The album I listened to the most this year is the number one album of 2014: Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness. The song that first caught my attention was “Hi Five”. After hearing it I immediately went out and bought the album. It has several great songs in styles ranging from pop rock to the very quiet, beautifully sung, intimate rumination, “Windows”, a song Pitchfork wrote off as an “indistinct closer”. I like it, so here’s the video.
The second best album of 2014 is Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else. I didn’t know about Lydia when her album Indestructible Machine came out in 2011, otherwise it would have been on my 2011 list. Anyway, here’s a live recording of the title track to this year’s album.
Number four is the third in a series of The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project titled Axels & Sockets. It’s a collective of many of my favorite musicians including Nick Cave, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, Lydia Lunch, Warren Ellis, Mick Harvey, Kid Congo Powers, Iggy Pop, Mark Stewart, Thurston Moore, Jim Sclavunos, Primal Scream, Cyprus Grove, Ruby Throat, and Andrew Weatherall. They all work together to interpret the songs of the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce. I find myself listening to it all the time. Here’s a video for “Constant Limbo”.
Number Five is Thurston Moore – The Best Day. It’s like a really great Sonic Youth album, except there’s no Kim Gordon. Here’s the title track recorded live at KEXP.
All week during KEXP’s pledge drive, they have been playing the top albums of the past 40 years as voted on by their supporters to celebrate their 40th Anniversary. The list is 650 albums long. Like me, you probably liked a lot of it, and didn’t like some of it.
You can read the whole list of 650 albums on the KEXP Top 40 of the Last 40 years here.
Here is their top 40:
The Joshua Tree
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust
Dark Side Of The Moon
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Blood On The Tracks
Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols
The Rolling Stones
Exile On Mainstreet
Prince and the Revolution
Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over The Sea
Stop Making Sense
Houses Of The Holy
Automatic For The People
Power, Corruption and Lies
The Queen Is Dead
The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi vs. The Pink Robots
Licensed To Ill
And now you may be asking yourself why this list of the top 40 goes to number 41. Well let me tell you: In my opinion, Sufjan Stevens’ album is not worthy of being on this list and R.E.M.’s Murmur is.
Sufjan bores the hell out of me.
Placement matters. Fore example, when KEXP did their top 903 albums of all time back in 2008. Sufjan placed 15th of all time, and Patti Smith placed 104th. (Anyone that tells me that Illinoise is better than Horses I immediately dismiss as a fool). So as I am glad to see that enough people have come to their senses to drop Sufjan’s album 26 places since 2008 and move Patti Smith’s Horses up 52 spots from 104th to 52nd, I still cannot accept that Illinoise is in KEXP’s top-40 list. Again I must ask who the hell are my fellow KEXP supporters and why do they like such boring music? And I won’t go too far out on a limb to predict that, in the next multi-generational poll, the fools will all have forgotten Illinoise, and Horses will prevail.
Enough of that…
What’s most interesting about these lists besides who made it to the top ten (Congratulations to Nirvana for taking the Number One spot over Radiohead, who usually places Number One in these polls, and yes I have come to appreciate Radiohead more since the last multigenerational poll [more about that here, although I prefer The Bends over OK Computer, but nevermind]) are the albums missing from the list.
Scott H. Biram – Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever
Capsula – In the Land of Silver Souls
The Duke Spirit – Cuts Across the Land
Jim White – Wrong Eyed Jesus
Nick Cave – every album except Let Love In that placed 591st.
Richard Hawley – True Love’s Gutter
Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine
Alejandro Escovedo – Gravity
Just to name a few…
I can’t blame KEXP for these omissions, because they play and promote all of the above artists who are missing, so all I’m left with is their listeners.
Wake up KEXP listeners! There are way better artists than many of the 650 listed, but you just aren’t paying attention. Maybe some of the ones I’ve pointed out are not in your wheelhouse. I get that, and I also get that expanding your horizons is why KEXP is so loved around the world.
So next time you hear Capsula, Jim White, The Duke Spirit, Scott H. (the “H” stands for “FUCK YOU”) Biram, Alejandro Escovedo, or Lydia Loveless – pay attention and expand your horizons. You might really like some of this stuff. You might even like it more than you think you like Sufjan Stevens!
Okay so I am a couple weeks late getting this list posted for several reasons, but mainly because it’s so difficult to choose which twenty of the fifty-six 2011 albums I purchased belong on the list.
The top five are the albums I’ve listened to the most during the year, and two of the top five are by groups that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve, especially in the United States.
1. Capsula – In the Land of Silver Souls. This is the album I’ve listened to probably a hundred times, and I never tire of it. Their sound is part seventies Bowie, part Stooges, part Sonic Youth, a pinch of Link Wray, and a whole lot of “it.” Martin Guevara on guitar and vocals, Coni Duchess on bass and vocals, and Ignacio Villarejo on drums take all of their influences an blend them into one of the best sounding sonic stews I’ve ever heard. Top tracks are “Wild Fascination,” “Communication,” and “Hit ‘n’ Miss.”
Now that you’ve watched that video, you’ll probably want to go buy the CD. Good luck. Right here in Seattle where’ve they’ve been in heavy rotation on KEXP and have played two shows in the past six months (The Comet and the KEXP BBQ), you can’t find their music at Sonic Boom, Easy Street Records, Silver Platters, or any other store I’ve wandered into. The album is on the BCore Disc label, which must have very poor distribution in the U.S. Amazon sometimes has it, and you can buy it from the band for $10 if you go to a show. So what I guess I am saying is go to a show, see the band, buy their music, spread the word. (I guess you pod people can download it too.)
2. P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake. When I read that P.J. was working on an album of songs she plays on an autoharp, I thought that’s gonna be pretty weird. What it is, is a masterpiece – an incredibly focused, forceful collection of passionate and sometimes angry songs about war. Here’s one of the twelve films by Seamus Murphy that are available on YouTube and on a DVD now available in the UK that hasn’t yet made it across the pond.
3. Tom Waits – Bad as Me. It’s been a long time since Tom Waits put out an album of all new songs, and it was worth the wait. Tom uses all his voices in this album. He delivers the rockers “Bad as Me” and “Satisfied” in a howling gravelly voice with a nice shout-out to Mick and Keith, and “Back in the Crowd” and “Last Leaf” in deep, slightly raspy melodious voice.
4. The Decemberists – The King is Dead. I had heard the Decemberists on the radio quite a few times, but I never paid much attention to them until this album came out. This is a pop album that the band says was influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, and R.E.M. (Peter Buck plays guitar on three songs.) Top tracks are “Calamity Song,” “Down by the Water” and “This is Why We Fight.”
Be sure and watch the video for “Calamity Song” too. It was inspired by the David Foster Walace novel, Infinite Jest.
5. The Duke Spirit – Bruiser. This album was released in Europe in September and has not yet been released in the U.S. where they don’t get near the attention they deserve. KEXP has recently started playing a couple of tracks, so maybe the band will get a little traction and release their album in the U.S. soon. Liela Moss has one of the sexiest voices in rock ‘n roll today, and the band backs her up brilliantly. Key tracks are “Don’t Wait,” and “Surrender.”
7. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. This album will grow on you. With lyrics like, “Then she left me here reeling with that time-release feeling/Like a long wisp of hunger, I swung from the ceiling” how could it not?
9. Viva Voce – The Future Will Destroy You. The album was released on the first day of summer and this guitar-heavy, retro-psychedelic-pop record instantly became the soundtrack to my summer. It’s a great one to listen to while driving through the city on the way home.
10. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi. She’s got pipes, she can play guitar, and she’s got impeccable taste. Here’s a list of her influential albums from the November 2011 issue of Uncut Magazine: Aladdin Sane – David Bowie, Death of a Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen, Heaven or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins, Gris-Gris – Dr. John, Grace – Jeff Buckley, The Ecstasy of Gold – Ennio Morricone, Quartet for the End of Time – Olivier Messiaen, Let Love In – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Wild is the Wind – Nina Simone, and Limehouse Blues – Django Reinhardt. ‘Nuff said.
19. John Doe – Keeper. It’s John’s “happy” record. No, really. Listen to “Little Tiger” and “Lucky Penny.”
20.Wild Flag – Wild Flag. Carrie Brownstein’s new band: “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.”
Honorable mentions to: Dave Alvin, The Cave Singers, Danger Mouse and Daniel Luppi, Ry Cooder, Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell, The Kills, The Pimps of Joytime, The Roots, Sons and Daughters, Tinariwen, Trombone Shorty, and Thurston Moore.
Zippy and I went to the Scott H. Biram show at the Tractor Tavern Friday night, and we saw the Dirty Old One-Man Band play a raucous set of hard -rockin’ blues inspired tunes to a full house. The man channels John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters like nobody else.
Scott Biram gets all the sound he needs from his guitars, his harmonica, his voice, and his feet. He makes drums obsolete. The drum track in his head is far superior to any beats another person could bang out for him. The guitar notes just fly off his fingers – some establishing the bass beats and others strumming some very complicated rhythyms and melodies. Zippy and I agreed that, right now, Scott is the greatest working blues guitarist.
Scott drew heavily from his 2009 album, Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever. He also played some new stuff, and some blues standards, including Muddy Waters’ “Mojo Working.”
The crowd was really jacked up for the show, and there was actually what looked like a mosh pit a few yards in front of us. I haven’t seen that kind of action since the Central Tavern days of the late eighties and early nineties. There were a few jackasses in the pit who were aggressively slamming into people around them, and the guys that run the Tractor were diligent in their efforts to stop them. Scott actually stopped playing during one song and told the main offender he’d better stop or he’ll come down off the stage and fuck him up. Number 1 Jackass got the message and backed off. I’ve been to many, many shows at the Tractor, and I’ve never seen anything like that before.
I really should remember to bring a notepad with me when I go to his shows, because he says some hilarious things between songs, but I forget most of them. One I do remember him saying went something like: “This song isn’t about lost love or anything like that. It’s about alcoholism,” right before playing “Wildside.” And, it was kind of funny that he said, “Let’s play a little blues tune now… get back to the blues” before playing a Muddy Waters song, because, well… the whole set seemd like gettin’ back to the blues to me.
Rock ‘n’ Roll ain’t pretty and neither is Scott H. Biram. The self proclaimed ‘Dirty Old One Man Band’ successfully, and sometimes violently, lashes together blues, hillbilly and country precariously to raucous punk and godless metal. Biram ain’t no dour ass singer/songwriter either, sweetly strumming songs about girls with big eyes and dusty highways. HELL NO!!! His singing, yodeling, growling, leering and brash preachin’ and hollerin’ is accompanied by sloppy riffs and licks from his 1959 Gibson guitar and pounding backbeat brought forth by his amplified left foot. The remainder of this one-man band consists of an unwieldy combination of beat-up amplifiers and old microphones strung together by a tangled mess of guitar cables. Years of non-stop touring have honed his assault to a fine edge; his wide-eyed throw downs in the First Church of Ultimate Fanaticism routinely lead giddy followers to a fiery baptism. Scott H. Biram wont die. On May 11th, 2003, one month after being hit head-on by an 18-wheeler at 75 MPH, he took the stage at The Continental Club in Austin, TX in a wheel chair – I.V. still dangling from his arm. With 2 broken legs, a broken foot, a broken arm and 1 foot less of his lower intestine, Biram unleashed his trademark musical wrath. When Scott H. Biram took the stage at his 2004 SXSW festival showcase right after Kris Kristofferson he was quoted as growling “They said that was a hard act to follow….I’m a hard act to follow motherfuckers!!” The stunned crowd looked on.
It’s New Year’s Eve and KEXP is just about ready to star their countdown of the best albums of 2009. I’ll be listening and commenting on that later but, for now, here’s what you need to know.
The Top 10 Albums of 2009
1. Rising Mountains – Capsula: I first heard Capsula on KEXP on July 3rd and I was immediately hooked. They are the most exciting band I’ve heard since discovering The Duke Spirit three years ago. The band is originally from Buenes Aires, Argentina and they relocated to Bilbao, Spain. They are a guitar driven, hard rocking band that knows how to write songs with catchy lyrics and great hooks. The album is currently available as an import only. You can get it at Amazon. I suggest you go there now and buy it. They will be coming to the U.S. in March for a show in NYC and then will be in Austin for SXSW. See them if you can. More about them here.
2. Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever – Scott H. Biram: Gorby turned me on to this guy by giving me an earlier album to listen to. In May, I went to Austin with Gorby and Zippy, and we saw Scott live at The Continental Club. GREAT one-man show. I bought the album shortly after that, and I’ve been listening to it constantly. Junkyard blues just don’t get any better than this. Scott Biram will be in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern on Friday, February 12th. See you there.
3. Truelove’s Gutter – Richard Hawley: I read a review of this album in MOJO magazine, and immediately went out and bought it. It is by far the most sonically interesting album of 2009. He uses some really rare instruments: the glass harmonica (based on the haunting tone you get when rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass – a.k.a. the hydrocrystalphone invented by Benjamin Franklin), the waterphone, the cristal Baschet, the ondes Martenot(kind of like a theremin), and a musical saw. The key track on this album is “Remorse Code.” Can’t stop listening to it.
4. One Fast Move or I’m Gone, Kerouac’s Big Sur – Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard: I am a huge fan of Jack Kerouac, so I bought this they day it came out. The cd is the soundtrack to a movie about Kerouac’s journey back to California to get some down time at Ferlinghetti’s seaside cabin. The film is excellent. It features readings of Big Sur by the man himself. Kerouac’s voice is intoxicating. I could listen to it for hours. Oh, and the music by Farrar and Gibbard is stripped down and soulful. I recommend “California Zephyr” and The “Void.” They will be performing at The Showbox in Seattle on Sunday, January 24th.
5. Wilco (the album) – Wilco: The guitar work by Nels Cline on this record is incredible. The songs are great. Tweedy sounds great. What more can you ask for from a Wilco album?
6. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers: This is a beautiful sounding album produced by Rick Rubin who fleshed out the trio of banjoists and drummer with piano and sometimes lush orchestration. The title track and “Tin Man” are my favorites.
7. Broken – Soulsavers: This is Mark Lanegan at his best. A dark brooding album that matches his voice perfectly. He gets excellent vocal support from Rosa Agostino (a.k.a. Red Ghost), and Richard Hawley makes an appearance too.
8. Welcome Joy – The Cave Singers: I heard of this band, but never really knew what they were about until I saw them at Bumbershoot. It’s real rootsy stuff with catchy lyrics and great vocals. “At the Cut” and “Leap” are my favorites.
9. The Spirit of Apollo – N.A.S.A.: That stands for North America South America. It’s a duo that pulled together a whole lot of artists to sing vocals on twenty-some songs. Who? David Byrne, Chuck D, Tom Waits, Kool Keith, Kanye West, Mia, Del the Funky Homosapien, and more. The first song I heard was “Spacious Thoughts” featuring Tom Waits and Kool Keith. You just have to hear it. The two with David Byrne, “The People Tree” and “Money” are really great.
10. A Woman A Man Walked By – P.J. Harvey & John Parish: The album starts out with one of my favorite songs of the year, “Black Hearted Love,” a pop song, and then it veers off in all different directions. Thanks to “That Irsih Fella on my block, I got to see P.J. and John put on a great show at The Moore Theater this year. P.J. was in perfect form, and John and the band were tight. They are PROFESSIONALS!
The Top Teen Albums of 2009
11. Tell ’em What Your Name Is –Black Joe Lewis and the Honeydrippers: My Austin pals told me about this band last year. Black Joe Lewis has a huge fan base in Austin, and I was lucky to see the band at a sold out show there in May. I love the fun energy in this album. “Get Yo Shit” and “I’m Broke” are the shit.
12. ¡Let Freedom Ring! – Chuck Prophet 13. Horehound – The Dead Weather 14. Middle Cyclone– Neko Case 15. Together Through Life – Bob Dylan 16. Hombre Lobo – Eels 17. Through the Devil Softly – Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions 18. Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane – Elvis Costello 19. The Eternal– Sonic Youth
and number 20… Backspacer – Pearl Jam
This year’s best series of reissues is of course the first four albums by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds out on Mute records: The First Born is Dead, From Her to Eternity, Kicking Against the Pricks, and Your Funeral, My Trial. Buy them all and play them loud.
The best live album of the year is Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom.
I just bought the new album by Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds titled Dracula Boots. For those of you not familiar with Kid Congo, he’s the guitarist who formed The Gun Club with Jeffrey Lee Peirce way back in 1979, and then left to join The Cramps. He rejoined The Gun Club to play on four albums from 1984 – 1991, and he also managed to hook up with The Bad Seeds to play on a few Nick Cave albums.
While in Austin last month with Zippy and Gorby, we saw Scott H. Biram perform at The Continental Club. He played several songs off his latest album, Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever. Scott looks, acts and sounds like a guy who lives in a shack at the junkyard down by the river. That’s probably not true at all, but that’s the impression I get… Here’s “Sinking Down” from the new album.
It is Friday night, and like I’ve said before, if you’re not listening to Nick, you might as well not be listening, so listen to this.