Sunday, January 19, 2014

Best of 2013

I promise to get "Best of 2012" out at some point. but I never narrowed the list down so it's half written up and runs over three hours of music.  Not a bad thing, you say, but not playing by the rules.  I can say there was so much good music in 2012 that it was the back-bone of 2013 listening.  In the mean time, I did manage to get 2013 done.

Also, Maddy put together her list as well which I will try to get her to publish.  But this year marked a break through for us.  First of all, she is now listening to good music which I define as music I want to listen to and am not embarrassed to recommend to other people.  Secondly, she admitted that I had good taste in music.  So that's two wins for me.  But I will give her all the credit. 

On to my list:

Late Cuts

Closer to you - Michael Franti - pure pop-reggae but I always smile and tap my feet when I hear these guys.


Different Days/Stockholm - Jason Isbell - Showing consistent growth since leaving the DBT's but while i lvoe the album, it's tough for me to tell the songs apart.

Here's to the losers - Drag the River - great alt-country band from Florida.

Anything from Rush - 2012 Album of the year, but just a three disk live effort this year.  Probably better than Best of, but not "new."

Yeah yeah - Wily Moon - The apple ad pick of the year.  good combination of blues and modern dance music.  One of the young ones out of the UK.

Supremacy - Muse - Maddy's favorite band and her first real concert this year.  All of my favorite bands in one (Rush, Prince, U2, Rage, Spinal Tap and more) - old school arena rock (watch the intro from the Boston show if you don't believe me).  But not technically a 2013 release.

The whole show if interested (different stage):

Come to my party - Black Joe Lewis - My 2012 album of year for 2012 (or at least top three).  They should call it instant party.  Pick a song at random and you are ready to go.  Maddy says the intro here is from the Hunger Games.

Lori Mckenna - Better with time - Not only is the album title Massachusetts, it's one of those albums about real life:  family, relationships, getting through life.  [Editor's Note:  Mark Erelli, in the video below, happens to be from Reading, MA.]

The flip side of country music:

The final cut:

Hurry Hurry - Air Traffic Controller - This song was playing one day when the alarm went off.  A local band, turned out the whole album was good and a lot more diverse than the song.  Good musicians, good songs.  And a damn catchy song. I'm also amazed they have an official video (of them running around Watertown).  And it makes me laugh.

The List:

Best of 2013 Spotify list (if you want a cd, let me know and I can rip one)

R U Mine - Arctic Monkeys - A band that made best of 2006/2007 (remember "you look good on the dance floor") then faded away.  Now they have re-emerged with a more muscular, rocking songs.  Song of the year?  Maybe.  A huge favorite of Maddy's.

Inhaler - Foals - One of the first songs I got in 2013,  I love the way it combines dance/emd beats with solid musicianship and progessive rock song writing.  The song builds and builds until it breaks like a wave.  The whole album is solid but not as catchy as the first single.

I don't know what to do with my hands - Minor Alps - Julianna Hatfield and the dude from Nada Surf. Juliana is one of our favorites from the 1990's but recent output has failed to leave a lasting impression.  Mathew Caws (the dude from Nada Surf, which has a decade of consistent work) provides the perfect balance, improving on both of their separate backgrounds:  a more rocking Nada Surf or Juliana with better hooks.  I also love the quirky lyric which is classic Julianna, both honest and funny.

Pompeii - Bastille  - Maddy deserves a 100% of the credit for this one.  Great musicians, great songs.  Sort of a more mainstream Frightened Rabbit.

City Swan - Neko Case - For those who don't know, I worship at this woman's feet and believe everyone else should, too.  The hooks and harmonies are just amazing.  She's definitely on my "list."  I've never seen her live and am almost scared to, as I worry it would disappoint and ruin this wonderful thing.  A lot of people think this is her best album yet, but I disagree:  it's not nearly as strong as previous outings.  It feels like more focus on song writing and structure, rather than letting it just pour out of Neko.  That probably understates the work she puts in on previous albums, but it doesn't feel as pure to me.  But a sub-par Neko album is still in the top 1% of the rest of the world.

Most People - Dawes - I've never embraced Dawes as much as other people (Tim) have.  But even  as those people were disappointed by this album, I found it easy to listen, particularly this track which I think is great.  Full disclosure:  every time I listen to this album, I'm thinking "1970's Jackson Browne" who I despise, but I still love this album (great musicianship, good melodies, lyrics that are relevant and but don't overwhelm-tight band).

3:59 am - John Moreland - Obscure alt - country, tangentially related to Lucero, this year's Cory Brannon.  Good songs, no fluff.  The more you like Americana, the more you will like this.

Eavesdrop - The Civil Wars -  While they may be no more (or maybe not we hope).  Not a bad song on the album and choosing one is tough.  The songs tend to be a bit sadder than the previous album and intense, but that seems to reflect where they were at.  The melodies and combinations are just about perfect.

Lovecrimes - Afghan Whigs - A one off single of them doing another great cover (of Frank Ocean) as they always do.  Not new ground but solid ground.  Frank Ocean never clicked with me, but this cover it right in my wheelhouse.

Come a little closer - Cage the Elephant - Another one of my favorite songs this year.  Something about it is so catchy; the hook in the chorus kills it.  But the whole album is worth listening too.  Not a "great" album as it is a all over the place and varies in quality, but one of those albums where they try differenct things with different degrees of success.  These guys made the list a few years back and it's good to see them still slugging it out, trying to getting better.

I would for you - Nine Inch Nails - I blogged about these guys earlier and it still holds up. More new wavy than previous outings, but still built on a solid foundation of beats and emotion.  This is my favorite song: a slow burner of a NIN love song, or as close as Trent can get.  Also file under, nothing wrong with growing up.

Black Skinhead - Kanye - As many of you know, I've got a thing for Kanye.  I remember watching the video of this after the SNL performance and thinking "wtf."  But you have to think of this as more industrial  and less rap, and I don't mean in the alternative lifting way of most rappers, I mean 1980's club, like when Ministry got guitars.  I would put this as album of the year for the chances it takes, even though it is a bit uneven.  I'm also pretending the Kardashians don't exist.  But Kanye deserves a spot on this list for the first 20 bars of this song alone.

Wishing Well - Wild cub - Solid techno (or is it all EMD now) new-comers.  They actually write songs and have a decent pop hooks.

Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke - I was on the Daft Punk band wagon at the beginning.  God knows I love Nile Rogers' guitar (doesn't everyone).  But after hearing it thousands of times, I realized it was about 20 seconds of music on endless loop.  So I listened to the album and that made it worse.  Disco died for a reason and the album falls into all the same traps:  repetitive, over long and not that interesting over repeated listens.  Now back to Blurred Lines.  When I heard this song, it clicked:  a fun, summer song.  As far as the controversy, too much thought and energy has been put into this song.  It is a stupid pop song, and should be enjoyed as such.  I'm pretty sure it is not perpetuating (or hoping to) the problems of the world.  Damn catchy too.

Little Numbers - Boy - One of the benefits of living in Boston is we still have college radio.  That is a thing of various quality, but at least they play different music (Less Variety on Radio).  That is where this came from:  I dare you to listen without tapping your toes.

You already know - Arcade Fire -  I have the visceral dislike of Arcade Fire and I have no reason why; maybe its the hype, maybe it how serious they take themselves.  I listened to the first album and it made no impact.  But I liked Neon bible and The Suburbs even more.  Now they have this one, which is more of the same with Caribbean rhythms.  I still expect not to like it, but liked it right out of the box (or off the interwebs or from the ether or whatever the right expression is).  I read one review that said you had to think of Arcade Fire like David Bowie:  they are both really serious, but every once in a while have to do something to cut loose and lighten up.  So this album is thier equivalent of "Young Americans" or "Let's Dance."  It's still serious and I am drawn to the songs that sound like the Smiths (a la "Ready to Start").  I'm going to call this my album of the year.  There were four or five albums I listened to on repeat this year and loved (Kanye, Johnny Marr, NIN, Civil Wars, Queens of the Stone Age and this), but all the others sound like a different time, more or less.  I mean I get the NIN and Civil Wars albums, but I don't expect Maddy to, at least not yet.  Arcade Fire sounds like NOW, a modern album or at least my twisted view of what it should sound like (or a less twisted version than Kanye).

New Town Velocity (live) - Johnny Marr -   Another one from early in the year.  His first "solo" album it stakes out ground evenly between the Smiths and Electronic.  After listening to this, we now know what parts of Electronic he wrote and we already know what he did in the Smiths.  While every song is good on the album, it is firmly rooted in 1980s, more New Wave than new romantic or Smiths.  His guitar playing is so rich and his vocals (which have been a distraction in the past) complement the songs quite well.  I picked this live version because (1) sound quality is do good although a little feed back/off key at the end (2) the guitar sound is so rich.

 Queens of the Stone Age - I sat by the Ocean - This is really an album in that it sounds better if you listen from beginning to end.  It's heavy and it rocks.  While I recommend you listen to the album because it was tough to pick the "best" song.  But this is Maddy's choice.

Lightening Bolt - Jake Bugg -  Maddy thinks this song shouldn't be allowed, but I love it.  I didn't really love Jake Bugg (hype again) but then I saw him playing this song live (see next song) and was instantly converted.  It's that classic British/blues hybrid, and good to see there still some youngsters who want to play guitar.

Cut me some slack - Surviving Nirvana with Paul McCartney - Sir Paul put out some good music this year and this tune topped those for obvious reasons.  But it also reflects the only trend I see out there (as far as trends, I am Danny Glover to EDM's Mel Gibson): the rise of the rock documentary.  These things seem to be multiplying like some kind of bug, but its been building for a while.  Rush launched their comeback with one and I suppose Keith Richard's book falls int his category as well.  It's partly driven by the death of MTV as anything remotely relevant, but also the rise of Palladia and NPR as media outlets and I think a desire to put things in context other than a hit single.  Bottom line is there are plethora of good ones out there on Netflix and other places (The Other f word, It Might Get Loud, anything on any given night on Palladia).  This song is from Sound City, both a documentary (streaming on Amazon Prime) and a album of new music.  The documentary follows the history of a recording studio, but also the artists and how they made the music.  Then Dave Grohl (who bought the studio and made the documentary) sits down, writes and records a song or two with the various historical figures from Stevie Nicks to Rick Springfield to Trent Reznor and even amazingly, almost all of them are good!  But I like this one with the Beatle and the boys from Seattle.

Sneak Peak of 2014

My Jam. Starring Chekov and Kate Mara.  Not the BeeGees..

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hesitation Marks (for Monica)

To stream album

Nine Inch Nails is back. Listened to the album 3x today (train mishap gave me time on first day of school) and while "came back haunted" didnt grab me when i came out, I'm digging it the album.

Given Bram is blogging again, I'm inspired (and still working on Best of 2012).

First,  one line on each previous albums:

1989 Pretty Hate Machine: angry industrial music for the masses. Must own.
1992 Broken. Angrier music for guitars. Must own.
1994 The downward spiral. still angry but a little sad. works as single piece of art. must own.
1999 The fragile. Sadder, still angry but more pathetic, druggy and more pompous. A few good songs but avoid. 2005 with teeth. return to form, sober but still angry. fans say "sell out" but I really liked it.
2007 Year Zero. Angry about politics. interesting concept album but didnt really get it until seeing it live. 2008 Ghosts goldberg variations (bach)for the industrial set. mellower but interesting like jazz.
2008 The Slip. exhausted. quality but clearly needed a break.
2013 Hesitation Marks  

My thoughts:

  • A pure nine inch nails album which we haven't seen since with teeth. Industrial beats? check. Personal? check. Intense? check. The producer and Trent said they tried to make the anti-NIN album by going "down" on the chorus rather than "up" and flooding guitars. True, but still sounds like NIN. However the songs seem more varied than most NIN albums. 
  • Beats are the most interesting since Downward Spiral. I have to reminding myself that its a drum machine. Same producer (not rick rubin, the other guy)that did Kanye's latest album which is even angrier and more industrial. 
  •  Each song holds up on its own, but put together still sounds like NIN. There are plenty of NIN touches so feels like NIN, but they seem more organic and it doesn't feel formulaic or forced.
  • Like the Johnny Marr album, this sounds very New Wave to me. I hear a little Joy Division, a little Howard Jones, a dance track, but with beats and guitar. 
  • This. Is. Not. EDM. 
  • Trent says he stopped editing himself and is willing to make pop song or use more melody. This is true but I don't think the songs or album suffer for it. The diversity of the feel of the songs makes it easier to listen to and absorb.  My guess is the soundtrack work has helped him put this together as a whole.  Even "came back haunted" works for me in this context.
  •  Trent says "that there is plenty of stuff that still makes him angry." But he isn't just angry anymore. He's happily married, with two kids and worried about what his sons will think about "Closer" or his drug years. I think this maturity makes this album better, or at least makes the content more relatable to me. Sure, he's got issues but the sober and honest presentation makes me get it (not to say that I didn't love the angry poser when I was 25). We've sorta of grown up together, or at least grown in the right direction. 
  • Given his exposure to Jane's Addiction, you think he would know "I would for you" is one of their songs.  His is actually better.
  • Bottom line.  This is not the emotional unstoppable forst of the first few albums and I'm not even sure that its right to compare anything to that pouring out of anger and emotional.  What this is a taking that musical approach and applying it to a more mature state of mind.  And while Ghosts and Year Zero feel uneven and experimental (the two are related after all), this feels more thought out, more smoothly executed and mature.  Maybe not "edgy" but honest.
  • Besides, with Trent at  48, all us 40-somthing guys need to stick together.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Best of 2011 - Going Paperless

First of all

Despite numerous requests, this did not make the list. It was Josie's song of the year.

2010 Misses

 The Whigs


The Candles

Two Cow Garage

Trampled by Turtles

Trends in Music

It's all about technology these days.  For me, the two big ones for this year are the ipad and spotify. The ipad is ending the reign of the personal computer and Apple is so far ahead, its not even close. Whats more amazing is the Steve Jobs plotted this out when he rejoined Apple in 1998 (the same time that Bill Gates penned his internet manifesto which came to nothing).    The pc isn't dead yet.  The ipad is great for consuming content but not great for producing content (I am writing this from a pc).  But other than a big screen tv, there isn't much competition.

Streaming is the other game changer.  Last year, we had Mog. Now we have Spotify. For ten dollars a month, you get unlimited music. What an amazing deal. Mog actually has more functionality than Spotify, even if spotify looks like itunes. But either way, this is the future. We've seen some artist pull music from the streaming services, but I'm convinced its because they think they get more publicity that way; but pulling away is the modern equivalent of saying you don't want your music on the radio. It only works because of your "installed base".  A newcomer doesn't have that base though.  The next generation will have to do it through the services. (By the way, I don't care if Paul McCartney's latest is on Spotify or not.)  But the breadth of these services is amazing.  Me, Matt and Liz spent a night playing name that tune with bluegrass versions of alternative and hard rock songs - the pure bliss of having the music world at your fingertips.  I'm still buying music (and downloading and ripping), but now my first stop is spotify/mog to check out the latest.

Even more amazing, the music business grew in 2012. Actually, for the first time digital revenues increased faster than physical revenues declined. Hope?


There were so many albums I was looking forward to in 2011 that failed to live up to expectations. Not necessarily bad (but plenty of those) but failed to deliver a new chapter of songs to love.

Jane's Addiction: One of my all time favorites really let me down. Sonically interesting in tones/layering, but more like a dj than a new creation. The last album at least delivered a couple of kick ass tunes, this one shows how well they play together (plus bass lines from tv on the radio) but when done, the songs don't really make a lasting impression.

Red Hot Chile Peppers: Into the hall of fame (for whatever that is worth), they deliver a top 40 album. The last one showed they still had vitality: this one, not so much.

Fiest: You don't need to show us how indie you are, just give us good songs please.

Rhett Miller: a collection of live covers. Second miss in a row. My guess is the Old 97's are getting the best songs. But could Jon Brion make this more interesting?

Fountains of Wayne: not a bad album although a bit of a downer. But where are the hooks?

Jay Z and Kanye West: too much Kanye production?  This is like a Pixies album: hard to listen to the whole thing through. I dig it, but not up to previous efforts. It just should have been better. This might be the only concert I saw this year and Kanye was awesome. Jay Z is playing a character called Jay Z but Kanye just laid it all out there: positives, negatives, anger, whatever is on his mind.  The problem here isn't the talent, but the tone.  2011 was the year of Occupy, but look at the first shot in this video. It's a great song but it trivialized the struggle of Otis and others to the pursuit of the dollar.  Nothing wrong with that from here, but raise your consciousness and pay attention to the tone of the culture.

Death Cab for Cutie: A band that I have liked more with every releases. This one just left me feeling nothing. Maybe divorce will be good for them.

Twilight Singers: another of my all times favorites (if you include Afghan Whigs) that produced nothing new that wormed its way into my brain.

Ryan Adams: went away for a few years for health reasons. Now he's back doing soft rock and ballads. Sorry, but prefer Bon Iver in that space.

Robbie Robertson: would have been a great album in say 1992. Just twenty years late. And while it's probably better if artists only do an album every twenty years, it better be a good one.

J Mascis: a song can be just a guitar solo with words and drums, but not necessarily. Should do an instrumental album.

The Kills: love their more traditional blues take on alternative, but this album just doesn't stand out for me.

Cake: always enjoyable, but we've heard this album before.

The Strokes: done for the money I suppose.

Radiohead: at least try guys. only Ryan Adams can have an album of outtakes that is awesome (see last year)

Coldplay: a surprising listing? I think that "a rush of blood.." is a perfect album (one of all time best) and they have shown growth from album to album. This one, despite the hooks, seems a step backwards. We expect more from Brian Eno.  It seems like when they made this album they said "remember Yellow? lets re-write it but replace that pesky guitars with keyboards."  I blame Eno: he really needs to get on board with what sometime partner Daniel Lanois is doing.

Best Album of 2011 that is not an album for 2011

"Pocketful of Kryptonite 25th anniversary" Who doesn't remember the first time they heard "little miss cant be wrong?" Okay I'm kidding. Despite the comic book reference, just don't see why this getting the deluxe treatment (I must admit I did own this cd at one point).

I'm not going to say "Achtung Baby" either. Even though it has my favorite U2 song ("Until the end of the world"), this album was more about saving U2's career than changing the course of music.

And I won't go with Nevermind. First of all, this was a slow burn, not the explosion that leveled everything that people portray it as. Teen Spirit was a great song, but I remember watching "Lithium" on MTV and realizing this was a Great Band. A band that has been so mythologized and whored (come on 4 albums?) that everyone should understand how Cobain felt.

No my pick is Peter Gabriel's "New Blood." Actually, I prefer "Live Blood" and I prefer the second bonus disk of New Blood which is instrumental versions of the same songs (not on spotify). These are orchestra versions of classic Gabriel songs (with Live Blood being live versions). It finally got my kids to listen to Mr. Gabriel and for that alone it deserves a shout out.  But no matter how many times I hear Solsbury Hill or Red Rain, I can't get enough.  Part of that is the songs, but Gabriel's voice is so strong and full of emotion and meaning that I can't resist.

I'll also give a mention to Bruce Springsteen's "The Promise" which is a re-issue/re-working of "darkness on the edge of town." I was never a big Bruce fan back in the day, but over time have come to love the songwriting and musicianship. This was a throw away album in 1978 but "the promise" turns it into a noble failure by reconstructing the album with the best of the outtakes which changes the tone completely.  For some reason, it stayed in the mp3 player for the whole year. On one of his outtake compilations, Bruce once said (I paraphrase) "you look back on why you chose one song over another for an album and you understand why, you just wouldn't do it that way today." That captures the spirit of my "best of."   I can look back over ten years of these now and the music hold up, but I probably would of done a couple of things differently.

Undecided/Too soon to tell

This is all the music I've recently discovered, I'm enjoying but haven't decided where they will end up in the long run. As I troll "best of" lists, there are literally dozens of new albums to listen to or re-listen to.

Glossary - arrived in November, just haven't really spent any quality time with it

M83 - I kind of skipped this (my first response for all dance/electronica/keyboards music) but felt I should check it out during best season. Radio had wormed it into my brain and I love the expanse and different styles of it (note as of May, clearly my biggest miss of 2011 - one of those double album masterpieces that are once a decade occurrences)

Common - in a world where rap music is either alternative music rip off or dance music, a good throw back is always appreciated. It's not throw back run dmc but will take early oughts when Jay Z, Kanye and Just Blazed rules and someone tried a lyric that mattered.

Butch Walker - I didn't even know he had a 2011 release until I started reading all the year end lists. Butch, one more plea: please work with Rhett/Old 97's.

Black Joe Lewis - This record is automatic party.

Next Year

Magnetic Fields..hope they get their groove back

Craig Finn...solo, hopefully measures up to the hold steady

Sharon Van Etten...Internet radio Indie turned me onto her

Sleigh Bells...will be interesting to see how they evolve

Shins...down to one guy, hopefully its the right guy

The XX...don't need to say anything more

Not making the cut

Dawes / Middle Brother / Hey Rossetta - the follow up to Mumford and Sons, but that was really last year's sound. Americana still has legs to run, but I think you need to be more authentic to break through. Dawes is just too Jackson Browne for my tastes, no matter how good the songs are. If you're going to pick one, go with Middle Brother which is a hipster supergroup - anyone who covers Paul Westerberg (Portland) can't be all bad (actually they are pretty good).

Aloe Blacc "I need a dollar" just the song, love the hook.

Raphael Saadiq Stone Rollin' is a great album but while the last album was both a throw back and original, this comes off as more derivative. I love old school r&b a la Junior Walker and love this album because it falls right there. Would love to seem him live.

Hugo "99 problems" a little mumford a little Jay Z but not really of 2011

David Alvin eleven eleven he got the numbers right but this roadhouse country didn't make the cut. But make sure you watch "Justified" where we saw him first.

Go Team - I love their sounds, the enthusiasm of a drumline meeting an alternative band. Plus the tunes are so catchy. But this more a party song than storyline.

Amy Laverne - this year's representative of the old school country/r&b blend that is centered in Memphis. Just needs a little more umph to be the next Lucero.

TV on the radio - I really like this album, but it doesn't have the hooks that caused "dear science" to get stuck on repeat in my brain. Supposedly, this is a song about the end of a romance; I don't get that feeling. I enjoyed the album "but I don't hear a single."

Trent/Nine Inch Nails - They/he are back. To tell you the truth, I have not listened to the whole things (only three hours long) but the singles are great. That may be more nostalgia speaking and I'm sure NIN doing "zoo station" is unnecessary. But I will tell you that the soundtrack took "the social network" from being another David Fincher movie to a special place and I assume "dragon tattoo" will work similarly, particularly given that the music was written first and used by Fincher to re-construct at a higher level. I don't need another NIN album (see above for problems that might occur), but would love to seem them/him live again.

Final Cut

Always a tough call. This is the equivalent of last year's Animal by Neon Trees. But what a weird song. It is like 1990 where people are trying to mix the Smiths with dance music. Insanely catchy. It is also a song that Josie approves. The only thing weirder that the song is the video

Album of the year

Not even close. First of all, the album sold twice as many as the #2 album and more copies than anything since 2004. I don't know what is more amazing: that the public could embrace something like that or the record industry could turn back the clock seven years.

Secondly, it is that good. Adele has a great voice, the tunes are polished, the musicianship good (as well as actually existing). Most importantly, the album and Adele connect emotionally. This is real, not just platitudes that hide the complexity of emotion. If you don't get it, well good for you because you're lucky that you never had your heart broken.

Third, this album stand on its own: it's not related to any of the big movements in music. Its not rap, top 40, rock or alternative or even "industry."  I'm sure the imitators will quickly arrive, but the combination of talent, emotion and songwriting is a rare occurrence. The album just stands on it own, as a thing of quality and beauty.  This is actually an old school album with the artist and record company working together to raise the game.  Rick Rubin produced. Dan Wilson (rehabilitated Dixie Chicks, "closing time") co-wrote and performed, among others. The lesson: talent plus vision = greatness.  Sometimes, the record companies do a good job in growing an artist, musically as well as financially.

I love this version of "turning tables." It just her voice and a piano. I got it as a mp3 but found it while putting this together. Don't watch; just close your eyes and listen.

The list
Given the arrival of streaming music, here/hear the playlists here (if you want a cd copy, just drop me a line and I'll get it out.) Missing mp3's are at the bottom. If you want a cd copy, just tell me and I'll burn you one.

Old 97's "Marquita" Volume 2 (or vol. 2) of the Grand Theatre came out this year, but it was a bit of a disappointment. The first three songs are great and then it fades. It would have been better to make one mega-album out of the two volumes or do it as one giant double cd. But hey, they got many mouths to feed so it came out as two cd's in two different years. But this gem is buried in the back. It's like a theme to a 70's Italian Western, which is about perfect for the "Best of."

Army Navy "I think it's going to happen"
Well actually, it didn't. These guys put out an ep of Big Star/Teenage Fanclub style alternative rock a while back. But this follow up got zero press. I stumbled across it on the web and it delivers on the original promise, albeit a little darker, a little more mature. I would say no one cared, but I did.

Fitz and the Tantrums, "Moneygrabber"
In our tour of styles, the Motown entry. I think Liz heard it first but falls under the adjective "infectious."  If you can't dance to this, you don't like music.

Centro-matic "Against the Line"
One of my favorite albums of the year, with all the tracks good. Really struggled picking this one over "if they talk you down" This is least alt-country of their albums, and comes across darker, but also tighter and well written. I love the counter-point of the guitar vs. the vocals. "Against the line" adds a great subtle bass drum part.

Yuck "All shook down"
Yuck is the youngest band on the list with members all around 21, reviewed as a Sonic Youth rip off (both as a compliment and an insult). While that is true sometimes, they have a lot more talent than that and I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from them. I picked this one because it's a mellow song, but great hook in the big star tradition.

Bon Iver "Calgary"
This album comes off as a modern Michael McDonald. I mean the 80's jazz soft rock, not the Doobie Brothers version. While Bon Iver's first album was full or pain and emotion, this one comes off as cool and beautiful, so there is real talent there.

Adele "turning tables"
I chose the acoustic version of this one, as it strips down to just her voice and a piano. Amazing.

Florence and the Machine "Heartlines"
Why the Machine? Its like Prince and the Revolution, we don't care about the "and" part. I do have one major complaint about this album: its production. Clearly, the record company heard Adele and mixed/produced Flo to sound like "21." But Florence doesn't need that. She's beautiful and weird and hugely talented. She doesn't need to rip off Adele. Flo is not going to be a blues queen; maybe a modern day Kate Bush, but I'm fine with her just being herself. This album could have been better if they had just let her evolve from the first album. Having said that, it's still pretty dam good.

Frank Turner "If Ever I stray"
Despite him being a communist (no really), I always liked Billy Bragg. Here is the 2011 version, but with out the politics. Punk rock plus Irish drinking songs is still a great combination. Also a great example of playing lots of gigs and keeping your nose to the grindstone is the only way to make it.

Trampled by Turtles "Wait so Long"
Not technically a 2011 song, this came up so often on my ipod (no easy feat when you have 1,200 songs), I will always associate it with 2011. And although my musical tastes push boundaries (at least I like to think so), this is the first time I really loved a blue grass band.

Hayes Carll "Stomp and Holler"
The title says it all. Hayes can combine a rave up with political commentary better than anyone. He opened up for the Old 97s last winter if you have any questions about his bonafides.

Grace Turner and the Nocturnals "Paris (Ooh La La)"
A band people have raved about for a long time in these parts (she's from Burlington VT), but I was a never a real believer. But this is they type of rock and roll song I grew up on and I can't resist. Plus you gotta love anyone who would cover the complete Top Gun soundtrack: Best New Years Eve ever!

Foster the People "Pumped up Kicks"
This could have been song of the year, but not quite. Catchy, good bass line, you can dance to it. The lyrics are little strange/scary but any of the singles will get stuck in your head.

Clap your hands Say Yeah "Mania"
The second coming of the Cure, but funner (no killing arabs even if it is fashionable). The stuttering drum beats, keyboard fills, nasal lyrics = too weird for mainstream, but just right for me. Its like David Byrne fronted a progressive rock band that didn't pay guitars.   Hard to pick just one song.

Peter Bjorn and John "Second Chance"
Better know as a beer commercial but still, what a great hook. These guys keep getting better. Three words for you: more. cow. bell.

Lupe Fiasco "Friend of the People"
First of all, it was a weak year for rap releases.  Then long awaited Lupe Fiasco album came out after he sued them to get it released and we wished he had lost.  (I knew the Grammys were bad but nominating this as best rap is just ridiculous - if no one is worthy, just give it to Kanye so he doesn't throw a fit).  But then the mix tape "Friend of the People" hit (download here), sequel to 2009's Enemy of the People. And it was amazing. This is the skate kid rapper I fell in love with, rapping about his personal life and current events over an alternative keyboard soundtrack. In the year where rappers missed the political mood, Lupe gets it here and I only get half of the it.  Another lesson: challenge your listeners and you'll get better results. It's not on the services: there is still an underground, even on the internet. Lupe is probably one of the smartest rappers out there as his songs are spew of references: half part of his flow, half to just show how smart he is (or make us think how smart he is) This is Lupe at his best (he played Tufts spring fling this year). Just listen to the first verse - Por-sha, more doors and Modor (yes Frodo too).  I'll excuse the throw away homophobe line from partner Dosage to hear three minutes on consumerism, slavery, commentary on his record album battle and personal resilience. 

Ida Marie "Bad Karma"
Another out of the way favorite, who has released a record without support. Here Ida does a Zeppelin album and kicks ass over a dozen songs. We need more musicians like Ida; I can't wait to see what she does next.

Black Keys "Lonely Boy"
Song of the Year. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. And what is amazing is that it goes across so many genres: blues, alternative, rock, whatever you want to call it. Two guys and a hook..its magic.

Sam Roberts "The Last Crusade"
I heard these Canadians on the local college station. Old fashioned rock and roll songs, with sax solos, which just isn't done anymore. Bring back the rock and roll sax solo!

The Baseball Project "Don't call them Twinkies"
A vanity project if there ever was one-Craig Finn of the Hold Steady proclaims his loves the Minnesota Twins. There's no doubt it is the honest truth (or his truth), a good story as well as old school rock and roll song. But we need more of this. This is a band playing together, not fiddling with keyboards or in a studio. There's nothing wrong with dance music, but dance music is not about the music, its about dancing. Rock and roll is about the music. Mick and Keith and Paul and John didn't do it for the money, they did it for the music.  Play your instruments, give me great hooks, move me, and I (and the public) will follow you anywhere.

sidebar: Josie comments: "You listen to weird music. Why would I call you a twinkie? What kind of song is "if I want to destroy your sweater?""
That's all folks.  I apologize for the lateness of the post.  I actually finished the list by January 3rd, but it took me four and a half months to finish the writing.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Every once in a while, you see something so striking, it instantly jumps out at you because it is so different, so intelligent, so good that it is undeniable. I don't "do" movies too often, but Hugo warrants a post. The last time I saw a movie like this was Inception. Why that movie didn't win Best Picture, I'll never know (too much of genre movie?).

If you don't know Hugo, it was originally a graphic novel. But rather than being a comic book collections, it is more an illustrated novel, alternating between prose and art sequences. I have not read it, but Maddy is a big fan (include author Brian Selznick's new book Wonderstruck). So me and her went on a "daddy date" to see it.

First of all, not worth seeing in 3d - doesn't really add anything (although James Cameron said it was the best use of 3d that he had seen). Secondly, the pace is different. I don't want to say "slow" because that doesn't give director Scorsese (yes that Scorsese) credit. I spent the first fifteen minutes wondering how Maddy would sit through two hours, then how I would stay awake. It was undeniably well made, everything from filming to sets. But once I was drawn in, I was entranced. And that is the right word, as the story is about magic: the magic of movies, the magic of youth, the magic of family (in all its forms), the magic of magic. Maddy says the movie follows the novel pretty closely, but with stuff added. But what is added is an enhancement, little details that only add to the story like details in the painting. There are no throw away characters here. I'm told the movie references over 80 classic films - I got maybe 10% of those, but I am curious to figure it out. For instance:

So few films work on so many levels, yet stand out on their own style at the same time. a masterpiece. Maddy agrees. I will have to go read the book now.

A slightly different "hugo" but a classic song: