Music to Your Ears: Best of 2016, Dropkick Murphys, Train and John Mayer

So you may have noticed I took a good few months off from presenting any presentable music to your ears. There’s a few good reasons for that, chiefly the election period. It contained within it such a dire depression that music didn’t hold too much up for me.

However – the week after the United States national election – an album was released that blew me away so much that it was all I listened to for the rest of the year:

Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit

From the moment the quarter drops into the jukebox and guitars let all listeners know “It’s Just Us Now”, I was enthralled by the creativity behind the guitar riffs and synth stretches. By the time I’d gotten to my favorite track on the album (and perhaps of the year) “I Can’t Stand You Anymore” I was finding myself screaming along with singer Alexis Krauss, railing against the machine we now found ourselves in. I won’t accept the new administration, probably for their entire four-year (or less) run, and Sleigh Bells legitimized my hatred and frustration for our current situation. I don’t mean to get political, but hell…I mean to get political, and I’ve always known how to relate through humor or through music. If there’s an anthem for my resistance, well then it’s this album. “I Can Only Stare” is a ballad for those that can’t believe what’s been living in front of them this whole time. “Lightning Turns Sawdust Gold” tells all of us that life isn’t over after tragedy. “Unlimited Dark Paths”, one of the sweetest songs of 2016, light fare for a band that essentially thrust noise pop onto us back in 2011, is proof that art will be the avenue for which we can prove we still have hope, character, and empathy. I’m sure we’ll all have trying times in the next few years, but there well also be oases – light in the darkness – that can help us get by. Jessica Rabbit is mine.

I also, given that we’re already a handful of days into 2017, decided to cover the highlights of our first month in a brand new world:

The xx – I See You

The quiet dissonance emanating from this enigmatic duo catapaulted them to the pinnacles of stardom with their second album Coexist and this is no different here. Take a look for yourself to see how much they’re continuing the trend of affable indie fare.

John Mayer – The Search for Everything Volume 1

Mayer and a few other singers/groups have discussed releasing pieces of an album over a period of time before – and here’s our first major example of the experiment. Volume one of The Search for Everything brings us four songs by the blues-loving crooner, including late-2016 semi-hit “Love on the Weekend”. While I may have mentioned before if you’ve been in earshot that this is merely a trifle compared to some of John’s greatest hits, it is palatable enough to keep us tided over until the main events hit. The true highlights are “Moving On and Getting Over” and “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me”. The former song is blisteringly catchy, and I anticipate it falling somewhere on my end-of-the-year list. It’s classic Mayer, evoking Continuum and Heavier Things guitar jam ballads. The blues-soaked bass contributes a groove like none other in the opening track. The latter song takes its cues from tracks like “Queen of California”. It’s albums like this that allow you to take notice that the artist has gone through his growing pains and comes together to prove that all his albums were worth something, a culmination of a sorts in a truly mature release. I can’t wait for the other volumes.

Dune Rats – The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit

So a favorite band of mine, The Grates, have been promoting this Brisbane neighbor of theirs – and the newest album dropped just this week! It’s got a garage rock feel, a blistering bass vocalist, and scathing lyrics in the vein of Violent Soho, another Brisbane relative. The scene there must be growing since the former’s inception, as festival FOMO has developed in the area for the last few years. Rough enough to satisfy the garage punk in your life, and keep the dream alive for Australian based rock for another month or so. Highlights include “6 Pack”, “Scott Green”, and “Counting Sheep”.

Dropkick Murphys – 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory

It’s equally refreshing to have some punk power coming down from Boston, as the St. Patrick’s regulars are here to resolve that 2017 is going to be our year, for sure. In these cleverly crafted ballads, we get more of the same, however poignant. You’ll love this a lot if you’re a huge Dropkick fan, of course, and you might find a bit of a surprise between the deft melodies and raw emotions.

OP4 – West EGG

This Augusta Georgia rapper went viral earlier this year when his video was deemed controversial and got his father fired for allowing the verbose songwriter to film his video within the halls of the school where the father taught. Luckily everything was eventually cleared up, because it would be a shame for someone to get fired over allowing a genuinely incisive artistic piece be filmed by his own kin.  Besides the interesting road to fame, OP4 drops verses that elevate his beats beyond your standard rising Atlanta scene star. Check it out above for yourself.

Train – a girl a bottle a boat

I never expected Train to last this long, to be honest. They nearly faltered after the fourth album For Me, It’s You did less than desirable business, and during a two year break a decade ago where Pat Monahan tried his hand at a solo career. However, with the remarkable resurrection after “Hey Soul Sister” enlightened a whole new generation to the band’s country-tinged pop, Train seemed to find much more life. Now, after a strange Led Zeppelin cover album last year, they return with what might be their best album since Drops of Jupiter. Though there is a heavy amount of reference to past music, especially in first single “Play That Song” which cites 1938 Hoagy Carmichael song “Heart and Soul”. The band is placing their tour with that title, and for good reason – they’ll likely be able to play all their hits throughout the years. It’ll be a long nostalgic look back at when pop had a hopeful air about it, unlike what we have in America now. The band is the Rolling Stones meets Jimmy Buffett, so why wouldn’t we have the most exuberant album of the last few years set upon us in January? I’m all for this, as we could use any  entertainment that brings us hope.

Michelle Branch – “Hopeless Romantic”

It’s been 15 years since Michelle Branch broke our hearts by suffering numerous behind the scenes disadvantages like shifty producers, broken deals and contract disputes. Lucky for us, Patrick Carney came aboard her long-gestating collaboration and launched it to a point that will have us listening to new Branch music in April. For the titular track to her newest album, the sultry dulcet tones are combined with soothing piano, longing to be played, left behind by a session with Lana Del Rey. I was already excited for this project to come forth, but after a first listen, I needed a cigarette. This isn’t your childhood Michelle Branch, but she may still be everywhere to me.

So I probably won’t hold myself to this, but I’m going to try and make this monthly. Let’s hope February keeps up the hopefulness and the rebellious atmosphere that has launched 2017.


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