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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

A Good Start
2019 Kicks Off With a Winning Week

I said last week that I would only write about new music if I truly enjoyed it. I am happy to report that I have thoroughly enjoyed 2019 so far.

We’ve just had the first major new music Friday of the year, and it was an extraordinary one. I bought eleven new albums, and I’m still sifting through them, listening whenever I have time. Still on my docket are new ones from Sharon Van Etten, Juliana Hatfield and James Blake. I am right now actually enjoying Guster’s Look Alive. It’s the album they have been moving toward for more than a decade now, and while it is nothing like the music I most love from them, it’s the first one since their directional shift to move me in any way. So that’s good.

Prioritizing is a difficult thing for me, and when I get a slew of new music like this, I often don’t know what to listen to first. I usually let my gut guide me on that one, figuring out on the fly which records I am most interested in. This time I chose two from long-running artists that have meant a lot to me. Even so, I’m not sure I was ready for how much Pedro the Lion’s Phoenix affected me. I’ve heard it four times now, and each time I’m drawn in, hearing new emotional layers.

Pedro the Lion is the full-band project of David Bazan, a songwriter I have adored for many years. Bazan was one of the first artists I followed through spiritual deconstruction – his early Pedro material is drenched in his faith, but as he started asking questions, he found the bottom of that faith falling out from beneath him. He detailed this struggle in raw, searing terms on his first solo album, the amazing Curse Your Branches, and has kept on detailing it through a series of increasingly insular records. His songs and his voice have remained magnificent, but his electronic sound has sealed him in.

Which is one reason it’s so exhilarating to hear him reignite Pedro with new players Sean Lane and Erik Walters. Bazan plays bass in this new incarnation, with Walters providing most of the bright, gorgeous guitar tones on Phoenix. This is a collaborative project, his new players pulling the life and soul out of these new songs. They simply explode from the speakers in a way Bazan’s work hasn’t for some time. (I’m not forgetting about Lo Tom, his delightful side project with Jason Martin and TW Walsh, and I hope we get more of that someday too.)

Phoenix is the perfect title for an album that resurrects a project many had written off for dead – this is the first album under that name in 15 years – and I’m sure Bazan intended the name in that sense, but the more grounded explanation is that these songs draw heavily on Bazan’s childhood in Phoenix for inspiration. The record opens with “Yellow Bike,” a paean to childhood that contains a lifetime of ache in one succinct line: “My kingdom for someone to ride with.”

“Model Homes” uses a family trip to see houses they could not afford as a metaphor for Bazan’s eternal hope for something better. “Circle K” turns a childhood story of spending all of his savings on nothing of value into a dark lament. “Quietest Friend” tells a tale of a 30-year-old regret, and gets fantastically meta by the end: “We could write me some reminders, I’d memorize them, I could sing them to myself and whoever’s listening, I could put them on a record about my hometown, sitting here with pen and paper, I’m listening now…” The amazing “My Phoenix” finds the adult Bazan returning to his home town to take stock. It’s one of the best songs Bazan has ever written.

Song by song, these are wonderful little things, but together they have a cumulative effect I didn’t expect. Phoenix as an album is about trying to recapture something that seems ephemeral. Bazan really did make a deeply personal trip back to Phoenix during what he acknowledges as his lowest point in 2016, and these songs find him searching his past for something lost. I will admit that when closer “Leaving the Valley” ends with a reconsideration of a verse from “Hard to Be,” off of Curse Your Branches, I usually tear up: “If I swung my tassel to the left side of my cap, after graduation will there be no going back?”

It’s not that I don’t expect a thoughtful songwriter like Bazan to put his previous conclusions through new prisms. It’s just that Phoenixis such an emotional journey, and its ending the perfect arrival point. It’s hard for me to say whether this is my favorite Pedro the Lion album, because there is so much competition. But it’s my favorite right now, and each time I listen I hold it closer.

* * * * *

I don’t have a favorite Joe Jackson album, but that’s simply because his work has been all over the map since day one. Look Sharp is probably my favorite snarky new-wave Joe Jackson album, while Night and Day is probably my favorite guitar-free keyboard panorama Joe Jackson album and Rain is my favorite piano trio Joe Jackson album and Night Music is my favorite chamber-pop Joe Jackson album, and on and on. He has no signature sound, and his disparate catalog is only bound together by his voice and his famously grouchy lyrics.

Because make no mistake, Joe Jackson has been a grumpy old man since he was an infant, and that carries through on his splendid 20th album, Fool. This record comes four years after Fast Forward, a meticulous and varied piece of work recorded in four cities with four different bands. Fool, created quickly with the Fast Forward touring band, is a tighter and more consistent record – these eight songs clearly belong together, and all sound of a piece.

They also sound like a live band finding a groove and locking in. Longtime bassist Graham Maby anchors this ensemble – he’s one of the most underrated players around, having spent the last four decades providing the backbone of every Jackson record. Guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yeowell round things out, with Joe on the piano as always. The sound is rich and alive, and the songs match it. Lead single “Fabulously Absolute” is one of Joe’s most convincing rock rave-ups in years, the title track is a wild journey through half a dozen styles, and “Strange Land” is one of my favorite late-career Joe Jackson ballads.

That one works as a mission statement, lyrically speaking, as well as any of them. Jackson spends much of Fool the way he’s spent wide swaths of his career: looking around at the world in bewilderment, and occasionally in disgust. “Is this a strange land, or am I the stranger,” he asks, feeling isolated by a humanity he doesn’t recognize. “Big Black Cloud” is a spiritual sequel to Night and Day’s “Cancer,” hitting back at a world in which everything will kill you. (He even includes a reference to 9/11, to drive the point home.) “Fabulously Absolute” is an angry song about how we box people into their worst characteristics and judge them for it, delivered with Joe’s trademark lack of subtlety: “I’m just somebody to ignore, someone who doesn’t know the score, or maybe blinded by the light, ‘cause I’m a filthy troglodyte…”

Given all that, it’s a wonder that Fool ends on such a positive note. I really love the second half of this album, particularly the what-the-hell title track (which, as the liner notes suggest, “may contain traces of Twelfth Night and King Lear) and the gorgeous “32 Kisses,” a song of regret and gratitude. The album concludes with the pretty, lounge-y “Alchemy,” in which Joe points to a bewildering world with a newfound sense of wonder. Jackson is 64 years old now, and you never know whether you’re hearing an artist’s final work, so the fact that this one ends on such a high fills me with joy.

I’m not sure Joe Jackson has ever wanted to fill me with joy, but there it is. Aside from that ill-advised Duke Ellington tribute-slash-mess from a few years ago, Joe Jackson has been on a serious roll for nearly two decades now, and Fool continues the streak. Jackson’s never quite gotten his due as a songwriter and a player, existing in the margins for much of his career, but the bright side there is that he’s been able to do exactly what he wants, as often as he wants. Despite what I said above, I hope he has another 20 albums in him, and I hope they’re all as good as Fool.

OK, next week, more from this week’s bounty. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

19 Reasons to Love 2019
Why This Will Be the Best Year Ever

We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

Hello! I’m back, here with another year of this silly music column. I must, on some level, enjoy writing it, since I keep refusing to take that end-of-the-year opportunity to just stop. I don’t know how long I’m going to keep tm3am going, but at least I can say that 2018 is not going to be its last year. I have a couple long-term goals, like seeing this column through to its 20th anniversary on Nov. 29, 2020 and outlasting Paul Dailing by writing at least 1,002 of these things, so onward we go.

I’m making that sound a lot more mercenary and defeatist than I feel. In truth I’ve found the weekly deadline a difficult thing to meet over the past couple years, and have often sat down to write tm3am and found I have no energy for it. Part of it has been the frankly exhausting world we live in now, with each week bringing new things to be outraged or conflicted about. Part of it was the paltry musical offerings of last year, which brought us only one great album (and a bunch of good ones, to be fair).

But part of it is my need to recapture the reason I wanted to write this column in the first place. It’s meant to be a chronicle of the joy of being an obsessive music fan, and I need it to be more about the joyous part. So this year I may not simply write about whatever is out in record stores in a given week. Often these aren’t the records bringing me joy, and I’d like this column to reflect what I am actually enjoying listening to.

That’s not to say I won’t be focusing on new music when it moves me. In fact, most of the below reasons to love 2019 are confirmed new releases, and the others are new release rumors I am jazzed about. New music is in my blood, and this year already looks like it’s going to be better than the last. (“And it’s one more day up in the canyons…”) What follows is in no way comprehensive – there are new things coming from Solange and the Raconteurs and others that didn’t make the list, but that I am aware of. These are just the ones I’m most excited about.

Without further ado, here are 19 reasons to love 2019:

  1. Pedro the Lion, Phoenix (Jan. 18)

We’ll start with one I’ve heard already, thanks to NPR’s First Listen feature. David Bazan has convened his band for the first time in 15 years to chronicle tales of his childhood in Phoenix, Arizona, and the result is gorgeous. I’ll likely have more to say about this next week, but for now I’ll just say that there’s a huge difference between Bazan on his own and Bazan with the band, and this album exemplifies it. It’s a lovely thing.

  1. Joe Jackson, Fool (Jan. 18)

Yet another of this week’s new records. (It’s a good week – Alice Merton, Sharon Van Etten, Juliana Hatfield and Guster are all returning, as is the next artist on this list.) Joe Jackson has been on a serious upswing lately – he continues to be an acerbic lyricist and a swell melodicist, having grown into his grumpy old man persona nicely, and what I’ve heard of Fool continues the streak.

  1. James Blake, Assume Form (Jan. 18)

The last one I’ll mention from this week. Blake’s fourth album was just announced a few days ago, and already I’m excited. There’s no one like him, and even if he just continues doing what he’s always done – minimal electronic soundscapes buoyed by his ethereal, elastic voice – Assume Form will be worth hearing. I’m hopeful that he will branch out a little, and guest spots from Moses Sumney and Andre 3000 bode well.

  1. Swervedriver, Future Ruins (Jan. 25)

I remain thankful and amazed by the shoegaze revival that continues apace. Sure, we’re still waiting for another My Bloody Valentine record, but new albums from stalwarts like Slowdive and Lush, along with new bands like Teenage Wrist, have kept the dream alive. Swervedriver’s reunion album, 2015’s I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, was fantastic, and they’re cementing that reunion with a new set of songs next week.

  1. David Mead, Cobra Pumps (Jan. 29)

The last January album I will mention is also the one I am most excited for. David Mead is a songwriter’s songwriter and an incredible singer, and he’s never quite gotten his due. His last album, 2011’s Dudes, was full of snarky pop wonderment, and Cobra Pumps looks to be the same. It’s been too long since we last heard Mead’s dulcet tones, and I’m ready.

  1. All Hail the Silence, Daggers (Feb. 8)

Technically this is another January record, as it will be available to pre-orderers on Jan. 25, but it will be in stores two weeks later. This is the long-awaited double-disc debut album from BT’s ‘80s pop collaboration with singer Christian Burns, and everything I’ve heard from this has thrilled me. AHTS’ songs have a Depeche Mode meets Yazoo feel to them, and Burns is a terrific singer for this style. Very excited.

  1. Copeland, Blushing (Feb. 15)

Five years ago, Aaron Marsh and his band put out Ixora, a beautiful experiment in lush songwriting and production. Ixora was actually three albums (Ixora, its companion Twin, and the third album that appeared when you played both together in sync), and it brought Copeland into this new realm of studio wizardry and complex arrangements.Blushing is all on one disc, but from the three singles it sounds like another step into mind-bending territory for this band.

  1. Peter Mulvey, There Is Another World (Feb. 15)

I’ve been a Peter Mulvey fan since the ‘90s, and even I was blown away by Are You Listening, his first record for Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. There Is Another World evidently came quickly, and is a reaction to the state of the country and the world. If anyone can find the dark poetry at the heart of our current malaise, it’s Peter Mulvey, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing what he has come up with.

  1. Amanda Palmer, There Will Be No Intermission (March 8)

My guess is that no one else will craft a reaction to the world quite as powerful as Amanda Palmer has on There Will Be No Intermission. This is reportedly a 78-minute monster, full of painful stories and difficult topics and righteous anger. Palmer has been charting her own course through Patreon for years now, and this is her first album created with no limitations, with every element in her control. I can’t say I expect to enjoy it, but I do expect to be moved and challenged by it. And that’s what art is for.

  1. Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (March 29)

Technically, Esperanza’s seventh album is out already – it was released song by song last year on YouTube and streaming services. But I’m old-fashioned, so I’m holding out for the CD, which will actually contain 16 little spells. Esperanza Spalding is one of the few artists out there now who deserves to be called a genius, and I’m so in for anything she does. Evidently this will be her last project in the album format, and I’m interested to see where she goes next.

  1. Three new albums from Ryan Adams (first one April 19, other release dates TBD)

The last time Ryan Adams released three albums in one year, it was 2005 and the results were pretty fantastic. (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29.) He’s promised to do the same in 2019, and the first of those three, Big Colors, is set for April 19. The second will be called Wednesdays, and that’s all we know right now. Adams hasn’t been on quite the same hot streak lately that he was in 2005, but he’s still one of the best, and these should all be worth hearing.

  1. Jonathan Coulton, Some Guys (April)

Internet superstar Jonathan Coulton made one of the best albums of 2017 with Solid State. He’s following it up with a bizarre project: an album of note-for-note covers of sensitive soft-rock hits of the ‘70s. You know the type – “Baker Street” and “How Deep is Your Love” and “On and On” and “Easy.” I just happen to love all of those songs. Coulton launched a stunningly successful Kickstarter for this record, and is pitching it as a blow against the patriarchy. But even if you just think of it as a bunch of lovely songs, this’ll be worth it.

  1. Devin Townsend, Empath

Now we’re into the albums I know are coming, but have no set release date. Devin Townsend remains one of the most idiosyncratic and remarkable musicians working, and over the past couple years he’s taken some victory laps, playing old albums live and putting his long-running Devin Townsend Project to bed. Empath is the first of four (I think) records he’s working on, and the opening salvo of his new direction. I’ll follow him anywhere, so I’m psyched, of course.

  1. Derek Webb, Targets

Derek Webb made the best album of 2017 with Fingers Crossed, a stark and devastating chronicle of his twin divorces from his wife and from God. He’s promised a return to the pop-rock he does so well on Targets, and I’m sure we will get more of his honest perspective on what it means to leave the life you thought you knew behind. Webb is self-releasing this album, and we’re not sure when, but I will be first in line to buy one.

  1. A new Sleater-Kinney album produced by St. Vincent

I don’t know that I need to say anything else here, right? There’s a new Sleater-Kinney album coming, and the band has been working with St. Vincent in the producer’s chair. If that sentence does nothing for you, I don’t know what to say.

  1. Fish, Weltschmertz

Thirty years after leaving Marillion to launch his solo career, Scottish singer Fish will close it out with what he has announced will be a double album. Fish’s solo work has been spotty, but not lately – his last four albums have been wonderful, and the three songs he’s released from this final one are even better. Expect long, proggy poems and some dark observations from a man who has seen it all. I’m looking forward to the record, but not to bidding Fish farewell as a recording artist. Should be a bittersweet listen.

  1. New Celldweller, Circle of Dust and Scandroid albums

The mad professor known as Klayton has so many musical personas that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with them all. This year will definitely see a new one from his synthwave project Scandroid, called The Darkness and the Light, but we should also hear new things from his industrial metal band Circle of Dust and his genre-defying Celldweller identity. Keeping up with Klayton is hard, but very worth it.

  1. A new Tool album

I know, it feels like a pipe dream, but the rumblings are louder than ever that we might get Tool’s first record in 13 years sometime in 2019. We’re going on 30 years of this band’s existence and this will be only their fifth album. I do imagine that their complex metal sculptures take time to build, but I also hope that whatever new record they come up with won’t crumple under the weight of expectations. (See Maynard James Keenan’s other band, A Perfect Circle, for exhibit A.)

  1. Something from The Dear Hunter

And finally, an entry for which I have no evidence whatsoever, except that I really want something new from Casey Crescenzo and company. Their Acts sequence remains one of the finest musical achievements of the past 15 years, and while I’m sure we won’t get the climactic Act VI anytime soon, I’m here for anything Crescenzo wants to give us. And hey, if he wants to surprise us with Act VI, I won’t complain.

As I said, this list is in no way comprehensive. But it does represent my hope for a really strong year of music, and I’ll be here chronicling my experience navigating through it. Thanks to everyone who reads this little endeavor of mine. Year Nineteen, here we go.

Next week, Pedro and Jackson and maybe some others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Fifty Second Week
And Farewell to 2018

This is Fifty Second Week.

It’s also Christmas Day. I hope you’re all having a wonderful time with family and friends, and enjoying some Christmas music. I can’t predict the future (I’m writing this a week in advance), but I’m pretty sure I’m doing the same thing right now. Perhaps in an ugly sweater. I’m on my annual vacation to the east coast, and hopefully loving every minute of it.

But I couldn’t leave you without any tm3am goodness for the entire holiday season. This is my last column of 2018, and it’s my traditional Fifty Second Week. If you’re new to this silly music column, let me tell you how this goes. I buy a lot of music during the year, and I try to hear all of it, but I’m never quite successful at that. I get to review only a small subset of the albums I hear, too. The result of all this is that, by the time I get to December, I’ve built up a backlog of unreviewed records.

So Fifty Second Week is my attempt each year to get to as many of those records as I can. I have 52 CDs in front of me, and one of those nifty online timers on my phone. I’m giving myself 50 seconds to review each of these albums. That’s all I get – if I’m in the middle of a sentence when the timers go off, it’s pencils up. Exciting, I know! This could wind up as completely unreadable gibberish!

Anyway, I hope this is as much fun for you to read as it is for me to write. Let’s get going. This is Fifty Second Week.

Aphex Twin, Collapse EP.

Every once in a while Richard James likes to remind us that he’s alive and still one of the most brilliant electronic producers on earth. This is a quick EP with titles like “MT1 t29r2,” and it’s glitchy and complex and fascinating.

Arthur Buck.

As the name implies, this is a duo project between Joseph Arthur and Peter Buck of R.E.M. It ends up sounding more like Arthur than Buck, but the songs are decent, and I hope they stick together and make another one.

Autechre, NTS Sessions.

Fifty seconds to review eight hours of music? Can’t be done. This is an intense electronic journey on a staggering eight CDs, full of noise and trippy beats and an hour-long ambient piece to close things out. It’s immense and really excellent stuff.

Beach House, 7.

I’m not sure why I didn’t review this. I’ve opined on almost all of the previous Beach House records, and it might be that I’ve said everything I have to say about them. This is more sleepy shoegaze with the occasional striking melody, and it’s good, but nothing different from what they’ve given us before.

Ben Folds Five, The Complete Sessions at West 54th.

Not a new record, but a release (finally) of a legendary Ben Folds Five live outing around the time of Whatever and Ever Amen. The Five were a tremendous live outfit, and this record finds them slamming through early, punky songs with lots of energy.

Blood Orange, Negro Swan.

I really wanted to like this. Dev Hynes is a great musician, but Negro Swan just kind of wanders around looking for a hook for most of its running time. It reminds me of Frank Ocean, and I’ve never been a fan of his work. Hopefully the next record will have more focus, because Hynes is too good for this thing.

Charles Bradley, Black Velvet.

Soul singer Charles Bradley died earlier this year, far too soon. He was discovered late in life, and we only got a few albums with his thick, powerful voice. This one is a hodgepodge of recordings he made shortly before his death, but it’s really good, as usual.

The Carters, Everything is Love.

I bought this to round out the Lemonade/4:44 trilogy, and it’s, you know, fine. For an album featuring Beyonce and Jay-Z, it’s surprisingly slapdash and low-key. I’m not sure if they plan to keep collaborating, but I hope the next time they do they come up with something more exciting.

Chvrches, Love is Dead.

Here’s another band that turned in an album that sounds remarkably like their previous work. There are some very good songs on Love is Dead, and Lauren Mayberry continues to be an arresting frontwoman. But there isn’t a lot of variety here, and if you have the first two Chvrches records, you should be fine.

Cloud Nothings, Last Building Burning.

This is a legitimately awesome record and I should have reviewed it. Dylan Baldi takes his band through an absolutely ripping set of fast-paced screamers that sound like the group literally tearing down the walls around them. It’s intense and terrific.

The Collection, Entropy.

This is for Jenette Sturges, who badgered me to try this band for months. Entropy is a pretty good dramatic folk record with some sad songs that stayed with me. The Collection is a pretty good band and I wish I’d listened to Jenette and heard them sooner.

Dead Can Dance, Dionysus.

The Dead Can Dance renaissance continues with this shorter, yet no less powerful record. The band’s signature soundscapes are in full effect over two continuous acts of lovely, dark, delightful music. It’s so nice to have this group back again.

Eminem, Kamikaze.

Em has said he didn’t think too much about this one, and it shows. It feels tossed off, and really focuses in on aspects of his life and personality that no one but he cares about. He seems to make bad records when he’s trying and when he’s not trying, and I’m not sure where that leaves him.

Ester Drang, The Appearances.

Ester Drang’s first record in 12 years is this EP on which they go full shoegaze. The guitars are thick and yet sound light-years away, and everything feels very My Bloody Valentine. I am a fan of the Starflyer 59 cover here, though.

The Family Crest, The War Act I.

I discovered this fantastic orchestral rock band this year, as they began this multi-album saga. This is right up my alley – dramatic songs with about 100 players adding to the epic sound. The songs are wonderful. I can’t wait to hear more from them.

Gorillaz, The Now Now.

Sort of The Fall redux, this shorter album following a longer one full of guest stars feels like a coda or an afterthought. It isn’t bad, and it’s more of a piece with Humanz than The Fall was with Plastic Beach, but it feels oddly inessential.

Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, Bought to Rot.

The first solo album from the Against Me frontwoman is a surprise: a dark semi-acoustic country-esque thing with funny and poignant songs galore. I’m especially fond of “I Hate Chicago,” which many of my local friends seem to love too.

Great White, Full Circle.

Yes, they are still around. No, this isn’t Jack Russell’s Great White, this is the rest of the band with a new singer. Full Circle isn’t bad, but it is pretty generic, and it isn’t much different from bar-band music you can hear any weekend in any city in America.

Haken, Vector.

I really got into this prog-metal band this year, and their fifth album is of a piece with their other four. It’s a conceptual piece with some killer riffs and some great instrumental interplay. If the next generation needs a prog-metal band, these guys should fit the bill nicely.

Imogen Heap, The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I had no idea that Imogen Heap wrote more than an hour of new music for The Cursed Child. This is instrumental wonderment in four suites, and some of it is based on her earlier work, but some of it is brand new. It’s all splendid, as you’d expect from a genius like Imogen.

Julia Holter, Aviary.

Bought this massive effort on a recommendation. It’s Bjork levels of strange, and it goes on forever, but it’s pretty intricate and interesting stuff. I can’t say any of it moved me or blew me away, but I’m happy to know Holter’s work now, and I will be following it.

Jon Hopkins, Singularity.

Nothing less than the best electronic album I heard in 2018. Not sure why I didn’t give this a full review, but it gets a high recommendation from me. Hopkins has been a terrific composer and musician for a long time, and this might be the best chill-out music he’s made.

Howling Sycamore.

Still have no idea what to make of this. It’s legit heavy metal, but with Jason McMaster of Dangerous Toys wailing all over it. If it’s a parody, no one told the band. If it’s meant to be serious, no one told McMaster. Either way, this doesn’t work at all.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Live at the Ryman.

Absolutely my favorite live album of 2018. Isbell has been on a serious roll lately – his last three albums have all been various shades of brilliant – and if you want some idea of how consistent he’s been, listen to this. It draws heavily from those last three, and the band is spot on. Isbell gets his due as a songwriter, and he deserves to.

Mark Knopfler, Down the Road Wherever.

I could listen to Knopfler play guitar for weeks on end and not get bored. His latest solo album doesn’t break any new ground – it’s still folksy with a little Dire Straits rock thrown in. But that guitar sound! It’s inimitable. You know you’re listening to Knopfler within seconds, and it’s just blissful.

Gelb Kolyadin.

I bought this because Marillion’s Steve Hogarth is on it, providing vocals on two songs. This is a solo record from the piano player of Iamthemorning, and it’s so good that it led me to buy everything by Kolyadin’s main band. These are elegant songs with drama to them, and Hogarth fits in nicely.

Leprous, Malina.

Another interesting prog-metal band I discovered this year. I saw them live with Between the Buried and Me, and they were pretty good, but on record they’re way more impressive. Their song structures are strange and fascinating, and this album takes you by the hand and leads you all the way through it.

Lord Huron, Vide Noir.

Another intricate-sounding record from these swampy folk-rockers, and it’s pretty great. I’m a fan of the two-part “Ancient Names,” but all of this works for me. Long live Lord Huron.

Minus the Bear, Fair Enough.

I am sad to learn that this four-song EP is the final release from Minus the Bear. This band had two lives – first as a guitar-heavy prog-influenced band and second as a keyboard-loving Rush-alike. This EP caps off the second life, and it’s good stuff. I will miss them.

Tom Morello, The Atlas Underground.

The first true solo album from the Rage Against the Machine guitarist is a guest-heavy affair that falls flat at every opportunity. I wish this were not the case, but between this and Prophets of Rage, it hasn’t been a good couple years for Morello fans.

Mt. Desolation, When the Night Calls.

Second album from this Keane side project is much like the first – country-inflected pop songs sung with a little shakiness by Tim Rice-Oxley. This isn’t bad, but it isn’t memorable, and it just seems to forestall that inevitable and much-wanted Keane reunion.

Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour.

One of the few records on this list that I straight-up love and should have reviewed more fully. This is a breezy folk-pop album, a turn away from country for Musgraves and into something warmer and more beautiful. I could listen to this on repeat for hours.

Meg Myers, Take Me To the Disco.

Second album from depresso-rocker Myers is exactly like her first. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and these songs are solid and full of life. I think this is the last clone of herself she gets to make, though. I’m interested to hear someone with such obvious talent evolve and do something new.

Willie Nelson, My Way.

An album of Sinatra songs is not the first thing I would expect from this still-kicking country outlaw, but this is pretty good. The arrangements are more on the Sinatra side than the Nelson one, but his supple voice fits in with them well. A nice experiment.

Orbital, Monsters Exist.

Another welcome return, this album for me is all about the last track. “There Will Come a Time” is a swell collaboration with Prof. Brian Cox about the end of the universe, and about how our mortality should make us better and more loving people. The rest of this album is standard Orbital, all instrumental synth madness. Welcome back, guys.

Our Lady Peace, Somethingness.

This nine-song record seems to indicate a lack of effort, but it shows that Our Lady Peace is still capable of making some pretty interesting music. Raine Maida sounds a little older and a little more worn, but his elastic voice is still the main selling point.

Peter Bjorn and John, Darker Days.

True to its title, this is a darker album from these Swedish pop wunderkinds, exploring some minor keys and more serious lyrics. But it’s still a great deal of fun, and as ever it sounds like it was put together by polished, accomplished craftsmen.

Dug Pinnick, Tribute to Jimi.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the King’s X frontman loves Jimi Hendrix. You can hear his influence all over Dug’s solo work especially. This is a pretty decent tribute record, with Pinnick’s versions of some of Hendrix’s best known songs. No surprises, but fun.

The Prodigy, No Tourists.

The Prodigy seems content giving us the same record over and over again. This is boom-boom beats and Liam Howlett’s braying, and it works as well as it always has. Really, it does sound like the same record as last time and the time before, but I keep buying them, so maybe I’m the fool here.

Ben Rector, Magic.

A more produced and hit-hungry record from this piano-popper, but it still contains big helpings of his trademark suburban wit. I love “Old Friends,” corny as it is, and “Duo” made me smile. I hoped for more from Rector, and I hope his radio-driven phase ends soon.

Mike Shinoda, Post Traumatic.

Surprisingly effective solo record from the creative driver of Linkin Park. This album was recorded in the wake of Chester Bennington’s suicide, and his spectre haunts the whole thing. Shinoda uses this music to work through his grief and his uncertainty about what to do next. It’s emotionally heavy but enjoyable all the same.

Soulfly, Ritual.

Eleventh album from Max Cavalera’s post-Sepultura metal band, and they still kick ass. This is a solid, compact slice of heavy riffing with some interesting percussion and another installment of their instrumental “Soulfly” series. It’s just another Soulfly album, but it’s been a while since they’ve made a bad one.

Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt.

I really want to get Spiritualized, but I don’t. These songs are too simple for me, too basic, and Jason Pierce works really hard on the arrangements and the production, and it always sounds like polishing a turd to me. The songs bore me to tears. I wish I liked this. I really do.

Sun Kil Moon, This is My Dinner.

Speaking of being bored to tears, here’s 90 more minutes of diary-entry ramblings from Mark Kozelek. This one feels like a waste of a good band, since the sound is fantastic. But the endless nature of the stream-of-consciousness songs sinks this.

Matthew Sweet, Tomorrow’s Daughter.

Official release of the bonus disc from Tomorrow Forever. This is another dozen swell Sweet songs, the product of a huge seam of inspiration over the last couple years. Together, these two Tomorrow albums represent the best work he’s done in more than a decade.

Teenage Wrist, Chrome Neon Jesus.

Another new discovery, this band makes me yearn for the glory days of Catherine Wheel. They’re shoegaze-y but smart and melodic and full of life. I’ve listened to this far more often than you’d think, considering I never mentioned it in this column. I’d call them one of my favorite new bands of the year.

Titus Andronicus, A Productive Cough.

This is half the length of the last Titus record and twice as hard to get through. Patrick Stickles indulges his love of simple Americana here, and writes these “epic” Bob Dylan-style songs that go on forever without doing anything. To drive the point home, he covers “Like a Rolling Stone.” For eight minutes. Ugh.

Jeff Tweedy, Warm.

People seem to like this solo effort from the Wilco frontman. I got about three sloppy strums into It before deciding I would hate it forever. The rest of the record didn’t change my mind. More like lukewarm. Tepid, even.

Various Artists, Johnny Cash: The Music: Forever Words.

An unwieldy title for a surprisingly successful tribute album. This is new songs written around existing and unused Johnny Cash lyrics, and the strong list of performers and composers take this as the honor it is and turn in excellent work. Elvis Costello’s track is a highlight.

Vengeance, Human Sacrifice (The First Mix).

The first Christian thrash metal album ever, now in a rawer and more immediate mix. It’s like hearing it for the first time. The band sounds like they are in the room with you. I love this album so much that I was happy to buy this alternate version of it, and it may supplant the original mix in my canon.

Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth.

Washington is so good. This is another double-length extravaganza from the jazz saxophone prodigy, with a hidden third disc that brings the running time over three hours. It’s extraordinary stuff, full and rich and wild when it needs to be, yet restrained when it should be. Excellent stuff.

Thom Yorke, Suspira.

This lengthy score to the new Suspira film is the first bit of Thom Yorke’s solo career I really like. It’s effective and creepy and, as it’s a film score, it doesn’t matter that most of it is soundscapes without songs. The songs here are really good too, though. I know some were worried about Thom messing with the original score, but this works really well.

And that will do it for another year. I’ll be taking next week off, and maybe the week after that as well. After 18 years I need a bit of a breather. But don’t worry, I’ll be back in 2019 with more weekly musical musings. Thank you, more than I can say, to those who have followed along on this journey and interacted with me through this column. You’re the reason I keep writing it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

See you in year 19. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning… and to all a good night.

Love Me for Who I Am
The 2018 Top 10 List

Welcome to my top 10 list column.

As I mentioned last week, we have nine very good records and one great one to get through. And as I may not have mentioned, the fact that the gulf between the great album and the very good ones is so massive means that we’re really dealing with my personal taste here. If you want to quibble with any of these (except the top pick, of course) and suggest that any from my honorable mentions column should be here instead, I won’t argue. These are just the ones I listened to most, the ones that resonated with me. Your mileage may vary. Except for the number one pick. I’ll dig in pretty hard on that one.

OK, let’s get right to it. Here is my 2018 top 10 list in all its glory.

#10. Neneh Cherry, Broken Politics.

I’ve been a Neneh Cherry fan since the release of her extraordinary second album, Homebrew, in 1992. Since then she’s proven herself again and again as an unpredictable and fearless artist. Broken Politics is her fifth album, and her second with Kieran Hebden, also known as Four Tet, behind the boards. It’s her most pointed work, taking aim at a host of social ills, but it’s also perhaps her most beautiful. Cherry and Hebden concocted some gorgeous near-ambient electronic settings in which to place Cherry’s fitful, restless voice, and on songs like “Kong” and the awesome “Faster Than the Truth,” that combination strikes gold. Cherry has never let me down, and on Broken Politics she aims high and gets there with apparent ease.

#9. The Choir, Bloodshot.

The Choir remains perhaps my favorite band. So when they asked in 2017 for my money to fund the creation of Bloodshot, I ponied up with no questions asked. I had no idea what we were going to get. It turns out that Bloodshot is the saddest, most difficult and most earthbound album the band has made. It focuses on drummer Steve Hindalong’s painful divorce, and the band sets aside most of their ethereal, ambient soundscapes in favor of tangible, strummy songs that pick at the pain, opening it up wide. Songs like “Bloodshot Eyes,” “Only Reasons” and “House of Blues” are dark things, and the band measures them against rockers like “Summer Rain” and “Magic,” culminating with one of their best anthems of hope and forgiveness in “The Time Has Come.” This album is doubly bittersweet as it is the final recording project for bassist Tim Chandler, who died earlier this year. I will miss him terribly, but I’m glad we got one last Choir album with him on it, and that it’s such a powerful and important one.

#8. Frank Turner, Be More Kind.

I thought a lot about this record over the past several months. There’s no doubting it comes from a place of white man’s privilege, Turner surveying the current political landscape and arguing that things would be better if we could just be nicer to each other. He isn’t intending to give short shrift to the injustices playing out in spheres he doesn’t inhabit, but I still worry that Be More Kind is a bit blinkered. But it’s also a great album of wonderful, well-intentioned songs, ones that I found myself singing over and over as this crazy year had its way with everyone I know. Turner isn’t wrong when he suggests we should interrogate our own assumptions, admit we might be wrong and work on reconciliation, and he gets angry when he needs to, as on “1933” and “Make America Great Again.” Nestled near the end of this record is “The Lifeboat,” which may be the best song he’s ever written – it’s about leaving the old world in flames behind you and building a new one based on kindness and justice, which is exactly the way I feel coming out of 2018.

#7. Wye Oak, The Louder I Call The Faster It Runs.

Jenn Wasner has been moving toward something this compelling for a long time. The Louder I Call takes the synth-heavy sound Wye Oak had been toying with and marries it to a fantastic set of songs, emerging fully formed as an entirely new thing. The star of this record is Wasner’s voice, both as a singer and a songwriter, and it’s remarkable how completely she has transformed here from her scrappy indie origins. She’s never written a song as complex and powerful as “It Was Not Natural,” a highlight not only of this record but of the year. It surprises me that those singing her praises years ago have all but ignored this album. This is the record on which Wasner has come into her own, and it’s a glorious sound.

#6. Derri Daugherty, The Color of Dreams.

Yes, Derri is here twice, and yes, his solo record hit me harder than his work with the Choir this year. The very idea of a solo project from Daugherty, the golden voice atop the Choir’s blissful noise, has been a running in-joke among fans for close to 20 years. The Color of Dreams was well worth the wait. Daugherty’s voice works very well with the stripped-down country-inflected folk music he gives us here (and has given us with the Lost Dogs and Kerosene Halo), and given that framework, Color is a surprisingly diverse album – we have the straight-ahead rock of “Unhypnotized” and “We’ve Got the Moon,” the crawling darkness of “I Want You to Be” and the six ambient tracks at the end. But most of all we have the songs, and they’re wonderful things, from the tricky acoustic skip of “Saying Goodbye” to the aforementioned swipe at fundamentalist religion that is “Unhypnotized.” The highlight for me is “Your Chair,” Daugherty’s memorial for his father, which is easily in the running for best song of the year. It took a while to arrive, but The Color of Dreams is superb.

#5. Low, Double Negative.

Whatever I write here about Double Negative, it will not match the unsettling, skin-crawling experience of hearing it. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have thrown out their own rulebook on their 12th full-length, dispatching not only with their classic slowcore sound but with even their recent sonic advances. Double Negative is a nightmare, deliberately crafted and mixed to put you off balance. Static and noise hold sway, and underneath are some sweet and gentle songs trying to poke through, met with flamethrowers when they poke their heads up. The whole thing is designed to cause dread, and to capture the feeling of living in a world where disaster can happen at any time. As a reaction to the year, it succeeds wildly. For better and for worse, it may well be the most 2018 album to come out in 2018.

#4. Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Look Now.

Do I even need to say at this point that Elvis Costello is one of the finest songwriters alive? In recent years he’s dabbled in country-folk with the great National Ransom and collaborated with the Roots on the noisy Wise Up Ghost, but Look Now finds him returning to a classic pop sound. There are shades of his more ornate work with the Attractions and his tunes with Burt Bacharach here, but beyond the trappings there are a dozen perfect little Costello songs, arranged and performed with gusto. And that’s all Costello has ever needed to impress. He co-writes here with Bacharach and Carole King, and is in their rarified air, turning out wonders like opener “Under Lime” and “Mr. and Mrs. Hush,” tales of hard luck and harder people set to gorgeous orchestration and some fine playing from the Imposters. If an album is only as strong as its songs, this one’s unbreakable.

#3. Jukebox the Ghost, Off to the Races.

I think I played this album more times than any other this year. I’ve been somewhat dismayed as Jukebox the Ghost followed their pure pop muse away from the more complex and Queen-like work of their earlier records, but Off to the Races is the album on which they sold me on their new sound. It helps that this is the most Queen-influenced effort they’ve made, but they have married those excesses with some of their catchiest and most direct piano-pop. The result is joyful almost beyond description, from the danceable delight of “Fred Astaire” to the romantic “Simple as 1 2 3” to the rip-roaring “Boring,” an ode to settling down. Off to the Races is short – 10 songs in 34 minutes – but it’s as pristine and enjoyable a pop record as anyone could hope for.

#2. Darlingside, Extralife.

This one edged out Jukebox, but only just. It’s the prettiest thing I heard this year, building on the gorgeous folk of Birds Say and emerging with something that approaches transcendent. The four members of Darlingside all sing in perfect, soul-lifting harmony, and the moment in each song when the vocals intertwine and ascend is magical. It’s the same trick, but they pull it off a dozen times here, and it never gets old. The songs are lovely, from the absurdly beautiful “Hold Your Head Up High” to the rhythmically tricky “Indian Orchard Road,” and all together this album fills me with a peaceful feeling that I can’t explain. It’s alchemical in some way, but it was much needed during a year of chaos and pain.

So there you have nine very good albums. But none of them were truly great. I only heard one that fit that description, and from the moment I heard it I knew it would sit atop this list. There could be no other choice, really.

#1. Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer.

When this album came out in May, I wrote a lengthy review of it that summarizes my feelings. I won’t rehash that here, so if you’re inclined toward the deeper dive, please read it. In addition to all that, I want to talk about what makes Monae’s astonishing third album not only the best but the most important record of 2018. I know a lot of people who have been searching for an artistic response to the wave of hatred that seems to be taking over the world, searching for music that plants a flag of protest against what seems to be a rising tide of bigotry. And for me, Dirty Computer was that record.

Dirty Computer is a stomping, sex-positive sci-fi narrative about a government that erases experiences it does not approve of from the memories of its citizens. But more than that, it chronicles the awakening of Monae herself, who leaves her previous role as an android behind to be fully human here. This is an album about a black queer woman being fully herself – it is fearlessly liberated, unafraid to express that identity in bold terms. Songs like “Django Jane” and “Pynk” and the wonderful “I Like That” find her facing the fear of embracing who she is and coming out the other side in triumph. Monae is well aware that just being herself is a political statement, a stand against those in our government and in our churches who would oppress her just for being alive.

Even if Dirty Computer were just that, just a full-blooded “here I am” shouted from the mountaintops, it would be an extraordinary thing. But it’s so much more. It’s a powerful look at America from a point of view that is not often heard from or celebrated. With “Screwed,” which may be my favorite song of the year (and the most transgressive thing I have ever loved), Monae posits that sex must be powerful, since so many want to control it. With “Americans,” she takes direct aim at the bigotry she obliquely references throughout this album, and with the help of Pastor Sean McMillan, sets out a list of goals that will truly make America great: “Until women can get equal pay for equal work, this is not my America. Until same-gender-loving people can be who they are, this is not my America….”

The entire thing is executed with such vision and precision that it feels like a single thought, and taken as a whole, Dirty Computer is the most politically minded protest album I heard this year, a bulwark against a rising tide. It’s also musically astonishing, from the Princely grooves of “Make Me Feel” to the prog-rock overtones of “So Afraid” to the ultimate dance floor liberation of “Screwed.” Janelle Monae has always been brilliant, but this is the first album on which she has harnessed that brilliance in service of herself, with no disguises, knowing full well what an act of rebellion that in itself is during these times. In doing so, she made not only the best album of 2018, but the year’s only truly great statement.

Here’s hoping in 20 years we look back on an album like Dirty Computer and shake our heads in disbelief that it was ever necessary. For this year, it’s vital. And it’s without question my number one.

And that will do it. Next week is Fifty Second Week, and another year is done. Thanks to all of you who came with me on another year of this silly music column. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Never-Weres and Also-Rans
The Honorable Mentions of 2018

This year was not like other years.

I’ll go into this in a bit more detail next week, but my top 10 list is done, and the wide gulf between my number one pick and all the others albums I heard this year is immense. Looked at from a certain perspective, there shouldn’t be any honorable mentions, since everything that isn’t my number one pick is kind of interchangeable. They’re all good albums, but they’re nowhere near as good as the one I’m calling the year’s best.

But then I wouldn’t have anything to write about this week. The honorable mentions are a tradition here at tm3am, records that were very good but just not good enough to make the list. What differentiates this year’s selection from those of the previous years is that virtually all of these albums could have been among the top 10. They’re all about the same level of very good, and anyone arguing that any of the below entries should be one of the ten best of 2018 would get no sideways glances from me.

Heck, there are probably several albums I should have heard that could easily have been in this list of honorables as well. I did take time to hear the one cropping up on everyone else’s lists, Mitski’s Be the Cowboy, and I don’t think I agree that it should be anywhere near the top ten, but I’m happy to accept it in anyone else’s ranking. (I think a lot of people liked the Kacey Musgraves album more than I did too, but I did like it.) The only album I will fight to the death for is the one sitting atop my list.

This column is also my chance to go over the rules for my top 10 list, so as not to waste time with it next week. So here they are: Only full-length albums of original material that came out in 2018 are eligible for this year’s list. That seems really straightforward, but it actually causes a few conundrums for me during the year. For instance, this year there were a few EPs that could have been in the list, most particularly the debut from Boygenius and the second installment of the Oh Hellos’ mini-album series, Euros. But only full-length records are eligible.

Two albums I wish I could include are ineligible because they are not new, strictly speaking. Meshell Ndegeocello’s beautiful Ventriloquism is a covers album like few others, finding the depth and soul in the ‘80s and ‘90s songs she covers. This is the album that made me love Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day,” and reminded me how much I have always liked Force MDs’ “Tender Love.” And Paul Simon’s In the Blue Light revisits some of his lesser-known material in new ways, including a stunning take on “Can’t Run But” and a perfect new take on “Love,” one of my favorites of his, featuring Bill Frisell on guitar. But there are no new songs, so it can’t make the list.

Live albums are also ineligible, which this year means that I can’t include the incredible The Roxy Performances box set from Frank Zappa. But you should buy this right now, if you have any interest at all in Zappa’s work. Seven CDs capturing every note played by one of his finest bands during a residency at the Roxy in 1973. It’s utterly amazing from first note to last. Surprisingly, though, it isn’t my favorite live album of the year. That honor goes to Midnight Oil, whose Armistice Day finds them in fine form in Sydney on their 2017 reunion tour. Seriously, this performance is fire.

While I am recommending things that cannot feature in my top 10 list, I’d point to R.E.M.’s 8-CD/1-DVD At the BBC set, a comprehensive box detailing their live performances for the BBC over their entire career; Daniel Amos’ stunning remaster and expansion of Horrendous Disc; and the two new Kate Bush Remastered box sets that give us her entire output in sparkling new editions. There are still 13 shopping days before Christmas, so go.

But before you go, here’s a quick look at the honorable mentions from 2018.

The earliest release that has stuck around for me is I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life by Tune-Yards. This is Merrill Garbus’ most accomplished piece of work, quirky yet weighty, and I kept listening to it throughout 2018. Also early on were Being Empty Being Filled, the new one from Listener, a band quite unlike any other, and Good Thing, the excellent sophomore record from Leon Bridges. The Bridges album remains a favorite, its soulful yet modern grooves a perfect fit for his buttery voice.

Florence and the Machine made my favorite of their records with High as Hope. Dawes did the same with Passwords, a reaction to the year and to the ways we talk to one another. Richard Thompson came roaring back with the guitar-heavy 13 Rivers, his best record in many years. Punch Brothers delivered another sterling document of their progressive bluegrass style with All Ashore. And just recently, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness delivered a third album of remarkable grace and beauty in Upside Down Flowers.

These are all records I like, but now we’re moving into the ones I love. I didn’t review Mount Eerie’s Now Only, just because it was too difficult a prospect to approach. But the album is amazing, continuing Phil Elverum’s mourning in the wake of his wife’s death while bringing in more of the sound we know and love from him. Deafheaven’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love gave me some of the same feelings – it’s impossibly emotional noise that is heavy enough to crush you, but prefers to gently cocoon you.

While Boygenius got most of the ink, I was more enamored with See You Around, the debut record from I’m With Her. A collaboration between three geniuses – Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan – the album delivers some of the most gorgeous acoustic folk music you’re likely to hear. The Bad Plus returned with a new piano player, the swell Orrin Evans, and a really strong new record, Never Stop II, to inaugurate their next chapter.

Two of my AudioFeed bands put out great records this year. The Gray Havens put down their guitars and went electronic with She Waits, and it’s a swell, if brief, journey from grief to joy. And Von Strantz finally unveiled Through the Looking Glass, an album they made a few years ago, and it was a revelation. Jess and Kelsey fully immersed themselves in electronic textures and ‘80s synths and wrote some killer songs.

Finally, we have the Number Elevens, the albums that I almost included in the top 10 list this year. Even more so than all of the others I listed, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if you told me any of these final four were among your absolute favorites of 2018. Two of these featured in earlier drafts of my list, so they shouldn’t be surprises, but two are relatively new, and they knocked me out.

Those two are Kamasi Washington’s vast, unlimited Heaven and Earth and Donnie Vie’s Beautiful Things. A double album of horizon-size depth, with a hidden EP that pushes it over the three-hour mark, Heaven and Earth is a visionary slice of jazz, with gigantic orchestrations and some powerhouse playing by Washington and his ensemble. Beautiful Things is a perfect compact melodic record from the Enuff Z’Nuff mastermind, the fullest and richest album he’s made and the best argument yet for his canonization among pop songwriters.

Which brings us to the ones I have mentioned before, both of which almost made the list. Stoner metal band Sleep made a triumphant return with The Sciences, the most monolithic metal record I heard this year. ( Seriously, it contains a song called “Giza Butler” that earns that title.) And the Boxer Rebellion made what I think is their very best album with the quiet, pensive, haunting Ghost Alive. I didn’t hear a flat-out prettier song this year than “Here I Am,” and the rest of the album is gorgeous as well.

OK, next week, my 10 favorites from 2018. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Merry and Bright
The Annual Christmas Album Roundup

It happened earlier than usual this year.

A couple weeks ago, my long-suffering and delightful girlfriend and I were headed to a party. We were driving down decorated streets and listening to Bing Crosby and out of nowhere, it hit me. Christmas. I can be counted on to get into the spirit at some point before December 25 each year, but this was the earliest those warm and magical feelings snuck up on me.

I just love Christmas. I love the lights, the trees, the spirit of giving, the sense of the unpredictable in the air. I even love going to church on Christmas, a tradition my friend Mike and I have upheld for more than 20 years. But most of all, I love Christmas music. I generally like to confine my enjoyment of it to about 30 days – the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas day. This year I couldn’t wait.

Christmas music just fills me with an insane joy. I even love that Mariah Carey tune all my cool friends seem to hate. It’s fun! I love jolly Christmas songs and pensive Christmas ballads and reverent Christmas hymns. It’s a canon of songs I just cannot get enough of, to the point where I buy loads of new Christmas music every year and revel in it, alongside my old favorites. (I’ve already made my way through all of Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas this year.)

So this is my annual roundup of Christmas records from this year. I bought seven new holiday platters, and surprisingly, none of them were J.D. McPherson’s Socks, so I might have to rectify that. It was an interestingly diverse bounty this year, and I’ve been enjoying it. Here’s what has been rockin’ around my Christmas tree this season.

We’ll start with the one that has received the fewest plays, for obvious reasons: William Shatner’s Shatner Claus, the Christmas Album. I blame Ben Folds for convincing me all those years ago that Shatner’s recording career wasn’t just a colossal joke. Has Been remains the best use anyone has made of Shatner’s speak-sing-intone thing, and the joke wears fairly thin over 14 tracks here.

The guest list is astonishing, though, from Henry Rollins (crashing his way through “Jingle Bells”) to Todd Rundgren to Rick Wakeman to Iggy Pop to the one and only Judy Collins. They’re all in on the joke, and listening to them tap dance around Shatner is fascinating. I don’t know why Shatner Claus exists, but on some level – some absurd, insane level – I’m glad it does.

Each year at least one or two artists decide to try their hand at original Christmas tunes. Last year it was Sia with her nutty Everyday is Christmas. This year we have a couple mostly original albums, and they’re great. The Mavericks are a country band unlike any other country band, combining Western swing and Mariachi flavors into their mix, to be topped off by the Roy Orbison-esque vocals of Raul Malo. Their Hey! Merry Christmas! is swell, basically a regular Mavericks album with holiday-themed lyrics and sweet covers of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Happy Holiday.”

The Old 97’s save their covers of traditional songs until the end of Love the Holidays, filling the bulk of the running time with their ramshackle country-rock. I like all of their original tunes, though, especially the rollicking “Gotta Love Being a Kid (Merry Christmas).” The record really comes to life for me when they hit their joyous covers of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Up on the Housetop,” though. The cover photo is worth the cost of admission too.

For the second year in a row, Ronnie Martin has made an appearance, returning from his self-imposed exile from Joy Electric. He calls himself Said Fantasy now, and Chorus Noel is his second EP of Christmas songs. Martin still uses nothing but vintage synthesizers, and he keeps things instrumental except for the title track, the first new song he’s written since Said Fantasy’s debut album last year. It’s so great to hear Ronnie singing one of his own songs again, and the rest of the EP is fun as well. It’s only 13 minutes long, but I enjoyed all 13 of those minutes.

Martin also ably demonstrates that the key to a lovely and timeless Christmas record is to mix up your originals with your takes on the established canon. The Monkees prove him right with their great new album Christmas Party, continuing their unlikely modern renaissance. The band sticks to the same formula that made 2016’s Good Times such a success: they enlisted Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne to produce, and wrangled new Christmas songs from the likes of Andy Partridge, Rivers Cuomo, and Peter Buck with Scott McCaughey.

The result is marvelous. You can always tell an Andy Partridge song, and “Unwrap You at Christmas” is no exception. It’s a power pop master class, of course, but it’s generous enough to sit alongside Cuomo’s “What Would Santa Do” and Schlesinger’s “House of Broken Gingerbread” nicely. Along the way the Monkees give us their takes on “The Christmas Song,” “Silver Bells,” McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and, most fascinatingly, Big Star’s “Jesus Christ.” It’s compact and fun and just great.

One of my very favorite bands, Austin’s Quiet Company, took a darker tack on their deliciously titled new EP Baby It’s Cold War Outside. Thankfully, it’s no less delightful, especially the song that has become a new standard around my house, “Merry Christmas, the President is Terrible.” (It’s a lot more serious-minded than its title would suggest.) Taylor Muse and (ahem) company balance off their original takes with covers of “What Christmas Means to Me” and “Little Drummer Boy” and end things with a fantastic mash-up of “Carol of the Bells” and “Setting the Trap” from Home Alone. Check that out here.

QuietCo was very nearly my favorite this year, but if I have to pick one, I’m going in a much more traditional direction. I just can’t stop listening to John Legend’s A Legendary Christmas. Legend has one of those voices that just does it for me. Chills up the spine, shivers and hair standing on end. He’s just that good. A Legendary Christmas homages Bing Crosby on its cover and it sets Legend’s voice loose over rich orchestration.

So much of this is so good, but I’m particularly fond of Legend’s duet with Esperanza Spalding on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and his gorgeous take on “The Christmas Song.” This is really a perfect Christmas record, one that makes me think of snowfalls and presents when I was a child, one that evokes the nostalgic and beautiful magic of this season. I’m probably going to play it again once I’m done writing this, in fact.

I hope I’ve given you enough ideas to stock your own Christmas larder with tunes. While I will be back to writing about non-Christmas music next week (with the honorable mentions for my top 10 list), you can bet that I’ll be listening to some combination of the above while writing it. Thanks for reading. May your days be merry and bright.

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

See you in line Tuesday morning.

a column by andre salles