Top 20 Shows of 2011

Posted by on Dec 31, 2011

1. Erykah Badu at Outside Lands

2. Amon Tobin at the Warfield

3. Ceremony at Arlene Francis Center

4. Jaga Jazzist at Great American Music Hall

5. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All at Slim’s

6. Givers at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery

7. Major Lazer at Outside Lands

8. Aardvark Ruins at Arlene Francis Center

9. Public Enemy at Yoshi’s SF

10. tUnE-yArDs at Outside Lands

11. Edan at the Mezzanine

12. Gillian Welch at the Warfield

13. EMA at the Independent

14. Paul Thorn at EarleFest

15. Roach Gigz at the Phoenix Theater

16. Kronos Quartet at the Glaser Center

17. Flaming Lips at the Harmony Festival

18. Huey Lewis at Sonoma County Fairgrounds

19. Buddy Guy at Russian River Blues Festival

20. Psychedelic Furs at the Uptown Theatre

Top 25 Jazz Discoveries of 2011

Posted by on Dec 31, 2011 One Comment

I’m constantly finding great, older jazz albums at record stores, but I don’t always have much reason, or time, to write about them. Hence, each year I pick out the best ones that moved me the most, and compile my top jazz discoveries of the year. (Here are the lists from 2009 and 2010.)

Jazz is an incredible, fertile soil, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop digging for new inspiration. Scattered throughout are links to the music via YouTube or mp3 blogs; I hope you’ll click around and find something you like. Better yet, hit up your local used record store. Or even better, go see some live jazz here and here!


Sam Rivers – Fuchsia Swing Song

Sam Rivers died the day after Christmas, and I did what any music nerd does: pulled out the recently deceased’s music to listen to it anew. This was Rivers’ first date as a leader, and along with hearing it with the hindsight of his death, it’s a thrill to hear knowing what he accomplished afterward in the avant-garde. Here Rivers is more “in,” as if he knew he was recording for Blue Note and not ESP, and it yields his blissful masterpiece, “Beatrice.” Jaki Byard, Ron Carter and Tony Williams clutch the reins with casual care; this was 1964, and the horses had not been unleashed just yet. I found this at Groove Yard Records in Oakland, and though I was familiar with Sam Rivers, I’d owned no albums of his as a leader. Of course, once he died, I realized he was all over my record collection on albums by Dave Holland, Andrew Hill and Tony Williams. And also…

Bobby Hutcherson – Dialogue

There’s not a vibist in the world quite like Bobby Hutcherson, who straddled the inside-outside thing just as his instrument straddles percussion and tonality. This is a great band that needs no saddle, including the great Andrew Hill on piano and on drums, Joe Chambers, who in a rarity for drummers contributes two compositions. Sam Rivers shines on this album, and though Freddie Hubbard is nice on tracks like the 3/4 “Idle While,” you can hear the spectre of Rivers’ influence all over this album. Kid was from Boston, had just worked with Miles Davis. Of course they were paying attention to him. Like most albums on this list, I picked it up at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

Charles Tolliver – Live at Slug’s Vol. 1

I saw Andrew Hill with a band that included Charles Tolliver at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, in 2006. It was a performance that has only gotten better in my memory, and if by chance Jim Bennett from KCSM’s ‘In the Moment’ comes across this post—Jim, I’d die to have a copy of the live recording. That night, Charles Tolliver was indescribably good—and I took note. I’d come across a Live in Tokyo album, but this live recording is the stuff dreams are made of—serene, thoughtful, nuanced and alive. The songs are elastic, with implied rhythm. Here’s the group with Stanley Cowell a year after this album was recorded; “Orientale” apparently gained fire over the course of 12 months. (Groove Yard)

Kenny Burrell – Asphalt Canyon Suite

Why this 1969 record isn’t heralded as Burrell’s masterpiece is a mystery. Side One is a suite of instantly gripping thematic jazz, airy and moody, which can stand up against the best modal / atmospheric releases of all time. Even stranger, the record was produced by Johnny Pate, who worked with the Impressions and B.B. King, and scored Shaft in Africa. You’d think he’d force a more upbeat hand here, but check out “Alone in the City” and stroke those chinhairs. Unfortunately the rest isn’t on YouTube, and the album isn’t in print. Burrell never played like this before, and never did afterward; if you ever come across this LP, snatch it up. (Last Record Store)

Sun Ra – On Jupiter

Sun Ra and his Arkestra, with their El Saturn label, were indie pioneers: they’d order small-run pressings of their lo-fi records, hand-write song titles on the blank labels, and decorate the album jackets themselves, on the bus, driving to the next show. This was in the 1960s, though—not the aughts. If you ever see one of these handmade Sun Ra LPs, you’re looking at something very rare, so pick it up while you have the chance. I found this while on a lull in my Sun Ra listening, and my obsession subsequently resurged. “Even the disco song is good” is not something I ever expected to say about a Sun Ra record, but this was recorded the same year as his terrific Lanquidity, and there was something in the air. (Groove Yard)

Neal Creque – Creque

This record is the reason I received a text message this year reading “I just shit my pants.” Any hip-hop head knows this cover design from People Under the Stairs, and when I found it I couldn’t help but send a photo to my friend Matt. I expected drumbreaks galore—especially since Billy Butler is on guitar—but instead got some completely stunning compositions like “Years of Regret” and “Cease the Bombing.” If you only hear one song off this LP, make it “Rafiki,” and let the bassline carry you through the rest of the day. Scored this along with a ton of great cassettes at Vinyl Planet in Petaluma. Thanks, Phil.

Kohske Mine Quintet – Daguri

What is known about Kosuke Mine? Not much, if you ask me. I came across his debut album on Three Blind Mice a few years ago in a revelatory batch of Japanese jazz LPs, and loved it to pieces, but never saw anything else. There’s so much invention on this album that I think I could listen to it 20 times and never fully comprehend it. There are liner notes in Japanese. If anyone knows Japanese and wants to translate them for me, and unlock the mystery of Kohske Mine, a.k.a. Kosuke Mine, I’d be much obliged. (Here he is in 2010 playing very straight, with the same drummer from this 1973 date, Hiroshi Murakami.) Another Groove Yard find.

Stan Getz – and the Oscar Peterson Trio

Sometimes gold just sits under your nose for half a lifetime and you never recognize it. Though I’m not inclined to avoid Verve, like other jazz fans I know, their releases tend to have a bit of a pedestrian, razzle-dreadful “hey, look, this is jazz!” element. The interplay on this date is phenomenal, and if it’s showy then who cares—I can’t believe the sense of fun and elation on every single track. (Here’s “I Want to Be Happy“). Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz had great mainstream success separately, and pairing them together at just the right time in their careers was a serendipitous idea that yielded a perfect jazz record. (Last Record Store)

Howard Roberts – Antelope Freeway

What in the hell was Howard Roberts thinking? An in-demand Los Angeles session player, Roberts had recorded some grit-and-sweat jazz sides (H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player) and some standard mainstream offerings (Whatever’s Fair!) for Capitol Records, but nothing that comes remotely close to this. Antelope Freeway is a psychedelic melange of sound effects, grungy music and spoken-word, and likely had even the hip execs at Impulse Records scratching their heads. The Beatles’ “Revolution #9″ opened a lot of doors in music, many leading to nowhere, but deep tracks like “That’s America Fer Ya” and “Five Gallons of Astral Flash Could Keep You Awake for Thirteen Weeks” show that this one’s worth its weight in weirdness. (Last Record Store)

Peter Brotzmann Octet – Machine Gun

Lord almighty, if ever an album lived up to its name, this is it. Recorded in 1968, Machine Gun sounds like… well, a machine gun, firing rapidly and without pause. Eight Germans, 1968, under the influence of who knows what. I’ve been looking for this for years, and finally the label Slowboy reissued it this year, with an incredible thick sleeve and three-color silkscreen cover. Brotzmann is capable of making the most irritating music of all time, and the way the rest of the band takes his lead here on the title track is like a roller coaster tippling sideways on the rails. Ordered online from the label.

Connie Russell – Don’t Smoke In Bed

Admittedly, I bought it for the cover. But Russell is a nice, husky singer, and this is a very nice set of unaffected jazz singing; mp3 access here. “Lonely Town,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Angel Eyes,” “You’re My Thrill” and plenty more here make it a good listen on the late-night. Most people reading this who have once smoked in bed now don’t, so take a minute to remember how nice it was. (Online)

Monk Montgomery – Bass Odyssey

“Hey, let’s just go out in the desert and take the photo. I’ll bring my amp. Who cares if the sun’s going down.” Monk Montgomery was one of the Montgomery Brothers, and recording an album as a leader, as an electric jazz bassist, was unheard of back then. This is on Chiasa Records, a label owned by Hugh Masekela, and Masekela obviously gave his artists a lot of freedom. There’s some really fun, effects-laden largesse going on in the grooves of this supremely gloppy album. Here’s “Foxy Gypsy,” and “Fuselage.” Traded off of Matt the Friendly DJ.

Jaki Byard – Sunshine of My Soul

What a terrible record cover. Just look at it. A charcoal drawing of Jaki Byard, with a face contorted as if he’s on the toilet, inside a sunflower. Ironically, this is one of my favorite Jaki Byard records ever. I’ll let the handwritten ballpoint notes on the back cover from the previous owner speak for me: “‘Sunshine’ – far out but real gd; ‘Cast Away’ – far out & ok, slow; ‘Chandra’ – good!; ‘St. Louis Blues’ – weird but ok/gd; ‘Diane’s Melody’ – strange intro, rest nice; ‘Trendsition Zildjian‘ – far far out!” (Groove Yard)

Gene Harris – AstralSignal

Forget everything you know about Gene Harris, leader of the Three Sounds. In 1975, Harris went on some serious mind exploration and came up with a psychedelic conception of jazz that’s a blast to experience. It starts with a reverb-heavy prelude that sounds like a piano being dragged by a Mack truck, and then the declaration: “WELCOME. I AM EUGENE, WIZARD OF THE UNIVERSE. COME WITH ME TO OUR UNIVERSE OF LOVE, BEAUTY, AND OTHER FUNKY THINGS. IT’S TIME TO FEEL THE MAGIC.” You want to pick only one song? “Losalamitoslatinfunklovesong“—enjoy. (Last Record Store)

Anne Phillips – Born to Be Blue

When I hear this record I can’t help but think of soldiers overseas being sent music from back home in America. There were plenty of “Lonely Girl”-style LPs released in the late 50s, when we weren’t in a major war, but the idea is there. This was 1959, a banner year for jazz and jazz vocals, and it captures something special. Here’s the title track. (Last Record Store)

Richard Davis – The Philosophy of the Spiritual

It’s really hard to record jazz cello. Oscar Pettiford did it, and also Ray Brown (but then, Ray Brown could do anything). It’s even harder to bow an arco bass with high notes to sound like a cello. The great Richard Davis has an enormous discography and now teaches a classical approach, but when this record was recorded I’m not sure he was adroit at mimicking the higher register of a cello on his bowed bass. Nonetheless, there’s a Gunther Schuller-like atmosphere here that I love, and the compositions here are really cool—most of them are by Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father. Bears repeated listens. (Last Record Store)

Andre Previn – Let’s Get Away From it All

Bouncy, fun piano that always reminds me of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Previn’s My Fair Lady album with Shelly Manne is the classic, and Andre Previn Plays Gershwin is another early highpoint, but it’s hard to go wrong with the collection of songs here. Nothing groundbreaking, just good, compact tunes. (Last Record Store)

Saracho – En Medio

At first glance I assumed this would be like that Luis Gasca record on Blue Thumb you see pretty often at Bay Area record shops—Latin-tinged jazz-rock. But instead, this is a Pharaoh Sanders-esque outing by a bunch of L.A. musicians, led by Gary Saracho, about whom not much is known. He plays some incredible electric piano, though, and Lawrence Higgins has some nice ideas on the sax. The arrangements are schizophrenic, jumping from one section to the next, like on “Sunday’s Church.” A dense bit of unknown history. (Last Record Store)

Mel Brown – Mel Brown’s Fifth

Mel brown is a guitarist who played with the great Bobby “Blue” Bland, and whose very blues-based debut album on Impulse, Chicken Fat, gets all the acclaim. That’s very misguided, as Mel Brown’s Fifth is so clearly the superior, down-and-dirty title. Just listen to the first track, “Time for a Change”. That‘s the way an album should kick off! “Good Stuff” follows, and if you think you’re in a sample paradise, you’re not wrong. Poor Righteous Teachers, Spice 1 and the Pharcyde all sampled this album. A beast. Thanks to Phil Jiggins for this one.

The Charles Moffett Family – Vol. 1

The first time I saw Charnett Moffett, he was playing with McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders, Ravi Coltrane and Eric Harland at Yoshi’s in Oakland in 2004. It was truly one of the most unforgettable shows of my life, and I especially remember Moffett—leaning his bass back low, attacking the strings, bowing vigorously and playing perfectly off of Harland. Imagine my surprise when years later I found this LP, a private pressing of ‘The Charles Moffett Family,’ featuring an eight-year-old Charnett on trumpet and bass. He obviously came from a rich musical family; this record is far, far better than I imagined it’d be, and sounds like it could have been released on Strata-East, no problem. Found at Fatty’s Threads in Santa Rosa.

Dick Schory’s New Percussion Ensemble – Music for Bang Baaroom and Harp

Sure, it’s pre-written, and I doubt any of it is improvised in the jazz idiom, but this is no regular orchestral music. It was recorded in 1958 in a giant concert hall, and there are a TON of drums. “Biggest Battery of Percussion West of Cape Canaveral,” it says. They even use a manifold from a 1946 Chevrolet as a percussion instrument. No joke. There’s some technical data in the notes, about using an Ampex three-track and as few Telefunken microphones as possible “rather than the easy but treacherous add-another-mike-for-what-you-don’t-hear approach,” and they thank the “man who kept pumping coffee into us for the two days we didn’t see daylight.” A real hoot. (Vinyl Planet)

Mary Ann McCall – Detour to the Moon

She got it, Mary Ann McCall did—the idea of selling an idea in a song and really conveying something instead of just singing words. Jubilee Records got the idea of selling records as well as ideas, and so came up with the gimmick of an album full of songs about the moon—”I Wished on the Moon,” “Moonglow,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “No Moon at All,” etc. The idea inspired Verve to release Mel Tormé’s forgettable Swingin’ on the Moon two years later, but unlike that dull outing, Detour to the Moon is fantastic. Mary Ann McCall only released one LP after this, and her career fizzled; she went on to pour drinks at a dive nude-dancing bar in Hollywood in the 1970s. They say she had addiction problems, and before she died she was relegated to singing in the airport lounge at LAX. Crazy. (Last Record Store)

Yusef Lateef – The Doctor is In… And Out

If you get overwhelmed by his large output and can’t commit to either the early Prestige years or the later Impulse years, how about this what-the-hell hodgepodge of funk-inspired zaniness? You’ll get standard ’70s stuff like “Mushmouth,” exotic flute vehicles like “The Improvisers,” and a synthesized sound collage in the form of “Technological Homosapien.” Strangely, the album ends with a sampled barbershop quartet recording of “In a Little Spanish Town“; Lateef solos between phrases, as if playing along to a 78 in his living room. It’s kind of cool. (Last Record Store)

Moacir Santos – Maestro

Santos was a bona fide legend in Brazil when Blue Note signed him, yet a total unknown in the U.S., so of course he had to open his American debut with his most famous composition,”Nana.” He even preceded it by personally introducing himself in the track’s opening vamp. You won’t find simple “Girl From Ipanema” bossa nova here; the music is complex, yet distinctly Brazilian. Exhibit A: “Kermis.” (Last Record Store)

Paul Smith – Delicate Jazz

Paul Smith’s other dates seem to pay tribute to Tatum, demonstrating dizzying technique and fancy flourishes. Delicate Jazz is on Capitol Records, is borderline Champagne background music, and yet I keep playing it over and over. There’s nothing wrong with some simple calming trio stuff from a guy with a very plain Anglo-Saxon name. Found in the dollar bin at Amoeba SF.

Eddie Harris – Instant Death

A dramatic cover photo, but the music isn’t somber or moody. Ronald Muldrow is great on “Little Wes,” and the title track is pretty nuts. You’ll recognize a Digable Planets sample from “Superfluous” that was used on “What Cool Breezes Do,” from Reachin‘. Probably my favorite Eddie Harris record, even though this is definitely my favorite Eddie Harris cover art—and title. A good one for the New Year’s Resolutioners out there. (Last Record Store)

Five Songs That Fifteen Should Totally Play Tonight

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 One Comment

Fifteen at the Phoenix Theater, 1993


Fifteen plays the Nostalgia Fest at the Phoenix Theater tonight, and according to reports, they’ve been practicing somewhere in the vicinity of 30 songs. That bodes well for fans, but will bode even better if the set list includes the following songs—five great Fifteen anthems that stand the test of time.

1. “Liberation” — If you’re playing a reunion show, it only makes sense to play the first song your band released. “Liberation” opened Fifteen’s self-titled 7” from 1990, and it bridged pretty clearly the gap between Crimpshrine and Fifteen: while the world has gone mad, two people find peace in their love for each other. “Just because these are songs about love and stuff doesn’t mean things don’t trouble me anymore,” Jeff explained in the photocopied lyric booklet. “It only means that I’ve found something infinitely more powerful than all the complaining and all the finger pointing and all the blaming.” This song’s intro also hints at the “tasty licks” on guitar that Jeff would eventually turn into a staple.

2. “Intentions” — When Swain’s First Bike Ride came out, many amateur guitar enthusiasts learned this song wrong, incorrectly playing the intro as chromatically ascending power chords starting on F#. Those who paid close attention learned the maj7/4-1 trick, alternately known as “squishy triangle.” Anyone who heard the song’s sad theme of giving up one’s aspirations to pursue a job in one ear while the choir of career counselors crowded the other was affected: when Jeff sings “It’s been too many years now of having my dreams beaten down,” and then repeats the words “beaten down” eight times, as if to truly beat the point to death, it’s a deeply cathartic sort of despair.

3. “C#(tion)” — Jeff told me once that he and Jack tried to arrange every song on Swain’s First Bike Ride to be perfect palindromes of each other. Listen and you’ll hear it—“Definition” begins and ends with those harmonics; “Inclination” is bookended by that noodling riff. But “C#(tion)” is an exception, with a great extended intro that repeats only as a half-time segue in the middle. This timeless song brings up two memories: 1) Seeing Green Day cover this at Gilman, thus blowing my mind, and 2) singing it with Jeff and Jack around a campfire somewhere in the sticks of Lake County. There was supposed to be a show, but for some reason everyone just killed and ate rattlesnakes instead.

4. “Domination=Destruction” — Fifteen is all but guaranteed to play “Petroleum Distillation” and at least one of the versions of “Separation” from Choice of a New Generation, so there’s no reason to waste any pennies in the fountain on those. The charms of this particular song are twofold: the fact that it initially existed as two separate songs but were combined into one, and then the way Jeff sings a melodic little “Fuck You” at the end, after exhorting “My hands are tied now, I cannot be silent in the face of the man.” You don’t realize how great this song is until it gets to the end, and then you’re like hell yeah. This is from an era when every time I saw Jeff, he wore the same Guns ‘n’ Roses T-shirt and no shoes.

5. “Run II” — After the first two albums, it’s tempting to reflect on Fifteen as the band that told you to ride a fucking bike ride a fucking bike ride a fucking bike, or gave detailed instructions on how to properly clean a hypodermic needle. Extra Medium Kickball Star was funded by the excess budget from the not-as-good Surprise! (a matter hilariously detailed in the song “The Deal”), and has this strange gem, which tells teenagers around the country that they should hitchhike to Berkeley, squat, and eat Food Not Bombs. Advising a life of squalor in a city already oversaturated with punk transplants is an unusual theme for a song, but it works, with a damn fine chorus.

Honorable Mentions: “The End,” played on the piano; “Equalized,” the Jawbreaker cover from Eggplant’s comp ‘Later, That Same Year'; “Mount Shrink Wrap,” which calculates the exact amount of shrink wrap the band is responsible for; and more than anything, probably more than any song on this silly list—“The End of the Summer,” which is just one of the prettiest goddamn love songs ever written.

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by on Dec 18, 2011 2 Comments

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

When I first heard tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l, I was so flabbergasted that I could report my findings only in abstract poetry form. With a ukelele, a drum kit, a fantastic bassist in the form of Nate Brenner and a total command of loop pedals, Merrill Garbus has made a record that’s both daring, accessible, and fully enjoyable. Like Joanna Newsom revolutionized the harp and PJ Harvey rethought the autoharp, Garbus is probably spurring a boost in ukelele sales nationwide; what can’t be packaged is her incredible, malleable voice, which is sweet and cooing one minute and a roar from another world the next. Variety is the spice of w h o k i l l: There are grinding, horn-heavy jams like “Bizness,” and there are slow, beautiful ruminations on love, like “Powa,” with a breathtaking upper-register ending. Thematically, the record takes on a tortured society, from a refutation of modern America to violence, police brutality and empowerment. I saw tUnE-yArDs twice in 2011, and talked to Garbus briefly. (She told me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.”) I also played this record over and over and over and over and over and over.

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

The Easy Listeningification of Everything was probably the defining thread of 2011. Last year’s chillwave mellowness permeated not just wispy rock hits from bands like Real Estate, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, but it snored its way into hip-hop as well. Musically, Drake’s Take Care is just a couple steps away from new age, and Frank Ocean, sprung from the usually abrasive group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, wowed critics (and Beyoncé) with a smooth, synth-ed out semi-R&B record, Nostalgia, Ultra. This Prozac-esque trend owes in part to three years of Lil’ B, the Oakland rapper from The Pack who released an album this year called I’m Gay, and whose Rain In England LP, heavy on rhythmless synthesizers, was released by the experimental noise label Weird Forest. (Going further back, one could tip the hat to Jay Electronica, who in 2007 released “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” a 9-minute track of rapping, with no drums at all, over the incidental score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)

All this lead-up is to say that I got tired of hearing rap music that wasn’t fucking rap music in 2011, and Death Grips’ Ex-Military was the perfect antidote to the annoying trend of blissed-out navelgazing in hip-hop. Led by the maniacal MC Ride and powered by Hella drummer Zach Hill, the album is one ferocious eruption of angry ideas after another, shouted recklessly over samples from the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Link Wray. The group’s videos are skittish, diseased and terrifying. Hip-hop in 2011 mostly said, “I’m cool, thanks.” Ex-Military said fuck you.

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Another pitfall of music in 2011 was dull oversharing. Menial details of one’s life do not a deep statement make, but plenty of artists (and Facebook users) thought otherwise. EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints is an album by Erika M. Anderson, who realizes life is not poetry unless you make of it something different and eloquent. You might not think as much from an album that opens with the lines “When you see that ship / It is the ship you can see,” but hang in there, I promise. “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark,” Anderson repeats on “Marked,” sounding like an Exile in Guyville Liz Phair; “20 kisses with a butterfly knife” reads like a cast-off lyric from Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine. There’s blood, jealousy, disappointment and revenge, especially in the fantastic semi-spoken “California,” a masterful hypotenuse between Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. Live in San Francisco, EMA was all sorts of likable awkwardness—if you’re into real human beings trying to be real human beings in front of a crowd of strangers, against the odds, she is fantastic. If you are not, you will probably say it feels like a therapy session.

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

I remained apathetic to the universally loved 2010 debut album by The XX (except that beautiful intro!), and this year did not jump out of my seat for a Gil-Scott Heron remix record by Jamie XX, We’re New Here. Intermittent “old soul” voice samples in electronic music = kind of 1999, but in the limited-edition box set released for Record Store Day, there was a separate disc of the instrumentals. I played them, and played them, and played them. Each time, the sonorous bass kicking in during “I’m New Here” was like a drip of morphine; the insistent wiggle and menacing handclap of “Running” always put me in an imaginary heist movie. This BBC Essential Mix on Soundcloud gives you an idea of the thoughts running through Jamie XX’s brain; download and escape.

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

When making these lists, I have to consider records that just plain make me happy. Sometimes those records shoot to the top of the list, like in 2007, with the Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. This year the “always makes me happy” award goes to Givers’ In Light. Critics may have pointed out that it sounds a lot like a Vampire Weekend / Dirty Projectors hybrid, but there is an effervescence to this record that I cannot deny. I mean, the first song is called “Up Up Up”! If I were to pick a perfect single of the year, “Saw You First” would be a contender—just a sweet-sailing, high-kicking love song that hits all the right notes. Really, listen to it. There are mega-epic “rock moments” all over the record, the songs are a senior thesis in perfect arrangement, and goddamn if Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco’s voices aren’t a lovely blend.

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

I’ve tried in the past to contain these lists to legit physical releases, but with more and more artists self-releasing via free download, I wave the white flag—five titles on my 2011 list began life as free online offerings. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons was posted online in the early part of the year, and it might win the award for broadest appeal. The Weeknd is Abel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian-Canadian R&B singer who bathes in dramatic lust; if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if The-Dream loved Siouxsie and the Banshees, here’s your answer. More about mood than songwriting, House of Balloons is a successful straddle between indie, R&B and pop, and its intrigue and atmosphere transfer a regular late night into something gripping and sexual; a regular morning into something laden with regret and haze.

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

“Lil’ B songs are better without Lil’ B,” a friend told me recently, and such subtraction leaves Clams Casino’s Instrumentals. Casino is from Jersey, makes beats that fit in to the 2011 aesthetic of laze, and has worked with A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller and maybe Drake but he’s not saying. He always sounds better on his own, and Instrumentals—originally a download, eventually released on 2LP by Type Records—skirts into an astral plane and deserves attention without clamoring for it. Seek it out if you can; he’s definitely on the rise.

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

Some albums don’t hit at first pass; you have to turn them inside out. In the case of Odd Bird’s Smith, I took the literal interpretation of this idea. First, I bent the gatefold LP backward and inside-out so that this excellent photo by Sara Sanger would be the “front” cover. Then, I began playing it starting on Side C instead of Side A. Both adjustments turned a decent local release into a year-end winner. Taut tunes, animal imagery, harmonies between Ashley Allred and Judah Nagler that are in the clouds, plenty of guest musicians, and songs that pay rent in your head.

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

Remember all that complaining about synthesizers, a lack of drums, and langour infecting all genres? An irony to The Easy Listeningification of Everything in 2011 is that much of it is imported from the so-called “noise” scene. (See: Oneohtrix Point Never.) I admit that I overdosed on noise in 2010, and try as I did to escape the genre’s clutches in 2011, certain artists grabbed me and would not let go. Kreng’s Grimoire is an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack updated for the 21st century—it lulls, then slashes, and slashes hard. Aside from Bernard Herrmann’s music for Obsession, I have never been so downright terrified listening to a record . Here’s a Soundcloud; good luck making it out unscathed.

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

There was a streak there where I was waiting for Amon Tobin to make a substandard album. It came with The Foley Room, an experiment in field recording and sound manipulation that fell flat. But with Amon Tobin’s Isam, the Brazilian-born DJ makes a pummeling, bombastic case for longevity. (Back in 1997, who would have predicted that Ninja Tune’s boy upstart would one day overtake DJ Shadow?) Everything Tobin does is interesting, but Isam is cohesive, and ranks up there with Supermodified and Out From Out Where.

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

That Ghost’s Songs Out Here is a surprise favorite of mine recorded by a kid named Ryan Schmale from Santa Rosa, whom I have never met. Lo-fi and echoey, part Roy Orbison and part Shirelles, antiquated and warehoused. I keep pulling it out and putting it on, and finding new things to love.

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

Though he released a “real” EP this year on Warp, Hudson Mohawke’s The Pleasure Principle is a fucking dance jam, with exuberant club-worthy remixes of Janet Jackson, Keri Hilson, Jodeci, Aaliyah and Gucci Mane. I want to hand it to a DJ at Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunday School and see what happens.

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

For those looking to kill the lights and imagine Lars von Trier’s Melancholia in real life, Grouper’s Alien Observer / Dream Loss is a two-separate-album release; a vision in reverb and lost emotion. For someone whose art can be very detailed and knotty, Liz Harris’ music is linear and soaring; I cannot help loving this.

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

The video of the year, in my opinion, was this Jay-Z-filmed backstage iPhone clip of Beyoncé warming up in her dressing room by singing “1+1″ with sparse accompaniment. Though I didn’t dig the album at first (singles “Love on Top” and “Countdown” are not the best representatives of this effort), Beyoncé’s 4 won me over with its unapologetic bliss. Get happily married, y’all, and then play this album, and then tell me what you think of it.

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

Another album I initially dismissed was Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, largely because it breaks absolutely no new stylistic ground. I kept coming back to it, though, and more than a disappointing retread from someone who should have more vision, it’s a touching album. The incessant banjo on “Raised Right Men” matches any tense gait, and the last song “New Year’s Eve” should be played at every New Year’s Eve party.

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

Terius Nash’s 1977, well, what can I say? Yes, I love The-Dream (a.k.a. Nash) up to a point (that point would be Love King, blecch), and this free download brought back some of what I love. “Used to Be” is everything all those other cold-fish rapper-singers who complain about their love lives wish they could attain, a village idiot with a huge, complicated heart.

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

A holdover obsession from 2010, Pete Swanson’s Man With Potential grabbed my ears for expanding beyond Swanson’s noise parameters and into a bizarre type of… house, or something? Imagine Manchester’s Factory with an insistent short-circuit; fans of Eno, Vangelis and Kraftwerk might do good to watch this clip.

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

Many years ago a band from the East Bay called Asbestos Death morphed into a band called Sleep, whose Dopesmoker ushered in a new wave of slow, plodding stoner metal. (Kyuss helped on a mainstream level, then turned in to Queens of the Stone Age.) For a time, stoner metal was everywhere, and Sunn o))) did it best, and then… oversaturation. Liturgy’s Aesthetica brings that beat back in amphetamine explosions of rapid-fire time signatures and eruptive, howling vocals. It’s fast, it’s furious, it kicks ass.

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

I avoided St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy (fashion spreads turn me off) but then saw a clip on the late-night, and dove in. There is no easy categorization for the music here, and Annie Clark seems to avoid it even further by piling up pedal effects on her guitar playing. If the last time you heard her she was covering Jackson Browne (or as the kids say, The Royal Tennenbaums), then it’s time to call again.

20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25…

I love Greg Brown’s Freak Flag because his voice is lower and raspier than ever. . . Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor has “Heavy Hours” and “Went to the City,” two goddamn incredible songs. . . Do feel free to be freaked out by the cover photo of Chelsea Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις, and make sure to save some extra freakedoutedness for the music. . . I desperately want Concord Jazz to take good care of the entire OJC catalog they recently acquired—seminal jazz titles on Riverside, Prestige and more by Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Rollins, Evans—but their track record of honoring what we loosely call “real jazz” is not promising. Releasing Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott’s Ninety Miles is a step in the right direction. . . I loved James Blake’s James Blake for two weeks, then hated it, then saw him and loved it, then hated it again, and now it’s just there. . . and from the fantastic vocalist, Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost and Found is a collection of soothing, nuanced songs by Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Lauryn Hill and others, with contributions from Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinsumire and Taylor Eigsti. And girl, she gots Skrillex hair.

Original list of the Top 25 Albums of 2011 is here.


Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 3 Comments

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

20. Greg Brown – Freak Flag (Yep Roc)

21. Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor (Merge)

22. Chelsea WolfeἈποκάλυψις (Pendu Sound)

23. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott – Ninety Miles (Concord)

24. James Blake – S/T (Atlas/Universal)

25. Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)

There is much discussion about all of these titles over here.

In News

Their Home Ain’t In the Hall of Fame

Posted by on Dec 7, 2011

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announcement came this morning. Nominated but not inducted: Eric B. and Rakim. (Or: War, Rufus, the Spinners.) That’s what you get with a wheezing institution whose CEO thanks their corporate sponsor in the second sentence of the press release. Congratulations, I guess, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan, Guns ‘n’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, the Small Faces and Laura Nyro.

Live Review: tUnE-YarDs at the Regency Ballroom

Posted by on Nov 24, 2011

Near the end of tUnE-YarDs’ set last night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, Merrill Garbus thanked the nearly sold-out crowd for coming out on the night before Thanksgiving.

“I feel like everyone I bumped into on the street or in the store today, I was like ‘Happy Holidays,’ and they were like ‘Ugh, I’m just trying to get through it,’” she related. “But if you feel that way, just remember to give something to somebody else, and it’ll make you feel really good.”

Indeed, through a lively, adventurous hometown set that closed out her long tour, Garbus gave, and gave, and gave. Reliant on intricate looping—a process Garbus has mastered, and that’s a marvel to watch live—tUnE-YarDs’ layered songs demand vocal gymnastics, polyrhythmic prowess and precise fingerpicking. Yet underpinning all this complexity is a contagious strain of outright jubilance, and her shows are a joyful, holy-rolling cleanse for those bogged down by the lamely accepted idea that “happy music” means Katy Perry and little else.

In other words, although her music is complex, a simple statement like “give something to somebody else and it’ll make you feel really good” could effectively serve as tUnE-YarDs’ operating motto. It certainly did last night.

Heavy on material from this year’s w h o k i l l, the set began with Garbus’ “Do You Wanna Live?!” (a song more commanding of a response than any you’ll hear all year) and ended with a pile of balloons dumped onto the crowd while her three-piece band was joined by openers Pat Jordache in a mass pounding of drums.

The experience gained on this year’s rigorous touring schedule showed its colors in dramatic reworkings of album tracks; “Bizness” enjoyed an extended free-jazz outro, as did “My Country,” and other songs erupted in surprise deviations and arrangements.

A new song the band performed sounded essentially like a B-side to w h o k i l l, and it showed that no matter how creative the performer, there’s only so much one can do with a setup of bass, horns, drums and ukelele. “This is the last show this ukelele will ever play,” Garbus quipped—but she was dissing the instrument’s ability to stay in tune, not announcing a reworked instrumentation for her next album.

But after this tour, who can imagine what’s in store next for tUnE-YarDs? What if Garbus’ next step is looping a Fender Rhodes, a bass clarinet, a Casio and a standup bass, and singing her brilliant songs backwards through a pedal that adds octaves and sound effects of oil rigs and hydraulic pumps? What if she managed to take all that and make it accessible, and catchy, and danceable? If anyone could pull it off, it’d be Garbus.

The Bohemian Style

Posted by on Nov 23, 2011

As celebrities become more famous as seen in red carpets, street fashion also becomes popular. The bohemian clothing style is not that expensive compared to what celebrities commonly wear while wearing this fashion. In general, the term initially applies to the people who live in Bohemia. However, this term is to be understood as referring to someone who lives an unconventional way of life. At times, artists or writers fall into this category.  Therefore, there is no need to don this expensive designer’s line just to get a new set of wardrobe.


Ideas to Achieve Bohemian Style

The first tip involves wearing one artistic clothing piece. Bohemian clothing style was often formed by many struggling artists in the 1950’s. The bohemian style, which includes the way they dress. It is generally greeted by the media that is barbaric. The reason being is that they often divert from the conventional style of clothing. As a result, they usually offer a very interesting garment piece.

If you are interested in achieving bohemian style, you can don a patterned or floppy hat, pairing it with jeans. Definitely, you will be a standout in a crowd, and you won’t get lost easily. In order to enhance the look further, pair the jeans with a leather belt. The bohemian clothing style is not about curves and bumps. It is more of a loose fit. Therefore, long skirts, flowy tops, and dresses can complete your fashion sense.


Your Own Bohemian Style

Aside from the outfit and the overall fashion sense, a good way to achieve the bohemian look is by having the bohemian attitude: carefree, relax and adventurous. These characteristics can quantify the disposition in life of a bohemian person.

People who love the bohemian style are just general people who come from different walks in life. Some work as teachers, office workers, doctors, engineers. They may be people who love playing golf, basketball, as well as online activities such as cosmik casino. What makes them bohemian, first, is their style of clothing which easily stands out in a crowd, and of course the attitude and disposition while they are wearing their bohemian style of clothing on.

Of course, aside from the two factors mentioned, accessories should never be absent in a bohemian fashion. This calls for the need to wear big earrings or big bangle bracelets. Wooden accessories add to the style as well.

Live Review: Weird Al Yankovic at the Wells Fargo Center

Posted by on Nov 8, 2011 One Comment

Have you ever seen Weird Al? No? Well, let me try to explain. He plays for two hours. He plays about 65 songs. He has about 20 costume changes. He assumes two dozen personas, and shows just as many funny fake interview clips between songs. He’s nonstop, and it’s nuts, and his crowd is nuts, and then he plays some songs about Yoda and it’s all over, and like any good fast-paced comedy show, it’s hard to remember what just happened.

Here’s what I can reconstruct.

When I walk in to the show, there’s a guy who’s 6’5″ in sweatpants, a headband and a red “Jews 4 Bacon” T-shirt. This is a good representative example of the typical Weird Al fan who has arrived here tonight to pay their respects to the master. I follow the Jews 4 Bacon guy to my seat, the lights go out, and Weird Al starts a polka medley of the following songs:

Poker Face
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
Day ‘n’ Nite
Need You Now
So What
I Kissed a Girl
Blame It (on the Alcohol)
Break Your Heart

The medley comes back around to “Poker Face,” the song ends, the lights go out, people go nuts. The lights blink back on just in time to see Weird Al bonk his face on the microphone with a huge “WhhHHHAhaOoompPP!,” and then recovering by shouting “HELLO SANTA ROSA!!”

There’s a joke about a drum solo, and then the video screen shows a interview with Eminem where Eminem keeps saying “You know what I’m sayin’?” and Weird Al keeps losing his patience in increasingly aggravated fashion, and this goes on and on, and the crowd loves it, and then some cheerleaders come out on stage to the opening strains of “Smells Like Nirvana.” I’m impressed that Weird Al plays the whole song on guitar left-handed, but then attention to detail is his specialty—surely he knows that Kurt Cobain played left-handed. He also gargles the guitar solo into the microphone with some mystery liquid and throws the red keg cup and its contents out on the crowd, and they go wild.

“TMZ” is a Taylor Swift parody, “Party in the C.I.A.” is Miley Cyrus, Jesus, what else? It all goes by so fast, and honestly, some of the best songs are his own, like “Skipper Dan,” the sad tale of a failed actor who was once “the next Olivier” but is now working the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, reciting the same crappy schtick about the wiggling hippo ears 34 times a day. (“I research everything that I do as much as I possibly can before I even start writing,” he says in this interview about the song. See, attention to detail!)

Somewhere in there is perhaps the show’s highlight: “Wanna B Ur Lovr,” with Weird Al in a red-and-black leopard print suit hopping off the stage and grinding up on audience members, like, legs up on the seat, while singing lines like “My love for you’s like diarrhea, I just can’t hold it in” and something about chewing on your butt, maybe? It’s insane. He launches into a food medley, with “Whatever You Like” and “Nothin’ on You” and “Eye of the Tiger” and “La Bamba” and “Stand” and I forget what else, and then they all come out dressed like the Doors.

Doing Jim Morrison is hard, but Weird Al nails it, and their bassist is sitting back at the keyboards because the Doors had no bassist (ATTENTION TO DETAIL!) and the song is about Craigslist and the personal ads and annoying complaints people lodge on Craigslist. Weird Al wins a place in the heart of Santa Rosa by addressing a diatribe during the bridge: “An open letter to the snotty barista at Bad Ass Coffee on Mark West Springs Road,” and again, attention to detail, place goes nuts, it’s totally cool and uncool at the same time, which I guess sums up the whole show, actually.

The hits roll out: “Perform This Way,” “eBay,” “Canadian Idiot,” “White and Nerdy,” “Money for Nothing / Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Fat,” with the famous fat costume, and it’s hard to figure out if he’s making the fat people in the audience feel better or worse about themselves, but I’m guessing better, because Weird Al is all about making everyone feel better about themselves no matter how weird or quirky or idiosyncratic or different they may be. Even if they’re 6’5″ and wearing sweatpants and a headband and a shirt that says “Jews 4 Bacon.” Weird Al is there for that man, and that man is not giving up on Weird Al, because like Homer Simpson says: “He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life.”

There’s an encore, with songs about Star Wars, a.k.a. the Spiritual Advisory Board of the disenfranchised. There’s an amazing acapella thing that I can’t begin to describe (thank you YouTube, start at 3:40), and the whole thing comes roaring back in with “Yoda,” and the accordion is king, and people are swaying in their own ridiculous joy, and UHF is a great movie, and Jessica Simpson is dumb, and no one thought about the state of the world for two hours, and Weird Al yells “Thank you Santa Rosa!” and I believe that he actually cares. And that’s what a Weird Al show is like.




In News

Pete Rugolo, 1915-2011

Posted by on Oct 23, 2011

Last week, famed bandleader Pete Rugolo died at the age of 95. A brilliant arranger and progressive composer, he brought a decidedly modernist touch to big-band jazz, most famously with his work for Stan Kenton. He worked with Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, June Christy, Harry Belafonte, the Four Freshmen, Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and many, many others.

Interesting to locals: Pete Rugolo grew up in Santa Rosa, graduating from Santa Rosa High School in 1934.

Though he eventually recorded under his own name (and specialized in fun, lively cover art), the album that introduced me to Pete Rugolo is still my favorite: the June Christy album Something Cool, a jazz-vocal landmark. Rugolo had been rearranged, tinkered with and sent back to the rewriting board by his previous employers, but as he recalls in this interview at age 84, “I did the album Something Cool, and everything I wrote, they never changed a note. They just loved all my work.”

It shows. Listen to “Something Cool” below, and pay attention in the bridge, when Christy sings about going to Paris in the fall—Rugolo answers with a jubilant three seconds of music that evokes, well. . . Paris in the fall. It’s a classic Rugolo touch that I’ve always loved, and the rest of the album’s arrangements are equally sophisticated and ahead of their time. Enjoy the song.