Record Store Day success.
An electronic record of learning of things
Whatever, I’m excited.
I’m especially excited because tomorrow will be my first trip to the new BK Music in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center, just across the James River from where I live. It wouldn’t have felt like Record Store Day without BK, so I’m thrilled that the new store came together so quickly after it was forced to close its Midlothian Turnpike location in February. I’m somewhat tempted to tell you the wrong opening time so bandmate 4eva Doug and I can get closer to the front of the line, but I’ll do the honorable thing and tell you they open at 9 a.m., and you can bet I’ll be there. And then at Steady Sounds. And Plan 9. And Deep Groove. And Monument City. And then I’ll probably take a nap, because fiscal recklessness can be exhausting.
You can check out the full list of releases here. In a fit of uncharacteristic organization, I compiled my own list of the stuff I’ll be gunning for, and I split it up into 3 categories: Want, Need, and Exigent. Here’s how it breaks down:
The Allman Brothers — Selections From: Play All Night: Live at the Beacon Theatre 1992
Charles Bradley — I Hope You Find the Good Life
Dan Croll — Hello My Baby 10-inch
Death Cab For Cutie Featuring Magik*Magik Orchestra — Live 2012
Dessa — Castor the Twin
Fun. — Point and Light 10-inch
LCD Soundsystem — The Long Goodbye
William Onyeabor — What?!
I should come clean and admit that I didn’t know what “exigent” meant before working on this post, and I’m still not sure I’m using it correctly, but I’m really hoping those last three will be spinning at YHT headquarters before tomorrow’s all said and done. Especially the Donny Hathaway — I have two Donny live records, and they’re both incredible, and even though I think one of them might have some of the same material as what’s being released tomorrow, I don’t care one bit. The more live Hathaway, the better. Besides, BK’s new address is 2833A Hathaway Road,. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
I just love the smell of limited edition vinyl in the morning, don’t you?
Donny Hathaway — “Jealous Guy" (John Lennon cover)
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it differently — there’s a distinct, elevated echelon of songs and albums that manage to both entertain and offer up new perspective on something you thought you had a handle on. For me, it usually happens in relation to words. Most recently, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern took the word “down” and turned it on its head via some gorgeous, wilting guitar work and an overarching narrative of hard-earned serenity. I’ll never look at the hierarchical relationship between “up” and “down” the same way. Black Girls’ new album Claire Sinclaire gets to that transcendent point, proving enjoyable in the extreme while bringing on its own haunting redefinition.
People throw the term “highly anticipated” around, but it’s fair to say that expectations were way up there for Claire Sinclaire. Shannon Cleary’s recent piece for RVA Magazine did a wonderful job of describing the atmosphere Hell Dragon’s follow-up was born into — one in which the attention and momentum they’d generated in the past few years could have worked for them or, in a universe where Claire Sinclaire wasn’t as excellent as it is, against them. If you go back and look at what’s been written about them — just take the snippets on the “About” page of their website — a theme emerges. Phrases like “commercial potential,” “meteoric rise,” and “let’s get the word out on them” are everywhere, painting this picture of a hot, up-and-coming group. A band that’s worth your attention right now but still has things to do. A band with promise.
That’s what Claire Sinclaire got me thinking about. Promise. The good side of having it, the dangers it comes with, and just how personal seeing promise in someone or something can be.
Before going any further, let’s make one thing clear: The surface level assertion here — that Black Girls are a band made up of talented musicians who are pointed in the direction of success — has never felt more correct. Claire Sinclaire offers a litany of moments in which you can sit back and admire the band’s strengths. Their knack for setting a specific mood, which they do masterfully on grimy second track “Banging L.A.” Their ability to channel surf rock in a way that feels timeless, like on “Buyin’ Time.” The smart layering of guitar sounds, and Mike Bryant’s chameleonic lead guitar, which reminds me more and more of Steve Cropper’s work with Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Their use of falsetto, which plays as well here — especially on “Kaleidoscopes” — as it does at their shows in the context of call-and-response. And of course Drew Gillihan’s voice, which has more facets, modes and precision than you’d ask of any instrument that didn’t pull A/C power from a wall socket. After hearing this stuff, it’s not hard to see why people considered Black Girls to be promising in the first place, and for those of us who have been following the band, Claire Sinclaire is evidence that our high expectations were well-calibrated. The shoe fits. When it comes to Black Girls, promise abounds.
But there’s a darker side to other people setting expectations for you. Promise begs delivery, just as a promise you’d make to someone you cared about begs to be fulfilled, and a band’s hopes for the future don’t always align with what other people had in mind for them. How many times have you heard people say that a follow-up album wasn’t what they were hoping for? I was thrilled when I heard Vampire Weekend’s Contra, but a good friend who was just as crazy as I was about the group’s debut hated the direction they’d chosen with their sophomore effort. The same thing happens in other areas of life. Friendships dissolve because people thought you’d continue along a certain path. Bosses hire you and expect you to be a person you’re just not. It’s natural for the band-fan relationship to undergo a process of creative destruction — picking up new fans while losing others — and it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to like your new album, no matter how fantastic your last one was. That’s why there’s so much magic in a new release. Each one is pivotal, especially when people are applauding your potential. Musicians get to write their own destinies in a way that few professionals can, and because of how treacherous that type of trailblazing can be, it’s extra rewarding when the path they carve out leads right to your doorstep.
I got to interview Black Girls for an RVA Magazine article when Hell Dragon was being prepped for release, and one of my favorite parts of that experience was talking about what music was important to them. Some of the bands they mentioned — Steely Dan, The Meters and The Temptations in particular — were groups I knew were revered but hadn’t yet explored, and that conversation gave me a big push in the right direction. Just a few days later, I watched an hour-long documentary about the making of Steely Dan’s Aja, which led me to pick up a used copy of the album, which led to more vinyl purchases, and next thing I knew, Steely Dan was a part of my life. I have Black Girls to thank for getting that started. So when I was listening to Claire Sinclaire for the first time and got to the “drop out of high school” line in “Soul Tornado,” with its decidedly Dan-like pastel coloring, it felt profoundly right, like the universe was falling into place. The same thing happened with respect to The Meters via the rhythmic muted guitar that punctuates “Lover,” and The Temptations via the step-ladder backing vocals and quarter-note snare in “Buyin’ Time.” It’s one thing to name-check bands in an interview, it’s another to make an album that gracefully articulates your influences while sounding like you. It’s still Black Girls, it’s still snuff rock, but the component parts feel even more vivid and realized, like when you say the right thing in the right moment and feel certain that you’re unearthing the version of yourself you’ve always wanted to project.
While I’m excited to see the band go in these directions — in some ways this is exactly the follow-up I would have wished for — the truth is that the expectations that Black Girls seem to be meeting are the ones they set for themselves long ago. In the end, that’s the most meaningful kind of promise — the potential you see in yourself and strive to live up to. I feel lucky to be hearing that effort unfold via their albums, and I’ll treasure Claire Sinclaire as a model of promise fulfilled.
I found out yesterday that the man who wrote “Dueling Banjos,” Arthur Smith, died last Thursday at the age of 93. It was one of those moments in which you realize someone has made your life better in a specific and meaningful way, yet you never even knew that person’s name. Now I do, it’s Arthur Smith, and even though it’s too late, I’d like to say thanks.
I don’t remember hearing the song for the first time, nor do I remember sitting down to learn how to play it, but somewhere along the way I worked out a crude, one-guitar arrangement, switching back and forth between octaves to mimic the sound of a second instrument. I played that version roughly a hundred times in the two years bandmate 4eva Doug and I had a regular Thursday night gig at Curbside Cafe in the Fan. I’d just graduated college, and those were two of the best years I’ll ever have. We didn’t even get paid for the first year (unless you count free alcohol, in which case we were paid like investment bankers), but our friends would come and we’d spend three or four hours playing the songs we wrote — even the silly ones — and the cover songs that we loved and knew at least a few chords of. Some of those covers turned into rituals that made those Thursday nights totally distinctive — rituals those nights would eventually feel incomplete without. “Dueling Banjos” was one.
It also came to my rescue once. I was at Mrs. YHT’s aunt and uncle’s house in Harrisburg, PA for my first Thanksgiving with her family. When dessert was winding down, the topic of my band came up, and next thing I knew, a guitar was unearthed from the basement, setting the stage for me to play something. It was a tricky situation, because I’m not crazy about my singing voice and was feeling self-conscious about serenading a room full of future in-laws. Just playing chords felt a little weird, so I tried to think of something instrumental that would work. “Dueling Banjos” did the trick.
It doesn’t matter when or why I’m listening to it, “Dueling Banjos” puts a smile on my face. I know it makes a cartoonish impression on some. I’m not immune — when I see someone (or myself) doing something super-rednecky, I’ll often mock/celebrate it by humming “deedle ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding” out loud or in my head. It certainly is hard to extricate it from the canoe-paddling, pig-squealing, rural nightmare of a movie that made it famous. But “Dueling Banjos” has brought me so much joy over the years — real happiness derived from hours and hours of recreating it — and I wish I’d thought to thank Arthur Smith before he passed. So I’ll say it now. Thank you.
I listened to the vinyl copy pictured above in tribute last night, but the version I fell for is from the Deliverance soundtrack, and it’s posted below. I hope it puts a smile on your face as well.
[Update: About 30 minutes after publishing this post, I found a super-clean copy of the Deliverance soundtrack at Goodwill. Goosebumps ensued.]
So I’ve been keeping a secret from you guys and gals, but I can’t hold it in any longer — Mrs. YHT is pregnant! Knocked up! With child! And not just any child — a girl child! We found out the baby’s sex on a Wednesday in early March, thanks to the doctor-provided crotch shot posted (but closely cropped) above. That’s when I learned that if you go the “Don’t tell me right away — put it in an envelope so we can open it later” route like we did, they don’t just write “It’s’ a girl!” on a sheet of paper and seal it up. They put a picture in there — the picture, if you catch my drift — which struck me as hilariously undignified when I heard that’s what they were doing. Already there are stories I can’t wait to embarrass her with…
I always thought it was bologna when people said they had a hunch about a baby’s sex, but I really did feel like it was a girl. I even wrote a thing a few months back that may or may not see the light of day about wanting a girl, and how it was the picture of paternal devotion painted by Animal Collective’s song “My Girls” that sparked that quiet yearning before Mrs. YHT even started talking about having kids. We would have been happy either way, of course — ten fingers, ten toes, that’s the goal here — but we’re completely over the moon right now. Thinking of names. Thinking about what it’ll be like to meet her.
We opened the envelope that Wednesday evening after I’d gone for a quick run, just before leaving the house for a celebratory dinner. Guess what song played at the restaurant while we were getting ready to order our food?
Say no more, mon amour!
We musn’t dwell. No, not today. Not on Rex Manning Day!
Yes. Rex Manning Day is April 8th. Glue those quarters down, join GWAR and mark your calendars, folks.
What’s with today today?
I thought his name was Warren.
You *did* have hair when you went in there, right?
Say no more, mon AMOUR!
I don’t feel the need to explain my art to you, Warren.
Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.
Damn the man. Save the Empire.
You forgot your thingy!
Let me explain it to you. Mitchell’s the man. I’m the idiot. You’re the screw-up. And we’re all losers. Welcome to Music Town.
Rap, metal, rap, metal, Whitney Houston.