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 CafĂ©”, 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       

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Year In Music: 2012

Last year when I made my compilation discs, someone referred to them as a nice pop mix.  At first, this statement offended me a little bit.  I mean, I’m a serious curator of music, right?  I’m pushing everyone’s boundaries and making them appreciate edgy, innovative sounds that they aren’t normally exposed to.  In fact, in the past I have deliberately left out some of the songs that might be too harsh for normal audiences or ones that have lyrics that get too graphic.  In my immediate defensive reaction, I considered going to the other extreme and letting it all come out this year, including every song I liked, whether it was palatable to the mainstream or not.  Then during a conversation last night, a thought that had been floating around in my head for a while finally solidified during a conversation about the music that was playing.  I actually DO like pop music more than any other type.  I appreciate melodies and hooks and “hum-ability”.  I’m okay with being a pop music person.  It’s a bit ironic that the two songs that played during this admission were by New Order and Lords Of Acid.  If these are always my types of choices, then it is a “can’t lose” situation because both are great.

I think what bothered me about the original comment was that I took it to mean that my selections sounded like all the other stuff out there at the moment, which is not the case.  I would be quite happy though if the stuff I was enamored with was what mainstream audiences liked.  I heap scorn on people who like bands just because they are unlistenable.  If you listen to a song just because of its “meaning” then that means there are no hooks in it.  If you like something just because other people don’t or because they haven’t heard of it yet, then you don’t like music- you like feeling superior.  For instance, I’ve gone back and listened to the earlier Black Keys albums.  They sucked.  They didn’t start getting listenable until they hooked up with Danger Mouse, then they became monsterously good.  That’s not to say they weren’t talented to begin with, just that I wouldn’t ever play one of those earlier albums a second time.  Nothing on them caught my fancy because there were no memorable songs.  They may play their instruments really well but they couldn’t write a hook to save their life. 

So I admit it.  I like pop music.  I want songs that lodge themselves in my brain for days.  I realize though that my definition of pop music is probably a bit different than other people’s.  I’m happy about that though because it means I can share some things that you aren’t already sick of hearing.  Below are my favorite songs that I listened to last year.  I realize three discs may be a bit overwhelming but when I first came up with my list of what I really wanted to include, it filled two CDs plus four more songs that couldn’t fit.  When trying to decide what to cut, the things that I thought were the most expendable were also the shortest so I would have had to cut ten songs out to get to two CDs so I went the other route.  I added more songs to fill up a third disc.  I’ve divided up the selections in to three roughly similar groups. 

Some of them are obviously pop songs, which is why I put them on the “Pop” disc (Disc 3).  These are the radio hits you already know or are by bands that are mostly mainstream artists.  “Snap” (Disc 1), are the alternative pop things, what I wish would get on the radio but never does, despite being interesting and a respite from Auto Tune.  “Crackle” (Disc 2) are the things that are more adventurous either in terms of their sound or their lyrics.  In previous years, I might have left them off but this year, to fill three discs I’m leaving them on my tracklist.  Plus, maybe I’m still smarting a tiny bit from the “pop mix” comment and have a little something to prove.  Regardless of why they made the cut, the songs are good and have a melody, even if it is hidden under lots of distorted guitars or ethereal vocals. Below is a list of what is on each CD along with some comments about the particular track.  Following that is my list of favorite albums for the year as well as the albums I found most disappointing.  Let me know what you think of this year’s choices!

Year In Music 2012 (Disc 1- Snap)

Imperial Teen    Out From Inside
Imperial Teen    Overtaken

Imperial Teen’s album Feel The Sound was my favorite album of the year.  I bought it on a whim as a $5 download simply because I’d heard about the band years ago and thought that I should finally give them a listen.  And listen I did, some 15 or 20 times this year.  I couldn’t decide what songs I like best and wanted to put on my monthly mix CD so I kept listening.  I finally narrowed it down to 6 or 7 that I listened to the most and eventually picked five.  I feel a little bad that I only put 3 of them on these discs.  The whole album is a nice blend of 60’s pop and 90’s indie pop, sort of like what it would sound like if Tommy James And The Shondells hooked up with Wilco and did an album together.

School Of Seven Bells-  Babelonia
Tycho-  Hours
Yuna-  Live Your Life

All three of these are quiet, hypnotic songs that kind of float along and merge into each other.  I like that they are a nice counterpoint to beat heavy songs that are dominating the airwaves.  I don’t expect to hear from any of these artists ever again but these songs were worth a listen this year.

The xx-  Last Christmas (Live)

Yes, this is a cover of “that” song.  It was the best thing that The xx did last year.  Their album was so minimalist that it didn’t even register on my brain; I was immensely disappointed by it.  I couldn’t tell if they couldn’t come up with any good songs or they were being deliberately contrary, a la MGMT, but I hated the album either way and I gave it plenty of opportunity to grow on me.  It never did but at least this song, which is not on the album, confirms that the band is still capable of something interesting.

Jack Johnson-  Upside Down

I finally broke down and bought this song after a couple years of denying that I liked a Jack Johnson song.  It was from the soundtrack to the Curious George movie.   A nice laid back jam.  Basically just vocal and an acoustic guitar delivered with massive charm.  I also bought a couple other things too so maybe next year there will be a second JJ song.  What’s next?  Mumford And Sons?  (Ah, no- that’s not very likely.  They rub my nerves the wrong way.  Give me Phillip Phillips “Home” instead, any day.)

Paul McCartney-  It's So Easy

From the Buddy Holly tribute Rave On.  It started as a nice retro-rocker until the end when McCartney goes spastic and freestyles insanely all over the place.  Several good things on the album but this one was the most … unusual.
Uffie-  Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans

A pleasant pop album with several good songs.  It sounds like a mix of Kim Wilde and Kesha.

Parov Stelar-  Booty Swing (Original)
I was listening to a commercial and liked the song that was playing during it.  I did a quick Shazam of it and found out who it was by.  After digging deeper, I found out there is a whole sub-genre of music like this called electro-swing.  It sounds like flapper music from the 1920’s with production styles from current club music.  I got a couple other similar things too until I eventually got tired of how much of it was blending into one big glob that sounded the same but this will give you an idea of what electro-swing sounds like.  To give you another idea of what the genre sounds like, listen to the current remake of “Istanbul” by Milan And Phoenix.

Kylie Minogue-  Timebomb

It’s Kylie.  I always have to have one of hers on my list.  This is not one of her greatest songs but I thought I would share it since it is a fun one-off and not on any album so you wouldn’t hear it otherwise.  And she is awesome in the video for it.  Even on her mediocre songs, of which there are not many, the art direction and wardrobe on the videos is amazing.

David Byrne & St. Vincent-  Who
David Byrne & St. Vincent-  Lazarus
A very innovative album that sounds nothing like the Talking Heads (unfortunately) and a lot like St. Vincent (fortunately).  It’s nice to hear big band instrumentation in pop music once again, even if it is just in this one album. Ironically, I was just listening to Hold On by Ian Gomm (you would know it if you heard it) and noticed a prominent saxaphone and then moved to another 1979 song, Nicolette Larson’s Lotta Love (literally one of my 50 favorite songs of all time) and heard more sax.  It appears that 1978’s Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty with the well-known sax solo kicked off a mini-trend.  (Quick shout out to Clarence Clemons who did his part to spread the joy of sax.)  Maybe David Byrne & Annie Clark (St. Vincent) can bring back big band sounds the way Baker Street kicked off sax appreciation.  The Byrne/Clark collaboration seems like it is deliberately trying to be off-beat but it is works despite being able to see the seams on the monster.  They put the puzzle pieces together in an enjoyable way.

The Rolling Stones-  Rain Fall Down
Civil Twilight-  Fire Escape
Of Monsters And Men-  Mountain Sound
Metric-  Youth Without Youth
Sleeper Agent-  Get It Daddy
Hacienda-  Savage

Here are several great singles from bands that might not do anything else in the future.  Their current albums are mostly blah.  Not bad, but just blah.  Nothing that you’d listen to again, aside from these songs.  I obviously don’t include the Rolling Stones in this group, although I could.  I heard this song on video clip show when I was in Spain and was surprised to realize it was by The Stones.  I thought it was a new song but it was actually about ten years old and sounded nothing like what the Stones normally sound like.  I liked the feel of it and commend them for doing something different.  It apparently wasn’t that successful though, considering I’d never heard the song before.  Metric and Of Monsters and Men have gotten some favorable press and will put out more albums.  OMAM had a solid album but Metric has never lived up to their hype and acclaim.  They are capable of being good but several albums in have still not delivered anything close to a masterpiece.

The Ting Tings-  Soul Killing

When I first heard this song, I thought it was such a shame that this annoying noise was going on in the background.  Was it a rocking horse, a creaking bedspring, a random noise?   It doesn’t stop either- it merges into the song and becomes an integral part of it.  The first few times I heard the noise I wished it was gone because I really liked the song otherwise but nope, it keeps playing through the whole song.  The next few times I listened to it, I tolerated the noise.  After the twentieth or thirtieth time I listened to it, the noise had been so ingrained in my head as part of the song, I came to relish how such an annoying noise became familiar and welcome.  Maybe it is Stockholm Syndrome but I love the song now, just as it is.

Year In Music 2012 (Disc 2- Crackle)

Friends-  Friend Crush

A friend of mine used to be in a band called Perpetual Crush that played a couple shows in the area.  Two years ago I was looking at YouTube to see if they ever but they closest match I could find was this song played by a band from New York in what appeared to be a living room or the world’s tiniest club.  (Kind of like King Street Blues, where I watched my friend’s band play.)  It was a hypnotic sound though.  Imagine my surprise when a year later, I hear that song on the radio. 

M83-  Midnight City
Mark Ronson-  Bout To Get Ugly

I have to shake my head when I listen to this.  I can see why it never hit the radio- it is too gonzo which is why I love it.  This is the closest I got to listening to rap this year- it’s just not interesting to me right now.  Ronson’s first and third albums are fun and challenging, like this song.  (The second is vaguely boring.)

The Rolling Stones-  Look What The Cat Dragged In
Van Halen-  Big River

Dinosaurs like The Stones and Van Halen should have gotten airplay with these songs but radio is too narrow-cast to give them a shot right now.

Julian Plenti-  Skyscraper

I wasted money buying this- it’s got three decent songs but it was by the singer from Interpol, which I love, so I had to give it a shot.  From what I understand a lot of it came from pre-Interpol material so maybe Paul Banks’ follow-up will be better.  (I hope so because I already bought it although I haven’t listened to it yet.)

Crystal Castles-  Insulin
Crystal Castles-  Sad Eyes

I adore Crystal Castles so it was odd that at first I hated their third album.  After multiple listens though I decided it was because it wasn’t as good as their first two.  Taken on its own, it is pretty good compared to other things, like Mumford And Sons (Yeah, I’m picking on them a little.)  Here’s the two best tracks from it.  Make your own judgment.

Ministry-  99 Percenters
Ministry-  Git Up Get Out 'N Vote

Minsitry is a band I like a whole lot but they have been hit or miss since the 1990’s.  Their sound is mostly back to where it should after years in the wilderness of sludge be but their lyrics are still a bit too political for me.  I mean that in the sense that they are ham-fisted, not that I agree/disagree with the ideas they espouse.  Take these two songs for instance.  I love the intensity and sound but the lyrics are a bit trite- “Get up, get out and vote”?  Is this a public service message or an industrial metal album?  This is also the type of song I’ve left off discs in the past because the mainstream appeal may be a bit limited.

Pete Yorn-  The Chase

For this album, Yorn enlisted Frank Black as his producer.  That is a genius idea but the execution of it just made me wish for another Pixies album or at least a Frank Black album.  Several songs sounded decent… almost like I was listening to a middling Frank Black album.  This track is the most “Black-ish”.

The Hives-  Tick Tick Boom

You have to applaud The Hives.  They always sound like themselves and no one else.  They are unique in their predictability and the way the manage to make great songs from the same template they were using a dozen years ago.

Audioslave-  Like A Stone

Yeah, this song is super-old but I finally broke down and got it this year.  $5 for this song would be a bit much but for the whole album it was a bargain because is quite good.  I was very surprised by its excellence and this song in particular still holds my attention.  That guitar solo and the phrasing of the chorus.  Wonderful!

Local H-  Mayonnaise & Malaise
Local H-  Sports Bar

This is my new favorite “bar band”.  They used to be famous for about 15 minutes, when “Bound For The Floor” came out but now they are forgotten but they still put out excellent meat and potatoes rock.

Linkin Park-  Burn It Down

I liked this song.  What can I say?

Black Keys-  Gold On The Ceiling
Black Keys-  Sister

Stellar songs.  Beyond fantastic.  I’m worried they will mess with the formula and revert back to boring bluesy-roots rock they had been doing.  Until then though, I’ll keep listening- with fingers crossed.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela-  Diablo Rojo
Jimmy Cliff-  One More (Alternate Version)

My taste does range beyond the U.S. boundary which is why these two tracks are here.  When I first heard the Jimmy Cliff song, I knew it would go on my playlist.  The only question was whether it would be this version or the slightly slower one that is also on the album.  I opted for the more ska sounding one.


Year In Music 2012 (Disc 3- Pop)
Imperial Teen-  All The Same
Pink-  Blow Me (One Last Kiss)

Yes, you’ve heard this song a million times.  That’s why it is on this disc- the hits one.  A good song is a good song.  What I like, and also dislike, about Pink is that each new song makes the previous hit disposable.  This one is perfect and there is no need to ever listen to Raise Your Glass again because this song has the same sound but is done even better.  (Pink also does a slow song after a fast hit song so my point applies to each type- the slow songs replace the previous slow song and the fast ones replace the previous fast hit.)

Icona Pop-  I Love It

I thought this song was totally over but apparently it wasn’t actually released in the U.S. until 2013.  So this is not a golden oldie.

The Ting Tings-  Hands
I include this song here in case you are a Ting Tings fan because this song was left off the release of their U.S. album.  They had recorded a whole album at one point, which had songs like this on it, but then scrapped it because they thought it didn’t sound good enough.  If this song here is any indication, they were mistaken.  It could have been a hit in any country.  I think they put it on their European album as a bonus cut and I’m sharing it with you. 

Roxette-  She's Got Nothing On But The Radio

Yep, they are back and they sound just like they always have.  Consider them a comfort food band.
Imagine Dragons-  It's Time
Cee Lo Green-  (You're So Square)...I Don't Care
Rolling Stones-  Doom And Gloom
Rupert Holmes-  Him
Prince-  Rock And Roll Love Affair

Here’s a bunch of one-off songs that are from high profile performers.  The Stones put a new song on their umpteenth greatest hits collection, Cee Lo was also on the Buddy Holly tribute along with Paul McCartney, Prince put out a song that got played every hour on the hour for a whole day on radio stations across the country and then disappeared.  Imagine Dragons had their first hit and Rupert Holmes, um, had one more hit the year after Escape (The Pina Colada Song), which is from 1979, the year I’m currently fixated on right now and which is why I got a Rupert Holmes greatest hits album.   (Maybe next year I’ll do a Best Of The Year: 1979 flashback disc.)  I just find this song interesting and it is very counter-intuitive if someone trying to write a hit song.

No Doubt-  Push And Shove
Uffie-  Hong Kong Garden
Paul Mauriat-  Love Is Blue
Amy Winehouse-  Our Day Will Come
America-  Sailing To Philadelphia
The Fixx-  Beautiful Friction
KT Tunstall-  Fade Like A Shadow
1776-  When You Go
LadyHawke-  Black White & Blue

All these bands were trying to write hits but none of them sound the same.  This just goes to show that pop music is very versatile and that’s why I love it.  Pop music can be anything.  It is the faux ska of No Doubt’s latest, blandest album, the synthesized instrumentals of Paul Mauriat, the 80’s referencing pastiches of Ladyhawke, the prog pop of The Fixx, the folk pop of KT Tunstall and America, the retro soul of Amy Winehouse, the upbeat indie sound of new band 1776, it is all different and it is all pop.  If this is what my niche is, I’m very happy with it because it is a diverse genre, not a narrow one, and it is my pleasure to share it with you.  That’s what makes pop popular.

Beach Boys-  That's Why God Made The Radio
Jay-Z & Alicia Keys-  Empire State Of Mind

Let’s end this year with two example of pop excellence.  One is by a band that has been around for six decades and can still squeeze out a pop gem in 2012.  This shows that quality is timeless.  The other song is a team-up by two people from different genres.  Alicia Keys is an R&B singer that is mostly known for dramatic ballads.  Jay-Z, as you may have heard, is a rapper.  Usually rap and R&B hybrids are awkward but this one sounds beautiful, even if Jay-Z does rip off his title and topic from Billy Joel.  This song shows that there is always something new to try, that it has not all been done before.  Music always rewards you if are willing to give new things a chance.  Enjoy!


My Favorite Albums Of 2012

Release Year
Imperial Teen
Feel The Sound
David Byrne & St. Vincent
Love This Giant
Local H
Ham Fisted
Jimmy Cliff
Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles (III)
Imperial Teen
What Is Not To Love
Various Artists
Electro Swing Revolution: Vol. 2
Herb Alpert
What Now My Love
Ting Tings, The
Welcome To Nowheresville
Mark Ronson
Here Comes The Fuzz
Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans
Brian Setzer Orchestra
Dig That Crazy Christmas
Charm School
Hives, The
Black And White Album
No End In Sight (Best Of)
Beach Boys
That's Why God Made The Radio
Various Artists
Rave On Buddy Holly
Muppets, The
The Muppets Soundtrack
Edie Brickell
Edie Brickell
The Fixx
Beautiful Friction
Paul Mauriat
Best Of Paul Mauriat
Pete Yorn


My Most Disappointing Albums Of 2012

Album Title
Release Year
David Stewart & Barbara Gaskin
How To Destroy Angels
How To Destroy Angels
No Doubt
Push And Shove
Sounds, The
Something To Die For
Gerry Beckley
Van Go Gan
Arcade Fire
Neon Bible
The xx
Not Your Kind Of People
Panic Of Girls
Van Halen
Different Kind Of Truth, A
Tom Tom Club
Downtown Rockers