Bunch of Nonsense

Music, Books and Life in the Spirit

best music of 2013

1. Antiphon by Midlake
ImageAll Midlake fans were fairly shocked when word came that principle songwriter and lead vocalist Tim Smith had left the band. I was probably not alone in thinking ‘well that was that.’ That is, until today with the release of Antiphon! Shocking. Amazing. Stunning. And really really great. Imagine if Caravan mixed Byrds harmonies and XTC and then stretched it all out into a late night “Low Spark” era Traffic vibe. All I can say is, wow! Best Song: Antiphon

2. Dig Here, Said the Angel by Daniel Amos

ImageForty years down the road, this is a stunning work of intelligence, bite and power. “I found a haystack in a needle.” Best Song Forward in Reverse

 3. Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth by Kiev

Imagea tasty brew of funk jazz rock which sounds like a terrible idea in 2013, but these guys make it work with taste, great vocals and just the right dose of all-of-the-above. Best song: Ariah Being

4. MCII by Mikal Cronin

ImageA cool mess of Beach Boys, Raspberries and 90’s distortion, which again kind of sounds like a bad idea, but Mikal pulls it off and then some with great songs. Best Song: Weight

5. All The Times We Had by Ivan & Alyosha

ImageSweet vocals layered over looping guitars. It’s a familiar formula right now, but Ivan & Alyosha rise above the pack with superior songs. Best Song: The Fold

6. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO by The Besnard Lakes

ImageThis Canadian Beach Boy obsessed band really knows how to stack up piles of sweet noise. Imagine Pet Sounds, plus Phil Specter times 20 meets My Bloody Valentine. Best Song: The Specter

7. Eight by Radar Bros

ImageA rock solid album from start to finish, their best yet of the California soul Brian Wilson coolness. And the album cover is a nice nod to Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns. Best Song: If We Were Banished

8. Denison Witmer by Denison Witmer

ImageHis best release in quite awhile, a very moving solid effort with some of his best songs ever. Best Song: Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister

9. Pacific Gold EP by Pacific Gold

ImageActual a kickstarter little mini release with their full album coming in March. These guys mix heavenly Beach Boys vocals with old hymns (and Lou Reed) and the result is consistently great. Best Song: Father Winter

10. Feed The Lions Ep by ProleteR

Image This French hip hop sampler takes old records (a lot of Duke Ellington, wise choice) and re-works them in a funky stew. Moby did this back in the 90’s but its still very good when it works. Best Song: It Don’t Mean A Thing

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Review of “Dig Here Said the Angel” by Daniel Amos

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Those of us who are Daniel Amos fans know the story of the last few months, some genius started a kick-starter campaign to see if the DA fans would give enough money to get Terry Taylor and boys back into the studio. The fans responded , raising more than $30k (way beyond the hope-for 12k) and Terry and co. went into the studio and today we have their new CD, Dig Here Said The Angel. So how is it? Well… as with any Daniel Amos release it takes a while to absorb, but with one minor reservation (mentioned below), this is simply another classic from one of the greatest bands of all-time. My first impression is that “Dig Here…” sounds like a follow up to Kalhoun, if you like that CD, you will love this, a lot of simple-beat stomping mid-tempo melodic rockers. “Dig Here…” is very meaty and thick, nothing extra bizzario like “Donna Nietche and Her Super Race of Kick Boxing Uber Parrots” or the more quirky  side of “Vox Humana” or sharp angles of “Darn Floor.” This is Kalhoun with a touch of Motorcycle. And of course, as with anything with Terry Taylor, there’s a lot of great songwriting here, the general theme of the CD is kind of heavy (also kind of humorless for DA, but that’s okay). As best as I can tell, the CD is about life and death (the title comes from a Saint John Of The Cross poem) and God’s upside-down Kingdom as only Terry can tell it. Some of the best songs are “Forward In Reverse,” (my early favorite) “We’ll All Know Soon Enough,” “The Uses of Adversity,” “Love, Grace, and Mercy” and “The Sun Shines on Everyone.” No one writes songs like Terry Taylor, no one plays bass like Tim Chandler and this band is the perfect vehicle to deliver Terry’s songs to the world. As for my reservation, I would only say that I wish the mix was a little brighter, the mix is big and thick (which is great), but also seems kind of muted (particularly the legendary DA background vocals, which I wish there was more of. “Love, Grace and Mercy” could have been a total DA-doing the beach boys masterpiece {a la Distance and Direction} but as it is, the background vocals are a little too far down in the mix to be properly noticed). Maybe the release of the actual CD will make an improvement in the brightness of the mix, I don’t know.  Still, the songwriting and lyrical content here is about 900 MILES above almost anything being produced by anyone today, secular, Christian, Martian, whatever. Considering that this band is closing in on 40 years, this release is nothing short of a freak of nature. There’s no band like Daniel Amos, and never will be, the wild ride of all these decades has been like none other. A lot of laughs, an occasional tear and a lot to mull over and take to heart. At last count I have well over 24 hours of TT/DA/SE/LD music in my library and this release fits in nicely with all the rest. Nothing really compares to Daniel Amos. Here’s hoping that this kick-starter thing becomes an annul event! God bless Daniel Amos, the band that will (hopefully) never go away!

Best Music Of 2012

1. Shields by Grizzly Bear
shields
Maybe their most accessible and pop-ish release (in a better world, the song “Yet Again” would have been a huge single), but at the end of the day it was the monster epic-ness of the last few tracks which took it to the top of my list. Best song: “Sun In Your Eyes.”

 2. Maraqopa by Damien Jurado
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An absolutely wonderful and touching album from start to finish. There wasn’t an album I played more this year than this one. A great follow up to 2010’s equally wonderful “Saint Bartlett.” Best Song: “So On, Nevado.”

3. Shut Down The Streets by A. C. Newman
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If you took the lead singer for The Shins and had him listen to hours of Jimmy Webb and then had him fire his band, hire session pros and make a pop album with a savvy early 70’s producer, you might end up with something like this. Truly wonderful. Best Song: “I’m Not Talking.”

4. A Wasteland Companion by M. Ward
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Just another excellent release by M. Ward. Great songs, great production, great everything, he’s been on a roll for about a decade now. This one does not stray too far from his groove, but that’s okay when the groove is this good. Best Song: “The First Time I Ran Away.”

5. Electric Cable by Lightships
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Teenage Fanclub member Gerald Love does himself proud on this smooth Carl Wilson meets a cool Adult Contemporary vibe which works. The highlights of this, while musically similar, will charm the socks off ya. Best Song: “The Sweetness Of Her Spark.”

6. The Only Place by Best Coast

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Early sixties California prom music with lush girly vocals. Great songs, nice production and fun lyrics. Best Song: “Dreaming My Life Away.”

7. On and On by Syd Arthur

If you would have told me some young British kids were going to form a band and play in the style of old Canterbury scene of the late 60 and early 70s, I would have told you, good luck. What are the odds that any modern guitar player with all their digital trickery and general endless noodling would have ever been able to pull this off. But this is exactly what Syd Arthur do. For old geeky Caravan and Soft Machine fans like me, this is a modern day miracle. This is great album from start to finish. Just enough respect for the past and yet still very original. What are the odds? Best Song: “Dorothy.”

8. The River by Wayfarer
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Probably not on a lot of year end list (it was after all only an EP), but this is too good to leave off my list. Re-worked hymns no one had heard of, but utterly sweet and wonderful just the same.
Best Song: “Shall We Gather At The River.”

9. Lonesome Dreams by Lord Huron

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Pretty much was what it said it was, high lonesome and dreamy. Sublime spaghetti western meets My Morning Jacket. Excellent. Best Song: “Ends Of The Earth.”

10. Be The Void by Dr. Dog

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Just another great record from the Dr. Dog boys. Maybe one of their weaker efforts but the highlights are strong and pure Dr. Dog. Good enough for me. Best Song: “That Old Black Hole.”

best music of 2011

1. Tamer Animals by Other Lives
Very cool vibe this, kind of  a Ennio Morricone potpourri with ghostly vocals and surf guitars. Very original, but best of all, they have great songs. Best Song: “For 12″

2. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

No sophomore jinx here, this picks up where the first album left off and tweaks it just right without destroying what was good about the band, lush vocals early 70s cool. Best Song: “Ocean Grown”

3. Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine

The folky years are long gone now as this album with its wide variety and big-arrangements shows. Face it, Sam Beam is just a great songwriter. Best Song: “Rabbit Will Run”

4. The Whole Love by Wilco

With this, Wilco’s comeback is complete. Their best album since “A Ghost Is Born.” A solid effort from start to finish, you can hear traces of all their best records in this one while somehow it stands on its own. Best Song: “Dawned On Me”

5. Deep Politics by Grails

Epic cinematic lush… this all instrumental album in a sea of similar records, actually seems to go somewhere and make sense. Powerful. Best Song: “All The Colors Of The Dark”

6. Kerosene Halo by Kerosene Halo

Old friends Michael Roe and Derri Daugherty just simply nail it with this one. Great covers by Terry Taylor, Phil Madeira, Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Larry Norman and some originals. Best Song: “And So It Goes”

7. Love & War & The Sea In Between by Josh Garrels

Not just a Bon Iver knock-off this guy can write great songs. And he sings very well. Good stuff all-around. Epic, spiritual and moving. “Revelator” might be the best song of the year. Best Song: “Revelator”

8. Candidate Waltz by Centro-Matic

An old favorite of mine for sure, maybe nothing here is that revolutionary or different from early work, but its best moments shine and hold up to the great heights of their past. Best Song: “Shadow, Follow Me”

9. Burst Apart by The Antlers

Simple pop songs with hooks, great arrangements. Overall solidly done. These songs will grow on you. Best Song: “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.”

10. Washed & Dried by Melted Toys

Surf guitars meet (somehow) the 80’s. Nice vibe throughout. Best Song: “Come On”

best music of 2010

10. Hidden Lands by Candy Claws
Certainly a nice Brian Wilson Pet Sounds tribute from this indie band from Colorado. If  you made an entire album of different versions of the song Pet Sounds and added some somewhat buried fluffy vocals along the forest floor, you might get something like this record. Best song: “Sunbeam Show.”

9. Congratulations by MGMT
Another nice mash up, this time the Cure meets about a hundred different 60s garage bands with an eye toward something kind of progressive. Best Song: “It’s Working.”

8. Old Angel by The Lost Dogs
Terry Taylor and the boys return with their best record since Gene’s passing. A welcome and nice return to what they do best, folk rock with Taylor’s wit and spiritual insight intact. Best Song: “Israelites And Okies.”

7. The Courage Of Others by Midlake
A pretty big drop from their last record “The Trials Of Van Occupanther” which is only my favorite record of the entire decade. You can tell they tried to do something different, but somehow it turned into a very narrow record without almost any range. Still it has two great songs on it that are so good they almost make up for everything else. Best Song: (tie) “Bring Down” & “Acts Of Man.”

6. Destroyer Of The Void by Blitzen Trapper
A strange, but nice mash up of Queen ELO Bowie and maybe somehow Jethro Tull. As weird as all that might sound, it somehow works and with this record they don’t  throw in the kitchen sink as often, except for the first song, which I swear is like some kind of lost track from a lost Daniel Amos record (whom I’m sure BT have never heard of). It’s uncanny and then the song Dragon’s Song sounds even more like Terry Taylor than Terry Taylor does. Best Song: “The Tailor.”

5. Big Echo by The Morning Benders
Super sweet pop piled high with the layers of the Specter sound. Nothing here is going to change the world, but it’s all done so nicely, so just-right, that it’s hard not to be taken into its perfect little pop world. Best Song. “Stitches.”

4. Shame, Shame by Dr. Dog
This has it’s charms, but it might be my least favorite of all their releases, but that’s less of a knock that a tribute to how great the other releases are. Like all of their records, it’s a bit of a grower. Everything is here we all have come to expect and love, The Band meets a great songwriter from tin pan alley with a smart mouth. Yes, it’s still Dr. Dog. Best Song: “Stranger.”

3. Brothers by The Black Keys
I have no idea how two white guys from Ohio can be so soulful, but they are just that, a power duo with some real foot stomping early 70s funk blues. They’ve made the move with this record from Jimi comparisons to Marvin comparison (that is a unplugged stripped down Marvin at his soulful best, well maybe not that soulful, but then what is?). Oh baby. Best Song: “Never Give You Up.”

2. Panorama by Birds & Batteries
A wonderful little simple record that just rolls on, great song after great song. This is really good pop music with dashes of influences everywhere but nothing overbearing. They are now on the indie label Velvet Blue Music. This record is worth checking out. Best Song: “We’re An Industry.”

1. My Room In The Trees by Innocence Mission
A still quiet record that just stuns you into silence. There are few things in this world as great as the voice of  Karen Peris. Kudos to her husband Don and bass player Mike Bitts for so lovingly surrounding this wonder with just the right music. Their records are all great, but this is their best since “Birds Of My Neighborhood” in 1999. Best Song: “God Is Love.”

Best Music of 2009

10. Wooden Arms by Patrick Watson
Kind of a wall of folk sound, this second record from this Canadian band does it all and does it all well. For all its eclecticism it somehow keeps things crisp and to the point. A simple beautiful stew to wallow in. Best song: “Big Bird In A Small Cage.”

9. Lost Channels by Great Lakes Swimmers
Again Canadians, GLS always make great music and this one is no different. There instantly recognizable sound isn’t turned upside-down here, but they have nudge out into new directions lyrically if you take the time to listen carefully. Best Song: “Pulling On A Line.”

8. Wilco (The album) by Wilco
What I’ll call the new Wilco (this and the last record) aren’t anywhere near past heights, but this record is a step in the right direction. After the wild experiments of the past, Wilco now seem intent on writing simple songs. Understandable, but the last one was simply too simple. For the first time in their career… they were boring. This one feels like they are beginning to find their feet on this new simple ground. Best Song: “Everlasting Everything.”

7. Sewn Together by Meat Puppets
Considering the Meat Puppets wildly erratic track record (both musically and personally) this is a fairly straightforward, dare I say polished, record. While nowhere near their past heights of punk/junk/country from you-know-where, this record has its charms, somehow even cleaned up, it’s still Meat Puppets. Best Song: “Sapphire.”

6. Monsters Of Folk by Monsters of Folk
As everyone knows by now, MOF is M. Ward, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. As super groups go, this one is pretty good from top to bottom. M. Ward delivers solid material (as always), Conor Oberst kind of hits and misses (especially lyrically), but Jim James really steals the show here with his high lonesome vocals. He’s the Richard Manuel of this Band. Best Song: “Magic Marker.”

5. Dark Was The Night by Various Artist
A charity record with a wide span of artists, Arcade Fire, Spoon, Cat Power, Bon Iver, The National, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, etc.,. A double record with 31 tracks, many of them are really excellent. Everyone pretty much sticks to his or her style, but nothing feels like throw-away tracks. Double records get two Best Songs: “El Caporal” by My Morning Jacket and “Tightrope” by Yeasayer.

4. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear
Sure to be on a lot of yearend lists, this one (while not as good as GB’s Yellow House, but few albums are) delivers when it has to. This is definitely Grizzly Bear doing what they do, Monumental Epic-ness. Their intricate layered and complex songs are always interesting and piled high with great vocals.  If Brian Wilson had been born in 1978, grew up in New England, went to Julliard, hung out in Greenage Village with some angular guitarist like Marc Ribot, this might have been be what you would have got. Best Song: “Southern Point.”

3. Hold Time by M. Ward
M. Ward does what M. Ward does and you probably like him or you don’t, but I’ve drunk the kool aid a long time ago. This album doesn’t necessity crack the world wide open, but it’s pack full of great four-star songs. Everyone talks about M. Ward uniqueness, his guitar playing, his boy that sounds like it was recorded in 1949 etc., but I thing his real secret weapon is his songwriting. He simply can write great songs, particularly his easy flow why-hasn’t-anyone-written-that-before lyrics. Maybe not his best, but better than 95% of what’s out there. Best Song: “Epistemology.”

2. Around The Well by Iron and Wine
This double CD (triple LP) is a grab bag of b-sides, forgotten tracks and assorted other oddballs, is simply a masterwork of scraps. Sam Beam is not sitting still and even his out takes show he’s got great flair for making great music. Far from the bedroom one-man band of his first record, his newer stuff is larger band pieces, very produced, but also very good. Double records get two Best Songs: “The Trapeze Swinger” and “The Kingdom of Animals.”

1. Molina and Johnson by Molina and Johnson
Calling themselves “Phantoms of Folk” this coming together of Will Johnson (Centro-matic/South San Gabriel) and Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co. and Songs: Ohia) shouldn’t work like it does. A decidedly somber dark Texan affair from start to finish, nary a drum beat to be found, this is simply stellar work, with Johnson’s grimaced and tight vocals and Molina’s sweet vibrato working like one upmanship in the best way possible. Best Song: “34 Blues.”

Time to put up or shut up

Recently two of my writing projects were completed and were presented in their various forms. One went over well and was well received and one was somewhat of a bomb to which I received some criticism (well deserved). In the first writing project (The Grow Class curriculum for Calvary Church) contained a quote by Henry Nouwen that said that we (wrongly) find our identity in one or all of the following ways: “I am what I do. “I am what others say about me” or “I am what I have.” Again I reminded that God has a way of bringing these things home to us. Randy, repeat after me… my identity is not found in what others say about me, my identity is not found in what others say about me, my identity is not found in what others say about me (or my writing projects).

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