The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 5) – Best Live Music Moments of 2014

The 2014 recap comes to an end with my attempted summation of the year I spent going to more live music than ever before. After the dust settled, I attended 111 shows that featured 257 bands. Now for the actuaries out there, my “show” accounting goes as follows: one “show” equals one event worth of live music. In other words, a single day of seeing multiple bands at Pitchfork counts as 1 show. However, I do keep a running tab of all the bands I saw over the year. Some acts I saw multiple times, such as the National (x4), Lucius (x3), Lydia Loveless (x3), Wilco (x3), but despite “repeats” it is fair to say that I saw at least 200 different bands last year. Not bad for these 37 year old bones that don’t get paid to go see bands or work in an industry that subsidizes my concert-going. While the volume might impress some, I am struck more by how many truly magical moments I experienced and to the wonderful company I had with me along way. (Thanks to all you crazy, lovely friends, who share in these adventures with me, especially the dance parties! You are special beyond words.) From tiny halls to outdoor festivals to historical theaters to overstuffed showcases, I had the amazing fortune to see some of the best musical minds of my generation (and those that came before and are coming up) perform. So here were my most memorable moments…

  • IMG_20140416_154441The National (w/ Daughter), April 15th at the Chicago Theatre – The opening night of the National’s four night sold-out residency at the Chicago Theater (I went to nights 2 and 3 as well) absolutely melted my rock n roll heart. No band packs their live performance with depth of emotion and dynamism like these gents from Ohio. I had the amazing fortune of being 7th row center and having an intimate experience with a band that plays to arena-sized crowds. Crowd pleasers like “Mr. November”, “Fake Empire”, and “Sea of Love” always get me going but the epic majesty of “Terrible Love” or the acoustic sing-along “Vaderlyle Crybaby Geeks” that have become staple show-closers are what soothe my soul.
  • IMG_20141008_224107Lucius, August 2nd at Lincoln Hall and October 8th at the Metro – Nobody knows how loud my heart gets when I hear this band. I absolutely fell in love (all over again) with this band in 2014. It is a thing of utter joy to watch these five folks perform on stage and to hear Jess and Holly’s mesmerizing harmonies on “Don’t Just Sit There” or “Two of Us on the Run”. Or, to watch them get worked up and dance with the crowd and crowd-surf on their backs while singing!?! Oh, and at the Metro show, Jeff Tweedy came out and performed an acoustic version of “Jesus, Etc.” with Jess and Holly on backing vocals (#swoon). It is hard to top that. Well maybe my making their way into the center of the crowd and closing with acoustic sing-alongs. Yeah, they are a treasure.
  • IMG_20140914_094532The Get Up Kids, September 13th at Riot Fest – Matt Pryor and company played all of Something to Write Home About to a crowd of kids that had likely Sharpie-d or tattooed every line of that record on to their adolescent skin. The entire crowd was scream-singing at the top of their lungs with fists in the air to every single moment. And, for a brief 40 minutes, it was as though everything was right with the world.
  • IMG_20140719_090901Sharon Van Etten, July 18th at Pitchfork – It is the rare moment when a songwriter can bear their soul and heart in front of thousands of eager festival attendees in broad daylight and have everyone quiet and attentive. Sharon and her band absolutely owned a Festival filled with artistic giants by doing what is most essential: making us listen.
  • Weezer, September 14th at Riot Fest – For all my disappointment with this band’s work since the Green Album, hearing Rivers playing the Blue Album from start to finish was another moment of having your youth injected back into your soul. From the angst of “My Name is Jonas” to the dreamy pining of “Only in Dreams”, all us 30 something aging rock/hipsters relived our heartaches and our first loves through a raucous sea of nostalgic bliss.
  • IMG_20140907_000753IMG_20140907_001710Sylvan Esso & the War on Drugs, September 6th at the Hideout Block Party – The Hideout Block Party is far and away my favorite Chicago festival because it has the feeling of community and home. Sylvan Esso wooed us by day and War on Drugs wowed us at night. For those unfamiliar, the Hideout Block Party tends to be more rock and country, yet Sylvan Esso got the day drinking crowd grooving with their sumptuous and sultry beats. Their live rendition of “Coffee” floored me. 2014 was the year of the War on Drugs, the band. Set against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline, these guys played a guitar jam infused show that made your remember why you love rock and roll and evoked a timeless quality.
  • Moments I never thought would happen at Riot Fest Days 2 and 3, September 12th and 13th – Seeing Patti Smith play “Because the Night” (dedicating it to her late husband Fred Sonic Smith of the MC5), Television play “Marquee Moon”, Billy Bragg play “New England”, and the Afghan Whigs play songs from n
  • IMG_20140721_095727Perfect Pussy, July 20th at Pitchfork – A blistering, non-stop, nothing-left-behind, bullet of a set with Meredith Graves pouring every ounce of her soul and heart into the songs. It was sweaty and tear-filled. This is how every punk rock show should feel.
  • The Front Bottoms and You Blew It!, July 11th at Concord Music Hall – …and speaking of energy.  Watching the kids (because it was an all-ages show) screaming back every single word of the punk/emo tinged rock of these two bands was life-affirming. I’m happy to know that teenagers can still rock out and scream at shows without having their phones in the air and appreciating the immediacy of the moment.
  • IMG_20141107_161221The Flat Five, November 6th at the Hideout – One of the most talented, joy-bringing, mirth-making collection of artists I have ever seen perform, and, thankfully I see them quite often. The five members of the band, which includes Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor, play in and around Chicago in many different permutations. This project is devoted to singing old pop classics and standards from your parent’s day. The songs may at times sound silly and simple (remember we lived in a more “nuanced” world back then) but they are filled with such wonder and joy.  If you live in Chicago, watching them perform is a must.
  • wilcoWilco, December 8th, 9th, and 11th at the Riviera – Speaking of Chicago based bands…. I again had the good fortune to see these guys play on multiple occasions this year. Watching them is utter joy. They are masterful musicians in every sense of the word and love playing and giving their hearts and soul to their fans. I can’t pick one night because each had its brilliant moments of digging back into their archives with new arrangements (e.g., an acoustic “Misunderstood” or a punk infused “Passenger Side”) or playing deeper less heard cuts (e.g., “Poor Places”, “Reservations”, etc.) and outtakes from 20 years of brilliant music making.
  • IMG_20140426_130659Lydia Loveless, April 25th and 27th at Schubas – I love a good country rock song and I adore female fronted bands. Two nights of whiskey and romance-infused rock songs with this young woman and her ferocious band nearly did me in, in the best way possible. Lydia’s songs are filled with raw and unabashed desire and yearning that will speak to every broken-hearted, pining, and hopeless romantic in the house. And, her covers of “The Killing Moon” and Ke$ha’s “Blind” were awesome.
  • IMG_20140504_234734Angel Olsen at Lincoln Hall, May 5th – Every time I see Angel perform it feels like an otherworldly experience. With a voice that will both intoxicate and haunt, her songs are confessions, indictments, reckonings, and ruminations of this mysterious and perplexing existence we lead.
  • IMG_20141026_013449Ex-Hex, October 25th at the Empty Bottle – These ladies simply put on the best adrenaline infused guitar rock show from start to finish of the whole year.
  • American Football with Braid, December 30th at Bottom Lounge – The last show of the year and possibly the most “beautiful” show too. Despite only one album to their name and nearly a decade and a half of dormancy, American Football packed the Bottom Lounge with “older kids” intoning every sing line of their album, a delicate and gorgeous collection of songs about growing up and ebbs and flow of love.

…and I couldn’t leave out these amazing shows too

  • Lykke Li at Lollapalooza, August 1st
  • St. Vincent at the Riviera, April 5th
  • The Hotelier at Township, March 15th
  • Neutral Milk Hotel at the Riviera, February 6th
  • Phox at Lincoln Hall, August 9th
  • Mutual Benefit at Brooklyn Vegan Party (SXSW), March 13th
  • Anthony Saint at Schubas, August 26th
  • Tycho at Concord Music Hall, April 10th
  • Waxahatchee at Empty Bottle, April 26th
  • Neko Case at Chicago Theater, May 13th
  • Chvrches at the Vic, July 31st
  • Cloud Nothings at Pitchfork Day 2, July 19th
  • Jon Hopkins at Pitchfork Day 3, July 20th
  • Blood Orange at Lollapalooza, August 1st
  • San Fermin at Lollapalooza, August 1st
  • First Aid Kit @ the Vic, November 22nd
  • James Vincent McMorrow at Lincoln Hall, March 27th

…and if you really want to see a list of all the shows, well here it is:

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And to all my friends that joined me at shows, to the bands I watched and chatted with after their performances, to the strangers I geeked out over music with or with whom I danced, to the young woman at Lolla that called me the best fan ever, to Chicago, and to all the faithful and kind readers, don’t ever forget…

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yours in music,

a.a.

The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 4) – The (20 or so) Best Albums of 2014

Who listens to full LPs anymore? I for one do. It is honestly my preferred mode of listening. Of course, I appreciate a good mixtape or a well curated playlist for a mood, occasion, or exposure (see here). But full albums provide a unique experience, a journey, an extended artistic exploration or rumination on a theme or concept. If someone recommended a good writer, would you really only read the three or four pages of the book? That seems odd to me. Same theory applies to an album. A song needs to be placed in its context and sequencing. So I prefer the long form or long play.

One of the things that will be evident to the reader is the preponderance and predominance of female artists and female fronted groups on this list. While I definitely tend towards female vocalists, I think this marks a great year (and a continuing trend!) in a more balanced musical landscape. But these aren’t simply “pop sensations” cast for their “cute”, “sexy”, “girlish” looks. All of these are women with indisputable artistic integrity and merit who let their work (i.e., skill in composing and writing) speak for itself – not through calculated manipulation of the marketplace or the Twitterverse. I digress.

Why these records? Simply these are the records I listened and returned to the most or obsessed over for extended re-plays wanting to get lost in their world of sound and stories. I’ve rocked out with my fist in the air, shook my hips or bopped my head with abandon, contemplated the mysteries of existence and being, grooved slowly across the floor, screamed with adolescent angst, pined with the hopeless heartache, and cried in the shared experience of sadness, longing, and awe. In short, I’ve shared many wonderful moments with these albums and want to share them with you.  (As always, Spotify links provided.)

Enjoy and see you in 2015!  a.a.

wodlp3.11298covertextLost In the Dream by The War on Drugs (Rock) is quite simply a staggering, timeless record, which also had the most staying power on this listener’s turntable and headphones. Imagine if you packed the freewheelin’ spirit of Dylan with the guitar virtuosity of Dire Straits and the anthemic quality of Springsteen. Few albums fulfill the unabashed joy of rocking while ruminating over the quandary that is existence as this masterpiece does.

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Are We There by Sharon Van Etten (Indie Rock) is a true gift to those who desire honest and soul searching songwriting cast against a sea of lush, soothing, densely layered compositions. SVE is an amazing talent (and from her stage banter a spritely soul) who keeps providing us with an opportunity to learn how to open ourselves and delve into the amorous places we dare or dread to go.

jag246.11183Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen (Neo Folk) is the work of truly unique voice. Musically Olsen is the queen of using sparseness and space to evoke a world bursting and ripe with emotion. On this record she also aggressively rocks out. Lyrically, though, Angel is a truly gifted writer with the ability to look into the emotional abyss and not simply stare but scream back in willful passion against the darkness.

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Somewhere Else by Lydia Loveless (Insurgent Country/Rock) has been my go to record when I need a jolt in the arm. Lydia is brash, bold, and speaks her mind without any worry. She embraces her longings and desires when cooler heads would refrain, loves with full and reckless abandon, turns from those who would tell her how to live, and reminds us that a life without regret and played by the book, is probably not worth living.

Lykke-Li-I-Never-Learn-2014-1200x1200I Never Learn by Lykke Li (Dream Pop). By now you are getting the picture, I love or really loved records filled with raw, deep, and intense emotions. I Never Learn, Lykee’s third album, is no exception. In my estimation this her most fully realized record with gorgeously rich and lush orchestration, layers of cascading sounds, and heavenly reveals. This is definitely a record that will soothe and inspire your wounded soul.

APphoto_Music Review Spoon

They Want My Soul by Spoon (Rock) – It has been a long time (probably since Girls Can Tell) that I’ve loved and listened to a Spoon record with this much repetition and gusto. For me, Britt and the boys are at their best when getting into the soulful and sensual depths of rock and roll (e.g. “Inside Out” and “Knock Knock Knock”). While I love over the top 70s rock (like “Cherry Bomb”), I prefer it when they go for the more subtle and deftly crafted songs like “New York Kiss” (oh that synth line) or the curiously confrontational “Do You”.

St.-VincentSt. Vincent by St. Vincent (Indie Rock) is not a statement it is a giant scream from the depths of Annie Clark’s artistic soul. No album this year crafted such a dense and consistent aesthetic that pushes the boundaries of “pop(ular) music” with quirky, bizarre loops, guitar riffs, synthetic and non-Western percussion (a la the Talking Heads), and stylized vocals. Yet, St. Vincent isn’t simply an “act” or “art statement” in the vein of a Bowie reinvention, Annie Clark uses the elevated levels of production to offer a comical and searing observation of contemporary American culture. She is a treasure to be heeded.

toughloveTough Love by Jessie Ware (Pop) is an album for those who recognize that love isn’t simply teenage fantasies and romance, but a complicated and complex web of desires, actions, and words. Jessie will guide you through heartache and infatuation with sweet and soothing soul that will leave you blissfully at peace.

beckMorning Phase by Beck (Neo Folk) – I never thought a folk record could be epic and grandiose. Generally, folk is the realm of the small details, the minutiae, or the seemingly picayune (though affecting) moments of our life. They are the things of lore and legend. Morning Phase is a series of observations on life as seen from extend aerial view, space ship, or the perspective of old wise soul. Beck has always been a master of pop innovation. On this record, he takes us on a spiritual journey to ask bigger questions,  only we can answer those, but he’s given us a gorgeous soundtrack with which to explore them.

hwThe Moon Rang the Bell by Hundred Waters (Indie-Electronic) / Sylvan Esso by Sylvan Esso (Indie-Electronic) / Cool Choices by S (Indie Rock) – All three of these records share a common theme for me.  Each in its own way creates an atmosphere and environment of sound that while extremely intricate conveys a sense of sparseness and simplicity. The austerity of eachSYLVAN_ESSO-self_titled-1500x1500 allows the listener to inhabit each artist’s aural world as though you were in private room watching flickering images of the ideas conveyed through song.  Hundred Waters evoke angelic and ethereal visions with their Cocteau Twins like elements combined with lush, intricate composition. Sylvan Esso create the warm and soothing sensation of home and hearth with Amelia Meath’s dreamy vocals and Nick Sanborn intoxicating (and hip shaking) grooves. S_LP1S (the work of Jenn Ghetto) feels like a musical bildungsroman replete with stories of growing up as an outsider (and feeling as though you never will escape), questioning and embracing the ephemeral nature of love, the heartbreaking reality of betrayal and distrust, and the constant need never to give up.

makthaverskanII by Makthaverskan (Indie Rock) – From the minute I heard the first note on II, I knew I would become hopelessly infatuated with Makthaverskan. These Swedes bring blend British New Wave with the pace of punk, the jam qualities of shoe-gazer rock, and the angst of youth. If Nena fronted the Cure with Kevin Shields (of MBV) and J. Mascis alternatively providing guitar parts, then you’ve got an idea how this band is the perfect Venn diagram of what I love in music.

download (1)LP1 by FKA Twigs (Indie-Electronic) – If you want to set the mood with a completely sensual intoxicating album, you have found your record. I think this is the Dummy of this generation. It encapsulates and exemplifies the unique blend of downtempo electronic and R&B that is on the fringe of the overproduced saccharine dance and EDM that fills the airwaves.

CT192 PerfectPussy CoverSay Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy (Hardcore- Punk – Indie Rock) – In what I think was an amazing year for punk or punk infused Indie rock, Meredith Graves and the members of Perfect Pussy released what is far and away the most aggressive, in-your-face record that sticks to the heart of Hardcore/Punk’s mission: brief, acerbic, wide-eyed, and unapologetic observations and indictment of our culture.

how-to-dress-well-what-is-this-heart“What Is This Love?” by How To Dress Well (Indie-RB) is the follow up to Tom Krell’s heart wrenching Total Loss, a reflection on those absences – of short and extended durations, lost or abandoned relationships, or the permanent loss- in our lives. On this album, Tom focuses on the natural counterpoint: Love with its highs and lows, ebbs and flows, passion and infatuations, and its ephemeral and protean nature. What he does so well, though, is to make this lyrical exploration a great slow grooving dance party. If you can’t groove out to “Repeat Pleasure” or “Precious Love”, it might be time to question whether you are a replicant.

a2238347451_10Blue Breath by Bellows (Neo Folk) – Over the past month I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with this record. There is something in Bellows unique brand of Lo-Fi Folk Rock that recalls Elliott Smith and early Bright Eyes with the delicate and intricate songwriting of Sufjan Stevens. Yes, those are fairly tall shoes to fill, but listen and see if you disagree.

Ex-Hex-Rips-Album-ReviewRips by Ex Hex (Rock) – With the exception of Spoon, no band rocked it harder from start to finish than Mary Timony’s newest project. This is an album for those that adore unabashed adrenaline generated punk-infused rock. It is a roller coaster ride of sweet riffs and guitar hooks from start to finish. …for fans of the Ramones, Cars, and Joan Jett.

a0568906257_10Home Like No Place There Is by The Hotelier & Never Hungover Again by Joyce Manor (Emo-Punk) – Nothing has brought more joy to this boy’s musical heart than the return of unabashed raw energy of punk rock with heart-on-sleeve emotional release of euphoria and despondency. Yes, I mean I am thrilled that Emo is finally back! When you feel deeply, intensely, and with every fiber of your being, it’s cool.  And, it is even cooler to express that at the top of your lungs with your voice in near shreds because the very act of singing these thoughts is the apex of being. Whenever I find myself in a rut, personally or mentally frustrated, I turn to these two records, dim the lights and sing along in teenage abandon. (You’ll know it is true if you’ve ever been to a show with me.) I saw The Hotelier perform three times this year and each occasion it made you believe in the power of music to bring people together to share in their unified release of emotion. Joyce Manor takes me back to my college days in Providence with long late night conversations about silly academic subjects, women that broke my friends’ hearts, dreams of the future, and all sorts of pop culture minutia that filled our minds because we were the sort of kids who sat around garages with Kitty Pride and twelve-sided dies. Oh, and this record is a perfect 19 minutes in length!!!

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cayetana-nervous-like-me_1024x1024Nervous Like Me by Cayetana (Indie Rock-Punk) – Another record discovered at the end of 2014 that has become a staple of my winter listening. This is an all-female three piece set from Philadelphia that play upbeat and infectious pop punk. While this isn’t emo, there is just as much raw and vitriolic emotion pulsing through these songs. At moments, I feel like I’m listening to a blend of Rainer Maria and Pretty Girls Make Graves with an even more raucous rock energy.

asaintSundowners by Anthony Saint (Insurgent Country – Rock)  – When I first heard Anthony perform, I was blown away by what an amazingly talented guitar player and singer he was. At the time, he was playing a brand of rock that bent more to 70s guitar. On Sundowners, he blends his mastery of 70s rock with a gorgeous turn towards Americana or Insurgent Country. I love the rawness and the Lo-FI fuzz (often employed by the late 60 Beatles/Harrison) that gives these tracks the sound of being played or recorded live (e.g., “Breakin Down”) or the ballady, 70s AM Wilco quality with Dylan-like twang of “Beg, Steal, and Borrow”. This album is that rare treasure: a full-fledged dose of country and rock without any excess or unnecessary notes, just the perfect sense of coming to a familiar musical home. Listen below and visit Anthony’s Bandcamp page.

Okay… so you all know by now that I have little restraint when it comes to music. There were many other records I really dug in 2014 and I would feel remiss in not at least mentioning them. Therefore, below are a list by musical universe of my favorite records. No links to the records but I am sure you can use the search feature in Spotify by now.

Return to Roots – Insurgent Cowboys, Folk-y Minstrels and Soulful Sojourners

  • Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson (Rock) – This was the stripped down, roots-y Country record I was looking for this year. Found it just in the nick of time. Got a love a country song that starts with the line “Woke up today decided to kill my ego, had never done me no good no how…”
  • Ryan Adams by Ryan Adams (Rock) – Ryan Adams returns to what he does best, contemplating the troubled insides of his/our lives.
  • PHOX by PHOX (Neo Folk) – Silky-sweet folk music with a decided 60s pop feel.
  • Half the City by St Paul & the Broken Bones (Soul-RB) – For fans of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, and just good old soul tinged rock and roll.  Get your dancing shoes on.
  • Stay Gold by First Aid Kit (Neo Folk) – The thirds and most complete record from these Swedish sisters. Wavering between 50s folks and 70s Americana, these ladies are amazing songwriters and storytellers.
  • The Double EP by Courtney Barnett (Indie Rock) – CB weaves fantastic stories in a speak-talk reminiscent of Tom Waits and Bob Dylan with far sweeter melodies.
  • HEAL by Strand of Oaks (Rock) – Wow. This album is all about loving rock music and how it fuels our spirit and soul. Listen to “Goshen ‘97” and think about all the kids in basements, garages, and bedrooms that find redemption and transcendence in rock.  It is awesome!
  • Madman by Sean Rowe (Neo Folk) – A vastly under appreciated and underrated songwriter. Sean Rowe has the voice that makes you want to fall into for hours and days.
  • The Voyager by Jenny Lewis (Indie Rock) – From child star to Indie Rock heartthrob, is there anything Jenny Lewis can’t do? No seriously I’m not speaking rhetorically.

The Lover, the Dreamers, and Me – a collection of amazing dream pop albums.

  • Alvvays by Alvvays (Dream Pop)
  • True Love Kills the Fairytale by The Casket Girls (Dream Pop)
  • Parades by Mina Tindle (Dream Pop)
  • Zentropy by Frankie Cosmos (Dream Pop)
  • Complete Surrender by Slow Club (Dream Pop)
  • Too True by Dum Dum Girls (Dream Pop)
  • EP II by Alice Boman (Dream Pop)

The Pop Stars

  • Singles by Future Islands (Pop)
  • Goddess by Banks (Pop)
  • The Brink by The Jezabels (Pop)

Please Kill Me… Punk and Its Descendants

  • Here and Nowhere Else by Cloud Nothing (Indie Rock-Punk)
  • Hour of the Dawn by La Sera (Indie-Punk Rock)
  • NVM by Tacocat (Indie Rock-Punk)
  • I’ll Be the Tornado by Dads (Emo-Punk)
  • Youth Culture Forever by Paws (Indie Rock-Punk)

The Art Rock Kids

  • This is All Yours by Alt-J (Indie Rock)
  • Sea When Absent by A Sunny Day in Glasgow (Indie Rock)
  • Familiars by The Antlers (Indie Rock)
  • nikki nack by Tune-Yards (Indie Rock)
  • Post-Tropical by James Vincent McMorrow (Neo Folk)

The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 3) – The Best Electronic Albums of 2014

After the buzz of the non-secular holiday season draws to a close, a certain peace and tranquility begins to set in. No more lists of presents to purchase or festive celebrations to attend or pleasant, yet disingenuous, smiles when confronted with garish sweaters or related accoutrements. While I don’t fancy myself a “Scrooge”, I enjoy the post-holiday bliss a lot more than the build-up, though the opportunity to share with family and friends is always the most rewarding. Thus, in the spirit of giving and chilling, this particular year-end post contains records that brought a state of meditative calm through intoxicating beats, sly and sensuous production, or downright (dance)floor pounding release.  Unlike other records or tracks these are more about the feeling and experience and less about the stories.  So without further ado…  May the Chill Be With You.  a.a.

caribou-our-loveOur Love by Caribou – For those that have been listening to Dance or Electronic music since the 90s, it has been a fascinating development of a genre once-deemed underground or transgressive (or even “non-music” for its absence of “real” sound and its reliance on computers, effects, and production) to its current state of genre of the 21st global hegemony. In the past decade, this music has become all-pervasive, infiltrating every sector of popular music from traditional pop to hip-hop to even Country, which seems an odd pairing. Lost in the evolution was the original essence of these early ground-breaking genres, whether Downtempo, Ambient, Techno, Drum and Bass, Trip-Hop, etc.  While all music aims to transport the listener from the everyday into a state of heightened pleasure or awareness, all these sub-genres or offshoots of dance music had the unique power of transforming atmosphere and environment into a fully enveloping experience. It wasn’t so much a Wall of Sound as a World of Sound.  While undeniably of its times, Our Love harkens back to a time when dance music lacked predictability and formula. Caribou’s newest album brings back the feel of dark-lit dance floors in clubs on the outskirts of the main streets or after the hours when the regular crowd was in attendance. From start to finish, it is a sumptuous and sultry DJ set in the guise of an album. The pacing fluctuates from upbeat full-fledged dance tracks to sedate, groovy slow jams. It is the perfect nightcap for your mental wanderings.

tychoAwake by Tycho – Following in the theme of album as environment, Tycho’s latest effort embraces the chill, meditative state of his previous release, Dive, and pushes the listener into a dreamier, active state of mind. He is a master of finding the perfect space between ambient and infectious. Before you realize it, he will take you from contemplation to hip-shaking. Awake is a record that will both fuel your workday flow and your evening’s rest.

Chet-Faker-Built-On-GlassBuilt On Glass by Chet Faker – All I have to say about this album is: sexy. Chet Faker’s Built On Glass fits somewhere between Rhye’s brand of “Lover’s Rock R&B      “ and James Blake steamy dub-step with tinges of Jazz riffs – hence his moniker. This record could easily have landed high on the more pop-focused review (forthcoming), but it feels more of the world of dance and Downtempo because the grooves and atmospheric elements. Wherever it lands, it’s a gorgeous collection of songs.

xenXen by Arca – Admittedly this is the most “out there” and experimental album on this list. With most of the tracks clocking in at under 3 minutes, it feels like the punk rock version of an electronic record. But, in reality it is akin to the early experimental dance tracks of Burial, which tended to be shorter explorations of soundscapes. There are moments of sheer transcendent beauty and departures into realms of cacophonous dirge and noise. It isn’t the easiest or most accessible listen, but you get the feel of a talented young artist searching through a synthetic, aural language for his voice. Very curious to see where he goes next…

syroSyro by Aphex Twin – When discussing this list with my cousin, who really opened my ears to this world, he remarked how much he disliked the new Aphex Twin, his first release in a very long time. And, I admit, on first listen, I was not totally captured because it lacked the brilliant in-your-face game-changing feel of Richard D. James Album or I Care Because You Do. But, on repeated and return listens, I found a certain pleasure in the way Aphex Twin updated the avant elements of his earlier work with the current motifs of the downtempo/ambient/electronic scene. The album has a unique through the looking glass of time feel. If anything it helps remind us listeners how important and influential Aphex Twin was in pushing electronic music to a new gear.

ryanAlone for the First Time by Ryan Hemsworth – In many ways the title says it all for me. This album is like a secret bedroom recording with a confessional and deeply intimate quality. However, these seemingly reclusive snippets don’t wallow in self-abasement or frustration but in dance-floor romanticism. In certain moments, I am reminded of early 00s pieces from DNTL or Prefuse 73.

Jon-Hopkins-Asleep-Versions-608x608Asleep Versions (EP) by Jon Hopkins – Some would argue that EPs shouldn’t be counted on the same level as full length albums. Well, when the EP is longer than some records and you are as brilliant and talented as Jon Hopkins, these foolish rules don’t apply. These four tracks are a gorgeous exploration of how much can be made with so little. The tracks are slow and seemingly sparse but in those spaces of silence and austerity there is profundity of emotional resonance. The opening track with King Creosote providing vocals is just heartbreakingly beautiful.

blackbirdTangerine Sky by Blackbird Blackbird – A trippy-otherworldly sounding electronic records.

The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 2): Best Non-Pop Albums of 2014

When sifting through my favorite records of the past year, I struggled with how to incorporate genres that for whatever reason fall outside the current sphere of popular music. Although the albums included in this listed were once a “dominant” form, they’ve receded into “classical” or niche status.  What unifies many of these records is a focus on instrumental music over lyric based songwriting (with two exceptions). Being a non-practitioner, I tend to struggle with describing anything other than a general feeling these compositions bring me. Therefore, the following is a rather brief post of those albums you are unlikely to hear on the radio (unless of course you listen to NPR or some hip college DJs) but deserve a listen.  (Who knows maybe you’ll impress the older folks.)  Enjoy a.a.

AWVFTS_AtomosVIIEPAtomos by A Winged Victory for the Sullen (File Under: minimalist classical meets soundscape) – From the first listen, I was awash in feelings of awe and enjoyment. AWVFTS compose epic pieces of atmospheric instrumental music. Borrowing from all sorts of genres including minimalism, classical, chamber, noise, and, even, Downtempo, Atomos is a blissfully mind-altering and pacifying journey through extended spaces of soothing reverie and meditative introspection.

classicsClassics by She & Him (File Under: Standards) – Okay, fine, technically every single one of these songs was a “pop” song back in the day. However, with a couple of exceptions, standards have largely disappeared except in your grandparents or parent’s record collections. I am and have always been a sucker for Zooey and M.Ward’s brand of backward looking pop. While each iteration of the She & Him project includes a couple of covers, this is a whole collection of them and they are about as perfectly done as possible. Only the coldest of hearts wouldn’t melt hearing Zooey’s dreamy rendition of “Teach Me Tonight” or haunting take on “Unchained Melody”.  And, M. Ward’s melancholic, jazzy riff on “She” makes you want to comfort his lonesome seeming pining.

the ambassadroThe Ambassador by Gabriel Kahane (File Under: Experimental and Classical Piano, theatrical storytelling) –  Whether he will appreciate this or not, The Ambassador reminds me of a far more melodic, gorgeous, and sumptuous version of Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner (one of my all-time favorites) because of his unique ability to meld literary storytelling and popular music conventions. (Wait, didn’t you say this was a non-pop post? Shh… it is my list I get to make the rules.) Unlike the nameless and often perspective-less nature of most traditional song narrators, Gabe arms his with back stories and histories giving them a life beyond just the fleeting 4 minutes of the song’s duration. These songs are lyrically rich and deftly constructed to convey varying emotions of longing, sadness, nostalgia, existential ruminations, and comical musings. The Ambassador is the rare sort of album in the 21st Century where full-fleshed storytelling drives the albums existence and it paints a brilliant picture of a disappearing world just on the outskirts of our collective unconscious. Aside from the heartbreaking brilliance of the title track, make sure not to miss the epic “Empire Liquor Mart” or the amusing 80s inspired “Villains”.

rrpMusic For Heart and Breath by Richard Reed Parry (File Under: Contemporary Classical) – I discovered this record because Bryce Dessner of the National plays on it. (For National fans, aside from being an amazing indie-rock musician, Bryce also does a fair amount of contemporary classical composition, including a great album with Kronos Quartet.) I’ve spent countless early mornings and nighttime travel by plane and train falling into the dream inducing and cinematic embrace of these pieces. Another perfect companion for winter…

tinariwen-emmaar-1392047500Emmaar by Tinariwen (File Under: Malian Rock) – Hailing from the West Africa, Mali to be precise, Tinariwen blend traditional West African sounds with more Western instrumentation (electric guitars and drums). To say this record is unlike anything you’ve listened to this year, is an understatement. It is spellbinding and enrapturing. For fans of traditional Blues you can hear how much West African tradition inspired and gave life to the blues.

cst099cover_573x573Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything by Thee Silver Mt. Zion (File Under: Indie-Instrumental, Avant-Garde, Experimental) – From one of the founding members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (one of this guy’s favorite bands), this is yet another band whose music has transcendental and expansive power.  Definitely the loudest and musically aggressive of the albums on the list, Thee Silver are not for the faint of heart or those seeking a calm ambient sound.  Extended dirge-like guitars jams are interspersed with moments of dramatic space cowboy ballads.  If you are a fan of Godspeed, Explosions in the Sky, Broken Social Scene, or Arcade Fire (the less pop moments), this is a must listen.

Sturgill Simpson x “The Promise” (best song cover of 2014)

Rarely do you hear a cover song that transforms the mood and feeling of an original to such a degree that it is as though the song is completely new.  On this stripped down country version of “The Promise”, originally performed by When In Rome and featured at the end of Napoleon Dynamite, Sturgill Simpson takes the original to new heights of longing and desperation. Eliminating the catchy, dance-y synth of the When In Rome version and foregrounding his gritty, earth-worn vocals, Sturgill gives a timeless quality to the song.  But don’t let me tell you what to think, listen to his rendition.  Also, when he digs deep and lets go at 3:40… it is so gut-wrenching and beautiful.  a.a.

p.s. check out his full record with more amazing songs that just now got on to my radar:  Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 1): Best Tracks of 2014

cover phototAlthough I spent more time watching live music in 2014 than any previous year (110 shows and counting), I still found the time to slip on my headphones and keep track of many of (and by no means all) the songs released over the past year.  With the growing demise of the “Music Industry” and the transformation of listening patterns, it is difficult to make any sort of grandiloquent statement about a dominant theme or sound.  Of course there were certain genres that dominated my listening habits because of mood and predilections and others that I didn’t spend as much time with. [HINT: To my friends that listen to hip hop and rap, please tell me what I missed, aside from the Run the Jewels album and the return of D’Angelo.] One thing I’ve loved about the rise of the musician driven industry (as opposed to large record label driven industry) of the streaming generation is the how musical genres have become porous and meaningless. When I was growing up, it seemed every artist had to fit into a category (e.g., rock, pop, country, hip-hop, etc.) to succeed.  Being outside the “known” made your music difficult to sell or program. Nowadays, I think there is a far more democratic process: the quality of the music or word supersedes outdated notions of “genre”.  But, in all fairness, this has always been part of music. It is just that now we can appreciate the cutting edge in the moment as opposed to after the fact (i.e., The Velvet Underground or Television, who sold less records then the amount of musicians they inspired).

Okay off the soapbox…

So, when you ask me, what did you listen to in 2014? Simple answer: a lot of excellent and moving music. The playlist below represents the songs that most impressed me in the past year, not simply for their musical creativity but also for their lyrical ingenuity. Many of these songs tell stories about the trials and tribulations of the human condition (e.g., growing up, growing old, looking back, fighting on, love, death, shattered dreams, relationships, epiphanies, etc.). The songs on this list resonated with my thoughts and experiences or sometimes they just made me want to dance (ok too!) or both. Hopefully, you’ll find some of that too. But regardless enjoy. Listen (by clicking) here: TopTrax2014: You’ll Get Better With Age

What follows is a “concise” explanation for why the songs are here. As in years past, I try not to repeat artists on this list to increase the amount of folks on this list.  However, I’d be lying if there weren’t certain artists that could have made multiple appearances. Well I added the extra ones at the end.  It was my compromise.  (p.s. all typos are intentional, except in the few instances in which they are not. Also if you enjoy, please share, don’t hide a playlist away from the rest of the world!) – a.a.

  1. “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands – From the moment I heard this song, I knew it would be on constant repeat for the foreseeable future. I think this about as close as you get to the platonic ideal of a pop song. From the slow soothing opening to the gradual build and the explosive pop catharsis, Future Islands absolutely found musical magic on this one.  … And the bittersweet lover’s pleading and remorse.  What more do you want?
  2. Angel Olsen at Lincoln Hall“Windows” by Angel Olsen – At times we can get so lost in our spiraling isolated thoughts, which can often be unpleasant. We become convinced of our perceived reality and our way of looking at the world and we close ourselves off. For me sadly that often leads to darker places.  This song found me at one of these extended junctures and reminded me with its very simple yet poignant refrain that sometimes we need to shift our perspective and seek the light (in whatever literal or figurative form it takes).  Music has the ability to heal our wounds and inspire.  As Tweedy once said “I was saved by rock and roll”.  There are many who have been.
  3. “Inside Out” by Spoon – Shifting gears. Gosh, this song is so sensual and soothing. Britt Daniel has one of the most unique, infectious voices in music and this song gets me every time.  It’s got that raucous soulful energy of 70s Stones.
  4. “Your Love Is Killing Me” by Sharon Van Etten – Another singer that absolutely enthralls and impresses me with her unabashed openness. SVE lays her soul bare for the listener and makes us see that we all feel the intense and all-encompassing roller coaster of emotions of love. But, in this song, the musical accompaniment is grandiose and epic, a self-contained drama.  You feel spent after listening.  Seeing her perform this live at Pitchfork was one of my favorite moments of live music all year.
  5. “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso — All I can say is this song feels like home. Or the home and nook I want to crawl into with the titular beverage and watch the world go by, gleefully reminiscing on all the wondrous moments of days and years past, and getting up to groove in in its rhythms.
  6. IMG_20140726_135314“Chris Issak” by Lydia Loveless – If you have discussed music with me in 2014, you have probably heard me extol the virtues of Lydia Loveless as one of the finest young songwriters of her generation. Sure Lorde and Taylor Swift are more well-known but neither has yet to write a song with the depth of understanding, heartache, and perspective of this young woman. At 24 years of age, she betrays a lyrical wisdom beyond her years.  This song perfectly captures what I adore about her songwriting:  the romantic longing that fuels love juxtaposed with self-flagellating remorse of desiring against the odds.  And she does this by identifying these specific, yet universal moments (which many of us can relate to) such driving aimlessly around all night listening to a song that reminds of you of a lover.
  7. “Red Eyes” by The War on Drugs – Some folks say Rock n Roll is dead. I think their declarations are premature. “Red Eyes” is a reminder that anthemic guitar rock will always inspire us to burn like firecrackers into the night.  This song is pure unbridled awesomeness. (Yeah, it is a word.)
  8. “Heart Is a Drum” by Beck – Beck doing his best Nick Drake impersonation and finding all sorts of bittersweet hippie-tinged melodic 70s rock.
  9. “Asleep” by Makthaverskan – These punkish Swedes capture the energy and euphoria of New Wave with such perfect precision. I sway and bop to this song every time. Do you hear hints of 80s Cure?  I do and it makes me giddy.
  10. “Digital Witness” by St. Vincent – Annie Clark is unquestionably a musical genius. And, here she also demonstrates her acute sense of cultural critique/observation sandwiched between Talking Heads percussive pop. The mantra of the Insta-generation: “What’s the point of even sleeping?  If I can’t show it, you can’t see me.  What’s the point of doing anything?”
  11. “Trouble is My Name” by the Dum Dum Girls – Dreamy female-fronted indie rock? I am and have always been a sucker for this. The Dum Dums always capture nihilistic romantic ruminations with Lynchian-like haunting beauty.
  12. Lykke Li“Just Like A Dream” by Lykke Li – Hey look, another Swede with an amazing pop song?  Pundits described Lykke’s music as dark and depressing.  I only see a keen observer of the tumultuous emotional roller-coaster of existence dressed in lush, baroque pop accoutrements.   Her voice melts me every time.
  13. “Precious Love” by How To Dress Well – Tom Krell’s last record was filled with sober reflections of loss. On his most recent effort, he brings back his smooth, sparse R&B styling with angelic falsetto to provide odes to the amorous side of life.
  14. “Murmurs” by Hundred Waters – When I went to see Julia Holter some time back, this band from Gainesville opened and I totally fell in love with them at the first note. They melds otherworldly vocals reminiscent of the 4AD 80s sound (aka Cocteau Twins) with a wall of atmospheric electronics beats.
  15. IMG_20141114_083218“Two Weeks” by FKA Twigs – . . . another sultry and sexy R&B saturated electronic Downtempo track for a chill evening.
  16. “Say You Love Me” by Jessie Ware – Dialing it back to the R&B pop of the late 80s, Jessie Ware has the ability to heal all wounds of love even as she pines for its fleeting nature. (In case you are wondering, yes, I am a hopeless romantic.) But, the choral breakdown at minute 3 is yet another example of that perfect pop crescendo.
  17. “Hot Dad Calendar” by Cayetana – Start your engines and get ready to pump your fists in the air. The teenager in me will always be drawn to energy of lo-fi punk-tinged rock filled with youthful cries of optimism.  The title to this year’s mix serves as reminder to all of us that settling isn’t really an option: “Kid you’ll be okay, you’ll get better with age!”
  18. “Heart Tattoo” by Joyce Manor – The title says all you need to know about the song and the band: sincere honest rock from sensitive boys. Why would anyone dislike this stuff? Perhaps because your soul is dark and you dislike awesome things?  (Just kidding… sort of.)
  19. “I’m Not Part of Me” by Cloud Nothing – Following on theme of youthful punk observations of the world, another facet.
  20. “Ambassador Hotel (3400 Wilshire Blvd)” by Gabriel Kahane – Full disclosure, Gabe and I are friends. But, this doesn’t limit my ability to be critically appreciative of his music. From his concept record about various famous and infamous locales across Los Angeles, the “Ambassador Hotel” is perhaps the most poignant and heartbreaking piece of all. A sweet melody (that evokes 70s era Paul Simon) hides the underlying sadness of the track’s narrative: the decline and fall of a memorable “home” to Hollywood’s film stars of yore in the wake of Robert Kennedy’s shooting.  Whether the closure is the cause or not, Gabe tells the story of the end of American innocence in the shuttering of a once-venerated building.  How can we gleefully recall the frolicking of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and (the twilight of) American Exceptionalism when many of our leading lights of progress, hope, and equality lie, fallen cold and dead?
  21. IMG_20140721_095727“Interference Fits” by Perfect Pussy – Meredith Graves is one of the most charismatic performers and an amazingly articulate writer. Aside from an unrelenting and furiously dynamic stage presence, she writes with such thoughtfulness about the still prevailing and under-the-surface misogyny and homophobia in music today. See her response to Mark Kozelak’s disgusting song and remarks regarding the War on Drugs.
  22. “Not Mine to Love” by Slow Club – A torch song masterpiece.
  23. “Time to Dance” by the Jezabels – I discovered this band thanks to my friend Gaby, who shares my penchant for dance-infused 80s pop-rock (think: Go Go’s, Bananarama). This song is all about the power of music and dance to rouse one out of a funk. If the Jezabels don’t get you grooving, I can’t do anything for you.
  24. “Gimme Something Good” by Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Between his Whiskeytown work and Heartbreaker, he could close up shop and I’d be good.  Over the years, I’ve paid less attention to his music as it didn’t resonate with me as much.  But on his eponymously titled record, he once again totally captivated me.  Perhaps being in your late 30s and starting to reminisce about where your life has been (and is going?), this track has particular significance.  Or, maybe it continues a common theme of these songs, seeking something else, something more, something greater.
  25. “Beggin’ for Thread” by Banks – An intoxicating voice, a clever metaphor, a sultry dance beat. I’m sold on this track and on this young LA chanteuse to continue to win new admirers.
  26. “Dangerous Days” by Zola Jesus – I am starting to run out of words to explain how much I adore entrancing female vocals backed by a dance beat. I just want to dance to this song every time it comes on.
  27. “Can’t Do without You” by Caribou – I am reminded of sweaty late 90s dance floors: a pounding dance beat and a slow build towards a late and subtle release. I am over those EDM bass drops. Let’s go back to some real dance music.
  28. “She’s Not Me” by Jenny Lewis – Usually songs told from an ex-lover are filled with longing, regret, and confusion, but here the narrator recognizes why it is over and that there will be no second act: there was passion and intensity but the ex wants something entirely different.
  29. IMG_20140912_175038“Your Deep Rest” by The Hotelier – This might be one of the most Emo lines ever (and I kind of love it): “I called in sick from your funeral, the sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable”.
  30. “Tell Me” by S – Jenn Ghetto’s Cool Choices was introduced to me late in the 2014 game and it has been the soundtrack of my winter. With the journal-like lyricism of Tegan and Sara, a sparse neo-folk rock mixed with electronic samples her music cuts to the core: “Tell me that it’s over. Was it ever really worth it? We can’t always be in love.”
  31. “Call Me” by St Paul & the Broken Bones – Brining back that soulful big band style. Oh it’s good in every fiber of your being.
  32. IMG_20140810_122544“Evil” by PHOX – Wisconsin-based troubadours that evoke a timeless blend of folk and big band flourish. These guys are immensely talented and inspiring set of performers, whose shows are also amazingly life-affirming. See them in person, you’ll be pleased.
  33. “Party Police” by Alvvays – I think I’ve mentioned how I enjoy dream, whimsical pop. Well here’s more.
  34. “MTLOV (Minor Keys)” by A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Seven years ago these guys put out an album Scribble Mural Comic Journal that I thought was a revelation of experimental found-sound, textural genius that combined pleasantly weird qualities of the The Books and art rock of Broken Social Scene. I think this track (along with album) bring their sound to a more accessible and pleasant pop aesthetic.
  35. IMG_20141026_013449“How You Got That Girl” by Ex Hex – These ladies were possibly the most rocking group I saw all year. On this track, Mary Timony (of Helium and Wild Flag) blends a Ramones-like austere punk rock with the sweet pop of the Cars.
  36. “Same Emotions” by Strand of Oaks – It is as if I turned on the radio to lost transmissions from the AM dial of the 1970s.
  37. “Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves – You wouldn’t think a singer named Alejandro Rose-Garcia could produce such gritty, earth-worn folk-y Americana, but it makes me feel less alone for my love of this genre. This is a sit-around-the-campfire sing-a-long for long summer nights. But should keep you warm by the winter fire too.
  38. “Pas Les Saisons” by Mina Tindle – I’ll admit I don’t know what Mina is saying because I don’t speak French and didn’t seek out a translation, but boy do I love the breathiness of her voice juxtaposed against the upbeat dance-pop of this song. (She reminds me of Autor De Lucie for those who have a thing for French pop.)
  39. “Day To Day” by The Casket Girls – Both trance and dirge-like with lots of fuzz and minimal percussion, these ladies and drummer (from Black Moth Super Rainbow) cast a captivating stage and aural presence. Imagine if Sleigh Bells met the Shangri-La’s. Yes, an odd combination but so perfect.
  40. “School” by Frankie Cosmos – A whimsical reverie about being sad, young, and anxious. Sign me up!
  41. “Fall In Place” by La Sera — Katie Goodman (formerly of the Vivian Girls) has found the recipe for melding new wave sounds with 80s indie guitar rock reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr.
  42. IMG_20141122_230552“My Silver Lining” by First Aid Kit – The Swedish Empire strikes again with their amazing ability to replicate American pop music. Before they worked through a blend of country folk, on this track they get all cosmic and trippy invoking Gram Parsons and 70s mystical rock. Keep on, keepin’ on, my sisters.
  43. “Lights Out” by Angel Olsen – The first repeat artist on this list. Another song about persevering through the challenges that life throws at us. I think this a beautifully concise description of the challenges of language and communication:  “No one’s gonna hear it the same as it’s said/ No one is gonna listen to it straight from your head.”
  44. IMG_20140731_000433“History Eraser” by Courtney Barnett – A latter-day version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kublai Khan”? Courtney fell asleep and wrote a great song in her dream but forgot it. This is what she came up with instead.  If only all our attempts and recapturing our lost thoughts were this brilliant.
  45. “How Can You Really” by Foxygen – The gents of Foxygen are prone to audacious artistic statements (and self-destructive performances), but when they find the right formula, they make you fall into a gorgeous time warp of peace signs and free love daydreams.
  46. “White Sheet” by Bellows – Not sure how I discovered this song (and record) but I become kind of obsessed by Bellows entrancing voice and scattershot lo-fi experimental folk reminiscent of the Moldy Peaches. I want to envelop myself in this song.
  47. “Real Thing” by Tune-Yards – Merrill Garbus is a joy to watch on stage. She exudes enthusiasm and love for her work and audience.   When she sings she can be both playful and scathing, criticizing our cultural hypocrisies.  I like thinking this song is response to the really obnoxious piece Chuck Klosterman wrote about her some years past.
  48. “Happy Alone” by Saintseneca – A pleasant song about accepting solitary wandering. Perhaps I can just relate.
  49. “Bored in the USA” by Father John Misty – I am. Aren’t you? Josh Tillman’s stage moniker is part folk prophet and part parody of a rock star.  A mystical wander that observes the world for both its hypocrisies and reality, all the while recognizing that he as person, artist, and thinker is complicit in perpetuating the illusions and delusions sold to him as part of the “American Dream”.  On this track, he does his best Harry Nilsson impression while questioning (and indicting) what we’ve come to accept in 21st Century America.  Are we really just playing parts in a syndicated reality TV show?  Cue canned offstage laughter.  It isn’t upbeat folk, but it’s honest.  We could use more of that.
  50. “Burning” by The War on Drugs – “I’m just a burning man trying to keep the ship from turning over.”

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m impressed. 

IMG_20140507_232743

  1. “Madman” by Sean Rowe – As an urban discontent I revel in this line: “In the City there is a way just to make you forget about half the things that you love and stuff you don’t know yet, about the space that is left where nobody talks…
  2. “real” by Wild Moccasins – A little Spanish indie rock about questioning what is real. In life. In love.
  3. “American Horror” by Speedy Ortiz – Punk goodness
  4. “Gouge” by Eternal Summers – Guitar jamming goodness
  5. “Good Man” by Nikki Lane – Country goodness

Baroque pop goodness follows

  1. “Volunteers of America” by The Both
  2. “Talking Backwards” by Real Estate
  3. “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It.” by Kishi Bashi
  4. “Lgbt” by Lowell – A track about celebrating love in all its forms and celebrating that the cultural paradigm shift is on. To quote Dylan, “your old road is rapidly agin’, please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”
  5. “Parade” by The Antlers – This NY trio always makes spellbinding, shimmering, sumptuous tracks to ease the weary mind.
  6. “Snow in Newark” by Ryan Hemsworth – Two years back, Ryan played an amazing DJ set at Pitchfork filled with the perfect blend of chill Downtempo and groovy dance. On this track, he captures that spirit to perfection.
  7. “Sony” by The Range – Last year the Range dropped an album from out of nowhere and totally has been a constant part of my late night chill sessions. Following in the vein of making layered, intoxicating Downtempo beats, this track is another one for the late night list.
  8. “The Mission” by The Jepettos – A song about the constant searching and the joy of community. (Contrary to popular belief I’m not a curmudgeon . . . just difficult.)

The next three are all about atmosphere, texture, and otherworldly vocals

  1. “Red Dust” by James Vincent McMorrow
  2. “Daunting Friend” by Lost In the Trees
  3. “September Fields” by Frazey Ford
  4. “Body” by Karen O – Lo-fi acoustic story about longing? Smitten at the first chord.
  5. “No Time” by Dub Thompson – Did I just walk into a psych-rock band playing a mix of the Doors and the Wailers? Yes.

Who says the indie rock kids can’t dance and have fun?  Not the next three

  1. “Time Pirate” by Tacocat
  2. “Tongues” by Paws
  3. “Award of the Year Award” by You Blew It! (also great song title)
  4. “Hunger of the Pine” by alt-J – Pitchfork knocked them because they weren’t the next Radiohead. So what they are the only alt-J and there music is otherworldly good.
  5. “Fall In Love” by Phantogram – I skipped Arctic Monkeys at Lollapalooza to see these guys. My soul and feet were very thankful. Yours will be too.
  6. “Today and a Lonely Night” by Justin Townes Earle – Always a place in my heart for a wistful country song. Few do them better than JTE.
  7. “Be Mine” by Alice Boman – Dreamy.
  8. “Don’t Wanna Dance” by Elle Varner – Have to love a song about disliking the songs a DJ is playing.
  9. “Bury Our Friends” by Sleater-Kinney –Oh how I’ve missed Corin Tucker’s piercing vocals and the aggressive staccato punk that exemplifies the SK sound. So glad they are back!
  10. “Shriek” by Wye Oak – More dreamy pop.
  11. “Start Again” by Bishop Allen – Remember when indie rock was poppy and upbeat and inspired foolish carefree dancing? Yeah I miss the early 00s. Bishop Allen brings it back.

Three sumptuous Downtempo tracks follow.  What can I say, a boy needs to groove.

  1. “Form by Firelight” by Jon Hopkins
  2. “Talk Is Cheap” by Chet Faker
  3. “Trust in You” by Tourist

Okay get up and dance for the next couple of tracks.

  1. “Do It Again” by Royksopp & Robyn
  2. “Divinity” by Porter Robinson (with Amy Milan)
  3. “Somebody Loves You” by Betty
  4. “Colour” by Wild Club
  5. “Boom Clap” by Charli XCX – the Goth-y dance queen is ready to take America by storm.
  6. “But” by Dads – Remember how I mentioned my love of sincere, emotional boys singing about relationship? Well here is more of that. Deal with it.
  7. “You” by Alison Crutchfield – Former PS Eliot and current Swearin band member, Alison C. really weaves a spell on me here.
  8. “I’m Not Like You” by Nude Beach –Good old roots rock.
  9. “1000 Seasons” by The Rentals – Matt Sharp gets some help from Jess and Holly of Lucius to spin a web of nostalgic 90s indie rock. You CAN go home again.
  10. “Waterfall” by Fear of Men – Luscious, lullaby-like pop.
  11. “Killer in the Streets” by The Raveonettes – In many ways, these Danes are responsible for bringing back the blend of 60s girl-group pop with a dreamy-shoegazer soundscapes. After all these years, they are still making beautiful, dark, twisted masterpieces. (Kanye, not so much.)
  12. “Love is to Die” by Warpaint – Often a lot of post-rock is simply spartan and cavernous; these ladies infuse a sumptuous groove into the mix.
  13. “Fall Forever” by Honeyblood – Lovely dream pop.
  14. “Jackson” by Cymbals Eat Guitars – Emo-punk rock isn’t known for being epic and brash, but this song has the sort of dramatic, expansive feel of a “Bohemian Rhapsody” of emo.
  15. “Scum, Rise!” by Protomartyr – A wonderful upbeat post-punk number that feels like an unearthed track from the early 80s.
  16. “Forgive” by Porches featuring Greta Kline –Did the Human League reunite?
  17. “push pull” by Purity Ring – … is a new record on the way? The rise of indie-electornic music has made this boy quite happy and these Canadians make tracks I want to crawl inside for all eternity.
  18. “Shining” by Woods – Not enough hippie-jams in our world. I’ll get some sunflowers and we can frolic in the fields.
an angry concertgoer's lament. not me.

an angry concertgoer’s lament. not me.

Those that just missed the cut but I couldn’t leave off.

  • “Not Enough Violence” by Ariel Pink
  • “Lifsins Olgusjor” by Samaris (if Manu Chao and Bjork collaborated)
  • “Talk To God” by Goat (super trippy, avoid the use of drugs when listening to this)
  • “Little Killer” by Merchandise
  • “Sing to Me” by Walter Martin with Karen O
  • “Summer Jorts” by Lockah
  • “New Wave” by Varsity (local Chicago band check them out!)
  • “Blah Blah Blah” by Girlpool (these guys are going to blow up)

Other tracks that would have made it but for my “do not repeat rule”.

  • “Tarifa” by Sharon Van Etten
  • “Head” by Lydia Loveless
  • “Losers” by S
  • “Repeat Pleasure” by How To Dress Well
  • “Champagne Kisses” by Jessie Ware
  • “Cavity” by Hundred Waters
  • “Look of Love” by The Jezabels
  • “Back in the Tall Grass” by Future Islands
  • “No Mercy” by Makthaverskan

Au Revoir! Until the next 2014 year end list. Shows? Albums?  IMG_20140824_170651

Happy Birthday Declan MacManus (aka Elvis Costello)!

Elvis Costello My Aim is True HIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTToday is the 59th birthday of punk/rockabilly/pop/new wave rock’s true legends, Elvis Costello. In 1977, a then 23-year-old EC put out arguably one of the greatest debut records, My Aim Is True. His run of records with The Attractions starting with This Year’s Model through Imperial Bedroom was one of most inspired and impressive starts to a career that has now spanned five decades. Whether as a solo artist, working with the Attractions, the Brodsky Quartet, or most recently The Roots, Elvis Costello’s career has been one filled with countless memorable moments. For many, he’ll forever be remembered as the quirky, bespectacled young man that fused Rock-a-Billy pop rock with a punk edge, but his musical appetite and explorations have been legion and varied. And, if you have had the pleasure of seeing him live (I was fortunate to on multiple occasions (and once with the Attractions!)), he is an engrossing, captivating, and giving live performer. He is definitely on my desert island list of recording artists. If I only had the EC canon to listen to, I’d be happy island-bound camper.

Give yourself a chance to revisit some of his classics starting with the fitting opening of My Aim Is True.

Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – This Year’s Model

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Armed Forces

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Trust

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Imperial Bedroom

Happy Birthday EC! Hopefully there will be many more to come and great tunes to share.