- Fond Farewell- Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield
Favorite line: “Veins full of disappearing ink/vomiting in the kitchen sink”
As a major fan of Elliott Smith, I awaited these two folkies doing a tribute album with eager anticipation. Elliott Smith clearly wrote the song as an elegy to heroin, but these two turn it in to a lament for a folk hero who ended his own life just after beginning to receive wider acclaim.
19. Patrick Henry/Make It Beautiful- Micah Bournes
Favorite line: “Topple your empire/we want freedom now”
Released as a free 4th of July single, poet Micah Bournes uses some of Patrick Henry’s own words as an introduction to a song about continuing civil unrest due to the way African-Americans have been treated, and continue to be treated, throughout history. By comparing today’s inequalities to the words of one of the fathers of the American Revolution, Bournes drives his point home.
18. S.O.B.- Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
Favorite line: “Son of a bitch/if I can’t get clean/I’m gonna drink my life away”
To be straight, this song a really catchy track about drowning your life in alcohol. Finally finding a wider audience after classic soul label Stax took him in, Nathaniel Rateliff first came across my radar last year, and was the only man brave enough to cover “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” on last year’s AV Undercover.
17. The Legend of Chavo Guerrero- The Mountain Goats
Favorite line: “And I need justice in my life/here it comes”
John Darnielle has made no bones of the fact that wrestling has been a continuing source of joy in his life. Chavo Guererro is the patriarch of a wrestling family and Darnielle manages to tell a story of how rooting for the good guys on Spanish wrestling programs was a source of solace in a life of turmoil.
16. New Americana- Halsey
Favorite line: “High on legal marijuana/raised on Biggie and Nirvana”
Halsey is a 21 year old singer, but writing complex lyrics far beyond those years. The track reminds me of “Royals”, but not as universal. The next generation of musicians will have been raised in a world where the Notorious B.I.G. & Kurt Cobain only exist in the past tense, and states are enacting legislation to legalize marijuana.
15. Because I Want To- Home Street Home (NOFX & Friends)
Favorite line: “I can’t forget that just a few months ago/I didn’t know if I was gonna see tomorrow”Fat Mike set out to write a musical for street punks, that project turned into Home Street Home. “Because I Want To” is sung by a character who fled to the streets to escape an abusive father and has instead turned to an anything goes world of sex and drugs and graffiti.
- American Beauty- Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
Favorite line: “She was deja vu/she was a catch-22/she was an American beauty”
Drew Holcomb is making his career mining the rich landscape of the folk singer-songwriter. The song itself portrays a longing for the one who got away and a wistfulness for reliving an unobtainable past. The song itself doesn’t say why the relationship ended, but with songs like this, that’s ancillary to the story itself.
- And I Love Her- Kurt Cobain
Favorite line: “A love like ours/could never die/as long as I/have you near me”
The song was first unleashed to the world in the documentary Montage of Heck, during an intimate scene between Courtney Love and Cobain. Although he omits the first verse (perhaps because he didn’t remember the song so well), one rock legend covering another is all I needed to like this song. Kurt did love Courtney, no matter what else happened in their life.
12. Happy New Year Next Year- Violent Femmes
Favorite line: “It’s January first and I already feel bad/I’ll have a Happy New Year next year”
After nearly 15 years and releasing two covers during that time, the Violent Femmes returned with a 4-track EP for Record Store Day. This track is the one that began the renewed recording sessions. Even with a new drummer (Brian Viglione, formerly of Dresden Dolls fame), the band appears to have not lost any of their barely held together edgy-ness which was first portrayed over 30 years ago on their self-titled touchstone album of the alternative rock movement. Welcome back and long live Violent Femmes!
11. Dimed Out- Titus Andronicus
Favorite line: “Cause all the greatest artists/they were amateurs”
Apparently, the phrase “dimed out” is also a reference to turning the distortion up to 10 on a guitar. After all the left turns he has taken in the punk world, I would follow Patrick Stickles just about anywhere. I enjoy that the band releases mix-tapes associated with their LP releases and on this year’s Sorry About the Delay, the band showed the evolution of several of their songs, all for free. It’s almost as good as Beck’s early contract which stipulated that he got to make an independent album for every major label release.
10. Wish You Were Here- The Milk Carton Kids
Favorite line: “So you think you can tell/Heaven from hell”
A folk band covering a classic rock pillar of a song may seem like a bad idea, but Milk Carton Kids decided to tackle the song, recording their version on one microphone and with no overdubs. What they gave the audience who first heard the song was a sudden realization that, yes, they were hearing what they thought they were hearing. Well played, Milk Carton Kids.
9. Cops Don’t Care, pt II- Fred Thomas
Favorite line: “You know the pavement is always thirsty/for those drops of your blood”
Holy shit, this song has ample venom! In just over 100 seconds of invective, Fred Thomas hits on several points of what he finds wrong with the modern law & order system. I’ll be watching his career for some time to come. Welcome to my radar, Mr. Thomas.
8. Before the World Was Big- Girlpool
Favorite line: “Walked around my neighborhood/one hundred, million, billion, trillion times”
Lyrically, this song is about realizing that, even though life changes, some things like cracks on the sidewalk will still be familiar. It’s also reminiscing about a more innocent time when parent and child wore matching outfits.
7. River of Deceit- Mad Season (f. Seattle Symphony Orchestra)
Favorite line: “My pain is self chosen/at least I believe it to be”
Big props to Chris Cornell and Duff McKagan for stepping up to fill the shoes of two deceased band members and giving Mad Season the treatment it deserves. Listening to a symphony behind an iconic song of the Seattle Scene makes me smile. That it was done in loving tribute to people who faced their demons and lost makes it all the more special.
6. Been So Long (Bellevue Hospital Blues)- Leadbelly
Favorite line: “He said in 10 days you’d learn to walk again/been so long/been so long”
A recently unearthed acetate from 1949, from shortly before Huddie Ledbetter died in Bellevue Hospital, this song shows that right up to the end of his days, he never lost the ability to turn his observances into a song. A man who has been dead for 65 years, showing them how it’s done in 2015.
- A New Wave- Sleater-Kinney
Favorite line: “Invent our own kind of obscurity”
Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein came of age in an Olympia where success was frowned upon. They played a festival in Olympia just as they were beginning to gain critical acclaim and more widespread notoriety, and people were angry with them for selling out (in this case wanting that fame). Twenty years later, they invented their own kind of obscurity, by being a popular band on hiatus and recording an entire album without anybody finding out.
4. Stan Lee vs. Jim Henson- Epic Rap Battles of History
Favorite line: “You were like watching a beautiful sunset/at noon”
I’m just going to list some of the lines: “and you’re squealing like MEMEMEMEME”; “you’re one part Sweetums/the other part Skeksis”; “once the verbal fencing starts commencing/there is no defense against the dents Jim Henson is dispensing”; “I’ll snap your neck like a doozer stick/and put you out to pasture like Mister Hooper”; “most of the internet thought you died 12 years ago”; (*Spoiler Alert*) the Disneyland-lord of your intellectual property”; “I’m powerful enough to make a mouse gigantic”. I love how they found a beat for Jim Henson to rap behind where he didn’t even have to raise his voice. That’s the most brilliant part of the whole episode.
3. Bigger On the Inside- Amanda Palmer (f. Zoe Keating)
Favorite line: “And somewhere some dumb rock star truly loves you”
Amanda Palmer recorded three songs this year, one of them a cover of one of my favorite songs form the past 5 years, and two of them are good songs in their own right. This song clocks in at nearly 8 minutes, features ascending/descending vocalizations, and rips off an age-old trope from Doctor Who. But in those confines, she tells the story of a friend lying in a hospital bed, a fan being abused by a parent, and giving a lesson in shaking off criticism. Bonus points for the single’s cover, a depiction of somebody in a hospital bed, hooked up to IV’s with writing on their arm which reads “I am exactly the person that I want to be”.
2. All Your Favorite Bands- Dawes
Favorite line: “I hope the world see the same person you’ve always been to me/and may all your favorite bands stay together”
Dawes are a Laurel Canyon folk band, reviving the laid back sounds of California in the 1970s. On their fourth album, the title track reminisces about a friend who lived wildly in early adulthood. The narrator in the song hopes said friend found all they wanted in life and wishes them well. This is the second time Dawes has figured into my year end lists, previously with “If I Wanted Someone” from 2011. These guys clearly have the chops to continue doing what has thus far brought them success. Here’s to wishing them well.
1. Short Movie- Laura Marling
Favorite line: “I got up in the world today/wondered who it was that I could save/Who do you think you are?/Just a girl who can play guitar”
Of all the good songs I heard this year, this is the one that kept sticking with me. I’d be walking around at work and singing “It’s a short fucking movie man”. Briefly, this is a song about living life and doing what you want to do without letting people tell you that can’t be done. Laura Marling hails from England and is leaving her mark as a singer-songwriter and was an original member of Noah and the Whale. Short Movie is her first album of recording songs with an electric guitar. Though she hasn’t quite broken into the US market yet, people are starting to pay attention. The album reached #8 on the Billboard Folk albums chart, for whatever that’s worth.