Reaching out to the scene for their take on the season’s best songs – local AND pro.
With Summer 2016 now officially in the books and Fall now well underway, I thought it might be a good time to check in with some friends to weigh in on their favorite songs of the season. Criteria were simple: Was the song released over the summer? Even then, we bent the rules ever-so-slightly for a select few contributors.
At the end of the day, it was great to chat with people whose work I truly admire and more humbling still that they would choose to take part in this article. So without further delay…
Nikolina The Terrible – Frontwoman of New Brunswick Glam Rock band, The Production:
PJ Harvey – “Guilty” – A light political anthem for a late summer afternoon mimosa with the girls! Harvey is bringing Patti Smith realness to the surface, boiling with a 70s Dog Day Afternoon anti-establishment temperature long overdue in music, minus the rag tag antics. The whole song is ominously set to a gut-churning, vaguely militaristic beat, complete with chanting in all the right places to drive Harvey’s point home with the musical grace only a woman of her strange iconography could deliver.
gHyps:ee & The Wichts – “No Such Thing” – Edging on beatnik, you are grabbed by the shoulders to stare directly into her eyes while she confronts you. It’s a violent, core-gutting reminder of everything you’ve tried to forget but stubbornly remains within no matter how many things you do differently; no matter how many people you cut out. Her screams ring true with anyone who has a soul that has felt a true agone, an authentic cry of wrath, fear, and pain. Take this ride carefully.
Bob Makin – Makin Waves Columnist for MyCentralJersey.com:
The Shady Street Show Band – “Don’t Be Fooled by the Rain” – A cross between The Band with the Toussaint Horns and the late, great keyboard-driven New Orleans groove unit Papa Grows Funk, the Americana Sould of the Shady Street Show Band is musically sweet, lyrically rich, and rhythmically enthralling. It’s a shame that classic rock radio doesn’t play new bands because the keep-on-keepin-on hopefulness of “Don’t Be Fooled by the Rain” would sound great alongside the Last Waltz version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The track brings it all back to a time when music meant something and wasn’t disposable.
Brian Rothenbeck – Host of the Yarnspinners podcast, charmingly witty solo act:
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Rothenbeck refused to give me individual songs. “Take it or leave it, Erickson,” he told me. “I haven’t had my coffee so you’re getting full-lengths whether you like it or not!” Fortunately, I liked it!
Eyeswan – ‘Manipulations’ – Their move toward a simpler, more song-oriented approach shows the band functioning strongly as a unit and allows for Warren’s voice to be upfront and make more of an emotional connection.
Lowlight – ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ – They’ve created what I consider to be a perfect album! Each song is beautiful in its own right, but they still come together as a whole to express an overall mood. I can feel the care that went into writing the lyrics and it shows in that each line captures exactly what Renee wants to say.
Ryan Kenter – drummer of Springfield, NJ’s The Vaughns, remarkably deft billiard-player:
Margaret Glaspy – “Parental Guidance” – The chorus in the song is just so good! I saw her open for the Milk Carton Kids at Newtown Theater; I had no idea who she was but within the first song, her friendly voice and warm Telecaster guitar tone commanded my full, undivided attention. I’ve loved her since then.
Anna Lies – vocalist/guitarist, The Vaughns:
Grouplove – “Welcome to Your Life” – I just love the way this song goes from having a super pop vibe in the verses to a 90s rock-inspired chorus. It’s weird and fresh in all the right ways.
YJY – “Summer Lifeguard” – I can’t get it out of my head! Can’t stop, won’t stop saying, ‘Summer lifeguard, please.’ There’s something so catchy about the way Steve delivers the vocals. Fun, sassy, and addictive!
David Cacciatore – lead guitarist, The Vaughns:
My favorite song of the Summer was definitely “Shut Up and Kiss Me” by Angel Olsen.
Tom Losito – bass, The Vaughns:
Teenage Fanclub – “Thin Air.”
Derril Sellers – guitarist/producer/engineer, Lowlight/The Hsu-Nami:
The Battery Electric – “Nobody’s Fool” – I love the soul direction that Battery has taken lately. It still has the muscle of their sound, but the song has a flavor that makes [vocalist] Ron Santee seem like he’s right at home. When Battery were first starting, I remember [guitarist] Brent Övar Bergholm telling me he was picturing Black Sabbath playing Motown songs. That sounded like a hell of a premise for a band! There’s a bit of that on their other songs like “Crown Royal,” but the Got Your Soul EP and especially “Nobody’s Fool” is really delivering on that vision.
Dana Sellers – keyboardist/backing vocalist, Lowlight/The Hsu-Nami:
Lucius – “How Loud Your Heart Gets” and “Dusty Trails” – This past August Lowlight had the pleasure of opening for Brooklyn/LA based Lucius. The first time I heard them was actually from Derril, who had heard a performance on NPR. I really liked what I heard and continued to listen to that particular tune from time to time. However, it wasn’t until I saw them play live at Iowa venue Codfish Hollow, did I realize what a truly amazing group they are. Talent, talent, talent – a rock solid, powerful performance; I was completely blown away! They were promoting their new release, Good Grief— and now I just can’t get enough of that album. My favorite song at the moment is “Dusty Trails.” Amazing vocal work, and one superbly placed hand clap (there are actually three total). Restraint! If you get the option of listening to the deluxe album, it includes a demo version of that song. It’s interesting to hear where it started and how it evolved during the recording process. There is definitely something to be learned from Lucius as far as arrangement, performance and songwriting.
Roadside Graves – “Donna (Reno)” – The Graves, shared members notwithstanding, are one my favorite bands, period. As soon as I heard the songs performed live off of the then not-yet-released Acne/Ears, I knew this would be their best album yet. John Gleason’s lyrics are deeply intimate and chillingly relatable at times. He can tap into the minutiae of the human experience and bring it to life in a song, which is such a hard thing to do (it seems to come easy to him). Lyrics that, on previous release My Son’s Home particularly, I have cried in public to. Acne/Ears is the result of years of songwriting experience and comfort of talent. They are taking chances, thus creating a sound that is truly special. My favorite song is “Donna (Reno),” an inner monologue John created “while driving”. As a keyboard player, I am also a huge fan of the mellotron-driven synth intro—I will no doubt be ripping that off in the near future. Don’t tell anyone…
Bill Greenwood – artist management, The Paper Jets/music industry PR, Jaybird Communications:
Lowlight – “Lines in the Road” – This song feels like a road trip. Momentum is built masterfully throughout, transitioning organically from low-key country to all-out rager, with vocalist Renee Maskin letting a bit of Dylan seep into her vocals.
The Menzingers – “Lookers” – No one writes a nostalgia song quite like the Menzingers, and as summer turns to fall, this track captures both the promise of the former and the reflection of the latter. And they even give a shout-out to the Wonder Bar!
Jim Appio – Founder/Editor-in-Chief, cooldadmusic.com:
Dentist – “Meet You There (in Delaware)” – This song immediately jumped out at me when I first heard Dentist’s sophomore LP, Ceilings. Emily Bornemann’s bouncy rhythm guitar and Justin Bornemann’s bendy leads give this one that quality that just says “single” to me. It’s easy to bob your head and bop along. But, as is often the case with Dentist, there’s a bit of sadness buried beneath the catchy, indie pop vibes.
We spend lots of time trying to fill our evenings with something fun, trying to show the world we’re having the best time possible. How does it feel, though, when we’re constantly chasing something that we just can’t ever seem to catch? I think Emily’s vocals, distant and almost forlorn, tell you all you need to know about that.
Ed Magdziak – Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief, youdontknowjersey.com:
Pioneer the Eel – “Running with Bears” – When I first heard Pioneer the Eel I was literally transfixed. This sounding like nothing I had heard in quite a while. Indie and avant-garde with a touch of 80s alternative, this was a sound I could really get into. And I did. This song is a perfect example of what they are about. From the rat-a-tat drumming in the intro, the sparse, haunting guitar and emotive vocals throughout the song is like a gorgeous, ethereal dream.
Alice Magdziak – Co-Founder/Editor Person, youdontknowjersey.com:
TacoCat – “Horse Grrls” – It might come as a surprise that I listen to music that isn’t from New Jersey. It is indeed possible for me to appreciate a band from outside the 8,721 square miles of the Garden State and Tacocat was at the top of that list this year. The whole album, “Lost Time,” was the perfect summer record with fun and catchy melodies, bouncy instrumentation and lyrics that were thoughtful without being preachy. Horse Grrls is my favorite song on the album. I wasn’t a horse grrl but I knew lots of girls who were. It’s the perfect metaphor for something that can take hold of you so deeply at a young age even though it can seem rather trivial to others (and even yourself as an adult). Special thanks to Bitch Magazine for introducing me to Tacocat. Someday, they’ll ask me to write an article about NJ women musicians. Until then, I’ll be scouring all their music articles for awesome new non-local finds.
Brian Erickson – author, this article:
Dinosaur Jr – “Tiny” – The band’s most immediately-infectious song since 1988’s “Freak Scene,” these indie rock titans belong on an extremely short list of bands that continue to get better and more vital with age. “Tiny” is just the latest in a long line of pleasant surprises.
Joe Galuppo – “Cans” – “The man who can’t be recorded” finally dropped an album of lonesome yet jaw-dropping soulfulness. Galuppo channels Willie Nelson’s nylon guitar intricacies and Sun Kil Moon’s laconic vocal delivery to fine effect. “Cans” is the perpetual rainy day at the end of yet another failed romance. “If you want change so bad,” he pleads, “go collect some cans.”
Copyright, You Don’t Know Jersey, LLC (2010-2024)
Pizza with the Band – A.Bird Takes Us to Maggie’s Town Tavern Next Post:
Picture of the Week – Ricky Lorenzo of YJY