Saturday, June 9, 2018

Overrated

NOTE: This post is co-written by Good Jaybee and Evil Jaybee. Most of the work was done by Good Jaybee (because Evil Jaybee is, well, evil) but we’ll call it out when EJ has something to say.

I recently threw a stink bomb into a discussion taking place on an Americana music site.

Members were asked which artists they thought were the most overrated. I just came to listen since I couldn’t think of anyone.

Some of the comments were of the kids these days variety. I'd had enough of that when I was an actual kid, but didn’t rise to the bait this time.

And of course there were the conformist-as-hell-but-don’t-know-it nonconformists who trashed the Beatles. For the most part, though, ire was directed at well, Americana artists, as was apt.

But then a few commenters put some pop/dance/rap artists on their lists. Now I’m a dilettante at best regarding those genres. I hate some, I like some. So I wasn’t exactly defending them when I jumped into it.

My point was if you don’t like a genre, how can you say an artist of that genre is overrated? It’s like someone who hates hearing fat ladies sing saying that opera is overrated. Maybe his opinion just doesn’t matter. Doesn’t he know this? Why is he even talking? The fat lady fans just don’t care.

I got a good mix of responses - none of them threatening actual physical harm. And the dialog eventually got to the I like what I like and you like what you like phase, which leads me to wonder what the point of the exercise was.

I always wondered how someone could dismiss an entire musical genre, anyway. Don’t you have to be familiar with something to form an opinion about it? I’d try to picture the person dutifully listening to a whole stack of albums in order to develop an informed opinion just for this occasion. And at the end of all that effort (and money spent), they would pronounce the genre “Sucky”. Really? Isn’t life too short for all that? Unless you’re a critic and you’re paid to do that.

I’ve since learned that most people don’t go to such lengths. They hear what they hear and then they give their opinion about it. And I guess if you hear a few songs and don’t like any of them, chances are you’re not going to like the next one, either.

Isn’t that enough to just leave it all be? Do you really need to make pronouncements about it? As if those who are enjoying it are wrong? (Evil Jaybee here. I will make exceptions for artists like Journey or Rush, who, if you like them, you're definitely wrong.)

So I got to thinking about what overrated really means. When we use the term, we’re essentially saying that we like something less than other people. Not much of a statement.

The logic of it goes something like this:
You like ______ a lot.
I don’t like _______ as much as you.
Therefore, you have rated ______ too highly.
Thus, you are incorrect.
Stop liking _______.

When put into a more global context, it’s more like this:
The whole world really like ________.
I think _________ is okay,
So the whole world has overrated them.
Thus, the whole world is incorrect.
World, stop liking ______.

This all sounds ridiculous to me, but it’s a bit more entertaining than "To each his own".

It comes back to the question of inherent quality. I once heard Mortimer J. Adler talking to Bill Moyers and rating Shakespeare over the poetry of James Dickey. Bill Moyers preferred the latter. Adler said that Moyers saw a quality in Dickey, as Adler saw in Shakespeare, but added that there was an inherent quality in Shakespeare that made him greater than James Dickey.

Funny how the guy who prefers Shakespeare also finds a greater inherent quality in him. What a coincidence. File that under No Shit, Mortimer.

On the other side of the coin, there are very few people who, when asked to choose between the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits, would pick the latter.  But are they wrong if they do?
(EJ: Hell Yes!) 

But once you get inside their heads you realize they're not. They like HH goddammit! And who am I to say that they’re f*cking stupid morons with no taste?  (Oops, that was EJ again.)

A guy at work who once told me - with a straight face - that he preferred Wings to the Beatles. While I shook my head in disgust, another person there agreed with him. Now you expect to encounter such idiocy on the job but these were people I respected! They were older than me and thus preferred the more poppish/commercial Wings to the slightly rockier Beatles.

And the sales figures at the time may have backed them up on this. I’m actually afraid of finding out. (EJ: I'm not. I just checked a couple of sites and it looks like the Beatles are doing better.) 

Thank God. But was it a matter of time?  Were the quality/marathon Beatles inevitably going to beat out the hit-of-the-moment/sprinter Wings? I’d like to think so, but Cats has still grossed more than Gypsy on Broadway.

(EJ) Let’s stop right here. I will (and sometimes do) shout to the rooftops that the Wings people are WRONG about this. That there is an inherent quality (yeah, I said it) in Beatles music that is lacking in Wings. And those Wings fans make Hermans Hermits fans seem like Rhodes scholars.   

Good Jaybee here. A seemingly obvious difference in quality - Beatles vs. Herman’s Hermits -  may only be so because the Beatles are more famous than HH. In other words, perhaps it’s just the majority saying what they like and drowning out the HH fans.

I don’t have any Hermans Hermits albums. so for all I know they’re masterpieces. (EJ: Ah, but life’s too short to find out, right GJ?)

Uh, yeah. But for the hell of it, I checked the allmusic.com essay, and well, don’t you know that the author thinks their second album is just great?

Which brings me to Willie Nelson.

Or rather, that Americana site.

I somehow got pulled into an argument about Willie, or was it just an offshoot of the original Overrated Debate? Anyway, I was trying to play nice and pushed the to each his own line.

One guy was cool with that, since he was being attacked for liking some of Willie’s later albums. The other guy hated anything by Willie after 1985 or so.

We got to the you like what you like... phase (or, as the anti-Willie guy said, the you’re blind phase). (EJ: Didn’t he mean deaf?)

So to break the tension I decided to ask them both for their suggestions on good Willie Nelson albums. And guess who gave me suggestions? Not the Anti Late Willie guy, of course. You’d think that with all the effort he put into trashing stuff, he'd happily direct me to the "good". But no. He must have gotten bored.

So what’s the point of a negative opinion?  I mean, it’s fine to have one. I have plenty.

Like this one. These guys are overrated:
Led Zeppelin
U2
The Police

Discuss!

And while you’re doing that, here’s one of the greatest songs of the sixties by the just-about-correctly-rated Hermans Hermits.
(EJ: Just try to think of a song by Wings you’d say was one of the greatest of the seventies. Good luck with that!)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Secret History: 1979

Welcome to another - and long overdue - edition of Secret History, this time for 1979.

My last one was for 1979 about five years ago. I kinda slacked off, because I was concerned that I was getting too close to the present. (wtf?)

So it’s back, and I’m less sure than ever there’s anything secret about it.

The punk big bang happened in 1977 and the asteroid chunks were still flying around. Everything seemed possible at the time, like 1968 compared to 1967. What could go wrong, right?

While 1978 was a year of consolidation 1979 was a kind of where do we go from here? year. And not all of the directions hinted at really panned out.

We ended up with a lot of great music but it was spread out over too many records. So there were not as many flat-out great albums but a lot of really good ones.

Hey, what do you want? Humans were involved.



The Roches

The first song is so cute I wouldn't blame you for wanting to smash the record into a hundred small pieces. But the rest is so beautiful you end up feeling bad and love it anyway. I’ve been waiting 36 years for Mrs. Jaybee to get past that first song though, so I’m not providing her grade. A



Roxy Music: Manifesto 

With Eno now long gone, RM keeps getting more and more normal, and thus, less powerful. But more fun, too. A-



Gang of Four: Entertainment!

Not much fun here, but pile-driver rhythms, angry politics, and almost disembodied voices. Their best. A



Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust

But fun is important. Good old modern ironic pop music, even if old Nick now swears he was playing it straight the whole time. A-



Graham Parker: Squeezing Out Sparks

I once had the pleasure of hearing this played in its entirety on a beach in the Hamptons, where it pissed off all the right people. What better recommendation can I offer? So intense that it might be better than Heat Treatment or Howlin' Wind.  What?  No way. Way! A



The B-52s

If “52 Girls” is one of the high points of the years, “Dance This Mess Around” is one of the high points of my life, except that (or maybe because) it also clears the room. I recently got into an argument with someone on Facebook about this record. (Someone may have called someone else a Nazi… But that’s not important.) This is one of the most delightfully weird records ever. Who wants rock n' roll to be normal, anyway? And when you get past all that, Kate and Cindi sing great, and the guitar and bass really rock.  A-



Marianne Faithfull: Broken English

“Guilt” was stunning on SNL, so actually listening to the album is a slight let down.

She barely survived the sixties and she’s here to tell you about it. And by the way “now” is not so hot, either. The subject matter was risque for the time, but the music is actually a bit slick.  But that voice cuts right through it.  A-



Michael Jackson: Off the Wall

With rock n' roll revitalized, it would have been easy for me to continue to ignore music by African Americans. I needed this one to remind me that there were other types of vital music that didn’t involve an electric guitar. This is Michael as I like to remember him. From my limited perspective, one of the greatest R&B albums ever. A



Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady

This being a collection of their first eight singles (all the side As on side one of the album and all the side Bs on side 2), it could be considered a bit of a cheat, but surely it’s one of the best records of the era. A


I purposely omitted some records, like Rust Never Sleeps, because it's too fucking obvious (it's supposed to be a secret history, remember?), and others like Fear of Music, Breakfast in America and Damn the Torpedos because they’re overrated. (Sorry Tom!).

Now, looking at the above I wonder what my reservations about this year were exactly. Probably the stuff I left out.

My next Secret History will be the first step into that hellscape that is the 1980s...


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Spring

Yeah, I know. Spring isn’t officially over yet, but on the Jaybee Calendar, Summer starts on the Memorial Day weekend.

Plus this Spring hasn’t been very, well, spring-y. So, like the Winter before it, so long, and don’t let the Summer door hit you on the ass on your way out.


Sweden:

And, again I find myself traveling, thanks to what amazon.com throws my way. This time, north to Sweden!

Fox News keeps telling me how it’s a Socialist nightmare. And since they’re so fact-based, out of concern, I decided to go beyond the meatballs and check out their music.


Robyn: Body Talk (2010)

“I’m surprised you got this”.

This is Mrs. Jaybee code for this sucks. And what sucks exactly, Mrs. Jaybee?

Maybe the sight of a 60-year-old enjoying girly-voiced dance pop.

I'll admit, it’s not my go-to genre by any means, but unlike so much other stuff in this category, it’s not vacuous, superficially sexual and all production. I hear some great melodies, sung with real passion and with words to back it up (usually). So, along with thoughts and emotions, there’s even some - god forbid - empathy here.

It may be that Robyn was 31 when she released this. So she’s been around for a while and while she can be impetuous like your average young person, she’s also capable of a little wisdom. Which appeals to my 60-year-old ears.

In other words, she's someone I wouldn’t mind talking to.

She's not perfect. After a great start, there are a couple of silly ones, but then she's back with her heart on her sleeve.

So there's about a fifty-fifty split between the standard but well-done dance tracks and the really melodic emotional - but not slow - ones. If it tilted to the latter a little more it would be great.

So Sweden seems to be doing okay. Whatever problems they have, they seem to deal with them by dancing. Recent developments have shown that this is not at all the worst course of action.

B+

"In My Eyes"


Jamaica:

But it is cold up there! So I head southwest. And back in time about 45 years. (Did I not mention time travel?)


Bob Marley:Catch a Fire (1973)

I love how this begins. You get to hear the band (guitars, bass, drums, etc. - a very rock n' roll sounding band) slowly kick in before Bob starts singing. And not too fast. Just a nice, rocking rhythm. They're not taking on the world just yet. Just doing what they do best. Kind of a relief from the hits, actually.

So I'm far more likely to do a deep dive with this than the to put on the no doubt excellent Legend. 

And the deluxe version contains both the original Jamaican versions of the songs and the ones on the American release. Peter Tosh sings on a couple on the former while it’s all Bob on the latter. Which is just as well. Peter’s great but a little scary. When he sings “400 Hundred Years”, he sounds it.

Definitely worthwhile.

A-

"Concrete Jungle"


And since we didn't get much heat this Spring I decided to stay in a tropical climate, and go even further back in time.

Brazil:


Os Mutantes (1968)

What was it like to be in Brazil in 1967?  Did rock and rock and psychedelia penetrate beyond America and Europe? The answer is an emphatic Yes!!!

Like thousands of others all over the world, this trio was inspired by everything going on up north. This is less their version of Sgt Pepper (which is more “concept” to me than psychedelic) than say Forever Changes. Okay, that's a stretch, but it's the sound of yet another group of young people with limited means trying to find the aural equivalent of bliss.

And not understanding what they're saying is almost a relief. If they were from California, you’d understand the words, but have no idea what they meant.

They have a kitchen sink approach to their music, adding background noise and sudden cuts to something completely different. The guitar playing is pretty standard for the time. The riffs are fast but not very original. The singing is more engaging and melodic, since there's both a male and female vocalist. She usually does the slow ones, which, after the abovementioned sink, come at the right time. So do the changes in tempo (nice drumming by the way!).

This one reminds me how pretty psychedelia could be.

And it all comes together on "Trem Fatansma".

B+




So now let's all break out our parkas for summer!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Winter 2018

The one single thing I like about this time of year is, if the music is good I can stay indoors, pretend the weather isn't there and JUST LISTEN!

My batting average hasn’t been great the last few years but things are different this time around. Perhaps it has something to do with my almost utter failure to stick to this decade, which was one of my New Year resolutions.

Plus, I did some mental traveling. I barely do the physical kind, so it’s a start.

And where did I (fake) go?


The Congo:

Not the place that comes to mind in January (then again…), but then there is Black Panther, so...


Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2005)

I wanted to get something by these guys for a while and when it came time to choose I ended up going with their 2004 debut. Doh!

I love the idea of this record. A bunch of guys make their own instruments and amps by pulling parts from junked cars and other crap, and then plug them in and play. A real garage band.

So you get a weird mix of the rhythms you’d expect, but with a raw distortion. And not like electric guitar distortion, unless it’s in your friend’s basement, and the amp’s been dropped a few times. Not slick at all, so you feel like you’re there.

It’s evocative, but over the course of an hour, a bit repetitive. Probably good for dance parties, though.

B+

“Kule Kule”


New Jersey: 

Yes, really.


PM Dawn: The Bliss Album…? (1993)

How could I go wrong with a “band” that brightened my 1997 with their first album - a mix of hip-hop and melody (And why hadn’t anyone thought of that by then?) - making both better?

Their love for the Beatles - only alluded to on their first record - just comes bursting out here with their cover of “Norwegian Wood”, which doesn’t top the original (how could it?) but is both faithful to it and all PMD anyway.

But it doesn’t quite measure up to the first record. When you do the same thing a second time round, it’s got to be much better to really knock you on your ass. If I heard this one first, no doubt I’d love it but I didn’t.

F*cking Jersey.

B+

"Norwegian Wood"


Alabama:


Waxahatchee: Out from the Storm (2017)

Ah, the joys of simple rock n roll! Especially when wedded with straightforward lyrics from a new (to me) voice.

Thanks to her ex for inspiring such pointed lyrics. Bad relationships should always produce such good music.

Straightforward (musically and lyrically) neat (maybe a little too neat), and very, very consistent.

A-

"Never Been Wrong"


Washington State:


Mt. EerieA Crow Looked at Me (2017)

Just a guy strumming his acoustic, singing very simple, direct songs about the untimely death of his wife.

Although history proves otherwise, he believes death - or at least this particular one - is not something to make art about. And he tries to stick to this by making the songs so unadorned and matter of fact that you simply can’t escape the subject matter by focusing on the music.

And not melodramatic. Just troubling and uncomfortable - as he describes in one of the songs - when you’re having a dinner party and someone just starts talking about their spouse’s recent death. Because, like he says, death is real.

No grade, because I don’t know what to make of it yet.

Quiet, haunting, devastating.

And in its way, perfect for the cold grey days of February.


Ireland:

Mom interrupted all of this with the one year anniversary of her death.

At the time I made a playlist for her, and found myself listening to it several times during the week of the anniversary. It’s fucking long - 95 songs - but I got through it three or four times, and in an odd way, it provided a break from my explorations by focusing on the very familiar.

Ever fearful of pointless nostalgia, I typically avoid doing this. But this time it really helped.


Indianapolis:


Wes Montgomery: Smokin' at the Half Note (1965)

Browsing amazon.com is the new record store trip for me. It's where I trip across stuff I've had my eye on for a while, but then because I see it now, it seems like the right time to try it.

So here’s this jazz guitar guy I’d always wanted to hear. But since, aside from Charlie Christian, I never warmed to jazz guitar since I’d only hear muted chords when I want ringing leads, I’d held off for quite a while.

And WM isn’t much different from what I expected/feared, but at least he had Miles Davis’s old rhythm section (circa Kind of Blue) backing him up, how bad could it be?

At first, it was a bit flat, but that rhythm section is so tight it keeps you listening. And eventually, you come to like his tone, his leads, and yes, his fast, smooth chord changes.

Good for mornings and nights. Play Charlie Christian during the day, though.

A-

"Impressions"


North Carolina:


Superchunk: Majesty Shredding (2010)

These guys came out of the early nineties amongst the grunge acts and never got quite the level of attention that Nirvana or Pearl Jame got.

I was so impressed with this on first listen! Right out of the gate, it’s fast, loud and tuneful. But each subsequent listen struggled to keep up. I think it's one of those records where your mood has to match it; otherwise, it’s just clatter. But when they do match, it’s the best record of the year so far.

But for now, I’m gonna grade ‘em tough.

A-

"Digging for Something"


England:


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Lovely Creatures (2017)

And while all of this is happening while I do a deep dive into the Nick Cave oeuvre via this three-disc retrospective, none of which I’ve heard before. Ah but that's what winter is for! Unless it sucked, in which case, it could have gotten ugly.

The first disc is all arty poetics and gothic pseudo-Americana like only a pretentious Englishman can concoct. Not terrible, but it didn’t exactly encourage me to move on to discs two and three, which are an improvement.

Disc two leans toward ballads. Since mediocre poetry/gothic Americana can devolve into really awful and embarrassing soul-bearing. I was relieved to find that Nick actually has a bit of a heart. The melodies don’t hurt either.

In my year-end wrap-up I described disc three as Dylanesque, but I was mistaken. It’s really Springsteenian (ish? ist?). Again, a risky move, but Nick pulls it off with surprising grace.

I’m still finding my way through this extravagant (haven’t watched the DVD yet) box set (thanks, kids!), but for now, I don’t regret the plunge I've taken.

B+

“Where the Wild Roses Grow”


Back Home:

By my count, decade-wise I’m 3 for 6. Not bad for me.

Happy St. Paddy’s day, by the way.

But I'm done with it, so now let’s get this f*cking season over with, okay?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

2017 Leftovers

There was so much good music last year, and so much of it pop, instant gratification was the order of the year, and there were some artists I didn’t even get to mention.



Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymn & Stoner Fables (2012)

Todd’s a pal of John Prine and Jimmy Buffet, but if you think you’re going to get good time happy music a la Buffet or even personal soul searching a la Prine, uh, no. Todd likes talking about people who have gotten the short end of the stick.

This is strong stuff, delivered with loud and sloppy rock and roll. Todd doesn’t f*ck around, and calls ‘em as he sees ‘em.

Todd’s taking no prisoners here. Before we’re even halfway through, he’s giving us the history of religion, the financial crisis, thrill kill kids, a big middle finger to Nashville and a pathetic love story. All through the lens of smalltown folk.

Like a good strong drink, it’s great, but not something you should have too often.

A-

"In the Beginning"



Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math (2016)

This is strong but not loud. “Muscular” is the word that comes to mind. This young woman plays with minimal accompaniment. She’s got a husky voice and plays a distortion-drenched electric guitar.

She’s about halfway between early PJ Harvey and TuneYards.

She can sing and play. She’s also unreasonable and impossible to please.

The tunes are wiry but insistent. Every time you hear them you hear a little more than before.

A-

"Emotions and Math"



Destroyer: Kaputt (2011)

This is oh, so smooth. The smooth singing, the smooth background, the smooth sax. Christ, even the smooth guitar playing. It’s almost like being in an old nightclub. And since it maintains that same tone throughout, it can really get on your nerves if you were hoping for something more energetic or raw.

But when an emotion occasionally rises to the surface, it’s pretty moving.

It’s very easy to listen to, and so gets played a lot.

But it’s not quite addictive.

B+

"Chinatown"



Gillian Welch: Time the Revelator (2001)

This is not bad at all, but Ms. Welch’s voice is a bit too mellow for my taste. It suits her well on the first and last cuts, which are slow and languorous.

But the guitar playing is just plain sloppy. Oh, you meant it that way you say?

“Everything is Free” is the best song here. It’s relatively short, and Gillian is pissed. It’s got a nice melody. I wish more of them were like it. However, I do really the last slow one, where she gets it all right.

B+

“I Dream a Highway”


Joe Ely.jpg
Joe Ely: The Best of...

He's a singer out of Texas from back in the seventies. He’s got a clear, strong tenor. Not too deep and not too wimpy. And - what a relief - he doesn’t wear a f*cking cowboy hat.

This is lean and occasionally mean. It’s spare and clean. It only rocks out when called for.

Ah, but not quite compelling.

B+

"She Never Spoke Spanish To Me"


Grandaddy.jpg
Grandaddy: Under the Western Freeway (1997)

Slow weird and hazy as hell. Even The Sophtware Slump kicked in sooner than this.

And it keeps getting interrupted by crises whenever I put it on, but that’s not Grandaddy’s fault.

It does wear you down after a while, but not enough. Try the great Sophtware instead.

B

"Go Progress Chrome"



Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017)

Randy’s getting soft. There are at least three songs that convey actual vulnerability.

There are the “political” ones, too, which are always fun.

But it doesn’t quite pack the punch of albums like Good Old Boys or 12 Songs.

B+

"Wandering Boy"



Various Artists: American Classic (2017)

This five-disc set of Americana, blues and a lot more is like a cleaned up version of Anthology of Folk Music - a six disc monster, legendary in its time.

This one’ll take a while to digest.

But it’s looking good.

A

"I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground"



Nick Cave: Lovely Creatures (2017)

Nick’s been around for quite a while but I had nothing by him at all. So why not plunge into the abyss with this three-disc set?

Nick is one of those Brits who’s a little too committed to American folk and yet feels he has to add his own weirdness to it. Early Americana (see American Epic) is weird enough, thank you very much

But he goes for ballads on disc 2, and then Dylaneque rock on disc 3.

So this might not be the torture it first portended.

B+

"God Is In the House"



Sonic Youth: Dirty (1992)

It’s taken me a while to admit it but I just don’t like Kim Gordon. She can’t sing and doesn’t bother to write anything resembling a melody. I much prefer the more cerebral side of SY. But for every one of the latter you get one of the former, So it doesn’t get a lot of play.

B

"Theresa's Sound World"



Courtney Barnett: The Double EP, A Sea of Split Peas

Courtney’s got the rare talent for coming up with simple melodies and effects that, together with her laidback vocal delivery add up to way more than the sum of the parts.

In its way, even better than Sit/Think. A little more laid back and melodic. you can certainly hear the seeds of the Sit/Think songs here.

A nice surprise at the end of the year.

A

"Don't Apply Compression Gently"


So that’s it.

I’ll be focusing on records from the current decade for a while. Oh, except for the two I’ve gotten already, neither of which is.

So my performance regarding new Years resolutions can be described as “typical”.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Seventh Annual Jaybee-bies: Listening to Fiddling While Rome Burns

Best of Times, Worst of Times, Ho-hum:

So how good a year was it (Musically speaking)?

Great! I’m usually complaining about now but this time around I really can’t.

There hasn’t been anything quite as great as last year’s Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest, but 2017 was way more consistent than 2016.

It’s been such a good year musically that even though I didn't get any great holiday (my definition) music, I realize that was probably too much to ask for. In a way, I did get it, just too early, and everything since then has been trying to catch up. Most of it great stuff, too. Just not for the holidays.

It was so good that my son’s record - good as it is - just made the top 10. But I have to grade him hard here, don’t I?

And how bad a year was it?

Well, my mom died in 2017, along with an uncle, aunt and cousin. I made a playlist for her. The effort involved digging into a lot of music from my childhood, which was emotionally draining. So it’s a good thing that the music was there for me.

And, of course, there’s this sociopath trying to destroy the country, but hey, what the fuck, right?


(I Still Suck at) Resolutions:

I still say “awesome” and “let's get on the same page” way too much.

I don’t get 10,000 steps in a day.

I don’t write 1,000 words per day.

I don’t exercise.

I don’t eat enough vegetables.

I eat too many sweets. (Hey, I thought dark chocolate was a health food!)

I could probably cut down on the drinking a bit.

So how can you expect me to follow my musical resolutions, like getting guitar lessons from my son Michael?

So how did I do with last years resolutions?

Buying fewer CDs: A  mp3s: 20  CDs: 9

Buying Current Year Music: B-  Still pretty crappy. Just Randy Newman, American Epic (if that counts, Nick Cave (if that counts), Jens Lekman, the New Pornographers.

2018 Resolution: 

Catching up on the current decade: I’ll be focusing on the 2010s and so may not do so well on the Current Year Music resolutions. Nothing like clashing resolutions to start off a successful year!


Top Ten Albums:

Tied for first:
Innocence Mission: Glow (1995) - Their seeming lightness is overcome by sheer joy.
New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (2017) - A big ole box of hooks and snark. 
King Creosote and John Hopkins: Diamond Mine (2011) - Like Glow, this one is so fragile you think it's going to break, but it never does.
Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now (2012) - An older, wiser man looks death, and even worse - family - in the eye.
Courtney Barnett: The Double EP, A Sea of Split Peas (2013) - She's sly, she's funny, she's a bit insecure, but she's got a great deadpan delivery

6. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Style (2015) - Some hooks and sounds even more brilliant than Denial, but hampered by airplane-hangar sound.
7. Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013) - In a genre not reknown for deep emotion, this one wears you down until you hear the heart beating underneath.
8. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (2017) - He writes in a style even my mom would have liked, and happens to be pretty great, too.
9. Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (2012) -  Strong medicine, this explains how Trump happened. I'd buy it if he could have explained why Bernie didn't happen.

Tied for tenth:
Death Cab for Cutie: The Open Door EP (2009) - Expert, driven, tuneful music.
Forlorne: The Old and Weathered Glass (2017) - Son of blogger gets even better.
Low: Things We Lost in the Fire: (2001) - This one feels like they know 9/11 is coming and they're already in mourning.
Roots: How I Got Over (2010) - Combines the best of Kanye and Lamar.
Future Islands: Singles  (2014) - Just a shade shy of awful, they manage to do all the right things to make it almost soulful.

Yeah, I cheated. There are fourteen.

Honorable Mentions:
Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and the Jazz All Stars, Kanye West, Miles Davis, Cloud Nothings.

Am I saying that the Top Ten are better music than the Honorable Mentions? Yes, but just for now.


Most Fun: New Pornographers

Most Bracing: Todd Snider

Most Work (But Worth it): Kendrick Lamar, American Epic

Most Work (And Possibly Not Worth It): Nick Cave

Most Surprising: Innocence Mission

Most Disappointing: Sonic Youth: Dirty

Best Artist: Courtney Barnett

Favorite Songs: My favorites can be found here:


Observations:

Pop beat out everything. It beat out hip-hop and jazz. Hip-hop because it’s not one of a go-to genre of mine, and jazz because those records were already familiar to me and thus lose out to the new.

One might think protest music would be the order of the day but sometimes pop - not stupid, empty pop, but instead smart, brainy pop - was the right medicine.

Last year’s music gave me hope. Let’s see how far into 2018 it gets me.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top One or Two Hundred Whatevers, Part Three: Guitar Solos

This just another group of ten, with no attempt at being comprehensive. Just ten I immediately think of, or that are playing in my head at any given time.

But it’s better that way. This isn’t something I should have to think too hard about.

Oh, and the number of artists is ludicrously low. My mind is usually all over the place, but in this case these solos have gotten all the way into the lizard part of my brain. I’ll do another post if I make it back out to the monkey part.


Television:

Supposedly punks because of their intensity, they actually know how to play their instruments. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are both great guitar players.

There’s all kinds of loveliness on their second album, but it’s the first one that shook the world.

“See No Evil”:
The first guitar bangs out a primitive rhythm in a low register. The next one plays a repeating pattern that can only be described as snarling, this time in a higher register. Then Tom Verlaine chokes out - in yet a higher register - the words What I want, I want now! so you know these guys really mean business.
But it’s not quite fast enough to let the soloist just coast. It’s setting a level of intensity that will have to be heightened or it will all be for nothing. But Richard Lloyd's solo finds exactly the right space by going up yet another register, but not too high. Not yet. He plays a simple riff but builds the notes and the speed until there’s nowhere else to go, at which point he ends it with a descent (or is it an ascent?) into supremely controlled chaos.

“Marquee Moon”:
Nine minutes long, with dueling guitar solos taking up the middle, this one reminds me of climbing a mountain. Slow at first, but gradually increasing the intensity until it’s at a fever pitch.
It climaxes with a rush to the top of the mountain where you can feel the wide open space and even hear some (prehistoric?) birds. (You always risk sounding like an idiot when writing about rock and roll, don’t you?)
It was the song playing when a life change occurred. Friend and then Roommate Mike was moving to Europe.
While we shared an apartment, he and I would stay up all night drinking, talking and listening to music. On the day he left, I put this album on as he was getting ready. I picked it because we both loved it, and knew it would be the last one we’d listen to together.
He was all packed and waiting for the ride when this song came on, and it really felt like we were climbing that mountain. At the end, Mike put on his wings and jumped off the top, and I stayed behind because that’s what I do.
After the climax, it starts all over again. On the original vinyl, Tom Verlaine gets out a couple of lines of the verse before it fades out at 10:08, leaving you with the feeling that it continues on forever while you (but most likely me) have to head back down the mountain to face real life again, or perhaps the cemetery that they mention earlier in the song.


Crosby Stills Nash and Young: 

Yeah, who would have thought?

“Carry On” (Live Version):
In theory, this long live version of a pretty tight studio song should suck. But I’ve got it basically memorized. Sloppy, self-indulgent but brilliant nonetheless. The singing doesn’t even try to match the polished harmonies on the original, but that is more than made up for by the passion. Again, dueling guitars - this time courtesy of primal Neil Young and fluid Stephen Stills - that are worthy of the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Eric Clapton. Who said more isn’t better?


Eric Clapton: 

And speaking of this idiot, I like to recall the time when he could do no wrong (music-wise, that is):

“Let it Rain”
It helps that this is a very pretty song with a chord progression that just encourages a guitar hero to go nuts. But on the studio version, Eric manages to balance control, passion and invention. I used to love when it came on the radio when my Led Zeppelin-loving friends were around.

“Crossroads”
Yeah, I know that it’s been spliced together from several performances but as a piece of recorded art it’s astounding. There are so many shifts of phrasing, tone and angle of attack that it simply can’t be absorbed all at one time. You have to pick the part to pay attention to or risk exhaustion.

“Badge”
Who knew Cream could do a perfect pop song?  But here it is. Beautifully vague but evocative lyrics, emotional singing, George Harrison’s lovely guitar and then Eric's solo. In terms of compression, emotion and technique this might be his best.

“Sitting on Top of the World”
From Goodbye this is an overlooked masterpiece. It’s rough and raw with at least two changes in tone. But he is all over it. Intense as hell.


Stephen Stills:

“Go Back Home”
From the first Stephen Stills record, but it’s Eric Clapton who solos on this. Apparently recorded in the middle of his heroin addiction, he didn’t even remember doing it.
It starts off slow and easy but then halfway through Clapton jumps in and there is just no turning back. Another example of him improving a song without completely taking it over.

And as long as we’re talking about guitarists who are all over someone else’s record….


Derek and the Dominos:

“Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?”
This is really all about Duane, and I must add that it’s not just the solo, but also the frantic pace of the damned thing. And then there are his fills that only tighten the screws further. So the bar is set very high when it’s time for the solo. And Duane doesn’t let us down. He matches the blistering pace and then some.
Clapton does his level best to keep up (and without Duane his would have been a perfectly good solo) but he may as well just be playing rhythm. And in a way, he kind of is.


And that’s it for now.

Okay, I know I left a lot out but since I limited myself to ten, my conscience is clear.

Like the first two One or Two Hundreds which were about voices and melodies and emotions, these guitar players provide the same thing without saying a word.

But I’m sure you can think of a zillion records I left out.

Come at me, bro!