Friday, October 17, 2008

Music Mega-Post

You can only almost exclusively rage about fun subjects like the politics of hate, voter suppression, fear and loathing and the death of truth for so long before you become Ranty Jack McHatey muttering about cleansing rains. This will be my gigantic music post, disregard if you're just looking for more kicking against the pricks.

Albums. The way we buy and listen to music seems to have come full circle back to the single after decades of dominance by the album and single tracks can be a perfectly sized unit of music sometimes. Maybe a future post will feature favorite songs.

But I still love the coherent package that a well constructed album can be, so here's some of my favorites.

Dedicated experimentalists, Radiohead's sound has ranged from the jangly, guitar laden morose indie rawk of their big hit Creep to the challenging Aphex Twin influenced electronica of Kid A but OK Computer is their masterpiece, the Dark Side of the Moon of post punk prog. In the top five of any decent list of the best albums of the 90's. A gorgeously bleak broadside against the bourgeois self satisfaction of Tony Blair's England (A pig, in a cage, on antibiotics) and by extension the whole western world's consumerist soul death emptiness. Sonically austere while being extraordinarily complex musically. If you own or owned this, it probably got heavy rotation in your music listening last decade. I almost wore out my disc and still pull it out periodically. It's on my MP3 player in its entirety. The standout track is probably Paranoid Android, but this album has to be judged and appreciated as a whole.

Narrowing down which Cash album to put in this list is a wrenching decision. Live at Folsom Prison is probably one of the greatest concert albums ever made, closely followed by Live at San Quentin. American IV The Man Comes Around, the last album completed while Johnny was still alive with it's stunningly powerful and enormously successful cover of Nine Inch Nail's Hurt is another masterpiece. But Solitary Man got me back into Cash in a big way, though he had never disappeared from my personal musical pantheon from the time I discovered him in childhood in my Dad's record collection. His cover of U2's One on this album elicits a visceral, physical reaction from me that is hard to describe. It has, on occasion, made me weep and I am not an emotionally demonstrative person.

Josh Davis has never quite managed to escape the dense aural shadow of this, his first full length album. You can tell from his public pronouncements that he veers from pride to resentment at how it has created a fan base that worship it so rabidly that they demand he repeat it endlessly. Check out his other works like Private Press or his collaboration with James Lavelle and Radio Head's Thom Yorke the fascinating UFO concept album UNKLE to see just how deep and wide his musical range really is. But Endtroducing is as dominant a part of his catalogue for a reason. A dense creation made up of literally thousands of layered samples and influences, attempts to pigeonhole it as Ambient or Trip Hop miss the point that it is really an almost completely unclassifiable artifact. Put on the earphones and start nodding. Standout: Midnight in a Perfect World.
When he was invited to the White House, Davis dryly advised a high society lady at dinner who asked him what he'd done to be invited that "I've changed music four or five times. What have you done of any importance other than be white?" Not American Jazz by the way, American music. It was the simple truth. He helped create Hard Bop and cool jazz with Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue and Round About Midnight are authentic masterpieces of trumpet jazz composition and improvisation. With Bitches Brew he essentially invented Jazz Fusion. It's a controversial album, even among fanatical Miles Davis fans and led to a much maligned musical movement, but if you care about music, this savagely brilliant, confused yet disciplined experiment into turning improvisation into a new kind of composition is essential listening.
Along with Rum, Sodomy and the Lash and Hell's Ditch, this is the genre defining touchstone of the uneasy marriage of Celtic Folk and Punk sensibility. Inspiring bands like The Dropkick Murphys, Canada's The Mahones and one of my favorites Flogging Molly. The Pogues created a drunken, rollicking pirate shanty sound that will endure as long as people want to get blitzed and howl Erin Go Bragh until they start weeping into their beer - whether they're Irish or just wish they were. Standouts: Turkish Song of the Damned, Fairy Tale of New York (My personal favorite depressing Christmas song) Bottle of Smoke and Lullaby of London.
If it's atmosphere you value in your music you can't go wrong with Tom Waits, whether its the smoky 3 AM jazz troubadour period of Small Change, Closing Time and The Heart of Saturday Night, the brawling bluesy shouters leavened with sly humor like Rain Dogs and Big Time or the clanging gothic carnival industrial nightmares of The Black Rider soundtrack and my personal favorite Bone Machine. Murder ballads, freak show curiosities, tubercular growling laments from lovable losers and darkly disturbing spoken word creepiness. This one has it all. Standouts: In the Coliseum, Murder in the Red Barn, Going out West, I Don't Want to Grow Up - hell, just the whole album really.
The California college dorm that gave birth to the Bay Area Hip Hop collective originally known as Solesides and later as Quannum must have been one happening place. We're talking DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, Lateef the Truth Speaker and of course Tom Shimura AKA Asia Born AKA Lyrics Born. He's amazing live, and with a multitude of guest appearances and side projects he pumps out genre defying funkified Hip Hop tracks at a dizzying clip featuring smart growling raps that shake your mind as much as his beats shake your ass. Deserves more renown than he gets. My favorite song by this, my favorite rapper is I Changed my Mind the ultimate kiss-off song, and is actually on this albums remixed sister album Same !@#$, Different Day as well as his label's mix album Quannum Spectrum. Just buy them all.
This disc and The Animal Years run neck and neck for the pole position as my favorite album by this fascinating singer/song writer. This guy is where folky jukebox musical story-telling is happening now. An artist who constantly rewards repeated listening and another one who should be much more popular and well know than he is. In a different era he'd be the Bruce Springsteen/Bob Dylan of his generation. If you've already heard him than you already know that. Standouts: Wings is the song that got me into him, Snow is Gone and The Bad Actress are great too.
The story of Vancouver's hometown boys DOA is the story of west coast Punk and this short, savage barrage against Reaganism's march into the 80's was the soundtrack to my youth. I still have it on vinyl at 45 RPM. Joey Shithead and the boys have gotten older but they didn't do it gracefully. Check out their Latest disc Northern Avenger and Joey's autobiography I, Shithead. Standouts: War, Liar For Hire and I Hate You.
Producer Dan the Automator and rapper Kool Keith created a sonically dense, lyrically filthy concept rap oddity here. Call it voodoo space rap. Check out the Automator's conceptual sequel with Del tha Funky Homo-sapien Deltron 3030 and Kool Keith's solo Sci Fi hip hop craziness Black Elvis/Lost in Space.
From I was Walking through the Woods to Sweet Tea his catalog is all great Chicago Guitar Blues at it's finest, but this disc demonstrates why artists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan sat at his feet. He can make his guitar weep or rage and he's amazing live. Standout: The title track.
I could keep going, winnowing down the selections was surprisingly painful, but these have been some of my favorites.
I've had an MP3 player for a couple of years, a cute little generic one barely more than a one gig flash drive with an earphone plug and an SD Card expansion slot that my girlfriend got for me. I remain fond of it's DRM free interface (Open folder. Drop songs into folder. Done.) But now I'm making a bit more money and so I picked up an 80 Gig Zune. Spare me the anti-Microsoft rants. I dislike the iTunes software intensely and so does my computer, the Zune interface is cleaner and simpler and the player itself is a minimalist masterpiece. I adore the almost Soviet era brutalism of it's brick-like design. I like being able to listen to music (mp3s, podcasts and an excellent FM tuner that no other player offers.) it's data capacity (20,000 songs or 250 hours of video - and they've got a 100 gig one now.) and even it's basic gaming function has saved me from boredom on long trips.
And now I've developed an addiction to podcasts. Here are my favorites.

Easily one of the most entertaining. Host Brian Ibbott produces regular editions featuring entertainingly odd covers like lounge versions of Motorhead and reggae Radiohead covers. They recently had their 500th episode so my girlfriend donated to get the giant DVD music collection of all the first 500 episodes and we both eagerly queue up every new episode as they download.
Satisfying my fondness for down tempo electronica, trip hop and acid jazz. Great stuff.
We almost gave up on this one as every time our systems tried to download it we'd just get a short message in a plummy British accent advising us that they'd exceeded their bandwidth for the month and to please send money. They seem to have increased their capacity or my timing has been better. I got the last two 'casts and they kick ass. It's a long program from a radio station in San Antonio Texas and offers a raucous mix of blues, surf guitar, R&B, indie rawk and unclassifiable oddness. Great music picked by people with great taste.

Excellent way to hear new Canadian indie music. Ranges from short sets of a two or three songs to extra long coverage of the Polaris Music awards.
There are also some great news, culture and commentary pods out there, but that's a whole other post altogether.

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