Top 50 Music List of 2013, Mixtape 3

January 2, 2014 at 5:54 pm (Best-of lists, Music Mixes)


Down the stretch comes the final mixtape of the best music of 2013! Click away.

1. It Hugs Back, “Sa-Sa-Sa-Sails”

The first time I heard this song–which opens IHB’s 2013 album Recommended Record–it felt like a year-old lab puppy had just jumped into my lap and smothered me with affection, totally unaware of its own gloriously clumsy and over-the-top power. This song is a tidal wave of awesome.

2. The Men “Without A Face”

Obviously wearing a Neil Young influence elsewhere on their album New Moon, this particular song sports that influence a bit while still nicely recalling their noisier previous efforts.

3. Emiliana Torrini, “Speed Of Dark”

This is here because Glenn Boothe tweeted about how good her record was last week, and I’ve been listening in a fairly obsessive endless loop since. Slinky and dark and sleek yet not without some rough edges, this Icelandic singer/songwriter album Tookah would be a for sure entrance in a year end top ten albums list, if I still did such things.

4. Superchunk, “Trees Of Barcelona”

Don’t call it a comeback. Superchunk’s second record after a hiatus continues the standards of excellence they’ve always had. One thing that people who write about Superchunk never seem to play up enough to my mind is just how well-built your typical Superchunk song is. This track, for instance is a genius exemplar of how you put verses, choruses, vocal clusters, bridges, and fadeouts together into a near-perfect whole.

5. Temples, “Keep In The Dark”

Here in America we try, we really do. American bands try hard to look like rock stars before they’ve sold a record, try hard to get that 70s feel just right…but we’ve never, not ever done that as well as the Brits. Take Temples, for example, with the Bolan curls and gold lame pants and leather shirts…THESE guys are rock stars. This is a teaser single for a 2014 album that looks like it’ll be an absolute monster. Even better, it deserves to be. This is how you write a fantastic pop single. Dig those harps!

6. Guided By Voices, “Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)”

Well, WELCOME BACK, TOBIN SPROUT! Holy crap, what a song this is. You know how cool and lush and amazing the song that ends the first GBV album ever–“Captains Dead”–sounds? This is that, again, and it feels like some amazing transmission from an alternate guitar rock universe. I know a lot of folks who were stoked that the old GBV lineup were recording again. This is why.  From the album English Little League,

7. Leisure Society, “All I Have Seen”

Let’s put something to rest: The Leisure Society aren’t a folk band. On their 2013 album, Alone Before The Ark, they both pare down their instrumentation a bit while filling out their sound. It’s a rock record with forays into folk, punk (no really!), and even–like here–a bit of blue-eyed soul. Wanna know why they’re Ray Davies’ favorite band? Give this a listen and then ask yourself if any other band could pull off a song this graceful, soulful, muscular and yet delicate.

8. Euros Childs, “Holiday From Myself”

No idea what it is, but something about Euros’s beautiful, winsome voice makes me instantly nostalgic and happy. It conveys a sense of longing and whimsy and sadness somehow all rolled into one. This is music the adjective “lovely” was created to describe. From the 2013 album Situation Comedy, website is here:

9. Mikal Cronin, “Shout It Out”

We live in wonderful times, times where a beautifully constructed hook like the one here captures the hearts of hipsters and cranky old men like me alike. Mikal Cronin at this point in his career seems to be tapping into a talent without boundaries. This song, from the sort of latin-guitar opening to the handclaps and noise closing, is just amazing. From the album MCII, available here:

10. The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries, “She’s A Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven)”

Not sure what’s more amazing, the song title (which is clearly the song title of the year) or that the music actually lives up to it. This has a bit of a 90s indie noise punch married to a postpunk whirr of guitars and bass and a song that totally succeeds at making that title pay off. From the 2013 album Mass. Grave, check it here:

11. Eleanor Friedberger, “Stare At The Sun”

The excellence of her solo album, Personal Record, has me thinking about going back to listen to Fiery Furnaces and seeing if that band retcons. There’s none of the affected preciousness I’ve always associated with FF here, just a meaty, wonderfully executed song and album. Check it here:

12. Polvo, “Light Raking”

How great is this song? I mean it comes off sounding like the most pop thing Polvo’s ever done…and then after that first chorus they remind us “Hey, you’re listening Polvo, cheese.” Love the way this songs subverts expectations constanstly throughout, with those Don Henley synths on the chorus to the way they deconstruct and rebuild it all again. From the 2013 album Siberia, check it here:

13. Brendan Benson, “Oh My Love”

Benson’s consistency became almost (don’t tell anyone I said this) dull in the past few years. In 2013, he released a single each month, and the unique approach seems to have fueled a new creative spark in his work. This song is like a swaying, swinging Pachelbel’s Canon with clever lyrics and brilliant execution. Benson collected all his 2013 singles onto an album at year’s end called You Were Right. Check it out here:

14. The Parquet Courts, “Borrowed Time”

Yes, I know. You’ve heard this song dozens of times over the last year. So what? When a group of young NYC area rockers gets together and perfectly distills the things I loved so much 20 years ago in Big Dipper and Hypnolovewheel and this time the whole world notices…well we’re taking that for a victory lap here.

15. Dragoon, “Be In My Movie”

After waiting for a couple of years for the first Dragoon album, this one just sort of seemed to spontaneously appear last winter. Astonishingly, the album–The Galaxy Is But A Nursery–is better than the debut. This song is emblematic–loud, raucous, hook-filled, and clever. Check it out:

16. Franz Ferdinand, “Right Action”

We promised you hits, hits you get. Yes, this song is all over cooler radio stations–but with good reason. This is how you write an outstanding, butt-shaking, anthemic post punk anthem…and we’ll ignore that it completely rips off That Petrol Emotions “Big Decision” for now.

17. My Bloody Valentine, “In Another Way”

Of all the tracks on My Bloody Valentine’s surprising return to the land of the living sort of self-title album MBV, none sounded so much like a continuation of themes from Loveless than this track. Interestingly though, this song also best shows the way to a future MBV sound and future records, if they feel like it. A beautiful, sensual assault.

18. The Elephant Stone, “The Sacred Sound”

The Elephant Stone’s self-titled 2013 album might be one of the best two or three records that came out in 2013, and what makes it striking is how often it both hews close to a formula before then breaking away from such constraints. For instance, this song is all feedback and noise that gives way to woozy strings and Rishi Dhir’s echoed voice closing out our look at the past year with one of the most gorgeous songs that came out in the last 12 months.

That’s it, we’re done! Thanks for reading or listening or tolerating. Have a lovely 2014, y’all.

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Top 50 Music List of 2013, Mixtape 1!

December 31, 2013 at 1:16 pm (Best-of lists, Music Mixes)


Grab the mix by clicking this text, and then let’s get to the Devil’s Music.

1. The Future Of the Left, “Singing Of The Bonesaws”

This song made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it. Like early Art Brut, only crankier. Taken from their album How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident. Band webpage here:

2. Mazes, “Hayfever Wristband”

I just discovered Mazes this past year, and all their records are outstanding. I like this song for especially feeling sorta like what you’d get if Michael Quercio of the Three O’Clock was the lead singer of the Volcano Suns. From their album Better Ghosts. Band webpage here:

3. Dutch Barn, “Come Down”

If there’s a trend to 2013 I stand firmly in favor of, it’s a return to the amazing music and style of the 1990’s. Dutch Barn are a UK band who totally nail a sound that feels like late-period Feelies covering Pale Saints. This is a great song to drive/play air drums to as well, just saying. Band website here:

4. Mark Mulcahy, “She Makes The World Turn Backwards”

Mulcahy was the leader of the great 1980s band Miracle Legion. The tragic loss of his wife a few years back seems to have pushed him back to making music, and his 2013 record Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You might be the best thing he’s ever done, which is saying something. Website here:

5. Youth Lagoon, “Mute”

There are some Youth Lagoon songs that don’t do much for me, but on this track when the that weird synthy fanfare kicks in (is that a mellotron?) it’s so woozy and swoony that it makes my heart catch. From the evocatively titled album Wondrous Bughouse, webpage here:

6. Sam Phillips, “Pretty Timebomb”

Every few years Sam Phillips makes an album, and since divorcing herself literally and figuratively from the over-blandness of former husband T-Bone Burnett’s production, her records are unfailingly interesting and excellent. From her latest album, Push Any Button. Her web site is here:

7. British Sea Power, “Guillemot Girls”

I’ve always liked the idea of this UK band more than I’ve liked their records, but in 2013 they did the soundtrack to a film called From The Sea To The Land Beyond and it all just clicked perfectly. The album has the same title as the film, the webpage is here:

8. Sweet Apple “I Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)”

Sweet Apple is the collaboration of some old school indie vets, notably John Petkovic of Cobra Verde and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.  Their previous record was a bit hit or miss, but this single, a preview track from a forthcoming 2014 album, is one of the best songs I heard all year. Just a brilliant job of pop song craftsmanship, where everything is just PERFECT…including the guest duet vocal from Mark Lanegan. Band Website (with the single) is here:

9. The Resonars “Tomorrow Gears”

God bless Matt Rendon and his band The Resonars. As you can tell by listening, The Resonars live in a world where The Creation, The Action, and The Move still rule and 1967 loops back on itself again and again. From their excellent 2013 album Crummy Desert Sound (one of my favorite album titles in recent memory, that.) Available here:

10. The Limiñanas, “La Meloncolie”

A great Francopop cut of sheer Gainsbourg-ian genius, this is the slinky seductive catsuit beat you’ve been looking for. From the album Costa Brava, website here:

11. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Secret Xtians”

As great as UMO’s debut album was, the follow-up seemed destined to disappoint. It’s actually very solid, and this track rules. The record is called II, and the band’s site is here:

12. Ex Cops “You Are Lion I Am Lamb”

The teaser singles for this NY-area dreampop band in 2012 hinted at great promise, and their January record delivered. This is one of the most gorgeous hooks of the year, period. Don’t trust Spotify’s year date on this, it’s 2013, from the outstanding album True Hallucinations. Trust me on this. Web page is here:

13. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, “Nightwater Girlfriend”

Every year it feels like SSLYBY puts out a great record that deserves to be a hit. These folks from my old home state of Missouri are just amazingly, consistently excellent. Dig the way they sway and swing the beat here halfway through. From the 2013 album Fly By Wire, the band page is here:

14. Minor Alps, “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands”

2013’s “Had me at hello” moment was finding out that this band was a collaborative project of Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws (of the excellent Nada Surf). All over this record I kept feeling like “They should’ve done this years ago”, so perfectly do their voices and writing styles blend into a glorious whole. From their album Get There, here’s hoping they do this again. Band’s hub is right here:

15. David Bowie “Valentine’s Day”

A bittersweet discovery, as I’ve not given many latter-day Bowie projects the time of day. Upon the tragic death of Scott Miller, however, I discovered that his favorite record of the year to that point was this astonishing return to form here. And so here it is:  Bowie’s record, The Next Day, really is terrific and has some of his best songs in decades. Website here:

16. Smith Westerns, “Glossed” and “XIII”

I started out loving these Chicago suburb wiseacres, and then I sort of got tired of them equally quickly. Imagine my surprise at discovering their growth and evolution on their 2013 album Soft Will. This track is absolutely gorgeous with a monstrous melodic hook that should’ve made it a massive hit. Better still, “Glossed” flows seamlessly into “XIII” on the record, giving this mix a delirious two-fer to close out the first tape. Band’s website is here:

Tomorrow, Mix Tape 2, which is all Arcade Fire songs in a loop.

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The Very Best Music of 2013. Period.

December 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm (Best-of lists, Music Mixes)

2013 best of

In the past whenever I’ve scraped enough time to do a year-end list of the best music from the previous 12 months, I’ve always presented it with a sort of  genial “Aw shucks-ness”, saying that a particular grouping of songs or albums were just my personal choices for my favorites, but that there were other just-as-worthy lists out there.

Every year I’ve done that, I get the feeling that folks who read my list tousle its hair, cluck it on the chin and say “Aw, that’s a nice list.”

Hell with that.

This year’s list is the definitive list of the best songs representing the best albums and/or artists of 2013. Period. End of story. There’s no equivocating here.  You might see other lists out there, polluted by crappy artists who have no business being under such consideration. For instance, if you put Haim on your list, I at least hope the damn check cleared for you. (As radio fodder/vacuous pop crap, Haim are fine. Wonderful in fact. If they’re in the same list as Kurt Vile, though, you’re trying too hard.) Don’t call this a bias against being popular, either. Some of the best songs of 2013 were exceedingly popular, and they’re represented here.  We got your back, in other words, and yeah, I’m aware that this is one of a gajillion lists of best music of 2013 out there. What I’m saying is this: my list is the one that matters, that won’t fail you, that actually really is the best music of 2013.

So there.

What I did last year I’m doing this year. Instead of blathering on and on and boring everyone with a wall of words, I’m instead doing a mix of the best of the year in songs. What I did was select 50 songs from the year. They’re either the best songs, or the songs I think are most representative of what the album they’re on is about, or are the best way for someone unfamiliar to find their way into an artist or album they might not know. That’s the criteria: outstanding song, representative song, and/or easiest access into the rest of the record or artist.  Most of the time, it’s a mix of all three of those things.

Thus, I have for you the Top 50 of 2013. You know why this Top 50 is better than anyone else’s Top 50? Here’s why: THERE ARE 52 SONGS IN MY TOP 50! Rolling Stone or Pitchfork will give you a Top 20 or Top 100 or whatever…but you know how many records or songs will be in their lists? Yeah, exactly. 100 or 20 or however many they say.  Are they unfamiliar with the concept of a lagniappe? A baker’s dozen? I’m promising 50 songs, but delivering 52. That’s clearly better. Empirically, even.

Even better, with 52 songs, I broke them into 3 separate mixes, each about 60 minutes long. The songs are absolutely positively in no order of quality. Instead, I picked songs out that flow together, and put them in an order that makes for a great listen while, say, you walk from the National Gallery Of Art to the Jefferson Memorial and back to the train station…or drive from Virginia to Vermont to ski and back. There’s an ebb and flow and back and forth here.

What I am going to do here though is live blog listening to the tunes here to tell a bit about why they’re here and why I picked ’em. Nothing huge, just a sentence or two. We’ll do Tape Numero Uno today, Tape #2 tomorrow, and Tape #3 on Thursday.  Let this page be the placeholder for all that, with cross links to the other mixes.

First up, Mix Tape #1!

Mix Tape #2!

Mix Tape #3!

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2012 In Fifty Songs

December 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm (Best-of lists, Music Mixes)


There are many things I am not good at doing.  One of them is telling people how much I appreciate the posting links to videos and songs and whatnot in twitter and facebook posts, or just dropping me a line about something they’ve heard.  What you all may not realize is that I make a point of listening to each and every piece of music I’m hepped to in those ways.  No really, I do!  I figure if someone is moved enough by a song or an artist to post about it that there’s probably something there worth my five minutes to listen to.  I’ve heard a lot of music that didn’t click with me by doing that.  The great thing is, I’ve also heard a lot that did move me.

What this is is a summary of 50 songs from 2012 that moved me enough to want to hear more.  They’ve become representative of my favorite records and artists of 2012.

I could spend days telling you about the music so many of you have told me about this year (in what was a rich and amazing year for great tunes), but instead I’d like to show you.  Better yet, I’ll let you listen to them!

I won’t use the same words and phrases you’re used to hearing from me to say how much I liked certain stuffs in 2012.  Rather, I figured I’d get back to my roots and just do a music mix of my favorite songs and artists from the past year. Been about six or seven years since I’ve done this, but I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.  Additionally, thanks to Spotify,, and Twitter I feel like I heard so much good music by so many great artists in 2012 that trying to pare things down to just 20 records would be an impossible chore.

So what’s all this then?  Let me try to explain.

1. I broke the 50 tracks down into two separate mixes of 25 songs each.  The mixes are interchangeable. I just separated things by how the flow goes. Each one is about 90 minutes. Each is crossfaded and normalized and one big mp3 file. The idea is, listen to all of it or come back to it, do whatever. That said, the object isn’t “Hey, how can I grab these songs?!?!” If you try, you’ll be stuck with the crossfaded bits and bytes from the beginning and end to each song.  Instead of going to that trouble, throw some worthy artists some money, huh?

2. These go in order. That order has nothing to do with chronology or perceived quality. The order is: these mixes need to flow, one song into the next. Each one is autonomous.  There should be a beginning, a middle, a few peaks, a few valleys, and then a wrap up. When you get to the end of one of the mixes, it should feel like you’re at the end, y’know?

3. Finally, thanks are in order: everyone who contributed to the “What are you listening to” 2012 thread at Quarter To Three, anyone who’s ever pm’d me or emailed me with a song or record or artist to listen to, anyone who’s ever posted a music video on my Facebook timeline,  anyone who’s ever DJ’d in a room in Turntable, anyone who’s contributed a record to our Bitches Brew Spotify playlist….THANKS!!!!! This mix is as much all of you, and a tribute to all your good taste, not mine. I just manage to occasionally shut up long enough to listen when someone says that they like a song and then find the time to go see if I like that song, too.

These are the songs I liked off records I liked by artists I liked this year. They’re probably not the “best” of 2012; there’s probably not much crossover in the venn diagram of “stuff I really liked” and “stuff that sits on most critics’ lists”. I didn’t always choose the “best” song off a record I liked, either, necessarily. I picked songs in a lot of cases that I thought were representative of an album I liked a lot, and gave special consideration to songs that fit with a mix better, too. At any rate, I hope y’all will hear a few tunes you like, too!

“50 Smash Hits From 2012!”

Gangnam Style:

  (Right click and “save as”…or just click to stream)
1. Japandroids “The Nights Of Wine And Roses”
2. Ty Segall and White Fence “Easy Ryder”
3. The Brian Jonestown Massacre “Viholliseni Maalla”
4. CaveofswordS “Ghryme”
5. Disappears “Replicate”
6. Weird Dreams “666.66”
7. A. C. Newman “I’m Not Talking”
8. The dB’s “Send Me Something Real”
9. Frank Ocean “Bad Religion”
10.Lee Fields “You’re The Kind Of Girl”
11.The Bamboos (Feat. Tim Rogers) “I Got Burned”
12.Rodriguez “Can’t Get Away”
13.The Dum Dum Girls”Season In Hell”
14.The Human Eyes “Born To Die”
15.Diiv “How Long Have You Known”
16.The Delta Spirit “California”
17.The Blakes “Narwhal”
18.Sharon Van Etten “Serpents”
19.The Cheatahs “The Swan”
20.I Was A King “Indiana”
21.The Mark Lanegan Blues Band “Leviathan”
22.The Cloud Nothings “Wasted Days”
23.Jack White “Hypocritical Kiss”
24.Euros Childs “These Dreams Of You”
25.George Harrison “All Things Must Pass (Demo)”

Call Me Maybe:

1. The Men “Open Your Heart”
2. Ex Cops “The Millionaire”
3. Lotus Plaza “Eveningness”
4. Sinead O’Connor “The Wolf Is Getting Married”
5. The Resonars “Sit Right Down”
6. Snake & Jet’s Amazing Bullit Band “Black Egg”
7. Randy Michael & The Well Dressed Lads “The Face”
8. Sleepy Kitty “Don’t You Start”
9. Toys That Kill “Stye”
10. Giuda “Number 10”
11.Nada Surf “Jules And Jim”
12.Tame Impala “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
13.The Allah Las “Don’t You Forget It”
14.Twelve Thousand Armies “Darling Let’s Breathe”
15.Nude Beach “Some Kinda Love”
16.Redd Kross “Stay Away From Downtown”
17.The Mountain Goats “Cry For Judas”
18.The Amazing “Flashlight”
19.Lightships “Silver And Gold”
20.The Royal Headache “Down The Lane”
21.Bob Mould “The Descent”
22.Richard Hawley “Down In The Woods”
23.Aimee Mann “Soon Enough”
24.Woods “Is It Honest?”
25.Spiritualized “So Long You Pretty Thing”

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Best of 2010, Numbers 10 and 9!

January 4, 2011 at 7:24 am (Best-of lists)

10. Octubre, Todo Se Lo Lleva El Viento

One of the connections I feel like I have to have with a record or band is lyrical; even when the words to songs don’t make sense, the images they evoke can be as important to me as the music they’re set to. So here we are with a band singing in a language where my vocabulary is limited to a $20,000 Pyramid Category of “Things you might ask for in a busy restaurant kitchen”. Since I doubt highly that Murcia-based Octubre have many songs about lemons, lobster, or dish machines, I’m totally at sea here.

The thing is, while I don’t know exactly what Octubre frontman Jose Esteban is singing about…I know what he’s singing about. There’s an earnestness and longing in his voice on “Nada Que Perder” (“Nothing To Lose”) or “Expreso De Media Noche” (“Midnight Express”) that is universal. In other words, I dunno exactly what John Lennon’s singing on the chorus of “Across The Universe” either, but does it matter?

Octubre is well-aided in this fantastic record by a guy who sort of is the guiding light behind the vibrant Murcia rock scene, a fellow who you ought to know named Juan Antonio Ross. Ross had a band of that name with a few records out here in the States back in the day, and a 2-disc retrospective he put out last year in Europe is one of the best guitar-pop listens you’ll ever have. Ross knows shimmery-but-punchy rock guitar pop production like Bo knows football, and his studio touch can’t help but evoke the best moments from Teenage Fanclub’s career. (And I mean really, “Nada Es Imposible” is so Gerry Love it almost hurts.)

In the end analysis, the triumph of Todo So Lo Lleva El Viento (“Everything Is Gone With The Wind”) all belongs to Octubre. Sure, you could have a field day picking out this Oasis riff or that Big Star chord progression…but to the band’s credit they carry off the entire venture with such uninhibited and palpable joy that they soar beyond the sum of such parts ten seconds into the title track that leads off the record. One of the happiest discoveries of 2010 for me, this is. (Oh, and despite the rather exotic nature of it all, surprisingly this wonderful disc can be had digitally from Amazon and iTunes. Huh.)

“Expreso De Media Noche”
“Nada Es Imposible”
Amazing HD live clip of Octubre onstage doing “Nada Que Perder”

9. The Walkmen, Lisbon

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with The Walkmen. I’ve always appreciated their indie ethos, and when they go minimalist and noisy I’ve been greatly affected by their gorgeous and stark melodies. Sadly, when they try to throw on the layers is when they tend to lose me; Hamilton Leithauser’s earnest and always up-front-in-the-mix vocals work so well in the former context, but in the latter he can sound like nothing so much as Bono’s just as insufferable American cousin.

Imagine my surprise at realizing that Lisbon has some of the best uptempo and un-somber rock songs The Walkmen have ever recorded, and that they totally work for my own personal self. Perhaps it’s the way the bright guitar work on songs like “Juveniles” or “Woe Is Me” recalls my favorite moments of Vampire Weekend (indie kid rake fight: which band uses that clean and bright guitar sound first and/or to better effect?), but even when the sound is echo-muted like on “Blue As Your Blood”, it carries The Walkmen into some of the loveliest and most exciting music they’ve ever written.

And Lisbon is by no means a cheerful end-to-end romp. The horns that open “Stranded” give it the feel of an Irish wake as done on Bourbon Street. “While I Shovel The Snow” is even more stark and brittle, a gorgeous little miracle of a song powered by a deceptively simple guitar and Leithauser’s engaging vocal. The album’s closer, the title track, is the Walkmen playing their final ace. “Lisbon” is a 6-minute cinematic and epic closer that builds off both the brighter and accessible feel of the album as a whole, but weds it to some of the most evocative and longing lyrics the Walkmen have written to date.

“Woe Is Me”

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Best Music Of 2010. No, really.

December 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm (Best-of lists, reviews, rock and roll)

My list won’t have The New Pornographers, Grinderman, Spoon, Teenage Fanclub, Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Sharon Jones, Phosphorescent, Wild Nothing, Joanna Newsom, OFF!, or Blood Feathers. All those folks put out terrific music in 2010, and I greatly enjoyed their respective outputs. For whatever reason, there were 20 bits of music that just clicked better with me personally than what those folks put out, so there it is. Enough folks with excellent taste will tell you how good those discs are, and they’re right, and I mention them because I don’t want anyone to think me not including them means I don’t think any of those folks put out the best music of 2010…they probably did…

….but this is my list, so it’ll be subject to my own biases, prejudices, and tastes. It is what it is.

20. The Granite Shore, “Flood Of Fortune” 7-inch (also “Tomorrow Morning, 3 AM” 7-inch).

Lots of years I seem to have an EP that I slot in at 20, not ready to give it full credit as an album but still. This year I went even smaller. The entire recorded output of The Granite Shore–who hail from “The Southwest UK”, Exeter perhaps?–consists of four songs released on two expensively detailed, meticulously, beautifully packaged 7″ vinyl singles (they do digital, too). The band, the vehicle of a fellow named Nick Halliwell, frequently consists of folks from the Wild Swans, as well as Phil Wilson who was once the leader of an incredible 1980’s band called The June Brides. And I’m writing more about The Granite Shore than anything else pretty much in the bottom half of my top 20 for the year because on these four songs Halliwell and his mates have recorded some of the most striking orchestral pop music I’ve heard in…like ever. Let’s just be clear: if you can imagine a band that combines the best bits of The Left Banke, Belle & Sebastian, and then stir in the most inventive moments from the first Decemberists album, you’ll get in the ballpark with The Granite Shore. The “Flood Of Fortune” single (backed with “Highway Code”) consists of a 56-piece string section, for instance. I cheated a bit here: the glorious “Tomorrow Morning, 3AM” single (backed with perhaps the best song in the Granite Shore catalog, “Workhouse”) is actually from 2009…but that sucker’s worth grabbing too. According to Phil Wilson, Halliwell has enough material to record and release an album proper. Let’s hope that happens in 2011. In the meantime, you Decemberist fans get all the hell over this, please?

“Flood Of Fortune”
“Highway Code”

Their Myspace page, where you can hear “Tomorrow, 3AM” and “Workhouse” in their magnificent glory. That page also has a link to their website where you can buy the songs as mp3’s or get the beautifully packaged vinyl or CD singles.

19. Nushu, Hula
At their best, Nushu (which is LA scene vets Lisa Mychols and Hillary Burton) sounds like the great followup album The Breeders never recorded. There are songs here that kind of fall flat (and the second half of the record rather lags a bit as a result), but there’s no denying the greatness of “Another Rainy Weekend” or “So Long (Maybe)” or “Your Girl”.

“Another Rainy Weekend”
Myspace Page, where you can hear “So Long (Maybe)” and other tunes.

18. Dragoon, The Offending Party

The first album from the collaboration between the rhythm section of the legendary indie scuzz rockers The Grifters and Trusty frontman Bobby Matthews has been in the works for years, finally seeing light of day here in 2010. Lo-Fi as grungy as hell and hearkening back to the Crappin You Negative days of The Grifts, I suppose slotting this in at 18 is something of a disappointment. Turns out the songs that Dragoon released for consumption a few years ago (“Impress Me” which opens with the memorable line “We can do this with or without your snide-ass attitude”, “I Can Relate” and the sublime “Golden Hips”) were the best ones in the arsenal, and there are a few songs that just don’t work as well as they could. I also docked them 5 spots for leaving “Impatient” off this disc; that song had an epic feel that seems missing from some of the other songs that did make the cut. Still, you get a chance to hear Stanley Gallimore and Tripp Lamkins rock out and you need to grab it.

Dragoon’s Myspace page

17. The Brought Low, Third Record

These Brooklyn-ites have always brought it heavy…but never quite this southern. In fact when the group throws itself into a groove, guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Howard Smith sounds not a little bit like a long-lost Van Zant brother. The record is a little uneven, but even the lesser parts are made up for by incredible songs like “A Thousand Miles Away”, “Last Man Alive” (which is so beautifully Skynyrd it could be a studio outtake), and the epic “The Kelly Rose”.

“The Kelly Rose”
“Last Man Alive”
“A Thousand Miles Away”

16. The Cyanide Pills, S/T

There are maybe a hundred bands on this planet right now doing a retro-punk thing that recalls the sounds of The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, or The Buzzcocks. The Cyanide Pills are probably the second best of all of them. For one thing, these blokes don’t have to affect fake British accents, as they hail from Leeds in the UK. The Cyanide Pills were a band I completely dismissed the first time I heard them…and then realized that I had “Break It Up” and “Shallow” riffing like crazy through my head. And so what these folks do sounds like it oughta be easy, but I’m not sure it is. They know from a killer hook, and like their obvious influences they strew them all over their 2-minute songs (this, their debut album features 19 songs…and a 40-minute run time.) So yeah, maybe the Cyanide Pills are painting by numbers here…but they’re doing it damn near better than anyone else on the planet, and there’s plenty of reason to think that they might just continue to evolve and have an even more monstrous record in them in the future. For now, turn this up and get to air-guitaring and pogo-ing!

“Making Her Mind Up”
“Break It Up”
“On The Outside”

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Best of 2008, 13-15….

December 10, 2008 at 6:42 pm (Best of 2008, Best-of lists)

15. Why?, Alopecia

Why?, the vehicle for Oakland free spirit Yoni Wolf is the kind of band that drives folks who need their music pigeonholed by genre to distraction. Is what they do rap or hiphop? They record for the avant-hop label Anticon, and Wolf is an inventive if vulgar rhymer…but especially now on Alopecia Why? is essentially a sort of indie rock band, with Wolf mostly singing with a his laconic, John Flansburg-ish nasal voice.

Alopecia definitely presents Why? as a rock band. These are songs that won’t be too unfamiliar to any indie rock fan…and Why? carries it off with deep beats and grooves that wend slyly through the proceedings. The result is a terrific mashup of genres that, while having been tried before, probably haven’t been blended this well since the first Basehead album almost 20 years ago. Things tend to wander around a bit, but Wolf is a wonderful ring master for what could become chaos but doesn’t. He’s right on top of things with his inventive if frequently crude (Wolf can make you squirm) lyrics and wordplay.

The danger for Why? (and frankly, for too many folks on the Anticon label) is getting too tied up in the intellectual/artistic statement part of what they do. What makes Alopecia special is that while it is a wholly-satisfying intellectual work of art, it also just sounds damned good.

“The Vowels, Pt. 2”
“The Hollows”
“These Few Presidents”

14. Skipping Girl Vinegar, Sift The Noise.

If you describe an album as uplifting or ascribe to it the cardinal rock sin of happiness, it evokes a sort of effervescent giddiness, so I want to be careful in how I praise this wonderful, gloriously charming debut from Melbourne’s SGV. Is it a happy record? Well, yes. Sort of. See, it isn’t the “happiness without strings” happy of early Beach Boys. Rather there’s a certain lingering sadness and weariness lingering at the edges of Sift The Noise that seem to evidence that this record–which sounds effortless–probably took years and years and years and years to make. The “happiness” of it is more the happiness of a guy on a life-raft who’s weathered some terrible storms (which he’d rather not talk about, thanks) to finally find rescue.

And so with that in mind, I will state that the title track here is one of the most gloriously ebullient songs you’ll ever hear. SGV tends to veer towards more acoustic material on the rest of the disc, but even there lead singer/songwriter Mark Lang is able to carry things off. What helps immeasurably is his ability to channel a vocal sound not at all unlike a young Peter Case (see “River Road” especially; that song could be an outtake from Case’s first solo album). If the middle of Sift The Noise is quiet and acoustic and pastoral, they find a sweet blue-eyed soul groove again on “Sinking”, before finishing with two lovely songs, “Drove For Miles” and the meditative “The Passing”. SGV won’t change the world, but it might change yours, or at least your mood for a few hours. They’re the kind of band for whom it’s easy to root for, and one hopes the success they’ve found in Australia eventually becomes a worldwide thing.

“One Chance” (Seriously, that could be Peter Case singing…
“Sift The Noise”

13. Novillero, A Little Tradition

Let me get this out of the way first: Novillero’s Aim Right For The Holes In Their Lives, which came out in 2005, was not only my favorite record of that year, it might be my favorite record of the 2000’s. It showed a raucous, gritty side along with an ability to carry off songs with surpassingly brilliant melodies and topical, on-target socio-political lyrics. Waiting three years for a followup probably had me placing unattainable expectations on A Little Tradition. So what do we have here? Well, we have a good disc, one that, if you’re just discovering Novillero, might sound like one of the year’s best. For me it was a bit disappointing, as the Memphis/Muscle Shoals soulful moves of the previous disc seem much more muted here. I could take up this capsule review by talking about what Tradition didn’t do for me, but that wouldn’t be the point here.

What it does have, then, are some of the best songs of the year. The one-two punch of “Life In Parentheses” and the title track are wonderful, especially the reggae syncopation of the latter. If things sag a little in the middle, “Plastic Flag” does yeoman work propping them back up. “Paco Rabanne” is a terrific instrumental, and the record closes strong with “The Printed Word (Sucks For Inflection)” and “Far From Too Far”, the latter song possessing one of the great piano hooks Rod Slaughter’s ever written. I’ll be very interested to see how Novillero carries forward. They recently saw their bassist and occasional singer and songwriter Grant Johnson left the group right after after the disc came out. Fellow Winnipegger Rej Ricard from the wonderful Telepathic Butterflies joined Novillero to tour, but I suppose it’s an open question on whether he’ll contribute actively to future recorded output. I’d like to see it, that’s for sure.

“A Little Tradition”
“The Printed Word (Sucks For Inflection)”
“How Far Is Too Far”

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