2017 December

2017 Year End Extravaganza

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2017 stands out in a few ways for me – 1) the insanity that surrounds the Oval Office and the resulting comedy goldmine that has greatly benefited Stephen Colbert and John Oliver (as well as Alec Baldwin) – hey, the alternative to laughing is much less desirable.  I never thought I’d be embarrassed to be an American, but the alleged leader of the free world has made that happen.  2) my first full year living on the East Coast – “California Dreamin’” has taken on much greater significance now.  3) the East Coast couldn’t give a &$*# about any teams that play on the West Coast.  Fortunately, there was a wide variety of great music that came out this past year across all genres.  I found myself listening to music on a much wider scope than I typically have in the past.  Given that, it’s difficult to put together a top 20 or top 10 list of best albums from the past year.  It really matters what type of music you’re in the mood to listen to, and it seems pointless to compare a country western album to a hardcore release.  They exist at vastly different locations on the music spectrum.  So I’ve included some of my favorite albums from different genres below, and I’ve undoubtedly left some music out (and there’s a lot I still haven’t gotten around to listening to).  Some of this music I’ve written about and some hasn’t made it into my emails.  Happy Holidays and I wish everyone a wonderful 2018!
Hard Rock/Metal  Mastodon’s “Emperor of Sand” takes the top spot here (plus they even released a nice EP “Cold Dark Place” last year).  Other notable albums include:
Queens of the Stone Age “Villains”
Foo Fighters “Concrete and Gold”
Death From Above “Outrage! Is Now”
Greta Van Fleet “From The Fires
Living Colour “Shade”
At The Drive-In “In.ter.a.li.a”
The Midnight Ghost Train “Cypress Ave.”
Hardcore/Extreme Metal – Converge “The Dusk In Us” is a brilliant album and easily tops this list.  Other notable albums include:
Obituary “S/T”
Mutoid Man “War Moans”
All Pigs Must Die “Hostage Animal”
Unsane “Sterilize”
EXPANDER “Endless Computer”
Trapped Under Ice “Heatwave”
Instrumental – Sanhett “So Numb” but right behind are:
Ex Eye “S/T”
Elder “Reflections of a Floating World”
Ufomammut “8”
Alternative/Rock/Pop (this is broad)  J. Roddy Walston & The Business “Destroyers of the Soft Life due more to my overall love for the band but the album is very good.  Other notable releases this year include:
Lorde “Melodrama”
Wolf Alice “Visions Of A Life”
Ryan Adams “Prisoner”
Rainer Maria “S/T”
Ron Gallo “HEAVY META”
Waxahatchee “Out in the Storm”
Spoon “Hot Thoughts”
St. Vincent “Masseduction”
Quicksand “Interiors”
Sleigh Bells “Kid Kruschev”
Julien Baker “Turn Out the Lights”
Afghan Whigs “In Spades
Priests “Nothing Feels Natural”
Rap/R&B – Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” stands head and shoulders above everything else. Other notable albums:
SZA “Ctrl” (I would write this album up but lyrics are so inappropriate)
Run The Jewels “RTJ3”
Jay-Z likely would have made the list but since he’s committed to Tidal, I haven’t heard his album at all…
Electronic – Fever Ray “Plunge” barely nudges to the top.  Other notable albums:
Jlin “Black Origami”
Ibeyi “Ash”
Sylvan Esso “What Now”
I’ll also include LCD Soundsystem’s “american dream” in this genre
Country  Chris Stapleton “From A Room: Volume 1 and 2” takes the top prize here.  Other notable albums:
Margo Price “All American Made”
Lee Ann Womack “The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone”
Best Soundtrack – Baby Driver
I Don’t Understand The Hype – King Krule “The OOZ”, Thundercat “Drunk“, Perfume Genius “No Shape”, Pallbearer “Heartless”, Moses Sumney “Aromanticism”
Concerts I saw in 2017 
Deafheaven (awesome waves of sound)
Red Hot Chili Peppers (finally – don’t know why it took this long!)
Pixies (first time seeing them live since I was in college)
Iron Maiden (another bucket list band, would have gotten into a fight if the other guy wasn’t so drunk)
Tool (another bucket list band)
Spoon (3rd time on a sweltering summer night front and center)
Hans Zimmer (my son is a huge fan of his soundtracks – this was actually a fun show)
Afghan Whigs (way underrated)
Queens of the Stone Age (Royal Blood was surprisingly good opening, new venue in D.C. on the river (Anthem) is very nice and luckily Homme didn’t kick me or anyone else)
J. Roddy Walston & The Business (since they’re local now, I will be seeing them play live whenever I can)
Converge (another bucket list band, and they brought it hard – probably best live drumming performance I’ve ever seen)
Fortunately these were all great shows.  And I already have tickets in 2018 for J. Roddy Walston & The Business, High on Fire, Spoon, St. Vincent and U2.
Finally, here’s a compilation of all the music that I shared in 2017 via these weekly emails (in chronological order).  Hopefully you were able to discover and enjoy some of it!
Steve Gunn – “Ancient Jules”, “Full Moon Tide”, “Night Wander”
Jeff Rosenstock – “Festival Song”, “Staring Out the Window at Your Old Apartment”, “We Begged 2 Explode”
Shamir – “Vegas”, “On The Regular”
Striker – “Phoenix Lights”, “Out For Blood”, “Too Late”
Pinegrove – “Old Friends”, “Cadmium”
Big Thief –  “Real Love”, “Masterpiece”, “Animals”
Ryan Adams – “Do You Still Love Me?”, “Haunted House”, “Breakdown”
Danny Brown – “Ain’t it Funny”, “Pneumonia”, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”
Deafheaven – “Brought to the Water”, “Baby Blue”, “Gifts for the Earth”
Sleaford Mods – “B.H.S.”, “Moptop”, “Army Nights”
Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”, “Can I Sit Next to You”, “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”
Jesus & Mary Chain –   “All Things Pass”, “Presidici”, “Facing Up To The Facts”
Mastodon – “Show Yourself”, “Steambreather”, “Clandestiny”
Tennis – “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”, “My Emotions Are Blinding”, “Baby Don’t Believe”
Sylvan Esso – “Radio”, “Die Young”, “Kick Jump Twist”
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Dark Necessities”, “We Turn Red”, “The Getaway”
Afghan Whigs – “Oriole”, “Copernicus”, “The Spell”
Soundgarden – “Loud Love”, “Jesus Crist Pose”, “The Day I Tried To Live”, “Burden In My Hand”,  “I’m Going Hungry” by Temple of the Dog
Jlin – “Black Origami”, “Enigma”, “Kyanite”
Allah-Las – “No Voodoo”, “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind), “Ela Navega”
Waxahatchee – “Never Been Wrong”, “No Question”, “Hear You”
Greta Van Fleet – “Highway Tune”, “Safari Song”, “Black Smoke Rising”
Ron Gallo – “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me”, “Put the Kids to Bed”, “All the Punks are Domesticated”
Ranier Maria – “Suicides and Lazy Eyes”, “Lower Worlds”, “Possession”
Queens of the Stone Age –  “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, “The Way You Used To Do”, “Domesticated Animals”, “The Evil Has Landed”
Arcade Fire – “Everything Now”, “Signs of Life”, “Creature Comfort”
Sannhet – “So Numb”, “Sleep Well”, “Way Out”
Death From Above – “Never Swim Alone”, “Moonlight”, “Statues”
Miley Cyrus – “Love Someone”, “Younger Now”, “Thinkin”
Foo Fighters – “La Dee Da”, “Run”, “The Sky Is A Neighborhood”
Chris Stapleton – “Either Way”, “Second One To Know”, “Broken Halo”, “I Was Wrong”
J. Roddy Walston and The Business – “You Know Me Better”, “I Called You”, “Bleed Out”
St. Vincent – “Los Ageless”, “New York”, “Pills”, “Masseduction”
Julian Baker –  “Turn Out the Lights”, “Appointments”, “Sour Breath”, “Happy to Be Here”
Quicksand – “Illuminant”,  “Hyperion”, “Warm And Low”
Smithereens – “Blood And Roses”, “Only A Memory”, “A Girl Like You”, “Strangers When We Meet”

Remembering Pat DiNizio – The Smithereens

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Spotify compiles user stats at the end of the year, which is interesting to get a little insight into your listening habits.  Plus they also provide a custom playlist based on your favorite songs.  Anyway I mention this because I do listen to a lot of music and try to highlight some of the best material I come across in my weekly emails.  While Spotify is not the only source of music I listen to, it is a primary one.  According to Spotify this past year I listened to over 6K songs by over 1300 artists for almost 43K minutes.  I’ll save you on the math – that’s 716 hours or pretty much 30 full days.  So one entire month of the year was spent listening to music (thankfully I multitask).
Slow again with new releases as we sprint to the end of 2017.  Eminem has a new album with a lot of big names involved  Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre serving as executive producers and featuring appearances from Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Kehlani, X Ambassadors, P!nk and more – hopefully “Revival” is an entertaining listen.  N.E.R.D. have come out with a new S/T album after a seven year gap.  The trio of Pharrell, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley bring out guns that easily match or surpass Eminem’s cast – Rihanna, Future, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Andre 3000 and once again Ed Sheeran contributed to the album, among others.
Who is Pat DiNizio?  Well, if you’re asking that question that’s exactly why I’m writing this.  DiNizio was the front man for The Smithereens and he passed away this week at the age of 62.  The Smithereens, though they had some success, were a greatly underrated band who wrote some terrific songs.  Most of their success happened in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s before they got lost in the grunge wave.  DiNizio was inspired to start his own band by Buddy Holly, after playing in several cover bands (including prog and metal).  He placed an ad in a NY paper looking for musicians who were influenced by Holly, Elvis Costello, The Clash and Nick Lowe.  He eventually came across 3 high school students in NJ who had played together in school.  Dennis Diken on drums, Jim Babjak on guitar and Mike Mesaros on bass.  This was back in 1980.  They released an EP that year that had moderate local success.  They spent the next 3 years playing in the NY/NJ area and then released a second EP in ’83.  It got some play on college radio and a positive review in Rolling Stone magazine, but they were still having problems growing their audience.  They spent the next two years traveling and playing on the road, opening up for established artists.  Now it was 1985, 5 years together and they were frustrated by their lack of progress.  Their demos were being ignored by record labels.  They finally got signed by Enigma and worked with producer Don Dixon to release their first LP “Especially For You” in 1986.  Thanks to more college airplay and an MTV played video for “Blood And Roses” the album was a moderate hit, almost cracking the Billboard Top 50.  This earned them a contract with Capitol.  Over a 5 year period The Smithereens released four excellent albums.  Most popular was album #3 “11”, due to a top 40 charting by “A Girl Like You” and earning the album gold status.  After 3 albums with Capitol, they moved over to RCA in ’94.  By then grunge had taken over and the band was no longer growing their fan base.  However, they had a sizeable cult following and toured throughout the ‘90s, while releasing a few compilation albums and one more with original material.  Once the 21st century rolled around, the band was still together, releasing compilations, live albums and even a holiday album.  They released tribute albums to the Beatles and The Who (I have a great live recording of them covering “The Seeker”).  In 2011, they released their final studio album and the first one with original songs in 11 years titled “Smithereens 2011”.
Even this year, The Smithereens were planning some tours.  Unfortunately DiNizio had some injuries and they had to be canceled.  They had a tour planned in January ’18, but now they’ll have to cancel their upcoming shows with Pat DiNizio’s passing.  Since he was the main songwriter, lead singer and guitarist for the band, it’s safe to say The Smithereens have also been put to rest.  But they have a terrific legacy and the type of music they played is timeless.  Some of their career highlights beyond what I mentioned previously include gold and platinum records, appearances on The Tonight Show, MTV Unplugged and Saturday Night Live. They spent 37 years together as a band, a huge accomplishment by itself.  In addition to his work with The Smithereens, DiNizio also released four solo albums and worked as a program director for XM Radio’s “Unsigned Channel”.  He also ran the grants program for Jim Beam Brands’ “Benefitting Emerging Artists in Music”. If you’re not familiar with The Smithereens or haven’t listened to them in 20 years, I suggest you go pull up some of their music.  Their debut album “Especially For You” is as good a place as any to start.  Here are a few songs below you should check out.
Blood And Roses – Probably my favorite song by this band, this was how I first became aware of The Smithereens.  Of their debut album “Especially For You”, this song features a killer bass line and a whole lot of melancholy.   
Only A Memory – The lead track and hit song from their second album “Green Thoughts”.  You’ll start to notice a theme of melancholy now, but that’s one of the things that made The Smithereens stand out.  Very well-crafted songs that have a twist of darker themes.  The Beatles going off to the darkside.
A Girl Like You – Again, the hit song placed as track #1, this time on their 3rd album “11”.  The guitars were cranked up a bit more on this album, the drums sounded louder.  The band and label were going for greater commercial success.
“Strangers When We Meet” – This was the very 1st track on their first album “Especially For You”.  Wanted to highlight a slightly softer side of the band.  There are some greater instrumental sections near the end of the song.

Release Rader: St. Vincent – Masseduction

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I have a lot of new music queued up this week starting with a new album/mini-album? from young Led Zep Michigan band Greta Van Fleet with “From The Fires” – interested to see where this young band is headed even though half the tracks are from their previous EP.  Noise/pop rockers Sleigh Bells also have a new 8 track mini-album out titled “Kid Kruschev” – always interested to hear what this band is working on.  The early music recorded by Minneapolis legends Husker Du was packaged together and released today – 69 tracks featured on “Savage Young Du” (I’m not bothering with the umlauts).  Yacht rock band Tennis have a new EP “We Can Die Happy”.   Hardcore legends Quicksand have a blistering new album out titled “Interiors”.  Up and coming indie rockers Bethlehem Steel have an excellent new release “Party Naked Forever”.  Finally, Royal Blood has a 2 track Spotify sessions out on Spotify which features a cover of “My Sharona” – worth a listen.
Annie Clark who records as St. Vincent dropped an excellent new album a few weeks ago titled “Masseduction”.  For those of you not familiar with her, she is a multi-talented musician/songwriter who incorporates rock, electronic, jazz and even classical touches into her music.  She has also recently dabbled in directing, finishing one segment of a horror anthology.  St. Vincent was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Dallas, TX.  The guitar prodigy started playing at the age of 12.  Her uncle is Tuck Andress, who played in a popular jazz duo Tuck & Patti.  She spent some time touring with his band while she was a teenager.  After high school, she attended the Berklee School of Music.  She recorded some EPs with fellow students while there, but eventually dropped out after 3 years to join the band Polyphonic Spree.  After two years with this band, she left to be part of Sufjan Stevens’ backing band.  It was at this point that she adopted the stage name of St. Vincent.  After a year with Stevens, she left to start her solo career.  Her initial solo album “Marry Me” was well-received by critics.  After she switched labels from Beggars Banquet to 4AD, her sophomore album “Actor” got even more attention.  Strong critical success and impressive live performances vaulted her from indie success to mainstream success.  After her 3rd album “Strange Mercy” came out in 2011, St. Vincent collaborated with David Byrne and they recorded an album that came out the following year.  She ended up touring with Byrne to support their album.  Her 4th album, which was S/T came out in early 2014 and she continued to evolve her sound and stage presence (including winning a Grammy for Best Alternative Album).  Using choreography and more electronics in her sound, she created a very unique musical experience and continued to build on her reputation.  That brings us to today, where she worked with Jack Antonoff who co-produced her current album “Masseduction”.  St. Vincent continues to innovate her sound.  She has a custom guitar she designed that is available for sale via Ernie Ball Music Man.  Her main intent was to make a lightweight guitar that could easily be played by either gender.  She also incorporates a lot of effects into her guitar playing, often it almost sounds like a synthesizer.  St. Vincent is composing some very interesting music, and coupled with her interesting stage presentation, her live performances can never be called pedestrian or repetitive.  I’m looking forward to seeing her when she’s playing here in March.  As her sound continues to evolve on “Masseduction”, you’ll hear bigger and poppier music but still containing plenty of complexity that becomes apparent over time.  There’s wistfulness, anxiety, desperation and even a little funk thrown into the album.  And you continue to pick up on new elements in these songs with repeated listening.  It’s an album definitely worth checking out.  Here are four tracks from “Masseduction”. (that’s not actually her photographed on the album cover if you were curious)
Los Ageless – Great song title – this track highlights some interesting sounds she gets from her guitar and features a memorable chorus “how could anybody have you, how could anybody have you and lose you, how could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind”.
New York (explicit) – One of the initial singles, I initially was a little indifferent about this track but it has definitely grown on me after hearing it a number of times.  One of the slower tracks on the album, it features some very nice vocals from St. Vincent and is more piano-focused.   
Pills (explicit) – One of the quirkiest songs on the album, it features a memorable and catchy chorus.  There are also some interesting sounds on this track.  Fitting statement about today’s society.  Plus some saxophone from Kamasi Washington at the end.
“Masseduction” – The title track features some prominent guitar licks from St. Vincent and once again, a memorable chorus.  This is an example of how she skillfully blends electronic sounds and her guitar into a cohesive piece of music. 

Release Radar: Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

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Sorry for that brief hiatus but I should have 3 additional emails before wrapping-up 2017.  Notable new releases this week include another new album from Chris Stapleton “From a Room: Vol. 2”, U2’s “Songs Of Experience”, death metal legends Morbid Angel may be back in form with “Kingdoms Disdained” and after a 15 yr break between records NY progressive hardcore band Glassjaw are unleashing “Material Control”.  Also, Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” is now available for streaming if you’re into her music and don’t want to buy it.
I’ve held off from featuring this artist for a little bit, for reasons I cannot fathom.  But Julien Baker’s sophomore album “Turn Out the Lights” blows me away in places, and you should definitely give her album a listen.  This young singer/songwriter from Memphis is a talent to be reckoned with.  Her music is soulful, stark and cathartic.  I hate to use the tortured artist cliché, but Baker’s struggle with depression definitely adds an impact to her writing and performance that likely couldn’t be duplicated without the influence of her personal demons.  Baker started playing in a band in high school, which she continued to perform in while she was in college (before dropping out).  But then she wrote a batch of songs that didn’t fit the bands rock-oriented vibe.  This spurred her to record her own solo album.  Baker recorded these songs at Richmond’s (VA) Spacebomb Studios and released them in 2015 with her “Sprained Ankle” album.  She had some very positive critical reviews and even charted in the top 25 on Billboard’s Heatseekers album chart.  She caught the interest of Matador Records, who put out her current album.  I think she has taken a big step forward on her new record.  This isn’t surprising since she was only 19 when she wrote her first album and is still just 22 years old.  Baker takes her music very seriously.  She has stated “Music is everything.  Evidence of the divine.  The possibility of man to be good.  The possibility of improving our surroundings and expressing ourselves.  All of these things are collapsed together in my mind.”   This seriousness permeates her songs and music.  Her sparse yet devastating ballads strike you with an impact that few artists are able to match.  Since her music is filled with sadness, doubts, self-destructive urges and frail mental health, it’s understandable that her audience relates to her in a deeply personal way.  Her fans thank her for putting their own traumas into words.  Baker’s song arrangements have grown by leaps and bounds compared to her first album.  I think this helps some of her songs to have an even bigger impact.  Even though Baker sings about really heavy feelings, her music in not too dark because there’s usually a layer of hope lying under the surface.  And Baker uses music as a coping mechanism – it’s her release.  Off stage she is not a brooding artist, and describes herself as silly and kind of a dorky person.  Baker deserves a lot of credit for going out on stage and exposing her vulnerability.  There are too many highlights to list on her album, again you should check it out on your own.  But here a few tracks to start with.
Turn Out the Lights – Just Baker and her guitar and some subtle background strings.  So simple and yet heavy.  When she belts out the chorus in the last minute, it’s such an effective, emotional and jarring moment.
Appointments – This song hits hard with just a hint of instrumentation.     
Sour Breath – I love how she repeats this line before the song wraps up – “The harder I swim the faster I sink”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkfVXOQFsEI – could only find live version of this song
Happy to Be Here – “I heard there’s a fix for everything, then why then why then why then why not me?” – powerful in her delivery 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz4771j2W_E – again, only found live versions of this track