2. Tacocat, Lost Time (Hardly Art) Emily Nokes again delivers a sting inside every laugh (“You can bring a boombox,” she trills in “Night Swimming,” “but you can’t play R.E.M.”). Sometimes you can’t tell the sting from the laugh: In “Leisure Bees,” where people work like bees in a hive, the low croon over “What won’t be on your tombstone?” repeated four times, coming out of a bright, clattering beat, is no fun at all. Hilarious songs from “Dana Katherine Scully” to “Men Explain Things to Me” rest on a conviction that essentials of life—a sense of purpose, a belief in yourself, trust in your friends, work worth doing, free time that actually feels free—are not only missing but out of reach. While all that is present in the words Nokes sings, it’s more alive in her tone: She could be singing in French and you’d come away feeling the same. The music is most undeniable when it’s the least simple, though it always seems simple: All through “Talk,” the least obvious, most unsettling song here, textures shift, the tone darkens, and the song and the singer seem to be hiding from each other, not wanting to hear what the other is saying. The music has force, handclaps drive the sound forward, and the person in the song is quietly, resolutely, very consciously losing her mind. By the end she seems to have found it, but who knows?
3. Interview with John McGraw (MSNBC, March 14)“I do find him refreshing,” Keith Richards told Hugo Lindgren of Billboard last year. “He’s cut through a lot of crap, and eventually… well, can you imagine a President Trump? The worst nightmare. But we can’t say that. Because it could happen. This is one of the wonders of this country. Who would have thought Ronald Reagan could be president?” It was one of Richards’ nine lives earlier—26 years earlier—when, at the close of the Rolling Stones’ 1989 American tour, as the promoter Michael Cohl said in a 2015 speech for Pollstar, Richards pulled a knife, laid it on a table, and threatened to cancel the band’s pay-per-view show in Atlantic City if Trump, whose casino was sponsoring the event, didn’t get out of the hall: “One of us is leaving the building, either him or us.”
And now, just after slamming an unlooking Rakeem Jones in the face at a Donald Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on March 10, a proud and beaming John McGraw, the pony-tailed white gun-rights American to a T, is telling the mike in his face “Next time we see him we might have to kill him” as the London Bach Choir’s gorgeous opening passages of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a staple at Trump events, hung in the air in the distant background. It made no sense: Trump’s message is precisely that if he gets to run the show you can always get what you want. Maybe it was payback for that long-ago insult. But I’d seen the McGraw clip a dozen times in the previous few days, without feeling, as I did now, that I was about to throw up, because before I’d never noticed the music. Maybe it was the smashing contradiction of the ugliness of one voice against the beauty of the others. Maybe it was the elegy for a precious, disappearing idealism that bleeds all through the song in the very process of its replacement by an idealism of a different kind. Maybe it was the new line McGraw and Trump had now crafted into the music: “You can’t always get what you want/ You can’t always get what you want/ You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometimes, you might find/ You get what you need/ Or deserve.”
4. Barney Hoskyns, Small Town Talk—Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix & Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock (Da Capo) Substitute “Heroin” for “Wild” and you have the real subtitle. The most depressing music book I’ve ever read.
5. The Americans, “The Right Stuff,” from I'll Be Yours (theamericansmusic.com) From the first rolling guitar notes, carrying sadness and defiance like dust, this sweeps me up: I want to know everything about where that feeling came from, and where it’s going. You’re not surprised when the singer comes in, telling you about how the right stuff is what he doesn’t have, how the place he bet his life on is blowing him out, and as the song careens toward its end he sings louder, the band pushes harder, and what he’s lost seems to cost more with every measure. The Americans are four guys from Los Angeles: This is a tale, somehow steeped in the past, a story that retraces the history of the once ever-advancing, then ever-retreating frontier every time it’s told, that lives up to their name.
The Americans: "The Right Stuff"
6. David Phinney, Abstract California Red Wine 2013 (Orin Swift Cellars, Napa) It’s a mouth-filling, coolly satisfying wine, but I bought it for the label: an overwhelmingly complex collage of images that shot out from the swarm around them for their familiarity and their violation of familiarity—the loyalist soldier falling back with his rifle still in his outstretched arm from the Spanish Civil War, a pensive Elvis with the “Nowhere” and “Boredom” busses from Jamie Reid’s sleeve for the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” tattooed on his forehead—until you’re caught, trying to see every picture at once, to read each one, yes, Beckett Lenin Bobby Kennedy dying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel Tilda Swinton King Mob graffiti Patti Smith naked in a Mapplethorpe photo with someone else’s head Lenin again Hemingway the Adverts a Marlboro Man a Situationist poster from 1966 and scores more that someone else could identify and you can’t. You could spend years and never quite get to the end of it.
“When you’re tired, had a glass of wine, creativity comes out,” said the collagist Phinney, who owns the winery and makes the wine. “After I put my kids to bed I’d spend four or five hours a night working on it. It was much more difficult than I expected. It’s a puzzle.” He collected the images over three years; the piece took three weeks to come together. A passion for Hemingway led to a fascination with the Spanish Civil War; as a Poli Sci major he wrote a lot of papers about communism: “I was a young, idealistic kid.” And “a skateboard rat, a huge punk fan,” and a fashion maven: “I wanted to be just gay enough to understand the female mind.” None of which accounts for the internal gravity of the label—the way it holds together, forming some indecipherable whole. The way it’s a version of the 20th century, shouting at itself.