— by Nick Manna
Year-end lists are fun, in theory. Often they seem to be a practice in confirmation bias. So instead of listing albums you may or may not have heard, here are some unforgettable experiences from this year. I wish I could include about 40 more things. Maybe you’ll find something you like. Maybe you were there. Hopefully you’ll be there next time.
Hop Along – Painted Shut
Painted Shut is Hop Along’s third album, and they take a huge leap. Frances Quinlan touched on very emotional subject matter in previous work, but brings it together with superior musicianship in a more cohesive effort on Painted Shut. Quinlan’s voice steals the show, but the guitar work of Joe Reinhart moves to the foreground at points. I feel as though I am doing the album a disservice if I try to multitask while listening. I stop to make sure I don’t miss the transcendent moments, which are shockingly frequent. Some are big, like Reinhart’s soaring solo in “Texas Funeral.” Some are smaller, like Quinlan’s delivery of the word “sun” toward to the end of “Horseshoe Crabs.” During “Happy to See Me,” I always think back to the performances at Union Transfer and Philamoca – Quinlan standing alone on stage, armed with a quiet guitar and mic, a silent crowd transfixed. I heard “Waitress” before the album’s release, and I knew it was special, but never could I have known that every song on the Painted Shut would grab me in a way that few other songs ever have and never let go.
Radiator Hospital, Quarterbacks, and Girlpool at Hazel House: January 11, 2015
Sam Cook-Parrot performed two solo Radiator Hospital shows at Hazel House early this year – once supporting Yowler, and once supporting Quarterbacks, as Radiator Hospital are wont to do. On this January night, Girlpool opened the show. They sat in the bay window with an acoustic guitar and bass and delivered their fantastic songs in the most intimate setting imaginable. They even played their heartbreaking cover of RH’s “Cut Your Bangs” – the only time I have seen them play it. Dean of Quarterbacks was up next and played a quick and witty set of songs that were on his self-titled album. Finally Sam came up and played the best Radiator Hospital set I have seen. He asked for a song to play and we suggested “I’m All Right,” which is a very important song to me. He delivered it flawlessly, before finishing with the agonizing “Shut Up and Deal.” Just listen to the last 30 seconds of that song and then imagine it being screamed, perfectly, right in front of your face. Everyone in the living room was in shock.
Fred released one of my favorite albums of the year, All Are Saved, and went on a couple of tours to promote it. I had not heard any of his music before this, but it seemed that All Are Saved had a more official release. His lyrics are smart, poetic, and thought-provoking. He played a show at LAVA space in May with Quarterbacks and Radiator Hospital, and seeing him perform “Bed Bugs” by himself in this bare space, and adding lines as he saw fit, felt like the absolutely perfect way to listen to music. He played LAVA again in November, noting something like “Here I am, approaching my 40th birthday, eating a burrito and playing music in anarchist bookstore, and I couldn’t be happier.” Thirty or so people were at the show. Bonny Doon played too, and I felt incredibly lucky: having the chance to stand feet away from my favorite artists while they perform down the street from my home is a true blessing.
Goodbye Party at Kat Frat: July 8, 2015
We got to this show early, so we walked down to Clark Park and had some ice cream sandwiches. Small Wonder played a great solo set before the Goodbye Party set up their gear. This was their first full-band show in a basement. The Goodbye Party is led by Mikey from the Ambulars, and comprised of Sam from Radiator Hospital, Joey from Pinkwash, Kyle from Swearin’, and Chrissy from Thin Lips – a West Philly all-star ensemble. I felt as though I was continuously hit by a wall of sound, instruments and voices (Sam singing back-up) in perfect harmony with each other. Goodbye Party’s album, Silver Blues, is fairly quiet. The band plays the more upbeat songs, but “Louder than Summer” left me frozen in place. Here I was, in a basement in West Philly with about 20 other people, flooded with sound beautiful and full enough to fill a theater. I could hardly believe what happened that night.
Sidekicks, Cayetana, and All Dogs at Golden Tea House: January 24, 2015 Sidekicks had, by this point, outgrown house shows, but came back just for fun. All Dogs were my favorite band to have yet to release an album at that point, and Cayetana had one of my favorites of 2014. Minutes before doors opened, hundreds of people crowded the block and began to flow into the house – I was a lucky one who made it in. “Who Let the Dogs Out” played over the PA before All Dogs’s set. This was a special show. They played some classics, some unreleased songs, and finished with Nirvana’s Breed (noted as “Kid Rock” on their setlists). Cayetana performed a stellar set as always, before the Sidekicks nearly tore the house down. Forty-five minutes of blistering rock (including a break for “1940’s Fighter Jet”) had me moving to the back for fear of my safety by the end, though it didn’t get too bad. Golden Tea House stopped doing shows just days later.
Seeing Weezer play the Blue Album and Pinkerton, in full, back-to-back nights at Riot Fest Toronto
Sufjan Stevens’s latest album, Carrie and Lowell, and his somber performance at Academy of Music
The output of Maryn Jones: Yowler – Yowler / All Dogs – Kicking Every Day / Saintseneca – Such Things
The music video for “Bad Ideas” by Saintseneca
Eskimeaux – O.K.