Best of 2015: Albums

BEST OF

Love and disappointment and success and miscalculations and friendship and the beach sand that gets stuck in the cuff of your raw selvedge denim. 2015 was both a reasonable year and totally insanely bonkers. Plus, I chose some albums that probably land me firmly in the adult contemporary-demo. Still, here’s my list …

10. Leon Bridges – Coming Home (Columbia)
9. Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
8. El-Vy – Return To The Moon (4AD)
7. Playdough – We Buy Gold
6. Ryan Adams – 1989 (Pax-AM)
5. Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves (Dualtone)
4. Twin Shadow – Eclipse (Warner)
3. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect (Island)
2. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down (Matador)
1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

Honorable mentions: Wilco – Star Wars, Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves, CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye, Eels – Royal Albert Hall, Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, Passion Pit – Kindred, Purity Ring – Another Eternity, John Foreman – The Wonderlands,

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Best of 2014: New Artist – Operators

Best Of (3)
I saw Operators twice this year, once at The Star Palace Ballroom supporting Future Islands and the other time at Harlow’s in Sacramento. Both shows were fantastic displays of electronic pop, the first one was attended by roughly 500 people; at the second I counted exactly 20. It certainly wasn’t the band’s fault that hardly anyone came out on a Monday night to a great venue with excellent sound and lighting. Operators have spent the year generating a substantial buzz, choosing to play live before releasing any music and not hesitating to play new material not on EP1, a five-song introduction released this summer.

Dan Boeckner (formerly of Wolf Parade, Divine Fits and Handsome Furs), Macedonian electro artist Devojka and drummer Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks and Divine Fits) weave together hypnotic, groove-oriented songs without the help of pre-recorded tracks or computers.
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This allows for a great deal of flexibility, improvisation and connection between band and audience. In a post-show chat, Devojka revealed that drummer Brown only relies on a flashing red light to stay in time and that she operates the midi controller with a global tempo. In a time when electro pop is mostly predictable and often-overblown, Operators are one of the few acts capable of actually jamming like a band from the pages of Kerouac or Ginsberg. It’s the very limits they place on themselves that yield the most captivating results.

Devojka also mentioned that the band enjoys playing shows in places like Sacramento and Fresno, having originated in cities like Columbus, OH; Milpitas, CA; and the Eastern European country of Macedonia that don’t always get the cool-kid shows. Whether playing to packed and deliriously dancing Star Palace or hosting an impromptu meet-and-greet between songs at Harlow’s, Operators seem equally at home, confident in the beauty of simplicity and the transformational power of melodic hooks. “Cold Light,” featured below in two performances, is one of my favorite songs of the year and it won’t see a proper release until next month.

Best of 2014: Obscure Song/Video – Josh Hedlund

Best Of (3)

 

Portland Troubadour Josh Hedlund’s “Saving Grace” is a hushed, majestic lullaby for wanderers and homebodies and pretty much anyone who’s ever felt like strip malls and tract housing aren’t going to solve an existential crisis. This version, via Youtube, was posted about a week ago and has a total of 4 plays. 3 of them from me. Enjoy the best song, you’ve never heard, released in 2014 but written years ago and recorded in an RV next to an audibly sleeping 5-year-old boy.

 

Vote! Crashdog, Squad Five*O

Election season always brings out the emotions. Whether you are a religious person or religious-about-being-non-religious person, chances are you have a developing worldview that informs how you understand candidates, political parties and issues. Vote your conscience, they say, but that can be a simplistic, reductionist approach at times.

It’s a potential minefield out there but that doesn’t stop musicians, songwriters and bloggers from trying to figure it out. Here are a couple of leftfield takes on faith, consumerism and nationalism that I find helpful. Helpful but hardly prescriptive.

Sinking in the cold like a falling star
Looking in to where you are
Trying hard to keep it all together
Isolated I’m the modern leper
Drop your eyes at the sight of me
Cuz I’ve been labeled H.I.V
All you wanna know is “How did he get it?”
Justify it, then forget it
Do you really think you’re any better?
Cuz your blood don’t bear three scarlet letters
When we meet again it’ll be in heaven
I hope the shock won’t be too sudden

My God doesn’t hand out disease as a punishment
My God doesn’t look with joy on your torment
My God doesn’t draw back His hand from any child
My God lives to touch and heal and reconcile

Here you come with a gun in your hand
Gonna stop abortion at your command
Could you really see Jesus pull that trigger?
What makes you tick? How do you figure that?
Your murder is some holy thing?
A misguided killer the same as them
Some fight this fire, you fan the flame
Thanks to the press we bear your shame
A full circle we’re almost there
Another death, you’ll get the chair
We’ve always refused to understand
Revenge does not belong to any man

My God doesn’t call His people to judge and kill
My God doesn’t need your guns to bring His will
My God doesn’t upon some doctor’s grave
My God screams, “Vengeance is mine I will repay”

In the corner looking right at her
She’s just an object in your world
Your greed exists, so do your intentions
But her interest is you own invention
Woman aren’t yours to dominate
We’re equal halves of something great
Male and female He created
Eternally linked and integrated

My God doesn’t hold man over woman
My God’s image lives and breathes in every human
My God doesn’t hold man over woman
My God’s image lives and breathes in every human

Bad Check: Songs About Money

I’ve had several reasonably interesting minor epiphanies lately. One of which is the often-overlooked fact that there are as many great songs written about money troubles as there are about break-ups.

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The struggle of the working musician, the impoverished-by-choice troubador is one of the first casualties of rock n’ roll-stardom. Though Adam Duritz wrote (though only on the first Counting Crows record) “When everybody loves you, that’s just about as f-up as you can be.” I would argue that he is probably not worried about bouncing a check, or running out of gas station burritos.

Wrote a bad check to the government. Wrote a bad check to my parents. Wrote a bad check to this cello player. She didn’t know it at the time ’cause I’m singing it later.

Michael Knott’s music career is a Homeric poem of possibilities, dashed-hopes and absurd slice-of-life observations.

Check the genius imagery of the chorus:

Sometimes I wish those shiny red lights on cop cars
were just big bright cherries
I wanna bowl
I wanna knock down some pins

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Help Mike avoid writing any bad checks, pick up his music on Bandcamp. Also check out the ultimate Knott resource at KnottHeads.com

JMM – The Borderland Sessions pre-order

John Mark McMillan is set to release an alternate version of his excellent Borderland. Featuring guest appearances from Ray Dalton (of Macklemore/Ryan Lewis fame) and Needtobreathe vocalist Bear Rinehart among others, The Borderland Sessions is not a b-sides/outtakes collection but rather a complete work in it’s own right.

You can preorder The Borderland Sessions on iTunes for only $7.99 and get an immediate download of “Monsters Talk” (Feat. Bear Rinehart). It also includes full commentary from McMillan, sharing his thoughts and stories behind each song. The Borderland Sessions LP officially drops on Sept. 30.

To hear more from Ray, visit http://raydalton.com.