by David Haynes
It truly has been a hell of a year for music. All my friends (and some strangers) are making great records, and it’s been difficult to keep track of all the amazing music released this year. Here are some I returned to over and over again:
Commander Keen – Dying In The South
This is a huge sounding record, full of big riffs and a whole lot of heart. Lyricist and guitarist Blake Marlow, a good friend of mine, has a knack for writing about the characters you run into growing up in the South. How do you grow up in a small town in Tennessee and end up alright? Commander Keen might not have all the answers, but they’re off to a great start with this record. “Low Budget Dreams” is both a triumph of pop writing and of fuzz pedals. If you don’t smile a little bit when the riff for “Mt. Dew Capital Of The World” starts up, you may need to check your pulse. If you love super riffy rock and roll, check out Commander Keen!
Pumpkinseed – Big Believin’ Sky
Dan is one of the best songwriters I know, and he’s surrounded himself with incredible musicians to make this record. This record is chock full of 60s and 70s soul and gospel, but still has this punk ethos and backbone. You’ll be unable to not groove along to “Victoria” or “State of Tennessee.” This may be one of the weirdest records I’ve heard this year. It’s perfect for driving past cornfields on a sunny day. Absolutely perfect.
The Glands – Double Coda
My friend Jarrod played me the self-titled Glands record on a Jim Shorts tour last year. This year, I got on a huge Glands kick and listened to that record countless times. A month or two ago, they released this collection of unrecorded material. Songs like “Pleaser” or “Todd Work” take that classic songwriting of The Beatles and make it sound modern and fresh. If you’re a fan of excellent pop songwriting, check out The Glands!
Swearin’ – Fall Into the Sun
“Big Change” might be one of my favorite opening tracks of all time. And this might be one of the best lyrics written about DIY music of all time:
“The best years of our lives
Were spent in some stranger’s basement
Medley made of empty cans and ex’s
And that radical romantic conversation
About how we are like mutants
Who found each other by chance through rock n roll music”
Allison Crutchfield just described what I love most about indie rock – the conversations with friends, the wide-eyed, but somehow still cynical perspective on songwriting. And that’s just the first song! The rest of the record is flawless as well. My friend Mike and I have this theory that the second song on a record is usually the best (or should be the best). I’m sure we’ll be using “Dogpile” as an example when we write our thesis on the subject.
Bad Moves – Tell No One
This is pure, catchy power-pop from DC. I’ve enjoyed some of David Combs’ other projects, particularly Spoonboy. But, this might be my favorite record Combs has ever helped create. “Cool Generator” is such an incredible single, and the rest of the album doesn’t disappoint. If you’re looking for good guitar pop in the vein of The Thermals, you will find no wrongdoing here.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
If you talk to me for five seconds, you can probably tell I’m someone that’s into Pavement. A highlight of the year for me was seeing Stephen Malkmus play at Black Cat this summer. I actually had never listened to any of Malkmus’ solo work until this year. Sometimes, it’s easy to write off an older artist because their newer material will never be as good as their “classics.” Sparkle Hard is Stephen Malkmus proving us all wrong. Songs like “Solid Silk” and “Middle America” show us that he is capable of writing softer, intimate tunes. And, as always, the guitar work is bizarre. There’s even some autotune on here. In case you were thinking you had Malkmus figured out, you still don’t. That boy is just weird.
Eureka California – Roadrunners
Jake and Marie are some of the best people I have met through DIY music. They are also some of the best songwriters on the East Coast. Every song they write is full of energy, heart, and usually a little bit of dark humor. In “JJT,’’ Jake says:
“My whole adult life
Is working to nearly die
To barely get by
Under the poverty line”
That may be the true meaning of rock and roll. There are some other incredible songs on this record, like “Threads,” “Time After Time After Time After Time,” and “Telephone Tone.” The guitar riff in “How Long Has This Been Going On?” is absolutely genius. If you’re a fan of Superchunk or any other bands that blend indie rock and punk, I think you’ll really dig Eureka California!
GLOOP – The Tourist
This is hands down the weirdest record on the list. If you live around Frederick, you’ve probably seen GLOOP over the past couple years. They make this crazy blend of noise rock, punk, and indie rock that is dizzying and completely badass. And, they put on one of the best rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen. I described this record in a review as “a pummeling barrage of cold, harsh guitar tones, big snare hits, and oddball riffs.” That just about sums it up. Oh, and the bassline on “Dancing Tongues” is my favorite bassline of all time.
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
The ghost of Prince is alive in Janelle Monae. Dirty Computer is one of the best pop records I’ve heard in a long time. Emily, my wife, played the song “Make Me Feel” a lot this summer, and it has been stuck in my head ever since. The production on this record is also brilliant – a ton of really cool synth sounds mixed with really clean 7th guitar chords. This record is a lot to take in. I recommend listening to it on a long drive. It’s a good pick me up, but you can also be right in the middle of this crazy production if you turn your speakers up real loud.
Mr. Husband – Ocean Pines
This album is like a bag of pretzels when you’re hungover. It gives you new life. Ocean Pines is probably the quietest record on this list. In my mind, it’s a record about being in love with the creative process. Inspired by Hawaiian and country-western music, these songs are short, sweet, and sparse. Not sparse as in cold or distant. Rather, Ocean Pines is sparse in the same way that a “Hobbit hole” could still be considered a hole. Kenny has managed to create one of the most warm, endearing lo-fi records I’ve heard in a long time. God bless Mr. Husband.
Suggested Friends – Suggested Friends
Jeff Tweedy – Warm
The Beths – Future Me Hates Me Now
Leopard Print Taser – Teeth Are Not Bones EP