With the year coming to a close, it’s that time again to take a look back at some of the best that the music world had to offer in 2017. First up on the “Best of” docket is my annual “Best Album Covers” list. Throughout the year, I kept a list of album covers that I found strange, beautiful, and provocative. This list is a compilation of my favorites from this yearlong collection. Anyone who loves the album as an art form knows the importance of a powerful LP image, and the following 20 covers elevate their corresponding albums.
In the latest episode of BDWPS, I take a look back and some of the highlights from my week spent at SXSW in Austin, Texas. You will hear new music from Spoon, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Cherry Glazerr, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Pill, and Girlpool. We also continue our look back at Bob Dylan’s 1964 release, The Times They Are A-Changin’.
This year’s SXSW was one of good fortune. It seemed like everything went our way – from transportation, to a plethora of engaging shows, to one fantastic food truck choice after another. To sum up, this SXSW 2017 was one of the best I’ve attended in years, and here are some reasons why.Continue reading →
A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my “Top 40 Albums of 2014” list (check it out here). Below you will find this year’s edition of what I consider the top 20 albums of the year. You’ll find albums from varying genres and possibly a few albums that are new to you. I think it’s important to note what I define as a top caliber album. Great songs are always a plus, but more important to me is the ability of an artist to create a series of songs that tell a story, that convey an overall theme, that complement each other, and that make the listener think differently about the human experience. We are moving into an age where most consumers are more concerned with hit songs, which is why I feel compelled to highlight those musicians that have stayed honest to the age-old art of The Album and created something that’s about the whole and not a couple catchy songs.
On this month’s episode we jump between new music from Woods, Hamilton Leithauser, Spoon, and Open Mike Eagle to classic tracks from Soundgarden, Aimee Mann, Wugazi, and Bob Dylan. Check out the new episode HERE or suscribe on iTunes (search keyword: BDWPS).
In the third installment of BDWPS Podcast you’ll hear new tracks from Lotus Plaza, Andrew Bird, Action Bronson, High On Fire, and Magnetic Fields. Also, I talk about the TV show “Quincy M.E.” and the biography of Pistol Pete Maravich. Download the Podcast at iTunes (look up BDWPS) or simply listen to it here:
I always thought Carrie Brownstein was the more punk rock of the ladies in Sleater Kinney. I always thought she had the fire, the anger, and the edge that counteracted Corrin Tucker’s more feminine approach. I was wrong. So wrong.
I’m a sucker for trumpets, especially when they sound this damn dreamy.
73. “Theme From ‘Cheers””
Looking back on my year, one memory that stands out the most is when me and BDWPS contributer PtheStudP visited Cheers in downtown Boston. After a two-hour marathon at a beer festival, our tour guide Steph led us to Cheers where her friend Justin was bartending. What I thought was going to a quick tourist visit turned into hours of drunken splendor. Soon the variety of beers and shots somehow turned into a night of boisterous chanting of “U-S-A!”, “Lord-By-ron!”, and “Tom Arn-old!” This song brings me back to that night, not necessarily because of the reference to Cheers in the title, but the chorus that could have easily been one of our chants that night: “So let’s get fucked up, and let’s pretend we’re all okay, and if you’ve got something you can’t live with, save it for another day. Save it for another day.”
72. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
After carrying The National’s Matt Berninger to Ohio, I’d like that same swarm of bees to visit Jim Tressel’s house.
71. “Tame On the Prowl”
In most cases, my adoration of The Medications stems from trying to untangle the vine of intertwined guitar licks in each song. “Tame On the Prowl” continues this tradition, but also features a melody that will quickly wrap around your Hippocampus.
70. “Whores; The Movie”
Not only is “Whores; The Movie” a stellar song, but it would also make a great movie (preferably in 3-D).
69. “Leave You Forever”
I could never leave this song forever.
68. “Apartment Wrestling”
Maximum Balloon (featuring David Byrne)
If you’ve ever wondered what TV On the Radio would sound like if they joined forces with The Talking Heads, it’s as amazing as you expected.
67. “Grief Point”
This is not really a song, rather an audio-short-film, or an audio-psycho analysis, or maybe just the ramblings of a confused artist. Whatever the case, this eight minute insight into the mind of Dan Bejar and his view of music at this point in his career is fascinating. Earlier this year, Bejar discussed ending his recording career altogether (fortunately he didn’t with a new album coming out soon), and this B-side to his “Archer on the Beach” EP captures him in the midst of this confusion of what role his music plays in both his life and his listeners. Plus, I just like the imagery of “picnic baskets filled with blood”. Call me a hopeless romantic!
66. “Fresh Hex”
Tobacco (featuring Beck)
“Maniac Meat” is such a fun fucking album and on “Fresh Hex” Beck joins the party, giving the album his own fresh take on their energetic sound.
65. “Pop Culture (revisited)”
The Ponys originally formed in Chicago back in 2001, and one of their earliest songs was “Pop Culture”. For whatever reason, this song never made it onto a major record, only being heard during live performance. I can still remember them playing this song when I first saw them live four years ago. But in 2010, with the release of their song EP “Deathbed Plus 4”, “Pop Culture (revisited)” was finally released from captivity, and it sounds as lively as ever.
64. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”
Water has always represented rebirth, and on “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” singer Scott Hutchison swims not only for a renewal, but also to feel alive again.
63. “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”
The Magnetic Fields
This past year I’ve had to learn how to forgive others, and also tried to gain forgiveness for those I’ve hurt. In both cases this isn’t the easiest of tasks. As the person who was wronged, there is some agitation with the idea that by simply saying “I’m sorry” that everything goes back to the way they were. They don’t and they never will. But as the person asking for forgiveness, you can’t “simply press rewind” and things will be they way they once were no matter how bad you would like them to. Stephin Merritt’s snarky lyrics take on the persona of the one burned, and his stance can be either an anthem for moving on or a eulogy for a relationship (depending one what side of the forgiveness fault-line you stand).
Fresh & Onlys
The Fresh & Onlys are time travelers, but instead of going to the past, they’ve come to us from the 60s, bringing with them a sound that has been long forgotten. Amazingly, a song like “Waterfall” grows out of the oldies, yet sounds like nothing else on the radio. This is the type of song that would lead Marty McFly to say, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your grandparents loved it.”
61. “Below the Hurricane”
At first this seems like a beautiful little folk song, but halfway through the band kicks it up a notch with Doobie Brother’s persona that is sweetened with a couple drops of harmonica.
60. “I Learned the Hard Way”
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
The only thing I don’t like about this song is the fact that she never defines exactly what this guy did to turn her into such a bitter old maid.
59. “Mr. Peterson”
This eerie song tells the story of a teacher, Mr. Peterson, leaving a note on a student’s paper telling them to meet him at a certain time and place. For some reason, the narrator meets up with the teacher, smokes weed with him, and possibly has sex with him (although this event is only inferred). When the teacher goes on to kill himself, the narrator doesn’t necessarily hold a grudge toward him. Instead, the speaker hopes that Mr. Peterson can find a place where he’s wanted, even if that place be hell.
So yeah, this songs kinda depressing.
The New Pornographers
After their lackluster 2007 release “Challengers”, I’d kinda written The New Pornographers off. It just seemed like their sound had run its course and had no where else to go. But on their latest release, “Together”, the band has found new ways to eek a little more life out of their collective, especially on a song like “Moves” that amps up their classic sound with a driving orchestral addition.
57. “Suffering Season”
I made the mistake this summer of defining Woods as the next Neil Young. The falsetto vocals do conjure up images of Sir Neil, but a song like “Suffering Season” shows the band is influenced by many other voices of the past (possibly the Mamas and the Papas?).
In just two minutes, Ty Segall will have you singing along. That has to be some type of record.
55. “Favourite Food”
Tokyo Police Club
Getting old stinks, a point this song pounds into the ground. Not only have I had to face the facts that I’m no longer young, but my parent’s aging has become apparent, a notion that scares me. When the lyrics say “cause it’s sweet getting old” followed by “Let the hospital be your home”, I can’t help but feel that Tokyo Police Club are being morbidly ironic. I would like to believe that there is some hope hidden within the metaphors of this riveting song, but I can’t seem to find them.
54. “Written in Reverse”
With all that screaming and punching of piano keys, something must have really pissed Britt Daniels off. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, you’ll like Britt when he’s angry.
I really should start listening to some R Kelly. A couple of years ago I couldn’t quit listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of R. Kelly’s “The Word’s Greatest”. This year Sam Amidon, who is known for his modern interpretations of classic folk songs, switched his routine by taking R. Kelly’s “Relief” and giving it a more classic ambience. On second thought, I’ll just stick to people covering R. Kelly.
Even though it’s the third track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, “POWER” is the introduction to the Shakespearan tale found on this album. In it, Kanye portrays a man dealing with the struggles of being in power. At times he seems arrogant and aloof, but near the end of the song the listener begins hearing a man realizing that the one thing he doesn’t have power over is himself. By the time the outro arrives, the speaker is standing on a ledge envisioning himself jumping, saying, “This would be a beautiful death”.
Oh, and did I mention it samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”?
51. “He Would Have Laughed”
A lot of great musicians died in 2010 (Captain Beefheart, Ronnie James Dio, Mark Linkous), but the most devastating loss in my view was the death of Jay Reatard simply because Jay had so much left to create, so must potential. Being friends with Jay, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox wrote “He Would Have Laughed” in dedication to the lost genius. I’m not sure if the song is necessarily about Jay with its abstract lyrics, although there is something there within the lyrics “Where do all my friends go?” and “What did you want to be?”. I think the connection to Jay’s life is found within the music its self, with the slow progression that eventually goes into a euphoric swell, but then, just like Jay’s life, the song just suddenly stops. Fuck.