Bill Janovitz wrote an interesting 33 1/3 series book on The Rolling Stones landmark album Exile On Main Street. In his new book, Rocks Off (2013) tells the story of the Rolling Stones. The book is divided into three sections that reflect three distinct line ups, the early version was the Brian Jones era, followed by the Mick Taylor years, and finally the Ron Wood years which has been the longest. Janovitz admit if he was writing this book about the album he has found worthwhile it would have stopped at 1981 Tattoo You, but this is a history and a critical appraisal, but there is a good deal of analysis about what makes the songs successful. I made a play list of all the tracks and listened as I read about each particular track. A well-researched and fascinating look at a band that is still together more than 50 years later.
Stephen Malkmus has consistently been one of my favorite recording artists. This month he has released a new album, Wigout at Jagbags (2014), with his 90s backing band, the Jicks. There lots of the usual creative and unusual word play one has come to expect from Malkmus. Standout tracks are: "Planetary Motion," "Lariat," "Chartjunk," and "Cinnamon and Lesbians."
A friend of mine was telling me about a client of his business, the SF based rock band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I had heard of them, but didn't know their music. So when I was checking out where they were form I saw their music described as being influenced by The Brianjonestown Massacre, The Verve, The Rolling Stones, Oasis, T. Rex, The Velvet Underground, Love and Rockets, Daniel Ash, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I decided to start out with 2013's Specter At The Feast. I immediately liked it and it's no surprise since I like all of their influences as well. The standout tracks include: "Let The Day Begin" (a cover of The Call song the frontman's, Robert Been's father Micheal Been was in The Call and recently died), "Returning," and Teenage Disease."
After hearing Superchunk's excellent 2013 release, I Hate Music, I decided to go back and get their 2010 release, Majesty Shredding. it is another impressive twin guitar power pop outing from this North Carolina outfit, their first in nine years. Standout tracks are: "My Gap Feels Weird," "Learned To Surf," and "Winter Games."
Big Star is a band that I first became aware of via the single "Alex Chilton" from The Replacements 1987 album Pleased To Meet Me. But I didn't hear them until college when they were gathering buzz from other bands like REM (other bands included Teenage Fanclub, Jesus and Mary Chain-I didn't know about their popularity in the UK) and had their albums re-released by Rykodisc as well the lost solo album by Chris Bell, I Am The Cosmos. Once we heard the music, all of my college friends were appreciative of the band of whom was given homage at local shows by The Posies (who later become honorary members of the band and play live shows) who would often open shows with, "Feel," the opening track from #1 Record. We were awed that our Memphis friend Harris Schoener had played with the legend in Memphis. So I am the ideal audience for the documentary, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012). It was great to hear the stories of how the records were made and what Alex Chilton did in his many careers (producing The Cramps, Pantherburns, and the Gories for example) before acknowledging the homage from the many fans of the bands many who went onto form their own bands. The co-founder of the band Chris Bell had the most tragic story in that he probably killed himself at 27 due to frustration from the commercial failure of the band and never got to live to see the band get their due much like a band they loved and covered, The Velvet Underground (there are many parallels between these bands despite the differences in their signature sounds). At some point I picked up the classic double album of the first two recordings #1 Record (some faves from here are: "In the Street"-now know as the theme song to That 70s Show, "Thirteen," "The Ballad of El Goodo," "The India Song," basically not a bad track on the album) and Radio City (The closest thing to a single for them was "September Gurls" from this album and again not a dud on it). But somehow I lost recordings of the third album Third / Sister Lovers and Chris Bell's solo album also released by Rykodisc, I Am The Cosmos. So I reacquired that and have been enjoying the classic tracks such as: "Thank You Friends," "Jesus Christ," "O Dana," "Kangaroo," and many others. I think everyone should see the documentary and know the music of one the greatest unheralded bands of all-time.
The second musical documentary I saw was about a band that I was much less familiar about, The Minutemen. I was not a fan, but i was aware of them because they recorded on SST records with many of my alternative favorites like Sonic Youth, The Meat Puppets, etc., and they were one of my best firends' favorites bands back in high school. Neko Case cited them as an influence despite their differences in style and recommended the documentary, We Jam Econoco: The Story of the Minutemen (2005). I was never sure what they were about, and through this documentary I can see what they were trying to do. I can't say that they won me over, but I can respect what they were trying to achieve and it was worthwhile to find out.
It's always enjoyable to look back on the year and evaluate the new media one has come across. In searching out the best new music of 2013 I had to get some new music to evaluate and this is what I came up with:
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine (2010) is one of those tribute albums that appeals to me on two levels: the artist being covered and the tribute artists. I had a friend who was trying to get me into John Prine, but this works much better since there are several artists who I like and several that I am curious about, and that adds to the appeal of an album like this. First the artists I already like all come through with worthwhile versions: The Avett Brothers "Spanish Pipedream," My Morning Jacket "All The Best," Justine Vernon (Bon Iver) "Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)," Conor Oberst and the Hidden Valley Band, and "Daddy's Little Pumpkin" by Driveby Truckers. The best of the bands unfamiliar to me were: Lambchop "Six O'Clock News," Old Crow Medicine Show "Angel From Montgomery," and Deer Tick (with Liz Isenberg) "Unwed Fathers." But I don't think there's a weak song on the album with tracks from other like: Josh Ritter, Justin Townes Earl, Sara Watkins, and Those Darlins. So this album inspires me to seek out more by contributors and the artist in which they are paying tribute, because Prine is clearly a gifted songwriter.
I have began to fill in gaps of the discography of some of my favorite bands. So that means acquiring The National's 2005 release Alligator, which is more brooding angst from Matt Beringer and company. My favorite tracks are "The Secret Meaning," "Karen," "All The Wine," and "The Geese if Beverly Road."
Another album that I missed was Kentucky-based My Morning Jacket's 2003 album It Still Moves. Jim James and company have made another rootsy, country-influenced rock record that precedes great albums that have become favorites like Evil Urges, Z, and Orbital. The standouts for me are "Mahgeetah," "Dancefloors," and "One Big Holiday."
I also missed out on Elvis Costello's second collaboration with producer T-Bone Burnett on 2009's Sacred, Profane, and Sugarcane. Their first collaboration, 1986's King of America, is one of my favorite Costello albums of all-time.This time, the outing is more hit and miss for me. My top tracks are: the new arrangement on "Complicated Shadows," "Sulphur to Sugarcane," and "Changing Partners."
I've had Please Kill Me: the Uncensored History of Punk (1996) on my shelf for a while and after the recent death of Lou Reed and after having recently read Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, it seemed like the time was right to read it. Some people might say Lou Reed punk rock? But I think it's right to include the early proto punk bands like the Velvet Underground, MC5, The New York Dolls, and Iggy and the Stooges, since direct links to the scene that was to follow started there. It also shows how all the early CBGB bands (Television, Richard Hell and the Voivods, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads among others) were started and those that sprung up in other places like Cleveland with The Dead Boys and over the sea in England. So all of these connections told mostly in chronological order was informative. However, this history comes across as more gossipy than other histories of punk that I have read with remembrances from groupies and girlfriends. This approached resulted in a demystification of some of my rock heroes who come off as arrogant, selfish, and self-destructive fuck ups. There are much too many stories of drug use and effort expended to score drugs--what a boring existence. It seems amazing that any music got written at all.
Neko Case has followed up 2009's Middle Cyclone with another solid album with several great tunes in The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The More I love You (2013). The usual collaborators are there (Calexico, members of The New Pornographers, and Kelly Hogan) and a host of new ones (M. Ward, Mudhoney's Steve Turner, and members of My Morning Jacket, Vizqueen, and Los Lobos)--all people I like and respect. The standout tracks for me include: "Night Still Comes," "Man," "City Swans," "Local Girl," and "Ragtime."
I don't know the music of The Roots well (seems that they've been Jimmy Fallon's house band and now are the band for The Tonight Show), but their collaboration with Elvis Costello on Wise Up Ghosts and Other Songs (2013) is a wonderful thing. He embraces hip-hop's sampling savaging by jamming together the
lyrics of "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)" and "Pills
and Soap" for "Stick Out Your Tongue." My favorite tracks are: "Walk Us Uptown," "Sugar Won't Work," "Stick Out Your Tongue," and "Wise Up Ghost."
I've been a huge Stephen Malkmus and Pavement fan, so not sure how I missed 2011's Beck produced album Mirro Traffic. It might be his best all-around record since his solo debut. Standout tracks include: "Tigers," "No One Is (As I Are Be)," "Senator," "Jumblegloss," and "Curious Georgie."
I have to admit I wouldn't have read Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (2007) by Carl Wilson if it wasn't for the glowing endorsement from Nick Hornby in More Baths Less Talking. It is one of the more unconventional volumes in the 33 1/3 series of long essays on significant recordings (Joe Pernice's book on REM's Meat Is Murder is a short story while Colin Meloy's volume on The Replacement's Let It Be is a memoir). Wilson's book is a mediation on criticism and taste. He tackles Celine Dion for a number of reasons: her apparent popularity among the general public, her iconic status as a Canadian, and the source of personal derision by the author. Wilson's style is conversational and academically authoritative as he has obviously done his research on the philosophical origins of taste, camp, schmaltz, and kitsch as well as tackling certain contemporary pop digressions. Here's a look at the Table of Contents: 1. Let's Talk About Hate, 2. Let's Talk About Pop (and Its Critics), 3. Let's Talk in French, 4. Let's Talk About World Conquest, 5. Let's Talk About Schmaltz, 6. Let's Sing Really Loud, 7. Let's Talk About Taste, 8. Let's Talk About Who's Got Bad Taste, 9. Let's Talk With Some Fans, 10. Let's Do a Punk Version of "My Heart Will Go On" (or Let's Talk About Out Feelings), 11. Let's Talk About Let's Talk About Love, 12. Let's Talk About Love. Here's a few gems from the book as well: "Tastes," wrote poet Paul Valery, "are composed of a thousand distastes." / "My aversion to Dion more closely resembles how put off I feel when some says they're pro-life or a Republican: intellectually I'm aware how personal and complicated such affiliations can be, but my gut reactions are more crudely tribal." / "For a century or more, sentimentality has been the cardinal aesthetic sin." I think this is one of the more thought provoking and entertaining books I've read in some time.