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Best Of 2013

25.  The Ocean Blue – Ultramarine:  The band that everyone always thought was British but weren’t are back with a new release full of lush guitars and dream pop.  Swirling melodies layered with soft vocals build to create a haunting yet pleasant wall of sound. 

24.  The Polyphonic Spree – Yes, It’s True:  The Spree were one of those bands that I liked but would grow bored of quite quickly due to their gimmick.  This time around they produced a record full of songs that had some substance and could hold up after repeated listens.  The acid house church choir have honed their skills and focused the sound into a tighter package that wasn’t so open and free. 

23.  Tanya Donnelly – Swan Songs Vol 1-3:  After a 7 year hiatus, Tanya returns with Swan Songs a collection of songs spread across 3 EP’s featuring her trademark melodies and various guest musicians.  According to Tanya she plans on retiring from music and this was her way of controlling her exit.  The songs are more organic with heavy elements of country and folk.

22.  Stereophonics – Grafatti On The Train:  The Stereophonics have been one of those bands that I had a love/hate relationship with.  With the different genre experiments, Kelly Jones has produced some amazing releases and some big duds.  This time around the Stereophonics gave up on the trends and did what they do best.  Other than the awful duet with the late Amy Whinehouse the whole cd is amazing.

21.  My Bloody Valentine – MBV:  It only took 22 years but it was worth the wait.  MBV returned with a sonic assault on your mind.  The fuzzy and layered guitars drenched in feedback envelop the whispering vocals that meander around looking for a home.  2012 saw a return of some Trip Hop heavyweights while 2013 welcomed the pioneers of Shoegaze back. 

20.  Bleached – Ride Your Heart:  Ramones punk, 60’s sunshine, fuzzy guitars, a bit of surf and attitude is a good way to describe the Bleached debut.  These sisters write simple songs but they are catchy and have some longevity to them.  They pay homage to the fun lovin boy/girl themes of the 60’s but add a level of grime to bring it up to modern times. 

19.  Widowspeak – Almanac:  I really didn’t want to like this record.  They are just another Brooklyn Hipster band that all the idiot bloggers raved on about a couple years ago.  The 70’s throwback Fleetwood Mac rip off was enough to make me walk away but I just couldn’t.   They took the best of shoegaze and blended it with American folk something I wasn’t expecting.  So yes while the bulk of Brooklyn is full of wankers and pretentious music snobs there are some hidden gems such as Widowspeak and The National. 

18.  Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves:  Amanda and her fiddle have returned with a collection of songs that are deeper and more personal than before.  Amanda channels Nick Cave for a murder ballad and with the help of Jason Isobell adds a bit of grit to the underlying sound. 

17.  Houndmouth – From The Hills Below The City:  Boozy saloon and southern charm is a good way to sum up Houndmouth.  The male/female vocals over a mix of country/folk melodies written about a bygone era stood out and kept me interested all year. 

16.  Kitchens Of Distinction:  Folly:  After 18 years KOD return with a complex release full of tension, atmosphere and shoegazing melodies.  Deeply personal lyrics drag you into Patrick Fitzgerald’s mind and take you on a trip thru ones life as they age and face the world and all it has to offer. 

15.  David Bowie – The Next Day:  10 years later and with no warning David Bowie dropped ‘The Next Day’ onto us.  It caught everyone off guard but it was well worth the wait.  David reminded us that he wasn’t dead and that he just operates on his own schedule.  The songs wade thru his many styles and sum up what makes David such an amazing musician.  After the last R.E.M. record, which took their 31 years and packaged it up into a nice retrospective of sounds, I wonder if Bowie is doing the same.  Lets hope not and I would love to have more from the man himself.

14. Tricky – False Idols:  I had given up on Tricky over a decade ago but when he decided to essentially remake ‘Maxinquaye’ I decided to give it a listen.  This is the Tricky from the 90s, well minus Martina and replaced with a new sultry lady.  The songs are layered with hazy beats, smoky vocals and everything great about Trip Hop.

13.  Suede – Bloodsports:  After a short hiatus, Brett Anderson brought the band back together to make a proper release and something worthy of Suede.  All the glam, tight production, swooning vocals and melancholy melodies one needs to relive the mid 90s Brit Rock scene. 

12.  Moby – Innocents:  After a couple of cold, dark and downtempo releases, Moby returns with an eclectic mix of songs featuring amazing guest vocals.  With his knack for pulling obscure people into the spotlight Moby did it again with Al Spx a.k.a. Cold Sparks.  Her songs expand the electronic soundscape breathing life and warmth into a chilly experience.  Moby also recruits Mark Lanegan and Wayne Coyne to join the fun.

11.  The Editors – The Weight Of Your Love:  I have always enjoyed The Editors the UK’s answer to Interpol many years ago.  They layer their sound with heavy keys, toned down guitar, dark and brooding vocals and thick atmosphere.  The Editors add more orchestration to this record, which adds to the complexity of their sound. 

10.  The Head & The Heart – Let’s Be Still:  I loved their debut release, fun Americana songs full of sunshine and bits of quirkiness.  I was worried that they would have some issues with their sophomore release but was gladly proven wrong.  The songs have a similar style but have taken a softer and deeper approach focusing more on the instrumentation than the vocals. 

9.  Beady Eye – BE:  Liam and the gang return with their sophomore release and do their best to differentiate themselves from Oasis.  They do a better job at keeping the songs tailored to a single style and not so all over the place like their debut.  You still have tons of 60s influences mixed with Gallagher charm. 

8.  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away:  Air, space and atmosphere are not things you think of when listening to Nick Cave but this release is all of that.  It catches you off guard but draws you in and makes you part of Nick’s world.  The preacher Nick has been replaced with the fireside Nick who just wants to tell you a story.  I am curious to see how these songs sound live and have no doubt that Nick won’t disappoint.

7.  Tired Pony – The Ghost Of The Mountain:  The first time I heard them I had no idea it was Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol.  The vocals sounded familiar but the sound was much different.  Gary pulled in some amazing musicians for this record Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck, Lisa Hannigan and Richard Colburn to name a few.  It’s a supergroup of Scottish and West Coast musicians.  The styles range from Alt Country to Americana and keep your toes tapping from song to song.  

6.  Josh Ritter – The Beast In Its Tracks:  Josh strips it down and plays softly with his latest release.  The introspective songs sound great on headphones and put you in the head of an amazing singer songwriter.  They are quiet, humbling and full of melodies that calm and put you at ease. 

5.  Morcheeba – Head Held High:  Morcheeba took a break from their signature Trip Hop and decided to pick up the tempo and experiment with Dub step, House, Rock and Steady.  For the purists you may not enjoy but listen carefully to the beats to understand how good the styles flow together.  Morcheeba does bring it back home with some amazing downtempo peppered throughout.

4.  Travis – Where You Stand:  After a few subpar releases, Travis find their stride and put together a solid release that rivals ‘The Man Who’ and ‘The Invisible Band’.  This release is Brit Rock at its finest.  It still amazes me how Coldplay became as big as they are and Travis lagged behind.  Fran Healy can write circles around Chris Martin yet no one seems to notice.

3.  Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz:  Josh returns to the soft AM 70s sound with his latest release ‘The Happiness Waltz’.  His great melodies get your toes tapping while you sing-along.  Josh has played around with many styles throughout the years and is willing to experiment with his sound.  He does a great job of blending elements from his back catalog without going too retro.

2.  Jagwar Ma – Howlin:  Parts Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, this Australian band took on the music world with addictive songs that pay homage to the glory days of the Madchester scene.  Backwards loops, heavy keys, and whispering vocals add to this late night chill escapade.  First time I heard “Come Save Me” I was hooked.  They remind me of Kasabian and how those guys crafted modern sounds from the late 80s’ 90’s and made it their own. 

1.  The National - Trouble Will Find Me:  After ‘High Violet’ the best cd of the decade, I wasn’t sure if The National had it in them for a proper follow up.  I expected a few years between releases since they had embarked on a multiyear tour but they surprised me with this.  While its not as strong as their previous CD it’s not a dud either.  The songs are a bit lighter, more airy and easier on your mind.  It’s as if the guys let out a huge sigh and said “Wow that weight is gone now its time to have some fun”.  This release grows on you and gives you a new side of The National, one that can laugh and not be so serious.

Posted by mardenhill 12/27/2013 09:39:00 AM 2 comments Links to this post  

Best Of 2012

Best Of 2012

20.  The xx - Coexist:  The xx's latest release isn't bad just not as engaging as their debut. You have the dark and atmospheric sounds as before but more complex layers that take additional listens to truly appreciate.

19.  Dinosaur Jr - I Bet On Sky:  on their 3rd release since the return of the original members, Dinosaur Jr craft songs full of loud guitars, 90s melodies and sub par J Mascis vocals.

18.  Beach House - Bloom:  Lush, intoxicating, ethereal are some words to describe the latest Beach House release.  Expertly crafted melodies engulf your mind, soothe and relax your body.

17.  Pet Shop Boys - Eyslium:  A bit more subdued and less dance friendly, the latest Pet Shop Boys release is great on headphones or just relaxing as background music.   Perfectly constructed songs full of synth pop and soft vocals.

16.  Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - Wreck & Ruin:  On their 2nd release together Kasey and Shane invoke the great duet sounds of Johnny Cash and June Carter. Tons of banjos, fiddles, alternating vocals and bluegrass to keep your feet tapping.

15.  Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now:  Steve Earle's son is out with another amazing record full of steel guitar, rough vocals, horns and Hammond organs. Great Americana songwriting by Justin.

14.  Soul Savers - The Light The Dead Sea:  This time out the British electronic duo enlisted David Gahan to sing on their latest record.  Multifaceted orchestration and layers that blend perfectly with David's voice.

13.  Beachwood Sparks - The Tarnished Gold:  11 years later Beachwood Sparks returns with a solid collection of Alt Country/Americana songs that keep you engaged from start to finish.

12.  Tamaryn - Tender New Signs:  This one took a number of listens before it sunk in. There are not a ton of catchy hooks and toe tapping melodies just layers of fuzz, tender vocals and shoegazing. One of my favorites this year for listening on headphones.

11.  Raveonettes - The Observer:  I haven't had a Raveonettes cd I have liked from start to finish since their debut EP but this one has snapped the trend.  Lots of fuzzy guitar, wall of sound and hushed vocals.

10.  Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune:  Air's latest pays homage to the nighttime sky with vintage samples of early astronomy.  It is classic Air with lush atmospheric beats and a wide array of sounds.

9.  Grant Lee Phillips - Walking In The Green Corn:  Grant Lee's latest takes a few listen’s to appreciate.  The toe tapping melodies you are used to have been replaced by somber and intimate songs with stripped down instruments.

8.  The Lumineers - The Lumineers:  The Denver, CO three piece mix rustic Americana with simple and infectious melodies that keep your toes tapping and wanting more.

7.  Bob Mould - Silver Age:  On Bob's latest he doesn't shy away from loud guitars, a bit of anger and personal reflection. These songs take you back to the mid 80's when Hüsker Dü were rocking out and setting the bar for bands to follow.

6.  Murder By Death - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon:  On their 6th release, Murder by Death keep the Gothic Americana/Rustic/Alt Country going with more songs about drinking and storytelling.

5.  Jon Spencer - Meat and Bone:  After an 7 year hiatus followed by a year of reunion shows, Jon Spencer with original members return with a gritty, dirty, loud, brash, blues explosion that any fan will welcome with open arms.

4.  Tim Booth - Love Life:  Tim Booth of James fame quietly released his 3rd solo album this year to little fan fare.  While it wasn't big news Tim doesn't disappoint and showcases his wide range of musical styles and clever lyrics.

3.  Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts:  Norah with the help of Danger Mouse released her best album to date.   Gone is the soft jazz, replaced by fuzzy melodies that bury deep into your head.

2.  2:54 - 2:54:  The debut from the Thurlow sisters is a blend of Shoegaze, Brit Rock and Psychedelia.  Whispering vocals hover over sonic guitars and atmospheric keyboards. One of the best 1st releases I have heard in years,

1.  Mark Lanegan - Blues Funeral:  After 8 years and countless collaborations with others Mark returns with another amazing solo record.  Mixing up styles, Mark adds textures and layers to his dark and brooding work.

Honorable Mentions
Paul Banks
Aimee Mann
Andrew Bird
Kelly Hogan
The Tallest Man on Earth
Mimi Page

Posted by mardenhill 12/22/2012 09:42:00 PM 3 comments Links to this post  

Mardenhill's Best of 2011 CD Releases

25.  Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams 
 I went back and forth with this one.  I liked the cd but wasn’t sure it would make it long term.  After a few months I returned to it still enjoying it so here you go.  Fuzzed out 60s surf with great melodies and sing along choruses.  Musically, the Dum Dum Girls improved since their debut and if this growth is to be maintained look out for their next release.  This is really a summer album but it can still be enjoyed on a sunny winter day.

 24.  Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter – Marble Son
On her 4th full length Jesse Sykes turns up the distortion and tears through a dark and bluesy 8-minute opening track.  For the next few songs, Jesse settles into her standard Folk Rock/Americana style with hypnotic and swirling sounds.  Jesse’s vocals are soft, dusty and haunting adding to the mystique of the music.  This one rocks harder than previous ones but after a few listens you welcome the change.  

23.  Low – C’mon
On their 9th studio release, Low continue to play their slowcore style of music with tweaks to it at times.  The music is soft, melodic, somber and perfect for late night or rainy day listening.  Married couple Alan and Mimi alternate vocals and compliment each other on backup.  Since “The Great Destroyer” Low haven’t been afraid to use more distortion to complete their sonic landscape.  These changes add to the variety of music and one that is great in the background of any conversation.

22.  R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now
No one thought this would be R.E.M.’s last cd when it was released but looking back it makes sense.  They did a great job at revisiting many of their unique sounds throughout the last 31 years.  Instead of blowing up in a huge fight, the band released their last music together, parted ways and thanked all their fans for their support over the years.  I am very happy with the cd, I think it’s a fair assessment of the band’s career and hope one day for some reunion.

21.  Vetiver – The Errant Charm
Hailing from San Francisco and on their 5th release, Vetiver play some amazing music.  Quiet and melancholy with soft and whispering vocals layered over some beautiful melodies.  This is not wimpy emo, just lighthearted Indie Rock that can be enjoyed on lazy Sunday mornings.

20.  Beirut – The Rip Tide
Blending World Music with Indie Rock, Beirut travel down a curious path that balances competing genres with an interesting and enjoyable result.  The Eastern European gypsy influence adds texture to the folksy vocals and keeps the listener from tuning out.  There are a number of bands playing in this genre but I have to say Beirut are one of the best.

19.  Portgual. The Man – In The Mountain In The Cloud
This one took a few listens to sink in.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and thought it might just be too gimmicky for its own good.   A few months later, I was still interested and came to appreciate the band.  You have lots of 70’s glam going on with Elton John and David Bowie popping up over and over.

18.  The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time
It was 1995 when Mark Olsen left the band, 16 years later and reunited with Gary Louris, the Jayhawks don’t miss a beat.  Amazing alt country full of strings, steal pedals, keyboards and perfectly crafted melodies.  The band set out to make the best Jayhawks record and I believe they did it.

17.  Florence & The Machine - Ceremonials
UK’s latest siren releases her 2nd cd “Ceremonials” undercutting any naysayers who think she was a one hit wonder.  On this cd, Florence streamlines her style into a dark and haunting full bodied and rich sound.  Layers of organs are reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan but Florence’s voice is strong that any comparisons really fall flat.  The songs are full of crescendos, sweeping melodies and soul.  On headphones this cd creates a firestorm of enjoyment inside your head.

16.  Ryan Adams – Ashes And Rain
It had been 3 years since the last official release, which is an eternity in Ryan’s world.  We did see a Cardinals record at the end of last year but that had been recorded back in ’06.  Anyways, Ryan returns to the music scene with a stripped down and introspective release.  Lots of acoustic guitar and hushed vocals here along with a return to the Alt Country of Ryan’s past.  This one takes a bit of getting used to but well worth it when you spend the time.

15.  Gillian Welch – The Harrow And The Harvest
It had been 8 years since Gillian’s last release but that time was well spent.  Pulling from the past, Gillian along with David Rawlings revives the country duet for a new generation of listeners.  With the minimalist approach, each listen feels like a personal concert gathered around a fire. 

14.  The Head And The Heart – The Head And The Heart
The first time I heard their song “Rivers And Roads” I couldn’t get it out of my head.  They are one of those toe tapping, head bobbing infectious bands that burrow deep into your brain and never let loose.  They are not a cheesy jam band but more a reflection of the new brand of Americana.   

13.  Beady Eye – Different Gear Still Speeding
Oasis minus Noel is pretty much Beady Eye but Liam, Andy and Gem do their best to separate the two.  Liam plays homage to many 60s bands throughout the release while hoping to find a place he can call home.  By running in the opposite direction of Oasis, Beady Eye created a cornucopia of sound with many directions they can travel and hone for release #2. 

12.  Crooked Fingers – Breaks In The Armor
Eric Bachmann returns with a brilliant new release that focuses more on him and his guitar than the whole ensemble of music.  This isn’t a bad thing, previous cds tended to be concept or full music ensembles.  This one feels like a solo record with a few people backing him up with a bit of atmosphere.  There is a nice mix of crunchy and acoustic guitar, with Eric’s trademark vocals playing tour guide throughout the cd.

11.  Kasabian – Velicorapter
On their 4th release, Kasabian strive to create their own sound and show some growth from their previous releases.  In doing so, the band have probably released some of their best songs to date.  Yes its fun to sing along to “Club Foot” and “Reason is Treason” but those were blatant rip offs of all the best sounds from the UK late 80’s early 90’s.  Many of the new songs are moodier with lots of orchestration and world music vibes.  Production quality is amazing which makes we really excited for their US tour next year.

10.  Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations – Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations
Josh ditches the Spanish influences and heads back to the Americana roots rock with this release.  Sunshine emanates from many of the songs with interesting and subtle orchestration filling in the rest.  Simple at first but after a few listens you can really pick up on Josh’s vast musical past.

 9.  Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds  - Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Unlike Beady Eye, Noel Gallagher doesn’t shy away from being in Oasis.  Many of the songs could have appeared throughout the years but it seems like Noel kept these close to his chest waiting for the right time.   There is a bit of freedom poking thru on many of the songs with bits of the Beatles surfacing at times.  Noel spared no expense and added lots of orchestration and layers to each song.

8.  Babybird – The Pleasures Of Self Destruction
As usual Stephen Jones creates some form of controversy, this time pissing off the American Family Association with the help of Johnny Depp on the song “Jesus Stag Night Club”.  The rest of the cd does settle into the normal Babybird formula, love songs, hate songs, songs about death, drugs, drinking, more love loaded with vivid imagery and satire.  Stephen Jones does know how to write the perfect love song, just expect a few turns to the left, a swerve across the road then back on track. 

7.  Amanda Shires – Carrying Lightning
Young, fresh and feisty with an old soul and the knack for some good fiddle playing pretty much sums up Amanda Shires.  On her 2nd solo, Amanda expands her sound and delivers some amazing Alt Country that anyone can enjoy.  The music ranges from tender to lonely to rockin showcasing Amanda's wide range of talent.  Check out Amanda playing fiddle on Jason Isobell's  latest release as well.

6.  Buffalo Tom – Skins
Classic BT here with perfectly crafted songs balanced between Bill and Chris’s.  Songs about women, love, loss, aging and everyday things wrapped around simple melodies with raw guitar.  25 years later, the guys still have it and are wonderful musicians and songwriters.  This is not a mid life, lets throw a few songs together to make some cash record, instead its perfectly crafted representation of where the guys are in their lives.   

5.  The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow 
I will start with Erika told me about this band after seeing them on CMT one day.  I fell in love with their sound, the alternating vocals layered over beautiful Country and Americana.  There is no Country twang, no beer drinking sing along anthems just simple and gorgeous melodies. 

4.  The Kills – Blood Pressure
Alison Mosshart & Jamie Hince take The Kills in a new direction with “Blood Pressure”.  Yes they are still a 2 piece with a drum machine but this release moves somewhat away from the garage sound of the past and dives deep into a rich sonic landscape.  It’s a grower so give it a few listens. 

3.  J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why
J Mascis turns off the distortion pedal and goes soft with this release.  While its lighthearted and melancholy, it has some interesting layers and textures that come out after a few listens.  J’s voice is still unique and one that can always be picked out of a lineup.  J proves that you don’t always need feedback to write a great song.  

2.  The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
I first heard this band on Sirius XM while driving one day and was blown away.  All I could think of was Bob Dylan playing in modern Indie Rock band.   You have some complex layers with lots of atmosphere going on but not too much to make it unlistenable.  The sound fills the room and sounds even better on a nice set of headphones.

1.  Twilight Singers – Dynamite Burns
Greg finds his stride with his latest release “Dynamite Burns”.  Tension, emotion, anger, beauty and attitude permeate from all the songs reminding us why Greg was so amazing a decade ago and why he is still relevant.  Mark Lanegan lends his vocals to one track which is to be expected but Greg handles the rest.  These songs are amazing live which is why the band released their 1st live cd from the tour just last month.  It’s a perfect companion to an amazing release and Greg’s finest Twilight Singers to date. 

Posted by mardenhill 12/19/2011 09:36:00 PM 2 comments Links to this post