Friday, December 29, 2006

James Brown

I was saddened to hear about the death of James Brown although, honestly, I hadn't listened to any of his stuff in a long time. I went through a James Brown phase in the late '70's, after I got my hands on a couple of import compilations that were amazing. (The heighth of my respect and admiration for James Brown came on New Years Eve, 1980, when a couple of guys from the band Madness somehow ended up at my apartment in the East Village, and we played - alternately - songs by Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra and James Brown, all the while drunkenly yelling about how they "swung," and how no modern singer could hold a fucking candle to them. Or words to that affect. It was really hard to understand what those guys were saying.)
Eventually Brown's insane, angel dust-fueled behavior, and having to hear people tell me what a fucking genius he was over and over, made me lose interest in him.
What still amazes me, however, is how astoundingly good Brown's back-up musicians were, best evidenced, in my opinion, by the work of Fred Wesley and the JB's. They found a groove that was like the rhythm of the universe, and then they decorated it. Oh yeah, they swung like a motherfucker.
Fred Wesley and the JB's - These Are the JB's
Fred Wesley and the JB's - It's the JB's Monorail (Parts 1 & 1)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Motel de Moka

I want to recommend a music blog I discovered, called Motel de Moka. From what I can tell, it is written and edited by a 21-year old Mexican woman named Moka. The variety of music she posts, the breadth of her subject matter, the striking artwork and even the poetry she uses as leads is always surprising, entertaining and thought-provoking. Her latest post, about her family's plans for vacation, includes mp3's by, among others, Panda Bear and the Poppy Family. Her Top 12 of 2006 is by far the most interesting end of year wrap-up I've seen.
Check it out.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Countdown 2006 - Songs

My list is actually 99 songs long, but I'm only going to post my Top Ten...okay 11.
11. Lewis and Clarke - "Before It Breaks You"
10. Asobi Seksu - "Thursday"
9. Venice Is Sinking - "Pulaski Heights"
8. Camera Obscura - "Let's Get Out of the Country"
7. Sally Shapiro - "Anorak Christmas"
6. Hot Chip - "And I Was a Boy From School"
5. Jason Collett - "We All Lose One Another"
4. Fujiya and Miyagi - "Collarbone"
3. Daylight's For the Birds - "Worlds Away"
2. Lily Allen - "LDN"
1. Monsterbuck - "Arto Monaco"
Please note: These songs have all previously been posted on the web. All the same, I am only going to keep this list up for two weeks. Have a wonderful holiday!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lost Pop Masterpiece #3: The Mighty Gabby - Jack

In the early '80's I took a trip to Barbardos. The song "Jack" was playing in the airport when I arrived. I heard it in the taxi on the way to my hotel, I heard it at the bars on the beach, I heard it on the party boats. Every bar band in every club I went into played it at least once a set. It was all over the place, and everyone loved it. One of my lasting images of that trip is dancing drunkenly down a gangway on the Bajan Princess party boat in a line of tourists as this song blasted out of the boat's Radio Shack-speakers. It's ironic how much we all loved that song considering how anti-tourist it was.
Back then, one of the things that distinguished Barbados from other Caribbean islands was that all of the beaches were public, including the ones in front of the expensive resorts. There were rumors that the government was going to change that, and this song was a protest directed at Jack Dear, an attorney for the board of tourism .
Mighty Gabby - Jack

The great thing about calypso is its ability to camoflage - or at least soften - extremely subversive messages in its sunny, steel drum-based sound. "Jack" certainly illustrates that. So does Lily Allen's "LDN," if you want to check out a current example.
Lily Allen - LDN

Friday, December 15, 2006

Countdown 2006 - Albums

I've been reading a lot of posts saying that 2006 was kind of a blah year for music. For me it was exactly the opposite. I discovered and enjoyed more new music this year than I have in the last ten years combined. I found something new and interesting literally every day.
The result is that my top album list (same goes for my top song list) for the year is a hodge podge of stuff, bouncing between genres and, I guess, somewhat shallow, in that I didn't spend too much time with any one album. But, looking over my Itunes playlists, these are the albums that stuck with me, in an order that seems to make sense:
27. Joanna Newsom - "Ys" - Pretentious overly-long songs. She sounds like she wants to be Joni Mitchell after she discovered Mingus. Van Dyke Parks' strings are so disconnected they sound like they are coming from the studio down the hall. And yet... all this words, and all those notes. As much as I want to hate it, and as easy as it is for me to find reasons to hate it, this shit is just so damn interesting. A year from now I will either blush with shame that I put it on this list or listen to it all the time. I really don't know.
26. Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" - The album survived the hype. I found that the band's thin angry tone and off the cuff lyrics made for really effective social commentary. Remember when rock was, by definition, angry? These guys get that.
25. Mylo - "Destroy Rock and Roll" - Some kid in Scotland creates an album on a Mac. I think it actually came out in Europe a couple of years ago but didn't make it to the States until this spring.
24. The Lucksmiths - "Warmer Corners "- I'm embarrassed I'd never heard of this band before. Satisfies the twee in me.
23. The Glaciers - "The Moonlight Never Misses An Appointment" - Associated with the Mendoza Line and Essex Green. One of the first bands I discovered on MySpace. Very melodical.
22. Hot Chip - "The Warning" - Spiky electronic music with a melodic sheen.
21. Paper Moon - "Broken Hearts Break Faster Every Day" - Lush melodic folk rock from the Canadian Midwest. I imagine them as a band very popular in Winnipeg, and pretty much unknown outside of that. Although they were nominated for some Canadian music award.
20. My Brightest Diamond - "Bring Me the Workhorse" - Sings back up for Sufjan Stevens. Don't hold that against her.
19. The Weepies - "Say I Am You" - Melodic folk rock from LA. Loved by "Grey's Anatomy." Don't hold that against them.
18.Feathers - "Feathers" - Oddball '60's throwback. Great album cover references the Incredible String Band. Songwriting credits are first name only. Hippies from Vermont. Jeez.
17. Islands - "Return to the Sea" - Pleasant
16. Beirut - "Gulag Orkestra" - Liked it. Then disliked it because of the hype. Now like it. Can't wait to hear what's next.
15. Essex Green - "Cannibal Sea" - Smart melodic folk pop from Williamsburg
14. Fujiya and Miyagi Not Japanese.
13. Final Fantasy "He Poos Clouds" Ethereal intel-pop. Unfortunate album name.
12. Camera Obscura "Let's Get Out of the Country" Brilliant pure pop from Scotland.
11. Dirty on Purpose - "Hallelujah Sirens" - Tough street smart multi-textured pop music. Nick Hornby would love this.
10. Album Leaf - "Into the Blue Again" - New band by the guy from Tristezza. Reminds me of "Music for 18 Musicians." Makes me feel like I'm floating on a cloud.
9. Lewis and Clarke - "WPRB Live" - Probably shouldn't be included in albums, because it was an EP. Amazing folk rock for 2006. Long songs, smart lyrics, interesting arrangements. Made me enjoy long songs again.
8. Daylight's For the Birds - "Trouble Everywhere" - Folk rock with a nasty edge.
7. Band of Horses - "Everywhere All the Time" - Solid
6. Hotel Lights - "Hotel Lights" - A guy I see every five years walked by me at a party. "What are you listening to?" he asked. "Lewis & Clarke," I said, "How about you?" "Hotel Lights, check 'em out."
5. Venice Is Sinking - "Sorry About the Flowers" - Bought this early in the year and it's never let me down
4. Asobi Seksu - "Citrus" - Phil Spector and Blondie recaptured. Best album art of the year. Even though is got an 8.4 in Pitchfork and was constantly blogged, it's the most under-appreciated pop album of the year.
3. Destroyer - "Destroyer's Rubies" - It keeps sounding better and better. A year from now I'll be sick of Number 1, but I'll still be listening to this
2. Espers - "II" - Lie back and enjoy it.
1. The Knife - "Silent Shout" - As soon as I heard it, I knew I was going to love it. It has a sense of familiarity combined with surprise that only the best music has.

Velvet Underground Album (Back) on Ebay

The test pressing/alternate recording of "The Velvet Underground and Nico," which had seemingly been auctioned off for over $155,000.oo is back on Ebay. The winning bid turned out to be a prank bid by someone using a friend's computer.
The new auction has some built-in bidder limits designed to prevent fake bids. Auction ends December 21. Current price: $.99. The perfect Christmas present!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Velvet Underground Album on Ebay

An extremely rare test pressing of an early version of the first Velvet's album is currently being auctioned off on Ebay. As of noon on Tuesday, December 5, the high bid is $124,640.50. Auction ends December 8.
The test pressing was found at a garage sale in the Chelsea area of Manhattan a few years ago. The discoverer paid $.75 for it.
As much as I personally value the Velvets in general and this album in particular, I'm having trouble believing someone would actually pay $125,000 for it.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Youngbloods - Sunrise

I always felt "Elephant Mountain," the Youngbloods' second album, and the album on which "Sunrise" appeared, was tremendously underrated. It got some airplay when it came out in 1969, particularly the song "Darkness, Darkness," (later covered with typical knowingness and taste by Mott the Hoople on "Brain Capers) but in retrospect it seems to be much more sophisticated than a lot of the music in the post-Lovin Spoonful, post San Francisco stew to which prog FM radio consigned it. (It didn't help that the Youngbloods' follow-up, a live album called "Festival," was unlistenable.)
What I remember thinking about the album when it came out was that it had a lot of electric piano (tinkly, monotonic, pre-synthesizer electric piano) and I didn't like electric piano. Now I hear that sound and love it. A lot of neo-eloctronic folk stuff I'm listening to these days builds on a base of that kind of electric piano. (Check out the band called the Album Leaf.)
"Sunlight" is one of those songs that seems so familiar you're certain you've heard it a million times, but in fact that's not the case. You've NEVER heard it! (Well, maybe you've heard it a few times.) It reminds me of a slightly less-edgy Tim Harding song. Jesse Colin Young's jazzy vocal works very well against the pop melody of the chorus, and the arrangement is nicely understated and restrained.
Youngbloods - Sunlight
"Sunlight" is available on a Youngbloods greatest hits package at Amazon