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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.

 

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2010

Welcome to the first Top List for It’s Time to Play B-Sides. I’ve considered doing one of these lists every year since 2006, but never before have I had a year filled with as many really great albums that have compelled me to compile a year-end list. 2010 has been a pretty busy year for me as far as music has been concerned. Some fantastic concerts and events and some really interesting local (Eastern Iowa) releases have come out. This list represents releases that spent the most time on my playlist– in some cases I have had direct working relationships with the bands and that certainly was a factor in their appearance in the list, but nothing appears on this list that I didn’t feel very strongly about and in almost every case these were releases I was recommending to others either verbally or in print whether it was here at Play B-Sides or at Radio Free Chicago, or The Little Village.

One thing I’d like to point out is the number of strong releases from Iowa artists this year– this list doesn’t include a comprehensive list of Iowa releases, but I’m proud to include some music from my back yard.

This list is roughly in order of rank– rather than reverse order, I’m listing top to bottom. Truthfully, though narrowing this list to 20 was a tough act, and I left some albums off that I really enjoyed, but these are the albums that I think really struck me this year.

1. Tired Pony – The Place We Ran From –  No album this year has moved me as much as this one has. Brilliant work by Peter Buck and Gary Lightbody who are the core members of Tired Pony. Sounds the way I hope the new R.E.M. album will. “Dead American Writers” is easily one of my favorite songs from this year as well (even if it has a confoundingly bland video). Here is my review at Radio Free Chicago on The Place We Ran From.

2. Hiss Golden Messenger – Bad Debt – MC Taylor released what is the second album for Hiss Golden Messenger this year. Titled Bad Debt, it is a collection of “spirituals” in as much as it deals with the matters of faith. It was recorded during the dead of last winter in his kitchen to a cassette recorder– just Taylor and his acoustic. The results are a stark and chilling introspection and really one of my favorite albums this year. The simple approach of this recording lays bare the amazing singer and songwriter that Taylor is. Here is my article on Bad Debt.

3. Death Ships – Maybe Arkansas EP – Although I’m convinced that Dan Maloney– constant frontman for former Iowa City band Death Ships— doesn’t like the songs on this EP based on the fact that he didn’t play any of them the last two times I saw him perform live at The Mill– this is still one of the strongest releases from this year. It’s a little unfair to call this a 2010 release for a number of reasons– first the songs were recorded some time back in 2006, I think and have kind of lingered in Dan’s archives until last year when he was planning to release an EP of them. The EP was finally released this year. To be fair, I guess Dan has moved on to writing songs for the followup to his last full album, so I’m sure he’s less excited about these songs than the prospect of newer songs. Still, this is a fantastic collection of songs and it would be a shame to let these songs die without people hearing them, in my opinion. Read my review of Maybe Arkansas.

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – I’ll come right out and say it– I was not really a fan of Arcade Fire’s first album Funeral. I have friends who really loved it, but it didn’t really move me. Neon Bible was interesting to me mostly because Calexico covered “Ocean of Noise” on an import 7″ and I really liked “Keep the Car Running.” When the buzz started around The Suburbs, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first “leaked” track was “Month of May” which showed a distinctive change in sound for the band, but I was still skeptical. In what proved to be a genius move by the band and the label, they made the album $3.99 at amazon.com the day of release– so I downloaded it. It quickly took over my playlist and even today, I’ll listen to this album a couple of times a week. Significant holding power for me. On my short list for acquiring on vinyl.

5. Gayngs – Relayted – This is an example of an astonishingly great album that came out of leftfield. Almost any blogger whose opinion I value ranks this as one of the best releases of this year. Smooth, sexy 80’s influenced pop with electronic twiddling interludes by a supergroup of bands from Minneapolis and Eau Claire, WI. The honest-to-goodness legacy to the original Minneapolis sound started by Prince and his minions years ago. Here is an article I wrote about the release.

6. The Right Now – Carry Me Home – A bit of a disclaimer first– I’m the executive producer on the vinyl pressing of Carry Me Home by Chicago R&B band The Right Now, which came out in September. While this might disqualify me from being an unbiased perspective on the album, the fact of the matter is that I loved Carry Me Home from the first time I heard it on CD when it came out in March. I guess, much as Victor Kiam liked Remington razors so much he bought the company, I guess I liked the CD so much I invested in the vinyl! The Right Now is part of a what appears to be a pretty substantial revival in R&B music right now, but in my mind provides a unique spin on the genre in that it draws as much influence from the classic Motown, Stax and Bell sides as it does from more contemporary R&B and funk. In fact, the band might have more in common with The Roots than it does with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings even though all three bands could be considered to fit in this space. A great record from beginning to end and the band’s live shows are not to be missed. The band is planning to hit the studio in 2011 to start recording the follow up and the songs I’ve heard so far are great as well. Here is an article by the band about the vinyl…

7. Backyard Tire Fire – Good To Be – I loved BTF’s last album and their live shows are high-energy straightforward blues-leaning rock. Good To Be marked the move to a new record label for BTF and Ed Anderson’s blue-collar sensibilities and humor (and production by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos) makes for a great and rocking album from beginning to end. Here’s an article I wrote about the album.

8. Pezzettino – LubDub – Brooklyn-via-Milwaukee singer-songwriter and Accordion Girl Wonder Margaret Stutt, who performs as Pezzettino released her third album LubDub this year which was co-produced and created with Milwaukee HipHop producer Jerry Gruvis aka LMNtlyst. Much as her music and art influences before her, Pezzettino draws inspiration from her own life and each of her albums to date have been autobiographical in nature and LubDub is no different. Although we don’t know who the romantic suitors were in songs like “Cold Hard Chick,” “You and Your Headaches,” and “Only One” we know that they may have been star-crossed. The album, taken in whole, can be seen as a progression of sorts in one woman’s journey in love and loss of it. The album started as a tentative collaboration between Stutt and Gruvis who met at a show in Milwaukee last year. As the songs came together it became apparent that this was to be her follow on to Lion. The album is fun, funky and has a sense of humor along with the pain. LubDub was done as a Kickstarter-funded project to wild success which yielded a wonderful CD+vinyl package with the record itself a brilliant transparent yellow. Here is my article about LubDub.

9. Pieta Brown – One and All – The news of Pieta Brown moving to Red House Records was one that I felt was going to be the beginning of a fruitful relationship. Her one foray into major label land was 2007’s Remember the Sun on One Little Indian Records that ended after one release. None worse for the wear, she packed up her guitar and moved home– home being the record label her father Greg Brown was very instrumental in forming in 1983 and continues to be his label today. One and All is Pieta’s seventh release of her very distinctive lazy soprano floating on the Eastern Iowa sound started largely by constant partner Bo Ramsey– but it seems to me like she’s just getting started– maybe it feels like that to her, too. One and All just came out on 180g vinyl, too! Here is my review of One and All.

10. Cheyenne Marie Mize – Before Lately – Postitively lovely, ethereal album from Ms. Mize who is known for her collaboration EP with Bonnie Prince Billy which was her previous release. This album is stripped down to a minimalistic endeavor drawing to focus her longing vocals. Every time I listen to this album I crush on it all over again. She helpfully puts the entire record up on Bandcamp so you can listen to the whole thing. Check out her wonderful Daytrotter session, too. There needs to be vinyl of this release. Here is my article on Cheyenne Mize.

11. Gold Motel – Summer House – I had not heard of Gold Motel until they made an appearance at the August Codfish Hollow show. Chicago-based band has roots in lead singer Greta Morgan’s previous band The Hush Sound. The album is sunshine on CD– 60’s girl bands meets Debbie Harry. I meant to write a review about this album following the afterglow of this show but didn’t manage to– so, here is a review for Mezzic.com by Indie-Rock’s biggest fan, Ms. Amber Valentine.

12. John Legend and the Roots – Wake Up! – I’ve always respected John Legend although I wasn’t really a fan. The prospects of an album with his Philly brethren The Roots seemed like it could be magic. It was. I hope that this is not the last we’ll hear from this pairing. The 2 LP version of this album is the way it is supposed to be enjoyed.

13. Katharine Ruestow – self-titled EPKatharine Ruestow ends up on my list twice– she’s also part of The Diplomats of Solid sound. This is her first solo effort– a collaboration with Matt Grundstad of Euforquestra. Jazzy, almost Trip Hop sounding pop. Totally worth your digital-download dollar. Click Here to read the review I wrote for Little Village Magazine.

14. The Wandering Bears – self-titled EP – This album came crashing onto my Top List in the last couple of weeks. I was doing research for my review of the Pieta Brown “This Land is Your Music” show. The opening act was a trio from Iowa City known as The Vagabonds. Two of the Vagabonds are also in The Wandering Bears which released an EP earlier this year that really took me by surprise! The sound comes off as a combination of maybe Rilo Kiley and Throwing Muses. Free download, so just go get it.

15. Beth Bombara – Wish I Were You – Around the same time that Pezzettino kicked off her Kickstarter campaign for LubDub, St. Louis musician Beth Bombara kicked off one for Wish I Were You. In fact, before I ever heard any songs for this album I offered up a video of me talking about why I love vinyl to help promote her campaign. I found out about Beth through Arial Hyatt’s publicity website– back when there were fewer artists on it and the odds of finding very talented artists was much greater (my opinion). Her CD Robotic Foundation, was a mainstay in my listening rotation for over a year. Robotic Foundation was an edgy indie rock. Wish I Were You has its edgy moments- particular “Lately”, but the album seems to explore a few different styles drifting between blues, folk and country.  I love the album ending track “Don’t You Know” with it’s strings, banjo and harmony. Beth seemingly is part of like 16 bands in St. Louis, but she really shines as a solo artist here. Click Here to read my article about Beth.

16. Wolfgang Schaefer – self-titled EPWolfgang Schaefer is a relatively new musician on the scene and this is his first release. I met him during the tour this fall where he opened up for Pezzettino and both of them shared his very talented brother Ben on percussion and electronic wizardry. Margaret had been praising Wolfgang’s music, but I foolishly hadn’t followed up on it. Then I saw him perform live and was very impressed with his command of an audience. His music is VERY dynamic, so it’s a trick to keep your typical bar crowd in sway. Finger-picked acoustic guitars propel his hoarse vocals delivering pained recounts of love and loss. My friend Amber wrote a really great review of this EP.

17. The Diplomats of Solid Sound – What Goes Around Comes Around – The Diplomats are back with their second release on Italian soul label Record Kicks. Like last time, the Diplomats are fronted by the female vocals of the Diplomettes who have by name apparently been absorbed into the band since they are not singled out in credit. Name detail aside, the band came back with a really strong release filled with the sounds influenced by the 60’s R&B bands. I feel like the band has grown a bit in their songwriting with this release, too. Read my review at Little Village.

18. Drive By Truckers – The Big To Do – Love this album front to back– great party music with typical tongue-in-cheek lyricism from Patterson Hood and Co. It’s cool to see this band blowing up a bit. I finally got to see them live this year when they opened for Tom Petty in Chicago. “The Fourth Night of My Drinking,” “Birthday Boy,” “Drag the Lake Charlie,” “This F*cking Job,” and “After the Scene Dies” are all instant classics for me. I never got around to writing anything about this release, although I listened to this album a lot in 2010. Here is the fantastic Daytrotter session for Drive By Truckers.

19. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo – This might be some of my “old guy” coming out a bit. I have been a constant fan of Tom Petty since the 80’s. That said, his last two efforts– The Last DJ and Highway Companion (one a Heartbreakers release and one a solo release) were not as strong or consistent as some of his previous efforts in my opinion. When I started hearing the tracks that “leaked” via videos on line, Saturday Night Live appearances and his XM radio show “Buried Treasures” really started the interest in this release early. Petty stated that for this album they went to the studio loose and welcomed a more jamming approach and this, I feel, really makes for one of the most consistent albums from Petty in a long time. For an artist that could reasonably rest on his back catalog, it is great to see that he’s trying to push the creative envelope.

20. The Budos Band – III – Any release from Daptone Records is worthy of note, but I really love the Afro-Rhythms guitars and Farfisa organ of The Budos Band. The band said that they went into the studio trying to break new ground for the band by braving psychedelic rock and ended up recording an album that sounding like a Budos Band album. After four releases, I feel like this album really shows the band in its element and this album is darker, I feel than the previous releases. Some recent tweets from the band had them soliciting ideas for a new album of psychedelic rock covers for them to tackle which should be interesting. Here is an article I wrote about the album.

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