2017 was a pretty intense year all around, but there was still time for lots of music. For me personally, it included covering bands that I had never dreamed I'd get to photograph, crossing many entries off from my bucket list of artists to see, and even traveling overseas for several festivals. Choosing the "best" shows from among the numerous ones that I attended and covered for ChunkyGlasses was a daunting task, not least because I'm pretty selective about which shows I'll even do, meaning that I rarely see a bad one. Still, there were several that definitely stood out as being the best of the best. Here are my picks for my top ten shows (and festivals) of this year.
The DC area has been sadly lacking in the music festival department since Virgin Mobile decided to end their annual free festivals and the Landmark Festival fizzled after only a single year. But on the last Sunday of July, a triple-headliner show at Merriweather Post Pavilion brought, if not the musical diversity of a full-fledged festival experience, a line-up of heavy-hitters that would normally only be seen together at a large event. Belle and Sebastian, Spoon, and Andrew Bird are all big enough names to headline their own shows individually – together, they brought a night of indie rock and pop to Columbia worthy of the top of a festival line-up.
For over twenty years, indie-rock mainstays Spoon have made some of the most consistently satisfying albums in rock and roll history. On their ninth outing, Hot Thoughts, Britt Daniels and crew are looking back to their past as they evolve the sound of the band into a new future. We've got some possibly "hot" thoughts to share about one of the most anticipated albums of 2017.
PLUS! Saxophonist Ted Taforo provides one of the highlights of Hot Thoughts, improvising on the album's closing track, "Us." When he's not busy changing Spoon's musical direction, he's putting out great albums like The Pope From Rome And Other Stories, and we've got a taste for ya.
SOUNDS LIKE: Neighbors, Gardens & Villa, Spoon
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: The spooky, synthy turn for Michael Benjamin Lerner is damn good!
Michael Benjamin Lerner, better known as his recording moniker Telekinesis, sure knows how to write a pop song. Since 2009, he's put out two well crafted LPs full of addictive melodies that act as soundtracks for days spent strolling through parks as you bask in the sun. After working at home in Seattle with Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla as producer on those two albums, Lerner headed to Austin, Texas and hooked up with Spoon's Jim Eno at his Public Hi-Fi studio to produce his third album, Dormarion.
While nearly every Telekinesis song before now came from a blue sky with nary a cloud, "Ghosts & Creatures" sounds like Lerner heading right into a storm front. A calm piano fuses with a spooky synth overtop the pulse of a heartbeat, providing the thunder for Lerner's lightning vocal. Sheets of rain begin to to descend on us throughout the chorus, but right when you think it's dissipating it's not as the rainy afternoon we've encountered comes at us full throttle by the end.
Dormarion is out April 2nd via Merge. Telekinesis will hit the road in April in support of the new album, and invade The Black Cat right here in Washington, DC on May 6th.
SOUNDS LIKE: These Spoon wannabes still have that silver utensil in their mouth
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Because it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing! It's #5 on the list!
When Brooklyn's White Rabbits hopped onto the scene in 2005, they were just lumped in to the neverending sect of bands from Williamsburg. What made them stick out was their pension for a nervous tension in their songs that didn't fall to far from the musical drawer that Austin's Spoon resided in. They began honing in that sound when they got the chance to work with Spoon's very own Britt Daniel, who twiddled the knobs and produced their breakthrough It's Frightening in 2009. The sextet, armed with two drummers to double up on the 4/4 Jim Eno beat got even more Spoon-ish with this year's Milk Famous. Helmed this time by longtime Spoon producer Mike McCarthy, they created an even more frightening, Spooiner album than before.
But enough about Spoon, let's talk about why we're really here. Famous opener "Heavy Metal" is anything but what its title leads one to believe. While a reversed piano loop starts in the front, it's quickly moved to the backburner as more elements are added to the compound song. While Greg Roberts reaches for a falsetto nearly out of his comfort zone, the ultra sexy bass line keeps things going smoothly. They make the song all their own and shed that comparison documented in the paragraph above by a lead guitar bit that, if it were doused in a pedal of distortion, would be pretty heavy. And you know what, who cares that their love for one of the best indie bands out there strains through all of their songs, its takes a song like "Heavy Metal" to show us how bands are influenced by their peers and how they can make their own songs even better than they already are.
Some people go to a lot of trouble to let you know that Divine Fits, the collaboration between Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel and Sam Brown, is not a “super group.” Take the quotes off of that though and you’re still left with a super group, and if anything their performance at the 9:30 Club last week couldn’t have put a finer point on that distinction if it tried.
Oh sure, the issues that exist on the album are all still there, including the big one of Brit Daniel’s songs sounding, for the most part like Spoon outtakes. But should that really be a point of contention? At this point you could no more take the Spoon out of Daniel then Daniel out of the Spoon. And considering that this is their first effort, it’s to be expected that there is some overlap.
So while songs like “Flaggin’ A Ride,” “The Salton Sea” and “Like Ice Cream” came off as the tight, off kilter pop gems that they are, it was the Boeckner fronted songs – “Baby Get Worse,” “Civilian Stripes” and a performance of “My Love Is Real” shot straight from 1987 – that showed off the true potential of this nascent band, and pointed to, sound-wise, a more distinctive future.
Who knew a one-off duet would lead to this. In March 2010 during their performance at Radio City Music Hall, Spoon was joined onstage by Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs fame. The quartet from Texas performed a perfect note-for-note rendition of Wolf Parade’s “Modern World” as Boeckner held court center stage. Now in 2012, a freed up Boeckner (Wolf Parade is on hiatus and Handsome Furs is out of commission as well), Spoon front man Britt Daniel and drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks and THE SUN fame have joined forces to form the project (don’t call it a supergroup) known as Divine Fits.
A Thing Called Divine Fits, the inaugural fruit of that project, is a solid, summery collection of songs that unsurprisingly finds the group doing exactly what you’d expect them to do: bringing little pieces of their day jobs to this new moonlighting gig. Yes, a good number tracks sound like the Spoon songs you know and love more or less ‘roided out on experimental synth passages. But for large swaths of the record Daniel takes a backseat to Boeckner, and results are refreshing to say the least.
SOUNDS LIKE: Spoon, Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Britt Daniel’s making songs with a new band, tiding you over until Spoon makes another album.
Like the majority of songs Britt Daniel sings with his new group Divine Fits, he doesn’t stray far from his roots. But where the songs that make up their new album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, do go exploring is out on a sea of synths. As always Britt’s vocals are covered in effects, the drums and exotic percussion set the scene of a sunny afternoon outback grilling. But then there are those keyboards – and they are EVERYWHERE. Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade & Handsome Furs brings his influence large, with walls of synth entering and exiting the scene at the just the right time. With Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks rounding out the trio on the drums, one thing is perfectly clear: Instead of just being music that that the Spoon guys had left over for a rarities album, the music of Divine Fits is something all its own.
So the weekend is made for going to shows right? Right. Instead of bomarding you with brand new music like we do on a daily basis, ChunkyGlasses is going to offer up a live show by some of our favorite artists every weekend. Some of this will be audience recordings, some perfect soundboards, but ALL of them have a permanently place on our stereos.
And remember, a lot of people put in a lot of hard work to bring you these recordings, so next time you are at a show and you see someone taping, thank em and buy em a beer.