Monday, December 31, 2007

My 2007

Around now, a lot of young people are reveling in the year-end best-of reviews of music and pop culture in general. Debating siblings and friends about what album was the best one released in a given year is a fun way to participate in the culture. It used to be for me, at least.

But at my advanced age, I can’t possibly keep up with all of the musical developments of the year. There are just too many artists to keep track of to be able to weed out the great from the merely worthwhile. And the term “worthwhile” takes on an added urgency when you realize that you don’t have many “whiles” left as you used to. So the things you spend it on – musical or otherwise – better be, well, worth it.

So I’ve left 2007 pretty much alone, letting the dust settle on it before jumping in. Instead, I’ve begun to dip into 2006, along with any other pretty colors that may have momentarily attracted my limited attention span.

So I have to define the musical year differently. My 2007 is not based on what was released this year. It’s based on what I either bought or was given. So it couldn’t be anything like yours.

Anyway, here’s mine:

Loved Them:

I’m not yet sure if either of these CDs is hall of fame material yet, but the Go-Betweens go deep and Polly Jean has a high on base average.

Oceans Apart-The Go Betweens (2006)
Beauty, pain, death, tears, and maybe forgiveness. Guitars, too. Never heard of them? Don’t get me started…

Now playing: The Go-Betweens - Darlinghurst Nights
via FoxyTunes

Stories of the City, Stories of the Sea-PJ Harvey (2000)
I’ve gotten two of her earlier albums: “Rid of Me”, which is like knocking off a bottle of scotch on a Saturday night with a psychotic/nymphomaniac, and “To Bring You My Love”, which is like spending Sunday morning with her, after she’s found religion. Both can be bracing experiences, but aren’t my idea of fun. Here, you get hit with the chiming guitars right out of the gate, and she’s telling you how she’s got to get away from the violence. So she moves from England. To New York. Before 9/11. So her timing's not great, but the important thing is that she’s upped the tune factor, and cut back slightly on the histrionics. The result is bracing, but in a fun way.

Now playing: PJ Harvey - You Said Something
via FoxyTunes

Really Good:

These are very entertaining records that might yet move up to Love over time.

Pink Moon - Nick Drake (1972)
This is sparer than “Five Leaves Left” – no strings, just Nick and his guitar - maybe because he’s closer to the end.

Solo Monk - Thelonius Monk (1964)
If you don’t know what a great composer he was, you could mistake him for a Scott Joplin for the 60s. You might even think he’s hitting the wrong notes, but he’s just re-writing things as he goes.

Still Getting My Ears Around:

Egypt - Youssou N’dour (2004)
This is the guy (yes, the guy) who sings at the end of “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. He’s a superstar in his native Senegal, and I quite liked his album “Nothing’s In Vain”, but I’m not even close to getting to the bottom of this very pleasant mixture of Middle Eastern and African music.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood - Neko Case (2006)
This is pretty and spooky at the same time - like a country music soundtrack to “Twin Peaks”. And when spread out over a humongous playlist in Windows Media Player, each song stands out. I’m just not yet convinced that all the individual parts add up to a great CD.

Now playing: Neko Case - Hold On, Hold On
via FoxyTunes

The Discount Bin, or Hey, at $6.99, how can you go wrong?

Aoxomoxoa - The Grateful Dead (1969)
The songwriting is beginning to strengthen, and they never sounded so muscular in the studio. Only one laughable track. (Hey, they were on drugs at the time.) And the bonus jam tracks are very good.


Neon Bible - Arcade Fire (2007)
Actually quite good, just not as powerful as it’s trying to be. And a letdown after "Funeral".

Live at the Apollo - James Brown (1962)
I really shouldn’t complain. It is James Brown live after all. But it’s short, so a greatest hits collection (like “30 Golden Hits”, or the 4 CD box set “Start Time” would be better. Definitely not bad, but sometimes live albums make you feel like you had to be there.

Return to Cookie Mountain - TV on the Radio (2006)
It’s got tons of sound, and is occasionally striking, but too often is just a lot of noise. And the singing isn’t good enough. But I’ll keep trying.

What I Got for Christmas:

This amounts to a subset of “Still Getting My Ears Around”. This is where I ask for gifts that I’d feel too guilty just getting for myself. There’s usually some experimentation here, which can be cause, during the cold winter months, for joyful immersion or deep depression as I ask myself just what kind of weird music I’m getting myself into. But as our use of the word “weird” is merely a reflection of our own provincialism, I carry on proudly, feeling superior to all around me. And isn’t that the point of life?

So I won’t know what I’ve got until at least March.

Spring Hill Fair - The Go Betweens (1986)
Will this be yet another classic from the Australian band of the 80s? Yeah, you heard me. You can keep your INXS, Men at Work, etc.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, featuring Eric Clapton – (1966)
Bitchin’ blues guitar from a post-Yardbirds and pre-Cream Clapton, and crappy singing from Mayall. Next year, I’ll go back to the originals that are covered here.

Brazil Classics, Volume 4: The Best of Tom Ze (1970s)
Gentle, but strange Tropicalia.

The Rough Guide to Youssou N’dour and Etoile Dakar (1980s)
A long vacation in Senegal.

I suppose that I ought to have a “Bad” category, but I rarely feel like I’ve gotten something that falls into that category. This may seem like the denial of a grim reality – bad music – but I guess I’m just too pig headed. I’ll force myself to listen to something over and over until I get it. Sometimes I never do. It’s great!

I got fourteen CDs altogether this year, and by my rough count, they average out to about 20 years old each. This gives the lie to my blog’s description, which refers to “current pop music”. But let’s face it, you don’t think in terms of years anymore, anyway. You think in terms of decades. Ouch!

It was an average year. I wish that there were a few more “Love”s. The great years are the ones where I get a truckload of music and five or six Loves rise to the top. I find that, unlike most things, more music is better.

Well, that was my 2007. How was yours?

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