The Best of 2018

Okay, this was a weird year for me.

First off, too many of my friends made kick-ass amazing records.

And then, even as the months passed, I would find myself in a battle with myself as to what was my favorite album of 2018.  There was only one thing that never changed, my favorite song of this year.  In fact, maybe it was the year of the songs, as so many truly stood out, while sometimes the albums from whence they came fell a little short.

I don’t know.  But I am changing things up this year.  Going to start the listing with songs, and then bring on the albums, but the albums won’t have any specific order, and honestly as I write this now on December 26that 6:15 PM, I’m not even sure how many albums will make the list.  So, I’ll be as surprised as you.

Best Song of 2018

Uh-Huh from Jade Bird – This UK singer/songwriter, who released one great EP last year, and a couple of singles this year, delivers the perfect song: short, fast, angry and so to the fucking point.  When she turns up the growl at the 31 second mark, I am a complete goner.  The song gave me goosebumps on that first listen, it gives me goosebumps now.  As good a song as any you’re likely to hear . . . ever.

Runners Up for Best Song of 2018

Make Me Feel – Janelle Monae – Though Prince passed in April of 2017, his spirit was certainly alive in protégé Monae’s funky ode to a subject so close to the Purple One’s heart. If Jade hadn’t growled, this would have been song of the year.  So close. So damn good.

 

The Way She Looks At You – Sarah Shook – Released back in November, one week after What it Takes: film en douze tableaux, the documentary I made on the band was also released, came a track from the Years sessions.  A three-four alt-country classic about realizing what you thought you had perhaps wasn’t yours after all.  Fucking beautiful.  And so authentic I can hear Patsy Cline singing it.

 

Venice Bitch/Mariners Apartment Complex – Lana Del Rey – I love Lana Del Rey.  And when she dropped these two songs earlier in the year I was immediately drawn to Mariner’s, but as the weeks passed something about the almost 10-minue long Venice Bitch started taking hold.  There’s a vibe, a seduction, a play of words, I can’t explain it, and the old punk in me is disappointed.  But fuck him.  Like I said, I love Lana Del Rey.

 

 

Plastic Hamburgers – Fantastic Negrito – THIS is how you sound like Led Zeppelin without sounding like an ass.

 

The (14, it would seem, though one’s an EP) Best Albums of 2018, in alphabetical order:

 

Bottle It In – Kurt Vile – I’ve never placed another Vile album on any best of list because I never truly loved any of his albums. There were a few good songs, but mostly I felt a lot of filler.  Not here. This is all brilliant vibe, a perfect album for long drives in the middle of the night.

 

Boygenius – Boygenius – Technically an EP, but since no one truly understand the art of the EP any more, I’ll let it hang with the long players.  Six perfect songs from a supergroup made up of three of the most talented singer/songwriters on the planet at the moment.

 

Clean – Soccer Mommy – This album honestly almost squeeked past all the rest.  Probably my most played record of the year.  Angst, guitars, most angst. It’s as if everything good about alt power pop from the 90s were still alive and well.

 

Fall Into the Sun – Swearin’ – It feels as if one or the other Crutchfield sister is on this list every year.  This year it’s Allison’s turn.  Just a great fun power punk record with crunch guitars and mostly great lyrics.

 

History of Panic – The Shellye Valauskas Experience – This was the great power pop record of the year.  A collection of songs that stick in your head, but you’re okay with that.  They’re like good friends you want to have a beer with who always make you smile.

 

I Don’t Run – Hinds – You either like this band, or they annoy the crap out of you. I actually love them, and this is their best record.  One that I might even risk playing for other people.  (Maybe.)

 

Kiss Yr Frenemies – Illuminati Hotties – A perfect noise pop record.  And that is my favorite musical subgenre.  Not a weak moment.  And those fucking guitars!

 

No Recover – Eric Bachmann – Speaking of noise pop, the leader of my all-time favorite band put out a record this year that was pretty much the complete opposite.  And though Eric insists all of these songs are about the apocalypse, this is a liltingly beautiful collection, which Bachmann breaking your heart, if not with his guitar, then with his gentle whisper of a voice.

 

Not Tonight – John Howie Jr. – Earlier this year we took the Grand Ole Opry tour, and of course I looked up and listened to a number of artist that I had never really explored, Porter Wagoner being one.  And in a nutshell he’s who I was reminded of when I first heard Howie’s album.  This is about as old time country as it gets.

And for the hell of it, and because I know most of you have never heard him, a little Porter Wagoner.  C’mon, listen and expand your horizons.

 

Something – Something Young – Long story short, over the summer one of my co-editors told me her boyfriend put out a record and I should give it a listen.  To “be nice” I of course did, never expecting this self-released record from a high school senior would become one of my most listened to albums of the year. It’s the 90s indie rock record that’s somehow missing from your collection.  Fuck, it’s good!

 

Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett – At the time of it’s release this would have been my most likely choice for best album of the year.  But while I still love it, I don’t feel I love it as much.  Still a great collection, but I’m not sure why it hasn’t aged well.  Perhaps it’s me.

 

Warm – Jeff Tweedy – I’m a Wilco fanatic, and this might be Tweedy’s best collection of songs since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (or at least since The Whole Love).  It’s as if Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan had a son, and Paul Westerberg was his demented uncle who took him to a lot of shows he should have never gotten into.  Love this man.

 

What a Time to be Alive – Superchunk – One of my favorite bands of all time putting out quite possibly their most punk record. While not the freakin masterpiece of their last, I Hate Music, it’s an angry, timely, ode to our fucked up times. Send a copy to the White House.

 

Years – Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – My feelings on this band are pretty damn obvious, as the are the subject of my last documentary and I directed the video below.  Love every song on this record.  It’s an alt-country masterpiece about loss and longing and holding onto the bottle for redemption.  And make sure to see them live, Shook and company will make you see God at the bottom of that empty glass.

 

The more observant of you might notice that this is where I usually list my best films of the year.  But I don’t think I’ve seen enough to give an honest opinion.  So I won’t even try to give a dishonest opinion. (Or course, those same observant folks might think I was not completely blown away by anything, yet, and of course you’d be correct.)  I’ll just skip to the next category.

 

BEST TV of 2018

There was so much, but one show stands out.  One show that makes me laugh, cry, keeps me on the edge of my seat, makes me pause it because I can’t hold back comments on how brilliant something (the fucking costume design) or someone (pick any of the cast members) is, turns me on (yes, she’s my TV crush), and makes me angry that there are only ten episodes in a season and I’ve just binge-watched them all, and now I have to wait another 11.9 months for more.  And that show is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  (I love you, Midge.)

 

BOOK OF THE YEAR:

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy – This is coming from someone who hates rock bios.  I DO NOT read them.  They almost always make me dislike the artist at hand, which defeats the purpose, because I was only reading the book because I was a fan.  Or they’re written by someone else who puts way too much of their own spin on the story, and I know it’s a bunch of bullshit anyway. Tweedy’s bio is different.  It’s very funny, but it’s also very sad.  So self-depricating, and honest.  It made me like him more than ever, and I didn’t think that was possible.  Read it and find a new best friend.

As for the rest of my 2018:

Tales of an impromptu music video, part one: We had a blizzard back in February.  At around 9:30 am when there was around a foot of snow on the ground, and the roads in the state were about to be officially declared off limits, I turned to my wife and said, I’m going to go out and shoot a music video.  She told me I was crazy and that she was not going to come and rescue me if I got stuck.  I have a Jeep.  Getting stuck was not an option.  So I called up Dean Falcone, whose partner in crime Shellye Valauskas had just released a beautiful new album.  I said, let’s go shoot a music video in the snow.  In the background I could hear Shellye say we were both crazy.  Dean replied, pick us up in an hour.  I said, bring cheap guitars.  And so we spent an hour in the frigid cold wind-whipped snow shooting this video.  I personally love it.  Hope you do too.  P.S. We did not get stuck, and the video was online by 3 PM that same day.

 

Tales of an impromptu music video, part two: a Thursday, later in the next month, I hear my friend Matthew Ryan is releasing an acoustic version of the album Hustle Up Starlings, for which I made the first music video which can watch here:

Now the issue was that this new acoustic record was going to be released the following Tuesday.  I immediately contacted Matt and asked him to send me the tracks. Upon hearing the acoustic version of Aviator I knew what had to be done: an acoustic version of the music video, with just singer and guitarist.  Well, the singer, Chloe, had become one of my go-to film editors after the first music video, so she immediately said yes.  And Carina, the guitarist, was just as quickly on board.  We filmed it in the same location as the original video on Sunday, and Matt had his music video, which was premiered sight-unseen by American Songwriter magazine on Tuesday.  I might love this video even more than the original.

 

As for my feature films

 Pizza, A Love Story– in the works for eleven years is done.  We’re running a final Kickstarter now for the sound mix and E&O insurance, and then we begin the film festival run.  You can find the Kickstarter here.

Normal Valid Lives– has it’s third, maybe fourth, editor, and is moving along. Perhaps the story, or my interviews, are a little too disturbing.

Where are you, Jay Bennett?– we hit the motherlode this year.  But I don’t want to tell you how or what.  Let’s just say we found the holy grail to make this film work. It will also double post-production time, but it will be worth it.

Seniors– we’re about half-way through editing.  Just filmed a few almost final interviews.  Our happy animal film is coming along.

And we’re figuring out right now what is coming next…

NHdocs 2018 was a blast.  Difficult, exhausting, but rewarding.  And it’s coming back for it’s 6thyear on May 30thfor 11 days of great films.

Thank you to all of the people who collaborate with me on my films, NHdocs, and other projects: Chloe, Brianna, Dean, Shellye, Lindsay, Jay, Fred, Colin, Charlotte, Charlie, Katherine, Tony, Sam, Max, Haley, Ed, Carina, Kathie, Scott, Diane, and another Scott, plus the amazing musicians and bands, and of course my harshest critic Kristine, whom I love with every inch of my being.  And yes, my four-pawed children Springsteen and Dylan. None of this would exist without you.

Be well, hug your dog, share a drink with people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, try not to let the political climate get you down, and be kind to everyone you meet (no matter what side of the aisle they’re on).

 

 

 

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Years

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I have been in love with this album since I first filmed the band recording it last year for our upcoming Sarah Shook & the Disarmers documentary What It Takes: film en douze tableaux. As they meticulously laid down the tracks, as Shook turned in sneering, sizzling vocals, as Eric Peterson bent his guitar neck to points from which I thought it night not return, as John Howie Jr redefined the art of drums in alt-country, as Aaron Oliva brought almost a jazz feel to the proceedings with his upright bass, and as Phil Sullivan traded steel licks with Peterson answering every one of Shook’s sneers with one of his own, my crew and I knew we were witnessing a miracle.

There isn’t a song on Years that won’t grab you by the throat and slap you with a line of two that’ll make you realize what a great songwriter Shook is. Instead of going through song by song, buy the record and experience it from start to finish (as all great albums should be experienced — really sit with headphones, press play and for 37 minutes immerse yourself in a work of art). And every time you think it can’t get any better, there’s another track that comes on…and by the time you’re at the half-way point with What It Takes, and the thrilling duel between the strings of Peterson and Sullivan you’ll be crying from the sheer emotional excitement. And then Shook ends it all with the title track, slapping you in the face one more time. “Baby it’s been years since I knew how to move you,” she sings on the coda, But sorry, no, you’re wrong there, Shook. Every note on this emotional roller coaster of a record moves us, kills us just a little with its brilliance, then brings us back to life again with the promise of another song. It’s life support in a time of posers and gutless rock and roll. And yes, to me it’s rock and roll as much as it is country, alt-country, whatever you want to call it. It’s just freakin’ great. And it rocks me to the core of my very soul.

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.

Valerie-June-The-Order-Of-Time

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.

OTHER GREAT SONGS:

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.

 

 

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 21

Just a quickie here, but wanted to post some of the fun graphics created for the film by Sarah Hajtol. One of the most important thing any film can have is eye-catching graphics. But something that is not only eye-catching, but also fits the tone of the film.

Think about it this way, picture a wall of band flyers. Do you want to get lost in the mix, or do you want to stand out? Same goes for film festivals. You want your poster to grab attention whether it be hung on a wall in an indie video store, or on a telephone pole, of just lying on the welcome table when you enter the festival.

My directions to Sarah: “break all the rules.” As always, she rocked it!

And here first is our amazing poster: (Photo of The Replacements by Greg Helgeson)

Our banner:

The front and back of our promo postcard: (Photo courtesy of Twin/Tone records.)

And our bumpersticker:

Feel free to use these for COLOR ME OBSESSED promotional purposes.

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 20

Diane was one of the first to contact me about this project, shortly after hearing that I’d taken it over. Little did I know at the time she would become our Color Me Obsessed angel, the executive producer that truly rose to the occasion at every opportunity, every chance I gave her. This would be a much different film without Diane’s participation. She became the sort of executive producer every filmmaker dreams of.

After her interview was over, she took us upstairs to her museum in the making, a collection of rare Mats memorabilia unlike I’ve ever seen in one location. Posters, tickets (she had a ticket for their SNL appearance!), vinyl, and even a test pressing. It was the collection the rock hall of fame should have, but doesn’t.

Next up, Ira Robbins, founder of the legendary Trouser Press. Now for those of you not rocking out in the late 70s, TP was the indie rock alternative to Rolling Stone. It was sort of the Pitchfork of its day. (Ira, please don’t hate that comparison, I mean it as a compliment.) The interview was brilliant. Here we had one of the most respected rock journalist of all time approaching the Mats from a historical perspective. Why they mattered. What made them different. What made them great.

As I once again said to Adrian one the drive home, “we have a movie!”

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 18

Back to filming COLOR ME OBSESSED. Our third day of shooting.

After Jesse Malin, whom we shot in the East Village, we were scheduled to do an interview on the upper West Side, then two in Brooklyn. Unfortunately Jesse’s interview ran long, so short of my Jeep suddenly morphing into a helicopter, there was just no way.

With only two of us working (me asking questions, Adrian manning two cameras), we couldn’t give the upper west side interviewee a respectable heads up. I called the moment the interview was over, and got voicemail. He was unfortunately on the subway, already headed towards his apartment. We he returned the call, I tried to explain, apologized profusely, but he was pissed, and we lost his interview for good. Lesson learned. We allowed a lot more time between interviews. And Neil, if you’re reading this, once again, sorry. In over 140 interviews, it never did happen again.

Next, Adrian and I scurried to Brooklyn to interview one of our Executive Producers, Diane Welsh and her son Brendan. Now a little backstory, Diane is the queen of outbidding you for rare Mats items on eBay. If you’ve lost an item you thought you had in the bag, mostly likely it’s in Diane’s amazing shrine to the band.

A few years back when I finally found a PLEASE TO MEET ME mobile on eBay, I bid well over what I thought it would sell for, into the hundreds. An hour before the auction it looked like I would have it for $45, give or take. Of course when I checked later, after the auction had closed, I had been outbid, by none other than the woman who would in so many respects become the angel for CMO.

Of course, the next time a PTMM mobile appeared, I put in some crazy high bid of around a thousand dollars, and ended up paying only around $40. There was no Diane to outbid me…