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City Sound Inertia Wins Another National Award

City Sound Inertia Wins Another National Award

Posted by: on Jul 22, 2011 | Comments (2)

Well, color me honored! Today in New Orleans, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies held their annual AAN Awards and handed out a second-place national award to City Sound Inertia for Best Music Blog.

Considering the great altweekly music blogs out there—Ian S. Port and the SF Weekly’s All Shook Down; Ezra Careff and the Portland Mercury’s End Hits; Rob Harvilla and Zach Baron at the Village Voice’s Sound of the City, which to no one’s surprise took first place—well, being in such fine company, and winning two years in a row, and doing so all by myself in a relatively small town… it feels good.

Thanks to all of you readers for sticking with me here on City Sound Inertia; I continue to be humbled by the fact that people actually read these words of mine, still usually typed at 2am from home. And again, thanks especially to AAN, not just for the award but for nurturing and championing alternative news media. Now go on and listen to some records! Start with Mingus Ah Um, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, Midnight Marauders or w h o k i l l, and you’ll be in fine shape for the rest of the day. Here’s love to you all.

 

Review and Photos: Outside Lands Festival 2010, Day Two

Posted by: on Aug 17, 2010 | Comments (3)

I’ll get to the bands, but the first thing anyone noticed, surely, is the freak scene outside the gates of Outside Lands. It’s what you’d envision concerts in the park to be like back when concerts in the park were free. In the short walk between parking my bike (thanks, SF Bike Coalition) and the main entry, I was offered $2 beers from a stack of 12-packs piled on a skateboard, $1 pot cookies from a brown grocery bag, yelled at by a woman for no reason who shouted “KEEP LAUGHING! THIS STAND-UP COMEDY ACT AIN’T FREE!,” warned to get out of the way while security caught and escorted out an unsucessful gate-crasher, watched in amazement at a sprinting, successful gate-crasher, and had to tell a guy no, but thanks, I’d rather you not super-soak my arm.

Then it’s over the hill and into the festival, with corporate booths (“Free Rolling Stone T-Shirts!”; no takers), even more corporate tents (the “Chase Freedom Lounge,” yeah right, like anyone thinks a credit card gives you freedom) and no free water except from the lovely people staffing the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic’s Rock Med table. I’ll say it until the day I die: All festivals should have a free drinking fountain. At least a garden hose, man.

The night before, I’d DJed this really ridiculously epic wedding reception at the Union Hotel in Occidental, and the exact feeling that festivals aim to provide—Everyone United Through Music!™—was undeniable in a tiny little redwood-lined ballroom. It was fun, but honestly, I don’t know that Everyone United Through Music!™ is such a desirable goal, because the more people united in their excitement over a band, the greater the chances of that band being pretty lame and middle-of-the-road. On a semi-related note, there’s no way around the fact that this year’s Outside Lands lineup is the weakest yet.

Mayer Hawthorne killed it. I’ve got a weariness of the oversaturated retro-soul train perennially chugging out of the same station for the last ten years, but there’s no denying Hawthorne’s enthusiasm. The crowd was in the palm of his hands—he stopped, held up one finger, they cheered; he shook the hell out of his tambourine, they cheered; he got everyone to imitate rain with their fingers, they cheered. Impeccably dressed in a custom suit, Hawthorne had a great band with vintage analog gear, synchronized backup dancers and three-part backing harmonies.

“I love records, I’m a vinyl junkie,” Hawthorne said at one point. “Y’all got one of the best record stores in the universe here—Amoeba.” He’s right! He then related a funny story about being mistaken by an autograph seeker, in the aisles at Amoeba, for Michael Bublé. Who knows if the story was really true, but you can kind of see the resemblance.

The Devil Makes Three are great, and always have been great, and it’s nice to see them finally selling out shows and getting props. Theirs is an instructional story for bands on taking the very slow, hardworking path, which is also a story about taking the very broke, no-money-havin’ path. I’d heard from a friend who saw their packed show at the Independent a couple nights before that they’d gotten “loose” and “noodley,” which actually sounded cool, but at Outside Lands no loose noodles answered the roll-call.

They opened with “For Good Again,” a sardonic story about communal living and starting a band, and there are some lines in that song which define the Devil Makes Three for me: “Everybody who’s anybody, in my opinion,” sings Pete Bernhard, “at one time lived in somebody’s hallway.” Lines like that are comfort food for punkhouse graduates, and even though I technically never lived in a hallway, I thought about my days living in the laundry room, or the attic, or the garage, or the closet, or the unfinished frame house, and felt a little better about myself. Thanks, Pete.

Then I saw a man with his shirt wide open. He had two bellybuttons. No kidding.

So like I said, there’s a lot of corporate tents at Outside Lands. In these tents, there’s DJs, or free wi-fi, or short performances in intimate settings by bands who are playing the larger stages. The only thing is that to get into these tents, you have to own a certain kind of credit card, or “like” a stupid brand on Facebook, or sign up for spam email, or utter a cringe-worthy phrase like “Let’s go to ‘Inspire’ by Heineken.” (Also, what the hell were those plastic stove knob things that Chase was handing out? Does anyone know? For real. I saw them all over the ground 20 feet after the dude was handing them out. No one knew what they were. Total sense this made = 0.)

That said, KUSF is a kickass radio station. Their Outside Lands tent was open to everyone, free of irritating marketing, and when I walked by the Budos Band was rocking a tiny stage. The bassist played his bass in this ridiculous upside-down fashion, and the bari sax player looked possessed at times. A little bit Mulatu, a little bit Fela, all Daptone, really tight grooves, and a nice surprise on the way to Janelle Monáe. It was great!

(Note to KUSF: I just wanna say that by NOT making me sign up for anything to chill in your tent, you have earned my loyalty and respect. See how it works in the 21st Century? There’s no jobs out there because no companies are making any money, so companies pump up their marketing team until everyone’s so nauseatingly sick from the onslaught of marketing that only a complete lack of marketing achieves the desired result of the public subconscious reacting positively to your brand, but I digress. The Budos Band is cool as shit and KUSF is wonderful.)

Janelle Monáe wins the showmanship prize of the year based on her Outside Lands set alone, and to think she does it night after night after night is unreal. Even her soundman was rocking out—like, hard—and he’s someone who watches this happen every night, over and over. Janelle Monáe! Whose brain works as fast as hers? Whose body works fast enough to receive lightning-fast impulses from said brain? Who can sing, rap dance in just one show? (Kangol, Mr. Sophisticata, but I digress yet again.)

Monáe was fifteen minutes late due to a late flight, a fact that no one’s going to remember because her set ruled. She took to the stage in a black hooded cape, sang the hell out of her songs, danced up a tornado and laid forth a watertight case for stardom. When “Tightrope” first hit, I couldn’t shake Monáe’s very formal, clean presentation. There was something eerily obedient in her manner, as if her talent had been refined and polished beyond normal human behavior. But contrary to the unwritten code of alleged musical “purity,” talent doesn’t have to sloppy to be authentic, and trained singers can also be great singers. Seeing Monáe live reinforces these concepts.

I had been staring at the stage, covered in instrument cables, wondering if Monáe might accidentally step on one and slip while dancing. Alas, she’s got this problem solved by putting a special dance riser in front of the drums, which also meant that people way in the back could see Monáe’s dizzying footwork. She turned in a memorable set, to say the least, including Chaplin’s “Smile,” probably the greatest song about depression ever written. When she ended with “Tightrope,” I walked around the crowd and came upon a dude who was doing backflips and smoking a joint at the same time. Amazing.

Al Green was on his game.

I last saw Al Green in Sonoma, turning in a smooth, by-the-numbers show for middle-aged wine drinkers. It was great, but man, it was so refreshing to see the guy in front of thousands of kids in tight jeans and neon Ray-Bans. Especially when there’s a lot of retro-soul acts here today—Janelle Monáe, Mayer Hawthorne, the Budos Band—it’s nice to have Al Green arrive to show them how it’s done.

In a routine that’s familiar by now, he took the stage, throwing out dozens of roses and repeatedly saying “I love you.” It may be routine, but when Green does it, it doesn’t feel like schtick. He implored the crowd to sing along. He shouted out California. He wished for stairs leading down into the crowd and made fun of the “paparazzi” in the photo pit. He genuinely wanted to make a connection with people. I’d say he succeeded.

There are things you forgive Al Green. Taking a swig of Gatorade partway through the second verse of “Let’s Stay Together” is one of them. (The chorus, which everyone knows by heart and sings loudly, would be a much more appropriate spot to take a break.) Performing snippets of “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Bring It on Home to Me” and “My Girl” instead of his own songs is another. Why? Because his history, which is weighty in itself, is matched by his current-day pipes and patter. Wailing gospel high notes, hip-bumping to the downbeat, blowing kisses to the ladies—just owning it.

Afterwards, from the direction of Speedway Meadow, we saw a swarm of bodies who for some reason chose to watch Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes instead of Al Green, and I usually don’t pity people for following their internal compass, but man.

Garage a Trois. Last song. “1969” by the Stooges. The vibraphone player, Mike Dillon, reached over for a mic and bumped some percussion, which toppled to the floor. A sound guy approached, like he was going to reprimand the guy. Dillon saw him coming and executed a flying, head-first leap over the vibes, crashing to the ground and knocking over more stuff. He got up and dry-humped Skerik, the saxophone player. Then he kicked Skerik in the head. Noticing the mic had come unplugged, he threw it up in the air and into the crowd. It was nuts.

When the song was over, the soundmen looked relieved.

Once upon a time there was a band called Chromeo. The best moment of Chromeo’s set came when a ton of people outside the festival banded together on JFK drive and crashed through the fence. A cheer emitted from the crowd when dozens of people made it in without paying. (Watch the video here.) If you lived through the 1980s you’ve heard Chromeo before. The end.

Painfully apparent when Phoenix kicked off with “Lizstomania” was that Thomas Mars was singing along to a doubled backing track. Ouch! Except everyone was going so nuts they probably didn’t notice. The coolly detached Mars hopped into the crowd, whipping people into even further of a frenzy. I wonder what the poll results would be if each fan at the gates was asked if Phoenix should be headlining instead of Kings of Leon.

Nas: Yankees hat. Damian Marley: Dreads down to the floor. Hype man: Waving a Lion of Judah flag. Backing band: Solid. Backup singer: Wearing a Bob Marley T-Shirt. Work it, baby!

Damian Marley shouted something about legal marijuana, and the field went nuts. I missed it, but according to the East Bay Express, Nas at one point called Africa a “country.”

“I’m lookin’ out in this crowd,” declared Mike Ness, in that oh-so-Mike-Ness way (see: Live at the Roxy), “and I’m seein’ some scary lookin’ criminals… If any of you out there are considering a life of crime, I seriously discourage it!” Sure thing, Mike.

Zen moments come at unexpected times. Social Distortion playing “Ring of Fire” was one of them. Why did it move me? What about it was special that wasn’t, the dozens of other times I’ve heard it? I can’t say. Especially when Mike Ness gave it this strange introduction about Johnny Cash: “This was written by one of my heroes! He’s not a hero because he had great hair or wore all black, but because there was a time in this country where people thought good white music could exist without black music! I tell ya, without this guy we’d all be sittin’ on the front porch blowing into a jug tryin’ to make a tune!”

I’d never seen Social Distortion. When I was 13 and didn’t know anything about music I’d go to the Wherehouse in the mall and look at the cassette tapes, selecting my purchase based entirely on the names of the bands. This is how I wound up with Killer Klowns From Outer Space by the Dickies, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death by the Dead Kennedys, and Prison Bound by Social Distortion. I thought Social Distortion was a raw name, and was kind of bummed when I got home to find it was basically country music instead of thrash.

Kings of Leon were up next, but so was RVIVR across town at Thee Parkside. I guarantee you that a thousand birds could shit on RVIVR’s heads and they’d keep playing. You can’t say the same for Kings of Leon, so I hopped on my bike and rode back to my car at Ocean Beach. I love this part of Golden Gate Park. It’s downhill all the way, past the buffalo and the casting pools and the archery field, and out on the Great Highway the sun and the fog and the water made a beautiful canvas behind that huge wooden windmill.

More Photos Below.

Healdsburg Jazz Festival Postponed; Jessica Felix Ousted

Posted by: on Jul 29, 2010 | Comments (8)

In a shocking, upsetting announcement, the Board of Directors for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival announced today that there will be no Healdsburg Jazz Festival in 2011.

What’s more, festival founder and Artistic Director Jessica Felix has been voted out by the Board, and will no longer be a part of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival she started 12 years ago.

Citing the poor economy, the Board says they’ll focus instead on their music education program which for 10 years has brought jazz to area schools. “There also seems to be a more limited audience for pure jazz in the community as evidenced by lower ticket sales,” Board president Pat Templin says. “There may be an opportunity to broaden the offering in the future. We need to find a winning model that will interest more people and businesses in the community to get involved, provide financial support and to attend a revised music festival.”

A “revised music festival.” A “limited audience for pure jazz.” An “opportunity to broaden the offering.” These are not good harbingers of things to come.

I called Felix to find out what happened. She said she couldn’t comment until she spoke with a lawyer, a bad sign. “I was totally surprised,” she said.

Reached by phone, Board president Pat Templin told me that there are “no plans” to reinstate Jessica Felix in 2012, adding that it was decision not made lightly, and one borne of finances instead of artistic vision (the festival, she stresses, will not move in a smooth jazz direction).

“She’s an amazing person, she’s done an amazing thing, and we’re trying to build on her legacy,” Templin says. “We’re committed to jazz, and to maintaining that reputation. And we’re also interested in some of what the community has told us, that there might be other genres that support the kind of jazz we do.” What other genres might those be? “One is blues,” Templin says.

If Felix can’t comment, then I will: The Healdsburg Jazz Festival as we know it is committing artistic suicide.

As a journalist, I’ve butted heads with Felix a couple times, but one thing I’ve never, ever questioned is her top-quality booking for the festival. I assume this so-called “limited audience for pure jazz” wasn’t part of the sold-out crowd this year for Ravi Coltrane and Charlie Haden, the sold-out crowd for Esperanza Spalding, or the full crowd for Jason Moran and Bill Frisell.

And that’s just in the last year alone. Previous festivals have hosted, to great acclaim, Joshua Redman, Billy Higgins, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Frank Morgan and Dave Brubeck. Look at those names—and then find me another jazz festival booker in a town with a population of only 10,000 who can attract such stature.

The community needs the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, but in particular it needs the festival as booked by someone well-connected, passionate and knowledgeable about jazz. That someone is and always has been Jessica Felix. She’s taken creative risks that have paid off—such as two sold-out shows with the decidedly avant-garde Trio 3 last year—and that’s because over the last 12 years she’s cultivated an audience for jazz in Sonoma County. She’s even saved the festival money by putting up musicians in her home, and finding other local hospitable jazz fans to do the same.

As for ticket sales? The slump isn’t just in Healdsburg—concert ticket sales have been down significantly nationwide; Templin admits she’s aware of this too. So sure, a scaling back on the festival makes sense. A focus on music education is good for attracting new sponsors. A one-year hiatus in 2011, painful as it may be, may be necessary.

But in reorganizing, there’s one thing the Board shouldn’t overlook, and that’s the respect Felix has earned from the artists and fans in the jazz world. Every musician playing the Healdsburg Jazz Festival who I’ve interviewed for the Bohemian in the last six years has praised Felix’s devotion, without my asking. The national reputation of the festival speaks to her great work.

If she wants to continue booking the festival she founded—and it seems like she does—I can’t think of any reason to stop her from doing so.

[UPDATE: The Board of Directors have removed all public comments from their website. I've reposted them here.]

[UPDATE: It worked! Jessica's back and so is the festival. Read here.]

City Sound Inertia Wins National Award

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2010 | Comments (12)

I am honored, elated and surprised that at today’s annual convention in Toronto, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies has bestowed this very blog you’re all up in right now with a first-place award! That’s right: Best Individual Blog, circulation under 50,000.

As someone who still loves and uses rotary phones, typewriters and the U.S. Postal Service, I was stubbornly hesitant to start a blog in the first place and spent a great deal of time criticizing the idea to anyone who would listen. I’ve always felt the printed pages of the Bohemian were far more important. But at the urging of my great editor, Gretchen Giles, I finally relented and began writing posts—usually from home, at around two in the morning.

In the two-and-a-half years since, CSI has been a hodgepodge of local music coverage, show reviews, announcements, personal musings, interviews, record reviews and whatever else pops into my head. It’s also been very, very rewarding. Sometimes I veer off and start talking about closed Chinese restaurants, parking meters and heroin needles; other times I’ve broken behind-the-scenes stories that get picked up by Rolling Stone.

Kissing booths, harlequins, leaked festival lineups and girls camping out for a Hanson show have all made appearances here, as well as one of my all-time favorite interviews. Sometimes I hang out with famous people and review huge pop stars both extremely talented and so untalented it’s a joke; other times I spotlight brilliant unknowns, visit in on friends’ record collections or rally support for hometown heroes. I even drop in on porn stars from time to time.

I guess what I’m saying is that I love doing it. Here’s the part where I say I owe it all to you, the loyal readers, who give me constant support and tolerate my bad jokes. Of course, thanks also to AAN, not just for the award but for nurturing and championing alternative news media. Now go jam out to some ridiculous Nicki Manaj verses or at least listen to some vintage Sonny Rollins, and enjoy the weekend!

Jack Attack

Posted by: on Mar 17, 2010 | Comments (6)

This week’s music column is on Jack Springs, a 25-year-old high-functioning mentally retarded metal musician who sings about how he’s been mistreated in life. I didn’t know Jack was mentally retarded when I met him; he offered the information unsolicited, just like he freely shared his stories about having his head shoved into the toilet in school, or getting his ass kicked by bullies after being coerced into smoking marijuana.

The more I talked with Jack, the more I appreciated the raw honesty in his songs. Just like the sketchy handwriting in a junior high love note render feelings on the notebook page more real, the jagged delivery and lateral combination of lyrics in Jack’s songs tilt at the true turmoil that he lives with each day as a developmentally disabled man in a judgmental world.

Here’s some of the songs discussed in the article. There’s talk already amongst local musicians about forming a backing band so he can play live:

1. “My Rights Were Violated.” The first song Jack recorded. His statement of purpose. The theme to a million revenge stories boiled down to eight simple words. Click here to listen.

2. “The Jack Tracks.” A unique selection among Jack’s songs in that he addresses portions of it to himself. Near the end, he dedicates it to James, “a role model.” I had assumed he’s referring to James Hetfield, but it’s actually his father James, who’s passed away. Click here to listen.

3. “Violated Nights.” The incredible transformation of Jack the avant-beat songwriter with an out-of-tune electric guitar into Jack the hardcore larynx shredder with a score to settle. Chills. Click here to listen.

4. “Violated Days.” The CD-R that I received lists this song as “All of My Rights Were Broken to Pieces and Now I Am Going to Take All My Rights Back From You and Then Your Heart Will Stop Beating,” which, as you’ll hear, are the song’s complete lyrics. Jack’s since informed me that the song is called “Violated Days.” Either way, it’s amazing. Click here to listen.

Incidentally, to prepare for the interview, Jack brought me a list of his influences, written on a napkin. He tells me Metallica’s too commercial now that they get played on the radio all the time. (He also credits Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” as the thematic inspiration for writing songs about his rights.) You’ll see a band at the top of the list, Torn Back, which is Jack’s brother’s band, and Intangled, another local metal band who are friends with Jack—proof that the metal community can provide support to outcasts when no one else will.

The Top Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Posted by: on Dec 15, 2009 | Comments (6)

While other music writers sharpen their prejudices and draw up hindsight-assisted “Albums that Defined the Decade” features, I think it’d be more honest to revisit my genuine annual top album rankings from all ten years of The Aughts. Yes, these are the actual year-end-best lists that I composed from 2000-2009, recovered with no small amount of tenacity from old hard drives, pieces of paper stuffed in boxes, CD-Rs, the backs of posters, photocopied record store gift guides, and email newsletters.

If anything, these records deserve far more company. (D’Angelo and Lucinda Williams would be obvious places to start.) Lists can often work like shackles, but I see them instead as springboards of discovery. Jeez, I’m still discovering more favorite albums of the 1950s! And if you’re a listener that’s at all passionate, then you probably are as well. This decade might be over, but it’s by no means completely wrapped up. Anyone insinuating otherwise is selling you something.

Anyway, without further ado—here’s what I was loving over the last ten years.

2000

1. Built to Spill – Live (Warner Bros.)
2. Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues (E-Squared / Artemis)
3. Jurassic 5 – Quality Control (Interscope)
4. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (Epic)
5. Radiohead – Kid A (Capitol)
6. Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
7. Jets to Brazil – Four Cornered Night (Jade Tree)
8. James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy (Atlantic)
9. Bjork – Selmasongs (One Little Indian)
10. Blackalicious – Nia (Quannum)
11. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man (American)
12. Belle and Sebastian – Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Jeepster)
13. V/A – Xen Cuts: 10 Years of Ninja Tune Records (Ninja Tune)
14. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae to Heaven (Constellation)
15. People Under the Stairs – Question in the Form of an Answer (Om)
16. Deltron – Deltron 3030 (75Ark)
17. The Clash – Live: From Here to Eternity (Epic)
18. V/A – Solesides’ Greatest Bumps (Quannum)
19. Beck – Midnite Vultures (Geffen)
20. V/A – Freight Train Boogie (Jackalope)

2001

1. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
2. Cursive – Burst and Bloom (Saddle Creek)
3. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft (Columbia)
4. The Velvet Teen – The Great Beast February (Self-Released)
5. Atmosphere – Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers)
6. McCoy Tyner – Plays John Coltrane (Verve)
7. The Now Time Delegation – Watch for Today (In the Red)
8. Radiohead – Amnesiac (Capitol)
9. The Strokes – Is This It (RCA)
10. Aesop Rock – Labor Days (Def Jux)
11. The Jealous Sound – EP (Better Looking)
12. Greg Brown – Over and Under (Trailer Park)
13. Life in Braille – New York City Ending (Underground Sounds of America)
14. David Axelrod – S/T (Mo Wax)
15. DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist – Product Placement (One29)
16. Fred Eaglesmith – Ralph’s Last Show (Signature Sounds)
17. Buddy Guy – Sweet Tea (Silvertone)
18. Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Quannum)
19. Robert Earl Keen – Gravitational Forces (Lost Highway)
20. V/A – Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown (Blood and Fire)

2002

1. The Velvet Teen – Out of the Fierce Parade (Slowdance)
2. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness (Jade Tree)
3. Desaparecidos – Read Music, Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)
4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
5. DJ Shadow – The Private Press (MCA)
6. Tom Waits – Alice (Anti-)
7. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)
8. RJD2 – Deadringer (Rhymesayers)
9. Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel (Island)
10. Jurassic 5 – Strength in Numbers (Interscope)
11. Chuck Prophet – No Other Love (New West)
12. Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me (Anti-)
13. Bob Dylan – Live 1975: Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia)
14. Los Lobos – Good Morning Aztlán (Mammoth)
15. V/A – La Musica Della Mafia: Il Canto di Malavita (Play it Again Sam)
16. Converge – Jane Doe (Equal Vision)
17. Beck – Sea Change (Geffen)
18. D-Styles – Phantazmagorea (Tableturns)
19. Bright Eyes – Lifted (Saddle Creek)
20. V/A – Cuisine Non-Stop (Luaka Bop)

2003

1. Crooked Fingers – Red Devil Dawn (Merge)
2. Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (4AD)
3. Gillian Welch – Soul Journey (Acony)
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (Interscope)
5. Ugly Duckling – Taste the Secret (Emperor Norton)
6. Stark Reality – Now (Stones Throw)
7. Against Me – As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck)
8. Carla Bozulich – Red Headed Stranger (Dicristina Stair Builders)
9. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts)
10. Detroit Cobras – Life, Love & Leaving (Sympathy)
11. Joe Strummer – Streetcore (Hellcat)
12. The Rapture – Echoes (DFA / Universal)
13. Soul Position – 8 Million Stories (Rhymesayers)
14. The New Trust – We Are Fast Moving Motherfuckers (Slowdance)
15. John Fahey – Red Cross (Revenant)
16. Shesus – Loves You… Loves You Not (Narnack)
17. Lyrics Born – Later That Day (Quannum)
18. D.D. Jackson – Suite for New York (Justin Time)
19. Ashtray – S/T (Self-Released)
20. V/A – Miami Sound (Soul Jazz)

2004

1. MF Doom & Madlib – Madvillian (Stones Throw)
2. The Velvet Teen – Elysium (Slowdance)
3. Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me (Sony)
4. Jolie Holland – Escondida (Anti-)
5. The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows (Record Collection)
6. Bjork – Medulla (One Little Indian)
7. Mastodon – Leviathan (Relapse)
8. Arcade Fire – Funeral (Merge)
9. RJD2 – Since We Last Spoke (Rhymesayers)
10. Green Day – American Idiot (Reprise)
11. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill (Anti-)
12. The Go! Team – Thunder Lightning Strike (Memphis Industries)
13. The Rum Diary – Poisons That Save Lives (Springman)
14. Usher – Confessions (LaFace / Arista)
15. Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Like Bad News (Epic)
16. Haiku D’Etat – Coup de Theatre (Project Blowed)
17. Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
18. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Abbatoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-)
19. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2 (Viper)
20. Howard Wiley – TwentyFirstCenturyNegro (Self-Released)

2005

1. M.I.A. – Arular (XL)
2. Edan – Beauty and the Beat (Lewis)
3. Black Mountain – Black Mountain (Jagjaguwar)
4. Common – Be (G.O.O.D. / Geffen)
5. Robert Earl Keen – What I Really Mean (Koch)
6. Sharon Jones – Naturally (Daptone)
7. Sonny Rollins – Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone)
8. The Boredoms – Seadrum / House of Sun (Vice)
9. Four Tet – Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-Released)

2006

1. Camille – Le Fil (Virgin)
2. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos (ATO)
3. Gotan Project – Lunatico (XL)
4. Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
5. Tom Waits – Orphans (Anti-)
6. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather (PUTS)
7. Kris Kristofferson – This Old Road (New West)
8. The Slackers – Peculiar (Hellcat)
9. Mastodon – Blood Mountain (Reprise)
10. CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)

2007

1. The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (Warner Bros.)
2. M. Ward – Post-War (Merge)
3. !!! – Myth Takes (Warp)
4. M.I.A. – Kala (XL)
5. The New Trust – Dark Is The Path Which Lies Before Us (Slowdance)
6. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge)
7. Jesu – Lifeline (Hydra Head)
8. David Murray – Sacred Ground (Justin Time)
9. Bassnectar – Underground Communication (Om)
10. Menomena – Friend and Foe (Barsuk)

2008

1. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
2. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL)
4. Grip Grand – Brokelore (Look)
5. K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Interdependent)
6. Headlights – Some Racing, Some Stopping (Polyvinyl)
7. The Roots – Rising Down (Def Jam)
8. Jackson Conti – Sujinho (Mochilla)
9. Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink – In Amherst (BRO)
10. Cassandra Wilson – Loverly (Blue Note)
11. Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit – Are the Very Best (Ghettopop)
12. The New Trust – Get Vulnerable (TNT)
13. People Under The Stairs – Fun DMC (Gold Dust)
14. Portishead – Third (Island)
15. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)
16. Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)
17. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War (Universal Motown)
18. Loma Prieta – Last City (Discos Huelgas)
19. Zomo – Best Of (Self-Released)
20. Jolie Holland – The Living and the Dead (Anti-)

2009

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)

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(See more year-end lists from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

Heavy Mental Music

Posted by: on Sep 30, 2009 | Comments (4)

This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.

What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.

The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:

Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”