#0096 – with MMX technology!

Jim2010 was a milestone year–among other things, personally, it was the year my 13 year old son grew to be taller than me, which is a reminder of mortality if anything is (I mean I have to crane my neck to yell at the boy now! crazy!)–and it was a great year for music too.  It’s January now, and 2010 is in the bag, which must mean it’s time for my annual year-end best albums mix!

Hooray! Let’s get right to it!

Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues20. Justin Townes EarleHarlem River Blues
Song: Move Over Mama 

This guy puts out an album every year, and you’ve heard me talk about him before since it seems like they always end up on my year-end lists. This album represents a further maturation of his sound, marrying disparate elements–country but urban, sad but upbeat.  Move Over Mama is a rollicking honky-tonking good time of a song about a woman who takes up too damn much of the bed.

Lair of the Minotaur - Evil Power19. Lair of the MinotaurEvil Power
Song: Riders of Skullhammer, We Ride the Night 

A crushing sludgy Chicago thrash band and a perennial favorite of mine, Lair of the Minotaur has tightened up their sound from the epic bloody thrashfests of their album The Ultimate Destroyer, which I loved, through the (to me) less-focused and inferior War Metal Battle Master, and now here, they’ve distilled their brand of brutal Greek Mythology influenced fantasy metal into sharp chugging 2 minute bursts that say everything they have to say and are done.

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here18. Gil Scott HeronI’m New Here
Song: I’ll Take Care of You 

Soul poetry? Immediate, revealing, intimate even, the man who told us the revolution would not be televised lays himself bare, with bleak songs and poems about growing up in a broken home, about disease and self-destruction, all very minimalistic but made raw by the power of Scott-Heron’s voice and words.  This song is a cover of an old soul song, originally recorded by Roy Hamilton but covered by everyone from Elvis Costello to Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees.  After this, I’ll never think of it as anything but a Gil Scott-Heron song.

Flaming Tusk - Old, Blackened Century17. Flaming TuskOld, Blackened Century
Song: Ichor 

First full-length from NYC metal quintet is a grab-bag of extreme metal influences. I expect even better things from this band in the future but this album hits almost every note I want to hear out of my metal.  Ichor is a song about the Vietnam war, which isn’t a terribly common subject for metal but why shouldn’t it be?

Jesuslesfilles - Une Belle Table16. JesuslesfillesUne Belle Table
Song: Mercredi 

Just some joyful, upbeat, jangly and noisy pop that brings to mind early Pixies.  As their lyrics and most of the information about the band are all in French I can’t really tell you much about them, but it’s all terribly catchy stuff.

Dear Astronaut - Escape from Rainbow Mountain15. Dear AstronautEscape from Rainbow Mountain
Song: That Thing Which Could Not Be Put Back 

Jeb, the singer/guitarist/driving force of Dear Astronaut is a friend of mine. This, their final album, was years in the making due to production issues, and by the time they had the album release party they had to relearn the songs since they hadn’t been playing them in so long. But this album marks their full transition into the heavy-hitting sludge sound that takes better advantage of their talents than the earlier mad circus folk had. So while it’s sad to see them go, at least they went out on top.

Black Breath - Heavy Breathing14. Black BreathHeavy Breathing
Song: Escape From Death 

Black Breath is a Seattle band playing heavy and loud as hell sludgy crossover thrash/death metal with plenty of hardcore influence as well.  Escape from Death is a death metal song, appropriately enough, about the undead, craving human flesh, from their own point of view.

The Lights - Failed Graves13. The LightsFailed Graves
Song: Gingerella 

This is a compelling piece of garagey punk/post-punk from a band that’s been kicking around Seattle for a while.

Arsis - Starve for the Devil12. ArsisStarve for the Devil
Song: Beyond Forlorn 

A thrashier sound than their previous strict technical death metal, with speed metal and cock rock leanings.  The album is a group of songs revolving around the guitarist/singer James Malone’s battles with an eating disorder, and “Beyond Forlorn” is about the depression and loneliness that come with it.

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor11. Titus AndronicusThe Monitor
Song: Richard II 

This is a sprawling civil-war-themed concept album featuring exotic instrumentation, repeated themes, and some extended jams. It’s also a punk rock record. Somehow it manages both.

Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini10. EnslavedAxioma Ethica Odini
Song: Ethica Odini 

This newest release from the longterm Norwegian Viking/Black metal greats features driving thrashy black metal punctuated by melodic clean-vocalled segments.  Less meandering and progressive than previous efforts, the songwriting is perhaps simplified, but also more focused.  This song, Ethica Odini, which leads off the album, is a prime example.  It opens with a wintry but razor sharp riff that drives through the harsh-vocaled verse until the clean vocals of the chorus hit and tumble it apart into something beautiful but forbidding.

Leatherface - The Stormy Petrel09. LeatherfaceThe Stormy Petrel
Song: Another Dance 

Arty punk that at times brings to mind Husker Du, with melodic guitars and raspy vocals that still manage to belt out singalongy choruses.  If I were to make one complaint about the album it’s that there are a few songs in which the singalongy choruses take on a kind of sameness, but this song avoids that, and all are well worth hearing.

Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin08. Les Savy FavRoot for Ruin
Song: Excess Energies 

A new album from this fiery NYC indie band, which I consider to be every bit as good as their previous efforts.  The main criticism people seem to be levelling against it is that it’s very much like those previous albums, but when “more of the same” from these guys involves more of their edgy, angular rock, aggressive and antic, well I can live with it.

Trampled By Turtles - Palomino07. Trampled by TurtlesPalomino
Song: Wait So Long 

Trampled by Turtles are a “progressive” bluegrass band from Minnesota and, put simply, they shred. The high points of this album feature musical instruments that seem on the verge of spontaneously combusting.  This song leads off the album with a great fiddle melody exploding into a bloody-fingered ripper of breakneck… is bluegrass punk a genre? It is now I guess.

Woods - At Echo Lake06. WoodsAt Echo Lake
Song: Death Rattles 

Murky low-fi falsetto pop that is really well done, its sound at once barebones and lush, owing as much to fuzzy psychedelia as it does to country and folk music . The songwriting is what shines though it also hints at depths that the band doesn’t fully plumb here, perhaps teasing us with the potential, but that is also part of the appeal.  Death Rattles is a atmospheric mood piece full of eery sound effects and high-pitched minor key crooning, with an unsettling result.

Glossary - Feral Fire05. GlossaryFeral Fire
Song: Save Your Money for the Weekend 

Soulful workingman’s southern rock, just the kind of thing for a beer and a shot and maybe even some troublemaking, ’cause as they say in this song (which brings to mind Billy Joel’s Only The Good Die Young but in a good way I swear), “Honey there’s gotta be some hell somewhere waiting to be raised”

Superchunk - Majesty Shredding04. SuperchunkMajesty Shredding
Song: Learned to Surf 

Superchunk are indie giants who’ve been around for decades but hadn’t released an album since 2001. Then this album dropped and reminded everyone why this band was the best thing anyone had ever heard 20 years ago. Non-stop infectious power pop perfection.

High On Fire - Snakes for the Divine03. High On FireSnakes for the Divine
Song: How Dark We Pray 

I know some people had some issues with the production of this album–it’s less murky and bottom heavy than previous albums, but the high end comes out cleaner and you can hear the lead guitar better so I think it shreds regardless.  The songwriting continues to be excellent, with urgent pummeling drums driving a blistering guitar assault and Matt Pike’s throat-destroying roar coming through more clearly than before.  With a few songs though, including this one, they slow their usual gallop down a bit and if anything are even heavier and more menacing as a result.

The Besnard Lakes - ...Are The Roaring Night02. The Besnard LakesAre the Roaring Night
Song: Like The Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt II: Like the Innocent 

This album of dreamy shoegazy irresistable space rock came out early in the year, and was one of my most-listened albums all year long.  Expect falsetto vocals with Beach Boys style harmonies, elements of 70s era prog and power pop, all blended into a package so smooth you could slide on it in your stockinged feet.

J. Roddy Walston and the Business - J. Roddy Walston and the Business01. J Roddy Walston and the BusinessJ Roddy Walston and the Business
Song: Used to Did 

JRW&tB plays anthemic fist-pumping piano-driven rock and F@&%ING roll, born in the south but schooled in Baltimore.  With choruses that won’t leave  your head for weeks and an energetic delivery in the best tradition of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, it will make you want to jump on top of something, anything, and start stomping.

#0092 – 2009

This is my best of 2009 mix, containing samples from my 20 favorite albums of the last year.  I’m not a professional music critic and I don’t listen to every album ever released by any means, so I’m sure there are plenty of holes, and if you’d like to tell me an album I missed, please leave a comment and I’ll check it out.

As usual, my listening has been dominated by country/southern rock and metal, but there are a few digressions in there as well. Some pretty strange transitions but as a whole I think it flows pretty well. So give it a listen and let me know what you think! Below is a list of the artists, albums, and sample tracks along with a blurb giving my take on each album. I’m not announcing tracks during the mix (it’s already over 90 minutes) so you may want to follow along below.

But now, to the tunes!


Artist: Those Darlins
Album: Those Darlins
Track: Snaggle Tooth Mama
Those Darlins are a 3-piece all-girl band from Murfreesboro, TN (4-piece with the drummer) who, like so many of the bands I really like, bring punk rock energy and attitude to country music. They’re raucous, boozy and fun.

Artist: The Protomen
Album: Act II: The Father of Death
Track: The Hounds
The Protomen are a band that creates Megaman-themed rock operas. This makes them a novelty act superficially, but they treat their subject very seriously. I’ve read that they even refuse to break character for interviews. Their second album, Act II: The Father of Death, is far more epic and technically accomplished than the first, leaving behind the 8-bit sounds they used sparingly on their debut in favor of further exploring their straight-up Meatloaf-style bombast and early 80s arena rock sound. To give you an idea, one of their B-sides (not on either album) was an excellent cover of Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out,” among the cheesiest of 80s rock anthems, theme from the movie Rocky IV.

Artist: The Mountain Goats
Album: The Life of the World to Come
Track: Genesis 3:23
Historically, the Mountain Goats is mostly just John Darnielle, writing great songs and recording them on a boombox. The last several albums have been professionally recorded with regular enough collaborators that they can be truly said to be a “band” now, but Darnielle’s songwriting ability hasn’t suffered. He may be the best songwriter working in music today. The latest album is 12 songs named after Bible verses but I wouldn’t call it overtly religious. In JD’s words, it’s “twelve hard lessons the Bible taught me, kind of,” so take that as you will.

Artist: Nahemah
Album: A New Constellation
Track: Follow Me
Nahemah is a progressive death metal band from Spain. I liked their last album quite a bit, and was excited to hear this one as well. It didn’t disappoint. When you hear “progressive death metal” you probably think of Opeth, and some comparison may be inevitable. These guys use a similar combination of harsh and clean vocals to Opeth, but they are less repetitive. Also less aggressive, leaning more toward the post-metal style of early Isis with progressive flourishes.

Artist: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
Album: Beware
Track: Beware Your Only Friend
What can I say? If Will Oldham (the man behind the ‘Prince’) releases an album, 9 times out of 10 it’ll end up on my list. Musically, the album is more lush than previous BPB albums, mostly a richly produced country and western sound. Lyrically, it veers from the disturbing to the tongue in cheek.

Artist: Portugal. The Man
Album: The Satanic Satanist
Track: People Say
I guess these guys are from Alaska, I don’t really know much about them. This album is indie rock/pop that’s a little bit spazzy, a little bit folky, a little bit soulful, and kind of all over the place. This song is the first track on the album and it’s a strong opener.

Artist: Russian Circles
Album: Geneva
Track: Malko
Russian Circles is a Chicago band and one of those bands that falls inbetween post rock and metal, sprawling instrumental music that ranges from quiet reflective passages to thunderous chugging metal riffs. After loving their first album (one of my great albums for staring out of train windows), I didn’t care too much for their second, but they’ve more than made up for it with this release.

Artist: Rimfrost
Album: Veraldar Nagli
Track: Mountains of Mana
I won’t beat about the bush; Rimfrost is straight-up Immortal worship. Which I can get behind.

Artist: Mumford & Sons
Album: Sigh No More
Track: Little Lion Man
Brits with banjos, these guys took the place in my heart this year that two years ago was firmly occupied by the Avett Brothers. Folk and bluegrass with fantastic harmonies.

Artist: Mantic Ritual
Album: Executioner
Track: Murdered to Death
Like the band Rimfrost in this countdown, this band exists largely as homage, in this case to “Kill ‘Em All” era Metallica. I’m a sucker for thrashy metal and this is a throwback that caught me at the right time and in the right mood. If you like 80s thrash, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Artist: Lucero
Album: 1372 Overton Park
Track: What are You Willing to Lose?
Lucero is a perennial favorite of mine. They started life as a country band started by a bunch of punk rock kids, but their music has moved over the years from country firmly into the rock genre. 2007’s Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers added some piano to their basic drums/bass/guitars setup for a classic rock sound that pretty strongly brought the Boss to mind. This time around, they’ve added horns and evolved their sound further, bringing in a bluesy soulful sound that compliments the stomping rock they do best. But the elevator still goes all the way to the ground floor, as there are songs that wouldn’t feel out of place on some of their previous albums either.

Artist: Converge
Album: Axe to Fall
Track: Dark Horse
I saw these guys at the Dethklok/Mastodon show earlier this year and thought at the time they were a weird fit. After hearing the album, I don’t feel like they were as out of place as I initially thought. They’ve added some very thrashy elements to their hardcore sound (which, I realize, isn’t a stretch by any means) and their energy is undeniable.

Artist: Justin Townes Earle
Album: Midnight at the Movies
Track: Black Eyed Suzy
JTE made my list last year and though I personally like that album better than this year’s, he’s still one of the better artists working this corner of Americana. This time around he relies more on solid songwriting than mining the past of country/western music (and I think that’s what I liked so much about the previous album, the old-timey feel) but he still falls more comfortably within the old school of country music than anywhere else.

Artist: Propaghandi
Album: Supporting Caste
Track: Supporting Caste
My friend Jeb is a huge Propaghandi fan, and I’d never listened to them. He hyped this record so much though that I checked it out and I’m glad I did. Propaghandi’s a Canadian punk band, but this album ventures beyond punk: fast, angular, yes, melodic, thrashy in parts, some songs complex bordering on progressive.

Artist: Skeletonwitch
Album: Breathing the Fire
Track: Longing for Domination
Skeletonwitch is one of my favorite new bands. Their previous album, Beyond the Permafrost, was one of my favorites of 2007, and this one is a worthy followup. The sound is a little cleaner, more focused, but composed of the same basic parts: blistering thrash riffage, complimented by aspects of death metal and black metal, and with a melodic dual lead that brings to mind Iron Maiden and other greats of the NWOBHM.

Artist: Immortal
Album: All Shall Fall
Track: Norden on Fire
Immortal’s follow-up to one of the best metal albums of the decade, and an essential metal album by any measure, Sons of Northern Darkness, was going to face an uphill battle. How do you follow up a classic like SoND? if you expect a better album you’re sure to be disappointed, but All Shall Fall delivers on being another great record from Immortal, and that’s all I really wanted.

Artist: Scale the Summit
Album: Carving Desert Canyons
Track: The Great Plains
I’m not going to lie to you, this album is all about guitar wankery. That doesn’t float everyone’s boat, but this is some impressive progressive instrumental metal by some guys who know what they’re doing.

Artist: Crippled Black Phoenix
Album: 200 Tons of Bad Luck
Track: 444
Crippled Black Phoenix is a sort of post rock/doom metal supergroup, with members from Mogwai, Electric Wizard, and other bands. They weave a gloomy series of epic-length songs combining the expected doom and post-rock genres with some laid back dreamier Floydesque passages and more aggressive hardcore sounds as well.

Artist: Blut Aus Nord
Album: Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars
Track: The Alcove of Angels (Vipassana)
All year, I expected this to be my #1 album of the year. In this release, Blut Aus Nord combines some of the melodic shoegazy aspect of the current crop of French black metal with a basis in the harshness that is elemental to classic black metal, in an amazing way. Then, somewhere in the course of the album, some soaring soloing somberly swoops in and out like whalesong and you’re hooked.

Artist: Baroness
Album: Blue Record
Track: War, Wisdom and Rhyme
Baroness is a band I’m still exploring, after having been introduced to them late in the year by a friend, but I was impressed enough by this album for it to shoot to the top of my list after only a few weeks of listening. It combines a sludgy metal with southern rock and acid/stoner rock in an engulfing wall of sound.

Artist: Ben Nichols
Album: The Last Pale Light in the West
Track: The Kid
This is a bonus song from an album that deserved a place somewhere in my best-of lists, but I couldn’t quite fit into either my 2008 or 2009 list. Ben Nichols is the lead singer of Lucero, and this, his first solo album, had an official release date in January of 2009, but because of a download available with preorders was all over the internet by September or October of 2008. I had considered it a 2009 release so left it off the 2008 list, but it seems like everyone else veered the other way. So here it is, belatedly, a great short concept album based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, combining Ben’s excellent songwriting with a more stripped-down country sound than what his band Lucero is playing these days.

#0073 – MMVIII CE MF

My Best Albums of 2008 Show!

These are the albums I have decided are the best albums that a) I’ve listened to, b) have an official 2008 release date, and c) are full-length LPs, not EPs or compilations.

Since I listen to a broad variety of music, some of the segues are a little jarring. Some voiceovers might help there but since my microphone isn’t currently available that’s not going to happen. Since the mix clocks in around 80 minutes, you don’t need me babbling on anyway.

I’ll be playing one song from each of my 20 favorite albums of the year, counting down from #20 to #1.


20. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Wild fun mashups. No source is sacred. For instance, in the sample track, Queen, the Police and the Jackson 5 are shaking their asses along with Busta Rhymes and Wu Tang. Can’t beat that.
Song: What It’s All About

19. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Perennial favorites of mine. This won’t go down as one of their true classics but there are some darn fine songs on here.
Song: 3 Dimes Down

18. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
Rocking Boss worship
Song: Miles Davis & The Cool

17. Darkestrah – The Great Silk Road
Kryg black metallers, second year in a row they’ve appeared on my list
Song: Cult Tengri

16. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down In The Light
Will Oldham’s back, didn’t care too much for his last one but plenty to make up for it here.
Song: So Everyone

15. Kiuas – The New Dark Age
Finnish Heavy/Power Metal favorites of mine, they typically use elements of more extreme metal but the sample track is more of a straightforward acoustic powerballad.
Song: After The Storm

14. Neuraxis – The Thin Line Between
Melodic Technical Death Metal with progressive elements
Song: Oracle

13. Clutchy Hopkins – Walking Backwards
Mysterious purveyor of chill beats
Song: Song for Wolfie

12. Amon Amarth – Twilight Of The Thunder God
Swedish Melodic Viking Metal. And of course as you know, Vikings are awesome. Also wins for best album cover of the year and best video of the year.
Song: The Hero

11. Blitzen Trapper – Furr
Fantastic blend of pop and Americana, alternately channeling the Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Petty…
Song: Saturday Nite

10. Spiritualized – Songs in A & E
Intense psychedelic rock, I was blown away by their set at Pitchfork
Song: I Gotta Fire

09. Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life
Just some good old-fashioned country music
Song: South Georgia Sugar Babe

08. Harvey Milk – Life… The Best Game In Town
Chugging churning sludge metal that still manages to contain some surprising pop hooks
Song: Motown

07. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
Canadian Americana? fuzzy low-fi energetic rock/pop with eager vocal harmonies, just very pleasing to the ears.
Song: Don’t Haunt This Place

06. Elliott Brood – Mountain Meadows
More Canadians, they call their sound “Death Country” This album seems to combine the things that worked in their Tin Type EP and their last full-length Ambassador
Song: The Valley Town

05. Cynic – Traced In Air
Progressive Tech Metal with robot singers? Actually less of the robotic voices this time around, and the sound is a little more prog and a little less metal but still musically sound and deftly performed.
Song: Evolutionary Sleeper

04. Guillotine – Blood Money
Swedish thrash metal that brings to mind some great older German thrash metal. Tight, energetic. Great riffs, pummeling drums.
Song: Welcome To Dying (Death, Destruction, and Pain)

03. Týr – Land
Faroese Viking Metal, calling heavily on traditional poetry and Viking choruses.
Song: Valkyrjan

02. Akimbo – Jersey Shores
Epic hardcore, reminiscent of Oceanic-era Isis, a concept album about sharks. Sharks, like Vikings, are awesome.
Song: Great White Bull

01. Murder By Death – Red of Tooth and Claw
Southern Gothic, deep-voiced crooner singing over rich instrumentation. I’ve described it as Nick Cave singing an Ennio Morricone western soundtrack with cellos.
Song: Ash

#0064 – You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’, Darlin’


Way back in the day, a bunch of kids thought rock and roll was boring and started playing some super fast, sloppy, but extremely catchy rock and roll and breathed new life into a music scene that kept throwing different repackaged versions of the same 3 bands at the music consuming public. That music ended up being called punk rock.

This mix has nothing to do with that.

Somewhat later, a similar group of kids, punk rockers and other malcontents, thought that country music was getting boring and decided to do something similar. Some of them threw in a rockier edge, some of them went back to country’s roots and played a more traditional style with some modern innovations, some of them were just plain weird. It’s all recognizably country, yet distinct from the shiny candy-colored pop that the country music industry keeps throwing at an audience that, admittedly, eats up the shiny candy-colored pop like it was the greatest thing ever.

This mix is mostly alt-country, with some southern rock and some twangier folk rock thrown in, and also one mainstream country song by a superstar recording artist. Oh, you know who I’m talking about, or you will when you hear that unmistakable sonorous voice. I hope you like it; feel free to leave me some comments below.

  1. Two Cow Garage – Make it Out Alive
  2. The Knitters – The Call Of The Wreckin Ball
  3. Scud Mountain Boys – (She Took His) Picture
  4. Palace Music – Work Hard/Play Hard
  5. Murder By Death – Comin’ Home
  6. Drive-By Truckers – Decoration Day
  7. Hackensaw Boys – Oh, Girl
  8. Lucinda Williams – Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings
  9. The Meat Purveyors – Thinking About Drinking
  10. The Blacks – Why Drunky?
  11. Elliott Brood – Edge of Town
  12. William Shatner – Real
  13. Lucero – My Best Girl (7″ version)
  14. The Avett Brothers – The Weight Of Lies
  15. Justin Townes Earle – Hard Livin’
  16. William Elliott Whitmore – Take It On The Chin
  17. Reckless Kelly – Drink Your Whiskey Down