For me, Thanksgiving is a critical time of the year formusic. I like to remember the holidays for a given year with a very specific musical background. And when the music is just okay, so are the holidays. Sorry family and friends, it just seems to be so.
Over the years, I've had some brilliant ones - 2007, for instance, with Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and the Go Betweens Oceans Apart- and some bad ones - well, let's not go there. So I try to learn from a bad year and play it safe. And with a couple of gift cards left I decided to cast a wide net when I put my order into barnesandnoble.com.
I knew that, at some point, I'd get that one Nick Drake album I'd missed, especially since he's such a sure bet. So I finally got Bryter Layter, his second record. But I have to admit that, at first, I was not happy. Nick's usually my morning depression go-to guy, but here he's a bit peppier than usual. Too many horns, lush strings and back-up singers made it hard to warm up to, but that's all more than balanced out by what I go to Nick for: beautiful, sad and ultimately uplifting songs. And here Nick has some of his very best. Otherwise, why would I play it almost every morning since I got it? A-
The documentary “Who Is Harry Nilsson?” rekindled my interest in him, and I decided to go for NilssonSchmillson, which is always showing up on All Time Best lists. And as is the case when you actually buy such records, the first impression is less than ecstatic. This stems from already knowing chunk of the music already, sometime too well. (Jesus, did I really need to hear "Without You" again, and in Spanish, too?) But it’s also got several of my favorite Nilsson songs – "Gotta Get Up", "The Moonbeam Song" and "Jump into the Fire". The bonus disc has got several more tracks that are well worth it, except for the annoying commercials at the end. (I’m seeing a lot more if this lately. Why?) B+, but I think it's going to go up.
Eric Dolphy lurks in the background of one of my favorite John Coltrane records, and I love his Berlin Concerts. Out To Lunch is his last major record before his premature death in 1964, and it’s got all the Dolphy-isms I enjoy so much – mainly the solos that seem to jump out perpendicularly from the themes and melodies. An ex-friend (God, they’re really adding up, aren't they?) knew him. “Eric was a such sweet guy” I have no reason to doubt this, but then again, said ex friend still owes me money. Probably owed Eric, too. (Unsolicited advice – never room with a musician.) Anyway, the record is really good, and I expect I’ll be hearing new things from it for a long, long time. File Under Education
The leadoff and title track of Against Me!’s New Wave is one of the most bracing punk rock songs I’ve heard in years. It’s a shame that the rest of the record just can’t quite keep up. Nice and loud, earnest, political (I love how they make the lyric “write that song, in response to military aggression!” actually sound great) I like these guys so much that I want to like the record more. I’ll check back in a few months to say if I’ve fallen in love or not. B+
But I couldn't wait for this order to arrive so I ended up back at Other music (where else?), where I find Grandaddy’s The Software Slump (used, of course) and, of all things, Christmas music!
And by whom, you might ask? F*cking Sufjan Stevens of course. (Three albums and a total of seven CDs, which must make him Artist of Jaybee’s Year, if such an award existed.)
Sufjan was putting out Christmas EPs for his friends for five years in a row, and he finally put all of them together into one box - Songs for Christmas - where I could pick up a used copy. And it turns out to dominate the holiday music this year. Definitely one of the best holiday albums around. A-
Grandaddy makes a kind of space music, but the space in question is California. Jason Lytle's vocals bear a slight resemblance to Flaming Lips front-man Wayne Coyne. And even some interest in technology and robots. Jason seems a little more pro-robot than Wayne, but maybe is even more sad. It's strange that Software would lead off with an eight minute dirge. But it works, and I find myself still listening to its deft balance of snap crackle and pop. After several weeks, I'm still playing it. Another maybe album of the year? A
Amazon keeps tempting me with their $5 mp3, and I succumbed again, first with Brad Paisley's American Saturday Night, which comprises part two of my investigation into whether modern country music does anything for me at all. The trouble with music downloads is that you can forget that you have them. Thus my play count so far is only 1.
And then with A Tribe Called Quest's Anthology. I snuck in a listen early Christmas morning. For hip hop, this is surprisingly listenable and tuneful. Again, only a single play. I hate when that happens.
Part of the reason for the low play count of those mp3s is that I got Grant McLennan's Horsebreaker Star for Christmas. Nutboy (link) was pushing this record hard. I held off because of the different versions floating around. Nutboy’s got the single CD domestic version, so naturally the old Jaybee one-upmanship comes out and I have to get the original two-CD 24 song import. These last-CDs-of-the-year are really hard to judge. Right now, it's sitting at a B+, but may move up.
All in all, an excellent season.
Next: 2011 in Sum