Tag Archives: pop music

Favorite songs of 2016, the mid-year review

FAVES OF 2016

Ain’t It a Sin, Charles Bradley – The world just keeps doing Charles wrong, and it sounds like he’s ready to battle back.

All Coltrane Solos At Once, Saul Williams feat. Haleek Maul – Williams gets his Kool Keith on in a song that’s as much freak rock as it is hip-hop.

Angel, Nice As Fuck – I’d like to think this is what happens when Jenny Lewis and friends hang out and listen to Blondie albums.

The Answer, Savages – In my head, I can see Beavis and Butthead headbanging to this, fists raised to the sky. From my favorite album of the year, Adore Life.

Boys (That I Dated in High School), The Prettiots – It’s awkward, apologetic, nostalgic and funny, but never bitter.

Burn the Witch, Radiohead – Always good to have Radiohead back with new material. Like this song. Love the album.

Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, Loretta Lynn – Ms. Lynn, 84 years old with sense of humor intact, rips it on this light-hearted bluegrass cut.

Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird, All Them Witches – Stoner rock by some guys who both know what the Misty Mountains are and can probably tell you off the top of their head that they’re also known as Hithaeglir.

In Bloom, Sturgill Simpson – I love it when a cover really changes the way you think about a song, such as when Marilyn Manson covered The Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams back in the 1990s. Nirvana’s In Bloom always felt like it was raging against the machine. Simpson’s version creates an atmosphere of melancholy, with a bit of defiance coming in toward the end of the song. And it’s goddamn beautiful.

Keep on Keepin’ On, Bleached – Fans of The Runaways and The Donnas should enjoy the driving, head-bobbing Keep on Keepin’ On from this California quartet.

I Decide, The Julie Ruin – A cool blast of hot punk.

Lyrics, Skepta feat. Novelist – Reminds me a bit of Dizzy Rascal, that off kilter, seriously syncopated rhyming over sparse, strange production that gives it an almost otherworldly feel.

Make It Right, The Coathangers – Step up and make it right, advise this all-woman punk trio from Atlanta.

My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars, Mitski – Almost sounds like a cover of a Guided By Voices’ song, with that lo-fi/DIY attitude, short and to-the-point musically and odd lyrically.

Never Hold On, King Khan – Music to soothe the soul. Never Hold On would be just as comfortable in 1966 as it is in 2016.

Pain, De La Soul feat. Snoop DoggPain is classic De La Soul, sounding like something you could have pulled off of any of their albums from the last 25 years, yet fresher than anything you’re hearing on the airwaves right now.

She Makes Me Laugh, The Monkees – I’m as surprised to see this on my list as anyone, but She Makes Me Laugh is a gorgeous nugget of shimmery summer beach pop.

Shut Up Kiss Me, Angel Olsen – Olsen’s first two singles from her upcoming album are decidedly different from what we heard from her on 2014’s awesome Burn Your Fire For No Witness. And that’s not a bad thing.

Strange Torpedo, Lucy Dacus – Not even old enough to drink legally when her album was recorded, Dacus has a bright future as a songwriter.

Swear Jar (again), Milk Teeth – A good year for female frontwomen who rock. Go ahead, put another penny in the swear jar.

Twist My Fingaz, YG – This party track rides a traditional, West-Coast funk groove like something off Doggystyle or The Chronic, which seems like a contradiction when YG muses, “I really got something to say / I’m the only one that made it out the West without Dre.”

Um Chagga Lagga, The Pixies – It’s so good to have The Pixies back together. Frank Black mixes singing and talking over a thick guitar groove.

untitled 02 | 06.23.2014., Kendrick Lamar – Hip-hop’s reigning MVP gets a little more abstract, dropping untitled unmastered. without fanfare in the spring. Lamar probably isn’t winning any Grammys for this one, but who cares? The fans should love this unexpected gem.

You Don’t Get Me High Anymore, Phantogram – I like a cut that oozes attitude. This is a song to strut to.

ON THE BUBBLE

All of Me, Dirty Dishes; Even Though Our Love is Doomed, Garbage; Kids, The Frights; Ox Blood, Plague Vendor; Under the Influence pt II, Snoh Aalegra; Wear Me Out Loud, The I Don’t Cares

HONORABLE MENTIONS

III, Maxwell; American Appetite, Harriet; Captive of the Sun, Parquet Courts; Clouds Never Get Old, Bas; Criminal, Eliza Hardy Jones; The Decay of Lying, The Melvins; Divorce Separation Blues, The Avett Brothers; Dogma, Hell Came Home; Drag Queen, The Strokes; E.V.P., Blood Orange; Feel Right, Esme Patterson; Hold Your Own Hand, Mothers; How Did I Get Through the Day?, Har Mar Superstar; I Won’t Pay, Bear Hands; A Living Human Girl, The Regrettes; Losing It, Robert Pollard; Moon, Beth Orton; Mxney, Chuuwee; Nganshe, Mbongwana Star; No Star, Greys; No Woman, Whitney; November, Kera & the Lesbians; Power Child, Night Beats; RCVR, Big Black Delta feat. Debbie Gibson; Secrets (Cellar Door), Radical Face; Sex & Drugs, A Giant Dog; Since You Been Gone, The Heavy; Six White Horses, Karl Blau; Strive, A$AP Ferg feat. Missy Elliott; We Turn Red, Red Hot Chili Peppers; White Flag, Joseph; Wow, Beck

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Favorite albums of 2016, the mid-year review

THE ALBUM I CAN’T STOP LISTENING TO

Adore Life, Savages – It’s like I’m 15 all over again, and I just want to listen to the same album time after time, flipping the cassette over to start it again every time it hits the end. Since Adore Life dropped early this year, it’s been rocking my world. I like Savages’ 2013 full-length debut, Silence Yourself, and thought it showed promise. But I was unprepared for Adore Life, a significant step up in songwriting and intensity. Can’t wait to see them later this month in Indianapolis.

OTHER FAVES OF 2016

Changes, Charles Bradley – Bradley has had his heart broken, and has probably broken a heart or two himself. Changes – with the exception of the bizarre choice of God Bless America to open the album – is Bradley baring his soul for the world, looking for love, sometimes in the wrong places.

Fill In the Blank, Car Seat Head Rest – Beck, Parquet Courts, Weezer, Sebadoh The Strokes … all names of bands that run through my head as I listen to Fill in the Blank. And let’s be clear: I’m in no way calling Car Seat Head Rest derivative. They have their own thing going on, and that thing puts them in some pretty good company.

The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey – Probably the most I’ve enjoyed a PJ Harvey album since 2000’s Stories From the City, Stories From the City. It isn’t that Harvey hasn’t done good work since then, but there’s a cohesiveness to Hope Six that her other recent offerings have lacked.

Lightning at the Door, All Them Witches – Grungy stoner rock for anyone who has ever owned 20-sided dice. You can hear touches of Black Sabbath and Queens of the Stone Age on Lightning at the Door, and it’s best to listen with the lights out and some candles burning, preferably in a basement.

A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead – As a music fan, I really appreciate a band’s evolution over a period of time. Not everything is going to be a winner. There will always be favorites. While I don’t love A Moon Shaped Pool like I love OK Computer or Amnesiac, the more A Moon Shaped Pool simmers in my ears, the more I could see myself loving it just as I do my other Radiohead favorites.

Post-Pop Depression, Iggy Pop – I think the pairing of Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme and Iggy Pop is natural and fluid, and Post-Pop Depression reflects that. Iggy does his thing, and Homme keeps the guitar wankering reeled in, doing more subtle, detailed work over the bulk of this nine-song collection rather than cranking it up to 11.

Puberty 2, Mitski – I’m not sure what I expected when I first listened to Puberty 2, but it wasn’t a pop rock album that would work as a soundtrack to an episode of Twin Peaks. Whether it’s the gloomy vulnerability of Dan the Dancer, the dreamy strings-and-beats-driven Fireworks or the noisy defiance of My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars, Mitski drops track after beguiling track.

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson – Come for the outstanding cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom; stay for more from one of the most interesting voices in American country music right now. Simpson’s less from the line of “cowboys” and “cowgirls” dominating the charts look like they went straight to the stage from the tanning bed, and more from the thoughtful, intelligent, rebellious line of John Prine, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.

We Were Wild, Esme Patterson – Esme Patterson has a wonderful voice, which has served her well. But on We Were Wild, she loosens up a bit, amping up the energy some, and the result is a more engaging collection than either of her two previous albums. This is one that grows on me the more I listen to it.

ON THE BUBBLE

BlackSUMMERS’night, Maxwell – I could see this being in my top albums at the end of the year. I don’t know that I like it as much as 2009’s BLACKsummers’night, but I find it growing more satisfying with each listen.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Introducing Karl Blau, Karl Blau; Leave Me Alone, Hinds; No Burden, Lucy Dacus; No One Deserves Happiness, The Body; The Suffers, The Suffers; untitled unmastered., Kendrick Lamar; You Will Never Be One of Us, Nails

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RiverRoots 2016 lineup delivers

RiverRoots 2016 is the fourth straight year I’ve attended the festival, and I expect to be back next year. The music lineup is always solid, and there’s nothing like listening to bluegrass, country, soul, folk and more while drinking Indiana craft beer on the beautiful banks of the Ohio River.

Saturday’s lineup was solid. Asleep at the Wheel and Donna the Buffalo rocked like the vets that they are, and acts such as Parker Millsap, Jake Book, Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Bridge 19 all put on good shows. Billy Strings stole the show, bringing heavy metal-like intensity and speed to their rootsy set.

But for me, it was a quartet of acts on Friday that brought down the house. Battling wet weather and playing to smaller crowds, these four elevated their games and made a fan out of me.

Darlingside – This quartet out of Boston was moved from the main stage to the second stage because of the rain. It turned out fortune was smiling upon them, because the River Stage gave the set an intimacy that wouldn’t have happened on the main stage. The above performance doesn’t quite do them justice, but it’s a pretty good example of what they have to offer. Think if Simon and Garfunkel fronted the Punch Brothers covering Avett Brothers songs.

Sarah Jarosz – In four years, I’ve never seen the River Stage so crowded. It wasn’t just standing room only; there really wasn’t even room left to stand. Her voice is as amazing live as it is on wax.

Lindi Ortega – Ortega’s old-school country sound, her band’s tight groove and her effortless stage presence are a unique combination. I’d like to see her at a smaller, indoor venue, because I think a crowded room might provide more energy for the band to feed off of, elevating the intensity a bit.

Brothers Comatose – I didn’t know they made bluegrass music in San Francisco, at least not after Jerry Garcia died. These fellas blazed out of the gate and never looked back, effortlessly mixing traditional music with moments like their Cake cover. I will see these West Coasters again, hopefully soon.

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Let Lucy Dacus light up your life

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Lucy Dacus (in hat) and her band at The Brass Rail in Fort Wayne, IN, on March 28, 2016.

As a member of Generation X, I remember all of the bullshit my fellow Gen Xer’s and I put up with, largely from asshole Boomers, about how we were a bunch of slackers, apathetic, etc. I see this same thing happening with Millenials, and I’m not inclined to believe it much this time around, either.

Particularly when I see a 20-year-old like Lucy Dacus, as well as her young band, put on a helluva show after a rough day. I saw Dacus on March 28 at The Brass Rail in Fort Wayne. They showed up late, and the crowd was wondering what was up. Turns out, Dacus & Co spent the night before in Chicago, where their van had been broken into. Fortunately, no band equipment was stolen. However, plenty was taken, from the very personal (all of Dacus’s hand-written journals) to the vitally important (their Canadian videographer’s passport).

After Dacus told the story, the band proceeded to crank out more than an hour of solid, engaging indie rock. No excuses, no soundcheck, no tuning up. They got down to business and didn’t let it affect them, coolly burning through a flawless set that lasted for more than an hour. Totally professional. And more than enough to impress a cynical Gen Xer like me.

Dacus’ first album, No Burden, is out now.

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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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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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Favorite albums of 2015: The third quarter review

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color – There’s no weak sauce, from track the first to track the last. Wish I’d caught them in Indy this summer, because they’re most definitely on my “must see” list.

Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn – Maybe the best thing Jack White’s done since the end of the White Stripes. He sounds energized, and the Dead Weather sound stronger because of it.

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – It’s just a great mix of electronic pop, moody lyrics and the gorgeous voice of Olivia Merilahti.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – I like a band that keeps evolving. Restless Ones is a step beyond any of their previous albums.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – These Kentucky rockers keep picking up steam. Nice to see them get broader recognition.

July Talk, July Talk – Visceral blues rock with pop touches. They put on a terrific live show.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper I have any interest in, because Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper with something to say.

No Joy, More Faithful – High-quality stoner rock that would be more comfortable in the mid-1990s than the mid-2010s.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – Going to see them for the first time in December. Can’t wait.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, TooWhite Men Are Black, Too, takes hip-hop to new strange, interesting places, and might even be better than To Pimp a Butterfly.

On the bubble: Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful; Girlpool, Before the World Was Big; Pale Honey, Pale Honey; White Reaper, White Reaper Does It Again

Honorable mentions: 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; Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer; Torres, Sprinter; Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

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Taylor Swift always comes out on top

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you probably wouldn’t know that Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the album that defies everything we know about the modern music industry in that the album actually sold and continues to sell. And, of course, since Swift is the biggest international music star since the heyday of Madonna and Michael Jackson, the Bad Blood and Shake It Off singles have been pumped relentlessly by radio.

What you might not know is singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released a 1989 cover album this week. Yup, from Welcome to New York to Clean, Adams took on Swift’s hot tracks. He tweeted frequently throughout the process, even garnering support from Swift as the recording went on.

So how was it? To me, what was interesting was that, as Adams recorded, he talked about a Morrissey-Smiths feel to what he was doing. I, on the other hand, found that Adams’ 1989 sounded much more like a Bruce Springsteen album, maybe not so much lyrically, but the music and Adams’ voice are very much early 1980’s Boss. What I found more surprising is how well it worked for the course of the entire album. Shake It Off goes from being a privileged pop star’s girl-power anthem to the battle cry of a down-on-her-luck working class woman. Out of the Woods is low-key gorgeous, and How You Get the Girl feels like it has more depth. Adams deserves credit for making this gimmick not all that gimmicky.

The one low (or possibly less-than-high) note: Bad Blood, well, it still sounds like Bad Blood. It was the lone track that I knew exactly what it was from the opening tones, and it ended up being the only track where Adams couldn’t seem to shake Swift off. It works, but it’s probably the least interesting of the 13 songs on the album.

No matter what, Swift wins. She already had a hit album and critical kudos with 1989. She’ll probably walk away with a semi load of Grammys next year. Plus, Adams has given her some cred with the indie crowd. I won’t say it’s what Nirvana did with Unplugged way back in the day – because that was pretty big for Kurt & Co. and most of Swift’s fans will never hear Adams’ album – but it could definitely change a few minds and draw new listeners to Swift that previously wouldn’t have given her the time of day.

Plus, with Swift taking all of her digital catalog to Apple, those who use apps such as Spotify – like yours truly – will still get to hear 1989. Just not Swift’s 1989. Sort of.

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Favorite songs of 2015: The mid-point review

Anonymous, Desaparecidos – My favorite lyric of the year: “Freedom’s not free / Neither is apathy.” Payola is one of the better political albums I’ve heard in a few years.

Better Man, Leon Bridges – Cool, smooth, classic-sounding soul music.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – This disco funk track is addictive, the chorus easily embedded into your head so you’ll be singing it to yourself the rest of the day.

Chalk Snake, No Joy – No Joy turns up the distortion and pays little mind to traditional rock songwriting expectations. Chalk Snake twists and contorts, fading away in a trail of feedback.

Cherry Bomb, Tyler, the Creator – I have yet to be convinced of his ability as a lyricist, but Tyler’s ear for production is unlike anyone anywhere near the mainstream of hip-hop and few are as daring as he is willing to be.

Dirty Harry, Grace – The dragging tempo and the wavy synth sound that appears-disappears-reappears helps make it, but what really is the cherry on top is Grace’s ability to work over the top of the minimal musical backing.

Dreams, Beck – Aah. Now I feel better. Instead of dreary Beck making numbing, down-tempo tunes that don’t compare with similar offerings such as Mutations or Sea Change, we get Beck getting his groove on. The world is right again.

Gwan, The Suffers – Sounds like it could have been a Tina Turner B-side in 1972. The tempo is relentless, and Kim Franklin’s powerful voice drives the band.

Go Head, Awreeoh – I’ve been looking forward to the film Dope. This song, from the soundtrack, only heightens the anticipation.

Handsome, The Vaccines –  Cheeky, fun pop punk. The video captures the spirit of the track.

Hate Street Dialogue, The Avener feat. Rodriguez – The song has a real bounce to it, but the lyrics are much darker than the music backing it would imply.

Holy Ghost, A$AP Rocky feat. Joe Fox – Combination prayer and cry of rage, A$AP attacks the ignorance and corruption he sees everywhere, including those foul acts committed in the name of Jesus.

How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr. – A simple, gorgeous, heartfelt piano ballad.

I’m Callin’, Tennis – Smooth and low-key, I’m Callin’ works for the party or for the comedown after the party.

Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg – Kendrick drops knowledge about income inequality.

Johnny Delusional, FFS – I’ve never been big on Franz Ferdinand, but the child of the 1980’s hiding deep down inside me loves the new wavieness of this track.

Lawman, Girl Band – I love bands that aren’t afraid to make noise. Lawman is about as good as noise gets. That big, fat, fuzzy, drony bass sound holds it down while everything else swirls around it until the sound explodes all over the place.

Milkman, Bully – This song probably has as much in common with the catalogues of Sebadoh and L7 as it does anything in the modern rock scene.

Paper Girl, July Talk – The bluesy, raw sound of July Talk comes off even better live, as do the antics of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – There’s just no one quite like Ms. Barnett and her smart, goofy, melancholy, endearing, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

Rain or Shine, Young Fathers – I’ve fallen in the love with these guys the past few years. They’re most definitely not content to follow the hip-hop crowd. Rain or Shine is just one piece of evidence supporting that claim.

Strange Hellos, Torres – There’s a PJ Harvey-ness to this track that attracts me. I love how Strange Hellos builds and how the song draws its strength from Mackenzie Scott’s growling voice.

This World is Not My Home, Robert Earl Keen – Keen’s voice is perfect for this nugget of bluegrass gospel.

Trustful Hands, The Do – There are three or four tracks off Shake, Shook, Shaken that I could have chosen for this list. There’s just something warm, familiar about this track that gets me every time.

Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – This track would work just as well in 1975 as it does in 2015. Bruno was the perfect choice to sing Uptown Funk, and the horns are spot on.

Honorable mentions: 15 Years, Houndmouth; Awake, Snoop Dogg; Baby Britain, Seth Avett & Jessica Lee Mayfield; Bleeder, Ceremony; Blud, SOAK; Blueberry Island, Julie Ruin; Bunker Buster, Viet Cong; City Boy Blues, Action Bronson; Damn Baby, Alpine; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; Feel Right, Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal; First Choice, Oddisee; Foreign Object, Mountain Goats; For You, Genevieve; Julie, 100 Watt Horse; Kokaine Karolina, Elle King; Man Up, Nikki Lane; Melt Me, Hanni El-Khatib; Only You (Live), Anderson East; Power Man, Camp Lo; Prince of Slackers, Turn to Crime; Railroad, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn; Roll Up, The Struts; Solid Gold, Turbowolf; Son of God, Will Butler; Too Much, The Steeldrivers; Vital Signs, Gang of Youths

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