Posts Tagged ‘No Quarter’

RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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The Other Years

2018 has been a pretty good year for folk of all varieties, but most especially the kind of lonesome, wooded, solace-laden folk that speaks to shirking the trappings of modernity to let the forest become your next of kin. Alongside great records from Nathan Salsburg, Sarah Louise, and Daniel Bachman you can add the quiet magic of the eponymous debut from The Other Years. The duo has been playing together for almost a decade, but this collection marks their first album proper, though you’d never catch a whiff of debut over these forty minutes. Anna Krippenstapel and Heather Summers (Freakwater, Joan Shelley) feel like they’ve been a well-kept tradition from the moment the record starts. Its raw and somehow refined because of its rawness. The pair can’t help but evoke Appalachian sisters or cousins playing for family, not posterity, as the sun goes down and the hearth burns bright. There’s something evergreen that aches in the bones of The Other Years – a vision of what could have been, rather than what has become of us.

While there’s, naturally, a blush of NPR think piece woven into a record this rooted in homespun wistfulness and coal country familial forms, The Other Years doesn’t feel like a curio or Cohen Brothers set piece. Rather, the sparse backporch renditions seem to flow from the women’s respective traditions in earnest, aching solemnity. Their songs keep up the oral tradition because the technological one seems too prickly to last. From the moment that Krippenstapel’s banjo starts to pick, there’s a sense that simplicity isn’t a four-letter word, and that maybe letting the grass consume the concrete isn’t such a bad idea. It’s a gorgeous reminder to notice the small moments and breathe the sweet air while it lasts.



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Doug Paisley

With his fourth album for No Quarter, Doug Paisley has released a quietly devastating look into getting by. Starter Home, as the title might suggest, revolves around humble family life – burrowing into the weariness, happiness, worry and wonder that’s stretched across the American landscape. From the rain-streaked Sunday strums of the title track opener to the last lilting ripple of “Shadows,” Paisley proves that he’s got a deft hand for crafting winsome country that sketches out small town life in painstaking detail. His characters can’t move beyond the meager means they intended to be temporary fixes, can’t move beyond the jobs that were supposed to drag them out of their paycheck to paycheck lives. They’ve got friends, though, and family and they recognize the small miracles that pull us each through every day with enough of a smile to forget the weight, letting a few beers stoke the will to get to tomorrow.

Paisley’s vignettes aren’t cast in gilded frames. He’s a master of restraint, giving songs just enough to make them gorgeous but not showy, like high contrast black and white photos of ’50s modular homes with worn furniture and a cigarette in each hand. There’s a sense that this album is rooted in the same kind of sorrow and sighs that might have driven Townes or Fred Neil, but also a sense that Paisley is taking his rough roads better than the brand of artists who let the world cut them too deep. Starter Home is, without a doubt, an aching record with despair hovering right around the corner. The charm is that Paisley never lets it catch him or his characters.

The firelight flicker underneath the bittersweet blues keeps each song floating on a comforting warmth. The album’s centerpiece “Drinking With A Friend” kind of sums up the album’s underlying aesthetic. Paisley’s there to buffer your bad days and buy a round. Its the aural equivalent of that ache that hangs at the center of your chest – the pang throbs until it sometimes overwhelms, but it also reminds you that you’re alive, and that in itself is ok. Within the brief nine songs of Starter Home Paisley is able to unbutton then salt the wound and sew it back up for the next day’s lacerations. Its a humble album, that nonetheless leaves a pretty sizable mark.



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Design Inspiration: Darryl Norsen

I’m excited to get back to a feature here at the site that takes a closer look at the designers behind the album art that adorns so many of my recent favorites. As much as any other part of the full album experience, good art draws a listener in and cinches the argument on owning the physical package. In the past this series has explored works from Robert Beatty, Jason Galea, and El Praraiso’s Jakob Skøtt. This week I’m shining a light on Darryl Norsen. You’ve most likely encountered Norsen’s work on excellent show posters, or in graphics for Raven contemporaries Aquarium Drunkard’s Talk House and Laginnappe series. Those of you winding down the extended path of Dead reissues would likely also have seen his work in recent Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders reissues and 75th Birthday materials. Norsen’s crisp type work and clean lines have also found their way into excellent albums from Beyond Beyond is Beyond, Three Lobed and No Quarter Records. As usual with this series, I asked Darryl to explore his own favorite sleeves and recount how they may have shaped his own approach to design.

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Doug Paisley – “Drinking With A Friend”

Its been about five years since Doug Paisley graced the speakers here, but he’s come back subtle and strong. Paisley’s pulling from the well of Townes and Guy Clark in a big way here. The song is world weary in a way that yokes the listener hard with the weight of Paisley’s years. It’s a drinking song, but not a jolly one, the kind that helps to kill the pain as quick as the whiskey. I’ve always found myself in the camp that thinks the best country songs are simple, no embellishments, no bombast, just pain and strums and a little sweet ache of steel in the back. Paisley’s hitting all the marks here and if the rest of the album follows suit, then this is going to be a hard hitter for 2018.

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Nathan Salsburg

First things first, that Salsburg’s day gig is managing the Alan Lomax Archives already puts him heads above other guitarists in terms of credibility. That’s not a collection that hands over the reigns lightly, and given the historical breadth inherent in the collection, its bound to be expected that the man has leveraged it to lend a little context to his own folk. Above and beyond his administrative credentials though, Salsburg is a sought after sideman who has found himself on records from Wooden Wand and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to Joan Shelley and The Weather Station. Its with good reason that songwriters seek out his deft hand. Salsburg has a velvet touch on the strings – tender and teeming with emotion. Unlike some finigerpicked impresarios he doesn’t attack the guitar with his prowess. He coaxes sounds from his guitar as if it were a timid bird waiting to sing. That bird is good spirits on Third.

The album is relaxed, but only because Salsburg makes skill seem to flow through his fingers so easily. The record ripples like a stream in the sun, melting images into one another with the touch of a trained painter or seasoned cinematographer. Though his palette is auditory its hard not to let the mind slip through blissful moments and warm hues in ones mind while Salsburg controls the atmosphere. The brilliance that Salsburg pulls off is in making the album absorb into the moment and then take it over. Its built on the soft lap of notes, but Third never fades to become background, rather it becomes the soundtrack to the day and in turn immediately improves that day’s outlook and softens the impact of what anxieties eat at the mind.

At a time when we could all use some sort of levity from day after day of nail-bitten intensity, Third is a gorgeous, intimate, and masterful respite. The album pulls the listener into its arms and cradles it for thirty-five minutes of joy and that’s no small feat. Salsburg’s resume reads like a audible brag, but with this album he’s putting a highwater mark front and center in his current workload. Flashier albums will try to steal attention in 2018, but few will be felt as hard as this one.




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Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

The Solar Motel Band’s been creeping ’round infinity for sometime, but Forsyth and his clutch of cosmic travelers push to the edges on Dreaming In The Non-Dream – a thinly-veiled balm for troubled times. The record stretches out like endless lands populated by Crazy Horse courtesans weaving bajas from the thread left behind in the wake of parades pitched for Robert Wyatt, Television and The dirt-country versions of The Stones. A lesser soul might say The Eagles had a hand in the formula, but maybe knock that notion out of your mouth. This is a higher plain of existence than mere AM Gold can contain.

Forsyth burns ozone, biting his guitars into the bone and then turning up the heat until they smolder to a fine ash. He’s pushing for ecstasy often here, and coming damn close to some sort of musical version of it – dazed and zoned to an infinite chord that’s just out of reach. The record is largely instrumental, but when Forsyth’s dusted croon peeks through the ragged curtains of guitar, his weathered delivery frames the chugging, cinder-swept runs with ragged perfection.

The main events here are the twin-armed attacks of opener “History & Science Fiction” and the title track. Both stretch out into widescreen vistas of six string rumble doused in a chemical clear cut. However, not a note is wasted on Dreaming In The Non-Dream, the coda-cap of “Two-Minutes Love” cools like a Thorazine splashdown from the heightened senses pricked to life over the first three tracks and “Have We Mistaken The Bottle For The Whiskey Inside?” shows crinkled troubadours how to wail again. Without question, Forsyth has always been a force in American guitar, but here he’s letting the ire under his skin seep out into a tangible form that lets this album perch atop his catalog.




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Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – “Dreaming In The Non-Dream”

Whew, Forsyth comes into his own on this one. Not that the guitarist has been slacking, his Solar Motel Band has been excavating their own cavern of psych for a long time, but on his latest record he’s reaching to a new level of intensity. With his teeth sharpened and the kind of motorik instincts that drove Neu to repetitive stress, he’s let a monster down on the world in the form of the title track off his latest LP, “Dreaming In The Non-Dream.” The track’s a blistered American bar guitar workout gone cosmic – Pere Ubu and The Dead shot through the soul of Hawkwind and Ash Ra Temple. I’ve often held Forsyth in high regard, but this album seems to have actualized his soul and burnt it out through the wires. Damn well worth looking into and keeping your eyes on.




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Sam Coomes

Sam Coomes is tied to a lot of lush and rather put together pop music, from his heyday in Quasi (though they had some cracks in the sheen to be sure) to Heatmiser’s alt-pedestal ascension and Built To Spill’s major label moments. So its fun to see Sam just let loose. There’s a manifesto behind the sonic stripdown and it has to do with too much access to home recording technology and creating art rather than artifice, but truthfully the more telling bit has to do with liking practical effects in old movies. Coomes is right, there’s a certain grace to seeing the cracks in the surface and watching the animatronics move under the creepy robotic animals’ faces. Think the Rock-Afire Explosion playing on through a horrendous restaurant fire and you’re getting there. In that regard, Bugger Me is Coomes slapstiched version of a Suicide dreamscape, full of haunted organ and junkyard beats from a castaway rhythm box. It feels like a DIY puppet show might spring up at anytime with tiny marionettes banging out wheezy organ lines and a few stings getting tangled in the process.

It’s not the glowing pop orb of Quasi’s sound that he brings but rather his own hangdog sadness that’s always seemed a great part of his own songs. Coomes could always play the part of the downtrodden drinking buddy, but here he’s gone full junkyard Tom Waits to prove his commitment. The album’s got charms like a late night stumble on an lost b-movie; MST3K without the commentary, just bad effects and endearing moments that make you want to laugh through the pain.




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