Thursday, January 10, 2008

Music - Best of 2007

Time once again for my year-end music review. I have to say, other than a few top choices which stood out (1-4), it was hard to fill in the rest of the list. A lot of routine releases from established bands (which undergo the inevitable comparisons to their previous works). I decided it was fair to factor in special and significant circumstances (such as revolutionary new methods for marketing and distribution) if not the quality, winning them a place...

Top 10 albums, 2007
1) The White Stripes - "Icky Thump"
Delivered the most consistent quality from start to finish. Great songs (hooks, changes, lyrics) that have a visceral, organic truth to the performances, and an excellent variety of interesting styles.

2) Radiohead - "In Rainbows"
A close second, some outstanding original material, but falters a bit in its few weak moments. Even more significant is its groundbreaking rollout (sold at any-price or even no-price to fans) - showing even greater cracks in the record industry.

3) Phoenix Foundation - "Happy Ending"
NZ masters of the alt-folk-psych-retro had a great year - US distro, worldwide attention for the Eagle vs. Shark soundtrack; and a remarkably solid outing. Departing from their more meandering, sparse past efforts, this still has great ear-bending in quality songs.

4) The Fiery Furnaces - "Widow City"
Thriving at what they do best - hyper, chimeric, and tasty grooves, this brought a more rockin' foundation to their usual sound (compared to the now-I-realize-weaker effort a couple years back). It also helped that I got to see them live, and realized what makes these songs tick.

5) Einsturzende Neubauten - "Alles Weider Offen"
Another effort noteworthy for its trend-defying process (Neubauten produced this disc themselves with money collected from website subscriptions, who got to watch online while the album took shape over 1 1/2 years). OK, but how does it sound? Great, as usual, lot of the same style - sparseness slapped alongside explosive beats, found percussion, powerful vocals & lush poetry.

6) Aesop Rock - "None Shall Pass"
The first disc I've gotten from Aesop Rock, so I won't compare to previous albums! I will say I really appreciate this kind of hip-hop - weird sounds, absurdist lyrics (not just about the sexism, violence, and materialism), a smooth bed in beats and riffs that avoids being annoyingly repetitive (perhaps my strongest criticism of hip-hop in general). And a nice diversity of tone throughout.

7) NIN - "Year Zero"
A pinnacle of viral marketing (Trent Reznor sent out tracks on MP3 players randomly hidden throughout the country). But this album impressed me, where it seems to have turned off most people - its lack of gimmickry (which has annoyed me about recent NIN albums). Reznor seems to have stripped down his sampler-happy style, and these songs come across in very pure form, and solid songs they are. Almost adhering to Bjork's aesthetic principles of recent years (though Bjork's album 'Volta' didn't make my list for almost the opposite reason - it all sounded like too much effort)

8) Tomahawk - "Anonymous"
OK, I just said gimmicks tend to turn me off. And this is the most gimmick-heavy of the list - (uncovered transcripts 'from the era of Teddy Roosevelt', of Native American folk songs - which Patton & Co. then adapted in heavy metal arrangements). But it had enough impact on me to garner a lot of respect (though appreciation waned upon repeated listenings...)

9) Paul McCartney - "Memory Almost Full"
A reminder of many reasons why Paul McCartney is arguably the most popular rock star in the history of rock-n-roll, and his mediocre-est is still acceptable over so much other garbage. A few gems on this disc, (plus bonus extras). Keeping with the theme on this list, new kinds of distribution : the first original album released on Starbuck's Hear Music label (say what you will about Starbucks). I first got this in the summer, and quite enjoyed it, for a month or so. Then I put it on whilst reviewing the year's releases, and it was as delightful as I remember it - a sure sign of a good album.

10) Kula Shaker - "Strangefolk"
Hard to pick the 'last kid' for this game (see close runners-up below), but this is one of few on the bottom ranks which excited me to get it (I was surprised by the glorious return of Kula Shaker!), I liked at first listen, appreciated its spirit and modicum of originality, and think that I will listen to with eager ears in the future.

Honorable mention :
Clinic - "Visitations"; Wilco - "Sky Blue Sky"; the rising American conquest by NZ band The Brunettes - "Structue and Cosmetics"; associates and metal gods Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - "In Glorious Times" & inter-contemporary release The Book of Knots - "Traineater"; Mother Hips - "Kiss the Crystal Planet"

Oh, another addendum - biggest disappointment of the year. I have to say it was the Marilyn Manson album, "Eat Me, Drink Me". Nothing new or fresh, and a nosedive from his usual quality production (helmed by "Shotgun Messiah" founder and self-styled electronica artist Tim Skold, who butchers the guitars and any hint of bass on this pathetic, weak album).

Opinons? Disagreements? Arguments? Have at it.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

End of 07

Well, the 'holidays' are past - overall, nice to be away from work. No, seriously, not just 'nice to have time off', 'nice to have some down time.' It was an enormous weight lifted from my very soul not to have to think about the wretchedness for a few days. Xmas was very pleasant - many gifts that I appreciated and could use, the most satisfying overall christmas in a long time. Nicole was here for the eve (we went to the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir at Slim's - very uplifting & huge, diverse crowd), then the morning & much of the afternoon. Opening gifts, reading cards, writing letters, calling up family. In the evening, got together with Bonnie's friends (and our friends, as supported in our relationship) and caught a movie (it's a bit of a tradition for me to go to a movie on Christmas Day)... We saw 'Atonement' which I thought was drastically overly dramatic and over-rated. A lot of annoying plot leaps, distractingly confusing flashbacks and asides, and too long to get to the payoff. But most of what it did well was fantastic - looked gorgeous, the performances were pretty great, and the end was rather satisfying and thoughtful.
New Years we went to a Burning-Man -type extravaganza (in our pajamas) - 5 stages of music (rock bands on stages on alternate ends of the hall; couple different DJs; burlesque; wandering slit-walkers). Sipped champagne at midnight & got outta there to get home before the craziness. Happy New Year.

But, of course - the inescapable downside - not getting far enough through your To-Do list... Didn't get nearly enough music done (though we did do some serious demo-recording with the band . Slept way too much, ate way to much (though I did get to the gym nearly every day). Got many financial obligations done, but still many outstanding. Well, ya do what you can.

Also had a string of really bad luck around here. Nicole's car fell apart on the freeway (turns out the axle wasn't fitted securely. Luckily no one was injured, but after paying to fix that, it died literally out the door & she had to dump it. Then Bonnie's car started hemorrhaging power steering fluid (not just leaking, like it was before). Then the word from the shop was it needed steam clean & other diagnostics on the power steering, and suspension, and tires, to the tune of more than a grand. (She managed to get some basic work done to get it on the road again.) Then the coup-de-gras : I came home one day to find our house had been broken into. The side door busted open, the alarm tripped. Fortunately, the scummy human detritus didn't take much - rifled through a drawer and took a nice camera (Canon Digital Rebel EOS - if you find one at the Berkeley Flea Market, give me a heads-up).

Other fun stuff we got up to - went to the DaVinci: The Genius exhibit (kinda cheesy, but chock full of fantastic info on DaVinci's inventions, and an X-ray analysis of the Mona Lisa); went to Spud's Pizza Friday Comedy showcase - lot of sour self-deprecating Jewish humour, but overall a very fun, entertaining evening, and excellent pizza if poor service; saw a women's bball game -St. Mary's vs. Cal State Fullerton, (Bonnie's alma mater) which the Titans unfortunately lost in the last 3.7 seconds, but thrilling);

Well, one other piece of good and exciting news! Bonnie submitted an essay for Newsweek's "My Turn" and it was published! It's her view on institutional marriage vs. personal love, in socially-conscious & family-tinted relationship definitions. I encourage you all to pick up the issue at your local indie bookstore (Jan 6, Obama primary cover story), but if you don't get there soon, you can read the article & controversial comments here :

Next post - my top 2007 music picks!