2015 Best Music pt.6 – The Covers

I suppose the previous post overlaps with this one, since I included the Seth Avett/Jessica Lea Mayfield cover of Elliott Smith in pt. 5, but it only serves to remind me (and you) that there were some excellent cover songs in 2015 and that they deserve their own post in the best picks of 2015 collection.

Chris Staples – Center of the Universe (Built to Spill cover)

I didn’t know about Chris Staples at all before reading about him on one of the many online music rags touting their best albums of 2015 (making my own list both unnecessary and cannibalistic). Apparently he isn’t popular enough to warrant a biography on Allmusic.com, unlike the similarly named Country Music critical darling of 2015, Chris Stapleton. Thankfully wikipedia does have info on him, so to learn more go here.

Either way, I’m thankful for finding out about the guy, not only for his wonderful acoustic originals (think: José González, Iron and Wine), but for his excellent cover of one of my favorite all time songs, from one of my favorite all time bands. Proof that even if you love an original, a re-interpretation can also lay claim to the same love.

Here’s the original so you can hear what a great job Chris Staples did at turning this 90’s rocker into an acoustic ballad.

The Sonics – You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover

Here’s where all these so-called “categories” I come up with really blur together. This one could have easily fit in my garage-rock post, or my revival post to come later (maybe). But since this post is about “cover” songs, it seemed extra-fitting to include a song that actually is about covers.

And as much as I love the Bo Diddley original, The Sonics really take the song to new and propulsive levels here. The baritone sax just kills me in this song. I can the feel the breathy force of Rob Lind’s horn blasts in my spine when I listen to this song. And these dudes are in their 70’s! They are the Rolling Stones of garage rock, and it is amazing to see them back for their first new album, This is the Sonics, in over 30 years.

This is what bands that get back together after a long hiatus are supposed to sound like: reinvigorated, rocking and ready to rumble.

Here’s the Bo Diddley original.


2015 Best Music pt. 5 – Aching ballads

2015 was a strong year for songs to tug at the heartstrings, with several of them gathered on one of my favorite albums of the year, Tobias Jesso Jr.’s Goon.  I can’t think of another album in the past ten years that has captured the sound of the 1970’s-early 80’s singer-songwriter (think: Jim Croce, Christopher Cross, James Taylor) better than Goon. The song I include here is clearly Beatleseque, perhaps a lost McCartney track from Red Rose Speedway.

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Can We Still Be Friends

Actually, the little piano trill that leads to the songs repeated melody is very similar to the theme song from “Cheers,” and part of me hopes it is an intention homage….but being that Jesso is probably 25 years old (I just looked it up: he’s 30, and Canadian, which makes him 40…there goes my argument), he more than likely didn’t consciously steal from this theme.

And the theme of the song, hoping to remain friends with someone you have known for a long time after a big fight; it’s like the platonic version of the romantic “I’m sorry, can we get back together” tune that is much more common in pop music. I mean, how many other songs about male friendship are out there?  If you like this song, I highly recommend seeking out the entire album.

Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield – Twilight 

I will admit that although I appreciated Elliott Smith’s music in the 90’s and early 2000’s, I always felt that I was supposed to like it more than I did. That somehow his shyness and sensitivity, which usually sucked me in closer to an artist, instead kept me at a distance and I couldn’t find a way into the heart his songs.

I think it’s this struggle I had with Smith’s music that opened up space for me to dive deep into the Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield tribute, Sing Elliott Smith. Avett and Mayfield were able to somehow bring out the raw emotions in Smith’s best songs while at the same time adding new layers of musicality that took the songs to new places while still honoring the original. My favorite songs on the album feature Mayfield on lead vocals, her hauntingly fragile voice a perfect match for Smith’s compositions.

I’m betting that many Elliott Smith fanatics don’t love this album, as it’s hard to accept and welcome new versions of songs that own a special place in one’s musical heart. But if you, like me, never had such a connection with Smith’s originals, this album might be the one to find a home in that special place.


2015 Best Music pt. 4 – Garage

So hard to limit these posts to just two songs, especially for 2015 garage rock, as this was a banner year for good ol’ fashioned rock and roll.

The first pick here, The Connection’ “Labor of Love” is nothing you haven’t heard before. It sounds like a lost track from the late 60’s/early 70’s. Smart guitar riffs and catchy melody. A little bit Ramones, a little bit Rubinoos. This eponymous track from their 2015 album is just one of 10 fun songs I could have included here. The album was produced by Andy Shernoff of The Dictators and he brings his own history of pop-punk to this album. I would venture to guess that this is in my top 5 most played albums of 2015. It’s that good.

Low Cut Connie – Diane (Don’t Point That Thing at Me)

Another solid, front to back, classic rock and roll album from 2015 is Low Cut Connie’s “Hi Honey.” Think Chuck Berry meets Black Keys with some R&B overtones. While looking them up just now I see that the producer of this album is Thomas Brenneck, who produced Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, which makes sense, since SJ and DK were in my top albums of last year.

I guess I have a sound I gravitate to after all. The song I chose is more guitar driven than most of the other tracks, which tend to feature the piano (the band lugs around a grand piano to all their gigs); but it’s the one I keep finding myself humming. I’ve added my 2nd favorite song from the album below, in case you want more than a single taste.

2015 Best Music pt. 3 – Post Punk

Continuing on with my top songs of the year, I move from the hip-hop/funk sounds in pt. 2 to the biting, bracing post-punk express train that speeds and careens through these two tunes.

Titus Andronicus – No Future Part IV

First up is Titus Andronicus. Never a band to express themselves subtly or covertly, TA’s MO is to blast straight forward and tell it like it is. This 90 minute, 3 album epic is a punk-rock opera. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a 30 song story of mental illness, abuse, self-destruction, redemption and a whole lot of other big themes, without ever seeming heavy-handed.

The Bruce Springsteen comparisons are apt (less so on this song), but for me, the other big influence is London Calling-era Clash. This influence is more musical than thematic, TA’s album is more personal less political than London Calling, but has a similar immediacy and musical ambition.

Basically, just get the album and call in sick to work. Play it on vinyl and stomp around your living room in your feety-pajamas and rock out. This is how music is meant to be heard.

Shopping – Wind Up

I really don’t know much about Shopping. Other than I prefer to do it online. Snare-snare-crash! Too many people in the brick and mortar stores! Long lines and parking lots and holiday music and NO THANK YOU!

I do know that Shopping is a British art-punk trio that sounds like they stepped out of 1980’s London with their angular guitars and haircuts. The first time I heard this song “Wind Up” I thought it was an outtake from Gang of Four or some obscure 80’s band I missed at the time. I love the interplay of the drums and guitar in this song (and the bass too, really). You can hear all 3 parts distinctly, how they weave around each other and at the same time, but up against each other.

The rest of their 2015 album, Why Choose, does not match the ferocity of this song,  unfortunately, but that’s why I am listing best songs, not best albums….that will be a later post.

Wind Up!


2015 Best Music pt. 2 – Old School

Blackalicious – Ashes to Ashes

I will admit: I like my hip-hop old-school and funky. I’m good with drum machines and loops, but if you want to pierce me through the top of my head and out the soles of my feet, it’s gotta have live drums and BASS.

And this tune from Blackalicious’ great new album “Imani Vol. 1” (will there be a Vol. 2 soon?), Ashes To Ashes, fits the bill. It’s been 10 years since Blackalicious has graced us with new music and I can say it was worth the wait. The album is a veritable history lesson of hip-hop. It’s got 80’s style minimalism, some 90’s loop-based gangsta (“Escape”), 2000’s T-Pain style auto-tune (“Inspired By”), and of course no great hip-hop album would be without collaborations with other artists (Imani Coppola, Monophonics, Lyrics Born, Fantastic Negrito).

But it’s the funkiest tune on the album that I go back to more than the others and if you don’t find yourself shaking your booty (and perhaps another body part or two) playing the above video (well, just the audio really), then you probably had a bad day or are at work and don’t want to scare your co-workers.

This album has gotten little to know press and I don’t understand it, other than, maybe I’m getting old, and the music critics are all under 30 now. (Insert several “kids these days!” ranting sentences.)

Little Boots – Get Things Done

Keeping with the bass-heavy old-school sound, I’m including a new discovery in 2015, Little Boots. This one definitely is more from the disco-dance world, but, like Ashes To Ashes, has a killer bass line and just gets my blood movin’.

Little Boots is really Victoria Hesketh, whose new album “Working Girl” is influenced by the 1988 Melanie Griffith comedy of the same name. So expect late 80’s style dance music; maybe a little Madonna, a little Giorgio Moroder. Some sexuality, some female empowerment, and a lot of fun.

Nothing to make you contemplate your navel, but like my “brother” Adam Goldberg once said in the great movie Dazed and Confused, when asked what he wants to do with his life, he says: “I wanna dance!”




2015 Best Music pt. 1 – Jeff the Brotherhood

I’ll start off by listing the first of several artists that you won’t find on any of the “best of” lists in most music magazines and websites. Sure, a few of the top picks by Uncut, Pitchfork, Metacritic and the like are worthy; I’m thinking specifically of Courtney Barnett, Kendrick Lamar and Sleater Kinney (all of which will be in my top 25 songs of 2015). But those artists get enough attention, and I’d like to promote the lesser knowns, who have released albums just as awesome as those three.

  1.  Jeff the Brotherhood –  Wasted On The Dream; Global Chakra Rhythms

Well, JtB is hardly unknown, but their strong early 2015 release, Wasted On The Dream, was a regular repeat listen all year on my iPod. Certainly slicker than their previous seven albums, I, for one, appreciated the tighter, yet more adventurous arrangements. And who would have expected a guest turn from rock legend Ian Anderson for a kick-ass flute solo on “Black Cherry Pie.” The place where Weezer meets the Meat Puppets. With flute.

If you don’t “get” this music video, as I didn’t at first, watch the video below to appreciate JtB’s strange homage brilliance.

This would have been enough to place JtB in my top 10 of 2015, but apparently, the stoner brothers Orrall weren’t all that thrilled with all the Weezer comparisons and didn’t gel with their big label management, so they parted ways, and, filling out their band with an additional guitarist and a bassist, went back to their early, jammy, spacey roots with the November release, Global Chakra Rhythms. I haven’t had time to let this one sink in as much as Wasted On The Dream, but on just a couple listens, it’s apparent that the brothers are inspired and perhaps back in their more comfortable element. It’s certainly exponentially less hooky, but the perfect album to put on at the end of a party, when everyone is chillin’ and reclining on soft furniture.