Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rock ‘n Read: Some Girls (33 1/3)

I recently finished Cyrus Patell’s book on The Rolling Stones 1978 album SOME GIRLS.  Patell’s book is part of the 33 1/3 series, which for those of you unfamiliar, are short little books written by one author and are dedicated to one classic album.  It’s basically a long-form version of my Classic Albums Revisited posts, which I once did on this very albumThis is the third or fourth book in the series that I’ve read, though currently there are 80+ books in the series.  The 33 1/3 series covers more than just classic rock, there are rap, metal, and country albums in the series as well.

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The books cover the behind-the-scenes/making of-aspect of the albums in addition to providing a track-by-track analysis.  Typically the book will be constructed around a theme of some sort, and of the small sample I’ve read, include a personal story from the author’s life.  Patell’s book on Some Girls is built around the conceit that The Stones record is basically all a love-letter (of sorts) to the late 1970s version of New York City.  Most but not all of the songs, Patell points out, are in some way about New York.  It’s pretty obvious, but strangely enough I never really made that connection.

Some Girls also is structured around Patell’s childhood in New York, around the time of the album’s initial release.  The death of one of his beloved teachers, the author’s first brush with death, plays a pivotal part of the first few and last chapters of the book.  Although I did find it interesting, I almost wish Patell had just stuck to The Rolling Stones.  Had this book been a typical long format book I wouldn’t have had as much of a problem with Patell’s personal connection to the record—but Some Girls (like all the books in the series) is a very short, very compact book.  I had a similar issue with the series entry on PET SOUNDS, but unlike that book, I walked away enjoying Some Girls.

My enjoyment of Patell’s book is two fold: he provides an excellent history of the band and the band’s efforts to record SOME GIRLS while at the same time giving a great history of late 1970’s New York.  He doesn’t just tell us that “Miss You” was written as a nod to the current disco culture, he explains to us that Mick Jagger and company were hanging out the infamous Studio 54.  Then Patell proceeds to give us a brief, but informative history of the club.  Patell’s deft ability to balance band history and history-history is what makes Some Girls such an enjoyable read.

There was one minor annoyance that almost got me to stop reading the book, and that was the author’s reliance on Keith Richards memoir Life.  At the start of the book there were so many long quotes taken directly fromKeith’s book that I nearly put the book down because it seemed like I was basically re-reading Life.  Thankfully, once the author turns away from basic band history and starts discussing the album in detail these direct quotes from Life are less intrusive.  Look, I get it, Patell wasn’t able to actually talk with Keith Richards…but some of the quotes are ridiculously long, taking up damn near an entire page.  I’m glad I didn’t give up on Patell’s book because it really is a good read.

Even if, like me, you’ve read five or six books on The Rolling Stones you should still check out Some Girls.  Patell’s analysis of the songs both lyrically and musically (he gets pretty deep into chords and tuning) is worth a read. If like me you’re a big fan of SOME GIRLS you owe it to yourself to check out Patell’s book, it’s a quick but insightful read.

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ELO’s Lost Gem “Surrender”

A few weeks back I heard a really great interview of Electric Light Orchestra frontman/genius Jeff Lynne on Adam Carolla’s daily podcast.  It’s really rare that anyone hears from Lynne these days, so if you’re an ELO fan you owe it to yourself to give it a listen.  I’d never heard Lynne speak before, so hearing the man’s speaking voice was a bit of a treat.

Lynne talked a lot about his songwriting and recording process.  Lynne also talked about his love of digital recording technology and his album of re-recorded hits MR. BLUE SKY-THE VERY BEST OF ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA, which takes a page out of filmmaker George Lucas’ playbook by redoing his work from the 1970’s using computers.  

I’m not sure how I feel about MR. BLUE SKY. On one hand I understand why Lynne felt compelled to go back and re-record his greatest hits.  These new versions sound infinitely clearer than they did back when Lynne recorded them, limited as he was by analog tape.  There were only so many layers Lynne could use back then, and a lot of ELO’s past albums do sound very washed out.  But despite all the care that Lynne took to remake his songs exactly like they sounded…they don’t sound like the original versions.  We’ve all heard those lame re-recorded Greatest Hits cash-ins that so many older bands do (always for monetary/contractual reasons) and MR. BLUE SKY isn’t one of those at all.  But the newer sound effects and backing vocals sound a slightly off from the 1970’s originals.  Anyone with a passing familiarity of these songs might not notice, but I did and I found it a bit distracting.

While I was on my ELO-kick, I discovered a really great lost ELO track: “Surrender.”  Recorded during the A NEW WORLD RECORD sessions back in 1976, “Surrender” was supposed to be used in film that got cancelled and the song was forgotten until 2006 when it was released as a bonus track on A NEW WORLD RECORD.  Interestingly, the song was also the first ELO song put on iTunes.

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“Surrender” is a great, stripped-down (for ELO) song.  It features a really great jangly-guitar and reverb-drenched  lead vocals. It actually reminds me of a Roy Orbison song, it has that old school rock feel to it.  This is probably intentional as Lynne is a huge Orbison fan.  Lyrically and thematically it would have worked well with “Telephone Line.”  Whereas “Telephone Line” was about the desperation of trying to get through to someone, “Surrender” is more jaded.  I think “Surrender” would have balanced A NEW WORLD RECORD out a little better in that it is a bit darker than the rest of the album and as mentioned less busy.  Although it might seem stripped down because as a neglected song, it wasn’t give the full studio treatment.   That said,  “Surrender” is pretty polished and sounds perfectly complete, so who knows.

When I first heard it I was instantly blown away, my first thought was, “Why in the hell was this left off the album?”  This song could have been, should have been a massive hit for the band back in the mid-1970’s.  Give it a quick spin, or two:

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Sweetmeat’s Real Rock Ale

I switched radio stations recently.  Radio stations, some of you might remember, are like picture-less TV stations broadcast over the air.  I have a ridiculously short daily commute, but for those 10 minutes I like to rock out.  For most of the 7 years that I’ve lived in St. Louis, I’ve listened to K-HITS 96 (96.3FM).  I listened to them mostly because they were the first classic rock station I found on the dial. Really, that’s all it was.  Turns out fate was against me: K-HITS was not the “cool” classic rock station nor is K-HITS the longest running.

That would be K-SHE 95 (94.7FM).

But, being the stubborn, tirelessly predictable sod that I am, I remained a loyal K-HITS listener until this summer.  I was outside painting my house when I heard the Oasis song “Wonderwall” on K-HITS.  Now, I’m a huge Oasis fan, but I was gobsmacked when I heard the 1990’s Brit-Pop legends on my local classic rock radio station.  Overnight my classic rock station had been transformed into a hideous Frankenstein’s moster of vanilla formatting.  No longer would their be awesome deep-cuts (or The Deep End with Nick Michaels a fantastic syndicated radio show I urge you to seek out online).  Instead there would only be music from the 70’s and 80’s with a generous sprinkling of 90’s hits.  The “HITS” in K-HITS was emphasized on the stations Facebook page: they were no longer to be considered a “classic” rock station.

I gave up on radio, until last week when I gave in and started listening to K-SHE.  I feel like such an idiot for not switching sooner, K-SHE is the best rock radio station I’ve ever heard.  Like deep cuts? K-SHE’s got ya covered, they play stuff by bands I’ve never heard of before.  Like to hear albums in their entirety? K-SHE’s got ya covered, this weekend they played an entire Foo Fighters album along with a few other albums (including a new-ish live AC/DC record).  Hate hearing the same song over and over? K-SHE’s library is huge and they never repeat a song.

And then there is Sweetmeat, the stations lovable badass mascot.  You can see him at local St. Louis concerts, on T-Shirts, and now you can even find him on your beer.  Tonight I drank a special beer made by local St. Louis brewery Six Row Brewery called “Sweetmeat’s Real Rock Ale.”  Sure, it’s really just the company’s Whale Ale (wheat ale) but it’s got that badass little piggie on the label.

Such a handsome pig...oh, and Sweetmeat ain't half bad either.

Such a handsome pig…oh, and Sweetmeat ain’t half bad either.

I’m notorious for always picking the losing horse (or whatever) so K-SHE should be very, very worried that I’m their latest fan.  Until they go under, get bought out, get sold, or change format you should check ’em out.  They stream online…

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New Gringo Star 7″ Hints At The Shape of Things To Come

Atlanta indie rockers Gringo Star released two new songs last week.  You know what that means…there’s gonna be a new album next year! I’m excited   because I absolutely loved the band’s last record THANK YER LUCK Y STARS. I was a bit troubled to learn that the band lost a member and are now just a three-piece, however the new songs are really great.  Apparently the band’s been writing, recording, and producing all their new songs by themselves which is always intriguing.

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The two new songs, “Going Way Out” and “Taller” are just as catchy and murky as the songs on THANK YER LUCKY STARS.  I especially like “Going Way Out” which is a cross between a gloomy Dick Dale song and John Lennon’s “#9 Dream.”The band’s official website promises a new album in early 2013 and a tour!  Hopefully they’ll swing by St. Louis so I can properly check them out.

 

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LP Fantasy: “Gene Simmons Presents…So You Wanna Work in Rock Retail?”

When I was an awkward teenager, staring the oblivion of adulthood in the face, I made a list of dream jobs I wanted to have.  Not serious careers I could have: these were the fun jobs I’d hold before I graduated from college.  I came up with three:

  1. Work in a bookstore.
  2. Work in a record store.
  3. Be a security guard.

I’ve always loved books and music, so bookstore and record store were pretty obvious choices for me.  The security guard thing was a mixture of curiosity and the fact that my granddad had worked as a guard for a Pinkerton.  Shortly after graduating from High School I started living all my wildest dreams when I got a job at a small bookstore.  It was fantastic, I was quickly promoted to assistant manager AND I got to take books home and read them.  Not that it mattered I got to read books for free, I still spent 2/3 of my meager wage on books.  But like all good things, my time at the bookstore didn’t last very long, five months into my tenure there Barnes & Noble decided to close our store a few weeks after Christmas.  The dream was over.

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I was unemployed for a while, but then got hired on as a security guard—at the same company as my granddad.  I worked overnights and actually did MORE reading as a guard than I did while working at the bookstore. I found out that being a guard was thankless, terrible, boring work…so of course I did it for 5 years while I was getting my Bachelor’s in Rock-blogging (and thank God I did, because without a mountain of student loan-debt I wouldn’t be able to write about Lana Del Rey’s Pepsi-flavored snatch).

Sadly, I never got a chance to work in a record shop.  The closest I came was when Barnes & Noble closed my small bookstore and offered me a job at one of their mega-chainstores (where they sell music in addition to everything else).  I didn’t take the job because as they offered it to me they told me I’d probably hate it, having worked in a small, customer-centric store.  The idea of working in a “section” of a store as opposed to the whole thing wasn’t very appealing.  Working in small shop is great because it forces you to learn about stuff you’d otherwise never encounter.  I’m an expert of children’s literature and Christian Romance novels for this very reason.

Who’d have thought working in a record store would be just as unrealistic of a goal as being a novelist or astronaut?  I guess I even suck at picking small, attainable goals, too.  Working in a small record store never happened for me mostly because, even back in 2004 when I lost my bookstore job, there weren’t very many record stores left.  I think right now there are only three or four in St. Louis where I live now, which is crazy considering how many people live here.  Sometimes when I’m at work, sitting at my desk, I fantasize about working at a record shop.   The stocking of shelves; the rambling discussions with co-workers and customers about obscure British b-sides.  Maybe we’d have a company blog where I could offer recommendations  or a podcast where I could breath heavily into the microphone whilst reading off my Top 10 albums of the year.

A few years ago I saw a really great documentary called I NEED THAT RECORD! which was all about the struggles of independent record shops.  The entire time I watched I could think of nothing but getting a second mortgage on my house (alá GHOSTBUSTERS) and buying a shitty little hole-in-the-wall in some stripmall where I could sell water-damaged vinyl to bearded dudes in Sonic Youth t-shirts.  What does it say about me that I’d willingly enter into crippling debt to sit around all day peddling dusty albums?

The really sad part is, at this stage in my life I’d probably be willing to pay them for the privilege of working in a record store.  Like one of those balding, middle-aged men who pay Pete Townshend and that guy from Boston to teach them basic guitar at one of those Rock ‘N Roll Fantasy camps.  Maybe in a few years TLC or A&E will do a reality show where overweight music bloggers get to live out their fantasy of working in a record shop: Gene Simmons Presents…So You Wanna Work in Rock Retail?

Until then, I guy can dream.

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Wavves Unleash “Sail to the Sun”

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Good news, Californian stoner-punks Wavves released an arty video for their new song “Sail to the Sun” a few days ago.  By arty I mean the band doesn’t appear in the video and it’s horribly depressing.  The song is pretty good and equally depressing.  This is the first new Wavves music since last year’s LIFE SUX Ep, which was really good.  The band also guest-stars on rapper Big Boi’s latest album, VICIOUS LIES AND DANGEROUS RUMORS. On that album they appear on the song “Shoes for Running” which is 1000% less depressing than “Sail to the Sun.”

 

Where have Wavves been? Why has it taken them so long to get their act together and put out a new record?  Hopefully 2013 will see a new Wavves album and cross-country tour, it’s been entirely too long since I’ve seen them.

In the mean time, pop an anti-depressant and watch the video for “Sail to the Sun.”

 

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“Melt The Guns” by XTC

Once again tragedy, a preventable tragedy in my opinion, has struck the United States.  Every time this happens I wonder how much longer we’ll allow the madness that is our gun laws to continue.

Anyway, this is a music blog, so I’m just gonna let XTC do all my talking for me, they had the right idea way back in 1982:

 

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About That Paul McCartney/Nirvana Song

Last night a pretty incredible benefit concert was held at Madison Square Garden to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.  This so-called “12/12/12” concert was jam-packed with tons of talent: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and The Who were there just to name a few.  Of course today all anyone can talk about is Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. Apparently Nirvana and McCartney got together and recorded a song for a documentary Dave Grohl put together called SOUND CITY.

The song’s called “Cut Me Some Slack” and it’s surprisingly not the horrible train-wreck you’d expect from a Paul McCartney-fronted Nirvana.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either Paul or Nirvana, it’s just not two things I’d expect to go together very well.  Sure, Cobain worshipped The Beatles and infused his own music with their unique pop-sensibilities (although he made them heavier) but when I think of Nirvana I don’t think of The Beatles.  Whereas The Beatles were very much a peace and love band, Nirvana was angry and moody.  Plus, McCartney is really getting up their in years and I’ve always associated Nirvana with youth.  Destructive, unbridled, youth.

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I guess maybe that’s why “Cut Me Some Slack” works so well: this isn’t a young version of Nirvana.  Hell, this isn’t even really Nirvana.  Yes, I went there.  I realize that there are bands that can exist without their lead singer, but Nirvana sure ain’t one. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool to see all those guys playing together again. It was especially nice seeing bassist Krist Novoselic on stage again, as he’s mostly dropped out of the music world, opting to direct films and study law.

Had the song sucked we could have blamed McCartney for being too old and for mucking about where he didn’t belong.  Thankfully the song is good enough, and their performance was energetic.  I was reluctant to write anything about this because I’m starting to feel weird writing so much about all these old dinosaurs of rock. I was looking over my Top 10 Albums of 2012 and I feel kinda strange about having so many classic rock artists on it.  Rock has always been about the here and now AND young people.  I’m not saying that old people can’t contribute to rock music or that rock artists should shut up (or be killed LOGANS RUN-style when they get to old) but the previous generation’s shadow is stifling this generations artists.

As if to drive this fact home, I got an email from Live Nation that really turned my stomach.  Take a glance at the upcoming concerts in my area:

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Memories of Elvis? An Allman Brothers Tribute?Dark Star Orchestra (which is a Grateful Dead tribute)?  Not only are these older acts not going away, when they do (usually only when death intercedes) we are then given tribute bands to fill their places.  Why in the hell aren’t we just going to see new bands? I’m just as guilty as anyone.  In fact, the next concert I’m attending is a Pink Floyd tribute. Just like the film industry won’t let old franchies go, the music industry won’t let old brands die.  And make no mistake, The Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd are nothing but brands at this point.  Three tribute bands/acts in a long list of upcoming concerts isn’t so bad, I guess.  And this is a Live Nation email, which is designed to goad aging hipsters into hiring a babysitter and having a night out.  I get that.  I also get that every night in this city there are awesome, young bands playing their hearts out.  I just wish the Nirvanas and the McCartney’s of the world would bow out gracefully and let them into the limelight.

Ah, don’t listen to me…I’m just an aging rock fan.

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My Top 10 Albums of 2012

Why have end of year lists have grown in popularity over the past 10 years? What does it say about us as a species that we clamor for and around arbitrary lists created by people we don’t know? My own personal theory is that the popularity of end of year lists serves two functions:

1. Validation. Obviously we like having someone tell us that our opinions are the right ones, and seeing our favorite things on someone else’s end of year list does that. It’s comforting to know that we agree with others but it’s even more comforting when that other is a critic of stature like David Wild or Roger Ebert.

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2. Facilitating our laziness. Why go out into the world looking for the best music, books, films, or art when someone in a black turtleneck can do all the heavy lifting for us? End of year lists distill a year’s worth of media into an easy to consume morsel. I’ve met people who base all their film watching on top critics end of year lists.

I’m guilty of both: I like looking at end of year lists to see my own personal tastes validated AND I like to use them to discover things I was too lazy to find on my own. I don’t think there’s anything evil or wrong about end of year lists, but they do tend to get out of hand this time of year. I think reading end of year lists are an okay use of your time…but I think making one of your own is a far better way to kill a few hours.

Why? Well, I think a great end of year list functions as a kind of yearbook. When I sat down to write my Top 10 Albums of 2012 list I started to simply list all the albums that really knocked my socks off this year. But then I started to consider things like “Am I still listening to these albums?” and “Do I see myself still thinking about/revisiting these albums in future years?” That made things a little more difficult, which I rather liked (I always do fancy a challenge).

So once I had my albums that moved me (or whatever) and then removed the ones I wasn’t still listening to, I found I had a much shorter list. I took that list and compared it to my blog for the past 12 months, chiefly–how many of these albums did I get around to writing about? What did I say? In the case of one album in particular, I found that I wrote about it A LOT. I factored that in when arranging my list from #10 to #1.

What was the most difficult part of making this list? Figuring out what actually came out in 2012 and what came out in 2011 that I only discovered this year. There were a TON of really great records that came out at the end of last year that I sadly only discovered this year—meaning they could not appear on my list. The record I most wanted to put on my list was Metronomy’s THE ENGLISH RIVIERA. That was probably the album I enjoyed the most this summer, but wouldn’t ya know it? It came out last year. I ran into a lot of that while making this list.

Please read this list, compare it to your own personal tastes (feel slightly validated) and then use it to lazily fill-in the parts of 2012 you overlooked or missed. Once you’ve done all that, jot down your own best of 2012 list, I think you’ll find it’s an interesting mental exercise and a fantastic way to reevaluated the music you’ve heard this year. Maybe even slip me copy of your list in the comments section below (I won’t judge).

With all that in mind, I present my Top 10 Albums of 2012:

10. HARMONICRAFT by Torche. Arguably the stupidest genre name of all-time is sludge metal. I don’t even know what that means. Torche’s album HARMONICRAFT is supposed to be sludge metal, but to me it just sounds like awesomely melodic hard rock. “Roaming” and “Kicking” are brilliant hard-rockers that sound like Jane’s Addiction meets The Cult. The album is dark and has a rough edge while still being catchy and fun. If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a hard rock that isn’t super-stoopid or endless banshee screaming: HARMONICRAFT strikes a nice balance between hard rock and pop. The guitar work is great, and so is that Brony-filled rainbow wonderland on the front of the album.

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9. COBRA JUICY by Black Moth Super Rainbow. I’m not really into electronica, but every now and then an artist comes out that manages to combine the best of rock/pop and dance music. Experimental music is really hard to like and even hard to recommend, but Black Moth Super Rainbow really pull it off on COBRA JUICY. It’s a neon-rave-up that’s got rock soul. Songs like “Windshield Smasher” and “Hairspray Heart” are what the second Sleigh Bells album should have sounded like: aggressively noisy yet super-groovy. Worth noting, this one was waaay off my radar, but was pointed out to me by my super-cool friend over at TAKEN BY SOUND, which is a really cool indie-rock music blog.

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8. WRECKING BALL by Bruce Springsteen. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are that Bruce Springsteen is on this list. I was listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage and Little Steven (who is more than a little biased, being in the E-Street Band) talked up the record and played “Easy Money.” Before I could dismiss WRECKING BALL outright, I heard “Easy Money” and became instantly hooked. The whole album has a very electric-folk/Old-Timey feel to it. WRECKING BALL is Springsteen’s recession album, which while not much fun, does provide an excellent palette for a rough and tumble artist like The Boss. “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Death To My Hometown” are great, hardscrabble songs that could work for The Great Depression or the late 2010’s. Through it all, Springsteen remains a symbol of art nourishing us through the hardest of times. These are the times when a bard of his stature is most desperately needed. He didn’t disappoint.

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7. SLOW DAZE by Blonde Summer. Technically these 5 songs are an EP and not an LP, but after listening to SLOW DAZE on virtual infinite repeat this summer: I’m promoting it to full LP status. Blonde Summer’s amazingly breezy, super-fun album reminded me what it feels like to be young and just enjoying the warmth of summer: and that was just the title track. The rest of SLOW DAZE is top-notch indie-rock that’s fun (“Robots on Command”) and heartfelt (“Walking in Space”). Minimal and echo-y, SLOW DAZE is like a short romp with an incredible lover—it doesn’t last very long, but the warm glow it gives you lasts and lasts. Hell, I’m still tingling from the noise-rock of “December,” and it’s actually December now. SLOW DAZE owned my summer and has made me super-eager to see what these guys do next. But for now, we’ll always have this summer.

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6. LONERISM by Tame Impala. Pound for pound, LONERISM has more cosmic-freak-out-otherness than any other album on this list. If you’ve ever wanted to get high without drugs, grab a pair of headphones and take this album into a dark room. Close your eyes and prepare to go on adventure. Imagine Oasis and The Flaming Lips doing a shit ton of LSD and then merging into one band: that’s LONERISM. “Endors Toi” and “Elephant” shatter your mind and then blow away the pieces. I really liked BEARDS, WIVES, DENIM by Pond, which is essentially Tame Impala, but overall I think LONERISM is the stronger, more accessible record. But don’t take my word for it: go sit in the dark tonight with this album.

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5. CLASS CLOWN SPOTS A UFO by Guided By Voices. One of my all-time favorite bands came back, and they came back in a big way this year. Not only did the original GBV line up return to tour, they released not one…not two…but three incredible records. When was the last time a band came back after disbanding and put out ONE good album? Exactly. Robert Pollard is a rock ‘n roll Jesus (sorry Kid Rock). Picking which of the three albums to put on this list was hard, but also kinda easy: of all their 2012 records, this is the one I rock out to the most. The title track is probably the greatest GBV “single” in a decade. “Keep It In Motion” and “Forever Until It Breaks” are icing on the cake. All GBV albums have short, micro-songs that many people dismiss, but CLASS CLOWN SPOTS A UFO has the best short Pollard nuggets I’ve heard in a long time (“Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head”). And don’t get me started on the awesome, Who-like “Billy Wire.” Okay, I’ll get started on it: “Billy Wire” fucking rocks my socks and makes me feel like I’m a badass Mod seeing a super young/virile Who tear up a small English nighclub. Long live GBV.

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4. MAJOR by Fang Island. Fang Island does what Torche does in that, they offer up heavy riffs with strong melodies. The difference is that Fang Island is more indie rock than mosh pit. “Sisterly” is so hard-charging but at the same time sweet. I don’t mean “Dude that’s sweet,” I mean little kitten hanging on a clothesline sweet. Fang Island are so cool they don’t care what you think of their earnestness. These guys are serious musicians, too. Even if you don’t usually go for instrumental rock, you’ll dig their instrumental “Dooney Rock.” It’s an interesting, tasteful, non-wankfest that will win over even the most jaded music fan. Fang Island is equally heavy and gentle; it’s hard indie rock for sensitive hearts.

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3. LOVE THIS GIANT by David Byrne & St. Vincent. Who knew that teaming up the dude from Talking Heads and that weird indie-chick St. Vincent would yield such a good harvest? The bombastic lead track “Who” is real stunner, but it’s the one-two-punch of two unlikely freaks getting together and letting their freak flags fly that elevates LOVE THIS GIANT beyond “Who.” This is Byrne’s strongest post-Talking Heads work, hands down. It wasn’t that I’d written him off so much as I just didn’t bother to really think too much about David Byrne at all. LOVE THIS GIANT re-establishes Byrne as a relevant artist with a lot more to say. I wasn’t super familiar with St. Vincent prior to LOVE THIS GIANT, but I’m learning. That she’s half his age and still manages to hold her own in the presence of such a legend is no small feat. I still get chills every time I hear “Optimist.” So, in summary: the triumphant return of one of rocks most unlikely superstars plus a rising indie-songstress plus crazy horns equals LOVE THIS GIANT. It’s a record that you put on and feel refreshed, challenged, and puzzled by.

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2. A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH by Van Halen. Nobody thought that a new Van Halen album was going to be a dismal failure more than me. Go back and check the endless jaded, negative, anti-Wolfgang posts. I’m a big man, I can admit when I’m wrong. Sure, “Tattoo” fucking sucks. It’s the worst song on the album and it’s slightly embarrassing…but everything else on A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH works. Maybe the songs are recycled from decades long since past, but so what? They were still re-worked and recorded by the Van Halen of today, and they don’t disappoint. It’s like it’s 1984 all over again: big choruses, crazy solos, thumpin’ drums, super-bravdo, etc. Van Halen don’t reinvent the wheel so much as get it rolling again, and thank God…because rock was starting to get so dismally boring. “Blood and Fire” recalls the pure adrenaline of “Panama.” “You and Your Blues” is like an update of “Unchained.” Van Halen shouldn’t work in 2012, but somehow they do. My favorite track, the one that gets the most play at the gym is the stupidest: the frivolous “Stay Frosty.” Why does “Stay Frosty” continue to get played? Probably because it’s a straight up rocker that’s fun and funny. While I was busy being jaded, Van Halen was busy partying. At a certain point, it’s easier to just give-in and love them. So you win guys, A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH rules.

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1. PSYCHEDELIC PILL by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. I am completely and utterly in awe of this album. Long, meandering, and epic, PSYCHEDELIC PILL was the one album this year that could have been released in 1968 or 1970 not no one would have blinked. Not because it sounds like it’s from that period in time, PSYCHEDELIC PILL is truly a record out of time: intensely personal and yet also very distant and spacy. This is a folk record. This is a jam-band record. This is a singer-songwriter album created by a full band. “Walk Like A Giant” is the work of an incredibly powerful wizard, hurling lightening bolts of rock. I had no idea Neil Young still had it in him to create such a potent work of pure genius. This doesn’t even sound like a comeback it sounds like he never left. Those who scoff at the albums longer cuts, of which there are a few, are missing the point. Like I said in my original review: “the album opens with “Drifting Back,” a 27 minute-long song that’s acts as a kind of sonic air lock, decompressing the listener into the album’s atmosphere. Or perhaps a better metaphor would be that’s a time machine. I like that better because PSYCHEDELIC PILL sounds like lost 1970’s record, with the lengthy “Drifting Back” serving as a trippy time tunnel to the past.” The free flowing extended jams are the destination, not the journey. PSYCHEDELIC PILL is an intricate album that I predict will endure as a kind of sonic evergreen, which will be studied and appreciated for decades to come. Do yourself a favor and check out this once-in-a-generation masterpiece.

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George Harrison’s Final Masterpiece: BRAINWASHED

I still can’t believe that George Harrison has been dead for 10 years. It seems like only yesterday we lost him. Of all The Beatles, I think George has the strongest, and more overlooked solo material. Paul and John always stole the limelight while they were together and in their solo careers they continued to overshadow poor George, which is a shame because he had a bunch of really sublime songs.  His first solo record, the first solo record from any Beatle, ALL THINGS MUST PASS is stupendous work that is probably one of the finest rock albums of all time.

After his triumphant first release George put out a bunch of really strong, but mostly ignored records in the 1970’s and then slowed his output to only 3 records in the 1980’s. There were two awesome Traveling Wilbury records and 1987’s CLOUD NINE, the nothing. When George died in 2001 after a long battle with cancer, my first thought was a selfish one: no more George Harrison songs. Thankfully, George was hard at work on a new record right up till his death. He finished most of the recording and left detailed notes behind so that Jeffy Lynne and his son Dhani Harrison could finish the record.

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Posthumous releases are, quiet frankly, pretty shitty normally. Think about it: you’re dying are you really going to do your best work? But amazingly BRAINWASHED turned out to not only be a good record, but one of George’s best. In fact, I’d say it’s nearly tied with ALL THINGS MUST PASSED.  And the only reason ALL THINGS edges it out in my mind is because it’s a double album and thus, has more songs.

So what makes BRAINWASHED so good? For starters, the songwriting. Harrison learned songwriting from arguably the two greatest songwriters of all time so of course he was going to be able to write a good song. Besides being immediately accessible and catchy, the songs on BRAINWASHED all have a very down-to-earth feel. While not a concept album, the album’s songs all tend to be about assessing one’s life. That shouldn’t come as any big surprise considering that Harrison was knocking on death’s door. But whereas my death-album would be a series of pathetic screams of “Dear God not me!” George not only puts on a brave face, but appears beautifully serene in the face of his end. Entire books could be written about Harrison’s spirituality, and while I’ve heard many people question just exactly what he believed (and how strongly he believed it) there’s no arguing that whatever he let into his heart gave him a tremendous amount of strength and comfort. How do I know? It’s all here, persevered forever on BRAINWASHED.

The album opens with the playfully philosophical “Any Road” which points out that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. It’s a great song to open the album; its footloose and breezy attitude encourages the listen to embark on an adventure, any adventure. “Looking For My Life” is the first in a series of songs where George turns inward and examines his life. It’s a song about being through the wringer and separated from God but not really knowing it until things get rough. All of the problems raised by “Looking For My Life” are immediately answered in the very next song, “The Rising Sun.” Through spiritual re-birth and the actual re-birth of the day George found the answer to his problems. “The Rising Sun” is such a beautiful, hope-filled song I can’t believe it was penned by a man who knew he wouldn’t live to see many more sunrises. And don’t get me started on that slide guitar, has there ever been a more beautiful sound than George playing slide guitar? It’s Harrison’s signature guitar tone and on “The Rising Sun” in particular it’s used to great effect.

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The album’s single, “Stuck Inside A Cloud,” is ironically the records biggest downer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song, but it’s a depressing final single.   “Stuck Inside A Cloud” seems to be about a lasting, incurable depression brought about (or perhaps causing?) a break-up. I think it might also be a metaphor for how disconnected we all are.

One of the most interesting songs, especially when I first heard BRAINWASHED was “Run So Far.” I had a strange bit of déjà vu where I was able to predict all the lyrics. I thought I was going insane until I was finally able to figure out where it was I’d heard the song before: Eric Clapton’s 1989 solo effort JOUNREYMAN. George wrote the song and gave it to his friend/wife-stealer and then waited a decade to record it himself. I must say, I like George’s version better, but only for the same reason I always prefer Dylan’s version of his songs: it’s always better to hear it from the author.

There’s a nice bit of whimsy near the end with a cover of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” on which George plays the ukulele. I smile every time I hear this song, mostly because I know that had a very special place in George’s heart. He and John Lennon famously bonded over the ukulele. George’s choice in instrument adds a jaunty-nautical feel to the song. It’s probably my favorite version of this song.

The album concludes with “Brainwashed,” George’s final ode to God, whom he loved so dearly. Of all the songs on BRAINWASHED, “Brainwashed” feels the most like a Traveling Wilburys song. I’m not sure if it’s the songs humor (his grandma was brainwashed while working for the mob?) or the excessive Jeff Lynne production, but until the song transforms into the prayer “Namah Parvait” it could have easily fit on the Wilburys VOLUME 3.

George began his solo career with a phenomenal album and he thankfully was able to finish his solo career with a phenomenal album.  I’ve read that BRAINWASHED was a bit of a disappointment commercially, which is a real shame and one of the reasons I decided to write this post.  If you like The Beatles, rainy day music, hope in a hopeless world, ukuleles, top-notch songwriting, strong hooks, slide guitar, and Eastern chanting you owe it to yourself to check out BRAINWASHED.

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