01 January 2014

2013: Favorite Albums of the Year

Year in, year out, more great music to digest than there are minutes to listen to it. Just ran out of time, so maybe some stuff in the queue that wouldn't made the list, but in the end I listened to (and rated) over 500 albums. So much of it worthy of your attention. I did my best to plug the best of it over the course of 2013 and hopefully you made some great new discoveries like I did.

Here are my favorites, I don't believe there's any such thing as a "best album" any more than there's a best color, so your mileage may vary.

As in past years, I'm clumping these together and cheating a bit. I'll try to drum up a playlist of these albums shortly.

My top 10 albums (in alphabetical order):

Causa Sui -- Europie Tide
From Denmark, Causa Sui were one of my favorite discoveries of 2013. This is triple-A instrumental music. As I said in my JamBase column: glorious, intelligent, intense, beautiful, rocking… this is, indeed, the good shit.

Dawn of Midi -- Dysnomia
My tag on this one was "the year's most intriguing album." It takes something special to take the "generic" piano-bass-drum jazz trio and totally reinvent it. That's why I love The Bad Plus so much. These guys do that. This is what's next.

Follakzoid -- II/The Holydrug Couple -- Noctuary
Maybe it's unfair for me to lump these two awesome psych-rock albums together, but they'll always be paired together as the "Chilean Invasion" in my mind, especially after checking them out on a double bill. In fact, the music is quite divergent, but both worth the brain cells you'll burn listening to them. 

Eleanor Friedberger -- Personal Record
As a big Fiery Furnaces fan to the end, it's been interesting to watch how the Friedberger siblings diverge as time goes on. The brother half seemed to take 95% of the weirdness with him, while the sister took 95% of the brilliant songwriting and unique grooves. Still, it's the 5% of the weird she kept in her pocket that makes this album so thrilling. This is Eleanor at her very finest, excellently penned songs, just enough of that rambling humor and great energy. 

Junip -- Junip
Junip has become one of those bands who will win me over unconditionally. The sound is so incredibly singular and addictive. It just hums and resonates with something inside you. Repeated listens are a must here. 

Portugal. The Man -- Evil Friends
Speaking of unconditional love, another year, another superlative Portugal. The Man album. I was very surprised to see not a single year-end list with this album on it, because I found it to be one of the year's most exciting. Of course, I'm biased beyond belief, as all regular followers know. The addition of Danger Mouse on production brings a modern gloss to PtM's sound which continues to evolve unabated. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra -- II
UMO went from "yeah, I like those guys" status to one of my favorites in 2013. Their live show has been elevated to do-not-miss and their sophomore album is outstanding. Their mix of psych, prog and flat-out rocking combined with one great song after another has me thinking these guys are on their way to something big. The bonus disc on the deluxe edition with acoustic versions and covers is a must-hear companion to the album proper.

Kurt Vile -- Walkin On A Pretty Daze
Probably no album summed up my listening circa 2013 quite like Kurt Vile's epic Pretty Daze album. Long, hypnotic, psychedelic guitar jams that don't feel long or psychedelic; Vile's quiet vocal presence drawing you in; and top-to-bottom monster songwriting. My favorite album of 2013.

Dustin Wong -- Mediation of Ecstatic Energy
This is a serious golden age of instrumental guitar music and I, personally, welcome our loop-happy overlords. At the top of the heap, for me, is Dustin Wong. This album is just one gorgeous, layered postmodern work of art after another. I just want to plug my brain into this album and download it straight to the center.

Yo La Tengo -- Fade
Almost 30 years into their career, YLT comes out with an album of such stunning and engaging beauty. How lucky can we get? This album is a masterpiece of subtle, patented indie rock, not a track to be skipped or overlooked. Don't miss the deluxe version which has everything you could ever want in bonus material: live versions, instrumental versions, weird covers and studio outtakes.

Honorable mention (rest of my top 50 -- in alphabetical order)

Sam Amidon -- Bright Sunny South
Beaches -- She Beats
Devendra Banhart -- Mala
Besnard Lakes -- Until In Excess...
The Blank Tapes -- Vacation
Blitzen Trapper -- VII
Bombino -- Nomad
Matt Costa -- Matt Costa
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside -- Untamed Beast
Foxygen -- We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Frontier Ruckus -- Eternity Of Dimming
The Growlers -- Hung At Heart
Iron & Wine -- Ghost On Ghost
Jacco Gardner -- Cabinet of Curiosities
Jim James -- Regions of Light and Sounds of God
Glenn Jones -- My Garden State
Kiki Pau -- Pines
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper -- Ripely Pine
Lumerians -- The High Frontier
The Milk Carton Kids -- The Ash & Clay
Juana Molina -- Wed 21
Neils Children -- Dimly Lit
Parquet Courts -- Light Up Gold
Phosphorescent -- Muchacho
Pond -- Hobo Rocket
Rose Windows -- The Sun Dogs
Schnauser -- Where Business Meets Pleasure
Superhuman Happiness -- Hands
Otis Taylor -- My Time is Gone
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down -- We the Common
Chris Thile -- Bach: Sonatas & Partitas Vol 1.
William Tyler -- Impossible Truth
J. Roddy Walston & the Business -- Essential Tremors
White Denim -- Corsicana Lemonade
Widowspeak -- Almanac

...and rounding out my top 100 or so (in alphabetical order):
1939 Ensemble -- Howl & Bite
Akron/Family -- Sub Verses
Courtney Barnett -- The Double EP
Beaulieu Porch -- We Are Beautiful
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers -- s/t
Brass Bed -- The Secret Will Keep You
Brendan Canning -- You Gots 2 Chill
Barton Carroll -- Avery County, I’m Bound For You
Neko Case -- The Worse Things Get…
Mikal Cronin -- MCII
Date Palms -- The Dusted Sessions
Daft Punk -- Random Access Memories
Dr Dog -- B-Room
Ducktails -- The Flower Lane
Dylan Ryan Sand -- Sky Bleached
Eels -- Wonderful, Glorious
Elephant Stone -- Elephant Stone
Endless Boogie -- Long Island
The Entrance Band -- Face the Sun
Steve Gunn -- Time Off
Brian Haas/Matt Chamberlain -- Frames
Hookworms -- Pearly Mystic
Hurray For the Riff Raff -- My Dearest Darkest Neighbor
Jagwar Ma -- Howlin
Sarah Jarosz -- Build Me Up From Bones
Jenny O -- Automechanic
Valerie June -- Pushin’ Against A Stone
Kingsley Flood -- Battles 
Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle -- Perils From The Sea
Black Joe Lewis -- Electric Slave
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell -- Love Has Come For You
Mazzy Star -- Seasons Of Your Day
Cass McCombs -- Big Wheel and Others
The Men -- New Moon
Midlake -- Antiphon
Anais Mitchell/Jefferson Hamer -- Child Ballads
Janelle Monae -- The Electric Lady
Mountains -- Centralia
Kacey Musgraves -- Same Trailer Different Park
Bassekou Kouyate/Ngoni Ba -- Jama Ko
Of Montreal -- Lousy With Sylvianbriar
Oh Land -- Wish Bone
Plankton Wat -- Drifter’s Temple
Josh Rouse -- The Happiness Waltz
Marnie Stern -- The Chronicles of Marnia
Christopher Paul Stelling -- False Cities
Andrew Stockdale -- Keep Moving
Suuns -- Images Du Futur
Craig Taborn Trio -- Chants
Joseph Tawadros -- Chameleons of the White Shadow
Thee Oh Sees -- Floating Coffin
John Vanderslice -- Dagger Beach
Washed Out -- Paracosm
Jonathan Wilson -- Fanfare
Yellowbirds -- Songs from the Vanished Frontier
Youth Lagoon -- Wondrous Bughouse


31 December 2013

2013: Favorite Shows of the Year

In my decades of seeing live music, no calendar year matches the quality and quantity of shows I saw in 2013. I think the correct term for the amount of music I saw is "shit ton" and nearly every one of them was fantastic.

The stats:
144 different bands seen (74 for the first time)
113 shows total (after tonight's NYE show)
97 nights out
46 different venues (in 11 different cities, 2 different countries)

Here were my favorite 10+ shows in 2013:

1.a Phish (various nights and locations)
21 years of Phish and in 2013 they blew me away more than ever. This band is operating at an incredibly high level right now. Saw them 9 times this year and all were consistently great if not better than great (well, excluding that lackluster rainy first set we endured at Jones Beach before leaving). If I had to choose, 11/1 and 12/29 were my favorites, but every night had something to love... and one more show before the calendar turns! 

1.b Joe Russo's Almost Dead, 1/26 Brooklyn Bowl + 12/27 Capitol Theater//The Bustle Quartet 8/31 Brooklyn Bowl
Almost as much as I loved Phish this year, I f'in loved seeing Joe Russo (@neddyo fave artists of the year), Scott Metzger, Dave Dreiwitz, Tom Hamilton and Marco Benevento own the Grateful Dead this year as JRAD. The Freaks Ball in January was easily my favorite of them all between the mind-blowing music, who was on stage making it and who was around me on the floor. Amazingly, the Cap show (reviewed here) was nearly quite as good. Perfect bookends to a perfect year of live music. The Bustle-plays-other-shit show right before Labor Day was kind of a sneaky little gem. There weren't a ton of people there, but those in attendance got their brains rearranged when Russo stormed the quartet through a set of Sabbath like few can. The second set was a goldmine of jams that can best be described as "sick!" If you haven't heard the Beatles>Michael Jackson>Allmans>Grateful Dead stretch, please do yourself a favor. One of my favorite things. My review

2. Portugal. The Man, 5/20 Irving Plaza + 9/27 Terminal 5
Hey, I love these guys! They killed it both times, elevating their live show and the production. The new songs/album is amazing. Seeing them play in a hotel lobby on 9/27 was pretty special as well. May every year have opportunities to see PtM. Terminal 5 review here.

3. Masada Marathon, 9/15, Skirball Center
John Zorn turned 60 this year and although I only caught one of his celebration shows, I made it count. Over the course of this long night I saw the most beautiful, the loudest, the quietest, the most awe-inspiring and, honestly, the best music you could ever imagine.Over 12 bands playing at the highest level possible.

4. The Bad Plus, 1/3, Village Vanguard (early/late)
Sensing a theme here? Another one of my favorite groups at the top of their game. I saw TBP a couple times this year, but this one stands out. I have an annual tradition of seeing these guys as my first show of the year -- a great way to clear the slate and get things started right. Looking forward to the next one.

5. Goat, 4/23, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Goat's album "World Music" was a late-year discovery for me in 2012, so I jumped at the chance to see them when they were in town. Their live show was an intense psychedelic masterpiece, a non-stop onslaught of brain-trip music. This was one of those shows that made you go "whoa!" My review

6. Yo La Tengo, 2/16 Town Hall + 12/15 The Bell House
Another band I caught multiple times at opposite ends of the calendar was Yo La Tengo who were out and about touting their new album. The shows were a split affair, one set nominally acoustic, the other electric. I prefer to call them the "quiet set" and the "loud set." The amazing thing is how expert these live vets are at doing both. The quiet sets were as perfect and gorgeous as you could imagine and the second sets were bombastic, jammed-out shredders. With a full year of touring between the shows, the December gig was definitely the better of the two, but they were both awesome.

7. Jim James, 2/19, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Before Jim James went out touring his solo album proper, he made a special appearance at the MHOW, and special it was. I don't know what it was, but something in the air this night really brought out some deep dark energy from James and his band and the crowd there to see them. The set proper was excellent and exploratory, but the encore of My Morning Jacket songs pushed the night over the top. When James returned in April, the show was plenty good, but nothing like this one. My review

8. Follakzoid & Holydrug Couple, 3/21, Mercury Lounge
Did you know that two of the sweetest psych-rock bands on the planet are from Chile? This double bill packed a double wallop of psychedelica with long, drony jams and a sweet old school liquid light show. The Merc is my favorite room in the city and this show was perfectly fit for the room. My review.

9. Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, 4/9, Bowery Ballroom
It's not obvious that pairing together two top-flight musical geniuses is going to produce something worth listening to, but in this case... wow! Next level two-man interplay and improvisation on mandolin and piano. I think my IQ went up about 10 points during this set, but supremely beautiful and moving all the same. My review.

10. The Heartless Bastards, 7/10, Music Hall of Williamsburg
One of my favorite rock and roll bands just rocked and f'in rolled in Brooklyn this night. Just a perfect hair-raising set of music. I also note this show as one of my favorite pre-show meal/show pairings, as The Big Squeeze and I dined at Delaney's Briskettown beforehand. A scrumptious night all around.

Honorable Mention:
6/11 Marc Ribot/Nels Cline/Bill Frisell @ Le Poisson Rouge
1/20 Umphrey's McGee @ Brooklyn Bowl
7/26 My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Bob Dylan @ Pier A, Hoboken
10/16 White Denim et al @ Mercury Lounge + 9/10 @ Bowery Ballroom + 6/22 Brooklyn Bowl (Houndmouth opening)
7/22 Phil Lesh & Friends @ Capitol Theater, Port Chester
12/14 Anders Osborne @ Brooklyn Bowl
6/13 Junip @ Highline Ballroom
9/23 Chris Thile solo @ Rockwood Music Hall 2
11/17 Widespread Panic @ Theater at MSG
10/12 My Morning Jacket in Times Square
11/15 Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors @ 55 Bar
2/28 Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Foxygen @ Bowery Ballrom; 10/11 UMO @ MHOW
5/8 Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers @ Village Vanguard
1/23 Trey Anastasio @ Capitol Theater, Port Chester
9/11 Mountains, Date Palms, Plankton Wat @ Union Pool
3/7 Django Django @ MHOW
4/27 Oneida @ Mercury Lounge
5/13 Matthew E. White @ Bowery Ballroom
5/19 Milk Carton Kids @ Bowery Ballroom
9/3 Dawn of Midi @ Le Poisson Rouge

30 December 2013

2013: Favorite Artist of the Year

Continuing through my year-end shenanigans, I'm continuing the fun-for-me tradition of the past few years and awarding an artist or band the "of the year" honors. Typically this goes to a musical act that's captured my attention over the course of the year more than any other (emphasis on my, your opinion my vary).

Past winners:
2000's decade run-down
2008 = Apollo Sunshine
2009 = Portugal. The Man
2010 = Jim James
2011 = Medeski, Martin & Wood
2012 = Tame Impala/Kevin Parker

Again, there were some good candidates. Phish consistently blew me away and cemented their bestevah status in 2013, but that'd be a boring pick. Yo La Tengo is on the list, their album Fade was one of my favorites and the really impressed the two times I saw them at the start and end of the year. My runner up is Chris Thile who I was lucky to see play multiple superlative sets in different combinations, including a special, intimate set at Rockwood Music Hall and a high-level night of improvisation in duo form with the jazz pianist Brad Mehldau (reviewed here). I'll actually be seeing Thile's "regular" band, The Punch Brothers tonight. I also strongly urge you to check out Thile's album of solo Bach sonatas. It's better than you think it is. 

But even better than Thile in 2013 was Joe Russo. I bought my Joe Russo stock very early and have been happy to watch its value rise in the ensuing 14 or 15 years. I remember seeing him play at the old Wetlands when they'd have "superjams" that would stretch deep into the night with improvisation and dozens of musicians. These were "strut your stuff" sessions, many cooks, only one pot, tough to stand out. Sir Joe stood out and I made it a point to see him as much as I could, which lead several years later to my hanging out in a mostly-empty Tap Bar while Joe played crazy duets with his where-did-this-guy-come-from school friend, Marco Benevento. From there, the story is well known, with one thing over the past decade or so staying constant: Russo standing out for his excellence regardless of the situation or musicians playing in front of him... but not standing out too much.

All this came to a head in 2013. Freaks Ball. Joe Russo's Almost Dead. Is it strange to think that Joe Russo is now the flag bearer for the Grateful Dead song book? It is to me, but doesn't make it any less true. Between his playing in Further and Phil & Friends this year and the two JRAD gigs bookending the calendar, Joe is playing and invigorating the Dead equally as much as Phil Lesh. In addition to the Dead stuff, Joe was all over the place in 2013. Personally, I only saw a tiny sample of his output this year, but it was enough to bestow. The Bustle "plays other shit" show (i.e. The Bustle Quartet) at Brooklyn Bowl featured my favorite jam of the year when the band went from the Beatles to Michael Jackson to the Allman Brothers to the Grateful Dead in awe-inspiring fashion. The rest of the show was no slouch with Joe spearheading a full-album Black Sabbath cover set to start out the night... one of my favorite concerts of the year.

That thing about "sticking out" really made an impression for me this past fall when within a month I saw Russo play drums behind Todd Sickafoose and Cass McCombs within a month of each other. (he also contributed to tracks on McCombs' excellent new album this year). These were a free-wheeling "jazz" band and an alt-folkie indie band respectively and Joe's drumming was a major force in each instance. This wasn't showy, look-at-my-drum-solo stuff, this was elevating the music and transcending the genre with talent and graciousness. There wasn't any other musician who hit so many of my sweet spots in the last 12 months, not even close... and I probably missed most of his greatest moments, I mean, there's this for one:

So, there you have it, my personal favorite artist of 2013: Joe Russo.

Shows I saw with audio and review links. (Thanks as always to the tapers!):
  • Joe Russo's Almost Dead, Freaks Ball XIII, Brooklyn Bowl, 1/26
    • audio
    • fulls show video below
  • Phil Lesh & Friends, Capitol Theater, 7/22
  • The Bustle Quartet, Brooklyn Bowl, 8/31
  • Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors, 55 Bar, 11/15
  • Cass McCombs, Bowery Ballroom, 12/13
  • Joe Russo's Almost Dead, Capitol Theater, 12/27

Joe Russo's Almost Dead:

26 December 2013

2013 Year End -- maximixes

It's been a while since I've posted anything, but going to be putting up my year-end stuff here and over at Tumblr.

First up are my year end "maxi" mixes which are always fun to do. Every year I do 4 mixes and try to come up with some theme to tie them together. Last year the theme was morning, afternoon, night and after-hours, in 2011 the theme was fall folk, winter women, psych spring, and sunburn summer.

This year's theme is local, national, international and intergalactic. I'm posting all 4 mixes at once since I'm a bit behind. Enjoy!

2013 Year End Mix #1: Local (musicians from the NYC area)

01 Charles Bradley – Strictly Reserved for You
02 Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
03 Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Regarding Ascending the Stairs
04 Marnie Stern – You Don't Turn Down
05 Eleanor Friedberger – You'll Never Know Me
06 Widowspeak – Smoke and Mirrors
07 Christopher Paul Stelling – Homesick Tributaries
08 Glenn Jones – My Garden State
09 Yellowbirds – Stop Tonight
10 The Black Hollies – Lunatic Influenza Pt Ii: Take Me as I Am
11 Akron/Family – Until the Morning
12 Parquet Courts – He's Seeing Paths
13 Ducktails – Jazz
14 Alex Bleeker & The Freaks – Don't Look Down
15 Yo La Tengo – Ohm (live)

2013 Year End Mix #2: National (music from the rest of the USA)

01 Kurt Vile (Philadelphia) – Wakin On A Pretty Day
02 White Denim (Austin) – At Night in Dreams
03 J Roddy Walston And The Business (Baltimore) – Take It As It Comes
04 Thee Oh Sees (San Francisco) – Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster
05 Portugal. The Man (Portland) – Modern Jesus
06 Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Portland) – Swim and Sleep [Like a Shark]
07 Blitzen Trapper (Portland) – Shine On
08 Rose Windows (Seattle) – Native Dreams
09 Neko Case (Chicago) – Night Still Comes
10 Valerie June (Memphis) – Wanna Be On Your Mind
11 Kingsley Flood (Boston) – Waiting On the River to Rise
12 Frontier Ruckus (Detroit) – Dealerships
13 Jonathan Wilson (Los Angeles) – Dear Friend
14 The Shouting Matches (Eau Claire) – Gallup, NM
15 The Growlers (California) – One Million Lovers

2013 Year End Mix #3: International (music from the rest of the world)

01 Juana Molina (Argentina) – Eras
02 Jagwar Ma (Australia) – Come Save Me
03 Junip (Sweden) – Line of Fire
04 Brendan Canning (Canada) – However Long
05 The Limiñanas (France) – My Black Sabbath
06 Moodoid (France) – Je sais ce que tu es
07 Bombino (Niger) – Amidinine
08 Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni ba (Mali) – Ne Me Fatigue Pas
09 Vieux Farka Touré (Mali) – Doni Doni
10 Jacco Gardner (Netherlands) – Chameleon
11 Cate le Bon (Wales) – Wild
12 Courtney Barnett (Australia) – History Eraser
13 Pond (Australia) – Giant Tortoise
14 Schnauser (England) – Pigeons
15 Neils Children (England) – The Way the Web Was Woven

2013 Year End Mix #4: Intergalactic (music to help you leave the planet)

01 Dawn of Midi – lo
02 Date Palms – Yuba Source Part I
03 Lumerians – Dogon Genesis
04 Kiki Pau – Astronauttija
05 Our Solar System – Merkurius
06 Holydrug Couple – Out of Sight
07 Causa Sui – Homage
08 Hookworms – Away / Towards
09 Plankton Wat – Toward the Golden City
10 Mountains – Circular C
11 Dustin Wong – (A) shows (B) his analysis and (C) looked over
12 Earthless – Equus October
13 Föllakzoid – 99
14 Montibus Communitas – Hanan Pacha
15 Earthling Society – The Elevator Does Not Stop at This Floor

08 March 2013

minimix: Ladies2013.1


01 D.I.Y. -- Bettie Serveert
02 Bird Balloon -- Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
03 Automechanic -- Jenny O
04 Do Me Right -- Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside
05 The Dark Age -- Widowspeak
06 We Don't Call -- Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

Neddy's 2013 faves playlist (updated monthly)
RecommNeds 2013 playlist (updated weekly)