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Songs You Need To Hear Now #30
Talking new Sparklehorse, the return of The Chemical Brothers, and The xx's Romy's debut.
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After the predictably slow August release calendar, the always-stacked run through the end of October kicked off with no less than fifteen albums on my “to listen” list this past weekend. Luckily, I spent some good time in the car and got through most of them, with a few on repeat since. In addition to the new Slowdive album that is still getting a lot of play, here are some highlights from the week and the latest (extra long) playlist:
Sparklehorse - “Kind Ghosts”
I don’t know how this newsletter has been around for three years, and I’ve never had the opportunity to profess my love for Sparklehorse.
In the wake of Radiohead's releasing Kid A almost twenty-three years ago, I was a high school kid looking for anything like that album, which sent music down a refreshing new path. One of the older kids recommended It’s A Wonderful Life by Sparklehorse. Although it’s pretty different, the gloomy record was exactly what I was looking for amongst the death of nu-metal and the arrival of the New York rock revival scene.
Mark Linkous, who essentially was Sparklehorse, often painted a dour yet whimsical picture, but I knew that It’s A Wonderful Life was an immediate hit for my tastes, listening to it on repeat while driving around in my 1987 Volvo 740 (no turbo, but did include a nice manual sunroof to poke the crown of my head out).
Those who know the story of Sparklehorse know that Linkous wasn’t destined for the long road after committing suicide in 2010. Though his final effort, Dark Night of the Soul was fantastic, Linkous always appreciated features (It’s A Wonderful Life finds irreplaceable performances by PJ Harvey on a few songs and Tom Waits). Still, one of every track felt overkill. I wished for just one more Sparklehorse-centric album, and when news arrived that Linkous was almost done with another album, I wondered if I would ever hear it.
Thirteen years later, we have Bird Machine, that exact record released posthumously. Anyone passionate about music knows that albums buried by the dead aren’t always ready for primetime when their estate finally allows them to see the day, but that isn’t the case with Bird Machine. My early take is that the record is every bit as good as vintage Linkous, as it flirts and makes moments for slowcore chamber pop like those found on It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s also full of fuzzed-out melodies like those found on Sparklehorse’s debut record, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, and there’s something for fans of all eras while being easily digestible for newcomers.
Bird Machine is an easy one for my year-end list, and “Kind Ghosts” is the perfect intro to Sparklehorse and the lost project, as Linkous wonders, “Oh, where were you my kind ghosts, when I needed you?” It’s a heartbreaking question that we’ll never have an answer for.
The Chemical Brothers - “Skipping Like a Stone (featuring Beck)” & “The Darkness That You Fear (Harvest Mix)”
I sometimes wonder how my love of house music might be different or non-existent without the Trainspotting soundtrack and the early albums from The Chemical Brothers. Sure, I knew the now landmark albums Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole and their singles from the local college radio station, but a discarded copy of their third album, Surrender, sent me down the beat-filled rabbit hole. Featuring guest spots from Bernard Sumner, Bobby Gillespie, Hope Sandoval, Noel Gallagher, and more, the retro-tinged effort has aged like fine wine, and I highly suggest giving it a spin if it’s been a while/never.
It’s tough to consider their new record, For That Beautiful Feeling, a comeback when The Chems rarely dip in quality, but this baby is fully loaded, especially the back half. I was immediately stoked when “The Darkness That You Fear” dropped as the first single back in the spring, but the different mix found on the album is even better. I can’t pick just one song, so you’re also getting Beck with one of the year's features. While For That Beautiful Feeling takes time to get going entirely, everything from “The Weight” to the close of the record is a must-hear.
Romy - “Loveher”
It’s been a hot minute since I’ve revisited any of the albums from The xx, but I generally remember thinking Coexist didn’t change the formula enough from their excellent 2009 debut, xx. Fast forward to this year, with lead singer Romy releasing singles for her solo debut, Mid Air, and I wasn’t too keen about them in their individual packaging. But listening to Mid Air in full has made me come around to them, and the entire album experience is fantastic. Full of queer club tracks, Mid Air is a celebration of a new era for Romy and demonstrates she stands alongside The xx bandmate Jamie xx’s acclaimed work.
I want to know what you’re listening to this week! Let me know in the comments.
These songs are also included in the ever-popular Good Ass Songs 2023 playlist. At over three hundred songs and counting, it’s the best way to catch up on another excellent year of music!
Can’t pick something to listen to? Throw on Earwormz!
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