Somewhere between Ryan Adams and Noah Gunderson lies the brilliant Ruston Kelly – and what a beautiful place to be. He delivers the one-two punch of gorgeous pop-lilting melody coupled with gut-wrenching lyrics that leave your throat dry. The entire album Halloween is fantastic, but if you only have a a few minutes, listen to “Black Magic.” You’ll be hooked the minute he croons, “…where I sold my hallelujah when I laid my soul in you.”
Happy Holidays everyone!
I’ve never made my year end lists public, but this year I’ve decided to shake things up. I present to you my personal best of 2015, both songs and albums. The songs can be streamed here if you would like to listen (honorable mentions included at the end):
Albums (in no particular order):
Wolf Alice – My Cool Is Cool
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
Chris Stapleton – Traveller
CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
Rayland Baxter – Imaginary Man
The Bohicas – The Making Of
Beirut – No No No
Jason Isbell – Something More than Free
Blitzen Trapper – All Across This Land
Everything Everything – Get To Heaven
The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home
Coldplay – A Head Full Of Dreams
Ryan Adams – 1989, cover album (Taylor Swift)
Songs (also in no particular order):
“Uptown Funk” (ft Bruno Mars) – Mark Ronson
“Talking Body” – Tove Lo
“Here” – Alessia Cara
“Genghis Khan” – Miike Snow
“Mountain At My Gates” – Foals
“Lydia” – Highly Suspect
“Coltrane” – Amasa Hines
“Your Loves Whore” – Wolf Alice
“Where You At” – The Bohicas
“Getting Ready to Get Down” – Josh Ritter
“Nobody To Blame” – Chris Stapleton
“Heartbreaker” – Daniel Wilson
“OctaHate” – Ryn Weaver
“Electric Love” – BØRNS
“Leave A Trace” – CHURCHES
“Dreams” – Beck
“Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots
“Trip Switch” – Nothing But Thieves
“Snakeskin” – Deerhunter
“Adventure of a Lifetime” – Coldplay
“Ship To Wreck” – Florence + The Machine
“Sedona” – Houndmouth
“Pretty Pimpin'” – Kurt Vile
“Spring (Among the Living)” – My Morning Jacket
“Snake Eyes” – Mumford & Sons
“Dunes” – Alabama Shakes
“Brazil” – Declan McKenna
“Gibraltar” – Beirut
“Forget You In LA” – Poema
“Yellow Eyes” – Rayland Baxter
“Empty Handed” – Christof
“Color Decay” – Júníus Meyvant
“Death with Dignity” – Sufjan Stevens
“How Could You Babe” – Tobias Jesso Jr.
“Dark Bird Is Home” – The Tallest Man on Earth
“Between Me And You” – Brandon Flowers
“Hello” – Adele
“Everglow” – Coldplay
“Flagship” – Jason Isbell
“Outcast” – Mainland
“Mystery” – Boxed In
“Roman Holiday” – Halsey
“Forest Fires” – Axel Flovent
“No Room In Frame” – Death Cab For Cutie
“Borderline” – Tove Stryke
“Hold Me Down” – Mansionair
“Moona Festival” – Polyenso
“Love Grow Cold” – Blitzen Trapper
“Where The Night Goes” – Josh Ritter
“Spring / Sun / Winter / Dread” – Everything Everything
“The Way It’s Always Been” – Brandon Flowers
The 3rd annual SXSW roundup is here!
As always, I start by the numbers: I listened to roughly 2,300 artists (115 of which I was already familiar with), narrowed it down to 165 artists worth considering, re-listened to those 165 artists, and honed the number to 87. I then proceeded to schedule the 87 artists + some of the artists I already knew. Once at SXSW, I managed to catch 41 gigs in 3.5 days, walking an average daily distance of 11 miles.
And now, the highlight reel based on what I was able to catch (sadly, there were a few I attempted to see and ended up missing due to shifty set times…Daniel Wilson, for one):
Wow, what an unbelievable surprise! I heard a lot of hype about this energetic Swedish pop starlet, which usually poisons my first impressions – with the attitude of “Oh yeah? Let’s see it then!” – but she aptly crushed all preconceived notions and blew me away. Not only is she genre-bending with a hard-to-pronounce name (not unlike her fellow Scandinavian Lykki Li), she also has some massively catchy tunes and killer stage presence. I love her air of confidence and quirky style to boot! It is so refreshing to see electronic/pop artists who still play real instruments on top of their tracks. It adds so much life (literally) to the sound, and obviously makes for a more exciting live show. Believe all the hype for Tove Stryke!
Despite my preference for a live band over a dude and his computer, I’ve got to hand it to Jack Garratt. He pulled it off with true artistry and kept me captivated the entire time. His vocal versatility was remarkable and the songs actually felt like songs, instead of a never-ending club dance track.
These Aussies were super compelling – so much so that I saw them twice! They played with such intensity and created an amazing vibe that seemed to captivate fans no matter what the venue or time of day. Their sound was incredibly full and rich for a three-piece, and it’s hard to beat a band that’s so obviously in love with being on stage and playing music. It makes all the difference.
This four-piece from Glasgow nearly blew everyone out of the venue. It was 25 minutes of Interpol-meets-Foo Fighters- thundering guitar licks, accented by semi-abrasive, yet undeniably appealing vocal melodies. Their newest material shone brightest and was approachable even for those who aren’t typically drawn to hard rock.
Other outstanding acts include: Meg Mac, Only Real, Ryn Weaver, Broncho and Blank Range. I would highly recommend checking them out live whenever or wherever you get a chance.
Honorable mentions go to The Blossoms and Sego.
I can’t rightfully conclude without mentioning the few favorite bands I allowed myself to see, despite the fact I’ve seen them each several times before: The War On Drugs were lose-your-mind good, Wolf Alice completely slayed, and Catfish and the Bottlemen never cease to amaze me. All three of those bands reinvigorate my obsessive passion for music and remind me that while this business is rough, there will always be diamonds in that rough. And the way those make me feel – make us all feel – is the reason it will always be worth my commitment to it.
This is a lovely number by the Dutch singer-songwriter Christof. He recently opened for the awe-inspiring Bear’s Den and certainly made a big impression amongst the local audience here – I can imagine he is being received equally as well in every other city. I liken him to a European Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) with a touch of Jeff Buckley. While “Empty Handed” is most definitely the standout single, I would recommend checking out his entire EP.
Step aside all other British early-20-somethings with incredible musical sensibility, Leo Stannard (19 to be precise) has entered the scene. He croons with the rasp of Paolo Nutini, hits notes as high as Justin Vernon, yet still fits comfortably in the same space as our beloved Ben Howard. It was incredibly difficult to choose just three of his songs – they are all truly excellent. I adore the undeniable warmth of the horns in “Why Don’t We,” and can’t help but completely melt into the melody and his range in “Eliza.” “Please Don’t” shows off the intricacies of his guitar picking prowess and his peerless sense of timing.
Europe, be on the look out for his debut EP next month! And for us Americans… well, hopefully we will get a piece of Leo before too long!
This is one of those songs that gets better and better with each listen. All of the sudden, you are five listens deep and you realize you’re hooked. Mid Ayr is fronted by Brisbane-based Hugh Middleton, known more notably for his work as The Trouble With Templeton’s lead guitarist. I love the mellow, casual flow of this track, loose acoustic guitar, hand claps, and crowd singing included…
There’s something about this short tune (2:30) by Austin-native Jesse Woods, and I can’t put my finger on it. Not sure what it is, but it may be the loose, echo-y feel where you can nearly hear the vibration of each guitar string, or perhaps Woods’ crooning vocals or wistful lyrics — likely a combination of it all. It just seems perfect for some steamy summer weather.
This is the second single from The Careful Ones’ upcoming LP The Foxes and The Hounds. Lead singer JMR has a very evocative vocal delivery, much like my Icelandic fav Ásgeir, so naturally I am drawn to the moody tunes of The Careful Ones, who hail from Central Florida. If you like JMR’s voice, but dig a less traditional, more experimental, soulful approach, JMR has a self-titled solo project that The Careful Ones very avidly cross-promote. I recommend a listen of his song “Pioneer Of Your Heart.”
Ok, here we go – this year’s SXSW roundup! So let’s get to the numbers (sadly, I forgot my UP band this year which totaled my walking mileage each day)…referring to last year’s official SXSW statistics, I listened to likely 2,200+ bands this go-around in an insane 15-day binge. I siphoned it down to 224 bands worthy of a deeper look. Those 224 bands garnered a second listen, and from that point I got the number down to 102 bands that I attempted to schedule alongside about 180 already-familiar bands (of the 2,200+). I managed to see 41 bands in 3.25 days. I had 10 clear favorites (one of which was Typhoon, which shouldn’t count since I’ve seen them before, but I couldn’t resist as they performed in a church), so without further ado, in no particular order:
Ásgeir – Iceland
Sylvan Esso – USA
Mighty Oaks – multinational, based in Germany
Nick Mulvey – England
Rare Monk – USA
Hozier – Ireland
Leif Vollebekk – Canada
Highasakite – Norway
Spanish Gold – USA
Typhoon – USA
To elaborate on a few of these…
His performance was hauntingly beautiful. I remember being so confused when he announced his final song – it felt like he had just begun. It was as if he hypnotized the crowd, with a voice even more crystal clear and heartbreaking than in his recordings. He sang a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” that was simply bone-chilling. I am very touchy with covers, especially those of legendary bands, but this was an extreme exception. Ásgeir reinvented the song in all the right ways without losing its integrity, and though this video does not even come close to the performance I witnessed, at least it gives you a solid idea.
These guys were such unexpected performers! For music I was originally considering to be of the mellow persuasion, I am now dubbing it “thug Feist.” This was an all-out dance party. Having seen the Durham-based duo create this music in a live setting, it’s obvious that this is the area where they shine. Their recordings don’t do this art justice in the slightest. If they are in a town near you, even if you are on the fence about their music, GO. You’ll be wildly impressed.
No words really. This Brit is something special. It was just him and his acoustic guitar at the alter of the St David’s Episcopal Church. He was able create such immense, beautiful sounds completely solo. It felt like he was wrapping the audience in a warm blanket and with each song that passed, he drew everyone closer. I was entranced watching him keep a bass line with his acoustic guitar all while plucking these amazingly intricate melodies that kept building on top of each other, layer by layer – no loop pedal, no other accompaniment. It was magical to gaze at this man creating.
My love for Mighty Oaks runs deep. Having been a fan and follower since 2012, I was long overdue to see them perform. Fantastic doesn’t really cover it. They play with such intensity and passion, it’s infectious. Though their album isn’t out in the US yet, expect huge things from these guys in 2015. Huge. For now, enjoy these two favorites.
This band was a total crapshoot. I figured I’d take a chance on them and holy shit I am so glad I did. They finished playing and I looked over at the person next to me and said, “What just happened?!”. A wall of paralyzingly gorgeous, complex sounds and harmonies disarmed me and everyone surrounding. I have since learned that they are Norweigen, have a forthcoming album out April 7th (worldwide, yay!), and are now on a US tour with London Grammar…so basically, you’ll be hearing a thing or two from Highasakite before long!
I won’t draw this out any longer, so for the four bands that didn’t receive my complete debriefing, I want to stress how excellent they were. Hozier was mind-blowing – so captivating and so piercing live. He exceeded my expectations and totally confirmed all the hype. Rare Monk was inventive and intense. They were able to successfully pull off some extremely intriguing effects and vocal distortions, including the least chill version I’ve ever heard of “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Leif Vollebekk was a complete treat and solidified a permanent space in my (figurative) singer-songwriter favorites file. Spanish Gold was rocking and got everyone moving. The zillion people in line to see their show at Stubb’s was yet another reminder that people still care about rock –very much so. And they give good reason!
In light of U.S. Royalty’s album release this coming Tuesday, I feel compelled to share their latest gorgeous melody “Into The Thicket.” With gentle harmonies and peaceful urgency like that of “Old Flames” from their previous album, they seem to have perfected that graceful delivery while building upon their layers of simplicity.