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It might have seemed like country singer Margo Price emerged out of nowhere with her 2016 album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. But the real story is more complicated than that. Price kicked around Nashville for about a decade, working odd jobs and playing with her band Buffalo Clover before signing to Jack White’s Third Man Records. Those years of experience contributed the fully formed sound of her debut, and are why her second album, All American Made, feels like an such a sure step forward. The usual lyrical suspects of drinking, trouble-making, and wrongdoing are all here, but the album also finds Price engaging her civic voice, addressing income inequality, American history, identity, and loss. It’s not entirely a reaction to the Trump Era — she wrote the songs during the Obama years — but it’s hard not to hear the voices of the disenfranchised when Price sings, “I don’t need ten million/baby, just give me one that works,” on the title track, a revisited number from her past, or to apply her words, “I wonder if the president gets much sleep at night,” to the current man holding the office.

Margo Price :: Weakness

The lp also furthers Price’s skill as a conduit of American music. Though the echoes of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Jessi Colter on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter earned praise from traditionalists, Price’s definition of Americana is a generous one. Threads of soul, gospel, and loose R&B run through All American Made. It’s not entirely Price’s country funk record, but songs like “Cocaine Cowboys” and “Do Right By Me” dig deep into that aesthetic. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t embody pure twang singing alongside Willie Nelson on the heartbreaking “Learning To Lose,” a song that would dominate country radio were there any justice in this world.

AD reached Price at her home in Nashville, where she’s preparing for the release of All American Made, which hits record shops Friday, October 20th. We discussed the continuum of American music, the enduring majesty of Nelson, and figured out how her strident songs fit into our current moment.

Aquarium Drunkard: You worked on the songs for Midwest Farmer’s Daughter for a very long time. Did the new songs for All American Made come fast?

Margo Price: Well, my husband [Jeremy Ivey] and I are always writing all the time. We’ve just made it our mantra throughout life to write as much as possible. I look at writing songs almost like people would look at practicing guitar: the more you practice, the more songs you write, the sharper you are going to be at your craft. I think these songs came pretty naturally because I was so thrilled to finally have an audience. It didn’t feel like, “Oh, I have writer’s block” or something like that. It [finally] felt like my work would be discovered before I’m dead.

AD: That’s always a good feeling.

Margo Price: Yeah, we had been working on some of these songs even back around when that album was finally being released, because it took a while from when the Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was recorded to the time it was actually put out. We were just still writing that whole time. Even on tour, we were making a point of keeping up with it. Jack White actually gave me really great advice. He said, “I know you’re really busy right now and playing a lot of shows and on the road constantly, but keep writing because you are going to be experiencing a lot of new feelings that you’ve never had before, so you want to document that and encapsulate it.”

Aquarium Drunkard

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 498: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Sweet Tea – If I Were A Carpenter ++ Mr. Airplane Man – Jesus On The Mainline (Traditional) ++ Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Beast For Thee ++ Scout Niblett – Kiss ++ Meg Baird – Counterfeiters ++ Anna St. Louis – Fire ++ Jennifer Castle – Sailing Away ++ Joan Shelley – Over And Even ++ Devendra Banhart & Jana Hunter – A Bright-Ass Light ++ Kacy & Clayton – The Siren’s Song ++ Angel Olsen – The Sky Opened Up ++ Brightblack Morning Light – All We Have Broken Shines ++ Devendra Banhart – Sligo River Blues (John Fahey) ++ Ryley Walker – Everybody Is Crazy (Amen Dunes) ++ Julian Lynch – Terra ++ Atlas Sound – Terra Incognita ++ Damien Jurado – Reel To Reel ++ Yo La Tengo – Leaving Home ++ Wilco – Poor Places ++ Amen Dunes – Green Eyes ++ Cass McCombs – Bum Bum Bum ++ John Grant – I Wanna Go To Marz ++ Sam Cohen – Pretty Lights ++ Cate Le Bon – Duke ++ Nico Sixty – Forty (Icon version) ++ Chris Cohen – Torrey Pine ++ John Andrews & The Yawns – Relax ++ The Microphones – I Want The Wind To Blow ++ Kikagaku Moyo – Green Sugar

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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“I saw you at the castle/your eyes were clearly insane,” Dan Bejar sings on “Saw You at the Hospital,” one of the tenderest songs on ken, his twelfth album under the Destroyer banner. It’s a line that typifies the way a Destroyer song works: though not a single album in Bejar’s discography has sounded the same as another, a unifying thread makes each immediately identifiable. On ken, Bejar and producer Josh Wells dismantle the lush rock of Poison Season, employing a mostly electronic palette. While that might sound familiar to listeners recalling 2011’s breakthrough record Kaputt, ken departs from that template as well, its harsh edges never quite allowing for the gauzy drift that defined that album.

It’s a record about the wildness of youth, as much as Destroyer records are “about” anything. Individual moments may evoke New Order, the Cure, or Tears for Fears, but Bejar’s uncanny ability to synthesize influences continues to shine. It’s romantic but distant, often vulgar but also more direct than Bejar’s records in the past. A new Destroyer record always feels like a singular thing; Bejar’s voice, sonically and literarily, does too.

Aquarium Drunkard reached Bejar on the phone to discuss the record’s genesis, the role of cinematic images in his songs, and the freedom of writing from the view of “bad” characters.

Aquarium Drunkard: You toured by yourself in 2016. Did approaching your body of songs that way, in a solo fashion, influence the work you were doing on ken?

Dan Bejar: Probably, I’m going to say. Part of what that tour was about was playing about half of the songs of that album in front of people, kind of forcing myself to figure out how they go, you know? I had just written them, and I wanted to put them through some hardship. So I got in a car by myself in Spokane and drove to Florida, and then flew home and started making the record. I was going back to my hotel room at night [and demoing songs], which sounds insane after having played a show, but I guess I didn’t have anything else to do. I would just open my computer and make demos for most of the songs…most of the songs were written before that tour, but they were pretty vague…they were all pretty simple and direct,  obviously made by someone strumming the guitar and writing instead of whipping up dramatic movements in his mind and then piecing it together [in the studio].

AD: I feel like the last couple times that I’ve seen Destroyer, you’ve performed more as the straight-up frontman. I don’t even know if you’ve picked up a guitar.

Dan Bejar: Yeah, I haven’t played one live in probably close to 10 years now.

AD: Over the course of those 10 years, you’ve spent a lot of time refining your vocal approach. At this point, does it feel comfortable for you to perform that way, just focused on singing? Do you feel like you’re directing the band in that format?

Dan Bejar: I guess I do a lot of listening. I am a big fan of the group. [Laughs] The band that’s been touring as Destroyer for the last five years, I really liked playing with that group. The most peculiar things happen when I actually look forward to getting on stage. I’ve always liked playing, but I’ve never been a natural sight to behold on stage. I do feel oddly comfortable and confident with this band. Listening to them was part of the inspiration behind Poison Season. I [wanted to capture] what it is I think we sound like together.

It represents a little bit of that dual between what we do and my ongoing fixation with the orchestrations you hear on classic 20th-century ballads. For the first few records and first 100 or 200 shows with the early and middays of Destroyer, it was a lot more of “get up there and go.”  In my mind, I was more of a performer. As a singer, I would just spit as much things out as intensely as possible. And that’s no longer how I approach it. I like to just close my eyes and listen to my voice and actually control it a bit.

AD: You say in the notes that accompanied the album in my inbox that ken wasn’t approached the same way as Poison Season in terms of being a “band record.” Obviously, the band is still on the record, but it feels orchestrated in a distinct way. How did the process work? Were you recording and then editing with producer Josh Wells?

Dan Bejar: I think that part of it is me starting to play guitar again and write on guitar for the first time since Trouble In Dreams, which we recorded 10 years ago. I did have a crazy idea that I would make a solo record and play everything that I could, and I chickened out of that pretty fast. Like pretty much immediately upon getting home from that tour. Part of that is just not having confidence in my engineering skills. I had made music with Josh for quite a while at this point and knew the other records he worked on. I knew the era I wanted to draw on sound wise and I think he lives pretty deep inside that era, and has a certain amount of expertise when it comes to it. So, what I thought would start off as him just helping me record the record, within one day, became something quite different. His ideas were so distinct and drastic from what I had demoed for more than half the record. It turned out quite unrecognizable from the songs I had presented to him. That was exciting.

But also the way he works is kind of– you can hear it in the songs — it’s quite methodical and mechanical. The process of having people come in and blaze away from beginning to end on a song or all of us getting in a room together and just going for it — which are the two main ways we’ve done things in the past — that didn’t happen. It was all quite conscious. The record’s songs were quite formed before we started bringing people in. People played in spots and we’ll give them direction. It was my first glimpse of how a producer might attack things. In that sense, it was kind of the Destroyer first.

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On Lotta Sea Lice, their debut album of duets, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile sound relaxed and unfussy. This is no overthought (or overwrought) “supergroup” type outing; it’s simply two pals, comfortable in their friendship and respective sonic identities, getting together to kick out some tunes, mutually. It wasn’t even intended to be an album, not at first at least. “I think our plan was loosely to record two songs,” Barnett says of the record, out this week via Matador Records. “There was never any discussion of a finished product, maybe a 7” if it was any good.”  But things started happening: songs started coming together, covers worked out, and members of the duo’s individual backing bands began chipping in along with friends like Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint and Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three.

Soon enough, Barnett and Vile had more than a single. They had a record. But don’t misread, it’s no slapdash effort. Lotta Sea Lice finds both in top-form as guitarists and songwriters, their harmonies ambling and uncannily sibling-like. The highlights are plentiful. Trading verses on album opener “Over Everything,” the two waver between sullen silence and uproar; on “Blue Cheese,” they shout out Game Genie and Tom Scharpling, host of the indispensable Best Show program;  singing Vile’s “Peepin’ Tom,” Barnett finds extra sweetness and melancholy in his words: “I don’t wanna change/but I don’t wanna stay the same.” Add in a few rockers, some rootsy numbers, and great covers of songs by Belly and Jen Cloher, and you’ve got one of the warmest records of 2017, filled with the kind of songs that make you almost forget about the “big old ominous cloud” on your periphery, if only for a couple blissed-out minutes. Catch the duo on tour (with Sleater-Kinney‘s Janet Weiss manning the skins) and cross your fingers for more CB + KV in the future. words/j woodbury

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The music of Acetone seems to exist outside conventional methods of timekeeping. Off to the side. Suspended and slightly warped.

Likewise, the story told about the band in Sam Sweet’s non-fiction novel, Hadley Lee Lightcap and in the grooves 1992-2001, the book’s accompanying audio companion, eschews a strictly chronological approach. The book drifts, warm and hazily, through the lives of the Los Angeles trio, bassist and vocalist Richie Lee, guitarist and vocalist Mark Lightcap, and drummer Steve Hadley, matching the anthology’s tracklist of songs pulled from the group’s LPs and unreleased home demos. With care and no small dose of gallows humor, Sweet presents an intimate but nonetheless cinematic view of three guys, the singular thing they created, and the place where they lived.

Acetone :: Germs

Though Acetone were label-mates with the Verve at Virgin subsidiary Vernon Yard, recorded for Neil Young’s Vapor Records, and attracted high-profile fans like J. Spaceman and Hope Sandoval, nothing about 1992-2001 indicates a band bound for the spotlight. The trio’s music, a heady mix of surf, country, exotica, hillbilly spirituals, and slow-motion indie rock, pulled from thrift store LPs and adhered to its own logic. Hadley, Lightcap, and Lee listened to music deeply, searching for elements beneath the surface. The band searched for psychedelic qualities in unlikely places, turning up lysergic textures in mood music, Tiki kitsch, and Charlie Rich record. Coupled with the foundational influences of the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, Steve Reich, and Al Green, this strange blend takes time to reveal itself. Some patience is required approaching Acetone’s music. Lee’s voice seems to float out of the speakers, his bass locked into meandering grooves with Hadley’s meditative drums and Lightcap’s tremolo and reverb-drenched guitar. Like its contemporaries, Low, Souled American, and Mercury Rev, Acetone created music that deconstructed and protracted rock & roll templates.

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As one never steps into the same river twice, so one never glimpses a Calder mobile in quite the same way again. Once set into motion, the pieces in “Alexander Calder: Hypermobility,” now on display at the Whitney Museum, rotate and revolve, their starry components tracing elegant and elegantly perturbed orbits. From a complex premise—cubist simultaneity extended into three dimensions—the mid-century sculptor arrived at the playful innovation we now associate more with a child’s nursery than with international modernism: where once there seemed to be stasis, there is instead only pure, fleeting relation.

Jim O’Rourke’s latest composition aspires to complement (and, in a way, even helps to clarify) this dimension of Calder’s work. Commissioned for Hypermobility, “Calder Walk” is a work of extended, atmospheric avant-jazz ingeniously embedded in the exhibit by way of a stream accessible on the museum’s website. A natural outgrowth of the Whitney’s adventurous multimedia programming, and in particular of Jay Sanders’ superb music curation, the result is an experience as amusing as it is melancholic, paradoxically lonely and communal.

Like the material that inspired it*, “Calder Walk” resists yielding a complete picture from any one vantage point. Instead, it accumulates tension through its loose, ambling structure, suggesting repetition without ever precisely retracing its own slippery footsteps. O’Rourke’s distinctive brass arrangement sets the tone, fading in and out over a slide guitar, evoking the sculptures’ elongated, flexible grace. Absentminded piano chords join the mix, along with hustling drums—a montage-signifier of stop-start glances and shuffling feet.

Jim O’Rourke :: Calder Walk

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This year, Yep Roc’s massive Nick Lowe reissue campaign went into overdrive. The label re-released 1982’s Nick the Knife, 1983’s The Abominable Showman, and 1984’s Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit over the summer, and two more mid-period albums drop on October 20, 1988’s Pinker and Prouder Than Previous and 1990’s Party of One, effectively putting the entirety of Lowe’s catalog back in print. To cap off a banner year, Lowe will perform this month at the label’s 20th anniversary celebration, Yep Roc 20, backed by Los Straitjackets.

Back in July, Lowe was a guest on Aquarium Drunkard’s Transmissions podcast. The topic was his ’80s catalog — which found Lowe embracing country, skiffle, and new wave pop — but the producer, songwriter, and performer was quick to talk about lots more, including his marriage to Carlene Carter, the connections between punk and pub rock, his early influences, and the spirit behind hits like “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”

That conversation, minimally edited for clarity, is presented below. Tune into to the Transmissions podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or via RSS feed.

Transmissions Podcast :: Nick Lowe

Aquarium Drunkard: I guess we’ll start off by talking about how on July 14th, Yep Roc is releasing Nick the Knife and The Abominable Showman and then the rest of the year is going to see them release the entirety of your ’80s discography. What has it been like revisiting these records, Nick the Knife through Party of One? How has that felt for you, revisiting this era?

Nick Lowe: Well, how can I put this? [laughs] I haven’t really revisited them much at all.

AD: [laughs] Yeah?

Nick Lowe: Yep Roc was kind enough to put them out again, but I wasn’t really consulted. That’s not a complaint. They just decided they would get them out there again which is really nice because they have gone out of print. I don’t know anybody who really listens obsessively to their own records, at least not after they’ve immediately been recorded. I mean, I listen to my records for two or three weeks after they’ve finished. I listen to them quite a lot then and then you put them away and that’s it. And hearing your old records, especially someone like me, when they didn’t play my stuff very often on the radio — occasionally they will play an old one or even a new one — and if you hadn’t heard [it] for a while, it’s a very strange experience. It was even when I had a big hit record like with “Cruel To Be Kind” and they played it all the time. I used to hear it all the time on the radio. It always [seemed] like there’s some mistake. Somehow it slipped through the wire and it doesn’t sound like anything else. All you can hear is, in my case, what’s wrong with it.

But the records I made from that era…the ’80s..were tough to listen to really because I wasn’t in very good shape. I mean I know that it’s all in the ear of the beholder. I might go, “Oh man, I was definitely offbeat with that one” but what I’m hearing as offbeat, other people hear something really cool or a fantastic approach. What are you gonna do? You’re gonna do your best at the time and that’s it.