Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Music #1: Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle - Perils from the Sea

In 2003, in the series of posts that kicked off this blog's existence, one of my top-rated albums was by an artist who was a new discovery for me.

I knew of Red House Painters, and would later become a fan of most everything by Mark Kozelek, but it was Sun Kil Moon's debut, Ghosts of the Great Highway, that was my starting point. 

That record is still the finest Sun Kil Moon's ever released, and perhaps is a better album than the two I ranked higher, but ten years later, Kozelek has finally made something worthy of the anticipation Ghosts stirred in me. 

Earlier this year, I referred to this collaboration between Kozelek and The Album Leaf's Jimmy LaValle as Postal Service for the older music fan. I think I really meant to call it Postal Service for those who like somber music. 

Perhaps that odd comparison only pertains to a few songs, but I think it does a pretty good job of describing the combination of Kozelek's sometimes dark, and always introspective, folksiness and LaValle's understated brand of electro-pop.

I've seen this album on only one critical year-end list (and one friend's list), so you might not be able to trust my unique opinion that this is the best album of the year, but if "Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails" doesn't make you want to listen to the rest, then you're dead inside this probably isn't your thing. 

Either way, thanks again for reading, for helping me mark my 10th anniversary, and for being a part of another yearalbeit my least prolific in quite some timeof paying attention to what I have to say.

I hope your 2013 was as good as Mark Kozelek's was professionally (two different collaborations in my top 11), and mine was personally. 

Happy New Year and best of luck in 2014.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year in Music #2:
The National - Trouble Will Find Me

We all deal with our favorite artists making album after album in a similar vein in a different way.

Some of us are left a little dissatisfied and wanting more, not necessarily for them to reinvent themselvesalthough there are some who seem to want this, namely the most snobbish of music criticsbut are probably looking for them to progress in some way. 

Others just want their favorites to remain true to their formula for success, even if it means each album sounds pretty much the same as those that came before it. 

I'm definitely closer to the former camp than the latter. I'm generally looking for something that distinguishes each album as its own entity, but if they're truly one of my favorite artists, my interest won't wane very quickly regardless. 

The National doesn't do anything here they haven't done before, but the thing is, they do it better

That statement is sure to be a bit controversial. I'm not trying to say this is their best albumI'd still probably award that honor to Boxerbut it delivers their best set of plaintive and contemplative songs to date, including the gut-wrenching "Pink Rabbits," an account of seeing an ex-lover that results in the protagonist realizing he's not as over her as he thought, and is perhaps my favorite song of the year of less than ten minutes.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Year in Music #3:
Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Jason Isbell was briefly one of the three main songwriters in the Drive-By Truckers, but just like Mike Cooley, Isbell has never occupied the lofty status in my mind that Patterson Hood does. Until now.

Hood has always been at his best when he's telling a story, and it's Isbell's emergence as a storyteller that has resulted in an album that's as good as the best records in the Truckers' catalog.

There are at least a half dozen gems here, but two of them really stand out. "Elephant" is a tale of one friend's support for another who's dying of cancer, all the while avoiding any discussion of the obvious subject. "Songs That She Sang in the Shower" is the year's second best song about yearning for an ex-lover.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Year in Music #4:
Local Natives - Hummingbird

It's pretty rare that an album gets better and better with each subsequent listen, but that about explains my experience with Local Natives' sophomore effort this year. When I wrote about Hummingbird in my last Frequent Spins entry, I acknowledged that I wasn't completely sold on it.

But grow on me it did...and then some. This record's combination of progressively uptempo tracks such as "Breakers," "Black Balloons" and "Wooly Mammoth," and quiet and poignant songs like "Three Months" and "Colombia" make it almost an instant classic, and make Local Natives my favorite musical discovery of 2013.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Music #5:
Yo La Tengo - Fade

This January release was the year's earliest contender for the top spot. It remained there for about three months, but was eventually overtaken by four albums, three of which just as easily could've been #1. But, we'll get to that later.

Yo La Tengo is one of those bands I've always had a great deal of respect for, and whose music I've appreciated, but by whom there's never been an album I've loved until now. 

Earlier this year, I called this record Yo La Tengo's Luna phase, while the less accessible parts of their back catalog was their Galaxie 500 period. I'm standing by that assessment, and here's the best evidence. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Year in Music #6:
Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium

Since much of this year's countdown is a celebration of the blog's 10 years of existence, I don't mind repeating myself by saying Okkervil River's latest is excellent, but it's no Black Sheep Boy.

I'm pretty sure I've said that for every Okkervil album since 2005. But, then again, judging by how I felt about that album, it's pretty safe to say they'll never match it.

Okkervil River is one of two bands in this year's  top ten who have been here before. Actually, there are also three singersVolcano Choir's Justin Vernon being onewho have appeared in my top ten before, but with other bands.

The Silver Gymnasium is a nostalgic record, and oh do you know how I love nostalgia. On this effort, I particularly love when Will Sheff waxes "Tell me about the greatest show, or the greatest movie you know, or the greatest song that you taped off the radio. Play it again and again, it cuts off at the ending, though" on the album's best track "Down Down the Deep River."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Year in Music #7:
Volcano Choir - Repave

Despite seeming to be a side project of Bon Iver front-man Justin Vernon, the formation of Volcano Choir actually predates the former. But, it was Bon Iver's success that brought attention to this band, and certainly is the reason it even found its way on my radar.

Volcano Choir is a fitting name, as the album alternates between quiet, understated moments and sprawling, muscular hook-laden parts. The latter qualities are perhaps intended to represent eruptions, but to me, they're what separates this project from Vernon's main gig, although his folky but soulful voice still unmistakably links the two bands he's most known for.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Year in Music #8:
The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow's modern take on Americanaor "Brooklyn country music," as the band likes to call it, even if they're all transplanted southernersdelivers the year's highest ranking debut album.

Ever since alt-country's heyday in the late '90s (OK, maybe for me it lasted until the early '00s), I've found it takes something really special from the genre to make a big enough impact on me. 

Needless to say, this is a pretty special album. Most of the songs were written while lead singer Zach Williams' wife was recovering from a car accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. 

Perhaps that explains songs with titles such as "Two Sides of Lonely," "You Never Need Nobody" and "You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional." But, one of my personal favorites, "Bleeding Out," seems to be more about making it in the big city. Even still, there's at least a hint of the pain and hope for redemption that define the rest of the album.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Year in Music #9:
Haim - Days Are Gone

Yes, two consecutive sister acts to kick off my top ten. Given that Haim are a trio, and Tegan and Sara just a duo, if you can think of a band which includes four sisters, you've got a pretty good guess as to who #8 is.

I've read quite a few comparisons of this band to Wilson Phillips, and while these songs are lot less cheesy than "Hold On," there's definitely an '80s-'90s girl-group thing going on here.

Of course, since this is my #9 album of the year, I don't mean that in a bad way at all. Even if the idea of a modern and kind of hip interpretation of that genre doesn't sound interesting to you, I dare you to listen to songs like "Falling," "Honey and I," "Running if You Call My Name" and "The Wire" (below) and tell me they're not infectious.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Year in Music #10:
Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

10 years ago today, in this blog's first entry, I wrote about the fact that Ryan Adams didn't appear in my top ten for the second year in a row. Of course, this was only notable because Adams (solo and with Whiskeytown) had charted two #1s and a #2 the previous five years. But, the detail that really linked that post to this one was my reference to Adams as a "former alt-country poser/heartthrob."

On that note, I'll begin this 10-day celebration of the blog's tenth anniversary by referencing a good friend's philosophy about guilty pleasures. She doesn't believe in them, because she feels people should embrace the things they love, without reservation. Sorry, I can't find the exact quote, but that about sums it up.

I might otherwise have included Heartthrob in that category. I mean, it's hardly The Best of England Dan & John Ford Coley, but considering it's their first album on which they plunge full-force into the pop mainstream, and the first that really made an impression on me, I really have to remain true to my convictions to include in my top ten.

And let me make one thing clear. By pop mainstream, we're talking Adele and Katy Perry territory here—actually, I know so little about the genre, I'm not really sure if this is the right comparison point—as opposed to Beatles-inspired pop rock.

Rock snobs absolutely hate this album. Well, at least one rock snob—who happens to be my other half in AfroDan Progressive Brewers—I know does. Some folks just don't have it in them to embrace what I might otherwise have called a guilty pleasure.

But, of course, you can decide for yourself by checking out one of my favorite songs of the year:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: The Year in Music

After extensive discussions with one of my Twitter pals, I've decided to go with a different title from what I've used in the past for this year-end countdown of my favorite albums.

Although I've always gone out of my way to make clear this is not a critical list, but rather a recounting of my personal favorites, I don't think calling it "Best Music of 2013" does justice to my real motivation here. Sure, I'm hoping some friends and readers (not that these terms are mutually exclusive) will find a few recommendations that work for them, but ultimately my purpose is to share the music that made an impact on me, and in some cases, defined my year. 

As you know if you visited last month, December 22 marks the 10th anniversary of this blog. To celebrate the occasion, that will also be the day my top ten countdown begins, just as it did in 2003.

That was almost five years before I met KJ and nearly eight years prior to the day LC was born. Needless to say, my life has changed considerably for the better in the meantime. I like to think this blog helped me get through some times I was less happy than I am now, so if you've been a reader here, you're at least a small part of that. Thank you. 

OK then...let's move on, since I'm sure you clicked this link to read about music anyway. 

As I said previously, this year the emphasis is on the top ten, and since it's not yet December 22, you'll have to wait a few more days for that. But, there were more than ten albums I really enjoyed this year, so without further ado, here's the rest of the list:

21. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

20. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

19. Night Beds - Country Sleep

18. Califone - Stitches

17. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

16. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe

15. Eleanor Friedberger - Personal Record

14. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

13. Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand

12. Holopaw - Academy Songs, Volume 1

11. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore - s/t

Why a top #21, you ask? The answer is simply that last year I decided not to worry about round numbers, but instead to recognize the number of albums that I really enjoyed. After that, we start to venture into "pretty good" territory, and that's just not what this list is all about.

Stay tuned for the top ten.