What Are You Listening To? is a weekly rundown of what A.V. Club staffers are streaming. Listen to these songs and more on our Spotify playlist, updated weekly with new stuff.
Judee Sill, “The Donor”
I spent the last four days shut up in a secluded cabin on Illinois’ Rock River. When the owner gave my partner and me the tour, he pointed out the old turn table/radio, where he had marked two stations on the dial: NPR and, according to him, the only good classic rock station. My partner had been to this cabin before, and in order to listen to something other than the news and Led Zeppelin, he brought along a few albums. One was Judee Sill’s Heart Food. I’d never heard of her or her music before; my partner learned about her in a Vogue profile of Joanna Newsom. That’s all to say I had no information or context for Heart Food when it started. Judee Sill sounds a bit like a mellower Zooey Deschanel, and playing in the background, her voice, often harmonizing with itself over big orchestral accompaniments, was enjoyable enough. The final song, “The Donor,” is something special, though. At the 3:39 mark it goes from English to Latin, minor key to major, and suddenly sounds like a hymn. That’s probably what Sill was going for, considering the abundant Christian themes in the rest of the song’s lyrics. The effect is a transportive one. Stretching the song to eight minutes, Sill has plenty of time to weave in and out of the Latin, building the song to operatic heights. It probably wouldn’t have hit me so hard had I not been in an extremely idyllic place, in an extremely relaxed head space. I recommend getting yourself to such a place and turning on this song on. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Wah Wah Watson, “Goo Goo Wah Wah”
You can probably guess what very specific expertise earned session-musician Melvin Ragin the nickname “Wah Wah Watson.” He played guitar for the Motown house band in the early ’70s, where he laid down one of the most famous wah-wah guitar parts of all time, The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” After that, he lent his wah-wah wizardry to everyone from Barry White and Herbie Hancock to Michael Jackson and Maxwell. In 1976, he got a chance at making a solo record. Ragin played up the “Watson” angle as much as he could, titling the LP Elementary and appearing on the cover wearing a vaguely Sherlock-like hat and smoking from a huge Calabash pipe. The album flopped, and it hasn’t aged all that well. It’s packed to the gills with forgettable, overlong R&B cuts, but there’s at least one hidden gem on there: “Goo Goo Wah Wah.” It kicks the record off in tremendous style, aping a bit of the driving momentum that makes “Papa” tick. But rather than leaving the song in a similar psychedelic haze, Ragin tops the low-key percussion and wah-wah guitar lines with some deliciously filthy talkbox virtuosity, riding the slow-burning groove to a frenzied, trill-filled finale. Frampton ain’t got shit on this. [Matt Gerardi]
Helena Hauff, “Qualm”/“No Qualms”
More than six months later, I’m still bumping Helena Hauff’s 2017 EP, Have You Been There, Have You Seen It, pretty regularly (an early morning bike ride along the lake listening to “Gift” is a jolt to the day), so I was excited to see the Hamburg DJ and producer announce that her second full-length will be released next month. The album’s first two singles, title track “Qualm” and companion “No Qualms,” deliver more of the dirty, cigarette-stained electro Hauff’s known for, and certainly live up to her own description of the new record: “It’s raw.” The beat-less “Qualm” builds a droning, phasing ’80s-analog-synth meditation, then “No Qualms” unleashes a bruising dance rhythm over it. [Kelsey J. Waite]