Thursday, August 3, 2006

Top 15 "LPs" & Best/Worst CDs 2005

With a Corgi on my lap and a half-poodle at my bare feet, I try to type. I provide here a slightly updated version of a February post to my two good friends in Santa Cruz who are music aficionados. One of whom's supposed to provide his list, but never did; the other chastised my inclusion of Hawkwind's live LP (70-ish photo above: the band in concert but Stacia, their rather hefty more than merely buxom topless dancer, not to be seen) among my Top 15. True, parts are Spinal Tap's inspiration: those Science Fiction lyrics intoned po-faced by the band's own poet! But parts are magnificent, too. And I usually hate live albums. This list also has to reckon with my future one for folk all time, and the genres overlapping for my beloved folk-rock bands from the 70s, so I may delete Fairport from these 15 to leave room for a worthy contenders who ran up to the wire but failed to make the cut, to mix my metaphor. Anyhow, here 'tis. Oh yeah--it's only rock, not folk--that I meant to compile, although it's hard to know where to place Richard Thompson or Horslips. We'll see.

I have this weird habit when doing these lists to type only what'll fit on one page for each category, at normal font size. At least in WordPerfect. This keeps me from blathering, makes my comments telegraphic, and reveals my inspiration: Henry Adams used to write on foolscap and his letters show how he fitted them--not the handwriting so much as the content--to that paper sheet's size. I did restore bolds & italics for clarity. Enjoy, and send me your lists!

Top 15 JLM as of today 2/27/06: not necessarily the best rockish records ever made, simply ones that succeed more than less in making you believe in the world they conjure up, and perhaps forget your own world, for forty-odd minutes. Great titles for albums, w/Hawkwind’s exception?

The Who Sell Out Concept 1967 mimics transistors: how we all grew up hearing music as three minute bursts on tinny radios, compressed by ads, enticed by lyrical rhymes and anguish, soothed revelations shrinkwrapped and mourned, pirate radio, disposable but durable. At best memorable.
REM Murmur “The spiritual side of punk”: Village Voice. My tail-end demographic needed its own album. Athens not Woodstock, pings and 1983 echoes 23 years later as murky as the kudzu on its cover, dropouts swallowing whatever we erected against nature, time, and cruel evolution.
Byrds Notorious Byrd Brothers Released New Years Day 1968. Post Love Summer. Comedown. Morning after glitters war, shards, spurs flight back to the garden--to try, if only try, to start over.
Fairport Convention What We Did on Our Holidays Anglican hippies strum 1968 West Coast vibes but transpose them into busker ditties chapel-chanted. Haunting, sleepy, not all that sad.
Buzzcocks Another Music From a Different Kitchen Punk skips away from gender. Iambics to be warbled at “you” not “he” or “she.” Sly, coy, whether 1977 or 1967, vs. au courant men in black.
The Fall Perverted by Language Our second Mancunian ranters here: 1982 we’re desperate to kill thr idols whether stage or marketplace. They might’ve even read F. Bacon as well as seen his paintings. Revisionist autodidact lipstick traces sworn to smear Thatcher’s nation into groo/a/ve.
Kinks Village Green Preservation Society Back to nature 1968: London stops swinging. Whether idiots, eccentrics, or fanatics, they too deserve commemoration, celebration, and immortalization.
The least rocking album of the ten. Best heard in small doses to counteract whimsy or whinging.
Beatles For Sale How they spent summer vacation. Swinging London. Weary four: the cover shot’s blurry, the lads weary. When it’s ‘64. Contract-fulfilling sop: half covers of Hamburg set, half leftover tunes. Works better than the dross before or the drugs after, as/on the decade’s cusp.
Roxy Music Country Life (Close second: debut.) Even ‘74 post-Eno, a streamlined cruise ship looms: oboes, Triduum chant, arch narcolepsy, distilled ennui, possible Ophelia title allusion?
Verlaines Juvenalia Late 70s singles pressed for pocket change by starving Kiwis. Three gangly music majors made from what finally floated them in Antipodes: unraveling guitar epics, woozily smashingly Mahleresque swirling dissonance, Gitanes, literacy, unrequited achy breaky hearts.
Yardbirds Roger the Engineer I like titular double-entendre. They never cut coherent albums, but combining Gregorian chant, ragas, freakbeat, and I suppose Blow-Up, they experiment better than 1966 Stones. Doomed to secondary status: rotating lead guitarists, a braying singer, and less than pin-up mugs. True musos translate R&B but remembered that they, sans Clapton, talk white.
Pavement Slanted & Enchanted Smug 1992 liberal arts majors who “borrowed” the Verlaines. REM. The Fall. Somehow they managed by sheer guitar grace to chunk out sounds that not only got attention but out of pothead demos and scrawled babble jolted sonic GenX bricolage stolen.
Pogues Rum Sodomy & the Lash. I saw Shane stare down, 1st LA concert, 1986, crowd with an anti-war dirge that silenced us all. Determined, committed, eloquent, before that Guinness hype did him in. His bandmates chugged Irish & punk, rawk & reel, raised middle fingers to all of life.
Hawkwind Space Ritual Double live album usually = label obligation Xmas filler. These poetry- addled libertarians combined SF blather, Krautrock obsession, and tuneful chaos winningly. You want their 10 minute songs to go on forever, and how many 1973 2xLPs still meet that standard?
Wire The Scottish Play. Live DVD: South London art-yobs with accents like skins. But pounding forbiddingly repetitive, dental-drilling, and agonized mantras. Reformed 2x. 2004 in their 5/60s.
They never smile, but do sweat. Minimal rivet art. Unlike Stones, will not play at Super Bowls.

2005: Purchases: 10 warmed me up past luke-, 10 caused me to wail/ gnash teeth, i.e., 10 tepid, 5 vomited out of my mouth, paraphrased Holy Writ. (+ reissues, boxes, compilations). For more, see the asterisked, more obscure, ones reviewed by me on Amazon, awaiting your positive votes--[see easy link on this very blog!--ed.]

1) Gravenhurst. Fires in Distant Buildings. Dark horse places first. “See My Friends” transforms Kinks romp into dirge. Mixes shoegaze guitar, electronic textures, intelligent vocals. Proof too that a one-man band (w/drummer) need not be self-indulgent or self-abasing. A keeper.
2) Oneida. The Wedding*. Took me five listens for it to click. Former NYC metal-goofs with B.A.s lured by Krautrock, unclassifiable early 70s vibe, droney singalongs. They keep improving.
3) Kinski. Alpine Static.* Similar to #2. Space-rockers also converted. More dissonant, it’s hissy buzzy tinny tracks for driving, as the title indicates. Best groove: “Passed Out on Your Lawn.”
4) Radar Bros. The Fallen Leaf Pages.*Another from a near-local Atwater trio. Even though my dreaded Dave Fridmann (the Mitchell Froom of the alt-rock scene, who dooms by so-precious production punks in Flaming Lips & Mercury Rev to abandon acid to nip prozac) is at the helm. What Charlie Manson could have penned if he’d had talent. Disturbing desert ditties of desertion.
5) Black Mountain. s/t.* Tough one to fit. Derivative yet innovative, as they combine Sabbath, N. Young (better than Jesse Colin Y.), folk, white-funk, and, again, Krautrock, into frothy cocktails.
6) Alastair Roberts. No Earthly Man. Gloomy troubadour of aul’ Scot missives of doom. Spare, nearly a capella, unrelenting post-punk grip on murder ballads that outshadow N. Cave in purity.
7) Maximo Park. A Certain Trigger. Newcastle’s contribution to this decade’s Brit Invasion. Roxy Music meets Smiths. Slick, polite indie-glams who deserve to win in a very crowded race.
8) The Fall. Fall Heads Roll.* Jokers wild, as usual. 28th studio album? They start with one of their all-time worst songs, but then soar. Takes many listenings to sort out from their other lp’s. Lineup #37 or so, w/MES wife #3, knows their tenure’s brief, but they’re resigned deftly to back Grumpiest Man in Showbiz as he rants & raves post-bender plus ca change. Defines a cult band.
9) Mary Timony. Ex-Hex.*Fugazi drummer produced, how it shows. Former DC punk-gone-faery slapped out of kosmik dayz long enough to stoke her unsteady singsong warble which I don’t like with testosterone-boost guitar skronk that claws your lap intimately as it shreds your eardrums.
10) Sons & Daughters. The Repulsion Box. Many call this J. Cash meets Glasgow. I call it fun.

1) The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Origin 1. I can’t decide. I like these hirsute Swedes’ resurrection of The Dark Side of Tommy’s Sticky Fingers for its ability to rip off these albums while making the early 70s punchy, catchy, and as silly lyrically as ever, multiplied by ESL. This starts off better than it finishes, so the drop in enthusiasm portends not well for 6 nimble brutes.
2) Super Furry Animals. Love Kraft. For our Welsh counterparts who raid the same decade, their electronic-beats-guitar confections often taste like Kit-Kats. They save their best 2 songs for last; Leo found this too, independently. What does it mean when the ballads sound better than the fast ones? This band’s cursed by doing what they do well, but doing it in a rut, doing it til it falls off?
3) Oxford Collapse. A Good Ground.* Frenetic Mission-o-Burma-Wire-Cure. Spazzy but yodels.
4) Circulus. A Lick to the Tip of an Envelope from a Letter That Has Been Sent.*One of the few genres from early 70s not yet disinterred: Brit-electric folk-prog. Two instrumentals are the best by far; but insipid lyrics making it tough to know if these dour earnest nine are in on joke or not.
5) Low. The Great Destroyer. Dave Fridmann to blame for this one, you Duluth 2/3 Mormons. Cool artwork, I love the death concept album theme, but retreat from soporifics to rock unwise.
6) Echo & the Bunnymen. Siberia. First listenings raised my hopes, but this soon slipped. From the title you know they aren’t toe-tappers, but there’s not enough of old kick, just too much scuff.
7) Kingsbury Manx. The Fast Rise & Fall of the South.* My Amazon review, although rated 0:3, fairly mapped out pitfalls that snared shy tarheel talents as they sought to channel (again) Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks. It’s been done already the past ten years ten-squared by you Chapel Hill sensitives. Stop it now. Look what happened to REM. Better rumble in da’ jungle (or pines).
8) M Ward. Transistor Radio. I did not know he was a darling of the NW coffeehipsterseen. His get-up on indie rocker does 1930s austerity has moments, but they weren’t on this disc, sho’ nuf.
9) Sleater-Kenney. The Woods. Speaking of Seattle, intellectually I understand what these PC-canonized femmes do. Riot grrls turned up amps to 11. Oh-ok, but it’s not that stunning, Miz/Ms.
10) Dungen. Ta Det Lugnt. Return of 1971, 1-man electrical [Scandia] # 348. I bought it just before its domestic release w/bonus disc appeared, so I may have been jilted. The lurches of prog-jazz I do not like in any form they assume; otherwise, early-70s aura, again, gentleman’s C.

1) Steven Malkmus. Face the Music. Look who else is stuck in said era. He credits lots o’ pot in Portland, and from hearing clever album, it’s beatifying him big-time if not this listener. Self-indulgent, wayward, convinced of its utter brilliance as only a preppie trustafarian can be.
2) Rakes. Capture/Release. Later in the 70s, that’s where these Londoners steal their bits/hits.. Reading comparisons to the Fall, I rushed out. Sounds like ‘78, but I heard it first time around.
3) Richard Thompson. Front Parlour Ballads. Unlike the Fall’s latest, starts off with amazingly good song. I thought, mediocre ratings CD garnered: all false? Next 11 songs prove me wrong.
4) ...Trail of Dead. Worlds Apart. Leo & I differ. He likes it. I love artwork and themes. Decent protest lyrics for young’uns. But when a quartet loses founding key member, it’s hard to keep the spirit, and all the production, graphics, video bonuses, and sheer volume cannot disguise his loss.
5) Sigur Ros. Takk. This is not that bad, really, but after hearing it a few times, it’s not that great.

1) The Fall. Complete Peel Sessions: 1978-2004.* See Amazon review. 5 hours. Chunks of this horrendous, shards of it genius. If you’re a skeptic, a bedside pan of spew & bile. Late St. John Peel’s favorites: “always different, always the same.” Appeal puzzling as the Dead.
2) Yo La Tengo. Prisoners of Love. I sprang for all 3 discs, even though Layne made me turn the covers one off. Hoboken’s rock-crit collectors show off two decades of bowing to Velvets whip.
3) Welsh Rare Beat. v/a.*Sain label, all-Welsh, late 60s-70s. I knew only three words, but it kept my interest. Even pop-gal singers here carry a grit and menace that their spry English peers lack.
4) Gather in the Mushrooms. v/a.*Acid-folk Anglo equivalent cannot match Welsh bite, but this does take you back to utopian attempt to reclaim rustic and the charmed, in all its daft sincerity.
5) Swervedriver. Juggernaut Rides.* Ravin’ shoegazers with honed metal edge. Relentless guitar assaults, eloquent ballads, combined here on retrospective that pursues their laser-molten rattle.

Two I can’t decide where to place:
1) Wilderness. s/t.*John Lydon, PIL vocals anew. But this all sounds the same, save the piano instrumental that closes it. I love this dub-punk R. Smith-J. Wobble funhouse, but monochrome?
2) Doves. Some Cities. More accessible third try. Not as panoramic, more groov-ey. Not sure yet.

Two released from vaults:
1) Galaxie 500. Peel Sessions. Harvard egghead trio strains male vocals with hushed crescendos. Wimp factor, but they manage by cool covers to sidestep whimsy if not elude her grip. Like the Pixies, should have let their gal bassist sing more, not their prematurely solo-singer/bloated ego.
2) Belle & Sebastian. Push Barman to Open Old Wounds. Uneven B-Sides; cloy feyfolk sidle up. Art-schoolers epitomize such, but since they know risks and write a song about bookworms here, a brief reprieve. Amid jumbled lot of odds & ends, a few astonishing tunes carried off spare time on tiny budgets. How clever cynics do, Oscar Wildish, out wit/kast vamps, careerists, and posers.

P.S. I later bought The Clientele, lauded by crits “Strange Geometry,” which will likely have made this list in the third of 2005's categories. Sigur Ros does not really belong so low among the damned, to be fair, but I struggle in vain to court its spark as much as I strike its elfin flint. I’ll nudge the Icelanders up to lukewarm, relegate Clientele to bed-sit land’s limbo. Echo & the B did dance better after another spin with me: about half CD’s songs pass muster, no mean feat, pops’s.

This past year, in fact, much of what I listen to is not on this list, which took effort considering I buy fewer new albums made the current year as years and I move on. Thanks to Amazon and a few dwindling other venues, I do sample bands I/they thought I’d like, such as lately A Northern Chorus, Engineers, Rogue Wave, and Of Montreal, none of whom moved me to more. Others, like Editors, cannot be sampled, so they wait on my backlist, too expensive (imports) to be gotten and squandered. Some on the lists of sub-pop top-ten contenders, like ...Trail of Dead, Low, Oxford Collapse, SFA, Kingsbury Manx, TSOOL, Sigur Ros, Messrs. Thompson, Malkmus, and Ward, Miss Timony, and Echo & his Bunnymen, I bought simply as a loyal fan who has their oeuvre and adds to it faithfully despite recent gaffes, hoping always– and in the case of the Fall sometimes rewarded in such faith– for a comeback or third wind in their next time up at bat.

I have enjoyed Acid Mothers Temple, a hairy Japanese collective mingling, in the earlier 00's, Terry Riley (they played “In C” recently at UCLA), Krautrock, freakout guitar meltdowns, Can, and other unclassifiable influences. They have now gone back to kool lava/lavish molten metal. Likewise, one of AMT’s forebears, Hawkwind, in their Tapsy 72-75 period did blunder to put out memorable space-rock, anchored by future Motorhead bassist Lemmy, whose melodic and assertive playing– as in John Entwistle’s parallel case– led the band even more than the guitars. Lemmy kicked out for wrong drug: speed! Acid heads with dwarf-as-synth player; also counted as a full member a heftyish hippychick gyrating on stage, invariably less than fully clothed during their 769.2 concerts annually. They, like Can & Neu!, were notable favorites of John Lydon and Pete Shelley, et alia who would hotwire their own rattling musical engines later in that 70s show.

This list also neglects folk music, whose Irish, and sometimes Hungarian and British, variants I listen regularly to, especially Horslips on the early-morning stages of my Volvo Express. {I will make a folkish list soon, but I notice I put Fairport on my all time top-15, and that's cheating. I'll somehow weasel out of this one--Ameoba Records does classify Steeleye, Pentangle, and their Cropredy cousins under folk, and moved Horslips over from rock back to their Irish peers , tucked away beyond bluegrass and Romanies and Greeks. ed. } There weren’t, however, a lot of notable releases last year. Me-so-foxy Eliza Carthy put out “Rough Music,” a totally respectable CD in a long series of such; Altan, leaders by default of Irish trad scene, was hailed as eluding their former Narada label’s New Age vapor that had slickened their early pristine sheen. But “Another Ground,” or whatever in their reliably generic album titles was issued last year, sounded like the jaded pick-up lines as easy listening that have impregnated so many Irish crooners post-Riverdance. Richard Thompson’s massive box set of semi-bootleg, soundboard, and demo tracks has just appeared this spring; despite Free Reed typically semi-boot sonics, acclaim makes it my must buy. Lúnasa, whose live “Kinnity Sessions” was similarly meant to steer them and their disappointed fans away from the California-produced and therefore glossily burnished “Redwood,” taped a so-so seisiún, but again, re: Altan, they’ve succumbed to Windham Hills lotusland. As do Danú, formerly among great white hopes. Last two CDs– not counting the instrumental disc made solo by members on discrete tracks– replaced male with a female vocalist. Not in itself bad/good, but she cannot sing powerfully, so the formerly buzzing fiddle-guitar combination has to slow down in pace and lower its volume to ease her pitch. So, “The Road Less Travelled” is about as predictable as its title would lead you to expect. ☺☹♬

1 comment:

Miss Templeton said...

Well met by Blogger, proud Fionnchú!

An older, more cerebral place than MySpace, but still yielding some surprises. What's this about the links?