Monday, January 02, 2012

The Best Of The Rest Of 11

OK, this is freaking long but there was so much that I would hate to have pushed under the rug by the reductive nature of the Best Of 11 list that I just have to let it all hang out. Groove along at 8tracks.

Just Under The Wire - In no particular order, these are the ones it almost hurt to leave off the Top Ten

The Whole Love by Wilco - after a couple of slightly too conventional (yet enjoyable) records, the whole Wilco nearly returned to form with this gem. Opening and closing with two their finest songs ever, only one or two fillers kept this from making it to A Ghost Is Born or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot territory. 

Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron and Wine - Sam Beam writes songs that sound like old friends the first time you hear them and there are several new entries into his canon on this beautiful record. One wheezy saxophone too many keep this from hitting the high mark set by The Shepherd's Dog.

The King Of Limbs by Radiohead - Was it fascinating, innovative, often beautiful? Yes. Was it compulsively listenable like In Rainbows? No. Special mention for TKOL Remix 1234567, a massive remix project that yielded often brilliant results.

Dennis Coffey by Dennis Coffey - Damn, this was a good record - play it while pulling out of a Walmart parking lot and you feel like Starsky and Hutch. Coffey's slashing guitar and rhythmic precision have not deserted him and his young collaborators reenergize the legendary axe-man. On the fence? Download the free remix collection.

Bon Iver by Bon Iver - Justin Vernon's second album under this moniker featured a big ensemble sound and gorgeous songs. Some seemingly willful obscurity kept this from being a complete success, however.

Catholic by Gavin Friday - 16 years is a long time between records and, as a huge fan of his three previous albums, I was having trouble managing my expectations. After several months of listening, it seems a little undercooked, but his voice has never sounded better, and it is one of the great voices.

Murder The Mountains by Red Fang - When these (mostly) hairy dudes opened for Mastodon, bros in the audience were giving each other amazed looks and throwing non-ironic devil horns. They were that good and the merch table was busy. Sludgy but swaggering, with some nicely placed Brucknerian repetition and left-field melodies, these guys are not your average slice of metal

Nine Types Of Light by TV On The Radio - More multicolored orchestral avant-pop by the Brooklyn standard-bearers, somehow just slightly less satisfying than their last one.

Tassili by Tinariwen - Another great record from the Tuareg band, featuring wonderful contributions from Kyp and Tunde from TVOTR, Nels Cline and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The only caveat is that there is less variety here and I really miss the electric guitars.

Cotonou Club by Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo - This hallowed Benin-based ensemble was thought to be defunct or dead until the mega-fans at Strut tracked them down and recorded some hits and some new songs. Unstoppable!

Deadly She-Wolf Assassin Armageddon/Momma's Song by Fred Ho - This trailblazing sax player/composer/arranger/conceptualist is fighting a mean cancer. That hasn't stopped him from releasing four albums in 2011. This one moves from Japanese inflected jams to driving fusionoid grooves. An important artist, let's hope he keeps it up.

Suck It And See by Arctic Monkeys - The lack of interest in this album's expert rock and pop on this side of the pond is almost tragic. It may be their own damn fault for leading with Brick By Brick, perhaps the worst song they've ever recorded. But ignore classics like this at your peril, or Reckless Serenade, which features these brilliant opening lines: "Topless modelsDoing semaphore. Wave their flags as she walks by. And get ignored."

How Do You Do by Mayer Hawthorne - A year or two of touring has worked wonders on Mayer's voice and his crate-digging ways have led him to some new byways. The band is as tight as the songwriting and dig the Donald Fagan influence!

Blessed by Lucinda Williams - For me, this is her most engaging and engaged album since Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. While most of the lyrics are great, the groove is strong enough to make it easy to ignore the infelicitous ones. Searing guitar from Elvis Costello is a nice touch.

We're New Here by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX - Jamie XX makes some funky lemonade out of Gil's final album, which was a bit of a sad affair in its original form. A fitting end to an often magnificent career. Looking forward to reading his memoir in 2012.

Pl3dge by Killer Mike - He's still angry - angry enough that he wants to occasionally inspire the best in all of us, just to piss more people off. But when he hooks up with a Funkadelic groove and raps about destruction, it feels so good to be bad.

Watch The Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West - MBDTF was an incredibly hard act to follow but No Church In The Wild sets a high bar for this ultimate collabo - so high that some of the more half-baked tracks sound more so. 

Biophilia by Bjork - Perhaps overshadowed by her app-mania (which in my cynical moments seems to be a clever way to get us to pay twice for the same songs), this is an often meditative collection of art-songs, played on a fascinating collage of acoustic and electronic instruments. Perhaps she is evolving into more of a niche artist than she was previously - I'm happy to follow her there.

Rhizoma by Anna Thorvaldsdottir - If the cotton candy-haired Ms. Gudmonsdottir doesn't satisfy your need for chilly northern soundscapes, Rhizoma certainly will. Knotty and atmospheric.

Bruckner Motets by The Choir of St. Mary's Cathedral - For these explicitly religious works, Bruckner actually takes a lighter approach than his symphonic statements and his engagement with the texts seems absolute. These performances, beautifully recorded and performed, put nothing between you and this astonishing music. It would be hard to imagine recommending another version of these works over this glorious collection. 

Roots, Rock, Reissues (and other sounds from the past)

Mega-boxes from the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd and Nirvana dominated the reissue scene and have their pleasures, I'm sure. Either a financial windfall or another gift-giving season will have to occur before I can officially weigh in. Here's the old stuff that was news to me.

Not one but two spectacular Lee "Scratch" Perry reissues made this for a banner year for the dub lovers of the world. The Return Of Sound System Scratch one ups its predecessor with more bass-heavy missives from the alien heart of reggae, while The Return Of Pipecock Jackxon brings a 30 year-old album, one of the last recorded in Jamaica by Perry, out of the shadows.

The foundations of reggae are laid bare in Soul Jazz's Studio One Story, which includes a fantastic single-disc compilation and a four hour documentary/interview DVD, which explains how a lot of blissful music came about. As soon as I learn how to build my own speaker box, I'm taking my sound system to the streets of NYC.

Soul Jazz has also been killing it with the Bossa Nova collections and Brazil Bossa Beat is no exception. Featuring the full spectrum of Brazilian sounds released on Elenco records in the 1960's, this works well in the background as well as repaying close listening. 

That Salsa is New York and New York is Salsa is ably demonstrated by the recently unearthed soundtrack to Our Latin Thing, the film of a ridiculously good Fania All Stars concert at the Cheetah Club in 1971. Still need convincing? How about El Barrio, four more CD's of fantastic Fania wax.  

If all of the acoustic jazz in my collection mysteriously disappeared except for the music made by the (second) Miles Davis Quintet, I would be disappointed but only just. So the appearance of Live In Europe 1967 is a major event for me. Not surprisingly, the music is scintillating from beginning to end. The DVD features two wonderful concerts, pretty well-filmed - Miles is the star but try keeping your eyes off Tony Williams. And since it's subtitled "The Bootleg Series Vol. 1" one can assume there is more quality stuff on the horizon.

England in the late 60's seemed to spit out ferociously talented acoustic guitar players like watermelon seeds. Michael Chapman is one such gent I was unfamiliar with until this year. While his dry voice takes a little getting used to and his songs don't always gel, when he nails it, he's amazing. Either get the hipster-approved Light In The Attic reissue of Fully Qualified Survivor or do as I did and get the older reissue that includes his first album, Rainmaker, which is also very fine. And, he's still at full strength today as evidenced by his recent Daytrotter session.

David Bowie's seeming retirement has created a little bit of frenzy around any hint of new sounds so the leak of Toy, his aborted album from 2001, was certainly a happy accident. He was revisiting some pre-Space Oddity songs in fine form and working up originals (some of which appeared in different versions on Heathen). While not quite a lost masterpiece, it's very good and has even appeared on some top ten lists.

Janie Hendrix might be an unpleasant person, but she that she has the Jimi Hendrix's legacy well in hand is proven once again by the Winterland box set, which features concerts from the prime of the Experience just before the release of Electric Ladyland. I can't imagine hesitating before acquiring this slab of goodness.

Speaking of legacies, the Rolling Stones have been playing a bit fast and loose with theirs, what with re-recording vocals and other parts to old songs for the recent deluxe reissues of Exile On Main Street and Some Girls, so the release of a beautifully mixed version of the oft-bootlegged 1973 Brussels Affair concert is a cause for celebration. The Stones at their best (i.e. with Mick Taylor) ably assisted by Billy Preston and a couple of great horn players, playing a near-perfect setlist. They're still excited about everything, especially new songs like Heartbreaker, and the version of Midnight Rambler is the best I've ever heard. Plus, Jagger speaks French in a louche manner that it's hard to imagine anyone else getting away with. Listening to this will bring you right back to why you care about these guys.

What GREAT stuff did I miss??