My Favorite Albums of 2016

I’m not sure what happened to 2016. In the annals of bad years, 2016 will go down in infamy. We lost Prince and Bowie. We lost Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe. Gene Wilder and Alan Rickman. Harper Lee and Pat Conroy. Garry Shandling and Garry Marshall. And then we elected Donald J. Trump to the most powerful job in the world. 2016 pretty much sucked (and it’s not quite over yet).

So why should I be surprised that for the first time in decades of compiling my favorite albums of the year I struggled to find 10 albums to make the list? For whatever reason, most of my favorite artists didn’t release new albums this year. And while we did get one magical farewell album from one of the greatest of all time, this year’s lot (for me anyway) would make Ziggy Stardust catch the first rocket back to from wherever he came.

That said, all is not lost. I’m pleased to report I did manage to find 10 albums that I liked enough to make a list this year. I’m tempted not to put them in any order, but like they say, no guts no glory. So here goes:

10. Sturgill Simpson —  A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Has hell frozen over? Is that, dear lord, a country album in a Len Gutman top 10 list? I’ll be the first to admit I had no idea who Sturgill Simpson was until his incredible cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom started making the rounds on the Interwebs. The song gives me goosebumps every time I hear it and I knew I had to listen to the whole album when it came out. Admittedly, Simpson is not your typical twangy pop country crap — he is described as alt country or outlaw country. Whatever you call it, the man has chops and can write a song.  A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a really soulful album that was inspired by his young son. Frankly, any album that features the Dap Kings is alright in my book.

9. Band of Horses — Why are you OK? It’s been six years since Infinite Arms made my top 10 list and truthfully I haven’t listened to much BOH since then. Something made me listen to this year’s Why are you OK? and I’m really happy I did. This Seattle band known for its Americana sound is definitely worth exploring, like this Casual Party.

8. Kaiser Chiefs — Stay Together. I didn’t know much about Leeds, UK band Kaiser Chiefs until I listened to Stay Together and I have to say they fall right in my sweet spot. I really love 80s inspired bands like Franz Ferdinand, Phoenix and The Kooks and Kaiser Chiefs fits the mold. I am definitely going back to listen to some of their older records to hear what I’ve been missing. In the meantime, check out Parachute from Stay Together.

7. Fitz and the Tantrums —Fitz and the Tantrums. The self-titled third album from Fitz and the Tantrums is another great dance album filled with that unmistakable Fitz sound. I make no apologies for loving these guys and while I certainly didn’t like this album as much as the band’s first two I did enjoy it. I was also fortunate to see them live this year for the fourth time in the past few years and you’re simply not going to find a more enjoyable live concert experience. Bring your dancing shoes and don’t forget to clap your hands to the beat.

6. Red Hot Chili Peppers — The Getaway. The Chili Peppers’ first album came out in 1984, the year I graduated from high school. I have to admit that over the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with them. I didn’t like them early on, although here and there a song caught my attention. It wasn’t until 2002’s By The Way that I was really hooked, and I played that album over and over for years. By the time Stadium Arcadium came out in 2006; however, I’d cooled on them and that’s the way it stayed until the first time I heard Dark Necessities this summer. Oh man, that song stuck in my ear and when the full album was released I was a Chili Peppers fan again! Credit goes to Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse), who produced The Getaway, and put his unmistakable stamp on it. Damn, that guy knows how to make an album.

5. Bob Mould — Patch the Sky. You’ve got to appreciate a guy who finds his sound early on and sticks with it. When you hear Bob Mould there’s no mistaking it. Whether you first found him back in the 80s with Hüsker Dü or in the 90s with Sugar, I venture to guess that if you’re a Mould fan you like it all — as I do. So it really wasn’t a huge surprise when Patch the Sky came out in March and it was vintage Mould. If you are a fan and haven’t heard it yet I urge you to give it a listen and start with Voices in my Head. If you’re not a fan, you probably weren’t alive in the 80s!

4. The Temper Trap — Thick as Thieves. If you listened to music in 2009 you undoubtedly heard The Temper Trap’s huge hit Sweet Disposition, which went Gold in the U.S. and Platinum in the U.K. and the band’s home of Australia. But like me, you may have thought they were a one-hit wonder. Yes, they’ve been going strong down under since then, but Thick as Thieves should really put them back on the map around the world. The Temper Trap has a great sound that is one part modern and another part 80s throwback. I’ve listened to this record a lot since it came out this summer and it is solid all the way through, including this great track Fall Together.

3. Dawes — We’re All Gonna Die. Rarely does a band place back-to-back records on my favorite albums list, but this year following on the heels of 2015’s wonderful All Your Favorite Bands comes We’re All Gonna Die. I just love their sound, which has been described as having a Laurel Canyon vibe. Dawes is the kind of band that’s perfect for listening to while sitting on your patio on a warm day with a cold beer. Like I said last year, Dawes is an unabashed throwback to the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown. Kick back and just Roll with the Punches.

2. Kings of Leon — Walls. I couldn’t get enough of KoL during the Only by the Night and Come Around Sundown years, but I cooled on the Followill boys in 2013 when Mechanical Bull came out. I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and in truth they were pretty overexposed there for a while. So my expectations were low when Walls came out this autumn, and maybe that’s what did it for me. Walls is KoL’s best album since 2008’s Only by the Night and since it just came out a few week’s ago I expect it will get even more ingrained in my head as time goes on. All due respect to the top album on my list this year (it deserves all the accolades it gets), Walls is really my favorite record of 2016. Take a listen to Waste a Moment and tell me I’m not right!

1. David Bowie — Blackstar. What can you say about Blackstar that hasn’t already been written? For Bowie fans it was a surprise farewell album that upon his death just a few days after its release left us stunned and in awe of the man’s genius. Who else but Bowie could have written an album about his own impending death with such grace and style. Blackstar is dark and moody, but the message is clear — his time was up. I challenge anyone not to get chills watching the video for Lazarus. Ironically, I had been listening to a lot of Bowie in the months prior to his death and I was critical of myself for not having dived deeper into the man’s discography earlier in my life. That changed in the weeks following his death as I listened to Bowie nonstop and will continue to do so until my own star is extinguished. I suspect Blackstar will take home plenty of Grammy Awards and will go down in history as the best swan song ever written. I’m not going to argue it wasn’t the best album of an otherwise mediocre year.

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The Purple Reign of Prince Rogers Nelson

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In the summer of 1984 I had just graduated from high school and the world was my oyster. I had car and a hot girlfriend, I was heading off to college in late August, and I quit my job without telling my parents — I had nothing but time. My girlfriend and I went to the beach, we sneaked off to find places to be alone and we did whatever 18-year-old kids do. And the soundtrack to that summer was Purple Rain.

Prince was already huge by then on the heels of 1999, which catapulted him from a fringe R&B artist to rock and roll royalty. MTV was in its heyday and Prince had enormous hits with 1999, Delirious and Little Red Corvette. Purple Rain was released in June, though we had already heard tracks from the album on the radio and by June we knew all the lyrics and dance moves from the videos. When the film hit theaters, we lined up to see it at the largest theater in the area to take it all in with the giant screen and Dolby sound. It was, for us, a revolution.

Prince was larger than life and one of the first true crossover artists with appeal to R&B, Soul, Rock, Pop and Alternative music fans alike. He was George Clinton, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson rolled into one. Thriller had come out six months earlier, and like everyone we liked it and danced to it and loved the music videos. But Michael was safe. He wasn’t really dangerous. He wasn’t subversive. He wasn’t sexual. He was mainstream and our parents liked him. Prince was everything MJ was not — and he made our parents nervous which made us like him even more. If Prince came on the radio while we were in the car with our parents, they blushed at the lyrics and we secretly laughed inside knowing we alone knew Little Red Corvette was not about a car.

Eighteen year old kids are like halflings — not really kids and not yet really adults. We were exploding with sexual energy and Prince made us feel grown up. I heard someone once describe Prince as “oozing sex” and that feels right. His lyrics were sometimes raw and sometimes double entendre, but almost always sexual in nature. They hit us right in our sweet spot and we couldn’t get enough.

And then there was Purple Rain. After watching the film the first time (and we watched it over and over) we felt like we understood Prince. We knew the film was semi-autobiographical, whatever that means, and we knew he expressed himself through his music. Purple Rain was about a young man overcoming his rough family life and his desire to have his music understood to reach his dreams. “The Kid” breathed via his music. And we felt it in our bones. When he plays Purple Rain after his father shoots himself, we are in that audience feeling his pain and his love. And like everyone else, we finally understood Prince.

But the movie is secondary really. Purple Rain is about the music. Top to bottom, song for song, it is a marvelous album. It’s a rock opera. You can dance to it, grind to it and cry to it. It’s soulful and it rocks. A lot of great mainstream albums came out in 1984 including Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Van Halen’s 1984. But 1984 will always be about Purple Rain for me and my friends.

Purple Rain was (and is) a great album and it has the most meaning for me because of when it came out and the impact it had on me. But it’s not even my favorite Prince album! That honor goes to 1987’s Sign ‘o the Times, which is a much more mature record musically and lyrically. In Sign ‘o the Times Prince shows us he can write about more than sex and women. The Village Voice wrote that it: “established Prince as the greatest rock and roll musician of the era—as singer-guitarist-hooksmith-beatmaster, he has no peer.”

I admit I haven’t listened to much of Prince’s more recent efforts. I’m sure they are wonderful and I’ll probably spend some time with them now that he is gone. It’s been about 24 hours now since we first heard the news that he was gone, and I’ve listened to nothing but Prince since then and I’ll probably listen to Prince all weekend. I will relive the hits and marvel at how great they were (1999 is actually playing on the radio in the car dealership service waiting room as I write this). And I will listen to deep tracks and remember them too. I’ll probably download Sign ‘o the Times and Parade and Around the World in a Day and listen to them in their entirety as well. And I will miss Prince. But he left a lasting legacy. We’ll always have his music. And for that we should all be grateful.

‘Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last’

Favorite Albums of 2015

I think this year was a pretty decent year for music, despite the fact that the majority of my favorite artists did not release new albums. That simply meant I looked outside my sweet spot for new music and for someone my age that’s a good thing. No point in letting yourself get stale. A lot of people my age say there’s no good music out there anymore, but I couldn’t disagree more. You just have to look, or rather listen. I suppose I could play the same artists over and over and be happy, but for me the hunt is as fun as the catch. There’s a new documentary film out this year about the history of Tower Records called All Things Must Pass. And while I have not seen it yet, the trailer reminded me of how important Tower Records was to me in my youth. I literally considered hanging out at Tower Records a night out, flipping through the rows of LPs, talking with pierced and tatted employees about the latest records, copping a squat by the magazine rack looking through copies of NME and Rolling Stone. When I worked at a record store in college I expanded my musical tastes exponentially because I was able to be exposed to so much new music.

These days, SiriusXM has become my Tower Records. I can listen to my favorites from the 80s on First Wave, the 90s on Lithium, or rock on Classic Vinyl. But more often than not I tune into The Spectrum, and in addition to my favorites I hear new music by bands I’ve never heard of…and some of them stick. And some of them become my new favorites, like The National, Phoenix, Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire. Even better, by subscribing to a streaming music service like Google Play I can listen to entire albums by new bands to go beyond the hit tracks and see if there’s more there. Or I can read about an artist on the web and give them a listen without making a commitment. Some of them turn out to be duds, but more than a few end up on my year-end favorites list. Which brings me back to my favorite albums of 2015, which consists of a nice mix of established artists and newer artists.

First, a few honorable mentions. I really liked the new Blur record The Magic Whip, especially on the heels of Damon Albarn’s amazing solo album from last year, Everyday Robots.  25 by Adele is exactly what we expected, and although for me it’s nowhere near as good as 19 and 21, it’s still Adele and it’s still wonderful. Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes is bluesy goodness. Squeeze delivered a nice little reminder of why Difford and Tilbrook will always be among the best songwriters in rock and roll history with their first new album in decades — Cradle to the Grave. And speaking of history, one of the biggest surprises of the year for me was Pete Townshend’s reinterpretation of Quadrophenia with the Royal Philharmonic — seriously, give this a listen. Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie is a solid (though not great) album by one of my favorite bands. Finally, while it won’t be released until Dec. 18, early indications are that I’m really going to like Cage the Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty (which was produced by Dan Auerbach). And now, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2015:

10. Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men —  This follow-up to the Icelandic band’s first album, 2012’s My Head is an Animal, is really great. It’s quite a bit more mellow than their debut, which was one of my favorite albums of 2012. While it’s probably a disappointment sales-wise following the huge success of My Head is an Animal (which sold more than two million copies), it nevertheless delivers the same lovely and moving sound of Nanna Hilmarsdóttir’s voice.

9. Return to the Moon by El Vy — What a happy surprise  it was when I heard Return to the Moon on the radio the first time and couldn’t believe The National had a new album out that I didn’t know about. Well, turns out it was indeed The National’s Matt Berninger on lead vocals but it was a side project not a new album by one of my favorite bands. I don’t know what it is these days, but musical collaboration seems to be on the rise. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with Brent Knopf before hearing this album, but I’m sure glad he and Matt decided to do an album together.

8. California Nights by Best Coast — Lead singer Bethany Cosentino cited Gwen Stefani, Sugar Ray and the Go Go’s as influences for California Nights and the result is pure California pop goodness. I don’t hear much No Doubt in the album, but there’s most definitely a Go Go’s vibe and frankly a Beach Boys vibe. This is Best Coast’s third studio album and the second to make my year-end list. They are the perfect example of a band I never would have found without doing some work — and I’m so glad I did.

7. A Head Full of Dreams by Coldplay — I’m an unapologetic fan of all things Coldplay but even I have to admit last year’s Ghost Stories album was a disappointment. And I was as surprised as everyone else when Coldplay announced a new album this fall, and I was skeptical, but after just a few listens I really like it. It’s upbeat with a bit of a dance edge and has 11 really solid songs on it, especially the disco-infused title track. Welcome back Chris and friends.

6. All Your Favorite Bands by Dawes — This band from Los Angeles tend to get put in the “folk rock” category but I think they are in a category of their own I like to call “California Cool.” I probably did not coin that genre, but it fits. Think 1970s California soft rock — Jackson Browne and the Eagles. This is perfect music for cruising up the coast in a convertible, which is exactly what I was doing when I discovered Dawes a few years ago. I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever.

5. Love Stuff by Elle King — Quite the debut album from 26-year-old Tanner Elle Schneider, aka Elle King. With a huge voice and a bad-ass attitude to go along with it, King is the anti-Taylor Swift and wants you to know it. She may not be America’s Sweetheart, but she’ll be around for a long time if she keeps writing songs like Ex’s and Oh’s. I can envision dad Rob Schneider sitting up in the balcony yelling “you can do it.”

4. Yours, Dreamily by The Arcs — Released on Sept. 4 (my son’s birthday), this album featuring the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach did not disappoint. Yes, it sounds like the Keys, but if you’ve read my favorite albums lists over the past decade you already know how much I love the Black Keys. This solo project has a nice blues/soul feel that is a little less raw than the Keys, and while “Outta My Mind” could have easily been a hit for the Keys, my favorite tracks are deeper on the album, especially Put a Flower in Your Pocket. Recorded at the Sound Factory in LA, this album got a lot of plays on my stereo this fall.

3. Positive Songs for Negative People by Frank Turner — In 2013 I kept hearing this song on XM called Recovery by Frank Turner and it really grew on me. I had never heard of Turner but I listened to the whole album and really liked it. This year Turner released his sixth album and I really love it. Turner’s music is acoustic post-punk folk with a hard edge and great lyrics. I’m sure fans of his early work think he is too mellow these days, but there’s nothing wrong with being more accessible.

2. Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons — Babel was my favorite album of 2012 and it is sure to land high on the list of my favorite records of the decade, so imagine how excited I was when the band announced it would release its third album in 2015 but that it would be more modern and would not include the banjo. What! The Mumfords without a banjo? Sacrilege! Guess what? Wilder Minds is tremendous and I think Believe is probably my favorite Mumford & Sons song ever. So they evolved. What’s wrong with that? I absolutely love Wilder Mind and listen to it all the time, and almost six months later I still turn the volume up when Believe or The Wolf comes on the radio.

1. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists — 2015 began with this gift from the Decemberists and the album never stopped delivering. Frankly, it wasn’t even close this year — this album is head and shoulders above the rest for me. I was fortunate as well to see them live early this year and they were spectacular.  Make You Better was easily my favorite song of the year, and the lesser known and hauntingly beautiful Lake Song stands out as well. The Decemberists have firmly planted themselves near the top of my list of favorite bands and I look forward to many years of new music from Colin and the band.

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Advice for the Young at Heart

One of the great joys of fatherhood for me has been introducing my son to the music of my youth. It’s no secret I’m a music freak, and my musical heart is strongly rooted in the 1980s. As a father you can only hope your kids at least appreciate the things you loved in your youth, but it’s something entirely unexpected and incredibly rewarding when your kid shows true exuberance for one of your loves.

Tonight, as part of my birthday weekend, my son Connor and I will be seeing Tears For Fears in concert. The duo is without question one of my all-time favorite bands, and I have been fortunate to have seen them in concert three times over the past 30 years. But what makes tonight’s show so special is that my son is so excited about seeing Curt and Roland tonight that he is almost giddy. Yesterday I sent him a copy of the set list from the band’s show in Tulsa the other night and he was ecstatic about what we will be hearing tonight in Chandler. Even though Tears For Fears is one of my favorite bands, I’m more excited for him. And isn’t that really what parenthood is all about?

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Connor got to meet the legendary Midge Ure last summer, one of his musical heroes.

Connor loves 80s modern rock. When he was very young, he would sit in his car seat in the back of my car and sing along to whatever I was listening to, and that was most often 80s music. Depeche Mode. REM. U2. Talking Heads. Peter Gabriel. Joe Jackson. The Clash.  As he got older, his tastes grew to appreciate the vast majority of my favorite artists. But that appreciation grew into a love and that was totally unexpected. At one time or another during the past few years I’d walk to the back of the house to hear the kid blasting XTC or Howard Jones or Talking Heads.

At one time or another during the past few years if you asked him his favorite band, not his favorite 80s band, but his favorite band period, he probably would have said Ultravox. Which is why when we had the chance to see Midge Ure perform last summer here in Phoenix he considered witnessing Midge perform Vienna one of the highlights of his young life. After the show, which also featured Howard Jones, China Crisis and Thompson Twins, he got to meet Midge and the photo embedded in this blog post is one of his favorite images ever. Last year I showed him what for me is the greatest concert video ever filmed, Jonathan Demme’s sublime Stop Making Sense. He loved it, and now Talking Heads is at or near the top of his favorite bands list.

But above all, Tears For Fears reigns supreme. Connor agrees with me that The Hurting is arguably the best modern rock album of the 80s. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Mad World or Pale Shelter blasting from his speakers. He loves every song they have ever released, as do I. He loves the unheralded but wonderful Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, which was released in 2004 and is the band’s last studio album (although they are recording a new one right now!). It’s an album that very few people outside of true fans have probably heard, yet still classic TFF.

One of the problems with loving 80s music is unless you were of age in the 80s your chances of ever seeing one of these great bands live is slim. Yes, there are a few retro shows now and then, but unfortunately Connor is not likely to ever see live performances by Talking Heads or XTC or The Smiths. Which is one reason why tonight’s Tears For Fears gig at Wild Horse Pass is so special to him and why the best part of my birthday weekend will be experiencing the show through his eyes.

Yes, my son and I also enjoy many modern bands together. Arcade Fire. Phoenix. Black Keys to name a few. But there will always be something special, something that connects us, when it comes to the music of the 80s. I hope you have something similar to this with your offspring.

Favorite Albums of the Decade…So Far!

arcade-fire-the-suburbsBelieve it or not we’re halfway through the decade that is the twenty-teens. The first half of the decade that began in 2010 has been a delicious musical treasure trove and as I looked back on my top 10 lists for each year it was an eclectic and wonderful collection. It is clear though from my favorites that I am mellowing as I age, though there is still at least one hard rockin’ group on this list. Still, I’m definitely more of an alternative, neo-disco and Americana guy.

As always with these lists, the following represents my favorites — not necessarily what may be deemed by so-called experts as “the best” of the decade so far:

  1.  The Suburbs (2010) — Arcade Fire. I admit I came a little late to the Arcade Fire juggernaut but when I finally “discovered” them I went all in. The album, written about the Butler brothers’ early life growing up in the Houston burbs, received universal acclaim and was the surprise winner of “Album of the Year” at the Grammy’s and also won the top prize at the Brits and the Juno awards. It’s five years old now and I still listen to it all the time and seeing them live last summer was one of the highlights of my concert-going life.
  2. The King is Dead (2011) — The Decemberists. I was already a fan when this album came out but it has since become my favorite by the band. That said, their new release What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (2015)  is wonderful and I wouldn’t be surprised if it landed at or near the top of both my best of 2015 list and my end of the decade survey. Colin Meloy could sing the alphabet and I’d be enthralled.
  3. Babel (2012) — Mumford & Sons. The Mumfords burst onto the musical landscape in 2009 with Sigh No More, an album that kicked off a re-birth of Appalachian sounds that hasn’t slowed. Babel was their brilliant follow up and my favorite album of 2012.
  4. El Camino (2011) — The Black Keys. In contrast to folk-infused bands like The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons, the Black Keys bring a hard rockin’ R&B sound that never quits. Echoing bands like The Ramones, The Clash and even Led Zeppelin, Dan and Patrick Carney seem to have endless energy. I knew I was going to love this record the first time I heard Lonely Boy and saw that silly video.
  5. Lonely Avenue (2010) — Ben Folds/Nick Hornby. What do you get when you take lyrics written by one of my favorite novelists and add the fabulous Ben Folds? A crazy combination of music and story that is both memorable and great sounding. Supposedly Nick wrote the lyrics, sent them to Ben and he added the music without changing a word. That’s hard to do, especially for a guy known to write great songs himself. “Levi Johnston’s Blues” is one of the funniest songs ever: “I’m a fuckin’ redneck, I live to hang out with the boys, play some hockey, do some fishin’ and kill some moose.”
  6. Bankrupt! (2013) — Phoenix. These Frenchmen remind me so much of the bands I grew up with in the 80s and I was a huge fan of 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Bankrupt! is just as good, if not a touch better. My only disappointment is that they canceled their concert in 2013 so I’ve never seen them live. Someday.
  7. 21 (2011) — Adele. I make no apologies for loving Adele. You don’t sell 11 million copies of an album in America alone without having crossover appeal. The list of accolades and world records she set with 21 are too numerous to list here, but here’s something that tells the tale: only two other albums have spent as much time in the Top 10 — Born in the U.S.A. and The Sound of Music. Damn I loved this album from the moment I first heard “Rolling in the Deep.”
  8. Codes & Keys (2011) — Death Cab For Cutie. Not everyone liked Codes & Keys when it came out following the huge success of 2008’s Narrow Stairs, but I actually like Codes & Keys even more. In fact, You Are a Tourist from Codes & Keys is still the band’s only No. 1 hit ever, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart.
  9. Turn Blue (2014) — The Black Keys. It’s hard to keep churning out great album after great album but the Keys have been doing it for almost two decades and Turn Blue is gorgeous. Perhaps Fever and Gotta Get Away are overplayed, but that’s because they are great. That said, my favorite track is the first one, Weight of Love, which is 6:50 worth of musical genius. Oh, and how can you not love an album announced on Mike Tyson’s Twitter account.
  10. Broken Bells (2010) — Broken Bells. Top to bottom a gorgeous musical collaboration by super producer Danger Mouse and James Mercer from The Shins. I couldn’t get enough of this record and waited anxiously for the duo’s second collaboration to arrive last year. After the Disco (2014) gets an honorable mention for this list as well. Got to see them perform live last year and it was a highlight of a great year of concert going.

Almost made the list: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (2013) by Franz Ferdinand; Blak and Blu (2012) by Gary Clark, Jr.; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2010) by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

Len’s Top Albums of 2014

2013 was certainly the “year of the concert” for me. I can’t think of a year, at least not since college, during which I attended more live shows. I didn’t plan it that way, it just seemed like every few weeks there was another concert I couldn’t miss. This year alone I saw Mike Doughty, Billy Joel, Wye Oak, Broken Bells, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Fitz & The Tantrums, Foster the People, and the “Retro Futura” tour with Midge Ure, China Crisis, Howard Jones and Thompson Twins. This week I’m seeing Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams, then Fitz & The Tantrums again before the year closes out. Each concert was great and I’m hard pressed to pick a “best” of the year, but if I have to choose I’ll say Arcade Fire at the Forum in Los Angeles was probably the highlight. Although the Black Keys really rocked the U.S. Airways Center. But man that Broken Bells gig at the Marquee was spectacular. Well, you get the gist.

With so much great live music in my life this year, it’s odd then that I have struggled to come up with 10 favorite albums for 2014. As I flipped through my virtual record collection on Google Play over the past few days only a few records jumped out at me for consideration on my annual favorites list. I scanned a few online “best of” lists and nothing really got my attention either. So, maybe it was just a lousy year for new releases but a great year for touring. That said, I couldn’t come up with 10 so here’s a list of my 9 favorite records of 2014 (and one honorable mention):

  • Stay Gold — First Aid Kit: While I haven’t listened to it enough for it to qualify as one of my favorites of the year, I recently listened to the major label debut of this Swedish sister act and it really struck a chord. They have been called the female Fleet Foxes, and I definitely get that, but they remind me even more of Indigo Girls, whom I consider one of my favorite bands. It’s really hard to believe these young ladies are from Sweden given their sound, but music has no borders. Another favorite Swedish performer of mine is José González and you’d never guess he’s from Scandinavia either. I think maybe Johanna and Klara Söderberg moved to Sweden from Texas, either that or they are reincarnated southern girls. Regardless, they are talented alt-country/folk/rock performers and I plan to listen to Stay Gold a lot more in the coming weeks. Here they are on the YouTube if you’d like to check them out!
  • Caustic Love — Paolo Nutini: Here’s another border bender for you. Nutini is not from Italy despite his Italian-sounding name, but rather he’s Scottish. Frankly I don’t care where he’s from as long as he continues to croon like a Memphis soul man. I’ve been a Nutini fan for a few years now and his new record is more of the same. I will say though that Caustic Love has a little more edge to it than 2009s Sunny Side up or his 2006 breakout record These Streets which features the foot-tapping pop goodness of “New Shoes.” My favorite track off Caustic Love is Let Me Down Easy, which sounds straight out of Motown.
  • Sonic Highways — Foo Fighters: I love me some Foo Fighters when it’s time to rock out but frankly this new album is about much more than that — it’s really musical and has significantly more depth than past Foo efforts. I actually think it might be their best album ever, which is saying a lot because they’ve had a heck of a discography. Dave Grohl is so much more than just a musician, he’s a historian and a music fan as well and that appreciation for his roots shine though in this great record. Something From Nothing is a great example of that depth.
  • Everyday Robots — Damon Albarn: When you think of the British pop wave that took the world by storm in the 1990s the two bands that always stick out are Oasis and Blur. I have to admit I was always a much bigger Gallagher brothers guy, but Blur certainly had some great tunes back in the day. But while Noel and Liam have gone their separate ways after years of fighting and produced albums that pretty much sound like Oasis, Blur front man Damon Albarn took the road less traveled and created the innovative cartoon band Gorillaz. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Albarn set out on his own and the result is the Mercury Prize nominated Everyday Robots. This album is like a beautiful rainy day that you never want to end. Take a listen to Lonely Press Play to get a taste of this delicious sound. Reminds me a bit of David Sylvian.
  • Brill Bruisers — New Pornographers: How can you not love a Canadian super band, especially one with the brilliant Neko Case on vocals. I have no idea what a Brill Bruiser is, but I definitely like the sound of this album. Here they are playing the title track on David Letterman. Awesome.
  • Ryan Adams — Ryan Adams: In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Ryan Adams has been making great alt-country/indie rock music for going on 15 years now and while he hasn’t had the commercial success of the unrelated Bryan Adams this just may be his year. His self-titled 2014 release was just nominated for a Grammy for best rock album and the song Gimme Something Good from said album was nominated for best rock performance. He already has the girl (he’s married to actress Mandy Moore) and maybe now he’ll have some hardware for his trophy shelf as well.
  • Somewhere Under Wonderland — Counting Crows: Say what you want about Counting Crows, they have been pumping out great albums for twenty years and they’re one of the best live acts around as well. I count these crows among my all-time favorite bands so it should be no surprise to see their new album high on my list. If you haven’t listened to Counting Crows in a while this album may be just what you need to be reminded of how great they are. God of Ocean Tides is a great example of the gorgeous sounds of this album.
  • The Voyager — Jenny Lewis: Like Ryan Adams, whom she is touring with right now, Jenny Lewis is well-known to alt-country and indie rock aficionados. And as with Ryan Adams, 2014 has been a breakout year of sorts for the former Rilo Kiley lead singer. The Voyager is making all kinds of “best of” lists and her video for Just One of the Guys has been a viral favorite with its cross-dressing performances by Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart and Brie Larson. I have been a Jenny Lewis fan since she was a child TV star on Brooklyn Bridge! The Voyager is easily her most accessible record since her Rilo Kiley days. Give it a listen! And if you love it, go back and listen to Acid Tongue which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade.
  • After The Disco — Broken Bells: By a razor-thin margin, After the Disco was my second favorite album of 2014. Pretty impressive given this is only the band’s second album and 2010’s self-titled release was one of my favorite albums of that year as well. What do you get when you put together the musical genius that is Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) and Shins lead singer James Mercer? Pure neo-disco perfection. I was blown away by After the Disco and seeing them live earlier this year cemented this record into the penultimate place on my year-end list. Every song on this album is gorgeous, but my favorite is the title track. I know both Burton and Mercer have other lives, but I sure hope they keep making Broken Bells records together!
  • Turn Blue — The Black Keys: My favorite album of 2014 should come as no surprise to those of you who know me. No album was more anticipated by me this year and no album lived up to the hype any better. I don’t know how Patrick and Dan keep doing it, but they followed up 2011’s brilliant El Camino (my second favorite album of that year) with another gem. Turn Blue is amazing from start to finish and the Grammy voters agree having nominated it for best rock album of 2014. The Keys seem to have unlimited energy and it comes through on this album from the very start. Sure, Fever and Gotta Get Away have been played to death, but the whole record is worth over playing. It’s a tough call, but my favorite track on the record is the first track, Weight of Love. Take a listen to this live version — it just keeps building to a beautiful crescendo. I think the Keys listened to a ton of Led Zeppelin growing up in Akron, Ohio!

Len’s Top Albums of 2013

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As we come to the end of another year it’s time once again for a totally biased list of my favorite albums of the year. A few things of note this year: One, it appears disco is making a comeback. I think this is actually pretty cool, though I admit I did get awful tired of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” this summer. Two, Pearl Jam has easily become the 90s band with the most staying power, continually making very solid rock and roll albums (kiss my ass Nirvana). And three, the “Mumford” sound continued to drive good music in 2013 with great songs and albums by bands like The Lumineers, Dawes, The Avett Brothers and The Head and the Heart. All that said, here are the ten albums that I enjoyed the most this year, and if you like you can watch the videos for my favorite song from each album on a YouTube playlist I created.

  • Bad Blood — Bastille
    The debut album from this London-based band knocks it out of the park. Bastille is part of a new wave of bands that bring modern sounds together with a touch of the alternative 80s, and for my money these guys are the best of the bunch. I first saw them this summer on TV performing live at the Isle of Wight Festival and the crowd went nuts when they came out…it sort of reminded me in a small way of when U2 performed at Live Aid. I liked what I heard that day and the album is solid top to bottom. Bastille reminds me of a couple of exceptional 80s bands — Simple Minds and Big Country. Take a listen to Pompeii and decide for yourself.
  • Stories Don’t End — Dawes
    Dawes came on the scene a couple of years ago and I’ve really warmed to their sound. At first I wrote them off as Avett Brothers/Mumford clones, but in fact their sound is much less folk and much more 70s Los Angeles. Their sound has been called “Laurel Canyon” and I suppose that’s fair, but what’s wrong with being compared to the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac? Stories Don’t End is a great album — my favorite song is From a Window Seat.
  • Trouble Will Find Me — The National
    This Brooklyn band has been a staple on my “best of” lists over the past few years and for good reason. The National has carved out a unique sound amongst a wave of similar-sounding bands. You can have your One Republics, your fun, your Vampire Weekends. I’ll take the dark and gorgeous sound of Matt Berninger’s baritone. Trouble Will Find Me is another solid effort and remember, Don’t Swallow the Cap.
  • Lightning Bolt — Pearl Jam
    When I heard the first release from the new Pearl Jam album I wasn’t sure I liked it, which is odd for me as I love PJ, but one thing you can always count on with PJ is that they make complete albums and after a few listens I quickly became a fan of Lightning Bolt. It’s definitely harder rocking than 2009s Backspacer, which I LOVE, but Lightning Bolt is solid top to bottom. All things considered, PJ has secured its spot as the best and most consistent band from the 90s grunge era. Sirens is the best track on the new album in my humble opinion. Classic PJ.
  • Mechanical Bull — Kings of Leon
    KoL is a throwback. They consistently rock and seem to tour non stop. You know what you’re going to get with the Followill guys and if you like their sound you will love Mechanical Bull. I’m a fan and believe they are the best pure rock and roll band in America right now. 2008s Only By the Night was a breakthrough album and one of the biggest successes of the decade, and they followed it up with 2010s solid Come Around Sundown. I think Mechanical Bull is better than Come Around Sundown! So many great songs on Mechanical Bull, but my favorite is probably Temple.
  • Reflektor — Arcade Fire
    Surely no album had as much anticipation this year as Reflektor given the enormous critical success of The Suburbs in 2010. It was my favorite album that year and won the Grammy for best album as well. It has found a place on my all-time favorites list. A tough act to follow indeed, and while Reflektor is excellent it is not The Suburbs. Reflektor is, however, a beautiful concept album of Caribbean rhythms and mythological messaging. Leave it to Arcade Fire to produce an album that loosely tells the story of Eurydice with some voodoo thrown in. Reflektor is an album best listened to in its entirety. Sure there are some singles (like Reflektor) that will be hits and already are, but it flows together so well. Grab some headphones and a free hour or so and settle in.
  • Momentum — Jamie Cullum
    I’ve been singing the praises for Jamie Cullum for many years and his albums always seem to find their way onto my top 10 lists because they are so listenable. I continue to be surprised that Jamie is not a huge star in America like he is in the U.K. Dude even married a supermodel and still gets no love in the U.S. Well, America’s loss. Momentum is pure jazz/pop genius. If you don’t know Jamie Cullum you are missing out, and Momentum is a great place to start. Check out his beautiful cover of Pure Imagination or the synth happy Everything You Didn’t Do, which has one of the coolest videos ever.
  • More Than Just a Dream — Fitz and the Tantrums
    When Fitz and the Tantrums exploded on the scene in 2010 with Picking up the Pieces they could easily have been a one album wonder. Yes, the sound was a throwback and the look was pure 80s, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better song in 2010 than L.O.V. or Moneygrabber. But this year Fitz returned with the disco infused More Than Just a Dream and it’s even better than the first album. I was fortunate enough to see the band perform in Del Mar earlier this year and they brought down the house. Amazing sound and such a fun live band. 6 a.m. was my favorite song of the summer.
  • Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action — Franz Ferdinand
    Any fan of 80s music has to like Franz Ferdinand! If you loved their first three albums as I did, four years was way too long to wait for this year’s Right Thoughts. But it was worth the wait…another 80s and disco infused album of great songs from beginning to end. Right Thoughts set the tone and came with one of the best videos in a long while. The album has been a mainstay on my playlist since its release this summer. It’s hard to have a unique sound while simultaneously harkening back to the 80s and even 70s disco but Franz Ferdinand pulls it off like no other.
  • Bankrupt! — Phoenix
    No album got more plays for me this year than Bankrupt! and in fact I’m still listening to it a ton. The French band’s first album since 2009’s breakout smash Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (one of my favorite albums of the 2000s) is a slight departure from that album’s pure synth-pop goodness, but it’s fantastic in its own right. Bankrupt! topped several charts this year and for a while this summer Phoenix was everywhere. The first release, Entertainment, took over the airwaves in April when it came out and a few months later Trying to be Cool was equally ubiquitous. My only disappointment this year was that Phoenix cancelled its concert in La Jolla in October and I didn’t get a chance to see them live. Maybe they’ll tour again in 2014.

Len’s Top Albums of 2012

Len’s Top Albums of 2011

Len’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

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Time once again for my annual review of the top albums of 2012 according to me. No apologies here…these are not the “best” albums of the year, simply my favorite:

  1. Babel — Mumford and Sons – They may have gotten a bit overexposed this year, but when you release an album as great as Babel the attention is well deserved. No other album got as much airplay on my Spotify account this year and I still find myself putting it on even as background when I’m reading or doing other things. Such a great album. Thank you Mumfords!
  2. Blak and Blu — Gary Clark, Jr. – After Clark’s EP last year I couldn’t wait for his first full-length album and it didn’t disappoint. He’s a genuine guitar god with a hint of R&B and I always turn it up and melt into the riffs.  Best debut album in years.
  3. My Head is an Animal — Of Monsters and Men – It seems every year a single song sneaks up on me and catches my attention and this year I couldn’t get enough of “Mountain Sound” by Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men. And guess what? When the album was released in the U.S. in April the whole damn thing was great! Any band that incorporates a glockenspiel is all right by me. These guys are definitely taking advantage of the indie-folk resurgence and as you can see from my top 10 this year I’m all in.
  4. The Lion The Beast The Beat — Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – A solid follow up to 2010’s eponymous effort, which was my favorite album of that year. Grace has a rock and roll voice beyond comparison and her band can bring it. And it sure doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous!
  5. Brilliant – Ultravox – Yes, that’s right…Ultravox! Reformed after nearly 20 years, Midge Ure and company released Brilliant in 2012 and it was…well…brilliant! It’s hard to recapture the same sound after so long, but Midge’s voice is as great as ever and Brilliant could easily have been recorded in 1984. Love it.
  6. Sunken Condos — Donald Fagen – For his fourth solo album Donald Fagen dances with the date that brung him and the result is classic Fagen. If you don’t like Donald Fagen you don’t like music. Sunken Condos is nine jazz-infused pop gems.
  7. The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond – It’s pretty rare for a movie soundtrack to get much airtime in my rotation but when this soundtrack came out I couldn’t get enough. Great songs from The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Neko Case, The Civil Wars and Glen Hansard. And yes, two excellent tracks from Taylor Swift, whom I had no interest in prior to this but I love both of her songs on this record.
  8. The Sound of the Life of the Mind — Ben Folds Five – I’ll admit this “reunion” album is not as good as the old BFF or even Ben’s solo work, but it’s BFF and that’s good enough for me. There are some great tunes here including the title track and my favorite – Do It Anyway.
  9. Blunderbuss — Jack White – I’ve always been sort of luke warm on Jack White, but for some reason the songs from this album, starting with Love Interruption, hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. Shakin’ brought it home and it’s easily one of my favorite albums of the year.
  10. Halcyon — Ellie Goulding – By all accounts I shouldn’t like Ellie Goulding because frankly I’m not much into “dance” music and I am definitely not a fan of dub step or anything those weird deejays like Skrillex and DeadMau5 play. But from the first time I heard last year’s “Lights” I was hooked and Halcyon is a lovely mix of musical goodness, topped off by Ellie’s unique voice. Still not sure why she’s dating Skrillex though!

Honorable Mentions: Smilers — Aimee Mann; Little Broken Hearts — Norah Jones; Port of Morrow — The Shins; The Only Place — Best Coast; Synthetica – Metric; The Idler Wheel — Fiona Apple; Gossamer — Passion Pit.

A Life Full of Live Music

It poured last night in Phoenix and this morning my son Connor had an ear worm — he couldn’t get Rain in the Summertime by The Alarm out of his head. Why a 14-year-old kid even knows about The Alarm is a story for another day, but when he mentioned it I told him I saw The Alarm in concert in 1984 when they opened for The Pretenders at the California Theater in San Diego (remember that show Zac Shess?). This led Connor to remark: “You’ve been to a lot of concerts. Like 20,” he said. Well, more like 100 I replied. When he mentioned I was lucky to have seen so many cool 80s bands, I told him I was fortunate to live in places like San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area where great bands performed. I’ve lived in Phoenix for 18 years now and a lot of lesser known bands skip the desert when they tour.

I started thinking about how many live shows I’ve seen over the years and I thought it might be fun to try to list them all. It’s probably nowhere near 100 and it’s probably not all that impressive a list compared to some. I’m sure I’m missing some. Nevertheless, in no particular order:

  • The Kinks (my first real concert. 1979. San Diego Sports Arena)
  • The Who
  • John Cougar
  • Loverboy
  • Rush
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • Adam Ant
  • Duran Duran
  • Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper
  • The Beautiful South (2)
  • Ben Folds
  • Counting Crows (2)
  • Maroon 5
  • Depeche Mode
  • Morrissey
  • Erasure
  • Everything But the Girl (2)
  • Gorillaz
  • Howard Jones
  • Joe Jackson (3)
  • Little River Band (2)
  • Jack Johnson
  • John Legend
  • Midge Ure
  • Mike Doughty
  • Crowded House
  • Ziggy Marley
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Inner Circle
  • Sinead O’Connor
  • Paul Weller
  • Peter Case
  • R.E.M.
  • Tori Amos
  • Indigo Girls (2)
  • The Untouchables (2)
  • X
  • Stan Ridgway
  • Steely Dan
  • Tears For Fears (3)
  • The B-52s
  • Sun 60
  • The Cranberries
  • Berlin
  • The Gap Band
  • Sparks
  • Madness (2)
  • Oingo Boingo (2)
  • The Police (2)
  • Billy Joel (2)
  • Squeeze (2)
  • The Hooters
  • Jill Sobule
  • Edie Brickell and New Bohemians
  • The Pretenders
  • The Alarm
  • The Beach Boys
  • Coldplay
  • G Love and Special Sauce
  • Zee Avi
  • Spyro Gyra
  • Chris Isaak (2)
  • Seal
  • U2 (3)
  • 10,000 Maniacs
  • English Beat
  • Sara Hickman
  • Deborah Harry
  • Red Rockers
  • NRBQ
  • KC & The Sunshine Band

What about you? Are you a big concert goer? What are some of the best shows you’ve seen over the years?

Len’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

As the end of 2011 approaches it’s time for everyone to publish their “Best Of” lists for everything from films to books to music. For the past few years I have posted my lists on Facebook, but now that I have this blog it makes more sense to post them here and share via Facebook. But if you’d like to look back at previous lists head over to Facebook and you can find them via my timeline.

Without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2011:

Honorable Mentions

  • Superheavy by Superheavy — Ordinarily I’m not a big fan of so-called “supergroups” but this album tears it up and got major airplay in my car this fall. This genre-bending record features Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman, and Damian Marley. It’s R&B meets reggae meets rock and it’s great from top to bottom. Dave Stewart is really the brains behind this collaboration and that shouldn’t surprise anyone given his body of work. Jagger gives the band a rock and roll edge, and Joss Stone is her usual soulful goddess. Throw in Rahman (the Indian guy known for the for the Slumdog Millionaire music) and Damien “son of Bob” Marley and you have one of the most intriguing combinations ever recorded. Miracle Worker was the big hit this summer but I loved the whole album. Have I mentioned that I’m in love with Joss Stone?
  • The Goat Rodeo Sessions by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile — I saw these guys on The Colbert Report and was truly blown away. What would happen if you took four of the world’s best classical musicians and put them together to record a classical/bluegrass album? A Goat Rodeo apparently, which is their term for a chaotic situation. It’s friggin amazing. Take a listen to Attaboy and you’ll get the idea.

Top 10

10.  Sky Full of Holes by Fountains of Wayne — I suspect this album isn’t going to make too many “best of” lists for 2011 but FOW is one of my favorite bands and even though this isn’t one of their best efforts it’s still Fountains of Wayne and that means I like it. Sky Full of Holes is not as upbeat as the band’s last few releases, but the slower songs are still full of the story-like lyrics and biting wit that defines these guys. It’s a solid listen with a few gems. Richie and Ruben is definitely one of the highlights.

9.  Different Gear, Still Speeding by Beady Eye — Yes, it’s pretty much Oasis without Noel Gallagher but it’s Oasis nevertheless! If you are an Oasis fan (and you bloody well should be) then you’ll really love Beady Eye. This record begins where (What’s the Story) Morning Glory left off and delivers on the Oasis sound. Love it. Check out The Roller for your Oasis fix.

8.  The Awakening by James Morrison — This record sneaked up on me this year and provides some proof that Spotify is great for introducing people to new music. I’ve liked Morrison’s voice for years now but never listened to an entire record — but Spotify changes the game so I was able to hear the whole album. It’s wonderful and has inspired me to go back and listen to his older records. Take a listen to I Won’t Let You Go for a sample of his unique sound. Sure, he looks like Chris Martin but he sounds like Seal!

7.  Yes & Also Yes by Mike Doughty — This guy has been making great music since the 9os but I only discovered him a few years ago when a neighbor dragged me down to Tucson to see a live show. He has been in heavy rotation for me ever since and his new album is classic Doughty. The former lead singer of Soul Coughing keeps on rockitty rolling and his voice is one of a kind. My favorite tune on the new record is Na Na Nothing…enjoy this great song and amazing video!

6.  Ukulele Songs by Eddie Vedder — This is one of the most beautiful records in years and the combination of ukulele music and Vedder’s tremendous voice makes me want to run away to Maui for good. The ukulele is awesome and Vedder plays it like a true fan, but let’s be honest — the voice is the star of this record just like every Vedder/Pearl Jam record ever made. If you liked the Into the Wild soundtrack he did from a few years ago you’ll love this. Longing to Belong is my favorite song on this moody and gorgeous album.

5.  Codes & Keys by Death Cab for Cutie — I love DCFC and Codes & Keys is a great album. These guys keep getting better and better and I can’t get enough of their sound. Check out this amazing video for Home is a Fire directed by artist Shepard Fairey.

4.  Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay — I’m still a huge Coldplay fan and consider them one of my all-time favorite bands…so there! I’m still spending a lot of time with Mylo Xyloto to fully take in all the nuances and beauty but I have to say it’s another very strong recording from the band. Like all of Coldplay’s albums the more I listen the more I like. The hit songs are always solid, but some of the lesser known songs also rock…for example Charlie Brown which I love. I was looking forward to this release all year and it does not disappoint.

3.  21 by Adele — By now there is no denying that Adele is a superstar. 21 has taken the world by storm and tops many a “best of” list for 2011. It deserves all of the accolades and it will likely add to Adele’s Grammy count. She’s such an unassuming superstar, especially when you compare her to the likes of the other artists at the top of the charts like Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. She has an incredible voice, and for such a young woman she writes songs like she’s seen it all. I surprised a lot of my friends by listing 19 as my favorite album of 2008 and 21 came close to topping my list this year. I loved 21 top to bottom from the very first listen and apparently most of the world agrees — the girl can sing. My favorite song from 21 is Set Fire to the Rain but every song is special.

2.  El Camino by The Black Keys — It has only been out for a few weeks but it’s already wearing out my iPhone and testing the speakers in my new car. El Camino is everything you want in a rock and roll album and I’m thinking I already like it more than last year’s Brothers. It’s upbeat from start to finish and the Keys’ play their instruments like each performance is the last they’ll ever have. There’s not much you can say about this besides turn it up! Here’s a clip from SNL last week of the Keys doing Gold on the Ceiling.

1.  The King is Dead by The Decemberists — I have to admit it was a tough call this year because I liked so many albums equally, but if I’m being honest the album that I enjoyed the most this year was this one. I think it all starts with Colin Meloy’s voice and then you add in all the unique and interesting musical sounds from the band and this record just delivers. I’m not sure where you stick them in terms of genre because there’s elements of folk, rock, country, baroque, you name it. All I know is that I love it. The more I listen to The King is Dead the more I hear early REM, which is not too shabby of a comparison. I absolutely loved 2009’s The Hazards of Love which was sort of a folk-rock opera, but The King is Dead delivers the same sound plus a handful of really great memorable pop songs like Down by the River, This is Why We Fight and my favorite…Calamity Song.