Month: December 2013

The Best of 2013, Part II: #15-11

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Here are the next five songs on the Best of 2013 CD.  Enjoy!

15. “Treasure,” Bruno Mars.  I put this song here to highlight the fact that this “mix” isn’t really a mix at all.  If I were constructing this CD not in descending order, I’d never juxtapose Mark Kozelek’s gentle folk with this rollicking 70s jam.  The artistry this project demands is superseded by its structure (much like the mix CD itself, which is sonically superior to the mix tape but structurally inferior — I need a side A and a side B!  I need to build to a crescendo and then cool it off a little…and then build it back up, only to cool it off again.)  This song recently snuck into my top twenty, and I can’t stop listening to it.  Yes, it’s corporate and derivative (it could be a lost track from Off the Wall), and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Bruno Mars in general,  but this tune is an “ear worm” of the first order.  This may be the #1 pop song of the year.

14. “A Faded Star,” The Deadly Gentlemen.  This one sounds like “picking on the Wallflowers” (which is a good thing in my view.) I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s another track that insinuated itself late in the game.  I’m a fan of (good) bluegrass and have featured multiple tracks by Trampled by Turtles (check out “Empire” — great stuff) and others over the last few years.  Apparently the lead singer/banjoist of The Deadly Gentlemen has a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from M.I.T., and he can play the banjo, which makes me feel doubly lame.  Their website describes their new album as “winsome” and “irreverent,” which is how I like to think of myself.

13. “Julie (Come Out of the Rain),” Josh Rouse.  I remember buying one of his first CDs in a Starbucks in Charlottesville years ago.  Though he still tends to fall in love with certain genres and styles too often for my tastes, he has never lost his innate sense of melody (in full effect with this track.)  I saw him live at the Kentucky Center in Louisville this summer; I used the concert as a mid-week lifeline to help me endure the soul-crushing, spirit-razing experience of grading AP exams. Rouse was just over from Spain.  It was the first night of the tour, a Wednesday, and JR was a bit put out because the “Derby City” wasn’t mustering the Ibiza-like energy he was used to.  Still, a great show.  And it helped me survive the AP Reaping, so I feel like I owe him.

12. “The A-Team,” Ed Sheeran.  Actually, I prefer the acoustic versions of this song you can find on the web.  I especially like this one.  Is he in a canal?  It’s canal rock.  With herbs.  Dude looks like he needs a skateboard and a can of spray paint. Still a great song.

11. “That’s the Way the World Goes Round,” John Prine. This is an example of a song that has existed long before I discovered it (it first appeared on Prine’s 1978 album Bruised Orange.) Its inclusion here is more about my celebration of the discovery than anything else, though it’s also a fantastic song.  I first heard it played by The Old Habits, the Raleigh-based bluegrass band that plays at our Senior Dinner each year (they, too, are fantastic.)  This song opened up Prine’s entire catalog to me, which was a real gift.  And I’m a sucker for the tin whistle.


The Best Of 2013, #20-16

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve made “Best of” compilations, through which I seek archive the best music of that particular year.  This must’ve started about the time I got married and no longer was making CDs for anyone who dropped a pencil in my general vicinity (there are times when a man just needs to make a mix!)  I obsess about these compilations, hoarding possibilities all year long until trimming the list each December.  I know I’m not alone in this activity, though I will confess a strong sense of pride in the results…which typically lasts until about a week after I mail them out. Looking back on some recent best of compilations, I’ve made some colossal mistakes (The Everybodyfields?)  If I mined the best of the best ofs, though, the greatest hits would make a killer mix.

I thought I’d reveal the Best of 2013 with the liner notes, starting with #20.  I’ll do five at a time.

One caveat (because there are always caveats): not all of the songs were released during the year the compilation is chronicling; some are old but new to me (e.g., “Go All the Way”) or songs that for various reasons worked their way back into my consciousness this year (e.g., “Highwire Days”).

Part I: #20-16

20. “Shake Some Action,” Flamin’ Groovies/”Go All the Way,” The Raspberries.  If I had to pick a favorite genre of music, it would be “power pop” (think Big Star, Tommy Keene, Teenage Fanclub.)  I don’t know why I like it so much, but in my frustrated musician dreams, I’m always the frontman for a power pop band.  I recently came across a reference to a book called Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide, by John Borack, which traces the history of power pop and compiles the best albums and tracks of the genre (it must’ve been so fun to write.)  I want this book.  And it’s out-of-print.  I found a partial version on Google Books, and I set upon it it as if it were a musical Rosetta Stone.  It quickly became apparent that Borack revered the Flamin’ Groovies and The Raspberries as progenitors of the style.  In my estimation, these are their best tracks. You’ve probably heard them before.  It’s easy to hear their influence on bands like Matthew Sweet, The Posies, The Smithereens, etc.

19. “Turn,” New Order.  I love New Order.  I was under the impression that they hadn’t released anything worthwhile since “Regret” (1993), and I’m still mostly right. However, this gem, from Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (2005), is 4.5 minutes of pop-rock perfection.  The video seems to have been edited by a graduate student in film school.

18. “White Sands,” Mount Moriah.  Everyone hip to the local music scene is waiting for Mount Moriah to blow up, and if there’s any justice in the universe (and if bands actually “blow up” anymore), this band deserves it.  Heather McEntire is a local legend in Durham and Chapel Hill and locally known as a kind, unassuming, wonderful person.  And she rocks. The DIY video includes some “interesting” directorial choices (what’s up with the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers dancers?), but this song smolders.


17. “22,” Taylor Swift. I know, I know…but it’s so catchy.  Try as I might, I continually fall prey to Taylor Swift’s “genuineness,” even though I’m subconsciously aware (can you be subconsciously aware?) that it’s all sheen applied by the music industry machine (or what’s left of it).  Confession: I actually prepare a “Best of (Guilty Pleasures)”; it’s kind of a parallel universe disc compiled by AlternateLee, who is much less hip but undoubtedly much more well adjusted and self-satisfied.  I make this separate disc so that my former suitemate and music-industry friend Ian (whose opinion I court with a fervor reserved for zealots) will actually (maybe) listen to the compilations all the way through.  Including this song outright would send him into an apoplectic rage and cause him (yet again) to question the necessity and relevance of our friendship. I can hear him sputtering right now, “Have I taught you nothing?!?!?” and preparing an intervention which will include force-feeding me the entire Stooges catalog.) Ian has a thing about how I only like music (indie or otherwise) by well-groomed musicians (apparently using steel drums isn’t as edgy as I once thought.)  And who is more well-groomed than Taylor Swift?  No one. I’ve embraced it.  [And yes, Ian, putting Taylor Swift one notch above Mount Moriah was intentional.]


Confronted by this photo, I am now wondering if this song will be The Everybodyfields of 2013.

16. “Sunshine in Chicago,” Sun Kil Moon. Mark Kozelek (formerly of Red House Painters and a member of Stillwater in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous) is a genius.  His music is melodic, layered, delicate, and literate. This is a beautiful song.  If you like this song, check out his masterwork Ghosts of the Great Highway.