Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Freebie: Hallelujah the Hills - LIVE at the Cake Shop - July 29, 2016

To mark the closing of NYC's Cake Shop after New Year's Eve, Hallelujah the Hills have offered their recording of their show at the venue from this past summer for free. It's just about 50 minutes of free music from one of our favorite bands. Now, this isn't a high quality recording. The band claims when this was recorded they "... just threw a tape recorder in the back of the room." For those of us that came of age buying such bootleg recordings at not so legit music shops on cassette for a premium back in the day, there is something nostalgic as hell with a recording like this. And this one isn't a $12-$20 cassette, it's free! Plus, it includes their cover of The Velvet Underground's "Run Run Run" which was inspired by a trip to John Cale's loft apartment a few blocks from the venue.

To get your very own download of LIVE at the Cake Shop - July 29, 2016, head on over to Bandcamp. For more on Hallelujah the Hills, check out their website.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mac McCaughan - "Happy New Year (Prince Can't Die Again)"

After the shit show that was 2016, there are few bright spots to look at. Although 2016 gave us a ton of great music, it also took away some of our absolute favorite artists. Mac McCaughan of Superchunk has given us the perfect anthem for the end of 2016: "Happy New Year (Prince Can't Die Again)." A mostly acoustic song, "Happy New Year (Prince Can't Die Again)" admits that 2017 will probably also suck, but, at the very least, we can rest assured that Prince won't be able to die again in the New Year. It also includes the cheerful line "If you still have friends, raise a glass with them."

"Happy New Year (Prince Can't Die Again)" is available as a free download on Mac McCaughan's Bandcamp. For more on Mac McCaughan and Superchunk, check out the Merge Records website.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

First Listen-ish: New Releases for December 23

A slow release week with the holiday, but two major releases combined with a couple I missed this year makes this worth doing.

Artist: Run the Jewels
Album: Run the Jewels 3
Quick Description: The latest from the popular rap group.
Why You Should Listen: RTJ isn't everyone's cup of tea, but El-P knows how to put a beat together and this might be my favorite of theirs yet.
Overall Thoughts: I can't say everything RTJ has done has connected, but there's something about this album that was hitting me right in that sweet spot. Maybe it was the Christmas miracle of its surprise release or just that songs like "Legend Has It" are killing it so well, but the result here is an album that just seems to work. It'd be a highlight even in a busy week. And it's a free download, much like their prior stuff, so if you want one of your own, here's a spot to look.
Recommendation: Mandatory listen.

Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: Not the Actual Events
Quick Description: New EP, first new release in three years from the industrial legends.
Why You Should Listen: It's Nine Inch Nails. Do we really need to explain?
Overall Thoughts: What might be the most notable about this under-the-wire EP is that Atticus Ross, Reznor's collaborator as of late for film scores, is now apparently a full-fledged member of NIN. This is the first release with his involvement, and I don't frankly know if I can tell the difference, but this is classic NIN regardless, with the second track being an early standout. I look forward to spending more time with this, and Reznor says we're getting more in 2017, so this is a good appetizer.
Recommendation: Solid, especially for fans.

A couple we missed:

Artist: Steady Holiday
Album: Under the Influence
Quick Description: Dreamy indie rock/pop.
Why You Should Listen: You like the sort of ethereal airy stuff, but with a little more drive.
Overall Thoughts: I've been addicted to "Superstar" for a while, and realized I never checked in on the album proper. It came out in June, so I clearly missed the boat, and this ends up being a solid listen with a lot of good highlights. "Superstar" is still the standout track, but the whole thing has a quality that can't be ignored. Even in a busy week, I'd recommend, but there's not a lot like it that I heard this year, so it's worth a listen.
Recommendation: A solid release this year.

Artist: D.A.R.K.
Album: Science Agrees
Quick Description: Collaboration involving Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries and Andy Rourke of The Smiths.
Why You Should Listen: If the musical pedigree isn't enough, the songs might be.
Overall Thoughts: Considering the amount of buzz I saw when "Loosen the Noose" hit the interwebs, I'm shocked that I didn't notice this album coming out. The whole thing in and of itself is a little underwhelming if only because the pre-album chatter was so high. The album is fine, and would be worth a look in most weeks. I just wonder if it could have been better overall. This is less a bad album and more of a missed opportunity to be something great instead of good.
Recommendation: Obviously we're catching up so it's worth a listen, but temper the expectations.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Mix: Jeff's Favorite Songs of 2016

To kind of close the book on the year a bit, I wanted to offer up a quickie playlist of my favorite songs this year. Shuffle or not, here's how I might rank them:

1) Royksopp and Susanne Sundfor - "Never Ever" (a song that should have been 2016's "Get Lucky," a much better throwback than Daft Punk did. Song of the year for me, no question)
2) Big Thief - "Masterpiece" (tell me this song isn't the most epic sparse indie rock song you've ever heard)
3) Eric Bachmann - "Mercy" (the Nerf Herder singer/songwriter offered up one of the most emotional songs of the year for me)
4) Margaret Glaspy - "Emotions and Math" (great song, of course, but I still maintain this is actually from the point of view of a dog)
5) The Prettiots - "Suicide Hotline" (this is not a cry for help)
6) Quilt - "Roller" (local song of the year, but also a great groove and catchy chorus)
7) Lauren Mann - "New Beginning" (I feel as if Lauren Mann would have gotten more attention had more people heard this song)
8) The Avett Brothers - "Smithsonian" (arguably one of the best songs they've ever done period)
9) Tancred - "Pens" (has my favorite lyric of the year: "I'm insanely healthy in my head/it's crazy how stable I am")
10) The Casket Girls - "Tears of a Clown" (I think a lot of people might get something extra out of this modern protest song)
11) DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels - "Nobody Speak" (RTJ hasn't ever clicked with me until this song, and now I can't get enough)
12) Ladyhawke - "A Love Song" (...because I could only choose one...)
13) Paper Pilots - "The Weather" (this is not a song you've likely heard, but I promise it won't leave your head once you do)
14) Radiation City - "Oil Show" (fun, glitchy indie pop)
15) Powerslut - "Switch Hitter" (sexually-tinged and funny as well)
16) Weakened Friends - "95" (this was my song of the summer)
17) Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - "Nobody Dies" (was honestly hard to choose between this and "Meticulous Bird")
18) Rococode - "Panic Attack" (another song with one of the catchiest choruses of the year)
19) Ruby the Rabbitfoot - "Nicola La" (while I nearly chose "Wild Cherry Chapstick," this song has a heck of a chorus as well)
20) CFO$ - "Glorious Domination" (before you roll your eyes at a WWE entrance theme, listen to this and tell me you won't be humming this/yelling along in your car later)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Cover Dionne Warwick

Well, those are words I never thought I'd ever type. Boston's ska-core heroes The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have covered Dionne Warwick's easy listening classic "What the World Needs Now is Love." Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett has this to say about their choice of covers:

"It's a message and/or a reminder that we would like to share with the world for the holidays during these seemingly difficult and trying times. The song doesn't take a side but it definitely takes a stance." 

The weirdest part of the song is how well it actually works. It's a shockingly true rendition of the song, unlike their old school covers that hardcore up every song. It's quite beautiful, and has more of a reggae swing to it than anything else. What could have been just a silly throwaway song is actually a beautiful, heartfelt attempt to heal all the hurt so many of us are feeling as this shitty year comes to an end.

You can get your own free copy of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' version of "What the World Needs Now is Love" over at Nimbit. If you happen to be in the Boston area, next week marks the Bosstones' once again annual Hometown Throwdown at the House of Blues on December 28-30. For more on the Bosstones', check out their website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sallie Ford Covers "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"

In part two of our accidental "People Cover the Perfect Holiday Song for Them" feature today, we have Sallie Ford covering Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Originally recorded back in 2010 with her old band The Sound Outside, Ford's enthusiasm for the song shines through. You can tell she's having an absolute rockin' [editor's note: Ugh. Sorry. I hate myself for that one] time with this one, and it features one of the greatest scat solos of all time. It's everything you want in a cover: Well chosen, perfectly true to the original, and just altered enough to make the song her own.

You can get your own free download of Sallie Ford covering "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" at her PledgeMusic page (which is where you can also pre-order her forthcoming album, Soul Sick, due February 10. For more information on Sallie Ford, check out her website.

The Secret Sisters Cover "Little Drummer Boy"

Seeing how much we love covers and the current retro country thing going on in music right now, we're pretty big fans of The Secret Sisters, who do classic country covers like no one else in music today. With Sunday being Christmas and all, they've given their fans a free download of their version of "Little Drummer Boy." "Little Drummer Boy" is one of the most traditional of all Christmas songs, and it might be the perfect choice for The Secret Sisters. It's all just harmony and just the slightest hint of guitar. 

You can download a free copy of "Little Drummer Boy" over at Noisetrade. For more information on The Secret Sisters (who are currently taking pre-orders for their new album on PledgeMusic) head on over to their website.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jessi Zazu (aka Jessi Darlin) is Battling Cancer

2016 sucks. It sucks to the point that everyone seems to agree that it sucks. And just to drive that point home, yesterday Jessi Zazu (aka Jessi Darlin formerly of Those Darlins) announced that she is fighting cancer with a tweet that said "Ya'll, I got the cancer...." She was diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer right after Those Darlins wrapped up their final tour, and tried fighting it in private. Last month she discovered the cancer had spread to her lymphatic system, which is typically a "no cure scenario." Jessi is determined to keep fighting, but she does need our help. There is a YouCaring page set up to help with the insane costs associated with a cancer battle, and Jessi is selling "Ain't Afraid" shirts to also help with the costs. As huge fans of Jessi and Those Darlins, we wish her the best and hope you can help out in her time of need.

In good news, Jessi is currently working with Those Darlins drummer Linwood Regensburg on new music. To read her full statement, and find an address for well wishes and cards, check out the story on Nashville Scene.

Jake McKelvie & The Countertops - "Rhinestone Busboy"

Hailing from somewhere in Massachusetts, Jake McKelvie & The Countertops are releasing a brand new EP, The Rhinestone Busboy EP, and have made the EP's closer, also called "Rhinestone Busboy," available to listen. "Rhinestone Busboy," the song, is much quieter than some previous songs I've heard from the band. In fact, it's almost a folk ballad, losing a lot of Jake McKelvie & The Countertops normal almost pop-punk meets The Dismemberment Plan and Pavement sound. But, the wit and 90s indie vibe are still there, making this a must listen.

You can listen to "Rhinestone Busboy" below. The Rhinestone Busboy EP is out today. You can get your copy over at Jake McKelvie & The Countertops' Bandcamp. For more information on the band, check out their website and Facebook. They'll be playing December 23 at the Gardner Ale House in Gardner, MA, December 29 at The Shaskeen in Manchester, NH, and December 31 at Union Coffee Company in Milford, NH.

First Listen: New-ish Releases for December 16

Another short week, but some stuff landed on Spotify so we'll cover a few.

Artist: Kristen Hersh
Album: Wyatt at the Coyote Palace
Quick Description: Kristen Hersh's latest double-album-length affair.
Why You Should Listen: Kristen Hersh is a must-listen even in a busy week.
Overall Thoughts: Kristen Hersh's new album sounds a lot like solo Kristen Hersh in a lot of ways. That's not a bad thing at all, but it means there might not be a standout track on the album for a lot of listeners, either. As someone who has been a fan for well over 20 years, though, this felt like a solid, albeit long, listen.
Recommendation: Still worth the time.

Artist: You People
Album: Dropouts
Quick Description: Local noisy indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: This is an interesting listen...
Overall Thoughts: ...except that it's all over the place. I thought I liked it in the first track, I felt like I was sick of it by the last, and everything in between is equal parts kind of cool and kind of exhausting. At the end of the day, this isn't something I recommend, but if your tastes run the gamut there might be stuff here to like.
Recommendation: I say skip, but in a short week...

Artist: Kid Cudi
Album: Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin'
Quick Description: Latest from the hip hop/alt-rock chameleon.
Why You Should Listen: Kid Cudi is always interesting, even if it's not always good.
Overall Thoughts: Kid Cudi had three amazing albums early on. He's been following his muse ever since, often to questionable results, and this latest album is absolutely better than his last few efforts but still doesn't come close to some of his better early work. His best songs on this one are the collaborations (most notably "By Design") but the album feels more like a miss than a hit.
Recommendation: Listen to it for the parts rather than the whole.

Also worth noting:

* Callum Easter - Get Don't Want
* Weep and Willow - Weep and Willow

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Mix: If It's Too Loud... 2016 Holiday Playlist

I prefer Halloween over Christmas. Christmas music is pretty much unavoidable, and most of it is pretty awful. It's either the same songs over and over every year or just top 40 pop crap you'll hopefully forget next year. That's why we bring you the If It's Too Loud... 2016 Holiday playlist. This is the second we've done (for some reason we skipped last year), and we've tried hard to not repeat from the last one. We tried to include a wide mix of everything we cover from classic country (Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn), 90s favorites (Jennifer Trynin, Letters to Cleo), classic punk (The Ramones, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bad Religion), classic rockers (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Chuck Berry), soul (James Brown, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings), current favorites (Courtney Barnett, Matt Pond PA, Sallie Ford), and, of course, "Christmas in Hollis" from Run DMC. No Christmas playlist is complete without it.

Jennifer Clavin (Bleached) Covers The Ramones and Barry McGuire (Plus Socks!)

We've been digging Bleached here at If It's Too Loud..., so we're pretty excited that Jennifer from Bleached has released two acoustic covers to benefit Planned Parenthood. Here is Jennifer's explanation of her idea behind the covers from a Facebook post:

After the election, I went to the desert with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, sadness, and anger. I decided to record covers of 2 songs that perfectly capture my feelings regarding our political state. Barry McGuire's ‘Eve of Destruction’ was written in 1965, and 50 years later could not be more relevant. It’s a warning of the fascist, racist, violent and unjust world we were living in then, and are living in now. Ramones' ‘Bonzo Goes To Bitburg’ shares the embarrassed, offended, and disgusted feeling a lot of us have every time we see Trump on our television. We are living in a time where we can anticipate federal funding to public health resources terminated. I have been using Planned Parenthood’s services for 10 years. And hope to continue to. It is on us to ensure their services continue through public funding and donation. All the proceeds of this digital 7” will go towards Planned Parenthood, for a future of accessible pap smears, breast and cervical cancer screening, pregnancy testing, pregnancy option counseling, STD screening, colposcopies, birth control, sex education, LGBT services, and other necessary health services. F!CK TRUMP. F*CK PENCE. LONG LIVE RUTH BADER GINSBERG. - Jennifer

Her cover of The Ramones' "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" is a bit of a trainwreck, but in the best possible way. The Ramones are a bit of a trainwreck themselves, and anytime you make an acoustic version of a Ramones' song it's going to be imperfect, but that's the fun of the cover. Surprisingly, her cover of Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" is my favorite of the two. It's just about perfect, and it's just a great rendition of a classic.

You can listen to Jennifer Clavin's versions of "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" and Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" below. You can get your own copy of these two songs for a $2.00 donation to Planned Parenthood on Bleached's Bandcamp. They are also selling limited edition Bleached socks to benefit Planned Parenthood here. For more info on Bleached, check out their Facebook.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Freebie: Sallie Ford, Vic Chesnutt, and Funeral Advantage

Friday Freebie is back this week with our very first triple header. We'll start off with the smallest of the three, but one we're really excited about. Absolute blog favorite Sallie Ford is offering up two songs from her upcoming album, Soul Sick, along with a previously unreleased B-side, "You're On My Mind." We've previously covered "Get Out," so we'll stick with the two newer songs. "Failure" is doo-woppy as hell, and "You're On My Mind" is an absolute treasure. It sounds like an old blues song being played on the slowest, creepiest Victrola. You can get your copy of Sallie Ford's Soul Sick Sampler + Unreleased B-Side over on Noisetrade.

For those of you not familiar with Vic Chesnutt, you owe it to yourself to check him out. He recorded a total of 17 albums in his far too short and hard life. I guess you'd call him a singer/songwriter, but his style transcended the genre. I saw him once back in 2003 opening up for Evan Dando at the Paradise. The stage isn't even remotely handicap-accessible, so he had to be lifted in his wheelchair onto the stage. Watching him sing these beautiful and painful songs close enough to make eye contact was a powerful and uncomfortable experience I'll never forget. Six of Chesnutt's albums (his first four on Texas Hotel and two on New West Records) are being reissued on vinyl. To celebrate this, there is a 12 song sampler being offered for free, also on Noisetrade. You can pre-order the reissues on PledgeMusic.

No strangers to Friday Freebie, Boston's own Funeral Advantage are hinting at a new album on Facebook. What's as exciting as new music from our favorite local disciples of 80s softer college rock (I legitimately thought most of their songs were Smiths covers the first time I saw them, and I mean that as the highest compliment)? This week they're offering their entire back catalog for free on their Bandcamp! This includes their fantastic 2015 album Body Is Dead, their album of the demos for Body Is Dead, and a bunch of singles. This offer is only for "this week," and since they announced it on Tuesday you'll want to act now.

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #1: David Bowie - Blackstar

We'll never really know how Blackstar would have been received if David Bowie had not died mere days after its release. The reviews were glowing (as usual for a David Bowie album), but hardly spectacular. I can't honestly say if it would have made my top 10, let alone been my #1 album of 2016. That's how art works, though. In the context of Bowie's shocking death at the age of 69, Blackstar takes on a whole new significance and meaning. There were a ton of stories asking if Bowie predicted his death in the album. Such a question is absurd considering he had been battling cancer for 18 months and lyrics like "Look up here, I'm in heaven" from a song called "Lazarus" aren't exactly being subtle. On first listen, we all just assumed Bowie was playing another character in Blackstar. Maybe he was, but if he was, it was one he related to more than anyone would have ever wanted him to. Even if there are the rumored unreleased albums planned, Blackstar will be the album that cements Bowie's legacy.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #1: Ladyhawke - Wild Things

My top album of 2016 is Ladyhawke's Wild Things.

It's my favorite album this year. It's the album I listened to the most this year. There was a moment about a month after this came out where I posted on Facebook something along the lines of "All I do is listen to Ladyhawke now" because I was so addicted to this album. When I wasn't listening to Wild Things, I went back to her older albums and listened to those instead. When I put on my playlist of current obsessions, my wife asked me why I listen to Ladyhawke so much since her songs were probably taking up 10% of the playlist most of the summer. Literally as I write this, my Spotify end-of-year recap came in my email, and three songs from this album are my top three tracks. According to Spotify, I'm in the top 1% of Ladyhawke listeners, apparently.

Can you tell I love this album?

It's the perfect pop rock album, for sure. It's polished but still feels fresh, it's got melodies that stick in my head constantly, I find something new to love in it every single time. I can't say a single bad thing about it, and I realize that I haven't been to a live concert in four years and Ladyhawke is playing Boston in March and I may need to end my drought. I don't think I knew her before this year, and I'm glad I was able to find this album, because it's just been a great listen. If you haven't bothered yet, give it a shot now. It's not too late.

Recommended: "A Love Song," "Money to Burn," "Let It Roll."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chicano Batman - "Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)"

Photo by Josue Rivas
With a name like Chicano Batman, it would be easy to dismiss them as a novelty act. I'll admit that their name is the main reason I gave this song a shot. Plus, they all wear matching vintage suits and shirts, which can scream "gimmick." But "Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)" is this groove based chilled out soul song heavy on keys. There is a heavy Latin influence, which is surprisingly rare in soul music. Most soul tends to vary between slow ballads and fast tempo dance songs, while "Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)" sits right in the mid-tempo range. It's too slow to really dance to, but fast enough that you'll need to move. This song is just pure groove. Not many bands can pull off opening for Jack White, Alabama Shakes, and Gogol Bordello, but Chicano Batman have.

You can watch the video for "Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)" below. The new album from Chicano Batman, Freedom is Free, is due out March 3 on ATO Records. You can pre-order a copy on Chicano Batman's website.

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #2: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - A Man Alive

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down could be a complete trainwreck of a band. They merge folk, rock, indie, dance, and hip hop. Anytime that many genres blend, it makes it more likely for the album to be a disaster of a hodgepodge and feel completely disconnected. But A Man Alive is an absolute masterpiece. Let me explain how special Thao is. The photo pit at a major festival should be a magical place. You're within feet of rock stars, taking pictures of them, and enjoying the show in front of a crowd that has been jockeying for position all day. However, for some reason, it can be a miserable place. Photographers are trying to get that one great picture and see all others as their competition for that picture. Plus, most are just doing an assignment and see it as a waste of a weekend. That was the attitude when Thao & The Get Down Stay Down played the Newport Folk Festival in 2014. Add a torrential downpour during her set to the mix, and the photo pit should have been completely miserable. Instead, the photographers were actually smiling. One woman turned to me and declared "She's just so much fun!" When a performer can get music journalists to enjoy themselves, it's something truly special. You're going to want to check out the full album, but if you're not completely sold, check out "The Evening," "Meticulous Bird," and especially "Nobody Dies," which is probably my favorite song of the year. What can I say, I love party songs about everyone's imminent demise.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016: #2 - Margaret Glaspy - Emotions and Math

My #2 album this year is Margaret Glaspy's Emotions and Math.

I remember when Ken first shared "You and I" with me, and I immediately knew this was an album I needed to hear. Quickly, the title track landed followed by the album, and I fell in love with this album. Glaspy is clearly a talented guitarist and songwriter, and this album is the perfect balance between intricate songwriting and hooky melodies. There's a bluesy tinge to a lot of this, but it ends up really just being a solid singer-songwritery effort that hit every possible note for me. There's not a bad song on the album, and it basically hasn't left my rotation since it came out (except for the couple days it fell off of Spotify, which were some of the worst days of the year).

If you've somehow slept on this one, change that. And if you listen to "Emotions and Math," we can debate together whether the song is actually secretly from the point of view of a canine.

Recommended songs: "You and I," "Emotions and Math," "Pins and Needles."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #3: Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter

Midwest Farmer's Daughter is one of those rare albums that I couldn't seem to get enough of throughout 2016. It was just that album I always went back to when I got bored and couldn't decide what to put on in the background at work. Her throwback country sound just gets me perfectly. If you're the kind of person who needs at least 2 minutes to answer the question "Do you like country?," Margo Price is for you. Her appearance on Marc Maron's WTF podcast and her performance at this year's Green River Festival just increased my love of Midwest Farmer's Daughter. Turns out "Weekender" is actually about her brief time in jail. I even went back to listen to her old soul band, Buffalo Clover. Her live show completely won me over, and "Four Years of Chances" reaches an absolute epic level live. It never quite caught me on the album, and I swore it was some old Dolly Parton or Bobbie Gentry cover until I looked at the album and realized that's where I knew it from. Somehow she's not playing theaters yet, so make sure you check her out in the clubs while you can. She's due for Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell levels of success very soon.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #3: Tancred - Out of the Garden

My #3 album is Tancred's Out of the Garden, a 90s-alt throwback solo project that I found late but never really stopped listening to.

Sometimes an album just catches you, and this one did that for me. I did not expect to hear what felt effectively like a Letters to Cleo/Juliana Hatfield-style effort from a member of Now Now, but here we have it. I learned later that this was produced by Anna Waronker (best known for being the singer/songwriter of That Dog) and it continued to come together. Lead track "Bed Case" sets the tone, and the rest of the half-hour album just doesn't let up. It feels fresh and modern even though it wears its influences on its sleeves, and given that this is Jess Abbott's second album under this project, you can hear how the transformation of the sound compliments her songwriting style so well.

Honestly, the top three albums I have this year probably changed positions on me a dozen times. You won't go wrong by giving this a listen, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Recommended songs: "Bed Case," "Pens," "Poise"

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #4: Drive-By Truckers - American Band

My obsession with Drive-By Truckers has been going pretty strong for 15 years now, ever since the release of Southern Rock Opera. In my own opinion, they haven't released a bad album in that time. Even a mediocre Drive-By Truckers album is still pretty great. Their latest release, American Band, is my favorite release of theirs since 2004's The Dirty South. Their albums tend to be a mixture of serious, darker songs along with some that border on novelty, with some thinly veiled politics mixed throughout. American Band drops the thin veil and sense of humor and is their most overtly political and serious album yet. Mike Cooley claimed that he "... wanted to piss off the assholes," and with songs about getting rid of the Confederate flag ("Surrender Under Protest"), Black Lives Matter and police shootings ("What It Means"), and the sex lives of conservative Christians ("Kinky Hypocrite"), it's safe to say they may have accomplished their goal. In a year when members of Rage Against the Machine teamed with Chuck D of Public Enemy in a nostalgia based cash grab disguised as an attempt to Fight the Power, American Band was a welcome reflection of protest and anger.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #4: Jeff Rosenstock - Worry

My #4 album this year is Jeff Rosenstock's Worry.

This one caught me by surprise and got more and more additive the more I listened to it. I didn't even list this as my favorite album of the week it came out, but did predict accurately that this would age well, and it absolutely did. This is like that classic 1990s alt-rock album you loved and forgot about, with great hooks and melodies and some nice crunchy guitars to go along with it. It's obnoxious and fun, the lyrics are off-center and provide a solid look into what a less serious album can sound like in this day and age.

Overall, just an album that fills me with joy almost every time I listen to it. If you've missed this up until now, you have to check it out.

Recommended: "The Fuzz," "Wave Goodnight to Me," "Staring Out the Window of Your Old Apartment"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #5: Kaia Kater - Nine Pin

My #5 album this year is Kaia Kater's Nine Pin.

Kaia Kater hit my radar a few years back, and we were both pretty excited about Nine Pin around these parts. The result here is an album that is the sort of raw Americana that I love, with some great musicianship and some interesting songs while still feeling traditional and timeless. It's a really stellar album because of how under the radar it is, but it deserves a lot more attention than it got. The whole thing is just a gorgeous, haunting listen from top to bottom, and it deserves a look if you haven't given it one already. I've gone back to it twice in the last couple weeks because I love it so much.

So get on this. Just a great listen.

Recommended: "Harlem's Little Blackbird," "Harvest and the Plough," "Rising Down"

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #5: Nots - Cosmetic

Whenever I see anything about Nots, I'm always surprised that they aren't from England and instead are from Nashville. Even though I know there are bands from Nashville besides country bands, you don't really expect there to be much of a post punk scene in Tennessee. Nots are this perfect combo of late 70s post punk groove and 90s art punk noise and riot aggression. I made the obvious comparison earlier by bringing up Sonic Youth and Bikini Kill, but that still stands. The album closer, "Entertain Me," is my favorite seven minute song I've heard in years. It's a noisy, badass epic. "Cosmetic" is a shorter song, but it's still filled with bursts of perfect noise. Cosmetic is a side of Nashville you're probably not familiar with, but you'll want to be.

First Listen: New Releases for December 9

A short release week means we'll play a tiny bit of catch-up as well.

Artist: Neil Young
Album: Peace Trail
Quick Description: Legendary folkie offers a new album in a post-Trump environment.
Why You Should Listen: It completely depends on how you feel about Neil Young.
Overall Thoughts: Young recorded this before the election, so this isn't a protest album against the current results or anything, but Neil Young is known for being politically charged and socially aware, and this album is no different. As someone who really just likes "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World," I was surprised how much I liked from this album. It's got a couple solid songs on here, delves into the weird toward the end a bit, and the result is, well, a Neil Young album. A longtime fan might have a different take, but...
Recommendation: ...this ain't bad!

Artist: The Last Shadow Puppets
Album: The Dream Synoposis EP
Quick Description: Quick hit EP from the rock band.
Why You Should Listen: You're a fan or it's a short week for music overall for you.
Overall Thoughts: I don't have a ton to say about this one, as this is a band I don't know all that well. This is a solid, poppy quick hit, and that's probably enough for a lot of people, but if you like your rock music a little less polished, you might want to look elsewhere.
Recommendation: Enjoyment might be based on how much you like this band.

Artist: Charlie Parr
Album: I Ain't Dead Yet
Quick Description: Authentic roots music.
Why You Should Listen: Nothing like it this week, and will be a welcome addition to some of the solid listens this year.
Overall Thoughts: This was a Record Store Day release initially, and this EP has 5 quick folk songs on it, including a traditional, that speaks to why people love this guy. As a first exposure for me, this makes me want to seek out more of his stuff, which might be the point. In a time of year where the new releases are slow, this is a great time to explore new artists, and this might be one to check out.
Recommendation: Worth your time.

Artist: Abi Reimhold
Album: Wriggling
Quick Description: Off-center indie alt-rock.
Why You Should Listen: This is a hidden gem that came out recently and deserves your time.
Overall Thoughts: I don't know who Abi Reimhold is, but I want to find out. Her debut album here is just accessible enough to fit in with some of the solid alt-rock acts this year, but is weird enough to sit on the fringes nonetheless. The album kind of blew my mind when I heard it last week, and I wanted to make sure I got it on here just so readers could give this one a listen. One of the best of the year? Too soon to say, and it'll be too late for me before I find out, but it's an album that I wish I hadn't missed when it came out, because I probably would have spent a long portion of the year listening to it.
Recommendation: A must-listen.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Stef Chura - "Spotted Gold"

Photo by Zak Bratto
The second single from Stef Chura's upcoming debut album, "Spotted Gold," shows a different side than the previous single, "You." While "You" was a little more singer/songwriter style (albeit a more noisy and brooding variety), "Spotted Gold" is pure jangly indie rock fun. Don't get me wrong, I love "You," and would be perfectly happy to hear an entire album of songs just like it. But "Spotted Gold" is just as fantastic in a completely different way. While the song sounds fun and bouncy, it turns out it's about a friendship with a bandmate going badly. I was already excited for Chura's upcoming album. Now I'm downright giddy.

You can watch the video for "Spotted Gold" below. Stef Chura's debut album, Messes, will be out January 27 on Urinal Cake Records. You can pre-order your copy here. For more information on Chura, check her out on Bandcamp and Facebook

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #6: A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service

To be completely fair, I could be overrating this a bit because of what it's not: absolutely horrible. With very few exceptions, whenever a rap artist from the 80s and 90s releases a comeback album, it's pretty much guaranteed to be universally horrible. In an attempt to sound current, they all seem to get stuck on what Puff Daddy did in 1998 and just have an R&B chorus over everything.

Which is why A Tribe Called Quest's latest, We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service, should be horrible. It's their first album in almost 20 years. That's never a good sign, regardless of what genre you're looking at. Plus, it was released after the death of a major member. After Phife Dawg's death back in March, they could have just rushed this out to capitalize on it. Instead, they took their time and released one of the best albums of the year, and maybe even the best hip hop album in years. To be fair, there aren't any "Scenario"s on here, but they aren't trying to make one. Instead of A Tribe Called Quest trying to sound like the rap of 2016, they sound like what A Tribe Called Quest should sound like in 2016. It's a natural evolution for one of the pioneers of modern rap. Even the guest appearances (Talib Kewli, Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes, Jack White, Elton John(?), etc) seem natural. Unfortunately, this will have to be the last we ever hear from this group. At least they're going out the best way possible.

Jeff's Best of 2016 - #6: Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter

My #6 album is Margo Price's Midwest Farmer's Daughter.

This one came out of nowhere for me. The retro classic country sound has been making a lot of waves, and Jack White's Third Man Records is really putting out quality stuff in this area, and Margo Price is no different in that regard. It feels classic and timeless while still having that raw quality to it that keeps it sounding fresh. The melodies here stick in my head all the time, and there's not a bad song on the album. And basically? The only thing keeping this from being the album of the year for me is because of how much good music has come out in 2016.

If you've slept on this up until now, you still have a chance to come around. If you like classic country at all, you just need to drop what you're doing and give this a shot.

Recommended songs: "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)," "Four Years of Chances," "This Town Gets Around"

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Laura Stevenson Covers The Replacements

Photo by Christopher Hainey
Since both Jeff and I are fairly obsessed with Laura Stevenson,  we love covers here at If It's Too Loud..., and The Replacements are one of my favorite bands, it's a pretty safe bet that we're thrilled that Laura Stevenson has released a cover of "Alex Chilton." The ode to the leader of Big Star was recorded in Groningen, Netherlands, and is part of Stevenson's just released live album Live at Vera Club. The album is being offered for a pay what you can option with 100% of all proceeds going to benefit Planned Parenthood. The recording is a bit muddled, particularly the beginning of "Alex Chilton," but it's a live album from one of our favorite bands doing one of my favorite band's songs, so how can you really go wrong?

Live at Vera Club is available from Quote Unquote Records here. You can listen to Laura Stevenson's cover of "Alex Chilton" below. For more on Laura Stevenson, including her current tour dates, check out her website.

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #7: Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys - Come Black Magic

Come Black Magic is Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys' best album to date. In the few years since I've been following them, they've released an abundance of music, from soundtracks to plays, covers compilations, proper albums, etc., but Come Black Magic is their greatest sonic achievement. One of the obvious differences is the inclusion of Mary Widow as a full time member of the band. Since most of the Army of Broken Toys have fairly non-traditional voices, having a more traditional singer in their ranks really helps pull everything together with backing harmonies. Not to mention, every single song really feels like they are just going for it completely. Whether they're rallying against the patriarchy ("The Legend of Squid and Moon") or doing a Bjork cover ("Army of Me"), nothing is being done at anything but a level of full commitment. "Dull Boy," a musical tribute to The Shining that has been rattling around their live shows for a while now, finally gets a proper release on this album. "Come Black Magic" is their best song yet, and would have been a huge release if there was still such a thing as rock radio that would take a chance on an oddball song every so often. I can't wait to see what 2017 holds for Boston's finest purveyors of rock/punk/gypsy/burlesque/steamcrunk/folk/art.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #7: Andrew Bird - Are You Serious

Andrew Bird's Are You Serious is my #7 album this year. I wasn't expecting this to be my favorite Andrew Bird album, but I wasn't expecting his previous album to be my favorite before that, either.

Andrew Bird holds a weird spot for me personally, as he's the better version of a lot of things I already love. This album hit me first as feeling a little more stripped down and different than his past efforts, but a few listens got me right in line with why I enjoy what he does. Yeah, he whistles. Yeah, there's a good amount of violin. But the songs are just so catchy, and they get jammed into your brain and don't let go whether you want them to or not. I hear my wife humming the title track in the kitchen constantly even when she hasn't heard the song in a while.

I still maintain that Bird's "worst" album was also his breakthrough, Armchair Apocrypha. Where this will sit in Bird's lineup of music over all these years remains to be seen, but this might be my favorite effort of his so far. Full of earworms, just a solid listen that you should give a good listen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Rican Beach"

Photo by Sarrah Danziger
Hurray for the Riff Raff has established themselves (herself?) as one of the top artists for a modern take on laid back traditional folk. Based on their new song, the upcoming album might be shattering that expectation. "Rican Beach" is a huge departure. The next album, The Navigator, is kind of a concept album that altogether tells the story of a street kid named Navita. The new song fully embraces a Latin sound and has this groove throughout with just the hint of a punk edge. It's not exactly as heavy as Downtown Boys, but in comparison to her previous work, this is as close as Alynda Segerra has come to full blown punk.

You can watch the lyric video for "Rican Beach" below. The new Hurray for the Riff Raff album, The Navigator, will be out March 10 on ATO Records. You can pre-order a copy at PledgeMusic. For more information on Hurray for the Riff Raff, check out their website.

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #8: Mothers - When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired

Another album that came out way back in February that stuck with me all year was the debut from Mothers, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired. One of my most anticipated releases of 2016 based solely on the strength of the song "Too Small for Eyes," the rest of the album lived up to the hype I had created in my mind. The true power of the album is Kristine Leschper's voice, which is equal parts beautiful and discordant, fragile and powerful. "Too Small for Eyes" borders on twee, sounding like a folk song being played on a dying, broken music box. "It Hurts Until it Doesn't" is a bit more rocking and is more what indie used to be instead of what is considered indie now. "Nesting Behavior" is an incredibly delicate song that might be the most terrifying lullaby ever. "Lockjaw" simmers throughout its entire 5:00 length and builds to a crescendo that never quite comes. Right when you expect and want it to break wide open, it comes into itself even more, which is just about perfect. Mothers are the rare band that would be equally at home at both the Newport Folk Festival and Pitchfork Music Festival. 

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #8: Ruby the RabbitFoot - Divorce Party

My #8 album this year is Ruby the RabbitFoot's Divorce Party.

When this came out, it felt like a massive departure. We loved her previous album, New as Dew, and the expectation of another solid folky singer-songwriter album was put into question when her cover of Madonna's "Take a Bow" landed, but was completely dashed when "Nicola La" came out ahead of the album. I was skeptical, but wow, this ended up being one of the albums I played the most this year. There's a cool off-center pop sensibility to it while still having the sort of stark, transparent lyrical feel we come to expect from folk music.

I know this got some good blog buzz, and I hope this means bigger things for her in the long term. Still, it's one of the best of this year and has a couple of my favorite songs for 2016 as well. Check it out.

Recommended: "Nicola La," "Wild Cherry Chapstick," "I Hate You."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ken's Top 10 of 2016 - #9: Marlon Williams - S/T

Marlon Williams is part of this odd (but fantastic) wave of Americana coming out of Australia and New Zealand. His debut solo album came out way back in February and it's been in my regular rotation ever since. While there is a ton of country/folk albums out these days, what really makes Williams stand out is his voice. He could easily be one of the new crooners that pop up on The Voice or American Idol, but instead he's playing small clubs doing the singer-songwriter thing. There are the more upbeat songs like the album opener, "Hello Miss Lonesome" and the second song "After All," but the true standout is the moody "Dark Child." Williams is best when he's crooning a dark, melancholy tale. Plus, the indie rock style feedback that is just hinted at in the background comes out in full force towards the end. "Strange Things" is the closest thing the album comes to a traditional country song with it's haunting chorus. No one is currently doing the Americana thing like Marlon Williams. For a genre based in tradition for decades, hearing a voice this unique is a rare gift.

Jeff's Top 10 of 2016 - #9: The Prettiots - Funs Cool

Sometimes an album (and even a song) comes along that both speaks to you on a pretty solid level while also hitting just the right nostalgia buttons all at once. Thus Funs Cool, the debut album from The Prettiots. It's unlike anything else that sniffed the blogosphere this year while both harkening back to the anti-folk of a decade ago.

It was "Suicide Hotline" that got me hooked. I had a fairly dark start of the new year, and I'm not saying that I needed a song to literally talk me off the ledge, but a song that was described by the songwriter as a letter to her therapist about how she was feeling definitely worked for me, especially with its literary references and clearly self-depreciating attitude. It became a highly-anticipated album, and the whole thing is the same way. "Boys (That I Dated in High School)" is hilarious, "18 Wheeler" appropriately dark, and so on.

Overall, the result is an album that stayed on repeat for me for some time. I share it with people, and I think it's too weird for the mainstream, but too wonderful for me to ignore. Revisiting it in the last couple weeks, it holds up insanely well, too. Just a great album this year, and one you should take some time with if you haven't already.

Recommended: "Suicide Hotline," "Boys (That I Dated in High School)," "Skulls."

First Listen: New Releases for December 2

This might be the last big new release week for a while, so let's dive right in!

Album of the Week:

Artist: Childish Gambino
Album: "Awaken, My Love!"
Quick Description: Donald Glover puts aside the nerd rap in favor of a funky pastiche.
Why You Should Listen: Donald Glover is a must watch/listen/read no matter what.
Overall Thoughts: Looking at this solely as a Childish Gambino project, it's hard not to see it as a strange diversion from what's worked. But if we look at this from Donald Glover as an artist, following his leaving Community and through the amazing FX show Atlanta, it's hard not to see this as one of those sort of essential pieces that needs more time to be unpacked. It's clear he's going for a message, similar to other R&B acts this year, but it's hard not to hear some old style funk as a message in and of itself about Glover's artistry on its own. This won't work for everyone, I understand that, but...
Recommendation: ...this is maybe the most essential recent listen.

Artist: Various Artists
Album: The Hamilton Mixtape
Quick Description: Celebratory mix of alternate/cover takes of tracks from the musical.
Why You Should Listen: You aren't one of the three people left not bitten by the Hamilton bug.
Overall Thoughts: It's impossible to listen to this and appreciate it without a full love for the musical. It's a great musical, maybe the best modern one in ages, but the enjoyment of this will track with your love of the musical. My wife is into this, I'm pretty much set with the version of "My Shot." So I'm not saying don't listen. I'm just saying this is for a specific audience.
Recommendation: Worth a listen, but might not be for you.

Artist: Peter Doherty
Album: The Hamburg Demonstrations
Quick Description: Babyshambers/Libertines solo album.
Why You Should Listen: Shows a more serious side.
Overall Thoughts: I can't say I'm much of a fan of anything Doherty does, but seeing his name pop up this week made it worth a listen and I'm impressed. The word "mature" comes to mind (which is almost certainly related to Doherty's personal troubles) and, while I can't say any song jumps out at me, it ends up being a really good showing. Surprisingly impressive!
Recommendation: Also worth a listen if you're into it.

Artist: Lady Lamb
Album: Tender Warriors Club
Quick Description: A quick, stripped-down EP reminiscent of her early work.
Why You Should Listen: Lady Lamb is a must-listen.
Overall Thoughts: We don't hide our love for Lady Lamb around these parts. Ken's a bigger fan than I am, but we've both loved the direction she's gone since her early start. This EP, however, is some of the best work she's put out in ages. Mostly acoustic/stripped down, very singer-songwritery, but just beautiful from start to finish. I wish there was more, or this would be a strong late contender for one of the best releases of the year for me.
Recommendation: A must listen, one of the best releases of the year.

Artist: Weezy Ford
Album: Bobbypin Graveyard
Quick Description: Sallie Ford's sister does Sallie Ford better than Sallie Ford?
Why You Should Listen: Some solid indie rock in EP form.
Overall Thoughts: Another album I wish there was more of, Weezy Ford offers a great debut EP. Ken covered it in more detail earlier this week, but I can't disagree with much of what he said. The sooner we get a full length, the better.
Recommendation: Another great release this week.

Three more albums came out this week that were okay, but still deserve some mention:

* I Like Trains - A Divorce Before Marriage (solid, sometimes slow, post-rock)
* Soviet Soviet - Endless (Okay-but-derivative indie rock)
* Grace VanderWall - Perfectly Imperfect (Promising debut EP of a poppy singer-songwriter)

Also out this week:

* Smoke DZA ans Pete Rock - Don't Smoke Rock
* Public Service Broadcasting - Live at Brixton
* Scissorfight - Chaos Country