Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 in Music

What's lazier than not posting on a blog in over a year?  Making the post a list without any additional explanation.  Yep, here's my list of best albums in 2016, a Top 25 + 25 Honorable Mentions.  Bonus is a link to my Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs of 2016.  The irony of my devoting dozens (hundreds?) of hours to deciding what albums and songs make the cut, only to just throw the "winners" out here when I'm done, is not lost on me.


25.  Outer Spaces - A Shedding Snake
24.  Escondido - Walking With a Stranger
23.  Matthew Logan Vasquez - Solicitor Returns
22.  Lumineers - Cleopatra
21.  Okkervil River - Away
20.  Matt Kivel - Janus
19.  Haley Bonar - Impossible Dream
18.  Shovels & Rope - Little Seeds
17.  Robert Ellis - s/t
16.  Little Green Cars - Ephemera
15.  Andrew Bird - Are You Serious
14.  Frightened Rabbit - Painting of a Panic Attack
13.  Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony
12.  King Charles - Gamble for a Rose
11.  Angel Olsen - My Woman
10.  Mudcrutch - 2
9.  Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate
8.  Villagers - Where Have You Been All My Life?
7.  Brian Fallon -Painkillers
6.  The I Don’t Cares - Wild Stab
5.  Quilt - Plaza
4.  Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
3.  Adia Victoria - Beyond the Bloodhounds
2.  David Bowie - Blackstar
1.  Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Avett Brothers - True Sadness
Brian Jonestown Massacre - Third World Pyramid
Felice Brothers - Life in the Dark
Fruit Bats - Absolute Loser
Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like a Levee
Ray LaMontagne - Ouroboros
Lucius - Good Grief
Junius Meyvant - Floating Harmonies
MONEY - Suicide Songs
My Golden Calf - Perfume Brute
Oh Pep! - Stadium Cake
Esme Patterson - We Were Wild
Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression
The Record Company - Give It Back to You
Daniel Romano - Mosey
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes - PersonA
Shearwater - Jet Plane and Oxbow
The Suffers - s/t
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Let Me Get By
Vandaveer - The Wild Mercury
Various - Day of the Dead
Weezer - The White Album
Whitney - Light Upon the Lake
Woods - City Sun Eater In The River Of Light
Wussy - Forever Sounds



Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 in Music

It's really quite simple -- listen to about 500 albums, sift and sort them, putting them in the "maybe," "definitely," or "forget it" pile as you come upon them, and then as the year winds down, enter a mad rush to somehow quantify just how much each one is liked or loved relative to all the others, at least among the top of the list, all the while being introduced to albums you need to check out courtesy of other best of year lists.  Identify a top 25, plus 25 honorable mentions, post it, and forget about it.  Take a few weeks off, then start anew with the candidates for the list next year.

I couldn't quite pull it off this year, as I'm left with 29 honorable mentions, and find myself incapable of culling the list any further.

Here are the Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order) --

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
*American Aquarium - Wolves
The Arcs - Yours, Dreamily
Blitzen Trapper - All Across This Land
Mal Blum - You Look A Lot Like Me
Blur - The Magic Whip
Bop English - Constant Bop
Born Ruffians - RUFF
Leon Bridges - Coming Home
Buxton - Half a Native
City and Colour - If I Should Go Before You
Phil Cook - Southland Mission
El VY - Return to the Moon
Eskimeaux - O.K.
Bill Fay - Who Is the Sender?
Fraser A. Gorman - Slow Gum
Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves
*The Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ
Murder By Death - Big Dark Love
Israel Nash - Israel Nash’s Silver Season
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats - s/t
Josh Ritter - Sermon on the Rocks
River City Extension - Deliverance
Roadside Graves - Acne/Ears
The Stone Foxes - Twelve Rooms
This is the Kit - Bashed Out
Toro y Moi - What For?
Jonathan Tyler - Holy Smokes
Widowspeak - All Yours

And the Top 25:

*25. Matthew E. White - Fresh Blood

24. Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

*23. Hey Rosetta! - Second Sight

*22. The Districts - A Flourish & A Spoil

21. Avid Dancer - 1st Bath

20. Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow Is My Turn

19. DMA's - s/t (EP)

18. Brown Bird - Axis Mundi

17. Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

16. The Helio Sequence - s/t

15. Lucero - All a Man Should Do

*14. Waxahatchee - Ivy Trip

*13. Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm goin down

12. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

11. Mikal Cronin - MCIII

10. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

9. John Moreland - High on Tulsa Heat

8. Houndmouth - Little Neon Limelight

7. Ryley Walker - Primrose Green

6. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

*5. Lord Huron -Strange Trails

4. San Fermin - Jackrabbit

3. Belle & Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

*2. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

*1. Lady Lamb - After.  This is the album I have to stop myself from screaming out when I hear it through my headphones.  This is the artist I saw twice in 2015, completely blown away each time.  This was the obvious choice for my album of the year, and I'm not sure why it took me until December to realize it.

Asterisks denote bands I saw live in 2015.

Finally, here's a mammoth 175-track playlist featuring some of my favorite songs of the year (limited to one per artist):  

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Three Things that Made the Matthew E. White​ Show Last Night Great

1. They served up an excellent performance, but they didn't play the album version of the tunes -- an all-male lineup with two lead guitars, a bass and drums means no piano, horns or backing female vocals.  But instead of that limiting their selections, the band reinterpreted and jammed (something that rarely happens when a band is backing an album that's only been out for a month), and did so to great effect -- there was some great musicianship up there.  As White said when telling about his albums for sale, "I think they're great albums, but don't buy them thinking they're going to sound like we sound tonight" (paraphrased).  He was right, on both counts.

2. It was the last night of this leg of the tour, so they were in excellent spirits with good banter and an awesome vibe.

3. I was "that guy" up front.  For some reason no one was standing around me in the very front (like I usually try to be) for the first half of the show, so it was just me up there, dancing and jamming to the tunes.  Between songs early on, White said he liked the way I had my own space up there, and my own angle to see the band.  Later, he pointed to me and said that even though the band had highs and lows, I was bringing it every song. LOL -- if only he had known I was singing and dancing along to prevent my back from tightening up, and so I could stay awake after having been up since 2:30 that morning.

There are so many great bands to check out at Shaky Knees next month, but if the schedule allows it, I'm looking forward to seeing this band again.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Emelia, The Keyboard, and Me

Emelia has a great ear for music. For as long as she's been able to talk, she's been able to recognize music she's heard before. Even covers. So for a very long time, I've encouraged her to take music lessons. We never forced her into taking them -- I figured that if she was made to take them, she'd grow to resent taking them, much as I had when I was a kid. There were drawbacks to this approach -- when she was five, she asked for, and received, a ukelele as a souvenir. On the ride home, she picked at it and sang out the alphabet as accompaniment, declaring that she could play the ukelele. Sadly, that's been the ukelele's high point, as it was strummed more times on that car ride home than it has in the succeeding three years combined.

Last December, I brought up the subject of lessons again, and she "gave in." She wanted to make sure, however, that she didn't have to perform in front of anyone. I told her to pick her instrument, and after a bit of back-and-forth, she selected the piano. We have a curbside special of a keyboard that I came across around the time she was born, so as far as I was concerned, she made a fine selection. We signed up for lessons in January, and as we ended up with a late afternoon Thursday slot, we've made it work so that I sit in with her during the lesson. Steven, the instructor, is absolutely great with her -- he's generally very positive and I've yet to see him lose his patience, even when she starts plinking while he's trying to talk to her. I sit in the back, taking notes on what songs she's supposed to learn, and things to look for/work on as she practices.

During the week, she and I go over her assignments -- maybe once a week she practices on her own, but the rest of the time I'm there with her. Sometimes she gets frustrated, but we work through the parts that challenge her, and so far at least, by week's end she pulls it together. I may not be as patient as Steven is, but I seem to be doing ok. I tell her to stop saying she's sorry when she makes a mistake -- that she only needs to apologize if she's goofing off/not listening/not trying. I'm sparse with my praise, but she understands that when I say it's good, it's significant. And I'm able to let her know when she's made enough progress during a practice even when she's not all the way there.

My approach seems to gibe with her.  She doesn't dread practice, sometimes asking me when we can work on her assignment, and other times playing her assignment on her own after we've gone over it earlier in the day. Without prompting, she has repeatedly thanked me for encouraging her to take lessons, and has said that she loves playing the piano. When in Florida last month, rather than being shy and uncomfortable with playing in front of her grandmother, Emelia called her over so she could perform for her.

It's only been a few months, and of course she'll likely get sick of the piano, lessons, practice, everything. But I'm enjoying not being there yet. My daughter has a tendency to keep working on things she's good at rather than tackle things she isn't -- at some point, I'm going to have to use her experience with the piano as proof that she can get good at something even when she starts off knowing nothing about it.

I have to be honest -- when trying to anticipate the things I'd most enjoy about being a parent, it never entered my mind to think piano practice would make the list. It's nice to know that a middle-aged man can keep learning too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 in Music, Part 2

It's funny how much I agonize over a list of top albums.  Ask me in a month and the sequence would be different -- I'd be wondering what I thought was so wonderful about a couple of them and why I put three of them as low as I did.  Meanwhile, a couple of albums I don't know about at the moment would be clawing their way onto the list (despite my having reading gobs of end-of-year lists in a futile attempt to head off such an eventuality).  Ask me in two years and it would go well beyond such minor tweaks -- I'll be bored with an entire sub-genre represented here and one I reject right now would demand its presence in my 2016 look back at the albums of 2014.  And so, even though I know that this list is just a snapsnot of my brain, one that's unable to stand the test of time, I nevertheless spent weeks weighing every ranking, every inclusion and rejection, as though there's a right answer.

With that caveat, here are my Top 25 Albums of 2014:



1. Strand of Oaks -- HEAL
2. St. Vincent -- St. Vincent
3. Ben Howard -- I Forget Where We Were
4. The War on Drugs -- Lost in the Dream
5. Conor Oberst -- Upside Down Mountain
6. *Woods -- With Light and with Love
7. *St. Paul & The Broken Bones -- Half the City
8. Lydia Loveless -- Somewhere Else
9. Hozier -- Hozier
10. Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s -- Slingshot to Heaven
11. Hurray for the Riff Raff -- Small Town Heroes
12. *Drive-By Truckers -- English Oceans
13. Beck -- Morning Phase
14. Field Report -- Marigolden
15. First Aid Kit -- Stay Gold
16. Hard Working Americans -- Hard Working Americans
17. Jeremy Messersmith -- Heart Murmurs
18. Real Estate -- Atlas
19. Ty Segall -- Manipulator
20. The Donkeys -- Ride the Black Wave
21. La Sera -- Hour of the Dawn
22. Sean Rowe -- Madman
23. Ex Hex -- Rips
24. Jenny Lewis -- The Voyager
25. The Bones of J.R. Jones -- Dark Was the Yearling

* -- Artist I saw in 2014

I finish my year-end summary by sharing a playlist with over 11 hours of my favorite songs of the year (as I self-imposed a limit of one song per album, the list leaves out plenty of tunes I loved).  You'd think that a 172-song playlist would pretty much cover things, but I wish it were a bit longer, as Spotify doesn't have the rights to a couple of tunes that otherwise would have been included -- "It's Over" by Ty Segall and "Compassion" by Lucinda Williams.



May 2015 be as wonderful musically as 2014 has been!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 in Music, Part 1

2014 offered up a handful of fantastic albums, together with an incredible number of very good ones.  It was far easier for me to identify my 10 favorites than to figure out the next 15 -- over 40 different albums moved in and out of my Top 25.  Albums that I thought were Top 10 mid-year slipped out of the Top 25 by year's end.  Albums with a couple of songs I absolutely love dropped considerably if the rest of the album didn't measure up.  With so many worthy albums, I decided to lengthen my list beyond the length I normally do.  In fact I'm doubling it.  But for those albums outside the Top 25, I'm sticking with an alphabetical list -- trying to rank within this group proved far too difficult.  Here are the albums ranked between 26 and 50:



Ryan Adams -- Ryan Adams
Damon Albarn -- Everyday Robots
*The Apache Relay -- Apache Relay
The Autumn Defense -- Fifth
*Andrew Bird -- Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of...
Black Lips -- Underneath the Rainbow
*Benjamin Booker -- Benjamin Booker
Centro-matic -- Take Pride in Your Long Odds
EELS -- The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett
Fear of Men -- Loom
FREEMAN -- FREEMAN
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger -- Midnight Sun
Greyhounds -- Accumulator
*Hiss Golden Messenger -- Lateness of Dancers
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings -- Give The People What They Want
King Tuff -- Black Moon Spell
Mimicking Birds -- Eons
The New Basement Tapes -- Lost on the River
Pixies -- Indie Cindy
Damien Rice -- My Favorite Faded Fantasy
*Roadkill Ghost Choir -- In Tongues
Angus & Julia Stone -- Angus & Julia Stone
Sun Kil Moon -- Benji
*Tweedy -- Sukierae
Sharon Van Etten -- Are We There

* -- Artist I saw in 2014

I also want to say how fortunate I was to make it to so many shows.  In 2014, I went to one festival on my own, another two with my family, and 15 other concerts.  My favorite sets were offered up by Charles Bradley, Courtney Barnett, Frank Turner, Drive-by Truckers, and Michael Franti.

So between the albums and the shows, this has been a heck of a year for me musically.  

Part 2 of my year-end summary is coming soon...

Monday, July 28, 2014

My 10 Favorite Sets from Floydfest 2014

The 10 sets of Floydfest 2014 I most appreciated (in order of hearing them):

Driftwood -- A band I'd never heard of, one of three On the Rise bands I absolutely loved, did great covers of Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" and Townes van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die," and plenty of their own stuff.  


Michael Franti and Spearhead -- If you aren't bopping (at the very least!) when he's performing, odds are you're suffering from paralysis.  Just so much fun to be at a set like that, probably my favorite set of the weekend.  I really wish the girls had been able to be at that one with me.

The London Souls -- Caught this set immediately following Franti, and was able to get a spot right at the stage. Straight up sound from a time machine from 1968, loud and unabashed classic rock, reminding me how much I used to love that kind of sound, the music of my youth.  Awesome!

Swampcandy -- On a small stage, this two man band that I'd never heard of wailed some great foot-stomping blues while Hannah and I danced in the back.

Annabelle's Curse -- Same location as Swampcandy, and same unknown (to me) status, but this time it was a well-integrated 5-piece band whose male lead singer that evoked a happier version of Conor Oberst for me.

Grandpa's Cough Medicine -- They were a decent enough self-described outlaw bluegrass band, but running into someone I hadn't seen in 30 years while waiting for them to start is what made this set so memorable.  

Donna the Buffalo -- I'd heard of them and I was pretty sure their easy-going jam sound would be in my wheel house, but I'd yet to hear them.  Well, I'm glad I finally got the chance, as they were great live from my vantage point right in front of the main stage.  I tried playing them for Kathy on the way home, and while it was pleasant enough, they sounded much better live.  

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong -- a Phishish band recommended by someone I met at the Fest, they had a good funky bass line and were tons of fun.  

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite -- they put out one of my favorite albums of 2013, and didn't disappoint live.  Ended the pre-encore set with a great version of "When the Levee Breaks."

Carolina Chocolate Drops -- the last set I got to see, in all its Appalachian roots glory. I saw it with Hannah at the main stage, and got her to dance with me after promising that a pizza lunch would follow. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Drive-By Truckers and Blitzen Trapper

Despite my use of earplugs, my ears are still ringing from a great Drive-By Truckers show.  I wasn't even going to see them on their trip through town.  I had seen them, and I wasn't sure I could afford to go.  Saturday night's show sold out, but for whatever reason last night's did not, so when I decided that I could swing it, I went right up and bought a ticket before the doors opened. 

I settled into the second row of people in front of the stage and began waiting.  It wasn't too long before someone struck up a conversation, having recognized me from last summer's Floydfest.  It's funny how that works out sometimes, and we ended up hanging out for the rest of the evening.  With the set running to about 12:30, he even gave me a ride home, which was right on his way. 

The opening act was Blitzen Trapper, a band I'd been meaning to see for a few years but circumstances had until that point prevented me.  They turned in a solid hour-long set that had a surprising number of extended versions and jams.  They opened with "Fletcher" and played songs mostly from the last two albums.  A couple of classics worked their way in too, "Wild Mountain Nation," "Texaco," and (thankfully) "Black River Killer."  On the third take they cranked out a great version of "Street Fighting Son," and they closed with a solid cover of "Good Times, Bad Times."


As for the main course, it was my third DBTs show, and easily my best.  It's funny how memories come back, but only once they started playing did I remember that I didn't especially enjoy the previous two shows.  The first one was shortly after Shonna Tucker had left the band, and while the replacement bassist was competent, the band didn't sound tight -- it was still adjusting to the change.  The second time was at Floydfest 2012, and I wasn't able to get into the performance.  That's not to say it was the band's fault -- I was on the side in bleachers late in the afternoon of a sunny day, my then 5- and 2-year olds were hot, bored, and tired, and due to their presence I was cringing every time Patterson Hood cussed (a frequent occurrence).  Having had those experiences, I guess it was no wonder that I hadn't been as eager to see them this time as I should have been.

The set had a lot of the new album, "English Oceans," and was bookended by two of its tracks, "Made Up English Oceans" and "Grand Canyon."  In between was a whole host of classics, including "Tornadoes," "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," "Let There Be Rock," and a cover of Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long."  I chuckled at what I considered to be more than coincidence when the first track from the new album, "Shit Shot Counts," was followed by "Buttholeville."  The band was rocking and raucous, and played a near 3-hour set that lasted into the next morning, briefly taking time out just past midnight for the audience to sing Happy Birthday to Patterson Hood, a welcome to his 50s.  While we were singing, I just kept thinking how odd it was for him to be giving us such a wonderful present when it was his birthday.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Year's Best Music - 2013

Another year containing a paucity of posts, but have no fear -- I would never skip out on the highly anticipated publication of my favorite music of the year.  Compiling this list was possibly the hardest it's ever been due to the fact that this year there was an excess of excellent albums.  I was fortunate to see 9 of these artists in concert this year, and I have tickets to see two more of them in January.

In addition to my Top 25 albums, I have compiled a spotify playlist that includes a track from each of my top albums, together with some of my favorite songs of the year (limit one per artist).  That playlist can be found here.

25.
The Moondoggies -- Adios I'm a Ghost

24.
Ivan & Alyosha -- All The Times We Had

23.
The Head And The Heart -- Let's Be Still

22.
Typhoon -- White Lighter

21.
Mazzy Star - Seasons of Your Day

20.
Laura Marling -- Once I Was An Eagle

19.
The Lone Bellow -- The Lone Bellow

18.
Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside -- Untamed Beast

17.
T. Hardy Morris -- Audition Tapes

16.
The National -- Trouble Will Find Me

15.
Trixie Whitley -- Fourth Corner

14.
Kopecky Family Band -- Kids Raising Kids

13.
Frank Turner -- Tape Deck Heart

12.
Jake Bugg -- Jake Bugg

11.
Neko Case -- The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight,
The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

10.
Charles Bradley -- Victim of Love

9.
Iron & Wine -- Ghost on Ghost

8.
Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite -- Get Up!

7.
Frightened Rabbit -- Pedestrian Verse

6.
Kurt Vile -- Wakin On A Pretty Daze

5.
Low -- The Invisible Way

4.
Yo La Tengo -- Fade

3.
Kingsley Flood -- Battles

2.
Jason Isbell -- Southeastern

1.
Phosphorescent -- Muchacho


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Epic Summer Update -- Floydfest

Unfortunately we weren't able to ride out the weather and enjoy the last two days of Floydfest.  We woke up yesterday morning to a leaky tent and a forecast of rain for at least the next 24 hours.  Given that the girls would be cold and miserable, and we decided the best course was to head home and dry out for 36 hours before resuming our road trip (next stop:  Lancaster, PA).

I most hated to miss Michael Kiwanuka, Blitzen Trapper, Trampled by Turtles, and Ben Sollee (I only caught about 10 minutes of one of Sollee's sets and was planning to catch a full set later), but there definitely were some highlights in those first couple of days.  The back-to-back of Spirit Family Radio and Langhorne Slim & The Law to kick off the festival Thursday afternoon was awesome -- I was right at the front for those.  After dinner, Emelia joined me for an evening just the two of us.  First up was the Gogol Bordello set -- it was wonderfully frenetic, and Emelia had a great time with it -- dancing for part of the time and bouncing on my shoulders a little left her delighted.  Not surprisingly, her favorite tune was "Stop Wearing Purple."  We next went to the hula hoop place and hung out there a little bit -- the proprietress had befriended Emelia last year, and Emelia loved seeing her again (and again) this year.  We then walked around some, taking in the strange (to her) sights that start coming out in the evening -- last year Emelia was generally in bed by dark, so she delighted in seeing the funkier side of FF.

On Friday, I took in both sets of Jason Isbell, fully enjoying both performances.  The first was on the porch stage, a very small and intimate setting -- I got there early and was able to sit in the third row for it.  It was just Isbell, and he played a number of quieter tunes, and finished with a lovely cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho & Lefty."  For the second one, on the main stage, I moved up to the front, and ran into my Turntable friend Lua -- I had first met her in person at last year's festival.  It was great seeing her again, and we both took in a fantastic full-band set from Isbell.  Lua had been expecting just to take in part of the show, but was wowed by Isbell, whom she didn't know especially well before the set.  It didn't hurt that accompanying Isbell was a musician that she knew and who was filling in (or just now joining the band, something Isbell indicated when Lua asked him during the merchandise signing after the show) as the second guitar.

All-in-all, a shorter and less wonderful event than I would have wanted, but I/we still had a great time while we were there.

Emelia's Hoop Tower

Love is all you need

All dressed up at the Children's Universe

Getting feathers in her hair (as of this moment, they're still around)

The family during a more contemplative moment