February 3, 2016

Turn Off the Radio t-shirts!

I decided to try something new today: I have put up Turn Off the Radio t-shirts for sale! They are available in USA and Europe, and ship reasonably to both places. (Also ships other places in the world, but shipping is not so reasonable to those locations!)

I have always been against ads on my blog, so I am trying this to see if I can make a little bit of cash (only around $1 per shirt). I set the prices VERY low, the cheapest option is only $12.

This is a crowd-funded campaign, but it only takes 10 people to order for the shirts to print. And you of course only pay if the minimum is reached.

Two different styles and dozen different colors available...

Standard Tee:

Premium Tee:

Thanks for your support!

February 1, 2016

Concert review: mewithoutYou, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, and Them Fleurs in Switzerland

As I have already mentioned, I was able to see mewithoutYou perform in Luzern (Lucerne), Switzerland on January 29 at the Triebhaus. When I learned they were playing so closely to me (an hour and a half drive south), I researched their tour-mates, whom I had never heard: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die.

(I want to buy this poster! If you know who designed it or where it might be for sale, please comment. The bands did not have it on tour.)

I was initially very impressed with The World Is..., and from a recorded standpoint, I still am. But their live show left a bad taste in my mouth; more on that below.

The location and venue were perfect. In my previous post you can see the view from the nearby lakefront. Most all major cities in Switzerland are on lakes, and are always gorgeous. The Triebhaus is a restaurant and bar, with the actual concert hall in the back. The place is full of unique artwork, and you can see a photo of some cardboard sculptures in my previous post.

The concert hall was very small; the smallest I have been to in quite some time. The last time I saw mewithoutYou was Cornerstone Festival 2007, and the tent they played was so packed and so hot and sweaty (in July), I listened to most of that show from outside the tent. Here are some photos of that show and festival. The cover shot, which despite its blurriness, has always been one of my favorites. It is the outside of the mewithoutYou tent, and accurately shows how crowded it was...

Cornerstone Festival

In 2016 mewithoutYou typically plays shows to hundreds of people (if not thousands) and this room at the Triebhaus could not hold more than 150. So as I talked to band members at the merch table before the music began I wondered: 1) How would all the fans fit and 2) How would all the members of The World Is... be able to stand on the stage.

The opening band, Them Fleurs, was impressive and about as much as one can ask of an opening band. They were local, and because of that, they crowd filled the small room and was paying them close attention. My overall opinion is that I loved their sound and guitar work, but the vocals did not compliment the music. My fellow concert-goers agreed that the vocals prevented them from truly enjoying the band.

Them Fleurs gallery (14 photos): Them Fleurs

While mewithoutYou and The World Is... are co-headliners on this tour, mewithoutYou played first and as far as I know it has been the same order all tour. They both played hour-long sets.

I had high expectations for mewithoutYou, and they did not disappoint. The venue was full, but not overly so, and it was possible to move around and get as close to the stage as one would like. As I moved through the room everyone was at minimum paying very close attention, and there were many fans singing along to every word.

mewithoutYou's energy is second-to-none, propelled by drummer Richard Mazzotta. He plays a small kit, but is relentless. While the band did not seem as tight as I usually hear them described, their complete investment into their music makes it easily to excuse their mistakes. For example, when Mike Weiss prematurely launched into the opening fuzzy guitar riff of "February, 1878", it seemed the band initially considered stopping to continue with their planned setlist. But brother Aaron Wiess said, "Go with it" and they continued unfazed.

While I did not see or note the setlist from the show I attended, this one from a few nights prior in Leipzig, Germany seems to be very close, with maybe two or three different tunes. From memory I would say there was one additional song from Brother, Sister and one less song from Pale Horses. I was very surprised to hear a song from A to B Life, because I have not listened to that album in years (and is really the only mewithoutYou album I never revisit). When they began playing it I initially thought to myself, "New song?" but then realized, "Nope, very old song!"

I was especially impressed with Brandon Beaver, mewithoutYou's "second" guitar player who joined the band in 2012. Not only did he seem to play just as many essential leads as Mike Weiss, his background vocals were flawless and essential to the songs from Ten Stories. I love all the female vocals parts on Ten Stories, and Beaver's falsetto replaced them well.

Singer Aaron Weiss is obviously the key to the band, and he was fascinating as always: sitting at times, at one point partially hidden behind the drummer, but most of the time bouncing around the stage. His charisma and passion makes him the perfect frontman, but his awkwardness and humility imply the opposite. Either way, it is nice to have a band leader who is genuine and not at all full of himself. This photo perfectly encapsulates the dynamic of the band; Aaron seems to be of another world...

mewithoutYou Live at the Triebhaus-21.jpg

Overall the show clearly reminded me that Brother, Sister is my favorite--and the best--mewithoutYou album. Ten Stories would be next, and the percentage of the songs from these two releases only trailed 2015's Pale Horses. I was surprised that no songs were performed from It's All Crazy! It's All False...; and it was the only album not represented. (Edit: I was reminded that they did play a small segment of "Cattail Down" as an introduction to another song.)

mewithoutYou closed with the epic "Rainbow Signs", and was the only song Aaron Weiss played electric guitar on, adding to the fullness and intensity:

mewithoutYou gallery (46 photos):
I may be one of the few, but I really like the too-long band name. As I mentioned, I had never heard of The World Is... until two weeks ago. I bought their newest album, 2015's Harmlessness, very quickly because: 1) It is great and 2) only $7 digitally. Not only that, I downloaded most all of their discography because they have it as free downloads.

I have become obsessed with the song "January 10, 2014", its fascinating true-life story, and outstanding video. The band has a shirt for sale with "Diana the Hunter" on it, and I chatted with David Bello about the song. The band opened with it, and for the most part, it sounded exceptional.

Unfortunately, not completely exceptional. While musically The World Is... was tight and sounded great, lead vocalist David Bello sounded awful. I would like to think he was off or having a bad night, but from what I have read, he sounded as he usually does.

From a recorded standpoint, I like Bello's vocals, but live, they were off-key and out of sync. What is crazy that I just discovered he actually has solo work, and his vocals on it do sound the same as I heard them. So there must be some people who like his voice the way it is. Plus he has been an active musician in a number of bands for a very long time. And if he also writes the lyrics, he does a great job in that regard. (Because there are so many revolving members of the band, and have had so many vocalists over the years, it has been impossible to figure out who writes what.)

But his vocals were a distraction. First of all, my two friends who accompanied me to this show were completely put off by his vocals. They were hearing The World Is... for the first time, and it is doubtful they will give the band another chance. Secondly, the venue cleared out. It was obvious before The World Is... played that most attendees were there for mewithoutYou, and they left as the final set began. The longer The World Is... played the smaller the crowd got. There were far more people in the bar in the next room than there were in the concert hall.

I don't want to get away from how good the band sounded otherwise. The music and guitar work overall was intricate and sounded almost exactly like their recordings. However, I have more complaints. While talking to a few members of the band before the show I asked how many members they had on tour with them, as I had read they sometimes had as many as a dozen. They told me they were playing with eight, one less than the nine they had on their last US tour. They said the violin player couldn't come because the plane ticket was too expensive.

That all made sense to me until I saw them take the stage with FOUR guitar players. The line-up was a vocalist who played no instruments; four guitar players, two of which who sang sometimes; a bass player; a drummer; and a female keyboard player who also sang lead on occasion (Katie Lynne Shanholtzer-Dvorak is easily one of the most important people in the band). One of the guitar players could have easily been removed from the stage and no one would have noticed. The other three guitar players all played interesting parts, but the parts could have been covered by two players fairly simply. (I have seen bands play live with only one guitar player and the sound was equally as full.)

After a few songs I was pretty upset they left the violin player behind. And all three background/alternate vocalists could sing WAY better than the lead singer. With eight touring members, a couple of which I would say were non-essential, I don't see how the band is making money on this European tour. I hope for their own sake they break-even and are able to just enjoy it as a vacation.

Overall I would say The World Is... was able to overcome the poor vocals. I enjoyed their show as a whole, and just last night bought the band's first LP, Whatever, If Ever. If my complaining serves any purpose maybe it is just to lower the expectations of those readers who may see the band play in the future.

The World Is... gallery (18 photos):
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

January 30, 2016

mewithoutYou and The World Is... in Luzern

I saw mewithoutYou, The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, and Them Fleurs in Luzern, Switzerland last night. I took hundreds of photos, and am currently sorting through them. I also shot video of one song, mewithoutYou's "Rainbow Signs", and I am thrilled with how it turned out. Due to my ridiculously slow upload speed in rural Germany, I won't be able to put up the video and photo galleries until I am at work on Monday. Until then, here are a few photos...

Lakefront in Luzern
At the bar inside the Triebhaus
Them Fleurs
The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die
Full galleries and video on Monday!

January 21, 2016

Thrice update: tour dates and studio photos

It is fairly easy to keep up with Thrice due to their excellent social media presence, but I wanted to elaborate a little with my own thoughts. A couple weeks ago the band began posting photos of the recording process for their new album, set to release later in 2016 (more on that below). Then a couple days ago they announced their first headlining tour in more than 5 years. They of course played a bunch of festivals last year, and I was fortunate enough to see them at Hevy Fest in the UK.

Unfortunately I am probably not going to see any of this tour. I am going to be in the States this summer for a couple months, but the dates don't line up to my family's travel plans. While I did see Thrice only a few months ago, the big thing about this upcoming tour is NEW SONGS from a NEW ALBUM. Also, it is worth mentioning that one of the opening bands, Gates, is terrific.

As I mentioned, Thrice is great with social media and have been posting lots of pictures from the recording sessions for the new album. The photos and the corresponding comments from the band have gotten me very excited about the album because they show that the album will be diverse and heavy. As great as the last Thrice album was, they lost their diversity. So yes, I guess you could say I am complaining the band was too focused. :)

As I have written on this blog, my favorite Thrice is the Alchemy Index 4 EP set, because it is so creative, original, experimental, and diverse. Just seeing photos of keyboards and a piano already lets everyone know this new album is going to be different than Major/Minor, and maybe more diverse in the vein of Vheissu.

January 20, 2016

The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die

I discovered this band yesterday and I have been listening to them constantly ever since. This video is of my favorite song by them. The backstory on the lyrics is fascinating, I'll leave it to do the research--it is worth it! Also just made plans to go see them and mewithoutYou next week in Luzern, Switzerland next week!

Can't believe it took me long to find The World Is a Beautiful Place..., as they are right up my alley. Just about everything they have ever released is on Bandcamp and for sale dirt cheap; I bought a few things last night.

January 15, 2016

Best of 2006

I wrote a detailed, thorough best-of 2006 post in early 2007, so this is a rewrite. I am doing it now because these are albums celebrating their 10th anniversaries. Not only that, I missed out on a lot in 2006, and my top 10 is radically different than it was at the time. I don't plan to write much here, and you will get much more commentary and detail in my original list. Ten years ago I ranked the top 10, and then mentioned 10 more honorable mention albums. I am aware of so much more music now, and my current top two albums of 2006 I barely appreciated a decade ago.

Top 25 Albums of 2006:

1. mewithoutYou- Brother, Sister
Where did I rank it at the time? Honorable mention

As I wrote back in early 2007, this album was the first from mewithoutYou that I spent time with and learned to enjoy. Learning that Jeremy Enigk was taking part was what put me over the edge, and his vocal contributions to "O Porcupine" make it my favorite mewithoutYou song of all time. But even in 2006 and 2007, while liking this album, it did not impact me like it does today.

I discovered mewithoutYou very early, when I saw them play Cornerstone 2001 before they had released an album. Their performance I found more strange than anything, and it did not push me towards following their career. But within a year after buying Brother, Sister (near it's release date) I did go back and purchase their prior work. 2004's Catch For Us the Foxes of course is phenomenal, but I missed it at the time. I have followed the band closely ever since, and with the exception of 2009's It's All Crazy..., I adore everything they have released in the last decade.

The Weiss brothers, who are the heart of this band, ranked their albums for Noisey prior to the release of 2015's Pale Horses, and it is fascinating read. Aaron Weiss ranked Brother, Sister number one. And as far as the possibly misstep with It's All Crazy..., he had this to say: "I like folk music better than I like punk music in general, [but] I think we are a better punk band than we are a folk band."

2. Rainer Maria- Catastrophe Keeps Us Together
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked. Mentioned one song on my blog on a mix CD tracklist.

I became aware of Rainer Maria in the late 90's through a mix tape club I was a part of. (And yes, the club did start as tapes, but eventually morphed into CDs). This was the first Rainer Maria album I bought during it's release year, and even then it obviously didn't have much impact with me considering I did not rank it a decade ago. But since, wow. This album just means so much to me. Lyrically, musically, everything. Both the words that Caithlin De Marrais sings and with the emotion she sings them with.

On December 31, 2014 Rainer Maria played a reunion show in NYC that lasted until 2015. The transition of the Catastrophe Keeps Us Together title track into "Atlantic", my favorite Rainer Maria song, is spectacular, and one of my favorite YouTube finds (despite the low-quality video).

3. Jeremy Enigk- World Waits
Where did I rank it at the time? #3
What I said in early 2007: Jeremy Enigk is the lead singer of one of my all-time favorite bands, Sunny Day Real Estate. Counting albums from that band, the Fire Theft, and solo, this is his 7th LP. His only other solo album, “Return of the Frog Queen”, came out 10 years ago. I haven’t been too excited about any of his work since the last SDRE album (2000) except for the soundtrack he did for the movie “The United States of Leland.” This album takes him back to his glory days, singing with my favorite male voice of all time. Good balance between stripped down acoustic songs and more upbeat rock songs. Entire album is driven by piano and acoustic guitars. I saw Jeremy perform live last November opening for Cursive. That is the most recent show I have been to. It was far and away the best concert I have ever seen put on by a single individual. Jeremy was so passionate, the show was very moving. He alternated between playing piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar. The highlight of the show was when he performed the SDRE song "How It Feels to be Something On."

4. Fair- The Best Worst-Case Scenario
Where did I rank it at the time? #1
What I said in early 2007: I have been an Aaron Sprinkle fan since I first heard him sing “Ring True” for Poor Old Lu back in 1994 (The only Lu song he sings lead on). I have loved and purchased everything he has ever done, from Rose Blossom Punch to his solo albums and now Fair. I am also a big fan of his production, from bands diverse as Eisley and Demon Hunter. This album is pop-rock perfection, and the best thing Aaron has done outside of the Poor Old Lu albums. Very slick production and some very unique guitar tones and effects throughout. The artwork is beautiful and was nominated for a Grammy!

5. Rosie Thomas- These Friends of Mine
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked, sort of.
This album was released digitally in 2006, with a physical release in 2007. At the time of my original rankings, I didn't know what year it should be classified as, so called it an honorable mention. This is definitively my favorite Rosie Thomas album, and the only release of her which is perfectly produced as all her music should be (much of it is way over-produced). Rosie Thomas arguably has the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard. The "friends" in the album title refers to Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer, who play and sing with her throughout.

6. Manchester Orchestra- I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child
Where did I rank it at the time? #4
What I said in early 2007: At this point in my life I rarely discover “new” bands. Almost all of the music I buy is from artists I have been listening to for years; whether it is the band they have always been in, a new band they are in, or another solo album. Manchester Orchestra is the only “new’ band to make my top 10. ‘I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child’ is their first LP, releasing in October of 2006. I didn’t get it until January however, and I have been listening to it non-stop since. What I find most appealing is the intensity of the vocals and the lyrics. There is more lyrical depth on this album than I have heard in awhile. Musically, for fans of Lovedrug, Death Cab for Cutie, the Decemberists and Bright Eyes. If I had discovered this album sooner, it could have been number one on this list. As I type this, I am still tempted to move it to number one. It, probably more so than any other album on here, has the potential to become one of my favorite albums of all time.

7. Mates of State- Bring It Back
Where did I rank it at the time? #2
What I said in early 2007: Not your typical husband/wife band, because they rock! Kori on keyboards & vocals, Jason on drums & vocals, this is their 4th and by far best LP. I have been obsessed with them since I saw them perform in front of about 30 people in a small club in Paris in August of 2003. Fun music.

My son, who is almost eight, is a HUGE Mates of State fan. In the first six months of his life, he listened to Re-Arrange Us non-stop. He didn't quite discover his own love for the band until last year, but he has recently been listening to them incessantly as I put their entire discography on the iPad he uses. He has been working his way back through the Mates of State catalog in reverse chronological order, and this is the album he is spinning right now all the time.

8. Cat Power- The Greatest
Where did I rank it at the time? Honorable mention
What I said in early 2007: I have heard Cat Power for years and after reading so many positive reviews this is the first album I actually bought from her. Quiet and sexy.

This is probably my third-favorite Cat Power album, behind 2012's Sun and 2003' You are Free. Those are both upbeat and full of creative rock instrumentation. This album is the complete opposite: stripped-down, piano-based lounge numbers. Radically different, but perfect!

9. Gomez- How We Operate
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked and unmentioned.
I was unaware the band existed at the time.

Fell in love with Gomez in 2007, and I have followed them ever since. Definitely an eMusic find at the time, as I didn't get a physical album of their until years later. This is my favorite Gomez album, mainly for the songs "Notice" and "Charley Patton Songs", which I have included on many mix CDs over the year. Just yesterday I bought a 5CD set of Gomez's early work, which I have heard none of. I only had this album and the ones after it.
10. Sleeping at Last- Keep No Score
Where did I rank it at the time? #10
What I said in early 2007: Sleeping at Last continues to put out great music just under the radar. Their last album, ‘Ghosts’, was awesome and on a major label, but it led to nothing and they stayed in anonymity. ‘Keep No Score’, the band’s third album, is their masterpiece. Stylistically consistent with ‘Ghosts’, they have added strings to their solid guitar work and it sounds amazing. The highlight of the album is probably the lyrics, the line “You were meant for amazing things” from the song “Umbrellas” often streaming through my head. The packaging is composed of stunning original watercolor paintings.

11. Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Where did I rank it at the time? #5
What I said in early 2007: This is a spectacular folk-country album, and sounds like it could have been released decades ago except for the crisp production. Neko Case has one of the best voices out there today- she can wail!

12. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins- Rabbit Fur Coat
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked as I incorrectly thought it was a 2005 release. This was the first Jenny Lewis work I purchased, although I had been aware of Rilo Kiley. I have since fallen in love with all of her music, Rilo Kiley especially, and wrote about it quite a bit in 2014.
13. Mogwai- Mr. Beast
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked and unmentioned.
While I was aware of Mogwai, I was still a year or two away from becoming a huge fan. Have purchased every album since on vinyl.
14. Starflyer 59- My Island
Where did I rank it at the time? #6
What I said in early 2007: Starflyer has been releasing a CD a year for the last 14 years. For awhile, they somewhat lost my attention, even though I have bought every release. They regained my utmost respect two years ago with the great ‘Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice’ and then this album blew me away. The most rocking album they have done in 10 years probably, but absolutely nothing like what they were doing 10 years ago. SF59 reinvents themselves with every-album, this one being bass-heavy and up-tempo.

15. Mindy Smith- Long Island Shores
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked. While I loved her debut, I didn't get this, her second album, until the following year. "Tennessee" is possibly my favorite Mindy Smith song, as it is written about my home state and features my favorite style of her music.

16. Headlights- Kill Them With Kindness
Where did I rank it at the time? Honorable mention
What I said in early 2007: The debut album from former members of Absinthe Blind. Tracks typically alternate male and female vocals, reminds me a lot of the Anniversary in many ways. Very happy, keyboard heavy indie rock, somewhat a more serious version of Mates of State.

17. Dead Poetic- Vices
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked and unmentioned. Didn't get it until the following year when I learned how the members of the band had changed.
18. The Appleseed Cast- Peregrine
Where did I rank it at the time? #8. Outside of their weak debut, this is the Appleseed album I struggle to appreciate the most. I know it is brilliant, but doesn't strike me on the same personal level as their other work.
What I said in early 2007 (as I ranked it alongside Brandtson): I discovered the Appleseed Cast and Brandtson about the same time, when Deep Elm Records started around 1998. They each had songs on the first Deep Elm sampler, which led me to seeing them on tour together in the late 90s in the back of a small skate shop in Birmingham, AL. I was most excited about the Appleseed Cast song on the sampler (Marigold and Patchwork), but it was Brandtson who most impressed me at the show. I have been following both bands very closely ever since, buying every release. The Appleseed Cast has pushed the limits with their very diverse body of work ranging from the indie-pop rock of ‘Two Conversations’ to their post-rock masterpieces ‘Low Level Owl’ volume 1 & 2. At their best, there are few bands better. Brandtson has stayed closer to just straight up indie-rock, being very fun music to sing along to. Over the last decade I have seen Brandtson on average twice a year. The Appleseed Cast I did not see again after that first show until summer 2005 in Nashville.

Brandtson has always had great songs, but never really had a great full-length album until ‘Send Us a Signal’, which was my number one album of 2004. Now in 2006, both bands are back on the same label, this time the Militia Group. Neither band is at the top of their game, but they are still talented enough to put out intriguing albums. Brandtson’s album is a complete departure, one member change leading to a completely new dance-based style. Most all of the songs are super-catchy with electronic drums; pure pop. The first time I listened the album I was in shock and somewhat appalled due to the huge shift from their usual organic indie rock. The album grew on me however and now I appreciate their effort to do something new.

The Appleseed Cast’s album isn’t too different than their past work, but for most fans it is a welcome shift back to territory more similar to the ‘Low Level Owl’ albums. However, most Appleseed fans didn’t like ‘Two Conversations,’ which I love. 'Peregrine' is probably my least favorite Appleseed Cast album (excluding the debut), mostly due to the fact that there are no great songs. I love the overall style and guitar work, but nothing makes too much of an impact.

19. Stavesacre- How To Live With a Curse
Where did I rank it at the time? Honorable mention
What I said in early 2007:
20. The Be Good Tanyas- Hello Love
Where did I rank it at the time? #7
What I said in early 2007: I wouldn’t call myself a bluegrass fan, but I LOVE the Be Good Tanyas. A female trio of stripped-down, acoustic bluegrass. This is their 3rd album, and probably best. Mostly very earthy mid-tempoed and vocal-heavy tracks, accompanied by quiet banjo and guitar.

21. Camera Obscura- Let's Get Out of This Country
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked and unmentioned. Did not become aware of band until years later. The first track, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken", is excellent and has been featured in TV and film multiple times. Strangely enough I heard it for the first time while eating in Panera. Mmm, Panera, wish they had those in Europe.
22. The Weepies- Say I Am You
Where did I rank it at the time? Honorable mention
What I said in early 2007: Acoustic pop-rock songs with very soothing vocals and memorable lyrics. Songs alternate between male and female vocals and both voices are outstanding.

23. Pearl Jam- Pearl Jam
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked and unmentioned. Obviously I was aware of Pearl Jam, as I had their first few albums of the 90's, just as everyone else did. But otherwise in 2006 I had yet to dive into the band's complete discography, and heard no new Pearl Jam nothing after 1999. Four or five years ago I finally went and got all of the albums as very cheap used CDs, and I am glad I did. Album cover is clearly horrible, but many rank this as the band's best work of their second decade.
24. The Swell Season- The Swell Season
Where did I rank it at the time? Unranked and unmentioned. The film Once didn't release until 2007, and I, like the rest of the world, became aware of the Glen Hansard-Markéta Irglová collaboration through that movie. But the Academy Award-winning song "Falling Slowly" appeared on this album, along with the Frames' album The Cost in 2006, before the release of the film the next year. The Once Soundtrack is the best album from Hansard-Irglová, but this is close, and many songs appear in both places.
25. Brandtson- Hello, Control
Where did I rank it at the time? #9

I definitely liked this album much better at the time. Such a huge disappointment and departure from their near-perfect prior album, Send Us a Signal (my #1 of 2004). The only song I still listen to from this album is "Earthquakes and Sharks", which is amazing and hilarious.

Most disappointing album of 2006:

Leigh Nash- Blue on Blue
It is nice to be able to follow up my dislike of this album with now being able to express my love for Leigh Nash's most recent solo album, 2015's The State I'm In. In 2006 Leigh Nash was trying (or at least her label was pushing her) to be a pop singer, and it did not work. But thankfully currently Nash is embracing her country and folk roots, and it is clearly the type of solo music she should have been recording all along. Comparing the two album covers is also a great example of how design and visuals are able to communicate the style of the music and the target audience without even being aware of what the music sounds like...

What I wrote in 2007: Anyone who knows me knows that Sixpence None the Richer is my co-favorite band (along with Poor Old Lu.) They broke up in 2002, so obviously I was very excited to see Leigh making music again. Matt Slocum was the primary song-writer for Sixpence though, and it really shows here. While I don’t dislike Leigh’s solo album, most of the song-writing is weak, cheesy, and shallow. Her voice sounds great, but it is not enough. I can't remember the last time I listened to this CD. (Am I the only person that thinks she looks like Ashlee Simpson on the album cover?)

Other 2006 albums I own and enjoy, in alphabetical order:
Anathallo- Floating World
Annuals- Be He Me
Band Of Horses- Everything All The Time
Built to Spill- You in Reverse
Copeland- Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Crooked Still- Shaken By A Low Sound
Cursive- Happy Hollow
Dustin Kensrue- Please Come Home (I purchased this in 2006, but is officially a 2007 release and have ranked it for that year)
Danielson- Ships
David Bazan- Fewer Moving Parts
Demon Hunter- Triptych
Dixie Chicks- Taking The Long Way
Eisley- Final Noise EP
Evanescence- The Open Door
GRITS- Redemption
Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
Hammock- Raising Your Voice...Trying To Stop An Echo
Hem- Funnel Cloud
Jars of Clay- Good Monsters
Josh Garrels- Over Oceans
Katie Herzig- Weightless
Lovedrug- Everything Starts... EP
My Brightest Diamond- Bring Me The Workhorse
Over the Rhine- Snow Angels
Paper Route- EP
Pretty Girls Make Graves- Elan Vital
Sandra McCracken- Gravity | Love
Snow Patrol- Eyes Open
The Beatles- Love
The Flaming Lips- At War With The Mystics
Thom Yorke- The Eraser
Thrice- Red Sky EP
Thursday- A City By The Light Divided
Underoath- Define The Great Line
Unwed Sailor- Circles EP
Zookeeper- EP

January 6, 2016

George Lucas, Chip Kelly, and Billy Corgan; and more on Michael Shepard

I published a new article today; I finally ventured outside the world of indie music and into relevant culture...

George Lucas, Chip Kelly, and Billy Corgan

I had been brainstorming about this article for a few months, and after seeing The Force Awakens twice and after Chip Kelly was fired, I knew I had to write it. My love for Billy Corgan is going on almost 25 years, and I have always been fascinated with the inconsistency of his music.

Billy Corgan by Dido
My story comparing Kerith Ravine and Lovedrug, Michael Shepard's two bands, that I published in October hinted at an idea I mentioned in that story: in rock music collaboration is essential, and that one of the reasons why Kerith Ravine and early Lovedrug is so great is because of the other musicians that helped Shepard create. The same of course is true with Corgan's bands Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan.

Just after I wrote that piece, a new interview about Lovedrug was published and Shepard had this to say:
"I’ve come to discover about myself is that I actually work better as a writer by myself. That’s something that hasn’t been 100 percent clear to me until now, not so much with the image, so to speak, but having other opinions in the room, whether it’s a manager or a producer or a record label that has their other interests, whatever those might be. There was always another voice being thrown in the ring in the past, except for the first record, because I was just doing that by myself, for the most part. So I guess that was kind of a big discovery for me, having all of those voices just quieted and being able to hear just my own voice. It really allowed me to breathe, and that was really, really exciting."

These thoughts from him confirm another point I haven't written about: the key to collaboration and accountability is relationships! And Corgan, Lucas, and Kelly are bad at them. I'm not going to point to all the data that is out there to support it, but I think it is obvious.

What Shepard says above is true of Corgan, Lucas, and Kelly. They prefer to work alone. They think they work best alone. But they don't. Their work is better when they get others involved and learn to trust other creative individuals. Shepard honestly believes he works better as a writer by himself, but over 17 years of music, it is clear that the opposite is true.

I can relate; as a quiet introvert, I prefer to work alone by myself. Early on in my coaching career I struggled to delegate because I didn't trust others to do things for me. But I identified my weaknesses, and sometimes it is important to share the responsibilities of even the things one is good at. I haven't perfected it by any means, but I will do my best to collaborate as much as I can in the future.

January 4, 2016

New music in the new year

Some fun new tracks have been released in early 2016, all the first singles from upcoming albums: Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil, The Science of Letting On (Kevin Clay, formerly of My Little Dog China), and The Golden Streets of Paradise (Myk Porter and Adam Boose of Brandtson).

December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015; my year in music journalism

Daisy Ridley as Rey, Serena Williams, Ellie Roswell of Wolf Alice
As I sit here with an hour ago to 2016, I reflect back on my year in writing. Somehow I balanced discovering tons of great new bands (Wolf Alice, Bandit, Bully, Cayetana, All Dogs, Ratboys, etc.) while writing primarily about bands celebrating the 20th anniversaries of landmark albums. In summary: I love nostalgia. I am obsessed with it. I love the music I listened to in the 90's, and I love modern music that is inspired by it and reminiscent of it. I love Star Wars Episode VII and I don't care that it is too much like Episode IV. In fact I think I love it more because of that nostalgia; I love that I was able to take my 7-year-old son to see it 32 years after I saw Episode VI in the theater as a 7-year-old.

From a music journalism perspective, I spent the bulk of my time writing on Medium, a format new to me. I created my own publication and took part in the massive 'Chrindie 95 publication. I was able to interview all of the members of the band that created my favorite album of all time, and wrote 8,500 words about it. I wrote a bizarre piece comparing Kerith Ravine to Lovedrug and how nostalgia once again informs my opinion and creates affinity.

As far as Chrindie '95 goes, I wrote five essays on six albums, and I co-authored a sixth essay that includes short blurbs on 20 albums that didn't get their own stand-alone treatment:

Chrindie ’95: The Rest

Today I revised and updated my Best of 1995 post to include links to around 25 different pieces written on albums celebrating 20 years. The last essay I published was actually written by Chris Colbert, and I had the privilege of interviewing him and editing together his words:

Morella’s Forest’s Super Deluxe

2015 was by far my most prolific year as a writer and as a blogger, with 70 posts across two locations. Looking forward to seeing what 2016 holds.

December 22, 2015

Best of 2015

"Ellie Rowsell, [Wolf Alice's] lead singer, can whisper like a child and howl like a rabid animal." ~The New Yorker, June 23 2015

On June 14, 2015 I visited NPR's First Listen to hear new albums from Bully and Desaparecidos. While both of those albums impressed (and ended up in my top 20 for 2015), neither grabbed my attention like a third LP that NPR debuted the same day: My Love is Cool by Wolf Alice.
After one listen, I knew I had heard something unique. After a few more full listens, I discovered an album unlike I had heard in years. After I bought the album the next week, I was fairly certain I had found my "album of the year" for 2015. Now six months later, my initial feeling has proved accurate, and nothing else I heard or bought this year comes close.

Looking back over my best-of lists for the last 25 years, there are very few debut albums that I ranked number one. And with those few that are, they were bands I had been listening to for years that I only ranked number one in hindsight, or bands I had been following for a few years and had been highly anticipating the release of their first full-length. Never before I have a ranked a debut album number one when that album was my first exposure to that artist. As of June 13, 2015 I had not only never heard Wolf Alice, I had never heard of them.
As I began working on ranking my favorite albums of 2015, not surprisingly (based on my tastes) a high percentage were from female-fronted bands. Impressively, over half of the albums I bought this year have female lead singers (including four of my top five). And, as I have written about much this year, they aren't only singers--most of the time the woman is the principle songwriter and lead creative mind behind the band. Part of the high percentage here is my personal love for the female voice, but I am also excited that women have more of an opportunity in the music industry and are taking more of a leading role. Not only do they have the opportunity, they are seizing it, and for the last couple years women in general are writing much better music than their male counterparts.

Music journalist Rob Mitchum has shared a Google spreadsheet that compiles Best of 2015 lists from almost 20 different major music publications. The list is fun to look at, has a ton of data, but I am going to pick one statistic to share here with each of my choices: how many different lists the album is ranked on. For me it is an interesting way to evaluate the overlap between my music tastes and what music is popular in the world right now (the overlap is small!). Using that piece of data, here are the five most popular albums in his list as of December 17:
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell (17 lists)
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (17 lists)
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think... (16 lists)
Jamie xx - In Colour (15 lists)
Tame Impala - Currents (15 lists)

Top 20 albums of 2015:

1. Wolf Alice- My Love is Cool
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 3)
Listen on Soundcloud
Buy vinyl at Dirty Hit

As my introduction described, Wolf Alice took me by complete surprise. Impressively, even after listening to My Love is Cool non-stop for the first month I owned it, it continued to take me surprise for months after that. The reason for that is the band's unprecedented attention to detail.

Wolf Alice is incredibly diverse. They jump around so much it is hard to keep track of where they are going. However, despite the changing of tempo, styles, and intensity, My Love is Cool is the product of a band with laser-focus. (The only unfortunate inclusion on this 13-song release is track 10, "Swallowtail", in which the drummer was inexplicably allowed to take over on lead vocals. I have listened to this album close to a hundred times this year, but that song less than a dozen times as it is so radically out of place.)

What makes this album so good, and so much different than anything else I heard this year, is partially due to mind-blowing small segments of songs, as pieces of wholly terrific songs. Wolf Alice is able to consistently create stunning 15- to 40-second segments that take you by complete surprise, while still maintaining consistency and it feeling natural. What makes these segments even more unique is that most you only hear them once; they don't repeat. The majority of Wolf Alice songs have a traditional verse-chorus style, but include unconventional bridges, outros, etc.

The first one of these segments that I noticed was during my first listen of the album in mid-June: the pauses during the verses in "Your Love's Whore", which force one to pay attention. The second segment that jumped out is the end of  single "You're a Germ", when lead singer Elle Roswell ends the song laughing loudly (it sounds ridiculous, but works perfectly).

Part of my appreciation and love for this band and album is that I spent time in the UK twice over the last few months. Something about listening to this London band in their home country made the album even more vivid and meaningful. During my first trip to the UK in August, while riding a train, I listened to My Love is Cool on my Bose headphones for the first time. I became aware of even more textures and even more surprises, one of which led to this tweet:
While my typo confuses the statement, as it it should have been the 2:15-2:45 segment, the fact remains this is my favorite 30 seconds of music I heard this year. "Silk" is a slow burner, and for the first two minutes it is the quietest song on the album. But then the tempo picks up, and a Roswell whisper introduces a chorus of angelic harmonies. I can't help but jump out of my seat every time I hear it.

The segments continue throughout, from the 15 seconds of feedback following the choruses in "Lisbon" to a Roswell blood-curdling scream leading into a brutally heavy last 40 seconds of "Giant Peach." But as soon as one of these segments jumps out at you, it is gone, and Wolf Alice is moving along and keeping you on the edge of your seat.

Ironically, "Moaning Lisa Smile",  one of the most straightforward and least-interesting songs on the album, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Performance.

My first visit to the UK in August was attendance of Hevy Fest. I asked many people about Wolf Alice, and only one person had even heard of them (and had no opinion). But then when I returned to the UK a couple weeks ago, signs like this were everywhere:

Photo I look in the London Underground, Nov. 2015
"Wolf Alice is a band whose crunchy, decidedly rock-oriented reinvention is steadfastly unthreatened by a catchy pop melody, a sweet, thoughtful harmony or an earworm bridge and chorus. That willingness to dispense with purist cred is a defining characteristic of 'My Love Is Cool', made more impressive by the fact that Wolf Alice succeeds from every angle its members try. They can do '90s grunge guitar, they can do moody atmospherics and they can do sweet-as-pie pop. Rowsell runs her pure, palatable voice off the rails at several points, but even her shrieks in "Giant Peach" and "Fluffy" are more musical than primal...and "Freazy" would be an indie-pop departure from the rest of the record, except that nothing Wolf Alice plays sounds like a departure. That's this band's greatest asset, and the one that bodes best for its future." ~Katie Presley for NPR

"It’s key to the artistry of ‘My Love Is Cool’: to blindside, intrigue and confound those fans who thought they knew the drill – a shoegazey Hole with better tunes, basically - and to draw the unsuspecting in for the kill. As they gradually ratchet up the tempo, a glint of fang emerges amid Ellie’s deceptively butter-wouldn’t-melt lyrics...It becomes the rock equivalent of raising tiger cubs – adorable but, at any moment, it could have your larynx for lunch. Unpredictability is a rare and desirable commodity, and it makes Wolf Alice 2015’s most potential-packed band. While it might be difficult to imagine, say, Royal Blood making vast stylistic leaps into the unknown any more than you could picture Newsnight installing the Love Lift from Take Me Out, Wolf Alice can, and repeatedly do, swerve off down dark, unmapped side-roads littered with emotional detritus." ~Mark Beaumont for NME

2. Bandit- Of Life
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero. However, Lars Gotrich of NPR ranked Bandit as one of his top 5 "southern" albums of this year, along with Luxury, which was my #1 album of 2014.)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Broken Circles

Of Life is almost a year old, as it debuted last January. Even though it was one of the first new albums I heard in 2015, I thought there was a chance it would be the best. That didn't quite hold up, but this album is still so good.

Bandit is best summed up by the two videos I have embedded below. The first is the opening track, filmed in Iceland. If you ever need an album to listen to while driving across Iceland, this is it. Since most of us won't have that opportunity, go ahead and call this a great winter album. I read a review of Of Life that compared it to How It Feels To Be Something On by Sunny Day Real Estate. I have hard time making that connection (and Sunny Day Real Estate is an all-time favorite), but what I do feel both albums have in common is that they sound great on dark, cold nights in the car.

The second video is a live studio recording that was released more recently. "Losing in a Sense" is easily Bandit's best song, and the highlight of the album:

"Every once in a while, the stars align and you stumble across a band that just works. You hear the first thirty seconds of a single in your headphones and you’re swept up in musical bliss and then you’re immediately shot in the gut anticipating a newly announced album. Sometimes that band is so obscure and hard to find on the internet, that you can really only listen to the singles to tide you over until you can hear the album in full.

"When the stars aligned, I found Bandit. Or rather, I received news that they had signed to Broken Circles. That shot to the gut came in the form of waiting to hear ‘Of Life.’ Regardless, they made their way into my ears. From the moment I first heard vocalist Angela [Plake] start to sing, I knew that I was going to be in for a treat. Her voice is sweet and subdued, and it’s expressive enough that she can communicate emotion without having to give an over the top performance." ~Joel Funk for 36 Vultures

3. Death Cab for Cutie- Kintsugi
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero [!])
Listen at Soundcloud
Buy vinyl at Barsuk

To start, it is hard for me to accept that no music publication mentioned Kintsugi in the years' best. Death Cab has multiple older albums ranked very highly, and this is some of the band's best work. When the album was released, the reviews were mostly positive; and as I read and searched today, I could only find reviews of the album that championed it. While the critics may not appreciate it, at least the Grammy Foundation is paying attention, as Kintsugi has been nominated for Best Rock Album.

For me, Kintsugi is a return to form, and the proper follow-up to Plans, which was released 10 years prior. I hated the majority 2008's Narrow Stairs, and while I mostly enjoyed 2011's Codes and Keys, Kintsugi is the album I had been wanting Death Cab to release for a long time.

"Compared to its predecessors, Kintsugi feels sparer and simpler, with a muted quality to match song titles like "You've Haunted Me All My Life" and "The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive." It's also very clearly a breakup record, chronicling with a fair amount of specificity the dissolution of Gibbard's marriage to Zooey Deschanel. The story he chooses to tell is one of a relationship tarred by her stardom ("Was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you? / No room in frame for two"), and by the frustrations of a Los Angeles he's never embraced.

That said, these songs — and songs in general, really — work best when they aren't contextualized in too much literal detail. 'Kintsugi' is better viewed as an album about drifting apart, by a band trying to hold itself together, and that's far more universal than any given Hollywood love story gone wrong. As softly tuneful as ever, Death Cab For Cutie chronicles the glum immediate aftermath of survival. What comes next, most likely, is the blush of renewal that follows so many doldrums of mid-stage adulthood. After all, as long as we're alive, we never really stop coming of age, and Death Cab For Cutie's members know that. It's nice to have them along for the ride." ~Stephen Thompson for NPR

4. All Dogs- Kicking Every Day and Yowler- The Offer
(Number of major music lists ranked on: All Dogs- Zero, Yowler- 1. Amazingly, hyper-critical Pitchfork loved both albums, ranking them 7.6 and 8.0, respectively.)

All Dogs:
Listen/buy at Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Salinas

Listen/buy at Bandcamp
Buy cassette at Double Double Whammy

It may be cheating to group two albums together here, but Maryn Jones is wrapping up a prolific year. She is the creative lead (songwriter, guitarist, vocalist) behind her band All Dogs, who released their debut album in August. That was preceded though by her solo debut album in February, under the moniker Yowler. She is also the bass player and occasional singer in the band Saintseneca, who released a new album in October. (These bands are also utilizing Bandcamp in terrific ways, and you can purchase all three of these full-lengths for a combined $20! What are you waiting for? The links in the band names in this paragraph will take you to the Bandcamp pages.)

My main love for her work is All Dogs, which is an aggressive, passionate rock album. While the energy and pace of the music is what initially attracted me to the music, I can't get enough of her voice, and her personal, soul-baring lyrics keep me intrigued. Yowler is quiet and experimental, radically different than All Dogs but equally as interesting.

"...The band’s focus is on elevating the personal songwriting of Jones, and they do that by focusing on clear, power-pop songwriting. Sure, elements of the member’s indie and punk leanings pop up here and there in a particular riff or drum fill, or especially in Jones’ earnest, unfiltered delivery. But the purpose here is to hone in on each track’s emotional core, whether that’s furious, adrenaline-fueled ruckus on the break-up fueled 'That Kind of Girl' or painful, solemn meditation on the more introspective 'Skin.'

"...'Kicking Every Day' positions Jones, alongside Harris, bassist Amanda Bartley and drummer Jesse Withers, as a dealer in that most basic of artistic release—pure emotional catharsis that is complicated enough to dive into but simple enough to sing along to by the second listen. It’s a deceptively simple formula that many lesser bands have fallen short of, especially in an age where vintage indie-rock revival seems to be the name of the trade. But by keeping things basic and playing only to their strengths, Jones and company score another major win for their hometown scenes, ideally winning some newfound fans in the process. ~A.T. Bossenger for Trebel

"'The Offer' is an incredibly poetic album, and that’s not just true of its lyrics; the finger-scrapes on the acoustic fretboard in “In the Bathroom” or “The Offer” punctuate her words like line breaks. Like contemporary poetry, Yowler might not have the broad appeal of something like All Dogs, but those that do connect will feel their minds cracked open alongside Jones’". ~Adam Kivel for Consequence of Sound

5. Speedy Ortiz- Foil Deer
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 3)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Carpark

This is the most critically-acclaimed female-fronted rock album of the year, and as excellent as it is, I can't help but think that is partially due to the outspoken social issue stances of lead singer Sadie Dupuis. (They are important though, such as the band's anti-harassment hotline for concerts.) You can't blame her for that though, and Foil Deer is great enough one doesn't have to know anything about her or her band in order to appreciate it. Dupuis is an outstanding, clever lyricist, and paired with intricate, unconventional guitar work, this album is a breath of fresh air.

"What makes Foil Deer truly crackle is the way Dupuis' words interlock with the band's barreling energy and turn-on-a-dime arrangements. While Speedy Ortiz's wiry guitar lines and knotty melodies are taut enough to get stuck in your ear, Dupuis and her bandmates (guitarist Devin McKnight, bassist Darl Ferm, drummer Mike Falcone) are masterful at building tension that can erupt into noise at any moment. Blurring intricate melody and scruffy cacophony, this lean and arresting sound was first cultivated on the band's 2013 debut, Major Arcana, and then on last year's Real Hair EP. Speedy Ortiz has drawn comparisons to a slew of 1990s grunge and alt-rock touchstones — among them Pavement, Helium and Dinosaur Jr. — but Foil Deer's expansive palette proves that the band is no throwback pastiche. It's on to something new." ~Mike Katzif for NPR

6. mewithoutYou- Pale Horses
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Run for Cover

To start, it is ridiculous how little press the genre of punk/post-hardcore gets in 2015. Desaparecidos is the only band from this genre that the mainstream music press talks about, and that is more because of Conor Oberst's prior work and the political commentary of Payola than it is for the music (as awesome as the album is, ranked #8 below). When looking at Rob Mitchum's spreadsheet again, it is obvious we are living in a pop and hip-hop world, and rock and punk are being ignored by most of the music media.

All that to say mewithoutYou is easily one of the most cutting edge bands of the present, and Aaron Weiss is a modern poet. While not my favorite album from the band, they are on the top of their game, and Pale Horses serves as a great summary of the band's career and a perfect starting point for someone who has never before heard them. mewithoutYou is also the flag-bearer for creating physical album packages that their fans line up to buy and pay reasonable prices for, and here is the European exclusive vinyl version I purchased:
"Now six albums into their career, Pale Horses is unquestionably the most challenging thing that they’ve ever put out. It’s not because it leaps into uncharted territory, as it is actually their most representative album to date – landing somewhere between the coarse shouting of 'Catch For Us the Foxes' and the campfire singalongs of 'It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright'. To say a record is 'challenging' carries a boat load of implications, and not all of them are bad. Like a classic movie or novel, 'Pale Horses' reveals itself in layers. To listen to any mewithoutYou record is to accept the premise that the art of expression and poetry of lyrics are just as valuable as the music itself, which means that it takes several listens to fully appreciate. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time I heard ‘Mexican War Streets’ that the lines, 'I admit, it warms my heart to watch your world fall apart' and 'To heck with all the drugs my parents did' really jumped out at me. Simple but heartbreaking passages like 'Can you take the form of my dead father / because I think he would’ve liked to meet my wife / and I know for a fact he would’ve liked my wife' from ‘Dorothy’ practically reduced me to tears, and I’ve been listening to Aaron Weiss for a while now. That’s part of what’s so impressive about 'Pale Horses' – even though it’s basically the quintessential mewithoutYou record, it still manages to catch you off guard." ~Sowing Season for Sputnik Music

7. Dustin Kensrue- Carry the Fire
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen to full album with commentary on YouTube
Buy vinyl at Kings Road

Dustin Kensrue is potentially my favorite lyricist of the 2000's, primarily for his work in Thrice. I'll admit much of that love is due to he and I sharing the same Christian faith; and he writes about his beliefs in creative and thought-provoking ways.

However, despite our similar personal beliefs, I couldn't be more critical of his recent solo work prior to this album (Here is a post from February in which I write about this topic in great more detail, as I waited for this album to drop.) I loved his 2007 folk solo debut Please Come Home, but then he veered off track with two EP's under the moniker The Modern Post and an LP under his own name, 2013's The Water and the Blood. These three releases all contain worship music for use in the church; and once again even as a follower of Jesus I have no use for them.

Thankfully, Kensrue returned to form with Carry the Fire, a diverse and personal album with songs about his life and relationships (primarily about his wife). The songs range from the stripped-down folk of "There's Something Dark Inside of Me" to the Springsteen-esque "Death or Glory." This is easily my favorite Kensrue release outside of Thrice. But what's even better than this album? My most highly anticipated album of 2016:
"It is important to recognize that Kensrue has a very distinctive voice, which dominates every song on 'Carry the Fire'. It is strong and he uses it to full effect here, wandering from passionate howls to haunting whispers from track to track. Fans who followed from Thrice should be happy to hear his familiar vocals, even without the heavier elements of that group present. While the music is much more realized this time around...Kensrue’s strong voice remains the centerpiece that the songs build from. It was a long wait for fans of his solo material and 'Carry the Fire' shows definite maturation and experimentation from the guy who recorded the acoustic based 'Please Come Home'. This shares as much with some of Thrice’ later work as it does with anything Kensrue has released solo and should be embraced by fans of either era of his music career." ~Dustin Blumhagen for New Noise Magazine

8. Desaparecidos- Payola
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy vinyl at Amazon

Earlier this year I read that Conor Oberst would be releasing his second album with his post-hardcore band Desaparecidos. "Second?!" I had no idea the first album from this band even existed, so I ordered it immediately. Oberst's rock songs are far and away my favorites of his overwhelmingly expansive catalog (My favorite Oberst is the 2011 Bright Eyes album The People's Key.)

So not only did I buy Payola this year, I also bought 2002's Read Music/Speak Spanish, and was able to enjoy 24 Desaparecidos songs in 2015. Payola is far better, more mature, and more melodic, but the albums are remarkably similar despite the 13 years in between them (impressively Oberst reunited with the exact same 5-member line-up as the original run). Musically, lyrically, and visually nothing sums up this band better than this video:

"It would appear that 'Payola' is where Oberst's been storing the splenetic rage that fueled his most compelling work and has mostly gone missing since 'I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning'. But while 'Payola' is his most urgent and angry work in a decade, it's by far his most fun record. Because really, it's his only fun record. This is the result of an important shift in a classic punk rock binary. On 'Read Music/Speak Spanish', Desaparecidos saw themselves in the lineage of the Clash—a fair accusation as Oberst was months away from dropping his Omaha Calling magnum opus Lifted and Desaparecidos would later cover "Spanish Bombs". Their songs were topical, idealistic and had no sense of humor whatsoever. Often singing in the same whole-body quaver as he did in Bright Eyes, Oberst led you to believe these songs saw themselves as the actual solution to the suffocating, transactional nature of marriage, a spiritually broken American military, and the overabundance of Starbucks in Omaha. 'Payola' is a discovery of their inner Sex Pistols: more cynical, more in character, taking advantage of no-win, no-future situations to create potent, punk rock theater. Up against institutions too big to fail but also too big to defend themselves, Desaparecidos provide heavy ammo for cathartic finger-pointing and maximum collateral damage." ~Ian Cohen for Pitchfork

9. Ratboys- AOID
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy vinyl on Bandcamp

Ratboys writes folk-rock songs that are both straightforward and complex at the same time. Another band I was not aware of until the middle of this year, the only thing I don't like about them is their unfortunate name.

"Beginning with otherworldly noises that pick up intensity before taking you into the opening track, vocalist Julia Steiner delivers thoughtful lyrics with ample personality. This low key opener moves into to the catchy tune "Tixis"...Each song seems to tease the listener by going beyond the typical pop-rock format into a sound that is refreshingly fluid. Take the the surprisingly jazzy acoustic chord that ends "MCMXIV" or the mid-song breakdown on "Charles Bernstein" which calls to mind some of the best surreal moments of Bon Iver...

"Ratboys have created an album full of subtle references and adept turn of phrase but the music always seems to change when the lyrics are at their most bold and vulnerable. This helps the listener really pinpoint the focus of each song as in "I had no idea what to think about you" in "MCMXIV" or "I don't know what to do without you" on Our Morticians Daughter. Seeing these lines together you can guess that this album is certainly full of love and loss but is so much more than that. As bold and inventive as the songwriting is, it's the little details that get me." ~Chaz Hearne

10. Patty Griffin- Servant of Love
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy vinyl at Amazon

I became a huge Griffin fan from the time I discovered her in 2004, but 2010's overproduced Downtown Church unfortunately put me on an accidental fast from her music for a few years. Servant of Love is my favorite Griffin since 2004's Impossible Dream, and she is back to what she does best: stripped-down acoustic folk, highlighting her voice and lyrics.

"It’s evident from the stark, moody opening piano ballad title track, accompanied only by squiggly muted jazz trumpet lines reminiscent of Miles Davis and bowed bass, that Griffin and producer Craig Ross are exploring fresh territory. From the pulsating, loud/soft dynamics to Griffin’s pounding/chiming piano (the only time she plays the instrument here) and her careening voice singing/purring and occasionally howling ethereal lyrics about spirits, shadows, moonlight, and waves, the piece lays down an early gauntlet and sets the bar high for the rest of the songs. In a word, it’s riveting and while little else on the album achieves its raw intensity or entrancing vocals, the remaining 10 selections display a similar propensity to challenge both herself and her listeners’ expectations.   

"...The singer-/songwriter reshapes her definition of American music. She combines rootsy instrumentation with strains of blues, jazz and even a little rock, to invigorate a sound that many, likely including Griffin herself, might have felt was becoming stagnant, if not necessarily stale. While remnants of the “old” Griffin appear, specifically in the closing “Shine a Different Way” with its acoustic mandolin (played by Griffin) and unplugged guitars, Servant Of Love is a bold, unexpected shift in vision." ~Hal Horowitz for American Songwriter

11. Chvrches- Every Open Eye
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 7)
Listen/buy vinyl the Chvrches shop

"CHVRCHES devote themselves to early-’80s British synth-pop the way some bands devote themselves to the blues. On their sophomore album, the cavernous synths of Tears for Fears meet Pet Shop Boys’ lovesick croon and the muscular glitter of Eurythmics, presided over by Lauren Mayberry’s powerhouse coo. The band is riding high on a crest of Internet-powered fan bliss, and sounds it: The thorny relationship-dissolution songs on 2013 debut 'The Bones of What You Believe' matched the album’s chilly, sometimes stark sound; 'Every Open Eye' — the work of a band who’s seen which parts of which songs send their audiences into overflowing ecstasy — sets lines about ambition and emotional self-sufficiency (“I am chasing the skyline more than you ever will”) to booming waves of synth." ~Theon Weber for Spin

12. Bully- Feels Like
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 3)
Listen/buy vinyl at Amazon
(Amazingly, and this has to be a first, but Bully no longer has vinyl available for sale at Bandcamp  and they have also pulled their digital music from Bandcamp. Apparently that means they have "made it"? Vinyl selling out is understandable, but not continuing to use Bandcamp to sell the album digitally is inexplicable.)

"To any plaid shirt-clad, Kim Deal-obsessed analogue recording nerd, the career of Alicia Bognanno is the stuff of fantasy. The seeds of the 25-year-old’s gnarly Nashville grunge-pop band Bully were sewn during an internship at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. There, after work, she got to put the skills she picked up from her audio production degree into practice using the ‘In Utero’ producer’s hallowed reel-to-reel setup.

As a mentor, Albini’s hard to beat, having been at the centre of US alt-rock since his days with noise punks Big Black in the ’80s. And musically, Bully undoubtedly take cues from the fuzzed-up hooks he engineered for The Breeders and Superchunk in the ’90s. But ‘Feels Like’ has neither a whiff of nostalgia nor nepotism. With her honest, witty lyrics and tight punk rock production, this self-recorded gem is all Bognanno’s. Her voice is Bully’s power centre, erupting from melodic drawl into a terrifying snarl." ~Robert Cooke for NME

13. Metric- Pagans in Vegas
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy vinyl at the Metric Store

"Long gone are the days of Metric, the sassy indie-rock quartet with downtown New York style and angular guitar riffs. After abandoning its edges for the glossier pop perfectionism of Fantasies, the group’s last effort lived up to its Synthetica title, transitioning the band into more synthpop sounds and dance-floor grooves. With 'Pagans In Vegas', the band has fully morphed into purveyors of slick electronic pop, music that would fit right in alongside British synth-driven acts like Depeche Mode or even The Cure. While the evolution has been steady and of a piece, early fans likely wouldn’t even recognize the artists behind this latest effort. Old world underground, where are you now, indeed." ~Alex McCown for A.V. Club

14. kuxh (CUSH)- Super G
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero. Number of reviews found online: Zero. Number of physical copies [cassette, CD, or vinyl] that exist: Zero. Number of people who have heard this album: A few more than zero.)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

2015 marked the 20th Anniversary of the Prayer Chain's Mercury, and the band celebrated by launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to release the landmark album on vinyl for the first time. While the events surrounding the Mercury anniversary were marked by much social media, press, a reunion show, and house parties, some of the members of the band celebrated in another way: they recorded and released Super G. Strangely, they didn't tell anyone about it.

The members of the Prayer Chain and Cush had everyone's attention more than they have in years this past summer, but instead of taking the opportunity to promote Super G, they instead changed the spelling of their band name and failed to promote the album in any way. Ironically, Super G sounds more like Mercury than anything Prickett, Campuzano and company have released in the 20 years since. There are no vocals to be found, but otherwise Prickett's guitar work and overall sounds are strikingly similar, while being fresh and original. This is right up there with the best post-rock of the present day (Mogwai, Hammock, Explosions in the Sky), yet it is probable only a few dozen people have ever heard Super G. Hopefully that will change in 2016!

15. Sufjan Stevens- Carrie and Lowell
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 17)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Asthmatic Kitty

"Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is a hyper-specific recount of memories from Stevens’ childhood, and of the emotions that struck him following the death of his mother, whom he barely knew. And while the actual facts that the album is based on seem like they could provide a wealth of fertile ground to cultivate great art—and they do—there is also the possibility that the events could be too personal for listeners to relate to or to gain something of an understanding to apply to our own life...Carrie & Lowell is a demonstration of why Stevens sings songs, of why we listen to songs: to feel less alone, to make sense of the things that are hardest to make sense of. Hopefully it proves as rewarding to the singer as it is for his audience." ~Philip Cosores for Paste

16. Petal- Shame
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Run for Cover

"'Shame'’s tracks read like vignettes, small windows peering into small slices of a lengthy timeline. The album doesn’t ebb monotonously; Petal changes its pace from weighty and melancholy acoustic numbers to buoyant, sanguine tracks with the stormy heft of a full band behind them. On “Sooner,” Lotz’s voice drapes delicately over the roughness of bristling guitar, whereas on “Heaven” and “Silly Heart” it beckons its listener with a wholehearted sincerity over gentle, quiet strumming. With a wispy lightheartedness paired with wistful lyricism, Petal’s Shame is a perfect pairing for the brisk chill at the end of summer the end of summer." ~Meilyn Huq for Spin

17. Refused- Freedom
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Kings Road

"Now, 17 years after their initial demise, Refused has returned with a new shape of punk that’s just as wild and eclectic as their last. The four-piece reunited for a string of reunion shows in 2012, but Freedom marks their first chance to show us if the future turned out like they’d hoped. The album makes a rousing case that yes, Refused is still as relevant in 2015 as they were in the ‘90s, and no, they don’t particularly care if you think so or not. None other than Taylor Swift producer (!) Shellback co-wrote lead single “Elektra”, which opens the album with a burst of rhythmic hardcore that’s almost straightforward by Refused standards. “Nothing has changed,” screams Dennis Lyxzén over a pummeling drumbeat, but it’s clear that at least something has changed.

"While an effective reintroduction to the band, “Elektra” is not entirely indicative of the album that follows. Shellback’s influence seems to have tempered some of the weirdness left over from The Shape of Punk to Come, but when the band is left to their own devices, they become more thrillingly eclectic. “Old Friends / New War”, for example, layers sharp bursts of clean guitars over a hip-hop beat and lets Lyxzén have some fun with a pitch modulator. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but the band’s commitment to the experiment overcomes any concerns about questionable taste." ~Collin Brennan for Consequence of Sound

18. David Bazan- Monthly Volume 2
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Buy vinyl at Bazan's store

Is this an album? Not sure, but I am counting it because it is 10 great tracks, albeit they were released two at a time. My favorite Bazan in quite some time, and I wrote much more about it earlier this year.

"...Bazan isn’t willing to debase himself for more exposure. He deliberately pulled his music from streaming services such as Spotify, which, he argues, devalues recorded music so much that it’s “disposable.” He isn’t blasting press releases or exclusive mp3s to music blogs, instead promoting them through his social media presence to be bought directly at Undertow Music’s website. And he wouldn’t have it any differently. He told Pitchfork in 2014, “I’m willing to lose hundreds of impressions here or there in the publicity game in order to have people get my record and hold it in their hands… to have a slightly deeper relationship with it.”

"...In the latter half of 2014 when he set a simple challenge for himself—to finish and release two original songs every month. The project’s title: “Bazan Monthly.” With only one rest month, he hasn’t failed to hit the target yet, and he’s about to finish up his tenth month, thus bookending the second “volume” or collection of ten songs as its own album. “I seem to respond to deadlines pretty positively,” he says. That turns out to be the biggest understatement of our conversation. These songs are some of the most exciting of his career. Bazan is clearly having fun, putting professional engineering behind oddball ideas that would have likely been cut with a traditional production schedule."  ~Ezra Dulis for Breitbart

19. The Decemberists- What a Terrible World, What a Terrible World
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy vinyl the Decemberists shop

"...It shows a band refreshed, enriching its trademark folk rock with Seventies pop plushness and hooks. It's a good move for a crew whose lexically intoxicated smarty-pants instincts can get the best of it. "Cavalry Captain" flaunts bright Chicago IX brass and backing vocals à la the Carpenters' Now & Then; "Lake Song" is a perfect evocation of Nick Drake's fleecy Bryter Layter. Maybe because Meloy is now a published author (he's penned a trilogy of popular children's books), his songwriting wit seems to have grown sharper and less showoff-y. Even the cheeky prodigal-son overture "The Singer Addresses His Audience" ("We know you built your lives around us") lands compelling points about art, fame, fandom and self-determination. Elsewhere, head takes a back seat to heart. "We already wrecked the rental car/And I've already lost my way," Meloy sings on "Mistral," and you don't need Wikipedia to feel his pain." ~Will Hermes for Rolling Stone

20. Grimes- Art Angels
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 11)
Listen/buy vinyl at 4AD

"In the age of the female pop auteur, Boucher's work as Grimes is a glorious addition to the canon, someone who beckons us to the dancefloor with big ideas and bigger beats, and resists simplistic notions of who she can be on a record or a stage. Art Angels is a gilded coffin nail to outmoded sexist arguments that women in pop are constructed products, a mere frame for male producers' talents—that because their music is immaculate, they are somehow not authentic. These 14 tracks are evidence of Boucher's labor and an articulation of a pop vision that is incontrovertibly hers, inviting the wider world in.

Grimes shows that Boucher is the ultimate fangirl study: a D.I.Y. musician whose love of Mariah, Katy Perry, and K-pop has expanded her palette, driven by her fascination with the possibilities of the synthetic and unreal, and ultimately given wings to Art Angels. Here, she closes the gap between the pop she's idolized and the pop she is capable of. Boucher has claimed that the record has two halves, and indeed, the songs line up most easily into beginning- and end-of-the-night dancefloor jams. The former is exemplified by the bright, anxious "Kill V. Maim", with its mocking cheerleader chant over blown-out beats and Boucher working both ends of her register in a propulsive celebration of vocal fry." ~Jessica Hopper for Pitchfork

Honorable Mention: Mates of State- You're Going to Make It
Listen/buy vinyl at Barsuk

If an LP, definitively in the top five for this year. As it stand as an EP, the first four of the five songs are among the best dozen Mates of States songs ever written, which is saying a lot. Mates of State said a couple years ago that they were done with LP's and would be releasing EP's exclusively from here on out. I hate that! I love LP's, and one of my favorite things is listening to a single artist for 35-45 minutes. I would be OK if Mates of State wanted to release digital singles, or 2-3 songs at a time over the course of a year or two, as long as at the end of that time period they compiled all 10-12 songs, and took the time to work on a logical sequence. There is nothing better than hearing 10 brand new songs from an artist in one sitting, but unfortunately that is only possible now if one discovers a new band that you have not been following.

This EP led my 7-year-old son to fall in love with Mates of State; they are his first favorite band. He has always enjoyed them, and Re-arrange Us was released when he was a newborn and he heard it constantly in his first year of life. He now weekly listens to Mountaintops (his #1 Mates of State release), You're Going to Make it, and Re-arrange Us, in that order.

Ripfork, a terrific blog that picks apart ridiculous and pretentious Pitchfork reviews (of which there are MANY), dissected the dumb, close-minded Pitchfork review of this EP this year. Here is an excerpt from Matt Wendus' essay:

"...All that stuff — kids, mortgages, the 'hard work that makes a marriage work' — it’s time-consuming. So most people locked into the responsibilities of family life don’t have a ton of extra hours to spend writing and recording songs about it. It’s not the single life, the college life, the bohemian life. But here we have a husband and wife, two people who raise a family and still find the time and inspiration to write songs, rehearse songs, record songs, and go on tour to perform them.

And that brings me to the second reason why I don’t think there’s a lot of 'domesticity' in pop music. I think it’s because people like you would complain that those songs 'risk little' or that the people who actually do write on the subject are somehow translating their lives into art the wrong way. Why write songs in your 30s and 40s about the challenges and rewards of a family when some random dude you’ve never met (who apparently craves these songs) is going to sneer at you for not being up to snuff? 

Steve, if anything good came out of your review, then I’d say it’s this. Mates of State had this to say shortly after your review was posted":

Album I should love, but don't: 
Sleater-Kinney- No Cities to Love
A female-fronted rock band releases a critically acclaimed album in 2015 (mentioned on 12 major music lists); The band has been around for 20 years, and releases their 8th album 10 years after their 7th. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a band and album I would love, right?. But nope. I have never been able to cross over into Sleater-Kinney fandom, and I have no idea why. No Cities to Love is streaming in Amazon Prime, and I have given it repeated listens, but it just won't grab me.

Most disappointing album of 2015: 
Coldplay- A Head Full of Dreams
Not that I am a massive Coldplay fan, but I do enjoy most everything they have ever released and usually defend them amongst the hyper-critical indie/underground crowd I belong to. That said, I can't defend this album. It is so bland, boring, and under-developed. The concept is similar to Mylo Xyloto, both from a stylistic and visual standpoint, but that 2011 release is WAY better. If this is Coldplay's final album as they claim, so sad. 2014's Ghost Stories is far more impressive as a final statement. Unfortunately the only fun thing about this album is that it is a 2-LP vinyl set in which one record is blue and the other is pink.

Other 2015 albums I own that are worth mentioning, in alphabetical order:
August Burns Red- Found in Far Away Places
Amazingly the third album I am mentioning that was nominated for a Grammy: Best Metal Performance. I don't listen to much metal, and after attending Hevy Fest and watching dozens of bands in this genre, August Burns Red is doing this genre better than most everyone.

Built To Spill- Untethered Moon
I love Built to Spill, and this is solid, but no new ground has been covered, and over time I doubt I'll revisit this album compared to their others.

Burlap To Cashmere- Freedom Souls
I supported this album on PledgeMusic, and I am sorry to say, it is fairly boring. Songwriting is good, the musicians are terrific, but the album is so slow and bland. Burlap to Cashmere was awesome in the late 90's do to their incredible energy, mainly found in their live shows. The energy is completely gone and has been replaced by elevator music.

Citizen- Everybody Is Going To Heaven
Turnover- Peripheral Vision
I am grouping these two albums together because they are on the same label, Run for Cover Records. In 2015, Run For Cover was on fire. Not only did they release albums from mewithoutYou, Petal, Citizen, and Turnover, they run an incredible business model. All of their albums are on Bandcamp for very reasonable (cheap) prices, and on Cyber Monday they were all "pay what you want" or FREE. Also, all of their releases are available on multiple vinyl variants which are absolutely gorgeous. As far as these two albums, I greatly prefer Turnover, which is relaxing, soothing rock music (as weird as that sounds).

Ethan Luck- Ethan Luck & The Intruders (EP)
Great 5-song folk-rock EP from the former drummer of so many bands it would take too long to list them.

The Innocence Mission- Hello I Feel The Same
I have been a fan of this band for almost 25 years, and will for the rest of my life. Unfortunately 1999's Birds of My Neighborhood was the last spectacular album The Innocence Mission released. Their four studio albums of the 2000's, including this one, are practically indistinguishable. If you have never heard this band, and are a fan of minimalistic acoustic folk with female vocals, this album might be the greatest thing you have every heard. But if you are familiar with their history, there is nothing new here and only a longing for the past.

Jesse Sprinkle- The Winter Blue
Another drummer who put together a great 2015 release, a "family" album. Very random and eclectic, but works, and is highlighted by a terrific Adam Again cover. Of course every time I listen to him I just wish there was new Poor Old Lu music. There is Blank Books to look forward to though in 2016!

Josh Garrels- Home
Far more focused and consistent than past Garrels' work, but I have to admit I miss the diversity and experimentation. Have barely listened to this, but will spend more time with it eventually.

Jim Adkins- I Will Go EP
When the lead singer of Jimmy Eat World initially announced his solo work, I was not very enthused because of how poor his band's last album was. I am MASSIVE Jimmy Eat World fan, and my expectations for Adkins' work are through the roof. That said, as bad as 2013's Damage is, this EP is excellent. Three originals, three covers, and it all sounds great.

Leigh Nash- The State I'm In
I feel bad I don't like this album more, as I spent so much time writing about Sixpence None the Richer this year, and I even published an interview with Nash herself. Nash's transition into country was completely natural, and this is by far the best release of her solo career. I plan to spend more time with this album in the months and years to come and I expect to appreciate it more.

NYVES- Anxiety
Considering the creators, I should like this more. Hasn't grabbed me as I expected it would.

Of Monsters And Men- Beneath The Skin
This is my 6-year-old daughter's favorite band. Does she want to listen to this album? Nope, she always prefers the debut, My Head is Animal. I agree with her!

Sandra McCracken- Psalms
This is McCracken's tenth album in 15 years. She has successfully bounced back and forth between folk and sacred music, and at times blended the two styles. This is definitely sacred music, but far more reverent and well-written than the majority of modern worship music.

Sleeping At Last- Atlas: Life
Ryan O'Neal is one of the most prolific songwriters of the present day. He releases at least one song a month (usually just one at time), and has been doing that for more than 5 years. He also never disappoints, with diverse instrumentation and profound lyrics. Atlas: Life is his newest project, and he is now six songs in to the 25-track project. Subscribe here and get one song a month emailed to you.

The Saddest Landscape- Darkness Forgives
Until a few days ago, I had never heard of this band or album. Then I noticed on Twitter they were giving it away for free on Bandcamp, so I downloaded it out of curiosity. The best metal album I have heard in quite some time!

SOAK- Before We Forgot How to Dream
I had this on my wish list for months and months, and finally bought it this week. I originally became aware of the 19-year-old Irish singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson, whose stage name is SOAK, because of her UNREAL cover of "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin.  This album is very chill, and while based around her vocals there is very unique yet minimalistic instrumentation and production work.

The Weepies- Sirens
For now a dozen years this husband-wife duo has been writing terrific songs and releasing fun folk-pop music. This is their 5th LP and near their best work.

Watkins Family Hour- Watkins Family Hour
Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek with Fiona Apple?! Yes, please! Unfortunately it doesn't quite live up to the hype. Apple is a small contributor, and while all the songs are good, this album is a small segment of the live show this studio record was birthed from.

Wilco- Star Wars
Wilco's album title is the pun of 2015, as Jeffrey Overstreet writes, "I’m willing to bet that by the end of 2015, this will be the only Star Wars that I find supremely satisfying". He wrote that in September in his Wilco review. I found the statement silly at the time, and now even more so that Star Wars: Episode VII is here and it is AMAZING. In a few years I'll forget this Wilco album even exists, but I'll still be obsessed with Star Wars. My complaint about the movie? I want to see more and know more about these guys: