This Week’s Model — The Mountain Goats with Stephen Colbert, “This Year”

colbert goats

The brilliance of the extended performance piece that was The Colbert Report duly acknowledged, the portions of the program I most adored were those instances when the host’s disguise fell just enough for his inner fan to emerge. In crafting a nightly show partially dependent on the guests with some amount of celebrity, Stephen Colbert at some point figured out that the rundown could be shaped in part by his own personal predilections formed through a lifetime of obsessive attention to science fiction, fantasy novels, comics books, and other touchstones of Gen X geekery. I admired the way he lived out his pop culture dreams, beaming with joy to the camera as he did so.

The trend, of course, continues on The Late Show, boosted by Colbert’s liberation from play-acting a conservative commentator. My interest in watching late night talk shows, once ludicrously high, had dissipated almost completely. But I do believe a guarantee that every episode would deliver a segment along the lines of Colbert eagerly discussing vintage science fiction paperbacks with Paul Giamatti for several minutes of precious network airtime, with genuine disregard for whether or not the conversation was interesting to the audience, could entirely revive my bygone viewing habits.

Earlier this week, Colbert again demonstrated the pure joy that can be derived from presiding over a regularly airing television spectacle. The Mountain Goats were booked as a musical guest, presumably to promote their new album, In League with Dragons. Standard procedure is for the band to offer a live performance of one song from the new record and receive a chipper thanks from the host, probably coupled with a shouted good night and the closing of the show since network mathematics long ago determined that music acts chase away enough viewers that they need to be relegated to the point when they won’t compromise any of the precious, precious commercials.

With Mountain Goats on his stage, Colbert opted for a slightly different strategy. The band did give a whirl to the new song “Sicilian Crest,” but Colbert requested an addendum. And since it’s his name on the marquee, Colbert also got to join in, pogoing around in a style that I’ve seen plenty of times in the packed crowds of Mountain Goats shows and assisting on lead vocals, adapting his usual singing voice slightly, but noticeably, in a mirror of John Darnielle’s distinctive warble. Captured and broadcast, it is the bliss of a music fan reveling in a favorite song, the type that sends a feeling of freedom coursing through the soul.

This Week’s Model — Anna Meredith, “Paramour”

anna meredith

Merging orchestral music with modern pop stylings often results in a sonic mess, tilting toward either the pure cheese of the disco classical that burbled up in the nineteen-seventies and -righties or the unbearable pretension of rock acts trying to expand their artistry into more revered forms. The degree of difficulty, verging on near impossibility, puts a glowing halo around the miracles delivered by British composer Anna Meredith.

Likely best known in the U.S. for her sterling score for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, Meredith has issued “Paramour,” the first single from the forthcoming album Fibs. Racing at breakneck speed, the track is clearly structured like an orchestral work, right down to the dialogues between brass and reeds. And yet it wears the glittering jumpsuit of an electronic dance workout, jolting helpless bodies in the vicinity to movement. “Paramour” isn’t a hybrid, nor an amalgamation. Instead, it feels like its own wondrous invention, designed for a better, more joyful cultural future.


This Week’s Model — Long Beard, “Sweetheart”

long beard

Long Beard is the performing moniker employed by singer-songwriter Leslie Bear, whose 2015 debut album, Sleepwalker, stirred up admiring interest from music fans inclined towards the wistful. Recently relocated from Canada to her native New Jersey, bear acknowledges her songwriting was impacted by the flood of mixed emotions that invariably come with moving home. “Sweetheart,” the lead single from her forthcoming sophomore full-length, Means to Me, wears that melancholic nostalgia like gown so lovely it catches the light, even as it fades during sunset.

“Sweetheart” musically resembles Kurt Vile, in the laid-back mode of “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” chiming guitar providing a casual invitation and the drums strolling to just keep pace. Bear’s vocals are warm and precise, moving with the fluidity of Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays. She sings of a love from a distant past, musing over what emotional overlap might exist while primarily asserting the changes she’s experienced, the growth that sets her apart from that person she once was. The track is emotionally open and deeply evocative, tapping into the hidden, secretive spaces that practically every carries in their healed hearts.

This Week’s Model — Lucy Dacus, “Forever Half Mast”

lucy dacus

Back when Fridays were turned over older songs excavated from my digital collection, the edition that landed around the U.S. federal holiday Independence Day often featured a track that somehow, some way spoke to the character of the nation celebrating its anniversary. I didn’t intend to follow the same model with the current sharing of a song to close out the working week. I sorted through my options and landed on the latest from Lucy Dacus because she simply one of my favorite current songwriters, who also delivers her tuneful handiwork in with illuminating performances.

“Forever Half Mast” is, according to Dacus, “about american cognitive dissonance,” and it’s aswirl in mixed emotions and misgivings. Those are basically Dacus’s specialties, but it’s especially potent to hear her sensibility applied to a broader topic, to weightier concerns. The song avoids easy platitudes or didactic sloganeering. Dacus opts instead to evoke the perpetual existential fretting of this moment in time, when the lyric “Yes, you’re evil but you’re not that bad” can feel like the full extent of achievable solace. We are broken, and it’s okay to say so.

So I might not have thought about the right song to place in this space for the 4th of July. Luckily, Dacus did that thinking for me.

This Week’s Model — Sheer Mag, “Blood From a Stone”

sheer mag

I want music to be complex and surprising. I want intricacies and subversions, devilishly clever reinvention and bursts of inspiration that upend the very foundations of pop. But sometimes — often, really — what I want more than anything is a song that pounds with purpose, a band mastering the simple attack of guitars, bass, drums, and a buzzsaw vocal turn. I want, in short, Sheer Mag’s “Blood From a Stone.”

That’s it. That’s all I have to offer. What else could I possibly type?

This Week’s Model — Bob Mould, “I Don’t Mind”


Bob Mould writes about the impact of the Buzzcocks in his memoir, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and MemoryAs a college sophomore, Mould saw the Buzzcocks opening for Gang of Four. Enamored by what was before him, Mould intently studied the guitar work of frontman Pete Shelley. The scrutiny was obvious enough that Shelley supplemented Mould’s studies by shouting out chord changes as he made them. Elsewhere in the book, Mould recounts meeting Steve Garvey, bassist for the Buzzcocks, enthusing about the long-past show that shaped him.

“I was again reminded that I’m simply part of the lineage, part of the continuum: both listener and storyteller, fan and creator,” Mould writes.

On the cover of the Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Mind” released this week by Mould, he is clearly and wonderfully listener, storyteller, fan, creator all at once.


This Week’s Model — Jay Som, “Superbike”

jay som

The press release connected to “Superbike,” the new single by Jay Som, states her goal was to sound like Cocteau Twins and Alanis Morissette. I can’t say I hear everyone’s favorite jagged little Canadian on the track, but the honey-soaked luxury of Cocteau Twins is clear as can be, albeit spruced up with a wistful sunniness that recalls the Sundays. The music is soft as a feathered pillow, even when the rich shoegaze guitar swells up on the song’s back half. The vocals have their own waft as Melina Duterte sings, “Now you’re waiting in the light/ Patiently to my surprise,” the sparse poetry managing to sketch in an entire relationship.

Anak Ko, the album that’s home to “Superbike” arrives toward the end of the summer. I’m going to have to muster my own patience, it seems.