Sunday, October 25, 2009

Decade: 2005 - Bottoming Out, But With a Brief Happy Ending

Winter Blues Redux Ad Nauseum:

In what was becoming a recurring pattern in my life, I was down in the dumps in January. But even by my standards, this was a bad time. So I headed out to the record store for sustenance.

When I put on Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” now, I can’t believe how inspiring it is, and how far down I must have been that it didn’t work on me right away. Instead, I took it in, acknowledged that it was a good album, and filed it away. It came roaring back a couple of months later, and gave me some hope.
---------------- Now playing: Arcade Fire - In the Back Seat via FoxyTunes

I was expecting more from Rilo Kiley’s “More Adventurous”, but that happens sometimes. Jenny Lewis has a very pleasing voice, and writes good tunes, but the very dark lyrics provide too jarring a contrast. And the band is too intent on making a hit. Which is ironic given that the high point is “It’s a Hit” – a smackdown for our last president, and some others I don’t happen to know.

---------------- Now playing: Rilo Kiley - It's a Hit via FoxyTunes

At my job, the closest thing we had to a compulsive liar was the guy who kept using phrases like “keeping it real” and “G-unit” and such. I thought he’d be impressed when I told him that I got a record by “Kane West”. Never heard of him, he said. Then I put on my reading glasses I saw that it said Kanye. Not my coolest moment.

Well, even us lame fifty-year-olds can pronounce his name now, and not necessarily because of his music. Kanye West has a habit of saying asinine things. Isn’t that the sign of genius? Kanye thinks so. But I quibble. Here’s a great couplet from “We Don’t Care” which is on The College Dropout:

“We weren’t supposed to make it past twenty five

The jokes on you, we’re still alive.”

And good for him. This is a good record - funny, if a little too reliant on sampled and sped up vocals. But if you want to hear an entertaining rap record, this is not a bad place to start.
---------------- Now playing: Kanye West - We Don't Care via FoxyTunes


By now I was at an all-time low. I put the new records away, and took out Wilco’s depressing, insular “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. ---------------- Now playing: Wilco - Radio Cure via FoxyTunes When I got it the previous year, I listened and shrugged. Now it was all I could deal with, except at night when I’d put on Aphex Twin’s “Select Ambient Works, Vol. II”, which is about as low impact and alienated as you can get.

Father’s Day:

The Shins’ “Chutes Too Narrow” coincided with me getting over myself, and my job. Things were looking up, and James Mercer helped by writing at least two songs that are amongst the best of the decade. The rest of the record is energetic and tuneful and as tight as a drum.
---------------- Now playing: The Shins - Mine's Not a High Horse via FoxyTunes

After my daily replays of Aphex Twin, I wanted to revisit an old joy - Eno’s “Another Green World”, now on CD, would save me the trouble of getting my lazy ass off the couch to flip it over. Considered one of the first “ambient” records, it marks a halfway point between pretty but empty Pure Moods/Enya/New Age and austere to the point of comatose Aphex Twin. One of my all timers. I was feeling better now.
---------------- Now playing: Brian Eno - Everything Merges With the Night via FoxyTunes

Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” is a perfectly pleasant, if not very challenging, jazz record. No complaint here – it’s good for company – but it’s not going to make you a fanatic.


We used the excuse of my sons growing interest in the Beatles to pick up “For Sale”, “Magical Mystery Tour” andAbbey Road on CD.

“Magical Mystery Tour” is a so so Beatles record. In other word, it’s not amongst their very best, but is still better than 98% of what’s out there. Okay, so “Blue Jay Way” and “Flying” aren’t great, but just about everything else on it is.

“For Sale is the British equivalent to “Beatles VI” or “’65” or something. It represents the beginning of middle period Beatles, with acoustic guitars, downbeat themes and a touch of country. Okay, “Mr. Moonlight” kinda sucks, but in that good, Beatles kind of way. And then there’s “I’m a Loser”, “No Reply”, “Baby’s In Black”, “I’ll Follow the Sun”, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”, “Eight Day’s a Week”, “What You’re Doing”. Need I say more?

Abbey Road (link) Side Two as greatest album side of all time? Discuss! I’m distrustful of nostalgia, but it’s hard to listen to side two without feeling lucky to be alive. This summer, we enjoyed it all over again.


The Musical Heritage Society struck again with A Night at the Opera. Not a Marx Brothers soundtrack, but rather overtures from famous operas, done on acoustic guitars. No singing, thank god. Good for early mornings.

And what’s a music collection without a record by Igor Stravinsky? How could I turn down the two CD “The Essential…”? Damn you, MHS! This is a great example something that was once not considered music at all, but that is now thought of as quite tame.

Overcoming my reluctance to buy records I’ve already heard big chunks of, I finally broke down at the bargain bin, and got The Grateful Dead’s “Workingman’s Dead”. When your musical tastes go through a change, it’s tempting to be dismissive of your earlier enthusiasms. But if anything, I’m even more impressed with this record now. I’d call this the seminal Americana album if I wasn’t so averse to using those two already overused terms, in the same sentence no less. Even the overplayed “Casey Jones” sounds just good closing it. Robert Hunter deserves a medal for these lyrics. My only gripe is that the generous bonus tracks are kind of shaky. Hey, those harmonies are tough.
---------------- Now playing: Grateful Dead - Black Peter via FoxyTunes

Mule Variations is my first Tom Waits record. What do you get by the man who’s done everything? If you’re lucky, a record that balances his weirdness and his songwriting. But really, what do I know? They may all be like this. The sound on this record is crystal clear, so there are no excuses for the cacophony. No apologies, either. More music to get rid of company with. Seriously, it’s quite good. “Come on Up to the House” is the great one here.
---------------- Now playing: Tom Waits - Come on Up to the House via FoxyTunes

For the longest time, I hated Bjork’s “Post”, but now I think she’s been a victim of low volume, which happens to the music I play at home from time to time. I finally played this electronica extravaganza in my car, and began to notice the overall sound, which makes the band sound like an artillery division advancing on you. Which helps a lot when she starts to woop and holler in that Bjork way of hers. The bass could knock you over, by the way.
---------------- Now playing: Björk - Isobel via FoxyTunes

Buddy Guy is cited by just about every good white guitar player, so who am I to say no? And from the Musical Heritage Society no less! This one’s “The Very Best of Buddy Guy”. The guitar playing is so raw that you can feel his fingers on the strings. He sings good too.
---------------- Now playing: Buddy Guy - Man of Many Words via FoxyTunes

The Essential Bessie Smith - I suppose when you’ve heard one of these double entendres you’ve heard them all – sugar in my bowl, trombone cholly, do your duty - but why do I keep going back? Because Ms. Smith just won’t be denied.
---------------- Now playing: Bessie Smith - Aggravatin' Papa via FoxyTunes


The Shins made such an impression over the summer that I jumped at “Oh, Inverted World”, their first record. It’s not as impressive as “Chutes”, but that’s partly because it’s a bit slower and fuzzier. Once you give it a chance, though, the pretty tunes really catch up to you.
---------------- Now playing: The Shins - New Slang via FoxyTunes

The Streets

Time for another dip into what is arguably not hip hop. Like I'd know one way or the other. I find this Brit very funny and quite tuneful.
---------------- Now playing: The Streets - Dry Your Eyes via FoxyTunes

Husker Du

Minneapolis trio strikes again. During the 80s these guys cranked out more tunes than just about anyone else around. I was disappointed by 1986’s “Candy Apply Grey”, and find “New Day Rising” much better, if not perfect. Not mellow. I don’t know what’s more powerful, Bob Mould’s yowl or his gargantuan guitar.
---------------- Now playing: Hüsker Dü - Powerline via FoxyTunes


Hank Williams Gold:

Like Neil Young and John Prine after him, Hank’s songs are simple, but you can’t get enough of them. One would think that two CDs is a lot to take in at one time, but in fact it goes by quite easily.
---------------- Now playing: Hank Williams - Cool Water via FoxyTunes


The Beatles simply don’t count.

The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow

Arcade Fire - Funeral


The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free

Tom Waits - Mule Variations

Was the music really any better than any other year? No, but I was feeling better, so it just seems that way. So, there’s a happy ending.

For now.

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