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The List, 2014 Style

It all boils down to time spent. The more time I spent with a record, the more likely it was to make it onto this list. Imagine a Christmas or New Year's party with hundreds of people that you may or may not know, and witness how you gravitate towards some and not others, how circumstance steps in and closes a conversation here but continues one there. An old friend may seem a little disheveled as the evening wears on; a new acquaintance might be most intriguing. Overall, there probably won't be any life-changing moments (although there could be, just maybe) and there likely won't be any relationships ruined, but afterwards, the highlight reel of interactions will pop into mind, with some scenes in sharp focus, others a dreamy montage, with snippets of dialogue, plot lines half understood, and an overall feeling of the film's highlights. Lake Street Dive at WNCW 2-27-142014 was the year of up-and-comers like Lake Street Dive, Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Courtney Barnett and Parquet Courts, among others. None of these artists made it onto my top 10, but they are on plenty of other folks' lists, and I'll continue to enjoy their music from 2014 for years to come.

In the case of Lake Street Dive, I struggled to find reasons why they shouldn't be on the list. The usual factors leading up to inclusion were all there. Fantastic album? Check. Magnificent live show attended? Yep. Even a guest DJ appearance at WNCW which went swimmingly? Indeed. So what gives? Is their popularity so widespread that it gives me pause? Perhaps a vestige of distrust for smash hits and bands that play on Ellen or Conan is at play here? Cases like this that make me wonder how much personal bias colors all of our listening.

But that personal bias is inescapable, and essential, really. These top 10 lists we're making are really favorite 10 lists. We're not putting albums through some algorythm to arrive at songs which are mathematically superior. Music, like all the arts, is subjective, and our favorite records reveal much about us. These lists are not only a personal highlight reel, but also a lens which magnifies the map of our musical travels, and a hint of our biases and soft spots. Hiss Golden Messenger plays at the Transfigurations II festival

With list making, as the saying goes, it is what it is. Here is mine:

  1. Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness of Dancers
  2. Quilt - Held In Splendor
  3. Aaron Burdett - Fruits of My Labor
  4. I Draw Slow - White Wave Chapel
  5. The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger - Midnight Sun
  6. Nick Waterhouse - Holly
  7. Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker
  8. Reigning Sound - Shattered
  9. David Kilgour - End Times Undone
  10. Ty Segall - Manipulator

Now that the year is almost over and the rushing river of new music has iced over for the time being, I can finally spend more time with these and other favorites. It is a rare treat, one I hope you get to enjoy as well. - Joe Kendrick


Making A List and Checking It Twice

There are two pieces of copier paper with more than sixty artist and band names hand-written on them staring at me. My scrawl occassionally stumbles with lines redrawn, some letters emboldened when I paused and fixated on them or obscured when I sped through to catch up to the next name in mind. There are two pieces of paper because they were made two weeks apart, from two worlds of music representing songs I would play by day or, for the most part, leave to others to play at night.  They stare at me and push the needle of cognition into the red. They are my notes on favorite music releases of 2014, and they are the subject matter of my personal final exam for the year. They're still written in English, still legible, but they look a lot like foreign code right now. Quilt performs at the Transfigurations II festival, late summer 2014

I play music for a living as midday host at public radio station WNCW where, like most everyone working in media today, I wear many hats. One of those is programming our overnight music mix, which brings with it mail crates and inboxes full of music to listen to. Usually there are dozens of EPs, albums and singles to review, and there is never enough time to listen to everything all the way through, even the best music. I play a song, scan through to another, perhaps letting a tune hold me for all of its three or four minutes before making the call to put it in one of three categories: Yes, No or Maybe. It's more highlight reel than whole game, more ingredient list than entree, more storyboard than feature film. This part of the job is mostly lather, rinse and repeat: I'm always getting ready but never seem to go out on the town. Aaron Burdett plays the Lingua Musica show, February 2014

When I do get to take the top down to cruise for a few hours on the airwaves, I'm pumping out a largely different set of jams. The Americana, roots and AAA music mix that we feature on weekdays might spin Robyn Hitchcock but not Half Japanese; it will play Lake Street Dive but shy away from Emma Ruth Rundle. The former artists are the ones I become most familiar with, the latter I would like to spend more time with but mostly can't. Thus I have these two pieces of paper, and wonder if they shall remain separate or merge into a kind of new nation of music.  Do I keep my peas and corn all to themselves on the plate, or do I throw everything into the pot for a dish of song surprise?

Before I make a year-end list, here are the contenders, in alphabetical order:

Day (*=also played heavily at night) : Aaron Burdett, Budos Band*, Robert Ellis, GOASTT*, Ben & Ellen Harper, Hiss Golden Messenger, I Draw Slow, Lake Street Dive, Reigning Sound, Miles Tackett, Nick Waterhouse

Night: Alvvays, Marco Benevento, Benjamin Booker, Broncho, Celebration, Cherry Glazerr, Cibo Matto, Debruit and Alsarah, Mac Demarco, Doc Aquatic, Dom La Nena, Donkeys, El May, Emma Ruth Rundle, Faces On Film, Flying Lotus, Foxygen, Gemma Ray, Growlers, Half Japanese, Homeboy Sandman, Is/Is, Iska Dhaaf, Jim-E Stack, Majestico, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Bob Mould, Kevin Morby, Mr. Scruff, New Madrid, Angel Olsen, Parquet Courts, Pink Mountaintops, Quilt, Xavi Reija, Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Laetitia Sadier, Ty Segall, Slow Club, Soft Shadows, Swans, Temples, Thee Oh Sees, Timber Timbre, Tijuana Panthers, Trans Am, Sharon Van Etten, Vertical Scratchers, Mirel Wagner The Old Ceremony plays the Art of Sound Festival, fall 2014.

And now to figure out what makes the cut, how much of a cut and what kind of cut to make: top ten, top thirty? A weighted list like Pazz & Jop? Stay tuned and for the results in my next post. -Joe Kendrick



Blues for the 21st Century: Jarekus Singleton 

I enjoyed Jarekus Singleton's life story almost as much as his music before meeting him at WNCW recently. Once we sat down and talked about how he came to make his unique brand of blues music after overcoming obstacles that would have discouraged most anyone else, I was even more impressed with him as a person. He's also a lot of fun to be around.  Jarekus and Joe at WNCW studios



Check out our time together on air in the podcast here, and find out more about Jarekus on his website


Catching Up With Floating Action + Transfigurations II Preview

Asheville NC's Seth Kauffman and Evan Martin visited WNCW last week for a live performance as Floating Action prepared to play its CD release show at the Grey Eagle in support of their New West debut album, Body Questions. I had the pleasure of welcoming Mark Capon and Matt Schnable of Harvest Records to the studio recently as well, as they played guest DJs and talked about their upcoming 10th anniversary festival, Transfigurations II.

Download the sessions with Floating Action here and with Mark and Matt here. Enjoy!



Getting To Know River Whyless and Treetop Flyers

My live music outings are fewer and farther between these days, but when I do make my way to a show I like to get as much music in as possible. This June I managed to pack in a night with three bands, emceeing two of them at RiverFest (locals River Whyless and Brit-band Treetop Flyers) before zipping over to catch most of Balsam Range's CD release show.

When I arrived at RiverFest it was pouring rain and the evening looked like it the outdoor event might be in jeopardy, however the worst of it was already over, and all we had to contend with from then on was an occasional sprinkle. There were plenty of large puddles left over which made trekking across the grounds require a bit of forethought, unless you were one of the many children who took full advantage of them by splashing and dancing their way through all night.

I had heard of River Whyless but was largely unfamiliar with their music, and their set was a real treat. The four piece has strong elements of folk and pop which are augmented by tight, inventive harmonies. They closed their set by going off stage into the crowd for an acoustic finale.

In a small-world moment, I ran across Ben Lovett in the crowd. We had last seen each other at Echo Mountain when Ben was in this episode of What It Is. I asked what brought him to the show, and he replied that he was there to see one of the members of the band, singer and fiddler Halli Anderson. After her set with River Whyless was done, I found out that Halli had first heard Treetop Flyers on my radio show at WNCW; it was like a little circle in the universe was made complete.

Treetop Flyers were playing Asheville for the first time. Their first LP has been a huge hit, and I got to talk with drummer Tomer Danan before their performance. Tomer is the lone Yank in the group, although now he has dual citizenship in the UK, having married an English bride. Tomer can live anywhere from America to England and the rest of the European Union, depending on his mood. He described how the raging soul and groove scene in London has influenced their next record, which is self-produced. Instead of the distinct Americana influence that you hear on The Mountain Moves, which was recorded in Malibu, their new material will have more in common with rhythm and blues. And indeed, a pronounced Muscle Shoals vibe rang out from the solar powered stage for much of the night.

I'm looking forward to hearing more from both of these bands, and wholeheartedly recommend experiencing the free RiverFest series. -Joe