May was the month I lost an old friend.
I called him Little Blue, and while he went quickly, he most definitely did not go quietly.
Little Blue was my 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid. He’d been my faithful traveling companion for a decade, and for about 235,000 miles – most of it driven between Freeport and Sterling for work.
He’d dodged a lot of deer along the route, and had hit a couple. But none with the ferocity of the blow he dealt a deer as I was driving home from work May 23. The Civic was going about 50 mph. So was the deer. I didn’t even have time to brake.
I was fine. The car was not. The deer definitely was not. There was some sort of deer fluid on the driver’s side door that the fantastic Ogle County Sheriff’s deputy who was on scene said he’d never seen before.
So, there’s that.
The long and the short of it is that the Civic was totaled in the accident, and we’re looking for a new car to get me to and from work – preferably for another 200,000-plus miles.
I said goodbye to Little Blue this week. I felt awful leaving him behind in the scrapyard. I kissed the steering wheel. I patted its roof. It was kind of emotional.
We’re in the market for a dependable car.
What does this have to do with music, you’re probably asking right now?
Well, my two favorite rock records in May came from dependable artists – Arctic Monkeys and Courtney Barnett.
Let’s talk about the Arctic Monkeys record for a bit, shall we? Because it’s, well, interesting.
Arctic Monkeys emerged in the late oughts as a bouncy guitar rock band. The British band upped that ante in 2013 with “AM,” which was a bit more accessible and definitely more pop than its predecessors. The kids loved it.
So, what did Arctic Monkeys do with their long-awaited follow-up, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino?” Well, of course they turned to crooning lounge music.
Because that’s big with the kids?
I can’t imagine it is. Our 19-year-old, who loved “AM” and then got into Arctic Monkeys’ older material as a result, wrinkled her nose at the new stuff. That’s not a good thing.
But you know what? Alex Turner and the boys in Arctic Monkeys pull off the radical transition successfully on “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.”
The music is smart, funny and played with incredible confidence and swagger. It’s interesting. And Turner comes into his own as a front man crooner. It’s really as much an Alex Turner record as it is an Arctic Monkeys record. Father John Monkeys?
Anyway, the sauntering mood is set immediately with the fantastic “Star Treatment.” The record’s highlights, “One Point Perspective” and “Four Out of Five” have just enough punch to remind you the Arctic Monkeys are still a rock band.
I love bands that take risks. It’s hard to imagine a successful band making as big of a departure as this band has with “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.” If the record sales and concert headlining slots are any indication, the risk is paying off. Good for them!
So, while the dependable Arctic Monkeys went off book a bit last month, emerging Australian indie rock superstar Courtney Barnett stayed mostly to script.
Barnett had one of 2015’s best records, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” and her 2018 follow-up, “Tell Me How You Really Feel” will be toward the top in 2018, too.
It follows the same formula – straightforward but intelligent guitar rock, droll conversational vocals, and sardonic wit. Indie rock with a tinge of country and a dose of shoegaze.
“Tell Me How You Really Feel” starts with the slow burning “Hopefulessness” and ends with the leisurely “Sunday Roast.” In between are more uptempo rockers that Barnett fans will find familiar, if not a little darker in subect matter. “City Looks Pretty” is a sprawling, multi-tempo song that is one of my favorites so far in 2018.
Barnett is dependable, and I think she’s going to be a consistent star in alternative rock for many years. She’s like a Honda.
What else did I listen to and like in May? For that, you’ll have to go to my playlist. It’s embedded in this story online.
Here’s a hint of others on the list: Frank Turner, Middle Kids, Lost Love, Wilderado, The Sidekicks, Parquet Courts, The Front Bottoms, Iceage and Skating Polly. Good stuff from all.
And here’s a hint at my June column in a month: It will include my new favorite record of 2018 so far.
Have a safe trip home!