5 Years in Song (2011-2015)
For almost 20 years, I've compiled annual lists of favorite songs. I figured this blog might be a good place to start cataloguing a few...
Hi. A lot of these songs sound damaged. 2015 was the year nearly everyone I listened to employed Billy Childish levels of polish (a reaction to Disney gloss, perhaps). As with every annual compilation, these selections were (almost) all released or re-released within the recently concluded calendar year.
01 - Young Fathers: Shame. This record, White People are Black People Too, might be my second favorite of 2015. Brilliant, but everyone already knew that since their previous record won the Mercury Prize. Quite popular, these Brits.
02 - Mbongwana Star: Suzana. Heavy and perfect. I wish I was at a party and someone put this on.
03 - Downtown Boys: 100% Inheritance Tax. Album’s called Full Communism and it’s largely sung in Spanish. I dedicate this to Trump and Co.
04 - Okkerville River: Our So Called Friend. Ten years ago, I probably plopped a song from Black Sheep Boy on a New Year collection. Recently, Chad and I heard it performed to celebrate its re-release. It’s darker than I remember… and I recall it being pretty dark at the time (aside from Mr. Cave, does anyone write more chilling murder ballads?).
05 - Mini-Mekons with Robbie Fulks: A Fearful Moment. Well, it ain’t officially a Mekons record. Tom Greenhalgh, where have you gone? Without him (my all-time favorite rock’n’roll voice), ye ol’ Mekons ain’t complete. Nevertheless, enough of ‘em are present on this interesting lil’ album, recorded with a yank off the coast of the Isle of Skye. Fulks writes the liner notes and they are absolutely hilarious.
06 - Alex Chilton: Summertime Blues. The monumentally finest record of the year was Numero Group’s Ork Records: New York, New York. The Revelons, Prix, Marbles, Cheetah Chrome? Who were these bands? Now I know. The record is loaded with gems, but I’m choosing this one to start things off ‘cause Chilton just punks his way through it with such joyful, amateurish, wild abandon. Time was tight this year, so I plundered this record...
07 - Mick Farren & The New Wave: Lost Johnny. Farren co-wrote this song with Lemmy, who recorded it with both Hawkwind and Motorhead. I think this version is faster and I dig Farren’s growl. Also from Ork Records.
08 - Chris Stamey & the DB’s: (I Thought) You Wanted to Know. Glam. This is the sound I think the fine punk band Home Blitz was shooting for with their release this year. But this is better. Also from Ork Records.
09 - Erasers: It Was So Funny (The Song That They Sung). This simply sounds like New York, circa ‘77. Also from Ork Records.
10 - The Student Teachers: Channel 13. Teen punks at the right place at the right time, so they got to open for the Cramps, Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Dead Boys… Also from Ork Records.
11 - King Khan & the BBQ Show: Alone Again. Punk is really lookin’ backward these days. Another solid release from these clowns.
12 - King Khan & the BBQ Show: Illuminations. I kinda wanna hear the second track too.
13 - Sheer Mag: Travelin’ On. Ridiculously hyped… but infectious. I cannot believe the level of production on this record. It’s a statement... like Duchamp’s urinal.
14 - Soft Boys: I Wanna Destroy You. Not a re-issue, so I’m breaking the rule. But it’s a song I often hear in my head while reading about humans acting maliciously. Sometimes the Uncle Tupelo cover comes to mind. Either way, it’s true.
15 - Uncle Tupelo: I Wanna Destroy You. Okay, shoot... I mentioned it and that kinda made me wanna hear their version. Plus, it brings the collection to a tidy 15.
Hi. For the second year in a row, I fear this compilation is again kinda rock heavy. It seems like I gave most everything a listen. D’Angelo’s new opus? Sure. It sounds like Prince. Lykke Li and a heap of other female crooners made pretty records. Killer Mike is still rapping brilliantly.
But I just kept turning to rock. The album I probably listened to the most this year was actually from 2013: The Low Culture’s Screens. Alas, I failed to include a track last year and now it’s disqualified (as always, everything below was released or reissued in 2014).
01 - Hurray for the Riff Raff sings Blue Ridge Mountain. I think she’s Brooklyn-born, moved to New Orleans and decided, “Yeah, I can do this.” And she really can. Pretty brilliant record.
02 - Sturgill Simpson sings Turtles All the Way Down. Supposedly he’s the next Wyalon Jennings. But I don’t think he’s aping anyone. The song starts with Jesus. Check. It’s a country song all right. But then Buddha gets name-dropped and then “Reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain.” Sturgill takes pretty honest country and boots it into deep space. I hear he thanks Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking in the liner notes. Hell yeah.
03 - Kate Tempest sings The Beigeness. I guess she’s a playwright or Shakespearean soloist or something. This is a literary hip-hop record about a relationship. It's really stunning. Reminds me of Fucked Up's unabashedly sincere and cynicism-free album-length portrait of falling in love. Guess this is the rap version. Bravely done and danceable.
04 - Together Pangea sings River. This was my favorite song for 10 months of 2014 (replaced by number 10 below). [PARENT WARNING: River contains the word “Fucking” three times, but each instance provides important & necessary emphasis]
05 - Pink Mountaintops sings Sixteen. Pink Mountaintops has made my annual best twice now. I think this song is about being sixteen and listening to the Undertones. It’s so authentically nostalgic it features a saxophone. There’s another song on this album that might be even better, but it features a lil’ rap interlude so lurid that I think y’all need to discover it on your own.
06 - King Tuff Sings Beautiful Thing. One of three songs the King dedicated to the giants about an hour after the World Series ended. I celebrated the win at home with family & scorebook… but made the trip to the Great American to see King Tuff later that evening. It was a joyous, sweaty swirl of happy San Franciscans. Couple thoughts: “Show me all the innocence you’re trying so hard to lose” is a great wooing rock line and the way this song transforms from garage to hand-clapping sixties pop is imperfectly charming.
07 - Legendary Wings sings Separate Rooms. Straight-up rock and roll anthem about not being with the one you like best.
08 - Sonic Avenues sings Tired, Bored, and Alone. I suppose this is pop-punk. I’m not ashamed.
09 - AUSMUTEANTS sings 1982. Do you like DEVO and PiL? You should pick up this record (they even insist on all caps in their name). Aussies are still pissed off about the whole dingo thing, evidently.
10 - The Blind Shake sings Breakfast of Failures. CAN YOU PLAY GUITAR LIKE THE WAY IT’S PLAYED AT THE 1 MINUTE MARK? IF SO, CAN I SING IN YOUR BAND? Favorite song of the year.
11- Unwound sings Bionic. This was our time. Although I’ve been accused of being a bit of an anglophile when it comes to music, the US scene was simply on fire in the ‘90s. USA! USA! Numero Group has a few beautiful reissues.
12- Fugazi sings Merchandise (demo). The first 60 seconds feature enough riffs/beats/tempos to carry an album worth of songs for some bands. But fugazi layers 'em into one. That turns some of you off, I know, and it certainly runs counter to my "simple = better" adage about rock. But... well, I don't know… Fugazi breaks the rules. Also, in 2014, as we cringed at the excess all around, it was really, really good to hear “YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU OWN” shouted over and over again.
13 - Ngozi Family sings Tikondane. Tim turned me on to this reissue. It’s mind-boggling. Cooler than Velvet Underground. And it bleeds into…
14 - Ngozi Family sings Bwameawe. THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED TO MY EARS IN 2014 OCCURS AT 2-MINUTE MARK OF THIS SONG (shortly after the dude says, “hey”). Back it up and listen again. It never gets old.
Same rules as always: Songs were released (or re-released) this year, except where noted.
1. Marked Men - My Love: * I think every song should be played and sung exactly like this... most of the time.
2. The Replacements – Don’t Ask Why: This year’s complete recordings box set is, of course, shameless marketing targeted at me and you… but it’s also a good reminder that The Replacements were a great, sloppy punk band.
3. Okkervil River – White: On their last 4 records, this band’s been slippin’ a bit too far from its creepy murder ballad folk/Americana roots. I think this might even be indie rock. And yet… lovely.
4. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Wide Lovely Eyes: Pulled from the new Live at KCRW release, this version is better than the one on the album. This selection solidifies Cave as the most consistently represented artist in the 12 or so years of these compilations and a rare repeat (featured just last year mumbling harmonies with Emmylou Harris). I wish I could play the piano.
5. Lee Hazelwood – Run Boy Run: I dusted off an old Mojo Magazine CD supplement featuring songs, including this one, that inspired The Clash (selected by the surviving members). Hazelwood definitely got his due this year with a gigantic retrospective box set (oddly, so did the Clash). He’s still the uncool country guy, but his theme albums (something I reckon country stars were contractually obligated to make in the 70’s) are aging better than all butReadheaded Stranger.
6. Son Volt – Hearts & Minds: Every year, I hear a decent fiddle.
7. Future of the Left – Things to Say to Friendly Policemen: Still fierce & funny.
8. Superchunk – Me & You & Jackie Mittoo: I think this might be the first instance of a song title name-dropping an artist (Jackie Mittoo, the Booker T of Jamaica) from a previous compilation (can’t remember the year… probably 2000?). The best Superchunk songs come from the era when no one could understand the lyrics (somewhere I own an ep featuring DJs trying to decipher their songs). Nevertheless, this is a pretty solid song about music defining a friendship, even after the friend’s gone.
9. Toys That Kill – Stye: ** San Pedro rocks.
10. Mind Spiders – Suicide: I prefer their previous stuff, but I can’t fault a band for creeping towards early DEVO. If I could make music, I think this sound would be irresistibly fun to play.
11. The Little Darlings – Baby You Love is Amazing [sic?]: Another Numero Group gem focusing on the Forte label out of Kansas City. The Four Darlings are not the best singers in the world, but there's a moment in this song when the music stops that the lead voice reminds me of Fingertips-era Wonder. Not refined, just soulful and trying.
12. Japanther – Stolen Flowers: I resisted this band at first, ‘cause who needs to hear more NYC art students making music? Also, the members of this band are thieving cunts. But this album is good.
13. Your Pick. – What’d I miss? Tell me what’s what. It was a weird year of music. Everyone made a record, but I didn’t find many masterpieces (last year King Tuff, Dan Deacon, The Coup, & First Aid Kit all made perfect gems). Maybe I missed something?
* I think this record’s a few years old, but a pal mentioned he was making a documentary about the band this year, so I’m plopping it in. Besides, it’s perfect.
** I ran out of room on last year’s list to include this great record. Now that it’s 2013, I have one extra slot. Wrong corrected.
King Tuff - Anthem. Bottom of the Hill was absolutely bonkers. Swirly, sweaty, bumpy. At least one kid stage dove right to the ER. The next day, he probably claimed it was worth it. I could’ve taken any song off this record. Picked this one ‘cause it’s a solid start. Buy the rest, you’ll be happy.
Waters – Way Back to You. Yeah, millennial. I’m sure he’s annoying. Just look at that haircut. And yet… on this song he does a real good job replicating that 90s Superchunk sound, which Tif will tell you I’m a completely powerless against.
Nick Cave, Warren Ellis (Featuring Emmylou Harris) – Cosmonaut. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis make a record with Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanely, Willie Nelson, and Mark Lenegan and virtually no one seems to care. Weird, yes?
Regina Spektor – Small Town Moon. Up on a ridiculously gigantic, outdoor stage, there’s absolutely no reason that her piano and voice should’ve sounded so right. But they did.
Grinderman – Palaces of Monezuma Nick Cave released this ode to his wife in 2011. In early in 2012, Grinderman released three remixes. This one’s faster than the original and easily the best song of the year… even if it ain’t exactly of this year.
Royal Headache - Never Again These Aussies have been accused of ripping off pretty much every British brand from 1968-1978. ‘Course, everybody plunders. At least they chose wisely. Sounds to me like a mod Rod Stewart fronting the Jam. Tif says this song features “todd tempo.” Fair enough.
Lord Shorty & Vibrations International – Vibrations Groove Less of a song than a lesson from the godfather of soca music. Strut and Numero Group keep mining the world for gems. Spend an hour on their websites and dig, dig, dig.
The Boss – Death to my Hometown Wrecking Ball is the Great Recession dust bowl record. Springsteen spells it out simple: We were fleeced with that pen Guthrie warned us about. This entire record is the best and most honest tribute Woody got for his 100th.
First Aid Kit – King of the World The Swedes keep taking our Americana and giving it back with a tasty meatball sittin’ on top. These sisters write and harmonize beautifully. Conner Oberst backs ‘em up nicely. The fiddle is weepy. The Banjo pops. The horns are lovely. And I don’t mind the handclaps, do you?
Dan Deacon – USA VI The Manifest I’m not sure this song can handle the implied scope. America’s a big topic best left to country music and Copeland. And yet, Deacon’s dizzying brand of industrial is pretty compelling. I get the impression he listened to the Wax Trax greats back in the day. I read he has a classical/formal musical education and I think I can actually kinda sorta hear it. Although, honestly, I'm not even sure what that means.
[Parents: Earmuffs for the kids]
The Coup – Your Parent’s Cocaine (Featuring Anti-Flag) Aside from MCA’s departure, 2012 was a good year for hip hop. Killer Mike’s record is amazing (especially “Reagan” and “R.A.P. Music”), Death Grips kept on pushing buttons, and Big Boi’s new record is great. But I think I liked The Coup best. Despite a populist earnestness that made them the soundtrack to Oakland Occupy, they still managed to make the most fun and danceable record of the year (Joe Strummer + Sly Stone).
DK – Moon Over Marin Yeah, breaking the rules with this one. Obviously not released or reissued or remixed in 2012, this song contributed heavily to my prejudices about all territory north of the Golden Gate bridge. But the Dead Kennedys were only about 50% correct about everything. And their name-calling demise was uglier than anything I’ve seen up here in Millbury. Still, I love this song and I’ve been humming it since the day I arrived.
1) The Mekons: Where Were You? This song doesn’t belong on a list of new music. It’s almost as old as me. Why it’s here: I saw a lot of shows alone this year. It’s not your fault. I texted you at 9 and you were already drunk and/or in your comfy slippers. That’s cool. With two kids, I’m never sure I’m going to be anyplace until I’m there. And I’ve downloaded all the Sherlock Holmes books onto my phone, so I’ve always got something to read. Nevertheless, I at some point in the night I inevitably think of this song’s line: “I was waiting at the bar, where were you?” It’s a good song to be stuck on.
2) While I’m breaking the rules, this second song is from a record that’s a couple years old. I think a track from it appeared my 2010 collection. But this year, my iPod kept randomly selecting Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: What Must Be Done (from their “The Assassination of Jesse James…” score) and I never skipped it. So here it is.
3) Phosphorescent: I Don’t Care if There’s Cursing. Saw a lot of great shows this year, but the easy winner was Phosphorescent at the Independent… a day after a tornado tore through their hometown in Alabama. I’m not sure I’ll ever see a country honky-tonk band do what they did. It was Neutral Milk Hotel (the Bottom of the Hill shows) and Fugazi (maybe at the Troubadour, circa ‘94). Pretty & fierce. I picked this particular song ‘cause reminds me of you. Y’all are pretty dang easy.
4) Lykke Li: Sadness is a Blessing. I’m embarrassed I liked this neo-soul record so much.
5) Fucked Up: Under My Nose. I’m embarrassed I like this neo-hardcore record so much. “It’s all been worth it” is a great phrase to shout, yes?
6) Wilco: Born Alone Tweedy keeps inching towards Tom Petty… and it’s good.
7) Frank Fairfield: Poor Old Lance. Bought this record based on the cover photo. It’s perfect.
8) The Young Offenders: Big Man, Small House. If bands behaved like burrito or sandwich shops, I’d be real close to a free beer/t-shirt/etc. this year. I’m not saying this just because our kids go to the same elementary school or because it’s members are of a proper age (mine) or because our wives played softball together in the 80s: The Young Offenders = the best band in San Francisco.
9) Colin Stetson: Red Horse. This might be the best hip-hop song of the year and it’s just a white guy and a saxamophone gone haywire. Crazy record. Speaking of hip-hop, the two best rap records this year were released by Sub Pop. Let’s pause to let that sink in. I’d predicted Obama’s win in 2005 (it’s true, ask Janis) but I couldn’t imagine Sub Pop releasing Shabazz Palaces or Spoek Mathambo (appeared on last year’s compilation). Good stuff.
10) Richard Buckner: Gang. I was telling Pam last night that I prefer records produced and mixed to sound like someone’s shouting in a rickety old barn (or Billy Childish’s living room). And yet, I like Richard Buckner’s records… even though they all sound like he’s sitting in my lap, whispering in my ear inside an igloo.
11) Rev. Lonnie Farris: Peace In The Valley I don’t really care for gospel music. I blame my dislike of Christians (no offense). But this collection (Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM 1957-1982) has some gems. I like this one best ‘cause it’s got some steely twang.
Suggested listening: How do I select a soundtrack to a post devoted to over 50 great songs? Hmm. Well, might as well go with the Mekons, Where Were You?