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Author: Mark Ward

Mark’s Top Five of 2013

Time to once again tap into my inner Cusack and reveal my Top Five Albums of 2013.

5. Antiphon by Midlake

After the departure of lead vocalist and founding member Tim Smith, Midlake has been born again with a much more powerful sound reminiscent of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. I saw them when they came through town and they were amazing. Here is the title track.

4. State-by Todd Rundgren

The wizard returns to original material with a true gem that works nicely as a companion piece to his 2004 release, Liars. Vintage Todd!

3. The Next Day by David Bowie

Seriously, WTF happened to David Bowie? He vanishes for 10 years and then makes one of the best albums of his career. With the January release, I truly got to enjoy it all year. There isn’t a bad track on the whole LP. Here is one of my favorite tracks

2. AM by Arctic Monkeys

The lads from Sheffield can’t seem to make a bad record. NME made it their album of the year and graced it with a rare 10 out of 10. AM is more laid back than their previous records but still packs a wallop lyrically. Alex and his stories…

Here is a live version of the first single, “Do I Wanna Know?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWRkk4rf7l8

1. San Cisco by San Cisco

The best album of 2013 belongs to Fremantle, Western Australia’s San Cisco. Much of their music was released late last year but they didn’t secure a record deal here until early this year. I have played this disc so much that it is nearly worn out. My 14 year old daughter loves it and can’t get enough of all the catchy pop hooks and down under bliss. Parts of it remind me of the 80s but yet it still sounds very fresh. I’d urge you to check out all their EPs as they have many tracks not on the album.

Here is the track that helped them get a US record deal.

Happy 2013 everyone!

Song of the Summer

With this being the 4th of July week, we are officially at the height of summer so it’s time for THE SONG OF THE SUMMER!! Even though it came out at the very end of last year here in America (and even earlier in Australia), I contend that San Cisco’s “Golden Revolver” has all the right elements of a classic summer song. A story of bitter love with jangly guitars that you can’t help but skip along with, this track is completely awesome!

Even better is the fact that this band from down under seems to have made one of my fave local music spots its semi-residence. Their upcoming July 31st performance will be their third this year. Their full length, self titled album is set to drop domestically in two weeks so check it out!

Their Flag is Planted Deeply in the Ground

The very talented and thankfully local band, American Revival is back with a new lineup and new EP called Thank Ya Kindly. Folks, the lads have done it again. It’s a North Woods corker!

From the first few wonderful seconds of the opening track’s acoustic guitar, I fell head over heels in love with their new EP. “95” opens up the record by firmly planting an alt-country flag in the ground and it’s very, very deep. The track also has a Byrds-like feel to it that I found refreshing and inspiring to the point of where I really wanted to take a road trip to..well…anywhere! Ah, the magic of music…

The second track, “Japanese Shark,” reminded me of why I love the voice of Thomas Pendervas as much as I do. It’s so all-encompassing and full, towering over the music in such a unique way that it actually magnifies each track as opposed to overwhelming it.

“Texas” reminds me of Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen with its haunting pastoral of our nation’s largest state. With this intriguing track, an exploration of thoughts as they travel from season to season, Pendervas taps into his existential intelligence and paints a story that is deeply touching. The EP’s last track, “Lights,” is a rousing number that does what every good song should do: make the listener feel nostalgic for a time that perhaps they have never had.

I certainly felt that way.

For those of you lucky enough to live in the Twin Cities, American Revival is having a CD release party on March 8th at Mayslack’s and a follow up show at one of my absolute favorite venues, the Kitty Cat Club, on March 15th. I’ll likely be at the latter on as my birthday is on March 16th and it might be nice to celebrate the opening minutes of it at 12:01am with one of the best bands in the Midwest!

The Power and Mystique Of Minneapolis

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On the fourth song into their set in the Main Room at First Avenue last night, Tom Chapman, lead singer of Battle, East Sussex’s Keane, realized he was going to have a personally transformative evening. It was during the devastating and tender track from their 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears, entitled “We Might As Well Be Strangers.” I saw him look out into the audience during the peak of the song and his face visibly changed.

The mystique that is the club First Avenue wrote its fire in the sky long ago, even before Purple Rain. It used to be a cool place to hang out even when it was a Greyhound Bus Station back in the 1930s, with its art deco vibe, air conditioning and floor checked terrazzo (which is still there today and serves as foundation of the pit). In 1970, the club opened with a two set performance by Joe Cocker and his Mad Dog Englishmen. Fitting, really, that a Brit Rocker should christen what was to become the musical mecca of the Midwest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the years and as seen by the many stars painted on the exterior of the building, god-like geniuses from rock mythology have played the Main Room and the glorified closet known as 7th Street Entry, located in the same building. Clearly, the weight of this history overwhelmed Chapman, keyboard player Tim Rice Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and bass player Jesse Quin. But they didn’t fail under the weight of it all. Instead, they rose to the occasion played a 21 song set that heated up the hearts of the 1500 strong audience in from the below-zero temperatures outside.

After each song, I turned to my show companion, Todd (an Essex man, born and bred for musical mythology just like me) and found that his jaw was nearer to the floor than mine. We were bearing witness to yet another legendary performance at First Avenue being born. It was a shovel to the head stunning show with Chapman’s choir boy voice at the center of it all. Keane prides itself on being flawless during performances and last night was no exception. They were greatly aided by the addition of a new sound system (and a wider pit area…so long, spirally staircase with forbidden step!) and the magnificent crowd that became immediately connected to the band early in the evening.

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It was this synergy that created something quite magical last night and the emotion was evident on Tom’s face, growing stronger with each song. The set list  was a nice collection of their now 10 year history. Highlights for me were “My Shadow,” “She Has No Time,” and, of course, “Bedshaped,” one of the top ten most romantic songs of all time. Their new album, Strangeland, is a return to the feel of their debut and contains many fantastic songs, the title track being one of my favorites. The first cut on the record, “You Are Young,” is a wonderful testament from parent to child and has now become the show opener. I recommend picking up the deluxe edition as it has four extra tracks.

With each song, I gazed around and looked at the denizens of the Ave and saw it all wash over and comfort them. Lovers snuggled, arms were raised, several thousand photos were taken and every word was sung by a chorus. Before the traditional show closer, “Crystal Ball,” Tom let his feelings on the evening be known. He was humbled by the connection that was made between band, venue and audience. He struggled to find the words to describe the nature of the relationship between music and Minneapolis and it was in this moment that I realized how deeply honest he was being.

Words don’t come easily when the power of the heart and soul drives the light that is within all of us.

Here are the rest of Keane’s tour dates in the United States. Here is the link to my photos of the evening.

The Return of the Thin White Duke (finally!)

It’s been ten years since David Bowie has released any new music and most of us were beginning to think that he packed it in. He just turned 66 so no one would blame him, right? Yet here is…back with a corker of a new track called “Where are We Now?” It’s sort of a cross between Young Americans mellow Bowie and the Berlin Era. The new album, entitled The Next Day will be out March 11th in the UK and March 12th in the USA.

Here’s the new single:

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Lifting My Mind in the New Year

It’s always cool to kick off the new year with some fresh music. It’s even better when it’s some local boys! Lifted Mindz are a five man, hip hop crew that I first heard during a break of the Orange Bowl just two days ago and they are very, very wonderful.

The tune below (“Dora Hade”) lays down a nice, thick groove that is reminiscent of early De la Soul. Their message, like Hemingway, is honest, true and strong…a movable feast, if you will, for stream of consciousness expression.

What a great way to start off 2013!

Here is a link to download their music.

Mark’s Top Five Albums of 2012

For my top five albums of the year, we begin with something I didn’t think I would like but then did. And then loved. And then became obsessed with to the point of nausea. But a good nausea. Folks, I’m not ashamed to admit but I heart the Original Soundtrack to Rock of Ages. Heart heart heart!!!

Maybe it’s nostalgia or maybe I’m just that shocked that Tom fucking Cruise can carry a tune but this disc is Chock-o-Block with great tracks. My personal favorite is Cruise and Malin Akerman’s rendition of  Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” This is largely due to the scene in which it is performed being so over the top and wonderful that I could hardly contain myself.

Next up is Donald Fagen’s Sunken Condos. My first reaction was instant delight at the cover. Artists these days don’t put as much thought into album covers largely because they are seen on a small screen. Since the advent of downloads, I have opined for the days of the album cover as art (see: Yes or Pink Floyd). Sunken Condos is a brilliant piece of work by Stephen Walker and Jeff Wack. The centerfold is equally as amazing and haunting in its beauty.

The music itself is classic Fagen/Steely Dan. Slinky grooves played by stellar studio musicians with DF’s voice out front, guiding us through his unique and remarkable take on life. It’s nice to see him getting past his big, autobiographical trilogy on life (The Nightfly, Kamakiriad, Morph the Cat) and just have fun again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Epxd1v43yas&w=480&h=360

For number three on my list, I look closer to home and note the wonderful debut of The Stereo Pirates self-titled record. Since it was a January release, it was a real treat to play it all year and enjoy it through all four seasons. I found it to be a great disc to throw on while running and play from start to finish. Perhaps it’s because it’s a “journey” album and every time you listen to it, your mind goes down a new path.

Number two on my list is That’s Why God Made the Radio by The Beach Boys. Brian is back and this time, it ain’t no publicity stunt. Their twenty ninth (!) studio album is a return to heights that have not been seen since Sunflower. Honestly, some tracks are right up there with Pet Sounds. All surviving members are here, including the return of Al Jardine replacement, David Marks. The last three tracks (“From There and Back Again,” “Pacific Coast Highway,” and “Summer’s Gone”) are Smile-like in their connectivity and wonder. The band recorded 28 songs for this album so perhaps this isn’t the end for new material but if it is (they are all in their 70s, after all), what an impressive coda!

The best of album of 2012 is Sonik Kicks by Paul Weller. I make no bones about by obsession with Brit Rock and it really isn’t that much of a stretch to guess that the Modfather would be my top pick of the year. I wrote a more detailed review of it back when it was released and all of those words still apply today, if not more so. Weller is truly like a fine wine, getting more robust with each passing year. He promises much more to come in the future and I simply can’t wait. If he keeps growing like this, it’s going to be more apparent that his solo career is leaps and bounds past The Jam and The Style Council. Diehards like me already know this to be true.

Now, go buy all these fucking records….

Mark’s Top Five Tracks of 2012

Channeling my inner Cusack via Nick Hornby, here are my Top Five Tracks of 2012.

5. “Don’t Stare At The Sun” – Richard Hawley

Haunting and evocative of another time, this song has been stuck to me for the past few months and won’t let go. Certainly, it’s reminiscent of Tonight-era David Bowie but there’s something more than that here. It’s echo-y…shimmery…like memories…simply wonderful…

4. “I’m Not The Same Without You” – Donal Fagen

The more things change, the more they stay the same..a cliche, I know, but I’ve been struck how this year saw me listening to the same bands I did 30+ years ago. This list (along with new releases by Joe Jackson and Bruce Springsteen) is certainly indicative of that. It’s not that I’m old and crabby about music or anything (I have plenty of new bands that I love) but these senior farts are still making exceptional music that, in many ways, is superior to some of the new stuff coming out.

This is certainly true of Donald Fagens’ new album, Sunken Condos. This track is a great example of how the good ol’ style of music still sounds great today. In fact, no one really makes music like this anymore so it’s actually very refreshing!

3. “Take Me Home” – The Stereo Pirates

Almost my track of the year and not just because they are local boys. The LA sound here is absolutely perfect in this stunner of a track. I challenge anyone to listen to this from start to finish and not well up a little bit. A stadium anthem for 2012 if there ever was one…

2. “Summer’s Gone” – The Beach Boys

Brian finally got the remaining boys back together for one last (?) go around. This is the closing track on a truly exceptional album and it acts as a possible epilogue to the 50 year career of the Beach Boys. Brian has hinted for many years that he had a song that would be the last song on the last Beach Boys album and this is it. Who knows if this is really the end (they are all in their 70s now, after all)?

If it is, “Summer’s Gone” is a perfect track for taking your best gal for that last stroll home, past the white picket fences or through the fields or under the boardwalk, in early September right before you head off to college…with the leaves…and the co-eds in sweaters…and textbooks…and the life of the mind…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDEzqFMejzU&w=560&h=315

1. “A Study In Blue” – Paul Weller

The Modfather came up big this year, as I discussed previously, and there was never really any question after I heard this track, that it would be my top choice for 2012. The duet with Hannah Weller (his wife) is what really makes this song shine in its trippy, chill-outedness. This song has been floating next to me all year and has been a very soothing companion.

Tomorrow I’ll put up my Top Five Albums of the Year.

Autumnal Delights (Richard Hawley)

With only a few weeks left until the official end to autumn, I thought it appropriate to return to the that magic mix of music and this time of the year. It seems like kismet for today considering it hit 52 degrees in the Twin Cities with London like fog covering the area for the last 48 hours. There have been quite a number of songs released this year that have captured that feel of autumn that I speak so often to anyone who will listen so let’s get to them!

First up is a song that has been seared into my mind and heart. Richard Hawley’s haunting “Don’t Stare At The Sun” is so ridiculously wonderful that I have to play it every single day. The echo-y guitars produce that magical autumnal shimmer that takes me back to my high school years and solders an immediate connection with The Unforgettable Fire. 

Hawley’s voice on this track reminds me of the very underappreciated Tonight LP (released in October of 1984 and to be highlighted here soon) by David Bowie. Folks, this track is simply amazing and must be downloaded immediately for long walks under the Harvest Moon.

Check it out below!