Thursday, December 28, 2006

One last time

If you waited in line for hours, shuffling inch by inch along that sidewalk, eventually making your way inside, down the aisle and up onto the stage, and you had one brief moment to say something in passing to James Brown's earthly remains, what would you say? "Thank you?"

Thanks, too, to every headline writer who successfully fought the urge to print "Dead at the Apollo."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 10 Albums: Rock/Pop

10. Voxtrot, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives EP
Myspace success story Voxtrot put out one EP – Raised By Wolves – that sounded like your little brother covering The Queen is Dead (in a good way). Their second is toothier, but no less indebted to sounds birthed in Manchester. Very good, but seriously – where’s the album?

9. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
A sprawling mess of unreleased, hard-to-find, and re-recorded stuff. Three discs, 56 tracks, a hundred voices. Most artists’ vault-clearing exercises are less than essential, but this contains so much prime material that it’s a must-have for those of us who come down on the pro-Waits side of the fence. There’s a couple of hundred years’ worth of American music on these three discs - buried beneath layers of dust and static, but as relevant and affecting as anything else on this list.

8. Califone, Roots and Crowns
An uncategorizable amalgam of indie, folk, psychedelia and laptop fuckery that is among the prettiest, most brittle and most compelling releases I heard all year.

7. The Big Sleep, Son of the Tiger
A sludgy, heavy, droning mess, shot through with moments of levity and pop reverence. As the Velvet Underground are to Sonic Youth, so is Sonic Youth to the Big Sleep.

6. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
The Voice has crafted her finest album to date, aided by the likes of Howe Gelb and the Sadies. By turns bombastic, yearning, dark, lulling and reassuring, the constants are Case’s mastery (no – ownership) of the songs, and the sense that she means every word she sings.

5. Cat Power, The Greatest
Ah, the mature album. What could have been a terrible clichĂ© of a record – troubled indie ingĂ©nue co-opts soul sounds and winds up making shopping-and-coffee music – sounds instead like the record Chan Marshall has been inching towards from the first. It’s smoky and world weary, and just as perfect the night before as the morning after.

4. Beirut, Gulag Orkestar
Young Zach Condon’s geography sucks, but his musical sensibilities are solid. In the year of Borat (and Gogol Bordello? and DeVotchKa?), the old Eastern Bloc was the unlikeliest of cultural hotspots. That’s probably all coincidence; either way, this record comes off sounding how Neutral Milk Hotel might’ve had Jeff Mangum done that Bulgarian gypsy record
before In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

3. Band of Horses, Everything All the Time
Thank god for indie rock. It’s like 1992 up in here! Shout out to Neil Young, too. Hey now!

2. Pernice Brothers, Live a Little
Let’s be honest: as Pernice superfan #1, would I be capable of leaving this off the list? Probably not. But with a handful of songs that stand among Pernice’s best, and production that places it closer to the PB’s lush first album, Overcome By Happiness, than the more Brit-copping and hard rocking recent efforts, it deserves its spot at number two. The remake of the Scud Mountain Boys’ “Grudge Fuck” is a well-intentioned misfire – Pernice nailed the desperate vocal and nervous/pathetic sound years ago as a Scud – but almost everything else works.

1. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
This is where I cop to an unapologetic fondness for what a certain graphic designer I know refers to as "dad-rock." Alright, fuck it, I like old guy rock, and in 2006 nobody did it better than the Hold Steady. They took Springsteen, the Replacements, some Thin Lizzy, and a bit of what made lead singer Craig Finn’s old band, Lifter Puller, kind of intriguing, and made a recombinant record that sounded relevant (to some of us) because the parts they borrowed were less about simple sound and technique, and more about feeling. They invoke the spirit of Springsteen rather than merely the template (ahem, Killers), recognizing certain themes as truisms, not just keyboard riffs worth recycling. In Finn’s world, like those of both Springsteen and Westerberg, the loser is heroic for his losing, and everybody’s looking for a decent buzz.

Lyrically, Boys & Girls in America is casually literate and indebted to Bukowski, the San Francisco Renaissance, Kerouac and John Berryman (the latter two are referenced on the record). It’s also unswervingly faithful to the history of rock & roll. Finn and company have been hitting on these points for several records now, but Boys & Girls sees the music finally living up to the words, and more broadly speaking it is the point at which the execution finally matches the overall ambition. That in itself is worth celebrating. But when a record features great songs front to back, songs that would be rousing even if the lyrics were gibberish, it is a record you’re likely to pull out for years to come, during beer stained evenings spent in lawn chairs, when Born to Run is finished but the night’s just begun.

There was a picture floating around the Internet of an obviously elated Craig Finn onstage in New York, sporting a vintage Twins jersey the night his hometown team snuck into the playoffs. The album had just been released to massive acclaim and the world was the Hold Steady’s for the conquering. In that picture, as on Boys & Girls, they’re a band you want to cheer for, a band whose failures seem terribly real, and whose victories kind of feel like your own.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Not that you asked…

…but unsolicited opinion is pretty much the Internet’s raison d’etre, right? With that in mind, it’s my intent to use this space to foist upon any and all readers my perspective on music, circa now.

I bring a peculiar and extensive set of biases to the table, of course. It hardly bears stating that this is but one man’s opinion, blah blah, and that my pedigree, such as it is, is spotted. But in the interest of moderate transparency: ex-record store employee;
community radio host; infrequent concert-goer; music list junkie; subscriber; father and rapidly aging curmudgeon.

What you’ll find here is an extension of (and labour-saving alternative to) the annual Dopey Ding CD compilation and liner notes. A Dopey Ding, for the uninitiated, is a compilation CD of the year’s best songs as seen by the compiler, usually accompanied by a list of the year’s best albums. That Dadaist name is a remnant of my days in music retail, coined by a
co-worker, with the crucible of long hours and late nights/early mornings that is the only constant of the holiday season probably contributing to his grasp of the nonsensical. The DD compilation serves as a personal statement of taste, and a jumping-off point for fervent debate among fellow music geeks. Every December the CDs begin to circulate, traded and shipped between an ever-growing cadre of friends, even though I’ve long since moved on from the record store. I have, in years past, made an effort to put together not only a CD and a best albums list, but an extensive commentary on the music contained on the CD, as well as year-end lists for several additional categories. I have designed, printed and assembled these unasked-for musical polemics and handed them out for several years now. But this year, owing to many time-limiting factors, not the least of which is the summertime birth of a beautiful daughter, I have decided to keep the physical object simple - to all but eliminate the need for scissors and rulers and glue that had become a holiday tradition - and to instead use this blog as a way of sharing the thoughts on music that I so blithely and big-headedly assume anybody cares to read.

So, 2006. I partially adopted the new model of music consumption, taking out a subscription over at
eMusic, but I continue to buy CDs, too, because I remain fond of the traditional tactile relationship between a collector and his collection, to liner notes and photos and the simple act of tearing cellophane off a new acquisition. I have also become a frequent visitor of several MPfree sites, notably Destination: Out (more on that in a future post). Files are compact, convenient and sexy, but I remain somewhat ambivalent toward them. My PG fantasy still involves a shopping spree at a crowded, dusty, well-stocked record store.

Regardless of the format, some of my final picks will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, while others might prove a little leftfield. It becomes hard, even in this era of near-limitless access to new sounds, to find time and patience for new things when some of your old favourite artists continue to put out music. But there’s also nothing quite like stumbling onto something new, and I’m happy to say I did my share of that in ought-six.

So here at the newly-minted This Is Our Music, you can expect to find lists, commentary and random thoughts on the year in music, as seen by your host. I hope anybody with a concordant or dissenting opinion will feel compelled to weigh in with comments. Over the next couple of weeks, posts will cover the following categories:

  • Top 10 Albums of 2006: Rock/Pop
  • Best Songs
  • Top 10 Albums: Jazz/Improvised
  • Top 5 Compilations & Reissues
  • Personal Musical Discoveries

    Stay tuned.

  • Stay tuned.