Nicolas Jaar, "Why Didn't You Save Me"
You look for two things out of a weekend-long festival. The first is good headliners, which this month’s Pitchfork Music Festival had in the form of A Tribe Called Quest and Solange. The second is to stumble across some mid-afternoon set that is way, way better than you expected. I’ve seen Grizzly Bear and the Clipse make magic with one of these before, and the Cool Kids (R.I.P.) did it reliably for a few summers in a row across a handful of different festivals I attended. This year, it was the Chilean electronic musician Nicolas Jaar, whose albums I’ve always casually enjoyed but never truly adored. Live, he was transcendent, building a lingering ambient pulse for 20 minutes before eventually dropping an almost biological pulse into the tableau. It’s had me revisiting all of his stuff with fresh ears, particularly 2015’s Nymphs EPs, which explored similarly slow-building, head-spinning collections of sound. “Why Didn’t You Save Me” layers harpsichords, warped vocals, extra-dimensional pianos, and minimal drum pulses for over half the runtime, finally coalescing into a lithe, robotic banger. That title comes through like a voice trying to be heard from beyond the grave. Jaar’s discography knows multitudes, and I’m glad I got a shove deeper into it.
Retirement Party, "Meet Me In Montauk"
My most recent weekend kicked off with some spectacular music. Aligning with my pop-culture resolution, I have been on a mission to see more live music, especially bands I haven’t seen before. So on Friday night my husband and I took off for Cobra Lounge to see Retirement Party open up for Worriers. We had heard Retirement Party on Northwestern’s radio station, liking the song “Meet Me In Montauk” so much that we Shazam-ed it, becoming the song’s fifth Shazam lookup. The RT live show far exceeded these modest expectations, with a rollicking four-piece led by Avery Springer. She guides her chops-filled bandmates through what must be her own emotional journal entries, backed by jubilant power pop, heavy on the guitar, please. It kind of sounds like a teenage, cheerful Feelies, but more accurately, Retirement Party is too passionate and exuberant to even compare to another band. Fortunately for me, this outfit is local, so I will definitely be heading out to see some more Retirement Party shows before they quickly get ginormous. I walked away being so happy for the band for pulling off such a great show, and so happy for me with a whole slew of new music to listen to. Non-Midwesterners are encouraged to check the band out on Spotify, where you can find the EP released earlier this year, Strictly Speaking.
Saun & Starr, “Look Closer (Can’t You See The Signs)”
When it isn’t performing its Jesuit duties of broadcasting Catholic sermons and Irish folk music, WFUV, the public radio station emanating from the Bronx’s Fordham University, is playing a pretty good selection of critic-approved modern rock and hip classics. Last Saturday night, I happened to catch the premiere of its newest show, The Boogie Down, which breaks from the usual programming for a fantastic three-hour block of soul and funk tunes hosted by Binky Griptite, guitarist and emcee of the fabulous Dap-Kings. At one point, Griptite mentioned he wasn’t afraid to spin a song he played on and slapped down a modern soul classic that I loved back in 2015 and have found myself obsessed with once again, “Look Closer (Can’t You See The Signs).” This was the debut single from Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe, friends and former backup singers of the late great Sharon Jones who, with the help of the brilliant Daptone players, put out a great soul album of their own as Saun & Starr. “Look Closer,” the title track, kicks it off with a glamorous flourish of cymbal and echoing guitar before settling into its horn-driven groove. As on the rest of the album, the Daptone crew, especially trumpeter Dave Guy, are at the height of their powers, and Saun & Starr shine when finally put into the spotlight, melding together for hair-raising harmonies and trading confident, effortless solo lines.
Slothrust, "7:30 AM"
My dark musical secret (which might not be such a secret, since I’ve written about it here before) is that I get new artists and songs almost exclusively through other pop culture avenues, leeching new tastes every time some new licensed TV theme song or video game soundtrack cut catches my ear. The most recent case in point: New York sadness grungers Slothrust, who provide “7:30 AM,” the jangly, angry-sweet title theme for FX’s You’re The Worst. Sometimes these parasitic dalliances of mine stop themselves at repeats of the original song on YouTube, but “7:30” kicked off a deep dive into all three of the band’s albums, each one brimming with a compulsive conflict between punky thrashing and surprisingly hummable melodies. The through-lines come in the lyrics, self-aware fuck-yous about loneliness and love, with the tongue always at least half in cheek. Best track: “Horseshoe Crab,” off the band’s most recent album, 2016’s Everyone Else. Starting slow, almost hymnal, it eventually repeats itself with a thrilling blast of raw, irony-free emotion, the various lyrical promises taking on an extra layer of appealing desperation the second time around.
Emerald Web, "Flight Of The Raven"
This eerie synth-folk tune sounds like a Broadcast B-side from the early 2000s (in fact, I first heard it on a mix put together by Broadcast’s frontwoman, the late Trish Keenan), but it’s actually from the late 1970s, recorded by Bob Stohl and Kat Epple, a husband-and-wife duo from Florida who made electronic New Age music for science documentaries and planetariums as Emerald Web. They recorded very few songs like this; the other notable example is “Chasing The Shadowbeast,” which comes from the same album, Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales. (I will admit to having something of a weakness for dorky, Tolkien-esque concept albums, be it Bo Hansson‘s instrumental prog classic Music Inspired By The Lord Of The Rings or Blind Guardian’s awesomely uncool Nightfall In Middle-Earth.) For someone who likes creepy folk vibes and analog synths, this is one of the few tracks that manages to hit both sweet spots at the same time, and it’s been part of my evening playlist for the past few weeks of this humid summer. The best, cleanest-sounding version can be found on the Emerald Web compilation album The Stargate Tapes 1979-1982, put out by the crate-digging label Finders Keepers.