Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This is Our Music: 2009 (Pt. 2)

10) Charles Rumback, Two Kinds of Art Thieves
Rumback is a tremendously giving, supportive drummer, the kind that fades into the wallpaper if you're not listening closely. But pay attention and you'll be rewarded by the way he buttresses the horns (Joshua Sclar on tenor and Greg Ward on alto) and bass (Jason Ajemian). Rumback debuts as a leader here, but he's far from green, and it comes across. The result is warm, open, loose. And yet again, Clean Feed is the platform for a winning record; the label that can't lose.

9) David S. Ware, Shakti
I retain no residual doubt that Ware is one of the most important musicians of his era, and Shakti confirms it anew. That the saxophonist felt the draft from Death's scythe earlier this year is perhaps more reason to appreciate this disk, and the others that preceded it in Ware's discography. That he is intact, new kidney apparently operating smoothly, lends promise to the hope that we'll have more of his music to treasure in the years ahead.

8) The Raveonettes, In and Out of Control
If all pop music were like this I would listen to commercial radio with a fervent mania bordering on religiosity, the way I imagine people once did on balmy summer nights in topdown cars while cicadas hummed and the sweet pinegum air was thick and warm. We would all know consensus on our favourite songs, and our futures would look as bright as all our yesterdays.

7) Vandermark 5, Annular Gift
Vandermark the yeoman. Vandermark the workhorse. Vandermark the champion. Vandermark the blue-collar intellectual. The band (Dave Rempis (alto and tenor sax); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics); Kent Kessler (bass); Tim Daisy (drums)) hums along like a well-oiled, many-headed automaton, and a staggering run continues.

6) Sonic Youth, The Eternal
Nearly thirty years, 15 albums, endless experimentation, a devotion to stylistic restlessness, scores of followers who don't deserve the comparison, and you have to say this much for Sonic Youth: their Sonic Youth impression is bang-on.

5) Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Slick and smooth, poppy and damn-near perfect. This is the music I want to hear in car commercials, and in the iPod era, I can (God bless the invisible hand of the marketplace). I heard this while strolling the aisles of IKEA the other day, and it sounded right. I bought three Billy bookcases.

4) The XX, XX
Sexy, detached, effortless, cool. Can I dance to this? Is that cool? Or will that trip up my brooding? Because really, I could go either way.

3) Rob Mazurek, Sound Is
An abundance of space and atmosphere. A very interesting musician gets even more interesting.

2) Phosphorescent, To Willie
Matthew Houck unearths the essence of the Red Headed Stranger. If there's blood in your veins, chances are decent it'll be thinner before this record's over. Substances and self-loathing; outlaw country by way of Williamsburg. This initiates the countrified left hook-right jab combo at the top of this list, and they're close, man, close. But they serve different purposes: this one's for drinking and feeling low. Oh, and singing along with my three year-old daughter, who took a shining to "that "Reasons to Quit" song" as soon as she heard it. I chalk it up to the harmonies, not the lyrical content. Right?

1) Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
If Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (the better album, but probably only because "Star Witness" is a perfect song) was a revelation, Middle Cyclone is a confirmation. There is more blood, heart, fear and desire in Case's music than you can bear. Take heart, son; crying's the only natural response. The country-to-pop ratio's about the same as on a Taylor Swift album, but the country's a bit realer, and the pop is a thousand times smarter. Does God have taste? If so, he'll see to it that Neko's name is still spoken in a hundred years.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This is Our Music: 2009 (Pt. 1)

25) Tony Wilson Sextet, The People Look Like Flowers At Last
24) St. Vincent, Actor
23) Japandroids, Post-Nothing
22) The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love
21) Young Galaxy, Invisible Republic
20) Deer Tick, Born on Flag Day
19) The Twilight Sad, Forget the Night Ahead
18) Obits, I Blame You
17) The Wooden Sky, If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone
16) Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels
15) Francois Carrier and Michel Lambert, Nada
14) Joe Pernice, It Feels So Good When I Stop
13) White Rabbits, It's Frightening
12) Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love, Chicago Volume
11) Grizzly Bear, Vicketimest

Monday, December 7, 2009

Allow me to re-introduce myself...

THE DEADBEAT, never-present stiff who only occasionally checks in with a token gesture: that’s been me of late. I could plead busy! or distracted! and those things would be fully true, but only half the story. Disinterested! might be more accurate.

For a while there it seemed to me the most exciting thing I’d heard for a while was recorded in either 1982 or 1986 (take a bow, Mark E. Smith). That didn’t do much to stoke the fire that usually burns in me this time of year: the annual display of wankery that is the Year! End! List! I was, in a way that I’ve rarely been before, down on music. There were only a few stock pieces in the collection that I fell back on, mood pieces mostly, music for sleeping. Nothing new grabbed me.

Ah, but then Ron stepped in. I saw him on a recent trip to Ottawa, and he gave me a box of CDs (how many friends would do that?), the still-thriving fruit of our dormant enterprise. The contents of The Box, while not uniform in quality, were all new to me, and so they performed the neat trick of rousing me from my stupor.

THEN, STRANGE RUMBLINGS from Glenn Branca, of all people, opining that we’ve reached the End of Music; there’s nothing left to create! Maybe Branca’s out of ideas. Roses from dung: the piece served to awaken an anger in me (and others – check the comments) that someone would have the shortsighted nerve to declare such a thing. And it put my doldrums in perspective. It, along with the box of music Ron gifted, put me back on my course.

THE BOX was largely divided between three labels: Toronto’s Barnyard Records, Vancouver’s Drip Audio, and Chicago’s venerable Delmark (with a pinch of Long Song and a smattering of Altrisuoni). Of the first I was almost wholly ignorant; with the second I had only a passing acquaintance; with Delmark I was rather chummy. There were records by artists I’d lost track of, a few I’d been looking forward to hearing, and a bunch I’d never heard of. It was a good mix.

BUT THE POINT, really, is not that I was exposed to specific recordings, or discovered this artist or that label. The point is that, for the first time in a while, I was excited about music. And that brings us to now – December -- and to this blog’s reason for being. Heading into November of 2009, I wasn’t really looking forward to the annual exercise, something I’ve never felt before. Enter Ron, and The Box, and a revival of my enthusiasm.

Of the 20 or so CDs in that carton, only a couple will make it onto the list, but the wider point is that the gift, all that music, woke me up. So a debt is owed, Ron. Thank you.

SO, being as it is a bit late in the game, and that I find myself knee-deep in sawdust, paint, and IKEA kitchen components, this year’s exposition will be slightly truncated. Expect a lower word count, but all of the love. I’m thinking that the first, oh, ten or fifteen entries on the List will be devoid of explanation. I’ll save my verbiage for only the very top.

And to those of you who usually receive a CD: maybe January?