Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quarterly Report: Albums We Missed Along the Way

Clearing the deck on 2014 continues with a look at some 2014 albums we missed covering along the way. While I'd normally do a First Listen-style recap, the simple reality is that there are just far too many this go 'round to give the proper attention to, so instead, I'm going to split them into a few different buckets. Either way, while we wait for new releases to come back around in the new year, this might be worth some time for you to try something new:

Give these a listen:

* Ages and Ages - Divisionary
* Steve Dawson - Funeral Bonsai Wedding
* God Help the Girl Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (a different feel from the album from a few years ago)
* Quiet Life - Housebroken Man
* Lily and Madeleine - Acoustic Sessions
* Drab - Unicorn EP
* Olivia Jean - Bathroom Love Killings
* Knife Party - Abandon Ship (arguably the best electronic album of the year)
* Hem - The World is Outside

Might be worth a try:

* Hozier - Hozier ("Take Me to Church" is probably the worst song on the album, and the album is a little strange)
* You + Me - Rose Ave.
* Kiesza - Sound of a Woman (does not meet the heights of "Hideaway," still interesting)
* Lily Wood and the Prick - The Fight
* Sleeper Agent - About Last Night
* Diarrhea Planet - Aliens in the Outfield
* Greylag - Greylag
* Ex-Cops - Daggers ("Black Soap" is a great song)
* GRMLN - Soon Away

Consider avoiding:

* Broken Bells - After the Disco
* Colony House - When I Was Younger
* Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas - Secret Evil
* The Barr Brothers - Secret Operator
* Sleaford Mods - Chubbed Up (Sorry Ken, I just don't get it)
* Counting Crows - Somewhere Under Wonderland
* Peaking Lights - Cosmic Logic

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Live Shows: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones & Fishbone, House of Blues, Boston, MA 12/26/14

For what has become an annual trek for me, the day after Christmas I headed into Boston for the 17th Hometown Throwdown put on by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I am pretty much guaranteed to go every year at this point, choosing which date solely based on the openers. This year's winner was Fishbone.

Fishbone opened unbelievably strong, with their first song being "Party at Ground Zero." It's always a bold move to open with your most well known song, but since I have a feeling a good chunk of the crowd was unfamiliar with the ska-punk pioneers, it made sense. They tore into "Ugly" next, followed by "Lyin' Ass Bitch." From there, the show seemed to tone down quite a bit. Some youths behind me remarked that Fishbone wasn't bad, but they were ready for them to be done. Since they only played 8 songs total, I hate to admit I agreed. I'm sure a full headlining set would be a better choice instead of an abbreviated opening set. They closed with a cover of Sublime's "Date Rape," which seemed kind of like pandering to the crowd a bit. I know they toured with Sublime a lot in the past, but they should own the fact that they originated this genre of music more.

What is there really left to say about a Bosstones live show? They're one of the few bands I completely understand if someone doesn't like them based on their recorded music alone. But their live show can't be beat. At the Hometown Throwdown, it's almost a family reunion, and the knuckleheads are kept to an absolute minimum. This is a welcome change from when they were considered a frat rock favorite in the 90s. It's now kept to die hards only. The most surprising aspect of one of their shows is how well newer songs like "Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah" and "Graffiti Worth Reading" fit in with classics like "Dr. D" and "Hell of a Hat."

One of the most fun aspects of the annual Throwdown is the unique stage designs every year. The past few years have seen a fake house backdrop adorned with lights, a replica Citgo sign, etc. This year they brought back the glowing wall of Santas, which was a fan favorite. I would have almost preferred a new backdrop, but a wall of Santas is always pretty rad.

While the Bosstones attract a shocking number of teenagers still (pretty sure it's a ska thing), the majority of the crowd is in their 30s and 40s, so it's pretty impossible to be the creepy old guy here. One of my favorite sights is how many dads bring their elementary aged kids with them, complete with plaid jackets and mohawks. Maybe this upcoming generation isn't completely lost after all...

As a side note, Big D & the Kids Table opened the show. Thanks to the crazy line to get in (plus the fact that I didn't really like the albums I listened to) I only caught maybe 3 songs of their set. Live, they are fantastic, and I wished I caught more of them. Maybe next time they come around. My only complaint of the night was that all 3 bands were of the ska-punk variety, and it might have been nicer to break that up a bit. Last year I caught a Sam Black Church reunion, which broke up the night well. Sunday Andrew W.K. opened, so it was just the night I went. 

Jeff's Best of the Rest of 2014

While I was able to narrow down my 10 favorites in 2014, that doesn't mean there wasn't a further list of albums I loved along the way. Listed below are some of my other favorites, all of which are available to stream on Spotify:

The Jezebels - The Brink
Phox - Phox
Tuatara - Underworld
Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence
Orwells - Disgraceland
Justin Townes Earle - Single Mothers
+/- - Jumping the Tracks
Aphex Twin - Syro
Spoon - They Want My Soul
Front County - Sake of the Sound
Shovels and Rope - Swimmin' Time
Philip Selway - Weatherhouse
Knife Party - Abandon Ship
Gemma Ray - Milk for Your Motors
Orwells - Disgraceland
Orenda Fink - Blue Dream
Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker
Tennis - Ritual in Repeat
Banks - Goddess
Iggy Azalea - The New Classic
The Rentals - Lost in Alphaville
Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World
Kelis - Food
Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness of Dancers
Calvin Harris - Motion
Mogwai - Rave Tapes
Dom Flemons - Prospect Hill
Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn - Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
Damien Rice - My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Lily & Madeliene - Fumes
The Rural Alberta Advantage - Mended With Gold
2:54 - The Other I
Nude Beach - 77
Curtis Eller's American Circus - How to Make It In Hollywood
September Girls - Cursing the Sea
Black Prairie - Fortune
Allo' Darlin - We Come From the Same Place
Sallie Ford - Slap Back
La Sera - Hour of the Dawn
Secret Sisters - Put Your Needle On
Mr Little Jeans - Pocketknife
Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animals
Lights - Little Machine
Ruby the Rabbitfoot - New as Dew
Craft Spells - Nausea
Jolie Holland - Wine Dark Sea
Shakey Graves - And the War Came
Nikki Lane - All or Nuthin'
Ex Hex - Rips
Mean Creek - Local Losers
Manchester Orchestra - Cope
The Whigs - Modern Creation
Beverly - Careers
Alvvays - Alvvays

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday Mix: Jeff's Favorite Songs of 2014

Having to narrow all the songs I listened to over the last 12 months to simply twenty entries felt like a feat, but I'm fairly happy with the list I ended up with. You can listen to a mix above, they are listed in some sort of order, but just shuffle it up and enjoy your Monday.

Jeff's Top Songs of 2014:

1) Elizabeth and the Catapult - "Shoelaces"
2) Allison Weiss - "Remember When"
3) alt-J - "Every Other Freckle"
4) HAERTS - "No One Needs to Know"
5) First Aid Kit - "Walk Unafraid"
6) Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me"
7) The Secret Sisters - "Iuka"
8) Caroline Rose - "Blood on Your Bootheels"
9) Liam Finn - "Wild Animal"
10) Carrie Ann Carroll - "True Love"
11) Field Mouse - "Bright Lights"
12) FKA Twigs - "Two Weeks"
13) Self - "Runaway"
14) Spoon - "Inside Out"
15) The Red Headed Indian - "Please Come Home"
16) Tennis - "Solar on the Rise"
17) Shovels & Rope - "Coping Mechanism"
18) Royksopp & Robyn - "Do It Again"
19) Sleigh Bells featuring Tink - "That Did It"
20) The Rural Alberta Advantage - "On the Rocks"

Friday, December 19, 2014

Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys Have Some Christmas Songs

What says "Christmas spirit" more than America's favorite folk/punk/artcore/burlesque/steamcrunk act releasing some free Christmas music? The Army of Toys just put up some of their takes on holiday favorites up on their Bandcamp page. Titles include "Squidmas for Christmas" (complete with a special "chimpCRUNKS" version), "Hole in the North Pole," and "SlitWrist for Christmas." It's good creepy fun for the whole family! It's free, but you do have the "Name Your Own Price option," and I'm sure they won't turn down anything you'd like to throw their way.

To download your copies, check out Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys' Bandcamp page. You'll also want to check out their website for their various upcoming projects.

If It's Too Loud... Christmas Playlist 2014

I hate Christmas music. It's pretty dull and repetitive. But, this weekend you'll be subjected to work holiday parties and family and/or friend's holiday parties. Then next week someone will insist on putting Christmas music on in the background while you're wrapping presents and then opening presents. How many times can you be expected to listen to Mariah Caery's "All I Want for Christmas?" As an alternative, here is the If It's Too Loud... 2014 Christmas Playlist. It features some lesser known songs from The Sheila Divine, Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler, Jessica Lea Mayfield, a cover of Wham's "Last Christmas" (the greatest worst song ever recorded), and we had to end with "Christmas in Hollis." Enjoy!

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #1: Benjamin Booker

I've been obsessed with Benjamin Booker since he was added to this year's Newport Folk Festival. Since then, I posted about each single as they were released, and raved about his Newport performance and his headlining show at TT the Bear's. You'd think I'd have burnt myself out on his by now. But I don't think I can.

Booker's sound isn't anything completely original, except for the way he blends it all together. He blends Delta blues with 60s Detroit protopunk, all with the energy and charisma of Kurt Cobain. It's a sound completely fresh that feels totally familiar. The album starts with the opening roots riff of "Violent Shiver," and just takes off from there. His energy is high even in the ballads like "Spoon Out Your Eyeballs." He sucks the audience in like a seasoned veteran, and he's only 22. Booker is going to be huge one day. Catch him now before he's playing theaters, or maybe even arenas in 5-10 years.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #1: Field Mouse - Hold Still Life

Albums like this are why I like being able to write for this blog. Ken was raving about this band for a while, sent it over to me, and I fell in love almost immediately.

Hold Still Life is the first full length as a full band for Field Mouse, and it's really quite the musical achievement. Sometimes it's like Velocity Girl, sometimes it's like the hazy indie dream pop/rock that's been popular as of late, and far too often the structures of the songs remind me of one of my favorite bands of all time, The Reputation. All the songs just stay stuck in my head, with "Tomorrow is Yesterday" and "Reina" in constant rotation, and the lyrics definitely tell some really interesting stories. "Bright Lights" would have resonated heavily with me 10 years ago in particular.

I can't say enough good things about this album. By far, it was my favorite release of this year, and I'm hoping I can find some time/energy to see them live soon. You can stream the album below.

Song highlights: "Tomorrow is Yesterday," "Reina," "Asteroid," "Bright Lights."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for December 16

With holidays the next two weeks and a slow release schedule, this will be the last First Listen of 2014. I'll be back with the first week of good new releases in the new year.

Still, we do have one high-profile release this week:

Charli XCX - Sucker: Charli XCX has had a pretty good year, with her work on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and "Boom Clap" from The Fault in Our Stars, and this follows her production work with Icona Pop to boot, so she's keeping herself busy. Still, her first release in the United States didn't wow me, and so I went into Sucker with a little bit of caution. It wasn't necessary, though, because it's really a solid pop album from start to finish, with a lot of rock-solid, radio-ready tracks to go along with some interesting deeper cuts. You should listen to this anyway, but with new music being somewhat rare at the moment, it's worth putting into the rotation.

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #2: The Dead Milkmen - Pretty Music For Pretty People

The 2nd album in a comeback/reunion isn't supposed to be good. Pretty Music For Pretty People is great. Maybe it's because the Dead Milkmen were never hard particularly hardcore band, but they haven't lost a step. While many of their peers have been releasing music about half as aggressive as their classics (or even novelty Christmas albums), this is their hardest album to date. It might be that some of their favorite topics (celebrity, gun control, and even Ronald Reagan) are just as relevant as they were back in the 80s. "Ronald Reagan Killed the Black Dahlia" may be my favorite punk rock conspiracy theory of all time. "The Great Boston Molasses Flood" ties my favorite obscure historical event with the Dresden Dolls. If you still break out any of the Dead Milkmen's back catalog, you'll want to own this one, too.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #2: FKA Twigs - LP1

If I'm ranking albums this year solely on musical ambition, the first album from FKA Twigs would be in first by a mile. If Portishead and Bjork had a baby that loved R&B, it might start sounding a little bit like LP1, and that's not a bad thing at all.

I have a lot of trouble describing this, and even more trouble trying to pinpoint it. In a way, that's the point - she's getting a lot of credit for her trippy videos as she is for her music, and that's fine but really misses the point about how really great this is. It's a challenging record, for sure, but not difficult to listen to. While none of the songs are likely to be your favorites, as they pop up in the playlists (most notably with "Two Weeks" for me) you're going to get them drilled right into your head again. I don't pretend this album is for everyone - my wife in particular would prefer I not listen to this at all - but it's definitely an album I didn't realize I was looking for until I had it.

Stream this one below:

Song highlights: "Two Weeks," "Lights On."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #3: Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else

Back when Somewhere Else first came out, Jeff pointed me in its direction declaring he just discovered my new favorite singer. Based on the fact that my 10 most played songs on Spotify in 2014 are on Somewhere Else, he might be right. Lydia Loveless hits this sweet spot for me. She's a perfect blend of Lucinda Williams and Paul Westerberg, playing edgy roots rock with just the right amount of twang, filled with swirling, countrified guitars. The fact that I became obsessed with a song called "Head" about oral sex performed by a 22 year old female while in my late 30s would be more embarrassing if it wasn't the best song to come out in 2014. Her voice contains a grit to it that usually takes an artist decades to develop. I can't wait to see how she develops over the next few years.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #3: Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me! is generally not the kind of punk rock I'm into when I want to listen to punk at all. With the big story surrounding Against Me! over the last couple years being around lead singer Laura Jane Grace's gender transition, the fear is that, like many other non-musical attention given to musicians and bands, that the music takes a back seat. I know I fired up Transgender Dysphoria Blues in part due to my curiosity as to how the band adjusted to the attention and the situation at hand, and not only does the album title pretty clearly demonstrate that they're not afraid to tackle the topic head-on, but it ends up being one of the most raw, most emotional, and most honest albums of recent memory.

The opening title track is one of the best songs on the album and wastes no time addressing the elephant in the room, and the album continues to go full-force from there, not letting up at all until the very last minutes (where "Black Me Out" is also a standout track). Not all of the album is talking about what everyone else is talking about, though, and that feels like a conscious choice to not be defined by it (which, as a reviewer, makes it kind of difficult to not point out). Still, they've made a fan out of me in a number of ways I didn't expect. This album was in constant rotation for me for months, my favorite songs on here still end up being some of my favorites of this year, and I am very excited to see where they'll go next. Maybe it will be back to the harder punk rock I can't get into, maybe we're seeing a further evolution into a more mainstream pop-punk, but the exposure they've gotten and a high-quality album that pulls no punches surely doesn't hurt in terms of bringing on a larger fanbase, and I can get behind that.

You can stream the album below.

Song Highlights: "True Trans Soul Rebel," "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," "Black Me Out."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #4: Joe Fletcher - You've Got the Wrong Man

As much as I always liked Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons, I never quite got why people were completely obsessed with the band. On his first solo record, You've Got the Wrong Man, I found out why. Recorded as Fletcher moved from Rhode Island to Tennessee via Georgia, it's a striking four track home recording. It's lo-fi, raw, and gritty, while being as lush and full as a mostly acoustic solo singer-songwriter can get. In a world where Mumford & Sons are folk and Taylor Swift is/was country, this brings back a level of authenticity the mainstream versions of those genres are severely lacking. It's almost corny to compare artists to Hank Williams or Johnny Cash at this point, but those are the direct forefathers to You've Got the Wrong Man.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #4: Hurray for the Riff-Raff - Small Town Heroes

Ken got me interested in Hurray for the Riff-Raff some time ago, and while I anticipated a newer album from Alynda Lee Segarra's musical collective, I didn't realize it would be this good.

The album itself is really a love letter to old-style folk music, to touring, to the cliched time gone by. It benefits from the bigger production budgets that moving to ATO provided, and the result is an album with countless memorable songs. "Crash on the Highway" is earwormy in the best possible way, "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)" a fun romp, "No One Else" one of my favorite songs of the year period. Without a bad song on the album, it's hard to find many flaws and deserves a lot of credit.

You can stream it below. If you haven't fallen in love with this album yet, there's still time.

Song highlights: "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)," "No One Else," "Crash on the Highway."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Joe Jack Talcum - "Santa Take Me Off That List"

Here's something I never thought I'd see: A Christmas song by Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen. Set to the tune of the most familiar of Dead Milkmen songs, it's a little ditty of discovering your name on Santa's naughty list and trying to get off of it. It's no "Last Christmas," but it's almost a Dead Milkmen Christmas song, and hey, it's free.

You can download "Santa Take Me Off That List" here. While you're at it, check out Joe Jack Talcum's website to see what shenanigans he gets up to on his own, and The Dead Milkmen's website for group hijinks. 

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #5: Leyla McCalla - Vari-Colored Songs

Vari-Colored Songs is one of the few albums Jeff and I agreed on, but with good reasons. The whole acoustic, solo female artist is one of the biggest cliche's in folk music, but Leyla McCalla is one of the most original artists in folk today. Just something as simple as strumming an upright bass creates such a unique song and texture to her music. She goes from the eerily haunting and clunky (in a good way) "When Can I See the Valley" to the almost danceable "Mesi Bondye" in the span of 2 songs. "Rose Marie" might be one of the best songs on the album, and is a highlight in any of her live shows. This album should probably rank higher for me, but I think I might have burnt myself out on it back in the winter. I'm sure I'll regret not ranking it higher as I revisit is a bit more in the next couple weeks.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #5: Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else

In a bleak world where Kathleen Edwards has exchanged her guitar for a coffee shop, Jessica Lea Mayfield is going more indie rock, and Elizabeth Cook hasn't released anything significant in four years, the mantle of the alt-country singer-songwriter woman has been a little empty for me. Thus my surprise when getting to hear Lydia Loveless's third album. A sometimes angry, sometimes dirty, sometimes thoughtful affair, this album is really a turning point compared to her rootsier early efforts, and really did a good job for me in terms of getting me excited about an album, one of the first ones this year to do so.

Whether it's "Wine Lips" or the in your face (I suppose that's not entirely intentional) "Head," there's not really a loser on the album, and there's a song to fit most moods to boot. She's super young, too, so to think that she's making music this good this early on? Forget about it. In other years, this might have been my top pick. For now, it's still one of the best releases overall, and it's streaming below:

Song highlights: "Head," "Wine Lips," "Really Wanna See You."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #6: Johnny Marr - Playland

When I first saw Johnny Marr was releasing solo albums and touring as a frontman, I didn't really care. How many guitar players have tried solo careers and embarrassed themselves? Who would go and see that besides Smiths die hards? Then I saw a video of him performing "How Soon Is Now?" and I realized that I wanted to see Johnny Marr live.

Playland, his latest solo effort, is absolutely fantastic. It's just a perfect slice of British pop that blends elements of the 80s, 90s, and even sounds completely current. Plus, the songs are fun. And you get that guitar sound that only Marr can get. There's a reason serious music outlets refer to him as Johnny Fucking Marr. If you get a chance, I implore you to see him live. I like to think of myself as above just wanting to hear the big, iconic megahits. But something about hearing those guitar riffs coming from the man who originated them was one of the best concert experiences I've had in years. You can have Morrissey and his cancelled concerts and boring as hell solo albums. I'll stick with Johnny Fucking Marr.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #6: Chumped - Teenage Retirement

Let's just get this out of the way - this sort of emo revivial, pop-punk thing should not be this good. It just shouldn't. It is, but it really shouldn't be.

Teenage Retirement is the band's first full length after an EP that I sadly missed out on last year. There's a little bit of Velocity Girl, a little bit of Superchunk, and just a lot of fun from start to finish on the album. While I know I tend to gravitate toward female lead singers, it doesn't hurt that the rest of the music on this beyond the vocals are just rock solid from start to finish. It's a throwback with some modern flair, and it has the immediacy that a lot of the music from this year missed out on.

Don't sleep on this one. Stream it below:

Song highlights: "December is the Longest Month," "Hot 97 Summer Jams."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Evan Dando & Courtney Barnett - "Being Around"

I first became aware of Courtney Barnett earlier this year because of her amazing cover of The Lemonheads' "Being Around." We've now come full circle, since last night at the Melbourne stop of the Lemonheads' Australian tour, Barnett joined Evan Dando onstage for a duet of the song. "Being Around" has always seemed like a bit of a throwaway novelty song to me, but apparently I'm the only one since it's been played at virtually every Lemonheads/Evan Dando show I've ever been to, to the great joy of the audience. it's still a fantastic cover, and you can see both parties are having a great time.

Now we just need a version of "Rudderless" with Evan and Laura Stevenson...

Juliana Hatfield Three - "If I Could"

Obviously, I have no idea what your day looks like, but you need to drop whatever you're in the middle of and listen to this new Juliana Hatfield Three song right now. It's the first single off their first album in over 20 years (Whatever, My Love due out February 17 on American Laundromat Records), and it's absolute perfection. I feel almost guilty saying this because it sounds like I don't absolutely love her output since 1993, but it somehow recaptures the magic of 1993's Become What You Are. It's as if they froze themselves in time 20 years ago, but still were able to mature and grow as artists. There is no possible way to be disappointed by this song.

You're obviously going to want to keep track of everything Juliana Hatfield Three related after hearing this. You can do that on her website, with tour dates in February and March to be announced soon.

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #7: Screaming Females - Live at The Hideout

It's rare for a live album to make a year end release. They're usually overpolished, watered down releases that might as well be a greatest hits package, or maybe a tour souvenir for die hard fans. Live at The Hideout is great, so it's the exception. It feels like a real set without stripping away mistakes to make it all about the hits. And Screaming Females aren't exactly a hit singles band, so it's an actual set list. It captures the energy and power of their live set as close as you can get to it without being there. It's both a great starting point for the curious and the die hards. If you want the fury of punk with the masterful guitar solos of Dinosaur Jr, you need to get this one.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #7: Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

Azealia Banks's debut album was supposed to come out in 2012, and was delayed because of label issues and a lot of overall drama. Finally released as a surprise at the beginning of November, I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall at Universal two years ago, because the album is really truly an incredible feat.

In a world where Janelle Monae is rightfully getting a lot of critical acclaim and is soooo close to that popular breakthrough, Banks successfully juggles multiple genres and concepts in a way that is similar to Monae while both forging her own path and keeping the concepts a little more mainstream. The tropes are more familiar and don't involve sexy robots, and that's okay - the comparison mostly has to stop there and we can embrace Broke With Expensive Taste on its own merits. The singles ("Yung Rapunxel," "Heavy Metal and Reflective") are great, and the deeper tracks ("Nude Beach a Go-Go," "Gimme a Chance") speak to a voice that I'm sure has only improved and been refined since this album was completed.

Certainly one of the best rap/R&B releases this year, and provides a great contrast to the Iggy Azaelias of the world in terms of what rap and hip hop can be.

Song highlights: "Yung Rapunxel," "Heavy Metal and Reflective," "212," "Nude Beach a Go-Go," "Gimme a Chance."

First Listen: New Releases for December 9

Only one on our docket this week:

The Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments to an Elegy: The Smashing Pumpkins, since reforming a few years back, had a pretty good comeback album that was probably more underrated than it should have been. This album, though, is probably not worth considering in the grand scheme of things. It's trying to be a lot of things and doesn't quite hit the mark on any of them, resulting in what feels like a soulless version of a band struggling to be relevant in the face of other acts from around their era doing a decent job of crafting comebacks or staying in the present. It's not really worth your time.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Download a Live Version of They Might Be Giants for Free!

They Might Be Giants have offered a free live download of their first album! Taken from recordings of their 2013 tour, they are offering a track by track version of their self-titled debut from 1986. It's a great offering for loyal fans, and a great way to introduce newer listeners to their music. It's also a great way to promote their upcoming headlining tour, for which tickets are going on sale this weekend. But, hey! Free TMBG!

To download First Album Live, you'll want to go here. It will cost you an email address, but you'll probably want to be on TMBG's email list, if you aren't already. You can also check out their website to get any more info, including their aforementioned tour!

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #8: Sallie Ford - Slap Back

Slap Back confused me on the first listen. Back when Sallie Ford was with The Sound Outside, I would describe her as white girl blues for indie rockers. The bluesy sound is almost completely exorcised with The Sound Outside, and her new all girl band has a much edgier, rock sound. This might be literally the only time an act has added keyboards and ended up more rock than before. "Workin' the Job" is one of my favorite songs of the year. It's great seeing someone have the confidence to change their sound so drastically on their third album. I mean, it's not like you're not going to recognize Slap Back as the same person to have brought you Untamed Beast last year, but it's definitely a change. I'm very curious what she'll sound like in a year or two as she settles into her new band a bit more.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #8: Leyla McCalla - Vari-Colored Songs

Leyla McCalla is best known for her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a band I love, so I was pretty excited when I heard that there was a solo record announced, but less so when I learned it was a concept album based around poetry. My fears were completely unfounded, though, as this is a pretty amazing album.

Based on the poetry of Langston Hughes and dipping deep into Haitian folk music, it's probably my favorite album this year from a purely musical basis. Beyond that, the songs are great, the concept comes across well, and the musicality really shines through, as one would expect.

Plus, "Rose Marie" is probably my son's first actual favorite song.

Definitely give this a listen if you haven't yet. It's certainly something that deserves to be heard by any lover of music, and really deserves as much acclaim as possible.

Song highlights: "Rose Marie," "Manman Mwen."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum Has a New Album Out in February That You Can Own Now!

Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum has one of the best PledgeMusic campaigns ever. Normally you pre-order an album a couple months or so in advance, and you get it a couple months later, maybe a week early if you're lucky. Watching the Nighttime Come isn't due out for release until February 10, but if you pre-order it today, you can actually get it today!

For her first album, Suz expanded on an idea she had. She used to make albums of lullabies for her friends baby showers. They were so popular among her friends, she decided to go into a studio and record some. Now, I know what you're thinking about an album of lullabies. Kids' music usually sucks enough. Lullabies are the worst. But Watching the Nighttime Come isn't just xylophones and hushed singing. It's regular music that just happens to be really mellow. You can listen to it at work without worrying about it being overheard. Plus, it's really, really great.

To "pre-order" Watching the Nighttime Come for yourself, a sleep-deprived parent, or anyone else that likes good music, check out Suz's PledgeMusic page. For more info on David Wax Museum, including dates such as Suz's album release show at Club Passim in Cambridge on February 14, check out their website.

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #9: Ex Hex - Rips

Mary Timony's newest band, Ex Hex, continues on the fun, party vibe of her previous band, the supergroup of 90s indie fame Wild Flag. Rips is a fun as hell, upbeat album. It's not quite part of the indie dance music movement, but it's danceable as any of those will ever be. "Waste Your Time" and "How You Got That Girl" have a 60s girl group feel. "Beast" is pure mid-90s alternapop, like Velocity Girl or Belly. It's odd that the album doesn't remind me of Helium at all, since that was Timony's band at the same time of the other bands I keep mentioning. It might be because Helium were on the more rocking side of ethereal while Ex Hex are too fun to be called ethereal. The albums veers close to punk, but more like how the Ramones were punk while being a fun, catchy pop band.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #9: Alt-J - This is All Yours

Alt-J hit my radar a couple years ago, their debut album my favorite of 2012. This was easily one of my most anticipated albums, but you can see the evolution of the band's sound from the last couple years quite clearly in the new album. There are classic Alt-J song structures like "Every Other Freckle" and "The Gospel of John Hurt," and there are different concepts like "Left Hand Free" that show a broader musical range.

With the loss of one of their members prior to the completion of this album combined with their increased popularity means a lot of questions as to where the band will go next. That this album is still really different from their debut and is still one of the best releases of the year is a credit to their abilities. I still love this album, and I can't wait what's coming next.

Song highlights: "The Gospel of John Hurt," "Every Other Freckle."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ken's Top 10 of 2014 - #10: Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans

Jeff didn't exactly rave about this album earlier this year, and that's ok. Drive-By Truckers really have 2 reactions: You either don't like them or you're obsessed with them. I fall into the obsessed category. English Oceans is their first release with a slightly retooled line up, which has truly revitalized the band. It also has songwriting duties split evenly between Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Cooley overcame a writing dry spell in time to record this album. DBT are the type of band that disappoints you when they release an album that is merely good. English Oceans is great. 

It also marks a slight change in sound. After 18 years, they've slowed down a tad, from rambunctious to frisky. They've also stopped playing 3 hour marathon shows and are now stopping around 2. Going on almost 2 decades, that works just about perfectly.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2014 - #10: St Vincent - St Vincent

Kicking off this year's Best Of list is St Vincent's self-titled album from the beginning of this year. It was such a constant for me earlier this year that I assumed it was a release from 2013, but this really deserves a lot of praise, especially given that I've felt her more recent output left more than a bit to be desired. I still feel working with David Byrne on their collaborative effort rubbed off in a great way for this album, and it does have a number of highly memorable songs that still get stuck in my head almost a year later.

The album is streaming below. Check it out for the first time, or see it as a great reminder.

Song highlights: "Rattlesnake," "Birth in Reverse," "Digital Witness."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jeff's Best of 2014: Top EP Releases

We kick off our Best of 2014 coverage today with a look at my favorite EP releases of the year. I'll count down a few highlights and leave a few others:

The Red-Headed Indian - Honey: I was really, really excited about this EP when it was first released, and I'm still really into it today. Every time I listen to it, whether in full or to the individual songs, I find something new to love and a new favorite song on the release (today it's "January"). Overall, this is my favorite non-album release this year by a wide, wide margin and I'm really excited to see what Caroline Kingsbury has coming up next.

Robyn & Royksopp - Do It Again: "Do It Again" might be one of my favorite songs of the year regardless of anything else, but this whole EP is a great mix of electronica and pop music that hopefully sets up more great collaborations like this. A great little dance EP that is just long enough to boot.

Lewis and Leigh - Night Drives: Every time I listen to this, I get surprised all over again. Not only is it a continually faithful slice of Americana music, but it's also a pretty fun quick hit of songs. None of them feel like filler and it makes me wonder if we'll see a full length. Definitely worth a listen if you haven't queued it up yet.

Allison Weiss - Remember When: As a fan of her album last year, this EP really solidifies her as an underrated songwriting talent. The first two songs on this EP feel radio-ready as is, and that my wife immediately felt like she had heard "Remember When" on a television show should tell you how ggood this is. I'll be hoping for big things for Weiss in 2015, but for now, this EP should hold everyone over.

SZA - Z: This EP (almost a full-length, in fairness), is a release that was pigeonholed a few ways. Mostly falling under the R&B umbrella, it's actually a pretty interesting electronic release that has a few songs that feel fully formed (most notably "Laura") and is a pretty great experience from start to finish. I'd love to hear what a full album would sound like from SZA as well.

Other EP highlights this year:

* Wild Leaves - Hello Sunlight
* Austra - Habitat
* Hem - The World is Outside
* Hollow Wood - Seasons EP
* Quiet Life - Housebroken Man
* The Colour and Sound - Peace of Mind

Thursday, December 4, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for December 2

We're fully in the holiday doldrums for new releases, everyone.

She & Him - Classics: The problem with Classics is not that it's boring, as Ken had warned me, but, for me, rather that the album is so traditional and so married to the sound it's covering throughout. I don't have much of any soft spot for these songs being covered, and the album's timing and tone comes across more as that modern album you buy a relative who wants something new but still comfortable. I know I would have bought this album for my mother to play at work in a different time, it's one of those. It's blandly inoffensive and ultimately isn't really for me, but I don't think it's meant for me, either.

Keith McEachern - Double Down: Keith McEachern, best known locally for his work with The Wandas, branches out solo for an album that's actually pretty good from start to finish, but suffers from one flaw in that I feel as if it's holding back. The entire listen, I was hoping for it to take that one extra step, power through to something stronger and more immediate, and it comes across as ultimately really reserved. Reserved is good, but the end result feels like a solid album that could have been more. As I don't know much of anything about The Wandas, I can't compare it to them, but readers of this blog should check this out anyway, as there is plenty to like.

Wu-Tang Clan - A Better Tomorrow: My first thought listening to this new Wu-Tang album is about how they feel pretty soft in their old age, but then I think about Ice Cube's film career and put that aside. Talking to Ken, he does note that Wu-Tang happened at a very key point, and listening with that in mind it's easy to see that they haven't really evolved while the rest of hip-hop and R&B has. Considered in context, I actually kind of dig this. I find this a lot better than recent albums from the A$AP mob or Kendrick Lamar, but I'll take Kanye or Jay-Z over this any day of the week as well. I came to Wu-Tang really late, so those who were on board from the beginning might feel differently about this, but it's probably worth a listen regardless.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mr. T Experience - "King Dork Approximately"

It's been 10 years since Mr. T Experience released any new music. In that time, they pretty much fell off my radar, which is surprising since Love is Dead was a staple on my college radio show. In the past 10 years, lead singer Dr. Frank has started writing YA novels under his real name, Frank Portman. One of them, King Dork, was successful enough to warrant a sequel, which comes out next week. In addition to the book King Dork Approximately, Mr. T Experience have a new single also called "King Dork Approximately." You can purchase the single through iTunes, or purchase a cassingle of the song as well, because why not, right? If you have any young adults in your life you'd like to gently nudge towards the pop punk sounds of Mr. T Experience and away from Taylor Swift or whatever else kids listen to these days, you might want to get them a copy of King Dork Approximately

The Person & The People - What a Drag

Minnesota strikes again with yet another great band. The Person & The People released What a Drag back in October, and it might be the power pop record of the year. It's the kind of power pop that hasn't been made in decades, with influences ranging from Big Star to Weezer and Teenage Fanclub. This is the 2nd release from this group of high school friends, and their 1st on Land Ski Records.

"I Get Weird" is my favorite side 1 track 1 of the year. It comes in at less than 2 minutes, which is the perfect length for this catchy as hell with crunchy guitars track. "Vitamin C" is the lead single, and it sounds like a sequel to Fountain of Wayne's "Radiation Vibe." As close as the newest Weezer album is to a return to the classic Weezer sound, What a Drag comes closer. It's just a great group of noisy yet beautiful power pop songs.

What a Drag is out now on Land Ski Records. You can listen to it now on Bandcamp. I don't believe they have an official website, but you can always like them on Facebook. Check out their video for "NYC FREAKOUT" below.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DJ Jazzy Jeff Has a Holiday Mix!

I'm not usually one for Christmas (or really Christmas for that matter). However, it is always fun to find the few gems out there for Christmas music. This brings me to this fantastic mix by DJ Jazzy Jeff. I have this great love for DJ Jazzy Jeff since He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper was the very first cassette I went out and bought with my own money. He brings this fantastic hour long mix featuring some of the few great (and classic) holiday music, featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder, Kurtis Blow, The Jackson Five, Snoop Dogg, and more! Of course, it isn't perfect. It also includes Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time," which might be the worst song ever recorded. It's the great happy medium to put on for a party or opening gifts.

You can download DJ Jazzy Jeff's Holiday Mix for free here. You might want to head over to Jazzy Jeff's website to keep up with all of his happenings.

Friday, November 28, 2014

De La Soul featuring Chuck D - "The People"

Hip hop pioneers De La Soul and Chuck D have teamed up for this new track, "The People." For musicians that have been around for almost 3 decades, this track is unbelievably fresh, with jazz riffs and an almost uncomfortable, disjointed feel which comes across as free form and abstract. It's about what everyone faces as human beings, and wasn't planned to coincide with the Ferguson decision, but feels like it was. Originally scheduled for June, it was delayed until Black Friday.

Currently you can download "The People" off De La Soul's website. Also, they have updated their merch section, with proceeds going to aid business owners affected by the Ferguson protests. Regardless of where any of us stand politically, I think we can all agree that's a great cause.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for November 24

Another really slow week, as expected with the holiday. Hard to say there's a lot that's essential, either.

The New Basement Tapes - Lost on the River: One of my all-time favorite albums is the first volume of Mermaid Avenue, where Billy Bragg and Wilco put music to the lyrics of Woody Guthrie. This is essentially the Bob Dylan version of that, with producer T Bone Burnett getting a bunch of artists together, including Marcus Mumford and the lead singer of Dawes, to work with songs written by Bob Dylan. I'm not much of a Dylan guy, but I'm not much of a Guthrie guy, either, and a lot of this just, well, didn't work for me at all. It actually feels uninspired in a lot of places, and tries to channel a time that doesn't quite work with what's expected or who is performing. Overall, I recommend skipping it unless you have an interest in some of the players or Dylan.

CJ Ramone - Last Chance to Dance: Ramones bassist CJ Ramone puts out his first punk album on Far Wreck. I mean, you know exactly what you're getting with this, there is absolutely nothing surprising about this album and that's actually okay in this instance. It's not going to blow your socks off, but if you're looking for that pure punk sound that you would expect from some guy with the last name "Ramone," you're all good.

Sleaford Mods - Tiswas EP: Ken keeps sending me these, and I don't know why. It's still the same idea of the British rap hybrid thing and it has an indie feel to it and, well, yeah. If you liked the previous stuff, go for it, but this doesn't really work for me.

Kevin Hearn - Days in Frames: Kevin Hearn is the keyboardist/accordionist/multi-instrumentalist for Barenaked Ladies, and he's done his own solo stuff with a backing band, Thin Buckle, for some time, and I've really enjoyed it. His latest effort is a really lush affair, reminds me a bit of Duncan Sheik and Josh Rouse in a lot of ways, and is a breezy, pleasant little piece of singer-songwritery rock/pop. Definitely the release of the week.

Also out this week:

* Bjork - Biophilia Live

The Monsieurs - Self-Titled

I first heard about The Monsieurs since Hilken Mancini is a member. I've been a fan of her work since first hearing Fuzzy back in 1996, and have followed her career ever since. When I heard she was in a new band, I expected more of the cheery alterna-pop that characterized Fuzzy, or maybe something more on the lines of her collaboration with Chris Colburn. Instead what I got was some of the fuzziest, sludged out garage rock I've heard in ages.

This album is loud. And noisy. Really, really noisy. But it's also catchy as hell. "Wolves" has  a "bah bah bah bah" chorus followed immediately by a furious thrash of guitar and some kind of vocal. On first listen, you might turn away thinking it's just obnoxious noise, but as you listen, you can peal back layers to find the nuggets of actual songs within. The rest of the band is rounded out by Andy Macbain and Erin King. 

I can't stress how pleasantly surprising this album is. Usually as a musician is entering their 2nd decade of making music, they start slowing down, a la Thurston Moore's latest album. This is by far Mancini's most aggressive release. It's basically cramming Sonic Youth and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion into one band, but adding some Rocket From the Crypt and Detroit Cobras.

For more info on The Monsieurs, check them out on Facebook. Their Bandcamp doesn't include this release, but Slovenly Recordings' Bandcamp does.