I have a new podcast to play “the good stuff” please check it out!
“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!
Alright kiddos! The moment you’ve all been waiting for! My best of list! Sorry for not posting all year, here’s to more posts, more fun and a great 2016!
|3||The Stereo Twins||Good News|
|4||The Monochrome Set||Spaces Everywhere|
|5||Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab||Beyond The Silver Sea|
|6||Michael Carpenter||The Big Radio|
|7||The Connection||Labor Of Love|
|8||The Nines||Night Surfer and the Cassette Kids|
|9||R. STEVIE MOORE and JASON FALKNER||Make It Be|
|10||Ashley Monroe||The Blade|
|11||Los Breakdowns||Rock ‘N’ Roller Skates|
|12||The Elwins||Play For Keeps|
|13||Sports Fan||Minor Hits In Major Keys|
|14||Pugwash||Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends)|
|15||Adrien Reju||Strange Love and The Secret Language|
|16||Legends Of Country||Talk About Country|
|18||Sofia Talvik||Big Sky Country|
|20||Taylor Locke||Time Stands Still|
|22||Steve Robinson & Ed Woltil||Cycle|
|23||The Basics||The Age of Entitlement|
|24||Paul Weller||Saturns Pattern|
|25||Mystic Braves||Days of Yesteryear|
|27||The New Trocaderos||Thrills & Chills|
|28||Unlikely Friends||Solid Gold Cowboys|
|29||The Corner Laughers||Matilda Effect|
|30||The Chapin Sisters||Today’s Not Yesterday|
|32||Elvyn||Valley Of The Kilowatt Hour|
|33||Hawksley Workman||Old Cheetah|
|34||The Maureens||Bang the Drum|
|35||Duke Special||Look Out Machines!|
|36||Brandon Schott||Crayons & Angels|
|37||Belle & Sebastian||Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance|
|39||The Maccabees||Marks to Prove It|
|40||The King Khan & BBQ Show||Bad News Boys|
|41||The Lunar Laugh||Apollo|
|42||The Orange Humble Band||Depressing Beauty|
|43||Three Hour Tour||Action and Heroes|
|44||Tim Rogers & The Bamboos||The Rules Of Attraction|
|45||Sick Sad World||Fear and Lies|
|46||Smokey Angle Shades||Shades of Joy|
|48||Identical Suns||Identical Suns|
|49||Hey Anna||Run Koko|
and here’s a compilation!
Here it is ,March and I am embarking on my annual music wrap up from the past year. So many reasons why I am so late, most of them involve me immersing myself in the music I’m writing about. Some of it I have recently acquired.
What a fabulous year for music. The welcome return of some favorite artists, some moody women, break up albums, and some new discoveries. Dreamers with stories to tell, and songs to sing.
It is time for me to share my thoughts on this great music. Better late than never.
1] The Pearfishers -“Open up your colouring book “..
” It’s a beautiful day, so get out of bed
You’ve got to get up while you can….”
All hail the “Master” of pop. Back after 7 years with an album that spans 16 tracks and 67 minutes of pop splendor . So much to thrill to . There is David’s magnificent multi-layered singing.The songs are full of key changes that tug at your emotions. Acoustic guitars, timpani, full string section , even some whistling. All composed, produced, and arranged by David Scott.
“Chasing all the good days down”
“You’ll never steal my spirit”
“Gone in the winter”
“Open up your colouring book.”
“One for you, two for luck, mix it all up in a wooden cup …”
“I don’t want to know about it” [this one will break your heart]
Believe me. This album is a masterpiece!
For those interested in music arranging , here is a video of David working on the album:
2] Roddy Frame- “Seven Dials”
” Once,like a kid I reigned
King of all that I surveyed…”
The boy wonder returns with a brilliant set of tunes on the AED label, which is owned by his friend Edwynn Collins. In 2013 he toured and played the entire “High Land Hard Rain” album, celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. Now he’s back with his honey tinged vocals and excellent guitar work. This is an inspired effort . There is the gentle bossa nova sway to “Rear View Mirror”, and a guitar solo on “Postcard” that is straight out of “Oblivious”. By naming a song “Postcard” points to how much he is in touch with his past.
I first heard this album in a cabin in Wisconsin , and it affected me deeply. Repeated plays have elevated these songs to the status of his greats, like “Somewhere in my Heart”. It’s that good.
A mature album by a masterful musician.
“Into the Sun”-as good as a rock song can be.
“Cos when it goes, it goes…”
“English Garden”- a fragile ballad ,that concludes with some of his most effective singing ever. You have to hear it.
3] Rumer – “Into Color”
“I am Blessed…”
Blessed is an understatement. It is one thing to be in love with the soft rock that Bacharach and Webb produced. But with a voice so pure, and a producer that worked with Burt Bacharach , Rumer has put out this album that sounds like a lost classic from that era.
That producer is Bob Shirakbari, who also arranged and co-wrote the music, and piano and bass on the album. He has helped to bring to this music a sophistication unheard of in today’s music scene. And Rumer with her gorgeous voice seems to pull all of this off without effort. This is some album!
“Dangerous” is the song with “hit” potential, but it is the rest of the songs that create the mood. Songs with key changes that tug at your heart. Songs with brass accents that Bacharach made famous, and beautiful strings. Wonderful songs like “Reach Out” and “You just don’t know people”. Songs of melancholy , heartbreak, and resolve. Even a nod to sunshine pop with “Pizza and Pinball .” This really is some album.
If you are in love with those old Dionne Warwick songs, you owe it to yourself to listen to this music, I look forward to more from this remarkable artist.
“Take a little walk in the sunshine .Count 1, 2, 3…”
“You just don’t know people”
“Baby come back to bed ” My favorite , co-written by Stephen Bishop.
4] Real Estate- “Atlas”
” and the only thing that really matters, is the one thing I can’t seem to do…”
I saw Real Estate perform “Talking Backwards” on Letterman and I was hooked. It led me to my favorite album of the year by a standard rock quintet. It is a sad album , with chiming guitars and plaintive vocals. The sound is crisp and tender, and is a study in simplicity.
And of course there are the songs. Filled with great lines, like these two from “The Bend” ;
“I’m just trying to make some sense of this before I loose another year…”
“Like I’m behind the wheel , but it won’t steer…”
Some of the album was recorded at Wilco’s studio The Loft. They thank the Feelies in the credits. I get that, but I also hear Felt , a band near and dear to me.
I’ve included that Letterman clip for you. A review worth looking up is the one John Mulvey did for Uncut. Do listen to this fine music. It will touch you. These guys are sad beyond their years.
5] Swan Dive “Soundtrack to me and you”
“It’s bittersweet without the bitter…”
It came in a nifty package all the way from Korea. It is always exciting to listen to a new Swan Dive album. Reviews claim it is their 10th release. I haven’t counted, but I have them all. I love them all. There is so much to admire . Bill DeMain’s crafty songs, and Molly Felder’s awesome vocals. Pop music may be a familiar genre, but no one does it quite like Swan Dive.
This album plays like a hit parade from yesterday year. Like a countdown, every song hits and delights From the finger snapping opener “Sweet summer fling” to the feel good closer, “Good Things”, we get breezy pop, sweet R&B, torch, even a classy chanson,”Brief Interlude”. As usual we have Brad Jones producing and Jim Hoke on saxophone and horn arranging. Bill is in fine company with his composing partners [Mike Viola, Kelly Jones, Boo Hewerdine, and the great Gary Clark. He even gets Gary to sing backing vocals on “Slim Willie Dunn and the gin bottle pour.” I’ve said it before , so I’ll say it again. Molly is the best singer out there. Period. Just listen to her stunning “Star Crossed lover” if you don’t believe me. Chills galore!
If I were a wealthy man , I would love to finance a documentary on just how Bill DeMain writes these songs.It could conclude with the songs in production. Someday maybe.
I really love the fact that Bill is doing more singing with Molly on this one. It speaks well of the possible country duet album Bill has hinted at. That would be so cool.
My love affair with Swan Dive continues. Like all great albums, it leaves you wanting more.
“Star crossed Lover”
“Brief Interlude” [“Milkshakes for two”]
an oldie but a real goodie :
Forgot to mention how much I love the cover art work. Beautiful!
6] Sondre Lerche- “Please ”
” Now we’ll never know what legends we were meant to be …”
Sondre is one of today’s most important pop artists. His glorious melodies, his poetic lyrics, and the combination of both is like no other. His unique talent is on full tilt with “Please .” It is a break up album, even though the actual songs were written mostly before the break. The songs are still filled with his special brand of pop. But there is more rhythm , and there are moments of sonic distortion that accent the tensions going on. There is pure adventure going on here.
the falsetto in “Bad Law”- quite a hook. great rhythmic dance tune
“When crimes are passionate , can love be separate …”
the weariness in his vocals in “At a loss for words ” – he way he holds onto the word “change ”
the tug of war going on in “At times we live Alone”
“Try “I love you” ,try “get angry”…”
the incredible sax solo at the close of “Logging off”- simply amazing
There are two ballads that showcase Sondre at his very best. “Sentimentalist” shimmers with beauty even with the tension going on
“I’ll be damned if I fight , I’ll be damned if I don’t …”
It reminds me of a Jacques Brel chanson . It ends with a wash of dissonance.
“Lucky Guy” is a gorgeous love song , perhaps Sondre’s finest. But it is a love song to his break up. Still the beauty is there, and some of the previous tension is eased up.
” I won’t lie , Baby you broke me, I am truly a lucky guy…”
It all ends with “Logging off” with it’s enigmatic lyrics of a “ghost”
“Looked for you in a mirror , but you were logging off …”
I hope when great break up albums are discussed that “Please ” is remembered. It is a milestone recording for Sondre. Can’t wait to hear what he’ll follow this with . Whatever it is , I’ll be there.
Check out the dancing in the “Legends” video. Pretty cool!
7] Nicole Atkins- “Slow Phaser”
“Here we stand still and desired, Seagulls know what we conspired…”
One thing that can be said about Nicole Atkins. This lady can sing! I first saw her on Letterman, way back doing “The way it is”. I was immediately hooked, and she became one of my favorite singers. She can rock , and she is an amazing torch singer.
I took this album with me on vacation in San Diego. My first listen was on the plane ride,and it became our favorite in the rental car. Every time I played it , my wife would say “Who is this ?” She really liked Nicole’s voice. That is saying a lot, because she doesn’t like a lot of the music I play. The album was recorded in Sweden, and it really is delightful.
She comes out blazing on the opener ,”who killed the Moonlight” with a killer chorus. There is the seductive singing on “Girl you look amazing” and “Cool People”.
“How does it feel to be cool People, what does it mean to me, cool people…”
The way she sings that song is , well cool.Her voice glides through that chorus and is a big hook. She has the bar anthem “It’s only Chemistry ” with it’s great sing along ;
“All that you love and what makes you feel free, It is and forever will be…” Raise your glass!
The torch singing is displayed on the stirring “Red Ropes” and “Gasoline Bride” a terrific road song.
“The worst hangover” is my favorite. where she ends with “I’m Dying” and descends her voice lower and lower till she reaches the end. Gets me every time.
She ends with the lovely ballad “Above as below” , with some gorgeous singing.
So we have rock and torch, touches of dance music, and nice ambient textures. But how do I describe this album? Well, I went to her site and got the following :
” a neon noir tour de force of hi-def late night pop …”. There you have it. And it all comes back to what I said at the beginning, this lady can sing!
Here is a recent Letterman performance of her classic “War Torn” . It is a must see
8]Hello Saferide- “The Fox, the hunter and Hello Saferide”
” I was born a romantic for a reason, not to be loved, to be a songwriter…”
The cd arrived all the way from Sweden. Welcome back bittersweet story teller Annika Norlin, or better known as Hello Saferide. I am a huge fan of her narrative music .She can be quite funny, but this album is darker. Still the music carries the same sweetness we know from her past releases.
She wastes no time , for the opening track “I forgot about songs” is gorgeous. Here are some of her best lyrics as she sings about re-connecting with her love for music.
“I forgot about songs, I forgot about what they are to me
I forgot how they hold me , how they soothe me and carry me…”
This is one of the year’s best songs.
-“Dad told me ” -sad and personal
“I’ve lived my life with a backpack that was never mine to carry… ”
-“I was Jesus” -she sings of coming back as Jesus, Ghandi ,and Martin Luther King .
“And I was Jesus and I decided to come down to earth, in the shape of a woman this time…”
However being a woman does not fare well for her. The wordless background singing at the close is a nice touch.
-“Raspberry Lips” -best pop song here with falsetto and romance. Love it!
-“This Body”- used in a Swedish documentary on transgenders. I watched part of it on YouTube bit it was in Swedish as well as the notes about it.
“Oh, body ,how I have wished of you
That you would look different than you do…”
The song ends with a chorus of singers that is quite moving.
– “Hey Ho”- a quiet song about the loss of youth that is heartbreaking.
“And when the streets wake up at nights, we’ll go there
singing “Hey ho”
The ending of this song brings tears to my eyes. And that is the magic of Hello Saferide. Sweet music with deep meaning. I don’t understand all the meanings, but still am very moved by her.
It reached #4 in the Swedish charts. Does that mean she may come to Chicago [Please!]
9] Liam Hayes-“Korp Sole Roller”
“If there’s a singer , there is a song…”
For over 20 years Liam Hayes or Plush , has been treating those who know to his never ending pop songs. He is known for his meticulous attention to detail, for going broke financing orchestral and string sections. However , lately that has changed. He has stripped back his production, dropped the Plush name, and gone to a core rock band. And the results have been wonderful. Suddenly we don’t have to wait endlessly for new music. In fact ,he is working so quickly these days that he has already released a follow up to “Korp Sole Roller”, the 2014 release I am writing about.
His influences are pop standard: Lennon, Wilson, Rundgren and don’t forget Bacharach. On this release I am hearing more Jimmy Webb than in the past. His endearing melodies, lovely falsetto, chord changes that tug at the heart all add up to melancholy pop of the highest order. And I can’t stress enough the emotions he can find in a song.
” A glimpse inside” -opening track- Rundgren piano , with the band kicking in and we’re off and running. A nice twin guitar in the middle .
-” Dream Deferred”- if there is single, this is it.
-” Cried a thousand thousand times” -shades of Lennon – even some Beatles-ish guitar to close
-“Waves”- classic Plush sound with some of his best falsetto
“If the love that you have is leaving, let it be
If the dream that you had’s receiving, set it free…”
An incredibly beautiful track.
-“I’m sorry”- more Lennon- sweet and endearing
-“Rock and roll” – very Jimmy Webb hear with more lovely falsetto
“won’t you tell me that I’m still alive …”
The hooks and melodic changes of these songs have stuck with me since I first heard them. I had several of them playing in my head for weeks. Can’t wait to hear the new one.
Included for your musical pleasure is a 19 minute set recorded in a hotel lobby. If that is too much go to the 8 minute mark to see Plush at their best. A couple tunes from this album are on there.
10] Sharon Van Etten- “Are we there ”
“Sitting on the porch looking for a way out…”
After hearing “Taking Chances ” on WXRT I had to finally check Sharon out and wound up being deeply affected by this album. In fact I can safely say that no other release on this list affected me the way that this one did. The power that love holds over us and how it can crush us is on full display here. Sharon Van Etten has a powerful voice and together with her sensitive musical backing takes us on quite a journey through the pitfalls of relationships.
The first 3 tracks set the stage :
-“Afraid of nothing”- Simple piano, light guitar , and a magnificent vocal ,accented by swirling ambient strings that just move you
” you told me the day that you show me your face We’d be in trouble for a long time…”
The mood grabs you and doesn’t let go , but we move on
– “Taking Chances”- one of the year’s best – her vulnerable voice hypnotizes you and does not let go. “Be alone and take, and you break for your sake …”
Moody organ to add to the emotions , but she is just getting started
– “Your love is killing me ” 6 minutes filled with the terror of love gone very wrong .The starkest lyrics of the year :
“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you..”
“you love me as you torture me…”
Staggering music with great drumming pushing it along.
The songs following do let up a bit. “I love you but I’m lost ” is a favorite with just Sharon and Heather singing with minimal backing. And the very pretty pop of “Nothing will change” with subtle woodwinds and this classic line :
” A couple years later When I saw you making Western moves…”
Through all of this we are hearing a major vocalist . Sharon sings with great confidence and the needed vulnerability . I must mention the backing vocals of Heather Woods Broderick that are vital to the beauty of this music.
From pain comes the resolve of moving on. After the final song ends, we hear Sharon laughing in the studio , so we know our singer may be doing all right.
Watch the hypnotic video for “Taking Chances” -just look at her face. Then just Sharon and Heather with “Afraid of Nothing” -simply awesome.
11) Beck- “Morning Phase”
12) Spoon – “They want my soul” – Inspired effort – glad to have them back
13} Eleni Mandell- “Let’s Fly a Kite ” Funny, sad, and wonderful.
14} Lykke Li- “I never learn”- Another break up album- powerful in it’s sustaining melancholy
15} Roseanne Cash- “The River and the Thread ” -Impressive travel through the South.
16} Angel Olsen- “Burn your fire for no witness”- High, lonesome and stunning.
17} Elizabeth and the Catapult- “Like it never Happened”-Entertaining pop artist who can make you think and laugh all in the same song- plays a mean piano
18} Vic Goddard and Subway Sect- “1979 Now!”- Lots of fun as the veteran tackles Northern Soul all self written by Vic- on Edwynn Collins AED label
19}Jackson Browne- “Standing in the Breach “- another welcome back- still has stories to tell and songs to sing- in terrific voice
20} Linus of Hollywood- “Something Good”- top drawer infectious power pop
21] Tweedy- “Sukierae”- Not a throw away by any means- there are some very affective tunes here, with minimum instrumental backing. So nice to hear Jeff play guitar a lot.
22] Kasim Sultan- “Three”- Very impressive pop outing by this terrific singer. Includes a sweet cover of “Someone to watch over me”
23] NRBQ- “Brass Tacks”- Wonderful album. Scott Ligon has really proven to be such an asset. He even brought in his musical friend Casey McDonough. Nice mix of romantic and quirky tunes.Sweet cover of “Getting to Know you”.
24] Ben Watt-“Hydra”-So happy to see his name pop up with a new one.
25] Avi Buffalo-“At best cuckold”- Gorgeous pop with sweet high vocal. Total delight.
26] Foxygen – “And Star Power”- Sprawling double album that goes from Todd Rundgren sound ing pop to noise.
27] The New Pornographers-“Brill Bruisers”-Soaring pop anthems
28] St. Vincent-“St Vincent”- continues her unique sound , always with amazing guitar
29] Lana Del Rey- “Ultraviolence ” Noir torch that draws you in. She is developing her own brand and it is special.
30] Lake Street Dive- “Bad Self Portraits ” Another group discovered on Letterman. Singer Rachael Price is gritty and can sing any genre. Impressive!
Some more who did good work:
Jill Sobule – “Dottie’s Charms”
New Medicants _ “Into the Lime”
Nikki Lane – “All or Nothing”
Sarah Borges- “Radio Sweetheart”
Tiny Ruins- “Brightly painted one ”
Gruff Rhys- “American Interior”
The Yearning “Dreamboats and Lemonade”
Neil Finn “Dizzy Heights”
Recordings of special merit :
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross- “Gone Girl ” Soundtrack
This album of atmospheric music takes it’s place along side soundtracks like “Twin Peaks”, music that plays equally well at enhancing it’s movie yet stands on it’s own as a pure listening experience. It is dark and moody like modern noir music, but there is also beautiful music. There are lovely themes that show the initial romance in the story, and it all turns to doom and gloom as the dark story goes. Recommended for anyone who enjoys music for thrillers. I love them, and this is one of the best.
Oxford American Southern Music CD- “Texas”
Every year the southern literature magazine devotes an entire issue to music. The last few have been focused on one location. This year it was the music of Texas. They are fascinating compilations ,as well as the magazine which is full of articles about the music. The music is comprehensive from historic to current. Among the 25 tracks on “Texas” are artists as diverse as Moon Mullican, Barbara Lynn, Bob Wills, Spoon, even Ornette Coleman. Highly recommended for music lovers. This is the 16th collection. Most of them are still available at the magazine’s site.
She and Him- “Classics”
Perfect time for a covers album by these two. Some standards, some oldies. Songs like “Unchained Melody”, “Teach me tonight”, “Oh no ,not my Baby”, and “It’s not for me to say”.Both Zooey and M. Ward are huge music lovers , and we’re going deep into their record collection for this release. Accented by lots of horns, and featuring M. Ward’s tasty guitar ,this is good stuff. I love it. With each release , Zooey gets better on vocals and gains more confidence. Just listen to how well they click on “Time after Time” ,
Songs of the year:
-Sharon Van Etten -“Afraid of Nothing” Can not listen to this without being affected by it. The strings alone are devastating.
-Natalie Prass- “Bird of Prey”- This has a real pull to it. Shades of Dusty Springfield. An artist to really watch out for in the new year.
-Real Estate- “Talking Backwards”-Chiming guitars add to the sadness at stake here
-Angel Olsen- “Hi-Five”- “Are you lonely too. High Five. So am I…” What a song
-Avi Buffalo -“Overwhelmed with Pride”- What a find. Just lovely high vocals.
-Rumer- “Baby come back to bed” Sensuous beauty on an album full of gems.
-Hello Saferide – “I forgot about songs” Love the lyrics about re-connecting with music
-Pearlfishers- “Chasing all the good days down”- insanely great pop. Can’t say enough about David Scott, a pop genius.
-Linus of Hollywood- “When it’s quiet”- There is a moment in this song that elevates it; he sings “When it’s quiet, Music plays in my head, My own private symphony” followed by strings playing that very symphony. Wonderful!
-Lana Del Rey- “Cruel World”- “Get a little bit of bourbon in ya ”
-Vic Godard and Subway Sect- “You bring out the demon in me” So cool. Listen to that sax.
-Kasim Sultan- “Clocks all stopped”- Sounds like Utopia. What a voice. Those guitars.
-The Grand Gestures featuring Gary Clark- “The World will break your heart” Gary Clark is one of my favorite vocalists ever. This is quite haunting.
-U2 -“The Miracle [of Joey Ramone”- First heard this on the car radio and had no idea who it was . With it’s monster guitar riff, smashing drums, and an inspired vocal this ode to a great punk singer is quite addictive. Then it popped up in the Apple ads and I could not escape it.I still applaud their free download to I-Tunes was brilliant. Don’t know why people complained.
-Taylor Swift- “Welcome to New york” – Her performance of this tune on Letterman got me out of my chair. I had no idea. After one viewing the song was stuck in my head. What a surprise. What a performance. I see her entirely different now.
-Jackson Browne- ” Walls and Doors”- There is always one song on a Jackson Browne album that stands apart as a great one. This is that song on his latest. It is a cover of a Carlos Varela tune, a Cuban artist who also ends the song with his vocals. An excellent song from a fine album.
-Nikki Lane- “Sleep with a stranger” Sassy little tune from a smokin’ album.
“You can call me , anything you want to Just don’t call me , after tonight …”
-New Pornographers- “Brill Bruisers “- First tune on the album and it wastes no time in delivering soaring pop, the kind A.C. Newman is known for.
I need to check out [music I haven’t gotten to because there’s only so much time] :
Owen Pallet, Steve Gunn, Ty Segull, Mac DeMarco. War on Drugs, Cloud Nothings, Sturgill Simpson , Olof Arnalds ,
Looking forward to in 2015:
Belle and Sebastian, Decemberists, Courtney Barnett, B. C. Camplight, Natalie Prass, Waterboys, Sufjan Stevens, Brian Wilson, Josh Rouse, Mikal Cronin, Sleater Kinney, Of Montreal, The Do, Liam Hayes and Plush, Laura Marling, Michael Carpenter, Michael Head, My Morning Jacket, Tame Impala, Nellie McKay Ron Sexsmith Tallest Man on Earth Joanna Newsome [I hope] ,Rhiannon Giddens
I can dream can’t I – After hearing Gary Clark’s vocals on the Grand Gestures and Swan Dive albums it would be a dream come true if he made an album. Such an awesome talent. With artists like Ben Watt releasing new music I’m holding out hope for Gary.
-Daniel Tashian the immensely talented vocalist for Nashville’s Silver Seas has some solo recordings. I’m a huge fan and didn’t know. I found 2 of them, “Arthur” and the Lights of this Town”. Also a 2011 release by the Boxwoods which seems to be all Daniel. That one even has a cool Christmas song. All of these are full of wonderful, sensitive singing and beautiful tunes. If you enjoy the Silver Seas , do seek these out.
-A. K. Ellis- I freaked out when I found this one. I love the music of Sylvie Lewis , and wait patiently for new releases. Not sure when this originated, but Sylvie made some recordings with Italian pianist Valerio Vigliar aa A. K. Ellis. Just stumbled upon this on YouTube and was able to download the music from Bandcamp. 5 tracks , all great. And Sylvie is wonderful as usual. A real find.
Disappointment : Bruce Springsteen “High Hopes”- Why Bruce decided to showcase Tom Morello is beyond comprehension. I have tried to enjoy this album, but end up cringing when Morello indulges. With amazing guitarists like Nils Lofgren and Little Steven , even Bruce himself, why Morello takes over this release beats me. Skip it and spend your money on a Nils Lofgren release.
Eleni Mandell at Shubas . A terrific evening of music and story telling by one of the very best. Her latest “Let’s fly a Kite” was showcased . Her dry , self deprecating humor had everyone quite amused.
All the internet sites and magazines that kept me well informed: Mojo, NME, Uncut [thank you to John Mulvey for those weekly playlists], Pitchfork, PopMatters , Alan Haber and Pure Pop Radio. Paste, Pause and Play, No Depression, Stereogum
Thanks to: Ray at Kool Kat Records , Matinee Records, Darla Records, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, The Nashville Scene
To all my internet friends from groups like Beyond a Wizard, Audities, and Boo Hewerdine,
Special mention to the staff at David Lettermen for consistently fulfilling us with great musical acts. Don’t know what I’m going to do without you.
And to Paul Shaffer- his knowledge of musical history comes pouring out of the tv screen,That man can play with anyone and do it with finesse.
That’s it. It is now mid April and I’m ready to share this list. If you’ve got this far , chances are you love music as much as I do. So if you have an artist to turn me onto , please do. And by all means, if you try one of acts I’ve listed, and like what you hear, please don’t hesitate to let me know. This yearly exercise is for sharing musical ideas. I’m not a writer. Just a huge musical fan. Watch some of those videos I picked out. There are some good ones.
Time to start diving into some 2015 music.
A very special thanks to my wife, Amy for giving me the Beatles Box set for Christmas. Love love love it!
God save the Kinks!
One of the best new album’s this year is The American Professionals awesome album “We Make It Our Business”. It kicks off with a the driving “Other People”, where they quickly identify themselves as a rocking band with a slightly quirky delivery. The next track, the catchy “Dr. Holly” will get into your head and stay there for awhile.
One thing I love about the band is their harmonies. It isn’t anything complicated, but the two vocalists lift up the other in a unique way. There is a real chemistry between the two and they blend wonderfully. This is probably best seen in the back and forth song “The Way It Goes”
Overall this album has many high points. It is well produced and ebbs and flows between quirky crazy rock, down to sweetly beautiful pop music, and back again. You never really get bored with the album, and it gets better with each listen.
Elizabeth Racz posted a video of a song by The Lost Boys. Not a band i’d heard of before but it was a great song. Elizabeth kindly posted me some MP3s whilst I wait for the band to get some more CDs in stock to by.
So, small world. Turns out they’re about an hours drive from me in Southampton (UK).
I know zero about them and there’s not a great deal of information out there.
These are well crafted, highly melodic and very British sounding tunes. Lyrically witty without being over-clever. It’s been a while since i’ve heard someone called a “spanner” and i’m pretty sure never in a song. Refreshingly charming.
They’ve got the goods that should be ringing out from radios this Summer (and hell, into the Autumn too).
Tops in 2013
1] Prefab Sprout -“Crimson/ Red”-The return of one of our greatest songwriters. Yes, the buzzing internet rumors were true. ..
“High on the list of impossible things..”
All played and sung by Paddy McAloon himself and very well produced by Paddy and Calum Malcolm. And music lovers, this is a gem. Killer melodies, terrific guitars, harmonica, and songs that make you cry. Highlights abound. “The Best Jewel Thief in the World” is an obvious take on songwriting.”Adolescence” is an ode to youthful romance.
“Adolescence crimson red , fireworks in side your head” …
“Devil came a calling” and “Billy” remind me of songs like “Faron Young” from “Steve McQueen”.
“I’m in love with Susan Bill, yes I’m in love with Susan
Her smile is like a fairground I’m basking in the glow…”
The lovely “The songs of Danny Galway” is Paddy’s tribute to the great Jimmy Webb.
“The old Magician” sounds like one about Paddy himself. It has a sweet harmonica solo.
All these songs are superb. Tunes that pull at the heartstrings. His poetry is still there. And perhaps the most remarkable thing is his voice sounds exactly the same. His high and low noted are still as youthful sounding as the good old day.
In interviews, Paddy claims that these are old songs from his song book. Can you just imagine how many more great tunes exist? I hope the reaction to this album inspires to share more of them with us. And soon! Speaking of reaction, there is an inspiring review of this album by Sondre Lerche, a great artist himself. It is worth reading. Find it at the Talkhouse site where artists review other artists.
The best album of the year by far. And an emotional high.
… “You roar right out of nowheresville , to find the beating heart…”
Welcome back Paddy.
2] The Heavy Blinkers- “Health”-
..”You don’t need a pillow to sleep on the riverbed
as long as you have your health… ”
That is part of the opening chorus to this glorious album. I have always cherished the Heavy Blinkers music. I thought they were long gone. Now 10 years after their last one, “The night and I are still so young” I discovered they were back with “Health”. The sole member , Jason Michael MacIssac has worked on this album since the break. And what an album it is. My friends this is a Masterpiece. Jason has been joined by 3 main singers, Jenn Grant, Melanie Stone, and Stewart Legere with some special guests. There are strings ,horns,harp, glockenspiel, mandolin etc. Not exactly sure of the concept , but the songs are so gorgeous. Shades of Bacharach and Brian Wilson are just some of the influences .The strings on ” Child of the Radio” and “God Bless Hazel”are so sublime. The gentle bossa nova of “Call it a day” with it’s knockout chorus-
“..This song will beat your heart like a cannonball..”
The moment on”Silence your Drum” when Jenn Grant sings “Could you not have brought a harp instead ” and the music swells. Or Jenn Grant’s vocals on “Crystal Clear” , which reminds me of Dusty Springfield. A note on Jenn Grant. Not familiar with her , but I intend to for sure. And with her Jason has found a singer that sounds a bit like Ruth Minnikin, who sang on the early albums.
About those guest singers. Sean O Hagen of High Llamas on “I should be sleeping” which reminds of that very group. And a stroke of genius on “It sound better than it sounds” none other than the great Sondre Lerche , with swirling strings just pushing the pop perfection.What a song!
There are references to soldiers and war, songs about the Ice Capades and riverboats. All written by Mr. MacIssac, and all great. An epic work. An album you can return to time after time and find something to warm your heart. I would place this right next to “Smile” on my shelf. It is that good.
3]Camera Obscura- “Desire Lines”-
A short string intro and we are off and running. Another session with one of pop’s most endearing vocalists, Tracyanne Campbell. She composed every tune and they are perfectly suited to the mournful lilt in her voice. There is the ache in “William’s Heart ”
“…If it’s a single man or a single malt
that I take in my arms when I’m feeling low..”
In one of the albums best , “New Year’s Resolution”, her resolution is to “write something of value”. It’s infectious chorus was stuck in my head for days :
“…I’ve been cool with you
the sooner you admit it I will too…”
There is the upbeat rocking “Do it again” and ballad “Fifth in line to the throne”,and one of her best vocals in “I missed your party” with it’s background horns.
“…Bourbon won’t kill it so I’ll just have to will it…”
Great lyrics, the band is perfectly suited to the songs, and Tracyanne’s wounded voice ,like Patsy Cline or classic torch singers equals a well conceived collection of tunes.
The title song name drops “Badlands”, “We could send letters”, and “The Heart is a lonely Hunter”. A very cool album indeed. Now pass that bourbon.
Check out her Springsteen tee shirt in the video.
4] Crackerboots – “Crackerboots” –
I’ve made it no secret that I adore the music of Swan Dive and am a big fan of Bill DeMain. So when Mr DeMain tells me has a new side project, I’m all ears. I don’t have a lot of information, but I do know that Crackerboots consists of Bill and Melissa Mathes with backing musicians. And it is wonderful. A cool jazzy trip with lots of sax, flute,and vibes. Melissa is perfect for this group. She is sassy in “You’ll figure it out ‘, teasing in “Please don’t rush me” and just plain sexy throughout. So many nice moments, some that are pure Bill DeMain:
the interlude in “Please don’t rush me ” where the music slows down, and Melissa sings “Nice and slow” . Or “Be a good boy and you might get lucky…”.
In “Little Hipster” where she sings “wants me like cherry pie ” ,or “You’re cool as a cuke’
The steel guitar and campfire humming in “Green River Valley”
The Mancini sounding background music on “This is it”- and the swell scat section
“He wears his glasses like Michael Caine ” in “Josh”
My favorite song , and one of the best songs of the year ,is “Paris might not wait”. When she sings “While we’re still young” especially when she goes up on “young” the second time I get chills.
I am quite sure the horns and steel guitar are played by Jim Hoke. They really add to the atmosphere. But is Melissa Mathes voice that is the star here. And here is what I discovered about here when I was looking for a video. She is the singer in Nashville’s Luella and the Sun, a blues/ rock band I have read about in the Nashville Scene. I watched a couple of their videos and I could not believe it was the same woman. She has a gritty sound that fits their music. What a talent! Can’t wait till they have an album.
This is such a great album. I suggest enjoying it with an old fashioned . I just hope it’s not a one time deal.
I am not sure how to get this release. If interested, let me know and I will find out for you.
Here is a 3 song live clip :
5] Foxygen- “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”
So I’m driving home from work blasting WXRT’s Big Beat show and on comes this song that just grabs me.
“I met your daughter the other day Well that was weird
She had rhinoceros -shaped earrings in her ears…”
The opening trumpet, the lazy vocals were all arresting. Then after singing ‘That’s news to me ,that’s news to ” the song changed direction to a more upbeat section and then back again.It all leads to a sing-along ending with “I’m happy she’s happy”. Well I was very happy because I knew I was onto something. I waited to hear who it was.
The group was Foxygen which is 2 musicians from San Francisco, Sam France and Jonathan Rado. Both are happy to share their record collection with us. Let’s see, there is Dylan, Donavon, Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Prince, Sly, Tony Bennett , etc. The music mashes these influences, mixes in weird dream like lyrics and somehow it is all magic.
Just some of the fun:
“I’m taking to my grandma who lost her arm in the war ” from “No Destruction”
“I left my love in San Francisco , that’s okay I was born in L. A.” in “San Francisco”
The ” Under my Thumb ” break in “On Blue Mountain”
“I caught you sipping milkshakes in the parlor of the hotel” from “No Destruction “.
The songs change tempos and keys constantly. The vocals can veer from the bored Lou Reed to a Prince falsetto. There can be several changes in one song. Believe me, this album made me dizzy at times. And that’s a good thing.
My fave is “San Francisco ” sounding like Ray Davies . The outstanding swirling guitars midway through “Oh Yeah” that leads to a Sly like dance workout.
The album ends with the Beatles flavored finale, “Oh no 2”, which actually states “even though it’s just a dream, I still don’t know what it means.” After some Lennon sounding “Oh no”‘s it all ends with “If you believe in love, everything you see is love. so try to be what God wants you to be ” with a ragtime piano in the background. Perhaps that’s the message of this album. As wild as it can be, music can lead us to love .
6] And the Professors – “Our Postmortem “-
One of the finds of the year, I have to thank fellow Audities member, Matt Whitby ,for leading me to this beauty. It is worth keeping in tough with these internet groups for perks like finding hidden gems. Matt wrote me that he found this group because he liked the Honeydogs. I never heard them myself. So the music of Adam Levy was new to me. He is something.
And the Professors is a 10 member ensemble that plays what could be referred to as orchestral rock, but there is so much more going on. The music fuses classical, jazz,and film scores into the mix. Adam initially worked with cellist Rebecca Arons on building the songs around intricate string arrangements. The group has members of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra, as well as 2 fine female singers, Bethany Larson and Aby Wolf, as well as a rock section.
The music is outstanding .From the drama of “We are” , the jazzy “Watching” , the tender “L’etoile du nord” to “Turn of the Century Recycling Blues” which sounds like Randy Newman.
” and the professors they don’t make confessions
they don’t care about market crashes or hunting fascists
they don’t feel your pain or your assets
they just tell you how it is…”
Perhaps the standout moment for me is “That’s how we died.” The gorgeous string opening and the melody full of minor keys leads to an emotional finish.One of the best songs I’ve hear all year.
The strings really drive these tunes. The melodies are haunting, and Adam can sings them well, adding lots of meaning to this thought provoking group. This is well worth finding.
If Charles Ives was a young man today, this could be his band.
Thank you Mr. Whitby for the excellent tip.
7] Caitlin Rose – ‘The Stand-In”-
Shout out to Russ ,my brother in law who lives in Nashville [lucky guy]. Several years ago he called this one. Played me some songs from her debut, and said it was his favorite new artist.
Here she is in my top 10.
She has classic movie star looks on the cover and she can match that with a classic voice. A guitar charge opens the set on the excellent “No one to call’ ,which proves she’s not just a country queen. Then the next couple tunes establish that yes, she can sell a country tune as good as anyone. There are 2 songs co-written by Gary Louris [Jayhawks]. I love “Only a clown” with it’s lyrics that disdain the fact that you can ” put your record on, let the band play a song, all about love and believing” because “it’s only a clown that’s leaving.”
“don’t make me pay, just cause I tried living for today ” – ” Golden Boy”
the classic ballad “Everywhere I go “-“No matter where I go , there you are”.
The dixieland spiked closer “Old Numbers” that show another side of her talents.
The weepy “When I’m gone”- “I’m always running from the scene of the crime”
She can sing like an angel, has some grit when she rocks, and some torch in that jazz closer.
My favorite is “I was cruel”. It’s quiet ending and exquisite chorus shows off a major talent. Her soaring choruses are one of the charms of this album.
I love her. And I believe she is just getting started. Watch her become a huge star.
Just check out her cover of The National’s “Pink Rabbits”.[second video] .She puts a whole new spin on this song. How cool is this girl?
8] Edwyn collins- “Understated”
“I’m so happy to be alive” [from “Forsooth” ]. As a lifelong fan since the beginning ,I am happy you are alive, Edwyn. It is hard to listen to current music from h im without remembering that he almost died from a brain hemorrhage in 2005, and had to re-learn how to speak. This is his second album since all that happened , and his songwriting and singing are both sharp. This record makes a personal statement and stands on it’s own .
So much here points out how wonderful it is to be alive and working :
“What the heck I’m living now” – “31 years”
“It’s a reason to live for” “It’s a reason”
” Just understand I’ve lost some ground”- “Down the line”
“I’m living in the now living and working
I’m breathing in the now working and breathing”- “In the now”
“People they walk in the street they talk in the street
How are you doing sir ? What a nice day sir”- “Cary on ,Carry on ”
All these lyrics could come quite sappy if the music wasn’t such a delightful mix of his usual rock and Northern Soul. I really enjoy his weary vocals on “Down the line” with it’s country piano. And his voice on the title track , “Understated “reminds me of Orange Juice.
“As the story unfolds I’m a singer of sorts”
The album ends with a simple and poignant cover of Rod McKuen’s “Love’s been good to me”. Only Edwyn could pull that off . It brought a tear to my eye several times while I was preparing this.
Edwyn has his own label, AED, he is recording Roddy Frame and Vic Goddard . It’s almost like Postcard is back. yes, he is truly “working and breathing”.
9] Mikal Cronin – “Mc 2”
Here’s a guy who recently got his BFA in music. He can play all kinds of instruments. He was first noticed as a guitar shredder in Ty Seagall ‘s band. And now he has made one heck of a guitar pop record.
Mikal plays almost the entire album by himself. There is some guest violin and Ty Seagull contributes 2 guitar solos. But this is Mikal with some gorgeous piano , awesome guitar, and lots of sweet singing. The first track, “Weight” sets the pace with a classical piano opening. There are a couple verses of harmony vocals, before the songs heads to a falsetto repeat of “Take me from myself” and the key changes to a lovely guitar and then a quiet acoustic finale. Impressive for sure. The entire album is well crafted, with solos carefully placed, and a nice mix of pretty and edgy. “Shout it out” has a very catchy chorus, and “Am I wrong” is reminiscent of early Who .
A highlight is the solo track, “Don’t let me go”. Just Mikal on acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. It leads to a vulnerable sounding “You’re all I know” which sticks with you. The closer, “Piano Mantra” starts with quiet piano chords, soon joined by violin. This soon picks up the beat with drums and all of a sudden a psych guitar emerges, till it goes back to quiet for the album finish. A well thought out and executed collection of pop pleasure. Can’t wait for the next one.
10] Dear Georgiana- “Dear Georgiana”-
This was the find of the year. Seeing a tweet by Elizabeth Ziman, [of the fab Elizabeth and the Catapult] , singing the praises of this music I researched and watched a couple videos. Needless to say it was love at first listen. Dear Georgiana is essentially the work of Lauren Belthrop from Alabama, and she is a talent to behold. Her voice is rich and the music stylish. And she writes terrific pop tunes. From the torch opener , “Don’t let me go”, the haunting “Over You”, to the incredible catchy “I wanna be in love “.
“..cause it will happen when you’re not looking..”.
Lauren is my favorite new pop voice for sure. I love the cha-cha beat of “Young Girl” and her quiet , sad ” Where did we go wrong”. “..Looking back on our splendor in the grass..”. I get chills when she sings “I’m going crazy”. My absolute favorite is “Please don’t tell me a lie”. Her falsetto on “It’s ok to be scared” is gorgeous. I’m so enchanted with this woman I listened to her early group, The Bandana Splits. Lots of fun.
Here are the two videos that got me hooked. Watch the change in album covers and outfits in “I wanna be in Love”. And “Over you” is done in a single take . No cuts. Do watch these, and be sure to check out this great album.
11] The Silver Seas – “Alaska”
Another gem from this insanely great pop band from Nashville. They are led by Daniel Tashian, who I consider to be one of our most gifted vocalists. Warm and honey soaked, Daniel makes tunes like “I’m the one” and “Roxy” special. Add some tasty jazz guitar on standout track “A night on the town” as well as “Wolfie”. Somebody’s been listening to Wes Montgomery. Then there’s Daniel’s lovely high notes on “Karaoke star”. So nice! The album ends with some superb wordless vocals on “Wild honey”. Leaves you wanting more like a great pop album should.
12] Of Montreal – “Lousy with Sylvianbriar ”
An unexpected treat from Kevin Barnes and Co. A sweet blast of 80’s folk, psych pop. Have they been listening to Foxygen? Oblique song titles such as “Raindrop in my Skull” and “Amphibian Days”. Who can resist lyrics like ‘All of my friends are falling apart, But not me I’m in control”. Catch this cool video of Kevin and Rebecca Cash singing a tune at home.
13] Ron Sexsmith – “Forever Endeavour’
A graceful set from one of our best melancholy singers. Well produced by Mitchell Froom, this album has brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. “Autumn Light” which is a bonus track is one of my favorite songs of the year. Watch a live take of it.
14] Valerie June -“Pushin’ against a Stone”
From “Humboldt , Tennessee, this extraordinary artist was a huge find. First saw her perform “Workin Woman Blues ” on Letterman, and I rose out of my chair and knew I was onto something. She was standing , playing the heck out of an acoustic guitar singing a blues song .Great voice comfortable with blues, gospel, and country.Dan Auerbach [Black Keys] does some production work. In her own words, she describes her music as “Organic moonshine roots music”. Major new artist.
15] Yo La Tengo- ‘Fade”
Strong set from these veterans who always delight. This one does accent their mellow side, but there is still plenty of guitar shredding from Ira. Produced in Chicago by John McEntire [Sea and Cake], who adds an elegant touch with horns and strings. This band simply brings it. Check out Ira’s guitar , especially at 4 minutes in.
16]Flaming Lips – “The Terror’
One of my favorite bands going down a bleak path. Continuing after the noisy “Embryonic” ,only more depressing. But in the midst of the darkness lies a beating heart . There are melodies and choruses. Even an emotional tune like “Try to explain”. Took a while , but I’ve grown to love it.
Watch the sustained darkness on “Turning Violent” erupt at about 3:15
17] Okkervil River-” The Silver Gymnasium”
The cover calls it “A Pageant of New England” ,as deep thinker Will Sheff takes us back to his school days in Meriden , New Hampshire, and his band lovingly provides the soundtrack. You can expect emotionally charged anthems that tell great stories. Thrill to “On a Balcony” and “Stay Young” and my favorite “Where the spirit left us” with some of Will’s best vocals. The band is simply amazing giving these songs their proper lift. But Will is the star, who opens up his past on this album of soaring pop with big hooks. If you visit the band site you can take a tour of his school. You van also click on Will’s name and see his literary efforts, of which his elegy on Lou Reed was the best I’ve seen.
Listen to the stellar chorus in “Pink Slips” ,then watch Will sing his heart out in the actual silver gymnasium .
18] Lucy Wainwright Roche- “There’s a last time for everything”
Gorgeous album featuring Lucy’s crystal clear voice. She wrote all the songs except for one cover, and there is much to admire. I love the way her voice blends with Colin Meloy’s on “Seek and Hide”
“I fell in love last year, It’s not a thing I do a lot..”
There is the pop lilt of “Last time” and the quiet “Look busy” with just bass and piano backing, and the wordless chorus on “Canterbury Song” . There is a moving duet with Mary Chapin Carpenter on “A quiet one”
“So place me here in this minute of Let’s see..”
The album ends with the heartbreaking “Under the gun”
“What do people under the gun know Tell how to hurt so it won’t show ..”
Now about that cover. If you grade artists by their choice of covers then Lucy gets an A+ because she does an incredible job on Robyn’s “Call your girlfriend”. She picks up on the drama of this song with a quiet intensity and a subtle background chorus. Stunning!
All of these well produced songs [in Nashville- where else?] are so well sung. And that’s the deal with her. I believe Lucy has the best voice in her extended family[ Roche , Wainwright, McGarrigle] .That’s saying something, she’s got the talent . So clear and beautiful, she is capable of making you smile or bring a tear to your eye.
19] Elvis Costello and the Roots – “Wise up ghost”
Born in the back rooms of Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Show, a partnership between Elvis and Questlove was formed and a decision to create some music together. Now I’m a big Costello fan. And I look forward to seeing The Roots on late night tv . Their intro music for guests are legendary. So I was terribly excited about this release. And what are the results of their union? Well, it’s not hip hop. nor is it rock, but more like a hybrid of styles. It is a dark, noir filled collection of slow moving night time tunes. The snap of Questlove’s drums ,rumble of Mark’s bass, and precision of Kirk’s guitar, punctuated by jazzy horns.
I will be honest, and say I was thrown at first. But like all good music, the more I listened , the more the grooves settled in and I Loved it. And there is much to rave about:
The walking drums on “Walk us uptown”
The funky bass and piano on “Refuse to be saved”
The groovy horns on “Wake me up” – “Wake me up , with a slap or a kiss”
Elvis in full ballad voice for “Tripwire” with Diane Birch on backing vocals.
“Come the Meantimes” a cool blend of rock and soul with just guitar bass and drums, and it’s repeated “Right Now Right Now”– “Gather some stones and make them atone” .Kirk shows off some mean guitar here.
Then there are two tracks together that really send me. “Cinco Minutos Convos” trades vocals with La Marisoul, a remarkable Latin singer ,that sends makes this song a revelation. Immediately following is a blast of very sweet “Lovers Rock” horns and Elvis in his best falsetto. Both tracks illustrate just how potent the meeting of these musical minds can be
Throughout, there is much mutual admiration displayed. As the excellent liner noted state, Questlove is a Costello fan. And the Roots are very well grounded here. Elvis sings, they play.And since the cover states this is Number one, I trust we can expect some more magicin the future.
For a real treat, go to youtube and check out the MSR studio sessions showcasing these tunes live. Here are a couple:
20] David Bowie- “The Next Day”
” Here I am Not quite Dying” ,sung in the title song by the Thin White Duke. Yes, to make this year even better we have the return of David Bowie. The recording of the album was a well kept secret, and in the early days of the new year a single and video was dropped with the forecast of an album to follow. The song aptly titled “Where are we now “, an ethereal beauty featuring a lovely fragile vocal. I sat and watched that video and was stunned. When he sings “The moment you know, you know you know ” in the chorus is so effective.
The real surprise was just how good the entire album was. Drums crack, guitars snarl, saxes honk, and David finds his falsetto. The highlights :
The guitars and background “Sha la la’s” in “Valentines Day” featuring David’s best pop vocal in ages.
“The stars are never far away”, “They watch us from behind their shades” from the rocking “The stars are out tonight”- “They burn you with their radiant smiles.”
Earl Slick’s heavy guitar on “You will set the world on Fire”- “I can hear the nation cry”
The dramatic ballad “You feel so lonely you could die”
The decadent menace of “Heat” – “My father ran the prison”
One of my favorite performances is on “I’d rather be high” . David’s in rare form and having some fun.
“I’d rather be high I’d rather be flying
“I’d rather be dead or out of my head…”
The excellent bonus track, “I’ll take you there “.
Mojo refers to it as “the album that fell from nowhere”. Who knows if we’ll ever get a collection so well put together again. For a long time David Bowie ruled my musical universe. It is good to have him back again.
21] She and Him – “Volume 3”- Zooey gets better with each release
22]Lucius – “Wildewoman”- “I’m your dolly stuffed with extra baggage ‘- more girl group splendor. When family members give you a tip, you listen.
23] William Tyler- “Impossible Truth”- Gorgeous Americana tone poems for solo guitar . From Nashville.
24] Dawes -“Stories don’t end” – Excellent California rock.
25] Tristen – “Caves”- Bewitching Nashville chanteuse.
26] Jim James- ‘Regions of light and sound of God- Epic pop from a man on a spiritual quest.
27] They might be giants- “Nanobots”- Smart and fun, they continue to make very catchy pop.
28] Vampire Weekend- “Modern Vampires of the city “- Never really gotten into them, but this one received so much praise I recently got it. Would probably be even higher if I had it sooner , because after a few listens it’s addictive. Sounds like they focused on making a great pop album, and that it is. Early fave is the harpsichord laced “Step ” .Can’t wait to listen some more.
29] Haiku Salut- “Tricolore “- Lovely instrumental trio who describe their music as “Baroque-Pop- Folktronic – Neo Classical -Something- Or- Other”. They also claim to be influenced by the author Haruku Murakami, which accounts for the melancholy tones. The music by these ladies is very beautiful, featuring Accordions, Spanish guitar, melodicas, etc. Watch them play the heartbreaking “Los Elefantes” . This is worth finding.
30] Paul McCartney- “New” -Sounding as young as ever, Paul can still rock. He was committed to making a great album and it is. “Save us ” is a rousing opener, and “New” is a pop gem with Paul doing some swell wordless “Ooohs .” “Queenie Eye” is a standout featuring Paul on everything but drums. Just listen to this guy sing. Great! Spot the stars in the “Queenie” video.
Some more: Neko Case, Alela Diane , Jules Shear [so nice to hear from him], The 88, The Pastels [always cool], The National, Christopher Owens, Lisa Mychols, Julia Holter, and Cortney Barnett, The Tor Guides
Album of special merit: Van Dyke Parks- “Song Cycled”
Intoxicating collection from Van Dyke Parks, a real musicologist. Entertaining us with his usual eclectic blend of hymns, calypsos, traditional tunes, and a couple new versions of old Van Dyke songs. “The Parting Hand” is taken from the Sacred Harp Society Hymnal from 1835.”Aquarium” is a Saint-Saens composition played by the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, a group Van Dyke cherishes. “The All Golden” is taken from his debut album, “Song Cycle”. This is a stripped down version with just Van Dyke on vocals and keyboards.It’s lovely. The album comes with a wonderful set of composer notes and art work for each song. It is a most impressive package. Just watch this amazing legendary musician play ‘The All Golden”.
Album of special merit- Glen Campbell- “See you there”
This recording was made during the “Ghost on the Canvas sessions. What we get are classic Glen Campbell tunes with just a small band backing. No orchestras , just a stripped down session. It’s wonderful. There is something special listening to “Gentle on my mind” by an older , wiser Glen. And that is the essence of this set. Classics like “Wichita Lineman ” and “Galveston ” take on new meaning with just a voice and minimum backing. Glen sounds great and it warms me to listen to this. Two tracks are a revelation. “Postcard from Paris” is a Jimmy Webb tune Glen has never recorded. Add it to huge list of their Webb covers Glen has added his magic to. Gives me chills. Then there is the spiritual “Waiting on the comin’ of my Lord”. There is something especially poignant hearing a man with declining health doing this number. For the finale, Glen returns to this same spiritual ,this time with the backing of a mariachi band. “Jesus take my hand and guide me through the promised land” Glen sings after a mariachi overture. And that just might be the last we will hear from Glen , which makes it a fitting song awaiting death.
Hopefully Glen, we’ll someday “See you there”
Songs of the Year:
1] Foxygen – “San Francisco”
2]Prefab Sprout- “Adolescence”
3]And the Professors- “That’s how we died”- riveting !
4] The Heavy Blinkers- ‘Child of the Radio” -shades of Dusty Springfield
5] Julia Holter- “Hello Stranger”- Haunting cover reducing it to only voice and minimum keyboards-
6]Ron Sexsmith- “Autumn Light”- breaks my heart each time it plays
7]David Bowie- “Where are we now” – remarkable return
8Cracker boots- ‘Paris might not not wait’- Sophisticated pop- that crafty Bill DeMain and sultry Melissa Mathes
9]The Silver Seas- A Night on the Town”- Daniel Tashian simply has the best voice- and that guitar- Wow!
10] Camera Obscura- “New Year’s Resolution”
11]Courtney Barnett- “Avant Gardener” – Her deadpan delivery is a hook -“I feel like Uma Thurman post-overdosing…”
12- Jimmy Webb and Keith Urban- “Where’s the playground Suzie”- Deeply affecting song that features some of Jimmy’s strongest vocals. Keith sounds great as well. The utterly sad lyric “If I don’t stay around” is classic Webb. Watch Glen Campbell and Jimmy perform it from 1988;
13] Glen Campbell – “Postcard from Paris”- Yet another Jimmy Webb tune that Glen adds his magic to. Doesn’t get much better.
14] The Tor Guides- “All about the loving”- A sweet pop confection .Can’t get enough of it.
15] Dear Georgiana- “Please don’t tell me a lie” – Perhaps my favorite new vocal find of the year, Lauren Balthrop sings this so well. So vulnerable. Listen to her sing “it’s ok to be scared”, and her wordless finish. Awesome talent.
16] Lucy Wainwright Roche- “Call your girlfriend” – She brings a quiet intensity to this Robyn cover.
17] Yo La Tengo- “Cornelia and Jane” “Ohm” seems to be the favorite, but I prefer this song. Ira’s sensitive guitar and Georgia’s tender vocals, and subtle horns. Musicians in total control of their gifts.
18] Edwyn Collins- “31 Years”- A touch of autobiography from a musician I have cherished his entire career . ” 31 Years of Rock and Roll” he sings, and he still sounds great.
19] Electric Soft Parade- “The sun never sets around here”- Nice touch of the Beatles. Need to check out their album.
20] Neko Case- “Man”- Heard this a lot on local WXRT and never tired of it.
21- The 88- “I saw the light that day”- great title to a swell tune.
Special mention: The Living Sisters -“Run for cover” Real nice 6 track covers EP. “Que Sera Sera”is awesome.
I need to check out:
Avett Brothers, Bill Callahan, Anna Calvi, Laura Viers, Sam Phillips, Phosphorescent, State of the Union [2nd album], Josh Rouse, Eleanor Friedberger, Kurt Vile , Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Elle Macho
Looking forward to :
Eleni Mandell, Beck, Angel Olson, Dum Dum Girls, Lily Allen, Elizabeth and the Catapult, St Vincent, Laura Cantrell, Real Estate, Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Hold Steady, The War on Drugs, The Cloud Nothings, Lykke Li, The Roots, Old 97’s, Gruff Rhys, The Strypes, Neil Young [covers album], Ben Watt, Stars in Coma, Rumer, Luella and the Suns, Sharon Van Etton, The Haden Triplettes, Plush, Pearlfishers, NRBQ, Suzy Bogguss, Lake Street Dive, Roddy Frame [yeah!] , The New Mendicants
I can dream can’t I ?-
Swan Dive- I have read that Bill and Molly were recording . That is great news. Can’t wait.
Gary Clark [Danny Wilson} -We got a new Prefab Sprout. Roddy Frame, Ben Watt, and The Pearfishers are releasing new music this year. So please, Gary. Consider it. I know I’m not alone in hoping for something new from this gifted musician.
The Kinks [God save the Kinks!]
Concerts: Wilco – Solid Sound Festival – June 21st- An all covers set taken from fan requests. Wild set list included covers from Big Star, Pavement,Yo La Tengo, The Kinks, Nick Lowe, and Television plus many more. They even covered Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. I wasn’t there, but do own a download , and it is a musical treat from the first note to the last. What an incredible band.
An Evening with Todd Rundgren – SPACE in Evanston, Illinois on August 28th. An intimate club date that was really like the “30 Years Of Todd” tours he was doing. He was in great spirits and terrific voice. Did a little bit of everything but the highlight for me had to be “Determination”. What a rush. Also “Drive”, “Lost Horizon”, “Hawking”, and the finale “A dream goes on forever”. An outstanding night of Todd.
Mojo Magazine : A monthly musical fix I would be lost without. The creative cd’s are a bonus.
Pitchfork, Popmatters, Stereogum, Paste, No Depression etc. On line stops that are essential to my constant musical searches. There are others such as Uncut [love the depth of their Playlists], and NME . It was at No Depression where I found out about the Heavy Blinkers release. First heard about the Prefab Sprout at Sondre Lerche’s twitter messages,
Matinee Records, Darla Records, Ray Gianchetti and Kool Kat Music [his weekly messages are so cool] for working hard on spreading the love of pop. Also, I recently found my way to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio messages. That is where I found the fab Tor Guides.
Whatever it takes to find the musical gems that are out there. It is a full time hobby searching for and finding them. Just like writing this list. I know, I take forever. But I take it seriously. I listen carefully and go from there.
Hope you find something new from the list. If you do, please let me know. It is such fun to share the music. I welcome the feedback.
Now I need to move onto 2014. Glancing at my “looking forward to” section it is shaping up to be a wonderful year.
‘Music pourin’ out on singles
Finds a home on someone’s stereo…”
“Singles” by Rupert Holmes