Best of 1994

I started these best-of lists last fall with the goal of finishing them by the end of 2007. That was a ridiculous goal. Now I will finish them, eventually. A million reasons why I have put them off, number one is the fact that I am now a father and have much less free time. Another reason though is because they are about to get hard. 1994-1996 are the prime musical years of my life. These are the years I truly discovered great music that not only changed my taste, it changed my life. The first of these three years is 1994, which was the transition between my JR and SR years in HS. This was also the year I started listening to the A-Zone, the radio show that opened my ears to independent music (at the time we called it "alternative"). I tuned into the show because my favorite band of the time, Dakoda Motor Co., was releasing a new album and the A-Zone was going to debut tracks from it. Little did I know that those Dakoda songs I heard that night, while loving them, were the least important music I would hear.
Also, starting with this 1994 list, finally I am writing about albums I heard and bought near the time of their release. I have been working on this post on and off for six months. Is it finished? Probably not, but it is as close as it is going to get.

1. Poor Old Lu- Sin**
This is my second favorite album of all time. Poor Old Lu is my co-favorite band, and this is their masterpiece. One of the reasons I love the band is they are so unique. They sound like no other artist I have ever heard; they are indescribable. They are from Seattle, and started during the grunge movement. They are "four degrees of separation" from Nirvana, yet they are not remotely grunge. ("Four degrees of separation": Sprinkles, Hunter and Barber in Poor Old Lu; Sprinkle, Hunter, Barber and Enigk in Tears of a King; Enigk and Mendel in Sunny Day Real Estate; Mendel and Grohl in Foo Fighters; Grohl and Cobain in Nirvana.) The first two songs I heard from this album were "Ring True" and "Bliss Is", both heard on the A-Zone. Those two songs led me to buy this, my first Poor Old Lu album. Best song: "My World Falls Down"

2. Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary*
Obviously closely linked to the first album on this list, I didn't hear it until two years later. My friend Matt lived next door to me in Smith Hall (freshman dorm at Samford), and he recommended SDRE to me near the time we met. He knew I liked Poor Old Lu, and let me know of the Jeremy Enigk connection. It took me a few months to finally take him up on borrowing 'Diary' and 'LP2', which had already been released. In Spring of 1996 I fell in love with 'Diary' and it's amazing cover, one of the best I have ever seen. This album changed indie rock forever, with its dynamic guitars and vocals. It is truly emotional, and led unfortunately to the term "emo" which now has a completely different meaning. Best song: "In Circles"

3. Mortal- Wake

This is the 3rd and last great Mortal album. It is the first Mortal album I owned, as the song "Filter" was the first I had heard from the band (also heard on the A-Zone). Drastically different than the first two industrial Mortal albums, Jyro and Jerome dropped the electronic elements and went with organic, raging guitars. Jyro also started singing (rather than screaming), and did so very well. "Moons and Suns" is the first song that comes to mind when I think of the album, not because it is the best song, it's not, but because I read the lyrics at my senior FBC Panama City camp. Mortal 'broke up' after this album, although they did release three more (sub-par) Mortal albums over the years. Jyro and Jerome of course went on to play together in Fold Zandura. And just a few months ago I discovered Jyro has a new band called Lucena, or LCNA. Their first EP you can get on emusic. While Jyro and Jerome have remained active in music, nothing comes close to the first three Mortal albums. Best song: "Oceanful"

4. Sixpence None the Richer- The Fatherless and the Widow

The debut album from my other co-favorite band. The first Sixpence songs I heard were the original version of 'Spotlight' (rerecorded for this album) or 'Bouquet' (a Steve Taylor cover, which was released on his tribute album this same year). I can't remember when or where, but they led me to buy this album. As much as like this album, I don't have many memories of it. It wasn't until the next album and the following year that Sixpence became my favorite band. 'Meaningless' is far and away the best song on the album, and probably in the top 5 of all Sixpence songs. The song could sometimes last 15 minutes in concert as the band incorporated covers into the instrumental jam at the end. Sixpence has reunited in 2008, as I have talked about a lot in my blog. You can get their new EP for free on www.noisetrade.com and they have a full length Christmas album that was just released and is available everywhere (get it off emusic).

5. Starflyer 59- Silver
** & She's the Queen EP
Silver, which is actually a self-titled album, is the first of 11 Starflyer LPs. The band has also released a dozen or so EPs, boxed sets, etc. They are easily one of, if not the most, prolific band of the last 15 years. (So prolific that in 1994 they released an LP and an EP.) Stylistically they have changed a lot over the years, but even their most different songs are distinctly Starflyer. I was fortunate enough to hear the albums in the order in which they were released as my brother bought Silver near its original release date. This is the noisiest and rawest Starflyer album, in the shoegazer style. Jason Martin recently said in an interview that Silver is going to finally be released on vinyl! Best song: "2nd Space Song" (Which I heard first on the A-Zone.) Funny fact: original pressing has "Starflier 59" printed on the CD.

6. 77s- Drowning with Land in Sight
This was the first 77s album I bought. Strangely enough, the first song I heard from it was a Led Zeppelin cover, "Nobody's Fault but Mine." Even stranger, I heard this song for the first time ona regular WAY-FM (CCM) morning show (not the A-Zone). I really liked it, and I am not sure at the time, with my limited music knowledge, if I was even aware it was a cover. The second song I heard from this album was "Snake", which is probably the weirdest song the 77s ever recorded. The album starts out with 3 or 4 hard rock songs including the ones I just mentioned, but then becomes very mellow. Still my favorite 77s album to this day, mainly due to the diversity of it. Best song: "Alone Together"

7. L.S.U.- Graceshaker
I am pretty sure this was my introduction to Michael Knott and the first album I bought of his (heard on the A-Zone). 1994 was still in the middle of his insanely prolific period. He released two of his best 5 albums in this year.The album is divided in many ways. It is half hard rock, half acoustic; half about Jesus, half about alcohol. Sounds like a weird mix, but it works. Best song: "Grace."

8. Dakoda Motor Co.- Welcome Race Fans
A lot of my musical history revolves around Dakoda Motor Co. They opened the door to the world of independent music for me as I explained in my 1993 list and at the start of this blog post. The album is edgier and weirder than their first. Peter King sang more, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except it meant Davia sang less, which is definitely a bad thing. The "Welcome Race Fans" tour was the first big-time indie rock concert I went to. It was them, Hoi Polloi and Johnny Q. Public all at the original Rocketown in Franklin, TN. I went with Keith, Jay, Bethany, Larissa and I think one other person. I bought two shirts, including a Hoi Polloi "ringer", which was a huge departure from my normal average, conservative wardrobe. The saddest thing about the concert is that it took place after Davia left the band, but even with their new singer Melissa it was still terrific. DMC has re-united, sort of, with David in the lead once again. They are supposedly recording an album, but they have been working on it since late 2006. Best song: "Alive"

9. Michael Knott- Rocket & a Bomb
Second Knott album on the list, but much different than the first. Where as "Graceshaker" is more personal, this album is more random stories about other people. And the stories are hilarious. I developed a much greater appreciation for the album in the late 90's when I saw Knott in concert for the first time with my sister. He told tons of stories about each song, including, "John Barrymore, Jr.", which is supposedly about Drew's father. Whether or not the stories are true is irrelevant, they are hysterical. You can hear great live versions of most of these songs along with Knott's stories on the album, "Live from Nashvegas", which may have even been recorded at the show I went to at Jammin' Java in Franklin, TN. Random fact: Aaron Sprinkle was also at this show and this is where I met him for the first time. Best song: "Rocket & a Bomb"

10. Blenderhead- Prime Candidate for Burnout
I am generally leaving out most album covers, but this one I must include because not only is it a literal version of the band's name, it also explains what their music sounds like:

Heard first on the A-Zone, of course. My primary memory of this album is listening to it in my car with my friend Greg. I am pretty sure it was unlike anything he had ever heard; I could have said the same thing about myself a year earlier. Best song: "Power Trip"

11. My Little Dog China- The Velvis Carnival

This was the first release from Kevin Clay, who has gone on to have many projects under many monikers. It is far and away the best thing he ever did, followed by the couple albums he released under his own name. Heavy Nirvana influence, but still fairly original. I think this was one of the first couple CDs my brother bought, and it turned out to be a great one. If I am remembering correctly he might have bought it solely based on the band's name and cover artwork. I don't remember hearing it on the A-Zone first, unlike much of the stuff I discovered in 1994. Most radio-friendly song on the album, "Eggshells", sounds dated because of it's references to David Koresh. Speaking of David Koresh, some friends of mine and myself filmed a reenactment of the Kool-Aid drinking incident as a school project in 1994. Random fact: other members of MLDC went on to form the band Pave the Rocket which released one album on Deep Elm Records. Kevin later referenced the band in the lyrics of his song "Super Sucker Salvation" ("You paved the rocket for free...". Best song: "Listen"

12. Weezer- s/t* (The Blue Album)
People often ask me if I am a Weezer fan. Honestly, no I am not, their discography as a whole doesn’t do much for me. Their radio singles are fun, and ‘Pinkerton’ is a good album, but the blue album is the only one I love. The first song I heard was “Buddy Holly”, which didn’t grab me until I saw the incredible video. “The Sweater Song” really pulled me in, and then “Say it Ain’t So” followed soon after. My favorite song on the album though is “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.” Chris Higdon of Elliott (and now in 2009, Frontier(s)) recorded an incredible mellow, slowed-down cover of it which you can listen to here.

13. Vigilantes of Love- Welcome to Struggleville
I definitely heard VOL first on the A-Zone, and I didn't really like them at first. Bill's voice got on my nerves, and the overall style of the band was too "normal" for me. Well, in 1995 I saw VOL play live in Birmingham and they blew me away. This was the first over-18 show I went to. What I remember most about the show is that I didn't know Bill was the leader of the band. Barefooted Chris Bland was the bass player at the time, and even though Bill did all the singing, it was Chris who did all of the talking between the songs. I thought maybe Chris wrote the songs and Bill sang them. It is ridiculous to even say this now after owning all the VOL stuff and seeing Bill play with and without the band 15 or so times. This was the second VOL album I bought, and I didn't get it until 1996 or so. Best song: "Vet"

14. Toad the Wet Sprocket- Dulcinea*
I told all my good Toad the Wet Sprocket stories in my 1991 list. Nothing much to say about it, but this is probably Toad's best overall album. I just visited their Myspace page, and learned that they are playing shows! Might have to find a way to get to one. Best song: "Windmills"

15. Sometime Sunday- Stone
Doesn't really hold up very well today, but at the time, very few albums made as big an impact with me, musically and lyrically. "Blue" is the best song I have ever heard about man's struggle with lust. I saw them once in concert at the Crush Warehouse in Birmingham, and people swore I looked exactly like their lead singer, Mikee. I didn't see the resemblance except that we are both tall with shaved heads.

Other notable 1994 albums:
Havalina Rail Co.- s/t
I rarely listen to Havalina anymore, but Matt Wignall and co. have a terrific body of work. This was their first album, and while on Tooth and Nail, completely different than anything else the label was putting out. This album was a blend of jazz, blues, country, etc. Havalina was definitely a live band, they were meant to be seen in concert. I saw them twice at Cornerstone and once at the Crush Warehouse in the late 1990s. The show at the Crush is memorable because it was in the summer so Keith and Brent and I drove down for it. We ended up dragging couches up to the front of the stage and had our feet propped up on the stage as the band played. Best song: "Ragtime" ("Elvis!")
Pearl Jam- Vitalogy* ("Nothing Man" is one of my favorite songs)
The Cranberries- No Need to Argue (Zombie!)
R.E.M.- Monster*
MxPx- Pokinatcha (Probably a rip-off of older punk bands, but it was my introduction to the genre.)
Collective Soul- Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid (Most people have only heard "Shine", one of the most over-played radio hits of the 90s. But the rest of the album is much different and very good.)
Smashing Pumpkins- Pisces Iscariot* (B-sides)
Beastie Boys- Ill Communication
The Offspring- Smash
Jimmy Eat World- s/t (terrible demo-quality punk album, but they obviously figured things out eventually)
Third Wave: Reality Rock Complication (Lots of good stuff on this comp, but the best song is "Low" by the Violet Burning. It is a demo version of the song, but was my introduction to the band. A couple of years later my brother Keith heard a different version of the song on the radio and he was tireless in his search for a Violet Burning album. We eventually found and bought the album at our one and only visit to the original True Tunes store in Wheaton, IL.)
Steve Taylor Tribute- I Predict a Clone (Compilation featuring Sixpence, Argyle Park, Fleming & John, Dighayzoose, Circle of Dust, Starflyer 59, Bride and others)


Top albums through the years...

Recently on the Northern Records message board someone posted a topic with the challenge to list our top albums for every year. The limitations were that we had to actually buy the album the year it was released, and it had to be the album we listened to most that year. If you read my blog, you know I love lists, so this is right up my alley. I have been working on top-10 lists for every year from 1991 until the present (and I am currently working on 1994), but I thought I'd post this in the meantime. My list is pretty funny at the start. I didn't discover music until fairly late (age 13) and it wasn't until 2 years later that I started listening to "good" music. 1990 was the first year I actually purchased music of my own, so I will start there.

1990- Michael W. Smith- Go West, Young Man
1991- Amy Grant- Heart In Motion
1992- Bride- Snakes in the Playground
1993- Dakoda Motor Co.- Into the Son (everything changed in 1993 for me musically)
1994- Poor Old Lu- Sin**
1995- Sixpence None the Richer- This Beautiful Mess
1996- Poor Old Lu- A Picture of the 8th Wonder
1997- Sixpence None the Richer- s/t**
1998- Sunny Day Real Estate- How It Feels to be Something On*
1999- The Juliana Theory- Understand this is a Dream
2000- Sunny Day Real Estate- The Rising Tide*
2001- Jimmy Eat World- Bleed American**
2002- The Gloria Record- Start Here*
2003- Fountains of Wayne- Welcome Interstate Managers
2004- Brandtson- Send Us a Signal
2005- Eisley- Room Noises**
2006- Fair- The Best Worst-Case Scenario
2007- Thrice- The Alchemy Index Vol. 1 & 2**
2008- Mates of State- Re-Arrange Us**

Looking through, about half of them are still my favorite album for their year of release. If you look at my other lists you can see the changes.


Nada Surf Vinyl Box Set

For the other vinyl fans out there, this is a must-have. I had been saving for it for months, and just placed my pre-order for the Nov. 25 release. I will quote Insound,
Barsuk spared no expense in assembling this amazing Nada Surf box set. It's weighty (over 5 lbs.) and impressive, containing five albums on six pieces of vinyl, a 7" single, plus ample additional goodies. Even the sturdy box itself (two separate pieces, the top NADA half fitting securely onto a collar on the bottom SURF half) is a substantial piece of collector's joy, designed by acclaimed NYC artists Kayrock and Wolfy. The box set includes all five full-length studio LPs, including Elektra debut High/Low (available on vinyl exclusively in this box set), The Proximity Effect, Let Go, The Weight Is a Gift, and Lucky. Also included is a repressing of the band's long out of print debut 7" single "The Plan/Telescope;" a 24-page full-color 12x12" booklet which includes lyrics for all the LPs, exclusive photos and tour poster reproductions; and single-use full album download codes for The Proximity Effect, Let Go, The Weight Is a Gift, and Lucky PLUS a very special bonus download folder with 16 b-sides and rarities. The box set is numbered and strictly limited to 1000 copies worldwide.

You can order it here (free shipping):
or here:

Listening to: The Bridges- Limits of the Sky


Argyle Park

Impressively detailed article about an amazing album:
Argyle Park- Misguided



Tess Rejoins Sixpence...

Well, sort of. Tess Wiley will be playing with Sixpence None the Richer next week for 3 or 4 shows in Europe. For any of you that know me well, this is a dream come true. Sixpence's best album is "This Beautiful Mess" which just happens to be the only album Tess contributed to (wrote "Disconnect", played guitar and sang background vocals). Hopefully they will play songs from this era with her in the line-up. As excited as I am about their reunion, their recent set lists have been rather pathetic with the exclusion of the new songs.


New Sixpence None the Richer EP out today

Sixpence None the Richer's new EP, "My Dear Machine", is available today, and it is FREE. You can pay some money if you would like, but you can also tell 3 friends and download it for free. The website is www.noisetrade.com, and they also have 26 other "free" albums including Derek Webb and Waterdeep.


Best of 2008 (half-way there)

We are at the midpoint of the year 2008, so I thought I'd post my favorite albums of the year thus far. I am providing links to artists' Myspace pages so you can listen to songs, and then links to the cheapest way to buy each album, either on vinyl or digitally.
1. Mates of State- Re-Arrange Us. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) Nothing really comes close to this album this year for me. It is rare that a band I am so familiar with exceeds my expectations by leaps and bounds. A very fun summer pop-rock album.
2. Thrice- The Alchemy Index vols. III & IV: Earth & Air. (Buy digital. Vinyl is coming soon in the form of a 4 x 10".) Not as good as the first two volumes, but a great concept and very original. Air is the least successful of the four volumes, it is all over the place. But Earth is a terrific acoustic/organic EP.
3. Nada Surf- Lucky. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) Took some growing on me, but another great album from these guys. I am super-excited about their vinyl box set coming out soon.
4. Colour Revolt- Plunder, Beg & Curse. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) This, their first LP was long awaited, and it does not disappoint. A little more mellow than I expected, but it has great guitar work and dynamics.
5. Coldplay- Viva La Vida. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) You've read about it everywhere, I really like it. I find it to be a completely new direction for the band, which is good because another album like X&Y would have been bad news.
6. R.E.M.- Accelerate. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.)The first good album R.E.M. has put out in a decade. A drastic and welcome change from their last album, the band attempted to recapture their energy from the 80's. Sounds like a cross between the 80's stuff and 'Monster.'
7. Thao- We Brave Bee Stings and All. (Buy digital.) One of my random, lucky emusic finds. A great upbeat folk album with very unique vocals.
8. The Weepies- Hideaway. (Buy digital.) I love this folk husband-wife group, but this is not their best work. Nice songs lyrically and vocally, but they all blend together.
9. Headlights- Some Racing, Some Stopping. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) I greatly prefer their first LP, but I do really like this after seeing all the songs performed live.
10. Death Cab for Cutie- Narrow Stairs. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) Very disappointing. I am only mentioning it because of how much I love the band. 'Plans' was a step backward, and they tried to right the ship and failed. I LOVE "I Will Possess Your Heart", but there are only 3 other songs on the album that do anything for me. Probably the first time in history that a single is my favorite song on an album.


Mates of State: Five Years Later

(First picture here I took in Paris in August 2003, the rest of the shots at the show a couple nights ago. Click on the pictures to see dozens more from the shows at my Flickr site.)

My wife and I saw Mates of State play Wednesday night at Mr. Small's Theater in Pittsburgh, PA. The show was spectacular, it reinforced how much I truly love the band Mates of State. Their new album, "Re-Arrange Us", which was released last month, is my early pick for album of the year. Even if it doesn't end up being the number one album of 2008, it is definitely the album of the summer. It is fun, catchy, poppy- the perfect album to listen to while driving around in the summer months.

Headlights opened the show, a band I have always enjoyed, but never really gotten that into. They released an album this year, "Some Racing, Some Stopping", that has gotten excellent reviews. It was actually a disappointment to me, I greatly prefer their first full-length, "Kill Them With Kindness." Headlights is a great live band, they enjoy themselves on stage and give great energy to their music. Seeing the songs performed in concert gave me a much greater appreciation for them.

I became a Mates of State fan in the summer of 2002 while living in Orlando. A friend referred their second album, "Our Constant Concern", to me, I had never heard anything like it. I mainly listen to guitar-driven rock, I had never heard a rock/pop band driven by an organ. I was then able to see Mates of State in Paris on my August 2003 Europe trip. Five years has passed since that show, and a lot has changed in my life and with Mates of State, so I thought I would do a comparison.

The Venue:
2003: Paris, France. Some small bar/restaurant. I want to say it was called "The American Club." Reminded me of a Chili's and I can remember eating an amazing burger.
2008: Mr. Small's Theater in Pittsburgh, PA. (Actually in Millvale.) Visiting relatives in PA, our first visit to the club. It is an old church that has been turned into a recording studio, skate park and concert hall.

2003: 20 to 30 people there to see the band probably. I am fairly certain I knew Mates of State's music better than anyone there, and I could have been the only other American in the audience.
2008: 200 to 300 people. Mates of State has grown in popularity tremendously over the last 5 years. Most everyone there was also singing along.

The discography:
2003: At the time of the show, Mates of State had two albums: "My Solo Project" (2000) and "Our Constant Concern" (2002). I bought "My Solo Project" at the show in Paris.
2008: Mates of State has just released their 5th LP, "Re-Arrange Us." Their 3rd album, "Team Boo" was released in Fall of 2003, and their 4th, "Bring it Back" was released in 2006.

The band:
2003: Mates of State is the married couple Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. Until a few months ago, they had never played a show with more than two people on state. Kori plays organ and keyboards, Jason plays drums.
2008: Their current tour is their first with extra band members. They have two guys, the members of Judgment Day, playing a variety of instruments: violin, cello, guitar, trombone, percussion, etc. It adds a completely new dimension to their sound, new songs and old. Half the show was with the extra members, half the show was just Jason and Kori. They would typically alternate two songs with, two songs without. Kori also plays electric piano now, switching back and forth between the organ. Their new album is the first to feature piano on every song. On the final song of the night, "The Re-Arranger", all five members of Headlights also joined the Mates on stage.

2003: Jason and Kori were married. I was very single.
2008: Jason and Kori have two daughters, I now have a wife and a son. These are the biggest five year differences! Mates of State has a very popular baby blog: Band on the Diaper Run.

I don't remember the exact order of the setlist, but I remember the songs, I think. The opened with "Now" from the new album and ended their 2-song encore with "The Re-Arranger." Here is the full list of songs:

From "Re-Arrange Us" (2008):
Get Better
My Only Offer
The Re-Arranger
Blue and Gold Print
You are Free

From "Bring it Back (2006):
Think Long
Fraud in the 80's
Like U Crazy
Beautiful Dreamer
For the Actor

From the "All Day" EP (2004):

From "Team Boo" (2003):
Ha Ha

From "Our Constant Concern" (2002):
10 Years Later

From "My Solo Project: (2000):


Another reason to buy vinyl...

(Not that I can afford to buy it myself.)


LA to NYC: Road trip mix

I started working on making a road trip mix last summer, trying to find as many songs as I could about places and driving. My wife and I were about to embark on a summer road trip that would cover most of the Eastern United States. I made a mix, but it didn't flow well; I was not pleased with it.

Last year I came up with the idea of making CDs for the graduating seniors at the school I teach at. This year for the CD I decided I would try the road trip idea again, since they are all dispersing from Rome, GA to schools all over the country (if not world).

I started out with about 40 songs and deliberated for awhile, experimenting with different track orders. I am very pleased with 20 songs that made it and I think it flows really well.

(First link is to band's Myspace site, second link is to a 'related' image.)
3. Mamas and the Papas- California Dreaming
5. Death Cab for Cutie- Why'd You Want to Live Here?



Starflyer 59- Ghosts of the Future

Originally uploaded by noseblanket

Another reason to buy vinyl.

I didn't take these pictures, but I have the set, and it is gorgeous. Last year, Burnt Toast Vinyl offered up a pre-order to get a set of 10 7-inches by Starflyer 59, "Ghosts of the Future." It was fairly expensive, $59.59, but I had just gotten a raise, and sounded like a good investment.

As of last week, the set is complete. 10 records, 20 songs, 10 different colors of vinyl, one wooden box, record-covers that create a puzzle, and autographed liner notes. It is far and away the coolest presentation out of all of the music I own.

Click on this picture to see a lot more of the set.


New Mates of State song

Mates of State just premiered the first song on their new record, called "Get Better." Not only is the song shockingly different for the band, it is outstanding. You can hear the song and watch the hysterical video on their Myspace page. The new album, "Re-Arrange Us", will be released May 20 on Barsuk Records.

Here are the song titles:

  1. "Get Better"
  2. "Now"
  3. "My Only Offer"
  4. "The Re-Arranger"
  5. "Jigsaw"
  6. "Blue and Gold Print"
  7. "Help Help"
  8. "You Are Free"
  9. "Great Dane"
  10. "Lullaby Haze"


The Alchemy Index

I have been waiting for this day for a LONG time. Thrice's entire Alchemy Index is available for purchse. Fire & Water released last October, Air & Earth released TODAY. Four discs, four styles, 24 songs. One of the most unique music releases I have ever heard. The project exceeded all of the expecations I had for it.

Cheapest place to buy the albums digitally is HERE.
Cheapest place to buy the physical CDs is HERE.

A 4 x 10 inch vinyl set, which will come in a hard-back book, is in the works.


Explosions in the Sky

explosions in the sky
Originally uploaded by jaredswafford

I didn't take this picture, but it is from the Explosions in the Sky concert last night that I attened in Atlanta at the Variety Playhouse. The show was excellent. With the exception of the symphony or something like that, this was the first instrumental concert I have ever been to. For those of you unfamiliar with Explosions in the Sky, they did the soundtrack for the movie 'Friday Night Lights.' They actually sound a lot like their name. The dynamics were awesome, all four of the guys were really passionate and intense.

In case you were wondering, the image in the header of my blog is the artwork for Explosions in the Sky most recent record. You can buy it here.

Explosions in the Sky is in a genre of music called post-rock, which I have recently been getting more into. My brother has liked post-rock for years, and forever has been telling me about Godspeed you Black Emperor! and Mogwai. I have been listening to tons of Mogwai recently, as you can see in my Last.fm playlist to the right of this page. Generally vocals and lyrics are my favorite part of music, so listening to music without those things has been different.

The opening artist was Lichens, a solo guy playing ambient music. He played one "song" that lasted 20 minutes. I have listened to a little ambient music, but never seen it performed live. Very strange but enjoyable.

Matt Slocum of Sixpence None the Richer has a great current interview here. He talks a lot about the reformation of the band and what their goals are. Sixpence recently played a concert in Nashville that was broadcast live on Lightning 100 and streamed live online. Many people recorded it (including myself), and you can find download links on this message board.

The second part of Thrice's Alchemy Index releases tomorrow- buy it!


New Sixpence Songs

More on Myspace...


Sixpence None The Richer @ Smokin' Music, SXSW, Austin, TX, 3/13/08

Sixpence None The Richer @ Smokin' Music, SXSW, Austin, TX, 3/13/08
Originally uploaded by iamdonte

Sixpence None the Richer played their first two shows in 5 years last week, you can find information about the shows here and here. I wish I could have been there! So far there still is no official information about the band now that they are back together, but there is a lot of information that can be found out by following those links and using Google blog search.

Apparently they have a new EP to be released in June and a full-length Christmas album releasing at the end of the year.

This Diminishing West

Those of you who know me at all know that Poor Old Lu is my co-favorite band (along with Sixpence). Scott Hunter, Aaron Sprinkle, Nick Barber and Jesse Sprinkle created some of the most unique rock music I have ever heard.

Since Poor Old Lu's break-up, 3/4 of the band have been super active in the indie music scene. Aaron Sprinkle is the biggest name, mainly due to his production work (MxPx, Demon Hunter, Eisley, etc.). He also has numerous solo albums and work with his two rock bands, Rose Blossom Punch and Fair. Nick Barber is an accomplished bass player, playing in Aaron's bands and also touring with Jeremy Enigk. Jesse Sprinkle is one of the best drummers around, and has drummed for countless bands (Serene, Morella's Forest, Dead Poetic, Demon Hunter, etc.). He also is a producer and has released actually more solo work than Aaron (through his name and the moniker 'The World Inside'.)

Well, as active as Aaron, Nick and Jesse have been, Scott has done pretty much nothing in the music world. Once he came close to singing on one of Jesse's World Inside albums, but that was it until a couple years ago. This was when it was announced on Myspace that Scott was fronting a new band called This Diminishing West. I love Scott's work as a vocalist and lyricist, so I was thrilled.

This Diminishing West had released various demos on Myspace but nothing concrete, until yesterday. This Diminishing West released their first and only EP, and it is FREE. The EP is solid, nothing specatular, and contains a cool Pedro the Lion cover, "Of Minor Prophets and their Prostitute Wives."

The band unfortunately broke up before it even really began, but thankfully they did record this one 5-song EP. You can download it for free here.


New Thrice single is available on iTunes today. The 2nd half of the Alchemy Index releases in about six weeks. As usual I have gotten very busy and this blog has been neglected. I hope to post my 'best of 1994' within the next couple of weeks.


Original memorabilia artwork


Sixpence is back!

Sixpence None the Richer, the band responsible for my favorite album of all time (This Beautiful Mess), has reunited! Essentially what this means is that Leigh Bingham Nash and Matt Slocum are writing and recording together again. They are releasing a new EP soon, and will being touring in April. After they broke up a few years ago, I thought this day would happen, but you just never know. The source of the news is Leigh's blog.


Best of 2007

Best of 2007 resized

January 2023--significant revisions in progress/excuse the mess

In my list below you will find some concert photography (by me), surprisingly I saw most of the artists in my top 10 in concert this year. You will also find links to the albums on emusic, 7 of the top 10 are available there. You also get information on whether or not the album is available on vinyl; 2007 is the first year ever I bought more vinyl records than CDs. I recently read an article that stated within 5 years vinyl will be the primary physical format music is purchased on (primary form overall will be digital of course). Only half of my top 10 were released on vinyl, but a couple more releases could happen in 2008 (for 2007 albums).

1. Thrice- The Alchemy Index vols. I & II**- Fire & Water (Pre-ordered CD, then got on emusic because I was impatient and couldn't wait. Glad I bought CD version though, because packaging is excellent as usual.)

It's hard for me to put into words how much I LOVE this album. It is my number one by a landslide. Usually I debate with myself forever over which album is going to be my #1 for the year, but this was an easy decision. The rest of my top 10 is interchangeable and does change on a frequent basis, but Thrice always stays at the top.
I have said it before and I will say it again, this album is not getting heard by the people that will like it. Even you, reading this right now, are saying to yourself, "Thrice is Metal/Punk/Emo/Hardcore and I don't like that kind of stuff." Well, you are dead wrong. Does Thrice have songs that could fit those genres? Possibly. Does this album? Not at all.
The Alchemy Index is a series of 4 EPs. Originally Thirce was going to release all four at once, but then decided to release the first two, Fire & Water in October 2007, and then the next two, Earth & Air in March 2008. The EPs are hard to describe, but thematically based on each of these four elements. They correspond to the elements musically & lyrically. Sounds like a potentially bad idea, but it worked perfectly.
The reason is worked is because Thrice was already pushing the envelope stylistically even before this project. Their previous album, Vheissu, was extremely diverse and a huge departure from their first three albums. Thrice, while having a punk/metal background, has matured beyond belief.
The first EP, Fire, is hard music. Very loud, but very different than the heavy stuff Thrice has put out previously. Production is radically different than any other hard music you have heard. Dustin does scream/yell, but he also sings and whispers.
The second EP, Water, is the one I listen to the most. Not necessarily because it is the best, but because my wife also likes it and she can't listen to the Fire EP because she doesn't like any music with yelling/screaming. The Water EP is almost impossibly to classify, but I will call it "quiet electronic rock." As different as the Fire & Water EPs are stylistically, they remain cohesive, which is impressive.
Dustin Kensrue's vocals and lyrics are spot-on as usual, and bring everything together. (He also released a solo album last year that you can read about below). Please, I am begging you, if you have never heard Thrice, or if you heard Thrice years ago and dismissed them, please check out this album. And since they left their major label (Island) and signed to an indie (Vagrant), The Alchemy Index is on emusic so you have no excuse. Now I am just hoping that when the next two EPs get released Vagrant does some type of amazing 4 vinyl LP set.

2. Eisley- Combinations (Bought CD)
I love female vocals. I love harmonies. I love pop-rock music. I love lush, diverse instrumentation. There you go, that is what this album is. I have been an Eisley fan since May 2002, when I bought (Moss) Eisley- EP1 from the band's website. I saw them at Cornerstone that year and have been following them closely ever since. Their first album, 'Room Noises', I found disappointing because so many of the tracks were new version of songs I already knew off their four EPs. However, the album is great and was my #2 of 2005. 'Combinations' blew me away on first listen. Part of the problem with 'Room Noises' is that the instrumentation on the album is essentially the same on every song. Not so with this album; they have incorporated dozens of unique instruments that greatly complements their sound. Plus sisters Stacy and Sherri Dupree's vocals have matured and their harmonies are even better. Then add more mature lyrics and you have a terrific second album. I saw them perform twice in 2007, the better of which was an acoustic show at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville. I highly recommend also getting the Like the Actors EP, which includes three songs that didn't make the album, each of which is outstanding. Where is the vinyl release for Eisley- Combinations?

3. Tess Wiley- Super Fast Rock'n'Roll Played Slow (got on emusic, then bought CD)

After being a fan for 12 years, I finally saw Tess in concert in 2007, at Cornerstone. It could not have come at a better time, right after the release of her 3rd and best full-length album. After leaving Sixpence None the Richer, Tess has released tons of music, but not a true album until 2000's 'Rainy Day Assembly'. It was full of amazing songs, but 9 out of 10 had been released in earlier demo-like version so there wasn't much surprise. 2003 brought her second album, 'Not Quite Me', which introduced a more acoustic sound. At the time I found the acoustic sound a little disappointing, because the songs were still upbeat rock songs, and I was longing for the edge of her earlier work. Well, this time I was prepared for how acoustic the album would be, but I was not prepared for how great the songs would be. I am no longer disappointed by the lack of guitars, I think the sound of the album is PERFECT. Tess played almost all the instruments herself, which include acoustic guitar, piano and minimalistic unique percussion. (There is a pretty impressive guest appearance from Buddy Miller though on guitar). The strength of the album is the songs, as it should be; these are easily the best songs she has ever written. As I say over and over again, I love female vocals, and it doesn't get any better than Tess' beautiful singing. I wrote an in-depth review of this album in the iTunes music store. (Unfortunately this will probably never be available on vinyl because Tess is on a small German record label- Tapete.)

4. The New Pornographers- Challengers** (Bought Vinyl & digital boxed set [all for $20, "Buy Early Get Now"]; available on emusic)

As I read reviews and look at year-end lists, apparently this album was "disappointing." Not for me! I think the New Pornographers 4th album is outstanding, and potentially their best. The problem most people have with it, as far as I can tell, is that it is "too mellow", with "not enough rock songs". I don't have the same complaints, I love the mellow tracks. The title track, as sung by Neko Case, is my favorite song on the album. I saw them in concert in Atlanta in October, the best show I attended in 2007. (I went to more concerts in 2007 than in any year since 2002). They played at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, and played for over two hours, which was extremely impressive. The show was spectacular and epic- the sound was perfect, the harmonies were right on. Seeing them live gave me a whole new appreciation for the band.

5. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible** (bought Vinyl which came with free MP3 download; available on emusic)
I don't have much to say about this album; it is great and just about everyone agrees. It is Paste Magazine's #2, Pitchfork's # 27, and Rolling Stone's #4 of 2007. I prefer Arcade Fire's first album 'Funeral' due to its intensity and rawness, 'Neon Bible' was more of a grower. If 'Funeral' is the best debut album of the 2000's, this is the best follow-up. The double vinyl LP set is gorgeous, side B of the 2nd LP is an etching of the Neon Bible logo. I am dying to see Arcade Fire in concert, but until I do, this will have to do.

6. Mindy Smith- My Holiday
The last of my 'honorable mention' albums is Mindy Smith- My Holiday. I didn't really consider it in my list because it is a Christmas album. However, it is much more of a "true" album than most Christmas releases. Meaning that, she contributes many songs that she wrote, and not many traditional Christmas songs. It is an outstanding album, back up to par with her debut release (One Moment More). My wife and I found her second album, 'Long Island Shores', to be lacking the great songs she usually writes.

7. Jimmy Eat World- Chase This Light**(pre-ordered on iTunes then bought Vinyl, which came with free MP3 download)
Initially disappointing, but after a few listens I grew to love this album as much as all of Jimmy Eat World's previous work. It is VERY poppy, more so than anything the band has ever done. I wish I hadn't done the iTunes pre-order, but it took so long for the vinyl to come out, I was impatient. As far as the music goes, they aren't breaking any new ground. But they are writing some of the catchiest songs of their career. 'Gotta Be Somebody's Blues is the most unique songs they have ever recorded, being driven by an epic string section. The best song on the album is 'Here it Goes', with a chorus that will stick in your head for days. In summary, if you like Jimmy Eat World's older stuff, definitely buy this. If you have never liked them, then this is not for you.

8. Via Audio- Say Something Say Something Say Something (got on emusic)
For the second year in a row I discovered an album that made my top 10 while working on my top 10. Last year it was Manchester Orchestra, when I discovered their album in January while working on my blog. This year it was Via Audio, when I read about them on another blog's best of 2007 list on December 14. This other blogger listed them at #1, and I can understand why. This is indie rock at it's best, female and male lead vocals, driven by guitar and keyboards. They sound like the next generation Anniversary, also very similar to Headlights. They aren't quite as good as the Anniversary, but I think they have better songs than Headlights. Although Headlights does have a new album coming out in February. The best two songs on the Via Audio album are 'Presents' and 'We Can Be Good', both of which are spectacular and two of the best songs of the year. Another similar band to the three I just mentioned here almost made my top 25- the Most Serene Republic (they do win the award for having the best album cover of the year).

9. Explosions in the Sky- All of Sudden I Miss Everyone** (bought Vinyl, which came with free MP3 download; available on emusic)
I keep meaning to blog about why one should buy vinyl. This album is the reason. For $15, including shipping, I got two color vinyl records, a free mp3 download of the album, and a free CD of remixes. The artwork is spectacular, see the top of the page. I don't listen to much instrumental music, but I love Explosions in the Sky. Their previous album, 'The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place' is my favorite of theirs, but this one isn't far behind. I generally like instrumental post-rock, but rarely buy it. The exception is Explosions, who I find to be the best at what they do. It is amazing to how much emotion and feeling they communicate without lyrics. Comparing this album to their older stuff, the most obvious change is the addition of piano. Band is best known for thier soundtrack 'Friday Night Lights'.

10. Tegan & Sara- The Con** (bought Vinyl, which came with free CD of album)
My wife and I discovered Tegan & Sara when they opened for Cake at an outdoor show in Nashville in the summer of 2004. They blew Cake away; it was actually one of the best live performances I have ever seen. Tegan & Sara are twin sisters and great performers from a musical and comedic standpoint. We saw them in concert again in 2006 at the Variety Playhouse.
As far as the songs go, Tegan & Sara have written better. Their previous two albums display much better song-writing and are much more consistent. 'The Con' though is a huge improvement as far as production and instrumentation go. It was produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab and he definitely made his mark. Added to the guitar base are new and interesting electronic elements and keyboards.

best of 2007 11 25 smaller

11. Fountains of Wayne- Traffic & Weather (bought CD)
12. RadioheadIn Rainbows (downloaded for 75 cents)
13. Lovedrug- Everything Starts Where it Ends (bought CD, available on emusic)
14. Over the Rhine- The Trumpet Child (received Vinyl as gift, got on emusic)
15. Pinback- Autumn of the Seraphs (bought Vinyl, came with free MP3 download)
16. Right Away, Great Captain!- The Bitter End (got on emusic)
17. Blonde Redhead- 23 (got on emusic)
18. Smashing Pumpkins- Zeitgeist (got on iTunes)
19. The Innocence Mission- We Walked in Song (bought Vinyl, available on emusic)
20. The Shins- Wincing the Night Away (bought Vinyl, came with free MP3 download)
21. The National- Boxer (got on emusic)
22. Bodies of Water- Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink (got on emusic)
23. Band of Horses- Cease to Begin (bought Vinyl, came with free MP3 download)
24. St. Vincent- Marry Me (got on emusic)
25. Neon Horse- s/t (bought CD)

ZookeeperBecoming All Things (got on emusic)
I have very mixed feelings about this record. Zookeeper is Chris Simpson, of Mineral and the Gloria Record, two of my favorite bands. Mineral and the Gloria Record were both indie rock at it's finest, combining for three masterpiece albums and a couple more great EPs. Chris Simpson is also potentially my favorite lyricist, recently being challenged by Dustin Kensrue. While Simpson's first two bands were rock, this album is fairly undescribeable, maybe neo-folk? All of the songs are based around acoustic guitar with piano, banjo, accordion, trumpet, etc. Very diverse instrumentation throughout, but it is all intentionally dissonant and out of tune.
The Gloria Record's 'Start Here' was my number one album of 2002, it was immaculately produced, very crisp and clean. Five years later Simpson has gone in a completely different direction, and honestly I just don't get it. Don't get me wrong, I love the songs on this album, but the instrumentation just seems chaotic. I know it is supposed to be, but I don't understand- it goes completely against what I am looking for in production qualities. Many of the songs on the album are much simpler, with just Simpson and his acoustic guitar. These are by far my favorite songs on the album, they are great- the best being 'Boy & the Street Choir'. Don't get me wrong, I do like this album, I must for it to be in my top 10, but try to completely forget Mineral and the Gloria Record.

Honorable mention: (digitally released in 2006, released on CD in 2007)
Rosie Thomas- These Friends of Mine (available on emusic)
Dustin Kensrue- Please Come Home
These albums have a lot in common for me. First of all, I got them both with an iTunes gift card in December 2006. Secondly, they are two of my favorite albums of this last year, potentially top 5. But because of their strange release methods, it is hard for me to categorize them as either 2006 or 2007 albums. Like I wrote above, while they were released digitally online in 2006, their physical release, on CD, was not until January (Dustin Kensrue) and March (Rosie Thomas). Neither, unfortunately, has been released on vinyl.
Enough about the format, now about the music. Both are folk albums and folk at its best. Rosie Thomas is one of the top female singer-songwriters out there today. This is her 4th LP, and my favorite. Titled 'These Friends of Mine' because her friends- Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer, helped her record it. Denison's guitar and Sufjan's vocals and banjo are all over it and it sounds great. Rosie's vocals are the highlight, and as usual, they are angelic. Rosie's vocals are honestly so beautiful it is hard to believe. Seeing her live, which my wife and I did this past summer, makes her vocals even more impressive, but at the same time, puts you into more shock when you hear the sounds come from her mouth. Rosie is a beautiful girl, the thing is her speaking voice is drastically different than her singing voice- it's night and day. Rosie also does a stand-up comedy routine which is hysterical. All this said, you must see Rosie in concert. And of course, buy this album.
As far as the Dustin Kensrue goes, it is much more of a raw folk/rock (like Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan). He is the lead singer of Thrice, but you would never know it. The album is all acoustic, and his vocals sound very different than they do on most of Thrice's music. The song-writing style is also very different. Usually his lyrically are very symbolic, but on this solo album they are very literal. The song structure is also traditional, unlike Thrice. The highlight of this album for me is the title track, which is a modern retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son.

Most disappointing album of 2007 (and possibly the worst album of 2007):
Avril Lavigne- The Best Damn Thing
Not that my expectations were high, but nothing could have prepared me for this load of crap. I really did enjoy her first two albums; hard to believe it now.


Joe Gibbs retires

A sad day, but it's probably time. He led the Redskins to 2 playoff appearances in 4 years after inheriting a franchise in turmoil. (They had made the playoffs only once in 10 years after he retired the first time in 1993.) The Redskins' foundation is set, and ready to starting winning championships. Hopefully they'll promote Gregg Williams to head coach from defensive coordinator to keep everything together.

Portis on Gibbs (copied from the DC Sports Bog)
From his recent NFL.com feature:
Q: What does it mean to be a running back for Joe Gibbs?
Clinton Portis: I think Coach Shanahan is probably one of the top coaches in the NFL. But I think Joe Gibbs is probably one of the top people in life, just for the knowledge, the faith, the love of the game, everything that he stands for.