Thursday, June 1, 2017

We have guilt… we have fault… we are ungovernable

I am tired and a little bored. Two years and two volumes ago, a similarly exhaustive post—so soon after the Miles Davis fusion-o-rama and a heartbreaking goodbye to my dear Chlo-Chlo—threatened a self-imposed May deadline and so I subtracted twenty-five percent, whipped up a simple stock-image cover, rested my eyes for a few weeks and awoke to cough up a pathetic Super Bowl "recap" that amounted to "Football was played." Three months and zero Trout Mask Replica posts later I recovered enough to write again.

And then last year? "Let's hope I refer back to this next May so it doesn't happen again. So it doesn't happen to me again. Thirty-six songs are plenty." With drooping eyelids we have come home again. For better or worse, though, following this year's Super Bowl triumph—rooting for successful teams is highly recommended!—I overcompensated with five thousand words resulting from several hours of re-watching the greatest comeback in sports history (there, I said it). Excessive, sure, but don't question the you-are-there value. And so: "Thirty?" Maybe next time, if I'm able to avoid repackaging selections from existing playlists and sprinkling in a few "new" picks for a best-of retrospective in honor of ten volumes. Motivation weeps.

Mudhoney, like old friends Wayne Kramer and the MC5 before them, gave us a title that stuck even after "Where Is the Future?" did not. I guess the band is satisfied with "The Only Son of the Widow From Nain" and "Judgment, Rage, Retribution and Thyme" in the past few years—only twenty-eight-letter titles allowed from them. (Sorry, "Beneath the Valley of the Underdog." Maybe I'll one day forget "valley" has two Ls.) The bit about "I want a world run by giant brains" is deemed redundant because anything at all would improve the Donald and his Earth-shattering lot, with their fucking flag pins that make them better Americans than the rest of us. Give me a break. "Hindsight 2020" cannot come soon enough. Anyway, this was originally to be called "A Telegram From the Late Colonel," taken from a throwaway snippet in a quasi-legitimate alternate edit of the Beatles' "Revolution 9." Teletype font variety is unreliable so the artwork correspondence, to have read "Dear sirs – Remember a day when fat kids got high? Yours, &c., Winston Legthigh," was discarded in favor—again—of another easy stock-image search, minus Volume 8's scanner manipulation. The parallels with 2015 are indeed eerie.

I lack the affection for this year's "form" (dig my tight new post labels!) compared to volumes two through seven (yes, a tepid nod above to Volume 7 belies its excellence, Kiss and all) but love will eclipse ennui over time, despite a few labored transitions and the total absence of L7 after I saw them in August. I don't know, their songs only hold up well against each other or something. And how! I've made their shitlist. Trump's made mine. Only two repeat artists from last year. Number nine… number nine… number nine… number nine…

1. Terry Reid – July
Terry Reid was great with Marc Maron on WTF last year and clearly harbors no resentment over his unrealized Led Zeppelin partnership with Jimmy Page, nor the same insecurities as Robert Plant and Eric Clapton—his holler as he revs up here is everything Plant never achieved. "July" played over the end credits of the excellent documentary Touching the Void: "The film was long-listed for an Oscar Best Feature Documentary award but was not nominated as judges felt it was not a documentary so did not qualify for an Academy Award," presumably due to the proportion of reenactment. Horseshit. I'm not done with the Academy yet.

2. Watts Prophets – Pain
"How much did you say that last moonshot cost?" Perfect cello execution. Between "Pain" and Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey on the Moon" it seems fair to conclude that those in poverty reserved a sincere rage for the space program in the sixties and early seventies. Hotshot pigs too—not much has changed. "And then you sick peckerwoods wanna know why we don't follow rules!"

3. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – I Love You, You Big Dummy
I love you too, baby. Thanks for sticking with me all these years, through carelessly tucked-away motel receipts and no tan lines on my ring finger. Next Summer's silver anniversary will be wonderful.

4. Black Sabbath – Iron Man
"Riff… from… 'Kuen Kuen Lueng.' We're stealing the ri-iff from 'Kuen Kuen Lueng.'" Turnabout, etc. SingleCut Heavy Boots of Lead Imperial Stout, a championship beer denied its own post this time around, served me well during an extended panic attack. It was long drained by the time of "We got a ballgame now!" and I nearly graduated to Evan Williams and oxycodone for the conclusion. Anyway, I couldn't bring myself to write about Black Sabbath's career because the element of discovery present in the Bitches Brew thing would have been absent. I've loved Sabbath for years and still prefer the first album to anything else so my reader (!) would have grown tired and bored as well. We'll always have "Warning."

5. Electric Prunes – General Confessional
The Prunes' Mass in F Minor and Release of an Oath, both released in 1968 (of course), were extended, loosely spiritual David Axelrod vanity projects that included little participation from the credited band. "Kyrie Eleison" and "General Confessional" went on to represent the era well when sampled during the golden age of hip-hop in the late eighties and early nineties and, yes, provided the "ungovernable" commentary atop. We are not a nation of yes men. Guilt and fault lie with leadership.

6. Amps – Pacer
Ladies and gentlemen, Tammy & the Amps! "The album received mixed reviews, ranging from highly enthusiastic to quite dismissive." As if The Bends and its glorified nineties sad-sackery has aged anywhere near as well as Pacer.

7. Les Goths – Out of the Sun
The A-side, "Le Jour √Čtait Gris," translates (straight-up according to Google, what can go wrong?) to "The Day Was Gray." So where's this sun you're coming out of, Frenchy? Give me something I can use! "Les Goths," meanwhile, translates to "The Trout Mask Replica Enthusiasts."

8. Evie Sands – One Fine Summer Morning
This year's Blossom Dearie or Tia Blake? Not quite, but the strings might make her this year's Nick Drake. More than a minute passes before the vocals kick in with lovely ease… only two verses and they're allowed to breathe. Maybe I want to live here too.

9. Sleepy John – Al Capa Strong
Much like Acton Cleaners on 119 reads to me as "Action Cleaners," I will always see this title as "Alpaca Strong." As if that wouldn't be the centerpiece of a concept album about nature and wildlife revolting against its Trump-led human oppressors.

10. The Jesus Lizard – 7 vs. 8
I realize this is from Head, not Goat, but what are you gonna do. It was first the "Chrome" (a.k.a. "TV As Eyes/Abstract Nympho" medley) B-side anyway, thereby doubling this year's 1980s constitution. Volume 6 lamented the perennial absence of the Jesus Lizard over the years and we've had nothing since, even after spotting Ivan and me at the eleven-minute mark ("Nub") of the live-at-Venus-de-Milo-in-1994 video. I'm playing it cool as if David Yow and his violent cowboy boots hurtling right at me on a sea of sweaty arms isn't the most reckless moment of my youth. Ivan actually is cool, banging his head to music I'm not sure he even liked. The infamous Landsdowne bouncer is in there as well, of course, at stage right—balding ponytails and fingerless gloves forever! "Do you got the shot of the nipple?"

11. Thee Oh Sees – So Nice
It's a wonder my life over the past year or so hasn't been plagued by nightmares brought on by Thee Oh Sees albums covers. I now own everything in full going back to 2008's The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In. So colorful!

12. Boss Hog – Gerard
"Aiiight, I'd like to dedicate this sooong to Mr. Gerard Cosloy, lead singer of of the rock group Dagobah." Here's another shoutout from four years earlier. In 5/4 time! Or maybe it's just 4/4 that gets interrupted. I know nothing about music theory.

13. Albert Washington – Hold Me Baby
"Turn down the lights-uh, pull down the shades-uh, lock the door. I'm about to love you." An otherwise unreleased extended version taken from Mojo Music Guide, Vol. 3: Raw Soul. It plus volumes one (Instant Garage) and two (Roots of Hip-Hop) absolutely opened my eyes beyond "Mercy Mercy Me," "Psychotic Reaction" and "Funky Drummer," respectively.

14. Caetano Veloso – De Cara/Eu Quero Essa Mulher
In February my coworkers and I lost our friend Claudia, who had been unceremoniously laid off mere months before by a company that pretends it is different from every other. (She'd since landed on her feet and was happier than ever when we all met at the Beantown Pub in January.) By coincidence, the day after she passed—and before I knew of it—G. and I had some daddy/daughter time in Boston visiting the aquarium and taking in a 3D nature movie. She desperately wanted to stop by my office before heading home and so I conceded "For a few minutes, OK? Really, just a few minutes!" A half hour later as we left for the train I was fairly distracted—as much as one can be distracted by anything when walking a mile with a forty-pound monkey on his or her shoulders—by my colleague asking if I'd checked email since the day before. The news was clearly bad and she insisted I wait until after I got home. Halfway there, though, as we approached the bridge to Beverly and a view I knew would keep G. occupied for a minute, I logged in to learn the awful news. Dear Claudia, proud of her Brazilian heritage and likely the nicest person I've ever known, never tiring of G. photos and updates, died within days of contracting a sudden and horrid illness. The sentiment of this Tropic√°lia medley, which translates loosely to "Face"/"I Want This Woman," is likely off the mark because I don't speak Portuguese. But I'll be damned if I wasn't going to include a Brazilian artist in her honor.

15. Jeff Beck – Hi Ho Silver Lining
G's breakout song of the year, without a doubt. She knows the chorus better than I do—I turn to mush when she goes all in with "Hi! Ho!" in the middle of her bath. It's a matter of time before I bore her with Clapton/Beck/Page career comparisons and, for that matter, differing US versus international releases of (mainly) Beatles and Stones records. I'd better start soon.

16. Barbara Lynn – You'll Lose a Good Thing
"Unusually for the time, Lynn was a female African-American singer who both wrote most of her own songs and played a lead instrument." And that voice! Meanwhile, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross get all the acclaim while dressing up their hits in schmaltz and gimmick (or, rather, having their hits dressed up by others without their input). I'd probably be in the dark too if it weren't for Sooouuul Town. I'm one of the lucky ones.

17. Mr. Flood's Party – The Liquid Invasion
This begins and ends like an old Roger Corman soundtrack, with a creamy middle as delicious as any Cadbury Egg. I know nothing about the band but searching Wikipedia for "Mr. Flood's Party" redirects to turn-of-the-(last)-century American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson for some reason. I'm guessing there's a sonnet out there with his name on it that begins "Beware! Beware! The liquid invasion is here!"

18. A Tribe Called Quest – The Space Program
"There ain't a space program for niggas, no, you're stuck here, nigga." I guess this really is a thing. Years of fury caused by anything from bureaucratic spending habits, trigger-happy (at best) cops and Trump supporters who blame racism on Obama fueled two perfect Tribe performances during the only episode of Saturday Night Live I've seen in years. I declared the group in decline after Midnight Marauders in 1993, irrelevant after Beats, Rhymes and Life in '96 and kind of pathetic after The Love Movement in '98. I was right. Things change.

19. Ty Segall – The Only One
Tribe's Willy Wonka sample is a tough transition so let's overwhelm it with noise, instant noise. Pow! I don't know what to make of Ty Segall IX (what I'm calling his second self-titled album—who does he think he is, Jacques Dutronc?). Manipulator and Emotional Mugger are two of my five favorite albums in the last three years (definitely Mugger) and I suppose IX is… fine. I'll keep trying but the songs and/or songwriting aren't as interesting so far. There's a chance Ty takes the reigns from himself since I'm not so hip to this whole scene but if Thee Oh Sees (more than likely), Shellac (not so likely), Dead Meadow, Fuzz or Mudhoney release anything before New Year's Day I don't see it happening. I'll still race you to a live show.

20. Cortney Tidwell – Eyes Are at the Billions
It took everything I had to find a place for this gem from 2006, continuing my tradition of being blown away by individual songs and too lazy to pursue the rest of an artist's material. Nothing of Cortney's can be as good as this anyway, right? Even if it should have been four minutes longer.

21. Holly Golightly – Your Love Is Mine
This Serial podcast, have you heard of it? (Not Serial Girlfriend. My mistake.) I entered the zeitgeist a bit late to the party and asked the hosts if I could crash on their couch—they didn't hide how much I put them out. The second season was released as I finally prepared to head home but I took my time—misplaced socks, etc. Lucky for them I blasted through S-Town quickly enough to catch the last-straw cab they called me. Conclusions? Adnan Syed seems nice but probably did it, Jay Wilds seems dirty and probably is and Asia McClain's library recall is awfully specific. Bowe Bergdahl suffered as no one should and had his heart in the right place (and probably a screw or two loose) in the face of multiple macho pissing contests—everyone handled it badly. John B. McLemore was a self-important blowhard and con artist who exposed himself to too much mercury. Bonus critique: Sarah Koenig and her "sense of humor" make Serial almost unlistenable. And the theme music? The theme music!

22. Bonnie "Prince" Billy/The Phantom Family Halo – I Wonder If I Care As Much
In June I accompanied a friend to see Will Oldham play a… collaborative?… show with the Bitchin Bajas in Cambridge. The Bajas opened with a set of their own (that we missed) followed by one of Oldham (playing as Bonnie "Prince" Billy) solo. It was such an austere and goddamn reverent performer–audience dynamic—I haven't been in so quiet a crowded room outside of church. Oldham was self-consciously funny and personable, and after his last song he shuffled over to some keyboard for what we presumed would be the "headliner" sound check. I couldn't retire to the bar fast enough and wasn't really looking forward to him returning with the Bajas since "Show Your Love and Your Love Will Be Returned," the only song I'd heard from their album together, was overlong and dull. After like fifteen minutes of small talk soundtracked by weird cooing sounds from the stage we peeked around the corner to see Oldham and the Bajas in the middle of their first or second or who knows what song. Tape loops, beards and novelty mini baseball bats for percussion… what do you call it when four keyboard players shirk enthusiasm and never look up from their hands? Korg-gaze? Anyway, this Phantom Family Halo project is much more satisfying. Well, maybe. "I Wonder If I Care As Much" is the only song I've heard. Oldham should have reserved the title for the other guys.

23. Dorothy Ashby – The Moving Finger
This was a late replacement for Guru Guru's eleven-minute "Electric Junk," thereby relieving me of the guilt over my own electric junk guitar gathering dust after a year of little activity. Justin Guitar has taken me as far as I can get without personal "How can I put this finger here and this finger there and still have room to put this other finger here without touching that string there??" attention. So I completed the midlife-crisis stereotype by tearing a phone number off of a GUITAR LESSONS—FREE INTRO LESSON flyer at the hometown toy store (!) and adhering it to the fridge. If I haven't called this guy by the time training camp rolls around then I might as well let G. play the thing after all.

24. AC/DC – Whole Lotta Rosie
You wanted more Rosie and you got it! Ours weighs less than nineteen stone but is shaped like one nonetheless. All peanut butter and chocolate, she is, with one rear leg dipped in vanilla ice cream. She poops where she sleeps and enjoys baby carrots, peppers of any color and those flowery bits of hay. G. loves her to death and wants to snuggle her forever. I just want to eat her.

25. Simply Saucer – Dance the Mutation (Live)
"The band's style has been described as a hybrid of proto-punk and psychedelia and they form a 'Rust-Belt punk' style [see Eels, Electric and Tombs, Rocket From the], along with the Stooges, MC5 and Alice Cooper. The group's references also included German progressive rock, or Krautrock… the Velvet Underground… early Pink Floyd." I never stood a chance, especially after disregarding the Stockhausen reference. I am not there yet.

26. Tony, Caro & John – There Are No Greater Heroes
"All on the First Day was made in 1972 with almost no budget and primitive equipment, recorded on John [Clark]'s two-track. They could overdub in mono only by re-recording the backing track at the same time." Is that where they got that great underwater guitar and bass sound?

27. Old Time Relijun – Your Mama Used to Dance
Taken from the album 2012, released in 2005 (?), which is part two of the band's "Lost Light" trilogy that began with—yes—2004's Lost Light (home to more heaviness) and ended with 2007's Catharsis in Crisis. On a scale from zero to ten, out to one decimal place: what say you, Pitchfork Internet Media? Lost Light: 8.0; 2012: 7.7; Catharsis in Crisis: 7.9. As if there is a difference between any of these. (And if your fussiness is so pure then why not stick to whole numbers from zero to one hundred? I would know.) We can agree, though, that each is a marked improvement over the site's opinion of Uterus and Fire and its 0.3 rating in 1999. Seriously, we learn nothing more from that than we would from a zero on a zero-to-five scale. "Suckin' is cool." Don't you know it, ex-Pitchfork writer Michael Sandlin. Maybe you're getting paid to write decent criticism these days. Or paid at all.

28. Pere Ubu – Heart of Darkness
I'm working my way through the classics: Heart of Darkness, Cat's Cradle, The Thrawn Trilogy. Commuting this year was once again tolerable since A. began working from home full-time a little over a year ago, now that an hour and a half in the car is out of the picture. I still love Route 1—the Hooters logo really is well done—just not at rush hour. Give me the train! Give me bookmarks! Give me the opportunity to nickname every other weirdo I encounter on a daily basis! (Including new favorite "Rhymes With Runt," who tries and fails to take up an entire three-seater with her unsexy sun damage twice a day.) Even if I do nod off on the occasional ride home and, goddammit, got on the wrong train a month ago. It wasn't my fault!

29. Soundgarden – Hand of God
Celluloid hero Bill Paxton passed away in February. The following evening during the portion of the Oscars when famous people pat each other on the back even after they've died—while the people doing the real work are chased off the stage with orchestral swells and the ghost of the (still-living) Micro Machines guy—someone decided that Paxton didn't die young enough and excluded him from the "In Memoriam" segment. As if it wouldn't take someone—me!—forty-five minutes to edit a good-enough tribute to him from my DVD collection using a laptop that doesn't even have a DVD drive. So, as a big middle finger to Hollywood fat-cats big and small, Volume 9 includes a contribution in honor of Chris Cornell, who died a good eighteen days after I was supposed to cap this sucker. See how easy that was? Sure, I could have waited until next year, but by then I might have forgotten his relevance to my youth or, even worse (and more likely), that he had died at all. Of Nevermind (which I liked), Ten (which I kind of pretended to like until I realized how stupid that is) and Badmotorfinger it was Soundgarden's effort that meant the most, not to the point that I still listen to the band as often as I do, say, Six Finger Satellite, but rather to other tastes it reinforced. Zeppelin? Yes! Sabbath? Goddamn right! Pentagram? Be forewarned! Nirvana was good but Mudhoney did it better. Pearl Jam was lousy and fucking Bush were no worse. But Soundgarden? No one I knew was doing the heavy Dio thing in 1991. They weren't perfect—"Black Hole Sun" was their biggest hit and I disliked it from Superunknown's release—but even the King Animal reunion album was pretty good. The sort of delayed reaction to Cornell's death was odd considering how quickly people lost their shit over Leonard Cohen and Alan Vega but everyone's come around by now, which is nice. I certainly wasn't going to wait a year because of some May-to-April rule I've imposed. Just look at me posting in June anyway.

30. The Brain Police – Getting Too Much Higher
Discogs mocks the Brain Police by determining their sound to be "pretty average, if competent, psychedelic-period rock with hard-rock and baroque-pop influences" and comparing their (basically unreleased) output unfavorably to "Born to Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," as if two of the best songs of 1968 (long before oversaturated exploitation) were just hanging around waiting to be picked. Sub-Steppenwolf is an apt comparison but "Getting Too Much Higher" deserves appreciation too, even if used copies of the self-titled album are only fetching seven bucks on the site. My reader (!) and I will increase awareness by one.

31. PJ Harvey – All and Everyone
I don't really know what Let England Shake is about but I'm feeling an England-in-wartime vibe. Lynne Olson's Troublesome Young Men was a terrific account of an appeasing Britain in the early stages of World War II—"death was everywhere," indeed, and Neville Chamberlain ignored it, happy to be island-bound and not left out to dry like Poland and Czechoslovakia. It's only one book and therefore one author's perspective but where might we be if heroes such as Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, Robert Cranborne and others hadn't gotten through Winston Churchill's thick skull that it was his time at last? Do what's right and to hell with political consequences: that is leadership. Nixon, Trump and their champions are obstruction.

32. Yellow Payges – The Two of Us
"Two of us riding nowhere, spending someone's hard-earned pay." Fuck off with that weak shit, Macca! "We're completely the same!" Yiiaaahhh! I like this 1969 better.

33. Royal Trux – Shockwave Rider
"I thought Lethal Weapon was… safe." I agree, it took the sequel to start beheading motherfuckers with surfboards. The photographs on the "Mercury" sleeve likely represent every stage of craving, scoring, ingesting, engaging and expelling hard drugs.

34. Delta 5 – Mind Your Own Business
This was apparently covered by Pigface long after I wondered what the hell I was doing owning three Pigface CDs. I'm sure it's all guttural and ugly. Pass.

35. Man… or Astro-Man? – Myopia
Actually titled "_____/Myopia" according to the record sleeve but I don't go for that nonsense, focusing instead on important stuff like reattaching discarded ellipses. From the magnificently titled and packaged EEVIAC Operational Index and Reference Guide, Including Other Modern Computational Devices.

36. The Graham Bond Organisation – Early in the Morning
"Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, please!" "Eric Clap–" Not so fast, wonderboy. I'm sure you somehow broke up the Graham Bond Organisation as well. Their take on "Early in the Morning" was an early candidate to lead things off but instead it makes three straight years of closing the set with a song shorter than two minutes. I intended for the trend to consist only of nineties indie rock shorter than two minutes but the superior two-thirds of Cream, along with junkie namesake Graham Bond and double-barreled scenester Dick Heckstall-Smith, decided it's ridiculous to declare something a trend after doing it twice. It's just a dirty lie!

The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves onnn: ten songs from the sixties (three from '68 and four from '69), twelve from the seventies (five from '70—typecast sanction), two from the eighties, five from the nineties, two from the aughts and five from the teens. God bless you, daughter. May future presidents be capable.

More furious madness: Volume 1|Volume 2|Volume 3|Volume 4|Volume 5|Volume 6|Volume 7|Volume 8