Can we talk about how awesome a year 2002 was for indie music?

By the time of my senior year of high school, class of 2000, I was desperately pinning away for a back to basics rock revival. By 1999 grunge and Brit Pop, my two biggest genre obsessions, were basically extinct. Hip Hop, Boy bands and a rap/metal hybrid were dominating the charts, the airwaves and the television. Basically my worst musical nightmare. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I finally began to see a beacon of hope. That hope was The Strokes. Seems cliche to write but they really were transcendent without really being overly revolutionary in September 2001. They helped kick the door down and were at the front of the march towards the rock revival over the next handful of years. Sure other bands might have been technically more advanced and ambitious but nobody looked cooler as they played good old fashioned rock n roll with killer melodies and lyrics. Finally, after many years waiting, the tides were beginning to turn. My prayers were about to be answered. 

When the calendar flipped to 2002 a whole new era of bands were emerging, getting tons of press, played across radio and television and most importantly inspiring people to pickup the guitar again as an instrument of art. Being a rocker was cool again it seemed. I knew a vast purple patch of great music was starting to take hold across the globe, I just didn’t realize fully at the time how tremendous the overall year of 2002 was. It really was an incredible time of new bands bubbling up (The Walkmen, Interpol, The Coral) and more established bands (Wilco, Flaming Lips, Bright Eyes) hitting their artistic apex all at the same moment. If anyone really wants to get a feel for the excitement of these times I highly suggest buying Lizzy Goodman’s book “Meet Me In The Bathroom” which focuses on the rock revival in New York City between 2001 and 2011. 

So in honor of the year 2002, I’ve decided to rank my Top 20 albums of that year and provide a killer playlist of outstanding tunes. Enjoy. 

Top 20 Albums of 2002

  1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 
  2. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood To The Head
  3. Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
  4. Sigur Ros – ( )
  5. Doves – The Last Broadcast
  6. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
  7. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi battles the pink robots part 1
  8. The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Behind The Music 
  9. The Walkmen – Everyone Who Pretended To Like Us Is Gone
  10. Bright Eyes – Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
  11. Beck – Sea Changes
  12. The Coral – The Coral
  13. Spoon – Kill The Moonlight
  14. Death In Vegas – Scorpio Rising
  15. The Notwist – Neon Golden
  16. Sonic Youth – Murray Street
  17. Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
  18. Blackalicious – Blazing Arrow
  19. Trail of Dead – …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
  20. DJ Shadow – The Private Press

 

The Playlist

The Walkmen – “Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone”

Wilco – “Heavy Metal Drummer”

Doves – “There Goes The Fear”

Coldplay – “The Scientist”

Pearl Jam – “Down”

Oasis – “Songbird”

The Soundtrack Of Our Lives – “Nevermore”

Iron & Wine – “Faded From Winter”

DJ Shadow – “You Can’t Go Home Again”

The Coral – “Dreaming of You”

Interpol – “PDA”

The Flaming Lips – “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1”

Broken Social Scene – “Cause = Time”

Bright Eyes – “Lover I Don’t Have To Love”

The Hives – “Hate To Say I Told You So”

Beck – “Lost Cause”

The Notwist – “Consequence”

British Sea Power – “Childhood Memories”

Moby – “We Are All Made of Stars”

Spoon – “The Way We Get By”

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – “Relative Ways”

U2 – “Electrical Storm” (William Orbit Mix)

Death In Vegas – “Scorpio Rising”

Damon Albarn – “Sunset Coming On”

Sigur Ros – “Untitled 4”

Ekkehard Ehlers – “Plays John Cassavetes 2”

Boards of Canada – “Dawn Chorus”

Blackalicious – “Blazing Arrow”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Bang”

Sonic Youth – “The Empty Page”

Badly Drawn Boy – “Silent Sigh”

LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge”

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Can’t Stop”

Bruce Springsteen – “The Fuse”

So This Was 2018….

I have to admit that with each passing year I find less and less albums that I truly love enough to listen to straight through on multiple occasions. I’m not sure if that is a reflection of the current state of the music industry or just my own personal listening habits. I still think there are tons and tons of fantastic tracks being made on a yearly basis. I’m just not finding a lot of them strung together on the same album release it seems. There are still rays of hope out there for the future of the album format. Rookie bands like Rolling Blackouts Costal Fever, Soccer Mommy and Foxwarren delivered the goods and have my complete attention moving forward.

Anyways, without further ado, here are 10 of my favorite albums of 2018 followed by 25 of my favorite songs from this calendar year. It is a pretty eclectic list that leans hard on indie rock but with a handful of hip hop jams sprinkled in. Also thank you to anyone who has read this site over the last few months. It is very much appreciated.

 

My Favorite 10 Albums

Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard

Soccer Mommy – Clean

The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt

KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Bill Ryder-Jones – Yawn

Low – Double Negative

 

My Favorite 25 Songs

Kurt Vile – “Loading Zones”

Spiritualized – “A Perfect Miracle”

Arctic Monkeys – “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”

Bill Ryder-Jones – “Don’t Be Scared, I Love You”

Bradley Cooper – “Maybe It’s Time”

Young Fathers – “In My View”

Childish Gambino – “This Is America”

Soccer Mommy – “Your Dog”

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Kite”

J Mascis – “See You At The Movies”

Interpol – “If You Really Love Nothing” (Reimagined by Petr Aleksander)

Thom Yorke – “Unmade”

Rolling Blackouts Costal Fever – “Talking Straight”

KIDS SEE GHOSTS – “Reborn”

Low – “Disarray”

Kanye West – “Ghost Town”

Conor Oberst – “No One Changes”

Foxwarren – “Lost On You”

The Coral – “Reaching Out For A Friend”

The 1975 – “Love It If We Made It”

Rostam – “In A River”

Parquet Courts – “Tenderness”

Iceage – “Pain Killer” featuring Sky Ferreira

Jonny Greenwood – Tree Synthesisers

Jeff Tweedy – “From Far Away”

 

 

 

I’d Love It If The 1975 Made It

I walked into A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships having never listened to a note of music from The 1975 prior. Sure I’ve seen the name over the years on various music sites and concert posters in New York City but I never engaged the music until now. I only really took notice when comparisons with Radiohead’s Ok Computer started popping up online. Led by lead singer Matty Healy making the very first allusion to it over a year before its release. Those are big time claims and being a massive Radiohead fan, I decided to jump in and investigate those bold proclamations. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Will The 1975 answer it’s call?

To be honest, the album sounds nothing like Ok Computer sonically. The production is way too pristine and upbeat for Radiohead despite some really dark lyrical content from Healy. The only true hallmarks of Radiohead’s musical footprint can be found on “How to Draw / Petrichor” which sounds like Kid A noodling meets Aphex Twins’ “Girl/Boy Song”, “Be My Mistake” and “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies” that share different elements of “True Love Waits”. The former borrows ideas from the “True Love Tape Loop” and the latter from the acclaimed acoustic rendition found on I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. The homage gathering the most attention is “The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme” with its robot/Siri/Alexa like voice over narration. I’m not too keen on the robot’s commentary but the background music is beautiful and again harks back to the “True Love Tape Loop” as mentioned previous. 

What A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships does contain in its 58 minutes is harsh critiquing of today’s modern society and the way millennials behave within it. The album is short on solutions to these life headaches but has no problem declaring a list of grievances in grand fashion. Another underlying theme on this record is Healy’s heroin addiction and recovery. Every song you think is about love is actually an ode to heroin. It’s just cleverly disguised. The LP contains three huge bangers, “Love It If We Made It”, “Give Yourself a Try” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You)” which serve as the tent poles for this release. I find great merit in a guitar based band that can still crank out a catchy tune that can currently be heard on what is left of modern radio and rack up huge Spotify streams. I’m curious to see where The 1975 take this newly found universal acclaim and hype. Matty Healy seems like the type of guy who wants to be a huge star, in a huge band and has no problem letting you know that. What makes that even more impactful is he has the music to back up those claims. The band promises their next album will be out by next summer’s festival season that is currently titled Notes on a Conditional Form. We shall see if Matty Healy can find any real emotional connection in society he so desperately is searching for on A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships.

Grade: B+

Mark it….FAB! The Best of The White Album box set

The White Album turned the big 5-0 this week and much like last year’s 50th birthday celebration for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a grand rollout of goodies was included. Giles Martin, son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, remixed the entire album for today’s millennial ears with some good and some getting use to results. The remix will of course take some time to adjust to, the White Album has sounded only one way since 1968 and not many ever called for it to be cleaned up or fiddled with in the first place. It’s a masterpiece through and through. Warts and all.

The highlight of this extravaganza is of course the Esher demos that were done at George Harrison’s bungalow in May of 1968. It features almost every song on the proper album plus songs like “Not Guilty”, “Junk”, “Child of Nature”, “Sour Milk Sea” and “Circles”. It’s basically The Beatles Unplugged and it makes me wonder why something like this wasn’t mined decades ago because the material is a fantastic listen. If you love The Beatles go out and buy it. You won’t be disappointed. It’s worth the price of admission alone. 

The rest of the deluxe box set includes a wealth of studio demos and outtakes. I’ve listed below what I feel are the true gems of the batch and offer new perspective on The Beatles creative process.

Revolution 1 (Take 18) – A 10 minute slow honky tonk attempt with plenty of messing around and jamming. The Beatles still unsure what direction to take John’s new protest anthem.

A Beginning (Take 4) / Don’t Pass Me By (Take 7) – Ringo’s debut Beatles composition begins with a lovely George Martin conducted orchestral arrangement (previously heard on Anthology 3) before a country hoedown takes over.

Good Night (Take 10 with a Guitar Part from Take 5) – A complete 180 from the lush strings laden version that caps off the studio album. Ringo is joined by John, George and Paul who sing supporting harmonies with finger picking guitars. Truly a breath taking moment for this box set. Who knew material of this caliber lay in the vaults?

Cry Baby Cry (Unumbered Rehearsal) – A stark contrast to the final acoustic rendition, this attempt at the song is led by heavy organ playing that reminds me of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” which was a huge influence on John Lennon back in 1966.

Helter Skelter (First Version / Take 2) – A slow burning 13 minute bluesy rocker with loads of guitar jamming and minimal drumming. A far cry from Paul trying to make the loudest rock song ever made in retaliation to Pete Townshend writing The Who classic “I Can See For Miles”.

Hey Jude (Take 1) – Simply one of the coolest cuts found in the entire box set. Paul warming up his vocal cords moments before uttering the iconic opening “Hey Jude…” makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The last 3 minutes or so is Paul just going completely mental improvising his lyrics and losing himself in the process. Fabulous stuff.

Not Guilty (Take 102) – Without question one of the best songs The Beatles never released and I’m not sure why. George’s tune fits the overall vibe and ascetic of The White Album. This version of the song features a dirtier sounding guitar compared to the one found on Anthology 3 and an extended jam outro.

Let It Be (Unumbered Rehearsal) – Really more of a song fragment compared to the cherished version found on the album of the same name. This “Let It Be” is a bluesy psychedelic run through. Not really sure how else to describe it. I only wish we had a full 3 to 4 minute version. So fascinating to listen to after all these years.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Third Version / Take 27) – The previous outtakes of this future Beatles masterpiece were of an acoustic approach. Take 27 is heavy, grittier, with sharp guitar licks as George and Eric Clapton hone in on the final definitive version.

Happiness Is a Warm Gun (Take 19) – It has often been said that “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” is basically the entire White Album condensed into a 3 minute version. I’ve always agreed with that take. This is one of the best songs John Lennon ever sang. Superior vocals. Listening to take 19 you realize that it took a lot of work to make this song rise to the level of perfection we are so use to.

Honey Pie (Instrumental Backing Track) – When you take off Paul’s vocal track, you begin to realize that “Honey Pie” sounds like some lost Vaudeville classic from the 1920s. I have to imagine George Martin had his paws all over this one as the final product is beautifully crafted.

Long, Long, Long (Take 44) – Always one of my favorite White Album contributions, this outtake has the ghostly and eerie atmosphere dialed back several notches. Driven by George’s acoustic strumming, this song feels less about God as George once claimed and more about lost love rediscovered. The fade out ad libbing by George is also a fun little treat.

I’m So Tired (Take 7) – I’m a sucker for John Lennon studio banter and this outtake features some great stuff at the front and back ends. Not to mention John playing and singing superbly as the final version of “I’m So Tired” is eventually realized.

Julia (Two Rehearsals) – One of John’s most personal songs. You can feel his pain and longing for his mother who was taken too soon from him. Not far removed from the proper studio version. This raw outtake sounds like you are sitting right next to him in studio two in Abbey Road.

The next question is what will Apple Records and Giles Martin turn their attention to next? The smart money is on the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road but I wouldn’t be too keen on that by its self. Abbey Road already sounds like a modern day produced album and most of those songs were born out of the Let It Be sessions from earlier in 1969. I wouldn’t be against Apple Records combining the celebration of Abbey Road to also include the full sessions of Let It Be. We know a treasure trove of material was recorded during that time period. Endless hours of  outtakes, band arguments and studio jams. That is how I would personally handle potential 50th anniversary specials in 2019.

Bill Ryder-Jones – “Yawn” Review

Bill Ryder-Jones is back this month with his fantastic fourth solo album titled Yawn. When we last met Bill he was showcasing his “slacker college rock” infused album West Kirby County Primary. On that effort Bill embraced Pavement, The Strokes and shades of Lou Reed realism. On Yawn Bill takes his love of American guitar music even further by shining the spotlight on some of his slowcore influences such as Low, Bedhead, Duster and The Rivulets. A deep dive into many under the radar bands but bands people should really get to know since their fingerprints are all over this new record. 

The vocals on Yawn are all sung in a hush like manner, the lyrics tend to lean very sad but the guitar parts sure do burst with soaring optimism. Bill has a knack for writing about the experiences of everyday mundane life but he makes it sound ever so beautiful no matter how drenched in sadness some of the song topics might be alluding to. His mother on “Mither”, his father on “John”, his brother on the album cover or past lovers like “Time Will Be The Only Saviour”. The entire kaleidoscope of the human condition can be heard on Yawn. 

When Bill isn’t singing on the album he lets his guitar do the talking in grand fashion. The opening salvo of “There Is Something On Your Mind” and “Time Will Be The Only Saviour” really set the tone for a loud, swirling and feedback soaked sonic adventure. That theme is continued with great success on “Mither”, “And Then There’s You” and the roaring finale “Happy Song”. On Yawn Bill Ryder-Jones manages to become the Ray Davies of the head and heart while also showing the ferocious guitar swell of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. Buckle up for a slow burning yet highly rewarding ride of life’s constant ups and downs. 

Grade: A

Remembering “Navy Blues”

Truth be told in the fall of 1998 I had no idea who Sloan were. Sloane Peterson a definitive yes. Sloan the band a profound no. That was until my buddy Dave enlightened me about this great Canadian rock outfit called Sloan. Dave, knowing I was a huge Beatles and Oasis junkie, told me that the closest thing he’s heard to a modern day Beatles record was Navy Blues which had just dropped earlier in the spring. So I did what any 17 year old kid living in suburbia would do in 1998. I drove to the mall. Luckily for me the now defunct Wall music store had the album for a crisp $18.99. I bought it without hearing a single note played. These were the days before Napster, Limewire, Kazaa, iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, etc. Only ways to discover a band were radio, television, a concert, maybe a music magazine (usually British) or simply word of mouth. 

Sloan come out of the gate swinging on Navy Blues. Songs like “She Says What She Means”, “C’Mon C’Mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)” and “Iggy & Angus” are pure late 70s arena rock on steroids. Nothing but power chords and monster riffs. Navy Blues has more in common with a Kiss album than say Rubber Soul. That is not to say the album doesn’t contain Beatlesque moments because it definitely channels some serious mop top vibes on “Sinking Ships”, “Seems So Heavy” (an incredible Lennon Revolver era vocal take), “Suppose They Close The Door” and “I Wanna Thank You”. For me the show stealers on this record are the pre-game hockey anthem “Money City Maniacs” and the bouncing “Stand By Me, Yeah”. Two timeless tracks I’ll ride and die with on my iPhone forever. 

What strikes me the hardest when listening to Navy Blues is the production. The album sounds so organic and real. As if all band members are recording this album in the same small room, at the same time, to tape. This is clearly an analog production. Great separation between instruments, hard hitting vocals and the drumming is absolutely on point from start to finish. Whoever mixed this LP hit a home run that hasn’t landed yet. Great ears to say the least. I’d be curious to hear other bands/albums who have had this kind of mixing treatment.

It’s been twenty years and I’m glad my buddy Dave pushed not only Navy Blues on me but Sloan as an underrated band from the north. I think Dave used The Beatles line just to draw me into buying the album in the first place. Clever bastard. Discovering their discography and seeing them evolve over time has been a real pleasure. I was excited to learn that Sloan have hinted at a Navy Blues tour to commemorate this album in 2019. Hopefully a vinyl re-release is also in the works because I’m dying to add this piece to my collection. If you made it this far into my trip down memory lane you either love this album too or should rush out to listen to it. You’ll be rewarded. Trust me. 

Spiritualized – “And Nothing Hurt” Review

Jason Pierce’s eighth album under the moniker Spiritualized is a super charged tour de force performance for the 52-year old singer-songwriter. Pierce composed most of the album on his laptop using Pro Tools, scrapping it once and starting over when not satisfied with the original results. Most of the album was visualized in Jason’s head as broadcasting messages from space back to Earth concerning matters of the heart. The idea of love is a big part of this record, love from the past, the present and the future to come.

Naturally the album contains many Spiritualized hallmarks: space jazz, garage rock, psychedelia, R&B, gospel and lush strings. Opening track “A Perfect Miracle” sounds like a spiritual successor to the young man who wrote “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” 20 years earlier. This time however, closure is found and peace of mind finally achieved. Life moves on constantly and sometimes love does too. Pierce is no longer chasing the perfect idea of love. These days he is just happy to find a girl who wants to dance to Big Star on the radio as illustrated in the lullaby shuffle of “Let’s Dance” or drive endlessly down the road hand in hand like on “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”. Elsewhere Pierce pledges on “I’m Your Man” that he is not going to be anybody’s ideal Prince Charming, someone free of vices or sin, but he will love you faithfully and that is all he is looking for in return.

Pierce has floated the idea recently that this will be his final album under the Spiritualized umbrella. With output this strong and inspiring, one can only hope he deeply reconsiders this notion of stopping. There is still a lot of meat on the Spiritualized bone to devour in years to come. This is a musical project in peak form after almost 30 years of activity. The only thing that will “hurt” is if the music stops.

Grade: A-

The Coral – “Move Through The Dawn” Review

It seems like it was only just yesterday that a bunch of musically hungry teenagers from Liverpool (technically Hoylake) dropped their much hyped debut album in the summer of 2002. That self titled album was chock-full of sea shanty madness, neo-psychedelia and shades of early Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Since then the band have explored a kaleidoscope of sounds ranging from psychedelic folk, jangle guitar pop, cinematic soundscapes and dirty stoner rock. That is probably why their ninth album, Move Through The Dawn, feels like a greatest hits compilation of all the sonic textures that made The Coral so fascinating to listen to over the last 16 years.

The album opens with two tracks that have a heavy dose of Electric Light Orchestra sprinkled on top of them, “Eyes Like Pearls” and “Reaching Out For A Friend”. It seems The Coral have finally left the 60s and gone straight to mid 70s prog rock. Lead single “Sweet Release” is the catchiest song on the album and could have easily found a home on their previous album Distance Inbetween with its dirty guitar grooves. One might even say it is the “dance” track on the album. The quieter nature found on the album Butterfly House looms large on tracks “She’s A Runaway” and “After The Fair”. Elsewhere “Eyes of The Moon” harks back to the gentle folk stompers found on Magic And Medicine and “Outside My Window” channels the darker spirit of The Invisible Invasion. Penultimate track “Stormbreaker” sounds like the unofficial theme song for Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones) as she brings her wrath to the shores of Westeros.

Two of the best offerings from Move Through The Dawn can be found on the Todd Rundgren meets Big Star rocker “Love or Solution” and the bittersweet yet lush “Undercover of the Night”. Both tracks sound like they could be transported from another era in time, straight from a AM rock radio station. The Coral can capture your ear by many different paths. They can freak out like on their self titled debut, they can put a joyous bounce into your step or soundtrack the perfect sunny afternoon in the countryside. This new album has the feel of coastal driving in the summer with the top down, volume up and endless road to discover. Just keep in mind, this record is only 35 minutes long so consider looping it for your journey.

Grade: B+