Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: matisyahu

Simple Math 2015: Simple Math Is Dead; Long Live The Gospel According To Saint Me

Simple Math 2015: Simple Math Is Dead; Long Live The Gospel According To Saint Me

Veruca Salt – The Gospel According To Saint Me

In October, a catastrophic hard drive failure cost me my entire iTunes library – more than 85,000 songs collected over just shy of two decades. (Really! I started building my digital library way back in 1996, with live Husker Du bootlegs acquired from online trading communities and handfuls of punk and ska rarities downloaded off of sketchy FTP servers.) It doesn’t seem recoverable, not without a small fortune, and very possibly not with one either. I haven’t quite decided if I intend to try and rebuild or not. The real value of the collection was the stuff that can’t be found online anymore (or ever); the parts I could replace are the parts that it might not be worth replacing rather than just resigning myself to streaming from now on instead of ownership. Fortunately, my life has been far too busy to spend time worrying about, or even contemplating, what to do.

Not that iTunes would have been much use for my tallying this year’s Simple Math anyway – over the last few years, it’s largely become an archive of non-digitally-accessible tracks and a repository of star ratings, something to track what I’ve listened to and whether I’ve liked it, but not how much I’ve listened to it. And the one thing it was most useful for – keeping track of which albums I listened to over the course of the year – fell by the wayside when I ceased to add albums to my library post-crash. Meanwhile, my Spotify “Year In Music” feature didn’t, so far as I can tell, include anything I played offline, and certainly doesn’t include anything I loaded onto my account locally. And my, by dint of not scrobbling Spotify plays on mobile, is essentially useless in providing any kind of accurate stats about my listening this year.

Even if I were able to get accurate stats, I’m not entirely sure what I’d find – this year has been one of change and upheaval, and my listening habits have been as chaotic as the rest of my life. The latter half of 2015 saw the bittersweet end of PropertyOfZack; a relocation from the urban hum of New York City to suburban south Florida; a farewell to six years of steady employment and a hello to a whole lot of question marks; and, six weeks ago, the birth of the most beautiful baby boy in the whole world*. Heck, truth be told, I’ve probably listened to more lullabies – played via Lionel’s sleep machine, by way of a decade-old iPod – in the last month than music the rest of the year combined.

The bottom line is that, after a four year run, the yearly tabulation post I’ve been dubbing Simple Math is, for all practical purposes, dead.

That said, Makeup For The Silence has, from the start, been about music and storytelling and the places where those intersect. And if 2015 is the year I stop quantifying the music side of the equation, it is also the perfect year to shine a light on the storytelling I’ve done. While 2015 marked the end of PropertyOfZack, it also saw me making my presence felt more than ever at Alternative Press, as well as opening up new doors at Myspace and the Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. And though things are currently a little to busy to focus on pitching elsewhere, I’m hoping that 2016 sees my writing finding its way into even more new spaces.

But it wasn’t just my reach that grew this year – I think I’m more proud of the writing I did in 2015 than any year prior. So, instead of recapping my musical stats, I thought I’d instead share some of the highlights of my year behind the keyboard. Welcome to The Gospel According To Saint Me. It’s gonna get loud; it’s gonna get heavy.

It Just Isn’t Like The Old Days Anymore – Mayday Parade [Alternative Press Magazine 328 / November 2015]

My first cover story for a national publication would have been the highlight of my year in any year. Mayday Parade, pop-punk’s ultimate play-it-safe band, bucked all expectations by growing darker and more daring at the exact time when most career-minded bands would have dialed back on the Risk-O-Meter. I suppose the jury is still out commercially – though it’s hard to imagine the band’s camp wasn’t disappointed by the precipitous fall-off in album-over-album sales, the band’s first in three outings – but Black Lines is an artistic triumph, and I think I did justice to the story of the album’s genesis.

Sting, Bon Jovi And More Help Celebrate 80 Years Of Overtown Legend Sam Moore [Miami New Times]

Writing for the New Times might not come with the paycheck or the prestige of other publications, but the access it’s granted me to big-name artists from across the pop spectrum is priceless. This year I had the good fortune to chat with everyone from piano-pop legend Ben Folds, to Emily Haines of Canadian indie heavyweights Metric, to up-and-coming tropical house DJ Bakermat. But none topped interviewing Sam Moore, one half of Sam & Dave, the voices behind “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and a dozen more hits that defined the sound of Memphis Soul at the turn of the ‘70s. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, chatting with a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would have been near the top.

Crawling Towards the Sun: The Hush Sound’s Bob Morris Starts Again, Again [PropertyofZack]

It’s easy to forget that 90% of the hot new buzz bands you’ll have served to you on a platter this year will be the ones flipping the metaphorical, and often literal, burgers a decade from now – talent (and, often, fanbase) be damned. Morris is back with a new project, Le Swish, but he’s also got a new outlook on life and some new ideas on where and how music should fit into it. His story isn’t unique, but you might think it was for how rarely it gets told.

SXSW Wrap-Up: These Things Happened. These Things Mattered. [PropertyOfZack]

South By South West is a strange chimaera, a beast of many looks that serves many masters, but it often only gets photographed from its “good” side. Truth is, there’s a lot more than happens at the industry’s yearly bacchanal than the anointment of next big things and the grousing of never-will-bes. There are other stories to be told and, while they’re not sexy, they’re frighteningly easy to find. But when the hype-makers are the ones charged with creating the official record, they develop a nasty habit of only recording what’s hyped. SXSW is so much more than anyone seems to talk about, and it deserves better treatment. With what will be a 3-month-old son, I’ll be missing out on SXSW 2016, but you can be sure my heart will be there, in all the corners the cool kids aren’t.

Andrew W.K. Isn’t Partying Hard Anymore, He’s Got Too Much Else Going On [Myspace]

Conversing with Andrew W.K. was everything I could have imagined it would be; the man is a whip-smart deep thinker and a master of introspection, and better yet, he uses his powers for good. It felt almost criminal to have to edit down Wilkes-Krier’s soliloquies on art, feeling and life into interview-sized snippets.

Start Today: Bad Religion [PropertyofZack]

Bad Religion aren’t only foundational figures in SoCal punk and stalwarts of the current scene, they’re a remarkably consistent machine that’s churned out excellent album after excellent album for more than 30 years. That voluminous output makes their catalog as intimidating as it is deep, and made them the perfect candidates with which to launch our Start Today feature.

Matisyahu Spent The Past Five Years Discovering His True Self [Broward-Palm Beach & Miami New Times]

When your bizarre musical schtick is just a reflection of your unusual real life, what becomes of your career when that life drastically changes? It’s a question to which Matisyahu’s fanbase is still working out the answer, even if the man himself seems more certain than ever of who he’s supposed to be.

10 Things You Should Know About Phoebe Ryan [Myspace]

Pop singer/songwriter Ryan’s star is on the rise, but with only an EP to her name to date, it doesn’t seem that anyone has really plumbed her backstory yet. There’s nothing groundbreaking in our conversation, just some fun and revealing anecdotes that I haven’t seen told elsewhere – and really, isn’t that what this is supposed to be about? Sometimes the workaday pieces are the ones you’re happiest with.

Matter Of Time: A Chroma Q&A With Cartel’s Will Pugh [PropertyOfZack]

I first saw Cartel live in 2004, opening for Brandtson and the Rocket Summer in support of their debut EP. The full length they were writing at the time, Chroma, would top my very first Yearly Top Ten list in 2005. I’ve interviewed Will before, but sitting down with him before the band played that album in full, on occasion of its 10 year anniversary, felt especially significant. What followed was a marvelously candid discussion of not just the album’s stratospheric rise, but the band’s slow and steady descent over the decade that followed – one that’s landed them at a true career crossroads today.

Links to everything else I wrote this year after the cut.




Live Performance Previews:

Other Music Writing:

If you enjoy these, as always, you can find a complete archive of everything I’ve written on the Clips page.

*every new parent says this about their child. All of them are correct.


(feat track. – The Gaslight Anthem – “Meet Me By The River’s Edge”)

Today concludes my reposting of past years’ Top Ten lists, with my Top 10 of 2008.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll begin posting my 2009 list, counting it down one album per day.

I went a lot more in depth on my 2008 list, first published in January 2009.  I think it’s a trend I’ll carry through to this year.

Looking back at the list, while I would (as always) make my tweaks and changes, I think it mostly still holds true.  Though of course there hasn’t been nearly as much time between this list and some of the others – maybe in a couple more years I’ll think otherwise. One thing I’m certain of, though, and that’s that my Top Album of 2008 was the right pick.  It’s easily one of my top 5 albums of the decade, and might challenge for the #1 spot.

Alright, time for my yearly top ten. I actually got it out a little sooner than I have in previous years. In part, I think that’s because I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact that there’s a lot of music from 2008 I’m just not going to get around to listening to anytime soon. Which isn’t to say I didn’t listen to much this year; if anything, I think I found myself listening to more, and a wider range of, albums on a regular basis than in the past few years. Like last year, this year was a great year for new music; I think that, as culture has splintered and pop culture (or even counterculture) has been replaced by an endless web of microcultures, the amount of great diverse music out there has grown and grown.

Last year there was a lot of very good music, but no real great standout for me. This year, my number one album stood quite clearly above the heap. Which isn’t to knock anything else on the list; its just that this years top album is probably my favorite record since the 4 or 5 truly stellar releases of 2005.

Before I get started, there are two albums I’ve excluded from my Top Ten list for non-musical reasons. One, Vampire Weekend’s “Vampire Weekend” is being excluded because I included their “Blue CDR” demo on last year’s top 10 list, and “Vampire Weekend” includes all the tracks of that demo. The Second is Thrice’s “The Alchemy Index: Vol. 3 and 4”. Vol. 1 and 2 were released last year, and while each half was released as a standalone disc, they’re meant to be listened to and evaluated as a whole (or perhaps in their four individual parts). So while neither are on my list, both are as good as anything released in 2008.

That said, without further ado, my Top Ten Albums of 2008:

10. Cash Cash – Take It To The Floor – As dance-emo-pop goes (I have no idea what to call this genre, if it’s got a name at all, but it’s definitely its own distinct genre – think Forever The Sickest Kids, HelloGoodbye, PlayRadioPlay!, (newer) The Higher, A Rocket To The Moon, Cobra Starship, etc.), this album is heads and shoulders above the rest. The songs are more fully formed, hookier, and just flat-out better. Predictions are a dodgy business, but I could definitely see these guys becoming the next Metro Station this year.

9.5 Matisyahu – Shattered EP – A stunning turn after his dismal previous release, Youth. Youth was limpid, unsteady, full of weakly formed songs and some of the most pale production I’ve suffered through in ages. Shattered, in contrast, hits hard and fast and strong, with some tremendous beats, solid hooks, and real emotion. Matis crawls through a weird, trippy long-dark-night-of-the-soul on this one, and it’s an epic journey back to relevance.

9. The Academy Is… – Fast Times At Barrington High – Another one that really caught me off guard. I was never a big fan of TAI’s middle-of-the-road emo-pop, but on Fast Times they’ve discovered pathos. There’s a minor-key darkness that runs through the album; not bitter, but sad; not angry, but longing. It’s not a mopey album. It just has real emotional heft that I hadn’t expected from what had previously been as straightforward a pop group as there is.

8. Airiel – The Battle of Sealand – I hesitate to lump Airiel into the nu-gaze scene, because this album stands on par with the best of the classic shoegaze scene like My Bloody Valentine and Ride. No mere aping of genre tropes, Sealand incorporates modern studio wizardry in the best of ways, bringing swirling beats and modern flair to Airiel’s blissed-out guitar and vocal drone. It might be an epic album; it certainly feels like one.

7. The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event marry a Strokes-y rawness to sad country-folk (think more “hungover” than “boozy”) without making it feel cobbled together. Add in rambling lyrics that constantly teeter on the edge of a train wreck but always seem to take just the right turn at the last minute and you’ve got one hell of a compelling debut.

6.5 Janelle Monae – Metropolis: The Chase Suite EP – Outkast style r&b, Rhianna-esque pop and the wacky Afro-Futurism of Afrika Bambaataa and George Clinton all run headlong into Janelle Monae’s soaring vocals on this concept EP. It’s weird and wonderful, beautiful and bangin’, affected and infectious.

6. Ludo – You’re Awful, I Love You – Ludo do the sort of off-beat, quirky humorous pop-rock that once ruled the radio during the heyday of Weezer, Harvey Danger and Nada Surf. And they do it just as well as any of those three, if not better.

5. Noah and the Whale – Peaceful. The World Lays Me Down – As twee indie-pop goes, Noah and the Whale have it nailed down. Cute/poignant lyrics, rinky-dink instrumentation, the whole thing has that wonderful tape-and-construction-pape r feel. But unlike a lot of their peers, these guys write songs. Good ones. Sometimes, great ones. Maybe my favorite twee-pop album since the first couple Belle & Sebastian discs.

4. Alkaline Trio – Agony & Irony – By now, we know what to expect from Alkaline Trio. So what to do when you can’t really do things differently? Simple – do them better! Agony & Irony take their dark, Burton-esque melodic pop/rock (not so much punk anymore) and hitch it to the best batch of songs they’re written in years. The Trio have always had a knack for great occasional tracks, but unlike the last few albums there’s no B-material on the B-side of this one. Plus they take what should by all rights be completely worn out tropes and still manage to make them clever.

3. Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger – Andrew McMahon is free of cancer and, apparently, free of any need to work within constraints any longer. The Glass Passenger is a sprawling piano-pop masterpiece.

2. Old 97’s – Blame It On Gravity – By now, we know what to expect from The Old 97’s. So what to do when you can’t really do things differently? Simple – do them better! (See what I did there? Clever, innit?) No really, this is just the most solid set of tracks they’ve done in years. The Easy Way, Here’s To The Halcyon, and Color Of A Lonely Heart Is Blue went instantly to the top of my “favorite Old 97’s” songs list. Their last album, while unfairly panned, felt a bit perfunctory – a number of the tracks were songs that didn’t make the cut for previous albums. This time out, they feel fully revitalized. Rhett is clearly channeling his best material into the 97s again instead of his solo jaunts, and it makes all the difference.

and this year’s #1 is…

1. The Gaslight Anthem – The ‘59 Sound – Like I said back at the beginning, this was far and away my favorite album of the year. In fact, I pretty much knew it was going to top my year-end list from the first listen I gave it back in June – I’ve been comparing everything I’ve heard since to it, and nothing’s come close. In terms of songwriting, production, instrumentation, track order/flow, thematic strength, it’s nothing short of perfect. It’s 12 tracks, any of which would have been one of my favorite singles of the year, and yet 90% of the time I listen to the whole thing together as an album because it’s so much more than the mere sum of it’s parts. I could run out a list of comparators – Against Me, Social Distortion, John Mellancamp, Springsteen – or of stuff they reference – Audrey Hepburn, Casablanca, sailor tattoos, Springsteen again – but the album is so rich with them all, so fully imbued with their essence, that it’s at once wholly of its antecedents and entirely singular. Just a spectacular triumph.

Honorable Mentions go to:

Parts and Labor – Receivers
Armor for Sleep – The Way Out Is Broken EP
Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster…
The Matches – A Band In Hope
Ghost Town Trio – Have You Heard EP
The Maine – Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

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