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Showing posts from December, 2018

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.