Barrettbites Top 10 “Super-Awesome” Songs of 2015

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Could you make a lasting impression in mere minutes? The kind of connection that lasts a lifetime completed in clicks of a second-hand. That’s what a great song does.

Of course, the best tunes have you forget time even exists until the last moment, when you wish they could go on for much longer… if only to recapture the feeling you just had. Instead we can only replay it; in some desperate attempt to keep that response (whatever it was) going.

 10. The Elwins – “Show Me How To Move”

Coming off like a cross between The Cars, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Motion City Soundtrack “Show Me How To Move” is an infectious little gem about life’s insecurities. It’s catchy enough to stay in your head for weeks without wearing out its welcome.

 9. Terra Lightfoot – “Never Will”

A pure blast of rock ‘n’ roll delivered from just down the QEW in Hamilton. Terra Lightfoot put together a record full of gems with “Never Will” leading the charge.

 8. City & Colour – “Lover Come Back”

The second single from If I Should Go Before You, “Lover Come Back” is an outstanding soul tinged tune harkening back to the days of Stax was the king of Memphis.

 7. Wolf Alice – “Moaning Lisa Smile”

On first listen, “Moaning Lisa Smile” sounds like it may have been dropped into us from 1992, with its nineties alt rock vibe. However, it was just the start to what turned out to be a great record. Can’t wait for more!

 6. Hollerado – “Firefly”

“Firefly” was a 7” single released on record store day as part of the coolest release of the day. Buy the little green vinyl, and get a download card for 111 songs. How many bands can say they released 10 albums worth of material with a 45 RPM.

 5. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats – “S.O.B.”

Conjuring sounds ranging from Van Morrison to Elvis Presley, “S.O.B” was the single that started the ball rolling on a great record and rave reviews from everywhere Rateliff went to play.

 4. Cage The Elephant – “Mess Around”

It’s only been around for a few weeks, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a great song. Full of influences ranging from the UK to San Francisco, it rides a great groove from start to finish.

 3. Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrain At Best”

Talk about a salvo! Barnett’s “Pedestrain At Best” is like a personal mission statement to music. She puts out songs that carry the confessional style of Paul Westerberg (the Replacements), the humour of David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) and energy of the frickin Pixies.

 2. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Somewhere between soul, disco and straight up rock ‘n’ roll, “Don’t Wanna Fight” is the kind of tune that hits emotionally and has you singing along. Even my kids try hitting those high notes as we cruise the streets in the minivan.

 1. Beck – “Dreams”

Speaking of my kids, “Dreams” was their favourite of the year, as well as mine. Like the most memorable of Beck’s work, it had elements of hip-hop built into the rhythm, a great ‘wonky’ guitar riff, and lyrics that captured the imagination even when they seemingly made sense only within the context of a dream. Only wish it was supported by a full album.

 

Not Just Messin’ Around… or Cage The Elephant – Tell Me I’m Pretty

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It’s an interesting time to be Cage The Elephant. They could stick to their tried and true sound that has produced a number of alt-rock staples, or venture out to try something a little different. The risk for every artist is alienating old crowds while searching for new fans and retaining that wonderful feeling of loving what you do.

For inspiration, they have looked to the other side of the Atlantic and picked up influences ranging from the Beatles (“Sweetie Little Jean”) to Super Furry Animals (“Cry Baby”) and the Arctic Monkeys (“Mess Around”). To top that, they’ve got the ear of Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at the controls, giving them sounds that ride sonic rhythms rather than relying on straight up indie-rock guitar. The result is a weird hybrid that welds together various pieces in some metaphoric ‘found object’ art instillation that is both strange yet incredibly accessible.

The old over-the-top swagger is exchanged for one of emphasis in the right places. It used to be that vocalist Matt Shultz would put out little vocal improvisations at a rate that would put James Brown to shame, but it seems Auerbach may have reined him in, allowing whole songs to catch the imagination. “Cold, Cold, Cold” is a perfect example; it’s a tune that has psychedelic flourishes that would be undermined by such displays. Instead, the fuzzed out guitar, classic 60’s style rhythm and haunting organ are allowed to drive home the mood.

Next you get a story of abuse set to a background of early rock ‘n’ roll sounds. “Punchin’ Bag” at its surface is a tale of someone who has ‘had enough’, but its musical tone conjures images created by the Sonics’ 1965 song “Strychnine” and its aggressive sinister sound.

Tell Me I’m Pretty is not content to be ‘just another’ alt-rock record to be quickly digested and tossed aside in a few months when the next ‘flavour’ arrives on shelves. It seeks to be a record that you keep coming back to; new sounds emerging on every subsequent listen; the kind of album that lives on in your consciousness and becomes a favourite.

WTF!!!! Columbia House is Back!?!

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Not sure if this is confirmation of the continuing popularity of vinyl, or a sign that the four horsemen will be riding into town to hail the apocalypse, but Columbia House has announced they are coming back.

Only four months after declaring bankruptcy, Columbia House is set to return in 2016 as a vinyl order delivery service. While vinyl is a mere 7% of the current music market, it is the only physical medium of recorded music that has seen sales grow. In 2015 vinyl accounted for one-third of the physical market and saw sales escalate by 52%.

In their glory days Columbia House did over a billion dollars in annual sales, spurred on by their “buy 8 CD’s for a penny” promotions. They fell rapidly out of favor with the rise of digital downloading and streaming over the last few years.

However, even with CD and DVD sales falling, many retailers have embraced the vinyl resurgence and opened whole sections to meet the demand. Here in Toronto, you can find record retailers as well as clothing stores such as Urban Outfitters jumping into the market and in some cases offering exclusive titles.

Let’s wait and see what incentives Columbia House is planning to offer the public upon its return. It should be interesting.

Barrettbites Top Ten Spectacular Vinyl Releases of 2015

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Try as I might to live in denial of it, the music world has evolved into this digital place where music is consumed by means of digital downloads and streams in the millions. Still, there are those amongst us for whom vinyl has remained the preferred method of listening and enjoying our cherished music collection. The tactile nature of removing wax from a sleeve, gently dropping a needle on a spinning disc, sitting back in a chair and, finally investigating the album cover for bits of information that will further connect, and maybe even enhance the joy received when the music seeps into your consciousness.

For those of us caught up in vinyl, sometimes we are given opportunities to get rare and collectible records that are not only artistic expressions by the artists, but also the people who are creating the vinyl itself. Coloured vinyl not only sounds as great as the standard black, but stands out in the crowd for its unique look combined with awesome tunes. Here are ten outstanding examples of 2015 releases that took that extra step in not only releasing music, but providing incredible presentation too.

Lou Barlow – Brace The Wave

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Alternative lo-fi stalwart Lou Barlow (Sebadoh & Dinosaur Jr.) put out a solo work this year that not only sounded great, but also looked the part. Brace The Wave crashed the psyche with Barlow’s patented confusion and self loathing, dropping lines like “remember we were hipsters sleeping with our cats / young and thin and fucking crazy.” The album was desolate and beautiful in directing pain into expression. The vinyl itself had two variant editions. The first was sea foam green and the second was a combination of sea foam green and pink wax limited to 500 hand numbered copies. Needless to say, that 2nd option sold out quickly.

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

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Seemingly a part of everyone’s best of 2015 list, Barnett topped that by landing four Grammy nominations a few days back. Sometimes… is the kind of record that you just can’t help but play over and over again, as wit and rock join forces. In a rather unique move, the album was released with 4 variant editions being sold in different geographical regions. North Americans had orange coloured vinyl combined with a 7” and turntable slip mat. Australia and New Zealand had heavyweight white vinyl. The UK got two variants which included versions that were 2 LPS’s of orange translucent vinyl or two yellow translucent LP’s.

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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Not to be outdone by Courtney Barnett, not only does Sound & Color end up on every year end list and receive four Grammy nominations, but it also lands one of those nominations in the Album Of The Year category. Upon its initial release, Alabama Shakes put out a clear variant edition for mass release and a more exclusive white coloured edition on sale at Urban Outfitters outlets.

City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You

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Combining folk, soul, country and rock, Dallas Green and Co. put out a record that changes direction much like the seasons. It seems appropriate that they would also release four different variant editions for their fans. The first, sold through their website and at shows was on ‘black smoke’ vinyl. The second, also sold on their home page, was a very ‘holiday season’ looking two disc set on red followed by green vinyl. Only 300 were issued. The next set, limited to 1000 copies, was exclusive to Newbury Comics on two pieces of ‘coke bottle’ green 180 gram vinyl. Finally, from band’s store was the ‘Beauty Bundle’ box set. Limited to 1000 copies, it included two pieces of ‘bone’ colored 180 gram vinyl that plays at 45rpm, as well as a bunch of other goodies for the hardcore fan willing to drop $80.00.

Calexico – Edge Of The Sun

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Such is the landscape that Calexico creates in its musical atmosphere, it just isn’t enough for them to write a bunch of singular songs that are placed together to create an album. They carefully craft a soundtrack which puts together music to evoke an emotional response. Their blend of Mariachi-Americana brings up a south-west location, but the camera then pans towards the setting sun and you’re hooked. Set on two pieces of 180 gram vinyl, their single variant edition has one turquoise while the other is mint green coloured. Looks and sounds great.

Juliana Hatfield Three – Whatever, My Love

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A natural follow up to 1993’s Become What You Are, (which it is), Whatever, My Love flows with much more ease than any of Hatfield’s more recent work. Released through American Laundromat Records, Whatever, My Love had a printing of only 500 vinyl copies, split between a clear version (125) and a purple splatter variant (375).

Langhorne Slim & The Law – The Spirit Moves

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Slim is a bit of an eclectic master, with themes of joy and misery intermingling with equal passion. Essentially, he is fearless in bending songs around multiple influences. Horns play on a number of tracks and in a different way each time. On “Spirit Moves” he uses them as a counter melody, similar to Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring Of Fire” and then brings them back later for “Life’s A Bell” as a Memphis Horns/Stax/Otis Redding tool for emotional emphasis. With the ever present acoustic instruments, some songs drift towards sounds reminiscent of Nick Drake and Cat Stevens, but the album as a whole pulls everything back into that unique Langhorne Slim vision. The variant vinyl is ‘coke bottle’ clear matching the tone of the album cover.

Django Django – Born Under Saturn

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Riding slow moving waves of psychedelic electronica mixed with surf rock, Django Django deliver a record that is a thrill for your ears. Born Under Saturn is like taking a drive (as a passenger) in a convertible with a blindfold on; you don’t know where the hell you’re going but the journey sure feels incredible. They also had one of the most outstanding looking pieces of vinyl for their alternate editions having orange translucent vinyl with white splatter effect giving it a look of fireworks going off.

Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Haines sticks mostly to the themes of broken relationships and rising back up after a fall. While this album might seem like a bit of rock ‘n’ roll cliché at times, Metric pulls off the desired impact of connecting us to the music. So when Haines’ vocals demand “the stars above” on early single “The Shade (I Want It All)”, the listener feels entitled to it as well. Metric put out two alternate vinyl versions of Pagans In Vegas. Sold through the band’s own web store, the first variant was on 1180 gram audiophile vinyl and limited to 1200 copies. The other, sold through Newbury Comics, was on white coloured vinyl and limited to 1000 copies.

Alvvays – Eponymous

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While this Alvvays debut record was technically a 2014 release, its steady rise in prominence has made it a 2015 staple. Led by the single “Archie, Marry Me”, Alvvays has created an album that is a damn fine ‘90’s – esque’ alt-rock record. In addition to the standard black vinyl sold through record stores, the band released four other versions. Included in the mix was electric blue, clear, orange and a pale blue splatter.

Barrettbites Top Ten Records of 2015

 

  1. Alvvays – eponymous

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Chalked full of stories about the complexities of relationships, Alvvays have constructed an album that is able to seem both introspective and dynamic. Using nonchalance and humour simultaneously, they set the scenes of emotional distress to an indie soundtrack and let the barbs fly. Go back and take another listen to “Marry Me, Archie” if you need proof of the power struggle within a relationship.

  1. Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Metric has never hidden their overwhelming desire to headline a fan-filled stadium show, and Pagans In Vegas has become the vehicle that drives them there. More than mere hyperbole, they seem to have found the perfect mix of Cure-like synth, 90’s indie guitar, and electro/dance rhythm. The tunes are catchy enough to get the casual fan singing along and the loyal fan seeking deeper meaning from the lyrics and, dare I say, inspiration.

  1. Best Coast – California Nights

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Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill. The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself.

  1. Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

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Like early Bowie, Furman seems to relish changes in identity, except rather than do it from album to album Perpetual Motion People is a record that does it from song to song, and sometimes, within a single song. “Haunted Head” deals with one’s own self inflicted torment. “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” seeks respite from torment with a wish to become co-dependent. In turn, “Lousy Connection” hides themes of emotional distance behind old sounds of Doo-Wop and killer saxophone leads. To a certain extent, Furman makes being screwed up sound fun in his unique version of a poetic stream of consciousness.

  1. City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You

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Dallas Green may have started City and Colour as a means to introduce his ‘rootsy’ brand of song craft, but those days are now more of an ‘origin story’ than the reality of where he is. Much like Wilco, who turned from alt-country to sonic experimenters, Green took his acoustic-based leanings and is now creating expansive tunes that, at times, owe more to blues, soul and even psychedelia than the modern ‘folk rock’ he was labeled with on earlier City and Colour records.

  1. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

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His peer group may include contemporaries like Nick Waterhouse and Raphael Saadiq, but Bridges’ ups the game of capturing old-school R&B by pulling in music that could’ve been created by the Blues Brothers Band. He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off Steve Cropper. Then you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power possessed in Coming Home.

  1. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats – eponymous

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It takes a special kind of musician to evoke a slew of soul greats and retain an energy and sound that is still their own. Springsteen did this by mixing Dylan, a preacher style intensity towards rock ‘n’ roll, a few soul influences, and concocted a sound all his own. Nathaniel Rateliff has taken the ’69 comeback version of Elvis, added southern rock themes and walked into a STAX studio to create a record that is instantly relatable. Of course, you would never have caught “the King” singing “son of a bitch / give me a drink” as Rateliff does on “S.O.B”. It just wouldn’t have been very, um… regal.

  1. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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If Alabama Shakes debut Boys & Girls was a first shot across the bow against musical mediocrity, then Sound & Color is a full on declaration of war. Not content to merely ride the wave of being the best rock ‘n’ soul or Southern rock band to currently grace the planet, they expand and grow. It’s the kind of growth and experimentation one got from Radiohead when they leapt from The Bends to OK Computer; or in other words – WOW!

  1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

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Sarcastic and playful in the most observational of ways, Courtney Barnett makes stinging shots sound like a musical sit-com. Characters inhabit a ‘Seinfeld-esqe’ place where nothing seems larger than life and decisions don’t necessarily lead to conclusions. However, the journey is one hell of an adventure. Barnett makes music that is fun, thought provoking, and really damn catchy. It’s a really weird moment to hear your children singing “all I want to be is an elevator operator, can you help me please.”

  1. Terra Lightfoot – Every Time My Mind Runs Wild

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Every so often something comes along that just smacks you in the head with something so freaking unexpected you look for a house number on the cave you’ve been sleeping in. Perhaps it’s a debut album, an opening act you had never heard of before, or, as is the case for me, you just quite plainly arrived late to the party. Whatever the case, Terra Lightfoot has just lit the light bulb above my cranium and I’m hitting my forehead with that big “a-ha” moment.

What seems most remarkable is just how many influences pop out all at once. A foot in the Chicago blues, another in Memphis soul, and then she puts a third one in Nashville. The result is a combustible and full out gritty rock ‘n’ roll album.

Some Lips For Christmas… or Imagene Peise (The Flaming Lips) – Atlas Eets Christmas

 

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Back in 2007, the Flaming Lips were still at their peak as they were touring 2006’s At War With The Mystics. So, with a massive backstory written on the CD jacket they put out a Christmas record in very limited quantity under the pseudonym Imagene Peise. The only clue to it being the Lips was a sticker on the plastic wrap that read “Merry Christmas from the Flaming Lips.”

Fast forward a few years and the Lips are doing another limited run of their Christmas record, this time on red translucent vinyl. What is extremely fascinating about Atlas Eets Christmas is just how well the Lips stay in character. Yes they sound like the Flaming Lips, but with the crackles and pops they have added to the record, at times it really does come off as some little known jazz artist that walked straight out of a mid-eastern desert.

So what you get is this instrumental record that is driven by piano and accompanied by synthesizer and sitar. Instead of the usual holiday sentiment poured into your consciousness like a well known Chardonnay you find yourself drinking Port for the first time ever. It’s cigar smoke drenched and kissed with oak in a darkened bar where you sit alone by the window and contemplate the true meaning of that one bright star hovering in the sky.

Or, let’s just say that this isn’t an easily accessible holiday record designed to make you remember roasting chestnuts and singing Rudolph with the family. Nope, it mixes joy with quiet reflections and darker hues of greens and reds that don’t so much shine with a warm glow as threaten to burn. The character of “Imagene” is rumoured to have committed suicide in 1978, and that underlying feel is carried throughout the record.

Personally, I found myself rather mesmerized by Atlas Eets Christmas in much the same way I find some of the darker records in my collection. It isn’t an easy listen, and not one I would pull out while toasting the health of my in-laws as we sit down to our turkey. But, it is a worthy record to pull off the shelf in mid-December after you’ve spent a few hours shopping in an over-crowed mall, that has ‘syruped’ your ears with greetings from Celine and Bolton in some attempt to make you want to buy more stuff from more places. This might be a kind of apocalyptic Christmas record, but sometimes that’s what we need in order to really appreciate what we have.

Memories both old & new or The B-52’s – Live! 8.24.1979

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It seems to me that the B-52’s have never really gotten the respect that they are entitled. More than just a kitsch band of singles, they were, and remain a beacon in a fog of mediocrity. This world where tired old themes are constantly rehashed for rock ‘n’ roll consumption; the B-52’s could tell insane stories while making even the most ‘two left feet’ amongst us dance and have a great time. There music was simultaneously accessible and other-worldly, mixing a 60’s surf vibe with what would later be called new wave. It was the perfect soundtrack for not only dancing, but strapping on some roller skates and praying the next wipe-out wouldn’t be slowed by your face being dragged along the cement.

So imagine my surprise to see a perfect little live document arrive in my hands this Black Friday / Record Store Day… a way over due example of the band in their prime. It’s a small piece of gold coloured vinyl now spinning on my turntable of an era that is timeless, and so very long ago. Before the flash and colour of “Love Shack” this is the B-52’s out supporting their debut album with the incredible Ricky Wilson still rocking the guitar in a frenetic fashion as Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson pull off their insane version of the call and answer.

Listening to it I find myself wondering why this record is only seeing the light of day in 2015. Full of energy, Live! 8.24.1979 literally had my seven year old dancing and rolling on the floor trying to sing all the vocal parts at once. It’s an impossibility, but he sure tried. What you have is great songs followed by hilarious, if not awkward introductions. Fred Schneider deadpans: “this next song is a dance tune” as if this is a revelation.

Between my sons twirling and my memories of roller rinks, Live! 8.24.1979 is the kind of blast from the past that puts a giant smile on your face that lingers long after the needle turns away from the wax.