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
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!
Good heavens – this guy, this song! Where to begin? The moment “Guttersnipe” began I sensed it would be special. It launches in with the perfect head-nodding combo of steady, pleasant strumming complimented by a constant hushed beat. An eternal :33 seconds of anticipation builds before Bhi Bhiman (pronounced Bee Beeman) decides to draw us in with his poignant storytelling.
So you’re listening, listening, thinking “oh this is nice” when, BAM, he hits that high note and it’s game over: Bhi 1, listener 0, “your soul is mine” Mortal Kombat style. In other words, this song manages to strike your soul…but in the most calm, resolute way.
Most artists are capable of expressing passion with their voices; however, very, very few have the ability to express patience. Bhi nailed it.
I will be the first to admit that of all genres, I am most critical when it comes to country music. I hold it to a different standard altogether; it really has to shine to catch my interest. Not only that, but I listen to traditional country. Growing up, my family introduced me to Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, David Allen Coe, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr among others…so my ear gravitates toward outlaw country music, not as much the pop-influenced kind. Nonetheless, these three bands are some of the coolest I’ve heard hit the country/Americana/alt-country (however you want to sub-categorize it) scene recently.
Goodnight, Texas captured me with their song “Jesse Got Trapped In A Coal Mine.” I love how it starts with just the stripped down, deep vocals and beat. The song builds from there with intricate banjo picking and lovely slide guitar. Very melodic, very catchy. If you like this song (or even if you don’t, but you still trust me) check out their entire album here.
Denver’s drawn out syllables and lingering melody elicit a most calming, soporific mood. Such a nice number with some fantastic lyrics: “Hey babe, I ain’t gonna go your way ‘cuz this just ain’t like me. There’s things in the world I know nothing about, and that’s just the way it is…”
Then you have Spirit Family Reunion. They are a jangly, semi-gospel/revival-influenced band of sorts. Their charm comes from the whole we-all-just-gathered-on-a-porch-and-started-playing-music sound. Heavy fiddle, group singing, stomps…it’s all here.
This past week, I’ve been trying to hone in on why this song deserves attention. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know too many heavy songs involving banjo (could just be at a loss right now). After much thought, I’ve determined that intrinsically this song is a modern day dirge. Campfire Ok achieves a sense of foreboding through every element of this song: the simple, constant beat, the singer’s blunt voice, the almost dissonant jangle of the banjo – it all works. Allow this track to mesmerize you. If the music doesn’t do it for you, perhaps the video will help with the convincing.