Thursday, December 31, 2015

Live Shows: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Queers, & Unnatural Axe, House of Blues, Boston, MA 12/27/15

The week between Christmas and New Year's is usually a pretty dull one, but it holds what has become one of my favorite holiday traditions: My now annual trip to the House of Blues to see the Mighty Mighty Bosstones for their Hometown Throwdown.

This year they lessened the usual holiday theme and instead dedicated their entire three show run to The Rat, the legendary Boston punk club that used to be located across the Mass Pike from the House of Blue in Kenmore Square. For their openers, they chose bands they knew from their days of playing The Rat. For Sunday night, their openers were The Real Kids and The Queers.

As I walked in, I noticed a list of set times posted at the door. The Real Kids had to drop out at the last minute due to John Felice being hospitalized. It was a huge disappointment, especially because I had never heard of their replacement, Unnatural Axe. Turns out Unnatural Axe are the Boston punk originators, and started playing shows at The Rat in 1978. As they took the stage, they just looked like regular guys in their 50s, and not punk at all. That made their playing all the better, as they were the most hardcore band of the night. They tore through songs like "3 Chord Rock" and "They Stole Hitler's Brain" with more ferocity than bands half their age. Unfortunately, most of the crowd seemed to be there for hits and they didn't get much of a reaction until Dicky Barrett of the Bosstones joined them for a song. It's always sad when the originators of a scene get virtually ignored.

Next up were The Queers. Or, at least, Joe Queer with two guys much younger than him. But, hey... it's still Joe Queer and I finally got to see a band I've been listening to for 20 years live. Opening with "No Tit," they didn't make any attempt to clean up their offensive for the sake of being offensive act, which made me thrilled. Finally seeing The Queers playing "Born to Do Dishes" and "Murder in the Brady House" was worth it. They also brought out special guests, including original Dropkick Murphys guitarist Rick Barton and the drummer for The Real Kids. They also covered The Real Kids' classic "All Kindsa Girls," for obvious reasons. In what seemed to be a recurring theme, the crowd was pretty much dead for The Queers. I thought maybe a band called The Queers and doing a song called "No Tit" might not mesh well with the kids these days. Instead, after their set, one of these whippersnappers complained that the set was "... about 40 minutes too long." His big complaint wasn't the subject matter or the band's name, but that they supposedly insulted the sound guy. The insult seemed to be one comment after the opening song where Joe Queer basically said "Hey, sound guy. I have no idea where you are, but I could use some more vocals and guitar in the front monitors." That seems to me to be more of a comment about the size of the venue and asking the sound guy to make an adjustment, which happens at literally every club show. Kids these days...

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have always been, and will always be, one of the best live acts out there. They started the show off perfectly with "Dr. D," "They Came to Boston," and "Dogs & Chaplains." In an unexpected (but also pretty fantastic) twist, guitarist Lawrence Katz was sidelined to just vocal duties due to a broken arm. I hate saying that turned out fantastic, but he was replaced with original Bosstones guitarist Nate Albert. I'm not saying I want Katz to always be out, but it's always fun when original members pop in for a few shows. Other highlights of the set included "Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah" (by far the most fun of the post-reunion songs live), "Hell of a Hat," "1-2-8," and a cover of "At the Rat," of course.

This might have been the first Bosstones show that made me feel old. I can't really put my finger on it. It might have been the indifference to the Boston punk rock royalty that opened the show, the fact that a decent chunk of the crowd seemed to just be there for the songs they knew off their breakout album Let's Face It (one guy against the barricade didn't even clap between songs until the band played "Noise Brigade" from that album), overprotective and aggressive dads in the audience, or what. Usually Bosstones shows, especially Hometown Throwdown shows, usually attract die hards that are thrilled for every song, particularly the older, more obscure ones. This seemed to be filled with people looking for "The Impression That I Get." It was still a fantastic show, and of course I'll be lined up to go next year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Weakened Friends - "95"

"Gloomy Tunes," the first EP from Weakened Friends, came out of seemingly nowhere and floored both Jeff and I earlier this year. They are back with an acoustic version of "95," a song that will be on their forthcoming EP, due this spring. 

The video is a live, (mostly) single camera (or phone, with kids these days and all) recording of the song. It's more of a teaser at this point to help get us all ready for the new EP. It does that job, continuing the upbeat, slightly more indie version of Letters to Cleo that I loved on "Gloomy Tunes."

You can watch the video for "95" below. Also, make sure you check out Weakened Friends' Bandcamp and be sure to like them on Facebook.

Crowdsourcing a Mix

So, if you've paid attention to music news over this holiday time, you've heard the big news that The Beatles are on the streaming services now. So here's my dirty secret:

I'm not a big Beatles fan.

Kind of weird, since I love a lot of music that apes the Beatles sound, and all that. It's not to say the Beatles are a bad band, but I've never been able to get into them. For example, my favorite Beatles song? "And Your Bird Can Sing." Kind of weird, right? The Big Super Duper Hits don't really do it for me, either.

But this isn't about the Beatles, but I figured with our readership and such, maybe you can help me change my mind. So here's what I want to do: either here, or on our Twitter page, or over on Facebook, leave a comment with a Beatles song you think I should know. Maybe it's a big hit I should reconsider, but I'm really more looking for those hidden gems that I might have missed along the way.

In a perfect world, I'll take the top 20 or so, especially if there are repeat offenders. Still, recommend a few to me. Show me what I'm missing, as this is the first time in my life that I've had most of the Beatles songs at my fingertips.

So have at it! I'll post the final results on the first Monday of the new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Clearing the Decks: More Albums We Missed

Without any new releases to speak of, we still have a few albums left over from this year that we didn't look at:

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Paper Mache Dream Balloon: I'm always intrigued with bands that do the psych rock thing, if only because the Elephant Six pastiche was so well-rooted in that tradition. Out of nowhere comes King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and I think the best way I can describe them is like a throwback to late-1990s/early 2000s Of Montreal in all the best ways. A fun, frolicky acoustic affair that deserves a listen, it's something I wish I heard a long time earlier. Maybe the best of the batch of stuff we missed initially. Absolutely give this a shot this week.

Babes - Untitled (Five Tears): I was obsessed with "ATMO," a song from Babes's debut EP (and a video that's probably NSFW for most places), for some time. I had missed that they had finally put out a proper album. This band of siblings does the whole retro/modern schtick really well, and while I don't love everything on this album, songs like "I've Got a Reason to Keep On Living" hit that sweet spot perfectly and make you want to stick around for more. I hope this band has great things happen for them.

Tove Styrke - Kiddo: Tove Styrke was a Discover Weekly find for me with the seriously awesome song "Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You," and I later learned she came in third for Swedish Idol and quickly found a need to reinvent herself as more of an electropop artist (maybe in the mold of Robyn) than a pop star. It works. When it works, it is spot on even if this album is uneven at points. Grab this more for the highlights than the whole, but I fully hope that she becomes a bigger deal over time.

Rhiannon Giddens - Factory Girl: I loved Rhiannon Giddens's album from this year, so a surprise EP with some more songs was great, and is a truly awesome starting point for what she's doing as a solo artist. "Mouth Music" is a fun romp, "Moonshiner's Daughter" a really great song. It's a short EP, five songs, but a great introduction to someone you should already be listening to.

Yumi Zouma - II: A Discover Weekly find thanks to the pretty solid song "Song for Zoe & Gwen," this is one of those modern new-wave/dreampop things that really stuck with me. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but as an EP it's worth highlighting.

Five Knives - Savages: Think about if Sleigh Bells was influenced by dubstep music. That's the type of great cacophony offered by Five Knives, an album that isn't perfect but hits a lot more than it misses. "Criminal" was a song that was a Discover Weekly find, but I think the whole album might be worth your time if you're finding the description of interest.

The Staves - If I Was: A folkish-style offering, this was yet another Discover Weekly song that included "Black & White," a song that nearly made my top 30 this year. This won't be folk enough for true folkies, and maybe too folk for those looking for more edge, but this is an album that's worth hearing if only for the beautiful voices of the sisters in this band.

Ezra Furman - Perpetual Motion People: I also found this through Discover Weekly (can you tell I love it?) thanks to "Lousy Connection," but Ezra Furman's plus is his ability to transition through genres effortlessly while making great music that still feels off-the-cuff and natural. It's a tough tightrope to walk, but Furman somehow figured it out, and there's a back catalog that I really need to go seek out during this slow time. A really solid effort.

Dios Mio - Hinterland: Another short EP, this one a little on the heavier indie side but with a lot of potential. If all the songs were as good as "Treehouse," we'd be talking about a pretty great EP, but, as it stands, it's just Very Good. Still, worth a listen.

Also worth a mention:

* Haitus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon
* Downtown Boys - Full Communism

Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday Mix: Best Songs of 2015

It was a solid year for music, and a lot of really great songs came from the madness. Below are my 40 favorite songs of 2015 (think of it as my own personal Discover Weekly Yearly), and, below that, my yearly playlist of every single song I loved. I hope you find something new to explore in the lean release weeks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

First Listen and More Catch-Up

We actually had a new release this week!

Kid Cudi - Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven: Kid Cudi is interesting. He had some really great rap stuff, but got bored with/irritated with rap music and has been exploring rock music. This is sort of an "indie/alt rock" attempt from him, and... it doesn't work. I can't sugarcoat it, but this is really more a labor of love than anything else. If you're into his post-rap stuff, this might be something of value to you, but, for me? This really didn't do the trick and I couldn't even get through it. Avoid this.

Cage the Elephant - Tell Me I'm Pretty: I haven't kept up with Cage the Elephant, although "Ain't No Rest For the Wicked" was a great song back whenever that came out. At some point they became a full-on bluesish rock band, and I didn't see that one coming. So in terms of meeting expectations, this is pretty interesting, but in terms of something I might want to revisit, that I'm not so sure. It's very easy to get lost in the shuffle, especially in the end of year time.

Holychild - The Shape of Brat Pop to Come: Holychild was one of those Spotify "Discover Weekly" picks for the song "Running Behind," which had some interesting rhythms and percussion elements. The rest of the album is similarly interesting even if it doesn't succeed 100% of the time, and in a world where there's a lot of subversion of classic pop tropes, this is absolutely worth a listen.

These Wild Plains - These Wild Plains: This was an album Ken sent over to me and it's a perfectly well-done piece of music that will be of interest to anyone who likes a lot of what we highlight here. It's an album that sounds the way you'd expect a band named These Wild Plains (and, judging by the cover, looks like they do), and while there's a danger in that sort of stereotyping, they're clearly wearing their influences and style up front. Worth your time.

Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs: I first came to enjoy Suzanne Sundfør with her 2013 release The Silicon Veil, and this album is certainly more conceptual in practice, but with some seriously awesome songs interspersed. While "Memorial" is a bit of a 10 minute miss, the songs that surround it are some of the better ones of the year and came very close to making my end of year lists. This is one I wish I found in February, and I hope you find now.

MS MR - How Does It Feel: Within 2 seconds of the opening track, you can tell that MS MR is going straight Euro-pop. This pleases me, as more groups should do this. Of course, if the darker angles of what MS MR offered on their first album (which kind of got unfairly lost in the CHVRCHES shuffle) is what appealed to you, this play might not quite work for you. The flaw perhaps is that it exists in a world with Tove Lo and Tove Stryke and even CHVRCHES, and thus isn't the first thing anyone's going to grab. Still, don't let this one get away from you. It's worth your time.

Melanie Martinez - Cry Baby: A friend of both Ken and I was raving about this album so I had to check it out, given my recent addiction to pop music on a whole. This one is definitely more confessional in tone (in a more brutal way than, say, your Tay Tay) and it doesn't always work, but when it does, man, it does. I'm not going to call this a top pick, but it's absolutely one that's worth a listen if you're so inclined.

End of Love - Ghosts on the Radio: This is a supergroup in the largest sense of the word, with members of Sonic Youth and Wilco and Big Star and whoever else involved to put together an album that sounds like it was recovered from a dusty attic having been squirreled away forty years ago. I don't know if it's the production or the vocals or the energy level or what, but this album just failed to connect for me in spite of my love for a lot of what's happening. I don't know what it needs to be better, but this just missed the mark for me.

Lizzo - Big Grrl Small World: This one was a surprise. Lizzo has a lot of people who are behind her, but Lizzo largely stands on her own. I don't know enough female rappers, but Lizzo has a voice and lyrical style that just works for me. It's defiant and angry, fun and sexy, and it just works. You figure out VERY early on why Prince tapped her for his project last year. This is probably a mandatory listen, and is arguably one of the best rap albums of the year.

Also worth highlighting:

* The Struts - Have You Heard
* Eskimeaux - O.K.
* San Fermin - Jackrabbit
* Sam Dew and Dave Sitek - Damn Sue (try "Air," one of the better recent songs out there)
* Wise Old Moon - Don't Take Off
* The Greeting Committee - It's Not All That Bad
* Swiss Lips - Swiss Lips
* Robyn and La Bagatelle Magique - Love is Free

Monday, December 21, 2015

Kingsley Flood - "We Three Kings"

Photo via Instagram
After the release of their third EP this year, Jeff commented that Kingsley Flood could pretty much do no wrong. To drive that point home a bit further, and to celebrate the upcoming holiday, Kingsley Flood have shared a cover of the Christmas classic "We Three Kings." It was originally shared with just PledgeMusic pledgers, but now it's available for everyone for a free download. It's shockingly true to the classic song and done without a hint of irony. You get the fantastic rootsy sound of Kingsley Flood with some Spanish horns and a beautiful cover of one of the most iconic traditional Christmas songs of all time.

You can download your own copy of Kingsley Flood's version of "We Three Kings" here. Of course, you should make sure to check out their website (where you should sign up for their email list since that's how this cover was sent out) and be sure to follow their various social media.

Jeff's Best of the Rest for 2015

Overall, I thought this was a good year for music on a whole. I think the most interesting point, for me at least, was the lack of a truly transformative album that really got me super excited. There was a lot of great music, but nothing truly exceptional.

Anyway, the rest of my favorites this year:

11) Gary Clark Jr - The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
12) Sarah Bethe Nelson - Fast Moving Clouds
13) All Dogs - Kicking Every Day
14) Alabama Shakes - Sound and Color
15) Mal Blum - You Look a Lot Like Me
16) Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
17) Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow is My Turn
18) Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
19) YACHT - I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler
20) Jamie xx - In Colour

And the best of the rest:

Hop Along - Painted Shut
Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People
Colleen Green - I Want to Grow Up
Drew Holcolmb and The Neighbors - Medicine
Heather Maloney - Making Me Break
Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
Purity Ring - Another Eternity
Jedi Mind Tricks - The Thief and The Fallen
Holly Herndon - Platform
Rhett Miller and Black Prairie - The Traveler
Best Coast - California Nights
David Wax Museum - Guesthouse
CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
Matt Pond PA - The State of Gold
Bully - Feels Like
Lady Lamb - After
The Deslondes - The Deslondes
GEMS - Kill the One You Love

And now, the negatives:

I don't want to trash some of the worst albums I heard this year, because I've already done that in the weekly posts. So instead, a quick rant:

Streaming is the future. We're big proponents of Spotify here, but Google Music and Apple and YouTube (and to a lesser extent, Tidal) are also making plays into the field. The world of on-demand, buffet-style music has been a boon to the industry in Europe, and is really the way forward for making music something we can continue to enjoy for years to come.

So when you have artists like Taylor Swift or Adele opting out, it sends a very bad message. To be clear, I am a proponent of artists having control over how their music is distributed. If a band wants to give away its album for free on Bandcamp, or if Peter Buck just wants a limited run of 1000 vinyl records of his solo albums, so be it. Taylor Swift and Adele, to a point, do not need what Spotify offers, since they can sell millions of copies of their albums in a week via traditional methods. But when they say it devalues music, that it isn't paying out what they expect... it sounds very tone-deaf. It shows a lack of understanding of the dire straits music was in due to the amount of illegal downloading that was occurring.

The math on Spotify is difficult, I do agree. We're in a weird situation here where the artists feel more empowered than ever, where the major labels don't have as much clout, but where record contracts (especially 360 deals) seem to have artists locked in more than we've recently seen with less solid compensation, the complaints about Spotify streams not paying out over a full album doesn't register. My most listened to album of 2015, the new Decemberists, was streamed in full well over 50 times, with "Philomena" getting a number of extra streams on top of that. If the reports on payouts are correct, they got more money from Spotify than they would have had I bought the album at full price either via download or via hard copy CD.

It's unfortunate to not see Taylor Swift or Adele on these services, but, like I said, they don't need them. But a band like Radiohead? Or Joanna Newsom? Or, even worse, an independent act like Bess Rogers? Especially on the latter acts where any sort of exposure that pays out money is going to be a good thing, you're ultimately asking a lot of music consumers to seek out your music on a lot of less convenient platforms, and in a way that will likely net you less money if you're working independently (since you control the distribution, publishing, songwriting, and so on).

I don't want to see this become a bit of a trend. While I don't want to shame artists who are opting out, I also want to kind of shake them sand say "look at what you're doing!" We've progressed a lot past the point where the only way to hear music was to see it performed in person, and while the balance of "the only way to get paid is to perform live" hasn't quite been achieved yet, opting out isn't going to help balancing things out, either. I'm hoping 2016 is a better year across the board for this sort of thinking.

Next week, a review of some of the best songs of 2015.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #1 - Lady Lamb - After

My love for Lady Lamb's music is very well established here. Ripely Pine, from back when she went by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, was my favorite album of 2013, plus I've reviewed two live shows just this year alone

After is a bit more accessible than Ripely Pine, but that's not a bad thing. There are still the layers within songs that made me love Ripely Pine, plus multiple tempo changes and complete swerves halfway through a song. But this album feels like something everyone but your most top 40 listening friends could appreciate. Just listen to "Violet Clementine" for an example of this. It just keeps progressively changing from a quirky folk song to a bizarro indie rocker. Plus, if you know anyone that can hear "Billions of Eyes" without instantly loving it, you need to stop talking to that person. 

If you haven't, please check out Lady Lamb's After below.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #1 The Lonesome Trio - The Lonesome Trio

My favorite album this year as well as my #1 album is The Lonesome Trio's self-titled debut.

It was easy for me to initially write this off. A project from Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover), my first thought was Andy Dwyer playing the banjo. And Helms's voice is unmistakable, don't get me wrong, but the album, from the first minute, shows that this is a serious project with a lot going for it. What I love most about it, though, is how much of a throwback bluegrass album this is. It's a mix of storytelling and humor, of lightness and of some heavy themes. "Appalachia Apologia" feels new and fresh while keeping with tradition, and "Whiskey Drink" is a song that might be my favorite of the year. I still continue being shocked at just how good this is, and upon learning how long these three have been playing together, the only negative is that this is the only album we have to enjoy so far.

Truly the best experience of the year musically for me. You should listen to it below:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #2- Hop Along - Painted Shut

Hop Along's Painted Shut is the album that came out of nowhere this year and just floored me. I had heard the name Hop Along before, but until this album was released I had never actually heard them. An obsession with this album slowly blossomed all year, as I kept playing Painted Shut week after week, long after I grew tired of other releases that came out after it.

The true secret of Hop Along is Frances Quinlan's voice. In the same song she'll go from a soft, pretty, fairly standard in indie rock voice, to a more powerful screech that dances right on the line of being too pretty and too harsh. It's the bouncing between beautiful and abrasive that just sucks me in every time. Just listen to "Buddy in the Parade" and you'll see exactly what I mean. Musically, Hop Along land squarely in the 90s inflected indie rock that I'm thrilled is all the rage right now, with jangly, fuzzy guitars that seem to wander around the songs on their own. If you haven't yet, you need to listen to Painted Shut below.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #2: The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

My #2 album this year is by The Decemberists, their latest, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.

This might be a surprise, and I'll be honest, it surprised me too. I loved the album when it came out, it's one of my most listened-to albums of the year, and when I went back to the best albums, this one just ranked so highly. It's similar to Picaresque in many ways, and while they're not quite continuing the trajectory of their previous album, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The soul of The Decemberists is alive and well in this album, from the lighter "Philomena" "Make You Better" a modern take, "Anti-Summersong" feeling more classic. It's an album that works in an era where albums seem to have less and less meaning. I think that matters on a whole, and perhaps my response to this album is a response to that overall situation during this era.

You can listen to the stream below, assuming you haven't already:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Live Shows: Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA 12/13/15

Photo by Ken Sears
Mid-December is a weird time to see a show. Most people are in full on holidays mode and don't have the time (or money), to head out. Plus, Allston is truly a college neighborhood and most college kids are fully into finals preparation or have already headed home for break. Maybe it was that, or maybe it's because this is the third time they've played Boston this year, but Sunday's show at Brighton Music Hall was fairly poorly attended.

Photo by Ken Sears
Not that you'd know it from the band's performance. Or the audience's reaction. Anyone who didn't make it to the show truly missed out. The mother and son pair started off as a duo with the very low key "Down in Mississippi." It's a great choice since it shows off both of their vocals equally. Neither of them have the type of voices you typically hear in the current neo-folk scene, but it gives their music this heartfelt and gritty feel, even when the songs are truly beautiful. They were soon joined by a drummer and bass player (who stayed for the majority of the set) for the more upbeat "Whole Lotta Problems," which was much more raucous live than on the album. This year's phenomenal Skeleton Crew has a more laid back feel, almost like you're just listening to them playing out on a front porch or living room. Seeing them live has more energy to it. Either way, the songs and performances are fantastic.

Photo by Ken Sears
They played virtually all of Skeleton Crew plus a pair of covers: Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" and Ben E. King's timeless "Stand By Me." For most people the highlight seemed to be the semi-single 'Silent Movies," which was brilliant in person. My favorite was the set closer, an extended version of "Yellow Taxi." Extended folk jams can be a tricky and usually boring proposition. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear can pull it off. The 100 or so people that wandered out of their homes on a Sunday night in December left happy, and maybe wishing they could have a little more.

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #3 - Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

No Cities to Love has no business being truly great. When a band takes eight years off (and doesn't release an album for ten years), you're usually just happy they're back and touring. Reunion albums are usually filled with songs you have to sit through in between the songs you care about at a live show. But all of No Cities to Love holds up with everything in Sleater-Kinney's catalog. 

"Surface Envy" is a driving force of a song. It's the perfect shout along anthem you wish every band had, which is ironic considering another song on the album is titled "No Anthems." "A New Wave" might be my favorite song on the album. I'm only saying might because the video featuring members of Bob's Burgers might be influencing me unfairly against other songs.

Comeback albums are a dubious prospect, as are any albums from a band that have been around for 20 years. I don't mind waiting ten years between albums if they'll all be this fantastic.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #3: Spirit Family Reunion - Hands Together

My #3 of the year is Hands Together by Spirit Family Reunion.

Going into this album, my thought was that "this album has no right to be as good as it is." Seeing them open for David Wax Museum back in 2011, the band had a very raw but boisterous quality to them that I warmed to almost immediately, but I couldn't help but think that this was a band that might stick to the sort of lo-fi indie quality that was working so well for them. Instead, they improved markedly as performers, as musicians, and as songwriters, and came up with an album that retains the fun of their initial recordings while absolutely moving forward as an act. Songs like "Put Your Hands Together When You Spin the Wheel" make it impossible for you not to get a bit of a groove on, and "Skillet Good and Greasy" succeeds in making an old standard their own.

It's largely what you want from an Americana act these days, when the genre is reaching a popularity of sorts that demands a mix of tradition and modernity. Spirit Family Reunion is doing something right here, and it would be a mistake to miss it. Listen to the album below:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #4 - David Wax Museum - Guesthouse

Right from the start of album opener "Every Time Katie," you know that this album will be different from the usual David Wax Museum releases. While the Mexican influences are still there and lurking, they are far less prominent than they have been in the past. What you get with Guesthouse is a band trying something else and knocking it out of the park. When a band breaks through based on their breakout performances at the Newport Folk Festival, you don't really expect them to pull off electronic elements well. But they do by hinting at them just enough. The only time this falters a bit is with "Dark Night of the Heart," which put a little too much of a digital effect on their voices for the chorus. It ends up being as much stronger song live, but I would never fault a band for experimenting a little. By the third track, "Guesthouse," you get a true feel for the album. It's more of a celebratory song that defines David Wax Museum at their finest. They even tackle the tricky subject of parenthood spectacularly with "Everything Changes." For me, the standout song is the folk power ballad "Singing to Me," an ode to the superfan right up front that knows every word and deep down believes the songs are just for them.

You can listen to Guesthouse below via Spotify. Although, if you're a regular reader of this site, you've most likely heard enough to know if you want to by now.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #4: Screaming Females - Rose Mountain

My #4 of this year is Rose Mountain by Screaming Females.

I was surprised when I listened to this, not only because it was better than I anticipated, but also because it had a sense of polish and completeness that their previous albums lacked. This is a brash, confident album that really works on all levels as a cohesive whole. Even still, songs like "Wishing Well" or "Empty Head" successfully stand on their own as well, resulting in an album that just has a lot of solid pieces to go with its straightforward delivery.

In terms of a basic rock album, it's the best one of the year and it's not even close for me. Nothing else from this genre impressed me as much as Rose Mountain did, and Marissa Paternoster's work on other albums (both from a production and songwriting standpoint) makes a strong case that she might be my favorite musician of the year. Regardless, listen to the album streaming below:

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Mix: Songs About Star Wars

With the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens coming up this week, I had this bizarre urge to listen to some Star Wars music besides just "The Imperial March" over and over again. This birthed the If It's Too Loud "Songs About Star Wars" mix. I tried to avoid songs that simply make one reference to Star Wars and aim for songs actually about Star Wars. Of course there is some nerdcore (MC Chris), forgotten 90s bands (2 Skinnee J's), 90s bands that are still with us (Blink-182, Presidents of the United States of America), bands you would never think of doing Star Wars covers (Queens of the Stone Age, Ash), and "Weird Al," of course. It's perfect to listen to while you're at work waiting for it to end so you can head out to the theater, on your way to the theater, to avoid figuring out name mix up games in the theater, etc. 

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #5 - Colleen Green - I Want to Grow Up

For her 2015 album, I Want to Grow Up, Colleen Green lost some of the lo-fi noise of her previous recordings and went for a more full, produced sound. That can sometimes be the signs of a disaster, and after the first listen, I was a little bit disappointed. A few months later, I stumbled across the title track "I Want to Grow Up," immediately loved it, and was shocked to rediscover it was Colleen Green. Sometimes you need to listen to a song blindly without the artist's back catalog to realize how great it is.

I Want to Grow Up mixes 90s noise with 60s doo wop quite a bit, kind of like a smoother version of Jemina Pearl's solo work. The song "I Want to Grow Up" starts off faurly quietly, and then evolves into the greatest power pop noisy rocker recorded in the past 20 years with an honest to goodness guitar solo. The title of the album is also a recurring theme throughout, with most songs about self improvement and leaving your bad habits aside. The song "Things That Are Bad for Me" is broken up into two parts. It also contains the greatest ode to TV ever recorded, "TV." My inner 12 year old relates to that song far more than I would care to admit.

You can stream I Want to Grow Up below via Spotify.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #5: Nora Jane Struthers and The Party Line - Wake

My #5 album is from an artist that has been slowly morphing her sound and getting better for it every album, Nora Jane Struthers. Wake is her latest, and it is both her most accessible and perhaps best listen so far.

Back when Turntable.FM was a thing, I spent a lot of time in the bluegrass channels, and one artist that popped up was Nora Jane Struthers and her song "Mocking Bird," which just absolutely blew my mind in a way I didn't expect. Her albums since then have veered away from the bluegrass and toward a more accessible country, but that's not a bad thing at all, as Wake shows. It's more mature songwriting, it's more complicated melodies and lyrics, and it's just a better outcome. Typically, as bands become more mainstream, we don't entirely expect the results to be solid, but, so far, Struthers is bucking that trend.

Definitely one of the best roots-based records of the year, and one everyone who reads this and likes the Americana styles should look out for. It's streaming below:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #6 - Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

#6 of 2015 is Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. I can't think of anyone who came seemingly out of nowhere to take over the entire year of music. From discovering her due to her phenomenal cover of The Lemonheads' "Bein' Around" in 2014, I've become almost completely obsessed with hearing as much of her as possible. 

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit opens with my least favorite song on the album, "Elevator Operator," but immediately hits perfection with the second track, "Pedestrian at Best." It's a breakneck pop rock song that I had no idea anyone was still making. The more time I spend with the album, the more I start to love some of the quieter songs like "Depreston." The whole album is this perfect blend of Liz Phair meets the ferocity of Kurt Cobain and the could care less attitude of Evan Dando. If that sounds appealing at all, you'll love this album, which you can stream below via Spotify.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #6: Laura Stevenson - Cocksure

It's no secret that we love ourselves some Laura Stevenson at the blog. Cocksure is her best album to date, and it's only a testament to the rest of the releases this year that it's only my #6.

Cocksure ups the ante in a lot of ways. The songwriting is tighter, the lyrics more direct, the potty mouth intact. It feels as much like a culmination of years of efforts as it does a fresh album, and, while the song that made us fall in love with her, "Master of Art," feels light years away in comparison to something like "Torch Song" or "Jellyfish," being able to balance the folkish aspects of Stevenson's songwriting with the punk background and obvious desire to crank things up a bit, the overall piece still feels extremely familiar.

I feel like I'm always looking for "The Next Kathleen Edwards," but it's almost as if Laura Stevenson is filling that gap for me at present. For now, I'm enjoying what we're getting, but I still can't wait to see the evolution of what comes next. The album streams below:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #7 - Brown Bird - Axis Mundi

It's impossible to listen to Brown Bird's Axis Mundi without thinking about the passing of Dave Lamb. The album was written and recorded during his battle with cancer, and there is a sense of darkness and foreboding throughout the album. "Adolescence" is a plodding dark folk song heightened by crashing drums throughout. "Bannerman" might be the most typical Brown Bird song on the album, with it's up tempo Eastern European guitar sound. The duo also let loose their metal influences for the first time on Axis Mundi. "Blood From the Tree" starts off more typically for the band, and then turns into a metal-folk anthem. Even an instrumental song like "Shadrach" takes on a contemplative and resigned feel.

Please listen to Axis Mundi below. You should also head over to Brown Bird's Bandcamp where they're once again offering their Christmas album for purchase. 

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #7: Pale Honey - Pale Honey

Pale Honey is an album I came to late this year, and I'm glad I tracked it down before it was too late. It's got a lot of what I want in indie rock right now - a good balance of interesting songwriting, a blast of sound, and a unique sound that still feels familiar along the same lines.

I compared it in my initial review to Mynabirds, but it also does a lot of interesting alt-rock things along the way. I think it's definitely one of the more interesting listens of the year, for sure, and you should really give this a listen via the stream below:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Those Darlins Cover Divine

Photo via Facebook
Yesterday Those Darlins, an absolute blog favorite, announced an "indefinite hiatus," which we all know means they're done. They're also referring to the few dates they have in January as their final tour, which seems to make it much more official. To say goodbye, they're leaving us with one final song: A cover of Divine's "Female Trouble." It keeps more in line with their more recent slinky 60s sound than their original trashy rock n roll honky tonk than they started out with, which makes sense given the source material. 

The only time I made it out to see Those Darlins was a show at TT the Bear's with Deer Tick that will always be remembered as one of the best shows I attended at that legendary club. Both will be dearly missed.

You can listen to Those Darlins doing "Female Trouble" below. Below that are the dates for their farewell tour. Unfortunately there is nothing near Boston, so hopefully you'll have better luck.

01-15 Chattanooga TN - JJ's Bohemia
01-16 Atlanta GA - The EARL
01-19 Louisville, KY - Zanzabar
01-21 Charlottesville, VA - The Southern Cafe and Music Hall
01-22 Washington DC - Rock And Roll Hotel
01-23 Brooklyn NY - Baby's All Right
01-24 Philadelphia PA - Boot & Saddle
01-26 Cincinnati OH - Northside Tavern
01-27 Chicago IL - The Empty Bottle
01-29 Nashville, TN - The Basement East

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #8 - Leon Bridges - Coming Home

My number 9 album, Coming Home, feels like the summer to me. The album stayed in the stereo of a rental car during a family trip to South Carolina, where it flavored our entire stay.

 In my opinion, Leon Bridges' Coming Home is the best of the current soul revival. It doesn't sound like it's mimicking 60s soul, it sounds like it was recorded in the 60s. Right from the opening song, the title track "Coming Home," it pulls you right in with a sound you might not have realized you love. "Lisa Sawyer" is my personal favorite, and is just this beautiful ballad, complete with these layers of backing vocals throughout. His background singers are Bridges' secret weapon. As with any truly great 60s soul song, it's the background singers you end up singing along to more than the lead. "Flowers" shows off the best of his more uptempo sound. He's already gone from playing clubs in 2015 to setting up a large theater tour for 2016. You can't be disappointed by this album, which you can hear below.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #8: Grimes - Art Angels

My #8 album is Grimes's Art Angels. If I ever revisit my lists in the future, this might be one I ranked too low. Or maybe too high.

That's the magic of Art Angels. Grimes is the true anti-pop pop star, constantly reworking and reinventing herself along the way, doing it largely on her own, and not being tied down nor allowing the trends to define her sound or aesthetic. When "Go," her Blood Diamonds collaboration, came out last year, I was interested in seeing where this was heading. Then Grimes went, scrapped the whole thing, and went in the direction that resulted in Art Angels. It's kind of a crazed masterpiece, with songs like "Kill V. Maim" sounding mainstream while also being completely ridiculous, "Flesh Without Blood" being a really angry, sassy punch while sounding like it would fit in next to Katy Perry. I have listened to this quite a bit since its release, and I don't even think I've started to figure it out, which should probably say something about what is basically a pop album. I get a lot of flack from people for having fallen in love with so much pop music lately, but it's albums like this that I feel redeem me a bit.

Check it out, it's streaming below:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ken's Top 10 of 2015 - #9 - Shopping - Consumer Complaints

When a band releases two albums in the same year, it can be hard to choose your favorite. Since Consumer Complaints came out first, I'll go with that one since it seemed to come out of nowhere.

It seems like there's a huge post-punk revival going on right now, with a ton of new bands borrowing heavily from Gang of Four and Joy Division. For some reason, I'm 100% ok with bands doing their best impressions of both Gang of Four and Joy Division, so this has been a stellar year for me. What elevates Shopping above the rest is that they have really nailed the backbeat of early Gang of Four, and have incorporated a less is more aesthetic while still being able to make you dance. Plus, "In Other Words" may be my favorite song of the year.

You can stream Consumer Complaints below via Spotify. If you enjoy it, be sure to also check out Why Choose, their second release of 2015.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2015 - #9: Wolf Alice - My Love is Cool

My #9 album this year is Wolf Alice, an album I loved when I first heard it and really couldn't let go of at all.

If this didn't come out the same week as Bully's Feels Like, it was very very close, and I think the two bands will forever be aligned in my brain because of how they filled the same sort of throwback alt-rock aesthetic, but in very different ways. The Bully album did not make my top 10, but was a contender for a time, and Wolf Alice ultimately came out ahead because there are just so many interesting things going on. You have more straightforward stuff like "Moaning Lisa Smile," you have a great alt-rock groove in "Freazy," and album opener "Turn to Dust" sets the table for one of the better audio rides of the year for me.

Overall, this was a must listen months ago when it came out, and it's a must listen now. Absolutely one of my favorites of the year, as well as one of the best musical albums, and it's streaming below:

Monday, December 7, 2015

New England First Night Options

Ever since 2009 when Mission of Burma and Buffalo Tom played the Orpheum, Boston's First Night has had a layer of cool to it. Since then, First Night celebrations have included blog favorites like Mavis Staples, Yo La Tengo, The Magnetic Fields, Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys, and more. This year... not so much. I know their budget is drastically lower this year, but when every single Boston area blog I read has no idea who any of these bands, and most seem to be provided by Berklee, it's not really enough to get us to head into town. Luckily, there are still some If It's Too Loud... approved options in and around Boston to make getting a sitter and staying up far too late worth it.

Hallelujah the Hills, Great Scott, Allston, MA
Hallelujah the Hills were fantastic when I saw them at this year's Harvard Square Mayfair, and that was playing mid-afternoon on a makeshift stage in front of a beer tent that seemed to be more interested in listening to the in between bands playlist of No Doubt and Third Eye Blind. Seeing them on New Year's Eve in a tiny club? Sounds just about perfect. If you like your roots music loud and raucous instead of singer-songewritery, this may be your best bet. 
Hallelujah the Hills, The Barbazons, and Milk. $15. Tickets here.

Andrew W.K., Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
I've never quite gotten the whole Andrew W.K. thing, but most people I know seem to love him. Maybe seeing him live would get me over the hump into obsession. New Year's Eve sounds like the perfect date to see a guy who does nothing but party anthems. Plus, he'll be doing the entire album of I Get Wet. 
Andrew W.K., Tigerman Whoah, Vundabar. $33. Tickets here.

Photo by Ken Sears
Rubblebucket, Gateway City Live, Holyoke, MA
Sure, Holyoke is pretty much nowhere near Boston, but the trip out will be worth it for this show. Rubblebucket blew me away this year at Green River Festival with their psychedelic version of indie dance music. I can't even imagine what they'll pull out for New Year's. I'm fully expecting special guests, aliens, balloons, and more confetti than I ever thought possible. Plus, And the Kids are opening. They're another solid choice, and I've been near obsessed with them since I saw them opening for Sallie Ford last year. This might be the pick of the year for me.
Rubblebucket, And the Kids, Mal Devisa. $25. Tickets here.