I reached into my crates and pulled one of my uncle’s records out at random to revisit. Oddly enough, I pulled out Supertramp’s album EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS, which was recorded in Nederland, Colorado, a town that’s not far from my home. I really like the album artwork, a photograph of a snow-covered piano. According to my vigorous online research, the photo was taken at a ski lodge in Boulder County, again not far from my home. Even stranger, the album was released 44 years ago this month! I guess it’s kismet.

After admiring that album cover, I flipped the sleeve over and checked out the tracklisting. My heart kind of sank. The only track I recognized was the first one, “Give A Little Bit.” I guess I should talk a little bit about my relationship with Supertramp: I don’t really have one. Sure, I love all the singles I grew up hearing on classic rock radio, but I’ve never sat down and given one of the band’s albums a listen. My favorite Supertramp song is probably “Bloody Well Right” off of CRIME OF THE CENTURY. Looking into the band’s discography, it seems that 1979’s BREAKFAST IN AMERICA (the album they released right after EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS) is the band’s big album. I’ve heard over half of that album’s tracks on the radio over the years.

But I’m not here to talk about BREAKFAST IN AMERICA. I’m here to discuss EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS. The album opens as I said, with “Give A Little Bit.” Even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, I was surprised at how great those crisp opening guitar chords sound. This is a great way to open a record, though this song feels a decade older than it is. Rather than being a song from the year Star Wars came out, this feels like a 1960’s summer of love song. The core message of the song is very hippy-dippy and runs counter to the slightly snarkier tone of the majority of Supertramp’s songs I’ve heard over the years.

The second track, “Lover Boy,” is a piano ballad with some nice guitar tossed in for good measure. The whole track is drizzled with some syrupy strings that belie the song’s subject: the titular “lover boy.” Apparently this lover boy has read a book on seduction and uses deception to entrap women. I love the jaunty piano riff; it really grows on you and is a nice contrast to the song’s dark themes. A little over halfway through the runtime, the song has a fake out ending and when the song resumes, it’s much darker and more guitar-driven. Usually, I don’t care for tricks like that, but I thought it worked well here.

The third track, “Even in the Quietest Moments,” opens with chirping birds and a clarinet, which is strange but not unwelcome. Soon, however, the track devolves into a mystical-acoustic ballad that sounds like a parody of something off of LED ZEPPELIN III. The lyrics are addressed to God seem to be about the distance between God and man. It’s competent, but I still found myself feeling a little embarrassed to be listening to it. “Downstream” is another piano ballad, and here I should point out that EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS does not feature Supertramp’s trademark Wurlitzer electronic piano. The zany, high energy the Wurlitzer brings to many classic Supertramp singles (“Goodbye Stranger”) is entirely missing from this record. “Downstream” is a simple love song about…taking a boat ride on a Sunday? This straightforward song frankly feels like filler.

The next track,”Babaji”, reminds me very much of George Harrison’s solo track “My Sweet Lord.” The obvious reason is the references to Indian/Hindu spiritualism but also because both songs are about “being strangers” to God and yearning to be with a higher power. Apparently, yes, I had to look this up, “Babaji” is about Mahavatar Babaji, a religious figure Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson greatly admired. There’s probably a lot going on in this song that my ignorance on the subject matter obscures, but for the most part, I think this is a solid enough track. This was released as a b-side, and it feels like one.

EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS finishes up with two really strange tracks. The bizarre piano ballad “From Now On” and the lengthy prog track “Fool’s Overture.” The former has the strangest/laughable lyrics on the album:

“Sometimes I slowly drift away

From all the dull routine

That’s with me every day

A fantasy will come to me

Diamonds are what I really need

Think I’ll rob a store, escape the law

And live in Italy”

I like the lyrical hook and the saxophone paired with it, but this track is goofy. There’s a vocal choir that comes in near the end, too, that is like crazy icing on a batshit cat. “From Now On” is so ballsy that by the end, it convinces me that it’s not insane but actually rather awesome. Well played, Supertramp. “Fool’s Overture” clocks in at 10 minutes and 53 seconds–which, can I say: what the heck, Supertramp? Why not find an extra seven seconds and push this thing to eleven minutes? “Fool’s Overture” is a mishmash of songs/song ideas that also features sound clips of Winston Churchill. According to Wikipedia, it took five years to write, which checks out as this thing is sprawling and probably blows you away when you’re high…but honestly, it felt a bit too generic for me. Yes, a song featuring weird woodwinds, Winston Churchill, and William Blake is generic. Whenever I hear stuff like this, I think about how intricate and challenging it was to create and how eager I am for it to be over. Prog is not my favorite genre by any stretch, so maybe I’m biased, but compared to some of the prog I’ve liked over the years (Gabriel era-Genesis), this doesn’t stack up as anything other than a couple of long songs stitched together.

Overall, EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS reveals a more subdued version of Supertramp I was unfamiliar with. Clearly, the band’s non-singles output is worth checking out, though I get the impression from this album that it’s a bit spottier than I might have thought. Still, half of the songs work for me, and other than “Fool’s Overture,” even the misses on the record were interesting.

Remembering Adam Schlesinger

In the late spring of 2002, I abandoned Missouri and the problems I was facing in the state of misery (Missery) for Nashville, Tennessee. I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle, the same Uncle David this blog is dedicated to. While trying to clear my head and figure out my next move, I spent my days eating ice cream sandwiches, reading Harry Potter books, and listening to the 1996 self-titled debut album from Fountains of Wayne. I found the band reading CD reviews on Amazon and downloaded a few tracks on Limewire (remember those days?). Promptly falling in love, me and Uncle David went down to Nashville’s Tower Records, where I picked up the album on shiny compact disc.

When we got back to his house, we put the album on and sat there smiling like idiots. I distinctly remember saying I thought my Oasis-loving sister would probably dig the record, too. “Oh yeah,” David said, grinning. “She’s gonna love this shit.” And when I got home and played it for her, my sister did like it. For a few months, Fountains of Wayne was our little secret, and then one day, “Stacey’s Mom” exploded on the radio.

I bought WELCOME INTERSTATE MANAGERS, the album that spawned “Stacey’s Mom,” and enjoyed the hell out of that record, too. But after that, I kind of dropped off the Fountains of Wayne bandwagon. Sadly, I was entering my indie rock phase, and the band had grown too popular. This was one of many dumbshit moves I’ve made in my career appreciating music. The lead singer/songwriter of Fountains of Wayne, Adam Schlesinger, was a master power-pop craftsman. His worst songs are all still worth listening to and are frankly better than the output of average bands.

Adam was more than just the dude from Fountains of Wayne, however. He was also in the criminally underrated supergroup Tinted Windows. Tinted Windows was Adam, Taylor Hanson, James Iha (The Smashing Pumpkins), and the legendary Bun E. Carlos. If you have never heard the Tinted Windows album, I implore you to stop reading this and go listen to it. Top to bottom, that record is 100% pure power-pop bliss. It made me change my mind about Hanson: that’s how good it is. Adam also wrote music for films and television shows too. He wrote “That Thing You Do!” for the Tom Hanks film of the same name. That song is without a doubt the greatest Beatles song the Beatles did not write. It’s perfect and made a really good film fucking great. Seriously, that movie only works because Adam’s song is so damn catchy. More recently, Adam had written music for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

On April 1st of last year, Adam died from COVID-19. He was only 52 and still had decades’ worth of catchy-as-hell music to write. I didn’t know Adam, but I did know (and love) his music. As I write this, I’m listening to “Valley Winter Song,” and I’m still blown away by how it’s so heartbreakingly good. Power pop, like pop music in general, is often seen as so disposable. Like the bubblegum it’s so often compared to, we consume its sugary goodness and then throw it away. Adam’s music was sugary but also, at times, biting, satirical, and heartfelt. He wrote about being stuck in boring office jobs, being filled with self-doubt, and having a hard time telling the girl you loved her. I appreciated how cool Adam was because he wrote about being so uncool.

Adam Schlesinger was a titan. Sure, he was a titan in a relatively niche subgenre of rock music, but nonetheless, he was a titan. Lots of people can churn out hit songs, but few craft pop masterpieces like Adam could. Rest in Power(pop).


Lately, I’ve been making a conscious effort to listen to songs and albums outside of my go-to genres (rock, indie rock, classic rock, rock-rock). To that end, I devoured Jessie Ware’s 2020 electro-pop album WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? upon seeing it crop up on not one but two best of the year lists from critics I follow. A few people online described WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? as a “disco” record, which usually would have given me pause; however, I’ve recently discovered that much of the negative attitude towards disco music comes from the fact that disco’s stars were gay and black. I’m not saying everyone who burned disco records in the last 1970s was a homophobic racist, but that certainly factored into some folks thinking. Even if they weren’t 100% aware that this was a reason they “hate” disco. Anyway, that’s probably a post for another time–the bottom line is I felt that despite having grown up in a rock rules/disco drools household, I shouldn’t avoid an album because it’s “disco.”

And frankly, WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? is not a disco album. It’s electronic pop, and yeah, some of the grooves could be used to shake your booty, but I would not call this a “disco” record for the most part. It is very much a throwback album that mixes the disco music of the 1970s with 1980’s electronic/New Wave. I’d never heard of Jessie Ware, so I assumed she was a throwback artist who has been churning out this kind of retro dance music for a while, but upon looking into it, I found that Jessie Ware’s career has been spent crafting perfectly fine, adult-oriented, pop music. I browsed her top tracks on Spotify and none of them not from WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? dip into this chirpy, synthed out sound.

I was around in the ’80s, but I was a kid and spent most of that time listening to the music from the ’60s and ’70s my parents grew up listening to, so my frame of reference here is a bit off. What I’m trying to say is that I only have a vague notion of the artists Jessie is referencing in these songs. “Ooh La La” sounds like a Tom Tom Club song, but that’s probably because I only recently discovered the Tom Tom Club. I recently chatted with my friend Lisa Peers about this record, and she pointed out that the album’s final track, “Remember Where You Are,” bears more than a passing resemblance to a track by The 5th Dimension, “Up, Up and Away.” This was not a song (or band) that I’d encountered before, but upon listening to “Up, Up and Away” I totally hear it. All of this is to say that WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? fascinates me but might bore someone who’s been there and done that when it comes to these genres.

Thematically, WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? is all about being in love and wanting to be with the one (boy) you love. The album opens with “Spotlight” which is about the yearning of being with a lover and not wanting a night to end. “Save a Kiss” and “Adore You” similarly address a lover and are about the desire to be with another person. This primal hunger for love emanates over the record; however, the record careens into darkness as the song’s cuteness gives away to a bit of manic obsession. “Adore You” features a creepy, pulsing beat and the hauntingly repetitive lyrics “I adore you.” Ware’s voice is dipped in a robotic vocal effect that freaked me the fuck out. Sure, we all want to be adored, I guess, but it starts to feel a bit, too much. On “What’s Your Pleasure?” Jessie’s voice alternates between angelically cooing and sexily breathy. This is a woman I want to spend time with. But on “Adore You” she’s essentially chanting “I adore you” and “don’t go.” This is a woman I would be afraid of and would worry that she would kill my daughter’s pet rabbit.

However, this tonal shifting works in the album’s favor because it allows Jessie to really show off her voice. She’s able to take somewhat creepy lyrics and make them sound pleasant (and vice versa). The hooks, for the most part, are fantastic–these are catchy songs. The only exception being “Adore You” which is just her droning “I adore you.” Besides the simplistic nature of that track, my only real complaint about the album is that I think it should have ended with “The Kill.” This track feels like the culmination of the album, wherein the darkness that’s been lurking in the background finally comes to the foreground with Jessie singing, “Don’t kill me with your love.” Instead of letting this dark end cap off the album, WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? ends with the previously mentioned “Remember Where You Are” which sonically veers away from the predominately dark 80’s synths towards the shinny 70’s pop. I considered suggesting this track open the album, which would have sort of worked, but honestly, the track stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t stick to the album’s themes of love, yearning, and obsession.

This is an excellent record and gets better each time I sit down and listen to it. I know I love an album when my favorite track keeps shifting, which totally happened with WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? Jessie Ware was not on my radar, but I’m going to follow her career. I’m particularly interested in seeing where she goes from here. I think it would be interesting if she continued to explore more retro sounds, but I’m not sure how long this could be done without getting stale. Give WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? a spin and let me know what you think.

“Telling” by Sydney Clapp

My friend/ex-coworker Sydney Clapp released her second single today! I am very proud of her and would love it if you went out and gave the track a listen. The track is off her forthcoming EP, CRADLED BY SOUND, which comes out May 27th.

Listen carefully, and you can hear Sydney’s trademark banjo. “Telling” starts fairly mellow but quickly turns into a surprisingly emotional, haunting track. And that final line? It’s a real gut punch.

You can find Sydney on Facebook by going here.

You can stream her song on Spotify by going here.

Watch the music video for “Telling”.

And if you like her music, consider subscribing to her social media channels.

My Pandemic Albums

Last March, I experienced two life-changing events: the world was locked down due to a killer virus, and my second child was born. Both of these things happened within days of each other. The chaos of the pandemic and standard new baby disruption was a potent cocktail that managed to frazzle every one of my nerves. An inept, morally bankrupt president and rioting over the summer did not help steady things. Many of the things I use to cope with were not available to me: friends and family couldn’t help, escaping to work for a few hours was out of the question (work from home), movie theaters were closed, no concerts, no baseball games. I tried reading a few books but only managed to get through one, and it was tough.

Thankfully, by April, I’d started to fall back onto music. Not for the first time, and probably not the last, I found my mental equilibrium thanks to music. Through the misery that was 2020, there were five albums I found myself listening to over and over. These five albums got me through days the air was too smoke-filled to run, and nights my nerves wouldn’t let me fall asleep. They didn’t “save my life” or any cliche like that, but they sure did make life somewhat bearable, even when I was physically, mentally, and spiritually drained.

So here they are, my pandemic albums (in no particular order):

ANAK KO by Jay Som

I just did a write-up on this record so go check that out. This album came out in 2019, but it was new to me. I think Pandora or Spotify randomly recommended “Superbikes” to me in early April. The chill-looking album art intrigued me, so I looked up the rest of the tracks. I wasn’t even halfway through my second listen before I found myself PayPal-ing Jay Som a few bucks. I was so stoked to find music that was genuine and emotional.

DON’T TELL A SOUL by The Replacements:

I love all The Replacements stuff, but I’ve always gravitated to their middle period stuff. The early punk stuff is all aggression without the great hooks and sly lyrics Paul Westerberg would later become famous for. The later albums, including this one, are a little too slick and are mostly Westerberg solo albums, so I usually skipped over them in my re-listens. But nostalgia hits hard, and even though I was definitely not listening to The Replacements in 1989 when this album came out, the 80’s production scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. I’ve always liked the album opener, “Talent Show,” but in 2020, I found myself pulled deeper into later tracks like the romantic “Achin’ To Be” and “They’re Blind.” And even though it’s pretty cheesy (for a Replacements song), I found comfort in “Asking Me Lies” over-the-top radio-friendly production. Seriously, they were begging for a hit, and it’s a bit embarrassing. The song sticks in your brain like gum in your hair–you want it out, but good luck with that. And as I looked at the smoldering ruins of my country and feared for the future I’m leaving my children, I found myself singing “We’ll Inherit the Earth” to them repeatedly.

STOP MAKING SENSE by Talking Heads:

2020 was the year I got into Talking Heads. This happened when I discovered Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott’s music podcast U Talkin’ Talking Heads 2 My Talking Head. This podcast was an album by album review/reassessment of the band’s entire career. Both men are damn funny, so much so that no prior knowledge of the albums was necessary, but it was more fun to listen along with the guys. Their enthusiasm for the band and their music is very infectious (pun intended) and helped me through the pandemic. Going in chronological order, it took several weeks before the show got to STOP MAKING SENSE. During the lead-up, both Aukerman and Scott insisted that nearly every song on this 1984 live album was better than their studio album counterparts. I’m not a big live album guy, so I chalked this up to the fact that both were initially introduced to the band via this record (and the concert film of the same name). STOP MAKING SENSE is not a good or even a great live album…it is the greatest live recording I’ve ever heard.

The band’s approach in the beginning, of having David Byrne take the stage alone for “Psycho Killer” and then slowly adding in the rest of the band, pays off in spades. The energy the band brings to these songs is off the charts. Seriously, you could power a large city for years off of the heat the band produces. Songs like “Slippery People” and “Making Flippy Floppy” fell flat for me in their studio incarnations, but these became some of my favorite tracks via STOP MAKING SENSE. And of course, during the summer of police brutality and social justice protesting, I got really into “Life During Wartime.” That song is great during normal times but took on an eerie prophetic quality during the tumultuous summer of 2020. If you haven’t experienced STOP MAKING SENSE, watch the movie, it’s fantastic.

THE NEW ABNORMAL by The Strokes:

Released on April 10, 2020, this album has the spookiest title of any modern record. I think The Strokes are my favorite modern rock band, even though their output has been sporadic over the last decade. Their first three albums have a very special place in my heart that frankly warrants its own separate post. The previous two albums are a bit spotty and are more influenced by lead singer Julian Casablancas’s trippy electro solo career. That said, I always make time for a new Strokes release, and boy, did I have time in 2020! THE NEW ABNORMAL opens with the classic-sounding “The Adults Are Talking,” which, while subdued, sounds like it could easily slot into any of those first three albums. THE NEW ABNORMAL also features my song of the year, “Why Are Sundays So Depressing?” which catchy as hell and sonically highly textured. It’s like a classic Stones song but from the future. The majority of the album is chock full of lyrical and musical hooks that I find myself singing all the time. I can’t remember the last time a record had me singing the lyrics and the guitar parts.

The Strokes, those cheeky boys, continue the tradition of borrowing from other artists (like when they stole Tom Petty’s “American Girl” on their breakout hit “Last Nite”). Unlike in the past, however, the boys are forced to credit everyone. Thus, Billy Idol and Tony James get a songwriting credit on “Bad Decisions,” which borrows heavily from their 1980 single “Dancing with Myself.” Likewise, the Psychedelic Furs get credited on “Eternal Summer,” which borrows the lyrical melody from the hook in “The Ghost in You.” Despite winning a Grammy, I read several people critical of THE NEW ABNORMAL because of this musical theft, which I get but seems to be missing the point. The Strokes are musical alchemists, synthesizing good old shit into good new shit. At least, that’s how I see it. I’m more okay with it on this record because they’re upfront about it and credit everyone appropriately.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar album closer, “Ode to the Mets.” This one of the best album closers I’ve heard in a decade. It’s a brilliant bit of pop that doesn’t seem to be about The Mets or baseball. I’m not exactly sure what the track is really about; it’s so dense and dreamy. What I do know is that this song has some of the eerily prescient lyrics of the pandemic:

Gone now are the old times

Forgotten, time to hold on the railing

The Rubik’s Cube isn’t solving for us

Old friends, long forgotten

They all wait at the bottom of

The ocean now has swallowed

I’ve listened to this song dozens of times, and that bit never fails to give me goosebumps. I’m not sure which drugs let The Strokes record a pandemic album before the pandemic, but that sure is what THE NEW ABNORMAL feels like. I did not do an Album of the Year list in 2020 because I wasn’t writing about music, but this record definitely would have been my #1 pick.

Lastly, but certainly not least…

MORDECHAI by Khruangbin:

Khruangbin is a three-piece band from Huston, Texas, and three days after my birthday, they released their third album MORDECHAI. Despite being from Texas, MORDECHAI is very much world music, blending American psych-rock, funk, Latin and Indian music. MORDECHAI is the perfect album to listen to while the world is crumbling around you. Somewhat happy and upbeat (“Pelota” and “Time (You and I)”) and also at times peaceful and introspective (“Shida” and “Father Bird, Mother Bird”). If I was the type to take peyote and mediate in the desert, this is definitely a record I would take with me.

MORDECHAI is an expansive album that never gets too shaggy or weird. I have no idea how this record came into my life one day, it was hot as hell in my air conditioner-less home, and it appeared on my wireless sound system shimmering like a mirage in the desert. I was initially perplexed by some of the weird left turns the album makes–like the track “Connaissais de Face,” which is like a bizarre soap opera wrapped in a New Age blanket. It’s really campy but also really sad when you listen to these disembodied voices talk about all the people they miss and how “time changes everything.” MORDECHAI’s an entertaining sonic odyssey that, on its surface, seems to be built for very few people. Still, strangely being made out of all these weird parts, the record is one that I could confidently recommend to just about anyone. And even if they didn’t like all of its weirder parts, they’d surely find something they’d enjoy.

Lastly, people don’t really care about album artwork anymore, but I became entranced by the album art for MORDECHAI. So much so that I found a company selling (bootleg?) art prints of it online. I immediately spent (way too much) for a copy and had it framed. It hangs in my hallway between our hall closet and the guest bathroom:

Now that I stand back and look at all these albums, I’m kinda proud of how weird and disconnected they all are. There were a few other records that got significant airplay during the 2020 portion of the pandemic, but the above five are the ones that hit a critical mass of replays. Hopefully, I’ll never have to put together a list of pandemic albums again. That said, I am grateful for the time I got to spend with this music. There is no doubt in my mind that the latest Strokes record and the Khruangbin release would not have resonated with me as much as they did had I not been forced to cocoon myself in them for months.

ANAK KO by Jay Som

Feeling the crushing weight of impending fatherhood, I sought refuge in the calming musical shores of dream-pop/shoegaze back in 2015. The genre quickly became something of a security blanket for me, which is probably why I dusted off my shoegaze playlist again in mid-2020. Seeking to add new tracks to my shoegaze playlist, I stumbled upon Jay Som’s “Superbike,” which led me to her 2019 album ANAK KO, a record that has become one of my top pandemic albums.

Jay Som is the stage name for California singer-songwriter Melina Mae Duterte who came to the world’s attention in 2016 with her bedroom record, TURN INTO. That self-recorded album launched her career as both an artist and producer. ANAK KO was also recorded and mixed by Duterte but unlike her previous album also features her touring musicians on guitar and drums. I mention this because I’m going to gush about how good this sounds for a so-called bedroom album. And while the record was put together outside of a traditional recording environment, I want to acknowledge that ANKAK KO isn’t just Duterte sitting alone in her room. Although, from what I can tell, much of this might have been recorded in her bedroom. Why does any of this matter? Because ANAK KO is a lush, at times achingly beautiful album; it’s not a D.I.Y. record. This is not a static-laced lo-fi record. ANAK KO is so polished that even if the songwriting weren’t as good, I’d still be impressed.

But the songwriting is really good. The album is ostensibly classic dream-pop, with Duterte’s soft, almost whispered vocals riding a crest of shimmering sonic soundscapes. Lyrically, ANAK KO is like standing over someone’s shoulder and reading their diary; the songs (even the sunnier-sounds ones) are full of the neurotic yearnings and anxiety of a young person. Like most good art, there’s a failed relationship casting a terrible shadow over ANAK KO. This shadow is the glaze on the album’s doughnut, taking good songs and making them fantastic. The creeping drone found part of the way through “Peace Out” is the best, and my favorite, example. Even on tracks that ostensibly sound happy/upbeat, there’s a beating heart of darkness.

Yes, there are lots of ’80s tinged keyboards indicative of dream-pop, but Duterte has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve. She packs the album with all kinds of neat little production embellishments that allow ANAK KO to escape easy classification. There’s a dollop of country guitar on the album closer “Get Well.” The song “Peace Out” sounds like an early Best Coast track. There’s a violin part on “Nighttime Drive” that oddly reminded me of “Blimps Go 90” by Guided by Voices. The quick staccato of guitar chords and hypnotic melody on “Superbike” reeled me in, but it was all these little details sprinkled throughout ANAK KO’s production that kept me coming back.

I’ve seen this album described as a headphones record in reviews, but for me, that’s a bit limiting and undersells the production. Like I stated earlier, ANAK KO is a lush record. It’s painfully personal and brimming with nostalgic flourishes whose sincerity helps it avoid being just another gimmicky throwback. I really cannot overstate how good this album is and eagerly I await Duterte’s next project.