Bunch of Nonsense

Music, Books and Life in the Spirit

Best Music of 2016

1. The Party by Andy Shauf

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Yes simple classic pop here, no shame in that, only great song after song, several five star songs and the rest are solid as well. This Canadian from the far north, at times sounds like he has just been given some sad news, at other times he sounds like he has a mouth of cotton, but the songs are just so good, the melodies so memorable, they pull you into their simple gentle I’ll-get-there-when-I-get-there world. For fans of 70s pop music, Brian Wilson. Best Song: “Alexander All Alone.”

2. Absolute Truth by Lawrence Arabia

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This New Zealand export lays out even more classic pop than Andy Shauf, inspired by west coast 70’s pop (and sometimes a little 50’s vibe like on song Another Century) with a little Ray Davies (maybe George Harrison) thrown in for good measure. Great songs from start to finish. For fans of Beach Boys, Kinks, Beatles. Best Song: “A Lake.”

3. Wilco Schmilco by Wilco

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Very much in keeping with the vibe of their last record, Star Wars (2015), except this one is turned way down until Jeff Tweedy seems at times to be whispering (and or speaking) the vocals. This is very much a minimalist record, no wild crazy jagged angular excursions here, just simple great songs, almost like a Tweedy solo record, except guitarist Nels Cline always seems to make his presence known, as is the case in the odd-timed ‘Common Sense.’ For fans of Wilco, Tweedy. Best Song: “Locator.”

4. Visions of Us on the Land by Damien Jurado

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Somewhat of a return to form for the great singer-songwriter (who has had pretty much an unrivaled run over the last 20 years). This the third (and I believe the last) in a Maraqopa trilogy (which I still don’t get). But the great songwriting is back (not a clunker in the bunch) with Damien’s boss-a-nova-like acoustic guitar meets Phil Specter sound working perfectly song after song. For fans of Iron & Wine. Best Song: “QA China.”

5. Songs From a Golden Dream by Greg Loiacono

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The guitarist/vocalist from the great band Mother Hips delivers his first solo album (not counting his earlier release, the side band Sensations {which btw was sensational}) and this too is terrific. This is just a beautiful rich sounding record that fans of California 70s pop would just love, if they ever heard it. What’s not to like? great vocals, solid songs, stellar guitar playing (and that perfect touch of pedal steel occasionally drifting off into the ether ). The song ‘Ship of Fear’ has a wonderful Allman Brothers Melissa feel to it. For fans of Mother Hips, Jackson Browne. Best Song: “Ship of Fear.”

6. The Psychedelic Swamp by Dr. Dog

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Leave it to Dr. Dog to do what no band has ever had the guts to try and that is to go back and re-record their first long-forgotten album (and even bring back the original lead singer to sing the first song! which doesn’t really work, but wow! gutsy!). The record is some kind of strange (maybe over ambitious?) concept record that probably isn’t for everyone, but over time, it has really grown on me. For fans of (probably only) Dr. Dog, or maybe 60’s strange psychedelic bands. Best Song: “Dead Record Player.”

7. Press Play by Breezewax

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Electronic DJ sampler music this good should be known far and wide, so I will continue to support this Oxford UK artist. This was actually two EPs (Side A and Side B), so in a way I’m kind of cheating here, but all 8 tracks on both EPs are equally good (except Early Riser, which is even better, the Beach Boys sample at the outro is simply brilliant). For fans of Kill Emil, KOGNITIF and The Nothing. Best Song: “Early Riser.”

8. The Odd Tape by Oddisee

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This Washington DC rapper, decided to make an all instrumental album (following one day-in-the-life kind of idea) and it works wonderfully. Interesting jazz chords, R&B flavors, Hip Hop beats, at the end of the day its just good music. For fans of Breezewax, Jack Lion. Best Song: “Alarmed.”

9. Skip a Sinking Stone by Mutual Benefit

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While the highs here might not be up to Jordan’s best songs in the past, this is his most consistent album ever. Probably best described as orchestral folk, lush chords, strings, beautiful harmonies, this is a slow moving train, with not a beat to be heard for miles. For fans of Kid Mountain, Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Best Song: “Lost Dreamers.”

10. Love & Cannibalism by The Honeydogs

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I’m beginning to have my doubts about kick-starter projects (maybe there are good reasons why some of these artists don’t have record deals anymore), but fortunately, The Honeydogs 2016 release is an exception (kind of). This is not a perfect record, there are some clunkers here (Blue-Backed Speller, Sandstorm) and some filler, but the best songs (Left Alone, Devices, Little Sister) are right up there with the band’s best moments from its stellar past. For fans of The Long Winters, Clem Snide, Adam Levy. Best Song: “Left Alone.”

11. Drakkar Nowhere by Drakkar Nowhere

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Okay now for something completely different. Imagine Todd Rundgren at his most jam-band spacey mixed with some European prog band with a hankering for blue-eyed soul R&Bish vocals and you might begin to get an idea of what Drakkar Nowhere is all about. When this works (which is about half the time, At the Edge of the Mangroves, Higher Now) its good to great, when its bad (In the Eye of Time) its cringe-worthy, but with music like this and a cover like this… that’s almost expected. For fans of Utopia, Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Climax Blues Band. Best Song: “At the Edge of the Mangroves.”

Other Favorite Tracks:

  1. Trip by The Innocence Mission
  2. Stalks by Evan Geesman
  3. If You Find Here by Kerosene Halo
  4. Sophia by United Vibrations
  5. Rhapsody In Berlin by The Pyramids
  6. Tropical Eel by Jimi Tenor
  7. Call It a Shame by Knife in the Water
  8. Force Majeure by Vansire
  9. Fio da Memória by Luísa Maita
  10. Saints feat. Cazeaux O.S.L.O by Prequel
  11. Blood (SYNKRO Remix) by Equador
  12. Too Far Out by Shy Layers
  13. The Ballad Of Ice Cube Boy And Snow Flake Girl by Eef Barzelay
  14. I Have Been to the Mountain by Kevin Morby
  15. Arigatou For Surviving by Serph
  16. Resurrection by N-qia
  17. Clock by Tape Runs Out
  18. Ceramic People by Nonkeen
  19. Gemini by Hoops
  20. Golden Shades by The Magnificent Tape Band

 

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Best Music of 2015

1. Mind Out Wandering by Astronauts, etc.

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Simple piano-based R&B pop music from Oakland with hooks galore and a healthy batch of great songs. A wonderful combination of a cool blue-eyed soul Marvin Gaye lounge vibe mixed with the gentle side of EW&F (with no horns). Love the vocal harmonies and the arrangements are spot on. By my count this album has at least 8 five star songs and the rest are not clunkers. For fans of 70s soul pop music, Marvin Gaye, Philip Bailey. Best Song: “I Know.”

2. Hello I Feel The Same by Innocence Mission

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Just another in a long line of fantastic albums. Great from start to finish, love Don Peris guitar playing/chords/arrangements and loooovvveee Karen Peris voice which is one of the great joys in life to hear her sing. For fans of Karen Peris and Don Peris (as there is no one really to compare them to). Best Song: “Tom On The Boulevard”

3. Wondem  by Dexter Story

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Love this album, its all over the map, but its good-to-great from start to finish. Afro-beat-jazz-pop-disco with great songs featuring Yared Teshale, Dustin Warren,  Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Alsarah, Nia Andrews. Imagine Graceland with a variety of visiting vocalists. For fans of Afro-beat jazz, 70s pop-jazz, The KutiMangoes. Best Song: “Eastern Prayer.”

4. Imaginary Man by Rayland Baxter

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This is pretty much a straight forward folk-pop-rock record, but its just so jam packed with so many great songs (though several are kind of similar) but they eventually will get in your head and not leave anytime soon (and his band isn’t bad either, knowing just what to play and what to leave out). For fans of Deer Tick, Ryan Adams. Best Song, “Yellow Eyes”

5. Star Wars by Wilco

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This is Wilco at its most angular guitar strip down no nonsense and some of it works wonderfully, Taste the Ceiling, Magnetized, Random Name Generator and especially More… and The Joke Explained when this whole rough strip back to the basics meets a good song. Other parts of this record don’t do as well, particularly Pickled Ginger which is kind of boogie mess. For fans of Captain Beefheart, Mogwai, Tweedy. Best Song, “More…”

6. Sing My Welcome Home by Pacific Gold

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A kickstarter album that I participated in and it was worth every penny and the wait. Not a bad song on this, again its re-furbished hymns and they are wonderful and moving and inspiring. The music here is on another level from their past efforts, from Abbey Road hints to lovely Beach Boys vocals. I wore this album out. I’m a fan. Here’s to their next one. For fans of Hymns, Beach Boys, Beatles and Red Mountain Music. Best Song, “Song in the Air”

7. In the Moment Remix Tape by Makaya McCraven

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The jazz artist lets go with some wild and always interesting re-mixes, some of which really deliver. For fans of Makaya McCraven, 70s funk and re-mixes. Best Song,”Sticky Notes.”

8. Our First 3 EPs  by TV Girl

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Another batch of great songs from these guys. This is kind of patchy, but the highlights are classic TV Girl: Lizzy Come Back to Life, Laura, Easier to Cry and Melanie. Imagine Phil Spector with a turntable and a sense of humor. For fans of Breezewax, ProleteR. Best song, “Lizzy Come Back to Life.”

9. I Don’t Even Want To Know EP by Eef Barzelay

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The former Clem Snide singer-songwriter  seems perfectly content these days to sit around and pop out home recordings EPs every few mouths. But he’s starting to hit his stride with these, adding a little variety and little more production along the way (not just playing covers on his acoustic). This one has covers: the Zombies ‘This Will Be Our Year’and Crowded House’s  ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ both of which work fine. But the best songs here are still farly lo-fi homemade but he’s added just the right bits to sweeten the pot. (and then there’s the title track which is a full blown electronic excursion which shockingly… really works). For fans of Clem Snide, Smog, Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Best Song, “King Of Carrot Flowers Part 1.”

10. The World Within by Moderator

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22 year old Greek producer/DJ lays down some really cool vibes jazz-spoken-word-lounge, not a bad track on this. I played this a ton this year. For fans of Breezewax, Evan Awake. Best song, “Words Remain.”

11. Young Men by The Walters

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The Walters pretty much avoid the sophomore slump, though this is probably not quite as good as their debut, BUT STILL, it’s good, very good in fact, doing what they do, which is a sweet power pop on the lite side. For fans of 60s pop like The Association, Beach Boys and Shoes. Best Song, “Goodbye Baby.”

12. Season of Violence or Mourning, Protest, And The Birth Of Bishop Killborne by American Spirit

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An album that swings wide in styles and quality, from folk songs to rock to reverb-heavy dream-rock. When it works, it really nails it: Are You Listening To Me?, All Night and My Motives are the standouts and they are certainly a unique mix with the lush group vocals and wall of sound. For fans of My Morning Jacket and Cosmic Rough Riders. Best song, “All Night.”

13. Philadelphia Summer of ’64 by Various Artists

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An album made up of four artists (Stainless Steele, Sigmund Washington, MoGiLLaH and Josh Hey) paying tribute to Jazz made by Yusef Lateef, John Coltrane and Stan Getz back in the Summer of 1964. For fans of lounge jazz versions inspired by the music of Yusef Lateef, John Coltrane and Stan Getz. Best Song, “Naima.”

14. 1000 Palms by Surfer Blood

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For a lot of fans, this was a bit of same-old same-old and maybe it was, but its best songs were so darn good, its hard not to get pulled in. Maybe this doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but I like what Surfer Blood does and so its all fine with me. For fans of  Best Coast and Mikal Cronin. Best Song, “Dorian.”

15. It’s All True by Diners

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Sometimes the best music is the simplest. This Phoenix, Arizona band is not re-writing pop music, but simply revisiting it in 2 minute (or less) songs, with nice and memorable hooks. For fans of  Summer Salt, Delta Haymax, Best Coast. Best Song, “Only You.”

Other Favorite Tracks:

  1. Geronimo vs. Buffalo Bill by KOGNITIF
  2. Special Stage by Breezewax
  3. Harlem (BORNS x Tommy English Remix) by Cathedrals
  4. Outdoors by Adjamån
  5. The Mystery Of Man by Gilles Peterson Presents: Sonzeira
  6. Manastra by Summer Salt
  7. Forget Their Names by Sleepy Holler
  8. Many Moons by Logan Taylor
  9. Daydream by Santa Fe
  10. Airport Bar by Martin Courtney
  11. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me by Christa Wells
  12. Bees and Bamboo by Shy Layers
  13. Aberrant Life-signs by Blameful Isles
  14. Lazy River Mind by Sleep Good
  15. Bullets by Wild Child
  16. Where Would We Be? by Via Tania
  17. Way Down by Jack Lion
  18. Yum Yum by Sun Hop Fat
  19. Lavos by Talkie
  20. Arrive and Leave by Waterstrider

 

Best Music of 2014

1. Havens Dumb by Augie March  

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After a five year hiatus, (and one great solo album by band leader Glenn Richards) this Australian band reformed this year and went in the studio and pretty much picked up where they left off. Actually, this is much better than their last album and its best moments flirt with overtaking their previous great heights. Angie March makes what I would call very deliberate, poetic and layered pop-rock songs. You can’t dance to it, but you can sway to it nicely. This is music George Harrison might have made if he’d been from Australia and read a lot more literature. The best songs here are things of beauty, epic, lush, grand, stately. Strangely in the middle of this killers row, are suddenly two songs, The Faking Boy and St. Helena, that seemed like bad demos. St. Helena is kind of a country song with long notes that kind of worble off-pitch. Vocally The Faking Boy is a high wire act which was very ambitious and sounds like something The Beatles might have tried, but here its just beyond reach. For a band which is clearly very meticulous and always sonically perfect, it’s kind of shock. Anyway, apart from these two mild anomalies, this album is more than a return to form and has way more than enough exceptional material to make up for it. For fans of The Church, Crowded House, late period Beatles and the melodious side of the Kinks. Best Song: “After The Crack Up.”

2. Afro-Fire by The KutiMangoes

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A generous slice of consistently strong afro-jazz which somehow is very melodious and funky and swinging all at the same time. They never overstay their welcome or get (see what I can do) skat-crazy, always keeping the rhythm number one and having confidence in their solid melodies. The song “Slowly” sounds like something Duke Ellington might have written. If you mixed some of the pop oriented 70’s jazz artists like John Handy or the Jazz Crusaders and gave them a good dose of Fela Kuti afro-beat, you might end up with something like this. Best Song: “Feeling Good.”

3. Yesway by Yesway

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Yeaway is really not like anything else, two women (old friends apparently) who play a multitude of instruments and sing harmonies like angels. These pieces are usually built around an acoustic guitar (often a classical guitar with some excellent finger picking) but from there, there’s no telling where things my go, nice electric guitar chord touches, sweet vibes layering off in the background. And oh, did I mention the vocals? For all the musical gymnastics, the vocals are the real star here and they are wonderful, layers of harmonies, soulful, folky, real, great! Not a bad track here. Fans of Grizzly Bear, Joanna Newsom and the french group Incredible Polo would all dig this. Best Song: “Heart Does Not Lie.”

4. Morning Phase by Beck

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Definitely the second coming of Sea Change, Beck’s release 12 years ago, but I loved that record so, I’m good with it. The best songs here are maybe not better than the best songs on that one, but overall this is a more consistent album, flowing along nicely. It probably suffers a little with the fact that nearly every song is a long slow gorgeous blissed-out piece of work, but Beck has never sounded better vocally and eventually it wins you over to its methodical world. For fans of Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen. Best Song: “Heart Is a Drum.”

5. Into the Lime by The New Mendicants

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Joe Pernice is joined by Teenage Fanclub alum Norman Blake and Mike Belisky of The Sadies and makes a gorgeous Pernice Brothers album? Yes, Pernice dominates this, but Blake has some moments, particularly his nearly solo turn of Sandy Denny’s “By The Time It’s Dark.” Hvae loved that song for over forty years and this version does it justice. “If You Only Knew Her” is a classic Pernice Brothers song, but I sense it might be Blake that gives it its sublime Byrds-harmonies. For Fans of Pernice Brothers, Teenage Fanclub. Best Song: “If You Only Knew Her.”

6. Chronicle Man by Mother Hips

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As I understand it, these are songs which were ‘shelved’ during the making of ‘Part-Timer Goes Full’ back in 1995 and this year they resurrected them and gave them the 2014 Mother Hips treatment. In other words, improved them about 100% for Mother Hips in 2014 are a band at the height of their powers. The songs also benefit from much better production values than the band had access to in 1995. This sits along nicely with last year’s release Behind Beyond, if just a little more spotty. For Fans of Sensations, Greg Loiacono, Wilco, Neil Young. Best Song: “The Flood.”

7. Aeroporto EP by Breezewax

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As the artwork claims, this is a collection inspired by Brazil. Indeed it is, wonderfully. Breezewax, the Oxford DJ musician pretty much nails the vibe and groove Brazilian music while giving it his own spin and not becoming a caricature.  I played this a ton this year. For fans Antonio Jobin, Joao Gilberto, etc.,. Best Song: “With Wings.”

8. Sound Mirror by Syd Arthur  

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If these guys are the second coming of Caravan, then their first album was a brilliant take on Caravan’s classic debut, but this album jumps over about five years to Caravan’s “Cunning Stunts” and “Blind Dog At St. Dunstan’s” mid-70’s era. This is definitely more pop/song oriented, but still very much sounds like the same band and is very good. Overall this is an unexpected and interesting left turn and who can ever fault a band for not playing it safe and not repeating what worked before. Their first album paired nicely with big sounding fusion-prog-pop bands like Kiev, Knifeworld or the new version of Midlake, while this album would go better with Snowmine or Real Estate. Best Song: “Hometown Blues”

9. Land Called Lonely by Delta Haymax

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I’m not sure how many people remember this Seattle band, but I do. They made one album in 1997 (when music was bottoming out with the sludge-fest of Limp Bizkit and co.). These guys fit into that era about as much as they were from 1700s. That album was unabashedly a pop album, part 1950’s prom music with a dose of twee-punk and cool indie vibe. It’s been 18 years and I still listen to it often. So imagine my surprise when I saw this on bandcamp. All these years later and here they are again, shockingly nothing (and kind of everything) has changed. There are definitely traces of the first album here, but the twee-punk has been replaced by the Everly Brothers and early British Invasion. Toby’s vocals have changed quite a bit, obviously more mature, clearly in a different register, but he’s a more assured polished vocalist now. And the production here is much better (the debut sounds like it might have been made in an hour or two). And this also feels little more like a Toby solo record when the other felt more group-orientated, but there is much here that feels the same. The guitar sounds like its coming out of the same amp, the drums, the same. Almost a dozen two minutes (and change delta) haymax songs, with hooks galore, cool vibe throughout, what a pleasant surprise. For fans of early British invasion, Hollies, Zombies, Everly Brothers. Best Song: “Days Of Happiness.”

10. Fourth Dementia by Sandys

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A solid album of sweet California surf-pop. If you are like me and are still listening to the Botticellis one album, “Old Home Movies” (released in 2008) this is a very pleasant and welcome surprise. Botticellis’ leader Alexi Glickman has made a nice continuation of what Botticellis started, with just the right sunny California vibe, wearing his Brian Wilson influence lightly. If anything, this might be more consistent, with not a bad track in the mix. For fans of Earlimart, Grandaddy, Beulah (maybe a little Mother Hips) and especially Morning Benders.  Best song: Great Highway.

11. French Exit by TV Girl

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So-Cal duo of Trung Ngo and Brad Petering create great little pop songs from audio clips and music samples from the past which they mash up here nicely. Catchy, fun, danceable. Birds Don’t Sing is just a great song. For Fans of Breezewax and ProleteR (with 60’s references instead of 40’s). Best Song: “Birds Don’t Sing.”

12. Songs For Dads EP by The Walters

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This Chicago band lays down five simple old fashioned dreamy beachy songs with every chord in place and harmonies floating around like soft butterflies. All of which sounds like a fairly terrible idea, like some kind of Beach Boys cover band with flowery shirts playing the hits in the park for the Grandparents (or for the Dads like their title says), but this works because the songs are perfect little pop nuggets and that’s never a small feat and never ever anything to be ashamed of. In a strange way, they kind of remind me of Dr. Dog, if Dr. Dog had all their rough edges polished off. Here’s hoping The Walters record again and add a little edge (but not too much) to their brew. For fans of Shoes, The Hang Ups, Blacks& and The Silver Seas. Best Song:  “New Girl (Tom’s Song)”

13. Always Room by Diners

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A little indie band from Arizona that’s got the goods. Imagine the oxymoron idea of a lo-fi Phil Spector recording and you’ll get a good idea of how this sounds. But most importantly, these guys have good songs, nearly every one a two and half minute winner. For fans of The ACBs, Paper Drums, and The Walters. Best Song: Cool Kids

14. Dialects by Snowmine

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This shoe-gazer pop band from Brooklyn NY deliver a consistently good album here. Shimmery guitars and sweet vocals keep everything very ethereal and yet down to earth. For fans of Coast Jumper or Icewater. Best Song: Glide

15. So It Is With Us by Horse Feathers

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This Portland band leaves their stark minimalist music behind and join the human race and have a little fun. This music opens the band up from the past doldrums and what do you know? They can write good songs. The lead off track ‘Violently Wild’ is all but ready for radio. For fans of Great Lake Swimmers and Pinetop Seven. Best Song: “Old Media”

16. Atlas by Real Estate

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Improving and refining their sound even more, this release reaches high points not witness before, great production, immaculate and clean shimmery guitars all blissed out appropriately. Good songs abound here, Crime, Talking Backwards, Had to Hear, etc.,. Best Song: “Past Lives.”

17. Driving to Hawaii EP by Summer Salt

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This little 6 track EP is fun from start to finish without a bad track to be found. Simple power pop with a easy way with a lyric and melody. Prom music at its finest. For fans of The Walters, Beach Boys, Delta Haymax, Matthew Sweet. Best Song: “Driving to Hawaii”

18. Little Boats by Pale Son

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Andrew Glencross, a Halifax Nova Scotia artist who has worked with the Canadian rapper Buck 65 and the band The Lodge and others, decided to release ‘a bunch of solo recordings’ and the result is a nice collection of John Lennon-ish pop songs, the best of which are quite good indeed. Glencross has a nice voice and can write too, the songs Unfamiliar, Caroline and Real Love will simply get stuck in your head. Simple but effective arrangements. For fans of Carl Wilson, unplugged John Lennon and 70’s acoustic music. Best Song: “Unfamiliar”

19. Simple EP by Skapel

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Marcin Cichy & Igor Pudło are producers/Dj’s from Wrocław Poland who somehow incorporate eletronica in a very down-to-earth blend which feels more like a modern take on 60’s west coast cool jazz than something from Chemical Brothers. Great background music, but definitely not muzak. For fans of Dakota Suite and Breezewax. Best Song: “On the Road”

20. Keep It Safe by Wild Ones

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This Portland band is all about their layers of shimmery guitars and simple keyboards and best of all, great girly vocals (with multiple harmonies) all of which add up to some sweet pop music. For fans of The Sundays and Best Coast. Best Song: “It’s Real”

21. Rookie EP by ProleteR

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This french sampler/DJ picks up where he left off with last year’s breakthrough Feeding the Lions EP, with seven more tracks slicing and dicing old 40’s and 30’s vocal tracks into modern hip hop beats, something he just does so well. This might not have anything as spectacular as last year’s ‘It don’t mean a thing’ but overall this one might be more consistent. Best Song: “By The River.”

22. Wild Animals by Trampled By Turtles

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These amazing pickers have seemed to have got the lets-play-every-note-faster-than-anyone-has-ever-played out of their system and have decided to sit down and write some songs. Not that they have all their speed-bluegrass out yet as a couple tracks here show, which is fine in small doses, as long as they write songs this good. For fans of Avett Brothers and Lord Huron. Best Song: “Wild Animals.”

23. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son by Damien Jurado

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Okay, I’ll state the obvious, this is simply not up to the standards of his last two releases (2010’s Saint Bartlett and 2012’s Maraqopa) both of which were my number one picks of their respective years. Still this has it’s moments (Magic Number, Silver Timothy) and its a concept album and the fact that I just don’t get it probably doesn’t help. Still anything Damien Jurado releases is an automatic purchase for me and he has had such an amazing run, even before the last two, going back to ‘Rehearsals For Departure’ which is 15 years ago, so hey let’s give Damien some slack here. This is in no way terrible and maybe some day I’ll get it, but the fact is, this simply didn’t get the constant play his releases usually do. Here’s hoping his next release is back up to this past standards, or at least within ear-shot of it. Best Song: “Magic Number.”

24. Favela EP by Question

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This LA beatsmith/sampler/DJ does a excellent job of mix/mashing modern beats and arrangements into these five Brazilian bossanova classics. Best Song: “Una Nota.”

25. King’s Canyon by River / Saint

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Los Angeles based progressive folksier Christian Bidwell releases this solid effort with nice touches here and there, but overall its the songs that bring this through, nice work. Best Song: “Horse Race”

Other Favorite Tracks:

  1. Portrait Gallery (Tim Shiel Remix) by Luke Howard
  2. Lucianna feat. Sistah Sofia by Kill Emil & The Yumas
  3. Tokuta (Grant Phabao Remix) by Jungle Fire
  4. Odessa by Astronauts, etc.
  5. Respect feat. Mara Hruby & Van Hunt by The Decoders
  6. Most Birthdays by Nathan K.
  7. Some Walls by Evan Geesman
  8. Be There by Ex Norwegian
  9. Find my Blood by New Madrid
  10. Mezame by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson
  11. Ella Fitzgerald/Basin Street Blues by ProleteR
  12. Sinesrat by Dexter Story
  13. The Cobweb Song by Jason Howell
  14. Black Lotus by Shogun Orchestra
  15. Travis by Incredible Polo
  16. Eyes Crashed by Mr. Z
  17. The Glooms by Tape Runs Out
  18. Unrevenged by Floating Action
  19. Blessed Sun by Spencer Burton
  20. Something by Yoofs

best music of 2013

1. Ghost On Ghost by Iron and Wine

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A lot of critics didn’t really love this record and claimed Iron & Wine’s best days were behind it (him?), but I don’t get their complaints and just played this a ton, with by my count at least six five star songs (and the rest aren’t clunkers either), starting off with the wonderful ‘Baby Center Stage’ and ending forty minutes later with ‘The Desert Babbler.’ Sam is playing around with all kinds of stuff here, touches of jazz, folk, country… and the harmonies are killer. I’m sold. Best Song: “Baby Center Stage.”

2. Pythons by Surfer Blood

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Again, not loved by critics and some fans, but I don’t know what they are listening to, maybe dreaming of past glories or wishing the band would be someone they are not. I suppose some of this is similar to past songs, but when the songs are this good, who cares? All I know is this is classic Surfer Blood music (kind of a mash of prom music and 90’s noise) with plenty of the goods, i.e. great songs and hooks all day long. Best Song: “Gravity.”

3. Antiphon by Midlake

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All 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

4. Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth by Kiev

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a 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

5. Love’s Crushing Diamond by Mutual Benefit
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A truly creative menagerie of sounds and playful slices and pieces that fit together perfectly, child-like is the best way possible, a break thru album. Best Song: “That Light That’s Blinding”
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6. Our First 2 EPs by TV Girl
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Spliced and diced fun with real instrumentation and vocals, cheesy 50’s and 60’s lounge meets super hipster, but remember, you have to have good songs. Good stuff. Best Song: “Baby You Were There”
7. Dig Here, Said the Angel by Daniel Amos

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Forty 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

8. MCII by Mikal Cronin

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A 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

9. All The Times We Had by Ivan & Alyosha

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Sweet 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

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

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This 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

11. Pacific Gold EP by Pacific Gold

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Actual 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

12. Feed The Lions Ep by ProleteR

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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

13. The Wilderness by K.S. Roads

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Rhoads doesn’t record very often, but when he does he goes BIG. This can only be described as epic-pop, he throws in everything but the kitchen sink, (strings? yes, background-singers? yes choir? yes) but somehow it isn’t over worked, the arrangements are truly classic pop, just bigger than most. This isn’t as good as his best parts of his last album, but its very very good. The Wilderness, If You Want Love, Invincible Fortress and Harvest are great songs. For fans of Paul Simon and maybe Phil Spector. Best Song: “The Wilderness.”

14. Happies by Kid Mountain

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This is what I call playful lo-fi (similar artist would be Mutual Benefit and Sleep Good), but the best songs here (Laughing All Your Laughs Out, Vermont, Kinda Strange, Parashootin) are really great and ones I’ve all but worn out this year. Clearly this is the very antithesis of KS Rhoads. Best Song: “Parashootin.”

15. Eight by Radar Bros

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These guys are building quite a great catalog, this being their eighth album of California-soul hippy pop-rock. When it all comes together with the right song, I just love their cool vibe. For fans of Mother Hips, Beulah, Grandaddy, Earlimart. Best Song: “Angler’s Life.”

16. Debris by Roman Candle

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Okay the obvious, this has its moments, but is definitely not up to the level of their last release, 2009’s ‘Oh Tall Tree in the Ear’ which was a modern masterpiece and my favorite album of that year by a landslide. This is definitely an attempt to do something different and that can sometimes be good and should never be discouraged, but some of this works better than others. End of the Street and Small Time are great songs in fact I see that I played ‘Small Time’ more than any song this year. Best Song: “Small Time.”

17. Internal Sounds by The Sadies

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The Sadies are just so cool. A very consistent band which doesn’t stray too far from what they do but when what they do is this great, who’s complaining? Just another great album of Sadies music by the Sadies and their massive guitars. There’s no one quite like them and yet their influences, particularly to the late great Byrds is huge. For fans of late period Byrds, Mother Hips, Johnny Cash. Best Song: “Story 19.”

18. Denison Witmer by Denison Witmer

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A very solid set of tunes from this gentle acoustic artist who has such a nice light touch. For fans of Innocence Mission, Don Peris. Best Song: “Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister”

19. B Room by Dr. Dog

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This release is kind of spotty and definitely not up to their past great heights, but the high points here are quite good, The Truth, Too Weak To Ramble, Long Way Down, Broken Heart… and good Dr. Dog is always a good thing and always welcome in my book. Best Song: “The Truth”

20. You’re Always On My Mind by A Great Big Pile of Leaves

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Okay if these guys couldn’t get on the radio, then there’s no hope, it’s all hopeless and corrupt. I mean ‘Snack Attack’ is a hit single waiting to happen. Sweet rich vocals, great songs, big full arrangements, expertly put together. Best Song: “Ambiversion.”

Other Favorite Tracks:

  1. I’ll Always Be in Your Heart by Blum
  2. Difference A Day Makes by Jim Guthrie
  3. The Dream’s In The Ditch by Deer Tick
  4. Lost It To Trying by Son Lux
  5. Don’t Call Me by Kratos Himself
  6. 62 Moments Ft Ettin & Manu by Kill Emil
  7. Leave The Light On by Broken Anchor
  8. Chameleons by Photo Ops
  9. Talking In Your Sleep by Tony Dekker
  10. Dilla Esq by Kevin Hayden Trio
  11. Devoted to You by Bonnie “Prince” Billy
  12. Humdrum Blues by The Growlers
  13. One Less Bird by Silver Trees
  14. American Dream by On and On
  15. Before We Run by Yo La Tengo
  16. 1904 by Tallest Man On Earth
  17. Obsidian by Steve Dawson
  18. Wanted You in August by Night Beds
  19. Sunchasers by IceWater
  20. Don’t Give Up by Washed Out

Read the rest of this entry »

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. 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.”

2. 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.”

3. Heaven by The Walkmen

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What turned out to be their farewell album by this great band, was just a continuation of the greatness. Simply not a less than great song on the entire album. These guys definitely left on a high point. Like the song says, they can’t be beat. Best Song: “We Can’t Be Beat.”

4. Shields by Grizzly Bear

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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.”

5. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J

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Not since the first REM album have I been this clueless about lyrics or what these songs are about. An Awesome Wave might win the award for more confusing, strange and plain bizarre vocals of all-time. I have NO IDEA what these songs are about, NONE, ZERO, ZIP. Somebody’s spraying something in someone’s eyes? Still, all that to say, this is a great release, certainly original, unique and the songs are really really great, vocal gymnastics here are impressive and wonderfully beautiful. The album is clearly one long piece that fits together like a suite of songs. For fans of Pere Ubu? or Captain Beefheart? Best Song: “Taro.”

6. Black Radio by Robert Glasper Experiment

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What a beautiful concept album from jazz pianist Robert Glasper who has created an hour of listening to a late late night radio station in the 1970’s each of these tracks rolls by just as good as the next, with spoke word samples scattered through (not to mention the awesome opening launch by Shafiq Husayn). The whole album is solid throughout but highlights for me included the tracks with Meshell Ndegeocello, Lalah Hathaway and Erykah Badu. For fans of Esperanza Spalding, Erykah Badu and Brian Blade & The Fellowship. Best Song: “The Consequences Of Jealousy.”

7. 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.”

8. 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.”

9. 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.”

10. The Tarnished Gold by Beachwood Sparks

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The list of bands which broke up and then re-form several years later and recorded a pile of junk is a long one, but the list of bands which did just that and then recorded their best album is a very short one indeed, in fact Beachwood Sparks might be the only one on that list. This is pure Beachwood Sparks, just better than before. A seriously consistently great album. For fans of The Byrds, Gene Clark, Flying Burrito Brothers. Best Song: “Mollusk.”

11. The Only Place by Best Coast

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Best Coast produce what I like to think of as early sixties California prom music with a modern rock edge. And oh the lush girly vocals are a sweet indeed. Great songs, nice production and fun lyrics. Best Song: “Dreaming My Life Away.”

12. Lonesome Dreams by Lord Huron

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This is exactly what it says it is, lonesome and dreamy. This seems to create a story of some high plains drifter who lost his love and had to go away and will return someday. For fans of My Morning Jacket and reverb. Best Song: “Ends Of The Earth.”

13. The River by Pacific Gold

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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.”

14. Fear Fun by Father John Misty

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Another nostalgic album, this time LA’s early 70’s Laurel Canyon. Josh Tillman’s journey is well documented, solo artist, Fleet Foxes’ member and now solo artist again. The album is very spotty in my opinion, but the highlights (O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me, Funtimes In Babylon and Nancy From Now On) are very good indeed. Best Song: “Nancy From Now On”

15. 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.”

16. Dishes by Nathan K.

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Simple sparse folk music with minimum instrumentation that tells good stories. In the right hands this can be a winning combination and fortunately Nathan K. delivers just that, a winner with some real high points (Bob Seger, Dishes and Ghost). Best Song: “Dishes.”

17. Allah-Las by Allah-Las

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Okay someone’s been listening to the old Nuggets records of the 60’s LA garage bands. This is ‘almost’ a homage or a caricature of those bands like the Standells or The Seeds or The Knickerbockers, etc., but the songwriting here is what lift this from pure caricature to a fun throwback experience that’s french and actually fun. For fans of the LA Nuggets garage bands of the mid-60s. Best Song: “Vis-A-Vis”

18. Falling by Seapony

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You wouldn’t have thought the year could have room for both Seapony and Best Coast but I think they coexist nicely, with Seapony being a little more delicate and maybe a little more troubled. Best Song: “Nothing Left”

Other Favorite Tracks:

  1. Shark Ridden Waters by Gruff Rhys
  2. Summer Explosion by Sleep Good
  3. You’re A Big Girl Now by My Morning Jacket
  4. Driveway Melody by Rayland Baxter
  5. California Wave by Bill Mallonee
  6. Up On High by Daniel Rossen
  7. February Seven by The Avett Brothers
  8. Ghosts by On and On
  9. Frightened by Easter Rabbit
  10. Time To Get Alone by Pacific Gold
  11. Vegetarian Love by Kill Emil
  12. Love Child by The Hall of Mirrors
  13. And Lay by Debo Band
  14. How Far We’ve Come by La Sera
  15. Simple Words by Diners
  16. Visitor’s Center by Kid Mountain
  17. Over the Moon by Rosie Thomas
  18. That Wheel by Cotton Jones
  19. Full Moon Rising by Neil Halstead
  20. Washed Away by The Colurs

best music of 2011

1. Canary by Southeast Engine

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Imagine if The Band were from Ohio and wrote exclusively about the region of Ohio. Timeless, powerful. Great songs. Best Song: “Mountain Child”

2. The Whole Love by Wilco

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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”

3. Tamer Animals by Other Lives
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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”

4. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

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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”

5. Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine

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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”

6. The Crashing Cymbal Clouds by Ben Shive

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Unashamedly pop music heavily influenced by several of the greatest pop songwriters of all-time, Burt Bacharach and especially Brian Wilson. Best Song: “Your Secret Smile”

7. No time For Dreaming by Charles Bradley

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This debut by American old school R&B singer Bradley made a big splash on the R&B scene this year. Clearly, a total throw back to 70s soul music, but the writing is so good, the music so killer and in the pocket and Bradley is soooo good, this easily rises above anything like nostalgia. He just brings the goods and delivers. For fans of James Brown, Tower of Power and Sharon Jones. Best Song: “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)”

8. Laminate Pet Animal by Snowmine

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Big gigantic shoe-gazer-pop with layers and layers of lush vocals, jets and shimmering guitars. Good stuff. Best Song: “Let Me In”

9. Deep Politics by Grails

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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”

10. Prima Vista by Breezewax and Evan Awake

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Electronic musicians from the UK who turn samples and live instruments into funky-jazzy tranquil, beat-driven music that works because they have good melodies. Best Song: “Walk With Me”

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

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A hug album of 18 tracks, all of which are solid with some real outstanding highlights. Josh Garrels is the real deal, good songwriting, and of course great and unique vocals. Best Song: “Revelator.”

12. Follow Me by Chalk Dinosaur

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Pittsburgh, PA musician John O’Hallaron decided to make an ‘album of spacey and atmospheric songs’ and this is the result. John certainly got in touch with his inner Brian Wilson and let have full reign. These songs the Beach Boys should have written and recorded. The song ‘Caves’ I would say is a near perfect song (it might have just overstayed its welcome), but the song ‘Follow Me’ does the trick, pretty much a perfectly made song. For fans of The Beach Boys, The Botticellis, The Ruby Suns and Miracle Fortress. Best Song: “Follow Me.”

13. Days by Real Estate

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Shimmering guitar dream-pop that works very well when the songs are there and fortunately the majority of the songs are there. Best Song: “Municipality”

14. La Sera by La Sera

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Katy Goodman, one half of the Vivian Girls, goes out on her own (kind of) and delivers a great little record. I say kind of becuase she gave the songs to Brady Hall who wrote and recoded all the music (with Katy coming back in then and recording the vocals). It’s strange way to make an album, but it works here very well indeed. For Fans of Best Coast, Seapony and girl groups from the 60’s. Best Song: “Devils Hearts Grow Gold”

15. Cowboy’s Prayer EP by Mutual Benefit

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Boston’s Jordan Lee has a knack for creating beautiful and lush pop-folk-psychedelic songs that just seemed to float in a world of their own and this EP is no exception. For Fans of Cloud Cult, freak-folk. Best Song: “Auburn Epitaphs”

16. Solstice by Breezewax

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The UK DJ/musician Breezeway is the first person to score two releases in the same year in my little ‘best of’ list. This a part of a larger release with other DJ’s, but I’m highlighting only the three Breezeway tracks. He’s has a great touch and understanding on what to do and how to build a good song. Best Song: “Footsteps In The Snow”

Other Favorite Tracks:

  1. Country Clutter by Dolorean
  2. Time Spend in Los Angels by Dawes
  3. Man With The Goodnight Gun by The Califorian
  4. Give Love A Try by Sunbears!
  5. Sailing by Seapony
  6. Scandinavia by Yesway
  7. Still Sound by Toro Y Moi
  8. Devils Hearts Grow Gold by La Sera
  9. Good in Every Word by Cotton Jones
  10. Leering by The Nothing and The Goldenhorn
  11. Beneath the Reach Of Light by Yellowbirds
  12. Honey All Over by Gruff Rhys
  13. 151 by Ben & The Sea
  14. Windowsill by Coast Jumper
  15. New Whaling by Bonnie “Prince” Billy
  16. Dimming Of The Day by Kerosene Halo
  17. Fog by Yellow Ostrich
  18. Just A Growin’ by Young Man
  19. Italian Girls by The ACBs
  20. Hung On You by New Shouts