The Lone Bellow – Debut Album Review ~ Sam’s Choice

SamsIt’s always nice to see a band that you’ve been following for a long time start to get some much deserved love from the music industry.   Zach Williams has been making music that speaks to me for the past 8 years and now, this week, his debut album with the latest (and I’d venture to say best) group around him has finally come out under the name of The Lone Bellow and it’s finally getting recognized for what it is, which is a fantastic album.

It took awhile for some wise music executive to get wind of the musicians that compose The Lone Bellow but now that it has actually happened, the result is astounding.  Zach’s songs have lost none of their gripping authenticity that first drew me in, but they’ve added a layer of musicianship and polish that brings this self-titled debut to a whole new level.

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow’s self titled debut album

The album kicks off with the song Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold, a powerful song with vocal harmonies blending together with a strong beat and intricate guitar work.  It has the feel of deep Southern roots colored by time in the big city (which is the story of the band members so it’s appropriate) and it also showcases the main strengths of this album, namely a vibrant feel of soul from the vocals to the instruments to the lyrics.

From the driving push of Green Eyes the album moves to Tree to Grow,  a slower ballad that resonates the same intensity as it grows into a climax that finishes with a quiet smoothness.  Two Sides of Lonely picks up right there, quietly and subtlety drawing the listener in with the tones of Zach’s voice, a guitar, and a piano.  As the rest of the band comes into the song, one is pulled along for an emotional ride through the poetry of the heart-felt lyrics.

And so goes the rest of the album.  You Never Need Nobody (free on here) is another slower ballad punctuated by a strong backing chorus and a definite Southern Gospel feel.  You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional (one of my all time favorites from Zach for awhile now) has quite the twang to it but in the scope of the entire album, it really fits.  The country vibe carries over to You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To which features the amazing vocal talents of Kanene Pipkin at their best.  Fire Red Horse is a more subdued song but no less intense, and then there is the iTunes Free Single of the Week, Bleeding Out, a whirlwind of a song that brings in all of the previous elements that I’ve previously talked about in the other songs.

Looking For You gives the listener a chance to catch their breath as it is a quiet respite that still resonates.  The tempo of things begins to pick back up in earnest with Teach Me to Know and its chorus of “Carry the Weight”.   There is such a strong sense of community in this song as handclaps and more voices join as the song progresses, finally pushing the end where everything else drops out and it’s just the voices and claps.  And then comes the finale, I Am The One You Should Have Let Go.  I confess that this is my favorite song that Zach’s ever done so I’m not sure that I can objectively review it but it has a little bit of a harder edge than the rest of the album, while still managing to retain the soul and feel that make the rest of the album so enjoyable.  It’s The Lone Bellow at their best, intense and fun, soulful and playful, and altogether refreshing.  The iTunes album also features the bonus track of Button, a jazzy tune that sounds like it was recorded in the roaring 20’s and just showcases the diversity and talent of this band.

If you’re still not convinced to run out and buy this album, you can take a listen over at NPR’s First Listen and hear this wondrous album for yourself. Or you can check them out on Conan O’Brien on Tuesday Jan 22, 2013, friend them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

The Lone Bellow is clearly the next step for this talented group of musicians.  Their sound is familiar without being stale, comforting without being smothering, and original without being a duplication.  It is an outstanding effort from start to finish and whether you’re familiar with Zach’s older stuff or not, you’ll definitely like this album.


Sam’s Choice : Top Songs For 2011

It’s that time of the year again folks.  Yes, the time has come for me to post my highly anticipated and talked about (not really in either case…) list of my favorite songs from 2011.  As always, these are not neccessarily songs that came out this year (although I think that most, if not all, of them did), but just the songs that will make me think about 2011 when I hear them because this is the year I discovered them and subsequently wore them out with tons of plays on my iTunes. And few things are as subjective as musical taste, so these are just my favorites.  But hopefully there is some stuff you like here too.

Programing note: the ordering is mostly just in the order that I think they sound the best, not necessarily in order of my favorites (though the 5 five-star songs did lead off the list…so maybe subconsciously they did.) Anyway, here we go!

1. Rock n’ Roll is Free – Ben Harper

This is the ultimate starter song.  The opening funky bass line with slow guitar and snare build into the jangling guitar rift and they just make your feet want to move.  Leave it to Ben Harper to create my favorite rock anthem of the year and to do it with such a catchy tune that even though I listened to this song all year it never got old.  Turn the speakers up loud when you listen to this one, because it only gets better as it goes on, showcasing Harper’s considerable shredding ability on the guitar (which we all knew was there all along).  And could there be a better opening song for this list?  “Rock n’ Roll is free so come and get it!”

2. My Body – Young the Giant

Another foot-tapping anthem holds the number 2 spot this year.  Young the Giant kills this song with a frantic energy that really makes this song’s catchy hooks and distorted guitars leap out of the speakers and into your head.  I love the “take a breath slow down” at about the 3 minute mark that leads straight back into the frenzied finish.  I saw these guys play this song live on TV this year and the energy they brought was about what I thought that it would take to make this song work live and they threw themselves around the set with reckless abandon and made me think they actually loved making music.  Anyway, I just love this song.

3. Free My Mind – Katie Herzig

This is a great poppy and dancy song that is filled with fun hooks and loops.  The fact that Katie has an incredible voice to sing over all of the great beats is what really pushes this song over the top for me.  Frankly, this song just sounds like summer to me (I have no idea what that means, but it just works…maybe fun, light, airy and dreamy).  I also really love the string arrangement in this song that closes it out as it just wraps things up in a nice bow.

4. The Whole Love – Wilco

This song encompasses everything that makes Wilco my favorite band.  A simple growing start that slides into a full hook that pervades the entire song the rest of the way.  Simple yet complex.  Layered yet stripped down.  This song just draws me in and makes me want to listen to it over and over again.  For me, if a song ends and I immediately want to reach down and replay it, that means it’s probably going to end up on this list.  This was by far the best song on Wilco’s pretty stellar release that happens to be titled after this song.  (Sidenote: The day this album came out I was in the den reading while K (my wife) was watching T.V.  This song came on one of the shows that she watches and I immediately recognized it and said “Hey!  That’s the new Wilco song!” I’d heard it twice at that point.  I’m not sure what this story means, except that I really just love this song.)

5. Hold On – The Alabama Shakes

Wow.  It’s tough to make a song any better than this.  I heard this song once on internet radio (HT to Birmingham Mountain Radio here) and knew that it would end up here.  The funky guitar hook with the great interludes and quiet intensity of singing drew me in immediately and has become on of my favorite songs of all time.  My head bobs to the rhythm every time I heard and I bet yours will too.  Bonus points here for the ending with the piano and fuzzed out sound.  I’d never heard of this band before but they’re on my list to see sometime in 2012.

6. Powerful Stuff – Sean Hayes

Leave it to Subaru to not only create the car that I bought this year, but to also introduce me to one of my favorite songs.  This song has such a great laid back vibe with the catchy guitar rift and Hayes’ homey feeling voice.  Couple that with the great snap breaks near the end and the funky beat and I’m sold.  Just like on the Outback.

7. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

My choice for folky, funky song of the year.  This song has a hauntingly catchy quality to it that keeps you humming it even after it has ended.  I love the little parts where the instruments drop out and only the voices and the percussion sound through, which only add to the greatness of this song.

8. Take Me – Jesse Payne

My love for all the songs Jesse Payne has created has been well documented before on this blog, so I’ll spare you.  But even so this song is vintage Jesse.  It has a raw feel to it that is catchy and toe-tapping.  It builds and descends.  It makes use of horns and and an organ.  And then it starts a final move towards the end at about the 3 minute mark that really finishes things off well.  Just a great song and I’d encourage you to buy all of his music.

9. Alabama Pines – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

Another song that comes to you courtesy of Bham Mountain Radio (seriously, just find this station on the internet and start listening).  Another great folksy song with great guitar rifts and a strong beat (sensing any kind of a theme here?).  There is something about this song that just feels right, which is really saying something since I’d probably more inclined to favorite a song about California than Alabama.  So it must be good.  Even if it does have a little twang to it…but maybe that’s the appeal.

10. Down in the Valley – The Head and the Heart

We enter double digits with a song from my favorite discovered artist of the year.  I don’t think that there is a song by these guys that I’ve heard that I did not like immensely.  It’s got all the hallmarks…piano, stings, guitar, and good beats combined with catchy hooks and slow builds.  Yep, that’s me alright.  And this song would be great in and of itself, but then it kicks into another gear at about the 2 minute mark that really tops things off.  The frantic build up to the finish ensured it’s inclusion in this list and the fact that this is my favorite newly discovered band of the year. (Sidenote: After listening to this band for about a week I remarked to K that I had found this band that I really liked and that I thought she should listen to…and when I told her it was The Head and the Heart she said “Oh yeah, I’ve been listening to them for a while now.  They’re really good.”  Well then.)

11. Keep You Right – Blind Pilot

This is my second favorite newly discovered artist of 2011.  I heard these guys on NPR doing an interview and I liked the snippets of songs they played and their remarks so much I came home that night and got my hands on a ton of their stuff.  This songs has great vocal harmonies and wonderfully melodic backing instruments.  All the pieces are there; guitar, piano, drums; but the way they put them all together sets them apart.  Great song.

12. Roll Away Your Stones – Mumford and Sons

This songs starts with an incredible instrumental opening that leads into a frantic folk song.  In a way, it’s almost like walking from a fancy dinner into a hoedown.  And I think that it is the juxtaposition that makes it so great.  And again, all the things that I love combine to make a great song that moves back and forth from fast and slow, almost like it’s letting you catch your breath.  Tough to beat as far as musical talent goes. And I just love when the chorus of voices join the singing.

13. Chisel and Pick – Through the Sparks

This is just a really catchy tune.  It has a jangly hook that makes use of the piano and then brings in horns and other voices to make a finished product that is ragged and yet smooth (if that makes any sense…).  This is a great track but I really love the way that the end sort of descends into chaos and finishes.

14. Steal Your Heart – Augustana

This song is exactly why Augustana is one of my favorite bands…that is it is catchy, smooth, has a great chorus, and incredible instrumentation.  This is off of their third album and all of three of them are really, really good records.  These guys really seem to enjoy playing music and I feel like that shows through, especially in a song like this.  The cool drum stop at the end doesn’t really hurt anything either…

15. Empire – Rococode

This is a Canadian band that recently formed and contains some guys that I semi-know, who also happen to have played with Tegan and Sara.  This is the first single off their album that is coming out early next year and if this song is any indication, it is going to be a good one.  This song has a great rhythm to it and is pretty much everything I am looking for in a great indie-rock song.  A catchy chorus rounds it all out and makes for the inclusion in this list.

16. These Days – Foo Fighters

What more can I say about Foo Fighters that has not been said?  This song has everything we’ve come to expect from them including great guitar rifts, catchy hooks, incredible drumming and Dave Grohl singing his head off.  For me, this was the standout track on their great new album that came out this spring.  If you haven’t seen the documentary that came out at the same time I’d urge you to do so, as it is really, really good.

17. Allies – MuteMath  NOTE: This is not Allies as there was not a copy available and Warner Brothers does not allow uploading to sample.  So this is Blood Pressure, a good song in it’s own right but not on the list…

As a rule, MuteMath albums are best consumed whole.  Therefore, while it is annoying that I could get a stream of Allies for you to listen to, Blood Pressure works too.  Either way, the new MuteMath album that came out this fall was fantastic.  As was their introduction concert in a small venue with like maybe 400 people or less.  Just get the album already and be done with it and then go see them when they come to your town.  Thank me later.

18. Royal Blue – Cold War Kids

Again, the Record company foils any attempt to get people to listen to their music…so the above is about a third of the song for you to listen to.  Either way this track is a great song by Cold War Kids that features a strong bass line, a great guitar hook, and a catchy chorus.  Even better, it includes some hand claps (which I am always partial to) and a slow fadeout, which is great. Pretty typical of most Cold War Kids stuff, so I’d encourage you to check out their stuff.

19. The One You Should’ve Let Go – Zach Williams & The Bellow

Zach himself best describes his own music “It’s like trying to catch lightening in a shoe box.”  That’s about right.  There is literally nothing else about this man or his music that I can say that I have not already said on this blog.  So watch the video, enjoy the music and buy the album when it comes out later this year.

And that concludes…oh wait.

Honorable Mention for Most Played Out Song of the Year – Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

It’s sad frankly.  I really, really liked this song a lot.  And then every radio station and DJ and retail store caught on that it was a good song and started playing it non-stop everywhere I went and I could not escape it.  And thus, it got overplayed.  I did not want to add it to my list but I guess it fits my criteria from above and K said that I had to since it was apparently THE 2011 anthem.  So here it is.

And that is all the songs that were fit to play in my Top 10 (give or take 10) for 2011.  Love or leave ’em, these are the songs that I loved this year and will remember forever as 2011’s best songs.

Love and Sweatpants.


Sam’s Choice : Top Ten Songs for 2010 (And Bonuses…)

I’ve made this list for about 5 or 6 years now and I have to say that I think that this might be my weakest one yet.  It’s not that the music this year was all that bad; it’s just that I’ve been pretty subpar in my tracking down new music.  I blame 2 main things: First, I got a real, steady, full-time job which means that I need to be at work working and not at home listening to and finding new music.  This also means that when I get home I’d rather spend time with my wife and my dogs than sit at my computer and find new music.  Secondly, one of my main sources for music was a local radio station that went off the air at the beginning of the year.  It recently was reincarnated as an online music station so hopefully that means I’ll continue to get some new music.

So after all that, here are my Top Ten Songs for 2010.  As always, these are not necessarily songs that were released in 2010, but instead songs that I found and listened to a lot this year.  Additionally, they are not in order of favorite, but, well, not really in any kind of an order.  It’s just how I wrote them up.  So there’s that…

1. Burn the Bowery – Jesse Malin and the Saint Marks Social – I first heard about Jesse Malin while listening to NPR on my way to work early one Saturday morning.  This song is my favorite of those I’ve listened to, and with good reason.  The fuzzed out electric guitar and anthemic singing the encompass and envelop this song make it feel so much larger than it ought to.   Yet it still feels like something you’d see in a local club on a Friday night.  Malin is the real thing and I’d encourage you to check him out.

2. One Way Road – John Butler Trio – I love funk/rap songs that have a strong guitar in them.  This is my case in point.  To me, it sounds almost like Led Zeppelin playing an acoustic set with an almost Sublime-type white guy rap.  I know it sounds weird, so just listen to the song and enjoy it.

3. Audience – Cold War Kids – I loved the Cold War Kids when they came out with their first single Hang Me Out to Dry.  Then came their second album and it was pretty meh.  Just not that great.  But with this new album they’ve recaptured what was missing on the second one and really nailed it home.  I love the song Audience for it’s strong piano backing paired with a funky guitar line and good beat.  And yes, this song is #3 in my all-time top played songs on iTunes.  It’s a keeper.

4. No Control – School of Language – Frankly I have no idea what genre this band fits into but I call it indie.  I love this song because of the repetitive beat that it has and the way that all of the instruments build and fall together throughout the song.  This song also represents a greater interest this year in similar bands like Field Music, The Sea and Cake, Pinback, and Fanfarlo.  All similar styles that I definitely encourage you to check out if you like this song.

5. I Get Along – Bishop Allen – I like songs that sound happy.  I really have no idea how to describe what that sounds like, but I know it when I hear it.  This is a happy song.  Acoustic, fast paced guitar with and strong and steady beat all combine to make me love this song.  Couple the fun little interlude in the middle and I’m sold all the way.  Bishop Allen has made some great stuff in the past and I would say this song rates right up there with the best of them.

6. She’s Disaster – Lovedrug – About 6 years ago a friend and I were riding in his car when he asked me if I knew who Lovedrug was.  I did not and he proceeded to introduce me.  Both the band and I have grown a lot since then, but I’d venture to say that we are both getting better as we age and change.  This song is off the +/- EP which is definitely worth your time but this song is my favorite.  It’s a more mellow and traditional rock song that has a haunting lead guitar line paired with a spooky synth and handclaps that make it really work.  Tied for Number 1 in plays on my iTunes with another Lovedrug song from this EP.

7. She – Britten – I love music that my friends make because I typically know the story behind the song and why they wrote it.  This is not one of those times.  Britten and I have a great mutual friend and we met through him and I’ve now followed his career for the past few years.  He’s really making his own way in the music scene but I think that you’ll agree that this song, part acoustic rock and part R & B, really has it.  Whatever “it” may be these days.  So enjoy it and don’t try to pigeon hole him.  You’ll just be frustrated.  Enjoy the talent and go from there.

8. Switch Kids – The Henry Clay People – I first heard of this band when we watched the fantastic move TiMER.  They were featured in the movie as a band that the characters went to see/played in and I liked this song enough on the first listen that I watched the credits to find out who they were.  This song, with it’s old school rock n’ roll sound and audience participation sound, hearkens me back to the days of college when my friends and I would pack out the seediest bar in town to hear our friends play music louder than was probably good for our ears while we shouted the lyrics at the top of our lungs and bobbed our heads like we were really cool.  Yeah, I miss those days and Legends of Rodeo shows.  So this song is a great reminder of fun times past.  Listen and enjoy.

9. Glory – Radical Face – A regular customer/friend of mine this summer at Starbucks told me about Radical Face.  I really like this song for the meandering piano sound and slow build that it provides throughout the song.  It’s a little different than what you usually hear, but if you have read any of my previous music stuff, you know I’m into that.  Add in the acoustic guitar and I’m sold.

10. At the Beach – The Avett Brothers – These guys totally blew up last year but as I was going through some of their stuff that I had not yet heard I ran across this song.  To me it sounds like it could be straight out of the Woodstock era with the banjoy/acoustic sound and whimsical sound that it brings out.  A perfect summer song and a high note to end this list on…

…But, if you’ve seen my previous music lists, you know that I am not one to only stop at 10 songs.  Those were the songs that caught my fancy this year, but there were a few albums that were released that caught my ear and made it into heavy rotation on my iTunes and then there were two other songs released by friends of mine that I have to include.  I’ll start with them and I’ll call them 10a and 10b because they were definitely my favorite songs this year but I feel a little weird putting them on this list in the regular songs since they weren’t really released.  So here they are.

10a. You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional – Zach Williams with Brian Elmquist – Zach Williams might be my favorite artist of all time.  Seeing him play music is an experience for me, and I’m not that sure why.  We’re friends for sure, but I guess it is just the raw emotion that exudes from Zach when he plays.  If I could afford to fly to NYC each time he plays a show I’d be there.  Instead I look for him on YouTube and download the songs he makes available.  This is one of them.

The sound on this video is not great, but you get the idea…

10b. Strawberry Crazy – Legends of Rodeo – I’ve been a fan of Legends of Rodeo since my freshman year of college when many a Friday or Saturday night was spent at one of their shows.  This continued on for many years until both the band and I moved on to other places and things.  However, this summer they got back together for a reunion show and while the cost of a plane ticket to go to the show was cost prohibitive (See above entry…), I did manage to trade a bootleg copy of one of their concerts for the Rarities CD they gave out at the show.  It included a recorded version of Strawberry Crazy, which up to that point I had only heard live and on my bootleg.  What a great song about a shy kid and mixtapes…

And now, songs from albums that I really enjoyed…

11. You and Your Heart – Jack Johnson – Ok, I’ll admit it.  I did not really enjoy Jack’s newest album as much as some of his other offerings, but maybe it is one of those albums that will grow on me.  However, this song is fantastic.  I have no idea how Jack created the high/low sound with his guitar (I’m not a musician…), but the effect that it has on the song is great.  Definitely a song that makes me tap my toes and I love the little bridge that he interspersed at about the 2:20 mark of the song.  It’s pretty vintage Jack so if you like him, you’ll like this song.

12. I Was Made For Sunny Days – The Weepies – Classic Weepies here.  A bouncy little folksy pop song that has great harmonies and sticks in your head for days.  Essentially this whole album is an extension of what their previous work was, and that is a really good thing.  And for someone who got married to the love of their life (read: Me…) this year, this is a great song.

13. In the Sun – She & Him – This was the quintessential summer song.  Bouncy, jangling and all about sunshine.  The musical partnership of M.Ward and Zooey Deshannel has generated many great songs but I have to admit that even though this song is a little syrupy, it’s my favorite.  Optimism and sunshine make beautiful music together and this is the soundtrack.  Definitely a must have for fans of folk/pop.

14. We Used to Wait – Arcade Fire – The Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs is a fantastic record and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone.  But for me this song really stood out because of the haunting and repetitive piano loop and the way that there are all of these intense builds throughout the song.  It’s a pretty good representation of the entire album; songs with good beats that draw you in and surround you with the music.

15. Mi Amigo – Kings of Leon – For some reason I got really into Kings of Leon this summer and fall.  I’ve been a fan for a really long time, like maybe 6 years or so, but I guess that the timing was just right for me this summer.  This song is my favorite off of their new album, probably because of the hard driving beat and meandering lead guitar.  It just gets stuck in my head and begs to be played over and over again.  So I oblige.  I figure if you are a KOL fan you’ve already picked up their new album, but if not I’d recomend it.  It’s basically an extension of their previous release, but that one made them famous and a ton of money, so I guess they just figured why mess with what works.

16. Devil’s in the Jukebox – Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – If you are looking for some old soul music that will make you feel really good when you listen to it, then put this song on repeat.  The lyrics are pretty repetitive but the same formula that has worked for both Ray in his music and me in my listening is here.  Give me a good beat, some fun bridges, a steady build and a solo here and there and it is pretty much guranteed that I’ll like it.

So there it is.  My top songs from 2010.  Hope you enjoy and maybe even hear something new here.

Love and Sweatpants.

My Top Songs of 2009

So I skipped another week of the Week That Was…sorry.  I had finals and then Kristen and I headed to Florida for a whirlwind weekend of stuff with her family.  We had a great time but all of that combined to make me not write my weekly post.  I promise it will be back next week though.

But instead, I’m giving you my Top Songs of 2009.  I’ve done this the past few years and I always find it enjoyable.  My criteria is not that the song was released in 2009, but instead that I heard it and latched onto it this year.  These are the songs that I will always remember when I think of 2009 music.  So here we go, in order of the mix that I made so that they flow together well…

1. Sometime Around Midnight – The Airborne Toxic Event – I might have heard this song in late 2008 but I latched onto it in early 2009.  The lyrics describe being haunted by running into an ex at a bar somewhere and the aftermath of that messy experience.  I’m not so keen on that, but it is a feeling that I think most people are familiar with.  What I love is the the slow build, both in the music and the singer’s voice, adding layer upon layer until a high crescendo is met and the song just explodes into emotion and frenzy.  You can actually feel the desperation in the songwriter.  Any time someone can pull that off with a song, I’m impressed.

2. If She Wants Me – Belle & Sebastian – This song starts with the whimsical guitar rift that carries it through the entire song and gives it the breezy feel that I love so much.  I find it nearly impossible to listen to this song without bobbing my head and tapping my fingers to the rhythm.  And for me, that makes a great song.  Bonus points here for the use of an organ, which rounds out the sound nicely and adds another layer of sound and complements the vocals wonderfully.

3. Oscar Wilde – Company of Thieves – Another toe-tapping song that got stuck in my head this year.  I love the pop sensibilities combined with the fuzzed out guitars and the repetitive hook.   There is a great little interlude in the middle of this song that slows things down, almost to a stop, but then builds back to a frenzied finish.  And I like the lyrical sentiment about how we are all our own devil.  I think that there is some truth in that…

4. Relator – Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson – Unlike most people, I thought that Scarlett’s first album was pretty good.  But this record, combining Pete and Scarlett together is great.  This song has it all.  Catchy rifts, experimental techniques, fun vocals, and a great overall sound.  This song is the third in my trifecta of great pop-rock songs.  *For some reason, iTunes refused to add this to my iMix.  So if you go look at the iMix linked at the bottom, you’ll have to add this one yourself.  But it is worth it.

5. Sugarfoot – Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears – The first time I heard this song I thought that it was an old James Brown B-side that I’d never heard.  The big band sound and mid-song breakdown are classic JB.  This song really just makes me want to get down and boogie.  Guitars, horns, drums and vocals all come together for a musical treat for your ears.

6. Take Care – Zach Williams – My love of Zach Williams is well documented here. This is probably about the third version of Take Care I’ve heard and this is by far the best.  Zach’s frantic vocals combined with the tight sound of the band take you on a musically journey of love and promises.  I just love the way this song runs together and builds on itself, finally coming to the breakdown in the middle, a soft, breezy and jazzy wish that flows back into the song so well.  This boy has got serious talent and you are missing out if you have not heard this album or seen him live.

7. Bull Black Nova – Wilco – Wilco’s latest album, Wilco (The Album), is fantastic, but I’d say that this is the standout track off that release.  It is not the catchiest or most accessible, but it showcases Wilco at their finest.  Catchy rifts and an experimental tone that captivates you in an unexpected way.  The slow build here is amazing as Tweedy and Co work themselves into a frenzy by the end of the song, showcasing their ability to take things to the edge of crazy while still maintaining control.  Simply put, I love this song.

8. The Thief and The Heartbreaker – Alberta Cross – This is another slowly building alternative song that grows and develops until it sticks in your head, long after it ends.  A haunting rift coupled with a great voice that builds and builds to the incredible ending.  I could easily see this song turn into an extended jam at a live show and I think that the edgy tone it has is offset by the catchiness of it.

9. Wheels – Foo Fighters – This song came out on their Greatest Hits album, one of two new releases on that record.  This is such a great and catchy song that sticks with you and just begs for repeated plays.  This song combines an edgy rock sound with a catchy hook that just gets better with each listen. Just like almost all of their songs… Foo Fighters are one of the most underrated bands of today and when I listen to a song like this I always wonder why more people don’t go crazy for these guys.  I am one person that will definitely be missing them on their current hiatus.

10. Stand Up Comedy – U2 – I’m a nominal U2 fan (if there is such a thing).  I liked their new album, but did not love it.  But I love this song.  The catchy guitar and cool tambourine sound make for an epic pop sound that takes the rock edge and turns it on its’ head.  Bono and the boys nailed it with this song that has a large sound and a fun vibe.

11. Valhalla – K-OS/Sam Roberts – I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite song for the year, but if forced to, this would be it.  I love collaborations and this one takes the cake.  A rock/rap/dance song that is edgy and poppy all at the same time.  Combine the catchiness of Sam Roberts and the rhymes of K-OS and you have a winner.  Probably the most unexpected song on this list, but easily one of the best.

12. 1901 – Phoenix – Who knew that the best pop song of the year would come from France?  Well, if you are familiar with Phoenix, you would.  These guys simply are amazing and this song is the latest in a long string of hits.  It was incredible to me to hear people talk about this new band Phoenix when they’ve got something like 4 or five albums out.  Oh well.  This song combines dancability with rock fuzz and turns it into a fantastic song that really makes you move.  I just love everything about this song.

13. Clockwork – Mute Math – I was a little disappointed by Mute Math’s newest album released this year, but this song, released on an EP was amazing.  It has all the best elements of the band, with the frantic drumming, the winding vocals and edgy guitar all coming together to make a cohesive rock song.  I wish that the rest of their songs this year were this epic, but I’m glad that this one made it out to the light of day.

14. Headphones – Jars of Clay – This song was chosen mainly for the message in the lyrics.  I love the way they zero in on how we shut people out with our own noise and keep from actually engaging people.  The music complements the message in a haunting way as it grows and winds throughout the song, incorporating so many elements into a whole.  This album was a great work as a whole, but their were few songs that really stood out to me.  This song was one of the exceptions.

15. Little Pieces – Gomez – Simple and catchy.  Vocals and guitars.  Ebb and flow.  Build and come down.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Gomez, but this song is so complete that it drew me in and I just loved the rifts it contained.  The strong beat carries the song and the quick ending is just right.

16. Little Bribes – Death Cab For Cutie – This song came out on an EP early in the summer and I think that it is the best song they’ve ever done.  A scathing review of Las Vegas lyrically, musically this song has great hooks and and a fun rhythm.  It is more upbeat than most of their songs and it starts quick and keeps up the fast tempo.  Just an all-around good song.

So there you go.  These are the songs that captured my fancy this past year.  You can check it all out on iTunes and even look at some from the past few years.  Enjoy.

Album Review – Zach Williams Story Time

zach_williams_story_time If you’ve read any of my recent posts you know that there is about a 5% chance I can be objective about this review.  But I think that’s ok, since I believe music is all about how it makes you feel and where it finds you at the time.  And that’s why we love it so much.

I first encountered Zach while he was still in college and I was just out of college working.  He had just started writing and performing his own songs and his shows soon became Must-See Events due to his stage intensity and hilarious manner while in the spotlight.  You were never quite sure if he’d say something ridiculous or have an aneurysm on the spot.  And it was wonderful.

Eventually Zach and some friends moved to Brooklyn to live in community together and try their lives in the big city of NY.  Zach continued making music and growing as a performer and an artist.  Meanwhile I moved from FL to ME for a summer, then settled in AL for grad school.  As Zach released new pieces of his musical repertoire on the Internet I devoured each piece, as for me, Zach Williams is home.  His music is easily accessible from the first chord to the last note and his first big studio release, Story Time is no different.

Story Time opens with Names That Fell, a simply song that builds and builds into a frenzied finish.  It showcases Zach at his best, telling a story with music that has layers and meaning while maintaining a frantic pace.  That song fades in Fears, one of my all-time favorite songs that has undergone (by my iTunes count) at least 6 transformations.  It is a song about a conversation about leaving home, a theme that resonates with almost everyone.  The funky vibe laid down by Williams’ backing band enhances the song to the point where it fills a room.

And so it goes, with Zach leading the charge with lyrics and vocals that impress the listener that this is something that actually matters to him, something that he has lived and experienced.  Zach’s backing band is a group of classically trained jazz musicians that provide just the right amount of structure and tightness to his songs, without unduly harnessing the energy there. Songs like James and Hospital Dream were born out of tragedy but maintain a redeeming quality about them.  Mountain Water and Take Care provide the ebb and flow that makes this album so good for work and play, relaxing and going, for any occasion really.

I’ve struggled to think of artists that Zach is similar to, but he is definitely in the singer/songwriter vein, akin to Joe Purdy, M.Ward, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, and with a little Damien Rice mixed in.  But Zach is also his own man, writing from his own life and experience and inviting the listener in to the highs and lows that are universally experienced.

So if you are looking for some new music, check out Zach and his merry band.  I assure that you will not be disappointed.  Check out his website, myspace, and then download the album on iTunes.