Hey guys, remember that time my blog hit the third birthday mark and I didn’t notice? Last week marked three years of Fuel/Friends’ existence, and in those thousand-plus days we have had a lot of fun.
As I say continually and every year around this time, I am humbled that you stop by to see what I am listening to or reading or exploring, and it has been my distinct pleasure to unearth some sonic gems for your enrichment and mine.
In keeping with tradition, here are twenty songs from Year 3 that have been high on my list of radness and worth parading past one more time as we embark on our fourth year. As I began going through my monthly archives I thought the culling might be difficult, but as always, several effortlessly effervesced to the top, and this is a list I feel great about.
Make sure that you didn’t miss these the first time around; burn yourself a CD with these twenty, and let’s celebrate another year.
TWENTY FROM YEAR THREE!
One Crowded Hour (with orchestra) – Augie March
A few days into Fuel/Friends Year 3, I posted a gorgeous set from melodic and wistful Australians Augie March, playing a set with a full orchestra. I wrote, “Already literate and lavish, their songs become absolutely something else in this setting. ‘One Crowded Hour’ makes me want to climb inside of it even more than before. What an elegant, evocative, soaring song.” Some of the best lyrics of the year, too. [Nov 23, 2007]
Frankie’s Gun – Felice Brothers
Even now, every single time the wheezy opening notes of this song cue up, a wide smile spreads across my face. The Felice Brothers are from the Catskills in NY, and there’s a raw and unfinished sound to their storytelling brand of folk-americana. I wrote that “as you sit with them, the colors of their music start to come out in a warm rich burn, like a campfire at 2am. Very few artists write stories like this anymore, except for folks like Ray LaMontagne or the Hold Steady, in very different-sounding ways. Their vivid music is populated by characters with names like Long-Legged Brenda, and take the listener along on all kinds of wild narratives that echo Dylan in their complexity and seeming unsingability.” I absolutely adore this song; seeing them do it live in SF was a highlight of my summer. [Jan 18, 2008]
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Oh, Nick Cave had me wrapped around his finger this year. After seeing him throw down the rock ‘n’ roll fire and brimstone in September, I have been converted on a religious-fanatic level. This ace song is a “danceable apocalpyse,” and in order to properly appreciate it, you simply must watch the music video. HOW does he do that? Nick Cave is the most effortlessly cool mofo in music today (and for the last thirty years). [Jan 21, 2008]
Nothing – The Hands
The Hands are from the Pacific Northwest, and there’s something “slightly off and unnerving in the melody and rhythm here – just a half-second syncopated, or too fast. Either way, it feels like about seven cups of coffee in the morning: all jittery and yowling, but anchored by a classic rockin’ feel with those dead-ringer Jaggeresque vocals. I want to keep replaying the opening notes to figure out what’s going on there in those first thirty seconds.” [Jan 28, 2008]
Monk Chant – The Monks
A recommendation from a friend sent me on a historical dig into the music of The Monks from the mid-’60s, American G.I.s stationed in Germany whose sound was leagues ahead of the era and laid the groundwork for the punk and rock I love today. “There’s an urgency and an animal primacy to the music that belies the sweaters and the bobby socks of 1965,” and this crazy tribal chant and electric feedback swamp gets my blood running hot. [Jan 31, 2008]
You Left The Water Running – Otis Redding
One of my favorite dork-concept mixes this past year was loosely based around a kids book called That’s Dangerous!, and following the model of the book, I soundtracked all sorts of bad ideas and the grown-up trouble we can get ourselves into. I wasn’t familiar with this Otis Redding song before, but from the opening countdown and that bewitching thump of melody, this soulful burner is one of my favorites to sing along with when I feel that somebody done me wrong.
[Feb 2, 2008]
Grounds for Divorce – Elbow
I was recently reacquainted with this fabulous song from Manchester rockers Elbow that starts off as a subdued tale about “working on a cocktail called Grounds For Divorce,” then explodes into “a haunting, gospelly blues track with a guttural punch and stomp.” I love being surprised by the way it shimmers with almost-glam overtones. [Feb 11, 2008]
Rat Within The Grain (b-side) – Damien Rice
One day before leap year, I posted one of the best songs Damien Rice has written, overlooked by the world as a b-side but amazingly piercing and terribly sad, soaked in a wistful bitterness. An intensely personal song for me, it “gouges pretty harshly at the softest parts of my insides, as his jaded self-contempt seeps into the tender, almost-hidden professions of a maybe hopeless kind of love. In one long sentence, he goes from wanting to keep her at arm’s length because he knows that parts of him are a turbulent ocean, and wanting so much to be wonderful in her eyes.” [Feb 28, 2008]
Circus of Horror – Quiet Village
“Sometimes a song sneaks up on you and surprises you with the way it insinuates entire cinescapes in your mind. That picture above belongs with another film, but it is a vague representation of the colors, the era, the intrigue that this song (by Quiet Village) conjures up for me. This seems a perfect soundtrack to a forgotten ’60s Italian spy movie — a little campy but sleek, ready for some fast driving down narrow cobbled streets. Or perhaps you can hear a change of locales with a dash of cool saunter down the Miami waterline, scoping out the sinister antagonist.” [April 17, 2008]
Lovely Allen – Holy Fuck
This was the year I finally discovered Coachella for myself, and one of the live highlights was seeing Toronto’s Holy Fuck create this song urgent and perfect inside one of the shady tents. “My mind was sent reeling by their brand of lo-fi improvisational electronica, which was anything but sterile. Watching them pour their hearts into their music, doubled over their machines, radiating intensity — and then hearing the warmly soaring sounds that emerge — made me reconsider what’s possible with that genre.” They closed their set with this marvelous song, and “I know it sounds a bit hyperbolic, but for those final five minutes my soul levitated a little.”
[May 4, 2008]
The Only Moment We Were Alone (live in SF) – Explosions In The Sky
This was also the year I first heard Austin, Texas’ Explosions In The Sky, a band that “tells amazing stories through songs which happen to lack words.” A live recording of their epic show in SF conjured up a half-dreamt vignette in my mind that is still one of my favorite things I wrote this year. Maybe the earth is not a cold, dead place after all. [May 6, 2008]
Gratification To Concrete – Robert Pollard
Former Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard made huge waves in my kiddie pool at the beginning of summer with this “monster jam of a summer pop song.” I’m still not sick of this, two seasons later. I originally cautioned that “this will work best if you don’t try to understand Pollard’s lyrics but just enjoy the crunchy riffs at play.” ‘Bout time concrete got some gratification. [May 12, 2008]
Soul on Fire – Spiritualized
“This back-with-a-vengeance song from seminal British space rock/shoegaze ’90s band Spiritualized starts gently over an intimate acoustic strum, with lyrics about being born on a black day shot through with starlight. But before the first minute passes, all the strings swell and rise together and there’s a hurricane in your veins. It’s terrifically stirring yet somehow comforting, as if I’ve heard it a thousand times before and want to be a part of it. It’s a tour-bus singalong, it’s a gospel choir, it’s a ballad just for me.” [June 9, 2008]
Seven Fingers – Black Francis
“‘I was born with seven fingers and seven toes, in my dark face sadness always shows,’ claims the thumping, thrumming acousto-punk title track from Black Francis; a tasty return to classic form for the former frontman for The Pixies. It’s only one minute and forty seven seconds long, but it is addictively refreshing as he sings, ‘Tonight I’ll be with you, and in the morning when we’re through, please know that you have helped me with my pain.’ Tunes like this’ll numb it for me too — it makes me feel as happy as I did that summer when I was 14 and listened to the Violent Femmes on cassette nonstop through June and July.” [June 21, 2008]
I Woke Up Today – Port O’Brien
This tune from Oakland’s Port O’Brien is easily one of the most vibrant tunes of my aural year. When I saw it performed without amplification in an SF Diesel Store happy hour in February, “the spirit in the air was nothing less than jubilant. I would even call it riotous as people sang along, the percussion beat at full-force, and the vocals keeled into an almost war chant. That mood of spur-of-the-moment explosion was fitting because it’s a song that feels chaotic and wonderful.” [June 22, 2008]
No Water – Hearts of Palm
Since I first posted this superb song in preview of the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase this summer, I’ve seen it performed live by Hearts of Palm approximately seventeen times in various venues throughout Denver — and it’s always a fantastic uprising of crowd participation. It makes me puff up inside to hear the momentum behind the song, the way everyone sings along above that bouncy bassline, and “how enthusiastically the band gives back to us all.” They always perform with joy, and this is one local band that is going places. [July 17, 2008]
Trees – Everest
In quiet moments for the last six months, the “muted Buddy Holly classic vibe with autumnal colors” of this song from Everest streams through my head on repeat. I’d heard it somewhere and learned it enough to hum the melody, but then forgot to write down who it was and promptly forgot. After rediscovering it, I’ll never let go (Jack). It’s a lovely, humble, halcyon song and I still feel perfect when I am listening to it. [July 28, 2008]
Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare – Matt and Kim
“Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim turned in one of the single most enthusiastic performances that I saw at Monolith last year, a cataclysmic explosion of spirited yelling and jubilant rhythm. This shiny song opens with such a sunny simplicity that it could be one of those homemade ditties you would compose on your new Casio keyboard on Christmas morning, using the program function and your siblings’ handclaps for backup percussion.” It also sounds like a whole army of awesomeness stomping their feet and clapping in a warehouse in the “We Will Rock You” of today. [Sept 1, 2008]
Get Yourself Home (In Search of The Mistress Whose Kisses Are Famous) – These United States
“The most recent Colorado show that Washington D.C.’s These United States played was at a farm party for Labor Day out near Nimbus Road and Diagonal Highway in Niwot. I hear the two things that existed in some abundance were farmland and alcohol. This sounds like the kind of band that you could have a lot of fun with in those doses. There’s a rustic folk charm here with a feisty and jittery thread weaving through this that would make M Ward proud.” An excellent album this year. [Sept 22, 2008]
I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover) – Denison Witmer
Philadelphia artist Denison Witmer self-released an inspired set of covers this year, and I keep on letting this Bonnie Raitt cover rip into me. It’s worth a few minutes of your time “even if you haven’t given Bonnie Raitt much thought since you (like my sister) sang this song in Girls Choir in high school.” This reimagining of Raitt’s 1991 song “starts with a settling in a room; you can hear the grey empty space starkly bouncing back his plaintive, resigned voice. It is an absolutely devastating song, and especially the way he does it — all void and defeated.” [Oct 13, 2008]
On that note….
ZIP: TWENTY FROM FUEL/FRIENDS YEAR THREE
And hey — I am absolutely looking forward to year four! Thank you (sincerely) for playing along. What have been your favorite discoveries here this past year? I do so love to hear about it.