September 16, 2018

Poor Old Lu Kickstarter; pledge now!

Poor Old Lu is half-way through their Kickstarter campaign to release their debut album Mindsize--celebrating its 25th anniversary--on vinyl and deluxe CD. If funded, this includes never-before heard demos, photos, artwork, etc.

136 people have pledged at the time I write this, and 300 or so are needed. Pledge now! If you are a fan, then your participation is essential, and if you are not, now's the time to become one. Many Lu fans might prefer their later work, and desire it more on vinyl, but in order for those reissues to come, this one needs to be successful.

Poor Old Lu was an essential member of the 1990's Seattle underground scene, and close friends and collaborators of Jeremy Enigk. They existed during the rise of grunge and emo, but were neither. They may be the most unclassifiable band I am aware of.

The most thorough post I have ever done on the band is What if Lu had Lived? Poor Old Lu's top 25 songs.

Here is one of the few videos of Poor Old Lu in their early years, and one of the best songs on Mindsize:

August 9, 2018

The Prayer Chain, Dakoda Motor Co., Pedro the Lion, and friendship

A couple days ago I was in Lansing, Michigan and bought the Sleigh Bells album Jessica Rabbit at The Record Lounge. I was having a conversation with the owner of the store, and we began talking about Sleigh Bells. I told her how my appreciation for the band increased dramatically last week after I listened to a podcast with singer Alexis Krauss. The podcast barely mentioned music; it was about Krauss' work as a teacher--first as a NYC public school teacher and now in outdoor education. After that podcast and during a long drive I listened to all five Sleigh Bells albums in a row. I have a radically different understanding and appreciation for the band now that I understand more about Krauss. She is not only a musician, but also a compassionate, thoughtful educator.

The owner of The Record Lounge gave me a discount on the album, probably because we had the conversation. Next time I am in Lansing I will definitely be back.

My opinions about the store and about Sleigh Bells are now formed in relationship. Not that I am friends with the owner or Krauss, but I now know them at least a little and have a connection to who they are, not just what they do. (Final comment on Sleigh Bells for this post: I bought the LP not just because I enjoy the music, but I love the bad-ass album cover and artwork.)

This brings me to the actual topic, the fact that I saw Dakoda Motor Co. and the Prayer Chain in concert. IN 2018. The show was wonderful of course as I have been a fan of both of these bands for 25 years. The show was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign the Prayer Chain ran earlier this year to press the album Shawl on vinyl for its 25th anniversary. I pledged to the campaign for the vinyl only back in January. The only planned show was in California at the time, and I of course was living in Germany and had no idea where I would be come summer.

At the conclusion of the successful campaign in February a Nashville date was added. I still had no idea where I would be living on August 4, but considering I am from Nashville and have family in the area, I gave it a shot and hoped.

It wasn't until last week I finally decided to go. Thankfully I had some credit card miles built up to get my plane tickets and I was on my way from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Nashville and back. Not only did I go for the music, I also went because it is the closest I will ever get to time travel. But the main reason I made the trip was because of friendship.

Being at the show was surreal. In many ways it felt like I was back in the mid-90's. Dakoda Motor Co. was my first favorite band back when I was 16, and the Prayer Chain was in my top 5 favorite bands for all of the 90's. I'll included some facts about the show itself, but the heart of the experience and my writing will be the people I saw and had conversations with.

When I finally committed to attend the show, I reached out to my friend DC. DC and I went to Samford together for a couple years in the 90's, and then he transferred to Auburn. I think we talked about the Prayer Chain the first time we met, and his email address was sunstoned@_____. Some of my favorite memories with DC are going to shows and Auburn Football games, including the 1997 Iron Bowl.

From a music perspective, DC and I bonded when we drove from Birmingham to Atlanta in Fall of 1995 to see Starflyer 59 and Morella's Forest play at the Pterodactyl. I had seen them both play the night before at the Crush Warehouse, but he missed it so I insisted we must go again the following night. Not only did those two bands play again, Joe Christmas was also on the bill. The highlight of the night though was a surprise appearance from Luxury. I have written about this experience on my blog numerous times before. It was Luxury's first performance since their horrible van crash (documentary about that and the band releasing soon). Lee Bozeman walked on to the stage, said, "Hello, we're Starflyer 59," and Luxury launched into "Solid Gold."

I hadn't seen DC since the late 90's, but we have been in touch off and on over the years. It was terrific to connect, and just as the Prayer Chain was the first thing we might have ever talked about, the band brought us together 23 years later.

Speaking of Birmingham and the Crush Warehouse, the next friend I saw was JW. He and I first met as he worked in the music department at LifeWay Christian bookstore in Birmingham. I bought countless CDs from him over the years, including The Prayer Chain's Antarctica. We also attended numerous Crush Warehouse shows together.

JW eventually moved to Nashville and I reconnected with him at Grimey's, where he has now worked for a long time. He posts frequently on Instagram of the albums he is spinning and is a fun follow. JW helped me arrange pre-show dinner at the Peg Leg Porker, and he, myself, DC, KP, AH, and two other guys all ate and hung out.

The final Birmingham connection of the night was GH, who I had actually never met in person until Saturday. However, we later realized he and I had attended countless shows together, but had just never met. The most notable mutual concert experience was the Prayer Chain's 1995 show at the Crush Warehouse, in which I worked the merch table. That show was much more significant to him, as it was his first date with his wife!

GH and I have chatted online a lot over the years, and at the show he let me know what led him to first become aware of me as a "music writer": In 2002 I and another crazy friend wrote a LONG letter to the editor of HM magazine. Surprisingly for us, they published it in full! I am not sure if it is still on the HM website, but a few years ago I put it up on my blog for posterity sake.

My brother KP came to the dinner and show as well. He and I of course have countless musical memories, but I'll focus on one. When I was 16 and he was 14 we listened to a radio show called the A-Zone in Nashville, hosted by deejays Dr. Tony Shore and KC Jones. And guess what, KC Jones was at the show on Saturday.

I went to talk to KC to remind him of the memory with my brother. KP called into the A-Zone in 1994 and won a contest. The prize was a copy of the Prayer Chain's Shawl. KC and Dr. Tony had promised to mail it to Keith, but forgot for months. Well, in January of 1995 KP and I were at a Fleming and John and Hoi Polloi concert in the basement of a Vanderbilt frat house. In between bands, we went outside to a payphone and called into the A-Zone, which was being aired live at the time. The hosts were of course jealous. A couple weeks later we visited the radio studio on a Saturday night and KP got his Shawl cassette. And we were able to give KC and Dr. Tony a Fleming and John demo cassette (this was before the initial release of Delusions of Grandeur).

The other three guys at the dinner I had never met before, but one, AH, I had also been aware of for quite some time. Number one, he is the owner of Theory 8 Records, who in the past couple years has put out stuff from Idle Bloom, Bully, and others. But most notably for me, he put out the 2003 Forget Cassettes album Instruments of Action, one of my all-time favs. (My brother, KP, also eventually played keyboards in Forget Cassettes a decade later). AH's most notable discovery is probably the band Copeland, but as he told me on Saturday, he never got much credit for that one.

I also started following AH on Instagram a few years ago, and have been fascinated by his restoration of vintage audio gear. We discussed my recent re-acquisition of my dad's old Marantz receiver which a friend had refurbished for me.

Most of my friends I found and connected with before or after the show, but one found me in the middle of it: CB. CB and I met at Beach Project in Panama City in 1996. We also connected about the Prayer Chain quickly, and CB's high school band opened for them in Memphis. CB and I both had radio shows at Samford, which were the best things WVSU had going for it. I also hadn't seen CB since the Samford days in the late 90's.

Dakoda Motor Co.

(Video is actually from the California show; haven't found a good one from the Nashville show yet.)

Setlist (which was honestly nearly perfect):
"Wind an' Sea"
"Need a Love"
"Grey Clouds"
"Rockin' in the Mall"
"Stand Up"
"Ooh, That Girl"
"All Good Generals"
"Trip to Pain"

Song they didn't need to play: "Rockin' in the Mall"; fun live, but not one of their better songs.

Biggest omission: Would have loved to hear "Ocean Seems".

I am thankful I got to see Dakoda Motor Co. back in 1995, but that was with Melissa on vocals, as Davia had left the band at that point. Seeing them with Davia was terrific (and once again, surreal).

The Choir
Honestly not much of a Choir fan. I like their better songs, but the majority of their catalog bores me. The Choir did sound good, and they had Steve Mason from Jars of Clay on guitar and Wayne Everett on percussion. I had a bad The Choir experience at Cornerstone one year that was moderately relived last Saturday night. I got to tell the story a couple times as well:

Midnight shows were a common thing at Cornerstone. One year, when I didn't attend a midnight show, and instead went to bed, I had trouble sleeping because of an especially noisy show. You are probably thinking some hardcore show or something and that I was just outside the tent. Nope, it was The Choir, and they were playing the song "Circle Slide"; and I was camped far away in an area we called "the shire". My memory is that Dan Michael's saxophone solo lasted hours, and I was having nightmares about it. Anyway, The Choir did play the same song again with Michaels on sax. I am not sure how long the solo was for, but it was too long for me.

GH's wife described them in this way: "The Choir a bit bland and bloated."

The Prayer Chain

I shot that video, but this one (below) is better, and also includes Jyro! So cool that Jyro sang with them in California, and sad but understandable he didn't make it to Nashville.

"Dig Dug"
"Like I Was"
"The Hollow"
"Never Enough"
"Big Wheel"
(sorry no Wayne poem in French)
"Sky High"

Song they didn't need to play: "Chalk"
I have nothing against the song, but it took four takes for them to play the song.

Biggest omission: This is different for everyone, but I would have replaced "Chalk" with another Antarctica song, "Friend or Foe". Thrilled that they played no pre-Shawl songs.

I had seen the Prayer Chain two other times: 1995 in Birmingham and 2003 at Flevo Festival in the Netherlands. It is hard to compare because of the huge time gaps in between those, but this show was really special. As I was explaining to Andy Prickett after the show, this one was different because all the guys in the band were happy. Andy himself admitted that in 1995 they were "grumpy". Understandably so for any band touring in those conditions, but the Prayer Chain itself was full of tension at that point and they broke up just a few months later.

I have also had a great relationship with Prickett over the years. We first connected on the Northern Records message boards, which is by far the most involved in an online music community I have ever been. Northern launched their boards around the time the first Cush album was released in 2000, and then I became a pretty dedicated member there in 2002 or so. I think the boards lasted until 2005 or 2006, and I have continued to email with and engage on social media with many people I met on there.

That included RL, who I met for the first time Saturday night. He volunteered to work the Prayer Chain's merch table, and it was fun to connect in person for the first time after 16 years of digital communication. The Northern boards were unique in that everyone was kind, interesting, and the level of discussion, while obviously mostly about music, went to deeper levels. What also made them unique is how many musicians took part in the message board such as Andy and Eric and how much insight they shared about the Prayer Chain and Cush's music. I have been emailing with Andy Prickett now for 15 years, and we had good conversation at Flevo in 2003 and then this week in Nashville.

Back in the early 2000's I created a MySpace for Dakoda Motor Co. because they were not active. And MySpace was essential. ;) In 2007 when they reformed for shows and a few recordings (only one of which was released), I got in touch with bass player Derik Toy and turned the page over to him. He and I emailed off and on, and then we met in person for the first time Saturday night. I also talked to Dakoda Motor Co. members Chuck Cummings and Eliot Chenault. I was telling them how Dakoda Motor Co. was my first favorite band, and Eliot shared those sentiments. He talked about how surreal it was for him to join his favorite band after their first album. The next day I saw Eliot in the Nashville airport and we chatted again briefly.

The final example I'll share about relationship in music is how I have related to David Bazan over the last two decades. I began writing this post just before seeing Pedro the Lion play Tuesday night in Ferndale (near Detroit), and I am now finishing it a couple days later.

When I first began listening to Pedro the Lion in 1997, and then began seeing Bazan in concert in 1998, I connected to him on many levels. Not only did I enjoy his music, but we shared the same religious beliefs, and we were similar in many ways. When he began to question his faith, I didn't know what to make of it, and it led to me becoming less interested in his music (When Achilles Heel and Headphones were released, my connection to him was severed and was honestly put off by much of those albums).

I wrote about this in a lengthy blog post in 2015, but over the years I once again began to relate to him more. Not because we believed the same things, but because he is an honest, intelligent, transparent guy. And as someone who still follows Jesus, I also am disillusioned and sometimes angry with the Western Christian church. I also relate to him as a husband and father trying to support a family in this screwed up world.

On a musical level, while enjoying his more recent solo work, I only really listened to him over the last few years because I like him as a person, connect to his lyrics, and appreciate his perspective. I saw him play a solo show two years ago in Atlanta and found it enjoyable, but thought his best work was behind him.

But then on Tuesday night, the three-piece rock band Pedro the Lion rocked me to my core. As I shared on Twitter, it was the loudest show I have been to in a really long time, and was utterly stunned with how powerful the hour and a half performance was. The set was broken into three-song medleys in which the songs were thematically related and the sound never stopped (the songs overlapped or blended into one another). The best of these was when they played "Magazine," "Second Best," and "A Mind of Her Own" consecutively. I thankfully got that last song on video (below). While I without a doubt would still like Pedro the Lion with no backstory; having a "relationship" with Bazan for 20 years gave me a deep, spiritual connection to the show.

May 16, 2018


This post is a little delayed, but the circumstances are unique. I was in Detroit April 18-22 for a job interview. It was a fun time, but I hesitated to share the experience because there was a strong reality I would not get the job. However, I did get the job after all and am moving to Detroit in July!

There are lots of different angles to this trip, but for the purpose of this blog I will of course stick to music. It was a fun time to be in Detroit, and it was clear music is a huge part of the city.

To start, I picked out some songs to listen to in advance. The first has been one of my favorite songs for about 15 years, and a fun love song. Here is a live version from The Anniversary's reunion tour in 2016:

And then of course Sufjan Stevens has an entire album about the state of Michigan, including this song about the city of Detroit:

Sufjan definitely wrote that song when Detroit was near its worst, and thankfully it has come a long way in restoration since these lyrics:
Once a great place. Now a prison. 
All I can say. All I can do. 
People Mover: Bad Decision. 
From suburban. Now a prison. 
All I can say. All I can do. 

From the trembling walls. It’s a great idea! 
Everything you want. It’s a great idea! 

One of the first things I do when I visit a city is check concert listings. I was thrilled to discover Waxahatchee was playing at Saint Andrews Hall next to my hotel the night after my interview! Seeing Katie and Allison Crutchfield play for the first time could not have come at a better time. I shot this video:

I called 2017 "The year of the Crutchfield sisters", so to see them perform together was terrific. I wasn't sure if Allison always plays in Katie's band, so I was glad she was there to sing harmonies and play guitar and keys. I also took these photos:

Created with flickr slideshow.

I also happened to be present for Record Store Day in Detroit. Amazingly, I bought no records! It was fascinating to see the assortment of stores though, and visited a bunch: Rock City Records (didn't go inside, but drove past), Third Man Records (Jack White's place), People's Records, Hello Records, Primavera Sound, and Ripe Records Detroit (brand new, was actually grand opening). My first observation is that I didn't see a single RSD exclusive release for sale. I didn't get to any of the stores until after 3, so maybe they were all sold out, but I think a better observation is that most of these stores weren't even selling them.

These stores were 95% used records, which is cool, and shows just how important old Motown music still is. I do want to know where I would buy new indie records when I move there. I loved the inside of People's Records specifically:

Third Man Records was packed, and had a terrible, live in-store performance. The highlight of going there was the ability to see the vinyl pressing plant and machinery. But not being a Jack White fan, the selection was poor. Mostly the store sells shirts, mugs, etc. all with the Third Man logo. Definitely more a tourist place rather than a true record store:

Finally, I listened to satellite radio exclusively during my stay and had a few observations:
1. The sound quality was HORRIBLE. I learned later this could have had more to due with the crappy car stereo rather than satellite radio itself, but it sounded like 28kbps.

2. The playlists are incredibly repetitive. I listened to SiriusXMU and Lithium the most, and heard so many repeat songs! I wasn't even in the car that much. Probably should have spent more time on Pearl Jam radio; at least then I hear interesting live versions of songs I know. Overall I am reminded at why I have never enjoyed listening to the radio (thus the title of this blog).

3. One of the songs I heard multiple times stuck with me, and I was glad to finally discover who it was a couple weeks later and a few days ago:

The song "Mistake" is catchy, and the whole album is great. I would expect it to wind up in my top 10 of 2018.

May 15, 2018

The Loneliness and The Scream

Can you hear the road from this place?
Can you hear footsteps, voices?
Can you see the blood on my sleeve?
I have fallen in the forest, did you hear me?

In the loneliness
oh, the loneliness
and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist

In the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to bring
the blood to the front of my face again

Am I here? of course I am, yes
All I need is your hand to drag me out again
It wasn't me, I didn't dig this ditch
I was walking for weeks before I fell in

to the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist
in the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to fill a thousand black balloons with air

We fall down, find God just to lose it again
Glue the community together we were hammering it
I fell down, found love, I can lose it again
but now our communal heart beats miles from here

I am reeling from Scott Hutchinson's suicide last week. I have had countless thoughts and would love to write a full tribute of some kind, but at this point am unable to pull my ideas together. Instead I'll just share some of his words and songs that are significant to me.

First is "The Loneliness and the Scream". This song, along with much of his writing, openly expresses his depression and sadness. However, also like most of his songs, it ends in hope. The version embedded above I actually found today; the original version is on the album The Winter of Mixed Drinks.

The next song, which has long been my favorite Frightened Rabbit tune, is "Holy". Once again, I found a new, live version of the song I am embedding. The original recording is on my favorite Frightened Rabbit album Pedestrian Verse.

You read to me from the riot act
Way on high
Clutching a crisp new testament
Breathing fire
Spare me the fake benevolence
I don’t have time
I’m too far gone for a telling
I’ve lost my pride
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re acting all holy
Me, I’m just full of holes
I could dip my head in the river
Cleanse my soul
I’d still have the stomach of a sinner
Face like an un-holy ghost
Spare me all the soliloquies
I’ve paid my fines
And I’ll be gone before my deliverance
So preach what you like
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re acting all holy
Me, I’m just full of holes
Don’t mind being lonely
Spare me the brimstone
Acting all holy
When you know I’m full of holes
Don’t mind being lonely
Don’t need to be told
Stop acting so holy
I know I’m full of holes
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re oh so holy
And I’ll never be good enough
Don’t care if I’m lonely
It feels like home
And I’ll never be holy
Thank God I’m full of holes

I am sad that Scott could not find peace during his time on earth; and I pray and hope that he is now at peace.

April 4, 2018

Three months in, women crushing music in 2018

It's really no surprise considering the last few years, and The New York Times nailed it with their 2017 story "Women are making the best rock music today". Through the first 100 days of 2018, women are absolutely crushing music.

I have been less connected over the last few months, taking a break from Twitter--my primary avenue for discovering music--and I haven't written on this blog since January. But I realized today I that thus far in 2018 I have really only listened to new music created by women.

Hop Along's Frances Quinlan
Then this week NPR is debuting three incredible new albums in full, one of which is definitively my #1 album of the year so far: Hop Along- Bark Your Head Off, Dog. The other two great albums on NPR's First Listen this week are from indie mainstay Wye Oak and newcomer The Aces. I recommend listening to all of those albums in full while they stream there for free.

I made a Playmoss playlist of my top 10 albums of 2018 thus far (some yet to be released), and all feature primary songwriters or co-writers who are women. It wasn't a reach, it is reality. (Once again, thanks to Playmoss for the ability to make playlists from Bandcamp, along with YouTube and Vimeo tracks.)

Hop Along has been the highlight of 2018 for me musically. Somehow I had never discovered their work until this year, despite their upcoming release on Friday is their 3rd full-length. Hop Along is fronted by singer-songwriter Frances Quinlan. Her lyrics are incredibly clever and I am continuing to explore and understand them on a daily basis. Stereogum published a detailed interview with Frances and her brother Mark, who drums in the band, last week.

Not only did I pre-order Bark Your Head Off, Dog on vinyl, I also purchased their first two albums, 2015's Painted Shut and 2012's Get Disowned, on cassette.

My favorite song from Painted Shut is "Waitress":

And my favorite song from Get Disowned is "Laments". "Laments" is actually my favorite song I have heard in the last three months, and have listened to it almost daily for weeks. I didn't understand the song at first, and it took a while before I finally grasped it's unique perspective.

January 22, 2018

New shirts for "old school" Tooth & Nail bands

Buy Velour 100, Havalina Rail Co., Bloodshed, and Ninety Pound Wuss shirts here!

Two years ago a bunch of people encouraged me to design some new shirts for 90's bands. Nostalgia is as "in" as ever, and I am constantly designing and ordering t-shirts for my athletic teams, so I am familiar with the process. The prospect was appealing because I would have more creative freedom and fun than with sports apparel.

My vision was simple: create NEW shirt designs with the permission from the musicians. This doesn't seem revolutionary, but most of the shirts for sale online are unofficial reprints. I have Facebook ads blocked in my browser, but the rare times I get on Facebook on my phone it is littered with ads for bootleg band t-shirts.

I reached out to about a dozen different musicians, and made progress with four: Jeff Bettger of Ninety Pound Wuss, Matt Wignall of Havalina Rail Co., Trey Many of Velour 100, and Jonathan Caro of Bloodshed. They all shared my vision of new designs rather than just reprinting the shirts they had in the 90's (which would probably even sell better).

Three of the four guys had strong opinions about the designs, which is logical because they are creative, visionary people. Matt Wignall went so far as to design the shirt himself (except I recreated the original Havalina logo). Jeff Bettger had a specific vision to honor John Spalding, who passed away in 2008; I executed his design idea with a photo he shared.

Trey Many wanted the art to represent the album Of Color Bright, which was challenging but eventually doable. With Bloodshed I had complete creative freedom, and ended up polling potential buyers and they chose this incredible image from the NYC public library (free use with no restrictions).

Well, as high as the interest seemed, only the Ninety Pound Wuss shirt sold (23 of them). I am using TeeSpring to sell the shirts for a variety of reasons, but partially because of its simplicity. And with TeeSpring I know the quality of the fabric and screen printing is GREAT (have used them to order shirts for my school where I work).

TeeSpring requires a minimum of 10 orders, and the other three all failed. Well, that was two years ago, and I decided to try again because every couple months I would get an email from someone wanting to order. So a couple days ago I relaunched the sales for the four bands:

Havalina Rail Co. (buy here)

Bloodshed (buy here)
Velour 100 (buy here)

Ninety Pound Wuss (buy here)

I want to make it clear that my profit on each shirt is in the pennies. Only one of the artists wanted a cut of the profits, so the price of that shirt is a little higher. But this is very much only for fun, and not a business.

There are some downsides that I am frustrated about; primarily shipping costs. For one, if you buy multiple shirts there is no shipping discount (well, there is if you buy multiple shirts with the same design. But if you want to combine two different design/bands there is nothing; argh!). And two, I based the store in the USA because that is where most of the potential buyers are. The international shipping costs are ridiculous. I apologize about this, but it the downside of using TeeSpring. I do feel the pros outweigh the cons though, and even with the too-high shipping costs most of the shirts are under $20 total.

Finally, we need at least 10 buyers for shirt! And we are off to a solid start. The Ninety Pound Wuss shirt has 9 orders so far, and TeeSpring actually changed the goal from 10 (the typical minimum) to 6. I am not sure why, but it may have to do with the fact that the shirt has sold well before. I am hoping the other shirts will also have a reduced minimum. But surely we can find 10 buyers for each shirt below?

January 19, 2018

It Takes Years To Get Here; The Prayer Chain's Top 25 songs

Considering how long I have been blogging (this is year 15), it is surprising how little I have written about The Prayer Chain. They are one of my favorite bands of all time, but they broke up at the end of 1995.

The most thorough post I have done on the band is about the 20th Anniversary of Mercury and the alter-ego Cush, which last released an EP around that same time. And then I wrote quite a bit about the band in my best of 1995 post, which of course included the release of Mercury, but also me seeing them perform in Birmingham and working their merch table (footage of the show at the Crush Warehouse is incredibly online, and I show up in the video a few times at the end.)

They did play the occasional show from 1996-2003, but have been inactive since. Well, mostly. Three-quarters of the band (Tim, Andy, Eric, but no Wayne) did perform as Cush and play two Prayer Chain songs in 2015. Here is the title track from Mercury, and they also played "Chalk":

Anyway, "it takes years to get here." 2018 brings the first true Prayer Chain concerts with all four members since 2003. I actually think I was at the last real Prayer Chain show, which was in August 2003 at Flevo Festival in the Netherlands (great video of that show here).

The 25th Anniversary of Shawl has thankfully been embraced by the band with a Kickstarter to release the album on vinyl for the first time, and for two shows in California and Tennessee. They have already reached the first "stretch goal" of $27K to add the Nashville snow, and the next stretch goal of $30K is to ensure the shows are recorded professionally and released. Support that now if you would like to own Shawl (and Mercury) on vinyl and/or see one of these shows:

With the Kickstarter and the active social media presence of the band, I have been listening to The Prayer Chain a ton over the first few weeks of 2018. Mercury is by far my favorite thing the band ever created, and I listen to it frequently. However, I don't think I had listened to Shawl or any of the other releases straight through for maybe a decade.

But as I re-listened to everything, I decided to add The Prayer Chain to my growing lists of artists I have written top 25 song posts about (here is a list). The other added inspiration to make a list was my discovery of PlayMoss, which I wrote about yesterday. I love Bandcamp, all of The Prayer Chain's discography is on Bandcamp (except Shawl, but hopefully it will be added), and PlayMoss makes Bandcamp playlists (!).

Another feature of PlayMoss is that you can make playlists that include songs from a variety of sources, including YouTube. YouTube was clearly the next best option for including the missing Shawl songs, as there are many fun live performances on YouTube.

Because The Prayer Chain only released two LPs, the majority of their best tracks are from them of course (the first 12 songs below are from either Mercury or Shawl.) Honestly I had a hard time not including all 10 songs from Mercury. But there are still some fascinating and great other Prayer Chain songs out there, either outtakes from Humb/Mercury or older standout tracks and demos.

Here are my top 25 Prayer Chain songs in the order I prefer them. What did I leave out? I already know the band will say "Grin", which was a song they performed in most of their shows, but one I never enjoyed that much. It is much better live though, and if you need to hear it, this is a great live "Grin" recording.

As I outlined in my last post, PlayMoss is new to me, and this is only my second playlist using the service. And it is the first using a combination of Bandcamp and YouTube sources. Feedback on functionality or problems is appreciated.

January 18, 2018

Playmoss and Bandcamp Playlists

I am a Bandcamp apologist; for years I have been promoting the site as by far the best way to buy music in this streaming age. I have criticized Spotify at length, and will continue to boycott it and encourage others to do the same. If you are new to this debate: simply, Spotify pays musicians practically nothing, but with Bandcamp the artists get paid by far the most of any other digital platform.

My primary--and really only--gripe with Bandcamp is the inability to make and share playlists. Playlists are one of the primary reasons people pay money to Spotify (and ignore the fact that the subscription fees they are paying go to a corporation and not to artists).

That brings me to PlayMoss- one can make Bandcamp playlists! Not only Bandcamp, but also YouTube, SoundCloud and just about all other streaming services. And you can mix and match. The service can be free, but the free playlists are only a maximum of 15 songs. But for less than 2 $/€ per month, you can pay for an upgrade that enables unlimited length of playlists and unlimited sharing/embedding. I paid the fee immediately to support these programmers who have created something I have desired for years. (Apparently Playmoss has been around for a couple years but sadly I never noticed.)

I will be using PlayMoss extensively on this blog moving forward (assuming it works as well as it initially appears). I will attempt to stick to Bandcamp tracks, as there are direct links to purchase the songs, and at times limits to how many times a user can stream a track (this would be the biggest and most important upgrade to Spotify and other streaming services; to require purchase of a song or albums after playing it a few times). If the song is not available on Bandcamp, I'll then use YouTube. (Because even without a subscription, artists they get paid a higher amount per play on YouTube than Spotify.)

Final comment before my first PlayMoss/Bandcamp playlist: Bandcamp would be wise to go ahead and buy Playmoss, or incorporate the same feature into their own website. Bandcamp has been around long enough that they have the resources to add a playlist function, and in my opinion would lead to even more money for the artists, and for Bandcamp itself.

My first playlist is my top 25 songs of 2017, but only those that are available on Bandcamp. This list is similar to my top 25 albums of 2017 blog post, but with a few additions to replace the albums that are not on Bandcamp.

Because this is new, I would love feedback. Specifically, I am curious if all the songs play, if any skip ahead, etc.

January 9, 2018

Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, last year and it came in at my #8 album of 2017. However, I have listened to that album more than anything over the last month. Yesterday I went down a rabbit hole of musical discovery in an attempt to find other Phoebe Bridgers' songs that aren't on the LP.

(As usual, this post will be rather short and focused on the songs. But if you are looking for some Bridgers long-reads I recommend these essays/interviews from Gold Flake Paint and Bandcamp Daily.)

The rabbit hole is far deeper than I imagined. Bridgers, now 23, has been writing and performing for much of her life and in her own words began writing real songs at age 16. There are countless songs and videos of her performances online. Below is a list of the songs that have been recorded professionally, and can be purchased online.

To start of course is Stranger in the Alps, Bridgers only full-length. Her voice has matured since earlier recordings and I find a radical difference and improvement than how she sings in the old songs and videos. She describes the process in the Gold Flake Paint interview: "...Tony [Berg] the producer would turn off all the lights to make me emote more, so I recorded most of the songs in complete darkness, as far as the vocals.” That process worked perfectly and her voice is strong yet simultaneously fragile, and vulnerability is communicated not just through the lyrics but her actual voice.

Her first official release is the 2015 Killer 7", which can be purchased from Ryan Adam's label's webstore or as a digital EP from Amazon. It contains earlier versions of the songs "Georgia" and "Killer"(the newer, LP versions are far superior) but also an otherwise unreleased song, "Steamroller".

Another older song, "Waiting Room", is a free download from the 2015 Lost Ark Studio Compilation:

The final song available on Bandcamp is her 2017 Christmas tune, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".

The only other remaining song I own of Bridgers is a cover of the Emmylou Harris song "Prayer in Open D". It is available on the 2016 To Emmylou covers album.

Here is a fun YouTube playlist someone put together that showcases some more rare and older Bridgers' tunes, covers, etc., including one as far back as 2011.

And finally, I'll end with her NPR Tiny Desk concert, which is phenomenal:

December 20, 2017

Best of 2017

Before we dive into 2017, let's take a look back...

Best album of 1967, celebrating it's 50th Anniversary:

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is probably the only 1967 album I have heard in full. 2017 is significant though, because coincidentally my nine-year-old son picked this year to become obsessed with the Beatles. I had always appreciated the Beatles, but had never heard all of their albums in full until this year--due to his prompting. Also released in 1967, Magical Mystery Tour has in a way become my favorite Beatles album, despite that it is not a studio LP and is made up mostly of B-sides.

Best album of 1977, celebrating it's 40th Anniversary:

I haven't yet written a best of 1977 post, but when I do, number one will be an easy pick for me: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. When I turned 40 last year I wrote a list picking a favorite song from each of my years of life, and "Second Hand News" was my 1977 selection.

Best album of 1987, celebrating it's 30th Anniversary:

Finally researched and published my best of 1987 in October of this year. Number one was never in doubt, as U2's Joshua Tree has been a favorite of mine for a long time and the first LP I ever bought on vinyl.

Best album of 1997, celebrating it's 20th Anniversary:

My best of 1997 post has been online for quite some time, but I did revise it earlier this year. And then last month I published an essay celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sixpence None the Richer's self-titled album, which can be found on Medium. This essay is one of the best things I have written in years I recommend reading it more than I do this post.

Best album of 2007, celebrating it's 10th Anniversary:

I wrote a best of 2007 list in early 2008, and kind of cheated with the #1. But I am still feel the same way, as the four EP's that make up Thrice's Alchemy Index are still in my opinion the best thing they have ever released. The first two EPs were released in October 2007, but the final two not released until April 2008.


Now, on to 2017. Quite honestly, this was the year of the Crutchfield sisters. Somehow I had not heard of them or their music until this year despite that they have been prolific both together and solo for a decade (and despite the fact that I lived in Birmingham, Alabama for six years while they were also there). 

While I didn't know where the albums would rank in my final list, no music has filled my speakers more over the last 12 months than Allison Crutchfield's Tourist in This Town, released in January, and Katie Crutchfield's (who performs as Waxahatchee) Out in the Storm, released in July.

As I listened to the sisters' music more and more I brainstormed all sorts of pieces I should write about them. When I learned they would be performing in Zurich in September, I had considered reaching out for an interview. Then NPR published "Through My Sister's Eyes: Allison And Katie Crutchfield On Each Other's Music", which is my favorite piece of music journalism this year. It was no longer worth the time or effort for me to write, because this, along with other detailed interviews, covered all the details. (Rolling Stone in September: Indie-Rock Power Twins the Crutchfields on Their Telepathic Sisterhood. The New York Times, also in September: D.I.Y. Punk’s Twin Elders
Here are the first two paragraphs of the NPR story, that perfectly introduce the sisters and their music:

"Katie and Allison Crutchfield are perhaps the hardest-working twins in indie rock today. Born in Birmingham, Ala., Allison and Katie started playing music together in their early teens. Since then, they've been in myriad bands, both with each other and apart. The sisters started The Ackleys when they were 15, then shifted their focus to the pop-punk band P.S. Eliot. After that group disbanded in 2011, the two women split musically. Katie began making music as Waxahatchee; her sound has evolved from DIY raggedness to impressive full-band force while always preserving her knack for bitingly direct, emotional lyrics. Meanwhile, Allison started the fuzz-pop band Swearin', which broke up in 2015; she now releases songs under her own name that set folk-inspired lyrical specificity against dark, dreamy synths.

"As identical twins and creative collaborators, the Crutchfields' lives have always been intertwined. But with new albums out from both sisters, this year seems more about parallel motion. In January, Allison released her debut solo album, Tourist In This Town, while Katie's fourth album as Waxahatchee, Out In The Storm, came out Friday. The records are, as Allison puts it, 'dueling breakup albums,' both written about the emotionally turbulent separations that the sisters happened to go through at the same time in their lives."

Finish the piece here; and turns out both albums did make it pretty high in my year-end list.

In January I wrote predicting the best albums of 2017 and giving my best guess which artists would and would not release albums. I did a decent job, and even nailed a few surprises. About a third of the 30 I predicted did not get released though, so we have a starting point for 2018.

I would rank all of my top 10 albums of 2017 below ahead of my 2016 number one. 2016 was a pretty weak year for music, and 2017 was the exact opposite; maybe the best year for music in a decade.

Once again thanks to Rob Mitchum for his Top Albums database spreadsheet. I use it for the "number of major music lists" stat, and it is always helpful for discovering new music. This year he aggregated 27 publications "best of 2017" lists, which included 482 albums.

Top 25 albums of 2017:

1. Waxahatchee- Out in the Storm
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 4, including Rolling Stone's #14)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia

The top three albums mentioned here all were debated internally by me for the last few months. All are are good enough to be an album of the year, and in many years, the next few albums on this list would be been a number one.

What separated Out in the Storm from the next two is consistency and song-writing. Each of the ten songs are outstanding, and so much so that my favorite song on the album has changed at least half a dozen times. Each song is good enough to stand alone, although of course they compliment each other over the course of 35 minutes.

When comparing Waxahatchee to my other favorite albums this year, I was reminded of an interview Jason Martin of Starflyer 59 did with NPR last year:
"A gimmick song to me is a song like 'Cherokee.' It's based around a goofy bass line, and you're going for a mode with the guitar sound. It's more based on style than substance. I like gimmick songs — that's what I call 'em — and I also like song-songs."

Waxahatchee writes all "song-songs." While gimmicks are used of course at times, the songs stand alone no matter the instrumentation; they could be played solo on an acoustic guitar and they would still be strong. That is mostly true of Manchester Orchestra as well, but not at all true of Wolf Alice; more on that below.

Tom Breihan writes for Stereogum:
"This time around, Crutchfield recorded it in an actual studio with John Agnello, the veteran indie rock record who’s worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. and the Hold Steady. And Agnello recorded Waxahatchee as a full band, capturing them all playing in a room together and only adding minimal overdubs. Allison was in the band this time. So were their old P.S. Eliot bandmate Katherine Simonetti, Pinkwash’s Ashley Arnwine, and Sky Larkin leader/Sleater-Kinney touring guitarist Katie Harkin. These four musicians all make sense together. And hearing a band like this playing on Katie’s songs, it’s like they’ve been strapped to a rocket."

2. Manchester Orchestra- A Black Mile to the Surface
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero, which honestly has a lot to say about modern music journalism sadly. Writers love to push and rank new, young bands highly that are doing similar things, but completely ignore older bands like Manchester Orchestra, Stars, Eisley, Jeremy Enigk, The Shins, Rainer Maria, etc. If this, or any of those others were debut albums, people would have raved.)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Atlanta

As a fan of Manchester Orchestra since almost the beginning, they have always been hit or miss for me. I like most of their work, but at times they strayed into boring and overwrought territory. Their previous album Cope was a failed attempt at a straight-forward Siamese Dream-esque rock record, only redeemed by the acoustic version of the album, Hope. (I reimagined it as a single cohesive album [C/Hope] in my best of 2014 post.)

With A Black Mile to the Surface, Manchester Orchestra has finally mastered their craft and released their best album. It successfully combines intricate (but not grungy) guitar work with Andy Hull's layered vocals and terrific story-telling.

Ian Cohen writes for Pitchfork (7.0):
"Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull promised a scaled down version of his band on 'A Black Mile to the Surface', a course correction after the overproduced thud of their previous album...So, no surprise that the narrative concepts, the production, and arrangements of A Black Mile to the Surface are the most grandiose of his career. The result is Manchester Orchestra’s most confounding, thrilling, and unintentionally loopy album yet."

3. Wolf Alice- Visions of a Life
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 4, including Drowned in Sound's #1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: London

Wolf Alice is my favorite band of the last two years (discovered them in June of 2015) and the combination of seeing them live a few months ago and the release of this album cemented that status. If you haven't yet heard them I urge you strongly to at least listen to the first four songs on Visions of a Life, as they run the gamut of what the band crafts. Track one is a dreamy, shoegaze track that sounds as if it could have been plucked from Loveless. Track two is a violent, profane punk anthem. Track three is a quirky Eighties-esque song that when I first heard it (in concert) I wondered if it was a cover. Track four is a spoken-word spacey love song. There is something in those four that should appeal to anyone who reads this blog.

This album is stunning and continues the strength of Wolf Alice-- which is unparalleled stylistic diversity. At times the music is gorgeous and the vocals are fragile whispers, and at other times it is an assault of punk rock with guttural screams. The weakness here is that the songwriting is not as strong as My Love is Cool, and many of the songs are based on gimmicks, as described by Jason Martin above in my Waxahatchee commentary. The gimmicks are fun, and the songs are good, but if you strip all the production and noises away, some of the songs could not stand alone. That is fine, but at times I wish there was more depth, especially lyrically.

Joe Levy writes for Rolling Stone:
"All hail Wolf Alice, four U.K. twenty-somethings who have not gotten the memo about rock not mattering anymore. On a second album that dares to both sprawl skyward and focus its volume introspectively they fashion clouds of guitar noise into a crown for singer-guitarist Ellie Roswell. It glitters seductively, but it will draw blood if you step to her wrong...This is music that merges raw physical pleasure and dreamscape explorations. The stakes are high, and the payoffs are real."

4. Taylor Swift- Reputation
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 4, including Rolling Stone's #7)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Nashville

There is not much need for me to write anything about this album, as unlike all the rest of music in my list, Swift is known by all. The first comment I'll make though is thank you Taylor for releasing a full, long album. So many albums this year are extremely short; here are examples of LPs I bought this year that are either less than 10 songs or less than 30 minutes:
Charly Bliss- 29 minutes
Jesca Hoop- 9 songs
Less Art- 9 songs
Lo Tom- 8 songs, 29 minutes
Rainer Maria- 9 songs
Soccer Mommy- 8 songs

For some reason I have always felt like an LP should be at least 10 songs and at least 40 minutes; I have always thought the more music the better. Taylor Swift's 15 songs and 56 minutes are refreshing and welcome welcome.

Secondly and unfortunately, Taylor Swift's lyrics are headed in the opposite direction of her music. They are hopeless, immature, and sad. I keep hoping that as Taylor ages she will write with more depth, but the opposite is true. A Catholic priest I follow on Twitter, Damian Ference, wrote a detailed review of Reputation and echoes much of my sentiment:

"I’m not worried about Swift’s financial security, her pop star status, her ability to sell out football stadiums, or her business savvy, and no one should be. At those things she is an absolute master. But I am concerned about her, because if the songs she has written for this album are any indication, Swift is caught in the web of a throwaway culture, and she has the potential to pull a lot of other (young) people into it with her."

5. Allison Crutchfield- Tourist in this Town
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia

This album was released in January and for the first six months of 2017 it was my favorite album of the year. At the time I had never heard of Allison Crutchfield and didn't know Waxahatchie existed. But this album led me down a rabbit hole of Crutchfield twin music released over the last decade. And not until Allison's sister Katie released what would become my favorite album of 2017 was Tourist in this Town displaced.

Jazz Monroe writes for Pitchfork (7.8):
"'Tourist in This Town' is a breakup record whose ennui goes beyond romance. Couched in her stories are trials of self-acceptance, psychic grappling, physical dislocation. Cleanly produced by Philly synth-whisperer Jeff Zeigler, the LP channels the kind of late-80s synth pop that jettisoned style in favor of vastness and grace—skyline synths pirouette, vocals implore, pensive guitars sporadically erupt. The effect is to coalesce Crutchfield’s anecdotes and soliloquies into a blur of fury and melancholy...With less room for stormy punk guitars, Tourist proceeds with a new lightness of touch. Instead of steel-plating her tongue, the music consoles and reveres the heart-on-sleeve lyrics." 

6. Eisley- I'm Only Dreaming
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Tyler, Texas

With Sherri as the only remaining original member of Eisley, a band she co-founded with her sisters, it would have been easy to be concerned about the future or direction of the group. However, she--along with bassist and cousin Garron--and some new musicians, wrote what might be Eisley's best overall album. I wrote a full review and backstory in February on this blog.

Jordan Blum writes for PopMatters:
"'I’m Only Dreaming' further solidifies Eisley as one of the best modern indie rock/pop groups. Of course, the most obvious reason why is DuPree-Bemis, who seems to genuinely seems to feel every word she sings, but her voice wouldn’t be as impactful if it weren’t surrounded by such wise and vibrant instrumentation. While this record isn’t quite as nuanced as 'Currents' or as heavy as 'The Valley', it’s easily the band’s most attractive, developed, and heartfelt full-length yet. Honestly, it stands as a benchmark not only in Eisley’s discography, but for the movement as a whole, and any fan of the genre should check it out."

7. Jeremy Enigk- Ghosts
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Seattle

I, like just about every other Jeremy Enigk fan, is secretly hoping that Sunny Day Real Estate will release another album. They have broken up and reunited numerous times, most recently in 2009. That led to recording sessions intending on an LP but instead only produced a 2014 single.

SDRE hope aside, Jeremy Enigk is phenomenal solo, and his band's back catalog is not necessary to give him credit for his personal legacy. The main problem with Enigk's solo work is the time in between each release: 1996, 2006, 2009, and now 2017. 2006 gave us World Waits, by far Enigk's best solo release. It was only three years to OK Bear, but that album was subpar and underdeveloped. Ghosts is more of a proper follow-up to World Waits. Enigk's music is built around his unique and strong vocals, and Ghosts adds far less instrumentation to his voice than past albums. However, despite being simple and quiet, the album has rock songs. My favorite is "Sacred Fire", which sounds like a song that would be on The Rising Tide part 2.

Andrew Sacher writes for Brooklyn Vegan:
"'Ghosts' is even more beautifully produced than 'OK Bear' though; it’s the kind of album that presumably took so long because Jeremy waited until inspiration hit and really made sure he saw each meticulous detail through in the studio. He had been playing solo acoustic at his shows, but 'Ghosts' is heavily layered. It does use acoustic guitar on nearly every song but sometimes a distorted electric too, as well as gorgeous strings and piano, precise drumming that’s minimal at times and thunderous at others, and tons of atmosphere."

8. Phoebe Bridgers- Stranger in the Alps
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 4, including The Line of Best Fit's #1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Los Angeles

This is the most beautiful album of 2017. When I began writing this post, I had it ranked about #20, but as I continued to listen to it--my most listened to album of December--it kept climbing.

Phoebe Bridgers is like Rosie Thomas with a potty mouth. I thought about tweeting that over the last couple months since discovering Bridgers, but I recognize its silliness. However, there is truth to it, because Bridgers curses with the voice of an angel.

Andrew Bloom writes for Consequence of Sound:
"There’s a winnowing that comes from distance and absence, in a way that reduces our connections with a person, place, or thing to a series of images, portents, and memories. Those remainders linger with us as touchstones of something lost and departed. Stranger in the Alps, the new release from Artist of the Month Phoebe Bridgers, captures the sense of that winnowing, the longing for something missing but still inescapably present, in beautiful melodies and heartrending lyrics. It’s a feeling given form by Bridgers’ stirring voice. With shades of Gillian Welch and Jenny Lewis, the young singer’s captivating vocal performance provides the backbone for the record. Sometimes her voice is clear and arresting, standing out starkly amid the pleasing arrangements underneath. At others, it’s double-tracked and full of echoes, creating an ethereal, otherworldly vibe that helps conjure the spooks and specters that populate almost every corner of the album."

9. The New Pornographers- Whiteout Conditions
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2, including Paste's #11)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Vancouver, Canada

Honestly, many of the songs and albums in the New Pornographers blend together for me. That is not necessarily a bad thing, because part of it is that they are all excellent. The band's last album, Brill Bruisers, was my #3 album of 2014, and I felt it was largely ignored by the music media.

Thankfully though the band is now getting their due and recognition three years later with Whiteout Conditions. Brill and Whiteout are similar in that they ushered in a new era of happier, poppier New Pornographers music (although their music really has always been happy and poppy). I thought and wrote about the band a lot this year, including publishing my Top 25 New Pornographers songs. "This is the World of Theater" from Whiteout Conditions came in at #8.

Bryan Wawzenek writes for Diffuser:
"(Newman's) spoken about 'Whiteout Conditions' being more cohesive. It is, certainly from a vocal perspective. The album marks a switch from the sort of round-robin approach of “Carl sings one, Neko Case sings one, Dan sings one,” to a more blended sound. Newman, Case and singer-keyboardist Kathryn Calder melt their brightly colored crayons together, often creating a choral effect that builds on the soaring vocals of 'Brill Bruisers' standout “You Tell Me Where.”
As a whole, the new record expands Brill’s buzzy, synth-forward sound. The Pornos weave solid blocks of interwoven guitars, keyboards, vocals and rhythms. Add Newman’s impermeable, sometimes overstuffed, lyrics to the mix and this can be a dense listening experience – albeit one that remains attractive in its deployment of melody, pretty voices and pulsing percussion."

10. Spoon- Hot Thoughts
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 5)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Austin

Like the New Pornographers, Spoon is prolific and has been releasing terrific albums for two decades. And like the New Pornographers many of Spoon's albums blend together for me because the quality never drops below excellent.

I discovered Spoon along with many others with 2005's Gimme Fiction. Hot Thoughts is probably my most-listened to Spoon album since then, and the song "Can I sit next to You" was the soundtrack to our Spring Break road trip to Paris.

Andy Cush writes for Spin:
"At this point, it’s safe to assume a new Spoon album will be a joy to listen to, even if it won’t upend your idea of what a Spoon album can be. On that front, 'Hot Thoughts' delivers. The album-opening title track is an instant classic of the band’s canon, with a tight descending bass line and bells that combine to form something like their version of a James Bond theme song. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” sounds like the Beatles might if they had ridden the Magical Mystery Tour bus all the way into the hip-hop era, with boom-bap drums crushed by distortion and phaser..." 

11. Lo Tom- Lo Tom
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Seattle

Earlier this year I had a friendly twitter exchange with David Bazan about a new solo track from his 2017 album 'Care'. That led to me lamenting the absence of guitar in his current solo work and that maybe the cure would be Lo Tom. I hadn't heard a song from the band at the time, but he assured me it would be.

I did not expect this Bazan-led (bass, vocals) super group to be so great, even though I have been a fan of all of the members seperately for 15 or more years (Jason Martin-guitar, TW Walsh-guitar, and Trey Many-drums). If you ever wondered what Americana-era Starflyer 59 would sound like mixed with Control-era Pedro the Lion would sound like, this album is your answer. This live studio performance is essential:

And now with Bazan reviving the Pedro the Lion name, we can except mostly guitar-based rock music from him in the next couple years. In 2018 we have Pedro the Lion touring to look forward to, and I would imagine a a Pedro LP as well. And with the surprising level of success Lo Tom achieved, their interviews strongly suggest they will record again.

Will Hodge writes for Paste:
"Overflowing with a confidently relaxed cool and an absolute lack of pretense or veneer, Lo Tom’s debut somehow feels both enthusiastically self-assured and deceptively effortless (though I suspect the former is far truer than the latter). That comfortable ease with which the band unfolds their slinky guitar-and-drum interplay on “Find the Shrine” or adds the perfect splash of drunken swagger to “Bubblegum” is a testament not only to each member’s multi-decade commitment to their own craft, but also to the impressive spider-web of collaboration they have spun playing on each other’s various projects over the years."

12. Mogwai- Every Country's Sun
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland

This was somewhat of a welcome return-to-form for Mogwai for me with more pummeling walls of guitars. 2014 Rave Tapes is probably my least favorite Mogwai LP (of nine) as I did not enjoy the band's electronic experimentations.

John MacDonald for Pitchfork:
"On 'Every Country’s Sun', their ninth LP, Mogwai find their center of gravity. Finally, these Glaswegians are having fun again, loosening up and dirtying up, but with purpose and fire...And for at least half of their new record, Mogwai play—for the first time in years—with the same bratty conviction that defined their greatest records, like there’s something truly at stake. At its best, 'Every Country’s Sun' is brash, gritty, unpretentious, and thrillingly claustrophobic—a work of volume and violence in tight spaces."

13. Julien Baker- Turn Out the Lights
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 7)
Listen/buy on Matador (older albums on Bandcamp, sadly this one is not)
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Memphis

Honestly I had hoped to love this more; maybe with time. Julien Baker's debut Sprained Ankle I discovered through scouring album-of-the-year lists at the end of 2015 and was a late addition to that revised top 20. This album is slicker and more produced than the debut, and the songs are profound and sad. It is worth noting that Baker has also front(ed) a rock band (originally the Star Killers, now called Forrister) and they have tunes you can download on Bandcamp.

Jon Pareles writes for The New York Times:
'A conversation with the singer and songwriter Julien Baker veers quickly toward the philosophical and theological. “Music is everything,” she said on an October afternoon, in what had begun as an interview about “Turn Out the Lights,” her second album, which is being released Friday. “Evidence of the divine. The possibility of man to be good. The possibility of improving our surroundings and expressing ourselves. All of these things are collapsed together in my mind.”

That seriousness fills the songs on Ms. Baker’s two solo albums, “Sprained Ankle” from 2015 — an independent release that found a snowballing word-of-mouth audience — and now “Turn Out the Lights.” She writes sparse, devastating ballads and sings them with a voice that’s both richly melodic and disarmingly natural. Her lyrics chronicle sadness, doubts, self-destructive urges, frail physical and mental health and a constant reckoning with faith. “Some songs just fall out of you,” she said. “And some you have to wrestle out like an abscess.”

14. Haim- Something to Tell You
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Los Angeles

As much I had listened to Haim (both their first album and this their 2nd), I didn't truly appreciate them until I saw this video. All three sisters are talented players and writers and that is showcased perfectly in this short film by Paul Thomas Anderson. It is a perfect starting point if you have never heard the band, and will give you an even greater appreciation for them if you have. It begins with my favorite song from Something to Tell You, "Right Now":

Katherine St. Asaph writes for Spin:
"'Something to Tell You' sounds like the work of a neural network trained on soft-rock radio: hyperspecific melodies and riffs arriving with Markov-chain unpredictability, so dense it’s impossible to keep up with what they’re referencing now. As with that radio, some of those references acknowledge the 2010s: the backing vocal line two-thirds of the way through “Want You Back” that quotes, ever so briefly, the melody to Rihanna’s “Needed Me”; the times Danielle tosses out the same Michael Jackson hics and tics the Weeknd’s replicated all over top 40; how the title track, given a thumpier production, would fit right in on that station. Even so, most of Something to Tell You suggests a world where musical history stopped in 1999, where was still a clear line in pop music drifting momentarily into R&B and ’80s synths but otherwise running from Fleetwood Mac to Sheryl Crow, Wilson Phillips to Jennifer Paige, one that given the near-total lack of forward motion between Days are Gone and this, Haim seems willing to follow forever."

15. Overcoats- YOUNG
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: New York City

My family loves this duo way more than I do personally, but it is an excellent and quirky mostly-vocal debut from the group my wife has deemed "White T-Shirts".

Bob Boilen writes for NPR:
"It's thrilling to know that one of the best albums of 2017 is made by two of the best friends you'll ever witness on a stage. Overcoats' 'Young' is a record driven by ambition and passion, not craft. That's not to say Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell aren't terrifically talented singers and songwriters: What sets them apart is that I believe them. That the emotion in their harmonies and the space they give each other is filled with compassion. I believe their songs of loneliness and doubt."

16. Soccer Mommy- Collection
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Cassette
Hometown: Nashville

Ilana Kaplan writes for Paste:
"It’s hard to believe that Nashville singer-songwriter Sophie Allison is only 19. With the release of singles “Be Seeing You” and “Last Girl” earlier this year, she went from relative obscurity to overnight success, hitting listeners with all the right feels with her wistful lyrics and lullaby lilt. Allison who has split her time between Nashville and New York as a student at NYU, has built a fanbase from the DIY community, using Bandcamp to boost her penchant for independent artistry. But Allison isn’t exactly new to music: she’s been releasing tracks for free throughout the past few years. Yet Collection emotes what it’s like to be a young woman trying to navigate feeling in-between adolescence and adulthood."

17. Charly Bliss- Guppy
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 3)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Brooklyn

Tom Breihan writes for Stereogum:
"'Guppy' is a fast and loose and delirious debut, an addictive sugar pill. It sounds immediate and irrepressible, like all these great songs just came bursting out when someone pointed a microphone in this young band’s direction for half an hour. Of course, that’s not what happened. It took real work to make something this immediate. The band recorded an entire earlier version of the album with Parquet Courts/Speedy Ortiz collaborator Justin Pizzoferrato, and they ended up scrapping the whole thing, since its sound wasn’t the one they were looking for. Listen closely and you can hear all the sharp and clever little melodic decisions that went into what they do. "

18. Rainer Maria- S/T
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Brooklyn

Patrick Rapa writes for Bandcamp Daily:
"...'S/T' is Rainer Maria at their brightest. The songs bubble with nervous energy. Many are loud. Several are joyous, in a we’re-still-alive kinda way. Bolstered by Fischer, DeMarrais’s voice finds new depth, and comes closer to shouting than it has in a long time. This band is fired up. “Let the rest of the world be coarse / You stay sweet for me,” DeMarrais implores on the blazing and catchy “Suicides and Lazy Eyes.” That song leads directly into “Lower Worlds,” an artful and unexpectedly groovy rocker bolstered by Fischer’s fierce backup vocals. “Communicator” is fun and ferocious, shot through with rocketing punk energy."

19. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I am no Longer Afraid to Die- Always Foreign
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Willimantic, Connecticut

Zachary Evans writes for The 405:
"The World Is A Beautiful Place have managed a careful balance between calling back their previous accomplishments and forging ahead with something new. They create the huge sweeping builds and crescendos of their previous albums, but do not rely on them. When these massive moments fade away they unveil equally intimate and touching moments. Sonically, it is lighter, faster, and happier sounding, without sacrificing depth in its lyricism, nor abandoning instrumental complexity."

20. Stavesacre- MCMCXV
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California

When Stavesacre announced a crowd-funding campaign a couple years ago I jumped right in with a contribution/pre-order for what I hoped would become their first full-length album in over a decade. However, I was skeptical that it would be very good, as most of my love for the band is based in nostalgia. They released three mind-blowing albums in the 90's, but everything in the 00's was hit or miss. But I do love the guys and it was worth taking a risk to support their ability to make art. And as it took so long for them to write and record the album (much of it remotely) I forgot the campaign was even in progress.

When I first heard the album I was underwhelmed as I was hoping/expecting the tunes to have a little harder edge. Not that the album isn't hard, I mean it is "hard rock" I guess, but their last release, an EP in 2009, was arguably the most aggressive songs they had ever released.

The album is definitely a grower, and I like it more and more upon each listen. That is different than their past works, as I was either blown away (Friction) or underwhelmed (self-titled) upon first listen.
The highlight here is the lyrics. Mark has matured significantly as a song-writer, and there is more depth to his commentary than ever. There are also multiple intentional references to Stavesacre's older songs and albums, which is fascinating as a fan.

Will this album have appeal to anyone who has never heard the band before? Doubtful. But if it is the last album Stavesacre records, it ends their career on a much more positive note than where it was before.

I didn't really expect to find a review of this album online to quote from, but boy did I ever. I have never even heard of the website "10 minutes from Hell", but whoever Wugmanmax is had the exact same experience as me when first discovering Stavesacre in 1996. Here are his words:

"MCMXCV is both dark and beautiful. At times thrashing and at others, quiet and pleading. This release has something for fans of Stavesacre past, present, and future. Produced by Paul Fig, the sound mix is great. Mr. Fig has to juggle many different musical styles throughout the album and does so deftly."

21. Jay Som- Everybody Works
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 6)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Cassette
Hometown: Oakland, California

Mike Katzif writes for NPR:
"'Everybody Works' represents another singular vision. Made in a three-week stint of self-imposed isolation this past October, the record showcases her unique and multi-faceted musical prowess: Duterte plays every instrument and produced nearly every sound on the record, blending breathless vocal melodies and jazz-inflected harmonies with stirring orchestration and cathartic bursts of distortion that gives her aching songs a frenetic crackle. And while Jay Som returns to the fuzzed-out guitars ("1 Billion Dogs" and "Take It") and yearning pop ("The Bus Song") that has defined her earlier work, these new songs introduce an ever-expanding palette — shimmering and spacious synth-pop ("Remain"), glossy R&B ("Baybee") and slinky, polyrhythmic funk ("One More Time, Please")."

22. Alvvays- Antisocialites
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 7)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Cassette
Hometown: Toronto

Tim Sendra writes for All Music:
"After releasing a debut album of noisy pop that was perfectly formed and felt like the work of a band already at the summit of their career, it seemed like the only place Alvvays could have gone was down. Maybe sideways, at the very best. Instead, after taking their time both writing and recording the follow-up, they made a giant leap forward instead. 'Antisocialites' has all the sticky hooks of the debut, all the boisterous noise, and the open-hearted honesty, too. What the band adds this time is confidence and skill, gained from the reception their debut got and also all the time they spent playing bigger and bigger shows. The sound of the album is bigger and the arrangements fuller and more spacious, giving the instruments room to breathe. It's a bit of a change, but it works in their favor, especially since Molly Rankin's vocals are a little more to the front of the mix and she sounds strong and fully in command of her voice, while retaining all the vulnerability she displayed before."

23. football, etc.Corner
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Houston, TX

Jon Falcone writes for Drowned in Sound:
"They say the best things come in threes, and football, etc are an American (Texan) three-piece, with ‘Corner’ their third album. With their metallic-tinged female vocals, slightly downtempo guitar jangles and seemingly endless ability to find nuanced melodies, this is a chill-out emo record – if there can be such a thing. It’s the lazy grace that impresses most. Throughout the album the guitar lines are plucked with the quiet confidence of Pullman’s softly creaking sounds or American Football’s gentle insecurity."

24. The Shins- Heartworms
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico

A few days ago I learned a second version of this album is going to be released soon, and I have no idea how I feel about it. I really enjoy Heartworms, but The Worm's Heart seems like overkill? From the band's website:
"'The Worm’s Heart' is a complete re-work of The Shins’ critically acclaimed album 'Heartworms'. The album offers new, reworked versions of the original album tracks with the sequence flipped. When James Mercer wrote, produced, and recorded the 'Heartworms' album, he had this desire for an alternate version, an opposite version. The album’s slow songs would be flipped and re-recorded as fast songs, and vice versa."

Jeff Milo writes for Paste:
"...this shift in focus from a group mindset to one-man-band was accompanied by a period of deep self-contemplation. What came out of that mode is 'Heartworms,' a touching collage of reflections on how he changed from a budding teenage songwriter to an ostensible indie-rock icon still making melodies as he closes in on middle-age. 'Heartworms' is an understated and charming production of orchestral rock, surfy riffs cresting summery melodies and experimental streaks of reverb. It even includes a couple of just-about-danceable dashes of synth-heavy trips glowing with a glammy new-wave sound. The way Mercer sings throughout—the break in his voice, the curve in his lower register to the ache in his falsetto—is usually more interesting than what he’s singing about. He’s always sounded like the kind who gives his heart time to harden before poetically penning his regrets; the wounds never sound fresh."

25. Stars- There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon (Strangely this album was on Bandcamp for only a few hours. I bought it there, and as soon as I tweeted that I did, it was removed. It was by far the cheapest way for someone to buy the full album, but I guess the band/management would rather fans stream. Argh.)
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Toronto

Brian Howe writes for Pitchfork (7.2):
"Stars stretch hushed electro-pop into scrambling arena rock, blending the Smiths’ guitar romance with bedroom soul like the product of some Mancunian Motown. Campbell, along with Amy Millan and their four bandmates, have been fiddling with their blend of heartache and hedonism, dance beats and guitar sparks, for almost 20 years now. So it’s little surprise that Campbell knows what they’re best at, even though Stars have had a run that sometimes made us wonder. If 2012’s 'The North' was a cautious return to form and 2014’s 'No One Is Lost' had some fun with it, then 'There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light' finds the band with their feet on the streets and their heads scraping the sky, just where they belong."

Most disappointing album of 2017:
Aaron Sprinkle- Real Life
I rarely include a most disappointing album in my year-end lists, but will here because it is directly tied into my top EP of 2017; all songs written by Aaron Sprinkle in both cases. I wrote a detailed blog post about Aaron and his music earlier this year: Top 25 Aaron Sprinkle songs. In summary, I have been a fan of Aaron's music for 25 years but greatly prefer it when he uses a guitar and not programming. Real Life is a collection of electronic pop songs; all of which do nothing for me. Even guest vocals from the likes of Sherri from Eisley, who I adore, could not redeem this album for me. Major props to Aaron for using a 30-year-old school photo for the album cover though! Now, on to Aaron's outstanding work from 2017...

Top 5 EPs of 2017:

1. Blank Books- EP1
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Seattle

My biggest complaint with Aaron Sprinkle's solo album was the lack of guitars and live instrumentation. With the release of Blank Books it was as if Aaron, along with his brother Jesse, said: "Take this!" The guitars are raging, the drums are pummeling, and it is as if you were at a Rose Blossom Punch show in the late 90's. This is the Sprinkle brothers first collaboration since Poor Old Lu however, as Jesse did not play in Aaron's other rock bands. So good to hear Jesse's drums again as he is one of the few drummers I will actually pay special attention to and focus in on. Great insight from Aaron on Blank Books in this December interview, and explains that this EP is not a one-off, but hopefully the start of something bigger.

Meanders blog writes:
"EP1 is a sometimes-grunting, often-soaring, six-song EP that lands each footfall with the impact of a rhino and features a trajectory of guitar riffs that articulately survey the heights of 80’s arena rock, late-70’s metal, and 90’s grunge — with a sprinkling of punk on the side. The weight, tones, and heights of the guitars, combined with the Jesse’s deft drumming, contrast with Aaron’s sometimes-fragile, always-fluid vocals in a manner that seems to create space and allow the listener to simultaneously appreciate the unique contributions of each component while reveling in the richness of the whole."

2. Babaganouj- Clarity Restored
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Brisbane, Australia

Babaganouj was a random Bandcamp find, but became one of my most-listened to releases of 2017. They have been releasing EPs on Bandcamp for quite a while, but this is by far their best work. Finding information of them online has proven difficult, and it seems their largest popularity is in Japan. Harriette Pilbeam, who sings in Babaganouj also recently began a solo project under the name Hatchie. The first two songs she has released are outstanding.

3. Lee Bozeman- The Majesty of the Flesh
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Waxahachie, Texas

While Lee Bozeman's primary musical outlet is the band Luxury, he has recorded a ton of solo work over the years under the names All Things Bright and Beautiful and Orient His Name. He releases much of what he writes as rough demos and has been posting to Bandcamp for years. Bozeman actually released two EPs this year; this one, the first under his own name and by far the most fleshed out and produced solo music he has put out. The second EP, released a few days ago, is a set of three Christmas songs about Mary.

Lars Gotrich writes for NPR:
"Lee Bozeman's always been something of a romantic and a provocateur — taunting, teasing,and often both at once, with some wisdom woven in...His discography across five Luxury albums and assorted solo ventures over the last two decades have seen his tongue lash and lure with careful attention to love, history and faith. But even as the sound of his velvet punk has changed, Bozeman's lyrical themes have not, which becomes all the more curious once you learn that Bozeman became an Orthodox priest a little over ten years ago."

4. Sleigh Bells- Kid Krushev
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Brooklyn

Sasha Geffen writes for Pitchfork (6.4):
"While their early work tended to use lyrics as texturing tools, splicing in the words that sounded the best and brashest, they have since adopted a narrative thrust in their songs. The band’s newest release, the mini-album Kid Kruschev, offers perhaps the most thematic cohesion of any of their albums so far. After last year’s scattershot Jessica Rabbit, it feels like Sleigh Bells have narrowed in on the stories they want to tell and the leanest way to tell them."

5. Eerie Gaits- Bridge Music
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: New York City

Eerie Gaits is a solo instrumental project from John Ross, who fronts the band Wild Pink. Wild Pink's debut LP was an early fun discovery early in 2017, but Eerie Gaits is so much better (and couldn't be more different).

Rob Arcand writes for Pitchfork:
"...basks in the soundscapes of American history with a rich, reflective new ambient touch. His reverb-drenched lap steel drifts through a broad spectrum of dusty Nashville sounds, finding an alternate timeline that links Townes Van Zandt’s sappy country and Brian Eno’s sobering meditations. Midway through, Ross dives into a warm, layered riff that recalls the sensitive guitar work of William Tyler or Chuck Johnson. The melodic punch of a multitracked banjo and fingerpicked guitar give the lap steel more body and a somber groove. “Eau Gallie” offers something bigger than the sum of its parts: a warm collision of instruments overflowing from their tender, pastoral roots."

Other albums I bought and enjoyed this year; in alphabetical order:
Big Thief- Capacity (digital)
Brand New- Science Fiction (digital) (Not sure I enjoy this any longer, however. See here.)
Cayetana- New Kind of Normal (vinyl)
David Bazan- Care (vinyl)
Deb Talan- Lucky Girl (digital)
Demon Hunter- Outlive (vinyl)
Elliott Smith- Either/Or (reissue, vinyl)
Feist- Pleasure (CD)
Hundredth- Sure (vinyl)
Jesca Hoop- Memories Are Now (digital)
Less Art- Strangled Light (digital)
Lowland Hum- Songs for Christmastime (digital)
The National- Sleep Well Beast (digital)
oso oso- The Yunahon Mixtape (digital)
Pinback- Some Offcell Voices (reissue, vinyl)
Radiohead- OK Computer OKnotOK (reissue, CD)
Ratboys- GN (digital)
Sinai Vessel- Brokenlegged (digital)
Sleeping At Last- Atlas (digital monthly subscription)
Sufjan Stevens- Planetarium (CD)
Wild Pink- Wild Pink (digital) One of my favorite lyrics of the year:

"then I said something dumb 
like the Redskins hate the Cowboys 
because Kennedy died in Dallas"