As 2005 Winds Down...
A few thoughts on some of the music I've consumed in 2005. As it happens, I didn't buy nearly as much new stuff this year as I did in 2K4. Instead, I wound up digging into some older shit; even the new releases I've acquired over the last twelve months are mainly from established artists, like Depeche Mode and King's X. If you're interested in some stocking stuffer recommendations then read on -- there are definitely a few good ones here...
(and Nellie McKay's new album comes out on December 27th!)
King's X Ogre Tones
Their best set of songs in about ten years, Ogre Tones finds the great King's X playing like they mean it. There is a hunger and commitment in this recording that can only come from a veteran band that has never gotten their due and, hence, has not had the luxury of becoming lazy. There are at least four or five classics here, including "Alone," "Be Bop," "Fly" and "If." Go out and buy this now.
Gwen Stefani Love Angel Music Baby
I like Gwen Stefani even though I feel like her success is based more on brilliant, happy accidents than on actual vision and drive (for that, see Madonna). Gwen was destined to become a solo artist after her flukey hit singles with Eve and Moby made the prospect of continuing a pop/ska career with No Doubt seem kind of pointless. Here is the inevitable result, which finds Stefani trying a little of everything she's done up til now (hip hop, new wave, ska). I really like some of these songs ("What You Waiting For?," "Harajuku Girls") and others make my face redden with embarrassment ("Hollaback Girl," "Cool"). But for the most part, this is a fun little blast of impeccably packaged, empty calorie entertainment.
Hot Hot Heat Elevator
These guys are one of my favorite new(er) bands. Elevator isn't as good as Make Up the Breakdown and alot of people found it disappointing but really, the songwriting is still damn good, across the board. That it doesn't shine quite as brightly as its predecessor doesn't mean it's crap. You wanna hear the real deal? Drop The Killers and get with Hot Hot Heat.
Depeche Mode Playing the Angel
I'm still absorbing this one but it's growing on me. I'm hearing alot of "best album since Violator!" kinda nonsense about Playing the Angel (c'mon, better than Songs of Faith and Devotion?!), which is probably a little exaggerated. Although it lacks a flat-out pop classic like "Policy of Truth" or a production masterpiece like "Never Let Me Down Again," Playing the Angel does boast a dark, smoldering intensity throughout, and some truly inspired songwriting (even singer Dave Gahan -- for the first time in DM history -- contributes a couple tunes here). It's exciting to see a 25-year-old band behaving like this.
I saw Depeche Mode a few weks ago at Madison Square Garden and they were tremendous. The critics have been knocking this band, for one reason or another, since day one, yet here DM still are, making great albums, stubbornly following their own muse, playing sell-out arena tours around the world and winning over young new converts every time.
Madonna Confessions on a Dancefloor
A note to all you idiots who keep trying to discredit Madonna: WAKE UP!! When will you admit the fact that this woman simply has no peers, past or present? Madonna's career has been nothing short of a phenomenon; over the course of a 20-plus-year run, she has managed to hold the world's attention constantly and reshape popular culture time and time again. She's made dozens of timeless, universal, classic pop songs. She has reinvented herself a thousand times, and has succeeded completely every time. More astonishingly, she has remained in control of herself, without ever succumbing to delusional megalomania, drug addiction or self parody. Get wise. Madonna is a force like this world has never seen.
Maddy's new album is a welcome return to her pure disco roots, which can be read as a retreat (following the slight misfire of American Life), but who cares? This album is a blast -- it is a joy to hear her make a straight-up dance record again. I only wish she'd spent a little more time on some of the lyrics (see "I Love New York"). Oh well. Another thing to be admired about Madonna -- she's never been afraid to embarrass herself.
With the single "Hung Up" and its incredible video, Madonna is, at age 47, creating a worldwide sensation yet again. To you Maddy haters -- check back in with me when you're 47 and let me know how you're doing.
Van Halen The Simmons Sessions
This bootleg CD was passed on to me by my friend Vince. It contains two sets of early Van Halen demos: the sessions produced by Gene Simmons (a collaboration which, thankfully, did not last past the demo stage) and the much more lively early Warner Brothers demos for the classic first VH album. This is a treasure for fans of Roth-era Van Halen, featuring early versions of songs that wound up, in one form or another, on the first six Van Halen albums. What a great, great band they were.
Deep Purple Made in Japan
Never heard this album before but I've always been told it's one of the great live rock albums of all time, so I picked it up. If you like tons of extended jamming, this is for you; the shortest song is still nearly seven minutes long. The band is red hot and at the peak of their popularity here, in 1973, with their just-released Machine Head album setting the heavy rock world on fire.
I ignored this band for awhile until Dario burned me a copy of their album earlier this year. I never really dug the "Take Your Mama Out Tonight" single (still don't) but some of the other songs on this raunchy dance record -- "Tits on the Radio," "Filthy/Gorgeous," "Lovers in the Backseat" -- hit me right where I live. And I love the Pink Floyd cover, too.
Fredik Thordendal's Special Defects Soi Niger Within
One of my guitar students gave this to me. It's an almost all-instrumental solo album by Fredik Thordendal, who's normally the lead guitarist in a death metal band whose name I can't recall at the moment. Filled with mind-bending polyrhythms and sheer brutality, this is pretty intense stuff. Thordendal's guitar playing combines the detuned crunch and inhuman velocities of death metal with the slippery fusion chops of Alan Holdsworth. Pretty cool, but definitely not for everyone.
Weezer Make Believe
I was hooked in by "Beverly Hills" and "We Are All on Drugs," so I bought Make Believe, the first Weezer album I've ever purchased. I have to say, I'm somewhat disappointed with the rest of the album. Lyrically, Rivers Cuomo frequently crosses the line into pure cornball sentimentality, sounding a bit like a victim of some weird 12-step program. He sounds like he's lost some of his edge. Plus alot of the songs just seem pedestrian to me -- boring chord progressions, predictable melodies. I'm not trying to be harsh but I know this band has made much better stuff in the past.
Siouxsie and the Banshees Thorn ep
I just found this little gem over the summer in the used vinyl bins, and as a Banshees vinyl fetishist, I was delighted. On this 1984 ep, the Banshees re-record a quartet of old songs with the added orchestration of the Chandos Players. It works amazingly well; "Red Over White," in particular, is hair-raisingly good. If you're a hardcore fan, keep an eye out for this wonderful obscurity.
Gary Numan + Tubeway Army Replicas
I figured that, since some critics have accused me of ripping off Gary Numan, maybe it was time to finally check out the man's music. My friend Veronica was selling clothes and some old records at a flea market in Williamsburg last summer and I found a dusty copy of Replicas in her bins, marked at $7. She sold it to me for $3. Love that Veronica! Anyway, what a great album! Somehow Gary Numan married the DIY urgency of punk rock with the icy detachment of synth music and the result is fantastically unique. "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Me! I Disconnect from You" are new wave perfection, and the song "Down in the Park" has surely birthed a thousand goth bands. I'm so happy I've been ripping off someone so cool all this time.
X More Fun in the Real World
Also picked this one up on vinyl over the summer. I'm starting to learn what a truly once-in-a-lifetime band X were. This is a great album.
ALSO HEAVILY RECOMMENDED:
Richard X Presents His X-Factor -- wonderfully raucous dance record with a host of guest stars including Jarvis Cocker and Kelis.
Bloc Party Silent Alarm
I love hearing new bands that truly sound like they have a mission. This English group do what Williamsburg bands have been trying to do for years now -- make something new and fresh out of the usual late 70s/early 80s postpunk influences.
***some of andee's perennial xmas-time faves***
Diana Ross and the Supremes Merry Christmas
My friend Nicholas once marveled at Diana Ross's ability to sing "White Christmas" without a trace of irony. Still, it's hard not to hear this album as a fun little piece of holiday kitsch.
The Cure Disintegration and The Top
I'm already exhausted thinking about trying to talk about Disintegration, the Cure's magnum opus; I reckon enough has been said about it already. But let me say that this album has put a deep, indelible stamp on me. The first time I heard its chiming, shimmering, absolutely otherworldly opener, "Plainsong," I was quietly blown away and completely drawn into the Cure's world. This has become a quintessential Christmastime album for me, and whenever I put it on, I sit and listen to the whole thing in one piece, all 70-plus minutes. Not to sound grand, but Disintegration is truly a staggering achievement. And you probably already know that.
So let's talk about the most underrated Cure record, The Top! Critics have always panned this album, and up until recently, it hasn't even been available in the US except as an import. But to me, this album is so pivotal to Robert Smith's evolution as an artist. On 1984's The Top, he finally bridges the gap between the bleak violence of Pornography and the pop whimsy of the Japanese Whispers singles, and a whole new persona emerges -- eccentric pop genius/madman. Smith would refine the synthesis to greater effect on The Head on the Door, but the seeds of unlimited musical possibilities are being planted all over this wildly colorful, wonderfully psychotic album. I love "Shake Dog Shake, "Dressing Up," "Piggy in the Mirror," "Birdmad Girl." You hear Smith's imagination absolutely running amok in the studio, exploding all over the place, and it's always, always inspiring to me.
Replacements Let it Be
What a record. I can't believe how long I've been listening to this CD -- about 15 years. Got it for Christmas '89, along with R.E.M.'s great Murmur. The two albums are inseparable to me for that reason (the fact that Peter Buck plays mandolin on "I Will Dare" only solidifies the connection). Anyway, Let It Be was my introduction to the Replacements, and what a great intro it is. When the band isn't busy trying to derail itself on drunken, shambling performances like "We're Comin' Out" and "Gary's Got a Boner," they casually toss off perfect teen heartbreak anthems like "Androgynous," "Unsatisfied" and "Answering Machine" like it's the easiest thing in the world.
As far as I know there hasn't been an American musical movement worth mentioning since the underground indie/punk/hardcore scene of the 80s, to which this Minneapolis band were a vital contributor. I'm sorry I missed all that. I'm sorry the age of albums is over. I'm sorry that the word "punk" has lost all its meaning. Boo hoo, woe was us!
The Waitresses I Could Rule the World if I Could Only Get the Parts
This ep contains my favorite Christmas song ever, "Christmas Wrapping."
Judas Priest Sad Wings of Destiny
In their early days, before they became the loveably cartoonish leather-clad metal merchants we all know them to be today, Judas Priest were a fabulously dynamic heavy rock band who made a string of stunning, ground-breaking albums in the 1970s. Combining elements of Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Queen and Deep Purple, Priest made compelling, intelligent, sophisticated heavy metal during this period -- perhaps most significantly on their second album, the great Sad Wings of Destiny. If you think you know this band from songs like "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and "Breaking the Law," you are mistaken. Check out the dark epic masterpiece "Victim of Changes," the gothic metal sneak attack of "The Ripper" or, most startling of all, the subdued "Epitaph," featuring a truly devastating vocal from Rob Halford, and you will likely be very pleasantly shocked.
The sound of a rabidly hungry band unafraid to try anything and believing in itself 100% every step the way. "Punk" isn't a sound, it's a freedom, an attitude -- Bauhaus were a band who actually made good on the promise of punk by taking it to places it hadn't been before.
Queen The Game
The last great Queen album. I would not be the person I am today without The Game. I'm not sure whether that's good or bad! Another band of another lost era, Queen flourished mainly in the 1970's, a time when bands put out at least an album a year (sometimes two), albums that were recorded on reel-to-reel tape machines by exhausted, tour-weary bands working under looming deadlines. It is amazing to me that some of the most ingeniously recorded, brilliantly conceived and best-sounding records ever made were recorded in that decade, under those conditions, without the benefit of Pro Tools, digital editing, or the luxury of a four-year recording schedule. That a band could grow in leaps and bounds, stylistically, from one album to the next under such circumstances is all the more mind-boggling to me. I am getting way off topic here but Queen never cease to amaze me.
Black Sabbath Sabotage
When I was exploring Sabbath's back catalog in high school, I remember picking up Sabotage right before Christmas one year (was it 9th or 10th grade...?) and it immediately became one of my favorites. It's a druggy, psychedelic metal masterwork, and the last truly excellent album made by Ozzy-era Sab. I remember decorating the tree with the family with this album playing in the background. Doesn't that sound very odd?
Happy holidays, everyone.