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No Expectations 038: I Got Heaven
20 all-timer songs. Plus, the Ratboys record release and Lily Seabird gigs.
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I published around 6,000 words in the newsletter last week with the Taste Profile interview with Ratboys’ Julia Steiner and the weekly blog that revisited my 2013 Top 10 Albums of the Year list. I’m also in Michigan right now to help take care of a family member who just had surgery. Everyone is fine and healthy, but it makes sense to just have this be a low-lift and breezy week here at No Expectations. Enjoy your Labor Day weekend.
“Gotta Subscribe to the Newsletter for That”
There are few things that annoy me more than Quote Tweet Bait. You’ll log onto social media, and see someone post something mundane and tedious thing like “Name an album you like.” Then, you’ll see that prompt come up dozens of times on your timeline to the point where you don’t even like music anymore. It doesn’t really serve much purpose beyond clogging your feed and juicing the engagement numbers for whoever posted the original tweet. That said, I truly enjoyed this week’s big Music Twitter Question where someone asked users to make a list of their top 20 songs of all time. Credit where credit is due. Seeing folks I follow post their favorites was actually a really heartwarming experience. Everyone has different tastes and their own emotional experiences with music, which rules.
My running joke whenever Music Twitter Quote Tweet Bait comes up over the timeline is saying, “You gotta subscribe to the newsletter for that” instead of actually answering the prompt. It’s not one of my more popular bits. This week, this dude Nick Worrall tweeted, “Make a 20-track comp of your all-time fav tracks, each artist can only feature once.” He clarified the prompt, adding, “Not the 'best' songs, the ones that bring instant joy the second you hear the first note, the ones that give other people the best insight into what stirs your soul.” So, I decided to try it out.
I only gave myself 10 minutes to write it out and decided to not edit my list at all after that timeline. I forced myself to not add in new songs that might be contenders even if I thought of something really formative after I made my initial 20. Sure, I forgot about some favorites including the Beatles but the 10-minute deadline made it more fun and felt more honest in the moment. The “instant joy” part of the prompt threw me off because my list clearly has a bunch of bummers. Also, just going off “instant joy,” I’d include tracks like Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems” over my favorite songs of all time. The part of the prompt that calls these songs “the ones that give other people the best insight into what stirs your soul” feels right though.
Here they are in no particular order. They’re also in playlist form under the “what I listened to” section (which swaps out the not-on-Spotify Jim O’Rourke for Jon McKiel).
Palace Music, “New Partner”
Karen Dalton, “Something on Your Mind”
The Replacements, “Can’t Hardly Wait”
Built To Spill, “Carry the Zero”
Magnolia Electric Co, “Farewell Transmission”
Steely Dan, “Time Out of Mind”
Broken Social Scene, “7/4 Shoreline”
Allen Toussaint, “Soul Sister”
Radiohead, “Everything In Its Right Place”
Tears For Fears, “Everybody Wants To Rule the World”
Whitney, “Valleys (My Love)”
Bob Dylan, “Isis”
Wilco, “Impossible Germany”
Alex G, “Southern Sky”
Big Thief, “Masterpiece”
Frank Ocean, “Nights”
Jim O’Rourke, “All Downhill From Here”
Todd Rundgren, “Hello It’s Me”
Jessica Pratt, “Back, Baby”
Lou Reed, “Coney Island Baby”
Honorable Mentions (The “Shit, I Forgot…” List):
Because I wrote my top 20 off-rip in about 10 minutes, naturally, dozens more songs popped up over the course of the week that feel like snubs. In the interest of transparency and likely some form of mental illness, I’ve compiled them all here.
Cerro Verde, “I Lost a Game,” Trey Gruber, “On Fear,” Donald Byrd, “Dominoes,” Tom T. Hall, “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” V.V. Lightbody, “If It’s Not Me,” The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” PUP, “Reservoir,” Chance the Rapper, “Acid Rain,” Palm, “Heavy Lifting,” Gang Starr, “Work,” Karl Blau, “Fallin Rain,” Sufjan Stevens, “Death With Dignity,” Bon Iver, “Faith,” NNAMDI, “Glass Casket,” Quadron, “LFT,” Kendrick Lamar, “HiiPower,” Mamalarky, “How To Say,” OutKast, ”SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” Tatsuro Yamashita, “Sparkle,” DJ Koze, “Pick Up,” Arthur Russell, “That’s Us / Wild Combination,” Liam Kazar, “On A Spanish Dune,” Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Ffunny Ffriends,” Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Bibo No Aozora,” The Cure, “In Between Days,” The Sea and Cake, “The Argument,” Twin Peaks, “Blue Coupe,” Deeper, “Esoteric,” Deer Tick, “The Dream’s In the Ditch,” Bonny Doon, “Evening All Day Long,” NE-HI, “Since I’ve Been Thinking,” Japanese Breakfast, “In Heaven,” Pavement, “Grounded,” Marvin Gaye, “Where Are We Going,” Jon McKiel, “Mourning Dove,” Kevin Morby, “A Coat of Butterflies,” The Clientele, “Since K Got Over Me,” American Football, “Never Meant,” Souls of Mischief, “93 Til Infinity,” The Meters, “Lovin’ You Is on My Mind,” Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues,” Judy Collins, “Both Sides Now,” Erin Rae, “Mind/Heart,” Sharon Van Etten, “Tarifa,” Sandy Denny, “It’ll Take A Long Time,” The Menzingers, “Good Things,” The Sidekicks, “Day-Staring,” Sam Evian, “Sleep Easy,” Major Murphy, “Mary,” The Districts, “Young Blood,” As Tall As Lions, “Stab City,” Ona, “Ides of July,” Tyler Childers, “Feathered Indians,” Finom, “Icon,” Spoon, “Anything You Want,” The Frames, “Revelate,” Mic Christopher, “Heyday,” Modest Mouse, “Dramamine,” Graptooth and Lala Lala, “Fantasy Movie,” Good Looks, “First Crossing,” Van Morrison, “Did Ye Get Healed,” Neil Young, “Walk On,” The Avalanches, “Since I Left You,” Greg Freeman, “Colorado,” Will Stratton, “Gray Lodge Wisdom,” Damien Jurado, “Ohio,” Fountains of Wayne, “Red Dragon Tattoo,” Stereolab, “Captain Easychord,” Talking Heads, “The Big Country,” Haruomi Hosono, “Sport’s Man,” Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You,” Jess Williamson, “Seventh Song,” Katy Kirby, “Tap Twice,” Sister Sledge, “Thinking Of You” Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour,” Brooks & Dunn, “Neon Moon,” The Band, “Don’t Do it,” Sylvester, “Over and Over,” The Walkmen, “Angela Surf City,” Andy Shauf, “Try Again,” Labi Siffre, “Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying,” Twin Sister, “In The House of Yes,” Jeremih, “Oui,” Slowdive, “Alison,” Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalia,” The Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”
What I listened to:
Mannequin Pussy, “I Got Heaven”
I’ll write more about this band in future issues of this newsletter but the Philadelphia quartet’s new single might be the most impressive rock single of 2023. How the snarling and aggressive verses pair with that soaring chorus and how those melodies stack on top of each other towards the end of the song? That’s how you do it, folks.
Katy Kirby, “Cubic Zirconia”
Katy Kirby’s Cool Dry Place was my AOTY in 2021. I wrote about it then for VICE in one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done. She’s signed to ANTI- and has released a new single called “Cubic Zirconia.” It’s a stunner. We got two Song of the Year candidates out this week.
Gig report: Merce Lemon, Lily Seabird, Hemlock, and Sleeper’s Bell at Sleeping Village (8/24)
Two of my favorite shows of the summer happened last weekend with this stacked gig at Sleeping Village kicking things off. Sleeping Village is my favorite venue: the booking (shoutout Kyle and now Alicia) has always been excellent, the sound is exceptional for a smaller room, and it probably has my favorite patio in Chicago except for Sportsman’s Club.
Really enjoyed Sleeper’s Bell. The next band Hemlock has been a favorite of mine for months and each time I’ve seen them play it’s been solo but still excellent. At this gig, they debuted a full backing band with Free Range’s Jack Henry and Bailey Minzenberger along with Red PK on lead guitar. Their songs opened up for me in a lot of new ways in this context. I’ve probably seen Hemlock play a half-dozen times this year but these songs get better each time. It’s appointment viewing no matter what.
Friend of the Substack and Burlington, VT’s Lily Seabird is an incredible songwriter who put out a really solid LP Beside Myself in 2021. Her band this time featured guitarist Greg Freeman (Lily plays in his band too), bassist Nina Cates, and drummer Zack James (who longtime subscribers know as Dari Bay). They all played a ton of new songs on a forthcoming, unannounced LP. It’s tricky to write about songs that aren’t out yet but my friend summed up one of the heavier new songs perfectly while watching the show with me: “Wow, they really Wednesday’d harder than Wednesday here.”
There’s something really earthy and visceral about Seabird’s voice. It’s dynamic and able to go from a gnarly snarl to a breathy whisper almost violently from song to song. Headliner Merce Lemon played a bunch of new material too, which hits a sweet spot that fans of Katy Kirby, Sadurn, and Allegra Krieger would dig too. I first saw the Pittsburgh songwriter open for Feeble Little Horse in January at Schubas. I was a fan then but I’m an even bigger fan now. I’ll be writing more about Lemon when new songs come out, which I’m told is pretty soon.
Gig report: Ratboys, Hollow Bastion at Schubas (8/25)
Album sequencing is my favorite thing to think about. The right track order can tell the story of an LP better than just amassing good songs. Ratboys’ new one The Window is rightfully getting raves because of how these great songs flow in the context of the entire thing. It’s perfect. The album showcases all of the things the band does so well: the riff-heavy eight-minute rocker, the breezy and twangy pop song, the frenetic punk opener, and the quiet acoustic closer. On Friday, I saw Ratboys play their record release at Schubas. It was also Steiner’s birthday that night. Every vibe was perfect. Few bands sound better live than Ratboys right now and hearing some older tunes from the band took me down memory lane. They’ve always been really good but now they’re just great.
What I watched:
Paths of Glory (1957, dir: Stanley Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick was 28 years old when he made this. When I was that age, I wrote a blog for VICE that had the headline “Out of Respect for Kobe Bryant, Planters Will No Longer Kill Mr. Peanut.” Anyway, this film is a masterpiece. A lot of war movies show the futility, cruelty, and grotesqueness of battle but this one shows how the elites who call the shots are just as grotesque and cruel too.
What I read:
First pitch: a journey through ceremony and baseball (by Leor Galil, Chicago Reader)
At the start of the summer, I told my colleagues about a story idea I had been mulling over for at least a year: I wanted to throw out a first pitch at as many minor-league baseball games as I could manage. Turns out, I could manage a half dozen opening tosses. I threw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Windy City Thunderbolts (on June 2), the Gary SouthShore RailCats (June 10), the Rockford Rivets (July 12), the Chicago Dogs (July 16), the Schaumburg Boomers (July 25), and the Kane County Cougars (August 1).
This pregame ritual stretches back to 1910. Washington Senators’ owner Clark Griffith convinced U.S. president William Howard Taft to toss a baseball to star pitcher Walter Johnson to kick off the team’s opening day game on April 14. (Taft did this from the comfort of his box seat.) Since then, baseball teams from the majors down to the little leagues have enlisted politicians, athletes, and celebrities to participate in the tradition. I felt honored to participate in this grand tradition, even if I had to ask to do it.
H.B.O. Is Tackling Religion in the Most Remarkable Ways (by Elizabeth Nelson, New York Times)
It’s hard to find a doctrine that better explains this country’s political and cultural trajectory over the past 50 years than the so-called prosperity gospel, which reversed the old dogma in one key, seductive way: It came to interpret the attainment of worldly wealth and privilege as proof of spiritual exceptionalism, the rewards of a life lived righteously. Jesus says in Matthew 19:24: “And I say again unto you — it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” But across the end of the 20th century, any number of figures built immense and lucrative flocks by coming at that problem from a very different direction: a promise, perhaps, that you might look great crossing into heaven in a camel-hair suit. That this sentiment aligned so well with politically ascendant strains of conservatism may or may not be coincidence, but the net effect was the same. There is the elevation of wealth as a sign of virtue. There is the sense that if only those in need had been more righteous, they, too, might have been blessed. There is, in short, the long, strange trajectory of American temperament that has, on some level, brought us to HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones.”
The Weekly No Expectations Show Calendar
Thursday, August 31: The Pixies, Modest Mouse, Cat Power at Salt Shed. Tickets.
Thursday, August 31: Beck, Phoenix, Sir Chloe at Northerly Island. Tickets
Thursday, August 31: Together Pangea, THICK, Reckling at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Thursday, August 31: Murder By Death, Laura Jane Grace at Metro. Tickets.
Thursday, August 31 through Sunday, September 3: The Fly Honeys at Thalia Hall. Tickets.
Friday, September 1: Cloakroom, Osi and the Jupiter, Luggage at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Saturday, September 2: Hazel City at Metro’s Top Note Theatre (Two shows). Tickets.
Tuesday, September 5: Alex Cameron and Roy Molloy, Tenci at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Wednesday, September 6: THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, Lynyn at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
No Expectations is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.