Tag Archive for 'merge records'

The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2016

2016 was the 10th birthday of It’s Time to Play B-Sides, as unreal as that seems. This blog started as an offshoot of the regular conversations about music I was having at work with my friends and co-workers. At the time there wasn’t the proliferation of music sites that there are today, and informed or researched information about music was tough to find. With encouragement from my friends, I started this as a way to capture some of the tangents we’d get into at work. It also ended up being a return of sorts to doing a music website after shuttering the somewhat popular website I was running about DJ Shadow.  The name of the blog came from the signoff post I made to the DJ Shadow boards and was also a line from “Burning For You” by Blue Oyster Cult which always represented the desire to dig a little deeper into music– to flip the record over and listen to the songs on the B-Side.

The focus of It’s Time to Play B-Sides has morphed a bit over the years, some of it due to the amount of time I have to dedicate to writing on it, some of it is because I have focused a lot of my music writing since 2009 as a contributor to Little Village Magazine. This also explains why this list includes a lot of Iowa artists since that’s what we review. That said, there are some really amazing bands in Iowa and even after I review the albums, they stay in regular rotation for me and earn spots on my list.

As many will note, 2016 was a really strange year for music– sadly, mostly notable for the striking number of losses: Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, and Paul Kantner. The one that really hit me hard was the loss of Prince. Prince represented for me the first artist that I discovered on my own. Most of my formative music taste came from my father and that music is still a big part of the foundation of what I think is good in music. Prince came onto the larger music scene for me with Purple Rain, and from there I followed his career, and bands he worked with closely. I don’t think that we’ll see another artist quite as influential or as boundless in talent and genius again. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like part of his ability to branch out was due to the fact that he hit it big during a time when the music industry was creating  huge stars and he could afford to make some albums that were more daring and experimental.

The list below is in no particular order, but represent the albums that I listened to the most in 2016.

Bon Iver – 22, A Million – Justin Vernon got back on the horse. It really seemed like he wasn’t going to do another record as Bon Iver– he was burnt out of the attention and visibility he got from his Grammy-winning second album. He debuted a couple of the songs at the inaugural Eaux Claires Festival in 2015 with a glorious live show. It took the prodding of his friend Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Polica, etc.) to make him finish (or even keep working on) it. The resulting album seems related to the last album, but the textures and production are unexpected and frankly jolting in comparison, which was exactly his intention, I think. Lots of samples, and heavily affected recording techniques. I expect that this album will influence a lot of artists going forward. At the root of the album is still the perspective of Vernon. His losses and heartbreaks, the stories

Kalispell – Printer’s SonKalispell is the name of Shane Leonard’s solo music when he’s not working with other bands like Field Report and JE Sunde. Printer’s Son is a beautiful record, period. From my review on playbsides: “Printer’s Son is one of those rare records that is so completely imagined and executed that when you first listen to it, it seems to drop unexpectedly out of the ether. It’s a record that defies any convenient genre classification. Elements of ambience and folk and jazz come together to help deliver a grippingly emotional and personal album.”

Lissie – My Wild West – Rock Island-native Elisabeth “Lissie” Maurus becomes homesick and moves back to Iowa and self-releases an album based on the experience. Full of hooks, driving and anthemic, it’s a great start to a career back home. Here’s my review from Little Village.

King of the Tramps – Cumplir con el Diablo – A later addition to the list. King of Tramps from Auburn, IA packs a lot of classic guitar-driven rock remniscent of Black Crowes into their latest effort (which comes in a super-cool transparent vinyl version). Here’s my review from Little Village Magazine.

Durand Jones and the Indications – Durand Jones and the Indications – New release on the fantastic Soul and R&B label out of Ohio, Colemine Records. In 2016, Colemine Records started a kind of subscription series where they email you upcoming releases to allow you to opt-in to the special first-pressing variations. This is a much better approach to this idea than the forced-in versions that are the trend today. They let you listen to the releases and you can decide to be part of the drop or not. One of the releases was the debut release of Durand Jones and the Indications on transparent blue vinyl. Fantastic classic R&B in the tradition of Stax/Volt and Otis Redding. Check out the video for “Make A Change.”

Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee – MC Taylor’s second full-length on Merge started as a project to create musical accompaniment to an exhibition of photographs taken by William Gedney in 1972 of an Eastern Kentucky coal-mining camp. Initially the songs were going to be based on the photographs, but eventually took their own direction. The album is distinctively HGM with Taylor expressing the developing perspective of a man coming to terms with balancing a family life and a music career. I’ve been a fan from before the first release as HGM and eagerly await the next releases.

Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Lines – I found out about Steve Gunn through his connection to Hiss Golden Messenger– a one-off collaboration called Golden Gunn. His 2016 release is his debut on Matador Records. To me, his music is influenced by the great UK guitarists like Richard Thompson and Michael Chapman (whose upcoming release 50, he produced and played on).

William Tyler – Modern Country – Nashville guitar wizard William Tyler, who works with a lot folks including Hiss Golden Messenger and Lambchop, released another album of his particular atmospheric guitar acrobatics. For me, his albums add a wide cinematic soundtrack to whatever I’m doing.

Scott Hirsch – Blue Rider Songs – Scott Hirsch is the silent partner in Hiss Golden Messenger, but for his debut solo album (which has been a long time coming, frankly) he delivers a breezy laid-back album that sounds like JJ Cale’s best work.

Bo Ramsey – Wildwood Calling – Bo Ramsey returns with his first album since 2008’s Fragile. This album, recorded in his kitchen is instrumentals showcasing his distinctive country blues style he is reknowned for. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.

The Pines – Above the Prairie – It’s safe to say that any time The Pines release a new album, it will be on my favorite albums for that year. Their signature atmospheric take on folk and blues has developed slowly over the releases to the point where it is nearly its own genre. I can’t think of any other bands that sound quite like The Pines. Read Matt Steele’s review in Little Village Magazine.

Chrash – Things My Friends Say – Chris Bernat of 90’s alt rock band Tripmaster Monkey released their first album of angular pop rock on Quad Cities indie label Cartouche. From my review in Little Village Magazine: “Things My Friends Say is an album that distinguishes itself in the landscape of new releases by the determinedly outsider approach to songs which, in the end, are damn catchy.”

Freakwater – Scheherazade – This reboot of Freakwater was a long time in the works, but turned out one of the best albums in their catalog. Scheherazade is a more rich and expansive version of their sound thanks to the band, which includes Jim Elkington of seemingly every band related to Chicago. Read my interview with Janet and Catherine in Little Village Magazine (Part 1, Part 2).

Halfloves – (self titled) – The Iowa band The Olympics reboot with the guiding hand of Brendan Darner to create a dark pop record of singular vision and execution. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.

SIRES – Soul For Sale – Another rebrand/reboot of an Iowa band– this time the former Dylan Sires and Neighbors become SIRES and also work with Brendan Darner to create a moody masterpiece (I think I see a trend here). Fantastic record, though– from my review in Little Village Magazine, ” They’ve crafted an album packed with smart, bright classic hooks as well as dark, lusty bombastic rhythms: an impressive juxtaposition in contrast.”

Max Jury – Max Jury – After a run of amazing singles and an EP, Des Moines native Max Jury releases his debut album, and the anticipation built by the singles was justified. Max Jury is a jaw-droppingly solid album. From my review in Little Village Magazine, “a balanced delivery of Spector-esque wall-of-sound and an updated take on early ’70s R&B and soul.” It’s too bad that it’s going to take Jury moving to the UK and blowing up over there before his native country takes notice.

TWINS – Square America – More Sires, please. This seeming dynasty of anyone with the last name Sires cranking out amazing pop rock continues with Cedar Falls band TWINS, whose second album on Maximum Ames takes their guitar rock guns and point them at 70’s big hitters like Cheap Trick and KISS. These guys continue to slug it out on bar stages, but could easily fill an arena with their big sound if given the chance. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.

Devin Frank – The Vanishing Blues – Devin Frank of Poison Control Center releases an album influenced by 60’s psych. “With The Vanishing Blues, Frank has made a refreshing stylistic statement by using a sonic palate derived from psychedelic rock’s dawning era — using bits of Syd Barrett, Donovan and the Zombies. This makes the album a delightfully unique and compelling standout in the landscape of releases this year.” – from my review in Little Village Magazine.

The Multiple Cat – Intricate Maps – This was an album I feel like I waited a long time for. I first heard these songs when Pat Stolley brought the band to Mission Creek Festival in 2015 opening for The Sea and Cake at The Mill. Really fantastic album that is tough to summarize. Lots of vintage tones in the guitar sounds, but not really a retro record, “It’s tempting to suggest that Stolley’s use of these elements makes Intricate Maps somehow retro. However, this stitched fabric of sound is more than the sum of its parts. It is a polished work that both honors the tradition of alternative rock and puts a current spin on it with Stolley’s signature production work.” from my review in Little Village Magazine.

Christopher The Conquered – I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll – Dramatically bold anthemic rock that can barely be contained in a record. Christopher the Conquered is a one-man tour-de-force of pop, funny poignent and self-aware. Here’s my review for Little Village Magazine.

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2014

Top 20

Looking back at 2014 and what I listened to, it seems I spent most of the year listening to bands from Iowa. Eight of the Top 20 Albums of 2014 for It’s Time to Play B-Sides are either living in Iowa or have roots here. Some of this is easily explained by the fact that my other music gig is writing reviews for Little Village Magazine, but I had the very good fortune of being a writer during a year with the most Iowa bands putting their best foot forward.

This list sees returns of It’s Time to Play B-Sides regular favorites– Hiss Golden Messenger, Ryan Adams, Pieta Brown and Tom Petty– each turning in what should in retrospect be career-defining releases, in my opinon.

Vinyl continued its march of popularity in 2014– out of this list, only three releases didn’t come out on vinyl. The Jack Lion JAC EP came out on cassette, though (representing the resurgence of that physical media), the Surf Zombies album– though the band has been working towards getting that one put out on vinyl. It’s a… THING! was tracked on tape and would be a natural release on black plastic disc and The Sapwoods album.

Here’s the list– not ranked.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers MC Taylor and Scott Hirsh’s post-Court & Spark band Hiss Golden Messenger is back with their sixth or seventh release (depending on how you count self-released titles) and first release on their new label Merge Records. Lateness of Dancers continues the vibe and groove of their last two releases on Paradise of Bachelors but also provides a definitive declaration of purpose. With the association with Merge– a label as big as any independant can be– Taylor and Hirsh are not wasting their opportunity for bigger visibility. It seems like every blog/internet music magazine has declared Lateness of Dancers one of the great albums of 2014, plus the band has been doing some very aggressive promotion landing one of the remaining few musical guest spots on Letterman. 2015 should bring much more widespread touring for Hiss Golden Messenger, which I’m hoping will afford me the opportunity to see the band live.

Jerry David DiCicca – Understanding Land DiCicca is probably better known as the frontman for The Black Swans, which he disassembled after their– pardon the pun– swan song 2012 album Occasion For Song. Under his own name, the solo release for DiCicca continues the very loose country blues vibe he minted in The Black Swans. With some help from some friends including Will Oldham, Kelley Deal and Spooner Oldham DiCicca has made an impressive step away from his old identity as part of The Black Swans. Understanding Land seems to have missed the radar of a lot of places that would normally be championing the kind of quietly beautiful reflective song craft DiCicca has mastered. If you haven’t heard this record, go check it out. I’ll wait here until you get back.

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes To be honest, I’m declaring this a favorite before I’ve had a chance to listen to this as much as the other albums on this list. At first, I was kind of put off by the very calculated concept of The New Basement Tapes: “Hey, we found these lyrics that Bob Dylan didn’t think were worth recording back in 1967 and he still doesn’t want to record them so let’s pull a band together!” The results are very good and the fact that these lyrics were written by Dylan almost 50 years ago doesn’t detract. Though, you probably could have put Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket together in a room without Dylan’s lyrics and would have still resulted in a fantastic album.

The Black Keys – Turn Blue Danger Mouse is paired up with The Black Keys for the third time since 2007’s Attack and Release (if you don’t include Blacroc, the hip hop side project), and we again find the duo recording songs slightly outside of their regular sound. The whole Turn Blue record is solid and really radio-friendly and stands up to repeated listens. At times I’m reminded of the latest Beck record (also produced by Danger Mouse), but more satisfyingly varied than Morning Phase.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream While this album has been around awhile, and the brilliant single “Red Eyes” has been all over the place, I didn’t listen to the whole album until this month. The album’s general sound seems to come from the mid-to-late 80’s with it’s synths and either electronic percussion or drums so processed it sounds like it. At times it sounds like outtakes from Lindsey Buckingham’s 80’s albums or the more reaching anthemic sounds of Rod Stewart from the same period. A really enjoyable album.

Stanton Moore – Conversations Stanton Moore is the drummer and one of the founding members of Galactic. This is Moore’s first album as a jazz-bop trio with pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton — a style that he has dabbled in live settings but never committed to tape previously. The results are really great and fits in with my regular diet of 50’s and 60’s Blue Note and Prestige sides.

Game Theory – Blaze of Glory (reissue) Normally I wouldn’t include a reissue in this list. But, I’ll make an exception for the reissue campaign that Omnivore is undertaking of the entire Game Theory catalog that is nothing short of a miracle if they can keep it up. Scott Miller, the leader of both Game Theory and The Loud Family passed away unexpectedly in 2013, breaking the hearts of his devoted followers (which includes yours truly). The now-defunct label Alias Records attempted a reissue campaign that underwent some modifications (even re-recorded parts) by Scott Miller who was publicly never satisfied with the original early recordings (of which 1982’s Blaze of Glory is included). Even though I’m a devout fan of anything Scott Miller worked on and consider myself a collector, I did not have Blaze of Glory in its original incarnation (aka the “trash bag” version since the original packaging was a white trashbag with a sticker on it). I had the few manipulated or re-recorded tracks he included in the final Enigma Records compilation Tinkers to Evers to Chance and the Distortion of Glory Alias compilation which also included the two 1983 EP’s Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion. These were also lovingly reissued by Omnivore for Black Friday Record Store Day as colored 10″es.  This release of Blaze of Glory comes from the original master tapes, so unless you had the 1982 trash bag version of the album, you’ve never heard this mix before. The remaster sounds really great and sets the bar really high for the rest of the catalog to come. The album represents the very seeds of the future sound of the band. In some ways the album sounds very much a product of its time leaning heavily in the treble space (though this version brings some of the bass back) and incorporating buzzy synths and stuttering rhythms, but also not sounding like anything else at the time. Scott’s trademark turns of phrase and heartache are already established.

The digital download version includes 15 bonus tracks of demos, songs from the pre-GT band Alternative Learning, live tracks and some really early audio experiments from Scott. Having been a member of the Game Theory online community at large since the late 90’s, I’m very aware of the potential mountain of bonus material available for the rest of the releases coming down the line, so this campaign has few peers when it comes to the archives to draw from.

Teledrome – self-titled I stumbled upon the Canadian record label Mammoth Cave quite by accident as I was searching for an original pressing of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s Saavy Show Stoppers LP (“Having an Average Weekend” is the theme music to the 80’s and 90’s sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall) only to find that Mammoth Cave reissued it! Back in March the label sent out a link for a free download of Teledrome’s debut album (EP?) and I was hooked! Brooding android pop drawing from the dawn of synth pop sounding like Gary Numan or Ultravox. I’ve heard it compared to Ariel Pink as well. 10 track, 20 minutes. The vinyl is a 45 RPM 12″ and I’ll probably wear the shit out of it. Amazing record I can listen to over and over again.

Ryan Adams – self titled Lots has been written about the return of Ryan Adams– the short version is he’s addressed his health issues, gotten clean, opened his own recording studio, taken control of the business side of his art and is re-energized to work and has released an album that draws from his stated influences of 80’s rock. The album draws from the big guitar sounds of the 80’s and sounds a lot like an album that could have come out at that time– the lead single “Gimme Something Good” could just as easily have been on a Bryan Adams album (many have pointed out the similarities of the album art to Reckless). The whole album beginning to end is a fantastic listen and stands up to repeated listens and is a compliment to Love is Hell, in my opinion, which was one of the first albums I listened to from him. So far, there has only been one formal single from the record, and XM has been playing it in regular rotation. I could see a couple more singles making it in 2015. In the meantime, Ryan is also doing a limited edition monthly 7″ single release of outtakes and studio noodling that has turned out some really great tracks as well.

Springtime Carnivore – self titled I wrote about this release here. Greta Morgan of Gold Motel is back under her new solo moniker Springtime Carnivore. It’s everything I loved about Gold Motel– the sunny harmonies and melodies coupled with a darker wall-of-sound production. Be sure to catch some of the videos she’s put out in support of the record, too. Here’s the article I wrote for Play B-Sides about it.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye Petty decides to return back to a driving guitar sound and delivers the first #1 album of his career. In some regards this album is a reaction to his previous album Mojo. I really liked Mojo, but I think that his audience was turned off by the meandering bluesy sound of it. In my opinion Hypnotic Eye kind of uses Mojo and the Mudcrutch albums as a stylistic launching point. No one can argue with the incredible success Tom and the Heartbreakers have had over four decades. It’s incredible to think that he’s had hit singles in every decade of his career. I can’t think of any other band that has pulled that off for as long. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t had some albums that were, well, kind of lacking, and many of those were in this last decade. The Last DJ, Highway Companion and Echo were not great records. Though, I would put Hypnotic Eye up there with the amazing and underrated She’s The One Soundtrack and Wildflowers— the previous Rick Rubin produced albums from 1996 and 1994. Incidentally, both of these albums are getting reissues.

Greylag – self-titled Portland-based trio’s debut LP on Dead Oceans. Dead Oceans is the label for Califone these days, so that’s how I found out about Greylag. Their album sounds like a perfect melding of Jeff Buckley and Led Zeppelin III— which, now that I write it might seem redundant considering Jeff Buckley always sounded like he was influenced by Led Zeppelin III to me. Another album I can play on repeat and never tire of. I can’t wait to see what this band does going forward.

As I mentioned above, quite a few of my top list are either Iowa or Iowa-Related bands. I wrote reviews for Little Village for all of these albums, and I’ll include the link to that as well:

TWINS – Tomboys on Parade The sophomore release from TWINS finds the band tightening up what was already an impressive review of power pop influences. The word is out and they’re already touring nationally as ambassadors for the really exciting music scene that Iowa has recently. In my Little Village review of Tomboys on Parade I said the album has “sublimely polished nuggets of pop, washed in harmonies and falsettos, packed in backbeat and propelled by galloping guitars and sparkling arpeggios. The album is a damn fine slice of pop pie, and the vinyl version will spend a lot of time on my turntable.

The Sapwoods – Peaks and Valleys Another Cedar Falls band The Sapwoods steps up their game with their second album. In my LV review I said, “a timeless, straightforward and no-nonsense approach to songwriting. Guitar anthems go unapologetically for the melodic hook, carrying lyrics that focus on day-to-day concerns of the human condition.” The Sapwoods have a classic midwestern rock sound that is less like Cheap Trick and more like Wilco.

Kelly Pardekooper – Milk in Sunshine Kelly is the next generation of the Eastern Iowa Country Blues tradition– he says his influences are Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown and on his latest album Milk In Sunshine he incorporates both– Bo plays on the record and Kelly covers both a Ramsey and a Brown song on the vinyl version of the new album. The CD and digital download of the album includes all of the new songs that are Milk in Sunshine proper but also include a collection of “greatest hits”– songs that have been licensed for television. If you haven’t bought any of Kelly’s albums to date, you owe it to yourself to pick this release up. You can read my review of Milk in Sunshine here.

Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw Pieta Brown was invited to record at Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, WI. The resulting album enhances the atmospheric aspects of her work– an organically beautiful record. Here is my review in Little Village of Paradise Outlaw.

Bedroom Shrine – No Déjà Vu I had the opportunity to hear part of Bedroom Shrine‘s debut album on the American Dust EP, and there isn’t a better way to describe this record than “dusty.” In my review in Little Village, I said, “a window obscuring its songs with a sooty lo-fi patina. At times, the fluttery tape hiss that drags in the middle of the albums’ tracks add to No Déjà Vu’s complex palette of tone and sound.”

Jack Lion – JAC EP Another record I can listen to any time– it’s a great immersive headphones record for me– jazzy trumpet, bass and drums fused with electronics. Kind of like if Miles Davis met up with Four Tet. The band admits that one of its influences is the Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist, with which it shares some similarities. Here is my review for Little Village for the JAC EP.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits – 2014 was the year where Lake Street Dive broke onto national awareness starting with an appearance on The Colbert Report and their update on classic R&B. The connection to Iowa is through LSD’s upright bass player Bridget Kearney, but really they are a Boston band. Here is my review of Bad Self Portraits.

Surf Zombies – It’s a… THING! Local guitar legend Brook Hoover released the fourth album from his instrumental surf band Surf Zombies and his 2nd album with members of The Wheelers and The Blendours helping out. As a long-time fan of instrumental and surf rock I look forward to new releases from Surf Zombies! Word on the street is that they’re about ready to release a new album in 2015! Here’s my review of It’s a… THING! for Little Village Magazine.

 

New Hiss Golden Messenger Song – “Brother, Do You Know The Road?”

Hiss Golden Messenger - Brother, Do You Know The Road

Off the heels of a recent announcement that Hiss Golden Messenger have been signed to the very copacetic North Carolina label Merge (home to William Tyler, who lends a helping hand frequently) with a new album slated for September, and on the cusp of a run of live dates in Europe we are treated to a new Hiss Golden Messenger song, “Brother, Do You Know the Road?” Available this week on iTunes.

This is a song that has been performed at live shows since 2012– sort of as a tune-up song as the band comes on the stage. At least, that is the way I heard it on the NYCTaper.com recording of his 2012 appearance at the Hopscotch Festival.

Recorded in one take— the song encapsulates what is so enchanting about the HGM sound– seemingly autobiographical, vaguely spiritual, undertones of lost hope, revelatory appearances of joy, all wrapped in stunning musical performances which draw influence from early 70’s folk rock. At $0.99 for over six-minutes of music it is a heck of a deal, and belongs on everyone’s digital player.

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2013

Here we are again at the end of a year when everyone trots out their “Top” lists. This is my third year of assembling one of these, and for me it is a good exercise in remembering what the hell I listened to! 2013 seemed to blow by very quickly and frankly, it took some reflection to even remember what I listened to this year. 2013 was the seventh year for It’s Time to Play B-Sides and the 2nd year at the job I got after my 2011 layoff. My wife and I moved homes again this year– five doors down from our last place in which we had spent one very unsettled year. This place is wonderful and a much better fit for us, and we have actually moved into this place– hung pictures, hung guitars and decorated for Christmas (in itself this tells you a lot). We’re looking forward to 2014 as a year of focusing on something other than where we are living.

Getting to the music of 2013, when I look at the Top lists for other websites and magazines, I missed or ignored some pretty big releases this year. More-and-more we are becoming a singles-based culture when it comes to music and discussions of whole albums from artists is falling from the mainstream. There are some big releases from 2013 that merit some mention here, I think.

Kanye West’s Yeezus was Spin Magazine’s top release. Aside from his appearance at the Hurricane Sandy benefit and hearing “Black Skinhead” a lot (admittedly a great track), I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it. Helpfully, Google Play made it a free download yesterday and I have it. The cursory listen I gave it shows West at the top of his game and the production of the album is top-notch. It was a big year for Daft Punk who lent production on four tracks on Yeezus (including the aforementioned “Black Skinhead”) and then released their own hugely-successful Random Access Memories with the internet-meme-generating “Get Lucky.”

My friend John Book mentions Justin Timberlake’s much-anticipated 20/20 Experience in his Top Albums list and he echoes pretty much what everyone else thinks– JT blew his load on Part One, and probably should have left well enough alone and not released Part Two (which hardly anyone mentions except to say he shouldn’t have released it). The week of JT on Fallon was amazing and enough for me to download the album, though I’d have to admit that I didn’t stay listening to it for very long. John Book’s review of Part One is worth a read.

Lady Gaga dropped her ARTPOP album this year and though I couldn’t believe it, she managed to release something less interesting than her last album Born This Way. I loved both Fame and the follow up Fame Monster EP— delicious slices of electronic pop with a keen sense of “now.” She has– in my opinion– devolved from being a musician and has become more focused on the spectacle.

All of that said, here is my list of the Top Albums of 2013 (In No Particular Order):

Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – Haw really delivers on the promise of the albums that came before it. Largely a vehicle for the songwriting of MC Taylor and Scott Hirsh HGM enlists an amazing cast (William Tyler, the guys from Megafaun) to help deliver their sound which is a compelling mix of 70’s folk rock, American Primitive and a side of jam-based instrumentals. I’ve been following HGM from the first releases and find the spiritual searching of Taylor to be really compelling. In 2014, Hiss Golden Messenger’s 2011 release Bad Debt will get a remaster and reissue by Paradise of Bachelors with a bonus track from the original kitchen table cassette recordings made in 2010.

Golden Gunn – self-titled – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – Hirsh and Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger make my list again with this brilliant collaboration with Steve Gunn. A super-rare vinyl release on Record Store Day, but you can get the CD and digital download from Paradise of Bachelors. Apparently Gunn and Taylor shared a long car ride to a wedding and determined that they should work together. What we have is a very hazy and wandering JJ Cale-influenced jam. Taylor and Gunn share vocal duties and Hirsh brings a compliment of keyboards and analog electronics to the mix. Excellent go-to release for some mellow jams– Gunn’s vocals remind me of Beck on his more listenable days.

Brokeback – Brokeback and the Black Rock – (on my releases I’m Looking Forward to for 2013) – Who knew that Doug McCombs (of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day) had another album of his Bass VI-driven instrumentals in him? A complete re-envisioning of Brokeback with new members provides one of my favorite instrumental releases in a while, frankly and the most consistent Brokeback release since the debut album Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table. I had a chance to talk to McCombs when he came to Iowa City with David Daniell for their tour in support of Sycamore. McCombs is a huge fan of the Tom Verlaine album Warm and Cool (and was instrumental in getting that re-issued on Thrill Jockey). This album’s reverbby clean guitar and bass recalls Warm and Cool whether that was the intention or not.

The Horses Ha – Waterdrawn – (on my releases I’m Looking Forward to for 2013) – This album had been in the works for a couple of years. Since I help them with their Facebook page I got a chance to preview a couple of these tracks last year, so I was anticipating the release. Janet Bean (of Freakwater and Eleventh Dream Day) and James Elkington (of The Zincs and lends a hand with Freakwater, Brokeback and Daughan Gibson) return with their 70’s British folk-influenced music. Janet and James bring some really gorgeous melodies and harmonies to the stripped down acoustic music. As crazy as the music industry seems and all of the “end is nigh” sentiments surrounding the ability for musicians to put music out, it is heartening to see an admittedly-niche release like this seeing the light of day– let alone in such a beautiful packaging by label Fluff and Gravy.

Jack Logan and Scott Baxendale – Bones in the Desert – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – A bit of a disclaimer– I help Jack and Scott with their Facebook page and wrote their press release. That said, I did it because it is such a great record! I’ve been a fan of Jack Logan since Bulk and have had the pleasure of being able to maintain a relationship over the internet with him. He’s one-of-a-kind– a serial song writer and recorder. The mountain of work suggested by sorting through his vast catalog of releases and unreleased songs is 2nd only to Neil Young (one would suppose). He admits to needing more of a filter sometimes and when he does– like working with a great songwriter and guitarist like Scott Baxendale, the results are even more trademark Logan it seems. Guitar-rock with 70’s influences like the Stones or The Faces bolted to a uniquely Logan sense of humor and storytelling. Logan and Baxendale are pretty-well known members of the Athens music scene, so they were able to draw other talented musicians to help out with the release– which only exists physically on vinyl BTW– so we have a couple of Drive-By Truckers in the mix. Super limited release of 500 on vinyl so don’t sleep on this one if you’re a fan like I am! Jack and Scott are already working on new songs and plan to release something in 2014, but it won’t be on vinyl (at least not until they sell out of the Bones vinyl!)

Mountains – Centralia (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – For a band who is two guys with guitars and an endless set of loopers and effects, they have a fairly wide palate of sonic landscapes from which to draw. When their Thrill Jockey debut Choral came out I was immediately a fan. I have all of their releases to date, but I feel like Centralia really was a return to some of the song structures that drew me to Mountains to begin with.

Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me Soundtrack – It might not be fair to include this release here since it isn’t an album of new songs, but as a compilation (and distillation, I suppose) of Big Star’s notable songs it totally works. The documentary film from which it is drawn is a must-see as a primer of one of pop rock’s most obscure but no less influential bands. I picked up one of the really rare orange translucent vinyl pressings done for Record Store Day in April by Omnivore Records. You can get a black vinyl version from them now.

Arbouretum – Coming Out of the Fog – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) Right now, my three favorite guitar bands on Thrill Jockey are Wooden Shjips, Pontiak and Arbouretum. All three have a distorted psychedelic sound that I really dig and I listen to them in rotation quite a bit. Arbouretum tends to lean towards a prog-rock/prog-folk sound and Dave Heumann has really polished that sound on Coming Out of the Fog.

Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell & Angels – This was a somewhat contraversial release as far as diehard Hendrix fans are concerned. They consider this to be a kind of cash-in by the Experience Hendrix organization. EH says that this is a release of unreleased Jimi Hendrix songs post-Electric Ladyland and is presented as kind of a picture of where Hendrix was going with his sound rather than something that might have been released as an album. If you want to know what Hendrix was likely considering for the next album, you should look at the 1997 compilation of tracks titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun. The tracks on People, Hell & Angels are also tracks recorded around the same time as the First Rays material. As far as the “unreleased” statement is concerned, it would appear that most of this material has surfaced in some form or another dating back to the some would say pillaging of the Hendrix tape vaults by Reprise Records from 1971 to 1975 as well as the Sony compilations in the 1990’s Blues and Voodoo Soup. In addition there are two songs which aren’t really Hendrix songs as such, he played on them around the same time as these other songs. So, effectively this is the last of the studio songs not released by Experience Hendrix (assuming no other Dagger Records releases, which are “official bootlegs” done by EH).

Aside from all of that political mess, the release is surprisingly pleasant to listen to. A lot of effort was spent making the songs sound consistent and as if they were intended for one album. Quite a bit of work was done by Eddie Kramer to assemble these tracks from different takes to make them since most of this release was not finished at the time of Hendrix’s death. It is really great to hear a kind of stripped down to the essentials version of Hendrix– no psychedelic effects on these songs. In fact, this release really shows the guitarist that Hendrix was maybe more so than the previous albums and puts a finer point on his electric blues love.

Califone – Stitches – Califone came back in 2013 with their first non-soundtrack album since their fantastic 2006 album on Thrill Jockey Roots & Crowns. Their last album was the soundtrack to the film “All My Friends are Funeral Singers” which I really wasn’t a fan of. Stitches brings the band back to songs that aren’t burdened with some kind of vague overarching concept or having to support a film for that matter. In other words, the songs stand on their own and make for a great listen from side to side and stands up as a great companion to Roomsound, which is my favorite release out of their catalog (big ups to Thrill Jockey for reissuing Roomsound on vinyl as part of their 20th Anniversary celebration!)

William Tyler – Impossible Truth – William Tyler is a noted sideman from Nashville. He’s probably best known as one of the sidemen in Lambchop and The Silver Jews, he also lends the occasional hand in Hiss Golden Messenger. In addition to bringing his Telecaster-based atmospherics for other bands, he has his own solo career and has put out a couple of really amazing guitar instrumental albums on Merge Records– one of them 2013’s Impossible Truth. Recommended if you’re a fan of the American Primitive style guitar work of Leo Koettke or John Fahey.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor – Arcade Fire continues to be the band that knows how to use social media and mystery to hype a release. Their 9/9/9 campaign coupled with some strategic radio and TV appearances including a Saturday Night Live stint and the following “TV Special “Here Comes the Night Time” certainly drew some attention from me. I loved The Suburbs and it’s attendent theme of, well whatever they didn’t like, and Reflektor still exhibits some of those themes, although this time they are pulling from Haitian music for influence. Overall the record is really well done, and even in its weaker moments (and it has some to be certain) the album is still really engaging. Arcade Fire is typically accused of having really huge egos and really it is that kind of audacity that can produce an album like this. I compare this album to Talking Heads’ final album Blind which also pulls some similar rhythms in its Carribbean and South American influences.

Lissie – Back to Forever – Lissie has had an impressive streak of releases so far starting with her debut album Catching a Tiger in 2010, followed by some great covers (“Bad Romance” upstages Gaga’s in my opinion) which were collected in 2012’s Covered Up With Flowers. Lissie provided very distinctive backing vocals on the Snow Patrol album Fallen Empires which was a favorite of mine and was produced by Jacknife Lee (who also produced the two Tired Pony albums). When I heard that Jacknife was producing Back to Forever, my expectations were pretty high and I wasn’t disappointed! The album has Lissie pretty much pissed off all the way through it and the results harken back to a time when strong women wrote powerful anthemic songs– Pat Benatar and Stevie Nicks come easily to mind. Every song on this record is a winner and I can play this album pretty much every day and not get tired of it. I got Sherry a copy on CD for her car and she plays it as much as she plays Lyrics Born (that’s a lot, folks!)

Cheynne Mize – Among the Grey – Speaking of strong anthemic songwriting– Cheyenne Mize (no “Marie” apparently) signed to Yep Roc and released a brilliant follow up to her 2010 album Fall to Rise and 2011’s We Don’t Need EP. Where those two releases showed her versatility in instruments and style, Among the Grey shows Mize is an out-and-out rocker sounding sonically grungy like this year’s answer to PJ Harvey. Beautiful record.

Love Over Gold – Fall to Rise – Continuing our “Girl Power” section is Pieta Brown’s first side project Love Over Gold. Named after a Dire Straits album and song, Pieta partnered up with Aussie musician Lucie Thorne for a barebones duo. Pieta met Lucie during a tour of Australia a few years back and thought that collaborating would work. It does. Lucie’s style is a perfect fit for Pieta and this album is filled with beautful vocal harmonies and emotion. I wrote a review of Fall to Rise for Little Village (here).

Caroline Smith – Half About Being a Woman – Minnesota artist Caroline Smith released three albums from 2008 to 2011. For her latest album Half About Being a Woman, she changed things up by making an album influenced by 70’s and 80’s R&B– a departure from her more indie folk-sounding previous albums. The whole process and struggle (she was worried she’d alienate her fanbase) is documented in the half-hour documentary “My Way Back Home.”  Personally, I really love the direction she is going– it’s great to her her sing out and belt some of these songs!

The Shouting Matches – Grownass Man – I was torn about whether to put this album on the list or Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) other 2013 release as part of Volcano Choir – Repave. Both are almost opposite ends of the spectrum. The Shouting Matches is a stripped-down blues-influenced affair– similar to Black Keys. Repave is Volcano Choir’s 2nd release and it owes more of a debt to Bon Iver than the previous album did, in my opinion. When it gets down to it, I listened to both quite a bit, but I find Grownass Man to be more satisfying (and more entertaining) in its straightforward direction. Even though the Bon Iver moniker is on hiatus indefiniately, I’m happy to see Vernon is still creating music and producing.

Dawes – Stories Don’t End – Album #3 from Dawes finds the band setting off on their own having stepped away from their label ATO. Lots of quotes from Taylor Goldsmith about trying to change the widespread idea that they are somehow indelibly a 70’s throwback band (my words) and lifting off the mantle of “Laurel Canyon Sound” that they acquired when PR people didn’t know what to say about their first album and its obvious influences. That said, Stories Don’t End is not really a departure from the first two albums. If anything, it is a continuation and maturity of the band who is coming to grips with their identity and sound. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the external reviewers and PR people portray about Dawes because what really matters is strong songwriting, amazing vocal harmonies and live shows. It’s probably a good thing that three albums in, Dawes isn’t trying to shake things up dramatically– they aren’t even 30 yet!

The 4onthefloor – Spirit of Minneapolis – Album #2 from the Twin Cities storming blues rock band and their signature crazy-eyed spirit is still in tact. In a similar fashion to their first album 4×4, the songs on Spirit of Minneapolis have been percolating in their live sets dating back to the 4×4 days and I’d say that the songs are pretty much interchangable between the two albums. It’s not a criticism as much as an observation. If you love 4onthefloor, you’ll love this album, too. Gabe Douglas has been working on an album from his side-project Silverback Colony which should come out in 2014, I suspect.

Wooden Shjips – Back to Land – A band I kind of slept on until this album came out. Like I said above, Wooden Shjips is one of my favorite new guitar-based bands on Thrill Jockey along with Pontiak and Arbouretum. All three bands lean towards layered distortion and psychedelic rock. If you’re a fan of the “stoner rock” or “desert rock” genre with bands like Queens of the Stone Age or Fu Manchu this band fits right in, though they’ve never been tagged as such that I’m aware. The vinyl packaging for this record is fantastic– die-cut outer slip jacket exposes the art on the inner sleeve similar to Led Zeppelin covers from the 70’s. My copy is one of the limited pink vinyl pressings which is pretty cool.

B-Sides in the Bins #59 – Moondog Music and Mail Orders Week of 9/21/2013

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. I guess it’s because I tend to post about individual albums via other social media outlets like my Instagram which cross-posts to Twitter and Facebook. But, this week had a lot of new additions to the collection, so I thought I’d collect them for the blog.

I was in Dubuque yesterday helping with some wireless network issues at the family business so I thought I’d run over to one of my favorite record stores, Moondog Music. I had intended to pick up the new sophomore release from Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) collaboration band with members of Collections of Colonies of Bees Volcano Choir. Titled Repave, it’s a more cohesive release than their first album. Even though Vernon is the frontman in this band, it isn’t exactly Bon Iver part 2. More direct rock on this album and less vocoder falsetto vocals. I was also hoping that the vinyl version of Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello and The Roots would maybe be in the bins ahead of this Tuesday’s release.

Moondog had Repave for $19.99, but they didn’t have Wise Up Ghost on LP (they did have the CD). I had Volcano Choir in hand and was going to buy it until I started digging through the used and came up with a few surprises!

The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs (2 LP, Sire Records, 1987) ($19.98) WOW! On my wish list for YEARS. Really nice and clean copy of this album, which is probably my favorite Smiths album even though it’s technically a compilation of non-album singles. Initially, this was a US-only release used as a way to bring these tracks stateside. The UK had a couple of singles comps on Rough Trade– The World Won’t Listen and Hatful of Hollow— and Louder than Bombs was the vehicle to bring some of those tracks here. UK Smiths fans being what they are, they started importing this release to the UK, so Rough Trade ended up releasing this over there which solidified its position as a regular catalog release.

My friend Julie in college turned me on to both the Smiths and Depeche Mode letting me borrow The Queen Is Dead and Black Celebration— bands very different from my jangly guitar preferences at the time. I distinctly remember buying Louder Than Bombs and Def Leppard’s Hysteria on the same day on cassette. Odd to think that these albums are both from 1987!

The Smiths – Rank (LP, Sire Records, 1988) ($14.98) And, as soon as I get into the band, they break up… Bombs was released in March of 1987, the Smiths’ final studio album Strangeways Here We Come was released in September, 1987 and by that time the band had officially split up. I have the entire studio releases of the Smiths on cassette and CD plus Bombs on cassette and CD and Hatful of Hollow on CD (it was in a used bin otherwise I wouldn’t have picked this up as I consider it to be redundant). When Rank came out in September of 1988, I had pretty much moved on as far as paying attention to new releases and I didn’t think a live album was essential. I still haven’t listened to it, but will. The recording is a distillation from a BBC-1 live concert from 1986. The album was released as a contractural obligation. I decided to buy this because it is rare to find any Smiths in used bins around here and the new 180g Rhino reissues of the Smiths catalog are $35 which is pretty steep for my budget, so I’ll continue to keep an eye on the bins to complete my Smiths collection.

Gift of Gab – Escape 2 Mars (LP, Cornerstone Recording Arts Society/Quannum, 2009)($16.98) An unexpected find– the R&B and Hip-Hop selection at Moondog is usually very thin. I’ve been building my Quannum/Solesides vinyl collection lately– lots of gaps since I had really been focusing on CD’s up until five years ago. That said, I didn’t have this on CD either. Gift of Gab is more recognized as the MC for Blackalicious– his effort with producer Chief Xcel,  but has had a run of solo work that is notable. We listen to 4th Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up quite a bit in the house, so I imagine that this release will be as good– I totally slept on this release so it will be good to get caught up.

Spoon – Transference (LP, Merge Records, 2010)($9.98) While I was digging through the used section I saw a whole bunch of nearly-new indie releases. Looked like they were opened and maybe played once? Some Sundazed releases, a few Sub Pop releases all for under $10. I didn’t find out what the story was on those, but I picked a couple of great ones including this one from Spoon. Transference wasn’t as good as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but still pretty great. I remember listening to this a lot in the car in early Winter 2010. We had a major car breakdown that had Sherry and I commuting together in one car for a few weeks– she was getting her Professional Makeup training so I’d drop her off in the morning and pick her up at night.

Sebadoh – Bakesale (LP, Sub Pop Records, 1994/2011 Remaster)($7.98) Another of the mysterious “new” LP’s in the used bins at Moondog. A grey marbled vinyl release as part of the reissue campaign for the Sebadoh catalog. I loved this album when it came out– I listened to it repeatedly. In 1994, I was working in Dubuque at the time and I think living with my parents following a failed cohabitiation with a girlfriend. I was on the road installing computer systems in the Midwest and East, with a lot of road time, so my CD’s were constant companions. Brilliantly flawed but accessible album. At the time I definately thought that Sebadoh was a better band than Dinosaur Jr was (the band that Lou Barlow used to be in with J Macsis). I’m really happy to have this in my collection– I need to pick up the Harmacy reissue as well.

A really great haul from Moondog Music! While I was there they were playing the new album from Iggy Pop and the Stooges titled Ready to Die which sounded pretty good, may need to check that out.

In the mail this week:

Calexico – Ancienne Belgique Vol. 2 (2 LP, Our Soil, Our Strength, ) OSOS9, 2013)($20 + shipping) 2012 and 2013 has been a year of many releases from Calexico— the brilliant Algiers came out in September of 2011 which included a live album titled Spiritoso if you ordered the box set. This eventually came out as a numbered release for Record Store Day in April in the US. Soon after that the band put out a 2 LP live sequel to Ancienne Belgique (which got the vinyl treatment as part of the Road Atlas box set as well).  Then they announced a Europe tour-only 5-track EP of covers titled Maybe on Monday.  My copy of Ancienne Belgique Vol. 2 delivered this week. I had pre-ordered it in June (I think). They were supposed to have copies of this on tour, but they weren’t done in time for the Iowa City show. (I was out of town and missed that show anyway). Another really nice addition to my growing Calexico collection.

Arcade Fire (as The Reflecktors) – Reflektor 12″ (12″, Sono Vox/Merge Records, MRG484, 2013) ($8.99, free shipping) Merge put some copies of Arcade Fire’s mysterious “Reflektor” single in their online store. Released under the pseudonym The Reflektors, it was timed with the announcement of the album and single of the same name on September 9th at 9PM (9/9/9). Lots of speculation and rumor about the announcement leading up to the time and an accurate leak of the song the day before. The 45 RPM 12″ has the full version of the song and an instrumental version on the flipside. The song was produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and features guest vocals by none other than David Bowie. It’s a pretty decent song and apparently points to the direction of the new album due out October 29th as being, in the words of Win Butler as a “mashup of Studio 54 and Haitian Voodoo.” (S.I.C.)

I also received four of the Daytrotter split LP’s this week, including the amazing Gary Clark Jr. split with Son House, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. We’re up to 13 of 14 of the preorders shipped (still waiting on the Maine one which is #13) I got the PHOX one ordered and will order the Tegan and Sara one in the next couple of weeks.

Upcoming Show: Wye Oak at The Mill in Iowa City 9/20/09

You’d think that as many times as I’ve reported that Wye Oak was going to play in Iowa somewhere, I’d have seen them at least once! They even played here before the release of their new album The Knot at some performance space in Iowa City some months back, which I also missed.

And so it is that Wye Oak will be back playing the Mill in Iowa City just over a year from the last time they played there! As it turns out, they will be taping another Daytrotter session, too!

Wye Oak will be playing The Mill on Sunday September 20th. Doors are at 8PM, $6 cover. Opening will be Chicago band Netherfriends, and Iowa City singer Alexis Stevens.

Click Here for Wye Oak’s website

Click Here for Wye Oak’s MySpace page

Click Here for Wye Oak – The Knot at Merge Records where you can stream their new album.

Click Here for their amazing Daytrotter session.

Upcoming Shows: Wye Oak in Iowa City and… Dubuque?

Wye Oak is back with another attempt to play Iowa City’s Mill. You may recall that they were scheduled to play the Mill back on June 15th in a bill that had Thrill Jockey new signings Pontiak. Your’s truly was to go and cover this, but the Floods of 2008 (as it will become known) prevented both the bands and me from getting to Iowa City. The route that the Iowa DOT was recommending to get to town took you over 200 miles out-of-the-way!

So, true to their word, Wye Oak is coming back to Iowa City– again at the Mill— on Wednesday 9/17 in a lineup that has Rock Plaza Central headlining and The Lonelyhearts opening.

More interesting than the Mill show (at least to me) is the fact that Wye Oak will be playing at Isabella’s in Dubuque, IA (my other hometown) on Saturday 9/10. Isabellas is a COZY little bar in the basement of the posh-ish Ryan House Restaurant. Since Wye Oak is a two-piece, they would fit on the little stage at the far end of the bar. But, the bar itself probably only holds 100 people or so– it would be a snug affair for certain!

Download four songs from If Children by Wye Oak

See a bunch of live videos of Wye Oak on YouTube

Related Posts with Thumbnails