Category Archives: Best Music of Year

The Best of a VERY Fucked-Up Year (aka The Best of 2016)

What a fucked-up year.

No, really. I’ve lived 57 of them, and this one takes the cake. And I’m not even talking politics, which was the shit show of all shit shows with the shit winning, I’m talking David Bowie and Prince dying. And I’m not sure if their deaths had anything to do with it, but the music that was released in 2016 was for the most part crap. I can think of very few albums that deserve a place on any top ten list. I can think of a handful of runner-ups. And I can remember a whole boatload of shit. Especially from people I respect.  (PW, are you kidding me?)  Apropos for this shit show year.

Of course what makes it even more fucked-up is that the best record of 2016 is really the record I listened to most in 2015. The record I loved most in 2015. But I couldn’t share it with any one. I was so careful with it that I would not leave a copy in my Jeep overnight for fear that someone would break in, steal the cd, and pirate it on the internet.

And taking that one step further, the album I played most in 2016, really came out in 2015. So I can’t legitimately even name it the best record of this year.

Like I said, fucked up.

But so am I, and I don’t really care.

The two records of which I speak are REAL from Lydia Loveless, which came out this year, but devastated me last. And SIDELONG from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, which was released by Sarah on her own label in October 2015, but didn’t fall into my hands until March 19th of this year.

I’ll start with REAL. Anyone who’s read these pages, or spent 30 seconds talking music with me over the past couple of years, knows how I feel about Lydia Loveless and her band. They are the greatest rock and roll band on the planet at this point in time. I believe in them more strongly that the Pope believes in God. (No joke, I’ve talked it out with Benny.) Hell, you know I only make films about things I’m passionate about.

Camera in hand, I got to document a lot of the REAL recording sessions. I got to hear first vocal takes on what would become songs that ripped me apart from inside out. Where the fuck does her voice come from? Lydia can hit a note and make me cry.  A lot of the album did, or at least reduce me to goosebumps and shivers. The title was perfect because it gave you fair warning as to what to expect. Everything here real, the emotions, the playing, the voice. And much like the musicial chameleons who passed this year, Lydia was not afraid to change. I find it amusing that the album has ended up on so many best country album lists. Not sure that there’s one song here I’d even remotely consider country. And perhaps that’s another aspect of her brilliance, you can’t categorize her. Lydia has a song for every occasion, from funeral to wedding, from heartbreak to joy. And REAL runs that gamut.

SIDELONG on the other hand is old-time country by way of BEGGARS BANQUET or LET IT BLEED. I’ve played this album to the point where my friends and my wife will no longer allow me to play it in their presence. Not joking. It’s caused screaming fights. This year, week after week new records would be released. I’d play them once (a hand full perhaps made it to a half-dozen plays), and immediately return to SIDELONG. Still today, nine months after I first heard it, I have it on endless replay in my Jeep. Hell, I had the opening line to her song DWIGHT YOAKAM tattooed on my arm. I am obsessed with this fucking record. It is crack-cocaine to me. It is perfection from start to finish. It is my new ICKY METTLE. (Though that still is my desert island album.) What the fuck is in the water in that Chapel Hill area?

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Why does SIDELONG work so well? Why does it hold me in its clutches. Because every word, every note, every warble in Shook’s voice, rings true.   “I’m drinking water tonight ’cause I drank all the whiskey this morning/Drank the whiskey this morning ’cause my baby, she ain’t coming home.” Seriously fuck. Just stop writing songs now. It’s done. It’s over. Sarah Shook won.

So all of that said, I’m just going to break some rules here and name REAL and SIDELONG as the two best records of this fucked-up year. Buy them (if you download them illegally you’re a scum-sucking piece of shit who deserves to have your legs crushed in a car accident…and oh, I am so fucking serious when I say that I hope I’m driving the other car), savor them, realize that rock and roll ain’t as dead as it otherwise seems.

There were a handful of other albums that I listened to more than once in 2016. (No really, more than once was a lot when SIDELONG was waiting, whispering into my ear, calling out my name.)  These got played.  These are respected.

Here they are in no specific order. These are all beautiful records, and in any other year they might have ended near or at the top of this list. Instead of explaining why I liked them (let’s face it, we have all talked way too much this year – perhaps we can all just shut the fuck up in 2017), just listen to the attached song. You’ll either get it, or not. And if you do, buy the album. You won’t be sorry.

David Bowie – BLACKSTAR

Big Thief – MASTERPIECE

Mitski – PUBERTY 2

Car Seat Headrest – TEENS OF DENIAL

Wilco – SCHMILCO

Adia Victoria – BEYOND THE BLOODHOUNDS

Drive-By Truckers – AMERICAN BAND

A Giant Dog – PILE

Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome

Eric Bachmann – (SELF TITLED)

Eric Bachmann & Jon Rauhouse – (SELF TITLED)

MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Pretty much anything and everything else. I had no patience for the regurgitated same-old/same-old. I had no patience for anything commercial. Perhaps I just had no patience. Bowie and Prince fucking died.

BEST SONG OF THE YEAR: It’s a tie between Shook’s DWIGHT YOAKAM and OUT ON LOVE from Loveless. You already know what I think of the former, and with the latter Loveless and company traveled an aural landscape they had yet to visit. Moody, heartbreaking, depressing and utterly fucked up. Perhaps a good theme song for 2016.

OTHER GREAT SONGS: see the samples I posted from the runner-up albums of the year. These are among my favorite songs of the year.

BEST LIVE SHOW: Eric Bachmann’s living room show in New Haven. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Eric play since falling in love with Archers of Loaf in 1993. Forty, fifty, maybe more. But on this one night, he seemed to channel all that was great, and there’s a lot that’s great about this most under-appreciated songwriter. One song from each of the fifteen records he’d sung on. Played on guitar or banjo, with two for good measure on the upright piano sitting against one wall in the living room. CHUMMING THE OCEANS being one of those. I make no bones about it that my favorite song of all time is WEB IN FRONT, it was beautiful and perfect on acoustic guitar. THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME on freakin’ banjo. NOSTALGIA also on acoustic guitar. It was one of those magic nights that I will remember forever. It was perfect from beginning to end, and I walked away thinking yeah, I could die happily tonight.

BEST HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVE FILM: I’m temped to say no such thing any more, but I did dig THE GIRL ON A TRAIN. Not much else, but then I tend to stay away from anything with special effect, which severely limits the Hollywood films I can see.

BEST INDEPENDENT NARRATIVE FILM: SING STREET. John Carney, the director of the breathtaking ONCE, returns to indie roots with a tale of a bullied teen who starts a band in 80s Dublin to impress a girl. Everything about this film will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear. It’s a perfect film. Not one that will change your world, just one that will make it a little brighter.

Other great films: LA LA LAND, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM: I hate to say it but I’ve yet to see a number of films with might be in the running like CAMERAPERSON or TOWER. I did truly like WEINER, but I can’t call it the best doc of the year. I’ve found that a number of docs I see are told by people who don’t really know how to tell a story in a solid three-act structure. The story they’re trying to tell might seem fascinating, and a great editor might be able to get their film there, but fo me, so many just do not work. Just because it’s a doc doesn’t mean storytelling should take a back seat.

BEST TV: I think there were three television show that for me fired on all cylinders this year: THE NIGHT OF for drama, SILICON VALLEY for comedy, and LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER for everything else. The first was simply riveting from beginning to end, the next smart and sassy and even heartfelt, and the later was a safety net of sanity in this most fucked up year.

BOOKS OF THE YEAR: This year was mainly about short stories, and my favorite book/collection is actually a few years old. BIG WORLD from Mary Miller is the best short story collection I’ve read this side of Raymond Carver. Yes, that’s ridiculously high praise. Until you start read and wonder if I’m selling her short. Her characters are damaged and all too real, I knew every last one of them. A perfect mirror on relationships in this fucked-up time.

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As for the rest of my 2016: I’m ridiculously proud of my newest feature WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS? The screening were all a blast, with Lydia always turning in an original acoustic performance, sometimes a surprise, as the Prince cover was in Boston. (What does her voice do to me?  Earlier that day I was just sitting around on my laptop, she was playing my small Martin acoustic.  She went into the Prince tune.  I had to keep my back to her because I was crying through the entire song.  I managed to say, “You have to play that tonight,” when she was done.)

Completed four music videos (one for Shook, three for Loveless), that all had great premieres. There were all a blast to make. (Thank you again to all the great people who helped out on these videos.)

A DOG NAMED GUCCI was beautifully released on DVD.  If you have not seen this film, watch it.  You will to have to turn away.  Instead it will open your eyes and inspire you.

Dean Falcone’s beautiful production of ONE VOICE from Gucci was released on vinyl on Record Store Day.

Had a short story published in the WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN collection, and even completed my first novel in a decade.  (Stayed tuned for that.)

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Found a number of great new crew people: welcome aboard Isabella (who single-handledly edited the EUROPEAN video), Lindsay, Charlotte, and Hannah.

Enjoyed a lovely vacation with Kristine to our favorite place in the world, Key West. We welcomed a new pup into our lives, the Lab/Rottie mix Dylan, who ended up being a Lab/Beagle mix.

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And NHdocs, the documentary film fest I run with Charlie Musser, grew from three days to eleven. (Just wait until this year!)

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I hope to finish our anti-bullying film NORMAL VALID LIVES in 2017. It feels even more important now.

Plus we’ll be announcing two new projects (we’ve got five in the works, one you really can’t know about yet.). As for the other two: the first is our second animal film, which will be announced early in 2017. The other, my fifth rock doc of course. And if you haven’t figured out the subject after reading this post, go back and read again, read it over and over again. Eventually you’ll figure it out.  Here’s a hint.

So, stay tuned; follow along on twitter and facebook.

Stay safe, healthy, sane, and happy. And a little obsessed.  We need obsession of the good kind right now.  (Drink a lot of water.)

R.I.P. Bowie & Prince

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Filed under best music of 2016, Best Music of Year, best of 2016, best of the year, best of year, Uncategorized

The Best of 2015

Unlike previous years where there have been standout albums that ran away with my head, my heart, my soul (SOMEWHERE ELSE from Lydia Loveless or FORTRESS ROUND YOUR HEART by Ida Maria for instance), this years top three records could have all easily taken the top spot. Ask me on any given day and I’ll pick one over the other. They were all stellar for their own particular reasons, but I put them in this order for only one.

Rock and roll is supposed to be risky. And to me my top choice is a record in which the musician put it all on the line. Had he failed, his fans would have started to doubt his choices, wondering a massive the “fuck the fuck,” and those who weren’t fans would never again give him a chance because he would have become a musical clown. This album divided many fans, enraging some. I know people whose musical taste I trust who were clearly pained to even give it a shot. I was one of those people at first. But upon hearing the record, I became a believer.

So, my list of the best of everything for 2014 begins with my top ten albums in order:

BEST ALBUMS:

  1. 1989 – Ryan Adams – I’ll admit right off the bat that I like the early Taylor Swift records, but I felt this newest effort was over-produced to the point of being unlistenable. I just couldn’t make it through the walls of processed instruments to get to the songs. But Ryan Adams could. He heard something in those tunes, and for whatever reason decided to deconstruct them, turn them inside out, on their ear, and makes them his own. The resulting album is stark and heartbreaking, his best and most consistent record since COLD ROSES a decade ago. How he manages to turn a song like SHAKE IT UP into something that would have fit perfectly on Springsteen’s NEBRASKA is nothing short of genius. When he sings “I’m just gonna shake” over and over again, the image is not of a model-esque blonde dancing awkwardly, but instead of a middle-aged man afraid to move on with his life. And the rest of the tracks just fall into place. Had there been no writing credits, and no fame for Taylor’s record, had people thought he penned these songs the acclaim would have been unanimous. I truly believe that because ultimately it’s a beautiful, brilliant record. And certainly the gutsiest move by any rock star this year.

  1. PAINTED SHUT – Hop Along – So I’m seeing this band live for the first time. Frances Quinlan and company take the stage and start up. But the moment she opens her mouth to sing we are suddenly transported into a horror film and she is the spawn of Satan. Or at least that’s how she sounds, though she certainly doesn’t look the part. And the music isn’t death metal but instead these well-crafted pop rock songs that just stick with you. Despite loving the record, seeing her sing live is an altogether different experience, and it takes me a couple of songs to get used to what I’m hearing versus what I’m seeing. And I mean this all as the highest of compliments. I fucking love Quinlan’s voice, and what she does with it. It’s unlike no other in rock. It’s as if every note she sang tore off a part of her vocal chords and she drowned her pain in cheap whiskey and cigarettes. She sings in sweeps and rages, melodies laced with enough dirty guitar and punk energy to keep you coming back for more. And there was no song THIS YEAR grabbed me by the throat like HAPPY TO SEE ME. The refrain of “We all will remember things the same” on endless repeat will either infuriate you, or thrill you as it did me. As the entire record did.

  1. KICKING EVERY DAY – All Dogs – Just as in Minneapolis in the 80s, and Chapel Hill in the 90s, there’s something bubbling in the water right now in Columbus, Ohio. All Dogs is the third Columbus band I’ve fallen head-over-heels for in the past two years. Maryn Jones and company play grungy/jangly pop rock,

  1. SPRAINED ANKLE – Julien Baker – This is the heartbreaker of the year.   “Wish I could write songs about anything other than death,” she sings in the title track, and that might be one of the lighter moments. A haunting small voice singing of rage and fear in a whisper with fingerpicked guitar out of the early Crooked Fingers songbook. A small masterpiece that will leave you teary-eyed, wanting to give Julien a hug.

  1. ALL YOURS – Widowspeak – Another haunting voice, more slightly off-kilter guitars, sounding like that indie band from the late 80s who never made it big, but only you knew about, and still to this day you put on their self-released cassette.

  1. HIGH – Royal Headache – This is the album that SO many other bands tried to make this year, but fell short.

  1. SOMETIMES I SIT AND THINK, AND SOMETIMES I JUST SIT – Courtney Barnett – Not as great as her last, but damn those lyrics and crunchy guitars. Rock star I’d most want to get drunk with (this year).

  1. FEELS LIKE – Bully – I kept fight this album because it’s on a major label, but it finally won, and beat me down, and stuck in my head. If you were disappointed with other riot girl sounding records this year, check out Bully.

  1. NEW YORK AFTER THE WAR – Jesse Malin – One of those straight-ahead rock and roll records that just kept sounding better with every listen. Just raw enough for the punks, just bluesy enough for the old-timers. Malin’s best record since THE HEAT. It fucking rocks!

10 – SUPERSONIC HOME – Adventures – More blessed noisy power-punk. How can you not fall in love with these songs?

And a special #11: MILEY CYRUS & HER DEAD PETZ

The other big career risk, Miley recording a 90-minute album with the Flaming Lips on her own dime, and giving it away for free. Has it been 45 minutes it would have tied with my top three. Some truly brilliant moments. Push aside your prejudices, and just fucking listen. It’s free!

Also worth a listen:

DRY FOOD – Palehound

COCKSURE – Laura Stevenson

DANGER IN THE CLUB – Palma Violets

IVY TRIPP – Waxahatchee

PREDATORY HEADLIGHTS – Tenement

and of course

STAR WARS – Wilco

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUM OF THE YEAR: (tie)

TOO – Fidlar – as many bands have proven, songs about drinking and fucking too much can work beautifully ON YOUR FIRST RECORD. Then it gets old, quickly. More of the same old shit. Loved it the first time around. The second time around it was just that: shit.

NO CITIES TO LOVE – Sleater-Kinney – I freakin’ LOVED this band in their hey day, but the new collection left me flat and only wanting to put on DIG ME OUT. Not one song connected, and I tried with multiple listens. I really wanted to love this record. I didn’t even like it.

 

BEST SONG OF THE YEAR:

HAPPY TO SEE ME – Hop Along – No other song resonated with me more. The acoustic song on one of the year’s best rock albums. A song that despite being stark reminds me of Hüsker Dü’s NEW DAY RISING in its closing moments. The same line over and over again, yet different every time, making you gasp each time at the brutal sarcasm behind the words: “we all will remember things the same.”

Other Great Songs:

THE GARDEN – All Dogs

SPRAINED ANKLE – Julien Baker

EX’S AND OH’S – Elle King

BEST COVER SONG (not counting everything on Ryan Adams’ 1989):

SHAKE IT OFF – The Screaming Females – yes, Taylor was the songwriter to cover this year, and here the Screaming Females not only give us a twist on the somewhat annoying hit song, they wring it out like a towel soaked in cheap beer and snap it back at your face. Almost everyone I’ve played this for has asked me to take it off, which means they must be doing something right. I love every irritating second!

BEST BOX SET/REISSUE/RECORD THAT DOESN’T FALL INTO ONE OF THE CATEGORIES ABOVE:

TRACE – Son Volt – A gorgeous reissue of a brilliant record. One that only sounds better over time. The included demos are eye opening, and the 1996 show from the Bottom Line in New York is awe-inspiring.

CURSE OF THE LOAF – Archers of Loaf – OK, I’m biased, but this two LP live show from 2011 captures the band at their best.  Sound is amazing, as is the song selection.  THIS is rock and roll!

BEST LIVE SHOW:

Any Lydia Loveless show. Look at it this way, if you love balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, if you love songwriting that rips your heart and mind in half then mends them back together with a surgical stapler, if you love a vocalist who can hold that one perfect note bringing a tear to your eye one moment then blow your ear drums out the next, if you love a band that every night plays as if they’re on the Titanic, it’s going down, and we’re all going to fucking die anyway, there’s Lydia Loveless, and no one else. The greatest bands I’ve ever seen live: Rod Stewart & the Faces in 1973, the Clash in 1978, the Mats 1985, Nirvana in 1993, Archers of Loaf in 1994, Wilco in 1996, to that group belongs Loveless and company. They aren’t just good. They’re life changing. (And yes, I’ll be completely biased and say the best of their shows this year was at Skully’s in Columbus and captured by my eight Who Is Lydia Loveless? cameras. They played every song desperate and beautiful, walking that rocky edge, until the end when they dove head first over the cliff and delivered ten minutes of the most chaotic rock and roll ever created on this sad planet. I love this band. I love this band. I fucking love this band. They own a piece of my heart.)

Here is Lydia with bandmate Todd May performing one of Todd’s songs:

BEST HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVE FILM:

THE BIG SHORT – directed by Adam McKay – I would rank this film as the best Hollywood film of the decade. A work of genius, with a truly amazing cast, brilliant directing, punk rock editing, and a script that made me jealous. The constant breaking of the 4th wall was the best I’ve seen since ANNIE HALL. They had me with Margot Robbie in the bubble bath explaining things to us. This movie just worked on every level. It’s so smart, with such an indie feel, that I truly can’t believe Hollywood had anything to do with it. See it and let your jaw drop.

BEST INDEPENDENT NARRATIVE FILM:

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL – directed by Marielle Heller – Hardly a perfect film, its certainly flawed, but the performance by Bel Powley in the lead role is as good as any acting we’ve seen in this or any other year. It might be so good it blinds you to anything else that’s great in the film. It’s a career-making performance, bold, quirky, funny, sexy. Watch the film because it’s a very good film, walk away feeling as if you’ve witnessed a star being born.

My other favorite films of the 2015 were horror films. But three bloody visions stood out to me: the 80s horror comedy THE FINAL GIRLS from director Todd Strauss-Schulson, the creepy sexual thriller IT FOLLOWS from director David Robert Mitchell, and the absolutely hysterical and completely fucked up slasher comedy THE EDITOR from director Adam Brooks. All are more than worthy of your time.

Also STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON gets a serious honorable mention.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM:

I honestly can’t say any one documentary stood out above all the rest for me this year like FINDING VIVIEN MAIER did in 2014, but there were many very good films worth watching: THE AGE OF LOVE, a completely charming look at elderly speed dating from director Steven Loring; SIBLINGS ARE FOREVER, a stunning chronicle of the lives of elderly brother and sister farmers in Norway from Frode Fimland; BEST OF ENEMIES, an invigorating look at back to 1968 and ten debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon; and THE HUNTING GROUND, a devastating look at the overwhelming amount of rape on college campuses around American and how little is being done about it from director Kirby Dick.

As for best rock doc, while there were many I felt that were vastly overrated (the snooze-inducing COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK leads that list.) there was only one that blew me away, Scott Crawford’s mile-a-minute look at DC punk, SALAD DAYS.

BEST TV:

HOMELAND – Claire Danes and company somehow managed to almost equal their brilliant fourth season with episodes that left me needing a stiff drink. This is the best writing on television. And it’s timelier than the evening news. And I don’t know about you but waiting nine months to find out what Carrie does to Quinn is excruciating.

SURVIVOR – SECOND CHANCE – This show is my guilty pleasure. If you told me I could only watch one show on TV, I wouldn’t even hesitate to name SURVIVOR. Even came close to getting on back when the seasons were still in single digits with my brilliant audition tape titled: “I survived make a movie with Billy Zane, I can survive anything.” But all that aside, this season where they brought back the losers was nothing short of captivating right up until the final episode, when it honestly all sort of fell apart, and one of the characters worth rooting turned in a bully at the snap of a finger. But before that it was TV at its twisty, backstabbing, funny, moving best. (And Wentworth should have won. Just saying.)

JESSICA JONES – I’m so not into the super hero/super powers thing, but this show was so much more than that. Dark, so gritty most episodes left you needing a shower, and a killer performance from Krysten Ritter as the hard drinking, hard fucking, cynical, obscene, and wonderfully damaged title character. (Can we say, “New TV crush.”) The Netflix series was more noir than anything episodic we’ve seen in a long while. And I love film noir.

BOOKS OF THE YEAR:

This was very much a year of short stories for me. The three best new collections I read were: the massive COMPLETE STORIES by Clarice Lispector, A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN by Lucia Berlin and BARBARA THE SLUT AND OTHER PEOPLE by Lauren Holmes.

But I must also add, if like me you’d never read Raymond Carver, please do yourself a favor and pick up the collections WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE and WILL YOU PLEASE BE QUIET, PLEASE? These contain some of the finest writing I’ve ever read, anywhere. If nothing else please read the story titled FAT in the latter. Masterful. If Carver were a punk band, he’d be The Replacements.

 

As for the rest of my 2015: I worked a lot. Traveled more than at any time in my life. Shot two features, and parts of two more. Found a couple of great new crew people. (Welcome aboard Colleen and Cassia.) Went on one of the most amazing drives of my life on Route 90 between Mobile and New Orleans. I discovered peach melba (thank you Dee and William). Lydia Loveless introduced me to the best pizza I’ve ever had outside of New Haven’s holy trinity at Harvest Bar & Kitchen in Columbus.   NHdocs, the documentary film fest I run with Charlie Musser, tripled in size. And Kris realized I wasn’t crazy when I told her she would fall in love with Missoula, Montana.

And next year holds a lot of promise. My 4th rock doc, WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS, will premiere early in the year.

A DOG NAMED GUCCI will be released on all platforms (including a loaded DVD) in April.  (As will a very special song recorded for the closing credits.)

My pizza doc, PIZZA, A LOVE STORY, will premiere in June.

We’ll be announcing our next animal rights film sooner than later. I’m working on my first new book in a long while and a short story of mine will appear in a collection that should have Mats fans grinning ear-to-ear. Our dog Springsteen will no longer be an “only dog” early in the year as we add another furry member to our family. Kris and I will get at least some quality traveling in. And I’m pretty sure in terms of music something very REAL is going to top next year’s list.

Stay tuned; follow along on twitter and facebook.

Stay safe, healthy, sane, and happy. (Do yoga.)

 

 

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The Best of 2014

Just as I will always remember that day in 1977 when I walked past Free Being Records on 2nd Avenue and saw that first Elvis Costello single hanging in the store’s window. Or in 1983, the Professor at Phoenix Records handing me the “I Will Dare” 12 inch and saying “I think you might like these guys.” Or being at a CMJ show at Tramps in 1993 when a band with the worst name in the world took the stage and became the band that saved my life. I will always remember the May 7th thread on my Facebook page where I was complaining about how another new music Tuesday came and went without anything worth listening to, and my friend Aggie Donkar wrote: “My favorite under the radar 2014 record is the new Lydia Loveless.”

I trusted Aggie’s taste, and bought the digital version of SOMEWHERE ELSE on Amazon. The opening track, REALLY WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN, started up with guitars that sounded like they belonged on PLEASE TO MEET ME, and then I heard her voice. And once again, just like that, just like in those examples stated above, my life was forever changed.

To say that Lydia Loveless took over my musical life in 2014 is a ridiculous understatement. Ask anyone who’s spent ten minutes with me. I even had friends who suggested an LL drinking game, doing a shot every time I mentioned her name or one of her songs, but then they realized they’d be drunk by 11 AM. Even when albums from old time favorites were released, I’d listen once, maybe twice, and turn right back to Lydia. And by mid-summer I was seriously thinking that this year’s top 10 album list would have spots two through ten left blank.

I eventually came to my senses. Sort of. Because there were other very good albums released this year. Some great albums. Those records are listed below.

But it was also the year of massive disappointment. Some of my favorite musicians of all time put out albums that I truly disliked (talking about you Lucinda, Ryan, Taylor, Ty, Lykke, Bob, EMA, Bruce). And bands that I had the highest hopes for released redundant piles of crap as their second album.

Of course did any of that matter when I got to see The Replacements live three times, including the home-coming show at Midway, which on a scale of one to ten, well, to paraphrase the brilliant Nigel Tufnel, “went to 11.”

So, without further blabbering, my list of the best of everything for 2014…

BEST ALBUMS:

Somewhere Else

1. SOMEWHERE ELSE – Lydia Loveless – I can think of few albums that are as perfectly in touch with everything I look for in music: great songwriting, ferocious guitar licks, a sense of humor, a sense of rock history, that record-it-live feeling, and a voice. Goddamn does she have a voice. Whether she’s belting out “Well there were times when I was not there for you at all” in the opening track, and you know she’s not being hard enough on herself, or evoking tears with those subtle hints of a vibrato in EVERYTHING’S GONE, a song about saving her family’s farm, Loveless’ voice is at the forefront here. I’ve described her to friends as the daughter Paul Westerberg and Lucinda Williams never knew they had, and even then I think I’m selling her short. This is a perfect record from the most important new artist of the last decade.

2. BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS – Angel Olsen – Noise and heartbreak collide in a collection of songs so stark you’ll feel uncomfortable, as if you’re peeking through someone’s bedroom window, and they know you’re there, but they keep on doing whatever it is despite you, or perhaps to spite you.

3. BOXERS – Matthew Ryan – It’s been a while since Matt Ryan has rocked. And this record comes across as if the pent up energy finally exploded and he couldn’t hold it back any longer. This is buckets of Springsteen, The Replacements, and The Clash flung against the wall, their colors streaming together to create something fresh and new and vibrant. This is the record so many other rockers tried to make this year, failing miserably.

4. HERE AND NOWHERE ELSE – Cloud Nothings – For the longest time I was not going to put this record on this list because of how much I detested their live performance. But then I realized that wasn’t fair to the record, which was a damn great indie rock record with shades of Archers and the Mats running throughout. Buy the album, skip the show (unless you’re into a bunch of kids standing around looking at themselves as if they’re in their garage practicing).

5. BENJAMIN BOOKER – Benjamin Booker – This is such a nasty rock and roll record you’ll need a shower afterwards. Dirty is the word that comes to mind when I think of both his exquisite guitar playing and vocal delivery. Just so fucking good.

6. LET’S NOT BE FRIENDS – The Girls! – Everything about this record makes me smile. This is pure punk pop bliss. Great songs, great riffs, and a sexy sense of humor. And “Sophomore” is one of the best odes to sexual frustration I’ve heard in a long while.

7. METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC – Sturgill Simpson – This is Hank Williams country. This is Johnny Cash. Basically, there’s dark, and then there’s Simpson. “Woke up today and decided to kill my ego.” Fuck, man! Not always easy to listen to, but a great record.

8. SUKIERAE – Tweedy – This record feels like a long walk through your childhood neighborhood with an old friend. You talk, you laugh, you cry a little, all the while polishing off that sixer of Bud, ‘cause it’s the only thing your granddad had in the fridge.

9. HEIGH HO – Blake Mills – Really hard to describe, so let’s say noise alt-country pop. And if that doesn’t make you want to listen I don’t know why you’re reading my list in the first place. Every song is sort of a Pandora’s Box waiting to be opened.

OTHER GREAT ALBUMS:

THE BEST DAY – Thurston Moore

RIPS – Ex Hex

FAMOUS GRAVES – Cheap Girls

ENGLISH OCEANS – Drive-By Truckers

AND THE WAR CAME – Shakey Graves

PAINT ANOTHER LAYER ON MY HEART – Caleb Caudle

WORST ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

DISGRACELAND – The Orwells – After showing such amazing punk/pop/rock potential with their first album, The Orwells returned with an unlistenable collection of songs not even worthy of a B-side. It’s the laziest record of the year. As if they went into the studio with the mindset that David Letterman loves us and we can do no wrong. Well, you did wrong, boys. This record sucks.

BEST SONG OF THE YEAR:

MILE HIGH – Lydia Loveless – I don’t know any other way to say it: THIS IS A PERFECT SONG. It’s full of confusion and longing and wit. It’s feminine/masculine, it’s breathless. And it fucking rocks. It’s on endless repeat.

OTHER GREAT SONGS:

UNFUCKTHEWORLD – Angel Olsen – an ode to when everything perfect breaks. Her whisper gives me chills.

GOD’S NOT HERE TONIGHT – Matthew Ryan – This is the perfect anthem for this broken, fucked-up year. A BASTARDS OF YOUNG minus the hope.

MESMERIZE – The Girls! – Just a freakin’ great song. Nothing more need be said.

IT AIN’T ALL FLOWERS – Sturgill Simpson – You wake up in a strange room next to someone you’ve never seen before, stumble towards the bathroom, catch your reflection is a cracked mirror, what’s all that blood!   You drop to your knees, the room is spinning, and everything would be alright if you could just remember your fucking name. That’s this song.

BEST COVER SONG:

COME PICK ME UP – Superchunk – Mac and company take the classic Ryan Adams heartbreaker and rock it the fuck out. They make it theirs. And that’s saying a lot when the original is one of the great songs of all time.

BEST BOX SET/REISSUE/RECORD THAT DOESN’T FALL INTO ONE OF THE CATEGORIES ABOVE:

ALPHA MIKE FOXTROT: RARE TRACKS 1994-2014 – Wilco – A collection that makes you realize the scope and talent of this band. Beautifully packaged, with 77 tracks of outtakes and demos and live recordings. It’s like the Tweedy album, except this time your friend is telling you all these great secrets which make you grin from ear to ear.

BEST LIVE SHOW:

The Replacements – Midway Stadium , St. Paul, MN – What separated this show from the other 4 Mats concerts I’ve seen since the reunion was the emotion. It was a homecoming of rock and roll soldiers we all thought were long lost as war. They raised their guitars as high as the flag on Iwo Jima and showed us that their songs could never be defeated. And we were all a little teary eyed singing along with Paul to UNSATISFIED.

RUNNER UP:

Lydia Loveless – the Studio at Webster Hall – in any other year this show would have been number one. It was everything you could possibly want from a rock show: noisy one moment, a whisper the next, chaotic, frantic, full of surprises. Do not miss Lydia and company when they play your town in 2015. Because even compared to the reunited Mats, hers is the greatest rock band on the planet right now.

BEST NARRATIVE FILM:

IDA – directed by Paweł Pawlikowski – Quiet, haunting, and chillingly beautiful, this is a masterpiece of the sort Bergman might have made in the late 1950. A story of a young nun about to take her vows only to learn from her one living relative that she is Jewish. You will never forget this film.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM:

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER – directed by John Maloof & Charlie Siskel – a thrilling mystery that begins with a box of photo negatives bought at an auction and leads you through a life of a woman who was secretly one of the greatest photographers of our time. To everyone other than herself she was simply a nanny. Completely captivating.

BEST TV:

HOMELAND – Claire Danes and company came back from a horrible third season with a vengeance. This is edge of your seat, scream at the TV, need a stiff drink sort of drama. And while the ending was a slow burn, if was probably necessary after the wringer they put us through.

BOOKS OF THE YEAR:

DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE: THE WILD, OBSESSIVE HUNT FOR THE WORLD’S RAREST 78RPM RECORDS by Amanda Petrusich – More than just about old guys looking for 78s, it’s about obsession, about the history of American music, it’s about what drives us. I wish it were twice as long. Brilliant!

HOPE FOR FILM: FROM THE FRONT LINE OF THE INDEPENDENT CINEMA REVOLUTIONS by Ted Hope – a real-life in-the-trenches look at what it takes to make an independent feature. Trust me when I tell you, Hope knows what he’s talking about. Every filmmaker, every producer should read this book. You’ll learn more here than you will in any film class on the planet.

And that’s it. That’s enough. We’ve got a lot of great stuff coming up this year. A DOG NAMED GUCCI will be premiering shortly. And in January I’ll be announcing rock doc number four. Stay tuned. Come back for more. And please, never tell me to turn it down, ‘cause it ain’t loud enough.

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The Best of 2013

It was a very good year.  A great year even.  Hell, The Replacements played their first shows in 22 years.  And from a rock & roll point of view, that should make it the best year in, well, 22 years.  That they took to the stage with the energy of an atomic bomb on pharmaceutical speed playing so many songs from that brilliant first album is perhaps just a bonus, though I prefer to think of it as fate.  That the rock gods were looking down and thought we needed a reminder of the chaos, the sputtering genius, the sheer power that rock could provide.  And they all looked at one another, and shrugged, the answer obvious, time for the Mats to play a few shows.

It was a year in which their first album, SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH, suddenly became this old fan’s favorite Replacements record.  Can’t explain it really.  Perhaps the seeds were planted when I started work on COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS, but those seeds sprouted and bloomed this year.   I love that record.  Played it more than any other this year.  Realized there wasn’t a bad track on it.  That is contained some of the most brilliant licks, sarcastic jabs, and all-out fuck-you rock & roll EVER recorded.  And ok, it’s 32 years after the fact, but better late than never.

But it was also a year in which other old punks blinded us with their brilliance.   Superchunk and Grant Hart put out two wildly different records in I HATE MUSIC and THE ARGUMENT, but both were vast in scope and timelessness, as if both artists had been holding back for all these years, and for some reason felt it were time to unleash the monsters they had munching on their souls.  These are the sort of albums that make you cry the first time you hear them.  They did me.  They are faith renewing.  Faith in the power of music to make your mind dance.

The young woman behind my favorite album from 2012 (and it still remains at the top of that list), Katie Crutchfield, returned with a very strong follow up in CERULEAN SALT.  And though it seemed to widen her fan base, it didn’t resonate with me the way AMERICAN WEEKEND did last year.  But to compare it to that masterpiece is selling the album short.  It’s a great record.  (NOTE: if any of you were turned off by the worst video of the year in COAST TO COAST, proof that still photographers rarely can make the jump to shooting images that move, Ms. Crutchfield more than made up for it in the video for MISERY OVER DISPUTE.)

David Bowie returned with a record that in parts took me back to being a 13-year-old and hearing ZIGGY STARDUST for the first time.  Was it a perfect record, no.  But a number of its songs were perfect, noisy in the way that only Tony Visconti could create in 1972.  And coming from Bowie with Visconti behind the boards, that’s enough.

Aubery Debauchery also returned after too many years with a mature (in the best sense of that word) collection of songs that seemed almost harshly reflective on her past.  She bared her soul and in turn broke my heart.  I love this woman’s voice.

With all the great alt-country female artists making waves this year, none shined brighter than Amanda Shires.  Her album was not a collection of a few “hits” and a lot of filler, but instead well-thought out record with one song being stronger than the next.  And the same can be said of Lorde.  Unlike the other pop queens, her album shined from the first note to the last.  ROYALS is not even the best track.

It was one of those years.  Great ALBUMS.  Not just random collections of songs.  Listen to ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE from Laura Marling or the rapturous return to form from Throwing Muses in PURGATORY / PARADISE (it was certainly a Milton inspired year) to the dangerous sexual anarchy of Sky Ferreira.  (And ok, while Miley Cyrus’ latest certainly doesn’t fall into the best album category, WRECKING BALL was the single that stuck in my head more than any other, and never once did I mind.  It’s a brilliant ballad.  Beautifully performed, and nicely under-produced for a “hit.”)

New rock was also alive in Potty Mouth and Speedy Ortiz.  Electric folk was injected with new life in Jake Bugg.  And some of the greatest musicians of recent memory came together to help a fallen guitar legend in SONG FOR SLIM.

And, oh yeah, The Replacements put out a 5-song EP for that same reason.  And they covered EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES from the old musical GYPSY.  And really now, does it get any better than that?

My Best Albums of 2013 (in alphabetical order):

THE ARGUMENT – Grant Hart

CERULEAN SALT – Waxahatchee

DEATH OF A DREAM – Aubery Debauchery & The Broken Bones

DOWN FELL THE DOVES – Amanda Shires

HELL BENT – Potty Mouth

I HATE MUSIC – Superchunk

JAKE BUGG – Jake Bugg

LIVE AT THE CELLAR DOOR – Neil Young

MAJOR ARCANA – Speedy Ortiz

THE NEXT DAY – David Bowie

NIGHT TIME, MY TIME – Sky Ferreira

ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE – Laura Marling

PURE HEROINE – Lorde

PURGATORY / PARADISE – Throwing Muses

SONGS FOR SLIM – Various Artists

BEST EP:

SONGS FOR SLIM – The Replacements

SINGLE OF THE YEAR:

WRECKING BALL – Miley Cyrus

MUSIC VIDEOS OF THE YEAR:

69 – Ida Maria

MASTER HUNTER  – Laura Marling

BIGGEST JOKE OF THE YEAR

Critics who kiss Kanye West’s ass (learn there is a difference between a brilliant artist who takes chances, and a self-indulgent egomaniac who thinks he can fart into a can and it will sell a million copies because it carries his name).

BEST MOVIE:

NEBRASKA – a simple story with breathtaking performances told in resplendent black and white.  A masterpiece.

RUNNER UP:

FRANCES HA – a heart-breaking portrait of Greta Gerwig as a confused young woman.  A beautiful, subtle performance.  (And though it’s also in black and white, after watching the embarrassingly pretentious DVD extra about the film’s look, I might suggest that Sam Levy and company watch NEBRASKA so they can learn what black and white should really look like.)

BEST DOCUMENTARY:

BLACKFISH – a must-watch film about a different sort of animal abuse.  And it’s having an impact.  Kudos to every musician who’s cancelled shows at Sea World.

DVD OF THE YEAR:

STARLET – the poster child for what a great indie film should be.  Drew Hemingway is a revelation.  And the many extras are all worth watching.

BEST TV:

Unfortunately it was the year of shark jumping.  Lots and lot of shark jumping.

BOOK OF THE YEAR:

HYPERBOLE AND A HALF – Allie Brosh – if Kurt Vonnegut was a 20-something woman living in Bend, Oregon today this would have been his first book.  And I can’t give it higher praise than that.

FILM-RELATED BOOK OF THE YEAR:

TELL ME SOMETHING: ADVICE FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS – a collection of short clippets of advise from the world’s greatest documentarians.  Think of it as Chicken Soup for the Filmmaker’s Soul.  But work reading by any and every artist, if only for Errol Morris’ wise words of wisdom: “When you go to people for advice, expect the worst.”

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The Best Music of 2011

This was a horrible year in music. As in 1992 and 1993 when every other band sounded exactly like Nirvana, this year brought upon us bands who felt that Vampire Weekend sound was the zenith for which to strive. And no band did VW better than Foster The People. I say it here, now, with utmost conviction, their SNL performance this fall was the most embarrassing musical event of the year. They make VW look like, well, almost a rock band by comparison. So freakin’ lame.

And of course they weren’t the only ones. Lame is the new creed for rock bands. Wimpy is the new balls.

But instead of focusing on the pathetic, let’s look at the few great albums released this year:

The best record of 2011, hands down, nothing came close, was “Past Lives, Martyred Saints” by EMA. It was raw, damaged, out of tune. The songs could rock you one minute, then haunt you for the rest of your life the next. Layers of vocals, upon almost Archers Of Loaf-like guitars. Lyrically you were left to wonder how she made it through recording the album alive. And if when she sings “I wished that every time you touched me left a mark” doesn’t send shivers down your spine, then check the old pulse. This album certainly left a mark on me. (In this iTunes generation, I’m going to list the one song for each record. This is where you should start. A song that will tell you all you need to know. With EMA, start with “Marked.”)

Speaking of Archers. The masterful reissue of their brilliant debut “Icky Mettle” was another highlight (and I know it doesn’t count as a new album, but I don’t care). Quite simply, it’s the best album of the 90s (with “Versus the Greatest of All Time,” the best rock EP of all time on the second disc). And “Web In Front” is probably the greatest song ever written. Yes, I love this band. And yes, if you don’t know them, you’re life is empty and meaningless. (There isn’t a bad track, and “Web” is too obvious, so start with “Bacteria,” which is so mind-numbingly brilliant, it might make your head explode, especially if you like shit like Foster the People.)

You’ve got to love the original Web video:

Then came Wilco’s “The Whole Love.” Their best since “Yankee,” an amazing collection of songs from one of the best songwriters of our time. Some of it was sprawling, much of it was poppy and beautiful, and then there was the fuzz bass, and that noise guitar at the end of “Art of Almost”— I get chills thinking about it! A great record! (Speaking of sprawling, start with “One Sunday Morning.”)

Crooked Fingers’ “Breaks In The Armor” was Eric Bachmann’s best songwriting since this band’s eponymously titled debut. He sounds energized, his word-play as sharp as ever, and the album’s sparse production makes every note ring true. (Pop on “Bad Blood,” and let it sink its teeth into you.)

The “Kitchen Tapes” version of Lucinda William’s “Blessed.” It sounds as if she’s singing for you…privately…in your freakin’ kitchen. The over-production of the actual album is gone, and we’re left with that voice and some off-kilter guitar playing. But really, Lucinda Williams singing to you in your kitchen!!! What the fuck more do you need? (Start with “I Don’t Know How You’re Livin’.” – it will break your heart.)

Sleeper Agent’s “Celabrasion” was my guilty pleasure for 2011. Sort of Blondie meets T- Rex, but then there ain’t nothing wrong with that. It’s about as poppy as I get. A lot of fun! (Start with “Get Burned.”)

Deer Tick’s “Divine Providence” is a great record in which they channel the spirit of The Replacements, right down to Bob Stinson’s “wrong note at the right time” way of soloing. It’s the perfect album for long drives on a summer night. Probably their best. And it makes me can’t wait for what’s coming next. (Start with “Funny Word.”)

Another great rock record from another great under-appreciated rock band is “Unpersons” from Vancouver’s The Pack A.D. Even if you’re sick of Black Keys/White Stripes schtick, give these gals a shot. To me they play with a genuine love for what they’re doing. No pretense. No ego. They’re having fun. (Start with “Haunt You.”)

Wild Flag’s eponymously titled debut like-wise rocked. And I truly loved about half of it. Probably would have made one of the best EPs we’ve heard in years. (Start with “Romance.”)

Ryan Adam’s “Ashes and Fire” – I’ll admit it took me a while to get into this album, it took me seeing him live at a church in Eugene, Oregon. But then the songs came alive. And it became the CD I’d play in my hotel room when I was along, on the road. It made me think of home. It made me miss my wife and dogs. It just worked…beautifully. (Start with “Dirty Rain.”)

Matthew Ryan’s “I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall” is another beautiful collection of song writing. Ryan’s voice always kills me. And it was nice to hear him end the album with one of his most rocking tracks in years. (Start with “Summer in the South.”)

And lastly Dark Mean’s eponymously titled album. Really dig this guy’s voice, and the banjo! Another fun record that just keeps growing on you with every spin. The hints of Ryan Bingham popping through in the sound don’t hurt. (Start with “Happy Banjo.”)

That’s it. Hopefully there’s something new here you can enjoy. And likewise, hopefully I’ll never have to fucking hear “Pumped Up Kicks” again for as long as I live.

I leave you with this gift from Mr. Bachmann…

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Filed under Best Music of 2011, Best Music of Year