...you never know how many inches you're gonna get or how long it'll last.
The snow started this morning and is still falling at this hour and man is it gross out there! Typically, I enjoy the snow but what I don't enjoy is driving in it. And not even so much because I'm scared to drive on it but because I'm scared of all the idiots driving who AREN'T scared to drive on it. I swear it's like bumper car city out there today and it makes me physically ill to think of how many accidents I'll see on the way home. Oh well...such is life I guess.
It looks like there's no end in sight to the white stuff so here are a few random tunes for the occasion...enjoy them and stay warm!
Au Revoir Simone - "Fallen Snow"
Jaymay - "Snow White"
Lida Husik - "Snow"
The Russian Futurists - "It's Not Really Cold When It's Snowing"
Abby Mott - "Snow"
Evangelicals - "Snowflakes"
Foreigner - "Cold As Ice"
Elk City - "Cherries in the Snow"
JJ72 - "Snow"
Mice Parade - "Snow"
New Order - "Turn the Heater On"
And for my favorite of this listing...
I've been meaning to write about The LK for quite awhile now and very nearly put them in my end of '07 post along with Vampire Weekend as a band to watch in '08 but for some reason opted not to at the last minute. I LOVE this song and I figure today is as good a day as any to post it up (even if they do deserve their own post) so here's a great track from them. Be on the lookout for more soon though...
The LK - Blackboy vs. The Snow
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
In the midst of our great sorrow, my family is also experiencing profound joy today. God gives and takes away in equal measure sometimes I suppose. My brother and sister-in-law welcomed the birth of their first child this morning and we could not be more grateful for the blessing of new life during this difficult time. The awful cell phone photo to the left doesn't do her a bit of justice but she has a mess of long, dark hair under that little hat and eyelashes that are tailor made for batting coyly. She is perfect and healthy in every way and both she and my sister-in-law are resting peacefully at this hour. I just love babies!
Here are a few songs to celebrate the joyous occasion. Some are right on the money and some are just meant in good fun but all are appropriately titled nonetheless. Enjoy them and hug your favorite little rug rat today!
Little Richard - "Good Golly Miss Molly"
Eddy Arnold - "Molly Darling"
Jesse Spencer - "Molly Smiles"
Celine Dion - "A Mother's Prayer"
Aretha Franklin - "Mother's Love"
Paul Simon - "Father & Daughter"
Tim McGraw - "My Little Girl"
Michael Buble - "Daddy's Little Girl"
Roberta Flack - "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
Will Hoge - "Baby Girl"
The Supremes - "Baby Love"
Alison Krauss - "Baby Mine"
The Ronettes - "Be My Baby"
Elton John - "Blessed"
Martina McBride - "I Have Been Blessed"
Stevie Wonder - "Isn't She Lovely"
Perry Como - "Thank Heaven For Little Girls"
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - "Teach Your Children"
Devendra Banhart - "Long Haired Child"
Dixie Chicks - "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)"
Kenny Rogers - "Handprints on the Wall"
Bobby McFerrin & YoYo Ma - "Hush Little Baby"
Billy Dean - "Let Them Be Little"
The Daylights - "Little Girl"
Damien Rice - "Sleep Don't Weep"
Paul Anka - "The Times of Your Life"
Trace Adkins - "Then They Do"
Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"
Just for fun...
Diana Ross - "I'm Coming Out"
Counting Crows - "Up All Night"
David Bowie & Queen - "Under Pressure"
R.E.M. - "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"
5th Dimension - "(Last Night) I Didn't Get To Sleep At All"
Eels - "I Need Some Sleep"
Monday, January 21, 2008
For those who've been emailing wondering where I've been and what's taking me so long to finish up my year end lists, it is with a heavy heart that I explain that my family suffered a great loss last week and all of my time and attention has been focused on keeping busy so I don't have to think about the gaping hole we've no way to fill. In November I made a post and mentioned my Grandpa and shared that he was ill. He left us peacefully Tuesday afternoon with a host of loving family by his side at home just the way he wanted.
Having to eulogize him was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do but somehow I made it through the service and my Grandma says he would have been proud. I hope she's right. I tried to keep it light and lively, just how he would have wanted but I don't know how well that came through the tears and pain. I made a memorial video of our family snapshots and utilized a mixture of his favorite songs and some of my own and while I was compiling them I came across so many that I thought I might as well share some. I won't put my eulogy here as it's really too long and far too personal for the internet but the poem that we printed in the program says so much:
God saw you getting tired
And the cure was not to be
So He wrapped His arms around you
And whispered 'Come with Me.'
With tearful eyes, we watched you suffer
And saw you fade away
Although we couldn't bear to lose you,
We could not ask you to stay.
A golden heart stopped beating...
Hard working hands were laid to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us,
He only takes the best.
Love your families, folks. Today and every day. Cherish the memories that you share and do your best to make as many new ones as your time on this Earth will allow.
I was raised Southern Baptist but during my time working at a Unitarian church in 2006 I was exposed to an amazing amount of remarkable people that have all left indelible marks on my heart and among them was Mark Morrison-Reed who became one of my favorite people on the planet...
We are all dying, our lives always moving toward completion.
We need to learn to live with death, and to understand that death is not the worst of all events.
We need to fear not death, but life -
Lives that do not build upon the gifts that each of us have been given,
Lives that are like living deaths,
Lives which we never take the time to savor and appreciate,
Lives in which we never pause to breathe deeply.
What we need to fear is not death, but squandering the lives we have been miraculously given.
So let me die laughing, savoring one of life’s crazy moments. Let me die holding the hand of one I love, and recalling that I tried to love and was loved in return. Let me die remembering that life has been good, and that I did what I could.
But today, just remind me that I am dying so that I can live, savor, and love with all my heart.
Let me too die laughing. Some of the following songs I used in the memorial video and chose for the service and a few of them I just love and they work to help heal in some way at this time.
Because he was a Cowboys fan...
Alexi Murdoch - "Orange Sky"
Oklahoma State University Fight Song
Because he was a proud OHP Trooper...
Junior Brown - "Highway Patrol"
I love both versions of this song...
Bruce Springsteen - "Highway Patrolman" (From Nebraska)
Bruce Springsteen - "Highway Patrolman" (Live in Dublin)
Some of these we used and some we didn't but I love them all...
Holly Dunn - "Daddy's Hands"
Bette Midler - "Wind Beneath My Wings"
Nat King Cole - "Smile"
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - "Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Wonderful World"
The Judds - "Grandpa"
Wilco - "On and On and On"
Kenny Chesney - "Grandpa Told Me So"
Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch - "I'll Fly Away"
Bob Dylan - "Death Is Not the End"
Mike + The Mechanics - "The Living Years"
Washington Phillips - "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today"
Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton - "When I Get Where I'm Going"
Diamond Rio - "I Believe"
Sam Cooke - "Peace in the Valley"
Gary Allan - "Life Ain't Always Beautiful"
Mercy Me - "Homesick"
The Judds - "River of Time"
Vince Gill - "Go Rest High On That Mountain"
Trisha Yearwood - "The Dreaming Fields"
Warren Zevon - "Keep Me In Your Heart"
And because he died just as he lived...on his own terms, to the beat of his own drum:
Frank Sinatra - "My Way"
Saturday, January 12, 2008
No time for a proper post but here are the songs from Thursday's episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Caedmon's Call - Ten Thousand Angels
Joe Henry - God Only Knows
Katie Herzig - Sweeter Than This
Lifehouse - Broken
Patty Griffin - Up to the Mountain
Lay Your Hands On Me - Grey's Anatomy - Season 4, Episode 11
Monday, January 7, 2008
I’ve always held a special place in my heart for boys that make noise. There’s something alluring and endearing about a man who can share himself in song. Here are tracks from the seventeen (plus one) troubadours that got me twitterpated in 2007…
Fionn Regan - "Be Good or Be Gone"
Landon Pigg - "Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop"
Joshua James - "You're the Cocaine"
Eric Hutchinson - "Ok, It's Alright With Me"
Elvis Perkins - "While You Were Sleeping"
Joe Purdy - "San Jose"
Pat Monahan - "Pirate on the Run"
Will Hoge - "I'm Sorry Now"
Michael Buble - "Everything"
Ryan Shaw - "Do the 45"
Paul McCartney - "Dance Tonight"
Matt Nathanson - "All We Are"
Chris Garneau - "Black & Blue"
Mika - "Grace Kelly"
Patrick Wolf - "The Magic Position"
Jeremy Fisher - "Scar That Never Heals"
And a guy that ALWAYS gets me, Ryan Montbleau. If you aren’t familiar, get that way. This cover is from a live show he performed with his band in April.
Ryan Montbleau Band – “Got to Get You Into My Life”
Friday, January 4, 2008
2007 was like a time warp, I swear. Tons of new, young bands paid homage to those who came before by making oodles of throwback tracks from all eras and genres of music and as if that weren’t enough to take us back, bands that haven’t been seen or heard from in years regrouped as their fans rejoiced. Yes, it might well be remembered as the year of the reunion after seeing a return to the road and studio by legendary groups like Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Smashing Pumpkins, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Police, The Eagles, Rage Against the Machine and even Van Halen with Diamond Dave on the mic. Hell, even the shitty Spice Girls jumped on the “reunited and it feels so good” bandwagon. However, it might also be recollected by indie fans as the year Spoon finally became more than a utensil when they hit a mainstream home run. They had what I truly believed to be THE album of the year with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga until The Boss returned to E Street and conjured up a spell that blew minds everywhere with Magic. No doubt Kanye West will assuredly look back on 2007 with both ecstasy and agony as it was undoubtedly the best and worst of his life. It saw him reach massive heights after releasing the ridiculously fantastic Graduation which solidifies him as one of the greatest artists of all time and proves once and for all that he can back up every egotistical statement he’s ever made. And yet just as he celebrated making his major mark on music history, we watched as his limelight faded to black after the shocking death of his biggest fan, beloved mother Dr. Donda West.
Dr. West wasn’t the only death that rocked the world of music…while the RIAA spent their time and money slapping lawsuits on single moms and partnering with Interpol to put OiNK out of commission, the mass murder of the major labels began in earnest on October 10th when Radiohead jilted longtime label Capitol and digitally self-released In Rainbows to fans with an open price tag. Madonna followed suit by walking away from Warner Brothers after nearly three decades in favor of a $120 million deal with concert promoter Live Nation in exchange for percentages of her tour, merchandise, licensing and CD/DVD empire over time. All of this came on the heels of Prince giving away his album Planet Earth for free in British paper The Mail and Trent Reznor’s announcement via the internet that he had finally divorced Interscope after a very long union. Is the end near? Perhaps but it’s doubtful that the labels are going to go down without a fight. More and more however independent artists are paying the bills with their self promotion prowess and that should have the majors taking note.
Disney past and present continued to rule the charts this year with Justin Timberlake riding the wave he created with last year’s FutureSex/LoveSounds throughout 2007 and even tabloid trainwreck Britney Spears scoring big with Blackout. The High School Musical kiddos were all over the place too with Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers and The Cheetah Girls all following close behind. To my mind this is at worst a sure sign of the apocalypse or at best an indication that our children are truly consumer forces unto themselves now like never before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for wholesome, fun music from the likes of Hannah Montana, et al but the reality of it is that any one of these tweens is one rehab stint or indecent exposure fiasco away from breaking my kid’s heart and that irritates the shit out of me. And for those people who don’t think we should let these kids be role models for our children, save it. We as a society revere celebrity. Some deserve the respect and admiration and some don’t but it’s never going to stop and with great power comes great responsibility. If you’re hocking wholesome then you’d better be prepared to deliver the goods 100% of the time. And by the same token, if you’re selling sin then the same is true. I expect Miley Cyrus to be a good role model because that’s what she’s putting out but I also expect that Amy Winehouse is going to deal in drunken debauchery because with a song like “Rehab” she’s admitting that’s where she’s at on her path sad as that might be to some.
But, I digress. That’s a debate for another day.
As much as I found music to admire, there were several albums that left me feeling like someone flushed the toilet during a hot shower. Perhaps I built them up too much in my mind, who knows. KT Tunstall, The Magic Numbers, Orson, Chris Cornell, Rooney, Smashing Pumpkins, Kelly Clarkson, James Blunt, and Maroon 5 all released albums that I was super stoked for that proved to be lackluster efforts that could have been so much better overall. Conversely, Kings of Leon, Duran Duran, Foo Fighters, Neil Young, Van Hunt, Kid Rock, Steve Earl, Alicia Keys and Tori Amos all delivered the goods. Hollywood came through for me as well with plenty of flicks about tunes. I absolutely adored Across the Universe, Once, I’m Not There and even Hairspray. I’m something of a soundtrack junkie so it was a good year for me in that respect. My favorite type of movie? Documentaries. My favorite dead grunge rocker? Kurt Cobain. Imagine how pee my pants excited I was when About a Son came out. If you haven’t seen it, I implore you to do so. Full of amazing interviews focusing on Kurt’s personal story and footage of the places where he lived his short life this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in ages. You won’t find any Nirvana tunes in the movie but what you will find are plenty of awesome songs that made up the soundtrack of Kurt’s own life. The big screen wasn’t the only place to find music this year though…plenty of tunes could be found on the tube in 2007. Kitschy game shows Don’t Forget the Lyrics and The Singing Bee (both of which I’m convinced I could own if only I were a contestant) seemed to be a big hit with viewers and Sundance channel’s Live from Abbey Road series was a new addition to my DVR line-up. Since finally stepping into the 21st century of television technology, I’m now an avid DVR devotee. And I couldn’t talk about music on television without mentioning the televised concerts honoring the late Princess Diana and Al Gore’s labor of love Live Earth. Now I adore Al Gore and respect what he’s trying to do but in retrospect I have to admit that Live Earth didn’t do shit to save the planet and may well have refuted my fairytale notion that music can heal the world. But, the emissions I spared the planet by sitting on my couch all day watching great performances by great artists instead of driving around with the air conditioner on does sorta give me the warm fuzzies now that I think of it. So do the other dozen or so “green” lifestyle changes I made thanks to the onslaught of PSA’s every 30 seconds. Maybe it did what it set out to do after all. I suppose time will tell that tale…hopefully they print the story on recycled paper.
I suppose that about sums up my views on the year in music. I’d delve further if I only had the time but those are the things that are foremost in my mind on this dreary December day. Amy Winehouse, I’m From Barcelona, The Long Blondes, Paolo Nutini, James Morrison, Lily Allen, The Pipettes, Peter Bjorn & John and several others are all notably absent from this list because they made my best of list last year or fell just shy and landed under contenders. Why last year? Because I heard them last year. I could give a shit when they were finally released in the U.S. And for those of you about to fire off a seething comment or email about the absence of Neon Bible, save it. It didn’t make the cut because how many people really need to say it’s awesome before you’ll believe it? It’s probably on every list (major and minor) around and to be honest, I didn’t listen to it all that much. Blasphemous, I know. What I did listen to this year are the following albums and each and every one of them rocked me like a hurricane in one way or another. Out of the hundreds of releases that I’ve subjected my auditory system to this year, these are the select few that resonated the loudest. There were many, many efforts I enjoyed but these are the ones I loved. Consider these the marriage proposal candidates from the never ending dating pool of discs if you will. These are the albums I’d give closet space and a toothbrush to…the ones I’d make a spare key. These are the albums I had on repeat for days on end, full of songs I never skipped. This isn’t a rundown of the greatest musical offerings of the year, people; I’m a bean counter, not a music reviewer. And something else I’m not is an elitist…never have been, never will be. I think for music to be considered good (and good is always subjective) it just has to move the listener. Whether that movement is thinking, feeling, dancing, crying, laughing out loud or singing along…if it moves you in a positive way then it’s good.
The following albums were full of music that moved me in all those ways this year; here are my favorite 27 albums from ’07 plus one to grow on…
Magic by Bruce Springsteen
I’ve already said what I wanted to say about Magic so I’ll just direct you to that. I will add though that even if you’ve not been a big fan of Bruce’s work over the past few years, pick this up. It’s stellar and stunning and splendid and superb and spectacular and every other fancy five dollar S word you can think of. It’s definitely a benchmark album; not only for his career but for music period and even as he nears senior citizen status, it’s clear that he’s still rockin’ hard and far from needing a rocking chair.
Songs to spin:
“Livin’ in the Future”
Graduation by Kanye West
I fully expect anything that Kanye has a hand in to be brilliant. He’s creative and driven in a way that few other artists making music today are and he’s got a lot to prove (mainly to himself) so when I put on Graduation I wasn’t expecting anything less than another solid effort. What I wasn’t expecting was just how solid it would be. Bow in the presence of greatness indeed! “Stronger” became a workout anthem for me and I can’t begin to tell you how much energy it afforded me when I felt there was no way humanly possible that I could do one more rep or jog one more mile. It was just insane how hard I fell for this album. He’s said that he wants to defy his genre and become the top artist in the world and if Graduation is any indication, he’s well on his way to doing just that. Some like to scoff at his outspoken nature and well documented temper tantrums but those exposed moments of humanity are part of why I’m so drawn to him and his music. The fact that he cannot contain his emotions appeals to me on a personal level and I adore that he has the balls to say what he feels whenever and wherever he feels it. When a person is passionate in that way they can’t help but have that bleed all over the other aspects of their life and I think that passion is truly Kanye’s biggest musical gift. I hate like hell that this otherwise banner year is tainted with anguish in the aftermath of his mother’s death but something tells me that he’ll take his pain and make something magnificent out of it. After all, that’s what all great iconoclasts do, right? See Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” for evidence.
Songs to spin:
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon
Quite some time ago I posted about a great band with a terrible name, Woodpigeon. Consider this a great album with the same problem. I stand by my declaration that both are excellent despite their poorly chosen monikers. The minute I got my copy of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga I knew it was about to blow Spoon into the stratosphere and it did. I touched on how much I loved it then and I’ll just reaffirm that now. It’s a clever and irreverently soulful romp through funk fueled riffs that ooze just how cool Britt & Co. have always been. And, at the end of the day, the quartet that’s always held such a love/hate relationship with commercial success and fame has created their catchiest and most accessible work to date. Well done, boys. Well done.
Songs to spin:
“You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”
The Broken String by Bishop Allen
I can’t recall who sent me this disc but I wish I could so I could thank them properly. I’m not sure if I passed on the 2006 Bishop Allen EP of the Month Club membership when it was offered to me thinking it was just a silly fad or if they just fell through the cracks of my listening stack but thank goodness the boys in the band took the best of the best from that interesting endeavor and polished and packaged it as The Broken String this year. If Conor Oberst were making pop music, I think it would sound like this. I’ve played it so much that when the track “Click Click Click Click” was used in a commercial recently, my daughter said “Mom, your favorite song is on!” It’s actually not my favorite on the album but it is right up there. These tracks are a great introduction to the Brooklyn band and definitely cause to check into their back catalog of EP’s from last year.
Songs to spin:
“The News from Your Bed”
This is Somewhere by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
I’d be hard pressed to expound on my previous post about This is Somewhere so I won’t. Just know that this is one of the most under appreciated albums of the year from one of the best bands around. As I set about reviewing my favorite albums for the year, I learned something interesting…this surpassed Hannah Montana and the High School Musical 2 Soundtrack as my daughter’s favorite album of her seventh year. Who knew?!?! I let her choose her two favorite tracks:
Songs to spin:
“Stop the Bus”
Sky Blue Sky by Wilco
Is this 2007 or have I been sucked through a portal and transported back to the 70’s? Never a huge Wilco fan (I know, blasphemy!) I wasn’t too eager to tear into Sky Blue Sky but once I did I was smitten. The greatest thing about the band is that they’re constantly evolving and no two albums seem to sound alike. A kinder, gentler Jeff Tweedy can be found here. He’s clean, sober and reflecting on redemption a dozen times over on these throwback tracks that Jerry Garcia would have been proud to call his own. It’s probably the most chill album on this list and maybe that’s because Tweedy discovered the only medicine he really needed was his music. Beauty is often born of blunder and I think that’s the case here. As someone who’s gone through the real rehab process (not the bullshit/babysit Hollywood version) with a loved one “Either Way” holds a special place in my heart for if the serenity prayer were a song, it would sound just exactly like this. This is Wilco naked…stripped bare with nothing to hide and nothing to prove. The sincerity and clarity on display in every song might startle longtime fans of their previous endeavors (probably the same fans that got pissy when “You Are My Face” showed up in a VW ad) but fuck it, Tweedy and friends have been pissing off one group of fans or another with every effort they’ve put forth so they’re in familiar territory. The album closes with a simple yet gorgeous song that was written for Tweedy’s widowed father titled “On and On and On” that makes me tear up every time I hear it. Start to finish, Sky Blue Sky feels like a lazy Sunday afternoon spent propped up in the corner listening in as the boys in the band tinker with their toys. It is one of the most simplistic and perfect albums I’ve ever heard and not unlike Springsteen’s Magic, this is a modern day classic I wish everyone would listen to at least twice. If only rehab had this effect on everyone.
Songs to spin:
Lynn Teeter Flower by Maria Taylor
If I’m to be honest, were I basing this list on number of rotations per disk, Lynn Teeter Flower would be the hands down winner of the year. I have been completely addicted to and consumed by Maria Taylor this year and I was fortunate enough to catch one of her live sets that served to further fuel the frenzy. The beautiful melancholy that permeates nearly every track on the album is what blew me away…it’s evident she’s been burned. Life, loss and love will do that to you sometimes. But even though the aching is tangible, there’s always something in her delivery that suggests she’s on the mend. On my favorite track, “A Good Start”, she reveals her realistic optimism…”And it’s the same world honey that has brought you down as the one that’s gonna pick you up.” It’s a shame she hasn’t achieved the notoriety that Leslie Feist has this year…she proves she deserves it with this effort.
Songs to spin:
“A Good Start”
Finding Forever by Common
Common may well be the thinking man’s rapper but fans haven’t always been attracted to his morally responsible stance over the years. 2005’s Be sold 800,000+ copies and marked his triumphant return after the commercial flop Electric Circus left fans and critics alike scratching their heads wondering where in the world he was heading with his career. I was one of the many who loved Be and felt it was his best work but now that I’ve had time to fully digest Finding Forever, I rescind that because he’s never been better than he is on these 12 tracks, eight of which were produced by none other than Mr. Kanye West. “Southside” might have gotten the Grammy nom thanks to Kanye’s participation but for my money “Drivin’ Me Wild” is the best collaboration on the album. Featuring Lily Allen, Common touches on all the aspects of pop culture that have over saturated the media and hence our minds; touching on everything from OK Go’s famous video for “There It Goes Again” and diaper donning NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak’s near fatal attraction escapade to US Magazine and Myspace it’s clear that Common is soaking up just as much as the rest of us. In addition to West and Allen lending support, he enlists D’Angelo, Dwele and Will.I.Am on other tracks harnessing the talent in each of them to enhance his own. He’s back to basics with this release flowing effortlessly throughout and on “Start the Show” even shows Hollywood celebrity hasn’t made him soft as he spits slurs in the direction of a new generation of rappers who rely too heavily on their entourage when they should be center stage honing their craft. And speaking of Hollywood, Common boasts his SAG cardholder status on “Break My Heart” and maybe, just maybe he’ll drop Brad, Angie and their ethnically diverse 21st century brood into a tune on the next record after he stars with Ms. Jolie in Wanted. Common is uncommonly good as always and anyone who name checks my favorite Presidential hopeful Barack Obama (“The People”) gets my support.
Songs to spin:
“Drivin’ Me Wild”
The Reminder by Feist
Somebody call VH1 because due to the darkness that befell Kanye at the end of the year, Leslie Feist is surely having the Best Year Ever. She’s gone from relative obscurity as an indie darling to major league mainstream success thanks to that irritatingly captivating iPod commercial featuring her standout, one take only video for the instantly catchy “1234”. I laugh when people talk about what an overnight success she is as nothing could be further from the truth. Leslie’s been making music with Broken Social Scene for years and little do they know this is her third solo effort. As a follow up to 2004’s Let it Die she’s showcasing her growth and it’s evident she’s come a long way in the past three years. She deserves her star status no doubt about it but hopefully those who have suddenly taken a keen interest will reach back further and familiarize themselves with all of her previous work as the metamorphosis is remarkable.
Songs to spin:
“I Feel It All”
Our Ill Wills by Shout Out Louds
This is the best Cure album Robert Smith never made. For their sophomore effort, this Swedish quintet used the foundation of the gloomy goodness in the classic Cure albums of the 80’s and 90’s and slapped a new coat of paint on them to create an updated home all their own. With producer Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John fame at the helm, “Tonight I Have to Leave It” is one of the best songs of the entire year and on tracks like “You Are Dreaming” and on “Time Left for Love” it’s nearly impossible to tell where Smith ends and Adam Olenius begins. Smith & Co. aren’t the only clear influences on Our Ill Wills though…the spirit of Beck can be felt on “South America” and echoes of The Velvet Underground can be heard on “Suit Yourself”. Score another touchdown for Merge this year as this far surpasses the goodness found on the band’s Capitol debut.
Songs to spin:
“Tonight I Have to Leave It”
Cease to Begin by Band of Horses
I’m gonna go ahead and admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Band of Horses debut. It was all a bit too much for me at the time. Sometimes you have to be in the right headspace to absorb, appreciate and enjoy an album. Either I was not in the proper frame of mind to value their previous work or this album is completely different than the first. Regardless, this was a circumstantial grower as well. I like for my first listen of an album to be with my headphones on in a quiet space but when I got Cease to Begin I had errands to run so it went directly from my mailbox to car stereo and played off and on for a few days before I actually realized how good it was. I’ve decided that Ben Bridwell has one of my favorite voices on the planet. It’s a warm, story telling voice that I cannot get out of my head. I can’t put my finger on it but it’s definitely special. This album while new has such a familiar quality to it and because of that I was taken back in a way I haven’t been taken back in a long while. Growing up in a small town there isn’t much for kids to do but get into trouble and when I was in high school we used to build fires on remote acreage and sit around laughing, singing and waxing philosophical while drinking beer, smoking pot and listening to everything from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Creedence Clearwater Revival and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’d like to think that if I were still 17 this might be one of those albums we’d be playing on a Friday night. I bet it would…it just has that perfect enduring quality to it.
Songs to spin:
“The General Specific”
Love in a Cold Place by Black Pony Express
Yet another album I’ve previously posted about this year. Love in a Cold Place is like nothing else I heard in 2007 and it’s that uniqueness that won them this placement. It’s just gorgeous through and through…completely and utterly, it’s a triumphant tour de force.
Songs to spin:
Lifeline by Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
After last year’s double disc extravaganza Both Sides of the Gun I didn’t expect to hear from Mr. Harper for awhile save perhaps a few guest appearances here and there so to see Lifeline, his eleventh album, arrive both confused and excited me. I was also surprised to learn that it was recorded live to analog tape in Paris over the course of just seven days. In today’s perfection seeking recording atmosphere full of ProTools enhancements and overt production, that’s a delicate endeavor and a risky ride that even some of the most seasoned artists aren’t willing to purchase a ticket for, sadly. The fact that Ben and the boys not only attempt it but nail it is a testament to their many years of touring and playing together night after night. There’s an inherent cohesiveness to the group that’s undeniable in everything they do together and Harper is always at his finest when in the company of the Criminals. I can’t help but think about Van Morrison every time I hear this album…in fact, I think I’ll make it a companion follow up to every Moondance recommendation I make to someone under 35 if for no other reason than to show how influences are ever present even over time. There isn’t a bad track on Lifeline but one consistently stands out to me each time I play it and it shocks me that it does. I’ve mentioned before but I’ll reiterate that I’m not a huge fan of instrumentals. Now keep that in mind as I tell you how amazing “Paris Sunrise 7” is. It’s just Ben and his slide guitar in the silence and it is pure perfection. It’s so lovely in fact that if you close your eyes you can see the sun being born above the Eiffel Tower. Don’t hate me for not posting it here…take a leap of faith and go buy the album to hear it for yourself.
Songs to spin:
"In the Colors"
“Put It on Me”
Memories & Dust by Josh Pyke
My favorite song of the entire year, “Sew My Name”, can be found on this debut from Australia native Josh Pyke. I was given a copy of the disc in early February and by Valentine’s Day I’d added him to the growing list of Aussie exports that I adore. Maybe I’m a complete sap but the imagery in that song just gets me where I want to get got. The thought of how we all long to leave our own personal permanent marks on the hearts and lives of those we love is just overwhelming. And if that was his intention then mission accomplished by Mr. Pyke because he might as well have stitched his name in my skin as he’s left an indelible mark on me. Dominated by relationship themes, the aptly titled Memories & Dust outlines the human experience running the emotional spectrum from elation to longing and back again. It almost plays like a musical postcard or maybe more of a series of journal entries set to music. Entries made by a young man attempting to navigate the ever changing landscape of his life without forgetting where he’s come from or losing sight of where he ultimately hopes to settle. I can’t seem to find the words I want to use to express how much I really love every single track on this album but I’ll end this by encouraging anyone reading to get themselves a copy to examine and enjoy at their leisure. It’s deep, not heavy.
Songs to spin:
“Sew My Name”
“Middle of the Hill”
Places by Georgie James
Over the past few years, more and more I’ve found myself becoming a serious label stalker. And by that I mean that when I hear something by a band that I really like I always scope out their label to see what other great acts they’re pimping that might tickle my fancy. Merge, Vanguard, Brushfire, Sub Pop, Hollywood, Barsuk and ATO are all big favorites that come to mind but so is Saddle Creek and perusing their catalog of acts is how I came to meet up with Georgie James and their sensational freshman submission, Places. This girl/guy duo comprised of John Davis and Laura Burhenn is about the only thing to come out of D.C. that I would put a stamp of approval on this year. It’s far and away one of the best albums of ‘07. Consider it a dozen tracks of pop music you can feel great about listening to because underneath it all they’re smart. Anyone who can make a protest song titled “Cake Walk” and make it sound like a sunny day at the park has got to be onto something great. For an idea of what you’re in for, think of what The Weepies might sound like if they were more politically minded and medicated with high doses of anti-depressants. Keep an eye on these two; I think they’re going places. Pun intended.
Songs to spin:
Stars on the Wall by The Go Find
Mmmm, Belgium. I don’t know much about this little European country other than the fact that they make awesome chocolate. These days I add awesome indie bands to the list of exports I shall forever consume. The Go Find have drawn plenty of comparisons to Death Cab for Cutie and given the similarities between the voice of lead singer Dieter Sermeus and Ben Gibbard I can see why but for me, that’s about where it ends. I wasn’t a huge fan of the synth heavy sound of their first album, Miami, so I almost didn’t give Stars on the Wall a chance but I’m glad I did. With a far more organic feel to it, this sophomore effort is a gem of a disc full of pleasant pop production you want to sit and spend some time with.
Songs to spin:
Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers
There’s so much beauty in the marriage of suberb lyrical content and understated elements that make up this third album from Ontario trio Great Lake Swimmers that it’s impossible not to love. The group proved that home is where the heart is and utilized the acoustics of Aeolian Music Hall to achieve the warm, pastoral sound that perfectly complements their modest music. From the moment I heard “Where in the World Are You” I was immediately transported to a theater seat to watch the band gingerly pluck away at the tune. It’s transformative, that song; one of my favorite this year. In the end, what they’ve done is all very simple but sometimes less truly is more and on Ongiara is proof.
Songs to spin:
“Where in the World Are You”
“I Am Part of a Large Family”
The Simple Life by Magnet
Even Johansen is one eccentric cat as far as musicians go. Abandoning the typical musician’s life in favor of spending time at home on the farm with his family, he recorded the eleven tracks for The Simple Life there and rightfully so as the disc is something of a love letter to the ups & downs of marriage, fatherhood and the rural existence he so desperately loves. His fourth album finds Johansen celebrating the magic and misery he’s found in the mundane. For the most part, he appears to be at peace with his circumstances and surroundings but there are certainly darker moments that hint at the melancholy that sometimes accompanies even self-imposed seclusion and that always escorts the sharing of your life with others...even when those others are a spouse and offspring. Speaking of his love, spending time with her surely led to the plucky countrified love song “A Little Happier” and arguments and breaking up never sounded as inviting as they do on the more up-tempo “You Got Me”, the almost whimsical whistler “She’s Gone” and the downbeat “Volatile”; clearly she’s quite the muse. Overall, it’s nice to hear that even Swedish musicians struggle with how to navigate a relationship, raise children and maintain a career.
Songs to spin:
“The Gospel Song”
"Lonely No More"
Tones of Town by Field Music
I missed out on Field Music’s self titled debut but I caught up this year with their second album Tones of Town and I loved it. The group employs a mish mosh of elements and a plethora of unconventional instruments to create an extremely original sound that would test even the most discerning listener. As this was an investment piece for me, I feel I must warn you that it may take more than a few listens before you fully value what Field Music has done here but if you’re patient, the payoff is priceless, I promise.
Songs to spin:
“Working to Work”
“She Can Do What She Wants”
The Dead Will Walk, Dear by The National Lights
Loved it then, love it now. Something about the hauntingly beautiful debut from this New York trio captured my attention and never let go. Go ahead and try ‘em on for size and see if you’re not mesmerized too.
Songs to spin:
The Stage Names by Okkervil River
Nobody crafts a story with song quite the way Will Sheff does and on The Stage Names he picks up where Black Sheep Boy left off spinning more yarns with solid imagery and appealing characters that we yearn to learn more about. Originally intended as a double disc, Okkervil River opted to take the greatest of the songs they’ve been preparing and perfecting for the past few years and package them as a single offering. I’m so glad they did because start to finish this is their best work to date. While most of the songs are strong enough to stand alone, it’s not until you listen to the album in its entirety that you truly appreciate the effort put forth the make this fifth album fantastic.
Songs to spin:
“You Can’t Hold the Hand of a Rock & Roll Man”
100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Praise whatever power you believe in, people…Stax is back! What does that mean? Well, it means that the best soul & funk label of all time, home to legends Otis Redding, Albert King and Booker T & The MGs has re-opened its doors under the direction of Concord Music Group and we’re probably in for a revival. However, it’s been Gabe Roth of the Brooklyn based Daptone Records (who in addition to The Dap-Kings and Mark Ronson is largely responsible for the fantastic sound on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and Lily Allen’s Alright, Still) that has been carrying the torch for soul lovers as of late and his rising star, former wedding singer extraordinaire and Rikers Island prison guard, Sharon Jones is poised to be a huge part of the resurgence of a classic American sound. Each time I’ve mentioned the name Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings this year I’ve been greeted by blank stares and confusion. Either I’m a freak of my generation or people just don’t appreciate the great 60’s soul sound in the digital age. While 100 Days, 100 Nights isn’t evidence that Daptone is reinventing the wheel, it’s certainly confirmation that what ain’t broke ought not be fixed and that this music will always stand the test of time. This album is perfect for anyone who wants to take a trip back to one of the greatest eras in music history or for young fans of Winehouse and Allen who are looking to be schooled in the origins of the music those two British bad girls are making. My best suggestion is to get a copy of 100 Days, 100 Nights and pick up the two disc Stax anniversary extravagana and immerse yourself in the music contained on both. It’s good for the soul.
Songs to spin:
“100 Days, 100 Nights”
Easy Tiger by Ryan Adams
I wouldn’t call myself a big Ryan Adams admirer because I know people who are absolutely head over heels for the guy but I definitely dig most of what he does. And this time he’s rockin’ it country style on Easy Tiger. Evoking Neil Young many times on a baker’s dozen worth of tracks, Adams takes a mellow approach to describing his recent sobriety. It’s easy to see that he’s spent countless hours immersed in self examination…dismantling what it meant to be an addict and exploring where his path will carry him next. I suppose 2007 might well be the year of the rehab recordings and if so, here’s hoping more people seek treatment so they can write the songs that heal us all.
Songs to spin:
“I Taught Myself How to Grow Old”
Oh, My Darling by Basia Bulat
I’ve sang the praises of Basia Bulat’s debut Oh, My Darling in prose previously so you can peep that here but I cannot for the life of me understand why more people aren’t talking about her. Get with the program, people!
Songs to spin:
“I Was a Daughter”
“Oh, My Darling”
Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley
Hailed by some as the second coming of Fleetwood Mac, Rilo Kiley is back sounding better than ever on their major label debut. The similarities are evident between the little indie band that could and their eminent elders…both bands hail from the city of angels and share a fondness for distinct SoCal sounds but the most obvious is that in the aftermath of an in-band break up both managed to harness the passion and pain of the experience to create career making records. Fleetwood Mac is one of my all time favorite groups so I hesitate to classify Rilo Kiley as their deserving protégés just yet but with songs like the uber solid “Breakin’ Up” and funk fueled “The Moneymaker” I can say they appear to be on the right track. Whether that track finds them all traveling together is yet to be determined though. Lewis and Sennett continue to suffer at the hands of one another…constantly engaged in a power struggle and each have already been working on various personal projects, Lewis’ well received solo effort Rabbit Fur Coat and Sennett’s largely ignored (but surprisingly good) sophomore release with side project Elected. So while this might be the known as the album that finally blew them out of the water, it might also be the record that sends them to a watery grave. We shall see which scenario actually unfolds but take heart…even Fleetwood Mac buried the hatchet long enough to make The Dance.
Songs to spin:
We All Belong by Dr. Dog
It’s been forty years since The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and yet their influence is as palpable today as it was in ‘67. Dr. Dog has a sound that reminds us why the creations of John, Paul, George and Ringo are nearly impossible to improve upon even four decades later. Sounding very much like The Beatles with an infusion of The Band and a smattering of The Beach Boys for good measure, We All Belong is an eleven track trek through the sounds of yesteryear. Add this feel-good Philly five piece to the growing list of new acts that are rekindling the flame for a simpler sound that’s long since been replaced by rap, heavy metal, bubblegum pop and grunge. It appears that 2007 really is the year that everything old became new again and I for one couldn’t be happier.
Songs to spin:
Mickey Avalon by Mickey Avalon
Technically not a release from this year (it dropped on Halloween of 2006) in the interest of being honest I have to include it here as this is a list of my favorites. I feel about Mickey Avalon the way I feel about nicotine and driving over the speed limit. Yeah, I know indulging is wrong but dammit, it feels so right! I shared my shame and copped to my infatuation with Mr. Avalon earlier this year in a Guilt Free Friday post and actually received several emails from readers who were also closet fans of the nefarious rhymes of “Mr. Right”. I was glad not to be alone. And now, I’m making an even bigger statement by putting him on this list. No, it’s not an award winning musical masterpiece by any means but it is addictive as all hell. And, it’s one of the albums I’ve listened to the most this year…for better or worse. He’s not for the faint of heart but if you’re in the mood to binge, by all means overdose on this.
Songs to spin:
And one to grow on, #28 to be played repeatedly in ’08:
Initially I shied away from Vampire Weekend's music thinking they must be some sort of hardcore crap that wouldn’t interest me. I know by now to never judge a book by its cover and now this year (more than once) I’ve learned to never judge a band by their name. I’ve only had this disc for a short time this year but it’s been playing solid and steady in my ear since I first put it on. Every time I have work to do around the house or outdoors and nearly every time I turn the ignition in the car Vampire Weekend are who I bring along for the ride. These guys are a complete contradiction and I get the feeling they like it that way. All four male members (is it childish that I laughed after typing “male members”? I’m sure it is.) are recent Columbia University graduates (the drummer and keyboardist are both music majors) that sport preppy duds and pristine private school upbringings but as straight as they appear on the surface, they have managed to give indie rock a shot in the arm in the form of a Reggae, Calypso, Punk and Classical cocktail that makes you want to dance and bob your head. It’s crazy how much this country girl got off on how the other half live and even more bizarre is how I’m arguing with myself now about which tracks to post because as I listen to them while writing this I can’t narrow down just two. I would hope that if any of the artists I mention here are new to you that you’ll check them out in the new year but if you only have time to check out a few, make Vampire Weekend one of them.
Songs to spin:
I have more lists coming soon but this is the big one that everyone has been asking for so I wanted to put it up.