Saturday, December 23, 2006

#20 through #16

And now we shall commence with my top 20 albums of 2006.

20. The French Kicks - Two Thousand
The New York scene eats itself each day and pukes itself back up each night. So much is written about those bands that often they will implode under the sheer pressure of it. The French Kicks, however, seem to be above most of that. And they have distinguished themselves musically from their peers by tightening up their sound and filling in the gaps that existed on their previous album with some welcome melodies that wouldn't sound out of place on a New Order record. They also play around with their percussion in a really interesting way; their rhythm section evokes early U2 stuff. They are at all times beholden to the 80's alternative scene, and I for one say it's about time that people started copying those bands rather than Led Zeppelin and Brian Wilson. Let's hear it for tinny guitars and single synth notes!

19. Hank Williams III - Straight To Hell
I feel a whole lot better knowing that there are guys like Hank Williams III out there. It keeps the rest of us a little bit more honest. He's doing country music the way he wants to, Nashville be damned. Kinda like his grandpa. Hank III takes what made his grandpa great and injects a healthy does of punk, weed, and cussing. The result is a lucid and searingly honest portrait of a man living the way he want to, no matter how much it's going to shorten his life. Drunk rednecks are a dime a dozen, but it's rare that they can create art that is this compelling and fun.

18. M. Ward - Post-War
Right off the bat Post-War is both different and the same. It's hard to mistake Matt Ward for anyone else. His raspy drawl, always floating around in the back of the mix, is one of the most distinctive voices in pop music today. His masterful guitar playing is also a dead giveaway. But the band! What a service they do to Ward's intricate, intimate songs. They breathe new life into his music and take it in directions that make it ever so much vital and fun to listen to. I really got thirsty for Ward's full-band potential after hearing "Big Boat" off of last year's Transistor Radio. It was a burst of life in the middle of a wonderful but subdued record. Ward is still pretty heavy on Post-War; even the sunniest melodies sound mournful when Ward plays them. With Post-War he has figured out how to expand his sound without losing it. That's a feat that few have been able to accomplish, and it has sent him into the big leagues of indie rock. I can't wait to hear what he does next.

17. Gomez - How We Operate
Gomez has always been a very frustrating band for me. They have three very talented songwriters in the band but never really lived up to their potential. The albums were always very disjointed affairs, and they never sounded like a unit. Just a bunch of guys playing together. This album is the one that I really feel is the beginning of their golden period. There's still a lot of variety in the songs, and they still switch up singing duties quite a bit. But they've moved beyond the immaturity that tainted their earlier stuff (and probably contributed to the disjointedness) and have turned in a fantastic set of songs. "Notice" is a great opener that shouldn't be a great opener. It works though. The album unfolds from there beautifully, each song revealing nuance and talent that I had only glimpsed in them before. It makes me really happy that they are beginning to realize their potential, and I can't wait for what's next.

16. El Perro Del Mar - El Perro Del Mar
I never really understood teenage girls. I was a pretty awkward guy in middle and high school and thus never had the confidence to attempt to understand them. Now that I am older I like to think that I understand the female psyche a little better. There has been some art that has given me insight. The Bell Jar. Girl Interrupted. Fear of Flying. And now El Perro Del Mar. I had no idea that this record existed until about a month ago when I downloaded it on a whim. Those who know my musical tastes pretty well know that I have a big soft spot for girl group music. There a little mini-revival going on right now with bands like the Pipettes, but I think that El Perro Del Mar has got it all over them. The Pipettes take the sound and forget the substance. El Perro Del Mar takes the substance and crafts her own sound. There is a current of what men view as schizophrenia that runs through girl group music. Women just view it as run-of-the-mill thought process. And that's what I find so fascinating. I'll never be able to understand it, but I am fascinated by someone who can express opposite sentiments and believe them both to be true. It makes for some awesome art. The music itself is quite melancholy, but the ghosts of the Supremes are in the background, adding sha-la-la's that sound like they are from another time and place. It's magical stuff, and criminally underrated.

So that's the first batch. Stay tuned in the next few days for 15-11. Who knows? Your favorite album may be yet to come.

And if I don't get to post tomorrow, everyone have a very happy Christmas. Cherish it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Hello all. Surgery went well this morning, I should be able to walk around again in a few days. In the meantime I am holed up at home with nothing but Dances with Wolves on TV. So I will now begin my countdown of the best music of the year. I will start today talking about some albums that didn't quite make the top 20. Here we go....

The old guys made a really strong showing this year. Not only are there several in the Top 20, many more released very good albums.
1. Tom Petty - Highway Companion
This is his best since Wildflowers, possibly since Full Moon Fever. His music lends itself well to reflection, and as he gets older his songs have become more subdued but remained just as insightful and honest. I'm sure he's got more great stuff to come.
2. Willie Nelson - Songbird
Great songwriter given new life by Ryan Adams' production. He's on a hot streak right now, and I hope he rides it out. The world could use more albums like this.
3. Bruce Hornsby - Intersections
Box sets are usually so full of the studio hits that the rabid fan has no interest or so full of b-sides and rarities that casual fans don't get a good sense of the artist. This box set is one of the most complete pictures of an artist I've ever heard. All the hits are here, but in awesome new versions from live shows and alternate studio sessions. It's worth your while no matter who you are.
4. Los Lobos - The Town and the City
Their most sophisticated record since Kiko. They continue to be one of the most underrated bands in the country. This album provides some wonderful, humanistic insight into the immigrant's dilemma in America.

It was a magnificent year for indie music, with many acts releasing career-best albums. In no particular order...
1. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
They haven't beeen this good since The Boy With the Arab Strap. They have finally discovered the sunnier side of twee and seem to be having a blast. I feel certain that it will eventually end up being my favorite of their albums.
2. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Who would have thought this album possible from Yo La Tengo? They finally got some energy and diversified. Which is great, but it's the slow moments on the album that are really divine. "I Feel Like Going Home" is one of the best songs of the year.
3. Jenny Lewis - Rabbit Fur Coat
I didn't like this album that much at first, but it grew on me like a fungus. There's no denying that Ms. Lewis can write a catchy hook, but the songs here deal with pretty heavy stuff; yet they manage to be playful without being flippant. She's quite a talent.
4. Cat Power - The Greatest
It's about time she started acting her age.

Love me some alt country!
1. Pete Yorn - Nightcrawler
Pete just missed my Top 20. This album marks a new phase in his musical evolution. He has grown leaps and bounds in terms of his ability to craft a melody. It's a nice recovery from Day I Forgot, which was decent but didn't live up to the standards.
2. Old Crow Medicine Show - Big Iron World
It's on the whole better than their debut. It doesn't have highs that are as high as "Wagon Wheel", but it's consistent, damn good bluegrass.

So that's that! We will commence next post with the first few of the Top 20. Until then, value your feet!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Foot surgery tomorrow

Can't wait to get cut up, yo! Snip snip.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Back up to speed

So now things are completed. Everything ended well, no complaints about the end of the semester. So now the time comes for relaxation. And foot surgery. Although the good news on that front is that I will now be having a much less invasive procedure done. It will keep me off my feet for a day or two, stitches for two weeks, and then after that I should be good to go. It'll obviously take a little while to get used to having straight toes, but I'm hoping for a speedy return to running.

Christmas shopping is going well. I'm doing well with my immediate family and Becca, and I've got some good ideas for the rest of my list as well. Christmas shopping is always an intimidating experience. I am forced to go out into the wilderness of retail America with no ideas about what to get my loved ones. The first few stabs are always fruitless, and I wind up dejected and wondering if my gift mojo has left me forever. But then I have that one trip where I buy the first gift that I feel really good about. That day was yesterday. I actually walked out of the store with a smile on my face. And my good fortune continued today. The best is when you find one gift for someone that sparks an idea for a set of gifts organized around a theme. I can be a real dork about presents.

So now I have two days left to finish my shopping before I become Gimpy McGimperstein. And I still have no idea what I am going to get my mom. Any suggestions from you guys?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hold please....

Hey all.

Bear with me as I complete my final presentation of the semester, occurring tomorrow.

I have lots to blog about, including the Martin Agency Christmas Party, my albums of the year (a multi-post extravaganza), and reflections from the bed of an invalid. But first things first, let's get through the semester.

Till then, love each other lots. And lots and lots.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


N Oh! let\ T-time h i N G from gas meter

T O d A Y

Monday, December 04, 2006

Do you hear what I hear? Does it sounds like ass to you too?

I hate Christmas music.

I love Christmas. But I hate Christmas music.

And here's why.

  1. It's everywhere. Not much new to say here. Everyone knows it. They pump it into your soul in the hopes that it will inspire you to think of people you never talk to during the year and feel guilty about not getting them anything. So you go to Bath & Body Works, sneeze for twenty minutes, and get them a "Smells of the Season" bath basket. You bring it home and it makes everything smell like Rudolph took a dump in the corner. And then you forget who you bought it for and throw it in the closet, where it stays till next year. All because fucking Rod Stewart told you to. Not overtly, of course, but with gravelly suliminality.

  2. They never get anyone good to sing Christmas songs. It's always Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey or some other drivelly has-been. Aimee Mann came out with a Christmas album earlier this year, and it even had "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" on it. I was freakin' stoked. But it was uninspired and boring. Now I can listen to Aimee Mann read the phone book and be enthralled normally, but I just couldn't handle it. The one exception to this that I know people will bring up is Sufjan Stevens. I've listened to the albums, and they are nowhere near as good as his non-Christmas albums. I guess that's my biggest beef: why should we subject ourselves to subpar music in the hopes that the mood of the season will strike us? Figure out what gets you in the Christmas mood and listen to that.

  3. There are very few new Christmas songs written. It's the same old songs trotted out each year. Wham's "Last Christmas." Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas." That's not to say that sometimes the same old songs can't be done distinctively and well. One of the few that gets me in the mood is Springsteen (big suprise) doing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Because no one else could've done that song in that way. Rebecca tells me that a lot of Christian artists do write their own Christmas music. I would go out of my way to shop in a place that played new and different Christmas music.

  4. My dad and mom. They find one Christmas song a year and just play the shit out of it. Run it into the ground. It's enough to make anyone a musical Scrooge.

So after all that, I open it up to you, dear readers. What are your favorite Christmas songs, or ones that you can't stand? For myself, I personally have a soft spot of Mannheim Steamroller's original Christmas album, particularly "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella." Oh, and Bob Seeger's version of "Little Drummer Boy." Okay, so maybe I don't hate all of it....