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Top 20 Albums of 2009

Posted by on Dec 9, 2009 One Comment

1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)

2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)

3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)

4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)

5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)

6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)

7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)

8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)

9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)

10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)

11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)

12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)

13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)

14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)

15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)

16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)

17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)

18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)

19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)

20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)

In News

Johnny Downer, R.I.P.

Posted by on Dec 9, 2009 2 Comments

Like many of you, I heard the sad news that Johnny Downer, guitarist for the excellent Sonoma County band Free Peoples, died unexpectedly while vacationing in Mexico over the weekend. He leaves behind a huge group of loving family and friends, as well as his exemplary recorded work with Free Peoples. He played the hell out of the guitar, man. I saw him play with Free Peoples several times, and it was my pleasure to present his deserving band with a gold record award last year at the North Bay Music Awards. He will be missed.

Condolences are collecting here and here. A memorial is planned for Dec. 18 in Costa Mesa, CA, and the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol is hosting a fittingly lengthy tribute show on January 9, from 4pm ’til close. More info, as it comes in, can be accessed here.

One Love

Posted by on Dec 7, 2009

My constituent David Sason has a cover story in the Bohemian this week about the rampant homophobia in reggae music, tracing it to the sources in Jamaica and examining the cultural roots of hatred. It’s worth a full read, and when you’re done, there’s even more here.

Dancehall artist Beenie Man has a quote in the article:

Beenie Man proudly performs his controversial songs, including “Damn,” which has him “dreaming of a new Jamaica” where he can “execute all gays.”

But perhaps it’s just a matter of semantics. In a 2006 statement, Beenie Man explained his point of view: “Jamaica is not against gay people. Gay means consented sex. What we have in Jamaica is not what it is in England, where two men live together. That’s not it in Jamaica, and these people fail to understand that. In Jamaica, gay is rape. It’s a big man with their money going into the ghetto and picking these little youth who ain’t got nothing. And then give them money and then involving them.

“There were 550 youths who got raped inna Jamaica, you know? And nobody seems to speak of that. Nobody sees the youth get raped and throat cut because the man who raped him, he knows him, and he doesn’t want him to go back and say he did it. And these things still happening.”

Obviously, Beenie Man is a confused individual with no proper set of logic and probably, I’m guessing, no gay friends. His explanation is about as preposterous as myself saying, “Santa Rosa is not against Canadians. Canadian means nice person. What we have in Santa Rosa is not like other places. In Santa Rosa, Canadian means fucking asshole. 550 youths were beat up by fucking assholes. Nobody seems to speak of that. All these fucking assholes are still around. That’s why I have a song called ‘Canadians Are Fucking Assholes.’”

In News

Things You Don't See at the Phoenix Everyday

Posted by on Dec 6, 2009

It’s always a special treat when Tom Gaffey, usually with a broom or an apple in his hand, takes the stage at his own theater to sing a song or two. This past weekend, as the Phoenix Theater celebrated its 105th anniversary, Toast Machine cajoled him into the spotlight for “Rock and Roll All Night”:

Such happenings came at the end of an unusual week for the Phoenix. On Thursday, Petaluma’s Kala Ukelele Co. hosted a ukelele workshop, where everyone in the crowd learned how to play a few chords. Any local hardcore bands looking for a ukelele player?

On the Stereo: Tom Waits 'Orphans' 7xLP Box Set

Posted by on Dec 6, 2009

My scale says it weighs 8 1/2 lbs.

Seven LPs, 180-gram each, separate jackets. Huge 32-page booklet. Bonus disc with six extra songs not on the CD version, including the OG “Diamond In Your Mind,” Fats Waller’s “Crazy ‘Bout My Baby” and Kurt Weill’s “Cannon Song.” Canvas-wrapped box, Anthology of American Folk Music-style, with embossed spine. The thing is beautiful.

I was plenty excited when the CD version of Tom Waits’ Orphans came out, but this is on some other shit entirely. ANTI- is being vague about exactly how limited it is, but I’d pick one up while you have the chance. It officially comes out Tuesday, Dec. 8. IMPORTANT: there’s been a couple early reports about some sets missing an LP, or with two copies of the same LP, so check it out thoroughly after you buy it. As if you wouldn’t anyway.

Wears the Late Crown

Posted by on Dec 5, 2009 One Comment

This has got to be one of the most amazing newspaper corrections I’ve ever seen.

Too Much Joy, Four Sad Cents

Posted by on Dec 2, 2009 One Comment

The name Too Much Joy might not ring any bells, or, if it does, it’s a tiny bell also sounded flatly by forgotten major-label bands like Dog’s Eye View, Cry of Love or Butt Trumpet. Being forgotten by the public is manageable—maudlin drinking can provide acceptance of failure for most ex-stars. But what about being forgotten by your record label, an entity that’s contractually obligated to keep records of your dead band’s meager sales?

Tim Quirk, the singer of Too Much Joy, shares an irresistible story over at Gizmodo, “My $62.47 Royalty Statement,” chronicling a thirteen-month battle to convince Warner Bros. to report his band’s digital sales. The three Warner Bros. albums by Too Much Joy haven’t been in print physically for ten years, but Quirk knew that nostalgia-driven downloads of his band were a very real thing, because he works for Rhapsody. Not too surprisingly, his royalty statements from Warner Bros. reflected absolutely zero downloads.

In the course of a few tangents involving a Warner Bros. employee laughing that “$10,000 is nothing!,” a primer on how unrecouped bands such as his have actually earned a profit for their label, and lots of keen insights into the world of digital reporting, Quirk gets his next statement. It shows the sum of $62.47. Quirk:

The sad thing is I don’t even think Warner is deliberately trying to screw TMJ and the hundreds of other also-rans and almost-weres they’ve signed over the years. The reality is more boring, but also more depressing. Like I said, they don’t actually owe us any money. But that’s what’s so weird about this, to me: they have the ability to tell the truth, and doing so won’t cost them anything. They just can’t be bothered. They don’t care, because they don’t have to.

Read the whole thing here.

Now He Live on Billboard

Posted by on Dec 1, 2009

December always puts me in a pop music state of mind. Maybe it’s the spirit of the month, a time when everyone’s united by different ways of carrying out the same ideal. Maybe it’s the incessant making of year-end lists, with knee-jerks toward the obscure and reactionary moves against said jerks. December says, hey, the year’s almost over. You made it. Pull your head up and enjoy shit. Perhaps this inane Trey Songz track will help.

I watched the AMAs last month and wanted to shoot myself. I heard the words “Lady Gaga” 257 times in a three-hour span, because Lady Gaga likes fashion and awards shows love fashion. I watched as the West Coast feed very weirdly censored out Jennifer Lopez falling on her ass. And I saw Adam Lambert’s contrived cycle of crotch worship and man-kiss, a predictable career lifeboat which everyone kept afloat in discussion the next day.

No one seemed to be talking much about the fact that Lambert’s “song” was the worst-sounding piece of shit ever broadcast on television, and that nearly every other busied performance on the endless parade of unbearable spectacle after unbearable spectacle sounded essentially just like it, with no discernible melody, no hook, and no appeal. In short, no pop music. Just a bunch of drama, beats and high heels.

Then Jay-Z and Alicia Keys came out and took over for five short, wonderful minutes. “Empire State of Mind” was not only surprisingly good—Jay-Z not residing at the top of my list—but warmed me at 1) all those phony assholes in Los Angeles getting schooled and 2) an actual song I could get behind. Plus, enough time since 9/11 means I can handle songs about New York again. Lo and behold, it shot quickly to #1 on the Billboard charts. Today, in fact, I tuned in to NYC’s Hot 97, expecting to hear it within 30 minutes. They played it in 24.

Empire State of Mind” is not a masterpiece of a song. Jay-Z’s continued claims that he’s the new Sinatra, at least, are offset by Alicia asking people to put their lighters in the air. Take that, iPhones! But it feels good to hear it in December. And feeling good is what pop music does best.

Currently, I am Rapping With My Associates, the Junior Mafia

Posted by on Nov 30, 2009

I have laughed out loud for protracted moments over rap lyrics twice in the last month, and you probably have, too, if you’ve seen this collection of ridiculous rap lyrics that’s been going around. My friend Brian, who tutors at a high school in San Francisco, sends something even better—a proper-English translation of Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.” The attendant story is that an Oakland high school sponsored an English contest and this is the winning entry, although that’s apocryphal at best. Just read it and laugh.

The New Tom Waits Live Album is Kinda Unnecessary

Posted by on Nov 25, 2009 2 Comments

Everyone who’s considering buying a live album has the same burning question:

“Does it have a bunch of cheering and clapping? I hate that.”

Kiss Alive, Frampton Comes Alive and other inexplicably cheer-heavy double LPs totally ruined live albums until around the 1990s, when record companies finally got wise and realized that the perceived greatness of their performers didn’t need to be inflated by putting a microphone out in the audience and turning it way the fuck up in the mix, thereby annoying the majority of listeners.

So why, oh why, is the crowd mixed so loud on Tom Waits’ new live album?

I was most effusive about the two shows on this tour that I saw—especially the tour’s final stand inside a huge circus tent in Dublin, which ranks as one of the best shows I’ve seen, ever. Obviously, nothing about a CD is going to replicate the experience of seeing Waits live, but unfortunately, instead of crafting a listenable live album, whoever mixed this thing decided to make it sound like the listener is “really” there. The result is a recording part soundboard, part ambient, with Waits’ voice echoing off the walls like a too-expensive St. Mark’s Place bootleg.

This could be saved by a good setlist, but that, too, falters. There are 63 great songs Waits played on this tour that could have been chosen. When you ask someone what their favorite Tom Waits song is, they won’t respond with “Metropolitan Glide.” Nor “The Part You Throw Away.” I guarantee it. Waits opportunistically throws in his own versions of songs recently covered by Scarlett Johanssen (“Falling Down”) and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (the wretched “Trampled Rose”). “I’ll Shoot the Moon” is distractable by the blathered bridge, which leaves album closer “Lucky Day” the farewell standout, and by that time it has hardly any impact at all.

Recommended: Save your money for Waits’ mammoth 7xLP box set Orphans, finally seeing the light of day on vinyl on Dec. 8.