Episode 2 of Cinema Credo finds me sitting down with Stephen Goldmeier (@makingarecord) to talk about a film he and I have seen together many, many times as part of the Gateway Film Center’s annual marathon. While it is a movie I enjoy and have seen a lot, it holds a deeper place in Stephen’s life. Let him tell you about it on this month’s Cinema Credo at CinemaCredo.com or wherever you find your podcasts.
There’s a bookshelf at my job what isn’t really a bookshelf so much as a lovely waste of garbage books. It was originally an interior design installation art piece and, well, still is: books sorted by color, shoved in vertically and horizontally in order to be a solid wall of rainbow. As the man said, “It’s pretty, but is it art?”
Anyway, I’m making it art.
In between serving tables I’m resorting the books, being careful to keep them in color-coordination, using them like refrigerator magnets to create poems. Anyone interested in reading the poems should follow @BookshelfPoetry on Instagram.
As with years past, I sat down with every record I bought this year and listened through, then largely ignored any new discoveries to rank them based on how often I’d listened to them since purchasing. It’s time for an arbitrary list!
10. The Welcome Wagon -- Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
I find it hard to relate to modern Christian music. I want to believe that people are sincere, but there’s just so much money involved, and so little art. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Generally the Christian music -- or Christian-adjacent music -- I like involves struggle. In that regard, there is something inherently appealing to me about mid-century gospel music, the sort of albums you find in thrift stores and “weird album covers” lists.
The Welcome Wagon is a throwback to that era, a Presbyterian minister and his wife making earnest Christian worship music. But at the same time, this is a band produced by Sufjan Stevens. It’s not necessarily challenging or thought provoking, but it is interesting
9. The B-52’s -- the B-52’s (1979, 2018)
Speaking of kitschy throwback. In lieu of saying anything that would fall short of properly praising this seminal album I’m going to tell you about the first time I consciously heard the first track, Planet Claire. I was in 8th or 9th grade and my friend Jonathan’s dad picked us up from some school function and started this album just as we got into the car. Now I’m certain I had heard Love Shack before then, but if I’d ever heard any other B-52s song I can’t say, and Planet Claire is no Love Shack, which I mean in the best ways. It was dark, I was quite probably sitting in a fold out seat in the back of the cab of a tiny pickup truck, and I was engulfed in what I was hearing. There’s a very good chance they’d dropped me off before the tape got to Rock Lobster, which there’s a small chance I may have recognized. Instead, when I asked what I was hearing, Jonathan’s dad told me they were called “The Planet Claire People” and while I don’t think I believed that, I’m certain that I didn’t know the actually answer for years. Thanks, Jeff Hape! You lovable weirdo!
8. They Might Be Giants -- Lincoln (1988, 2018)
Has there ever been a band as densely clever as TMBG? And have they themselves ever released an album as densely clever as Lincoln? I mean, like besides most of their other albums? It seems this was my year to buy reissues of albums I wished I could have gotten lucky enough to stumble across in a thrift store, or at least a used record shop. Thanks, resurgence of the vinyl industry!
7. Durand Jones and the Indications -- s/t (2017)
Apparently this album was recorded for under $500 and using an “American Idol” branded toy microphone and I cannot believe that. Just utterly brilliant throwback soul music.
6. OHMME -- s/t (2017)
Formerly known as HOMME, the Chicago multi-instrumentalist duo of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham formed in 2004 and has since toured with Jeff Tweedy and played with Chance the Rapper. I was lucky enough to catch them playing a small bar in Columbus when my friends in Room and Board opened for them. The full-length follow-up Parts (2018) is already my first purchase of 2019, so please look forward to hearing me write about that in a year.
5. Listener -- Being Empty: Being Filled (2018)
There was a time when Listener were two guys and washing machine -- and indeed a time before that with a different format as well -- and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss that. Now listener is a band with three people and no appliances, but still some of the most literary lyrics about regret and hope around. Each track on Being Empty: Being Filled is inspired by a different inventor/creator, some more in dedication to, some exploring motivations, and some lamenting. While the lamentful “There’s Money in the Walls” deals with Diesel’s unfulfilled dreams -- “When you don't go on, your song lives on” -- it’s the double whammy of the final two songs that pushes this record beyond, with tales of best intentions getting away from their inventors, either through hubris (the Oppenheimer inspired Manhattan Projects above) or oppression (Plague Doctor, about the inventors of Kevlar and gas masks, both invented for purely civilian purposes).
4. The Avalanches -- Since I Left You (2000, 2017)
For a very long time after I first encountered the video for Frontier Psychiatrist, I labored under the impression that it was illegal to sell this album in the US because of the copyright issues putting out an album that is almost entirely layered samples. Expertly layered samples. It’s among the best sample-based musical ventures to ever be produced. I’m pretty sure I was wrong about the legality since there was a 2001 US CD release, but last year it finally made it to vinyl here and I picked it up at one of the best record shops in the country, Vertigo in Grand Rapids, MI.
3. The Aquabats -- The Fury of The Aquabats (1997, 2018)
I think I’ve been clear in the past that I’m easily swayed by certain strains of nostalgia, but let’s be clear, The Aquabats weren’t just my favorite band in high school, they’re my favorite band now, too. I saw them for the dozenth or so time earlier this year with my longtime best friend Jonathan Hape and I can only imagine the dumb smile I had on my face the entire night. Favorite band, favorite album, new vinyl release that sounds just phenomenal. Yeah it’s a favorite for the year. Gonna have to be a pretty danged good album to beat out the joyous nostalgia kick of this one. Good thing two did.
2. mewithoutYou -- [untitled] and [untitled] E.P. (2018)
Ok, technically two releases but they have the same title and came out at the same time, so whatever. mewithoutYou has long been a source of inspiration for me, and I’m always joyful for new music from them. While lyricist and lead singer Aaron Weiss and I have followed rather different (though not too different) religious paths, his acknowledgement that such a journey is useless if you don’t keep moving is deeply affecting -- always be trying to bring your ideals in line with your actions, and always be reaching for greater ideals. In that way the band is also an inspiration for CinemaCredo.com, my new podcast where I’ll be talking to people about the film that had the greatest religious significance to them, however they define religious significance.
As for Untitled, while the first single (above) is a beautifully killer track, it’s the opener of the EP. “Bethlehem, WV”, that really hit me the hardest, perhaps because of the times I’ve yelled at God myself just over the border in Virginia. Epiphanies come in the most surprising places.
1. Janelle Monae -- Dirty Computer (2018)
So I pre-ordered the vinyl release of Dirty Computer, certifiably the best album I bought this year because it’s the best album released this year period. Just fantastic.
Anyway, so I preordered it through the label, Warner, in June and they immediately put a pending charge on my card. That’s not a problem. Honestly, I’d be fine just paying up front for a pre-order. Anyway, the charge fell off the next day. Then it showed up the next week. And gone again. Every week until mid September, two weeks before the album was scheduled to come out. I got an email explaining that Warner was “required by law” to attempt to charge me every week, and that the charge had been rejected that week, and therefore my pre-order was cancelled forever.
Anyway, I bought it from my favorite local record shop, Spoonful, like I always should have. Let that be a lesson to you.
The entire album is a celebration of living your true self, no matter the adversity. I’m particularly a fan of the closing track Americans, which features a spoken word portion by the Rev. Dr. Sean McMillian that I think dovetails well with some ideas we’ve shared before:
Let me help you in here
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
Until black people can come home from a police stop without being shot in the head
This is not my America, huh!
Until poor whites can get a shot at being successful
This is not my America
I can't hear nobody talkin' to me
Time to kick off season 2 of The Adam Glass's Root Beer Round-Up with a blind reach into my ever-growing box of roots beer. By look of the draw we picked three that have been on my shelf for too long, and that aren't really all that great.
Deadworld Zombie Soda Root Beer
Blue Sun Soda, Minnesota
I'm told that the Deadworld comic is the best comic books series about zombies that there is, and I don't know nearly enough about zombie comic book series to disagree. But Michgan-based indie publisher Caliber Comics has licensed their Zombies to Blue Sun Soda (the RocketFizz of Minnesota) and I do now a bit about root beer. This is a decidedly ok root beer. It is not terrible. It is perfectly middle of the road. A little tuttifrutti flavor in with a cough-syrupy backend, this dark root beer is like the average haunted house: ok in the moment but I'm not going to recommend it.
The Pop Shoppe Root Beer
The Pop Shoppe
Originally: London, Ontario, Canada
The Pop Shoppe province-, then nation-, then continent-wide soda retailer that sold soda to the masses from 1969 to 1987. Reestablished as an internet brand in 2004, it was recently bought by BeverageWorld.ca. The root beer itself is pretty classical stuff, and I doubt the recipe changed much from the 1969 version. It's dark, with a nice head, and reminded me of Faygo if I'm perfectly honest.
Stubborn Soda Classic Root Beer
PepsiCo threw their hats into the craft soda ring with the Stubborn brand in 2015 and I hate everything about this sentence. It's ok. It's not great, but I've had root beer for this project that made me actively want to vomit and this isn't one of them. They're not trying anything special; they're trying to make a solid middle of the road root beer and they mostly succeed.
Every year I rank my top ten favorite albums that I purchased in the past 12 months irrespective of when they were actually released. This year my favorite album (And objectively one of the best released) is one I did not actually purchase -- Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book -- since I’m still unsure if you actually can purchase it? Anyway, you can stream it on any service you pay for or don’t so go check it out. Elsewise, might be indicative of my take on 2016 that the more hopeful an album is the more I liked it.
10. Factory Showroom (1996/2011)
They Might Be Giants
Part of the reason I do this list is because Pat uses it to find new music, so listing a prominent album from one of his favorite bands probably doesn’t help him out at all, but I bought a reissue this year and it’s a great album that I too love, though somehow had managed not to own (or “own”) in any format before now. It’s no Apollo 18, but it’s a fine record with some classic TMBG on it.
9. Are You Serious? (2016)
I’m a long time fan of Andrew Bird and this is a perfectly serviceable album, but it’s nothing new. The highlight (above) is a duet with Fiona Apple. The rest of the album sounds like Andrew Bird with little development from, say, Armchair Apocrypha or anything else, and perhaps even less experimentation than his previous work. He’s a great songwriter, though, so I can’t complain too much on that end. It’s also a lyrically more straightforward album, which is weird for him. Not quite gone, but exceedingly scaled back, are the gonzo metaphors and allusions of songs like A Nervous Tic Motion or Fake Palindromes from The Mysterious Production of Eggs. But in being more straightforward he’s also more open: Puma has the science jargon he frequently traffics in, but is bluntly about his wife’s thyroid cancer. But then again, can I really hold it against a man who got married, had a baby, then suddenly confronted mortality, if he’s not as experimental as I’d like?
8. Portrait of a Damaged Family (1997/2016)
A college rock album from when that term meant something. A jangle pop record from when that term existed. Reprinted for Record Store Day after the success of (and resurgence from) releasing Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete last year. Yeah, Miracle Legion and Polaris -- the house band from the avant-garde Nickelodeon sitcom -- are one in the same, and more or less musically identical -- after all it was the same guys working together at the same time -- if a little more adult-oriented. Maybe it’s false scarcity, but considering there were only 1000 of these pressed I’m pretty glad I picked it up.
7. My Solo Project (2000)
Mates of State
A long time favorite album that I admit I’m finally owning legitimately for the first time. Great minimalist indie pop and there’s not much else to say.
6. Remember Us to Life (2016)
This is a fantastic record. I mean, I like other Regina Spektor albums more, sure. Like a lot of people I think she loses a bit with each album. But I also really loved Far and a lot of folks would put the division between good and bad Spektor albums on the other side of that particular one. I didn’t even know Remember Us to Life was coming out until I ran across this excellent interview with Spektor on Charlie Rose. The Grand Hotel and The Trapper and the Furrier are both incredible songs, as great as anything she’s ever done.
5. Wow to the Deadness EP (2016)
Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil
Steve Taylor kickstarted an album in 2014 (it was a favorite of mine that year) with a backing band called The Perfect Foil made up of a supergroup of Christian rockers: Jimmy Abegg used to play with Rich Mullins and Charlie Peacock, Peter Furler used to play drums for The Newsboys, and John Mark Painter performs with his wife as Fleming and John. This time around they added Daniel Smith, better known as Danielson, or Brother Danielson, or the Danielson Famile, or that thing that sounds like the Shaggs meets Beefheart that Sufjan used to play with. The whole thing’s produced by Steve Albini and is exactly what all those disparate collaborators making a punk/post-punk EP should sound like. It’s great, just too short. Fortunately, as a Kickstarter backer for this, I also got a digital copy of Wow to the Liveness, a live album that includes not just the full Deadness EP, but also reinterpretations of Danielson and Taylor’s back catalogues.
4. Begin to Hope 10th Anniversary Ed. (2006/2016)
Maybe not that great that I list Spektor’s 2006 album as better than her 2016 album, but hey, a lot of people who loved Begin to Hope stopped listening to her long before Remember Us to Life came out, so I’ve got that going for me.
This is classic Regina Spektor, the woman that inspired a generation of singer-songwriters I love as well: Lisa Hannigan, Ingrid Michaelson, all great stuff that owes a debt to Spektor in general, and probably Begin to Hope in particular. I'd forgotten how much I love every single track on this record.
Steev Richter (2016)
Full disclosure, Steev is an old and dear friend of mine. I know this album has been a labor of love for him, and for you, so at the sake of my objectivity I’m not just going to say I love it, but that you should go buy it now (link), if not for him for the fact that he got Nils Cline, Ralph Carney, Tess Wiley, John Medeski, and a myriad of other talent that it’s frankly just awesome to hear all working together under the guidance of producer Danny Blume. It’s an album stacked with fantastic talent and it shows. Not least of which is Steev’s lyricism and songsmithing. And his love.
2. Sun & Moon (2015)
Timbre is a Nashville-based harpist who exquisitely crafts indie-folk and neoclassical music to soundtrack your dreams. Sun & Moon is a dual record sharing themes lyrically and musically. Sun is a pop record; Moon is classical compositions. Both are beautiful.
1. Winter Wheat (2016)
John K. Samson
Probably not a surprise that I like singer-songwriters. Probably not a surprise that Iike narrative or literary lyrics. I was a huge fan of John K. Samson’s late project The Weakerthans and was very excited by the announcement of Winter Wheat, and even more excited to pick it up.
The Weakerthans albums seemed to be themed to whatever major happenings were going on in Samson’s life when they were recorded: Reunion Tour, the last one, for instance danced through various forms of regret and remembrance. Winter Wheat moves on from there, both musically and emotionally, with acoustic guitar-forward songs of hope, or at least perseverance. There’s the driving Postdoc Blues that ends in a adapted paraphrasing of Active Hope by Joanna Macy (itself echoing the theology of St. Francis) which I find particularly helpful moving out of 2016:
The title track has its own mantra to push us through the new year that Samson calls “the heart of the album” which he borrows from Mariam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness: “we know this world is good enough because it has to be.”
The titular wheat is used as a metaphor for making it through the roughness:
Be content. But be better.
Happy New Year