Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

2015 Year End Picks

December 28, 2015



Haven’t posted in awhile, but still been listening to a bunch of albums this year.  Here’s some of my favorites from this year.  Quite a few have been on best of lists I’ve looked at, but there’s a few that I liked that I haven’t noticed on these lists so I focused on those.  I’ll split it up by genre.


Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.  Brittany Howard has got one of the best voices in rock today and her and the band cover a lot of ground in this album, with no missteps across the 12 tracks.  My two favorite tracks are Gimme All Your Love, a screaming stomp of a song, and Miss You, an almost folk-y ballad.

Budos Band – Burnt Offering.  While the Budos Band has produced several great soul instrumental albums, this year they decided to take a chance and make a “rock” record.  It’s not as far a stretch as you’d think.  A groove is a groove, whether it’s R&B or metal and Budos Band can groove.  The Sticks is my favorite song and the whole album is decidedly rocking.

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon.  One of those bands I’d always heard and read about, but just never spent the time to focus on, I happened onto their new release and decided to give it a spin.   I immediately went from this record to their earlier recordings, which I think is a testament to this record, which was their first in 6 years.  Living Zoo is a good representative of the album and the band’s sound in general, lots of guitars and Doug Bartsch’s off-beat, nasally lyrics.

Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home.  The all-female band from Seattle put out the rock album I listened to the most this year.  I think it reminded me of another band I loved in 2014, Parquet Courts.  They don’t quite get the same pace as Parquet Courts, but they bring a ton of attitude, great guitar work and clever lyrics.  Standouts are opener Drone, Why Not (which actually is a fast tempo number) and Joke.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager.  Lewis has a golden voice and I’m not sure I could dislike an album by her.  This year’s release was another fun, rollicking album with Lewis belting out numbers like the title track and my favorite from the album, Just One of The Guys.

Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun. I’d call this brooding psychedelia.  With its chugging riffs that sprawl over the entire record, their third full length seems like it would be the perfect record to soundtrack a nighttime desert drive down the freeway.  The trippily-titled Free The Skull is my favorite.

Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last.  Another band that sometimes gets the psychedelia label, a lot of reverb, garage rock riffs, and John Dwyer’s yips and yowls.  While they usually have songs that are tight and concise, my two favorite tunes from this album are the two longest tracks, Web and Sticky Hulks.

It was a good year for rock.  There were a lot of other good rock releases that are all over the year end lists that are definitely worth a listen: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit; La Luz, Weirdo Shrine; My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall; Sleater Kinney, No Cities For Love; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Tame Impala, Currents.

Folk and Country

Calexico – Edge of the Sun. Another band that I’ve dabbled in a few songs here and there, but with this year’s album, I went straight to their back catalog after listening to this album. Toeing the line between folk and rock, I’m a big fan of singer Joey Burns’ voice and they flex in some new directions with the great Cumbia de Donde, which follows the other standout track Tapping on the Line, which has an assist from Neko Case.

Joanna Newsom – Divers. Just listened to this after getting it on vinyl as a present for my wife. Beautiful arrangements and Newsom’s voice, which can be a love-it or hate-it proposition, works well with these arrangements.  Kudos too for a well-presented vinyl package, with individual posters of beautiful nature scenes and lyrics for each song.

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material.  A polished country album that still reminds me more of “classic” country-pop than today’s versions.  Musgrave’s is the country version of Courtney Barnett with her sly, witty, conversational lyrics.  The title track, Biscuits, and Family is Family are all really good tracks.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell.  Abandoning the bleeps and bloops of Age of Adz, Sufjan returns to his folk roots with lean guitar providing the backdrop for some of his most beautiful and personal songs.  I saw him perform twice this year, and he beefed up the songs for the road with long, guitar-distorted extensions of those spare arrangements that worked surprisingly well.  He comes on strong out of the gate with tracks 2-4 all delivering a strong emotional punch.

Widowspeak – All Yours. An entirely different album than I was expecting, the fiery guitar band that I saw at SXSW two years ago is replaced with a softer, gentler version.  The guitars are more subdued and the lyrics more at the forefront.  Singer Molly Hamilton’s lush voice works well with that softer approach and it reminded me of Mazzy Star’s 90s output.  Stoned and Coke Bottle Green were my favorites.


Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer.  Reining a little of the chirpy vocals of some of his earlier releases, but keeping his ability to create madcap beats, this album bounces and bobs its way through 8 tracks.  A master of the slow build, Sheathed Wings and When I Was Done Dying, will certainly have you dancing.  And if you have a chance to see him live, do it.

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense.  Remarkably consistent, Hot Chip put out another album this year full of pleasant, slightly funky, and always dance-y songs.  Opener Huarache Lights and the electro-funk of Easy to Get are representative of what this album has to offer.

Jamie XX – In Colour.  Taking a break from his more relaxed work with XX, this solo album showcases a more upbeat side of Jamie Smith.  Like Disclosure’s album last year, this is a great electronic album from beginning to end, a cohesive work that is meant to be listened to as a whole.  Obvs, the back-to-back duo of Hold Tight and Loud Places, and back ender The Rest is Noise are all great tracks.

Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf.  A surprising free release earlier in the year, this is probably the album I played the  most this year.  I think the reasons are: 1) the variety of musical styles on display from jazz, hip hop, and R&B and 2) it’s just a fun album.  Great to throw on in the car or when friends are over. The fact that my two favorite tracks land in the second half of the album, Familiar and Something Came to Me, is testament to the strength of the whole album.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic.  No album all year had a more spot-on title.  This ambitious jazz album, from the saxophonist who was also responsible for a lot of arrangements on the next album I’ll talk about, sprawls over three sides with 8 songs clocking in at over 10 minutes long.  It’s an immersive album that didn’t lose my interest even on those longer songs.  Several of the songs have lyrics and Malcolm’s Theme includes an excerpt from Malcolm X speech that is probably more topical than Kamasi imagined given recent events.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly.  Ranked at or near the top of most year end lists, hip hop’s reigning king followed up his critically acclaimed Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City with a angrier and more determined album.  King Kunta and The Blacker the Berry are raw, confident political statements with Lamar not mincing any words.  Throw in a super-strong opener, Wesley’s Theory, and the 12 minute long closer Mortal Man, and you have a new entry into the canon of classic hip hop albums.

Leon Bridges – Coming Home. Bridges is a 50s/60s soul and R&B throwback and his debut album sounds like it comes from a different time.  Songs like Brown Skin Girl could have been done by Otis Redding and the album-ending ballad The River is a beautiful number.  Hope that he can continue in the same vein as other similar throwback acts like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley.

Miguel – Wildheart.  My personal favorite album of the year.  Miguel is the heir-apparent to Prince as the man who exudes sex in his music.  Start with the cover and move to songs like The Valley and FLESH and you’ll see what I mean.  The man can also belt out a ballad, see Coffee for an example.  Great beats abound as well, I can’t get enough of Hollywood Dreams.  And he even throws in an outsider anthem in What’s Normal Anyway for good measure.

Shamir – Ratchet. Released earlier in the year, I think people slept on this one a little in the year-end lists.  After the slow build of opener Vegas, Shamir hits three homers in a row with Make A Scene, On the Regular and Call It Off.  His unique delivery, reminiscent of Missy Elliott’s ability to latch onto a beat, is suited to the disco and house beats that recall electronic acts like YACHT, Basement Jaxx, and Hot Chip.  Closer Head In the Clouds is a positive anthem that appropriately soars up and out to the end of the album.

Getting Back at It

June 3, 2013

Been quite a while since I posted anything, had a little thing called a wedding/honeymoon keep me occupied for the past month or so, and then getting back into the swing of things after our return.  We debuted the first single from Daft Punk’s new album (thanks Ken!) the day after it was released on the dancefloor at our wedding.  My gut reaction when it first came on was, well this is no Homework, but it quickly turned me to its side.  Having listened to the whole album now a couple times over the past two weeks, I’ll admit this is better than Homework, or Discovery, or anything they’ve done as an album.  For a good review of the album, check out my friend Meadow Muffins’ review.  On our honeymoon, we got to take in a night of live jazz at the Copenhagen Jazz House, which was a great experience.  Made me want to delve into jazz more deeply.  I recently found the Blue Note app on Spotify and have been randomly listening to some albums from different eras of the legendary label.

I have a lot of stuff to get to.  Lots of reviews still left over from SXSW.  I’ll have more concerts to review as well, going to see Bjork Wednesday at the Hollywood Palladium, and have tickets to see two faves from SXSW, Alt-J and Local Natives later this summer.

One other quick note about an album that came out of nowhere for me was Tricky’s new one, False Idols.  I didn’t even know he had something coming out, his output in recent years has been shoddy, in my opinion, at not up to the classic sounds he was creating in the early 90s as one of the “stars” of trip-hop coming out of England.  This album is a return to that form.  He’s found a new stable of female singers to accompany his growling voice.  Here’s a video for Does It, love the bass line running through this track:

Book Review

July 14, 2012

I recently finished reading Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire.  I picked it up at the library for some entertainment on a cross-country flight, I vaguely recognized his name (probably from the contributions he’s made to Rolling Stone and Spin) and the subject.  The book chronicles five years, 1973-1977, of the music scene in New York City.

Hermes was a teenager during those years living in NYC and he does a fine job of weaving his own personal experience into the narrative of the music scene as a budding music fan himself as well as, well, a teenager.  Only a teenager would find it entertaining to go stand in line for a club, in this case Studio 54, that he knows he has no chance to get into, just to experience the spectacle (and probably to mercilessly ridicule those around him, if i know teenagers at all).  SPOILER ALERT: He didn’t get in.

From the title of the book (referencing a Talking Heads tune) and some of the caricatures prominent on the book cover, Hermes’ affinity for rock/punk/new wave shines through.  Lots of pages are devoted to CBGB and other clubs that allowed acts like the New York Dolls, Television, Suicide, and the Talking Heads to hone their craft and their antics, on and off stage.

But, I learned a lot about other musical scenes through this book and its obvious Hermes has studied all of them:  hip-hop (the very, very early days), latin music, loft jazz, experimental composers, folk, and DJ/club culture including disco.  For this reason alone, this book is a great resource.  Especially with latin music coverage, I got a lot of context for music I’ve been discovering through blogs like Soul Sides.

Additionally, Hermes does a great job of relating how the City itself was influencing the music.  The City is treated as another character in the drama, and when it’s not doing good, which is often during the 70s, there’s a palpable effect on some of the players in the bands being discussed in the book.

As a fan of history and music, this was a home run of a book to me.  I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in either.  Hermes also has a blog he’s put up that adds even more depth to some of the stories in the book.

Leave you with a clip of Patti Smith peforming at the Bottom Line (one of the clubs that gets a fair amount of coverage in the book), who along with Bruce Springsteen, are cast in the book as the new king and queen of a new brand of rocker, with lyrical sensibilities of folk heros like Bob Dylan, a relentless drive to make music, and the energy of rock heroes of yore (like the Who) cranked up a few notches: