The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2019

It’s that time of year again when I try to remember what I listened to for the last 12 months and also when I peruse the other Top Lists from other websites to see what I missed. Considering the state of flux and chaos that the music industry is in regarding musicians getting paid, the amount of new and essential releases that come out still amazes me.

2019 was a pretty strange year all around, but in the music industry we had the big kerfuffle over Taylor Swift’s catalog being sold as part of the acquisition of Big Machine by Ithaca. I doubt that she’s in any risk of losing her position as one of the richest musicians in pop today, but certainly she doesn’t have control over where or how her music is being used. She’s not the first artist to fall into the trap of trading control for album advances and she won’t be the last, I’m afraid.

Speaking of Swift; Ryan Adams, who did a track-by-track cover of her 1989 album in 2015 was exposed by The New York Times as being a sexual predator, misogynist and possibly a pedophile. For longtime fans (who include me) this was pretty earth-shattering. I’ve covered Adams a lot on this site over the years and was aware of how unstable he seemed to be, but never thought he was someone who was abusive to fellow artists (usually demanding quid pro quo sexual favors to help their careers.) Then there are the accusations about the inappropriate relationship he had with a minor. He denies all of this and there hasn’t been any legal reaction to any of this that we’re aware of, but Blue Note cancelled the trifecta of records he was going to release this year. He’s been largely silent since this came out, but in recent weeks he’s been testing the social media waters with some posts. I have a feeling that with enough passing of time, people will forget this and he’ll likely come back. The history of pop and rock music is dotted with stories like his (and in some cases mythologized– yikes). For now my RA albums are in a box on a shelf in the basement.

2019 was also the year of Lizzo. Her career took a really steep arc this year with her much-anticipated full length release on her new label home Atlantic. The singles have been all over the place, and “Juice” becoming the anthem. I had been following her career prior to her move from the Twin Cities to L.A. but admittedly Cuz I Love You isn’t on my Top 20 because I didn’t listen to it this year other than the singles and videos. Her Tiny Desk Concert is AMAZING, btw.

2019 marks the tenth year I’ve been writing for Little Village Magazine, I wrote a lot of reviews for Little Village Magazine this year covering what I think has been the most exciting year yet for Iowa music. It seemed like new records were coming out every week from new bands, and existing bands and artists came out with career-defining releases. I launched a streaming music video channel on SBTV.com called The Fly-Over Music Hour. Its focus is on Midwestern bands and artists who have created great music videos. SBTV.com is a video streaming platform that TV stations use to stream content they create and own ad supported. So, you can watch the news and other original content from stations across the US. The Fly-Over Music Hour is an example of a 24×7 channel of original content intended as kind of an example that stations could duplicate in their markets, but also it gives me a chance to shine a light on some of my favorite music coming out of this area. There are apps for iOS, Android, FireTV, AppleTV as well as on the web. You can visit it at https://sbtv.com/flyover

Here are my Top 20 albums of 2019 (in no particular order):

Dickie – Minus Thieves – Singer-songwriter Dick Prall is back with his second album under his band name Dickie. For Minus Thieves the band has a new lineup with multi-instrumentalist and drummer Billy Barton. This album continues the largely autobiographical songwriting from Prall, but takes a more outward view than the 2015 self-titled release (which made my Top 20 list for that year, too). The production was handled by Pat Sansone from Wilco and engineer Josh Shapera and takes a more stripped-down and guitar driven spin than the typical chamber pop we’re used to, which puts the focus appropriately on Prall’s vocals and lyrics. My review of Minus Thieves for Little Village.

Beth Bombara – Evergreen – It’s a good year when we get a new album from Beth Bombara. I loved her 2017 release Map and No Direction (which made the Top 20 for Play B-Sides that year). Evergreen continues the rock leanings she established on that release. This album compares favorably to releases from folk rockers like Sheryl Crow and Aimee Mann. This is an album I think I played more than any other this year. She released a really great video for the album which takes my two favorite songs and stitches them together into one video.

Shane Leonard – Strange Forms – I can’t say enough about Shane Leonard’s last two records. Printer’s Son under the moniker Kalispell really took me by surprise when it came out in 2016. Daringly personal and beautiful across the board. Strange Forms from this year picks up where Printer’s Son left off and continues the journey exploring familial roles and relationships and exploring his new role as a father and husband. To me these two albums belong together. It’s worth a listen if you’re into the more acoustic sounds of Bon Iver or Elliott Smith’s later albums. His writing style always makes me think of Aimee Mann’s later works, too.

John Coltrane – Blue World After the surprise release of Both Directions At Once in 2018, I wasn’t really expecting another “lost” Coltrane album to come out. But, happily we got one in 2019 thanks to a soundtrack he recorded for a Canadian film in 1963. I don’t think that this release is particularly essential in his catalog as it documents a small window in his career, and is comprised primarily of new recordings of earlier songs. But, it ends up being very listenable and Blue World ends up being a nice alternative to some of my most-spun releases in his catalog (Blue Train, A Love Supreme). My “Deeper Dive” article about Blue World.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound – A Higher Place It’s hard to believe that it had been over nine years since the previous release from The Diplomats of Solid Sound. I suppose from most peoples’ perspective the band had merely broken up, but Doug Roberson had been bringing the band out for live shows, so anyone paying attention knew it was still a going concern. A Higher Place sees the reunion of the Diplomettes as a trio with Abby Sawyer rejoining the band, and it is wonderful to have her back. My review of A Higher Place for Little Village Magazine.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Terms of Surrender While not at the rate of releases from, say Thee Oh Sees or King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, we’ve been blessed with regular releases from Hiss Golden Messenger— nearly every year since 2010’s Poor Moon— and this doesn’t include the occasional EP or digital single. The recording of Terms of Surrender comes on the heels of a very dark time for him personally, resulting in a record that feels more personal than the previous ones. Aside from that, the record carries the same groove we’ve come to expect and ended up being a regular rotation for me.

Halfloves – Dazer Iowa City band Halfloves came back with their sophomore album in 2019. Their 2016 self-titled release came along with a band renaming (formerly the Olympics) and the firm hand of Brandan Darner who helped the band watershed their new sound and direction. For Dazer the band is rejoined by Darner and while they still carry their trademark dark pop, the three years since the first album has focused their sound producing a beginning-to-end stunner with a big sound. My review for Little Village.

Subatlantic – Villians The debut LP from Quad Cities band Subatlantic came out in 2019. Subatlantic was a band that I had been keeping an eye on because a lot of my friends in the Quad Cities were talking about them. Villains is a wonderful record with a kind of 90’s shoegazer sound. Rebecca Rice’s vocals and lyrics are wonderful reminding me a bit of Throwing Muses or The Cranberries. My review for Little Village.

The Maytags – Meriweather – Des Moines R&B outfit The Maytags’ album Meriweather is a departure from their more classic R&B sound on their 2016 release. Work schedules of the members resulted in a more stripped down approach which at times sounds like Prince’s classic Minneapolis sound. My review for Little Village.

Pieta Brown – Freeway – In 2014 Pieta Brown released her last album on Red House Records. Paradise Outlaw was recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios and had some of the extended Bon Iver crew on it (Vernon contributed vocals to one track as well). After an untethered five years where she launched her own imprint Lustre Records and released an EP of outtakes called Drifters in 2015 and an album of collaborations called Postcards in 2017. She also acted in a film during this time. For Freeway, she went back to April Base to record resulting in an album that has a slightly more atmospheric vibe to it than her previous releases. This is due to the use of a band that aren’t her normal go-to studio guys. Righteous Babe Records (Ani DiFranco’s label) saw fit to release this on pink vinyl and this is the recommended way to consume this record. My review in Little Village.

Crystal City – Three Dimensionality – Dave Helmer and Sam Drella of Crystal City step out of the barstool blues of their previous albums and enlist some very talented friends to create a record with new complex sonic textures drawing from jazz and and leaning a little into the Steely Dan territory. A fantastic record with lots to keep your ears busy. My review for Little Village.

Hex Girls – More of That Cedar Falls proto-punk/no wave revival combo Hex Girls put out their super-high-energy debut record More of That with enough bombast and edgy guitar to make your cool aunt blush (the one who said she read the bathroom walls at CBGB’s in NYC in the 80’s). My review for Little Village.

Brother Trucker – 5 Legendary Iowa barroom blues rock and country band Brother Trucker put out what I think is their best release this year. It is steeped in brilliant story telling and ripsaw guitar riffs. My review for Little Village Magazine sums it up well, “Most of the songs in the Brother Trucker catalog capture regular lives — like Norman Rockwell paintings of Midwestern life viewed through the bottom of a beer bottle.”

David Huckfelt – Stranger Angels I figured it was only a matter of time before we got some solo records from the guys in The Pines. David Huckfelt participated in an artist-in-residence in Isle Royale National Park in Michigan where he watershedded the songs that would end up on Stranger Angels. As I state in the review I wrote for Little Village Magazine, these songs aren’t a dramatic departure from the songs that Huckfelt brings to The Pines, but the change of band brings some new edge we don’t hear from the atmospheric leanings of that band.

Pink Neighbor – Time Beach Universe This was a really fun discovery for me this year. Iowa City’s Pink Neighbor put out their first album and it’s a well-executed tribute to the sunny singles of the Sixties from bands like The Zombies and The Mamas & The Papas, but also has a bit of new wavey B-52’s vibe. My review for Little Village.

Elizabeth Moen – A Million Miles Away – 2019 was a big year for Vinton, IA native Elizabeth Moen. She released her second album, which was a refreshing departure from her more straight folk of the first record. A funky and edgy release showing Moen figuring out her footing while delivering a soul-laid-bare performance. I played this release a lot this year. She seemed to play pretty much everywhere and even did a tour of Europe. She had a successful kickstarter for her third album, so that will probably be out in 2020!

William Tyler – Goes West William Tyler is a go-to guitarist for a few bands including Lambchop, Silver Jews (R.I.P.) and Hiss Golden Messenger. His solo releases are steeped in the American Primitive guitar tradition but he takes it to a whole new level. I would recommend every album he’s put out if you’re looking for instrumental guitar. Goes West has a really great, almost cinematic spans to it. Even though it is titled Goes West, it isn’t particularly western in theme, but feels like it could be a soundtrack for a film set in the desert and mountains.

Surf Zombies – Return of the Skeleton Cedar Rapids music scene fixture Brook Hoover’s Surf Zombies came back in 2019 with their fifth album and second on vinyl (amen). Instrumental surf guitar extravaganza, per usual, but I’m a huge fan of classic surf rock from vintage bands like the Ventures and Dick Dale and newer bands like Los Straightjackets. Return of the Skeleton stands with the best of those bands.

Octopus Live – Cedar Falls bar The Octopus on College Hill has been recording multi-tracks of the bands in the bar as an archival project. This year they pressed a vinyl-only compilation of some of the notable shows dating back to 2017. Bands like TWINS, Elizabeth Moen, SIRES, Holy White Hounds and Brother Trucker all turn in fantastic performances. They only pressed a couple hundred of these, so you don’t want to sleep on this. CLICK HERE TO ORDER ONE.

Tripmaster Monkey – My East Is Your West – Quad Cities band Tripmaster Monkey made it to a major label in the Nineties and promptly fell through the cracks of the chaos of record label acquisition hell. The band got back together and worked on new songs resulting in an album that is a distillation and refining of their sound from 30 years ago.

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.

 



Related Posts with Thumbnails