Bunch of Nonsense

Music, Books and Life in the Spirit

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. 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.

4. 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.”

5. 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”

6. 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 band camp. 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 Brother 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 a day 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 dozen great 2 minute and twenty second delta haymax songs, with hooks galore, cool vibe throughout, what a pleasant surprise. For fans of early British invasion, Hollies, Nick Lowe, Rockpile, Dave Edmunds, Everly Brothers. Best Song: “Days Of Happiness.”

7. 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.”

8. 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)”

9. 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

10. 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”

11. 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.”

12. 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”

13. 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”

14. 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”

15. 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.”

16. 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.”

17. 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.”

18. 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.”

19. 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”

20. The End of Broad Slough by Coast Jumper

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A partial kickstarter project that is a nice addition to their catalog, shimmering dream-pop done right, great vocals and epic arrangements. Best Song: “Blackout”

best music of 2013

1. 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

2. 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

3. 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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 4. 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”
5. 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

6. 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

7. 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

8. 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

9. 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

10. 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

11. 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.”

12. 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.”

13. 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.”

14. 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.”

15. 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.”

16. 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”

17. 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”

18. 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.”

19. Summer Daze by Summerays

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Great summer surf-pop. Out of the literally millions of surf bands out there, these guys rise above the pack because they mixed it up a little bit (everything is not a two minute ‘wipeout’ re-tread) and mainly because they have better songs, Girlfriend, Without You, Summer Daze. Best Song: “Girlfriend.”

20. Elephant Stone by Elephant Stone

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About what you would think from a band that named themselves after a Stone Roses song, poppy, psychedelic and a tendency to jam. Think the Byrds turned up to 11. The songwriting is kind of spotty, but the good stuff works well. For fans of Stone Roses, the Byrds and 60’s psychedelic bands. Best Song: “Setting Sun”

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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. 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”

19. The Colurs EP by The Colurs

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Still another nostalgic release, this time maybe what I would call cheesy 70’s pop which doesn’t sound like it would be very inviting, but these little pop gems just dare you not to love them. I’ll admit that ‘Easy To Love’ is a bridge too far for me and its pop sugar is so sweet it just hurts my teeth, but the other three tracks are winners (Where We Belong doesn’t really fit with the others actually sounds like a late 90’s rock song). For fans of early 80’s Fleetwood Mac, The Little River Band. Best Song: “Washed Away.”

best music of 2011

1. Canary by Southeast Engine

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Imagine if The Band were from Ohio and wrote elusively 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”

best music of 2010

1. Saint Bartlett by Damien Jurado

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A very moving, dare I say, stunning album from start to finish, great great songs, and Damein’s new direction musically works perfectly. Best Song: “Kansas City.”

2. Lisbon by The Walkmen

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The New York based band delivers again. They have never made a false step and six albums in, that is quite an accomplishment. No one sounds like them, completely unique. Timeless. Best Song: While I Shovel The Snow

3. My Room In The Trees by Innocence Mission

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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.”

4. Tall Hours In the Glowstream by Cotton Jones

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If you crossed Gene Clark and Johnny and June with Roy Orbison you ‘might’ begin to get a feel for what Cotton Jones is like. Great songwriting throughout. Best Song” “Man Climbs Out of the Winter”

5. Shame, Shame by Dr. Dog

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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.”

6. Panorama by Birds & Batteries

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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. Best Song: “We’re An Industry.”

7. Shadows by Teenage Fanclub

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Teenage Fanclub have never made a bad record and this one is no exception, all three songwriters deliver something worthwhile. Best Song: Into The City

8. Glimjack by Glenn Richards

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The Augie March leader strikes out on his own and delivers a great album (tho how it is different than a AM album is beyond me). Best Song: “Unflappable Man”

9. Big Echo by The Morning Benders

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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.”

10. Destroyer Of The Void by Blitzen Trapper

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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.”

Best Music of 2009

1. Oh Tall Tree in the Ear by Roman Candle

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This Chapel Hill North Carolina band has really done it this time, simply a modern classic. There’s so many great songs on this it just goes on and on and on and on, five star songs everywhere you wanna look or listen. There’s at least six songs here that should have been MASSIVE hits, but radio is still dead at the wheel, playing old worn out Journey dreck, sad and pathetic. Roman Candle is clearly from the south and this is music that is clearly from a particular place, but this is NOT southern rock. Just good music, great songwriting, great vocals, intelligent lyrics, and oh-my even a sense of humor! For fans of good music. Best Song: “I Was a Fool.”

2. Molina and Johnson by Molina and Johnson

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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.”

3. Paranoid Cocoon by Cotton Jones

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This is what could have happened if Johnny and June lived long enough to go alternative and record a lo-fi album. Yes this singing and songwriting here is that great, several on this are complete classics, By Morning Light, Gone the Bells and truly brilliant I Am the Changer, everything is done right down the smallest hiss and cheesy organ. Love love love this album. Best Song: “I Am the Changer”

4. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear
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Sure to be on a lot of yearend lists, this one simply delivers. This is 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 he would have produced. Best Song: “Southern Point.”

5. Hold Time by M. Ward
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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.”

6. Around The Well by Iron and Wine

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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.”

7. Other Lives by Other Lives

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If John Lennon sat down at a piano and wrote an album with a cello player it might have resulted in something like this. Beautiful, melancholy, moving. Best Song: “How Could This Be?”

8. Wilco (The album) by Wilco

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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.”

9. Dark Was The Night by Various Artist

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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, some of this is kind of terrible, but the ones that work are quite good. Everyone pretty much sticks to his or her style. Double records get two Best Songs: “El Caporal” by My Morning Jacket and “Tightrope” by Yeasayer.

10. There Exists An Abstraction Ladder by Burywood

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A homemade album of bits and pieces made over a two year period which leads to its extremely eclectic nature, but that is a part of it’s charm and its high points are quite memorable: Denton Desert Island, The Storm (The Applause), Minor Infractions as well as several others. Best Song: “Athenian Flannel”

11. Sewn Together by Meat Puppets

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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.”

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