Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Favorite Songs this Year!

My Favorite Songs this Year:

I genuinely love all of these songs, listened to them multiple times, and would recommend them to anyone. Order them into a playlist? Hey, be my guest.

"Bite the Bullet," "Albuquerque" - Neil Young (& Crazy Horse)
"Hey Ladies" - The Beastie Boys
"I'll Dream Alone," "Strange Powers," "Sad Little Moon," "Josephine," "100,000 Fireflies," "When You Were My Baby" - Magnetic Fields
"Let Me Have It All" - Sly & The Family Stone
"House of Cards" - Radiohead
"Gamma Ray" - Beck
"Mississippi" - Bob Dylan
"Winston's Atomic Bird," "Brown Submarine," "You Satisfy Me" - Boston Spaceships
"Toppin'" - Sex-S
"Portofino" - Teengirl Fantasy
"End of My Dream," "Thumbs Off," "Diamond Shine," "Big Cat," & c, &c - The Clean
"Splintered Bridges" - The Splinters
"Wolf Kidult Man," "Latch Key Kid" - The Fall
"Hey! Little Child" - Alex Chilton
"The Seus," "Garbage Heap," "Half Man," "When They Come to Murder Me" - Black Francis
"Way Out West," "Get What You Deserve," "Jesus Christ" - Big Star
"She's My Girl" - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffitti
"You & Me," "I Want You In My Life" - R. Stevie Moore
"This Whole World," "Slip On Through," "All I Want to Do," "Passing By" - Beach Boys
"Euphoria," "Bound to Lose" - The Holy Modal Rounders
"Blue Mountain," "Down at the Pool Hall Clickety Clack," "Tea Song," "No, I Won't Come (Go) Down No More" - Michael Hurley
"River Song" - Dennis Wilson
"Horus," "WULF" - Beef Donut
"Roof Rack," "Jullander Shere" - Cornershop
"Transparent Radiation," "Victory Garden," "When She Went Swimming" - The Red Krayola
"Magic Star," "Milking," "Our Angel's Ululu" - Deerhoof
"Palace of the Flames," "Quiver and Quake" - Elf Power
"Dear Doctor Doom," "Livin' On," "May the Circle Remain Unbroken," "Slide Machine" - 13th Floor Elevators
"Buffalo Ballet," "Barracuda" - John Cale
"Adventures Close To Home," "Black and White" - The Raincoats
"The Secret of Suicide" - Kramer
"American Gangster Time," "No Hiding Place" - Elvis Costello & the Impostors
"Baton Rouge," "Oh Jim," "Lady Day," "Paranoia Key of E," "Martial Law" - Lou Reed
"Beat Your Wings," "Dead Cloud" - Guided By Voices
"She's A Rainbow," "Citadel," "Rocks Off," "Happy," "Shattered," "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" - The Rolling Stones
"Brainstorm," "Time We Left This World Today" - Hawkwind
"Never Gonna Leave You Baby" - Retarded Muppit Farm
"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" - Black Sabbath
"Kingdom Come" - David Bowie
"Cold Son," "Walk Into A Mirror" - Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks (from the Cold Son EP that was far superior to the much more milquetoast Real Emotional Trash)
"I Love The Living You," "Think of As One," "Sputnik" - Roky Erickson
"This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us," "Hasta MaƱana, Monsieur," "Beat the Clock" - Sparks
"Looking For Love (in the Hall of Mirrors)," "Here in My Heart," "Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket," "Dream Hat" - the 6ths

Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008: Always look on the bright side

Albums I got this year that I liked the best:
{Those that have already been covered will receive shorter blurbs to avoid repetition.}

Doremi Fasol Latido - Hawkwind
Fuck. I either bought this at the end of last year or the very beginning of this one. Whatever - it took me until July to give this one a proper spin. It's an overgrown masterpiece that lives somewhere in between psychedelia, prog, and early punk with some fucking amazing songs with silly lyrics: "Brainstorm," "Space is Deep" and "Time We Left This World Today." Blast off with Hawkwind.

Distortion - The Magnetic Fields*
Stephin Merritt pissed off a lot of people by making an extremely monochromatic album after the "variety-show" style 69 Love Songs and i, an album people only started liking two years after its release. Those who recognize the songcraft beneath the impressive wall of noise he built around himself are vindicated once again - this is yet another amazing collection of songs about despair, drinking, murder and occasionally, love. You know, pop music.

- The Clean
This year was my initiation into Kiwi-pop. I'm not saving up for my ticket down under yet, but in the meantime I can bliss out to the 40 or so songs on The Clean's fairly comprehensive career retrospective, which contains their first EPs with outtakes that you pretty much can't find anywhere else - thus making this essential for anyone even remotely interested. You can hear them transition to an experimental pastoral band in disc 2 or just keep jamming to the instant classics from the band's early days. Either way, this is amazing stuff.

Wasps' Nests - The 6ths
The Mag. Flds. played a couple very good songs off this record when I saw them play a paradoxically acoustic set at the so-called "Noise Pop" festival this year, so I shelled out 7 bucks to get this one used. After several listens, it clearly stands out as one of Merritt's lesser known masterpieces. Featuring half independent music greats (Lou Barlow, Mac McCaughan, Dean Wareham, Georgia Hubley, Chris Knox, Robert Scott) and half people that promptly fell off the radar (almost everyone else), Merritt's occasionally bleak, occasionally ecstatic gems are fleshed out into universality in true cabaret style. Highly recommended.

- Black Francis*
He's back. Begun as a session for a single B-side, CT/FB/BF couldn't help himself and jizzed out seven great new songs with punk furor and abandon. The best follow-up we could have hoped for to last year's brilliant Bluefinger (which I have come to realize does not contain one bum song on it), this EP or mini-album or whatever it is only reinforces Mr. Thompson's renewed songwriting vitality. Hope that "Golem" sountrack is just as delicious.

Mountain Battles - The Breeders*
Listen to this one back to back with SVNFINGRS and you can trick yourself into thinking you're hearing the new Pixies album. Sorta. The Breeders took almost as long to make this as they did for the so-so Title TK but this time, actually WORKED on an album for most of that waiting period. Pay off: their best album to date, which encompasses folk, Mexican crooning, Microphones-esque musings and oh yeah, indie-rock - but still sounds incredibly cohesive, with a dark enigmatic cloak over the proceedings. Are the Breeders grappling with mortality? Best to check this one out and decide for yourself.

Imperial Wax Solvent - The Fall*
Mark E. Smith continues to be my personal hero by living against all odds. Luckily, he also makes great records that aren't just testaments to his longevity or increasingly cliched attitude. One of his best albums this decade (chuckle), he's exploring new textures in the Fall, having learned a few tricks from his time in Mouse On Mars collab. Von Sudenfed. The band is now just one big rhythm machine to be cut up with Smith raving in sliced digital audio. Throw on a terrible Groundhogs cover ("Strange Town") and MES has done well for himself again in 2008.

(Unnamed Collection) - Moondog
This stuff will be on the classical stations in 100 years. Until then, you can look really cool by getting into one of the most important composers of the 20th century before everyone else.

Bull of the Woods - 13th Floor Elevators
Coulda been their best album - if only, if only. Instead, we'll just settle for this being a great album.

Third/Sister Lovers, Live - Big Star
Live is raw pop beauty, Third is pop gone shut-in. Big Star is pop that never popped but lives on in the hearts & minds of those that know better.

The Climaxxx - Sex-S*
Recorded in glorious laptop jizzery, Sex-S' debut album is inconsistent, adolescent and also fucking hilarious with surprisingly great beats. New anthems like "Toppin'," "Demons," and "Luxury" have catchy enough choruses to stick in your craw forever but Sex-S' scatological sensibility and bizarre free-association provoke return listens time and again. Also, it's free (if you missed the limited-edition CD-R only available at Pehrspace). 

Like Flies on Sherbert - Alex Chilton
Punky southern critically acclaimed drunk makes messy album and it still sounds great thirty years later after the idiots that derided it said their peace. Let "My Rival" continue to lead us into a better musical future.

Daddy's Highway - The Bats
The Bats have a great thing, so it's good that they do it over and over, because it never gets old to me. Boy-girl harmonies, gorgeous-sounding rhythm guitars, a REALLY FUCKING good bassist whose tone recalls a distorted, plucked piano and endless plaintive hooks. Those that don't feel the same are those that call this album too long or repetitious. Daddy's Highway is a binge fix of pop lovin' that lasts an hour but pulls at my heart strings hard enough to stay with me long afterward.

Introduction - The Red Krayola
Art-rockers! Don't live fast, die young: 50-somethings can still rock and be weird AND make listenable, catchy tracks so let's celebrate Red Krayola's best (in my estimation) album in their autumn.

Corky's Debt to His Father - Mayo Thompson
Some things are classics waiting for you to discover them, and aren't on every fucking "Top Albums of All Time" list. This is one of them.

California Gold - Retarded Muppit Farm*
Are RMF maturing? Even when they pretend to be child molesters ("Where Have All The Children Gone?") it's done in measured, well-developed verses that build the tension to a masterful climax. Sonically, it's their best yet, with the Casio and Yamaha backing tracks bathing in digital reverb and increased guitar shading. And the best songs are nothing short of monster hits, particularly "Never Gonna Leave You Baby" and "Love Will Take a Back Seat." Call it their "safe for work album" (almost) and one of the year's most rewarding ones.

Bound to Lose (DVD) - Holy Modal Rounders
As good as a new Holy Modal Rounders album, we get glimpses into the strange journey that has been the lives of Stampfel & Weber. Cross your fingers for yet another reunion.

Kimono My House, No. 1 In Heaven - Sparks
Sparks Sparks Sparks. What can one say about Sparks that can't be said better by their music? I often say "Like Queen but far meaner and wittier," but that still feels like selling them short. Kimono My House is glam but not, completely Wagnerian in scope, as if it were trying to outdo Phil Spector with a five-piece band. No. 1 in Heaven, with its aerosol-can production, is much more danceable and coked-up, a style that fits the Mael brothers perfectly. Just go listen to these already - trying to describe a band this great makes me feel stupid.

The Splinters - The Splinters*
I wrote a very long entry below on this six-song EP, which should say it all. Best new band this year.

Woman's Gotta Have It - Cornershop
Took me a while to pick this one up (it was released in '95 and I've been listening to this band since '00), but it still sounds pretty fresh, considering how tired the genre-world-music blend cliche has become. Cornershop might be the most naive-sounding band of all time, and their music is frequently stripped naked, but these qualities might be why their records survive (to me at least, people seem to laugh when I tell them I like this band). Barely any bass on this extremely fun and low-key record, but plenty of half VU, half Pussy Galore, half something else (150%) gems on here - plus some Punjabi thrown in for good measure. You can get this one for $5 like I did and see for yourself, but Cornershop always win me over.

* = released this year.

Next up: fave. songs, best shows, etc.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

End of Year List: People we don't have to pay attention to in 2009

I'm always the last to figure these things out. I must be a born apologist, humanist, or any other one of those titles that means you delude yourself into thinking people are better than they really are.

If you read Michael Azerrad's amazing Our Band Could Be Your Life, you'll find out John Lydon/Johnny Rotten has been disillusioning his admirers since the early 80s at the latest, basically by being his arrogant, self-serving, sellout self. I don't own any records Lydon has been associated with since Public Image Ltd.'s The Flowers of Romance, but for some reason I never really wrote Lydon off. Sure, he's an asshole who hasn't made any worthwhile music since the beginning of the 1980's - and basically no music at all since the '90s, and he's been on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! and has contradicted nearly every one of his supposedly iconoclastic principles just as soon as he established them, even working as a Los Angeles real estate agent, but something kept me hoping. For what? That maybe he'd wake up, stop becoming this despicable caricature of himself and return to being the insatiable music fan that made worthwhile music in turn, not trading in vacuous "fuck-you" statements for words of substance.

This year I learned this would never happen. Lydon first hit the tabloids when the lead singer from the admittedly talentless Bloc Party claimed members from the Johnny Rotten entourage roughed him up with a healthy dollop of racism after he had the "temerity" to ask about a PiL reunion. Reading the news, I was torn between feeling like it really had very little to do with Lydon's own beliefs (and considering his long history of befriending black figures on the music scene, including Jamaican legends, Afrika Bambatta and Don Letts, it seems fairly impossible) and doubt over the minute amount of integrity he seemed to cling to. And cling he did, threatening lawsuits if anyone dared call him a racist.

Not too long after, charges were filed for him roughing up a female assistant for booking the wrong hotel room. This time, there was no vehement denial, no press statements and no defense, so one can only assume the claim is true.

Then the above commercial, in which Mr. Lydon officially sold his Public Image off to his favourite brand of butter. It speaks for itself.

John Lydon, Johnny Rotten, That Cunt or whatever else you could call him is not some revolutionary genius or daring iconoclast. His statement was made over thirty years ago and was refuted soon afterwards with his embrace of false celebrity. Like most frontmen, his best work was made with people he needed just as much as they needed him (Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Martin Atkins), without whom he has suffered greatly. Without solid music to back him up, Lydon has been on a downward spiral since his last decent album (The Laswell-produced Album), becoming more well known for mouthing off in the press and mounting needless Sex Pistols reunions than actually making music. This year, he became a tabloid fixture, one who makes "clever" butter commercials (only because he likes the brand, of course, of course), keeps racist pals and hits women. May he never regain his credibility.

I'll always treasure Never Mind the Bollocks, First Issue, Metal Box, Paris au Printemps, and The Flowers of Romance, but from now on I'll prefer to think of the piercing, whining tenor that graces those records as belonging to someone long gone to the ever after. Perhaps, the biggest tragedy in all this is how Lydon bought into the "public image" he so sardonically satirized in the 1978 single of the same name to become the marginalized cartoon he is today: the angry, egotistical, spiky-haired little asshole with a big mouth saying absolutely nothing.


He was never that great of a guitar player or a producer, and he wasn't ever doing anything new with music. Hell, even 60s pastiche had been done time and again by the time Jack White & the briefly enigmatic White Stripes stepped on the scene. So he wasn't even the first to be a copycat.

The White Stripes succeeded because they wrote some catchy songs and performed them with well-measured chutzpah in a style that wasn't typical of bands in the early part of this decade: slash-and-burn, lo-fi, kinda punky and Stonesish at the same time. They never actually made an album that was great from start to finish. But that was never quite the point with the Stripes: they were about being hit and run rock band that acted on impulse and could be brilliant, silly, rocking or just kind of dumb depending on what came out of the grab bag.

How sad it was, then, when Jack White started a really boring "normal" rock band, The Raconteurs, forgot how to write worthwhile songs, and then spread the mediocrity over to his flagship band with the abysmal Icky Thump. He broke the hearts of all the people that believed him when he said he objected to selling out (present company included) and made a Coke commercial. And now, he's jumped the rock-and-roll shark by making one of the worst Bond themes I've ever heard (though, to be fair I don't think I've heard many past 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies.")

Yes, the tired old institution of the Bond theme could use some fresh blood. But really, most of the Bond themes of the last twenty years have been performed by artists on the cusp of a dramatic fall from relevance: A-ha (who performed the last one really worth hearing, "The Living Daylights"), Tina Turner, Shanhia Twain, Gladys Knight & the Pips. And it seems here, Mr. White will follow suit. Even Peter Travers went out of his way to say it "sucks." The bomb fuse is set once Alicia Keys was invited on the track, a Grammy-hounding agent of mediocrity if there ever was one, whose only great moment was Bob Dylan hornily namechecking her at the beginning of Modern Times. Then once the song begins we get Jack's now cliche "overdriven" guitar tone, an appropriately evil-sounding piano riff and big thunderin' hip-hop drums. Then the vocals - is he rapping again on this shit? Wasn't this guy supposed to be the alternative to white rappers in the first place? The one-note chorus is even sloppier (and far stupider) writing than anything on Get Behind Me Satan, which he practically made up as he went along. It would win "most annoying song on local so-called rock stations" this year if it hadn't been for the Cold War Kids trying to pretend to be Jack White and sounding even worse.

Fucker always sounded like a bad McCartney impersonator anyway. Good riddance.


Do I really need to say anything? This probably doesn't require any comment from this author. Is he really that big an insecure asshole or is it all some clever act to weed out the "real fans"? While those who give a shit sort it out, let's just stop paying attention to Mr. Corgan altogether - positive or negative, he wants it too badly. Maybe in the next 20 years.

Up next: more positive sentiments regarding 2008.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thoughts on: The Splinters' first EP

In an apparent tribute to GBV's "Propeller"...

I first encountered The Splinters in February of this year, when they put up a bare-bones MySpace as their introduction to the world. I believe they had three songs, and a short list of influences that included The Shaggs. For show or serious? I pondered. Sure, I'm friends with people that listen to bands like The Shaggs for pleasure (I'm one of them), but it's one thing to cite a radically defiant, somewhat revolutionary, and often tuneless band as an "influence" and quite another for the claim to be supported by your music. The track "Splintered Bridges" answered my question.

Tape hiss, an almost Native-American drum beat and three nasal female voices singing in unity over a chugging garage riff (played on acoustic, naturally) made for one of the more unique statements of purpose I've heard from a band in a while. And yeah, it kind of sounded like The Shaggs after a couple more timekeeping lessons. The melody was half 60s soul, half playground chant: "I don't want you to go awaaaay and I don't want you to stay." Like a playground rhyme, it was instantly memorable, and like a classic recording, it just seemed like one of those songs that should have been written all along, unpretentious and unaffected; people making music because they like to do so.

Since then, the band mushroomed into an important part of the Bay Area scene, and for once, it was well deserved. Adding drummer Courtney Gray, they could deliver incendiary, clipped performances broken up by nervous humor. The band swiftly moved from being an alien four-track project to a real rock band. Some bands can't survive the transition without becoming boring or conforming to indie/rock/indie-rock cliches, but they only got better.

The debut EP in question, then, is a testament to the promise the band continues to show without completely tipping their hand. Recorded in digital in a co-operative house bedroom studio, the record doesn't quite capture the rough-and-ready garage punk of the live act, to the disappointment of some but to the benefit of neophytes that don't collect scratchy 7"s.

Nights on the Bay Area garage circuit have done the group well: there's no question that they're a cohesive unit. The contrast of Ashley Thomas' chugging rhythm guitar against Caroline Patramian's single-note leads echos underground guitar duos like The Cramps' King Congo Powers and Poison Ivy Rorsharch, or even The Fall's Craig Scanlon and Brix Smith. Courtney Gray and Lauren Stern, drums and percussion, respectively, are the band's secret weapon, laying down a solid rhythmic foundation that often recalls Motown's one-two snap beats and allows the group to still groove sans bass guitar.

"Splintered Bridges" leads the set in a revamped surf-punk version, coming off as less homegrown this time so much as moshworthy; ironically, this one usually closes sets. The equally brash "Ch-Ch-Ch-CHA" and "Oranges," then, flesh out the Splinters' unspoken manifesto. "Ch-Ch-Ch-CHA," using its title's onomotapea as the chorus' hook, describes an all-out girl gang brawl in a park, culminating with a repeated screech of "They thought we stole their friends/They thought we stole their friends/They thought we stole their friends/They thought we stole their friends/Yeah, right." The sexual politics behind the fuck-and-fight lyrics of "Oranges" are too much for me to analyze uninformed, suffice to say they endow the song with a deliberate, even comical, nastiness, with lines like: "That's how she did it/She got in my pants/And I hate her for it/Why won't she just fuck off" and "I grabbed at her crotch/I tried to hurt her badly/But instead it got her off."

A lot of what makes these songs so significant is the redefinition of the "I" within the world of the Splinters: When they sing "Let me tell you" or "I had to do a double take, 'cause she was with a man," all three "lead singers" blurt the lines, making for a collective-first person: an all-for-one, one-for-all mob mentality, the same as when The Damned used to shout "I'm gonna stab your back" in unison, or when the Raincoats would desperately ask, "Is it love when I see your face in the rails?" By virtue of the ensemble vocal, in that moment those groups speak for you and me and everyman/everywoman, letting us into their gang and into their headspace for the fleeting moment a pop song can provide - to share their trevails, fears, suspicions, and/or every other nasty emotion that makes pop worth listening to.

"Electricity" is the newest number on the set, and probably the best suited to the cold, clear production style of the EP: a haunting, ghostly number that finds the band exploring their post-punk influences as well. It's their most radically different number thus far, and in the running for their best, melodically sophisticated and brimming with tension. "Sea Salt Skin" provides the set's hangover; as if the clinically depressed cousin to "Splintered Bridges," the song also depicts a deteriorating relationship but with increased resignation and desolation. The Lauren Stern-led "Worry," often used by the band for the audience to cool their jets mid-show, concludes the EP with a more traditional-sounding lament against an skeletal acoustic backing. While not recorded on four-track, the tune is the EP's tie-in to their tape-hiss beginnings, a lilting ditty tracked quickly with minimal instrumentation.

Even at 6 songs, the EP is a bit scattered in direction, if only because the group seems to have too many ideas to fully cauterize their sound yet - which is a good thing. The set does not encapsulate the "essence" of the band, but as a first salvo, it's particularly effective, featuring unusually strong songwriting and a band full of chutzpah (as opposed to the other thing bands are usually full of). And basically, you'd be a fucking idiot not to pay attention to what this band does next - their live performances alone position them as successors to bands like The Raincoats or the Slits (see "Boston Buys" for how I feel about them).