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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.

Friday, September 6, 2013

MP3 Shuffle-a-gogo

1. HUSKER DU - Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely (Candy Apple Gray 1986) I love that drum into that kicks off almost every song on this album.

2. CAST - Promised Land (All Change 1995) - I had high hopes for John Power's post La's band Cast. They came out of the box with a few stellar singles and solid debut album, but fizzled pretty quickly. Still, anything from All Change is always welcome on a shuffle.

3. GARBAGE - Milk (Absolute Garbage 2007) The slow sexy closer from their 1995 debut.

4. KING CRIMSON - 21st Century Schizoid Man (In the Court of the Crimson King 1969) I'm hit and miss with prog (more miss than hit, actually), but I've always been a fan of this monster of jam. I’m especially fond of Greg Lake's distorted-as-shit vocals. Plus this song is on my short of list of rock songs actually made better by wailing saxophone.

5. TOM ZE - Vai (the Best of Tom Ze) A cassette of the first Brazil Classics comp on Luaka Bop got a lot play at the Rose Records I worked at, which led me to pick up this comp as soon as it came out.

6. the SWINGING BLUE JEANS - Gotta Draw the Dance (Sydney) (Hippy Hippy Shake: the Definitive Collection) A nice twangy number from one of the more harmless bands of the Merseybeat invasion.

7. BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD - Pay the Price (Buffalo Springfield 1967) One of the Stephen Stills numbers from the band's debut.

8. AC/DC - Problem Child (If You Want Blood You've Got It 1978) Was this live album sweetened in the studio? That guitar solo sounds awfully clean. And the crowd sounds potted up out of nowhere at one point.

9. MICHAEL NESMITH - Harmony Constant (the Older Stuff: Best of Michael Nesmith) - One of my favorite post wool cap Nesmith songs. It’s just Mike on guitar and vocals and Red Rhodes on pedal steel.

10. CHRIS MARS - I, Me, We, Us, Them (Horseshoes & Hand Grenades 1992) For my money Chris has the best two post Replacements albums of the bunch. At least the two I play the a long shot. I tried not getting caught up in the Replacements reunion hoopla, but after seeing that setlist and hearing songs from the first show, I'm reconsidering my "don't get your hopes up" stance.

My MP3 player has been on a major new wave kick the past few days, which you'd never guess from this shuffle. I recently added almost 2,000 more songs to the library and yet not a single one came up here. Maybe next time.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Shuffle-a-gogo: MP3 Player Random Fun

1. BREAKING CIRCUS - Home of the Brave (7" single) This somber Naked Raygun cover is really just Steve Björklund with a keyboard and drum machine. The fanzine came free with an issue of the Pope fanzine.

2. MAMAS & the PAPAS - That Kind of Girl (All the Leaves are Brown: Golden Era Collection) A peppy done-wrong song with big harmonies and wicked little fuzzy guitar solo.

3. FALCO - the Sound of Musik (extended rock & soul mix) (the Sound of Musik 12" 1986) - An absolutely ridiculous and over-the-top song that always makes me smile (and usually hit repeat). It's one of the rare songs that I have multiple mixes of on my MP3 player (in this case, three of them). This one clocks in at almost ten minutes and I'd be happy if it went on aanother ten minutes.

4. WILCO - Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again) (Summerteeth 1999) I like Wilco and recognize how incredibly talented they are, but Summerteeth is the only album of theirs that's ever in regular rotation for me.

5. JOAN JETT - NAG - (I Love Rock n Roll 1981) "Run down to the butcher shop and buy me a roast". Joan Jett has the absolute best taste in covers, as evidenced by this ripping fun cover of the Arthur Crier song.

6. AC/DC - Rocker (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap 1976) He's a rocker AND a roller. Man.

7. the HITMEN - Private Eye (Aim for the Feet 1980) New wave pop with that sounds like it could be Graham Parker produced by Clive Langer. Without knowing the year it would be pretty easy to peg this a s a 1980 song based on the production alone.

8. the MOTHERS OF INVENTION - Any Way the Wind Blows (Freak Out 1966) One of my favorite record buying stories involves this record. One of my former co-workers was a young record buyer when this album first came out and he and his friend had heard good things about Zappa but neither of them could afford the double album. So they pooled their money together and bought the album, then tore it in half in front of the record store and each took their album and half of a cover to their respective homes. It was a few days later before they swapped copies, and both became big Zappa fans, but one of them always favored Zappa's shorter, silly songs and the other ended up preferring the longer, weirder pieces - which corresponded to the half of Freak Out that they each first went home with.

9. EUGENIUS - On the Breeze (Mary Queen of Scots 1994) This album would be in my top five of underrated albums of the 90's. Great big guitar pop.

10. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG - Trick Pony (IRM 2009) Fantastic production from Beck really puts this album over the top.

Friday, August 23, 2013

It's, it's, a shuffle blitz! MP3 Shuffle-a-gogo

MP3 player set to shuffle. Let 'er rip!

1. SOCIAL DISTORTION - Ring of Fire (Social Distortion 1990) A million artists have covered this, but Mike Ness and company manage to nail it and make it seamlessly fit in with their originals.

2. TRIO - Broken Hearts For You and me (Trio 1981) - I get a little bummed when Trio get dismissed as a one song novelty band ("Da Da Da"), since they packed their short career with quite a few catchy songs.

3. the CLEAN - Big Soft Punch (Clean Anthology) "Big Soft Punch" was orignally released on 1990's Vehicle, which strangely was their first proper full length album recorded after their first reunion tour. New Zealand indie bands don't seem to follow the same rule book as American indie bands.

4. HELTER STUPID - Helter Stupid Prologue (Helter Stupid 1989) Negativeland didn't want to tour so they made up a story about being involved in a murder case, which the media picked up on. Negativeland took the news coverage and turned it into a fascinating album side of weirdness.

5. MICHAEL and the MESSENGERS - Romeo and Juliet (Nuggets box) A decent garage cover of the Reflections one hit, 1964's "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet".

6. BIG BOY PETE - the Treacle Dance (Homage to Catatonia 1966-69) Eccentric pop from a charming San Francisco weirdo. I was turned onto Big Boy Pete by Kelley Stoltz, who not only covered a BBP song when he opened for Echo & the Bunnymen, but went out of his way to praise him and urge people to pick up one of his records. I'm glad I took his advice.

7. AC/DC - Shoot to Thrill (Back in Black 1980) My shuffle has been on a BIG AC/DC kick the past week, which isn't a bad thing.

8. YOUTH BRIGADE - Blown Away (Sink With Kalifornia 1984) My first two concerts were the Who, but I'm pretty sure that my third show was Youth Brigade at a Sunday Night punk show at Cubby Bear.

9. FALLEN ANGELS - Bad Woman (Pebbles Volume 1) A great slab of garage from 1966.

10. the DARLING BUDS - Burst (Pop Said... 1988) This Welsh band weren't very original, but they sure did make some catchy guitar summer pop with stellar harmonies and big hooks.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My picks for the Slicing Up Eyeballs' Best of 86 Poll

Slicing Up Eyeballs has their Best "new wave/alternative" Albums of 1986 poll up. Some of my faves came out in 86, but there weren't as many albums I was passionate about compared to the previous polls. Looking through the ballot I realized that there were loads of half-great albums in 86 - records with a few all time favorite songs and then a bunch of filler or forgettable songs.

For the purpose of voting I stuck with what was on the ballot, so there aren't any write-ins (hence no Beasties, Run DMC, etc). Here are my picks in alph order:

  • Crowded House - Crowded House
  • The Godfathers - Hit By Hit
  • Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians - Element of Light
  • Hüsker Dü - Candy Apple Grey
  • Love and Rockets - Express
  • The Mighty Lemon Drops - Happy Head
  • R.E.M.. - Lifes Rich Pageant
  • Stan Ridgway - The Big Heat
  • They Might Be Giants - They Might Be Giants
  • XTC - Skylarking

Most of my picks are pretty standard college rock/CMJ staples. But I think this is about the point where I started listening to a lot more indie music and deliberately started shunning most of the 120 Minutes type artists. I'm really curious to see the 1987 ballot.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mother told me, yes she told me, I’d meet Shuffle-a-gogoers like you

Once again - it's shufffle time. MP3 player device of choice set to random and the first ten songs...

1. the ROLLING STONES - Sympathy for the Devil (Beggars Banquet 1968) I love absolutely everything about Sympathy, from the "whoo woo" backing vocals to Keith's cool-as-shit guitar to Bill Wyman's fabulous maraca shaking.

2. JERRY REED - Guitar Man (the Essential Jerry Reed) Jerry's semi-autobiographical 1967 single, which was later appropriated by Elvis.

3. the TEARDROPS EXPLODES - When I Dream (Kilimanjaro 1980) I'm pretty sure that this was the first Julian Cope song I ever heard and it's still my favorite. The song clocks in at over seven minutes, but the last four minutes are really just an incredibly gradual fade out. And I wish it sent on for ten more minutes.

4. the RAMONES - I Don't Care (Rocket to Russia 1977) I love Joey's faux aristocrat vocal. He's trying to sound snobby, but he still sounds like he's from Queens.

5. the POGUES - Boat Train (Peace and Love 1989) This is one of my favorite Shane MacGowan vocals and about the point that I sort of gave up on him. Everything after this seems a bit uninspired.

6. the BEATLES - You're Going to Lose That Girl (Help! 1965) The Beatles were contemporaries of Freddie and the Dreamers and the Hullaballoos and are probably best remembered today for having Barbara Bach's husband on drums.

7. the WILLIS BROTHERS - Alcohol and # 2 Diesel (24 Great Truck Drivin Hits) Take a truckful of oranges and truckful of watermelons and add alcohol and you end up with a great country song.

8. ELVIS PRESLEY - Clean Up Your Backyard (Elvis at the Movies) From the 1967 film the Trouble with Girls, this Mac Davis/Billy Strange song was the song that brought me back to Elvis. I was sick of Elvis kitsch by the time I got to college and broke bad on the king, but at my college radio station I randomly played this cut off of one of the many suspect Elvis comps that came out in the 80's and was absolutely floored.

9. CROWDED HOUSE - Pineapple Head (Together Alone 1993) Neil Finn's overdue for another album, right?

10. JACCO GARDNER - Watching the Moon (Cabinet of Curiosities 2013) This will most likely be a 2013 top 20 album for me. Jacco is a Dutch multi-instrumentalist that plays chamber pop ala the Left Banke or Sagittarius. Or, in the case of this song, Syd Barrett.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A book I enjoyed: Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible by Jim Steinmeyer

Lately most of the books I've read have been about rock music or books about creative inspiration and motivation. I wanted a break and decided to read a book about something I don't follow as avidly as my other interests. In my long list of books to some day check out I had  Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, which I think I added to the list after seeing Teller (of Penn and Teller) reference it in article.

I'm interested in magic, but never really followed it enough to call myself a fan. Other than fumbling through a trick or two in grade school, I never went through a magic phase growing up. When I went to Marshall Brodien's Magic Shop at Old Chicago it was to buy novelties and pranks, not magic cards or props. Itching powder and the fly in the fake ice cube were more my speed over a trick I'd have to practice over and over again. But the review of this book looked promising, and with an endoresment (and introduction) from Teller I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did! A wonderful read.

A fascinating walk through the history of magic and the showmanship that went with it from the late 1800's through the end of magic's golden era in the 1930's. Although the book explains the mechanics of many great illusions, it's much more than just a "how they did it" book. There are compelling character studies of magicians and the entire magic community as well as an in-depth look at European and American theater of the era. The magicians' stories intertwine as illusions evolved and theater goer wants changed, all done with the unfolding narrative of a good novel. Author and illusion designer to the stars (including David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, and Doug Henning) Jim Steinmeyer also injects the mystery of an elusive trick throughout the book, explaining how the illusionist works and thinks. This is a book about people, history, and creative thinking as much as it's a book about magic.

FOUR and HALF STARS (out of five)

Friday, July 19, 2013

SHUFFLE-A-GOGO - MP3 player randomness and unchecked music nerdage

MP3 Shuffle-a-gogo: Set your MP3 delivery device of choice on shuffle and post the first ten songs. Simple as that. Here's what I got:

1. BUZZCOCKS - Palm of Your Hand (Trade Test Transmissions 1993) Buzzcocks show up on my shuffles all of the time. I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm bragging.

2. CHUCK BERRY - Rock and Roll Music (the Chess Years box) Other than WLS, most of the music I listened to in grade school came via my older brother's surf and drag 8-tracks or his multi tape Wolfman Jack oldies collection. When I hear this I still hear the Wolfman Jack intro - "It's Chuck Berrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry, baby!"

3. MARVIN GAYE - One For My Baby (Moods of Marvin Gaye 1966) My favorite version of the Arlen/Mercer classic, and one of Marvin's best early vocals.

4. OIL TASTERS - Emma (Oil Tasters 1982) If I could only have one Milwaukee bass/saxophone/drum trio it would be Oil Tasters. This was one of the records I bought strictly because it was pictured in the International Discography of the  New Wave (aka Volume), which, along with the Trouser Press guide was my bible during my formative music years. This is a fabulous version of the Hot Chocolate song.

5. VAN HALEN - Where Have All the Good Times Gone (Diver Down 1982) I think out of all of the original DLR Van Halen albums Diver Down is the one I play the least. I forgot about this song. I might have to go back and put the album on again.

6. the dB's - Far Away and Long Ago (Falling Off the Sky 2012) A nice quiet Chris Stamey number from the band's excellent comeback record from last year.

7. the REPLACEMENTS - Waitress in the Sky (Tim 1985) "Big deal you get to fly". Makes me laugh every time.

8. KIRSTY MacCOLL (with the Pogues) - Miss Otis Regrets (Galore 1995) A lot of artists I love have died, but Kirsty MacColl is one of the few that years after their death I still get sad thinking about every time one of their songs comes up on a shuffle.

9. BEE GEES - Turn of the Century (Bee Gees' First 1967) If you like 60's pop and don't own Bee Gees First you should do yourself a favor and go pick it up right now. This album plays like a singles collection, with several of my favorite songs from the whole decade appearing.

10. PETE SEEGER - Summertime (American Favorite Ballads) A Cole Porter cover from Kirsty, and now Gershwin via Pete Seeger. Such a great, mournful version with just Pete and banjo. And some whistling. Even though he still makes an occasional appearance, I think I missed my window to see him live, which kind of bums me out. Until recently I took Pete Seeger for granted.

Monday, July 8, 2013

My picks for Slicing Up Eyeballs’ Best of 1985 Poll

Slicing Up Eyeballs is currently in Part 6 of their Best of the ’80s, Poll: 1985. Being Slicing Up Eyeballs, the list focuses on new wave/alternative albums. From their guidelines: "the albums that made the ballot are limited to those that fall within the very loose and ill-defined “alternative” banner, generally titles from the punk, post-punk, goth, college rock, indie, synthpop, industrial, New Wave and related genres". All ten of my picks came from their ballot. I made a quick look at the 1985 albums on my MP3 player and didn't see anything else that needed to be added (although I almost added APB's Something to Believe In before remembering it was actually a compilation).

1985 didn't have as many life changingly great records for me as as 84 did, but it was still a pretty great year for music. This Is Big Audio Dynamite, Throb Throb, Tim, and Rain Dogs are all guaranteed spots on my all time favorite albums list, so putting them up here was a no brainer.

Here are my ten picks in artist alphabetical order.

  • Big Audio Dynamite - This Is Big Audio Dynamite
  • Game Theory - Real Nighttime
  • Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians - Fegmania!
  • Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain - Psychocandy
  • Naked Raygun - Throb Throb
  • R.E.M. - Fables of the Reconstruction
  • The Replacements - Tim
  • Tom Waits - Rain Dogs
  • Yello - Stella

Alright, bring on 1986.

Friday, July 5, 2013

New beer arrivals at the Agogo household: Summer Edition

We finally whittled down our beer inventory enough to merit bringing in a new selection. The focus this trip is on Summer beers.

Restocking beer at the Agogo Household: Summer edition

Left to right:

Rosa Hibiscus Ale from Chicago's always reliable Revolution Brewing Company. I didn't expect to care much for an ale steeped with hibiscus flowers orange peel, but the Mrs is a fan and I've got to admit it's quite refreshing.

Three beers from Chicago's first Latin American-owned microbrewery (maybe even the first in the US, but I'm sure on that) 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Initially their beer was contract brewed by Argus and then Minhas, but I think everything is now done in-house at their new facility. I don't see anything on their website about an open taproom, but I'm hoping to get there in person sometime soon. 
5 Grass is their hoppy American Pale Ale. According to their website: "5 Grass is not exactly a pale ale; its malt profile is smoother than the classic style, and the hops are neither British or Cascadian in character."
5 Vulture is a Chile Beer/Oaxacan Style Dark.
5 Rabbit is their flagship American Blonde. 
Haven't tried the 5 Grass yet, but I can vouch for the wonderfulness of the other two. 5 Vulture is a treat, but it's distinct taste makes it more of one "have one and move on" beer for me. 5 Rabbit I could drink all night and be happy.

Sol and/or Tecate are our traditional house beers for the Summer. Opted for Sol this trip.

Shuffle-a-gogo: some random MP3 player action

SHUFFLE-A-GOGO: Set your MP3 delivery device of choice to shuffle/random and write down the first ten songs.

1. the STRANGELOVES - I wan Candy (Best of the Strangeloves) 1965 single from some New Yorkers pretending to be Australian, including future Blondie producer and Sire records co-founder, Richard Gottehrer.

2. ECHO & the BUNNYMEN - the Idolness of Gods (the Fountain 2009) An enjoyable later Echo cut, but by this point  Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant seem to be coasting.

3. the KINGSTON TRIO - Corey, Corey (At Large 1959) This was in my parents record collection, so it was one of the first albums I ever played. Other than the Kingston Trio and Bob Newhart the options were limited; my other choices were the Ben Hur soundtrack or Banjo at the Gaslight Club.

4. SMASHING PUMPKINS - Here Is No Why (Mellon Collie and the blah blah blah 1995) Pumpkins are one of the most bands I skip when they come up on a shuffle, yet I still can't bring myself to just pull them from the player.

5. TOM ROBINSON BAND - Better Decide Which Side You're On (Power in the Darkness 1978) Tom Robinson is due for a resurgence - he made some fantastic records.

6. GO HOME PRODUCTIONS - Work It Out With a Foxy Lady (GHP Complete) A mashup of Beyonce vs Hendrix. Like many modern mainstream pop artists, I think the only Beyonce songs I actually know are from mash-ups.

7. the TING TINGS - Day to Day (Sounds from Nowheresville 2012) I loved their debut We Started Nothing, but this second album was an incredible disappointment. Time to delete it from the library.

8. LEO SAYER - I Think We Fell In Love Too Fast (Endless Flight 1976) Yeah, that's right. Leo Fucking Sayer.

9. PORTER WAGONER - Nothing Between (Rubber Room comp) - I'm always amazed at how twisted and messed up Porter lyrics are. Seems too weird to get mainstream attention, which makes me miss the country music world of the Sixties even more.

10. DOVES - The Sulpher Man (Best of the Doves) I think the Doves are going to be the band I play rest of the morning.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Are We Not Polyresin Throbblehead Figures? We Are Devo!

I've gotten away from buying cool little tchotchkes and knick knacks, but this Devo Energy Dome Throbblehead from Aggronautix is making me reconsider that stance. I kind of feel like I need to own one of these. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

QUOTENERD: "We need more impossible in our culture."

"We need more impossible in our culture." - Lisa Carver

Over the past few months whenever I need a bit of inspiration I keep coming back to this quote from Lisa Carver. The line comes from a fabulous piece she wrote for the New York Times last October called Yoko Ono: A Reconsideration. The piece has also inspired me to go back and give Yoko Ono another try, which I'll be doing soon. The article is a segment from her book Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono. I had never thought I needed to read an entire book about Yoko, but this article makes me think otherwise.

Monday, July 1, 2013

2013 Half Way Point - My Top 20 Albums So Far

We're six months into the year, which is officially start working on my ever evolving list of favorite albums of 2013. At this stage the numerical rankings are VERY fluid, but these are the records I've gone to the most so far during the year. There will be a lot jockeying for position over the next six months as I relisten to albums and reevaluate.

This has been a good year for music so far. Not great, but pretty darn good. In 2012 my Halfway Point list had twenty albums that I would have been happy to have in my Year End Top 20. This year the list isn't as strong, but there are still plenty of good releases.

  1. JOHNNY MARR - the Messenger - My most played album of the year so far. After more than two decades of side projects and hired gun sessions Johnny Marr finally steps into the frontman role with a diverse collection of songs that showcase his guitar and songwriting chops.[ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  2. WAVVES - Afraid of Heights - The San Diego band's fourth album is an adrenaline rush of angsty guitar charged beach pop fun with hyper melodies. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  3. EDWYN COLLINS - Understated - A wonderfully strong British pop record filled with Northern Soul goodness from the former Orange Juice frontman’s eighth solo album. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  4. BLEACHED - Ride Your Heart - Bleached's punked up take on 60's girl group pop is loaded with sugary pop goodness, making it a perfect soundtrack for a Summer road trip. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  5. OMD - English Electric - For their second album since reuniting the classic line-up, OMD deliver a very likable collection of songs recalling some of their best work of the 80's. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  6. WIRE - Change Becomes Us - Using unfinished 30 year old snippets as the starting point, the post-punk legends make their most rewarding album since reforming. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  7. PALMA VIOLETS - 180 - Much buzzed debut album from a London four piece is a raucous blast of organ heavy garagey fun. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  8. 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.[ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  9. 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.
  10. 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. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  11. SMITH WESTERNS - Soft Will - I've only listened to this a few times, but it sounds really good and Dye It Blonde topped my 2011 list, so I wanted to make sure this got represented since I'm confident I'll be listening to it many times rest of the year.
  12. 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) [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  13. DAVID BOWIE - the Next Day - David's not in innovator mode here, but he has made a solid album right in his comfort zone.
  14. the WOGGLES - Big Beat - Supercharged party rock from one of the most reliable garage revival bands working today. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  15. SAVAGES - Silence Yourself - Exciting post-punk like an modern indie take on the Siouxsie sound.
  16. the RESONARS - Crummy Desert Sound - Swigning power pop with loads of Merseybeat energy.
  17. 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 FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  18. NOAH & the WHALE - Heart Of Nowhere - The Twickenham band continues in the same light-pop-meets-arena-sing-alongs of 2011's wonderful Last Night On Earth, choosing not to vary the sound much. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  19. the OBLIVIANS - Desperation - After 17 years the Memphis trash garage ne'er-do-wells pick up right where they left off. [ MY FULL REVIEW HERE ]
  20. VERONICA FALLS - Waiting For Something To Happen - Spry pop goodness from the band's second album.
UPDATE: As happens with every Half Year update, as soon as I post mine I remember a release that I had forgotten about. Looking at a friend's list I realized I had forgotten Off the Record by Krafterk's KARL BARTOS. That would definitely be on this somewhere. Here's my full review of the Karl Bartos album.

As I said, the actual rankings are pretty loose at this stage, but this is at least a rough idea of where some of my preferences are so far. There are still a bunch of other albums in contention as well that aren't represented here because I haven't spent enough time with them yet. And there's a slew of good stuff on the horizon, so I'm looking forward to a fabulous top twenty at the end of the year.

HERE ARE SOME OTHER ALBUMS IN VARIOUS STAGES OF EVALUAATION THAT ARE CONTENDERS: !!! - Thr!!!er, BEACH FOSSILS - Clash the Truth, BOMBINO - Nomad, MIKAL CRONIN - McII, DUCKTAILS - Flower Lane, the DUCKWORTH LEWIS METHOD - Sticky Wickets, GIRLS NAMES - the New Life, EMMYLOU HARRIS and RODNEY CROWELL - Old Yellow Moon, ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Love From London, JAGWAR MA - Howlin, the LITTLE ONES - Dawn Sang Along, PRESTON LOVINGGOOD - Sun Songs, MY BLOODY VALENTINE - mbv, the NATIONAL - Trouble Will Find Me, PARQUET COURTS - Light Up Gold, PHOENIX - Bankrupt!, POPSTRANGERS - Antipodes, and RICHARD THOMPSON - Electric. Plus I haven't even gotten achance to check out these records that I'm aniticipating good things from: CHARLIE BOYER and the VOYEURS, BILLY BRAGG, CERAMIC DOG, PRIMAL SCREAM, QUEENS of the STONEAGE, and SPECTRALS.

    Saturday, June 29, 2013

    ALBUM REVIEW: DAVID YOW - Tonight You Look Like a Spider

    DAVID YOW - Tonight You Look Like a Spider (Joyful Noise)

    An unsettling but rewarding album of experimental pieces with a cinematic quality from the Jesus Lizard/Scratch Acid frontman.

    Going into my first listen of David Yow's first solo album I knew that anything could happen, so I was prepared for what ever weirdness or aural assault he could muster. I went in KNOWING that my expectations would be defied and challenged, yet he threw such a curve ball that I was still caught off guard in the best possible way. The only other artist I can think of that broadsided me as much with such a radical twisting of preconceptions is Scott Walker.

    It would have been easy for Yow to stick close to the abrasive noise rock of his former bands, Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard. But instead he courageously walks away from that template and explores entirely unfamiliar territory. Tonight You Look Like a Spider is an often unsettling, mostly instrumental collection of experimental pieces. It has an avante garde cinematic quality to it, like the soundtrack to some unknown David Fincher movie. Or a warped Ennio Morricone soundtrack played on a turntable with a loose belt.

    Yow made this album by himself over almost fifteen years as he learned ProTools, which sounds like the recipe for a bloated, self-indulgent mess. But he pulls it off wonderfully. The compositions and arrangements are deliberate and balanced. It's weird without sounding weird-for-weird's-sake. He doesn't play it for yucks or push unnecessarily into some "ain't this crazy shit?" zone. But there is some crazy shit here. There's oddly tuned piano tinkering, distorted voice bits, unidentifiable sounds that float in and out of pieces, shifting time signatures, and what I'm pretty sure if one of those cow moo tube toys that you turn upside down to get a moo, but greatly slowed down.

    Other than "Roundhouse", which has hints of Jesus Lizards "Fly on the Wall" in the bassline, there's not much to directly identify Tonight You Look Like a Spider with Yow. A few parts remind me a bit of Resident's Third Reich and Roll or elements of Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, but I also hear equal parts of Bernard Herrmann turned inside out or the above mentioned Morricone. Especially Morricone's Crime and Dissonance collection, which would make sense, since this album was once planned to come out on Mike Patton's Ipecac label.

    David Yow has proven that he's a more complex artist than I gave him credit for. I was not expecting this to be an album that I would feel compelled to come back to multiple times, but it's bizarrely captivating. I'm hoping that he doesn't take so long for the next album.


    Friday, June 21, 2013


    I'm in the mood for some Shuffle-a-gogo. You know the drill: set your MP3 player of choice to shuffle and write down the first ten songs. Here's what I got.

    1. JULIAN COPE - Reynaard the Fox (Fried 1984) The lead track from Julian's second album hints at much of what come from throughout rest of his career. In just over six minutes he goes from super catchy pop to a bizarre dramatic reading to a crazed garage instrumental freakout.
    2. ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Out of the Picture (Black Snake Diamond Role 1981) A straight forward Byrdsian pop song from Robyn's debut album featuring some wonderful jangly guitar.
    3. E JOSEPH and the PHANTOM HEART - Changing Trains (All the Medicine in the World 2009) Pleasant power pop from a Baltimore guy that had previously worked with Splitsville and Myracle Brah .
    4. EDWYN COLLINS - Dilemna (Understated 2013) Wonderful pop from Edwyn's new album, which is a lock to make my year end best of list.
    5. GUIDED BY VOICES - Go Rolling Home (Lets Go Eat the Factory 2011) I love GbV when they make melodic pop. This isn't one of those songs.
    6. GARBAGE - Cherry Lips (Absolute Garbage) New wavey electro pop from 2001's Beautiful Garbage. I didn't realize how many Garbage songs I loved until this hits collection came out.
    7. WHITE RABBITS - Percussion Gun (It's Frightening 2009) Indie rock from Brooklyn.
    8. the EQUALS - Fire (First Among Equals) British R&B pop from Eddie Grant's fabulous and woefully underrated first band. In my quest to own every song from the band's 60's output I've had to buy a few comps to pick up another song or two, which was the case here.
    9. FRANK SINATRA - Come Fly With Me (Sinatra 80th) A swinging number from Frank's Capitol era. I've always loved that vocal pause he inserts into "down to Ac.......apulco Bay".
    10. OPAL - Supernova (Happy Nightmare Baby 1987) Brooding psychedelia from David Roback (Rain Parade) on guitar and Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith. Sadly this was the band's only album. This is high on my list of late-night headphone faves.

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    ALBUM REVIEW: the WOGGLES - Big Beat

    the WOGGLES - Big Beat (Wicked Cool)

    Supercharged party rock from one of the most reliable garage revival bands working today.

    For over 20 years Georgia's Woggles have been kicking out relentlessly fun garage rock of the highest quality. When you put on a Woggles album you can count on having a good time. A really fucking good time. You're going tap your toes. You're going to shake your head. You're going to want to get up and dance. With this new one you're going to probably HAVE to get up and dance. And then thirty-some minutes later you're going to feel compelled play it again and dance some more.

    The Woggles never played the cooler-than-thou tough-guy brand of garage that was in vogue when they hit the scene in the early 90's. Even on their early, harder rocking albums and singles, the Woggles still had a maximum R&B feel that made their records sound like a kick-ass party. Over the years they've honed that vibe and made the grooves stronger. 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. They remind me a lot of the Fleshtones in their heyday (a comparison I don't make lightly - the Fleshtones are gods).

    The Woggles are super-tight and totally energized on Big Beat, which pushes everything into overdrive. At times I hear a garage-ified Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Other times they sound like a more primal Easybeats. There's a little Kinks, Sonics, and Animals in there as well. The songs are so solid across the board that it plays like a singles collection. Not a weak song in the bunch. They even deliver a stellar take on the much covered Frankie Laine standard, "Jezebel", a song I was sure that I didn't need to hear anyone else do. But they take ownership of it and make it work.

    Big Beat is one of the best garage albums of the last few years. Probably the strongest album in the band's stellar catalog. It rocks. It swings. It's fun as hell!

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    ALBUM REVIEW: OMD - English Electric

    OMD - English Electric (BMG)

    For their second album since reuniting the classic line-up, OMD deliver a very likable collection of songs recalls some of their best work of the 80's.

    In 2010 OMD released History of Modern, which was the first album reuniting the classic OMD lineup since 1986's Pacific Age. The album hinted at what the band could achieve, but perfomances lacked spark and the songs weren't very memorable. It was the shell of the OMD sound, but lacked focus and sounded a bit too generic. Outside of Andy McCluskey's instantly recognizable vocals and a few trademark OMD synth tones, it sounded more like a band influenced by OMD than actually being OMD.

    English Electric is their second album since returning, and it's a huge leap forward. This is OMD in "give the fans what they want" mode, featuring songs that highlight the strengths of their glory days while still sounding fresh. This time they embrace the distinctly OMD feel of their 80's albums, incorporating various elements of their first five or six albums. 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 could seamlessly fit onto that first Best of OMD singles collection. Or on the soundtrack to an imaginary John Hughes movie.

    They've always owed a debt to Kraftwerk, and at several points on the album that influence is more apparent than on anything else they've done before. OMD don't retread their past, but they don't stray very far what they've done before either. This isn't the album for big innovations or an advancement in their sound. But it's also not a step back. The songs are well crafted and it's obvious that a lot of passion and attention went into making the record.

    English Electric is instantly likable and consistently solid from start to finish. Despite the pristine and occasional almost-too-slick production (even by OMD's meticulous standards) there's a warmth to the whole thing that's very welcoming. It's not going to change the world, but there's great comfort in hearing OMD playing to all of their strengths.

    Friday, June 14, 2013


    Here's part three of my all time favorite albums covers. These aren't necessarily the greatest album covers of all time, just the ones that for one reason or another totally work me.

    ABOVE:  the Dream Syndicate - Medicine Show (1984) An album I bought when it came out strictly because of the cover art, band name, and song titles. It ended up being one of my all time favorite (and most played) albums. I was quite bummed when my tourshirt featuring this image went through the washer one too many times and had to be retired.
    BELOW LEFTElvis Costello and The Attractions - This year's Model (1978) One of many fabulous covers from endlessly talented Barney Bubbles
    BELOW RIGHTGamma - Gamma 2 (1980) I don't like the actual album, but this cover was a big fave of mine when it came out. The album cover is designed by Mick Haggerty and the cover photo is by Jeffrey Scales (who was getting pictures published in the Black Panther Paper when he was only 13!) 


    ABOVE LEFT: the B-52's - the B-52's (1979) Cover photo by then relatively unknown Interview Magazine photographer George DuBose. He originally made the image for flyers, but when they were signed the band chose it for the cover image. Island Records creative director Tony Wright hand colored the photo and changed a Mylar balloon Kate was holding to thrift store handbag. He didn't like the band, so he used the alias Sue Absurd for the designer credit. The full story and original b&w photo are at George's site.
    ABOVE RIGHT: RAMONES - Road to Ruin (1978) Wonderful illustration from Punk Magazine's John Holmstrom.
    BELOW:  Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Vol 1 The Early Years (1961) This is one of the albums I inherited from my parents and it's a cover I stared at quite a bit. Great use of text and white space. I like the fact that the cover image I found was a bit dirty since I don't think I've ever seen a clean copy of the actual vinyl.

    ABOVE LEFTthe Jim Carroll Band - Catholic Boy (1980) Cover photograph of Jim and his parents taken by Annie Leibovitz
    ABOVE RIGHTthe Clash - London Calling (1979) One of the all-time great album covers. That iconic Pennie Smith photo of Paul Simonon might be my favorite rock picture ever. It's an image that periodically pops into my head the same way a great song does. Ray Lowery framed that picture beautifully with the layout appropriated from Elvis' debut, which really puts the whole thing together.
    BELOWthe (English) Beat - I Just Can't Stop It (1980) - The cover is designed by one of my favorite cartoonists, Hunt Emerson, who also designed the iconic Beat Girl logo.