I’m incredibly excited that I’ve finished my year-end lists actually correspond with the end of the year. Without further pontificating, here’s the first half of the year’s best.
Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem – Madison Square Garden Show. It’s not an official release, but it proves that the tightest live band in the world only got tighter with time. “Yeah” is an absolute powerhouse.
20: Beirut – The Rip Tide. The mellower, less brash Zac Condon won me over.
19: The Antlers – Burst Apart. Mostly because “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is my favorite song of the year, although the rest of the album stands up well.
18: Gray Young – Staysail. Post-rock with heart and technical abilities.
17: Bon Iver – Bon Iver. It took a while to grow on me, but now I think that Vernon out-James Blaked James Blake.
16: David Ramirez – Strangetown EP. Moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and a beautiful voice make this a brilliant collection of tunes.
15: Restorations – Restorations. The sound of punk rockers growing old without giving up.
14: Battle Ave. – “War Paint.” A more indie-fied Titus Andronicus? Sign me up twice.
13: Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. Piano-led singer/songwriter fare rarely sounds this confident, powerful or memorable.
12: Pete Davis – The Pottsville Conglomerate. The instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens meets the acrobatic enthusiasm of a pop-punk band. Fireworks ensue.
11: Oh Look Out! – Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright. Electrifying, intricate indie-pop that loves video games just as much as music. “Kam” is brilliant.
There’s three basic parts of Damien Rice’s sound: moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and an untamed caterwaul. That occasionally grating third element is what keeps Rice’s fanbase from growing or shrinking. If there was an artist who captured the first two elements in a similar way, but toned down the roaring, I’d put big bets on that guy to be big.
I’m going to Vegas on David Ramirez.
The acoustic guitar-playing Texan’s easygoing voice can get intense, as in the climax of “Argue With Heaven,” but it never gets abrasive. You can tell David Ramirez is all-in, but he’s not reckless. That element of control makes “Argue With Heaven” a powerful, repeatable track.
Three more of the earthy, grounded tunes on his EP Strangetown follow a similar tack; “Wandering Man” is train-whistle roots rock, and while it’s not a fine song, it’s not Ramirez at his finest. That would instead be “Shoeboxes,” which incorporates gentle alt-country fingerpicking to back up his anguished voice.
It’s important to note that his emotions are contributed through tone and inflection in addition to volume. If it’s the voice that makes a songwriter, Ramirez is on the right path; he’s either spent time honing his voice to transmit what he wants or been blessed with a rare set of pipes. Probably both.
“Strange Town” calls up more Rice comparisons in mood and accompaniment, which is welcome. “I Think I Like You” is an easy-going piece that puts a lot of gravitas into that simple sentiment; in that vein, consider the weight he can assign to lyrics that have standalone dramatic import, like ruminations over mementos and memories of a lost love on “Shoeboxes.”
David Ramirez has the trifecta going for him: engaging music, mesmerizing vocals and poignant lyrics. If you’re a fan of singer/songwriters, Ramirez is in your future, whether right now or when he inevitably gets a larger following. He’s going to hit The Blue Door in OKC Friday night. If I wasn’t playing a show, I’d be there.
Listen to and download “Shoeboxes.”