As we wrap up 2016, it’s time to chime in with the obligatory favorites of the past year. Jumping right into the topic, here are the jams that rushed blood to my mind, made my limbs flail into the evening Autumn air, and helped me burn the midnight oil just a little longer than I should have. Enjoy!
- Quaker City Nighthawks (QCN), “Liberty Bell 7“: Holy S@#^! I love this Texas band who put a real swagger into their swamp rock boogie. Add to my New Year’s Resolution: See QCN up close and live in concert. Their 2014, “Fox In the Hen House,” is also a knock-out stomping tune!
- LCD Soundsystem @ ACL Fest 2016: I blew my chance to see James Murphy and company during a SXSW performance years ago but, as they say, things happen for a reason. I have became a massive fan during the intervening years leading up to this year’s ACL Fest. The best part of seeing LCD live for the first time was the privilege to see the band with my wife, Edith, and our children: nine-year old Manuel, eight-year old Carolina, and two year-old Tomás. They’ve become ardent fans since that October evening in this vibrant city where music defines us!
- Portugal. the Man, “Noise Pollution (Version A, Vocal Up Mix 1.3)”: Expectations are riding high (for me) for their upcoming album. They have serious shoes to fill after their previous collaboration with Danger Mouse on 2013’s magnanimous Evil Friends break-out album. If this single is any indication of what lies in store, PtM won’t disappoint die-hard fans.
- PJ Harvey – “The Wheel”: Eccentric and defiant yet uncompromising and appealing, PJ has become Alternative nobility after years of being at the forefront of the alt.rock scene.
- Leonard Cohen – “You Want it Darker”: Always a distant admirer of Cohen since 1992’s, The Future,” his final work would become the album to convert me into a serious fan. Pitchfork’s album review – just a couple weeks before his death – originally piqued my renewed interest. Packed with overtures of the final mile and employing his trademark poetic clarity, the thematic tales of finality become more relevant when my Mom suffered two strokes a few days later after its release. These are hard times: the intense theme by a deceased of a splendid poet on the eve of a tragic and shameful election only intensified my desolation and rawness. But it turns out Cohen’s album and these personal incidents were the tipping point for a creative revival. Exceptional music defines a person’s life, like tree rings, and Cohen’s final oeuvre masterfully encapsulates this personal period.
- Car Seat Headrest – “Fill In the Blank“: As mentioned awhile back on Facebook, I am showing up late to Will Toledo’s rock revivalist party. Finally, here is some indie spirit blaring away with sharp wit and keen lyrics. Focused on youthful themes of angst, insecurity, and awkwardness, Headrest’s universal insight is what makes rock and roll timeless and relevant, even to 48 year olds. Grab this indie treasure before the commercial world robs us of its eternal beauty.
- Japandroids – “Near to Wild Heart of Life”: This two-piece Canadian band has been one of my favorites of the decade, and 2017 will herald their return after a five-year hiatus. To top things off, Americana folk hero Townes Van Zandt is cited as one of the band’s latest influences going into the studio for this album. How do you like them apples!?
- Michaela Anne – “Where Will I Be”: This emerging folk heroine is an elegant and soulful tumbleweed in his tune about roaming the American landscape in pursuit of identity, home, and peace. You can smell the air she visits and see the majestic terrain, big sky, and piercing coldness where her endeavors deliver her.
As my boy would say, keep on rockin’ in the free world. See you in 2017.
“Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”
The three immutable influences of my life are Edith and my parents, each representing a plethora of familial remembrances and spiritual guideposts that define: who I strove to become, who I am today, and how I will be revered tomorrow. Family makes this life, although brief, endurable and joyous; the alternative is a vapid loneliness that haunts me, still, yet reminds me of my good fortune.
Family is a life buoy, although at times in my misguided youth and angst, it felt like an anchor. In vain, I learned in those days that not even the Pacific Ocean could sever our bonds. With that in mind, I have taken a pass at the songs that define the difficulties, intricacies, and beauty of the most cherished aspect of this life – songs of family:
- “Murder In the City” – Avett Brothers: Upon first listen some six years ago, I was astonished at the lyrical mastery of this Americana musical outfit dedicated to songs about family bonds. The most poignant line, of course, is the lyric quoted at the top of this article. The sentiment rings especially true for me and my siblings in these waning days of 2016, as we seem to be venturing together upon a new path caring for our ailing mother while further building upon our strong bonds.
- “Movin’ On” – Justin Townes Earle: To appreciate this bittersweet confessional from Steve Earle’s songwriter son, you have to know a little history of their troubadour roots. In it, there is a chest trove of childhood memories haunting Justin’s reckoning with his mother, father, and his father’s mentor, Townes Van Zandt. This tune is probably the best damn confessional ever written about a family legacy built upon music.
- “No Lonesome Tune” – Townes Van Zandt: There is a mythology celebrated around musicians who “sacrifice” a lifetime of opportunity in pursuit of music with artistic integrity. The two most influential troubadours of the late 20th century are the aforementioned musician-ghosts from Justin’s youth. Here, this road-weary character in Townes’ plot comes to a reckoning with heartache, regret, and the redeeming arms of a romantic muse.
- “Please Tell My Brother” – Golden Smog: Jeff Tweedy fans are familiar with this side gig he participated in during the golden era of alt.country. Although about sibling adoration, When I think of this song, Priscilla, Marcos, Michael, Orlando, and Alexis also come to mind – their wonderful childhood voices singing happy birthday on my voicemail.
- “We’re Going to be Friends” – the White Stripes: After this song, I am going to kiss my children and observe in their ensuing years the way they will build their own stitched moments as siblings.
- “Have You Seen My Song?” – Benjamin Booker: Estranged relationships are undoubtedly the most uncomfortable, taxing, and harshest to endure but the weight bears down heaviest between child and parent. In this tune, Booker – a very young and promising rock virtuoso – opens up as if, simultaneously, roaring and apologizing for his part in a father-son chasm.
- “Beautiful Boy” – John Lennon: I have always been conflicted by Lennon’s endearing song of adoration for his second son, Sean. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite Lennon songs and, upon every listen, I think of my brother Julian and the eighteen years that separated our first encounter. With that experience, I came to realize I wanted to be a good father, like my own.
- “You’re My Girl” – Neil Young: Almost every line here makes me dread the day my daughter leaves for a life of her own. She’s brilliant, creative, and certainly one of the goofiest, happiest girls I have met. She has a rare gift that I have only encountered in less than a hand full of people I have met during my life.
- “No Hard Feelings” – Avett Brothers: My siblings and I brought our mother home after nearly a month in the hospital from a pulmonary stroke. This is a strange place to arrive upon as an adult but life makes no exceptions. Coincidentally, the brother craftsmen of family and love released this song only a few days before we were set to bring her home, and I wept with uncontrollable fear and relief on that long King Ranch stretch when I heard the Brothers’ profound opening lines. In the intermittent, hectic weeks from initial diagnosis to medical discharge, I have thought of the unspoken truths that I have failed to mutter, despite my conciliatory, manifestations. This song crystallizes where I stand: poised to speak of and ask for forgiveness in our brief and illustrious life, as son and mother.
American mythology begins with the vast unknown places discovered on the open road. Vastness is at the root of the Americas in both continents but, especially, in the United States. Me, I absolutely love the romantic idealism of freedom on that open black top and I’ve highlighted a few favorite tunes that keep me company along those mysterious, endless miles.
Before laying out my brief five-song list, though, I’ve got to make a shout-out to my man, Neil, and his “White Line,” who knows well the taxing cost yet fruitful creativity that comes with the open road. With that in mind, here are those favorite five tunes:
- A Shot In the Arm / I’m Always In Love – Wilco: Two tracks off their magnus opus, “Summerteeth,” these two songs have been many a cause to spontaneously pull off the road, scramble for paper and pen, and jot down newly discovered passages about heartache, hope, and solace along the journey of companionship.
- NYC – Steve Earle and Supersuckers: Less about the ominous uncertainty of a new start for artists, musicians, and adventurers, this song celebrates the excitement of setting course upon a new life.
- Where Will I Be Found – Michaela Anne: She is a bona fide country artist in the old-school tradition who aches over the affairs of that old restless heart and its yearning to find and settle a place called home in this insightful tune. Michaela defines her state of self-discovery in all the places pulling at her soul and you can envision her American West on those long open stretches of desert, mountains, and imagination.
- Working On the Highway – Bruce Springsteen: I’ve got a fictional immigrant character that the Boss inspired with this sweaty tale of a hard luck working class romantic.
- Baby Missiles – The War On Drugs: To be truthful, the song lyrs are completely oblique but it doesn’t matter much. This whole damn album will make you want to fill your gas tank and drive for hours toward the arid country of west Texas or the high-plains piney mountains of New Mexico (love you, my goodhearted soldier, Michael Mendoza).
If you have any favorite road songs that make you feel like you’re 22 years old and ready to conquer the world, drop them in the comments.
Feliz aniversario, mi Querida.
Today, my wife and I are celebrating ten years of marriage. Unlike Social Distortion’s, “Ball and Chain,” it’s been an outstanding decade living with Edith. Still, I really dig Social D’s snarling and miserable ode to the institution.
I will spare you the expected clichés and sappy sentiment. Instead, this is a music blog – and a singles track one, at that – so let’s kick it into rock ‘n roll gear to chronicle a decennium of fun with my Better Half . Here is my top ten list of notable tracks that hitched along for our marital odyssey.
Edith, you rock! Here’s to another decade of kickin’ it with you!
- “The Fixer,” by Pearl Jam: Probably the most memorable ACL Fest moment was not merely notable for the fact I witnessed Eddie Vedder close out the Fest sliding in the sloshy Dillo dirt of Zilker Park but, even better, that I experienced it with my incredibly cool and rain-soaked wife. Go, Pearl Jam!
- “January Wedding,” by the Avett Brothers: Discovering these Americana folksters at ACL Fest 2009 – aka the Mud Bowl – we were as starry-eyed as newlyweds for weeks reminiscing over their songs of family and love.
- “Winter Winds,” by Mumford & Sons: Catching the early winds of the banjo-tinged band before they exploded onto the music scene, Edith surprised me with birthday tickets to their show at Stubb’s Backyard Amphitheater.
- “The Good Life,” by Weezer: Playing a single hit from their entire discography during the first half of their concert, Weezer played the entire song list from their underrated sophomoric album, “Pinkerton.” I don’t think I had had that much fun at a concert in a long time up until that show. It was a blast!
- “Lotus Flower,” by Radiohead: Do you see a pattern emerging yet? Yes, this was Edith’s boldest traverses into my eclectic musical landscape. But she became an ardent Radiohead fan after seeing Thom Yorke and Company at a Houston concert. These guys are badass!
- “Broken,” by Jack Johnson: Since nine years old, I had acquired an old, weary soul through the dissolution of my parent’s marriage. Then, at 37 years old, Edith came along and made my load feel much lighter than the preceding 28 years. This song crystallizes how much better I’ve become as a person because of her.
- “Swimming In the Sea,” by Bob Schneider: Edith was under the impression on our second date that we’d see this Austin icon in concert at a Houston club. My bad – we ended up seeing Wilco, instead – but I’ve since made up for it on countless nights across the city, seeing him crank out his cool tunes at the Saxon Pub and Blues On the Green (my 9-year old Carolina is also now a fan).
- “Run Rabbit Run,” by Black Pistol Fire: “And the guitar sound is incendiary. Way go to!” It’s my favorite line from my favorite rock ‘n roll tribute film, “Almost Famous,” and it completely encapsulates the mammoth wall of sound this incredible duo manage to crank out. Yep, we saw them earlier this year at Emo’s.
- “Yo Busco,” by Café Tacuba: One of the common likes we learned during our dating days was our mutual appreciation for Mexico’s ultimate alt.Latino band. We would end up catching them live during our decade at La Zona Rosa and Town Lake.
- “Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers,” by the Dandy Warhols: By the time Edith and I saw them perform live at Emo’s in east Austin, the peak years of this Portland rock quartet were well behind them. But hey, when you’ve been a fan since seeing them live at the Electric Lounge (anyone? Electric Lounge? anyone?) during SXSW 1996, you just gotta keep on truckin’ with these fringe rockers. This is what rock ‘n roll should look, sound, and feel like in all its sneering, cocky, and unapologetic glory!
Way back in the 80s when I had no confidence in the ability to write, I took a pile of spiral notebooks and, in a similar way, did what Lucy Dacus confesses in “Trust.” Rather than setting aflame and relegating an innate yearning to write for the dustbin, prose has become an enduring light. And it is artists such as Dacus that remind us of the boundless purview possible from simple yet sharp writing.
Dacus is a former film school student who stepped up to a mic with a guitar slung across her chest and heaved upon us a way of looking at the world that can make old bones ache. Her delivery is subtle and quaint yet all rock ‘n roll with its youthful idealism and cathartic realizations. The music reaches deep with direct and astute lyrics and, if she can hold fame at bay, Dacus will surely join a lineage of prolific American songwriters that will further propagate the art of poetry and music and inspire the generation after her.
“I’ll plant a garden in your brain and let the roots absorb the pain.” – Lucy Dacus
On occasion, I like to listen to music at work while I type out the latest corporate email or
blog. I love my job because finding the right voice for someone you are trying to represent has its own challenges. Sometimes, you hit the mark and, other times, you get crickets responding to your content. Red lines – although no longer is such a thing (“Track Changes”) – is the stuff I live by.
Meanwhile, music accompanies me along those literary travails and it’s fuel.
I had never heard of the Revivalists until a week ago and, now, I am caught up in this aural elixir of music, youth, and romanticism. The first time I heard their latest single, “Wish I Knew You,” I recall my early years in Austin. It has that kind of magic and surrealism to it that makes you yearn to be 25 again when “carefree” meant: yeah, let’s enjoy our company, let the spirits rise and welcome the world whenever tomorrow comes. And it’s the kind of music that, obviously, inspires one to write, to embrace and relish the toil of adding mythology to the music.
Man, it is Texas HOT! And nothing hits the spot like the waters of Deep Eddy Pool or a house margarita with a Fruision shot (fruit flavored top shelf tequila) from Z’Tejas. With those good vibes on, you get this euphoric feeling that life is sweet and what you need in that perfect moment is a great jam song that encapsulates all this sweet living. So, with that in mind, blogs, critics and amateurs, like myself, kick up the chatter by debating what the best summer song might be.
Would you agree with Andy Langer that Walk the Moon deserves the recognition? Admittedly, my favorite part of this video is the Britney Spears dance-spoof that happens for no reason at all about halfway into the video.
Walk the Moon
Then, there is the sprightly sound of Foster the People. You would never guess it from such a groovy tune that the song is actually about a young guy who takes drastic measures when he finally gives up on trying to fit in. Oh, did I mention they are playing at ACL Music Fest 2011? Check it –
Foster the People
Finally, there’s this band. We were having drinks at the bar in Stubb’s BBQ when I kicked up a conversation with a couple 20-somethings and one of them mentioned his cousin was playing the next day at Antone’s here in Austin. Blogs, late night TV shows and even NPR are being caught up in the band buzz. Check ’em out! Givers (nothing else, just Givers) and this is an infectious one, too –
So, let’s tally up the opinions because I know you’ve got one. Which is your 2011 summer song contender? Or illuminate the blogosphere with your own recommendation. Stay cool and pour yourself a margarita!
I think it was SXSW 1995 when I first caught the Dandy Warhols live in concert. The Electric Lounge, long since replaced by a pathetic downtown condominium for yuppies in downtown Austin, was the setting and what a fucking blast it was!
The Dandys are the epitome of what rebellious rock ‘n roll is all about – excess, unapologetic cockiness and posturing, hard drinking, and the raging urges of 20-somethings. If you can imagine all that in a dark and musky club in anytown, USA, then you have a classic Dandy Warhols show. So in short order, here is my list of the ultimate mix covering the Dandys’ discography –
1. We Used To Be Friends – their closest attempt to go mainstream; poor fools can’t even get “selling out” right but this song makes for an explosion of sound!
2. Boys Better
3. Godless (Massive Attack remix)
4. Horse Pills
5. Get Off
6. Smoke It
7. Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth
8. Plan A
9. Bohemian Like You.
10. All the Money Or the Simple Life Honey
Going on 15 years now, I still am puzzled why the Dandys’ music hasn’t thrown a rock ‘n roll coup upon the alternative music scene. But if that revolution never happens, then just crank up your stereo, roll up your house windows and annoy the shit out of your neighbors with this outrageous alternative rock!
About a month ago, I was perusing the pages of wordpress.com when I came upon a blog entry about a new band, Mumford and Sons, from England. I was so awestruck by the first song I heard from them, Little Lion Man, that a few short days later, I decided I just had to have this little aural gem.
“Weep for yourself, my man, you’ll never be what is in your heart. Weep little lion man, you’re not as brave as you were at the start.” Then, a few short lines later, they set the aural space ablaze with a hard strummed set of guitars, banjos, and stand up bass: “I really fucked it up this time. Didn’t I, my dear?” Wow, I’m not one who is much fixated on the idea of getting older but there was something sober and melancholic about that line – I haven’t been able to shake it since.
A sprightly and hopeful “The Winter Winds” opens with trumpets blazing and though, like most of their themes, the song may seem contemplative, perhaps a bit lonely from worn-out hearthache, the band’s true colors come across in the joyful musings of their instruments.
Perhaps because of the current research I’m conducting on the western hemisphere’s catastrophe called Haiti, “The Cave” would seem a fitting ode to its people, and those who are truly intent on righting centuries of wrongdoing upon this poorest of nations. “And I’ll find strength in pain/And I will change my ways/I’ll know my name as it’s called again!”
Theirs is music of earnest young men writing about the compromised fate they know awaits them in old age, yet they remain cognizant to the thought that only hope can keep them and their music vibrant and fresh. It’s about rolling away that stone, like some Jesus turned hippie-musician, and finding a whole new way to discover and express oneself.
It was my first day in Professor Bob Jensen’s Journalism class and without a welcoming word he dimmed the lights and punched play to a music video by Michael Franti & Spearhead.
Within the first minute of the video, I was hooked to these wild and revolutionary-charged grooves. I mean HOOKED!!! I hadn’t felt this good about music since Rage Against the Machine reigned during the ‘90s. The music conjured up images of hitting the streets, punching the air with my fist and chanting slogans about the sacred tenets of a modern democracy! But this is much more than just about the social and political issues of our 21st century. No, this is, like all great art, about the universal themes about who we are and how we survive, themes like hope, heartache, love, and power but Franti and company make these themes groove with Reggae, Hip-Hop and grungy Rock ‘n Roll all swirling together like our great American melting pot!
He kicks off his latest album, All Rebel Rockers, to drive home that very last point to an infectious Reggae-tinged groove, The Rude Boys Back in Town: “When I walked through the party it was ready to go/There were punk rockers reggae rockers all in a row/Windin and a grindin through the dj show.”
With Hey World (Remote Control Version), Franti goes right to the jugular to make sure if you’ve been napping to the social and political injustices of our insane world, then you’ve just experienced a rude awakening: “I didn’t come here to chill. I came here to rock, to smash the empire with my boom-box. You got to let go of remote control!” Oh, this is the kind of hip-hop that could create a whole revolution of enlightened youth!
And just when things seem to be getting just a little too heavy and weighing down the listener with second guesses about having bought this disc, Franti funks up the beat with a most refreshing attempt of a love song with Say Hey (I Love You) : “My momma told me don’t lose you ‘cause the best luck I had was you.”
Then there is his song of celebration, I Got Love for You, and you can feel it, as if he meant every single word for every single one of us: “It’s been a long time that I shoulda said what I tell now/That I got faith in ya/And I got hope for ya/So I’ll be waiting right here.” Here’s another song that makes you want to hit the streets but this time with a boundless feeling of hope and good vibes, like when we’re young reaching out for those wide open dreams.
Franti brings it back to one of the defining themes that have made him a unique artist committed to his message with another rendition of Hey World, this one called Don’t Give Up Version. Strangely, this song frightens and inspires all at the same time. If the urgency to remedy what we are doing to each other and our Earth isn’t central in our thoughts, then this song will give us pause to reconsider our dormant selves: “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to know all you’ve shown me/Don’t give up on me, I won’t give up on you/Just believe in me, like I believe in you.”
As for that video that initially sent me down the path of discovery, well, here you go. Pass it on!
“A system is democratic to the degree that ordinary people have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the formation of public policy.” Thank you, Professor Jensen.