Of The Year — 2019

Albums

  1. Between the Country — Ian Noe
    Discovered this album via NPR First Listen on a whim (ala 2016s top album) and never looked back. A perfect mix of folky songs spanning a number of emotions and influences while still holding together as part of their own refreshingly new voice.
  2. On the Line — Jenny Lewis
    A strong, cathartic, singable companion/sequel to The Voyager. Jenny Lewis just keeps getting better with each release. Bonus points for how my mind was blown when I realized you can (probably inadvertently) sing the chorus to Champagne Supernova over the opening verse to Heads Gonna Roll. The intentionally train-wreck-y launch day all-star telethon special was also a nice touch.
  3. Help Us StrangerThe Raconteurs
    The best album Jack White has been involved in since Get Behind Me Satan with the possible exception of Rome which I consider more a Danger Mouse album with Jack White guesting.
  4. Night Shift EPJenny Owen Youngs
    I know every year I say EPs don’t count, but then almost every year I pick one anyways. This was a late breaking discovery a few weeks ago (thanks to the unexpected yet welcome return of TwentyFourBit), but I really dig it. Looking forward to diving into her back catalogue in 2020.
  5. Purple Mountains — Purple Mountains
    Like many, my excitement over the triumphant return of David Berman was overshadowed by his death which put me on a nostalgic Silver Jews listening spree for the second half of the year. But this new record stood out as a highlight even before that shift in perspective. It’s sonically different than the Joos for the most part, but still very Berman on the lyrics front. RIP.
  6. Dog in a Manger Smooth Hound Smith
    Despite what you may assume from the title, this isn’t an Xmas record. Instead it’s a big step forward for the Americana duo (now with a full band at live shows!)
  7. Monster (25th Anniversary Remix) R.E.M.
    Still my favorite R.E.M. album (and the first record I ever waited in line outside a record store to buy at midnight on release day), I love how the remix raises the vocals way up in the mix to better understand Michael Stipe’s lyrics. There also seem to be a few additional flourishes ala the remix treatment In Utero got in 2013. I had a lot of fun revising Monster this year.
  8. Weezer (The Teal Album) Weezer
    Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure covers album. But it’s also the best Weezer album since Maladroit.

Songs

  1. Topo Chico — Robert Ellis
  2. Eyelash — Asian She (cowritten by Benji Hughes)
  3. Uh Huh — Jade Bird
  4. Jesus & Elvis — Hayes Carll
  5. If Today Doesn’t Do Me In — Ian Noe
  6. Rabbit Hole — Jenny Lewis
  7. Hold Me Anyway — Wilco

Shows

Gin Blossoms @ Scoot Inn 3/7

Spiral Stairs, Sweet Spirit, Carson McHone, Kevin Galloway @ Mohawk 3/12 (Nine Mile Touring SXSW)

Hayes Carll @ SXSW 3/15-3/16 (4 shows in 27 hours!)

The Tallest Man on Earth @ Moody Theatre 4/23

Lemonheads @ Barracuda 5/31

Felice Brothers @ Barracuda 6/12

Will Courtney (solo acoustic) @ Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches 7/5

Mason Jennings @ 04 Center 7/12

Ian Noe @ Scoot Inn 8/17
(biggest disappointment of the year – he cancelled to have his wisdom teeth out)

Black Pumas @ Mohawk 8/24

Guns N Roses @ ACL 10/12

Reverend Horton Heat w/ Alejandro Escovedo @ The Continental Club 10/22

Wilco @ Moody Theatre 10/27

Ray LaMontagne @ Moody Theatre 11/2

Smooth Hound Smith @ Mohawk Indoor 11/19

Robert Ellis @ Armadillo Christmas Bazaar 12/23

In Memorium

Since David Berman was already covered above, I’d be remiss not to give a little eulogy for Shawn Smith as a wrap up to the year in music.

This one hit me the hardest, as I’ve been a big fan for a long time. As previously mentioned, I sought out the first Brad album early on and ended up stumbling onto a guy they call “Seattle’s Best Kept Secret” in this singer.

His voice was amazing, and even more amazing was the volume of side projects he sang for. Brad. Satchel. Pigeonhead. All Hail The Crown. From The North. Twilight Singers. Vincent & Mr. Green. Plus a plethora of solo releases, many of them underrated classics. (Shield of Thorns & The Diamond Hand still slay me.)

I named the protagonist of my short story Fester after Shawn Smith, and still shudder in glee when I encounter the part where my Shawn Smith listens to THE Shawn Smith in the car. I never intended for the namesakes to cross paths in the story, but I love that they did.

Shawn Smith 1965-2019 RIP

Of The Year – 2018

Albums

1. Glorietta — Glorietta
Oh my! Another year, another supergroup on the top list. This one’s a little different with it being a supergroup where I wasn’t very familiar with any of the members beforehand outside of Wild Child — but their end results absolutely blew my mind.

2. Loner — Caroline Rose
Great record, great live show. It’s quite possible nobody has ever had as much fun on a record (or a tour) where they completely reinvent themselves.

3. Western Movies — Traveller
Two supergroups in one year.  This long-awaited debut (hyped up by 2 Austin shows they played in 2017) didn’t disappoint with a Benji Hughes level of “goofy yet sincere” going on throughout.

4. The Tree of Forgiveness — John Prine
He looks like death on the cover (no offense intended), but the songs tell you he’s still got it and is totally fine if this ends up being his swan song.

5. Esher Demos — The Beatles
Acoustic demos recorded at George Harrison’s house, officially released as part of the White Album 50th anniversary re-issue.

6. Crazy Love — Will Courtney
Discovery of the year.  Saw him on the actual 50th Anniversary of the White Album and he covered “Sexy Sadie” for the occasion. This album is great, but he has an older song called “The Days When Bands Could Make Your Cry” with an acoustic version that absolutely makes me cry.

7. Blaze (Original Cast Recording) – Ben Dickey & Friends
I was super late to the Blaze Foley party, but this soundtrack (and the biopic it comes from, and delving deep into the Blaze back catalogue) were big highlights of the musical year.

Songs

  1. Chevrolet Van – The Nude Party
  2. Soul #5 – Caroline Rose
  3. The Movie Song – The Record Company
  4. 19th Amendment – Dolly Parton
  5. Resignation – Paul Cauthen
  6. I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch* – Courtney Barnett
  7. I Ain’t Got Nothin’** – Willie Nelson

    *Song title of the year

    **Lyric of the year: “A lonely summer night and memories linger / of when I gave you a ring and you gave me the finger…”

Shows

Rhett Miller @ Antone’s – 1/27
Bahamas @Antone’s – 2/17
Cha! (Police tribute band) @ Elysium – 3/3
Caroline Rose @ SXSW (4 shows!)
Blaze Foley movie & Tribute @SXSW – 3/16
Mason Jennings @ Cactus Cafe – 4/20
The Breeders @ Emo’s – 4/21
Rivers Cuomo @ the Troubadour – 5/30
Paul McCartney @ ACL Fest – 10/5
Jackie Venson @ ACL Fest – 10/5
The Record Company @ Scoot Inn – 11/1
Will Courtney @ Sam’s Town Point – 11/9
Hayes Carll & Jack Ingram @ Luckenbach Dance Hall – 11/17
Glorietta @ the Heights Theater – 12/15
Heart & Bones play the songs of Dirty Dancing @ 3Ten – 12/29

Of the Year – 2017

Commentary coming sooner or later…

ALBUMS

  1. Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album — Various
  2. Life Will See You Now — Jens Lekman
  3. Colors — Beck
  4. Like a Drunk in a Midnight Choir: RSD Celebrates the Music of Leonard Cohen — Various
  5. St. Mojo — Sweet Spirit
  6. Salutations* — Conor Oberst

SONGS

  1. Pamela — Sweet Spirit
  2. Beat of My Heart — Benji Hughes
  3. Goodbye One More Try — Hunter James
  4. A Little Uncanny — Conor Oberst (with the Felice Brothers)
  5. 1234 — Kevin Morby
  6. Losing Interest — Wilco

SHOWS

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam @ The Teragram Ballroom – 1/17/17

John Aielli Ekliktikos 50th Anniversary @ Hogg Auditorium – 3/7/17

Spiral Stairs @ Mohawk – 3/17/17

Tom Petty @ Frank Erwin Center – 5/2/17

The Record Company @ Emo’s – 9/17/17

Traveler @ ACL Fest (day) & Stubb’s Indoors (night) – 10/7/17

Continental Church of the Reverend Horton Heat @ The Continental Club – 10/27 & 10/28/17

John Fogerty @ Auditorium Shores – 10/29/17

Jen Cloher @ The Moody Theater – 11/11/17

Ray Wylie Hubbard @ The Paramount Theatre – 11/17/17

Beck @ John Anson Ford Amphitheatre – 11/18/17

ATX6 @ Stateside Theater – 11/29/17

Mike Doughty plays Irresistible Bliss @ Largo – 12/7/17

Of the Year – 2016

ALBUMS

1. I Had a Dream That You Were Mine — Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam 
I love when my favorite album of the year comes out of nowhere. I listened to this on NPR first listen because I liked the title and Hamilton’s last name. And I pretty much haven’t stopped listening to it since. Never been a big Walkman fan, though in hindsight I always liked the music of Vampire Weekend more than the lyrics. Sooo good.

2. Wild Dark Metal — Mason Jennings
Probably Mason’s best record since Blood of Man (if you don’t count The Flood as an excellent collection of older songs) — and somewhat of a companion piece with the electric guitar focus. He didn’t tour for this album, and an interview seemed to suggest he’s contemplating retirement. I hope he doesn’t hang it up for good, but completely understand if he needs a break.

3. Ruminations — Conor Oberst
This is the first time I’ve genuinely loved a Conor Oberst record top to bottom on my own vs. slowly come around to it based on my wife’s interest in it.

4. Give It Back To You — The Record Company
This one feels weird to me in some regards since I’ve been a fan of this band for so long that these aren’t really “new” songs to me.  But super proud of the buzz they’ve achieved in the leap from “best local band in LA” to “Grammy nominated artist for best contemporary blues album.”

5. Songs in the Key of Animals — Benji Hughes
Another time travel moment since this tied for my second favorite album of 2014 in its original form, but got a re-issue on Merge with a different track order and some new flare to a few of the intros/outros of the songs. Love that Benji is getting more well-deserved exposure, though I’m still a little baffled by the re-ordering since I’ve always thought the “draft” version was especially well sequenced.  Maybe I’ll get to ask him someday.

6. Emotions & Math — Margaret Glaspy
Favorite debut of the year — if “debut” is defined as “first release by someone I hadn’t heard of before.”

7. Life in the Dark — The Felice Brothers

SONGS

1. Couples Skate — Robert Ellis

2. O’Brien is Tryin’ to Learn to Talk Hawaiian — The Mr T Experience

3. Two Dollar Man / Old Daze — Mason Jennings

4. Freaky Feedback Blues — Benji Hughes

5. Plunder — The Felice Brothers

SHOWS

Sweet Spirit @ ABGB 1/31/16
They did a cover from Blackstar shortly after Bowie’s passing — and then went straight into an awesome rendition of “Young Americans” that brought down the house.

Benji Hughes @ The Bootleg Bar 2/4/16
My grandmother passed away this year.  The funeral was the weekend before this show.  I was scheduled to go to LA for work and could have been off the hook no questions asked, but decided to keep the trip anyways.  Whether it was too soon or not is still debatable, but seeing Benji and hearing “I Hate When Pretty Ladies Die” live at this show was exactly what I needed.  RIP, Gram.

Smooth Hound Smith @ ON A RIVERBOAT (!!!) at SXSW 3/18/16
I already covered this show in the SXSW recap, but man was that fun.

Supersuckers @ The Continental Club 3/19/16
This one didn’t get too much detail in the SXSW recap, but was a highlight.  When the schedule first came out and I saw the Supersuckers were playing the Continental at 1am I was pretty sure I’d be going by myself, but somehow managed to convince my wife to join me (as well as our friend Hunter) and a good time was had by all.

Reverend Horton Heat & Dale Watson @ Strange Brew 7/23/16
Dale Watson became our discovery of the year due to this show.  And I fulfilled my musical bucket list item of finally hearing “Liquor, Beer & Wine” live.  One of four times I saw the Reverend this year after way too many years off.

Felice Brothers @ the Sidewinder 10/5/16
Super cool venue, super cool setlist by a band that’s really coming into their own. And we kept up our remarkable run of consecutive shows where they play “Marie” — still my favorite song of theirs.

The Record Company @ Antone’s 11/12/16
Coverville introduced me to the Record Company years ago based on their awesome cover of “So What’cha Want?” by the Beastie Boys. My favorite part of this show was turning around to watch the crowd while they played it, watching everyone slowly reach the same revelation about what song it was when the signature guitar riff kicks in. I also got to ask singer Chris Vos about the lyric change on “This Crooked City” from “…and we shared a couple of beers” to “…and we shed a couple of tears.”  Both work well, but completely change the interpretation of the song.  He laughed when we screamed the older “beers” version during the set, and later told me “to be honest, I still sing beers sometimes too.”

Of The Year – 2015

My annual best of music list — which this year will hopefully not be among my only posts of the year.

Albums

1. Sound & Color — Alabama Shakes
No sophomore slump here.

2. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit — Courtney Barnett
Most anticipated album of the year (thanks, Bob Boilen!). Best album title of the year. Heck of a live show (we saw her twice, listened from outside when we couldn’t get into a SXSW show, and strongly considered going to see her open for Blur in LA.)

3. Eponymous — Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
This thing is just so damn fun on so many levels.

4. Here Come The Girls — The London Souls
2nd best discovery of the year thanks to ACL.

5. Slow Gum — Fraser. A Gorman
Best discovery of the year thanks to Courtney Barnett at SXSW.

6. Star Wars — Wilco
Surprise, it’s good.

7. Sweet Tennessee Honey — Smooth Hound Smith
This record grows on me more and more with each listen. Every time I forget about it, I fall in love with it again.

Songs

1. To Fill My Heart With Love Until It Almost Breaks My Heart — Spirit Family Reunion

2. Book of Love — Fraser A. Gorman

3. Dark Bird Is Home — The Tallest Man on Earth

4. Jazz x10 — Benji Hughes

5. Ghost Ship — Blur

Shows

1. Courtney Barnett w/ Fraser A. Gorman @ SXSW

2. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats w/ Caroline Rose @ the Historic Scoot Inn

3. The Record Company @ Sam’s Burger Joint

4. Smooth Hound Smith @ Stay Gold

Of The Year – 2014

For once I’m writing this at a not too unreasonable point after the end of the year in question, so no need for a backdated post inserted via time travel…

1. LILILIL — Benji Hughes
I can’t think of another album in the last decade — if not ever — that leaves me with such a big grin every time I listen to it. LILILIL is concept album Benji wrote for his daughter. The story is a time travel rock opera set in outer space and narrated by Jeff Bridges.  Various characters leave “space messages” that are basically introductions to “space jams” by Benji.  Plus the whole thing starts off with a repeated chant of “I am from the future…I am from the future…I am from the future.”  You had me at hello…

2. OXOXOXOX / Songs in the Key of Animals / XXOXOXX – Benji Hughes
Yes, I really am saying my 4 favorite albums of 2014 are by the same artist. And it was pretty much a no brainer.  Since they are only available for purchase as a set I’ll go Nielsen-style and group them together under a single number.  (This also gets me off the hook from needing to rank them individually.)  Can you say infallible band?

3. Supernova – Ray LaMontagne
Ray’s best record since his debut. Taking chances with vocal arrangements and cool stuttery noises that paid off big. Any other year this would have been number one with a bullet.

4. The Voyager – Jenny Lewis
Breezy, poppy, snarky, confident and fun.

5. V for Vaselines – The Vaselines
Kurt Cobain’s fandom and Nirvana’s 3 famous covers sent me seeking out the Vaselines 20 years ago. Some songs I have always loved (“The Day I Was a Horse,” “Teenage Superstars” and “Dying For It”), but mostly I respected them and found the other songs more interesting than good. The same was mostly true about their 2010 comeback record — but V for Vaselines is easily the best album in their catalog. I hope they do another one.

Of The Year – 2013

It’s best of time again…

1. We The Common — Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
This album came out in January and managed to hold the top go to slot all year. Rockin’ and poppy, with shades of The Breeders here and there. Saw them live three times this year and they didn’t disappoint. Thao’s encore duet of “Be My Baby” with the opening band at the Troubadour was a concert highlight.

2. We Are The 21st Century… — Foxygen
Heard “No Destruction” from this album for the first time on December 28th when my iPod died in the car on the way home from dinner. Then I listened to the full album 7 times in the next 24 hours. Love love love love this record and how it feels like an oldie in a Local Boyish sort of way. Only reason I’m not calling it #1 is the late discovery and acknowledging I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but I reserve the right to retcon later.

3. The Ghost of Escondido — Escondido

4. Solid Sound Covers Set — Wilco
Though not really an album per se, you can buy it from Wilco’s site so I’m counting it. An unexpected all request covers set at the third annual Solid Sound Festival, and one heck of a diverse setlist.

5. The Ballad of Boogie Christ — Joseph Arthur
Benji Hughes once sang “I haven’t heard an original heartfelt song about Jesus in awhile.” Here are a bunch of them — in a non-religious musical concept that plays like a modern alt-rock Jesus Christ Superstar.

6. Charge — David Ford

7. Fade — Yo La Tengo

Of The Year – 2012

The Play ‘Em All experiment meant that I didn’t give new music the attention I usually do in 2012, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a top list.

(And yes, once again I was too busy/lazy to post this when I should have so I’m time traveling back to insert this post.)

1.  Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes
Don’t you love it when your most highly anticipated album of the year satisfies that expectation?  Great record, pretty good live show. Not sure how long the band will last, but Brittany Howard is the real deal.

2.  Daytrotter Session – Mike Doughty
This might be on the line of violating my rule that an EP can’t be album of the year, but rules are made to be broken, right?  My favorite Daytrotter session of the year if not all time. The covers felt super random at the time, not yet knowing that Doughty had an all covers album cooking.

3.  Barchords – Bahamas
A little more rockin’ than Pink Strat and a strong follow-up. Also has the honor of being the last band I saw live in 2012 and the first band I saw live in 2013. Afie Jurvanen has a great stage presence and banter during his shows, right up there with Benji & Doughty.

4.  A Wasteland Companion – M. Ward
He just keeps doing his thing, and that thing is fine by me. Now when is that new Monsters of Folk record coming out?

5.  There’s No Leaving Now – The Tallest Man on Earth
Every time I listen to this I love it more. His gig at the Ford Amphitheater was my favorite of 2012.

6.  I Know What Love Isn’t – Jens Lekman
A little more quiet and a little less goofy than what came before, but I still dig. (And for the record I have nothing against goofy at all – that’s meant as a compliment.)

Of The Year – 2011

After a so so year for albums in 2010, this time around I actually have enough candidates for a proper top 10.

1. Pink Strat — Bahamas
This record came out in Canada in 2009, but just came out in the US in 2011. (Yay, time travel!)  Quietly snuck up on me as my go to album this year.  And I love that the band is named after a lyric in that old Wreckless Eric song.

2. Circuital — My Morning Jacket
Felt like a shoo-in for album of the year upon release and sustained that for most of the year. Majestic and fun rock songs that go really well together.

3. Fixin’ To Die — G. Love
G’s best work since The Hustle. Whenever I start to think he’s all washed up he goes and does something like this to win me back.

4. Kiss Each Other Clean — Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine & Electronica & Orchestration…and it works really well.

5. The Whole Love — Wilco
Some are calling this a comeback record or a return to form, but I don’t think Wilco ever really left.

5.5 An Argument With Myself (EP) – Jens Lekman
I have this weird and arbitrary rule that an EP doesn’t qualify for album of the year.  But if it did, this one would rank right around here.  Very excited for the new full length Jens to land sometime in 2012.

6. Rome — Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Super group alert! Danger Mouse continues his impressive run, while splitting vocal duties between Jack White & Nora Jones was just about perfect.

7. Yes and Also Yes — Mike Doughty
Not quite as good as Sad Man Happy Man, but Doughty is still the infallible band for me.

8. Celebration, Florida — The Felice Brothers
2011 will go down as the year I began to embrace the Felices on my own outside of them being my wife’s favorite band. This guy has a review that’s better than anything if have to say about this record, so I’ll let him speak on my behalf.

9. Rave on Buddy Holly — Various Artists
Heck of a compilation. Hearing Paul McCartney go crazy at the end of “It’s So Easy” might be my favorite individual moment in a song this year.

10. Minnesota — Mason Jennings
Had high hopes for this going in and initially felt a little disappointed, but warmed up to it more with each listen.  But just 9 songs?  More, Mason, more!

Of The Year – 2010

Year end music recap time.  2010 was weird.  Felt so-so for new music, but was probably the best concert year of recent memory due to a heavy dose of nostalgia.

Albums:

1. The Flood — Mason Jennings

A new album of old songs is an odd choice for the top slot, but like I said it was a weird year.  Mason delivered some gems on The Flood, and “Dakota” narrowly edged out Cee Lo’s feel good hit of the summer as the most singable track of the year for me.

2. Plastic Beach — Gorillaz

Most anticipated record and concert going into the year, and both exceeded expectations.

3. Broken Bells — Broken Bells

Last.fm pegs this as my 6th most listened to album of the last 12 months, essentially one listen behind Plastic Beach. (And if you take away my wife’s obsession with Monsters of Folk / Conor Oberst / The Felice Brothers it rises to #3 on my list…) Didn’t really know what to expect going in, but Danger Mouse brings the Rick Rubin magic to everything he produces.  I really want to hear a Danger Mouse / Wilco collaboration someday.

4. As I Call You Down — Fistful of Mercy

Another year, another supergroup on the year end list.  Fun, folky set of songs here.  “Things Go ‘Round” makes my shortlist for song of the year.

5. Volume Two — She & Him

A crowd pleaser of a record I keep drifting back to.  Volume One would have been #1 on my 2008 list had I made one at the time.  Can’t go wrong with most things M. Ward.

Concerts:

1.  James @ the Music Box – October 13

Laid (the album more than the song) has always held a special place in my collection, but somewhat shamefully I’d never really dug deeper into the James catalogue for whatever reason.  Could’ve/should’ve had my interest piqued a few years ago when the whole crowd was singing along to “Sit Down” before Carter USM’s first Brixton Academy reunion show, but I just paid $.99 for the single and that was that.  So when I learned James was coming around it was very much a “should I stay or should I go” dilemma.  We did go, and then they went and put on the best performance I’ve seen from anyone in recent memory.

2.  Benji Hughes Residency @ Largo – July 8, 15, 22, 29

After a number of near misses, I finally got to see Benji Hughes this year — every Thursday for a whole month.  I could cheat and rank each of these individually, but that would make for a boring top list.  As I said at the time, I wish I could see Benji Hughes every Thursday for the rest of my life.

3.  Rage Against the Machine @ Hollywood Palladium – July 23

My wife dragged me to this reluctantly because Conor Oberst was opening, but I figured Rage would be worth it.  Were they ever.  Rocked it like they never broke up and blew the doors off the Palladium.  I was hoarse the next day from the scream-a-longs.

4.  Pavement @ The Fox Theatre – April 15

Comeback tours are weird, hit and miss affairs.  Pre-Coachella warm-up shows are weird, hit and miss affairs.  Seeing Pavement live used to be a weird, hit and miss affair.  Pavement absolutely nailed it in the first US show of their comeback tour with one hell of a setlist.

5.  Gorillaz @ Coachella – April 18

Damon Albarn knows how to pull out all the stops for a multi-media spectacular.  And I still swear I saw acrobats!