Sunday, March 1, 2015


When PJ Harvey released To Bring You My Love in 1995 -- 20 years ago this week, actually -- it blew minds. PJ's first two albums, 1992's Dry and 1993's Rid Of Me, were classics, but were really different from album #3.

 PJ never really seemed to care about what was "in" -- happily, she does not worry about the "zeitgeist" -- but her first two albums fit in with the low-fi indie punk sound that was really dominating college rock/"alternative" music in the early '90s. She produced Dry on her own, and Steve Albini "recorded" Rid Of Me, and both were very raw and brutal.

When it was first released, To Bring You My Love reminded me a bit of U2's Achtung Baby on a few levels. Like that album, it is completely different from what came before it. And like that album, you can sit and listen and try and figure out how the sounds you are hearing are being made. Are they from "live" instruments, or something else? Both albums are also a complete cycle of songs. And both were made the with help of the man named Flood. (I think that both artists were managed by Paul McGuinness at the time, so that may not be surprising.)

How different was To Bring You My Love from Rid of Me? Well, "50 Ft Queenie" was from Rid of Me.

To Bring You My Love introduced itself with "Down By The Water."

The sound is different, the look is different, everything has changed. PJ Harvey is a great guitar player, but she wasn't playing guitar here; that didn't fit in to the character she'd designed for herself, sort of a furious torch singer. Whereas she used to look like she shopped at thrift shops like many other underground rockers of the '90s, now she was wearing silk dresses and looking pretty glam.

I thought, and still think, it is that it was a classic blues record. I don't know who else felt that way. It was 1995, and blues was it's own niche. Blues in 1995 was Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Clapton, et al. I'm sure that few of the people listening to blues music in '95 were checking out PJ Harvey. But I feel like this album captured the haunting essence of the blues, and brought it to a new place, in a way that few other artists have been able to do since the '60s.

And don't get me wrong, I am always happy for artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr. who have a real reverence for the original blues, and play it pretty straight (albeit with much more distortion on their guitars) make a big splash and turn younger fans onto the blues. I think it's important and awesome to preserve it in something resembling it's original form(s).

But the thing that excited me about PJ's album -- one of the things that excited me -- was that this sounded like a haunted blues album, something Muddy Waters may have done before Chess, maybe something Howlin' Wolf would have done once upon a time. More than that, it reminds me of Robert Johnson, far more than (with all due respect) the Eric Claptons of the world do. There's a lot of heartbreak, death and revenge on this album. The guitar solos aren't the point here. It's the creepy, intimidating vibe. It's not an R&B version of the blues, it's not joyous. It's about a sorrow that will never go away.

The album came out at the right time. Back then, everyone was trying to be on top of whatever the new, cool new artist was, and PJ was actually having her (cough) zeitgeist moment. Everyone knew who she was, there was a lot of anticipation for her album, and the first single, "Down By The  Water," ended up being a hit, relatively speaking, getting on MTV and I think even on the radio. For some reason, it shocked me that there was a PJ Harvey song that everyone seemed to know. I always thought she'd be like a secret, cult artist, and now everyone seemed to know who she was. That happened a lot during that time period, which I thought was a very cool thing. It was an era where the coolest music actually had a chance to be the most popular. Without pandering. Which is kind of the opposite of our current era, where "relevance" = a combination of social media following and impressions in the news cycle.

Every song is amazing. "To Bring You My Love" is one of the best opening tracks for an album, "The Dancer" is one of the best closers, and everything between works, and it works in the order it is in. "Down By The Water" is the seventh out of ten songs, I think it's rare for a single to come that late in the track list. But it works perfectly there. Every song is where it belongs.

These days, PJ has gone back to cult status, and seems happy with that. She may not be the artist the media is obsessed with, but she's the only artist to win England's Mercury Music Prize twice. She has kept making mostly amazing albums in the past two decades. And all these years later, I realize that the U2 comparison that I made earlier is maybe not as apt as comparing her to David Bowie. From here on in, every album not only had a specific sound, but even a specific look. I don't know that many artists who do that these days. But PJ Harvey has always stood out from the noise, and that's as true today as it was in 1995.

Monday, February 9, 2015


So last night, Kanye West got crazy again, once again complaining quite publicly that Beyonce didn't win something that he felt that she should have won: the GRAMMY for Album of the Year. It's really to write off anything he says, because, let's face it, he can be a  bit of cry baby when things don't go his way.

But when it comes to Beyonce, there's lots of people looking out for her, and they're generally pretty vocal about it.

One of the most well thought out defenses of her came back in December: a friend of mine and former colleague wrote a bit about Beyonce being snubbed by the GRAMMYs... when the nominations were first announced.

Beyonce was nominated in "only" one of the major categories, Album of the Year, but not Song or Record. My first instinct was: big deal. She's nominated for what is arguably the biggest award of the show, it felt churlish that anyone would complain that she isn't nominated in enough of the major categories. It felt like something from straight out of the spot-on SNL "Beygency" skit.

But then I considered that Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" -- a novelty song, albeit one with a good message -- was nominated for Song and Record, and that felt a bit weird. Why would that be nominated in any categories that Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts" or "Flawless" wasn't nominated in?

I'll be clear here. I'm not a huge Beyonce fan: I listened to her album because I am a voting NARAS member and I wanted to know what I was voting for (or against). I doubt I'll ever listen to Beyonce in one sitting again. But there's no doubt that this album was more than just an album, it was an event. An event that you could almost call the 2013/2014 equivalent of a Thriller or Tapestry. At least Jagged Little Pill! All of those albums won Album of the Year, and they were all albums that cranked out hit after hit for a year or more. From the moment Beyonce dropped the album, with no warning, in late 2013, through late last year, Beyonce kept churning out single after single in a way that doesn't seem possible anymore. This is, after all, an era of ageism (and , let's face it, she's not in her 20s anymore, sorry Beygency!) and it's also an age where the culture has the attention span of a moth. People are all about the album until the album comes out, and then it's on to the next thing.

Beyonce was ingrained in popular culture in 2014: it added a new slang term to the lexicon ("Surfbordt"), and a new catch-phrase ("I woke up like this"). For good measure, it even gave Beyonce a new nickname ("'Yonce"). She even used a remix of "Flawless" to address that elevator incident. The songs weren't just pop hits. "Pretty Hurts" was about the pressures of womanhood (and a bit heavier than "All About That Bass"), where she showed some rare insecurity. In "Partition" she showed that she actually has desires beyond just money and fame. And then there was "XO" and "Jealous" and "Flawless" and the "Flawless" remix and then "7/11." There was no album that came close to making the impact of Beyonce this year.

A colleague of mine produced a mini-doc about the year in Beyonce; she wanted it to be five minutes max; it goes on for over ten.

It was just Beyonce's year, period.

I generally gravitate to stuff that I consider more "left field." I like to go who I perceive to be the underdog, and I'd personally have an easy time voting against Beyonce, given some other choices. Like, if St. Vincent's album had been nominated, I would have been all about it. Despite the disparity in popularity levels, I could justify voting for such an extraordinary album over a sales juggernaut by a superstar, even if most people have never heard of St. Vincent.

I love Beck's Morning Phase, I listened to it yesterday actually. But if you're gonna vote against Beyonce, you really have to be able to justify that choice, and I couldn't do it with Beck, even though I'm likely to listen to that album for years to come. It's not the Album of the Year by any stretch, I was surprised it even got nominated (I thought the token "rock" nomination would have gone to Jack White or the Black Keys or even St. Vincent).

How did it win, especially up against four albums that had a much higher profile, surely sold more, and had actual hit singles? I think all of the "pop" type GRAMMY voters split their votes between Bey, Sam Smith, Pharrell and Ed Sheeran, and the voters who fancy themselves more "serious" all went with Beck. That's my guess of how it happened. A lot of times, it's a numbers game.

I also think that there's a sort of inherent contrarianism to the voting body; they don't want anyone getting too big. That's why I thought Bruce Springsteen (who I feel you can compare to Beyonce on a few levels) didn't win in 2003 for The Rising even though he was the only artist really able to address 9/11, no mean feat (Album of the Year went to Norah Jones's Come Away With Me that year, and while I love that album, I felt The Rising really should have won). Kanye West has been nominated in that category a few times as well, but has never won. I think that in some ways, the music industry fear artists getting too big. In the above Beyonce mini-doc, one of the pundits mentions that the industry is afraid of Beyonce. I think he's right.

Like I said, I'm a voting NARAS member, and I care about the GRAMMYS and the integrity of the GRAMMYs. I can defend "controversial" Album of the Year choices at times: for example, a lot of ageists were whining about Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand winning in 2009 (which I thought was a great choice; if Lil' Wayne won, I thought it would be a bit lame). A lot of people equate young with "relevant" (I don't) and over-35 with over the hill (obviously I don't).

But when you get a Steely Dan or Herbie Hancock win, it makes the voters look out of touch just for nominating them. I think that's what bothers me most about this: Bey will be fine. I just hope the GRAMMYs credibility will be.

It's like that time that Kanye said that "George Bush doesn't like black people." Yeah, he seemed batshit crazy, but also he didn't seem wrong. His delivery of course, was pretty awful: no, Beck shouldn't give his Album of the Year GRAMMY to Beyonce, he won, she didn't. And making a case that Beyonce is a "real artist" and Beck isn't is a bit ridiculous.  But the main point, that a major superstar got inexplicably snubbed. Well, a lot of people surely agree with him. And not just members of the Beygency.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


It was an amazing show. I can't find my ticket stub (when I do, I'll replace this image with mine). But wow: it was $14.50.

This was around the time I started going to club shows as opposed to arena and theater concerts. I'd already seen Living Colour with de la soul (the first hip-hop act I'd ever seen live) at the "New" Ritz a few months earlier. That show is permanently etched in memory, and so is this one.

Where Living Colour had a lot of hype out of the gate - in large part because of Mick Jagger's involvement in the debut album, and their pretty commercial sound got them radio play pretty much out of the gate - this was a bit different. Voivod was a well-established band in the underground thrash metal community, but didn't have anywhere close to the mainstream recognition of bands like Slayer or Anthrax or even Suicidal Tendencies or Exodus. And despite the fact that they had a video on Headbanger's Ball (a cover of an early Syd Barrett-era, they weren't a band who people outside of the thrash metal community were aware of. I'd been familiar with them thanks to WSOU in New Jersey, which is where I discovered most metal bands that I enjoyed back then (including Metallica and Anthrax). But it was interesting that Soundgarden and Faith No More were opening for them, as neither band ever seemed to want to be classified as "metal."

Faith No More was the opening band, although within a few months, they'd eclipse both of the other bands, popularity-wise. I had their then-new album, The Real Thing, which was their first with frontman Mike Patton. Like Living Colour, they had really clean production, but they were seriously weird. Each guy seemed like he was in a different band: guitarist Jim Martin was definitely the metalhead. Keyboardist Roddy Boddum, for some reason reminded me of someone from a progressive rock band (years later, I'd hear his "other" band, Imperial Teen, and realize he was kind of a power pop guy, something that didn't seem to influence FNM at all). Drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin was brutal, he seemed like he could be in an industrial band. Bassist Billy Gould was funky as hell and reminded me a bit of Flea sometimes, and Patton was more than a little Anthony Kiedis-like, although he was a better singer (and a better rapper). He was clearly the focal point of the band: the audience loved him, and he seemed to hate them, which made them love him more. (This didn't work as well when FNM opened for Metallica and Guns N Roses a few years later.)

So, they were a bit like the Chili Peppers, but this was 1990 and the Chili Peppers weren't at all popular. FNM released The Real Thing a month before the Chili Peppers released Mother's Milk, so it wasn't like they were jumping on some huge trend. And let's be honest: when you listen to a song like "Falling To Pieces," it's a lot more commercial than anything RHCP had done at that point. I'm listening to The Real Thing as I write this, and it's hard to imagine that it seemed so groundbreaking at the time, but it did. It was an exciting time for music: it felt like different kinds of music were combining in strange and cool new ways, and Faith No More (like Living Colour and Jane's Addiction, two of my favorite bands at that time) really embodied it. They weren't as orthodox about metal as the metal bands that I loved (Iron Maiden and Judas Priest) or the aforementioned thrash bands. They definitely didn't love the hair metal bands (and neither did I). This mirrored the way I felt about music. I still loved the same metal bands I always had loved, but it wasn't all I wanted to listen to. And I definitely didn't have much time for hair metal, and FNM didn't seem to either. They seemed to be a midway point between metal and "alternative" music that I was getting into, now that I was in college (notably the Cure).

Soundgarden were killer. This is notable, because I saw them many times after that, and they were rarely even good in concert, until after they reunited in the '00s. In 1990 they had something to prove, but they weren't really trying to win anyone over. It was more like they were trying to shove their music through your skull. It was really heavy - this was the Louder Than Love tour - but it was almost uglier than metal. It had nothing to do with thrash, it was more about old Black Sabbath. But there was another element to it, and I guess that was the Bauhaus/Killing Joke influence that the band would often cite. But anyway, they were stellar on the night I saw them. They were so abrasive, it would have been impossible to predict that they'd be at the center of the zeitgeist for a beautiful and scary moment, just a few years later. That everyone would try to sound like them, look like them, write song titles that sounded like Soundgarden song titles. They seemed so left of center at that particular moment, and if you loved them, it was like this secret thing. I guess fans of any underground band that later sold millions of records knows what I'm talking about. I was never mad about any of their success though: just like the world knew who Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were, I thought they should also know about Soundgarden. And for my money, no heavy band ever matured as powerfully as Soundgarden, but that's an essay for another time.

I remember it was freezing that night, but I'm glad my brother and I went to the show; when we were there, it felt like we were seeing something special. All these years later, I know that we did. It's been amazing watching Soundgarden's comeback: their initial reunion tour was spectacular, their reunion album King Animal was way better than I could have expected and that tour was amazing as well. And I got to see one of Faith No More's reunion shows a few years back, and that blew my mind too. But I'm so glad I got to see both of them when I did.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


I started this blog seven years ago. I remember the impetus: I was reading some other blog's year end wrap up and they were discussing the Raconteurs. It was something like, "Remember when 'Steady As She Goes' came out and we couldn't stop talking about it? And then by the time the album, Broken Boy Soldiers came out, we didn't care anymore?"

Obviously, there were seismic changes in music and media for years at that point, and the world was still digesting them. File sharing was old news, blogs were starting to rule but social media hadn't yet exploded. But things were changing fast.

When I read that bit about the Raconteurs, though, something struck me: at no point did this blog say that that "Steady As She Goes" wasn't a good song. Or that Broken Boy Soldiers wasn't a good album. It was just that they were tired of talking about it. They were tired of an album before they'd heard any of it other than the single... which they admitted was great. I realized that this was an entirely new era, and one that moved really fast... and didn't have much of an attention span. Music reporting would be more about the next shiny new thing than about something that was truly great but didn't pander to specific markets, or to the news cycle.

So I started No Expiration as a sort of remedy to all the other blogs that seemed more interested in talking about music (generally in a way that I felt was mostly about snark and often ageist) than in listening to music. I hate to use the word "hipster" (does anyone actually self-identify as being a hipster?) but it's useful here because everyone knows what it means. I wanted a non-hipster blog. I could still talk about Kanye West or Arctic Monkeys or M.I.A. because they make music that I love and that I think will endure for decades. But I definitely wouldn't be limited to that. I wrote - un-ironically and without caveat - about Rush, Phil Collins, Public Enemy, Primus, Norah Jones, Rancid or other artists that the press no longer found attractive, or artists who they never liked. It turns out that a lot of people like those artists.

Speaking of artists that people like, there's been a lot of talk about "poptimism" this year; it's like a reaction to "rockism" which, I guess, is the stance that rock bands are the greatest thing ever, that it's important to usually write the songs that you sing, and blah blah blah. "Poptimism" is all about how pop music should be taken seriously as an art form (and there seems to be an inherent defense mechanism there that comes off as, cough, anti-rockist and anti-anyone over 35). It's kind of a reaction to the old guard of music criticism - Rolling Stone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the New York Times of the world. I guess it's healthy in a way: why buy into what an older generation decides is important or relevant or great.

My take is: I like a little bit of both schools of thought. Yes, some pop music deserves to be taken seriously, and some rock music does too. Do I think that Katy Perry or Justin Bieber deserve the respect that, say, Bruce Springsteen gets? I do not. That said, if Katy's "Friday Night" is playing at a Bar Mitzvah, I'll dance to that s*** in a second and not feel weird about it at all.

Listen to what you like. Try not to think of what liking it says about you. If you like pop music, like it. Own it. If you like classic rock bands who are not trendy at the moment - let's say, Bad Company, Bob Seger or the J. Geils Band - wave that flag. If you love the "alternative rock" bands of the '90s who seem a bit out of step today, who cares: you love some of the greatest music of all time, don't worry if you're not moved by the Dirty Projectors or whoever. Also: you shouldn't feel guilty about so-called guilty pleasures.  (That said, I have some guilty pleasures, not that I'm losing sleep over them: Yo La Tengo's "From a Motel 6," Sebadoh's "Ocean" and Pavement's "Summer Babe" to name a few.)

Well, that's my state of the union. Here's my top albums of the year.

1. St. Vincent - St. Vincent: OK, after that preamble, you probably weren't expecting this. But once I heard this album (after hearing one of my colleagues talking about it, and reading a few reviews), and also after seeing Annie Clark jam with Nirvana at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I checked her new album out. I was really knocked out. It doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard. It's sexy but not crass, fun but also serious, it has dance elements but she's a monster guitar player (Guitar World should feature her on the cover STAT) and she writes great songs. I saw her perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater as part of CBS's Live on Letterman series and I was blown away. So, I'm with the critics on this one (Rolling Stone named it the 4th best album of the year, after U2, Springsteen and the Black Keys - not even *I* would have named U2 and Bruce #1 and #2 of this year, by the way; Entertainment Weekly named it their album of the year). I don't really look for ingenuity in new music; it's like a bonus if I find it. It doesn't happen often. But when I listen to St. Vincent, it's like when I first heard PJ Harvey or Jane's Addiction: it's new, there's a sense of danger, it's sexy, it's exciting. It's music worth paying attention to and loving. I think once you check her out, you'll be living her music for a long time to come.

2. Jack White - Lazaretto: I'm not sure why this album didn't seem to get the accolades that it should have. To me, it's a classic album. I think it's like what I was saying about the Raconteurs in my opening paragraph: the media got tired of writing about him. But wow, what an album: the title track, which he's pointed out was influenced by MC Lyte's "Cha Cha Cha," is an instant classic. The rest of the album is jammed with great songs, which are likely influenced by the end of his marriage with Karen Elson (although he's totally denied that). It's also worth noting that he now has a discography that includes classics with three different bands and also as a solo artist, which is pretty incredible.

3. Robert Plant - lullaby and... the Ceaseless Roar: "Relevant"used to be one of those words that only cultural critics would use. These days, fans of all kinds of music use it, and I think it's meaning has changed. Relevance used to be tied to a certain cultural cache: were you influential on the culture, or on a subculture? Now, it's actually quantitative: it seems to refer to revenue and impressions. How much has your music been streamed, what are your YouTube numbers, how many followers do you have on Twitter or Instagram and how engaged are they with your content and how many endorsement deals do you have (and how much are you getting paid for them)? The idea of an artist focusing only on the music and not worrying about the rest of it, it's a bit quaint to pop culture in 2014. But Robert Plant cares very little about fitting in in 2014. He probably hasn't worried about that for a very long time. I think he wants to be vital, but doesn't care if he's part of pop culture's zeitgeist. He definitely doesn't want to be living in 1973, and he has the fortitude to turn down huge paychecks that would pay him to do that. The story of him turning down a nine-figure deal to reunite with Led Zeppelin turned out not to be true. But the fact is, if offered, he probably would turn it down. And Zep is not the only ensemble he's turned his back on: surely a tour with Alison Krauss would come with a large guarantee. But the man follows his muse, and it really paid off (artistically, at least) on this album, even if few in the media noticed. Reuniting with most of the musicians who worked on his pre-Raising Sand album Mighty ReArranger, lullaby combines blues, rockabilly, dance music and what is known as "world" music with stunning results. "Rainbow" is one of his finest post-Zep songs, and holds up to much of the Zep catalog as well.

4. The Black Keys - Turn Blue : They're consistently the best band in the land these days, album after album. And Dan Auerbach almost can't miss: he's great working with other artists as well (that said, I didn't spend much time with the album he produced for Lana del Rey, and what I heard didn't really grab my attention). One thing that really struck me about the album is that they saved the best song for last: "Gotta Get Away" is such a great '70s style radio rocker, it almost reminds me of the Steve Miller Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I obviously mean that as a compliment. But it's so "pop" (or at least pop if this was 1977) that I think because of their "indie rock" roots, they may have felt uncomfortable with it. Whatever, it's a great ending to a great album. I can't wait to hear what they do next.

5. Sam Smith In the Lonely Hour - It's soul music, straight up, 2014 style. A really well done album. He and his team could have taken these songs down to Memphis and recorded them at Stax, and they would have sounded just as good. But it's 2014, he's British, he's not a historian (in the way that guys like maybe Jack White or Dan Auerbach are). I think I heard an interview where he referred to Mariah and Whitney as "legends." That's his truth. He's very true to himself, and this is a really honest, and excellent, album. "Stay With Me" is a classic, and there are a lot of others songs on the album that are just as good (certainly "I'm Not the Only One"). I felt like I could imagine Otis Redding, or Sam and Dave or Aretha Franklin singing some of these songs.

6. The Afghan Whigs Do To the Beast - This would totally be on all the hipster year-end best-of lists... if this was 1992. There was no "peer pressure," as it were, to listen to this album this year, which is a shame, because it is a great album. It was their first album in sixteen years; of course, you always have to approach a "reunion" album with managed expectations. But Do To the Beast sounds like the young Afghan Whigs of the early '90s teleported through time to 2014, and that no time has passed since 1998's 1965. I saw them twice since this album came out, and what struck me is that the crowd was as enthused about the new songs as the old ones. And I felt the same way.

7. The Last Internationale We Will Reign - It's probably true that I would not have heard about this band if it wasn't for their new drummer, Brad Wilk (of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave). But happily, I did and what a great band they are. They are rocking, they are political, they are soulful and they have nothing to do with indie rock circa 2014. Singer Delia Paz, if I had to compare her voice to someone, it would be Ann Wilson of Heart. She's amazing. This is not the kind of rock music that gets written about today. People seem more OK with bands influenced by Pavement than by the MC5, which is a shame. But I know they'll find their audience. One of their fans is none other than Robert Plant, who tapped them to open a bunch of shows for him this year. Rock and roll isn't necessarily about being the thing that all the magazines are writing about; it's often being the thing that the media hasn't noticed while they're fawning over a of-the-moment trend. When I was getting into music, Rush was my favorite band, and I couldn't find much about them in any magazines. That was my introduction to music magazines. In 1981, when they released Moving Pictures, they weren't on the cover of Rolling Stone (nor have they ever been, in any year), but Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Rickie Lee Jones and James Taylor all got covers. I realized early on that those who decided what music was "important" were often asleep at the wheel. (On a personal note, it was a total pleasure to interview Mr. Wilk in 2014).

8. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2 I may not have paid attention to this one if it hadn't been for Zach de la Rocha's appearance on "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)." (And I love that this marks the second appearance by a Rage Against The Machine member on this list!) This will sound a bit "get off my lawn!" but I've been so bored with hip-hop, generally speaking, for quite a while. There's rare exceptions like Kanye or Kendrick, but I feel like most of the acts I hear today are so lightweight. And they headline huge venues and sell lots of records. (Ice-T agreed with me.) I doubt that Run The Jewels get much radio play. But then again, neither did Public Enemy. "Radio! Suckers never play me!" Not much has changed, I guess. Anyway, this is a great album, and even the critics have noticed, happily.

9. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye If Rolling Stone was really intent on handing the album of the year honor to one of their mainstays, I would have humbly suggested that they would have selected this album over U2 and Bruce Springsteen's albums. Years ago, I interviewed Mr. Petty for VH1 (this was during The Last DJ era) and he said that if he was a young kid today, he doesn't think he'd be into rock and roll at all. That kind of bummed me out, but I got what he was saying. A lot of my favorite bands through high school and college, you had to search out, at least at first. Tom grew up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as new bands; it was a much different world, obviously. Anyway, Tom did what he does best on this album: wrote a bunch of straight-head, catchy as hell, no-nonsense songs. He's a bit pissed off here, which I like; I am a fan of The Last DJ and he seems to be in that mode on this album. "American Dream Plan B" should have been an anthem for 2015, it's too bad that there are no radio stations playing new Tom Petty songs. He's still got a lot to say. And the Heartbreakers are still one of the best bands in the world. (Another highlight of the year was interviewing Heartbreaker Benmont Tench).

10. Royal Blood Royal Blood Great band. You don't have to believe me, Jimmy Page himself said it (and I love that two former Led Zeppelin members have made it to this list as tastemakers). They sound like Zeppelin fans, but most of all, it sounds like they've listened to every record that Jack White and Josh Homme have ever played on. A good thing, obviously. Whenever I hear a new(ish) band that people are talking about, I try to imagine, could they have played Lollapalooza in the '90s. The answer is, usually not. But this band could have, without a doubt. I look forward to seeing them this summer: they're opening for the Foo Fighters. I think they're going to be around for a long time.

Here's some honorable mentions, there were other things I loved in 2014:

  • Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone Like many double albums, it might have been stronger as a single album. Still, Lu is pretty consistently great, and this album is no exception. 
  • Beck Morning Phase He's "Sad Beck" again on this album. A bit slow, and a surprising nominee for the Album of the Year GRAMMY, but a solid album nonetheless. 
  • Willie Nelson Band of Brothers I'm a big fan of Willie's work in the past few years, and this album, which comes without any real gimmick or hook, is one of his strongest. "Whenever You Come Around" is one of my favorite Willie songs. 
  • The Both The Both A duo featuring one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever, Aimee Mann, and also Ted Leo. It's a fun album, I hope they do more in the future (although I'm curious to hear Aimee's next solo record too). 
  • Ben and Ellen Harper a house is a home Ben Harper has done collaborative albums with the great gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama and the legendary blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite (which was my favorite album last year). This time he collaborates with his mother, who makes her recorded debut here. It's a lovely album. and it was a huge thrill to interview Ben and his mom. 
  • The New Basement Tapes Lost on the River AKA Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons), Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) making songs out of unused Bob Dylan lyrics from the late '60s. I love the album and the documentary of the making of it. And this may be sacrilegious to admit, but I really enjoyed this album more than I did the release of Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Complete Basement Tapes
  • Rancid ... Honor Is All We Know It was probably about a decade ago, I went to see Rancid at Roseland. The upper level - always reserved for media and industry types - was pretty empty. But downstairs? Packed. I'd been to lots of shows where the so-called "V.I.P." section was crowded but the show hadn't sold out. That's kind of the deal with Rancid: the music industry, who once couldn't get enough of them, have moved on. But that doesn't affect the band, or their fans, at all. You can write in some magazine that "punk rock is dead" but I wouldn't say that too loudly at a Rancid show if you want to keep your teeth. Their last album, 2009's Let the Dominoes Fall, was a classic that didn't get noticed, and the new one is just as good. 
  • Foo Fighters Sonic Highways  I feel like I need to write a bit more about this. The album is the follow up to 2011's Wasting Light, which was my second favorite album of the year. I don't think this one is quite as good, although I love the concept of recording in different studios across the country. But there was a moment in the Nashville episode of the HBO documentary series, where Dave Grohl returned to the studio after a break and everyone was wearing cowboy hats, and he got a bit freaked out. I think maybe he should have been a bit more open to the being influenced by the other forms of music he was learning about: you kind of don't get a sense of where the songs are from by listening to the album. I do think some of the guests - especially Joe Walsh - fit in really well. 
  • U2 Songs of Innocence I feel like I have to write a bit more about this one too. No, it's not the best album of the year, and it's not a five star album, but it's definitely got some great moments, especially "Every Breaking Wave." People bitching about it are just being bitchy. If Beyonce's album landed in everyone's iTunes, 
  • Bruce Springsteen High Hopes and American Beauty EP I also think I should have written more about Bruce's releases. I don't love them as much as Wrecking Ball, my favorite album of 2012. But this year it seemed like Bruce realized that the meaning of an "album," and an "album cycle" aren't as set in stone as they used to be. So, High Hopes is a bit more of an "odds and sods" collection than an "album," as such. He covered songs he already covered (the title track, Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream"), re-recorded some of his songs ("American Skin," "Ghost of Tom Joad") did a new cover ("Just Like Fire Would") and added a few great songs to his repertoire. Unfortunately, "Harry's Place" was the second song on the album, and it sounded like a tribute to Glenn Frey's solo career, which was a bit of a turnoff. But the record is mostly excellent, and the American Beauty EP was solid. 
  • The Roots ...and Then You Shoot Your Cousin Their most ambitious album yet. Now that their "day job" pays the bills, they can do whatever they want with their records, which is a good thing. The idea of these guys having to listen to hip-hop marketing teams telling them what they should be doing is a bit awkward at this point. (I also reviewed a very unique performance of the album.) 
  • Miranda Lambert Platinum I didn't like this as much as her last one, Four the Record, and I didn't like the first single "Automatic," but all in all, it's another great Miranda album. The first song, "Girls," is great. 
  • Angaleena Presley American Middle Class Miranda's Pistol Annies bandmate shows that she's as talented as her fellow Annies. 
  • Chrissie Hynde Stockholm It wasn't really supposed to be a solo album. She recorded it with a group of musicians, and she thought they were a band. But the other guys didn't want to tour, and everyone (other than Chrissie) thought it would be great if she just put her name on it. Anyway, it's a great album. And interviewing Ms. Hynde was a true thrill, and was a story in and of itself, which I will tell another time. 
  • TV On The Radio Seeds One of the few bands to come out of the post-millenial indie scene that I buy into. This is a really cool album, I feel like it got slept on a bit. I love the song "Happy Idiot." 
  • Annie Lennox Nostalgia A beautiful album of covers. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Lennox this year.
  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones Half the City I wish this got even half the attention that Sam Smith got. Great singer, great band, great songs. A more vintage take on soul music in 2014. 
  • Benjamin Booker Benjamin Booker Another great debut. There's still great new music being made, it just may not be what everyone is writing about. He opened for Jack White, which probably got him a lot of well deserved attention. 
  • Puss N Boots No Fools, No Fun This should have made my top ten, but it's mostly covers so I don't know if it should count as a "new" album. Puss N Boots is Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson (a singer/songwriter who I am now a fan of as well) and Catherine Popper (who has played bass for Jack White and Ryan Adams, among others). Their album is so much fun, their show was as well, and interviewing them was just a blast.
  • AC/DC Rock or Bust What can I say? It's great, like every other AC/DC album, and the title track is a classic. I was at an "album release party" two weeks before the album came out: it sold out Webster Hall in New York City. It was a beautiful event (if I can use that in describing AC/DC) and I wrote about it.   
  • Pharrell "Gust of Wind" - his underrated collaboration with Daft Punk from his G I R L album. I also love the song "Come and Get It Bae." 
  • Ed Sheeran "Sing" - produced by Pharrell. There's a couple of other great songs on his x album that I've heard, like "Don't" and "Thinking Out Loud." 
  • Beyonce "7-11" - Well, don't want the Beygency to come after me. But credit where it's due, she put out a great album and it became a huge event that lasted all year. Props to her. There were other great songs on the album too, including "Flawless" and "Partition." 
So, it was a pretty good year for music. But my plan to blog more in 2014 didn't work out. I'm planning on posting links to some of my favorite stories that I (and my colleagues) have written in the future. I write so much about music during the day though, that I don't usually feel like doing it at night as well.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Yes, it's been a really long time since I've been here, updating No Expiration. I'm going to try to return more often in 2014.  You can read a lot of my stuff here at, the site I work for (along with a number of websites for CBS owned classic rock, classic hits and Jack stations, along with Chicago's WXRT).

I'm planning on sharing my take on upcoming music events including the GRAMMYs and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as links to some of my interviews, videos and features.  But for now, I'm  returning with my take on the best albums of the year. 

Regarding the headline, I don't really have anything against Vampire Weekend, I am not that familiar with their music (although the few times I've heard their music, it hasn't really kept my attention). I think that they are a "zeitgeist" band - a band who, through a confluence of fans, critical acclaim and an intangible "x factor," are a band who everyone who works in music is expected to pay attention to, and expected to like. That's fine. I definitely like some artists who fall into that category. 

Anyway, I've been having a hard time coming up with an actual order for my favorite albums of the year. In recent years, I've had a handful of albums that rose to the top. In 2007, it was Ben Harper, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Mavis Staples and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss. In 2008, the Foxboro Hot Tubs. In 2009, Bob Dylan, the Cocktail Slippers, Rancid and Levon Helm. 2010, it was the Drive-By Truckers and Mavis Staples. 2011: Social Distortion and Foo Fighters. And last year, Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball

This year, I have a number of albums that I've enjoyed, but no clear favorites. But I'll try to put them in some sort of order here. So, let's start already!

1. Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite - Get Up! Two generations of blues artists come together. The easiest thing in the world would have been to make this a covers album. Instead, Ben (and the guys from his current band) wrote a bunch of songs that should be blues standards in the years to come. I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing them when their album came out, and that was a huge thrill. Shortly after that, I saw them playing a show at Irving Plaza (way too small of a venue for them) and it was mind-blowingly great. Check out my review, with my wife's amazing photos, here. Anyway, I'm curious to see what Ben does next: I'd love to see him reunite with his old band, the Innocent Criminals, in 2014.

2. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks This was one that I thought was really overlooked by music critics. But I realize that a white, angry guy forever connected to the '90s who looks like he could totally kick your ass isn't who critics get behind these days.  But whatever. This album was really innovative. Of course, Trent has to compete with his past, which definitely looms large. Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and The Downward Spiral were all game changers. I don't know that he has another earth shaking record in him like that again. And he isn't that guy anymore: he's married, he has kids, has greyhounds. And yet, I think he's still haunted by every artist who ever disappointed him: he doesn't want to get soft, get boring or sell out. And he doesn't. Not only was this a great album, but he supported it with a great tour: first he did the festival circuit (they pretty much blew everyone away, including Mrs. Carter, at Made In America) and then revamped the band, put together a new stage show and raised the game once again on his headlining tour. Check out my review of that, and (again) my wife's amazing photos, here. I should also mention that his album with How To Destroy Angels was great, and their concerts were amazing too. I can't wait to see what Trent does next.

3. Kanye West - Yeezus Ok, I'm with the critics on this one. And yes, I know he's a douche. I've already written about my first (and only) encounter with him, you can read about it here. Do I buy into any of his hype? No. The Wall Street Journal wrote a scathing retort to his complaints that the fashion world is preventing him from entering their world. I wouldn't look to him as a fashion icon anyway. But what he is great at is making records. Of course, sometimes he needs some help and that was the case here: Rick Rubin exec-produced this album, and I'm sure that was a big factor. But Kanye knows a great track when he produces it, and he knows who to collaborate with (he worked with Daft Punk on "Black Skinhead," a highlight of the album). And he's still a compelling MC. I even like "Bound 2" but let's not talk about the video.

4. Mavis Staples - One True Vine Mavis's second collaboration in a row with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. I don't like this one as much as their last record, You Are Not Alone, but this is still pretty great. Once again, Tweedy wrote the best song on the album. Last time, it was the title track, this time it's "Every Step." As great as the songs that Tweedy writes for Wilco are, I think he saves his best songs for Mavis. Another highlight is the cover of Funkadelic's "Can You Get To That." Mavis is the rare artist who improves with age. I went to see her in concert at New York's City Winery, and it was one of the best shows I saw all year. It made you feel good to be alive.  Thank you Mavis.

5. Queens Of The Stone Age - Like Clockwork On one hand, I really like Josh Homme and all of his projects. On the other, I don't always go completely gaga for them as some others do. I really liked the Queens circa Songs For The Deaf, when they had three vocalists: Josh, bassist Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan. I thought that they sounded too "samey" once it was just Josh. And then I saw them at the Made In America festival. I thought they were great, and that the new songs were amazing, so I checked out the album, and really loved it. "I Sat By The Ocean" is one of my favorites. Josh got bonus points for calling Jay Z out after playing Made In America. I like some of Jay's stuff, but everyone else falls all over themselves trying to be his pal. Josh comes from a different era and a different school.

6. Arctic Monkeys - AM I really thought all the critics would go crazy over this album. They've been hyping the Arctic Monkeys forever. In my mind, they're one of the few bands that the media go crazy over who actually deserve the hype.  I loved their debut album, 2006's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and everything since. But I think this might be their best album. It combines their tight songwriting, which has always been a hallmark of the group, but also adds a lot of the "weirdness" that Josh Homme brought to the group when he produced their 2009 album Humbug. Josh actually sings backing vocals on a couple of songs here, giving him presence on two of my top ten albums of the year. Way to go, Josh!

7. Elvis Costello and the Roots - Wise Up Ghost More proof that both Elvis and the Roots can tackle any kind of music. A lot of this album reminds me of the Specials.  Sometimes these kinds of combinations can come off a bit contrived, but you know that with this one, it was all about mutual admiration and respect. I would love to see them tour together: imagine what Elvis songs they would revisit if they had time to rework some of his classics.  (In my world, Black Thought would be part of the tour and they'd do a bunch of Roots classics as well, Elvis could play along on guitar). Anyway, I'd file this with Elvis's great collab with Allen Toussaint, and the Roots' album with John Legend.

8. Black Sabbath - 13 Like everyone else, I approached this with managed expectations. I mean, could they still make a classic? Well, time will tell, but this album seriously kicked ass. And, OK, it doesn't  quite live up to the first six Sabbath albums, but it's at least as good as Never Say Die! and is better than Technical Ecstasy.  I obviously have a lot of feelings about the band: as I tell everyone I've ever met, I wrote the liner notes to the Black Box, and a while back was interviewed by A&E for a Sabbath doc. I was not disappointed by this album (other than the fact that they couldn't get it together with Bill Ward to have a full reunion; that said, Brad Wilk did a great job on the album, and Tommy Clufetos was great live). A lot of credit is due to producer Rick Rubin (him again!) but also to Ozzy, Tony and Geezer for bringing their A+ game. Especially Tony, who was going through chemo at the time.

9. Walking Papers - Walking Papers A new band featuring Duff McKagan on Guns N Roses and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees and Mad Season. It sounds like nothing Duff has done, it's really more like Barrett's bands. In fact, singer Jeff Angell sounds a bit like Mark Lanegan. It's definitely a hard rock album, but more of a dusty Tom Waits type blues vibe (not a Clapton blues vibe). I was fortunate enough to interview Duff and Jeff for a New Music To Know (read it here) and they were super cool. But what really turned me on to them was seeing them live on the second stage at the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival (see my review and my wife's photos here). They were really great, and I bought their album right there, and then reached out to get an interview. This isn't a "side project," it's a great band, please be clear. I hope they tour in 2014, I want to see them again!

10. Valerie June - Pushin' Against A Stone I also interviewed her for's New Music To Know (read it here). I heard about her because some of the songs were produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys (one of my favorite producers) and I think I'd read about her somewhere. I checked out her album and was blown away.  It would be great if she was a "zeitgeist" artist, but she's not going out of her way to enter the conversation for anything other than her amazing singing voice and her great songs. I think music lovers will be following her career for years to come.

So, there you have it. But ten isn't enough, here's a few other albums that I feel I have to add:

  • Daft Punk Random Access Memories It has my favorite song of the year (yes, "Get Lucky") and it sees them turning their backs on the EDM scene they may or may not have created, eschewing samples and using all live musicians, including Nile Rodgers. 
  • M.I.A. Matangi It has another of my favorite songs of the year ("Bring The Noize"). She's one of the most interesting artists today, consistently. 
  • Alice In Chains The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here In which they prove that the "new" lineup, with singer/guitarist William DuVall is for real. One of the most underrated albums of the year. 
  • Haim Days Are Gone Yeah, I'm with the critics on this one, too. I don't know how it's "indie" though, it sounds like '80s era Fleetwood Mac and Genesis, and I mean that as a compliment. Especially relative to what most indie rock sounds like these days. I saw them at Made In America and they were incredible. 
  • Aaron Neville My True Story In which he revisits his doo-wop past, on a stripped down record produced by Don Was and Keith Richards. 
  • Holly Williams The Highway The granddaughter of Hank, her artistry stands on its own. She's great. "Drinkin'" is devastating. 
  • Lindi Ortega Tin Star I discovered her opening for Social Distortion, she was great. I wish the press would pay attention to her, she surely deserves it. Another artist who I covered for's New Music To Know. A super cool chick as well. 
  • Jason Isbell Southeastern The former Drive-By Trucker (who wrote my favorite DBT song, "Never Gonna Change") announced this album by saying it was the best thing he's ever done. Well, it is pretty freaking great. Check it out. 
  • Lone Bellow Lone Bellow A great new band, when they sing together it's magic. Do yourself a favor and check them out. 
  • Kacey Musgraves Same Trailer Different Park  Another time the critics are right. Her debut is excellent, she will get my vote for Best New Artist at the GRAMMYs. 
  • Hanni El-Khatib Head In The Dirt Another Dan Auerbach production, it's great garage rock from L.A. 
  • Sara Bareilles The Blessed Unrest I'm sorry to say that I only listened to this after it got a GRAMMY nomination, and well deserved. I interviewed a lot of music writers about her, all of whom were surprised, because she's not part of the zeitgeist, or the conversation. Which is all hte more reason to check this album out. 

Well, that's pretty much it. Bring it, 2014!

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I love talking about the GRAMMYS; I've written about it often on my blog, talked about it on the radio, and covered the show for VH1 and, this year I'll be covering for  As longtime readers also know, I'm a voter. Except this year, I'm not - I forgot to pay my dues.  Duh! Normally I keep my votes a secret - I know NARAS frowns upon anyone sharing their votes. But since I'm not voting this year, I figured I'd share what my ballot would have looked like (and why). Enjoy, because I'm never forgetting to pay my dues EVER AGAIN.

Record Of The Year
Black Keys - "Lonely Boy"
Kelly Clarkson - "Stronger"
fun. - "We Are Young"
Goyte + Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used To Know"
Frank Ocean - "Thinkin' 'Bout You"
Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"

Really tough category. The Black Keys are my favorite artist in this category, and I love the way their whole El Camino album sounds. Is a stripped down garage rock sound the work of a great producer?  Well, to be minimal is a production choice, and in their case, it's the right one. I also love Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" - straight up, great pop song. fun. I don't buy into them as much, and I actually think their song "Some Nights" is a better song and a better sounding song than "We Are Young," so that gets eliminated. "Somebody That I Used To Know" is an incredible production. It's like a Peter Gabriel song, it's amazing.  Taylor's song is great, too, and the production made it her biggest hit yet.  Just when you thought she couldn't get any bigger, she got bigger, mostly because of the production on this song.
My Vote: Frank Ocean Like I said, minimalism is a choice, and in the case of this song, it really brought out the heart, and the hurt, in this song.  I don't buy into Frank Ocean the way everyone else does - I think his Channel Orange is a bit overrated - but "Thinkin' 'Bout You" is probably the best song of the year (and I can't believe it wasn't nominated in that category).

Album Of The Year 
Black Keys - El Camino
fun. - Some Nights
Mumford & Sons - Babel
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange 
Jack White - Blunderbuss 

First off, I produced a series of "Inside The Album Of The Year" video packages around these albums. See them all here, or follow the above links. Secondly,  Bruce Springsteen got ripped off. This isn't as egregious as 2007, when Bruce's Magic wasn't nominated, but lesser albums by Vince Gill and Herbie Hancock were.  All of these albums figured heavily into the conversation about pop music this year.  fun. was a huge band this year, but they feel more like a singles band than an album band. As I mentioned, I don't think Frank Ocean's album is a classic, but I'm in the minority there. And I didn't think Mumford & Sons' album held up to the first one.  But whatever.  For me, it breaks down to the Jack White/Black Keys rivalry. Blunderbuss  was my second favorite album of the year, after Bruce's Wrecking Ball. El Camino was my 4th favorite album of 2011 (it came out in December of that year).
My Vote: El Camino by a teeny, tiny margin. It just felt like it was The Black Keys' year.