Thank you, Eliot Sumner

Rush, Ozzy and The Police were the first three bands that I ever got into as a kid, probably between the ages of 10 – 12. They shaped my music listening, they are the first bands that I stood in front of the mirror and pretended to be. Although, like most kids’ first listening experiences, I knew songs by those artists that I heard on the radio, not all the deep album cuts. But, then, in 1983, The Police released Synchronicity and it was one of the first albums that I ever bought with my own money. And because I spent my own money on it, I listened to every song, over and over. It didn’t hurt that that album had like 5 singles and was all over the radio.

I’m on some press email list and early this year received a link to download an advance copy of Eliot Sumner’s new album, Information. The Sumner name jumped out at me, if it had come in as “the new album by I Blame Coco”, I may not have even opened the email. I gave the music a listen and it spoke to me. As a lifelong Police fan, I’ve always been looking for bands that are influenced by The Police but am pretty particular and, so far, haven’t really found a band that meets my criteria. I thought, for a little while, that Mutemath might be that band – something about their earlier stuff reminded me of The Police but I don’t hear that in their newer stuff. And, of course, I’ve checked out Fiction Plane in the hopes that Joe Sumner would be like, “If I sound like my dad, I’ll sell millions of records.” I do hear some Police/Sting in Fiction Plane’s music but it feels to me like Joe is trying to forge his own identity.

I don’t think Eliot is coasting on her dad’s name but I think there’s an unavoidable influence that Eliot may not even be conscious aware of. I’ve only seen The Police once, on their reunion tour and I wasn’t in the first row but having seen a lot of videos, a lot of recorded live performances, etc, the way Eliot moves on stage, the way she holds and plays her bass, the way she throws in “ehh” and “ohhh” in the spaces in songs – like just sort of feeling the urge to sing into the mike – that all reminds me of Sting. There’s way she phrases words, ways she sing melodies, even the intense look on her face when performing that makes me think, “Yep, that’s Sting’s daughter for sure.”

I got to spend 15 minutes with Eliot, 10 of which she was doing an interview with my kid. I don’t pretend to know her in the least but in the very short time that I did get to spend with her – in addition to the 10 minutes after the show where I watched her interact with fans – she comes across as very genuine and, frankly, young. I think, because of who her parents are and because I vaguely recognized the “Coco” name, I was thinking she’d be an old, wise soul. She is, but she’s also a kid. She’s soaking up the “on the road” experience. She played in front of probably 25 people at the Big Room Bar (Columbus, Ohio) and, at the start of the set, people were leaving that “safe zone” between the audience and the stage. Two songs into the set, Eliot said, “Come on Columbus, get close.” She didn’t have to ask twice, everybody moved up. She has a presence that commands the audience’s attention. I don’t pay a lot of attention to lyrics but the songs on Eliot’s album seem to be full of heartbreak, desperation, sadness, anger, longing. Even though I couldn’t sing along with every word, these songs seemed very personal and, maybe, even cathartic. I don’t want to say that I think Eliot’s trying to find herself … I think she’s well aware of who she is … but I wonder what her next album will sound like, what topics the lyrics will touch on.

Music touches my soul. Good music gets into my blood and works its way through my body. A great live performance can transport me into another dimension, can make me feel like I’m the only person on the planet and the artist is performing just for me. These are all the feelings and emotions I felt while watching Eliot and her band. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt on the verge of tears at times, I was that moved by the music, by the performance.

Maybe it’s good that I’m nearly 45 years old. It was a perfect evening, from meeting Eliot and band before the show and watching my kid interact with her to seeing one of my favorite concerts of 2016 and, maybe, ever. I walked to my car and pulled up Eliot’s remaining tour dates on my phone. Tonight, there’s a show in Cleveland and the 25-year-old me (the same age Eliot is now) wouldn’t even give it a second thought – I’d be on 71 North by 5pm en route to the Grog Shop. And the 21-year-old me would probably follow Eliot around the Midwest, hitting shows within a 5-hour drive.

As it is, I hope Eliot stays on the road, continues to build a fanbase, is given opportunities to play in front of large crowds; the blessing and the curse of becoming obsessed with a band that you want to be “your band” – seeing Eliot in a small venue with 25 people is something I’ll never forget and having the chance to be close enough to watch her expressions throughout the show was captivating, but I wish her only the best and hope that she has the chance to be playing on much larger stages, where I probably won’t be able to be as close, so that others can experience the same thing I did.

Thank you, Eliot Sumner, for giving me something to write about.


I want to eat huevos rancheros with Donnie Fritts

Lilly Hiatt posted that the Bitter Southerner was premiering a short, behind-the-scenes documentary about her album, Royal Blue. So I clicked. And while on the site, saw something else that caught my eye – “Undeniably Donnie – a film about the Alabama Leaning Man”. I didn’t know exactly what that meant but 20 minutes later had a decent understanding of who Donnie Fritts is and decided that a bucket list item for me would be to eat huevos rancheros with the legendary Southern keyboard player somewhere in Alabama.

Check this out.


Flashback Friday – Helloween – “Halloween”

Summer’s not even here yet but I’ve had Halloween on the mind this week. I miss staying up late on Saturday night to watch Headbanger’s Ball and while hair metal was my favorite, every once in a while I’d catch a video by a band that was heavier than what I usually listened to. Helloween’s got a classic power metal sound, one that nearly 30 years later still sounds so great.


Video: Never Young – “Like a Version”

I never got into ’80s DC punk so the references to Fugazi and Rites of Spring don’t mean much to me but Never Young’s definitely got a ’90s vibe and I hear Seaweed, Superchunk and For Love Not Lisa in the band’s sound. Really digging “Like a Version” from the band’s debut 3-song EP though the video is a bit creepy.

Favorites of 2014

Atomic Ned's favorite albums of 2014

As 2014 came to an end, I was asked by a few people, “What albums really stuck out to you in 2014?” My first response was, “Wow, I listened to so much music that I don’t know if there is any one or two albums that really stuck out.” But as I scanned my iTunes playlist, I discovered that there were actually quite a few albums that I enjoyed.

You may have noticed that my 2014 posting was pathetic and limited to just a few entries in early January one of which, ironically, was my “Favorites of 2013” list! But I made “Write more” a resolution for 2015 so I figured the best way to get back into posting on Atomic Ned was by posting a list of albums that I loved but didn’t blog about last year!

These are presented in alphabetical order as they appear in iTunes. And, here’s a quick explanation of how I picked these 20 albums – in this day and age, there are very few albums that I listen to repeatedly cover to cover. As it is, I typically listen to music during my work commute (30 minutes each way) or at times during the day when I can slip on some headphones and drown out other noise for 30 or 45 minutes. I’ve listened to all of these albums all the way through a number of times but, honestly, they made the list because the first 4 or 5 songs are really strong and inspired multiple listens.

Without further adieu, here are my favorite 20 releases of 2014:

Alex Dezen – Bedhead EPs (1-4)
The Damnwells lead singer dropped four 3-song EPs over the course of 2014 as a precursor to his band’s April 2015 release. These are (mostly) what you might expect from a solo album, Dezen is one of the greatest songwriters I’ve ever listened to and one of these days the rest of you will figure it out.

Beastmilk – Climax
Yeah, this came out in December 2013 but since I didn’t hear it until early 2014, figured I’d make an exception and include it. From what I can tell, these are metal dudes with a Joy Division fetish.

Bigshot – 6,600
Not a Billy Joel tribute act like the name might suggest, this Columbus, Ohio band would be a great addition to the 4AD record label with their dreamy, shoegazing goodness.

Brody Dalle – Diploid Love
One of the best shows I saw in 2014, Brody Dalle’s shed the punk rock image she had when leading The Distillers but keeps the punk rock spirit throughout these snarling tracks.

Crazy Lixx – Crazy Lixx
If I had to pick a favorite of 2014, it might be this Swedish hair metal album. Then again, I would have picked it as my favorite of 1990 (where it really belongs) had it come out then. Fans of Vain, Danger Danger and Def Leppard need to check this out.

Crosses – Crosses
Moody, synth-driven rock from the Deftones Chino Moreno. I swear I hear some Duran Duran/Depeche Mode influence in these songs.

The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger – Midnight Sun
The apple doesn’t fall from the tree in Sean Lennon’s case. Dad’s influence is apparent in this psychedelic rock that is both nostalgic and futuristic. I’d love to see The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger share a bill with Tame Impala though seeing them open for Beck this past summer was alright too 🙂

Greys – If Anything
Last year it was Metz. This year, it’s Greys. It would be too simple to say the two punk-ish bands from Canada are interchangeable, they aren’t. But both sound like the stuff SubPop was putting out in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It’s raw, it’s loud, it’s aggressive.

Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors
I may have listened to “Pinniped” more than any other song in 2014. I love ebb and flow of the heaviness.

Holy Sons – The Fact Facer
Didn’t know a thing about Holy Sons until a Thrill Jockey publicist asked if we’d be interested in doing an interview with frontman Emil Amos for the other site I run, Kids Interview Bands. This reminds me a bit of the 2001 album (The Tailored Soldier) by Boxharp that Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor sang on.

Incan Abraham – Tolerance
Really thought this was one that some alternative radio program director would latch onto and champion right up the charts. The album came out in April and, to my knowledge, didn’t gain much traction (not sure if the band did any national touring; if they did, they didn’t come through Columbus). I hope that rather than head back into the studio, these guys put some road miles under their belts and work this album because it’s a good one. If we go on a beach vacation this summer as planned, this will be the soundtrack. Think Beach House, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear.

The Life and Times – Lost Bees
2014 was a good year for fringe alternative rock bands with ’90s roots. First, Failure reformed and toured and then The Life and Times released arguably the best album in their 12-year career. The power trio, led by singer/guitarist Allen Epley (who earned his reputation fronting Shiner in the ‘90s), doesn’t feature enough keyboards or synths to be a prog rock band, nor do they overdo the reverb and land squarely in the space rock genre. Instead, The Life and Times falls somewhere in between with a deeply atmospheric full rock sound.

Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
Love how Lydia’s grown from a country singer to a rock singer (with country roots). Whereas I previous described her as “Loretta Lynn’s foul-mouthed granddaughter”, she’s definitely entered into the “midwest rock” phase of her (very) young career. I might be tempted to describe her as “Paul Westerberg’s foul-mouthed daughter” these days 🙂 If you want songs about drinking and boys, this is the album you need in your collection.

Sinkane – Mean Love
Yeah, Pharrell’s “Happy” is a pretty catchy song but I’ll take “How We Be” any day over the huge pop hit. With a variety of sounds throughout (soul, funk, pop), it’s no wonder Sinkane’s admirers include Usher, David Byrne and Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs).

Skaters – Manhattan
Knew from the first listen that this would have a home on my “Favorites” list. It’s got a mid-90s NYC sound (ie The Strokes) with some earlier ’90s Brit-rock mixed in for good measure.

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Totally jumped on the Simpson bandwagon after hearing so many friends (and musicians) sing the country singer’s praise last year. The fact that so many people dug this outlaw country sound makes me hopefully that people are starting to tire of the manufactured Nashville pop country and longing for a return to the style of music that put Nashville on the map in the ’60s and ’70s.

Temples – Sun Structures
A toss up between this and Crazy Lixx for my favorite album of 2014. How’s that for a variety?!? While Crazy Lixx sounds like ’80s hair metal, Temples sound like a psychedelic British band from 1968 and they’ve got the look that says, “We just stepped out of a time machine.” If you can imagine what Tame Impala covering the Beatles would sound like, you’re on the right track.

Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty’s a maniac – he’s released tons of music since 2008 under his own name and with bands like the Sabbath-y Fuzz. So, yeah, might as well release a double album, 56 minutes long,  this time around! It sounds like some obscuro “Best of ‘74” mixtape passed around by the high school dope smoking kids.

Veruca Salt – The Museum of Broken Relationships/It’s Holy 7″
Only two songs, but any new music by a reunited Veruca Salt is worth celebrating. Truthfully, while I dreamt of it often, I never thought Nina and Louise would get back together and certainly never thought they’d record new music (though Louise will confirm that I sent her many pleading notes over the past few years!). These songs are everything I’d hoped they’d be and if they are all we get, I’ll be happy though I’m holding out hope for a full length sometime later this year.