Five Albums to Start Winter With

Five Albums to Start Winter With

As an absolutely exhausting 2016 comes to a close and winter sinks its claws in for the long haul, music is one of the best remedies for the oppressive darkness and cold of the coming few months. I’ve been delving deep into the murky corners of absurd music lately, and I’ve found some real gems that will keep me motivated throughout the harsh months ahead. Hopefully you will find some joy in these as well!

1. Ween: God Ween Satan Live.
On September 14, 2001, just three days after 9/11, New Hope, PA’s most famous export was set to play at John & Peter’s, where their humble roots had been planted, to commemorate the 11-year anniversary of their debut album. Obviously, the tension and misery of the moment was palpable, leading the band to wonder whether they should play or not. After some deliberation, Ween took to the stage and performed a vicious rendering of God Ween Satan in its entirety (minus the three tunes included with the re-release) that to this day lives as one of Ween’s absolute finest moments. Gener’s voice rips through the swirling cacophony of Deaner’s shredding, furiously grungy psychedelia, while Claude Coleman, Jr.’s drums just blow the world apart and Dave Driewitz’s thunderous bass anchors everything, with Andrew Weiss providing keys occasionally. The liner notes on the album include heartfelt thoughts from Deaner himself, and it all adds to the significance and catharsis of the show, for both band and fan. If you’re a fan of high-energy, brutally silly, in-your-face psychedelic punk rock, this is for you.

2. Ry Cooder: Into the Purple Valley
As one of the most ubiquitous names in rock history, Ry Cooder has contributed to work by artists ranging from Captain Beefheart and Taj Mahal to legends like Neil Young, the Monkees, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. Best known for his slide guitar playing, his discography (both solo work and contributions to other musicians’ work and film scores) spans 40 years, and his history is as varied as his style. Into the Purple Valley is a pastiche of ‘60s psychedelia, jug band stomp, and a dash of British invasion, all hunkered down inside a blanket of rustic slide guitar, crunchy blues, and acid-soaked folk. This is music you’d expect to hear by the river under a weeping willow, on a bright, sunshiny day; an inescapable groove that meanders through blues, dreamy pop, and vaudeville revival all within the framework of Ry Cooder’s masterful composition and a distinct “old-timey” feel. I look forward to this being a new good-times record and keeping me smiling throughout winter (and hearing something new on every listen).

3. Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance
The New Wave movement spawned some of the most influential groups in alternative musical history, from Devo and Blondie to the Talking Heads and the Ramones. Pere Ubu sits somewhere comfortably outside that particularly box; while they certainly borrowed from the punk and garage-rock world, their avant-garde influences of Captain Beefheart and Bruce Hampton rang through as well, creating a decidedly unusual yet infectious mélange of danceable rock music that stayed just weird enough to repel radio listeners. Super experimental, groovy, and atmospheric, The Modern Dance is a darkly appealing album that will get stuck in your head as you try and keep up with David Thomas’s yelping vocals while wading through the angular, strangely textured art-punk. Try not to get distracted by the Ornette Coleman-style free jazz breaks and ominous synthesizer washes, because this is one of the most fun albums I’ve listened to in a while.

4. My Morning Jacket: Z
I recently got very heavily into My Morning Jacket; I saw them at LOCKN’ for the first time and wanted to make sure I had at least a passing familiarity with their material. In time, they became one of my absolutely favorite groups; their dedication to making each album different yet distinctly MMJ, Jim James’ electrifying voice, and the way each album makes its own statement is just unreal. In 2005, their critical breakthrough Z was released, containing some of their most far-reaching music to date. While still rooted in their psychedelic Americana niche, MMJ took things wildly out into space with this record, from the bone-crushing “Off the Record” and “Dondante” to the lighter, more delicate “What A Wonderful Man” and “Knot Comes Loose” to the delightfully weird “Into the Woods”. There are no bad songs here, really; the opening trio of “Wordless Chorus”, “It Beats For You”, and “Gideon” presents some of the most skyward, uplifting music I’ve ever heard, and the blissful singalong “Anytime” segues beautifully into the mountainous, rolling “Lay Low”. As a cohesive work, Z covers so much musical ground and maintains its thematic structure through it all. Definitely a highlight of MMJ’s career.

5. Grateful Dead: 30 Trips Around the Sun
When it comes to archival releases, perhaps no band has more to offer than the Grateful Dead. Throughout their thousands of live shows, which garnered them one of the most devoted fan bases of any band in history, both fans and band began producing and trading tapes of live shows in order to preserve those magical nights that you never knew were coming. They obviously realized the importance of having these recordings preserved for posterity, and 30 Trips Around the Sun is one of their more massive undertakings: 80 discs (73 hours) of previously unreleased music, one show from each year of the band’s long strange trip. Included with the set is a bookend of the band’s career, beginning with their first recording session in 1965, a little track called “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)”, and ending with the last song they played live before the death of Jerry Garcia, “Box of Rain”, from Jerry’s final show with the group at Soldier Field in Chicago, July 9, 1995. Breaking this box set down by tracks is ultimately futile, as there is simply so much music here to dig through, and different Dead songs appeal to different Deadheads. That being said, this is simply one of the finest collections of Grateful Dead material to have been released thus far. I’ve only listened to three or four of the shows so far, and drawing it out is half the fun. Finding those tunes that spread out into deep space before landing fiercely back to Earth, those light and bouncy tunes that soothe a weary mind, and the meditative, wandering psychedelic odysseys that made the Dead famous to begin with is just delicious. If you haven’t been a fan before, this is a terrific place to start.

I hope some of this resonates with you. Winter is coming, but it doesn’t have to be bleak. These are just some of the albums that have been getting me by lately, and I will post more throughout the season. Stay warm, and as always, happy listening.

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