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What I Listened to on My Two-Week Break

Well, hello. Welcome back. You look good. Have you lost weight? I like that color on you. How is life?

This is my first column after my first-ever two-week break from Tuesday Morning 3 A.M., and, well, I don’t feel any better. Life has remained just as hectic as it was, and I’ve found only a few opportunities to listen to anything. There’s plenty I’m excited about. In my listening queue right now are the new Laura Marling project, the joint album from Joseph Arthur and Peter Buck, the first solo record from Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, and that surprise record from Beyonce and Jay-Z. I haven’t heard anything from any of these.

There are others, too, that I know I will want to write more about. Kevin Max’s fabulous AWOLis one of my favorite things of the year right now. It sounds like the second coming of Duran Duran, with Andy Rourke of the Smiths playing some top-notch bass lines. It’s really wonderful, and I want to write more about how Kevin Max used to be in a Jesus-y hip-hop group and how his solo career has been the best kind of constant surprise. I’m hoping to find the time to do this.

I have a few others in the hopper that will require more time and concentration than I have right now to fully explore. At some point I want to listen to and write about that absolutely ridiculous three-hour Therion rock opera, because it seems so ludicrous that it actually exists. I have another column about the Choir in the works, because they’ve released not one, not two, but three new records this summer, including Derri Daugherty’s solo album, and it’s an amazing time to be a Choir fan. I would like to at some point fully examine Jandek’s oeuvre here – his 89th record just came out, and it’s as surprising as most of what he’s done in the past 10 years. And there’s an album I downloaded recently that I am kind of obsessed with, and I’m certainly looking forward to writing about that.

But none of those things will happen this week. I’m tapped out, my head is throbbing, and I haven’t really listened to any of those albums in the depth needed to really write about them. This week I’m getting a bunch of potentially great stuff, from The Sea Within to Kamasi Washington to Nine Inch Nails to Ben Rector, and I hope I can soak some of those in soon as well. But not now.

So what have I been listening to? Well, whenever I reach for music lately, it’s stuff I already know and love. It’s easier than trying to concentrate on music I haven’t heard. I’ve been playing the hell out of some of the best music of this year, from Janelle Monae’s amazing Dirty Computer to Jukebox the Ghost’s delightful Off to the Races to Darlingside’s almost impossibly beautiful Extralife. All of these are going to show up next week in my Second Quarter Report, and you can believe that I have fully absorbed them at this point and can unconditionally recommend all of them.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of Doctor Who audio plays, but you don’t care about those. Though I may write about them in this space sometime soon, because I’m fascinated by them and I think any true fan of the series ought to check them out. I’ll warn you before I take up this space to do that.

So that’s a lot of ideas for the future, and I’m still left with the same problem: not enough time to listen to the music, form thoughts about it and write about it coherently. I am working very hard to find space for my obsessive love of music amidst a flurry of new activities, and I would like to continue writing this column. I will work on it. You’ll have something here once a week for the foreseeable future. Whether or not that thing will be worth reading, I can’t promise.

I thought I would wrap this up by talking very briefly about a few albums I did make time to listen to (but only once). None of these deserve their own write-up, but I can say all I want to say about them in a paragraph each. Call it a warm-up for something more substantial next week.

We can start with the Dave Matthews Band, and I will turn in my cool kid card right now, because I have always liked them. It’s been a tumultuous time for the band, with the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore, the onboarding of new sax guy Jeff Coffin, and now the sexual misconduct accusations leveled against violinist Boyd Tinsley and his subsequent firing from the group. And now here is their ninth album, Come Tomorrow, six years after their last, and if you’re looking for signs that the band may be on its last legs, you won’t find them. Some of these songs are so old that Moore plays on them, despite dying in 2008, and the sound of the record shows off its careful construction. But this is a thoughtful album of love songs from the perch of middle age, and the band sounds comfortable. I liked this one well enough – it’s not quite as good as the last one, Away From the World, but it certainly makes the case that the Dave Matthews Band should still be a thing in 2018.

If there’s a ‘90s band I want back in action in 2018, it’s Keane. But I will take what I can get, especially when what I can get is Tom Chaplin’s superb solo career. (Honestly, “Midnight Mass” is one of last year’s best songs, and one of the best ever from the Keane camp.) I’ll also take the revival of Mt. Desolation, the side project of Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin, even if I don’t like it as much. Billed as a country act initially, Mt. Desolation emerges on second album When the Night Calls as a moderately engaging pop band. Rice-Oxley can still write a pretty good song – “How to Fly” stands out, as does the title track. But his voice isn’t a patch on Chaplin’s, and the whole thing kind of glides by without consequence. It isn’t bad, it just isn’t better than not bad.

Speaking of resurrecting ‘90s bands, there’s Circle of Dust. The man who goes by Klayton now was once Scott Albert, and he was a one-man industrial metal master. Two years ago Klayton regained control of the Circle of Dust catalog and, in a surprise move, resurrected the moniker for a swell new album, Machines of Our Disgrace. Now, with new Circle of Dust music on the horizon, he’s issued Alt_Machines, a terrific remix album that, in the best tradition of these things, finds his collaborators creating entirely new songs around his vocals. Most of these recreations are from Machines, but label-mate Blue Stahli reworks four tunes from the classic era as well. You can get this (and Klayton’s other Circle of Dust work, and his music as Celldweller and Scandroid and FreqGen – yeah, the guy never sleeps) at his label site,

And finally, there’s Colin Stetson. I saw the movie Hereditary recently, and it was a suspenseful and horrific ride, made ever more so by the dark, unsettling score. I will admit to not listening to all of Stetson’s score on its own, because it’s damn creepy. I could actually feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as I listened. Stetson is a saxophone player, and one of the most innovative to come along in ages. Here he morphs that multi-tracked sax sound into something indescribable. The movie is pretty good. The score is terrifying, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to listen to the whole thing.

All right, there you go. That’s about all I can say about any of those. Here’s hoping next week I can find the time and energy to really dig into something. Fingers crossed. Thanks for coming back, and thanks for reading.

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