I know it’s ridiculous to complete this blog series now — a mere ten months after I started it — but closure feels good. And these songs are amazing. To the three people who read this blog: I promise the Best of 2014 won’t take as long.
10. “St. Croix,” Family of the Year. You’ll forget this song in a year. But perhaps it will linger as long as next summer, when it will seem perfect. I’m a sucker for SoCal harmonies and melodic pop-rock.
9. “Sweet As John Hurt,” Hiss Golden Messenger. HGM is a duo of former West-Coast punk/indie rockers who relocated to North Carolina in 2007 and are a recent addition to the stable of Merge artists. This song is more Whiskeytown than Arcade Fire, and it has an earnestness that gets me every time. Check out their new album The Lateness of Dancers. Here’s a great live HGM track (“Southern Grammar”) recorded this summer.
8. “Anchors,” The Attika State. This is one of the greatest bands no one knows about. Their 2008 album Measures is outstanding — punchy, slightly angular indie rock. I love this acoustic set — are they playing in an ice cream shoppe? That’s rock n roll. I also love that I introduced them to Jeremy Kerman, a man whose musical and artistic tastes are impeccable, and who likes them as much as I do.
7. “Starlet,” Matt Pond PA. Matt Pond doesn’t have any rough edges, and he can be a little precious with his song and album titles, but he’s compulsively listenable. This is a great song. Here he is with Rocky Votolato covering “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by the Human League at The AV Club.
6. “The Woodpile,” Frightened Rabbit. Great Scottish band, introduced to me by Lanis Wilson. This song is off their latest album, Pedestrian Verse.
5. “Highwire Days (live),” Tommy Keene. The original version of this song is on Keene’s 1989 LP Based on Happy Times, which is a criminally overlooked masterpiece of 80s pop rock. This version comes from his live Showtunes LP. Last September I saw TK at King’s Barcade in Raleigh with my friend Adam. There may have been fourteen people there. And it was amazing. He’s a guitar virtuoso. At one point, he asked for requests, and I screamed for this song as if I was standing at the back of an arena (I was in actuality about ten feat from the stage.) I don’t care — he played it.
4. “City Swan,” Neko Case. Another concert with Adam, this time at DPAC. I admire Neko Case and love her music. She also has the Seinfeldian quality of either looking drop-dead gorgeous or road weary. Here she is looking fabulous:
Of course how she looks has no bearing on her music, which is uniformly excellent. This is a fantastic song off her latest solo LP, The Worse Things Get….It’s almost as good as my all-time favorite song of hers, “People Got a Lotta Nerve.”
3. “Love Is All,” The Tallest Man on Earth. As a “singles guy,” these days there aren’t many albums that are more compelling to me as units than as their component parts. I’m always looking to cherry pick great tracks for the next best-of compilation. TTMOE (Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson) writes great singles and makes great albums. It’s both criticism and praise that he seems to imitate (or channel) Bob Dylan. I think he’s fantastic, and this song is tremendous. Here is a great versions of “Love Is All” recorded live on Later…with Jules Holland in 2011.
2. “Walk Away,” The English Beat. Another reclaimed gem. I was a General Public Fan first, but The English Beat may now be tied with early R.E.M. as my favorite band. I’ve owned Special Beat Service (The Beat’s masterpiece, in my opinion) for decades and acquired the very good I Just Can’t Stop It somewhere along the way. Somehow, Wha’ppen escaped me until last year, when I purchased the EB boxed set. It’s a bit more uneven than the other two (though it includes the classic “Doors of Your Heart”), but “Walk Away” would make my top-five English Beat songs for sure. Ska perfection. Also, The Beat played the Cat’s Cradle the same night that Neko Case played the DPAC — an embarrassment of riches, for sure.
1. “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” Superchunk. I was scared of Superchunk when I was in college. And I also confused them with the grunge band Mudhoney. It’s a hole in my college music experience that I’ve been trying to fill ever since. This song is pop perfection. It’s the lead track on Superchunk’s most recent release, I Hate Music, which is excellent, though not as good as their masterpiece Majesty Shredding. Great live version of the song here.
Here’s a link to the Best of 2013 Spotify playlist if you’re interested.
That’s it for 2013. Looking forward to sharing the Best of 2014 in the new year!