Monday, January 08, 2007

The Albums I Bought and the Albums I Said I Bought...

As part of my family's new budgeting process, I don't buy music anymore, really at all. See, the the only places I want to buy music are Amoeba, Rasputin, and Aquarius records, and I don't appear to possess the willpower necessary for me to buy fewer than 10 cds at a time. I used to have that kind of money because I spent literally nothing on anything else (I have been clothes shopping 3 times in the last 9 years), but now, instead of living in a dorm with Stanford graciously paying the bulk of my Yale tuition, I live in San Francisco and I've chosen the lowest paying job in my field, in preparation for the most expensive education available.

So no new CDs since some time in early 2005. And due to our environmental & energy concerns, plus the glorious move that put us two blocks away from BART, I don't listen to the radio in the car anymore. Given a choice, I'd rather see live music than buy another CD to add to the 1200 I'm still struggling to file. As a result I can't in good conscience make a "Best of" list for 2006 because I have only the vaguest notion of what went on, musically speaking.

But who cares. Here's my best of list, from the extremely limited perspective of someone with just enough time to invest in music he already likes.

Rainer Maria - Catastrophe Keeps Us Together. Well, apparently, catastrophe only kept them together just long enough to record and tour this album. Man, did that bum me out. The last time I saw them live it was at San Francisco's crappy Bottom of the Hill, where the sound and food compete for least appetizing aspect of the overall experience. But the album is wonderful, improved by its flaws (much like the band), and very hard not to fall in love with (much like the band's bassist and lead singer, Caithlin de Marrais). Incredible lead single, surprisingly affective acoustic numbers, Kyle Fisher's remarkable ability to shred a guitar wistfully (?) -- it all adds up to Rainer Maria. It's nice, and rare, for music to be actually affirming. Punk, Gospel, Beethoven, and "Getting Better" are a few examples that come to mind, but I'm surprised at how infrequently music will make you feel better about the future (as opposed to simply feeling better about the present). "I've got a plan/I'm gonna find you/at the end of the world," sings De Marrais on the album's phenomenal lead single. It's possible I'm just a sucker for the prospect of lots of time with a pretty redhead in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter.

Walkmen -
A Hundred Miles Off. This album disappointed folks who were expecting and hoping for another Bows + Arrows. That includes me. But, though it's not as good as the impossibly appealing Bows + Arrows, it succeeds at hanging together better and annoying me less. The Walkmen are like Robin Williams -- very good, but annoying at the extremes. The last album alternated between cuts that simply capture your whole being for 3 minutes ("No Christmas While I'm Talking," "The North Pole," the title cut, and of course "The Rat") and ones that appear to have been created with the intention of irritating us crosseyed. A Hundred Miles Off gives up the epic in favor of the effortless, which means I'll listen to it less frequently, but all the way through. Highlights include "Louisiana" (which has a distinct flavor of nightime barbecue outdoors), "Emma, Get Me a Lemon," which is about what it says it's about, and "All Hands on the Cook," which is about nothing, but Hamilton Leithauser does make a series of bizarre requests in the bridge, including a request to "stop talking to the neighbor's dog." The real star of the album is Matt Barrick, the preternaturally gifted drummer and expert in timbres, textures, and straight whaling on his trap. The lame lyrics of "Emma, Get Me a Lemon" only really work because of the music's subtext: "Emma, you might as well get me a lemon because, according to these drums, I'm about to be burned alive by a Polynesian cargo cult."

Mike Relm --
Radio Fryer. This is a cheat, as he actually released it in 2005. But he's Mike Relm. I love this man and his music. I'm pretty sure that, given the chance, my wife would leave me for him because he's that talented and charming. Which, writing it now, sounds like a compliment to me, but you know what I mean. If I had to pick a highlight from this 70 minute mixtape wonder, I don't know what I'd choose. "Relm and Josie," which pits the cheesiness of Outback against the cheesiness of pre-Cube NWA? "Amadeus is Passing Me By?" "Ain't Goin' Out Like Linus?" They're all good. Mike Relm succeeded in translating that remarkable capacity of live DJs -- making you enjoy a song more than you ever had before -- to what is, essentially, a very accomplished and complex blend tape. The only thing I could recommend higher than buying this album would be seeing him live.

Yo La Tengo --
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. I haven't bought this for myself (see above), but between downloads, the live show, Youtube, etc. I have a pretty good idea. Basically it's this decade's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. I said most of the relevant things in the review (linked), and in photoshop, but in case you didn't know, Ira Kaplan does feedback solos like he's plugging the meter.

Jay Dilla --
Donuts. Jay Dee's aesthetic sensibilities are so acute, he can make an aimless, incoherent beat tape like Donuts into a masterpiece. Sometimes Jay Dee was lazy, and sometimes his ability to effortlessly replicate styles led to some pretty generic production. But Donuts plays like the best of Slum Village or Common's fourth album -- by turns sloppy and finessed, exposed and submerged. It's like he's saying: "Here's everying you can do with hiphop production -- except you probably can't." R.I.P.

Smoosh --
Free to Stay. Smoosh will win you over. Is that a guarantee, you ask? I'll put it this way: if you don't fall in love with the opening single "Find a Way," then you probably won't like the way you look either. I saw these young women live last year, and the fact that I willingly stood in a group of 14-year old hipsters and their chaperones (along with, doubtless, the assorted pedophile) should speak for itself. Damn is this band fun.

Roots --
Game Theory. Foregone conclusion.

Why? --
Elephant Eyelash. Also from 2005, but started getting a lot more heat in 2006. So, so many reasons to love this album. "Crushed Bones," "Waterfalls" (which, though not a cover of TLC, is now the best song with that title, something I thought TLC had pretty well locked down), "Rubber Traits," "Gemini (Birthday Song)," the album is just stuffed with bizarre, unique, disturbing music that sounds something like what you know but not quite. Kind of Daniel Johnston, kind of Pharcyde, kind of Laurie Anderson, kind of Smile outtakes -- impossible to describe. See them live, get the album.

Afro Reggae -
Nenhum Motivo Explica a Guerra. Speaking of music that sounds like nothing else. The cultural politics of this music is pretty complex -- seeing Favela Rising may help significantly, but you still need to draw your own conclusions about the medium and the message (which requires babelfish unless you speak Portuguese -- and that won't help too much because it's insanely fast hiphop and may include fairly specific slang from Vicario General). Great album, hard to listen to frequently, but overwhelming (in a good way) when it comes to atmosphere and scope.

Arab Strap -
The Last Romance. Also foregone. I love this band, and the newest album is just packed to the top with bitterness, humor, resentment, desperation, resignation, and hushed lyricism. What they do best. Surprisingly, there are more "upbeat" tunes on this one than on any previous, including an undeniably happy closer in "There is No Ending" (my nominee for Best Song of 2006). Lots more thoughts on the album and the band in an earlier review. Probably don't go buy this album if you're easily depressed by music. Or buy this one, but don't buy any of the others till you're ready to hear Aidan Moffat ask for "something to wipe with."

That's all. Maybe 2007 will be the Year of Buying Albums from Last Year. Looking forward to it.

reference help for the title)


muñoz said...

you know what's free? email.

Not a Flaneur, I Just Walk A lot said...

oh snap.

Game Theory is way better than I thought it would be.

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