Friday, December 26, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Frightened Rabbit - "Boxing Night"

Hope everyone had a great Christmas! Now here's some beautiful Scottish glumness for those who celebrate Boxing Day!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Pogues - "Fairytale of New York"


Name a better, more affecting Christmas song and I'll give you a dollar. Seriously, go on, do it. I dare you. Life ain't always sleighbells and reindeer. It's messy and dirty and frequently beautiful and full of joy in the darkest places. Merry Christmas everyone!

Bonus! Because it's Christmas here's the No Use for a Name cover, which introduced me to the song many years ago. Tony Sly duets with Cinder Block from Tilt and it's so so so so so great (and has more muted power chords).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Low - "Just Like Christmas"


Low may be best known for their gorgeous, moody slowcore, but when they add the sleighbells and up the tempo for the standout track from their Christmas album, it's just pure Christmas magic. Though it doesn't cover your traditional Christmas fare (the last line of the first verse is, after all, "It wasn't like Christmas at all") it captures the essence of the season perfectly.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Favorite Albums of 2014

2014 was an year with an overwhelming amount of good music, but getting down to it, and thinking of the albums I truly devoured this year, it feels like I’m forcing it a bit. I started with 30, then 25, then down to 20. Now it’s down to 15 and I’m thinking, “Do I really need to put those extra five records on a list is constructed purely for my own personal enjoyment? This isn’t Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, but a survey of one nerd’s habits. In putting together this list I realize how set in my ways I am, and how that is never going to change. All I did this year was watch the baby, not sleep, work, and drive. That’s it. Pete Holmes’ “You Made it Weird” podcast replaced music in the car, and I don’t know where I found the time to listen to records. Some of the quieter ones I listened to when I was staying up all night and Rosie was sleeping on my chest, but most of these I squeezed in when I was doing the morning deposit at work or whatever.

2014 was a year where it was easy to make a Best Of list and hard to make a My Favorite list. There was a great amount of innovation to be had this past year, but then, when isn’t there great innovation? We got to see artists take their crafts to new heights (St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, Owen Pallett, Mac DeMarco) and workmanlike lifers contribute rock solid records to their already rock solid catalogues (TV on the Radio, Fucked Up. I listened to way more rap than I have ever listened to, but entirely shunned anything remotely electronic. It was a year of listening to great songs, sneaking them in whenever I had a free moment (of which there were very few). I spent more time listening to Crooked Fingers’ complete discography than any one record this year. And now the list feels exhausted at this point, as these are the fifteen albums I listened to the most, pretty much in order. And I just cut it down to Top 10 because that feels right.

Despite only listing ten albums, I gushed over many, many more that made the Best of 2014 tag. Tons of good stuff this year, but then again, there's tons of good stuff every year. 

10. Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy
So much wit. So much wisdom. Open Mike Eagle’s gift is sharing a worldview that very much lines up with this album’s title. It never feels like joke rap, even when he enlists a professional comedian (Hannibal Burress) on one of the album’s best tracks (“Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)”).

9. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
 
Goddamn it’s wonderful to hear a band with such an affinity for pummeling its audience with guitars. Dylan Baldi’s best record to date (because of course, as his back catalog is nothing but great records smothered by greater record) does an excellent job of never letting you off the hook. It’s impossible to skip a track, and at 30 minutes it’s nothing but pure, unfiltered indie rock played at blistering volume. Lines are repeated over and over and while I usually give shit to bands content to repeat chorus after chorus to make a mainstream radio single five minutes long, Baldi finds a way to use repetition as a way of ramping up intensity.

8. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Burn Your Fire for No Witness plays like a bonfire at 4am. Everyone has either gone home, or they’re all still sitting there getting high or drinking or smoking cigarettes, maybe occasionally looking over at the fire and being surprised that it’s still burning. It’s a smoldering record. There’s really no better word for it. Full of white hot intensity that sneaks up on you, listen after listen, firmly affixing itself as a staple in your go-to records for years to come.

7. Frontier Ruckus – Sitcom Afterlife
Not content to rest on their laurels after releasing last year’s sprawling epic Eternity of Dimming, Matthew Milia and crew return with a terrific follow up no one asked them to deliver on such a short turn around. And by no one, I mean HOW DOES NO ONE KNOW ABOUT THIS BAND?! It baffles my mind. Even on short rest, Frontier Ruckus found a way to push their sound into new, poppier terrain and maintain the standard of quality in the magnificently detailed songwriting that is right up there with the John Darnielles and the John K Samsons of the world.

6. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
I don’t know if there’s a better example of an artist coming to grips with his craft than Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore album. It’s an outlaw country record displaced from time. Some of it is straightforward (“Life of Sin” and “Living the Dream”), some of it is out there (“Turtles All the Way Down”) and some of it is savant (Simpson’s cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise” breaks the song in half, turns it into this song that slow burns and slow burns and slow burns until he cracks it right open at the very end and it’s one of my favorite musical moments of the year). It’s a record for everyone who says they listen to “anything but country” (and if they aren’t believers after this one, then fuck those people, because Sturgill Simpson is the real goddamn deal).

5. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
Cymbals Eat Guitars third album is erratic in the best possible sense. You can glean the whole scope of the universe CEG have crafted in the lovely, epic opener “Jackson,” which drifts from a dialed-back slow-burner to a big, clattering cacophony to wailing guitar solo over six minutes. It’s a mighty hook, and the rest of the album manages to slip around the entire spectrum of indie rock while keeping its claws firmly implanted in your person. It’s an unassuming classic, and my favorite pleasant surprise in a year of pleasant surprises.

4. Cheap Girls – Famous Graves
Famous Graves is immediately satisfying. It’s a record so good the bonus track would have been a lesser band’s lead single. There were more innovative albums released this year, but none of those albums were my car stereo’s designated hitter i.e. the album I love so much I burn to a CD-R and flip to whenever I don’t want to put on a podcast. It’s a great honor; it really is, in my little car world. As a result, I listened to Famous Graves an insane amount of times considering this was a year when I had so little time to listen to albums all the way through. The album is a reminder that not everything has to blow your dick off to be great.

3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Despite its depressing nature (not one, but two of Kozalek’s relatives die via exploding aerosol cans in front lawn garbage fires), Benji is firmly associated with the sweetest time of my life. I got a month of paid paternity leave when Rosie was born, and I spent a lot of that time staying up til 6AM with her sleeping soundly on my chest. It was the only way. To pass the time, I played FTL on the iPad and listened to the quietest music I could find so as to not wake the baby. I would listen to Benji at least twice a night, and each and every time I found something new to love. It’s nothing but heartbreak (with a little levity in the end with “Ben’s My Friend”) but through all that pain there’s a record that feels like a living, breathing representation of the human condition.

2. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace is There
This is album stayed on my iPhone (in its entirety) the longest this year. It became a go to when I wanted the capital A Album experience. It’s a big, emo-fueled (in the best way) concept album about loss and heartbreak and putting everything back together again. It’s an album made up of a series of intense moments. Of dramatic vocal turns, big builds, bigger drum crashes, and straight-outta-the-diary heart-on-sleeve confessional lyrics that are so sincere you almost feel uncomfortable looking that deeply into someone’s soul.

1. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Christmas Island
When it comes down to it, the most important trait a songwriter can have is conviction. Sure, there were a lot more beautifully arranged and technically competent records released in 2014, but Sean Bonnette is like the football player who, while not as physically built for the game as other players, makes up for it in heart and determination. During the album’s most heartwrenching and outwardly gorgeous track—“Linda Ronstadt”—Bonnette sings “I think I like my pretty pretty ugly,” and I keep coming back to that sentiment every time I listen to this record. It sounds like it was recorded in a dumpster, it is frequently ugly sounding and raw and rough, and it is the most exciting, emotionally satisfying, and soulful record I had the privilege of listening to this year.

28 Days of Christmas: Blink-182 - "I Won't Be Home For Christmas"

I must have made half a dozen Christmas mixes in my teenage years, and every year, this song was track one. When you get down to the brass tacks of punk rock Christmas songs, you go back to the Ramones "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" but I think it ends with "I Won't Be Home For Christmas." Because why would any other punk band bother, you know? For all the misgivings folks have about Blink-182 (the crass behavior, the lewd lyrics, the proto-broness) it's undeniable that the band operated from a place of pure joy. I never tried to hide the fact that Blink-182 was the reason I got into punk rock. In 2002, it was impossible to pretend. They brought the genre into the mainstream for the first time since Green Day and there you go. I don't like their music as much as I used to, but holy hell, this song never gets old. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Vandals - "Oi to the World"

It's hard to think of a better song that captures the "Goodwill Toward Men" part of the Christmas Spirit. Of all the songs on this list, I feel like "Oi to the World" is the only one I hear and confuse for an actual traditional Christmas song (which, in all fairness, it should be given the same treatment as your "Silent Night"s and your "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"s).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: My Chemical Romance - "All I Want for Christmas is You"


I'm the kind of person who would say "I don't believe in guilty pleasures" and immediately turn around and say My Chemical Romance is a guilty pleasure of mine. And I'm OK with that, because on a human level I know I contradict myself on a regular basis and I have no good words to explain the way I find My Chemical Romance both fiercely annoying and capable of writing some absolutely brilliant earworms and doing it with panache. It's complicated. One thing I won't do is call Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" a guilty pleasure, because it's second only to "Last Christmas" in my hierarchy of Ian's Favorite Christmas Songs. It's kind of an embarrassing song, and I admire how MCR just totally go for it. The results are a mess, but it's got so much energy and conviction that it's easy to overlook the clutter.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

My Favorite Songs of 2014: Part Two

It was definitely Songs > Albums this year. Mostly because I just didn't have time to get too invested in more than a handful of albums (more on that next week, or after Christmas, or whenever I can sneak away from Dad Duty to write up the list) and relied a lot on "Siri, Shuffle Songs." These were my favorites (obviously).

25. Sun Kil Moon – “Carissa” (Benji)

Just listen to Benji, ok? I don’t care if you think it’ll make you sad, it’s one of the purest depictions of the human experience you’ll find anywhere. It wasn’t my favorite record of the year, but it was the best album of the year.

24. TV on the Radio – “Careful You” (Seeds)

TV on the Radio got flak for Seeds being just regular great. Pff, this record was outstanding, which is really the expectation when it comes to a band as innovative and badass as TVOTR, but even the people who were like “ITS NOT AS GOOD AS RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN” gotta admit “Careful You” is the motherfucking jam.

23. Conor Oberst – “Time Forgot” (Upside Down Mountain)

Conor Oberst, doing what he do, aging like wine. And not Trader Joes wine either! Like, good wine. I used to think Oberst peaked with Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, but now I don’t even know anymore. “Time Forgot” is another beautiful gem from someone who might prove to be his era’s Dylan. 

22. The Menzingers – “In Remission” (Rented World)

No other song this year made me want to pump my fist in the air as hard as this song. Give it a whirl and try to keep your fists balled up at your sides. I dare you.

21. Mac DeMarco – “Let Her Go” (Salad Days)

If people thought Mac DeMarco was some sort of goofy idiot before Salad Days, well, actually, people might still think he’s a goofy idiot. I still think of him as a sort of idiot savant. A poet in clown shoes. And that can hardly be an insult because whatever he’s doing, it’s obviously working. “Let Her Go” is so addictive, and a beautiful contrast to all the “I gotta get her back!” songs flooding the sad rock dude landscape. God, that slack guitar is the most comforting thing in the world right now.

20. Spoon – “Inside Out” (They Want My Soul)

“Inside Out” is a technical masterpiece. Go listen to the episode of the Song Exploder podcast where Jim Eno talks about how they put this one together. It’s fascinating. It’s like finding out you can manufacture true love in a lab or something. Making one of the more seductive, intriguing tracks out of studio magic.

19. The War on Drugs – “Burning” (Lost in the Dream)

The War on Drugs live on feelings we’ve already had for other bands and they barely even bother to retool it for the modern era. The point is we always crave big anthems meant to be blared from American cars blitzing down two lane highways in the middle of the night. Essentially, the War on Drugs are doing for Springsteen-esque anthem music what Fleet Foxes did for Appalacian folk a few years back: nothing new, but who gives a shit it’s really fucking good. Whenever I had to drive home from work late and my podcast ended a couple miles from home, I would say “Siri, play Burning by the War on Drugs.” And then Siri would get confused because that technology is straight fucked and doesn’t work, so I’d pull over, find “Burning” and put it on repeat to guide me home. I’ve still got complicated feelings for Lost in the Dream, but the one thing I can’t deny is that it’s an immensely satisfying record and that is honestly the only thing that matters. Fuck hierarchy or whether or not it’s contributing anything new to the sonic landscape. This is the shit you crave.

18. The New Pornographers – “Brill Bruisers” (Brill Bruisers)

Carl Newman operating at a high level, as usual. It’s all very nuts and bolts. It’s what you expect from the New Pornos, and it’s like getting my favorite dish from my favorite restaurant: a total fucking pleasure.

17. Frontier Ruckus – “A&W Orange and Brown” (Sitcom Afterlife)

I think I’m drawn to “A&W Orange and brown” over the other, more single-y tracks from Sitcom Afterlife because it’s the closest thing to the long-form storytelling that made Eternity of Dimming my favorite record of 2013. I don’t think I was ready for a new one, so I was a little off guard and maybe I’m defaulting to my comfort zone (note: I love the record, as you’ll see when I release my favorite albums list next week) but good lord this track is so good. I find myself whistling its melody, worshipping those newfound boy-girl harmonies, and trying to keep back my bafflement that this band isn’t more beloved.

16. Aaron Freeman – “Covert Discretion” (Freeman)

In case you wanted to know why Ween broke up, Gener went and gave you the answer on his first proper solo record. It’s a brutally honest tale of rock and roll dreams gone awry, and a man coming to terms with crushing that dream to break the cycle of addiction that only ends in death. “Fuck you all, I gotta reason to live and I’m never gonna die,” he sings to…well, everyone.

15. Bob Mould – “The War” (Beauty & Ruin)

If it’s still up, listen to Bob Mould’s episode of the WTF podcast. Not only is it a fascinating look into the guy’s life, but he plays an acoustic version of this track at the end and I was rapt. It got me to give Beauty & Ruin a thorough spin, and further deepened his status as one of my idols. I feel like his power chords are the Rosetta Stone for decoding the sonic touchstones in my life. Or maybe the tone of those chords is my spirit animal. Either way, there is something about them, then and now, that resonates down to the very center of my being.

14. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me” (Here and Nowhere Else)

Cloud Nothings was one of the only bands I saw live this year, and I thought the band seemed burnt out. But when they played this song, through their touring haze, it was still electric. It’s a track that possesses both immediacy and a tremendous amount of depth in its franticly chiming power chords, repeated lines, thundering drums, thumping bass, and howling vocals. It feels like true catharsis all the way through.

13. Perfume Genius – “Queen” (Too Bright)

Mark Hadreas is no stranger to these lists. At this point, whenever I see that there’s a new Perfume Genius record coming out I pencil it in to my best of. It’s not surprising that he keeps getting better and more inventive on each successive album. It’s the status quo. For someone who’s first record was just him and a piano and a fistful of the most heartbreaking songs you’ve ever heard, the sonic prowess of “Queen” is a revelation. It’s one of the most gripping tracks of the year.

12. La Dispute – “For Mayor of Splitsville (Rooms of the House)

This song feels like getting punched in the face for three and a half minutes. The guitars stab at you, the singer yells at you, it’s a pummeling. And the centerpiece from an emotionally exhausting concept album. It’s knotty and a little voyeuristic feeling as you stare in at a whole bunch of human wreckage. Who needs weapons when you can hurl around pointed lines like, “I’d rather run for mayor of Splitsville/ Than suffer your jokes again.”  

11. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All the Way Down” (Metamodern Sounds in Country Music)

On the surface, Sturgill Simpson might sound like an outlaw country revivalist with vocal cords made of solid gold, but the introspective, metaphysical, and psychedelic content of  “Turtles All the Way Down” sets the table for one of the year’s best deepest records. 

10. Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten” (Burn Your Fire for No Witness)

Burn Your Fire for No Witness earns its keep in the top ten records of 2014 with it’s more smoldering moments, but the fuzzy crunch of the guitars on the brisk “Forgiven/Forgotten” is the album’s most accessible track. The hook. The brief sampling that leads you down the rabbit hole into one of the most devastating records of the year.

9. The Hotelier – “The Scope of All This Rebuilding” (Home, Like Noplace is There)

Home, Like Noplace is There is the emo revival record of the year. God, that’s gonna sound so stupid in two years. It already sounds stupid, “emo revival.” But I got no better words. This is powerful shit. “The Scope and All This Rebuilding” is the most dynamic track, and the one that cracks the album wide open and lays bare all the heavy shit inside. There are heavier moments and deeper truths within the album’s quieter moments, but even those are connected to this one

8. Against Me! – “Black Me Out” (Transgender Dysphoria Blues)

It’s really sort of a shame that Laura Jane Grace’s transitioning overshadows how fucking great that new Against Me! record is. When the anarcho-punk heroes signed to a major label and released two radio-ready mainstream rock records, it was safe to assume they were gone forever. “Black Me Out” functions as both a brilliant/brutal fuck you to the major labels (“I wanna piss on the walls of your house/ I wanna chop those brass rings off your fat fingers/ As if you were kingmaker”) and dovetails nicely with the album’s titular theme.

7. Cheap Girls – “7-8 Years” (Famous Graves)

Famous Graves is a remarkably solid indie rock record. No frills, ham and egger dude jams with killer hooks. I could have picked any song from this record, but the bonus track "7-8 Years" is the one I was humming to myself all year. Something in that line "I spent all of my money on this Vizio TV" gets me. That detail. Plus the chorus "So kick me in the kidneys really hard/ I'm gonna write my name in blood in the backyard" is just fantastic. This was actually the first Cheap Girls song I heard, because my track listing was accidentally reversed on iTunes. I thought "Damn, what a great opening track" only to realize it wasn't even technically on the album. But I've always admired bands whose b-sides are better than most bands' album stuff, so there you go. 

6. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Temple Grandin” (Christmas Island)

There’s no greater opening line than “Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out.” Thus begins one of the year’s most thoughtful, odd, ugly, and awesome records. I had to narrow AJJ’s contribution to this list down from about seven tracks off of Christmas Island and only settled on “Temple Grandin” because it serves as a sort of thesis statement. On the songwriting front this year, amidst so many amazing contenders, Sean Bonnette’s heart was the purest.

5. Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener” (The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas)
“Avant Gardener” is of the more fun and inventive story songs I’ve heard in a while. A tale of getting off of one’s ass, getting back to nature and…having this new life in gardening cut short by a severe allergic reaction. The chilled out slacker vibe of Barnett’s blend of indie rock and the refrain of “I’m having trouble breathing in” maybe makes this the ultimate anthem for one’s mid-twenties. Ace. Also, I’m totally aware this is a track from 2013, but I think it’s that goddamn good it transcends “years.”

4. Open Mike Eagle – “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)” (Dark Comedy)

The dark sense of humor on the aptly titled Dark Comedy is glorious. Open Mike Eagle enlists his buddy (and one of the greatest comics of our day) Hannibal Burress to craft a hilarious and self-aware piece of rap commentary.

3. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Jackson” (LOSE)

My favorite thing about “Jackson” is that you feel like you’re in the backseat of the car where this song takes place. There’s this easy going lullabye quality to the song that perfectly captures a car ride, but then somehow turns into one of the biggest songs I heard all year. It morphs into a beautiful cacophony of guitars, the likes of which are rare on an increasingly electronic landscape. Also, the punch that comes at the end of the line “a delirious…KISS” is maybe my favorite moment on any song this year.

2. Mikal Cronin – “I Don’t Mind” (Polyvinyl 4-Track Singles Series)
Sometimes the greatest songs get cast out into the void via weird little singles series. Mikal Cronin’s Mcii was a big miss on my part from 2013, but I spent the majority of the warm months blasting it from my car stereo and on the deck. And yet, I’d be the first to cop to listing Cronin so high as a means of righting that wrong, but I’m not. This song somehow landed in my iTunes and after hearing it once (on shuffle, of course) I took it with me wherever I go. It’s as majestic as majestic pop bliss gets, and recorded on a 4-track no less! Cronin is an alchemist, a wizard, a scholar, and a brilliant tunesmith and I can’t wait for his next record.

1. The Hold Steady – “Oaks” (Teeth Dreams)

The Hold Steady have built their empire chronicling the life and times of party people. There have been massive nights, party pits, and killer parties. Sometimes people end up in chillout tents or (in the case of Hallelujah, the protagonist of their masterpiece Separation Sunday) going through the ringer and coming through to the other side a little bit broken but still mostly in tact. Teeth Dreams epic closer “Oaks” plays like the dark reality of the kids on the corners and the hoodrat chicks. It’s a tragic portrait of junkies adrift, culminating in a metaphor involving a mountain of trees turning to smoke aided by a colossal, mournful guitar riff punctuating the heartbreak.

28 Days of Christmas: Mark Kozelek - Sings Christmas Carols

Mark Kozelek has had a busy year. He released one of the year's most absolutely unfuckwithable albums in Benji (as Sun Kil Moon), started a feud with the War on Drugs that has devolved into something, strangely, both personal and parodic, released a few live records and capped everything off with an album of Christmas standards. Because, you know, why not? Mark Kozelek's Sings Christmas Carols features traditional fare like "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away in a Manger," croony gems like "The Christmas Song" and "Christmastime is Here," and a cover of the Pretenders' "2000 Miles" that makes it sound like he was always meant to sing that song. Some of the more standard tunes feel a little rushed through so as to check off a list, and they're fine and all, but when he gets to sink his teeth in and make certain songs his own (Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas" is spun directly into Kozelek's wheelhouse) it's magic. If you like your Christmas songs hushed, gorgeous, and slightly depressive, this is the album for you. Sings Christmas Carols is a palate cleanser for all the stupid "War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock" business and a reminder that few artists are as expressive with an acoustic guitar than Mr. Kozelek.

Friday, December 19, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Hello Saferide - "iPod Xmas"


This bouncy break-up Christmas tune from Swedish twee band Hello Saferide is a seasonal favorite around these parts. Mostly for its amazing chorus. "As for presents you fuck/ I had an iPod nano with your name written on it/ It's gonna fit well into my new life listening to Gloria Gaynor singing 'I Will Survive.'" Delicious.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Galaxie 500 - "Listen, the Snow is Falling" + "Snowstorm"

Here are a couple of songs that are perfect for getting snowbound. Maybe I'm trying to bring on the snow, even though I hate driving in it and live in the country and perpetually run the risk of being snowbound. It sounds romantic and pastoral and all that but it stresses me way the hell out. But I want to look out the window and see some snow, damnit! Also, Galaxie 500's cover of Yoko Ono's "Listen, the Snow is Falling" is one of the most gorgeous tracks I've ever heard. Immensely relaxing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Halo Benders - "Snowfall"


One of the great winter jams! Doug Martsch and Calvin Johnson's collaborative project is one of those great indie rock treasure troves that you don't know exists until you stumble across it and discover that their polar opposite voices work surprisingly well together. It's ramshackle indie pop at its finest, and this one always puts me in the spirit of the season. Even though it's been in the 50s all week and who knows if it'll ever snow again (with global warming and all), I'm still feeling that winter vibe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Favorite Songs of 2014: Part One

50. Say Anything – “The Shape of Love to Come” (Hebrews)

Say Anything’s Hebrews was the messiest record I listened to all year, and one that opened my eyes to the fact that an album can be bad but still admirable. It’s not for lack of trying, because Max Bemis obviously poured a whole bunch of his soul into that record, but it’s a mess. The album’s lone bright spot was this duet between Bemis and his wife Sherri Dupree-Bemis (formerly of the ethereal elf group Eisley). It’s such a pure, emotionally raw thing that I buy into 100%. But I’m also a married dude who loves it when other married dudes write incredibly sweet songs for their wives.

49. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)” (Sea When Absent)

Sea When Absent is a proper album, meaning it’s hard to isolate individual tracks for critique, but “Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)” is the big, throbbing standout portion of that album.

48. The Rentals – “It’s Time to Come Home” (Lost in Alphaville)

Matt Sharp’s still got it. In a year when Weezer made their best album in ten years, Matt Sharp reminded everyone that he was the reason that band was ever good in the first place.

47. Knuckle Puck – “Transparency” (While I Stay Secluded)

Now entering the pop-punk portion of our list. I can’t connect to this music the way I did when I was 16, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it on a lizard brain level. I wish I had Knuckle Puck when I was 16, because these guys do big, emotional pop-punk anthems like nobody’s business. I also love to see the young bucks throwing shade on our increasingly technology obsessed culture. Warms the cockles.

46. Real Friends – “Summer” (Maybe This Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing)

I fancy myself a connoisseur of break-up albums. Love ‘em. Can’t get enough of ‘em. Or so I thought, until I heard Real Friends’ latest album, which is full of so much bile for the singer’s ex that it’s unlistenable all the way through. “I was the glue that never dried/ You were the girl who made up her mind/ And left me all alone to die.” That’s a sample line from “Summer,” the track I cherry picked for the list. Though I couldn’t sit through the album in its entirety, taken song by song these are great slices of vitriol. Having once been an emotionally bruised young man, I cannot deny move love for these melodramatic “fuck you” songs.

45. The Lawrence Arms – “Acheron River” (Metropole)

I’ve always been a Chris McCaughan guy when it comes to the Larry Arms, but for Metropole I’m a Brendan Kelly guy.

44. Owl John – “Los Angeles, Be Kind” (Owl John)

Frightened Rabbit is one of my favorite bands, and Scott Hutchison is one of my favorite songwriters. His first solo jaunt as Owl John was fine, sad, and morbid as you’d expect, but overall just fine. Nothing spectacular. Except this song, which really dug its sad claws into my skin. “I can learn to love you in good kind/ Oh Los Angeles, be kind,” he sings of his adopted city. It’s an interactive conversation between Hutchison and LA and it’s a great glimpse into the man’s life at this specific point in time.

43. Owen Pallett – “Songs for Five & Six” (In Conflict)

In Conflict is another album that is practically unable to function on a song-by-song basis. It’s an amazing album, best experienced end to end. Somehow, I managed to highlight “Songs for Five & Six,” because I think it’s the part of the album where I just started saying “fucking hell” over and over because I was so impressed and moved by Pallett’s artistic prowess. Hopefully you get that, too.

42. Lagwagon – “Burdern of Proof”/ “Reign” (Hang)

Hang is Joey Cape’s first album since the death of his dear friend Tony Sly, and the one-two punch that starts off the album feels like a potent start to Cape’s method of dealing with it.

41. Nocando – “Hellfyre Club Anthem” (Jimmy the Burnout)

2014 was a big year for Hellfyre Club (at least in my little world). Open Mike Eagle (who guests here, dropping in funny one liners) released one of my favorite albums of the year, Milo delivered one of the weirdest and most fascinating rap records I’ve ever heard, and Nocando’s Jimmy the Burnout is fiercely fresh and infinitely listenable. I’ve notoriously never been a rap guy and these three albums totally changed that shit.

40. The Reigning Sound – “My My” (Shattered)

The Reigning Sound’s follow up to their monumental Love & Curses is lighter fare, but that doesn’t really mean anything because Greg Cartwright knows what the fuck he’s doing. I know they’re touting this record’s being recorded at Daptone Studios as a selling point, but it made the record sound anemic. The songs are solid, I just wish I could hear them with some of that visceral sound from Love & Curses.

39. Strand of Oaks – “Goshen ‘97” (Heal)

I didn’t have enough time in 2014 to figure out how Strand of Oaks’ Timothy Showalter separated himself from all the other bearded white dudes playing well written, heartfelt folky indie rock, but the opening track grabs you by the arm and takes you along for the ride whether you like it or not. Putting money on Heal being one of those records that opens itself up a year too late, leaving me regretting not putting it higher on my year end list.

38. Braid – “East End Hollows” (No Coast)

It seems strange that Braid released a new album at a time when so many bands affiliated with this ongoing emo revival have Braid-like elements. Regardless, Braid made a record that trumps most of those young imposters.

37. Serengeti – “No Beginner” (Kenny Dennis III)

You might not think an album about the rise and fall of a mall rap group and the aftermath would be that interesting, but you’ve obviously never met Kenny Dennis. The latest leg of his journey is a depressing one, but it starts off with a mission statement: “Hot dog for lunch/ Hot dog for dinner/ Don’t eat breakfast/ I am no beginning.” Say what you want about the KDz, the man has no regrets and understands that to win big, you gotta be ready to lose big. I should also note that Odd Nosdam’s crackly production on this one is the most satisfying sound of 2014. When that choir comes in on the chorus? Fuggitaboutit.

36. Wara from the NBHD – “Slangin” (Kidnapped)

“You know what the streets do?/ The streets breed assholes,” says the protagonist’s older brother via a pep talk trying to convince him to not follow him into drug dealing. There’s a menacing synth beat that groans throughout the track that morphs into a refrain about slinging drugs and the euphoric feeling that slinging drugs apparently entails. It’s some complex shit, and complex shit is what Kidnapped does best.

35. Dads – “Chewing Ghosts” (I’ll Be the Tornado)

I almost didn’t even give Dads a chance because what a fucking terrible band name. It’s still frustrating that a band this good saddled themselves with such an awful, boring band name of the one-word-noun ilk that has plagued the indie music scene (see: Tennis, Hospitality, Braids, Dogs, Hands, Envelopes, Lamps, Printers…ok, now I’m just naming shit on my desk). I love their album’s title though, and the music is deep, fringing on emo revival with a solid reverence for 90s alt rock. 

34. Mirah – “Turned the Heat Off” (Changing Light)

Mirah can still crush it.

33. FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks” (LP1)

This track is uncomfortably alluring, and while I admire its lack of boundaries, the pop twists and production are sensational.

32. Happyness – “Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same” (Weird Little Birthday)

Sounds like a bunch of stuff I love/ Inherently I love this band because they sound like a bunch of stuff I love but not in a thiefy way, but in a way where they almost don’t know they sound like a Sparklehorse/Wilco hybrid with serious pop chops thrown in for good measure.

31. Tweedy – “Summer Noon” (Sukierae)

I don’t know why this gem is buried in the middle of Tweedy’s expansive debut. It’s the best track on the album and maybe the chillest track of the year.

30. Modern Baseball – “Fine, Great” (You’re Gonna Miss it All)

God, the way this song unfolds and sort of rambles along feels innovative. Full of terrific barbs, great hooks, and a unique blend of pop-punk and emo revivalism that pushes all the right buttons.

29. Sharon Van Etten – “Afraid of Nothing (Are We There)

The build and release of this song is almost earth shattering.

28. Fucked Up – “Sun Glass” (Glass Boys)

Were I to make a Fucked Up mix for a person, this would be track one. It excels at everything Fucked Up excels at: an elevated version of hardcore punk that seamlessly blends ugliness and severe beauty.

27. St. Vincent – “Rattlesnake” (St. Vincent)

Any track from St. Vincent’s electrifying eponymous album could have been slotted in on this list. I feel like I’ve been exhausting myself talking about albums that I don’t like listening to outside of the context of the album itself. St. Vincent was one of those I played start to finish every single time. “Digital Witness” is probably the better single, but I love the way “Rattlesnake” sets the stage for the weird journey you’re about to embark upon. It keeps you off balance from the get-go.

26. King Creosote – “Something to Believe In” (From Scotland With Love)

This beauty constantly found itself stuck in my head. When the Royals lost the World Series, I immediately went upstairs and listened to this song. It’s got some melancholy connections to it now but, then again, it’s a melancholy song.

28 Days of Christmas: Harvey Danger - "Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas"


People forget that Harvey Danger's Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? was a great record. "Flagpole Sitta" was just too damn big. It dwarfed everything about that band and they flamed out of the public consciousness like so many Dishwalla's of the 90s. I always loved their Christmas song. Because it's a great, hooky example of that great mid-90s mainstream alternative rock, but also because I worked at a movie theater when I was in high school and while I always made sure to get Christmas off, AMC never closed. It was already an awful place to work, and I can't imagine what Christmas there would be like. I mean, I can, because it would be DEPRESSING, but fathoming how much more depressing it would be than the usual amount of depressingness, woof.

Monday, December 15, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Frightened Rabbit - "It's Christmas So We'll Stop" + "She Screams Christmas"


As you'd expect, Scott Hutchison's take on Christmas songs are pretty glum. But, you know, in that beautiful glum way that makes him one of this era's best songwriters. No one can pin down the sad stuff like this guy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Decemberists - "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)"


Who says Christmas songs can't be depressing! And who says depressing Christmas songs can't have a jaunty little lilt to them! Leave it to the Decemberists to pull that one off.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Weezer - "The Christmas Song" + "Christmas Celebration"


The two Christmas cuts from Weezer's Green Album days are probably their best songs from that era. It's the beginning of their descent into vapid, soul-crushing mainstream rawk, but the hooks and the power chords still deliver. "Christmas Celebration" is the fun one, "The Christmas Song" is the sad heartbroken one, and together they encapsulate the Christmas season. Weezer had a good 2014, releasing their most non-terrible album since Green in Everything Will Be Alright in the End. I'm doubting it's the shape of things to come, but it's at least nice to have the sour taste of "Beverly Hills" washed out of my mouth, if only just a little bit. You know, The Green Album really isn't all that bad. I liked it when it came out. I was 15, and Weezer was my favorite band, and I was extremely biased, but revisiting tracks like "Photograph" and "Crab" it reminds you how effortlessly this band could achieve pop majesty. Even when Rivers Cuomo is trying to sabotage his songwriting, I feel like he has trouble sabotaging his gift as a hooksmith.

Gut Feeling: Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
High Top Mountain, 2014

“What kind of music are you into?”
“Anything but country.”

This dismissive bit of dialogue is one we all know well. I’m assuming everyone has either asked that question and braced for that response or, in ones younger, more vulnerable years, said that statement out loud. I’m sure I did. Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is the record that you use in response to “anything but country.” You shove it into the dismisser’s hands and say, “Here, if you can’t even remotely appreciate the rambling beauty of this record I don’t even know you.” Because there’s just so much to like about Simpson’s sophomore LP. And really, who doesn’t like outlaw country? I bet everyone who ever said “anything but country” would cop to liking Johnny Cash, right? Simpson is more of a Waylon Jennings, but that’s no matter. He sounds displaced from his proper era. His songs are certainly modern and often weird as hell, but the sound is pure late-60s Nashville. At first it feels like pure throwback, but repeat listens reveal it’s pretty slippery. Hard to pin down or pigeonhole as a pure tribute to the outlaw country legends of forty years ago. What are you supposed to do with lines like “There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane/ Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain” from the opening track “Turtles All the Way Down.” It’s pure psychedelia, and if you don’t believe me, listen to Simpson sing “Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, and DMT/ They all changed the way I see” in the next verse. Simpson might have the voice of a shitkicking rabble rouser (I mean that as the highest compliment, his voice is tremendous, absolutely fucking tremendous and if you don’t believe me, wait til he belts out the last chorus of his cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise” and tell me I’m wrong) but goddamn this son of a bitch is deep. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is an intoxicating listen with deep roots and sharp claws (“But it ain’t all flowers/ Sometimes you gotta feel the thorns/ And when you play with the devil you know you gotta get the horns”) that dig right into your skin without mercy.

Here's Sturgill Simpson's Tiny Desk Concert, which is a terrific gateway drug.

Friday, December 12, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Pedro the Lion - "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"


Though David Bazan has more or less renounced Christianity, you can tell he probably still has Jesus in his heart. Absolutely lovely/Absolutely Charlie Brown Christmas-y.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Los Campesinos! - "When Christmas Comes" + The Rest of Their Christmas EP


Just when I thought my year end list was safe from the standard "Los Campesinos! late-year surprise release," they go ahead and drop a Christmas EP out of nowhere. Fortunately, it cannot compete for a coveted spot on my year end list because this compiles all the Xmas tracks they've dropped over the last few years in addition to offering up some new ones. "When Christmas Comes" is one of the new ones, and what more could you want? It's pure bliss! What I love about this EP is that it captures the melancholy that so many Christmas songs ignore. Melancholy is a HUGE part of Christmas, especially when you're heartbroken. It's been a while since I've had a heartbroken Christmas, but these songs take me back to those harrowing holiday seasons, dredging up ex-girlfriends of Christmas Past. It's wonderful! Though I'm happily married, I share an affinity with Gareth Campesinos for writing about broken relationships, and boy oh boy the wallowing doesn't get any more wallowinger than at the yuletide. At the yuletide? During the yuletide? How do you even...



"A Doe to a Deer" is probably my favorite cut from the new record. Probably because it's the wallowingest. This is one of their older Christmas tracks, and fortunately the older tracks have been re-recorded and given the lush arrangements of their latest albums. "A Doe to a Deer" benefits significantly, as the original recording feels more like a demoed sketch hastily recorded and cast out into the world. This is the real deal, and morose lines like "I’m Christmas morning stumbling home up the cul-de-sac/ flanked by kids upon new bikes, stabilizing my walk back" get their proper weight.


"Kindle the Flame in Her Heart" is another great one.


Oh, and we can't forget about their cover of Mud's "Lonely This Christmas" which wallows in these warm-yet-jagged synth pads and is the earwormiest of the bunch. Loving this band feels like riding the highest wave. They continue living up to and surpassing my expectations year after year and I'm wondering if and when that glorious wave is going to come crashing down. Hopefully never!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Ramones - "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)"

...or maybe it was the Ramones who invented the Alternative Christmas Song. It doesn't get much better than a group of glue huffers turning out a holiday classic!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Kinks - "Father Christmas"


I'm wondering if "Father Christmas" is the grandaddy of Alternative Christmas Songs. Here you have a legitimate band with great artistic acclaim churning out a Christmas song that is A.) True to the genre of Christmas music and B.) Hilarious and rockin'. If you don't enjoy this I don't know you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Frank Turner & Jon Snodgrass - "Happy New Year" + "Last Christmas"


This cut is on Frank Turner's recently released The Third Three Years compilation (which I joyfully inhaled this past weekend). This duet about the holidays between a Brit and an American is a delight. "Thin Lizzy on the stereo/ No fights no tears." Amen to that, brothers.

And because I can't resist a great "Last Christmas" cover, here's Turner doing this tune simple, lovely acoustic justice. The most beautiful thing about this track is that you can hear people in the crowd laughing mere seconds before everyone is singing along. Because you know you love this song! QUIT LYING TO YOURSELF YOU KNOW YOU LOVE IT DAMNIT!

Gut Feeling: Frank Turner - The Third Three Years

Frank Turner - The Third Three Years
Xtra Mile, 2014
The Third Three Years is Turner’s third (THIRD!) collection of b-sides and rarities, and it’s a delightful mixed bag of original tunes, collaborations, and a whole shitload of covers songs. Even though Billy Bragg is still alive, Frank Turner still seems to have wrested the torch from his hands. At his best--which is, seemingly, most of the time--Turner achieves the blend of brainy, witty, political and soulful that Bragg perfected in the 80s. Phil Ochs is dead, so I feel more comfortable saying that Turner is carrying his torch too (especially on the straight-up political numbers like “Riot Song” and “Something of Freedom”). Turner’s covers selection is best illustrated by the juxtaposition of the Weakerthans’ “Bigfoot!” and Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Live and Let Die” at the heart of the album. He turns two of the greatest capital A American rock songs (Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”) into quiet guy-and-a-guitar folk songs to great effect. The most profound moment of this compilation is nestled in the Tony Sly cover “Kiera.” Sly wrote the song for his daughter and here it is recorded for a tribute album where all the money goes to the Tony Sly Memorial Fund. Even if I wasn’t a father, and even if I didn’t have to face those grim thoughts about not being around to watch her grow up, I’d still probably get emotional. But since I have those last two things, Jesus Christ. The song feels like it was written posthumously, with lines like, “Maybe I’m no good at this/ Think of this as a lullaby/ To listen to when I go.” The track was recorded on a rainy day off of a busy street with the window open and it’s intense and beautiful. Turner does a terrific job of taking the focus off of himself (even though his version is better than Sly’s original) and highlighting a great songwriter who was largely unheralded because he operated in the oft thumb-nosed pop-punk genre. It’s a stirring tribute, a beautiful song, and the highlight on an album full of highlights. Also of note is one of the best live track’s I’ve ever heard in “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” where Turner turns big swaths of the vocals over to the audience who pounce and sing at top volume. It’s a great song, but an even greater portrait of an artist’s relationship with his fans. You don’t need an explanation, you can feel it. The energy in that room (the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, one of my favorite venues!) I can feel myself getting carried away. This is what chasing the dragon is for a music nerd. Constantly looking for that next artist who’s gonna blow your dick off. Constantly looking for another rabbit hole to disappear down. This compilation is just so much FUN. I mean, it OPENS with a Queen cover! WHO DOES THAT!? And then there’s just so many truths nestled within. “You were born into freedom so you don’t know its worth/ And you constantly speak of solutions/ But you only repeat revolutions,” Turner sings in “Something of Freedom.” And this is a B-SIDE! B-SIDE GODDAMNIT! I’m quivering with excitement at a complete discography to excavate. This is the life-affirming music I live for.

"Kiera" (Tony Sly Cover)

"Hits & Mrs." - I immediately funneled this one to the running playlist of sweet songs I have to put on mixes for my wife. A straight-up less-than-three. Hilariously, Hits & Mrs. was the name of Pete Rose's 2013 reality show. I wish that was a joke, but it's funnier that it's not. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: John Prine - "Christmas in Prison" + "Silent Night, All Day Long"


John Prine has a Christmas album with some funnier, more festive fair (read: slightly less downtrodden, but only slightly), but this examination of Christmas from the big house is a nice one for remembering how good you got it. Because I think John Prine is one of the greatest songwriters of all time and I think it's unfair that other folk singers get more praise while he toils in relative obscurity, here's "Silent Night, All Day Long"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: The Knife - "Christmas Reindeer"


It's just funny that a band as dark as the Knife have a Christmas song. "Christmas Reindeer" is a moody affair, as you'd expect from the Swedish duo, but it's also one of my favorite Christmas songs. "Reindeer reindeer reindeer/ I caught one of your horns," the song begins, obviously illustrating the dark undertones of Swedish society and the ecological ramifications of magical reindeer. Maybe I'm reading into this too much... "And we follow Mister Santa to the end," goes the refrain. Like I said, DARK. Just kidding, it's just so nice to see such a moody band put a little levity on display.

Friday, December 5, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Sufjan Stevens - "I'll Be Home for Christmas" + "Christmas Unicorn"


It is very, very hard to isolate one shining example from Sufjan Steven's impressive body of Christmas songs. The guy has released ten albums of holiday fare! The songs range from faithful renditions of Christmas classics and totally out there goofy weirdo fun stuff like the twelve-minute "Christmas Unicorn." So I'm going with "I'll Be Home For Christmas," which is one of the more conservative and heartwarming Christmas songs and it's a treat to hear someone with Stevens' talent and knack for the avant garde reign it in and produce something that is both true to the original and unique and interesting.

And because you can't just tease a song called "Christmas Unicorn," here's "Christmas Unicorn," which, despite it's seemingly goofy title, is an absolutely epic (12+ minutes!) and wonderful tune.
 

Gut Feeling: Courtney Barnett - The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Marathon Artists, 2014
My favorite albums of the year always seem to be the ones that I listen to like a regular human being. The great records strip away the part of my brain that goes “I HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT THIS RIGHT NOW” and I just enjoy the music. Like a regular person without this sick, sick compulsion. It’s Year End List season now, and whilst getting my affairs in order I totally forgot the period this summer where I was constantly jamming this record when I was cooking dinner. It’s such a pure, perfect record it didn’t cross my mind that I should immediately go and write down my favorite lines from “Avant Gardener" ("The paramedic thinks I'm clever cos I play guitar/ I think she's clever cos she stops people dying" and "Oh no, next thing I know/ They call up triple O/ I'd rather die than owe the hospital" are both winners). That’s a track that’s going to crack my Top 5 in my Songs of the Year post and I just now added it to the fold. Realizing I’d left it out and rediscovering how great and fresh and clever that track is was like listening to it for the first time. The sickly guitars drowing in an ocean of reverb, the half-spoken, slightly stoned sounding vocals, and an Indian Ocean’s worth of charm from the Australian singer-songwriter. So much charm and wit and sneaky pop bliss. Honestly, this slacker rock stuff is wonderful, but the attitude of it all, is what makes this one an instant classic. The amount of fucks given, I mean, it’s pry hovering around the ZERO mark. Just such an easy, fun, unselfconscious record that captures that rare vibe of sounding instantly familiar and totally fresh and interesting at the same time.

"Avant Gardener" 

"History Eraser"


And as if I needed more selling, here's Barnett covering the Lemonheads, which adds even more instant respect on top of what she's already earned with her original songs.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Voxtrot - "The Warmest Part of the Winter"


While we're on the subject of great Winter songs, here's Voxtrot's "The Warmest Part of the Winter." Whatever happened to Voxtrot? Oh wait, I remember. The Austin-based group released a string of fantastic EPs, built a considerable amount of hype, and bombed with an uneven and spotty debut full length and nobody ever heard from them again. It's one of the sadder stories from the early hype machine days of the Pitchfork era. To Voxtrot's credit, their album felt rushed and I got the impression that they were pressured to capitalize on the success of their EPs. They released a couple singles after that (I remember one of the tracks, or its b-side, being quite good) and then broke up in 2010. "The Warmest Part of the Winter" is an offshoot from the EP days when the band was at the top of their game, and it's one of those songs that runs over six minutes and feels like three. Something about the calming quality of Ramesh Srivastava's vocals, the soothing slide guitar, and the hearty production that make this track feel like a winter warmer beer with a particularly high ABV.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Belle and Sebastian - "Winter Wooskie"

A lot of my favorite Christmas songs aren't about Christmas at all. I recognize that sentence makes no sense. I like Winter. I was born in Winter. I don't even mind that my skin turns into sandpaper and I feel like the living embodiment of a desert. Winter rules. I hate driving in the snow but Winter rules. I love it so much I bought a coat built for -65 degrees! It's big, and bulky, and the best ever. The Belle and Sebastian b-side "Winter Wooskie" is a hallmark to my holiday season. One that gets dropped into every Christmas mix I make because it's such a perfect song and I don't think enough people have heard it. It's one of the rare non-Stuart Murdoch led tracks, and Stevie Johnson gets to show us a different dimension to this fantastic band.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Jimmy Eat World - "Last Christmas"


So like I was saying in my last post, I think that Taylor Swift version of "Last Christmas" is bullshit. Got no soul. You should have to provide a list of references who can vouch for the time you gave someone your heart and the very next day they gave it away before you get green lit to cover Wham's greatest achievement. Lord knows Jim Adkins has been there (See: Clarity, the fact that these guys were reviving emo before emo got a bad rap). I mean, I don't want to be the Christmas Song Police (read: I want to be the Christmas Song Police), but there needs to be some order! A code, damnit! Anyway, I think Jimmy Eat World's rendition of the tune is a great one that puts their stamp on the track while keeping the emotional resonance of the original intact.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gut Feeling: FKA Twigs - LP1

FKA Twigs – LP1
Young Turks, 2014
It’s not often that an album will drag me kicking and screaming from my safe world of indie rock. I hope that doesn’t sound like some sort of brag or backhanded compliment, because it is regrettable how I am set in my ways. There’s some wiggle room on both sides of my taste (forays into metal and hip hop are not unheard of), but it defaults to ham and egger indie rock so fiercely that I was unsure I would be able to handle FKA Twigs “Alternative R&B” (per Wikipedia) for more than two seconds. But there was something about the album cover, that sad, painted porcelain doll-looking rendition of Tahliah Barnett’s incredibly distinct face. There was something alluring about it; something in the pleasing array of colors and the look she’s giving. I wanted to know what that look was about, so I pulled up the video for “Two Weeks” on youtube and didn’t look away until it was over.


“Two Weeks” is the most sensual song I’ve heard in who knows how long. It’s the first half of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love filtered through layers of throbbing synthesizers with off kilter drum machine beats a la Burial, and the sort of frankly sexual lyrics rarely seen outside of Prince songs. Of course it’s Barnett’s vocals that hypnotize. Everything working together produces a full body listening experience that is incredible. I think part of this is subjective because I’m out of my element and excited, but these often minimal tracks laced with longing and heartbreak are incredibly affecting. Though Barnett is the star and it’s her persona and performance that delivers these songs directly to the heart, the production is outstanding, which is, I suppose, when you take a bunch of intriguing producers (notably Emile Haynie who takes the reigns on this one with fantastic results) and task them with producing dark and moody beats. The most impressive thing about LP1 is that it only gets better from here. I get the impression that Barnett is going to keep mining and keep pushing her sound further and further outside the realm of what we know and just getting to bear witness to this sort of burgeoning talent is an treat.

"Two Weeks"

"Video Girl"

28 Days of Christmas: Descendents - "Christmas Vacation"


Another staple from my teenage Christmas mixes. Since "Christmas Vacation" is on an actual, proper Descendents record, this is one that got a lot of year-round play between the years 2001-2003. I'm a huge fan of the heartbroken Christmas song, and the only thing keeping me from posting 12 versions of "Last Christmas" is basic commonsense and the knowledge that everyone would make fun of me. I really hate Taylor Swift's version of that song, though. Good God Almighty it's so very very bad. There's no soul! That's my problem with Taylor Swift: I don't believe a word she's saying. I don't believe she's done the actual legwork of getting her heartbroken like that. Maybe she has, but...ok, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll save that for whenever I put up a "Last Christmas."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Sally Shapiro - "Anorak Christmas"


Remember when Italo Disco was all the rage? No, really, I can't remember. I remember it happening and being a thing for a brief moment before ebbing back into oblivion, but I know Sally Shapiro's Disco Romance was right there at the heart of it. I don't remember the rest of the album, but I still listen to "Anorak Christmas" every holiday season. It plays to the twee pop sensibilities of my heart with a really pleasant, synthpop backing track and dancebeat drums and full holiday spirit!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Atom and His Package - "What We Do On Christmas"


I know what you're thinking: This seasonal list is comprised entirely of Christmas songs by Jewish artists (Both this and Save Ferris's "Christmas Wrapping" make reference to watching movies and eating Chinese food!). I promise it's not, although come to think of it, that's a great listicle in the making! And this track would be right at the top. Atom (and we can assume, his package) have an absolute ball with "Jewish Conspiracy" and postulates that the Jews do all of their planning for world domination on the one day when no one else is around. I feel like a lot of my humor was forged listening to Atom and His Package when I was 16, and listening to this song for the first time in years I'm feeling a strong urge to unearth his discography.

Friday, November 28, 2014

28 Days of Christmas: Save Ferris - "Christmas Wrapping" + Black (Metal) Friday


Is it sacrilege that I prefer Save Ferris's reworking of "Christmas Wrapping" than the Waitresses' original? Is that someone anyone would ever consider sacrilege? Either way, this one always made a showing on my yearly Punk Rawk Xmas mixes I made when I was a teenager. Honestly, this whole project of posting a Christmas song every day until Christmas is just a way for me to relive the moment where realized that just because you're a punk rock kid you don't have to hate Christmas.

However, working in retail will crush anybody's Christmas. You can feel it being collectively crushed when Paul McCartney & Wings' "Wonderful Christmastime" plays on the store radio for the fifth time that day and you can hear a coworker all the way at the back of the store moaning, "NOT AGAIN!" Thanksgiving was yesterday and what was I thankful for? My beautiful family, of course! But coming in a close second was NOT HAVING TO WORK RETAIL DURING THE HOLIDAYS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SIX YEARS! As a shift leader in my last two years at Half Price Books, a big part of my responsibilities was trying to keep everyone sane during December. A lot of it was me trying to talk people off the ledge when "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" played for the third time that day (HPB Radio had like 40 Christmas songs that played not on an endless loop, which would have been so much better, but seemingly at random) and I would just say, "There there, it will all be over soon. The universe will end someday, too, as will this godforsaken music. You'll get through this, just think of oblivion." I know that sounds like I'm kidding, but I swear to God I said something like that last year. Though I was able to turn the Christmas music to white noise after about a week, I was not immune to "Wonderful Christmastime." Just yesterday it came on the radio during dinner and I froze up as my body relived those dark days. That exceedingly dumb song soundtracking the chaos of everyone and their mom being so totally helpless and so totally impatient that I felt I might explode in a ball of Christmas rage... I digress.

For the workers of Black Friday, I have curated a song for you. A song that channels your inner Krampus and appeases him so he does not spread his dark wrath across the realm. I'm not even kidding when I say that this song was playing on an infinite loop in my head last holiday season and, after a particularly rough day of dealing with inept Christmas shoppers, I would go out to my car and put this on full blast. For the time being I have escaped that eternal circle of wrath, but there are many still trapped in its icy talons, and for those people I say take a deep breath, try not to strangle the woman who wants the discount but doesn't have the coupon, and play Burzum in your head.

Arcade Fire - Funeral

Arcade Fire - Funeral
Merge, 2004
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2014
Price: $7.50
There are a few albums in my life that take me back to a very specific time and place and sketch the scene with vivid detail. This is one of those albums. The hype machine had been churning Funeral for a couple months before I heard it, but from the first few chords I knew everything was about to change. I never thought the Arcade Fire would get as big as they did, and while I knew they had a ton of ambition, I didn’t know that their ambition was something that couldn’t be contained. For a band that released such an intimate debut, the grandiose trajectory their career has taken feels detached from Funeral. In ten years Funeral hasn’t lost a step. It still stirs up all the same feelings and really feels like the classic I suspected it would become. Sometimes records don’t hold up. You listen to them ten years later and there’s a sense of nostalgia. Funeral feels nostalgic, but it’s for a specific personal nostalgia not one of the era the album defined. The era of grandiose and theatrical indie rock that lived and died by its fierce emotional conviction. These days, I put this album on the turntable without even thinking. I see that cover and I just say yes. And there it is, and Win Butler singing about people digging tunnels in the snow that has buried a town reminds me of those pictures from Buffalo where people tunneled their way out of their snow-draped homes. On “Wake Up” I immediately recall Butler jamming the mic stand through the drop ceiling at the Jackpot and how that hole was there for years. Every time I went to a show at the Jackpot I saw that hole and remembered that Arcade Fire show fondly. That Arcade Fire was able to top this album is one of modern music’s greatest triumphs. Black Mirror was met with a bit of the chilliness that you’d expect coming off a masterpiece but The Suburbs won a goddamn Grammy. Which is nuts. Still, no matter how big this band gets, Funeral is always going to be the most intimate record I’ve ever heard.

"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"