The 17 Best Albums of 2015

It's been a very good year for music, hasn't it?

So many great records have been released in 2015, it's difficult to make a list of the best 10, so I'm allowing myself 17.

Below are my favorites, in order of their release. It's no coincidence, I suppose, that I saw all of these bands live this year.

I've also put together a video playlist featuring each album in its entirety. Ah, the joys of Youtube.

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear - February 10, 2015

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit - March 20, 2015

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell - March 31, 2015

Toro y Moi - What For? - April 7, 2015

Built to Spill - Untethered Moon - April 21, 2015

Blur - The Magic Whip - April 28, 2015

Django Django - Born Under Saturn - May 4, 2015

My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall - May 4, 2015

Hot Chip - Why Make Sense? - May 18, 2015

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love - May 26, 2015

Wilco - Star Wars - July 16, 2015

Fine Points - Hover - July 17, 2015

Tame Impala - Currents - July 17, 2015

Astronauts etc. - Mind Out Wandering - September 18, 2015

Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down - September 25, 2015

Blitzen Trapper - All Across This Land - October 2, 2015

City and Colour - If I Should Go Before You - October 9, 2015

Video for "Up For Grabs" by Astronauts, etc.

A few weeks ago, I saw Oakland-based Astronauts, etc. open for Toro y Moi and was mighty impressed.

After the show, I put their latest album, "Mind Out Wandering," on repeat.

One song in particular got stuck in my head, bringing up random thoughts about love and relationships.

Clocking in at 2 minutes 56 seconds, "Up For Grabs" is a gem of a song. It inspired me to make a video using some public domain film footage. People of a certain age will immediately recognize it.

Earlier today I was thrilled to see that Adrian Spinelli discovered my video.

Thanks to Adrian, the band noticed, too.

Here's the video. I hope you enjoy it. And go check out Astronauts, etc. Their music is sublime.

 

10 Podcasts To Listen To If You're New to Podcasts

According to Ben Hammersley ("Audible revolution" The Guardian, 12 February 2004), audioblogging or podcasting became a thing in 2004.

2004?! Except for the geekiest among us, podcasting was something people were only vaguely aware of in 2004, let alone in 2014.

And then came Serial.

The momentum created for podcasts since the crossover success of “Serial” at the end of 2014 has continued months after the true crime series became the first podcast to top 80 million total downloads from the iTunes.

President Barack Obama made an appearance on comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast in June, and Tuesday marks a nationwide podcast festival with the live simulcast of “Cast Party” to over 500 movie theaters nationwide, featuring shows from four of the most popular podcast networks.

“Cast Party” co-creator, producer and host Seth Lind experienced the “Serial effect” up close and personal with his job as director of operations for “This is American Life,” whose producer Sarah Koenig was the creator of “Serial.”

“’Serial’ increased listening across the whole medium, including ‘This is American Life,’ ” Lind said. “We got probably something like 200,000 new listeners that could be attributed to ‘Serial,’ which is significant... It was fascinating to see how much bigger it got than any of us thought.”

I was one of those geeks who listened to podcasts 10 years ago, but fell out of the habit.

Why? Listening wasn't that convenient and most programs I heard on my local NPR affiliate were better.

No longer. Listening is now super easy, even when you're offline, with iTunes and apps like Podcast Addict for Android (my app of choice).

And there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of programs you can listen to, some of which are as entertaining as anything you'll find on public radio.

If you haven't yet listened to Serial, give it a go. I liked it. My wife loved it.

Here are 12 other podcasts to listen to if you're new to podcasts.

  1. Song Exploder
  2. Question of the Day with James Altucher and Stephen J. Dubner
  3. Reply All
  4. StartUp
  5. Invisibilia
  6. Mystery Show
  7. 99% Invisible
  8. Freakonomics
  9. Here's The Thing with Alec Baldwin
  10. Radiolab
  11. The Tim Ferris Show
  12. Ask Altucher

Am I missing any? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy listening!

Listen to Jeff Lynne's ELO, 'Alone In The Universe'

"When I was a boy I had a dream..." are the first words sung by Jeff Lynne on "Alone In The Universe," his first release in 14 years and only his second release in 29 years.

When I was a boy, I loved hanging out in the record section of the Lackland Air Force Base Exchange (BX) while my Mom shopped. She would come get me when she was finished and I would often persuade her to buy me a 45 or two, to add to the collection she got me started with. (Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones was one of my favorites.)

On my 8th birthday, I received some cash from my Aunt Debbie and decided I would invest it in my first album purchase:

It had been out for about 10 months, and I was an avid listener to American Top 40, so I already knew and loved the singles "Livin' Thing" and "Telephone Line."

I remember how exciting it felt to make that purchase with my own money, how much larger and more substantial the album felt relative to a 45. I remember going home, putting the record on my parent's turntable and listening to both sides, from start to finish, all 36 minutes and 20 seconds. I must have listened to that record dozens and dozens of times. I never got sick of it. Even today, A New World Record still sounds as rich, as sweet, and as full of mystery as it did then.

10 Must-See Rock Bands at the 2015 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

By now you've probably heard that the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival didn't always have "hardly" in its name.

Back in 2010, festival founder and benefactor Warren Hellman (R.I.P.) told Ian S. Port ("Warren Hellman talks about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass"):

The first two years it was called Strictly Bluegrass. The reason I called it Strictly Bluegrass is Emmylou Harris agreed to come. As you know, Emmylou Harris' music has moved through different genres. I really like the Nash Ramblers [Harris' onetime band], and I thought if we call it Strictly Bluegrass, maybe she'll be shamed into doing strictly bluegrass. No way. Then we thought, it isn't Strictly Bluegrass, because of course Emmy wasn't singing bluegrass in those days, so we started adding nonbluegrass acts. We saw how popular they were. And then we just decided, let's make it just a music festival.

I've been attending (and volunteering at) the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass for a decade now. If you love music and have never been, you're really missing out.

In the spirit of the "hardly" part of the festival, here are 10 must-see rock* bands playing this year.

FRIDAY

1:15 Monophonics (Banjo Stage)

2:35 Marty Willson Piper's Acres of Space (Arrow Stage)

4:10 Punch Brothers (Banjo Stage)

5:45 Michael Franti and Spearhead (Banjo Stage)

SATURDAY

3:05 Joe Jackson (Towers of Gold Stage)

3:55 Paul Weller (Swan Stage)

5:45 Flogging Molly (Swan Stage)

SUNDAY

1:45 Poi Dog Pondering (Towers of Gold Stage)

4:05 Robyn Hitchcock & The Sadies (Rooster Stage)

5:00 Los Lobos (Towers of Gold Stage)

* Of course, Punch Brothers are not rock, but they're not strictly bluegrass either. Their covers of Radiohead songs like 2+2=5 and Kid A are proof of that. And they rock in concert.

Outside Lands Festival 2015 Mixtape

The lineup for the 8th annual installment of the Outside Land Music Festival might be the best yet.

It's easy to excuse anyone who looks at the headliners -- Elton John, The Black Keys, Kendrick Lamar, Wilco, Tame Impala, Amon Tobin, D’Angelo, St. Vincent, Ben Harper -- and who thinks, holy shit, this is going to be a kick-ass weekend!

Of course it will be. Hell, even if there was NO music and it was just a weekend spent eating and drinking gourmet food, wine and beer in Golden Gate Park, it would be kick-ass enough.

I judge mega festivals like Outside Lands by the bottom of their bill, not by the top. Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalloza, Austin City Limits, etc all spend a lot of money attracting acts they think will help sell tickets (Mumford & Sons? Sam Smith? Meh.). No surprise. But the bottom of the bill is where the promoters and programmers show off their curation and taste-making skills, introducing attendees to up-and-coming artists, or talented acts that might never become that big.

With this in mind, I like to create "Bottom to Top" Mixtapes, with a focus on artists playing in the early afternoon, before the crowds have gotten thick and the drugs have kicked in.

Here's my Outside Lands mixtape. Enjoy. And don't miss Strand of Oaks, Leon Bridges, or Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Just don't.

Photo of Foster The People at Outside Lands 2011 Day 1 by Brandon Carson from Flickr.

Everything You Need To Know About Bonnaroo 2015

It’s that time of year, folks. I’m headed to Manchester, Tennessee along with 100,000 fellow music lovers for four days of awesome music and good vibrations.

If you're going or if you just wish you were, there are a few things you should know...

TICKETS

If you haven’t bought yours yet, don’t despair. You can still find plenty for sale at or near face value. Click here to find Bonnaroo tickets on eBay and click here to find Bonnaroo tickets on Craigslist nationwide.

If you buy on Craigslist, I recommend paying the seller with PayPal (select Good and Services, not Send Money to a Friend). That way, if the seller ends up being a scammer, you’ll be able to get your money back.

STREAM

If you can’t make it to The Farm, watching the Bonnaroo live stream is the next best thing.

Red Bull TV will be live streaming from Bonnaroo on three channels this year, featuring sets by: Temples, Courtney Barnett, Royal Blood, Dawes, Ben Harpet, Tears for Fears, Run The Jewels, Unknow Mortal Orchestra, Sylvan Esso, Mac Demarco, The War on Drugs, My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, Gary Clark Jr, Tyco, Spoon, Billy Joel, Punch Brothers and a WHOLE lot more.

Click here for the entire Bonnaroo live stream schedule.

Bonnaroo will be livestreamed on Red Bull TV through its iOS and Android applications, and on Apple TV, Xbox 360, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and Samsung Smart TVs.

RUMORS

I don’t know what it is about festivals, in general, or Bonnaroo, in particular, but there always seem to be lots of rumors about secret shows and guest appearances. By now, most rumors should be proven or dispelled, so don’t hold your breath for Taylor Swift to get on stage with Run The Jewels.

(The best rumor that turned out to be true was when Lionel Richie played with Kenny Rogers a few years ago. That was ridiculous and cool.)

LINEUP

By now everyone knows who is playing. If you’re going, my advice would be to ignore the headliners, the bands near the top of the bill. Of course you’re going to see Kendrick Lamar and Billy Joel. Everyone will.

The smart move is to look at the bands near the bottom of the bill. Do a little homework and you’ll be able to tell your friends that you saw the next great band at Bonnaroo before they were big.

My tips: Mini Mansions, The Dø, Fruition, Sol Cat, Ximena Sariñana and Son Little.

MAP

No one needs a map to get to Manchester, but you do need an app: Waze.

Local and state police will be out in force, ready to issue tickets for speeding and make arrests for drug possession. Use Waze and you’ll know where they’re hiding alongside the interstate before they see you.

One more thing: fix that broken tail light and make sure your tags haven't expired. If you do get pulled over, whatever you do, do NOT consent to have your car, your person, or your stuff searched. Do not answer questions. Demand a lawyer.

Bonnaroo Music Festival 2015 Video Mixtape

In just seven days, I'll be back on The Farm in Manchester, Tennessee with 90,000 fellow Bonnaroovians. I can hardly wait.

If you're going, or just wish you were, I hope you enjoy this YouTube video playlist I put together. It features live performances by the 34 artists I'm most looking forward to seeing this year: Strand of Oaks, Temples, Houndmouth, Courtney Barnett, The Districts, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Dawes, Kacey Musgraves, Tears for Fears, Ben Harper, Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus, STS9 (Soundtribe Sector 9), Mini Mansions, Fruition, The Do, Jon Cleary, Songhoy Blues, Phox, Woods, War on Drugs, Sturgill Simpson, Belle & Sebastian, Gary Clark Jr, My Morning Jacket, Mumford and Sons, Jessica Hernandez and The Deltas, Hiss Golden Messenger, Spoon, Punch Brothers, Florence + the Machine, Robert Plant, and Billy Joel.

Enjoy!

The Holydrug Couple

I had the pleasure of attending Psych Fest/Levitation in Austin earlier this month. One of the more pleasant surprises for me was seeing the Holydrug Couple from Santiago, Chile.

Their dreamy psychedelic rock initially reminded me of Tame Impala...

The Holydrug Couple "Follow Your Way" http://youtu.be/ne83qkJzdGU

After seeing them play again last Friday, at the Knockout in San Francisco, I have a greater appreciation for their unique sound.

Keep an eye on these guys. I expect big things from them.

at The Knockout, San Francisco 

at Psych Fest, Austin, TX

Austin Psych Fest 2015

I'm here in Austin, Texas this weekend for the Levitation, née Psych Fest.

I'm usually an early adopter when it comes to music festivals, but somehow have kept missing this one... for seven consecutive years. This year I couldn't stay away.

I mean, come on, The Flaming Lips, Spiritualized, Tame Impala, and Primal Scream, all in one place? That's an insanely great lineup even without all the other bands that will be playing, many of which I'm sure to enjoy.

In case I needed confirmation, Last.fm told me this was the place I needed to be:

A photo posted by @festivalfreak on

If you can't make it, but want to get a taste, check out this Rdio mixtape I made. Or follow me in the usual places.