Tag Archives: best of the year

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 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):


CERULEAN SALT – Waxahatchee

DEATH OF A DREAM – Aubery Debauchery & The Broken Bones


HELL BENT – Potty Mouth

I HATE MUSIC – Superchunk

JAKE BUGG – Jake Bugg


MAJOR ARCANA – Speedy Ortiz

THE NEXT DAY – David Bowie

NIGHT TIME, MY TIME – Sky Ferreira

ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE – Laura Marling



SONGS FOR SLIM – Various Artists


SONGS FOR SLIM – The Replacements




69 – Ida Maria

MASTER HUNTER  – Laura Marling


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).


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


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.)


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.


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.


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


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.


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 2012

I write this as I pack for Cleveland where my film “Color Me Obsessed, a film about The Replacements” is screening at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Which is all completely surreal. The band will never be inducted.  None of the bands I truly love will ever be.  Certainly none of the bands listed below.   But my film about one of them is playing.   And that all sort of makes sense for 2012.

This year started off for me as one of the worst years in music.  As bad a year as I could remember.  It seemed every piece I would read about a new band would contain a word I hate more than many women hate the word “panty.”  That would be “synth.”  Just typing the word I feel the bile rising in the back of my throat.  So before I even get to my list, I wanted to offer some sound advice to any band who uses synthesizers.  This will truly help your sound.  I promise.  Take your synthesizer outside.  Lay it on the ground directly behind the rear driver’s side tire of your van/car.  (Not passenger side, it must be the driver’s side.)  Get behind the wheel, start it up, put the car into reverse, then give it just enough gas so that you travel backward approximately two feet.  Pop the transmission back into forward.  More gas.  Again, two feet of driving should do it.  Then repeat those actions a few times.  Then hop out of your vehicle, pick up what’s left of your synthesizer, and toss it into the nearest garbage can.  And just like that, you’ve grown a pair of balls.  You’re that much closer to being a rock band.

And speaking of castrated bands, we’ve got another clear and easy winner for this year’s coveted “Vampire Weekend Lame Ass Award.”  Just as eunuchs Foster The People ran away with the award last year, this year Fun(period) has no equal in the category.  How lame and wimpy are they?  Let me put it this way, the guys in Maroon 5 are “Damaged”-era Black Flag compared to these guys.  (Think about it for a moment.)  So congrats to the guys in Fun(period)!  Wear the honor well.  (For your reading pleasure, my Vampire Weekend film idea.)

Back to real music.  I started off the year editing my Archers of Loaf concert documentary “What Did You Expect?”  I went from there to preparing for our upcoming Grant Hart doc, “Every Everything.”  So I was mostly listening to the Archers, Husker Du, and solo Grant.  The guitar geek in me was in freakin’ heaven.  It was all a loud and glorious noise.  Music that grabbed you by the throat, and slammed you up against the wall.  It was rough sex rock ‘n’ roll that would have the author of “The Shades of Grey” novels hiding in the closet.  You listen to these bands and you’re beaten down with power, with a growl of almost biblical proportions.  But one with melody, with hooks, with singers who were baring their souls.

There were a couple of new glimpses of brilliance, but they were singular and far between.  But then on September 2nd, I open up the Sunday New York Times, as I have every Sunday since I was twelve years old.  Went right to Section 2, “Arts & Leisure” – sometimes I never even bother with the rest – and I flipped through it, looking over the articles on film before hitting page 17.  A large above-the-fold photo of two cute slightly-tattooed, somewhat-punky girls.  An article by Jon Caramanica called “Twin Rock Dreams Prevail.”  He wrote about twin sisters Allison and Katie Crutchfield, and how after two bands together – The Ackleys and P.S. Eliot – they were splitting up into new bands, with Katie forming Waxahatchee and Allison forming Swearin’.

I was looking for a sample of their music before I even finished reading the article.  I found Waxahatchee first.  And as I wondered how the word was pronounced, the video for “Grass Stain” came on, and suddenly my musical world didn’t seem nearly as empty.  I bought that album first, then Swearin’ eponymously-titled debut, then the Ackley’s album, then both from P.S. Eliot, then the Ackley’s EP, then a sister side project called “Bad Banana,” then the P.S. Eliot demos, a couple of other Waxahatchee tracks, and then finally another Katie side-project Great Thunder.  It was like finding a treasure chest of gold in your deceased relative’s house.  It was a gift from the music God (perhaps she really liked “Color Me Obsessed”).  One hundred thirteen songs in all.

Why had I never heard of these bands?  How had the Ackleys and P.S. Eliot passed me by?  There were no real answers.  As Grant Hart would say, “shit happens.”  And it didn’t matter ultimately.  What mattered was they were in my collective conscious now and probably forever.

Personally I would advise you to buy every one of those songs for your collection.  Most of the production sounds like what you’ve heard on The Replacements “Let It Be,” a little ragged with heavy emphasis on the guitar.   Most of the songs are pure power punk noise pop.  Sample P.S. Eliot’s “Untitled” or the Ackley’s “7 Days.”  And Katie’s voice truly kills me.  It breaks, it feels real, she can belt, and she can whisper.  She’s telling you the story of her life, with just the right amount of attitude.  She’s a fucking rock star.

And yes, aside from Waxahatchee and Swear’, we’re talking about seven years worth of songs here.  But to me, that’s irrelevant, 2012 will always be the year of the Crutchfields.

(RANT TIME: I said BUY!   Pay for them, dammit.  I fucking hate people who steal music and films.  You are literally stealing from people who give you joy.  Youre no different from a thug on the street who steals an old ladys pocketbook.  Except that you probably dont need to feed your starving kids.  And you probably think its okay, that youre not hurting anyone.  Well, youre wrong.   Youre deluding yourself into thinking youre actually a good person.  You are NOT.)

And with that I give you my ten (eleven, really) favorite albums of the year, in order of preference:

1. “American Weekend” by Waxahatchee – I almost don’t know where to start on how perfect the eleven tracks on this record are.  I guess with the production, which is what will hit you first.  A guitar that stings at your senses, noisy, loose, Katie Crutchfield is playing in the corner of kitchen, trying almost not to be noticed as she writes a diary to lovers lost, one that perhaps should never be shared.  When you listen to the brilliant “Bathtub” (which should have been the song every teenage girl was playing this past summer) she’s just as much to blame.  “And I tell you not to love me/But I still kiss you when I want to,” she half-whispers, half-sings, in a voice lost down an endless hallway.  This is as emotionally naked as rock music gets.  And it never lets up.  Even the songs which appear poppier on the surface are just as self-effacing.  It’s an album’s worth of “Unsatisfied” from a female point of view.  And that’s about the highest compliment I can pay any record.

2. “Remember When” by The Orwells – Goddamn if “Mallrats (La La La)” isn’t the most snotty fun you can have listening to music this year.  A song about just walking around the mall, watching some gal shop for bras.  (Or at least I think that’s what it’s about.)  The words are almost incomprehensible, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s got punk attitude up the freakin’ wazoo, and the catchiest hook of the year.  (How did this not outsell “Call Me Maybe”?) The entire album is good dirty fun from a bunch of 17-year-old out of Chicago.  I’m really curious to see them live, as I’m hoping they tear apart the stage.  (Guys, please do not just stand there and play.)  This is a great rock ‘n’ roll record.

3. “Swearin’” by Swearin’ – Allison Crutchfield’s takes her turn in a raging collection of eleven songs that sound like a great lost riot grrrl record, noisy guitars (have I mentioned that I like noisy guitars?), a driving rhythm section, and Allison’s slightly gruff vocals.  “Movie Star” is the masterpiece here, where the pop almost threatens to overtake the growl with a bridge that will catch you off guard as the album winds down, as you’ll find yourself floored and wanting more.

4. “The Lumineers” by The Lumineers – Monumental songwriting, that keeps you on your toes.  Even I was surprised by this record.  Love the sound, the instrumentation, the voices.  And other than a couple of duds (“Slow It Down” is a god-awful song), it’s pretty damn spectacular.  And really now, “Ho Hey” was one of the only listenable “hits” this year.

5. “Celebration Rock” by Japanandroids – I’m not a fan of most two people bands.  Every song by Black Keys sounds like every other song by the Black Keys.  Same for the White Stripes.  Buy one album you’ve bought them all.  The Pack A.D. for me were one band who broke that mold.  Japanandroids is another.  This is a mostly flawless collection of bluesy anthem rock that’s as compact and personal as it is loud and stadium-ready.

6. “Open Your Heart” by The Men – good, noisy, balls-to-the-wall punk-based rock ‘n’ roll.  What the fuck more do you want?

7. “Tramp” by Sharon Van Etten – A beautiful collection of heartbreak from a voice that will steal what’s let of your heart.

8. “Royal Headache” by Royal Headache – see #6

9. “Boys & Girls” by Alabama Shakes – yes, it was over-rated and over-played.  But still it had the coolest vibe of the year.  And you’ll still be wanting to listen to at least half these songs ten years from now.

10. (tie) “In The Dusk of Everything” Matthew Ryan  and “Tomorrowland” by Ryan Bingham – In reviewing the Matt Ryan album I am not taking into account the amazing title track from my forthcoming “Broken Side Of Time” which is a bonus track on the album.  Obviously the song kills me, otherwise it wouldn’t be in my film.  It’s the rest.  Matt alone with his guitar.  The production stripped away.  What’s left is brilliant songwriting and that voice.  That voice unlike any other.  A beautiful collection, his best in years.  And I include the Ryan Bingham here because in many ways Bingham is the alt-country Matt Ryan.  Songs about life and love and despair.  And again, another one of those voices.  Beautiful.

There you have it.  No list of best movies this year.  I was working so much, I barely scratched the surface of what was released.  But instead you’ve got some music to buy.  Start with the first two on the list, they’re a nice contrast to one another, then work your way down.  Then dig into that Crutchfield catalog.  If you weren’t aware, then I just left a gold nugget in your Xmas stocking.

Happy Holidays! Be healthy, happy and well.  And if you don’t already have one or two, adopt a dog from a shelter.  It’ll make your life better.  It’ll make you a much better person.  And you’ll understand what unconditional love is for the first time in your life.  (It’s a good thing.)

Time for “A Dog Named Gucci”…

See you in January.

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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…


Filed under Best Music of 2011, Best Music of Year