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No Expectations 048: If The Answer Isn’t Love
8 more albums I didn’t write about in 2022. Plus, new LPs from Sen Morimoto, Skyway Man, and Resavoir.
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8 Albums I Missed in 2022 (Part Two)
Publications will soon start teasing out their year-end lists, highlighting the best music of 2023. It’s much too early for that so the No Expectations Promise is that you won’t see a EOY roundup from me until December at the earliest. In the meantime, you can check out some great albums from 2022 instead. These are full-lengths that I didn’t write about when I published the first newsletter here detailing 60 of my favorite LPs that year. This roundup is the second part of an ongoing series and you can read part one here.
Album cycles are dead. There is no reason why journalists shouldn’t write about, explore, and recommend music that’s no longer timely. Just because an LP’s publicity campaign is over, the music is out forever. Who cares about album anniversaries. So many great efforts from deserving artists get lost in the shuffle because of the industry’s obsession with the new and novel. It’s dork stuff. As a small corrective to how low-attention music journalism can be, these lists serve as a way to take a step back and find out about some albums that aren’t brand new but still worth your time.
Aoife Nessa Frances
Irish songwriter Aoife Nessa Frances wraps delicate folk songs in a psychedelic haze on Protector. While the tracklist occupies a languid, downtempo mood, it’s a mesmerizing, rewarding, and adventurous listen as a whole. Songs like the seven-minute “Only Child” dissolve into a drone-like cloud while “Back To Earth” is grounded by woozy synths that evoke Stereolab. Her 2020 debut Land of No Junction is another LP I gravitated towards more in 2023 but this is as close to a perfect sophomore album as you can imagine.
Don’t be fooled by the sleepiness of Color Green opener “Warbling Sky.” After a few minutes of woozy, country-tinged atmospherics, the song picks up the pace and launches into a muscular guitar jam. It’s electric and sets the tone for the rest of the LP. Formed in New York City but now based in LA, Color Green is a four-piece that thrives in locked-in grooves and Dead-indebted (and Allman-indebted) guitar theatrics. Released via Aquarium Drunkard and Org Music, the LP is equal parts rollicking, spacey, and silky. There’s a lot to dig into here.
This record is gorgeous and actually was one of my favorite albums of 2022 in 2022. That said, it somehow slipped when I wrote the inaugural No Expectations newsletter highlighting my favorite albums of the year last December. Something always falls through the cracks when you’re making lists and unfortunately, it happened here. My bad. Eli Winter is an immensely talented guitarist from Texas who lives in Chicago. Eli Winter is his rustic and enchanting six-song album of guitar-led instrumentals. The songs here are winding and unpredictable but always accessible, even the heady drones on “No Fear” are welcoming. Winter’s joined by a rotating cast of incredible players including Ryley Walker, Yasmin Williams, and the late jaimie branch to name just a few. Over a year later, I still find passages in Eli Winter I haven’t fully unraveled.
Breaking the Thermometer
Haitian-American songwriter Leyla McCalla, who once played in the string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, grapples with home and history on Breaking The Thermometer. Her fourth solo album but the first on the record label ANTI-, McCalla, an accomplished banjo player and cellist, mostly sings in Creole throughout the LP. It’s a full-length that demands to be heard in one sitting rather than bits and pieces, as each song works towards a greater whole. One highlight though is her stunning cover of Brazillian icon Caetano Veloso’s song-of-exile “You Don’t Know Me.” The whole thing is an immersive, entrancing listen.
One of the best shows I saw this year was Mapache at Empty Bottle. I went on a whim only knowing a song or two from the Los Angeles duo’s catalog but their earnest reverence for classic, breezy songwriting stuck with me. I don’t know why it took me so long to get on board but running through their catalog since the gig has been so fun. Roscoe’s Dream from last year runs at 18 songs and almost an hour but it justifies its runtime with unassailable songs from songwriters and co-lead singers Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci. There are at least six tunes that I’d count as potential alltimers including the single “Love Can’t Hold Me” and the gentle stunner “Light My Fire.” Also, do you know how good a song has to be for you to confidently call it “Light My Fire”? I’m not a fan of the Doors but I appreciate this move.
Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears
I’ve seen Nashville’s Sean Thompson play multiple times as a sideman: first as a member of Promised Land Sound opening up for Angel Olsen in 2014, a couple of times backing up Skyway Man, and most recently with Erin Rae. He’s a gifted, tasteful guitarist who thrives on twangy chooglin’ but his easygoing songwriting takes centerstage with his band Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears. For all the impressive riffs and mesmerizing grooves, Weird Ears is a remarkably chill album thanks to Thompson’s lyrics. Here, he extolls the virtues of country air, taking a stroll, going on drives, and even imagines how sick it’d be to live as a cow. It’s a carefree, grounded zone you can settle into for a long time.
Chicago’s Spread Joy call themselves “zig-zag punk” which makes a lot of sense when you listen to their beguiling and frenetic sophomore LP II. At 10 tracks and a breakneck-paced 17 minutes, it’s a swift kick in the teeth of irreverent and Devo-inspired off-kilter tunes. II is consistently full of surprises: one track finds vocalist Briana Hernandez breaking down into hysterical sobs while it gets to track eight to introduce a call-and-response duet. Hernandez is a powerhouse singer and anchors the entire LP with a thrillingly unhinged performance. It rules.
They Are Gutting a Body of Water
Shoegaze is pretty ubiquitous in 2023. Legacy acts like Slowdive and Drop Nineteens are returning with newfound algorithm-based relevance and still vital LPs while younger bands like Hotline TNT, Full Body 2, and Bedlocked are stretching the boundaries of the genre. My favorite of the latter camp is probably Philadelphia’s They Are Gutting a Body of Water. Fronted by Douglas Dulgarian who also runs the influential label Julia’s War, TAGABOW’s songs are explosive and gnarly. The 10 tracks on lucky styles careen violently from mangled guitar tones to actually pretty atmospherics. While there are a ton of great bands occupying similar territory, no act has surprised me more than this band.
I was on Good Beer Hunting’s Podcast to talk Jeppson's Malört
Back in August, I wrote a longform history of Jeppson's Malört, a divisive spirit that’s a popular shot in Chicago and growing nationally. It’s my favorite thing I wrote for a publication all year. The piece ran in Good Beer Hunting, an essential outlet for all things beer and booze. This podcast is run by them too and they were nice enough to ask me to guest and talk about the reporting behind this piece. Link here.
I joined some great writers to talk Gannett’s new Taylor Swift reporter at
Friend of the Substack Parker Molloy is a fantastic writer and a great human being. She runs the essential politics Substack The Present Age and asked me to share my thoughts on Gannett hiring a Taylor Swift reporter and what that might mean for The State of Music Journalism. Jessica Hopper, Steven Hyden, Greg Kot, and many more great folks shared their takes as well.
What I listened to:
No Expectations 048:
Color Green, “Warbling Sky”
Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears, “Saturday Drive”
Hiss Golden Messenger, “Saturday’s Song”
Mapache, “Love Can’t Hold Me”
Sylvie, Marina Allen, “Further Down The Road”
Aoife Nessa Frances, “Emptiness Follows”
Leyla McCalla, “You Don’t Know Me”
Eli Winter, “For a Chisos Bluebonnet”
Resavoir, “First Light”
They Are Gutting a Body of Water, “delta p”
Spread Joy, “Spa Schedule”
Sen Morimoto, “Bad State”
Skyway Man, “Backwards In Time”
Grateful Dead, “Eyes of the World (Demo)”
Gig report: Hiss Golden Messenger, Sylvie at Metro (11/3)
I’ve been a Hiss Golden Messenger fan for over a decade but I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen him live as much as I should’ve. A couple of times his set coincided with seeing a friend’s band and other times, he played when I was out of town. So, whenever I’ve seen M.C. Taylor perform Hiss Golden Messenger songs it’s been solo at a small venue. It’s been a while. I’m glad I finally caught one of the most impressive, exploratory, and fun rock bands going at Metro Saturday night. They’re basically a no-setlist-is-the-same southern fried jam band now. They closed out their impressive set with an encore covering the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower.”
While I loved the headliner, I was there because of opener Sylvie, who is fronted by L.A. songwriter Ben Schwab. I met Ben while writing a piece on Twin Peaks where I hopped in the van and wrote about a part of their midwest tour. Ben’s other band Golden Daze were the opener on that run and it’s been great to run into him either in L.A. or when he’s playing in Chicago with other bands like Drugdealer. This was my first time seeing Sylvie, which pared down songs from their excellent 2021 self-titled LP into a trio format. It was lovely. A tender cover of the Beatles’ was their final song.
Skyway Man, Flight of the Long Distance Healer
Richmond-raised, Oakland-based artist James Wallace aka Skyway Man is an inventive songwriter who makes kaleidoscopic piano-based rock songs. I’ve been a fan ever since I caught him play the Empty Bottle with Friends of the Substack Sun Seeker opening up years ago. It’s been great to see him write the music for Joe Pera Talks With You since that gig and now he’s got a new record called Flight of the Long Distance Healer. The album is a heady odyssey with dense psychedelic flourishes, opaque but evocative lyrics, and songs that undulate to thrilling conclusions. It’s a journey through and through but one that’s pretty easy to immerse yourself into with earworm melodies and hair-raising choruses. That said, nothing can prepare you for the emotional gut punch of “Backwards In Time.” He manages to triangulate the sweet spot between swampy, soulful, and spacey throughout. What a trip.
Sen Morimoto, Diagnosis
Sometimes when you’re writing about music, you can phone it in by comparing something to another artist (i.e. “If you like Teenage Fanclub, you’ll love this album from…”). With Sen Morimoto, it’s hard to find an artist who’s even remotely like this Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist and pop experimentalist. While Diagnosis might be his most accessible album yet and more of a traditional rock record, Morimoto’s adventurous melodic sensibility operates on a different plane than his peers. Opener “If The Answer Isn’t Love” is excellent and highlights how Morimoto can gleefully traverse through moods and genres while always being himself. On “Feel Change,” he sings, “It didn’t used to be content /It used to be art” which might be the lyric of the year. Throughout, his lyrics dissect an irrevocably changed world and how making art is becoming devalued and untenable. Still, he does it and I’m glad he’s making these vital tunes.
Full disclosure: Will Miller, the Chicago-based trumpeter, producer, and songwriter behind Resavoir is a longtime bud but his new album Resavoir is engrossing, forward-thinking, and stunning jazz. (Not to be confused with the 2019 Resavoir LP that’s also called Resavoir). The LP is mostly instrumental but still vastly collaborative with guests that include Jeremy Cunningham, Lane Beckstrom, Macie Stewart, Peter Manheim, Eddie Burns, and many more. On one of the only vocal tracks, Elton Aura and Whitney join on.
What I watched:
The Grateful Dead Movie
My Grateful Dead deep dive is still happening. This 1977 concert film was directed by Jerry Garcia and documents a run of 1974 shows at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena. It’s a fascinating portrait of a band at a crossroads and at their arguable peak. There are ample crowd shots and fan interviews that show just how much of a heavy subculture it was even in its first decade. The footage of the band’s crew setting up their Wall of Sound is worth a watch by itself but the electric performances of “Sugar Magnolia,” “Eyes of the World,” and “Playin’ in the Band” steal the show. There’s something so endlessly rewarding about this band’s catalog, how they view a repertoire as a fluid, living, and adaptable thing, and how they put on a hell of a show. Two years after the Dead filmed this, Martin Scorcese captured the Band’s iconic Thanksgiving performance there in The Last Waltz, which is due for another rewatch over the holiday this month.
What I read:
When Sly Stone fronted a Chicagoland bar band (Jack Riedy, Chicago Reader)
Jack Sweeney was on tour with Sly Stone, and business was slow. His Chicago-based seven-piece, One Eyed Jacks, had accepted a job as the erratic pop star’s backing band in late 1982. Long past his Woodstock-era prime, Stone had all but abandoned live performance seven years earlier. He was now attempting a comeback via small club shows, playing a series of one-night stands.
One Eyed Jacks were used to gigging six nights a week on their own. When Stone was booked on Late Night With David Letterman, Sweeney encouraged him to pitch more performances. “I told Sly ten times, ‘When you go on Letterman, tell them we’re looking for work!’” Sweeney says.
In response, Stone gave out Sweeney’s home phone number on national television. Sweeney definitely hadn’t expected that—but then again, he hadn’t expected to be living and touring with the former superstar in the first place.
The Fight Between Musicians and Venues Over Merch Profits Is a Big Deal With a Simple Solution (Nina Corcoran, Pitchfork)
For artists who speak out against merch cuts, the most common rebuttal is to simply play different venues. There’s nuance to that decision, however, as downsizing to a smaller room limits the amount of fans who can attend. Tomberlin shared an example from another artist who works with her booking agent: When Live Nation theaters refused to budge on their merch cut policies for Mitski’s upcoming tour, her booking agent at High Road Touring reached out to other theaters instead, oftentimes ones with smaller capacities, just to fulfill that she’d get 100 percent of her merch sales. The tradeoff? Mitski fans were pressed to score tickets, prompting her to issue an apology online and promise more tour legs would be announced.
Artists have suggested all manner of solutions: requesting W-9 forms, signing a printed agreement confirming the practice is hypocritical, selling merch from their vans afterwards or opening a pop-up shop down the street. While those fixes might work on a smaller scale, they turn unfeasible for artists ascending into the world of auditorium-sized venues where merch demand rockets. That’s what Rosenstock, who spray-painted blank shirts for Bomb the Music Industry! fans in parking lots after their shows, realized during his transition into medium-sized venues to tour HELLMODE.
The Weekly Chicago Show Calendar:
Thursday, Nov. 9: My Morning Jacket at Chicago Theatre. Tickets.
Thursday, Nov. 9: String Machine, Raavi, Niko Kapetan (Friko) at Gman Tavern. Tickets.
Thursday, Nov. 9: Ajani Jones, Wic Whitney, Kweku Collins at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Thursday, Nov. 9: Angel Du$t, Candy, BIB, 9million at Metro. Tickets.
Thursday, Nov. 9: Walter Etc., Suzie True, xyzxyz at Sleeping Village. Tickets.
Thursday, Nov. 9: Deer Tick, Abby Hamilton at Thalia Hall. Tickets.
Friday, Nov. 10: My Morning Jacket at Chicago Theatre. Tickets.
Friday, Nov. 10: S.G. Goodman, Why Bonnie at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Friday, Nov. 10: Lurk, Talking Meds, Instill, Turquoise, Hold My Own at SubT. Tickets.
Saturday, Nov. 11: Into It. Over It., Owen, Queen of Jeans at Bottom Lounge. Tickets.
Saturday, Nov. 11: My Morning Jacket at Chicago Theatre. Tickets.
Saturday, Nov. 11: Axis: Sova, Luggage, Cel Ray at the Hideout. Tickets.
Saturday, Nov. 11: Gretel Hänlyn, Grace Bloom, Natsuma at Schubas. Tickets.
Saturday, Nov. 11: Slow Pulp, Babehoven at Thalia Hall. Sold out.
Monday, Nov. 13: Simon Joyner, Chris Coleslaw at the Hideout. Tickets.
Monday, Nov. 13: Products Band, Courtesy, Discus at Empty Bottle. Free.
Monday, Nov. 13: Far Caspian, Hala at Subterranean. Tickets.
Tuesday, Nov. 14: Ian Sweet, The Hecks, Mia Joy at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Tuesday, Nov. 14: Helena Deland, Jana Horn at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Wednesday, Nov. 15: Beach Fossils, Turnover, Sword II at Metro. Tickets.
Wednesday, Nov. 15: Baroness, Chat Pile at the Vic Theatre. Tickets.
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