Posts Tagged ‘Daytrotter’

MathomIn keeping with a Tolkien “tradition” that I’ve loved since I first read about it years ago, where Hobbits give small presents (or “mathoms”) on their birthday rather than receive them, I’ve curated a short playlist of the best songs to come my way over the last few months. It ranges from older hard rock, to newer hard rock, to acoustic, to un-categorizable. Here’s some info about what and who are included.

American WrestlersKelly – American Wrestlers

I don’t know anything about these guys – where they’re from, how long they’ve been around, nothing. All I do know is that the first time I heard this song I really liked the groove of it. (I also thought they were singing, “Kill it…” instead of “Kelly”)

Stoic Resemblance – The Helio SequenceHelio Sequence

I’ve heard and liked stuff from this band in the past but have never given them a deep dive, album wise. Still haven’t, but this tune makes me want to. Will report back once that’s accomplished.

RocksCombination – Aerosmith

I rarely go this far back when making compilations like this, but having just discovered that the album Rocks was finally available on iTunes (and I’ve been checking over the years…) I had to get it. I always remembered that this was my favorite collection of theirs, but I’d forgotten how strong these riffs are. “Combination” is the best, most visceral one of the lot, though it’s hard to rank them – they’re all killer. This was, to me, right in the middle of the band’s most fertile period – Toys in the Attic and Draw the Line were put out around the same time, and though hugely impacted by the band’s increasingly inhuman intake of all sorts of drugs, all three albums remain their strongest true rock and roll for me.

Methodrone – The Black CadillacsBlack Cadillacs

Just found these guys – total accident thanks to social media. On first sight, and even first listen, they may be easily dismissed as simply a good time bar band, bluesy and light. Far from it. Their song structures, lyrics, and busy rhythm guitars make what should be old hat sound like new again. Highly recommended.

musee mechaniqueThe Lighthouse and the Hourglass – Musee Mecanique

I found Musee Mecanique a year or so ago and love all of their long instrumental pieces. This is one of the rare tunes with lyrics, and it’s a strong one. Check out their Daytrotter session here.

Witness – Mewmew

Mew is one of those deceptively deep bands who sound, at first, like a hundred bands you’ve heard before – light piano or acoustic guitar intros reminiscent of Coldplay, Fallout Boy and the like. I find them a little more substantive than that, and it was hard to pick just one of their tunes. This won by a narrow margin.

BushBreathe – Bush

Almost all of my compilations include at least one good cover. This one was a big surprise from Bush’s recent Daytrotter session – didn’t even know it was included until I heard it on random in the car. Pink Floyd was a colossal influence on my musical growth, consciousness expansion, and – to be honest – my delinquency. Very interesting to note how differently these lyrics (and almost all of their others) hit me at 51 than they did when in my teens and twenties…

Bath Salt – River Whylessriver whyless

Interesting sound from this band, who I’m planning on seeing in July. To these ears, there’s a definite Chinese influence to the fiddle pieces; would love to find out if they’ve ever heard or played with Abigail Washburn, who also shows those influences.

tree machinesF**king Off Today – Tree Machines

Deceptively loud and sloppy, I was captured by this band’s entire Daytrotter session, too. (Pardon the profanity, but I figured we’re all old enough to take it, and if the kids are in the car when you’re cranking this one – and it needs to be cranked – you can always skip to the next one. It’s a little tamer.)

Full Circle – Xavier RuddXavier Rudd

Nice and calm after all the previous noise, this one is in keeping with the rest of Rudd’s canon – mellow and deep, inextricably sad and uplifting at the same time. (Bonus: when’s the last time you heard a didgeridoo on a song like this? Or anywhere?)

young buffaloSykia – Young Buffalo

I’ve been familiar with this outfit for a few years now. Good to see that their progression continues – familiar enough to the older stuff, new enough to sound fresh.

Cumin – The AcornMerlin by Richter

Another nice acoustic piece, this time with an almost Afro-centric beat that offsets it nicely. From a great collection called Oh! Canada 25 from The Line of Best Fit.

leisure societyWhen It Breaks – The Leisure Society

This felt like a nice bookend to the beginning section, and a softer way to wrap up.

I used to make these collections every few months – the above represents only new stuff from the last 60 days or so – but it’s been awhile now. Depending on how these are received, maybe I’ll get back to a more regular schedule. Let me know what you think, and thanks for listening/reading!

A little longer than usual between posts, but lots of stuff happening on the work, family and living situations kept me away – not away from the beauteous sounds, which thankfully remain plentiful, but from the ability to rate and write about all of the best ones. That said and there being no shortage of good stuff to pass along, let’s get to it.

I’d heard of Admiral Fallow a few years ago, even follow them on Twitter, but until last month had never really downloaded and listened to them with the attention they deserve. What a waste of a few years. Like their countrymen (with whom I’m sure they’re tired of being lumped), Frightened Rabbit, Bell X1, and the many other beautifully lilting Scottish rockers that have crossed my transom in the recent past, their geography informs their message in almost every instance. I hear defiance even in the softest ballads, poetry in the simplest phrase, lines that would sound sung even if they were spoken instead, and I picture the North Sea, and Glaswegian streets, and earnest glances between beautiful faces, and honesty. Those are probably all just the Scottish stereotypes I’ve picked up over the years – likely as mashed as bangers with the Irish ones – (sorry, lads) but most of the time it doesn’t feel that way. I get a sense of the foreign nestled comfortably alongside the familiar. Rock is rock, no matter where it’s mined, and I like imagining that we’d have something in common in that appreciation, even with all the myriad differences that have made us what we are.

Long way of saying: check these guys out quickly. Their harmonies, their plaintive lyrics, their groove and their vibe all combine to leave you smiling, even if the subject matter may not be handled quite so deftly in other hands. Favorites from their latest, Tree Bursts in Snow, include the titular track – one of the examples of successfully painting a beautiful picture of a horrifying subject – warfare and explosions “all orange and Halloween red…” – the high energy of “The Paper Trench”, and the rousing pub sing-along of “Isn’t This World Enough??” [Pardon the ads on some of these video inserts – it’s getting harder and harder to find stuff without them…]

I wrote a few months back about seeing Jesca Hoop open for Punch Brothers, and how she totally enthralled many of the crowd (myself happily included) but left many spouting dismissive nonsense about her short and typically eclectic set. Still baffled by that, but was stoked to get both her new album and a new Daytrotter session from her on the same day. The House That Jack Built is at least as loopy and nonsensical as her last outing, charmingly so, and as full of the mescaline-esque  imagery and lyrical twists and turns that I’ve come to love and to expect from her. “Hospital” is cute and quirky, “Peacemaker” slow and deceptively dirty, “When I’m Asleep” imported from some mythical Middle Eastern harbor town (Qarth, maybe?) where local strictures become a relaxed pastiche of the many external cultural influences passing through.

Her Daytrotter session astounds, as well. I don’t know why she keeps surprising me – after multiple exposure to her unorthodox and impressive play with words and sounds it seems like that shouldn’t be the case. Shouldn’t be. Though short at four songs, each resonates. “Born To,” from the new one, shines.

At the other end of the awesomely different / differently awesome spectrum sits The Lion, the Beast and the Beat, the latest offering from the ever-touring Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Having seen them four times now – fifth show in October at the incredible Tabernacle downtown – and collected their tunes over the last few years, I’m not too surprised that each outing gets infused with a little more carefully crafted pop, a few less rough edges and a little more polish. Part of me totally understands and is happy that the relentless touring and the well-honed songcraft is resulting in ever larger audiences and greater success, but part of me misses the band I saw performing a drunken-seeming, acoustic-and-wine-bottle-and-ice-bucket rendition of my first favorite song (“Paris“). In concert they remain, without doubt and without comparison, one of the best true rock bands touring at that level; the sludgy weight of the guitars on the slow ones, the builds, the blistering speed on the quick ones, and yes, even the more pop influenced turns are all performed masterfully and with enough improv and stage antics to keep them from becoming, for me, completely radio friendly wannabes. The duet with Willie on an older GP&N song, “Ragged Company,” is a great pairing but left me wanting more from the parts that had them singing at the same time. There wasn’t really any harmony, but the individual verses carry the same sense of deprecation as the original, and Willie’s gravelly delivery matched the phrasing perfectly.

Her forays into the Country realm leave nobody doubting her ability to do so (witness the Grammy nom on her very first outing,) but at the same time I wonder, “Why?” I know she’s having fun, and making a good living (I hope), and no artist wants to stay the same – evolving is as much a part of the process for them as it is for us mere mortals – but it feels like she’s pulling away, just a bit, from some of the stuff I initially loved best about her and the amazing band of gypsies in her traveling family. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, as evidenced in my first listening to Lion: just when I was starting to sense that pulling away sensation, the title track came on. It’s so layered, almost progressively so, and any doubts I was nurturing were temporarily and successfully allayed. The song rocks. The band rocks. The woman rocks. Please keep it that way, Grace.

I’m Jonesing for some live Madi Diaz. Hearing her recent Daytrotter session both helps soothe that urge and makes it stronger. I’ve only seen her live once, at the excellent listening room environment of Eddie’s Attic here in Atlanta, and she was enthralling. She’s both playful and deadly earnest in her performances, and just FUN to see and hear. She has a great knack for choosing covers, too- as evidenced in this session, where she takes Paula’s “Straight Up” and turns it from frothy pop to a darker, more plaintive and painful cry that cuts to the quick. Brilliant. (The rest of the cuts are just as strong.)

I haven’t ever written about Rush here, I think, probably because once I got started I may never stop. They were the first band I totally immersed myself in. Sure, I cut my teeth on the likes of Kiss, Aerosmith and others, and kidded myself into thinking they were great, heavy rock, but hearing Rush’s live set on “All the World’s a Stage” with my cousins at the beach in Charleston, SC totally changed me. Without exaggeration, that was the first time that music sliced into the heart of me, grabbed my head in both of its metaphorical hands and screamed, “Hold still! And LISTEN TO THIS!!” Those songs, and the albums they led me to, seemed to be the perfect response to my parents and others who were saying, “Turn that down! It’s just a bunch of noise anyway!”

Because it was anything but noise.

Without launching into a repeat of my senior thesis (high school, anyway) which was all about Rush and its influences, both given and taken, suffice it to say that they were my first favorite band, and I read every liner note, every scarce interview (no Internets back then, friends and neighbors,) anything and everything I could get my hands on.

So when they came out with Snakes and Arrows last time around, and this new one – Clockwork Angels – each of which hearkened back to the Rush that first yanked me away from mediocrity – I felt exactly like I did on that beach in ’77 or so.

Clockwork Angels is nothing if not ambitious. Like 2112, the gateway album for so many fans (including this one,) it tells a complicated but ultimately simple story. Draped in the accoutrements of Steampunk, another favorite genre, Neil Peart – drummer and lyricist extraordinaire – partnered with noted SF writer Kevin Anderson on a novel with the same name. The album tells the story in parallel with the novel, apparently – I haven’t been able to get a copy of the book yet – and there are definite reminders of 2112 sprinkled throughout. Even the intricate album art, something they’ve never skimped on, takes me back to those heady early days and all of those albums that I spent so many hours listening to, headphones tight and volume maxed.

The songs rock, the music is big, almost thick enough to grab onto and ride. The story is sound, if familiar: young man, anxious to leave his mundane day-to-day existence behind, travels the world, falls in and out of love, all while coming to terms with the Watchmaker, who controls the whole world and all of its clockwork machinery (angels included.)

I can easily envision them playing these tunes live in a few months, in the same arena we’ve seen them in three other times now, no opening act, one 15-minute break in their 3+ hour set. They make deep, heavy, intricate rock as pounding and as stirring as ever, and they make it look effortless. Keep it up, guys – it’s still a lot of fun to listen to.

Ryan Monroe was an accidental find – a very happy one. Part of the Band of Horses, his new solo album, A Painting of a Painting on Fire, may be the single best display of multi-genre expertise I’ve ever heard. So much so that all thought of genre – “What is this one? Funk? But that last one was 70’s California Country, wasn’t it?” – go happily out the window.

I heard “Turning Over Leaves” first, thanks to Paste’s awesome mPlayer, and couldn’t figure out why I liked it. It had everything I usually actively dislike in my rock and roll: a funky drum beat, a weird but infectious jazzy bass line, super deep Barry White-ish verses followed by a falsetto chorus. And I love it. It’s one of the only 5-star songs on my iPod at the moment, and was easily enough to make me want more.

There not another song like it on the whole album.

In the rest of those songs I hear James Gang-era Joe Walsh (and who else is channeling that awesome sound these days?), the 70’s CA sound referenced earlier, ELO (what?!), prog rock, and other majestic, multi-instrument, multi-layered Rock with a capital R. It’s not diversity for diversity’s sake, nor do I ever get the feeling that he’s simply showing off his considerable musical prowess. I DO get the feeling that, when putting together a collection of his own songs, he played what he’d written, unrestricted by the pigeon hole people may put him in, and then had a blast laying them down. At least it sounds that way. Current favorite is “The Darkness Will Be Gone.”

Best, funnest all-the-way-through album I’ve heard in years. Even got a Twitter reply from him when I tweeted my fanboy pleasure after the first listen; asked him to please come to Atlanta or its nearby environs, and he basically said, “Hope so!”

I hope so, too.

In the meantime, I plan on catching him with his day job as they begin the steel breeze that is the Railroad Revival Tour, mark II. The last one featured Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and others as they traveled in 1940’s rail cars from California to NOLA, playing all along the way both on and off the train. This year’s crew included Band of Horses, Willie Nelson & Family, John Reilly’s band (yes, that John Reilly) and more, and they start the trip about 10 miles from my current location. Think I’m missing that? Not a chance.

That’s all for now – keep in touch and let me know what’s tickling your eardrums these days.

Later-

Let’s get right to it.

So far this year I’ve found few albums that are stellar from start to finish. (Exceptions: Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is an Animal, Anais Mitchell’s Young Man in America, Port of Morrow from The Shins and Chevelle’s Hats Off to the Bull.)

But now I can add to that list: Silversun Pickups has released an album at least as good as Swoon, their last effort, which I loved. Neck of the Woods has plenty of familiar sounds and feels, but enough that’s new to make it feel like a true step forward and not simply going back to the same old well. Favorite cuts include “Mean Spirits”, “Dots and Dashes”, and “Simmer”. Comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins aside (and they’re still out there, rightly) I’ve kept the entire thing on heavy rotation for the past few weeks, and find more to like about it every time I hear it.

Sara Watkins’ latest, Sun Midnight Sun, has many bright moments, to be sure. Guest spots abound, a great producer in Blake Mills (this generation’s T-Bone Burnett? A case can be made…) and some nice and shiny tunes all make for another pleasurable listening experience from the sweet-sounding siren. The first one that grabbed me by the ears and shook me to attention was the instrumental “The Ward Accord”, which plays to one of Sara’s great strengths: making new and modern music sound like it was written at the turn of the last century, and that she’s only recently discovered it and made it her own. This could easily have been played around the Rebels’ campfire in early July of 1863, the night before they wandered into town looking for some shoes. . .

As usual, I found a new band through their Daytrotter session in May. This time around it was Deaf Club, and their set in the Horseshack is wondrous. Don’t sleep on this one. (Decent Twitter presence, too, so tag along for the ride there, too. Follow them @DEAFCLUBmusic)

Rosie Thomas‘ Daytrotter set is also not to be missed. “Much Farther to Go”, which I’ve always loved, stands out in particular but the whole session is great.

As for the rest of the time since last I scribed, there seems to have been a dearth of great stuff – either that or I haven’t had enough time to unearth enough new sounds to rate and report on. I suspect it’s the latter, having logged close to 15,000 miles in the air for work in May. I’ve got close to 50 unrated new tunes in the bank, still, so hopefully the next time I’m here there will be more to share.

Until then- keep listening, and don’t forget to share some of your favorites, too.

This week seemed to be an unusually fertile time for new music- for me, anyway. I added just over 100 new songs, and have so far rated 25 of them high enough to make several Top playlists in my library. Since that percentage stands out as being unusually high, even though I still have quite a few left to hear and rate I thought it warranted a blurb or two.

Let’s get to it.

I don’t know much about Chairlift, but had heard good things from numerous sources over the past few years. That prompted me to download their outstanding Daytrotter session this week, and it didn’t disappoint – quite the opposite. If it prompts me to stop what I’m doing and tweet about it, as I did as soon as I’d heard the second cut, it’s a keeper.

Ditto The Drums– always heard great things, even sampled a bit of a track or two from their last album, but nothing stuck until their Daytrotter session, released just yesterday. Excellent stuff.

A non-new but very nice surprise for me came with the latest Jane’s Addiction release. The Great Escape Artist came out way back in October and totally passed me by. I’d never been a huge fan but have always appreciated most of the efforts of Mr. Farrell and company. “Just Because” and “Three Days” from way back, for example, are fantastic workout songs. But I heard a cut from this one while visiting out in Vegas last week so when I got home I looked it up and snagged it. I’ve only heard 4 of its 10 tracks as of yet, but have rated them all high enough to make some of the Top playlists. Dave Navarro’s guitars are a welcome return, and even with some borderline ponderous/pedantic phrasing and lyrical choices, the songs just plain rock. Listen to “Irresistible Force,” the song from Vegas, here.

The next great find- and it really is, considering it sent me off on a chase for their backlog and cross-referenced work with others- is also from late last year. This Unknown Science from Joy Kills Sorrow is wondrous. Technically flawless, this Bluegrass outfit could be just another proficient set of players if not for the magical sounds of Emma Beaton’s vocals and the enchantment of Bridget Kearney’s often heartbreaking lyrics. Slightly reminiscent of Crooked Still, with whom they’ve shared some players and some history, I believe – definitely some crossover school-wise- and though not mentioned I have to think that since several of them attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music they must have crossed paths with Sarah Jarosz at some point, too (who’s across town at Boston’s Conservatory.) JKS’s canon is just as light and lacy as some of Jarosz’s most touching pieces while still providing the sturdy bones necessary for a strong, lasting tune. See their “Such Sweet Alarms” below, recorded in the Acoustic Guitar offices late last year. (Also check out Kearney’s work with Lake Street Drive. Like this one: “Neighbor Song” – if you have Spotify.)

Bowerbirds represent a discovery from one of my other great sources for new music: Paste magazine. Between the two, Daytrotter and Paste account for probably 50% of everything new I hear every week. Paste’s mPlayer is a ridiculously affordable and deeply rich way to taste weekly samples of new stuff. The broad net it casts inevitably means that not everything makes the cut every week for me, but there is always – without fail – at least one revelation with each delivery. Bowerbirds, though, wasn’t on one of the mPlayer samples- I saw the link to “In the Yard” on a sidebar while browsing the Paste site and (happily) clicked on it. Another beautiful acoustic guitar and an angelic voice- what’s new about that, right? Wrong. Can’t wait to hear more from them. (And click soon, before Paste changes that sidebar, since I couldn’t readily find another link to it.)

I can, will and do thank The Line of Best Fit for the next two: Army Girls and The Darcys each have a great track on the collection TLOBF offered as a free download this week called Oh! Canada 20. I’m about halfway through it, and so far it’s been fairly hit or miss overall but the ones that stand out (like these two) are great. Army Girls’ “Always” is a slow burn with a driving beat that builds crashingly, and The Darcys offer an interesting, if surprising, take on Steely Dan’s “Peg”.

I’m even later to the party on Bombay Bicycle Club than I was on Jane’s Addiction and Joy Kills Sorrow. Their latest came out back in September and though it was on my list (the master Liner Notes list I keep in my phone for supposedly easy reference to things I’m meaning to check out. . .) I only got around to them now. Shame on me- I wish I’d discovered them sooner. Also, in a bit of reverse synchronicity, very shortly after discovering how good A Different Kind of Fix is almost all the way through, I found out I’d be traveling for work to the NJ/NYC area, and that the Club was playing at the Bowery Ballroom. Perfect, I thought – if they weren’t already sold out. Bummer. (But I was able to find tickets to a different show on the next leg of the trip, at the Wildflower Pavilion in the Rockies outside of Denver, so it’s hard to complain.) Check out BBC’s “How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep.”

I know next to nothing about Hospitality. (Which sounds odd in my ears since I spent almost 20 years in the hotel business. . .) Their Daytrotter session from January is mighty: 4 of its 6 songs made the higher ratings and Top playlists. They have a song on one of the newest mPlayers from Paste, too, and it’s worth checking out, as well.

Lastly, what more can be said about The Punch Brothers? I came back from Vegas on Monday, wearing the traditionally heavy cloak of melancholy that always drapes me upon leaving there, and found that the pre-order of their latest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, was awaiting me when I got home. I’d even been one of the fortunate few to have scored pasteboard coasters autographed by the band. But then I popped it in and forgot all about paper coasters, and plane rides, and the melancholy jacket started slipping, the smallest bit, off my shoulders. I’ve often said that it’s impossible not to smile and be happy when listening to good, fast bluegrass tunes (or to weep at the slow ones), and that was never more true than on this first listen. “Flippen (The Flip)” is like a house burning down, and forced a heartfelt “God DAMN!” from me when I first heard its end. (Fortunately I was in my car at the time. . .) “Soon or Never,” at the other end of the gamut, cut right to my center, and was almost spooky in its applicability to a recent real life situation. The rest is just as good, and I’m looking forward to playing it heavily in the coming weeks, and months, and years. See “Flippen” below.

So all in all a pretty great week, music-wise. And I still have a nice, deep backlog to get through, so maybe even more sonic discoveries await. Let me know what you think, and what you’ve recently heard that’s lit you up.

Notice how I didn’t say “Best of 2011”?

For the past 3 or 4 Christmases I’ve made a disc of my favorite songs of the year for select friends and family members who are interested in that sort of thing. The criteria have always been there, if a little loose: it could even be a new cover of an old song, as long as it was put out that year.

With all the “Best Of. . .” lists – and sources for publishing them – proliferating of late, I’ve decided to change things up a bit this year. Instead of a disc (which I will happily make available to anyone who still wants one,) I will have a disc-length list of my favorite songs posted here. I’ll also have lists for the best shows I saw this year, as well as what I rated as the best albums of 2011.

Which brings us to today’s list, part 1 of at least 3. Unless I think of some more lists to make, and find the time to make them.

As hard as I know compiling the lists of songs and shows will be – I added over 1,400 songs to the library this year, so finding the best 20 is usually an angst-ridden exercise that takes at least four passes and countless re-listens – the album list was made relatively easy using the metadata and smart playlist abilities embedded in iTunes. (For the mathematically or statistically uninterested, feel free to skip to the list.)

I simply created a list of all the songs I added this year (after correcting a few albums that had neglected to note that fact – shame on them,) narrowed it to the ones I’d rated 4 or 5 stars, and then sorted by album. Any album that had at least five of its songs rated highly made the initial list. Then I checked each album for the total number of tracks and used Excel to figure out, lickety-split, what percentage of each album I’d rated 4 or 5 stars. Any album that had at least 50% at that level made the list below. (Which also, along with the fact that I didn’t want my list to be like everyone else’s, explains why there are 22 albums listed.)

Happy reading – and listening. I’ve made a Spotify playlist with the songs from each album that came immediately to mind when free associating about it. There were only two albums not on Spotify, so it’s not 100% complete, but I think it provides a decent representation of the albums I most enjoyed this year. (You’re on your own for those two.)

Thanks for reading, and special thanks to all of the artists who made 2011 a fantastic year for new music, at least for these two ears, and to the sources that helped me find them.

Let me know if you agree, disagree or have your own completely different lists – I’d love to check them out.

22. In Heaven, Twin Sister 50%

Love the quirky, retro feel of “Gene Ciampi,” which is why it made the Spotify list. “Kimmi in a Rice Field” and “Spain,” in particular, are also worth checking out.

21. Simple Math, Manchester Orchestra 50%

I’ve seen these guys at least three times – the most recent at the incredible Tabernacle here in Atlanta – and they keep growing in power and stature each time. Their last album snuck up on me – I really liked the first two advance singles, “April Fool” and the title track, but when I heard the full album it took a few spins for its depths to unmurk enough (never all the way, which is a good thing. . .) for me to truly appreciate it for what it is – like so much of Andy Hull’s canon, it seems a lament for questionable decisions and what appears to be a stormy, sometimes tragic past. It’s hard to pick just one from here, but what comes to mind first is its titular cut, so that’s what I chose for the Spotify list.

20. Tamer Animals, Other Lives 50%

I considered finding Other Lives’ last eponymous album a major discovery, so I didn’t hesitate at all when I saw this one come out. I wasn’t disappointed for a second. Also saw some great YouTube-like buzz around them for much of the year. The “Old Statues” video from their TLOBF session (more on TLOBF in a bit. . .) is starkly simple and staggeringly good, even with the false start. I chose “Desert” to represent the album, though, thinking that any who may have heard from them may not be familiar with this piece that sounds as sinuous, as soaring and as desolate as its namesake.

19. Circuital, My Morning Jacket 55%

I love “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” and I dare you not to get sucked in by its organ riff, but I picked “Victory Dance” for the playlist, which when it does shuffle into consciousness makes me wonder, “Where have you been lately? You need to come around more often…”

18. Burst Apart, The Antlers 55%

Not much to say here except these guys just keep getting better. Strange, unique, odd – all good descriptors in my book – and never dull. “Corsicana” is achingly beautiful, a song I imagine as part of the soundtrack of my life some days. “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” made the Spotify cut because, even odder than the song, I’ve had that dream more than once myself. Worry not, making an appointment to discuss soon. . .

17. Acrobat, Peggy Sue 55%

Found these guys by accident through The Line of Best Fit, a UK-based site and podcast that can be a little too electronic and dance-y for my tastes at times, but which has turned me onto numerous new sounds over the last year. (And I absolutely love listening to TLOBF’s Emily Mules on their podcast – how can you not? I defy you to not like her, even if you don’t like the specific song or band she’s describing at the time. . .) When I heard this one I dug backwards and immediately grabbed their previous release, Fossils and Other Phantoms, which was also amazing. I’ve quoted two of their songs on this blog over the last few months:

It’s hard to breathe
with these words in my mouth
With your lips on my own
come get them out
– from Acrobat’s “Funeral Beat” (which made the Spotify list)

and

You like the way her name fits in the corners of your mouth /
You like the way your name fits in the corners of her mouth
– from Fossils’ “Careless Talk”

16. Follow Me Down, Sarah Jarosz 55%

Sarah Jarosz was as surprising to me as was discovering that Laura Marling (coming soon. . .) was just a youngster, too, even though I knew Sarah was just 17 or so when she recorded her first album, Song Up In Her Head. The subtlety, the nuance, the quiet power in her words and her playing belie her time of residency on the planet, and her follow-up to that last record is even more impressive. When not studying at Boston’s Conservatory of Music she’s touring the world with her band, playing an irresistible mix of her own impressive originals and an inspired pastiche of intriguing covers. From the first notes of “Annabelle Lee” to the last, though, I knew this effort – and this artist – was and is something special, something unlike anything I’d heard in any genre, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. No surprise, then, that Poe’s paean to his lost love makes it onto the Spotify list. Can’t wait to see her at Atlanta’s iconic Eddie’s Attic, one of my favorite all-time venues, in January.

15. Ukulele Songs, Eddie Vedder 56%

I wrote about this one when it first came out (here) and said at the time I didn’t really know what to expect, but at least a small part of me thought it may end up being a novelty record. It’s not. Read the other words I’ve written about it, and listen to “You’re True,” and I think you’ll agree.

14. Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes 58%

I’d been meaning to check this band out for a few years now, and finally did so with the release of their newest. I promptly fell in love with this album. I remember downloading and listening to it on a Friday, and then finding that they were playing the very next night here in town. That was a month where I already had two shows lined up, though, and the entertainment budget was stretched a little thin. Now I wish I’d done it anyway. The title cut is an awesome one, but I went with “Sim Sala Bim” for the playlist mainly because of its nonsensical, Ali Baba-like incantation of a title.

13. We Are the Tide, Blind Pilot 60%

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing these Portlanders three times over the last few years, too, and though they keep gaining members with every viewing they’ve always managed to keep that intimate, almost quiet sound that first drew me in back when they were a bike-riding two-piece. Love the words and the play among the members, however many there are. Planned to include “Half Moon” on the list because of someone I know who likes the moon in song, story and life, but alas, that’s one of the two not on Spotify.

12. When You Left the Fire, The Wilderness of Manitoba 64%

Here’s a fantastic find that the moon-lover sent my way, I think, that also kind of adds to the theme of some of the top bands and albums on this list. Large-group folk bands have dominated my eardrums this year, and contrary to becoming redundant or interchangeable each has remained distinct for me, bringing something similar but at the same time unique to the party. These are not the only Canucks on the list, either, but more on their countrymen and -women later. “Summer Fires,” one of only three 5-star ratings on this list, is included here.

11. Little Hell, City & Colour 64%

Though I still don’t get the trend of singular artists giving themselves pluralized names, this one makes sense. Dallas Green (a City and a Colour) makes deeply moving introspective music that lingers long after the last note. Not depressing, at least not usually, even though in the hands of a lesser artist the subjects he tackles likely would be. The a capella take on “At the Bird’s Foot,” a simple but scathing account of the BP oil spill, pairs those haunting vocals with Florence Welch, sans the Machine, and enrages while it saddens. I included “O’ Sister” for sampling, though any of the others would have served just as well.

10. Come Back to Us, Release the Sunbird 64%

Can’t say enough about this project, which finds a Waveless Zach Rogue with Caitlin Gutenberger making beautiful, deceptively simple music that reveals more with each listen. Check out one of my favorite cuts, another titular track, this time recorded in the excellent Subway Sessions series: “Come Back to Us.” Bonus: “Why Can’t You Look at Yourself” is on the Spotify list.

9. A Creature I Don’t Know, Laura Marling 67%

I’ve loved listening to Laura Marling ever since I bought her last album, purely due to the fact that she used a little-known group of guys called Mumford & Sons as the studio band for it. They subsequently toured India and other climes together, and in the process made some magical, otherworldly music. From the first cut I was simply blown away by the depth and power of her voice, so I was amazed to find that she’s this relatively small young girl – she writes and sings like someone thrice her age. The newest disc is full of goodies, but I think my favorite is the first one I heard, both because of its use of the universal female archetype “Sophia,” and because of the way the song – and Marling’s tender but powerful voice – changes so during its progression. Masterful stuff from one so young.

8. Within and Without, Washed Out 70%

Only recently found out that this guy, another singular gone plural, hails from Perry, GA, just south of Macon. Moody, ambient keys and plaintive voices make this one standout from the rest of the pack, and it definitely gets my vote for favorite album cover of the year. “Amor Fati” is included on the playlist.

7. The Head and the Heart 70%

Getting into the really consistently good stuff here. Loved these guys the very first time I heard the very first song, and it kept getting better. They were also probably the first of several of these large-format folk/rock bands that included beautiful harmonies with or without their female members (but mostly with) that I fell for this year. Their eponymous album is bursting at the seams with soul-soothing sounds. Saw them less than two months ago at the Variety Playhouse, so they’ll get some more plugs on the “Favorite Shows” list as soon as it’s out. Don’t know what it is about the magical, mystical PNW, but it must have just the right mix of weather, people and temperament that it takes to produce great songwriters and collaborative instrumentalists. Super hard to choose just one THatH cut to include on the sampler, and since show-closer and first favorite “Rivers and Roads” is probably the one most people know, and though “Down in the Valley” has one of my favorite lines as its opener (“I wish was a slave to an age-old trade / like ridin’ ’round on railcars and working long days / Lord, have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways. . .”) I went with “Winter Song,” one of the only other 5-star cuts from this list.

6. The King is Dead, The Decemberists 70%

Another constantly astounding, consistently impressive band for me, this follow-up to last year’s weirdly majestic The Hazards of Love would have been amazing even without the likes of Pete Buck and Gillian Welch along for the ride. I listed its first single, “Down by the Water,” as one of my favorite songs of last year since it was released just ahead of the rest of the album, and it’s still one of my favorites. One of the finest results, though, of Colin and the gang’s taking this one on the road was that they recruited Sara Watkins, a perennial favorite of mine who now seems like practically an honorary band member, playing not only fiddle but rhythm guitar onstage and on several TV appearances I caught throughout the year- and, most impressively, when I saw them at the Cobb Energy Centre here in Atlanta, one of the most beautiful and acoustically perfect venues I’ve ever been in. It was my second time seeing them, and they didn’t disappoint – but more on the show later. I chose “Don’t Carry it All” for the sampler because I love its anthemic, triumphant and cathartic feel – Meloy practically screams at us, “Let the yoke fall from our shoulders / don’t carry it all, don’t carry it all / we are all our hand and holders / beneath this bold and brilliant sun / THIS I SWEAR TO ALL!” (Caps mine.) Honorable mention also goes to the six-tune EP of tracks that didn’t make TKiD cut, cleverly titled Long Live the King and filled with the now-standard inscrutability of songs like “E. Watson,” (what did this poor bastard DO to deserve getting buried “all face down, with a good view into Hell”?) and “Burying Davy.” Good to find that Colin has lost none of the affable morbidity that we’ve come to expect from their oeuvre – the body count remains steadily on the rise.

5. Civilian, Wye Oak 70%

I guess it’s becoming redundant to describe anything in this Top 10 as “grabbing me from first listen,” but this one certainly did that, and hasn’t let go yet. I heard such power, such deep underpaintings being laid down to support the structures being built by this Baltimore two-piece, and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Assuming that they’d either had a brace of musicians helping them in the studio or that they’d played all the instruments themselves and multitracked the lot, and that they’d need at least a few more supporting players on tour, I was further astounded to find when I saw them at The Tabernacle this Fall that it remains just the two of them onstage: Jenn Wasner playing all the masterful, many-hued guitar sounds, and the equally incredible Andy Stack playing drums, keyboards and working the BGVs – all at the same time. To see his left hand and foot playing a staggered stack of keys while his right appendages played a small but explosive drum kit left me reeling. Check it: I won’t spoil too much since the description of the show will be on that future list, but I was completely blown away, and remain so. Everyone’s probably heard “Holy Holy” by now, and though I love the titular track on this one, too, I included “Hot as Day” on the sampler as that was the first one I heard, and some days I can still see the ghosts of its fingerprints on my throat.

4. Sunshadows, The Echocentrics 71%

This was a very late-in-the-year find – just a few weeks ago via another of my favorite finds from last year, Daytrotter. If you haven’t checked their site out yet, stop reading and do so now. Daytrotter is blowing up pretty big now, so I hope they don’t lose any of the small-time charm that I first discovered there a little over a year ago – and so far there are no indications that they’ll let that happen. Daytrotter and Paste account for fully one-quarter of the 4- and 5-star additions to my library this year – about 115 songs. Not to mention the bands I first heard there and then dug deeper and bought more of. But we’re supposed to be talking about The Echocentrics, so here goes: charmingly unusual quasi-world music that’s partly instrumental but whose lyrics are a sultry mix of Portuguese, Spanish and English. One description of their music that I came across after hearing their session, and which played at least as much of a part in my decision to buy the whole record as anything else, said basically, “when their music comes on, clothes come off, and parts of bodies crash together in interesting ways,” or words to that effect – you get the gist. I was surprised, though, that this many of their songs made the tops, but I have not tired of any of them yet and don’t expect to any time soon. Was going to include “Esclavo Y Amo” but it’s the sole remaining tune not available on Spotify yet. (It means “slave and master,” which I didn’t know until a few minutes ago, either. You’re welcome.)

3. The Cold Still, The Boxer Rebellion 83%

Here’s one that I remembered I’d loved, but that I was surprised had so very many 4’s and 5’s. Great balance between lighter and harder rock guitars, the textures just sucked me in and the highs and lows kept me wondering what was coming next. Tough choice between “Step Out of the Car” and “Locked in the Basement” as to which comes to mind first, but I went with “… Basement” on the playlist.

2. His Young Heart, Daughter 100% **

The asterisks on this one mean that I felt that there needed to be an exception made here. I really like all four songs, especially the lyrics, which were some of most open and raw I’d heard all year, and her voice suits them perfectly. But it was just four songs (“Just?” she’s probably saying somewhere right now, without knowing why. “JUST?!”) so I felt that while it definitely deserved to make it onto the list, and with high placement, to boot, I couldn’t list it as number one, mainly because I knew when I started this overlong treatise which one would have the highest percentage of 4’s and 5’s, and which one had made the strongest impact on me this year. “Candles” is the Daughter track that made the sampler.

1. Seeds, Hey Rosetta! 91%

Like I said, I knew this would be the top dog this year. It’s just too good not to be. I found it the same week as The Boxer Rebellion, so after a pretty long spell of hearing albums that had one or two great moments, to find two in the same week that were that good all the way through was a revelation. (Thanks again, Moongirl! If Paste and Daytrotter are responsible for 25% of the great songs I added in 2011, I’m sure you can account for more than 50% of the rest.) Where to start? From the multiple changes in “Yer Fall” (which could itself be three separate tunes,) to its thematic counterpart “Yer Spring,” to the straightforwardness of “Bricks” it all shines and comes together brilliantly. But it’s “Bandages” that struck first, hardest and deepest, drilling straight into my heart for a number of personal reasons and nesting there, making room for the others to follow and take up permanent residence. Based in the Great White North (which may be importing some of the PNW’s magic, or – more likely – sharing some of those same traits,) their misleadingly simple music is anything but. When I first saw this video for “Bandages,” an extended cut of the song, I was transported, and I knew I’d be a fan for life. I’ll bet I’ve heard the song over a hundred times now and it’s lost none of its emotional punch; when it hits the chorus it still gets me every time, and the incredible settings and enhanced choral harmonies in the extended video are crushingly effective. (And its drunken, healing revelry at the end will stay with you, too, as it has for me.) I hope they come down South soon, or I may have to make a road trip to see them. Easily, far and away, and without question my favorite album and band of the year.

Honorable mentions: SO many great albums missed the cut by just a few percentage points – good thing, though, or this entry may never end. Fleet Foxes was just under the required 50% and I still listen to them quite a bit. The newest Greencards offering was right on the cusp, too (and they killed in concert, as well,) as were efforts from Chris Thile, Yoyo Ma and the rest of The Goat Rodeo Sessions players. Young Galaxy has several from their latest that I know will stay in heavy rotation in coming years, just like I’m sure Pajama Club (the last of the 5-star recipients for “TNT for 2,” which is completely infectious in the best possible way) and St. Vincent will, too. Fleet Foxes, Fruit Bats and Seether round out the list of this year’s almost-theres for me.

So that’s it. Let me know what you agree with, and what you don’t – and if you like anything from this list that you’d never heard before, let me know that, too. And be on the lookout for the Favorite Songs and Favorite Shows of 2011 lists, too – don’t forget to send me yours!

Safe and happy holidays, everyone!