Category Archives: Music

The Year in Music!

Albums that turned me on in 2011. This, as usual, turned out to be way harder than I thought. In fact, I ended up paring it down quite a bit to give more space to some things that I think have been overlooked or underrated (like Cults…I dropped Cults because everyone seems to be into Cults). Yeah, this list is still huge, but I spend a lot of time listening to new music, especially when I’m working. And Spotify has been a great help there this year…

So, 2011 was heavy on pretty and lo-fi, I think. I’m sure my list looks a little wispy to some people, but what can I say? That’s what got into my head this year. Wisps.

Here are a bunch of discs that I found myself giving a close listen to more than once, and enjoying the experience:

The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient

I almost cut this one because I see it on a lot of “best of 2011” lists. But it’s really good. Evocative is a good word? Kind of like a solo road trip soundtrack for your head (which describes a lot of shit I like, I guess). Poke around. Check it out.

The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

This disc is almost literally the sound of warped 78 records playing on a hissing Victrola with slight production. Inspired, I guess, by Alzheimer’s as much as anything. Anyway, it’s a very haunting collage.

Stevie Jackson: I Can’t Get No

Solo debut by Belle & Sebastian guitarist/occasional singer/songwriter Stevie Jackson. I love B&S, and have loved most of Stevie’s stuff.  This is no exception. Stevie’s kind of a slave to his sixties inspirations, but his inspirations are broad, so he’s usually engaging.

Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen

Crawling and intimate. Unfolds slowly, but it’s really affecting.

Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney (Various Artists)

The title is accurate. Some of the black Americans included are Otis Redding (“Day Tripper”), Aretha Franklin (“Let it Be”), Al Green (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”), Billy Preston (“Blackbird”), and Chubby Checker (“Back in the USSR”). It is a fantastic collection, and more proof that Lennon & McCartney might have been pretty decent songwriters.

Cake: Showroom of Compassion

I’ve never been a HUGE Cake fan, but I think this is clearly their best album. And it’s not so snarky and clever as their earlier stuff. I like it. So I listed it.

Other Lives: Tamer Animals

It’s really pretty. I mean, the opening track kicks in with an oboe right off the bat. I think it’s an oboe, anyway. This disc should be getting more year-end love.

J. Mascis: Several Shades of Why

I dig J. Mascis at full blast, and I dig acoustic sounds. So a J. Mascis acoustic disc is an easy sell.

Amor de Dias: Street of the Love of Days

AMG says this of Amor de Dias: “a breezy blend of tropicalia, English chamber pop, and psychedelic folk.” Hello!

Buffalo Killers: 3

This is a great album. I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more love. Sunny California guitar pop/rock. Feel good music, I guess.

Bill Callahan: Apocalypse

Oh, man. How to describe this record? Well, there’s a song called “America!” on it. Callahan (formerly of Smog) kind of half-sings, half-speaks some relatively strident tunes about America from the perspective of…an outsider, I guess? Anyway, it’s a really interesting listen, especially if you pay attention.

Nerves Junior: As Bright As Your Night Light

I don’t really know how to describe this one, but I have a feeling it will be hailed as an overlooked classic somewhere down the line.

The High Llamas: Talahomi Way

If you know the Llamas, you know what you get when you listen to them. Sunny, Beach Boys inspired melodies with light electronica mixed in. This is the same, but I think it’s as strong as ever. Always up my alley. They exist in some sun-kissed, timeless neverland. And that’s okay with me.

Butcher Boy: Helping Hands

If the cover art to this record resonates with you (The Smiths? Sarah Records? Belle and Sebastian?), then you’ll probably like it.

Fran Healy: Wreckorder

I like Travis more than most people seem to. I resisted this release by Travis frontman Fran Healy based on a review I read. Once I gave it a close listen, I realized I like Fran Healy solo more than more people seem to, as welll.

Ghost: Opus Eponymous

My pal Chuck BB recommended this one to me. Awesome metal throwback band. But smart, too. And, yes. EVIL. (wink)

Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Girls is just a great band. Their last album was great. This one is great. They’re all over the map, but they can get into your head in a heartbeat.

Gold Leaves: The Ornament

Beautiful and hazy.

Gruff Rhys: Hotel Shampoo

Do you Like Super Furry Animals? Well, you should. I like Super Furry Animals. Rhys is one of them. And here he makes with the catchy soft pop.

Hotel Lights: Girl Graffiti

As Hotel Lights, former Ben Folds’ drummer Darren Jessee (and pals) makes lovely melodies about girls. I don’t know who would get the reference, but he kinda reminds me of an American Stephen Duffy.

Cliffie Swan: Memories Come True

Mid-seventies Fleetwood Mac seems to be an influence here. If Olivia Newton-John was their lead singer. Okay, so what? That’s actually sort of awesome.

Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo

Vile was, to my mind, the lead figure in a sort of underground movement toward a certain sound that was all over the place in 2011. Lo-fi rock? But with actual tunes? I dunno. The new J. Mascis disc (which I also mention here) slides right in there, too.

Metronomy: The English Riviera

This disc mines the seventies and the eighties, but with a distinctly British accent. There’s a little synth thrown in here and there, but it’s catchy and lyrically affecting.

Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love: Motown’s MoWest Story 1971-1973 (Various Artists)

If you’d told me there was a great Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons single I’d never heard, I’d have punched you in the arm with a disbelieving chuckle. If you’d told me it was released on a Motown label, I would have burned your house down with maniacal laughter. BUT THIS DISC KICKS OFF WITH JUST SUCH A THING! This is a fantastic collection of singles from a failed Motown experiment. Here…read this informative review if you think you might like it:

Noah and the Whale: Last Night On Earth

I don’t really get why these guys aren’t indie darlings. This album is ridiculously catchy and pretty clever, but it seems to have slipped under everyone’s radar.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Self-Titled

Noel Whips Liam right out of the gate. In a year stuffed with lo-fi and subtle, Noel just piles it on as thickly as he can. And that’s why I love the guy.

Charles Bradley: No Time For Dreaming

Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’

The above two albums sound exactly like you’d hope they sound based on their album covers. It’s so nice to have organic soul music back.

The Sound of Arrows: Voyage

I don’t love a lot of the new wave of synth pop, but these guys remind me of the Pet Shop Boys, and, man, do I love the Pet Shop Boys.

Starfucker: Reptilians

Hey, it’s your band. Call it whatever you want, right? Starfucker does easy to sing along to, synthy songs that often build nicely into danceable mini-anthems. I think I like this album more than most people.

The Embassy: Life in the Trenches

Kind of like an updated Aztec Camera, with more electronics mixed in. Okay, I don’t think that makes any sense, but it’s what came to mind first. They’re Swedish, and this is actually a compilation of sorts, but it’s real good.

The Go! Team

Not as good as their first (almost nothing is), but better than their last. A good sign.

Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation

One of those albums I kept hearing about, but decided to resist, and then couldn’t. Bedroom pop by a guy who’s likely to emerge as an Important Figure in the bedroom pop scene. (I know, I know…I’m saying, you know, if there were such a thing…)

People Like Us: Welcome Abroad

You’ll probably hate this. Unless the idea of a Julie Andrews/Doors mash-up turns you on. In which case we can share popcorn and listen together under the covers with our flashlights.


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Ten (of the) Top Tracks: 2011 (Part One)

Frank Turner: “Peggy Sang the Blues”

Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Bird: “If I Had a Gun”

Anna Calvi: “Blackout”

The Beastie Boys: “Make Some Noise:

Drive-By Truckers: “Ray’s Automatic Weapon”

The Embassy: “You Tend to Forget”

Ghost: “Ritual”

Metronomy: “Everything Goes My Way”

Other Lives: “Tamer Animals”

Raphael Saadiq: “Good Man”

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Mid-Year Musical Interlude

It’s been a good half year for mellow, folky pop.

So I give you four of my favorite 2011 releases:

Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues:

Other Lives’ Tamer Animals:

Cliffie Swan’s Memories Come True:

Loose Salute’s Getting Over Being Under:

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2010 Sounds

Not as much detail as usual, but a list, at least. Twenty favorite listens from the past year:

  • Belle & Sebastian: Write About Love
  • Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafiti: Before Today
  • Manic Street Preachers: Postcards From a Young Man
  • Fresh and Onlys: Play It Strange
  • Aloe Blacc: Good Thing
  • Clientele: Minotaur
  • Clinic: Bubblegum
  • Black Keys: Brothers
  • Divine Comedy: Bang Goes the Knighthood
  • Superchunk: Majestic Shredding
  • Dungen: Skit I Allt
  • Lucky Soul: A Coming of Age
  • Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
  • Steve Wynn: Northern Aggression
  • Steven Page: Page One
  • Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song
  • Strand of Oaks: Pope Killdragon
  • Paul Heaton: Acid Country
  • Fabienne Delsol: On My Mind
  • Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can


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Ranking the Kinks

Stepping aside from my normal work-related blogging, I was listening to the Kinks while raking leaves, and started composing a list of Kinks discs in my head. Since one of my quirks of character is an incessent need to create useless lists, it put me in the mood to attempt a ranking of Kinks albums. So, here goes:

1. Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

For years I would have listed Something Else at number one, but this is really the best Kinks album. It’s more mature, with a more fleshed out sound. Some of the recent reissues really drive that point home. Probably (hell, easily) one of the ten greatest albums of the rock era. It’s nostalgic, wistful, tuneful, smart and catchy. The title cut, “Do You Remember Walter?,” “Picture Book,” “Johnny Thunder,” “Big Sky,” “Starstruck,” “People Take Pictures of Each Other”… All are phenomenal songs. Really a shame it took this disc so long to be recognized for the masterpiece it is. The upside to the Kinks being out of step with the “sound” of the sixties in 1968 is that their music from that period feels almost timeless.

2. Something Else (1967)

One of the prettiest, saddest albums of its era. Any disc that contains “Waterloo Sunset” is going to be near the top of the list, but Ray Davies’ character sketches (“Two Sisters,” “David Watts,”) and hazy ballads (“Lazy Old Sun,” “No Return”) give the disc depth and variety that’s hard to match. And Dave Davies contributed “Death of a Clown,” which is probably as good a song as the Kinks ever recorded.

3. Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)

For some reason it took me a while to realize how great this disc is. “Victoria” is one of the best Kinks songs of the sixties, but “Shangri-La” is beautiful, “Some Mother’s Son” is a smart, no bullshit anti-war song, and “Drivin'” is a great little swinging ode to…you know…driving…

4. Face to Face (1966)

The first in the Kinks’ run of five-star classics (the other three are listed above). A huge evolution in the Kinks’ sound, with a variety of sounds and themes. Catchy rock songs (“Party Line,” “Session Man”), cynical hit singles (“Sunny Afternoon”), English music hall numbers (“Dandy”), and, of course, lots of lovely Ray Davies pop songs (“Rainy Day in June,” “Fancy,” “A House in the Country”).

5. Lola vs. Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1 (1970)

Kind of a let-down when compared to the amazing run of discs that proceeded it, but it’s still a great album. Aside from “Lola,” it contains some of Ray Davies’ best melancholy ballads (“This Time Tomorrow” and “A Long Way From Home”) and one of Dave Davies’ all-time greatest songs (“Strangers”).

6. State of Confusion (1983)

It’s very hard for me to be objective here, since this is the disc (tape at the time) that made me fall in love with the Kinks (aided also by my parents’ worn vinyl copy of the Kinks Greatest Hits). “Come Dancing” was a beautiful single, as was “Don’t Forget to Dance.” “Heart of Gold” is a great, timeless Kinks track, and the title cut is a pretty effective hard-driving ode to the headaches of modern life.

7. Muswell Hillbillies (1971)

Maybe the last great Kinks album. Affecting acoustic tracks, boozy music hall numbers (“Alcohol”), Americana filtered through the Kinks’ English rose-tinted glasses. And the jagged “Twentieth Century Man,” which reminds us that Ray Davies is never too comfortable in the here and now. Works as a good sampler of the Kinks’ various moods circa the early seventies.

8. Kink Kontroversy (1965)

This is where the Kinks started to morph from a great singles band into a great band, period. It’s not as consistent as the discs that followed, but there are some classic songs here, including “Till the End of the Day” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.”

9. Give the People What They Want (1981)

A pretty killer rock album. “Destroyer” was a big hit, and most of the album  rocks hard, but the creepy ballad “Art Lover” and the beautiful “Better Days” are probably the two best tracks on the album, from my perspective. I think it’s interesting that the Kinks were one of the first bands to really embrace video in the MTV era (considering they’d been around for two decades), and “Predictable” was an early MTV staple.

10. Misfits (1978)

Most people would probably rank this one higher, but State of Confusion and Give the People What They Want hold a lot of nostalgic charm for me. “Rock & Roll Fantasy” is the killer cut on this disc (where the Kinks recognize the impact music has on fans). But the title track is pretty great, too. The more I listen to this disc, the more I like it.

11. Low Budget (1979)

It’s taken me a long time to warm up to the Kinks’ arena rock years (the mid to late seventies), but this is a fun listen. And how can you resist “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”? It’s kind of disco, I guess, but that’s okay.

12. Sleepwalker (1977)

“Juke Box Music” is a great tune. So is “Sleepwalker,” which really should have been a hit.

13. Phobia (1993)

This isn’t a great album, but it’s way better than it’s given credit for being (not that I’ve ever heard anyone talk about it). The last real Kinks album to date. It rocks pretty hard and has some catchy, pretty tunes, too. I think it Ray and Dave put more into it than they had their previous couple of releases, but it just vanished without a trace.

14. Word of Mouth (1984)

Essentially two good tracks, one of which (Dave Davies’ “Living On a Thin Line”) was kind of great. The other one was “Do It Again.” Kind of a bummer after the two previous discs.

Not ranked:  Kinks, Kinda Kinks (the early Kinks are best sampled on one of their fantastic singles comps), Percy (although I should revisit this one), Everybody’s In Show-Biz, Preservation, Acts 1 and 2, Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace, Think Visual and any live albums or compilations (although there are a couple of stunning Kinks comps).

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The Year 2009 in Music Part Two

More choice cuts from the Year in Music. Please check ’em out:

Diego Bernal – “Bring It On Home”

Julian Casablancas – “Glass”

Grant-Lee Phillips – “Buried Treasure”

Bebel Gilberto – “Sun is Shining”

Sondre Lerche – “Heartbeat Radio”

Jay-Z – “Empire State of Mind”

Mika – “We Are Golden”

Arctic Monkeys – “Crying Lightning”

Coconut Records – “Microphone”

Dinosaur Jr. – “Over It”

Phoenix – “Lisztomania”

The Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition”

I Come to Shanghai – “Your Lazy Eye”

Joe Henry – “The Man I Keep Hid”

Dan Auerbach – “Heart Broken, In Disrepair”

Wild Light – “California On My Mind”

The Duckworth Lewis Method – “Meeting Mr. Miandad”

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The Year 2009 in Music: Part One

Some of the albums from 2009 that truly caught my sensitive ears, complete with videos (whether official, live or fan). Please stroll through and enjoy.

More to come.

Girls – Album

The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

The Black Crowes – Before the Frost

Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

Brian Setzer Orchestra – Songs From Lonely Avenue

Bruce Springsteen – Working On a Dream

Clientele – Bonfires From the Heath

Diana Krall – Quiet Nights

God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl

James Blackshaw – The Glass Bead Game

Lovetones – Dimensions

Lucero – 1372 Overton Park

Madness – The Liberty of Nolton Folgate

Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement

Skygreen Leopards – Gorgeous Johnny

Swell Season – Strict Joy


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