Tommy Keene

The Best of 2013, Part III: #10-1

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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:

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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!


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.