Follow me after the jump to see contributions from freelancers Lance Conzett, Edd Hurt, Stephen "Goose" Trageser, Matt Sullivan and Sean L. Maloney, plus a little something from yours truly. It's a good mix in there, from contemporary hip-hop and dance punk to legacy rock, jazz and more. If you've been spinning something a lot lately — whether it's a new release or an old one, a chart-topper or a bargain-bin discovery — please feel free to share it with us in the comments section. All right, I'll start us off:
D. Patrick Rodgers, music editor
In putting together various year-end lists, I — like every other paid scribe in the game — recently exhausted myself on revisiting 2012's finest records. There were locals like PUJOL, Diamond Rugs, Jessie Baylin and Hammock, and there were non-locals like Lee Fields and the Expressions, The Walkmen, Kendrick Lamar, King Tuff, Sharon Van Etten and The Men. And of course, like just about everyone I know with an ear for rock music, I had Tame Impala's latest, Lonerism, on repeat ever since its release. Impala's Kevin Parker really knocked that one out of the park, from performances and production to song craft. I think it was the best record of the year. But other than that ...
Wu Tang's Ghostface Killah is, far and away, my favorite rapper of all time. I love his flow, his turns of phrase, his affinity for deep soul cuts as samples, his subject matter, the sound of his voice. So, having listened to pretty much every track Ghostface ever made, I thought I'd poke around for songs he guested on. I came across Dopium, the 2009 release from his Wu brother, U-God — probably the Wu Tang member I'm least familiar with. Ghostface has a characteristically top-shelf verse on album-opener "Train Trussle," but the stellar shit doesn't stop there. Like most of the solo efforts from various Clan members, Dopium features a lot of mid-tempo, string-drenched samples and smart verses. U-God is perhaps a bit less idiosyncratic than Ghostface or RZA or GZA — or of course, the late Dirt McGirt — but he's got a smooth, deep, even-keeled delivery that works like an extension of the grooves themselves.
Buck Owens, various
Perhaps it's cheating to really dive into an artist's catalog with best-of collections, but the legendary Buck Owens seemingly released an endless stream of consistent, shuffle-stuffed, clever studio albums throughout the '60s and on into the '70s — it's daunting, is what it is. So I found a couple of big, fat, multi-volume best-of collections (The Buck Owens Story and All-Time Greatest Hits, in particular), and I put them on shuffle. The impetus for my Buck Phase was probably hearing 1972's tear-jerking ode to Eastern romance "Made in Japan" for the first time just a year or two ago: I couldn't get its sweet (and yes, somewhat schmaltzy) melody out of my head for weeks. Buck, a master of the Bakersfield Sound, utilized a lot of the same techniques and approaches again and again — mods, shuffles, simply strummed progressions behind tuneful and twanging lead parts — but he reused them because they work. Every time. "Love's Gonna Live Here" and "My Heart Skips a Beat" are the same length, the same formula, the same tempo. But they're slight variations on the same theme: the ins and outs of love. Buck sang an awful lot about falling in love, falling out of love, living with love, living without love, etc. etc. Better to do one thing really, really well than to do a vast assortment of things passably, right?
As always, I'm also bouncing around a bit: There's plenty of Dolly Parton, Stephen Malkmus, Deerhoof, Beatles, Stones, Reigning Sound and Thin Lizzy, plus Sir Paul and Lady Linda's RAM, in my recent-listens pile.
Lance Conzett, freelancer
Swearin', Swearin' (Salinas, 2012)
I didn't love Swearin' when I saw them open for Japandroids around Thanksgiving last year, but they sure have grown on me. Even when I fancied myself as being punk as hell (a time when I probably would never use the word "fancied" to describe my actions), I had a twinge in me that couldn't help but favor pop-punk bands with lady vocalists: Discount, Tsunami Bomb, Lemuria, eventually harder-edged Riot Grrrl bands like Bikini Kill. Swearin' does that job admirably. Even when stuck in that end-of-the-year music binge, I kept coming back to the first three tracks on their debut — especially "Kenosha." Good, fun pop songs.
You Say Party! We Say Die!, Lose All Time (Paper Bag Records, 2007)
Oh, you know, just playing into the 2006-ish indie-bro stereotype of loving the hell out of dance punk. Most of the bands I like from this genre probably don't even exist anymore, but I'm still sending them my pennies via Spotify plays. This Canadian band with lots of guitars and keyboards has received several of my pennies.
A$AP Rocky, LiveLoveA$AP (self-released, 2011)
In anticipation for the release of A$AP Rocky's debut, I've been diving back into his outstanding mixtape LiveLoveA$AP to get myself hyped. I'm not sure what it is about Rocky that I appreciate so much, but I'm completely down for everything the A$AP Mob touches. I'm pretty sure it's not just because that pitched-low background improv vocal that they lean on gets me every time. But, you know, it's also not out of the question. Last year was arguably the year of Top Dawg Entertainment (with end-of-year-list-dominating releases by Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and my personal fave Schoolboy Q), but I think this year is all about their East Coast equivalents in A$AP Mob. In the meantime, you can listen to the mixtape for free on DatPiff.
While I'm talking about the rappity-raps, I should mention that I've got the Purity Ring/Danny Brown remix "Belispeak II," the amazing James Brown-copping new track by Mystikal and Earl Sweatshirt's surprisingly grown-up "Chum" on as much repeat as YouTube will let me. If you only watch one rap video on YouTube today, make it "Chum." So good, so creepy.
Sean L. Maloney, freelancer
The Mavericks, In Time (Thirty Tigers, out Feb. 26)
God, this album is wonderful — but I bet you could have guessed that. It took about 16 bars of the Orbisonian Tejano-bluebeat opener "Back in Your Arms Again" for me to figure out that I had fallen in love. I'm so stoked this band is back in action.
Superhuman Happiness, Hands (Royal Potato Family, out March 5)
Stuart from Antibalas coordinates the first great party record of 2013. The songs started as hand-clapping games, built up and worked out through improvisation and then dialed into create truly momentous world future-funk grooves and melodies.
Wooden Wand, Blood Oaths of the New Blues (Fire Records)
I've already gone into this one at length, but I'm still listening to it weeks after I turned in the review. That doesn't happen very often.
Sean Parrot, Songs About Sad Stuff and Snacks (self-released)
Local comedian Sean Parrot wrote a song a week last year. He's basically a hyper-productive Ray Stevens, without the late-night commercials and a really twisted, lo-fi sensibility. He's got a song called "Ron Paul's Balls," for crying out loud.
Edd Hurt, freelancer
The Ellis Marsalis Quartet, The Classic Ellis Marsalis (Boplicity, 1991)
New Orleans saxophonist and producer Harold Battiste scored a hit with Barbara George’s 1961 “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More).” Battiste organized the New Orleans session that produced the hit single, and “I Know” was released on Battiste’s fledgling All for One (AFO) label. AFO was both a label and, according to some observers, the first self-contained jazz collective in the United States. Financed by the success of “I Know,” Battiste recorded pianist Ellis Marsalis and his quartet in 1963. A classic New Orleans jazz album came out of those sessions — Monkey Puzzle, which Boplicity reissued 20 years ago along with other 1963 recordings. It’s a superb modern jazz album powered by the drumming of James Black.
Ike Turner, Bad Dreams and Blues Roots (BGO, 2012)
Along with the Turner-produced Family Vibes albums on United Artists, Bad Dreams stands as some of the most interesting music Turner ever had a hand in. I think Bad Dreams is his masterpiece: using his comic baritone to great effect, Turner made a record that encompassed old-time blues, New Orleans R&B and echoes of The Band. It was reissued this year on a disc with another fine early-’70s effort, Blues Roots.
Terje Rypdal, Odyssey (ECM, 1975).
For the most part, I avoid ECM releases, simply because I find European jazz rather underpowered, although I enjoy some solo Keith Jarrett albums on a very limited basis. This 1975 two-LP set is derivative of '70s Miles Davis electric music, but I like its flow. Good for actual listening, even better in the background.
Christie, Yellow River (Epic, 1970)
From England, guitarist and singer Jeff Christie put together a trio in the late '60s, and hit with “Yellow River.” Although Christie is still out there plugging away, he’s forgotten today except by dedicated fans of late-’60s rock. If I had ever heard of him, I’d forgotten about it, but I had heard “Yellow River.” Their sound was a cross between The Guess Who and something heavier — I hear traces of the influence of The Move in that band’s heavier phase. Christie sang like an amalgam of Burton Cummings and B.J. Thomas, and the songs on Yellow River (titled Christie in the UK) are great bubblegum power-trio rock, including my favorite, “San Bernadino,” a tribute to the California town of San Bernardino, note spelling. Well, they were English, after all. The followup, 1971’s For All Mankind, is more, or less, of the same.
John Cale, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (Double Six/Domino, 2012)
John Cale’s latest record finds the pop experimentalist turning to funk and dance-groove music. Cut in Los Angeles, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood contains enough out-of-focus, glazed hooks to qualify as a California pop record. “Scotland Yard” and “Face to the Sky” combine mechanical funk-rock grooves, two-chord rock structures, and melodic moves that suggest the auteur has been revisiting the L.A. pop of the '70s, from The Beach Boys to Harpers Bizarre. “December Rains” is imitation Americana, while other tracks fold in folk and freak-folk — Cale even mentions L.A. pop-folk icon Joni Mitchell in the fine “Midnight Feast.” As befits a gloriously demented pop master, Shifty carries Cale’s familiar message of geopolitical unease in a suitcase full of pop readymades.
Stephen "Goose" Trageser, freelancer
Frank Zappa, Apostrophe'
Side A features a mini-opera about dog pee sno-cones and pancakes, while Side B is a collection of single-serving stories about Svengali wanna-bes and smelly feet. Silly to be sure, but performed with the utmost attention to musical detail. Though there are merits to every one of the many incarnations of The Mothers, this group is especially suited to the material, including George Duke on keys, Ruth and Ian Underwood on percussion and keys, and the nimble drumming of Aynsley Dunbar.
LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem
The debut record from James Murphy's now-defunct project sprawls across two discs, but it never loses its focus or dry wit. Its sharp, tight electronic rhythms and pulsing, squalling keyboards lean it toward the dance camp, but there's an audible punk sneer in Murphy's voice. In the tale from the crypt of hip, "Losing My Edge," he comes across like Tyler Durden narrating a night on the town as he laments, "But I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with more ideas and more talent. And they're actually really, really nice."
Paul Burch, Still Your Man
I have just about worn a hole in this CD. Certainly not as rockin' as Burch's current work with The Waco Brothers, but he comes at them in just the right way to make earnest, whistle-worthy songs from lyrics that would sound cornball in the hands of a lesser singer. And he even recorded this one himself!
Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five (five-disc box set by JSP)
Five discs of the bandleader's seminal catalog, filled with virtuosic playing, instantly memorable hooks, and trademark Jordan humor that's as relatable today as it was in the post-WWII period, despite extensive use of period slang. This set includes a wide variety of originals, covers, hits, and deep cuts, from "Caldonia Boogie" to "Cole Slaw" and everything in between. It post-dates a more comprehensive Bear Family box by almost a decade, but sounds fantastic and is much easier on the wallet.
Matt Sullivan, freelancer
Colin Stetson, Those Who Didn't Run
Okkultokrati, No Light for Mass
Megadeth, Rust in Peace
Devo, Freedom of Choice
Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music