It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Which is to say, it’s the time when I get to give friends the gift of music and give myself the gift of writing about music again. When I’m dirtying my hands in the soil next summer, harvesting potatoes and whatnot, maybe I’ll even tell myself I could still do this for a much more comfortable, in every way, living.
Whatever my ulterior motive, Skeleton at the Feast has its roots in simple living — and simple giving. Something I pour a lot of myself into that I can give to my friends, in the form of an 80-minute mix disc. Or, as is the more practical alternative these days, in the form of a Spotify playlist.
I never pick songs around a theme, but it’s always fun to try and pinpoint one after all the tracking, and then assign meaning to it, like some sort of armchair psychologist.
So here goes.
A startling number of songs here don’t hold to traditional verse-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. There’s Low Cut Connie’s song, which is nothing but chorus. There’s a Strand of Oaks cut that’s nothing but searing verse after searing verse. Stef Chura’s “Trumbull”? I can’t tell you what that is, except joyous. (Genius Lyrics calls her structure “chorus” and “post-chorus,” but I don’t know about all that.) Lady Lamb’s song doesn’t vary in structure, just in dynamic range and accompaniment.
I read all that as a group of artists no longer willing to stand for the status quo. They’re uncomfortable, and they’re not willing to give you comfort either. Even the warm audio embryo of Wilco’s song comes with a parenthetical warning.
But the thing is, even when the music is warning us, it’s soothing us, right? It’s catharsis to me, at least. We are on a sinking, sinking ship. Together, as one. And love is everywhere. Beware.
Happy holidays, whatever holidays you celebrate. Here’s the playlist, with some more specific song ramblings from me down below.
The track-by-track details:
- John Darnielle, “The Possum”: This track is a snippet from “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats,” a podcast where the Mountain Goats front man discusses his new album with “Welcome to Nightvale’s” Joseph Fink. We, at The Dew, love possums as well. (This hilarious rant is only on the physical copies, sorry folks. You can hear it in episode 211, though.)
- Cake, “Sinking Ship”: The band is now eschewing traditional albums in favor of one-off singles. May they all as prominently feature cowbell.
- Low Cut Connie, “One More Time”: Nope, I don’t know what a “circle dance” is in this context, or why it’s happening in a Walmart parking lot.
- Reese McHenry, “Detroit”: I used to award one track annually the honor of Best Prince Song Not Actually By Prince. Instead, this one would win Best Janis Joplin Song. And Reese’s bat-out-of-hell squelching is even more impressive when you learn she’s doing it with a pacemaker up in her bossoms.
- Chuck Cleaver, “The Weekend That It Happened”: My favorite cut from a lo-fi solo album from the former Ass Ponys leader. I think his band Wussy is still active, but I like this whole album more than anything Wussy has put out.
- Stef Chura, “Trumbull”: Nope, I don’t know what a “whipping grease lobotomy” is, in any context. May I never learn.
- Wilco, “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)”: The title is awesome, but not as awesome as the shimmering arpeggios.
- Rhiannon Giddens, “I’m on My Way”: She sings, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know what to do.” And man, as we start a tiny farm without a business plan, a financial motive, or even a clear market, I can relate.
- Lady Lamb, “Prayer of Love”: The lyrics are all powerful, but none more than when she sings, “And I wish that you were here and that love could last. I’m not sure that it can’t, I just pray that it can.”
- The Heavy, “Better As One”: I tried really hard to pick a different song from The Heavy’s fine record after hearing this in that horrid “Fast and the Furious” spin-off movie this year. But it’s the best cut. Just avoid the movie.
- Will Johnson, “Cornelius”: Despite the quiet, slow-burn guitar and the layers of vocal harmony, it’s the dynamics of the percussion — the tom-toms, the shaking tambourine flourishes — that demand this acoustic song be played really loud.
- The Highwomen, “Highwomen”: I have, generally, a no-cover-songs rule for Skeleton. But this is not only a total #metoo lyrical rewrite of the 1980s hit from Cash-Kristofferson-Jennings-Nelson, it’s a dramatic improvement.
- Telekinesis, “Effluxion”: They’re obviously screwing with us here. The first verse is so soft that it’s nearly inaudible, but I think the goal is to get listeners to jam up the volume early to make the swell of the second verse even more bombastic. It annoys Jenn. I like that they’re pushing the boundaries of how you listen to a song.
- Big Thief, “Not”: This is what might happen if Neil Young were a young woman instead of a crazy, ranting old man. Or, put more kindly, imagine a cool chick jamming with Crazy Horse.
- Clinic, “Laughing Cavalier”: The lunacy of early Pink Floyd mixed with the iciness of Joy Division.
- Yola, “Walk Through Fire”: That voice. (Perceptive listeners may also pick up on the fact that she’s the singer in the bus-boycott verse of The Highwomen song, too.)
- Guided By Voices, “Dead Liquor Store”: Two distinct songs in 1:32. But that’s not really surprising from these old guys. Neither is the fact that they released three albums this year.
- Sam Fender, “White Privilege”: Not sure how a white dude can talk about the problems of racial discrimination, political impasses, and privilege better than this kid does in this a capella cut.
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, “The River St. Johns”: Jake says he adapted this song from an Alan Lomax field recording. Which would make it a cover. Which would technically disqualify it from Skeleton. But to hell with that. I can’t even find a recording of the original song, so this incredible rendition makes the cut.
- Kevin Morby, “Sing a Glad Song”: Jenn’s pick, and a fine one. This song became her meditation on the hour-long drive home from working at Jenny Jack Farm every day. (Angie Aparo’s “Bicycle Kings” served that role in 2018.)
- Glen Hansard, “I’ll Be You, Be Me”: Those waiting for Hansard to return to the swelling rock ‘n’ roll grandeur of his prior band, The Frames, should check out the first four songs on his latest record, including this lead-off simmerer.
- Our Native Daughters, “Polly Ann’s Hammer”: The John Henry mythology has always fascinated me, no matter if it’s retold by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Walt Disney, Jason Isbell or this Americana supergroup.
- Strand of Oaks, “Moonlanding”: A song without a chorus but enough sizzle to last years. I’ve almost forgiven this guy, finally, for not realizing it should be Stand of Oaks.
- The Mountain Goats, “Going Invisible 2”: I prefer the happier, sing-along demo version from the “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats” podcast, but the studio version is lovely too.
- Interested in the roots of Skeleton at the Feast? Read about that in the original post, from all them years ago.
- Here are all the previous years’ winners.