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2013: The Year in Pictures

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

As you know well enough by now, I’ve already summed up what I thought were the best albums of 2013. Because, you know, some people still like albums. But 2013 wasn’t just a great year for music listening, it was a great year for music watching. Thanks to a great hobby and an even greater ‘better half,’ I was able to take in more shows this year than in any year since college. In the process, I started to try my hand at live concert photography. An amateur in every since of the word, I couldn’t tell you what an f-stop is with a gun to my temple. That said, I think I stumbled into what would be considered an “okay job” at times. I have learned a lot, and continue to do so. I combed through the several thousand pictures I took and posted some of my favorite moments in a gallery below. Check it out – clicking on one picture will open up the gallery in full-screen mode.

Hopefully 2014 will feature many more cool opportunities. Stay tuned!

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2013: The Year In Music

December 27, 2013 1 comment

Frequent readers of this blog (he says as though there is such a thing) will remember that 2012’s musical review found a top-heavy list that had a couple great albums and a lot of filler. It was tough, frankly, to put together even a top ten that was worthy of being called a “top ten” of anything. In looking back at last year’s list, there are probably only a half-dozen that I’ve listened to more than a half-dozen times this year.

2013, however, has been a far, far different story. If you read my write-up over at Dying Scene, you’re no doubt aware that I took the easy way out, compiling a top-ten list that was 15 albums long. The top six were almost interchangeable, and have all spent time as my true “favorite” at different points during the year. The next nine or ten are almost interchangeable at times as well. Long story short, 2013 made up for 2012 in a big, big way.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

As always, I don’t include EPs, live albums or 7-inches in my countdown. However, there were a few that are noteworthy and thus will get props here.

First up is the new 7-inch from Nashville’s Blacklist Royals. The two tracks, “Righteous Child” and “She’s The One,” are slated to appear on the band’s forthcoming full-length, Die Young With Me. They’re a heck of a taste of what’s to come…just hope DYWM finally sees the light of day in ’14. Here’s the title track from the 7-inch:

Also released this year were a couple EPs from Boston’s Street Dogs. The fellas started 2013 on hiatus, but that was short-lived. By spring, they had resurfaced with a new lineup and a couple releases on new label home Pirates Press Records. The new lineup doesn’t appear in its entirety on the albums, but they are at least the first new material we’ve had from Street Dogs since their self-titled 2010 album. Here’s the new track “Crooked Drunken Sons.”

In related news, 2013 also saw the debut 7-inch from FM359, a project that features the Street Dogs’ Mike McColgan and Johnny Rioux teaming up with Continental’s Rick Barton (also, not coincidentally, a founding member of Dropkick Murphys alongside McColgan). It’s very much a left turn compared to what you might expect coming from two founding Dropkicks (remember when they were a punk band!?). It’s a traditional Americana-style album; gospel without the Gospel. Here’s “A Little Sign”

MOVING ON TO THE LIST

21. Drag The River – s/t

Drag The River is the long-running on-again/off-again project featuring Jon Snodgrass and ALL’s Chad Price. The Fort Collins-based alt-country team put out their first album in five years this year. It’s good. Here’s “Song For My Roommates.”

20. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

I think I would have had this album up higher if I hadn’t seen a solo performance by frontman Toh Kay earlier this year. But I did see a solo performance by Toh Kay earlier this year, and it was freaking awesome, so that kinda spoiled the much-maligned final album from Streetlight Manifesto before it actually came out. Anyway, here’s the title track:

19. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves

For the uninitiated, Amanda Shires is the violin-playing better-half of alt-country artist extraordinaire Jason Isbell (whom you’ll read more about later). She put out her own solo album this year, and it’s not what you’d perhaps expect coming from the violin playing better-half of Jason Isbell. Dark, sweeping, bluesy and sorta punky at times. Here’s “Devastate,” but make sure you look up the track “Box Cutters” as well:

18. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I’m not, nor have I ever been, clinically depressed. I feel like if I were, I wouldn’t be able to make it through a Frightened Rabbit album in one piece. In a list that is chock full of world class songwriters this year, Scott Hutchison is, at times, the best of the bunch. Here’s “The Woodpile,” which may be my favorite song of the year. Seriously. If you listen to no other song on my list, LISTEN TO THIS ONE!

17. The Bronx – IV

I belong to the minority that actually prefer’s The Bronx’s mariachi alter ego side project to the original incarnation. I’m not that hardcore. Still, IV is a really good album, certainly my favorite the four studio album’s they’ve out out to date. A little more mainstream sounding, but that’s why I like it. I know, I know… Anyway, here’s “The Unholy Hand”:

16. Off With Their Heads – Home

Here’s where we start to get into the territory of albums that have been my “favorite album” of the year at times. OWTH are the real deal. Frontman Ryan Young has a no-bullshit way of conveying, well, conveying what a suicide note sounds like. At times, you genuinely worry for him. See for yourself; here’s “Always Alone”:

15. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I can understand those that say that Nine Inch Nails’ music is an acquired taste. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Trent Reznor as an artist, but it wasn’t until later years that I actually started to connect with his music. His return to the NIN game in 2013 is equal parts “pick up where you left off” and “time to change the game again.” Here’s “Copy of A” (featuring Pino Palladino on bass):

14. Get Dead – Bad News

Fat Wreck’s site bills Get Dead as “elements of Swingin’ Utters, The Pogues and Hot Water Music.” If you’re familiar with all of those bands, you realize that none of them are really even close to each other sonically. And yet, Fat Wreck’s description is right. Here’s “Kerouac’s Teeth”:

13. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners

I only got into Arliss Nancy very late in the year, which is a shame, because the Fort Collins-based country punks are really, really good. Folk-punk has been the obvious trend lately, but these guys don’t seem to be riding the genre’s coat tails. Here’s “Benjamin”:

12. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True

I’m just gonna come out and say a couple things here. After Skiba’s Sekrets side project, particularly after video of the disastrous show in Chicago surfaced, I was genuinely concerned about the future of the Trio. Then I heard “I Wanna Be A Warhol” the first time through, and was even more concerned. I’ve since become enamored with it, and I think the entire album is some of their best, most mature work to date. Andriano’s tracks shine in particular. It feels weird to have “My Shame Is True” listed so low, given that this would probably be a top 5 album most other years. Speaks to the strength of 2013 more than anything. Anyway, here’s “I, Pessimist”:

11. Broadcaster – A Million Hours

This album has been in my “to be reviewed” folder for way too long (stupid grad school work). I really do owe it to this Long Island three-piece to finish it up. Takes me instantly back to everything that was right about mid-90s power-pop music (somewhere between American Hi-Fi and Weezer, but with better lyrics). Sadly, they’re a little too “indie” to have anything on YouTube. Look ’em up on Spotify, however.

10. Joshua Black Wilkins – Fair Weather

If you were lucky enough to make it out to Face To Face’s US tour this past summer (with Teenage Bottlerocket and Blacklist Royals), and smart enough to show up early, then you were lucky enough to catch Joshua Black Wilkins’ one-man-show. If you weren’t so lucky, you don’t know what you’re missing. It probably stands to reason to point out that yours truly takes a liking to boozy, bluesy, singer-songwriter music, and J Black Dubs is amongst the dirtiest Tennessee bluesmen going. Not bad for a photographer by trade. Here’s “I Tremble”:

9. Bad Religion – True North

It’s probably a fair criticism to say that the last few Bad Religion albums are effectively interchangeable. As much as I love everything from the Brooks Wackerman era, True North is the best of the bunch. And their live show is still as vital, and inspired, as ever. Here’s their ode to Mitt Romney, “Robin Hood In Reverse,” followed by the self-explanatory “Fuck You.”

8. Swingin Utters – Poorly Formed

Many people are partial to the Utter$’ first “comeback” album, 2011′s Here, Under Protest. Most people are wrong. Much like my commentary for Three Chords And A Half Truth above, I really think that Poorly Formed is a great example of a band reuniting, hitting their stride, and shaking off any residual dust. That said, I didn’t give it much of a chance earlier in the year. It has since become effectively stuck in my CD changer. Here’s “Greener Grass.”

7. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Pound for pound, Jason Isbell might be the single best lyricist on the list this year, though that is certainly saying something. Isbell is somewhat recently sober and married to the aforementioned Shires (who also plays violin for his band, the 400 Unit). Tracks like “Super 8,” “Cover Me Up,” “Stockholm” and “Flying Over Water” are damn-near perfect. Here they are, in that order:

6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Another example of the strength of the 2013 music scene: Frank Turner’s last album, England Keep My Bones, was my favorite album the year it came out. The more honest, introspective Tape Deck Heart is better, and yet it’s #6. Anyway, here’s “Recovery,” followed by “Tattoos,” which appeared on the deluxe version.

5. Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One – Illuminator

I was sad when Darkbuster met its demise a half-dozen-or-so years ago, and more sad that frontman Lashley had, effectively, a mental breakdown while on tour in Europe toward the end. Illuminator is the sounds of Lashley hitting the lowest of low points in a few areas of his life and coming out the other side. Can’t say enough good things about the album. Here’s “US Mail.”

4. Face To Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth

Here’s what I wrote for Dying Scene: “While 2011′s Laugh Now, Laugh Later marked the band’s triumphant return to the punk rock game, Three Chords And A Half Truth found Face To Face abandoning much of what you’d call their ‘traditional sound’ yet again. Perhaps it was foolish of us to think that they have a ‘traditional sound’ after all. Not as big a left-hand turn as Ignorance Is Bliss was, but certainly not without its “out of left field” moments. Also, best album cover of the year. Nice work, Nat.” Here’s the video for “Right As Rain,” directed by the above-mentioned Joshua Black Wilkins, followed by the leftest-of-left turns, “First Step, Misstep.”

3. Various Artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute

I could spend twelve-hundred words expounding on the touching, virtuous moments of this album. Oh wait…I did. Here’s Tim McIlrath covering “For Fiona,” with backing vocals from Jon Snodgrass.

2. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly well aware of my long-time affinity for all things Pearl Jam. They are the first band that was really “my” band. I’ve emoted with and related to Eddie Vedder’s every word for better than twenty years. I understand and accept that The Clash are “the only band that really mattered.” Pearl Jam are my Clash, and always have been. So it pained me to no end that Eddie phoned in the last album, 2009’s Backspacer (with more than a little help from prodoucher Brendan O’Brien). For the first time, I was legitimately nervous about a PJ album, fearing that the “all tings Pearl Jam” chapter of my life’s book would close after almost a quarter-century. I was worried over nothing. Lightning Bolt (or at least the first eight tracks on Lightning Bolt) is a total triumph. A return to the piss-and-vinegar of the mid-1990s, coupled with some of the more heartfelt, relatable ballads the band has ever written. Here’s two examples of the former (“Father’s Son” and “Mind Your Manners”) and one of the latter (“Sirens”).

1. Dave Hause – Devour

In all honesty, this album probably sealed up the #1 spot on my 2013 list a month or so before it had even been recorded. It was upon first hearing “Autism Vaccine Blues” live during Dave’s set opening for Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour, and had an immediate, jaw-dropping sort of impact. Though the album version is a little less jaw-dropping than just Dave and a guitar, Devour contains enough cathartic moments to put it a full head above anything else on the list. Here’s my full review of the album from earlier this year. Here’s the stripped-down version of “Autism Vaccine Blues,” followed by a quintessential downer (“Before”) and a quintessential upper (“The Shine”).

2011: The Year in Music

January 1, 2012 2 comments

2011 rocked.

That’s really the best that I could do in coming up with an intro because, in all seriousness, 2011 rocked. Pearl Jam’s Ten turned twenty years old (as did Nirvana’s Nevermind). The Ramones turned 35. The Foo Fighters brought rock back to whatever exists of rock radio nowadays. Oh, and Dying Scene. As you’re probably aware by now, I started writing for Dying Scene, a punk music website, about a year ago, and that has reignited my passion for uptempo beats and power chords like it was 1994 all over again.

But it wasn’t just all about punk music. As you’ll see in a minute, some of my favorite releases of the year were from across the rock and hip-hop genres, including one from a two-piece that plays Mexican-inspired folk music and features a donkey jaw bone as a percussion instrument. That, of course, is the David Wax Museum. I was lucky enough to catch them open for the Josh Ritter Trio (with the Mrs.) at a hole-in-the-wall in Milford, CT, back in May.

In fact, I consider myself lucky to have seen all of the live shows that I did this year. Being a suburban professional (and a dad) and a homebody by nature, it’s always nice to venture out to catch live music. And when you only catch four or five live shows a year, it’s nice when each one of them is a great, truly inspiring performance; the reason live music far exceeds its studio-recorded counterpart. My live music year started in February with Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) opening for Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at a special “Valentine’s Day Brawl” in Boston. It was followed by Face to Face and Strung Out in Boston, and again in Philly, in May. June brought the aforementioned Josh Ritter Trio/David Wax Museum show. Finally, December closed out the year with Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids/The New Amsterdams) and Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem/The Horrible Crowes) playing a special acoustic show at Northeastern University.

But you aren’t here to read me go on-and-on about how luck I was this year; you’re here for the music (right?).  Without further pomp-and-circumstance, here’s my favorites of 2011 (in painstaking order). As usual, no live albums, reissues, compilations, etc. Here we go…the top 23 releases of 2011, as chosen by me. Truthfully, any of the top seven albums on the list could have been #1, or at least #1B. Suffice it to say, 2011 rocked (especially if you’re a Shiflett).

22. David Wax Museum – Everything Is Saved. The Boston-based duo features David Wax on the jarana and Suz Slezak on the donkey jawbone playing infectious, Mexican-inspired folk tunes.

21. Tom Waits – Bad As Me. This album has gotten a lot of love in a lot of places. To me, it’s too similar to Real Gone and most of Orphans. But still…rehashed Tom Waits is better than original most-everything-else.

20. City and Colour – Little Hell. Former Alexisonfire frontman steps out for his most sparse, haunting solo album yet.

19. The Roots – Undun. The only hip-hop band that matters released their third album in eighteen months, this one  a concept album about growing up in bleak, rough-and-tumble Philadelphia. The title character was named after a Sufjan Stevens song. This is why The Roots are The Clash of the hip hop world.

18. Thrice – Major/Minor. Sadly, this is probably the last we’ll see of Thrice, as the post-hardcore giants have gone on indefinite hiatus. At least they dropped this gem on us before leaving (though there is one song that sounds too much like a Creed track).

 

17. Thursday – No Devolucion. Sadly, this is probably the last we’ll see of Thursday, as the post-hardcore giants have gone on indefinite hiatus. At least they dropped this gem on us before leaving. (Yes…this was a good year for post-hardcore “legends”, but a bad year for their longevity).

 

16. Blink 182 – Neighborhoods. I didn’t want to include this album. I really didn’t. But go ahead, pull my street cred card. It’s actually a (mostly) solid album. But I still want to punch Tom DeLonge.

15. Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs. At first I thought this was just a way to cash in on those of us who buy anything Pearl Jam related (hey, Ed’s got a family to feed now). But the more you listen to this album that was in the works for almost a decade, the better it gets.

14. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Magic Of Youth. Most of them don’t even live in Boston anymore (Dicky lives in LA, for God’s sake). And, frankly, I couldn’t even tell you who is in the band anymore. But they still know how to make a killer album, easily their best since I was in college.

13. Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Here’s my review from earlier in the year.

 

 

 

12. Vacation Bible School – Ruined The Scene. Self-depricating, middle-finger-raising skate punk that reminds me of my youth. Opening track is called “Douchebag.” ‘Nuff said.

 

 

11. Radiohead – King Of Limbs. Loop-heavy stroke of shoegazey genius. Watch the video.

 

10. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones. There’s been a trend lately in which punk rock/hardcore frontmen branch out with more acoustic, folk-driven side projects. The Englishman Turner is the best of the bunch with his beer-soaked pub sing-along anthems.

 

9. Banquets – Top Button, Bottom Shelf. Great riffs, great melodies and great harmonies make for a great post-punk album. Banquets hit on all of them.

8. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man. The razor sharp wit and self-deferential sense of humor is always enjoyable, but it’s the occasional glimpses of  heart-attack seriousness and “it’s funny because it’s true” moments (take “Sad Songs (Intermission)” or the closing line in “Fucc The Devil” for example) that give Knife Man its depth and importance.

 

7. No Motiv – Winterlong. Though it’s only an EP, the band’s first release since 2004’s semi-breakthrough, appropriately named Daylight Breaking album serves as (hopefully) a forceful return to the game, and proof that there is still room in the game for the old guard of the emo game.

 

6. Mastodon – The Hunter. The best metal band on the planet make their broadest, most accessible sounding album yet, and it’s an absolute monster. It’s on Spotify, so you have no excuse to not listen to it.

5. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie. The smoky blues-bar Waits-ian vocal stylings and solo Springsteen inspired sound give The Horrible Crowes the feel of more than just a throwaway, between-Gaslight filler album for Brian Fallon and longtime pal Ian Perkins.

 

4. The Black Keys – El Camino. The Akron duo teamed up with Danger Mouse for the whole album this time. The result is their most rocking, best sounding, most focused album today, filled with dirty, sludgy blues riffs.

3. Samiam – Trips. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that it touches on a broad spectrum of sounds, Samiam’s first album in five years (and only their second in over a decade) is the most polished, best sounding , most accessible album of their long career. Let’s just hope they don’t go away for so goddamn long this time…

 

2. The Reveling – Tributaries. The Reveling provided me the biggest “holy crap these guys are good” moment from the beginning seconds of the album’s opening track, “Revival.” That feeling hasn’t let up one bit (and has, in fact, only gotten stronger) upon what is probably a couple hundred successive listens over the year. The Reveling are THAT GOOD, and it really is a shame that more people don’t know of them.

And now for the moment where I feel like Mr. and/or Mrs. Shiflett making a musical “Sophie’s Choice” between releases from two of my three sons…Chris with the Foo Fighters and Scott with Face To Face. As could be expected, I took the easy way out.

1A. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light. I could spend probably two thousand words explaining how amazing this album is and still not do it proper justice. Dave Grohl has written a career’s worth of hook-driven, thoughtfully-worded anthems. Wasting Light is the best album, start-to-finish, that he has ever played on, and solidifies the band’s status as one of the best American rock bands of the last several decades.

1. Face To Face – Laugh Now, Laugh Later. A lot has changed in the nine years since f2f’s last album was released. They’ve got a new drummer, they reunited with guitarist Chad Yaro, they’ve got a new label and new production partners. But the sound of Laugh Now, Laugh Later is every bit as strong and vital as it has been at any point in their twenty-plus year career.