Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#12 (MA) Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines

Whereas Army Navy (Trip's number 13) hail from power pop's retro jangle division, Telekinesis approach the form from the overdriven post-punk point of view of Redd Kross and the Cure, complete with stomping beats and jagged, sludgy guitars. This is cotton candy with a kick, part shiny sun, part ominous moon, all songs that buzz around your skull without asking permission or forgiveness.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

# 13 (TM) - Army Navy - The Last Place

Power pop lives on in the skinny jeaned, parallel striped shirt world of Army Navy. Lead singer Justin Kennedy writes about affairs of the heart and sings with the airy, well-scrubbed breeziness of Glenn Tillbrook. Their sophomore release, The Last Place, finds our hero at Relationship's End (what a perfect band name) with someone who might be a celebrity and might be married. Every sad-sack song is crafted for maximum sing-along-ability, blurring the acidic effects of heartbreak like greasy burgers ease hangovers.

If you like Squeeze, Teenage Fanclub, early REM and the dB's (especially the dB's on "I Think It's Gonna Happen"). you will love this record. If you don't like these bands, maybe it's time you started seeing other blogs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen... Bon Joviver

This is the best music video of 2011... maybe of all time.

#13 (MA) Destroyer - Kaputt

Here's the album that answers the burning question "what would have happened if Al Stewart had fronted Roxy Music?" Before Kaputt, I thought of Dan Bejar as the other songwriter in The New Pornographers, the one who crafted the inscrutable tunes with the off-kilter rhythms and made confounding records on his own. A few years back, when Destroyer's Rubies was released to critical huzzahs, I went in search of its magic but came away frustrated by the labyrinthine songs. Kaputt solves my Destroyer problem by coating the harsh medicine in the sugar of early 80s romantic pop, and the result is strangely and completely satisfying, an album that stands outside of time.

Monday, February 20, 2012

# 14 (TM) The David Mayfield Parade - The David Mayfield Parade

Sometimes just doing one thing well can elevate an album from also-ran to contender status. That's the case with David Mayfield, whose soft, crystalline twang envelops each song on The David Mayfield Parade with unswerving good cheer, even when heartbreak looms around each corner. Sounding like early James Taylor and even more like fellow Ohioan Craig Fuller, Mayfield hits that sweet spot between slick country pop and the commercial black hole that swallows up most alt country.

Fans of the Avett Brothers should be bewitched as Seth and Scott add harmonies to the lover's plea "I Just Might Pray', Caitlin Rose duets on the stately old-time vibe of "Faraway Love" and "What Do You Call It" has the most insane, immediately catchy chorus of the year. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Mayfield's May show at the Tin Angel was a three ring circus - one part Grand Ol Opry, one part slapstick vaudevillian and one part campy goofball. High entertainment.

The David Mayfield Parade - "Faraway Love" (from The David Mayfield Parade)

#14 (MA) Wilco - The Whole Love

This album goes here because this is how I feel about it today. Some days, it would be a lot higher, some days a lot lower. Oh, how I've wrestled with you, The Whole Love. Some days, you're warm and radiant, some days cold and distant. There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's only you and me and we just disagree. But when we're on the same wavelength, like that night that Wilco and Nick Lowe came to my town and played one of the most mesmerizing shows I've ever seen, well, it makes up for all the hard times.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

# 15 (TM) Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

Pop music has always been safe haven for an angry young man with a guitar. From A.P. Carter to Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan to Ted Leo, a solitary figure railing against social injustice and hammering away at the six string is a time honored and noble tradition. After serving time in agit punks Million Dead, Frank Turner adds his name to this list.

England Keep My Bones mines the same Billy Bragg territory as his earlier solo albums, with perhaps a bit less witty wordplay but an even more naked sincerity. You can't help but love a song as simple and brilliant as the rock-and-roll-will-save-your-life call to arms of "I Still Believe" or the rabble rousing "I Am Disappeared", which calls out country and self to have and believe in dreams, lest we all fade away.

Frank Turner - "I Am Disappeared" (from England Keep My Bones)
Frank Turner - "Thunder Road" (Springsteen cover)

Monday, February 13, 2012

#15 (MA) Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

Okkervil River might be the most under-appreciated band in the world. They turn out good-to-great albums like clockwork, richly textured, emotionally resonant, deeply fulfilling and beautiful things that ought to put them side-by-side with Arcade Fire as indie rock kings. But they don't inspire the same kind of cult. The hope is that they take the response as a challenge and keep striving, because there's a whole lot of greatness left to be teased out of this band.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

# 16 (TM) Amanda Shires - Carrying Lightning

It is so hard to get heard over the din of an ever-expanding media maze of itunes, video games, facebook, twitter, radio, TV, commercials, movies, concerts and clouds - what's a girl to do? If you're Amanda Shires, you do it yourself . Although a veteran of tours and recording projects with such alt country luminaries like Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, Billy Joe Shaver, Shires is just beginning to get noticed for her burgeoning, self-directed solo career. Her melancholy Texas twang recalls a less craggy Lucinda Williams with the emotional purity of prime Nanci Griffith.

Her fourth album, Carrying Lightning, is chock full of strong originals like the missed opportunity lament "When You Need A Train It Never Comes" and the whistling, banjo flecked lover's longing glaze of "Swimmer". It's also one of the best americana releases of the year - lyrically direct and emotionally potent.

Amanda Shires - "When You Need A Train It Never Comes" (from Carrying Lightning)
Amanda Shires - "Bees in The Shed" (from Carrying Lightning)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

#16 (MA) Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What

When you have fewer songwriting peers than you have fingers, when you're nearly a half-century into your career, it's nearly preposterous to think that you could create new music that fits comfortably in your canon. But Paul Simon has done just that. This is a graceful and winning collection, ten little reveries that I could have placed anywhere on this list depending on my mood, up to and including number one.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

# 17 (TM) Jason Isbell - Here We Rest

For some reason, the Drive-By Truckers last few albums have left me cold, while former Trucker Jason Isbell seems to have stolen their mojo on Here We Rest, easily his most consistent record.

Here We Rest is rooted in its southerness, with a deep Alabama groove set to fluttering fiddles and sure-handed shuffles that make characters like the broken soul barfly in "Codeine" come alive even as they battle addiction, and his version of Candi Staton's southern soul standard "Heart on A String" sounds like a lost Delbert McClinton classic.

But the highlight is "Alabama Pines", whose lonesome loser has lost touch with home as he's stuck in a crappy little room in a nowhere town and aching to find his way back by pleading for "Somebody take me home, through those Alabama pines". As another great songwriter once opined, it's sadly beautiful.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

#17 (MA) St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

I picked this one because it's in the vein of Massive Attack and Portishead, and every once in a while that's exactly what I need. I also picked it because it's fun to sometimes irritate Trip.