Showing posts from December, 2017

The 30 Songs I Digged Most In 2017

Well here it is, The 30 Songs I Digged Most In 2017, a quasi-annual celebration of the best songs to catch my ear and appear in this blog.

I found 2017 to be a wildly unsettling year in music. You get a sense that the landscape is shifting and that this "era" is coming to an end.  What comes next is anybody's guess.

Compiling these songs, I found that major genres - like jazz, blues, folk, reggae, rap, hip-hop, soul, and dub - are, on the surface of things, largely absent.  However, you find them captured - in a morphed kind of way - in music that is labeled "alternative."

I'm not sure that I know what alternative means anymore.  It has become so expansive, not just in terms of its underpinning influences and vibe, but in its diversity of performers and instrumentation.  Sometimes I wonder what it is an "alternative" to.

Maybe its an alternative to white guys with guitars?  In honesty, although I am a white guy with a guitar, I found this music a…

2017 In Aspic - Episode 10

So here is the tenth and final episode of 2017 In Aspic.  My goal with this series was to create a document detailing the songs that I enjoyed most this year.  All of the 140 songs included in the series appeared in my blog throughout the year.

My greatest regret is that I did not have time to include some of the other 50 songs I blogged about.

This mix is wildly eclectic.  It swings from alternative to R&B, jazz, country, and rock a bit more abruptly than the other mixes in the series, but I feel like that might just be a good thing.

This mix continues to emphasize a common theme of 2017: how artists of all ages and genres can meld together to create something cohesive and beautiful.

You will find older artists like Mavis Staples and Eddie Palmieri delivering tunes that stand up against their great works of 50 years ago.  On the flipped, you find artists like Cigarettes After Sex and Nai Palm release amazing debut records.  And when you mix it together, it sounds fantastic.

I re…

Give Me All You Got - Airling

from the album Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream (2017)

There was was a time, centuries ago, when the world was amazingly small.  Over the course of a lifetime, most people never travelled far from their villages and their lives were remarkably similar to prior generations in terms of opportunity and technology.

In these small communities, people could stand out.  Shine.  There was the woman who baked the best pies, the woman with the most beautiful garden, the brothers who distilled the finest whiskey.  In this world, people could excel, feel important, and be proud.

Then came the railroads.  The telegraph.  Suddenly, communities were better connected and people could taste better pies, visit more beautiful gardens, drink finer whiskey.  And sadly, many of those who once shined found themselves a bit more ordinary.

Fast forward to today.  We live in the blossoming of the Informations Age.  Commerce is global.  Intercontinental travel is measured in hours.  Five billion videos are watched …

Thinking Of A Place - The War On Drugs

from the album A Deeper Understanding (2017)

With its extended length (over 11 minutes) and a modern, rambling vibe that evokes comparisons to Neil Young and Bob Dylan for its '70s FM radio sheen and its exquisite guitar and harmonica work, Thinking Of A Place is perhaps my favorite song of 2017.

My fascination with this song is driven from its lyrics.  Its use of metaphor is poetic, Homeric, and beautiful, with light serving as a metaphor for love.  Conversely, darkness represents love's absence.

The song opens with the singer laying on the banks of the Missouri River - in Little Banks, South Dakota - basking in the sunlight, which slips into darkness.  From there, the singer follows the moon across the countryside, trying endlessly to recapture the light.

Instrumental and vocal melodies serpentine, as the haunting chorus speaks to the quest for love:

I'm moving through the dark
Of a long black night
Just moving with the moon
And the light it shines
And I'm thinking of a p…

Real Death - Mount Eerie

from the album A Crow Looked At Me (2017)

Even ahead of its release this March, most of the websites, bloggers, and impresarios I respect were raving about the forthcoming Mount Eerie album, A Crow Looked At Me.  "Sad and Brilliant" seemed to be the consensus.

I gave it a spin and felt nothing.  I repeated this throughout the Spring.  Still nothing.

Then I gave it another spin over the Thanksgiving weekend.  This time, it felt more like a gift.

About three weeks earlier, one of my dearest friends - and one-time songwriting partner - died of cancer.  I found myself frozen, pen and notepad on the coffee table, acoustic guitar in my hand, expecting some inspiration to come.  That magic moment when everything I was feeling would come pouring out.  Beautiful, spontaneous art.

But it never came.  I was - and still am - processing the loss.  Grief attenuates creativity.  You just don't realize it at the time.

So on a late autumn's night, I decided to dust off Mount Eerie…

Apocalypse - Cigarettes After Sex

from the album Cigarettes After Sex (2017)

Hats off to Cigarettes After Sex !!!

This band from El Paso - later relocating to Brooklyn - has produced the absolute best debut album of 2017, as well as one of my favorite song of the year - Apocalypse.

The music is dreamy and creamy, its tempos slow, its textures rich.  If you dig sitting alone listening to late night music, a cocktail in your hand, and a heaviness in your heart, this is your record.

The imagery transcends visualization, approaching emotive.  My favorite line:

Your lips, my lips

Sweet Lord, how have those words never been written before?

If you haven't heard this song, I hope you hear it now.  I hope your mind drifts back to days when you swayed with a partner - listening - as a singer sang a beautiful song, to tender kisses in a parked car on a cold night, and to all those other memories that make this life worth living.

This is truly a magnificent song.

Click Here to listen to Apocalypse.

Click Here to listen…

Don't Delete The Kisses - Wolf Alice

from the album Visions Of A Life (2017)

Merry Christmas and Peace On Earth, y'all.

Visions Of A Life by Wolf Alice is one of the best albums of the year.  It has a drive and energy that equate to intensity while still being softer, in an artsy kind of way.  I dig that.

My favorite track on the album is Don't Delete The Kisses.  Aside from being a great song, the title infers the union in the venn diagram of the physical and virtual worlds.  I dig that, too.

My mom is an octogenarian who - despite having been a computer wiz in her profession back, many decades ago - has never embraced social media or the Internet.  She easily could, but prefers to "live in the real world."

This year, the number of Christmas cards she received from family and friends were outpaced by cards from people wanting her money - or her vote - by a ratio of 8:1.  So, her creative answer was to take scores of Christmas cards she had saved from loved ones over the years and display them proudly on…

New York - St. Vincent

from the album MASSEDUCTION (2017)

New York is my ancestral home  However, like many of my friends, I departed - many moons ago - to make a new life in a new city.

As I get a bit older, I feel the pendulum swinging back.  I find myself embracing and identifying with my inner New Yorker more than ever.  Some days, this prodigal son even dreams of returning.

Of all my friends and family who never left, there is one friend who I cherish most, the one whose friendship has meant the most over my adult life.  His name is Fred.

Sadly, Fred died last month.  Cancer.

Fred and I formed our first band when we were fifteen.  When we were twenty-two, we began writing songs together, publishing over eighty of them in the years that followed.  All of that largely ended when I moved away.  In my dreams - and his - we wanted to write songs together again one day.

There is something magical about writing songs with a friend.  It is a different experience than writing alone.  There is an intimate bond f…

2017 In Aspic - Episode 9

This is an eclectic mix that leans towards alternative, ska, and synthesizer tunes.

I started off the list with Girl On Saxophone X by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.  I always dig kicking things off with a groovy instrumental.  From there, I simply played whatever song sounded best next, without consideration for artist or genre.

When it was all said and done, it told a story that was more varied by the ages of the artists than by the style of music.  I totally get off having sixteen year old Selena Gomez followed by ninety-two year old Chuck Berry.  It wasn't intended, it just sounded good together.

The mix also varies from mature artists (Paul Weller, The Selecter) to established artists (Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg) to rising artists (Fever Ray, Foxygen).  I feel it speaks to an underpinning vibe that touches us all.

I hope you dig it.

Here is the playlist:

Girl On Saxophone X by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Bad Liar by Selena Gomez

Big Boys by Chuck Berry

Mysteries Of Nature by

Something To Remember Me By - The Horrors

from the album V (2017)

One of the absolute best songs of 2016 was a tune called Drag by Cat's Eyes, a duo consisting of classically-trained soprano Rachel Zeffina and indie rocker Farris Badwan.

Now in 2017, Farris Badwan has struck again, this time with his main project The Horrors and the song Something To Remember Me By.

In recent years, The Horrors have been touring with great New Music bands like New Order and DePeche Mode.  you hear this in their sound, which has evolved in might over the years from a Bauhaus club style of music to a sound that can fill arenas.

I dig the pulsing bass, the intertwining synth lines, and Ferris Badwan's vocal stylings.  Listening, it is easy for your mind to drift to distant days.  This is an excellent record.

Click Here to listen to Something To Remember Me By by The Horrors.

Click Here to read my May 2016 blog post on Drag by Cat's Eyes.

To The Moon And Back - Fever Ray

from the album Plunge (2017)

The music starts with an innocent jungle vibe that transitions into something a bit more industrial and hard.  Next, synthesizers enter, offering a sense of majesty.  Our odyssey has begun.  Fever Ray is taking us To The Moon And Back.

Then the lyrics enter and we learn that this is not a trip into deep space, but rather a sexual voyage that builds to a rather explicit climax.

I dig this song for its vibe and its sense of adventurism.  It is a spirit that I find too often lacking in most of the music I come across these days.  Hats off to Fever Ray!

Click Here to watch the official music video for To The Moon And Back.

Dum Surfer - King Krule

from the album The OOZ (2017)

Swagger and groove.  Bravado and jazzy guitar licks.

Dum Surfer chronicles a woozy night of drinking in London, offering a detached and unromantic vision of the whole affair.  It attracts me in a post-punk, post-Bukowski kind of way.

Dumb surfer is giving me his cash
Won a bet for fifty and now I need a slash
Man that band that's playing, is playing fucking trash
Skunk and onion gravy, as my brain's potato mash

Kind of makes me wish that I was pub crawling with with Gareth and Sid and Non.  Staggering home, eating curry, trying to sleep, wondering who is vomiting down the hall.

I'm a step from madness as I puke on pavement slabs
Got a bit embarrassed, need to get back to the lab
In the debts of traffic, I was feeling like we crashed
With a girl from Slovak in a european cab

I dig the whole thing.  It's like a holiday card from hell.

Click Here to watch the music video for Dum Surfer.

Deadly Valentine - Charlotte Gainsbourg

from the album Rest (2017)

Sorry to gush, but just the mention of Charlotte Gainsbourg sets my mind aflutter with visions and sounds for hours on end.

Her mother, perhaps the most beautiful woman Great Britain ever produced, in a bikini, giving Bridgette Bardot a run for her money.  Her father, the Bob Marley of French Pop, defining his nation's music for the past fifty years.

And then there is Charlotte, that crazy sex scene with Willem Defoe, hands coming from beneath tree roots, in Antichrist.  Singing Lemon Incest with her father at age 14.  Her incredible album IRM, with Beck molding the magnificent soundscape.

I could go on...

Instead, I'll shift to Deadly Valentine, the first song to win my heart on her latest album Rest.  The dark, forbiddingly groove juxtaposed with her ethereal voice.  An unapologetic love song with all the darkness you might expect.  Sonically complete.

I dig it all...

Click Here to watch the official music video to Deadly Valentine.

Wo Ist Der Soul? - Ratatouille

from the EP Greetings From Ratatouille (2017)

Ratatouille are a German ska band who hail from the northern Rhine valley. not far from The Netherlands.  I have found myself digging their tune Wo Ist Der Soul? over the past month.

It is a classic ska tune that hooks you right from its opening measures, with its beat, then bass, then horns introduction.  A few mysterioso keyboards riff later and we are treated to a melodious chorus.

The song has lots of great pieces that fit together, all the while staying true to the first rule of ska: it is fun to dance to.

I would love to catch Ratatouille live...

Click Here to listen to Wo Ist Der Soul? by Ratatouille

Bad Liar - Selena Gomez

from the single Bad Liar (2017)

I can't seem to face up to the fact that I'm blogging about a Selena Gomez song.

I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax, wondering if people are going to acuse this gigolo of losing his edge.

But I can't sleep, cause my keyboards on fire, up a 5am writing this blog post.

Don't touch me, I'm a real live wire, lost in a classic baseline that helped shape the music I have spent a lifetime devouring.

Psycho Killer by Talking Heads has reappeared - 40 years after its earthshaking release - to underpin the most interesting pop tune of the year, Bad Liar by Selena Gomez.

I totally dig it.

Click Here to watch the official video for Bad Liar.

2017 In Aspic - Episode 8

I really dig the process of putting these mixes together.

Episode 8 began a few months ago as a mix of Dub and Reggae tunes that I had written about over the year.  But over time, songs from these genres were replaced one-by-one with eclectic tunes from the worlds of Electronic, Dream Pop, Hip-Hop, and Dance.

Each new addition morphed the mix into something better, rather than devolving the vibe.  Soon I was replacing replacement songs, as new tunes - by artists like Baxter Dury and Curtis Harding - found their way into my orb.

As I listen to the finished product, I still hear the dub that weaves - sometimes subliminally - throughout.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed the journey of assembling it.

Here is the playlist:

Miami by Baxter Dury

Whoa! There's No Limit by Lord Echo

Ain't Nothing Changed by Loyle Carner

A Happy Heavy Dub by Dub Proof

Till The End by Curtis Harding

El├ęctrico by Sotomayor

Time To Get Alone by Zooey

Darling by Real Estate

Papaya by Stepart

Pleasure Dome

No Distraction - Beck

from the album Colors (2017)

Colors is one of those albums that gives me fits.  In my perpetual quest for the best new songs, determining which one song to write about from this record has become something nearing a full-time obsession.

But after a few months of driving around the city with the radio turned loud, I am ready to proclaim the song No Distraction as the one I dig most.

Musically, the beat, groove, and vibe the opening evokes an early era approximation of The Police.  I dig that.

However, once the vocals kick in, it is Beck, laying down some feel-good, retro, early-80s stylings that hook me on every level.

I am particularly fond of when he sings:

Pull you to the left
Pull you to the right
Pull you in all directions

When I finally shared my selection with a Beck-loving, funky friend, she said:  "Of course you picked that song, it is the best track on the record."  That may be true, but...

Click Here to listen to No Distraction by Beck.

Crossfire / So Into You - Nai Palm

from the album Needle Paw (2017)

There is nothing that warms soul on a cold winter's morning than a sultry, acoustic, R&B tune.  That is exactly what you you get with Crossfire / So Into You a solo effort from Nai Palm, lead singer for the great Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote.

Her record has an intimacy reminiscent of Indie Arie's Acoustic Soul, which makes it a soundtrack for falling in love.

Bust open the Bailey's, sit by the fire, cuddle with the nearest special person, and enjoy !!!

Click Here to listen to Crossfire / So Into You by Nai Palm.

King Of A One Horse Town - Dan Auerbach

from the album Waiting For A Song (2017)

Back in May, Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach released an album titled Waiting On A Song.  The album title has captivated my thoughts ever since.  I instantly related with the sentiment.  As a songwriter, musician, and producer, Dan Auerbach must always be waiting on that next great song, something that enables him to demonstrate his wealth of talent, allowing him to dazzle the world.

You really don not have to be in the music business to be waiting on a song.  Metaphorically, it can apply to almost any occupation.

Similarly, I have been captivated by a track on the album, King Of A One Horse Town.  Have you ever wondered which is better: being a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond?

In my life, I have regularly opted for the latter.  On a few rare occasions, it has worked out for me, but - more often - I have been eaten, my good parts offering nutrition for the larger fish, and the rest excreted.  Sad, but true.

The sentim…

We Go High - Mavis Staples

from the album If All I Was Was Black (2017)

In an unrelated project, I have spent much time over the past four months compiling quotations by famous people.  The objective is to use these quotes to better engage workers - ranging from 20-70 years of age - in a business environment.

As you can imagine, it is very easy to find quotes by famous men.  Particularly white men.  Finding quotes by women - particularly women of color - is more problematic.

One day, I found myself researching quotations by U.S. First Ladies.  I found that only a small handful - such as Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Barbara Bush - had quotes suitable for my project.  However, the one first lady whose quotes kept coming up was Michelle Obama.

One of her most famous quotes is memorialized here in the song We Go High by Mavis Staples.

As I listen, I try to imagine how gratifying and humbling it must have been for Michelle Obama to hear the song for the first time.  The 60's freedom tones coupled with t…

Miami - Baxter Dury

from the album Prince Of Tears (2017)

No introduction, just a beat and groove.  You are hooked in the first measure.  Enter the synthesizer and guitar trill with their 80s tones.  Next the female vocalist says "Welcome to Miami now."  We are locked in, ready for Baxter Dury to dazzle us with his vocal stylings, more spoken than sung, his British accent mesmerizing.

Listen to the way he says "salamander."

Listen to the way he says "I'm the sausage man."

Listen to the way he says "I'm the vicar."

All the while the groove is maintained.  It never lets up.

The guitar gets chunky.  The synths offer the sound of orchestrated strings.  The break has a near disco lift.

I am lost in yet another great Baxter Dury song.

Click Here to watch the music video for Miami by Baxter Dury.

Till The End - Curtis Harding

from the album Face Your Fear (2017)

The Atlanta music scene is really "a tale of two cities" - black and white.

I find it sad that there is so little crossover.  In a city with so much talent, one can only imagine the possibilities...

Curtis Harding is a notable exception.  He can effortlessly transition from writing and singing back-ups with Cee Lo Green, to collaborating with psychedelic rockers Black Lips, to playing an acoustic set at Eddie's Attic.  This city (and really this planet) need more artists like him.

His new album is a fantastic.  It plays heavy to vintage R&B and soul grooves, while also keeping an air of crossover appeal that reminds me (at times) of Fine Young Cannibals.

My favorite track is Till The End.  It is a 60's go-go vibe driven by a deep bass groove and muscular horns.  Curtis Harding's vocals are a study in timeless perfection, as are the female backing vocals.

Other elements are equally stellar.  Check out the humor found in the…

2017 In Aspic - Episode 7

This is an eclectic mix, serpentining through electronica, alternative, jazz, folk, soul, gospel, and the great American songbook.  I dig the way it all flows together.  I also dig the way that some of the more established artists - like Bob Dylan, Howe Gelb, and Phosphorescent - push their musical boundaries.

I hope you enjoy.

Here is the playlist:

In The Midst by sir Was

Music Is The Answer by Joe Goddard

Keep Myself Alone Now by Fink

Only God Knows by Young Fathers

Dent Jusay by Matt Martians

B.H.S. by Sleaford Mods

Be About You by Winston Surfshirt

Show You the Way by Thundercat

Terribly So by Howe Gelb

These Foolish Things by Bob Dylan

Not Dark Yet by Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer

Count Your Blessings by The Como Mamas

Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens

This Land Is Your Land by Phosphorescent

You can find all episodes of 2017 In Aspic - along with my other mixtape series - on my MixCloud site.