This was a really strong year for new music. I had to cut more songs than usual, on top of the fact that two of the best records—Sun Kil Moon’s “Benji” and The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” —were unmixable; meaning, I couldn’t find one track from the album that made sense outside of the album. They are both complete works and cutting them up seemed weird. What’s also weird is how the two bands tore into each other in recent months, particularly Mark from Sun Kil Moon. I almost suspect professional wrestling stuntery. Sun Kil Moon’s “Benji” had a powerful impact on me, it was like reading a great novel, and I think many others had a similar experience. It cannot be listened to casually. I highly recommend you give it a listen.
Some themes have emerged for me about these songs: onset of adulthood, childhood beliefs, loss. There is also a bit of a mystical vibe this year. The center track by Woods is off of an album of the same name, “Of Light and Love”. This song has such a positive energy and I find that whole record to be stellar. Same with the Mac Demarco album. That guy is a genius, I swear it. Those are the two best albums of the year (along with the fellas above).
Here we go, each song with video!
1. Spoon- Inside Out
"I don't got time for holy rollers, but then they wash my feet, but I won't be their solider"
This song was off another really strong album by Spoon. They are not the most original band but they have found a way to really work their specific vein of rock.
2. Parquet Courts- Bodies Made Of
"It's my soul, I want to keep it on the inside"
This band surprises in all directions. At first sounding like a rough and tumble post-punk outfit but revealing serious smarts with repeated listens. This isn’t their first album and I need to spend some time on their back catalog. I’m guessing there is gold to be found.
3. Ty Segall- Tall Man Skinny Lady
"Come over here, I think you can try to cure my soul"
I don’t quite buy the hype around Ty or his new double album "Manipulator”. But he has his charms and this is his best (and most focused) record to date (at least of the ones I’ve heard). There are some fun tracks like this one. Aural candy.
4. Sharon Van Etten- Every Time The Sun Comes Up I'm In Trouble
"I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom"
Sharon can sing almost anything and make it sound interesting.
5. Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos- When You're Gone
"When you're gone, I drink tap water and sleep on the couch"
This whole album "Slingshot To Heaven" was really strong. Great to see Richard et al get back to basics.
6. Mac DeMarco- Salad Days
"Remembering things just to tell them 'so long'" "Always feeling tired, smiling when required"
Title track from one of the best albums of the year- and concerts. I caught Mac at Culture Shock in Bloomington and he put on one of the most joyful performances I have seen in years. Every track from this album is great, but this one really speaks to me.
7. Wye Oak- Logic Of Color
"I'm playing a part, again" "Everything that you see, is free. And so is what I made, and so is what I claim to be."
This whole album is wonderfully cryptic. Rumor has it the two bandmates broke up before recording this. It’s hard not to read that into these songs. No one truly speaks directly when the person is still in the room.
8. Steve Malkmus- Lariat
"We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever, talking about the A D D s"
I just can’t resist Malkmus. Seems like his recent reunion tour with Pavement put some wind in his sails. This is his second strong album in three years. Sounds like he is reflecting on the early days of Pavement. But in his usual Malkmusian manner you are left guessing. Which means he might actually be talking about a trip to the mall. This video really takes the nonsequitor nature of his lyrics to the next level by having it translated on the spot into French.
9. Angel Olsen- Forgiven/Forgotten
"I've made up my mind, I've wasted my time, making up my mind"
This is a great album with lots of variety, and this track is a good example. I’m not sure if I agree with the decision the protagonist makes but maybe I’m not supposed to.
10. Woods- Light and Love
"I walk with love"
This song was important to me this year. It seemed to have a specific role, to be instructive, to re-align me or something like that. It is 9:00 long. Just be prepared, it’s a bit of a journey. The guitar solo that comes in and out through the song is one of the most lyrical things I have heard come out of a guitar. It’s so fluid you almost miss it at first. This band has potential to build a serious following and do interesting things.
11. Rogue Wave- I Figured It Out
"You said that I was being selfish, I won't debate what's meant to be”
So good to see Rogue Wave back in fighting shape. This song is a great example of a really strong album. “Dad Rock” as Jorma says. I love me some Dad Rock.
12. Damien Jurado- Silver Timothy
"You can never go home if you are never shown”
I love this track and its elliptical rhythm, but the album disappointed. It strives to be spiritual/mystical and…doesn’t, at least for me. But this song doesn’t fail. You get a glimpse of what he was shooting for here.
13. Real Estate- Crime
“I don’t want to die, lonely and uptight, stay with me, all will be revealed”
Real Estate makes beautiful sounding albums, so at first you can be forgiven for being lulled by the beauty and missing the message. Very honest stuff. This was one of the best of the year.
14. Tweedy- High As Hello
Where has this Jeff Tweedy been?! There is more life on this 18-song double album than anything by Wilco since “A Ghost Is Born”. He made this album with his son Spencer, and in many ways, Spencer is the star. The drumming is great but also fun. Basically they made the record together- father and son. And the album is mostly about his wife “Sukirae”, who was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. I love the “chirping” guitars that bounce around. It makes me wish that Jeff just did this. Nothing against Wilco, fine band, but this album has the energy back.
15. Courtney Barnett- Anonymous Club
“Turn your phone off friend, you’re amongst friends and we don’t need no interruptions”
Can I get an “amen”! I love the scene she paints. “Name badges with question marks”. The double EP is chock-full of good tunes. She is a storyteller and does it well.
16. Caveman- The City
I saw these guys open for Rogue Wave, but I was too busy talking to my buddy Pat (from Rogue Wave) and I simply didn’t pay attention. Fortunately, I saw them again when they opened for Phosphorescent, and was hooked. I’m a sucker for this 80s throwback stuff. The big keyboards, reverb drenched guitars. But in the end it comes down to the songs and the voice. Caveman has both in spades. It’s from 2013 actually, but I didn’t discover it until this year. So I cheated and included it.
17. St Vincent- Prince Johnny
This was the year of St Vincent. Her SNL performance was breathtaking. It was like she introduced a whole new artistic experience. Of course bands have been doing weird stuff for years. But there is something of a new language being written by this one.
18. Steve Gunn- Tommy's Congo
“Never look down on what you need to do"
We end on another mystical note. Steve’s a really respected guitarist. Beyond his impressive dexterity he has composition chops. His guitar pieces are immaculate. This song wanders into a Roky Erickson terrain. A little spooky.
Today's prompt: "Strike up the band – what was the soundtrack to your year? Was it the music you listened to the most? A certain song that kept reappearing, or worse...that you couldn't get away from? Or maybe it wasn't music at all – maybe a podcast, voice, performance, or significant sound played over-and-over. Whatever you heard: we're all ears!"