All posts by Andre Salles

Let Us Begin to Live Again
Devin Townsend's Incredible Empath

Have you ever intensely looked forward to something, and then when that thing arrives, it’s even better than you hoped it would be?

I know, this is not the way it usually goes. I’ve written a lot in this space about expectation, and how it changes our perception of art. I can’t count the number of times I have waited breathlessly for an album or movie or book, then had to deal with the reality of that work falling short of what I wanted it to be. It’s a process, in my mind, to separate the art itself from the expectation of it – to say that no, this isn’t what I wanted, but in going a different direction, the artist has created something special.

Prolonged expectation really skews that process. The most prominent example I can think of is Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. It’s no exaggeration to say that I waited 16 years for that movie, and as reports of its filming and post-production leaked out over the years leading up to its release, my excitement grew and grew. I waited in line for something like 18 hours to buy tickets to the midnight premiere, and I don’t regret a minute of that. It was so much fun. But the movie was something else, and it took many repeat viewings for me to separate the actual Episode One from my thoughts and ideas of what it should have been. (I have ended up liking it, despite its many and obvious flaws.)

But sometimes – very rarely, but sometimes – a movie or a book or (in this case) an album not only meets those expectations, it surpasses them. And when that happens, I spend days upon days just reveling in it, absorbing it, learning its contours. Of course, you’ve all figured out that I’m not speaking hypothetically. I do have an album to talk about this week that blew past all of my hopes for it, and that album is Devin Townsend’s Empath.

I’m sure many of you are Googling Devin Townsend right now. He’s a Canadian musician with more than 25 albums to his name, and he’s been plying his trade since the mid-‘90s. Still, I’m not surprised when people haven’t heard of him. Devin’s work is intense, in all the best ways, and he’s been evolving as an artist, rarely putting out the same type of album twice. He began as the sole member of extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad, eventually adding musicians and producing five vicious, impossible-to-play albums under that name. His solo material began as a wall-of-sound version of metal, with so much under the surface that it almost seemed like very loud ambient music, but has grown into something much bigger and harder to describe.

Lately he’s been working with a core group of conspirators on the Devin Townsend Project, sorting his various influences into boxes and spotlighting them. This has brought us from the insane Zappa-metal extremes of Deconstruction to the glorious atmospheres of Ghost to the pop powerhouses that make up Epicloud. It’s been a great run, but in 2017 Devin disbanded the Project, looking to bring all of his styles together in one massive solo album called Empath.

That album is now here, and it’s astonishing.

Nothing I say in the next few paragraphs will be any kind of substitute for hearing this thing. Empath is a sonic sculpture, a triumph of production. There’s so much going on here that I could spend the next three pages just describing the first song. (I won’t do that, but I could.) As a record maker, he’s outdone himself here, and if you’re familiar with Devin’s work, you know what a statement that is. It almost feels like he spent the last 20 years learning how to make Empath, from a production standpoint.

This album feels like an arrival point for Devin as a songwriter, too. The DTP certainly showed off his range, and gave him the opportunity to grow in a dozen different styles. As promised, Empath brings all of those styles together, and it fully knocks down the walls between them. These songs jump styles and genres like they’re hopscotch squares. This thing opens with ambient music, glides into steel-drum island sounds, then blossoms into a full choral arrangement before the loudloudLOUD guitars even come in. Then that first song, “Genesis,” takes us from groove-rock to blast-beat extravagance to video game music to 1920s balladry, complete with strings and choir.

Honestly, it’s almost too much to take in, and there’s 74 minutes of it. “Spirits Will Collide” is a pop song designed to give your ear something to hang on to, but it’s early, and the album never gets that accessible again. When I heard the oh-my-god-how-did-humans-play-this explosion of “Hear Me” slip effortlessly into the Disney-esque orchestrations of “Why,” my jaw dropped. Devin can really sing all this material, too, from full-throated screams to sweetly melodic passages, but he brings in a small army of collaborators to vocalize as well. (Evidently fellow Canuck Chad Kroger of Nickelback is somewhere in the chaos of “Hear Me,” but I haven’t been able to find him.)

After 50 minutes of mind-melting music, which wraps up with the beautiful “Requiem,” Empath closes with a monster. The 24-minute “Singularity” is Devin’s most accomplished extended composition, rising slowly over its first movements and earning its massive catharsis. Only its abrupt ending keeps me from swooning entirely, but I can forgive that for the genre-destroying mastery that precedes it. In many ways that ending feels like a “to be continued” card, pointing forward to whatever Devin can possibly do to follow this.

There’s another aspect of Empath that I love, and it only comes from following Devin’s career and listening to him change and grow as a person, not just as a musician. His early work is ugly on purpose, exorcising his anger issues and his addictions, and some of it is difficult to listen to. Over time he has devoted more and more of his music to joyous celebrations of togetherness, and Empathis the culmination of all of that. This is a relentlessly positive album, even in its more aggressive moments, and it’s all about spirituality and community and, well, empathy. And it’s a great pleasure to hear him arrive here, both musically and personally.

I don’t know if I’ve said enough to sell you on this experience. I hope I have. Empath is amazing. It’s the kind of album artists spend their whole lives pursuing. Devin Townsend is a one-of-a-kind musician, and Empathis the most Devin Townsend album he has ever made. It’s an exhausting thing to listen to, an excessive outpouring of complexity and sheer sound, and I mean that in the best possible way. Very few people on the planet could have made an album like this, and no one else would have. It’s pure, uncut Devin, and it makes me giddy. I think it’s the best thing he’s ever given us.

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Speaking of insane complexity, I just got the 40th anniversary edition of Zappa in New York.

My admiration for Frank Zappa as a composer and a player is well known, I expect. There will never be another like him, and any attempt to squeeze his work into a box and market it is doomed to failure. But while he was alive, record companies were tasked with doing just that. The most famous story of Frank’s inability to play by record company rules concerns a four-disc set called Lather, and Warner Bros.’ insistence that it be cut down into several smaller bites for public consumption.

One of those bites was 1978’s Zappa in New York, which documented a 1976 run of shows at the Palladium in New York City. Most of the material on the album was new, debuted and recorded live, and it includes such Zappa classics as “The Black Page #2” and “The Illinois Enema Bandit.” It also originally contained an 11-minute stunner called “Punky’s Whips,” detailing a strange relationship between drummer Terry Bozzio and a publicity photo of Punky Meadows, guitarist for the band Angel. Warner Bros. really didn’t like “Punky’s Whips” and forcibly removed it from the original issue of the album. (It was restored for a 1991 reissue that included four bonus tracks as well.)

Zappa gets the last laugh here, though, with this extravagant and extraordinary new edition. Let me just describe the packaging first. The whole thing comes in a New York-style pizza box with the familiar Zappa in New York marquee logo printed on it. When you open the box, you see the second box – a metal canister shaped like a New York City hubcap. It is, frankly, beautiful, and when you open that canister, you get an expansive booklet, a replica of a ticket to one of the Palladium shows, and five (FIVE) CDs of material.

I know this isn’t exhaustive – only a complete recording of the 1976 concerts would be – but it’s plenty for me. In addition to the original Zappa in New York, appearing here in its 1978 vinyl mix for the first time, you get almost three and a half hours of additional performances from the Palladium shows. These are unedited and unsweetened live recordings of one of Zappa’s best bands, with special guest Don Pardo having the time of his life, and hearing them wind their way through so much complicated material is a treat. The fifth disc contains some additional gems from the vault, and a brand new recording of a piano arrangement of “The Black Page #2” performed by the incredible Ruth Underwood.

Suffice it to say that I have been making my way through this mammoth set since it arrived, and I’ve been marveling at the performances Frank always managed to get from his players. I wish I could have seen him live – I was two when these concerts were recorded, alas. It’s not the same, but listening to the stunning work captured on the new Zappa in New York set will have to do.

Next week, Sara Bareilles and Weyes Blood, I think. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

On Foals, Lines and Some Guys
Plus the First Quarter Report

We seem to be losing music legends at the rate of one a week lately. This week we bid farewell to the amazing, enigmatic Scott Walker.

In my eulogy for Mark Hollis, I mentioned that he perfectly executed one of the most radical left turns, musically speaking, I had ever heard, evolving from pure pop to meditative and beautiful sonic landscapes. Scott Walker is another textbook example. Walker hit it big in the ‘60s as the frontman of the Walker Brothers. (None of them were actually brothers, and none were named Walker – Scott’s given name was Noel Scott Engel.)

With Scott’s deep baritone up front, the Walker Brothers scored with some traditional pop ballads, and when he went solo, Walker stayed in the same vein, eventually indulging a fascination with the songwriting of Jacques Brel. Walker even had his own late-‘60s TV show on the BBC. He probably could have remained in that mode forever, but in the ‘80s he decided to move in a darker, more idiosyncratic direction.

The resulting run of solo albums contain some of the strangest and most compelling material you’re likely to encounter anywhere. Climate of Hunter and Tilt set the stage for 2006’s The Drift, a stunning off-kilter masterwork. These records paired Walker’s dramatic voice with nightmarish soundscapes and bleak, progressive compositions that could not have been further away from his matinee idol past. He remained an uncompromising artist until his death – 2012’s Bisch Bosch, 2014’s collaboration with Sunn O))) and his subsequent film scores are among his strangest works.

Along the way, Walker served as an inspiration to many artists, including David Bowie (whose final album, Blackstar, is basically Bowie does Walker), Radiohead, Leonard Cohen, Steven Wilson, Jarvis Cocker, and the list goes on. Walker died on Friday, March 22, at age 76. For lovers of music without boundaries, he will be sorely missed.

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I love sinking into a lengthy double album. But lately I feel like I’m probably alone in this feeling, since it seems to be the in thing to split up double-length projects into two separate releases. The only reasons I can think of to do this are financial – you get to charge two single-disc prices instead of one double-disc price, which certainly brings in more cash. If there’s an artistic reason for dividing a single project into two releases, and then separating those releases by months, I haven’t thought of it.

But to be fair, I’ve only heard the first half of the latest project to do so, Foals’ Everything Not Saved Will be Lost. And if there’s a band I trust to have an artistic reason to split up their new songs onto two separate volumes, it’s this one. Since first emerging in 2007, this Oxford quartet has been on an upward trajectory, finding equal space for their math-rock and dance-groove sides. 2015’s What Went Down was a clear victory point for the band, especially the shout-along single “Mountain at My Gates,” and tackling a double album seems like the next logical step.

The band has been clear that while the two volumes of Everything Not Saved are companion pieces, they will be very different. The first volume, which came out on March 8, is the keyboard-y one, with the second containing more guitar-heavy material. At least, that’s what the band says. This first volume certainly seems to have more synthesizers than I am used to hearing in Foals music, but there’s a lot of superb guitar work as well, and when this record locks in, the band is as organically danceable as they have ever been.

While this entire first set is excellent, especially big-beat winners like “White Onions” and “Exits,” it reaches its zenith with “On the Luna,” perhaps the band’s best ever single. It’s head-spinning – the guitar part is in 9/4, everything else is in 4/4, and it’s seamless, stomping from one end to the other with determination and purpose. “Luna” is where the record begins to lose energy, and it slows down dramatically for the lovely final two tracks, closing with the lament “I’m Done with the World (and It’s Done with Me).”

At 39 minutes, the first volume of Everything Not Saved Will be Lost feels complete in itself, and so I am left to wonder if its second half will seem like a separate album. Would combining these two efforts into a single thought have proven detrimental to either one? We’ll see in September. For now, I can say that this first volume is everything I wanted it to be. It’s so good that even if there were not a second volume on the way, I’d be satisfied.

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It’s taken Jenny Lewis’ swell solo career to make me realize why I never quite liked Rilo Kiley.

Lewis has a crystal clear, Patsy Cline-like voice that worked fine in her indie-rock band, but works wonders on her more traditional folk-pop solo material. In retrospect, Rilo Kiley was an exercise in finding the right vehicle for that voice, and the band never really hit upon it. In contrast, I have adored everything Lewis has done on her own, from the pure folk of her debut with the Watson Twins to 2014’s beautifully crafted The Voyager.

And now she’s made what is probably my favorite of her records, On the Line. Its cover art mirrors that of its predecessor, letting you know right up front that this one will be in the same vein. It’s certainly a refinement of a sound that went down a treat last time – this one is also largely produced by Ryan Adams, a fact that Warner Bros. would probably have made more of a few months ago, and includes contributions from Beck, Ringo Starr, Benmont Tench, Don Was, Jim Keltner and other country-tinged folk-pop royalty.

Together, this dream team has fashioned a perfect setting for Lewis’ voice, which remains her strongest asset. Right behind it, though, are her songs, and these are without a doubt among her best. Hopefully you’ve heard “Wasted Youth” and “Red Bull and Hennessy,” two of the strongest singles she’s ever released. The album doesn’t falter from there, sticking with its simple, elegant melodicism. Beck produces three of these songs (with the great Jason Falkner on guitar), and they fit right in, so consistent is the writing.

This is also Lewis’ most personal work, dredging up relationships (she just ended a 12-year one with former songwriting partner Jonathan Rice) and addictions, and dedicating one song (the lovely “Little White Dove”) to her always-strained relationship with her late mother. “Party Clown” is worthy of Aimee Mann – it’s so detailed in its despair. (“I took a weightless bath until my own laugh gave me the creeps.”) Only the final track, “Rabbit Hole,” finds Lewis asserting control again: “I’m not gonna go down the rabbit hole with you again,” she sings, putting paid to at least one of the spiraling relationships she discusses here.

If nothing else, On the Line should cement Jenny Lewis’ reputation as a songwriter and an artist. She’s left her band far behind on this one, standing on her own and plumbing the depths of her heartache to emerge with her strongest set of tunes. Here’s hoping she can keep this streak going, because as a solo artist, she’s something to behold.

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I’m still not sure what to make of Jonathan Coulton’s new album, Some Guys.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it, even if I don’t understand the impetus behind it. Coulton, you may remember, is a self-styled internet superstar who made his name writing wonderful songs about geeky things. Robots, vampires, zombies and aliens all made appearances in Coulton tunes, and he often wrung gorgeous emotions from his fanciful subjects. (“I Crush Everything” is a cry of anguish from a self-loathing giant squid, for instance, while “I’m Your Moon” is a euphoric love song to Pluto from one of its moons, consoling it on the loss of its status as a planet.)

Coulton has been on an upward trajectory for years, writing more and more earnest material, and 2017’s incredible Solid State is his finest – it’s a concept record about the internet of the future, with some of his sharpest and most melodic songs. For his follow-up, Coulton has decided to ditch that trajectory, at least temporarily, and take a sharp left turn. But he’s done so with all the charm and energy and wonder he injects into everything.

Some Guys finds Coulton covering 14 soft-rock hits of the 1970s, from Bread’s “Make It With You” to the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” to Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Even weirder, these tracks have been perfectly aped – Coulton not only does nothing to change the songs, he goes to great pains to make sure these new recordings sound exactly like the originals, save for his voice.

He’s framed this as a statement on masculinity – when he was growing up, he said, these softer, more emotional songs gave him a framework for how to be a tender and considerate man. That’s laudable, and I love it. But I’m not sure anyone listening to this record will enjoy it as much as Coulton enjoyed making it. I really like all of these songs, from America’s “Sister Golden Hair” to Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne,” and I enjoyed hearing Coulton sing them. But these are such perfect carbon copies that I feel like I have already wrung all of the joy out of them that I am going to.

But hey, I love supporting Jonathan Coulton, and thankfully, I’m not alone – the Some Guys Kickstarter asked for $20,000 and raised more than $150,000, all of which goes to JoCo. I hope people like this record enough to support his next one, whatever it may be. Coulton’s independence, both financial and artistic, means that he can do anything he wants. Sometimes what he wants to do is create an astonishingly original piece of work like Solid State, and sometimes what he wants to do is smash the patriarchy with soft rock. I’m on board for everything he’s done, and anything he chooses to do next.

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Hey, it’s the end of March, which means it’s time for the First Quarter Report. This year is flying by already. If you’re new to these quarterly reports, they are basically my year-end top 10 list in progress. Below is what that list would look like if I were forced to publish it right now. This is guaranteed to change dramatically in the next nine months, so don’t read a lot into it. But here is the list as it stands:

10. Copeland, Blushing.
9. All Hail the Silence, Daggers.
8. Jenny Lewis, On the Line.
7. Joe Jackson, Fool.
6. Foals, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1.
5. Over the Rhine, Love and Revelation.
4. Pedro the Lion, Phoenix.
3. David Mead, Cobra Pumps.
2. Peter Mulvey, There Is Another World.
1. Amanda Palmer, There Will Be No Intermission.

Honestly, looking at it now, that’s a really good list. I hope the year continues as it began.

Next week, something that I’m sure will shake up the list above: Devin Townsend’s Empath. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Bigger on the Inside
Amanda Palmer's stunning There Will Be No Intermission

Another week, another loss. This week we said goodbye to Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar.

I first heard Dick Dale’s music the same way many of my generation did: watching the opening credits of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Dale’s rocking version of 1920’s tune “Misirlou,” released as a single in 1962, set the tone for the ultra-cool gangster movie that followed. It also showcased his innovative guitar style, with its fast, aggressive picking. He pioneered that style with songs like “Let’s Go Trippin’,” and with his Del-Tones, made five killer records full of it between 1962 and 1964.

Dale kept on playing even after surf rock fell out of favor, and made several albums in the ‘90s on the back of Pulp Fiction. He continued touring in his later years, he said, to afford mounting medical costs. Dale died on Saturday, March 16 at the age of 81, after being treated for heart and kidney failure. There aren’t many people who can say they invented a genre, but Dick Dale was one. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Palmer seems to make people upset.

I don’t mean her work, although that sometimes does the trick too. I mean Palmer herself. The very existence of Amanda Palmer on this planet is enough to drive some people to genuine fits of anger. I’m not exactly sure why that is, although I’ve heard a lot of reasons. Some people find her gift for self-promotion annoying. Some find her use of crowdfunding – and her constant sloganeering about it, i.e. “we are the media” – to be somehow detrimental to other working musicians. Some just don’t like her seemingly inborn ability to be provocative. (And I’ll admit to a certain wariness about her for that last reason, too.)

But I would push back against the assertion that Palmer is not genuine. I’ve heard that too, that the theatrical nature of her work and persona somehow precludes her from creating honest art. I’ve been an Amanda Palmer fan since the first Dresden Dolls album, and I sincerely think the picture of her as some kind of button-pushing artifice machine is thoroughly mistaken.

In every one of her incarnations, from the German punk cabaret of the Dolls to the Ben Folds contemporary who made Who Killed Amanda Palmer to the grand orchestrator behind Theatre is Evil to her varied collaborations with husband Neil Gaiman and Jason Webley and Edward Ka-Spel and even her dad, Jack Palmer, the emotional underpinning has been real. Just behind the facepaint is a fully formed human being yearning to share herself through art.

That’s never been more true than on her third solo album, There Will Be No Intermission. I don’t want to give the impression that Palmer has given up her penchant for the provocative here. Just one look at the cover, on which she appears naked, balanced on a tree stump and holding a sword above her head, should put paid to that notion. But Intermission is her most naked, open-hearted and earnest album. It’s also the most emotionally potent thing she has done. Listening to all 78 minutes of this in a row is almost exhausting, so raw are the feelings it evokes.

Yes, I said 78 minutes. Intermission consists of ten songs and ten interludes, and the songs are often extended pieces – two of them break ten minutes, and a third tops eight. Its messy sprawl is part of what makes it so effective, though. A shorter album, one more sensitive to the nearly nonexistent attention spans of the modern audience, wouldn’t have nearly the impact this one does. Palmer knows this record is imperfect, but she invites you to love it anyway, in all of its fumbling glory. In a way, that’s the point – this is a record about being perfectly human, about how we’re all struggling through and should show each other grace.

I think Palmer’s right that no major label would have paid for this thing, which makes me happy once again that crowdfunding exists. These songs were financed through Patreon – Palmer has thousands of patrons who pay a minimal monthly sum to support her work, and she’s used that money exactly the way I would hope she would: by creating art that only she could create. The list of artists who would make a record like Intermission is exceptionally small. The list of artists who would make this record, just like this, only has one name on it.

Intermission is a quiet thing, despite its length. Most of it was performed on piano (with a couple songs on ukulele), with minimal additions. The more full-sounding tunes (“Drowning in the Sound,” “Machete”) are the obvious singles, even though both stretch to six minutes. Elsewhere, though, Palmer counts on her audience to stay with her as she navigates these longer stretches, these outpourings of herself through 88 keys. She doesn’t couch that experience, either – she opens with it, putting the ten-minute “The Ride” right up front. This turns out to be the perfect place for it. “The Ride” is a more general song about life and death, like a slow-motion opening of the gates, ushering you in.

And it’s wonderful. She was right to trust us, because this long and sparse poem draws you in and guides you through. “Drowning in the Sound” is more compact and louder, with drums and everything, and it’s as strong a minor-key pop song as Palmer has ever written. It’s a reaction, as much of this record is, to the dark political climate we find ourselves in, and to climate change in particular: “And your body is a temple, and the temple is a prison, and the prison’s overcrowded and the inmates know it’s flooding, and the body politic is getting sicker by the minute, and the media’s not fake, it’s just very inconvenient…”

Every song here is a highlight, so I won’t go through each one. I’ll mention a couple, though, that stand out from a very strong pack. “Judy Blume” is a gorgeous paean to a writer who inspired millions of girls Palmer’s age, specifically mentioning events from Deenie and Tiger Eyes and of course, Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret. The final verse is just lovely: “Judy, I can’t believe sometimes that I’m an adult, and girls like I was think that I have this shit figured out, you and me lying together at night in my room, you’ll be inside them forever, Judy Blume…”

“A Mother’s Confession” is another ten-minute piano piece, and it’s even more captivating. It’s straight out of Palmer’s diary as she screws up time and again while trying to keep her newborn son Ash safe. He takes a tumble in a public bathroom and Palmer feels the weight and guilt of it. She gets pulled over for speeding because the baby was crying and she was trying to get to her destination quickly. The song is a stunning bit of empathy for every hard-working mother trying to get through each day, and when a choir joins in on the refrain (“At least the baby didn’t die”), it’s simultaneously heart-wrenching and joyous.

And speaking of empathy, there is “Voicemail for Jill,” probably my favorite thing here. It’s an absolutely apolitical song about abortion, which by itself is a miracle. It’s about how we treat women making the hardest decision of their lives: “No one’s gonna celebrate you, no one’s gonna bring you cake and no one’s gonna shower you with flowers, the doctor won’t congratulate you, no one on that pavement’s gonna shout at you that your heart also matters…” It’s a stunning piece of graceful humanity, a reminder that behind the arguments are real women going through real heartache. I think it’s one of the best songs Palmer has ever written.

But really, it’s the cumulative effect of this thing that sets it apart. This is an album that asks you to go through “The Ride” and “Judy Blume” and the hypnotic, circular, eight-minute “Bigger on the Inside” and “Voicemail for Jill” and “A Mother’s Confession” and THEN two more songs before reaching the end. I’ve done it a few times now, and each time my heart swells and breaks and is torn open. By the time the final chord of the wry “Death Thing” is fading out, I feel like I’ve lived a full life inside these songs.

I don’t know that I can ask more of that from any artist. As I said, I have been a fan for a long time, and I expected There Will Be No Intermission to be good. I did not expect it to be an experience of this magnitude. I certainly hope this astoundingly good record puts paid to the notion that Palmer is not an honest, genuine, powerful songwriter. There isn’t a false note here, and taken all together, this is one of the best records of 2019 so far.

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Next week, probably Foals and Jonathan Coulton, plus the First Quarter Report. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

#TeamDamon
Weezer Keeps Delivering in a Post-Pinkerton World

We lost Hal Blaine this week.

Even if his name is unfamiliar, I guarantee you have heard Blaine’s work. As the drummer for the Wrecking Crew, a legendary group of Los Angeles-based session musicians, Blaine played on literally thousands of songs. He provided the backbeat on an astonishing 40 number one singles, including songs like “I Get Around” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Be My Baby” and “I Got You Babe” and “Mrs. Robinson” and “Monday, Monday” and “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” and on and on.

The songs, of course, are his legacy, as well as his ability to provide exactly what those songs needed. He’s not listed among the flashiest or most adored drummers of all time, but he was one of the first to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and there’s a reason for that. A couple hundred reasons, in fact.

Blaine died Monday of natural causes at age 90. May he rest in peace.

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I know most people buy music online these days, but if you happen to see Weezer’s new self-titled album on CD or vinyl in an actual record shop, you’ll see it’s adorned with a sticker. And that sticker is adorned with a pull quote: “They’re doing some cool things right now,” credited to Todd, Weezer Ride or Die.

Who is Todd, you ask? He’s Matt Damon’s character in this absolutely hysterical Saturday Night Live sketch about the implacable divide between Weezer fans. I have probably watched this sketch 30 times, and the last time (a few minutes ago) was just as enjoyable as the first. It’s also given me a new shorthand for my thoughts on the band: I’m Team Damon. Which is a pretty lonely team, most of the time, since almost everyone I know is Team Jones.

If you don’t have time to click on the link, let me explain. The sketch accurately depicts the central argument between fans of this band. One faction – the larger, louder faction – believes Rivers Cuomo and his merry men made two classic albums at the start of their career and have produced nothing but garbage since. The other faction will defend almost everything the band has done. In my case, I’m willing to go to bat for every record except Make Believe and the Red Album, and I like parts of both of those.

I used to stake out some middle ground in this debate, suggesting that Weezer’s first two records – the Blue Album and Pinkerton– are wildly overrated, while their later work is wildly underrated. I still agree with this, but as the post-Pinkerton catalog continues to grow, I find it harder to consider that a middle-ground statement. Blue and Pinkerton are now looked upon as life-changing masterpieces of perfection, when they are manifestly not that. They are very good pop albums that have been elevated to godlike status for some reason.

And they’re no better or worse than a lot of what the band has done since. Suggesting that only Blue andPinkerton should count dismisses a dozen albums – a dozen! – as lacking any value. I see the issue as one of mischaracterization. Weezer has always, always been just a pop band making catchy pop songs (often with cringe-worthy lyrics), and fans on Team Jones believe they used to be something more than that. Somehow they listened to “Undone” and “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So” and heard the voice of a generation.

When really, it’s always just been the voice of Rivers Cuomo, and he has always just done what he wants. No two Weezer albums are alike, save for the abundance of catchy choruses on each of them. Lately, though, Cuomo has truly buckled down and delivered a series of records that stand tall with his best work. I’m willing to say the hot streak started with 2009’s Raditude, a knowing, winking collection of teen-pop anthems, but as that one’s a bit controversial, I’ll play it safe and say the renaissance began with 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End.

If you haven’t heard that one, you’re missing a classic, full of strong power-pop hooks and beautifully written songs like “Cleopatra” and “The British are Coming.” Since then, Rivers has delivered some superb work, from the sun-dappled Brian Wilson-isms of the White Album to the perfect pop of Pacific Daydream. I listened again recently, and I think Pacific Daydream is the most underrated Weezer record – its grand pop sheen gussies up some of Cuomo’s most hummable tunes.

And honestly, that’s all I want from Weezer – catchy, hummable tunes. Cuomo is a master of them, and each time out he gives me just what I want. The band’s latest self-titled effort, colloquially called the Black Album, is no exception. It’s one of the oddest records the band has created, thanks largely to producer Dave Sitek of TV On the Radio and to Cuomo’s adventurous spirit. But even with all the bells and whistles, it’s an album full of catchy, hummable tunes.

Naturally, the Team Jones-ers hate it. They were primed to hate it when the band surprise-released the Teal Album a couple weeks before, writing aghast think-pieces about the sheer audacity of a once-beloved-by-them band turning out covers of old radio hits because their fans on Twitter asked them to. I mean, the nerve, right? (I kinda love the Teal Album, especially the band’s takes on “No Scrubs” and “Billie Jean.”) But the actual Black Album itself didn’t help matters, as it’s about as far away, stylistically speaking, from the first two records as this band has ever journeyed.

If you’re expecting darkness from something called the Black Album, you’re gonna be disappointed. Rivers swears here, for the first time on record, but that’s about as dark as things get. Instead, he’s turned out ten fun tunes, adorned with computer-enhanced beats and synth horns and all sorts of other pop accoutrements. Opener “Can’t Knock the Hustle” is probably the record’s most intricate production, a tale of life on social media set to a danceable beat, a vaguely Mariachi feel, and a refrain of “hasta luego, adios.” By the end, I can’t help singing along.

I have the same trouble with “Zombie Bastards,” which starts out sounding like something Sugar Ray might have turned out, but ends up an infectious singalong. One read of this song is that it’s a smack-back at Team Jones, people who only want to hear the first two records, when Rivers is more interested in uncharted waters. “We know what you want,” he sings, before turning introspective in the bridge: “If I die it means that I lived my life, and that’s much better than hiding in a hole…” He follows it up with a classic: “High as a Kite” is a McCartney-esque ballad about leaving the pressures of life behind, and I think it’s one of Cuomo’s best songs.

It’s also the last bit of real emotion on the record, which I’m sure will annoy people looking for the next Pinkerton. The next five songs are all fun slices of electro-tinged power pop, from the super-danceable “Living in L.A.” (with its obvious Police tribute on the line “I’m so lonely”) to the dumb-clever “Piece of Cake” to the killer “Too Many Thoughts in My Head,” on which Cuomo rhymes “Mary Poppins” with “Netflix options.” “I’m Just Being Honest” is a good tune hampered by its lyrics, which depict Cuomo dissing a young band’s demo before uttering the title phrase, and I’m not sure what he’s getting at with his tribute to the Purple One, “The Prince Who Wanted Everything.” But the latter song’s glam-rock riffs are convincingly crunchy.

The last two songs are surely destined to drive Team Jones nuts. “Byzantine” is a folksy wisp of a thing, co-written with Laura Jane Grace of Against Me, and its bongos-in-a-box beat and goofy melody find Cuomo jumping from Brian Wilson to Mike Love. (Repeat listens have elevated this one in my mind, I must say.) And closer “California Snow” is kind of… Drake, maybe? It’s the most hip-hop song here, Rivers half-rapping lines like “This is the definition of flow” before launching into (you guessed it) another super-catchy chorus. It’s the least convincing thing here, and I still like it.

The Black Album is weird, certainly, but Cuomo’s penchant for well-crafted, memorable tunes keeps all of his (and Sitek’s) experimentation grounded. His mission statement is the same as it’s always been: here are ten more songs you will get stuck in your head. That is all he’s trying to do, whatever form his songs take. Purists and Team Jones-ers will balk at the pop sounds here, and at Rivers’ attempts at sounding hard. (His “don’t step to me, bitch” on “Hustle” is just funny.) But those of us on Team Damon, who approach each new Weezer album with an open mind, will find a lot to like here. The Black Album is fun and catchy, and if that’s all you want from Weezer – and it should be – you’ll enjoy it.

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Next week, the extraordinary Amanda Palmer. Also looking forward to writing about Foals, Jonathan Coulton and a few others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

And Have You Changed Your Life?
Peter Mulvey's New Record Arrives at Just the Right Time

Mark Hollis died last Monday. I found out while at work, and was immediately stricken with the strange sadness I detailed last week. And when I arrived home, through sheer coincidence, I found Peter Mulvey’s gorgeous new album There Is Another World waiting for me.

I don’t want to suggest that Mulvey was influenced by Talk Talk, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was. His work doesn’t immediately suggest it – Mulvey is a folk singer with a deep, sonorous voice and a strong command of the acoustic guitar. But there’s something about There Is Another World that just fits perfectly with my mood since I learned of Hollis’ death, something about this 33-minute suite that feels in line with the otherworldly sounds conjured up on Laughing Stock.

And it may just be that mood talking, but I think There Is Another World is one of Mulvey’s very best efforts. I’ve been a fan for a long time – since his then-label, Eastern Front, sent me Mulvey’s third album, Rapture, in the mail in 1996 – and I’ve been with him through the ups and downs (though mostly ups) of his discography. He came close to losing me with 2014’s slight Silver Ladder, but then he connected with fellow folkie Ani DiFranco, signed to her label and asked her to produce 2017’s Are You Listening. And the results were revelatory. Listening is a superb record from start to finish, a return to form (and an exploration of new forms) for this always-intriguing songwriter.

He’s kept it in the DiFranco family for the follow-up – it was produced by Ani’s longtime bassist, Todd Sickafoose, who basically takes Mulvey’s sparse acoustic sounds and adds interesting sonic atmospheres to them. He knows the basics of these songs are worth leaving alone, and that Mulvey’s performance will carry them. The songs on There Is Another World grew out of a hard winter, and the record has the feel of a snow-covered landscape, and a wind that makes you pull your coat tighter. It’s hard for me to call it dark, though, as there’s a lovely vein of hope that runs through all of it.

But it is a record of hardship and heartbreak, and though I cannot directly connect it to the horrors of the outside world, it feels the way I feel. “Who’s Gonna Love You Now” is one of the most hopeless songs in Mulvey’s catalog, leaving the title as an open question: “When there’s no way through, the only way is out, when it’s all over but the shouting and you’re too tired to shout, who’s gonna love you now?” Both “Fool’s Errand” and the amazing “To Your Joy” are about the pain of regret, and the brief “Nickel and Dime” puts a cap on that theme with these lyrics: “All those years I had in my pocket, I spent them, nickel and dime.”

But don’t despair, because Mulvey ends this suite with light peeking through. “All Saint’s Day” takes the Yeats line that gives the album its title (“There is another world, but it is in this one”) and uses it to beckon us outside, into the hard cold, to face the day. “The Cardinal” wraps all of the album’s themes of loss and regret and turns them around with one line: “You must change your life.” These five words feel like the record’s mission statement, pulling itself up and dusting itself off, and heading into the snow-covered distance.

It’s lovely, and the beautiful journey of the album is only enhanced by the production. Mulvey has called it the most striking soundscape his songs have ever had the privilege to receive, and he’s not wrong. There are violins, organs, accordions, prepared pianos, water glasses and clarinets here, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice how intricate the sound really is, since it is all in service to the songs, the voice and the guitar. The clarinet arrangements in particular make me think of Mark Hollis, but there’s a real sense of wonder and patience to the sonics on display here that feels right in line with Talk Talk’s influence.

Regardless of whether Hollis was on anyone’s mind when making There Is Another World, it was exactly the album I needed at exactly the right time. Even a week later, this suite of songs is still resonating, still taking me places. It’s yet another high point in a catalog full of them, and further proof that Peter Mulvey should be much more widely known. There Is Another World is a crisp chill wind of an album, perfect for this lingering winter, and I’m grateful it arrived when it did.

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Of course, sometimes I want to shatter whatever mood I’m in, and this week two progressive metal albums helped me to do that. Both are new efforts from long-running bands that I have loved since high school, which certainly makes me feel old, but would probably make the band members feel older.

Luckily neither of these acts sound past their prime here, although Dream Theater comes closest. A new DT album used to be an event in my house, but since original drummer (and band visionary) Mike Portnoy left, their output has been a little lacking. New drummer Mike Mangini is very good, but he clearly doesn’t control the creative side the way Portnoy did, which leaves guitarist John Petrucci in the driver’s seat.

Last time out, Petrucci led the band through a 130-minute pastiche of Broadway musicals called The Astonishing. I was fascinated by it when it came out – I mean, who wouldn’t be – but it hasn’t held up. It’s the DT album I reach for the least. Clearly their attempt to shake things up didn’t go as planned, so now it’s time for the retrenching: Distance Over Time, the band’s 14th album, is a conscious return to prog-metal with big riffs and head-spinning instrumental prowess.

Which means that some of this sounds generic, particularly the first few tracks. “Untethered Angel” could be on any DT album, so obvious is its thudding riffery. But as Distance moves on, it gets more exploratory. “Barstool Warrior” and “S2N” are intriguing shifts in sound, while bonus track “Viper King” is nearly full-on blues-rock. No song here breaks 10 minutes, which is a rarity for DT, and the two more compact epics, “At Wit’s End” and “Pale Blue Dot,” earn their space. This isn’t an amazing, career-defining work for Dream Theater, but it’s much better than I expected, and hopefully bodes well for their future.

As long-running as Dream Theater is, Queensryche has run even longer. Two members of the band are originals from 1983, and with the introduction in 2013 of new singer Todd La Torre, the band has only felt more alive and more vital. The Verdict, their 15th album, is the strongest of this new-model Queensryche, and now that they’ve put all the ugliness with previous singer Geoff Tate behind them, they’re clearly ready to get on with the business of being a great metal band.

I remain gobsmacked by La Torre’s voice – it’s high and powerful, like Bruce Dickinson in his prime, and surprisingly supple for a guy who is my age. (He also played all the drums on this record, which, wow.) He just nails it on opener “Blood of the Levant,” about conflicts in the Middle East, and never lets up. The band is clearly inspired by his presence. “Man the Machine” is their sharpest single in years, “Dark Reverie” is the kind of crawling work the band used to be known for, and with “Bent,” “Inner Unrest” and “Launder the Conscience” they’ve turned in one of their best three-song stretches in ages.

My main complaint about The Verdict is the same one I’ve had since La Torre joined: without distinctive melodies these songs all kind of run together. But that’s long been a Queensryche problem, and this new incarnation knows enough to solve it with sheer heaviness. If all you remember Queensryche for is “Silent Lucidity,” the speed and power of this record will surprise you. Speaking as a longtime fan, I am enjoying the heavy direction Queensryche has chosen, and I hope they keep it going.

Speaking of keeping it going, I’ll be back next week with some thoughts on the new Weezer. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Now That It’s Over Rest Your Head
Mark Hollis, 1955-2019

Ignore that date up there. It’s taken me almost a week longer than usual to get it together enough to write this one. Which means I’ve had almost a week to mull on the death of Mark Hollis.

I like to think Hollis would appreciate the disconnect between the dates, as if this column in his honor exists out of time. That’s the best description I have of his music: it feels out of time, so much so that listening to it, for me, makes the lightspeed whir of daily life just… stop. Like a still frame of the most beautiful, quiet vista you can imagine, waiting for unpause, patiently, unhurriedly. Hollis not only made beautiful music, he made music that all but forces you to breathe more slowly and appreciate how beautiful everything else is.

I honestly cannot remember the first time I heard Talk Talk. I knew enough about them to recognize Tim Friese-Greene, Hollis’ organ-playing partner in Talk Talk, when he showed up on Catherine Wheel’s amazing Chrome album in 1993. But I cannot point to a day or an hour when the impossible beauty of the band’s final two records, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, took hold of my life. They sort of creeped up in there and wrapped themselves around whatever part of my soul most deeply responds to beauty. Again, out of time.

All I can tell you is that they live there now, and have for many years. Talk Talk began life as a synth-pop band – you may know their biggest U.S. hit, “It’s My Life,” which No Doubt covered in 2003. The band’s moniker, chosen after the name of their first single, stuck even as the band changed dramatically, following Hollis on his particular (and particularly unmarketable) quest. I almost feel bad for EMI Records, who signed on for big-haired ‘80s anthems and, by the end, were confronted with Spirit of Eden, perhaps the least immediate major label album ever made.

The music itself, which I think I have to work up to talking about, is only one of the reasons I admire Hollis and count him among my heroes. It’s easier to talk about another of those reasons, the way he conducted his career. I’m not sure what switch flipped in Hollis’ head around 1985, but beginning with 1986’s terrific The Colour of Spring, Hollis deftly moved Talk Talk away from the radio-ready material he had been creating and toward magnificence. From this moment on, he would simply refuse to make the music others wanted him to make.

That’s not to say that the first two Talk Talk albums are without merit. They’re deeper and more interesting than most of what you would have found on the radio in 1982 and 1984. But they are still immediately recognizable as product-of-their-times pop, and with The Colour of Spring, Hollis began warping that music around him, turning it utterly unique. His voice, a powerful and booming thing, took on fewer and fewer big choruses, and the music began to incorporate more chamber and jazz influences. But they’re influences only: the trumpets and clarinets on “Happiness is Easy” are so outside the realm of what other pop musicians might use those instruments for.

On the strength of single “Life’s What You Make It,” Coloursold well, and Hollis took EMI’s money and hunkered down for a year to make 1988’s Spirit of Eden. One imagines it is exactly the album he wanted to make. One also imagines that EMI was utterly aghast when they heard it. Nine-minute opener “The Rainbow” begins with two minutes of formless atmosphere before Hollis’ ringing guitar cuts in, and even then, to say that this song “takes off” would be a lie. Spirit of Eden is one of the most patient records I have ever heard outside of pure ambient music, intently focused on the mood to the point where any change, no matter how slight, is monumental.

This one got Talk Talk kicked off of their label, and some artists might take that as a sign to change things up, to do again what worked before. Not Mark Hollis, who then made one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard, 1991’s Laughing Stock. Everything that Eden was, this one is more. It is quieter, it is more patient, it is even less concerned with whether anyone but its creator likes it. Even Hollis’ distinctive voice is more whispered, more focused on furthering the spell than on calling attention to itself. It’s a masterpiece. I’ve been listening to it for more than 20 years, and it still cocoons me each time, transporting me to a different world, revealing new wonders.

OK, I guess I am talking about the music, and how it makes me feel. So let’s do that: Laughing Stock makes me feel like nothing else I have ever heard. I have every contour of this thing memorized, and it has taken all of the time I have put into it to bring me even to the meager understanding of it I have. All I can tell you is that when the driving syncopated guitar kicks in on “Ascension Day,” or when everything else but the pitter-patter drum beat drops out and the piano chords ring out like sunlight on “New Grass,” my heart moves. Almost literally, it feels like my heart moves.

I can trace the patterns from the last two Talk Talk albums to so many of the artists I love most, from Marillion to Elbow to Shearwater to anyone making slowly unfolding post-rock. Heck, The Choir’s song “Circle Slide” uses Talk Talk’s “The Rainbow” as a blueprint, to gorgeous effect. These albums aren’t talked about much, but I hear their influence everywhere. Nothing sounds quite like them, though, especially Laughing Stock. I am listening to it right now and I am finding it hard to write words. Any words.

Laughing Stock was the end of Talk Talk. Their proposed sixth album, once called Mountains on the Moon, morphed into Mark Hollis’ one self-titled solo album, issued in 1998. It is even quieter, even less present, than Talk Talk at its most reticent. I’ve heard it said that Hollis’ style was one of appreciating silence, of building songs in rooms too large for them and pointing out all the unused space. The music on Mark Hollis takes up almost no space in the largest room Hollis ever worked in. If you listen to all of his work back to back, he almost disappears before your ears.

Which brings me to one of the things I admired most about him: he did, in fact, disappear. Shortly after issuing his solo album, Hollis decided he was done with the music industry and simply faded from view for the next 20 years. I’ve seen this called a “mysterious absence,” but there’s nothing mysterious about it: Hollis has told us why. “I choose for my family,” he said. “Maybe others are capable of doing it, but I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time.”

And he stuck to it. No reunion tours, no cash-grab anniversary shows, nothing. Man, is that admirable. He decided to stop, and he stopped. In doing so, he taught me that musicians don’t owe us anything. I would have loved another ten Hollis solo albums, but I love even more the idea that he lived his final years as the person he wanted to be. That, I think, is the lesson I learned from the life of Mark Hollis: be who you are, no matter what. I’m nowhere near as good at it as he was, but I’m trying.

Mark Hollis died on Monday, Feb. 25, at the too-young age of 64. He had been battling an illness for a short while, and never recovered from it. In very Mark Hollis fashion, his death couldn’t be confirmed for a full day. But news of his passing led to dozens of tributes from the musicians he inspired, and reading those has been heartwarming.

As for me, I’ve been listening to Talk Talk almost non-stop, and working through a complicated sadness. Here’s where I’ve landed: I am grateful. I’m grateful for the incredible, life-changing music Hollis gifted to us, and grateful that he ended his career on his own terms and lived out his life as he chose. Life’s what you make it, the wise man once said, and Mark Hollis lived those words.

Rest in peace.

Next week, something that doesn’t have anything to do with death, I hope. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Songs of Grief and Comfort
With Love to Aurora, Illinois

As I’m sure you’ve all seen by now, there was a mass shooting in my hometown on Friday.

I say hometown even though I don’t live there, and I never lived there. But if a place is its people, Aurora, Illinois is the city I call home. Some of the best friends I have ever made live in Aurora, and I spent years learning about the city while covering it for the local newspaper. I’ve been involved in many community events and watched as the nascent arts scene there started blossoming.

It’s a great old city, and it’s hurting this week. On Friday afternoon, a man who had just been fired from his job at the Henry Pratt Company drew a gun and started firing. He killed five people and injured many more, several of them brave members of the Aurora Police Department, before being brought down. I followed the events on social media, knowing that I have friends who live near there, friends who work near there, friends whose kids go to school across the street from there, and friends who are first responders and could have been sent to the scene.

Everyone I know is safe, thank God. I have a lot of misgivings about social media, but I love that it allows for people to immediately let friends and family know they are unharmed. But the city is in pain. I’m writing this on Sunday, before attending a pair of prayer vigils, and I’m sure there will be tears and mourning for the five souls taken from us, and for their friends and family.

It’s important, I think, to put faces to a tragedy like this, so I’m going to name them: Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner. The last one in the list, Trevor, was a 21-year-old student at Northern Illinois University starting the first day of his internship with Henry Pratt’s HR department. I’m sure he thought it was a great opportunity for him, and it should have been. It’s horrible.

I also think it’s important to note the fantastic response of the Aurora Police Department and the Aurora Fire Department, as well as all of those who offered mutual aid. These are people who ran toward the sound of gunfire, who put themselves in harm’s way to save others. It’s a job I certainly don’t have the fortitude to do, and I’m grateful that we have such brave men and women who do it.

As I said, my hometown is hurting, and I grieve for it. One of the only ways I know how to face grief and come through it stronger is through music. So given my heavy heart this week, I thought I would share some of the songs that I have often found comfort in. These are songs of loss and sadness and resilience, and if this isn’t what you need right now – if you instead need songs of anger or songs that wrap you in darkness – I understand completely. These might not be the songs that help everyone.

But they’re the ones that help me.

  1. “I Grieve,” by Peter Gabriel.

Start with the most straightforward. I have always found this to be a powerful piece, meant as a musical shoulder for those who have lost loved ones. It is, in form, exactly what it hopes to convey: sadness giving way to peace and, eventually, joy again. Life carries on and on again…

  1. “Estonia,” by Marillion.

This is my favorite song about grief. Inspired by the 1994 sinking of the MS Estonia, which resulted in 852 lives lost, it is a gorgeous piece about moving to another place, and leaving people behind to remember you. No one leaves you when they live in your heart and mind.

  1. “Sweetness Follows,” by R.E.M.

I know many people will expect a different R.E.M. song here, but where “Everybody Hurts” has always seemed weightless to me, “Sweetness Follows” is a true journey of darkness and light. It’s about a seismic event tearing people apart, and the hard-won hope that things will get better. It’s these little things, they can pull you under, but sweetness follows.

  1. “The Light,” by Regina Spektor.

If you’re like me, you need your songs of hope to brighten corners you didn’t know could be brightened. The usual sentiments crash against brick walls for me, and I need something like this beautiful anthem to getting up and facing each morning. Everything about this song makes my heart lighter. Each day I open up my eyes and it begins.

  1. “Show the Way,” by David Wilcox.

Of all of these, this is the one I keep coming back to. It’s specifically about the hopelessness of tragedy, of the emptiness that follows sudden loss, and it’s a beautiful reminder that love is the way through. My friend Robert Berman introduced me to this song, and I’m eternally grateful. There is evil cast around us, but it’s love that wrote the play.

This isn’t exhaustive, of course – there are dozens, hundreds more, and I would be interested to hear the ones that comfort you. Sharing that comfort is one of the best things we can do in times like these, where healing will take time and patience and grace. I’m thankful for those who share such comfort with me. My thoughts are with the friends and families of the victims, and with my hometown. In this darkness love will show the way.

Next week, Copeland and Peter Mulvey. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

I Just Wanna Make All Things New
Quiet Company's Hardcore New EP

If this silly music column is known for anything, it’s for taking deep dives.

The usual tm3am entry focuses on one or two records of note, poring over each song in obsessive detail and using thousands of words in the process. I think this has been one of the problems lately with keeping this column on track – I have often psyched myself up about writing one of those more thorough examinations, to the point where I just can’t get started.

So we’re going to try to do a bunch of little ones this time and see how it goes. I know I’ve tried this before, but I’ve never really thought about it as a semi-permanent format change before. I’m not necessarily thinking of it that way now either, but trying this out is all part of making tm3am more enjoyable for me to write. If it feels like homework (as it sometimes did last year), then I should hang it up.

I also hope you’re enjoying these little peeks into my internal monologue. In the early days of tm3am I resisted the term “blog,” insisting I was writing a column instead, as if that’s inherently superior. This year’s posts have been more blog-like than just about anything else I’ve done under the Tuesday Morning name, so… yeah. Embrace it. Live it. Hashtag blog life.

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Anyone who has read this thing for any length of time knows how much I love Austin’s Quiet Company. I’ve said before many times that frontman/mastermind Taylor Muse is one of the best and most consistent songwriters I’ve encountered in years and years, and he hasn’t let me down yet. There isn’t a bad QuietCo album. You literally cannot go wrong with them.

Lately, though, I will admit that they’re tougher for me to listen to. My favorite of Muse’s records, We Are All Where We Belong, is a complete journey from anguish to hope, rejecting fundamentalist faith in favor of love, and though parts of it are difficult, the resolution it offers is cleansing. I adore that album not just because it’s hard, but because all of that pain leads somewhere more beautiful.

No such resolution awaits in their more recent material. The songs are still amazing, but they make me worry about their author. None of their records has filled me with empathy like On Corners and Shapes, QuietCo’s new five-song EP. I’ve had this music for a couple years now – Muse sent it to me back when it was supposed to be his first solo effort – and even then, it made me pause. It also made me wish I knew Muse well enough to ask him if he’s OK.

On Corners and Shapes is harsh, vicious stuff. The fact that it’s two years old actually helps me listen to it now – it feels more retrospective, like looking back on a particularly rough time. These songs are the antithesis of the brightly colored romantic music on QuietCo’s early records, and they’re about the same person: almost all of these tunes deal with his then-fresh divorce.

Muse has never written with more self-loathing than he does on “Red Right Hand,” the scariest of these tunes. It opens with “I hope you don’t think I give a fuck,” and gets darker and darker. “The Alone, Together” is a dissection of his relationship, and it hurts: “She was a song in my memory that I forgot how to sing when I wrote it down, now its every lyric escapes me and I don’t think it’ll ever come back to me now…” “All Things New” is his plea for renewal, in which he describes himself as unworthy of pursuit: “Whatever you’re hoping to find, It’s a big fucking waste of your time….”

And Muse has never written a sadder song than “Aloha,” the EP’s finale. “Somewhere in our future we are coping with our past,” he sings, and given we’re looking back on these songs from two years’ distance, the line is even more fitting. “I am smarter than I am acting, I am stronger than I feel, but I will wonder what I was lacking, and how I let you down, until they lay me down…” You can’t see me, but I am making the knife-in-the-heart motion right now, just listening to it. This is the resolution, nothing but regret and sadness and an inability to say goodbye.

Amidst all this, I should say that these songs are incredible. They’re melodic monsters, all of them, among the very best Muse has written. “Aloha” especially is fantastic, its simple piano figure giving way to an orchestrated stunner that any songwriter would be proud to have written. The horns on “Red Right Hand” are swell, the chorus of “All Things New” is a massive winner. These songs are wonderful.

They are also grueling, painful crawls through the mud. Muse appears on the cover matted with dirt, his eye bruised and bloody, and his words match the image. I’ve never had a harder time loving music this good. But make no mistake, it is very, very good. I’m just invested in Muse’s happiness at this point, and I hope one day I get to hear him make songs full of joy again.

You can (and should) listen to and buy On Corners and Shapes here.

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Well, that wasn’t short. Big fail. Let’s see if I can bring this one home with a couple quick bites.

Start with Swervedriver, a band I honestly never thought I’d get to write about in a new music column. They were right in the thick of it at the start of the shoegaze movement, and after four very good records, they folded up shop in 1999. But they burst back onto the scene in 2015 with the excellent I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, and now they have cemented their return with their new one, Future Ruins.

And it sounds like Swervedriver. It feels like literally no time has passed. This record is as fuzzed-out and dreamy as anything they’ve made, and Adam Franklin’s voice is exactly as you remember it. You may or may not have needed ten more Swervedriver songs in your life, especially ten more that sound exactly like the band’s heyday, but that’s what you’ll get here. I needed them. I can always use more of this sound in my life.

Sticking with the S theme, we have Switchfoot, a band who probably could have used a hiatus somewhere in the last decade. I’m very happy to report that Native Tongue, their eleventh album, is their strongest in more than ten years. There are certainly a couple over-produced Imagine Dragons-esque numbers, but the majority of this record is raw, well-composed rock, like the opener “Let It Happen.” The highlight for me is the Abbey Road-esque “Dig New Streams,” but the whole thing sounds revitalized to me.

Speaking of revitalized, there is Bob Mould, who is an astonishing 58 years old. You would never know it from even a cursory listen to his snarling 12th solo album, Sunshine Rock, which came out last week. This thing is a monster, Mould ripping through one thick, fast riff after another, slowing down only near the end for a couple wistful numbers. This is 36 minutes of focused, roaring rock from a master of the form. There’s a song here called “The Final Years,” but Mould sounds nowhere near his own final years here.

Also out this week is the debut from All Hail the Silence, and I may write more about this one at some point, since I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. AHTS is BT’s ‘80s project with singer Christian Burns, and their first full-length, Daggers, is 86 minutes of synth-driven goodness. I was initially surprised at how little of BT’s complex stutter-production personality ended up on here, but he’s committed to the form: this is Depeche Mode meets Yazoo, but on an epic scale. The first disc is good, but the second is fantastic, particularly “English Town.” I’ve been waiting for this for ages – I think I first heard “Looking Glass,” still an album highlight, four years ago – and it didn’t disappoint.

I’m gonna call it a week right there. Next week, we have new ones from Copeland and Peter Mulvey, and I will again try my very best not to write so many words. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Finger on the Button
David Mead Makes a Fine, Fun Comeback with Cobra Pumps

I don’t want to write too much about Weezer this week.

One reason is that I do plan to spout off at length when the Black Album hits in a couple weeks. But another is that I am pretty sure that writers like me think about Weezer far more than the members of Weezer do. I’m the right age to be jaded about them – the Blue Album came out when I was a sophomore in college, and Pinkerton hit me just as I was taking those first steps into adulthood. I should idolize them both, and I should be one of those people decrying everything they’ve done since.

But I’m not, and in fact I find all the hand-wringing about Weezer’s post-Pinkerton output to be a little silly. (Not as silly as, like, “Heart Songs” or anything, but still.) A few of my friends gleefully pointed me to this little ditty from Pitchfork, titled “Will Weezer Ever Stop Being Disappointing?” And I mean, I guess they won’t, if what you want from them is anything more than the whimsical pop band they have always been.

The occasion of Pitchfork’s distress is the surprise release of the band’s fifth self-titled album, mere weeks before the scheduled release of its sixth. If you don’t pay attention to All Things Weezer, the content of the Teal Album (for that is what people are calling it) might surprise you. The story goes like this: some industrious fans on Twitter launched a campaign last year to get Weezer to cover Toto’s “Africa,” for reasons known only to them. After some period of cajoling, and one fake-out cover of “Rosanna,” the band relented, issuing its note-for-note rendition of what I think is one of the best songs of the ‘80s.

Apparently, people responded positively – the “Africa” cover (and its video, starring “Weird Al” Yankovic) was the talk of the internet for a few weeks. So in a classic case of giving the people what they want, we now have the Teal Album, a collection of ten covers, most of them aping the originals almost exactly. Nothing about this is meant to be taken seriously – the four Weezer boys are on the cover, like they have been for every self-titled album, but this time they’re dressed in neon Miami Vice attire. This is strictly meant in fun.

So why are people taking it so seriously? This is a record on which Rivers Cuomo pulls out his best and most ridiculous Ozzy Osbourne impression on a slam-through of “Paranoid,” and sings “No Scrubs” perfectly straight. It’s a laugh. So why has the reaction been so over the top? People are acting like this is the Death of Art, when expecting any kind of consistent artistic vision from Weezer seems like a fool’s game. They’re fun. Rivers writes catchy songs. Sometimes he sings about his own life. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he covers “Mr. Blue Sky.”

I dunno, man. I enjoyed the Teal Album for what it is. I have no idea if I will listen to it next week, let alone next year, but it made me happy for a couple spins. That was literally all it was designed to do. I hesitate to even say the Black Album will be the “real” Weezer album, because it will probably be poppy and fun too, and the arbiters of taste will hate it just as much as the Teal Album, and write just as many think pieces about the decline and fall of the voice of a generation or something.

Anyway. I don’t want to write too much about Weezer this week, for the reasons above, but mainly because I have another incredibly fun record to review, from a much less well-known artist, and I’d rather write about that.

I’ve been a David Mead fan for (checks notes, rubs eyes, confirms figure, shakes head) 15 years now. I first heard him thanks to my good friend Dr. Tony Shore, who recommended I buy Mead’s EP Wherever You Are. And I loved it, particularly “Astronaut,” and immediately sought out his previous three albums. And I loved those, especially the stripped-down and warm Indiana. And I bought his next three – the chamber-pop masterpiece Tangerine, the gentle Almost and Always, and the raucous Dudes– as they came out, and I loved those as well.

So when David asked for my money for a new one called Cobra Pumps, and unveiled a hilarious cover photo of his own legs wearing the titular pumps, I was absolutely in. And I was not disappointed in the slightest.

What’s so great about David Mead? Start with his voice, which is a high, strong, beautiful thing. He’s able to sing anything well, from the more glossy pop of his earlier records to the folksy delights (and the extraordinary Michael Jackson cover) of Indiana to the full-on guitar stomp of something like the great “King of the Crosswords” on Dudes. But a great voice is just a great voice without something to sing, and Mead is also a tremendous songwriter. He’s versatile, he’s funny, he’s poignant, he has an innate grasp of melody, and virtually everything he writes is a knockout.

His streak remains unbroken on Cobra Pumps, a 34-minute collection of self-aware cool guitar-rock gems you’ll be singing until the weather matches the album’s mood. From the first moment, Mead is in control – “Bedtime Story” is just awesome, an opening salvo full of innuendo. It is, in Mead’s words, “invigorating and kind of embarrassing,” embracing lines like “I’ve got a heart like a propane oven, I’ve got a mind like a sewer grate.”

It’s a strong tone-setter, and Mead works to stay in that mode, giving us the terrific feminist anthem “The Business,” the Prince-like anti-come-on “Head on Straight” and the rollicking family tune “She Walks Like a Grown Woman” one after another. All of these songs have big electric guitar lines and skipping drums and massive melodies, and Mead doesn’t let up. Even when he cools things down, as on the slinky song of reassurance “Poster Child,” you know there’s a song like “Big Balls” coming right up.

Yes, there’s a song called “Big Balls,” and it’s pretty much delightful. There are certainly more clever ways to describe someone “catching bullets and walking through walls” with sheer determination, but this is an album on which Mead went for broke, so why not? The song’s just killer, with a minimal, insistent bass line and a ringing chorus that won’t quit. It begins a stretch of three shimmying tunes that ends with the smooth “You Never Have to Play That Game,” another song about picking yourself up and moving on.

I’m tempted to read that as a theme here. This is a record of struts, of feeling one’s own power, and after eight years away, it reads as a way of kicking down the door and shouting through a megaphone. Mead is a fully independent artist, recording and releasing on his own schedule and his own budget, and a bold record like this one hopefully will get him noticed. Mead says he has two more albums in the pipeline, and given his track record for diversity, I doubt they’ll sound like Cobra Pumps.

But I’m glad this one sounds like Cobra Pumps, because it’s awesome. This record takes the swagger of Dudes and (ahem) pumps it up, putting the guitars and melodies front and center, announcing itself with every riff and groove. Mead has never made an album like it, and it’s thrilling to listen to him tear his way through it. If this truly is just the start of his comeback, sign me up. I am here for it.

You, too, can check out Cobra Pumps at David Mead’s website.

Next week, certainly the new Quiet Company EP and probably some of the things I’ve missed over the past couple weeks. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Miracles Out of Nowhere
Over the Rhine Delivers the Year's First Glorious Surprise

I’ve written a lot already this year about how I only plan to review the things that bring me joy. I’ve had a few comments from people that I seem to be Marie Kondo-ing tm3am, and I swear to God I had never heard of Kondo before those comments. Now I have, and her approach seems to be exactly what I’m aiming for: tossing out all the things that don’t bring me happiness. Or at least not writing about the records I don’t care as much about.

This week is a good case in point. I was all set to follow up last week’s reviews with thoughts on new ones from James Blake and Sharon Van Etten. And then I started to dread sitting down to write this week’s missive, and I finally figured out why: I don’t have anything to say about the new ones from James Blake and Sharon Van Etten. Blake’s album is boring, trading in his former transcendence for radio-ready pop music, and Van Etten’s album is good, but not in a way that makes me excited to write about it. It would just be variations of “her voice is strong” and “her melodies are usually interesting” with some additional praise for “No One’s Easy to Love,” my favorite thing on the record.

Does that sound exciting to read to you? Or would you lose interest by the third paragraph? I know I wouldn’t be able to summon up a lot of energy to enthrall you. Fair play to you if you like those records, but I know I would rather wax ecstatic about something I truly love.

Thankfully, something I truly love found its way to my inbox this week, and I’ve been listening to it whenever I have the chance. About two years ago I paid up front for three new albums from Over the Rhine, and the first of them, called Love and Revelation, was sent to backers this week. It’s not officially out until March, and I have to admit I still get a thrill from listening to music before its release date, even if the band sends it to me and dozens of others at the same time.

Ordinarily, of course, I would wait until that release date to write about a record like this, one that I sincerely hope everyone reading this will check out. But you can pre-order the album now, and I hope by the time I am done jabbering about it, you will. I’ve been an Over the Rhine fan for 15 years now, having jumped aboard with their extraordinary double album Ohio, and I’ve seen them live half a dozen times. They retain their power to move me like few other artists can, and they do it again on this new album.

Over the Rhine is a husband-and-wife duo. The husband, Linford Detweiler, is the piano player, and he sings occasionally, his rough, low tones adding a touch of earth to the angelic tones of his wife, Karin Bergquist. Karin is, without a doubt, one of my four or five favorite singers alive. Patsy Cline is the closest approximate, but Bergquist is her own thing, her voice containing such depth of feeling and history, drawing from tradition while singing from an overflowing heart. I can’t do it justice in words, but her voice stirs something inside of me, something that only stirs at the most powerful of musical expressions.

On Love and Revelation, she uses that voice to sing about the hardship of life, about the pain of leaving good things behind, about the healing balm of music and about the all-reaching love of God. This is one of those albums that sounds stripped-back (and at times it is), but when you really listen you can hear so many elements working in concert, creating an atmosphere of quiet beauty. There are strings all over this record, but they’re so subtle that you may not notice them right away. Everything here, from the tender acoustic guitars to the generous peals of pedal steel to the always perfectly restrained drumming of Jay Bellerose, is in service to these songs, and to Karin Bergquist’s glorious voice.

There’s a lot here that could be called traditional folk music, from the sad opener “Los Lunas” to the sweeping “Broken Angels,” and once again Over the Rhine has created an album of songs that could be brand new or could be a hundred years old. Along the way, they’ve written some of my favorite things in their catalog. The melancholy “Given Road” cracks me open, the strings dancing slowly with Greg Liesz’s wonderful, weeping pedal steel. “I miss what I’m forgetting, I try not to but I’m letting go of any shred of anything that held you here,” Bergquist sings before launching into a wordless refrain that sends shivers.

“Let You Down” is a song of devotion, and the band’s slide guitarist, Brad Meinerding, sings lead with Bergquist complementing his high tenor perfectly. It’s a gorgeous string-accented weeper. And Detweiler joins his wife on lead vocals on the lovely “Betting on the Muse,” a song about their musical relationship – for years, Detweiler kept silent and in the background, and I wish he’d started singing with the band earlier. It’s just Bergquist, a guitar and a drum set on the shuffling title track, but it’s marvelous, a call for more understanding and more love in the face of a populace armed to the teeth.

But they save my favorite for the end. “May God Love You (Like You’ve Never Been Loved)” is, bar none, one of the prettiest songs this band has ever given us. It’s about our need for wholeness, our deep desire for something greater than ourselves to pull us through. “There are no wise men traveling, there is no gift to bring, but if you welcome home a child you’ve thrown your hat into the ring, we’re not curable but we’re treatable and that’s why I still sing, may God love you like you’ve never been loved…” It’s a song that dives to the lowest depths this album plumbs and then looks up, crying out, certain of the direction from which grace will come.

I will never, ever tire of songs that that one, or albums like this one. Bergquist and Detwiler pack so much feeling, so much agony and hope, into the 41 minutes of Love and Revelation that it’s a wonder that it sounds so effortless. This is the 14th Over the Rhine album, and by now they have their sound down to a science. But it’s still the most deeply emotional stuff, and it still draws me into another place, and I’m still incredibly grateful for it. In a couple months, when you get to hear this album too, I hope it will do for you what it does for me.

* * * * *

I was going to write a bit about Weezer this week, but I think I’ll save it, since there isn’t much of interest heading our way next Friday. I’ll just say that the Teal Album came out of nowhere and made me happy, and I can only hope the coming seven days hold more surprises like this one. Until then, be good to each other.

Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.