KingWart’s Best of 2013

Hey everyone! Here’s my best of list!

bestof

  1. Joel Sarakula – The Golden Age
    This is good stuff, mixing soul, piano-pop, power pop, very creative and enjoyable.
  2. Attic Lights – Super De Luxe
    This is one where I can’t decide what’s the best song, they are all so great. If you like brit-pop you will love this record.
  3. Fortunetellers – Get Them Good
    I was upset about the breakup of Gold Motel, but this group (on the recommendation of Greta) definitely carries on that spirit, but does their own thing.
  4. Kelly Jones – Alta Loma
    Although it’s a slight departure from her last album, it is great in other ways. Her voice is beautiful and the singer-songwriter feel works great.
  5. Eric Barao – Eric Barao
    Fantastic power-pop that is big and brash and wonderful.
  6. Saves The Day – Saves The Day
    Finally another great Saves the Day album, they got a little dark in the past few years, but this is a more accessible album with great songs.
  7. Valley Lodge – Use Your Weapons
    Fun bubble-gummy pop. As soon as you think the album is going to let up, it hits you from another angle.
  8. The Yum Yums – …Play Good Music
    Always great to hear from them, this is another perfect bubblegum pop album
  9. Hot Nun – Hot Nun
    From the Well Wishers’ Jeff Shelton, this is a fun record, kind of glam, lots of rock and a short and enjoyable listen.
  10. Ex Norwegian – Crack
    Great bouncy stuff from this band, a bright and engaging record.
  11. Kaliyo – Trapeze
    This is a treasure from Andrea Perry and Sarah Sharp. Andrea Perry also had a solo album come out this year, which was great, but I love this one for its blend of the two voices and interesting songs.
  12. Bob Evans – Familiar Stranger
    Loved to hear a new album from him, and this one showed a lot of growth as an artist. There is a cool atmosphere to this one, listen to it a couple times.
  13. Leagues – You Belong Here
    This one is a great pulsating record a lot of power and feeling, kind of this style that is popular now, I think I heard a song on a Bose headphones commercial.
  14. Liar’s Club – Come And Go
    Another great power-pop record with fun, colorful songs. This is the first I had ever heard of this band, so I checked the back catalog…great stuff.
  15. Secret Friend – Time Machine
    Great pure-pop stuff from this album produced by Linus of Hollywood and featuring Willie Wisely and Kelly Jones on vocals. This came out the first week of this year and kept me entertained the whole year through!
  16. The Grapes Of Wrath – High Road
    A great one from this band who play just great pop well, another group returning after a long hiatus… it was well worth the wait!
  17. The Sun Sawed In 1/2 – Elephants Into Swans
    This one from has some great catchy tunes. Took some time to really get into it, but once I did, I was hooked. Another return from a hiatus.
  18. Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red
    A fantastic record, this band, who I only recently got into, makes such great pop albums, and this is no exception.
  19. The Joy Of Painting – Tender Age
    A cool band with a great sound and rocking tunes, another in this kind of driving, echoey sound that has taken over this year.
  20. Wyatt Funderburk – Novel And Profane
    Great to have a new album from the Second Saturday front man. This is a lot of good stuff. Poppy, and maybe a bit more mature than the band stuff.
  21. Yuna – Nocturnal
    Another new artist, really good stuff, enjoyable songs, catchy. Great voice and style.
  22. The Duckworth Lewis Method – Sticky Wickets
    Another fun cricket-based album. This time explores a few more song styles and is a little bit sillier and fun than the first.
  23. The Electric Soft Parade – Idiots
    Another great return from this band. This album feels a bit more mature as well, and explores some new territory.
  24. Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward
    If you’re not on board with Robbie Fulks, then who do you think you are? This is a great album with great songs, in a bit more stripped down sound.
  25. Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar
    I had almost given up on this group, but when I heard this I was pleasantly surprised to hear a great psychedelic record with shades of the Dukes of Stratosphear and classic 60’s sounds.

Other great stuff:

Bonus: Here’s my compilation of some of the best songs from these albums!

Music insanity!

I have been so slack in posting lately! Here’s a bunch of great releases you need to check out.

Travis – Where You Stand – I’m a lifetime fan of this band, they really can’t do much wrong in my eyes. This album was really a lot of fun.

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion – Wassaic Way – More of the fuller sound that brought them to my ears a couple years ago, this album is a good companion piece, but not as sticky as that other one.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Fly By Wire – A bit more flighty and sweet than previous albums, this one is a grower, and eventually came around to be pretty great.

Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action – Another grower for me. At first, I thought it was a bit stuck in a rut, but as the songs repeated themselves in my head, I saw that the same power is there in the songwriting.

Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward – A bit more on the serious side, as the last few albums have been, this is still classic Robbie Fulks, and well worth the price of admission.

Saves The Day – Saves The Day – a wonderful return to form for this band which took a weird turn for a few years there, but this album is full of energy, brightness, yet still retaining that skewed perspective that makes them so unique.

Valley Lodge – Use Your Weapons – bubblegummy, poppy fun. It is wonderful and does not let up till the end. Highly recommended!

Alexander Von Mehren – Aéropop – Loungey, baroquey fun from this guy. It’s a great sound, done very well.

Adrian Bourgeois – Pop Art – epic in scope (and length) this album covers a lot of ground. Yet all of it is pretty good. Just some of the best pop music I have heard in a long time. Keep it up!

The Nines – The Nines – The return of this artist is well worth the wait, with what seems like an album of singles! So good!

Any Version of Me – We Are You – Great pop music! I like this a lot!

The Candle Thieves – All’s Well That Ends Well – Great piano pop!

Coke Belda – Coke Belda I – Good baroque-ish pop, just good stuff. Listen, OK?

The Starfolk – The Starfolk – Awesome, laid back, smooth pop!

The Polyphonic Spree – Yes It’s True – the return of this band is good, but the album hasn’t really hooked me like earlier ones did. The sound is still there, but its a bit stale.

International Pop Overthrow Vol. 16 – I always enjoy these compilations, there are a lot of good nuggets here. These days I listen to so much new music, that much of this goes in one ear out the other, if I had the time, I am sure I would find a lot to explore here.

The Mother Hips – Behind Beyond – Goodness from this band who always deliver solid tunes with a breeziness yet a powerful sense of a purpose of some sort.

Featured Album – The Duckworth Lewis Method – Sticky Wickets

The Duckworth Lewis Method – Sticky Wickets

4 Stars

4 Stars

The Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets

The Duckworth Lewis Method – Sticky Wickets

Having enjoyed the first outing by this band featuring the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh, I was excited for the new album. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised by it. The first one had more of a psychedelic fantasy approach which was interesting, but soon wore thin. This album seems to take a more forward stance coming at you full on with the opener “Sticky Wickets”. This prepares you for a more straightforward rock approach to the game of Cricket.

Yet if you are looking for the more whimsical approach, look no further than the epic “It’s Just Not Cricket” which blows the lid off of the cricket industry, yearning for some good old days, complete with an orchestra and gang vocals! Other highlights include “Out In The Middle” and “Line and Length”. The key ingredient to all of these songs is the little twist that makes the song less about the intricacies of the sport, and more about life itself. I may not know a thing about cricket, but I get a heck of a lot out of this album.

Definitely worth picking up if you liked the last one, but I feel this one could be accessible to many more music fans and for those sports fans with a sense of humor. Cheers to all!

Featured Album – The Electric Soft Parade – IDIOTS

The Electric Soft Parade – IDIOTS

4 Stars

4 Stars

The Electric Soft Parade - IDIOTS

The Electric Soft Parade – IDIOTS

Great to hear from these guys again, in an album that really sets itself apart from their previous records. What makes this group so good is the sheer amount of hooks and melodies packed into each song. The songs glide along brilliantly and keep you engaged no matter what. You will be singing parts of these songs over and over again.

What makes this album unique is that it seems somewhat more introspective than the previous records. It seems to be a trend with some of these bands I got into in the early 2000’s. They are growing up, and so is their music. It brought to mind the new album I reviewed earlier this year by Bob Evans.

Despite the usual batch of instant classics like Summertime in My Heart, I think that this may not be as poppy as some earlier albums, but that is fine with me, because it is a thought provoking and interesting album. I think this will grow with me a lot and may turn out to be my favorite by them. Definitely worth checking out. Start your summer off with a blast!

Review: Shangri-La by Ben Jones & The Rifle Volunteers

Following on from enjoying Ben Jones’ two solo albums and watching a great set at IPO (London) 2013 I eagerly anticipated his new band “Ben Jones & The Rifle Volunteers” album. It was worth the way.

It’s a heady mix of styles, from the opening style of the ‘Heatwave’-esque Martha and the Vandellas number “Reach Me” to hanging around a dirty cross-roads waiting on the Devil to bang out a great Delta Blues’. From the ultra-hooky ‘Promises, promises’ reminiscent of Scouting for Girls to the House Martin like title-track ‘Shangri-La’.

It’s in my list for Top Ten of 2013.

Stand out tracks? I like them all to be honest; perhaps ‘Show about a smile?’ as I type but it’ll be something different by morning.

Go and buy a copy from http://www.joshroots.co.uk/bjrv/.

Featured Album – Too Much Saturn – Moving Forward Sideways

Too Much Saturn – Moving Forward Sideways

3 Stars

3 Stars

Too Much Saturn - Moving Forward Sideways

Too Much Saturn – Moving Forward Sideways

When it comes to power pop, I can’t resist. A fun bouncy beat and groovy vocals get me every time. So when I heard the album by Too Much Saturn, I was hooked in. This has a classic sound that harkens back to many great bands before them, but they have their own certain charm. It doesn’t hit you over the head with its punch. But listen again and again, and you will soon be singing along with every song.

Photogenic and Walter Cronkite are highlights and just have an infectious way about them. I think this album really just kicks off what promises to be an exciting new band on the scene, and I look forward to hearing a lot more from this group.

 

Other notable releases for this week (or the past 2 months or so! It’s been a long time, but I’ve still been listening to all this stuff!!)

Featured Album – The Grapes of Wrath – “High Road”

The Grapes of Wrath – “High Road”

4 Stars

4 Stars

The Grapes of Wrath – High Road

OK, a bit closer to home, but still hard to get is the new album from Canada’s The Grapes of Wrath, a band I only recently got into. I like a lot of their earlier work, but when I popped this on for the first time it was a whole new experience. It felt fresh, vibrant and new. It didn’t hurt that it was this album’s high point, the opening track, Good To See You (included below). It kind of serves as a welcome back track, and is a pulsating, rocking gem.

The rest of the album does not disappoint. There is a bit of everything on this album, from Beatlesque pop, to more driving, forward music. Lyrically, it is very interesting, all about life and stuff. It definitely grows with you, I am still noticing new interesting things about the album everytime I hear it. The vocal style is what gets me, very cool and soothing, but not without a certain edge. Overall the whole listening experience is rewarding.

Definitely one to check out, if you like interesting, elegant pop music that has a real love of musicality, that I admire a lot. Good times!

Other notable releases for this week:

Featured Album – The Yum Yums – “…Play Good Music”

The Yum Yums – “…Play Good Music”

5 Stars

5 Stars

The Yum Yums – ...Play Good Music

Another in the continuing series of new music from other countries that might be hard to find, here comes Norway’s own The Yum Yums. They are back in action with another hopping, bopping, power-popping collection of fun filled chewy bubblegummy sweetness! They know what their strengths are, and they exploit them to the tippity top. There is no hidden meaning here, just songs about love, music and candy. As it should be!

I love that with The Yum Yums, I can pop in any of their albums and immediately cheer up. This album made me want to pull out those other albums that had been collecting dust. If you are not yet aware of this band, rectify it soon. Even though you can’t easily get this new album yet, check out their older releases available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, etc.

Featured Album – Bob Evans – Familiar Stranger

Bob Evans – Familiar Stranger

4 Stars

4 Stars

Bob Evans - Familiar Stranger

Bob Evans – Familiar Stranger

From the first sustained note that opens the album, you are pulled into this world of Bob Evans. The cinematic opening of “Footscray Park” like the first moments of a film, introduces the tone and thematic elements. As the harmonic vocals come in you can almost see the scene being built in front of you. This happens both musically and lyrically. The music is layers upon layers, crafting itself into a storytelling device. Lyrically, there are themes of building your life. Growing up, making plans for your future that never quite pan out the way you want, and the realization that sometimes that’s how life goes. But it is a hopeful message, because either way, you have built something regardless of what you wanted in the first place.

Yet at no point do you feel this is some kind of haughty concept album. Each song has its own story to tell. But the approach to the songs is very unified. There is this open feeling to the songs, lyrically open and honest, and musically wide. You are swimming in guitars, synths, and drums, and laid out in the middle are the soft, laid-back, harmonic vocals, pushing through the stories and philosophical thinking. The musicality of everything prepares you to hear the messages coming through, and is really a perfect way to deliver those messages.

It feels for the first time on a Bob Evans record, that this really means something to the artist, and he is telling stories that are both specific to him, but understood to be universal. The result is a beautiful, well-crafted album that everyone can get something from. Whether you are a lyrics person who thrives on thoughtful lyrics, or a music person looking for great melodies, harmonies, and intricate production styles, this has it all. This is a triumphant return and the creation of a lasting statement to be proud of.

Featured Album – Pop Garden Radio Presents: Legacy – A Tribute To Rick Nelson Volume 1

Pop Garden Radio Presents: Legacy – A Tribute To Rick Nelson Volume 1

3 Stars

3 Stars

Pop Garden Radio Presents: Legacy - A Tribute To Rick Nelson Volume 1

Pop Garden Radio Presents: Legacy – A Tribute To Rick Nelson Volume 1

Listeners of the great pop music radio show Pop Garden Radio know that Adam Waltemire has been working on this collection a long long time. And let it just be said that it was worth the wait. This is a phenomenal tribute to Rick Nelson, someone who kind of gets the short shrift in rock and roll history, but played a big part in it.

What I love about this record is the care the artists put into their versions. These sound excellent, well recorded, well produced, and it sounds great. It covers a wide swath of Nelson’s catalog, and truly gives meaning behind the title, Legacy, it is clear Rick Nelson did leave a mark in the music world.

With another Volume to come out shortly, it is exciting to think of all the great work that has been done on this that we have yet to hear. These 22 tracks offer a great selection and a great opening to this series. There is something for everyone here. And it’s only 10 bucks! Go for it, friends!

Featured Album – Leagues – You Belong Here

Leagues – You Belong Here

3 Stars

3 Stars

Leagues - You Belong Here

Leagues – You Belong Here

This album hit me from the first listen. It is instantly danceable, beat driven music. Add in the sorta quirky vocal style of Thad Cockrell, it really is something. This sounds like a fresh new band with bright eyed kids in their early 20’s…only these guys have been playing (separately) for years! That ends up giving the album a very polished, slick sound, that could easily slide into being overwrought and too earnest. In this case, it does quite the opposite, and manages to have a little bit of fun.

The instrumentation and arrangements are very interesting and engaging. You are sort of drawn into the songs, and just when you think you are getting bored, they turn it into a new direction, surprising the listener once again. This band really pushes the indie rock boundaries, by actually pushing to make something lasting, while being entertaining and unique. Keep it up fellas, you have a great formula!

Featured Album – The Spinto Band – Cool Cocoon

The Spinto Band – Cool Cocoon

3 Stars

3 Stars

The Spinto Band - Cool Cocoon

The Spinto Band – Cool Cocoon

When it comes to airy gentle indie pop, you can’t seem to go wrong with The Spinto Band. With their high-pitched vocals, dreamy soundscapes and themes of love and loss, they typify what it means to be an indie band. But if that turns you off, maybe stick with it a bit longer. There are real influences here that harken back to classic sixties pop, and a retro feel that is their own.

It is hard to pigeonhole this music, because it offers a unique approach to music that is interesting and beautiful.

If I had one complaint, it might be that it becomes a bit samey at times, it doesn’t seem to really want your attention, so fades to the background easily. But this could be a strength in some people’s eyes. All in all, I think it is an enjoyable, interesting record.

Featured Album – The Sun Sawed in 1/2 – Elephants Into Swans

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 – Elephants Into Swans

4 Stars

4 Stars

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 - Elephants Into Swans

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 – Elephants Into Swans

They are back! After over a decade, The Sun Sawed in ½ picks up right where they left off with a winning album, full of catchy hooks, those soaring vocals, and sounds fresh and new. I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into this band. I think I first heard of them on the Jellyfish mailing list, as a band to check out. I got their albums and while I liked a lot of it, some songs left me cold, and I never really got much further than a couple listens. What I realized listening to this new album was that when they do it right, they really get it right. There are songs on here that are almost perfect examples of great pop songwriting.

The lead-off track, “You’re The Something” hits hard with a rock edge that is undeniable, by the end of the song, you are all in, and ready for whatever they have to offer. The next two tracks are fantastic pop songs that you will be humming for the next week! The rest of the album keeps things going, never really letting up, then putting the cherry on top is the final track, “Waltzing in Clover”, which ends the album on a high note, leaving you wanting more. The album is a breezy listen, with lots to grab onto each time you put it on!

Elephants Into Swans is a well-produced, solid record. Here’s hoping The Sun Sawed in ½ are here to stay and will be bringing us great pop music for years to come. Check this album out and see some of the first golden pop nuggets of 2013!

Other notable releases for this week:

Featured Album – Hot Nun

Hot Nun – Hot Nun

3 Stars

3 Stars

Hot Nun - Hot Nun

Hot Nun – Hot Nun

A short-but-sweet rockin’ album from Jeff Shelton (Well Wishers), it asks the musical question, “Wanna Rock?!” Chock-full of fast-paced guitar driven rock/pop/glam, topped with the sweet vocal style we’ve come to love from Jeff. He is having fun on this record, at one point adopting a British accent! There is no time for reflection here, and while it does not have a lot of variety, who needs it? If you want a fun, bouncy, album with edge, this one’s for you!

Featured Album – Time Machine by Secret Friend

Welcome to 2013 fans and friends! I’m going to try writing longer-form reviews this year. Who knows what may happen!

4 Stars

4 Stars

Secret Friend – Time Machine

Secret Friend – “Time Machine”

An awesome album to start the year off with, this record has a lot going for it. The foundation of the music is firmly rooted in classic 70’s singer-songwriter pop. It’s your basic Andrew Gold, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Emmit Rhodes type of sound. It’s got lots of piano, clean acoustic guitar, drums, and throw in some horns and strings for good measure. If you love that sound, you will be into this record. A lot.

This album is the brainchild of Stephen Fox, someone I know nothing about, except he’s from Australia. What brought this to my attention was his recruitment of some of my favorite artists to play, sing, and produce the record. That’s Willie Wisely on Lead Vocals, bringing his laid back tenor to serve this material very well. On Background Vocals, we have Kelly Jones, and she sings lead on a great jazzy song “He’ll Never Know Me.” Producing and playing is Linus of Hollywood. A formidable pedigree if you ask me.

These contributors bring a lot to the project, but the real star here is the songs, with great, classic, “have I heard this before?” sounding melodies, and strong, interesting lyrics. These songs are often heartbreaking, each a story in itself. The themes go from lighter, universal love songs, to darker, personal lyrics of the type where if you aren’t paying attention, you might not even notice the darkness. Take “Killing Time”, a fun fast-paced sounding song, about a very dark topic. It took me 2 listens to suddenly “get” it!

Overall, it is a great record, which lovers of that classic pop sound will be attracted to. It is strong enough that it could convince some hard-headed music fans to dig in.

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