Top Ten of 2017: Todd Farrell Jr. of Benchmarks

Todd Farrell Jr. is a guitarist/singer and record producer from Nashville, Tennesse. He fronts the Nashville-based rock band Benchmarks, who released their first LP Our Undivided Attention on SofaBurn Records last March. He is also the former lead guitarist for Columbus, Ohio, band Two Cow Garage, and toured as a guitarist with New Jersey punker Sammy Kay this year.
In addition to near constant touring, he also produced and engineered Our Undivided Attention and Benchmarks’ previous EP, American Night, Two Cow Garage’s 2016 album Brand New Flag, his former solo releases All Our Heroes Live in Vans and Where Fake Cowboys Go to Drink.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Farrell to ask about his favorite records of the year. This is what he told us.
These are my favorite records of 2017, according to time spent on a turntable, Spotify plays, lyrics and riffs remembered, and generally what I can remember falling in love with over the course of the year. This is also under the understanding that the newest Bud Bronson & the Good Timers record isn’t officially “out” yet, so I have to wait until next year to put it as number 1.
1) Kali Masi, Wind Instrument
I discovered this record purely by chance. Sam (Porter, singer/guitarist) was looking for a show in Nashville, and he was pointed my way by some friends in Atlanta. He sent me a Soundcloud link of the record, and I was instantly drawn in. It incorporates everything I love about this style of music; thoughtful lyrics, hooks for days, great riffs, and that slight nudge of prog (I guess it’s called “math” these days) to keep the musician in me constantly stoked. The music here rips, but is never showy. The songs are brilliant, and I love the arrangements. In an age where none of us are getting mainstream radio play anyway, I commend putting that extra instrumental passage or guitar solo into a tune, while still keeping me fully immersed in the song itself. Favorite track: “Jejune”
2) Micah Schnabel, Your New Norman Rockwell
I’ve looked up to and admired Micah as a songwriter for almost 10 years now, and never before has he written anything as beautiful, as inspiring, as tragic, as forgiving, and as redeeming as Your New Norman Rockwell. I had the privilege to work in close proximity to him as these songs came together in greenrooms, soundchecks, and typewriters in the other room. Watching his craft slowly come together and the clay mold into forms and figures is unlike anything else I’ve seen. He is one of the brightest songwriters I’ve ever met. Currently, he’s at the top of his game, and it’s frightening how much better he gets with every new song. The future holds more for Micah Schnabel. Favorite song: “The Interview”
3) John Moreland – Big Bad Luv
There was a moment in Little Rock last December at the White Water Holiday Hangout where John came onstage with a full band for the first time in who knows how long, and I believed the floor of that wonderful little bar was going to fall through. There is nothing that I can say about John that hasn’t already been said by everyone else this year. The man is a songwriting machine. However, what puts this record above the rest is that he’s drawn us in with not the familiar melancholy, but the spring that follows. It’s “the heaven following the hurt” as he puts it. What also keeps this record spinning for me is my main man John Calvin Abney (guitar, keys) stepping out a bit and giving it the full band life that I’ve been wanting to hear since Everything the Hard Way. Favorite track: “Lies I Chose to Believe”
4) Lee Bains II & the Glory Fires, Youth Detention
Living in the South in a post-2016 election world is an interesting existence. I love the South, even if I don’t necessarily love the political associations of it. It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it makes me thankful for songwriters like Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell, and Lee Bains. Sonically, the Glory Fires are a southern summer morning, with the oppressive humidity of the guitars on your face, and the dew drops of drums and bass on your ankles. You’re headed towards the sound of Lee’s voice, echoing off of buildings and throughout hollers, where you find him firmly planted behind the podium at a march for civil rights, but not before he hands you a glass of sweet tea and a slice of his mom’s peach cobbler. Favorite song: “Underneath the Sheets of White Noise”
5) Jon Latham, Lifers
My parents were in town for a wedding, and had a night to hang out in Nashville. So, naturally, I took them to a show. Jon Latham was playing at Soulshine Pizza, and being that my father loves Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty as much as he loves the Gin Blossoms, I knew this was the place to go. Jon and the band were brilliant, as always, and my dad got to catch up with another of his favorite Nashville Good Guys Andrew Leahey (playing guitar for Jon). When they played the title track from the new record, my parents cried, and bought like five CDs (their son also lives off of selling t-shirts and CDs too). I think Jon is only just getting started, and I’m going to make him do something on the next Benchmarks record whether he likes it or not. Favorite song “Learning Now”
6) The Menzingers, After the Party
I turned 30 in June of this year, and it took until about then to fully grasp this record. At age 29, I got married, got a house, quit my favorite band, and all of the sudden life became incredibly real. Not only real in a terrifying, tragic-nostalgia way, but a beautiful way. After the Party helped me with a lot of that. Favorite track: “After the Party”
7) Heartsounds, Dualistic Nihilist
I love when a band does something different. Lately, I’ve been really interested in bands that are pushing the envelope not only musically, but in thought and concept, challenging the traditional idea of how to write and release music. For one thing, they can really play (they include members of an old favorite melodic death metal band – Light This City). Secondly, they decided for this record to be a single 20 minute track. Pushing the boundaries, and pushing the conventional idea of how to create and consume the media. Good on you, Heartsounds. This thing rips, and I applaud your sense of adventure and ambition. Favorite song – “Dualistic Nihilist” (it’s all the same thing, duh)
8) Matthew Ryan, Hustle Up Starlings
Ryan is one of the guys writing on another level than the rest of us. His last, Boxers, was an in your face rock and roll record that I immediately connected with. This one was a slow burner, but it meant more in the end. The band is dialed back, and the record plays to the strengths of Ryan… his voice and his words. Whether he’s building us up to the heartbreak of the next turn of phrase, or paying homage to heroes of old, every syllable, couplet, and stanza is important, and placed there with careful precision and purpose. Favorite song: “Summer Never Ends”
9) Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
A lot of really great metal came out this year (despite what my list may say), but it’s a little harder to digest them after only a few months. This Elder record, however, I can be sure made it into my favorites. I’m usually a thrash/death/black kinda guy, who likes the faster stuff. I never thought I’d really get into a stoner record the way I’ve loved this one. It’s monstrous, with so many melodies and interweaving musical motifs cascading across the tops of mountains and down to a desert floor. It makes me want to create music. Favorite track: “The Falling Veil”
10) Rozwell Kid, Precious Art
Thankfully, the guitar solo is making a comeback. This couldn’t be clearer than with Rozwell Kid’s newest, where they carefully walk the line between Weezer-eque quirky power pop and cheesy guitarmony shred. Luckily, I love those things. What’s wonderful is that nothing ever seems out of place. Favorite track: “Total Mess”
Honorable mentions (in no particular order):
Captain We’re Sinking, The King of No Man
Rebuilder, Sounds from the Massachusetts Turnpike
Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights
Jason Isbell, Hope for the High Road
Iron Chic, You Can’t Stay Here
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound
Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm
Needles//Pins, Goodnight, Tomorrow
The Black Dahlia Murder, Nightbringers
Falls of Rauros, Vigilance Perennial
Cayetana, New Kind of Normal
Wolves in the Throne Room, Thrice Woven
Pallbearer, Heartless
Power Trip, Nightmare Logic
White Reaper, World’s Best American Band
Sinai Vessel, Brokenlegged