Top Tunes ’17: Emily Votaw

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Who can believe it? Another year has come and gone, leaving but memories of records beloved past! This is an installment in an ongoing holiday season series for WOUB, in which some of the area’s favorite music nerds share what moved them, musically, in the year 2017. 

(Brad Schwab)

Emily Votaw is WOUB’s arts and culture writer and has been delightfully fully employed as such since February of 2017. She shares custody of two English bulldogs, Bag, 9 years young, and Flo, 8 months old, (named after Mark Volman, a.k.a. the ‘Flo’ of Flo & Eddie) with her boyfriend and also takes time to sing every day to her 14-year-old female aquatic turtle, Stanley. On Saturday mornings she plays all of her favorite hits on WOUB’s Radio Free Athens on 1340AM under the moniker DJ Grumpy Grandma. You can most often find her in her office with the door shut or wandering the aisles of Kroger in a daze. 



What a year it’s been. But let’s talk music, because that’s going to say more anyways.

Arthur RussellLove Is Overtaking Me (2008)

It was a chilly night in early spring when my brother had asked me if I had ever heard of Arthur Russell.

“’That’s Us/Wild Combination,’ it’s like Waters of March, it’s so good,” he said, referencing a 1972 Antonio Carlos Jobim classic that, at some point, has been canonized to both of us.

That night, walking home, I found it on Spotify and put it on.

I was mesmerized.

It would be several weeks later that I would start to listen to “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face,” a tune off the 2008 compilation album, Love Is Overtaking Me. Although the album was assembled some 17 years after Russell’s death, it feels cohesive. These are songs he crafted in his awful little New York City apartment in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, all the while eating rice and drinking citrus smoothies, if the liner notes in the CD version I promptly purchased are correct.

The album is sparse, like a post-modern Bob Dylan or an abstracted Joni Mitchell. The instrumentation is beautiful, often roughhewn, a series of organ, piano, precise drumming, and sometimes pounding synthesizer (“Hey! How Does Everybody Know“). There is something distinctly lonely about this record – and I listened to it on a loop as I was moving into my new apartment this summer.

The shambling, glistening opening of the titular track is a true thing of beauty. The music winds down to a simple percussive beat and Russell’s voice swoons and careens over shifting sonic landscapes as the song knits itself together. It feels like a place he’s creating, and somehow you can relate so deeply to the seemingly opaque lyrics “I know it seems like we just, met but it’s so different now.”

Key Tracks: “Close My Eyes,” “Love Is Overtaking Me,” “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face,” “Don’t Forget About Me


Dan DeaconGliss Riffer (2015)

Dan Deacon scaled things down for this record, which draws unlikely inspiration from the likes of Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and Neil Young.

Spiderman of the Rings, Bromst, and America are electronically driven orchestral albums, in my book. So, perhaps this album makes a bit more sense when you understand that Sweet Baby Dan (bless him, bless his glasses, bless his beard, bless his rounded cheeks, bless his endlessly charming nervous demeanor) had Simon and Garfunkel in heavy rotation when he put this one together.

It makes sense – from the opening track (the stunning “Feel the Lightning,” check out this link for a stunning player piano version) on, everything is far more lyrically driven than anything that Deacon has put out in the past.

This album has become one of my top ten records. I’m not kidding. This one is up there with Rubber Soul, Apollo 18, The Queen Is Dead. It took two years of persistent listening to truly love it, but I promise it was worth it.

“When I Was Done Dying” is a profound, psychedelic piece of art, check out the insane “Off the Air” video made for it above. This is one that you can do cyclical breathing to, you can imagine all of the best and worst parts of your life just oozing by to the steadily growing tune, all of which pulls off of a steady chiming that feels somehow primordial. Think Van Morrison to the tune of Phillip Glass.

Key Tracks: “Feel the Lightning,” “When I Was Done Dying,” “Learning to Relax


Mac DeMarcoMy Old Man (2017)

Whenever I think of Mac DeMarco, (which is often,) I immediately smile, and I hear within the confines of my skull his distinct wheezy, easy laugh.

Ohh ho ho ho! Macky boy!

I gave my dad this record for Father’s Day. He loved it, said it was like some wholesome sonic lovechild of Al Green and PeeWee Herman – which I don’t think is an incorrect interpretation.

Each one of Mac’s records seem to reflect a very particular portion of transitioning from one’s late teens into bona fide adulthood, and this one is no different. What does it feel like when you’re starting to see your mother in the mirror and in the way you communicate to others?

Something like the chime-y, layered acoustic opening to the titular track – that’s how.

I’m enjoying growing up alongside Macky, and I hope you are too.

Key Tracks: “My Old Man,” “One Another,” “One More Love Song,” “Moonlight on the River


Joni MitchellCourt and Spark (1973)

Joni Mitchell is one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

Throughout my youth, I fell in love with various Joni Mitchell albums, and portions of my life can be dissected and recognized solely by which one of her works I was the most intrigued by at the time. While Blue may have spoken to me when I was a sophomore in college, Mingus might have been my thing when I was growing my obsession with the one and only Charles Mingus, and Hejira was all mine when I was confused by post-college life, “Court and Spark” is much darker, much more self-aware – kind of like what it felt like turning 25 in 2017!

“Down to You” is just about the most apt anthem for a painfully self-aware young woman, and “Car on a Hill” is the perfect song about the not-so-perfect guys who end up in Joni Mitchell songs (cough cough James Taylor cough cough). “Free Man in Paris,” about sweet old David Geffen, is another gem. The lyrics “I was a free man in Paris/ I felt unfettered and alive/ Nobody calling me up for favors/ No one’s future to decide,” – well isn’t that what a true vacation feels like? The line “I felt unfettered and alive” cycled through my mind this summer frequently, because that is precisely how I felt.

Key Tracks: “Court and Spark,” “Car On a Hill,” “Down to You,” “Free Man in Paris,” “Raised on Robbery


Chance the RapperColoring Book (2017)

I was interning at Billboard Magazine the summer of 2013, when the mix tape Acid Rap dropped, which remains one of my all-time favorites, as imperfect as it is in some spots.

Coloring Book is much more realized than Acid Rap, crafted by an older, more experienced and less-apt-to-dip-into-tacky-nostalgia Chance, and it’s a darn good record. While Acid Rap explored late high school and early adulthood, Coloring Book feels older, Chance has been through some things, but he’s better for it, or at least that’s the narrative of the work.

Who can’t relate to that?

2017 was a strange year for me, I often found myself oscillating from deep sadness and hopelessness to existential, earth-shattering joy (bet that summarizes your year too, dear reader,) – which is a pretty good way to describe this album.

Same Drugs” is a fantastic, aching breakup song that alludes heavily to Peter Pan, with a cool video, to boot, and “All Night” is my go-to running track or what I pop on before a night out to get all riled up.

Key Tracks: “All We Got,” “Blessings,” “Same Drugs,” “All Night”


Captain Beefheart and the Magic BandClear Spot (1972)

I am very grateful that Don Vliet decided to work with pop producer Ted Templeman and engineer, Donn Landee on this one – there are definitely echoes of the sort of general radio pop songs that Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, and even stinky ol Carly Simon were churning out at the time, and it works very well with the Captain’s bizarre lyricism.

“My Head is My Only House Unless It Rains” has been one of my favorites since early college – as a child I loved the Everything But the Girl cover, and it remains a timeless classic. If you didn’t think that Vliet could write a love song, listen to “Too Much Time,” a song that I sang under my breath all springtime long. “Sometimes when it’s late and I’m a little hungry I heat up some old stale beans, open up a can of sardines, eat crackers and dream about somebody that can cook for me,” is a particularly poignant, silly line.

Big Eyed Beans From Venus” is a guitar gem, and “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles” you’ll recognize from The Big Lebowski.

Key Tracks: “Too Much Time,” “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains,” “Big Eyed Beans From Venus,” “Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles”


Dougie PooleWideass Highway (2017)

Last summer I saw Dougie Poole perform in the sweaty confines of one of Athens’ coolest (they’re all cool, honestly, not that I’ve been to all of them,) DIY spaces. I was blown away by this young, lanky man with the big voice, Nudie jacket, pedal, and guitar. I love country music, unabashedly, and Poole’s take on the genre is refreshing – it’s country music for everyone, not just based on a strictly white, homonormative, working class experience.

I was ecstatic when I learned that his first album was coming out this year – I was only able to listen to a couple of his tracks last year after his performance online.

“Don’t You Think I’m Funny Anymore” is one of the most concise ways I’ve seen a song discuss the problem of lost love, the lines “Loved to share your silence when it wasn’t so heavy/ you tell me that you’re tired all the time/ I can drown my love in wine but I can’t make it drink/ the tears that come pouring out of your eyes,” are just a couple of true heavy-hitters.

Key Tracks: “Tripping With the One You Love,” “Less Young But as Dumb,” “Port Authority Hymn


Other notables:

Alan Price – O Lucky Man! (1973)

Martin Mull – Martin Mull (1972)

War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (2017)

The The – Soul Mining (1983)

Pokey LaFarge – Pokey LaFarge (2013)