Best of 2012 – Music January 25, 2013Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, albums, best of 2012, Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, Jack White, Japandroids, Lucero, Mumford & Sons, music, Neil Young, Patterson Hood, Rodriguez
add a comment
I thought I would find the time to write synopses of all the albums I loved last year, but alas, the busyness of everyday life and the sheer amount of required words has made that dream impossible at this time. Instead of my rambling thoughts, I’ll just give you the list and you can look them up and listen as you see fit.
50. Green Day – Uno!, Dos! Tres!
49. JEFF the Brotherhood – Exotic Nights
48. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
47. Cory Branan – MUTT
46. Paul Thorn – What the Hell is Going On?
45. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs
44. Soundgarden – King Animal
43. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
42. Fun. – Some Nights
41. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
40. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
39. Calexico – Algiers
38. Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables
37. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky
36. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
35. The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
34. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
33. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
32. Big Boi – Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
31. Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth
30. Nas – Life is Good
29. Glen Hansard – Rhythm & Repose
28. Cat Power – Sun
27. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
26. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
25. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
24. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
23. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
22. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
21. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu
20. Dr. John – Locked Down
19. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
18. Baroness – Yellow & Green
17. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
16. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
15. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
14. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
13. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
12. Grizzly Bear – Shields
11. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
10. Rodriguez – Searching for Sugar Man
9. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
8. Jack White – Blunderbuss
7. Patterson Hood – Heat Light Rumbles in the Distance
6. Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
5. Mumford & Sons – Babel
4. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
3. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
2. Lucero – Women & Work
1. Bob Dylan – Tempest
Best of 2012 … So Far June 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, best of 2012, Bruce Springsteen, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Cory Branan, Dr. Dog, Dr. John, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, Jay Farrar, Justin Townes Earle, Leonard Cohen, Lucero, music, Neil Young, New Multitudes, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Sharon Van Etten
As the earth nears the halfway point in its annual journey around the sun, it is time we take a look back at the first half of this year, the highlights and triumphs and perhaps disappointments to date in 2012. In my strange little world, music provides the soundtrack and direction for each day, and I am always seeking to bolster my collection and to delve into the minds of artists, whether they are ones I’ve followed for years or upstarts of whom I may have only recently become aware. At my latest count, I’ve listened and paid attention to 35 new albums so far in this calendar year. These are my favorites.
Jay Farrar, Jim James, Will Johnson and Anders Parker – New Multitudes
Super groups are always kind of a crap shoot. I mean, not everybody can be the Avengers. So I approached this collection of unreleased Woody Guthrie material, as interpreted by Jay Farrar (of Son Volt / Uncle Tupelo), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Will Johnson and Anders Parker (both of Centro-Matic), with some trepidation. Fortunately, the group came through with a work that both evokes images of Guthrie’s Dust Bowl-era world and gives a timely statement on today. Jay Farrar has one of my all-time favorite voices and it’s a pure joy to hear him sing lines like “Music is the language of the mind that travels / It carries the key to the laws of time and space.” My favorite tune in the collection, though, is “My Revolutionary Mind,” as sung by Jim James. How can you not like lyrics like: “I need a progressive woman / I need an awfully liberal woman / I need a socially conscious woman / To ease my revolutionary mind.”
Download: “My Revolutionary Mind”, “Hoping Machine”
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden
I first became acquainted with the music of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American old time string band that seamlessly combines elements of folk and bluegrass with hip-hop and other music styles, after their 2010 release Genuine Negro Jig and songs like their spirited cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” so I eagerly awaited their latest release. Once again, the three piece struck gold with their modern take on an old style, successfully transporting the listener to the rural hill country where people young and old gather to make some of the original American music. Banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and an assortment of other instruments combine with an expert skill seemingly at odds with the youthful members of the band.
Download: “Ruby, are You Mad at Your Man?”, “Country Girl”
Dr. Dog – Be the Void
Dr. Dog has been writing and releasing some of the catchiest indie pop in the music world for years, and Be the Void continues in that fun, danceable vein. Having had the opportunity to see them live earlier this year, I can say this latest album captures the sing-a-long energy of their concerts – it’s unavoidable and impossible to dislike. This is music to make you smile, to enjoy life, to revel in the experiences that each day brings. “Lonesome” could make even the coldest, most indifferent listener clap and chant along in unison, while the spacey psychedelia of “These Days” will grab you up and carry you along on a strange and colorful voyage through interstellar regions often left untouched. It’s a fun ride and definitely worth the trip.
Download: “Lonesome,” “These Days”
Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
The 65 year old Ray Wylie Hubbard, perhaps best known for penning “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” has been in the business a long time, lurking just below the radar for more than four decades while influencing untold numbers of Texas singer-songwriters. This latest release shows that the aging outlaw still has quite a bit left in the tank and a seemingly infinite number of pearls of wisdom for following generations. Notable lines abound in songs like “Lazarus” (“At least we ain’t Lazarus / And have to think twice about dyin’) and in “Coricidin Bottle” (“If you ever get to heaven say ‘Woo, thank you!” / If you ever get scared say the 23rd Psalm”). But the highlight of the album comes in the autobiographical “Mother Blues” where Hubbard tells of being a young man who only wanted a “gold plated Les Paul and a stripper girlfriend.” Good stuff.
Download: “Lazarus,” “Mother Blues”
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Americana
Did you ever wonder what it would sound like to hear Neil Young, with his grungy, loud guitar, and unmistakable, nasal voice, singing American standards like “Oh Susannah” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain?” Well, if you did, here is your answer and it’s awesome. This is one of those collections where you can imagine Young sitting around, jamming and saying, “What the hell, let’s record.” He turns American roots music on its head and totally rocks it out, blasting through versions of “Clementine” and “Tom Dula” in ways that you never imagined. Sure, it’s not an album of original music and it doesn’t have the poignancy of his greatest works of long ago or his more recent masterpiece “Le Noise,” but it is a lot of fun. Turn it up loud and enjoy.
Download: Oh Susannah, Jesus’ Chariot (aka “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”)
10. Cory Branan – Mutt
I had heard of Cory Branan before he was name-dropped in a song by one of my favorite bands, Lucero, but it was after that quick reference that I started to pay attention to the work of this great Memphis singer-songwriter. Branan shows a diverse set of influences as he deftly transitions between styles, from the Tom Waits-esque “The Snowman,” to “Bad Man,” with its E Street Band piano riff and vocal styling of Tom Petty, the Mellencamp-like summer jam “Circa Summer 80 Somethin,” (with one of the best lines of year “You were dancing barefoot on the picnic table and dammit girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn”). The centerpiece of the album, though, is the great “Survivor Blues,” a tune that takes a darker look at the “Born to Run,” escapist mythology, with the refrain of “What didn’t kill you / Will make you wish you died,” ringing out as the stark voice of realism. It’s a very good album from an artist who stands as a musical treasure of this city.
Download: Survivor Blues, Yesterday (Circa Summer 80 Somethin’), Bad Man
9. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
One of the most interesting phenomena that has come to light in the past ten-to-fifteen years is the number of late-career releases from the elder statesmen of the music world, whether it be Johnny Cash’s incredible American Music run, the continued relevance of Bob Dylan, or even the great recent works of Bruce Springsteen (who, at 62, is a mere pup compared to the others), and the 77 year old Leonard Cohen continues in the interesting and poignant trend. Dark and beautiful, Cohen’s unmistakable voice continues to complement his superb songwriting in a way that few artists have ever and will ever match. Contemplating mortality with a wry sense of humor, he kicks off the album speaking in third person, “I love to speak with Leonard / He’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit,” then considering a life nearing its end in the context of a failed romance, he says, “I got no future / I know my days are few / The present’s not that pleasant / Just a lot of things to do / I thought the past would last me / But the darkness got that too.” It’s truly a late-career masterpiece not to be missed.
Download: Going Home, Anyhow, Amen
8. Dr. John – Locked Down
Truth be told, I’d never paid a lot of attention to Dr. John. Sure, I knew Gris-Gris and I knew how important he was to New Orleans music, but for some reason I had never spent much time with his work. But, when I heard that he was releasing an album with Dan Auerbach (singer/guitarist for the Black Keys), I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Turns out, I now see what I’ve been missing. Auerbach injects his sound into Dr. John’s funky voodoo R&B to perfection, turning out one of the best and most fun albums of the year. On this work, the 71 year old music legend displays the dual reality surrounding and affecting humanity since the beginning, the desire for personal pleasure against the hope for something more, the drive to be good. Perhaps this is no truer than in the album closer “God’s Sure Good,” when he says “God been good to me / Better than me to myself.”
Download: Locked Down, Revolution, Big Shot
7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Poignant and beautiful, tender and angry, New Jersey’s Sharon Van Etten has released a true standout album of the first half of 2012. Her voice is one of melancholic beauty, one that at times reminds me of Cat Power, but that is decidedly her own. It will capture you, pull you into her world, a place where wants and desires battle with reality when she sings, “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city / You’re why I’ll need to leave.” Songs like “Leonard” are heartbreaking beautiful with its opening lines of confusion and questioning, “There he goes / He finally closed the door / I turn the lock feeling more confused than before / What gives?” With releases as urgent and wonderful as this, Van Etten will not be flying under the radar for long.
Download: Warsaw, Serpents, Leonard
6. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
I first became acquainted with Heartless Bastards following their 2009 release, The Mountain, and was quickly taken by their classic rock sound and Erika Wennerstrom’s powerful vocals. Arrow takes that formula and adds excellent songwriting to the mix, crafting one of the best albums so far in 2012, one that may stand as a career-defining moment for the band. From the colossal build of the opener “Marathon” (And we all want to belong / To something more than, more than ourselves), to what may be the best song in their repertoire, “Parted Ways” (And the sun went down on this little ghost town / near the valley of the Rio Grande / I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time / to ease my troubled mind), this is truly a great work and one that deserves to be heard. I missed the band when they played Memphis earlier this year, so here’s hoping they have a return trip planned in the near future.
Download: Marathon, Parted Ways, Low Low Low
5. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
In the music business, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to follow in the steps of your father, especially when your father is someone as important to the alt-country world as Steve Earle. And Justin Townes Earle does no doubt struggle with it at times, both the fame and the evils that seem to follow behind it, and you can hear the references to his famous dad in much of his music, including the opening lines of this album, “Hear my father on the radio / Singing take me home again / 300 miles from the Carolina coast / And I’m skin and bones again. / Sometimes I wish that I could get away / Sometimes I wish that he’d just call / Am I that lonely tonight? / I don’t know.” Despite his struggles with substance abuse, JTE has quickly become one of the most important and most prolific acts in the Americana world, releasing five albums, all of them good to excellent, over the course of six years. Earle employs a Stax-style horn section on this album, a curious and welcome trend also seen with a band still to come in this countdown, Lucero. For me, the highlight of the album is “Memphis in the Rain,” a rollicking number that makes you feel as though you really are rolling down the streets of the Bluff City. Now, if only we could get him to play another show here.
Download: Memphis in the Rain, Maria, Down on the Lower East Side
4. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Songs and performances of the Alabama Shakes have been bouncing around on the web for some time, building a huge buzz for this, their debut album. Soon the Athens, Alabama band was opening for personal favorites like Drive-By Truckers, Jack White, and a whole host of other greats, even scoring a gig at Bonnaroo. In a time when Southern music is making a huge grass-roots push, Alabama Shakes have vaulted nearly to the top, becoming relatively well known in a very short amount of time. When soulful singer Brittany Howard sings of herself in the album opener, “Bless my heart / Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old / There must be someone up above / Saying ‘Come on Brittany / You got to come on up,” she does it with such conviction you can’t help but root for her. This is decidedly old school soul, similar to contemporaries like Sharon Jones & the Dapp-Kings, but with a southern flair that oozes authenticity.
Download: Hold On, Hang Loose, You Ain’t Alone
3. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
The Boss is one of those artists who, though past the age of 60, seem to have caught a second wind in their career, putting out some of the best, most relevant and interesting music they have in some time. Following on the heels of the excellent Magic in 2007 and Working on a Dream in 2009, Wrecking Ball had a lot to live up to and fans no doubt wondered where the artist would go from that point. Never one to rest on his laurels, Springsteen took an unforeseen curve and released what many have called his “angriest album yet.” The Boss takes aim at economic justice, landing punches on the financial meltdown and corporations who are seen as making a mockery of the American Dream. In songs like “We Take Care of Our Own,” his words drip with irony as he talks of those left behind and struggling. It’s been called his “Occupy album” and perhaps that is an applicable descriptor as he slams the advantage-taking institutions in songs like “Jack of All Trades” (“The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin / It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again”). “Death to My Hometown” is an Irish-inspired anthem (They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes / They left our bodies on the planks, the vultures picked our bones) that serves as a grave indictment against the powers that be. This album is epic and deserves its rightful spot in the Springsteen canon.
Download: We Take Care of Our Own, Easy Money, Jack of All Trades
2. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Over the past several years there has been no shortage of Jack White music, but ever since the demise of the White Stripes following 2007’s stellar release Icky Thump, he just hasn’t sounded the same. Though much of it was quite good, the spontaneity and urgency seemed to be missing from his music al output with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Well, I’m happy to say that his first solo album, Blunderbuss, is a hugely welcome return to form. It does what White does best: rock. “Sixteen Saltines” and “Love Interruption” sound like they could easily have been included on Elephant, while “Freedom at 21” displays all of the crazy, riff-magic that made White a guitar god. This existence of this album makes me supremely happy and I can only hope that White continues along this same road for some time. I had the chance to see The White Stripes live several years ago and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite shows and the wildly unpredictable Jack White is among the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen.
Download: Sixteen Saltines, Love Interruption, I’m Shakin’
1. Lucero – Women & Work
I had liked Lucero for years, maybe even dating back to before I moved to the Memphis area in 2004, and had seen them a handful of times during that period, but it wasn’t until 2009’s incredible 1372 Overton Park, that I truly came to love the band. Last year alone I had the opportunity to see the band three times, including an epic 3+ hour show at Minglewood Hall just before Christmas when they debuted much of this, their latest studio work. Since that show in December, I’ve had the chance to meet a few of the guys in the band and have conversed with some of them online, further cementing my allegiance to the greatest current band from Memphis. From the first time I listened to it, streaming it online prior to its release, I was completely blown away by Women & Work. Though I love the older Lucero stuff, the “empty bottle and an old country song” greatness, their more recent work has taken a giant step forward, keeping the elements that made them favorites among country-punk fans while incorporating new, and decidedly Memphis, elements. Memphis-style horns were added and the vocals changed to something more full and soulful, as Ben Nichols turned a major corner as a singer. The album begins with two rollicking, upbeat numbers, “On My Way Downtown” and “Women Work,” both of which pull the listener in, setting their feet to tapping and head to bobbing. I think my favorite song on the album is the strange and different crooner, “It May Be Too Late,” which to my ears represents a very interesting and welcome twist to the new Lucero sound. When Ben sings those lines “It may be too late to save me little girl / Called the phone till the numbers wouldn’t dial,” it really hits the listener deep, just like great music should. In “Juniper,” my inner nerd loves the opening line, “She looks like a superhero down on her luck.” The imagery is perfect. My second favorite song is “Sometimes,” with its lonesome (Check out Steve Earle’s distinction between the words lonesome and lonely in his incredible novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive when you get the chance), mournful sound and it’s chorus of “The road from Tennessee, it shakes and rattles to the bone / The hills of Arkansas are filled with haunted lakes and ghosts / Oh, and sometimes I hear them on those lonesome nights / Sometimes they come out of the woods and up to the house.” This has been, by far, my most listened to album of 2012 and I hope you will give it a spin, too. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Download the whole album.
Thoughts? What should I have included/not included?
Lenten Listen #21: Neil Young – Le Noise March 14, 2012Posted by Matt in Lent.
Tags: Le Noise, Lent, Love and War, Neil Young
add a comment
I thought 2010′s Le Noise was a triumph for legendary singer/songwriter Neil Young and many were the times I would listen to it from beginning to end and marvel at his power and passion. It’s a simple album, with most compositions consisting of nothing more than Young and a specially made guitar, and the sparse production fits him perfectly.
One of my favorite songs on the album is the poignant, “Love and War.”
When I sing about love and war
I don’t really know what I’m saying
I’ve been in love and I’ve seen a lot of war
Seen a lot of people praying
They pray to Allah and they pray to the Lord
But mostly they pray about love and war.
The Grammy Awards Get It Right February 14, 2011Posted by Matt in Best of 2010, music.
Tags: Arcade Fire, Bob Dylan, Grammy Awards, Mumford & Sons, Neil Young, Neil Young and Pearl Jam got screwed, Pearl Jam, thanks for reading my blog Grammy Award voters, The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys
add a comment
I haven’t watched the Grammy Awards in years, mostly due to my dismissive attitude towards mainstream pop, and, though last night was no exception to that rule, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see that my favorite album of 2010, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, won the prize. To top things off, I also found out that two of my favorite newer bands, The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, played with none other than the great Bob Dylan.
So, what does this mean? Well, the narcissist in me believes that the Grammy Award voters obviously read my blog. There is no other explanation for some of their choices this year. Just check out 3 of my top 4 albums of 2010, as posted in December:
4. The Black Keys – Brothers
Winner – Best Alternative Music Album
2. Neil Young – Le Noise
Nominated for Best Rock Music Album (lost inexplicably to Muse)
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Winner – Album of the Year
Pearl Jam’s Backspacer, my choice for best album of 2009, was also nominated in the Rock Album category.
The other album in my top 4, Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy, missed the September 30 cutoff date for the year’s award show, but I fully expect him to be nominated for everything next year.
And, if you missed it like I did, check out this link to the video of Dylan, Mumford, and the Avetts before they take it down. You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading, Grammy voters. Feel free to laud praise on my music choices any time.
Best of 2010 – Music Edition (Top Ten) December 21, 2010Posted by Matt in Best of 2010.
Tags: Arcade Fire, Big Boi, drive-by truckers, Kanye West, Neil Young, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, The Black Keys, The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady, The National, Top 10 albums of 2010
add a comment
Over the past two weeks we’ve been looking at my choices for the best music of 2010, beginning with ten honorable mentions, followed by those that I ranked 11-20. Today we continue our list with my top ten albums of 2010. Before we get started, though, here is a quick recap of the albums mentioned in the past entries.
Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
The Whigs – In the Dark
Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig
Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
Magic Kids – Memphis
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Robert Plant – Band of Joy
Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart
20. MGMT – Congratulations
19. Weezer – Hurley
18. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
17. Cee Lo Green – The Ladykiller
16. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song
15. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
14. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
13. Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away
12. The Roots – How I Got Over
11. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
The Top Ten Albums of 2010
10. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – I Learned the Hard Way
Listening to Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings is like stepping into a time machine and emerging in the R&B world of the 1960’s-70’s. The band has been around for nearly 15 years, but I was just introduced to them in 2010 – and let me tell you, it was a wonderful introduction. Combining funky horn-led arrangements with Jones’s outstanding soulful vocals, this is a welcome retro blast for those who enjoy sounds you might hear from Stax or Motown. From broken hearts to hard times on the poor side of town, Jones and her band tear through song after song with a mix of emotion and joy that is impossible not to like. Download: The Game Gets Old, Better Things, Money
9. The National – High Violet
Downbeat and moody, The National make dreary, rainy day music for those who choose to accept or even revel in the dark crevices of life, carrying on the gloomy tradition of late 70’s/80’s post-punk bands like Joy Division and The Cure. Matt Berninger’s rich baritone is the glue that holds these stories together and when he sings, “I live in the city sorrow built,” you believe him and your heart aches for him. The band is in great form on this work, which may be their best yet in a critically lauded career. Though it was released back in May, amid the sunshine and flowers, this is time of year for which it was meant, when the sun goes down early, the temperature drops, and the feelings of isolation and loneliness are magnified. Download: Sorrow, Anyone’s Ghost, Bloodbuzz Ohio
8. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
I first got into The Hold Steady with their 2008 album Stay Positive, my top pick for that year, so my hopes were high for their latest release and they did not disappoint. While I wasn’t that impressed the first time I listened to it, Heaven is Whenever grew on me quickly and by the time I saw them live over the summer it was among my favorites for the year. The album starts with the uncharacteristically slow, almost country music-like The Sweet Part of the City, before kicking into their normal, high-energy, bar band sound, tearing through track after track about the scene, a place characterized by street fights, parties, bars, and townies, but also where the beautiful happens. It’s a place where two music lovers can discover that, “Heaven is whenever we can get together, / Sit down on your floor / And listen to your records.” Download: Barely Breathing, We Can Get Together, Hurricane J
7. Big Boi – Sir Luscious Left Foot
Despite being one of the most talented and influential hip-hop collaborations in history, Outkast has been relatively quiet since their 2006 film project Idlewild, and have not released a proper album since 2004’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, so the first solo release from Big Boi, one half of Outkast, was greatly anticipated by purveyors of intelligent hip-hop. Luscious kicks of with a short, funky intro before kicking into high gear and it quickly becomes apparent that Big Boi is in excellent form. He turns in a performance that reeks of dirty, George Clinton funk, with heaps of soul and old-school, Southern fried hip-hop added in for good measure. The songs are adventurous, inventive, and totally captivating. Now we just need a new Outkast album… Download: Daddy Fat Sax, Shutterbugg, Tangerine
6. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
I’ve been following just about every move of the Drive-By Truckers for nearly a decade, and though there have been some ups and downs, they are still, without a doubt, my favorite band of that time period. This latest release continues in the tradition of telling dark tales of life in Dixie through a three guitar, Southern rock avenue. Where their last release, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, displayed more of a country influence, To-Do is more of a straight-ahead rock album, blasting through tales of death, drugs, and depression with razor sharp lyrics and amps turned to ten. Co-leaders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley sound great, as usual, with Hood’s storytelling abilities at full strength and Cooley’s guitar and one-liners ringing out strong and true. The band touches on real events like the Church of Christ minister murder in Selmer (“That Wig He Made Her Wear”), classic tales of women done wrong (“Drag the Lake Charlie”), and even one that took place in Memphis (“Birthday Boy”). I’ve had the opportunity to see them twice on this tour and I can assure you that the band sounds as great as ever. Download: Drag the Lake Charlie, Birthday Boy, Santa Fe
5. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
I was first introduced to The Gaslight Anthem with their 2008 work, That ’59 Sound, and I quickly became a fan of their style, one that I described as being “like Springsteen fronting The Clash.” Their latest release continues in the same vein, with the band’s Jersey-influenced songs and hard charging guitars taking center stage, yet it may even best that album that I loved so much from two years ago. The Gaslight Anthem should be a huge, household name, but still they toil away in relative obscurity, playing anthems that could fill stadiums in smaller venues to a growing base of fans. If there is any justice in the world, these guys will be huge someday. When vocalist Brian Fallon sings, “While you told me fortunes in American slang,” you hope that those fortunes turn out well for the band. Download: American Slang, Boxer, Bring It On
4. The Black Keys – Brothers
I’ve been a big fan of blues-rock duo The Black Keys for several years and it has been fascinating to watch the evolution of the band beyond their initial blues focus to something that borrows from a number of genres, combining them into a fun, rocking whole. This latest release borrows some style from their last album, the Danger Mouse-produced Attack and Release, and their older, bluesier recordings, while adding in a few new wrinkles, swinging from vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach doing his best Prince impression on “Everlasting Light” to their trademark riffage on “She’s Long Gone,” to the keyboard-dominated “Too Afraid to Love You,” and they have never sounded better. I saw the band in concert a few years ago and the show was incredible, so it is my hope that they will make another stop in Memphis sometime in the near future. If you like good music, you need this album. Download: Next Girl, Tighten Up, She’s Long Gone
3. Kanye West – My Dark Twisted Fantasy
Over the past ten years there is perhaps no artist in rap music, or for that matter music in general, who is more important and timely than Kanye West. Sure, he has a tendency to go off the deep end publically, but all can be forgiven and forgotten by those who allow themselves be lost in his ingenious vision. My Dark Twisted Fantasy is more than just your average hip-hop album, it’s a landmark on par with nearly anything ever produced in the genre. After the underrated minimalism of his last work 808s and Heartbreak, the dense orchestrations present on Fantasy represent a completely new and welcome direction, one that displays rap music as the art form that it can be. The songs are long and powerful, pulling in the listener and not letting go. In the anthemic “Power,” with its tribal chants and King Crimson sampling, ‘Ye makes the prophetic statement “I guess every superhero needs his theme music,” and this is the sound of him finding his. The real gem on this work, though, is the uncomfortably confessional 10 minute opus “Runaway,” where he reveals this really tortured soul, telling the listeners how he’s “so gifted at findin’ what I don’t like the most,” before delving into some of the roughest verbal self-flagellation in recent memory. This is a must-own. Download: Runaway, Power, Monster
2. Neil Young – Le Noise
Though the initial news that Neil Young was collaborating with mega-producer Daniel Lanois was intriguing, it had been years since I heard anything from Young that interested me and I wasn’t putting much stock into this latest work. Then I heard it on NPR and immediately was hooked by both the music and the story behind it. According to reports, Lanois approached the 65 year old legend with a custom built guitar and an idea, a simple project consisting solely of Young, the guitar, and some great production, and this incredible work is the fruit of that partnership. Young sounds great, his voice still in excellent condition and his grungy guitar work reminding us of his widespread influence across the gamut of rock music. The old man still has his finger on the pulse of society, particularly in songs like “Angry World” where he sings, “Some see life as hope eternal / Some see life as a business plan / Some wish some would go to hell’s inferno / For screwing with their life in freedom land,” and in the fantastic, perhaps even career-defining track, “Love and War,” where his acoustic guitar and soft, almost whispery vocals become an ethereal vessel through which a great prophet can speak his message, saying, “When I sing about love and war / I don’t really know what I’m saying. / I’ve been in love and I’ve seen a lot of war / Seen a lot of people praying. / They pray to Allah and they pray to the Lord / But mostly the pray about love and war.” This beautiful and timely piece of societal commentary is indispensable. Download: Love and War, Angry World, Sign of Love
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
The Arcade Fire dealt with some big issues on their first two albums, so on their third, the band turns to another slice of America, the lifeless and endless suburban sprawl. As one of the millions and millions of people living in this area of concrete, strip malls, and cookie cutter houses stretching past the horizon (“Oh this city’s changed so much / Since I was a little child / Pray to God I won’t live to see / The death of everything that’s wild”), this work strikes a chord with me. It’s the land of quiet desperation, of fear and of endless attempts to escape, moving farther and farther away from supposed danger, never settling and always vigilant (“The town’s so strange they built it to change”). In the album opener, “The Suburbs,” vocalist Win Butler laments, “So can you understand / Why I want a daughter while I’m still young? / I want to hold her hand / And show her some beauty / Before all this damage is done.” The band’s targets range from that hopelessly run rat race to the suburban megachurch-dominated religious scene with lyrics like, “You never trust a millionaire / Quoting the sermon on the mount / I used to think I was not like them / But I’m beginning to have my doubts / My doubts about it.” And, of course, there’s always the neverending sprawl (“Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small / Then we can never get away from the sprawl / Living in the sprawl / The dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains / And there’s no end in sight / I need the darkness. Someone please cut the lights!”). This is, without a doubt, my album of the year. It touches deep down in my psyche, for I’ve struggled some time with our decision to live in the suburbs instead of the city, feeling like I don’t belong here, that there is no place here for me. The endless traffic and big box stores and chain restaurants, the fear and hatred and exclusionary tactics go beyond merely bothering me, they hurt me, they scar me, they leave me wanting to escape the clutches of the sprawl.
Yet all is not so terrible, no, everyone does not buy into the stories, not everyone finds themselves destroyed by the “businessmen that drink my blood.” As is true anywhere in any city or suburb or country town that you may find yourself in, there is a reason to go on and it is one that does not involve mcmansions or illusions of safety or churches that look like football stadiums. Friends. Love. Relationships. That is what matters. In the end, you may say as Arcade Fire does, “If I could have it back / All the time we wasted / I’d only waste it again / If I could have it back / You know I would love to waste it again.” Time with the ones you love, even time in which you do nothing at all, is never wasted. The new chapter of my story is a happy one so far, one in which relationships are being built and even if it happens in the endless sprawl, that is okay. The time will not be wasted.
Like I said before, this album really struck a chord with me. It has stuck with me and haunted me ever since I first listened to it. If there is one album you buy this year, make it this one.
Free Music Friday: More Neil Young October 22, 2010Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: Angry World, music video, Neil Young
add a comment
I just can’t get enought of the new Neil Young album. Check out “Angry World” below. Enjoy.
Free Music Friday – Neil Young October 1, 2010Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: Le Noise, Love and War, Neil Young
add a comment
This week marked the release of Neil Young’s remarkable new album, Le Noise, a work composed solely of the man and his guitar and it is truly something great. Check out the song “Love and War.” Here is just a taste of the lyrics:
When I sing about love and war
I don’t really know what I’m sayin’
I been in love and I seen a lot of war
Seen a lot of people prayin’
They pray to Allah and they pray to the Lord
And mostly they pray about love and war.
Ten For Tuesday – Running Songs April 27, 2010Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: Blues Traveler, Bruce Springsteen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Phish, Pink Floyd, running, songs, The Beatles, Tom Petty, top ten, Van Halen
In keeping with the running theme from today’s earlier blog entry, I put together a list of ten songs with the word “run” in the title. These are not necessarily good songs to run along with, but they do include the word and I will add a few of the lyrics pertaining to running. Some of these are from memory and some are from my Ipod, but I’m sure I left a lot of great ones out. Let me know what should be added.
10. Blues Traveler – Run-Around
Why you wanna give me a run-around?
Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up
When all it does is slow me down.
9. Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris – All the Roadrunning
If it’s all for nothing
All the road running has been in vain.
8. The Beatles – Run for Your Life
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl
7. Phish – Run Like an Antelope
Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul
You’ve got to run like an antelope, out of control
6. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Run Through the Jungle
Better run through the jungle,
Whoa, don’t look back
5. Pink Floyd – Run Like Hell
Run, run, run, run
You better run all day
And run all night
4. Tom Petty – Running Down a Dream
I’m running down a dream
That never would come to me
Working on a mystery
Going wherever it leads
Running down a dream
3. Van Halen – Running with the Devil
(Ahh!) Runnin’ with the devil (Ahh-hah! Yeah!)
(Woo-hoo-oo!) Runnin’ with the devil
2. Neil Young – Long May You Run
Long may you run, long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run
1. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run