Friday, January 5, 2007

The year in something or other

What a 2006. Not only am I done with school for the rest of my life but I've finally admitted to myself, wholeheartedly, that attacking Iraq was a bad idea. I'm surrounded in Cambridge by so many knee-jerk liberals and anti-Bushies that I always feel a strong backlash against anything they favor, and for selfish reasons I didn't want them to be right. But they were. (For the right reasons? That's another discussion.)

Soooooo… at least it was a good year for music, right? There were more than five good new songs on popular radio this year… right? No? So it was exactly like every year since about 1993?

I guess that would explain why my what-I've-been-listening-to-this-year playlist is mostly made up of stuff from years past. Decades past, even. So for those interested, here is a mix that fits snugly on an eighty-minute CD. Do you even have a CD burner? A CD player? Maybe next year if I do this again I'll take a larger step backward by filling a ninety-minute cassette.


1. Black Angels – Black Grease
The first song of theirs I heard, which I thought was some Spacemen 3 thing. FYI, this exact version has appeared on all three of their releases, from what I can tell, and I think that's a little fishy.

2. Edan – Rock and Roll
My lone New Englander. His whole album Beauty and the Beat (!) is a great trip: proper sampling is a lost art as everyone Diddy-tizes everything by lifting entire songs rather than bits and pieces from different ones, but Edan nails it in a Prince-Paul-in-1989 kind of way. Extra points here for sampling the Small Faces' "Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake," which I keep telling A. would make a great introduction song at our wedding reception, followed immediately by "Afterglow (of Your Love)" as the first dance. I will not win this one.

3. Syd Barrett – Octopus
My iPod just loves "Octopus." And it was either this or the Ummagumma version of "A Saucerful of Secrets," so consider yourself blessed.

4. Black Keys – Strange Desire
I wrote enough about these guys already… at least I intended to, until I waited too long to write my concert review and forgot all the show's details. It was hard to pick one song from Magic Potion but I think "Strange Desire" is the most unique of the bunch.

5. Taj Mahal – The Cuckoo
Finally broke down and got The Natch'l Blues and I'm angry at myself for waiting this long. It must have been odd to hear something like this (or the Kinks or the Band, for that matter) in 1968 when everyone was going berserk in the studio. Not that I'm complaining.

6. Elephant's Memory – Mongoose
"In the dark, the cobra waits and his eyes glow red. Like a flash comes the mongoose for the battle head to head. Mongoose! Mongoose! Mongoose! Mongoose!"

7. PJ Harvey – The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth
Smell of female! Uh Huh Her was a criminally ignored album… by me, after I bought it the week it came out in 2004. Really solid all the way through, more so than I remember after my first couple of listens. I almost went with her cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Wang Dang Doodle" from this year's BBC comp but I was afraid it might seem an unintentional snub of her songwriting genius (seriously though, that songs kicks). Begs the question: why do I file PJ Harvey under P in my CD collection and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion under J but the Jimi Hendrix Experience under H? I may need to seek therapy.

8. Make-Up – Substance Abuse
A tip of the hat to a recent decision to sell my turntable, since (honestly) flipping records—especially singles—is a real pain in the ass. I've got this single and it's a great one (b/w "Under the Impression" and "Have You Heard the Tapes?") but I also have the band's I Want Some singles compilation on CD… which do you think is easier? (By the way, anybody want to buy a turntable and some records?)

9. Electric Banana (a.k.a. Pretty Things) – It'll Never Be Me
Since the Pretty Things never cut it from a commercial perspective (thankfully, because I'm not sure a commercially successful band would have been given leeway to produce SF Sorrow and Parachute back to back) they masqueraded as Electric Banana to record soundtracks for cheesy sixties flicks in order to earn some bread. Never officially released, a lot of this stuff can stand head to head with the band's proper 1967–69 output. "It'll Never Be Me" is another iPod fave.

10. Julie Ruin – On Language
Kathleen Hanna's precursor to Le Tigre. The Kinks? The Guess Who? Buy this album now.

11. DJ Shadow – Fixed Income
2006: the year I asked "Why don't I own The Private Press?"

Here begins the underrated (and now dead) concept of side two. I know MP3s are making even "track one" a dated concept, but one thing CDs sure did was kill that side-two-track-one magic. It was once a big deal (more cassettes in my experience) to make the effort of flipping that thing over and beginning again. Bands usually rewarded you with one of an album's stronger songs too. Some bands today (Belle & Sebastian comes to mind) explicitly leave extra room "between sides" on their CDs, which is plain foolish. However, the powers that be should really practice this with CDs that first saw the light of day as LPs, where there were two (or four if you were self-indulgent/exceptional) distinct parts of an album. For instance, the CD of Led Zeppelin has no gap between "Dazed and Confused" (last song on side one) and "Your Time Is Gonna Come" (first song on side two). They weren't originally so right on top of each other due to the time it takes to flip a record, and knowing that is a little distracting to me. Enough. On with the show, good health to you…

12. Yo La Tengo – Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind
Either I'm a cheapskate or labels are spot-on in picking which songs to make freely available to me. And since the live Floyd didn't work out, this will fill the role of my excessively long track. That rhythm is implacable! I once led off the second side of a mixtape with Love's "Revelation" so I figure this is a good call. (Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass is the grandest of album titles, narrowly beating out Billy Joel's I Am the Death of Rock and Yes's No… No!)

13. Ice Cube – Dead Homiez
From the Kill at Will EP, which is included on the reissue of AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted that I broke down and bought a few months ago (then turned around and flipped the original AMW). People went nuts over "It Was a Good Day" in '92 while I thought it was a mediocre lull on the otherwise-great The Predator, but this song has a higher ratio of really-glad-I'm-not-a-gangbanger moments that add a nice comic element. Damn.

14. Split (a.k.a. George Brigman & Split) – Blowin' Smoke
Stooges-like guitar? Check. Stooges-like vocals (if less urgent)? Check. Stooges-like song title? Check. And on that note, tell me Brigman's solo Jungle Rot LP isn't what a 1975 Stooges album coulda shoulda woulda been. Another nice find courtesy of MIT's WMBR.

15. Dead Meadow – Stacy's Song
From last year's Feathers. Pretty laid back compared to a lot of their earlier crunchy-riff goodness, but it's giving me a pleasant Brian Jonestown Massacre vibe. I also realize I need to bump up the amount of women here—does a backup vocalist count?

16. Rolling Stones – Miss Amanda Jones
I love Between the Buttons. No one ever talks about it, likely because it came between the corner-turning (and gratuitous) Aftermath and the frequently shit-upon (but pretty good) Their Satanic Majesties Request. It's a somewhat shocking album because the band went all three-minute-pop-song on us, including a transparent (and pretty successful) attempt to write a Dylan song ("Who's Been Sleeping Here?"). Funny how "Miss Amanda Jones" previews what the band would be doing five years later with Exile on Main St. Even funnier (well, not funny funnier) considering Brian Jones, the driving force of the band's evolution in '66 and '67 (when BTB was written and recorded), was long gone by then. So this is a little tribute to him.

17. Mudhoney – Blindspots
The triumphant return of Mudhoney… again! We are all better for this band's persistence. "Blindspots" got me pretty excited for their new album Under a Billion Suns but after downloading the rest I determined it was just good (I'll keep trying). Still the song of the year.

18. James Brown – It's a New Day
Without the soul brother, it certainly is. RIP.


Bonus EP alert! For you can't spell "excessive" without "excess." Or "vice."

1. Six Finger Satellite – Funny Like a Clown
Rhode Island's finest! I've been getting into 6FS again after recently scoring The Pigeon Is the Most Popular Bird (home of this song) on eBay. It's strange that every single one of their albums is out of print because they had a pretty strong college-radio (WZBC and WMBR) following around here. Sad days. At least you can get their final two on iTunes, though I'm guessing iTunes doesn't offer the photo from the Paranormalized insert of a chimpanzee examining a topless dancer with a stethoscope.

2. Can – Mother Sky
Clearly a band I need to research. If I get to know them better I might fall in love.

3. Howlin' Wolf – Moanin' at Midnight
Add it to the list after I picked up His Best last week. It was either that or the Moanin' in the Moonlight/Howlin' Wolf two-fer, and this one has "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy," so what would you do? Here's a guy I've liked awhile but I only reached the buying stage after watching the documentary The Howlin' Wolf Story. I don't know why they don't release that juke-joint set they kept cutting to (the one where a drunken Son House is flailing about)—other than the heavy-handed saxophone it's a marvelous performance.

4. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Servo
5. Mr. Lif – Phantom

These two are lifted from an exercise in weeding out internet friends early on ("Do you like Ryan Adams?"). It was odd desperation that now reeks of content diarrhea, as if six posts in my first weeks of blogging weren't enough. I'd like to help myself to Cat Power's "Free" and Mountain's "Sittin' on a Rainbow" as well but thirty minutes is already stretching the definition of an EP.

6. Vanilla Fudge – You Keep Me Hangin' On
A couple of months ago I did this Supremes song at a work karaoke party. Once I realized it wasn't working (not ten seconds in) I resorted to recreating the Fudge cover by slowing down the delivery and ad-libbing a bunch of begging/pleading nonsense. Open bar? Indeed! Here's the single version. Sometimes tighter is better and, again, thirty minutes.

So happy new year everyone! You stay classy. I haven't seen Borat yet.