Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Favorites of '08

Just like I did last year, I'm going to make a grandiose, self-congratulatory post about my favorite musical things of the year. Because I've slacked off the writing recently, let's just get started right away—

My top albums of the year (no ordering, just stuff that I liked)

(if you want cover art, just google the titles)

The Durutti Column — Sunlight To Blue...Blue To Blackness (Kookydiscs)
Well, I didn't expect another release from the skinny Manchester noodler until at least next year, but he bucked the convention yet again and released an album of all new material just under eight months after Idiot Savants (last year's album of the year pick). This album, in stark contrast to Idiot Savants, was a sparse, isolated affair which found most of the tracks as simply solo Vini Reilly performances. Very little overdubbing as well, so most of it is just solo guitar. Outstanding tracks like 'Messages' (nice harmonica!) and 'So Many Crumbs and Monkeys' were simply supports in the album's undeniably warm and rock solid foundation. While not the all out exuberant masterpiece that Idiot Savants was, it was quite an unexpected surprise nonetheless.

The Sea and Cake — Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey)
And another of my favorites releases two albums in just under a year! When the release date was announced, I was shocked because it took these guys so long between their previous two albums. I just figured it'd be another three or four years before I'd hear from them under this moniker again. The album does have the feel of renewed energy. Love it as much as I did (and do), Everybody was kind of downtrodden. This album still has that trademark breezy melancholy that the band is known for, but there's a little more pep in the presentation of the tunes this time around. The album's highlight is undoubtedly the band's return to danciness, 'Weekend.' Although there's not a bad song in the bunch. It's just another one in the long line of consistency that is the band's catalogue.

The Occasional Keepers — True North (LTM Recordings)
Bob Wratten made another appearance on record this year as well. Although it wasn't until track four (of a ten track album!) that he finally decided to show up, he stole the show when he did (with 'Leave the Secret There Forever'). The second album by this side project group does tend to branch out a little from the first album's soothing constant calm (especially with Cesar's excellent track 'Town of 85 Lights') and I'd actually say it's my favorite of the two so far (will there be another one?). Nothing revelatory, but fantastic well-rounded stuff.

The Cure — 4:13 (Geffen)
I expected it to be terrible, to be completely honest. And when I first heard it, I thought it was incredible. But since time has passed and I've grown more familiar with it and gotten over the initial shock of it being a genuinely good Cure album that stands up with the band's prime years, I've found that it's just that: a good album by a band that used to churn them out every year or two. Not saying it's better than anything from their prime years, but it certainly could've come from that time period. But at the same time, it's not regressive, rehashing old ideas and themes; not at all. And I think that's what quite striking about the whole thing: the freshness of the material. Excellent fluffy singles ('The Only One' and 'The Perfect Boy') sat right alongside classic Cure downers ('The Reasons Why' and 'The Hungry Ghost') and things sounded all the better for it. Ultimately, a relieving album for Cure fans.

Al Green — Lay it Down (Blue Note)
Classic Al Green, circa 2008. And you know what? I turned all cynical when I read Questlove's pre-release comments about how he wanted to make an old Al Green record. I thought, come on dude, it's not the 70's anymore, let him make the album he wants to make. And then I realized, his most recent resurgence on Blue Note had been less than completely satisfying. So when I heard that classic Hi Records drum sound recreated to a tee, I just let the album burn. And not only does it feel completely like one of Al's classic releases, it feels like his best work since the Belle Album, roughly thirty years ago. Stellar performances all around and not a bad song in the bunch. Just great music.

Death Cab For Cutie — Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
Darker and bleaker than anything else the band has ever done, even Plans and its death-obsessed outlook was no match for the downright negative 'giving up' attitude that this album brought to the table. Where Plans used death as a theme of looking up and out, this album just wallows in the negative side of everything. It feels, at times, like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Rough stuff, but what a batch of super songs. Riffy, catchy and (strangely enough) fun to sing along with, this will probably go down as the band's weirdest album. It's weird to think that they got even more popular this year as well, even on the back of such a dark record. More power to 'em, because this bettered the snoozefest that was Plans within the first two tracks. Well done.

The Breeders — Mountain Battles (4AD)
Another seriously dark album. As this is the Breeders, so it's an inherently shambling and lo-fi affair and that just ups the darkness into a hazy, druggy feeling. Kim Deal sounds like she's on the verge of tears for a good portion of the album and the second half is surprisingly quiet (especially for a Breeders album!). Definitely an album that requires a front to back listen every time, it's a fascinating return form for one of the great cult bands of recent years.

Erykah Badu — New AmERYKAH: Part one (4th World War) (Motown)
A very political and chaotic album, it was initially a relief after the Worldwide Underground debacle a few years ago. It was great to hear Erykah sounding like she actually cared again. More of a song cycle than an album, it definitely felt like the smaller piece of something bigger (which makes sense because it was supposed to be one of three new albums that she was to release this year; the other two never materialized). But overall, with great songs like 'Soldier', 'The Cell' and 'Telephone', it's an album that is eye-popping on initial listens, but rewards repeated astute run-throughs.

Ahamad Jamal — It's Magic (Dreyfuss Jazz)
When he released In Search of Momentum five years ago, it felt like Ahmad Jamal was experiencing a resurgence in his creativity as a composer. This was confirmed a couple years later with After Fajr and the trend continues on this album. There are some stellar new compositions (highlighted by the title track) and his current reassessment of one of his best tunes ever ('Swahililand') continues with a a brief, but no less revelatory, reading. Sixty years into his career and he is once again entering a creative renaissance. That's what legends do, I guess.

And now, for my biggest disappointments…

Congrats, Common! You managed to make this category two years in a row! Good for you! Only a serious embarrassment of an album could've helped you get here again, and that's exactly what that UMC bullshit was! You've officially become a shadow of your former self! That's great!

Chris Walla
This album sucked, plain and simple. For all his cool little guitar and sound experiments in Death Cab, you'd think he would've pulled out a neo-shoegaze sound for his solo album, but no, all we got was Plans-lite. And Plans was lite to begin with, so this album ended up as deliriously harmless. Yuck.

The albums that I wanted to check out, but never did, based on whatever variables…

Robert Forster — The Evangelist
I have absolutely no excuse for not having heard this album. I hesitate to call myself a Go-Betweens fan because of this clear and present display of non-fandom.

All those g'damn Durutti Column vault releases and reissues
Damn you and your undying coolness, LTM Recordings! I can't afford those pricey imports.

I hesitate to call this the ‘rediscoveries’ section because I never discovered these records until this year, but a lot of people call it that. Anyway, here’s a bunch of older things that I just caught up to in 2008…

Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim
I know there's tons of musicians out there like this: ridiculously large back catalogues and unbelievable consistency. That's why I hesitated so long. I've picked up four or five albums so far and they are all fantastic. The sort of thing that sounds good no matter what. Heartfelt and poignant, with a deep emotional resonance all the time, every time. Very Bill Evans, in that respect. My journey has just begun, but I can't wait for the amazing discoveries that are surely forthcoming.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Early stuff, mind you. I picked up Organisation in the dollar bin one Sunday afternoon and was blown away. They were like a spiritual blend of New Order and the Chameleons. Why didn't anyone ever tell me!? I quickly picked up the rest of their stuff up to and including Junk Culture and they have quickly become one of my favorite early 80's groups. All of the early stuff is great, but Dazzle Ships is a monument in my ears.

Herbie Nichols
Recently I found out that Blue Note is deleting a good chunk of its currently in-print back catalogue. The three disc Herbie Nichols set is on the chopping block to be out of print by early next year, so I picked it up and was absolutely astounded by the entire set. It's like post-bop at the height of be-bop. Amazing stuff.

Nine Horses
Just recently caught up to this David Sylvian project. It's a lot like what you would expect the next David Sylvian album after Dead Bees On A Cake to sound like. Except it came out after Blemish. Awesome blend of electronics and acoustic stand up bass. Really great stuff.

James Oakes and the Bellows
See the archives for my post about them...

Wire Train — a chamber
Wonderful new wave from the 415 Records scene of early 80's San Francisco. Strummy and melodic but with that dreamy early 80's guitar sound. Every last song on this album is great, but 'Chamber of Hellos' is a bonafide lost classic.

And, for the mixed media category…

Best film of the year: The Dark Knight
I hated Batman Begins (or, as I subtitled it: Batman Bores) and my expectations were even worse for this movie. But, no, I'm a big budget blockbuster whore, apparently, because I thought it kicked ass. Visually amazing, thematically intense and technically flawless, they really knocked it out of the park with this one.

Best book I read this year: View From A Hill by Mark Burgess
How could it not be? He makes you feel like you were there too. Just fantastic. See my post about it in the archives.

Good stuff all around I say. Didn't get that new Maxwell record, although he did tour, so maybe it'll be out soon...

Oh yeah, top fives will begin again after the new year...

Be good.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Oh yes we did!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Top Five Part Five: Robert Smith Guitar Solos

Although heralded for his masterful mopery, Robert Smith has long been neglected as a fine guitarist. He didn't really develop his own sound until the Cure's middle period, but when he did, he spoke gracefully and thoughtfully through his instrument every time. Because there have been so many Cure bootlegs and unofficial recordings that have inevitably made their way through fans' hands over the years, I considered including some of these moments, but ulitimately decided against that because not *everyone* has had the chance to hear them. So, of the officially released stuff, here are my top five favorite Robert Smith guitar solos..

#5 - 'Treasure' (Wild Mood Swings, 1996)
Just gorgeously pretty stuff. Perfectly vintage tone and sound for Mr. Smith. It is perhaps the most representative solo he's ever taken on a record, but it fits the song so incredibly well.

#4 - 'A Night Like This' (live from The Cure In Orange) ('Catch' 12" b-side, 1986)
This is one song where the definitive versions are not studio recordings, but live versions. And it seems like the more they played it, the better it got. Bob (thankfully) did not decide to replicate the sax solo heard on the studio recording, but instead he takes a solo in that spot. I think he pretty much plays the same solo every time on this song (or at least he starts it with the same phrase), but this one just feels completely right. Make that sax solo look silly (or sillier, as the case may be).

#3 - 'Burn' (The Crow soundtrack, 1993)
Epic Cure at its absolute best. The song just builds and builds this unbelieveable tension and it feels like the only time that's slightly relieved is when Bob takes this incredible solo. They really should play this song live.

#2 - 'The Same Deep Water As You' (Disintegration, 1989)
Nearly classical in its scope, I've often said that it's not the lyrics that are the saddest thing about this song, but the solo that Bob takes. It just reaches an unspeakable depth of poignancy.

#1 - 'Faith' (live) ('Charlotte Sometimes' 12" b-side, 1981)
The song 'Faith' is pretty much the blueprint for that vintage Robert Smith six string bass sound and tone, but this epic 10+ minute live recording illustrates fully for the first time the potential the sound and style had for reaching emotional depths. This set the stage for many more epic renditions of the tune in years to come, but this recording from the tour for the Faith album stands out because the tune was still fairly new to the band at this point and, despite the tempo, there is an urgency and longing in the tone of the solos Bob takes. Really superb stuff. Thankfully, it was rescued from out of print Cure b-side obscurity with the deluxe edition of the Faith album a few years ago.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Top Five Part Four: Songs Obama Should've Picked

Let's talk some real talk for a minute folks—

I am one of many people that believes this country (the yoo ess aye) is not going in the right direction. I want everyone I know to vote for Barrack Obama. Not only is he the first black presidential candidate ever, he's the best man for the job that has a real chance at winning the vote. I voted for Nader once already; it felt great.... until I saw the election results. Obama is such a calm and collected fellow. He has charisma out the wazoo. And, for the first time since Jimmy Carter, I'm going to feel like like I'm voting for someone smarter than me. It's gonna feel great to vote for him.

So, besides what I feel has been an otherwise great campaign, I would like to correct the one thing that I feel the Obama campaign has botched: a theme song. I present to you: the top five songs Barrack Obama Should Have Picked For His Campaign Theme Song:

#5 — Björk — "Unison"
A peaceful call to arms for republicans... because, at this point, even they know McCain will fuck things up even worse.

#4 — The Field Mice — "Song Six"
Perhaps getting all those would-be women Hillary voters' sympathy? Such a potentially cool move. Way cooler than this.

#3 — Sonic Youth — "Youth Against Facism"
Okay. That would've been unbeliveable and maybe a little too cynical for him. But man, wouldn't you have freaked the eff out if you had heard that prior to an Obama speech?

#2 — Public Enemy — "Fight the Power"
Maybe too obvious of a choice. Maybe too radical of a choice. But man, that would've been so kickass, everytime Barrack came down to the podium, to hear, "19 eightteeeee-NINE the numbah!"

#1 — The Durutti Column — "Better Must Come"
Ever since he introduced the 'Yes we can' tagline, I've thought that this song would've been the perfect accompaniment. Glorious. Magnificent. Triumphant.

Vote Obama, kids.

We need it.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Top Five Part Three: Grant McLennan Songs

As the lovable teddy bear half of the Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan was the heart to Robert Forster's head. Where Forster's songs gave listeners more to think about, McLennan's songs were often fan favorites based on pure resonance. Robert Forster was the mysterious rockstar you swooned over. Grant was the guitar playing guy that you felt like you could sit down and have a beer with. For this list, I'll be going through my favorite Grant songs from the Go-Betweens catalogue. Picking just five is going to be difficult. Ridiculously difficult.

#5 — "The Sound of Rain" (demo, 1978)
A travesty that this song was never revived after its initial demo. This predates Lindy Morrison's addition to the group and, as such, features original drummer Tim Mustapha. The song sounds like the blueprint for what would ultimately become the dark, shimmery, late night feel of Send Me A Lullaby. A surreal, Kerouac-ish voyage through a rainy Brisbane night coupled with that irresistable jangle makes for a brilliant moment. This song was thankfully saved on the compilation of the original trio's demos and first two singles, 78 'til 79: The Lost Album.

#4 — "Love Goes On!" (16 Lovers Lane, 1989)
This song may make a repeat appearance if I ever decide to do a list of the top five side one/track ones. Serving as the perfect overture for the album that follows, this song is also a perfect summation of what the Go-Betweens were to a lot of people: catchy and poppy beyond belief, but actual substance beneath all the appeal and production.

#3 — "Apology Accepted" (Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, 1986)
"I used to say dumb things. I guess I still do." This song illustrates why Grant's songs were so resonating. He was able to take a very specific personal incident and make it universal. We've all been in a situation where our significant other has been mad at us and we're just kind of sitting there in limbo, wanting everything to be better. Awesome guitar layers, too.

#2 — "This Girl, Black Girl" (single B-side, 1983)
The b-side to the original version of "Man O' Sand To Girl O' Sea", this song was one of the first recordings that found the Tweens as a quartet. Besides the guitar sound on this song being absolutely awesome, the lyrics follow in the maritime theme of its A-side. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems like it's about a melancholy girl waiting for her sailor boyfriend to return from sea. It's just plain good.

#1 — "Cattle and Cane" (Before Hollywood, 1983)
What can I say? I like to stick to the classics. Quite possibly the Tweens signature tune, it again finds Grant taking a very personal subject and making it universal. I didn't even grow up on a farm, not to mention an Australian one, and I still feel like he's talking to me. Outstanding upper register bass playing by Grant on this one as well. When Robert comes in and says, "I recall the same" he nearly steals the show. A highlight within a highlight. One of the best songs ever.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Top Five Part Two: De La Soul B-sides

B-sides, for the most part, are a rockist thing. Very few other genres have taken to putting a little something extra on the B-side of a single. In most cases, you're lucky if you even get more than one extra track per album.

For this list, I mainly concentrated on actual B-sides, but De La also put tons of remixes on their 12" singles. Actual remixes, too. You know, new beat, new verses, but the same hook so you knew it was a remix. Most of those are excellent time period pieces and make each single its own unique entity that deserves a spin independent of the album every so often.

One of very few hip hop acts to have honest-to-goodness B-sides, De La Soul gave their fans several reasons for buying singles in their early days. Here's the best:

#5 — "It Ain't Hip To Be Labeled A Hippie" (My Myself and I 12", 1989)
Although their earliest B-sides were more along the lines of the glorified skits found throughout 3 Feet High and Rising, they were all just as fun and good. This little ditty borrows the drums from "Me Myself and I" and throws a fantastic Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band loop on top of it so Pos can tell you why De La are not hippies and shold not even associated with hippie ideals. It's a good table setter for the anti-hippie witchhunt that De La Soul is Dead turned out to be.

#4 — "Itzsoweezee (Hot) (De La Soul Mix)" (Itzsoweezee (Hot) 12", 1996)
Actually just a mix of the song where Pos spits a verse. But it makes all the difference in the world. No dis to Dave, but the proper album version that is basically his solo feature on the album gets a bit tedious in comparison.

#3 — "Stakes is High (Remix)" featuring Truth Enola and Mos Def (Itzsooweezee (Hot) 12", 1996)
Jay Dee beat with ridiculous James Brown sample? Check. New verses from the original MCs? Check. Smoking hot verses from then-unknown Native Tounge affiliates? Check. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

#2 — "What Yo Life Can Truly Be" (A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays' 12", 1991)
A proper remix of the single's title track. Just a damn fine remix that packs the cameos to the brim. It keeps the vibe of the original song, but sounds absolutely nothing like it. Wonderfulness.

#1 — "Lovely How I Let My Mind Float" featuring Biz Markie (Ego Trippin' 12", 1993)
'Ya know P-O-S-D-N-U-O-S: usually the reason for a cardiac arrest.' WHAT?!? Crazy. Kind of like "Breakadawn part 2" as it borrows the drum track and chops up the bassline from that track. Pos and Dave alternate park-rockin' verses with Biz and the deal is sealed with a classic line borrowed from "Planet Rock" for the hook. Even at the time, this felt like the iteration of a sound that had long since passed away.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top Five: The Inaugural Edition

So, as a way to keep myself involved in writing on this blog and have a fun entertaining way have a reason to spout off, I'm starting a new series of posts. In a tribute to one of the most music nerdy movies ever made (High Fidelity, of course), I'm going to start doing Top Five lists every few days. The topics may seem esoteric or random, but I will try to keep them as interesting (and maybe even entertaining) as possible. There won't be a designated update day or time; simply whenever I feel like it. But expect at least a couple each week.

So, for today's topic, we'll start with something fairly simple and something close to my heart: the Top Five post-acid house/"Madchester" Manchester albums.

Countdown style.... here we go...

#5 — Oasis — The Masterplan (1998)

Ah, what a copout, they may say right off the bat. He put a fookin' b-sides compilation instead of a proper album. Yep, I suck because this, in my brain, is the finest Oasis album. But I like them ballads these boys be playin'. And, whoo boy, are there a bunch of great ones on here. You betcha.

#4 — Doves — Lost Souls (2000)

A fine introductory effort (or, re-introductory if you count Sub Sub), this album introduces these guys' intricate, Robert Smith-like layered style of songwriting and epic scope in one fell swoop. An album that grows and grows in stature with each listen, it has taken me years to fully appreciate it, but I think I'm finally there. In a rare occurance, the American version had bonus tracks. Cool.

#3 — Morrissey — Your Arsenal (1992)

Holy crap, did Morrissey let the dogs out on this one, or what? I sometimes have foolish moments of weakness and ridiculous nostalgia rembering seeing 'The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get' on MTV in the summer of 1994 and start to think that maybe Vauxhall & I is his best album, but then the ghost of Mick Ronson comes over and plays the lead riff from Ziggy Stardust in my face and I realize that, yes indeed, Your Arsenal is the finest album that Morrissey has stamped his name on. It is all of the following: his catchiest work, his hardest rocking work, his most personal work, his most scattered work and his most irreverently funny work. Whoo, this album rules.

#2 — New Order — Technique (1989)

One of the first albums to come out of Manchester in the initial aftermath of the 'Madchester' explosion, it's also one of the finest. I've said forever that this is one of the top ten or so albums of the 80's and everyone I say that to kind of gives me the shifty eye afterwards. But listen to the record and you can hear shreds of influence it's left on (and is still leaving on) countless bands ever since. Besides that though, the songs are top notch. There's not a bad one in the bunch. You know an album is delicious when the singles are the worst tracks on the album.

#1 — The Chameleons — Why Call It Anything? (2002)

As if you didn't see that coming! This is the Chams' best album. It is their most well-rounded, hardest rocking and best executed album. It sumarizes all of the best things about the band's old material and picks up on the directions the bands they influenced started and takes that direction into a special place. No singles, no b-sides. Just nine of the finest songs to ever come out of Manchester. A fitting and redemptive conclusion to their career.

Stay tuned for next time... it should be fun...


Friday, August 1, 2008

James Oakes and the Bellows.

A couple years ago, I was absolutely ecstatic to learn that one of my all time favorite musicians would be playing a solo show just hours away from me. Yep, I purchased tickets immediately to see Mark Burgess play in San Francisco.

After seeing the above flier, I wondered what/who James Oakes and the Bellows were. I didn't care, honestly. I was going to see Mark Burgess. Maybe he'll play 'Perfume Garden' and 'Second Skin.'

Fast forward to the show. It was not packed. Not even at capacity. And for a small venue like the Great American Music Hall, that was mildly disappointing because as a huge fan, I feel like Mark Burgess does not have the sizeable following he should. Anyway. It was a double-edged sword because, despite my disappointment, I would be treated to one of the most intimate and flat out best shows I've ever seen. And that wouldn't be all on account of Mark's performance — though he was fantastic and the highlight of the bill. Played audience requests, all the old Chams songs I wanted to hear and was an amazing presence.

But that's not what this post is about.

At the time, I did grow a little impatient, because I saw Mark hanging out at the bar during their set, but in retrospect, James Oakes and the Bellows were amazing.

When they came on stage, admittedly, I thought they were a group of four very mediocre looking fellows. My cynicism kicked in and the memories of seeing countless awful opening bands came rushing back into my brain. I have to admit this genuinely affected me through the first two songs to where I don't even remember what songs they played.

My first real memory of the band is James, in a between song banter moment, being completely overwhemled and genuinely speechless when trying to explain to the audience how important and influential Mark's music had been on himself and the band. It compelled me to be a little more open minded.

And then they played 'Way Down.'

Needless to say, I paid very close attention to the rest of their participation in the remainder of the evening's music (the band came back out later on and backed up Mark for great renditions of Chams tunes). The other three members of the band were all very competant, but not really flashy in their performances (and in the case of second guitarist Mike Arntz, seemingly a little terrified to be on stage; but that didn't show at all, especially when he played 'Tears'). James, however, is a captivating frontman. Throughout the band's set, I kept thinking how good he sounded vocally. And maybe it was just because he wisely uses his voice within the restraints of the music the band plays, but I was genuinely impressed.

Well, time has passed. I wanted to buy some CDs right then and there at the show, but there was (very disappointingly) no merch table. Upon visiting the band's page out of curiosity periodically and checking out the MP3 songs offered on the page, I finally decided recently I should contact James and purchase the band's two albums properly.

And am I ever glad I did.

They sort of sound like a hybrid of the Smiths jangly guitars meets the more spacious moments of the Chams, all with a distinctive hint of Americana thrown in. But, in James Oakes venerable vocals, the band's sound takes on a completely different vibe. He's got a vocal style that recalls no one I've ever heard before, but with a similar timbre and cadence to Archer Prewitt (of all people, possibly explaining why it appeals to me so much). With songs like the ambitious mini-epic 'Outside' (from the album of the same name), the boys create something that is distinct and resonating, but always with heaps of catchiness and amazing riffs. It's not jangle pop, it's not power pop, it's not guitar rock, it's just good guitar-oriented music.

The first album (Outside, 1998) is mostly James playing everything (except drums) and singing. A mound of fifteen excellent strummers, it's highlighted by: the two openers; sunny "Liberty Bell" and the slow loping breeziness of "Policeman", along with the previsouly mentioned amazing title track and the rolling Cure-ish melancholy of "If You Can Find Me." Truly not a bad song in the bunch, the only real criticism I have of the album is its nearly too-samey production. Even though the songs are good enough to overcome it, it may take a while for them to all develop identities of their own.

The follow-up, Color the Wheel (???2002???), on the other hand, follows through on the potential previewed on Outside. Although the sound is largely unchanged, there are slight variations that provide a more well-rounded and overall better record. Starting with "I Don't Want to Fall", a flat out great strummy pop song, and then launching immediately into the album's (and possibly the band's) climax "Way Down", it's a wonderful record to accompany you in just about any scenario. "Way Down" is kind of surprising because its chunked up guitar tone and and near twang is very uncharacteristic for the band. But James' refelctions of "Trying to forget and trying to remember... trying to find some piece of mind" provides a stark contrast to the musical backing's otherwise sunny persona. With such a highlight so early on in the record, I initially thought it would be the case of the band firing all of its shots too quickly. But, instead, the rest of the album is just one vintage sounding song after another; except all of them are absolute stunners. Other standouts for me are "I Don't Know Why", "Wouldn't it Be Nice" and the time signature switching "Call Me", all surely album highlights on any lesser project, but here they are each just more strong supports in the album's rock solid consistency. The production is chunked up and much more varied here and the songs feel completely developed. Just a wonderful record that sounds like something that should be a lot more well known than it is.

It's such a refreshing thing to hear bands like the Bellows making music that is so timeless and honest. And while they certainly have their audible touchstones and points of influence, it is a case of a band understanding where influence should end and inspiration should begin.

Absolutely wonderful music.

Check it out.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunlight To Blue... Blue To Blackness

A couple weeks ago, Vini Reilly released another new Durutti Column studio album (this time back on the Kookydiscs label), his third in just under 16 months. In stark comparison to Idiot Savants —which was a colorful, grandiose sound painting that chose its colors from a variety of pallettes and painted them onto a seemingly huge canvas of presentation— Sunlight is an intimate, isolated album that features mostly just Vini playing his overdubbed guitars instrumentals. There are a few full band songs ("Never Known Version", a new recording of song initially recorded 27 years ago and "So Many Crumbs and Monkeys!" which sounds like it may have come from the sessions from 2006's Keep Breathing) that recall his past few records, but overall, this mostly sounds like an update of Tempus Fugit. The centerpiece of the album features Vini's latest find, Poppy Roberts (who was featured heavily on Idiot Savants), called "Head Glue" and it's the type 7 or 8 minute sparsely gorgeous thing that Vini can seemingly throw out at will. His guitar playing has never been better and his songwriting is not far behind, so even though an album like this is a big turn in the opposite direction when compared to his last few, it still feels like a natural progression and the next obvious step, because, when it comes down to it, nobody sounds like the Durutti Column. Absolutely wonderful music from one of the most dependable names out there.

It's shaping up to be an amazing year for new music, my friends.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mark Burgess — View From A Hill

Well, I finally recevied and read through Mark Burgess' autobiography this past week. Besides the book being autographed and personally addressed (!!!!!!), I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed and excited about it. I ran through its 700+ pages in about ten days and it's the quickest read I can recall from recent years.

(I interrupted Henry James' Wings of the Dove, which I was about halfway through, to take on View From A Hill and now I'm a little disappointed to go back to it, in complete honesty)

My initial thought of the book is that it's a completely essential document for any fan of post-punk music of any sort. Startling candid in his approach, Mark only scarcely hides explicit details about coming of age in the new wave era, so you can gurantee that there's plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But there is a stark, humanist slant to the whole thing —as if that's any surprise to longtime fans— that places extra emphasis on nature, the looming despair of life, being an activist for human rights and general good will and the downright disgusting experience that is sushi bars. Yep, it's all here... and for Chameleons, it is the virtual bible, complete with a trip to Jerusalem (no, seriously).

In the midst of the book's recent release, the message boards over at has been buzzing, so here are some posts that I've made while reading the book and in the initial aftermath of finishing it...

In response to the general topic on the book:

"Jun 8 2008, 11:58 AM

Well, I'm through the first six chapters (about 250 pages in) so far and I have to say, the story is absolutely engaging.

The writing style is very quick and kind of scattered. It feels like perhaps Mark thought of things he wanted to include before writing and then went back and pieced them together afterwords. He uses similar devices in different settings and while that would become tedious under any other circumstance, as a huge Chams fan, you stop noticing because the subject is aboslutely fascinating.

So, in other words, sure it's only for the biggest of fans, but for us, what a gold mine.

So far, my only big complaints would be 1) that it's scattered and not completely linear and 2) there are quite a few grammatical errors, but that is usually the case with first editions in smaller runs and is completely not Mark's fault.

And mine was signed and dated 10 May. So, yeah.

In the same topic, in regards to all of Mark's recollections of meeting other rock stars on the road:

"Jun 12 2008, 07:56 PM

'Robert Smith struck me as a rude, arrogant poseur.'

At that point, I laughed coffee through my nose.

In the same topic, in regards to the fact that the Paypal receipts for payment on all pre-orders had been printed on the back of original proofs from different pages of the book, making each one a collector's item in itself:

"Jun 13 2008, 07:11 AM

No, I think that was done intentionally. As an extra little collectible, so to speak.

I was also very excited to see that.

(to which a clever co-poster replies, 'I thought Mark was just recycling.' Hardy har har)

Immediately after reading a nice little tidbit:

"Jun 16 2008, 01:41 PM

So, I'm about two-thirds of the way through and I have to say the biggest revelation for me so far is that the drums on 'Serocity' are... Reg beatboxing!

I laughed out loud when I read that part, out of pure excitement.

And one last random burst of excitement in that topic at a random piece of trivia:

"Jun 20 2008, 03:56 PM

In other 'Holy shit THAT was Reg?!' news...



And yes, just finished this morning and the last chapter is very much a scattered all over the place bit of personal manifesto and philosophy. Interesting, but hard to grasp some of the concepts he discusses at such short length.

In a topic titled, View From A Hill Editor's Section, Find a typo, win a quid, I very sassily retorted:

"June 22 2008, 10:34 PM

Yes, there are errors upon errors in the book —sometimes several on the same page— but, really, is the narrative lost on any of us?

The main people are addressed as who they are —it's not like Mark said 'Reg' and actually meant 'Marc Bolan'— and all of the ideas and concepts are clear. The biggest mistakes in the book are equal to typing 'teh' on instant messenger or some other ridiculously small mistake where everyone knows what you actually meant.

I, for one, am absolutely enamoured with the book after one cover to cover reading... and I can't wait to read it again — typos and all.

And, finally, in a topic titled 666 Happening... (a reference to a series of events that Marks alludes to over several chapters which all involve the number '666'), which other members replied to and the conversation eventually leaned towards how Mark points the finger at Dave Fielding's behavior several times for the Chams' internal conflicts, I got very poignant and self-absorbed:

"June 22, 2008 10:56 PM

Well, I know there is quite a few topics on here currently about the book, but I will indulge one last time...

...maybe in hopes that one of the band members will read my thoughts and consider them; even if briefly...

The main thing to keep in mind is that the book is View From a Hill by:


Not Mark Burgess, Reg Smithies, Dave Fielding, Jon Lever, Tony Skinkis, Tony Fletcher, Martin Jackson and "Scoffer," as Mark so effectionately dubs him (I have to admit, I laughed each time I read that).

Not Mark Burgess and Yves Altana.

Not Mark Burgess and Sally.

Not Mark Burgess and Daniela.

Not Mark Burgess and Simon Lawlor.

Not Mark Burgess and Bryan Glancy.

Not Mark Burgess and James Oakes.

(hey, sidebar: when can we get some JO on iTunes?)

None of those people wrote this narrative except for Mark.


We've all known for ***years*** that the main conflict in the band was between Mark and Dave. Yes, that is completely and wholly unfortunate for us because we love the music and records they created during their time in the Chameleons. But, can we, hopefully as mature adults (?), simply recognize that the personality conflict between those two amazing muscians was too strong to overcome the equally as amazing creative chemistry between them?

Yes, so and so did such and such and it was an awful thing to do.

But, after three classic albums, countless unforgettable gigs and enough memories to keep us all telling stories to anyone who will listen for as long as we live, isn't that enough to ask?

I, for one, applaud Mark's decision to tell his story in the way that he did. It tells the story of a band that many of us have come to call 'ours.'

However, the book is his, through and through. The Chameleons are certainly a large part of [t]his, because the band is clearly a large [part] of his life (as it certainly is for Dave, Reg and Jon). But, at the end of all of it, it is his life and although the Chams consumed much of it, there are other parts.

I loved the book and I loved reading his impressions of doing acid at Loch Ness.

Bottom line: he's a great story teller and the story is, without a doubt, HIS.

PS — Didn't he claim Reg's behavior as the final straw for him quitting the Chams in the first place? Not to continue a ridiculous discussion, but that seems a pretty important bit to overlook.

And so, my personal conflicts about posting on the Chameleons message board did unfortunately and ultimately invade on my ability to enjoy Mark's book on its own terms. But I did enjoy it immensely, even disregarding that whole situation.

Honestly, I'd love to hear Reg's side of the story, with short bursts of belligerent attacks from Dave and Jon. Not only would it be hilarious, but we'd hopefully be treated to passages like, 'Has that cunt come back from Jesusland yet? No? Bloody fookin' 'ell, are we going to play this fookin' American tour or not?!!??!'

Hopefully, it will coincide with the remastered and expanded Reegs reissues.

Oh, I can't wait, my friends.

Do yourself a favor and invest in a copy of View From A Hill.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Stephen Fretwell's Man On the Roof and other recent purchases.

A little history before I get fully into my thoughts on this album: I saw Stephen play an opening set for Feist about two years ago at the tiny
Great Basin pub in Sparks promoting the American release of his first album Magpie (which had been out in Europe since 2004) and I had never heard the guy before. When the host of the evening introduced him as being 'all the way from Manchester England' I was paying intently close attention. To shorten the story, he blew me away. Anybody who can stand up in front of a group of people and just sing and play his guitar and still be able to absolutely captivate those people and, especially, keep me interested for the entire duration deserves my keenest of listening ears (Feist was good too... haha). So, I went out and bought Magpie the very next day. It was and still is awesome. I'm far from a singer/songwriter/contemporary folk fan, but I really felt like I found the one of those variety that was fine tuned for my ears. Fast forward a couple of years. He puts out a new record and, not to my surprise at all, it isn't released in America. Because, at the time of this writing, it still hasn't seen a US release, I waited about eight months impatiently hoping. I couldn't wait any longer and finally picked up the British import this past week. Initially, I thought, 'Well, that first album was a fluke after all' as a sort of nod to Holly's cynical resistance of Mr. Fretwell and my particular fondness for him. I certainly didn't expect the brief squalling feedback that opens the album on 'Coney' and I initially hated the song. Halfway through the album and I was just about ready to shut it off, but then I thought that was unfair. I took to Magpie pretty quickly because I recognized about half of the songs from his live set and, with Man On the Roof, I had no touchstones or foundations to take off from. Well, it took three front to back listens before I found myself singing '...and the band plays BOOM-CHA-CHA BOOM-CHAA and the night draws in...' and I realized that, oh SHIT, this album is pretty fucking great. 'Darlin' Don't' and 'Bumper Cars' are straight out of the Magpie sessions to my ears, while other full band works like 'She' 'Dead' and 'Sleep' find Stephen looking for a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. And that would be my one complaint: while Magpie felt like a series of fond recollections (perhaps bittersweet, but fond nonetheless), this album feels like a downright sad breakup record. But, who knows, I like that sort of melancholy sad bastard shit. I'm such a dork for liking music that resonates. Can't say if I like it better than Magpie, but it does feel more complete and all around more accomplished and reassured initially. I am so down with this record.

Al Green — Lay it Down (2008)
I feel lucky, as it seems like I can't buy bad music these days. Questlove from the Roots had been talking about recording this album for the past two years on the message boards and I was honestly surprised to see it actually materialize. I was skeptical when I first saw that Questlove and right hand man James Poyser were purposely making a throwback record to sound like Al's classic albums from the 70's on Hi Records with Willie Mitchell. But, you know what? I can't even front like that. This is a gorgeous album. And why shouldn't Al Green make a classic Al Green album? His last classic album was roughly thirty years ago, so I'd say he's due for another. I can't even comprehend how good this record is. I hate to do this sort of thing, but i don't forsee anything that's on deck for the rest of this year competeing with this album. Unless that new Maxwell comes out (not bloody fuckin' likely, mate! © Johnny Marr). It's albums like this that come along and and then you really realize how bad contemporary music really is.

Luscious Jackson — In Search of Manny (1992)
I'm not even into LJ like that, but I've always liked this little EP. It's everything that's great about them packed into a nice little cohesive, concise package. I've had it before, but traded it in. Nice to able to re-acquire things like this.

The Cure — The Only One/NY Trip (2008)
Yeah, so I had 'The Only One' on bootleg from live performances last year, but the studio recording has revealed itself to be a rather nice, classic sounding Cure single. By the third or fourth listen, I have to admit, I was rather excited. 'NY Trip' is the typically strong Cure b-side by this point. It feels like the noisiness they tried for (and failed at) with the last album has finally been conquered and they are actually good at incorpoating that sort of thing into the songs again. A very good single.

The Cure — Freakshow/All Kinds of Stuff (2008)
Well, this is why us Cure fans are so cynical of you, Bob. The a-side here is absolutely trite piece of gimmicky wank. I mean, I understand that the Cure has always been a little toung-in-cheek, but come on! The b-side is more noisy, aggro stuff and it's not bad in comparison to 'Freakshow', but pretty mediocre overall. A very disappointing single.

Electronic — Raise the Pressure (1996)
I don't know. One listen through and it felt like every song was either a New Order throwaway or a Smiths throwaway (insults recognized and intended). The first one didn't strike me right away either, though. And now I like it quite a bit for a side-project-y sort of thing. We'll see on this one, but on one full listen, I thought it was somewhat forced.

I've been buying a lot of new music lately. That's a quite unusual thing for me.

But I have been reading Mark Burgess' wonderful autobiography View From A Hill and, in addition to all my Chameleons records, it has prompted me to play the Sun and the Moon's one and only album quite a bit lately. That's a lost classic if such a thing even exists.

See you soon.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Grant Green's trilogy of early 70's live albums.

I've always been a huge Grant Green fan, but I've revisited these three albums recently and they struck me in a different way than I remember previously. They just seem to capture that window of time where playing funk in a jazz idiom didn't mean dumbing anything down and it actually meant something that went beyond just the music. You can hear it the way the band plays each of the songs like it's the last time they'll ever be heard. The albums I'm referencing are:

Alive! (1970)
Although it's probably his most recognized album of his funk period, I would say Alive! is probably my least favorite of the these albums. The formula that Grant would follow for his next few live albums is certainly in place here: covers of current r&b and pop hits, funkdafied beyond belief and the grooves played to simmer on for extended periods, but never allowed to boil (in fact, that integral restraint shown throughout is part of what makes these albums so good). The original album has a funk monster followed by a more reflective piece on either side (indeed, organist Neal Creque provides the only original tune here with his introspective toned 'Time To Remember' — more on that in a minute). Opening up side two of the album is Grant's famously scorching rendition of Don Covay's 'Sookie Sookie.' As far as just jamming out and playin' some downright nasty, funky ass shit, you can't do much better than this one. And while his studio playing of the time was somewhat sporadic, Grant seems inspired by the audience and all of his lines are clean and straight in the pocket. His entrance into his first solo after a few choruses on 'Sookie Sookie' is literally an 'awww shit!' moment. The reissued CD version of the album adds three extra tracks, making for the definitive version of the record. Among the three tracks, the treat among them is the extended take on Herbie Hancock's 'Maiden Voyage,' one of Grant's rare ventures into post-bop during this time period. Although this album does contain more than its fair share of groovers, with the previously mentioned 'Time To Remember' and 'Maiden Voyage,' along with thoughtful run throughs of Lalo Schifrin's 'Down Here On the Ground' (this band playing what I feel is the definitive version of the tune) and Jerry Butler's 'Hey Western Union Man' and the qualities given to these tunes by the guitar/oragn/vibes frontline, this album has a sort of sad overtone to it. Rounded out by Claude Bartee's fantastic performance on tenor (just check the portion on 'Hey Western Union Man' where he feels the groove so heavily he just creates a near raga-like trance-inducing line) and perfectly anchored by Idris Muhammad, it set the table for the next two live albums...

Live at Club Mozambique (1971)
This one sat in the Blue Note vaults for 35 years before it saw the light of day in 2006. It was recorded in Detroit, Grant's home base at the time. The liners (by Bob Belden) speculate on why Blue Note chose to record Grant at this time, just under six months after Alive! had been recorded and just over a year before Live at the Lighthouse would be recorded, perhaps explaining why it wasn't released at the time (in addition to these three live albums, Grant had studio records coming out just about every ten months). As it stands now, it's an invaluable document of Grant's playing and his reperetoire. The only holdovers from Alive! are Idris Muhammad and Ronnie Foster on organ who is here for the duration (he played on most of Alive!, laying out on two tracks to make way for Neal Creque) and of course Grant on guitar. The music here is given an entirely new texture in comparison to Alive! because of two things: the group is only a quintet (as opposed to the sextet on Alive!) and there are two horns (Clarence Thomas on soprano and tenor and Houston Person on tenor). This gives the music a much harder edge, leaving those rough corners smoothed over by the ballads and bypassing the gloss added by the vibes and congas. There is a slight shift in reperetoire here as well, with the first three tracks being basically obscurities: 'Jan Jan' (an instrumental funk 45 by the Fabulous Counts), Clarence Thomas' original 'Farid' (basically the album's highlight) and an uncredited composition titled 'Bottom of the Barrell.' The one ballad on the album —a soul drenched rendition of 'Walk on By'— is right in the middle of the affair, providing a chance to catch your breath in between the funk workouts. And I mean WORKOUTS. I could be wrong, but I think this album is the fastest I've heard Idris Muhammad play for this long. In comparison, his cascading, rolling backbeats on Alive! seem like funeral marches compared to the tempos on this album. This album provides the neccessarry link between Alive! and Live at the Lighthouse.

Live at the Lighthouse (1972)
Even though the only returning player from the Club Mozambique album is Grant, Claude Bartee is back on tenor and soprano, making a show-stealing appearance (allmusic has some interesting info on this underrated horn player). Shelton Laster is on oragn and Gary Coleman is on vibes, perhaps hinting that the album may venture back into the smoother territory that had already been covered on Alive!, but Wilton Felder is brought in to play electric bass, which gives the band an entirely new platform. Filled out by Greg Williams on drums (faster and more cymbal-favoring than Idris Muhammad, giving the songs a sense of urgency) and Bobbye Hall on other percussions (normally a studio session player only), the rhythm section on this album works the grooves like no other group. Where other crossover jazz funk projects were venturing into jammy territory, these three players dig in and show that there is a difference between a jam and groove. Never once do these sprawling tunes feel monotonous or noodly. Originally a double album on vinyl (one record of that dedicated to two sidelong epics), this thing is gargantuan (unfortunately, mood was sacrificed when the CD issue trimmed off the Hank Stewart and Ed Hamilton introductions to fit all of the music onto one disc — a rare case of the vinyl containing more music than the CD). At this point, Grant's live reperetoire was like a well-oiled machine. Making those extended workouts segue seamlessly into a cover of a pop song (the opening transition of Neal Creque's 'Windjammer' into an amazing rendition of the Stylistics' 'Betcha By Golly Wow' illustrates this perfectly). From there, it goes the deepest into Grant's heaviest funk of any of these albums. Whether it's Shelton Laster's original 'Flood in Franklin Park' a unique revision of Donald Byrd's 'Fancy Free' or a scorching run through of 'Jan Jan' (which, at this point, was Grant's tune in all but name), this album's deep grooves and numerous "Right on!" shouts from the audience extend into something far more than a group of musicians making a record. As Junior Walker's 'A Walk In the Night' closes out the album on a wonderfully bittersweet note, I'm always reminded why this album continues to be my favorite of this period in Grant's catalogue. It would be his last truly cohesive, fully realized and... well, in all honesty, his last good album.

All three of these records are able to find that often looked for, but rarely found, meeting point where complicated be-bop solos crash head-on with funk backbeats and simmering grooves, making their way into the promised land. More than that though, they convey a vibe of good grooves and a heartfelt soulful meaning in the music. Whether you're listening to set the vibe at a summer get together, looking for funky loops to feed your sampler, want to hear some heated technical riffing or just want to groove, these albums will provide those vibes and much more.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The quality of contemporary music has risen.

I bought two brand new releases today and I am completely and utterly impressed.

Death Cab For Cutie — Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)

"I Will Possess Your Heart" set my expectations for this album somewhere in the lower stratosphere, so after one full listen, the fact that I'm absolutely satisfied with this album is quite an achievement. I got all excited last album when "Soul Meets Body" was the warm-up single and it was awesome. Then Plans came out and it was kind of boring. Competant, but boring. This album, besides a couple warmer, fuller, comfy productions that mirror the nearly over-produced backings of Plans, in a very stark contrast is kind of cold. More guitar-oriented than last record and just flat out bleak and depressing at some points (the one-two combo of "Grapevine Fires" and "Your New Twin Sized Bed" — what the hell, Ben?). It feels like the obsession with death and passing on that occupied much of Plans is hopeful in comparison to the creepy defeat that is detailed on this material. Arguably the band's darkest work yet and a fantastic return to form. Wow.

Sidebar: makes that Chris Walla record even more disappointing in retrospect.

The Roots — Rising Down (Def Jam)

I only just bought this because I was waiting to buy it on vinyl. If this had come after The Tipping Point, then it may be a little more of a jolt than it is. But coming hot on the heels of the super aggro and dark Game Theory, the blow has been softened a little. Just a little, though. The loss of Leonard Hubbard forces the group to look to an analogue synth to create prominent basslines, only upping the dissonance of those particular pieces. Where Game Theory offered a few moments to catch your breath with less aggressive moments, Rising Down is a solid fourty minutes of jugular gripping intensity. Besides the mood-lightening title track at the end, Game Theory feels mellow in comparison to this album. Very intense, very angry... musically, it's their best album since Things Fall Apart, but sounds nothing like that album. I guess if I were to compare it to another album besides Game Theory, I'd say it's closest companion would be illadelph halflife. But even that's not very accurate. Pretty good, in any case.

And, with all that being said, I have to say, in this day and with the record industry in the condition it is, it's amazing to see a couple of the most daring records in the past few years get released on major record labels. They both are very reflective of the increasingly intense and hopeless times we're currently living in; yet both easily ease the pain of every day living and help focus on the bright side. Ironically enough, both do that by confronting the darkest aspects of the deepest issues at hand: The Roots socially and economically speaking and Death Cab personally speaking. Kind of makes me really want to buy a lot more music.

Now, if only our current presidential administration hadn't fucked the economy, that might be possible. I had to pass on the new Cure single because of budget issues. It hurt.

Have a good day and check out these two wonderfully bleak records.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Leo Tolstoy on music.

From The Kreutzer Sonata, chapter 23:

"Music, they say, acts on one by elevating the soul. That is absurd. It acts upon us, it is true, acts with terrible effect —at least I am speaking for myself— but is far from elevating the soul. It neither elevates nor depresses the soul, but irritates it. Music forces me to forget myself and my true state; it transports me to some other state which is not mine. Under its influence I fancy I experience what I really do not feel, that I understand what I do not comprehend, that I am able to do what is completely beyond my power. Music instantaneously throw me into that state of feeling in which the composer of it found himself when he wrote it. My soul blends with his, and together with him I am transported from one frame of mind to another."

Even though the narrator (Pozdnischeff) is saying that this is a negative effect of listening to music (and, I guess, in some ways, that music is a willful distraction or opiate), it is indeed a very accurate account. And it illustrates perfectly why I want to spend my last dollars on it. I'm a roundabout opium addict, perhaps?

Thanks to Brad Summerhill —one of the best teachers I ever had— for introducing me to this confounding work of Tolstoy's.

John Klemmer and Franz Schubert are my opiate of choice these days.

That's all for now.


Friday, April 11, 2008

A plethora of records.

There probably won't be any new posts about my recent purchases for a while because I've been thrift store record shopping and have amassed a ton of stuff, mostly classical. Been wanting to beef up the classical collection anyway, so it's even better that all of these records were acquired for under $10...

(no cover photos either because that would take forever)

Chic — C'est Chic (1978)
Had this album a long time ago, but traded it in in a mass purge that claimed a lot of stuff that I shouldn't have parted with. "I Want Your Love" was always the killer for me.

Hall & Oates — Private Eyes (1981)
Really no excuse for ever giving this one up either because even within the first three tracks, they could've packed it up and called it a day and still had a brilliant record. But then there's side two as well. Really the only Hall and Oates album that's ever done anything for me, but man, what a great album it is.

John Klemmer — Touch (1975) and Barefoot Ballet (1976)
John Klemmer is that weird scenario where someone's middle period is their best. The early years are ok, but spotty while the later years are just downright bad; but man those middle albums are just consistent quality packed affairs (see also: Stevie Wonder). These two are smooth jazz done right, with plenty of stellar rhodes action from Dave Grusin and John messing around with an echoplex. Stoney and light; perfect for Sunday afternoon. Harmless, but still good.

McCoy Tyner — Supertrios (1977)
Two record set, one half featuring McCoy with Tony Williams and Ron Carter, the other with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette. I was rather excited to hear the half with Eddie Gomez because he's one of my favorites that I think is somewhat overlooked. It was definitely a lot more spiritual and subdued than I was expecting, but overall both halves of the album exceeded my expectations pretty easily. Great to hear Tyner's complex originals mixed up with stuff like "Lush Life" and "Moment's Notice."

McCoy Tyner — Enlightenment (1973)
McCoy's quartet of the time at the 73 Montreux jazz fest. Haven't listened to this one yet but I'm excited because Supertrios was so good.

And now, for the classical stuff, most of which I haven't listened to yet... but here's label/conductor/soloist info and brief thoughts on the things I have taken in...

Bartok — Concerto for Orchestra: Eugene Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra
RCA Red Seal, 1979

Chopin — Complete Waltzes: Arthur Rubenstein, piano
RCA, 1955

Debussy — La Boite a Joujoux/Printemps: Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestra de la Suisse Romande
London/ffrr (19??)
Gave this one a quick listen and was into it mostly because it's really pretty, even for Debussy. Did a little research on it and it seems it's sort of written off because it's a later work and is seen as being kind of dumbed down. Whatever. I thought it was good, not great, but far from sucking.

Franck's Psyche (A Symphonic Poem)/Prokofiev's Sinfonietta in A, Op. 48: Jemal Dalgat, Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra
ABC Westminster Gold, 1974
I normally don't go for these sorts of 'two composers on one album' deals, but I only have one other Cesar Frank record (Leonard bernstein conduting Symphony in D Minor; fantastic) and have had a hard time finding anything else, so I picked this up just to hear more. Haven't listened yet, though.

The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann: Bernard Herrmann, National Philharmonic Orchestra
London/Phase 4 Stereo, 1974
A sweet find that features Bernard's music from Journey to the Center of the Earth, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Day the Earth Stood Still and Fahrenheit 451.

Ives — Symphony No. 4: Leopold Stockowski, American Symphony Orchestra
Columbia Masterworks, 196?

Mahler — Symphony No. 1 in D Major "Titan": Walter, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
CBS Great Performances, 1981

Rachmaninoff — Piano Concerto No. 2/Rhoapsody on a Theme of Paganini: Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic
CBS Great Performances, 1981

Rachmaninoff — Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor Op. 30: Claudio Abbado, London Symphony Orchestra
CBS Masterworks, 1977

Rachmaninoff — Trio No. 2 Op. 9 Trio "Elegia"
ABC/Westminster Gold, 1973

Scriabin — Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 3: Lazar Berman, piano
Columbia Masterworks, 1978

Schubert — Octet for Strings and Winds Op. 166
RCA Red Seal, 1975

Schubert — Impromptus: Maria Joao Pires, piano
Deutsche Grammaphon, 1997
My one CD find. A two disc set, the first CD was just gorgeous. For solo piano, this is very engaging stuff.

Schubert — Symphony No. 2/Symphony No. 6: Marcel Couraud, Bamberg Symphony
Vox, 1957

Schubert — Symphony No. 7: George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra
Epic Stereorama, 196?

Schubert — Symphony No. 9: Arturo Toscanini, NBC Symphony Orchestra
RCA Victor Red Seal, 196?

Schubert — Symphony No. 9: George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra
CBS Great Performances, 1981
Accidentally doubled up on this one. Might be interesting to hear two different readings of it though.

Shostakovich — Orchestral Works (including Violin Concerto No. 2, Ballet Suites Nos. 1-3 and Symphony No. 6 in B Minor): Maxim Shostakovich, Moscow State Philharmonic Orchestra
Musical Heritage Society, 1981
Listened to the first record and it was way heavier than I expected. These were some of Dmitri's last works, so I guess that's to be expected. Son Maxim conducts. Awesome.

Tchaikovsky —Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23: Herbert von Karajan, Wiener Symphoniker
Deutsche Grammaphon, 1962

So, I have my work cut out for me. But I am so excited to sit down take all this stuff in, I'm frightened at my own nerdiness.

And, again, all that for under $10.


Monday, March 31, 2008

My latest purchases and some thoughts... (Part three)

This is becoming a regular thing...

Andrew Hill — ANDREW!!! (1964)

After I liked Time Lines so much, I did some research and decided I should make this my next Andrew Hill purchase, mainly based on the fact that its got Bobby Hutcherson and John Gilmore (two of my favorites) as sidemen. It's not quite as wacky as I thought it may have been, but it's a lot like some of, say, Wayne Shorter or Hutcherson's own albums of the time: rooted in the strongest bop traditions, but very searching and has very subtle odditites about it that make the music not really at home in either the mainstream post-bop nor avant garde arenas. Very thought provoking music. Definitely something that I will have to sit down with for a few listens before I move on to more of his stuff.

The Virgin Prunes — The Moon Looked Down and Laughed (1986)

I'm a big Gavin Friday fan, but have never been much into the Prunes. This album is basically the blueprint for Friday's solo career, as it's the band's last studio album. It finds them pulling in different directions, but the most interesting things for me are the Gavin songs. In a way, it's almost like Friday's first solo album, but not quite. Definitely the tamest of the Prunes' albums, it's not really at home in either their catalogue, nor with Friday's solo albums. I still digs it though.

The Ohio Players — Pain (1972)

The Players' first album on Westbound and definitely their stoniest. There's just a nice, solid quality to these early Players albums. The funk isn't too jammy and they're just being soulful weirdos in the studio, which makes for some really interesting moments, like, say "Never Had A Dream."

David Sylvian — Dead Bees On A Cake (1999)

I am going slow with David Sylvian's solo catalogue because, much like Andrew Hill, this music is very enthralling and thought provoking. It took me three full listens to really assign the songs their own identities. It's a very long and beatifully sparse album, much in the same vein as Secrets of the Beehive and Gone To Earth. Very content, yet simultaenously searching music. Good stuff.

Cannonball Adderley — The Japanese Concerts (recorded 1963, released 1975)

This is actually the album Nippon Soul with an entire extra record of a previously unissued Japanese live set by the same sextet. Revelatory for me, simply based on the sextet version of "Work Song." A gem of a find.

Erykah Badu — New AmERYKAH Part one (4th World War) (2008)

I was initially put off by the chaotic sequencing and 'hip hop-ness' of the vibe the music had, but after a few listens, I'm pretty much sold on it. I've never really gotten the big deal about SA-RA, but the musical backings they provide here are next best thing to J Dilla, I suppose (read into that however you see fit). Although about a third of it seems very unfocused and the tracks aren't really actual 'songs' at all, the good parts are really good. She's very inspired by the revolutionary-minded Black Panther ideologies of the early 70's and when something that's totally funky and righteous like "The Cell" pops up, you might actually mistake this for 1973. Very politically charged, but not very specific; so things are more ambiguous than perhaps she was shooting for in the content. However, it's just refreshing to hear something this righteous and flat out funky —both genuine and not just imitations, too— in these days. It's like this album makes good on all the things Worldwide Underground failed so miserably with. Well done, I must say.

Jill Scott — The Real Thing Words and Sounds Vol. 3 (2007)

Although maybe not quite as good as her last album, this is just another strong installment in Jill's catalogue. She doesn't sound quite as inspired, generally speaking, on this album as she has in the past and, thus, it is perhaps her most 'sexed-up' album yet. Musically, it's the same type of classy lite-hip hop/adult contempo soul that she's mastered so well over the past few years. Probably her 'worst' album yet, but that's a relative term and there's actually nothing bad about it at all.

I also picked up a CD of Bela Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which also has his pieces Divertimento and Zwei Potrats on Deutsche Grammaphon, but could not find a cover photo for it. It's pretty busy stuff, but has a really resonating vibe to it, especially with the celesta in there.

That's it for now.

More on the way, no doubt.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

My latest purchases and some thoughts...

Out of pure boredom...

On the Spot: A Peek at the 1960's Nordic Jazz Scene (late 60's/early 70's)
On the mighty Ricky Tick label, out of Finland. Also home to folks like the Five Corners Quintet and Dalindeo. This compilation though, highlights the folks that planted the seeds for the current scene of Nordic jazzy dancey folks. Eleven songs of pure swingin' dancefloor jazz from an interesting time in the music's history and an even more interesting place. Sure, there's the americans who were using Europe as money making venue (Dexter Gordon and my favorite, Sahib Shihab) who appear here, but there's also quite a few local folks, who really swing and get deep into that soul jazz groove. Really exceptional stuff, actually. But comps like these are always a double edged sword for me, because I'm such an obsessive mofo. Now I want to hear full albums from people like Kjell Karlsen and Otto Donner. Maybe one day. But for now, there's plenty of groove and unique ideas offered up here to keep me interested for quite a while.

The Durutti Column — Fidelity (1996)

Recently picked up the reissue on the unbelievably cool British label LTM and I like the album after a few initial listens. Seems quite mid-90's techno, actually. I loved Obey the Time personally, but that was more of a UK Acid Housey/proto-trip hop sort of thing, whereas this album is much more synthy. 'Future Perfect' kicked me in the brain, which was cool. Otherwise, it seems like yet another one of those later period Durutti albums that requires at least ten front to back listens before it really hits you. Great vocals throughout from Elli Rudge though. She's got a purrty voice.

The Durutti Column — Idiot Savants (2007)

This album has officially kicked my ass. Immediately, it shot to the top of my iTunes 'most played' list. If I had heard it last year, it would've been my album of the year, without question. It's unfortunately cliched to say things like this, because of its overuse in offensive 'publications' like Pitchfork Media and Rolling Stone, but the Durutti Column, with this album, officially gets better with each album. I declared Keep Breathing my album of the year in 2006 and, upon hearing Sporadic Three in mid-year, I was trying not to jump the gun, so I kept my mouth aprehensively shut. However, being that this album was released last year and last year is already over, I have no problem with declaring it the year's best album. Eight songs, fifty-two minutes. He doesn't even care what anyone thinks anymore. This is not inaccessible music. It's just music that exists outside of any preconceived notion of what popular music currently is. And it just so happens to be utterly fantastic. Easily on par with the Column's peak work from the early 80's, but sounds entirely different. Simply wonderful, thought provoking and incredibly heartfelt music.

Wes Montgomery — Smokin' at the Half Note (1965)

Ahhh man... Wes Montgomery plays his ass off with Mr. PC and those weeners that played with Miles. How can this not suck?

Andrew Hill — Time Lines (2006)

This is my first Andrew Hill album. I don't know, I was just all uber-suspect of his hipster revival in recent years. That, and his lumping-in with the free jazzers. But it's not all skronk, by any means. It actually made me think of Clifford Thornton's later work, which was very friendly. The whole thing has an underlying sadness, which is actually kind of a downer, because he died not too long after. It's rather good, though.

Chris Walla — Field Manual (2008)

Well, I don't hate it as much upon second and third listens as much as I did my first. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's kind of poopy, but there's a few songs that are alright. Overall though, I'd give it maybe two and one-half or three out of five stars. Definitely a footnote for Death Cab fans. Otherwise, ignore.

Ron Carter — Spanish Blue (1974)

A good mid-70's CTI session for Mr. Bow-Tie. He re-envisions 'So What' as a latin-tinged post-bopper that is ten times as fast as the original. Cool stuff. Another strong album in the long line of Mr. Carter's unimpeachably consistent discography.

Duke Ellington — Live at the Whitney (1972)

A later live appearance by Duke and an even stranger album because it's just a drums-bass-piano trio. Seriously great stuff. The version of 'Lotus Blossom' is absolutely hypnotic. The tunes are short and Duke does little more than state the themes, but it's just mesmerizing. Beautiful and joyous stuff, which is great to hear because Duke was so close to death.

Bill Evans — Trio 65 (1965)

Believe it or not, my Bill Evans collection of studio albums is incomplete. The guy is practically my Jesus and I've yet to hear everything that was up to his standards. I don't know what it is, but I'm biased against his Verve period. He certainly did some wonderful stuff there, but nearly all of his records directly before or immediately after hit me a lot harder. Decent versions of 'Round Midnight', 'How My Heart Sings' and 'Come Rain or Come Shine', but the band just seems to be throwing out material for the label to have something to release. Not bad by any means, just not as heartfelt as Evans is usually known for.

Well, that's all I feel like saying for now.

Happy listening.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

My best of 2007

I wrote this for a post on back at the beginning of January. At that point, I had not yet heard the Durutti Column's Idiot Savants album, which I would now include on this list.

But anyway, here's the original post...

Austin’s tops of ‘07

Radiohead — In Rainbows (label-less, well initially anyways)
Purchased for one Great British Pound and zero pence, somewhere around November 10th or thereabouts. I was skeptical. Like all, ‘Dude, I’m so over Radiohead and their critical praise.’ But, as usual, I was wrong. It’s actually pretty decent. And they really play up the Chameleons-ish nature of their sound on songs like ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ and especially ‘Weird Fishes’ (how about that last minute and half or so — hello, and welcome to the ‘I love Reg Smithies and his obsession with cool guitar sounds’ Fan Club). A pleasant surprise.

Ron Carter — Dear Miles, (Blue Note)
After seeing him three times live in as many years and the band playing a variation of the same set every time, it’s great to finally have those songs documented by essentially the same band (Rolando does not play on this album of studio recordings, unfortunately). But the energy is there. In a time when modern jazz is either too impenetrable or way too commercial for my tastes, it’s such a refreshing thing when one of my old favorites releases a new record as strong as this; as if to say, ‘It’s ok, see?’

Feist — The Reminder (shit, was this on Interscope? Iovine, you got lucky, you bastard)
To subtitle this album “:The Satisfier” would be an understatement. Let it Die was great, to be sure, but it was half covers. This was all original material and the fact that I got to see her play roughly a third of the album live (at the tiny Great Basin Brewery in Sparks, no less) over a year before the album came out was even better. Her best album yet. And I say ‘yet’ with a giddy, nerdy optimism in my voice.

Björk — Volta (Elektra)
Collaborations with Timbaland and Antony in Pitchfork news blurbs early on had me against this album from the beginning. And plus, it came after Medulla, which I will go on at great lengths about its importance and fantastically important greatness if you buy me enough pints. So, I was against it all along… and I still consider it a disappointment. But, damned if ain’t better than most of what I heard this year. ‘Innocence’ and ‘Wanderlust’ by themselves put this album amongst the year’s best. Timbaland brought some of his most interesting work in years to the table. At this point, Björk can do whatever she wants and it probably won’t suck completely. And also, there’s a 30-40 percent chance it’ll make you cry at some point.

Thurston Moore — Trees Outside the Academy (whatever his label is called)
As if anyone expected this to suck after Rather Ripped was amazing (admit it, it was and you know it) and he announced that he was mostly playing acoustic guitar, it featured a rejuvenated J. Mascis and a string ensemble. Some of his best songs ever are found on this album, but hardcore fans will never admit it because there’s no noise in them. THERE.

The Sea and Cake — Everybody (Thrill Jockey)
When Thrill Jockey put a preview stream of ‘Crossing Line’ on the website, I knew it was going to be good. In fact, it was so good, I saw them live based on the strength of the record (first time seeing then live, long time fan). They didn’t disappoint live (I told Archer I loved him and he winked; his one crowd interaction for the night) and they certainly didn’t disappoint with this album, a back to basics tour-de-force. I’ve played it for numerous people who wouldn’t really call S&C their ‘type of music’ and they’ve been blown away. Simultaneously, a reminder of everything you love about music and the refreshing slanted approach on pop that the band offers. Pretty much one of their best albums.

Trembling Blue Stars — The Last Holy Writer and Beautiful Blank EP (both on Elefant)
It was the year of Bob Wratten for me. I went back and filled the holes in my catalogue of his material and he put out two new records this year. So, it was basically the next best thing to a new Cure record (which was promised, but broken). It’s a funny thing when an artist like Bob Wratten reaches this point in his career. He can either call it a day (which he threatened to do, ‘retiring’ from live performances officially before this album was released) or keep trudging forward for his core audience. He chose both… sort of. And the result was this record. Would have gone to see this tour, had there been a tour for it. But, no. Instead, he released the year’s best album (and arguably the band’s best overall album) and a damn fine follow up EP as if to say, ‘Sorry I didn’t feel like touring. Here’s my all in place of that.’ Hard to complain about no tour when the studio material is this good.

The Durutti Column — Sporadic Three (Kookydisc)
Still have yet to hear Idiot Savants (the OTHER all new material album that Vini released late in the year; surely a late addition to this list as soon as I acquire it), but this album (a record of outtakes and reworked —NOT remixed— material; basically a ‘new’ album to fans) is another heart wrenching, eye-openingly great album in Vini’s current reawakening of contemporary albums streak (last year’s Keep Breathing was my album of the year). Absolutely nothing to be found here that Durutti fans haven’t heard a million times before; but all the more brilliant because there’s nowhere else we’ll hear it.

PJ Harvey — White Chalk (Island)
I can’t listen to this album. But I love it. After about five full listens, I decided it was wholly brilliant —probably her best since Is This Desire?— and decidedly a downer. Maybe in a few months, I’ll revisit it and cry pathetically by myself, but for now, I think about songs like ‘Grow Grow Grow’ (did anyone else see her play this solo on Jay Leno? HOE-LEE SHEEEEIT) and ‘The Piano’ and just let my brain resonate in the glowing rebirth of one of my favorites. Gutsy and way more ‘fuck off, I’m so much more punk rock than anyone else on a major label’ than anyone else, arguably ever, at any point in time, this may just end up to be PJ’s best album yet.

Kristin Hersh — Learn To Sing Like A Star (uncoolly, Yep-Roc in America; undeniably coolly 4AD everywhere else)
It’s kind of like Thurston’s album: did anyone who bought this expect it NOT to be great? Unlikely. Also a lot like Thurston’s album, it was a return to more accessibility, a string ensemble and a whole lot of ‘I give a heck about music’ care put into the project. I don’t know of anyone who gave this album a serious listen and disliked it afterwards. Plus, it was the soundtrack for our trip to Death Valley in March. I drunkenly pointed out constellations to everyone over a campfire while we were listening to ‘Peggy Lee.’ Can you say ‘sentimental value’?

Dalindeo — Open Scenes (Ricky-Tick)
I have nothing else to say about this album other than that it made me feel comfortable listening to contemporary pop music. And I use the term ‘pop music’ liberally. I mean it in the way that I mean ‘Tin Pan Alley’ pop of the 20’s and 30’s. It’s classic pop music in the jazziest of jazzy traditions. Except from Finland. And except with a Japanese vocalist badly trying to sing in ‘Ing-rish’ (sorry, but it’s applicable) on some tracks. But man, is it beautiful. From the same scene that spawned the Five Corners Quintet and other ridiculously relevant —and yet, simultaneously ignored— contemporary jazz bands, this is perhaps one of the years most unfortunately ignored releases. Jazz fans don’t need to be pop music fans to appreciate and vice versa. The album has a big logo on the back that says ‘JAZZ FROM FINLAND’ so, yeah. It’s that good.

Arctic Monkeys — Favourite Worst Nightmare (what stupid British label is this on?)
I expected to hate it, really. The first album was a big load of overhyped mediocrity. I dunno though, this album’s got some serious moments of greatness. ‘Teddy Picker’ currently stands as THE most played song on my iTunes. Whatever. I didn’t think I dug it THAT much. Guess I hit repeat a few more times than I thought I did. Furthermore, Alex (or Arthur or Austin or whatever ‘is name is) is actually writing some resonating, universal stuff on this album. ‘Do Me A Favour’ is a blatantly bitter breakup song with its ‘Perhaps fuckoff might be too kind’ coda and ‘If You Were There, Beware’ is just ‘songwriting greatness for dummies’, while ‘505’ is an honest to goodness love song. I really expected to hate it. Just shows how dumb I am. Plus, one of the b-sides with Dizzee Rascal makes a mockery of all american attempts at true rap-rock.

And now, for my biggest disappointments…

Common — Finding Forever (I dunno, is he still with Geffen?)
He wants so badly to make another album with the spiritual warmth and resonance of Like Water for Chocolate, but he absolutely refuses to work with Questlove, on account of Quest’s predominantly white following. I hate to play the race card here, but Com played it first when he released Be (which was actually quite good, however backstepping it may have been). Truth be told, I procrastinated on picking this up (after picking up his last five —and I mean that honestly and literally— albums on their respective release dates) after hearing the single and deeming it a sorry piece of pandering, grasping, forced identity crisis and... guess what? I didn’t hate the album. In comparison to most contemporary hip hop, it’s actually decent (and I didn’t even pick up the two new albums that Public Enemy released this year, out of sheer disillusionment). He’s just done so much better in the past, working within the same ideals and inspirations. Sorry Com, Kanye is good at what he does, but he’s no Questlove.

Keren Ann — self-titled (Blue Note)
It actually made me get rid of all her old albums (even the ones I thought were great). So derivative, so uncharismatic. And the fact that it was her FIFTH album and she chose to make it her self-titled album should’ve clued me in that there was nothing good to be heard here.

Suzanne Vega — Beauty & Crime (another winner for Blue Note)
Even Lee Ranaldo couldn’t save this album. Seriously, he plays guitar on a few songs. It’s catchy enough, I suppose. Like her last few have been. But, she hates Mitchell Froom so much that she completely does away with all the interesting production ideas he offered on her last good album (Nine Objects of Desire). Plus, that one song that goes “New York is a woman, she’ll make you cry’ makes me think of Flavor Flav’s VH-1 induced downfall.

Wilco — whatever it was called; some repetitive piece of esoteric dreck (Nonesuch, parent company of which is Warner, who also owns Reprise, but you knew that already, you Wilco-loving whore, who probably also loves this album even though it sucks me hard)
Hi, I’m Jeff Tweedy*. I like to think I’m as brilliant as everybody says I am, much like David Bowie. However, as my latest album will prove, I’m just another mediocre songwriter riding on the coattails of being an ‘American’ roots-rocker, relying on tired out twanginess and pseudo-‘Americana’ (which is a term I don’t even understand, but it gets me five star reviews and commendable sales) riffs to pull the wool over my audience’s eyes. But I have Nels Cline in my band and he’s a ‘musician’, so it counts, y’know? I don’t even care that he rips off John McLaughlin (who is a way cooler human being) most of the time. Here’s my new album. It’s about stuff. Stuff that I’m not sure about, but I’m an American songwriter, so it’s resonating whether it really is or not. That guy at Rolling Stone likes me, so why don’t you? Also, you know all those fun dynamics that Jim O’Rourke did on our last two albums that he mixed and mastered? Well, those are gone. In favor of LOUDNESS and COMPRESSION!! Yay for contemporization of recorded music! I’m brilliant, haven’t you heard?
*(review not really written by Jeff Tweedy, but may as well have been)

The albums that I wanted to check out, but never did, based on whatever variables…

The Durutti Column — Idiot Savants
Just didn’t have enough money for that pricey import. I’m sure, just by judging from the iTunes clips, that it’s pretty great.

Timo Lassy — The Jazz and Soul of…
From the Five Corners Quintet, who is one of my new bands of the last few years. Including Timo, it’s got two other guys from Five Corners, so when I do finally get to hear it, I’m expecting a lot.

LCD Soundsystem — whatever it was called
Simply because anything that gets that much hype isn’t worth that much attention. *wears snob badge*

I hesitate to call this the ‘rediscoveries’ section because I never discovered these records until this year, but a lot of people call it that. Anyway, here’s a bunch of older records that I just caught up to in 2007…

The Human League — Dare! (1981)
I…. like?... synth-pop?! Well, yeah, I guess so. Because I picked up this album and was thoroughly engrossed in it. Sure, we all know ‘Don’t You Want Me’ but have you heard that song ‘Seconds’? Whoo, that’s a barnstormer, as the kids in the 1940’s might say. The whole record is great — a perfect synthy, poppy, new wavey, post-Kraftwerk robotic rock album. I will be searching out more records by this band.

Translator — Heartbeats and Triggers (1982)
I’m in Reno, but you’re not. Yeah, this record was everywhere that I wasn’t until this fall. San Francisco (via-LA) band’s debut album on 415 records is a stunning piece of completely forgotten new wave power guitar pop. Equally as inspired by the Byrds and the Beatles as they were by the Pistols and Joy Division, this band was so good and of their time, but simultaneously timeless. I also checked for their other three albums, and while all are good, this first album is just essential new wave from the peak.

Charles Mingus — Mingus Moves (1974)
With this, I believe I have completed my Charles Mingus catalogue. Congratulations, me. It’s a surprisingly good later album (the second to last album that Charlie would ever play on) that finds his final quintet in a great subdued mood. Hard to wrap my brain around the fact it was basically ignored upon its initial release.

K.U.K.L. and Tappi Tikarrass (mid 80’s)
Björk’s first bands, pre-Sugarbcubes. Tappi Tikarrass means something naughty in Icelandic, but sounds like herky-jerky new wave pop, while K.U.K.L (pronounced ‘kirchk’ — Icelandic for witch) SOUNDS naughty and is the perfect pre-cursor to the Sugarcubes. Found this stuff on a total fluke. I thought Björk’s only musical activity before the Sugarcubes was her schmaltz pop disco album recorded when she was 12. Wrong wrong wrong again, Mr. Dumbface Austin.

And, for the mixed media category…

Best film of the year: Futurama’s Bender’s Big Score
Everybody thinks I’m joking when I say this is the best film of the year. It’s funny, smart, resonating, poignant and engaging. And it’s clearly obvious from the performances that everyone involved absolutely loves what they’re doing. Call me an idiot for saying a cartoon is the most important and best film of the year, but the Simpsons sure as hell didn’t pull it off, despite trying very… VERY hard.

Best book I read this year: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Read it two more times since my initial run through. It actually makes you smile when the last lines proclaim the most important things in life to be hope and love.

Sidebar: Most disappointing book I read this year: Nathan McCall’s Them
After his two non-fiction works slowly became some of my all time favorites, I was eagerly anticipating his debut fictitious novel. It is a commendable work on the state of racial relations in contemporary america, but overall, it’s an all over the place mess. McCall writes very good commentary, but very poor literature. Here, he’s trying to do both and it just fails.

… and I’ll always love Morrissey, The Field Mice and Henry James.


Be good.