Cultural Consumption: 1/11/24

Cultural Consumption: 1/11/24
Chameleons get the blues

As a much younger listener, I was extremely lyrics-focused — not to the extent that great lyrics would get me to forgive the idiosyncratic vocal stylings of, say, a Bob Dylan, but definitely to the extent that my first trip through any new album was typically spent reading through every verse and chorus in the liner notes as each track played. (Unless the liner notes didn't include lyrics, which was always the fucking worst.) Being a tween/teenager, I wasn't looking for these lyrics to teach me anything about the world; instead, I only wanted them to echo or correspond with my own experiences, typically with girls, and generally in a way that made me the hero in my own melodramatic story.

For better and for worse, I am generally no longer capable of that type of album spelunking; as I drift through middle age and shuffle toward the grave, the background noise of assorted responsibilities and the growing number of other information sources competing for my attention has made me a much more passive listener, at least in terms of immediately sussing out the meaning or intent of any given musical work. I can actively appreciate components of what I'm listening to, but I probably stopped memorizing lyrics in the late '90s — which made me very sad for a number of years, although I've come to appreciate that this type of listening has its positive aspects as well.

Chief among them might be an increased ability to allow a piece of music to simply wash over me in a way that I don't think I would have had the patience for during my formative listening years. There are times when I don't even care if I can understand the language being spoken; after all, if you're on a song's emotional wavelength, it doesn't really matter. This is just the sort of mood I was in this morning when I hit play on Love in Exile, the 2023 release from Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, and Shahzad Ismaily — an album that completely escaped my attention when it came out last March, but has earned enough critical love to score it a pair of nominations for the upcoming Grammys. (Death to all awards shows, but congratulations to this trio.)

Aftab is a Pakistani vocalist who sings in Urdu, at least on this album; Iyer is an Indian-American pianist; and Ismaily is the utility infielder of the band, contributing bass and Moog. It won't surprise you that this isn't a western-sounding album — Aftab's sinuous melodies aren't the slightest bit beholden to mainstream American conventions, while Iyer and Ismaily often speak through the sparest of notes, leaving acres of space for their bandmates to fill in the gaps. It's a dreamy, meditative work, perfect for just sitting in and holding to a mood, or allowing the whole thing to wash over you like a memory. Very easy to leave on repeat; so much the better for letting it seep in. Start with the lovely, haunting "Haseen Thi":

Of course, man was not necessarily meant to listen to dreamy, meditative music all day; sometimes, man needs something punchier. Perhaps even something salted with some slide guitar, some brass, some Stonesy swagger, and oh my god, maybe even a healthy helping of clavinet. At these times, man could do a bunch worse than turning to Them Vibes, a Nashville band that's been kicking around for about a decade but has flown under my radar 'til now because life isn't fair and the universe is a dick.

Better late than never, I suppose, and today I'm definitely digging the band's 2023 Sonic Chameleonic LP. This is fun, funky stuff, and while not all of the songs are home runs, the peaks more than outweigh the valleys. If you're in the mood for a warm plate of full-bodied, timeless-sounding rock 'n' roll that evokes acts like the Stones and the Faces without aping them, I suggest you acquaint yourself with this group posthaste. Start with "Funky Family":

Watching: Moonlighting S5 E7, "Take My Wife, for Example." Again, it looks like Hulu has rearranged the order of the show's fifth-season episodes for some reason, but whatever — in this one, David and Maddie take a gig as investigators for a divorce lawyer who's started reassessing her career (and her approach to her latest case) after a near-death experience. The lawyer (played by the late, great Colleen Dewhurst) thinks she might be able to save the marriage she's been hired to divide, so she asks our bickering star-crossed lovers to tail the husband in an effort to determine whether he's really in love with the new woman he's dating; while they're out in the field, David and Maddie do a lot of talking about their relationship, and learn a few things about each other in the bargain. You can definitely see and feel the wheels starting to come off the show at this point, but this isn't the worst — or even a bad — episode.

Reading: Past the halfway hump with William Diehl's Thai Horse. Having survived the latest attempt on his life, our hero is ready to start the next phase of his investigation... which of course means he'll need to reconnect with a mysterious woman from his past. Intrigue! Romance! Exotic locales! This one's got 'em all.

Around the Bend: Reminder that this is the last free post of the week; tomorrow will bring the next edition of New Music Friday, with the return of the Great Gross-Off scheduled for Saturday. If you aren't already a paid subscriber, upgrade now to get it all!