It’s unusual for a band to use its new album to force its fanbase to scrutinize — and even confront — their values, even a veteran group as serious-minded and self-aware as the Drive-By Truckers. Yes, nuanced songwriting that takes a hard look at matters of history and integrity comes relatively easy to the Truckers, whether they’re grappling with the complicated legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd on their previous signature album, 2001’s Southern Rock Opera, or probing myriad other personal and political issues deeply connected to their problematic homeland, which they've done on records before and since. What’s different on American Band, the band’s 11th studio LP since 1998, is how immediate these songs feel, even when the underlying issues are hardly anything new: immigration (“Ramon Casiano”), parenthood (“Filthy and Fried”), suspicion of the dreaded "others" (“Surrender Under Protest”), shameless but seductive demagogues (“Kinky Hypocrite”) and the craven broadcast media ("Once They Banned Imagine"), all five tunes written in the usual wistfully precise style of DBT co-founder Mike Cooley.
Smartly positioned toward the end of the album is American Band’s centerpiece, “What It Means.” Here, co-captain Patterson Hood admits the complicity and culpability of white America (including, presumably, himself and a vast majority of DBT fans) in creating a culture where one young black man after another can be killed by the nation's police officers, precious few of whom have ever been held accountable — and then Hood goes on to admit that, at least as far as solutions are concerned, he’s as clueless as the rest of us. Lending American Band added weight (and making it another outstanding DBT album, perhaps their best yet) is the way the Truckers are able to translate these knotty emotions into a succession of thickly marbled electric-guitar mashes, knit together by Jay Gonzalez’s deeply soulful keyboards and alleviated periodically by just a lone voice and acoustic guitar, usually Hood's. Here, at least, the Truckers (as always) are able to arrive at some pretty satisfying conclusions. CHRIS GRAY
Why Tenacious D? Because the government totally sucks, you mofo. The government totally sucks. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Something about preparing to turn 35, the election, parenthood, you name it — it’s got me running scared a bit. On that note, I do what many do: retreat into the past for a while. On a musical scale, that mostly means bands like the Wallflowers, Third Eye Blind, Everclear, Collective Soul, early Foo Fighters and many more populating my playlist. These bands weren’t particularly insightful — though I always found Jakob Dylan to be an underrated songwriter — but their music meant something to me then. Twenty years on, it may mean even more to me now. CLINT HALE
CHANCE THE RAPPER; AGAINST ME!
Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book has been on regular rotation for me since its release. It's uplifting, funny and smart — three characteristics that keep me coming back amid this quagmire of an election. Sometimes it feels like music is all we got, and I'm grateful to at least have that. I've also been listening to Against Me!'s latest release, Shape Shift With Me, when the angst becomes overwhelming. Laura Jane Grace's howling vocals provide me a kind of solace that can only be found in punk rock, and I appreciate her romanticized cynicism amid the infuriating political climate we're all having to endure. MATTHEW KEEVER
CHANCE THE RAPPER
When I need a palate-cleanser from the fulminating trash fire that has been the 2016 election, I turn to Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book. The album, eagerly anticipated and roundly revered, creates a joyous, nuanced universe antithetical to the politically disastrous year in which it debuted. Chance doesn't shy away from painful realities of contemporary American (and particularly black American) life on Coloring Book, nor does he try to deny them the complexity and ambivalence they deserve. The song "Summer Friends" is a notable example of this, painting a portrait of early-'90s Chicago that is both charming ("socks on concrete/Jolly Rancher kids") and menacing ("the plague hit the backyard"). Elections are usually heavy on empty platitudes, but 2016 has instead filled those platitudes up with the dangerous breath of a thousand dog whistles. The weekly, hurtling descent into a new political lowest common denominator is enough to drive anyone to despair. Coloring Book gives me hope that there is more to this nation than the ugliness of this election year, and that we are ready for our blessings, and ready for our miracle. KATIE SULLIVAN
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We included Justice Allah’s “FTP/FTP” in a list of controversial songs awhile back because it seemed like a direct criticism of President Obama and his inaction on events like Ferguson, all coming right from South Park, Houston. Today, our take on the song isn’t quite so myopic. The “Fuck the Police/Fuck the President” chorus isn’t against anyone specific now; it’s against everyone involved, a blanket indictment of the powers that be and the police state required to maintain authority over anthem and pipeline protestors alike. From Democrats getting Schultzed to Trump winning votes on a campaign of “stop and frisk” and too many more reasons to list here, “FTP/FTP” isn’t controversial anymore, it’s just one artist vocalizing how many Americans feel today. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
THE HAMILTON SOUNDTRACK
The closer we get to Election Day, the more obsessed I become with the Hamilton OBC recording. It just scratches so many of my interests; there's just a wealth to pore over that excites me from a history perspective, a hip-hop perspective, a concept album perspective and from that part of me that is obsessed with over-analyzing music. And the best part of it is that it doesn't shy away from the ugly realities of old-school politics; the Founding Fathers are really not that different from today's politicians, even if their faces have been painted endlessly and their likenesses carved into mountains. And in that, I can find comfort that even flawed humans can be great humans when the times demand it.
Plus the music is just really, really, really freaking good. “Wait For It” is a complete stunner of a song, featuring a powerhouse performance by Leslie Odom Jr. that just knocks me out every time I hear it...which has been a bunch because sometimes I just put it on a loop and listen to it on my drive home. Like so much of Hamilton, it's a song whose guts I want to dig into in hopes of finding the magic at its core; a song like “Non-Stop” must be alchemy because it's so perfect in its construction. So yes, to avoid the chaos of the day, I retreat into an alternate past, where great men did great and terrible things, and the only thing that defines you in the end is what you do with your shot. CORY GARCIA