Category Archives: best of

The Best of 2017

A very good year in music.

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.

Listen to Sorry on bandcamp here.


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.)

BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Mary Miller’s brilliant Always Happy Hour: Stories and Jeff Goodell’s terrifying The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World. The former is a collection of writing to rival the dark despair of Carver, the latter a look at how the coastlines of the world will not be recognizable in a few decades. Both so worth reading, perhaps for the same reason.

As for the rest of my 2017:

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.




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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…


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.


THE BEST DAY – Thurston Moore

RIPS – Ex Hex


ENGLISH OCEANS – Drive-By Truckers

AND THE WAR CAME – Shakey Graves



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 Music & Films of 2010

Best & Worst of 2010

I’ll be the first to admit that because I was making a documentary on The Replacements, I listened to them probably more than all other musicians combined. I rediscovered SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH, hearing things that I had somehow never heard before (perhaps I previously focused a little too much on LET IT BE, TIM, and PLEASED TO MEET ME). And I probably played IF ONLY YOU WERE LONELY more than any other song. If was like an old friend, whispering over my shoulder, giving me encouragement and at times enlightenment.

That said, here are what I believe to be the best albums of 2010, in order:

1. Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses – JUNKY STAR – If his voice doesn’t get you, the song writing certainly will. (Or at least the dirtiest guitar sound I’ve heard in a few years.) It was as if Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams had a kid, Eric Bachman was his older brother, and Paul Westerberg his obnoxious uncle. If that description doesn’t have you opening another browser window to order this damn thing now, then go and listen to HALLELUJAH (No, not the one we’d heard a million times over, another HALLELUJAH). I’ve given this album to a good half dozen people. The first word out of their mouths after one listen: “Hallelujah.” Then something like “wow.” Yeah, “wow,” says it best. This is a fucking great record, without a flaw.

2. Joanna Newsom – HAVE ONE ON ME – A three cd set that really defies description and begs to be heard from start to finish. A modern folk opera. Brilliant, certainly not for everyone, but if you give it a chance.

3. The Whigs – IN THE DARK – My favorite straight out rock album of the year. The closest thing I could find in the purest spirit of the Mats (that was actually worth listening to). KILL ME CAROLYNE is hands down my favorite song of the year.

4. Superchunk – MAJESTY SHREDDING – Shame on Mac and company for making us wait this long for another release, but one of the two best bands of the 90s (you know the Archers of Loaf was the other), returns to solid form with a record that sounds as if it could have been released in their heyday. LEARNED TO SURF is as good as rock gets in this decade.

5. Frightened Rabbit – THE WINTER OF MIXED DRINKS – An album of rousing anthems about drinking and screwing and all the things rock songs should be about. It’s one of those albums that just kept getting better on every listen. And that they can pull off the songs live was an eye-opener.

6. Ida Maria – KATLA – Last year she topped the list EASILY. And while this is nowhere the masterpiece of FORTRESS ROUND MY HEART, the gal from Norway nonetheless delivers 9 sucker punches. For anyone who thinks girls stopped rocking with Bikini Kill, give her a listen. Her lyrics are funny, sexy and the growl will make you weak in the knees.

7. Spoon – TRANSFERENCE – After writing these guys off because of their hideously lame GA GA GA cd from a few years back, Spoon returned to what they do best: catchy rock songs with good guitar licks. I know a bunch of people who wrote off this band after GA, take a chance and revisit them. While not as spectacular as GIRLS CAN TELL or KILL THE MOONLIGHT, still in a year of limp-doodle rock, it was damn refreshing.

8. Titus Andronicus – MONITOR – A concept album that may or may not be about the civil war. But who cares. It’s a rowdy collection of tunes that owe a lot to the spirit of The Replacements, and I can’t give a band higher praise.

9. The Gaslight Anthem – AMERICAN SLANG – Likewise Brian Fallon and company owe a bunch to the spirit of the Mats…with a little Springsteen tossed in. A solid rock album, a perfect summer driving record. Leading to…

10. Bruce Springsteen – THE PROMISE – outtakes from his best rock album (I’ll probably still take NEBRASKA over DARKNESS), his “punk” album if you will, are the sort of songs most rocker would die to write. Sure, it’s like reliving a time when rock music was exciting and vibrant, and it shook our worlds. Hmmm…because of that perhaps this should be in the number one slot.

The best songs of 2010 (in no particular order):
CLEMENTINE – Sarah Jaffe
HURRICANE J – The Hold Steady
HALLELUJAH – Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses
LANTERN – Josh Ritter

The most disappointing album:
THE SUBURBS – Arcade Fire – After the brilliance of NEON BIBLE my expectations were damn high. And at first listen I loved everything about this record. But by the fourth or fifth go around I was getting bored. And within a week it was removed from my playlist. I’ve never gone back. Have never even wanted to. Maybe it’s me.


Best Documentary: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (WAS IT REAL? Who cares? It was entertaining as hell, and Banksy proved himself one of the art geniuses of modern times.)

Best Film: THE TOWN (Riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama from Ben Affleck. BEN AFFLECK! A rare gem in which you find yourself rooting for the bad guys. Rebecca Hall is heartbreakingly great.)

Most Enjoyable Film of 2010:
KICK-ASS (a movie that proved a beautifully foul-mouth 12-year-old girl could quite possibly be the greatest movie super hero of all time)

Guilty Pleasure Film of 2010:
CHLOE (two words: Amanda Seyfried)

Runners Up (In no particular order):

Worst Film of 2010
SOMEWHERE (I truly loved Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION. But I don’t know what happened here. I kept waiting for something to happen. Kept waiting to feel something for any of these characters. Still waiting. So utterly boring.)

That’s my list. It’s subject to change. Having spent most of the year filming and editing, I certainly didn’t get to see everything. I’ll update it as I do…

To a rockin’ Replacements New Year!

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Best (and Worst) Albums, Films & TV of the Decade

I love lists. Live for them. They make life sensible. So here are my lists of the best and worst in music, film and tv of this past decade. Hope to open some eyes.


Stereo/Mono (Paul Westerberg/Grandpaboy) – This was the album that should have followed PLEASED TO MEET ME. The Greatest songwriter of the past 30 years at the top of his game, over twenty tracks of perfection, with production so lose it falls apart. If he hadn’t already done it in 1981, PW would have reinvented rock again. Instead, he just re-staked his claim as its reigning God.

Crooked Fingers (Crooked Fingers) –With his new band, Eric Bachmann, lead singer of the single greatest band of the 90s, the Archers of Loaf, reinvented himself as the damaged troubadour, and created a collection of songs that would rival anything ever released by Dylan, Springsteen, or Townes Van Zandt. NEW DRINK FOR THE OLD DRUNK became my sing-along-at-the-top-of-your-lungs song for this decade, while everything else is stark and brilliant. He’ll break your heart while holding your hand. (And really, there is no horror film on the accompanying list, because the greatest horror film of the decade was the imagery invoked by the song JULIETTE.)

Cold Roses (Ryan Adams) – Sometimes Ryan Adams is brilliant, sometimes overindulgent, occasionally boring, but wearing his influences on his sleeves, from the Replacements to the Grateful Dead, Adams weaves his rose-laden imagery on this two cd set to alt-country perfection.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Wilco) – As great as everyone claims? Probably not. But still damn amazing. And the first track, I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART is as good as anything Wilco has ever recorded, and that’s saying an awful lot.

Essence (Lucinda Williams) – Lucinda William hit her mark on this boozy collection of lust and longing and pain. The title track is certainly the great lust song of the decade. Her voice has never sounded better.

The Thief & The Heartbreaker (Alberta Cross) – If Lynyrd Skynyrd has sounded like this back in 1977, I might have actually given Southern Rock a chance. But it’s not Southern, they’re from Brooklyn (the only good band at the moment from Brooklyn), and this brilliant 7-song EP sounds like the cd Ryan Adam should have made after COLD ROSES. The singer’s voice will break your fucking heart!

Fortress ‘Round My Heart (Ida Maria) – I had almost forgotten that women could actually still rock, with a vengeance no less. And then came IDA MARIA from Norway who put out the best CD of 2009. Live, she brings to mind Courtney Love minus the baggage and nasty attitude, but make no mistake, she could out rock and out roll any of the boys, and beat their asses to a pulp.

Ode to Sunshine (Delta Spirit) – An album that actually made you believe that there were, after all, new bands ready to carry the torch forward. Just a great band with a great singer playing great songs.

Taking the Long Way (Dixie Chicks) – Who would have thought that the most liberal protest song of the Bush era would come from the Dixie Chicks? And while NOT READY TO MAKE NICE can easily stand on its own as one of the greatest songs ever written, that it pulled no punches with one of the worst Presidents in history only adds to its thrills.

Fevers & Mirrors (Bright Eyes) – His masterpiece, back before he and others starting believing he was a god. Lo-Fi and brilliant, Dylan himself would have been proud of some of these damaged lyrical twists.

RUNNERS UP (in no particular order): Hometowns (Rural Alberta Advantage), War Elephant (Deer Tick), Neon Bible (Arcade Fire), Washington Square Serenade (Steve Earle), Magic, The Rising, Devils & Dust (all by Bruce Springsteen), Failer (Kathleen Edwards), Wilco, the album (Wilco), ONCE soundtrack.


Vampire Weekend (Vampire Weekend) – everything that’s bad about the current state of rock music (and Brooklyn) can be summarized in two words: Vampire Weekend. As insipid as it is gutless, this embarrassing collection of ditties sounds more like children tinkering on adult-sized instruments, they haven’t the scope, the range, the insight, the maturity to even hope to make it work. And to add insult to injury, some idiots compared it to Paul Simon’s Graceland. Now that’s a slander lawsuit in my eyes!

RUNNER UP: Anything produced by Jon Brion. He makes everything sound like German cabaret from the 1930s, and even managed to castrate the rock band Spoon. Perhaps he and Vampire Weekend can hook up and create the ultimate ode to lame. Grow a fucking pair!


Once (John Carney) – pitch perfect in every way, shape, and blessed musical note. I guess I look at it this way, if I could have had my name attached to one film this decade, ONCE would have been it. I’ve seen it over and over again, and it still breaks my heart every time. The greatest use of music in a film ever? Yes, I’d say so. Both this and Amelie are creeping onto my list of the ten greatest films of all time.

Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) – an adult fairy tale told in the imaginary city of Paris, where a big-eyed child grows up to be a beautiful big-eyed woman who seeks life’s smallest pleasures. Amelie was the first film I saw after 9/11, and in a time when all seemed lost, it gave me hope again. It made me believe in romance, in fairy tales, in happy endings, and in small pleasures.

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) – A tender story of love and longing wherein a look or what isn’t said can be the most powerful dialog of all. Subtle and brilliant.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) – Certainly the greatest concept, if not the greatest script. And thankfully Jim Carry is so un-Jim Carry-like. A nightmare, a dream, a glimpse into the mind of a mad genius. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy) – Just something about this film makes me happy, whether it be the terrific ensemble cast, the originality of the story, or the perfection of the pacing…every decade needs a quirky darling, and this is it.

Man On Wire (James Marsh) – The ultimate love song to the twin towers and the skyline of New York, as it used to be, as told by a crazy Frenchman who’s got more balls than certainly anyone in recent memory. It’s the story of an impossible dream…that somehow comes true. A marvel.

The Constant Gardner (Fernando Meirelles) – a heartbreaking romance between two perfect beautiful people, with a message no less. (The cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking.)

The Girl in the Café (David Yates) – a heartbreaking romance between two damaged misfits, with a message no less. Kelly Macdonald and Bill Nighy are awkwardly amazing.

Somersault (Cate Shortland) – Abbie Cornish gives the bravest performance of the decade as a young teen girl exploring everything wrong. Stunning.

RUNNERS-UP (in no particular order): Born into Brothels , City of God, Grizzly Man, Personal Velocity, DIG!, Vicki Christina Barcelona, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Surveillance, Mulholland Drive, Murderball, Speak, Memento, Half Nelson, Angel-A


The Kiss (Gorman Bechard) – The film could have never been great, but it could have been watchable had it not been railroaded by an ego-centric producer ,with no understanding of the script, who was more interested in make a three million dollar demo reel for his actress wife than in telling a good story. I directed and co-wrote THE KISS, and the final version, which was edited and scored completely without my approval or involvement, makes me fucking cringe.

RUNNER UP: Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson) – Alternately like watching paint dry (the extra boring paint, not the at-times-exciting paint) and listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. If the word “pretentious” had not year been devised, the phrase “punch drunk love” would have been used in its place. Even the usually brilliant Emily Watson cannot save this mess about, well, I honestly have no idea what it’s about, but then neither does the filmmaker. Oh, and it has what is quite possible the most annoying score in the history of film, by none other than…you guessed it…Jon Brion.


(I include my top ten, more or less in order, but with little explanation. I don’t feel any is really needed. It’s TV. It’s all a guilty pleasure, in one way or another.)

Glee (any show that can make me like a Journey song must be pretty damn powerful)

Survivor (especially the two back-to-back Stephenie LaGrossa seasons)

Weeds (first 3 seasons)

24 (first 5 seasons)

Entourage (first 3 seasons)

Mad Men (so well written)

Family Guy (best animated show on TV, and every week I get to say “I can’t believe they just said that on TV.”)

30 Rock (Tina Fey)

Sopranos (see Glee)

So You Think You Can Dance (for the amazing collection of young dancers, and for being the only talent show that actually showcases talent)

I include no worst TV list because ultimately it would be endless…

Until next decade…

Gorman Bechard


Filed under alternative rock, best of, best of decade, independent film

Lily Allen’s cover of STRAIGHT TO HELL by the Clash – a review

OK…first off, the 5 stars are for Lily Allen’s cover of STRAIGHT TO HELL.  And so you know where I am coming from.  I am not a huge fan of Ms. Allen.  Don’t really know her music.  Not my cup of tea.  I am however a huge Clash fan.  Saw them live 15 times from their first US gig to their last tour.  I’d rank them as one of the two greatest bands of all time.  (The other is the Replacements.)  Their music to me is sacred.  It should be respected, never covered.  And STRAIGHT TO HELL is one of my three favorite Clash songs.  Having said all that…


Ms. Allen cover of STRAIGHT TO HELL on the WAR CHILD PRESENTS HEROES compilation cd is the best song we will hear this year.  She and Mick Jones have taken his and Strummer’s brilliant melody, riff and lyric and somehow (I don’t know how) taken it to a level where few musicians ever get to even see, let alone attain.


From the opening da-da-da-da’s which sound so much like Strummer (I wish I knew for certain if they were, or if it was Jones), through to Ms. Allen’s phrasing, which is Billie Holiday-perfect, as are the production and the instrumentation, the song had been reinvented, re-envisioned.


And when Ms. Allen hits the bridge and sings “so mamma-san says” and the da-da-da-da’s start up again, I find the goosebumps coming and the tears welling. 


This really is the song she was born to sing.  It will make everything else that follows this year seem unimportant and unoriginal. 


As for the rest, well honestly I’d give the cd 2 stars out of 5 at best.  What we have are really bad covers of great songs (The Hold Steady, whom I like, doing injustice to ATLANTIC CITY), just misses (The TV On The Radio cover of HEROES is close, as is Beck doing Dylan), a number of what-were-these-people-thinking (really, you never cover the Ramones or Blondie, not because they’re the greatest songs ever written, but because you sound stupid even trying), a few that make you want to hear the originals and how they’re really done (The Kinks and the Costello songs) and the rest is just who-cares?


But all that said, listen to the Lilly Allen/Mick Jones track.  And genuflect in the presence of genius.

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More top ten…and Springsteen (not the rock star)…

First off, after two weeks I can say that Springsteen is doing quite well adjusting to his new home. Likewise Phoebe has become a great big sister to the pup. I’ll post more pix soon. We’re also closing up all the work on the Connecticut State Film Commission Tax Credit we’re receiving for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) and I will be posting a long blog explaining how everything went down, a good how-to for other indie filmmakers in the state.

But for now, yet another Top Ten CD list. This time from old friend Rob DeRosa. For the best of CT-based music you can hear Rob’s radio show on Thursdays on WESU FM, which is 88.1FM. It’s called HOMEGROWN. You can also listen to archived shows at:

Here now is his top ten:

The Hold Steady- Stay Positive. How could an ex Springstee fan not like these guys? Way too many words sometimes and chock full arrangements- that’s what drew me to early Bruce and it’s what enthralls me about The Hold Steady. I just hope there is no Nebraska in them to screw it all up.

The Mountain Movers- Why Don’t We open the Chest. This band is a pleasure. While I loved the horns on the first CD, the less is more approach here works even better. If Ric promises to bring extra strings, I’ll hire them for Daffodil Fest so I can hear this stuff live in my own backyard, so to speak.

The Manchurians 5×4, The Minster EP. I know, my label. But if this and my next picks were not worthy, we wouldn’t max out credit putting them out. This one rocks in a different way than the last one- probably due to Dean’s layering of sounds and his co-writing energizing Roger to write more songs than he ever did. Short- liethey like their live sets- but it kicks ass.

Frank Critelli- Watlzing Through Quicksand. Frank’s songs always had room for a full band and this disc shows why. His songs here are expansive and moving- and the tight band behind him propells him to rock star staus instead of simply the best folkie out there.

The Sawtelles- Dime Museum. Previously a either love ’em or leave ’em style- this CD shows incredible growth and cohesion of their rather unothadox style. Shany Lawson produced them the way it should have always been. Peter’s words are intiguing and Julie sings better than ever before.

MGMT- Oracular Spectacular suffice to say that this incredibly popular band was for all intense and purposes, my discovery. Well. not entirely- but the Wesleyan duo got their first off campus gig from me- as well as their first club date at Cafe 9 and their first airplay on my radio show. Then they went on to play every festival in the world this year( Cochella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading, SXSW, Austin City one, two in australia and a few in Japan.) and get on most big music magazines best of lists. They deserve it. It’s a psychedelic dance fest with pithy, ironic and cheeky lyrics. AND the drummer is nailing Kirstin Dunst. Every young rockers dream story.

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The top ten continues…

I turn now to friend Vinnie Penn, who has supplied a top ten cd list all his own.  Hw swears he read neither mine nor Matt Bialer’s before putting together his list.  What’s most surprising his worst cd of the year.  And this is just a theory, and I’m accusing no one of anything, but…perhaps no one actually likes Vampire Weekend except for those who were paid off to like them.  It’s the only explanation that makes sense really.  The old payola machine still turning.  Nothing having changed much since the 1950s.  Like I said, just a theory of mine.  But it sure would explain things…

Anyway, here’s Vinnie’s list, and proof positive that he is a comic after all:

Vinnie Penn’s Top Ten CD’s of 2008: 

Counting Crows—-Sat. Nights/Sun. Mornings: A damn good reason I don’t mind not doing radio on a daily basis every day anymore; why weren’t at least 3 songs from this record in heavy rotation? Lyrically, Duritz is in top form.
Gaslight Anthem 59 Sound—Outrageous, how good this is. Plus they open for Jesse Malin. ‘Nuff said.
Malin Mercury Retrograde—Nobody out there is doing it better, and nobody can argue.
AC/DC Black Ice—-It’s ACDC. There wouldn’t be strippers without them. Be serious. 
Shinedown–The Sound of Madness: Proof that there is hope for rock ‘n roll on radio. 
Extreme—Saudades de Rock: Proof that there is hope for rock ‘n roll with record labels.
The Morning Of: Great piano, great harmonies. Makes me want to walk around NYC. 
Hold Steady—Stay Positive: Could’ve had one or two more strong tracks but the ones that are are just window-down anthems. Love this band. 
Candlebox—Into the Sun: The last song on the CD alone makes it worth getting. 
Rick Springfield—Venus in Overdrive: My boy is still an underrated guitarist, and this record is earning him long overdue critical cred. Laugh all you want. It’s the soap thing. 
And what was up with Vampire Weekend? Talk about hype. Further proof that the “machine” can make hits, be it in music, publishing, on-screen, etc.   
Visit Vinnie’s website:
(yeah, I know…a dot-net…explains a lot)

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