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MIXTAPE - The 30 Songs I Digged Most In 2018

Here is a mixtape of The 30 Songs I Digged Most In 2018.

Although these songs are scattered across indie, alternative, country, funk, electronica, soul, and dance, they all are rooted in outstanding songwriting, performance, and vibe.  In forming this mix, I tried to frame each song so that it can be fully appreciated as a stand-alone composition, while also attempting to create a mix that is listenable and offers an overarching sense of the year in music.

It is sad and beautiful.  It also has a fair amount of groove.  I hope you dig it.

Here is the playlist (note: the numbers next to the band name indicate where each song ranked on my "best of the year" listing):

Knocking' On Your Screen Door by John Prine (5)

Soul No. 5 by Caroline Rose (8)

Evan Finds The Third Room by Khruangbin (22)

Hands On You by Ashley Monroe (9)

Where We Are by Curtis Harding (12)

Love You So Bad by Ezra Furman (7)

Make Me Feel by Janelle Monáe (15)

We Got To Celebrate by Babert (25)

The Hype by Shopping

The 30 Songs I Digged Most In 2018

From my vantage point, this decade is proving to be wildly different from its predecessors.  For starters, this decade has yet to produce any radical, new form of music.  When you consider a decade like the 1970s, that brought us punk and funk and disco, where are our new genres of music?  Similarly, how sad has this decade been for music-inspired fashion?

Making matters even more odd, is that despite these tedious, tumultuous, tortured, tattered, troubled times we find ourselves in, there is relatively little protest music being made outside of the racial protests you find in hip-hop and rap.  When you think of the music of The Civil-Rights Movement, Vietnam, Thatcher's England, or the Reagan years, there were endless defiant songs that spoke truth to power.  Today, not so much.

Consider that in this era of endless and senseless school shootings, the definitive song calling out the violence is 1979's I Don't Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats.

These differences are not mea…

Ugly Sweater Blues - JD McPherson

from the album Socks (2018)

Merry Christmas, everyone.

A few days ago, the very funky Richie Beans turned me on to Socks, an album of new holiday music by the Oklahoman singer-songwriter, JD McPherson.

The record is full of original, witty, warm, and melodic songs.  On of the best holiday records in years.

Here is my (current) favorite song of the record, Ugly Sweater Blues.

Thanks Richie!  Ho Ho Ho, y'all.

Click Here to listen to Ugly Sweater Blues by JD McPherson.

Neon Moon - Cigarettes After Sex

from the single Neon Moon (2018)

It seems that every December, a smattering of musical artists quietly drop singles that steal my heart.

Earlier this week, Cigarettes After Sex released a cover of the 1992 Brooks & Dunn song Neon Moon.  It is mesmerizing.

Cigarettes After Sex have a magnificent ability to slow down the tempo, turn down the volume, and strip away the superfluous; leaving behind the lasting beauty and essence of a composition.

In the case of Neon Moon, we are left with a portrait of a broken man, sitting in the back of bar room, mourning a lost love.  The story is set by a muted bass groove, locked together restrained ride cymbal and snare, that is embellished by stirring digital orchestration.

The tender lyrics, written by Ronnie Dunn, are melodiously delivered by Greg Gonzales.  They draw an ethereal, almost dreamlike, curtain across the image of the man sitting alone at a table.  It is shear magic.

Click Here to listen to Neon Moon by Cigarettes After Sex.

Click He…

Four Out Of Five - Arctic Monkeys

from the album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)

The lyrics to the song Four Out Of Five by Arctic Monkeys contain the lines:

I put a taqueria on the roof
It was well reviewed
Four stars out of five

For months now, I have been thinking about those lines.  The taqueria, like any small business, represents a founder's dream.  Their vision of grandeur.  Validation that they matter.  A sense that they are more than just another face in a crowd.

Restraurateurs, like those in the arts, receive their validation in public.  It must be so demoralizing when they receive bad reviews.  Yet, the artist can always create their next piece of art, their masterpiece.  For the small businessperson, the bad review often leads to financial ruin from which they never recover.

For the rest of us, the review often lies in the mirror.  What do you see when you look into that deep, dark, truthful mirror?  Are you satisfied?

And how would you feel if your review received four stars out of five?  Woul…

Ride Before The Fall - The Reverend Horton Heat

from the album Whole New Life (2018)

Last night, I had the privilege of catching The Reverend Horton Heat's Holiday Hayride; a show that included such luminaries as Junior Brown, Big Sandy, and The Blasters.

However, the cherry on top was clearly The Reverend Horton Heat, his bass player Jimbo, and the rest of the band.  Their melodious twang is still ringing in my ears.

Along with their classics and a spattering of holiday songs (Silver Bells tops amongst them), they played songs from their new album.

Ride Before The Fall is the new song I will remember most.  It is an instrumental that fuses elements of surf, rockabilly, Duane Eddy guitar stylings, and a beat that can ride into the sunset.

God bless The Reverend Horton Heat.

Click Here to listen to Ride Before The Fall by The Reverend Horton Heat.

Gods Of The Good Shit - Facing New York

from the single Gods Of The Good Shit (2018)

When I first saw that a band named Facing New York released a song titled Gods Of The Good Shit, I assumed that a couple of dudes from Brooklyn, or New Jersey, wrote an ode to their marijuana dealer.  Instead, this song comes out of Oakland, California and is about the cosmic spirits that bring good things into your life.

More specifically, the song is about a down-on-his-luck guy, sitting in a bar, who connects with somebody he is attracted to.  Here are some lyrics:

I said to myself, "Hey man, you need some time on your own"
Get out on the road and chase the ones you couldn't get before
But then you walked in...

I prayed to the gods, "You know, I owe you each a jack and coke"
You led me to her, but now I'm scared that I'm gonna mess it up
Trying to sound smarter than I am, let this spinning wheel get out of hand
I don't want to tell you
You make comets collide in my chest
And I way overthink how I'm dressed
Y…

Girassóis de Van Gogh - Baco Exu do Blues

from the album Bluesman (2018)

I am in a dark place tonight; not "call the authorities" dark, but still somewhere between grim and morose on the metaphorical luminance scale.

Earlier, I arrived late to the company holiday "party" after cleaning up a client issue.  My coworkers were sitting around a fire pit, drinking wine and eating flat bread.  Nobody bothered to say "hello."  I helped myself to a glass of wine and stood there.  Nobody acknowledged me.

Soon after, my phone started going off with a string of texts containing personal rebukes and reprimands from a variety of people; each reminding me that I had failed at this, or that.  Then, as if by divine intervention, the battery died.

I stood there - staring into the black glass - as a darkness fell over me.  I looked at my coworkers and thought, "I don't belong here."  I put my half-empty wine glass on a table and walked away.  Nobody said "goodbye."

I proceeded to spend the n…

Don't Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy - Anna Calvi

from the album Hunter (2018)

British guitar virtuoso, Anna Calvi, writes songs that seem to resonate with me long after I've finished listening to them.

Such is the case with her summer single Don't Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy.  This song has become my ear worm for the past three months, largely due to the do-do-do-do vocal line, the screech at the end of the breakdown, and the the song's title line.

I am also a big fan of the stripped down (yet roughed up) guitar tones. Most people who can play guitar like her go for grander tones, but why bother when you have a Telecaster and a Vox?

Hope you dig it.

Click Here to watch the official music video for Don't Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy by Anna Calvi.

Pink Squirrel - Episode 10

Welcome to Episode 10 of Pink Squirrel.

This mixtape series is dedicated to sharing some of the great music released in 2018.

This final episode has a distinct vibe that - while sitting at the intersection of soul, rhythm & blues, and jazz - is as diverse as any mix in the series, in that you will also hear country, alternative, and disco in the mix.

Its cohesiveness is a testament to the direction that music has headed this decade, with genre lines blurred and people consuming broader spectrums of tunes.

I also dig how, in a mix that sounds fresh and new, you have musical icons - like Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Neneh Cherry, and Miranda Lambert - all doing their thing.

I am particularly fond of the closing track, Love Having You Around, where the Late Nite Tuff Guy reworks First Choice's late 70s cover of the Stevie Wonder track.

Au revoir, Pink Squirrel.  It has been a fun year.


Here is the playlist:

Where We Are by Curtis Harding

Seek The Source by Christia…

Bombs Away - Charlotte Gainsbourg

from the EP Take 2 (2018)

Charlotte Gainsbourg records always entice me with their vibe and groove.  I am also enamored with the hushed sexiness of her vocal delivery.

These attributes are all front and center on Bombs Away, a sleek dance song that you can dance or bop to.

The vibe is Paris, with a touch of Tom Tom Club's New York.

It is a sound I can't stop listening to..

Click Here to listen to Bombs Away by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Click Here to read my December 2017 blog post for Deadly Valentine by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Click Here to read my January 2014 blog post for Charlotte Gainbourg's cover version of Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe.

When Is The Future? - VNV Nation

from the album Noire (2018)

A guiding principle of the Hamburg-based group, VNV Nation, is that, "one should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret".  I dig that.

I also dig that VNV is shorthand for Victory Not Vengeance.

It is common for those attempting to disrupt the status quo, or those aiming to achieve personal distinction, to be confronted by naysayers, detractors, and adversaries.  Perhaps you've encountered it?  The best course of action is typically the one prescribed by VNV Nation.

It doesn't matter what they say: it matters what you do.  So, keep doing it; better and better each day.

In a similar vein, I dig the title of VNV Nation's song, When Is The Future?  This is a topic that I think about more often than most.  You see, the aspiring writer in me has always tried to frame my life in the context of a larger story.  Until about a dozen years ago, I thought that my life was a subplot to the story of the Irish in America, like you might find i…

Maono (Lego Edit Afro Cut) - Vito Lalinga

from the album Ufrahara (2018)

I am really digging the tune Maono (Lego Edit Afro Cut) by Italian DJ Vito Lalinga.

Beats, electronica, and afro-centric instrumentation come together to form a vibe that evokes Fela, while staying squarely in an urban lounge setting.  I imagine myself sitting in a swank, euro-hotel lobby, a stiff drink in my hand, listening to this song playing loud in my headphones.

Take me there...

Click Here to listen to Maono (Lego Edit Afro Cut) by Vito Lalinga.

Christmas Time Is Here - Khruangbin

from the Christmas Time Is Here b/w Christmas Time Is Here (Version Mary) (2018)

Many moons ago, I dated an Italian girl whose large and extended family lived throughout Brooklyn.  The only exception was her Uncle Henry, who lived in Greenwich Village.

Their Christmas Eve tradition was for everyone to gather at her mother's house for an Italian feast.  It was something to behold.  The Irish never put on a holiday shindig like this.

Every year was the same.  People would cheer when Cousin Joey returned from the fish market, where his friend Dominic from Flatbush hooked him up with a cooler full of squid.  There were never less than a dozen woman serving up their finest homemade Italian delicacies.  Andrea's stuffed shells.  Angela's shrimp fra diavolo.  Mother Marie's marsala.  The wine.  The cookies.

Cousin Johnny would take you out to garage to do bumps off of the workbench.  I always tried to get out of there before some wise guy would ask, "So, when you gonna m…

Got My Name Changed Back - Pistol Annies

from the album Interstate Gospel (2018)

There is nothing more satisfying than a good honky-tonky, rocking band.  With their swampy guitar tones, thud-heavy bass, and expert beat keeping, the musicians in county-girl supergroup Pistol Annies are simply incredible to listen to.

And then, of course, there are the girls.

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley are delicious on Got My Name Changed Back, a song about divorcing a bad fella.  I love the song's lyrics, its vocal arrangements, and the way the singers drop into a 1940s era breakdown.

It is a fun song that sounds great when you turn it up in your car and rock down the highway.

Click Here to watch the official music video for Got My Name Changed Back by Pistol Annies.

Lebroba - Andrew Cyrille

from the album Lebroba (2018)

I dropped into a Mexican joint on the way home from work tonight.  It's a quasi-regular Wednesday thing, rooted in their $8.99 chicken fajita special and the patron and grapefruit soda concoction that Dennis the Bartender specializes in.

God bless Dennis the Bartender.

Anyhow, my mind went down a wormhole this morning when my phone proclaimed that it was December 5th.  Not that there is anything personably notable about this date, other than it being a month before January 5th.

You see, January 5th (and the lead up to it) is one of the most reflective days of my year.  It is a day of incredible positivity; as cosmic nymphs enflame primordial beliefs of the rapturous day when the stars align, the angels sing, and kindred souls dance beneath a heavenly moon.

Leaving the Mexican joint, I let Waze find the best route home.  It serendipitally took me a back way through neighborhoods that I haven't frequented in a while.  At some point, I passed a parki…

79 Shiny Revolvers - Rayland Baxter

from the album Wide Awake (2018)

The other morning, I was thinking about mass shootings and wondering why there aren't more good songs discussing the topic?

I thought about the "original" school shooting and how The Boomtown Rats responded with I Don't Like Mondays.  But now that more silicon chips are being switched to overload than ever, not so much.

In that context, I applaud the song 79 Shiny Revolvers by Rayland Baxter.  I dig that they are shiny and that you need one in each hand and that they are pointing at me and that they are pointing at you.

I also dig how the song evokes memories of John Lennon.  You hear it in the song's composition and its well-crafted lyrics.

People need to be writing songs about topics like this.  I hope that more do.  I also hope that they do so with the style and substance of Rayland Baxter.

Click Here to watch the official video for 79 Shiny Revolvers by Rayland Baxter.

Where We Are - Curtis Harding

from the single Where We Are (2018)

Some of the best music being created in this decade has a retro-soul vibe.  Beyond the incredible stable of talent that has recorded for Daptone Records in Brooklyn, I am even more enraptured with those who manage to a modern sheen on that 60s should vibe.

My favorites include Michael Kiwanuka, Leon Bridges, and Curtis Harding.  Their songs stir my soul.

On Curtis Harding's latest single, Where We Are, a tight drum beat couples with a simple-yet-tension-filled bass groove to create the foundation for one of the year's best songs.

There are swirling keyboards and synthesizers, violins that give a theatrical - 70s movie soundtrack - like quality, and even a dynamite flute solo.  Above this is a commanding vocal performance by Curtis Harding.  There are times when I imagine Bill Withers singing this song.

At over seven-and-a-half minutes, this song contains an epic quality.  It is grand, stirring, and timeless.

Curtis Harding is the real deal …

Back Down - Bob Moses

from the album Battle Lines (2018)

Bob Moses is an electronic duo from the Vancouver area, not the guy who built all those roads and bridges.

When I first heard their song Back Down, I thought "wow, that it pretty solid."  A few months later and my opinion has not changed a bit.

The beat is straight, the arrangement straight-forward.  Hooks and grooves are exactly where you expect them.  So, what is it that keeps me locked in for listen after listen?

I think it has something to do with the understated 70s vibe that lurks beneath all the electronic.
Can you hear it?  Those album-oriented rock in the chorus' melody line?  It is magical.  I am infatuated.

Click Here to watch the official video for Back Down by Bob Moses.

Dancing To A Love Song - Barry&Gibbs

from the single Dancing To A Love Song (2018)

Barry&Gibbs are two guys from Lillie, France who describe themselves as "providers of disco."

Earlier this year, they released Dancing To A Love Song, an infectious disco biscuit that can't help but make you feel good.

It is not about who sampled what from where, it is about creating a vibe that resonates with the listener and creating joyful, positive experiences.

I hope this song does that for you.

Click Here to listen to Dancing To A Love Song by Barry&Gibbs.

Baby Blues - Moving Panoramas

from the single Baby Blues (2018)

A few weeks ago, a group of us were hanging out on one of my funky friend's front porch.  We were drinking wine and listening to music.

One friend played a series of records by The Go-Gos - songs like Skidmarks On My Heart and Lust To Love - while lamenting about an apparent absence of new bands like The Go-Gos.  Although I did my best to convince proper otherwise, they were having none of it.

Perhaps Baby Blues by Moving Panoramas will convince them otherwise.  This group of Austin, Texas dream poppers have got the beat, the groove, the harmonies, and the melodic sensibilities to evoke Belinda, Jane, and the girls better than just about anyone around.

I hear it in the opening guitar passage, the drumming, the bass groove, and - most importantly - the vocals performances.  You also hear it in the bridge and the breakdown, two essential elements of The Go Gos best songs.

Comparisons aside, the band has a modern vibe and a heap load of originality.

Seek The Source - Christian McBride

from the album Christian McBride's New Jawn (2018)

In western music, there are thirteen distinct notes which - over the span of several octaves - comprise the the musical spectrum.  When you consider the tens of thousands of song you will hear over a lifetime, that's not a whole lot of notes.

What I find most fascinating is what happens when musicians further limit the available notes by placing self-imposed rules on the notes they play.  Somehow, this manages to force the musicians to find expression through variations in their rhythms and feel, often creating distinct styles of music.

Latin music - like latin dance - is full of rules.  Do this and you have a tango.  Do that and you have a bossa nova.  Do something else and you have neither.  In rock music, you have heard countless lead guitarists and bassists play pentatonic (five-note) scales.

It is a paradox.  Addition by subtraction.

With his new band - New Jawn - jazz bassist Christian McBride puts together an ensemble c…

Pink Squirrel - Episode 9

Welcome to Episode 9 of Pink Squirrel!

As the clock begins to run out on 2018, there does not seem to be any let up in all get music being released.  You will find lots of tunes in this alternative mix that are only a few weeks old.

Some of my favorites include Dark Days (Revisited) by newcomer Art d'Ecco, the pro-immigration punk anthem Danny Nedelko by IDLES, the beautiful instrumental Near by Deafheaven, and Sing To Me Candy by Papercuts.

I continue to be in awe of all the great music that this year is producing.  Amazing.


Here is the playlist:

Dark Days (Revisited) by Art d'Ecco

Too Real by FONTAINES DC

Guerra En La Tierra by Los Pilotos

Sing To Me Candy by Papercuts

Nothing I Can Say by Tony Molina

Danny Nedelko by IDLES

What Sign (Was Frankenstein?) by Escape-ism

Near by Deafheaven

See You At The Movies by J Mascis

It Will End Here by Gary Numan

Lemon Glow by Beach House

Leap Of Faith by The Interrupters

The Truce Of Twilight by The Good, The Bad, & The Queen

C by Oh Sees


And, in…

The Newbies Lift Off - Makaya McCraven

from the album Universal Beings (2018)

I love kinetic architecture and art.

I love visiting buildings designed by master designers. like John Portman and Santiago Calatrava, and the simply sitting in - and around - them.  Glass elevators, movable sunscreens, and revolving rooftops captivate me.

I love the sculptures that you find in modern public spaces. The works are often inspired by the masters of the post-WWII kinetic art movement, like Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Calder.  They remind me of exquisite earrings dangling from a beautiful woman made of glass and steel.

I love large, well designed airports.  They are purposeful and inspirational.  Their landscapes kinetic, under a symphony of arriving and departing airplanes; all specialized vehicles delivering fuel, baggage, and booze; and the flow of passengers moving through the buildings.

Airports are beautiful.

I love being alone in a bustling airport, noise-cancelling coconut shells on my head, listening to great music.  It see…

Problem Child - Hen Ogledd

from the album Mogic (2018)

Taking their band name from the the Welsh term for The Old North, specifically a land where the Scottish lowlands meet the north of England, Hen Ogledd are a band whose sound - although modern - conjure sounds of classic rock and roll of yesteryear.

In particular, there is a quality to Richard Dawson's voice that evokes Ozzy and Peter Gabriel,, as well as every American who ever tried to sing in a rock club with a British accent.  I can't get enough of the vocal track on the song Problem Child.

I also dig how tight the band is.  Bass, drums, and guitar in perfect step.  The synthesizers are also notable for the perfection in their tone.

I hope to be able to catch this band live some day.  It would be fun to simply rock out again.

Click Here to watch the official video for Problem Child by Hen Ogledd.

Danny Nedelko - IDLES

from the album Joy As An Act Of Resistance (2018)

There is nothing quite like a driving, socially indignant, punk tune to light a fire in your belly.  Danny Nedelko might be the essence of such a song in 2018.

The song offers a full-throated endorsement for more lenient immigration policies in general, and particularly in support of the lyricist's friend, Danny Nedelko.  Dig the opening lyrics:

My blood brother is an immigrant
A beautiful immigrant
My blood brother is Freddie Mercury
A Nigerian mother of three

He's made of bones, he's made of blood
He's made of flesh, he's made of love
He's made of you, he's made of me
Unity

Yet the lyrics keep getting better, and more on point:

Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain
Pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate

This is protest music.  We always need more of it.

Click Here to watch the official music video for Danny Nedelko by IDLES.

Too Real - FONTAINES D.C.

from the single Too Real (2018)

On Too Real, a slamming new song from Brooklyn's FONTAINES D.C.

This song is perfectly aligned with my mindset these days.  Punk rock days.  Joe...

Listen to that bass playing.  Grooves you never expected grooving to.

Listen to the guitar work.  90s rock stylings over madass grooves.

The drumming.  The vocals.

The perfect song for today.

Click Here to watch the official video for Too Real by FONTAINES D.C.

The Truce Of Twilight - The Good, The Bad, & The Queen

from the album Merrie Land (2018)

Earlier this year, Henry Rollins was quoted as saying, "This is not a time to be dismayed, this is punk rock time.  This is what Joe Strummer trained you for."

I think of Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and - of course - Joe, and reflect on their power as songwriters to align our inner compasses to better live our lives.

I also think about how Bob Dylan continues to do this in his late seventies.  I imagine that the same would be true for Bob Marley and Joe Strummer, had they not died so young.  It is hard to even imagine being able to go to a Bob Marley concert today.  It would be heaven.

On Merrie Land, the latest album by The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, these thoughts are in the center of my mind as I listen to the song The Truce Of Twilight.  The spirit of The Clash - and Joe Strummer - are present in every corner of this song.

Of course, that has everything to do with Paul Simonon's bass track.  He channels his former band in laying down…

Unwanted Number - Elvis Costello & The Imposters

from the album Look Now (2018)

One of the central tenets of this blog is that there are two essential elements of a great popular song:  songwriting and vocal performance.

Listening to Look Now, the latest album by Elvis Costello & The Imposters, I am reminded that there is more to the equation than those two attributes.  Otherwise, I would consider every song Costello song over the past four decades to be "great"; after all, his songwriting and vocals are consistently that good.

Putting my finger on that extra "something" is not as easy as it might seem.  It is intangible, dealing in  currencies such as relevance, resonance, and vibe.  What is it that connects a listener to one great song over another?

 The song I am digging most on the album is Unwanted Number.  Stellarly written and performed, there is something in the R&B vibe that connects me.  A magic in the soul hooks and groove.  A ghostly haunt in the backing vocals.  An affinity for Steve Nieve…

See You At The Movies - J Mascis

from the album Elastic Days (2018)

Yesterday, I spent some time talking on the phone with a dear friend.  He, like too many of us, has been navigating some pretty tough stuff over the past few years.  I wish I could wash his problems away, but that is - unfortunately - not in the cards.

I tried to speak with him about music,  New songs.  Concerts.  He shared that he is not listening to music much anymore.  We talked about not wanting to associate good songs with bad times.

Well, here is a song for my friend.  It is by J Mascis, the former lead guitarist from Dinosaur Jr.  The song is titled See You At The Movies, which I take as a metaphor for escaping reality.  I hope this song takes you back to happier times, when you were listening to all those New England bands and lighting the world up with your wit, your creativity, and your decency.

You are loved.

Click Here to listen to See You At The Movies by J. Mascis.

It Will End Here - Gary Numan

from the EP The Fallen (2018)

Of all the comeback stories in recent music history, there may be none more satisfying than Gary Numan's.  The young man who set the music world on fire, with songs like Cars and Are Friends Electric?, had largely faded away before being "rediscovered" by Nine Inch Nails and introduced to a new and younger audience.

This helped earn him his richly deserved props for being a pioneer of electronic music.  It also set the stage for some great new music.

I caught him in concert earlier this year.  It was one of the best shows of my year.  If you ever have the opportunity, check him out live...

On his latest EP, I am really digging the song It Will End Here.  As I listen to the static and industrial stylings, I imagine myself soaring a hundred feet above the ground through Himalayan valleys and gorges.  The song offers freedom and red in a way that curiously captives me.

I hope you enjoy...

Click Here to listen to It Will End Here by Gary Numan.

Keep It Out - Half Waif

from the album Lavender (2018)

At the beginning of each year, I create a playlist in iTunes and start filling it with new music from that year.

I am continually adding to that list and positioning the songs I dig most towards the top.  When I blog about a song, I give it a four-star rating and move it to a different playlist.  Currently, there are slightly under a hundred songs in the playlist.  I will probably add forty more before the end of the year and publish about as many posts.

Those remaining hundred songs will largely be left behind as my focus shifts to 2019.  That always makes me a little sad; but, hey, there are only so many days in a year.

The song Keep It Out has been sitting towards the top of my playlist for the majority of this year.  Yet, somehow, I had never got around to writing about it.  I suppose that is a testament to all the great new music released in 2018.

I adore this synth-pop tune.  Early on, the space in the music allows you to fully absorb the tones and…

Can You Get To That - Frazey Ford

from the single Can You Get To That (2018)

Frazey Ford is one of my favorite artists of this millennium.  I have been following her closely since she first emerged as a member of The Be Good Tanyas nearly twenty years ago.

Her 2010 album Obadiah, remains - in my opinion - one of the landmark records of this decade.

On recent records, Ms. Ford has continually downplayed her folksy, alternative country roots by infusing elements of classic R&B into her vernacular.  On her 2014 album, Indian Ocean, she even brought members of Al Green's 1970s band into the studio with her.  That too its a great album.

Earlier this year, she released the single Can You Get To That.  As I listen to this Funkadelic cover, I hear a musician on a journey to find an elusive sound.  It is a great composition with a cool arrangement and vibe.  The R&B influence is in the forefront, with lots of side influences from the delta weaving their way into the tune.

Crafting a sound is a lot like cooking; you…

Got To Go Where The Love Is - Van Morrison

from the album The Prophet Speaks (2018)

Have you ever wondered why there is no act in the musicsphere that sounds quite like Van Morrison?

I've been dissecting his new song Got To Go Where The Love Is, trying to figure out what makes it tick.

The song opens with an upright bass plucking out a groove, followed by the horn section with its four-note hook.  I am only nine seconds into the song and I know it is Van Morrison; and he hasn't even sang yet!  Is it tone, is it vibe?

Once the vocals enter, there is no mistaking the magnificence of that voice; even at seventy-three.

Then there are the bright keys, the jazzy guitar break, and the confident-yet-tasty drumming.  All are signatures of a master of musical arrangement and excellence.

You might be able to assemble some great musicians, find an extraordinary vocalist, and lay down music in this style.  However, it still would not sound quite like Van Morrison.  I believe that has something to do with magic.

Click Here to listen …

8 Gods Of Harlem - Rosanne Cash

from the album She Remembers Everything (2018)

There are few artists who consistently put out high-quality melodic music like Rosanne Cash.  Quietly, over the decades, she has amassed a catalogue that rivals any artist in country music.

On her latest release, the song I keep coming two is 8 Gods Of Harlem.  This well-written composition features two incredible guest vocalists:  Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello.

Kris Kristofferson voice is sounding a bit weathered.  Rightfully so.  The vocal tones are magnificently aged, adding authenticy and grit.

Elvis Costello's voice is in top form.  I particularly dig hearing him sing the backing vocal line in the chorus.  It reminds me of his backing vocals on Squeeze's Tempted and Black Coffee In Bed.

But despite these tremendous guests, this song belongs to Rosanne Cash who modestly delivers another great performance.  She is incredible.

Click Here to listen to 8 Gods Of Harlem by Rosanne Cash.

New Moon - Steve Gunn

from the album The Unseen In Between (2018)

Steve Gunn is alternative folk rocker based in Brooklyn.  He is best known as a guitarist for Kurt Vile's band, The Violators.

In New Moon, a pre-release from his forthcoming album, he manages to create a soundscape that mashes up the 60s of folk sounds of Donovan with the early psychedelia of Jefferson Airplane, while still maintaining a sense of modern.

The warmth of the acoustic guitar track, the clarion clarity of the bass, and an especially well-crafted arrangement set the stage for an outstanding vocal performance.

I also dig the songs visual imagery centered around a trip outside of the city that swirls with surreal mentions of grinning ghosts and a place that no one seems to know.

Click Here to listen to New Moon by Steve Gunn.

Wristbands - Galcher Lustwerk

from the album 200% Galcher (2018)

Imagine yourself as a Kung Fu Master, walking into a roadside bar filled with truck drivers and fornicators.  Imagine yourself with the knowledge that you could take out every person in the place with your kicks and chops and cat-like reflexes.

That is how I feel when I am wearing a wristband.  I am old enough.  I am a very important person.  I belong.

Click Here to listen to Wristbands by Galcher Lustwerk.

Dark Days (Revisited) - Art d'Ecco

from the album Trespasser (2018)

One of the absolutely best debut albums of 2018 is Trespasser by neo-glam rocker Art d'Ecco.

After two weeks of intense listening, I have concluded that Dark Days (Revisited) is the track I dig most.  There were so many t come from...

I suppose what does it for me in this song is testosterone-laced muscle of the bass and drums.  It reminds me a bit of T Rex, which seems to be appealing to my rock and roll sensibilities these days.

Over this throbbing rhythm, is an inspired vocal performance.  Each section of the arrangement finds Art d'Ecco delivering the perfectly appropriate vocal.  Listen to the different stylings he uses throughout the song.  It is a command performance.

Hats off to Art d'Ecco for one of the truly great debut records in recent years.  I hope you buy it and lose yourself in it.

Click Here to listen to Dark Days (Revisited) by Art d'Ecco.

Animal - Elektric Voodoo

from the album Animal (2018)

Electric Voodoo are a seven-piece band from San Diego, California.  They are led by Scott Tourney, one of the founders of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.

What I really dig about this band is their remarkable ability to produce high-quality songs across a wide and diverse range of genres; while also exploring the intersections between these genres.

A perfect example is Animal, the title track off of their latest album.

On this song, you will hear Fela inspired Afrobeat mixed with a mid-eighties new wave sensibility.  I am not sure if I ever heard a song that sounds quite like this one.  I dig that!

So, if you happen to be enjoying a cocktail, raise your glass with me and offer a toast to Elektric Voodoo.  Here is to the innovators!

Click Here to listen to Animal by Elektric Voodoo.

What Sign (Was Frankenstein?) - Escape-ism

from the album The Lost Record (2018)

The other night, I caught a concert by The Oh Sees at a recently renovated venue.  They put on an excellent show, as always.

What made the night special was the opening band.  I was previously unfamiliar with them.  Still, they blew me away with their eccentric style of rock and roll; a distorted kind of rockabilly meets vampire movie soundtrack.

That band is Escape-ism.

One of my favorite songs in their set was What Sign (Was Frankenstein?), four minutes of guitars over childlike keyboards with throwback vocals.

It is great to stumble onto new music this way.  Get out of your domicile and find a great new band!

Click Here to listen to What Sign (Was Frankenstein?).

Kong - Neneh Cherry

from the single Kong (2018)

Sometimes there is something small that endears a song to me.  Such is the case with Kong, the new single by Neneh Cherry.

There is a nine-note bass groove that begins the song, strategically reemerging at select intervals, that I can't listen to enough.

The first thing that grabs me about it is the smoothness of how the bassist moves from one sound to another.  I also dig how "round" the sound is and how it locks in with the beat.  After a few dozen listens, I am also digging how the groove vaguely reminds me of Rock On by Davis Essex.

On top of that, this song features the vocal talents of Neneh Cherry.  Her voice is fantastic on this song.  A seemingly effortless high-wire act.

This song is going to make a great edition to my next late night music mix.

Click Here to watch the official music video for Kong by Neneh Cherry.

Rolling With The Punches - The Blue Stones

from the album Black Holes (2018)

One of my favorite elements in a good rock band's arsenal is the backing vocal.  Great backing vocals can make both a band and a song.

I suppose that if you held a proverbial gun to my head and asked my favorite backing vocal in rock history, I would choose Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones.  The woo-hoos are priceless.

Backing vocals are what I dig most in the song Rolling with The Punches by The Blue Stones.  Check out how the ooos and the oo-ooos take the song to a completely different level.  They are a universal hook.  So are the heys.

The groove, the drumming, the vocals, and the guitar are pretty good too.

Click Here to listen to Rolling With The Punches by The Blue Stones.

Sing To Me Candy - Papercuts

from the album Parallel Universe Blues (2018)

In recent months, I have focused hours of each day honing my songwriting chops.  It is part of a larger picture, where I am writing and performing in a band again.  Yippie!

Sadly, along the way, a had a crisis of sorts; my songs failed to resonate.  I could not understand why.  The structure, the lyrics, the hooks, the melodies; they all seemed so spot on to me.  Yet, when I played them for others, all I got were phony grins.

At first, I blamed them.  They are mutant zombie bastards, after all.  Don't they know a well constructed song when they hear it?

I was starting to come undone.  Then I asked myself, what could I do differently to change the outcome?  I made a list of potential reasons and began conducting a series of tiny little tests.

I concluded that my songwriting style is a little too Nick Lowe for the post-punk, dreamy, slow core crowd that I'm running with.  If I want to sell in this market, I need to adapt.

So, I took …

Pink Squirrel - Episode 8

Throughout the first half of this decade, I was regularly in NYC, where my benefactor conducted business in a tall glass and steel building a few blocks south of Central Park.  I loved that I could get tuna on a roll anytime, day or night.  I also loved that my hotel was only a few hundred yards from MOMA.

I never failed to visit.

Over the past year, I have obsessed with an exhibition of Henri Matisse's Cut Outs that I attended.  The color, the contrast, the life-force in the composition.  It was beyond magnificent.

Yet the thing that has captivated me most about the show was that this was how Matisse chose to spend the final years of his life; making art with paper and scissors, when his body could no longer sustain canvas and paint.

I also think about the many other artists - painters, writers, and musicians - who did not produce art while they aged.  How could so many stop?

I've concluded that it was rarely a conscious decision.  I believe that they temporarily put it asid…

Thinkin' On A Woman - Colter Wall

from the album Songs Of The Plains (2018)

In baseball, there has been a long-standing and unfortunate tradition of labelling the latest prospective superstar as "the next Mickey Mantle."  This label tends to put undue scrutiny and pressure on the young ballplayer and, in many cases, derails their career.

The same is true of country music, where record labels and the media cannot resit labelling a promising new artist as the next Johnny, Dolly, or Hank.

Such is the case with Colter Wall, a twenty-three year old singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan whose gifts as both a singer and a songwriter are chilling.

On his sophomore album, my favorite track is Thinking' On A Woman; a simple song in the classic country tradition.  Sparse instrumentation and a slow shuffle beat set the stage for beautiful vocals framed by a tasteful steel guitar track.

As you listen, please try to avoid the comparisons and rather appreciate Colter Wall for the talented musician from the Canadian Plain…

You're Not Like Anybody Else - Escondido

from the album Warning Bells (2018)

Over the past few months, I have challenged myself to write a new song each week.  I have written sixteen songs to dat.

The tend to fall into four categories: rock songs, groovin' songs, jangly songs, and pretty songs.  I find that, of the four, pretty songs are the most difficult.  The demand to be well-written, with an elegance and a simplicity in the arrangement and the melody line.  The lyrics are a challenge as well; trying to be sweet yet not flowery, tender yet tough.

These are the most honest of songs.

When I listen to You're Not Like Anybody Else by Escondido,  I think "now that is a pretty song I wish I wrote."  The acoustic guitar with the little electric poppings layered behind it create the perfect vibe.  The beauty in the vocals and their melody.  A love song that never uses the word "love."

As simple as this song may sound, writing such a song is artistry and craft that are uncommon.

Click Here to listen to

Some Birds - Jeff Tweedy

from the album WARM (2018)

Jeff Tweedy is an artists with that rare ability to make me instantly happy by the sound of his music.  Within the opening measures of his songs, I recognize who it is, fall immediately into the groove, and smile.  Overtime.

Such is the case with Some Birds from his forthcoming album.  The tones, the vibe, it is all right there.  Just like it is supposed to be.

But wait, there is more.  My affection for most Jeff Tweedy songs seems to grow over time.  I am always finding some new nuisance, or catching the thought behind a lyric that is endearing.

He is special.

Click Here to watch the official video for Some Birds by Jeff Tweedy.

Click Here to read my September 2016 blog post for We Aren't The World (Safety Girl) by Wilco.

Click Here to read my July 2015 blog post for Taste The Ceiling by Wilco.

Click Here to read my October 2013 blog post for Ballad Of The Opening Band by Jeff Tweedy.

Click Here to read my May 2012 blog post for One Sunday Morning (Song For …

Boom Boom - Tony Joe White

from the album Bad Mouthin' (2018)

Perhaps more than any other artist, Tony Joe White is synonymous with "swamp music."  Everything in his gravel voice, guitar and harmonica tones, and songwriting acumen defines "swamp."

On his latest album, Tony Joe White releases his first "blues" album of his fifty year career.  Sure the blues have been ever present throughout, but this time it is intentionally "the blues."

My favorite track is a cover of John Lee Hooker's classic, Boom Boom.  The dull thud of the snare, the hint of reverb in the guitar, the ancient-sounding harmonica, and the baritone vocal.  The delta meets the swamp.

I really dig how this song subtly derives its intensity from the hypnotic effect of the bass, drums, and guitar.

I can't get enough of this vibe.

Click Here to listen to Boom Boom by Tony Joe White.

Click Here to read my October 2013 blog post for Gypsy Epilogue by Tony Joe White.

Go On Baby Break Down - Darren Jessee

from the album The Jane, Room 217 (2018)

It is a grey and foggy Sunday morning in this little corner of the world.

That makes it the perfect time for some quiet, acoustic music of the singer-songwriter variety.  Top of the list is Go On Baby Break Down by Darren Jessee.  Despite being best known as the drummer for Ben Folds Five, it is Darren Jessee's deftness as a songwriter that I dig most.

I find myself closing my eyes and daydreaming to this sparse and beautiful composition.  Every chord evokes an emotion.  Every visual image takes my mind on an intimate journey.  It is lovely.

Click Here to listen to Go On Baby Break Down by Darren Jessee.