This year I challenged a lot of my preconceived notions regarding music, and more often than not I was richly rewarded. Hence, I started liking at least one Replacements record (so now I can't claim to "hate" them), I fell for Alex Chilton's solo career wholeheartedly, I discovered legends I had previously written off, and I fell in love with the Zappa music I hadn't fully digested yet. This was not a year of epiphanies. It wasn't even a year where I listened to much new (read: present-day) music. But it was a year where I expanded upon the material in my record collection that I already loved....read on....
Best albums I bought/acquired:
Destiny Street - Richard Hell & The Voidoids
This one's tough to find, especially since Mr. Hell just "revised" this 1982 classic with new guitar work from Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot. But these classy fucks couldn't possibly reproduce the ugly beauty of 10 tracks of Robert Quine clashing against a competing number of rhythm guitarist Naux's in the swirling mess that serves as the backdrop for Destiny Street. Had Hell died after this album's release it would have been his In Utero - with desperate cries in the anti-drug "Ignore That Door," hypnotic depression in the chugging "Staring in Her Eyes," retrospective insight in the timeless "Time," and, oh yeah, the cover of the Bob Dylan song about suicide ("Going Going Gone"), it often has the tone of a farewell. Instead, we get a postcard from the edge that doesn't leave us - or its creator - cold when it's over.
Live at The Star Club - Jerry Lee Lewis
There is nothing to be said about this album that has not already been said. If you haven't heard it and you like rock music, you are doing yourself a disservice.
A Grown-Ass Man - Dump
Dump's four-track offerings can be hit or miss, although all have a well-worn charm that brings me back for repeated listenings time and again. But Grown-Ass Man, McNew's first fully-digital recording, is also his best, most realized album. Not only does the sound bring out the true brilliance in his often simple yet memorable songwriting, the songs themselves are jaw-dropping almost across the board, such as the exhilarating "The History Of Love," the Rentals-esque "Basic Cable," and the furiously epic (clocking in at just under 8 minutes) "Daily Affirmation." Good choice of covers too ("Mr. Too Damn Good," Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song")
Sticky Rubies - The Amazements
OK, I produced a song on this record ("Watch Your Step"), paid for the mastering of it - and I also don't feel it's the best representation of the band. But this is the most official thing we've got, or will ever get - RIP. It was a great ride guys - now let's hear it for the Real Noriegas in 2010!
Dim Stars - Dim Stars
Post-Voidoids Hell joins two Sonic Youth members and one producer for sloppy, ridiculous and overlong record. The result has some of his finest songs of all time ("She Wants To Die," "All My Witches Come True," "Monkey," "Baby Huey" (the latter featured in the movie Airheads!!!)) and some ridiculous jamming and noise experiments. Bravo for taking a chance and having fun. This record is often panned and misunderstood, but in fact is quite brilliant, and can sound even profound given the correct mental, physical and chemical settings.
Tear Down The Walls - Molesters
The dynamic Sam Lubicz/Liam Morrison duo have yielded some great music the last couple years, namely Sex-S and the 333 Boyz, but for my money, Tear Down The Walls is their bona fide masterpiece, recorded under the "cover name" Molesters. Classic songs include the near-instrumental "Doodoo Rock," the grunge-apathy anthem "Twins" and the samba-esque "Like A Virus." Recorded mostly through an iMac's internal mic onto GarageBand, lo-fi wishes it was this good, or this lo-fi.
Songs From The Pink Death - Kramer
Kramer's solo records follow an interesting pattern of looping jams with endlessly ranting lyrics stacked high with Kramer's self-harmonizations. And I love them. They are my thing, and there's brilliance anyone can latch onto, especially in this record, with the anti-romantic yet achingly beautiful "The Funny Scene," with the pro-atheist anthem "The Hot Dog Song," and the just plain irritatingly catchy "Don't Come Around."
American Primitive, Vol. 1
"You hear the best part of humanity, people expressing their connection to eternity or whatever." - R. Crumb, on "old records"
Gospel used to be the best music America had to offer. It was rock and roll, soul, avant-garde, blues and God in one package before this pangaea was woefully destroyed by time. Luckily John Fahey and Harry Smith were around to pick up the pieces before eternity took them away too. This is essential, as essential if not more than (dare I say) the Anthology of American Folk Music.
Cloudland - Pere Ubu
Pennsylvania - Pere Ubu
St. Arkansas - Pere Ubu
Why I Hate Women - Pere Ubu
Modern Dance - Pere Ubu
To quell any nagging doubts, yes I got into Pere Ubu this year. This is why:
Previously, I had felt, more or less without much justification, that Pere Ubu were a fairly pretentious unit, high on their own peculiarities but low on musical content. But "Breath" - has there been a more appropriate title in pop history? - moved me, changed me and made me an Ubu fan on the spot in front of the laptop. Pere Ubu, as it turns out, is pure American rock music. Quirky, angular, spazzy - all these words are thrown at them but skillfully dodged by the band's adept skill at following their radical whims into a shockingly consistent body of work. OK, so last year's Long Live Pere Ubu verged on unlistenable - but regardless, I admire David Thomas & co. for having the guts to make such a jarringly offensive (and deliberately so) piece of work so seemingly "late" in their career. (Plus there were still some great songs on the album anyway) All the above mentioned albums are ones I've had a deeply personal relationship with - Pennsylvania and Modern Dance helped me survive Washington D.C., Cloudland narrated the urban alienation of San Francisco and Boston, but St. Arkansas is still the one to listen to when terror twilight falls. All are essential, as far as I'm concerned.
Oar - Alexander "Skip" Spence
If you're open and ready to the bare folk and broken "psychedelia" of Skip Spence, this album resonates from opener to closer. It's an acquired taste, but for those ready for it, one you immediately ease into and hold onto for listen after listen. This music isn't hip, it isn't confessional, and it isn't even all that weird-sounding today. It's just raw and moving, and free of pretention. And a classic.
Main Offender - Keith Richards
Pleased to Meet Me - The Replacements
The Grand Wazoo - Frank Zappa
Barrett/The Madcap Laughs - Syd Barrett
Anything by John Fahey
Yet another giant (literally) American I woefully underestimated and ignored for years. For YEARS, I said to myself, "I don't hear anything special about that guitar picking. I'll go listen to the Crumb soundtrack instead." OK, the Crumb soundtrack is still great (one of my all-time favorites) but Fahey has a whole other thing going on, where the history of music gets re-routed through his head and generally, crammed through one guitar. His weird so-called "noise" material is just as good (as far as I'm concerned) as his early so-called "folk" stuff. His writing, collected on How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life and Vampire Vultures, is equally brilliant. Did I mention his abstract paintings? (They're great too.) A man that succeeded at all artistic ventures, I consume his work with the same voraciousness with which he ate junk food.
Sign of the 3-Eyed Men - 13th Floor Elevators
The 13th Floor Elevators' discography is so essential to any accurate perception of the impact of the 1960s "musical revolution" that it's a crying shame these albums weren't given the same royal treatment as may other, lesser bands that get much more attention. Never mind them. All the albums are now collected in one place, and they sound amazing, and yes, all the outtakes and shit are fucking great too. I'm not going to bother to "review every disc" like I said I would, for fear of cheapening it - this is one of the greatest band ever's full discography we're talking about, right?
A Man Called Destruction - Alex Chilton
Alex Chilton takes so much shit for his solo career. Hell, I panned Feudalist Tarts/No Sex. But you know what? I love that record now, and listen to it all the time. Chilton has odd, perhaps sarcastic, but always discernable charisma across all his solo efforts post-Like Flies. True, the latter record was probably the last masterpiece the man can muster, but A Man Called Destruction proves he's still capable of an amusing, endlessly listenable record. Mainly covers (that's the way most of 'em go) graced with Chilton's evermore-sterling guitar tone and smirking vocal stylings, and in brilliant hi-fi, for once. If you want Big Star, buy a ticket for one of the two reunion shows this year (yes I'd like to see them too).
Incomplete list of favorite songs:
"Let Me Get Close To You," "Bangkok," "What's Your Sign, Girl?," "Lies" - Alex Chilton
"Soul Deep," "The Letter" - Box Tops/Chilton
"SAD.TXT," "Non-Alignment Pact," "Horses," "Monday Night," "Bus Called Happiness," "Caroleen," "Beach Boys," "Street Waves," "Drive," "Silver Spring," "Breath" - Pere Ubu
"Lovely Day," "Oh My Golly" - The Pixies
"Hop on One Foot/Hop On the Other" - Squatter's Temple
"Sun Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday Blues," "Sligo River Blues," "When the Springtime Comes Again," "Fanfare," "Fare Forward Voyagers," "Red Lion" - John Fahey
"Life Goes On," "I Ain't Mad At Cha," "Changes" - 2Pac
"Chandelier Searchlight," "My Purple Past" - Deerhoof
"Livin' On," "Barnyard Blues," "It's You" - 13th Floor Elevators
"Do Something Real," "It Is Divine" - Robert Pollard
"Betrayed (live)" - Lou Reed
"She Got That Come Back Pussy" - Dickey Williams
"Mind Playing Tricks On Me" - Geto Boys
"Sex Machine," "Please Please Please (live)" - James Brown
"Seat in the Kingdom" - Crumb Brothers
"Fairest of All" - The Red Krayola
"Nothing Man" - The Deviants
"What is a Dollar?," "Reparations," "Deathbed Confession" - Chain & The Gang
"Oh Death" - Charlie Patton
"Words of Wonder," "Eileen," "Hate it When You Leave" - Keith Richards
"Everything You Did" - Steely Dan
"Down On Me" - Eddie Head and his Family
"The Funny Scene" - Kramer
"Locomotive" - Thelonious Monk
"Ruins Song," "Millennium" - The Amazements
"Don't Leave Me Alone With Her," "At Home, At Work, At Play," "Beat the Clock," "Reinforcements" - Sparks
"Mysterious," "Sorry" - The Splinters
"Doodoo Rock" - Molesters
"Part of Me" - LAKE
"Waving My Arms in the Air," "Octopus," "Late Night" - Syd Barrett
"Little Hands," "Cripple Creek," "Broken Heart," "Dixie Peach Promenade" - Alexander 'Skip' Spence
"Leroy," "I Am Stealth" - The Airplanes
"We Are Mean" - Vic Chesnutt (RIP) and Elf Power
"Addicted to Love" - Robert Palmer
"Centerfold" - J. Geils Band
"'Til The End of the Day," "She's A Mover," "Back of a Car" - Big Star
"Money (live)" - Jerry Lee Lewis
"Lonesome Cowboy Jim (Swaggert version)," "The Grand Wazoo," "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy," "Cleetus Awreetus-Awrightus" - Frank Zappa
"Reverend Black Grape" - Black Grape
"Letter From Anne Marie," "Nobody Rides For Free" - Grant Hart
"Lie To Me," "Walk Away" - Tom Waits
"Fly Into The Mystery," "Ice Cream Man" - Jonathan Richman
"Je Suis Un Rock Star" - Bill Wyman
"Nicotine Need," "Eenque Pen," "Teen Routines" - R. Stevie Moore