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by danps

Best Music of 2013

6:37 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.

Some lyrics may be NSFW. Listen at your own risk.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator. See the “Free MP3 sites” part of my blogroll for my current feed list.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep this under the same limit. It’s in the top 1% of music I listened to this year, so even if you hate my taste you have to admit that’s a pretty discriminating list. 80 minutes is somewhat arbitrary, but it’s also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

On the reckoning of time

I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.

Recommended albums

In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2013 I enjoyed front to back:

Big K.R.I.T – King Remembered In Time. Has one of the great openings of all time: Wailing guitar, new baby screams, K.R.I.T: “I was born in 1986″ etc. For the second straight year Big K.R.I.T released a phenomenal album to relatively little notice. This year’s proof that artistic accomplishment is not enough.

Los News – Automedication. Completely blew me away. One of the top three rock albums of the last five years. And, this is still hard to believe, they are giving it away as a free download. It was released in February of 2012, but I didn’t hear it until this year – they’d have been on the list otherwise. They are supposedly working on a release for next year (RIGHT, GUYS?), and if that happens it will be penciled in as my best album of 2014.

Novella – Murmurs. If Los News gets the sophomore slump, Novella’s debut album might get the nod. So far they’ve had this EP and a smattering of other stuff, but I’m really looking forward to hearing a full length from them.

Honorable Mention

I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there’s at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don’t want a single tune to crowd out several other candidates. When a longer song really blows me away (see #2, for example) I’ll make room, but overall I prefer to keep my selections under five minutes or so. Last year I didn’t hear a single longer song that I really loved; this year there was an abundance. Black as the night by Nahko Bear (via) and Pendulum Swing by Blank Realm are great in different ways. But for as much as I liked both, I went with:

22. “Kitchen Kongas” – VietNam (Buy)
A protest song for the Occupy era. It always bugs me to see complaints about how there used to be so much great protest music and now there isn’t any (e.g.). There’s plenty of it out there. Immigration Game by Michelle Malone (off of Day 2 – recommended), Get Away With It by Animal Kingdom (via) and this one, for starters. You won’t hear them on commercials, TV shows or the radio though. Even if they don’t contain banned words, their message is too provocative for any outlet to implicitly endorse by playing them. So you have to look. Complaining because they don’t get served up in the course of one’s day says more about the listener than the state of contemporary protest music.

The List Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Cleveland concert meetup TONIGHT at the Beachland

2:41 am in Uncategorized by danps

I had Muscle Cars by Wussy on my best of 2009 and Marathon by The Ready Stance on my best of 2012. Wussy, the Ready Stance and the Lawton Brothers. Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, 16-Nov-13.So when I saw them scheduled on the same bill at the Beachland Ballroom you can imagine I was pretty fired up. They play tonight at 9:00 PM; if you’d like to get together leave a comment and we’ll work out the details. Tickets for the show can be purchased here.

by danps

Cleveland concert meetup reminder: Saturday, November 16th at the Beachland.

6:29 am in Uncategorized by danps

Wussy and The Ready Stance are playing at The Beachland Tavern next Saturday. Wussy, the Ready Stance and the Lawton Brothers. Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, 16-Nov-13.If you’d like to get together for some great music, drinks and maybe some loud political discussion, leave a comment and we’ll work out the details. Tickets for the show can be purchased here.

by danps

Cleveland concert meetup: Saturday, November 16th at the Beachland. Plus new Circus Devils!

5:48 am in Uncategorized by danps

I had Muscle Cars by Wussy on my best of 2009 and Marathon by The Ready Stance on my best of 2012. Wussy, the Ready Stance and the Lawton Brothers. Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, 16-Nov-13.So when I saw them scheduled on the same bill at the Beachland Tavern you can imagine I was pretty fired up. They play Saturday, November 16th at 9:00 PM and I’ll be there with bells on. If you’d like to get together and maybe yell about lefty politics between sets, leave a comment and we’ll work out the details. Tickets for the show can be purchased here.

In other music news, I had Capsized! by the Circus Devils as a recommended album in 2011. The band gave me preview copies of the two new albums they released on Tuesday, When Machines Attack and My Mind Has Seen the White Trick. Like the previous album each has lots of short songs (almost none over three minutes), but lots of cool and interesting sounds. They’ve given me permission to share Eddie’s Derangement; check it out at my site, and pick up the albums at your retailer of choice if you like what you hear!

by danps

Streaming services: not cannibalizing CD sales, not killing music

2:53 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Earlier this week David Byrne added his entry to the “artist foresees imminent end of music” category. In the last couple years these articles have focused on how streaming services are supposedly destroying the ability of artists to support themselves with their music. They are usually written by at least semi-famous musicians and include at least one ostentatious claim to speak on behalf of struggling, lesser known artists.

Byrne’s piece is a little better than most, though it includes a few items like the Cavuto Mark-modified claim that streaming services are “simply a legalised version of file-sharing sites such as Napster and Pirate Bay,” along with obligatory chivalry (“up-and-coming artists don’t have that advantage” etc). It certainly comes across better than misleading jeremiads like David Lowery’s, anyway.

He comes at the subject from an egocentric point of view, though. (Maybe that’s an occupational hazard from spending lots of time in a spotlight.) Byrne gives the strong impression that he expects people to experience music only in David Byrne-approved ways. For instance:

I can understand how having a place where people can listen to your work when they are told or read about it is helpful, but surely a lot of places already do that? I manage to check stuff out without using these services.

Sure there are other ways to listen to music. But maybe not everyone prefers, say, going to the Bandcamp page the way Byrne does. Maybe they’ve decided that, for whatever reason, they like streaming services better.

Similarly, he expects people to hear music the same way he does:

the actual moment of discovery in most cases happens at the moment when someone else tells you about an artist or you read about them – not when you’re on the streaming service listening to what you have read about

Actually, no! Or rather, not always. I listen to all kinds of new music every week – at least twenty artists I’ve never heard before, typically more – and my moment of discovery for a song is usually somewhere between the third and fifth listen. At some point there I think, hey this is pretty good! And while I do that with downloaded MP3 files (through sites like this, this and this for example), that process has been used for decades to promote music discovery via radio.

Critics of streaming commonly compare it to music sales, not music listening. Byrne: “why would you ever buy a CD or pay for a download when you can stream your favourite albums and artists either for free, or for a nominal monthly charge?” He quotes Patrick Carney of the Black Keys saying streaming royalties are “not at a point yet to be feasible for us.” Zoë Keating: “millions and millions of streams needed to makeup for sales are not ever going to be a reality for non-mainstream music.” The New York Times: “For those whose income depends on royalties, the biggest concern has been whether streaming cannibalizes CD and download sales by offering a cheap or free alternative.”

But as Tim Worstall notes, “Spotify isn’t the physical sale of something at all, is it? It’s the one time presentation of a piece of music: it’s much more akin to radio play than it is to album sales.” Streaming services ought to pay out at comparable rates to radio, and what do you know – it turns out they do. (Be sure to read Worstall’s hilarious take on Thom Yorke’s reverse ferret, too.) Has any artist ever made a living from radio royalties?

Now, it may well be that radio is screwing over artists – there’s plenty of evidence – but that’s a fight between artists and the labels. It’s hardly a new fight, and streaming services are peripheral to it. Or: fix the situation with the labels and the streaming services will follow.1

I can understand why artists like Byrne – those that enjoyed a certain amount of commercial success in the past but haven’t had any big hits in many years – would dislike streaming services. Like radio they cater to casual listeners, but unlike radio they play on demand. If you have a notion to hear a song from back in the day, you don’t need to call the local oldies station, request it and hope they play it. You just fire it up. You don’t need to buy the MP3 of the song you have a once-a-decade itch to hear. For those whose best hope of making money in the music industry is collecting off their back catalog, that’s damn near the apocalypse.

Here’s the thing though. If you shut down the streaming services, how many people are going to be so mad to hear Burning Down the House or Low one more time that they buy it? They’ll just live without hearing it or call the oldies station. It’s not the staff of life, for God’s sake.

Streaming services promote discovery. To his credit, Byrne wrestles with that in his article. But while he comes right up to the key point (turning interest into sales), he doesn’t seem to understand how that process works from a fan’s perspective.

I’ve always been a big music fan, but for about ten years (roughly 1997-2007) I didn’t listen to much at all. Between the increase in talk shows and tiny playlists I’d given up on radio, and contra Byrne I wasn’t interested in going off taste makers’ recommendations. Then I started checking out the (dearly departed) song of the day at Salon.com, burning David Marchese’s picks to a rewritable CD, and listening to them in the car. From there I began discovering other free MP3 sites, and before long I was listening to more music than I ever had in my life.

None of that would have been possible without the free part, though. Music discovery through actual listening only happens when the tunes are free or nominally priced. Twenty songs a week adds up to over a thousand dollars a year, and that’s a mighty expensive habit. Especially when most of it isn’t that good. And in any event, you don’t want to keep the stuff you don’t like – it just becomes clutter.

That’s why streaming makes so much sense for discovery. You don’t end up with a bunch of crap you’re not interested in. You only buy (and keep) the stuff you dig. And that is the answer to Byrne’s question of why you would buy a CD or pay for a download. I don’t pay for 95% of the music I listen to, maybe more. But through that process I’ve gotten turned on to lots of music that I do pay for. I’ve bought tickets to see Bleeding Rainbow, helped fund the Kickstarter for Holly Conlan’s new CD (I now have it before its official release next Tuesday) and ordered Novella’s new cassette/EP (check out Mary’s Gun!) – and that’s just in the last month.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been able to listen to lots and lots of music for free at first. That’s the same opportunity streaming services offer. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the most important ways to make money on music is to give it away. It might not be the most lucrative option for those like David Byrne, Thom Yorke and David Lowery, but for those not so happily situated – those who haven’t already made a name for themselves – it may seem a little like their more famous peers are trying to pull up the ladder behind them. Kill discovery and you make it substantially more difficult for audiences to find new artists.

Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Most recent vintage of eulogies for rock music: still premature

2:56 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

I’m a big rock music fan, so a couple recent articles on it have stuck with me. The first was from a couple weeks ago, and for the life of me I can’t track it down now. The gist of it was that the era of great guitarists is passing. The most celebrated are all old in rock and roll years; even the youngest among them, Jack White, is 37. And so on.

Lamentations about the awful state of rock music have been around about as long as rock music, of course. They are typically rooted in the belief that music was at its zenith when the writer in question was about 16, has been in decline ever since, and can only be rescued by going back to that golden era and entering a perpetual state of suspended animation.

Guitars

Guitars

I obviously don’t think much of that. Music changes; either deal with it or stop listening. Composers work with what’s available, and as that evolves so do the sounds they create. Forty years ago Thom Yorke might well have been a guitar virtuoso, but the possibilities electronic music opened up are clearly more intriguing to him. So instead of Who’s Next we get Kid A. Wondering where all the great guitar players went makes only slightly more sense than wondering where all the great Gregorian chanters have gone.

That said, there actually are a lot of great rock groups out there, they just aren’t front and center. Guitar-driven rock and roll doesn’t dominate the contemporary musical landscape, or get served up to the casual listener, the way it used to. But if you’re willing to go off the beaten path (and wade through a certain amount of uninspired crap) you can find some pretty amazing stuff. But you won’t hear Aladelta by L’Hereu Escampa, Amok by Bohemian Betyars or Meet My Maker by Howl Griff on the radio any time soon.

Still, the ability to hear such artists is an almost unimaginable improvement to anyone who grew up listening to a handful of local stations. Even better, you don’t have to go all the way to Spain, Hungary or Wales to find great rock bands. No matter where you are, you are almost guaranteed to have at least a couple fine ones in your backyard. Finding ways to discover and support them is important – regardless of what you (or anyone else) might think of their prospects for finding a wider audience.

Near the end of his “Winners’ History of Rock and Roll” Steven Hyden makes the case for a group near his hometown:

Part of me thinks we’d all be better off as rock fans to unplug and go local. I live in Milwaukee, and there are at least a half-dozen rock groups here that I love and can see for next to nothing at a corner bar. A couple years ago, a local band named Call Me Lightning put out a record called When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free that sounds like The Who if Steve Albini had produced Who’s Next. It’s maybe my fifth or sixth favorite rock record of the decade so far….I have a small hope that by mentioning Call Me Lightning just now, at least a few of you will be inspired to check out When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free and have your heads torn off.

Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Best Music of 2012

4:09 am in Uncategorized by danps

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requires the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn’t need it and is good too. See the “Free MP3 sites” part of my blogroll for my current feed list.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep the list under the same limit. In a way 80 minutes is arbitrary, but it’s also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

On the reckoning of time

I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.

Recommended albums

In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2012 I enjoyed front to back:

Tender Trap – Ten Songs About Girls

Howl Griff – Fragile Diamond. Both this and Ten Songs will probably get pigeonholed as some kind of neo-Twee revival or something. What they really are, though, is first rate pop albums. I can always make room for one of those in my collection.

Rush1Clockwork Angels. After Roll the Bones I basically gave up hope for Rush, though I kept buying their albums. (They provided the soundtrack for my youth, and the pull of nostalgia is strong.) Clockwork Angels is a pretty amazing return to form, though. It has a few Spinal Tap moments, but they are mercifully brief; aside from those missteps the music is stronger than it’s been for a long time. And “Headlong Flight” has Alex Lifeson’s best guitar solo in about thirty years. Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Best music of 2011

3:21 am in Uncategorized by danps

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requires the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn’t need it and is good too. See the “Free MP3 sites” part of my blogroll for my current feed list.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep the list under the same limit. In a way 80 minutes is arbitrary, but it’s also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

On the reckoning of time

I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.

Recommended albums

In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2010 I enjoyed front to back:

Astrid Williamson – Pulse. Went for a more electronic sound and still sounded great. I really admire artists like her and White Hinterland that change up their sounds and still keep a high quality.

Hannah Peel – The Broken Wave. A very pretty voice singing somewhat off-kilter (and occasionally disturbing) songs. Contrast is good.

Lupe Fiasco – Friend of the People. Nobody is pairing restless, socially aware lyrics with great beats as well as Lupe Fiasco. Don’t be fooled by the title, “WWJD He’d Prolly LOL Like WTF!!!” is very serious, and maybe the best hook on the album as well. (In other news: The Show Goes On got a great lyrical rework from Angel Haze.) Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Best Music of 2010

5:49 am in Uncategorized by danps

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requires the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn’t need it and is good too. See the “Free MP3 sites” part of my blogroll for my current feed list.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep the list under the same limit. In a way 80 minutes is arbitrary, but it’s also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

On the reckoning of time

I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.

Recommended albums

In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2010 I enjoyed front to back:

B.o.B – B.o.B Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray. I know B.o.B has already hit it big, so the backlash may have begun. This is a really good album though. He seems like a musical polymath much like the young Prince. He seems poised to do what Prince did early on, too – release a string of genre-hopping albums that achieve the rare feat of being both high quality and hugely popular.

Fol Chen – The New December. “Cable TV” from their previous album made my 2008 list, so I was looking out for them. I thought they were going to be one hit wonders, so imagine my surprise when “In Ruins” turned out to be good enough to make me buy the album. It’s almost more interesting for what it promises than what it delivers. It’s a very good album but has some phenomenal flashes. Fol Chen has greatness in them. If they can sustain it for an entire album, look out.

Psalm One – Woman At Work Vol. 3. Psalm One tries out lots of different sounds and approaches, and is an intriguing lyricist. Listening to it I kept wondering, what is autobiographical and what is character driven? That kind of ambiguity makes for good listening.

Highlife – Best Bless. “F Kenya RIP” was leaked to music blogs in 2009 and ended up at #5 on my list. I still listen to it a lot, still love it and think it’s a very special song. The rest of the EP is excellent too.

Resignation of the year: Arcade Fire

A few years back all the right people were talking up The Neon Bible, so I snapped it up and was looking forward to being blown away. Nope. The only song that did anything for me was that one that ripped off John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. So when The Suburbs came out I was hoping to hear something I hadn’t on the previous one. Nope. Once again, only a single song stood out – this time “City With No Children,” which really is terrific. But the rest of it passed by unnoticed. So I’ve given up on them. I’m not saying they suck, I’m just saying I won’t be trying to get with that particular program anymore. They are one of those popular groups that I simply can’t get a grip on.

Honorable Mention

I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there’s at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don’t want a single tune to crowd out several other candidates. When a longer song really blows me away (like “Bushels” by Frog Eyes in 2007) I’ll make room, but overall I prefer to keep my selections under five minutes or so.

23. “Hunter” – Citay (Buy)
You might hear this and think, “1978 called and asked for its warmed over prog/folk back,” but I don’t care. It sounds great, and that’s all I do care about. Funny enough, after listening to it a few times I decided to see what reviewers were saying. So I looked here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. All seemed like they read the promotional material, noted the Steely Dan reference, listened to it once, gave it three stars and called it a day. Only this one from Samuel Valdes Lopez singled out “Hunter” as the standout. (The album also includes a visit from tUnE-YarDs, currently the best name in music.) Funny enough, right around this time I became aware of San Francisco’s angst over where its Next Big Thing was and its consequent championing of Joanna Newsom. Dear folks: May I humbly suggest that the artist you’re looking for has been under your nose for a while now, and in January released the 2010 Album of the Year?

The List

(And yes as proof of concept I burned them on to a CD using Winamp.)

22. (2010 Best Percussion) “I Was Never Bored at All” – Francis (Buy)
There are lots of different ways to keep the beat, aren’t there?

21. “Marken Lag Stilla” – Dungen (Buy)
So a few years back I heard “C Visar Vägen,” which I liked a lot – but not enough to put on the list. Then a couple years ago I heard “Satt Att Se,” which I liked a lot – but not enough to put on the list. Then last year I heard “Dirt Naps” by 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, which samples “Satt Att Se” (YESS!!) and which (stop me if you’ve heard this before) I liked a lot – but not enough to put on the list. I was starting to think I’d have to make some kind of Lifetime Achievement award for Dungen because they release a lot of really good music that seemed destined to just miss the cut. Happily that is no longer an issue; they knocked it out of the park with “Marken Lag Stilla.”

20. “Ghost” – Natasha Borzilova (Buy)
In addition to having a beautiful voice, Borzilova sings in a lower register than most women. It gives her vocals a little more gravity and in this song a distinctive tone of melancholy. There’s no mistaking her for anyone else.

19. (2010 Best Handclaps) “Up Up Up” – Givers (Buy)
A very full and complete sounding song, which is particularly surprising considering it’s basically a bunch of teenagers with their first song ever. (That’s not strictly true obviously – see their site!) Released last November, but I give a grace period for relatively unknown artists. They don’t exactly get their stuff released with a blaze of publicity, so it can take some time for it to make its way out.

18. “Two Bedroom Apartment” – Danielle Ate the Sandwich (Buy)
A nearly perfectly captured sense of longing, accompanied – amazingly enough – by a lightly strummed ukulele.

17. “Running Out” – Scissor Sisters (Buy)
Every couple of months it seems like some song is the darling of music blogs, indie hipsters, and all the rest of the people in the know. Everyone posts on it, reviews it, talks about it, and the vast majority of the time it’s mediocre at best. The last song that lived up to the hype was “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. which was, let’s see, three and a half years ago. I basically don’t bother anymore, which is why I gave this one a pass when it started showing up everywhere. But when Said the Gramophone gave it the seal of approval I relented. I’m glad I did. Take this one to the nearest dance floor!

16. “Self Machine” – I Blame Coco (Artist home page)
Speaking of dance floors. There’s usually a delay between when I download a song and start listening to it, which has a really nice benefit: By the time it gets on to my playlist I’ve forgotten about it. This makes it possible to mix in the occasional bit of popular stuff and listen to it on its merits, without any of the attendant hype – good or bad. (By the way, I know Taylor Swift has become inescapable and oppressive, but if “Speak Now” is any indication she’s a perfectly legitimate artist.) It also helps tamp down expectations when there are other circumstances in play. In this case Coco Sumner is Sting’s daughter, and I’m glad I didn’t start listening with that knowledge. I’d have expected a half-assed effort typical for the dilettante offspring of the famous. Instead this is a top notch slice of electro-pop. And incidentally, having a famous parent in the industry doesn’t appear to get you too far these days. She’ll have to hoof it just like everyone else.

15. “Like The Wheel” – The Tallest Man On Earth (Buy)
Another artist I’ve been watching for a while now. First came to my attention for A Field of Birds, which is a very, very good one. But this one: oh my. Another unmistakable voice.

14. “Fidelity” – Isaiah and Hovey (Facebook page)
Since hip hop puts such a premium on lyrics it probably shouldn’t be surprising that it has some of the best. For instance, some get into topical and socially conscious territory that, with the possible exception of folk, is more immediate and topical than in any other genre. (Favorite lyrics of the year: “Don’t think you’re safe though / because you’re not black / greed is color blind / so I’m color blind / they gon’ fuck with yours soon as they done with mine.”) Sometimes it’s just wordplay, though like in this song. Literally playing with words, putting sounds and images together just because it’s fun: “Now back to Studebaker, / Keep it rolling like a wagon / I flow no circuit breaker / Spitting fire like a dragon / So my bars are extra crispy / Got a flow you can’t imagine / And on songs I’m never lagging / Because rapping is my passion, bwoy!” Also, a phenomenal hook.

13. “Do You Swear” – Amanda Palmer (Buy)
For a long time now I’ve liked the idea of Amanda Palmer’s music more than her actual music. I like what she did with the Dresden Dolls and love the idea of a David Bowie for this generation; someone with a superb pop sensibility and just enough of a skewed outlook to be unacceptable for the mainstream. Someone transcendentally cool for today’s losers and misfits to embrace, and who embraces them right back.

This right here is the kind of thing I’ve been waiting for. It’s hardly the hip sound of the moment, and in any event with lines like “we’re all gonna die and a blow job’s fantastic” it was destined to miss your local Top 40 station regardless of its instrumentation. Still, it’s got a phenomenal hook and has the kind of cheerfully semi-antisocial attitude that makes perfect sense if you feel destined to live on the margins. It’s cool, it’s way cool, it’s out there for everyone to hear, but like a dog whistle only gets picked up by its intended audience. It’s a balm for a lot of kids (I know precisely none of them personally, but I know they’re out there) who need to hear exactly this. It’s the soundtrack for a secret society that’s hidden in plain sight.

12. “Big Wave” – Jenny and Johnny (Buy)
Best pop song about macroeconomic collapse ever! From I’m Having Fun Now, which I highly recommend.

11. “Take Me With You” – Evil Ebenezer (Buy)
Genres seem to have particular strengths or weaknesses (or at least consistently draw those with them); for instance, introspection rarely seems to get done well in hip hop. That’s part of what makes this one stand out – it not only paints a compelling picture, but a very different one than usual.

10. (2010 Best Whistle) “The Sound” – Benno Herz (Artist home page)
A great contrast: a cheerful and upbeat melody for an anti-love song. Not a hate song, but an indifferent one, an “I don’t see what the fuss is all about” song.

09. (2010 Best Kazoo) “Colors” – April Smith (Buy)
That’s right – best kazoo. Just listen, OK?

08. “Drunken Poet’s Dream” – Ray Wylie Hubbard (Buy)
Great hook, great vocals, great lyrics.

07. “The Daredevil Way” – Terri Tarantula (Buy)
There’s a certain kind of droning, stinging electric guitar sound that I absolutely love and almost never hear. It sounds even better with a female voice in front of it. A couple years ago I was captivated by All The Shallow Deep by Blank Blue, but at the end of the year I kept it off the list because it didn’t have ZAZZ! I regret it now, because it sounds better than some of what’s on the list. Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to go with a quieter sound. Terri Tarantula is the first beneficiary. (That said, I probably only partially learned it and a couple years from now will regret leaving off Diamondback by J. Tillman. Sigh.)

06. “Sunshine Ft M.I.A” – Rye Rye (Buy)
A few years back I was impressed with Rye Rye but couldn’t tell if she was for real or just drafting behind Blaqstarr. Question answered.

05. “Defiance (for Elise Sunderhuse)” – Emperor X (Buy Double Cassette (limited edition!))
Lyrics reproduced with permission from the artist.

General Doom got another leg caught.
He was arming kids (who were) begging for artillery shells to kick around
and building white crosses to commemorate the martyrs’ brigade
in the Red Crescent-bearing ambulances.
It’s better than working in the mines all day.

One vehicle’s down.
We were praising the Lord when we heard the report
of the trucks and the cranes and the double-yellow lines
and the fear and the love and the violence dissolved.
We’re told that we’ve learned a great deal,
and we’re told that your loss is collateral cost,
and stochastically inevitable,
and the price that we pay for breathing,
but we defy.

Punk Haitians kicking under concrete
charge their phones and send another text feed to the flotilla
and it’s out, but time’s not a disease.
It’s an ordered state. It’s a firm substrate.
It’s a shocking priceless wasteland,
and it’s where we’ll raise our kids and get lost and defy.

Letters, pixels, texts
crystallize and mutate.
Patterns amplifying forever.

04. (2010 Best Backing Vocals) “Wrote A Song For Everyone” – Mavis Staples (Buy)
An unearned visit from someone much wiser than you. Me too.

03. “Thought Of U Featuring Yvette Jarvis and Michael Beals” – Hellafactz (Buy)
So listen. I like Empire State Of Mind as much as the next guy, but there’s a problem with it that was pretty obvious from the start: It’s a big song. It’s a drop-everything-and-throw-your-hands-in-the-air song, which is great at a concert, an awards show or a promotional video but after the first flush of success feels kind of presumptuous. If you aren’t from The City or employed by its Chamber of Commerce this might not be a good choice for your next party mix. You want something that will stay in the background but still get heads nodding, something that will work its way into your guests without seeming intrusive, something like this song right here – a celebration of the much less heralded city of Halifax. Because let’s face it: Five years from now will you be more interested in hearing An Anthem or a little something you can throw on at your barbecue?

02. (2010 Best New Artist) “Heal My Hand” – Falklands (MySpace page)
This year’s proof that rock and roll isn’t dead (yet). Four minutes of smoking hot guitars, kick ass drums and a singer wailing to his love for one more chance. Off of an EP, which was followed up later in the year by Think About It, which – this is still hard to believe – can be downloaded for free as of this writing. (By the way, 2:39 of “It’s Good to See You” is 2010′s Best Second in Music.) It is the most outrageously, extravagantly generous offer in music this year, and even though you can get it at no cost you really should throw a few bucks in the hat when you grab it. Encourage them. Help them tour. These guys deserve to be huge.

01. “Blue Sky On Holiday” – Annemarie (Buy)
Wins by the Ben-Hur Rule. Ben-Hur was, of course, the winner of the 1960 Best Picture Oscar. It is characteristic of Best Picture winners because the Academy seems to go to great lengths to make sure the honoree is always – always – a movie with a message. It has to be something deep that tells us something timeless about the human condition, it must reach for great things, and it most certainly must not be frivolous or silly. You will likely never see, for instance, a screwball comedy even get nominated, because Best Picture has to be Heavy.

That’s true in other are forms as well. You won’t see lighter stuff at the top of the heap. The awards for Best have to be reserved for those things that, in the minds of the voters, best justify the existence of the art form itself. Fluff is by definition excluded.

I think that’s bunk.

In music, don’t you think some allegedly insubstantial stuff has held up pretty well? Doesn’t the golden age of Motown sound pretty good, aren’t the Monkees still a gas, and doesn’t even that era’s ultimate expression of disposable bubblegum pop – “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies – still sound pretty good?

I try to keep that in mind with my Best Song pick. I try not to exclude anything; I try to pick the song that gives me the most listening enjoyment, whatever that nebulous thing is, during the year – even if it seems like nothing more than a confection. Because it might hold up better than most folks expect, and the favored heavyweight might not.

Could a three minute ray of sunshine like this be the best song of the year? Sure – for the same reason Some Like it Hot was the best film of 1959.

by danps

Best Music of 2009

11:00 am in Uncategorized by danps

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requires the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn’t need it and is good too. See the "Free MP3 sites" part of my Pruning Shears blogroll for my current feed list.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep the list under the same limit. In a way 80 minutes is arbitrary, but it’s also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

On the reckoning of time

I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.

Recommended albums

Singles dominate music like they haven’t since the glory days of the 45. And just like then, technology is driving it. This is the age of the 99 cent download and no one mourns paying $17.99 for a CD that has the song you really like and a bunch of crap. Some artists can still knock out an album’s worth of quality music, though. It’s a treat to listen to a longer exercise that hearkens back to the days when, as Roman Candle so poetically put it on another great 2009 song, "ten songs on a record sounded like a string of pearls." In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums I enjoyed listening to front to back in 2009:

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