by Brad Roberts
Being asked to come up with a five best of the half year, is proving to be difficult. Haven't heard a lot of the newest releases by some local bands, and have been impressed with a few records from national acts, but this list may suffer from the sin of omission. However I do feel fairly confidant about my favorite album of the year so far: Trouble Will Find Me by The National. As far as a local act goes, Many Embers (above) is one of the most promising I've seen this year.
I'm the kind of person who believes in the constant evolution of music. I'm not one to dwell on the nostalgic 'trips down memory lane' pining for the 'good old days'. I've generally found it annoying to listened to all the talk about "The greatest rock and roll album ever" for most of my life. And I've always said to myself, "how can they possibly say that, how do they know what's coming next"? It's always easier to take a segment of time, like a year or six months, and select one's favorites based on a calendar.
This year, it seems like the biggest impression has been made on me by individual songs. When I get an album that has at least one song I love, I tend to listen to that song over and over until I can manage to get beyond it and find another, newer song. I often get so enthusiastic about these songs that I will usually refer to them as "The Greatest Rock and Roll Song Ever"...until the next one comes along.
With that in mind, I will just throw out the titles of some of the songs that I considered "The Greatest Rock and Roll Songs Ever" from January through June, 2013, in no particular order.
Father John Misty - "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" (from Fear Fun)
From it's unrelenting beat that opens the song, there's an urgency and passion here that made me include it. I know it's from last year, but I only discovered it in January. Josh Tillman (at right) fashions terrific music, but in addition, it's his smart, sassy lyrics that captivate.
LoveyDove - "Soft Sun" (from their promo EP LoveyDove)
Azalia Snail and Dan West combine to bring a decidedly sophisticated and off beat New York sensibility to their hybrid psychedelic music. Hazy and hypnotic.
The Besnard Lakes - "People Of The Sticks" (from Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO)
Wow, did this song ever possess me. It's constantly shifting chord changes keep you on your toes, while the melody and vocals keep you riveted from start to finish. And when that wall of guitars hits in the middle of the song, watch out.
Many Embers - "A Lot To Learn" (from Many Embers)
In Rob Danson's latest musical project, he has tapped into his recent success as a film composer and come up with a tight, multi-layered sound that still has a bit of that rock-a-billy sound of his previous band, Death To Anders. Superb guitar sounds on this track and his lyrics are still as humorously quirky and honest as they have always been. Rob introduced me to an early cut of this song last December and it's been in my head ever since.
Yo La Tengo - "Ohm" (from Fade)
From it's insistent raga beat to the mellifluous vocals, this thirty year old band still has the stuff to create magic. This song ruled my days for a few weeks running and then I got to see them perform the song twice at El Rey in May (at right); once acoustic, once full band. The magic was live.
Torches - "When You Gonna" (from If The People Stare)
Sounding like an extension of their Heads Full Of Rust album, Torches released this EP early this year and it displays all their strengths as songwriters and vocalists. Featuring the original line up this song is pretty addictive.
Gliss - "Weight Of Love" (from Langsom Dans)
Gorgeous song from their latest album featuring Victoria Cecilia's vocals front and center, as she is surrounded and enveloped by the voluptuous swirl of guitar and reverb that make this band so compelling
Rogue Wave - "Everyone Wants To Be You" (from Nightingale Floors)
A profoundly moving song about success and loneliness, with deeply felt vocals by one of my favorite singers, Zach Rogue. Haunting and wise.
The Lonely Wild - "Everything You Need" (from The Sun As It Comes)
Does this song ever highlight what makes this band such a great live act. The exuberance and precision of the multi-talented band members are on full display here. Andrew Carroll's clear, powerful lead vocals dominate, until Ryan Ross and Jessi Williams tear off on their trumpets as if they were blowing the tops of their heads off. The whole album's good.
Haunted Summer - "Something In The Water" (from self released EP Haunted Summer)
Like music that comes wafting through an open window at night, billowing like a silk curtain in the wind. John (formerly of Seasons) and Bridgette (formerly of Torches) weave a dark and eerie magical spell that portends of more to come as this band grows and develops.
Iron and Wine - "Lover's Revolution" (from Ghost On Ghost)
From an album that represents another leap in another direction from this artist who is turning out to be quite chameleon-like. Exploring jazz and blues territory, on "Lover's Revolution" he give one of the most impassioned vocal performance I've ever heard from him. And the song is his usual brutal self-revelation. A brave artist.
The National - "Pink Rabbits" (from Trouble Will Find Me)
From the very first time I heard this song, I knew it was one of rock and roll's great songs by the power it had to make me keep pushing play over and over. All their music tells tells a distinct story and this one, about how we can all feel like a misfit trying bravely to find comfort in a confusing and contradictory world yet still going back to try one more time, is actually very moving and emotional.
This whole album by The National not only sees a great band returning to the musical highs of Boxer, but is immensely reassuring after the relative disappointment of their last release, High Violet. That was a perfectly acceptable album, but Trouble Will Find Me is a quite astonishing progression of one great cut after another. Each one with it's own distinctive sound and rhythm. I was overwhelmed the first time I played it and it only gets better and better with each listening. Deep, penetrating lyrics that are simultaneously personal and universal, combined with beautifully crafted orchestrations, all grounded by the soulful baritone of Matt Berninger. Could this be the album of the year. Very probably.
I know I've wandered a bit off the reservation, but it's the best way I could complete the assignment. Throwing this together in haste, I just know I've left something out.