Friday, December 29, 2006

Stand absolved behind your electric chair. Dance.

Well, it's the last post of 2006, so I'd thought I'd do the British magazine thing and take a look back at the Heroes and Villains of 2006... are you tired of the lists yet? Last one. For awhile. I promise.


05. Geoff Emerick
I might seem some 30 - 40 years late in bestowing this accolade being as that the guy who engineered the likes of Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the White Album and Abbey Road amongst scores of other great artists may have all his biggest glories behind him, but his memoir of recording the boys, Here There and Everywhere did two amazing things this year: gave fans and anyone with a passing interest alike backstage access to the making of some of the greatest music ever recorded, and gave fans a reason to buy YET ANOTHER Beatles book. It's so good, in fact, it should be one of the only Beatles books you ever need to own.

04. Paul Weller
Nothing new this year, apart from a live album, a so/so single and the announcement that we'll all be fortunate enough to have YET ANOTHER career retrospective, but Weller took home the 2006 Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award at the start of the year, and celebrated it in January by torpedoing past recipients and other Brit nominees at the suggestion that he might want to do a duet with James Blunt to celebrate:

On James Blunt
"I'd rather eat my own sh*t than duet with him."

On Bob Geldof
"Bob Geldof. What’d he win it for? Can’t be for his music, man. I mean, if it’s for his charity work in Africa then you can’t knock it, but Boomtown Rats, f*ck off."

On Bono
"The whole thing of Bono becoming the Pope - what the f*ck’s all that about? Pseudo-American rubbish."

On Sting
"F*cking horrible man. Not my cup of tea at all. F*cking rubbish. No edge, no attitude, no nothing."

On David Bowie
"Wrong! I like about three records of his. The rest of it’s pish."

Couldn't have said it better myself, mate.

03. Aaron Sorkin
Sure, we all continued to watch The West Wing after he left, but only because we'd grown so attached to the characters. We missed the humor, and every Sorkin-less episode had drama turned up to 11 where comic relief would usually step in, meaning a formidable heart attack for the viewer at every commercial break, but by God's good grace, he returns to NBC with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the best new show on television, a great reason to continue watching Bradley Whitford and the best role I've seen Matthew Perry in. Kudos.

02. Chicago Cubs
Sure, they were again decimated by injuries and finished with the worst record in the National League, but no sweeter moment in baseball came this season than when Michael Barrett punched A.J. Pierzynski right in the face. Cubs fans everywhere are speculative about the money they've spent in the past few months to acquire Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis in addition to retaining the likes of Aramis Ramirez - especially as every true Cub fan knows it's going to be millions of dollars for weeks-months on the DL, but... at least it shows they're trying. I'm excited for April already.

01. Kula Shaker
Maybe I'm biased with my non-sexual crush and all, but no better news befell my ears this year than the news that Kula Shaker had reformed, released an iTunes exclusive EP of new material (all of which rocked) and were hard at work on their third studio album. British TV recently did a special on the band's career/Crispian's muses, which some AWESOME soul has upped the entirety of to YouTube. I reccommend watching, because besides being a great interview with the object of my non-sexual desire, FOUR new songs are featured! Something big to look forward to in '07, though all fans know that "Crispian time" will probably mean the album's out by 2012.
Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV // Part V // Part VI // Part VII


05. Time Magazine
Surely the easiest cop out of the year in naming it's person of the year as YOU -- more due could've been given to the nerds (God bless them) who launched YouTube and the like -- Time decided instead to massage our own collective self-esteem a bit, despite the fact that in a year when the vice president shot a man and the president subverted almost every turn in the Bill of Rights in turning Iraq into even more of a debacle, WE only speculated about how nice it would be to impeach him, and as of December 29, all still lazily agree that two more years of this sh*t can't be THAT bad... can it?

[Ed. note - sorry, I promise that's the most political I'll ever get here]

04. Noel Gallagher
I despise blatant hypocrisy, and being a huge, huge Oasis fan it pains me to say this, but the guy reverted on two of his biggest stands this year. I'll never be able to watch the end of the Live Forever documentary again when Noel talks about how Oasis will never sell out, because I know I'll turn the DVD off and see AT&T using "All Around the World," and after years of professing how there'd never be a greatest hits OR best of until it was "done and dusted," the Stop the Clocks retrospective was released November 21. Bastard. However, he did do a badass acoustic tour to promote the album and this and this alone is enough to make me forgive and forget.

03. Gnarls Barkley
While I can respect them for covering the Doors' "Who Scared You" (big time cool points), the fact of the matter is that "Crazy" was the most overplayed and terribly, terribly overrated song of the year. Are they as bad as any of the other forced pop confectionaries that were launched into our soundsystems this year? Well, there were worse, but every year one song gets played too much, and this was it. The fact of the matter is I'd rather listen to Lily Allen. And would do so happily.

02. Lou Diamond Phillips
Every year this guy gives me a new reason to add to my already incalculable hatred for him.

01. Britney Spears
I never liked her in the first place, but the whole divorce-that-everyone-saw-coming has blown up in her face (and hopefully to a point of no return), as she decided to celebrate her newfound freedom by partying with Paris Hilton to all hours of the night and showing her lady parts to paparazzo to a nauseating degree, all the while seemingly forgetful of the fact that she has two young children at home. Good mom.

So there you have it, the good and the bad by my guesstimation, which I guess means that 2006 wasn't really too bad after all. Here's a New Year's Prayer for you all:

Jeff Buckley - New Year's Prayer

Taken from Jeff's sessions in Memphis with Tom Verlaine that were to comprise the follow up to Grace, fair evidence has been given that Jeff was going to scrap all of it and start over (as he was prone to do). He never got the chance though, drowning in the Mississippi River in 1997 and leaving behind only these remnants for the 2nd album. Needless to say, this is a pretty amazing Eastern-influenced track and appeared on the posthumous compilation Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Feel no shame for what you are, people.

See you next year.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Never ever questioning your desire or what you even think about what they're saying in the first place.

Did you ever get the feeling that you've stopped chasing the things you really want to instead settle for the things you know you can get?

I got chewed out for that last night.

It's not really too much of a surprise -- more and more people close to me have been noticing the pattern of behavior becoming decidedly prominent over the past year and have pointed it out to me on multiple occassions, but whenever they used the word "defeatist," I retorted with "pragmatic."

That whole "Dream Big" philosophy works well for some people, and I'll be the first to admit that a sizeable chunk of the world's population is a hell of a lot more tenacious than I, but once you've got the things sorted that you were chasing in previous years - and sad is it sounds, all that was for me was the ability to maintain an independent living - you find yourself okay with downshifting a bit.

Plus, "Don't Stop Believin'" is a terribly cheesy song, and there's no way I'm ever going to hear that and think, "Yeah, man!"

The problem is that there are certain aspects of life where my own trepidation at going full on after the things I might really want can have a negative effect - advertant or inadvertant - on other people, and well... here we are. I'm going under the assumption that everything's alright, because by my own estimation for myself, it is really, but I get a pointed voicemail telling me otherwise, and what makes it resonate a bit more is that it serves as a bookend to all these offhanded comments I've received throughout 2006.

So it's convenient, being that we're now three days away from years' end and it makes for an easy little resolution, but the thing about it is that like always, I just want to put it down to timing.

Chris Stills - Lucifer & Jane

I think this song encapsualtes what I'm talking about a bit more directly than how I just spent the past seven graphs trying. "Before you know..." "Freedom disobeyed..." "Welcome to the wanted space..." etc. Yes, Chris is the son of Stephen and sounds terribly like his father. I became aware of him when he opened for Paul Weller in Boston in 2003, and thought he was fantastic. He did this song from the 100 Year Thing album (sadly already out of print) and blew me away. Kind of bohemian coffee house mixed with blue-eyed soul. He just released a self-titled album in France and after Rolling Stone did kind of an abhorrent article on rock and roll offspring which featured him sparingly in 2004 or 2005, they decided to put it out in America. It's not bad, but half the songs are done in French, and whether it's his lineage or not, there's something always a little pretentious about doing songs in French, no? At any rate, he's alright in my book. When he's singing in English. And of course, putting an organ on his tracks.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The joke's on me, and I don't wanna laugh.


An open letter to Robbie Williams, 27 December 2006


I thought about you again the other day. I had a friend over who decided to peruse my CD collection, and nearing the end of my obsessive-compulsively alphabatized library, she spotted your name.

"Robbie Williams, huh?" she asked with a smarmy grin.

"Yeah, well..." I stammered, nervously going into that default setting of scratching the back of my head. "You know... he's alr - well, the music, that is. He's got some good songs. Some of the songs are alright, you know."

You know, I nearly disavowed you entirely a couple months ago upon hearing that "Rudebox" single... was it meant to be a joke? Ironic? Or did you really think you could rap and do a Streets type thing? Either way, it fell flat on me. I was interested in hearing it - much like I was when I first heard about "Rock DJ." Thing is, that track was accessible and one of those "Oh, goddammit I kind of like this" things. One of those ones where if you were getting elbowed about having it in your collection you could dismissively tell your critical compatriot where they could shove it as you sang along to the "but when I rock the mic, I rock the mic right" bit.

You haven't done one of those in awhile.

"Tripping" was kind of crappy in the end, eh? It tried, I'll give you that, but nothing else on that album was worth a diddle, and frankly I'm too scared to listen to anything else off Rudebox. I only liked a couple things off Escapology - "Sexed Up" was nice, but "Come Undone" was just "Strong" re-worked, right? "Feel" was crap, and "Something Beautiful" was nice, but about a minute and a half too long. Kinda twee, you know, you don't want that kind of stuff to overstay its welcome.

The Rat Pack covers album I never got. Was it ever properly released stateside? I couldn't justify shelling out for the import, when I have all the Rat Pack originals anyway and... you know, I heard some of them... you were nice about it, but... there's a certain kind of person that would say "Robbie" when asked "Who would you rather listen to, Frank Sinatra or Robbie Williams?" I'm just not that kind of person. But nice job on "Have You Met Miss Jones?" nevertheless.

So that takes us back to Sing When You're Winning, the last album I actually bought of yours. I'm kind of surprised I haven't traded it in at some CD resale shop, frankly, Robbie. It's a 12-track album and there's only 3 or 4 that demand play on it. And "Kids" IS NOT one of them.

Maybe it's that defiant young kid in me, still trying to win the argument over you. All my other music snob friends scoffed at me for owning not one, but TWO Robbie discs, and while I managed to make a couple concede that you had a few decent tracks - "Knutsford City Limits" is a good selling point, by the way - for the most part, you've been the biggest chink in my armor.

It's understandable. You ruined Britpop, your attitude is awful, you can't seem to get over Liam Gallagher - whether it's wanting to bed, beat or be him - and Sing When You're Winning was done in 2000, meaning it's six full years now since you've done anything that's made me want to spend a penny. It's too easy to blame Guy Chambers - you've shown promise without him, but... well maybe that is it, after all.

I just want some more of these, man.

Robbie Williams - Killing Me
(Buy Life Thru a Lens OR The Ego Has Landed)

Robbie Williams - If It's Hurting You
(Buy Sing When You're Winning)

They make defending myself so much easier.


P.S. How does it feel to know that half of the people who know "Angels" now don't even know a thing about you? I'd take it as a blessing in disguise - that song was always kind of naff, anyway.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A warm, embracing dance away.


The blogs are going to be full of James Brown tributes and tracks for awhile now, so I'd head over to the Hype Machine or and see what you might be able to come up with - I'm sure there will be no shortages of "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "Funky Drummer" or "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."

I'm not too steeped in Brown's music, so I feel kind of silly (and inadequate) doing a tribute post when I know all the good soul blogs will come shining through like crazy over the next week, but being that I know a little more than the three aforementioned tracks and the fact of the matter that Brown's passing marks the loss of a legend in popular music... well, I'd be stupid and ignorant not to do something.

Maybe I should've been born in the 1950s, so I could of come of age in the 1960s and had a handle on the man as he cemented his base as Soul Brother #1 and the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Being born in 1982, the man's only tangible hit during my lifetime was "Living in America" - which was no small shakes, but any news or word on the man that ever came during my lifetime was of the weirder ilk, i.e. shotguns, PCP, "only high on Jesus," etc. He'd kind of become a bit Brian Wilson-y. No one was going to speak ill of his former glories, but he had kind of turned into a strange old man.

However, sometime while I was still in high school, VH1 started its long, painful descent into the crap programming we all know today, and one of these shows was called "The List" (I think?), which basically had four people of quasi-celebrity status naming off their Top 5 of whatever and then fighting with each other until some kind of consensus was attained. I don't know why I watched it - it always infuriated me, but one night James Brown was the big name on the show, and I kept watching because I was interested in seeing what he might say about whatever.

The theme was the all-time greatest love songs, and when it came to the part of the show where each panelist removed one of the others' choices, Brown surprised everyone. He'd listed his version of "Try Me" as one of the greatest and as a gesture of kindness to the other panelists, he removed his own pick. The host and other panelists were all shocked and (for the first and only time... I think) insisted the song be kept on the list, and ultimately it ended up as the #1 choice for the evening. Brown stood up and delivered an on-the-spot a capella rendition of it. It wasn't an amazing performance, but I still remember seeing that episode and going, "Oh, that's kind of cool."

Recently I came to the attention of some of his late 1960s work, which seems to have been unjustly forgotten by the masses. 1969's fabulous Gettin' Down to It was a bit of reflection from the Godfather, trading in the "Say it Loud" gauntlet for renditions of songs that were mostly made popular by his own favorite vocalist, Frank Sinatra. He leads a jazz quartet through the numbers, and what's amazing about it is that he manages to put his own amazing stamp on each track and set each one on fire despite the fact that it's minimalist backing and material like "All the Way" and "It Had to Be You."

He's been appreciated for his showmanship and the impact of "Funky Drummer" to no end... I just think that in the midst of all this remembrance, this bit of his career deserves some recognition as well.

James Brown - Strangers in the Night

Hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, baby...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

For the sake of auld lang syne, my dear...

John always resented the fact that Ringo got the big gifts.

Just to get a little bit more in before Christmas hits...

One of the cool things the Beatles did from 1963-1969 was put out a Christmas record for their official fan club, which was basically just the four of them clowning around in the studio for 6 or 7 minutes, improvising and being all fab and that -- it wasn't really anything too special (and got progressively weirder with each year - I'm sure nothing to do with drugs - the 1968 one featured Tiny Tim delivering a downright scary version of "Nowhere Man"), but in the early ones you can tell they're having a bit of fun doing it.

My favorite one is 1965's "The Beatles Third Christmas Record" which is about 6 and a half minutes of them thanking their fans (sounding at times as if they were being forced to do it) and trying to get around to coming up with a Christmas song on the spot, but instead riffing on the likes of "Yesterday," "Auld Lang Syne," and "It's the Same Old Song." Lennon's particularly madcap in this one and the others all follow suit, especially Harrison, who's downright boisterous in his singing. It's kind of funny, really, because Ringo starts the proceedings by warning the others that they can't ad lib too much, then turns around a split second later and sparks the goofiness that ensues for the rest of it.

It's actually pretty shambolic, really, but it's definitely the most fun of the bunch. So have a laugh.

The Beatles - The Beatles Third Christmas Record


I don't know why this never made any of the BBC collections, but here's a 1963 BBC Christmas spot the boys did... doesn't Paul sound like a 13 year old?

The Beatles - 1963 BBC Christmas Spot

...And, of course, a very merry Christmas to you and yours!

Friday, December 22, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #1...

#1 - Franz Ferdinand - L. Wells

From: The Fallen/L. Wells EP
Label: Domino
Released: April 3, 2006 (UK)
Buy it: Here.
It says a lot (and warms my heart, really) that the best song released this year is a B-side. Well, okay, technical double A-side, but as it didn't get top billing... you know what I mean. I don't know what the European opinion is of Franz is at the moment, but after "Take Me Out," they literally seemed to drop almost completely off America's radar, and the fact that this song hasn't even been properly released in the US (it's not even available in the US iTunes store) may say a lot, although it makes it a treat for anyone with a little bit of tenacity in digging for good music. Written and recorded in a bit of a flurry in the early part of the year, "L. Wells" is a lovely little tribute to one of the band's staunchest fans, Lynsey Wells, and more than deserved the double A-side billing, as it is miles better than anything on the band's 2nd LP, You Could Have it So Much Better. The music is typical Franz, a pulsating monster, but whereas tracks like "Take Me Out," "Do You Want To," "The Dark of the Matinee" and "Michael" all have the danceable beat and a good line here and there, "L. Wells" comes on with a beat, but a surprising wall of sound behind it, and Alex Kapranos' lyrics here almost challenge 19th century English poetry (with a bit of hipster pop culture of course): "Great western wind catches in your Celtic hair, flicks it 'round your face like flames around the sun / in the bright, cold air, you seem as innocent and fair as Rita Tushingham in 1961" - easily the best opening line of the year, and the "LP records in your little hands" verse is also great. It's the kind of song (I imagine) any girl would love to have written for them. And since it's the #1 song of the year, it also gets the privelege of my showcasing its video here. This is actually how I was introduced to the song, and the artsy video perfectly complements the track (although the actress is actually Scottish student Saskia Pomeroy and not Lynsey). It made me jump up and down with joy. There's only been about 4 other videos that have made me do that in my life, so...

Now enjoy and get to burnin' - 'cos as I've said before, the Top 15 makes a BRILLIANT mix CD (especially if you run it from tracks 15 to 1).

And don't forget - if you haven't got the Christmas Mix yet, it's available until Dec. 26.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #2...

#2 - Graham Coxon - You & I

From: Love Travels at Illegal Speeds
Label: Parlophone
Released: November 14, 2006 (US)
Buy it: Here.

If you're anything like me and read the NME site compulsively, you'll know that as of late, Blur bassist Alex James has been hinting at a reunion with the band's estranged guitarist, Graham Coxon. Coxon's played kind of coy about the whole thing and has taken a bit of "maybe" approach, despite earlier comments that it was virtually out of the question and that he, in fact, was better than Blur. Well, there's no argument there. 2004's Happiness in Magazines was a pop rock triumph, and while this year's Love Travels at Illegal Speeds pretty much stayed on the same track (though to less success), it does contain his best moment committed to acetate yet. "You & I" is pretty much everything you want in a single - punchy, under 4 minutes, easy to learn all the words to in one or two goes and brimming with optimism despite a rather dour muse. Nothing about Coxon's vocal delivery is particularly impressive, but you have to give him credit for always sounding sincere in spite of having little range, and that's exactly why you're bound to sing along happily to the "la la la la la la" bits instead of cringe or exhort a cynical scoff. And when the song rebuilds itself after the guitar solo, with Graham merely repeating, "You & I gotta think for awhile, look to the sky, gotta decide if we're gonna see tomorrow" it's got all the potency of a battle call. So while the new album may not be as thoroughly satisfying as Happiness in Magazines, this track alone is worth the price of admission (plus there are some other good ones - don't get me wrong), and what's more, it's just further proof that he doesn't need Albarn & Co. You'd do well to remember that even at the most hated heights of the Blur/Oasis rivalry, Noel Gallagher never once directed an ounce of criticism at Coxon, and has in fact called him one of the greatest guitarists of his generation. High praise considering his former collaborator was aversely stuck with a death wish and still gets called the likes of a "condescending c*ck" by Gallagher Sr. at every given opportunity. But that's not the point, anyway. Have you heard Think Tank, Graham? You're better off...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #3...

#3 - Belle & Sebastian - The Blues Are Still Blue

From: The Life Pursuit
Label: Matador
Released: February 7, 2006
Buy it: Here.

You know, the one in which Stuart Murdoch turns to his bandmates and says, "You wanna hear my Marc Bolan impression?" The shock of it, of course, is just how well Belle & Sebastian - frontrunners of twee pop, acoustic dalliances and whispered vocals - can do T. Rex. There was a decided sea change on their last album, 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, where the intelligent lyrics finally started to see some more muscular music back them up, and it's become even more well-refined on The Life Pursuit - which I said was the album of the year back in February, and still say is the album of the year. The hardest task of this list was coming up with a song off the album, because it's such a thoroughly good record (the Stax feel of "Funny Little Frog"? The vintage Northern Soul of "To Be Myself Completely"? The jittery but beautiful "We Are the Sleepyheads"? The glorious Family Stone-vibe of "Song for Sunshine?"), but "The Blues Are Still Blue," through and through, is just perfect. It's effortlessly catchy, and when you listen to the lyrics, it's just too fantastic. Amazing one-liners from top to bottom ("But if there's trouble, she's got the moves - she's taken an elementary class in Kung Fu," "I've been creeping 'round this town, because, well, creeping's just my way," "Here comes the deputy head with the bark of a bulldog - he's not making much sense"), a groove that you can't help but get into and a polished refinement that makes the likes of Oasis' and Morrissey's T. Rex pinching ("Cigarettes and Alcohol" and "Certain People I Know," respectively) look like mere child's play. The band's cult following has known it for years, but its high time we all start taking this lot seriously.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #4...

#4 - Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - The River in Reverse

From: The River in Reverse
Label: Verve Forecast
Released: June 6, 2006
Buy it: Here.

The flood of benefit albums in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the fact that Elvis Costello lately has an irrepressible need to collaborate with every slightly-off-the-radar arranger and producer probably made buyers a little wary when this album was released in June, and true to Costello-of-late form, it's a lot of decent stuff. But not a lot of GREAT stuff. But there are a few definitely inspired moments, and none moreso than on the album's title track, where Toussaint lays down a musical background that perfectly represents the broken Crescent City and Costello spits out lyrics with a bile not seen since... blimey, This Year's Model. When one envisions a collaboration between these two respectable forces, THIS is exactly what one should expect, so it's too bad that most of the rest of the album didn't quite clear the bar, but at least they managed to attain perfection for a bit - and the bit where it mattered most (though I wish they'd recut Toussaint's more than a propos "Go Back Home"). They also gave a good performance of the track on the Letterman show, though Costello nearly ruined it by ending with a bit of Bush-baiting... Not that it's undeserved, but really - and especially today, who's not thinking he sucks? "I don't see how it can get much worse" works fine enough, Declan.

Monday, December 18, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #5...

#5 - Primal Scream - Country Girl

From: Riot City Blues
Label: Sony
Released: August 22, 2006
Buy it: Here.

What, pray tell, does Primal Scream owe us? For about 20 years now, they've been one of music's most entertaining chameleons - jumping from hard rock to jangly pop to acid psychedelia, retro-fitted Stones rock and then apocalyptic style industrial music. Yet, when Riot City Blues made its debut this year, critics pounced on the album's retreat back to that Stones-rock ilk, finding it categorically disappointing seeing as how their last effort, 2002's Evil Heat had been such a simultaneously alarming and promising look forward. Now, I've lent an ear to every turn in the Scream's journey, and while both Evil Heat and XTRMNTR were revolutionary changes of pace, they did rob the band of Bobby Gillespie's penchant for fronting a balls-out proper rock song, and at times doing a better Mick than Mick himself (whose own ability, it seems, deteriorates exponentially with each Stones tour). And for however much you respect the likes of Evil Heat, XTRMNTR, Vanishing Point and Screamadelica, don't tell me Gillespie didn't have you rocking in the aisles on tracks like "Rocks," "Jailbird" and "Movin' on Up." "Country Girl" is simply another one for that load - a Saturday-night-tip-over-the-table-'cos-you're-drunk-and-it's-glorious anthem, with a mandolin solo and one of the Scream's catchiest choruses since... well, "Rocks" and "Jailbird," really. Poor man's Stones? Disappointing regression? Bollocks. "Country Girl" is a great song, and after 20 years of impressing us, they can do what they want - they hardly even owe us something this fantastic.

Friday, December 15, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #6...

#6 - Alejandro Escovedo - Take Your Place

From: The Boxing Mirror
Label: Back Porch
Released: May 2, 2006
Buy it: Here.

Over the course of five studio albums proper, a theatrical piece and a couple of live compilations, Alejandro Escovedo has never wandered TOO far from the rock/blues/alt-country/acoustic songwriter formula that's anchored his body of work and made him simultaneously one of the most acclaimed and underappreciated songwriters of our time. But when you're friends with a guy like John Cale, things are bound to happen - especially when you give him the producer's hat. When The Boxing Mirror was released in May, it was universally (and rightfully) praised as a proper songwriter's album, but more than anything else, it seemed - it was praised in due tribute to a man who'd literally been on the brink of death just two years ago and had made the long journey back to deliver more stunningly good music. But what a lot of the reviews made little to no mention of was the contrast between the new music and that off his last studio effort, 2001's (amazing) A Man Under the Influence. While the roots remained intact, the dressing had changed completely. From Tex-Mex to punk to hard rock to acoustic balladry - it was all there, but this time, bafflingly, it was accompanied by compressed guitars, violins and... f*ckin'... synthesizers?!?! It would seem that only Cale could ever convince Escovedo that this was the right way to go, but where it should've been a formidable career threat, it worked to great effect. And no better than on "Take Your Place," either. The facelift that Cale gave this song was so radical, in fact, that Escovedo included his original mix of the song as the disc's last track - and while it was conceived as a typical blues-rock scorcher a la "Castanets," Cale turned it around into a Chic-meets-Kraftwerk-meets-late '70s Stones Frankensten with Alejandro at the mic. Again, it shouldn't have worked, but it did... resoundingly. The first time I listened to this disc, this track came on and I contorted my face into one of those "What the hell?" sneers, but when I went back to play selected tracks again, guess which one I went to first?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #7...

#7 - Donald Fagen - Morph the Cat

From: Morph the Cat
Label: Reprise
Released: March 7, 2006
Buy it: Here.

In the sleevenotes, Fagen writes of his third solo album's title track: "A vast, ghostly cat-thing descends on New York City, bestowing on its citizens a kind of rapture." Erm... yeah, okay. Well, really, would we expect anything else from Donny boy at this point? He says it's the third and final installment in a cycle that began with 1982's The Nightfly and continued in 1993 with Kamakiriad, but more than anything, the Morph the Cat album sounds like it picks up where Steely Dan's last album, 2003's Everything Must Go, left off. And that's no bad thing as the last two Dan albums have actually been miles better than the average "geezer comeback album(s)" should ever even be allowed to be. This album, according to its author, runs with a theme of an older man beginning to look at impending death, and if this fictional feline is any kind of metaphor for that, well, cool - if THIS is what impending death sounds like, hey, sign me up. Clocking in at around six and a half minutes, the track follows Fagen's "screw radio and let's let that groove dictate the song's length" mentality to a T, but as this is one hell of a groove (and one hell of an opener, too) that's fine, as the minutes fly by like seconds. Plus, the similes Fagen comes up with for "warm and cozy" are fantastic - "Like you heard an Arlen tune, or bought yourself a crazy hat - like you had a Mango Cooler..." Everybody now, "Ooh, Morph the Cat." Too right.

Post Script: If you haven't yet started downloading the "15 of the Best" series, I'd reccommend starting today, kid, because as soon as the posts drop off the "Previous Posts" list to the right, those MP3s are gone. And you don't wanna miss the chance to put together THIS mix CD, friend. I made one myself - it's great driving music.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #8...

#8 - The Stills - Halo the Harpoons

From: Without Feathers
Label: Vice
Released: May 9, 2006
Buy it: Here.

I think too many people took it to heart when Tim Fletcher sang about changes being no good on the Stills' 2003 debut, Logic Will Break Your Heart. In the time since then, the lineup's done some math and a little switcheroo - most notably, original drummer Dave Hamelin crawled out from behind the kit, strapped on a guitar, and did the lion's share of writing on the band's sophomore effort, which traded Joy Division comparisons in for mid-60s earthy blues-rock. A lot of fans freaked out and abandoned ship, but I for one, stand by the change and rate this album higher than the last. They added an organ, so... cool points skyrocketed. Funnily enough, the two best songs on the album are Fletcher's - not Hamelin's (which isn't to say his are bad) - and "Halo the Harpoons" is without question, the record's most majestic moment. Fletcher muses on in characteristically oblique fashion ("I'd firewalk through dinosaur hell..." "I'd firewalk the cracked spine stairway..." "We're sharks that do nothing but stall and think..." et. al.), but with a cracked drumbeat that plods along and pulsating piano (almost Spoon-like, no?), the result is one of the most beautiful tracks to land in music shops this year. Maybe it's the soaring "sign off the world" refrain, maybe it's the splashes of electric guitar throughout, or maybe it's the fact that I myself am a shark that does nothing but stall and think - whatever the case, this is f*cking great.

2006: 15 of the Best. #9...

#9 - Richard Ashcroft - Music is Power

From: Keys to the World
Label: Virgin
Released: March 21, 2006 (US)
Buy it: Here.

The cover art for Keys to the World is kind of poignant, isn't it? It seems to recall the "Bitter Sweet Symphony" video, but instead of a man walking with purpose and determined not to let anything get in his way, we see a man who apparently just got the news that Mick and Keef are none too pleased that he used a sample from an orchestrational version of "The Last Time" to make that hit, and ho ho, they're coming after him. Of course, that's just what I see. Thankfully, enough time has passed since that unpleasantness for Ashcroft to get his metaphoric stones together to try sampling again - pinches a bit from Walter Jackson's "It's All Over" (written, incidentally, by one Curtis Mayfield), and boom, we have one of the best Ashcroft outings in ages, and certainly the highlight of his latest album. The message? Well, just what it says, man, music is power - "submit to the sound." Twee? Sure! Simplistic? At the very least! But try not to get into this song. Ashcroft is never better than when he's pontificating on a simple little mantra, because his delivery is always sincere. And the sample works to fantastic effect, too. Go on, rock out in your desk chair, dear reader. It's the whole point, you know...

Monday, December 11, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #10...

#10 - Rhett Miller - Brand New Way

From: The Believer
Label: Verve Forecast
Released: February 28, 2006
Buy it: Here.

I first heard Rhett do "Brand New Way" shortly after he'd written it, during a solo acoustic spot at an Old 97's show in Chicago in (I think) April or May of 2005. The sound was a bit off, and Rhett spent half the song shaking his head and mouthing "up, up" at the sound guy, but even in its rawest (and probably one of its roughest) showings, it was a stunning, stunning song. For that song alone, I couldn't wait for The Believer to be released, but with that comes a bit of trepidation. You know the first time you hear a song and it's in a live format you're usually swept away, cool song or not, because you're right there in the moment with a bunch of other people who are loving it just as much? Then you hear it on your own on record, and it's usually overcooked or the tempo's screwed up and it's like "awww, God dammit..." That happened with Coldplay's "Animals" for me. They ruined it and stuck it on a B-side. Fortunately, Rhett and producer George Drakoulias saw "Brand New Way" through to absolute perfection with strings, horns, keys (sounds like there's a bit of harpsichord?), additional percussion and gorgeous backing vocals. The song is pure seduction ("Skin all over you, I'm a worrier, it's true - I came over to cushion your breakables" and "My fingers move over the borderline" for a start), but it's done with the classiest possible delivery. While in the end, The Believer is not as strong as Miller's 2002 solo debut The Instigator or a lot of the Old 97's output, the fact of the matter is that "Brand New Way" is the absolute best song he's written to date.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Tidings of comfort and joy.

Remember last week when I said I wasn't going to do a big Holiday mixtape megapost? Well... bollocks to that.

The "15 of the Best" series is coming along at a nice clip, and I thought that instead of interrupting the one-a-day work week flow of that (yes, we'll resume Monday with #10... aren't you excited?) with 3 or 4 Christmas tunes now and again, I thought I'd just share the load right now. After all, it's only 16 days now, so you need SOME time to enjoy these don't you?

I was originally going to end up sharing about 8 or 9 choice Holiday cuts with you, but I have a date tonight that involves driving around Madison and looking at lighting displays, so I whipped up a soundtrack for that, and thought it'd only be Scrooge-ish not to share it with you fantastic readers.

So, "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." is proud to present He Don't Come But Once a Year: Christmas Mix 2006. All files are at SaveFile (the only way I could post them all at once), so click on the track link to go to it's respective downloading page. Sometimes SaveFile can run a wee bit slow, so I'll leave all these tracks up there until 12/26 to ensure you have a chance to get them all.

This also provides me a good chance for self editing. I promise no more than a two-sentence summation for each track. Ahem...

Look at that, cover art too! Click to embiggen.

01. The Raveonettes - The Christmas Song
Everything about the Raveonettes - the songs, the sound, the guy, the girl, the fact that they're Dutch - is dead cool. It's no surprise, then, that their holiday original is dead cool too and the perfect opener to any hipster Holiday mix.

02. Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!
From the man of the moment's just-released 5-CD Holiday box set. It's not anything too spectacular, but it's kinda fun and be honest - you've often fantasized about the sound of Santa arriving to the sound of banjos.

03. Charles Brown - Please Come Home For Christmas
Screw the Eagles and screw Bon Jovi. This is the ultimate original version of this song and still drips just as much soul as it did when it was originally released in the 1960s.

04. Brian Wilson - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Oh sure, cynics will fantasize about what Wilson's voice could've done with this song 40 years ago, but the fact of the matter is that the surf rock slant gives the song the best treatment it's ever received. And it's also the only real highlight of his Christmas album from last year.

05. Death Cab for Cutie - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
I'm not sold on Death Cab for Cutie yet - I should like them, but something about their sound makes me hesitate a little. This treatment of a classic that both Phil Spector and U2 have respectively made famous is pretty cool, though.

06. Sammy Davis, Jr. - Christmas Time All Over the World
Yeah, I posted it already, but it deserves inclusion, and face it, you haven't gotten over that kickass glockenspiel yet. Or the way he sings "Which means a very merry Christmas to you..."

07. Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa
Another hit of soul for the mix, and one that you shouldn't let the toddlers listen too closely to, unless you want to have to give an awkward lecture this season. But, let's face it, a lit bit of Holiday suggestiveness can be fun, and I wasn't gonna f*cking post the Pussycat Dolls' "Santa Baby."

08. Eels - Christmas is Going to the Dogs
For all those Christmas canines like Spot and Abby and... I can't think of any others right now. Dog person or not, this is just a fun little track.

09. Elliott Smith - Angel in the Snow
Not technically a Christmas song, but certainly a seasonal one, and gorgeous enough to merit inclusion. "Sometimes I feel like only a frozen still life that fell down here to lay beside you..."

10. Fountains of Wayne - Valley Winter Song
Another one that's not technically Christmas based, but seasonal and that gentle falsetto when they sing "What else can I do?" gets me. That's how they always get me, those GD Fountains...

11. The Temptations - Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Best version of "Rudolph" not to feature the annoying shout-in additions... er... yeah, best version of "Rudolph" period. After listening, you too should agree that only Eddie Kendricks is qualified to take the lead on this song.

12. Louis Armstrong - Zat You, Santa Claus?
Ah, Louis. That was a waste of a sentence, so I guess I'll just say you need a bit of Louis' throaty, bip bop jazz to properly get through the season.

13. The Brian Setzer Orchestra - Sleigh Ride
Not too big a fan of Setzer's swing or this song, but credit where credit is due, and this is the only version of this cheesy-ass song that I can really get into. Oh yeah.

14. Belle & Sebastian - O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Every potential B&S vocalist gets a verse in the song which is cool enough, but the fact that it was done in 2000 when Isobel Campbell was still around makes it even cooler, since we get to hear her whispered-too-damn-innocent-for-popular-music-in-any-fashion vocal to boot. Check the Hype Machine for their Christmas Peel sessions that include covers of "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and "Christmas Time is Here."

15. James Taylor - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
I love this song, but it's really, REALLY hard to cover properly. Somehow it just suits JT's voice though, and my friend Kiki - who's not a stripper - brought his new Christmas album to my attention and recommended this track for inclusion in the 2006 mix.

16. James Brown - Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto
You need Soul Brother #1 if you got other soul music in the mix, and this holiday original is beautifully bittersweet - and the line "Tell 'em James Brown sent ya" is great. The line is strangely better when B&S sang it during their Peel session, but you gotta have the original on the mix, don't ya?

17. Adam Arcuragi - The Christmas Song
I first heard this song in March, and you can listen to it any time of the year and enjoy it (it was good enough to almost make my "15 of the Best" list, too), but it sounds gorgeous in this company and at this time of year. One of the best holiday originals since "Wonderful Christmastime" (which I didn't include because I'm sure you have it, and if you don't... come on, dude).

18. Low - Just Like Christmas
I have trouble getting fully into Low, but I just heard this song for the first time last night and really liked it. So there you go.

19. Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby
Recorded shortly before his death (which will have taken place 39 years ago tomorrow right here in Madison... I'm looking at Lake Monona right now... sigh), this wasn't released until a year afterwards, and like Brown, more than deserves inclusion if we're dropping other soul. Just beautiful.

20. Badly Drawn Boy - Donna and Blitzen
From BDB's scoring of the About a Boy film, this is probably the prettiest track on the soundtrack, and like Smith, Fountains and Arcuragi can be listened to anytime of the year, but definitely sounds best at this time. Lyrics are worth a good listen - they're not as good as Arcuragi's, but they're just pretty enough.

Friday, December 08, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #11...

#11 - Arctic Monkeys - When the Sun Goes Down

From: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Label: Domino
Released: February 21, 2006 (US)
Buy it: Here.
They are really great, you know. As good as the demigod status that the British music press would have you believe? No, certainly not, and for all its overblown praises of the band, I'm still a bit wary (I've said it a million times, but Kula Shaker... ahem... cough cough). But the fact is they are really great, and definitely worth a listen. While the album is bursting at the seams with hooks and social commentary lyrics arguably not seen since Ray Davies in his prime (and from a 19-year-old, to boot), the formula never gets better than on "When the Sun Goes Down," a tense and hyperkinetic look at the dregs of prostitution in Eng-er-land. The music's enough to wind you up, but the lyrics will put you over the top - "Bet she's delighted when she sees him pulling in and giving her the eye / because she must be f*cking freezing, scantily clad beneath the clear night sky - it doesn't stop in the winter, no." It's a screwed-up situation, but a story told in such a way that when Alex Turner almost mournfully sings "I hope you're not involved at all" over a lonely guitar at the end, you can't help but feel a ringing tinge of sympathy. Well played, you monkeys.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #12...

#12 - Madeleine Peyroux - California Rain

From: Half the Perfect World
Label: Rounder
Released: September 12, 2006
Buy it: Here.

Well, thank God that someone tracked her down during that brief and still unexplained (I believe) disappearance in 2005. Peyroux's third album (much like the Strokes, come to think of it) didn't really forge any new musical ground, but like its two predecessors (and unlike the Strokes), managed to get by very well, thank you, on it's retro-jazz fittings and Peyroux's voice alone, which sounds like it was lifted right off an old piece of vinyl from the late 1930s or early 1940s. "California Rain" is one of only three originals on the record (which includes covers of songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Charlie Chaplin), but proves that like a true student of the music she plays, she knows how to absorb every influence she has and mold them into her own unique style. Well, unique in a 2006 world. One could imagine this kind of thing was run-of-the-mill 60 years ago, but maybe therein lies its overwhelming charm. Who else is doing this, and more importantly, who else is doing this THIS WELL? I've only been to California once and it didn't rain, which is just as well, considering it was vacation and I liked being out and about. But if it sounds anything like this song makes it - plodding brush stick beat, electric piano, that soothing voice and all... I might be up for a bit of it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #13...

#13 - The Strokes - Razorblade

From: First Impressions of Earth
Label: RCA
Released: January 3, 2006
Buy it: Here.

Extra! Extra! Richard Hell fights Barry Manilow and... the Strokes win? Look, it was hard enough for me to fess up to really digging a Strokes song in the first place, so imagine the sleepless nights I encountered at the thought of including the track among the 15 best of 2006. How these hipster one trick ponies have even made it to the point of having THREE commercially successful albums under their collective belt is far beyond me, but credit where credit is due, and "Razorblade" is a damn fine song - and the only one in their repertoire I'm willing to say that of. (The information up there, mind you, is only for relevancy purposes - I'm not suggesting you buy the album as I couldn't find another note on it I liked.) I first heard the song on the fantastic Little Steven's Underground Garage back in the first half of the year, and while I knew who it was from the first note sung, I made no attempt to tune out. Musically, same old same old, but finally there's a melody sewn into the fuzz worth getting excited about. And the breakdown about halfway through where the verse is sung over just the bass drum, a dancing bass line and a singular guitar is, by all accounts and measures, sublime. So there you have it, the Strokes finally find a moment in the sun. Thank God Barry Manilow wrote "Mandy" all those years ago, eh, Casablancas?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #14...

#14 - Centro-Matic - Triggers and Trash Heaps

From: Fort Recovery
Label: Misra
Released: March 7, 2006
Buy it: Here.

Okay, it may be an easy choice to pick the first single, but "Triggers and Trash Heaps" is easily the most majestic moment on the Denton, TX band's 10th album in as many years (and bewilderingly, the first I'd ever heard of them). No one's ever going to write about how amazing frontman Will Johnson's voice is, but it does suit the songs he writes perfectly, and the detachment/disillusionment with which he sings, "It's hard to believe the mess you're creating" recalls a place we've all been at some point. It's cold, warm, disenchanted and comforting all at once. It sounds like it was specifically written and recorded to soundtrack a lonely highway drive at 11 p.m. And it sounds nothing like a song called "Triggers and Trash Heaps" - by a Texan band, no less - should. It's really quite fantastic.

Oh, and I promise not every track on this list will have been released March 7.

Monday, December 04, 2006

2006: 15 of the Best. #15...

Welcome to the start of the "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." year-end review. In this, we'll be looking at some of the best tracks that were released this year, and counting right on down from 15 to 1 (though, as mentioned Friday, there will be breaks along the way with Christmas songs just to keep you in that Yuletide spirit).

How does this series work? Simple - I didn't want to do a "Best Albums" list because a lot of times (this year and always), some pretty mediocre albums are put out with some pretty fantastic songs peppered in, and once inawhile, the best song of the year might even be found on a single's B-side (as it was this year). You might have heard the songs, you might not. You might have the songs, you might not. Point is, at the end of the countdown, you're gonna have a killer mix CD.

Rules? Not many. This countdown was the result of my opinion and my opinion alone, and if you want to fight me, I'd welcome it. The only rule is that I won't repost some of the year's best if I've already posted the tracks. So apologies to the likes of Corinne Bailey Rae and Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins... you've had your moment and it'd be unfair to the others if I posted your highlights again.

That said, we're now in my 4th paragraph of explaining a list of 15 good songs. GET ON WITH IT THEN...

#15 - Jon Langford - Little Bit of Help

From: Gold Brick (or Lies of the Great Explorers, or Columbus at Guantanamo Bay)
Label: Roir
Released: March 7, 2006
Buy it: Here.

Between the Waco Brothers, the Mekons, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and whatever 14 other bands he put together yesterday, it's not often you get a Jon Langford "solo" album proper. The bulk of Gold Brick was recorded in just one day and comprised of songs he had laying around that didn't fit his other bands' respective molds. Those two factors in itself should sound like a recipe for absolute indifference, but while the album does have its share of uninspired moments, it also has quite a few fantastic ones. Langford said that only on listening to playback of the entire album did he realize that all the songs dealt with themes of colonization, immigration and finding one's niche in society - not exactly the stuff of the Billboard Hot 100 (like that matters here anyway), but delivered pretty damn catchily in tracks like "Little Bit of Help." Against a pub-cum-blues rock backdrop with a bit of rollicking piano, Langford sings of the fall into inertia, black eyes, bloody noses and sowing seeds for slaughter without even once coming off like a goth or metalhead, and he even makes you want to dance all the while. You never could fault that boy for a lack of originality... Great choice to open the Gold Brick album and kick this countdown off alike.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The snow is thick in most of the world.

Well it's December, you know what that means:

Christmas songs and 2006 recaps!

That's right, "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." is going to buy right into those stereotypical music-blog-in-December offerings, and with no shame, either!

To provide a bit of flavor and an off-kilter angle to the proceedings, I've decided to go against posting "The Ultimate Christmas Mix Tape" type blog, because one, you blow your load at once and two, there'd be way too many songs to write about at once. I'm already having some length complaints from readers (and a very happy Bah Humbug to you all, too). I also won't do a week (or two, or three) straight of Christmas songs... too redundant, and even though more and more are released with every passing season, I find that as I get older, I REALLY like fewer and fewer.

So to mix it up, some days, you'll get some good old Chrimble tunes, and others, you'll be able to follow along in a series I like to call "2006: 15 of the Best," which will highlight some of the best tracks released this year. You might have some of them, you might not. You might have all of them, you might not. No one's holding a gun to your head and saying "DOWNLOAD!" (unless it's Super Furry Animals stuff), so, as always, take what you like and delete what you don't.

Now then...

Avoid calling it a Tanenbaum. Capitol security gets a bit jumpy at that word.

I gotta go with a Christmas tune today. I avoided any post-Thanksgiving Christmas rush, and finally got into the season last night. Decked out the apartment with lights, and what should my wondering eyes behold this morning but - a BLIZZARD WARNING!

Yes, that's right, the day of our annual company Christmas party and Nebraska decides to send its crappy old weather up this way (this why nobody likes you, NE). Luckily the snow has already stopped in Madison, and should be out of Milwaukee by the time I get there to lose at both the darts and pool tournaments, drink a beer too many and probably let slip something about the company or someone working for it that I shouldn't. Can't wait!

I also went to the Capitol today at noon where they lit the 2006 Wisconsin Christmas, er... Holiday, that is... Tree (pictured above). 35-foot Balsam Fir brought in specially from Douglas County (way up in the northwest corner of WI), decorated with energy conserving lights, ornaments made by Wisconsin school kids, and a real Wisconsin & Southern model railroad toy circling the base. A choir serenaded the crowd gathered in the rotunda, and I must say, the hugely echo-filled setting made them sound particularly wonderful.

They didn't sing this song, though. But I don't think Sammy Davis Jr. would be surprised - he didn't even live to see the song's release.

Sammy Davis Jr. - Christmas Time All Over the World

It's hard to figure out exactly why almost 40 years passed before this song was put out. Davis recorded the song in 1963, and my only assumption as to why it was tucked into the vaults might be for political reasons... One could easily see a hypesensitive crowd taking exception with calling foreign languages strange or the little splash of "oriental" music at the mention of "Hong Kong." Silly? Yes, but it's such a good natured song that it'd be hard to attack anyway. If anything, it's more a surprise that it got released in today's climate than that of yesteryear's. Nevertheless, the fantastic 2002 compilation Christmas with the Rat Pack finally relieved holiday shoppers of the wait, and if you haven't heard it yet, here's your chance. Okay, the children's choir is a tad hokey (don't they sound like the Peanuts gang?), but you gotta dig that glockenspiel...