Monthly Archives: December 2015

10 favorite albums of 2015

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color – They are on my must-see-live list. This album is strong, top to bottom.

Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful – This one just kept growing on me. Bronson’s adept verbally, and mixes a standard street vibe with some smarter-than-you-might-expect lyrics.

 

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – Olivia Merilahti’s beautiful voice delivers, and the production backing her is more interesting than it might initially appear. I haven’t enjoyed an electronic pop album this much since Postal Service’s Up.

Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie – Girl Band’s 2015 EP, The Early Years, makes an appearance in my honorable mentions below, as well. What can I say? This kind of noise rock is right in my wheelhouse.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Erika Wennerstrom’s voice immediately captivated me when I first heard 2009’s The Mountain. But what keeps me coming back is the evolution of these Bastards, how they aren’t satisfied to keep making the same album over and over. I didn’t love 2012’s Arrow although it was decent. Restless Ones is a home run, arguably the best album I heard in 2015.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – Thanks to White Reaper and Houndmouth, Louisville had a pretty good year in 2015. These roots rockers follow their solid 2013 debut, From the Hills Below the City, with an even stronger sophomore effort. One of my goals in 2016 is to see Houndmouth live.

July Talk, July Talk – These Canadian rockers manage to balance a bluesy rock sound and Peter Dremaneis’s low, raspy voice with a lighter, poppier feel, largely provided by co-vocalist Leah Fay.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – An album that’s actually worth all of the rave reviews its received throughout the year.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – It is awesome to have these ladies back. I was privileged to see them live in Indy, and I’m hoping maybe they’ll hit some festivals in the Midwest next summer so I can catch them again. Punk rock that seems to be louder than the sum of its parts.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, Too – I get bored with hip-hop artists pretty easily. I don’t care what car rappers drive, what over-priced alcohol they drink or how many bitches they have. I grew up in the era of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Paris, Boogie Down Productions, The Jungle Brothers, Das EFX, etc. I want some goddamn substance. Young Fathers not only provide that, but their production sounds not at all like the repetitive beats that flood the airwaves.

On the bubble: Girlpool, Before the World Was Big; Dead Weather, Dodge & Burn; No Joy, More Faithful; Pale Honey, Pale Honey; White Reaper, White Reaper Does It Again

Honorable mentions: A Place to Bury Strangers, Transfixiation; Ryan Adams, 1989; Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Miguel, Wildheart; Motorhead, Bad Magic; Tunde Olaniran, Transgression; Torres, Sprinter; Wolf Alice, My Love is Cool

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30 Favorite songs of 2015

Anonymous, Desaparecidos – “Freedom’s not free / Neither is apathy.” Punk rock for anyone feeling the Bern.

Better Man, Leon Bridges – I’m hoping to catch this guy live in Indy early in 2016. Beautiful soul music.

Blueberry Island, Julie Ruin – The keyboard really holds this song together, mesmerizing without being overwhelming. The fuller sound of the chorus is striking, as well.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Such an easy, seductive groove. I find myself bobbing my head every time.

Diamonds, Tunde Olaniran feat. iRawniQ and Passalacqua – My favorite hip-hop song of the year and one of my faves of 2015, period. Love the chorus: “No ice on my hands / No diamonds on my grill / Don’t drive a Mercedes / I’m a keep it real / Nothing in my pocket but a $5 bill / Guess I’ll go to Taco Bell / And get a combo meal.”

Dreams, Beck – I wasn’t thrilled with 2014’s Morning Phase. Wait years for new Beck, and the reward is limp and sleepy? Dreams is Beck getting his groove back.

Gwan, The Suffers – Kim Franklin’s voice powers this track. Those beautiful funk horns really fill it out.

Handsome, The Vaccines – Snotty, up-tempo pop punk.

Hate Street Dialogue, The Avener feat. Rodriguez – A delicious groove mixed with more high-minded lyrics.

Holy Ghost, A$AP Rocky feat. Joe Fox – What happens when the church appears to be just as corrupt and morally bankrupt as the rest of society? If you’re A$AP Rocky, you cut one hell of a hip-hop track laying out your concerns.

I Don’t Think She Cares, White Reaper – Garage punkers White Reaper and roots rockers Houndmouth = Kentucky had a pretty good year in music in 2015.

I Feel Love (Every Million Miles), The Dead Weather – Of all of Jack White’s projects, The Dead Weather always seemed like the most undercooked. Never bad, mind you, just not all that great compared to his other work. Dodge and Burn may be the album that changes my opinion.

In My Mouth, Jeff the Brotherhood – A song in the tradition of AC/DC’s Big Balls.

Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg – I love I, and that may be Kendrick’s best song of the year. I certainly wouldn’t argue against it. But I’ll take this hip-hop diatribe on fiscal and racial inequity every day of the week, and twice on Tuesday.

Kocaine Karolina, Elle King – King is interesting. Ex’s and Oh’s is a helluva pop song, and it’s not the only nugget worth listening to from King’s first full-length, Love Stuff.

Lawman, Girl Band – Girl Band brings the noise, walls of fuzz and discordant tones.

Out of the Woods, Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams’ top-to-bottom cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album is worth the listen. This was my favorite.

Paper Girl, July Talk – Love these Canadians, and I’m hoping they’ll swing through Indy again soon. Their live show is where it’s at.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – What if Bob Dylan sounded like a half-assed stoner chick from down under? I’m not sure Barnett belongs in that rarefied air just yet, but I wouldn’t surprise if she ends up there.

Rage, Le1f – The closest I can get to a comparison is Dizzy Rascal. While Le1f has the unrestrained energy about him, he’s a little further off the beaten path than Diz.

Smarter Than I Was, Buddy Guy – Dude still has it.

Stalker, Kasey Chambers – I’ve liked Chambers since the first time I heard Last Hard Bible. Stalker has the same sort of desperation and humor in it.

Strange Hellos, TorresStrange Hellos has a PJ Harvey quality to it, loud screechy guitars and a powerful feminine voice.

Tease, Pale Honey – I’ve managed to run across quite a few young women really rocking out in 2015. Tease is one of the best.

T.I.W.Y.G., Savages – Yes! Yes! Yes! Can’t wait for the new album.

Trustful Hands, The Do – Smooth, subtle and easy. Shake, Shook, Shaken is one of my favorite albums of the year.

Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – I usually connect with one or two pop songs a year. I don’t know about “uptown,” but Ronson and Mars totally find the funk.

Victory or Die, Motorhead – Lemmy and Co. continue to do what they do, which is make kick-ass metal music.

Wicked Game (Spotify Sessions), Wolf Alice – I’ve always loved Chris Isaac’s sexy, whispering original. Wolf Alice and singer Ellie Roswell strip away that seductive sheen and add some brutal despair to take Wicked Game to a new place.

On the bubble: All My Heart, The Mynabirds; And I Love Her, Kurt Cobain; City Boy Blues, Action Bronson; Drum Machine, Big Grams feat. Skrillex; Foreign Object, Mountain Goats; Go Head, Awreeoh; Milkman, Bully; Rap Zealot, K-OS; Vices, Slayer

Honorable mentions: 15 Years, Houndmouth; Anyways, The Prettiots; Ashes to Ashes, Warpaint; Awake, Snoop Dogg; Baby Britain, Seth Avett & Jessica Lee Mayfield; Bleeder, Ceremony; Blud, SOAK; Bunker Buster, Viet Cong; Chalk Snake, No Joy; CHERRY BOMB, Tyler, the Creator; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; Falling, Here We Go Magic; Feel Right, Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal; figure 8, FKA twigs; How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr.; I’m Callin’, Tennis; I’m Gonna Teach You, Daniel Romano; Impossible, Angel Haze; Johnny Delusional, FFS; Man Plans God Laughs, Public Enemy; Melt Me, Hanni El-Khatib; My Own Fantasy, Royal Headache; Only You (Live), Anderson East; Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves; Rain or Shine, Young Fathers, Romance Dawn, Radkey; Run, Rainbow Kitten Surprise; Shake It Off, Ryan Adams; Solid Gold, Turbowolf; Son of God, Will Butler; Vital Signs, Gang of Youths; the valley, Miguel; What We Don’t See, A Place to Bury Strangers; Which Side Are You On, Talib Kweli feat. Tef Poe and Kendra Ross; Woodland Rock, Ty Seagall; Young Girls in Space, The Unwed Teenage Mothers

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“The Nice Guy”

“Can you help me with my bike?”

He was white, balding underneath his Cincinnati Reds cap. Tall, taller than me, and pretty big. Doughy, but under that muscular, strong, the build and mannerisms of someone who worked for a living. His smile, glasses, the bib overalls, his easy manner all made me think I could be shaking hands with someone who was asked to play Santa every year at a church party or the local volunteer fire department Christmas celebration.

“Sure. Give me a minute.”

“No rush.”

After finishing the post-breakfast, camping rituals, I ambled over to his site. He was alone, sleeping in small, white-sided camper pulled by a half-ton, red Chevy truck. The Kawasaki was strapped down in the bed of the pickup. Everything was immaculate, no stains, no grease, no accumulated dust. With little trouble, we unloaded the cycle. He smiled again.

The smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Thanks.”

It’s like when you’re talking to someone, and there’s a … tic, a tell, something that exposes him as a liar. He’s not right.

“No problem.”

Or not. Whatever.

Later in the day, I saw our neighbor leaving. I was digging through the car for a towel when he rode off on his motorcycle. The bib overalls had been replaced with a deep blue jumpsuit, like you might see on an industrial worker or the pest control guy. He also wore his helmet, big brown boots, a backpack and black motorcycle gloves.

He looks like a serial killer.

I laughed to myself and returned to the search. I didn’t think again about my little joke until evening when our neighbor returned, looking just as spotless as when he left. As he cut the engine and parked, he gave me a wave. I waved back.

Maybe he really is a serial killer.

I waited, knowing sanity would soon overtake me. Yet …

He’s got a trusting face. Not that all serial killers have that. I mean, Gacey, Bundy, they had personality, that trustworthy vibe.

He took off his helmet, hanging it from one of the grips. Then he disappeared into the camper.

Everything’s so clean. Too clean. It’s weird. It’s a dirtbike with no dirt on it. A camper that doesn’t look like it’s been camping. A truck that’s six, seven years old, and it looks like it’s showroom quality. No dirt, no tar, no grass stains … no DNA, no fingerprints, no evidence.

A light flashes on in the camper.

The jumpsuit pretty much covers him head to toe. I wonder what was in the backpack? Lunch? First aid kit? Ropes and duct tape? I guess it’s not unusual to wear gloves to drive, especially on a cycle. But he had them on when we unloaded …

A campground light glints off one of the Kawasaki’s mirrors.

My prints are the only ones on the bike! Oh my God! I’ll be the suspect once the police find the body …

Crickets. The campfire pops and crackles a few feet away.

Ridiculous. It’s just a dude camping. You’re drunk. Go to bed.

In the morning, he approached me again, asking for help to get the bike into the truck. I agreed, and walked together to the pickup.

He’s wearing gloves. Going to accuse him of being Ed Gein?

We pushed the bike quietly and gently up the homemade ramp into the bed of the truck. I held it still as he strapped it down. He carefully stepped off the bed on to the blacktop of the short driveway, and reached out a hand, smiling.

“Thanks.”

Really? This is the guy you’re obsessing over.

“Yeah. You’re welcome.”

I reached out and shook his hand. He gripped it firmly, matching my gaze. I saw something, something that really did scare me. The look of the triumphant predator, a deep, burning hunger sated, a clean getaway.

My next visit was to the bathroom, to wash my hands.

Because only because you can’t really scrub your soul.

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Indianapolis, 12/04/15: Sleater-Kinney and Waxahatchee

Five things about Sleater-Kinney’s first appearance in Indianapolis:

  1. While I’ve enjoyed Waxahatchee’s albums – Ivy Tripp and Cerulean Salt – they’ve never really blown me away in recordings. Live, there’s an energy and centeredness to what they do that adds some real depth. You never really know a band until you see them live.
  2. This was my first time seeing Sleater-Kinney live, as well. The thing that really struck me about them live was how incredibly powerful the vocals of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sound live. Vocals, like any other sound, can be manipulated in the studio to be made to sound stronger, more on-key – hello, Britney Spears – and more. But live, pretenders tend to be exposed. Tucker’s one-of-a-kind, staccato high-end and Brownstein’s more grounded low end make for a unique combination on all of Sleater-Kinney’s albums, and live it gives them a power that few other bands have.
  3. Carrie Brownstein is a guitar fucking god(dess). I cannot overstate this. I’ve seen guitarists like Josh Homme, Buddy Guy, Jack White, Dave Navarro, Tom Morello, etc., perform live, and Brownstein lives in that rarefied air. What really came off as odd during the show was that Brownstein was wearing a dark, short dress, and there were times she looked like Angus Young up there, between the licks and the rock star moves.
  4. A little less riot in these grrrls? Back in the day, I saw bands like Seven Year Bitch and L7 live, and I’ve been to my share of shows that involve unknown punk rockers playing in places like basements and veterans halls. In other words, punk rock is not a scene I’m unfamiliar with. But this show … I’m assuming the pre-concert, get-fired-up speech for Sleater-Kinney went something like, “Let’s do our hair and makeup, put on our pretty dresses and then go rock the fuck out of this place!” It was both unexpected and pretty frigging awesome.
  5. One of my top ten shows. And if I sat down and sorted it out, which I will eventually do for this blog, it might be top five. Sleater-Kinney was tight, pulsing with energy and loud enough to shake the building. I can’t wait to see them again.
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Familiarity impacts ‘Fury’ in positive, negative ways

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Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman and Brad Pitt bring the clamorous pain in “Fury.”

Fury‘s greatest strength and most profound weakness are the same: It’s a typical war movie. The familiar tropes are all there, the hardscrabble-but-caring commander, the bible-thumping war lover, the green recruit, a back-against-the-wall fight to end all fights. The plot and themes of Fury are familiar, even comforting.

But what Fury does do right is use this familiarity as a template, a framework for the cast to work from, instead of that sameness being all there is to the film. Big names like Brad Pitt and Shia LeBeouf mix with familiar faces John Bernthal and Michael Pena, as well as relative newcomer Logan Lerman, to add meat to the skeleton. Pitt never overplays his hand as the commander who cares deeply for his charges, and slowly reveals a darker side, a person who has become a bit addicted to the fight. Shia LeBeouf might be the least annoying bible thumper in cinematic (or human) history, and Bernthal’s portrayal of the dimwitted Coon-Ass is another example of his tremendous ability as an actor. Pena adds energy and – when needed – intensity, and Lerman rounds it out well as the new kid who knows he is in way over his head.

The other aspect that sets Fury apart is the combat scenes. Tank warfare has never been this visceral and vital. The big combat scene is fine, but the earlier scenes – such as infantry crouching behind American tanks as they slowly advance across a wide open field – are where writer-director David Ayer (the man behind the upcoming Suicide Squad film) gets to show off. It’s a thrill to watch.

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