The Fortnightly Playlist, December 31st, 2017

Well, here’s to another year. Last edition featured my favorites for the year, and this edition will include some goodbyes to musical heroes, a couple albums I slept on this year, and a look forward to a few albums coming out in early 2018. As such, there will be more of a mix between some old and new music this time around.

The Goodbyes
I know there were a lot of big losses this year, and so I just wanted to share the ones that were big for me personally. Otherwise this playlist will get very long. I’m sorry if there’s someone you were hoping would be here that isn’t.

Kevin Garcia (Grandaddy) – Back in January, Grandaddy came out with their first album in 11 years. They announced a tour, and were a few days from playing here in Seattle. Then their bassist and co-founder, Kevin Garcia, had a sudden stroke, and passed away at age 41. The return just suddenly wasn’t. Included this week is a track from the new record, Last Place, and a track from 2003’s Sumday.
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Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) – He’s one of the greatest rock singers of all time. I remember turning on the radio that morning while making breakfast. Soundgarden was playing, and then back-to-back Soundgarden… then the DJ came on to say that Chris Cornell was gone. I listen to the radio most of the day most days, so that day, and I listened that day to Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell, Johnny Cash’s cover of Rusty Cage, Chris with Mad Season. It felt like the world changed for me that day. I don’t know what more to say, so here’s a letter to Chris on his birthday from Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.
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Charles Bradley – Charles had a difficult time fighting for his break. He worked odd jobs, and performed as a James Brown impersonator. Finally, he got the opportunity to perform his own original material, and at age 62 his debut album, No Time For Dreaming, was released. It was a long buildup to a what became a short career, and Charles sadly passed away from stomach cancer in September. He did give us 3 amazing albums in the last 6 yrs of his life. I’ve included in this edition of the Playlist, one song from each record.
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Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip) – The rockstar without the ego. The poet without the self-importance. Hip fans hung on every word. Gord will always be one of my favorite lyricists. The Hip’s second-to-last album, Now For Plan A, featured songs about his own journey as his wife fought and beat breast cancer. Then 4 yrs later along with the official announcement of their final tour and album, Man, Machine, Poem, it was announced that Gord had Glioblastoma. Gord would give us 2 more solo records before he passed away in October. The last, Introduce Yerself, was released posthumously.
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Also included this edition are albums from Craig Finn (The Hold Steady), Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), and 45th St Brass that I missed earlier on this year. Looking forward to 2018, there are new singles from Dessa, Kyle Craft, First Aid Kit, Thunderpussy, and The Hold Steady. The new single from Dessa, Fire Drills, has me particularly excited. Her album comes out February 23.

Happy New Year!

Josh

Tracklist:
Gord Downie – The East Wind
Grandaddy – Way We Won’t
Kele Okereke – Grounds for Resentment
Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
Kyle Craft – Heartbreak Junky
Chris Cornell – Seasons
The Tragically Hip – It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken
Soundgarden – Fresh Tendrils
The Hold Steady – Entitlement Crew
Thunderpussy – Velvet Noose
The Tragically Hip – At the Hundredth Meridian
Audioslave – Cochise
First Aid Kit – Fireworks
Grandaddy – Lost On Yer Merry Way
Gord Downie – Faith Faith
Chris Cornell – Bend in the Road
The Tragically Hip – The Lookahead
Craig Finn – Birds Trapped in the Airport
Dessa – Fire Drills
Charles Bradley – Through the Storm
45th St Brass – P.B.M.J.
Charles Bradley – Change for the World

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Top 10 Favorites of 2017

This list was difficult, and I, of course, made it more difficult by second-guessing myself a lot. There are several other releases this year that I just can’t not mention because they are brilliant records that deserve to be part of the conversation. This edition of the Playlist includes a track from each of my top 10 as well as my honorable mentions. I tried to mostly go with songs that I haven’t shared previously. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
Lo Tom – Lo Tom
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko – Griot Blues
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Backlash
Akala – Visions EP (almost included this 5 song EP. It’s that good.)
Tinariwen – Elwan
Shredders – Dangerous Jumps
Filthy Friends – Invitation
Thievery Corporation – The Temple of I & I
Algiers – The Underside of Power
Sera Cahoone – From Where I Started
Nadia Reid – Preservation
Paper Tiger – In Other Words
Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself
Sampha – Process
Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (also, my favorite cover art of 2017)
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Now, on to my picks for top 10.

10. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface
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In Early 2010, I got a free song from Amazon, and I liked it so much right away that I bought the album (genius sales ploy, that was… but to this day I still think I got a great deal). That album was the first Bad Books album (a project Manchester Orchestra did with Kevin Devine). At the time I was unfamiliar with either Kevin Devine or Manchester Orchestra, but both artists have really stuck with me since. A year later, Manchester Orchestra released Simple Math (2011), Cope (2013) and Hope (2014). As with each of those, A Black Mile to the Surface is a wonderful straight-through listen. The song flow beautifully and seamlessly, the vocals sore and then become soft and then sore again, there’s energy and angst and gentleness. This one certainly lives up to Manchester Orchestra’s already high standard.

9. U2 – Songs of Experience
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There were a lot of surprises this year. This record almost annoyed me… because I had my top 10 all sorted, and then it came along late in the year to throw things into question. Even more than that, I sort of thought I’d never be surprised by a U2 album again. It’s not that they’ve been bad in recent years, but they’ve been somewhat predictable. Underachieving maybe. You’d listen to new U2, and think “yep, that’s U2.” There’s something here though. There’s more energy than they’ve had in the last few records. There are curveballs. It’s still U2, but it’s also new and different. They may be late in their career, but U2 are unmistakably among the greats. This record is something special. I thought I had them figured out, and they threw me for a loop.

8. Making Movies – I Am Another You
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Mixing up some Afro-Latino rhythms and psychedelic rock’n’roll riffs, Making Movies came out of nowhere for me back toward the end of June. It is this sheer energy of all types of percussion topped with huge guitar riffs and they shift from dark and ominous to soft and intimate to light-hearted and fun like it’s nothing. This one has more rough edges than most of the others on this list, but it has undeniable energy and passion. It’s also plenty rewarding on repeated listens. The band, based in Kansas City, consists of two sets of brothers; Enrique and Diego Chi and Juan-Carlos and Andres Chaurand. A big theme for the band is beauty in diversity, and they do it really well. Locura Colectiva, Brave Enough, and Tell Me The Truth are highlights on this one for me.

7. ODESZA – A Moment Apart
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There’s something special about seeing a local band go from formation to headlining festivals in the space of about 5 yrs. Formed in 2012 (a little before graduating from Western Washington University), and this year headlining Bumbershoot back on Labor Day weekend. This release, ODESZA took things to new levels, and it was clear before the album even came out. The guest vocalists are perfect (Naomi Wild on Higher Ground and Ry X on Corners of the Earth in particular), and there’s not a misstep on the whole record.

6. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister – Planetarium
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In many ways, this feels like a Sufjan album. A different host of collaborators, but a Sufjan album. His unmistakable voice and lyrics make it hard to think of it any other way for me. That said, Sufjan has never been one-note or predictable, and this is no exception.  The other 3 are certainly bringing their own touch to this record even though it feels like it fits so perfectly into the Sufjan catalog. Nico Muhly is responsible for most of the composition here. The contemporary classical composer has a huge catalog of arrangements and original compositions. He’s worked with a lot of popular alternative artists in the past such as Bjork, Grizzly Bear, Jonsi, and The National. This, of course, leads me to Bryce Dessner (The National). Bryce’s guitar work here is beautiful. It’s minimal for the most part, but it adds the perfect touches to Muhly’s compositions. James McAlister is the longtime drummer for Sufjan Stevens, and therefore very good at adapting to many styles of music. His ability on this album is clear. Best tracks for me are Moon, Neptune, Venus and Mercury.

5. Songhoy Blues – Resistance
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In 2012, northern Mali was taken over by a jihadist groups that banned music, alcohol, cigarettes as influences of western culture. Garba Toure, a guitarist from the north was forced to leave, and he moved to the nation’s capitol, Bamako. There, along with Aliou Toure and Oumar Toure (all unrelated from each other), they formed Songhoy Blues. The men were Songhoy (or Songhai) people that were among those targeted under the new regime. Music in Exile (2015) was a revelation that combined traditional Tuareg and Songhoy styles with modern influences. Now, with Resistance, they have continued their rise. Excellent guest appearances from Iggy Pop and Elf Kid make for some great collaborations with artists who have styles very different from their own. The modern Desert Blues sound has revived my love of the guitar in the last couple years, and Songhoy Blues is a big part of that.

4. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
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Sharon Jones was a beautiful person, and she never quit giving. During her final year of her life, while battling cancer, she recorded this amazing record. It was released on November 17th; exactly 1 year after her passing. One can’t help but admire the enormous strength of will that it must take continue creating with energy through the physical and emotional obstacles she had to overcome . This is the result. An absolutely beautiful record full of energy and emotion. Tracks like Searching For a New Day , Sail On and These Tears (No Longer For You) are Sharon & the Dap Kings at their best. The record ends perfectly with Call On God. Thank you Sharon, and thank you Dap Kings for one last record.

3. P.O.S. – Chill, Dummy
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A few weeks ago, I was asked by Roberto of Riffs & Rhymes to write a review of an album that hadn’t gotten much attention or had flown beneath the radar. He featured it in a series of posts each from different writers, and I recommend checking them all out. I chose to write about Chill, Dummy. You can read it here!. I’ll call myself a late-comer to the story here, but P.O.S. returns after a frustrating 5 year spell with a cancelled tour due to health troubles (and a kidney transplant in 2014). Chill, Dummy is as strong a comeback as you could ask for. In addition, his tour this year was bombastic enough to make up for the cancelled one after his previous effort, We Don’t Even Live Here. He’s stronger than ever here, trying new things, opening himself up to new styles and influences, and still retaining all the strengths that make him unique. Essential tracks on this one are Wearing a Bear, Faded, Thieves/Kings, Infinite Scroll,  and Sleepdrone/Superposition.
Additionally, somewhere amid his relentless tour schedule, he managed to write and record with some of his fellow Doomtree members and release the new Shredders release, Dangerous Jumps. In January, P.O.S., Sims, Paper Tiger, and Lazerbeak will be touring in support of that release.

2. Ibeyi – Ash
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Twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz released this absolutely haunting and entrancing album at the end of September, and there was a period in October when I could barely bring myself to listen to anything else. They fuse elements of electro, soul, R&B, and Afro-Cuban music, and come out with something totally their own. The real binding elements are their beautiful vocal work, and the prominent percussion. The guest appearances are perfect on this record, but perhaps none more than Kamasi Washington’s work on Deathless. The song is certainly one of my favorites this year, and throws the listener vividly into the experience of Lisa-Kainde when she was treated roughly by French police at age 16 who assumed by her race that she was dealing drugs. There are no weak songs on this album. It’s hard to even pick highlights, but I’ll offer a few: Deathless, I Wanna Be Like You, No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms, and When Will I Learn.

1. Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It
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How a record with these poppy, infectious hooks doesn’t make it into the charts is among the clearest evidence that the music industry is totally run by marketers and not music-lovers. Begun as the solo work of Ahmed Gallab (Born in London to Sudanese parents, who moved to the US when Ahmed was 5), Life & Livin’ It is perhaps the development of Sinkane into a more democratic band. The tour that followed the previous effort, Mean Love, built the project from a solo effort into a band. It’s still very much led by Gallab, whose musical resume would tell you he’s worked with many excellent musicians such as Yeasayer, of Montreal, Eleanor Friedburger, Born Ruffians, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Dev Hynes (Lightspeed Champion, Blood Orange), and Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip). The stylistic ground covered in this album ranges from Afro-beat to Shoegaze to Jazz to Synth-pop, yet it flows smoothly throughout to create a wonderfully cohesive whole. As with the Ibeyi album, there is no weak link here. It’s a strong album beginning to end.

So those are my picks this year. There are plenty of others I’ve enjoyed this year, and working things down to just these wasn’t easy. That said, I’m really happy with this list. It reflects my listening for the year very well. Feel free to share your own picks in the comments. Next edition will include some looks back on 2017, and some looks forward to 2018.

-Josh

Tracklist:
ODESZA – Line of Sight
U2 – Get Out of Your Own Way
Lo Tom – Covered Wagon
Shredders – Cult 45
Open Mike Eagle – Daydreaming in the Projects
Akala – Chapter 4
Sampha – (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano
Manchester Orchestra – The Alien
Filthy Friends – Faded Afternoon
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Lips of a Loser
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko – Blues Went to Africa
Songhoy Blues – Bamako
Algiers – Cry of the Martyrs
Thievery Corporation – Strike the Root
Sinkane – Fire
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Rumors
Nadia Reid – Right On Time
Sera Cahoone – Taken Its Toll
Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Venus
Paper Tiger – Digging In Fire
Ibeyi – No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms
Tinariwen – Nannuflay
Making Movies – Spinning Out
P.O.S. – Sleepdrone/Superposition
Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 3rd, 2017

This week I was caught off guard by the new U2 album. It has been a long time since I can honestly say that. This isn’t to say U2 hasn’t been good, but to say that they’ve not exactly been a band to throw curveballs in recent years. It just seems like you know what to expect with a U2 album, and they deliver exactly that. Songs of Experience is still very much a U2 record, but there’s something different about this one. The signature U2 sound is there, but they have a stronger, or more emphasized, groove to this record. It works, and I think they’ve piqued my interest more with this album than anything since Achtung Baby (1991).

Also in this edition are several local Seattle artists. Stereo Embers and Amy Denio both had new releases in the last couple weeks that are well worth checking out. I want to highlight Anacortes-based Karl Blau this time. Karl has quietly built up an impressively diverse catalog of music over the last 15 yrs or so, and his new release, Out Her Space, occupies a very different place stylistically than last year’s Introducing Karl Blau. Blau really has a good understanding of his own talents, and how to turn them toward very different goals. He seems to always meet a high standard.

Other high points for me this edition are Sufjan Stevens, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kweku Collins and Amy Denio, as well as more from the previously featured releases from Shredders and Ibeyi.

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Tracklist:
Ibeyi – I Carried This For Years
U2 – Lights of Home
Stereo Embers – It
Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Selfish Dreams
Karl Blau – Poor the War Away
Pierre Kwenders – Woods of Solitude
Shredders – Fly As I Dare
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Deadly Valentine
Lusine – The Lift
Amy Denio – L’Abbraccione
Django Django – In Your Beat
Kweku Collins – Lucky Ones
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Field Music – Count It Up
U2 – The Blackout
Curtis Harding – Till The End
Shredders – Heater Season (featuring Mike Mictlan)