28 December 2011

Year End Round Up - My 3 Top Albums Of The Year

It's been a strange year for releases. Lots of my favorite artists released albums that didn't even show up on my radar (British Sea Power, Tech N9ne, They Might Be Giants). Even more bands that I thought didn't make music any more released albums (Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden, The Human League). There were releases that I should have paid more attention to (Tyler The Creator, Eddie Vedder's ukulele album, Hugh Laurie). A bunch of very good singles were released ('Blue Tip' by The Cars, 'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster The People, 'Shake It Out' by Florence And The Machine). Also, I spent a good portion of the year playing a lot of musical catch up on certain artists (Mumford And Sons, Vampire Weekend, Jónsi) and missing out on releases from some of my favorites (Duran Duran, Blink 182, Blondie). And don't even talk to me about what a disappointing rehash Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' was.

All that being said, I have not been able to find 10 albums for a top list this year, so I will present to you my Top 3 Albums For 2011. It speaks volumes that all my top albums this year were from female singer/songwriters, and from 3 different countries at that. Take note, Gaga.

3. BIC RUNGA - BELLE
While it's probably true that Bic Runga could release album of the sounds of gastic surgery and I would still buy it, this is a fantastic follow up after a fairly lengthy absence. In that time she collaborated the experimental Kody & Bic, did some soundtrack work, released a retrospective album, did a tour of New Zealand winery shows with Tim Finn and Dave Dobbyn, and has been moving from Paris to New York to London and back to New Zealand with her little family. After all that, she released the sublime Belle. What can I say about a Bic Runga album? Just listen--it's nearly perfect.



2. LYKKE LI - WOUNDED RHYMES
Sweden's Lykke Li released her sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes this year, and the album was considerably more haunting than her prior work. Not that this is a bad thing. She shed her acoustically bent songs for a more pronounced rhythm, yet kept the music just as intimate and delicate. She out Florenced Florence by a year, and was everything that Björk could have been this year. Thank you to Anglo for drawing my attention to Lykke Li.



1. ZEE AVI -GHOSTBIRD
I was introduced to Zee Avi by my friend Britzel (and eternally grateful for that) about 2 days before Ghostbird came out. There was already some familiarity with her music from a commercial for Wal-Mart or Target or some place, but I didn't know anything about this brilliant Malaysian artist. Once this album was released I didn't stop listening to it (or her prior eponymous release) for weeks. It's the entire gamut of emotions and soundscapes, and no one plays the ukulele quite like Zee (sorry, Eddie). Where as Bic was nearly perfect this year, Zee was truly the perfect album this year. Ghostbird is the perfect way to finish off this year--hopeful, warm, alluring, fun, and always dreaming. As she says on 'Swell Window', 'We're all riding the same waves...' Indeed.


-N.
28 December 2011

21 December 2011

At The Expense Of Christmas.

'Tis the Season and so I figured what better time to share my Top 10 Christmas Songs!

10. SNOW MISER/HEAT MISER SONG
from A Year Without Santa Claus
Start it off right with an oft overlooked Christmas song. I'm really surprised that no one has ever really lifted the sample from the 'Heat Miser' part as it loops really well. This is a song that gets stuck in your head at all times during the year.


9. GABRIEL'S MESSAGE
Sting
From the first 'Very Special Christmas' album. I didn't care for it when I first heard it, but this year it's really grown on me. It definitely sticks out from the usual lot of Christmas tunes.


8. STARÁLFUR
Sigur Rós
OK, technically not a Christmas song, but you know I couldn't have a list without at least one Sigur Rós song. This of all their songs feels like the holidays, the early darkness and cold weather. That may be a regular day in Iceland but it feels like Christmas to the rest of us.


7. TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS
Amy Grant
I went to a Christian school from junior high on and during the holidays this album was inescapable. It's definitely a large piece of my history and I still feel very much in the holiday spirit when I listen to any song off this album.


6. DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?
Band Aid
Again, another junior high school song and the first in the trend of the mega-stars getting together for a charity record. This was the pinnacle of 1980s Pop Music--it was all pre-fab music, Madonna, cheese Rap, and hair Metal from here on out through the rest of the decade.


5. THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Stuck at the end of an already personally revelatory album ('I Love Rock 'N' Roll') this was quite a surprise when I first heard it. Plus, it has that enigmatic line that replaces 'Mary nodded'; I still think she's saying 'joie de hadash' but I have no clue.


4. MUST BE SANTA
Bob Dylan
Another favorite of my youth (the Mitch Miller version rules!), but this one is covered by one of my favorite musicians...and a wig...in a video that involves a chase...and a listing of the reindeer in an interesting way...as a polka. Awesome.


3. CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE
Vince Guaraldi Trio
I don't even know the words, but we all know it from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Anything by Vince Guaraldi exudes Christmas, and this album is one of the best to put on at this time of year.


2. WE THREE KINGS
Traditional
Like 'O Come Emmanuel' or 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (neither of which are favorites), this one has a very minor key start, but it's that glorious refrain that makes the difference. This was a favorite as a child, perhaps it was being intrigued by the 'Star of Wonder' line. A great caroling song.


1. O HOLY NIGHT
Robert Guillaume
TV's Benson (and an eventual Phantom, but most of you know him as Rafiki) stunned all the viewers with this rendition of my all-time favorite Christmas song. Until then they hadn't really showcased his beautiful voice on the show so it was a big surprise. This version still gives me chills. When asked to sing a Christmas song, this is the one I always choose.


------

Honorable Mentions:

2000 MILES
The Pretenders
A beautiful track and a favorite of theirs, but it's never really evoked Christmas to me.


CHRISTMASTIME
Larry Norman
I used to like this song when I was in high school, but I'm surprisingly less pessimistic now.


------

Merry Christmas all!

-N.

12 August 2011

08 August 2011

10 Important Finn-Related Things To Know.

Thinking about it, this is a list I should have made ages ago. The Finn-fluence (HA!) has reached far and wide and here are some things you should probably become familiar with.

10. Split Enz Pre-Neil
Arguably, Neil was the best thing to happen to Split Enz, but the band was created as a Folk-influenced troupe by Tim and schoolmate Phil Judd. Eventually they evolved into a bigger, more experimental sound heavily influenced by Art Rock, and they released two albums (Mental Notes and Second Thoughts, which was produced by Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera).


9. Denton
The fun side of the Brothers Finn, as seen on the Australian talk show 'Denton'.


8. Finn-Runga-Dobbyn
In 2000, Tim embarked on a tour with fellow New Zealand artists Bic Runga and Dave Dobbyn, representing 3 epochs in NZ music. They played their biggest songs, occasionally joined by Neil, and they revisited the format on a 2010 series of vineyard shows.


7. ENZSO
What happens when you merge Split ENZ and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO)? ENZSO, and the 1996 shows were a retrospective of the band's career with an orchestral backing.


6. Bic Runga's Backing Band
For Bic Runga's 2005 album Birds Neil was content become a member of the band, contributing guitar and piano as well as backing vocals. It should be noted as well that those are Neil's harmony's you hear on Sheryl Crow's megahit 'Everyday Is A Winding Road'.


5. Tim Finn, Movie Star
Tim appeared as Phillip in 1985's Coca Cola Kid (with Eric Roberts and Tim's then girlfriend Greta Scacchi). This is the scene where he performs a new Coke jingle, which is very 'Australian'.


4. Neil Finn's Soundtrack
Neil scored the soundtrack for 2001's Rain as well as produced a few new songs for the film (performed by him, as well as others including Edmund McWilliams, Lisa Germano, and Liam Finn).


3. 7 Worlds Collide
With a name taken from the Crowded House track 'Distant Sun', Neil formed a supergroup of sorts in 2001 (including brother Tim, son Liam's band Betchadupa, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Lisa Germano, Johnny Marr of The Smiths, and a couple of members of Radiohead) to rehearse at Neil's house in Kare Kare and then perform a series of shows in New Zealand. The project was so beloved that in late 2008/early 2009 the band reconvened and expanded (including Bic Runga, Jeff Tweedy, and KT Tungstall among others) to record an album and perform live shows for Oxfam.


2. Liam Finn
Eldest son of Neil and Sharon, he is the legacy. You hear his voice and know his lineage, and he's every bit as talented as you would imagine he should be. With his musical compatriot Eliza Jane 'EJ' Barnes (daughter of Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes) he is creating music that will be influencing the next wave of artists.


1. 'Can You Hear Us?'
The song that had all of New Zealand singing at the turn of the Millennium. A rugby nation, this was the theme song for the New Zealand All Blacks and was impossible to escape during the race for the World Cup (they lost in the quarterfinals). However, with a catchy song that not only has brother Tim but also Lucy 'Xena' Lawless in it, it remains to this day Neil's only solo number 1 single.

20 May 2011

First Splash Part Second



Check out the first half first, duder.

So where was I? Oh yeah, The Breeders did manage to steer me into the arms of a very Kim Deal-esque young woman. You see, I met this chick in September of 1993. The Breeders and Kim and Kelley Deal were already so firmly imbedded in my mind that I didn't even notice that I was attracted to this girl because she looked and dressed like a Deal sister. This relationship was hot, heavy, dramatic, explosive, and lasted nearly 2 weeks (actually not consummated until months and months later in a rather peculiar one afternoon stand (don't worry I didn't put this album on for tha screwin')). The relationship ended but my aching love of this album never did.

During the summer of 1994, I actually got to see The Breeders live at Lollapalooza in Miami. They were not the most popular band at that moment and all the fucking idiots disappeared from the moshpit. So me and only a handful of rad dudes and ladies danced our hearts out in the August (the 15th to be precise) sun. Their stage was covered with gold Lamé and they rocked out. Like everyone who loves a band, it fucking felt like they were playing to me. The girl I was dating at the time didn't stand a chance. She looked nothing like Kim Deal. We broke up mere weeks after this show.

Side B

Track 1 - "I Just Wanna Get Along"

And here is another track that is so impossibly cool that it's like permanent sunglasses. With this in my walkman, I would strut around with a rock swagger that I never earned. Holy shit, here's a bass line so insistent and so steady that the rest of the band can do whatever the hell they please. The chops of Josephine Wiggs can never be praised enough.

Track 2 - "Mad Lucas"

In part 1 of this album review, I talked about how I thought this album was so weird and so out there? Well, if this isn't a bizarro track then I don't know what is. With vocals run through a rotary speaker, fuzzed out guitars that sound about a mile away, and some feedback that sounds an awful lot like one of those funky cicada sound toys that were everywhere in the 90s. This song sounds like eery meditation.

Track 3 - "Divine Hammer"



Nothing reminds me more of driving through rainy weather in Palm Beach County more than this song. Damn. The storm is breaking, the sun is setting to your left and you're just cruising through the weakening rain. What always impressed me are the snare blasts in this one. Years later, I would have my step-brother and I put together a drumset and I would fail to play along to this track. By the way, I never saw the music video for this track until way later when MTV2 played it.

Track 4 - "S.O.S."

Now this is heavy! I could dig on this instantly. There's nothing to get cerebral about. Soaring guitars and a thumping rhythm section. Duh, right? On any given afternoon, you could find my teenage self thrashing around my room like I was still into Anthrax and Sepultura.

Track 5 - "Hag"

This song seems to float in on melody that is impossibly pretty. Then it simply refuses to be ignored. It bristles with attitude, vocals dripping with disdain (wait, what song is that from? oh yeah, Vampire Weekend) and gets by on its good looks. Here is another example of a crash course in indie rock. This would open doors for me that would lead to tons of other bands. More about that at the end. This feels like someone else's memories. So perfect. And that jangly beauty again at the end. Pat yourselves on the back, ladies, you win.

Track 6 - "Saints"



I don't know. This one just seemed like a real easy track. Could this be the most radio friendly? I've always had trouble connecting to songs that praise summer. I've been in Florida for 23 years and I don't think I'll ever appreciate this awful, awful season. However, I did really enjoy the chip on the shoulder delivery of the lyrics. This song will not be denied. Oh yeah, this was the only other music video for this album that I saw at the time and it further enveloped me in the Dealness. (The version on the video above is different. Dig those gruff vocals!)

Track 7 - "Drivin' On 9"



What about this one? I don't know. It felt like the end of the album. For some people, maybe it felt like a reward. Maybe for some other kids, it was their favorite song. This song just depressed the shit out of me. I like how it has become this great bar song now. Awesome.

Track 8 - "Roi (Reprise)"

I have to say the inclusion of this short little bit of noise accomplished something that very few closing tracks (much less reprises) can do. It makes me want to start the whole record over again. I am one of those people who can't listen to the same album twice in a row and sometimes not even twice in a day. This was not the case with Last Splash and this track has a lot to do with that. Just play this back to back with "New Year". Truly, seriously, and totally.



So here it is, the future and I can't thank The Breeders enough for making my musical life so much better. I feel enriched after all these years. Without The Breeders I may never have even bothered with The Pixies until much later. I would never have been able to understand Sonic Youth. I would almost love Helium as much as this band. Almost! What else can I say? This one life-changing cassette did all of this. I needed to get out of my headspace and find music that felt just crazy enough to feel like it was mine. (Too bad it couldn't get me out of ska (that was a job for a little band called Braid).)

First Splash Part First



The first time I ever heard anything "weird" was at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was home on a Saturday and they played "Cannonball" by The Breeders. I had never heard or seen anything like these chicks (and one dude). I fell instantly in love with the Deal sisters. All I knew about them from the video was that they were some goodtime gals and that they made music that sounded punk-ish but had a distorted acoustic guitar and a bass line hook for the ages. I sat there and said to myself, I need this. By the next day, I had been to the mall and picked up Last Splash on cassette. The reason for not getting the disc was that I figured (incorrectly) that "Cannonball" would be the only good song on the whole tape. How funny. I was already very cynical.

When I finally put it on, I was totally blown away by Last Splash. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. I knew rap, heavy metal, punk, and ska but I did not know this. The only alternative music I had in my possession was Soundgarden, Nirvana, and I don't know, Concrete Blonde? None of those bands felt as important, as fresh, as emotive, as eccentric, as impossibly cool, or as sexy as The Breeders did to me. Granted, I used to ride my bike around my little suburb of Jupiter, Florida openly weeping to Soundgarden's "Mind Riot". Shit man, I fucking loved music. And I was ready for Last Splash.

By the way, I had no idea who The Pixies were. It would be over two years before someone said, "Hey dumbass, Kim Deal is from this other band." While I love The Pixies, they NEVER came close to being as important as The Breeders for me.

I am now going to talk about every song on this damn album and try to imagine myself as a 17 year old newb. My age is currently double that right now so what the hell, right?

Side A

Track 1 - "New Year"

I'll never forget the "awwwww yeah" and "huh?" feelings this opener gave me. The drums were heavy and the guitars were heavy and I didn't know which way was up. And like any ex-metalhead, I was obsessed with the totally bizarre lyrics. There are sounds on this song that I thought maybe were guitars but maybe weren't. Strange plinking and feedbacky sounds that made a part of brain come to life that was always dormant and that I can never turn off now. What the fuck is this? No seriously, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? And what is up with that ending? We get all geared up for more magic, the buildup is building up, and we're done!

Track 2 - "Cannonball"



And here is that strange, strange song that screwed me six ways till Sunday (musically). The one that started it all. This song feels like a memory of a girl screaming in your ear and her lips accidentally brushing the lobe. You don't remember the pain but you remember the tingling in your guts and can't help but smile about the damage she did. Attention-grabbing and life-changing and unlike anything I had ever heard before. The perfect single for my young ears.

Track 3 - "Invisible Man"

Truth be told, this song, over the years, has become the most nostalgic for me over the years. When I heard that they mentioned "southern skies" (hey I live in Florida) and when I heard the phrase "nothing excites you" (hey I was born to disappoint the ladies), I felt something break inside me. This is the one that I would listen to and just completely fall apart. No clue why they never made a video for this one. Listening to this now, I find it hard not to stare off into space and imagine my Palm Beach days very, very fondly (even though they often sucked and even though it was almost always my fault). The violin and moog sound like something lifted off a creaky old ballad from the 1920s. And that coda with the bells... Ohhhhhhhhhh, doctor.

Track 4 - "No Aloha"

Now bear with me here. Imagine how close minded I was at 17. The first minute and 10 seconds of this track was literally the weirdest thing I had ever heard. Lyrically and sonically, I was not prepared. This song made me uneasy and then the drums kick in and I felt safe again.

Track 5 - "Roi"

Speaking of sonic blasts of guitar noise... This one grooves and rocks out until more strangeness happens. If ever there was something that could be called mind-expanding musical drugs, this was it. By the way, I never did any drugs in my teen years. This was was my LSD, pot, coke, E, etc. All of the weird vocal pieces on this album feel like a cute chick is humming, whistling, or cooing in my ears. Addictive and perfect in every way.

Track 6 - "Do You Love Me Now?"

I refused to use this song to think of girls and heartbreak over the years and I'm so glad I did. If this song had ever been attached to some brief relationship in my youth, it would have been ruined. It's a strong bit of longing and obsession that anyone can understand. What interested me musically is the un-guitar solo on this one. It sounded so sloppy and off. Couple that with the driving beat and gorgeous harmonizing vocals... Simply excellent.

Track 7 - "Flipside"



Um... huh? So here's this little surf rock song to close out side A. This may be the easiest thing to listen to on this entire tape. Leave it to a band like The Breeders and to come off even more odd by playing something painfully normal.

Side B coming in the next part wherein I will talk about the second side of the tape. I will also talk about the chick I dated because of The Breeders AND getting to see them at Lollapalooza in 1994.

Hey, Side B is done now. Check it out.

05 January 2011

My Fantasy Jukebox.


Frankie Avalon & a 1960s Cinebox video jukebox


Driving to work this morning in the 5:00a hour I was thinking about what songs I would put in my fantasy jukebox.*

*Now for those of you who were born long after vinyl 45s were regarded as little more than a novelty, a jukebox was a big machine that played one song at time for a few coins.#

#Now for those of you who were born long after hard currency was abolished in exchange for intangible credit and debit, coins were generally small round flat objects used to fire up video game machines and payphones.@

@Now for those of you who were born long after everyone already had a smartphone attached to their...[EDITOR'S NOTE: At this point we had to hit Nafa in the head with a baseball bat. He did leave his list so on with the countdown.]

10. JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS - FAKE FRIENDS

The perfect amounts of kick ass Rock, melodic happy Pop, and Sesame Street style sing-along.

09. SLADE - RUN RUNAWAY

Glam hits the 1980s!

08. SEX PISTOLS - BODIES

Just try to resist singing along once the third verse starts.

07. NED'S ATOMIC DUSTBIN - SATURDAY NIGHT

Fuller than the original with a bit of a sinister edge.

06. BUSTA RHYMES - WOO HAH!! GOT YOU ALL IN CHECK

A decade and a half later it still sounds alien and awesome.

05. SHONEN KNIFE - RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD

Just about any cover that Shonen Knife does outshines the original.

04. M.I.A. - PAPER PLANES

The Clash are catchy, but M.I.A. is catchier. And I'd much rather look at her.

03. LAWRENCE ARABIA - APPLE PIE BED

Listen to this and I dare you not to get that chorus stuck in your head.

02. SLIM DUSTY - DUNCAN

If this jukebox is in a pub than this song is essential. Hell, any Slim Dusty is essential.

01. RICHARD HARRIS - MACARTHUR PARK

Every jukebox needs maudlin, moody, silly, tearful songs. This covers all of those qualifications.