12/18/2006

2006: The Year in Review

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
TV On The Radio Return to Cookie Mountain

While it does have its bit of filler—or material that just plain falls short—on Cookie Mountain Brooklyn’s finest slay the sophomore dragon and with The Mars Volta’s latest falling slightly short and Radiohead in regrouping mode find themselves kings of the art-rock universe.

HONORARY MENTION:
Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor; Sonic Youth Rather Ripped


FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
The Lemonheads (self-titled)

The old man had to come back and reclaim his dusty moniker to show all the watered-down, Gap pop-punk wannabes how it’s done. Thank you, sir.

Runner up:
The Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers
Also: Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 Olé Tarantula; David Pajo 1968


FAVORITE SHOW:
TV On The Radio / Matt Pond PA / Voxtrot - Prospect Park Bandshell, BKNY - 6/30/06

When was the last time you were glad you showed up early to catch the opening act(s) AND had the headliner kick major ass? Yeah, it was that kinda show.


BEST REISSUE:
The Pretenders and The Pretenders II

A classic debut and its underrated sequel, both badly in need of remastering—especially the latter—are polished and served up the way it ought to be. Plus, the dozen more or less added bonus tracks on each albums extra CD make getting the box set practically pointless.

Runner Up:
The Beatles Love


BEST COMEBACK:
(Tie) The Lemonheads; NaS

Dando’s gotten his act together (for now, perhaps) and the coolest Mr. Jones to ever come out of Queens is questioning the sorry state of (most) hip-hop on his latest, Hip Hop Is Dead.


BEST ALBUM TO LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR:
Ambulance LTD’s second album

Against our better judgement we’re going to turn down our hipster/poser filter and patiently await the John Cale-produced sophomore long player from this NYC band. God help us.


BEST NEW TV SHOW:
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip [NBC]

Unlike every other popular show out there with gimmicky, suspension of disbelief plots and/or story lines, Studio 60 delivers quality storytelling and writing from the great Aaron Sorkin.


BEST IMPERSONATION:
Mat Kearney

Dave Grohl once facietiously joked that a few years back his buddy and fellow Virginian Dave Mathews was freaked out after coming back from a brief hiatus to find John Mayer all over the place. “I’ve been replaced!” Matthews was said to have remarked. We’re wondering what Coldplay’s Chris Martin has to say about this guy.


BIGGEST huh? MOMENT:
Star Trek XI

It is rumored that the eleventh Star Trek motion-picture will be a prequel to the original series with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, playing Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock, respectively. We swear we are NOT making this up.

Runner up:
an original 12” test pressing of the 1966 The Velvet Underground and Nico album passed the $50,000 mark on eBay.


BEST PROOF YOU’LL NEED A COAT IN HELL:
the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup reunite

If you know anything about this band you know this was even more improbable than the Pixies getting back together. And we all know how that turned out.


WORST ALBUM:
Red Hot Chili Peppers Stadium Arcadium

Hands down the most limp, insipid and tired release from a once great artist we’ve heard in a VERY LONG TIME. Guys, if this is what you have left to offer musically, PLEASE give it up. NOW.


ANTI-ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Paris Hilton

Yeah, Mr. Burns-in-drag made a record. Yawn.
Runner up: (tie) the Tommy Lee-led Rock Star Supernova; Dave Navarro’s The Panic Channel. Jeez.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy fails to appear. Yet again.

Yeah, we know we’re repeating ourselves but it’s really starting to look like there will be democracy in China before this one sees the light of day.
Runner up: (tie) Former Guided by Voices frontman Bob Pollard’s From A Compound Eye album; Outkast’s Idlewild; Beck The Information.


MOST UNWELCOME COMEBACK:
Jay-Z

Wasn’t this dude retired already? Too busy with displacing people in Brooklyn with a stadium for the Nets, running Def Jam into the ground artistically, and cavorting with his insufferable, jumbo-jet-sized-ego girflriend what’s her name?


MOST UNDESERVED HYPE:
Thom Yorke The Eraser

While not a bad record, Yorke’s collection of paranoid android soundscapes drew more accolades than it actually deserved. Let’s hope he’s finally gotten this stuff out of his system—or just relegates it to solo albums—and Radiohead can get back to making some cutting edge 21st century rock and roll. If they hurry up they can catch up with TV On The Radio and the Mars Volta.

Runner up:
Beck The Information; Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins Rabbit Fur Coat ; Joanna Newsom Ys


MOST UNNECESSARY REHASHING:
Beck The Information

The followup to last year’s Guero is not much more than a retread of its predecessor. And not a very good one, at that.


GOODBYE
Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett; the legendary Ruth Brown; ex-King Crimson/Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell; Andy Capps, one-time Built To Spill drummer; agent/promoter Ian Copeland, brother of former Police manager and drummer Miles and Stewart Copeland, respectively; Bill Cowsill, of The Cowsills on which the fictional Partridge Family was based; ska and reggae great Desmond Dekker; visionary producer and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun; the one and only Freddy Fender; jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson; Bruce Gary, drummer for The Knack; House of Freaks guitarist Bryan Harvey; jazz pianist John Hicks; Love’s Arthur Lee; R&B vocalist Gerald Levert; Buena Vista Social Club’s Pio Leyva; Gene McFadden, of writing/production duo McFadden & Whitehead; Grant McLennan, of The Go-Betweens; country legend Buck Owens; Mr. Wilson Pickett; former Napalm Death guitarist Jesse Pintado; singer/songwriter Gene Pitney; June Pointer, of the Pointer Sisters; the only man to have formally played with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Mr. Billy Preston; D12 rapper Proof; the great Lou Rawls; Lou Richards, former guitarist for Hatebreed; jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz; Kool and the Gang co-founder/guitarist (Claydes) Charles Smith; singer/songwriter Soraya; former Captain Beefhart drummer Alex St. Claire; world music icon Ali Farka Toure; former Grateful Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick; Runaways drummer Sandy West; Commodores keyboardist Milan Williams.

10/16/2006

Random Reviews

BECK
The Information
[Interscope/DGC-2006]

If Beck Hansen had been a baseball player he likely would’ve been a pitcher specializing in curveballs. Once again this is not the oft-rumored garage rock record supposedly in the wings for some time now. No, this more or less is a continuation of the musical stew he gave us last time on Guero (2005). But while that album’s reunion with producers The Dust Brothers—who helmed his ‘90s classic Odelay (1996)—represented a return to the diminutive one’s decidedly diverse roots, The Information brings back Nigel Godrich, producer of Beck’s more singer/songwriter-type outings (1999’s Mutations, and 2002’s soon-to-be-classic Sea Change) and a premier sonic architect.

What all this translates to is a well-crafted record with a rich, crisp sound that flows effortlessly. Unfortunately, it is these same characteristics that betray the at times mundane and uninspired nature of a good chunk of The Information. Fear not, Beck didn’t phone this one in—he’s too good for that and Godrich is too much of a taskmaster to let that happen on his watch—but this album is definitely a grower. The question is, though, whether it deserves the extra effort it demands.

Highlights: “Soldier Jane”, “Think I’m In Love”, “New Round”, “Movie Theme”.


CANDY BUTCHERS

Hang On Mike
[RPM-2004]

Despite a long career writing funny, self-deprecating, witty pop songs, NYC’s Mike Viola is far from a household name—his greatest claim to fame is still having sung “That Thing You Do”, the Top 40 theme song to the 1996 Tom Hanks film of the same name—his small, but dedicated following has been in on one of the best kept songwriting secrets of the past decade plus.

Chock full of hooks, clever lyrics, and just plain solid songwriting, Hang On Mike is nothing short of a gem. In a just world the purveyors of OC-type schlock would slog through each day in a dead-end fast food hell existence, while Viola and his Candy Butchers would rule whatever airwaves are left at this point. A fascinating listen for anyone that enjoys a less smart-alecky Ben Folds, digs Jon Brion, and wonders what happened to good ole, non-contrived pop songs. Damn, straight!

Highlights: “Nice To Know You”, “Unexpected Traffic”, and the ode to teenage friendship “Kiss Alive II”.


THE CURE
Head On The Door
[Elektra-1985]

By the time Head On The Door was released, Robert Smith and co. had gone through numerous personnel changes and put out a series of albums that slowly established them as one of the most durable and successful acts that followed in the wake of punk. And becoming a seminal part of what later became referred to as post-punk in the process. At this point they’d accumulated a decent of amount of noteworthy singles under their collective belt—“Boys Don’t Cry”, “A Forest”, “Primary”, “Let’s Go To Bed”, “The Lovecats” to name a few—but this is when they became a hit-making machine and at the same time ushered in what can be arguably recognized as their most important period, which would include the next four studio albums.

Head On The Door also represents a shift in The Cure’s sound and approach to recording and performing in the studio, making it the first album on which the band would adopt what latter-day fans would come to know as their signature sound. Many of these elements had been there before—on Faith [Elektra-1981] most noticeably—but a new lineup consisting of drummer Boris Williams, guitarist Porl Thompson, alongside Smith, bassist Simon Gallup, and founding keyboardist Lol Tolhurst gave the songs a bit more of a muscular foundation while accentuating the darkness and gloom they had traded in for some time.

Of special note are the rockers and playful, upbeat love songs, some of which—“In Between Days”, “Push”, “Close To Me”, “A Night Like This”—remain favorites to this day. A classic.


FISHBONE

Give A Monkey Half A Brain And He’ll Swear He’s The Center Of The Universe
[Sony-1993]

Long derided as Fishbone’s so-called “metal record” Give A Monkey may not be an overlooked masterpiece but it is not the unmitigated disaster it was labeled as upon its 1993 release. Coming off the highly-acclaimed The Reality Of My Surroundings [Columbia-1991], itself preceded by the much beloved Truth and Soul [Columbia-1988]—one of the best albums of the ‘80s—much was riding on the record that was to bring Fishbone to the mainstream in grand style. It didn’t happen: critics lambasted the album, sales were poor, and the band lost their major-label deal.

So, what happened? For starters, Fishbone’s social commentary was much more somber (“Servitude”, “Black Flowers”, “End The Reign”) than on past albums, which may have been partially due to the hard-edged production courtesy of Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden); their trademark ska/funk (the excellent “Unyielding Conditioning”) and elastic grooves (“Lemon Meringue”) were in shorter supply; and the major internal struggles that may or may not have been caused by these changes culminated with the departure of key members.

But a decade and a half later with the dust having long settled and the purported demise of the band brought on by this album is by now a faint memory, Give A Monkey’s shining moments may not be the mass sing-a-longs some thought they could become but are, nonetheless, up there with some of Fishbone’s finest work.

Highlights: See above.


THE LEMONHEADS
self-titled
[Vagrant-2006]

Released almost 10 years to the day of their last studio album—the spotty but noteworthy Car Button Cloth--The Lemonheads return with a gem of a disc that recalls the joyous, infectious sound of their '92 classic It's A Shame About Ray. Sure, there's nothing groundbreaking or
innovative to be found at this late date in the work of an aging Gen-Xer and notorious screw up like Evan Dando except...the tunes are on the money, baby!

Oh, yeah: Dando's often remarked upon sporadic songwriting brilliance reaches remarkable consistency on this batch of catchy rockers seeped in hooks and full of vigor. (Kudos to guest axe-slinger J Mascis on his always excellent lead guitar fireworks.) Hell, we'll just echo the All Music Guide in calling it "the right kind of return for a band that should never have gone away in the first place." (Even though these are the same people that referred to tone-deaf howler and Kiss frontman Paul Stanley as being “in fine voice” on his recent solo album. Oh, well…) Welcome back, Mr. D. Mas, por favor.
Highlights: “Black Gown”, “Become The Enemy”, “Poughkeepsie ”, "December".


BADLY DRAWN BOY
Born in the UK
[Astralwerks-2006]

…and while on the subject of Evan Dando, the title of his 2003 solo album perfectly describes how we feel about this one.


ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR.
The Land of Pure Imagination
[Cordless/Warner Bros-2006]

After years of beefing up the ole resume with the likes of Air, Beck, and his own Imperial Drag, Moog Cookbook and the beloved Jellyfish, multi-instrumentalist Roger Manning has decided to finally go solo with impressive results. The spirit of the latter San Francisco retro-popsters is quite prevalent throughout this disc, especially the occasionally child-like, Saturday morning vibe of Spilt Milk [Charisma-1993].

But without the input and participation of co-leader Andy Sturmer—who brought a bit more of a rock and roll attitude to the proceedings—it would be a little off the mark to suggest that The Land of Pure Imagination is what the third Jellyfish album would’ve sounded like, but it comes mighty close. Unfortunately, despite superb songs with appealing melodies, addictive choruses and first-rate playing, The Land of Pure Imagination can at times make one long for a bit more oomph, while in other spots it veers dangerously close to Burt Bacharach territory. That said, fans of Ben Folds, Todd Rundgren’s classic period (1970-72), and of course Jellyfish, will find very little to dislike about Manning’s initial solo outing. About time, man.

(Note: Completists might want to seek out the Japanese version—released there earlier in the year as Solid State Warrior—which shares the bulk of the songs on the US version but differs on three tracks.)
Highlights: “Too Late For Us Now”, “Wish It Would Rain”, “You Were Right”, the title track.


THE MARS VOLTA
Amputechture
[Universal-2006]

Another Mars Volta album, another dense, insular epic. Great. No, really. It’s just that listening to Amputechture reminds us of the third and final Rage Against The Machine studio album,The Battle of Los Angeles. No, Cedrix Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopezhaven’t started writing socially conscious rhymes to rap over Zeppelin riffs and phat beats. And there is no talk of them parting ways as far as we know. But like The Battle of Los Angeles,Amputechture is a solid album that somehow feels like there might not be much left in the formula for them to continue growing and building on. It does indeed deliver—although not as strongly as their two previous albums, De-Loused in the Comatorium and Frances The Mute—but there seems to be a whiff of wheel-spinning in the air, a certain weariness, perhaps.

The level of work involved in writing and crafting such high level concept albums as these must be staggering—especially when the last two have been released in back to back years. Who does that anymore?—and it would not be at all surprising if some fatigue has set in. Maybe it’s time for The Volta to change course a bit. Or not.

Highlights: “Tetragrammaton”, “Vermicide”, “Meccamputechture”.


VHS OR BETA
Night On Fire
[Astralwerks-2004]

Like their fellow countrymen The Killers, a knack for replicating early New Order, The Cure, Duran Duran, and certain staples of late ‘70s disco permeates every nook and cranny of VOB’s first full-length release. But where The Killers and their ilk can seem blatantly derivative and even off-putting in their approach towards danceable post-punk, the Louisville, KY quintet comes off a bit more honest and even adventurous in their efforts. But don’t be misled, there isn’t a novel idea or concept to be found among Night On Fire’s 10 tracks. However, the execution is practically flawless and there does indeed beat a heart underneath the cold shiny surface, making this album one of the more worthy releases in this particular vein.

Highlights: the title track, “You Got Me” and “Irreversible”, the nine-minute instrumental that closes out the album.