I Called In Sick From Your Classic Album Playthrough

I Called In Sick From Your Classic Album Playthrough
Foxing performing at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Somehow it didn't dawn on me that I was finally experiencing a "Classic Album Playthrough" set as it was intended until I was already inside the venue last night.

I've attended probably a dozen similar tours, where artists resurrect their best-loved material and dutifully perform it "as Jesus Christ of Nazareth intended it," as Foxing's Conor Murphy joked last night. But usually I'm there because I wasn't the first time around. I was 11 when Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It in People came out, and I enjoy it a good deal more than the last two albums they've released; why wouldn't I guarantee myself the opportunity to see my favorite material live, rather than bank on a crapshoot that's just as likely to include "Texico Bitches"?

In those instances, like seeing The New Pornographers run through their early 2000s classics or Ride doing Nowhere, it's not like I'm trying to relive an era or imagine what it was like to hear those albums in real-time—I just love the music and want to knock it off my bucket list. But I now think back to hearing those bands on stage talk about their memories of recording and touring the material they're playing, and then looking around the crowd and seeing people who are old enough to have been there the first go-round. My experience of "Hell yeah, classic album, boom, amazing, glad I got to see that before someone in the band dies" was barely scratching the surface.

Last night I saw The Hotelier perform their 2014 album Home, Like Noplace Is There and Foxing perform their 2013 album The Albatross, presented as a co-headlining gig between two bands who embarked on a similar, albeit much more modest tour a decade ago. I didn't see that exact tour, but I have seen these bands a handful of times apiece: I counted this as my sixth Hotelier and fourth Foxing show. I was 22 when both albums were released, and I think the majority of both bands are in my general age range. In other words: I was there for these albums, and last night I was there for a second time.

Both Home, Like Noplace Is There and The Albatross are, to put it lightly, emotional albums. They're key milestones in the early-mid 2010s "emo revival" movement, and if you want to hear my more detailed thoughts on that, read the anniversary essay I wrote earlier this year for another one of those key albums. But forget genre entirely—heavy baggage is basically the defining characteristic of these albums' lyrics. Perhaps the two best-known lines from each are, respectively "I called in sick from your funeral" and "So why don't you love me back?" These melodramatic sentiments are part of why this music struck me so hard when it first came out. I was in my early 20s and though I was in a surprisingly stable, happy relationship for my age, I still enjoyed going on long, brooding walks with headphones on and engaging in flights of youthful melancholy. This music made that remarkably easy.

Last night, the lyrics barely registered for me. Instead, I found myself hyper-focused on the passage of time. Musically speaking, this was to the benefit of the bands—they were both so much tighter and more confident than they were at various times I'd seen them previously. In particular, Murphy has come a long way as a frontman since I first saw his whole flail-around-with-a-trumpet thing in 2015. He's spellbinding. But these are simply better-rehearsed bands working with better-soundchecked equipment. Barring a complete meltdown, there's no way The Hotelier were going to sound worse than they did the first time I saw them at a house show a month after Home Like Noplace was released.

I also thought about the drastically different paths these bands have taken in the past decade. Foxing may have lost a founding member and diverged almost completely from emo music, but they've rounded into form as an absolute indie rock powerhouse, each album more ambitious than the last (let's just forget about 2015's Dealer). The Hotelier, on the other hand, haven't released an album since 2016's Goodness, and barely played live between 2017 and late 2022. Frontperson Christian Holden has focused on various other endeavors (which you can read about at length in Ian Cohen's great profile of them that was published yesterday) and music seems almost an afterthought at this point. That said, the mutual admiration between these bands was on full display last night, as both took considerable time out of their sets to big-up the other. Seeing artists on opposite trajectories share that much respect and genuine friendship was heartening, to say the least.

Last night I saw Foxing and The Hotelier's evolutions from gawky kids with big ideas but little idea of how to execute them onstage into adults who are seemingly confident in their own skin, no matter if they're aiming to be indie rock royalty or the world's first socialist entrepreneur. I don't think I've shifted as drastically in my past decade, but I couldn't help thinking about my life in the interim, too. That's the power of the anniversary tour/classic album playthrough that was lost on me in its previous iterations: at its best, it can transcend the concert experience and become a psychedelically meta experience that catapults you through time. It wasn't pure nostalgia—I was more in awe of the present than the past—and it left me feeling fuller than your average night spent listening to old favorites and perusing old pictures.

The classic album playthrough is a relatively new phenomenon, or at least, it's only become a widespread phenomenon in recent years. There's plenty of valid arguments against it—it's a soulless cash-grab, these artists are probably sick of playing the hits, it invigorates Reddit-pilled crowds to act like idiots, it's yet another instance of culture backsliding into fan service, setlists should be fluid, man—most of which have merit. Especially after seeing the new When We Were Young festival lineup, which lists all but two of its bands playing classic albums in full, it's clear that this shit has gone too far.

Craven nostalgia-baiting turns me all the way off, but the fact remains that last night's show gave me something I haven't gotten from many other concert experiences. It served as a crucial reminder that music, like scent, is one of the most potent memory-keys our brains possess, and that re-living parts of the past doesn't have to come at the expense of the present.

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #9

I'm gonna start including very loose and biased "genre" and "RIYL" (recommended if you like) tags on all of these, just in case a descriptor like "'90s eurodance on chaos mode" sounds so unappealing that you don't want to waste your time pressing play.

Abdallah Oumbadougou - "Le Iwitian Ourgueza Gueakelen"

Genre: desert blues, Tuareg rock // RIYL: Tinariwen, Mdou Moctar, Bombino

If you've been a fan of any of the Tuareg musicians listed above that have come to prominence in indie rock circles in the last decade-plus, you have Oumbadougou to thank. Commonly cited as one of the progenitors of the Saharan-based "desert blues" sound, the late Niger guitarist (who died in 2020 at age 58) hasn't reaped the accolades of his acolytes, but an upcoming compilation seeks to fix that. "Le Iwitian Ourgueza Gueakelen" is a previously unreleased gem that will be included on the aptly titled The Godfather of Tuareg Music - VOL. 1, out 3/1/24.

Content Blocks - "IMDS"

Genre: synthwave, '80s electronic // RIYL: Cold Cave, "Drive" soundtrack

Although this is Ian Campbell and Matthew Hord's first release under the Content Blocks moniker, the NYC-based musicians have been collaborators for years, most prominently in the longstanding industrial act Pop. 1280. "IMDS" is more pop-minded than most of their previous output, and melodically it's very reminiscent of a 2009 favorite of mine, Cold Cave's "Love Comes Close."

Julian Lage - "Omission"

Genre: American pastoral jazz // RIYL: William Tyler, Steve Gunn

If you find yourself driving through some rolling hills in the near future, do yourself a favor and throw this on. Lage is a guitarist whose most recent album, The Layers, was just nominated for a Best Contemporary Instrumental Album Grammy, and he's back to flex with a one-off that's masterfully laid-back but also huge.

Maul - "Disintegration of the Soul"

Genre: death metal // RIYL: Obituary, early Blood Incantation

Maul hail from Fargo, North Dakota, a state/region that hasn't produced much music—let alone death metal—that I've heard in my life. Their years toiling away in the Upper Midwest have now been rewarded with a deal with revered metal label 20 Buck Spin, who just released the band's two-track EP Desecration and Enchantment today. "Disintegration of the Soul" is a thrilling 8-plus-minute odyssey through doomy beginnings, a balls-out rocking midsection, a surprisingly clean interlude, and finally, a swirling, solo-filled coda.

Mei Semones - "Wakare No Kotoba"

Genre: twinkly, baroque indie pop // RIYL: Hop Along's "Bark Your Head Off Dog," Pat Metheny

How does this song manage to sound like bossa nova, midwest emo, smooth jazz, and a baroque string quartet all at once? 10 listens in and I'm still not sure. Mei Semones is a Brooklyn-based singer/guitarist who is Bayonet Records'—the label founded by Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur—latest signee, and she's wasted no time in proving that she belongs. "Wakare No Kotoba" announces its technical precision in a quiet, unassuming voice that begs you to lean in and study it.

Mo Troper - "Citgo Sign"

Genre: power pop // RIYL: The Byrds, The Minders, devastating chord changes

Mo Troper, Portland's crown prince of power pop, has time and again proven himself capable of packing an albums worth of hooks into a 90-second song, so now he's given himself a new challenge: covering Jon Brion. The revered composer, songwriter, and sometimes-singer is most famous for his film scores, but his forays into pop music have amassed a cult following over the years. For Troper's new album Troper Sings Brion (love the Harry Nilsson reference), he's tasked himself with covering Brion's wealth of unreleased material. "Citgo Sign," with its intricate arrangement and effortless melodic turns, shows exactly why artists of Troper's ilk idolize Brion, and also why few other than Troper would have the gall to attempt a feat like this.

Snow Strippers - "Just Your Doll"

Genre: trash pop // RIYL: Icona Pop, '90s eurodance on chaos mode

I don't know a ton about Detroit-based hyperpop duo Snow Strippers other than the fact that they've worked with Lil Uzi Vert a couple of times, but I'm very into the overbearing sleaze of their new single. Imagine like, a dead-eyed amalgam of Uffie, Ke$ha, and early Lady Gaga covering Cascada but adding a ton of overdrive to all of the synths, and you'd arrive at something close to "Just Your Doll."

TATYANA - "Hold My Hand"

Genre: electro-pop // RIYL: a less-weird PC Music

TATYANA is a classically trained harpist whose last album, 2022's Treat Me Right, was co-produced by Metronomy's Joseph Mount, and neither of those facts prepare you for what her latest single sounds like. "Hold My Hand" begins as a sparse, pulsating bounce, gradually folding in a distorted ARP synth and some surprisingly fitting harp glissandos. Great pop music right here.

Wishy - "Too True"

Genre: lightweight shoegaze // RIYL: Soccer Mommy, Alvvays

Although I'm on-record dozens of times as a huge fan of this sound, it's clear now that there are too many bands harvesting shoegaze's fertile tones in pursuit of heaviness. Those washed-out guitar effects are also ripe for breezy, dreamy, weightless music too! Wishy nail it on their new track "Too True," which has some dare-I-say Coldplay "Yellow" vibes to its eigth-note strums. This gem is taken from the Indianapolis five-piece's upcoming EP Paradise, out 12/15.

Yhapojj - "1o"

Genre: zooted pop-rap // RIYL: Certified Trapper, Lunchbox

Huntsville, Alabama teenager Yhapojj is a bit hard to grasp—his songs are all sub-three-minute wisps that float by like impressionist versions of his influences—but when it clicks, it really clicks. "1o," from his new EP Evolution of Xur, rides 8-bit synths and a booming, jerky beat while Yhapo locks into a flow that feels like a drawn-out run-on sentence and exalts about blunts and cooch pictures.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson