New Music Friday: Visions by Jose Gonzalez

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about going into today. Adia Victoria’s new album Southern Gothic came out today. The War on Drugs also dropped the single “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” featuring Lucius, which is a song I really like. However, I wrote about songs by both of those artists in recent weeks and didn’t really want to repeat so soon if I could find something else to write about. I did not realize that José González’s new album, Local Valley, came out today until I was listening to NPR’s New Music Friday podcast.

I had been enjoying the song “El Invento”, which was the first single off of the album, since it came out way back in February. I kind of lost track that there was still an album it was attached to that hadn’t been released yet. A lot of this album still has González’s signature rhythmic almost meditative guitar picking sound, but it also expands in new ways. It’s the first time he’s sung in his native language of Spanish on any of his music. Most of it’s English, but there are a couple of songs in Spanish. He also has a few songs where he gets a bit more expansive in his sound. I’m sticking with talking about one that still sounds very much like a José González song to me.

“Visions” is the song they highlighted on the podcast episode I was listening to. It wasn’t the kind of song I wanted to hear this morning, but it turns out it was the song I needed to hear. It’s been a bit of a difficult week in my brain with lots of feelings of loss and depression as so many people seem to have restarted living their lives as if there wasn’t still a pandemic raging, but I still feel stuck in isolation. It was one thing when none of the things I love were happening, but it’s another to know that they’re happening and I’m now just missing out on them. This song with it’s meditative tone and with sounds of birds chirping it in it was the perfect calm as I was on my walk just before sunrise with the ground still wet from rain and crickets loudly chirping around me.

The lyrics that reminded me everything is cyclical and life will continue to move forward in some way and that we are all connected on this world for good or ill. In a time where I feel increasingly angry at the people who don’t want to understand or care that their actions have consequences for other people and thus that connection feels poisoned, this song offered what I felt was a more hopeful interpretation of that connection.

TV Diary

Schmigadoon

Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key play a couple who are questioning their relationship when they wind up stuck in a town called Schmigadoon in which everyone acts as if they are in an old time musical with all the tropes and bursting into songs reminiscent of that era of musicals like Brigadoon, Oklahoma, the Music Man, etc. I thought it was quite enjoyable, but I can imagine it’s really only something that people who are already into musical theatre would like. I’m not sure that they’re going to do any more episodes, but they did leave the ending ambiguous enough that they could do something more if they want to. I would love to see them do another season and tackle the 80s/90s eras of musicals with stuff like Les Mis, Phantom, Cats, Miss Saigon, etc. as those are the musicals I came up with and that made me fall in love with musical theatre even though their synthy spectacle doesn’t do so much for me anymore. It’s certainly musical theatre of a time with many shows that people still find beloved.

Punky Brewster (The Reboot)

They did a reboot of Punky Brewster on Peacock. Punky is now a newly single mom recently divorced from Freddie Prinze, Jr.’s character. There was still a good kind of will they are or won’t they get back together kind of romance going on there. They have three kids of their own and then Punky winds up fostering another young girl who reminds her a lot of herself as a child. Cherry is still around as her best friend who is now running Fenster Hall, the group home that Punky cycles in and out of a few times during the original run. I really like this show, so I’m super bummed that they already canceled it after only one season. I thought it was better than the Full House reboot though it obviously was still living in the same lane as that show. It’s a bummer that there won’t be any more episodes, but I still think it’s worth a watch.

Punky Brewster (OG Version)

Peacock annoyingly doesn’t let you turn off autoplay, so that new episodes of something don’t immediately start when you finish the previous episode. Thus when I was done watching the Punky reboot it immediately started playing the first episode of the original run of the show. I kept watching because I was kind of curious what it was like after all this time. Punky Brewster was not actually a show I watched a lot of as a child. I saw an episode here or there and definitely knew about the show just as a pop culture reference, but I’m guessing I had not seen most of the episodes in the original show. It gets goofier as time goes on, especially in the fourth and final season, but the first couple seasons are actually really something. They tackle some really tough stuff and don’t shy away from the trauma that Punky would have felt being abandoned by her parents (something she’s still tackling in the reboot too). There are a lot of episodes with her worrying that Henry will abandon her too for various reasons as well as some episodes that tackle the issues of a much older man acting as a foster parent for young child that do lead her to be taken away from him for awhile. It’s some tough stuff, and I was surprised by how serious some of the storylines were in an 80s sit-com aimed at children.

Kevin Can F*** Himself

Annie Murphy stars as a put upon wife from a stereotypical sit-com like Everybody Loves Raymond. In the scenes where she’s with her husband Kevin the show is written and directed like one of those sit-coms with the same exact look and feel you get from those types of shows. However, in scenes where she is not with Kevin it is a much darker show in which she has realized how much she hates her life and her husband and starts to plot to kill him. Sometimes I think the premise is better in concept than it is in practice. I could do with less of the sit-com parts. I don’t think you need quite as much of them to get the point across as there actually are. Overall I like the show though and am looking forward to see where they take it in season 2.

This is Pop

This is Pop is a Netflix documentary show about music type things. It kind of weirdly starts out with an episode about Boys II Men, which was only weird because all the other episodes are a little bit more topical rather than about a specific group. It wasn’t bad I just thought it was odd that they led off with an episode that I felt fell outside of the mold of most of the other episodes. They also have ones on auto-tune, music festivals, Swedish pop and Max Martin, country pop music, Britpop, the Brill Building, and protest music. For a music lover like me it was quite an enjoyable little series and something you can certainly dip in and out of if you’re only interested in some of the topics.

Lupin

Everyone was raving about the French thriller Lupin earlier in the year. We just recently got around to watching it and I am quite enjoying it. We still have a couple episodes to go, so I’m not sure what happens all the way to where it leaves off after episode 10 yet. I am finding it a little bit harder to sympathize with Assane the more people he hurts along the way trying to avenge his father. It’s still a fun and engaging show though and I can see why everyone was so excited about it.

SurrealEstate

SurrealEstate is a Syfy show that is better than it has any right to be. Tim Rozon (who you may know as Mutt on Schitt’s Creek or Doc on Wynonna Earp) stars as the owner of a real estate agency that specializes in selling haunted houses by determining what is haunting them and getting rid of it. Sarah Levy (who you may know as Twyla from Schitt’s Creek) stars as a new realtor who just joined the agency after being kicked out of her old job after an affair with the boss went bad. She’s sort of the audience surrogate who doesn’t know anything about this world and has to have everything explained to her. She’s not necessarily a skeptic, but she has a lot to learn and doesn’t always agree with their playbook and often tries to do her own thing. I quite enjoy it. I think the season on Syfy is probably close to being over and since I don’t think most people reading this don’t have cable anyway just search it out whenever it eventually winds up on some streaming service.

Reservation Dogs

Reservation Dogs is Hulu show about a group of four teenage kids living on a reservation in Oklahoma who are trying to find ways to earn enough money to get out. It follows the misadventures they get up to in that quest as well as other issues they’re dealing with in their lives. We’re still only part way through the season, but I’m definitely enjoying it so far. It’s funny but also not dumbed down for a white audience. They don’t explain all the references for people who don’t know what they might be talking about because it’s not their lived experience. Even if you might not know the exact meaning there are enough context clues that you can at least pick up on that there are meanings to some things.

Rutherford Falls

It’s interesting that I can’t really think of a single tv show that is focused on Native Americans and even more actually stars Native American actors and yet this year has brought us two of them. Rutherford Falls is the more sitcommy of the two shows and also the one that is not as good. Mike Schur is one of the creators and his shows often take a season to really find themselves. This show on Peacock does feel like it has some good potential, but the first season most felt like it was figuring out exactly what it wanted to be.

White Lotus

People seemed to love the show White Lotus on HBO. I was not particularly one of them. It did have some moments, but overall I don’t enjoy watching horrible people be horrible. There really weren’t any redeeming characters on this show and even when there were small moments of comeuppance for some of them it didn’t feel great either and they will still able to use their wealth and privilege to go back about their lives even if all that wealth and privilege wasn’t really making them happy either. I never watched Enlightened, which is another HBO show by Mike White that people loved and this show is not making me inclined to do so.

New Music Friday: Introvert by Little Simz

I’m jumping out of my normal wheelhouse today to talk about the song “Introvert” by British-Nigerian rapper Little Simz. Her fourth studio album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was released today. Little Simz was not an artist I was familiar with before this morning when they talked about this album and played a snippet of this song on NPR Music’s New Music Friday podcast. I was immediately taken by the sound. They used words like expansive and cinematic to describe the music on this album and I can’t think of anything better to describe it. I have only listened to this one song so far because I was without my phone this morning and was using an old phone without a SIM card that I had downloaded podcasts for my walk onto via wifi. So I couldn’t pop into Spotify to listen to more of her music. I am definitely interested in digging into it more though. This song is like listening to a movie with it’s huge orchestral sound behind it. I honestly can’t think that I’ve ever heard anything quite like it.

New Music Friday: justified by Kacey Musgraves

Before we talk about Kacey Musgraves’ new song I want to tell you to go listen to Chvrches’ new album, Screen Violence, which dropped today. I would have written about that, but I’ve already had New Music Friday posts on the first two singles from the album so I thought it would be excessive to write about it again. It is the new music I am actually most excited about today. I really, really need people to go get vaccinated so that case rates go down and I can feel comfortable going to an indoor concert with 6,000 other people at the end of November to see them in concert. They are so good live, and I really don’t want to not go. I do have to say that I’m a tiny bit sad that they are about to go on tour to promote the new album since it means that Lauren Mayberry will no longer be at home to post quality cat content on Instagram of her two cats, Cactus and Poppy.

Anyway, now let’s turn to the song we’re actually here to talk about which is the first single off of Kacey Musgraves’ forthcoming album star crossed. It’s going to be her break-up album about her divorce from Ruston Kelly after their short-lived marriage. I always find break-up albums a little weird because it’s taking something extremely personal and making it super public in a way that most people’s break-ups aren’t and of course it’s always a very one-sided perspective on it. I’m not necessarily opposed to them and sometimes they are incredible (hello Rumours), but especially if that’s not the headspace you’re currently in sometimes I find them a little hard to connect to like I did The Chicks’ newest album, which was a whole lot about Natalie Maines’ divorce.

That being said I do like the first song, “justified”, off of Kacey Musgraves’ break-up album. I think she is at the forefront of trying to subvert what genre is and people’s insistence in trying to stick artists into a little box. Her music is definitely not constrained by a single musical genre. She just lets whatever influences her inspire her music no matter where it’s coming from. I’m excited to explore that aspect of the album when it comes out if nothing else.

New Music Friday: Living Proof by the War on Drugs

“Living Proof” is the first single off The War on Drugs’ forthcoming album I Don’t Live Here Anymore. It will be their first album in four years. This song has been out for about a month. I wasn’t into it the first time I heard it, but it’s been growing on me. It wasn’t exactly the more guitar heavy sound I was used to from their previous album and unlike their previous music which even if it started slow would eventually burst wide open. This song does the exact opposite of that. It starts slow and somehow goes even further into itself at the point you would expect that release. Right now it’s starting to feel perfect though as I start to burrow further back into hibernation instead of experiencing that wide open freedom we all thought we were going to have earlier in the summer. It also just feels perfect for this very gloomy, rainy day I’m experiencing as I write this. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the album sounds like when it comes out.

New Music Friday: Too Many Songs Edition

If there was actually something called musical addiction and a 12 step program to treat it, it’s days like today that I would need to consider going to one. I know I’m lucky if the people who read this blog listen to the one or two songs I post on a weekly basis, so I usually try and limit myself. But today I just can’t. There is too much good music out this week and I must write about it. It doesn’t help that I still have the song I was going to post about last Friday but didn’t because I had a rough start to the day and just never got the will to actually write anything after that. It’s been one of the worst weeks I’ve had in a very long time between work stress and life stuff, but at least there’s lots of good new music. As much as I’m going to write about here this isn’t even all of it. There is still a whole new Jade Bird album that released today that I haven’t had a chance to listen to and a fun new single from Elton John and Dua Lipa that I’m not going to write about but that you should listen to.

Magnolia Blues by Adia Victoria

I don’t actually have a lot to say about this song other than I like it. Adia Victoria is doing a lot of work in her music and excellent podcast, “Call and Response” digging into what it means to be a Black woman from the South. This song and video are a perfect example of that. I look forward to the full album whenever it comes out.

Little Things by Big Thief

Big Thief is a band I have tried to like without success for a long time now. All the people at NPR Music seem to love them and would put them at the top of their favorite artist lists, but I just haven’t ever been able to find a way into their music. I even saw Adrienne Lenker, the lead singer, at the Newport Folk Festival and that didn’t help. I’ve tried listening to the albums when they get featured on NPR, but I have never connected with the music and it’s not something I have ever listened to more than once. I really do like their new song “Little Things” though. There is a lot going on sonically, and it’s not always stuff that should make me like it but somehow it works. There is a nice repetitive guitar riff in the background that sort of propels you through the song but there are enough other changes in the music that there’s also interesting things to hear along the way. There’s a lot of distortion in the vocals and guitar work that is normally not my thing but it works for me here as do some of the vocal affectations like heavy breathing and a little roar at one point. IF you asked me about any of these things individually I’d say no thank you, but the sum of the parts combine into something that I dig.

Worry No More by Amos Lee

Amos Lee wrote a new album over a year ago that he intended to release last year at some point, but then of course we all know what happened and he put it off until he could really tour behind it. He finally announced that it’s going to be released in February 2022 and released the first single, “Worry No More” earlier this week. It’s actually a song I already feel intimately familiar with because for the first year of the pandemic he played a show on Instagram Live every Thursday night and this song made frequent appearances. I have to say that I prefer the solo acoustic guitar version I got during those shows to this actual recorded version from the album. I don’t love the sort of background chorus behind his main vocals for the most part. It kicks in at parts in ways that I really like, but the overall use of it isn’t something I’m loving. I’m sure I’ll get more used to hearing it in this form and then I won’t even think about it. It is a song that I still like and certainly the message is something I need right now. It’s a little funny to think that he wrote this song before we all even knew how much we were going to have to worry about.

Nothing Else Matters by Phoebe Bridgers

Metallica is going to be rereleasing The Black Album for it’s 30th anniversary (man that makes me feel old) in September. Along side it they’ve also created a project of covers called The Metallica Blacklist in which there are 53 different covers of various songs from the original album. They’ve been trickling out over the last month or so and I’ve thought about writing about a couple of them but haven’t. Phoebe Bridgers’ version of “Nothing Else Matters” finally got me because it’s a near perfect cover in my opinion. It does everything I want a cover song to do. It puts a whole new spin on it while also still being wholly recognizable as a cover of the original.

Runaway Horses by The Killers (featuring Phoebe Bridgers)

The Killers released a new album called Pressure Machine today. I wasn’t originally planning on writing about it today because I haven’t had a chance to really dig into it yet. From what I know about it, it’s more of a concept album in which Brandon Flowers digs into the experience of growing up and living in a small town as he did growing up in Nephi, Utah. It’s much quieter and not your typical sort of arena rock Killers music. The songs, as this one does are surrounded by audio excerpts of people from the town talking about their lives there. It felt like something I need to really sit down and listen to instead of just having on in the background while I’m working. I heard this song on WXPN this morning on my drive into work today though and decided to go ahead and include it because I really like it and also it features it features Phoebe Bridgers, and you can never have too much Phoebe Bridgers. Much to my own surprise I have really become a big Killers fan in the past year and I’m looking forward to getting to listen to this full album when I can devote my attention to it.

New Music Friday: Steam by Leon Bridges

There a bunch of new music out this week that I’m interested in including albums by Yola, Billie Eilish, Bleachers, and Prince. I haven’t had a chance to really dig into any of those albums yet, so I’m rewinding to last week and talking about a song from Leon Bridges’ new album, Gold-Diggers Sound. I was at the Newport Folk Festival last weekend, so I skipped my regular New Music Friday post. I’ve been looking forward to this album for months, and it totally would have been my topic last week had I written a post so I’m going to talk about it today instead even though there are some other interesting things out today.

I adore Leon Bridges and his soulful smooth R&B sound. He recorded the new album in Gold-Diggers studio, which is also a hotel and bar in Hollywood where he spent the past two years living and recording this album. It is very recognizable as a Leon Bridges album while also incorporating some sounds of more modern R&B. I chose to highlight the song “Steam” because I feel like it melds together Leon Bridges signature sound with more modern sounds but also sounds of 80s R&B. There’s a female background vocal that sounds very 80s to me and that I almost think is a sample of something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Even if it’s not a sample it’s very evocative of 80s R&B music to me. I dig it.

Newport Presents Folk On

I spent the past three days in Rhode Island (sadly I’m still there as I type this waiting to get a tire replaced instead of on the road home) for this year’s modified version of the Newport Folk Festival, which they were calling Newport Presents Folk On. It’s somehow both a smaller and bigger affair. Smaller in that each day was only 50% of normal capacity, it started later in the day, and they eliminated one of the stages so there were fewer performances than usual. With 5,000 people in the audience it was still the most people I’ve been around since before the pandemic. I found out that back in June when things were looking really good instead of trending in the wrong direction Rhode Island told them they could lift the capacity restriction. I appreciate that they stuck with it and honored that they sold the tickets promising 50% capacity. No other festival would have done that, but that is the Newport way. They did require proof of vaccine or a negative COVID test for entry. None of that is foolproof, but it helps. Space at the main stage didn’t feel much different to me because of the fact that they pushed the stage out presumably for more room “back stage”. I still didn’t feel that close to other people most of the time and if anyone was within a couple feet of me I had my mask on. There was plenty of room at the other stage to be far, far away from people if you wanted, which I did. The changes they made also helped free up some of the bottlenecks in the travel lanes between stages so that there wasn’t a lot of crowding like there is most years. Hopefully between that and the fact the festival is all outside with a nice breeze off the bay it was reasonably safe.

Aside from the set up of the festival itself being different this year was different for me because I actually had friends there with me instead of just my begrudging husband who would never do this if I didn’t force him to. One of my friends has also been coming to Newport for years, but we didn’t really know each other before. She was friends with some of my friends and I knew who she was but we never really talked ourselves. We had just started to hang out a little before the last festival and said we’d look for each other, but not even enough to have each other’s phone numbers at that point, and we never did run into each other. Now it’s funny because we’ve become good friends since then and text pretty much every day. She convinced one of our other friends to come for the first time as well as one of her other friends who I had never met before. So the four of us ran around the festival all day and left my husband with our blankets at the main stage where he always just stays. My friend and I are both of the same mind that you should never be somewhere music isn’t playing and since the others were new to the festival they were happy to just follow our lead.

I was a little bummed going into the festival this year because due to the capacity restrictions they extended the festival to six days instead of three so they could still sell the same number of tickets over all. You could buy tickets for Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or both. We just stuck with our normal weekend tickets, but when they started announcing some of the artists who were playing it seemed like everyone I wanted to see was going to be playing one of the weekdays. I would still love to see Allison Russell, Hiss Golden Messenger, Lake Street Dive, Christopher Paul Stelling, Katie Pruitt, and Julien Baker, but in retrospect I’m also glad to have had the experience I did. My advice to people going to Newport has always been go see the people you don’t know and always go to the themed curated sets where you never know who will pop up. I feel like being there on the days I was forced me to do that a little bit more and of course it meant I got to see some wonderful things I would not have otherwise.

I felt like there were mostly (though this is not 100% true) two major things going on during the weekend sets. You had the theme of really trying to give the stage to Black artists (even more so than usual because I don’t feel like the artists are ever all that white even though the audience for sure is) and then sort of doing the opposite of when Bob Dylan shocked everyone by going electric at Newport and having a lot of artists do acoustic stuff. You had Pattersoon Hood and Mike Cooley of the Drive By Truckers billed as the Dimmer Twins doing acoustic DBT songs, Phosphorescent played acoustic for what they said was the first time ever, and although Jason Isbell switches back and forth he did an all acoustic set with just Amanda Shires and Sadler Vaden instead of his full band. It’s funny because he got way more into the electric rock than he has been on his newest album Reunions and now that he finally got to play some of it live for an audience he took all those songs and made them acoustic.

Although I did love Friday and Saturday, Sunday is what really felt like the festival to me. One of the things I love the most about Newport is all the collaborations and people popping into other people’s sets including people not even on the bill and who are just there for the love. That didn’t happen much during the first couple days. I was honestly shocked that Amanda Shires didn’t join Natalie Hemby during her set to sing a Highwomen song since they were both there. All the themed sets where they were inviting artist after artist to the stage happened Sunday. It makes sense because that way some of the Newport die hards like Brandi Carlile, Jess from Lucius, M.C. Taylor from Hiss Golden Messenger, and Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes could be there and overlap both parts of the festival because I’m guessing they’re all going to pop again today aside from the ones that have actual sets to play.

The most Newport set of the weekend of course was the final set on Sunday called Allison Russell’s Once and Future Sound. Instead of having big named band X close the festival, Newport does these curated collaborative sets. And in this case they handed the reins to Allison Russell. I’m not sure how this all came about, but it seems crazy and so very Newport that someone who has been in the folk scene for awhile, but who literally just released her first solo album and is not someone who has been well known up until this point was not only given an open door herself but invited to bring as many other Black women as she could along with her. I thought there might be a little more torch passing and was 100% expecting Mavis Staples to be part of it. They paid homage to her, but she’s playing the Newport Jazz Festival next weekend and was saving herself for that. The final surprise guest of the night though was Chaka Khan because why not having Chaka Khan come out and sing two songs to close out the festival. It was just pure joy. If you could have seen my face behind my mask you would have seen the biggest grin on it. It was the best way to close out the night watching all these wonderful artists having so much fun on stage and the audience totally living it up to. I’m so glad that I got to be back and experience the joy that is Newport again.

Amos Lee at Wolf Trap

Last night I went to my first concert since the pandemic started. If you’ve been around here at all you know how desperately I love and missed live music. I’m trying to take as much as I can in now while there are a lot of shows outside because things do not seem to be going in the right direction COVID wise and I’m not sure how willing I’m going to be to go to inside concerts this winter when there will probably be a lot of young unvaccinated people crowded together.

This was a really nice reentry into the concert world. During June and July Wolf Trap was doing socially distanced shows. You had to buy pods, so we actually paid for a pod of four on the lawn even though there were only too of us. Sadly I don’t know any other Amos Lee fans to take the extra tickets. It’s a shame because he’s great. There was also no opening act so it started at 8 and ended at 9:30, which is just about perfect for me, especially at a Wolf Trap show. I was actually home before my bedtime instead of 12:30 am like usual. I wish all concerts were like that.

Amos is not doing a full tour yet. He just a few random dates here and there, so he was just playing acoustic solo rather than with his band which was a-ok with me. It just felt like a live version of the weekly Instagram Live concerts he did every Thursday night during the first year of the pandemic. It really did help keep me going, and I’m so thankful for him. It felt like the perfect thing that my first concert back was Amos Lee at my favorite Baltimore/DC area venue.

The concert was great. He is super funny joking a lot between songs. He also is one of the few artists I’ve seen that doesn’t come out with much of a set list. He just kind of decides what to play on the fly and also took a bunch of requests from the audience. He played a couple of new songs off his forthcoming album, which has been on hold since the pandemic started. One of the songs he played so much on the Instagram shows that I actually forgot that it’s not already been released.

Amos does a lot of work with Musicians On Call an organization that sends musical artists to hospitals to play for people, and he always seems to be attuned to his fans that are battling a significant illness. He befriended a kid named Jordy over the Instagram concerts and Jordy even came on and played with him one night. Apparently Jordy is from Virginia so he too was at the concert last night and Amos dedicated the song “Kid” to him because they used to play it together. It was a very sweet moment, and I love that song and it doesn’t seem to be one he plays a lot so I was very happy to hear it. He also ended the show with a song called “Charles St.”, which I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard before or at least paid attention to when I did hear it because the Charles Street in reference is actually the Charles Street in Baltimore. He said he had some friends from Baltimore who were also in the audience so he was singing it for them. Most of the song doesn’t have anything to do with Baltimore and you would never know he was referencing that until the very last night until it references Charles Street and I-83 when it definitely becomes obvious to anyone who knows. So that was kind of fun and just reinforced even more that this concert felt like a perfect live music come back.

It definitely reminded me of the joys of seeing live music. Even though it was a limited crowd due to the social distancing they had in place there was a lot of energy in the place. There was a lot of clapping and singing together. All the things that you just can’t experience watching concerts over a computer like I did so often for the past year. I’m so happy to have concerts back in my life. Please go get vaccinated if you haven’t yet, so that I can keep them.

New Music Friday: John Mayer and 98 Degrees

There is plenty of new music from my indie rock/American wheelhouse that I could write about today including new albums by Clairo, Lawrence Rothman, and Willow. Instead I’m going to step outside my wheelhouse and write about the new yacht rock album by John Mayer and a new pop single by 98 Degrees.

I do not like John Mayer. I have never liked John Mayer. He was starting at a disadvantage with me in that his debut album was one of the in-store plays back when I worked at Barnes & Noble. Even if you like music hearing it over and over again while you’re working is bound to make you hate it eventually. I really only ever liked the song “Neon” off that album, so it wasn’t the repetitiveness that completely ruined it for me, but it certainly didn’t help. I just don’t like whatever genre of music John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Jason Mraz fall into. I once took an Uber from San Francisco to the Oakland airport in which the driver had a playlist of those three artists on shuffle and I really wanted to give him a bad rating because of it. Don’t worry; I didn’t.

Anyway, John Mayer has a new album called Sob Rock out today that is homage yacht rock. They were talking about it on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast this morning and someone said “I regret to inform you that John Mayer’s new yacht rock album is actually good.” I like yacht rock a lot and didn’t completely hate the snippet of the song they played, so it made me curious enough to listen to the whole thing. So here’s the thing. The album does indeed very much sound like yacht rock in its musical style. Most of it does feel like an homage to the genre, but sometimes it also feels like it’s making fun of it. I mean if you’re going to make a song that sounds like Air Supply’s “Even the Nights are Better” with the chorus,

Why you no love me?
Why you no love me?
Why you no even care?
Why you no love me?
Why you no love me?
Why you no will be there?

it’s going to sound like a parody. My problem is that ultimately it still sounds like John Mayer. I had the same problem with Taylor Swift’s folklore. Yes, I like the music at the root of the songs better, but the voice is still the same and you can’t get away from that. There are a bunch of instrumental breaks in the songs that I would really be digging and then John Mayer would start singing again and ruin it all for me. Something about his voice is just not for me. If you are a John Mayer fan and you do like yacht rock, you should love this album. And I do have to give him credit for going all in on the aesthetic. I mean the music video for “Shot in the Dark” looks like it came straight out of the 80s.

I also wanted to talk about the new 98 Degrees song, “Where Do You Wanna Go” that I ran across last night. I was just slightly too old to be super into the 90s boy bands. I live in the world so of course I know plenty of songs by the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync, but I was never a groupie and don’t even think I owned any of their albums. During my senior year of college my roommates and I were super into whatever Backstreet Boys album was popular at the time, but in a sort of ironic way, and I don’t think I’m the one who owned the CD (kids ask your parents). I also know that 98 Degrees was a band and I’m absolutely certain that I know one or two of whatever their hit songs were at the time, but I cannot tell you what they were without Googling, which I have not done.

This new song is a bop though. It’s got a great fun, summer pop song vibe that I’m digging. I do have to say that the video makes me kind of sad because it’s like these 40 year old guys still acting like they are 20. It’s a weird thing about being a boy band. People want you to look and sound like you did when they were all in love with you as teenagers, but now you’re old and it just seems like you’re sadly trying to recreate your youth even though what’s happening is that people want you help recreate theirs. So maybe just go listen to the song somewhere without the video and forget that these guys aren’t actually in their 20s anymore and just enjoy the music.