Red
“Live hardware set” can often mean a limited palette and crispy distortion in place of momentum or ideas. However, the first LP from Sleep 300 is filled with pockets of energy and drama, its nine tracks taken from a single live recording session. “Red” and “Pink” in particular are ever-ascending sprints perfect for an afterhours set, and “013V’s” chattering, conversational synth melodies bring a Harmonia-like hypnotism to the album’s techno textures.
Khruangbin and Leon Bridges - B-Side
I think Khruangbin get a bad rap! The Pitchfork review of their 3rd LP, Mordechai, took great offense at their vibe-first approach to songwriting: “Their music is borne from the abundance of streaming, and also borne toward it, its tastefully unobtrusive good vibes purpose-built for playlist placements and Netflix syncs.”
There are FAR worse vibe merchants who share none of the band’s craft and dedication to microtonal grooving - their worst sins might be the bassist and guitarist’s Hanna Barbera haircuts? Why can’t we have vibey things?
Either way, they’re following up their 2020 EP collaboration with Leon Bridges with another collaboration on February 18, and the track is significantly “songier” than the band’s work alone, and (of course) vibier than Bridges’ recent pop push.
The snare drum drop at the chorus is exactly what you’d hope it would be. A vibe.
Rick Ross feat. Wale and Future - Warm Words In A Cold World
For more than a few listens, I couldn’t tell if Richer Than I’ve Ever Been was good, or I was newly nostalgic for the sound of circa 2012 major label rap event records. Most of this album is carried by standard Maybach opulence and Ross’ unhurried, weighty flow. However, “Warm Words In A Cold World” in the middle of the album puts Ross, Wale and Future over a deconstructed, dubbier take on Ross’ usual red carpet horn hooks. The kick floats in and out like a boxer, and by the time Future’s wiggle of a verse lands, the song has hit you with more ideas than the rest of the album combined.
Earl Sweatshirt feat. Armand Hammer - Tabula Rasa
Always happy to hear more from Earl, especially when paired with an album announcement, but duo Armand Hammer really steal the spotlight in this track, with the most vivid lines coming from Billy Woods:
I made chicken late night in my boxers / burning up the kitchen
She passed out right when I was done fixing
I watch reruns in the dark; fingers and lips glistening
There’s real joy in the verses, and paired with the shimmering piano sample, it’s amazing how much prowess can be packed into a track that seems so effortless.
Beach House - Runaway
The second installment of Beach House’s Once Twice Melody dropped last week, and these tracks successfully find new colors in the band’s signature dream pop. Simmons toms and a sequencer give the track a John Hughes end credit energy that elevates the band’s melodic sensibilities, finding revelatory choices in small print so the songs still feel lived-in and familiar.
The Monkees - Listen To The Band
Mike Nesmith, who died last Friday, always strained against the limits of being in the Monkees, pushing for more creative control of the music. He wrote one of their all-time great songs, “Mary, Mary,” but my favorite song of his is the charmingly awkward country-brass pop track “Listen To The Band” and its herculean horn hook. His vocals don’t quite match the energy of paisley country-funk of the backing track, but the entire song is filled with Nesmith’s ambitions towards the audacious and the strange. RIP.
That’s all for this week - see you in 2022!