Thursday, December 28

Guest Perspective: The Year In Music 2006

As I said before, though Crackle & Pop will primarily be me ranting through the night on topics none can follow, on occasion I will be passing along thoughts from friends and family. Today I am happy to share the thoughts of my friend Paul, who is actually able to listen to music and enjoy it(!), instead of merely looking to ridicule and judge with vitriol and condescension. This should come as a pleasant change of pace to my regular readers. Without further ado (and with how much I love ado, be grateful I'm practicing moderation over the Holidays), Paul's best of '06.


2006 was a good, but strange, year for music in the genres that I enjoy.

There were very few memorable records in hard rock or straight rock. Other than the release of Monk and Coltrane’s Live at Carnegie Hall album, I can’t think of a great new jazz record that I heard.

I only heard a handful of really, really sharp progressive house mixes laid down in 2006 that moved me, unlike 2005, which was packed with superb grooves.

But 2006 saw an embarrassment of riches in what I call the “Americana” genre, which is a mish-mash of alternative country, Southern rock, roots rock, folk, folk-rock and acoustic music. It seemed at times of the year like there was a superb record in that genre being released every week.

And what made that output even more surprising is that my favorite artist in that genre, Wilco, didn’t release a studio album in 2006. Usually nothing tops a Wilco release for me in a certain year, but many of the new Americana records I heard this year stand up to anything Wilco ever has recorded.

It was a year for comebacks, too, as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The Who released albums to critical acclaim. But were the albums really that good, or were the most-recent releases by these artists so mediocre to bad that even a decent record would be met with hosannas by critics? I lean toward the latter.

Dylan’s Modern Times was a strong record, but does it really compare with Blood on the Tracks? Hardly. Same with Endless Wire by The Who and The Seeger Sessions by Springsteen. Both solid records, but neither will be confused for Who’s Next or Nebraska.

Most year-end reviews list the top 10 albums of the year. But, like the amplifier used by the legendary Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap, this one goes to 11.

11. Vince Gill – These Days

Very few artists in any genre have the balls – or the material – to release a four-disc set. Ryan Adams released three albums in 2005, with one a double album, and the results were mixed at best. But damn it if Vince Gill didn’t pull it off with These Days. Gill had a distinct musical theme for each record – country rock, jazzy torch music, straight country and bluegrass/gospel – and each was superb. Put them together, and it’s the crowning achievement of Gill’s career, and a work that separates him from the rest of the Nashville set as the most talented male working in that often sterile, unimaginative world.

10. M. Ward – Post-War

Post-War proved that an artist doesn’t need volume or screaming vocals to be powerful. This is one of quietest, low-fi albums you’ll ever hear, but M. Ward’s excellent acoustic arrangements and understated, quiet delivery combine for one of the most enjoyable listens of the year.

9. Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac

Very few artists in any genre of music lay their emotions bare more often or better than Rosanne Cash. She chronicled all of the emotions of her divorce from Rodney Crowell in the superb Interiors and matches the honesty and power of that masterpiece with Black Cadillac. The grief that Cash feels over the loss of her father, the legendary Johnny Cash, oozes from nearly every song on the album without being sappy, maudlin or depressing.

8. Eric Clapton & JJ Cale – The Road to Escondido

This is one of the best “front porch” albums I’ve heard in a long time. The Road to Escondido is a breezy, strumming record made by Clapton and one of his idols, JJ Cale. Most of the songs sound like they were recorded on the first or second take, with fairly simple arrangements. That led to a bit of a repetitive feel to the record, especially since Clapton and Cale sound so similar vocally. But the entire vibe of the album is so relaxed, and tracks like “Danger” are so strong, that I really enjoyed this record.

7. Derek Trucks – Songlines

Somewhere Duane Allman must be smiling, because his spiritual successor as the modern master of the slide guitar released a superb record. Trucks has been a prodigy almost from the minute he started playing guitar, but he has resisted the Steve Vai/Joe Satriani-like urge to show how technically superb he is at every instance. Instead, Trucks plays with passion, soul and technique right from the first notes of “Volunteered Slavery” to the very end of the record.

6. Drive-By Truckers – A Blessing and a Curse

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: A Blessing and a Curse is not as good as Southern Rock Opera. Then again, there are very few bands that release an album as masterful as that disc, and A Blessing and a Curse is still very, very good and would be a masterstroke for many bands. DBT moved away a bit from their Skynyrd influences with A Blessing and a Curse and became more sludgy and bluesy, sort of like The Stones in Exile on Main Street. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

5. Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way

Lost in hubbub over Natalie Maines’ well-placed concert rant against George W. Bush at the start of the Iraq War was that The Dixie Chicks were one of the best bands in country music. But the girls advanced their craft to an entirely different level with Taking the Long Way, which is easily the best country album of the year. The vocal harmonies and musicianship of Maines and the Robison sisters are top-notch, and Maines takes aim and connects at her critics in “Not Ready to Make Nice.” The Dixie Chicks are way too good for Nashville, so the bumfuck-minded industry backlash from that insular, stifling town might be the best thing that ever happened to this band.

4. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

The Voice. Ah, what a voice. Neko Case’s vocal chords clearly were blessed by the heavens, and she sounds absolutely sublime on this record, especially in “Margaret vs. Pauline” and “Hold On, Hold On.” The musical arrangements also are varied and interesting. But the lyrics indicate that Case either spent too much time in art school or reading literature that was out of her grasp, as references to harlots with ingots burned into their breasts reach way too far. If Case can corral her lyrical excesses and match those refined words with the music and vocals of this record, the result could be a masterstroke for the ages.

3. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

Derivative? Check. Annoying vocal phrasing? Check. Make all the complaints you want about Craig Finn and The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America, and it still stands up as the best straight-ahead rock album of the year. Boys and Girls is a rock album full of stories, not a collection of songs assembled by a record company. True rock albums are rare treats these days, and rock albums as cohesive and kicking as Boys and Girls are even more rare. Finn’s observational, confessional lyrics have been done before by the likes of Springsteen and Westerberg, but if you’re going to put your influences on your sleeve, those are pretty good badges to display. Plus The Hold Steady has more range than most think, as rockers like “Stuck Between Stations” and “Chips Ahoy” were balanced by ballads or slower tracks like “First Night” and “Southtown Girls.”

2. Robert Randolph and The Family Band – Colorblind

I’m starting to believe that there’s no style of music that Robert Randolph and The Family Band can’t play well. Colorblind is an exciting mix of funk, blues, hard rock, and soul. You hear plenty of hints of Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder on this record, with a sprinkle of the recently departed James Brown. But then Dave Matthews appears on “Love Is the Only Way In” and Eric Clapton guests on the sizzling cover of “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Most bands that attempt to mix and match this many styles on one album either miss the mark in a style or two or flail and fail. Not Randolph and The Family Band. This album just drips with energy and talent and deserves to be played louder than any other record on this list.

1. Los Lobos – The Town and the City

Los Lobos is a victim of its brilliance. As I scanned various year-end music reviews to see how many of my top 11 records ended up on critics’ lists, I didn’t see The Town and the City on one top-10 list. Are you shitting me? But that’s what happens when a band that has released superb record after record for nearly 30 years issues another gem. Brilliance almost becomes expected. And make no mistake about it – The Town and the City might be Los Lobos’ best record, standing up with Kiko among the band’s “greats.” The theme of the album is the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants, from fleeing their native land to making a living in America. There isn’t a weak track on this record, with “The Valley,” “The Road to Gila Bend” and “Little Things” the standouts. There is no “La Bamba” or “Don’t Worry Baby” on this record, as it’s an album of quiet, dignified power and one that makes more and more emotional connections with repeated listens.

Tuesday, December 26

On The One

James Brown is dead. Details and adulation available elsewhere.

I have a troubled relationship to James Brown's music (I never knew the person, only the persona; his personal triumphs and failings - as documented in public - are a mixed bag, to say the least). I appreciate him greatly as an innovator, one of the greatest of the second half of the 20th century, but find it hard to like much of his recorded output. I've never warmed to him as a singer, which greatly limits the appeal of his pre-funk heights such as the lauded Live at the Apollo; he had more power to me as a vocalist, and I find I can somewhat get behind the emotive grunts, exhortations and exuberant sighs of the later funk recordings. I'll freely admit that he seemed to always have a top notch backing group, from the Famous Flames to the JBs; the music was tight, the band seemingly united in a hive mind, and the grooves they could cut were a pleasure to hear.

Though I've heard the Star Time box set countless times (It came out just a few months before I began my stint as a record clerk, and James was one of the few musical meeting points between the older owners and the lowly grunts), I've never owned it; in a now somewhat eerie moment Sunday morning I again passed on a used copy at my local store, opting instead for the magisterial Mingus set Passions Of A Man. I find I don't even listen to the one James Brown album I've ever owned, the pre-Star Time best-of The CD of JB (which I will gladly argue is better than 20 All-Time Greatest Hits merely because it includes my favorite Brown track, "Licking Stick - Licking Stick"). He just isn't an artist that grabs or compels me to listen in more than a cursory way.

JB is a trailblazer, and without him I wouldn't have artists I love, such as Sly & The Family Stone, the extended George Clinton/P-Funk family, Prince, and Fela Kuti. Though his music may not have touched me the way it did so many others, he indirectly has had a great effect on my musical tastes, and for this I offer my respect and thanks.

Rest in peace Mr. Brown.

Thursday, December 21

Podcast #12

Happy Holidays from your favorite Holiday Hater.

Wednesday, December 20

Motion Picture Soundtrack (Another Rip List)

I usually get my meme on via Alex, but today Ian provides the latest variant list-making framework.

The rules:
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc).
2. Put it on shuffle.
3. Press play.
4. For every question, type the song that's playing.
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button.
6. DON'T LIE! That's not cool!

Opening Credits: "Transfiguration #1" - M. Ward.
A quiet opener, maybe like the slow move through the swamp in The Muppet Movie. Kermit could do the "sitting Muppet nod dance" to this quite easily. But then Dom DeLuise comes in and it all goes sour.

Waking Up: "Rich Girl" - Hall & Oates.
Great eighties montage song. You could see Ferris Bueller mirror primping to this, working in a nice peg-pant spin. Would work well with the themes of money and happiness in that movie as well. Hmmm.

First Day Of School: "Artificial Heart" - Yo La Tengo.
A sort of generic post-punky YLT song with lyrics from poet Ernest Noyes Brookings of Duplex Planet zine fame. Striking resemblance to "Warsaw" by Joy Division. I guess it would be okay for the cool kid's arrival in a Zach Braff version of Footloose. And yes that is damning with faint praise.

Falling In Love: "Pop, Popcorn Children" - Eldridge Holmes.
Great falling in love song! Who doesn't fall for someone who can shake it? Plus, you can't help but smile and be happy hearing this as James Brown doing "Dancing In The Street."

Fight Song: "I Hold No Grudge" - Joy & The Hit Kids.
From a Krautrock sampler put together somewhere on the net (I'm sorry, but I don't remember where), this is a Moog-driven psychedelic take on an early sixties girl-group style song. Not great for a fight, but works as an "aftermath of a win by the underdog" sequence. You know, fixing the collar, hands running back to straighten the mussed up hair kind of thing.

Breaking Up: "Goody Two Shoes" - Adam Ant.
Got to show your cards, amiright? Untraditional - it sure ain't sad, but could be an interesting take if the focus is on the dumper v. the dumpee. No scat jokes, please.

Prom: "Joy Of Sound" - The Make-Up.
Born to hand jive, baby! We got clapping, grooves, and if you could get Ian Svenonious and co. to actually be the prom band in your movie, this scene would be classic.

Life: "Requiem For O.M.M.2" - Of Montreal.
Like Ian I don't really get this category, but it is a great "looking back at better times" song. So, I guess that works...

Mental Breakdown: "Count Five or Six" - Cornelius.
Ha! I'm not cheating people. The energy and repetitive vocals here are perfect - just counting, with some orientation directives. Your mind goes out with a harmonic feedback squeal. Fitting.

Flashback: "Aquarium" - Robyn Hitchcock.
As if I could play a dozen tracks without him popping up. Looking back and not understanding makes this a good flashback song. Not a happy one, not with these lyrics: "Everything revolves around the sun/You know I'm gonna miss you when I'm gone."

Getting Back Together: "Little Nut Tree" - The Melodians.
All about seeing true love in front of the little nut tree, and thanking the Lord for it. Kinda weak for this category - it is a "love at first sight" song. That rocksteady swing though - still magic.

Wedding: "Flying" - The Beatles.
Pretty melody, wonderful McCartney bass line. Stately, could be a good "walk down the aisle" song, as long as you get there before the flute part at the end (Yuck!). Not a wedding reception song.

Birth Of A Child: "Runnin' Wild" - Django Reinhardt & co.
People give birth in Woody Allen films, so why not? That chugging Gypsy swing could be matched nicely with those shots of laborious breathing - "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, arrr!"

Final Battle: "The Bed's Too Big Without You (Mono version)" - The Police.
The menace in the introduction is palpable. Shame that Mary J. used it to no great effect a few years back. Wish it was slightly further into dub, though this mono version does compress and limit Sting's voice in interesting ways. Let's see - maybe cutting from eye to eye, no movement beyond a blink like in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. I'm trying to make it work.

Death Scene: "Charlotte Anne" - Julian Cope.
Fragile, but a bright one, like a melting icicle. The lyrics are darker than the music, so
it might work for a happy passing, a redemptive sacrifice. Man, that spoken bit is a little too Spinal Tap. But then, Julian seems to be Nigel in some ways.

Funeral Song: "Tiny Steps" - Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
Someone isn't happy with the mourners and wants to point fingers or something. Doesn't work in the least.

End Credits: "Maggie's Farm (live at Newport)" - Bob Dylan & his co-conspirators.
Dylan goes electric and drives the people out of the aisles. What's done is done, and Pete Seeger and his apocryphal ax can't change it. Go home, it's over.

Tuesday, December 19

Public Thanks

I was just going to drop an email, but this started as a comment here and should be acknowledged here. Ian took the time to read my ramblings, think about the stuff I was praising and recommend me something he thought I would really like. I hereby thank him, praise him, symbolically wash his feet for the DEAD-ON recommendation of The Goslings.

Thanks to Ian, I have purchased the Spaceheater/Perfect Interior EP collection available on Crucial Blast Records (possibly available from your local purveyor of fine recorded goods, as mine was), and their latest work Grandeur Of Hair, which I ordered online from the Archive Records shop.

I listened to the new one first (because it arrived in yesterdays mail), but want to post my first impressions of the EP collection to start. Spaceheater/Perfect Interior is a compilation of the first two releases from this husband and wife team, originally on the Asaurus label in 2003 & 2004. These releases find the duo playing with feedback drone, guitar reverb and harmonic resonance in an ambient way, with moments of outright noise and/or reverential early nineties shoegazing loops. The song "Landing" brings to mind My Bloody Valentine. Throughout, vocals are buried, echo-ed and fuzzed into sounds human but not lyrical. There is some percussion, but not for timekeeping. Nothing on this album adheres to any pop sense of structure; no hooks, little repetition, no discernible overarching melodies. The Goslings may be a "nosie" band, but here they explore the noise as discreet elements.

Grandeur Of Hair shits all over the idea of discreet elements of sound. On Spaceheater/Perfect Interior a slow, rumbling wash of reverb-heavy guitar would repeat itself, forming a base from which to color the surrounding space with a clatter of tinny percussion or a high harmonic held just to the point of discomfort; on Grandeur Of Hair that heavy reverb is the tinny percussion, as pulsing, pounding storms of noise fill every nook, cranny and atom of space, overwhelming nuance in short order, an assault like the opening of Brotzmann's Machine Gun. This is sound that rattles your innards.

The only thing comparable, for me, was seeing My Bloody Valentine live. The volume was overwhelming, but it was a livable level of discomfort before they launched into "You Made Me Realise". For roughly fifteen minutes, pure noise berated and bludgeoned me, and the band took it up a notch every time that drumroll hit - the sound would peal downward, like it was sucked into a vortex created by the rapid-fire drums, then scream upward, seemingly louder and both angry and gleeful at it's escape. After the show my head was perfectly clear - I was deafened but renewed, a slate wiped of all thoughts and worries. My body, however, was broken; my joints ached, my back screamed at me as I climbed into my car, my kidneys defined by their throbbing outlines in the small of my back.

Grandeur Of Hair somehow recreates that in the comfort of my living room. I chose to listen first with headphones, as my wife was home and I know full well this is not going to be her thing. After an hour I tried to get up and it seemed I could feel each separate vertebrae, a Jenga tower that could not possibly keep standing. And I had no thoughts. I was clean, brain-scraped like I hadn't been in nearly fifteen years.

Thanks Ian. I needed that.

Monday, December 18

A Quick One While I'm Away

Random MP3 connection of the day - The Ramones "Beat On The Brat" and Joy Division "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

"Beat On The Brat" is slower than I sing it in my head, very controlled and restrained in many ways. There is tension, as the song builds and you expect it to lurch forward wildly, but instead The Ramones hold it on the edge. Rather coolly in fact; they lock in the groove, and don't really modulate at all. No song about gleeful, wanton violence has ever been this controlled.

Joy Division are clenched equally but for an opposite reason - no explosion, no outward aggression, just an impending implosion held in check. The simple keyboard line on "Love Will Tear Us Apart" does double duty, giving guidance to the notes of the chorus Ian Curtis hints at but doesn't reach, and to blunt the attack of the drums. That drum tone is shockingly crisp, a biting cold snapping at your ears.

Neither Tommy Ramone nor Stephen Morris are given much credit in their respective band's critical biographies, though Tommy's replacement Marky has often pointed out the difficulty of replicating Tommy's style. The aural distinctiveness of the time keepers hold both these songs on a razor's edge, and back-to-back listening made me appreciate them both all the more.

Thursday, December 14

Podcast #11

There comes a time
When you heed a certain call:

Tuesday, December 12

Guest Perspective: Year in Music 2006

My readers (you six know who you are) are integral to the "success" of Crackle & Pop. Comments are always appreciated, and the ensuing conversations are most welcome, but occasionally there is something greater than a comment you wish to share, and in that spirit I bring you the first Guest Perspective post.

This commentary comes from my sister Melissa. I asked for her thoughts on the year in music because her perspective is so different from my own. Where I miss the sounds of the forest by listening for the falling of the trees, she has her ears open as she walks leisurely through the woods (and yes, this may be the most tortured metaphor you encounter this week). Hopefully you get the idea, so enough blathering from me.

Melissa's Year in Music 2006

Stupid Music Tricks

- Alice in Chains tries to replace Layne Staley.

- It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp wins an academy award.

- Bon Jovi records a country song and it's successful.

- Taylor Hicks wins American Idol.

- Paris Hilton releases an album.

- Rockstar Supernova.

I'm Bored with You

- Janet Jackson - I don't care how flat your stomach is.

- Fergie - ewwwwwww you are nasty.

- Weird Al - seriously? People still find this amusing?

- My Chemical Romance - black Sergeant Pepper outfits don't make you
cool, they make you look stupid and vapid and ridiculous.

- James Blunt - you're WHINING, not beautiful.

- The Fray - ARGH. Shut up. I would like Grey's Anatomy so much better
without you.

Things that Make Me Happy

- Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera

- KT Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope

- Snow Patrol, Chasing Cars

- Gnarls Barkley, Crazy

- Def Leppard's Greatest Hits - Bought on CD since I no longer have a
tape player in my car. I am driving and singing, once again.

- Barenaked Ladies release their album on a flash drive. Very cool guys!

- Gwen Stefani, Wind it Up - I like the yodeling, so there.

Monday, December 11

Top 6 of 06

The written version, hopefully clearer and more precise than the fevered ramblings on the podcasts. Again, these are not the objective "best" albums of the year, because there are plenty of releases I know are better than my picks. These are just the albums I listened too, obsessed over and thoroughly enjoyed.

Six: Midnight Oil - Flat Chat

One of the reasons I decided on a top six was I wanted to include this album but felt guilty as it isn't a new release. In fact, not only is it a compilation of previously released material, but it is one that didn't come out in the States. Flat Chat isn't a greatest hits (see 20,000 Watt R.S.L. for the tracks you know) - instead it is a collection of the Oils being the buttkickers they mostly were, those hits being cleaner and softer than much of their material. Growing up a friend had a "thing" for Midnight Oil, overpaying for short (though very good) EPs like Bird Noises and Species Deceases - thus exposing me to such great songs as "Progress" and "No Time For Games", both included here. Midnight Oil was always more than their hits, and this album does a great job of exposing that to the uneducated throngs. Since this isn't available domestically, I put together an iMix duplicating the tracklist. At $18, it is probably cheaper than tracking down the import. You should own all the Oils albums, but assuming you don't Flat Chat is not only a great collection but one that will get you hooked and wanting more.

Five: M. Ward - Post-War

First things first - it doesn't grab me like The Transfiguration of Vincent. However, it seems a step forward; Ward's embrace of a solid backing band, guest vocalists and a fuller production sound are a welcome move after the flat blandness of Vincent's unjustly lauded follow-up Transistor Radio. Post-War is front loaded to it's detriment - the first six tracks are, both singly and collectively, better than the last six by a large margin. This sequencing leaves the listener a bit let down, an unfortunate situation that was easily avoided. Given this, it isn't surprising that this is a record made for shuffle. Out of sequence, the sweetness of "Rollercoaster" and the sing-along fun of "Magic Trick" are a chance to breath and smile after the weighted poignancy of "To Go Home" or "Right In The Head". Not a perfect album, but one I return to with much regularity.

Four: Gyptian - Untitled (Reggae by Spliff) mixtape

[Disclaimer: I feel silly - in the podcast, I mentioned I didn't know anything about him, or when anything official was coming out, etc. I just searched on "the Google" and see he released an official album My Name Is Gyptian in September! Not the first nor last time I'll act like a buttmunch, so please be forgiving.]
This young Jamaican singer had an international hit late in 2005 with "Serious Times", an alternate version of which is found on this mixtape. The blend of roots reggae, soft R&B reminiscent of the "Quiet Storm" styles of the eighties, vocoder cheesiness, acoustic guitar earnestness and a flat-out wonderful voice has made this one of my most listened albums of 2006. The fact it doesn't easily fit a single category keeps it interesting - Gyptian is certainly an artist willing to defy market expectations by performing the songs he likes, as opposed to the rigid delineation so prevalent in radio friendly music.

Three: Witch - Witch

A thudding monstrosity of Sabbath-y guitar slinging and tom-tom bludgeoning goodness, the debut album from Witch was my soundtrack to summer driving. A blind buy based on a recommendation from my favorite record store manager, this ode to the joys of old-school riffidge and the cheesy appeal of "black magic" lyrics is as much fun as music can be. Is it artful, or even skillful? Not really. Bands like Mastodon blow them clean out of the water with technique and pretentious reach, but Orthodon (a friend's name for the Blood Mountain-eers, as he says listening to them is as appealing as a trip to the dentist) just don't seem like they're having as much fun as Witch. Sloppy as they may be, it in no way detracts from the pleasure of listening nor the obvious joy the band has in playing. Though it may only be a sideline for these musicians, it is one I hope continues. I always wanted the Bevis Frond to be this fun.

Two: Benoit Pioulard - Précis

I'm unsure sometimes on whether a description does more harm than good, and this is one of those times. Pioulard (the nom de tune of one Thomas Meluch) has created a soundscape around what would, in many other hands, be simple poppy folk songs. But here the wash of distortion, the layers of oscillating sounds, the sublimation of the vocals (and accompanying lyrical clarity) are reminiscent of the shoegazing era of the early nineties. But this isn't a dated sound; in the same way the Moonbabies did a few years ago with The Orange Billboard, Pioulard's Précis evokes more than apes the sounds and precedents of My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins. The ghost of alt-troubadour Elliot Smith is a commonly quoted touchstone in the reviews of Précis, but I think it is a cheaply dismissive one. Every douche with an acoustic guitar gets compared to Smith, and though Pioulard has one track that is arguably Smithian ("Sous la Plage"), it is more due to the fact that Smith in no way ever transcended his influences, so anyone with similar tastes can get painted with that casual smear. I hear more of the ghost of Jeff Buckley, though one who doesn't get trapped by the power of his own voice. Whether Pioulard can sing rings around Saturn is unknown; that Jeff Buckley felt obligated to because he could is well documented. But I do hear an occasional tremolous quality that hint at a Buckley influence. I find myself hypnotized by this album, never wanting it to end and listening all the way through at every listen. In this fragmentary age I can think of no higher compliment.

One: Man Man - Six Demon Bag

The soundtrack to the most fabulously twisted and emotionally charged Punch and Judy show never seen, Six Demon Bag has held off all comers since it's release in February. The gravelly-toned leader Honus Honus and his falsetto voiced multi-instrumentalist companions churn up a sound that is often likened to Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits, but Man Man's sound is one all their own; a blend of gutbucket blues and Weimar cabaret, with a touch of Screamin' Jay Hawkins theatricality and a dash of WTF from Witchiepoo and her H.R. Pufnstuf cohorts. From the manic screams of "Young Einstein on the Beach" (my favorite song title of 2006) to the sadly loving sounds of "Van Helsing Boombox" (with my favorite lyric of the year, beating out Lambchop with "I want to sleep for weeks like a dog at her feet/even though I know it won't work out in the long run"), Man Man's skewed pop - and it really is a pop album - is both inventive and engaging, a combination I found in short supply this year. Man Man reminds me, strangely enough, of the Pogues; incredibly tight (on record; though Man Man is drum tight live as well), gifted musicians, unafraid of a broad range of sounds, far ranging in taste and influence yet forging a sound uniquely their own from that stew. I'm probably - in fact most definitely - making more of them than what is there, but I'll be damned if I've enjoyed an album this much in a very long time.

Excuse Me, Please

Friday, December 8

Podcast #10

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Do click below and be transported to another place - one that may or may not be preferable to jail.

Thursday, December 7

Podcast #9

Wherin I begin to pontificate on those pieces of music I found most enjoyable and noteworthy this fine year. Stay tuned for part Deux and a written version in the coming days.

Click the pic and go there quick.

Wednesday, December 6

Close, But No Cigar

Yet another list - this one of 2006 releases I gave a good deal of listening time and from which I received a good deal of listening pleasure, yet aren't the top of the pile.

Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit. This one may be a victim of circumstances. Released early this year, I listened to this a lot through the early spring. However, I haven't had any great desire to listen to it since then, and when I did break it out again recently I was kind of bored. It is good, but has two failings for me - a little too samey, and not an advance on the leap of Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Highlights for me: "Blues Are Still Blue", "Mornington Crescent".

Bishop Allen - the monthly EPs. The decision to release a mailorder EP a month is both good and bad; an interesting "upping the stakes" on the Wedding Present's singles project from the early 90s, and the resulting boatload of dross with some shiny nuggets in the midst. Once this project finishes up (I expect December will show up at the house in mid-February) I'll address it as a whole. Highlights: "The Monitor", "Central Booking".

Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar. One of the few artists deserving the title "living legend", his latest stands tall in the company of his classic Atlantic recordings. Sometimes delicate and sometimes challenging, the double bass quartet gives such strong support for Ornette's improvisations that he has the freedom to explore and open up the structure of his songs. Highlights: "Song X" (nice counterpoint to the Metheny/Coleman versions from the 80s), "Matador".

Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia. If you take away a few dogs (particularly the weak attempt at a mainstream hit, "Sing"), this would have been a challenger for the top of the heap. A move away from some of the cutesier aspects of their debut (there is no "Coin-Operated Boy" sequel, thank heavens) and the emergence of Brian Viglione's drumming as a more forceful part of their recorded music (his playing live has long been a bigger feature) pays great dividends. Pianist/singer Amanda Palmer is moving past the aping of Weimar-era cabaret and finding her own sound. Highlights: "My Alcoholic Friends", "First Orgasm".

Elvis Perkins - mySpace songs. There used to be a few other tracks on his homepage, but all you need to hear is "Ash Wednesday" - my song of the year, were I to be listing singles. There is definitely a touch of Jeff Mangum/Neutral Milk Hotel in his vocals, but "All The Night Without Love" and it's gypsy swing hint at some less angsty influences. Highlights: I've heard a few tracks not on his mySpace page but the two mentioned here are my favorites.

The Evens - Get Evens. A strong second album, with a bit more Fugazi peaking through the cracks. Ian MacKaye stays on baritone (aka "surf") guitar again, but opens up his sound with greater angularity of attack and with space for drummer Amy Farina to play. The resulting album is more direct than the effuse and relatively subtle debut, and the lyrics match that clarity with more pointed criticism of particular figures as opposed to authority in the abstract. Not surprisingly, the target is mainly Bush and the policies he enacts. I get frustrated with the sometimes too smartsy lyrical style (You fell down/You feel let down), but MacKaye has been doing the same kind of things for 25 years so it ain't gonna change. Highlights: "All You Find You Keep", "You Fell Down".

Kaki King - ...Until We Felt Red. I didn't care for Ms. King's earlier work - virtuoso guitar playing of the thumb slapping/lightning fast picking variety is better in abstract than reality. Here she teams with Tortoise's John McEntire and her sound expands with washes of textural orchestration and even singing (though, to be honest her singing is breathy little wisps that are best ignored as words and appreciated as another sonic layer). Her skillful guitar is still present, just not the only point of the exercise. I appreciate soundscapes; Kaki King and co. have crafted a varied and multi-layered one on this album, but there is a better one this year which keeps this on the outside looking in. Highlights: "You Don't Have To Be Afraid", "Ahuvati".

Lady Sovereign - Public Warning. The fact that I had or had heard 8 of the 13 tracks really made this anticlimactic. Note to Sov - if you are basically releasing a singles compilation for a debut full-length album then include your best song. The absence of "Ch-Ching" is glaring in that light. Though I've heard much of this over the last few years, it still is really well done (except for the laughable back-in-the-day reminiscing of "Those Were The Days". Nothing is more pathetic than the musings of lost youth at the ripe old age of 19). The beats are minimal but moving, and the self-proclaimed "biggest midget in the game" has an engaging style and definite skills. Should have been out a year and a half ago, when it would have been met with greater appreciation. Highlights: "Random", "Public Warning".

Lambchop - Damaged and Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Part II: The Woodwind Years. The Nashville collective 's latest album and their rarities/b-sides compilation are both good for different reasons. The previously unreleased song "The Gettysburg Address" from Decline may be their zenith - "We hold these truths to be self-evident/We drink beer in bars" is one of my favorite couplets of this or any year. On the other hand, Damaged is just that; a document of pain, faith and recovery, inspired in no small part by bandleader/lyricist Kurt Wagner's battle with cancer that included the removal of a part of his jaw and it's replacement with a piece of his hip. Even with that he only makes one joke about his side hurting when he laughs. It is an album to listen to alone and attentive. Highlights: "I Would Have Waited Here All Day", "Prepared [2]".

The Long Winters - Putting The Day To Bed. Part of me loves power pop and good old sing-along rock 'n' roll, but I'll freely admit I'm also a little skewed. The Long Winters seem to approach songwriting with this in mind, as John Roderick has a tendency to add extraneous bits or just draw things out too long and sabotage his little pop gems. On this album he seems to try to rein in those tendencies and it backfires a little. Where 2003s When I Pretend To Fall soars and crashes in equal amounts by throwing in My Bloody Valentine inspired squalls of noise and campy Camper Van Beethoven-esque violin powered hoedowns, 2006 finds Roderick and his current cohorts riffing like Cheap Trick without the knowing camp. I also find it a tiring listen, as it is mastered unbearably high and hot - the waveforms are just a solid block of sound, with all the dynamic range of a brick to the head. Despite all this, the songs are catchy and I've listened over and over - just in the car and not on headphones. Highlights: "Fire Island, AK", "Honest".

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Olé! Tarantula. I've already gone over this ad nauseum, but I really do like it. Repeated listens verify the early impression that it is the best thing he's done in a fair while, and I'm sopping it up like the metaphorical sponge. Highlights: "Museum Of Sex", "Olé! Tarantula".

The Streets - The Hardest Way To Make An Honest Living. I may be the only person to like this album, but I like him whining about how his life is still crappy now that he is famous (at least in the UK) and rich. Instead of tirelessly repeating himself like every other urban artist, he tells stories about what is going on in his life, and is honest about what a prick he can be and how misanthropic as well. It isn't A Grand Don't Come For Free, but it has some good tracks. I wish the beats were a little more varied, but there are some solid ones here, particularly the swing of the title track and the "Let It Be" similarities of "Never Went To Church". Highlights: "The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living", "Can't Con An Honest Jon".

Various - The World Is Gone. I know squat about British dance music, and can't tell dubstep from garage from drum 'n' bass (that might be oversimplifying, but not much). So I'll call this electronic music with acoustic guitars. Strum 'n' bass, perhaps? I like the mix of organic and mechanized sounds; The Notwist album Neon Golden is probably my favorite of this decade, and I've championed Lamb to all who would listen. This reminds me of the latter band, and were I to find out any of the principles from Lamb were involved in this project I wouldn't be surprised. The album leaps from the hard, clinically sterile electronics of opener "Thunnk" to the soft acoustic guitar of "Circle of Sorrow" and it's Beth Orton like vocals. Flipping around throughout that broad spectrum, The World Is Gone is an entertaining and engaging listen. It won't supplant Lamb's What Sound from it's place as my goto acoustolectricstravaganza (I sometimes wish all I did was make up faux Parliament song titles), but I do enjoy listening. Highlights: "Lost", "Sir".

Monday, December 4

Discoveries (Old, New & Overlooked)

2006 has been a strange year. Music has re-centered my life in a big, big way - primarily because of high-speed internet becoming affordable in the backwoods I call home. The internet has bloated my music collection to such an extent I almost feel it necessary to step away and absorb for a while. The dearth of anything on the horizon I even feel like giving half a listen to will help ease that feeling. As the year winds its way down, I wanted to make some notes of things I "discovered" this year, from both the magical, mystery nodes of the 'net and from getting my greedy mitts on some back catalog I've unjustly ignored.

AC/DC - Angus Cha Cha. Already brought this up, so suffice it to say I still think it is stellar.

Adam & The Ants - Antbox. This collection of rarities, demos, hits and b-sides was chosen by the Antman himself, and released overseas back in 2000. I found it for a good price and picked it up. It only reinforced my impression that he is one of, if not the, most overlooked artists of the punk/new wave era. Three cds of pure genius (even his filler is killer).

The Beatles - Alternative Sgt. Pepper. A bootleg comprised of outtakes, demos and related pieces, with audio culled from the Anthology dvds and other sources where George Martin, Paul McCartney and others discuss the evolution of the songs and the recording process itself. I'm not a big Sgt. Pepper fan, but hearing the process of making such a seminal recording is incredibly interesting for a music geek like myself.

Billy Bragg - Live in Hamburg (radio broadcast). A download available from, wherein the loquacious Billy pontificates on the Mermaid Avenue project instead of blathering on about Billy himself. I saw him once on a double bill with Robyn Hitchcock and he talked for ten minutes on either side of each song he played, with such witty remarks as calling Oasis "Osmosis" and that he bathes his son with pride. The focus on Woody Guthrie really helps, for Woody was actually interesting, unlike ol' Billy.

Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks (N.Y. Sessions), Folksinger's Choice, and Thin Wild Mercury Music. I have accumulated too much Dylan, but these three are outstanding. The N.Y. Sessions are the original recordings, before he found them too spartan and re-recorded with a fuller arrangement. They deserve a legitimate release. The Folksinger's Choice is an early radio performance, with wonderful question and answer pieces with the host and some killer versions of songs like "Death of Emmit Till." Thin Wild Mercury Music covers 1965 & 66, with Dylan going electric. As those first two electric albums are my favorites this is near Grail-like for me. More information on these and thousands of other Dylan bootlegs is available at Bob's Boots.

David Bowie - 50 Dead Dogs. A bootleg of his star-studded fiftieth birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in 97. Great sound, and the Foo Fighters really kick up a proper bombastic racket on "Hallo Spaceboy."

Faces - Wicked Messenger. More from the bootleg parade! A collection of 1970 radio performances, wherein these drunken boys prove their worth. I don't much care for their studio albums, but every live recording has blown me away.

Fugazi - The Argument. I somehow missed this upon it's release in 2001. Picking it up this year I was flat-out stunned. If it came out this year it would most likely be my top pick. Instantly vaulted to the top of their catalog. I eagerly await the follow-up (I can hope can't I?).

Little Feat - Live at Ultrasonic Studios (73 & 74). Two more from Little Feat has always had a generous taper policy and an active and inviting tape-trading community. These two radio performances are better than their entire studio output. So what are you waiting for? Ultrasonic 73, and the next years return engagement.

Neil Young - Time Fades Away & Going Back To Canada. The first is the lost Neil Young - an official live album from 73 that has yet to be released on cd. It is really good, and interesting as a follow to the commercial high of Harvest. Touring on that album and assaulting the audience with these ragged, rocking new songs must have been an experience. Somehow big and extremely personal, Time Fades Away is a powerful work. On the opposite end of the spectrum of scale and sound is Going Back To Canada, a 1971 concert recording from Toronto. A nervous Neil prefaces new songs with a humility and warmth the bristly Young is not known for. Worth tracking down.

Pogues - all them reissues. They sound great, and I touched on them in the AC/DC writeup linked above.

Prince - Dream Factory. Another boot, this one an early draft of Sign 'O' The Times. This has some tracks recorded before the breakup of The Revolution, and Wendy & Lisa's influence looms large. I think I may like it more than the final version, as it doesn't contain "Housequake" or "Hot Thing", and Prince - though heir to the Godfather he may be - doesn't do a good James Brown. This is in some ways the culmination of the explorations of Around The World In A Day and Parade, whereas Sign 'O' The Times is more of a crossroads, and after hearing this sounds more of a hodge-podge than the amalgam of past and future Prince it seems.

Q-Tip - Kamaal The Abstract. This is an unreleased album from 2002, and I'll be damned if I'll ever understand why this was shelved. It may not have been a great commercial album, but it is outstanding! It is an even greater homage to the jazzy soul of the 70s and early 80s than even the Tribe's great The Low End Theory. To these ears it is the apotheosis of the neo-soul sound, an album that stands high above heads of the D'Angelos and Bilals of the world. Q-Tip melds hip-hop and soul into an organic other - not just a different beat, a different thing.

Sly & The Family Stone - Live at the Fillmore East. Another shelved recording, this time scheduled for a 2003 release. Live at the Fillmore East is a recording of both shows from October 5, 1968. Sly and co. were at the top of their powers, a grooving, jamming monster of a band. The recording suffers from some hot vocals, which may have led the perfectionist Sly to nix the release. That's a shame, as this recording is the hotness.

Talking Heads - Live on Tour. A promotional vinyl recording from 1979, this is the Heads before the big suits and the bigger band, when they were a rock band not a world music traveling extravaganza. Nice compliment to Rhino records deluxe reissue The Name of This Band is Talking Heads. I liked them as punky white funksters more than as a Fela Kuti/Roxy Music world/art/pretentious hybrid.

Velvet Underground - Live at End Cole Ave. Part of this show is chronicled on 1969: Velvet Underground Live; this is the whole damn thing. Though the legend of the Velvets may have overshadowed the music, some of it was outstanding. Though the studio albums are great, some of the live recordings (like this one and The Quine Tapes) blow them out of the water like so much flotsam and jetsam.