Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Best of 2016



The Un-Herd Music Top 40 of 2016

1. Hunters Dead End

Shaggy pack of garage punks from Finland summon the typical scuzz lineage from the Stooges to the Dead Boys, but also have the style and sense to throw in a classic pop sense of melody, with the end result sounding a lot like what you'd get if Rancid's Tim Armstrong fronted the New York Dolls while mangling a cover of "Suffragette City." 


2. Public Access T.V. Never Enough

Comparisons to a certain NYC nu-garage band seem to accompany every review of Never Enough, but a) the Strokes haven't managed this amount of ear candy hooks since Is This It, and b) Public Access T.V. is less a summation of 70s Noo Yawk and more a party hearty compendium of every cool sound since.



3. Twin Peaks Down in Heaven

Continuing their trajectory towards a growing command of pop song perfection, this time out Twin Peaks opted for a cleaner, clearer production style that allowed their seemingly effortless melodicism to stand on its own.



4. Slick! Slick!

The songs mostly clock in under the two minute mark and yet they still manage to touch on 50s rock 'n' roll, 60s bubblegum, 70s glam, and classic punk.





5. The Prettys Soirée

Vancouver band came out of next to nowhere with this one. What could have been standard indie punk bamalama gets rudely goosed by an ultra-melodic guitarist, an advanced sense of dynamics, and a honking, squealing saxophone. More please!



 6. Elijah Ford & the Bloom As You Were

Extremely satisfying album that hues closely to conventional classic rock - think Tom Petty for the old school, James Younger for the new - without sacrificing energy or hooks.





 7. Pat Todd & the RankOutsiders Blood & Treasure

Madman rock 'n' roll alchemist continues his noble life pursuit of mixing equal parts Johnny Cash and the New York Dolls, which might be slightly less impressive if the songs weren't so damn good.




 8. Pale Lips Wanna Be Bad

Slammin' Montreal sirens play girl group melodies at Mach III speed with lyrics (sample title: "Mary Lou Sniffin' Glue") that refuse to give a single inch of ground to the patriarchy. All hail.





9. Nick Waterhouse Never Twice

The cover image perfectly places Waterhouse in a classy black & white past, out of time with current trends but no less hip for it. This is sleek old time rhythm 'n' blues that moves and grooves without the need for over-bearing volume or hysterics.





10. Telephone Lovers Telephone Lovers

Twelve great proofs that rock 'n' roll is most effectively delivered in a three minute single. Somewhere, Paul Collins must be smiling with an "I told ya so" glint in his eye.








11. Role Models Forest Lawn
12. The Fleshtones The Band Drinks For Free
13. Javier Escovedo Kicked Out of Eden
14. Sheer Mag III (ep)
15. Ronnie Spector English Heart
16. Tim Easton American Fork
17. The New Frustrations Dee-Bacle (ep)
18. Somerdale Shake It Maggie
19. The I Don't Cares Wild Stab
20.  The Connection Just For Fun

21. Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms Basement Punk
22. Hey! Hello! Hey! Hello! Too!
23. The Seratones Get Gone
24. Dot Dash Searchlights
25. The Excitements Breaking the Rule
26. Farewell Milwaukee FM
27. Propeller Fall Off The World
28. Margaret Glaspy Emotions and Math
29. Steve Conte International Cover Up
30. Ulysses Law and Order

31. Izzy Bizu A Moment of Madness
32. Belleville Turn the Medicine Down
33. Watts The Black Heart of Rock & Roll
34. Lydia Loveless Longer
35. Kurt Baker In Orbit
36. Ian Hunter Fingers Crossed
37. Papernut Cambridge Love the Things Your Lover Loves
38. Car Seat Headrest Teen Denial
39. Earth Girls Wanderlust
40. D Generation Nothing is Anywhere

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Best of 2015


The Un-Herd Music Top 40 of 2015


1. The Barreracudas Can Do Easy

Power pop punk glam trash armed with an amazing arsenal of hooks and a fearless hold on that old rock & roll rhythm. True believers.







2. Ike Reilly Born On Fire

Connects the dots between '65 Dylan, '77 punk, ancient blues & right fuckin' now with an earned swagger.







 3. Royal Headache High

Band crashes & bashes, the singer soars, the album targets nothing less than pop immortality & hits it right between the eyes.







 4. JD McPherson Let The Good Times Roll

JD flirts with the rock & roll revivalist retro ghetto but imbues every classic move with a modern sheen, turning old dead ends into a freeway of fresh thrills.






 5. Dot Dash Earthquakes & Tidal Waves

Dot Dash have expanded from the brittle post-punk of their previous albums to incorporate ever more melodic strains in their DNA, from the 80s all the way up to the immediate future.





 6. Minky Starshine Pop Jewelry

Streamlined and sleek power pop with its focus squarely set on gorgeous, laid-back songcraft.







7. Diane Coffee Everybody's A Good Dog

It turns out the true follow-up to Foxygen's masterful "We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic" was by drummer Shaun Fleming's side project Diane Coffee. A cuinsinart of genre fuckery that doesn't forget the tunes.

 
 8. The Role Models The Go-To Guy

Rough, tough Replacements-style what-the-fuck, complete with the requisite doses of hopelessness and world-beater arrogance.





9. Simi Stone Simi Stone

There's equal streaks of 50s doo wop and 70s Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter cool running through Simi's mellow take on modern R&B that is endlessly awesome.





 10. Lucero All A Man Should Do

Lucero all grown up and glossed with big time production. Old time fans might miss the sharp punk edges, but Ben Nichols' songs carry the depth and melody to merit a place in the Memphis soul tradition.





11. The Sonics This Is The Sonics
12. Simon Love It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time
13. The Ballantynes Dark Drives, Life Signs
14. Sugar Sugaar - Strange Kicks
15. Orange Humble Band - Depressing Beauty
16. Terra Lightfoot - Every Time My Mind Runs Wild
17. Turbo Fruits - No Control
18. Donald Cumming - Out Calls Only
19. Dr. Boogie - Gotta Get Back To New York City
20. Dan Kelly - Leisure Panic

21. Low Cut Connie - Hi Honey
22. Ryan Hamilton - Hell Of A Day
23. Baby Shakes - Starry Eyes
24. Biters - Electric Blood
25. Downtown Boys - Full Communism
26. Leon Bridges - Coming Home
27. Barrence Whitfield & the Savages - Under A Savage Sky
28. Shovels & Rope - Busted Jukebox Vol. 1
29. White Reaper - White Reaper Does It Again
30. Nikki Hill - Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists

31. Reno Bo - Lessons From A Shooting Star
32. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think...
33. Blow Monkeys - If Not Now, When?
34. Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms - Heart String Soul
35. Andra Day - Cheers to the Fall
36. The Connection - Labor of Love
37. Jesse Malin - New York Before The War
38. Thunderbitch - Thunderbitch
39. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats - Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
40. Tenement - Predatory Headlights

Favorite EPs of 2015:

The Breakdowns - Heavy Metal Bombs
Modern Kicks - The Kicks Ain't All Right
The Pilgrims - Shred Savage
Rooni - Yodo
Rooni - Pilot

And, finally, a sampler mix of some of my absolute favorites from that list. There's no specific order to the mix - just tried to keep the flow - and to that end I've picked fairly randomly from the entire top 40. I'm hoping you'll find something that'll lead you to an entire album (or albums) of new faves.If that's ever the case (or is never the case), let me know in the comments. 

And thanks for hangin' around and hangin' in.  All the best in 2016!
 
1. Ike Rei11y Notes from the Denver International Airport
2. Roya1 Headache Wouldn't You Know 
3. Dot Dash Flowers
4. The Ro1e Mode1s Lie For Today
5. The Barreracudas Long Explanation
6. JD McPherson It's All Over But The Shouting
7. Ryan Hami1ton Records and Needles
8. Minky Starshine Drive
9. Simi Stone Good Girl
10. Simon Love The New Adam and Eve
11. Terra Lightfoot Never Will
12. Diane Coffee Mayflower
13. White Reaper Sheila
14. Low Cut Connie Both of My Knees
15. Nikki Hi11 Nothin' With You
16. Lucero Young Outlaws
17. Sugar Sugaar Sweet City
18. Turbo Fruits Don't Change
19. Downtown Boys Wave of History
20. Baby Shakes Teenage Cloud
21. Dona1d Cumming Workin' It Out
22. The Ballantynes My Place Your Town
23. Dr. Boogie Life On The Breadline
24. Biters Dreams Don't Die



Monday, May 18, 2015

Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms - Heart String Soul (2015)

On the exuberant first track on his new album, Ryan Allen proclaims "the song on the radio should be me." The sentiments of that statement are impossible to dispute, of course. Each one of these eleven songs is exactly the kind of melodic, high energy power pop that, by all rights, should be blasting out of every Radio Shack transistor on the planet while the speakers melt in the heat of a perfect summer day. Songs like the lead-off "Should Be Me" and "Angela '97" and "Back to Square One" surge forward with so many melodic ideas crammed into their three minutes of life that there isn't time to fully appreciate them until around the third listen. Allen's strangulated yelp pings around the proceedings like a hyperactive Ike Reilly, bringing major league hooks to every chorus it touches down on. This is songcraft of the highest order, marrying the lyrical sophistication of solo Paul Westerberg with the pure pop instincts of Badfinger. And it's not all a breathless rush to the finish line. "Keep Me Around" employs an earworm jangle that you can imagine Tom Petty cocking an ear towards, and the final song, the comparatively slow "Bonded by Blood," is a young father's homage to his son that will break the heart of any listener with one. It's all so good, and Allen makes such a solid case for radio domination that it's easy to overlook the one problem with that ambition, and that is that the very idea of radio, at this point in the timeline, is an old-fashioned construct. It's been over thirty years since the Ramones elegized the medium on "Do You Remember Rock & Roll Radio" and it ain't getting better. Which is to say, while Ryan Allen may want to be on the radio, and while Heart String Soul most certainly should be on the radio, both he and his music deserve so much more.

Heart String Soul on Bandcamp

Watts - Flash of White Light (2014)


Charlie Watts, Overend Watts, the Watts riots, and amplifier wattage... if ever a band christened themselves with an appropriate moniker, it's these guys. Like Charlie Watts, the band's principal songwriters John Blout and Danny Kopko keep their rock 'n' roll simple and direct, unadorned by any frills that aren't necessary. Every song here is confident enough to just hit the groove and let it swing, steamroller, or otherwise lay waste to the listener. Like Overend Watts and his bandmates in Mott the Hoople, they rock relentlessly without ever betraying their melodic instincts. A track like "Northen Boys" even taps into the tough metallic bubblegum of Cheap Trick's debut, while "Better (For a Girl Like You)" and "Wrapped Like Candy" slow the pace enough to touch into power pop. Like the Watts riots, Flash of White Light is barely contained chaos, a wholly masculine aggression willing to duke it out on the street corner. That cover shot of an uncontrolled horde of elo kiddies setting fire to stacks of vinyl is no accident - this is music meant to incite righteously unholy humping in the streets. And amp wattage? Well, just try to play this tightly packed firecracker superstring of Keef riffs, ACDC stomp, bad attitude and pop smarts without cranking the volume way up past ten and straight into broken rental agreement.

Flash of White Light on CD Baby


Top 50 Albums of 2014


1. The Nuclears This Is How We Party
2. Spoon They Want My Soul
3. Ex Hex Rips
4. Nude Beach 77
5. Twin Peaks Wild Onion
6. The Both The Both
7. The Rich Hands Out of My Head
8. The Jeanies The Jeanies
9. Little Jackie Queen of Prospect Park
10. Happyness Weird Little Birthday

11. The Breakdowns Rock 'n' Roller Skates
12. Needles//Pins Shamebirds
13. Chris Devotion & the Expectations Break Out
14. Nicole Atkins Slow Phaser
15. The Solicitors Blank Check
16. Fauna Flora Fauna Flora
17. The Cry! Dangerous Game
18. Sugar Stems Only Come Out At Night
19. Lydia Loveless Somewhere Else
20. Watts Flash of White Light


21. The Soft White Sixties Get Right.
22. The Ricky C Quartet Recent Affairs
23. Reigning Sound Shattered
24. Cheap Cassettes All Anxious, All The Time
25. New Swears Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
26. Broncho Just Enough Hip To Be A Woman
27. Silver Sun A Lick And A Promise
28. Velociraptor Velociraptor
29. Steve Conte Steve Conte NYC
30. Ming City Rockers Ming City Rockers

31. Motel Beds These Are The Days Gone By
32. Sunrise Highway Windows
33. Jamie T Carry On The Grudge
34. Ex Cops Daggers
35. Linus of Hollywood Something Good
36. Brand New Hate Hangover and Over
37. Gramercy Arms The Seasons of Love
38. Dum Dum Girls Too True
39. The Number Ones #1's
40. Actual Water Call 4 Fun

41. Chains of Love L.P.
42. Sweet Apple Golden Age of Glitter
43. Phonograph Phonograph Vol. 1
44. The Grates Dream Team
45. The Men Tomorrow's Hits
46. Nick Waterhouse Holly
47. Papernut Cambridge There's No Underground
48. Split Squad Now Hear This
49. Chuck Prophet Night Surfer
50. James Williamson Re-Licked

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top 30 Albums of 2013


1. The Bamboo Kids - Safe City Blues
2. J. Roddy Walston & the Business - Essential Tremors
3. The Computers - Love Triangles Hate Squares
4. Zachary James & the All-Seeing Eyes Space Case
5. Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders - 14th & Nowhere
6. James Younger - Feelin' American
7. The Connection - Let It Rock
8. Black Joe Lewis - Electric Slave
9. Chris Wilson - It's Flamin' Groovy!
10. V/A - Rockin' Here Tonight: Songs for Slim (a Benefit for Slim Dunlap)

11. The Grapes of Wrath - High Road
12. The Yum Yums - Play Good Music
13. Barrence Whitfield & the Savages - Dig Thy Savage Soul
14. Glitz - It'z Glitz
15. Greg Pope - Pop Motion Animation
16. Attic Lights - Super De Luxe
17. The Cliks - Black Tie Elevator
18. The Suburbs - Si Sauvage
19. Red Jacket Mine - Someone Else's Cake
20. Modern Kicks - Rock 'n' Roll's Anti Hero

21. Missing Monuments - Missing Monuments
22. Bad Sports - Bras
23. Deer Tick - Negativity
24. Beach Day Trip Trap Attack
25. The Charlie Watts Riots A Break In The Weather
26. Wyatt Blair - Banana Cream Dream
27. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get...
28. Dirty Fences - Too High To Kross
29. The Crunch - Busy Making Noise
30. Night Marchers - Allez! Allez!

Honorable Mentions:

Grimm Generation - The Big Fame
Warm Soda - Someone For You
Ulysses - Kill You Again
Rich Hands - Dreamers
Primitive Hearts - High & Tight
Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Jungle - Pacific Oblivion
Wild Belle - Isles
The Bamboos - Fever in the Road
Nick Piunti - 13 In My Head
Oblivians - Desperation
Willis Earl Beal - Nobody Knows
No Tomorrow Boys - Bad Luck Baby Put The Jinx On Me
Vegas With Randolph - Rings Around The Sun
King Khan & the Shrines - Idle No More
Silver Seas - Alaska
The Julie Ruin - Run Fast
The Dirtbombs - Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Zachary James & the All Seeing Eyes - Space Case (2013)


Back in 1973, when David Bowie introduced Ziggy Stardust to the world, Ziggy was a character, a persona that Bowie temporarily occupied like a role in a Drury Lane stageplay, and something easily discarded once audience expectations became too high. Since that time the world's seen all manner of similar tactics and pop chameleons, to the point that we barely expect our precious rock gods to be anything other than cracked actors biding their time until they can cash out. Which makes Zachary James and the All Seeing Eyes' new album seem as unlikely as it is thrilling, because exactly 40 years after Zig's rock & roll suicide, they've reanimated that alien critter's spangly corpse and dragged it mule-kicking and screaming into the new millennium.

Which isn't to say Space Case sounds like Bowie, because it doesn't. It sounds like the album the character Ziggy might make, with lyrics of sci-fi romance and more nods to T.Rex than Bowie (and more to the Stones than either). Subsequently, it also embraces the glam dichotomy, the inherent contradiction of an androgynous future utopianism juxtaposed with the music's desire to search and destroy (to wit: just check the distance traveled between "Soul Love" and "Suffragette City" on the original artifact). With Space Case, James makes those two opposing poles obvious and distinct. The entirety of Side A, for example, is a much more direct and guileless proclamation of romantic love than any of the authentic glitter dudes ever waxed. "My Planet is Red (Your Planet is Blue)." a duet with Alexandra Starlight, practically oozes domestic bliss, and "Little Girl From Mars" is, its title notwithstanding, a fairly straightforward love song. Only "I'm Not Alone," with James' Joey Ramone drawl grafted on to a T.Rex choogle, challenges the languid pace of the first four tracks. 

Side B, on the other hand, mostly gives up the romance and gives in to the impulse to rock. It's the opposite side of the coin, and the Rolling Stones are all over this side. It's an interesting stylistic choice, not so much because of the influence - which has always been part of James' sound - but because of the thematic repercussions. Let's face it, the Stones have typically (at their best) been fueled by an unapologetic, almost malevolent, macho heterosexuality (along with a flirtation with misogyny), which collides face-first with the romantic idealism of Space Case. James seems to intrinsically understand the contradiction, allowing his stomper "Outta Space" to organically drift into the unmistakable riff from "Satisfaction" before zooming off into its own boogie orbit. Similarly, "Starpeople," a hook-filled rocker built on a solid Chuck Berry foundation and neo-hippy sentiments, blatantly steals its chorus from "Star Star" as if attempting to offer a spiritual apologia for the  awesome petulance of that great Stones classic. The comparatively low-key slow burn of "That's Just Life" exists between those two tracks like a palate cleanser.

And then, at the end of it all comes "Runnin' Outta Tyme," a propulsive mid-tempo groover with a spectacularly seductive riff. More than any other song here, this track suggests James can have it both ways. It reconciles his desire for utopian positivity with his need to just kick out the jams (muthafugga), and subsumes those warring urges into a single tension-filled entity. It's pure pop drama, befitting the original concept of the Zigster himself. But Zachary James is no mere character. He's the living embodiment. The leper messiah with glitter on his cheek. And maybe he takes it too far but (you know the drill), boy, can he play guitar.