Monday, September 1, 2014

The Year In Music: 2013

My Favorite Songs Of 2013

This year was a prefect representation of how diverse, and some would say fragmented, music exploration has become.  Looking over the things I picked as my favorite songs for 2013, I notice that I came across the songs in many different ways.   There was no one standard way I discovered new songs (or songs that were new to me since it doesn’t matter when the song was released, only what year it was when I first got into it.)  Once I found them though, I then took all my favorites that could fit onto two CDs and sent them out to my musically curious friends (if you want a CD too, just let me know.)  If you look further down on this blog post, you’ll see that I’ve also posted my favorite and least favorite albums for the year.  There is some overlap with this favorite songs list but there are some differences.  Now, here’s how I found the songs that would become my favorites for 2013 and why I liked them.  

Disc 1 Of 2

The Troggs-   With A Girl Like You

There was a rom-com-zom movie (romantic comedy zombie movie) called Warm Bodies that came out this year.  It was a decent movie, although laughably naïve, but in the months before it came out, I saw the preview a dozen times in the theater.  Each time I got hooked on the song that played in the preview.  It was this song, which I’d had heard once or twice in the past but hadn’t really paid attention to it since it got very little airplay.  The only Troggs songs you probably hear on the radio anymore are “Wild Thing”, which I kind of disliked even before it was over-used by appearing in dozens of movies, and “Love Is All Around” which I still like even though it was overused in the movie “Love Actually”.  That’s it- you don’t hear any other Troggs songs on the radio and even those two are fairly rare.  When I watched Warm Bodies and that song was not in the movie, despite being perfectly in synch with the plot of the movie, I had to buy it because it had earwormed its way into being one of my favorite songs, 40 years after it was released.  I bought several other Troggs songs at the same time because I enjoyed their low-fi, simplistic, bashing style of music but this the best one of them all.  Plus, I loved the lyrics too.

Bee Gees-   Out Of Time

I saw a magazine review of the deluxe re-issues of the first few Bee Gees albums and decided to upgrade since my CDs were old and didn’t include the bonus material.  One of the bonus items was this song, which was recorded but never released.  How that happened, I can’t begin to imagine because it is an awesome song.  It would have been a highlight on any album yet they let it languish for decades.  That’s flabbergasting.

Adam Ant-   Marrying The Gunner's Daughter

Also in a magazine review, I saw that Adam Ant was releasing his first new album in 15 years.  Being a fan of his (how can you not love songs like “Stand And Deliver” and “Crackpot History”?), I thought I would buy the album.  It was also a moral imperative in a sense since Ant had been a little mentally tormented lately and briefly entertained suicidal thoughts a few years back because he felt like he was washed-up.  This album has a little bit of everything- the typical Ant sounding songs like the title track, the metal-ish pop sound that had inspired Nine Inch Nails to cover ant’s “Physical”, some ballads a la Wonderful and then there is his WTF song “Who’s A Goofy Bunny”.  An enjoyable, schizophrenic album. 

Antonia Bennett-   Pill

I am a big fan of Holly Knight, the incredible songwriter from the 1980’s who wrote songs like Obsession, Love Is A Battlefield, Rag Doll and Simply The Best.  I periodically check her website to see if she posted anything about writing a new song for someone.  What she had been working on lately was producing a debut album for Antonio Bennett, Tony Bennett’s daughter.  The album was so-so, some good stuff and some generic stuff but I always buy whatever Holly Knight does.  This is one of the more interesting songs from the album.

Pharrell Williams-   Happy

I enjoyed Despicable Me and decided to watch the sequel because the previews made it seem like there would be even more of the Minions, the goofy yellow critters that are the comic relief of the series.  As you have certainly heard by now Pharrell Williams did several songs for the soundtrack including the totally inescapable song “Happy.”  Before it became a monster hit though, I simply liked the scene in the movie with the song and decided to buy it, not realizing I would be hearing it plenty in the next few months.

Gentlemen Hall-   Sail Into The Sun

I was watching television and this song was in a commercial.  I can’t tell you what the commercial was for anymore- a car?  A cleaning product?  Lipitor?- but the song snuck its way into my brain so I Shazamed the commercial to see who did the song and then bought a digital download of it.  The same thing happened for a Target commercial with the Passion Pit song further below.  Heard the song in a commercial, Shazamed it, bought it. 

Blue Rodeo-   Don't Let The Darkness In…

After watching a movie in the theater, I sat through the end credits because this song was playing over them and I wanted to see who performed it.  It reminded me of the Jayhawks, a group I love, but it was more bleak and glum then what they do.  I’d never heard of Blue Rodeo although they have several albums out.  I took a chance on getting their whole album instead of just this song in case they actually were a new Jayhawks. They weren’t but this is still a good but bleak song.

Oh Land-   My Boxer

When I was on Amazon buying something, I saw this was one of the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” so I added it to my Wish List.  At the same time, I mentally frowned at Amazon because they never recommend things based on what I’m interested in or have bought in the past.  The only things that usually show up in the “Recommended For You” area are things similar to what I just looked at.  You would think that if I bought the last three CDs by an artist, then their next album would show up in my “Recommended for You” area or would generate an email alerting me but they don’t.  I had to stumble across a new Berlin album, this album, Matthew Sweet’s latest, etc… in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” spot.  That’s part of why it is hard to find new things easily- there is no definitive recommendation source.  This album was okay, but only a few songs stood out to me.  This one wasn’t necessarily the best of those but it is really intriguing.  Kind of an alternative rock version of Kelis’ “Milkshake”.  I kept listening to it and thinking “What is she trying to say?”  Then again, she’s Scandinavian and they are a little out there anyways so maybe she was just freestyling instead trying to craft insightful lyrics that meant something. 

Brian Setzer Orchestra-   My Favorite Things (Instrumental)

I was looking at Amazon for the new Brian Setzer album so of course they “recommended” several of his other CDs, including several Christmas CDs I didn’t realize he’d done.  Since I didn’t have any big band swing Christmas albums, I decided to get one.  This was my favorite song on the album.  This track, originally from The Sound Of Music, is not really a Christmas song, but I found it to be atmospheric, haunting, and evocative, like a gentle snowfall in a remote forest.

Bombay Bicycle Club-   Shuffle

A co-worker and I were discussing the Academy Awards and she mentioned a video she saw that condensed all the best 2013 movies into a 7-minute You Tube video.  I had to go see that video because I wondered if they managed to include all the big names.  While watching the video, I couldn’t help but notice the music that was playing in the background.  It was really catchy and I enjoyed the background music more than the You Tube video.  This was that song and it feels very spry, lighthearted, positive and fun, just like the 2013 film “The Artist” that featured prominently in that You Tube compilation video.  

Phillip Phillips-   Get Up Get Down

I liked his song “Home” that played on the radio all the time so when I saw this $5 digital album of his on Amazon, I decided to get it.  There were several other good songs so it was well worth the $5.  This one confused me at first because I thought I was listening to a Dave Matthews track, not something by Phillip Phillips.  It wasn’t DM. It really was Phillips and it was my favorite song on the album.

CeeLo Green-   Bright Lights, Bigger City

After watching The Voice and seeing CeeLo lose to Blake Shelton again, I decided to give him a consolation prize and buy one of his songs.  I owned both Gnarls Barkey albums, plus the Pussycat dolls “Dontcha” and his “F*** You” and this was the best one of his that I didn’t already have.  (I’m not sure I’d like anything by The Goody Mobb.)  It’s a shiny piece of nouveau Motown. 

New Politics-   Harlem

Heard this on SiriusXM while driving to work one day.  It was upbeat and fun and based on the lyrics I didn’t think it would be big on the radio and get overplayed so I bought it.

Johnny Mathis-   Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…)

Billy Joel’s website mentioned that Joel did a duet with Johnny Mathis.  Being a completist, I had to get this since Billy hasn’t done any Christmas songs before (although Christmas does feature heavily in his video for “She right On Time”.)  Every year I look for a Christmas song or two to expand my holiday collection.  Lately I’ve picked up Christmas songs by Weezer, Billy Idol, Sting, Aimee Mann, Dragonette, Kylie Minogue, the Brain Setzer album I mentioned earlier and now this one by Billy Joel.  It’s just a nice way to keep from hearing “Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer” yet again.

Sheryl Crow-   Shotgun

Entertainment Weekly reviewed Sheryl Crow’s latest album, an honest-to-God country album rather than one that dabbles in country sounds, like her previous 100 Miles From Memphis.  It was one of her better albums of the last few years because it had good songs, regardless of the genre.   I opted for the digital album because for once the intangible version was cheaper than the physical CD.

Cotton Mather-   My Before And After

A few years back, I heard this song on Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show.  I put it on my To Buy spreadsheet but when I got around to looking for it, it was no longer in print.  I don’t know why I left it on my list at that point but last year I looked again and saw that it was back in print as a deluxe reissue.  Apparently, the band created a Kickstarter campaign and raised enough money to re-rerelease the album.  I didn’t see it on Kickstarter, because I heard about this after the fact, but Amazon did carry it so I bought it there.  The album is kind of eclectic.  This track sounds like early Beatles or Kinks, others sound like Cracker and some sound like Crosby Stills And Nash.  Very enjoyable.  Interestingly enough, this also led to the Veronica Mars movie in 2014.  Veronica Mars’ writer/showrunner (Rob Thomas) used a Cotton Mather song in the show so when their album was re-issued due to Kickstarter, he heard about it and thought that was a cool concept.  He decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a Veronica Mars movie and the rest was history.  

Roxette-   Lover Lover Lover

Yes, that Roxette.  I read a review of a new album in a magazine and since I enjoyed them in the 1990’s, I thought I would give them a try.  It’s been about a decade since they did anything- in part because the lead singer had a brain tumor- but I think it is nice to have them back.  This sounds just like their other albums so if you hated them, you’ll hate this. If you thought they were a fun band, you’ll find this to be a fun song.  It’s a bit slower than some of their hits but it has a nice sound and a good vocal.

Donald Fagen-   I'm Not The Same Without You

Buying something on Amazon, I saw a new Donald Fagen album listed in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” section.  Since I have several of his albums and all the Steely Dan songs, I wanted this too.  I was very happy with the purchase- it sounded like Steely Dan and best of all it sounded like good Steely Dan.  The 2000 comeback album by Steely Dan, Two Against Nature, had some good songs but didn’t really capture their signature sound.  The follow-up, 2003’s Everything Must, got the Steely Dan sound right but had much weaker songs.  This new Fagen album sounds right and has good songs.  I played it quite a bit this year and had a tough time choosing a favorite among two or three of the songs.  I eventually went with this one.

Foxygen-   Shuggie

I subscribe to CMJ, which used to send me a monthly magazine and compilation CD of upcoming new artists and some older acts wanting to reintroduce themselves.  Now CMJ does a website and monthly digital download compilation.  I take a listen to all the songs to see if any of the artists are worth paying attention to.  This is one of the songs that caught my fancy so I will check out their next album when it hits Spotify.  I have a soft spot for songs that change tempo and styles during the song and this one does both.  Listening to it, I felt like I took a hit off a joint but there were no physical side effects after the song was over and I couldn’t get arrested for possession of the song.

Passion Pit-   Carried Away

As mentioned above, I came across this from a TV commercial.  Heard it, Shazamed it, bought it. 

Daft Punk-   Get Lucky

I couldn’t tell you exactly where I first heard about Daft Punk’s new album because the news was everywhere.  An ad on Saturday Night Live, Facebook notices, magazine articles, Twitter feeds, radio airplay.  Everywhere.  I do know that I really wanted the album to arrive because it had been a decade since their last album.  Plus, that album was fairly crappy so it had been 15 years since their last good album.  This one, unfortunately, did not change the trend.  As an album, I don’t like it.  As a place where a couple of really good singles resides, I like it.  This first single, Get Lucky, was awesome.  It hits a groove and rides it for 5 minutes.  It also resulted in an amazing video by Stephen Colbert.  So of course I thought the album would match the pluck, dash and rhythm of this single but this was actually the highlight and peak for the album.  “Give Life Back to Music” and “Lose Yourself to Dance" (featuring Pharrell Williams) were good even though they weren’t another “Get Lucky”.  Ironically, the song I liked best was also the one that really made me downgrade the album.  The last song, Contact, is a spiky, abrasive sound collage that reminds me of my favorite Daft Punk album- their debut album “Homework”.  If they had thrown a few more songs like this on the album, I could have handled some of the meandering, noodling nonsense on this album but no, this was a one-shot reminder of their faded glory.

Disc 2 Of 2

Paul Banks-   The Base

I poking around for info on about Interpol and if they were recoding a new album and I saw that the lead singer had done a solo album so I got that to tide me over.  In was an interesting album but I can clearly see how all the parts/members of the band work together to create their unique sound and atmosphere.   The vocals and lyrics come from Paula Banks, the signature moody bass sound from the departed bass player Carlos D, and then guitar and drums from the other members filling in after Banks and D had laid out the basis of each song.  This is a decent album but still a stop gap listen until Interpol drop something in 2014, which I really hope is good.  It’ll be the first without their founding bassist.

Beats Antique-   Beauty Beats

I don’t know how I came across this song.  I know it was some type of recommendation and I went to Spotify to hear their stuff and I cheery-picked a couple good songs.  I like how this is totally unique.  It sounds like a bunch of random musical instruments and sounds made by household appliances from the 1880’s were stitched  together to make a song.  This is more of sound sculpture than it is a song.

Moon King-   Appel

Another song I found on my CMJ compilation download.  It sounds like Lush, a wonderful but forgotten band from the 1990’s.  I’m not sure why they had a song on the compilation though because when I tried to buy a whole, it turns out they don’t have anything readily available.  Just one hard to find EP.  I’ll keep my eye out though in case they decide to follow-up with something else.

Silversun Pickups-   Bloody Mary

A music review in a magazine alerted me to the second release by this band.  If you find Smashing Pumpkins too pretentious, then try this band instead.

Eminem-   Berzerk

I heard this on the radio.  I thought it was bizarre and catchy and had to get it.  I generally like about every fourth song or so that Eminem does.  And yes, that is a Billy Squire sample in the song- another reason it sounds so good.

Ohgr-   Devil

Having done a binge listen to the last three Skinny Puppy albums that had accumulated on my “To Listen To” shelf, I was eager for even more but in the past I had been stung by horribly disappointing albums from the solo members of the band and was afraid to try again.  The only one I hadn’t given a chance was Nivek Ogre, or OhGr as he is known on solo work.  I decided to try one album and see what I thought.  As soon as I listened to it, I immediately got his other three albums and had another binge session.  This is what I had been missing when listening to the ambient, minimalist electronic work from the other solo members.  I liked the Ogre solo work almost as much as I had the Skinny Puppy albums.  OhGr goes for a more straight forward rock sound rather than Skinny Puppy’s experimental industrial sound but when either of these bands finds the right song, they can blow the roof off the building or smash down the walls.  It turns out that this is what I had been looking for.  Now the only problem is that there are no new Skinny Puppy or Ohgr albums on the horizon and previous alternatives Nine Inch Nails and Ministry have, respectively, either disbanded or gotten soft and lame.  Now what? 

Juliana Hatfield-   Don't Wanna Dance

Juliana has funded her last three albums via Kickstarter.  By now, I’m buying her stuff out of habit rather than fervored interest.  Maybe one of these times something will click and she’ll regain her past glory, which ended after the album “Total System Failure”.  Still, each album does provide two or three things worth a listen.  Here’s one of those songs.  It’s a fun little throw-away, and I obviously agree with the lyrics.

Spoon-   The Mystery Zone

Saw a review in a magazine about their latest one.  I am amazed each time I hear a Spoon album.  I always expect I won’t like it and I am put off at first by the minimalism of it, but after a second or third listen the quality of the songs and unique vocal and musical approach to it has won me over.  They are on a nice streak of quality output and I hope it continues.

Camper Van Beethoven-   Might Makes Right

David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, solo) is an artist I periodically look up to see if there is anything new coming out.  I wasn’t a fan of CVB back in the day, but I was a fan of Cracker and when CVB started putting out albums, I started getting them since David Lowery writes a lot of the songs.  Half the songs are aesthetic hits and the other half are misses but since the album has a lot of songs, that still means a lot of good stuff is there to be heard.  This wasn’t necessarily the best song on the album but I liked the lyrical point and it fit my time limit constraints for the CDs.

Robert Plant-   Angel Dance

About once a year I check to see if Plant has done anything new.  I was equivocal about Led Zeppelin but he is now easily among my favorite artists of all time based on his solo work and I’m always eager to see what he does.  His style has not evolved but rather it has exploded. No genre is off-limits to his musical wanderlust.  He is curious about everything and makes news songs, covers, styles and genres sound like his own.  He hasn’t had any failures as a solo artist, just some albums that were less interesting than others.  Here’s a song from the album he just put out with his newly reformed pre-Zeppelin band.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs-   Mosquito

I was very disappointed in this album, mainly because most of the songs were boring and had none of the verve of the previous album.  This is one of the two songs worth salvaging for a future greatest hits album.

Ohgr-   Earthworm

Another Ohgr song.  As I explained above, he is a new favorite that I binged on this year.

Ylvis-   The Fox (What Does The Fox Say)

You’ve seen the You Tube video for this that went viral worldwide.  At first I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or not but after watching two other awesomely hilarious videos of theirs (  and  ), it is obvious they are spoofing modern pop-electronic music.  I felt the urge to get the song, just because.
Sweet-   New York Groove

I heard a song the other day – the one next below on this list in fact- and the heavy drum sound reminded me of Ace Frehley’s song New York Groove.  Being near my phone and in the mood to hear that song, I went to You Tube to play the video.  Interestingly enough, there was no official video listed but I did see one for a song of the same name by Sweet.  Once I played it, it turned out to be a cover by the 1970’s band that had reformed in 2010.  I like Sweet, I like the song, and I loved their arrangement of it.  It retains the stomp of the original but throws in a surprise mashup to lighten up the song a little.  I ended up getting their whole album because of this song and it was very fun to listen to.  Another standout that I had no room to include here was their cover of “On Broadway” (the whole album is covers of songs about New York.)

The Mission-   Sometimes The Brightest Light…

Another gem I came across on a CMJ compilation.  This is the same band that was famous in the 1980’s.  I later bought the $5 digital album which was mediocre- only about two other really good songs- but this one was thrilling.  A heavy, pounding sound and gruff vocals.  A great song for when I drive and since I’m commuting to Brandywine, Maryland two or three times a week, I need a lot of good driving songs on my playlist.

Arcade Fire-   After Life

For their follow-up to The Suburbs, Arcade Fire put out a two-CD album.  I knew it would not be as good as the extremely excellent Suburbs album, especially since they were working with the dude from LCD Soundsystem as their producer.  I think LCDS is wildly over-rated and so I was worried about them sounding less like themselves and more like someone I disliked.  Sure enough, they only had 5 good songs among the 2 CDs.  I like this one a lot and would love to hear what it would sound like if it wasn’t embellished with an EDM arrangement. 

Pixies-   What Goes Boom

A couple years back, the Pixies got together and recorded a new song.  They had been touring for several years by then but had not done any new music so hearing about this one song was a nice surprise.  It was only available as a free download from their website so I went there and got it.  While on the site, I registered to get band news so I would get a periodic email about what was going on.  Last year, 2012, they announced a 4-song digital EP available for sale on their website.  I was there in 30 seconds, paying and downloading it.   A few months later, another 4-song EP was announced and then another.  This year, all of them were compiled into a physical CD.  I bought that as well, even though I already owned all the songs.  I did this because I wanted a physical version of the songs and because I was happy to give the Pixies more of my money in appreciation for all they pleasure they had given me over the years.  Unlike many of the critics, I really liked the new songs.  I thought they fit right into their canon.  Granted, none of them were “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” but then again, none of the Pixie’s other classic era songs were “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” either. You can’t compare a band’s new stuff to just their absolute best stuff.  I like the new “Blue Eyed Hexe” better than the classic “Gouge Away” and “Snakes” is just as good as their old hit “Here Comes Your Man”.  Yeah, the Pixies are not new anymore but critics were faulting them for trying to sound like the Pixies.  Well of course they were- they ARE the Pixies.  Who else would they try to sound like? 

Cage The Elephant-   Spiderhead

All-Music, a really cool music site (like IMDB but for music), sends out a weekly email listing and reviewing all new alternative and independent music coming out that week.  That’s how I knew one of my favorite new bands was releasing another album.  I would describe this band’s sound thusly- The mantel of innovation and experimentation and surprise that they Pixies laid down back in the day was picked up and worn proudly by Cage The Elephant.  It is no accident that they appear on my compilation alongside each other.  While waiting for new Pixies music, this is one of the bands I turned to as an alternative.  They are inventive, noisy, melodic, and daring, just like any good alternative band should be. 

Skinny Puppy-   Pedafly

As mentioned above, I binged through the last three Skinny Puppy albums this year.  I picked this song to represent them this year because it is a serious, dark, nasty groove.  It pummels you and scares you and  leaves you limp in surrender by the time it is over.  Then I play it again and feel the thrill all over again.  I know it is not to everyone’s taste and that’s why there are so many different sounds and attitude among these two CDs- I want everyone to find something to like.

So I hope you enjoyed the discussion (and the CDs if you were one of the recipients of them.)  I like sharing my finds because I know how hard it is to come across things to enjoy.  If you have favorites of your own to offer up, by all means. Please share so I can discover more new things.  Also, below is my list of favorite and most disappointing albums for the year.  I’m just putting them out there as a list, no commentary about them.  If you are curious about why something made the lists, just ask and I’ll be happy to ramble on at length.

My Favorite Albums Of 2013

1              Billy Joel:   Piano Man (Deluxe Reissue)
2              Bee Gees:   Horizontal
2              Bee Gees:   Idea
2              Bee Gees:   Main Course
3              New Christy Minstrels:   Land Of Giants
4              Ohgr:   Welt
5              Skinny Puppy:     Weapon
5              Skinny Puppy:     Handover
5              Skinny Puppy:     Mythmaker
6              Donald Fagen:    Sunken Condos
7              Modest Mouse:   No One Is First And You're Next
8              Cotton Mather:   KonTiki (Deluxe Edition)
9              Cage The Elephant:   Melophobia
10           Juliana Hatfield:   Cells
10           Juliana Hatfield:   There's Always Another Girl
11           Ministry:   From Beer To Eternity
12           Local H:   No Fun
13           Ben Folds:   SuperSunnySpeedGraphic
14           Ohgr:   Undeveloped
14           Ohgr:   SunnyPsyOps
15           Arcade Fire:   Reflektor
16           David Lowery:   The Palace Guards
17           Paul Banks:   Banks
18           Imperial Teen:   On
19           Robert Plant:   Band Of Joy
20           Sheryl Crow:   Feels Like Home
21           Psychic Friend:   My Rock Are Dreams
22           Roxette:   Travelling
23           Nine Inch Nails:   Hesitation Marks
24           Original 7 (The Time):   Condensate
25           Adam Ant:   Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar Marrying The Gunner's Daughter

The Most Disappointing Albums Of 2013

1              Bob Welch:   Bob Welch
2              Trip Shakespeare:   Across The Universe
3              Killers, The:   Battle Born
4              Nada Surf:   The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
5              Kiss:   Monster
6              Policia:   Shulasmith
7              Jack White:   Blunderbuss
8              David Bowie:   The Next Day
9              Lita Ford:   The Bitch Is Back
10           Sophie Ellis-Bextor:   Make a Scene
11           Dannii Minogue:   Girl
12           Limosines, The:   Hush
13           Wilco:   The Whole Love
14           Charlie XCX:   True Romance
15           Joan Jett:   Unvarnished


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Five Books To Save From the Fire

A friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook about what five books she would save if her house was on fire.  She then named two books and asked others for recommendations.  When I razzed her for abdicating her choices, she asked me what I would pick.  Here is my response.

Five Books To Save From the Fire
(By Richard Goodman, 08 December 2013)

The thought kept running through my head over and over again, “Why didn’t I change the batteries in the smoke detector like I was supposed to?  I should have changed the dang batteries!”  Well, it was too late now.  While I was sleeping, the fire had already spread too much for my fire extinguisher to do any good even if I had gotten it serviced too, like I was supposed to.  The flames had already consumed the kitchen and I needed to get out of there before I became a “News At 11:00- Fire Claims A Victim” casualty story.  I headed right to the bedroom closet, threw on a jacket and shoved my checkbook, phone, wallet, car keys and passport in one of the pockets.  I grabbed the external backup hard drive for my computer, a box of film negatives and then turned towards the window, intending to make my way out there instead of going back through the living room where the fire was raging the worst. 

As I was about to open the window, I noticed a book on one of my bookshelves.  It was the copy of “The Count Of Monte Cristo” that I’d had since childhood.  I’d read it several times as a kid, always getting immersed in the intrigue and picturing myself as the wronged count out for revenge.  I still re-read it every ten years or so.  There are so many plots going on that I never remember everything about the book when I dive into it again so it stays fresh.  I have to take that book with me.  That edition is so ingrained in my mind- from the size of the book to the classic pose of the character on the cover painting- that wouldn’t feel the same if I bought a new copy with some modernized cover picture.  Oh, and there is my copy of “A Wrinkle In Time”, by Madeleine L’Engle.  The same thing goes for that book.  That particular edition and cover is forever intertwined in my memory with the weird, touching, hallucinogenic story of Meg and her genius brother Charles.  I can’t let the fire burn that book to ash.
What else should I take with me?  There are so many things sitting on the shelves that deserve to survive.  I should grab four or five things to take with me.  “The Princess Bride”, by William Goldman, is a great book.  Almost all his stuff is good, even the depressing ones, like “Boys And Girls Together” and “Temple Of Gold”.  I’ve read “Bride” a couple of times.  Oddly though, I’ve grown to like the movie better than the book but they are both still great.  Should I take it?  No, I can leave that one.  What about all my Calvin & Hobbes books?  I’ve gone through those a dozen times each.  Every time I need to smile, I can just pull out any one of the books and find something wonderful within five or six pages.  If I leave them though, it will give me an excuse to buy the Complete Calvin & Hobbes book that has been sitting in my Amazon wish list for the last seven years.  That would be a nice way to spend some insurance money.  Okay, I’m leaving behind all the Calvin & Hobbes book, reluctantly. 

Speaking of collections though, I have to take along “The Adventures Of The Stainless Steel Rat”, by Harry Harrison.  It’s the first three stories in the science fiction author’s series about a master criminal who pulls elaborate capers on a planetary level and it is hilarious in a deadpan, “Parks & Rec” way.  That series and especially that compilation was a touchstone when I was a kid.  Up until the last three books in the series, every book was a genius combination of humor, crime caper and sci-fi action.  I’m also taking along my Complete Sherlock Holmes book.  Those stories of Sherlock and Watson are classics.  I decide to leave behind all the James Bond books.  Plus, I have three or four different versions of some of the books so how would I decide which ones to take?  The middle of a scorching fire is not the time to decide which cover I like better. Yeah, this one has the cool 007 gun logo, but that one has a drawing of Roger Moore in a freaking space suit!  I love them both for different reasons.  So I make a Solomon-like decision and leave them both behind.  Besides, I’m sure I can find the exact same ones on e-Bay later on. 
Same thing with Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity”.  I love his books, especially that one, “About A Boy”, and “Long Way Down” but I can always find them again later and I’m not attached to a particular copy.  I always pick up a copy of “High Fidelity” at library book sales in case I want to pass it along to someone who hasn’t read it yet.  I also pick up copies of any book in Lawrence Block’s “Burglar” series.  I can’t believe everyone isn’t in love with this series of light-hearted murder mysteries that burglar (and book store owner) Bernie Rhodenbarr accidentally, and frequently, gets involved in.  Anyone who liked Monk, the Television show and/or the book series, should like the Burglar series.  My favorite might have to be “The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams”.

I’m tempted to take along Stephen King’s “It” or Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Café”, but those are both on the shelves out in the living and I can tell they are already toasted, literally.  I’m really enjoyed the way they both examined human relationships around a horror and dramatic story, respectively. The stories were really driven by the compelling, complex characters rather than the plots and you were totally invested emotionally in the outcome.  Still, the books aren’t worth dying for.  I learned from reading those same books what was worth killing or dying for and a futile dash into a fire to look for a book that was already ash wasn’t on that list.  In fact, I better start thinking about leaving too before I joined them.  I wouldn’t want the local news to report on a guy who burned to death while trying to retrieve some lowbrow entertainment. 
Maybe I should take a few classics, just to balance things out.  I really like “Wuthering Heights”, “Pride And Prejudice”, the “Lord Of the Rings” trilogy, anything by George Bernard Shaw or William Shakespeare.  I have that collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets that is meaningful to me.  I also loved Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln”.  Should I try to carry those out with me?  Nah, those have been around for decades or centuries even.  I don’t need to save the umpteenth reprinting of them.  I hesitate in front of “On A Pale Horse”, by Piers Anthony.  It’s a fantasy book about Death, personified.  It’s not depressing actually and is in fact anti-death, something I’m in favor of while in the middle of a house fire.  I’ve passed along a couple copies to other people so maybe I need to keep a copy for myself.

I come to a standstill when I see my Modesty Blaise books.  Yeah, they are espionage thrillers and Modesty has been called a female ‘James Bond’.  Yes, they are slightly pulpy in their storylines.  At their heart though, they are about how people relate to one another and what is most important to a person’s happiness.  The two main characters, Modesty and Willie Garvin, don’t fight to survive just because they want to live.  They fight because other, innocent, people are depending on them to come to the rescue.  The put themselves in the way of danger because it is the right thing to do and bad people need to be stopped from doing bad things.  Also, the author, Peter O’Donnell, has way of crafting a fight scene that is amazing and he is just as good with dialogue and writing what normal people would say.  I wanted to become Willie Garvin when I grew up.  I still do but now I know that I will never accomplish that.  I have his unwavering loyalty to friends, his sense of right and wrong, his undercurrent of despair that is leavened by his friendship with someone who believes in him, but I lack his outgoing personality, his physical capabilities and his intelligence.  He gives me a target to shoot for though.
I have to take a couple of these books with me.  I instinctively grab “A Taste For Death”, “Dead Man’s Handle” and “Sabretooth” since those are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most.  I also grab “Just Another Day In Paradise”, a series about a detective and his formerly estranged wife.  It’s like a gritty version of the ‘Castle’ television show.  I want one of the books in the series for posterity because there are no more coming.  The author still writes but has stopped doing this series and now focuses on romances. Go figure.  I almost grab “Pillow Stalk”, by Diane Vallere, but I realize that is just my vanity coming through since I’m a character in the book so I leave it.

By now I’m coughing profusely from the smoke.  I should be crawling along to floor to find fresh air instead of standing in a spare bedroom compiling a top ten list of favorite books.  I shove open the window and breathe in the crisp winter air.  I called the fire department as soon as I woke up, but it has been 10 minutes and they still aren’t here yet.  I don’t think there will be anything to save when they arrive.  All the artwork on my wall is gone- the prints and some original art is going up in flames right now.  All my photo albums, clothes, CDs, TV and furniture will be gone, along with my old birthday cards, high school mash notes, college notebooks, stuffed animals, family portraits, journals and diaries.  All, gone in a flash, never to be seen again nor remembered by anyone except me.  I’m reminded of that quote from the movie ‘Blade Runner’- “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.  Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.  I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.  All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.  Time to die.”
With that thought in my head, I figured I’d better keep things from getting prophetic and get my butt out the window.  I grabbed three other books off the shelf before squeezing my way past the window frame and jumping a few feet to the ground.  Finally I heard the sounds of sirens but I knew it was too late to be of any help. That’s why I knew that I should be taking the books that I most treasured, not the ones that had the best literary reputation or were bestsellers.  I would soon be rebuilding everything and life would be much harder in the near future.  That’s why I grabbed those last three books.  I picked them up from among the pine needles where they fell when I landed after my jump.  “A Prayer For Owen Meany” and “Love And Glory” by Robert B. Parker are two of the most inspirational, tear-inducing, human, and beloved books in my library.  I’m going to need some motivation in the next few weeks and they should help.  And the final book, Steve Martin’s “Pure Drivel”, will help me laugh, a lot, and laughter will be needed almost as much as motivation.  Standing there in a jacket I just pulled on overtop my pajamas, I was looking forward to the time when I could laugh.  Right now, I was looking at the flames consuming my place and thought it was a pretty crappy Yule log.  “What a Merry Christmas for me,” I thought as I trudged to my car, shivering, coughing, cursing, but happy to be alive.  Next time I’ll remember to change the batteries in the smoke detector.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Year In Music 2005

  When it comes to entertainment, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a bit of a hypocrite.  In normal circumstances, I encourage people to take risks and try to be innovative and experimental.  With pop culture though, like music and movies, I am almost adamantly opposed to it.  So even though I like all kinds of things and almost every genre of music, I don’t want my favorite artists to have the same broad tastes.  The reason for this is because most of the time when an artist tries to alter their style or expand the limits of their abilities, they fall flat on their face.  The music usually sucks, the albums sell poorly and the artists try to recapture their previous success the next time around but generally end up recycling their earlier efforts into a bland mainstream mess that satisfies no one.  That means not only am I stuck with a crappy album that I likely paid too much for, but once a band starts on that downward spiral of failed artistic growth, they have ruined themselves for future endeavors because they can’t seem to get back to what I enjoyed about them in the first place.  I look to certain bands for certain types of music.  Once they stray too far from what interested me in the first place, they become pointless and expendable because I probably already listen to some other, superior, artist for that type of music.  If you want some specific clarification about what I mean, I can give you historic examples and then also point out who attempted, and failed, this growth in 2005.  One person that immediately springs to mind is Elton John.  In the 1970’s everyone loved him and his songs were great.  He faltered in the 1980’s until his “comeback” with the song I’m Still Standing, followed by Empty Garden, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues and so forth until we get to Circle Of Life from the Lion King movie.  The song was decent but by trying to write things for a kiddie cartoon movie, Elton simplified his style, making it more grandiose and broadly appealing.  Once he started on that road, all of his subsequent efforts became bland ballads and lifeless mid-tempo pop songs. 

  A more extreme example, since Elton John naturally leads me to thoughts of Billy Joel, is Billy’s abrupt departure from pop music while he was still near the height of his abilities.  After massive sales for his River Of Dreams album, he decided to make classical music.  Yes, classical music- that stuff that is incredibly far removed from the pop/rock style that Billy Joel epitomized.  Not only that, to me it was the worst kind of classical.  It was the kind I can’t stand- the light, airy style that brings to mind Handel or Mozart.  It was so contrary to the darkness and lingering sadness that lurked in most of Joel’s songs.  The classical stuff was so hollow and boring that I still haven’t listened to the album all the way through even though I’ve had it for some 5 years.  I expected him to at least do something heavier and slightly melancholy like Beethoven, whom he’s sampled in some of his pop songs, or Carl Orff or Mussorgsky.  Why do we need a pointless classical album from one of pop’s best songwriters?  There is enough classical music out there already- lots of other people have been making it for hundreds of years but very few people are writing songs like Piano Man, Tell Her About It, All For Leyna or Scandinavian Skies.  Worse than that, after this dull album thudded, he has not done anything else what so ever.  Dropped off the face of the earth, except for brief appearances in the news when he crashes his car into something.  Another example is Rod Stewart.  At first, Rod Stewart might seem to be an example of successful experimentation.  He started out as a blues-based rocker.  His voice, as many people described it then, was a whiskey-soaked raspy growl that perfectly suited a blues rock style.  From there, he expanded a bit to become a more straight forward rocker, followed by his pinnacle, from which he almost hung himself.  I’m talking, of course, about the disco era. 

  Rod was a monster success in the Seventies.  Once the dance era died out though, he was stuck trying to figure out what to do.  He had branched out so far from where he had started that he stranded himself.  Now I will admit I am a big fan of his 1970’s stuff and I was curious about what he would do.  I was willing to give him a chance because I liked where he was now more than where he came from although I’m sure people who loved his Maggie May/Gasoline Alley period hated his disco stuff.  Rod succeeded far better than I would have expected, to everyone’s happiness except my own.  He first became a workman-like rocker, with some moderately enjoyable songs, although even then he too frequently tended towards maudlin sap like Downtown Train and My Heart Can’t Tell You No.  Then in 1987, he magnificently amalgamated all of his previous efforts into the album Out Of Control.  His voice worked perfectly with the rock songs, his ballads were heartfelt and touching but with enough of an edge to make him seem like a roguish Casanova, and his pop-leaning stuff had some of the melodic thrust of his disco era without any of the cheesiness.  He collaborated with musicians that perfectly framed his strengths and pushed him to excel. 

I was hoping he would continue in that vein for decades.  Alas, he reverted back to his mediocre transition period and when that petered out, he made an abrupt left turn and recorded an album of standards, The Great American Songbook, that became a smash hit.  Now, four Standards albums later, the guy known for his bluesy rasp of a voice is working as a smooth crooner.  If I wanted to hear a crooner, I would listen to Harry Connick or Michael Buble.  I’d put on some Frank Sinatra  (well, I personally wouldn’t but other “crooner inclined” listeners might.) Or if I wanted a rock-leaning crooner, I’d put on some Boz Scaggs, who I think Rod Stewart is unknowingly imitating.  See, I don’t need Rod Steward to croon for me- I have other people who can do it better.  I need Rod to deliver arena-shaking disco pop or at least front the consummate rock band.  When he stretches too far from what he does well, he becomes expendable and even a bit ridiculous.

  Now you might be thinking that all these examples are from dinosaur rock acts.  Wrong.  This year alone, there were handfuls of contemporary artists who did this and gravely disappointed me.  Most of the artists I like, I like because of their own particular style.  They fill a niche I enjoy.  I have certain bands for certain niches and if they stray elsewhere, I am left with a void in that niche and a half-hearted effort in some other niche that is already filled by other artists.  If a band is going to try something new, they need to do it better than the other people who already do it.  If you can’t be good at something new, you shouldn’t abandon what already works well for you.  Some recent examples are The Dandy Warhols, Aimee Mann and the Black Eyed Peas.  The Dandy Warhols have, over their last three albums, perfected a hazy, heavy vibe that calls to mind the best of David Bowie’s work.  Even though they come across as stuporous slackers, they are really limber musicians who understand the balance between hitting a groove and beating a dead horse.  The last album was a bit shaky and showed signs off falling of that precarious balance beam but they salvaged themselves with three excellent songs.  This time around, they departed a bit from their Bowie influence and went more for the Velvet Underground.  Now why would they do that?  First of all, they can’t do it as well as VU and second of all, I don’t particularly like the Velvet Underground.  Lots of people play stoner noise but no one else was able to channel the Bowie sound quite the way the Dandy Warhols did.  So instead of something unique, I get an album of boring stuff that anyone can do.  How am I going to get my pseudo-Bowie fix?  Even if I get a Bowie album instead, I have to wait 2 years in-between his stuff.  My niche is going unfilled in the meantime. 

  The Black Eyed Peas did the same thing.  They ignored their strengths- the male/female vocal interplay, the dance-pop vibe and the catchy hooks.  Instead, they leaned more towards rap. I don’t think I need to tell you that there are a lot of people already doing rap, and they are certainly doing it better than songs like My Humps.  Aimee Mann’s detour was slightly less intentional or cynical.  She has always been an introspective musician and she channeled that tendency into her lyrics this time around.  She made a concept album, The Forgotten Arm, about a transitory alcoholic who is also meant as a metaphor for America. Also, Aimee’s lyrics were somewhat generic so I never would have stumbled onto the concept had the reviews not talked about it and the CD booklet not included pictures that were obvious allusions to the lyrics.  The problem is that Aimee Mann spent so much time working on her concept and the unimpressive lyrics that she forgot to include any new melodies on the album.  There are some melodies on there but they are very dull.  The only ones that have any life are those that she cribs from her earlier songs.  Almost every song on the album reminds me of one she did earlier, and better.  Now I have to look elsewhere for wistful, bittersweet but catchy music because Aimee stopped doing it this time.  Again, another small niche is left unfilled because one of the few purveyors of this style decided to try something else.  Aimee’s strength is songwriting, not creating a concept album.  If you want a concept album, you go buy something by Yes, Pink Floyd or the Beatles.  Heck, Styx already tried something similar, with Paradise Theater as a metaphor for America and that was much better than The Forgotten Arm.
By now, you might think the year has been a bust.  It almost was because most of my favorite acts made unwelcome or unsuccessful detours  (Styx, Aimee Mann, Adrian Belew, Nada Surf, Moody Blues, Sheryl Crow) or failed to live up to par  (Bloodhound Gang, Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Weezer, The Cardigans).  What makes this year such a success, however, is the unexpected return of one of my all-time favorite acts, who oddly enough were also a one-hit wonder. Back in 1992, Daisy Chainsaw came out with an EP and album that captivated me.  From the moment I heard Love Your Money I succumbed to their particular style.  It was a raw mix of punk elements and fractured melodies, in the vein of Nirvana or Sonic Youth, but with a more intense feeling of psychotic danger.  When I saw them play live, the lead singer, Katie Jane Garside, had a shaved head and torn dress and would wail and scream into the microphone- when she wasn’t busy banging it on her head.  Daisy Chainsaw sort of scared me at the same time they connected with my lingering feelings of alienation and aimlessness.  By the following year, the band had disappeared.  It was just another of the many alternative rock acts that were chewed up and spit out by the pressures of the music industry.  Even so, during the subsequent years I would periodically pull out the CDs and remind myself what a unique act they were.  Their style perfectly meshed with my interests in industrial, alternative, rock and techno music.  I would sometimes look in their bin at the music store or check music websites for news of them but nothing came of it.  They were gone. 

  Thirteen years later, I was still carrying the torch  (I’m nothing if not loyal beyond reason) and happened to see something about a spin-off band called Queen Adreena.  Katie Jane left Daisy Chainsaw because she was burned out from the pressures of fame  (and probably hurt by banging her head with a mike) which is why the band fell apart.  Ten years later though, she rejoined Crispin Gray, Daisy’s principal songwriter and guitarist, to create a new band called Queen Adreena.  I couldn’t find the CDs anywhere though.  When I went overseas, I check there too but to no avail.  Then one day, I saw that there was a new Daisy Chainsaw album.  Oddly enough it featured all the original members except Katie Jane Garside, although she had by this time done 3 albums with Crispin Gray in Queen Adreena.  What’s that about?  Why not just re-form as Daisy Chainsaw?  Did she hate one of the other members or something?  Regardless, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  Not only did I order the Daisy album from Barnes & Noble, I decided to take a chance and order the last two Adreena albums directly from their label’s website.  It was a UK based firm and I wasn’t sure how it would work out because it was a no name label and in a different country.  A couple months later, the first Adreena album came back into print and I was able to get it from Amazon.  This means that 13 years after first hearing my favorite one hit wonder band, in a span of 5 months I had 4 new albums from the principals of that band.  Now it was time to find out if I had wasted a bunch of money by importing CDs from a band featuring a burnt-out singer and has-been songwriter. Not to mention a new album from a decade old band with most of the original members but without the charismatic singer who brought them recognition in the first place.  If they were bad, like many of the other performers I heard this year, I was going to be not only broke but also heartbroken. 

  With trepidation, I put on the first CD.  I decided to start with a Queen Adreena one because I knew what I expected from Daisy Chainsaw and if that album wasn’t up to par, I had no other ones to look forward to.  Adreena was an unknown quantity.  Three songs into the album, I was in love again.  They had everything I loved about Daisy.  The fractured melodies, the chunky fuzzy guitars, the psychotic vocalizations, the menacing lullabies.  It was all there.  When I played the Daisy album, it was like 1993, like the second album had come out the year after the first one, just like expected.  These two bands were some bipolar version of the original Daisy Chainsaw.  They had the same essence but took different approaches to get there.  Adreena is more of an experimental, goth based band.  If Siouxsie And The Banshees rocked a bit harder, they would be Adreena.  Daisy Chainsaw was more melodic and catchier but they dirtied up their songs with an element of danger and surprise.  If Sonic Youth were more pop-leaning, they would be Daisy Chainsaw.  The only thing I was disappointed about was the fact that the entire time I was listening to the new Daisy album, I imagined what Katie Jane Garside would have brought to it.  The songs were really good, and her unique style would have elevated them to sublime, instead of merely terrific. 

Even though all four albums were terrific, Daisy/Adreena would still have single-handedly salvaged the entire year in music because each of the albums had one song that was phenomenal and far above the quality of the rest of them.  I can’t count the number of times I listened to the lacerating stomp of Pretty Like Drugs, the deranged scream of FM Doll, the perfect cacophony of Sleeping With Heaven or the ominous muttering of X-ing Off The Days.  Finding such gems as these are why I listen to music, why I allow myself to be hopeful about things, why I love entertainment.  Finding something that rings true and provokes an emotional response within me is priceless.  Looking at a painting that resonates or hearing a song that stirs me tells me I’m still alive, that my hardened wall can be breached by something magical.  Of course, I’m not necessarily recommending these albums to anyone.  It’s possible I’m the only one in the world who would appreciate them.  They are very dense, scary and noisy to say nothing of schizophrenic, offbeat and twisted.  All I know is they work for me, like very few things did this year.  With that lead-in, let’s look at the rest of the competition this year.

I Buy Anything They Do

Adrian Belew   Side Two (2005); Adrian BelewSide One (2005)- Belew did his part in making experimental music this year.  These albums sound like someone recorded a guitar tuning session. There aren’t really any songs in here, just random sounds that sometimes make a pleasant pattern but more often don’t.

Aimee Mann   Forgotten Arm, The (2005)- I said everything important above.  A big disappointment because normally she is so good.  Guess after this album and the previous Lost In Space one, I need to permanently lower my expectations.

Styx   Big Bang Theory (2005)- This is a cover album.  Styx has always written their own stuff.  They don’t even do covers in concert so what’s the deal here?  They aren’t bad, in fact they are quite well done but did I really need to know what it would sound like if Styx did “I Am The Walrus”?

Therapy?   High Anxiety (2003)- One of my favorite bands.  A solid album but not a milestone.

Berlin   4Play (2005)- The first three albums generated such great music and fond memories that I’ll give them a pass for a couple bad or average albums.  This is their first one of those.

Bloodhound Gang   Hefty Fine (2005)- I don’t know what to make of this.  The Gang forgot to create some good beats and they buried their lyrics, normally a strongpoint, under those weak beats.  If you can’t hear the Bloodhound Gang and rhythms are dull, what do you have?  Just a clever album cover and that’s not worth $13.

Chris Isaak   Christmas (2004)- Hey, it’s Chris Isaak.  I like the guy’s style and I need a few more Christmas albums.

Daisy Chainsaw   …For They Know Not What They Do (2004)- Unbelievable.

Dandy Warhols   Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars (2005)- Are they washed up or is this a fluke?

Garbage   Bleed Like Me (2005)- Each album gets less distinctive and less memorable.

Jayhawks, The   Blue Earth (1989)- I can see where their roots-pop style started from but not surprisingly this debut album is very weak when comparing it to their follow-up stuff.  It’s more of a historical artifact from a great band than it is an enjoyable album on its own.

Juliana Hatfield   Made In China (2005)- The only bad thing about this album is that this is the one that made me realize Juliana has moved from being one of those performers where I love every song she does to one that has some really good songs on an okay album.  The same happened when I heard Billy Joel’s The Bridge or Styx’s Edge Of The Century.  I loved the songs What Do I Care and My Pet Lion because they paid more attention to her rock inclination than some previous efforts and Digital Penetration was catchy in a way that had been missing for a bit.  I think this may be a bridging album for her- one that gets her spark going again to where next time she recaptures what made her great, like Ministry did with Animositisomina.  She is selling it directly from her website and therefore eliminating record label pressures to sound a certain way to get released.  It sort of worked for Aimee Mann- she’s now free to release whatever crap she feels like.  Aimee and Juliana need to collaborate again.  They could both learn something from each other.

Kylie Minogue   Ultimate Kylie (2004)- Two new Kylie songs and several new pictures adorning the CD booklet.  How could I not get it?

Madonna   Confessions On a Dance Floor (2005)- Madonna returns to her dance roots, regaining her gay cache and in the process alienating me, the only person in America who seemed to like her last two rock/electronica albums.  The songs are okay, but they go on for too long and don’t show the same creative flair that was on display on those two previous albums.  They are begging for remixes.

Michael Penn   Mr. Hollywood 1947 (2004)- Oh goodness.  Where to start with this one?  I had such high hopes because Penn is four for four in terms of making a great album.  Unfortunately, he caught his wife’s  (Aimee Mann) unfortunate affliction- focusing his efforts on making a concept album at the expense of good songwriting.  I’m not even sure what the exact concept of this is, I just know it supposedly has one.  Maybe golden age Hollywood as a metaphor for America?  His, and Mann’s, albums are usually very rich and take several listens to properly sink in but this time the several listens made the experience more painful, not deeper.  My Beatles-esque pop niche is going unfilled.

Ministry   Side Trax (2004)- A collection of side projects from Ministry and Al Jourgensen.  It’s good to have since many of the items are from out of print singles and EPs.

Moody Blues   December (2003)- The Moody Blues do a Christmas album.  It’s not a bad album, as Christmas albums go, but why why why?  The Moody Blues are all about being mysterious, cosmic and, well, moody.  Writing a song like Don’t Need A Reindeer sort of takes away that edge.

Nada Surf   The Weight Is A Gift (2005)- Another band that changed their sound.  They lightened up and lost their identity in the process.  I can’t think of any songs from this album when normally I find myself humming songs days later after I’ve heard one of their albums.

Nine Inch Nails   With Teeth (2005)- NIN had a nice comeback.  Granted, it was a comeback to The Downward Spiral rather than Pretty Hate Machine but it’s a step in the right direction.  This CD sounds more like what Trent Reznor promised for The Fragile, which is a funkier, R&B leaning sound. Overall, there are too many similar songs and some generic filler, but there are two fantastic songs, ones that can be considered classic NIN songs- Hand That Feeds and Only- and a couple others that are memorable.  This is another album that I hope is a transitional one.

Paul McCartney   Chaos & Creation In The Backyard (2005)- Paul teamed up with the producer from Radiohead and it shows.  Where Paul used to have a couple excellent rockers every album, now he has none, which is the same thing that happened to Radiohead.  It doesn’t make for a bad album though, it’s just not typical McCartney.  The whole album has a mournful, introspective feel and the rhythms are very subdued.  Paul normally has a very happy sound, so this takes getting used to.  It’s like he did a whole album in the vein of Yesterday.  The standouts are How Kind Of You, Too Much Rain, Riding To Vanity Fair and the title track.  I would like to see the two of them collaborate again, because I think Paul would tailor his songs to the producer’s style rather than the other way around, like this time.  The material would probably turn out better because Paul is at his best when he has someone challenging him to excel.

Placebo   Once More With Feeling  (Greatest Hits) (2004)- One new song.

Prince   Rainbow Children (2001)- Have you ever wondered what Prince would sound like if he wrote like Steely Dan?  Oddly enough, one of the selections on this album answers that question.  The title track had me checking the liner notes to see who wrote it or if Becker and Fagin did backup vocals.  Neither of those seems to be the case but it is the best Steely Dan song in the last 5 years.   (Yes, I know they have done two albums in the last 5 years, but this song is better than any on the first album and I haven’t yet listened to the second album.  That’s for next year. As of this moment though, it’s a great de facto Steely Dan song.)  The rest of the stuff is okay but nothing I would look forward to hearing if I was at a Prince concert.  Plus, there are some stupid voice interludes where it sounds like God is narrating the album while speaking through a tin can.

Queen Adreena   Taxidermy (1999); Drink Me (2002); Butcher And The Butterfly, The (2005)

Shakespears Sister   # 3 (2005)- You probably didn’t realize that there was ever a third Shakespear’s Sister album.  That’s because there wasn’t.  This is something I ordered directly from Siobhan Fahey’s website.  It was material that was intended for the third album until Marcella Detroit left the band and pretty much sunk their record contract.  I don’t know why because she hasn’t since done anything on her own, so why leave a successful band? As I write this, I understand the irony of it because Siobhan left Bananarama to start this band, but it least there was some purpose for her departure.  Siobhan doesn’t have a label right now and instead is spending her time DJ-ing and writing stuff for future solo albums.  I also get the sense that some of the songs that ended up on # 3 were written after Detroit left, because Fahey’s lyrics seem like direct slams on her former partner.  Nothing here quite lives up to the previous two S.S. albums but they are good enough to be released. 

I can imagine what they would have sounded like had the two continued working together.  I think it would have been a great album.  As it is now, it is an interesting artifact to have  (and my CD booklet came signed by Siobhan) and there are several songs worth listening to even if they aren’t proper Shakespear’s Sister songs.  The noteworthy ones are Do I Scare You, Opportunity Knockers and Can U Wait That Long.  A side note about the website- it is one of the weirdest artist run sites I’ve ever seen.  There are a few pages where I can’t even figure out what I’m supposed to do there.  Check it out sometime- I thinks it is

Sheryl Crow   Wildflowers (2005)- She’s slipping.  She did the same introspective thing that Paul McCartney did, but the results weren’t as good.  This is a very forgettable album.

Weezer   Make Believe (2005)- Rivers, why don’t you rock anymore?  Where is the metal-pop I’ve come to expect?  Maladroit and the green Weezer albums were so good.  They were perfect power pop, like the Raspberries teamed up with Nine Inch Nails to create a perfect fusion just for me.  This album has one good song- no, not Beverly Hills, the O.C. theme song wannabe, but rather We Are All On Drugs, a song that would have been a cool B-side to a single from the two earlier albums.

White Stripes, The   Get Behind Me Satan (2005)- Their worst album, which means it’s still one of the 10 best albums of the year.  I loved My Doorbell  (“When you gonna ring it, when you gonna ring it?”) and Blue Orchid, a rave-up similar to Seven Nation Army from Elephant.  A friend of mine really got into Appalachian music this year  (Don’t ask me why- I have no earthly idea.) and this album seemed to have been made just for her.  It is sparse and spooky, as epitomized by the song Little Ghost.  Jack White seems to have taken his role in Cold Mountain to heart- he looks hillbilly.

I Liked The Last Album/Love The Current Single

Barbra Streisand   Guilty Pleasures (2005)- She teamed up with Barry Gibb for a follow-up to 1980’s Guilty album which explains why I now own two Barbara Streisand albums.  Nothing here is as good as the best things from Guilty but I’m happy to see Barry Gibb working and writing again.  I consider this a better than normal Streisand album and a worse than normal Bee Gees effort.

Ben Folds   Songs For Silverman (2005)- I like the Ben Folds style so I bought this.

Billy Idol   Devil's Playground (2005)- Billy, congratulations.  You are one of the few artists who changed things up this year and actually succeeded at it.  A couple of your rockers sound really good, and I give you special thanks for writing a better Cult song  (Evil Eye) than anything that band has done in 10 years.  Then your almost acoustic stuff, like Lady Do Or Die is quite melodic and very catchy.  If this was a just world, you’d have had a couple radio hits from this album instead of having your generic prototypical Billy Idol song Scream die on the vine.  Even your Christmas song was startling good and very amusing.  I’m adding it to my line-up of songs I play at Christmas.

Black Eyed Peas   Monkey Business (2005)

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club   Take Them On, On Your Own (2003)- A second offering, just as good as the first.

Foo Fighters   In  Your Honor (2005)- For a two disc offering  (one CD of hard stuff, one of softer stuff), I’m surprised I only like three or four things.

Fountains Of Wayne   Welcome Interstate Managers (2003)- Stacy’s mom has got it going on, so I bought this CD.  Several good things here, but much of it is more downbeat that the hit song.

Franz Ferdinand  You Could Have It So Much Better (2005)- Two albums from now, I really think I’m going to like this band.  The CD has a plethora of hooks but none of them quite turn into successful songs. The effort is there but the results don’t show it.  Keep trying because I like where you are headed.  Also, you had the year’s coolest cover.  I fell in love with that yelling girl and would have bought the album regardless of what it sounded like.

Hives, The   Tyrannosaurus Hives (2004)- What I said for Franz Ferdinand also applies to these guys.

Mitch Hedberg   Mitch All Together (2003)- This is a spoken word comedy album.  It is fall-on-the-floor funny.  Since it is comedy, I can’t really describe it, you’d just have to hear it.  The secret is all in the delivery.  Just telling you the jokes wouldn’t convey what makes them funny.  Even so, I’ll still try. Elsewhere in this year’s review is a section with many of Hedberg’s best jokes.  I got this shortly before the guy died so unfortunately there is no more new Mitch to look forward to.  I’ll have to get his first album and then be done with him.

Modest Mouse   The Moon & Antarctica (2000)- After hearing Good News, I got this album.  It is more of the same stuff which means I love it.  Barren soundscapes periodically littered with beautiful harmonies and melodies.

Pulp   His 'N Hers (1994)

Impulse Purchase

Al Green   Your Heart's In Good Hands (1995)

Annie   Anniemal (2004)- The reviews touted this Swedish starlet as the new Kylie or new Madonna.  She’s neither and that’s the bad news.  Her voice is too wispy and the production is too repetitious to live up to those icons and her songs liberally crib from Tom Tom Club, Lisa Lisa, Human League and New Order in addition to Kylie and Madonna.  The good news is that she sounds like a knock-off of several bands that I like.  It’s a good way to pass the time between releases from the originals.

Bijou Phillips   I'd Rather Eat Glass (1998)

Heart   Jupiter's Darling (2004)- Heart is staging a comeback and they did it the smart way- by writing good songs and letting the production showcase the strength of the songs instead of burying it.  Like Billy Idol, they changed things up a bit, being more subtle and restrained  in order to highlight the songwriting.  Several of the things here are almost acoustic but that actually is what makes them work, because they accentuate the skill of the band.  Even at sixteen songs, this album is over too soon.

Dane Cook   Retaliation (2005)- Another comedy album, but unlike Mitch Hedberg, the jokes wear out after repeat playing.  I got this because Dane Cook did one of the best stand-up TV specials I’ve ever seen.  He was like a wild man, a rock star of a comedian, like Sam Kinison. I still like him but not as much as I did after seeing the special.

Irish Rovers   Best Of Irish Rovers (1999)- I had to get this because an old girlfriend used to play it and I have some nostalgic memories about some of these songs, like The Unicorn.  Besides, everyone needs some traditional Irish music in their collection.

Johnny Maar   Boomslang (2003)- I liked his work with Electonic but this is sort of bland.

Julee Cruise   Voice Of Love (1993)- More like the typical torch-singer or balladeer, and not the Twin Peaks style I was hoping for.

Music, The   The Music (2003)- Like Jane’s Addiction with more balls.

Spoon   Kill The Moonlight (2002)

Stevie Nicks   Trouble In Shangri-La (2001)- A nice return for Nicks.  Several good songs on here, that sound like Stevie Nicks circa Other Side Of The Mirror.  From the copyright dates, it looks like some of these had been hanging around since the Fleetwood Mac years.  Don’t know if that’s why they sound good or if it’s because Stevie has regained her writing talents. Hopefully a transition to even better future work

Tears For Fears   Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (2004)- I was hesitant when I bought this because most bands can’t get back together after 20 years and still sound good.  Plus, Tears For Fears was never one of my favorite bands.  I usually liked their stuff but I didn’t normally buy it- they were a radio only band.  After hearing these songs though, I went back to listen to some of their other albums and was amazed to find that I owned nothing by Tears For Fears except their greatest hits album.  If they could make an album this good this far into their career, how good is their stuff from their peak years?  Even when I narrowed down what I liked from this album so I could put it on my monthly car tape, I ended up with five songs.  What makes me sad is that this is supposed to be a one shot deal- a kiss-and-make-up album from the two principals, after years of going their own way.  If the title didn’t make it obvious, many of the lyrics allude to the temporary nature of the reunion.  Either that or they are commenting on the shortness of mortality.  Actually, I think it’s both because although the songs have a happy sound, they also have an undercurrent of melancholy, mortality, and bittersweet feeling.

Transcendence   Sleep With You (2003)- Crap.  Sometimes I wonder why I listen to reviews.  The only good thing on this album, and also the only time they aren’t talking about sex and/or “pussy” is when they abruptly decide to sing about the actress Minnie Driver.

Various Artists   Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1 (2004)- A bunch of artists singing about how bad George Bush is.  All proceeds go towards the Democratic Party so that they can defeat Bush in the 2004 election.  Turns out they didn’t succeed but some of the music, from Ministry, Sum 41, Offspring, Social Distortion, etc…, is pretty good.

Wild Orchid   Wild Orchid (1996)- The first band Fergie  (Black Eyed Peas) was in.  Generic pop.

Rounding Out My Collection

Bee Gees   Horizontal (1968)

Charlatans   Up To Our Hips (1994)

Chris Rea   God's Great Banana Skin (1992)

Daft Punk   Human After All (2005)

Duran Duran   Rio (1982); Duran Duran   (1981)- The band is even better than I remember.  The first two albums are more Euro-pop than teenie-bopper pop.

Edie Brickell   Volcano (2003)- Time to give up on her.  A one hit wonder.

Kid Creole & The Coconuts   Kiss Me Before The Light Changes (1994)

Kinks   Give The People What They Want (1999)- It’s time I started listening to more Kinks since several of the bands this year were copying their formula  (Franz Ferdinand, et al).  The problem is where to start.  There is no authoritative greatest hits collection and many of their albums are out of print.  I’ll just have to pick up CDs as I come across them cheap.

Mariah Carey   # 1s (1998)

Mark O'Connor   American Seasons (2001)

New Order   Waiting For The Siren's Call (2005);  Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)- I’m done with New Order.  None of the older albums hold up in comparison to their singles and it’s not worth the cost for the new albums. 

Pavement   Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)- I never listened to Pavement before so I gave them  a chance this year.  It’s not bad, but I don’t know if it’s good enough to buy too many more.  Maybe I’ll try one more album.  I don’t want to be ignorant about the heyday of college/alternative rock.

Robert Plant   Mighty Rearranger (2005); Principle Of Moments, The (1983); Dreamland (2002)- I think I like Plant better than Led Zeppelin.  These albums are awesome, especially Rearranger.  I love the Eastern flourishes and mysticism.  The sound is dreamy, erotic and transcendent.

Rush   Hold Your Fire (1987)- Aimee Mann sings backup on one song.

Sam Phillips   Fan Dance (2001)

Soundtrack   On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969); You Only Live Twice (1967)

Soundtrack   Stuart Little (2002)- It has a Holly Knight song on it, sung by Shawn Colvin.

Various Artists   Entertainment Weekly 80's On Edge (1999)- Free with my renewal.  You can never have too many 80’s collections.

Burned A Copy

Kelly Clarkson   Breakaway (2004)- I, like all of America, love the song Since U Been Gone.

Neutral Milk Hotel   In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)- An interesting album, sort of like Wilco or Modest Mouse in the way they merge multiple styles and have a stream of consciousness feel.

Stiff Little Fingers   Anthology (2002)- Mike liked a song I burned on one of my Year In Music CDs so he got this collection, which I borrowed and liked so I then burned a copy.  I’ll resist putting it on this year’s CD since I don’t want to create an endless loop that tears a hole in the time-space continuum.  The band wants to be the Clash but they fall short of that ambition, naturally.  They are good enough though to merit favorable comparison to other Clash pretenders, like The Alarm or Rage Against The Machine.

On Thin Ice

Cardigans, The   Long Gone Before Daylight (2002)- I paid to import this CD a couple years ago but naturally it wasn’t that good.  By the time I properly listened to it, this year, it had come out domestically.  It still wouldn’t have justified the price.  I know their hit Love Fool was a fluke and contrary to most of their other songs, but here is one time where I wish a band would recycle their hit endlessly.  Kind of like Robert Palmer did with Addicted To Love.  At least they could repeat the formula of their more typical sound, like Favorite Game or Erase/Rewind.

Never Again

Download   Effector (2000)- I have not heard any good solo stuff from former Skinny Puppy members.  I’ve tried several different permutations and it is all unlistenable crap so I’m giving up.

Rinocerose   Music Kills Me (2002)- I wouldn’t have guessed that this band would decide to record a
Euro-disco album but unfortunately, it’s too generic to catch my fancy.  Anything by other disco-era bands is better so why waste my money buying this when I can just play something I already own.

Richard’s 20 Favorite Albums Of 2005

20)  Stiff Little Fingers- Anthology
19)  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Take Them On, On Your Own
18)  Therapy?- High Anxiety
17)  Madonna- Confessions On A Dance Floor
16)  Paul McCartney- Chaos & Creation In The Backyard
15)  Stevie Nicks- Trouble In Paradise
14)  Robert Plant- Mighty Rearranger
13)  Modest Mouse- The Moon & Antarctica
12)  Billy Idol- Devil’s Playground
11)  Shakespears Sister- # 3
10)  White Stripes- Get Behind Me Satan
9)    Nine Inch Nails- With Teeth
8)    Mitch Hedberg- Mitch All Together
7)    Juliana Hatfield- Made In China
6)    Heart- Jupiter’s Darling
5)    Tears For Fears- Everybody Loves A Happy Ending
4)    Queen Adreena- Taxidermy
3)    Queen Adreena- Drink Me
2)    Daisy Chainsaw- …For They Know Not What They Do
1)    Queen Adreena- The Butcher & The Butterfly

Richard’s 10 Most Disappointing Albums 

10) Foo Fighters- In Your Honor
9)   Black Eyed Peas- Monkey Business
8)   Bloodhound Gang- Hefty Fine
7)   Nada Surf- The Weight Is The Gift
6)   Jayhawks- Blue Earth
5)   The Cardigans- Long Gone Before Daylight
4)   Rinocerose- Music Kills Me
3)   Download- Effector        
2)   Aimee Mann- The Forgotten Arm           
1)   Michael Penn- Mr. Hollywood 1947