Of The Year – 2011

After a so so year for albums in 2010, this time around I actually have enough candidates for a proper top 10.

1. Pink Strat — Bahamas
This record came out in Canada in 2009, but just came out in the US in 2011. (Yay, time travel!)  Quietly snuck up on me as my go to album this year.  And I love that the band is named after a lyric in that old Wreckless Eric song.

2. Circuital — My Morning Jacket
Felt like a shoo-in for album of the year upon release and sustained that for most of the year. Majestic and fun rock songs that go really well together.

3. Fixin’ To Die — G. Love
G’s best work since The Hustle. Whenever I start to think he’s all washed up he goes and does something like this to win me back.

4. Kiss Each Other Clean — Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine & Electronica & Orchestration…and it works really well.

5. The Whole Love — Wilco
Some are calling this a comeback record or a return to form, but I don’t think Wilco ever really left.

5.5 An Argument With Myself (EP) – Jens Lekman
I have this weird and arbitrary rule that an EP doesn’t qualify for album of the year.  But if it did, this one would rank right around here.  Very excited for the new full length Jens to land sometime in 2012.

6. Rome — Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Super group alert! Danger Mouse continues his impressive run, while splitting vocal duties between Jack White & Nora Jones was just about perfect.

7. Yes and Also Yes — Mike Doughty
Not quite as good as Sad Man Happy Man, but Doughty is still the infallible band for me.

8. Celebration, Florida — The Felice Brothers
2011 will go down as the year I began to embrace the Felices on my own outside of them being my wife’s favorite band. This guy has a review that’s better than anything if have to say about this record, so I’ll let him speak on my behalf.

9. Rave on Buddy Holly — Various Artists
Heck of a compilation. Hearing Paul McCartney go crazy at the end of “It’s So Easy” might be my favorite individual moment in a song this year.

10. Minnesota — Mason Jennings
Had high hopes for this going in and initially felt a little disappointed, but warmed up to it more with each listen.  But just 9 songs?  More, Mason, more!

Newermind Track by Track

Been (mostly) digging Spin’s cleverly titled Newermind cover album in honor of the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind.  Song by song thoughts:

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” covered by the Meat Puppets
Great choice of band to kick things off, great cover that’s both true to the original while performed in an Unplugged-ish Meat Puppets style.

“In Bloom” covered by Butch Walker & the Black Widows
Groovy take that accentuates the bass line and funks up the guitar.  Really like the vocals here too.  A fun cover.

“Come As You Are” covered by Midnight Juggernauts
Gothy and ambient with a weird child-like vocal, I didn’t really like this one at first but it’s grown on me a little.  Best part is the extended repetition of the “memoria” mantra in the middle.

“Breed” covered by Titus Andronicus
Straight up rocker gets a straight up cover treatment.  One of my early faves from Nevermind back in the day that holds up no matter who covers it.  Love what sounds like the whole band singing the “she said” bit.

“Lithium” covered by The Vaselines
I really like the Vaselines.  I really like the concept of having the two bands Nirvana most famously covered return the favor here.  But this version doesn’t really do it for me as much as the Polyphonic Spree cover of the same song does.  (Related — I wish they took this “covers by bands covered” concept a little further with tracks by Devo, Greg Sage of the Wipers, and Lou Reed.)

“Polly” covered by Amanda Palmer
Haunting version that turns this into a creepy lullaby accentuated by music box sounding chimes.

“Territorial Pissings” covered by Surfer Blood
Another rocker gets the straight up treatment, right down to the “Get Together” opening.  Doesn’t try to break any new ground, but doesn’t really need to.

“Drain You” covered by Foxy Shazam
Another one that’s grown on me a lot, starting off as a ballad before unexpectedly rocking out.

“Lounge Act” covered by Jessica Lea Mayfield
I’m torn here.  This is my favorite song on Nevermind, so my expectations were probably a little high.  And the Painting Tasters managed to hit it out of the park when Ken Gordon covered it.  So this version here isn’t a bad cover per se, just disappointing.

“Stay Away” covered by Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band
Hands down the best song on this tribute.  If you weren’t paying attention and heard this cold you might not realize what it is until midway through.  A perfect example of what Brian Ibbott from Coverville is talking about when a band makes a song their own.

“On A Plain” covered by Telekinesis
Neat turn on a classic.  Almost sounds like an electric cover of Nirvana’s Unplugged version, taking things full circle in a metaphorical loud-quiet-loud Pixies concept Kurt was so fond of.

“Something In The Way” covered by JEFF The Brotherhood
Speaking of  loud quiet loud, this take on the not-quite closing track does just that.  I dig.

“Endless Nameless” covered by EMA
Props to SPIN for including this, even if they didn’t try the ten minutes of silence hidden track trick.  It’s a hard song to cover and pulled off admirably here — though I may have preferred a Local Boy style softer take that took the song in a different direction.

Ramblings VI

I seem to have hit another of those lengthy posting lags while the world gets in the way.  Ramblings time:

  • Been digging the new Back To The Future Game from Telltale.  It’s essentially BTTF IV, starting off 6 months after the trilogy ends in 1986 and has Marty bouncing back and forth between 1931 and the present interacting with a teenage Doc.  Right now I’m midway through episode 4 out of 5.  It’s probably worthy of a full post once the whole thing is done.
  • Discovered yet another Ziggy iPhone app.  This one’s called Ziggy’s Time Traveler Emergency Reference and is basically a QL skinned offline Wikipedia viewer.  Pretty much right along the lines of the real Ziggy, though it won’t tell you when history changes via an edit to the wiki…
  • The Beastie Boys short film Fight For Your Right Revisited features an unexpectedly awesome time travel twist, complete with BTTF DeLorean cameo.
  • Been so busy I realize I wrote but forgot to post my annual year-end music best of list.  Wait, a minute, I got all the time I want! I got a time machine!  I could just go back early and post it…

Painting Tasters Done Good

Ever since Timely Persuasion came out back in 2008 I’ve always wanted to do some sort of tie-in soundtrack type thing featuring covers of the Local Boy songs, but various attempts to get a project like that off the ground always stalled for one reason or another.  Until now…

Lounge Act by Ken Gordon

Back in the summer of 2009 I heard a cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by a band called the Painting Tasters (aka Ken Gordon) on an indie hodgepodge episode of Coverville.  It was a great version in a Local Boy-esque kind of way, but my interest was really piqued when Brian Ibbott said there were also covers of “Drain You” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the band’s website.

I especially dug those covers and the way they were billed as “how I imagine Dylan or Tom Petty would play it,” so I sent Ken Gordon an email. We chatted back and forth about Nirvana and cover songs for a few days, he generously offered to take a stab at “Lounge Act” from TP, and eventually the conversation tapered off as we both got busy with real life.  I had more or less forgotten about the whole thing until he found me on Facebook in late December 2010 with a link to a huge cache of “Nirvana Country” covers he’d been working on!

Ken has put together a great batch of songs, somewhat reminiscent of the “Local Boy Does Nirvana” set I’ve envisioned previously but with different songs and so much better since he’s actually recorded them with his own unique spin and voice while still staying true to Kurt’s original lyrics.  The things he does with some of the heavier songs really blow me away.

Check out the full set along with some non-Nirvana songs on Ken Gordon’s Facebook, and get a bonus preview below of his rendition of Tourette’s — my favorite of the bunch since it’s almost unrecognizable going in and probably should have made my Local Boy short list:

Tourette’s by Ken Gordon

Thanks, Ken!

Of The Year – 2010

Year end music recap time.  2010 was weird.  Felt so-so for new music, but was probably the best concert year of recent memory due to a heavy dose of nostalgia.

Albums:

1. The Flood — Mason Jennings

A new album of old songs is an odd choice for the top slot, but like I said it was a weird year.  Mason delivered some gems on The Flood, and “Dakota” narrowly edged out Cee Lo’s feel good hit of the summer as the most singable track of the year for me.

2. Plastic Beach — Gorillaz

Most anticipated record and concert going into the year, and both exceeded expectations.

3. Broken Bells — Broken Bells

Last.fm pegs this as my 6th most listened to album of the last 12 months, essentially one listen behind Plastic Beach. (And if you take away my wife’s obsession with Monsters of Folk / Conor Oberst / The Felice Brothers it rises to #3 on my list…) Didn’t really know what to expect going in, but Danger Mouse brings the Rick Rubin magic to everything he produces.  I really want to hear a Danger Mouse / Wilco collaboration someday.

4. As I Call You Down — Fistful of Mercy

Another year, another supergroup on the year end list.  Fun, folky set of songs here.  “Things Go ‘Round” makes my shortlist for song of the year.

5. Volume Two — She & Him

A crowd pleaser of a record I keep drifting back to.  Volume One would have been #1 on my 2008 list had I made one at the time.  Can’t go wrong with most things M. Ward.

Concerts:

1.  James @ the Music Box – October 13

Laid (the album more than the song) has always held a special place in my collection, but somewhat shamefully I’d never really dug deeper into the James catalogue for whatever reason.  Could’ve/should’ve had my interest piqued a few years ago when the whole crowd was singing along to “Sit Down” before Carter USM’s first Brixton Academy reunion show, but I just paid $.99 for the single and that was that.  So when I learned James was coming around it was very much a “should I stay or should I go” dilemma.  We did go, and then they went and put on the best performance I’ve seen from anyone in recent memory.

2.  Benji Hughes Residency @ Largo – July 8, 15, 22, 29

After a number of near misses, I finally got to see Benji Hughes this year — every Thursday for a whole month.  I could cheat and rank each of these individually, but that would make for a boring top list.  As I said at the time, I wish I could see Benji Hughes every Thursday for the rest of my life.

3.  Rage Against the Machine @ Hollywood Palladium – July 23

My wife dragged me to this reluctantly because Conor Oberst was opening, but I figured Rage would be worth it.  Were they ever.  Rocked it like they never broke up and blew the doors off the Palladium.  I was hoarse the next day from the scream-a-longs.

4.  Pavement @ The Fox Theatre – April 15

Comeback tours are weird, hit and miss affairs.  Pre-Coachella warm-up shows are weird, hit and miss affairs.  Seeing Pavement live used to be a weird, hit and miss affair.  Pavement absolutely nailed it in the first US show of their comeback tour with one hell of a setlist.

5.  Gorillaz @ Coachella – April 18

Damon Albarn knows how to pull out all the stops for a multi-media spectacular.  And I still swear I saw acrobats!

Memories of Weezer

The year of nostalgia concerts (including Evan Dando, Pavement, Faith No More, and James) added another classic on Friday night with Weezer doing The Blue Album in its entirety over at Universal.

Weezer (Blue) has always held a fond place in my heart since first hearing “Undone – The Sweater Song” as a screamer of the week on WBRU, and over the years has become a go-to album for late night driving when I need something loud, familiar, and very singable.  (Fun fact: 2 of the 3 Weezer references in Timely Persuasion come from this record.)

I remember seeing Weezer open for Lush and Live in 1994 at Rocky Point, basically playing the album in order with “Surf Wax America” moved to the end.  Thus the Blue set at Friday’s show was the same thing 16 years later and restored to proper order.

The band opened the night with a time-travel-y “best of” set with 1-2 songs from each record, starting with the present and taking on the catalog in reverse chronological order.  (Jorge Garcia from LOST joined them for one song, which was more amusing than good but still cool.)

Rivers Cuomo did a “costume change” between sets, ditching his glasses and vest jacket and donning a pretty impressive reproduction of his 1994 self from the album cover — right down to the blue t-shirt and bowl cut.

As for the songs, they still hold up as well as ever.  I’d call out some highlights but that really wouldn’t do it justice.  Everything blurred together into a cohesive unit of perfection, including rarely played dust-offs like “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” which hadn’t been played live since 1996.  “Say It Ain’t So” snuck up on me (much like it did at Coachella in 2005), as for some reason I always forget that song exists until I hear it come on.  Only then do I revel in its pure awesomeness.

Thanks for the memories, Weezer!

Setlist:

Memories / (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To / Troublemaker / Pork and Beans / Beverly Hills / Keep Fishin’ / Photograph / Island in the Sun / Hash Pipe / Falling for You / INTERMISSION / My Name Is Jonas / No One Else / The World Has Turned and Left Me Here / Buddy Holly / Undone – The Sweater Song / Surf Wax America / Say It Ain’t So / In the Garage / Holiday / Only in Dreams

Someone Else is Rediscovering Pavement

The best love letter to a band disguised as a letter to your past self (or is it vice versa?) that I have ever read:

Wait, You’ve Never Heard: Pavement – Brighten The Corners

My favorite quote:

“There’s a magic to the moment you finally love a band, and anyone who says he or she was with every band from the beginning is a lying sack of shit.”

(via Consequence of Sound)

PS: I also love the random “The Mummy” reference for reasons not intended by the author.

#1 Record

While trying to convince Jon Mack to listen to A Love Extreme by Benji Hughes last week I mentioned that it had taken over my favorite album of all time slot.  He immediately pushed back that it was a little early for that bold of a claim, citing that Music by 311 was once a favorite that went by the wayside.  (For the record, Music may have been in my top 5 at some point years ago, but never #1.  #1 is sacred…)

The whole exchange got me thinking about that fabled top slot, eventually yielding the realization that only 3 albums have ever held this title:

Nevermind — 1992 – 2000

Skittish — 2000 – 2010

A Love Extreme – 2010 – ?

Seems to be a once in a decade event…

Keep in mind that this is different than “most listened” or “greatest ever recorded” — it’s a personal favorite at one moment in time, with the expectation that it will remain the defending champ until something you’ve never heard before comes along and dethrones it.

Random aside:  I’m not consciously trying to turn this into “A Blog of Benji Hughesuasion” — I just really dig this musician, as evidenced by all the posts and his claiming my current #1 slot from Doughty.  But typing “Hughesuasion” makes me kick myself for not thinking to use “Nelsuasion” as the secret word in Chapter 24 of TP.  Timely Nelsuasion anyone?

I Went With Some Friends to See Benji Hughes…

…it was the greatest show I ever saw.

I’ve been dying to see Benji Hughes live since discovering him back in October via an article in The Believer magazine that sat unread on our coffee table for several weeks. By the time I got around to reading it and listening to his album I learned we had just missed a show he did in LA days prior. A few months later we learned of another LA show 3 days after it happened. My wife was actually toying with flying to North Carolina for my birthday to see him play, but that surprise got nixed when I insisted on watching the LOST finale in the comfort of our own home. But now the wait is over, with Benji doing a 4 show residency at Largo throughout July!

Week 1 was nothing like I expected and more than I could have hoped for. The dude is just plain hilarious up there on stage with his big red cape, long hair and sunglasses. He randomly wanders off in between songs (to get “water”), one time sneaking back on stage against the rear red curtain while “camouflaging” himself with the cape. Goofy, but in a good way and highly entertaining.

In some regards it felt like we were watching a rehearsal as the band improvised the setlist — sometimes making song choices that Benji disagreed with but still nailed. (I’m not sure if this was part of the schtick or a real event, but later in the show it was revealed that Benji had accidentally ripped off the bottom half of the setlist while searching for a piece of note paper shortly before taking the stage.)

Jackson Browne was the special guest who jammed with him in the second half. They did a couple of Zevon covers, Benji’s “All You’ve Got to Do Is Fall In Love” (where Benji had to correct Jackson’s melody on the chorus), and one song by guitarist and former Muscadine partner in crime Jonathan Wilson.

Rough, out of order and likely incomplete setlist from memory:

Higher Than Balls
Even If
How Many Birds?
Country Love
Broadway (partial scat cover of the George Benson song)
Love Is A Razor
Turkeys with Guitars
Waiting For An Invitation
So Much Better
Don’t Forget to Write Me When You’re Famous
Oysters (Solo Piano)
Mohammed’s Radio (Warren Zevon cover w/ Jackson Browne)
Play It All Night Long (Warren Zevon w/ Jackson Browne)
All You’ve Got To Do Is Fall In Love (w/ Jackson Browne)
Solo Jackson Browne Song
Solo Jonathan Wilson Song
———–
Girl In The Tower

My only minor gripe is this:  I tend to go into concerts with a mental checklist of songs I hope an artist plays, and then judge the show on how much of my wishlist was covered.  In this case, only the encore song was on my pre-show list.  But it was still awesome regardless.  Can’t wait for next week!

Coachella Recap

A little late, but here’s a quick band by band breakdown of Coachella weekend.

You’ll notice no Friday update.  That’s because after 2.5+ hours in traffic we were still miles away from the parking lot and decided to abort until the next day.  So no Perry Farrell, She & Him, The Specials, Them Crooked Vultures, Echo & the Bunnymen, Vampire Weekend, Ceu, Public Image Limited, or Jay Z. 🙁  My favorite quote on the situation:  “Whoever is in charge shouldn’t be allowed to organize dinner for two, much less a festival for 80 (thousand)″

Saturday, 4/17

John Waters
We started our day in the beer garden across from the Mojave stage listening to John Waters tell stories about his films and just rant in general. Hadn’t clicked before sitting down that this was going to be John Waters the director, but it ended up being a pretty cool kickoff.

Zoé
This wasn’t a solo set by Ms. Deschanel from She & Him, but a rockin’ Mexican grunge band.  Singer looked like a cross between Bono and Chris Cornell.  Decent daytime rock on the main stage.

Jason Bentley
Hit the Sahara tent for the only time all weekend to watch the KCRW Music director spin.  But DJs aren’t really my thing, so it was short lived.  Love your show and your station though…

Old Crow Medicine Show
Really fun twangy, old-time alt-country with fiddles and strings who put on a great set.  I was torn at the end with this debate:  If you prominently feature a fiddle, should you or shouldn’t you cover “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” in concert?  They didn’t, but I think if they had it would have been awesome.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes
One of my favorite albums of last year, and their live show exceeds expectations.

The xx
If I were to retcon my top albums of 2009 list these guys would be near the top, but since I only heard their record for the first time on Christmas XXmas eve it needed some time to secure that slot.  Probably the band I was most looking forwards to and they didn’t disappoint.  I hadn’t seen photos of the band before the show, and they ended up looking both not at all and exactly as I’d envisioned them if that makes any sense.

Faith No More
This falls under the “more interesting than good” category, though it was still fun and worth seeing.  They came out in suits and played a very faithful cover of “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb before launching into “From Out of Nowhere.”  Neither the band nor the songs have aged particularly well (Mike Patton kinda resembles Michael Douglas nowadays), though it was still awesome to hear “Midlife Crisis” and “Epic” played live back to back.

Les Claypool
You always pretty much know what you’re gonna get from Mr. Claypool, and it’s always fun.  Highlight for me was “Riddles are Abound Tonight” from the pre-Primus Sausage days.

The Dead Weather
I was pleasantly surprised by this Jack White side project that has him on drums and MC duties.  Heard a few songs here and there previously that were just okay, but live was a different story.

Sia
More upbeat and power-poppy than what I’ve heard of her before, makes me curious about her new record.

Devo
Wow!  They are not men, they are Devo!  Sounded great, and seemed to age a lot better than Faith No More.  Really cool visuals/cartoons in the background too.

Sunday, 4/18

One EskimO
On their recordings I get a bit of a Damien Rice vibe, but no so much live. Still decent and a good mellow start to day 2.

The Middle East
Actually saw these guys open up for Pavement on Thursday before Coachella.  They’re definitely growing on me, especially this one story song that builds to a pretty rocking crescendo by the end.

Babasonicos
Another Spanish band, this one a little more dance-y than rock-y.  Of the two I leaned towards Zoe while my wife preferred these guys.

Local Natives
I was curious to see what the hype was about, and it seems legit.  The crowd overflowed from the Gobi tent for this solid set.

De La Soul
Great hip hop set.   I hadn’t realized these guys had been around since 1987!

Matt & Kim
Tent was so packed I didn’t actually see them, but instead just listened from outside.  This was during the “lightning round” so I only caught 3 songs, but they sold me with a cover of “Rock and Roll Part 2.”

Florence + the Machine
I was excited for this one, but it wasn’t really doing it for me.  Could have been the crowd though, as it was another overflowing tent and we were so far in the back it was tough to see and hear.  My wife says they sound like a cross between Bjork and something else…

Sunny Day Real Estate
Ahh, nostalgia from a misspent youth…

Yo La Tengo
This was probably my favorite find of the festival.  They were so good we broke from the lightning round plan to hear a few extra songs, and have been blazing through their extensive back catalogue since returning.  Good stuff.

Julian Casablancas
He was ok, though I think I prefer full on Strokes.

Charlotte Gainsbourg
Speculation that Beck would be performing with her proved to be false, but she still held her own and delivered a strong set.

Spoon
Only caught the last few songs here since I was sent to the car to get pants, but I loved what I heard and might finally give Spoon another chance to win my musical heart.

Phoenix
Another band that’s growing on me at long last.  The crowd for this one was ridiculously large.  Towards the end of this set my wife and I split up so I could see the beginning of Pavement and she could see the start of Yann Tiersen, and both of those stages were quite sparse with the rest of the world watching Phoenix.

Pavement
As mentioned above I caught the Pavement show in Pomona on Thursday, so I didn’t feel obligated to catch their entire Coachella set.  I stayed for the first 5+ songs (Silence Kid, In the Mouth a Desert, Stereo, Frontwards, Father to a Sister of Thought, Two States) and made it back in time for the last 2 (Unfair and Cut Your Hair), while slipping out in the middle to meet my wife at Yann Tiersen.  My timing couldn’t have been worse, as this worked out to be more or less to the exact second that Phoenix ended.  So I was walking one way while 70,000 other people were coming right at me in the opposite direction…

Yann Tiersen
The most painful conflict of the original schedule was Yann Tiersen overlapping with Gorillaz.  However, one good side effect of Eyjafjallajökull moved Yann into the earlier slot vacated by Gary Numan.  After fighting the crowd and reaching the Mojave tent my ears were blasted with some crazy guitar rocking.  It sounded great, but I was confused.  My previous exposure to Mr. Tiersen was solely from the classical influenced pieces on the Amelie soundtrack, so I thought I was in the wrong tent.  I actually went outside to check the big schedule to make sure.  Confusion aside, he was pretty awesome.  I especially loved how he’d play the violin so vigorously during the rock outs that the bow was visibly fraying on stage.

Atoms For Peace
I know I have a bit of a (deserved) reputation for not liking things on the first listen and then learning to love them later on.  But try as I might, I just can’t get into Thom Yorke.  He’s gotten more chances than I usually dole out, and even though everything in my musical pedigree says I should be a raging Radiohead fan they just don’t do it for me.

Gorillaz
And so we’ve come to the end.  Great set, excellent use of audio visuals and special guests.  “Feel Good, Inc” with De La Soul stole the show, especially with that classic laugh repeated over and over.  That never gets old.

My only point of confusion is this:  While waiting an hour for this to start we noticed someone climbing a ladder to the lighting rig catwalk above the stage.  At first we thought it was a worker, but then noticed 2 or 3 other people already up there.  Then we saw another person make the ascent, this one in a red sequined leotard and elaborate headgear.  They reached the top, sat on something that resembled a trapeze, then squatted out of sight.  Our first thought was “Gorillaz are going to have some crazy Cirque du Soleil acrobats?  Cool!”  But then the set ended with nary an acrobat to be seen.  Odd, eh?