Monday, December 31, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Eleven

5 Beirut, The Flying Club Cup

Where debut Gulag Orkestar was Baltic in flavour, The Flying Club Cup is Parisian, Beirut brains Zach Condon wandering the streets of the city of light, Berlitz guide in hand. Only he’s strolling the streets of Eugene Atget’s Paris, specifically Montparnasse, and he’s looking for Jacques Brel. Condon’s a dandy of the highest order, brash and cocksure and in the thrall of all things arty, and at 21 he’s also a true sophomore, reading poetry, getting drunk on lilac wine and spouting Rimbaud. It would be an unforgivable mess if it weren’t so charming.

It’s twice as mature as Gulag, truth be told, and displays a growing comfort with the complexities of song; rich, exotic, romantic, and easy to fall in love with. A whirlwind of diverse instrumentation, cabaret camp and lyrical flights, it makes you wonder what this precocious artist will be capable of once he’s actually lived a little.

4 Dave Douglas Quintet, Live at the Jazz Standard

From 1965 until 1968, Miles Davis led a stunningly good quintet, a band anchored by Herbie Hancock’s keyboards and characterized by the fire and water interplay of Wayne Shorter’s saxophone and Davis’ moody, spare trumpet. It was a unit which eschewed the primal scream approach of much of the contemporary avant-garde in favour of explorations of the outer limits of modal improvisation. The resulting music was dark and evocative, and thanks largely to the sound of Hancock’s electric piano, pointed the way toward the fusion style Davis would later pioneer.

It was, by the end, the tightest band in jazz (Coltrane’s quartet was active until his death in July of ’67), and among the best combos in history, but divergent aspirations and the usual forces of artistic creation pulled it apart. What’s intriguing to consider is what might have been had the band remained intact. Would Miles have gone all-electric? Or would the quintet’s sound have continued to develop on into the 1970s?

Hypotheticals are generally worth the paper they’re printed on, but for the sake or argument let’s posit that trumpeter Dave Douglas is the closest thing we have to Miles Davis in 2007 2008, and that his fine quintet are heirs to the mantle of that great mid-‘60s band. I’ve made the Davis band comparison before, and it is perhaps unfair to Douglas and co., but it is apt. If we can take all that as given, then the music Douglas, tenor Donny McCaslin, keyboardist Uri Caine, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn are currently making is nothing less than the sound of the Davis band dragged into the ‘70s, built upon the foundation of those ‘60s recordings but accented with more funk, more looseness, more electricity, and more open space.

Live at the Jazz Standard is the latest document of this group, an album meant initially for download only from the Greenleaf Records website (Douglas’ own label), but pressed to CD by popular demand. It follows last year’s Meaning and Mystery, and thanks to a number of new compositions, it qualifies as a new album and not just a live set of previously released work. It shows the quintet in trim fighting shape, lean and agile.

The Dave Douglas Quintet is among the best working bands in jazz today, a fun, loose, but dedicated, lyrical, in-and-out and absorbing musical machine, and one that, despite the content of this review, is ever progressive and forward-thinking. To say that they have taken a ‘60s sound and pushed it into the ‘70s leaves out half the story: this is music for the ‘00s, through and through.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Interlude

Pardon us while we here at TiOM HQ enjoy a few days off for the holidays. Days Eleven and Twelve (albums 5-1) are still in the hopper, and will show up posthaste. In the meantime, we hope you and yours enjoy a very wonderful Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Ten (CanCon Day)

7 Feist, The Reminder

Leslie Feist is not to be faulted for the sudden ubiquity of “1-2-3-4,” in my experience the second-most inescapable song of 2007 (strangely, “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John was even more prevalent, the airborne soundtrack to an untold number of my retail expeditions); that's what happens when a musician, attempting to make a living, licenses a song (and video) to Apple.

But what's easy to overlook or forget in the face of that relative pop stardom is the skill underlying the catchiness; Feist is a hell of a songwriter, a pop songstress with a folkie's heart, a wonderful voice and the musicianly skill to match. She's also adept at subtlety, often eschewing the easy hook in favour of the slow grower, resulting in an album of such soft and warm comforts that you'd be excused for failing to separate the music from the memory of the sweet summer evening on which you first heard it.

What it all makes plain is that Feist's greatest trick wasn't in transcending the indie ghetto for greater notice, and it wasn't in writing and crafting such sophisticated pop, the perfect vehicle for her lovely voice; no, her greatest trick is in making it all sound so easy.

6 Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

How were the Arcade Fire to follow up Funeral, that nocturnal, epic, wistful paean to youth even as its passing was being acknowledged and mourned? The answer hinged on whether or not that album's success, its singular and sustained artistic vision, was simply a fluke or the product of unique talent and sensitivity. Neon Bible provides a wealth of answers, as well as raising no shortage of new ones.

None of it was accidental, of course, except in that manner of all artistic expression touched by fortune and timing. Neon Bible stares further into the themes of their debut, but comes up darker, more starkly dystopian. It also suggests, both sonically and thematically, the work of Bruce Springsteen in a way that was either absent or easily overlooked with Funeral (or maybe we were all busy playing up the Talking Heads comparisons). At a remove, the comparisons become more obvious; this duo of releases takes on the feel of the progression from Born to Run's heroism and bombast to Darkness on the Edge of Town's unbridled cynicism.

It's fitting, then, that the Arcade Fire toured with Springsteen this year, and videos circulating on the internet of the artists trading off each others' songs – Springsteen's “State Trooper” and AF's “Keep the Car Running” - suggest the synergy of this seemingly unlikely teaming.

It would have been easy, in the wake of their initial success, to write this band off as products of the indie hype machine. Listening to Neon Bible fairly puts the lie to that notion. Rather they are a significant presence on the wider rock stage, and figure to be around for some time yet, which is good news for all of us.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Nine

9 Burial, Untrue

Just look at what they've done to your triphop. It has fractured, fragmented, spawned offshoots, the names of which are new - Untrue is said to have sprung from the world of dubstep - but the genres have enough in common that we can speak of them as representatives of a common aesthetic, the antecedent and the offspring, linked across a decade by analogous worldviews and near-identical genome maps.

Regarding triphop, though select few examples of the form still sound fresh, it has been absorbed into the larger pop music cannon by virtue of its age and so, like all classic rock, it has sacrificed much of its relevance. After all, Massive Attack's genre-defining Blue Lines album came out 16 years ago now. It's a genre dusty enough to have earned the patina of nostalgia, a sound of weariness and disaffection that nonetheless seems innocent and naïve now, given everything that's transpired since (indeed, don't all cultural artifacts from the twentieth century now seem charmingly, even heartbreakingly bathed in the light of innocence?).

But from the bones of that forebear, an anonymous London producer called Burial has crafted a new and more desolate aural vision of urban alienation, loneliness and fear. Imagine Mezzanine stripped of all warmth or erotic undertone, the lines more askew, disconnected, broken. Instruments enter the mix, ricochet about, disappear. Harmonies lie half exposed, forgotten; melody takes a back seat to atmosphere. But the starkest element is the human voice, isolated and robbed of context, but human just the same, and so very desperate. Vocals stolen from club jamz, dropped into these barren surroundings, and made all the sadder for it. The reliance here is on an R&B accent perhaps a bit more than dub reggae (as was the case with Massive Attack), but that's splitting hairs. Ultimately, it all derives from the same root; it's like comparing a corpse and a skeleton, or a photo and an abstraction of the same subject.

One of modernity's defining characteristics is the breathless pace of change. The world has become, in the last decade or decade and a half, a darker, scarier, more divided place. We thought we knew what loneliness, alienation and disaffection were in 1994. Listening to Untrue suggests we didn't know a blessed thing.

8 Groundtruther, Altitude

Groundtruther is a project featuring the talents of guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer-percussionist-electronic fidgeter Bobby Previte, a planned trilogy of releases on Thirsty Ear, each to spotlight a different guest musician. On 2004's Latitude, that guest was saxophonist Greg Osby; 2005's Longitude saw the duo welcoming DJ Logic to the fold in a live setting. On the third-and-final Altitude, the special guest star is keyboardist John Medeski, one-third of Medeski Martin & Wood.

Altitude is a double album, split neatly between the electric first disc (with tracks named after the highest places and structures on Earth) and the acoustic second half (tracks named after the lowest points, i.e. undersea features such as the Mariana Trench), and generally speaking the first disc rollicks where the second is a more pensive affair. What's consistent is the trio's devotion to invention, seemingly intentionally painting themselves into corners just to see how they'll work their way out. It's a highwire act throughout, with Medeski happily avoiding the well-worn soul jazz phrases that tend to make up much of his musical dialect. Hunter also impresses for his willingness to play outside his comfort zone.

Improvisation entails accepting a certain degree of risk. On Altitude, this latest incarnation of Groundtruther takes that tenet to heart, flying high above what might be considered safe, staring down a tremendous fall, and ultimately thrilling with their ability to keep aloft.

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Eight

11 Iron & Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog

Sam Beam's records as Iron & Wine have, for the most part, been modestly recorded and buried beneath a comfortable blanket of lo-fi warmth, but with The Shepherd's Dog he finally embraces the full band sound that has been lurking in his stripped down tunes all along. It's a direction he first accepted as inevitable on 2005's Woman King EP, and now he doesn't simply expand the arrangements, he blows the format wide open and incorporates the gamut of sounds – varied percussion, brass, piano, organ, and even studio effects, notably the dubwise production on the improbably great “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog).” Elsewhere, Beam trades in afropop, funk, rock and, yes, the countryesque tunesmithery for which he's been known all along. It all results in the most listenable I&W album yet, as in a record you won't hesitate to put on even when you're not feeling insular and downcast (which is the only complaint I could levy against either of his two previous full lengths). Might be that Beam is applying the lessons gleaned from his collaboration with Calexico, a band known for its robustness of sound. Or maybe he's just tired of mumbling. Either way, he's throwing a hell of a coming out party.

10 Caribou, Andorra

Dan Snaith/Manitoba/Caribou has an impressive track record of creatively produced bedroom records, beginning in the electronic DJ mode, but moving gradually toward more traditional song structures. With Andorra, the transformation from DJ to pop star is complete, and in place of impersonal and calculated dance music, Snaith gives the world something that sounds warm, rich, personal, and very much as though it was recorded 40 years ago. Snaith has become a one man band and his own producer, and all in the service of real songs – bridges, choruses, the whole nine. And what songs – slices of British Invasion psychedelic pop that Sts. Argent and Blunstone would appreciate (if not write themselves), big and sunny four minute miracles that sound like nine perfect afternoons spent with kaleidoscopes taped to your RayBans.

It's simple, really. Like being happy? Enjoy pop music? Get this album yesterday.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Seven

13 Exploding Star Orchestra, We Are All From Somewhere Else

The aforementioned Rob Mazurek quit the Chicago scene for a while, heading to Brazil where he spent some time recording the sounds of electric eels. Seriously. Then he convened a big band featuring a ton of great players, including guitarist Jeff Parker, ex-Tortoise members John Herndon and John McEntire (in whose studio the album was recorded), trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Jason Ajemian, and others. He handed them a score for two extended suites (“Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time” and “Cosmic Tomes for Sleepwalking Lovers”) and one interlude (“Black Sun”), and together they cut a fantastic record.

It’s avant-big band music; think a less carnivalesque, less Ellington-obsessed version of Mingus Ah Um, or a not-quite-so academic-sounding Jazz in the Space Age. We Are All… overflows with vibes, synthesizers, strings, horns, and yes, electric eels (they sound like electronically tweaked strings). It is, frankly, hard to describe, but it is brash, joyous, exuberant, exciting, soothing, and redolent of salt and wind, waves and sun. It sounds like the Black & White Ball being held at the Shedd Aquarium. And what’s really surprising, given the roster of improv scenesters on hand, is that the standout performance is delivered by flutist Nicole Mitchell. And the eels, obviously.

12 Chromatics, Night Drive / In the City 12” / Various Artists, After Dark

Chilly, aloof and spare: this is Italo-Disco, an unlikely candidate for a resurgence, and yet here is New Jersey-based label Italians Do It Better doing just that. Chromatics hail from the Pacific Northwest, but they might as well have come up in the streets of Milan, these vacant-eyed glamour children with stunning wardrobes and empty souls. They are currently the poster children for the label and the sound (though Glass Candy, also on the After Dark compilation, are fixing to give them some competition), hitting a successive pair of high marks, first with the In the City single and then the Night Drive full length. Whether the late night travelogue of the title track, or the bang on cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” nobody did cool/cold, dance/dread and glamour/gloom as convincingly as did Chromatics in 2007. Detached vocals, banks of synth, canned strings, plucky guitar and vinyl-like effects all contributed to the illusion. Don’t go searching for the substance; it’s not there. Better just to get your fill of the style before the luster fades.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Six

15 Band of Horses, Cease to Begin

God bless Band of Horses and the horse they rode in on for naming a song after Detlef Schrempf.

As for Cease to Begin, it’s only further proof that BoH, with or without founding member Mat Brooke, are capable of spitting out the finest Neil Young-meets-college rock noise around, a stately clang & rattle worthy of your best hiking boots and ballcap. There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here, but the songs sound like they might’ve been long ago written up in Ray Gun, and for that I love ‘em.

14 Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, From the River to the Ocean

Eighty-year old Chicago saxophonist (and club owner) Fred Anderson ought to be a household name. He never will be, alas, but he will in all likelihood continue to put out fantastic records as long as he has breath. His fruitful relationship with drummer Hamid Drake continues on From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey), a wonderful, blues-soaked album that seems to get better with each listen. Guitarist Jeff Parker (yet another Chicago scene staple who will show up again on this list) is on hand, too, as are bassists Harrison Bankhead and Josh Abrams. Together they weave through a set of originals, kicked off by Anderson’s “Planet E,” a spacious platform for solos that he first performed on an Okka release that paired him with the DKV Trio.

There isn’t a lull on From the River…, just the warm, rich sound of gifted, like-minded musicians doing what they do best. It’s not too far out, and it’s not too safe; what it might be is a tidy summation of that thing we call jazz circa now, in that it’s a sound Charlie Parker and John Coltrane would recognize, and so could the new breed of noisemakers. What they’d all be recognizing, beyond the details, is what has always made jazz so great after all: the sound and sense of freedom.

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Five

17 Tigersmilk, Android Love Cry

Chicago trio Tigersmilk are cornetist/electronics wizard Rob Mazurek (who appeared on this list last year as part of the Chicago Underground Duo, and who will appear yet again this year), bassist Jason Roebke (see #22) and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. In typical Chicago fashion, each of these musicians has their fingers in several dozen other pies but, like a shockingly high percentage of Chicago improv stuff, Android Love Cry (Family Vineyard) sounds neither tossed off nor rushed.

Yes, the title references a cybernetic futurescape, but before alarm bells go off let me assure that electronics are merely the setting here, not the gimmick. Atop the sounds of glitchy, damaged circuitry, the trio weave deft patterns of improvised sound, led by Mazurek’s ghostly horn. The result is something like imaginary sound portraits of a dystopian tomorrowland where ancient jazz lingers, choking forth from discarded soundcards. Or something like that. Dismayed? Don’t be; just listen.

16 Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals

I don’t know who exactly kicked off the recent flurry of world music-crazed indie rock – maybe Man Man? – but I do know that it’s gaining enough momentum that it may well prove the dominant trend of 2008, lighting up a million music blogs and eating up space on your Zune. There are two aspects to this trend: genuine world music attracting the attention of curious hipsters and band members (think Konono No.1, Tinariwen or vintage afrobeat), and; those same Western kids turning those global sounds inside out. The above mentioned Man Man make sublimely weird and gravel-throated music with a strange afropop edge. In the wake of Antibalas’ success, a hundred Fela Kuti-copping collectives are formed each month. Beirut’s Zach Condon must own every Rough Guide CD ever released. Next Big Thing Vampire Weekend sound more Johnny Clegg than Johnny Rotten. It’s all getting so as ticketholders for the next Pitchfork Festival will be forgiven for thinking they’ve stumbled into a WOMAD tour stop.

Count Yeasayer among this probably unintentional groundswell, sounding like somebody blew their minds by slipping Peter Gabriel into their Modest Mouse sleeve. “Where’s the Real World logo?” I asked.

So why does All Hour Cymbals avoid sinking into the new rising morass? Because their harmonies are airtight, their choruses soar majestically, and sometimes, like on “Wait for the Wintertime,” they sound like Black Sabbath jamming on “Kashmir,” and whether you knew it or not, that’s something you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Four

19 Matthew Shipp, Piano Vortex

Improvised music – or jazz, or creative music, or whatever you wish to call it – is by its nature forgiving of creative missteps. It retains the ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ ethos of jazz, its deepest root, as well as permitting a far more frequent release schedule than its pop music brethren, where an album a year is a good clip. As a result improvising musicians are permitted to air their laundry in public, to try new things, to tinker slightly with their approach or to radically overhaul their modus operandi. Other musicians do these things too, of course, but they tend to bury the evidence, whereas improvised music’s adventurous spirit demands that the tapes be heard. It is largely concerned with the very act of creation and less worried about the finished product.

Pianist Matthew Shipp has never been afraid to try anything. His voluminous discography is a testament to his creative restlessness and an utter lack of fear. Electronics, radical structures, cut-and-paste reassemblage, collaborations with underground hip hop wonders Antipop Consortium, funk, classically-influenced improvisation, solos and a huge variety of group settings have all found their way into his work and onto his albums. Much of it works; some of it doesn’t. That is the logical result of his creative process.

His latest release, Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear), is an experiment, like so much of his work; a document of Shipp’s willingness to ask himself what possibilities the traditional piano trio might still hold for him. It seems clear that his intention was to arrive at an answer honestly and nakedly, and to deliver the results to listeners, regardless of the success of the project. Joined by Joe Morris on bass (which makes him the first artist to appear twice on this list) and drummer Whit Dickey, Shipp gives us some of the most invigorated playing of his career, and some of the most obviously indebted to tradition.

While still allowing for the desolation and space that are characteristic of so much of Shipp’s work, these pieces also contain some of the most unabashedly pretty music we’ve ever heard from him. The title piece holds in its ten and a half minute length several moments of lyricism; meanwhile, the brief “Keyswing” actually rides on a piano riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a swing piece.

Shipp’s notes often sound like shards of glass; on Piano Vortex an equal or greater number feel as delicate as glass. Morris’s thick, round bass sound and Dickey’s tasteful accompaniment provide the perfect complements to the exercise. This is a piano trio in every locatable sense of the term, at once historical and evolutionary, and it serves as a fine confirmation of Shipp’s skill, musicality and sensitivity.

18 M.I.A, Kala

The globe has, in the person of M.I.A., the first truly international pop star of the new century, a Briton of Sri Lankan origins who gleefully pillages from the world’s musical forms, and laces it all together in a collage resembling American hip hop. The fact that she catches heat for repurposing rap’s lionization of neighbourhood thuggery to hatch thrills from London streetlife and international terrorism is equal parts sexism and xenophobia; it would be a political quandary that threatened to drown out the music if the whole thing weren’t so damned danceable and, yup, fun.

If there’s a highlight it must be “Paper Planes,” which co-opts a Clash sample and a chorus ripped from Wreckx-N-Effect (!) to build the head-nodding anthem of the year.

Where Arular, was insistent, Kala is declamatory, and among its messages is a very clear statement of M.I.A.’s claim for galactic stardom; it doesn’t take too many listens to realize that she deserves nothing short of it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Three

21 Joe Morris (w/ Ken Vandermark, Luther Gray), Rebus

Connecticut’s Joe Morris is among the most compelling guitarists in the world of free music. The fact that he’s self-taught is either inspiring or maddening, depending on your vantage.

His latest release for the Portuguese Clean Feed label teams him with tireless reedman Ken Vandermark (who gets my vote for musician of our age) and percussionist Luther Gray for six improvised pieces entitled “Rebus.” Just like Rebus, the blue ACD with whom I share a house, the results are exuberant, ill-behaved, challenging and, if only briefly, calm and restrained. Vandermark, who limits himself here to tenor saxophone, is in full throat, effectively leading this trio, while Morris’s contributions are contrastingly bop-like in their structures, relying as they tend to on single-note phrasing. He almost sounds like a modern Grant Green. Well, alright, not really, but you get my point.

The album - presumably named after a word puzzle, and not Ian Rankin’s most famous creation (or my dog) - offers no solutions, no simple melodies, no easy way of approaching these improvisations. In that sense, it’s true to its name. But close listening unlocks the rewards of the uncanny group interplay, and that makes this wordless word puzzle worth the time.

20 Okkervil River, The Stage Names

There is a moment on The Stage Names, very near the end, when a very good album suddenly becomes an overarching statement of maturity by a very good band. Depending on where you got the album, “John Allyn Smith Sails” is either the last or the second-to-last track (some downloads append “Love to a Monster” to the album’s usual 9 tracks), a song about Minnesotan poet John Berryman, whose life and subsequent swan dive suicide have proven popular subjects for songwriters (see also The Hold Steady’s “Stuck Between Stations”). What sounds initially like a bridge (ha!) soon becomes a springboard into a spirited rendition of “Sloop John B,” and Okkervil main man Will Sheff’s point is clear: We’re part of a tradition; follow us into history. Too often indie rock’s creation myth repeats a narrow and overly select lineage, canonical offerings which, we are told, contain the seeds of the modern connoisseur’s rock (i.e. not what you find on the radio). What that moment, and all of The Stage Names is trying to tell us is that such a view is shortsighted and limiting. Pop is pop, and excellent pop music - like this collection by one of the best sad bastard indie/jangle/rock bands around - is among the greatest pleasures we can still share.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Two

23 David Murray Black Saint Quartet, Sacred Ground

As I mentioned earlier this year, David Murray had long constituted something of a blind spot in my view of free music, and so I decided to jump right in and educate myself. My decision to do so coincided with the release of the saxophonist’s latest for Montreal’s Justin Time label, a triumphant quartet outing with guest vocals by Cassandra Wilson. Wary as I usually am of jazz vocals, not only do Wilson’s manage to not mar the proceedings, they lend a genuine emotional resonance to the issues of race Murray has chosen to address here (the album is an outgrowth of the scoring Murray provided for Banished, a film about the post-Civil War expulsion of blacks from several US communities). Call it Murray’s Blood on the Fields (which also featured Wilson on vocals), only manageable in scope, and devoid of artistic hubris.

The music is suitably sombre, but far from oppressive. This band – Murray on tenor and bass clarinet, Lafayette Gilchrist on piano, Ray Drummond on bass, and Andrew Cyrille on drums – is too lithe to permit that to happen. Murray’s horn is muscular, tough but tender, and clearly invested in these songs. All in all, another highlight in a career (so I’ve recently learned) full of them.

22 Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio, Terminal Valentine

Avant cellist Lonberg-Holm writes, tours, collaborates and records with alarming regularity. It’s a devotion which normal humans like you and I reserve for activities such as blinking. The man is a force, having worked extensively in every corner of the improvised/free music universe, with some spillover into the rock world, as well. This leader date with his own trio, released on Chicago’s Atavistic imprint, is a prime setting for displaying his amazingly horn-like voice on the strings. What makes this record memorable is that, while Lonberg-Holm, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly are capable of hair-raising free playing, they never forget the undeniably pretty songs at the core of these pieces.

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day One

25 Kevin Ryan, Dylan Hears a Who

Whoever he is, Kevin Ryan held the world – or at least the world of online music blogs – in his hand for a short time earlier this year. He painstakingly constructed a brilliant parody (homage? mash-up? commentary?) and floated it out onto the web, then stayed silent as the attention mounted. The perfectly constructed back story had a circa ’66 Bob Dylan paying tribute to the works of Dr. Seuss by recording seven Seuss stories as songs the way only Bob could play ‘em. Then, the story went, the album was scuttled by nervous label suits, and was thereby lost. Ryan’s Dylan impersonation is solid, but the real selling job comes from the music, which is nigh on indistinguishable from the real thing, with authentic sounding tape hiss and crackle, perfect instrumentation, and a mixing job that sounds like a studio floor recording from the period. Add to that wonderful (downloadable) cover art that looks eerily like something Columbia would have produced, with well photoshopped images of Dylan sporting the cat’s striped hat, and the whole thing seemed just plausible enough to make you wonder if it wasn’t legitimate. It helps, of course, that a million Dylan bootlegs are floating about, even “official” ones issued by Sony. There’s no shortage of hoaxes and user-generated parodies online, but few are noteworthy enough to attract the attention of the conventional press (i.e. Entertainment Weekly) and the ire of the estate of the late Dr. Seuss (the Dylan Hears a Who website shut down after receiving a cease and desist from a phalanx of lawyers representing the interests of arguably the world’s most famous children’s author). It’s an impressive musical accomplishment, as well as a fascinating example of the way in which fiction can trump reality.

24 John Coltrane, My Favorite Things: Live at Newport (reissue)

I already wrote about this here, so why repeat myself, right? I remember thinking that title – What a Difference Roy Haynes Makes – was pretty darned clever at the time.

The This is Our Music End-of-Year Form Letter

[Merry Listmas, children!]

Dear Reader,

Like the proverbial peas and mashed potatoes, I have tried in vain to keep them separate.

I have, in years past, done my best to segregate two aspects of my music consuming personality, treating rock/pop and jazz/improvised/whatever as wholly separate entities, affording each their own list, and generally endeavouring to keep each ignorant of the other’s existence. But as anyone who has ever attempted to corral the peas and keep them free of starchy goop knows, you can’t do it; you can’t keep them apart.

So this year’s This is Our Music master list – the albums list – marks my defeat, standing as the first time that I have relented and combined both sides in one unified whole. And the catalyst was Warren Defever.

Defever, headman of His Name is Alive, has made some interesting music over the years, incorporating a wide variety of sounds, and generally displaying a pleasingly restless approach to the conventions of musical genre. But it was still all stuff I would feel comfortable filing in the Rock/Pop section (or possibly the Alternative section, if the imaginary record store in question still had such a relic). But then HNIA went and did this, leaving me with the difficult decision of which list to put it on. And that got me to thinking…

Why not a unified list? Why not the 25 recordings I enjoyed most, regardless of genre, in one complete accounting of my year as a consumer of music? Solidarity!

So that’s what I’ve done, and beginning with the next TiOM post, I’ll dive into that list – a list of pop and indie rock and disco and electronic trickery alongside a Coltrane reissue (shock!), a couple of sets of modern jazz that won’t offend the non-jazz listener, and some downright woolly free improvisation. It’s a list that accurately represents – maybe for the first time – the entire range of my interests.

Merry Listmas.



PS - You feel a little guilty for laughing at that picture, don't you? You should. For more guilt-inducing hilarity, click here!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Now It's On

The CD is done. Those who usually receive a copy will again receive a copy, by mail or hand delivered, as circumstances warrant.

Beginning tomorrow, this space will once again serve as the lazy man's liner notes (less cutting and glueing that way) when I begin to spew the self-congratulatory purple prose that dozens of you have come to know, if not love. I'll start with my spiel on "2007: The Year That Was" (or something like that), and then move into the Best Albums list. Because I read somewhere that suspense is a great technique for capturing readers, I'll draw it out. "The Twelve Days of Listmas" will feature two albums a day, until the last entry which, for reasons of arithmetic, will feature three, and altogether they'll constitute list of 25. Then Best Songs (pocket critiques on the tracks on the above-pictured CD), then maybe the Honourable Mention thing, then any leftover random thoughts I might squeeze out.

This would have been done sooner, but you know, holidays etc. etc. Also, I've been hooked on a handful of Toronto Blue Jays blogs of late, so that eats up a lot of computer time. If anybody has thoughts on the still-possible Rios for Lincecum deal, I'm all ears.

Monday, December 3, 2007

That Nissan Commercial

At long last, the question burning a hole in my brain, keeping me up nights, making it so that I can't eat, can't concentrate on anything else - that question has been answered.

Ages ago, long before the snow fell, I asked in this post (see item IV) what the music was in a certain car commercial. I got no answer. Now I know.

The song is "Krusty" by Papa M. Yes, that Papa M: Dave Pajo, of Slint and Tortoise, etc. Makes perfect sense once you know, doesn't it? From the album Whatever, Mortal released waaaay back in '99 (does anyone even remember 1999?). All info on this website. There's a video, too, in the MEDIA section.

Now I can sleep at night.

[And thanks, CC, for doing the legwork, i.e. 30 seconds of googling.]