Saturday, December 22, 2012
2012 has been a long and grueling year and, for the most part, I'll be happy to see the back of it. On the positive side, there has been a ton of great music coming from all over the globe. This year my list of fav'rits features entries from Mali and Manchester, Perth and Portland, New York, New Zealand, Sweden, South Africa, and points elsewhere. So here 'tis, my 40 faves with few words about the top finishers...
1. Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral (4AD)
See my prior review. I know most of the year this would end up in this spot.
2. Patti Smith - Banga (Columbia)
May be her best album in 30+ years.
3. Tame Impala - Lonerism (Modular)
Antipodean retro-psych deliciousness, part 1. Occupied the stereo at work for months.
4. WhoMadeWho - Brighter (Kompakt)
Arty, Scandinavian, crooner-faced synth rock of the highest order
5. Menomena - Moms (Barsuk)
Portland's indie art-rock kings keep getting better. Their best and most accessible rekkid to date.
6. Toy - s/t (Heavenly)
Horrors-approved, spacey, psychedelic, shoe-gazey, kraut-rocky, atmospheric taste sensation.
7. Metric - Synthetica (Mom + Pop)
Their best in years. Somehow manages to be epic and intimate at the same time.
8. David Byrne & St Vincent - Love this Giant (4AD)
Horn-driven, cross-generational meeting of the art-rock minds. Fabulous.
9. Pond - Beard, Wives, Denim (Modular)
Antipodean retro-psych deliciousness, part 2. Perth, Western Australia is on fire.
10. Violens - True (Slumber Land)
Gorgeous synth and guitar dreamscape.
11. Barry Adamson - I Will Set You Free (Central Control)
12. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
13. Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides (Matador)
14. Amadou & Mariam - Folila (Nonesuch)
15. Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
16. Madness - Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da (Cooking Vinyl)
17. Jah Wobble & Keith Levene - Yin & Yang (Cherry Red)
18. Neneh Cherry & the Thing - The Cherry Thing (Smalltown)
19. Crocodiles - Endless Flowers (Frenchkiss)
20. The Time and Space Machine - Taste the Lazer (Trik)
21. Paul Weller - Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
22. Gary Clark Jr - Blak and Blu (Warner Bros.)
23. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar (Wichita)
24. thenewno2 - The Fear of Missing Out (Hot)
25. Spoek Mathambo - Father Creeper (Sub Pop)
26. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Meat and Bone (Mom + Pop)
27. Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth (UMe)
28. Graham Coxon - A+E (Parlophone)
29. Rocket Juice & the Moon - s/t (Honest Jon's)
30. Allah-Las - s/t (Innovative Leisure)
31. Magazine - No Thyself (Wire-Sound)
32. The Jim Jones Revue - The Savage Heart (Play it again Sam)
33. The Bats - Free All the Monsters (Flying Nun)
34. Laetitia Sadier - Silencio (Drag City)
35. Public Image Ltd - This is PiL (PiL)
36. The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Throw it to the Universe (Yep Roc)
37. Norah Jones - ...Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note)
38. The Raveonettes - Observator (Vice)
39. Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs - Long Distance (Transdreamer)
40. Cat Power - Sun (Matador)
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Oy. It's been a while. I simply must do a better job of updating this damned thing. Oh well. Here is a look at some of the releases that haunted my mind and my speakers over the first six months of the year...
1. Mark Lanegan Band Blues Funeral (4AD)
I've already written extensively about this dark and beautiful bit of wonderment, so I won't dedicate much space to it here. Suffice it to say that it charged immediately to the top of this list upon it's release way back in February and, while other releases have been pretty fantastic, nothing has yet risen to take its place. The finest work of Lanegan's long and illustrious career.
2. Patti Smith Banga (Columbia)
There is always a certain level of quality to any Patti Smith release, and while the work she has produced thus far has been very good, there hadn't been a truly great album from the matriarch of punk since the mourning and elegiac dyad of Gone Again (1996) and Peace and Noise (1997). With Banga, Smith has not only returned to top form, she may well have produced her finest work since 1978's Easter. Where other recent works have been somewhat uneven, and at times a bit too self-conscious and/or didactic, this album finds her doing what she does best, and doing it at her best. That is, combining her gifts for language and impassioned musical expression to create great rock art.
Banga finds Patti expressing herself at the highest level. Inspired by her journeys through life and around the world over the past few years, it is a fabulous musical travelogue carrying the listener along with her on her paths through both the external, physical world, and the internal landscape of her soul and conscience. By turns somber, contemplative, commemorative, relaxed, raucous, and joyous, it is on the whole a celebratory experience, even in its darkest passages. Highlights include her homage to my favorite filmmaker, 'Tarkovsky"; memorial odes to the recently fallen Amy Winehouse "This Is the Girl" and Maria Schneider "Maria"; tone poems "Fuji-san" and "Mosaic"; and the title track's frenetic celebration of our canine brethren.
Like so many truly great albums, this rekkid saves it's best for last. The penultimate track, "Constantine" is a 10+ minute poetic and sonic dreamscape adventure which takes the listener from the crusades through the Renaissance to Columbus and ultimately back to Patti herself, all the while examining the nature of art, adventure, exploration, power, ambition, and the effects of all of these on the human soul. "Constantine" stands proudly aside any of the best tracks she has ever released. The album closes with a beautiful and faithful rendition of Neil Young's gorgeous environmental piece "After the Gold Rush", with the compelling twist of passing it on to the next generation as Patti's voice fades out and the plaintive closing verse, "look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century" is taken up by a chorus of young children. Another masterwork from a master of her craft.
(Purchasing note: I highly recommend the "Special Edition" of this CD, which comes in hardcover book form, featuring art and photos of and by the artist; Patti's story of her travels and the writing and recording of the rekkid; plus the tasty bonus track "Just Kids")
3. WhoMadeWho Brighter (Kompakt)
Electro-infused art pop really does not get much better than the latest release from Copenhagen's own WhoMadeWho. These precocious young Scandoids create a music is electronic and intellectual without losing it's humanity; hook-driven and infectious without sacrificing artistic integrity. Check out the videos above for the proof in the pudding. Filled with some of the most delicious electronic pops and skronks outside of Sweden's the Knife/Fever Ray, and fueled by the voice of singer Tomas Hoffding, who could compete (but likely not win) with Ferry and Bowie in a crooner-face delivery contest, and possesses a creepy falsetto which evokes a Scandinavian-electro Joshua Homme. This rekkid has infected my mind, and the standout track "The Running Man" (again, see the above video), is one of my favorite tracks of the year.
4. Violens True (Violens)
This has been in heavy, heavy rotation in my workplace since before its official release. Indeed it may top my friend, co-worker, and fellow music geek blogger at Silence Is a Rhythm Too's best of 2012 list. This heaping helping of spacey, ethereal, psychedelic synth pop will, if given the chance, invade your psyche like a sleek, silky, and silvery earworm and not let go. Glossy and shimmering throughout, eerie and even downright evil in spots. Peppered with chiming, ringing, clean and reverberating guitar. It's a knockout.
5. Amadou & Mariam Folila (Nonesuch)
The latest delightful outing from Mali's finest duo is a delicious stew with an Afro-beat base accentuated by chunks of indie rock, hip-hop, and American dance pop. Some have complained that the copious guest appearances have diluted their sound here, particularly leaving Mariam a bit lost in the shuffle. That is as may be, but it does not change the fact that this is a tremendously entertaining rekkid. While the disco feel added by the presence of Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears on "Metemya" seems striking on paper, the truth is that it works. Guest spots by Santigold "Dougou Badia" and Theophilus London "Nebe Miri" give a nice contemporary feel, while the appearance of Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio on "Wily Kataso" seems perfectly natural. On an academic level I understand purists' objections, but I prefer to judge this work on its own merits, and the truth is that it is pretty damned good.
6. Sharon Van Etten Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
Haunting and compelling folky indie rock from one of the finest young voices in her field. Recommended to me by one of my colleagues at the Electric Fetus, who handed me a promo 7" and said "It's knd of a Patti meets PJ" kind of thing. Slightly more consonant and less aggressive of voice that Patti or PJ (actually, if you throw Chan Marshall into that mix, you're almost there), Van Etten is certainly a solo voice to be reckoned with, and this rekkid is another which has thoroughly imprinted itself on my brain. I've caught myself unconsciously whistling portions of "Give Out" for months now.
7. Metric Synthetica (Mom + Pop)
A perfect companion to 2009's Fantasies, though my reaction upon first listening to it was that it sounded a bit too much like its predecessor. Time and repeated listens have shaken me of that illusion. If anything, I find that it is an expansion on, and superior to the prior outing. It is somehow just as vast and heavy in sound, but more playful and fun. While I don't know that Canada's finest (sorry Arcade Fire, I'm just not quite feeling the intensely earnest thing anymore) will ever top their 2003 breakout Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? in my heart, this is probably their best work since.
8. Bobby Womack The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
A couple of years ago, Damon Albarn pried R&B legend Bobby Womack out of retirement to appear on a Gorillaz album, and it was one of the best among many great things that Albarn has done. Now the two of them have collaborated to create one of the best rekkids of the year. While the Albarn touches are there, it is Womack and his distinctive, yearning voice that star here. This is the sound of a nearly lost legend of the 70s shining brightly in a 21st century setting.
9. Pond Beard, Wives, Denim (Modular)
I'm not entirely sure whether the remote city of Perth, Western Australia is on the cutting edge of new psychedelic rock, or if the real issue is that Perth is so isolated that the early 70s just got there. Either way, Pond and their cohorts Tame Impala (along with Sweden's Dungen) are producing some of the most delicious acid rock anywhere right now. This rekkid sounds like the greatest lost album of 1972. There are a lot of things I love about "psychedelic rock", and other things I don't (aka jam bands, DeadPhishMatthewsBand, you know the drill). Pond embody most of the things I love. More fun than a wallaby in a chicken suit.
10. Lee Ranaldo Between the Times and the Tides (Matador)
The George Harrison of Sonic Youth steps away from that embattled scene and goes solo, and we are all the better for it. If there is any knock on this rekkid it is that it sounds too old school 90s indie rock. I don't find that a problem, as it sounds as good or better that nearly every album of that age, and on a nostalgic level, every time I hear it all I can think of is sitting on the back porch of a duplex by Riverside Park in Minneapolis, drinking super cheap local beer, and relaxing in the evening sun.
If you haven't yet heard about Spoek Mathambo, he is a super-weird hip-hop/indie rock/kitchen sink artist from South Africa. As far as I am concerned, that last sentence should be enough to get you interested. Moody, arty, rocking, creepy, and everywhere in between, this rekkid is a strange force of nature. Difficult to describe but ultimately quite rewarding. Check it out.
12. First Aid Kit The Lion's Roar (Wichita)
And the award for best new alt-country act goes to... two sisters from Sweden. That's right kids, I don't know what the buzz is like in your neck of the woods, but around these parts people are going nuts. I saw them opening for Lykke Li a couple of months before this rekkid dropped, next thing I know they're selling out the Cedar Cultural Center. My dream is to see them on a double bill and or collaboration with Neko Case. Great stuff.
13. Paul Weller Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
The modfather strikes again. Still going strong after three-and-a-half decades, his third great rekkid on a row is as electric as its cover. Plus he's now being boosted by young Tour de France and gold medal winning uber-mod Bradley Wiggins. Still super cool and culturally relevant (at least in blighty) after all these years.
14. Barry Adamson I Will Set You Free (Central Control)
Ah yes. Barry Adamson. File under: People who are cooler when they're on the toilet than I am at my most shining moment of groovyossitude. Not his finest rekkid by any stretch, still a solid, swaggering chunk of raw hep. "Destination" is like the greatest early 80s Iggy track you never heard, and is near the top of my list of best songs of 2012.
Easily TSoOL's best rekkid since their first three, which I grant you isn't saying a lot, as those first three are brilliant and the last two are... um... not. Okay, that's not a ringing endorsement, but this is closer to the glory days than the doldrums. Where Communion was bloated, and the then-highly-anticipated Origin Vol. 1 was downright boring, Throw It to the Universe is considerably more focused and concise. A tasty hunk of classic progressive rawk, showcasing their trademark homages to the past.
Friday, May 25, 2012
It seems that live music schedules in the Twin Cities are forever feast or famine (such is life in a medium-sized music market, I guess). As a result, I recently found myself with tickets for three shows in the course of seven days. A hectic schedule of a type I hadn't experienced in several years which, given my age and early work schedule, took it's toll on both body and mind. As it happens, each of the shows were in quite different venues, each providing largely positive, if vastly different concert-going experiences...
Night one: St Vincent with openers Shearwater, First Avenue Mainroom, Saturday, May 12, 2012
Having been to at least a hundred shows at First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry over the past 25 years, it seems only natural that I would come to take the venue for granted, and until recently, this was indeed the case. Twin Cities outsiders would often laud it as a great venue, but I mostly took those compliments with a grain or two of salt, as so many people seemed to be influenced by the "Prince factor" (you'd be amazed by the number of people who come to Minneapolis who think that Prince literally owns First Avenue). Repeated encounters with the often surly staff and haughty VIPs led my friends and I to rechristen it "Forced Attitude". Only recently have I come to understand that First Ave is actually one of the great club venues, and on Saturday, May 12th, 2012 I fell in love with the place all over again.
We arrived relatively early to claim our favorite spot right behind the sound desk. We used to arrive extra early in order to grab seats in the balcony in the days before First Ave realized that they could make those reserve seats and charge a massive premium for them. As my wife and I are getting too old to go sloshing around in the pit, and given that we are both of rather hobbit-ish height, this spot, behind and up two steps from the controls is ideal. Shortly (no pun intended) after we staked out our territory, one of the First Ave sound guys, who proudly announced that he'd been working there for over 30 years, turned to us and told us that we had the best spot in the room and that we were in for a treat, as First Ave had just installed a fabulous new gajillion-watt sound system (he didn't say "gajillion" but I can't rightly recall the exact figure. Suffice it to say it was impressive).
I must firmly attest that the crusty old hipster sound dude was not lying. Shearwater, to whom I had listened on Spotify (note to self: do not judge a band by how they sound on Spotify with crappy laptop speakers) and thought were "okay, but the singer's voice is a bit too Bunny-Bear-ish", came on and sounded quite fantastic indeed. As I marveled at the Mainroom's new and striking combination of both volume and clarity, I grew ever more anxious to hear what St Vincent was going to sound like. They did not disappoint. Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) put on one of the best shows I've seen in ages. Highlighted by the out of this world, stumbling backward, android-mannequin dance she would do whenever she broke into one of her signature guitar freak-outs; her killer backing band; her ever-improving and already stellar cover of the Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" (though I doubt most of the crowd could identify the original); and topped by the most exciting front-person crowd surfing I've seen since Iggy Pop.
Several recent remodeling tweaks (notably moving of the stage-left stairway, which blocked sight lines from the right side of the audience) along with the fabulous new gajillion-watt sound system, have made First Avenue better than ever. I am looking forward with greater anticipation than ever to my next opportunity (whatever it may be) to attend a show at First Avenue. On one night in may, at least to my mind, the Mainroom at First Avenue firmly re-established itself as the premiere venue for a big rock show in the Twin Cities.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
(Arriving at the Electric Fetus. 6:45 a.m. April 21st, 2012)
Once again we have arrived at the holiest day on my personal calendar: Record Store Day. As always for the most pious devotees of the faith, this day is somewhat of a trial by fire. Or rather, given my particular habitat, a trial by clammy, 40 degree chillyness. Keeping to the true faith requires sacrifice. Lost sleep; tedious extended meditations in the brisk early morning air... "Why am I here?"; "What does it all mean?"; "Is there really any meaning to it all?"; "Is it really all worth it?"; "Why am I not in bed?"
Once again this year, despite all of my doubts and fears, I have found that clinging to the purer faith has yielded great fruit. And I am better for my perseverance. Here then is a brief chronicle of my personal journey on this, the highest of music geek holidays...
6:00 a.m. - Scrape myself out of bed. Shower. Shove cold pizza down my waking gullet.
6:45 a.m. - I arrive at the Electric Fetus to find that the line has already extended around the corner off of 4th avenue onto Franklin. I begin to curse the Record Store Day Gods; somehow I arrived half an hour earlier than last year, but find myself twice as far back in line. This can't be good. Perhaps next year I'll have to bag it. Much internal fuming commences as I put my earbuds in and try to kill the time with the Mighty Boosh.
7:30 - The Dunn Bros. people have come by with coffee and pastries. Truly they are saints in the Record Store Day canon.
8:10 a.m. - The line suddenly and unexpectedly begins to move. I soon find myself on the 4th avenue side wondering how I got here. Did they somehow decide out of some sense of mercy to open early?
8:15 a.m. - A Fetus minion arrives handing out numbers for entry into the exclusive, limited edition vinyl corner. Apparently the reason for the line movement was that many people ahead of me, having received their all important numbers, decided to bide their time in the relative warmth of their cars, secure in the knowledge that their numbers will grant them appropriate chronological access once the store opens at 9 a.m. Meanwhile, my number turns out to be 68, considerably better than I had expected given my original position around the corner. In addition, while it has had no change whatsoever on my fate, the fact that the line movement has moved me to the front side of the building has had a remarkably positive effect on my mood. Between that and my unexpectedly low number, I find my spirits buoyed and renewed.
8:30 a.m. - The Dunn Bros. coffee man is back, bless his soul. Note to self: Pocket cups.
8:35 a.m. - Two Fetus minions come by asking if we have any questions. I ask how many copies they have of the #1 title on my list. I am informed that they "only had like three copies, and one of them was given to a radio promo winner". I tell them that radio promo winners can suck it. Spirits newly diminished, but not crushed. I remain faithful that much of my wish list will be available.
8:40 a.m. - Two spots ahead of me in line, a young man in a Misfits shirt whose stated goal is to get the exclusive Misfits and The Refused rekkids approaches his leather-clad female companion, and grasping both her hand in his says, "I really want to see 'The Cabin in the Woods' with you" in a manner which suggests that this is the highest romantic proposal he could possibly make. Ahhh... young geek love.
8:45 - The two uber-geek hipster girls in front of me have been sharing an mp3 player by splitting one set of earbuds. I have already stowed away my iPod. If I have to hear this girl say "This is my jam!" one more time, I may have to kill everybody in line.
9:00 a.m. - The Electric Fetus finally opens its hallowed doors and lets the rabble in. Thus begins the warm, yet claustrophobic indoor portion of the Record Store Day waiting game. Oh well, might as well do some CD shopping while I'm waiting.
9:15 a.m. - I can't go into details here. The who, why, and how of it must remain as secret as possible. In fact, just mentioning this here could be problematic. Let me put it this way... I got the hook-up. It's going to be a very good Record Store Day.
10:10 a.m. - My number is finally up, and I am invited into the exclusive region to select my 10 items. Somehow nearly everything on my wish list is still here (a Record Store Day miracle!), however, sticker shock sets in when I see the price tags on several items. I choose to ignore it and push through the pain. It's Record Store Day; the holiest day on the calendar. Let's just call this "tithing".
Electric Fetus RSD scores:
Lee "Scratch" Perry/ the Upsetters - "Blackboard Jungle Dub" (3x10'' box set on red, gold, and green vinyl)
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (2xLP with custom covers on colored vinyl)
T. Rex - "Electric Warrior" (6x7" box set)
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band "Diddy Wah Diddy" (2x7")
Arctic Monkeys "R U Mine" (7" on purple vinyl)
The Black Keys "El Camino" (2x12" 45 with bonus 7" & CD, numbered edition: 2099 of 6000)
The White Stripes "Hand Springs" (7" on colored vinyl)
Paul Weller "That Dangerous Age" (7" on red vinyl)
St. Vincent "Krokodil" (7" on red vinyl)
Mike Watt & the Missingmen/ The Chuck Dukowski Sextet (Split 7")
10:30 a.m. - Call the mrs for a ride, head to the Electric Fetus parking lot to get a "Natedog" with caramelized onions and Surly Furious mustard.
10:45 a.m. - My chariot arrives (chariot... bag lady car? It's a thin line). Time to go home and return the Dunn Bros. gifts to the Mississippi.
11:45 a.m. - Time to head out to Hymie's Vintage Records' block party and survey the scene.
Noon - Arrive in the drizzle to find Hymie's hopping despite the weather. Live music outside in the street and inside the store. The move and subsequent revitalization of Hymie's is a great boon to the neighborhood and the city. Shopping the narrow and crowded aisles, I find myself faced with my usual Hymie's conundrum: Every time I go to Hymie's I set myself a spending limit; every time I end up spending nearly double that amount. Oh well. Once again, let's call it "tithing".
12:30 p.m. - Checking out at Hymie's I am once again astounded at one of the owner's frightening ability to manually enter prices into a cash-register at a pace that would make a hummingbird say, "damn, that's fast!" She is clearly a blessed saint of Record Store Day.
12:32 p.m. - I've spent too damned much money, but I couldn't be happier with the situation. The rain's become a bit much. Time to let the mrs have a go in the bouncy castle in the Ace parking lot, then it's home again home again to bask in the majestic presence of the holy spoils of Record Store Day.
Hymie's Vintage Records scores:
Peter Tosh "Legalize It" (10" picture disc with remixes)
Afrika Bambaataa/ MC5 "Kick Out the Jams" (split 7" on colored vinyl)
Joe Jackson "Look Sharp" (2x10" 45)
Elvis Costello "Veronica" (7")
Grace Jones "Fame" (LP)
Grace Jones "Slave to the Rhythm" (12" single)
Los Lobos "And a Time to Dance..." (LP)
Modern English "Ricochet Days" (LP)
Radio 4 "The New Song and Dance" (LP)
Patti Smith Group "Radio Ethiopia" (LP - one of my favorite rekkids EVER)
All told; a fabulous holiday. Kinda like xmas, but you buy your own presents.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The first magnificent release of Spring 2012 is Amadou & Mariam's Folila. The presence of a massive cast of guests (Tunde Adebimpe & Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, Jake Shears, Theophilus London, etc.) on this rekkid end up only being the frosting on a fabulously produced and realized gem from one of West Africa's legendary acts. Amadou & Mariam are on top form here, with or without Western celebrity guests. Not to diminish the guest appearances, but this is fantastic all around. Easily a fixture on my 2012 best of...
Thursday, April 5, 2012
The year is young, and while the harvest of great music thus far is not quite so bountiful as the first three months, there have been a number of standout releases that have wormed their way into my psyche. Here is a quick look at my fav'rits, as well a few remarkable 2011 releases which I discovered too late for them to make my year end list.
1. Mark Lanegan Band Blues Funeral (4AD)
I gushed unabashedly and at length about this rekkid in my last post, so I'll say no more about it here except that it is holding its position nicely as my frontrunner for rekkid of the year,
2, Sharon Van Etten Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
One of my people at the Electric Fetus pitched this rekkid to me as a "sort of Patti meets PJ thing". While both of those influences are definitely present, there is also a heavy dose of ethereal indie folk/Americana a la Cat Power, Wye Oak and the National (the last two being no coincidence, as the National's Aaron Dessner produced and plays on the album, and Wye Oak's Jenn Wassner sings on "Serpents"). Reminiscent of Feist's Metals in its compelling and deceptively simple use of space and dynamics. I keep finding new things to love every time I listen.
3. Lee Ranaldo Between the Times and the Tides (Matador)
A superb solo outing from Sonic Youth's "other guitarist/somgwriter". Ranaldo has always been a bit like George Harrison to Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon's Lennon-McCartney; he only gets a few songs per album, but they always stand out. Between the Time and the Tides is a bit more accessible than a Sonic Youth rekkid, but with Nels Cline joining Ranaldo, it is a guitar festival nonetheless. Songs filled with time, memory and longing which leave me pining for those days spent drinking bad beer in the sun with my roommates on the back steps of a Riverside Park duplex.
4. Rocket Juice & the Moon s/t (Honest Jon's)
Here's the pedigree: Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, the Good the Bad and the Queen, etc.) on Keyboards, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on bass, Tony Allen (Fela Kuti, afro-beat pioneering god) on drums. Any questions? Throw in guest appearances by Erykah Badu, Fatou Diawara, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and more, and you get an improvisational afro-beat party and everyone is invited.
5. Paul Weller Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
The third installment in the Modfather's cycle of art-rock rekkids that began with 2005's 22 Dreams and continued with 2008's Wake Up the Nation, Sonik Kicks continue the anything goes tradition of its predecessors, moving easily between m.o.r. Brit-pop, mod-ish rhythm and blues, dub, psych, whatever Weller feels like. The Modfather does what the Modfather wants, dammit. Another great rekkid from a British icon who is sadly all too overlooked in the colonies.
6. First Aid Kit The Lion's Roar (Wichita)
I first tumbled on these two hippie-riffic sisters when they opened for Lykke Li last year at First Avenue. I was quite impressed with their Mama's sans Papa's vibe. Apparently I wasn't the only one so impressed, as the title track and their shout-out to the great country couples "Emmylou" have become ubiquitous on local alternative public radio. Leave it to a pair of Swedish sisters to create the best alt-country album since Neko Case's Middle Cyclone.
7. Barry Adamson I Will Set You Free (Central Control)
Is there anyone cooler on the planet than Bazza? It's possible I suppose. His latest is more pop-song than menacing grumble, but is still a high quality rekkid. See the above video for evidence of the man's sheer unbridled hipness, and enjoy the track that sounds like my long-awaited sequel to Iggy's "Run Like a Villain".
8. Bombay Bicycle Club A Different Kind of Fix (A&M)
A delightful salvo from these adventurous indie Brits. Begins with the big, swelling psychedelia of "How Can You Swallow so Much Sleep" and ends with the best, brooding song that Radiohead never wrote "Still", and hits nearly every modern British indie touchstone in between.
9. Kaiser Chiefs Start the Revolution without Me (Fiction)
Leeds' practitioners in the Brit-pop firm of Madness, Blur, and XTC put songs online and polled their fans as to their faves. The Result is the band's best rekkid since their debut.
10. Pond Beard, Wives, Denim (Modular)
I actually do not yet own a copy of this rekkid (a situation which shall be remedied at my earliest convenience), which is why it is at the bottom of this list. It may well move up in time. A like-minded co-worker has been playing it in the office lately and we're both smitten. A heaping helping of acid rawk from two of the kids in Tame Impala and some of their Western Australia cohorts. Good on ya, mates!
Five rekkids that could have cracked my Best of 2011 list had I heard them in time:
1. Unknown Mortal Orchestra s/t (Fat Possum)
This colossal chunk of psychedelia would have made my top five. Delicious Zappa-esque nasal guitar lines and crazy Beefheartian rhythms and structures combine with production that recalls Lee "Scratch" Perry's transmission-from-outer-space Super Ape-era sound. Fan-freakin'-tastic!
2. Lulu Gainsbourg From Gainsbourg to Lulu (Fontana)
Tribute albums are usually hit-and-miss affairs, rarely sustaining any level of quality throughout. Not so this project from the mighty Serge's son Lucien Gainsbourg, Jr. aka Lulu. A magnificently consistent collection of covers of late 20th century France's greatest poet/provacateur/dirty old man's songs, highlighted by Marianne Faithful on "Manon", Lulu and Scarlett Johansson on "Bonnie and Clyde", Rufus Wainwright on "Je Suis Venu Te Dire que Je m'en Vais", Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp on "Ballade de Melody Nelson". Iggy Pop on "Initials BB", and much more. Delicieux!
3. Anna Calvi s/t (Domino)
Patti meets Siouxsie with fantastic electro-reverb flamenco-Morricone guitar chops. A fabulous listen which gets more fabulous with each successive listen.
4. Boom Bip Zig Zaj (Lex)
I am on record as not being a huge techno/electronica fan, but there are certain artists that lure me into that section of the rekkid store on a regular basis. Boom Bip is one such artist, and Zig Zaj is one of the most fabulous rekkids I've yet heard from the electronic camp. Aided by guest spots from Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, Cate LeBon, and Money Mark, this is one of the best rekkids I never heard in 2011.
5. tUnE-yArDs Whokill (4AD)
Another co-worker of mine kept insisting that this was a great rekkid. I listened to part of it on Spotify on crappy laptop speakers and went "Meh". Then I saw them on Kimmel and understood. tUnE-yArDs' mastermind Merrill Garbus is rapidly becoming her generation's David Byrne.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
A low, portentous, throbbing, tachycardic electronic pulse hits you in the chest, and before you know it space is rent in twain by that familiar, fearsome baritone... "With piranha teeth I've been dreaming of you".
So begins "The Gravedigger's Song", the opening salvo from The Mark Lanegan Band's positively Earth-scorching new album Blues Funeral. I listened to it beginning to end twice on the evening of its release and was reduced to a quivering puddle of goo by night's end. It is one of the finest rekkids of the young decade. It is arguably the best work of Lanegan's stellar career. It is easily my early front-runner for best album of 2012. It is therefore, of course, my new fav'rit rekkid.
I really can't get over how instantly enamored of this rekkid I've become. I've been a big supporter of Lanegan for some time. The Screaming Trees were one of the few grunge bands for whom I ever had any real time; his previous solo efforts are all fabulous; the Sinatra/Hazlewood-esque duet albums with Isobel Campbell are inspired; he has lent his stunning whiskey-on-the-literal-gravel-rocks to many collaborations (Mojo just aptly described him as "the go-to guy for subterranean menace") over the years with consistently delicious effect; but I really feel that this is his finest work.
For a man so indelibly "American" (indeed, the overwhelming undercurrent here is hard desert doomsday rawk filtered through the pure soil of blues and Americana), it is remarkable the way Lanegan weaves his European influences into his sound. Tracks like "Gray Goes Black", "Ode to Sad Disco" and closer "Tiny Grain of Truth" all evince his love of Euro-electronica, Krautrock, and the darker side of 80's British synth-pop (but for Lanegan's voice, "Gray Goes Black" could be a long lost New Order track), all while never losing that distinctly Western (emphasis on West) Lanegan feel.
The album as a whole is comprised of a rich - albeit dark (what? you were expecting "Shiny Happy People?") - tapestry of textures. Compelling dirges and post-modern blues ("Bleeding Muddy Waters", "Deep Black Vanishing Train") mesh seamlessly with driving rockers ("Quiver Syndrome", "Riot in My House") as well as the aforementioned electro-clad art-rockers. The lush array of textures on display within each track is even more astounding. Layers of guitar, subtle smatterings of creepy keys, and trickles and waves of acoustic and electronic percussion abound throughout the rekkid. "Phantasmagoria Blues" is a bubbling and swirling... well... phantasmagoria of sonic texture. The vertiginous whirlwind canon of backing vocals that engulfs Lanegan's lead at the end of "Leviathan" is absolutely breathtaking.
It's been seven years since Lanegan's last proper solo outing Bubblegum. Let's hope we don't need to wait another seven for the next. But if we must, and Blues Funeral is any indicator, it will be well worth the wait.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
My first encounter with First Aid Kit was seeing them open for Lykke Li last year. At the time I commented that they were like the Mamas & the Papas minus the Papas only better. Now that their album The Lion's Roar has dropped on me, I realize that they are better than my earliest analysis. The Lion's Roar is quite magnificent, sparse yet magnificently performed and recorded. Fabulous twin vocals, modern sensibilities, and classic folk arrangements creating a perfect alt-folk world of sound. The first great rekkid of 2012.
Monday, January 2, 2012
So many personal unwritten rules violated…
I don’t know if I’ve ever given the #1 rekkid of the year to the same artist two years in a row. I’m nearly positive that I’ve never given top honors to a rekkid released in December. Then this happened…
1. The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)
If last year’s glorious opus Brothers was the sound of a good band maturing into a truly great band, El Camino is the sound of that great band finally, truly having fun. Even in its darkest moments, El Camino seems somehow absolutely permeated with unbridled joy. Akron’s finest (sorry Lebron) moved down to Nashville (sorry Akron), brought in their pal Dangermouse as co-producer, co-writer, co-conspirator, and de facto third Black Key, and they have produced some of the most joyful noise of this young century. Standouts like “Lonely Boy”, “Run Right Back”, and “Stop Stop” are guaranteed to make you move. The extraordinary “Gold on the Ceiling” stands as a powerful, existential anthem for a band who, after years of paying dues, has suddenly become one of the great musical voices on the planet. There is nary a dud nor spit-back in this box of chocolates.
2. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
This rekkid jumped to the top of this list the moment it was released and sat there for most of the year. I was fully expecting to crown it best of 2011 right up until early December when, well, you know what happened. That said, Nine Types of Light is plenty worthy of being anyone’s best of the year. Following on its admittedly more energetic predecessor Dear Science, this album was greeted with an undue amount of indifference from the critics. Many of whom seem to have listened to it once, not been driven to the dance floor, and written it off as above average. While I admit Nine Types of Light is not going to force you to shake it (there is nothing so insistent as “Dancing Choose” here), it remains a magnificent rekkid. Infused with themes of love and loss, it is one of the most romantic art-rock albums I’ve ever heard. At its heart is the positively gorgeous sonic masterpiece “Killer Crane”, which is possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve heard all year.
3. Wild Flag (Merge)
“Don’t call me a supergroup.” Way back in the before time, Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony collaborated on a side project EP under the name Spells. Revisiting that release will give you hints of what was to come, but won’t quite prepare you for the awesome power of Wild Flag. They don’t like to be called a supergroup, so let’s call it a high octane meeting of indie rock minds. Wild Flag is Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney/Portlandia) and Timony (Helium/M. Timony Band) on guitars and vocals, Rebecca Cole (the Minders) on keys and backing vocals, and the marvelous Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney/Quasi/Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks) on drums and backing vocals. Together they become greater than the sum of their parts. They become a force of nature. The more jagged edges of Brownstein’s flat out rawk are slightly softened by Timony’s psychy-proggy sensibilities and the result is one of the finest rock-and-roll oufits walking the planet. Check out the massive “Race Horse” and delight at Brownstein’s downright feral vocal as it leads you into perhaps the greatest indie guitar duel since Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Delicious stuff.
4. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See (Domino)
The first time I heard this rekkid I feared that Arctic Monkeys may have lost the plot and gone the way of altogether too many good British rock bands; trying to turn themselves into U2. However, my early fears have since been allayed, and repeated listenings revealed this to be one of the finest albums of the year. Indeed, the snotty aggression of their first two albums and the desert sludge of their third have been tempered here, making it probably their most accessible outing yet. But this is no selling out to mainstream bombast and empty sound and fury. It is, in fact, a finely and subtly crafted, exceptional rock rekkid, powered by the songwriting prowess of Alex Turner, who may be the greatest pop music wordsmith of his generation. There are as many great turns of phrase on exhibit here as on any of Elvis Costello’s rekkids in his prime. Personal favorite examples from the title track: “That’s not a skirt girl that’s a sawn off shotgun/ and I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me…” “Jigsaw women with horror movie shoes/ be cruel to me cos I’m a fool for you.” Ex-TRAW-dinry!
5. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
Don’t tell my wife (though I think she already suspects), but I am completely smitten with Lykke Li. It started innocently enough when my co-worker brought an advance copy of Wounded Rhymes in to work. I was immediately captivated by the sound. Sort of Phil Spector filtered through all that has followed in music since the wall-of-sound heyday, resulting in a sonic brew that is somehow old as the hills and brand spanking new, with Lykke herself as a Swedish mutant Ronnie Spector belting out slices of her soul atop a towering edifice of percussion and reverb. On stage she combines the most appealing aspects of Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, and every Euro-girl pop singer of the 60’s. Listen to “Jerome” and try to not fall madly in love with Lykke Li. I double dog dare ya.
6. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)
I must admit to having been ignorant of St. Vincent’s (Annie Clark’s) art-rock brilliance until this year. A back and forth interview between her and Patton Oswalt plus the cover article in successive issues of Under the Radar changed that. High art indie rock from one of the greatest pure composers in the business.. Think of a 21st century blend of Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, with hints of Bjork and much better guitar chops. “Cheerleader” and the title track are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
7. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol)
What can I say, it’s been a great year for new work by old guys. The best of which is this rekkid. After a couple of mostly forgettable outings (which, given the Boys’ tortoise-challenging pace of releases, means it’s been a while), Brooklyn’s most-illinest return to top form in a big way. Funky, crafty, and ridiculously funny (“make ya sick like a Kenny Rogers roaster”), this is one some of the most fun you’ll have listening to music.
8. Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo (Ovni)
You knew this would be on this list. The truth is that I find Gruff to be one of the greatest artists of his generation. The Super Furry Animals front man acquits himself admirably on his third and most accessible solo effort, putting all of his Brian Wilson/Lennon-McCartney melodic talents and his unique turns of phrase to fine use.
9. The Horrors – Skying (XL)
It’s as if someone accidentally let a little sliver of sunshine hit these rail-thin, gothic, shoe-gazing hipsters and the results are fabulous. A shade of Echo and the Bunnymen style psychedelia has been added to their dark and trippy mix, making for their finest work to date.
10. Feist – Metals (Cherrytree)
Another rekkid that received undeserved critical indifference, perhaps due to the conspicuous lack of bouncy indie-pop tunes that marked her previous album. This is an artful, subtle, folk-inflected masterwork punctuated by ingenious uses of dynamics, subdued tempos, and orchestrations that manage to be impossibly lush despite their minimalism.
11.Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams (Sub Pop)
Imagine Chrissie Hynde fronting the Jesus and Mary Chain, singing songs that seem to be break-up songs but are actually about the death of a beloved parent. Got it? I’m guessing what you’ve imagined sounds remarkably like this remarkable rekkid.
12. Wire – Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)
More great new work buy old guys. The original art-punks produce their finest work in decades.
13. Wye Oak – Civilian (Merge)
Hypnotic, alt-country tinged, gorgeous indie rock. Need I say more?
14. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Scandalous (Lost Highway)
High energy, nasty, old-school rock-rhythm-and-blues. Joe Lewis’ guitar sound is positively filthy. This rekkid will take you to “Booty City”.
15. The Kills – Blood Pressures (Domino)
The best rekkid yet from this trans-Atlantic art-blues-punk duo.
16. Wagon Christ – Toomorrow (Ninja Tune)
I’m not a big techno/electronica fan, but everything Luke Vibert does slays me. This is no exception.
17. Tinariwen – Tassili (Anti)
The most intimate rekkid yet from these Saharan nomadic desert afro-blues legends, with delightful guest appearances by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TVotR.
18. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)
Perhaps the most socially and politically relevant rekkid of the year. It sits at or near the top of most British music press best of 2011 lists.
19. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Mirror Traffic (Matador)
More intimate and less epic than its predecessor, a fine turn nonetheless from one of indie rock’s guitar gods.
20. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul Time! (Daptone)
This album contains previously released material, which would normally disqualify it from this list. But the rekkid is just too damned good to leave off.
And the rest… quality rekkids that missed the top 20 cut.
David Kilgour & the Heavy 8’s Left by Soft
The Bats Free All the Monsters
Dangermouse & Daniele Luppi present “Rome” starring Jack White & Norah Jones
Dennis Coffey s/t
Gang of Four Content
Mike Watt Hyphenated-Man
The War on Drugs Slave Ambient
S.C.U.M. Again into Eyes
M83 Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Reissues oh the Year
The Kinks Kinda Kinks
The Kinks The Kink Kontroversy
Best shows of 2011
TV on the Radio at First Avenue
Gruff Rhys with Y Niwl at the Triple Rock Social Club
Lykke Li at First Avenue
Worst show of 2011
The Black Keys at Roy Wilkins Auditorium (for all I know they played a fabulous show, but the Twin Cities' crappiest venue made them inaudible. RWA needs to be swallowed up by the Earth so no one will ever play there again. Terrible.)