Gorman Bechard is the author of seven novels, THE SECOND GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, UNWOUND (under the pseudonym Jonathan Baine), NINTH SQUARE, GOOD NEIGHBORS, THE HAZMAT DIARY, BALLS, and the upcoming NOT SO PRETTY.
He directed/wrote the documentary COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS, the indie features FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) (2008) and YOU ARE ALONE (2005), the horror comedy cult-classic PSYCHOS IN LOVE (1986), as well as the award winning shorts OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE FURTHER THAN THEY APPEAR (2003) and THE PRETTY GIRL (2000).
He is currently in various stages of development on four features: BROKEN SIDE OF TIME and ONE NIGHT STAND (parts two and three of his "alone" trilogy), PIZZA, A LOVE STORY (about the three infamous apizza restaurants in New Haven, CT), and the Archers of Loaf concert film WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
How do you explain a Taylor Swift concert to someone who’s never been to one? Virtually impossible. I’ve attended between 3000 to 4000 concerts in my life, and that’s a lowball estimate. And there’s nothing I can compare Swift to. Not the Stones, not Paul McCartney & Wings, not Bowie or the Faces in the 70s, not the massive concerts they used to have at Yale Bowl, there’s nothing. Had I seen the Beatles at Shea Stadium, perhaps I’d have a closer comparison. Except the Beatles didn’t play for 3 1/2 hours. And the Beatles audience didn’t have a ratio of 50 women, most of them young, to every one man.
Let’s start with those fans. They were a trip to watch. Stood for the entire show, danced, pumped their fists, scream-sang every word to every song. EVERY WORD. Women should hardness that power, because they would easily control the world, and we’d be better for it. The sheer exuberance brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.
And I make the comparison to the Beatles because who else in pop history could have now played a place the size of Gillette Stadium, that’s roughly 70,000 fans, thirteen times. And let’s be honest she could have sold out another ten shows there, and in every city she’s played. NO musician on the planet can match that. Not now, not ever, except maybe…MAYBE…the Beatles. Sure maybe a few today could sell it out once. But they’d be giving away tickets to the second show.
And I know she has haters. But shut your mouth here. Swift is one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years. She is an astonishing performer who is a little awkward and funny, and who truly loves her fans as much as they love her. 3 1/2 hours remember…I can name on one hand the number of times I’ve seen someone play for that long, and four of the fingers would belong to Springsteen.
The 45 songs were mostly broken down into eras, thus the tour’s name. A few from RED (including the 10-minute version of ALL TOO WELL), eight from the blissful FOLKLORE, and so on. She played a few songs solo on guitar, one solo on piano, she played with just a few members of her band, she danced with a large group of dancers, she was a little bit of everything for everyone there. Tireless, to say the least…but there was more, something else beyond this boundless energy. Magic, perhaps. A control of 70,000 people like I’ve certainly never witnessed before. A rally unlike no other. Everyone there for a love of music, a feeling of “we’re not alone.”
I was stunned. Moved. Entertained. I felt blessed to be there. And look, I’m not saying this was the greatest concert of my life. Those accolades still belong to the Clash, or early Bowie, or even Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett together alone at a small club in Northampton. But it was an amazing concert from one of our greatest singer/songwriters. One I will remember, all too well, until the day I die.
This did not start out as a great year for music. Aside from some amazing live shows, what was being released lacked the punch and urgency of the past few years. It hit rock bottom when one of my favorite bands of all time put out a double record which I just couldn’t connect with, no matter how hard I tried.
And then I heard the phrase that changed everything: “Archers of Loaf are releasing their first new album in 23 years.”
I understand most people in my orbit don’t get it. What is my obsession with this band? I’ve stated countless times they are my favorite band of all time. Their debut album is my favorite record of all time. And it’s very first track is my favorite song. I‘ve seen the band and their singer’s various solo variations at least a hundred times live, if I’ve seen them at all. What can I say, other than they make me happy. I’m of the belief that Bachmann, Gentling, Johnson, & Price have saved me thousands in therapy bills. Though perhaps my hearing has paid the price. I love these guys and am so happy to see how well their musical chops have aged.
Best Album of 2022:
Archers of Loaf – “Reason in Decline” – this isn’t some attempt at a cash grab, it isn’t a carbon copy of their previous records, nor is it yacht rock. It’s angry, current, loud, and beautifully dissonant. It’s as if they were cryogenically frozen in 1999, only to be thawed out to the mess were in now. And they responded accordingly. This is a perfect next step for a band that paused for perhaps way too long, or perhaps just long enough.
And yes, ultimately there was other great music to emerge in 2022. With the first two on this list completely blowing me away.
The other great albums of 2022 in order are:
Soccer Mommy – “Sometimes, Forever”
Ethel Cain – “Preacher’s Daughter”
Maren Morris – “Humble Quest”
Horsegirl – “Versions of Modern Performance”
Tomberlin – “I don’t know who needs to hear this…”
Dry Cleaning – “Stumpwork”
Best Singles of 2022:
Morgan Wade – “Morgan Wade – The Night (Part 2)”
Billie Eilish – ”TV”
Miranda Lambert – ”Actin’ Up”
Album that would have almost topped last year’s list had I known of its existence:
Weakened Friends – “Quitter”
Older album that I became obsessed with:
Jacqueline Taïeb – “The French Mademoiselle” – Probably played this more while driving than any other record I purchased this year. Not sure why. It just seemed to work.
Wilco – “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (remastered)” – one of the greatest albums of all time, and now probably the greatest box set of all time. To hear how the songs evolved, or didn’t, from the Bennett/Coomer days through to its ultimate commercial release is fascinating and heartbreaking, all at the same time.
The Liminanas – “Electrified (Best of 2009 – 2022)” – Had never even heard of this French band until I saw a post from my pal Scott Hudson. Love. LOVE. LOVE!
Valerie June at the Academy of Music, Northampton, MA – went in not knowing what to expect, left with my mind completely blown. She’ll go from a ukulele version of “What A Wonderful World” to windmilling on a Les Paul without skipping a beat. A concert I will never forget.
Soccer Mommy at Harbor Yards, Middletown, CT – Best straight-out rock show of the year. Amazing set, even better performance, and pristine sound, on a beautiful night under a full moon.
Wilco performing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at United Palace, NYC – We’ve seen Wilco 75 times, and this ranks as one of the 5 best times we’ve seen them. Strings, horns, and playing a masterpiece record from start to finish, and even throwing in a tribute to Jay Bennett. Everything about this night was magic.
Most Disappointing Albums of 2022:
Taylor Swift – “Midnights” & Wilco – “Cruel Country” – I don’t think either of these are bad records, but for me they were immensely disappointing. And I tried. Listening to both on endless repeat. But after the near genius of Swift’s last two, and even after having seen Wilco perform the double album live from start to finish, they just both fell flat for me. And there are people whose musical opinions I greatly respect who love these records. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps years from now I’ll learn to love them.
“Oklahoma Breakdown” – from director Christopher Fitzpatrick – this was our highest rated film amongst all submissions for this year’s NHdocs, and for good reason: it had heart, a captivating story, and it rocked. If you don’t know Mike Hosty, watch the film, then do everything in your power to catch one of his live shows. You’ll thank me.
Best Narrative Feature:
“Emily the Criminal” – from director John Patton Ford – Aubrey Plaza, who is truly a national treasure by this point, stars as a college student straddled in debt who makes a very wrong decision, which somehow turns out to be a very good decision.
“Wednesday” – I recognized that this was not the “best” TV show of 2022, but it certainly was the most enjoyable. Jenna Ortega, also great in the horror film “X,” reinvents the Addams Family daughter into the most original character of the year. Kudos also to Emma Myers as Wednesday’s roommate Enid. Together they shine as the most unlikely, but real, friendship on screen all year. And if the now-infamous dance doesn’t move you, check your heartbeat. I’m pretty sure it’s missing.
As for the rest of my 2021:
As our first fully live film festival since 2019, the 9th edition of NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival came back strong this year. Thank you to Katherine, Tony, Mars, Doug, Sydni, Kristin, and a number of amazing volunteers who helped pull it all together. Join us again for eleven days of film starting on October 12th, 2023.
As for other film projects, we’re finishing up “FACTORY” and are about halfway through filming our documentary on the failed Powder Ridge Music Festival of 1970. Both stories keep getting crazier with every turn. Stay tuned for a lot more.
Kris and I got to go on a 30th Anniversary vacation to our favorite place in the world, Key West, as well as the 7thedition of Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival in North Adams, MA. Saw a lot of great concerts (aside from the above mentioned): Archers of Loaf, Billie Eilish, Japanese Breakfast, Weakened Friends, Superchunk, Torres, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Lady GaGa (where I caught Covid), Nick Lowe, Tommy Stinson, and so many others.
As for our dog family, Dylan is well. But Springsteen, now over 14, is having a rough go of it. His back legs just aren’t holding him up like they used to. Send him your good thoughts.
And that’s it. I’ll end like I usually do: be well, hug your dog, raise a drink to the people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, believe that things will get better…eventually…and be kind to everyone you meet.
After one of the most amazing years in music in recent memory, 2021 was surely a let down. Even those who had previously brought me to my knees in submission were subdued and underwhelming. Perhaps two years of this shit known as Covid-19 had really taken its toll. How long could you remain creative when you were stuck in a box?
And yet a few albums managed to rise above the mediocrity. Some were surprises, others expected. And once again, most men had little to offer, as least from my point of view. But why waste time, let’s get to it.
The best albums of 2021 in order are:
Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram, and Jon Randall – “The Marfa Tapes” – this is lo-fi that Guided By Voices would be envious of. Three great friends, who happen to be amongst the best song writers on the planet, sitting around a campfire playing and singing songs. You’ll hear crickets, sirens, airplanes over head, the players breaking up laughing, forgetting lyrics, but mostly you’ll hear the purest ode to songwriting put to record in years. Listening to this album feels like you’re sitting in on a private moment, and you hold your breath at every strum. It is a masterpiece from start to finish and writing about it brings tears to my eyes. Music in its purest form. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Morgan Wade – “Reckless” – That voice! Seriously WTF. It’s as if God were feeling bad for me, and she said I’m going to introduce you to the voice of your dreams. Ilona knows me well. (Read The Second Greatest Story Ever Told and you’ll understand.) This is one of those perfect records that came out of nowhere, and hooked my from her first line and never let go. A damn near perfect ode to lust, longing, and booze, and really what else is worth singing about? Morgan recently signed to a major label, listen now so you can say you knew her when. After one song, she will own your soul.
Lana Del Rey – “Blue Banisters” – While Lana might never make an album better than “Norman Fucking Rockwell” (but then how many musicians have created a masterpiece of that magnitude?), her second album released in 2021 has certainly taken her already dark sensibilities to new depths. From songs about daddy issues to drug dealers to Covid-19, Lana has given us a groove of fucked-up lyricism, depression, and slap-in-the-face sexual desire. “Blue Banisters” is a “Bolero” for this generation. (Look up what the song is best used for.) She knows how to get under out skin, and the minute she does we don’t want her to leave. Love this woman!
Torres – “Thirstier” – Right now no one makes me happier playing live than Torres. There is such an adorable geek joy in her performances. Her show at the Fairfield Theatre Company in August was my first live concert since the Archers of Loaf in Nashville in March 2020. (It was also the first show of her tour.). And it might have been the perfect welcome home for live music, for both Torres and her fans. This album, her fifth, is a love song to her longtime girlfriend, and to life, with an ode to her father as well. As on all of her records, it’s noise pop in its finest form. You never really know when the explosions of sound will come, but as on the aforementioned Archers’ records, you know its coming. Thank you, Torres, for helping me remember what Covid took away for way too long.
Lorde – “Solar Power” – an article was posted recently where Lorde mentioned that her first album was created under a haze of alcohol, her second while on Ecstasy, and her third, “Solar Power,” while on weed. Completely explains why I so disliked the second, while loving the first and third. This is the musical version of getting stoned with friends. Talk about a vibe. It’s a put on and dance around your house sort of album, and I pretty much love it from start to finish. I remember seeing Lorde live at a festival in 2014 where I went to see one of The Replacements reunion shows. I ended up enjoying her performance, with that wild unchoreographed dancing, more than theirs. And you know what I think of the Mats.
Lucy Dacus – “Home Video” – Dacus was the second to last concert I saw in March 2020. She stole my heart that night at the Ryman, and stole it again with this wonderful new record. From the opener “Hot & Heavy” to the epic closer “Triple Dog Dare,” she takes us back in time, like a John Hughes comedy in pop/punk audio form. She’s such a smart and funny lyricist, telling us stories we can all relate to, whether we want to admit it or not. A beautiful record.
Courtney Barnett – “Things Take Time, Take Time” – There is a wonderful sense of solitude to Barnett’s short but breathtaking new record. A Covid record, for certain, she nonetheless keeps it optimistic. It’s got to be over eventually, right. So let’s write a list of things to look forward to.
Snail Mail – “Valentine” – A record of heartbreak and seemingly more heartbreak, and the ability to fall in love and lose that love in no time at all. Another Covid generation record, as dark as Barnett’s is positive, but with Lindsey Jordan’s searing vocals, I’d pretty much let her lead me anywhere.
Most Disappointing Album of 2021:
Billie Eilish – “Happier Than Ever” – this is not a bad record, but after her thrilling and near-genius debut, it is a disappointing one. The title song is a masterpiece, and a few others work. But mostly is feels unfinished, like song ideas that needed an editor. She is still one of the most exciting new artists of this generation. I look forward to what comes next.
Best Single of 2021:
Phoebe Bridgers – “That Funny Feeling” – Bridgers took a good Bo Burnham song about the end of the world and turned it into a seven minute miracle. It will make you cry and smile at the same time, as you realize we’re doomed, but at least we can listen to Phoebe while we self-destruct. Saw Phoebe in Boston in September. Her’s was one of those concerts where you wanted to cry with joy, where you needed to dance, where the world for 90 or so minutes, seemed normal again. I love her for that respite.
Musical Discovery of 2021:
Miranda Lambert – after hearing “The Marfa Tapes” I needed to go back. What else had this woman done. Everything pointed to her nasty divorce inspired double-album “The Weight of These Wings,” and from the opening track I was hooked. This was the pop country equivalent of “Exile on Main Street,” a near perfect collection of anger, heatrbreak and drunken mistakes. Miranda, where had you been all my life? I went down the rabbit hole, even scouring up a copy of her very rare debut on eBay. And while I don’t love everything (hell, I don’t love everything from ANY band), I love more than enough to move her onto a list of artists I will follow forever. I even love her duet with Elle King, “Drunk (And I Don’t Want To Go Home).” And her newest single is the theme for the new season of “Queer Eye” – from a mainstream country artist! And she runs MuttNation. Do I have a crush.? Hell, yeah.
I leave you with an oldie, the title track from her 2005 album “Kerosene.”
“Storkman” – from director Tomislav Jenincic – as heartwarming as it gets, Storkman tells the tale of a widower who takes a wounded stork under his wings, caring for the bird for decades. It’s a love story, a story of humanity and kindness. You will cry, but you will also walk away feeling that perhaps there is hope for the world.
Best Narrative Feature:
“Shiva Baby” – from director Emma Seligman – Rachel Sennott is a star to be reconned with in this truly uncomfortable dark comedy about a young women meeting her ex-girlfriend, sugar daddy, and his wife, at a shiva. A perfect 77 minutes long (during a year when most directors have forgotten how to freakin’ edit), this film brings awkwardness to new extremes. It is a perfect movie. And nothing else even came close this year.
“Ted Lasso” – hype is rarely real. This time it is. Jason Sudeikis and his co-stars deliver the feel-good comedy we ALL need. Whether we need to be a goldfish, or just believe, it matters not. We need Ted Lasso. We need our leaders, all of our leaders, to be Ted Lasso. And most importantly, we need to all agree that tea, as a drink, sucks. Just disgusting dirty water.
As for the rest of my 2021:
Despite the ups and downs of Covid, myself, along with Katherine, Tony, Sophia, Doug, Sydni, Stephy and a number of amazing volunteers were able to pull off the 8th edition of NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in August. Of course, a new mask mandate going into effect the day before everything started did not help.
“Where are you, Jay Bennett?” – my 6th rock doc finally had its world premiere. There will be a pay-per-view screening on January 8th, then the wide commercial release in April, with one amazing surprise I can’t talk about yet!
“The Matchbox Man,” my look at the amazing Matchbox car collection of Charlie Mack, likewise had its world premiere, and will be out on DVD with a boatload of extras in late January.
Me, co-producer Sophia, editor Sydni, and shooter Stephy spent a bunch of time in one of my favorite cities, Nashville, working on our newest animal documentary: “Old Friends, A Dogumentary.” That film is actually on the fast track and will premiere in April 2022. (Unless of course the world ends before that, and then it wouldn’t matter, but I am going to hold Phoebe to the 5 or so more years promised in the song.)
As for other film projects, “Factory” is moving along…slowly but. Sort of like the progress on the building. And we’ve taken on a new film, well into shooting it, about the failed Powder Ridge Music Festival of 1970. It’s an amazing story. Stay tuned for a lot more.
Kris and I cooked a lot. Watched a lot of TV. Got to finally see live music again: Torres, Phoebe, Jeff Tweedy, SG Goodman, The Fixx (Kris loves the 80s, me not so much), Tommy Stinson, and Jesse Malin.
Our dog family, Springsteen and Dylan are both well. Springsteen is 13 now and is still wonderfully obnoxious. I thank Ilona for every day with him.
And that’s it. Another damn covid year is over. Be well, hug your dog, raise a drink to the people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, believe that things will get better…eventually…and be kind to everyone you meet.
Let’s just get it out of the way now, 2020 sucked. Except when it came to music, TV, books and film. As always in life, the arts kept us breathing, when certainly those in power seemed to have no interest in doing so.
So let’s get right to it. Was there one or two records this year that stood out like the releases from Lana Del Rey and Billie Eilish did in 2019? Depends on what day you’re asking (or were all the days the same). Depends on my mood. At any time one of the record topped it, only to be pushed to second place the next day. So, instead of a top ten albums in order of preference, I resent simply the ten best albums of 2020, in order of their release date.
Soccer Mommy – “Color Theory” – It was mid-January when Sophie Allison’s new record was released. The world seemed an okay place, except for perhaps in Allison’s world. Behind the sparkling guitars was a darkness haunting the story telling. In ten songs she captured the pain of isolation and longing. There isn’t a weak beat on this record. And in a way it set up what was to come brilliantly.
Torres – “Silver Tongue” – On the last day of January came a new record from Torres, whom we had recently seen open for Superchunk on their acoustic “Foolish” tour. I have loved Mackenzie Scott’s guitar playing since the release of her first record, many years back, and was anxiously awaiting this first album on Merge after she was rudely dropped from 4AD. And with “Silver Tongue” she takes it to another level completely. This is a driving record that will put you into a trance, and “Good Grief” is the guitar song of the year. Scott’s pain is palpable throughout, the anger of her voice dueling with her six string virtuosity. Listen to this record on vinyl at the loudest volume you can endure. It’s the closest you’ll come to a live concert this year. Fuck, yes!
Lucinda Williams – “Good Souls Better Angels” – Late February. Few singer/songwriters are better than Lucinda Williams when motivated, and Lucinda was angry. Hell, we hadn’t even gotten to Covid-19 yet. This was all Trump. A pissed-off calling out that harkened back to the days of “Essence” genius. She sang what so many of us were feeling in that boozy brawl of a voice that is unlike anything else in the world. This was the sort of album you put on as therapy. There are other people out there as angry as I am.
S.G. Goodman – “Old Time Feeling” – Early March, I was in Nashville for the Seniors A Dogumentary world premiere, the next night I’d be seeing Lucy Dacus on the Opry, and the night after that Archers of Loaf. Then I’d head home, and stay there. The vibe of this record is one of the things that helped me through. A bluesy old-school country feel without any hokiness. There an authenticity here, heartfelt Americana, by way of Kentucky. You can almost feel the ghosts of Patsy Cline drinking whiskey with Karen Dalton grooving to Goodman. Love this record.
Waxahatchee – “Saint Cloud” – Late March brough us Katie Crutchfield’s best album since her 2012 debut “American Weekend.” An album about healing in a time when the breaking of this country’s soul was still hitting its peak, this is the record that for anyone listening at that point in time saw the light at the end of the proverbial Trump tunnel. Hopeful but not overly optimistic, it has shades of mid-60s Dylan, and that’s about as high a compliment I can think of to give any record. Crutchfield nails it on this one.
Phoebe Bridgers – “Punisher” – Mid-June brought us a simply perfect album, Bridger’s second, and it any single album had pushed through to top this list, this would have been it. This is an album so vast and beautiful, so intimate, yet at times brash and poppy, Bridgers has created a record where there are no songs to skip. And even picking the example to post here. In my head everyone must know “Kyoto” by this point because it was simply the best pop song of the year. “Graceland Too” makes my mind explode. “Halloween” breaks my heart. There’s no place to start, because there’s no place to stop. It’s just fucking brilliant. And for anyone whose seen her numerous “live” appearances and performances since the pandemic began, you realize, Bridgers is the performer we need right now. She never fails to bring a smile. And what could be better than that?
The Chicks – “Gaslighter” – Mid-July brought us the angriest album of the year. And while sure, Natalie Maines and company were pissed at Trump, it was her ex-husband who really set the album on fire. After a 14 year hiatus, the band dropped the Dixie, and the hammer. Brutally honest, to the point where Maines’ ex tried to block its release, “Gaslighter” is about buying into the lies of someone who should have your best interests at heart. We certainly could all relate. Their video to “March March” was also the best music video of the year.
Taylor Swift – “Folklore”/”Evermore”/”Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions” – A week later Swift took over. She did in one year what most musicians aspire to in perhaps their lifetime. A truly stunning album, followed by a live reimagining of that album, followed by a starker equally brilliant record. And for those of you who just view Swift as some vacuous pop princess, you’re missing out on one of the great songwriters and story tellers of our time. Put on any song from one of these three collections and be whisked away into tales of a teenage love triangle gone wrong, a mansion of broken dreams, heartbreak, desire, revenge. And gone is the slick dance/pop production of her last few outings, replaced instead by the simplest of arrangements. These are timeless records, put one on from start to finish and you’ll be swept away.
Lydia Loveless – “Daughter” – Late September brought the long awaited fifth album from one of my favorite singers of all time. And while the voice and (most of) the band remains the same, its Loveless song writing abilities that truly shines here. Lyrically as good if not better than anything she’s done, the album focuses on giving yourself a long hard look in the eye and moving on, despite the pain involved. It’s a record that grows on your with every listen, and the one not only Loveless needed to make, but the one we needed to hear.
Miley Cyrus – “Plastic Hearts” – I love Miley Cyrus. No pop star is more comfortable in their skin. She just doesn’t give a fuck what you think. In late November she turned her career around again with the release of a record that sounds like classic mid-80s rock, in a good way. “Plastic Hearts” is the perfect diversion for the mind-fuck that 2020 became. It’s a release, a fall back to a time when you could put on a good rock and roll record and not think seeing a friend might lead to your demise.
Most Disappointing Album of 2020:
Car Seat Headrest – “Making a Door Less Open” – The band was supposedly trying to make their Bowie album. They didn’t. A disappointing mess.
Best Single of 2020:
Archers of Loaf – “Raleigh Days” – I waited 20 years for this song, and it was worth it. Raucous and exhilarating, and clocking in at under two and a half minutes, my favorite band in the world took two decades off my life, and made me feel like I was sweating and moving in unison with hundreds of other fans at some dive bar in the East Village. The single most perfect moment of this mostly shit year.
Best Reissue (tie):
Wilco – “Summerteeth” – Arguably Wilco’s best album gets a treatment fit for a queen with this stunning reissue featuring outtakes, demos, live performances, all beautifully packaged. Blissful in every way.
Tom Petty – “Wildflowers & All The Rest” – The solo demo versions of one of Petty’s most loved records might be his greatest record of all. A treasure trove of song writing brilliance.
The Replacements – “Pleased To Meet Me” – You know I love this band, but for me this was a disappointment on every level. There was nothing here I needed to hear, not ever, not once. A beautifully remastered version of the original album on vinyl would have been much preferred. So bad it almost destroys the memory of one of the greatest albums ever made.
Musical Discovery of 2020:
Karen Dalton – I’m obsessed. And how she could have slipped past my radar is beyond me. The voice reminds me of Billie Holiday, but singing Americana. It brings me to my knees. Listen to this sample. You’ll either love it or not. (P.S. A great documentary on Dalton called “In My Own Time” is coming next year.)
“Miss Americana” – Part cinema verité, part “Fog of War,” Lana Wilson’s documentary on Taylor Swift ranks as one of the great rock docs of all time. Beautifully edited (and docs are ALL about editing), it tells the eye-opening story of the fame at Swift’s level, and how eventually she broke from the ranks of her many handlers and started running her career, her life, on her own terms. There are not many films that I look at and say, “I wish I made that film.” Well, this is one of them.
Best Narrative Feature:
“Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always” – a filmmaking tour-de-force that had no equal this year. From the stark 16mm cinematography, to the performances from Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder, Eliza Hittman’s portrayal of a teenage girl who travels from rural Pennsylvania to NYC so she can obtain an abortion is the sort of film which will define “independent filmmaking” for years to come. One of the best films of this century. The scene from which the film pulls its title will stay with you forever.
Best TV (tie):
“Normal People” – Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal will break your heart over and over again in what was easily the most perfect series in a year of amazing TV. This is what chemistry between actors should feel like. So damn good. I almost wish I had never seen it, so I can experience watching it again for the first time.
“I Am Not Okay With This” – Sophia Lillis is quickly becoming one of our greatest actresses with this wonderfully fucked up tale of a girl with some weird powers and the geeky boy who likes her. It’s seven very short episodes. Just watch it and thank me later.
Worst Thing I Watched All Year:
“Billie” – a completely pathetic documentary about Billie Holiday that seems more interested in her drug use, who she was sleeping with, and the woman who died before she could finish writing Holiday’s biography, than it does in Holiday’s voice. And the use of colorization on some classic old clips makes me want to bitch-slap the director. Everything that could be wrong about this is. The greatest singer of all time deserves much better.
“Where are you, Jay Bennett?” – my 6th rock doc is done. We are out to film festivals, and one way or another, we will be screening by early summer, at the latest, hopefully to a live audience.
I completed my first short film in years, “The Matchbox Man,” which is also out to film festivals. It will also premiere in very early summer.
“Factory,” our look at the crazy life behind the New Haven Clock Company building, is being edited. Though once things are safe, we still need to film a few additional interviews. Watch for a new trailer, edited by Sydni Frisch, coming in early January.
With the help of some amazing people (Katherine, Tony, Haley, Cassandra, Karyl, Ed, Sydni, Ken, Matt) we were able to pull off a miracle with the 7th edition of NHdocs, and actually present 16 live screenings, plus another 100 or so films online.
I did at least get to see Archers of Loaf back in March the week before the shutdown, in Nashville, a city I love. Ate a lot of Jeni’s ice cream too!
Kris and I cooked a lot. A real lot. Painted our deck, rearranged rooms, got rid of clutter, alphabetized CDs. Variations of what everyone else was doing.
Our dogs, Springsteen and Dylan, are both doing well.
And that’s it. This damn year is over. Be well, hug your dog, raise a drink (virtually) to the people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, believe that things will get better come January 20, and be kind to everyone you meet (no matter what side of the aisle they’re on).
The last year of this decade was an easy one for me musically. There were two albums that mattered, both by women, one seventeen, one twice that age. To choose between the two as best album of the year has proven impossible, as least to me. Just when I think one has won me over, the other starts haunting me with never-ending ear-worms. Both were brilliant in completely different way, and no one else even came close.
So, the two best albums of 2019 are:
When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? By Billie Eilish
Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey
First the Eilish. This is the best punk album of the past 5 years. And if you don’t think of it as punk, you ain’t listening. It breaks so many rules, its as if Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, who recorded this in her bedroom, don’t even know any rules exist. The bass comes across like a weapon of mass destruction. The songs themselves are deconstructed, perhaps frightened to pieces by the bass, or simply by the darkness of Eilish’s lyrics. She sings not just about what every teen fears, but about what we all fear, what we all feel. She is the voice of every generation. And if you had played this for me a year ago I would have figured it to sell a couple thousand copies as they traveled the country in a small van playing shows to crowds of 50 to 100 strong. It feels too smart, too fucking brilliant. It’s not McDonalds, as most mainstream music is. It’s a meal at Vedge in Philadelphia, with a scoop of Jeni’s Ice Cream at the end. And yet somehow it caught on. One of those rare instances when the general public got it right.
As for the Lana Del Rey: you’ve got 14 tracks that begin with the line “Godamn, man child. You fucked me so good that I almost said, ‘I love you'” and end with a song entitled “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have (But I Have It),” and cover every emotion in between. The dark corners of lust and longing, of losing, of just not giving a fuck, or perhaps being destroyed by caring just a little too much. Stories worthy of Raymond Carver, she has written a masterpiece for the ages. Nothing punk here, this is a classic record which sounds as if it were produced by John Lennon in 1975. Lana’s vocals have never sounded better, bordering on jazz stylist with hints of Peggy Lee. The production, by Jack Antonoff, who should limit his duties to behind the boards and skip trying to front bands, is what Lana has been looking for since the “Video Games” single eight years ago. The build in “California” alone should have most of you awash in goosebumps. Lush, but never over-done, the album lures you into her clutches, her heartbreak, her joy, and it’s not that it doesn’t let you go. It’s your choice. And you choose to stay.
As for the best of the rest. Some really great albums that in any other year might have topped this chart. In order, they are:
Midnight by Stef Chura – this is probably the record people would have expected to top my list. Pop noise at it’s finest. Angst, feedback, anger, repeat. And did I mention those guitars? Can someone say Archers of Loaf? And it ends with the best Billy Idol cover I’ve ever hear.
Ode to Joy by Wilco – A slow burn of a record from admittedly one of my favorite bands. And while I’ve only loved one album (“The Whole Love”) since Jay Bennett was removed from the lineup, this is the other album that come closest to capturing the noisy, experimental, darkness of the three ground-breaking records to which Bennett contributed.
Inner Monologue, Pt 1 – Julia Michaels – Ok it’s an EP. But if most albums had songwriting this powerful, music would not be in such a sad shape. Michaels is best known for the songs she writes for others (including “Sorry,” which was original recorded by Justin Beiber, but turned into something amazing by Lydia Loveless). Here she let’s us into what feels like a drunken therapy session. Playful but fucked up as hell.
Better Oblivion Community Center by Better Oblivion Community Center, aka Connor Oberst & Phoebe Bridgers – I’m not sure there’s anything that Bridgers can do wrong at this point, and in this case she made Oberst relevant again, or at least enjoyable. This is a great classic pop record, all melodies and hooks, sung by two voices that work despite the fact that they shouldn’t in your head. A stunning surprise.
No Saint by Lauren Jenkins – This is the sort of record I so wish Taylor Swift would go back to making. Simple production, focus on brilliant songwriting, and a voice that’s just vulnerable enough to break your heart.
White Noise/White Lines – Kelsey Waldon – perhaps because she so reminded me of Lydia Loveless crossed with Dolly Parton. And that’s pretty damn high praise. Gutsy, dark, and listen to those guitars.
AF by Superchuck – while not a new album, it was a beautiful reimagining of one of the great records of all time, “Foolish.” Stream it, or better yet, find the vinyl and just listen from start to finish. Bravo Mac, Laura, and company. Bravo.
Only nine in all you might note. I tried. I feel as if I listened to hundreds of records. But when you push those aside and keep going back to two in particular, well, that pretty much tells you what you need to know.
Best Song/Best Music Video of 2019:
“Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish – This could not have been easier. Her “duh” definied 2019, as did the crunch, the humor, the power, and that fucking bass. If ever there was a song that got stuck in my head, and I wanted it to stay…as for the music video, it’s serendipitously chaotic and funny as all hell. One of the few music videos in recent years I can watch more than a few times and still be entertained.
Runners Up for Best Song of 2019:
“Fuck It I Love You” from Lana Del Rey
“Lullaby” by Kalie Schor
“Anxiety” from Julia Michaels
“Dylan Thomas” from Better Oblivion Community Center
“Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” by Julia Jacklin
MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUM OF 2019:
Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen – Never have I used the words boring and overproduced to describe a Springsteen record (Hell, I have a dog name Springsteen, I love his music), but this is a cluster fuck of mediocrity. It’s as if he set out to make a bad James Taylor record…and succeeded.
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE:
Her Smell from director Alex Ross Perry – it’s taken 42 years, but this might finally be the perfect punk rock movie. And Elizabeth Moss turns in the bravest performance I’ve seen since the combined cast of “Dogtooth.” It plays like an like a two-hour existential guitar riff from the fingers of the Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones. Watch, don’t turn away, and you will see what indie film is supposed to be.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman – a nearly pitch perfect rock doc that portrays the importance of Ronstadt in the history of rock and roll without ever side-stepping her humanity, her drive, her independence, and her voice.
Fleabag – This is Seinfeld or I Love Lucy quality TV with no censorship. As good as any season of any show in the history of the medium. Brash, funny, and yet the genius that is Phoebe Waller-Bridge will still get you to cry, And she got to fuck a hot priest. What more can you ask for in television? Nothing!
BOOK OF THE YEAR:
My favorite book that I read this year is a paperback release of a book from last year…but still I can’t stop thinking about Sigrid Nunez’s stunning The Friend. If you happen to love dogs AND great literature, then this is probably your dream read.
And for those of you who love smart mysteries, or thrillers if you will, please check out the vast collection from author James Sallis. I read Sarah Jane this year, and though it is his 18th novel, it was my first exposure to Sallis. These are slender volumes filled with damaged people who are doing their best to get through one shit-storm day after another. I look forward to reading them all.
As for the rest of my 2019:
The highlights of 2019 were honestly my two vacations with my wife Kris. With the exception of missing our dogs, the aforementioned Springsteen and his kid sister Dylan, our week at the Wilco-currated Solid Sound festival at MassMOCA, and again seeing Wilco twice in one day (first at Grimy’s New & Pre-Loved Music, then at the Grand Ole Opry) in Nashville as an anniversary vacation in October were blessed breaths of relaxation, amazing music, and great food with the person I most love on this planet.
Also doing the first reading of my original story “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” at the opening of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, and having the story then published in the So It Goes literary journal, was an honor. I have long credited Vonnegut with lighting the creative spark in me. And rereading “Cat’s Cradle” this year I understand why. It’s like putting on “London Calling” or “Exile on Main Street,” it never gets old.
I was also very proud of what we were able to accomplish with NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. In it’s sixth year we screened over 110 films, and had Michael Moore as our special guest. It doesn’t get much better than that. But then again, stay tuned for NHdocs2020.
As for my feature films…
Pizza, A Love Story – finally complete after 11 years. Playing film festivals (who would have thought a film about New Haven apizza would pack houses in Alabama, Arkansaw, Washington!!!), and currently working on distribution. Everyone will be able to hold a DVD in their hand by summer. Updates/screenings here.
Seniors, a Dogumentary – Our happy animal rights documentary opens on March 5th in Nashville and will also be on DVD later in the year. Updates/screenings here.
Where are you, Jay Bennett? – my 6th rock doc will also be complete this year. Finishing it up now, and just beginning the film festival submission process.
FACTORY – we’re about halfway through film interviews for our look at the crazy life behind the New Haven Clock Company building.
Normal Valid Lives – this film is finally coming together with its new editor. We’re looking for grants, and figuring out what the next interviews will be.
And we’re about to announce our next documentary subject soon. Keep watching the social media pages…but here is a little hint:
Thank you to all of the people who collaborate with me on my films, NHdocs, and other projects: Dean, Chloe, Katherine, Brianna, Haley, Colin, Mira, Sam, Max, Tony, Cassandra, Ed, Lindsay, Jay, Fred, Scott, Diane, and another Scott, and others I’m sure I haven’t named. I could not do this without you. Let me repeat that louder: I COULD NOT DO THIS WITHOUT YOU!
As for writing, my long-in-the-works literary deconstruction of The Replacements Let It Be album, from which the above-mentioned short story derives, will be published. It’s a different sort of novel, a collection of short stories, all connected with the same lead character at different stages of her life, and yet like an album, you can read them in any order, on shuffle-play if you will. Stay tuned…
As for music in 2020 we can expect new records from Archers of Loaf and Lydia Loveless, so I’d say next year’s list writes itself!
In the meantime, be well, hug your dog, share a drink with people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, try not to let the political climate get you down, and be kind to everyone you meet (no matter what side of the aisle they’re on).
First off, too many of my friends made kick-ass amazing records.
And then, even as the months passed, I would find myself in a battle with myself as to what was my favorite album of 2018. There was only one thing that never changed, my favorite song of this year. In fact, maybe it was the year of the songs, as so many truly stood out, while sometimes the albums from whence they came fell a little short.
I don’t know. But I am changing things up this year. Going to start the listing with songs, and then bring on the albums, but the albums won’t have any specific order, and honestly as I write this now on December 26that 6:15 PM, I’m not even sure how many albums will make the list. So, I’ll be as surprised as you.
Best Song of 2018
Uh-Huh from Jade Bird – This UK singer/songwriter, who released one great EP last year, and a couple of singles this year, delivers the perfect song: short, fast, angry and so to the fucking point. When she turns up the growl at the 31 second mark, I am a complete goner. The song gave me goosebumps on that first listen, it gives me goosebumps now. As good a song as any you’re likely to hear . . . ever.
Runners Up for Best Song of 2018
Make Me Feel – Janelle Monae – Though Prince passed in April of 2017, his spirit was certainly alive in protégé Monae’s funky ode to a subject so close to the Purple One’s heart. If Jade hadn’t growled, this would have been song of the year. So close. So damn good.
The Way She Looks At You – Sarah Shook – Released back in November, one week after What it Takes: film en douze tableaux, the documentary I made on the band was also released, came a track from the Years sessions. A three-four alt-country classic about realizing what you thought you had perhaps wasn’t yours after all. Fucking beautiful. And so authentic I can hear Patsy Cline singing it.
Venice Bitch/Mariners Apartment Complex – Lana Del Rey – I love Lana Del Rey. And when she dropped these two songs earlier in the year I was immediately drawn to Mariner’s, but as the weeks passed something about the almost 10-minue long Venice Bitch started taking hold. There’s a vibe, a seduction, a play of words, I can’t explain it, and the old punk in me is disappointed. But fuck him. Like I said, I love Lana Del Rey.
Plastic Hamburgers – Fantastic Negrito – THIS is how you sound like Led Zeppelin without sounding like an ass.
The (14, it would seem, though one’s an EP) Best Albums of 2018, in alphabetical order:
Bottle It In – Kurt Vile – I’ve never placed another Vile album on any best of list because I never truly loved any of his albums. There were a few good songs, but mostly I felt a lot of filler. Not here. This is all brilliant vibe, a perfect album for long drives in the middle of the night.
Boygenius – Boygenius – Technically an EP, but since no one truly understand the art of the EP any more, I’ll let it hang with the long players. Six perfect songs from a supergroup made up of three of the most talented singer/songwriters on the planet at the moment.
Clean – Soccer Mommy – This album honestly almost squeeked past all the rest. Probably my most played record of the year. Angst, guitars, most angst. It’s as if everything good about alt power pop from the 90s were still alive and well.
Fall Into the Sun – Swearin’ – It feels as if one or the other Crutchfield sister is on this list every year. This year it’s Allison’s turn. Just a great fun power punk record with crunch guitars and mostly great lyrics.
History of Panic – The Shellye Valauskas Experience – This was the great power pop record of the year. A collection of songs that stick in your head, but you’re okay with that. They’re like good friends you want to have a beer with who always make you smile.
I Don’t Run – Hinds – You either like this band, or they annoy the crap out of you. I actually love them, and this is their best record. One that I might even risk playing for other people. (Maybe.)
Kiss Yr Frenemies – Illuminati Hotties – A perfect noise pop record. And that is my favorite musical subgenre. Not a weak moment. And those fucking guitars!
No Recover – Eric Bachmann – Speaking of noise pop, the leader of my all-time favorite band put out a record this year that was pretty much the complete opposite. And though Eric insists all of these songs are about the apocalypse, this is a liltingly beautiful collection, which Bachmann breaking your heart, if not with his guitar, then with his gentle whisper of a voice.
Not Tonight – John Howie Jr. – Earlier this year we took the Grand Ole Opry tour, and of course I looked up and listened to a number of artist that I had never really explored, Porter Wagoner being one. And in a nutshell he’s who I was reminded of when I first heard Howie’s album. This is about as old time country as it gets.
And for the hell of it, and because I know most of you have never heard him, a little Porter Wagoner. C’mon, listen and expand your horizons.
Something – Something Young – Long story short, over the summer one of my co-editors told me her boyfriend put out a record and I should give it a listen. To “be nice” I of course did, never expecting this self-released record from a high school senior would become one of my most listened to albums of the year. It’s the 90s indie rock record that’s somehow missing from your collection. Fuck, it’s good!
Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett – At the time of it’s release this would have been my most likely choice for best album of the year. But while I still love it, I don’t feel I love it as much. Still a great collection, but I’m not sure why it hasn’t aged well. Perhaps it’s me.
Warm – Jeff Tweedy – I’m a Wilco fanatic, and this might be Tweedy’s best collection of songs since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (or at least since The Whole Love). It’s as if Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan had a son, and Paul Westerberg was his demented uncle who took him to a lot of shows he should have never gotten into. Love this man.
What a Time to be Alive – Superchunk – One of my favorite bands of all time putting out quite possibly their most punk record. While not the freakin masterpiece of their last, I Hate Music, it’s an angry, timely, ode to our fucked up times. Send a copy to the White House.
Years – Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – My feelings on this band are pretty damn obvious, as the are the subject of my last documentary and I directed the video below. Love every song on this record. It’s an alt-country masterpiece about loss and longing and holding onto the bottle for redemption. And make sure to see them live, Shook and company will make you see God at the bottom of that empty glass.
The more observant of you might notice that this is where I usually list my best films of the year. But I don’t think I’ve seen enough to give an honest opinion. So I won’t even try to give a dishonest opinion. (Or course, those same observant folks might think I was not completely blown away by anything, yet, and of course you’d be correct.) I’ll just skip to the next category.
BEST TV of 2018
There was so much, but one show stands out. One show that makes me laugh, cry, keeps me on the edge of my seat, makes me pause it because I can’t hold back comments on how brilliant something (the fucking costume design) or someone (pick any of the cast members) is, turns me on (yes, she’s my TV crush), and makes me angry that there are only ten episodes in a season and I’ve just binge-watched them all, and now I have to wait another 11.9 months for more. And that show is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. (I love you, Midge.)
BOOK OF THE YEAR:
Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy – This is coming from someone who hates rock bios. I DO NOT read them. They almost always make me dislike the artist at hand, which defeats the purpose, because I was only reading the book because I was a fan. Or they’re written by someone else who puts way too much of their own spin on the story, and I know it’s a bunch of bullshit anyway. Tweedy’s bio is different. It’s very funny, but it’s also very sad. So self-depricating, and honest. It made me like him more than ever, and I didn’t think that was possible. Read it and find a new best friend.
As for the rest of my 2018:
Tales of an impromptu music video, part one: We had a blizzard back in February. At around 9:30 am when there was around a foot of snow on the ground, and the roads in the state were about to be officially declared off limits, I turned to my wife and said, I’m going to go out and shoot a music video. She told me I was crazy and that she was not going to come and rescue me if I got stuck. I have a Jeep. Getting stuck was not an option. So I called up Dean Falcone, whose partner in crime Shellye Valauskas had just released a beautiful new album. I said, let’s go shoot a music video in the snow. In the background I could hear Shellye say we were both crazy. Dean replied, pick us up in an hour. I said, bring cheap guitars. And so we spent an hour in the frigid cold wind-whipped snow shooting this video. I personally love it. Hope you do too. P.S. We did not get stuck, and the video was online by 3 PM that same day.
Tales of an impromptu music video, part two: a Thursday, later in the next month, I hear my friend Matthew Ryan is releasing an acoustic version of the album Hustle Up Starlings, for which I made the first music video which can watch here:
Now the issue was that this new acoustic record was going to be released the following Tuesday. I immediately contacted Matt and asked him to send me the tracks. Upon hearing the acoustic version of Aviator I knew what had to be done: an acoustic version of the music video, with just singer and guitarist. Well, the singer, Chloe, had become one of my go-to film editors after the first music video, so she immediately said yes. And Carina, the guitarist, was just as quickly on board. We filmed it in the same location as the original video on Sunday, and Matt had his music video, which was premiered sight-unseen by American Songwriter magazine on Tuesday. I might love this video even more than the original.
Pizza, A Love Story– in the works for eleven years is done. We’re running a final Kickstarter now for the sound mix and E&O insurance, and then we begin the film festival run. You can find the Kickstarter here.
Normal Valid Lives– has it’s third, maybe fourth, editor, and is moving along. Perhaps the story, or my interviews, are a little too disturbing.
Where are you, Jay Bennett?– we hit the motherlode this year. But I don’t want to tell you how or what. Let’s just say we found the holy grail to make this film work. It will also double post-production time, but it will be worth it.
Seniors– we’re about half-way through editing. Just filmed a few almost final interviews. Our happy animal film is coming along.
And we’re figuring out right now what is coming next…
NHdocs 2018 was a blast. Difficult, exhausting, but rewarding. And it’s coming back for it’s 6thyear on May 30thfor 11 days of great films.
Thank you to all of the people who collaborate with me on my films, NHdocs, and other projects: Chloe, Brianna, Dean, Shellye, Lindsay, Jay, Fred, Colin, Charlotte, Charlie, Katherine, Tony, Sam, Max, Haley, Ed, Carina, Kathie, Scott, Diane, and another Scott, plus the amazing musicians and bands, and of course my harshest critic Kristine, whom I love with every inch of my being. And yes, my four-pawed children Springsteen and Dylan. None of this would exist without you.
Be well, hug your dog, share a drink with people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, try not to let the political climate get you down, and be kind to everyone you meet (no matter what side of the aisle they’re on).
I have been in love with this album since I first filmed the band recording it last year for our upcoming Sarah Shook & the Disarmers documentary What It Takes: film en douze tableaux. As they meticulously laid down the tracks, as Shook turned in sneering, sizzling vocals, as Eric Peterson bent his guitar neck to points from which I thought it night not return, as John Howie Jr redefined the art of drums in alt-country, as Aaron Oliva brought almost a jazz feel to the proceedings with his upright bass, and as Phil Sullivan traded steel licks with Peterson answering every one of Shook’s sneers with one of his own, my crew and I knew we were witnessing a miracle.
There isn’t a song on Years that won’t grab you by the throat and slap you with a line of two that’ll make you realize what a great songwriter Shook is. Instead of going through song by song, buy the record and experience it from start to finish (as all great albums should be experienced — really sit with headphones, press play and for 37 minutes immerse yourself in a work of art). And every time you think it can’t get any better, there’s another track that comes on…and by the time you’re at the half-way point with What It Takes, and the thrilling duel between the strings of Peterson and Sullivan you’ll be crying from the sheer emotional excitement. And then Shook ends it all with the title track, slapping you in the face one more time. “Baby it’s been years since I knew how to move you,” she sings on the coda, But sorry, no, you’re wrong there, Shook. Every note on this emotional roller coaster of a record moves us, kills us just a little with its brilliance, then brings us back to life again with the promise of another song. It’s life support in a time of posers and gutless rock and roll. And yes, to me it’s rock and roll as much as it is country, alt-country, whatever you want to call it. It’s just freakin’ great. And it rocks me to the core of my very soul.
Sometimes things just come together perfectly. A year ago, in February, I brought together a group of six extremely talented young women to make a music video for a song on the about-to-be-released Matt Ryan record. Everything about “(I Just Died) Like An Aviator” rocked. It’s one of my favorite shoots, one of my favorite videos. You can watch it here.
Then, last Wednesday, I read that Matt would soon be releasing an unadorned acoustic version of the same album. He sent me a copy, and I immediately turned on the acoustic “Aviator” and before the song was over I knew what I had to do.
The texting began. I started with my Matt Ryan-impersonator Chloe Barczak as she would have to carry so much of the idea I had in my head. She was in. Then co-producer Charlotte Beatty to handle the organization. And the first video’s guitarist Carina Begley, as the guitar was (except for a few piano notes at the very end) the lone instrument. An acoustic version of the same team, so to speak.
Then I told Matt we were again making a music video of “Aviator.” He never even asked what we were planning, and instead got American Songwriter Magazine to agree to premiere the video sight unseen. He sent me the chords and even a video for Carina on how to play a few of the guitar parts.
By Friday of last week we had a schedule and a location. The same location as the original video. We all met at 8:45 AM on Sunday, loaded up my Jeep with almost all of my gear, and drove the two tenths of a mile to the home of Dean and Shellye.
As Carina got used to the feel of my Martin acoustic, Charlotte and Chloe helped me set up lights and camera. By 10:30 we were filming, buzzing from a lot of Willoughby’s coffee, Coke-a-Cola, and salted-caramel Orangeside Donuts.
But this time around Chloe and Carina had their work cut out for them. My concept was to present the video in one long take. No cuts. Just a perfect performance and some precise rack focusing. No sweat.
We worked on blocking the first half dozen times through, as Chloe worked on her emotional delivery. She felt this version of the song was really sad. Desperate. Depressing even. Both Charlotte and Carina agreed. I was not about to argue.
We got the blocking just right, the lighting perfect. And by the twelfth take I started noticing tears in Chloe’s eyes. That was when I knew we had something special. We knocked off one take after another, with barely a pause between, and she nailed it. Take sixteen was fucking brilliant. Take eighteen was perfect. We did a few more. I had a B-camera rolling just in case my impossible one-shot idea would not work. And after the twenty-fourth take we wrapped.
I got home around 1:30 PM. I copied the footage onto a drive as I put away the gear. Then I started editing, going back and forth between takes 16, 18, 12 and 24…but ultimately the fucking brilliant won out. It would be take 16. I added titles, the slightest color correction, some film grain, and I exported the timeline. By 4:30 PM I texted Matt, Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina a private viewing link for the video.
This is what Matt Ryan wrote to me after seeing it for the first time: “My god she’s killing me. I seriously have tears in my eyes. I love it. Breaks my heart. It’s beautiful Please tell them I love it. Thank you for thinking to do this.”
His appreciation was appreciated.
Matt stripped down a beautiful song, and allowed us to do the same to the original video. But this video is unadorned in other ways as well: void of ego, attitudes, rude people (unlike most of the rest of my past few weeks, hell, unlike most of the world we live in). It was just four people working together, all doing what they need to do, having fun doing it, turning a beautiful song in a visual work of art.
Thank you to Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina, my brilliant cohorts on this project. Thank you to Dean and Shellye for again letting us invade their home. Thank you to Matt Ryan and American Songwriter for the blind trust.
First off nice to see both Sarah Shook’s Sidelong (my co-album of the year last year) and Lydia Loveless’s Boy Crazy collection on many year end lists. They’re not on mine only because they’re reissues. You already know how I feel about both of these artists.
Speaking of reissues, they truly rocked this year. From the Savage Young Dü collection from Hüsker Dü to the amazing deluxe reissues of Wilco first two albums AM and Being There. As did live records. Both The Replacements’ For Sale and Lydia’s Live from the Documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless? (which, yes, I am responsible for bringing to life) are as good, if not better, than any studio album released this year. But that’s not the essence of my top ten list.
It’s about new music.
So, here now, are my ten favorite records of 2017.
The Order of Time – Valerie June – There was no album I returned to on a more frequent basis that June’s brilliant sophomore effort. This record is all about a vibe that just sinks its slightly gritty under the nails claws into you and never lets go. Part old school Americana (think the old 78s that were recorded live in the 20s), part soul, with a voice that sounds wise beyond its years. Add to that the most perfectly subdued production and a collection of songs that seem to get better with every listen, and you’ve got an instant classic. This is a record that will sound even better a decade from now.
Deep Dream – Daddy Issues – Finally a new take on the riot grrl sound. Noisy and sweet at the same time, any band that could make Don Henley’s Boys of Summer worth listening to has to be doing something right. This is the late night, drive fast, slam your fist against the steering wheel, scream along album of the year. Fuck, yes!
Anything Could Happen – Bash N Pop – The best solo record from a member of The Replacements since Westerberg’s Stereo/Mono seventeen years ago. Tommy Stinson just knocks it out of the park with a great collection of songs. His voice has never sounded better, and that familiar guitar sound is like an old friend coming to visit carrying a bottle of good bourbon and a six pack of beer. I’m not putting this on the list because he’s a former member of the Mats, it’s here because it’s a damn good record.
Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee – I loved Waxahatachee’s first album American Weekend (it topped this list a few years back), but the next two left me bored. So I am very happy to report Katie Crutchfield is back with almost the perfect companion piece to that first record. Except this time instead of haunted lullabyes we’re treated to a full-on sonic assault of guitars, bass and drum. This is her rock album. A wall of pop melodies coated in noise syrup brilliant from start to finish. Love this record.
After the Party – The Menzingers – The closest we’re going to come to The Clash thirty-five years after they split up. I would call this my feel-good record of the year. From the opening guitars of Tellin’ Lies the album made me feel young again, and never let up. And maybe this is new for old dudes. I don’t give a fuck. I’m an old dude. And this one rocked.
Turn Out the Lights – Julien Baker – She sings one note and my heart is broken. A whole album, and I’m reduced to tears. She is the heir apparent to Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, someone to take us into the dark spaces, and hold our hands with the confidence in her voice. Everything will be okay with Julien leading the way.
Gilded – Jade Jackson – While we all wait for new records from Loveless and Shook, dig into Jade Jackson spectacular debut. It’s a collection of heartbreak and longing with guitars a little too crunchy for country-western. The raspy catch in her voice will grab you from the first note and not let go.
Notes of Blue – Son Volt – The best alt-country record of the year. And in a year in which guitars seemed to blessedly rule again, this is a freaking guitar masterpiece.
Losing – Bully – Old school riot grrl done right: fuzz, melody, fuzz, drums, fuzz and Alicia Bognanno has a voice made for the genre. Just one of those records you put on endless repeat on a drive from Minneapolis to Fargo.
Spades and Roses – Caroline Spence – Best straight out country record of the year. Spence is an amazing songwriter, but it’s her delivery that just breaks your heart. With production just sparse enough, and yet more killer guitar riffs, she takes us through a collection of songs that sound like great southern literature. Short stories turned to song.
BEST SONG OF THE YEAR: Lydia Loveless take this for both sides of a single: Desire/Sorry. The A-side, a gut-wrenching tale of an affair with a married man gone bad, was truly my favorite track from her last LP Real, but it ended up on the recording studio floor, so to speak, though it was a centerpiece of my film Who is Lydia Loveless? The B-side is a cover of the Justin Beiber song which was easily my most played tune of the year. Lydia makes the song her own, as if every word meant something special to her and the person and/or persons she singing it to. Gave me goosebumps more times than I care to admit. I’ve said it before that she has the greatest voice on the planet. And I’ll say it again. She fucking kills me every time.
Sixteen from Diet Cig – the opening verse is all you need to know: “When I was sixteen/I dated a boy/With my own name/It was weird/In the back of his truck/Moaning my name/While trying to fuck.”
(I Just Died) Like an Aviator – Matthew Ryan – the greatest song in the world can become downright annoying when you direct and edit a music video for it. There’s only so much you can hear one song. Right? Well, wrong, in this case. Despite hundreds and hundreds of listens over a two week period, the first track from Ryan’s stellar Hustle up Starlings lp stands the test of time as one of the best rock tracks of the year. (Even if I no longer picture the words coming out of Ryan’s mouth.)
BEST LIVE SHOW: Lydia Loveless, Todd May, and Casey Magic at the backroom at Cat’s Cradle on December 15th and 16th. She was on fire these two nights, playing solo and with Todd, rearranging, ranting, reinventing European, breaking our fucking hearts every time she opened her mouth. Goddammit, Lydia!
BEST HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVE FILM: I, Tonya – a mocumentary, that was funny at times, heartbreaking the rest. A brilliant cast, superb script, and a sharpness of vision we rarely see with any sort of budget.
BEST INDEPENDENT NARRATIVE FILM: Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig might be the Lydia Loveless of independent film: funny, awkward, damaged, opinionated, and always completely charming. And that showed through in every frame of this magnificent directing debut.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography – Errol Morris’s short, subtle masterpiece. A film that leaves you wanting more, which is rare indeed today. His portrait of a quirky photographer who was one of five people on the planet who owned a 20×24 Polaroid camera. Love, love, love!
BEST TV: TV is the new indie film. And it just keeps getting better and better. Thus just a list of a few of this year’s standouts: Stranger Things II, The Five, Master of None, Ray Donovan, The Keepers, Big Little Lies, The Deuce, and GLOW. (And I’m not even mentioning my guilty pleasure love for reality TV like Big Brother, Survivor, and Top Chef.)
Four releases this fall, of which I am quite proud: Who is Lydia Loveless? on DVD with a shitload of great extras, the Record Store Day vinyl-only release of 6 tunes from the film, Live from the Documentary Who is Lydia Loveless?, my first film Disconnected on bluray (with extras that include my long-lost first documentary Twenty Questions), and Psychos In Love on bluray. (The last two both brought to you from the amazingly twisted folks at Vinegar Syndrome.
As for what’s next: five documentaries in various stages of production:
What it Takes: film en douze tableaux – a quirky portrait of Sarah Shook and the Disarmers as they record their new album Years for Bloodshot Record. You can expect to see this at film festivals in late Spring.
Seniors – A documentary that celebrates the brains, energy & sass of some of the coolest senior dogs on this planet and the people who love them. It’s mostly filmed. Editing now.
Pizza, A Love Story – in the works for ten years and being edited now, we hope to finally have our epic love poem to the Holy Trinity of pizza (Sally’s, Pepe’s, and Modern) completed by mid-year.
Normal Valid Lives – our look at a horrible case of bullying in a school district north of Minneapolis. We still have a little filming to do, and hope to have this completed for film festivals in early 2019.
Where are you, Jay Bennett? – A feature-length documentary on Jay Bennett, a legendary musician, who as a member of Wilco, was a large part of the genius behind three seminal albums, who went on to a critically acclaimed solo career, before dying tragically at the age of 45. Filming and editing now.
And of course, NHdocs 2018 is coming your way on May 31st for 11 days of great films. (might have a surprise or two from me in there!)
That’s it. Another year in the books. Be well, hug your dog, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, and be kind to everyone you meet.