Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 20+ Songs of 2014 With YouTube Playlist

I put together this Top 20 plus songs of 2014 list while putting up holiday decorations -- thinking over the year and culling the songs that meant so much to me (while finding the best order of presentation of course!) If I had to pick a Song of the Year, I'd add my vote to others that chose Future Islands' "Seasons Waiting on You." Along with the breakout performance by frontman Samuel Herring on David Letterman that was so crazy passionate and borderline creepy, the tune encapsulated all three genres listed on their Wikipedia page with gusto:  synthpop, alternative rock and indie pop.  It's simply a great song that doesn't get old with repeated listens.

Yet the song that yielded the most meaning for me this year would have to be Field Report's "Home (Leave the Lights On)."  As I wrote about in a post back in October, hearing this song in a different context gave this sublime tune a personal resonance that cut to my core. It's going to be one of those many songs that will take me back to that time and place in the fall of 2014.

Listen via the YouTube playlist below or on Spotify at the link here. Here's to another fine year of new music!

1. "Inspector Norse"  Todd Terje 
2. "Can't Do With Without You" − Caribou 
3. "Dangerous" − Big Data 
4. "Red Eyes" − The War On Drugs 
5. "Seasons Waiting On You" − Future Islands 
6. "Come a Little Closer" − Cage the Elephant 
7. "Digital Witness" − St. Vincent 
8. "Fall In Love" − Phantogram 
9. "Do You" − Spoon 
10. "Home (Leave the Lights On)" − Field Report 
11. "Step Out" − José  González 
12. "Past Life" − Lost In the Trees 
13. "The Tower" − Wye Oak 
14. "Alexandra"  − Hamilton Leithauser 
15. "Handreds of Ways" − Conor Oberst 
16.  "Blue Moon" − Beck 
17.  "Summer Noon" − Tweedy 
18. "Woke Up To the Light" − Strand of Oaks 
19. "Lonely Press Play" − Damon Albarn 
20. "New York Morning" − Elbow 
21. "Moving To the Left" − Woods 
22. "Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)" − Ages And Ages

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Ten Releases of 2014 With Video Highlights

Here is my slightly ranked list of Top Ten Releases for 2014 -- with Spoon definitely taking the top spot.  The best thing about compiling such a list is revisiting these songs that became the soundtrack to my life this year, and remembering how these albums are all worth many more plays from start to finish.  I was also lucky to see three of the bands/artists over the course of the year so I've pulled videos from the  NMMatterscorp YouTube channel from those shows: Spoon, Beck, and Elbow.  For the others, I looked for live performances in order to imagine hearing the music being played live: from official gigs at CBS, an AMEX event, and Pitchfork festivals, along with studio sessions from my favorite online radio stations KCRW and KEXP. Check out anything you haven't yet, and enjoy!

1. Spoon, They Want My Soul
After taking some time off since 2010's Transference, Austin-bred band Spoon reconvened last year to put together what may be its best album yet.  With the strength of the singles "Rent I Pay," "Do You," and "Inside Out," I've heard more Spoon airplay than ever, never a band thing. Spoon opened up for Arcade Fire when we caught the final night of the tour in Montreal, where many in the crowd had not yet heard of them (thus the chatter in the video, but listen to the squeals of delight as uber frontman Britt Daniel approaches each side of the stage!) The guy next to us vowed to purchase the new album immediately and tell all his friends about Spoon when he returned home.

2. Beck, Morning Phase
When we first listened to this album (studio collection number twelve for this prolific musician), husband/music guru Paul exclaimed "Who broke Beck's heart?" It's that melancholy side of the guy heard back in 2002 with Sea Change, all slower meters and dreamy textures.  But at least it wasn't the folky Beck seen at festivals the last go around (still say he could loose the goofy black hat).  At least I could finally check him off my concert bucket list after a night at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC -- a night split in half between the new and yes, all the old hits!

3. Elbow, The Take Off and Landing of Everything
The sound of Guy Garvey's voice brings warmth and depth of meaning to any lyric, so why not elongate the title of the group's sixth album too? Everything reads like a stream of consciousness travel journal after time Garvey spent in NYC where "folks are nice to Yoko."  I caught the U.K. band in May at Webster Hall NYC, where a couple took this romantic music to another level with a marriage proposal. 

4. Wye Oak, Shriek
Some Wye Oak fans didn't know what to make of the duo's fourth album, after singer Jenn Wasner learned the bass and layers of electronics were added without the signature guitar sound.  I gladly heralded this move into complexity and Shriek was on heavy rotation all summer.  

5. Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain 
Conor Oberst released his sixth album as a solo artist, connecting to his story telling vibe and touring with the band Dawes as backing musicians.  The sound is at once full yet immediate, baring his Nebraskan soul in songs about adult responsibilities and looking for meaning in the every day. 

6. Caribou, One Love
Canadian Dan Snaith released his sixth studio album as Caribou, expanding the electronica with genres such as hip hop and  R&B, plus contributions by Jessy Lanza and Owen Pallett.  When he plays live, Snaith takes over the percussion and performs with a live band clustered together in musical solidarity while the party in the audience carries on...

7. TV on the Radio, Seeds 
TV on the Radio released its fifth album in November, so I'm still uncovering the many attributes to each song. The band is now split between Brooklyn and L.A. but as a group remains as solid as ever. (This is the first album without their bass player Gerard Smith, who died of cancer in 2011.)

8. Hamilton Leithauser, Black Hours
When I fretted about The Walkmen taking a hiatus, it was really the idea of not hearing Hamilton Leithauser's ardent vocals without a solid band base that had me worried.  His solo album seemed a bit solitary in spirit, but not in musicianship. The entire collection appears ready made for a full listen seamlessly from song to song.  

9.  The War on Drugs, Lost In a Dream 
The mastery and wash of guitar reverb permeates this third album by Philadelphia's The War on Drugs. Singer/songwriter Adam Granduciel had trouble adjusting after the successful tour behind 2011's Slave Ambient, resulting in these profoundly emotional songs.

10. St. Vincent, St. Vincent 
St. Vincent's Annie Clark not only garnered attention for this self-titled fourth album, but for her choreographed stage shows performed with her usual epic shredding on guitar.  Her songs cut to the quick musically and lyrically, while remaining deeply ambiguous and intriguing at every listen. 

Future Islands, Singles
Vacationer, Relief

Friday, December 5, 2014

Yo La Tengo @ Town Hall NYC December 5th

James McNew w/married couple Georgia Hubley & Ira Kaplan
Devoted Yo La Tengo (YLT) fans streamed into the Town Hall in Manhattan without the storied venue Maxwell's on the band's home turf of Hoboken, New Jersey across the Hudson River. This relocated annual holiday show also celebrated the group's thirtieth anniversary and the reissue of 1993's Painful LP as Extra Painful, loaded with bonus tracks.  I was one of the few newer devotees  in the crowd, after being smitten with their thirteenth album Fade which I picked for my list of  Top Ten Releases of 2013.  As they took the stage with waves, the strains of my very favorite song "Ohm" broke the game plan. I figured I'd be waiting for this song to be rolled out much later, maybe even during an encore. This seemed to make sense, since it's the most popular tune with the cute videos from their last album -- full of simple truths such as in the chorus: "But nothing ever stays the same, nothing's explained." The lilting melody chugs along a slightly messy foundation like life itself, and I couldn't help but hold my heart to express the inner emotional pull.

After hearing the song you most want to hear first, then what?  Busting conventions is what this group is all about, made clear from the very start of the concert. So I sat back and enjoyed the ride, as the band plucked from its vast catalogue with only one other pick from Fade.  (It was another easy going tune with three-art harmonies, "It's Not Enough," rounding out that genre along with "Upside-Down" from 1992's May I Sing With Me and the super sweet song about first love, "Our Way To Fall" from 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.)  In softer moments, drummer Georgia Hubley takes the lead vocals and quiets her instruments to hush the sound for sublime songs like "Little Eyes" from 2003's Summer Sun and "Tears are In Your Eyes" also from And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.  YLT also loves to indulge in psychedelic jams, usually as a way to crank up a song to conclusion, however the instrumental "I Heard You Looking Pain," from that reissue Painful, seemed to drag on with the volume way too loud. 

Yo La Tengo's Hoboken cohorts The Feelies warmed up the reflective glow from the adoring audience in stripes and plaids, and returned to fill in as needed. For example, Dave Stamm joined YLT for two early songs he originally recorded with the band, adding to the rockabilly with jangly guitar lines. The night ended with both groups on stage gamely covering The Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty In Pink," almost thirty years to the day the song ended a set at Maxwells -- now that's longevity. Videos and set lists below...

The Feelies Set List
Lo Ya Tengo Set List

Moby Octopad
Tears Are In Your Eyes
Mr. Tough
Is That Enough
Little Eyes
The Cone of Silence
The River of Water
Yellow Sarong
Sudden Organ
Barnaby, Suddenly Working
From a Motel 6 
I Heard You Looking 
Our Way to Fall