Owen ‘Judas’ (a Depeche Mode cover) from the Owen LP “Other’s People’s Songs” (Polyvinyl Records)
The original was released over 20 years ago in a slightly more experimental phase of Depeche Mode, and it was an old favorite of mine in between Jawbreaker and Liz Phair. At the time, I was probably embarrassed to even admit that I liked Depeche Mode, so tender was the 19-year-old ego. The other day, I threw this CD into my car, skipped straight to the Promise Ring cover, and then became entranced by this song afterwards. The bare, vulnerable repeat of “If you want my love,” over a string arrangement and hushed backing vocals, it gets me every time. I can’t imagine what it takes to transform a multi-layered electronic song into a stripped down acoustic version that retains the initial emotion and builds on it, but I’m glad Mike Kinsella does. I’m actually glad for everything that dude does, including his drumming on the Owls second record and his drumming on the two awesome Their /They’re/There EPs I discovered this year.
Amy Blaschke ‘All of One Love’ from the AB LP “Opaline”
This entire record blew me away in one listening. I don’t sit in my car and see things through to the end for just anything on Helberta Avenue in Redondo Beach, but I did that multiple times with Amy Blaschke in 2014 because of this record. The guitar chords initially lured me into this song, and then her vocals entered, and everything clicked for an atmospheric, hushed pop song. And then halfway through the song, the drums enter and she sets a bigger fire, confident delivery in front of a band that refuses to overshadow her. It’s really just this amazing balance of powerful vocal delivery, a band that understands the meaning of her songs, and music from a place that feels pure of heart. I felt lucky to be given an early preview into this record, it’s truly great.
Braid ‘Doing Yourself In‘ from the Braid LP “No Coast” (TopShelf Records)
I feel like an ass now. Two years ago, Mike Kinsella as Owen opened up for Braid in Hollywood, got me into the show, asked me what I thought, and I was dismissive, saying something to the effect of it making me feel really old. And then this new record came out in the summer of 2014, a very long time after Braid broke up the first time. It doesn’t make me feel old anymore. Instead, it connects some part of my 24-year-old self to my present self, while allowing this band to offer a more “mature” take on the ins and outs of life. There are so many Bob Nanna moments on this record that reaffirm my belief in his ability to write a great post-pop songs, but there are also some Chris Broach moments on this record that make me think he really grew into his voice and songwriting. Maybe all emo bands should write new records in their mid 30s, see what happens?
The Life And Times ‘King of the Hive‘ from the LAT LP “Lost Bees” (Slimstyle Records)
OMFG. This song kills me. This band destroys me. The song after this one is even better because the first lyrics are “I would have killed him for you/I would have died for you/Carried a torch for you until the seas run dry.” And then I start thinking of that 2009 Pelican record and it all falls to bits. But damn, this song slays. This band’s sound is so huge when it wants to; that they don’t always want to is one of the things I appreciate most about them. If I can ever drive less than 30 miles and see them, I will wear buckle up and then wear ear plugs. I swear.
J.Robbins ‘Abandoned Mansions‘ from the EP “Abandoned Mansions” (Self-Released)
Really world? You’re gonna make J.Robbins release an EP on his own after everything he’s done for you? Apparently so. I paid $20 on Bandcamp to buy the five or so songs he released under his own name because it’s J. Robbins and he’s given me respite for years in Jawbox, Burning Airlines and Office of Future Plans. And this original number was buried in the middle — the sneer of J. Robbins discussing greed over piano and a string arrangement. And it works so amazingly well. I weirdly wake up with this song stuck in my head often. Coming from the guy who put songs in my head when I was 18, I owe this man way more than $20.
Code Orange ‘I am King‘ from the CO LP “I Am King” (Deathwish Inc.)
2014 is the first time I ever listened to a song I once could’ve passed off as electro-rap-Pantera and thought, “That’s pretty awesome.” No offense to the band of course. I have your sticker on my suitcase.
Stephen Brodsky ‘Light Hearted’ (Unreleased)
Cave In remains one of my all-time favorites because they redefined and then re-redefined themselves several times before they had ever reached their mid 20s. And then Steve Brodsky on his own did the third re-re-re, and never looked back. Somewhere along the way though, he discovered the formula for a perfect, atmospheric pop song amid the ruins of his many incarnations as a solo project. And seemingly managed to fall in love at the same time. This song was released in part on Instagram, I downloaded immediately, and listened to many times over. It’s him appreciating someone, in an upper vocal delivery, and letting things happen as they may. I could easily see this becoming one of the greatest Cave In songs ever, but I like that as a songwriter, he can keep things on different sides of the fence.
Dust Moth ‘Cusp‘ from the Dust Moth EP “Dragon Mouth” (The Mylene Sheath Records)
Ryan Fredriksen (of These Arms Are Snakes) is one of my favorite people/guitarists, and Matt Bayles (formerly of Minus The Bear) produced some of the most amazing keyboard sounds I’ve experienced in the past decade (I like him okay too). They both play in Dust Moth, along with a member of Undertow. (Alright, okay, I’m gonna like it. I knew that.) But it was not in the least what I expected it. Its sound is huge, and the music is allowed to breath, and at about 3:25 into this song, there is a clear delineation between problem and resolution using keyboards without screaming. I return to this song often because that element throws me off and keeps me on my feet every time. But even before that, the beginning is just huge.
Restorations ‘Misprint‘ from the Restorations LP “LP3” (SideOneDummy Records)
I fly a lot. And I hate it. This would be the song I would play if ever my plane started rocking violently back and forth before crashing — it calms me in times of duress. I won’t ever even try to describe the music of Restorations because of that whole weird American rock, Bruce Springsteen thing that comes up with certain bands from the places where I grew up every time they’re written about. I just know I like it and don’t need to play the whole ‘I wonder what influences them’ game. I weirdly discovered this band in Brazil, on a radio station, about a year and a half ago, went back and bought everything from the start. And even texted people from Brazil, back in N.J., to go buy their records. They lyrics of the band, they never let the listener get ahead of themselves. The chorus: “There’s this low hope on our closed circuit timeline/there’s this low hope, all the things we left behind.” I remain in the present because of lines like that.
Helms Alee ‘Heavy Worm Burden‘ from the HA “Sleepwalking Sailors” (Sargent House)
Such a weird, complicated, multi-faceted record to begin with — picking a favorite was so hard. And then after burning a CD of this and playing it in my car, well crap (I bought it by the way but only have a CD player in my car). I feel like this song strikes the balance between the two parts of the album perfectly. There is screaming, there is singing, there are quieter moments for Helms Alee (which is hard to come by) and there are certain, classic rock turned Helms Alee to 22 moments, and then it culminates in the most unexpected of ways. Maybe this is ignorance but I feel like the male/female dynamic of Helms Alee allows them to get into some really experimental, mind-blowing music that a typical male-three piece might not be able to reach. Again, I am dumb, but Helms Alee blows me away.
Mutoid Man ‘Scavengers‘ from the MM EP “Helium Head” (Sargent House)
I mention Steve Brodsky somewhere else in here — he’s singing acoustic love ballads and then this, “Scaaaaaaaaavengers, steal you soul.” Every time I have to run fast, I use this song. It’s not so far from all the eras of Cave In mixed in together in a hybrid way, and of course that’s why I like it. That the final line is “Fuck them” doesn’t hurt either. Holy crap, if you need to run fast, use this whole EP.
Self Defense Family ‘Indoor Wind Chimes‘ from the SDF EP “Indoor Wood Chimes” (Deathwish Inc.)
SDF is probably my favorite band of the past 3-4 years, and I recently got to see them at an all-ages co-op next to a laundromat in West Covina, California. They opened with this song, and it slowly blew me away. It’s not groundbreaking for the band, it’s not outside their realm of seriously abrasive, in-your-face post-hardcore — it just feels good and right for a band that continues to escape definition when every website in the world is trying to pin them down. Sometime during the set I saw, vocalist Patrick Kindlon asked the crowd if they knew of other vocalist who could pull off the tough/sentimental vibe, and for some reason I walked up to the microphone and said “Walter Schreifels.” Patrick looked back at me and said, “Cool, I never liked any of his music though.” I respected that. And then I bought a t-shirt.
Sun Kil Moon ‘Carissa‘ from the SKM LP “Benji” (Caldo Verde Records)
When this was released, I was happy, already overwhelmed with new music from Mark Kozelek, and not specifically ready to get completely bummed out by another Sun Kil Moon record. I don’t say that with offense either. “Among The Leaves” was a brilliant, depressing as all hell record, and because of it, I went to a dark place and came out better in the end. But was I ready to do it again? I had to try — I bought it as an experiment. And ‘Carissa’ got me right away. It’s an honest story, about a cousin dying because of a fire pit explosion in Ohio, and it’s not dressed up at all. I feel like it’s Mark Kozelek just telling stories, about the melancholy he deals with on a daily basis. And I identify with that. I also put Kozelek into a corner with the “geography folk” tag because he talks about traveling from place to place so much, and this record is a step away from that experience. He’s getting older, dealing with death all around him, and bare enough to discuss it in a frank manner.
Young Widows ‘Doomed Moon‘ from the YW LP “Easy Pain” (Temporary Residence Records) (song starts at 16:00 in the link)
First they were crazy loud (first record), then they were a little less loud (second record), then they got quiet (third), and now they’re loud again (fourth record, out this year). I should go back — the third record (“In and out of youth and lightness”) was the record I listened to while driving to the hospital every day a few summer ago, and I really can’t listen to it anymore because of the trauma attached to it. I had trepidations about even buying the new record, but couldn’t put a band I loved on a never-to-be-touched shelf like that. ‘Doomed Moon’ is the song I go back to again and again. It’s painful, exploratory and makes me return because I continually ask myself, “How did they get that sound? What did they use? And what made them want to crush it about a minute into the song?” Those are good questions.