Tag Archives: rock and roll

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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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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06/13/15: Pixies in Indianapolis

The Pixies rock Old National in downtown Indy.

The Pixies rock Old National in downtown Indy.

I felt like I watched two concerts Saturday night. In the first, I saw a rote but solid run through of the Pixies catalogue. It wasn’t bad, but it just felt a little uninspired.

But then, late in the show, the Pixies started in on Indie Cindy and the energy changed. From that point throughout the final half hour of the show, we got to see an energized, engaged band that really blew the crowd away. I’d never seen the Pixies live before, one of those bands I’d just never managed to synchronize schedules with. That last half hour made me glad I’d made the trip.

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Fave albums of 2015, the first quarter review

Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth – It seems like one of the hardest things for a young band to do is to make a second album that A) goes somewhere new and sounds fresh while B) not abandoning your core sound that made fans love you in the first place. Houndmouth kicked the sophomore slump in the teeth with this one.

No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney – It’s so sweet to have the greatest all-female punk band of all time back in the house (with some apologies to L7). Please don’t go on hiatus again.

Shake, Shook, Shaken, The Do – Lyrically driven electronic pop. Postal Service fans, take note.

Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse – The more I listen, the more I like it. Musically, it’s Modest Mouse’s most diverse album to date. Lyrically, MM still has a flair for the surreal and humorous.

To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar – I don’t know that I’ve said this about many albums, but To Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the praise it has been given. And the critics like this album more than fat kids love cake, so that’s saying something.

Honorable mentions: Rebel Heart, Madonna; Mr. Wonderful, Action Bronson; Seth Avett & Jessica Leah Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, Seth Avett and Jessica Leah Mayfield; Uptown Special, Mark Ronson; Viet Cong, Viet Cong;

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