Oh look, the year is about up already. Guess that means it is time to drop my fav releases of yet another messed up year.
The good news about 2021 is that I went to exactly one show, but it was a great show with amazing humans all around.
Anyways, I am busy as shit with the paying gig and that dad life, so I am going to try and keep things short and sweet this year. With any luck, I will add to this some content on why these hit me the most. To be continued I suppose.
Check out the albums in no particular order that caught my attention throughout the year:
BHP BEST OF 2021 LIST
Turnstyle – Glow On
Heart Attack Man – Thoughtz & Prayerz
Lars Fredericksen – To Victory
One Step Closer – This Place You know
Johnny Dynamite and the Bloodsuckers – Sleeveless
Kali Masi – [Laughs]
Haunt – Beautiful Distraction
Neighborhood Brats – Confines of Life
Shitty Neighbors – People I Know
Heart & Lung – Twistin’ The Knife Away
Joystick – I Can’t Take It Anymore
Descendents – 9th & Walnut
Jeff Rosenstock – SKA DREAM
Lucero – When You Found Me
Jonathan Richman – Want To Visit My Inner House?
Sincere Engineer – Bless My Psyche
Juice Newson – Suburban Soul
Needles//Pins – Self-Titled
Brain Cave – Log World
Section H8 – Welcome to the Nightmare
Fiddlehead – Between The Richness
Bands: Thanks for doing what you do.
Labels & Promoters: Thanks for helping out the bands to their thing and release their music be it physical or digital and for supporting them while trying to tour in these most uncertain times. Also, thanks for the consideration when pimping them out. I am a lucky guy for this opportunity.
Finally: Thanks to YOU (yes, you). If you are even looking at this. I struggle every year if I want to keep blogging, and honestly I figure if someone out there can take some time to log in and look, then I can at least try and do my thing.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio in the pre-internet 1990’s wasn’t exactly a bustling hub of counter-culture for a young kid. Sure, I had cool parents and an older brother who passed down the foundations of my musical interests- The Ramones, The Replacements, Dead Milkmen, and so on- but I had yet to find “my thing”.
Then, I found Beavis and Butthead. Suddenly the world opened up in front of me. Archers of Loaf, Seaweed, and Sonic Youth all hit me like a ton of bricks. All of these bands were rooted in the world that I knew, but they were decidedly original and a bit more unpredictable. I was hooked. Superchunk’s song and video for Package Thief was what rattled me, though. It was my lightbulb moment for what I wanted out of music- frantic energy, bright fuzzy chords, catchy melodies, and weird lyrics. I knew instantly that they were my band.
They became a frequent presence on my annual Christmas lists, but I don’t think their records were the easiest to find where I lived. I wouldn’t really find “my band” until 2004 or so, when I walked into what was then known as The Record Exchange in Canton and bought almost their entire discography in one go- minus Here’s Where the Strings Come In and Indoor Living.
It wasn’t an entirely joyous outing, though- even though I loved every album I picked up. On The Mouth was everything I hoped for after being hooked by Package Thief. Foolish was a classic that laid a blueprint that younger bands had followed for the last decade. Come Pick Me Up was off-the-wall and intoxicating. And then there was Here’s to Shutting Up– slower, somber, and ominously titled. Based on its name, I assumed the worst about the band’s fate- and their lack of internet presence in that era all but confirmed it for me. Scattershot shows would pop up in major markets once or twice a year, and front man Mac McCaughan would pop in on the now-defunct Superchunk/Merge message boards from time to time but it seemed like the title of their 2001 full-length said it all. I missed the window of my favorite band’s full-time existence.
Fast-forward just a few years after that and the band would thankfully reemerge, comfortably settled into their classic sound, more frequently releasing music and heading back out for brief clusters of shows. But the interim time would also reveal that even though the title of the record was unintentional, or subconscious at worst, the writing was on the wall for Superchunk as they were in 2001. It was a tough time for the band in 2001- the indie rock scene favored up-and-coming bands rather than those who had been at it for a decade-plus. Superchunk was caught in the middle of a fanbase that didn’t particularly want them to change their formula and critics who would drag them for staying the same. On top of that- thanks to inner turmoil and exhaustive tours with a steep decline in attendance post-9/11, the band did ultimately shut up for nine years or so. (To hear it from the band in their own words, check out the book Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, and the Peyton Reed-directed documentary DVD Crowding Up Your Visual Field)
Twenty years later, Here’s to Shutting Up has been rereleased along with a CD of acoustic demos from the writing sessions. It’s a record that went largely unheard at the time of it’s release due to unavoidable bad timing- the album came out on September 18th, 2001- along with a refrain in the pedal-steel guitar-led acoustic ballad Phone Sex that includes the lyrics “Plane crash footage on TV- I know that could be me.” Unfortunate timing and coincidences aside, it’s a beautiful, haunting record that finds Superchunk engaging in some of their most ambitous songwriting- from the eerie, meandering What Do You Look Forward To, to the more-upbeat entries such as Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama) and Rainy Streets– the album is more than worth a look back or an introduction if you missed it the first time around.
Last week, I caught up with drummer Jon Wurster via email to see how he feels looking back at the album:
JU: Here’s to Shutting Up caps off a trio of Superchunk’s most experimental records. Do you recall any discussions the band was having leading up to the writing of this record? Any interesting stories worth sharing from the writing/demo sessions at your house?
JW: This whole conversation is tough because this is the Superchunk album I have the most difficult relationship with. I honestly can’t recall the names of most of the songs on the album and we only play one of them live at this point (“Art Class”). We worked very diligently for months on “HTSU” in Jim’s garage. I still have the snare drum head I used for the rehearsals/writing and it’s got about 30 funny working titles for the songs, like, “There’s Something About Marvin” and “New Asics” (I’d just bought a pair) scrawled on it. Just speaking for myself, I didn’t really love the direction we were going for this record.
We were really good at the punky, catchy, slightly weird music we’d been doing for over ten years and it was only natural that we branch out and try new things. I just didn’t feel like we were particularly suited for the Yo La Tengo-inspired music we were coming up with for HTSU. I WILL say that it’s one of our best-sounding records. I’d finally gotten a snare drum I liked (a Ludwig Black Beauty) and used it on that and just about everything I’ve played on since. So, sonically, I think it’s really good.
JU: Was there ever any talk or possibility of working with Jim O’Rourke again after Come Pick Me Up? I’ve always been a big fan of the string and horn arrangements he brought to that record. I could be wrong, but I feel like the production on that record isn’t given its due.
JW: CPMU is difficult too. I thought the songs were really good but we lost it in the mix. The drums are too buried for my tastes on “Indoor Living” and CPMU in particular. Jim was so much fun to work with, but I don’t think he was really a drum guy. We had to overdub cymbals on a few songs because they weren’t really mic’d for some of the basic tracks. He wrote the horn arrangements and did a fantastic job all around. The problem was he was running on fumes and going home each night to finish work on another record he was producing. He was really burning the candle at both ends, not with substances, just work and lack of sleep. But Jim was really great to work with.
JU: It’s pretty well documented that 2000-2002 was a stressful time for the band- and many touring bands in the wake of 9/11. Did any of those circumstances alter your opinion of the album at the time?
JW: That was such a difficult time. I’m really painting an uplifting picture of the band in the late-’90s and early 2000s, aren’t I? The record was released on September 18th and we immediately hit the road, going to Japan, Europe and then doing a full US tour. Attendances were down, I didn’t feel like the new songs were connecting with people, I didn’t really enjoy playing them, and it felt like other bands were passing us by. Like, we’d hit the glass ceiling. I just wasn’t excited about Superchunk anymore. The final show of the HTSU tour was at the Black Cat in D.C. and I remember thinking that was the end of the line for me.
JU: How do you feel looking back on it now?
JW: I honestly never think about HTSU. That said, I was in a coffee shop in NYC about four years after it came out and one of the songs from it came on the in-house playlist. I knew it was us but I didn’t recognize the song. I thought, “wow, this sounds really good, surprisingly tight for us.” Then I realized it was the last song we recorded for the album and the only one where we played to a click track: “Out On The Wing.”
JU: Brian Paulson co-produced Here’s to Shutting Up with the band. This is the first (maybe only, as far as I can tell?) time you used the same producer for a full-length record since 1994’s Foolish. What went into that decision?
JW: I honestly don’t recall. We were still very friendly with Brian and we’d see him all the time because he also lived in Chapel Hill. I think it just felt right.
JU: Art Class has remained a steady presence in live sets ever since the album’s release. Revisiting it now, and barring any logistical/additional personnel challenges, are there any songs from HTSU you think would be fun to bring back into live rotation?
JW: One song we recorded for HTSU that I really liked, but didn’t make it on the album is “Becoming a Speck.” I think that song would have given the album a little more of what we were really good at, but someone must’ve decided it didn’t fit. It’s on the “Cup of Sand” comp. That would be a fun one to play, as would “Rainy Streets.” I’m now looking at the track listing and remembering that we ended the shows with “What Do You Look Forward To” and “Drool Collection.” Let’s just say I didn’t look forward to playing those songs every night.
JU: Here’s to Shutting Up holds the distinction of having some of Superchunk’s longest songs- namely with What Do You Look Forward To? coming in at 7:42. Was it strange to play outside of (generally speaking) standard pop-rock parameters Superchunk had typically held to or did it feel like a natural progression for everyone?
JW: To me it felt a little false. Maybe not false, because we WANTED to play this new music well, but to my ears it sounds like us trying to be another band, specifically Yo La Tengo. I don’t want to hear a seven-minute song by anyone, so, as I said above, that particular tune was not a favorite to play.
JU: Since the band got back into semi-regular output in the 2010’s, the sound has returned to what some would say is Superchunk’s more traditional hyper-energetic output (What a Time to Be Alive is arguably the band’s hardest-hitting record at times), give or take a few slower numbers. Are there ever any band discussions about revisiting any of the more experimental, long-form ideas from this era, or do you think those concepts are mostly content to live on in the bands’ various other projects?
JW: I think we got the “writing as a band” thing out of our system. Sometimes that yields some great results, but often you end up with music that’s a little unfocused. The first four or five albums were pretty much written by Mac. We’d all throw our two cents in but he pretty much wrote the songs. He was incredibly generous to make the publishing a four-way split. “Indoor Living,” “Come Pick Me Up” and “HTSU” were all written, musically, by committee and Mac would go off and write the lyrics. There’s a lot of good stuff on those records, for sure, but since we regrouped, it’s gone back to Mac writing and doing rough demos of the songs and then presenting them to us. I really like it this way because the songs just sound more focused and concise. He’s written so many great songs for these last few albums.
JU I recently saw an interview with Mac where he discussed the band working on an album during quarantine, written and recorded remotely. Are you able to give any details on the process behind that or any upcoming plans?
JW: Not yet 😉
JU: Finally- followers of your Instagram account are treated to regular doses of Rock ‘n Roll Weirdness. Outside of the band supposedly surviving largely off of Long John Silver’s, do you have any tales of Rock ‘n Roll Weirdness to share as relates to the writing/recording/release of Here’s to Shutting Up?
JW: The only thing that comes to mind is that there was nowhere to sit in the studio! I don’t know why that was. There WAS a row of very uncomfortable wooden seats from a classroom or something, but nobody wanted to sit on them. Maybe we should’ve called it “Here’s to Standing Up.”
Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist for glam punk rockers New York Dolls has lost his battle with cancer according to his personal Facebook page:
“As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years. Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way,”
Being cooped up because of some asinine virus has not been my favorite thing as of late. I really shouldn’t complain though, as I know many pals of mine are hurting severely because of this pandemic. If I could help everyone, I would. Trust me on that.
I offer a distraction to anyone who needs it right now via music. It’s the least I can do.
My pal Toby from that punk label out there called Red Hair Bimbo Trees or something sent me a message today reminding me that the great Sam Russo has new material that just dropped and encouraged me to stop sitting there and do something.
Who is Sam Russo you ask? He’s a UK punk rocker who honestly could put his back up these days to a young Frank Turner when it comes to musical style and craftsmanship, but that’s being a little lazy for comparison. Said differently, if you love when punk lead singers do their solo thing and get all Revival Tour on your ass, you’ll love this dude. I guarantee it based on his storytelling ability.
Russo has actually been around for a while now and Back to the Party is his third release on Red Scare Records. I was lucky enough to get a good taste of him thanks to 2015’s Greyhound Dreams and have really been waiting for the day he dropped some new tunes.
“I took a lot of risks on this record and I’m so glad I did because it came out sounding really original and totally true to what I was trying to say for so many years.” – Sam Russo
“Purple Snow” started off the album a little personal and a tad incoherent in terms of the story within the song. I adored this track upon first listen. Russo honestly has never sounded better. Perhaps a personal memoir, this track carried enough emotion to have me thinking of some of my past history. I am curious though, was the snow purple from Mad Dog 20/20? One can hope…one can hope.
“Good and Gone” I think was taken from my own personal memory of most of 2009. This song hit the heart hard, as it sung of hurt and triumph. These are the tunes that make me happy exist because the show me where I’ve been, where I can from, and what I’ve become.
“Darkness” followed and continued to tug on forced-in feelings with an apologetic excuse on interpersonal communication, or the lack thereof. Wholesome and pure, this track probably will be relating to a lot of folk.
There’s so much that can be said about “Young Heroes” based on how the listener took it in. Given the current situation, this track speaks volumes to those who are working harder than ever based on some stupid pandemic. Not trying to sound cliché at all, but there’s a lot of heroes in my book right now.
I can not really talk about a certain track on here in great detail, but if you know me, you know it totally kicked my ass by the title alone. The past will always sting back when you least expect it. Maybe I need to appreciate it more than I give myself credit for seeing how it shaped me, but still, that shit hurts. Nice job Russo, you jerk – I might have had a tear or two let loose…
Just when you think there’d be a slight let up of sorrow on the album, “Tears” kicked in. This really was a beautiful track overall, but not to be reckoned with if you’re trying to lift them spirits high. I mean, that chorus alone gave me chills. Add lap-steel guitar playing that sparked a slight country feel made for my favorite track of the record.
“The Basement” ended the album with symbolism at its finest. Russo came to terms with life due to rummaging around and only could sit back and reflect on where things went wrong. Putting a lid to the album with this track just made so much sense.
Russo is a storyteller as much as he is a musician. Personal tales might make you want to hug your drink a little harder when you listen to this album, but let’s be real – sometimes it is nice to remember you’re human.
Back to the Party is a must listen for any music fan. Although some songs were full of ache, there really was a silver lining in terms of hope. I feel like I am trying to be motivational here, but let’s face it, times are weird as hell right now. We can all use a distraction.
I’ve told myself over and over that I need to try and hammer out more reviews. I have a million excuses why I choose bed over blog as of late and two of said excuses are the most important things in my life – my kids. Clearly nothing is more important than them and of course my wife, so please excuse me for not paying attention to this here ol’ blog this year.
Time to change that of course.
With recent events going on to which I need not point out, I can tell you I have been thinking about a lot of things and one of them was how much I enjoy listening to tunes, discovering new bands, and especially sharing the love. I have been wanting to talk about one particular release by a New Hampshire punk/emo/rad/DIY 3 piece band. So here we go…
After listening to New Kinda Love by Notches back in early January, I literally stopped what I was doing and ordered the LP off of their Bandcamp page.
This was an album I fell in love with instantly and deemed one of my favorites that I’ve heard of in quite some time. The album dropped in December 2019 from what I learned, but did not make it onto Bandcamp until this year.
Released by Dead Broke Rekerds/Salina Records, this is the band’s third proper release and sadly the fist time I really got into them. They’ve been around since 2013 and have made an impact on the New England punk scene, but honestly once you hear them you’d think they have been around for far longer.
Starting off the album was “Room Upstairs”, a catchy track that really carried through different equal moments of catchiness and relaxed. I really loved how much energy this band held in just on the first track.
It’s hard to believe “Museum of More Dumb Art” hasn’t been around for years and years. This track just was so tenured sounding that I had to make sure I was still listening to the same band. In other words, I was impressed as hell with this one.
“Crystall Ball” was emo Dinosaur Jr. on speed thanks to excessive fuzz throughout a memorable riff of a song. This track just brought me back 25+ years to when all that mattered to me was alternative rock. I adored it. Had a music video been made for this one, it would have been all over MTV back when they were tolerable.
I won’t lie, the best part of “Keep My Name” was the brutal aggressiveness layered with memorable bass and guitar playing. Quick track, but clearly full of angst that never sounded so good.
“Twist The Knife” won me over with the pop-punk edge that snuck into what otherwise could have been a track that amounted to an 80s SST Records artist song.
“Sober Souls” to me was a modern day Hüsker Dü track. This track was just beautiful. I really can’t explain why other than I’m over 40 and was brought years just from absorbing myself in this. Weird, right?
The number of times I told myself how great this band was while listening was almost annoying to me. Luckily I know i am not the only one who thinks this. In fact, my soon to be 5-year-old loves these guys.
Once this bullmess of a virus pandemic goes the hell away, Notches should be touring and it looks like they may be making a stop in Cleveland so who knows, maybe I’ll be taking my son to see his first show a littler earlier than I first intended. If he’s not quite ready, perhaps I’ll bribe the band for a quick high-five and an apple juice or something.
Don’t sleep on these guys. Notches have dropped an album you aging punks and young ones too will truly appreciate.