Once a month, VMP turns over the blog to Andrew Winistorfer, its resident man about town, and music writer. In Storf Sounds Off, he writes about a few things he thinks you should pay attention to this month. That’s the theory at least.
1. If I impart nothing else on you this month, let it be this: you need to listen to Tangled Up, the sophomore album from Thomas Rhett. Rhett has been pegged as a “Next Big Thing” in country music since his first singles started coming out, and on Tangled Up, he makes it clear he’s gunning for something else: He might be bro-country’s first great crossover hope, a dude who could be the bro-co answer to Taylor Swift. Tangled Up has a bunch of country-leaning ballads and singles (the best being “Die a Happy Man”) but he also has a handful of genre experiments that could not only keep this album on the country charts for the next 18 months (his last album still has singles charting), it might push him over to the pop charts. He goes funk, R&B, rock, and Maroon 5 here, and sometimes on the same song.
“Crash and Burn” is the album’s lead single; written by alt-country godhead Chris Stapleton, it pulls from the same Motown well as revivalists like Leon Bridges, but makes everything shiny and chrome. He ghost-rides the whip in the video, cementing his status as a legend. I’ve listened to this entire album something like 30 times since it came out, and I’m having a hard time moving on to anything else.
2. I know that it technically came out in August, but can we declare Drake’s “Hotline Bling” the song of fall/winter 2015? It’s one of the first rap singles ever that someone could describe as “autumnal” without irony, and it sees Drake, the High Prince of Cuffing Season, making the definitive Cuffing Season song. You just know this song will soundtrack the walks of so many 19-year-olds on leaf-filled college campuses this year. It’s such a hot song, Drake sold out of the hideous hats he made for the song.
3. By now, the narrative on Jay Rock is practically tattooed across his face, but let me catch you up if you aren’t familiar. Originally pegged as the centerpiece of the TDE/Black Hippy label group, Rock saw his 2011 debut LP Follow Me Home be out-blogged by labelmate Schoolboy Q’s album, out-weirded by labelmate Ab-Soul’s, and outshined and subsumed by labelmate Kendrick Lamar, who’s released two instant classic LPs in the time since Jay Rock first dropped. Despite his scene stealing guest verse on Kendrick’s “Money Trees” (“In the streets with a heater under my dungarees/ Dreams of me getting shaded under a money tree”) Rock has remained virtually silent since. That changed last month when Rock’s sophomore album 90059 came out.
It came out in a lowkey fashion, and without as much press as it would have in say, 2013, when “Money Trees” was huge, and to be honest, it took me till recently to get to it. That doesn’t bear on 90059’s quality though; it’s in the top five of TDE projects, a granular super-detailed album that can be claustrophobic and harrowing. Plus, it features the best Busta Rhymes verse since, like, 2002 as a bonus. Jay Rock—and the rest of TDE, really—are forever pushed to Kendrick’s shadow, but this album finally delivers on the predictions that Jay Rock would be one of the best rappers out one day.
4. I was listening to Karina Longworth’s incredible 12-part podcast about the Charles Manson murders onYou Must Remember This, when she talked extensively about Dennis Wilson, the Wilson family black sheep and Beach Boys drummer (he was also, famously, the only Wilson who actually surfed). Wilson had a relationship with Charles Manson, letting the Manson Family stay at his house for a while and introducing Manson around to music industry heavies.
Wilson took seven years to make his one solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, and when the album failed to be a hit (it did sell 300,000 copies, which would be decent today) he basically gave up music, and descended into alcoholism before drowning in the ocean in 1983. Through listening to Longworth’s episode that mentioned Wilson, I realized I had never actually listened to Pacific Ocean Blue, and found a copy at my local record store like a week later (I can’t explain it, but this happens to me all the time. I think about a relatively rare used record I’d like to buy, and somehow it’s in at my local shop).
I got home and put it on, and realized I’d been a buffoon. Pacific Ocean Blue is arguably the best post-1966 Beach Boys-related music, a heartbroken, weary, perfect album. It’s easy to ascribe past intentions onto someone who met a tragic end, but Wilson seems like he’s singing from a future where things have gone bad for him, before things even took a serious turn for the worse. Wilson tried to make another album after this, but sessions stalled, and he was dead six years later. If you haven’t listened to it yet, use this as an excuse to educate yourself like I did.
Listen to “Time” below, and try not to feel your soul come out of your body when the horns come in.
5. Sorry to turn this into another “he reads” segment, but this month I read Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free, a book about the history of the MP3, and how it came to dominate and nearly destroy the music industry. Witt says some problematic things in the book—he says the song “Big Pimpin’” is about “sexual slavery,” which is simultaneously the most misguided reading of that song and most “I take rap lyrics as 100% literal truth all the time, always” criticism of rap ever—but the meat of the book is the insane story of a single dude at a pressing plant in North Carolina who was responsible for leaking basically every big album in the early to mid ‘00s. A single guy was able to maybe determine the commercial prospects of the 50 Cent-Kanye West sales beef, and dozens of other music careers. Witt wrote about him for the New Yorker, so maybe start there. You’ll learn from the book that even the makers of the MP3 weren’t sure how big of a deal it was, which seems almost as crazy as a pressing plant employee being a leak kingpin.