Monday, December 31, 2018

Top 10 Podcasts of 2018

I spent a lot of time in 2018 listening to podcasts.  In fact, podcasts are my preferred listening choice while at the gym.  I first got into podcasts four or five years ago and for the longest time I only listened to professional wrestling related shows.  Since that time I've found a variety of shows that range in topics from music to comics to movies to television, and those are just the shows I follow on and listen to on a regular basis (when the mood hits, I may dabble in a bit of politics and current events).

Below are my 10 favorite podcasts of 2018.  These are the shows that I follow, and in many cases, listen to religiously.  Some of these shows I've followed for years and a few I discovered in 2018 but all are worth your time (if you are interested in said show's subject matter obviously).  I've also included five honorable mentions.  And in case anyone is curious or cares, my preferred podcast app is Stitcher.

Honorable Mentions -- 
Around the Ring
Hit Parade: Music History and Music Trivia
Punks in Pubs
These Miracles Work: A Hold Steady Podcast
Girl Germs: A Podcast About Bratmobile's Pottymouth

10.  Political Beats
Official, Twitter
I found this show through Celebration Rock (I think...).  Here's the concept:  two political journalists/commentators talk to another political journalist/commentator about said individual's favorite band.  Crazy idea, right?  Well it works.  Some of the artists that have been covered include Queen, R.E.M., and The Clash, just to name a few.

9.  Celebration Rock
93X, UPROXX, Twitter
This is another show that I discovered in 2018 (I think it was the Can Liberals and Conservatives Still Bond Over Music? episode that got my attention).  I've gone back through the podcast's history and picked out various episodes, including the seven-part Pearl Jam series that was more interesting than I thought it would be.  Sadly the show is going on a bit of a hiatus in 2019 but there are still plenty of older episodes to check out. 

8.  The Great Albums
Official, Facebook, Twitter
I first heard about The Great Albums on an episode of The Album Club.  When I checked out the show, I was greeted by an episode covering Fugazi's Repeater, so needless to say I was hooked.  On each episode the hosts discuss an album in detail, including track-by-track analysis, history of the artist, etc.  After hearing that first episode, I've gone back and started at the beginning, listening to each episode (even the ones about bands that I don't like). 

7.  Geek History Lesson
Official, Facebook, Twitter
Geek History Lesson covers everything from comic books to fantasy novels to science fiction franchises and then some.  On each episode they pick a topic (often a character, team, starship, etc.) and discuss its history (fictional and publication), characteristics, major storylines, and offer recommended readings.

6.  Solomonster Sounds Off
Official, Facebook, Twitter
This is the show that got me into podcasts and is easily one of the best fan-made pro wrestling podcasts out there.  Covering mostly WWE, the Solomonster provides in-depth reviews and analysis of variously weekly wrestling television shows plus monthly pay per view events.  This one is a must for wrestling fans. 

5.  Voices of Wrestling Flagship
Official, Facebook, Twitter
The Voices of Wrestling Flagship podcast is simply the best professional wrestling podcast out there.  Period.  The show covers practically everything from across the world of wrestling including New Japan Pro Wrestling, WWE, the American indie scene, Pro Wrestling NOAH, Dragon Gate, and much more. 

4.  Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
Official, Facebook, Twitter
This one is special.  Harry Potter and the Sacred Text take J.K. Rowling's fantasy series and treat it like a sacred text.  Each episode the hosts discuss a chapter from the series through the lens of a specific theme (for example generosity, forgiveness, friendship, etc.).  I've spent a lot of time this year with Harry Potter, listening to the audio books, re-watching the films, discussing the series with friends and co-workers, and Harry Potter and the Sacred Text has been a big part of that journey.

3.  Mable Syndrome
Official, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Speaking of something special...  Mable Syndrome is all about women in punk rock and it is freaking glorious.  Hosts Kristen and Jessica discuss everything from life to experiences at shows to bar fights to their love of Face To Face, plus they interview great bands including Teenage Bottlerocket, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Dave Hause, and Bad Cop/Bad Cop just to name a few.  This show is not only entertaining and hilarious but important.

2.  Collider Heroes
Okay, technically this is a show on YouTube but they do push their episodes out via PodcastOne and iTunes so I'm counting it.  What started as an extension of AMC Movie Talk (and followed said show from AMC to Collider), Collider Heroes covers the world of super heroes and comic books better than any other show on the internet.  In July, host Jon Schnepp suddenly passed away.  This death hit me harder than any other celebrity death this year.  Jon was a strong voice, passionate, and by all accounts a truly tremendous person and his death left the world a little bit of a darker place.  The show continued when the reigns were handed over to regular guests Amy Dallen and Coy Jandreau who have made the show their own while keeping Schnepp's memory alive.

1.  The Album Club
Facebook, Twitter
My lord do I LOVE this show!!!  I first discovered The Album Club in 2017 when their episode on Pearl Jam's Vs. popped up on my feed in Stitcher.  I gave the show a listen and was instantly hooked.  Since then I went back and listened to every episode (except the one about The Byrds...for whatever reason I just couldn't) and followed the show religiously through the end of season 2 (which dropped towards the latter half of 2017).  Then there was radio silence.  For months there were no new episodes or updates and then there was a post on the show's social media stating that new episodes were unlikely.  This was heartbreaking news.  BUT that all changed when new episodes started dropping in September.  The format was the same but the cast of characters was down one going from a power trio to a duo but the magic was still there and the shows have been great!  The format is basically the same as The Great Albums (which they freely admit to borrowing) but done with Australian flair.  I really can't recommend this show enough.   

Monday, December 24, 2018

Top 40 Records of 2018: 10-1

Here's the biggest thing that I learned, or maybe more accurately realized, in 2018:  I feel most at home at a punk show.  I attended more concerts and shows in 2018 than I have in years.  I traveled to Dallas to see Frank Turner, Lucero, and The Menzingers and to Tulsa to see ALL, the Descendents, Hagfish, Drag The River, and Scott Reynolds.  Closer to home I saw Iron Chic, Timeshares, and Don't Make Ghosts at 89th Street Collective; Tim Barry and Garrett Dale at 51st Street Speakeasy; Dead Bars and Sour Candy at the Hi-Lo; Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves and Bad Idols at the Blue Note, and then there was Clashmas 2018 at 51st Street Speakeasy with the freaking Roustabouts!!!!  On top of that, I helped book the 2018 Rose Rock Music Festival bringing in Tulsa's Girls Club and OKC's Don't Make Ghosts to liven up the festivities and blow the socks off the citizens of Noble.  And things are already looking up for 2019 with the likes of Jenny Lewis, illuminate hotties, and A Vulture Wake coming to the OKC area and Bob Mould playing in Dallas.  Seeing as this is the Top 10 portion of my year end list, I wanted to include the Top 10 Live Performances of 2018 that I saw.  This list is specific performances/sets and not complete concerts (if that makes sense).  I must also include one honorable mention and that is Girls Club's set at the Rose Rock Music Festival in Noble.
10.  Timeshares (89th Street Collective, OKC)
9.  Dead Bars (Hi-Lo, OKC)
8.  Iron Chic (89th Street Collective, OKC)
7.  Garrett Dale (51st Street Speakeasy, OKC)
6.  Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves (The Blue Note, OKC)
5.  Tim Barry (51st Street Speakeasy, OKC)
4.  Don’t Make Ghosts (89th Street Collective, OKC and Rose Rock Music Festival, Noble)
3.  Roustabouts (Clashmas 2018; 51st Street Speakeasy, OKC)
2.  ALL (IDL Ballroom, Tulsa)
1.  Frank Turner (House of Blues and Good Records, Dallas)
This epiphany, driven home in good part thanks to Frank Turner and his incredible performances, reminded me of his song "Four Simple Words" particularly the part
Heigh ho heigh ho heigh ho!
We're heading out to the punk rock show!
Colleagues and friends condescend with a smile
Yeah, but this is my culture, man, this is my home
The dark huddled masses gather at the gate
Yeah, the doors are at seven and the show starts at eight
A few precious hours in a space of our own
And when the band comes on, the only thing I really know
I want to dance, I want to dance
I want lust, and love, and a smattering of romance
But I'm no good at dancing, and yet I have to do something
Tonight I'm gonna play it straight, I'm gonna take my chance
I want to dance
I thought of this verse and chorus often throughout that year, especially in my professional life.  Now don't get me wrong, I work with some amazing people and I love my job, but I'm the only one there that's into what I'm into (#PunkLibrarians) and because of that I often feel a bit separated and alone.  It's at these shows that I feel most alive, watching a great band play their hearts out while I'm screaming along.  I was lucky this year to get to see two of my five all-time favorite artists live (Frank Turner and ALL) and what is easily the best kept secret in rock 'n' roll (and probably the best band ever from the Sooner State) Don't Make Ghosts.  I'd like to thank all of the bands, artists, promoters, venues, bars, and friends that make going to shows my religious experience.

I talk a lot about the sanctity and holiness of music.  Music is as transcendent and spiritual as any sacred text or religious experience, maybe even more so.  Some people turn to God or faith in times of need.  I turn to music.  The Hold Steady once sang these "sing along songs will be our scriptures" and they were absolutely right.

Before getting to the final 10 records on my list, I wanted to talk about a few bands that called it a day in 2018.  7 Seconds, The Thermals, and Nothington all announced that they were breaking up this year.  Nothington is in the process of playing their final shows overseas while The Thermals and 7 Seconds told the world that they were done, the former citing the desire to end things on a good note and the latter due to medical issues.  Of these three, 7 Seconds was the one that hit me the hardest.  I have loved this band for over 25 years and I can truthfully say that they had a major influence on me not just as a fan but as a person.  Their music and their message spoke to me as a 16 year-old and has stayed with me to this day.  Unfortunately I never got to see 7 Seconds play live, but they hold a very special place in my heart and their music will be with me as long as I'm on this earth.

The 10 records listed below are, in my humble opinion, the absolute best of the best.  For those that are declaring the death of rock 'n' roll or bemoaning that there is no good mew music anymore obviously hasn't heard any of these records.  There is a real and palpable passion in these songs, a great mastery of melody and pop hooks, and some damn fine lyrics to be found below.  In a few cases there's even some truly inspirational messages, the kinds that could save lives and souls.  The fact that these aren't the records that you will find on the major music sites' and in the big magazines' lists is a crime and a shame but it makes knowing them and loving them all the more special.  This music is intimate and personal and truly fucking important.

40-31, 30-21, 20-11, Honorable Mentions

10.  Somewhat Literate by Retirement Party
BandCamp, Counter Intuitive Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
These is a utter purity in the lyrical straightforwardness and awkwardness on Retirement Party's full-length debut Somewhat Literate.  The band's brand of indie-emo-power-pop-punk is quirky, off-kilter, and wholly unique.  This band and record had been on my list of records to check out for months and then a friend on Twitter asked if I'd heard the record and stated that the band reminded him of Sincere Engineer.  Needless to say that got my attention (Sincere Engineer put out my favorite record of 2017), so I immediately gave Somewhat Literate the attention it deserves and boy am I glad I did!  Singer/guitarist Avery Springer has such an incredible delivery, nonchalant whit, and way with words (combined with the rest of the band's distinctive take on the guitar, bass, and drums) that she brings an originality and authority to the indie punk genres that is surprising and thoroughly enchanting.  This is an instant classic!   

9.   The Appropriate Level of Outrage by A Vulture Wake
BandCamp, Bird Attack RecordsiTunes, Spotify
To say that I am a huge fan of Chad Price (ALL, Drag The River) would be an understatement (the man is literally my favorite singer of all time).  So when I heard that he had a new project, I was immediately interested.  Enter A Vulture Wake.  Along with Price on vocals and guitar, the band is comprised of Sean Sellers (Good Riddance / The Real Mackenzies) on drums, Joe Raposo (RKL / Lagwagon) on bass, and Brandon D. Landelius (The Mag Seven / Authority Zero) on guitar.  Together they've created a sound that is powerful, melodic, and absolutely fierce!  This is the natural extension of that '90s style of melodic hardcore that gave us bands like the aforementioned Lagwagon and Good Riddance, but this is better.  Much better.  Price's vocals and lyrics are as sharp and piercing as ever and the band is tight as fuck.  The band's debut The Appropriate Level of Outrage is the perfect introduction and opening salvo, but they didn't stop there.  In October the band released a follow up EP, the equally great Fall Prey.  A Vulture Wake is something truly special and this record is a must for fans of melodic hardcore and great punk rock. 

8.  Makes Good Choices by The 1984 Draft
BandCamp, Poptek Recs., Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
There are some records that just hit you.  They have a sound that immediately grabs you on the first listen and from that moment on you know you've found something that you are going to love.  That's what happened to me the first time I listened to The 1984 Draft's new album Makes Good Choices.  The band's sound is this perfect blending of '80s college rock, '90s punk and indie rock, and modern bands that mix elements of the above with classic rock and Americana sensibilities, with a dash of post punk atmosphere for good measure.  The result is a sound that is compelling and catchy, melodic and hooky, while feeling familiar, nostalgic, modern, and new all at the same time.  The band is the brainchild of primary singer/songwriter Joe Anderl, a 20+ year veteran of the Dayton, OH music scene and it's that experience that shines through on Makes Good Choices.  In fact, this record is dripping with the essence of Generation X (the actual generation, not the band but I'd love to hear these guys take a crack at "Kiss Me Deadly") least those of us who spent the '80s listening to The Replacements and (early) R.E.M., the '90s listening to Sugar and Buffalo Tom, the '00s listening to The Gaslight Anthem and The Hold Steady, and the 2010s listening to Beach Slang and Japandroids.  At 10 songs and clocking in at about 30 minutes, Makes Good Choices is a nearly perfect indie punk rock record that draws you in with its familiarity and hooks and keeps you in with its intimacy and depth.  There's so much going on here that it is nearly impossible to sum up in a review.  The bottom line: this is an outstanding record that deserves, if not demands, multiple listens to fully absorb and enjoy.  And this is a very, very good thing.  

7.  LP5000 by Restorations
BandCamp, Tiny Engines Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Restorations' fourth album LP5000 is a dark and atmospheric rumination on growing up.  The album perfectly captures that time when the thrills and chaos of youth turns from fun and exciting to foolish and slightly sad.  Restorations completely embrace the responsibility of adulthood gracefully and poignantly with their most thoughtful record to date.  The thing about LP5000 is that it might not grab you immediately.  It took me a while to really connect with and get this record but when I finally did, I knew that Restorations had created something truly special.  As with the band's previous work there are hints of everything from post hardcore to classic rock to Americana to punk to cinematic post rock that when compiled together create a sound that is vast and sweeping and dripping with emotion.  At this point I think it's pretty safe to say, Restorations can do no wrong.

6.  The White Album EP by The All Brights
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
The All Brights sophomore record The White Album EP, is exactly the balm of joyous fun this world needs.  Picking up where 2015's hysterically fun ...Are Wild For The Night left off, The All Brights deliver six songs that are not only brilliantly tongue in cheek but perfectly capture the essence of beach culture all at the same time.  This record is so much fun that one can't help but smile from the opening chords of the So-Cal punk anthem "Maximum Hangtime" to the closing harmonies of the ukulele driven beach ballad "I'm Buying A Boat."  What truly makes this record (and band) work, besides the fact that they are ridiculously tight, are the lyrics.  Now one wouldn't expect the lyrical content of a parody band to stand out but in this case they do because the humor is so smart.  Sometimes parody not only pokes fun at, but also perfectly captures the essence of whatever the appointed target may be.  In musical term think of bands like Masked Intruder with pop punk and Hard Skin with Oi.  Both bands completely poke fun at the tropes of their respective genres while at the same time absolutely master them.  The All Brights do this exact same thing in how they masterfully take a piss out of everything that is So-Cal punk rock while at the same time perfecting the sub-genre.  Plus lines like "Cracker Barrel Got me shaped like Chris Farley" are freaking brilliant.  Look, the world is really fucked up right now (seriously, 2018 has been nuts) and The All Brights have delivered just the record that will help take your mind off the insanity and bring a smile to your face.  And if not, then I don't know what to tell you...

5.  Fixed Ideals by Muncie Girls
BandCamp (Muncie Girls), Specialist Subject Records, BandCamp (Specialist Subject), Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
I just love this band.
From my review --
Muncie Girl's return with the follow-up to 2016's brilliant From Caplan to Belsize with the equally fierce and powerful Fixed Ideals.  While Fixed Ideals does pick up where From Caplan to Belsize left off, it is its own record that displays growth, change, and stylistic expansion resulting in a distinct piece that at the same time feels like it is part of the same whole.  In a lot of ways, Fixed Ideals is to From Caplan to Belsize what Wig Out at Denkos was to Dag Nasty's debut Can I Say?.  In both cases the follow up record sounds very much like the band in question, while at the same time exploring new ground.  And with each record, the opening tracks set the stage, letting the listener know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that things have changed.  In the case of Fixed Ideals, the record opens with the mid-tempo indie rocker "Jeremy," a devastatingly personal and angry song directed at guitarist/vocalist Lande Hekt's father.  From the the record kicks into gear with the ridiculously catchy first single "Picture of Health."  Continuing with the Dag Nasty comparison, the second song on Wig Out at Denko's "Trying" is classic Dag Nasty and sounds like it would have fit perfectly on Can I Say?; the same can be said for "Picture of Health" with its punchy and poppy indie punk infectious nature.  The rest of the album takes the indie punk genre and pushes its boundaries adding elements of indie pop ("Bubble Bath"), Manchester/baggy ("Isn't Life Funny"), and hints of post punk throughout.  The result is a record that sounds like a musical love song to all the great things that the British underground/punk scenes have had to offer for the last 40+ years.  And that's just the music!  Herkt's lyrics are filled with a palpable anger and frustration but never fall into despair.  In fact there is a hopeful tone to these songs, propelled by Herkt's distinctive vocals, that keeps the record from being a complete downer.  What makes Fixed Ideals such a great record is that it gets better with each and ever spin.  The record demands multiple listens and never disappoints. 

4.  No Discordance by Harker
Official, BandCamp (Harker), Wiretap Records, BandCamp (Wiretap), Shield Recordings, BandCamp (Shield), Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Harker's full-length debut is a phenomenal blast of melodic punk rock pop anthems brimming with heart, passion, and honesty.  From top to bottom No Discordance delivers songs that will have your pumping your first, singing along, and pounding your chest evoking emotions that make you think, reflect, and scream.  This record hits on every possible level.  The songs are catchy and pull you in with their fuzzy melody and ridiculous hooks while the lyrics are powerful, relatable, and insightful.  There is an earnest honesty to these songs that pound them directly into the heart and make you feel like they were written just for you.  One of the best aspects of No Discordance, and Harker's music in general, is its universal and timeless nature.  This is one of those records that sounds like it would fit as perfectly next to '80s classics like The Replacements' Let It Be and Husker Du's Flip Your Wig,  '90s gems like Leatherface's Mush and Superchunk's On the Mouth as it would Hot Water Music's latest Light It Up, The Menzinger's After the Party, or anything by the likes of Iron Chic, Red City Radio, or Beach Slang.
There was a part of me that simply wanted to write "this record fucking rules, go buy it" because honestly, that's all you really need to know.  Harker is an outstanding band and have put together the first great album of 2018 in No Discordance.  The gauntlet has been thrown and the bar has been set.  If this is any indication of what's to come, we're in for a hell of a great year in music and this band is in for an incredible career of killing it with amazing songs.
Eleven months after writing this review and I love this record just as much today as I did in February.  I truly cannot wait to see what Harker does next.

3.  EP2 by WAX WAV
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Hailing from Philadelphia, PA, WAX WAV beautifully and spectacularly mixes elements of punk, power pop, emo, and indie rock into an infectious sound that is best described as universal.  Are you a fan of Beach Slang?  Then WAX WAV is for you.  Superchunk?  Yup.  The Promise Ring?  Absolutely.  The Primitives, Antarctigo Vespucci, and Cheap Trick?  Yes, yes, and yes.  The Thermals, Teen Idols, and The Replacements?  Yes, yes, and yes.  How about Japandroids, Jawbreaker, or The Epoxies?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Chainsaw Kittens, Elvis Costello, Tiny Stills, Redd Kross, Muncie Girls, Bob Mould, Fresh, Doughboys, RVIVR, Generation X?  Yes, ten times over, YES!  Seriously if you are a fan of great, catchy, punchy rock 'n' roll then this band is for you!
The band released their debut EP1 in late 2017, which I sadly missed at the time.  In fact I found the band thanks to the Fugazi Repeater episode of The Great Albums podcast which included WAX WAV's Nick Palmer as a guest.  First off, the podcast was awesome and I highly recommend it.  Second, Palmer discussed WAX WAV's new record EP2 and I was immediately intrigued.  So I headed over to my Spotify app and within the opening chords of "Modern Western World" I was hooked.  The song smacked me across the face with its punchy hooks, potent lyrics, and undeniable brilliance.  One song in and I knew that not only had I found one of the best records of the year, I'd found one of the best new bands out there today.  
From top to bottom this is an absolutely perfect release.  EP2 will make you want to dance, sing along, and make you think all at the same time.  Oh and if that isn't enough, this damn thing gets better each and every time you listen to it!  Seriously.  I really can't throw enough praise or superlatives at this record or this band.  With just two EPs under their belt, WAX WAV have created something incredibly special and I cannot wait to hear what they do next!

2.  SkyTigers by Red City Radio
Official, BandCamp, Red Scare Industries, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
(Red City Radio's) latest EP SkyTigers is something truly special.  Some bands come out swinging and peak with their first few releases and some just get better and better and better and better.  Red City Radio is the latter and they prove it by delivering their most diverse, complex, and inspiring record to date.
SkyTigers opens with one of two songs that dropped last year, the pulsingly melodic punk anthem "If You Want Blood (Be My Guest)," a song that dares you to not sing along to the empowering chorus "We don't need a goddamn thing from you."  Up next is the drinking banger "I'll Still Be Around," a song that somehow channels the spirit of Garth Brooks into a punk rock anthem and makes it work.  The record takes a dark turn with "In the Shadows," a song that embodies the essence of late '80s heavy metal with some ridiculously blistering guitar work (think Skid Row).  Next is the other song released in 2017 and yet another rousing punk anthem in "Rebels."  SkyTigers closes with the title track, a song that is not only catchy as all hell but inspiring and empowering and powerful as fuck.  In a world that is complete divided and screwed, this is the song that we need.  I know that it's early, but at this point, "SkyTigers" is without a doubt the song of the year (followed by Frank Turner's "Be More Kind").  And just to drive the point home, the song ends with Charlie Chaplin's final speech from The Great Dictator, book-ended with some of the most incredible harmonies you're likely to hear all year.
Red City Radio is a band that continues to grow and evolve and I don't think they're anywhere close to peaking.  SkyTigers is a fucking beautifully perfect, powerful, and inspiring record.  Not only will this EP make you want to dance and scream and sing, it will make you want to be a better person.  That's the power of music.  That's the purity of great rock 'n' roll.  And this is truly, wonderfully, outstandingly great rock 'n' roll music.  Thank you Red City Radio.  You have made the world a better place with your hearts and souls and music.

1.  Be More Kind by Frank Turner
Official, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
I've had a really hard time trying to figure out how to put into words my feelings about Frank Turner's seventh studio album Be More Kind.  Words like excellent and mesmerizing and important just don't do it justice (though all are true).  I have been devouring Be More Kind since its release over a month ago and right from the first listen I knew that I was listening to something that not only spoke to me, but could truly make a difference in people's lives.
When I saw Frank Turner in Dallas earlier this month, he talked a lot about the idea of kindness and friendship and taking care of each other.  At the beginning of the show he stated that there were two rules for the evening: 1) don't be a dickhead and 2) if you know the words, you have to sing along.  Expanding on the first rule, he said that we needed to lookout for each other and make sure that our fun wasn't getting in the way or hampering anyone else's fun.  Towards the end of the night he came back to this theme, once when talking about "Get It Right" and how much the world would be better if instead of firing off angry comments or posts online, we took a step back and used the phrases "I don't know" and "I changed my mind."  We don't always have to have all of the answers and we can change our opinions as we get new information and these are both good and healthy things.  As the show came to a close, he asked that we put our arms around the people next to us and then to try and take this feeling of friendship out into the world.  It was truly an inspiring night and Be More Kind is and incredibly inspiring record.  And I didn't even touch on all of it.   

Music is a transcendent medium, possibly the most transcendent medium, giving it a power to touch a person's heart and move his or her soul.  Songs have the ability to give meaning, provide hope, give voice to anger, and provide solace.  Music has the power to be an inspiration, to fuel a passion, or to save a soul.  Be More Kind does all of these things and much, much more.  In a world that is fractured and hurting, Be More Kind is the uplifting hope and inspiration that the world needs.  Thank you Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls for giving us that beacon that will guide us to safer and better shores.  We...hell I truly needed this record, this music, and this message.  Maybe there is hope for us after all.
Frank Turner's Be More Kind is not only the best record of 2018, it is one of the best and most important records of the decade.  When I die, one of the songs I want played at my funeral is "Eulogy" from Turner's 2011 album England Keep My Bones and on my gravestone (or urn) I want the lyrics to the chorus of "Be More Kind" because nothing better sums up my philosophy and worldview than
In a world that has decided
That it's going to lose its mind
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Top 40 Records of 2018: Honorable Mentions

As with most years, I was unable to keep up with all of the great music released in 2018.  This year's batch of honorable mentions is my longest yet.  Some of these records are single song releases, some are records that I really liked but at the same time I didn't want a top 100 list, and some are ones that I heard and knew were good to great but for whatever reason didn't get into beyond a few listens.  All of these records deserve at least a spin or two and some should live on constant repeat (those single song releases, I'm looking at you).  As always I've included a Spotify playlist below.  Enjoy.

40-31, 30-21, 20-11, 10-1

In no particular order --
  • "Gasoline Heart" by Aree & the Pure Heart
  • "Would It Kill You" by Dead To Me
  • "Fake English Accent" by The Rentiers
  • "We Should Have Won" by Textbook
  • "Fear Is The New Bliss" by Dead To Me
  • "Pretending" by Better Love
  • "King of Pain" by Cadet Carter & Dave Hause
  • Everything Matters But No One Is Listening [Quiet Slang] by Beach Slang
  • Lucky by Carter Sampson
  • Shake by Lauren Strange
  • Bird Party by Swingin’ Utters / Nothington
  • On Life Support by Timeshares
  • Join the Outsiders by Dave Smalley & the Bandoleros
  • Bud Bronson & The Good Times / Benchmarks: Split by Bud Bronson & The Good Times / Benchmarks
  • Golden Haze 2 EP by Bam!Bam!
  • Everyday Forever by The Paper Jets
  • In The Key Of Sublimation by The Friday Prophets
  • Bay Dream by Culture Abuse
  • The Things I Heard At The Party by The Maple State
  • Clean by Soccer Mommy
  • Death Defier by American Television
  • Dreamland by Floating In Space
  • Still Life by Katie Ellen
  • Home Again by Kid You Not
  • Love in the Time of E​-​Mail by Antarctigo Vespucci
  • The Make It All Show by Skating Polly
  • The Quarry by Mercy Union
  • State of Grace by American Steel
  • Roll Your Own Problems by Old Fox Road
  • For The Sake Of The Bit by Elway
  • Fatal Music by Gentlemen Rogues
  • South Of OK by Strange Planes
  • Four (Heaven, Hell and a Small House In Between) by Drawstring
  • Nightstand by Tancred
  • Wasted Time by Beach Rats
  • Gentle Leader by Peach Kelli Pop
  • POST- by Jeff Rosenstock
  • The Bluest Star by Free Cake For Every Creature
  • We Were Younger and Less Put Together by Better Love
  • Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
  • Out There by Timeshares
  • Salvation by The Penske File
  • We Can Live Here Forever by Barely Civil
  • Lush by Snail Mail
  • Before the Sun Catches Us All by Squarecrow
  • Digging Up Bones by Keep True
  • Desire Paths by Turnspit
  • Among the Ghosts by Lucero
  • Iron Chic / Toys That Kill Split by Iron Chic / Toys That Kill
  • On the Outs by Alright
  • Squirrel Away the Summer by Charmpit
  • Master Volume by The Dirty Nil
  • What Makes Love Last by Hit Like A Girl
  • Would You Rather? by THICK
  • Hollows by City Mouth
  • Distant Star by Spielbergs
  • Every Little Thought by Hurry
  • Throw The Bones by Dogeyed
  • Youth Club by Sharp/Shock
  • Map It Out by Macseal
  • Proud Parents by Proud Parents
  • Sanderlings by Sanderlings
  • Unbuilding by The Pauses
  • Bring The Light by Don’t Sleep
  • Body Feel by Shook Ones
  • How to Socialise & Make Friends by Camp Cope
  • One Ultra by Hemmit
  • The Hell I've Always Seen by Pass Away
  • Blend Inn by Hockey Dad
  • Prom Queen by Beach Bunny
  • Cadet Carter by Cadet Carter
  • Everything We Used To Be by Mixtape Saints
  • Yesterday Was Forever by Kate Nash
  • Pilot by Hot Mulligan
  • Lone Wolf by Lone Wolf
  • Counting Pennies in the Afterlife by Colour Me Wednesday
  • Pulp Music by Neurotic Fiction
  • Godspeed by Somerset Thrower

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Top 40 Records of 2018: 20-11

40-31, 30-21, Honorable Mentions, 10-1

20.  Sleepwalkers by Brian Fallon
Official, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
On his sophomore full-length Sleepwalkers, Brian Fallon has found his grove as a solo artist with a record that is fresh and new while calling back to his best work with The Gaslight Anthem.  Fallon's solo debut Painkillers was a good record but one that felt unsure and uneasy.  In a lot of ways, Painkillers was the anti-Gaslight record with its decidedly Americana bent; like there was an intent to create a record that was very different from Fallon's previous band.  This wasn't his first non-Gaslight release either.  Fallon's other project The Horrible Crowes released their darkly brilliant debut Elsie in 2011, another decidedly un-Gaslight record.  While Elsie felt like Fallon trying something new, Painkillers felt like an attempt to break with the past.  Sleepwalkers on the other hand feels like a return to form with a new found comfort and confidence from an artist finally getting his footing transitioning from a band to the solo arena.  This record just feels right.  The songs are catchy, the choruses are big and sweeping, and the lyrics are heartfelt and earnest.  And then there's the music.  Oh the music!  I first heard The Gaslight Anthem in 2010 with the release of American Slang, a record steeped as much in Motown and '60 soul as punk and Bruce Springsteen.  It was then that I fell in love with the band and Fallon's voice and songs, always knowing that this man had a great soul album in him.  Sleepwalkers is that soul album.  Not convinced?  Just listen to the record's lead singles "Forget Me Not" and "If Your Prayers Don't Get to Heaven" and tell me that you don't hear the ghosts of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.  The thing about Sleepwalkers is that it is a slow burn.  Not that it's a record that takes a long time to heat up, but instead it's a record that gets better with age and multiple listens.  This isn't an album that you slap on once and immediately know that it is great.  The first time around it is good and certainly improves on its predecessor but it isn't great.  After the fifth to tenth listen though, that's when its brilliance takes hold and you realize you are experiencing something special.  In a modern world of instant gratification, there is something monumentally satisfying about a record that grows on you slowly and methodically and Sleepwalkers does just that.

19.  Proto Retro by Dot Dash
BandCamp, The Beautiful Music, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Dot Dash's sixth album Proto Retro is 12 songs of jangley power pop goodness.  The Washington, DC trio mixes elements of '60s Byrds-esque pop with the power pop of the late '70s, college rock and post punk of the '80s, and Britpop and indie rock of the '90s creating a sound that is harmonious, layered, and huge.  These songs fill every inch of the room with their hooks and harmonies, an impressive feat for a power trio.  Standout moments include "Green on Red," "Unfair Weather," and "Parachute Powerline" but honestly there isn't a bad song in the bunch. 

18.  Excommunicate Me by Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves
From my review --
Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves latest EP Excommunicate Me may very well be their best work to date, and that's no easy feat.  The band's last record, 2016's brilliant The Cross and the Switchblade was one of the best records of that year and their best release to that point.  Now two years later, the Winston-Salem, NC quartet comes crashing back with a devastatingly brilliant three-song EP.
While the themes on Excommunicate Me tend to land on the dark side of things and are obviously born out of a frustration with the state of the world, the record never falls into despair.  The darkness of the words is juxtaposed by the buoyancy and exhilaration that the music evokes.  There is a balance, a yin and yang to this record that not only makes it work but makes it truly something special.
Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves live in that same space as bands like Nothington, Red City Radio, and post No Division Hot Water Music, taking gruff vocals and mixing them with delicious hooks and harmonies, big choruses, giant riffs, hardcore intensity, and pop sensibilities creating a sound that is larger than life and made to fill the largest of arenas.  This is truly great this is truly great rock 'n' roll music.  No limitations, no filters, no b.s., this is simply some of the best rock 'n' roll going today.  WOOOOO!!!

17.  Quiet and Peace by Buffalo Tom
Official, BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Boston's Buffalo Tom released their self-titled debut in 1988.  Over the last 30 years the band has released nine full-lengths and two compilation records and on their latest album Quiet and Peace the band showcases their consistency, longevity, and brilliance as a band.  I first heard Buffalo Tom in 1992 when I saw the video for "Taillights Fade" on MTV's 120 Minutes and from that moment I was a fan.  Their latest album is exactly what you'd expect from Buffalo Tom--power pop indie (and slightly punky) rock that sounds exactly like a band that came up in the same scene that gave the world the likes of the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, Nirvana, and Teenage Fanclub.  But what is so impressive, like with Superchunk, Buffalo Tom sounds like they haven't lost a step and are just as powerful today as they were 25 to 30 years ago.  There's something so incredibly comforting about knowing Buffalo Tom is still making music.  Also "All Be Gone" is an instant classic. 

16.  The Inevitable by Playing Dead
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify
Playing Dead's latest album The Inevitable is one of those records that is instantly familiar and feels like a musical old friend.  The songs are catchy, filled with great hooks and tight melodies, and mix all the best elements of the punk, post punk, melodic and post hardcore, and indie rock of the last 40 years.  There's really not much else to say other than this record is freaking great and you should give it a listen.  Hopefully Playing Dead will make it out to Oklahoma one day.

15.  Headacher by Extra Arms
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Extra Arms was born out of the solo project Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms, when the band Allen put together to tour his last album, 2016's Basement Punk, congealed into a cohesive unit.  Headacher, this new band's debut, is an 11 song crunching power pop powerhouse.  From top to bottom this record is catchy, punchy, intelligent, and filled with high energy and lots of hooks.   

14.  Dogs and Cats / Living Together by The Stayawakes
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
The Stayawakes full-length debut, Dogs and Cats / Living Together is an indie power pop gem.  The 10 songs herein are catchy, filled with great pop melodies, and played from the heart.  Taking influence from the great indie rock of the 1990s, The Stayawakes add their own voice and a new wrinkle to some well worn terrain, but that's okay because this record drips with heart and soul.

13.  Seatbelts For Aeroplanes by Brand New Friend
BandCamp, Xtra Mile Recordings, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
In the annals of rock 'n' roll history when they talk of great album openers, Seatbelts For Aeroplanes' "Mediocre At Best" should go down as one of the best.  As a statement of intent, it perfectly sets the stage for what's about to come and tells you everything you need to know about Brand New Friend.  This is absolutely brilliant indie power pop filled with crazy hooks, tight melodies, excellent dueling male and female vocals, crunching guitars, perfectly placed keys, and an on-point rhythm section.  In fact, Seatbelts For Aeroplanes is one of those records that gets better with each and every listen.  Absolutely great stuff.

12.  Peace and Love by Swingin' Utters
BandCamp, Fat Wreck Chords, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Swingin' Utters' fourth album since returning from their extended hiatus in 2011, Peace and Love, is easily the best of this era and probably one of the best of their entire career.  Front and center is the brilliant songwriting of singer Johnny Bonnel and guitarist/vocalist Darius Koski with significant contributions from guitarist/vocalist Jack Dalrymple.  Bonnel and Koski have been with the band since the beginning (Koski joined the band two years after it formed in 1987) and Dalrymple joined during the hiatus years.  The three have coalesced into a tight and powerful unit, as displayed by the continued growth on each of the last four albums.  This time around they are joined by new rhythm section of Tony Teixeira on bass and Luke Ray on drums and the band has never sounded so focused and fierce.  I've been a fan of the Utters for over 20 years and this album has been a joy to behold.

11.  Bloom by Lights & Motion
Official, BandCamp, Deep Elm Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Lights & Motion's latest EP Bloom is the perfect record to pull one out of the depths of winter's cold embrace and into the light and hope of spring.  You can literally hear the flowers blooming, coaxed back to life by the magnetic pull of composer and multi-instrumentalist Christoffer Franzen's sophisticatedly simple and powerful music.  This is everything that cinematic music should be.  The emotions drawn by nothing more than notes and melodies are staggering.  There is something that is so completely serene and beautiful about Lights & Motion's music; it invokes a perfect sense of calm and hope that is reminiscent of a spring sunrise or a perfectly quiet and dark star filled sky.  At this point I firmly believe that Franzen can do no musical wrong.  Lights & Motion have unequivocally set the standard for an entire genre of music and Bloom is another prime example of why this artist is the pinnacle of not only post rock but cinematic music in general.
And if that wasn't enough, Lights & Motion released second brilliant EP this year in October with While We Dream

Album Review: '3017" by Roustabouts

Title:  3017 (BandCamp)
Artist:  Roustabouts (Facebook, BandCamp, Spotify)

In celebration of and preparation for their first show in over seven years tonight at the 51st Street Speakeasy as part of Clashmas 2018, the Roustabouts have released 3017!  Comprised of nine songs recorded in 2004, 3017 is the first new music released by the band in well over a decade.  Two of the songs, "Led By Misleading" and "20/20," were previously released as a two song EP available through the band's Pure Volume page but with the death of that service, those songs had been unavailable for years.  Thankfully that injustice has been rectified and then some.

The nine songs on 3017 showcase a band at the height of their power and in the midst of a transition.  The Roustabouts brilliant debut album The Only One was a perfect mix of pop and street punk sensibilities and good old rock 'n' roll resulting in 12 rousing anthems that sound as fresh today as they did 16 years ago when the record dropped in 2002.  The record also included hints of the band's new direction that was influenced greatly by Hot Water Music and it is that new direction that shines on 3017.  Now when I say "new direction" it's not like things are drastically different on The Only One and 3017.  The changes showed a natural progression for the band, their songwriting, and musicianship.  This is a progression that has since played out in Don't Make Ghosts, the band that includes Roustabouts' alums vocalist/guitarist Nick Waggoner and drummer extraordinaire Jesse Smith (speaking of, if you haven't heard Don't Make Ghosts brilliant debut EP Death Ride you need to stop what you are doing and buy it right now [after you buy 3017 of course]; it was easily the best record of 2016).  From top to bottom 3017 is comprised of melodic punk anthems that pull from multiple sub-genres and is undeniably satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable.  In other words, this is fucking brilliantly, outstandingly, great!

I first saw the Roustabout when they played with the Hudson Falcons, The GC5, and The Doozers at the Music Dimensions location on N. Western in 1999-ish and was immediately blown away.  At that time I didn't go to a ton of shows, but I've probably seen the Roustabouts live somewhere around 20 times (give or take), certainly more than any other band (aside from the Hudson's nearly a tie between those two).  They are easily my favorite band from Oklahoma (followed closely by Don't Make Ghosts), one of my favorite bands of all time, and The Only One is in my top 10 favorite records ever.  So needless to say I'm a huge fan.  I've also had the distinct privilege to call Waggoner, Smith, guitarist Daniel Felton, and bassist Nic Massey friends.  These are four great dudes that collectively are an incredible band!  My hope is that they unearth more old recordings and release them, but if this is it and 3017 is the last recorded statement for the Roustabouts, the band is going out with a raucous and stupendous bang.  Thank you gentlemen for the years of great music!