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.