Sunday
Jan082017

Zweitausendsechzehn — My Favorite Music of 2016

 

Welcome to my list of my favorite music of the year.  Continuing the precedent set last year, I’m no longer publishing a CD, but instead offer links to playlists on Apple Music and Spotify.

 

This was an interesting year for my listening habits.  Towards the beginning of the year, I started a Grateful Dead kick.  I think it started on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  There was something very relaxing about driving the roads listening to those mellow tunes.  I don’t listen to music when I hike, but the songs burrowed into my head and stayed there.  A group called The National put out a Grateful Dead tribute album, Day of the Dead, that became my favorite of the year.  I explored a large amount of their back catalog and at press-time am working my way through the Dick’s Picks collections.  There are enough live shows to last me for years.

 

This year’s collection has a little Dead interlude in the middle of it, but the majority of it remains an eclectic mix of rock, blues, country, jazz, R&B, and electronic.  I continue to find and explore new music through a variety of sources.  This year I added Apple Music’s A-List playlists to that list.  These are regularly updated mixes of a particular genre- I spent time listening to Americana, Alternative, Rock, and Jazz.  

 

If that sounds like a lot of music, you’re right.  Last year I tried to stay within the same 78 minute span of time that can fit on a CD.  I tried again this year, until I found myself stressing over what songs to cut to keep the length down.  “Self”, I said to myself, “that’s a really stupid thing to stress about.”  Now that I’m curating a streaming playlist, I can toss out the 78-minute length along with the CDs and cases.

 

Apple Music: Service costs $10/month, $15/month family plan.  Three-month free trial membership available.

Spotify: Basic service is free; $10/month to listen to music ad-free and to download traces to mobile devices for offline use.

 

1. Oh Daniel

 

Civil Twilight, Story of an Immigrant (2015)

 

Civil Twilight is an alternative rock band originally from Cape Town, South Africa.  This song starts out quiet, before slowing building up to an anguish of emotion and heartache.

 

 

 

2. Pedestrian at Best

 

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)

 

Smart, sarcastic, deadpan Australian singer.  And what a wonderfully zen album title.

 

Also good : Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party, Three Packs a Day (a song about Ramen noodles, not cigarettes)

 

 

 

3. No Good

 

Kaleo, A/B (2016)

 

Kaleo is a blues-rock quartet that could easily be from New Orleans, but actually hail from just outside Reykjavik, Iceland.  Their album A/B was one of my favorites of the year.

 

Also recommended: the rest of the album

 

 

4. The Less I Know the Better

 

Tame Impala, Currents (2015)

 

More Australians- Tame Impala adds some relaxing psychedelia to the mix.

 

 

5. Run Runaway

 

Slade, Greatest Hits (1984)

 

Big-hair tiger-print-pants rock.  There’s no doubt this is a song from the 80s.  How can it be that I never heard it before this year?  Crazy guilty-pleasure fun.

 

This song is not available on Spotify.

 

 

6. Let Me Be Mine

 

Spoon, They Want My Soul (2014)

 

Alternative band Spoon appeared previously in my 2010 collection.

 

 

7. Da Funk

 

Daft Punk, Homework (1997)

 

Not a new song, but a new one to me.  Working while listening to electronic music can be productive.  The high-energy beat keeps you moving, and there are no distracting lyrics.

 

 

8. Dream Bigger (Radio Edit)

 

Axwell ^ Ingrosso, (single) (2016)

 

Swedish duo Axwell & Ingrosso contribute a second electronic track to the mix.  (Contains some explicit lyrics)

 

 

9. Pen to Paper

 

Modern Space, Before Sunrise (2016)

 

 

10. Mary Go Round

 

The Struts, Everybody Wants (2016)

 

The Struts are similar to the Darkness, sort of a retro-eighties, Queen-inspired rock band.  Importantly, they pull it off.   This was one of my favorite albums of the year. 

 

Also recommended: Roll Up

 

 

11. Throw Down Your Guns

 

Wild Belle, Dreamland (2016)

 

Alternative rock with reggae influences. Also good: Dreamland

 

 

12. Pretty Pimpin

 

Kurt Vile, B’lieve I’m Goin Down (2015)

 

I really like this song, but am unfortunately bored by the rest of the album.

 

 

13. Things Will Never Be The Same

 

Sam Lewis, Waiting on You (2015)

 

Also recommended: 3/4 Time, I’m Coming Home

 

 

14. Wristband

 

Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger (2016)

 

This song tells the story of Paul Simon getting locked out of his backstage, and a security guard who didn’t recognize him. 

 

 

And I said, "Wristband? I don't need a wristband

My axe is on the bandstand, my band is on the floor”

 

By the end of the song, Simon turns the incident into a social commentary.

 

 

15. Follow Your Arrow

 

Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park (2013)

 

Yes, the saccharine Kacey Musgraves writes lyrics that would be at home on a Hallmark card… I like it anyway.

 

 

16. Get Right with God

 

Lucinda Williams Essence (2001)

 

Another old song that I never heard before this year. 

 

 

17. Growin’ Pain

 

Peter Wolf, Sleepless (2002)

 

I’ve been slowly, very slowly, working my way through Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  This album clocked in at #432.  Peter Wolf is, of course, the former lead singer for the J. Geils Band back in the 1970s, but has had a prolific solo career after that.

 

Also recommended: Too Close Together.

 

 

18. S.O.B.

 

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (2015)

 

 

19. Twistin’ & Groovin’

 

Leon Bridges, Coming Home (2016)

 

Classic R&B sound by a modern artist.  In the same genre, I also enjoyed songs by Michael Kiwanuka (Cold Little Heart), Pops Staples (Somebody Was Watching) and old-school Sam Cooke (Twistin’ the Night Away (Live)).

 

 

20. Determined Soul

 

Daniel Freedman, Imagine That (2016)

 

Relax with a little jazz interlude.  I found this song thanks to Apple’s A-List: Jazz playlist.

 

This song is not available on Spotify.

 

 

21. Pride of Cucamonga

 

Grateful Dead, From the Mars Hotel (1974)

 

I listened to a lot of live Dead this year.  Europe '72 was one of my favorites. For this collection, I picked a fun studio song that I heard for the first time in 2016.

 

 

22. Me and My Uncle

 

The Lone Bellow & Friends, Day of the Dead (2016)

 

23. Rubin and Cherise

 

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Friends, Day of the Dead (2016)

 

24. I Know You Rider (live)

 

The National & Bob Weir, Day of the Dead (2016)

 

As mentioned in the introduction, The National it together a Grateful Dead tribute album this year.  Not everything worked, but many did.  These were my three favorites.

 

Also recommended: Sugaree, Jack-A-Roe

 

 

25. Street Dogs for Breakfast

 

Widespread Panic, Street Dogs (2015)

 

Might as well keep the jam band theme going for one more song.

 

 

26. Andalusia

 

Joe Satriani, The Essential Joe Satriani (2010)

 

This song starts off quiet, then ramps up to set the tone for the remainder of the collection. 

 

 

27. Tidal Wave

 

Taking Back Sunday, Tidal Wave (2016)

 

 

28. Way Too Much

 

Wavves, V (2015)

 

 

29. Wake Up Call

 

Nothing But Thieves, Nothing But Thieves (2015)

 

Also recommended: Trip Switch

 

 

 

Pronunciation Guide

 

To native English speakers, Zweitausendsechzehn looks intimidating, but it breaks down as follows:

 

  1. Zwei (2)- pronounced with an “s” sound, followed with “veye” (rhymes with eye), all packed into a single syllable
  2. tausend (1000)- pronounced like the English word “thousand”, replacing the “th” sound with a straight “t” sound (there’s no “th” sound in German)
  3. sech (6)- pronounced like “sex” if “sex” started with a “z”
  4. zehn (10)- pronounced like “czain”, with the “cz” from “czar”, rhymes with “pain.” German has a habit of switching the last two digits of their numbers- for example, “twenty-four” in English becomes “four-twenty” in German. It used to make my head hurt. But then Nate’s kindergarten (oops- another German word) teacher told us that her kids struggle with the numbers 13-19. Think about it…

 

Now mash that all together in one single word.  There you go, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

 

Wednesday
Dec232015

Zweitausendfünfzehn — 2015

There is no CD this year.

My listening habits have transformed over the last few years. I used to buy a few CDs every month, until I realized that I could buy more music for less money by buying MP3 downloads from Apple or Amazon. Last year I started to experiment with streaming services, a transition I completed in 2015. I started the year with Spotify, then switched to Apple Music when I saw how much easier it works in my iOS/OS X ecosystem. On an average work day, I listen to two new albums that I’ve never heard before. At the beginning of the year, I purchased the songs and albums that I really liked. But by late summer I realized that there was really no reason for that. I like something- I just save it to my library. Really good stuff gets downloaded to my devices. Are you still buying music? Why? Pay $10/month to get Apple Music or to turn off the ridiculous ads on Spotify and listen to whatever you want whenever you want. It’s much cheaper than buying a CD per month and gives you unlimited access to an enormous catalog of music.

Get a subscription to a streaming service and explore. Dig deep into the back catalogs of artists you’ve liked for years, or try something completely new. I listened to an obscure album that Justin Hayward and John Lodge put together during the mid-70s hiatus of the Moody Blues. I also listened to a lot of EDM, Country, and Jazz.

Don’t know what to try? Ask a friend. Or better, ask an acquaintance. You and your friends listen to the same stuff anyway. An acquaintance has a better chance of giving you new ideas. I got a list of six artists from the boyfriend of a professional classical cello player who’s the daughter of a software developer that I worked with 15 years ago.

Or read about it. It seems funny to extol the virtues of dead trees in a piece about the death of CDs, but I get a lot of ideas from Rolling Stone magazine. I found a great B.B. King album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds from an article I found there. I've also been working my way through their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

And of course, there’s lots more of what you already like to listen to. Go back and dig up deep cuts from your favorite artists from years past. I found the wondrous treasure trove that is The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings from the Allman Brothers Band. It’s gold, people.

Oh, yes, and there are songs below too. While I thought seriously about just leaving you with a bunch of vague ideas, in the idea I came up with the Zweitausendfünfzehn list after all. Naturally, after a post about music streaming, it's in the form of a playlist. Just click one of the links below:

  • Apple Music Service costs $10/month, $15/month family plan. Three-month free trial membership available.
  • Spotify Basic service is free; $10/month to listen to music ad-free and to download tracks to mobile devices for offline use.

This list, my 11th annual, is a sampler of my favorite music that I discovered this year. I hope you enjoy it.

1. New Word Order

The Word, Soul Food (2015)

The Word is a blues/rock supergroup formed from members of the North Mississippi Allstars and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Blues, funk, R&B, jazz, it's all in here. This was my second-favorite album of the year.

Also recommended: When I See the Blood, Choocolate Cowboy, Play All Day

2. Bad Self Portraits

Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits (2014)

Another song from the album was on last year's list. I found that song first, liked it, then listened to the rest of the album after the deadline for last year's collection.

Also recommended: You Go Down Smooth (which appeared in the Zweitausendvierzehn collection). The whole album is solid.

3. I've Got a Rock 'N' Roll Heart

Eric Clapton, Money and Cigarettes (1983)

How have I not heard this song before? Classic Eric Clapton from his best era. I thought I had filled my life's quota for Eric Clapton, but I streamed a greatest hits collection on a whim and found this (by me) previously undiscovered gem.

4. Waiting on Words

The Black Keys, Turn Blue (2014)

I've heard this album compared to Pink Floyd- more mellow than El Camino. Also recommended: Weight of Love, Turn Blue, 10 Loves, Gotta Get Away

(This track is not available on Spotify, and therefore missing from the Spotify version of this playlist)

5. Major Tom

Shiny Toy Guns, (single) (2009)

A number of covers made it to my collection this year. At first I felt guilty for including three of them, but everyone has their guilty pleasures. This is a cover of the 1983 hit by Peter Schilling.

6. A Placed Called Space

The Juan MacLean, In a Dream (2014)

Electronic dance music in the spirit of Moroder, who appeared in last year's collection. AllMusic.com describes this song as "Miami Vice-meets-Golden Earring guitar-strangling over the robo-beat". Which clears it up considerably, don't you think? Amusing note- the lead artist in The Juan MacLean is named John MacLean. I find that hilarious for some reason.

7. Bartender

Lady Antebellum, 747 (2014)

I listened to a lot more country in 2015. At one point I even created a 25 Greatest Country Songs of All Time playlist based on a Rolling Stone article. This song is labeled country but would more accurately be described as country-influenced pop.

8. Something From Nothing

Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways (2014)

My respect for Dave Grohl and his love and respect for music continues to grow. This is another great Foo Fighters album.

Also recommended: In the Clear, I Am a River

9. Bright Lights (Live)

Gary Clark Jr., Gary Clark Jr. Live (2014)

Gary Clark Jr. is one of the biggest forces in the blues today, giving a fresh take on blues roots music. This live concert album is filled with ridiculously good solos.

Also recommended: Don't Owe You a Thang, Three O'Clock Blues, When My Train Pulls In

10. Dirty Deeds

Joan Jett, The Hit List (1990)

A classic rock singer doing a cover of the classic AC/DC song.

11. Tainted Love

Imelda May, Mayhem (2011)

The old Soft Cell dance single, gone rockabilly.

12. Stay Vicious

The Gaslight Anthem, Get Hurt (2015)

I've always been a big fan of the Gaslight Anthem. Get Hurt was a big exception. Outside of this leadoff track, I just couldn't get excited about the album, even after repeated listenings.

13. Angels of Fenway

James Taylor, Before This World (2015)

Angels of Fenway is not the best song from James Taylor's new album. That would be Far Afghanistan. But this is a song about the Red Sox, so... I still remember standing in the family room in October 2004, watching my Red Sox through a storm of static snow caused by poor TV reception. They won. They won. Oh my God they won.

Got Netflix? Watch Four Days in October.

14. Doing It To Death

Gov't Mule, Sco-Mule (featuring John Scofield) (2015)

I saved the best for last. Sco-Mule was, without any doubt whatsoever, my Favorite Album of 2015. Nothing else even came close. Gov't Mule is the jam band from Warren Haynes, who also played with the Allman Brothers Band. They did a series of concerts in 1999 with jazz guitarist John Scofield and created a double-album from it this year. It's jam rock with heavy (heavy) jazz influences and wonderful tension-and-release rhythms. It was very hard to pick a favorite from this two-disc collection, but I ended with this song originally written by James Brown. Read a full-review of the album at AllMusic then do yourself a favor and listen to the full album on Apple Music or Spotify.

Pronounciation Guide

To native English speakers, Zweitausendfünfzehn looks intimidating, but it breaks down as follows:

  1. Zwei (2)- pronounced with an "s" sound, followed with "veye" (rhymes with eye), all packed into a single syllable
  2. tausend (1000)- pronounced like the English word "thousand", replacing the "th" sound with a straight "t" sound (there's no "th" sound in German)
  3. fünf (5)- pronounced like it sounds- you can (almost) ignore the umlaut in this case
  4. zehn (10)- pronounced like "czain", with the "cz" from "czar." German has a habit of switching the last two digits of their numbers- for example, "twenty-four" in English becomes "four-twenty" in German. It's used to make my head hurt. But then Nate's kindergarten (oops- another German word) teacher told us that her kids struggle with the numbers 13-19. Think about it...
Sunday
Dec212014

Zweitausendvierzehn - 2014

Welcome to my tenth annual "Best of" CD. Following the trend, the title is the German word for "2014." There's a pronounciation guide at the end- impress your friends!

This CD contains my favorite music discovered this year. This year my listening habits changed. I got a new job which led to fewer meetings and more time to do individual work while listening to music. My new office has a much faster Internet connection, so I streamed music using Spotify and Pandora. Freed from needing to buy music before listening, I listened to more new music than in the past. And new kinds of music as well, including dance, pop, dubstep, jazz, and country. My favorites still tend toward the comfortable, but you'll see a few signs of different stuff leaking in.

Prologue

Last Day of School

Boston, Life, Love & Hope (2013)

Boston? Yes, Boston. I have to admit, when I heard that there was a new Boston album out, I immediately had to listen to it. I also have to admit, it's terrible in almost every way possible. Their lead singer has been dead for years- guitarist Tom Scholtz is trying to milk what he can at this point. One song sounds like it was a mixed by a high school music student. And not one with a passing grade... Hard to believe it's the same guy who spent years producing (and over-producing) Boston's earlier albums. I can only imagine that this instrumental was created in a different time period, because it's quite good.

2. High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes (2014)

The title song from Springsteen's latest kicks off the main part of this collection. High Hopes is my favorite release from Bruce in a number of years. New guitarist Tom Morello (from Rage Against the Machine) adds a needed spark. Recommended: The entire album, as well as a series of concerts from South Africa that the band performed in early 2014 (available on his website.)

3. Lazaretto

Jack White, Lazaretto (2014)

Jack White (The White Stripes, Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) is one of my most respected musicians in the industry. This comes off his second solo album. Also recommended: Temporary Ground.

4. Let the Records Play

Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt (2013)

Every year I start the process of building my annual CD in October. I build a playlist with all the music I got in the last year, then repeatedly listen to it on shuffle, giving each song a thumbs up or a thumbs down. When I've exhausted the playlist I repeat the process with the "thumbs up" list, until I narrow it down to my absolute favorites. This track actually got a "thumbs down" until I noticed I was singing it to myself on a daily basis. Also recommended: Mind Your Manners.

5. At Night In Dreams

White Denim, Corsicana Lemonade (2013)

I'm not sure how to describe this album. It's almost, but not quite, the sound of a jam band. I guess you'd call it country and blues influenced alternative jam rock. Or something. Also recommended: Distant Relative Salute.

6. Wake Me Up

Avicii, True (2013)

Now we start to veer into the weird stuff- or at least weird to me. Dorinna introduced me to Swedish DJ Avicii. Half folk rock, half dance, all interesting. Also recommended: You Make Me, Hey Brother, Dear Boy, Liar Liar.

7. Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

Skrillex, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (2010)

Out of curiousity more than anything, I finally decided to listen to Skrillex. I'm not a big fan of this genre, but I did like this track. Also recommended: Yeah, no, not really.

8. Stars Align

Lindsey Stirling, Lindsey Sterling (2013)

Lindsey Stirling plays violin to dubstep beats, with music videos full of pixies, swords, and assorted fantasy motifs. That doesn't sound promising, I know. Somehow this ended up as a Favorite Album of 2014. Why? Because with headphones on this became my work music of choice. Great energetic beats and no instrumentals gave me distraction-free energy.

9. Devotion to a Dream

Phish, Fuego (2014)

Like many Phish fans, I prefer live concerts to studio albums. But Fuego is an expertly-produced release that nails it. This is the only studio album worth listening to since 2000's Farmhouse. In fact, Devotion to a Dream earns the title of Favorite Song of 2014. Also recommended: Sing Monica.

10. Talking Backwards

Real Estate, Atlas (2014)

AllMusic.com describes their music as "a subdued approach to guitar rock that stripped away all unnecessary clutter and presented their tuneful songs in a manner as attractive and steadfast as primary colors, spring days, comfort food, or any of life's basic staples." I call it mellow, relaxing, melodic. Also recommended: Had to Hear, Primitive.

11. Open Ended Life

Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion (2013)

Compared to last year's The Carpenter, the latest release from the Avett Brothers is less obviously energetic and catchy. It's more subtle, and Dorinna and I both found it rewarding with multiple listens.

12. You Go Down Smooth

Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits (2014)

You will be seeing this band again in 2015. After loving this song, I listened to the rest of the album after the cut-off for the 2014 collection. This band reminds me a lot of the Tedeschi Trucks band without the virtuosic solos.

13. Rattle My Bones

The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down (2014)

I discovered the Secret Scissors back in 2011, when Big River was my favorite song of the year. I found them because Jack White played guitar on the song, but I like the group even without his guitar fire.

14. Kinks Shirt

Matt Nathanson, Last of the Great Pretenders (2013)

Matt Nathanson is an alternative pop artist who formerly appeared on my 2011 and 2012 collections.

15. Fault Lines

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye (2014)

I want to like Tom Petty more than I do. While I love his classic songs, as well as a live collection he put out in 2009 (see Friend of the Devil on my 2010 collection), most of his newer material strikes me as non-descript. This track, however, could have easily fit on one of his earlier releases. Good driving beat and memorable riffs. Also recommended: American Dream Plan B.

16. The Ghost of Tom Joad

Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes (2014)

This song was part of the album of the same name released in 1995. But that was before Tom Morello joined the band and you've never heard it like this before. Tom lets it rip in the last few minutes, shredding his way through a trademark staccato solo.

17. Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye

The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down (2014)

I can't listen to this without both singing along and swinging back and forth. Fun!

Epilogue. Great Expectations (Acoustic)

The Gaslight Anthem, The B-Sides (2014)

The Gaslight Anthem has appeared on these collections before. In fact, the original version of this song was the lead off track on Zweitausendneun. B-Sides was one of two albums that the Gaslight Anthem put out this year; the "regular" Get Hurt album didn't do that much for me. The title B-Sides isn't entirely accurate- it's more a collection of covers (Pearl Jam, Rolling Stones) and acoustic renditions of existing songs. As Dorinna says, you can appreciate the lyrics more when the guitar fuzz is stripped away. While I was originally drawn to their more hard-rocking songs, it's curious to note that the last two collections have ended with acoustic songs from the Gaslight Anthem.

To native English speakers, Zweitausendvierzehn looks intimidating, but it breaks down as follows:

  1. Zwei (2)- pronounced with an "s" sound, followed with "veye" (rhymes with eye), all packed into a single syllable
  2. tausend (1000)- pronounced like the English word "thousand", replacing the "th" sound with a straight "t" sound (there's no "th" sound in German)
  3. vier (3)- pronounced like the English word "fear" said with a strong Boston accent ("fee-ah"). Yes, that's right. And that's right, the "v" in German is pronounced like an "f" in English. So "Volkswagon" is pronounced like "Folkswagon." And in case, you are wondering, yes-- Fahrvegnugen it's a real word.
  4. zehn (10)- pronounced like "czain", with the "cz" from "czar." German has a habit of switching the last two digits of their numbers- for example, "twenty-four" in English becomes "four-twenty" in German. It's used to make my head hurt. But then Nate's kindergarten (oops- another German word) teacher told us that her kids struggle with the numbers 13-19. Think about it...
Saturday
Dec212013

Zweitausenddreizehn - 2013

Welcome to my ninth annual "Best of" CD. Following the trend, the title is the German word for "2013." To native English speakers, it looks intimidating, but it breaks down as follows:

  1. Zwei (2)- pronounced with an "s" sound, followed with "veye" (rhymes with eye), all packed into a single syllable
  2. tausend (1000)- pronounced like the English word "thousand", replacing the "th" sound with a straight "t" sound (there's no "th" sound in German)
  3. drei (3)- pronounced like the English word "dry" with a bit of a roll to the "d" if you can manage it
  4. zehn (10)- pronounced like "czain", with the "cz" from "czar." German has a habit of switching the last two digits of their numbers- for example, "twenty-four" in English becomes "four-twenty" in German. Yes, it makes my head hurt too.

Enough with the language lesson. This CD contains my favorite music discovered this year. In 2013, I found myself coming back over and over again to three particular albums. Rather than agonizing over which track to include from those three albums, I decided to let this year's collection reflect that, so you'll see multiple tracks from the Dropkick Murphys, The Avett Brothers and Daft Punk. I'm not sure you could name three albums with more different styles than those three, but my music tastes have always trended schizophrenic anyway.

1. The 2nd Law: Unsustainable

Muse, The 2nd Law (2012)

This Muse album broke ranks from their rest, sounding more electronic, and less like Queen. I like the way this song builds up tension before finally breaking into a noisy electronic mess.

2. The Boys Are Back

Dropkick Murphys, Signed and Sealed in Blood (2013)

This Boston Irish punk band has appeared in these compilation discs before, with State of Massachusetts on the 2008 CD. Nevertheless, I never listened to them at length until this year. I still can't believe I like this kind of hard-driving punk mixed with... accordions and bagpipes.

Fun Fact: The Boys Are Back is the walk-up song of Boston Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes.

3. Out of Our Heads

Dropkick Murphys, Signed and Sealed in Blood (2013)

The Dropkick Murphys are loud, fun, Irish punk. I think this is one of the more "Irish" sounding songs on the album.

4. Giorgio by Moroder

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (2013)

Generally, I can only listen to songs with spoken words a handful of times before I get bored of them. This is an exception to that rule. The narration serves to slowly build up tension, finally releasing it in a wave of synthesizers and guitar. Isn't this disco? Yeah, probably. Just enjoy it. The mellow yet driving beats of this song helped make Random Access Memories my favorite album for listening to on transoceanic flights while trying to fall asleep.

5. Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablancas)

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (2013)

Julian Casablancas is the lead singer from the Strokes, although he also appeared in my 2010 CD for his solo work. One of the things I love about Random Access Memories is the variety of the styles of the songs. Although it was a very close contest, I'm designating Random Access Memories as my ALBUM OF THE YEAR.

6. One Woman Army

Kate Earl, Stronger (2012)

Lest you think everything I listened to in 2013 had synthesizers and/or bagpipes, this song is a little bit more straightforward.

7. I Never Knew You

The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter (2012) SONG OF THE YEAR

When I gave this album as a gift earlier in the year, my parents automatically assumed that this was a find from my wife Dorinna. Nope. A little bit The Band, a little bit Mumford & Songs, and harmonies and jingling guitar that reminds me of The Eagles, this was one of my favorite albums of the year. (As I write this, the less-catchy follow-up album Magpie and the Dandelion is starting to soak in as well)

8. Grace for Saints and Ramblers

Iron & Wine, Ghost on Ghost (2013)

Dorinna's objection to this song is the ungrammatical chorus "It all came down to you and I." Sounds like a grade schooler who has been scolded one too many times about using "me" incorrectly. While I agree that it's horrible grammar, I'm willing to overlook that in the interest of good music.

9. La Grange

Jamey Johnson, ZZ Top - A Tribute from Friends (2011)

One of rock's all-time classic riffs with some nice extended jams. What more could you ask for in a cover?

10. I Will Wait

Mumford & Sons, Babel (2012)

Everybody's favorite banjos. To me, most of Mumford & Son's songs sound like all their other songs, but this one stands out.

11. Live And Die

The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter (2012)

Another gem from a band that could be The Eagles circa Peaceful, Easy Feeling- with banjos.

12. Leaving on a Jet Plane

My Morning Jacket, The Music is You (A Tribute to John Denver) (2013)

If this sad, beautiful, haunting cover doesn't make you cry or give you chills at least once, you're not really listening. For me, I do one or the other every single time.

13. Jimmy Collins's Wake (Live Acoustic)

Dropkick Murphys, Rose Tattoo: For Boston Charity (2013)

The Dropkick Murphys are unmistakably a Boston band, and proud of it. This song is taken from a charity EP made after the tragic marathon bombings. My usual request to buy any music that you like on this collection counts double here.

They are also the unofficial band of the Boston Red Sox, and if I could of found a way to rip their rendition of the national anthem from Game 6 of the World Series, it would have made this collection. This song is about Jimmy Collins, the manager-ballplayer on the Red Sox team that won the first World Series in 1903.

14. Kill The DJ (explicit)

Green Day , ¡UNO! (2012)

Green Day still hasn't made an album half as good as American Idiot. This time they took what could have been a fantastic release, added a bunch of filler, and sold it as three albums that shipped over a three month period. This is one of the gems mixed in with the loads of "meh". Great catchy song, but don't play it when the kids are around unless you want to teach them new words. If you like this, make yourself a playlist from Carpe Diem, Let Yourself Go, Oh Love (¡UNO!), Stop When the Red Lights Flash, Nightlife (¡DOS!), Dirty Rotten Bastards, and 99 Revolutions (¡TRÉ!)

15. Made Up Mind

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Made Up Mind (2013)

Regrettably, I have to agree with my friend Kevin: The forty-piece Tedeschi Trucks band, formed by combining the Susan Tedeschi band and the Derek Trucks band, has too little emphasis on arguably the best living guitar player in the world. Which isn't to say that it isn't good, but if half of the band died in a freak drumstick accident, it would only be a good thing. Also recommended: Whiskey Legs.

16. Been Away Too Long

Soundgarden, King Animal (2012)

I've concluded that I'm not really much of a Soundgarden fan. This great song snuck on anyway.

17. Fortunate Son (with Foo Fighters)

John Fogerty, Wrote a Song for Everyone (2013)

Wrote a Song for Everyone was a close #4 on my albums of the year list. The premise is that John Fogerty took a collection of songs spanning his career, from CCR to his solo work, and remade them with musical guests. This project could easily have turned into a boring retread, but he pulled it off with a good mix of covers spanning mellow country to energetic rock. Also recommended: Wrote a Song for Everyone (with Miranda Lambert and Tom Morello), Bad Moon Rising (with Zac Brown Band), Born on the Bayou (with Kid Rock), Who'll Stop the Rain (with Bob Seger)

18. National Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten (2012)

The Gaslight Anthem is often compared to a punk version of Bruce Springsteen, and not just because they are from New Jersey. This song could have been on Nebraska. The rest of the album could not. Also recommended: "45", Mulholland Drive, Too Much Blood.

Saturday
Dec082012

Zweitausendzwölf - 2012

Hard to believe, but this is my 8th annual "Best of" CD. The name, as always, is German for the year (2012). If you haven't noticed the pattern yet, it's the German words for 'two,' 'thousand,' and 'twelve' mashed together. As for the contents, this list is my favorite music discovered in the past year.

1. Santo Domingo

Rodrigo y Gabriela, Area 52 (2012)

Rodrigo y Gabriela are a guitar playing duo from Mexico. They're best known as formal metal rockers who now play acoustic guitars flamenco-style. They've made it into two previous "Best of" CDs, and I even wrote up a concert review once. This song, and the album it comes from, is a little different. Rather than just their normal two acoustic guitars, they added C.U.B.A, a 13-piece Cuban orchestra. The songs themselves are mostly covers from their previous albums, given a completely fresh and different sound.

2. Some Nights

Fun., Some Nights (2012)

Fun. is one of Dorinna's discoveries of the year. They are a NYC indie pop band with a dash of Queen. Also recommended, We are Young.

3. Faster

Matt Nathanson, Modern Love (2011)

It makes no sense, but one thing I almost never do is buy the rest of an album after finding a good single from it. Here is an exception. Mercy by San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson appeared on last year's collection. The rest of the album was good also, especially Queen of (K)nots and this track here.

4. Breathing Underwater

Metric, Synthetica (2012)

Metric's latest took a few listens before it burrowed into my ears, but it was worth the effort. Compared to 2009's Fantasies album, it's not as arena-friendly, but still catchy and fun. Also recommended: Artificial Nocturne, Speed the Collapse, Lost Kitten.

5. Here in the Deadlights

Brendan Benson, What Kind of World (2012)

Brendan Benson is the other major member of Jack White's Raconteurs band, and he's been on my list to check out for several years now. Also recommended: On the Fence and the rest of the What Kind of World album.

6. Gold on the Ceiling

The Black Keys, El Camino (2011)

Never really been a fan of the Black Keys, but an Amazon special convinced me to buy the album and try it out. Sometimes it can take multiple listens before I appreciate a piece of music. This song only took one.

7. Bright Lights

Gary Clark Jr., The Bright Lights EP (2011)

Gary Clark Jr. is a blues guitarist hailing from Austin. He's been making independent recordings for awhile, but only recently got a major-label deal after performing at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival. I'd recommend the entire EP, and I'm looking forward to hearing a just-released full-length album.

8. Bound for Glory

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Everybody's Talkin' (2012)

Well, now. This is interesting. In 2011, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, formed from the Derek Trucks band and Susan Tedeschi's band, put out the Revelator album, my favorite for the year. This year they came out with a live album. My favorite song last year was Bound for Glory, and my favorite song this year is... oops. At least I'm consistent.

9. Take Me With You When You Go

Jack White, Blunderbuss (2012)

Jack White has a long history of appearing in these Best Of CDs, appearing with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, as well as with the Secret Sisters last year. This year he came out with a solo album, and toured with two different bands- one with female musicians and one with males. Every night he made a last-minute decision which band to use. We were lucky to see him at Red Rocks with the female group. Also recommended: I'm Shakin' and... his entire catalog.

10. Awaiting On You All

George Harrison, Early Takes Volume 1 (2012)

In 2010 and 2011, I worked my way through the Beatles back catalog. Last year for Christmas Dorinna gave me a photo book about George Harrison. I took this as a sign that I should explore Harrison's solo catalog as well. I started with Harrison's 3-album classic from 1970, All Things Must Pass. I loved it, and certainly What Is Life and My Sweet Lord (one of my favorite songs of all-time) would have made it to this year's collection if I hadn't heard them years before. I really liked the third album of All Things Must Pass, filled with long guitar jams that sound nothing like the Beatles. My pick for the year comes off the album, but it's not from the album. Later in the year, I picked up the recently released Early Takes Volume 1 which contains demos and early versions of old Harrison tunes. The version of Awaiting On You All lacks the strings and choir of the final version that appeared on All Things Must Pass, focusing instead on Harrison's vocals and guitars. In this case, simple is better.

11. New Friend Jesus

Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes (2012)

Craig Finn is the lead singer of The Holdy Steady, one of our favorite bands. His solo album is definitely more mellow, but his lyrics are as quirky as always. Also recommended Apollo Baby, Honolulu Blues.

12. Rock Away Blind

Lindsey Buckingham, Seeds We Sow (2011)

Wait, is that a guitar? Lindsey Buckingham is of course one of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac. He's never stopped putting out albums, and in fact had a song on my Best of 2009 CD.

13. Get Some

Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes (2011)

I love the driving beat and haunting vocals of this song. Lykee Li is a Swedish indie pop artist.

14. Splitter Pine

DumDum Boys, Schlägers (2001)

Speaking of Scandinavia, my Norwegian friend Kjetil Nymoen gave me a handful of Norwegian rock CDs on his most recent trip to America, and they're too good not to share. This is a greatest hits album- the single is from 1989. If you're wondering what it means, Kjetil writes: "I am not 100% sure why Dum Dum Boys called this song Splitter Pine. When we say 'Splitter pine gal', it means 'totally crazy' or 'maniac'."

15. Bad Reputation (Live at MSG)

Foo Fighters with Joan Jett, YouTube (2011)

The quality of the recording is pretty mediocre. But- the ENERGY! Joan Jett is now in her fifties but hasn't aged a day- still rockin' it (and still rockin' it with tight leather pants, in case you were wondering).

16. It's So Easy

Paul McCartney, Rave On Buddy Holly (2011)

Rave On Buddy Holly is a tribute album put together by various artists. The first three-quarters of the song sounds like Paul McCartney doing a fairly straightforward rockabilly impersonation. And then Paul goes... Well, this is a little hard to describe in text. How about: Completely. Off. The. Rails. You can feel the spittle flying off his crazed drunken lips. All of which is strangely... fun.

17. Skipping

Eddie Vedder, Every Mother Counts 2012 (benefit album) (2012)

This is a solo recording of a song that originally appeared on Pearl Jam's Lost Dogs album. Take a deep breath and relax- here comes 2013.

Bonus Tracks

I always have more music than I can fit on a single CD. One year I experimented with an MP3 version, but it didn't feel right. There's value in forcing myself down to 78 minutes. That being said, if you liked the music above, here are some other songs that I really enjoyed in 2012 (artist/album/song):

  • Best Coast / The Only Place / The Only Place
  • Bonnie Raitt / Slipstream / Used to Rule the World
  • Bruce Springsteen / Wrecking Ball / American Land
  • Chickenfoot / Big Foot / Big Foot
  • Derek Trucks Band / Guitar Greats, Volume 1 / Cat's Squirrel
  • Emiliana Torrini / Me and Armini / Gun
  • Jake Shimabukuro / Gently Weeps / While My Guitar Gently Weeps (ukulele!)
  • Regina Spektor / What We Saw From the Cheap Seats / All the Rowboats
  • Ryan Adams / Gold / Let it Ride
  • Sean Kuti / From Africa with Fury: Rise / African Soldier
Page 1 2 3