Wrapped in Trouble’s Warm Embrace – The National Strikes Back

everything I love is on the table, everything I love is out to sea.  I’m not alone, I’ll never be…

If there is one constant in the work of the Brooklyn-based, Ohio-bred quintet The National, it is the pervading pallor of darkness that ostensibly shrouds their work. Try finding a review, interview, or passing statement about the band that doesn’t make reference to the brooding and gloomy nature of their work.  Admittedly, even I when describing their work to folks fall into this trap.  And, to be fair, it isn’t entirely an inapt description of what transpires in a typical record from Matt Berninger and the brothers Dessner and Devendorf[1].  Look, just take the title of their most recent release on 4AD, Trouble Will Find Me, it doesn’t exactly evoke images of frivolity, mirth, or sunshine and rainbows.  Or, better yet, plug in the headphones and listen to the opening track “I Should Live in Salt” with its plaintive, morose timbre and narrative.  These songs are not for the faint of heart, or so it seems.

music-the-national-trouble-will-find-meAppearances, in art, as often they tend to be, are deceiving.  Despite depicted as such, The National are not poet laureates of melancholy.  Of course, she wanders through their work like all dramas about the lives we lead, appearing as the ostensible central character at times and duplicitous foil at others.  But, rarely does she get top billing.  A close and attentive listen (or immersion) to The National starting with Alligator to the present will illustrate that there is actually a pervading sense of optimism and undeniable passion for life pulsing through their work, often cloaked in layers of somber musical motifs.  To me they are indie-rock’s 21st Century embodiment of existentialism’s willingness to confront the apparent emptiness of a “god-less” universe and choosing to persevere despite no guarantee of after-life or “truth”.  They have stared into the abyss and decided to embrace it and look above and beyond.  It is an act of brilliant defiance.  Yes, when I hear a National song I think of Nietzsche and remember how he would remark that “to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”  Or, maybe, even more apt, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”   The National embrace life as the complex and complicated journey it is, filled with dueling moments of epiphany and failure, exhilaration and recriminations, beauty and darkness; each opposition or duality informing and expanding the other.  For we only know the highs of life because we have traveled through the difficult days and each lives in tandem with the other.  This is how I see the world, a twisted cacophonous pastiche of exhilarating uncertainty and complicated beauty.   I think that is how the gentlemen of The National see it too.

The general consensus is that the Trouble Will Find Me is not The National’s “best work” and, yet, almost everyone I know that has spent any time with this record comes away wanting to return.  Whether it is finding a personal connection in a song, a phrase, a feeling or unable to untie itself from its embrace, it lingers in one’s consciousness like a loyal confidant.  Personally, although not totally captivated by the lead singles, I decided to defer judgment until the whole work came through.  After sitting with the album alone for an initial listen, I was hooked.  The record starts almost in media res with “I Should Live in Salt”, a retort to a conflict or slight beyond the frame of the song’s narrative, and yet, the listener knows this story all too well: you should know me better than that.  From there it explodes into oscillating flows of gnawing self-awareness (e.g., “Demons”, “Graceless”) and willful assertion (e.g., “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, “This is the Last Time”).  I know that like its predecessor High Violet, the vinyl exterior will get worn from repeated listens and possibly scratched from exuberant, amorphous dancing in the dark to its more aggressive moments like “Sea of Love”, waving a fist in the air and joining Matt and Sharon Van Etten in extorting, “Hey Joe sorry I hurt you, but they love is a virtue. . . don’t they?”  But more likely than not, I will also find more connection (and hidden memories) in the all too true “I stay down with my demons” from “Demons”. Then again, maybe I’ll wallow in the entrancing guitar hook from “I Need My Girl” with its stripped down and naked admission of reliance on others.  Matt Berninger has a way of turning admissions of reliance, weakness, or ostensible embarrassment into profoundly empowering and unifying moments.  I still cringe when I hear him unabashedly declaim, “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, cause I am evil” from “Conversation 16”, recognizing that we all have these monstrous moments between self-realization and self-abasement, living our morally contradictory lives.  So how do these boys from the Buckeye state with an ongoing residency in the borough of Brooklyn achieve such a profound sense of emotional depth?  Perhaps it’s their penchant for brutally honest lyrics without remorse.  At times, I am reminded of artists in their prime like U2 form Boy to Joshua Tree or Springsteen from Born to Run to Nebraska, or R.E.M.  from Murmur to Automatic for the People (with a slight exception for Green).  Although not replicating their sound, they resonate in the same realm, finding universal appeal through the expression of the mundane and not fearful of going to the places we don’t want to talk about.  Great artists are willing to go to the abyss, look into it, and fill the emptiness and expanse with harmony and wisdom.

So, if you haven’t already, don’t fret about going to the precipice of the cliff, listen to the National’s newest record:  Trouble Will Find Me

Because sometimes a little trouble is what you need in your life.

[1] Yes, that is two pairs of brothers in the band. I don’t play poker but I think two pairs is a pretty good hand and it makes for a solid band in this case.  Also, if you have ever seen them live (a definite must) you’ll see that the brothers all rotate instruments; that much talent is just wonderfully sickening.

Surrender to Angel Olsen’s Sweet, Soulful Half Way Home

…when did the time become something that we feel?

angel_cover-PSFor the past week, I’ve been obsessed with Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home, a gorgeously rich and raw collection of somber and playful songs navigating the rich spaces between folk and old-school country rock. Part of me is frustrated that I didn’t discover this record sooner given that she is a local Chicago artist and I saw her record referenced on various occasions. Plus, having worked with such Indie heavyweights as Will Oldham and Emmett Kelly, I should have been paying closer attention. But, perhaps I wasn’t quite ready, in the proper mindset to actually listen. Olsen’s record is the sort of full-throttle, unabashedly emotionally naked type of music that requires the listener’s complete and total surrender. If you give in you will feel the brilliance and power of her music.

What do I aim to be? Fuck. I don’t really aim to be anything. I want to write things that I feel honest about. I’ve always felt that the more raw something is, even if it’s uncomfortable, the more it’s forcing you to think about something. I guess that’s my aim. – Angel Olsen (from Chicago Reader, Dec. 19, 2012)

With the onset of winter in the Midwest (after an unseasonably warm autumn), the days are shorter and the darkness sets in sooner, and with our diminished excursions outdoors, we tend to become more pensive and slow down our pace. Half Way Home is the perfect soundtrack to this more reflective sort of mindset. Olsen voice and lyrics beckon us to slow down and take a careful look at where we are, perhaps even evaluate our lives. By way of comparison her work reminds me at times of early Cat Power (the stripped-down, bare production), Sharon Van Etten & (solo) Jenny Lewis (the emotional intensity and pace of the songs), and Marissa Nadler, Lisa Hannigan, & Hope Sandoval (in terms of how she uses her voice). For those familiar with those artists, you will imagine this to be a rather dour and, perhaps, depressing set of songs.  Well there is a fair dose of slightly bluer hues on this record, but despite the very intimate nature of the songs, there is definitely moments of utter beauty and whimsy like on the 60s Roy Orbison tinged “The Waiting” and “Free” – two songs which just make me want to dance like a teenager under a full moon light. “The Waiting” is a particularly gorgeous tune in the vein of a Patsy Cline torch song (think “Walkin’ After Midnight) with the brilliantly poignant closing refrain: “sometimes I need you to be the one to call”. (Who hasn’t been there?) Or, you can wash yourself in the sweet and bitter hopelessness of the dreamy and breathy outlaw ballad “Miranda”. But, the true power and brilliance of Angel Olsen’s music is in the mix between her country-style directness and the intoxicating quality of her vocals. Doubt me? Then listen below to “Tiniest Seed” and try not to lose your breath.

I’m still reeling from that track even after hearing it countless times this week.  Now do yourself a favor and listen to this genius record: Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home.

(I know that after a week’s worth of listening, I’d easily slot it into my top tier records of 2012 and biggest oversight.)

Angel Olsen is playing the Hideout on February 8th (a Friday).  Join me and get tickets here.


p.s. Also, check out this great interview about her work from which I snipped the above quote that I really adore.


In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 3): Best Albums of 2012

(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones)


best of albums 3.

(Also, in case you missed them, click here for (a) the best tracks of 2012 or (b) best shows/moments of 2012.  Now back to the regularly scheduled program…)

I started writing this a couple of days ago and yesterday afternoon I learned of the passing of Ravi Shankar, the world famous musician that introduced the sitar and Indian devotional music to the Beatles and the world. As I reflected on his passing, I thought about how so many of the artists I adore and are featured in this year-end reflection were influenced in part by the music that Ravi brought to our attention. Bear with me for a second, the connection isn’t direct; none of the musicians discussed herein necessarily incorporated sitar or Indian musical traditions into their work (though certainly some drew from non-Western music). Just, take a second and go back in time with me to the late 60s. Imagine yourself in 1967 putting on B-side of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and hearing the opening notes of Harrison’s “Within You Without You” emanating from your stereo speakers. Before a single word is uttered, a sitar introduces the song’s existential ruminations on love. What a strange and unfamiliar yet beautiful sound? In blending, incorporating, pushing, and exploring the spaces were Anglophone popular music had (t)heretofore not ventured, the four boys from Liverpool, England, were introducing generations (courtesy of Ravi Shankar) to the infinite permutations towards which music could evolve. It is exactly this sort of creativity, genre-defying, and experimental work that has always impressed and moved me. (The same could be said for the work of Philip Glass whose influence can be readily seen in the remix record compiled by Beck featuring many of today’s most innovative electronic/dance artists, discussed further below. At times, it is hard to distinguish between the style of the original and the remix.) The foregoing isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate “traditional” forms as well. But, the ability to fluidly move between innovation, reinvention, and convention makes me marvel at the power of artists, musicians, and composers; more importantly, it is what keeps me coming back for more. Without too much more of a lengthy intro, I’ll just make some final passing observations.

  • Unlike years past, no single record captured my head and heart totally. Instead, a handful of excellent records all found themselves as the soundtrack to my year. Personally, I thought this was a great year for music, but then again I tend to enjoy various styles of music.
  • The number of quality albums across diverse genres and the resurgence of old forms (e.g., R&B, Soul, Folk) pleased me to no end. Of course, I have a soft spot for certain styles more than others (which my lists betray), but I spent more time away from “Rock” and more time in realms nestled between genres.
  • I loved both the refinement of electronic modes of production and the resurgence of pure, unadulterated, non-studio enhanced stripped-down songs and albums across all styles. The power of real instruments and voices is always what captures the rawest and purest emotions.
  • In a genre too often dominated by men, the ladies of indie/rock, Neo-/folk, electronica, dance, and R&B put out some of the best recordings of the year.
  • Unlike my “best tracks of 2012″, the albums I found myself revisiting contained many different emotional and thematic tones. Although there are many records that contain a comical, joyous, up-beat and playful quality, a number of these albums also tackle more weighty and heavy emotional, personal, and political themes from dealing with profound personal loss to losing direction to social inequalities (socio-economic and legal). But, running throughout each is the overwhelming sense of hope and possibility.
  • In these records there is: complicated beauty, unbridled joy, southing soul, witty wordplay, mesmerizing grooves, furious creativity, heart wrenching loss, and unapologetic honesty. A couple of records made me cry a whole lot (good and powerful tears): Passion Pit’s Gossamer, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love”, Perfume Genius’ Put Your Back N 2 It, and How to Dress Well’s Total Loss.
  • As always, I regret not spending more time with certain records. Okay, No more distractions.

Favorite Albums of 2012

(Click on each title to listen via Spotify or the “tier” playlist header.
Click on the (+ more) for previous write-ups.)

Tier 1 – Records That Inspired, Touched, Impressed, and Soothed (#s 1-20)

  • crockJapandroids – Celebration Rock(Indie/Punk Rock): This Vancouver duo makes loud and infectious anthemic indie-punk rock that brings the adolescent in this aging hipster to the fore. Their songs exude a youthful devil-may care abandon and optimism tinged with subtle dose of nostalgia for simpler times. Remember what it was like not to second guess every thought and pump your firsts into the air? Turn this on and up!!! (+ more)
  • KellyHogan-ILikeToKeepMyselfInPainKelly Hogan – I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (Americana, Standards, Bluesy Rock): Kelly’s latest record reminds me of “the why” and “the when” of when I feel in love with music: a young boy moved by grace and beauty. Breathing life into songs composed for her bourbon and blues soul-drenched voice by some of the best songwriters in the business (e.g., Stephin Merritt, Robyn Hitchcock, Andrew Bird, Jon Langford, M.Ward, Robbie Fulks, and herself), this record travels across old popular American musical genres and contemporary indie rock with a fresh and fulsome feel. I could listen to Kelly Hogan sing the ingredients of a Campbell’s soup label. She has a voice that singes, soothes, and inspires all at once. Wedged in the spaces between jazz standards, Americana, blues and indie pop, this is one of the more perfectly tuned and orchestrated collection of songs you’ll hear in a long time. (+ more)
  • channelORANGEFrank Ocean – channelORANGE (deconstructed R&B & Neo-Soul): The only thing the Grammy’s got right this year is acknowledging the brilliance of Frank Ocean’s debut record. Capable of ripping through classic Soul and R&B with the skill of a Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye, Ocean also takes apart songs to their barest parts and tells culturally critical anecdotes of socio-economic differences with tongue-in-check wordplay and unapologetic candor. Unlike many other popular R&B artists out there, he doesn’t need superfluous dance beats or studio effects to catch your attention, instead he relies on carefully, densely packed yet tense songs to impress. A brilliant chill ride. (+ more)
  • omam_albumOf Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal (Baroque Indie Pop/Neo-Folk): Next to the Japandroids record, I might have listened to this more than any other. Why? Aside from it being the kind of music the 8 year old me would have relished, it is a joyous collection of upbeat, melodic and musically rich songs filled with stories of animals (anthropomorphic or allegorical?), distant locales, and a wide-eyed embrace of a raucous Where the Wild Things Are fervor. Blaring horns, dueling and complimentary male-female vocals, frenetic choruses, all out multi-instrumental jams, this record has enough life and sunshine to power through long winters days and nights. (+ more)
  • FJM_FEAR_FUN_COVER1Father John Misty – Fear Fun (Neo-Folk, Americana): Former Fleet Foxes drummer, Joshua Tillman, was a revelation for me this year, especially for one who never quite liked his former band. For an aficionado of marginalia and referential writing, Fear Fun is bottomless of wellspring of associations and inspirations rooted in an anachronistic kaleidoscope of 50s/60s Americana imagery and literature. If this sounds like some bizarre “trip”, trust me it only gets stranger the further you dig below the surface; it’s like the Kubrick adaption of Nabokov’s Lolita. Definitely for fans of old school Americana, Bluegrass and 60s Folk. (+ more)
  • Beach-House-BloomBeach House – Bloom (Indie Rock/Dream Pop):  Let this record wash over you like a pleasant daydream with its undulating, layered electronic rhythms and Victoria Legrand’s dream world evoking vocals. With Bloom, the Baltimore duo might have made the perfect dream pop record to date. Or, at the very least, it’s been a joy to get lost in their head space. (+ more)
  • heistMacklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist (Hip Hop/Rap):  Difficult to summarize all that Seattle’s Macklemore is doing on this record because he can be polemicist, joker, soul-searching, preacher, and penitent all at the same time. If you think Hip-Hop has to be about consumerism, gangs, posturing, or dissing, then you need to listen to this refreshing bit of social and self critique done with unyielding passion for life, self-empowerment and faith in the ability to overcome obstacles both personal and political. (+ more)
  • ole-773-Cat-Power-SunCat Power – Sun(Multi-Layered Indie Rock):  Following from the above (and in the vein of Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp), a hard-edged, biting, mature and multi-faceted record that sees Chan Marshall eschewing what has worked for her in the past for a whole new range of hues and tones. I relish how bold, brash, and adventurous the sounds and juxtapositions of styles are on this record and I adore the willingness to press beyond and without. This may take repeated listens but it will reward the patient listener. (+ more)
  • bobby_womack_the_bravest_man_in_the_universeBobby Womack – The Bravest Man In the Universe (Soul + Downtempo): If you listen to one record or artist you’ve not heard of before, please let it be Bobby because this is just a beautiful exploration of soul fused with stripped-down downtempo and bass production that will soothe your soul. Musical genius Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz) has found a way to foreground Bobby’s plaintive vocals while producing intoxicating (yet subtle) rhythms. If you heard and liked Gil Scott-Heron’s album I’m New Here, then check this out. (+ more)
  • alt-j2Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Indie Rock): Far and away the most arresting blend of rock and electronica to date. Listen for the massive bass drops, the choir boy harmonies, the odd fusion of sounds, and the cleverly deconstruction and reincorporation of song elements from these Cambridge boys who evoke another English band from a college town. (Hint: early Radiohead. Yes, I recognize that this is a bold comparison but give it a listen.) (+ more)
  • How-To-Dress-Well-Total-LossHow to Dress Well – Total Loss (deconstructed R&B, downtempo): A barebones R&B record with MJ dance sensibility and a deeply introspective reflection on connection or missed connections in our modern age.   Tom Krell (akak How to Dress Well) has produced that rare collection of deeply personal, haunting, chilling and gorgeous all at once.  The sultry under-the-radar dim light/late night dance record of the year; this year’s Weeknd.  (+ more)
  • SVE_tramprecord2Sharon Van Etten – Tramp & Sean Rowe – The Salesman and the Shark (Neo-Folk): Sharon and Sean offer a reminder that amazing songwriting, raw storytelling, and traditional song structures can wedge their way into our consciousness with their unabashed and utter honesty. Two of the most stunningly heartfelt and piercing records of the past year. This is a beautifully painful and painfully beautiful. (+ moreSVE) (+ moreSR)
  • Grimes-Visions-608x608Grimes – Visions & Purity Ring – Shrines (Electronic Indie-Dance):Grimes and Purity Ring are both Canadian (though opposite ends of the country) and working in the ever expanding sphere of Art-Electronica (the electronic counterpart of 60s/70s Art/Prog Rock) where as Grimes goes for the highs, Purity Ring explores the lows, yet both mesmerize and hypnotize with an ability even Biggie would appreciate. This is what should be on the speakers at dance clubs. (+ moreG) (+ morePR)
  • kendrick-lamar-good-kid-maad-cityKendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City (Hip Hop/Rap): Compton’s newest MC might be giving Jay-Z and Kanye notice that it’s time to relinquish the “throne” they claimed a year ago. Certainly, Kendrick has found the recipe for making sultry and captivating beats without resorting to over-produced Diplo-laced sound effects. (This despite the fact that Dr. Dre, aka Mr. meticulous, produced this record.) Now everybody serenade the new faith of Kendrick Lamar, King Kendrick Lamar… It might not be hubris but telling it like it is.
  • AshakesAlabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (Southern Roots/Blues Rock):Southern blues folk rock at some of its finest with one of the most captivating vocal performances (by Brittany Howard) this side of the Atlantic. (+ more)
  • Various Artists – Rework_Philip Glass Remixed (Minimalism + IDM/Dance): For those who love contemporary dance and electronic music and are unfamiliar with Philip Glass, this is a must listen. Glass and the Minimalists had such a profound effect on popular dance and electronic music, yet it’s not often acknowledged. Consider yourself on notice. Or, you should just listen because this is a beautiful reinterpretation of one of the 20th Century’s most important composers and innovators. (+ more)
  • Godspeed_You!_Black_Emperor_-_Allelujah!_Don't_Bend!_Ascend!Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Instrumental/Epic Rock): Arguably one of the best GSYBE records to date from the initial listen. Why so low? It takes a while to really take in the epic nature and intricacies of what this Montreal collective of superbly talented musicians do. I’m sure it will play with greater regularity than other higher listed albums in the weeks (and years?) to come.
  • Chromatics-Kill-For-LoveChromatics – Kill for Love (Neo-New Wave, Shoegazer, Indie Rock): An overwhelming sumptuous collection of melodically dark synth and guitar tracks that will soothe you to either trance or sleep (is there a difference?). I love getting lost too and with this record while working; the perfect soundtrack for focused efficiency or gyrating grooves, depends on your mood. (+ more)

Tier 2 – Brilliant but Quirky (sort of like my taste…) (#s 21-35)

  • Patrick Watson – Adventures in Your Own Backyard (Multi-Instrumental, Soundscape, Indie Rock): Lush delicate collection of filmic multi-instrumental masterpieces. Think Andrew Bird meets early Calexico and Explosions in the Sky, but with a pop sensibility. (+ more)
  • Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze (Dream Pop/Indie Rock): Wait. A five song EP? Yes. It is a near perfect blend of up-tempo indie rock, dreamy Goth dance, New Wave pop, and Shoegazer soundscape.
  • Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Indie Punk): A loud and brash post-punk and pop punk foray from Cleveland. The opening four tracks are masterful and jaw dropping. Produced by Steve Albini, this has some distinct hints of In Utero laced throughout, for the Nirvana fans.
  • Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (Neo Soul, Jazz Fusion): A transmission from the late 70s heyday of Soul and Jazz fusion with amazing contribution from Neo Soul staples (Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal) and Hip Hop youngbloods (Lupe Fiasco). A true gem of groove for a year end reverie. (+ more)
  • Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs (Neo-Folk): Haunting neo folk reflection on life and personal loss with an epic, sprawling quality. (+ more)
  • Brooklyn Rider – Seven Steps: Contemporary Classical musicians with a distinctly modernist feel. (+ more)
  • Adam Arcuragi – Like a fire that consumes all before it . . . (Neo-Folk): An immensely talented singer and songwriter making blues infused folk rock with a hint of gospel that will soothe your soul and get your feet stomping.
  • Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself(baroque indie rock): I think he just gets better and tighter with each record. Definitely the most lyrically biting and contemplative to date. Barnyard hoe downs. Caribbean percussion and rhythms. Old world waltzes. Is there anything Andrew Bird can’t do? We should probably send him to negotiate peace accords. He’d definitely get the crowd up in whistles.
  • Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It (lo-fi, Baroque Indie Rock): Another impressively tender stripped down contemplation of daily life. Mike Hadreas relies on simple piano chords and his falsettos to produce an operatic and blood chilling effect. Reminds me of Youth Lagoon’s Year in Hibernation with a more introspective and dark interior. (+ more)
  • Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (downtempo, ambient + bass): People refer to Stott’s music as “dance”. I guess if you were a tree-sloth. Kidding aside, this is just an amazing combination of deep bass grooves with some angelic vocals perfect for your late evening reveries. (Four Tet’s There is Love in You meets Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, for the Ambient/IDM geeks.) Or, if you want to impress your friends, a very chill and luscious backdrop.
  • Love on a Real Train – s/t: Joachim Cooder brings some of his very talented friends together to weave this amazing collection of rhythms from various musical traditions fused with electronic undercurrents. For fans of 80s Paul Simon or Afro Celt Soundsystem. (+ more)
  • Nora Jones – Broken Little Hearts: Biggest surprise of the year was how much I really liked this record. Danger Mouse is the perfect foil for Nora’s brilliant voice. “She’s 22″ chills with its dagger-like lyrics and simplicity.
  • : I think Regina is vastly underappreciated as both a lyricist and composer. She can weave together ragtime, fin de siècle waltzes, and big band into a pleasant pastiche of pop melodies, while telling comical and poignant tales. Definitely a record that requires repeated listens.
  • : Say what you will about the at-times questionable actions, lyrics, and antics of the LA outfit known as Odd Future, they are an ingeniously clever collective of wordsmiths and beatmakers. Although I often question their choice of vocabulary, I do believe they are engaging in a sort of meta-commentary about the use of language in hip-hop culture. As for the music, it feels like the sort of straight flow and rhythms of mid 90s with less of a focus on “radio or club friendly” and more concerned with lyrical vérité. This is hip-hop for the weirdoes and the outsiders; it’s about time. So instead of critiquing and b-ing, being mad as f-k, just admit not only are we talented, we’re rad as f-k. Boys make a good point. (+ more)
  • Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror (Thrash Dream Rock): 60s Doo Wop meets Lo-Fi Punk? Yeah, it’s an odd but perfect mix. Should be the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic adventure tale of a roller derby like hunger games? (I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie but relying on the kindness of strangers’ summaries.)

Tier 3 – Solid records worth multiple turns or spins (#s 36-50)

…and because I don’t like leaving folks out of the party

Other Things I Also Really Enjoyed

from Newer Artists…

from Veterans and Stalwarts…

Gosh, I’m sure I left something or someone out. Urgh. Oh well, I’ll try better in 2013.

In the interim, I hope everyone enjoys gearing up and preparing for or simply surviving the Holidays and the New Year.

If you tire of carols, Yule-tide sing-a-longs, or “Auld Lang Syne” I’d definitely recommend listening to some of the folks above.

Peace and love in the year to come!


p.s. Please post your favorite records in the comments section and share!

p.p.s. As always, I encourage you to not merely stream but purchase the records of or support (i.e., attend concerts, buy merch) the artists you like. I prefer the following sites: Insound, eMusic, or directly from the labels (they will send you added goodies, karma, and Indie-Cred/love).

p.p.p.s. All grammatical mistakes and misspellings are intentional, unless they are oversights, in which case blame the editor.

Where’d he go?

out to sea

In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 2): Shows and Observations

(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones)

(note: in case you missed the best of 2012 in tracks go here:  Bring on Your Wrecking Ball: a best of 2012 playlist)

Part the 2nd – Shows and Observations


Wilco @ Hideout Block Party . . . so misunderstood

By year’s end, I will have made it to close to sixty shows in the calendar year, but the following evenings and performances were the most memorable to date.

  • Bruce Springsteen @ Wrigley Field
    • A cold September night surrounded by bricks and ivy with the Boss, does it get any better?… well, see below
    • The Boss and Eddie Vedder singing “My Hometown”
    • Tom Morrello’s guitar playing on “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
    • With a curtain of rain descending over and drenching the crowd, Bruce covering CCR’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and an all out romp through “Thunder Road”
    • yes there is magic in the night
  • Hideout Block Party
    • Kelly Hogan‘s amazing pipes, Corin Tucker thrashing, Lee Field and Wild Belles grooving, and Wye Oak mesmerizing, topped off by…
    • Wilco closing out the night with the Chicago skyline as backdrop.
    • going home via Chicago
  • Riot Fest (Chicago) @ Humboldt Park
    • Watching Fat Mike and daughter listen as Alkaline Trio went old school on an emotionally hungry Chicago crowd
    • Elvis Costello masterful, NOFX loud and pleasantly obnoxious, Promise Ring bringing back a little Emo, Gogol Bordello world eclectic dance party, Iggy Pop and the Stooges still as fiery and furious as ever.
    • A punk carnival with Ferris wheels, sideshows, and performance art.  I love when it gets weird.
  • Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) @ the Athenaeum – a sparse and haunting set of Neutral Milk Hotel songs
  • Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly Hogan (@the Vic & the Hideout x 3)
    • No words can capture what an absolutely gorgeous voice Kelly Hogan has and I was fortunate to see her showcase it on four different occasions with her back up band and old friends. Lucky Boy!
    • A stunningly gorgeous cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was A Rodeo”
    • Playing Cheap Trick in a crowded and steamy summer late night Hideout show (with Yo La Tengo in the audience)
    • Mesmerizing and harmonizing with Robbie Fulks to standards old and new classics
  • Adam Arcuragi (@Empty Bottle) and Sean Rowe (@Space) – two amazing singer-songwriters showcasing amazing musicianship, searing lyrics and heartwarming and blood chilling emotional depth. Can’t miss either of these guys.
  • Patrick Watson @ Lincoln Hall & Of Monsters & Men @ the Double Door – these performers are masterful at working the crowd and illustrating how live music can be a communal and joyous experience
  • Perfume Genius & Lost in the Trees @ Schuba’s – two of the most gorgeously intricate, tense, yet satisfying performances of the year; still get goosebumps of PG’s “Hood” live
  • Shallow Diver @ Phyllis’ Musical Inn – debut performance by my friends; the only show that was actually perfectly loud and filled with unbridled joy
  • Alt-J @ the Empty Bottle – electric, mesmerizing, can’t wait until they come back
  • Sharon Van Etten & Shearwater @ Lincoln Hall – bursts of intricate epic sounds and soft, slow, delicately haunting reveries

Shows I’m really bummed I missed:  Grimes, Father John Misty, Sleigh Bells, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Purity Ring, Chad Valley.

Shows still pending:  Japandroids/DIIV, How to Dress Well, OMAM (again) and Hood Internet

(Okay and now some) Bitter Reflections:

  • We lost some very talented and wonderfully gifted musicians.
    • Rest in Peace and thank you: Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Etta James, Levon Helm, MCA, Robin Gibb, Earl Scruggs, Davy Jones, and Dave Brubeck.
  • Madonna:  Kabalost?  Or too much MDNA?  the Material Girl hasn’t been on her game for some time but this was perhaps her low point. Nonetheless, she was easily one of the most influential performers of the late 20th century.
  • Fiona Apple: I so wanted to like that ridiculously long titled record, but yet again I find myself unable to indulge in the non-traditional nature of her songs, and I like some really bizarre stuff.
  • Nicki Minaj – from super bass to super boring, call it karma for dissing other artists
  • The xx – perhaps it was inevitable after the brilliance of the first record, but aside from “Angels” I couldn’t even finish listening to Coexist
  • Usher – you remind of an artist I once liked, so over produced it hurts.
  • Ty Segall – he’s like the garage rock Ryan Adams so prolific it hurts, but I still can’t get into his stuff
  • Where BKLYN at? After years of being home and haven for countless indie-darlings, NYC’s “hipsterist” borough seems like it’s off its game. #NotHatin’JustSayin’
  • Minor disappointments: All these records fell below my eager anticipation and/or the critical praise showered upon them (for my taste): Yeasayer’s Fragrant World, Grizzly Bear’s Shrines, Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan, and Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz .

Sweet (or things I discovered, loved, and learned via music in 2012)

  • On the non-music entertainment side of things, Tig Notaro’s live set (click here) about dealing with her cancer diagnosis and the countless tragedies she dealt with in 2012 was the most inspiring, thoughtful, comical, and gorgeous thirty minutes of performance I heard all year. If you or anyone in your family has been affected by the blight and tragedy of cancer, please download and listen.
  • Surprises from old faces: Jack White turns back the clock; Norah Jones getting down and dirty; Patti Smith and Bob Dylan, ever ancient, ever new; Leonard Cohen and Neil Young put out records (not a fan but make many others very happy); Jeff Mangum touring!
  • Indie rock’s global imprint increases: Canadians, Swedes, Icelanders and Australians are taking over the Indie-Realm. See Of Monsters and Men (ICE), Japandroids (CAN), Grimes (CAN), Purity Ring(CAN), First Aid Kit (SWE), Jens Lekman (SWE), Tallest Man on Earth (SWE), Niki & the Dove (SWE), Stars(CAN), Gotye (AUS), Carly Rae Jepsen (CAN)(okay only slightly kidding on this one).
  • Boys and girls still wait patiently for calls from the objects of their affection and pine with youthful optimism.
  • I’ve still never heard a song by Justin Bieber or One Direction.  Helps me keep my sanity.
  • Michael Angelakos’ honesty about dealing with mental illness and the need to share with both family and fans was brave, moving and inspiring. Click to the right and listen to Gossamer
  • Undiscovered home recordings can provide some genius inspiration for new and old. See Donnie & Joe Emerson’s Dreamin’ Wild (great for anyone stuck in that 1979 mind or your Uncle Rico)
  • Chicago’s best kept secret, The Numero Group, is releasing fabulous dusty grooves while very few people are paying attention.
  • Lots of really talented people really love (and demonstrated why) Philip Glass (is a genius).
  • And yet again, Bob Dylan is touring … all is right with the world.

Tomorrow… the albums that won my heart.

for now images from the shows below…

– a.a.

bruce↓Springsteen @ Wrigley↑



the fabulous Kelly Hogan @ Hideout Block PartyIMG_8614

Wye Oak @ Hideout Block Party


Alkaline Trio (with Fat Mike and daughter on shoulders wearing headphones stage left) @ Riot FestIMG_20120806_001701

Of Monsters and Men @ Double DoorIMG_20121202_234557

Patrick Watson @ Lincoln HallIMG_8528

Death Cab for Cutie @ the Chicago Theatre

shallow diver

Shallow Diver @ Phyllis’ Musical InnIMG_8662

Cloud Nothings @ WBEZ StudioIMG_8692

Julia Holter @ SchubasIMG_20120723_003256

Kelly Hogan @ the Hideout

hasta mañana

In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 1): Best Tracks of 2012

best of 2012(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones) (Or, I’ve been listening so you don’t have to)

In the words of Alec Baldwin’s Bob Barrenger from State and Main, after overturning a car and avoiding a near fatality, “So, that happened”. (No endorsement of Alec’s fictional character’s behavior, but with great adoration for the art of the understatement.) “That” in this case was 2012. Even as our country teeters on a cliff of financial proportions and people stockpile for possible doomsday, our thoughts turn to Dradles, Candles, Mistletoe, Egg Nog, and days of celebration and/or consumption (in every manner imaginable). No stranger to the aforementioned, I prefer to turn to thoughts of a Higher Fidelity, contemplating the rhythmic and lyrical highs and lows of the year that was. And, as I write this with a several days left in the calendar year, I am remiss to shut the books just yet; things will go unsaid, unseen, unheard, and over-looked. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure I’ve missed a number of things, but I try my best to at least represent some semblance of thoroughness.  What follows are a series thoughts, reflections, observations, and, of course, lists of songs, albums and moments that moved or in a few instances underwhelmed me. Because I recognize people have limited time, I’ve broken these up into three palatable sections:

(1st) Tracks, (2nd) Concerts/Moments, and (3rd) Albums.

(Caddy comments forthcoming)

Part the First: Favorite 100 (+11): Tracks of 2012:

General Observations

  • Folk, old school Soul, and Rhythm and Blues made some stirring come backs, incorporating modern day trappings, deconstructing traditional structures, and proving that heart and emotion always trump production and polish.
  • The 80s are alive and kicking throughout the realms of dance, indie rock and retro R&B. Synthesizers of the world unite! Domo Arigato.
  • Despite mass consumerism, artists can still write songs with real world relevance and impact. See “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or “Ruin” by Cat Power.
  • Yes, Gotye, fun., and Carly Rae Jepsen are on the list, but not PSY. Sorry, perhaps I’ve still got auditory PTSD from all the JPop I heard when living in Japan but that song feels like nails on a chalkboard to my ear. Given these artists’ pervasiveness in our musical landscape, it was difficult for them not to make an appearance but then again their songs had a certain something that really endeared their work to me (just not enough).
  • Rock stalwarts, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, are also in the mix.
  • Billboard golden boy (Jack White) and golden girl (Nora Jones) decided to return to form and step out of the box, respectively, and made some amazing songs and records.
  • These musicians opened my eyes and made me smile: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Hip-Hop), Father John Misty (Neo-Folk psychedelia), Adam Arcuragi (Neo-Folk/Bluesy Gospel), Kishi Bashi (baroque pop), Grimes (Indie-Dance Electronic), Purity Ring (Indie-Dance Electronic), Julia Holter (indie-art experimentalism), Chromatics (Neo-New Wave), Daughter (folk), and Patrick Watson (neo-folk jam).
  • Many artists you probably didn’t hear on the radio (but should have) appear on here: Kelly Hogan, Solange, Drop Electric, Generationals, Eternal Summer, Love on a Real Train, and many more.
  • Plus, old and new friends join the list too…
  • Individual thoughts on tracks appear further below, and, as always, feel free to share

back tomorrow with more but for now it’s time to listen to…

Bring on Your Wrecking Ball: a best of 2012 playlist

Click on one of the two playlists below
(ordered from bottom to top (countdown style) or top to bottom)

Top 111 (Countdown Style)             Top 111 (from top to bottom)

(note: four tracks are only available via YouTube, click here).

Two notes about this track/playlist:

Thematic: At the end of the day I believe we turn to art and music to inspire, excite, console, relate, re-energize and even to escape. Although I tend to find lots of joy in somber and reflective songs, in compiling this list, I found myself drawn towards upbeat songs both in tempo and sentiment (in other words, lots of songs for dancing). However, the songs on this list span a gamut of styles, emotions, continents, and traditions, but such are our experiences.

Organizational: I devised a rule for myself that I could not repeat any artists even if they recorded multiple songs that would have been in my top 100 (or 111 as the case may be). But, then this list is somewhat disingenuous, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. I could easily have included multiple tracks by Frank Ocean, Japandroids, Of Monsters and Men, but then you might not hear some of the other songs and artists who struck a chord (pun only partially intended). In all fairness, the ranking are arbitrary at certain points, except towards the top where there were clear cut favorites. Mostly this captures which songs and artists resonated in my consciousness.

I hope you’ll discover some things you’ve never heard.  (You can purchase tracks hereeMusic or Insound.)

  1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Same Love” – Stunning in its simplicity and power; brings tears to my eyes every time
  2. Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built” – the anthem for those who have ever been told to stop following your heart and your passions, feel free to tell them all to [fill in the blank]
  3. Chromatics “Kill For Love” – hits the perfect intersection of Goth-y guitar rock with post-punk/new wave sensibilities
  4. Bobby Womack “Please Forgive My Heart” – a soul song engineered for the electronic age; a perfect fusion of heartache, spaces, and aural tension
  5. Sharon Van Etten “Serpents” – like the rhythm, this song sinks into your body and mind with its emotional rawness; feels like this decade’s “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  6. Cloud Nothings “Stay Useless” – a Zen slacker anthem for all to take to heart, and get it beating
  7. Dum Dum Girls “Season In Hell” – dreamy dance pop with a wry sense of humor (aka the female version of the Smiths and the Cure)
  8. Frank Ocean “Pilot Jones” – tough call with Frankie Ocean but this track shows how he can deconstruct R&B with surgeon-like precision and unearth even more genius (also genius = “Pyramids” & “Thinkin’ Bout You”)
  9. Of Monsters and Men “Mountain Sound” – unbridled mirth and joy from Iceland; this song just makes me want to let go with total abandon
  10. First Aid Kit “Emmylou” – a haunting, pining love song with staying power and emotional depth
  11. Shearwater “Animal Life” – sweeping, stirring, stentorian and spiritually arousing
  12. Kelly Hogan “Haunted” – another difficult choice with so many great songs (and songwriters) on this record (the S.Merritt penned “Plant White Roses” or the glorious Kelly wail on “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain”), but I chose this because of the message of optimism and inspiration from one of the sweetest voices in the business
  13. Miguel “Adorn” – was there a more sultry and seductive song all year? Think not
  14. Ellie Goulding “Anything Could Happen” – the next five songs are all songs that get you dancing and grooving, put on those red shoes and dance boys and girls
  15. How To Dress Well “&It Was U” – an MJ sensibility stripped down to its most basic components
  16. Grimes “Vowels = Space and Time” – the e.e. cummings of artsy electronica
  17. Purity Ring “Ungirthed” – the bass drop on this track is just sick
  18. Chairlift “I Belong In Your Arms” – the 80s child loves this infectious rhythm
  19. Kendrick Lamar “Backseat Free Style” – explicit language but Kendrick manages to find the perfect way to let his rhymes dominate with beat & rhythm as backdrop; a welcome change of pace in a hip-hop landscape dominated by style over substance
  20. Father John Misty “Nancy From Now On” – a magical mystery trip to Hollywoodland via a Kerouac-like appreciation for serendipity; one of my favorite songwriting discoveries in a long time. (Other favorites “Hollywood Forever Cemetery”, “Tee Pees 1-12″)
  21. The Very Best “We Ok” – a joyous life affirming reminder to keep perspective
  22. Beck (x Philip Glass) “NYC ’73-’78” – this 20 minute adventure by Beck through countless Glass compositions requires steady and repeated listens; absolute genius
  23. Lord Huron “Time To Run” – in the words of Calvin*, “let’s go exploring”. *(cartoon not predestination guy)
  24. Perfume Genius “Hood” – haunting reflection on our imperfect (inner) nature
  25. The Tallest Man on Earth “Revelation Blues”some times its just roses dying to young; bittersweet epiphany and nostalgia; love me some beautiful melancholy
  26. Sean Rowe “Signs” – there are roads, years, and heartache in every note of Sean’s voice and yet an overwhelming sense of possibility; as a good friend said, “this is what I want to feel the rest of my life”
  27. David Byrne & St. Vincent “The Optimist” – like walking through a city after the rain has cleared all the dirt away; annie clark sings like an angel
  28. Alabama Shakes “Be Mine” – Brittany Howard is an amazing singer and to me this song displays the depth and range of her gloriously rich, soothing, and heartachingly brilliant vocals
  29. Niki & the Dove “Somebody” – two back-to-back tracks of unapologetic 80s inspired indie-dance; hints of Prince
  30. Tanlines “All of Me” – hints of Yaz/early Depeche Mode
  31. Regina Spektor “Don’t’ Leave Me . . . “ – she is so good at bridging the world of old school musical traditions with a modern sensibility… I like Paris in the rain, who doesn’t?
  32. Cat Power “Ruin” – yes, it’s possible to write an artful polemic on the self-obsessed, narrow-minded perspective of our culture while also holding yourself accountable; Chan Marshall can spear yet please with a song
  33. Daughter “Landfill” – the brutal honesty of this song destroys me; the central metaphor is something I think folks can easily relate to
  34. Norah Jones “She’s 22″—along with Daughter’s “Landfill” the most acerbically beautiful song of the year
  35. Sleigh Bells “Crush” – every time I hear this song I get the image of a hard core roller derby match with the participants clad in 50s attire. Mad Max Wo/Men on wheels? Anyone else? Sleigh Bells have a unique ability to thrash and harmonize.
  36. Stars “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” – these Canadians know how to craft a heartfelt, sincere pop song with a mantra we should all live by.
  37. alt-J “Fitzpleasures” – Cambridge boys who aren’t afraid to break traditional forms, combining heavy bass drops and blissed out guitar rock
  38. Beach House “The Hours” – dream-inducing brilliant pop music; is it the allusion to Michael Cunningham’s novel or just something about the mysterious wafting rhythms? Whatever it is I get lost in this song
  39. Kishi Bashi “Bright Whites” – pleasant bopping 60s pop that still makes me smile
  40. Jessie Ware “Wildest Moments” – stunning, sleek, sultry retro R&B with an Annie Lennox like bravado
  41. THEESatisfaction “QueenS”—if you aren’t groovin’ to this song, something has gotta give
  42. Kuhrye-oo “Give In (for the Fame)” – dreamy downtempo grooves
  43. Andrew Bird “Orpheo Looks Back” – few artists can work across musical genres with the simplicity and mastery of Andrew Bird; this is a straight up hoe-down for your enjoyment
  44. Odd Future “Oldie” – a nine minute old school free-style
  45. Adam Arcuragi “Oh I See” – difficult to pick one song but the live version of this was one of the most pure moments of joy I experienced all year
  46. Bat For Lashes “All Your Gold” – Natasha Khan’s voice is mesmerizing and disarming all at once
  47. Usher “Climax” – only Miguel put together a sexier groove all year
  48. Now, Now “Prehistoric” – lo-fi female fronted guitar brilliance
  49. Drop Electric “Empire Thrashed” – one of my favorite discoveries; an amazingly varied and talented set of musicians from DC who make epic soundscapes in the GSYBE and Sigur Ros vein; keep an eye out!
  50. Bob Dylan “Soon After Midnight” – in his 8th decade on this world, Dylan is still the poet laureate of the hopelessly romantic; a stunningly beautiful love song from one of the greatest. I mean who wouldn’t want to have their lover write the following: “It’s soon after midnight and I’ve got a date with the fairy queen.” (Queen Elizabeth I certainly did.)
  51. GenerationalsLucky Numbers” – best geeky dance song you didn’t hear on the radio
  52. Patrick Watson “Into Giants”started out as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end
  53. Bomba Estéreo “El Alma Y El Cuerpo” – sultry rhythms fresh from the streets of Colombia
  54. Julia Holter “In the Same Room” – a david lynch baroque pop song
  55. Love on A Real Train “Strike Up Your Matches” – Joachim Cooder (son of Ry)’s brilliant fusion Incan rhythms and electronics
  56. Frankie Rose “Know Me” – dance-y dream indie pop
  57. Lampchop “Gone Tomorrow” – Nashville’s finest alt-country band goes Gershwin
  58. Tomas Barford “November Skies“—for those who like to meditate and groove out
  59. Rhye “Open” – reminds me of a Sade’s raw R&B style
  60. Calexcio “Fortune Teller”I’m on the road to finer things
  61. Titus Andronicus “Ecce Homo” – an existentialist anthem, I know it’s more than just being born
  62. Santigold “This Isn’t Our Parade” – slow burn brilliance
  63. Nas (feat. Mary J. Blige) “Reach Out” – old school Nas and Mary J at their best; it’s like ’95 in the house.
  64. Robert Glasper Experiment “Always Shine” – so many great groves from this project
  65. Lost In the Trees “Red“—sprawling and majestic; talented musicians not to be missed
  66. La Sera “Please Be My Third Eye” – Katy Goodman’s surfy-dream pop makes me smile
  67. Twin Shadow “Five Seconds” – thoughts of james dean run through my head every time
  68. Mynabirds “Disarm” – also check out their shoot ’em up rock out genius on “Generals”
  69. Jens Lekman “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” – variations on the same theme with a different take; comedy here and despondency below; both work brilliantly
  70. Gotye “Somebody That I Use To Know
  71. Passion Pit “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy” – the ability to cut through all the challenges and hurdles the world sends you and still stand and appreciate the good and the bad
  72. Hot Chip “Motion Sickness“—if Hot Chip can’t get you on the dance floor, there isn’t any hope Not even Obi Wan can help you now.
  73. Baroness “Take Your Bones Away” – metal never sounded so pleasant (to me)
  74. Lavender Diamond “I Don’t Recall” – Becky’s vocals are dreamy and soothing
  75. Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait” – adore their musicianship on this piece; yes very maudlin but it’s their thing
  76. Best Coast “How They Want Me to Be” – an us against the world love song
  77. Jack White “Hip (Eponymous) Boy” – ah, like an early White Stripes song!!!
  78. Lee Field & The Expressions “Still Hangin’ On” – An old school soul crooner pining for his ex-lover; bitterness rarely sounds so sweet; Lee & crew provided one of the best outdoor dance parties this summer
  79. Solange “Losing You” – what follows is a series of over the top poppy dance songs; absolutely no shame in letting go to a good dance/pop song
  80. Sky Ferreira “Everything Is Embarrassing
  81. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe
  82. Icona Pop “I Love It
  83. Chad Valley “My Girl
  84. The Shins “Simple Song” – it’s no “New Slang” but darn if he isn’t a talented song-writer
  85. Eternal Summers “Millions” – my other soft spot: female fronted shoegazer tinged guitar pop
  86. Patti Smith “April Fool” – the only fools in the room are those that haven’t ever listened to Patti Smith
  87. Allo Darlin “Capricornia” – pleasant indie-pop built for dancing fearlessly around the room/office
  88. Astro “Panda” – electro pop from Chile
  89. Tennis “Origins” – this husband and wife duo make dreamy dub infused pop
  90. Sainte Etienne “Tonight” – twenty years later and still making amazing dance music
  91. Sauti Sol “Soma Kijana” – a track that pours forth sunshine and joy perfect to warm these cold winter months
  92. Dan Deacon “True Thrash“—a midi genius, looper extraordinaire that will get you moving
  93. DIIV “Doused” – shoegazer, lo-fi, goth rock at its finest
  94. Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball” – although the record underwhelmed me, this track really resonates in terms of the challenges we face and how we handle them; the Boss is no stranger to stirring a groundswell of sentiment
  95. R.Kelly “Feelin’ Single” – his personal life aside, R knows how to groove and soothe
  96. Caitlin Glennon “Cut You Loose” – this track just gets me boppin’
  97. Lucius “Don’t Just Sit There” – yup dreamy, lo-fi pop x 3 to follow, it’s a thing for me; these vocals just make me happy
  98. Pure Bathing Culture “Lucky One”
  99. Seapony “Follow
  100. Liars “No. 1 Against the Rush” – one of the stranger yet more pleasing songs of the year
  101. Taken by Trees “Dreams” – title says it all
  102. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Baby“—”cover” of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s rediscovered ’79 home release
  103. Hundred Waters “Visitor” – after seeing them perform this live I had it stuck in my head for days
  104. Martha Wainwright “Can You Believe It?” – my favorite Wainwright far and away
  105. The Walkmen “Song For Leigh“—few bands manage to find a wider range in a limited universe than these guys
  106. Hospitality “Eighth Avenue” – pleasant baroque indie pop
  107. Sarah Jaffe “Glorified High
  108. The Magnetic Fields “Your Girlfriend’s Face” – always a witty, dark comedy element to what they do
  109. Collen Green “Nice Boy (I Wanna)” – lo-fi garage punk rock, more please
  110. The xx “Angels” – when they hit their spot, its unlike anyone, dark yet sensual
  111. fun. “Carry On” – my guilty pleasure of the year, this song has Billy Joel, REO Speedwagon, and Rod Stewart chords and allusions all over it; and yet…

no mas. for now. ;)


Independents Days: A 2012 mid-Year Recap of Albums

As much as I enjoy making lists, I also find the process really challenging and stressful – but only in the superficial sense. (There are plenty of real life problems worth shedding blood, sweat, and tears over; this “challenge” is more mental than real.) Why stressful? Well, because there will always be some really wonderful albums and/or artists that will be left off because there is only so many “slots” on a list, and, of course, there will be folks who think your choices are totally “wrong”. So rather than picking a “best of 2012″ so far, I’ll take the less controversial route of listing those records that have left the biggest impression on me, because “you can’t be wrong when stating a preference.” But, the rhetorical reader might be asking, what is your criteria? Aside from the unquantifiable “I just really like this”, I am listing albums that I find myself returning to with great frequency and/or new artists (to me) whose work really struck my ears. So without further equivocation (and ado), here is the ten (or so) albums I’d suggest deserve a first, second, or repeated listen (in no particular order and with limited editorializing):

  • Japandroids’ Celebration Rock – Nothing I’ve heard this year rocks harder and with the kind of youthful punk/rock energy than this release by the Vancouver duo. It is also the soundtrack to my late night bike rides.
  • Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe – Although produced and co-written by electronic genius Damon Albarn, this is one of the most non-frills, straightforward recordings released to date. It’s minimalist electronic instrumentation sets the perfect stage to showcase Bobby’s soul-searing gospel-like storytelling and bone-chilling vocals. “Please Forgive My Heart” is one of the best Soul/R&B singles released in a long, long time.
  • Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp – Following along the path of emotionally charged records, Sharon Van Etten’s newest record has been my go to late night reflective listening. In many ways, Tramp reminds me a lot of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker because it is a powerful songwriting “sea change” for Sharon. It sounds like SVE is at once putting a/the past behind her and moving forward with a renewed sense of determination. Just listen to “Serpents” and you’ll see this is one gifted songwriter on the verge of more great moments.

  • Grimes’ Visions Speaking of artists on the verge and/or breaking through, 2012 has been a banner year for Grimes and I think the sky is the limit for her. Visions might not have the musical range of other records I’ve heard in recent years but it’s the concision and precision of this album with its hypnotic rhythms and dance-inducing beats that have caused me to wear down the vinyl. There is a decidedly punk-rock bare-bones aesthetic to her electronic music that sets it apart and Grimes unique vocal arrangements give the songs an otherworldly beauty.
  • Love On A Real Train – Of all the albums I’ve heard this year, this is the most musically eclectic collection of songs. Perhaps because this record is a collaboration by a group of friends of divergent musical it is difficult to discern singular aesthetic, and yet, there is a cohesiveness that makes every genre or tempo jump make sense in the end.
  • Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is An Animal – Well at least one Icelandic group had to make it on to this list, right? All kidding aside, next to Kishi Bashi’s 151a, this might be the most up-beat and smile-inducing album of the year. To some who prefer the morose side of music, that is an indictment. But in my opinion, OMAM are a welcome addition to the scene of crowd-pleasing and life-affirming indie/baroque rock. Also, it’s not all sunshine and a roses, this band has some mellow, self-reflective tunes as well. (To continue the parallelism discussion, it is very evocative of the 10,000 Maniacs’ Our Time in Eden.)

  • Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio – If SVE is my record of reflection, this is my record of relaxation and meditation. To butcher and misappropriate W.H. Auden’s famous elegy of love, “it’s my Sunday rest” – or, that which brings me an overwhelming sense of peace. A clever mix of modern, chill-jazz improvisation and 70s mellow soul and R&B, this is an album that sounds like a lost recording from older days.
  • Alabama Shakes’ Boys and GirlsIn a year of albums with some outstanding vocal performances, Brittney Howard’s might be the most captivating and pleasing of all. Perhaps it’s because there are moments where she reminds me of a latter day Janis Joplin, but there is just a depth of emotion that pours forth from these songs. Plus, this record is just the perfect blend of pain and pleasure, combining the reverie inducing power of Southern Blues, Soul and Roots Rock.
  • Now, Now’s Threads/Beach House’s Bloom – For me, both of these records create a rich sense of atmosphere in very differing ways. Now, Now is all about tight, simple guitar lines that evoke the likes of Rainer Maria and Tegan and Sara. In contrast, Beach House uses lush orchestrations and Victoria Legrand’s mellifluous vocals to evoke an aural dreamscape. Two records that are easy to get lost in…
  • Lost In The Trees’ A Church That Fits Our Needs – Hauntingly beautiful and inspirational. This band of North Carolina folk musicians has created a mini-masterpiece about finding transcendence in the face of loss.

…and still I feel like there are so many other wonderful albums and artists that bear mentioning, like Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror, Kelly Hogan’s I Like to Keep Myself In Pain, Adam Arcuragi’s like a fire that consumer all before it, Julia Holter’s Ekstasis or Perfume Genius’ Put Your Back N 2 It and more. But there is only so much space and time.

If you want to listen to all the albums above, click here for the 2012 “Favorite” Records playlist, or individual album links are embedded above.

2012 favorites songs so far playlist to follow…


p.s. Feel free to add or offer up your favorites in the comments section.

Whistling Down Memory Lane: A (Personal) Preview of S.F.’s Outside Lands Fest

A couple of weeks back, a good friend asked me if she might be able to either guest post or offer up a mix. To which, of course, I responded enthusiastically with a double “Yes”. (Literally I answered “Yes, Yes” because I wanted to make it clear that I was down with both ideas.) And, lo, what follows is my friend’s first post about her excitement over the bands performing at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival taking place in San Francisco between August 10th and 12th. It’s a preview of the Festival’s fabulous acts told as a musical Bildungsroman (literary geek speak for “right of passage” story — Germans are so much better at truncating language).
Enjoy and I’ll be back with some albums on the morrow.
– a.a.

First Guest Blog Post on LOTT (kind of loving the abbreviation, a.a….), and I’m feeling sentimental. I think it has something to do with the lineupannouncement from the crew putting on Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park this August.  I’ve heard a lot of naysayers complain about the headliners (Metallica, Foo Fighters, Skrillex, whaaa??).  But, I say this: the bands aren’t the only thing that matters when it comes to Outside Lands. There, I said it. San Franciscans love any opportunity to be outside (in fact, it’s part of our rent), even if it’s usually freezing in August (yes, Chicago, I’ve gotten soft) and Outside Lands is a phenomenal concert in our city’s best park, so relax, sit on the grass and enjoy the music in the park! That being said (I know, I know, I’m kind of contradicting myself here), I’m stoked about the lineup this year because it pretty much tracks my personal musical journey. (As you read, feel free to check out a (musical) sampler of the line-up via Spotify!)

First Stop, Wonder-Land:  We start with Stevie Wonder. I remember watching that episode of The Cosby Show in 1986 where the Huxtables make that quirky synthesizer song with Stevie and then they all sing “I just called to say I love you” — click ← to see on YouTube.  (God, I kind of want to have a total side-post on 80s television now… okay, I’ll keep going.) Well, that’s obviously not his best song (ed.’s note, Jack Black agrees), but I remember hearing that song, inquiring about it, my parents playing the record for me, and then we explored their extensive record collection as a family. I could honestly stop there, I had no choice but to love music after the records came out. Ah, just kidding, I’m not done yet…

Bogey to the Bayou: Another one of my young musical influences was the music of New Orleans, which was a love of my father’s and a big part of the music I grew up listening to as a kid. Here we’ve got the Dirty Dozen Brass Band representing at Outside Lands. I saw them at the Rock n Bowl on my second trip to Jazz Fest, and while I’m missing the Fest this year, I’m glad we get a little NOLA in the Park this year.

A Metal Education: Okay, so then we’ve got Metallica. Now I’ve never seen Metallica, but they represent the next period of music, 80’s rock bands, which I discovered on my own and my parents thought were crap—an important phase in any kid’s life. We got MTV during that period and I remember going to the record store asking my mom to buy me Guns ‘N Roses Appetite for Destruction on (cassette) tape with the newly minted Parental Advisory Label, followed by Poison, Warrant, Skid Row and Metallica, all of which would listen to while rollerblading – that’s called a compound dated reference.

I’m on a Plain, I Can’t Complain: Foo Fighters. Beck. Now it’s middle school and I’m listening to a lot of Nirvana and Beck. Okay, I have to admit I’m not really a fan of the Foo Fighters, but Dave Grohl was in Nirvana, and well, they are a touchstone and an important part of my musical journey, so I’m sure I’ll check out part of their set. Somehow I’ve never seen Beck live, yet through him I discovered and found (more) indie music, which changed the trajectory of my musical preferences.

Napster Built the Internet Star: Dispatch came to prominence during my college days and were a great band that I never had the opportunity to see. But, I remember illegally downloading their music on Napster and college acapella bands covering the General.  Okay, I couldn’t help but do another compound dated reference.  (Eds. Note: We’ve changed our ways towards musical consumption – no more “peer-to-peer sharing”, now we purchase.)

(My) Roaring Twenties: Next is the musical period during my twenties, with representatives from my exploration of world music (Amadou & Miriam, the blind couple from Mali, and Jovanotti, who I discovered when I studied abroad in Italy), experimental and alternative rock (Sigur Ros, the Walkmen and Franz Ferdinand) and great female rockers (Santigold and Sharon Van Etten).

Destination, Dance Yourself Happy: Last, I’ll be checking out the new indie bands churning out upbeat electronic 80s-throwback, dance hook laden tracks, which are currently in heavy rotation: Yellow Ostrich, Tanlines, Geographer, Washed Out, Passion Pit, Justice, Of Monsters and Men. Who knows, maybe I’ll even give Fun. and Skrillex a chance?

 …And we’ve come full circle, back to the start, an echo of my beginnings in the 80s!  It should be a great festival. Sentiment now replaced by anticipation!

 – rsw

p.s. For ticket information click here.