Rough Mix Issue #23: Blood, sweat, and songwriters


The Low Anthem, “Blood and Altar”

I don’t know much about Providence, RI’s The Low Anthem—I encountered them on a Paste Magazine sampler cd (remember those?) more than a decade ago, and downloaded a couple of their albums. The other day, though, I stumbled across this 2011 recording of “Blood and Altar,” and it honestly gave me chills—it’s a hauntingly beautiful song.


The Working Songwriter

I first discovered that singer-songwriter Joe Pug had a podcast when he interviewed my college classmate Josh Ritter some years back, and it has turned into one of my regular must-listens. It might be a little “inside baseball” if you’re not a songwriter yourself, but chances are you’ll learn a lot about the craft from the series of luminaries Pug has accumulated in his catalog.


“Prayers for Richard” by David Ramsey, Oxford American

I found out about this 2015 piece on the infamous Little Richard, who died earlier this month, through Aquarium Drunkard‘s newsletter. It is everything the best music writing should be—lyrical, personal but damn near universal, and cognizant of a legend’s cultural impact without being overly reverent. If you have any interest in the roots of rock and roll, this is a must-read.

Rough Mix Issue #22: The Wild Onion


Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”

This week’s newsletter turns out to be a bit of a love letter to my adopted hometown of Chicago, and this sweet little confection from Chance the Rapper and his collective of collaborators (including a killer hook sung by Jamila Woods) is a great place to start.


South Side Stories, “Arthur”

“South Side Stories” is a collaboration between Chicago’s WBEZ and the creators of the Comedy Central show, South Side. In this episode, we meet pretty amazing character. Arthur Dubois is a retired 72-year-old with a brand-new career aspiration: to become a big-time trap producer.


“Chicago’s Hidden Indie Rock Archive” by Monica Eng, WBEZ

I wasn’t in Chicago for the glory days of its alternative rock scene, but Adam Jacobs (who became known as “The Taping Guy”) was, and he has 10,000 live recordings to prove it. In a time where many of us are wondering what the future of live music venues are going to be, this is a truly fascinating glimpse into their past.

Rough Mix Issue #21: Swing Training


Casey Bill Weldon, “Guitar Swing”

I’m guessing we could all use a pick-me-up these days, and there’s no way this little ditty by early slide guitar master Casey Bill Weldon won’t have you tapping your foot or dancing around your kitchen. Fun fact: Weldon was married (at different times) to both the legendary Memphis Minnie and Geeshie Wiley, whose own mysterious recording was covered in a New York Times article I featured back in the fourth issue of this newsletter.


Radiolab, “Songs that Cross Borders”

Country music, for better or for worse, is often thought of as one of the most American of musical genres. However, in this episode of Radiolab, you’ll hear how incredibly appealing it seems to be to people in places from the Caribbean to Zimbabwe to Thailand… and why. Plus, follow along on reporter Gregory Warner’s Afghan accordion adventures.


“Ten Train Songs That Tell the Story of the South” by Scott Huffard, Bitter Southerner

Being stuck in the house all the time must have me thinking about traveling, and there aren’t many modes of conveyance that get more attention from songwriters than the locomotive. In this piece, a student of the American South’s relationship with the train puts together a playlist that tries to “imagine a new canon of Southern train songs that cut through the stereotypes of the romanticized Dixie and the sanitized music of modern country,” from Bessie Smith to R.E.M.

Rough Mix is a newsletter about all things audio curated by Aaron Rester and brought to you by Beartrap Spring Records. Every other week, I highlight great music, articles, podcasts and more that I think are worth sharing and spending some time with. You can subscribe, or if you have a suggestion for something to share, please email, or connect with Beartrap Spring on Facebook or Twitter. Music highlighted in these emails is available on our Spotify playlist.

Rough Mix Issue #20: Live Streams and Slow Fades


John Prine, “Angel from Montgomery”

John Prine, as probably everyone reading this will already be aware, died this week as a result of COVID-19. I didn’t expect to be one of the people adding to the avalanche of remembrances of him—he was one of those artists that I always respected from afar as “a songwriter’s songwriter,” but never put in the time get to really know his work. I have always really liked “Angel from Montgomery,” though, and this version from his 2000 Souvenirs album is a revelation—a portrait of an artist who has been living with a work for 30 years, and come to understand in a way that his younger self simply couldn’t. “To believe in this living is just a hard way to go,” indeed.

Live Music

Songkick Live Streams

I’ve mentioned the Songkick app in a previous email, as my go-to means of finding out when artists I love are playing nearby. But in the age of social distancing and lockdowns, they’re also providing an index of upcoming livestreamed concerts that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home (pants optional).


“A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …
The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music” by  William Weir, Slate

It’s better to burn out than fade away, as the bard once sang, and this 2014 Slate article makes the case that modern popular music has, for better or for worse, whole-heartedly embraced this maxim. Weil gives a variety of reasons for this shift, from the simplicity of the “skip” button to the simple ubiquity and ease of implementing the technique with modern technology—gone are the days when adding a fade-out to a recording meant physically carrying the recording device to the other side of the room!

Rough Mix is a newsletter about all things audio curated by Aaron Rester and brought to you by Beartrap Spring Records. Every other week, I highlight great music, articles, podcasts and more that I think are worth sharing and spending some time with. You can subscribe, or if you have a suggestion for something to share, please email, or connect with Beartrap Spring on Facebook or Twitter. Music highlighted in these emails is available on our Spotify playlist.

Rough Mix Issue #19: Pandemic at the Disco!


It’s only been two weeks since the last newsletter, but that sure does seem like a very, very long time ago. As many of us are stuck at home, looking for a way to occupy their time while under “stay at home” orders, one way for us to connect from across mandated social distances is through music. So I put together a brief playlist of songs that have taken on a new resonance in our strange new reality, and opened it up to your submissions as well. Just save the playlist to your Spotify library, then you’ll be able to add songs to it. Add your favorite tunes about social distancing, working from home, general anxiety, whatever. Bonus points for tongues lodged firmly in cheek.

Please note: this is not intended to in anyway make light of the current situation, just to provide a chance for us to connect, and maybe put a smile on each other’s faces, while we all try to make it through these difficult times.

Rough Mix is a newsletter about all things audio curated by Aaron Rester and brought to you by Beartrap Spring Records. Every other week, I highlight great music, articles, podcasts and more that I think are worth sharing and spending some time with. Have a suggestion for something to share? Email, or connect with Beartrap Spring on Facebook or Twitter. Music highlighted in these emails is available on our Spotify playlist.

Rough Mix Issue #18: Some welcome distractions


Adia Victoria, “Different Kind of Love”

I keep seeing Nashville-based singer-songwriter Adia Victoria’s style being described as “gothic blues,” which hits all the right buttons for me. This tune in particular, with its swampy snares and shivering lead guitar, is right in my sonic wheelhouse.


“Imaginary Worlds,” on Audio Dramas

In a time of global freakout, escaping into a world outside of our own is a tempting thought. Eric Molinksy’s fascinating podcast about why we create imaginary worlds “and why we suspend our disbelief” mostly explores science fiction and fantasy films, novels, and other artifacts. In episodes 101 and 102, he explores the radio history and the podcast-era resurgence of audio dramas—how they’re produced, and why they’re so compelling.


“The True Story Of The Fake Zombies, The Strangest Con In Rock History” –  Daniel Ralston, Buzzfeed

Ah, the ’60s. Back when no one knew what bands actually looked like, and all it took was adding some quotation marks for unscrupulous promoters to semi-legally run impostor acts—including future members of ZZ Top!—out on the road to capitalize on a mysterious British band’s hit single. This Buzzfeed article lays out the whole weird story.

Rough Mix is a newsletter about all things audio curated by Aaron Rester and brought to you by Beartrap Spring Records. Every other week, I highlight great music, articles, podcasts and more that I think are worth sharing and spending some time with. Have a suggestion for something to share? Email, or connect with Beartrap Spring on Facebook or Twitter. Music highlighted in these emails is available on our Spotify playlist.

My Top Albums of the Decade

Generally, I tend to think that things like “Best of the Decade” lists are ways for lazy editors (and bloggers) to fill space, though that never stops me from doing my own year-end lists.

However, reading Paste Magazine’s take on the topic led me to reflect a bit on how much my musical life has changed in the last ten years. If the 90s were the decade when I discovered music — when the power of melody, rhythm, lyrics and live performance were first revealed to me, and I made my initial tentative stabs at writing, performing, and recording music — then the ’00s were the decade in which I began to live it. In the last ten years, I’ve recorded three solo “bedroom” records, as well as a full-fledged studio record with my band The Lost Cartographers, played dozens of gigs, seen hundreds more, and increased the size of my music collection by a power of ten. iTunes changed the way we buy music, and made it possible for me to listen to that entire collection shuffled together (making the album itself a somewhat archaic way of organizing lists like these). And my iPhone allows me to take a large chunk of it with me wherever I go, as well as find and download new music from anywhere.

Through all these changes, the albums listed below are the ones that I most enjoyed over the past decade. I make no claims that these are the best albums produced in that time frame, but they are the ones that I would take with me to that other critical cliche: the desert island.

The Runners-Up:

The Finalists: 

5. Main Hoon Na (2004) – Main Hoon Na is the Bollywood movie I recommend most often to those who have never seen one: it’s funny and smart, worldly and rooted in an ancient mythic tradition (it’s based on the ancient epic Ramayana), and the music is great. The soundtrack takes the something-for-everything approach of masala films to a global level, mashing together styles as diverse as qawwali devotional music, American 1950s rock, and Latin pop just for the sheer joy of it, and it provided a big chunk of the soundtrack for my summer in Jaipur.

4. The Avett Brothers, Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions (2006) – While 2007’s Emotionalism and 2009 major label debut I and Love and You get most of the critical attention, Four Thieves Gone gets my vote as the Avetts’ best, as it’s one of the few studio albums that manages to convey the frenetic joy of a great live band in all its jagged glory.

3. Solomon Burke, Nashville (2006) – The larger-than-life “Legendary King of Rock and Soul” returns to his country roots on an album produced by Buddy Miller, and featuring collaborators from Patty Griffin to Dolly Parton. The result is an incomparably beautiful mix of soul and country, a truly American sound.

2. Old 97’s, Blame It On Gravity (2008) – Currently my favorite band of all time, the 97’s had an up-and-down decade, getting dropped by Elektra after 2001’s 60s-pop-influenced Sattelite Rides, returning to their origins on 2004’s Drag It Up (which unfortunately obscured some pretty good songs with muddy and overdone production) and coming back with six-guns blazing for their last album of the decade, an accomplishment that rivals their excellent late 90s albums for country swagger and pure melodic bliss.

1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)  – In the summer of 2002, while driving north from San Francisco in a rented car to visit friends and family in the Pacific Northwest, I stopped at a roadside mall to buy some CDs for the drive (this was a good four months before I got my first iPod). I had never owned a Wilco CD before, but the critical buzz over their new album was deafening, especially in my new hometown of Chicago (whose iconic Marina Towers also graced the CD cover), and I had heard enough bits and pieces of it to be intrigued. At that moment, driving away from the ruins of a failed relationship and toward a future that was thrillingly uncertain, the insect hum of homemade electronics, off-kilter drumming, and half-drunken piano plinking of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” held out the promise that, for all its heartbreak, the world remained a strange and beautiful place. By the end of the achingly lovely “Jesus Etc.” I knew that this would be one of my favorite albums of all-time.

My Top 5 Albums of 2008

While I downloaded or purchased physical copies of over 50 albums in 2008, only about 20% of them were actually released in 2008. So I really ought to be doing a list of the albums I listened to most during the year, but who am I to buck the conventions of rock criticism? (Except, you know, by being lazier and only choosing 5 albums.)
5. The Whigs, “Mission Control” – Drum-pounding, melodic, no-frills rock and roll, with just enough indie swagger to keep it interesting. I like the Hold Steady, but in a battle of the bar bands I think the Whigs would eat Neil Finn and company’s lunch.

4. Okkervil River, “The Stand Ins” – On paper, Okkervil River sounds like a cynical combination of some of the darlings of college radio’s last few years: the desperation-filled but enthusiastic crooning of Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, the relatively complex orch-pop arrangements of the Decemberists and Beirut, the dark humor and Americana-roots of Wilco. But somehow, this Austin band manages to make it all sound fresh and new.

3. Frightened Rabbit, “The Midnight Organ Fight” – With their frantic sound and plaintive vocals about heartbreak, these Glaswegians would probably be considered emo if they took themselves seriously — which, thankfully, they do not. Plus, they put on an amazing live show.

2. Murry Hammond, “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m on My Way” – As the bass player in the Old 97s, the laid-back Hammond contributes a few (usually excellent) songs to each of that band’s albums, but has often been outshined by charismatic lead singer Rhett Miller. On this solo disc, however, Murry really shines as an interpreter of gospel and old train songs. Many of these songs, especially the ones featuring just his lonesome voice and the drone of a harmonium, are just breath-takingly beautiful.

1. The Old 97’s, “Blame It On Gravity” – Hammond, Miller, lead guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peebles make a return to form after 2004’s muddily produced “Drag It Up.” In the accompanying DVD (which also features a driving tour with Miller of the band’s early days) producer Salim Nourallah says that his goal was to be able to capture the energy of the band’s live shows. He succeeded admirably, producing the band’s best album since 1997’s “Too Far to Care.”

Bollywood 101

As regular readers of this site know, in a former life I was something of a scholar of Bollywood cinema (I promise this will be my last Bollywood-related post for a while!). A couple of years ago a friend asked me to compile a list of my favorite films, which I recently happened upon and decided to reproduce here.

For the most part, these are the films that I would include in an introductory class on post-Independence Hindi cinema and the historical and cultural contexts that produced it. I make no claim to comprehensiveness — this list skews heavily toward my interests in religion and nationalism in India and towards more recent films. But if you’re thinking of diving into Bollywood, you could do worse than starting with these films.

1. Shree 420 (Raj Kapoor, 1955) – Kapoor, the Chaplain-esque king of early Bollywood became an international hero in the Soviet Union for this condemnation of greed and capitalist corruption.

2. Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957) – Perhaps the most well-known film in India, and an ideological endorsement of Nehru’s industrial-developmental socialism over the traditionalist feudalism portrayed as pervasive in village India.

3. Mughal-e-Azam (K. Asif, 1960) – One of the finest “historicals,” this period piece is best known for its lyrical Urdu dialogue and beautiful cinematography.

4. Jai Santoshi Maa (Vijay Sharma, 1975) – A throwback to the early “mythologicals” (most of the early Indian movies were stories of gods and saints), JSM basically established a nationwide cult for a previously little-known goddess; a prime example of the interaction of media and religion in Indian culture.

5. Deewaar (Yash Chopra, 1975) and
6. Sholay (G.P. Sippy, 1975) – The movies that turned Amitabh Bachchan from a star into a god; great examples of the “angry young man” genre that featured disenfranchised and dissatisfied young men as their heroes, reflecting a growing disillusionment with the ineffectiveness and corruption of the government in the 1970s.

7. Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai, 1977) – My personal favorite, for reasons ranging from the excellent music to the ridiculous costumes; also ground zero for my study of the intersection of religious and national space in Bollywood cinema.

8. Disco Dancer (Baabar Subhash, 1982) – THE Bollywood movie to watch for camp/kitsch, it is a remake of “Saturday Night Fever;” unexplainably, also one of the most popular movies in West Africa.

9. Tezaab (N. Chandra, 1988) – A terrible movie, but a perfect example of the state of Bollywood in the 80s; also helped launch the career of Madhuri Dixit with the song “Ek, Do, Tin.”

10. Khal Nayak (Subhash, Ghai 1993) – A reimagining of the Ramayana as a police drama; most notable for the song “Chole Ke Piche” and the incredibly absurd outfits worn by Sanjay Dutt.

11. Hum Aapke Hain Koun (Sooraj R. Barjatya, 1994) – Not a single fight scene to be had, Bollywood begins turning away from the angry young man and back toward the love story/family drama; as economic liberalizations begin to transform India, conspicuous consumption starts becoming a family value.

12. Bombay (Mani Ratnam, 1995) – A beautifully shot and acted film about the aftermath of the 1992 Ayodhya conflict and the riots in its wake.

13. Pardes (Subhash Ghai, 1997) – Not really a good movie, but interesting in its depictions of the conflicts in Indian social life as more and more Indians go abroad.

14. Dil To Pagal Hai (Yash Chopra, 1997) – A fun, goofy, infectious movie, with Shah Rukh Khan at his best (i.e. before people started thinking he was a dramatic actor)

15. Dil Se (Mani Ratnam, 1998) – Mani Ratnam does it again — and with maybe the best soundtrack ever by A.R. Rahman.

16. Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar, 2001) – MTV starts making its presence felt in this coming of age drama about three hip young friends.

17. Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002) – Maybe the most beautifully shot Bollywood film ever, and fantastic music; Shah Rukh really can’t pull off the dramatic lead, though.

18. Main Hoon Na (Farah Khan, 2004) – post-modern, self-referential and ironic, yet loving tribute to the masala film; ridiculous plot but funny and technically perfect — and great songs, of course.

19. Swades (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004) – Something of an answer to “Pardes,” addressing the question of what happens when NRIs return to India.

20. Rang De Basanti (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2006) – A sensation in India at the time of release, it mixes together the stories of anti-British Indian revolutionaries with the political awakening of a group of young friends.

Did I leave off your favorite movie? Of course I did. Let me know in the comments!

Lost & Lonesome

Last Saturday, fellow Lost Cartographer Gabrielle Schafer and I played a short three-song acoustic set at the Charleston as the guests of the Long Gone Lonesome Boys. Aside from being incredibly nice guys, the Boys put on an amazing show, and the LGLBs’ John Milne was kind enough to give me a copy of their second cd, “Lonesome Time.” While the disc doesn’t quite capture the fun and energy of their live set, you should check it out if you enjoy 50s and 60s country along the lines of the Louvin Brothers or anything from Sun Records. Like fellow Chicagoan Robbie Fulks, the LGLBs provide this classic material with wicked wit and a decidedly 21st-century twist (e.g. one of their songs is called “,” and features the line “tired of Googling porn/and playing with my flugelhorn”). If you can catch them live, by all means do so — but if you can’t, you should pick up this record.