R.I.P. Taylor Hawkins

I’ve been avoiding most news sources of late, mostly as a means of maintaining my own mental health, but a vague comment a friend texted me this morning related to Taylor Hawkins sent me back to Google to see what I may have missed.

The first article I found was a tribute to Taylor in The Guardian. It described him as a “joyous presence” which is an apt phrase to represent how I’ve always viewed him, in my limited knowledge of and exposure to the long-time drummer for Foo Fighters. In interviews I’ve seen over the years, Mr. Hawkins always seemed like a nice guy. Down to earth, super positive. A drummer with a mighty energy behind the skins who also happened to play several other instruments and was a decent singer to boot. Kinda like someone else in that band. I wonder who?:)

In my mind, Taylor Hawkins was the blonde-haired doppelgänger of Dave Grohl. As a fan of both these musicians, it’s a real bummer that I could never get into Foo Fighters. I didn’t dislike them — I just felt so completely bored by them. I mostly had no reaction to them. Which is worse than hating them. At least the bands I hate (Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band) left an impression on me. I haven’t forgotten them. The only times I remember Foo Fighters even exist is when they put out a new album and I see it mentioned in a music magazine.

Several months ago, I for some reason came across Taylor’s first solo album (Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, 2006) on Spotify and was stopped in my tracks. It had a late ’70 hard rock throwback sound, but didn’t at all seem derivative. I guess what keeps an album like this from sounding retro or copycat is the songwriting. And the musicianship. This album had both in spades.

I listened to it again today, just to make sure I wasn’t overpraising Hawkins in a moment of personal weakness. Nope. It still held up, holds up, and damnit if a few tears didn’t fall from the corners of my eyes hearing it again. I feel terrible for all the people in his life who are now grieving due to his unexpected passing.

The early news is that it likely was drug related. Which is even sadder knowing that he had overdosed and was in a coma for 10 days back in the mid aughts. But death is death and regardless of how it happened, the reality is, the world will only get to experience Taylor’s contagious exuberance on videos now. Which fucking sucks.

Taylor Hawkins and The Coattail Riders released three albums: the self titled, Red Light Fever (2010), and Get The Money (2019). I’ve been playing all three of them ever since hearing of Taylor’s passing — in fact it’s playing right now as I write this — and I haven’t come across a song I didn’t like. Some of it has a glam rock sound, some is more grungy, but all of it is filled with hooks, memorable riffs and pounding drumming. A few songs sound a bit like mid-era Queen, others lean toward power-pop and some give off a late-70s hard rock vibe. Taylor’s voice, while not especially unique, fits the music well and, to my ears is far more pleasing to the ear than Dave Grohl’s. No offense to DG, who, like I said before, I have mad respect for.

I’m not sure what else to say. The sheer number of rock stars and musicians who have left us way too soon is in the thousands. You’d think I’d be numbed to it by now. But it still hits hard, even when it’s a person I hadn’t particularly followed closely, like Taylor Hawkins.

I probably won’t go back and listen to any Foo Fighters albums in my musical honoring of Taylor, so I’m happy that the Coattail Riders have a few hours worth of tunes to fill that void.

Rest in peace, Taylor.

60 Songs That Explain the ’90s – Expanding to 90

60-Songs-That-Explain-the-90s-cover

In episode 59 of 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s, my current favorite music podcast, creator and host Rob Harvilla announced he would be waxing rhapsodic about 30 more songs from the ’90s, making it an even 90. In other words: 90 Songs That Explain the ’90s. It has a much better ring to it, don’t you think? I’m surprised it wasn’t pitched as such from the beginning.

Rob did discuss this topic a bit during his announcement, saying that if the podcast never reached 60 episodes it would be less humiliating than failing to make 90. But that sounds to me like he never recognized the inherent symmetry of 90 songs about the ’90s; how it could lead seamlessly to 80 songs about the ’80s, 70 songs about the ’70s, and so on. In other words: built in growth.

Learning that my favorite podcast was expanding by 1/3 was the best news I’d heard all day. Prior to hitting play on episode 59 (Tom Petty’s “It’s Good to Be King” from the great 1994 album Wildflowers), before learning of the extended 60 to 90 episode news, a feeling of sadness flooded my bloodstream. No, sadness isn’t exactly right. What was the feeling? Melancholy? A sense of loss? Those don’t capture it adequately either.

I can only describe the feeling by means of comparison.

On September 29, 2013, while watching the series finale of Breaking Bad, I was unable to fully appreciate my last hour spent with Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Skyler and all those crazy, scary Nazi white-supremacists, because I was consumed — nay obsessed — by a feeling, the word or words that even this analogy isn’t conjuring to my satisfaction. Denial? That’s a bit closer but not exactly right.

No longer would I get to experience the incomparable thrill of new episodes from my favorite TV show. No longer would I be spending countless hours each week (or many months, if between seasons) on Reddit boards with fellow Breaking Bad obsessives, discussing what mind-blowing scenarios creator Vince Gilligan might devise for our favorite fictional characters to have to navigate. All I could think about during the shows final moments, as I watched Walter White click the fob remote to his Cadillac Sedan de Ville, customized M60 machine gun mounted in the car’s trunk, a tornado of bullets raining down upon the Nazi headquarters was this: I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S OVER.

Breaking_Bad_Season5_Machine_Gun_Scene_Final_Episode

It seemed inconceivable that any show would ever come close to matching Breaking Bad‘s cinematic, nerve-wracking, jaw-dropping blend of light and dark, hilarity and operatic violence. How would I be able to move forward?

Of course, 18 months later, Breaking Bad’s match would appear in the form of its prequel, Better Call Saul, but I didn’t know that yet. At the time it felt as if I’d lost a best friend. A brother. A fucked up, meth-making, murderous older brother.

Grief! Yes, that’s the word I’ve been looking for!

I grieved what I thought was the end of a TV show, and now a podcast that I loved dearly. A podcast that expressed the complex marriage of music and memoir, of growing up and growing old, in a way that seemed to speak to me profoundly and directly. I think I was elated by the surprise news of the new episodes because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. I wasn’t ready to grieve. And now I didn’t have to.

I love 60 Songs That Explain the 90s; and by extension I suppose I have to say that I love host Rob Harvilla. It’s a love as confusing and messy as romantic love but without the romantic part. Or maybe the romantic part is more akin to unrequited love: an obsessiveness for the person you have an all-consuming crush on, the person who likely doesn’t know you exist. But it’s more than that when it comes to my feelings for Rob. It’s more like the love one can have for an artist who is both brilliant and a natural at their craft — it could be anything: guitar playing, dancing, writing, performing slam poetry. And you admire the hell out of that person and the artistry they bring into the world, but at the same time you hate them because you also consider yourself a guitar player and a dancer and a writer of impassioned and poetic stories. And you’re sure that you’ll never be as good, not even half as good — that your guitar solos will sound unoriginal and passionless, that your sense of rhythm and coordination always a touch out of sync, your stories lacking focus and truth. And bearing witness to someone who has created something that you’ve always wanted to achieve for yourself, fills your body with a confusing and contradictory mix of inspiration and paralyzing imposter syndrome, leaving you torn in so many opposing directions that you’re unable to move at all.

That’s how I often feel listening to Rob Harvilla narrate the first 30 or so minutes of each 60 or so minute episode of 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s. It almost doesn’t matter what song he’s chosen to discuss in any particular episode. It’s beside the point. Often, Rob doesn’t even get to talking about the featured song until 20 minutes into the show. There have been times when I’ve had to pause my device to double check that I’d hit play on the correct episode. But, every time, Rob finds a way to weave all the disparate musical references, personal stories and random asides together, and when it’s done, you realize each bit had been a necessary ingredient for the delicious cake that is the opening monologue that starts every episode.

Rob, also, seems to enjoy talking at length, sometimes great length, about whichever artist/song/moment in history he’s discussing. In episode 56, on Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” Rob admits to the listener that he’s reached the 7000 word count limit that his editors imposed on him, but clearly goes over it without a blink of guilt. I promise this post will be less than 7000 words.

The back half of each episode features an interview with a person who has had a unique relationship with the featured song. Journalists from noted music magazines, fellow podcast producers, musicians, authors, professors. Often his guests are friends that Rob has made during his 20-plus-year career in music journalism (before The Ringer, he’d written for The Village Voice, Spin, Deadspin and others). These interviews are almost always insightful, funny and entertaining, even if occasionally they fall a little flat and don’t add much to what Rob had already presented. The opening monologues, though, they always land for me. Even an episode featuring a song I actively dislike (#46, Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart”), I can come to appreciate in new ways because of the commitment Rob brings to every one of the 60 (I mean 90) episodes. I assume The Ringer has a team of researchers that assist Rob, but his casual, yet uber-specific delivery that often leads into and reacts from the musical snippets he interjects into his storytelling, give it all an improvised feel. Like he’s making it up as he goes.

As an amateur music-themed blogger (see fuzzyswarbles.wordpress.com if that’s not where you are reading this), and having published a couple of music-oriented personal essays, I’d considered myself somewhat in the same creative sphere as Mr. Harvilla. But after discovering the existence of 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s last summer, when the show was about half-way to its initial finish line, and  listening to episode 32 (Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life”), I found myself dying of laughter at Rob’s reading from a compiled litany of publicly-expressed insults aimed at Third Eye Blind’s frontman Stephan Jenkins. I knew that after hearing this and subsequent episodes, it would be a stretch to consider my little blog explorations of life and music to exist within the same galaxy as Harvilla and 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s.

“Stephan Jenkins is such a fucking creepy douchebag. (I feel so much better now.)” —Zach Lind, drummer, Jimmy Eat World

Above is a sample of one the many amazing quotes Rob reads. Even if you don’t know either Third Eye Blind or Stephan Jenkins, watching him in this video below it’s obvious he clearly reeks (or reeked — maybe he’s a humble, self-aware, generous man now) of creepy douchebaggery.

Harvilla’s funny and often touching personal stories, told with a uniquely casual yet clearly practiced verbal delivery, blend seamlessly with his exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) encyclopedic musical knowledge, fitting both into their late 20th century historical contexts. Rob is able to explore both the macro and the micro, who the artist/band’s influences were and who would eventually become influenced by them, as well as weave in his own personal relationship to the song featured, as well as countless other songs by other artists within the same genre and beyond.

This is what I had aimed to accomplish with my blog. Begin each post with a specific song, an ear worm that had refused to leave my brain that day, and then, being open to wherever the muse and the music might take me. Hopefully to a place that ties the song both to memories from my own personal life and to other songs that also had an impact on me.

I’ve written more than 200 blog posts over the past eight years. Did I achieve this lofty goal on any of them? My inner imposter wants to say no, but maybe a few posts along the way did enter the atmosphere of 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s. Maybe it’s not for me to decide.

What is true, though, is that now, after having listened to 59 of 60 available episodes of Rob’s addictive, exploratory podcast, that feeling of grief I’d struggled to name earlier has faded into the distance. I can now relax, knowing that I’ve got another year and 30 more episodes to feed my need for Rob’s unique musical memoir stories.

And if in 2023, when the 90 Songs That Explain the ’90s podcast is complete, and Rob decides to begin production on 80 Songs That Explain the ’80s, and would like a cohost (or a behind the scenes 80s obsessed wizard; I don’t want to risk upstaging my universe-sharing role model), my door will be open.

Best Songs of 2021

2021 was a banner year in terms of memorable, soul-enriching new music. In terms of most everything else? Shit. So thank goodness the planet is filled with talented, brilliant songwriters, artists and bands. When the world burns, floods, tornadoes and tsunamis, we can at least have a great soundtrack on our way out.

And if we get five last hours to live, and our devices have charge left to play music from, perhaps you might choose this list of 75 of the best songs released in 2021 to guide your exit. I’m posting a Spotify playlist below, for those of you not avoiding the evil empire like the plague (I don’t blame you — I’m just a lazy son-of a’-bitch). I’ll go into these songs in more detail in future posts. For everyone else, I’ve compiled an almost-the-same playlist on YouTube, with extras like live versions and alternate tracks.

As always, I do want to hear your thoughts on music in 2021, and what albums and songs brought you joy last year.

Best Albums of 2021

2021’s Best Albums According to Fuzzy Warbles

I’ve been MIA for the past few months, for reasons both lame and boring. (If you must know, it was a mix of severe carpal tunnel, COVID related apathy and not listening to much music.)

But for the past 2-3 months I’ve been cramming non-stop, going through many of the year’s releases I’d intended to listen to and paying attention to how the music MADE ME FEEL. Cause it’s all about feelings, right? Well, mostly. It’s a combo head/heart response for me, but I’m making it a point to lean more toward heart this year. And I figured I should start early to get in a good rhythm.

I’ll put my list of favorite albums first, then go into a bit more about each, with a song-sample video from YouTube between. Stay tuned for a post, or series of posts on my favorite songs of the year.

  1. Weezer – OK Human
  2. Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant
  3. Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic
  4. Turnstile – Glow On
  5. Jon Batiste – We Are
  6. The Reytons – Kids Off the Estate
  7. Joy Crookes – Skin
  8. Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince
  9. Amythyst Kiah – Wary + Strange
  10. Wesley Stace – Late Style
  11. The Vaccines – Back In Love City
  12. Jon Hopkins – Music For Psychedelic Therapy

Okay, that’s the list. I have gone back and changed it close to 20 times. It really is an ever-changing assortment of albums. I did try and cover a range of styles here. From the orchestral power-pop of Weezer, to the psychedelic grooves of Matt Berry’s latest, The Blue Elephant, to Silk Sonic’s debut retro-funk masterpiece, to the hyper-energetic melodic punk-rock of Turnstile, to the jazz-soul stylings of Joy Crookes, to the Pakastani hypnotic grooves of Arooj Aftab, to Amythyst Kiah’s country-tinged rock anthems, to Wesley Stace’s smartly sarcastic piano-led nightclub jazz, to The Vaccines 90s-era angular-dance rock.

It’s near impossible to give any album its proper due when you are trying to listen to literally hundreds of them, many of which didn’t come out until later in the year. So I won’t claim to know every song like the back of my hand, or the names of every musician in every band. You can always look that shit up online if you want the deets.

Before I go into these 12 artists a bit deeper, I thought I’d mention a few albums that I really enjoyed, but maybe didn’t hold up from beginning to end.

Duran Duran – Future Past (It was a grower; I really didn’t like it at first)

Torres – Thirstier (this also could have been titled Future Past with it’s forward-backward vision)

Motorpsycho – Kingdom of Oblivion (a great Norweigan band blending metal, prog and classic rock)

Lou Hayter – Private Sunshine (it is smooth, groovy and retro in all the best ways)

Accept – Too Mean To Die (the best early 80s metal album released in 2021)

Amyl & The Sniffers – Comfort To Me (I’m transported back to the late 70s punk rock scene)

L’Rain – Fatigue – (discovered this in December; it’s challenging and captivating all at once)

All seven of those could have made my top 12 albums, or I could have made a top 20 albums and added these seven and then found a 20th, but I like to keep my readership guessing. I’m crazy like that. So without further ado…

  1. Weezer – OK Human

I am not a huge Weezer fan. Or I should say, I wasn’t a huge Weezer fan before 2021. I truly hated their previous three albums (Pacific Daydream, Teal Album, Black Album), so when I heard they were releasing a new orchestral album, I figured I’d hate this one too. So many of their songs of late had a thick layer of smarm, sarcasm and lazy melodies.

“All My Favorite Songs,” the opening track to OK Human, grabbed me by the lapels, stood me up and forced me to sway side to side. Damn if that wasn’t a bonafide perfect pop song. Maybe it’s a diamond in a pile of horseshit. Nope. The next song, “Aloo Gobi,” one of my favorite Indian dishes, now is a wonderful song as well. The orchestra blends into the song so perfectly, it’s as if they were meant to be part of Weezer all along.

Then, the third song, “Grapes of Wrath,” is somehow even more catchy and perfectly arranged than the prior two. And this continues on for the next nine songs, adding up to perhaps the most surprisingly compact, brilliantly melodic album of 2021. I will say right now that it is Weezer’s best album in their very extensive catalog.

2. Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant

In 2021 I learned that Matt Berry, the British actor portraying probably my favorite character on my favorite comedy (Laszlo on “What We Do In The Shadows”) has been recording original music since 2008. He’s got eight or nine albums, though I’ve only listened to his most recent release, The Blue Elephant.

Again, I haven’t heard his previous music, but allmusic.com says this about Berry’s output: “Matt Berry‘s musical career has bounced from style to style like a hyperactive record collector showing off all their latest finds during a late-night listening session.” So I’m super looking forward to checking out his other albums in 2022!

The Blue Elephant is definitely neck-deep into the psychedelic pudding. It feels like it was recorded in 1968. It’s got lots of old-school organ drones, hypnotic percussion and reverb-laden vocals. That would be cool on its own, but what elevates it above the clever is the stellar songwriting. I won’t lie — being in an altered state helps bring a person deeper into the music, but that could just be me. And I can’t stop picturing Jackie Daytona (if you watch WWDITS you know this reference) sitting in a small London club, playing these songs to an adoring crowd.

3. Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic

Man. I already was a huge fan of both Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, but I still did not expect An Evening with Silk Sonic to be this joyful, this funky, this nostalgic and yet so perfectly today. Throwback is the term being thrown around in most reviews of this album, and yes, its arrow is aimed smack dab at the 1970s, but also the 1960s and also the 80s and 90s to some extent. But it’s not about labeling, not about putting these songs in a box. There’s no way songs this inspired and groovalicious (yes, I typed that) could ever fit inside any container. If you haven’t heard this one yet, you ought to fix that situation, pronto.

4. Turnstile – Glow On

2021 had some excellent releases from punk bands that have returned to the loud and riff-laden hardcore sound of the early 80s scene. I almost chose Amyl and the Sniffers for this list (see above in honorable mention list), but had to go with the band that made me slam dance around the house like I was back in my early 20s and could do such things without having to pop ibuprofen afterwards. It’s worth the aches and pains though, just to release the endorphins, just to lose myself in the music. And Turnstile definitely are able to keep one foot in the past and one foot in the future, taking hardcore to new heights. Some purists would say that this isn’t hardcore and maybe they’re right, but — no, I changed my mind, they’re fucking wrong! This is hardcore played by massively talented musicians. Vocalist Brendan Yates is several cuts above the usual screamy hardcore singer. He also plays keys and has amazing dynamics. Drummer Daniel Fang is a monster behind the skins. Check out this “acoustic” tiny desk concert they did for NPR recently. It really shows off their musical chops.

I hadn’t heard of these guys before Glow On, but I’m planning to acquaint myself with their back catalog for sure in 2022.

5. Jon Batiste – We Are

I don’t usually choose albums by artists that get a ton of grammy nominations, but this year I have to do it. When an album as soulful, spirited and resonant as Jon Batiste’s (band leader for the Stephen Colbert show, in case he looks familiar) We Are gets that sort of acclaim, it’s a good thing. It gives me hope that the Grammys aren’t all about celebrating what is popular and cool. I hear a song like “Tell The Truth” and I’m brought back to the early 70s, during the heyday of Stevie Wonder at his peak. We Are is much more than a throwback album though. It honors the past and brings it forward. There’s a bit of hiphop, a touch of gospel, a dollop of jazz and a whole lot of soul. Trombone Shorty, the legendary trumpetist (trumpeteer?) plays on several tracks here, and the backing band is nothing short of stellar. There isn’t a dud track on the album. The first time I played it from beginning to end, I expected to want to skip a song or two and then never did. And I am not light on the skip button.

I’m sure I won’t watch the Grammys, but I will be happy if Mr. Batiste takes home a trophy or two or three, showing the youngsters how it’s done. (I say this knowing full well he’s probably closer in age to Billie Eilish than to me, but he’s got an old soul.)

6. The Reytons – Kids Off the Estate

South Yorkshire lads, The Reytons, for sure owe more than a touch of their sound to the Arctic Monkeys, but having played both bands back to back, I would say that The Reytons’ songs contain a lot more raw emotion and commentary on the plight of the underclass, than the A. Monkeys. The songs on Kids Off the Estate really hit me in the gut while at the same time making me want to dance about. The songwriting on The Reytons’ debut album is stellar. Every song they play could also work completely stripped down as well, as evidenced by their acoustic version of “Landslide”, below. This band should be huge, if the world ever becomes a fair and just place.

7. Joy Crookes – Skin

No, Amy Winehouse hasn’t returned from the dead. What you are hearing is Joy Crookes, who, in my view, has way more tonal range than Winehouse ever did. Listening to Joy’s jazzy, soul stylings, it’s hard not to believe this wasn’t recorded in the mid 1960s.

Yes, so much of what has captured my ears this past year touches back to music from earlier eras. Call me old, call me old-fashioned, but I can only respond to what speaks to me, and music that honors musical history just feels deeper, more timeless than todays pop artists. It’s music that has staying power. Music that people of any age can find something to lose themselves in. I fully expect to be listening to Skin for many years to come. Joy Crookes is the real deal and I super look forward to all music she puts out, hopefully for decades to come.

8. Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince

I can’t remember where I first learned of Arooj Aftab, the Brooklyn-based, Berklee College of Music graduate, Pakistani musician. It wasn’t from NPR, as I just found this amazing live performance while writing this. I was going to link to my favorite song on Vulture Prince, “Diya Hai,” but this video is so much more impressive. I don’t know what Arooj is singing about (though I could look it up), but I feel what she is singing about, and even more than that, I am transported directly into each and every song by the hypnotic, calming music. In the video there is classical guitar, bass, harp, violin and moog, along with Arooj’s captivating vocals. On the album, the instrumentation is both more and less varied. Some songs are quite orchestrated and others are stripped down and minimal.

This is music to put on if you are stressed out, if you just want to drift away from the craziness of the world and escape for 45 minutes. I’m playing it right now as I type this and it’s taken me 30 minutes because I’m so tranced out. So, maybe it’s not the best for writing.:)

9. Amythyst Kiah – Wary + Strange

I think I first learned of Amythyst Kiah on the podcast Sound Opinions early in 2021. I could be wrong about that. I do remember hearing her song, “Black Myself,” on some podcast and loving the both the strength in the lyrics and the music. It instantly reminded me of the great Joan Armatrading, who also released an excellent new album in 2021 (Consequences). The two artists do share similar vocal tones, deep and resonant, soulful and urgent. But what stands out even more is that both Joan and Amythyst can write songs in a wide range of styles. Rock, country, blues, R&B, folk. Neither can be pigeonholed into category.

Watching this four song set above, it is abundantly clear that although Amythyst may have titled her album Wary and Strange, neither feeling will exist listening to this exceptional release.

10. Wesley Stace – Late Style

Wesley Stace made a name for himself, musically, originally, as John Wesley Harding. Playing off the Bob Dylan reference, Wesley — or JWH — built up a bit of a following in the late 80s, fitting in with the British punk and folk scene, alongside people like Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello. I didn’t realize he’s been releasing music under his real name, for several years. He’s released three albums as Wesley Stace, but, from what I can tell, Late Style is his first where he used his biting, witty charm and humor to accompany a more smoky, cocktail jazz club sound. Though it’s way more lively than that description might imply.

I can’t think of a more sarcastic, perfectly-rendered take on the stupidity and insanity of our current world situation (think: COVID, Trump, Republicans, Global Warming, Brexit) than Stace’s “Well Done, Everyone.”

11. The Vaccines – Back In Love City

I’m not sure there’s a song I’ve played more often this year than The Vaccines’ “Back In Love City.” There’s part of the song that reminds me of the chorus to Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” (Here’s a link in case you want to see if I’m crazy or not). This is a good thing. I think LLVL is a brilliant song. And so is “Back in Love City.”

If The Vaccines can’t break through in 2021 with a band name like that, then they never will. Maybe it’s all the anti-vaxxers that are keeping them from going huge. Their loss. I hadn’t heard of The Vaccines before this album, so I didn’t realize they’d been around for a decade and have five albums. Apparently, fans of their earlier stuff aren’t especially overjoyed with this new, slicker, dancier approach. You probably can tell by this list that slicker and dancier is right in my wheelhouse. What is a wheelhouse by the way? I need to look into the origins of that word.

Anyway, The Vaccines are fun and in 2021 fun was at a premium, or a deficit. It was lacking, let’s say that. So if a band can take me away from the harsh realities of the past two years, then I’m going to follow them to the end of the earth. Because the earth is flat, don’t you see? Oh never mind. I’m a bit delirious from all this typing. I’m just gonna finish this up and post it so I can get back to love city.

12. Jon Hopkins – Music For Psychedelic Therapy

I thought I’d end the list with an album that has helped me immensely with my chronic insomnia. Not just insomnia, but anxiety. My mind is often not a place anyone would want to visit, but unfortunately, I live here, so I’ve got to find tools to make it habitable. Music and guided meditation have been my go-to methods.

But lest you think Music For Psychedelic Therapy some mellow, twinkly massage music, think again. It’s certainly ambient, maybe more in the vein Brian Eno (I just looked it up; he has recorded with Brian Eno), but for my money, it’s more textured and meditative. There’s also something emotional, something expansive and open in the tonal textures. It feels like it could be the soundtrack to….perhaps a psychedelic therapy session?

I hadn’t heard of Jon Hopkins before, but he’s been recording music for more than 20 years, so clearly I’ve been living under a rock. He is a classically trained musician and has in fact written music for several movies and TV shows. Which makes total sense.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Don’t Come Around Here No More


This classic 1985 song by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers has been my earworm tune of the past 24 hours.

I get earworms constantly, as you likely already know if you’ve read any of these posts. I’ve found the most effective way of loosening their grip, is to fully give in to them. To say I can do you one better: I’m going to play you on repeat in the real world, and then write a blog post about you. Sometimes this bludgeoning technique backfires and the earworm intensifies, but more often it’s enough to get the worm to submit.


Usually it’s not the chorus or the first verse that becomes the repeating musical spiral in my head. Sometimes it’s a musical, not lyrical loop. For this song, the earworm was (I use the past tense as a way to keep it from returning to the present….no offense to this great song) the bit: “I’ve given up — Stop!” Then the part right after (around 1:20 in the video), where the female chorus sings “Da da da da da” in a crescendo (or whatever the proper musical term for that technique is). Maybe that is the chorus?


In my brain, I think of the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” part as the chorus and the part that comes right before, this looping part, as a pre-chorus (again, I share my ignorance of song structure nomenclature).


Another bit about this song I hadn’t known, or perhaps had forgotten, is that DCAHNM was written initially by Stevie Nicks and is about her ex, Joe Walsh (of The Eagles, James Gang, etc.), who kept coming by Stevie’s house after their breakup. Something like that. Apparently she brought the song to Tom Petty and was planning on singing on it, but liked Petty’s voice better than her own so gave the tune to him. I could have this all wrong as I learned this on the internet, but even if I do, it’s a great story.


This song is from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ 6th album, Southern Accents, which came out my senior year of high school. The video for DCAHNM played on heavy rotation on MTV, and I remember it being regarded as one of the most technically advanced videos ever made at the time, the special effects going a step beyond what The Cars did with their equally ambitious video for their 1984 hit, “You Might Think.” The trippy, Alice in Wonderland motif added new connotations to the song as well, which I think extended its popularity and widened its audience. Dave Stewart’s production and use of sitar on this song, gave TPATH a more late-era Beatles’ flavor, expanding their sound in a more psychedelic, groovy direction, simultaneously moving forward and backward in time. It’s an approach that could have failed miserably, but, instead made Southern Accents a standout in the Petty canon.

Music is a STATE of Mind

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (9448638di) Sufjan Stevens performs “Mystery of Love” from the film “Call Me By Your Name” at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles 90th Academy Awards – Show, Los Angeles, USA – 04 Mar 2018

Michigan or Illinois?

When Sufjan Stevens released his 5th album, Illinois (Come On Feel The) in 2005, it was two years after his critically acclaimed 3rd album, Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State. It was reported at the time that Sufjan — whose prolific output and consistently inspired songwriting had elevated him to top five artists’ status in my brain’s need to rank such things — would be releasing 48 more albums, each focused on a different north American state.

This concept excited me to no end. I can’t remember exactly why, other than his ambition seemed admirable and if the following 48 albums came anywhere near as brilliant as Michigan and Illinois, then I had the rest of my adult life to get to listen to fantastic new music. I hadn’t really done the math to figure out that I would be 86 by the time the last state album would be released if Sufjan kept to a one-per-year schedule. The chances I would have lived to hear them all were about 50/50 at best.

Apparently, this insane, massive musical project was a joke, or not meant to be taken seriously, and so there have been no subsequent state albums in Sufjan’s musical oeuvre. Though Stevens’ has been no less ambitious over the years, even releasing a 7 hour, 49-song instrumental elegy for his late father (Convocations – I won’t bother including a link) in 2021. I have not heard any of it, and the likelihood of spending more than an hour on it at any point is quite low, especially after reading numerable reviews calling it “unlistenable.”

That said, I do admire Sufjan’s ability to follow his muse and he usually has something important/relatable/complex/profound to say, both in words and composition.

But I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a bit disappointed that my home state of California was never given the Sufjan Stevens treatment. I still hold out hope that he one day might revisit his state project and at least add a few more volumes to this catalog.

He Might Be One Giant

Another artist who attempted to write music about the states of North America was They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell. Though he never completed his project either, Linnell at least was more realistic in his goals: one song per state as opposed to Stevens’ one-album per state plan (or fake plan, as it were).

Linnell’s first foray away from the famous TMBG duo with the other John (Flansburgh), came in 1999 in the form of State Songs, a song-cycle covering 16 different American states. I don’t know if Linnell had intended to write tunes for the other 34, and simply got caught up with TMBG music, or if 16 state songs was the plan all along; but what is clear to me, is that the chances of him returning to this project, even 22 plus years later, and completing it before I reach my 80s (and as Linnell is 7 years my senior, he would likely be in his 90s) is more realistic.

I feel like this album, State Songs, never really got the attention/promotion/notice that it deserved. Listening to it again today, after twenty years, it holds up well. If you are a fan of They Might Be Giants and their accordion-heavy, witty, pop tunes, you will certainly like State Songs. No one can capture world history in song better than TMBG, as evidenced in classics such as “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” and “The Mesopotamians.” So Linnell doing so with 16 US States is right in his wheelhouse.

As everything is streamable these days, I highly suggest that if you haven’t heard State Songs, to go give it a chance right now. Or if not right now, than when you have some free time, preferably soon.

Now is not the time to rush, or make overly ambitious plans.

5 Best Dance Songs 2020

In the horror that was 2020, we had to find escape in music. In dance. In letting the body move unfettered along with music that brought us back to an earlier time of our life, when we could go into the dance clubs and have a few drinks and dress in our velvet best.

A ton of great nostalgic, retro, dance music came out in 2020, music that harkened back to the disco sounds of late 70s and early 80s. Granted, this is the sound that I grew up with, so I’m more likely to gravitate to it, but its been a long time since I can recall so many fantastic dance albums that capture that long-ago spirit more than in 2020. Guess the year wasn’t all bad.

1. Dua Lipa – Levitating

I know Dua Lipa has gotten enough publicity, she doesn’t need more from me (not that this blog is any form of actual publicity), but sometimes the hype is deserved, and like Lizzo in 2019, 2020 was the year of Dua Lipa. I am not comparing the two artists other than to say that both albums are filled with some of the catchiest, smartly-arranged pop-dance songs of the year. I’ve listened to Levitating at least 50 times this year and have yet to get sick of it. It’s stripped-down, funky, with a booty-shaking bass-line, a chorus that is super sing-a-longy, and just makes me happy when it’s on, no matter how I was feeling prior.

2. Kylie Minogue – Supernova

I really have not cared one bit about Kylie Minogue before 2020. I probably had heard a few songs from her but I can’t name a single one. And then she puts out an album titled, Disco, and it’s pretty much exactly that. It takes the groove-oriented elements of 70s disco but places it in the early 80s more electronic dance world. There’s some nicely placed vocoder, some keyboards that might actually be keytar, lyrics that never delve deeper than “I can’t believe I love you like this,” and “tomorrow don’t matter,” and it couldn’t be more opposite of the energy and message that 2020 has been expressing all damn year. Which is exactly what makes it so needed.

3. Jessie Ware – Soul Control

On the heels of Kylie Minogue, Jessie Ware dropped another 1980s disco-dance album entitled, What’s Your Pleasure? And to write a sentence with the words 2020 and pleasure in it seems like an oxymoron. Ware’s album I would say is more mid-80s to late-80s dance, with a bit of Jody Watley or Jellybean Benitez. Very synthesized but with a thick groove, reminiscent of Giorgio Morodor in the production. This album isn’t as slick as Kylie’s Disco album, but the two of them channel that long-ago sound (of my youth) so well, I feel like I’m a teenager again.

4. Haiku Hands – Jupiter

Haiku Hands do dabble in the old-school dance sounds of the 80s, especially in the song “Jupiter,” but I hear a bit of Bananarama in their sound too. Where Bananarama were too cool for school, taking classic songs from the 50s and 60s and updating them for the 80s, Haiku Hands is more playful and silly. These Australian ladies do get a bit more modern (by modern, I mean then take their sound into the 90s and early aughts in terms of their techno-dance sound) on the collaboration with Sofi Tucker “Fashion Model Art,” which I almost chose here, but thought I’d keep it more retro. I laugh every time they sing out, “what do I do with my hands?” on that song. You know what? Fuck it. Here’s the video for that song, which I just think is exactly how this video should be.

5. Adam Lambert – Velvet

Yes, I did include an American Idol finalist in my list. For those not aware of the AI universe, you probably have heard of Adam Lambert, as he has filled in as the most recent vocalist for Queen, admirably taking on the iconic Freddie Mercury. It’s a thankless job, I am sure, but I can’t see anyone else pulling it off better than Adam. But after listening to his most recent solo album, Velvet, it is clear that Adam Lambert is a disco king deep down. It’s tough to get past his hair-style on this video, but the outfits and costumes in this video are fabulous and the song is super catchy and keeps the retro-70s/80s dance vibe of this list going strong to the end.

Top 6 Alt-Rock Songs with A Post-Punk Vibe

I know, that’s a lame description, but I am not sure how to tidily describe the following songs that wore down my digital turntable needle in 2020. Bands that tend to feature guitars, insistent grooves, a touch of Velvet Underground influence and a nice dollop of lyrical humor. Songs that aren’t going to lead to my wife asking me to turn the volume down a little bit. But my advice to you when playing the following songs — turn the volume up a bit! Just a bit though.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cars In Space (Sideways to New Italy)

I think I learned of this Australian quintet from my buddy Jim Hoffmann way back when their first EP came out several years ago. I loved them immediately. They reminded me of The Feelies but with an early R.E.M. vibe. The melodies are super catchy and sunny. Sideways To New York would be the perfect album to put on when you’re driving down the coast or cross-country, and let your thoughts drift off into the clouds. That is, if we are ever able to do that again.

“Cars in Space,” is the song I chose here, and I do love the way the guitars swirl around in my body. In fact, it’s hard to type this while listening to it as my body keeps swaying around in my chair. This song definitely was in my top 10 most played in 2020 and the whole album will likely remain in high rotation in 2021.

Kiwi Jr. – Murder in the Cathedral (Football Money)

I was shocked to find out that Kiwi Jr. are from the Prince Edward Island area of eastern Canada and not Brooklyn, NY or San Francisco. They certainly dabble in the 90s-era slacker rock of bands like Pavement and later, Parquet Courts, but there’s something sweeter and nicer about them. So, I guess it does make sense that Kiwi Jr. is Canadian. Canadians are just nicer than Americans and Brits. I suppose I could have accepted that they’d be from New Zealand as well — the other country of nice-seeming people.

What can I say about their debut album, Football Money? I can say that when I put it on, I skip zero songs. It’s uniformly brilliant from beginning to end (though too short at 29 minutes). I bop my head around with a smile on my face on every song. And the lyrics are intelligible so you can sing along if you like. Like on the song “Gimme More,” you can join in with the lads as they sing, “gimme more gimme more more more,” and feel like you are a member of the band. Happily, they have a 2nd album coming out later this month, so it’s likely I’ll be posting about them again later in 2021.

Boat – To All The Sweaty People (Tread Lightly)

This song makes me miss seeing live music. It also makes me miss being young. When staying out late, getting drunk, heading to a club and dancing around to some high-energy band along with a crowd of other like-minded and sloshed folks seemed the epitome of a perfect night and not the sequence of unpleasant experiences it seems today. Yes, I am old. My bones break more easily now. The stench of unshowered young people is harder to block out. I start to fall asleep around 10pm. And there’s nowhere to park. But support your local music venues, cause they’re really hurting! Had to say that.

When I listen to Boat and especially this song, “To All The Sweaty People,” it takes me back to the mid-90s, when I was a newbie to San Francisco and would head over to Slim’s in the SOMA neighborhood and see whoever was playing. It was the heyday of bands like Pavement and Young Fresh Fellows, sloppy rockers, draped in flannel but not part of the grunge scene at all. They were too stoned and ironic for that. This Seattle quintet has been around for fifteen-ish years, so they wouldn’t have been around during that scene, but they more than capably have grabbed the torch from their forebears, who were my heroes at the time, and I thank them for making me feel young again.

Hockey Dad – In This State (Brain Candy)

Another band/duo that I discovered in 2020, thanks to Metacritic.com. This 2nd Australian entry on the list is further proof that the White Stripes had it right when they showed it only takes two to make a band. Guitars and drums and superb song-writing chops flow abundant across this entire album. Though bass has been overdubbed on the recording, if you see them live (I couldn’t find a live clip for this song, but check this out to see them live, without a bass) you will be amazed by the instinctive interplay of guitarist/vocalist Zach Stephenson and drummer/backing-vocalist Billy Fleming. If you know your alt-rock duos, I would say these guys musically, land somewhere between Japandroids and Jeff the Brotherhood. Oh, and I dunno if their name is a reference to the alt-rock darling Soccer Mommy, but I will choose to think it is for my own amusement.

Shopping – No Apologies (All Or Nothing)

I thought I’d include the live version of “No Apologies” instead of the studio one (which you can hear above if you have Spotify) as it shows how locked in this trio of UK musicians are when they play. The tempo is a bit slower than the album version but I love seeing how all three members sing, the way their voices overlap and intertwine and the clean sound where you can clearly hear the driving bass, angular guitars and tight-as-nails drums. I’ve loved Shopping ever since hearing them on an online mix back in 2015. Even though they are singing about some serious political issues, I can’t help but feel in a better mood after (and during) listening to them.

Ohmme – 3 2 4 3 (Fantasize Your Ghost)

When I first heard Ohmme’s 2020 album, Fantasize Your Ghost, it was a little after midnight, I was in my studio, quite stoned, doing some stretching. Thank goodness I was already on the ground, because 30 seconds into opening track, “Flood Your Gut,” I was floored. Who the hell was this Ohmme? I stood up, using all my strength against the power of this duo’s sound — alternately crunchingly loud and heavy and quiet and minimal — and researched them on the interwebs. Could this intricate, layered music be made by just two people? I thought the same thing with Hockey Dad, but with Ohmme, it definitely sounds like more than two musicians playing here. Perhaps there’s some overdubs or looping, but apparently it’s all played and sung by Chicago musicians Sima Cunnngham and Macie Stewart.

The title of this song, “3243,” refers to the time signature switches that are used. A total prog-rock move for sure, but they do it so effortlessly, all you can sense listening to it is that it sounds really off-kilter but unique and amazing. I tried to count the rhythms on a subsequent listen and my brains began to leak out my ears. So I don’t recommend you do that. Just appreciate this special duo/band that put out one of the best albums of 2020.

Top 5 Heavy Metal Albums of 2020

For my first post of 2021, I thought I’d look back about 35-45 years to a time when heavy metal hued closer to hard rock, when words like Black or Death were more likely to appear in a band’s name and not used to describe a subgenre of heavy metal. I will freely admit that I was a teenage headbanger. I had the requisite jean jacket adorned with pins of my favorite bands (Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Scorpions), the beginnings of a mustache I was convinced made me look “adult,” and the perfect mullet match.

Hard to believe, but some of those formative early metal bands were still putting out new music in 2020. As well as some other not quite so long-in-the-tooth bands, though clearly they were inspired by screaming guitar solos, catchy riffs and down and dirty anthemic fist-pumpers. 2020 certainly sucked, but classic metal would come to my rescue countless times when I just wanted to forget the pandemic, stomp my feet and swing my bald head around until I pulled a muscle and had to pop a flexeril.

1. AC/DC – Power Up

After the death of founding member and riff-master rhythm-guitarist Malcolm Young a couple years ago, it seemed like the death not just of a musical legend, but the death of a band that no one had expected to stick together (let alone survive) for more than 45 years. Yet, not only have AC/DC made it to year 46, but they put out perhaps their most inspired and memorable album since 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip. Power Up, like most every album before it, doesn’t stray from the formula. They still sing about girls, rock, the devil, and partying hard. Song titles such as: “Money Shot,” “Demon Fire,” and “Wild Reputation” are proof that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No one comes to AC/DC hoping that they’ve finally added keyboards or are now tackling the political issues of the day. We come to AC/DC for Angus Young’s stick-in-the-craw guitar riffs. For Brian Johnston’s scratchy, screamy, yet somehow-in-tune vocals. For the metronomic grooves of drummer Phil Rudd. Power Up has all these elements, in spades.

2. Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man

This was maybe a bigger surprise for me than AC/DC in 2020. I haven’t liked much of Ozzy’s album output since his early 80s heyday double shot of Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of A Madman. Single songs here and there I liked, but entire albums, not really. Heavy metal purists might have an issue with Ordinary Man, especially with its inclusion of a couple of duets with clearly non-metal vocalists. I’m referring to Elton John and Post Malone. On paper it sounds like it’d be awful. And a lot of the success throughout the album is due to the backing band of Chad Smith (drums) and Duff McKagan (bass; Guns n’ Roses) as well as the production, though the songwriting from beginning to end on Ordinary Man is uniformly excellent. Sure, the title track, with Sir Elton, is not really Metal, but as a metal ballad, it works just perfectly. And even if Ozzy’s vocals often sound like they’ve been “fixed up” in post to the ‘nth degree, it does still sound unmistakably like Ozzy. I would have included the title ballad here, but this is a heavy metal list, so I went with the more appropriate — and timely — “This is the End.”

3. Anvil – Legal at Last

If you haven’t seen the documentary “This is Anvil,” stop right here, go find it online and watch it. Anvil are Spinal Tap without the exploding drummers. Clearly, they are aware that they bask in all the heavy-metal clichés. You don’t put out an album (their 17th, 39 years after their debut) titled Legal At Last and not have a sense of humor about what you are sharing with the public. But their commitment to their musicianship and ear-splitting volume is unmatched. It makes sense that these guys are from Canada, the land of the funniest comedians on earth (similar to Spinal Tap, now that I think of it). Is Legal At Last better than their other albums? No, not really. Most of them are interchangeable, but in a year like 2020? It’s fucking great.

4. Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament had somehow never broken through my metal barriers until 2020. I’ve been aware of them, but never gave their albums much of a chance for some reason. I’ll explore those reasons in therapy, not here. They do have all the elements of Metal that I love; riffs galore, acrobatic, driving drums. Their sound hews closer to the speedy chug-a-chug of Metallica than the more dynamic, arena-rock of Iron Maiden. Maybe the less-melodic vibe of Testament is what had put them in the Megadeth category for me; bands I could respect but never could fully get into, then forgot about. “Dream Deceiver” breaks that impression for me. It’s super catchy, yet will still scare my parents. Wait, you mean I’m not a 15 year-old, pimply teenager anymore?

5. Primal Fear – Metal Commando

I can’t believe I never knew about Primal Fear until a month ago. I’ve really fallen off my metal throne. But thank goodness I found them, even if late in their career. Primal Fear are the babies of this list, having released their debut in 1998, but they’ve released 16 studio albums since then, the same number as AC/DC, so they might be the hardest working metal band in the business. If you are a fan of early 80s power-metal, such as Judas Priest or Scorpions, and have a sense of humor, you will love Primal Fear. They hit all the metal clichés with such abandon – the claps of thunder, church bells, the operatic, often-unnecessary screams, the references to the devil on seemingly every other sentence — that you have to admire their commitment to the genre’s hallmarks. My favorite here is in the video below, “Along Came the Devil,” which has the perfect sing-along chorus: “Along Came the Devil/ And he tried to break us/ And we stood ground/ Against his evil.” Try to listen to this and not think that the spirit of Spinal Tap lives on.

Fuzzy’s Top 100 Songs of 2020

I know flitting through these disorganized posts can be a chore, so here’s a simple one, that’s simply a list of my favorite songs from 2020, loosely assembled by genre, but hopefully with some semblance of flow — should you happen to have Spotify, a free 7 hours, and want to listen to these tunes.