The Strop Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: 7 Songs, Albums, and Artists We Have on Repeat

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1. Jaime by Brittany Howard

On a musicianship level, everything about this album is almost unbearably soulful — you’ve got Howard’s incomparably dynamic vocals, plus that steady, immaculate drumming courtesy of Nate Smith. From the opening track (“History Repeats”), we get that this is a record about the past, but it took me until the lovely, heartening masterpiece that is “Stay High” to realize it’s just as much about the present. The album takes its name from Howard’s sister, who died at 13 — but the focus is on Howard herself, coming to terms with how the past and the present commingle. End to end, the whole thing runs just 36 minutes, but what hits me hardest is how deftly it takes on those intersections of past and present, personal and political, etching the story of Howard coming to terms with her history and the history of her land in that breathless span of time. Nowhere is this more apparent than the jarring gut punch of a song “Goat Head,” a piece about Howard having grown up as a biracial girl in Alabama. “Who slashed my dad’s tires and put a goat head in the back? / I guess I wasn’t supposed to know that, too bad / I guess I’m not supposed to mind ’cause I’m brown, I’m not black.” But given all its rummaging around in the past, the thrust of the album is achingly hopeful and unabashedly spiritual. From the track “13th Century Metal” — “I am dedicated to oppose those whose will is to divide us / And who are determined to keep us in the dark ages of fear / I hear the voices of the unheard / Speak for those who cannot speak / And shelter the minds that carry a message / Of peace, love, and prosperity / I repeat, we are all brothers and sisters.” – Benjamin Smith

2. Bitches Brew by Miles Davis

Even though it’s a fundamentally perfect record, Bitches Brew kind of seems like an odd choice to exemplify storytelling through music — no lyrics, after all. But it captures storytelling through impression, mood, and feel. Starting with the gorgeous cover art, we get a sense everything is about duality, both in the difference between opposites and the aspects that bring them back together. The black and pink Janus-like faces sitting back to back, the intertwined hands on the back cover, the oncoming daytime storm on one side and the clear, starry night on the other. You get this sense on every track of the album, but the best example is probably “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” one of the record’s funkier pieces. The song starts out with a defined groove, all the musicians playing in tandem, everything as tight as possible, before devolving (or evolving, depending on how you look at it) into absolute free-time bedlam. This arguably isn’t the most pleasant thing to listen to, but it makes it all the more worth it when everything kind of slides back together, leading us back to something approximating the opening groove. The whole record feels like this, each song sliding in and out of conventional rhythm and melody in a way that makes each divergence sharper, each convergence more satisfying and emotional. If that’s not great storytelling, I don’t know what is. – Benjamin Smith

3. Amigo the Devil 

Amigo the Devil, aka guitarist Danny Kiranos, brings his distinct hardcore and metal influences to the country scene with his 2018 album Everything is Fine. It is difficult to explain what it feels like to find an artist that perfectly encapsulates everything I love from two seemingly disparate genres, but Kiranos does just that. Unlike past marriages of country and metal like Rebel Meets Rebel (2006), or anything from Hank Williams III, Everything is Fine takes country sound and pairs it with metal’s lyrical interests. There is an earnestness to Kiranos’ singing, not only in the album’s lead track “Cocaine and Abel,” a somber, haunting ballad about personal destruction and growth, but also the bawdier, banjo-accompanied, “Hell and You,” a song Kiranos characterizes as a love song to his fans. His lyrics and delivery — ranging from the broken, whispered repetition of the album’s title to the raucous, almost jovial admission that “Someday everyone gets left behind” — feel as much an attempt at carving out a reality for the listener as telling a story. There is a searching in Kiranos’ lyrics, for stability, love, but also sincere connection. Watch any live performance, and you’ll find it’s not difficult to see that Kiranos’ passion is no act. He is at once charming and somewhat timid, cracking a few jokes between songs, jiving with the crowd, or admitting to nervous ticks as he works himself up to the next track. When he sings, however, the only thing that exists is the song and his connection to the crowd. Moving through a setlist of quiet murder ballads, love songs, and chest pounding challenges to the Fates, Kiranos embodies the emotional conceits of his music. When he sings, every song — every word — is personal. If you’re a metalhead looking for a fresh, earnest take on the genre’s emotional interests, you’ll find a home with Amigo the Devil. – Daniel Mazzacane 

4. Pony by Orville Peck  

The country genre has a storied, if hidden, history of queer artists, from Lavender Country in the ‘70s to more modern artists like Amythyst Kiah and Trixie Mattel. Now enters a masked cowboy: Canadian singer Orville Peck and his 2019 debut album Pony. Characterized by Peck’s Elvis-like, bassy crooning and backing tracks that are pure, classic country, Pony doesn’t so much reinvent the genre as it does make a home there. There is a slight disconnect in the construction of the masked cowboy, but as Peck sings about beautiful boys in “Dead of Night” or falling in love with a “rider” in “Big Sky,” commanding all of the theatrical gayity of cowboy masculinity and Nudie Suits, Pony is country that has always been gay, and gay that has always been a little bit country.  – Daniel Mazzacane

5. “Country Squire” by Tyler Childers

Every time I try to argue that country music is a complicated art form and is incredibly valuable for its ability to elucidate the human condition, Luke Bryan comes out with another song, or Sam Hunt, and it’s damn hard to defend country music if that’s what you think it is. But there is a thriving underground (although it too is being co-opted under the stolen marketing term “outlaw”) where country music continues to exist in something like the truth, and that underground has been fighting for relevance since Hank Williams III almost made it to becoming a household name. And now, here comes Tyler Childers, with his drug imagery and so-country-you-can-barely-understand-him voice, and I suddenly believe again. Utilizing unique grammatical phrases (from one song on the album, we get “I’m all your’n” and “there ain’t no tryin’ ’bout it”), Childers creates a distinct impression of place, especially when combined with the incredible ancient mountain holler sound of his voice, and then he goes and doubles down on setting with lines like “Well tonight, I’m up in Chillicothe, down-wind from the paper mill,” and you know exactly where you are. Place is rare in music, and even more so in country music, which spends so much time terrified that it’s going to reveal itself to be less than other genres, but that level of specificity is exactly what country music is perfectly situated to do — it is born out of place, and out of the conflict of place that is one of many definitions of America. And I haven’t even gotten to the music: all the necessities of mountain music are here. Give this a listen, and then go ahead and say you hate country music — at least you’ll have heard some at that point.  – Brandon Williams

6. “The Dirty South” by Drive-by Truckers

Probably the best older country-rock band going today, these guys have made an entire career out of trying to capture and understand toxic masculinity with a deep level of nuance. As they’ve aged, that willingness to look deep has allowed them to mature into songwriters who are looking at a large swath of the experience of the South in America. They also have the benefit of having one of the best songwriters around, Mike Cooley, as well as one of the other bests, Jason Isbell, who was a singer/writer/guitarist for this band before he became the figurehead of Americana that he is today. The album boasts multiple of Cooley’s best songs and includes killer lines like “Without evil we just get meaner” and “Say what you’ve got to say to shut their Bibles and their mouths.” It also has Isbell’s incredible “Never Gonna Change,” which boasts lines that fit perfectly with Cooley’s, like “We ain’t never gonna change, so shut your mouth and play along.” Add in a deconstruction of failed Southern governmental structures that have existed through most of their albums (this time through poking holes in the mythology of Sheriff Buford Pusser, perhaps best known now as the inspiration for the movies “Walking Tall”), and there is real complication, and real consequences, to the way of living we see in these songs. Oh, and on top of all that, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” puts John Wayne on blast, in case you thought there were any heroes in the world. This album is mean, through and through, but it uses that meanness to explore meanness itself, and the toxicity and harmfulness thereof, with the expected bravado — but also with depth. – Brandon Williams

7. “Colly Strings” by Manchester Orchestra

Let me tell you a little bit about a song I’ve never gotten tired of, even after listening to it every single morning since early 2016. The song titled “Colly Strings” by Manchester Orchestra, from their first album, I’m Like A Virgin Losing a Child. The song is about the rocky start to a relationship. The lyrics are complex and reveal moments in a story, but never give the audience the full picture. This song has scenes. Though rather short, simple, and vague, they’re beautiful and reveal complicated moments: “A pity invitation to an awkward house / For pseudo-boy that would rather wear a blouse / I sincerely saw your skin for the very first time / My curly hair and a voting booth / Confessingly, this is the first time I’ve loved you / And God I mean it, God I mean it, I hope that I mean it.” That last line gets me every time. The singer, no matter how assuredly he admits his love, is still wavering, insecure even of his own feelings. He wants it to be true, but he can never be absolutely, 100% sure of the person he loves, which speaks to a deep truth about most relationships. No matter how amazing you think that person is, loving someone is always going to be a leap of faith. Even if you know they love you back, what if you don’t love them as much as they love you? Or you love them more? Andy Hull’s voice is what makes this song what it is. This is from Manchester’s first album, and you can absolutely tell. His voice is raw, but passionate. This song is about grief and hope, and it’s my favorite song, and I’ll probably sing it to you if you ask, but I think you’d be better off just listening to Manchester Orchestra’s version. – Sierra Stonebraker