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.


Monday, February 25, 2008

My first blog post!

Basically, I'm tired of posting things on the (otherwise excellent) message boards and getting absolutely no response whatsoever.

Like anyone will have any responses here either!

But anyway.

Here's the contents of a post I recently made on okayplayer that sunk immediately:

"Noodly love and hate post. (complete with baseless comparisons!)"

I finally was able to get the Durutti Column's latest album —Idiot Savants— and, even after the few overwhelmingly postive reviews I read beforehand, it completely blew me away. It combines the up close and personal intimcay of Tempus Fugit with the colorful world-meets-revamped Vini Reilly seemingly pushing out as many new ideas as he possibly can at once. Like his past four or five albums, it sounds undeniably like the Durutti Column, yet nothing like anything that has come before it.

I didn't really know what to think of the first tune, but then 'Interleukin 2 (for anthony)' came on and I knew it was something special about this album. Although raising the question how many times can he make a dedication to Tony Wilson, it becomes quite poignant in the aftermath of Wilson's death and the final vocals finally coming into focus as "Life can be so hard." Pretty stunning stuff, actually. I had seen YouTube clips of the band playing '2 Times Nice' live and the sound quality left something to be desired, but it always showed promise. Now, to have this studio version intact is great, but to also have the song be one of the record's best is just a treat within itself. And then there's 'Gathering Dust' which I've yet to even fully grasp. It gave me chills after one listen, that's all I'm saying.

I dare say, with his current streak (that started a few years ago with Someone Else's Party), this may just be his best album in roughly twenty years. And it's easily neck and neck with the Martin Hannett stuff... maybe even better than that.

And that brings me to the other side of the coin. And just let me preface this by saying that this comparison comes from nothing else but the fact that I purchased these two records at the same time.

I'm not sure if it was because it had the unfortunate duty of being listened to directly after Idiot Savants or if it just isn't very good but Chris Walla's Field Manual kind of... well, it's kind of a piece of shit. Now, in all fairness, there was one or three tracks that came on and I said to myself, "Ok, this is really good" (mainly 'Sing Again' and 'Unsustainable'). Otherwise, he has a very obnoxious voice. And I don't know if that's just his voice or if he's doing, what I call, 'crooning it up' (in which folks who have an otherwise not good singing voice try too hard to cover that fact up). And talk about overproduction trying to be passed off as a modest presentation in the songs. If I wanted Fleetwood Mac, I would've thrown on Rumours. It's unfair of me to expect him to make a bunch of songs that sound like Death Cab throwaways (which Ben Gibbard did on his solo record and it came out great, but that makes sense), but man, he really cheesed it up. I was expecting strings and a brass section by the second half.

I really didn't know what to expect from the album, but I at least expected to like it, just based on Chris Walla's other involvements and knowing how much of an audiophile techie nerd he is (also, Barsuk putting 'Sing Again' as the pre-release teaser stream on their website didn't help either, as it set the bar rather high). A disappointment, to say the very least.

I really didn't think I was as old as I now realize I am; after getting way more out of Idiot Savants than I had ever imagined I would and simultaneously realizing Field Manual is a throwaway cash-in of a record.

The moral of the story is:

Vini Reilly = priceless
Chris Walla = useless