The Best of 2015

Man, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic year.  Holly and I got to do some traveling, going to Portland (OR) and Salt Lake City to see concerts, doing some record shopping in Ireland and Paris, and of course attending our seventh consecutive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.  We went to shows with friends, listened to new music, and discovered new bands.  So with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Life in the Vinyl Lane’s musical year.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015

1.  Halleluwah – Halleluwah
2.  Lífsins Þungu Spor – Dulvitund
3.  .A:A. Mix. 1 – Alexandra Atnif
4.  II – Albino Father
5.  Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant

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A lot of great music came out in 2014, and I had a hard time whittling down my initial list of a dozen albums to pick the Top 5.  In fact I thought I had my list ready to go until I played Lífsins Þungu Spor for the first time about two weeks ago, and it actually bumped another album off of the list.  I was confident in my choice of Halleluwah for the top spot because I’ve been playing their debut (not available on vinyl at this time) a ton, and it’s actually the second time they’ve made my year end best of list, with their 10″ K2R (which stylistically is miles away from Halleluwah) held down the #4 spot on my 2012 list.  Dulvitund, Alexandra Atnif, and Albino Father were all performers I encountered for the first time in 2015, and John Grant rounds it out with his second appearance on one of my Top 5 New Releases lists.

I’m particularly happy with this list because, unintentionally, all the performers fall into different genres.  Halleluwah brings a sort of old school popular music sound, something that reminds me of an updated version of Edith Piaf; Dulvitund is electro darkwave; Alexandra Atnif creates some edgy experimental industrial beats; Albin Father is the second coming of garage psych rock; and of course John Grant is John Grant in all of his loquacious brilliance.  There’s something for just about everyone on that list.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
2.  No Stayer (US)
3.  Captain Moonlight (Ireland)
4.  SGNLS (US)
5.  Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

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This was a super-tough list for me this year.  The first two choices were easy.  We discovered Atnif this summer when we picked up one of her split tapes at Amoeba down in Los Angeles, and acquired two more of her cassettes over the course of the year.  She’s super talented and isn’t afraid to experiment with some very severe sounds.  No Stayer also came to me via a cassette (Rogue) when my friends over at Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin Records sent it my way.  I was down with their style of hard rock/metal, but then sort of forgot about them for a bit before re-discovering them on my iPod a few weeks back, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them every day since.  Captain Moonlight’s working class, Irish-issues-themed hip hop was a refreshing return of hip hop to being social protest music.  I enjoyed SGNLs synth punk enough to pick up two of their records this year, SGNLS and II (not to be confused by the Albino Father album of the same name).  Kælan Mikla was sort of a darkwave dark horse on this list, because they don’t currently have any physical releases (though they do have a track on Iceland Whatever, Vol. 1), but I was very impressed by their live show at Airwaves and can’t stop thinking about them.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 – Various
2.  Lengi Lifi – HAM
3.  Hype! Boxed Set – Various
4.  W.C. Monster – Bootlegs
5.  Great White Wonder – Les Rallizes Denudes

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OK, I’m cheating a bit here, because my top choice is a cassette, and my #2 pick is a CD.  But both of those were important additions for me this year.  Philly’s Dopest Shit turned me on to a ton of great bands like No Stayer, SGNLS, Ruby Buff, and Spent Flesh.  Lengi Lifi is a very difficult to find, CD-only HAM live album and was the last one I needed to complete the HAM discography.  The Hype! Boxed Set was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some great Sub Pop 7″ records and exorcise those demons that still haunt me after selling my Sub Pop singles 20 years ago.  W.C. Monster is a collectible Icelandic thrash record, while the Great White Wonder box set is just a flat-out psych noise trip from Japan’s Les Rallizes Denudes.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik
3.  Bo Ningen – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  The Sonics – Easy Street Records, Seattle
5.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT

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This is the second consecutive year that The Kills (right) have taken the top spot in my Top 5 Live Shows, and I kind of feel like any year that I see them live, they’ll probably be my number one pick – they’re quite simply that damn good.  At Airwaves the combination of Bubbi Morthens and DIMMA was a perfect blend of old school punk rock and new school technical metal, while Bo Ningen played the most insane, high energy set of crazy that I’ve ever seen.  Easy Street Records crammed 200 people into their shop for show benefitting KEXP radio, and The Sonics played along with a veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.  And BRMC… well, they’d been at the top of my list of bands I wanted to see for years and years, and this summer we were able to use some airline points to basically get down to Salt Lake City for free to see them live, and they were outstanding.

This was probably the toughest list for me to put together, because we saw so many great shows this year.  Agent Fresco, Hot Chip, Thievery Corporation, Steel Panther, HAM, Halleluwah… there were just so many awesome performances to choose from.  But the five that made the final cut all had something special about them that took them to that next level and made them more memorable.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street, Seattle
2.  Silver Platters, Seattle
3.  Diabolical, Salt Lake City
4.  Fingerprints, Long Beach (CA)
5.  Amoeba, Los Angeles

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Bell, Book & Candle, Galway (Ireland)
4.  Syncrophone, Paris
5.  All City, Dublin

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Easy Street and Silver Platters are my regular local haunts, so it will be hard for them to ever get knocked out of the top spots.  The same is true for Lucky and Reykjavik Record Shop – any year that we make it to Reykjavik, these two are likely to be at the top of list.  One thing that all these places have in common is that they’re very supportive of their local scenes, and that’s important to me because when I travel I like to look for local music.  Plus they had some cool and knowledgeable people, people who are obviously passionate about music.

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Girl in a Band:  A Memoir, by Kim Gordon
2.  Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen
3.  For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
4.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother: The Philosophies of Punk, by Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos, and Charlie Waterhouse
5.  Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, by Bob Suren

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I probably read about 15-20 music books in 2015, and the above were easily the best of the bunch.  And of these five, Kim Gordon’s was by far the most compelling, probably more so as the story of an artist’s life and struggles than for anything specifically related to Sonic Youth.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned a Sonic Youth album, and I couldn’t name single one of their songs if I tried (I may have to give up my music blogging card for that admission, but whatever), so I wasn’t particularly predisposed to feel any particular way about Girl in a Band.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a pretty unique project, one that I sponsored via Kickstarter.  Part of the appeal was that a couple of OG Icelandic punks were interviewed in it, specifically Einar Örn Benediktsson and Jón Gnarr.  It was an interesting take on punk philosophy, which resonated even more so after hearing Einar Örn talk for a few minutes prior to a Ghostigital show about what being a punk means to him.

 

This year Holly asked if she could contribute a few lists of her own, and it seemed like a great idea to me since her perspective is often quite different from mine.  So with minimal commentary, here are some of her top musical picks for 2015.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015 (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather
2.  FFS – FFS
3.  Born Under Saturn – Django Django
4.  Adjust to the Light – Fufanu
5.  “Inside Paul’s Boutique”

We didn’t have any albums in common in our Top 5 lists, and in fact she only had one album I’ve even written about on hers!  Number five is an outlier – it’s the roughly 12 hour incredible show that KEXP radio did in which they deconstructed all of Paul’s Boutique, literally playing in full every single song sampled by the Beastie Boys on that album, in the order they appeared on it.  It’s epic.  Don’t believe us?  Check it out for yourself HERE.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  East India Youth (UK)
2.  Islam Chipsy (Egypt)
3.  russian.girls (Iceland)
4.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
5.  Operators (US/Canada)

Again, not much overlap between the his-and-hers lists, only Alexandra Atnif.  That being said, all four of the other bands here made it to my initial list as well, they just ultimately didn’t crack my personal Top 5.

Top 5 Live Shows (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Thievery Corporation – Showbox Sodo, Seattle
3.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT
4.  East India Youth – NASA, Reykjavik
5.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik

We actually have quite a bit of overlap her, and both Thievery Corporation and East India Youth made to to my short list.  There were just so many good shows in 2015.

 

So there you have it, ladies and gents.  Another fantastic year is almost in the books, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us.  And since we’ve already purchased our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2016 and to see Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks in Colorado in May, I suspect it’s going to be pretty excellent.

Discount – “Half Fiction”

I played Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards the other day.  I’m not sure why I picked that particular album that morning.  I’ve had it for a few years and probably only listened to it two or three times, but for some reason I felt like it would be good to revisit.  And it only took a couple of minutes for me to be reminded of something.

Alison Mosshart is amazing.

So much so that as soon as Sea of Cowards was done I switched immediately over to The Kills so I could hear more of her voice in all of it’s raspy, pissed off, angst-ridden punk rock glory.  The thing that gets me the most about Mosshart is while she’s a great rock singer with the perfect voice for the type of music she performs with The Kills and Dead Weather, she also has a beautiful voice – if you don’t believe me, go listen to “The Last Goodbye” on Blood Pressures.  I’m pretty sure she’d be a successful vocalist in almost any genre.

So with me in the throes of having a musical crush on Alison Mosshart I got online to see if I could find any of her earlier stuff with the Florida punk band Discount.  Their material was original put out on vinyl and cassette, and the records have been recently re-released, but I opted to go the cheaper route and picked up used CDs of Half Fiction (1997) and Crash Diagnostic (2000) online from Zia Records (neither is available on iTunes).  And thanks to the magic of the internet I had them less than a week later.

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I didn’t get what I expected from Half Fiction.  I thought I was going to get some raw, gritty punk, but what I got was more pop-punk.  And don’t think that’s an insult, because it’s not – there’s some solid pop-punk out there, and Half Fiction is a perfect example.  The songs are tight and fast, all coming in at under three minutes with a handful at less than two.  And Mosshart… her voice… not at all what I’ve been used to hearing from her.  She still has that sort of half talking/half singing quality, but her singing follows the cadence of the songs throughout the album, which to me came a a surprise since I’m used to her sounding like she’s actually fighting to break out from the music with The Kills.  This is a “cleaner” sounding Mosshart, more in the standard singer role.

Because the songs are so tight it can be a little harder for individual tracks to stand out.  Musically the pace remains brisk throughout and Mosshart generally sticks with the sort of hi-lo-hi-lo enunciation/cadence, and this can make some of the songs sort of blend together.  The first two tracks, “Half Fiction” and “Clap and Cough,” are the best representations of the general sound of Half Fiction, though I think “Keith” does the best job in breaking the mold with a bit of a guitar solo and Mosshart breaking free from her vocal rhythm, even adding in some of her own backing vocals.  “Toxic Home” is also solid, one of the few (maybe only, really) slower tracks, almost sounding like an acoustic number and giving Mosshart more of a chance to showcase her voice.

Half Fiction is pretty damn good, so if you’re a fan of bands like Green Day and Blink 182 I think you’ll like this a lot.  Even if you’re more just a straight forward pop fan I think it’s worth a listen if you can find a copy.

The Kills – “Live at Third Man Records”

I discovered The Kills thanks to Spotify.  I input one of my favorite bands, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Spotify came back with one of those, “if you like BRMC, then you’ll like The Kills”.  And it was right!  Oh so right.  So the other day when I saw on Facebook that Jack White’s label, Third Man Records, released a live LP by The Kills recorded at Third Man, I had to place my order.  Mail order always makes me nervous, especially after the USPS destroyed my copy of Sub Pop 1000 a while back, and given that Live at Third Man Records was due to arrive during some high temps in Seattle (yes, we do get hot weather here…. exactly one week a year), I was a bit concerned I’d have a wavy pile of junk when I opened the box… but it was all good.  Maybe one of these days I’ll break down and actually order some stuff from overseas…

The Kills are guitarist Jamie Hince and singer Alison Mosshart.  Hince keeps the guitar tuned down and the sound moody, while Mosshart… oh Mosshart… sings in that deep, passionate voice that makes me really love this band.  Hince and Mosshart are perfect together, from the song writing to the harmonizing, it’s like they were meant to be together on stage.  Their initial collaborations took the form of mailing tapes back and forth between Florida (Mosshard) to England (Hince) to exchange ideas, and some cuts from these tapes even made it onto their ablums.  That, my friends, is dedication.  And all that hard work paid off in four fantastic studio records, and now this great live album.

Six of the eight tracks on Live at Third Man Records are from The Kills’ 2011 studio release Blood Pressures, with “Tape Song” being pulled from Midnight Boom (2008) and “Kissy Kissy” from Keep on Your Mean Side (2003) to round out the set list.  I’ve got to give Third Man credit, because the sound quality of the live set is exceptional – I had to to turn up the volume a bit from where I had it set for The KLF records I was listening to earlier in the day… but there was plenty of room on the volume knob to get where I wanted to go with ultra clean sound.  In fact I liked it so much I went onto their site and ordered live records by Cold War Kids and The 5.6.7.8’s as well.

The Kills stay fairly true to their studio versions on Live at Third Man Records.  Their recorded stuff has always had that raw, live sound to it, so this isn’t a huge departure, though Hince’s backing vocals sound a lot better than normal.  Mosshart is, of course, awesome, oozing sexiness and energy and anger and power, especially on “Tape Song”.  And on “The Last Goodbye” she’s unbearably amazing, sounding like a modern Edith Piaf and showing that she does indeed have an impressive pure singing voice to go along with her normally punky sound.

If you haven’t listened to The Kills before, you owe it to yourself to at the very least check them out.  Get on iTunes and listen to some clips, especially “Future Starts Slow” and “Heart is a Beating Drum”, and maybe “The Last Goodbye” if you feel like shedding a tear.