For the last several years I’ve put together a mix on CD (I know, so 1999) for family and friends, had the kids decorate cardboard sleeves, and hand them out around Christmastime. Some years they had a theme of some sort (one year every song had something to do with dreams, for example; that was kind of a pain in the ass to curate); some years I used Toast Titanium to bleed & mix the tracks into each other, and sometimes I just went with my most listened-to tracks of the ending year.
This year I missed my deadline, but will persevere. I’ve shared a slightly mutilated version of the mix on Google Play already, but CD copies are being made (it’s a double album this year!), cardboard sleeves have been ordered, and while I put this all together why not share some thoughts on the songs included?
- Ryley Walker, “Sweet Satisfaction.” For the last couple of years I was a subscriber to drip.fm, a sort of digital Columbia House/fan club model where you could subscribe to one or more record labels’ ‘drips,’ which would entitle you to download or stream all of their releases each month and (usually) have at least some access to their back catalog. When a label is active and has someone on the ball managing their drip, this was great; unfortunately a lot of what ended up happening was I’d spend a month’s fee for a drip and no new releases would come out and the back catalog sucked. ANYWAY… Dead Oceans was one of the labels I subscribed to (home of Phosphorescent, Strand of Oaks, Tallest Man on Earth, etc), and this guy was on there, and that’s how I discovered him. I know nothing else about him other than he’s a fantastic guitar player and his stuff reminds me of good Van Morrison mixed with less depressing Nick Drake. The contrarian in me liked leading off a 38-song mix with a 6+ minute acoustic track, and the mixmaker in me thought it captured the relatively cold, El Nino-y weather we’re having out here as I put this thing together.
- Telekinesis, “Can’t See Stars” – Welp, sorry but I can’t embed this track for you, because it was only available via Polyvinyl Records’ 4-Track Singles Series Volume 2. The idea is simple – the label shipped an old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder to 12 different artists, each of whom recorded two songs, which were then pressed to vinyl and sent out as a monthly subscription. I included it because it sounds like good, early 2000’s Spoon and I do love that warm, warbly, bleeding sound you get from the ol’ Tascam. Plus I needed something a little bouncy to compensate for 7 minutes of sad-bastard fingerpicking up there.
- Torres, “New Skin,” This was one of the first songs of 2015 to really knock me on my ass. This hits a LOT of my music happy buttons: female singer/guitarist with a memorable voice; driving intro leading into nice fat groove; really good lyrics; and an absolutely epic headbanging coda. If the track reminds those of a certain age of the best of early 90’s alt-rock, be unsurprised: it was produced by Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey) and features Adrian Utley of Portishead. I’m really curious to hear what this talented and terrifyingly young (“I am a tired woman, in January I will just be 23”) woman comes up with next.
- The Tallest Man on Earth, “Darkness of the Dream” As Torres ends her song with lines about never fearing the darkness, it seemed to make sense to put this song next. I am still partial to this guy’s earlier solo-acoustic stuff, especially 2010’s https://www.youtube.com/embed/lI7J018XGiY“>”The Wild Hunt” album. But this one has a nice warm drive to it, although if the production didn’t have some grit we’d be straying perilously close to Bruce Hornsby territory here.
- St. Vincent, “Teenage Talk” The reason for this one’s inclusion is simple: it was the only track with a 2015 date in my collection from Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, aka the best guitarist going and one of the best performers and songwriters going as well. Also she’s from Texas.
- Tobias Jesso, Jr., “The Wait”This is another guy I found via drip.fm. I tend to have something of a love/hate relationship with the sort of 1970’s influenced, Laurel Canyon/Simon & Garfunkel-y stuff that’s made a comeback. But the love side seems to be winning since this kinda silly little track made it on here, as did another guy from the same general neighborhood (but the other side of the tracks) a little later on.
- The Oh Hellos, “Bitter Water”I. LOVE. THIS. BAND. I actually discovered them when they gave their ridiculously great loose-concept debut album “Through The Deep, Dark Valley” away via noisetrade. The first minute of the first track grabbed me and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. This is the second track off their second album “Dear Wormwood” and they are picking up right where they left off. In fact, if you play the two albums back-to-back, the final notes of the first record are resolved by the opening notes of the second. That’s an old Afghan Whigs trick and one of many crooked paths to my heart. Also they’re from Texas.
- Of Monsters and Men, “Crystals” This is a band the whole family digs. Somehow my son already seems to know all of the lyrics to this song, even though we listen to their first album far more often than this new one. These guys and the Oh Hello’s above are cornering the market on properly done big gang-singing choruses.
- Sleater-Kinney, “Bury Our Friends”One of my wife’s favorite bands, and why wouldn’t they be? They rock the fuck out. I bought my son a pair of Promark Janet Weiss signature drumsticks.
- Bully, “I Remember”Just watch that video. I don’t really have anything to add aside from WOW.
- Titus Andronicus, “Fatal Flaw”I discovered these guys via their second album, the absolutely epic shambles called “The Monitor.” Since then they hadn’t done much that grabbed me and I feared bandleader Patrick Stickles had gone the way of Jeff Mangum and bled it all out in one go. But then he dropped the TWENTY-NINE track “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” on us this year and it’s pretty damn good. Inevitably there are a few weak spots (unfortunately the album closer “Stable Boy” is, just, absolutely terrible) but this track is a great demonstration of what he can do when he’s on. Hooky, personal, demanding to be played loud and repeatedly.
- Thunderbitch, “Eastside Party” ’cause a Westside party don’t rock.
- Royal Headache, “High”These Aussie troublemakers’ first, self-titled album was on repeat in my car for a long time. This is the title track from LP #2, which is also great, although it actually kind of suffers from being much more professionally produced. The first record sounded like it was recorded on a Radioshack tape deck through a couple of taped-together Samson mics and that’s really the appropriate technology level for what they do, which is rock like the Ramones with Phil Spector but nastier.
- Jeff the Brotherhood, “Black Cherry Pie”Although I feel slightly guilty since the first line is “Heard the world is turned into a giant ball of shit,” my 8-year-old son took to this song the first time he heard it and now it’s part of his weekly drum practice. Also, it has now been long enough since Jethro Tull went away that we can once again appreciate a good, slightly distorted flute solo or two in a metal song.
- Clutch, “X-Ray Visions” Clutch’s self-titled, somehow twenty year old album is one of my all-time favorites, partially because it was introduced to me by my friend Herr Obermiller on a backpacking trip through Europe and he would randomly start singing some of the more ridiculous lyrics (“Howdy Doody’s passed the House of Aquarius, bring me more whisky and rye!”) as we humped our packs up some hill in Catalonia. To be honest I sort of just stuck with that album and never delved into the rest of their stuff until I got my hair knocked back by this, their first single from this year’s “Psychic Warfare”
- The Dead Weather, “I Feel Love”I guess Jack White is divisive? I just admire the dude’s industrious and the fact that he and his various cohorts seems to drop kickass rock songs like this one every couple months or so.
- Lost Under Heaven, “Lost Under Heaven”This is a new thing from the former singer of WU LYF. It just tickles my early 90’s nostalgia-bone.
- Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”“Put me on a pedestal, & I’ll only disappoint you; tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you; give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey; I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny.”
Here endeth Volume 1. Volume 2 coming shortly…