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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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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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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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Favorite albums of 2015: The mid-point review

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – I get caught up in what Barnett does lyrically. The laid-back, stoner vibe musically makes a soft base for harder, more serious thematic moments.

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – The most I’ve loved an electronic pop album since Postal Service’s Up.

Girlpool, Before the World Was Big – This album seemed a bit too … twee at first. I kept waiting for the point where Before the World Was Big would annoy me or wear me out, and it never happened. This smart, stripped down collection has sucked me in.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Wow. I’ve been a fan for awhile, but none of the Bastards’ previous releases prepared me for this. Less straightforward and a little more diverse than the rest of their catalogue. Wind Up Bird (above) has some terrific, acid-rock guitar work.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – Kentucky’s finest polish their sound and drop an instantly lovable collection of country rock.

July Talk, July Talk – Last year’s EP was terrific. This year’s full-length is terrific-er. I think I’ve written this before, but it’s kind of like listening to Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave front the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper I have any interest in. Part of that may be because he’s the only mainstream rapper who has something more to say than just listing off what expensive swag he owns.

No Joy, More Faithful – Grimy, fuzzy, stoner punk that would have been just as comfortable in the 1990s as it is now.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – So, so glad to have them back.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, TooTo Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the support it’s received, both critically and from fans. White Men Are Black, Too, takes hip-hop to new strange, interesting places, and – heresy! – might even be better than Kendrick Lamar’s latest.

Honorable mentions: Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful; Alpine, Yuck; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Mark Ronson, Uptown Special; Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer; Snoop Doog, BUSH; Torres, Sprinter; Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

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Fave songs of 2015, the first quarter review

15 Years, Houndmouth – It isn’t hard to imagine a bar full of folks stomping their feet and singing along to this country-tinged rocker.

Baby Britain, Seth Avett and Jessica Leah Mayfield – Avett and Mayfield sound sublime together, and this boozy lament (“Dead soldiers lined up on the table”) is one of my favorite Elliott Smith songs. Match made in heaven.

The Blacker the Berry, Kendrick Lamar – Kendrick doesn’t shy from America’s racism and speaks truth to power.

Bunker Buster, Viet Cong – These guys make good noise. If you like this one, check out their 11+ minute opus, Death.

City Boy Blues, Action Bronson – The more I listen to Bronson’s latest album, Mr. Wonderful, the more I like it. This little burst of neo-blues in the midst of Bronson’s top-shelf hip-hop collection is just one example of why.

Cross the Way, Moon Duo – Fuzzy, trippy stoner rock, somewhere between Jesus and Mary Chain and The Raveonettes.

Hate Street Dialogue, Avener feat. Rodriguez – An infectious groove with dark lyrics resulting in a unique sound.

Hey Darling, Sleater-Kinney – Compact and complex, the signature traits of any great Sleater-Kinney track.

How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr. – A soulful, plaintive piano ballad that Billy Joel would be proud of.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – Not having seen Courtney Barnett live is an oversight I need to correct, ASAP.

Penny Licks, Lady Lamb – A nifty shot at the sexists out there. The power of both the song and the singer increase as Penny Licks develops.

Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL., 1996), Modest Mouse – Weird Modest Mouse tends to be great Modest Mouse. This is no exception.

Trustful Hands, The Do – These “sentimental animals” craft a groovy, electro-pop gem with a bridge that seems like it could have been lifted from Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

Uptown Funk feat. Bruno Mars and Feel Right feat. Mystikal, Mark Ronson – The power of Uptown Funk is simply undeniable. Feel Right feels like something that could have come off of a classic James Brown album.

Witness, Will Butler – Butler’s sense of humor mixed with the piano-driven power pop he’s peddling results in a pretty sweet tune. I’m not sure Butler should give up his day job with Arcade Fire yet, but his solo debut is worth checking out.

Honorable mention: All is Forgiven, Alekesam; Allie, Belle & Sebastian; Better Man, Leon Bridges; Bitch I’m Madonna, Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; For You, Genevieve; Go Out, Blur; Going Though Walls, The Do; Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg; Kelly, I’m Not a Creep, Young Guv; Mantra, Earl Sweatshirt; Melt Me, Hanni El Khatib; Miss Catalina 1992, Buxton; Natural Pearl, Murder By Death; Never Bury the Hatchet, Sons of Texas; No GMO, THEEsatisfaction; Only in America, Action Bronson feat. Party Supplies; Ray Gun, Ghostface Killah feat. DOOM; Rock & Roll is Cold, Matthew E. White; Son of God, Will Butler; These Things I’ve Come To Know, James McMurtry; This World Is Not My Home, Robert Earl Keen; Under a Rock, Waxahatchee

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That’s My Jam #17: Too $hort, ‘The Ghetto’

You wouldn’t expect the man who once titled an album Cocktales to drop one of the most mindful gangsta tracks of all time, especially without uttering a single curse word in the entirety of the cut. Yet Too $hort did exactly that in 1990, copping the title and sample from Donny Hathaway’s classic soul jam to create a rap anthem worthy of both Public Enemy and the Notorious B.I.G. When classic rappers’ names get dropped, too often $hort Dogg is forgotten. But Too $hort was one of the original O.G.’s in the hip-hop game, and one of the few still standing. While he never really stuck with the higher-minded hip-hop lyrics, The Ghetto is a reminder of what he is capable of behind the mic.

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Favorite 40 songs of 2014

27, Passenger – A 27-year-old takes stock of his life. Witty, intelligent and occasionally sad.

1,000 Deaths, D’Angelo – D’Angelo emerges from his hibernation to drop one of the more interesting discs of 2014. Welcome back.

Avant Gardner, Courtney Barnett – Stream-of-consciousness psychedelic folk. Plus Barnett uses “emphysema” as a verb.

Bad News, Sleeper Agent – Love him or hate him? To be decided …

Blinded, The Bots – Not sure either of these brothers is old enough to drink. They are, however, old enough to kick musical ass.

Come Back Home, Trampled By Turtles – Amp the speed up to ludicrous and belt out top-notch bluegrass tunes. Repeat as necessary.

Dat Sound Good, PRhyme feat. Ab-Soul and Mac Miller – DJ Premier always sound good. Here, teamed up with Royce da 5’9″ and guests Ab-Soul and Mac Miller, the track rolls as the rhymers raise their game to keep up.

Dead Man’s Tetris, Flying Lotus feat. Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg – I love it when hip-hop experiments. The production is unique and other-worldly, and Snoop lends the most familiar voice in the rap game to ground the track.

Don’t Mess With Me, Brody Dalle – Mrs. Josh Homme cranks out no-nonsense, ballsy rock.

Doses & Mimosas, Cherub – Probably my favorite song of 2014, and definitely not in my wheelhouse. A hedonistic, electro-funk disco kiss off that may be one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard.

Eye to Eye, Lee Bains & The Expressions – Soul music, done right.

FUNKNROLL, Prince – Ah, funky Prince sticks his head up again. Feels so damn good.

Guns + Ammunition, July Talk – I keep going back and forth on this one or Summer Dress. These Canadians are responsible for one of the best live shows I witnessed in 2014. Can’t wait to see them again.

High & Wild, Angel Olsen – A swirling haze of distorted guitars wrapped around Angel’s stoned, vulnerable voice.

I Just Don’t Understand, Spoon – Spoon’s always known how to ride a groove, but they upped their songwriting game on 2014’s They Want My Soul.

Indie Cindy, The Pixies – Classic Pixie sound, new Pixie song.

Jolly Fucker, Sleaford Mods – These guys land somewhere between iconoclastic Sex Pistols and Brit hip-hop star The Streets, a mix of UK punk attitude and stoner rap.

Just Another Bullet, Young Fathers – I’m not sure you can really go wrong with anything from Dead, but Just Another Bullet has some of the most interesting production I heard in the past year.

Legs, Chuck Inglish feat. Chromeo – A former Cool Kid teams up with the latest neo-funk stars for a track that should have been banging out of every third car over the course of the summer of 2014.

Like a Mighty River, St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Soul music, effortless and classic.

Little Monster, Royal Blood – Just a bass player and a drummer cranking out thick, deep, melodic metal.

Littlest League Possible, Guided By Voices – So GBV imploded in 2014? Bob Pollard will likely be back with seventy-two albums in 2015, so you won’t get much of a chance to miss the genius of this Midwestern songwriter.

Love You Forever, Jenny Lewis – If only Jenny’s output was at a rate closer to that of Bob Pollard and Guided by Voices. But you won’t hear me complaining about the final product.

Madness, King Tuff – If this was 1983, I’d be calling this “rad.” I’ll stick with that.

The Map, Parkay Quarts – Parquet Courts’ alter ego dropped this little nugget of madness late in the year.

Means to be a Woman, Brother O’ Brother – Bluesy Indiana rock of the highest order.

My Mama Said Be Careful Where You Lay Your Head, The Wind and the Wave – This is one of those songs where the first time you hear it, you’ll be singing along by the second chorus. And by that point, you’ll have already been stomping your feet and clapping your hands through the verses.

My Resignation, Besserbitch – A chewy nugget of punk-pop rage.

New American Standard, Wussy – Sometimes, nice and easy works. This stripped-down rock cut exemplifies that.

Not the End of the World (Even as We Know It), Faded Paper Figures – “Yeah / It’s hard / But it’s not the end of the world / Not even as we know it.”

Oblivious, Jessica Lee Mayfield – Hints of Mazzy Star and Sleater-Kinney. I just love the guitar sound.

Question Everything, Logic – Quit listening to the lies and bullshit and see the truth. #logicforpresident

Raw Milk, Parquet Courts – When I hear Parquet Courts, I think of a lot of good 1990’s bands: Pavement, Sonic Youth, Slint, etc. Courts manage to reflect those influences while crafting their own sound.

Talk to God, Goat – It’s interesting and a bit hypnotic, rock grounded in folk tradition.

Two Weeks, FKA twigs – Twig’s album, LP1, is incredibly overrated. That said, promise shines through on tracks such as this one.

Violent Shiver, Benjamin Booker – Unrestrained blues rock that’ll have you bouncing off the walls.

Watch You Change, Drowners – I said it earlier this year, these rockers have one of my favorite lines of 2014: “There’s not a shoulder / cold enough for me / to give her.”

Welcome to America, Lacrae – Fight for your country and return, only to be targeted as a thug or gangster by the society you served. Welcome to America, indeed.

West Coast, Lana Del Rey – This and Brooklyn Baby drew me into Lana’s web.

On the bubble: Brand New, Pharrell feat. Justin Timberlake; Bring Me Your Loves, St. Vincent; Brooklyn Baby, Lana Del Rey; Chaghaybou, Tinariwen; Change My Ways, Tony Molina; Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck), Run the Jewels feat. Zach de la Rocha; Disco Shit, Cherub; D.R.E.A.M., Pharoahe Monch feat. Talib Kweli; Drown With the Monster, White Lung; Emerald Tuesday, Cibo Matto; Fall in Love, Phantogram; God & Nature, Loudon Wainwright III; I Don’t Wanna Go Home, Curtis Harding; I Wanna Be a Yank, Fucked Up; Jerk Ribs, Kelis; Lonely Sunday, Reignwolf; Longer Than You’ve Been Alive, Old ’97s; Lost Boys, Sir Michael Rocks feat. Mac Miller and Trinidad James; Never, The Roots feat. Patty Crash; Other Lovers, Devon Dubois; Owen, Frankie Cosmos; People Don’t Get What They Deserve, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings; Porkpig, Logic; Riff Randall, Sleeping Bag; Rollercoaster, Bleachers; Sexy Socialite, Chromeo; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Flaming Lips feat. My Morning Jacket, Fever the Ghost and J. Mascis; Strut, Lenny Kravitz; … to the bars, Sterile Jets

Honorable mentions: Ain’t So Simple, Protomartyr; American Horror, Speedy Ortiz; Black and White, Parquet Courts; Blind Faze, TOPS; Blue Moon, Beck; Bobby Reid, Lucette; Can’t Break Me Down, Billy Idol; Cedar Lane, First Aid Kit; China, BRONCHO; Creepin’ Jenny, The Pack a.d.; Dog Bumped (Live), Tim Barry; Don’t Leave Me Dry, Spanish Gold; Faithless, Black Veil Brides; Frequencies, Katie Herzig; Ghost & Pains, Wildbirds & Peacedrums; Heady Ways, Fly Golden Eagle; Heavy Metal and Reflective, Azaelia Banks; I Am Me, Logic; I’ll Go To Sleep, BLUFFING; I’m Only Joking, Kongos; The Impasse, Hookworms; Interference Fits, Perfect Pussy; Just One Drink, Jack White; Life of Sin, Sturgill Simpson; Long Gone, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger; Looking for Something, Paolo Nutini; Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, The Flaming Lips feat. Miley Cyrus and Moby; Magic, Mystery Skulls feat. Niles Rodgers and Brandy; Native Korean Rock, Karen O; Now Here In, Cloud Nothings; Parade of Choosers, Centro-Matic; Place Names, Cymbals Eat Guitars; Red Water, Diamond Youth; Run Rabbit Run, Black Pistol Fire; Runners, Lacrae; Sisters, Raveonettes; Slow Coming, Benjamin Booker; Sober, Childish Gambino; Soul Food, Big K.R.I.T feat. Rafael Saadiq; Summer Dress, July Talk; Supernova, Ray LaMontagne; Take Away These Early Grave Blues, Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra; Top Notch, Manchester Orchestra; Tongues, Joywave feat. KOPPS; Uno, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib; World Away, Tweedy

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Favorite 10 albums of 2014

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker – Maybe my favorite album of 2014. I wrote before that Booker is “somewhere between the Black Keys and the Black Crowes.” I still think it’s a fair assessment.

Curtis Harding, Soul Power – Today’s R&B so frequently sounds way too clean or way too dirty. Soul Power keeps a fresh, live sound throughout.

July Talk, Guns + Ammunition – A great one-two, male-female vocal combination. Saw them live in October, and I was blown away by their stage presence.

Jenny Lewis, VoyagerVoyager is a departure from the country-tinged solo albums preceding it. It’s Lewis’s lyrics that keep me coming back for more.

Parkay Quarts, Content Nauseau – Parquet Courts’ second release of 2014 was another impressive entry into their short catalogue.

Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love – Hard, heavy and awesome. I can’t wait for more from PP.

Pixies, Indie Cindy – It’s Frank Black’s band now, and it works. Not a classic, but better than 95% of the new releases from old bands getting back together.

Royal Blood, Royal Blood – The Lord said there shall be metal. And there was.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything – It’s not easy, and it’s not catchy. But it is awesome.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Half the CityHalf the City recreates that classic Stax/Muscle Shoals sound, and St. Paul and Co. do it well. They also put on a show on the live stage.

On the bubble: Courtney Barnett, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas; King Tuff, Black Moon Spell; Lacrae, Anomaly; Tony Molina, Dissed & Dismissed; Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Jack White, Lazaretto; Angel Wilson, Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Honorable mention: Cherub, Year of the Caprese; Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence; First Aid Kit, Stay Gold; Guided By Voices, Motivational Jumpsuit; Kelis, Food; Logic, Spectator; Pharoahe Monch, PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Pete Molinari, Theosophy; PRhyme, PRhyme; Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2; Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want; Spanish Gold, South of Nowhere; St. Vincent, St. Vincent; Trampled By Turtles, Wild Animals; Tweedy, Sukierae; Young Fathers, Dead

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