1. Shields by Grizzly Bear
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
10. Be The Void by Dr. Dog
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″
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
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
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”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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).
As something of a semi-old dude (52 and counting, duh) who is pretty much stuck in the music past. How many other people are listening to this much Mott The Hoople? (There’s some. I saw them at the Ian Hunter show last year… ouch!) Anyway, for someone who pretty much believes the 60s and 70s ruled all things music. I loved much in the 80s too, but the 90s (as far as the all-time greats are concerned) consists of two bands (I won’t name them, you should know them, one was British and one was from Seattle), BUT (and I’m not saying these guys are all-time greats) there is a lot of great music being released these days from bands who were in Jr. high in the 90s. BTW, I’m not suggesting these are the only great bands that would fit that description, but these are six that have caught my ear.
MIDLAKE: These guys are from Denton Texas and sing like birds and write timeless music. Only two releases, but they are both worth owning and playing over and over and over. (I know they have an earlier EP, I have it, skip it, they hadn’t figured out who they were just yet and were a little too influenced by a certain all-time great 90s British band I didn’t name earlier).
AUGIE MARCH: From Australia these guys write breathtaking great poetic Beatle-ish music that you can’t dance to, but it gets under your skin and can make you weep for no reason.
GRIZZLY BEAR: a Brooklyn based band who play everything but the kitchen sink, kind of a twisted sideways experimental folk band with amazing harmonies. They have two full lengths and an EP. Best starting place, the second release Yellow House.
M. WARD: He doesn’t really fit with my description of “being in jr. high” in the 90s (maybe the early 90s), but I couldn’t resist. He’s just special. Utterly unique in every way (playing wise as well as a vocally) M. Ward has been consistently great, sometimes his recordings sound they were made at a blues or folk hay ride circa 1948. All four of his full lengths are excellent and worth owning. If I had to pick one it would be his first one “End Of Amnesia.” Indeed.
RUBY SUNS: New Zealander Ryan McPhun’s little project, its got a whole lot of cool vibe, amazing arrangements, great beach boy-ish vocals AND originality too.
FLEET FOXES: obviously the newest on this list, these guys only have one release (and it just came out) (and an earlier EP I’m not familiar with) but its a real winner. I suppose the jury is still out as for the long run, but I’m a believer (at least so far).
In a time when many supposedly great movies don’t know how to tell a story or write a script worth beans along comes Bella. A movie that tells its tale so effortlessly and well done that you don’t even noticed how it has pulled you into its world. This is a movie with some good old fashion moral backbone but is never saccharine or sugary. A movie about tragedy, family, hope, redemption. This had to have been a work of love as I’m sure getting it made and seen by people in today’s movie climate couldn’t have been easy. Bravo writer/director Alejandro Monteverde and stars Eduardo Verástegui and Tammy Blanchard.