Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bands I Like

I've almost never written about music. Musicality occupies a different part of the brain from writing or talking. Musician me barely knows writer me. What's more, it's difficult for me to write about music to a general audience because I know too much.

I may know more about food than you do, but if we were to share a slamming plate of lasagna, you and I would feel an affinity. We'd know we were enjoying the same thing in the same way. But if we were to listen to music together, you'd see me smiling, grimacing, and rollling my eyes at what would strike you as completely random moments. You'd wonder what the hell I was hearing. There's no commonality!

This is why my food writing career was more "successful" than my musical career. Everyone appreciates a scrumptious brownie, but if I were to play something astonishingly beautiful, vanishingly few people would notice, much less appreciate it (watch a thousand people utterly fail to give a crap as Joshua Bell - pretty much the top classical violinist - plays his Stradivarius in the DC metro).

There are jillions of music fans out there, and I can't relate to how any of them hear music. This disturbs me, and leaves me uninterested in writing about it (this article about my mentor, Arnie Lawrence was a rare exception).

But I was recently asked which bands I currently listen to, and a straight question merits a straight answer. So here goes. The following are random faves; my capricious collection of ferreted-out treasure. It's the music I listen to as a fan - as a civilian - not as a musician (which would be a very different list). It's also in random order, and it's eclectic enough that you'll almost surely hate some of it (don't let that dissuade you from checking out ones you don't know!):

Lake Street Dive

I don't love everything these guys do, but the two cuts above give a sense of their (surprising) range. Jazz guys from Boston striking it big in the indie music world, without being the least bit cynical about it. Nice!

Les Claypool Duo de Twang

I'm told Claypool's previous group, Primus, was great, too. I haven't caught up to it yet. But if you use music as wallpaper (something I don't necessarily approve of, by the way), this is certainly one evocative texture worth keeping on hand.

Check out their great record , containing their truly astonishing cover version of the Bee-Gees "Staying Alive".


I loved their first record and also their second (where the above song appeared). Their stuff is far more complex and difficult than it sounds. But what I most love is their abundance of quirks (music must surprise me a little; I can't stand people doing the same-old). Alas, Rubblebucket's more recent stuff seems to shave off many of the quirks, so I've stopped going to their shows.

Dub Apocalypse

Listen to Soundcloud samples , or check out their latest gigs at the Internet Archive.

Great bar band out of Boston, playing jazzy/funky jams on mostly reggae grooves. These guys are great players who are really listening to each other, but it's not precious at all. Enjoyable at lots of levels. Catch their Sunday night gig at Bull McCabes in Somerville to enjoy the best weekly bar band gig I know in America. And they come to NYC a couple times per year. Note: I don't love their new (and only) record.


Slightly pretentious-seeming white guy reggae band with a singer with this weird, jarring, high-pitched voice. This does not sound lke my usual sort of thing! But anything can transcend if it's great enough, and I'll be damned if this isn't a truly great slightly pretentious-seeming white guy reggae band with a singer with this weird, jarring, high-pitched voice. I normally recoil from pretentious-seeming people who appear to be pushing hard to emotionally move me. I don't appreciate manipulation. But I leave every Groundation concert legitimately moved. So maybe it's not pretension, after all. Clearly, they've really got something.

Groundation rarely plays on the east coast, but when they do, I take considerable pains to be there.

Bryan and the Haggards

It's a little complicated. NYC avant garde jazz guys formed a group to pay tribute to the music of Merle Haggard. But there's a shtick....they pretend they really are Merle's band (sans Merle), but took some bad acid before the gig. And this makes them sound a little like NYC avant garde jazz guys.'s basically jazz guys doing an impression of country guys making fun of jazz guys. Woozy-making, hilarious, and well-played. I liked their first record

Ethan Lipton

I honestly don't know why Ethan Lipton never hit it big. His songs are so clever and amusing, so surprising, and so deftly presented, he should have been a sensation long ago. This was the record that hooked me. I haven't heard his newer stuff (this and this), but I'm glad to hear about it and will go buy it now!

Moon Hooch

I don't understand why this works. I've played with many world-class ballsy, aggressive sax players, and they've all been strictly low-dose cases. But Moon Hooch is different. They've attracted a surprisingly wide, loyal following of people who've probably never seen a saxophone before. Their unprecedented irrepressibility, plus the bafflement of seeing lots of kids going nuts over this sort of thing, makes my brain want to explode (it also pings my envy, given that I - sometimes - played like this, myself, in the 1980's....too early....).

Unnamed Swing Group

I don't think they even have a name, but there's a band hosting an open jam session at Mona's Bar (224 Avenue B, near 13th Street) Tuesday nights at midnight. They do 1920's swing, played with great feeling, and it's surreal to me that so many super young people are so totally into it. Once in a while, you might even spot an old fogey trombonist sitting in.

Here's a list of my most oft-played recordings. Here's a list from this past January of some current or recent favorite TV series, and here's a two-year-old massive round-up of all-time TV faves.

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