Time for another year in review:
A lot of my listening is done on headphones as I drift off to sleep at night. This year I found that a playlist made of string quartets by Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich and Anton Webern worked really well as send-off music. To paraphrase what someone once said: If you can fall asleep to it, it’s good music. I believe this to be true, because if there’s something amiss with it, the unconscious mind will be bothered and it won’t let your conscious mind shut down.
Another good choice to enter the alpha state with is Wind Shift by Spectra Ciera. This is some really tasteful chill out music that doesn’t use drones so much as the sounds drift in and out like gentle breezes. Check out the guy’s blog because he seems to release a lot of stuff on net labels. My sleepy time music of choice in 2009 was the debut double album Entering The Ocean by Children Of Ishizuke Tree, a guitar duo from Belarus who make ambient drone music. I just figured out (today!) that they had a second release in 2010: Chameleon Starship, another double album downloadable for free on the Clinical Archives netlabel, hosted on archive.org, so I’m looking forward to drifting off to this one in 2011.
So I guess there has been a resurgence in the 60′s garage rock sound. I say “I guess” because I never really know what’s going on in current music circles until I look at all the “Best of” lists at the end of the year. Well, I’ve listened to a bunch of it and one release that really stands out is Innerspeaker by Tame Impala. This one has it all: cool guitar playing, prominent bass lines, great sounding drums and catchy vocal melodies (the singer sounds like Revolver era John Lennon). Check the lead-off track It’s Not Meant to Be on youtube.
“Whattttt….all this time I thought this was a man’s voice” – One of the comments on this youtube video. Less rockin’ and more heartfelt is the album Teen Dream by Beach House. This is a beautiful record that transcends the retro category. Until today I assumed a man was the singer, because the singer reminds me of Jim Quarles of the Human Expression (one of my favorite garage bands actually from the 60s), but it turns out to belong to Victoria Legrand. The point is there are vocal melodies and guitar hooks that will stay with you for days if you give this one a good listen.
This year also found me reacquainting myself with some of my favorite Bob Dylan albums: Nashville Skyline (1969), New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). My favorite songs on these albums are short, straightforward tunes. Dylan seemed to want to get away from his signature style of intellectual folk and embrace a lyrically simpler pop music. Critics seem to prefer the John Wesley Harding album, which fits in the era of Nashville Skyline and New Morning. I like that album but I don’t love it the way I do the other two. I guess I prefer happy/wistful crooning Bob over apocalyptic Bob. Oh Mercy has some of my favorite Dylan songs, like Man in the Long Black Coat, Most of the Time and Shooting Star. Overall, Daniel Lanois’ tasteful production has aged very well and how many albums from 1989 can you say that about?
Another old favorite I fell in love with again was James Brown. Now, silly me, I never bothered to rip my copy of the Star Time box set, but I do have a 2 CD collection in my iTunes called Foundations of Funk – A Brand New Bag: 1964-1969 and it’s one hell of a compilation. Highlights for me include live recordings of Introduction & Out Of Sight & Bring It Up (Live) and There Was a Time. The former has a wonderful introduction by the MC followed by a medley of songs that has everything from blistering drum & bass tempo grooves to mid tempo funk with stops and starts, fills, diminuendos and crescendos. You can really hear James working himself and the crowd into a frenzy while you marvel at the band’s ability to do some unbelievable stuff. The latter is my favorite version of There Was a Time. The band chugs away at this groove as James reminisces and you are transported by train, on your way to Augusta, GA. On Brother Rapp it’s just nice to hear James having fun with the band.
Did you know house music is not just for dancing in clubs? It also works well for doing chores around the house (!) or getting you pumped up for the day ahead on your bus ride to work. Now, the line between house music that’s great and house music that is annoying is very fine indeed. And there are tons of uninspired house records. You could search for days without finding a good one. So what you need is a good curator, whose taste you can trust. Enter house music producer and label runner Jimpster. He’s nice enough to DJ the Freerange Records podcast one a month (it’s actually bi-monthly with the other podcasts DJ’d by Matt Masters) and it may just be all the house music you need.
So Joanna Newsom has a new album out this year. I haven’t had a chance to sit down with it yet but I’m looking forward to it. I pretty much ignored her second album Ys, after being somewhat amused by her first album The Milk Eyed Mender. However, last month I had the good fortune to really listen to her three song EP Joanna Newsom & the Ys Street Band from 2007 and oh my goodness if it isn’t a work of genius. Is this girl working her way up to the ranks of Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell? It could be. The interplay on this EP with the Y Street band is, in a word, sublime, and her voice, while still dynamic, is not quite as polarizing (and no longer as annoying) as it was on her first album. Keeping my fingers crossed that the new album, Have One On Me reaches similar heights. Who knows, I might even go back and give Ys a listen.
2010 was also a good year for revisiting golden age Krautrock classics. We saw remastered, career-spanning box sets from both Kraftwerk and Neu! and the double disc compilation Deutsche Elektronische Musik – Experimental German Rock And Electronic Music 1972-83 on Soul Jazz Records, not to mention releases from bands like Caribou and Four Tet, who, to these ears, wear their Kraut influences on their sleeve. But the biggest revelation, for me, was that I had after all these years somehow missed the fact that Deluxe by Harmonia (1975) is a monumental classic in the genre. You’d think I would have figured that out by the time I got out of college, but no, somehow it slipped through the cracks of my obsessive sifting through releases of genres past.
Last, but not least, one new genre that has been dominating the airwaves of my home in 2010 is children’s music. So far, my (and Mommy’s and baby’s) favorite release gleaned from the library is Oops by Dan Crow (1988). Dan has a cuddly, folksy, guy-next-door appeal, but he doesn’t over do it and he keeps things simple. On a daily basis I get at least two Dan Crow songs stuck in my head.
Other 2010 releases of interest:
I Am Love (Soundtrack) by John Adams – For me it’s like a John Adams best of and a great introduction to a composer who will appeal to fans of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. In fact I’d take John Adams over Philip Glass any day.
You’ll Be A Hero Soon, Speaker by Ten and Tracer – Moody and spare IDM in the vein of early Boards of Canada.
I’m Not As Good At It As You by S – Jenn Ghetto’s very personal songwriting comes through strong and clear on these spare sounding recordings (nothing but multitracked vocals and clean electric guitars) but I’d love to hear these songs covered by other rock bands, too.
The People’s Record by Club 8 – Is this the Swedish Vampire Weekend? I wouldn’t know because I don’t listen to Vampire Weekend but this is some upbeat, afro-pop influenced stuff.
Harmonie Park by Wareika - Hey, is anyone one doing improvised music over a house music beat? Yeah, these guys! Other notable house albums: Asper Clouds by Christopher Rau, Glass Eights by John Roberts, The Modern Deep Left Quartet by Cobblestone Jazz.
Minotaur by The Clientele – Before the explosion of late 60s style retro bands we are seeing today, The Clientele were making well crafted jangle pop songs with nods to The Byrds, The Zombies and 60′s garage rock, and they are still going strong with tremolo’d, finger-picked, electric guitar work that’s as beautiful as ever.
Palpitations by Tawdry Otter – Well, I had to throw this one in, didn’t I?