wings to the mind (play the dang piano)
learning to play music again, a few creative organizations that would love your help, ads, avatar: the last airbender, clickhole, eric andre, the class of 2020
Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven”: Seven links on writing and creativity in your inbox by 7 AM EST every Wednesday and Headphone Nation and ARTS & FARTS music reviews. 1st Friday: a new short story. 2nd and 4th Fridays: interviews with writers. Read on your browser.
using my hands allows me to see something new, which has always been there - this week’s cartoon was inspired by Christoph Niemann
It’s Wednesday morning. Oof.
And to all the new subscribers: Hello! Many thanks to Todd at fellow Substack Music Journalism Insider for the shout-out on last week’s post on media layoffs. And if you’re here from reading last Friday’s interview with Michelle Delgado, hello as well! Glad you’re all here.
So onto the dang thing. Here are at least seven things to make your week more interesting:
For my fellow New Yorkers, since I know a lot of you are based here: In honor of our primary being back on, here’s a breakdown on how we all can vote by absentee ballot. June 23rd!
(Also, another NYC-specific call to action: This past week, I donated to NYC Nightlife United, an emergency relief fund sponsored by AdHoc, Friends and Lovers, The Solo Foundation, and Grandstand with funds going towards local cultural spaces. It’s an impressive group behind the fund, and it’s an honor to give back to the places that have given me some of my most fond memories while living here. Anything helps.)
Speaking of donations and good causes: This past week, I also added my name to the NIVA (National Independent Venus Association) and their #SAVEOURSTAGES initiative, which is addressing local legislation to help local venues. Anything helps here as well.
This week’s CJR link: The politics-media-feedback-loop logic.
“I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this.”
(Don’t you love reading features that remind you that when Trump and the media - all media across the entire political spectrum - “go to war” with each other, we all lose?)
Last week, Study Hall, one of my favorite writing resources and one of the better $11 I spend each month, tweeted out a SparkNotes-like summary that hits at most of the major points of media’s continued layoffs. Then they fleshed it out, fact-checked it, made corrections, and created a free online summary of why publications are doing layoffs right now.
(In last week’s layoff post, I also originally included some paragraphs attempting to walk through the last 20 years of the increasingly weird relationship between media and advertising - the big elephant in the room that I didn’t address and yet is really the one common factor among many media companies that are struggling right now. Again, I say this knowing that every industry is struggling; we’re not special or an exception. I decided to cut those paragraphs because I felt like I couldn’t yet articulate that relationship well. It’s also something that I’m admittedly not 100% knowledgeable of. Yet this was a point that many of you brought up to me as well, and I’m glad people smarter than I took the time to convey it in such a thoughtful way. Thank you, Study Hall!)
So Avatar: The Last Airbender is now on Netflix (!), and after rewatching the first episode in like over a decade (great to have in the background while cooking pasta) I was shocked by how strong the writing was. This definitely was not something I was keeping tabs on as a kid watching Nickelodeon. I wasn’t just imagining it either: There’s a whole video devoted to what writers can learn from Avatar and how to quickly establish strong characters and the best way to use your first 10 minutes.
Via Christoph Niemann and this lovely new article design by the NYT Magazine: The unexpected solace in learning to play piano.
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
And so …
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Sunbeams and Rockets (Brisbane, Australia): Released via Brisbane's Team Glasses label; if Don Hertzfeldt was commissioned to remake Friday Night Lights
Dizelkraft (Moscow) music for cars
vasco ribeiro morais (Sintra, Portugal) sounds like a cover of some long-lost Captain Beefheart b-side attempt at jazz
Toshinori Kondo (Kyoto, Japan) electric ... trumpet ... yes ...
… we carry on …
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ARTS & FARTS
Song “reviews” … Listen to all available tracks on the ARTS & FARTS Spotify playlist
Felix Mendelssohn - “Op. 19 No. 1” (From the Songs Without Words series, 1829-30)
Freakin’ sick piano licks, brah.
Jeff Rosenstock - “NO TIME” (2020)
Within this past week, I’ve heard two LPs that will likely compete for my album of 2020. One of them I talk about more below. The other is the surprise Jeff Rosenstock NO DREAM LP, which you can download for free on his website. Remember when indie-rock guitar players were assertive enough to play power chords?
Carly Rae Jepsen - “This Love Isn’t Crazy” (2020)
It’s a shame that the idea of Carly Rae Jepsen in my head will always be more entertaining and interesting than the real Carly Rae Jepsen. I’m glad she exists. She makes a lot of people happy. Like most people, I also had my Emotion phase. And yes, those B sides were weirdly great. She’s accurate to call her latest release Dedicated Side B. “This Love Isn’t Crazy” is a strong opener, yet the rest of the album feels like a gradual cooldown. Maybe that’s the point. Nothing wrong with low-stakes B-sides that don’t set the world on fire.
The Message - “Rum-Bum-A-Loo” (1970)
I told Dan that I would dedicate a song to him. Dan: This is for you. This is the kind of reggae that Joe Strummer was probably listening to while he was writing London Calling. Thinking of Little Richard again, I’m reminded that the best music, even rock ‘n’ roll, has some sense of groove. The piano in this song is especially great. This whole collection is worth a spin, and it’s on Spotify.
Wilco - “Tell Your Friends” (2020)
And even better: Each song download purchase gets matched with a charitable contribution ($1 or more) to World Central Kitchen. Do the dang thing.
The La’s - “Way Out - Janice Long 2/9/87” (1987)
The band that wrote a perfect song also wrote a few other near-perfect songs. I was shocked when I first heard these songs live and how good they sounded. My colleague Chris argues that “Timeless Melody” is actually their best song. Depending on my mood, I agree.
The 1975 - “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” (2020)
OK, so, the new The 1975 album. Finally. Now that I’ve had more time, I stand by my original gut-feeling: This LP is most enjoyable if you break it up into four EPs, which, in a way, mirror the first four The 1975 EPs. Knowing how pretentious this band is, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was intentional. They also could have been lazy and rushed to release a too-long album. Here’s how I would break up the album:
EP1 (“The 1975” - “Frail State of Mind”) - The Purpose Pop EP
The most “2020” songs. Very “of the moment.” I’m betting these also will be the songs that will age the most poorly. Very weak or bold to start your 22-track album with your most thin songs. “Frail State of Mind” still kills though; it’s graduated from a “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” clone and is now in its own headspace.
EP2 (“Streaming” - “Me & You Together Song”) - The Pinegrove EP
A big news of this album cycle was “The Birthday Party” name-checking Pinegrove while sounding vaguely like Pinegrove. At the time the single came out, it seemed like a weird one-off to get some clicks and piss off some bored critics to make them talk more about the album. Which, by the way, definitely worked.
But after listening to this section of the LP, the thought I kept coming back to: These all could have been Pinegrove songs. “The Birthday Party” has banjo, which is about as authentic as Pinegrove fans saying that one day they’ll move upstate. “Then Because She Goes” (also an excellent My Bloody Valentine tribute) and “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” are both great and sound uncomfortably like actual Pinegrove songs. I literally laughed out loud at “Roadkill.” “Me & You Together Song,” one of my favorite tracks on the LP, sounds like Pinegrove googling jangle rock. Even “Yeah I Know” sounds like an alternate reality where they pivoted to synths. All these songs have big emo-country feels. Of course this is where current emo-country-ruler Phoebe Bridgers shows up. Depending on how you feel about the P band, this is either your favorite or least favorite stretch.
EP3 (“I Think There’s Something You Should Know” - “Playing On My Mind”) - UK EP
I don’t listen to a lot of modern UK pop or garage (or at least enough to make an informed opinion), yet this stretch sounds the most like the band’s tribute to both styles. This also is my favorite section. The rest of the LP, as great as it can be, covers familiar turf. This sounds like the newest-sounding group of songs. My current favorite non-single track is “I Think There’s Something You Should Know.” That transition in the bridge sums up a lot of what I love about this band and what I think they do well. “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied” is such a great summer song, I’m shocked it wasn’t a single. “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” I absolutely get. At first I hated the album mix, but it’s grown on me. Hello, summer.
EP4 (“Having No Head” - “Guys”) - The End (Music For Cars) EP
As I’ve said before, I’m approaching this LP like four different EPs, which, intentionally or not, channel the The 1975’s first EPs that they released before their 2013 debut album. For many fans - myself included - these EPs are still the band’s high points. Like NOACF, the EPs together are mostly filled with cool electric noodles with a handful of absolute high highs. If this truly marks the end of an era (which, uh, ok), what better (pretentious) way to go out than to recreate the EPs that started it all? And the best thing I can say about “Guys,” a great song: it reminds me of how perfect The Bends is.
Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Interview, Pitchfork, McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and more. Check out his website, where you’ll find his reading list this year, his latest features, and more ways to connect. Brady is a freelancer for hire who can do interviews, reporting, criticism, and playlists - get in touch if you need a writer.
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All cartoons by Brady Gerber. Headphone Nation logo by Sophie Wiener. ARTS & FARTS logo by Simon Morrow.
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