Friday, June 28, 2024

Growing Stone on how Arab Strap, Mount Eerie, Leonard Cohen & more influenced his new LP

Taking Meds leader Skylar Sarkis just released his second solo album as Growing Stone, Death of a Momma's Boy (via Near Mint), which finds him trading his main band's punk bangers for sad, somber singer/songwriter songs in the vein of artists like Arab Strap, Smog, Leonard Cohen, Sun Kil Moon, Sparklehorse, and Mount Eerie. All six of those artists and three others are the list of 9 albums that influenced Death of a Momma's Boy that Skylar made for BrooklynVegan, and you can read on to say what he said about each one.


9 Albums that Influenced Growing Stone's Death of a Momma's Boy

Arab Strap - Monday at the Hug and Pint

At least once every few months, I’ll connect with someone about a shared love of this particular brand of “sad music,” and every time I ask “do you like Arab Strap?” I don’t think anyone has ever known what I was talking about, which is strange because the band seemed to have a very successful run. I think their most popular record is Philophobia, which is also great, but I chose this record because the first time I heard “The Shy Retirer” I think it was the fastest I’ve ever downloaded an entire album to check it out. The autobiographical narrative style, putting in whatever feels necessary to create the artist’s experience, is exactly what I looked for in music for a very long time. If there were a theme to this list, that would be it. Another standout track is “Who Named the Days?” Absolutely incredible.

Smog - Red Apple Falls

If I was being completely honest, this list would contain at least four Smog albums (and also one Bill Callahan album), but I wasn’t about to do that to you. This is another example of an album that tells a loose story–not in a theatrical way–just chronicling a period in a normal person’s life. Some tracks are informative, but most are reflective. “To Be of Use” and “I Was a Stranger” are standouts. No one can do what Bill was doing in the 90s, at least not that I’ve seen.

Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate

The best Cohen record by a mile, in my opinion. Cohen’s poetic style and voice are one of a kind as far as singer-songwriters. I also love how this album sounds; nylon string guitar tuned way down, arrangements made up of strings and distant voices, reverb on his voice coming in and then cutting out again. This is really all I need in a record.

Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves

Another artist that would probably take up several slots on this list if I was not limiting it to one album per artist. I love Red House Painters just as much, but out of the SKM catalog, it’s genuinely hard to pick between the first six records. For me, Benji could almost beat this one out, but it doesn’t. “That Bird Has a Broken Wing” into “Elaine” was unbelievable to me when I first listened to this. I had never heard such sparse arrangements be so effective. Again, there is an autobiographical style that scratches a very particular itch for me. This is one of the only albums that has routinely made me cry when I listen (Benji is another). The playing, writing, and singing on this record opened up an entire new world to me.

Warren Zevon - Life’ll Kill Ya

While I think this can be said about a couple later era Zevon records, I think this is his true “I’m dying” record. Although it came out shortly before his cancer diagnosis, every song is him reckoning with his own mortality. To most people, choosing to write about Zevon and not going with the self-titled record or Excitable Boy is probably strange, but this album is what makes him such an important artist to me. There is no attempt to be cool or cultivate a vibe–that is the vibe. He makes stupid jokes, he sings in a most uncharming voice, and he’s completely honest. Zevon is another poet to me. If Leonard Cohen is Rainer Maria Rilke, Zevon is Theodore Roethke. His silliness makes him seem almost like he’s writing to a children’s audience at times, but he’s able to be unserious about the most serious shit.

The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come for Free

I found the Streets on a really weird comp CD that was on the floor of my dad’s car when I was 13 or 14. The track was “Don’t Mug Yourself” which is debatably the greatest Streets track of all time, off of their debut album Original Pirate Material. For the last ten years of my life, I’ve definitely returned to that album way more often, but the hold that A Grand Don’t Come for Free had on me as a teenager cannot be understated. There is a linear story, he deviates from it whenever he needs to, but the songs never stop being about his actual life. I know the Streets is drawing from a huge pool of UK garage and 2-step music, but I had never heard shit like that, so the combination of beats and Skinner’s extremely lazy style was so appealing to me. Like Zevon, he seemed completely unconcerned with sounding cool. He just wanted to be real.

Sparklehorse - Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot

Although Mark Linkous’ lyrics are way more fantastical and impressionistic than the other artists I’ve listed, all of his music fits the criteria of this list to me. The images he repeatedly uses (animals, nature, things you might find in an old garage, mothers and babies) are what makes up his world. All the corny PR you’ve read about dudes going out into a cabin in the woods to make their most personal album yet is fake as hell compared to Sparklehorse. That man lives in that cabin all the time and it’s not for rent.

Mount Eerie - Now Only

Sometimes the most effective way to write about some really heavy shit is to just talk about exactly what it’s like. There’s no poetry that could make me feel what Phil went through the way that this record does. It doesn’t call for that, and he even says as much on the record. Content aside, I want to make records the way he does. I want to use GarageBand and do things in one take and to manicure absolutely nothing. It often excites me more than a record that sounds HUGE and I think artists should do it more often.

Billy Bragg - Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy

I was a late-comer to Billy Bragg because I thought all his songs were protest songs and I wasn’t trying to listen to a whole album of protest songs. Boy was I wrong. I’ve always struggled to write love songs, but the way Billy Bragg does it makes me feel like I can do it too. I think in pop music, the traditional way to write a love song is to make everything superlative; the love is worthy of any sacrifice. Billy Bragg does this, but you can always tell that there’s a subtext of “isn’t this pathetic?” It keeps it real, especially when it’s unrequited love.

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