I spent a lot of time this year hanging out at The Mint. I had friends who worked there so…this often translated to free music and food. And it was good music and food (garlic fries, mac n cheese, taquitos, yum!). Some memorable nights at The Mint included any High Voltage night (Marti Gras, Dead Sara, Queen Caveat), Andrew Belle and Schuyler Fisk, Liam Gerner, Empire (a fantastic new band), etc. Harper Blynn is one of those bands I discovered at The Mint. They absolutely blew me away. I was transfixed by their energy and their songs. I love their album, Loneliest Generation, but it’s this cover of Beyonce’s “Halo” that I felt needed a spot on this mix as it became my wake up and get out of bed tune of the year. These Brooklyn boys spend a couple of months in LA doing a residency at The Hotel Cafe and brought out other fantastic artists like The Damnwells, Cary Brothers, Todd Carey, and Laura Jansen. They also did a couple amazing shows at Bardot. It was a great year for me and Harper Blynn.
Needtobreathe is a band I’d been meaning to see since 2009 when they released The Outsiders featuring this, its titular tune. I’d just about given up hope as they started playing venues too big for my liking and opening for major acts I didn’t really want to pay to see. But these gentlemen from South Carolina did something amazing this year. They did a little tour almost on the DL across the country in tiny venues like LA’s The Hotel Cafe. The packed house was treated to an extended set that spanned the band’s catalogue and included many new tunes from their newest release, The Reckoning. Their show was another one for the books!
The Civil Wars are the most jaw dropping act I saw this year. I knew they were going to be good, but I wasn’t expecting the level brilliance they achieved. It’s absolutely astounding how just two people and a guitar can be powerful enough to bring a venue like The Wiltern to its knees. There is a reason why the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White are getting Grammy nominations and selling out venues across the country. Of course I love their break out hit “Barton Hallow”, but songs like “Poison and Wine” really showcase how something so simple can be so powerful in its quite beauty.
There are quite a few songs that impacted me this year that aren’t on the list simply because they haven’t been released. I was very excited when Keaton Simons leaked a few of his newer songs in honor of Hotel Carolina, including my favorite, “Beautiful Pain”. I had several meetings with Keaton over the year, but the one that is most memorable (perhaps because it was most recent) was at The Hotel Café Christmas show. This evening ties with the evening of the Pepper’s Ghost show as the best musical event of my year. It was so full of amazing artists (Cary Brothers, Butch Walker, Joe Purdy, Chris Pierce), new discovers (Sweet Talk Radio, Javier Dunn) and surprise guests (Joey Ryan, Sara Barellies, Pink!!), by the end I was overwhelmed to tears. When Keaton came out, he played this song. It was a perfect moment.
In 2011, Semi Precious Weapons moved to LA. Their weekly Empire parties at On the Rox were a huge part of my year. Every Wednesday night for months, I stayed up late to get molested by burlesque girls, party with fashionistas and rockstars, and rock out with friends as we were treated to debuts of songs potentially on the next Semi Precious Weapons album. I wish the album had come out this year so I could share with you some of their amazing new tunes, but we will have to settle for a classic SPW song that rings particularly true to me. These rockers may epitomize dirty glam, but they are also really nice guys. I started running into them at their shows, out on The Strip, at Duke’s, etc. and they are now part of my family here in LA.
There is so much I love about Plan B’s album The Defamation of Strickland Banks. It’s one of those albums that should be listened to in its entirety from front to back. That’s the best way to get the complete story of a man who is wrongfully incarcerated. Plan B is UK born Ben Drew who uses not just his vocal abilities, but his skills as an artist and director to make Strickland Banks come to life in a series of songs and music videos. Known more for his rapping, I love how this album showcases his soulful singing voice. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the shows Plan B did in LA this year. But I keep coming back to this CD, and I think “Stay Too Long” does a great job showcasing the range on the album, so here it is!
The best night to go out in Los Angeles is Monday night. So many great shows and most of them are free. Venues like The Satellite (formally Spaceland) and Silverlake Lounge had some pretty choice Monday night residencies this year. Taylor Locke and The Roughs, Youngblood Hawke, Big Black Delta, Indians, etc. Vanaprasta at The Satellite was one of the residencies I enjoyed the most. It centered around the release of their album, Healthy Geometry, which has been getting quite a bit of play in my stereo. LMN also started doing a feature this year called The Band Exam and Vanaprasta was one of our willing participants.