The Weakerthans, “Reconstruction Site”

(My 100 favorite albums in chronological order: #76 – released August 26, 2003)

Track listing: (Manifest) / The Reasons / Reconstruction Site / Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call / Plea From A Cat Named Virtute / Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961) / Time’s Arrow / (Hospital Vespers) / Uncorrected Proofs / A New Name For Everything / One Great City! / Benediction / The Prescience of Dawn / (Past Due)

The Weakerthans are a band as defined by and emblematic of where they come from as Calexico. Granted, Winnipeg, Manitoba is by nature a far less exotic locale than Southern Arizona; the difference immediately surfaces in the former band’s sound, which is your basic guitar-bass-drums (and very occasional keyboards) rock quartet setup—a far cry from Feast of Wire’s melange of mariachi horns, pedal steel, accordion and likeminded regional elements. Still, in terms of subject matter and sensibility, The Weakerthans are unquestionably Winnipeg-ian to the core, which may explain why they only ever generated a cult following south of the border.

Formed in 1997, the band’s breakthrough beyond Canada occurred six years later with their third album Reconstruction Site. I’d like to think this happened simply because it was so damn good, although signing to notable American indie punk record label Epitaph surely had something to do with expanding the band’s reach. While no one would ever in their right mind call The Weakerthans “punk” (although a majority of this album’s songs clock in at under three minutes), at least three of their four members had roots in Winnipeg’s punk scene, with vocalist/lyricist John K. Samson playing bass in the long-running punk band Propagandhi in the early-mid ’90s. A few of this album’s more uptempo numbers, like “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute” and “The Reasons” could even almost be punk if they weren’t so polished and, well, pop.

Still, Samson conceived the band as an outlet for more introspective songwriting than punk as a genre could ever allow. Keeping this in mind, Reconstruction Site discloses its ambition from its very first track, “(Manifest)”, a brief preamble that opens on the couplet, “I want to call requests through heating vents / and hear them answered with a whisper, ‘No.’” It turns out those words are the first two lines of a sonnet, a poem of strict rhyme scheme and specific structure popularized by Dante and Shakespeare but not widely found in Rock music. Later, at the album’s exact midpoint and end, two other tracks, “(Hospital Vespers)” and “(Past Due)” repeat the same melody and sonnet structure, forming a trilogy with “(Manifest)”. The only variable between the segments (apart from different lyrics) is the music, which changes from a martial thrum-and-strum complete with a concluding trumpet fanfare (“(Manifest)”) to a rhythm-less crawl through backwards tape loops and other fancy production effects (“(Hospital Vespers)”) to, finally, clanging percussion enveloped in synths, closing out with a bit of electronic effluvia (“(Past-Due)”).

Just as ambitious is Samson’s literary/intellectual bent. On one song, he imagines an inebriated conversation between an eminent French philosopher and a fellow traveler of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctica expedition (with the wordy title “Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)”); on another, he sings from the point of view of a disgruntled pet (“Plea From A Cat Named Virtute”.) And yet, the former never feels obscure or impenetrable thanks to its brisk pace and sing-along worthy cries of “Oh, Antarctica!” Likewise, the latter never turns overly twee, greatly enhanced by a monster of a guitar riff, but also such first-person feline observations as “So, we should open up the house / invite the tabby two doors down. / You could ask your sister, if / she doesn’t bring her Basset Hound.”

Virtute” also reveals perhaps the most vital component of Samson’s persona—a mile-wide empathy streak befitting of someone from an underdog metropolis like Winnipeg. The song’s titular narrator may pity its depressed owner for holding on to such ephemera as “tape-hiss” and “Card Catalogues” and even lash out, threatening, “I swear I’m going to bite you hard and taste your tinny blood.” The music comes to as dramatic pause at this moment, before Samson concludes the thought, “…if you don’t stop the self-defeating lies you’ve been repeating since the day you brought me home.” Samson concludes on the phrase, “I know you’re strong,” and his vulnerable, near-wobbly reading of it reveals everything you need to know about his capacity for and belief in human nature.

Empathy bleeds out of the edges of a majority of The Weakerthans’ tunes, and Reconstruction Site features some of their most intricately observed and deeply felt expressions of it. “Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call” depicts its milieu as an object not to be satirized or sainted, but as a collection of ultra-specific details—the crackling “Golden Oldies station”, the “secret handshake” that needs safeguarding, how small talk about “the ballgame and the weather” conveys its own respect for the social contract. And the repeated phrase, “Before we say goodnight,” resoundingly renders it all a pop song, not only for the Elks members to sing with each other, but as something any listener can partake in and relate to.

Psalm” is but one of many examples here. The title track is itself kind of a “Card Catalogue” of precise recollections such as “I’m afloat. A float in a summer parade, / up the street in the town you were born in,” and “I broke like a bad joke / somebody’s uncle told at a wedding reception in 1972.” “Time’s Arrow” similarly depicts “a mirror you will find at your parents’ house in 1989” as a place to keep promises to yourself. Rather than lapse into solipsism, Samson remains congenial and approachable, his words enhanced by a poignant melody and a gorgeous guitar riff that resembles something close to a less-corporate Gin Blossoms. “A New Name For Everything” admirably resists the urge to make light of both gentrification and redundancy—while not humorless (“So put on the clothes you never grew into / and smile like you mean it for once”), it thoughtfully considers such common problems as “When you can’t save cash or conviction,” or when “the threads of your fear are unfurled with the tiniest pull.”

The album’s anthemic single “The Reasons” finds Samson at his most direct and immediate. It kicks off with him confessing, “I don’t know how to sing. / I can barely play this thing.” The unnamed person he’s addressing doesn’t mind, but he or she tells him to “fuck off” whenever he needs someone to say it to him. He sings of “how the time is never now / and we know who we should love / but we’re never certain how,” conveying sentiments most of us have had at one time or another, while the song’s opening melodic guitar riff returns in the bridge to a chorus as simple and heartfelt and perfect as anything ever written: “I know, you might roll your eyes at this / but I’m so glad that you exist.”

However, another song on the album’s second half even more fully encapsulates why anyone should be glad The Weakerthans exist. “One Great City!” is a standout alone for its spare, acoustic guitar-and-voice arrangement, but that’s not what makes it special. Over three verses, Samson depicts a most particular and vivid portrait of his hometown, a place where “Another day is nearly done / A darker grey is breaking through a lighter one.” It’s a city full of Dollar Stores, “that hallowed, hurried sound of feet on polished floor,” and such dubious homegrown celebrities such as The Guess Who (bluntly, they “suck”.) Each verse ends with him singing, “I Hate Winnipeg.” The first two times, it comes off almost sardonically, as if Samson’s taunting the town and its euphemistically optimistic tourism slogan (which provides the song’s title.) And yet, there’s a crucial tonal shift in the truncated third verse: “Our Golden Business Boy will watch the North End die, / and sing, ‘I love this town,’ / and let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim, ‘I… Hate… Winnipeg.’” On those last three words, Samson sounds utterly remorseful and almost defeated. What previously edged towards mocking celebration is now an elegy, quietly devastating in its plainspokenness.

The Weakerthans would release one more album, 2007’s nearly-as-good Reunion Tour, before officially splitting in 2015. “One Great City!” would find new life in 2008 as a theme song for a Canadian TV series, Less Than Kind. Samson eventually forged a solo career with Provincial (2012) and Winter Wheat (2016); the latter features extensive contributions from two of the three other Weakerthans and works as an older-and-wiser, predominantly acoustic brother to Reconstruction Site, with Samson’s enduring empathy fully intact (one lyric from “PostDoc Blues” goes, “I believe in you and your PowerPoints.”) As for myself, I probably won’t ever visit Winnipeg, but between this band’s greatest songs and the films of fellow denizen Guy Maddin, I feel like I already know it well.

Up next: I’m An Adult Now.

“One Great City!”:

“The Reasons”:

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2017 Booklist

In the past, I’ve singled out my ten favorite reads of the year, either in alphabetical order by author, or in the order I finished reading them. This year, I’m actually ranking them by preference.

10 – David Sedaris, Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
You’d expect selections from a personal essayist’s diaries to be worth reading and Sedaris doesn’t disappoint—particularly from the mid-80s on, as he attends the Art Institute of Chicago and develops his true voice as an observer of exceptionally absurd conversations, many of them overheard at his local IHOP.

9 – Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
I’ve rarely laughed so ravenously as I have at Irby’s oft-raunchy but bracingly real writing, whether she’s cataloging a love/hate relationship with a rescue-cat named Helen Keller, or constructing a play-by-play account of a suburban Chicago wedding.

8 – Jason Zinoman, Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night
If it feels a little too concise for a biography of so iconic a humorist of his time, note that Zinoman’s less interested in the enigma that is Letterman’s personality and more on the man’s contributions to television and comedy and how he completely reshaped and forever altered both.

7 – George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo
A searing, ambitious novel with so many intricate moving parts, I’m sure I missed a few along the way. Still, what matters most is the shimmering whole, which utilizes the tragic death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son as stage for a phantasmagoric chorus teetering between our world and the beyond. Looking forward to eventually hearing the audiobook of this.

6 – Francine Prose, Mister Monkey
Prose’s best novel in over a decade transforms an unlikely premise—a kiddie musical, performed off-off-off-Broadway unto perpetuity—into a multi-faceted circular narrative that depicts worlds within worlds while remaining within a tight, ordered frame. It’s almost Waiting For Guffman crossed with Pulp Fiction.

5 – John Hodgman, Vacationland
Having found Hodgman’s previous books of deliberately fake “facts” much easier to admire than love, it was delightful to discover what talent he has for memoir, not to mention a knack for detailing the peculiarities of Western Massachusetts and coastal Maine, particularly in relation to his own encroaching middle age.

4 – Michael Ausiello, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies
Longtime TV industry journalist Ausiello’s account of losing his husband to cancer is wrenching, for sure—and also remarkably candid in how it depicts the ins and outs of a loving, long-term relationship. It’s also self-deprecating and often funny as hell, without at all obscuring the real hell life occasionally throws at you.

3 – Nathan Hill, The Nix
This epic, John Irving-esque debut novel surfaced on a lot of best-of lists in 2016; unlike a few other doorstoppers I’ve picked up recently, it earns all of its pages. At its center are a struggling author/professor and the radical activist mother who walked out on his family two decades earlier. From there, narrative threads effortlessly expand into a tapestry that feels both inclusive and singular.

2 – Robert Forster, Grant and I
Forster’s memoir is simply an account of The Go-Betweens, the seminal Australian cult band he formed in the late ’70s with friend Grant McLennan up until the latter’s death at age 48 in 2006. And yet, The Go-Betweens were like no other band, and this book, brimming with complex emotions and eloquent, vibrant prose, is far from your average rock and roll memoir.

1 – Rob Sheffield, Dreaming The Beatles
Music journalist Sheffield put out his own great debut memoir about losing a spouse to an early death a decade ago—so good, in fact, that everything else he’s written since pales in comparison, until now. The world didn’t really need another book about The Beatles (Sheffield recognizes as much), but it did need this compulsively readable rethink of an outfit too often lazily taken for granted. By exploring how much the band remains part of the collective unconscious fifty years after their heyday, Sheffield conveys, with his usual warm, clever wit, how such totems of pop culture endure, even as the culture itself shifts and evolves.

My complete 2017 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):

1 – Peter Heller, The Painter
2 – Grace Jones and Paul Morley, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs
3 – Jonathan Ames, The Extra Man
4 – David Nicholls, Us
5 – John Irving, Avenue of Mysteries
6 – Michael Chabon, Moonglow
7 – Kliph Nesteroff, The Comedians
8 – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
9 – Chris Smith, The Daily Show: The Book
10 – Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show*
11 – David Bianculli, The Platinum Age of Television
12 – Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto
13 – George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo
14 – Jon Savage, 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded
15 – Don Breithaupt, Aja (33 1/3 series)
16 – Mark Harris, Pictures At A Revolution*
17 – Francine Prose, Mister Monkey
18 – Rob Sheffield, Dreaming The Beatles
19 – Sean L. Maloney, Modern Lovers (33 1/3 series)
20 – Jason Zinoman, Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night
21 – Lauren Graham, Talking As Fast As I Can
22 – John Semley, This is a Book About The Kids In The Hall
23 – David Sedaris, Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
24 – Karl Ove Knausgard, My Struggle, Book Four
25 – Geoff Dyer, Zona*
26 – Nathan Hill, The Nix
27 – Jeffrey Tambor, Are You Anybody?
28 – David Rakoff, Fraud*
29 – Jonathan Bernstein and Lori Majewski, Mad World
30 – Jeremiah Moss, Vanishing New York
31 – Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
32 – Derek Jarman, Smiling In Slow Motion
33 – Robert Forster, Grant and I
34 – Michael Ausiello, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies
35 – Norman Lear, Even This I Get To Remember
36 – Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions*
37 – Alice Munro, Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014
38 – Curtis Sittenfeld, Eligible
39 – Robert Hofler, Party Animals*
40 – John Hodgman, Vacationland
41 – Amy Schumer, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo
42 – Judd Apatow, Sick In The Head
43 – Peter Heller, Celine
44 – David Yaffe, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
45 – Gore Vidal, Lincoln
46 – Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
47 – Zadie Smith, Swing Time

Best Albums of 2017: # 3, 2, 1

3. St. Vincent, “MASSeduction”
“One of our great female eccentrics,” I wrote about Annie Clark on her last album—a handle she still maintains, even if it now feels like a reduction. She promised a game-changer of a fifth album, and she makes good on that claim, though not in the way I expected, which is of course exactly why she clinches it. More accessible and outgoing, yes, but also just as arch and in control, MASSeduction (only she could get away with that title) features a seven-song sequence (from “Pills” to “New York”) as breathless as anything I’ve heard, a Prince pastiche that nearly outdoes him (the title track), an euphoric rush of a sexual conquest where she nearly outdoes herself (“Sugarboy”) and a bold closer (“Smoking Section”) that suggests she’s far from done pushing her own artistic boundaries.

“MASSeduction”:

2. Nicole Atkins, “Goodnight Rhonda Lee”
Previously, Atkins struck me as an incredible, tremulous singer in search of a voice, capable of an occasional great song (“Maybe Tonight”, “Girl You Look Amazing”) but nothing more. Oh, how her fourth album proves me wrong—deliberately, unfashionably out-of-time, it successfully repositions her as a genre-inclusive torch songstress as likely to co-write retro-rock laments with Chris Isaak (“A Little Crazy”, the title track) as she is to evoke the likes of Dusty In Memphis (“Darkness Falls So Quiet”) and Make Way For Dionne Warwick (“If I Could”). What’s more, Goodnight Rhonda Lee smoothly sprints from high to high, its eleven songs all of a piece. Still, I would be remiss not to single out “I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t)”, a smart, ultimately devastating expression of how miserable and simultaneously content one can feel.

“I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t):

1. Saint Etienne, “Home Counties”
At 19 tracks in just under an hour, it’s their longest long player; also their most musically diverse since Finisterre (if not So Tough.) Citing Brexit as a jumping-off point, Bob, Pete and Sarah present a concept album about the London suburbs they grew up in and continue to have a love/hate relationship with. Even more deeply felt than the pop-timism of 2012’s Words and Music, this one instantly locates that sweet spot the band’s always depended on, finding great inspiration in the mundane. Proceeding from typically immaculate three-minute singles (“Magpie Eyes”, “Out of My Mind”) and AM radio gold (“Underneath the Apple Tree”, “Take It All In”) to moodier stuff like instrumental “Breakneck Hill” and the beguiling, ominous “Heather”, all its disparate parts eventually form a gestalt, culminating in “Sweet Arcadia”: another in a series of Saint Etienne epics going back to “Avenue”, it evokes this world in exquisite detail via time, memory and such talismans as its gorgeous, watery electric piano straight out of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”. Home Counties is easily my record of the year, and one of this venerable trio’s very best.

“Magpie Eyes”:

“Sweet Arcadia”:

Best Albums of 2017: # 6, 5, 4

6. Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Rest”
Under the impression that Gainsbourg had all but given up her putative music career to become Lars von Trier’s muse, I wasn’t expecting a new album from her in 2017; nor did I imagine she’d release anything like the lead-off single “Deadly Valentine”, a perfectly formed, sleazy disco epic to which my immediate response was, “More of this, please.” Well, readers, rest assured Rest delivers, and in spades: from “Lying To You” to “I’m A Lie”, it’s less a stunning return-to-form than a total about-face. Writing her own songs for the first time and no longer giving a damn as to whether or not she resembles her titanic father, Gainsbourg readily shows she is every bit the musician as she is an actress.

“Deadly Valentine”:

5. Alison Moyet, “Other”
A sequel to her own 2013 return-to-form The Minutes, but also more musically diverse and a little riskier. A fearlessness pervades throughout—there’s a spoken word piece (“April 10th”), a curt kiss-off (“Lover, Go”), stripped-down piano balladry (the title track) and even a few naggingly catchy Yaz similes (“Reassuring Pinches”, “Giddy Happy”). Yet, despite having made peace with her electro-pop past, Moyet’s mindset is fervently of the moment. In an essay earlier this year, I noted in concert she still sounds remarkably comfortable in her own skin, but not at all complacent. Other as a whole wrings just the right amount tension from this harder-to-pull-off-than-it-looks contrast. Also, she hasn’t written such an impassioned anthem as “The Rarest Birds” in many years.

“The Rarest Birds”:

 

4. Jens Lekman, “Life Will See You Now”
As much as I wish Lekman wouldn’t take five years between albums, if it’s necessary for his through-the-roof quality control, then so be it. He’s lightened up a little in the last interim, whether he’s borrowing musical cues from “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (on “To Know Your Mission”) or sampling Jackie Stoudemire on “How Me Met, the Long Version”. Still, he remains most effective as a fountain of empathy—he duets with kindred spirit Tracey Thorn (“Hotwire The Ferris Wheel”) and keenly struggles with how to express platonic love for a male friend (“How Can I Tell Him”). On the superlative “Evening Prayer”, about another friend who has just had a tumor removed, he sings, “It’s been a long hard year,” and I never fail to melt at its resonance in these challenging times.

“Evening Prayer”:

Best Albums of 2017: # 9, 8, 7

9. Ted Leo, “The Hanged Man”
Leo kept us sane during the George W. Bush years, so it’s fitting that he chooses to make a full-throttle return now. Not counting The Both, this is his first album since 2010, and also the first credited solely to him without The Pharmacists, which is key. While always personable, his lyrics have rarely been so personal. He opens up about being abused as a child and his wife’s miscarriage, but he doesn’t let exorcising his demons get in the way of the defiant exuberance one always expects from him. Plus, there are enough new wrinkles here, like the overlapping vocals at the close of “Used To Believe” or the wisdom and warmth of “William Weld In the 21st Century” to suggest that this album is not a retread, but a way forward.

“Used To Believe”:

8. Emm Gryner, “Only Of Earth”
Gryner’s career longevity comes from both remaining fiercely independent and maintaining an inclusiveness that only someone with her caliber of talent can pull off. Her latest contains everything from piano balladry (“Comets Call”, alternate-world AOR standard “A Mission”) and Wendy and Lisa style psych-pop (the utterly charming “Imagination”) to Hammond organ-drenched, tempo-shifting prog (“The Passing of Ayro”) and late ’80s vintage synth-pop (“Blood Balloons”). She attempts to tie it all together as a sort of autobiographical concept album, with echoing melodies and lyrical callbacks strategically placed throughout. Although I still prefer 2011’s absolutely perfect Northern Gospel, this ambitious collection is her best since and another solid effort in an oeuvre full of ‘em. (No YouTube clips yet; to find out more, go to her PledgeMusic page.)

7. The Magnetic Fields, “50 Song Memoir”
Not in the same league as 69 Love Songs—with Stephin Merritt (understandably) singing on every last track, the earlier set’s four supplementary vocalists are much missed. Still, as autobiographical albums go, this one’s essential. Never say that Merritt doesn’t commit to a concept, and returning to one not solely defined by an aural aesthetic gives him an ideal platform for his encyclopedic pop knowledge. The set’s saving grace, however, is the ten-songs-per-disc format, which renders it all digestible, and the highlights, ranging from odes to “Judy Garland” and disco on the radio (“Hustle ‘76”) to clever ditties about roommates (“Me and Fred and Dave and Ted”) and favorite watering holes (“Be True To Your Bar’) are delicious indeed.

“Me and Fred and Dave and Ted”:

Best Albums of 2017: # 12, 11, 10

12. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
Curious how I really like exactly every other album this most consistent indie-rock combo has put out since Girls Can Tell—the rest aren’t shabby either, but, as with Gimme Fiction and Transference, this one’s just a little more solid than its predecessor. Chalk it up to leader Britt Daniels (Christgau once said of him, “Boy – what a tight-ass”) to exhibiting some newfound looseness and warmth while his songwriting instincts remain ever so snug. Not for nothing was the INXS-like title track their biggest radio hit ever, but it don’t let it overshadow the likes of the ultra-melodic, piano-pounding “Tear It Down”, hypnotic groove piece “Pink Up” or airy, sax-drenched (maybe they really do want to be INXS?) instrumental closer “Us”.

“Tear It Down”:

11. The Dream Syndicate, “How Did I Find Myself Here?”
The mere notion of Steve Wynn reviving his old band nearly thirty years after their last album seems unnecessary on paper (especially without long retired original guitarist Karl Precoda), but consider this—not only did it turn out his best album in well over a decade, it’s also… pretty vital. Go past expected barnburners “80 West” and “Glide” and you’ll find stuff that sounds like nothing Wynn or the band has done before, such as the title track, an eleven-minute jazz-rock opus that miraculously never wears out its welcome, or stirring, mid-tempo sigh “Like Mary”. And fellow long-lost band member Kendra Smith’s unexpected return on “Kendra’s Dream” is just icing on what turns out to be a very sturdy confection.

“Kendra’s Dream”:

10. Goldfrapp, “Silver Eye”
Celebrated for never making the same album twice, Goldfrapp at first seems to be reliving their Supernature-era electro-glam glory days on opener and three-chord-wonder “Anymore”. However, all bets are off after that as Silver Eye gradually slithers off in another direction. Unlike the elegant, predominantly acoustic settings of Tales of Us, this opts for an equally atmospheric but darker, overtly synthetic tone. Apart from the occasional pick-me-up like “Everything Is Never Enough”, these songs mostly blur together, forming a distinct sonic whole—and this is not a bad thing. Rarely have Alison and Will stitched together such a consistent set of songs that seem to echo off each other, barreling towards a truly exciting finish on the tremendous “Ocean”.

“Ocean”:

Best Albums of 2017: # 15, 14, 13

15. Sparks, “Hippopotamus”
On their first non-collaborative studio effort in nearly a decade, Ron and Russell Mael offer no head-swerving stylistic shifts like they’ve done throughout their career. Still, it’s awfully hard to dismiss an album with song titles like “So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play” as merely more of the same. As always with Sparks, their 23rd (!) full-length forever vacillates between inspired snark (“What The Hell Is It This Time?”) and unexpected sincerity (the wistful “I Wish You Were Fun”), with lovingly arch odes to sexual positions, IKEA and French filmmakers, not to mention the title star of “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)”, to which they lend their most immediate hook in ages.

“Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)”:

14. The Mountain Goats, “Goths”
Glorious, knowingly overwrought opener “Rain In Soho” is everything you’d ever want in a tribute to the black-clad, clove-smoking boys and girls who worship at the altar of Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees; what makes the rest of Goths so startling is that it falls closer to the likes of Steely Dan on the aural/tonal spectrum, albeit with “no guitars!” (as indicated in the liner notes.) John Darnielle may not be above name dropping the lead singer of Sisters of Mercy (“Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds”), but he’s not aiming for straight homage or all-out satire. He’s been in the trenches but is now far removed from them, and the distance allows for uncommon perspective.

“Rain In Soho”:

13. Destroyer, “ken”
In which Dan Bejar throws us another curveball in a career shaped by a batting cage full of them. On first listen, this resembles the Pet Shop Boys meet yacht rock ennui of his best album, Kaputt—especially on New Order-riffic single “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood”. Ah, but you can’t reduce ken to just that as a good chunk of it is much darker and also just plain bizarre, if enchantingly so (marvel at how he repeats the lyric “I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist” seven times in a row, as if the record’s skipping on “Sky’s Grey”.) On top of all that, he goes out on the most massive-sounding pop song he may ever write—naturally, its title is in French.

“Tinseltown Swimming In Blood”: