Houston Calls The Space Cadet

There’s an awful lot of hunger to go around.

Long song, long story. Something about Texas makes me stretch out. Might be the wide-open spaces, or the big rivers, or the Miranda Lambert double albums. “Houston Calls The Space Cadet” is my idea of country music, which in practice means Jackson Browne plus thick Wakeman-inspired synthesizer. Most farmers use plenty of synthetic products these days. Think of the Moog on the verses as pesticide and fungicide stacks, and the MS2000 on the refrain as a genetically modified organism.

The Almanac has now been up for a month. Hope you’ve been enjoying our game. It’s a noisy world and it can be difficult for the peeping of a little otter like me to be heard over the din. From the outset, I figured it would be a good way to give people a regular reminder of the existence of my music and my writing without being too too annoying about it. See, I’m only a loudmouth on the Internet; in person, I’m shy. But like other introspective megalomaniacs throughout history, I like to be drawn out of my shell by the enthusiastic applause of others. I welcome this. In an effort to get some, I’m getting out of the house and back into showbiz.

Yes, shows; American Almanac shows. I will be playing some Almanac songs at a Blowup Radio-sponsored guitar pull — basically three songwriters trading numbers — at Espresso Joe’s in Keyport on April 8. That’ll just be me and my ole acoustic guitar; no synthesizers in sight. Before you decide conclusively not to go, I’m actually not a terrible acoustic guitar player. I can kindasorta do it, and I’ve been practicing. It’s true, I can exist without an electric current!, right this moment, I’m not plugged into anything. Later I’ll need to be connected via USB to the grid in order to recharge.

Six nights later, Maxwell’s Tavern will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of Jersey Beat.  This’ll be something of a music marathon with mini-sets from lots of friends, including the Negatones, Richard Barone, Prosolar Mechanics, Glenn Morrow and his Cry For Help, the Cucumbers, and Jerseybeat Jim himself, who was nice enough to ask me to do a few songs. I’ll be playing with Marc Maurizi, who you might remember as the frontman and principal songwriter in Cropduster. (‘Duster drummer Scott Kopitskie might join us, too.) We’re doing a couple of his songs and a couple of mine, and a timely cover that I think you’ll be able to sing along to. Just hope I don’t mess it up too bad.

Finally, we’re planning an official Almanac kickoff party at Pianos on May 12. This’ll be a real full band show, which means a battery of synthesizers I can hide behind as I sing. It won’t be all Almanac songs: we’ll do some old favorites, too. By then, the site will be two months old, and the world ought to know all about it. Or at least my mommy and my little sister. They both checked it out last week and they liked it, or so they told me at my father’s birthday party. Always got to keep your mommy happy.

P.S. If you’re an aging emo kid and wondering, the title of today’s song is indeed a shout to a North Jersey band that I liked a lot: Houston Calls. No references to Hidden In Plain View or Armor For Sleep, alas. (Early November references are general across all these songs.)


(That’s What I Like About) Baltimore

They all play like no one’s keeping score.

You might recognize this one. Unlike most of the rest of the songs in this Almanac, it wasn’t written in 2015 or 2016. “(That’s What I Like About) Baltimore” dates back to late 2008, and it’s been performed a few times by a couple of different combos.It’s possible you heard it at a show and, given its simplicity, you might even be able to sing along to it. I posted the original bedroom demo of this song to this website years ago, and I think that recording was downloaded by a bunch of my pals. Maybe even you, reader.

It was never recorded for real, by a band, though — and, given its subject matter, it seemed like it was a good fit for this Almanac. A person who appreciated the original demo (or at least the silly doo-wop backing vocals) said to me, cleverly, that she felt it had more to do with Jersey City than it did with Baltimore. In 2008, my writing wastrending toward autobiography — this was the time of Let The Night Fall— so I guess it was only natural to assume that the criticism of what went on in “my town” was actual criticism of my town. But this isn’t supposed to be my voice. “Baltimore” was always meant to be a character song: one narrated by a guy whose perspective is, to say the least, problematic. I was thinking of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” and stuff from Good Old Boys like “Birmingham” — songs where the narrator’s superficial engagement with a place hints at some of the deep troubles beneath the sunny-day exterior. So “my town” could really be anywhere: just a place that the main character deems inauthentic by comparison with Baltimore as he imagines it.

Still, I entertained writing a different song about Baltimore and leaving this one out of the Almanac. Richmond comes close, and San Francisco is great for baseball (sometimes), but Baltimore is my favorite American city that isn’t in New Jersey. It’s already taken a beating in the popular imagination — which is kinda what motivated this song in the first place — and I didn’t want to pile on. I’ve never seen The Wire or Homicide, but whenever I’d go to Baltimore, people felt the need to bring them up and mention the desolation that inspired them. Songs about Baltimore do tend to be bleak: not just Randy Newman’s, but Lyle Lovett’s, and Gram Parsons via Bobby Bare, and “Hungry Heart” and etcetera throughout the pop catalog. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want a casual listener to think that I thought that Baltimore was just crab cakes and Berger cookies; a kitchy pit stop on I-95 where I can grab some stuff to eat and enjoy some local color as I joyride home. That would make me cry.

Ultimately, I decided that this song belonged in the Almanac — or belonged somewhere, so why not here? “Baltimore” is the rare Tris McCall number that I have good reason to believe that people like, and that I’ve actually market-tested a little before I tried to foist it on anybody. It’s about two minutes long, and I still think that’s the optimal length for a pop song. As for the accompanying story, it’s a sad one, and it trades in the same complex, ambivalent emotions that (I hope) peek through the spaces between the big, bouncy major chords. Liberal guilt is one of the debilitatingforces in American life at the moment, but risible as it is, I don’t think it’s all that pernicious. We’re dealing with worse. While I question Philip’s motivations and some of his methods, too, the poor schmuck certainly has my sympathy.

Kate Beaton

Back to the wall, nowhere to run.

The decision to do the Almanac was mainly driven by webcomic envy. It feels like the ideal way to tell a story: episodically, a page a day, on a regular update schedule. The Pittsburgh song I’m posting today doesn’t have anything to do with Kate Beaton, but I’m dropping her name here in tribute, and as an acknowledgment of one of my biggest inspirations for the project. You might know Kate Beaton — she’s such an amazing caricaturist and storyteller that her fame has spread far past the still-small world of webcomics. There’s an archive ofher history and literature cartoons at Hark, A Vagrant (that’s her site); it’s about as lively as visual art gets.

My favorites, though, are a couple of artists who you probably wouldn’t know unless you know webcomics. Meredith Gran draws Octopus Pie, which has been running for ten years now — and is coming in for a landing — has evolved from a goofy slice-of-life comic about a couple of young women in New York City to a work of sublime narrative poetry. It’s simultaneously the best reporting on life in Brooklyn and the finest epic novel I’ve ever read a page at a time. I’m going to be so sad to see it go, but it’s going out on top. Unsounded, a wild ride created by a Floridian named Ashley Cope, features a fully realized fantasy world (and magic system loosely based on computer programming) of her own invention. She’s great at drawing action scenes and trippy, otherworldly landscapes. But what she really excels at is the character stuff. The comic is, at base, an on-the-road buddy story starring a young girl with a tail and a compromised set of morals and a deeply religious zombie wizard (she says wright) whose prose is even more purple than mine. At times it reminds me of Fritz Leiber, and other times of Dr. Seuss, but mostly it’s just Ashley Cope, the great fantasist of the moment.

Anyway, there’s nothing comic about today’s song, which is my attempt to rock a little (as Stevie Nicks once said) — with plenty of bass synthesizers, of course. The riff is lifted from a thousand different new wave numbers, but the tale is my own invention. Here’s one time when the short story on the city page is a retelling — actually an elaboration — of the song lyric. It’s all pretty coherent. Next week, I’ll be more mysterious.

Route 52

Out of range at the end of the line.

In Ecology Of Fear, Mike Davis writes about our national obsession with West Coast apocalypse. Filmed depictions of Pacific disaster are big entertainment for the whole country. If the earthquakes don’t get Southern California, it’ll be the landslides, or the tornadoes (Los Angeles is weirdly prone to them, he suggests), or a tsunami, or a megadrought that will leave millions of beautiful and formerly well-hydrated people gasping for a drink of water.

In part, we’re fixated on Californian disaster stories because we know that the planners are throwing dice with death, taking major chances by overdeveloping a region that isn’t exactly geologically sound. But if we’re honest, we ought to concede that we’re also rubberneckers, and little Savonarolas who believe that vanity will, in due time, be punished by the universe. We’re pieces of work, we are. When the cataclysm comes, we expect Californians to stop tanning and turn on each other; this is the theme of, among other songs, Jamey Johnson’s excellent-repugnant “California Riots”. While the liberals will be killing each other over scarce resources, Jamey will be in his pickup truck and headed back to Macon. I hope he’s not laughing.

But just as the secret of eschatology is in understanding that every day on earth contains its own little acts of genesis and tribulation, the awful truth of California — especially Southern California — is that apocalypse happens in slow motion all the time. The burdens of apocalypse fall disproportionately on the damned, which, in a country that worships money, mostly means the folks who haven’t got any. California is the Garden of Eden, but you won’t find this place too hot if you ain’t got the dough-re-mi; it’s as true today as it was when Woody Guthrie first sang that chorus oh so many moons ago. Right now, a regime in Washington that appears to hate the whole West Coast is making life hard for the immigrants and illegals and asylum-seekers who are huddled at the bottom rung; this puts extra pressure on folks who are already the most vulnerable to droughts and mudslides and all the other dangers of a land that has never wholly been tamed. That gorgeous, flower-dotted country between San Diego and the Mexican border is home to many of the wealthiest Americans, living in beautiful houses. It’s also a transition zone populated by poor workers whose hold on American life is getting more precarious by the day. When disaster comes, guess who’s going to ride it out okay, and who is going to fall into the fault line?

You may have noticed that many Californians are sick of this treatment — sick enough that they’re contemplating taking their beach ball and going away. A #Calexit, if it were to happen, really would be a disaster, a comet-strike to the political world: a huge percentage of America’s gross domestic product would be wiped off the books, probably for good. There were similar rejectionist movements in Texas and other Southern states when Obama reached the White House, so it’s tempting to think that Californian separatism will also come to nothing. But I hope that the success of the Brexit campaign and the rise of the SNP has taught us to take secession movements seriously. A year ago, nobody thought that the MPs in Westminster were really going to turn away from the EU. Well, hell, they’re really going to do it.

Would Sacramento really kiss the rest of us ingrates off? Well, honestly, why wouldn’t Californians at least consider it? They have no voice in the electoral college — Presidential elections are usually decided even before their polls close. They are taxed to pay for an aggressive foreign policy that doesn’t serve their interests. Now they’re at the mercy of federal immigration officers whose brutal practices undermine municipal police departments and erode trust in authorities of all kinds. The state that has been a tremendous driver of innovation ever since it first consented to be part of the Union has to watch, voiceless, as a bunch of know-nothings in office deny scientific consensus. Climate’s heating up; cool heads aren’t likely to prevail.

The action-adventure-y “Route 52” is set at a not-so-distant future moment when California is in the teeth of a drought and readying for the big divorce. None of that is spelled out explicitly in the song’s lyric, but it’s all hinted at, and one of the things I’m enjoying about this Almanac is that I can fill in the narrative blanks with the story and the essay. This particular story is a little gonzo, I admit. I’m not going to make a habit of that, hopefully, but I felt that “Route 52” required me to take a few liberties. As a hokey person I went for a Californian sound: a little Game Theory, and Allen Clapp, and Aislers Set, and CVB. I realize those are all Northern Californian acts. Beach Boys mimicry is beyond my capacities.

I feel the need to say that I love California as much as any damned Yankee can. I do not, ever, want to be part of a Golden Stateless nation; that would horrify me, and I wish Washington would stop pushing California toward the door. It would really feel like we were shooting the popular kid as an idiotic act of defiance. My fear is that unscrupulous politicians who have no great love of the Union and a great deal of love for power will determine that they’ve got a better chance of imposing their will on the rump of the nation if California goes. You may find that far-fetched or legally dubious; I think it’s frighteningly plausible, and I’ve noticed that laws — even constitutional laws — have a habit of giving way when people in power deem them inconvenient. Consider: right now, most Americans’ primary enemy isn’t Russians, or Arabs, or Mexicans. It’s other Americans — Americans on the other side of the political divide. Once the cookie starts to crumble, the whole thing could fall to pieces fast. Don’t make me pull for #NJexit. You know we’d be fine. We’ve got the Garden.

The Prince Of Daylight

Could you still want me now?

When I was a young music fan learning about rock history, most of what I loved was called pretentious by the music press. This bothered me. Close To The Edge?, that had to have been received as a masterpiece, no? The consensus said it hadn’t, and wasn’t. According to the Rolling Stone Record Guide, it was about the same quality as Steve Forbert’s second album and nowhere near as good as Willie Nile. Way worse, even, since nobody ever said that Forbert or Nile were pretentious. Their reach did not exceed their grasp. This was the tenor of the time: terror that bands would pretend to qualities or abilities or concepts that were beyond their ability to fully realize. Why rock critics were so intent on policing ambition was never 100% clear to me. It might have had something to do with radical democracy, or a belief that Shake, Rattle and Roll was what rock music was all about and any departure from youthful simplicity was a violation of the sacred code.

I love Shake, Rattle and Roll. Most of the time I can hear the argument that rock music is about cars and sexual frustration and that a songwriter complicates that formula at her great peril. Popular music is kid’s stuff in the best possible way, and that’s because the kids are alright. Through the lens of that understanding I can sorta see progressive rock as an affront to the verities, or to simple common sense, and I begin to understand why critics deemed the moondog and the march hare inappropriate to the enterprise. But I can’t help noticing that the writers who ran down Genesis and Rush and Marillion and Van Der Graaf Generator and the other groups that excited me were the same guys (and it was always guys) who insisted on canonizing their favorites in a Hall of Fame. Surely museum ossification was a greater affront to the very concept of youth music than Jon Anderson singing about Eastern religion, no? Couldn’t rock, generous as it is, accommodate some wondrous stories, too?

Besides, it never felt like pretentiousness was the issue with Yes, if there was any issue at all, which I’m telling you pal there wasn’t. Any group that would choose its moment of commercial ascendancy to record a double album with a single song on each of its four sides is going to get knocked for impracticality, and I can see how that would look very much like entitlement to blue collar heroes in the press. But the swell thing about Jon, as I understand him, is that for him, there was never any other possibility — he was going to sing about what moved him, and that was that. He wasn’t ever trying to impress anybody with his knowledge of the shastras, or of shining flying purple wolfhounds; he wasn’t a damned pseud. He read some holy books and was deeply moved, and this was the music that poured out of him. To me, that’s the very definition of soul. Obviously he wanted to sell records, too — his approach to showbiz was never all that esoteric. It just wouldn’t have dawned on Jon that the average man wouldn’t have been excited by the cosmic encounters he was having. Knock him for his taste, or his hippy-dippyness, but his pretenses weren’t the problem.

As for the rest of the musicians in the band, well, sure, they showed off. It was the era; guys in basic blooze bands showed off, too. But more often than not, they took a hokey, community-theatre approach to Jon Anderson’s storytelling. He’d sing “lost in the city”, and they’d drop in a few bars of wandering, rootless, lost-in-the-city music, or they’d knock over a big pile of automobile parts in the studio to simulate the “war” section of “Gates Of Delirium”. Squire may have felt that his frontman’s lyrics were googly-eyed, but he did his best to reinforce their dramatic significance. It was this absolute faith in the communicative power of the grand sonic gesture that really distinguished Yes; not just among progressive rock bands, but among Seventies acts in general. My feeling is that Jon, innocent Lancashire farmboy that he was, drove most of this cheese to market. But I rather think Howe and Wakeman and even Bill Bruford were predisposed toward illustrative playing, too. Sometimes they tried to get over on complicated bullshit, but it was rarely subtle and mysterious bullshit. They just wanted to take you high and blow your mind and leave you agog like any other bunch of shamen; they’d shake that medicine rattle right in your face.

Yes remains my very favorite band. I’m as big a fan as I was when I was 14; maybe even bigger, since I dig parts of the catalog that I used to find compromised by the endless lineup changes, or commercial considerations. I still consider Close To The Edge a masterpiece, and while critical consensus hasn’t exactly come around, I’m happy to say I’m not alone. Most of the pro musicians you’ll meet will confess to an appetite for prog; Scott Miller, to give you one example, could quote you Jon Anderson chapter and verse, and even appreciated records like Relayer and Going For The One that critics still like to slam for density and pretension. Echoes of Yes are intended to be heard straight across all the music I’ve ever made in every group I’ve ever played with, and I think the only reason why I’m never called pretentious is because I’m not good enough at my instruments to make anybody think of prog-rock. But all of my projects wear their pretensions pretty boldly, and of course they do, because how am I ever going to make myself into something dazzling if I can’t pretend, unconscionably I’m sure, to be dazzling first? Even if I never get there, I would like people to remember that I tried.

Much as I’d love it to be, “The Prince Of Daylight” isn’t really a prog-rock song; there’s no widdly-widdly Moog solo, it’s not in a tricky time signature, it isn’t a multi-part epic, there’s no Roger Dean drawing that would suit it well. It takes place right here on earth — in New York City, where a kid is wondering if he’s permanently estranged himself from a God who might not be listening, anyway. That’s a pretty far cry from cars and sexual frustration and I can’t get no satisfaction. But I don’t drive, and I don’t flatter myself that anybody would be interested in my adventures in romance. And sometimes I *do* get satisfaction; certainly not every day, but often enough that if I’m being honest when I’m writing, I’m bound to inscribe those moments when the combination lock to reality suddenly clicks into place and snaps open. That’s what we’ve got here, and all references to Yes, and Pink Floyd, and Fish-era Marillion are absolutely intentional. Alex Lifeson, too, I mean, Jay Braun plays guitar on this number.

Take Me To The Waterfall

Pour it on.

Like many Americans with a taste for eschatology, I read Kathryn Schulz’s article on the Very Big One with interest. Schulz wrote the story of the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake like a mystery thriller, which, in a way, it is, even if nobody ever really believed in Seattle’s geological stability. Naturally, seismologists, public health officials, and cooler heads who dislike mass panic were quick with temperate responses to the piece: there’s no meaningful way in which it can be said that a region is overdue for a cataclysm, and the Pacific Northwest is not as unprepared as Schulz implies that it is, and protected as it is by the Puget Sound, Seattle is unlikely to be inundated anyway. But as we’ve learned over and over, in modern America, rational argument is no match for fear porn. Seattle now has a bullseye on its back. I know the next time I get off the plane at Sea-Tac, I won’t be hearing those tempered voices. I’ll be thinking: “when the earthquake comes, everything west of 1-5 will be toast.”

That’s an awful lot of toast with your breakfast. But Americans have developed quite an appetite for toast, what with our endless zombie shows and post-apocalyptic dramas and Mad Max scenarios and fantasies about total societal collapse. Bring it all down, I keep hearing people say. Hollywood keeps serving us celluloid representations of NYC demolished: by falling rocks and thuggers and great waves and whatnot. In the New York metro, we’ve already lived through a real cataclysm and its aftermath, and while I won’t hazard a guess about how much out-of-state spectators enjoyed the show, I do know that it permanently altered the tone of the drums along the Hudson. I also recall the psychosexual effects of 9/11: with sudden horrible death staring us in the face, people all over the city became susceptible to (and acted on) crazed urges they hadn’t felt before. This is where, I feel, both the Book of Revelation and those awful last-days books by Tim LaHaye really depart from probability. After the rapture and the tribulations, there really ought to be wild orgies, shouldn’t there?

For “Take Me To The Waterfall”, I imagined the effect of the threat of the subduction zone quake on a guy who’d otherwise been repressed about his physical desires. The threat of disaster pops his lid open, basically. The waterfall in the song is Snoqualmie, which is spectacular and thunderous, and not a little terrifying, and only a short drive east of Seattle. I couldn’t think of a better metaphor for the mercilessness of nature; Mother Nature, human nature, you call it yourself. If you do go chasing waterfalls (I do), I strongly recommend making the trip.

Apocalyptic-themed rock music usually means Jackson Browne to me, but apocalypse plus sexual compulsion will always equal Peter Gabriel. Even as a young singer, PG always sounded like a veteran of a thousand psychic wars; I um, do not. But we tried to bathe this song in a little red rain, if you know what I mean, and I made like Larry Fast on the Moog.I had the great pleasure of interviewing Larry Fast, who is a Jersey guy, a few years ago.That article was pulled away from me in a last minute editorial switcheroo and run before I had a chance to polish it or frame it.Of the million and one writing assignments I’ve taken on over the last two decades, that may be the one I’d most like to have back.I have pilfered so many ideas from that guy.It seemed like the least I could do was write up a good piece on him.Your man dropped the ball.Sorry.

Conspiracy Theory

It’s all connected, unless it is not.

So I came up with this song — the Denver number — around the same time I wrote this essay. Sometimes I’ll write something and it’ll get love and affection; other times, even my friends just pass it by. I figured that the Conspiracy! essay would be a popular one. For whatever reason, I was dead wrong about that. My conclusions might not have been too satisfying, or maybe the writing wasn’t engaging enough to justify the density of the paragraphs. There’s nothing about it I’d take back, though; in fact, if you read it all the way through, I think you might agree that it was one of the few times in my life when I was actually prophetic.

That makes good sense because I am obsessed with conspiracy theory. Seriously: chemtrails, faked moon landings, Pizzagate, aliens, fluoridation, Paul is Dead, whatever you’ve got, bring it on, I’ll stay up reading about it. I am very interested in the way that American consciousness has been reformatted by protracted exposure to the associative logic of the Internet. I also think that conspiracy theory is a natural byproduct of authoritarianism: as rulers get more and more secretive and remote, we’d have to be pretty credulous to accept their word on things. Since we all have some limited investigative resources at our disposal now, and time on our hands, we’re bound to sit in front of the computer and connect the dots into all kinds of crazy constellations. It’s the modern sentence.

The direct inspiration for “Conspiracy Theory” was Camper Van Beethoven and David Lowery, who has authored some fearsome conspiracy theory numbers. I was trying to capture that slightly daft repetitiveness that I associate with the early Camper albums; Elvis Presley died and no one knows why, etc. I don’t think that Camper would have used a Sub 37 necessarily, or played a Wakemanesque line over the chord progression, but that’s my weakness, not theirs.

Anyway, this is where we start with America 2017: a small apartment in Colorado, and an alienated male subject, worried about his money and his health and with no good reason to trust anybody around him. Like a homemade computer (or bomb), his lament is designed to be modular, and I may hop on and change the fifth verse as events overtake me. I hadn’t heard of Vitaly Churkin until a couple of weeks ago; when he turned up dead and the Internet started brimming over with theories, I knew I had to put him on the song. (Also, his name scanned very well.) Prior to that, I’d been singing Jacqueline Sutton/and Serena Shim — Google those names if you’d like to take a trip down the rabbit hole. Given how much conspiracy theory there is in circulation, I doubt I’ll ever sing that verse the same way twice.

An Almanac opens

It’s yours. It’s mine. Wave it around in an infinity sign.

Hi, I’m Tris McCall. For the past two years, I’ve been discovering America. Today I’m ready to begin sharing what I’ve found there. And since all American projects deserve a nice gonzo American user interface, we’ve designed a website called McCall’s Almanac that will work asa conduit for my reflections. Imagine something not unlike the Old Farmer’s Almanac, but with fewer soybeans and more synthesizers.

Go on, click on it; it’s pretty. See that map of the United States? Every Tuesday at noon, from now until I run out of content to provide, I intend to add another page to it. Each page will represent a different American city. On that page will be:

  • A song set in that city,
  • A cartoon drawing of the narrator,
  • A short story directly (or sometimes indirectly) related to the song,
  • The lyrics to the song and maybe a photograph or two,
  • A few tour-guide type recommendations divided into three categories: House of Worship, A Bike Ride, and a Vegetarian Option.

We’re kicking off the Almanac with three city pages and three new songs and stories: Seattle, Denver, and New York. Exactly one week from now, we’ll add a page for San Diego. After that, the road gets a little murkier — it depends on what I finish and when — but I’m determined to crash across the country as irresponsibly as I can. Ride shotgun if you like; I’m a good conversationalist. Much, much friendlier than I seem on the Internet.

The Almanac site was designed by Chris Littler, who fronts the Chamber Band. Ingrid K. Richter, George the Monkey, and Professor H.J. Englert helped me develop and refine the idea. The illustrations currently on the site were drawn by Una Bloom; there’ll be another artist too, but we haven’t gotten to those songs and stories yet.

Most importantly, I owe an enormous debt, both emotional and practical, to the musicians and producers who helped me recover my songwriting voice after I’d put it in drydock in 2009. That means Michael Flannery, who helped me cut many of these tracks at the Farm in West Chester, Pennsylvania and Bass Hit Studio, and Jay Braun, who oversaw the sessions at Water Music in Hoboken and Sunnyside Guitars. There’s a full credits page on the site, but today I’d like to take the time to acknowledge and thank drummers Eric Tait (who runs the Farm) and Brett Whitmoyer, bassist Justin Braun, synth player Dan Flannery, singer Ronni J. Reich, and Rachel Drehmann, who graced “Conspiracy Theory” with her French horn.

The songs I’m doing with Mike will be released later in 2017 on an album called American Almanac. The Jay Braun-produced album will be called You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby, or maybe The Unmapped Man; I keep going back and forth. These are separate projects with different sounds; Jay and Mike leave very personal aesthetic imprints on everything they do, which is part of why it’s fun working with these guys. But all of these songs were similarly motivated: I felt something had gone awry in America, and I wanted to figure out what it was before our country had defamiliarized itself completely to me. So this Almanac is instant historical fiction — a to-the-minute record of my encounter with the smoking beakers and suspicious-looking test tubes of the ongoing American experiment. That makes it sound like all the songs and stories are serious; they aren’t. Some of them are downright silly. This is a Tris McCall project, after all — I’m the guy who gave you Brandy Balls. Remember that number? No? Well… maybe that’s for the best. Let’s make this a fresh start for everybody.

In order to provide some context for the Almanac and to remind you to check in each Tuesday, I’ll also post a little background on each song and story on this site. Since we’re launching with three numbers, I’ll space it out this week, and discuss each separately, but here’s the capsule version: the Denver song is called “Conspiracy Theory”, the Seattle song is “Take Me To The Waterfall”, and the New York song is a prog-out called “The Prince Of Daylight.” Each of the stories is about three to four thousand words and designed to be read with the songs playing in the background. Check them all out, and remember: there’ll be another next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, just the way it works on the webcomics that inspired me to do this in the first place. Much love and respect to Meredith Gran and Ashley Cope; this wouldn’t have happened without them.

Should you appreciate what we’re doing, tell a friend via the news-spreading mechanism of your choice. Digital network, major media outlet, bullhorn, whatever you like. Make a racket. Happy travels.



Critics Poll 27 — One final bit

Rock star. And I like rock stars, don’t you?

Hey, rocker, remember the Summer of Love? Well, this sure ain’t it. That Age of Aquarius that was supposed to be coming?, that needs a jump-start. Today you may feel more like Neil Tennant in “Dreaming Of The Queen” — no lovers left alive, and no one with any humanity in a position of ultimate political power.

Fascists are on the march all over the globe. They’re poised to elect collaborationist governments in places (like America) where people are supposed to be too smart and too cultured to let that happen. The National Front stands a very good chance of winning the next election in France. The Philippines are now run by the sort of guy who’d trip you in an alley for no reason and laugh. The prime minister of Hungary wants to stuff refugees into shipping containers, and it looks like this charmer is going to get his sadistic wish. Russia really did just decriminalize domestic abuse; that’s not a joke or even hyperbole. I’m sure you’re painfully familiar with ISIS, a fascist-bro purification movement of the most overt, blow-your-deviant-face-off kind. All over the world, it is springtime for jerks and thugs. This, I am afraid, is what democracy looks like — maybe not every time an electorate speaks, but increasingly often, often enough to elect and empower cruel regimes that do awful things to the weakest among us. Call it temporary if it makes you feel better and keep your faith in populism if it’ll help you sleep, but do not deny that something terrible has happened to the people.

Or maybe we were always this way. Maybe it’s just easier now to take the measurement of our deepest desires and cater to our darkest demands. I always feared that this is where direct democracy would take us: mob rule driven by sectarian hatred and ancient grievances, ugly people doing ugly things to teachers and scientists and religious folks whose faiths were outvoted. The Cultural Revolution, basically, or Animal Farm once Napoleon became entrenched. I’m always taken aback when someone talks glowingly about people power because… well, I’ve met people. I myself am one of them. I know rather intimately what people are like, and I assure you they’ve got quite enough power already, thank you.

As it turns out, there is a large institution that has always been consistent and forthright about its belief in human depravity. That institution is the Church, and I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that its head is the one remaining world leader who agrees with you. The Pope agrees with you about your civic requirement to treat refugees and immigrants with compassion. He agrees with you that the world’s wealth ought never to be concentrated in the hands of a tiny group of people. He agrees with you that we need to be better stewards of the planet and that we have a serious responsibility to care for the Earth before we turn it over to the next bunch of occupants. He agrees that ethnic and religious prejudice — which I guess is back in vogue now — is both idiotic and unethical. About social issues I don’t guess he agrees with you much, at least not publicly. But since he’s taken over the Vatican, he’s tried to do what he can to reorient the Church’s attention away from your pants and back on to Matthew 25:35-40 where it belongs.

You are leery about the Church and you have reason to be. The child sex-abuse scandal discredited clergy worldwide; straight-up obliterated their status as moral referees. This was a far bigger factor in the elections than people realize. Catholics did not follow the guidance of their priests or their Pope, and that’s at least in part because they don’t see paragons in the pulpit. They see pederasts. Beyond that, the office of the Pope has not always been, to put it mildly, a force for good. The Vatican is chock full of old guys who are fixated on the preservation of the nastiest elements of Christianity as it is practiced by imperfect humans. The New York Times recently reported that Steve Bannon has been in close touch with the reactionary Cardinals who’d like to undermine Pope Francis’s liberalization effort. He’d like to help them along. That he recognizes the Pontiff as a powerful foe ought to tell you what you need to know: you and the Church are presently in the same corner. Welcome home, heathen.

This could all change overnight. The same cruel tide that has inundated governments worldwide could swamp the Vatican, too. Pope Francis is 80 years old, and physics suggests that his successor will ride the pendulum back in the other direction. But right now he’s hale and reasonably jolly and unafraid to speak out, and he’s been generous enough to take many giant steps in your direction. Yes, you. He’s been dragging the Church toward you. There he is, right on the corner, with his arms open and his cross out, representing every single thing that the current vile regime in Washington isn’t. Don’t be shy; he’s already done most of the hard work. All you’ve got to do is open your window and say hello.

You don’t want to do this. When you were growing up, the Church made you feel lousy about yourself. Me too, buddy. Me too. Our local churches did not treat young me fairly. But Pope Francis is attempting to push open some heavy temple doors for us — doors many of us believed had rusted shut. We can’t afford to sneer at the olive branch he’s shaking in our direction. As Animal Mother memorably said to Jokerman in Full Metal Jacket, we’re fresh out of friends.

Because what better options for leadership do we have? The Democratic Party? Please. We’ve seen where that gets us. The comedians? Laugh the blues away if you can, but do recognize that pithy one-liners and 140 character witticisms are not going to get us out of this one. The social scientists? Bless them all; they’re working hard to demonstrate exactly how and why that we’ve gone off the rails. You and I believe them. Sometimes we even love them. But because they tend to be indirect, and because they present their evidence without the force of moral authority, they’re all too easy to dismiss. The Church, at its best, relies on two thousandyears of ethical precedent and hard-won wisdom, and its most effective operatives don’t tend to mince words. Your neighbor came to you in need and you spurned him? He was hungry and you didn’t feed him? That’s a sin. You’re a wealthy person who won’t share with those less fortunate? That’s a sin. Envy has hold of your heart; you’re treating God’s earth like your personal trash disposal unit; when you should have opened your heart, you built a wall instead. Those are sins — some of them mortal sins.

Do you see how elegant that is? How delightfully direct and economical, how powerful, how balls-out unequivocal in its condemnation of bad actors, whether peasants or kings? Calling out evil is what the Church does best, and when it speaks, it does so with all the cathedral bells ringing in the cloister. Talk from the Church floor and you’ve got centuries of history — not to mention volumes of scripture — backing you up. Yes, churches of all denominations are now larded down with bad readers who want to use the Word to punish their enemies, but that’s only been allowed to happen because we’ve abandoned our pews and ceded the floor to jerks. They’ve been so loud and so offensive in the name of God that they’ve convinced us that the Church is lost to us forever.

I have come to believe, strongly, that this is wrong. We could take the Church back if we put our minds to it. I think it would be quite a bit easier than reclaiming the legislatures, which have been gerrymandered to the point of illegibility and permanent disfunction, or the mass media, which currently has eyes only for clown shows and celebrity trainwreck stories. The Church is our natural ally because the monotheistic religions, when practiced the right way, are absolutely 100% anti-fascist. Real Judaism, Islam, Christianity?, the real articleis as anti-fascist as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, or Mr. Michael Render, or kissing your girlfriend. That’s what those religions are there for. They’re designed, on part, to knock a little humility into recalcitrant humanity, and to check our tendency toward selfish, beastly behavior.

I suppose it is arguable that there’s so much toxic waste in the pool that the unsearchable riches of the monotheistic religions are now irretrievable. Maybe so. Should we take on this clean-up job, we’re going to have a lot of work to do. But if we don’t do that work, we’re giving the power of the Church — the bells of the cathedral and the scriptures and all the authority that goes along with them — to a bunch of angry dopes who don’t know the first thing about religion. And they don’t deserve it. There are pundits who have never read a word of the Koran or the Muslim philosophers who’ll get on TV and make sweeping statements about Islam anyway. The Devil couldn’t ask for better helpers.

But you can be different. Here’s what I ask you to do in 2017: set your preconceptions aside, pick up the Holy Bible, start at Page 1 of Genesis, and keep going until you get to the end of the Book of Revelations. I promise you it will be the greatest ride you’ll ever take. I’d wager that you will be surprised by what you find there: not a conduct manual, or a self-help book, or a how-to, but a tale of mankind’s encounter with and brutal struggle against God, or ultimate reality, personified in these pages as Yahweh and Jesus Christ. It is the bedrock of Western literature, the skeleton key to history and culture, and a set of profound statements on the nature of existence. Right now, this towering literary artifact is in the hands of fundamentalists who don’t understand how reading and representation works. We’re all suffering from that. Pry the Bible away from these people. You wouldn’t let them ruin Herman Melville, would you?

I was 21 years old when I first read the Bible. I did it for a selfish, superstitious, and fundamentally irreligious reason: I was about to get on a plane to Washington State, and if we plowed into a mountain like I expected us to, I didn’t want to go to my grave without learning what the Bible said about the other side. I figured I’d get something like a Westernized version of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, which I also hadn’t read, but which had been badly summarized to me by a hippie in Northampton. What I got was nothing at all like what I was told to expect; instead, I found a much deeper and more vivid engagement with the same philosophical questions my political science professors were asking me to entertain. Who governs?, the Bible asks, over and over, and by what authority? What gives a man, or even a God, the right to tell another man what to do? Is it just pure, earth-shaking, locust-swarming power? If so, how can morality ever develop? Who has the prerogative to create, or destroy?

The Bible was composed over many centuries by many authors with different agendas and worldviews, and it contains many wild guesses and outright contradictions. But from time to time, the smoke from the burning bush clears, it comes to an enduring punchline that reverberates through the centuries. King David, one of the Bible’s great characters, after years of triumphs and horrifying screw-ups delivers his weary farewell in the Second Book of Samuel. And wouldn’t you know it?, he says the same damn thing Pope Francis has been trying to say for the past few years. He that ruleth over men must be just; ruling in the fear of God. On justice and humility all governing authority rests; anything else is just a bully move. More than that: it’s sinful. Let’s never be afraid to say so. We’ve got the big guy behind us.

Critics Poll 27 — My ballot, part 1

Rosa was a freedom fighter and she taught us how to fight: you, me, Jamila, everybody.

The news has been so awful lately, and the task of reporting it so joyless (not to mention thankless), that I have hesitated to add my voice to the chorus that has been singing such a sad song. Surely even in a time of crisis there are more rewarding things to discuss. But there is a difference between writing about politics, which you’re no doubt sick of hearing about, and writing about American popular culture and society, which will be around as long as America persists.

Four months ago I was assuming, much as the rest of the country was, that we were going to avert the worst and merely be saddled with the very bad. It was then I decided that I’d take the time to do the Poll again — not really to twist anyone’s arm, but just to get my preferences down, and park them here on a personal page that I’ve tried not to connect to any of the big networks. I understand why you might have cultivated a principled aversion to ranking artifacts, which, fun as it is, does feel like an exercise in self-absorption, and about electoral democracy in general, which always promises more than it delivers. If you didn’t feel like voting in the Poll this year, I can’t blame you: it’s been awhile since voting has been a rewarding thing to do.

Now that we know that our very modest wishes for the immediate political future won’t be coming true — and that the reins of power have been turned over to a gang of ghouls — the sanest course for critics might be to hold our breaths until the winds change.Not the most responsible, mind you, or the most courageous, but the one best designed to avoid reinforcing a regime that feeds on obsessive discussion and controversy. It seemed inevitable that any essay I’d write about music would drift into political territory, and soon enough I’d be rehashing all of the leftish talking points that did nothing to stave off disaster. I considered canceling the Poll, or doing it in private and not calling any attention to it.

Yet in a society as wobbly as this one currently is, I know politics will, sooner or later, come knocking on my door. It might be the tax collector, or the border-control agent, or the swastika spray-painter, or the public official here to tell us that the river has risen to a threatening level, or something even scarier. The things I’d like may be the same things you would: I’d like to see our criminal justice and penal systems reformed, and greater local autonomy, and an investment made in parks and mass transit, and a serious commitment made to preventing ecological catastrophe, real engagement with the heavy residue of centuries of racial inequality, and many other things that fall under the broad umbrella of egalitarian republicanism as I understand it. If I’m honest, I’d have to say that I want all of that pretty desperately– and that everything I’ve written, even the goofy stuff, contains within it an attempt to address the problems we’ve identified. If I’m attempting to raise consciousness through my purple prose, I’m not doing it very well. But I suppose I’m never going to stop trying.

So in the spirit of optimism and puerile divertisement, and in a limited sort of faith that sunny days will return to these shores, I offer you my list for 2016 and the usual rude capsule essays that accompany my picks. I’ve come to see comedy as a destructive cul-de-sac, but I find I lack the wisdom to stop cracking wise. It’s the writer’s disease — the conviction that the right 140 characters delivered to the right audience will make the world spin backward through the sheer force of cleverness. Gallows humor is a pretty cheap commodity these days, and pithy remarks are mainly good for tombstones. No SNL joke is going to bring the administration down, and no Beyonce video proclamation will prompt a new Enlightenment. Never once in my life has the pen proved more powerful than the sword. I’m not much of a fencer. The pen is what I’ve got, so I might as well swing it around and look as formidable as I can manage.

You’ll notice that many of the artists I loved in 2016 felt the same way. Albums number three and nine contain legit, uncut protest music; most of the rest of this stuff points in that direction. Yet my album of the year is nothing but a landslide of first-rate musical craftsmanship. I have no idea who its principal voted for, although I certainly have my suspicions. She’s shrewdly mum about that kind of thing, which proves there are still a few artists out there who haven’t been drawn into the cold civil war we’re currently waging. I can’t walk a tightrope like that. My terrible disappointment with the results of the election and what it reveals about the disposition of the country is bound to creep into the words — and assessments — that follow. Amidst the usual rude remarks and poop jokes, there’ll be observations about the emergency state, gerontocracy, and the cratering of American moral authority. I know: you wish it was just the poop jokes. Me too, pal. Me, too.

Album Of The Year

  • 1. Miranda Lambert — The Weight Of These Wings
  • 2. Beyonce — Lemonade
  • 3. Jamila Woods — HEAVN
  • 4. Francis AndThe Lights — Farewell, Starlite!
  • 5. Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  • 6. Drake — Views
  • 7. Noname — Telefone
  • 8. Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book
  • 9. YG — Still Brazy
  • 10. Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
  • 11. Look Park — Look Park
  • 12. J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only
  • 13. Say Anything — I Don’t Think It Is
  • 14. Car Seat Headrest — Teens Of Denial
  • 15. Vanishing Twin — Choose Your Own Adventure
  • 16. Jimmy Eat World — Integrity Blues
  • 17. Saba — Bucket List Project
  • 18. De La Soul — And The Anonymous Nobody…
  • 19. Lucy Dacus — No Burden
  • 20. Paul Simon — Stranger To Stranger

Best Album Title

Coloring Book. At this rate he’s going to close the churches right the hell down. Because who needs to sit in a pew and listen to a homily when you can catch the same spirit from a rap record? And this is a rap record, even if Chance makes you sit through the choir sections, and Francis Farewell Starlight’s vocal-diffusing dial-twisting thingamabob, and the Biebs, too. It’s just one with its drum and instrument sounds lifted from gospel, and messages inspired by the gospels. Poor Hezekiah Walker never stood a chance.

Best Album Cover

Freetown Sound. Devonte Hynes’ music continues to sound like it’s 1985, and you’re listening to it through a transistor radio somewhere down the hall, or through a partially closed door to an older sibling’s room. Maybe she’s crying in there. Maybe she’s under the covers with a porno. Hynes still cannot sing worth shit but as he grows in juice and cash flow, he can afford to maintain some expensive contacts among the theatre people, including Nelly Furtado, who appearson a song that is named after the Hadron Collider for no discernible reason. (I am sure there’s a connection, and no, I don’t want to hear the tortured explanation.) 90% chance of scoring some off-Broadway semi-ballet nonsense. But that’s no reason to hate on it. It’s a free country, sort of. Nobody is making you go to that ballet.

Best Liner Notes And Packaging

Lemonade, including the videos.Part III of a remarkable trilogy of albums concerning, respectively, 1.) the thrills of monogamous dedication in a world that insists on impermanence, 2.) the dangers of monogamous dedication in a world that values entropy, and now 3.) what to do when the partner with whom you are sharing monogamous dedication turns out to be something of a slutdog. Unless it’s the third leg of a four-sided table, in which case 4.) might be about shopping for a split-level in Morristown. (Leave Sasha Fierce out of this.) The frontwoman is one Beyonce Knowles, an artist of some repute. In her playing prime she has become a specialist in realist pop — her songs are not about teenage fornication or the lack thereof, but about grown-ass lovers trying to keep the flame burning through the windstorm of adulthood. An old journalist I, I am pleased to report that the star remains as careful to ground her storytelling in sociohistory as any other op-ed writer. Her Texas address means she has as much right to sing a country shoot-em-up as any of the hacks in Nashville — or the North Carolinian Tori Amos, whose own righteous album-length tirades Lemonade reminds me of. I can understand if a skeptic finds Beyonce’s need to meticulously cover each style of Southern American music tedious, or overdetermined, especially on an album that is supposed to conjure and communicate bizzerk rage and jealousy. But when the Spodeeodeedopalicious horns come in on “All Night”, I dare you to call it anything less than a fucking triumph. Because it is. And on those moments of bizzerk rage and jealousy?, I’d say she acquits herself rather well.

Most Welcome Surprise

New albums from De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Also, Anderson.Paak’s very good Malibu. I’ve seen him likened him to Frank Ocean. But the breakout star of Dr. Dre’s last album is not really an auteur — he’s more of a post-Kendrick version of Maxwell, complete with social consciousness and a big boner (there’s a track here subtitled “Interluuube”, which is, like a lot of his pillow talk, more clumsy than effective.) Though Malibu is overlong and chock full o nuts, Paak does not prefer to poke along the meandering back roads that Frank likes; “I never wanna waste your time”, no matter how deep into the music store he goes, that’s his mission statement. He loves his fam (naturally), communicates poorly with women, raps iffily, and skirts Cee-Lo territory with soul throwback “Celebrate”. And he sure has some talented friends: Pino Palladino, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, Talib Kweli, etc. Someone spent a lot of money to make this sprawling, polyglot music sound like the hit it certainly won’t be. I hope nobody threatens to cut off his funding, because that’ll force him to “focus”, and that will be the end of that.

Biggest Disappointment

Metronomy’s surprisingly easygoing Summer 08. That album didn’t annoy me at all, and thatwas the problem. Summer makes me think of Tina Weymouth a bunch; not just Tina Weymouth but also the myth of Tina Weymouth, because a myth I think it is. Out of necessity, Chris Frantz hands his girlfriend a bass guitar and puts her in the band before she knows what she is doing; she learns to play on the job and the rest is history. So what if her boyfriend had been a sculptor? Would one of the greatest instrumentalists in the history of rock music have gone to her grave unaware of her talents? What if Frantz already had a bass player? Are we to believe she would have tagged along and sold merch or something? I recognize that people sometimes have latent abilities that only emerge because the stars align, and I also know that women in this nasty man’s world often need a push. But I refuse to believe that Weymouth didn’t have an inkling that she could kick ass, or that, prompted by ambition, she didn’t angle like fuck to get in the game. Because the alternative gives all the agency to the boys around her, when anybody who has ever heard Talking Heads knows that without its bass player that band would have had no agency at all. Without Weymouth, Talking Heads would have just been David Byrne and his whimsical and counterintuitive reflections. This also is why Talking Heads is deceptively difficult to imitate, and why bands who try to mimic Remain In Light or Speaking In Tongues always sound like they’re engaged in some airless, C-plus art project. To electrofunk out, it is important to have a monster on the bottom, and to have that beast’s power feel like an inevitability. A Tina Weymouth bass part is a rude fact, like the number of electrons in a hydrogen atom, or the sewer system that keeps the city livable, or your momma. Oh, right, the Metronomy album. Joe Mount loves Talking Heads. He handles the bass himself. Maybe he doesn’t love them enough.

Album That Opens Most Strongly

No Burden. The first three songs are just soooo good that you may think you’re listening to a stone classic. After that, Lucy Dacus spends the rest of the set repeating herself, recycling jokes, and dithering on the cusp of rock without actually rocking. She never stops being witty though, she knows how to tell a story, and the aching wanderlust she sings about on “Map On The Wall” animates all of her songs. The last young artist who showed up so complete and ready to roll was Laura Marling, and you know I don’t bandy that comparison around.

Album That Closes Most Strongly

Still Brazy.I’m going to try to discipline myself here, but I have a lot to say about this state-of-the-art West Coast g-rap album. I will always be grateful to YG for “FDT”, which is, as far as I am concerned, the only thing that ever needed to be said about this alleged election. Not a well argued thinkpiece that treats Donald Trump’s “ideas” as worthy of careful, point-by-point engagement and rebuttal, and, in the process, dignifies him as something other than a subhuman scumbag, but fuck Donald Trump/fuck Donald Trump, over and over, just in case you missed the main thread. Which you didn’t. Because if you really need an detailed explanation for why Donald Trump can fuck off, well, I don’t know about you, buddy. We’re not going to be friends. I also think it’s telling that it was this album, and not the superartistic and supertheorized struggle-musik by Kendrick and Lupe and Jamila Woods, that caught the earsofthe censors. See, intellectuals like us don’t scare the establishment, sad to say. But gangsters, as Ice Cube understood, sure do — especially when YG and Sad Boy Loko suggest a team-up between Black and Mexican sets. What makes the criticism sting is that YG is naturally conservative — not just in the musical choices he makes, all of which were given the Southern Cali seal of approval in 1993, but in his core ideology, too. “Gimmie Got Shot”, for instance, is practically Reaganite in its disdain for handouts, and “She Wish She Was” is a Phyllis Schafly speech reverse-translated via RapGenius. The storytelling climaxes when YG attempts to convince awhite judge that he, too, has a fundamental and overriding obligation to protect his family. He’s not tripped up by questions of positionality: he believes that they’re united by their masculine prerogatives, that it’s only the judge’s prejudice that gets in the way of his sympathy for his compadre in manly, by-all-means-necessary action. Still Brazy opens with a question — who shot me? — and closes with YG hollering through a filter about real-life black men, killed by the police, who share his name and his burf day. We never get an answer: just thickening paranoia as the circumstantial details pile up. Should I ever take a bullet in my daily travels, I hope my revenge on a society that had no use for me is as wickedly sweet as this.

Crummy Album I Listened To A Lot Anyway

untitled unmastered. Don’t let the plain dark green cover fool you. This is no austerity effort. It is corny Kendrick in full effect, including a widescreen rendering of his interpretation of Revelations, the Bible’s cheesiest book. Also, the one where the Asian man wants peace and balance and the white man wants $$$$ and the black man wants a piece of poosay is the most racist thing I heard all year, and I paid attention to the presidential campaign. The rapping is aces, of course, and it’s always great to hear Thundercat.

Album That Felt Most Like An Obligation To Get Through And Enjoy

Goodness, which felt like a tiptoe back from the brink. In emo music this is not generally a good thing. Case in point: in 2014, there were long stretches when I thought of nothing but Home, Like Noplace Is There. Who are these characters, what are these scenarios, what can I, a humble tunesmith, do to ease their pain? But this year’s Hotelier album?, for some reason I keep having to remind myself it exists. I think there’s a part of me that wants to deny the existence of Goodness— as if I believe the band that made Home ought to have burned itself out like a charred filament from its own intensity, and anything else dishonors its fatalism. This is crazy unfair of me, especially since I suspect Goodness is a pretty worthy sequel, albeit one with music that’s emo pro forma.

Album That Was The Most Fun To Listen To

Hero. Craig Manning, a rock critic I always enjoy reading, called this one of the year’s best pop albums, and he wasn’t alone. Funny, coz this pile of would-be platinum hooks is at least nominally country. That’s about where we are in this big ol rootsy nation, though it remains to be seen whether Morrisconnects with alienated Northerners who may just have lost their appetites for Dixie cooking for the next 8 years. Whether this damn Yankee agrees with Craig remains to be determined, as I am still ruminating on my cud over here in the critical cowshed. But I do think this is probably the year’s purest pop-rock set: 1-4-5 progressions leading, with ruthless economy to shoutalong choruses, millenial whoahs and wordless uh huh and la la refrains, lyrics about cars and sexual frustration, cheap thrills in the midrange, drums and vox way on top. No trace of generic-girl-voice here — just taste notes of Rihanna and Tracy Bonham alongside the expected Hillary Scott/Carrie Underwood references. It’s a big voice and she can whip up a storm with it. I do get the strong sense she’s the type who’d blow out that flame her friend and supporter M. Lambert has been keeping and not even apologize about it.

Album That Sounded Like It Was The Most Fun To Make

Rehab Reunion. Even Justin Vernon sounds like he’s having a good time. More new music from Bruce Hornsby; exactly what you didn’t ask for. But scout’s honor, this is a good, zany, well-appointed project, right down to the Hornsby-specific crossword puzzle he’s included in the liner notes andthe unauthorized Franz Kafka lit-bio. (“In the day he worked for an insurance firm/by night his prose made his audience squirrrrm!”) This year’s look-ma-no-hands trick: Hornsby limits himself to the dulcimer, which feels a little like those authors who try to write entire novels without using the letter e. The restriction forces him to bluegrass it up, and a bluegrassy Bruce is a happy Bruce. My favorite song is the one where he admits he’s a skinflint who stiffs waiters. As if we didn’t know.

Album That Sounded Like It Was A Chore To Make

Farro. Ancient grain; similar to bulgur wheat and an excellent source of magnesium and iron. J/k, it’s the former guitar player from Paramore, out of the witness protection program at last. As the co-author of some seriously enduring spazz-out pop-rock, Josh Farro absolutely deserves your attention. Alas, he is not quite the hellion that he was when he was ascribing to the Christian God powersthat would have been more properly attributedto his frontwoman. Without Hayley Williams’s performances, even his best Paramore songs would have sounded like… Thrice, I guess? Anyway, this is no way to run the numbers that hypothetical, because Farro has aged, and Walkways, his solo album sounds like a bunch of rejected Adam Young demos — stuff Young wouldn’t bother to pitch to Nabisco for Oreo commercials, let alone use for Owl City or Sky Sailing. I wanted to believe that Josh’s brother Zac, bringer of thunder and breaker of a trillion snare heads, could have had nothing to do with a project this tepid. But there he is, right in the liner notes. The Uday and Qusay of mallpunk, back together, but no longer storming around the desert.

Most Consistent Album

Views. Awful line immortal: “Got so many chains/they call me Chaining Tatum.” To me, this is Jewish humor straight up. It’s a kind of misdirection that goes over the heads, or through the legs, of more goyische critics — like when Max Bemis sings “Did it hurt when you feel from heaven babe?” on “Crush’d.” It’s a little piece of knowing dumbness meant to offset the well-wrought wiseassery –a poop brown streak in the tapestries red. Bob Dylan used to get away with it all the time. And on an album that extends its somber tone over twenty not-short tracks, Drake and his kemosabe Noah Shebib do need to pull out all the stops to avoid monotony. But inasmuch as a consensus has developed thatViewsis a slog, I must say that I cannot remember a twenty song album that feels quite as effortless an experience as this one. True, a ten song album would have been more effortless. But what’s wrong with a little effort?

* * * * * * * *

Okay, that’s enough for today — individual awards and singles and the rest tomorrow. Those intro paragraphs got me down. I actually have another political essay for you, but I’m saving it for the very end. Just one more, I swear; after that I’ll quit!, he said, hands shaking and pupils dilated. I’m in control of my commentary — I can stop whenever I want to. At least I’m not as bad as that Wolf Blitzer character. Now there’s a junkie if I’ve ever seen one.