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.

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

What a fucked-up year.

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

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

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

Like I said, fucked up.

But so am I, and I don’t really care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Bowie – BLACKSTAR

Big Thief – MASTERPIECE

Mitski – PUBERTY 2

Car Seat Headrest – TEENS OF DENIAL

Wilco – SCHMILCO

Adia Victoria – BEYOND THE BLOODHOUNDS

Drive-By Truckers – AMERICAN BAND

A Giant Dog – PILE

Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome

Eric Bachmann – (SELF TITLED)

Eric Bachmann & Jon Rauhouse – (SELF TITLED)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P. Bowie & Prince

REAL by Lydia Loveless

I’ve been listening to the ten songs on REAL since June of 2015 when I had the amazing opportunity to film Lydia and her band of musical geniuses for my documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless? To say I’ve heard these songs incessantly over the past 14 months, especially during the six month editing process, is an understatement. So, when the film was done, once the accompanying music videos finished, one would expect me to never want to hear this record again. I mean, there are very few albums in existence that could bear that sort of repeated listens. And yet, now that the editing is complete, what album have I been reaching for over and over again? REAL, from Lydia Loveless.

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Few things are timeless, fewer albums certainly. But every once in a while, a collection comes along that touches you in ways you can’t quite comprehend. That brings emotions to the surface that you felt were long ago repressed. That makes you remember love, heartache, lust, longing. What it’s like to cry into your beer for the one who got away. What it’s like to question your own sanity when they’re lying in bed beside you. Mistakes of the heart, we’ve all been there. Those are the songs of REAL.

“If self-control is what you want, I’ll have to break all of my fingers off,” she sings in MORE THAN EVER, a song which finds a mistress pounding harder on the door. “Well you don’t have to tell me everything I want to hear/It only makes it harder for me everytime my dear/To say bye,” she sings in the stark and heartbreaking CLUMPS. “You take a walk/I’d rather be lonely than ashamed,” from the decidedly dark BILBAO where a chorus of “marry me” turns into “bury me.” Or “I don’t know what the truth is but you give me every reason to fall out of every lasting arms” in OUT ON LOVE, arguable the most breath-taking song on the album. Lyrically, there’s not a better songwriter on the planet today. The emotions aren’t bubblegum nonsense, you can pick the scabs off the still-healing wounds of a heart stabbed too many times.

But what might be most amazing about REAL is the sonic variety given the tracks. Props to producer Joe Viers and the band. There are no two songs that sound alike. This is not your average pop record where you think you keep hearing the same slow and fast songs over and over again. Put HEAVEN side-by-side with BILBAO, or put that side-by-side with SAME TO YOU. You’ll know it’s the same heart stopping voice, but think the songs are from different era, different decades. Most musicians today are afraid to offer variety. But Lydia once again proves she’s afraid of nothing, at least not in the studio. She takes risks, and they all soar.

Lydia Loveless, Todd May, Ben Lamb, Jay Gasper, and George Hondroulis are the rarest of beasts, a rock band true to the core. One without compromise. I love this band. And I love this record.

The Best of 2015

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

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

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

BEST ALBUMS:

  1. 1989 – Ryan Adams – I’ll admit right off the bat that I like the early Taylor Swift records, but I felt this newest effort was over-produced to the point of being unlistenable. I just couldn’t make it through the walls of processed instruments to get to the songs. But Ryan Adams could. He heard something in those tunes, and for whatever reason decided to deconstruct them, turn them inside out, on their ear, and makes them his own. The resulting album is stark and heartbreaking, his best and most consistent record since COLD ROSES a decade ago. How he manages to turn a song like SHAKE IT UP into something that would have fit perfectly on Springsteen’s NEBRASKA is nothing short of genius. When he sings “I’m just gonna shake” over and over again, the image is not of a model-esque blonde dancing awkwardly, but instead of a middle-aged man afraid to move on with his life. And the rest of the tracks just fall into place. Had there been no writing credits, and no fame for Taylor’s record, had people thought he penned these songs the acclaim would have been unanimous. I truly believe that because ultimately it’s a beautiful, brilliant record. And certainly the gutsiest move by any rock star this year.
  1. PAINTED SHUT – Hop Along – So I’m seeing this band live for the first time. Frances Quinlan and company take the stage and start up. But the moment she opens her mouth to sing we are suddenly transported into a horror film and she is the spawn of Satan. Or at least that’s how she sounds, though she certainly doesn’t look the part. And the music isn’t death metal but instead these well-crafted pop rock songs that just stick with you. Despite loving the record, seeing her sing live is an altogether different experience, and it takes me a couple of songs to get used to what I’m hearing versus what I’m seeing. And I mean this all as the highest of compliments. I fucking love Quinlan’s voice, and what she does with it. It’s unlike no other in rock. It’s as if every note she sang tore off a part of her vocal chords and she drowned her pain in cheap whiskey and cigarettes. She sings in sweeps and rages, melodies laced with enough dirty guitar and punk energy to keep you coming back for more. And there was no song THIS YEAR grabbed me by the throat like HAPPY TO SEE ME. The refrain of “We all will remember things the same” on endless repeat will either infuriate you, or thrill you as it did me. As the entire record did.
  1. KICKING EVERY DAY – All Dogs – Just as in Minneapolis in the 80s, and Chapel Hill in the 90s, there’s something bubbling in the water right now in Columbus, Ohio. All Dogs is the third Columbus band I’ve fallen head-over-heels for in the past two years. Maryn Jones and company play grungy/jangly pop rock,
  1. SPRAINED ANKLE – Julien Baker – This is the heartbreaker of the year.   “Wish I could write songs about anything other than death,” she sings in the title track, and that might be one of the lighter moments. A haunting small voice singing of rage and fear in a whisper with fingerpicked guitar out of the early Crooked Fingers songbook. A small masterpiece that will leave you teary-eyed, wanting to give Julien a hug.
  1. ALL YOURS – Widowspeak – Another haunting voice, more slightly off-kilter guitars, sounding like that indie band from the late 80s who never made it big, but only you knew about, and still to this day you put on their self-released cassette.
  1. HIGH – Royal Headache – This is the album that SO many other bands tried to make this year, but fell short.
  1. SOMETIMES I SIT AND THINK, AND SOMETIMES I JUST SIT – Courtney Barnett – Not as great as her last, but damn those lyrics and crunchy guitars. Rock star I’d most want to get drunk with (this year).
  1. FEELS LIKE – Bully – I kept fight this album because it’s on a major label, but it finally won, and beat me down, and stuck in my head. If you were disappointed with other riot girl sounding records this year, check out Bully.
  1. NEW YORK AFTER THE WAR – Jesse Malin – One of those straight-ahead rock and roll records that just kept sounding better with every listen. Just raw enough for the punks, just bluesy enough for the old-timers. Malin’s best record since THE HEAT. It fucking rocks!

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

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

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

Also worth a listen:

DRY FOOD – Palehound

COCKSURE – Laura Stevenson

DANGER IN THE CLUB – Palma Violets

IVY TRIPP – Waxahatchee

PREDATORY HEADLIGHTS – Tenement

and of course

STAR WARS – Wilco

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUM OF THE YEAR: (tie)

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

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

 

BEST SONG OF THE YEAR:

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

Other Great Songs:

THE GARDEN – All Dogs

SPRAINED ANKLE – Julien Baker

EX’S AND OH’S – Elle King

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

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

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

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

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

BEST LIVE SHOW:

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

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

BEST HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVE FILM:

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

BEST INDEPENDENT NARRATIVE FILM:

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

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

Also STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON gets a serious honorable mention.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM:

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

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

BEST TV:

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

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

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

BOOKS OF THE YEAR:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned; follow along on twitter and facebook.

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

 

 

The Tale of the Broken Neck

I spent a good portion of the past three weeks shooting WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS?, which will be either my 13th or 14th completed feature film (depending on whether this or PIZZA, A LOVE STORY is completed first), and while I could share stories about the candid and amazing interviews with Lydia and her bandmates, or what a thrill it was to watch them record their new record, how freakin’ funny they all are, or even just how damn nice everyone is, I will instead share this.

The tale of the broken neck.

My crew arrived in Lydia’s hometown on Columbus on Sunday, June 14th, just in time to see Lydia and company perform at a free show.  But because of the ridiculous lack of cover on the stage, and the fact that is rained virtually every day I was in Ohio (and apparently always does in June), the show was a disaster waiting to happen.  Gear got wet, sound issues abounded because electronics don’t like getting wet, basically it was a cluster fuck on the part of the promoter.

When everything was finally working, and there was a break in the rain, an extremely frustrated Lydia and company managed to pull off their song “Wine Lips” (sweetly dedicated to a young fan), and a small part of another song before the clouds let loose with a torrential downpour.  Ben moved fastest, getting his upright bass under a tarp.  But as one of the dozens seemingly “in charge” of the event ran onto the stage and cancelled the concert, Lydia, completely frustrated by the events, threw her beloved Telecaster to the ground in anger.

For me, a lover of chaos in rock and roll it was a beautiful way to begin the trip.  My 5th Lydia show, only a song and a half long.  And as me and my crew walked back to the rental Jeep in the pouring rain, I couldn’t wait for the interviews to begin.

And this story might have ended there…

Until the next morning when I get to Lydia’s and Ben’s home, and checking out her office where the first of many interviews would be filmed, I picked up the Tele, making some stupid comment to Lydia about how indestructible they are.  And then it became obvious.  I noticed.  She noticed.  Fuck!  The neck of her favorite guitar was cracked.  Not a small repairable crack.  But cracked through and through on the headstock.

Now in my life I have certainly put my foot in my mouth many times.  But I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse about calling attention to anything.  Here we are about to begin the interviews, while I can see how truly upset she is about her guitar.  I felt terrible, even though I played no part in breaking it.

In the end of course, the guitar was quickly fitted with a gorgeous new neck.  The interviews were everything I wanted them to be and more.  I learned for the 1,843rd time this year to think before I speak.  And Lydia posted this on her Facebook page with a picture of the new neck: “New neck for my main squeeze. My guitar tossing days are over ‪#‎trymeditationforanger‬ ‪#‎onepunchloveless‬ ‪#‎whoamikidding‬

I even got to take home a little souvenir.

I don’t really collect much memorabilia anymore.  I have a few items from my favorites bands (y’know, The Mats, Archers, Wilco), but none of them have the meaning of this broken neck.

It sits now at the entrance to my office, the first thing I see every time I enter.

And it truly does represent the most rock and roll way imaginable to begin this film.

Broken Guitar Neck-small

 

An update that’s long overdue…

It’s been months and I apologize.

First off thank you to everyone who made the “Who is Lydia Loveless?” KickStarter such a success.  You guys rock.  As will this film.  We’ve set up a website here.

As I write this I’m listening to the gorgeous 6-LP “Live at Carnegie Hall” box set from Ryan Adams.  While I haven’t been in love with Ryan’s newest records, live he still astounds.  And live solo, he takes your breath away.  This is a truly magnificent record.

Ryan Adams

We’ve got a lot of film news.  Getting ready for the “A Dog Named Gucci” sound mix.  The closing credits song, which I’ve been hinting at for over a year is done.  It’s beautiful.  It will make you cry.  Dean Falcone did a brilliant job of bringing together this amazing collection of vocalists and musicians.  He’s my music producer of the year.  Wait until you see the list of people involved.  Wait until you hear the song!  Where and when you can see the film will be announced soon.  Keep an eye on the website.

And if you clicked that link, you noticed that we are throwing our second documentary film party in New Haven this June.  Yes, NHdocs returns.  For three days this time around.  So much bigger!  Admission is still free.  If you are in Connecticut, come and enjoy a collection of amazing documentaries.

Yes, “A Dog Named Gucci” is screening…but immediately before it we will present the World Premiere of the trailer for “Pizza, A Love Story,” our upcoming documentary on the holy trinity of pizza (Sally’s, Pepe’s, Modern).  Time to get excited.

We’ve also got two new films that we’ll be announcing soon…one that takes us back to Minneapolis, and the other…well, let’s just keep that one a secret for now.  Let’s just say it’s very “smart.”

All for now.  Thank you for reading…

Lydia Loveless rocks her own documentary from COLOR ME OBSESSED director Gorman Bechard

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

COLUMBUS, OH & NEW HAVEN, CT: Filmmaker Gorman Bechard, who has chronicled three of the most influential bands in the history of rock and roll with documentaries about The Replacements, Archers of Loaf, and Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart is turning his camera towards the future with his next film, WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS?

KickStarter Main Image-3-HR

The feature-length documentary will follow Lydia Loveless and her band into the studio as they lay down tracks for their forthcoming record. Along with live performances shot specifically for the film and extensive interviews with Loveless and her band it will visit places integral to her musical development, delve into the realities of a working musician on the brink of major success, and answer the question: Who Is Lydia Loveless?

“Lydia is the future of rock and roll,” director Bechard explains. “She straps you onto an emotional roller coaster of love, lust, drunken mistakes, a little stalking, a lot of heartbreak, and you’re left breathless, stunned, happy to have taken the ride.”

Music journalists from SPIN to Rolling Stone have likewise raved, with her last album SOMEWHERE ELSE finding its way onto many of 2014’s Best Album lists.

“I’m excited to work with Gorman,” says Loveless. “He’s very passionate about music and about the true meaning and spirit of rock and roll.”

Bechard’s three previous music docs have all won critical praise. Rolling Stone called COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS one of “The Seven Best New Music Documentaries of the Year.” The Seattle Times raved about the “raw power and mesmerizing hooks” in his Archers of Loaf concert film WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? While EVERY EVERYTHING: THE MUSIC, LIFE & TIMES OF GRANT HART was labeled “beautifully sad” by The Village Voice.

“We have an AMAZING collection of rewards,” the director explains, “including a Lydia Loveless performance at your house for you and your friends.  If I weren’t running this KickStarter I would so be backing the project at that level.  Thankfully the reward includes a screening of the film, so I’ll get to be there.”

WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS? will be funded via a KickStarter campaign that runs through March 18th. The KickStarter campaign can be found HERE.

Filming is slated for spring and summer 2015, with a premiere planned for 2016.

For more information please visit: www.WhatWereWeThinkingFilms.com

Or www.LydiaLoveless.com

 

 

The Best of 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEST ALBUMS:

Somewhere Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER GREAT ALBUMS:

THE BEST DAY – Thurston Moore

RIPS – Ex Hex

FAMOUS GRAVES – Cheap Girls

ENGLISH OCEANS – Drive-By Truckers

AND THE WAR CAME – Shakey Graves

PAINT ANOTHER LAYER ON MY HEART – Caleb Caudle

WORST ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

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

BEST SONG OF THE YEAR:

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

OTHER GREAT SONGS:

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

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

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

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

BEST COVER SONG:

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

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

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

BEST LIVE SHOW:

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

RUNNER UP:

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

BEST NARRATIVE FILM:

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

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM:

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

BEST TV:

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

BOOKS OF THE YEAR:

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

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

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

Who is Lydia Loveless?

Today a musician friend asked me, “Who is Lydia Loveless? Is it a singer or is it a band?”

If he had asked that question back in July, right after I had seen her as an opening act. playing a big dreadnaught guitar, with Benjamin Lamb on mostly acoustic bass, I would have answered simply, and honestly, “Lydia Loveless is the greatest singer on the face of the planet.”

And yes, I do believe that down to the core of my being. She could sing the list of ingredients from a bottle of Newman’s Own Lite Caesar dressing and break your heart. Every note is a novel of emotion, vulnerability, power, and ultimately confidence. Every note is David slaying Goliath. She straps you onto an emotional roller coaster of love, lust, drunken mistakes, a little stalking, a lot of heartbreak, and you’re left breathless, stunned, happy to have taken the ride. Wishing it would begin again, right freaking now.

But after seeing Ms. Loveless play live with a full band twice this weekend, first at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts, and then at the Studio at Webster Hall in New York City, my answer could just as well be, “Lydia Loveless is the best fucking rock band on the planet.”

And I don’t mean the typical singer/songwriter with guitar backed by a bunch of great studio musicians making every note sound like the record. I mean a fucking band. Every member sweating in sync with the other, creating a chaotic Irish car bomb of beautiful noise. Each player an integral wire without whom the entire conceit might simply never detonate.

Sure, that voice is still there. But now the acoustic has been replaced by an old G&L electric with P90 pickups that growl like a feral dog. Or a Fender Tele that looks a little frightened every time she straps it on. Now she gets lost in the songs in a complete different way, her hair whipping into her face, her eyes fluttering strobe-like, she’s possessed, a punk rock shaman. And when she holds onto a note now, you feel the gut punch. You can see your own soul leaving your body. On the song “Mile High” she asks, “Can I have one taste of every breath that you take?” But in the breakneck live version, she doesn’t ask nicely. She literally takes your breath away, and leaves you gasping at the end, you chest heaving from the heartbreak that please no, the song can’t be over.

There is something about that song which kills me. Released as a Record Store Day 45 this past April, it’s become to me the song of the summer, the song of the year. Honestly the song of the half-over decade.   And live there’s an unexpected urgency. An anger not on the single. When she sings the best line from any song in years, “And my heart’s breaking faster than my will not to call you,” at the start of the second verse, it’s ramped up now, piercing, her anger turned inward. The sexy playfulness of the first verse also takes on different meaning. She’s pulled the rug out on our very belief system that we might have known what the song was about. When it was over I wanted her to play it again. Then again after that, as I do so often in my Jeep. I want her playing it right now in my kitchen as I write this. Like a piece of art, you pull back a layer every time you hear it thinking there can’t be more. This is it. But like any great piece of art, there’s always more. The artist smirking, daring you to read the fine print on their soul.

Her stage banter also felt different when she was wielding an electric guitar. Self-deprecating, sarcastic, funny-flirty. It’s her party, though she might be having second thoughts as to having sent out so many invites. And the middle-finger salute she gave to the hipster boys with their cellphone cameras held high during the New York City show certainly made this old man smile.

Lydia Loveless at the Studio at Webster Hall.  Photo by Brendan Welsh-Balliett
Lydia Loveless at the Studio at Webster Hall. Photo by Brendan Welsh-Balliett

But as I’ve said, in this incarnation, Ms. Loveless is a pack leader. This is a real band. I cannot stress that enough. This is The Replacements with Bob Stinson on that stage. And you know I don’t use that comparison lightly. But I think even Mr. Stinson would be pleased with Todd May playing his the part.

Mr. May is a category 5 hurricane on stage, wrestling an over-driven noise from a beat-up G&L with a neck so black Springsteen’s old “Born to Run” Tele would be jealous. He’s the living breathing example of playing all the wrong notes so beautifully at the right time. He’s Quasimodo, hunched over in his little corner of the stage, stomping and suddenly glaring, his eyes going wide as if he had sold his soul to the devil, and now was the time to pay up. He’ll lean over his old Fender Bassman amp, stealing from it whispers of distortion to feed to his leads, his fills. Teasing, taunting every note with it like a piece of meat to a junkyard dog.

On the opposite side of the stage is Jay Gasper on pedal steel and 12-string. But he ain’t your granddad’s pedal steel player. He’s Freddy Kreuger. He’ll lure you into submission with the lilting open of “Somewhere Else” and then shatter your perception of what that instrument is supposed to be. When he picks up his Danelectro 12-string things really get strange. No one is supposed to get those sort of sounds from a 12-string. I think they’re illegal in many states. The prettiness has been tattooed and pierced, the fishnet stockings ripped.

Watch Mr. Gasper play and you understand the joy behind every note this band plays. He is truly having an out-of-body experience on stage. Sometimes making comments that will crack Ms. Loveless up. Sometimes just talking to no one. But always grinning from ear-to ear. It’s a beautiful thing.

Behind the drum kit is George Hondroulis. And though drummers rarely get any credit unless they’re Neil Peart, or someone of that ilk, let me state for the record a simple fact, there are no great rock & roll bands without great drummers behind them. Chris Mars was a great drummer. Mark Price is an amazing drummer. Tommy Ramone, you try keeping that beat. That’s the group I put Mr. Hondroulis in. He’s the engine which drives this gloriously dented Dodge Charger with 470 HP under the hood.

And then there’s Benjamin Lamb, who probably looks as if he’d be a better fit in Metallica, playing a stand-up bass, the only thing on the stage taller than he is. But though he might look heavy-metal, the playing reminds me most of Bruce Thomas of Elvis Costello’s band The Attractions. Who was always in my opinion the greatest bass player of all time. Mr. Lamb does more than just add a bottom note to the band’s sound. He brings to the table a alternate melody. He’s playing a lead bass of sort, never getting in the way of the vocals or guitars, but adding yet another layer.

Take for example “Boy Crazy,” which the band closed their raucous tour-ending set with Sunday night. Mr. Lamb puts down the stand-up bass, straps on a fretless electric, and takes position at the lip of the stage. As the ending of the previous song “Crazy” subsides, he rips into this song’s bass line, and suddenly it’s 1977 all over again. The members of the band flailing and wailing, seemingly unaware of each other, yet so perfectly in snyc.  And by the end Ms. Loveless is on her knees swigging beer, battering her guitar. Then, as Mr. Lamb uses the overhead pipes connected to the ceiling as a bow against the strings of his bass, Ms. Loveless leans over her Blues Junior amp, now twisting the controls as if lost in the middle of the ocean and trying desperately to get a signal. Her Tele now just a casualty, lying at her feet, as she stomps on its strings with the heel of her boot. No wonder it looked frightened.

They’re a band. They’re a band. They’re a fucking great band.

(This is a YouTube video by Joe Castrianni of the “Boy Crazy” performance of which I speak.  It will give you an idea of the glorious mayhem at the end of the song.)

And of course this takes nothing away from Ms. Loveless. Did Stinson, Stinson and Mars take anything away from Paul Westerberg? We know the answer to that question all too well.

On stage she is the center of the storm, stomping her left foot backward, an angry tick in time to whichever song. Or pulling her take on Costello’s classic “My Aim Is True” pose, twitching to the music, vibrating with an energy I haven’t seen since Joe Strummer. She’s a guitar string about to snap. (She’s playing hard enough that she broke a string two songs in on Saturday night, and towards the end of her set on Sunday.)

Even when she slows it down, as she did both nights on the haunting new composition “Out On Love,” which brought her to tears in Northampton, there’s a raw poignancy. It’s not a ballad, it’s a slow rocker. She fingerpicks that Tele laced with distortion, as her voice cuts through leaving the crowd stunned and speachless. On Sunday she also played a another new tune, “Real.” Both haunt me now. I want to hear them again. I want to know every word. I want to know how they’ll sound on the next record.

Regarding sets, the Saturday show was shorter due to the venue’s time constraints. The band rocked through most of her new record “Somewhere Else,” changing every song up just enough, adding even more of a whallop. As if the songs themselves had grown up and weren’t afraid to challenge the audience. She ended the set with “Steve Earle” from her “Indestructible Machine” album, the song now slow and bluesy. The words, about a stalker of sorts who looks like Steve Earle, not as light-hearted as on the record. The tone making them menacing now. While she used to be amused, now she’s most certainly disgusted.

In New York they mixed it up more, playing ninety minutes plus. And as charged up as they were on Saturday, this set, the last of their current tour, seemed to explode. “Really Wanna See You Again,” especially had such a punk rock force, from Ms. Loveless counting up out loud right before the vocals kick in, to her spitting out “I really wanna kiss you again right on the mouth and tell you all the things I should have told you then,” with such a vengeance that you were left wondering if it weren’t as much a threat as a letter of desire.

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Lydia Loveless at the Studio at Webster Hall. Photo by Brendan Welsh-Balliett
One of the greatest aspects of rock & roll is not knowing what comes next. And even seeing them back-to-back on consecutive nights I was still surprised on Sunday. The set completely changed up. No rehearsed banter. (I always detest when I see a band a few times and the stage banter from one show to the next is identical. That ain’t rock & roll, that borders on Broadway musical.) No rehearsed moves. The energy they themselves create is what drives Ms. Loveless and company. The spontaneity of the moment seems to be the constant deciding factor as to how a line will be sung, a chord will be strummed, what lick will be played where on the neck. She is a vision to watch as the chaos explodes around her like a nighttime air raid on some war torn city. She’s telling the story, the story behind each song, in the moment with stunning urgency. If she doesn’t make it through the night, at least she will have been heard.

And if I were to compare these two shows to the acoustic performance I saw a few months back, I would simply say “Lydia Loveless, in any incarnation, is the closest thing rock & roll has to a future right now.”  Which I guess is the true answer to my friend’s question.

She deserves the keys to the kingdom. Give them to her now, or better yet, let her and the band storm the castle and take them. I’ll gladly sit back and enjoy the mayhem.

That’s what rock & roll is all about.

Lydia, oh, Lydia, oh, have you heard Lydia…

Everyone who reads this blog has to realize I’m a huge music fan. It’s one of the driving forces in my life. I’ve often said, I don’t believe in god, but I believe in The Replacements. Well, the same can be said of Archers of Loaf, or Patti Smith, or Wilco, or Lucinda Williams, or the Clash, Ida Maria, Neko Case, or even early Rod Stewart, and early Elvis Costello. The music released by these artists are my personal bibles, holy passages that somehow make me understand, and help me survive, and make it all worthwhile. I find solice, I find energy, I find life in these songs.

But why these bands? Sure, there’s something about the song writing. The play on words, the chord progressions, the blessed distortion on the guitars, the wrong notes at the right times. But the one thing all of the above have in common, the singer has a voice unlike any other.

I always compare every voice to Billie Holiday’s. And I think of hers as a fine piece of china. A cup, wise and fragile, with hairline cracks blanketing the surface, making you wonder if the glass will shatter if you touch it the wrong way. But its stronger than anyone can imagine, wise beyond its years. Its survived personal wars and heartbreak, 18-year-old Scotch and the cheapest ripple, piss and vinegar. It might not be the prettiest piece of glass on the shelf, but it’s the one you turn to time and again because its drenched with emotion, and every sip from it makes you feel.

That’s Paul Westerberg’s to me. Or Eric Bachman’s. Patti’s. Lucinda’s. Joe Strummer’s. Jeff Tweedy’s. They are all beautifully damaged pieces of china on my musical shelf. But while one can growl, and one can go blissfully out of tune, and another can go from a whisper to a scream, and another can fill a room with a note so perfectly balanced that Philippe Petit listens in awe, I’m not sure any combine all of the attributes like the young woman I am adding to my list.

I came to Lydia Loveless a little late in the game. I missed her first two albums, the EP, and even purchased her latest, the transcendent “Somewhere Else” a few months after its release on the suggestion of my friend Agatha Donkar. (On the day of its release I was flying to Missoula, Montana for a film festival. New Release Tuesday was not on my radar that week.)

I was immediately addicted. No, I want to go even farther than that. I became a crack whore for anything and everything Lydia Loveless. I bought every album, ordered the two blissful Record Store Day singles on ebay, then repurchased both the new album, and her previous “Indestructible Machine” on vinyl. And as my wonderfully patient wife Kristine will attest, I have played no other music since. No other new releases have even piqued my interest. In fact, all other new music seems to annoy me because, well, it’s not Lydia.

Now normally I get bored very quickly with music. It takes a lot for me to continue playing a new record for more than a week or so. Those albums that get long-term play are few and far between. Something on the record has to sink its claws into me. I want to hear something new every time I listen to a song. Decades later, ten thousand plays later, I still want to hear something new. That is the mark of great art. That is the mark of a masterpiece. And that is everything that Lydia Loveless sings.

Hers is a voice that can soar, that can break, that can swagger and scream, that can whisper and seduce, that can smirk and laugh out loud. She is the china cup from which Billie Holiday would want to drink.

The only thing left was for me to see her perform live.

Last night, in a small venue in Fairfield, Connecticut, Lydia opened for someone whom we did not even stay to see. She was accompanied only by her husband Ben Lamb on a standup bass. It was a seven song set. Thirty minutes. Pretty much what I expected, as she was the warm up. And honestly, I would have been there even if she were playing only one song.

Her voice has such confidence on record, I wondered how it would translate live. But from the first strum of her guitar, it was like we were in the hands of a southern punk rock preacher, who would cure us of the disease which has so sickened rock and roll. And once she opened her mouth, the demons were exorcised, and like a smirking pied piper she would sing to us everything we needed to hear, all the while taking us to the promised land we envisioned the first time we ever heard Westerberg and company.

Each of her songs took on new life, as if perhaps on this night she were singing for the friend she mentioned at the end of the set who had recently passed. Singing every line as if it were for the first time, as if she too were always finding new meaning in her words. New wonder. And when she pulled way back from the mic during “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” and sang “I just wanna be the one you love,” I doubt anyone in that room would have denied her that request.

The highlight for me, if I could pick one, would have been “Crazy,” which I not only rank as one of the best five or so songs of this half-over decade, but as a song that rivals Patsy Cline’s classic of the same name. It kills me. And I’m not even sure I can put into words why. Perhaps it’s just that feeling when something touches us so completely and we can’t explain why, and the inability to explain makes us feel crazy. Sort of the way I feel about Lydia’s voice, I guess.

And to even call it a highlight sells short the unreleased song she closed the show with, a song dedicated to her friend who’d passed, and called “High Life.” She sang it alone. It was sad, it was beautiful, it made me smile. And I couldn’t help but think that wherever her friend is now, he quickly became the envy of those around him. Perhaps even god, listening for those few minutes thinking that damn when he got it right, he really got it right.

And no, nothing’s changed in that respect. I still don’t believe in god. But after last night I certainly, wholehearted, believe in Lydia Loveless.