Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 20 Albums of 2016

What were the best albums of the year? Here is my top 20.

20. Malibu by Anderson.Paak

It's been more an R&B year for me, no doubt...R&B, rap, hip hop...all of the above. This great record from Californian Anderson Paak has been with me all year. Amazing!

19. Never Enough by Public Access TV

This NYC band makes me feel like it's 1979 all over again and I'm 12 years old listening to my crappy AM radio.

18. Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

This Australian band has always been a lot of fun but their new record is dragon level awesome. It's unrelenting...loud...and just plain great.

17. Stay Together by The Kaiser Chiefs

I've been a fan of this Leeds band from Day One. They have a sound, I like it, and they usually stick to it. This record they decided to try something different and it really works. It's soft and ethereal...done right!!

16. Is The Is Are by DIIV

This NYC band shimmery pop is good for just about any mood. Not a bad track on the entire record

15. Midwest Farmer's Daughter by Margo Price

Guess what? I like country again and it's thanks to Nashville's Margo Price. Americana at it's finest!

14. In The Now by Barry Gibb

I can't believe that Gibb is even in my Top 20 but what a stunner of a record. Ah, nostalgia...

13. Ash and Ice by The Kills

Alison is from the US and Jamie is from the UK. Together they make great fucking music and have for the last 16 years. This one is their best. Hands down.

12. Curve of the Earth by The Mystery Jets

You know what this London band knows how to do? Make great records. And they keep getting better. One of the greatest British bands from the last ten years that no one really has ever heard of.

11. Bloom Forever by Thomas Cohen

Holy crap have I been obsessed with this album this year. Very David Bowie-ish but also a really great record to shag to...

10. The Ride by Catfish and the Bottlemen

Another corker from this Wales band. These lads have a very bright future ahead of themselves. Van is a star!

9. Everything You've Come To Expect by The Last Shadow Puppets

Alex and Miles are back with another volume of your father's music. Or is it grandfather's? Either way, it's mega ultra lounge psychedelic cool.

8. Love and Hate by Michael Kiwanuka

This North London gem is another great example of why 2016 will be remembered as the year of great R&B. Paging Marvin Gaye...(thank god, it's been way too long!)

7. Trick by Jamie T

What can we say about Jamie T? He's collar...romantic...and he tells great stories of the UK. Oh, he's from South London. This latest effort sees him going for a more pop sound and it's a massive success.

6. These People by Richard Ashcroft

Fist of god returns after a long hiatus with an absolute marvel of an album. Combining both his Verve sound and his solo sound, RA turns in a 10 song gem. Here's the title track...

5. Hills End by DMA's

I probably played this album too much this year but since it came out in February, it's been in constant rotation. These lads from Sydney, Australia know their Brit rock and capture a nice melange of the La's, Oasis and the Stone Roses.

4. Paging Mr. Proust by The Jayhawks

I was certain that this local Minneapolis gem would fade away and just do nostalgia gigs. Instead, they made the finest album of their career and blew my socks right off my ass! Every track is amazing and if you don't own this record, go buy it now!

3. Blackstar by David Bowie

I thought 2016 was going to be great when David Bowie released this fab record in January. Then he died and so did nearly everyone else. His final work ranks right up there with the rest of his classics and, at the very least, leaves the world with a shining example of his depth as an artist.

2. Viola Beach by Viola Beach

For more information on this record, please click here.

and the best album of the year....(drum roll please)....

1. Blonde by Frank Ocean.

We refer to Frank Ocean in our house as Mr. Ocean because he deserves that much respect. I don't know where to begin with this record. Its stream of consciousness drips over the listener in a melange of trippy wonder. It's unlike anything I have EVER heard and that's saying a lot considering my 40+ years of listening to music. Musicologists will look back on this album as a "Year Zero" type of effort similar to the likes of Sgt Peppers by the Beatles or Is This It? by the Strokes. It's that fucking good.

Mr. Ocean is very good about keeping his music off of YouTube so you have to download it via iTunes if you want to hear it. Trust me. It's worth it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top Twenty Five Tracks of 2016

It's that time of the year again, top tracks of the year. I decided to go with 25 this year because there was just so much darn good music.

25 is Nottingham's own Jake Bugg with a super funky number from his latest release, On My One.


24 is Blacksburg, Virginia's own dream pop band, Wild Nothing, with a gorgeous number entitled "Adore" from their LP, Life of Pause. Reminds me of laying in the sun on the beach!

23 is  Llandudno, Wales' Catfish and the Bottlemen with "Soundcheck." This one is from their their second LP, The Ride and is real corker.


22 is a corker of a track from Uckfield's own Rag N Bone Man. "Human" is a great number that hearkens back to those classic days of soul....

21 is "Who Knows" from Jamaican singer Proteje. It's always nice to hear good reggae and this song reminds me of summer...

20 is...I can't believe it's really happening but yes, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees makes it on my list this year. "In The Now" has that classic Bee Gees sound and even though I have derided them over the years, I can't ignore their contributions to the pop zeitgeist. Gibb's latest effort is a stunner! BTW, those "Negan" looking fellows in his band are his sons!!

19 is Michael Kiwanuka's gorgeous track, "Place I Belong." I've been waiting for a couple of decades for a proper successor to Marvin Gaye and this guy is it! And he's a Brit....North Londoner...

18 is.Sacramento, California's own Deftones, with their crushingly beautiful track, "Prayers/Triangles." It starts off like an air-y U2 type and then suddenly we are into Stone Temple Pilots! Highly recommended for workouts...very triumphant...

17 is North London's own Hunck with the psychedelic pop track, "All Dressed Up."

16 is "Bombay Blue" by the Mystery Jets. I've been a huge fan of this London band going back to 2006. Their latest effort, Curve of the Earth, is a corker and this track is most exemplary of its awesomeness.

15 is"2013" by Sunflower Bean. This melancholy, yet upbeat track from the New York trio is the best on their LP. I like her shimmery voice...

14 is "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" by Nashville's own Margo Price. I've never been huge into straight up country but Margo does this right. Complete with pedal steel!

13 is "Lazarus" by David Bowie which started off the year quite nicely. Then, he died and it really sucked. I remember watching this video with my wife the day the album came out. We both thought he looked every bit of his 69 years. Little did we know how sick he was...

It's classic Bowie, though, and it reminds of those days so long ago when music videos were all we watched...

12 is "Honeymoon" by East Londoner Thomas Cohen and it is simply magnificent. This ethereal and spaced out track from his LP, Bloom Forever, is most reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s Bowie. Good autumn music as well!

11 is "They Don't Own Me" by his Lordship Richard Ashcroft (aka Fist of god). RA returns with a great solo effort entitled These People. It's been a while since we heard from this giant in Brit Rock but the wait was well worth it!

10 is "Miracle Aligner" by the Last Shadow Puppets. Arctic Monkey Alex Turner and Miles Kane return with a second offering entitled Everything You've Come To Expect. Rooted once again in Burt Bacharach, Italian spy music, psychedelia and Ultra Lounge, Turner and Kane spin more tales of love, lust and intrigue.

8 is "Final Song" by . I caught this Danish singer on Jools Holland a few months back and was completely blown away (that performance is available here). Triumphant...upbeat...anthemic...and just a giant pop song...perfect! Here's their performance of this track at Glasto last summer...

7 is "Charlemagne" by Manchester's own Blossoms. Bursting on the scene last year with their bril mix of pop and synth based beats, Blossoms first full length is yet another example of why all the holiest music comes from the UK

6 is "Beautiful Blue" by Tom Petty's first band, Mudcrutch. When Petty first started in the music business it was with this band. But the record execs wanted him, not the band, thus Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were born. Petty promised his bandmates from Mudcrutch that they would eventually do something and they finally released their first record in 2008. This track is from their second LP released this year and it's simply gorgeous.

5 is "Two" by Heart. I've been a huge fan of this Seattle band since I was a kid. The Wilson sisters have written their fire in the rock and roll sky for the last 40 years. This latest track, from this year's Beautiful Broken, reminds me of a classic power ballad from the 80s. Here's a live performance from earlier in the year...

4 is "Lovers of the Sun" by local Mpls band The Jayhawks. Taken from this year's amazing LP, Paging Mr. Proust, this beautiful and most summery track is honestly the best track I think they have ever done.

3 is "Heathens" by Columbus, Ohio's own Twenty One Pilots. Great thanks to my daughter, Grace Campbell, for getting me into this band. This track is taken from the "Suicide Squad" soundtrack and is most indicative of their unique and addicting sound.

2 is Manchester's own Stone Roses with "Beautiful Thing." If you are a Brit rock obsessive like I am, The Stone Roses are pretty much at the center of the fucking universe. Sure, they only made 2 albums and a handful of singles back in the late 80s and early 90s but their impact on bands like Oasis, Blur, The Verve and even Catfish and the Bottlemen was massive. It's so mega that they are back making new music again!

1 is ....(drum roll please)..."Call You Up" by Viola Beach. The Cheshire band who all lost their lives in a automobile accident last February get my nod for Best Song of 2016. Would I have picked it if they were all alive? Yes, I would have because the song is just that fucking good. Viola Beach was on the cusp of being the next big Brit band before their trajectory was tragically cut short. In so many ways, this track epitomizes everything I love about music. It's a love's's makes me feel nostalgia for a time that never all, a perfect song!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Best Christmas Song of All Time

It's hard to pick the best Christmas song of all time. There are so many good ones from which to choose! My fave is "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole from 1961. The original King recorded many versions of this 1945 classic penned by Bob Wells and Mel Torme but this stereophonic version is the best.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dripping Nostalgia With A Dash of Melancholy

The holidays always bring me to a nostalgic place. I remember Christmases past with my grandparents when I would sit in their front room and listen to them tell me stories from what life was like in the 1940s. I must admit that for all of the faults of that era, that's the one I have romanticized the most. Sometimes I think I was alive during that era somehow...past life maybe...I don't know...

Hearing the music of that era makes the melancholy drip even more and I feel like I'm right back to the sights and smells of my grandparents house. They were the ones that turned me on to Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey...Benny Goodman...Lionel Hampton...Bobby Mercer...and, of course, the Andrews Sisters with "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

Thankfully, Rhino Records collected many of these ol' chestnuts on two great discs, Songs that Got Us Through World War II, Volumes I and II. Both of these discs are a must for every holiday season. They may not have any seasonal tracks but they just fit anyway. I've been playing them for the past week or so and have honestly welled up a bit as I lost my last grandparent last year. Those memories all come back as soon as I hear that wonderful music.

And I am right back there...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Autumn Music Series: Bon Iver

Driving between my place in Minneapolis and my mom's house in Racine, Wisconsin, good music has always been a fantastic way to pass the time. The autumn months demand a good play list and what's better than the song "Minnesota Wisconsin" by Bon Iver.

Taken from their self titled 2011 album, it's almost as if these indie darlings followed by prescription for a good autumn track. Right from the start we hear the echo-y guitar and mellow sounding vocals so we know it's time to gaze wistfully at the leaves as the fall from the tree.

I'd recommend the whole record as it's a world wide tour of a variety of cities. Each track manages to capture the feel of the city for which they are showcasing.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Autumn Music Series: Beaumont

It's an Indian summer here in the North Woods with temperatures topping out in the 70s. This happens pretty much every year now in the first week of November and it's truly magnificent.

A great tune to listen to as you are strolling through the leaves and enjoying a a later afternoon stroll would be "Heartfelt" by UK indie band Beaumont. This track, from the mid noughties, has a nice banjo and the requisite echo on the guitars and vocals that are necessary for a good fall song.

I can't find a YouTube video so if you want to check out the track click here on iTunes to preview and then download.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Barry Gibb? Really?

When the 1970s ended, I was very happy. I loved punk, glam rock and some of the classic rock but I loathed, with all of my heart and soul, the disco era which dominated the decade. I thought all of it sucked and the focus of my disdain was the zeitgeist of the era, the film Saturday Night Fever.

The Bee Gees handled the majority of the cuts on the soundtrack to the film. Pretty much every single human being I knew owned this album and played it constantly. The radio played many of the songs over and over again until my friends and I were sick to death of them. So, I got burned out on the Bee Gees really fast.

A couple of weeks ago, I flipped on Later with Jools Holland to check out some new music. This is what I saw.

I was stunned. Not only was the track completely awesome but I realized that the much younger me had probably been too harsh on the Bee Gees. After all, they certainly were representative of their place in music history. As a music ultra fan, I have to admit that they helped to define an era.

So, I highly recommend picking up Barry Gibb's new record, In The Now. The entire album is fantastic, especially if you are still a Bee Gees fan or even soul music devotee. Hearing his voice brings me back to that time in the late 70s when everyone just had to be dancing!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Autumn Music Series: Snow Patrol and Tired Pony

Dundee, Scotland's Snow Patrol is close to perfection in terms of being an autumn band. Heck, they are just about the perfect band without that qualifier! Their songs radiate romance by the fire with a nice Pinot Noir and a snuggly, loved one nestled in your arms.

Their entire catalog is a must as is front man Gary Lightbody's side project, Tired Pony. If you are putting together a fall play list for a long walk on a leaf swept trail, here are some essential tracks, in no particular order, from this artist.

1. "Crack the Shutters" (taken from A Hundred Million Suns)

A track that manages to be both romantic and stadium sing along at the same time. The lyrics are amazing and, honestly, the whole track is shovel to the head stunning.

2. "Northwestern Skies" (taken from The Place We Ran From)

Gary Lightbody got lost in 2010 in the northwest part of the United States and somehow found Peter Buck and Zooey Deschanel, of all folks, and made this incredible record under the name Tired Pony. This is the opening track and the echo...the lyrics...just the whole harvest time...

3. "If There's A Rocket, Tie Me To It" (taken from A Hundred Million Suns)

This one reminds me a lot of U2. I've played it many times while driving through Wisconsin in October and November.

4. "Batten Down The Hatch" (taken from When It's All Over, We Still Have To Clear Up)

This quiet little number showcases Lighbody's soft and mega romantic voice. Perfect for a fire at home or at the cabin.

5. "All Things At Once" (taken from The Ghost of the Mountain)

This track is from Tired Pony's second release and it's a fucking corker. We have the requisite echo-y voices, of course, but we also have...pedal steel! That instrument really makes a good autumn track.

6. "I Am A Landslide" (taken from The Place We Ran From)

This song just makes me's so fucking good. I can't decide if I'd want this track or "Fiesta" by the Pogues played at my funeral. Most people that know me well, consider me a landslide:) Iain Archer demolishes the lead vocal.

7. "Get On The Road"  (taken from The Place We Ran From).

A duet between Gary and Zooey...simply gorgeous. This has possibly the greatest verse of all time....

Kiss like a fight that neither wins 
One tender payment for our sins 
You are the drug that I can't quit 
Your perfect chaos is a perfect fit

Reminds me of someone...:)

8. "Grazed Knees" (taken from Final Straw)

A lilting, soft number that reminds of the very end of autumn...late November perhaps...

9. "Lifeboats" (taken from A Hundred Million Suns)

This track has a nice and very echo-y acoustic guitar. Great build to the chorus. I like the message as well.

10. "Make This Go On Forever" (taken from Eyes Open)

Both anthemic and pleading at the same time. I had someone apologize to me once singing this song. It was quite humbling...

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Calling All Dylan Fans

Fresh off the heels of his Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Dylan is experiencing a renewed resurgence of interest. This recent piece in the Times discusses the early years of his time in New York City. As I read it, I felt as though I was right back there with him and Suze Rotolo as they took their famous stroll down the snow covered Jones Street in Manhattan's lower west side.

Perhaps a listen to the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is in order today!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Nothing Revolutionary At All

Every few years, Green Day releases a new record and it's really great. Revolution Radio, released last week, follows this pattern. It's 12 outstanding tracks, once again, from the very well aged trio of former punk rockers. There really isn't anything revolutionary about it because they made another fucking awesome record just like they always do.

Green Day makes albums like people used to make them back in the 70s and 80s. In fact, listening to this new record, even from the first few chords and lyrics, makes me feel like I'm a teenager again in those decades. Like American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, Revolution Radio is a thematic album that touches on themes of old age, rebellion, war, and, of course, love. Our current political state is ever present as well.

My favorite track is the title number. It's vintage Green Day that makes you want to jump around, do a keg stand, and party with your pals. Check it out!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Music Series: "Wasted" by Glass Rock

It's the first day of fall and that means it's time to kick off my Autumn Music Series once again. The fall is my favorite time of the year. Easily the most romantic of the seasons, the autumn cradles me with nostalgia and swirls my mind with memories of the past. The music I have listened to in the fall seems to resonate with me more than other times of the year.

There is something about the days turning darker and the cool breezes that put me into such a mood. "Wasted" by Glass Rock captures this feeling perfectly. This NYC/Detroit band was actually a one off merging of two other bands (Tall Firs and Soft Location). Their album, Baby Baby Baby, came out in 2011 and is truly one of those lost indie gems. The cover, seen below in the video, is the type of photo I would have taken. It sort of looks like a "last call for summer" type of image combined with a sexy, unknown woman drinking vibe.

The song is wistful...yearning...and it brings me back to my college days at the University of Minnesota. The autumn always does that anyway but "Wasted" is a soothing jolt of that first term melancholy. And, of course, it has the requisite echo-y guitar, so essential for any harvester tune.

I can practically feel the leaves crunching beneath my feet as I walk along East River Road....

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 9-11

On this 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I find myself remembering U2's amazing half time performance at the Super Bowl for the 2001 season. The names on the big screen of the victims...the US flag inside Bono's jacket...a perfect band for the moment of support we all needed. After all, U2 and their country from where they hail know senseless violence.

Here is a video of that performance....never forget...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

All Dude, With the Heart and Soul of a Woman

Music is autobiographical.

Whenever I look at my favorite albums of all time, I remember the first time I heard it, who played it for me and how it changed my life. My dad played me Abbey Road by The Beatles when I was two years old. He ended up wearing out his copy and giving it to me when he bought another one. This was the very first album I ever owned. Abbey Road was the record that I played over and over again that honestly defined what music would be for me. Because my dad gave the album to me, I came to see him as my own personal John Lennon and was equally devastated when each of them passed away far too young.

My friend Ara played me London Calling by The Clash on our 8th grade class trip to Washington DC in 1981. It was my first exposure to punk rock and it broke me out of exclusively listening to 60s bands. It set the stage for the MTV explosion and new wave that was going to define the next few years of my musical influence. I will always be grateful to him for that.

Two years later, my friend Matt played me an album by a band from Athens, Georgia that ended up launching college radio and indie rock. Whenever I play Murmur by REM, I think of my friendship with Matt and just how much music has supported us throughout our lives.

Each of these albums brings not only the magic of something new and wonderful but the warmth of family and friendship. Such is the case with Dreamboat Annie by Heart.

Dreamboat Annie is one of those records. As soon as I hear the unmistakable sound of Roger Fisher's guitar intro to "Magic Man," the album's opening track, I am instantly transported back to the 1970s and every summer from 1976 (the year the record came out) onwards. I had heard the hits quite a bit on the radio but it wasn't until the summer of 1979 when the album really took root with me. My mom was recently divorced from my dad and had a boyfriend. His name was Geoff and he gave her Dreamboat Annie as a present that year.

I was nervous the summer of 1979. I was heading into junior high and a new school. What would it be like? I remember wandering over to the stereo on a particularly hot July day that summer and seeing the album cover. I was twelve years old and had just started to think about sex. In fact, it was that summer that I had gotten into trouble for digging in my neighbor's garbage, looking at Penthouse and Hustler magazines, with my friend Steve. My mom was pretty upset, mostly at the violation of my neighbor's property, but Geoff just laughed. In fact, he offered to get me a subscription to Penthouse so I wouldn't be digging in the garbage anymore. "He's just going to find it somewhere," he told my mom, "why not just have it here so at least you know about it?" She ended up agreeing with him on one condition. I could have the subscription as long as I read the book Our Bodies, Ourselves, a perennial feminist tome, AND wrote an essay about my reaction and reflections to it. I agreed, of course, and then became the most popular kid in the neighborhood with my new subscription.

Looking at the cover of Dreamboat Annie with all of these almost teenage hormones raging, at first, made me embarrassed. I mean let's face it...Ann and Nancy are fucking hot. They still are, for Pete's sake! Look at this photo of Nancy today.

Are you fucking KIDDING me? She's in her 60s now and look at her. Here's another one of both of them from this year.

Compare this to my favorite photo of them from back in the day.

Now imagine being a 12 year old boy and looking at this for the first time and seeing these women...

As I listened to the album that hot summer day, I recognized "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You" straight away as they were the hits I had heard. But the other, those other songs...they just fucking blew me away.

The music swirled all around me as I poured over the album's various photos and read the lyrics. The heat of that summer day, with no AC in our house, made the listening even more delirious.

Ann Wilson, with her gorgeous dark hair and earth mama look, was my first real crush. I've always been more partial to brunettes and it's probably because of her. Nancy was a blond goddess with a guitar who completely managed to set up both a contrast and balance with her sister.

The music was erotic but it was also spiritual...even divine in some ways. The sexual attraction that I had for them evolved into something else much more diverse and wide ranging. The title track was about a young woman's dreams for the future, with which I quickly identified given my own, uncertain future. Where was I going? What would I become? Who would I fall in love with? Ann was asking the same questions and the crush that I had on her became something else. She was another traveler on the road of uncertainty with me. Men and women shared many of the same hopes and dreams. Any differences they had worked in a complimentary fashion. Looking back as a nearly 50 year old man today, I realize that I was also seeing the first light of understanding the concept of sacred feminine power and how their music very much altered my development from a boy to a young man.

"Soul of the Sea" spoke of a woman's place in society...what it was and what it should be. Back in 1976, a woman's place was certainly secondary to men but the lyrics speak of taking flight beyond discrimination. This track is without a doubt my favorite on the record. I've played it many, many times and have never tired of it. It's three piece movement is a stunning achievement for a first record and haunts in the most wonderful and beautiful of ways. "Soul of the Sea" is the lynch pin that holds the whole record together.

Roger Fisher's guitar work throughout the record never ceases to amaze me. His virtuoso like playing ranks right up there with all of the best. "Sing Child Sing" is an excellent example of this. What a classic, 70s rock song! His guitar shreds magically throughout the track in some ways blowing away his hero, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

My mom has probably thought over the years that my dad had exclusive rights to my musical influence. Not true at all. This album had a massive impact on me and had an enormous hand in shaping my growth as an adolescent in terms of sexuality. Every summer since that year, I find myself bringing it out and letting all the memories and influence wash over me. Even in the coldest of North Woods winters, I find myself needing a shot of warmth and I go to it pretty much every year.

I credit Dreamboat Annie as being one of the finest rock and roll albums of all time. I had the porn (Penthouse), the feminism (Our Bodies Ourselves), and then I had the Wilson sisters putting it all together for me in a way that gave me a deeper understanding of women that has stuck with me my whole life. My friend Heidi told me a long time ago that I am "all dude, with the heart and soul of a woman," not fully understanding how accurate she was in using the word "heart." Dreamboat Annie is honestly how I came to be this way.

All of this was thanks to my mother who has written her own fire across the sky for the last 70 years. I wouldn't be the man I am today without her and this amazing gift...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Small and Final Gift to the World

When a new band emerges from the Holy Land (aka the United Kingdom), it's truly a magical birth. I've seen it so many wonderful times, especially in the last couple decades. The Stone Roses made a few singles and then made what is arguably the greatest British rock album of all time. I remember going to Let it Be records and buying "Supersonic," the very first Oasis single, in 1994. I had "Yellow" by Coldplay before anyone else. I downloaded the first few Arctic Monkeys' songs for free from MySpace (!).

It's a glorious process...a single or two that blows everyone away...NME begins to sing praises...amazing shows all around the UK...a festival, probably Glasto...and then a full length album followed by a stop in my town of Minneapolis in which I am completely floored by yet another magnificent career launched.

This looked to be the case with Cheshire's Viola Beach. They had released their first single, "Swings and Waterslides" in 2015. Their second single, "Boys That Sing," was released in January of 2016. NME had begun to sing their praises. They had played many, amazing shows around the UK and were set to explode into the summer of 2016 as the next, big British band. But it never happened.

Because the entire band is dead.

On 13 February 2016, the four band members and their manager, Craig Tarry, were killed in an incident on the E4 motorway bridge at Södertälje, southwest of Stockholm, Sweden. Witnesses saw the car fall through a gap in the bridge, which was open to let a boat pass. The band had played at the Where's the Music? festival in Norrköping the previous day. There were no drugs or alcohol found in the body of the driver, Tarry, and it's believed that the band couldn't see that the bridge was being raised. It was a bizarre accident with questions that don't really matter. Five young men were gone.

I remember hearing those first two singles and downloading them. They sounded like the next step in the next wave of great Brit bands like Catfish and the Bottlemen. "Boys That Sing" is about a girl telling a guy to go be a rock star. Listening to it now is just fucking heartbreaking.

Relatives of the band released an album of all the material they had recorded and had planned on being a part of their first full length release. I've been playing it quite a bit these last few weeks and have just now gotten up the fortitude to write about it. What a glorious first volley that will sadly end up being all there is from this band. The music has an 80s tinge to it but still manages to capture that core of Brit pop sound. The lyrics tell all the typical stories of young men in the UK and the eternally fascinating culture in which they live.

I close my eyes and imagine myself in the main room at First Avenue, hearing them for the first of what will likely be many times as I have with the likes of the Stereophonics, the Kooks, or the Doves. I see my show people, as I like to call them...Annette, Maggie and/or Todd (from Essex!)...and now my own daughter, Grace...all there with me in this dream. Viola Beach are bril! They are mega!! Mark, how do you keep finding bands like this?

Then, a powerful gut punch upon the realization that this is a dream of a future that will never take place...

My favorite song on their LP is also the hardest one to listen to. In so many ways, it represents everything I love about Brit rock...about music in general, really. Listening to the song and looking at their young faces in the video below, I'm just wrecked. The hope and promise that tomorrow could bring...gone...

My only comfort is that they left this small gift to the world that I, and hopefully many others, will cherish forever.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Song of Summer 2016

A good summer song song has to send you drifting in the lazy sunlight and "Beautiful Blue" by Mudcrutch does just that.

Mudcrutch was Tom Petty's first band back in the early 70s before the Heartbreakers were formed. They decided to get back together in 2008 and have now made two albums. "Beautiful Blue" is from their second release which came out last month. Another requisite of a good summer song is that it must be released in the spring and slowly spread across the summer months like the soap and water from a car wash bucket oozing over an automobile.

Tom Petty has always reminded me of summer. I listened to his records a lot growing up in the 1970s but it was the summer of 1985 that really saw me massively get into him. I saw him on the Southern Accents tour at Alpine Valley stop on June 23rd of that year and it really set up my whole summer. My friend Ann had scored two fourth row seats and we were in heaven the whole night.

"Beautiful Blue" goes with sunbathing, a long jog, or a night time walk. It fits as well with a midnight drive back from an evening of ribaldry in the either the city or the country. Any sort of romantic interlude would greatly benefit with this offering as the soundtrack.

In short, a perfect summer song...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Completely Fucking Heartbroken

On Thursday, I was sitting in the middle of the 5th period Global Studies class that I teach when my phone flashed the BBC banner...

Singer Prince has died at his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota at the age of 57, his publicist tells AP. 

I was showing a documentary on Latin America which I immediately stopped. I stood up. Paced for a moment in front of my class of 21 students.

"What's going on? What's wrong?" many of them asked. I think I had uttered something along the lines of "Oh my God..."

I sat back down and told them what was going on.

"Prince just died."

Even though they were a group of 14 year olds, most of them knew who he was and what he meant to Minnesota and the African American community as a whole. Several of my students hail from North Minneapolis, Prince's original stomping grounds, and a few even know his extended family. For a brief moment, we all sat in stunned silence.

Then I told them to take out their phones and I would put on CNN for the remaining 15 minutes of class. They dug into their social media feeds and I looked at various news sites for some sort of explanation. But did it really matter? Yet another person who was a substantial part of the soundtrack to my life was gone and I was completely fucking heartbroken.

The first time I heard Prince was in 1982 at my dad's house in Murphysboro, Il. My dad was a producer at WSIU TV, the PBS affiliate out of Carbondale on the campus of Southern Illinois University. MTV had just started to take off and they were playing the song "Controversy" by Prince in heavy rotation. I remember thinking how peculiar he looked and wondered if he was gay. But I really loved the music.

Later that same year, 1999, Prince's 5th studio album, came out and the next video I saw was "Little Red Corvette." Realizing immediately that the song was wonderful symbolism for a certain part of female anatomy, I understood Prince in a near instant flash of awe. He was exploring sexuality in a way similar to David Bowie and pushing the boundaries of androgyny. I bought the album 1999 the next day and, thus, my love for Prince began. I played that LP quite a bit for the next three years, going back and picking up his previous four albums as well.

In the Spring of 1984, I was in a fantastic place in my life. I had just celebrated my 17th birthday in London on a class trip and started dating the coolest girl in school. As we eased into the summer, Prince released Purple Rain on June 25, 1984 and it became the soundtrack to those truly incredible months leading up to my senior year in high school. It was played at every summer party...every time I went jogging with my Sony Walkman...every time I made out massively with my girlfriend, which happened frequently that summer and nearly always to Purple Rain. Honestly, I have to credit Prince to a certain degree for inspiring me to fall in love for the first time in my life.

We were shocked in the most pleasant of ways to the pure and unadulterated sexuality of "Darling Nikki," swooned at the romance of "Take Me With U" and were blown away by the power and spirit of the title track, "Purple Rain." When the film came out, my girlfriend and I saw one of the first showings and noted how Prince was able to blend R & B, Funk, Rock, and New Wave perfectly. People who liked a variety of musical styles and hailed from all across the color spectrum thought Prince was cool. I pretty much decided at that point that I wanted to move to Minneapolis because First Avenue looked awesome. It was an amazing time...

At this point, his music took on a different and more substantial meaning for me. Each subsequent album represented a different phase of my life and when I go back and listen to his enormous body of work, I remember exactly what I was doing at the time and even feel the same as I did back then. Around the World in a Day came out in the spring of my senior year (1985) and right after I had broken with that first great love. That album seemed to open up the world even wider and yet somehow made me feel more comfortable as I made the move to Prince's hometown for college at the University of Minnesota. Parade came out near the end of freshman year at college (1986) and "Kiss" becoming a staple of dorm floor ragers.

Sign of the Times represented yet another turn in Prince's career. We were all more mature but so was Prince, writing about AIDS, politics and the more complex machinations of humanity. Of course, he was still writing great love songs like "Starfish and Coffee." Lovesexy was next and is still, to this day, one of my favorite Prince albums. Every track is fucking brilliant music suited best for long, shag sessions with a loved one. A few years later in 1991, his Purpleness would release his finest work, in my opinion.

Diamonds and Pearls is sheer magnificence. The album's first single, "Gett Off," extolled the benefits of being with women who have larger asses. Many of my friends wonder to this day if Prince wrote this song for me:). "Strollin" gave a fab shout out to those couples in Minnesota who like to "skate around a lake" on a date. "Willin' and Able" with its ska beat illustrated Prince ability to shine in a variety of musical styles. In many ways, Diamonds and Pearls is the spiritual brother to Purple Rain. Both albums are portraits of an artist at the peak of his creativity.

Was he ever not at a peak, though? "Sexy M.F" and "Love to the 9s" are amazing. "Love Sign" is a classic 90s track. The Gold Experience is another classic LP with the popular "Pussy Control" and my favorite Prince track of all time, "Shh..." The triple album, Emancipation, might seem excessive but every track is stellar. Crystal Ball was a great peek into the giant vault of unreleased tracks that now likely numbers in the thousands. "18 and Over" is probably tied with "Shh" for my personal faves.

He made a few albums in the new millennium that weren't 10 out 10s but still rated at least a 7. 2009 saw Lotusflow3r and Mpls Sound which brought him right back to top form. His 2014 effort with 3rdEyeGirl, PlectrumElectrum, is amazing. He seemed to relish and revel in playing with a kick ass band again. Every track is brilliant with "White Caps" being a top five Prince track for me. I play it all the time when I feel down and stressed out.

Looking back at his mammoth catalog, it is a small amount of comfort that he left plenty of music behind for his fans to enjoy and pour endlessly over. I love randomly digging out one of his albums, kicking back and remembering what I was doing at the particular phase of my life. Now that he's gone, I'm sure it will be bittersweet, though.

Because Prince, like David Bowie, showed me a part of myself...actually, several parts of myself...that I didn't really know nor understand. This was especially poignant during my adolescence when I was trying to figure out who the fuck I was and what sex was all about. Prince's music (and David Bowie's music) was right there the whole time, giving me support to feel awkward and weird and having it all not really matter.

2016 has really sucked. I have to be honest. Two of my most cherished musicians that have been with me for most of my life are gone. Bowie was bad enough. Prince, being a Minnesota treasure, is far worse in many ways. Not only was his music a substantial part of my life, he was a part of Minnesotan life. He stayed here rather than move to New York or Los Angeles because this was his home.

As a Social Studies teacher, the geographic theme of place (human and physical characteristics) is paramount to understanding culture. Prince was a stunning example of the best human characteristics of our place in the North Woods.

And he will be very sorely missed...