December 25, 2019

Best of 2019



My artist of the year is easily Middle Kids. I discovered them in Spring 2018, and their LP Lost Friends was my #6 album of last year. But then this year they released an EP which was even better, and I bought all three of their releases (also their 2017 debut EP) on vinyl. Their live shows (at least the videos I have seen until I can personally catch them in concert) are fun and rambunctious, which is what makes their "Home Sessions" YouTube series even more impressive and beautiful. Lead-singer songwriter Hannah Joy and husband/multi-instrumentalist Tim Fitz are due to have their first child soon, so you owe it to yourself to look up some amazing videos of their rock shows with a very pregnant Hannah. I usually list LPs first and then EPs, but started with the EPs this year because I listened to Middle Kids far more than any other artist in 2019.

If you skip to the end of this post you'll find a 20-song playlist. Otherwise follow the links for each album to stream or buy on Bandcamp.

And before we get into the meat of this year-end list, a rant about Blogger: My blogging has continued to diminish, from a high of 62 posts in 2014 to what will be a record-low total posts in 2019; 30 or so has been my average since launching in 2003. As others have pointed out, my Instagram account has replaced this, so I am probably commenting on and sharing music about the same amount as an average year, with the exception that essays from me are becoming rare.

Well, while working on this post (off an on since early November), I lost everything on Dec. 19 when I hit control-Z (edit-undo) consecutively. Despite auto-saving, Blogger--unlike all other superior Google products--has no ability to revert or restore older versions. I searched for help on the issue, and there is none; you can find countless examples online of bloggers losing their work using the control-Z shortcut.

Thankfully I had some of my work saved in other formats, but I did have to re-do far too much. Moving forward I'll just do everything in Google docs and then copy and paste for formatting. But all that to say is that this blog may be nearing its end as it seems as if Blogger/Google is not improving the product. Even hard-returns are challenging. My last post--my top 50 albums of the decade--I just embedded a Google sheet and an Instagram post--so that may be the way to go.

Top 5 EPs of 2019:

1. Middle Kids- New Songs For Old Problems
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I love it, my wife loves it, my kids love it. Catchy with profound lyrics. Would have called it a summer jam but then just listened to it on a late night road trip in December and was perfect.

2. Mineral- One Day When We Are Young: Mineral at 25
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Format purchased: Vinyl and Book (see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp


It's only a two-song EP, but they span 15 minutes and are two of my favorite songs of the last 12 months. "Aurora" debuted in November of 2018, and I called it my song of the year. Then the second song "Your Body is the World" and the full package of vinyl and massive book were shipped a couple months later.


3. Caracara- Better
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Had never heard of Caracara until a few months ago, and ordered the 7" on vinyl after hearing the title track once.
4. Thrice- Deeper Wells
Hometown: Irvine, California
Format purchased: Vinyl 
(see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

One of my only blog posts this year was a long essay about my conflicting Record Store Day experience; read it here. Thrice continues to be my favorite post-2000 band and these four songs are better than much of their 2018 LP.
5. Death Cab for Cutie- The Blue EP
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Format purchased: Vinyl 
(see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Ditto to my Thrice comment in that Death Cab also released a follow-up EP that contains stronger songs than much of their prior LP.





As usual, I used Rob Mitchum's impressive Google sheet to discover new music and look at the data from dozens of best-of lists from major music publications. The "# of lists" as seen below indicates how many of these publications ranked the album.

Top 20 LPs of 2019: 
1. Great Grandpa- Four of Arrows
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Format purchased: Vinyl 
(see on my Instagram)
# of lists: 1
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
See on my Instagram

I had never heard of Great Grandpa until August. But when they released the first single "Mono No Aware" and my daughters began singing along instantly, I knew I had found something special. "Bloom" is equally as catchy, but the album overall is dynamic and diverse.


2. The Appleseed Cast- The Fleeting Light of Impermanence Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
# of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Heard this album for the first time while camping. Released digitally and streamed on my headphones sitting next to the campfire while the rest of my family was asleep. Was the perfect setting to the listen and I thought at the time it would end up being my album of the year. Might be my second-favorite all-time Appleseed Cast project behind Low Level Owl.

3. Better Oblivion Community Center- Better Oblivion Community Center Hometown: Los Angeles, California Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 5
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Phoebe Bridgers is on my favorite singers of the last few years, and thankfully she has been prolific as a solo artist, with her project boygenius, and then this year with her collaboration with Conor Oberst- Better Oblivion Community Center. Phoebe's next solo album has been recorded and should drop early in 2020.

4. Charly Bliss- Young Enough Hometown: Brooklyn, New York Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 4 Buy/listen on Bandcamp

No band this year progressed
and improved more than Charly Bliss.
Their debut Guppy was a fun pop-punk release,
but Young Enough is on a completely different level.
5. Jimmy Eat World- Surviving Hometown: Mesa, Arizona Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

Now we've reached the legends section of the list,
with #'s 5-7 here all active in in the 90's and now,
over 20 years later. This is Jimmy Eat World's most aggressive
album in over a dozen years.
6. Pedro The Lion- Phoenix Hometown: Seattle, Washington Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Being a Bazan fan now for almost 25 years, in hindsight there is not much differentiation for me between his band and solo work. But the most exciting thing for me about Bazan reclaiming the Pedro the Lion moniker is his return to guitar. I appreciated his last couple of electronic solo albums, but he is at his best in the rock band setting.
7. Starflyer 59- Young In My Head Hometown: Riverside, California Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

One of the most prolific bands I listen to,
this is amazingly Starflyer's 15th studio album
in 26 years; and that doesn't include countless EPs
and other releases. This album is in the top half of Jason Martin's work; and easily the best Starflyer album in over a decade.
8. Hatchie- Keepsake Hometown: Brisbane, Australia Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
# of lists: 2
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

There is so much great music coming out of Australia right now, and Harriett Pilbeam's Hatchie is near the top. I loved her debut EP from 2018, and also her previous work as a member of Babaganouj.
9. The Cranberries- In the End Hometown: Limerick, Ireland Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 1 The release of this album was completely off my radar, and even if I had been paying more attention, I am not sure it would have made much difference. I lost interest in the Cranberries 15 years ago, and found all of theirs and Dolores O'Riordan's solo work post-2000 pretty bland.

I was shocked and saddened by O'Riordan's death in January 2018. When I learned the band members were going to finish an album they had started while she was still alive, I didn't think much of it as their 2012 and 2017 albums were rather blah. But amazingly, this album is fantastic! The demo vocals tracks O'Riordan recorded before her death sound great, and the other band members did an incredible job of finishing the album under impossible circumstances. I would rank it as the Cranberries #3 album behind their 1993 and 1994 releases, and it actually sounds as if it could have been the the follow-up to those; hard to believe there is 25 years in between.

10. Nichole Nordeman- Fragile Hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma Format purchased: Digital (Kickstarter) # of lists: 0
I have always had a lot of respect for Nichole Nordeman, as it was clear she was incredibly talented and that her music seemed to be watered-down by the CCM machine. I never bought any of her albums, but enjoyed the songs I heard. I lost track of her completely but began following her on Twitter a few years ago as I enjoyed her thoughts and perspectives on faith and art. Then this fall she announced a Kickstarter for a new Christmas album and I backed it immediately. I of course love Christmas music, I wanted to support her, but I didn't have expectations for the music itself. It is AMAZING. Despite my love for Christmas music, I am very picky, and there is a delicate balance of being original and showing respect for traditional songs. Nichole strikes that balance perfectly and with
unique and surprising instrumentation. The production is minimalistic and puts the focus on her voice, and she sings both new songs she wrote and interesting arrangements of classics.
11. Taylor Swift- Lover
Hometown: Reading, Pennsylvania Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 4 Unlike the last two Taylor albums, which I adored immediately, Lover took awhile to grow on me. It's too long--three or four songs
should have been cut--which is strange considering with 1989 two of the best songs from those sessions only appeared as
bonus tracks.

12. The New Pornographers- In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

Had this been the first album from Carl Newman's New Pornographers I had ever heard, I would have been blown away. However, considering the quality and quantity of the band's work as a whole, this album is pretty underwhelming.
13. Brutus- Nest Hometown: Leuven, Belgium Format purchased: Vinyl # of lists: 2
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

One of three bands in my top 20 I hadn't heard until 2019. As much fun as this album is, it is apparently Brutus was meant to be heard live. With that in mind, here is a bizarre and awesome live video they released this year:



14. Lana Del Rey- NFR! Hometown: New York, New York Format purchased: CD # of lists: 16

This is the consensus #1 album of the year throughout major music publications, appearing on 16 lists. It is phenomenal and
deserving and only this far down my list because of pervasive profanity. It is the best album Lana Del Rey has ever released in every way.
15. Tegan and Sara- Hey, I'm Just Like You Hometown: Calgary, Alberta
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

I, like many fans, were begging Tegan and Sara to bring
the guitars back after thier last album was all-synths. And they did that in a risky and unique way, by using twenty-year-old demos
they wrote and recorded on cassette tape while in high school. They reinvented those songs and it is tons of fun.
16. Bleached- Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? Hometown: Los Angeles, California Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp




17. Joseph- Good Luck, Kid Hometown: Portland, Oregon Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
18. that dog.- Old LP Hometown: Los Angeles, California Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
19. Patty Griffin- Patty Griffin Hometown: Old Town, Maine Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
20. Over the Rhine- Love and Revelation
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
\# of lists: 0




Top 9 Vinyl Reissues of 2019:

1. Focused- At Eternity's Gate
Original release: 1993 (demo cassette)
Hometown: Long Beach, California
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

I've got this at #1 not because it is the best musically, but because had Steadfast Records not reissued it (1) we would have never heard these versions of these songs and (2) there almost certainly would have never been any Focused on vinyl. The artwork is terrific and 1993 hardcore has never sounded better.
2. Poor Old Lu- Mindsize (Deluxe Remaster)
Original release: 1993 (CD and cassette)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
(see on my Instagram)

Made possible by Kickstarter, Mindsize has seen vinyl for the first time, and with remastering of the original analog tapes. Featuring never before-heard demos and live tracks from the era, and with extensive liner notes, packaging, etc. Curated by lead singer Scott Hunter; highly detailed in every regard. Thankfully this is the first of many Poor Old Lu reissues, the Sin Kickstarter was also successful a couple months ago and will be released in 2020.
3. Soulfood 76- Original Soundtrack
Original release: 1996 (CD and cassette)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
(see on my Instagram)
While not on my list of albums I wished were reissued, I am thankful it has been as I am rediscovering it almost as if I am hearing it for the first time. For one, my CD copy was lost before I was able to import the MP3s, so I hadn't heard it in 10-15 years. Secondly, it sounds terrific on vinyl.
4. Rose Blossom Punch- Sorry To Disappoint You
Original release: 1999 (MP3s and MP3.com CD)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
(see on my Instagram)

Some may not even consider this a reissue, because it was barely released after being recorded in 1999. The short-lived MP3.com put it out on CD with limited artwork (only the cover) and it sounded pretty terrible. So it is exciting to hear these songs as they were meant to be heard now two decades later. Hoping for more Rose Blossom Punch and Aaron Sprinkle solo reissues.

5. Stavesacre- Speakeasy
Original release: 1999
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California
(see on my Instagram)


6. Starflyer 59- Gold
Original release: 1995
Hometown: Riverside, California
(see on my Instagram)

7. Beloved- Failure On
Original release: 2003
Hometown: Kernersville, North Carolina

8. Thrice- Red Sky EP
Original release: 2006
Hometown: Irvine, California 

9. Mindy Smith- One Moment More
Original release: 2004
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
(see on my Instagram)





Best album initially released in 2014 but formally and widely released in 2019:

Luxury- Trophies
Original release: 2014 (My #1 album of 2014) Hometown: Toccoa, Georgia
Format purchased: Vinyl through Kickstarter (see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
(see on my Instagram)



Top 20 songs of the year (that are available on Bandcamp)

(The only way to create Bandcamp playlists right now is through Playmoss--
which works great in the web broswer-- but avoid the app.)

July 2, 2019

Best of 2019 at the midpoint and a 15 song playlist

NPR's best songs and albums of 2019 thus far reminded me that I have a blog. :) Wish I had more time to post and write, but not in the cards at this stage of life. Still listening to music a ton of course, and if you desire more frequent updates check out my Instagram feed as I post pictures of albums and comment on them there. Here is my most recent post:



View this post on Instagram

A post shared by AP (@turnofftheradio1976) on

(To add a little twist since I'm not going to comment in detail, I'll add the year I began listening to each of these artists.)

So that leads me into my top 10 LPs through the first six months of 2019:
1. The Appleseed Cast- The Fleeting Light of Impermanence
Since 1998
2. Better Oblivion Community Center- Better Oblivion Community Center (Instagram)
Since 2019
3. Charly Bliss- Young Enough (Instagram)
Since 2017
4. Hatchie- Keepsake (Instagram)
Since 2017
5. Starflyer 59- Young in my Head (Instagram)
Since 1993
6. Pedro the Lion- Phoenix (Instagram)
Since 1997
7. The Cranberries- In the End (Instagram)
Since 1994
8. Haybaby- They Get There (Instagram)
Since 2019
9. Over the Rhine- Love & Revelation (Instagram)
Since 1994
10. Patty Griffin- Patty Griffin
Since 2004


Top 5 EPs of 2019:
1. Mineral- One Day When We are Young (Instagram)
Since 1996
2. Caracara- Better (Instagram)
Since 2019
3. Middle Kids- New Songs for Old Problems (Instagram)
Since 2018
4. Thrice- Deeper Wells (Instagram)
Since 2002
5. Rose Blossom Punch- Sorry to Disappoint You (Instagram)
Since 1995

April 15, 2019

Record Store Day 2019


So, another Record Store Day. The international event that--in theory--celebrates the music and hobby I love. I can't help feel conflicted about it though, because while it does achieve its primary goal--getting people to shop at independent record stores--it is clearly flawed and has some upsetting outcomes. Is it more good or bad? Is it worth it?



As you can see from my Instagram post yesterday, I went, and got what I wanted, the new Record Store Day Exclusive Thrice EP. Keeping this very simple: the EP is excellent and it is four new songs from one of my favorite bands. I posed some questions in that post though that I will now explore in depth.

Village Vinyl experience

I'll start with my personal experience; I went to Village Vinyl in Warren, Michigan--a suburb of Detroit. This was my second Detroit Record Store Day, but last year I went in the afternoon and was not in search of exclusives.

This time around I was seeking to avoid the lines and chaos of the more popular downtown Detroit stores, and I picked Village Vinyl because they replied the quickest and the most thoroughly to my questions about what they might carry.

Despite every attempt from Village Vinyl to give a great experience, it was not (at least not for me). Some of this was their own fault, but much of it had nothing to do with the store itself.

Let's start by what Village Vinyl did well:
-Great communication in advance
-Free donuts and coffee while people waited in line
-Radio station was present and doing ticket giveaways
-Lots of staff keeping everything organized and moving
-Free stuff including koozie and fun poster (as seen above)

However, I will never visit Village Vinyl on Record Store Day again because of one huge problem that is not necessarily their fault: the incredibly small size of their store. So small they only let 15 or so people shop inside at a time.


I arrived at 7:55 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. opening. I had no problems knowing there would be people who had lined up before me that would gain first access to the hundreds of Record Store Day exclusive releases I was uninterested in. However, I assumed incorrectly I would personally get in the door before 8:15 a.m. I also assumed incorrectly I would be able to browse their store, which is my favorite part of visiting record stores.

I had a personal budget of $30 for the day, about half of which I planned to spend on the the the Thrice EP. With the other half of my budget I hoped to get some fun used records (which take time to find).

Well, by 8:15, I had not moved in line. There was a quick rush in at 8:00 in which they let some people in, but for the next hour, they only let 2-3 people in every 5 minutes. I really couldn't figure out what was going on until I heard chatter about how small the store was; turns out it was about the size of my bedroom.

I finally gained entry to the store at 9:05 or so. At that point I hoped to spend 30 minutes in the store, grabbing a copy of the Thrice EP I hoped was left, and then browsing the racks. However, within seconds of being allowed entry in to the store, I discovered the problem. The methodical line continued into the store and was set up so that everyone had to browse and follow the alphabetical Record Store Day exclusive crates.

I could see the crate I wanted to access, the one that started with the "S" releases, and I asked an employee if I could cross the store to it and attempt to snag the Thrice EP. However, he told me "no", that I would have to wait in line, and was free to browse the non-exclusive inventory they had. Well, that was pretty much impossible because the only crates within my reach were genres I had no interest in. So here I was, in the store, and unable to shop, because most of the people ahead of me were browsing through EVERY SINGLE RSD EXCLUSIVE.

This led to an interesting observation: most of the people there ahead of me had significantly larger budgets than me. The demographic was diverse, men and women ages 15 to 70. But what they had in common is that most of them purchased at least 10 if not 20 albums. During the hour I waited to go in the store, I watched person after person exit the store with at least one if not multiple bags and large stacks of records.

I wasn't jealous (well, maybe a little jealous) but I did have questions. One question I kept thinking was, "I wonder how many copies of the Thrice EP there were and I wonder if there are any left?" But the final question I had, and that I'll conclude this post with, is "how many of those records are they going to sell online?"

After 15 minutes in the store, and having only moved up 3-4 spots in line, I finally called up to someone near that crate that began with "S" and asked them if they wouldn't mind seeing if the Thrice EP was there. Thankfully they found it and passed it back to me. And then I practically had to ask permission to check out, because by me paying and leaving I was circumventing the system they had in place. By this point I had no energy or desire to try to seek out interesting used records. Plus, there were people on the sidewalk still waiting to get in, and if I were to browse, it meant they had to wait longer.

Thankfully I got out and got home with 15 minutes to spare before my daughter's soccer game. Sadly, the shopping experience was totally lost. There was no opportunity to browse, and no opportunity to move around the store.

How many people in front of me in line could have come and go so much quicker had they not been sent into a line and system that required either browsing all the exclusives, or at least waiting for the people ahead of you to browse them? This was so unlike any Record Store Day experience I have had before. Lines outside of stores? Of course? But inside? Never again.

Thrice

Centered around this entire experience was my plan and desire to buy the Thrice "Deeper Wells" EP. I am a huge Thrice fan, and my Thrice vinyl collection is important to me.



Buying a one-sided LP with four new songs and an etching was appealing and exciting. I would have preferred to preorder it online, but thankfully I had the time and opportunity to go to a store (unlike many fans). But the main reason I went to the store was because I feared if I didn't go to try to buy the EP there would be two possible outcomes: either I wouldn't get the EP or I would have to pay an obscene price for it.

What I paid for it: $16.99

eBay and Discogs screenshots Saturday and Sunday (note these are asking prices, not actually sold prices):





Not really much to say about that, except a whole lot of people that bought the Thrice EP Saturday weren't Thrice fans. And a whole lot of Thrice fans who couldn't go to Record Store Day have a difficult decision to make. I am not sure if 4000 copies truly makes it "rare"; so maybe/hopefully the online resale price will drop radically this week.

If those examples aren't bad enough, here is the worst of all. Members of Thrice signing the EP for fans yesterday:
From the Thrice Facebook page
And one of those fans posting it on eBay:

Hopefully it doesn't sell, but that doesn't excuse the listing.

Flipping

Finally, this brings me back to the other question I posed as I saw people leave Village Vinyl with mounds of records. How many of those records are now for sale online? Well, locally, obviously I have no idea. But check out this user on Discogs, who has at least fifteen 2019 Record Store Day exclusives for sale online, most at 400-500% price markup. Screenshots from Saturday and Sunday:


(Two copies of the Thrice EP for sale; thankfully Village Vinyl had a limit of 1 exclusive per person)
Should I envy this person for taking advantage of a flawed system and turning into a business opportunity? Or should I get upset because this is unethical (is it?)?

If one does research and waits in line (at maybe more than one store), do they have the right to sell for whatever they want? Is pricing $15 albums for $75 the same day that you buy them wrong? Is the the buyer's responsibility not to overpay for an album? Or is the the seller's responsibility to price items fairly?

Have I ever sold an album for more than I bought it for? Yes, but only after the album(s) had aged a few years. For example, I bought Fiona Apple's most recent album new in 2012 for $20, and then sold it in 2018 for $120. Is my situation the same or different than Record Store Day flips?

What Can Be Done?

For Village Vinyl, probably not much. Larger store would help, but otherwise they might be stuck. Letting people exit line once inside the store would be nice, or maybe pull some product outside onto the sidewalk if it is a nice day.

But for the industry? There needs to be change. Back to my original questions from my Instagram post: Is this good for musicians? I would assume so; for Thrice specifically there is obviously a lot of excitement surrounding new tunes. However, I do know some indie bands suffer trying to get their albums pressed because the vinyl pressing plants are all clogged up cranking out all these Record Store Day exclusives, many of which are crap.

Is this good for stores? That is hard to say. I might reach out to a good friend who works for one to get some data. It brings people into their stores, but how much profit are they really making on that day? They have to purchase all these exclusive releases (some of which sell out, but many of which stay on shelves for years and eventually hit discount bins), and pay tons of staff to work to manage the crowds. My assumption is that it only benefits stores if people who come in on Record Store Day return and shop on random days for the rest of the year.

Nothing is going to prevent people from selling records and whatever else on eBay for inflated prices. But could a site like Discogs take a stand and not allow Record Store Day purchases the first weekend? Most of these releases, which seem rare if you couldn't get to a store, were actually pressed in incredibly large numbers. So if you give stores and online retailers time, they will begin to get listed at reasonable prices. For example, the Thrice EP can now thankfully be found on Discogs and other sites for $20.00 or so.

Hopefully you had a good Record Store Day experience; and if so, I'd love to hear about it!