“And may all your favorite bands stay together…”
A fabulous year for music. The return of some old favorites [ELO ,Robert Forster ,The Waterboys ,Brian Wilson , B.C.Camplight] and some new artists [C. Duncan ,Fraser A. Gorman ,Tobias Jesso Jr., Pop 4 }. Music that kept me up late intently listening he last couple months. Now it is time to make my yearly list . Keep in mind that after the top 10 or so, rankings are arbitrary. It’s music that moved me. Made me think, dream, dance, and cry.
So now I’m ready to share my thoughts.
1] The Bird and the Bee- “Recreational Love”
“I don’t care if people stare
People stare at all the wrong things…”
I have been a big fan of Inara George’s voice since this group began. She has the perfect pop voice. And her band mate, Greg Kurstin has surrounded that voice with a sweet , sophisticated production .You can say it is dance music. I prefer to call it Lounge pop. These are tunes of love and desire with strong melodies, well arranged and filled with studio tricks that Mr. Kurstin excels at.
Hooks -moments that delight with each listen:
The jazzy piano solo on “Young and Dumb”
“All my girlfriends say” on “Recreational love”
“We say Ah” the sigh on “Will you dance”
The cool chorus on “Runaway”
“Tell me how you missed me while you kiss me” on “Please take me home”
The album ends with one of the best songs of the year. “Lovey Dovey” is a dreamy end of the day song that stands apart from the rest of the album in it’s pop splendor.
“All through the day I get such an ache in my heart…”
The night comes and all ends well. A good indication of the incredible pop music these two are capable of.
2] Joanna Newsom- ” Divers”
“Anecdotes cannot say what Time may do…”
5 years after she dazzled us with the 3 record set “Have one on me” [my #1 album that year], Joanna has graced us with the next step in her evolution. “Divers” is a distillation of her previous work. Perhaps more simple at times, but the end result is no less complex. This is Baroque orchestral pop filled with folk music and rich poetic imagery. Her vocals are almost operatic at times. That voice can be polarizing to some. I find a lot of beauty in it. The compositions are filled with lots of changes. Take opening track “Anecdotes” for example. It begins with voice and harp, then slowly builds over 6 minutes, adding instruments, the music swelling in orchestral beauty. It concludes with gorgeous piano. Outstanding!
The intricate way she sings “Do you love me, Will you remember…” from “Sapokanikan, sounding like a tune from the Renaissance.
The high double tracked vocals toward the end of “Sapokanikan” showing impressive range.
The lovely harp intro to “Leaving the City”
The stark repeated “You will not take my heart alive ” Chilling!
The jig at the close of “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne”
I really cannot say much about the lyrics or their meaning. They come off happy /sad .I have read several reviews that point to overall themes. Perhaps. I can only say that these 11 songs touch me emotionally and the music is exhilarating. Joanna continues to refine her craft and is one of our most important artists. While not for everyone, if she gets to you there are so many rewards.
Something worth noting that was pointed out in an excellent Pitchfork review by Laura Snapes. The final word sung at the album’s conclusion is “trans” and the first word to open the album is ‘sending”. Pretty neat!
3] Tame Impala- “Currents”
“feel like a brand new person..”
Pretty much a solo Kevin Parker album. He wrote, performed, and produced everything. And it is magnificent. Supposed to be a “breakup” album, and I get that from some of the lyrics. But the music is pure joy to listen to and experience ,filled with sweet pop , sublime vocals, and studio trickery.
Songs like “Let it happen”, “The Moment”, “Yes I’m Changing”, and “Cause I’m a Man” are among the finest pop songs of the year. And then there’s “Eventually” [my favorite]
“I know that I’ll be happier .And I know you will too” followed by the song’s title “Eventually”. The way Mr. Parker sings that is oh so sweet , yet vulnerable. Who knows when that happiness will occur ?
On “Let it Happen”- the sound drops off at the beginning, then at the end there is a loop stuck on repeat.
The massive opening to “Eventually” which quickly settles into sweet pop.
The nifty bass and gorgeous vocals on “The less I know the Better”
The eerie mumbled spoken voice on “Past Life”
The shuffle sway on “The Moment”- finger snappin’ good
The switch to an octave higher on the R&B “New Person Same Old Mistakes”-so good!
‘They say people never change but that’s bullshit. They do…”from “Yes I’m changing”
The pop perfect ending “It’s calling out for you” to “Yes I’m changing”
There is something to marvel at on each track. Like one of his idols, Todd Rundgren, Kevin is a wizzard in the studio. Without a lot of guitar this time out ,and his heart on his sleeve he has crafted a a sonic treasure.
4] Julia Holter- “Have you in my Wilderness”
“Language is such a play…”
While immersing myself with Julia’s music i had a Dove Promise. The message inside was “Be a little mysterious” .How appropriate, since this album is full of mystery. Songs about running away, being stranded on an island, and life flashing before your eyes. The music however is gorgeous pop. Her first couple of albums labeled her as an avant guard artist . But on her third , “Loud city Song “she opened up more to pop conventions.She did a great cover of the R&B song “Hello Stranger”. That is how I found her.
The reviews on “Wilderness” have been outstanding. It topped both Mojo and Uncut’s year end lists. Songs like “Betsy on the Roof” and “Sea calls me home” are among the best songs I’ve heard all year. The album is filled with lovely emotional ballads .In Julia’s own words, “Songs that dwell together”
Julia’s voice- so sensual and moving. She leaves me breathless at times.
The gothic noir of “How Long”. Are you listening Lana Del Rey?
The spoken word at the end of “Lucette Stranded on the Island”
The strings on “Silhouette” and “Night Song”. Very cinematic.
The growling sax solo on “Sea calls me home” and gotta love the whistling.
The chorus on “Sea calls me home”-so haunting
“I can’t swim. It’s lucidity. So clear…”
Do check this one out. And here are a couple of videos of Julia performing her music:
5]Brandon Schott- “Crayons and Angels”
“Lift up your voice and sing a joyful tune…”
And there are plenty of joyful tunes found on this majestic power pop album. I have to thank Alan Haber for leading me to this gem. For Brandon Schott has put together a pop masterpiece . And I don’t use that term loosely.
A lot of work went into this project and it payed off. There are several gorgeous instrumentals, a couple duets, a swell Elvis Costello cover, and lots of inspired pop tunes. So many influences spring forth. Of course Beatles and Brian, plus some Nilsson. However Brandon can be proud that this is his album, these are his tunes.He has a beautiful clear voice, and the production is pop perfect, guaranteed to move you emotionally .
The Baroque “Verdugo Park”
The sweet duet with Kelly Jones- “Every little Thing” I have yet to hear anything with her that I didn’t enjoy.
The several instrumental interludes are all lovely , especially the bright “Sunglow” and gorgeous “Wisteria”
the falsetto in “Seeing you in Stereo’- great title, terrific tune.
The wistful charm of “Dandelion Rain”
One of my favorite tunes is the power pop “Dear Daisy.” One of Brandon’s best vocals, and it’s over in 2 minutes.
The album ends with the pretty ballad ‘ Sweet Adelyne”
” world turns right on time for you…”
Quite an accomplishment. i must add that I ordered this from Brandon’s site. Within a day or two at the most, I received an e-mail from Brandon stating he had just mailed the cd and to please let him know if there were any problems. The cd arrived promptly, and with it was a kazoo ! That is great customer service.
I love this music. Thanks Brandon for the great production. And once again, a thak you to Alan Haber for the tip.
6] Eleni Mandell- “Dark Lights Up”
“There’s a town called Heartache in the state of Misery
I used to live there all year round…”
Inspired by an afternoon stroll with her 2 children through the Country Music Hall of Fame.we have the benefit of a new album by one of our best singer/ songwriters. You might guess that the inspiration and from those lyrics quoted above that she made a country album. Guess again. She already did one in 2003. “Country for true Lovers”.Eleni’s music defies categories. There is a touch of country [“What love can do”] but this is mostly folk/ jazz.Her music can make you laugh, make you think, and make you cry. Her main theme is the search for love, but she has a couple tunes here about being a mother. One of her most touching songs ever is “Old Lady” where she wonders if her children will still visit when she is older. it contains this beautiful lyric:
“When I close my eyes I’m still just a girl…”
“Butter Blonde and Chocolate Brown” is a deeply affectionate portrait of her children ending with herself.
“Apartment is small but we manage ok…”
“I’ll have an Old Fashioned of course” on the song “Old Fashioned”
The duet with Mike Viola . He sure gets around.
Eleni having some fun on “Cold Snap” and “If you wanna get kissed ”
The touching finale “Do it Again”
“My heart was hungry and forlorn…”
If you ever have the chance to see this lady , do see. She is an amazing performer. I await her next one.
7]Pop 4- “Summer”
“You gotta live every moment gotta love everything
Doesn’t take an Einstein to realize the sunshine is better than the rain…”
Once again I have Alan Haber to thank for finding this release. I actually won the cd in one of his contests. And what an unexpected pleasure it turned out to be. Pop 4 refers to 4 pop artists : Scott McPherson ,KC Bowman,Kirk Adams, and Andrea Perry. The album was recorded at their homes and on the web . And it is remarkable. Here are 4 musicians who play some of the finest pop I’ve heard all year. It plays like a juke box loaded with great pop, with beautiful melodies, terrific harmonies, and influences like the Beatles, Nilsson, ELO,and Aimee Mann, the Cowsills, and sunshine pop.
The album starts with with all four singing “I will become Love ” a capella , followed by the positive “Beautiful” with a nice guitar solo. Things really take off on the ELO inspired “Einstein and Sunshine. “Each artist has a song to add to the mix, and there is fun to be had by seeing who did what, because they are all wonderful artists.
The gorgeous “Jaded” a nod to Harry Nilsson.
Andrea’s “I’m so Jealous” a song that was stuck in my head for a while.
The old time piano on “Julionne Irish” , a tune McCartney should love.
The ode to Aimee Mann on “You’re no Aimee Mann” with a great vocal addition by Andrea at 3 minutes in.
The catchy as can be “Lovers Limbo” .You really have to sing along.
The superb “Tour for the Brokenhearted ” What a song!
“No ties that bind to be found here
Duets turn into solos for reasons we can’t know…”
The strings in the finale to album closer “Dust”.
So 50 minutes of “Summer”. And this album sounds groovy in a car. The arrangements, the guitars, the strings, and the vocals are all pop perfection. I not only won a wonderful album, I now have four new artists to research. All four have their own pop projects . I see that Scott even has a group called The Prefab Sprout Project. Now that I have to check out.
Please seek this music out. It is waiting for you.
8]Natalie Prass– “Natalie Prass”
“You don’t leave me no choice But to run away You are a bird of Prey…”
Last year , the single “Bird of Prey” made my list of top songs .In January of 2015 we got the debut full length.A pop soul classic with songs accenting the fragility of heartbreak. I fell in love with her voice from the start, and really enjoy that the arrangements enhance those vocals so well. She sings very calmly of love’s misfortunes , while surrounded by horns and strings that help get that heartache showcased.
” Your Fool” appears twice. Once a lovely ballad where she literally coos the lyrics .The reprise is a flourish of instruments while Natalie recites the lyrics. “Christy ‘ is a tribute to Brazilian singer Gal Costa and arranger Rogerio Duprat, with a gorgeous melody that shows off Natalie’s high register.
“Violently” has the darkest lyrics .
“I just want to know you violently. I’ve had enough of talking politely ..”
In that song she sings of breaking her legs so she won’t walk to her lover. That is very reminiscent of a Sharon Van Etten tune with similar lyrics.
Through all of the pain, Natalie’s voice remains soft and somber, letting the horns and strings to complete her. Not since Dusty Springfield as a singer pulled something like that off.
This is a remarkable production handled by Mathew E. White.
The album ends with “It is You” that stands out from the rest of the album. It is said to be a tribute to vintage Disney soundtracks. And it sounds like something Snow White would sing with a lilting harp and a flute adding to the orchestration. This song and “Christy” point to a possible different direction for Natlalie. It will be interesting to see what follows,
9] Tobias Jesso Jr.- “Goon”
“I was brought up right, I said my prayers every night since 1995 …”
“Is that McCartney ?” my wife Amy asked one Sunday afternoon while I was playing this album. And she wasn’t that off. On closer listening Sir Paul is all over this wonderful release. I first discovered him on The Tonight Show , with Jimmy Fallon gushing over this brand new singer. Right after that I saw a very favorable review at Pitchfork. Got right on that. A pianist/ singer with his heart on his sleeve. How could I resist.
Bacharach and Jimmy Webb are like like gods to me. Tobias reminds me a lot of a young Jimmy Webb. This album is filled with well written songs and performed with great emotion. There are so many nice moments to discuss :
-His voice cracking towards the end of “How could you Babe”
-The falsetto on “Bad Words”
-“Someone let him in” in “Can we still be friends”- a total McCartney Wings steal.
-His humorous crying on “Crocodile Tears”. Great guitar solo too.
“My baby she loves to see me cry Boo Hoo hoo…”
-Tobias playing acoustic guitar on the vulnerable “The Wait” ”
“but honey I’m tired, tired of the wait…”
-the elegant piano on “Can’t stop thinking about you ”
My favorite is the desperate cry in his voice on “Without You”
“I can hardly breathe without you
there is no future I want to see without you…”
But the situation has hope as he pleads further “Oh what have you got to loose..” This one brings tears to my eyes. You are rooting for the poor guy.
So we have a future star to follow. There is always room for a singer/ songwriter with the talent this young artist displays on this impressive debut. As he sings in “Hollywood”
“I don’t know if I can fake it if they tell me I’m no good …”
Tobias you are very good. Can’t wait for more from you.
10] Belle and Sebastian- “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance ”
” A subtle gift to modern rock She says “be popular play pop
and you will win my love…”
I have so much respect for Stuart Murdoch after seeing his movie “God Help the Girl”. It was such a sweet look at young romance, friendship, and most important making music. I adored it and was quite moved.
I’m such a fan, that a new album is an event in my corner. In an interview to announce this recording, Stuart stated that the album was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest. That explains the upbeat dance songs like “The Party Line”, “Enter Sylvia Plath”, and “Perfect Couples”. They mix it up nicely , transitioning dance with techno, rock, and some of the sweet pop they are known for. It is all intoxicating and makes for a very good listen.
-the personal lyrics on “Nobody’s Empire” that address Stuart’s past affliction with chronic fatigue syndrome.
-the great guitar solo on the Abba sounding “The Book of You”.
-the swelling strings on “The Cat with the Cream”
“I cover up my head and pray I’m praying for the light…”
-the jazz percussion opening the cool “Perfect Couples”.
-“the tricks in your head are a lie…” from “Allie”
I have two favorites .One is “The power of three” sung by Sarah Martin and featuring emotional strings and synths. Sarah’s vocals are superb. ‘It’s the blink of an eye. It’s the beat of a heart…”
The other is a lovely duet with Dee Dee of The Dum Dum Girls. Inspired choice!
“Love is a fraud It’s misunderstood. Work is a sentence…”
The lyrics ,song placement, and production are a triumph. They took some chances, even tackled disco [“The Party Line” ] and it still comes out sounding like Belle and Sebastian. Love that Euro pop !
11] Liam Hayes- “Slurrup”
Liam a former perfectionist is on a roll.He had one on last year’s list. He’s got a rocking trio and they are knockin’ out beat music and power pop gems.
12]Louise Le May- “A Tale Untold”
Featuring production and piano by the great Louis Philippe . Nice mystical folk pop.
13] Wilco – “Star Wars” Pleasant surprise from America’s best band. Just showed up with little notice and it rocks.
14] Jeff Lynne’s ELO- “Alone in the Universe ”
Nice to see Jeff back with this timeless music.
15] Fraser A. Gorman – “Slow Gum”
New artist from Australia. Early reviews said he was similar to the Go Betweens. I get that, but I also hear a bit of the Kinks. Someone to keep tabs on.
16] Destroyer- ” Poison Season ”
Dan Bejar with his intellectual rock that is strange and sumptuous . Horns and strings add to the sleek sound.
17] Glen Hansard- “Didn’t he Ramble”
Wonderful set of folk tunes that build to emotional highs.
18] C Duncan – “Architect”
Found this from another year end list, and it is awesome. Bedroom pop, but it doesn’t sound like it.A true talent and a real find. Seek it out.
19]Robert Forster- “Songs to Play”
Great to hear from the former Go Betweens star sounding reinvigorated with a fine set of tunes.Poetic and very funny at times : “I mistook Memphis for a house in Surrey. You can miss detail when you’re in a hurry…’.
20] Lana Del Rey- “Honeymoon”
I have to give credit to Sondre Lerche . It was his provocative essay on Lana in The Talkhouse that led me to purchasing this album. Her slow moody torch songs have won me over. The orchestrations and her striking lyrics take you to another wold. Her world. “We can slow dance to rock music. Kiss while we do it…”
21] B C Camplight- “How to die in the North”- More pop inventions from Brian Christinzio, a unique artist.
22] The School- “Wasting away and Wondering” More whimsical pop from Liz Hunt and Co.
23] Courtney Barnett- “Sometimes I sit and Think,sometimes I just sit ”
“put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you…”
24] Richard Hawley- “Hollow Meadows”-What a gorgeous voice . Heartbreaking!
25]Graham Parker and the Rumour- “Mystery Glue “- Like receiving a call from an old friend.
26] The Waterboys- “Modern Blues” Mike Scott still put there getting it done.
27]Sufjan Stevens- “Carrie and Lowell “- Songs dealing with death, memories, and loss.
28]My Morning Jacket- “Waterfall” Epic! Jim James in fine voice.
29 James Taylor- “Before This World”- Seasoned pro with an inspired set of tunes that truly touched me.
30] Dawes- “All your favorite Bands”- like 9 short stories
“Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to…”
Some more good work ;
-Don Henley- “Cass County” – featuring some backing vocals by my favorite singer Molly Felder of Swan Dive
-Brian Wilson- “No Pier Pressure”-Some lovely tunes . Still wanting Brian to do an album with The Wondermints.
-F F S “FFS”- Sparks and Franz Ferdinand- strangely it works. Tons of fun!
-Martin Courtney- “Many Moons”- lead singer of Real Estate with some gorgeous music.
-Jason Isbell- “Something more than Free”- Mature and diverse effort.
-Summer Fiction- “Himalaya”- Pure pop of the highest order.
-Diamond Rugs- “Cosmetics”- Tight Nashville band that sounds like Buddy Holly at times.
-Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell- “The Traveling Kind”- So sweet together.
-Ezra Furman -“Perpetual Motion People”- Passionate rock poet.
-The Do- “Shake Shook Shaken”- French Finnish duo making a glorious noise.
Recordings of Special Merit :
-Terry Adams -“Talk Thelonious” -Finally together with NRBQ an entire album dedicated to the music of Monk.
-Nellie McKay- “My Weekly Reader” -Nellie embraces the past and goes deep in her record collection with an amazing set of covers. like Gerry and the Pacemakers, Zappa, and Country Joe and the Fish.
-The Haden Triplets- The three daughters of the late Charlie Haden singing mostly traditional American music with the great Ry Cooder producing. Their site states the music is ‘sung in close harmony that could only be achieved from sharing a lifetime of sisterly togetherness and a near psychic vocal interplay that can only come from being born seconds apart from each other.” A remarkable album.
Oxford American Music Issue : The music of Georgia.
I’ve mentioned this before and it’s always a terrific deal. A 25 track cd and magazine. This cd has diverse music by Sandy Gaye, Ma Rainey, Tut Taylor, and a 1961 demo of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer doing “Moon River”
Songs of the Year:
-Cotton Mather- “Book of too late changes”-Amazing song, sounding like The Who. Hope this means more music is coming.
-Jules Shear- “The Words”- Great song! He claims more is on the way.
-Loch Ness Mouse – “Warm Circuitry”-I have Sondre Lerche to thank for finding this group from Norway sounding a bit like the revered Prefab Sprout. Hope I can find their new lbum.
-Dornik- “Strong”- Again, from a Sondre Lerche playlist. Know nothing about him.Just that I love the song.
-Jeff Lynne’s ELO- “When I was a boy” “Music played inside my head. When I was a boy I had a dream…”
-C Duncan- “I’ll be gone by Winter”- An absolute gorgeous song
-The Do- “Trustful Hands”- Heard this on the car radio on “The Big Beat” [WXRT]. Had to stay in the garage to hear who it was.
-Sharon Van Etten- “I don’t want to let you down”
-Miguel- “Coffee”- Who doen’t like coffee in the morning.
-Paranoid Style- “Natural Sunday Law”- This really rocks. Elizabeth describes her music as “glam rock for the end of time”
-Dawes- “All your favorite Bands”- I quoted this one at the beginning of this list. A break up song with this romantic line: “And may all your favorite bands stay together…”
-Panda Bear-“Tropic of Cancer”- Hypnotic.
-Sondre Lerche- “Despite the Night”- One of our best pop performers. He also did his annual cover qwhich was “Hotline Bling”.
-Tobias Jesso Jr.- “True Love”- A song that didn’t make the debut album.
-Bird and the Bee- “Lovey Dovey”
I need to check out: Susan Sundfor, Gaz Coombes, Jenny Hval, Loch Ness Mouse [hope I can find it}, Mac Demarco
Looking forward to in 2016:
M. Ward, Porches, Lake Street Dive, Neko Case KD Lang and Laura Viers [not sure what they are calling this group], The Flat Five, Ben Watt, M83, High Llamas, Andy Bopp,Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, Margo Price, Mitski, Dori Freeman, Frankie Cosmos, Paul Simon, Bill DeMain, The Silver Seas, Elle Macho, Michael Carpenter,
I can dream can’t I ?-
Prefab Sprout, Swan Dive, Sylvie Lewis, and my annual hope for new music by the amazing Gary Clark.
Rest in Peace: We lost the great Ornette Coleman, the man who invented Free Jazz. I had the pleasure of seeing Ornette several times. Always had a flashy suit ,a warm smile, and played solos that were at times fierce and at times beautiful. His box set, “Beauty is a rare thing” is perhaps the best box set ever. I miss him dearly.
Special Re-issue: Michael Head and the Strands- “The Magical World of the Strands”
Was kind of like the holy grail of unavailable pop from the man that would later form Shack. I found it once in a while but it was always very expensive. Now it is out with the promise of another release of music from the same era. I am so glad to have this warm and stimulating Folk pop. It was worth the wait.
Jon Batiste and Stay Human- The band on the current Colbert show. As much as I love the Roots, this group is very special. Jazz with a New Orleans flair. Just tune in and watch this man play the piano, while his band is full of joy. Watch them parade through the audience or play in the balcony. I look forward to them every night.
-Alan Haber and his Pure Pop Radio– His passion for pop music is contagious. I love his daily messages and his pop radio stream. And it was Alan that led me to Brandon Schott and Pop 4, both of which made my top 10.And he already has me excited about Dori Freeman in 2016.
-Mojo Magazine -It’s commitment to music is astonishing. The monthly review section is mandatory reading for me. And the cd’s are a nice perk.
-Keeping up as well as finding new music is a full time job. To assist me I have to thank Ray at KoolKat Music, Jimmy at Matinee Records, John Mulvey and his Uncut Magazine playlists, Pitchfork, PopMatters, Paste,Pause and Play, No Depression,and Stereogum.
-I have to thank my internet friends at Beyond A Wizard and Audities. Nice to keep in touch with people who share the passion .
So that’s my list and I’m sticking with it.I know it’s April. I take forever with my one finger typing and slow computer. But I need to share my thoughts , and it is traditional to post this. If you discover some music on this list that you end up enjoying , please don’t hesitate to let me know. Or if you want to share an idea , I’m here .
Time to start listening to the music of 2016. Already looking like a nice year.
Thanks to my wife, Amy, for supporting my music habit.
God Save the Kinks!