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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Happy Record Store Day!

Thank you and happy record store day to all of my friends on the record store frontlines! Independent record stores played a significant role in shaping who I am today and I'm grateful for every single one I've ever had the privilege to set foot in.

By the end of Junior High I realized that K-Mart, Musicland, and Woolworths weren't cutting it so I started riding my bike to Rainbow Records in Western Springs, Rose Records, Music Warehouse and Flipside in Downers Grove, and Whistle Stop (blue jeans and records!) in Hinsdale.

Soon I discovered used records via Beautiful Day in LaGrange, Looney Tunes in Lombard, and Remember When in Westmont. On Saturday's I'd to take my Stepdad's Metra pass and take the train into the Loop to hit Rock Records and a crappy record store whose I forget, but they had a killer budget rack full of new wave albums. Plus there was a DJ shop where I first saw scratching and mixing live and bought a bunch of breakbeat records even though I had clue what they were for. I just knew everyone else there was excited that they just arrived so I had to have a few myself.

Once a few of my friends got drivers licenses my record buying options exploded. Hegewisch, Rave On (Wheaton), Val's Halla (Oak Park), and Rolling Stones were added to the mix. And then the holy grail of record stores: Wax Trax! Going to Wax Trax felt like Christmas morning and I'm confident that I never walked out there without at least one record that blew my mind and started a whole new music kick.

In college (Carbondale) we had Plaza Records and Wuxtrys. Plus there were regular jaunts to St Louis to hit Vintage Vinyl and Champaign for Record Swap. Soon after, my friends Mike and Kevin and I started all day record runs in Chicago that started in Wrigleyville and took us to stores like Reckless, Blackout/Pravada, Dr. Wax, 2nd Hand Tunes, and various used records that seemed to appear and disappear overnight. Plus there was Video Beat for your bootleg VHS needs.

After college I worked at the same Rose Records I had spent so money at in high school. And then I was fortunate to work in the record business for the next two decades dealing primarily with independent retailers. Not only did I make many friends and have some of the best music fan conversations under the guise of work, I was also to visit even more indie record shops throughout the Midwest. And of course, buy a shitload of records.

I could never name them all, but I have especially fond memories of Waterloo in Austin; Periscope and Village Green in Champaign; Let It Be in Minneapolis; Atomic in Milwaukee; Jazz Record Mart, Dusty Groove, and Quaker Goes Deaf in Chicago; Cactus in Austin; Streetside in St Louis; Exclusive Company in Wisconsin; Record Rev in Dekalb; Crows Nest in Naperville and Crest Hill; and as soon as I post this I'm going to think of ten more that should be included here. Plus most vacations I've ever gone on have included a record store diversion, which led to places like Amoeba and Mod Lang in California and Kims Underground in New York. Post record biz my favorite shop is Laurie's Planet of Sound.

Thank you again to all of my friends at independent record stores and to anyone that ever took a crappy paying job behind a record counter because the trade-off of being able to play music, talk about music, and turn people onto new music was worth it. Happy Record Store Day everyone!

*RECYCLING ALERT: this post is a revised version of something I wrote a few RSD's ago.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Top 25: my favorite albums of the year

This list comes with my standard year end disclaimer: this isn't a critical list of the best albums of the year. These are just the albums that I enjoyed, played, and/or that stuck with me the most throughout the year. Roughly in ranked order.

1. FFS - FFS
2. PUGWASH - Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends) 
3. WAVVES - V 
4. WIRE - Wire 
6. ROBIN GUTHRIE and MARK GARDENER - Universal Road 
7. MARITIME  - Magnetic Bodies / Maps of Bones 
8. GUY GARVEY - Courting the Squall 
9. MARTIN COURTNEY - Many Moons 
10. COURTNEY BARNETT - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit 
11. SWERVEDRIVER - I Wasn't Born To Lose You 
12. BELLE and SEBASTIAN - Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance 
13. NEW ORDER - Music Complete 
14. the MAVERICKS - Mono 
15. BEST COAST - California Nights 
16. KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS - the Third 
17. DWIGHT YOAKAM - Second Hand Heart 
18. CHRIS STAMEY - Euphoria 
19. DISAPPEARS - Irreal 
20. the SONICS - This is the Sonics 
21. Le BUTCHERETTES - A Raw Youth 
22. MARRIAGES - Salome 
23. JEFF LYNE'S ELO - Alone in the Universe 
24. DUCKTAILS - St. Catherine 
25. GIRLS NAMES - Arms Around a Vision 

Alright, bring on the 2016 releases.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 Top 20: my favorite albums of 2014

Here are my favorite albums of 2014 in reverse order. Standard disclaimer I give every year: this isn't a critical list of the best albums of the year. These are just the records I enjoyed the most.and that spent the most time coming through my speakers.

Before I dig into the top 20, here are a few that came close:

BUBBLING UNDER: SLOAN and WELL WISHERS both put out solid power pop albums that I just didn't get a chance to give enough listens to to make the final cut, but I have the feeling would have. The latest from SEUN KUTI & EGYPT 80 is a treat, but it lacks the focus of 2008's Many Things or the transcendental grooves of 2011's From Africa With Fury: Rise. DAVE and PHIL ALVIN's collection of Big Bill Broonzy songs sounds so natural and timeless that I think I might be taking it for granted as if it's an album I've already loved for thirty years. BRIAN ENO and KARL HYDE (Underworld frontman)'s album of electronica experiments and noodling is interesting, and in its best moments sounds a bit like Before and After Science/Another Green World era Eno. Britt Daniel has eased into a comfort zone with SPOON and the new album fits in well with his post Girls Can Tell catalog, but it's not very distinctive as a whole (but everything sounds great when it comes up on shuffle!). Also close but not quite making final cut were albums from LA SERA, TELEMAN, HOWLER, and MORRISSEY.

20. DUM DUM GIRLS - Too True (Sub Pop) For album number three Dum Dum Girls shift from garagey jangle to dreamy goth pop. With the slick production the songs lose some of the spontaneous charm of their earlier releases, but they make up for that with a wonderfully rich batch of songs. I never thought that I'd compare Dee Dee Penny's vocals to Siouxsie Sioux, but on this record it sounds like a natural stylistic fit for her.

19. the RIFLES - None the Wiser (Cooking Vinyl) Hyper-fun no-brainer pop merging early 90's Britpop with punchy mod revival powerpop and a bit of Merseybat jangle. This is the London band's 4th album, but for maximum exposure it might be a bit late - it would have been more in step in the era of the first Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand albums.

18. LYDIA LOVELESS - Somewhere Else (Bloodshot) Jangly guitar honky-tonk from the Ohio singer/songwriter with a great country voice and indie-rock aesthetic.

17. STIFF LITTLE FINGERS - No Going Back (Rigid Digits) - 2014's biggest musical surprise for me was how great and relevant the new SLF album is. This is politically charged, riff heavy punk rock that stands up to the band's glory days without being a retro retread. This is their most consistent album since their third, 1981's Go for It.

16. the NEW MENDICANTS - Into the Lime (Ashmont) Exactly what you'd expect from a collaboration between Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers) and Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) (with Sadies drummer Mike Belitsky): jangly guitars, pristine mid-tempo pop with an often melancholy feel, and relaxed harmonies.

15. POPSTRANGERS - Fortuna (Carpark) For their second album, Aukland's Popstrangers turned the guitars down for an album of hazy psychedelic pop heavy on moody atmospherics. As important as the overall vibe is to Fortuna's lure, this is by no means a case of style over substance. These are solid pop songs with catchy hooks and memorable melodies that just happen to be wrapped in fuzzy guitars and swirling rhythms. 

14. STURGILL SIMPSON - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Top Mountain) One of my music review pet-peeves are reviews that compare new country artists to Wylon and Mearle and call it authentic old-school country. It never is. Well, until now. Sturgill really does have the sound and feel of outlaw country's heyday without sounding contrived or calculated. He is definitely not part of the modern mainstream country scene, but he's out of step with rest of the traditional alt-country movement as well. There's a sincerity that says this is not a record he planned to make, it's the record he just naturally had to make.

13. ELBOW - the Takeoff and Landing of Everything (Concord) Gorgeously crafted Brit rock that occasionally sounds like Peter Gabriel fronting Coldplay. The songs are mostly moody slow burners that dig deeper with repeated listens and the arrangements are filled with subtle twists and surprises.

12. BOB MOULD - Beauty & Ruin (Merge) As with 2012's excellent Silver Age, Bob Mould touches on highlights of his entire catalog as a starting point for a ferocious and consistently strong new batch of big guitar rock with oversized hooks.

11. JAMES - La Petite Mort (Cooking Vinyl) 6 years since their last album (and over two decades since the last James album I've loved), Manchester's James return with a surprisingly strong and consistent album of rich, anthematic pop. The production is big and arena ready, but Tim Booth's passion and the warmth of his songs are what drives this album and make it feel intimate. 

10. EX-HEX - Rips (Merge) Mary Timony's new trio debuts with an album of bouncy power pop punk full of toe-tappers tailor made for Summer mixtapes. 

9. TEMPLES - Sun Structures (Fat Possum) UK's Temples have done their homework and mastered psychedelic pop technique and sound better than most revival bands of the past few decades. They're not shy about showcasing how authentic their swirling keyboards, fuzzed out guitars, and retro production chops are, but they're smart enough to know that only gets you so far. They also write fantastically lush melodies that are immediately likable and stick with you. Earlier this year I feared that the novelty might wear off, but I love this album as much 10 months later as I did when I first heard it.

8. NICOLE ATKINS - Slow Phaser (Oh'Mercy! Records) New Jersey singer/songwriter's third album is a widely diverse collection that confidently injects bits of barroom country, dance, music hall, art-rock, and classic Brill Building into her expertly written pop songs. As solid as the songwriting is, the showcase is her wonderful voice with equal parts sweetness and power. And unlike most vocalists with such a strong voice she has the restraint to pull back and the control to sing exactly what the songs call for.

7. CLOUD NOTHINGS - Here & Nowhere Else (Carpark) A full on assault of giant pop hooks propelled by big guitars and pounding rhythms with an almost hardcore energy. This album picks up where 2012's Attack On Memory (my #1 album of that year) left off. My only complaint may be that it's a bit too much of the same, but the songs are so strong and the performances are so compelling that this is only a small complaint.

6. the NEW PORNOGRAPHERS - Brill Bruisers (Matador) On their 6th album New Pornographers return with a joyous album of expertly crafted pop and an unbridled enthusiasm that was missing from the last few albums. Along with the endless hooks the album is packed with little vocal and instrumental flourishes that fill out the sound without ever sounding forced. This is the album I've been waiting for New Pornographers or AC Newman to make for years.

5. DROWNERS - Drowners (French Kiss) New York's Drowners (with a transplanted Welsh frontman) are a boatload of fun. Not very original. But fun as hell. They play slightly snotty guitar pop along the lines of the Libertines, Vaccines, Arctic Monkeys, and the Strokes. 12 high octane, pogo-ready pop songs in under thirty minutes and ready for the repeat button to do it all over again.

4. REAL ESTATE - Atlas (Domino) The third album from New Jersey indie soft rockers Real Estate has the same relaxed shimmer of the previous two albums, but they've added a subtle edge that gives the songs more weight. Atlas works best as a whole album - where the songs have space to stretch out and, thanks to perfect sequencing, build on each other. There's a bit more twang this round and the beautiful guitar interplay is spectacularly woven into Martin Courtney's soft vocals.

3. FIRST AID KIT - Stay Gold (Columbia) For the second time in three years my favorite Americana album comes from these Swedish sisters with the most gorgeous and haunting harmonies of anyone recording today. They fill out the sound with orchestration reminiscent of so many 60's country pop records without ever detracting from the songs' deceptively simple singer/songwriter base. They manage to make melancholy songs full of longing and loss without sounding hopeless. In fact, there's a yearning optimism that makes this such a pleasurable listen.

2. EAGULLS - Eagulls (Partisan) On their debut album Leeds quartet Eagulls deliver a relentless pummeling of manic post punk with hints of Joy Division and early Killing Joke. What the band lacks in diversity they more than make up for in energy, sound (Eagulls has some of the year's coolest sounding guitars) , and memorable melodies. Actually, it's sort of just one melody bent and twisted around different driving rhythms, but it works to great effect and builds with each song.

1. JOHNNY MARR - Playland (Warner Music Group) It is no secret that Johnny Marr is a great guitarist and songwriter, but I'm still a bit taken aback by what a strong frontman and accomplished solo artist he's recently come out as. Last year's Messenger topped my year end list, and this follow up might actually match that album's strengths. Marr sounds even more confident this time, making an album of timeless British pop that he effortlessly delivers with the youthful energy of artists half his age.

It was another good year for music - I heard a lot of good albums and there were a lot I just couldn't get to. I don'tknow if any of these will make my all-time favorite albums lists in the future, but I'm pretty sure most of the records in this Top 20 will still be in my playstack a decade from now. I'm anxious to see what 2015 has to offer.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Top 30: My Favorite Albums of 2013

2013 was another really good year for new music. I listened to a lot of really good records this year, and there were loads of things on my "must hear" list that I just couldn't get to. An over-abundance of good albums is always a problem worth having. I'll still be catching up 2013 albums I didn;t get a chance to hear well into next year.

This isn't any kind of crictical analysis of what the best albums of the year were. These are my personal faves - the albums I played the most and thought about the most during the year. Two of them I even admit might not actually be very good, but they struck a chord with me. Your mileage may vary. 

Although it was a year of really good albums, I don’t think there were many great albums – the kind that end up on a list of all-time favorites down the road. The number rankings were a bit more fluid this year, with records shifting position up until the very last second. That said, I enjoyed so many albums this year that I’ll put 2013 in the win column.

1. JOHNNY MARR - the Messenger - After more than two decades of side projects and hired gun sessions Johnny Marr finally steps into the front-man role with a diverse collection of songs that wonderfully showcase his guitar and songwriting chops. Hearing how effortless his first official solo album feels, it seems odd to that it took him twenty five years after the Smiths break-up to get around to making it. It has a youthful energy, but is crafted in a way that only a skilled veteran could pull off. If you're looking for bright jangly Britpop loaded with infectious melodies, the Messenger is the place to start. This is the record that Smiths fans have been waiting for for many years. But it's so much more than that.

2. WAVVES - Afraid of Heights - The San Diego band's fourth album is an adrenaline rush of angsty guitar charged pop fun and hyper melodies. Their supercharged slacker punk pop sounds like a more reckless version of Weezer.

3. SUPERCHUNK - I Hate Music - Superchunk's 10th album is a fine follow-up to 2010's Majesty Shredding (my favorite album of that year). The band return again armed with the exuberant melodies and oversized hooks that have made them one of my favorite bands of the past 25 years, but with just enough maturity and growth to not make them sound like just another band trying to cling to past glories.

4. EDWYN COLLINS - Understated - Edwyn's eighth solo album is a joyous occasion, filled with bright melodies and toe-tapping rhythms. His sweet spot has always been the intersection of post-punk indie pop and Northern Soul, and that's exactly where Understated hits. The spirit and vintage sounds of Motown and Stax are deep in the grooves, but he never actually copies any specific reference point, so it sounds fresh and natural.

5. DAVID BOWIE - the Next Day - This is David Bowie playing to all of his strengths and ending up with one of his most urgent and consistent albums in decades. He's not so much innovating this go around as he is revisiting sonic elements and styles from his whole career and effortless combining them into something new that's right in his comfort zone. There's everything a Bowie fan could hope for: some arty weirdness, a bit of glam rocking, some slow burners, brilliant production (thanks Tony Visconti!), and a bunch of fantastic pop hooks.

6. NEKO CASE - The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You - One of my favorite things about Neko Case is how hard it is for me to describe her sound or why her records are so damn special. The last two Neko albums both came in at #1 on my year end lists (Fox Confessor has become one of my all-time favorite albums) that stuck with me the way a great book does. She creates a world that is curious and otherworldly, full of vague imagery that I don't always fully understand but find utterly captivating. Add to that her remarkable voice and arrangements and delivery that are so unique that they could only work on Neko Case records (in the same way only Tom Waits can make a Tom Waits sounding record). This record is wonderful, but just slightly misses the mark of the previous two.

7. BAD RELIGION - True North - On album number 16 Bad Religion proves to still be one of the most vital and engaging punk bands making records, with more power and relevance than band's half their age. True North is the strongest album from Bad Religion in almost 20 years (1994's Stranger than Fiction being the last Bad Religion album I've loved start-to-finish). Everything I love about the band is represented here in force: giant melodies, relentless energy, aggressive guitars, a pummeling rhythm section, hyper-intelligent lyrics, and those well placed backing "oooh-oh" vocals (Bad Religion are second only to Naked Raygun in harnessing the power of "whoah-oh" harmonies).

8. the DIRTBOMBS - Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! - This is straight out dumb fun that works against all odds. A bubble gum pop album from a Detroit garage band could easily have ended up being a kitschy one-joke affair, but Mick Collins took the task seriously and obviously has a genuine love for the genre. He incorporates just the right balance of bubblegum staples like handclaps, "oooh oooh oooh"s, deceptively simple hooks, and references to sugar and candy with garage rock sensibility, some killer guitar riffs, and great use of the band's duel drummers.

9. JACCO GARDNER - Cabinet of Curiosities - Baroque pop debut from a Dutch multi-instrumentalist and home studio wizard that conjures up spirit and sound of the Zombies, Left Banke, and Sagittarius. He has so perfectly captured the sounds and spirit of the era that it could easily be mistaken for the genuine article. Jacco deals in lush Baroque pop and pastoral psychedelia filled with Mellotrons, harpsichords, organs, and other gentle period embellishments throughout.

10. PALMA VIOLETS - 180 - On their debut album, London foursome Palma Violets tread where many bands have gone before, playing punchy rock with a little sleaze and a lot of laddish energy. They play a no-frills brand of garagey indie rock with a simple (and a bit sloppy) drum/bass/guitar attack. But what really separates them from the pack is the fuzzy psychedelic organ that fills out the sound and takes them from being just another Libertines to bringing in bits of Modern Lovers, Stranglers, and Caesars.

11. FRANZ FERDINAND - Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action - If there weren't already three other FF albums, this would have ranked higher. The main fault of RT,RW,RA is that it sounds so much like their previous albums. The rhythms are ramped up to an even more danceable level this round, but the individual songs aren't quite as distinctive as previous FF songs. The band pretty much sticks to their well proven template. It's a great template that still results in highly likable songs, but it feels a bit less urgent at this stage. Although seeing them live on this tour, the new songs fit in seamlessly with rest of their catalog.

12. TRAAMS - Grin - Armed with some twisted Krautrock grooves and distorted indie-pop melodies, this West Sussex trio combines Television influenced guitar, aggressive sonic experimentation, and Swervedriver's massive driving rhythms.

13. OMD - English Electric - For their second album since reuniting the classic line-up, OMD deliver a "give the fans what they want" album, featuring songs that highlight the strengths of their glory days while still sounding fresh. There's a nice balance of deceptively simple electropop, moodier downbeat melancholia, and big mainstream pop numbers with instantly catchy melodies. It's a very familiar sounding album with at least a few songs that would right at home on that first Best of OMD singles collection. Or on the soundtrack to an imaginary John Hughes movie.

14. the RESONARS - Crummy Desert Sound - Swinging Merseybeat influenced power pop with loads of harmonies, ringing guitars, pounding drums, and an abundance of infectious melodies. Matt Rendon (the driving force behind this Tucson band) expertly crafts 3 minute guitar pop songs with the energy of the first few Who albums.

15. the SADIES - Internal Sounds - My favorite Americana band actually comes from Toronto. The Sadies play psychedelic alt-country with bits of power pop, garage, and smatterings of surf guitar thrown in for good measure. They really don't sound like anyone else, although I hear elements of Gene Clark, the Meat Puppets, Roky Erickson, Wilco, Mike Nesmith, and Steve Wynn. This is a distinctly original band that's tight enough to take chances and make it sound effortless.

16. KARL BARTOS - Off the Record - Karl Bartos was one-fourth of the classic 1975-90 Kraftwerk lineup (Radio-Activity through Electric Cafe), contributing writing, electronic percussion, and the occasional vocal. This album, Bartos' second solo, started as a collection of unused ideas from the Kraftwerk days updated for 2013. The sound and feel of the entire album is Kraftwerk circa 1980, but there's just enough modern production to keep it from sounding like a collection of Kraftwerk outtakes. It’s probably more style over substance, but this is one of the architects of that style and it feels like a bit like having a few new Kraftwerk songs.

17. BLEACHED - Ride Your Heart - With a base of punk attitude and girl group melodies, LA's Bleached mix high energy fuzzed up rockers with jangly summer pop. Along with some surfy guitar lines and sugary choruses I hear bits of the Ramones, the Donnas, Tuscadaro, and a California take on the Shop Assistants.

18. HOUSE OF LOVE - She Paints Words In Red - House of Love deliver beautiful jangly psychedelia with rich pastoral melodies and their best album since the 1990 self-titled album (aka Fonatana/Butterfly). Middle aged House of Love are mellower. Acoustic guitars play a larger role now than ever before. But that only adds to the elegant pastoral sound that hits right in Guy Chadwick's sweet spot. There are still plenty of shimmering guitars, but they're more relaxed and organic. I hear bits of Rain Parade and the Church on much of the album, with a few songs dipping into the same terrain as Robyn Hitchcock or mid 80's REM.

19. TOMMY KEENE - Excitement at Your Feet - Tommy Keene is a power pop institution and one of the most reliable songwriters around. But he's also had impeccable taste in covers, so it shouldn't be a total surprise that he'd eventually release a covers album. And it should also be no surprise that his choice of covers would be eclectic - including lesser known Who and Stones songs, Guided by Voices, Television, Donovan, Mink DeVille, Roxy Music, and Randy Newman. Tommy pays loving tribute to his favorite songs, but he also takes ownership of them and makes just about everything sound like one of his own. My two personal faves are his versions of the Bee Gee's "I Laugh in Your Face" and a faithful version of Echo & the Bunnymen's "the Puppet".

20. WIRE - Change Becomes Us - Using unfinished 30 year old snippets as the starting point, the post-punk legends make a very current sounding album that seems to have recharged their batteries. As with the other post 2000 Wire releases, my early faves are the ones where they rock the fuck out. And they do that quite a bit this time round. But ultimately it's the slow burn of the more atmospheric pieces that showcase what Colin Newman, Robert Grey, and Graham Lewis (along with new guitarist Matt Simms) do better than anyone else.

21. DISAPPEARS - Era - The 4th album from Chicago's Disappears is stark and less immediate than last year's fabulous Pre Language, but the icy minimalistic textures they weave are captivating. This is an album that is sequenced perfectly for maximum effectiveness and works better as a whole rather than having any dominant single song. It's even better with headphones on, the volume cranked, and the lights out.

22. SAVAGES - Silence Yourself - London's Savages are an intense post-punk assault of Bauhaus-esque guitars and sonics, powerful Killing Joke-like rhythms, and vocals that sound like an edgier Siouxsie Sioux. Yet they don’t sound like a rehash of early 80's bands. Savages meld those influences into something totally new. The record sounds absolutely mammoth - a huge wall of sound built around dark atmospherics and relentless energy.

23. BEACH FOSSILS - Clash the Truth - For the second Beach Fossils album Dustin Payseur combines melancholy dream pop with jangly guitars and a generous amount of reverb. Heavy on mood and atmosphere, they take a hook and ride it into a groove that's almost shoe-gazer. The band is from Brooklyn, but they remind me of British bands of the late 80's and early 90's that put out records on Creation and Sarah Records. But with an American indie rock twist.

24. LEE RANALDO and the DUST - Last Night on Earth - Last year's Between The Times & The Tides might have been my most played album of the year and that continued into 2013, so I've become very comfortable with Lee's voice and approach. Enough so that I keep playing this follow-up, even though I'm pretty sure it's not really that great of an album. There's less focus this time and the songs are a bit trippier and go on longer (7 of 9 songs are over six minutes long). But I love Lee's relaxed, almost hippyish songs combined with his weird arrangements and sonic flourishes. I can't confidently recommend this album to others, but damn I really enjoy it.

25. PHOENIX - Bankrupt! - Like their 2009 album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Bankrupt! is full of slickly produced synth pop. But rather than try to ramp up the accessibility of that surprise hit album, Phoenix have opted to ease up on the radio-friendly gas pedal and experiment a bit more They don't deviate that far in sound, and this record is just as likeable as the last, but there are more subtle pleasures to be discovered with multiple listens.

26. KINGSBURY MANX - Bronze Age - Album number six from the Chapel Hill folk pop group turns up the psychedelia as they evolve into a more upbeat version of their earlier records. At times Kingsbury Manx remind me an American take on Belle and Sebastian, exceling at folk rooted songs built up with intricate pop hooks and an eclectic palette of flourishes.

27. SUEDE - Bloodsports - Brett Anderson and company are stunningly strong on their first album in over a decade. I love a lot of Suede songs, but this is the first time I've loved an entire album from them.

28. WILD BILLY CHILDISH and CTMF -  All Our Forts Are With You - With well over a hundred albums released under various names over the past 35 years it's easy to lose track of Billy Childish and quit trying to keep up. But if you're looking for the right spot to jump back onto the Childish bus, this is it. As with most things Billy, the facts are a bit vague, but these songs were allegedly written in 1977 for one of his first bands, CTMF, and abandoned when that band broke up. He's reformed that group (I think?). This is classic Billy Childish - minimally produced one-take (my guess) primitive garage rockers with simple but solid stop-and-go riffs and the distinctive Childish vocals. I think it's fun as hell, but if you're not already comfortable with some of his previous work, it might give you a headache.

29. the WOGGLES - Big Beat - Supercharged party rock from one of the most reliable garage revival bands working today. The Woggles capture the spirit of the first garage bands playing frat parties and teen dances when the main objective was making the kids dance and to have a good time. Few bands seem as committed to keeping that spirit alive as the Woggles are.

30. CHELSEA LIGHT MOVING - Chelsea Light Moving - With his new band Thurston Moore delivers a sludgier and much looser back-to-basics take on the Sonic Youth template. My original complaint with the album was that there was too much dicking around, but I've warmed up to free-from casualness that makes it feel a bit like a noisy post-punk prog album. Occasionally they edge close to self-indulgent jamming, like one of Greg Ginn's many SST projects, but they never actually cross that line. Much of the album is heavier than anything Moore has tackled in the past, at times veering into the sludgy territory of Mudhoney or Melvins. Chelsea Light Moving isn't a great album, but it's solid enough to merit repeated listens and could be the start of a great new chapter in Moore's career.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My votes for Slicing Up Eyeballs' Best of the 80s poll: 1989

It's time for the tenth and final Slicing Up Eyeballs Best of the 80's poll. 1989 was my transition year from college radio to working in a record store and interning for a major label and is a year I musically remember fondly.

87 and 88 didn't have as many personal all-time faves as the previous polls, so I wasn't expecting 1989 to have so many tough choices of what to leave off. I had 20 solid candidates (not including the three 1989 faves not on the poll:  Dime Store Dream by Magnolias, Good Evening by Marshall Crenshaw, and Stolen Wishes by Shoes). Some of the previous polls had albums I voted for that I didn’t actually get into until a few years after they were released, but for 1989 I’m pretty sure these are the same albums I would picked back then. In 89 Elvis Costello’s Spike and Lenny Kravitz’s debut would have been represented, but I’ve drifted from those over the years (although half of Spike comprises some of my favorite Elvis songs - but the drop-off is pretty big).

3 of my most played albums ever are here (De La Soul, Beasties, and PWEI), and the Jesus and Mary Chain, Wonder Stuff, and Raygun albums aren’t that far behind. Hoodoo Gurus, Pixies, and Mighty Lemon Drops were the albums I struggled with not including in the final 10.

Here are my ten picks for 1989 in alpha order:

  • Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
  • De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain - Automatic
  • Jesus Jones - Liquidizer
  • Mega City Four - Tranzophobia
  • Naked Raygun - Understand?
  • Nirvana - Bleach
  • Pop Will Eat Itself - This Is the Day...This Is the Hour...This Is This!
  • XTC - Oranges & Lemons
  • The Wonder Stuff – Hup

I'm sort of bummed to see the Slicing Up Eyeball Best of the 80's polls come to an end. This has been fun.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The last thing I need is another new notebook...but I really need a new notebook

Like many paper nerds, I'm on a constant quest to find the fabled PERFECT NOTEBOOK. One probably doesn't actually exist, but that doesn't keep me from looking. My Moleskine Pocket notebook (squared) is always with me, and the Folio A4 Sketchbook is a favorite sketchbook. Plus I habitually pick up assorted Field Notes pocket memo books and find uses for them later.

Despite having a shelf full of barely used notebooks, sketchpads, and blank books I was intrigued enough by the Baron Fig notebook to back it on Kickstarter. Coming in at about 5.4" x 7.7" it seems like the perfect size for an everyday notebook. The books come in at 196 pages, which is great, but they use 65# paper, which means that the regular pens I usse will most likely bleed through. Even though I never use the notebooks for finsihed work I've always been a bit anal about showing through. Based on how few notebooks use thicker paper I think I'm in the minority on that point.

But what sold me on dipping my toe into the Baron Fig waters is the promise that the notebook opens flat! That's a great selling point for any notebook that breaks the 48 page stapled in the middle size. I'm looking forward to seeing what the final result finally looks like.

Now if only somebody could make a solid notebook that opens flat and can take the ink of a 0.5 mm Uni-ball Signo Gel Ink Pen without bleeding through I might be able to finally end my quest for the perfect notebook.

With a name like Shuffle-a-gogo, it has to be good

MP3 player set on random, first ten songs...

1. the DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR - Collideascope (Psonic Psunspot 1987) - XTC perfectly captured the spirit and sounds of the psychedelic era without sacrificing any of their songwriting quality, which is what keeps the Dukes records from being novelty records that only stand up to a few plays.

2. AL GREEN - I'm Still In Love With You (Greatest Hits 1995) - Growing up we had neighbors that had a big living room with shag carpeting and loads of beanbag chairs and giant furry pillows. They loved the slow, sexy soul, so I'm sure I heard this song coming out of their place at one point. And even if I didn't, it's how I'd prefer to remember them.

3. NED'S ATOMIC DUSTBIN - Throwing Things (God Fodder 1991) I recently ripped the debut Ned's album to my MP3 player. I forgot how many Ned's songs I loved. I wrongly remembered them as a one song band ("Kill Your Television").

4. MEAT PUPPETS - Backwater (Too High to Die 1994) I guess this was their big "radio hit", but it probably is my favorite song by the Meat Puppets.

5. ATHLETICO SPIZZ 80 - European Heroes (Do a Runner 1980) Herky jerky post punk new wave goodness from Spizzz and company.

6. the MIGHTY LEMON DROPS - My Biggest Thrill (Happy Head 1986) the Mighty Lemon Drops often get dismissed as a second rate Echo & the Bunnymen, but Happy Head is one of my favorite and most played albums of the 80's. And as big of an Echo fan as I am, I think Happy Head is stronger than any individual Echo album.

7. FRANCINE - Pop Warner (Forty on a Fall Day 2000) My favorite song about being at a football game with Kim Deal, drinking beer and telling her your favorite Amps songs. This Boston band made some decent but mostly forgettable quirky pop, but this debut album has two songs that were mix disc staples for me for years (this one and "Jet to Norway").

8. PETER IVERS - Even Stephen Foster (Terminal Love 1974) If most people know who Peter Ivers it's usually as the host of the weird early 80's video show New Wave Theater (a staple on Night Flight) or the guy that wrote "the Lady in the Radiator Song" for David Lynch's Eraserhead. But he also made a few really interesting albums that, while not for everyone, are full great little eccentric pop songs.

9. OFF BROADWAY - Automatic (Quick Turns 1980) Classic Midwest power pop from the Oak Park band's second album.

10. DIDJITS - Barely legal (Que Sirhan Sirhan 1993) Shuffle takes us about 200 miles South of Oak Park for another Illinois band, Didjits. This turbo charged rocker is from the band's final album.