Albums of the Year – 2017 – Part 2 (The Middle)

These are the albums in the middle of the pack. Some of these have the ability to move to the front depending on the day, the mood or other factors. But they rarely stay there, pulled back by the areas where they miss the mark. None of them are bad – they’re just not as good as the upper crust.

Elbow – Little Fictions
Probably the best of the latter day Elbow albums. Ironically, the departure of long time drummer Richard Jupp has led to a more rhythmically focused outing this time. There’s some real experimentation going on here and it’s all good. However, I find myself wishing that they would have gone just a little bit farther. Still, it’s a great album for a rainy afternoon drive. It’s easy to get lost in this. “Magnificent, She Said” has made me choked up on more than one occasion. I’ll never forget the day I was messing around the house with my kids and the lyrics hit me. “I think I got something in my eye,” I quipped.

Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton – Choir of the Mind
An album by an artist facing her demons. There is a lot to unpack here. I haven’t gotten around to analyzing the whole thing and I’m not sure if I’d even want to but “Fatal Gift” is one of the most hauntingly and seductively beautiful songs of the year. Haines is still a guilty pleasure. Her Metric work is fun to listen to with my girls while Choir is a late night headphone listen. Rewards with repeated listens. Gorgeous melancholy.

The XX – I See You
A welcome modification of the XX formula. On the heels of Jamie XX’s excellent solo outing, this album sees the band incorporating more outside sounds into their minimalist origins and being all the better for it. The Hall and Oats sample is as unexpected as it is perfect for the tune it inhabits. It’s a solid third outing for a band that shows that it’s more than the one trick pony hinted to on album two.

Neil Young – Hitchiker
Originally recorded in 1976, this album comes from the peak of Young’s career. For some reason, he shelved it at that time. In a way, it works better coming out now. Back then, it might have been overlooked. It’s not Crazy Horse by any means but it’s a great indication of what Young could do with a guitar and a microphone (and substances) late at night.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Adam Granduciel really made it with 2014’s “Lost in the Dream”. In my opinion, their peak was “Slave Ambient”. This album takes the Dire Straits, Don Henley, reinterpretation of the 80’s one step farther. It actually incorporates a little more WOD style this time around and is all the better for it. But something makes me crave a little more weirdness. Update: I listened to this on a train from Berlin to Prague and combined with the scenery, it was revelatory.

The National – Sleep Well Beast
I liked the National better when they weren’t a political band. Now it’s like they’re Barack Obama’s house band. It’s just all super-pandering and I’m a little tired of politics this year. But still, it’s a solid effort. The El Vy outing seems to have done Matt Berninger some good. There’s more experimentation in the album and they sound fairly energized in their own downbeat way.

Son Volt – Notes of Blue
I had no idea that Jay Farrar still had this left in him. I had all but stopped following his projects for the last 10 or more years. But three songs into this album, I found myself saying “oh, yeah.” The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint, either. Worth picking up if you had lost faith in this band. Can only imagine it’s great around a campfire with some cheap beer.

Temples – Volcano
I was getting kidney stones zapped this spring so I missed this show. I’m told it was incredible by the buddy who ended up with my tickets. Listening to “Volcano” it’s easy to see why. Slipping out of their 60’s Hendrix/Zep vibe of their first album, Temples have borrowed liberally from the Tame Impala playbook and put forth a synth-drenched platter of psych-pop. Again, not one to think about too much but given the right mood, a sunny sky and a destination to reach at a high velocity, it works.

Matthew Ryan – Hustle Up Starlings
In an alternate universe this guy is the next Bob Dylan. One of the best songwriters alive, Ryan brings it again. There’s enough reflection and heartbreak in these songs to fill three albums. The fact that Ryan does it so well in just one album should embarrass everyone else on this list. Not for everyone but if you’re one of the lucky few, you should be overjoyed.

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 3

6,5,4,3,2,1, go!

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6. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis

“More Light” was the dark, brooding, brass knuckle side of Primal Scream.  Chaosmosis is the Technicolor, grooving, silk shirt wearing side.  It’s fun, dancy and easy to take for granted from your first listen.  From the first track, in fact.  “Trippin’ on Your Love” is laced with Haim backing vocals and I would hate to be caught listening to it in public.  But the song’s wah wah guitar keeps the whole thing grounded and launches the album from the get go.  Bobby Gillespie is obviously in a good phase here.  It’s hard not to be there with him.

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5. The Cult – Hidden City

The best Cult record since “The Cult” and a direct descendant as well.  The one-two punch of “Hinterland” and “GOAT” anchor the middle of the record.  Before and after those songs is a mix of “Love” like balladry and slightly scuffed “Sonic Temple” arena rockers.  There’s no real reason this band should be out there doing this except for the fact that nobody does a great Cult record like the Cult.

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4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

What a head fake, Sturg.  Just when everyone thought they had you pegged as the ultimate classic country revivalist, you go and do a late-career Elvis Kung-fu move – complete with brass.  This is an album to be devoured in one sitting.  It starts with a tender, almost schmaltzy song directly addressing his son and continues as a chronicle of the life of Sturg.  Along the way it passes ports of call, drug busts, and Nirvana.  Simpson is a young guy so it seems premature.  That said, it’s only a guide to earth.  Maybe other planets will follow.  After this there’s no reason to believe they won’t.

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3. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

I told my wife this should have been called “The Three Quarters” album.  That’s because save for “1,000 Times” none of the songs kick in until ¾ of the way through.  That and the fact that the show stopper of the album for me, “The Bride’s Dad”, roughly hits around ¾ of the way through the album.  Fractions aside, this is a barn burner of an album from the talents of The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend.  It could have been recorded in 1955 or 2055 and it would still be as remarkable.  Not an album that takes hold without some commitment but when you put in the time, it returns in spades.

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2. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

When I saw this album start to appear on blogs and music sites on the internet, I didn’t think much of it.  I didn’t know who Josh Homme was, nor had I paid attention to Iggy since “Brick by Brick” when my mom asked me if he had just said he had to “scrape the concrete off of his dick”. Yep, Mom.  But when I finally got around to listening to this album, something inside me lit up.  It was a hell of a submission to a hell of a catalog.  Start to finish, it’s an album by a punk who never stopped being punk and who just, well, never stopped.  Iggy’s 69 now and no less ferocious that he was when he recorded the song, “1969”.  This album forced me to reexamine his whole career, album by album.  This was also the year I got to take my girls to see him.  Had it not been for Iggy, this year would not have been nearly as rock and roll as it was.  Had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have been number one on this list.  Of course, had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have probably never happened.  Fitting to have the one and two slots on this year as they are.

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1. David Bowie – Blackstar

There’s not much that can be written about this album that hasn’t already been written 1000 times.  There’s just no way to top it this year.  It was the whole performance piece.  From the release, to the music, to the packaging and the disappearance of the Starman and/or Black Star, himself; this will never be matched in my lifetime.  The album is a haunting, bittersweet, perfectly executed meditation on mortality.  David Bowie was a genius until the end.

Part One Here

Part Two Here

 

 

 

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 2

Let’s get right into 12-7, shall we?

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12. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

This band had me at “I’m so sick of, fill in the blank”.  This sounds like just the type of thing to cleanse the lacquer sheen off of pop music.  It’s the Ramones if they had written songs over 3 minutes long and The Hold Steady of they were 20 years younger.  It’s Pavement if they would have ever considered sampling The Cars.  Will Toledo’s Napoleon Dynamite vibe is grating at times but it’s also what makes the band stick out.  The album is hugely familiar but completely unique on its own terms.  They’ve pulled off a huge feat here.  The test will be to see if they can do it again.

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11. Steve Mason – Meet the Humans

This is the weakest of the once-Beta Band front man’s solo albums.  It’s very conventional in song structure and is almost void of the dread of his previous two works.  In doing so, he’s traded some of the raw emotion and weirdness of his earlier works for melody.  Some days this works in your headphones and others, not so much.  Even still, it’s got some great melodies.  Try to listen to “Water Bored” and not get that “Cause you can break it, ooh” refrain stuck in your head.

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10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

When this first came out I called it “A Moon Shaped Poo”.  I couldn’t find a way into the record.  It was like “Burn the Witch” happened and then the whole thing just disappeared.  Which it still does to some extent unless you are listening to it with a large tumbler of bourbon in one hand and the lyrics in the other.  It’s an album to focus on.  If you don’t you might not hear it at all.

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9. John Cale – M:Fans

A reworking of his 1982 album “Music for a New Society”, “M:Fans” is harrowing in a whole other way.  Where his 80’s album was the sound of someone in the throes of addiction and in a downward spiral, the “M:Fans” album is one of the artist retelling a story that happened ages ago.  Some events are out of order, others are mis-remembered but the story is still a gripping one.  For Cale to be putting out work of this quality, with this kind of edge at 75 is heroic.  One of the most under-rated artists of our time.

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8. Miike Snow – III

I don’t know why this album did not get more notice this year.  Maybe Miike Snow have jumped the shark and having them on this list blows my cred worse than including Sting.  If so, it’s a shame because they’ve delivered an absolutely delightful autobahn record here.  It’s synthy, dancy and has a real melodic punch. Not a stinker on this one. May even be better than their first two – of which I both loved.

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7. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

Another music legend delivers another excellent album.  “Stranger to Stranger” is the lighthearted cousin to “So Beautiful or So What” from a couple years back.  It is an album focused on sound with Simon using all sorts of weird instruments to great effect.  From the opener “Werewolf” to the closer “Horace and Pete” the album teases you in with sound and keeps you there with the lyrics and the stories Simon tells.  Simon, also 75, is exploring like a man a quarter of his age and executing like a pro.

Part One Here

Part Three Here

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 1

This has been an incredible and eventful year for music.  We’ve lost several superstars including one of the greatest musical personalities of all time in David Bowie.  In positive news, my childhood hero, Sting, has come back to the pop music scene after a decade in the lute filled wilderness.  Out of nowhere, Iggy Pop’s late-career masterpiece has led me to gobble up the rest of his discography and left me wondering how the hell I missed it the first go ’round.

Some consider 2016 to have been one of the worst years ever.  Of course, I think that’s impossible to say without some distance.  The losses in the music world were sad but we gained some promising new blood in a little band called Car Seat Headrest.  But for me, this was largely a year of the old pro’s being on top of their game.

This is also the year that my girls declared their favorite bands.  For my oldest, it’s the Beatles.  For my youngest, it’s Iggy Pop.  Unless you know my kids, you don’t know just how fitting that is, nor how happy it makes me.

OK, onto the list.  Like last year, this will be in several installments.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

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18. Drive-By Truckers – American Band

The DBTs get political here.  About the last thing I needed in my life was more politics.  Don’t get me wrong, the writing is pretty sharp but what’s missing are the fun character sketches of the Truckers’ previous albums.  I don’t mind politics in music but a lot of this just comes off as preachy.  But the red vinyl is cool.

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17. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

The third in a trilogy of sorts for Mould, “Patch the Sky” is a solid latter day Bob Mould record.  That said, it’s not much more than that.  Nothing really sticks out on it.  Or, maybe after 3 records of superb Mould craftsmanship, I’ve started taking him for granted.  Either way, a solid Mould album trumps one like “Modulate” so I’m not complaining.

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16. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

I should really be forced to play this record every time I miss church.  The whole thing sort of reminds me of the one time I went to a Southern Baptist church service in rural Texas.  Something about all of the hellfire and brimstone really appealed to me.  The same thing happens with this record.  Something about recognizing and coming to terms with our flawed nature as humans has always had an appeal.  Parker Millsap nails that mood on this record.  If sinning and redemption had a soundtrack, it might well be this record.

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15. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

Am I taking Andrew Bird for granted?  That could be.  This is a good album and the duet with Fiona Apple is a real standout.  Otherwise, it’s just a good, solid Andrew Bird record.  Is there really any other kind?

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14. Wilco – Schmilco

This album grows on me a little bit more with every play.  But it’s far from one of their best (a tall order) and the cover is just awful.  I think I may not have found the right mood to listen to it.  It’s notable that the only song that rocks is “Locator” and “Common Sense” is absolute garbage.  A close cousin of Tweedy’s solo debut, I can tell there’s something in this but can’t yet decide what it is.  Confused?  So am I.

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13. Sting – 57th and 9th

First off, when I was a kid I had Sting and Police posters all over my room.  When I listen to a Police record, I get the same type of feeling that I got when I first heard “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”.  So, I’m a fan.  That’s why I was so happy to see Sting come back into popular music.  His first effort in over 10 years in that vein is no disappointment.  It’s a solid Sting solo album.  It’s hard to say where it ranges in his solo canon but it faces some stiff competition.  That said, he pulls off some very difficult political commentary without sounding preachy.  He tackles global warming and the refugee crisis and I don’t get the urge to skip the songs.  The writing is solid though not stellar and somehow it all seems a little aloof.  What does it compare to?  I think it’s a close relative of “Brand New Day” in feel.  Not a bad thing.  Welcome back, Sting.

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

The XX– Forum Karlin, Prague, November 29, 2016

The XX show last night a Prague’s Forum Karlin blew the pants off the one a few years back at the big room at the Lucerna downtown.  The Lucerna show was fine performance and setlist wise but the sound was horrible.  At that show, there were none of the gut-rattling low frequency elements of the band’s work and so the music lost a lot of its punch.

Last night’s show was a different story.  The performances were inspired and Prague’s Forum Karlin proved to be a perfect venue for the band.  The place was literally filled to the rafters and the sound was impeccable.  They covered all stages of their career with a couple of new songs, songs from the first two XX albums and some highlights off of DJ/percussionist Jamie XX’s recent solo album.  In fact, Jamie stole the show toward the end of the set.  His contributions mixed in and even mashed-up with XX classics and really gave a kick to the proceedings.  I’m not usually one for DJ’s but this guy’s got some serious talent.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this young and able band releases on their next album. If last night was any indication, it should be worth the wait.

Cast Iron Chocolate Chip Cookie

Yesterday was Mrs. NH’s birthday.  I’m not much of a baker so I always hate baking cakes or something for her birthday.  I always end up looking like some jerk out of a sitcom with flour all over my shirt and face.

Well, the same thing happened this year (thanks to Little NH2 TURNING THE MIXER UP TO 5) but the end product was much better than the crappy cakes out of a box that I usually make.

It is called “Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie” and man, is it tasty.  We doubled the chocolate chips in the recipe and my blood sugar still hasn’t regulated but what a terrific way to die. (It’s a chocolate mess with double the chips.  But Mrs. NH apparently likes it this way so it’s all good.)  It’s also really simple.  No plopping cookies on the sheet and waiting around.  Just throw the dough in the pan, toss it in the oven, crack a beer and prepare to be a hero.  It also pairs really well with bourbon.  Natch.

I think I’ll do it again substituting chocolate chips for chili pepper infused dark chocolate and then sprinkle the top with sea salt.  Cross your fingers that you get an invite to that dinner party!

Raw Cast Iron Cookie

 

Foals – Metronome Festival, Prague, June 26, 2016

I have just wrapped up one of the best weekends of my life.  Two great musical acts played literally in my back yard and I was able to take my kids, both under the age of 10, to see them for free.  And we freaking pogoed!

In case you missed my previous post, Saturday’s show was hosted by none other than Iggy Pop.  Over the course of a little more than an hour, Iggy rained down catalog favorite after favorite from the Stooges to his latest offering, “Post Pop Depression”.  Interspersed between the songs were more F-bombs than you could shake a stick at. I guess if there is a bright side to that part of the equation, the girls didn’t hear those words coming out of my mouth!  Since Iggy is now 70, I can just tell them that those are words only grandpa’s say.

On Sunday night, the first ever Metronome Festival in Prague upped the ante with night-two headliners, Foals.  I’ve seen Foals play before and I can only describe the environment of seeing them play as “kinetic”.  Sunday’s show was no different but given the location of the show on the edge of Prague’s Stromovka Park, there was a little more elbow room.  That was a good thing because I again had NH1 and 2 in tow.  Mrs. NH and my trusty nephew sidekick also took part.  The 73 lb. NH1 sat on my shoulders for the duration save for about three quick breaks between songs and the encore.  As my shoulders ached toward the tail end of the show, the band brought out its closing songs which were all adrenaline-fueled stomps and helped me to push through the final minutes.  I felt like Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky IV” pulling logs on chains through the snow.  Of course I don’t recall him singing along while doing that.  Wuss.

Again, the highlight of these shows was getting to introduce my girls to such great acts in a live setting – up close and personal.  My first live show was an 80’s version of the largely hollowed out Beach Boys touring circuit.  Even still, I remember it like it was yesterday.  The fact that the girls got to see a legend in yet another career resurgence and one of the top UK bands (who had just played Glastonbury a couple nights before) made the whole thing all the more special.

Even more gratifying was that NH1’s unsolicited post-show commentary was exactly the same thing that I was thinking:

Dad, toward the beginning I was really thinking that Iggy had them beat.  But as the show went on, they really started playing the great songs and now I’m not sure who was better!  That was so awesome.  I can’t wait to see U2!

So we’re clear, U2 doesn’t even have a new album out or tour plans as of this writing but I’ve got to give the kid credit for her foresight.

NH2, on the other hand, just howled, charged me and gave me the rock and roll hand sign before giving me a hug.  She always has been pretty punk rock.

Thanks for the memories, Metronome Festival.  See you next year.

Gorillaz – ‘Demon Days’ Vinyl Review

The news of all of the recent deaths of rock ‘n rollers has had me examining my own mortality lately.  It’s also made me try to not get too caught up in the daily badness that confronts me at the office.  Of course, my favorite way to sort things out at the end of the day is to sit down with a pair of headphones and just get lost in a beloved chunk of vinyl. Last night’s piece was a long-coveted copy of Gorillaz 2005 effort, Demon Days.

I asked Santa for that very record this year.  Little NH was even sweet enough to put it on her note to Santa for me.  I told her that he’d probably not have any luck finding it.  It was a limited run in 2005 and copies now fetch at least $200.  Santa apparently couldn’t find it but a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a copy on Ebay.  The vinyl in my set is brand new but a corner of the front cover looks like a cat or puppy had about 10 solid seconds to use it as a chew toy. Otherwise, it’s in great shape.  It was listed on Ebay as having “never been played” and I have no reason to doubt this.  It was clean and shiny.  Because of its less than perfect cover, I got this copy at well below the going price.  It’s still the most expensive record in my collection but I’m satisfied with the deal.

I’m not one to sit on “collection piece” copies of vinyl in my stash.  I have a couple that are unopened but the majority I buy to play and enjoy.  So, like driving a new car off the lot, my copy of Demon Days depreciated last night as the needle first hit the groove.

So, how did it sound, you ask?

It sounded like a top-notch, second hand, 10-year-old record.  There was a tiny bit of surface noise but all in all, it’s a quiet pressing.

The one gripe I had was that side A seemed to be lacking a bit in bass.  It was big and bold sounding but the low end just wasn’t as big as I had hoped it might be.  But that was just side A.  From side B on, things picked up considerably in the bass department.  This makes me think that either the first side was pressed with less bass to save room or my ears just got attuned to this as the record played on.  I had been listening to Atoms For Peace today on my commute through in-ear headphones so that may have distorted my idea of what to expect bass-wise.

Listening through headphones, I heard a lot on these records that I had never heard on digital copies before.  Lots of little production flourishes and squiggles of sound really popped out.  It’s a record mixed with a very wide stereo mix which is really pleasant to the ear.  The other thing that I noticed was what I thought at some points was surface noise, was actually analog artifacts from the Danger Mouse-procured beats and samples that litter the record.  “Kids with Guns” has such a sample and as soon as it finishes, the noise disappears.  Cool to be able to hear that in such detail and it really points out the meticulous production that went into this album.

The part of the album that floored me was the one-two punch of “White Light,” the last track on side C and “Dare,” the first track on side D.  I have heard “White Light” before but I have never actually heard it until now.  What a great track.  It’s just as crazy as anything Albarn has ever written, seemingly based on a sample he sang into his phone on the walk home after a night out at the pub.  And it absolutely slays.

“Dare” is just the single it’s always been but it sounds fresh in this context – like the first chip out of a newly opened bag.

There’s really nothing I love more than sitting down with a quality record, putting on my headphones and rediscovering an album that I know and love.  Demon Days did not disappoint and I’ll be excited to buy a copy of the inevitable reissue to compare it with this one.  However, if for some reason that never happens, I’m glad to have this copy and see myself coming back to it again and again.

Footnote:

After I finished “Demon Days” there was a little time left on the clock before my normal bedtime so I decided to pull out the Doors’ The Soft Parade and listen to the title track.  I have some weird repress that shows up as this on Discogs but man, it sounds great.  Often maligned as one of the Doors’ weaker releases, The Soft Parade, has been given short shrift in my opinion.  It’s a hazy, boozy, flipped out record of its era and is still brilliant. Especially the title track.

On Bowie

I’ll preface this by saying that somehow, I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan even though I still have nearly all of his albums on vinyl and find myself coming back to his catalog regularly.

I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan but I vividly remember practicing my trombone, probably between 5th and 6th grade, with my boombox quietly tuned to KQKY 105.9FM, hoping against hope that “Modern Love” would come on the station and I could hit record.  I can’t remember if it ever did but I got Let’s Dance on cassette from my brother that summer.  “Cat People” weirded me out then and still does today.

I don’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan but when he played in Prague back in 2004, I happily bought a ticket to my first concert in the city that has been my home for the last nearly 12 years.  He got hit in the eye with a projectile lollipop and suffered heart problems during that show and it was cut short.  My seats were in the nosebleed section and I didn’t know several of the songs because, well, I didn’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan at the time.  I didn’t have all of his albums back then.

It’s also strange that I usually end late night music sessions with friends with the 1972 performance of Bowie on the BBC doing “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  It’s Bowie in full Ziggy mode and it defines glam for me.

So, for not being much of a fan, it’s odd that I cranked Station to Station in my headphones at the office on Friday in order to write a report I had procrastinated writing all week.  It was done in record time.

It’s also peculiar that his brand new album, Blackstar, was the soundtrack to my morning commute this morning.  As I look down at my phone, I see that I’ve only made it through to the song “Girl Loves Me.”  I got the news after I got to the office.

Granted, I’m not a huge fan but I’m pretty sure I’ll finish the album on the way home.

Just like a huge fan.

R.I.P., Ziggy.

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 3

These are probably not in any real order except for number one below: Foals – What Went Down.  It’s a solid top seven list, I think.  They all move between ranks but all have stayed pretty high in the top eschelon.
Besides these new-this-year albums, I’ve also forgotten to mention that I’ve been on a tear buying up classic albums throughout the year.  Lots of old Stones, Beatles, Bowie, Dylan, Iggy Pop, Stooges, Zep, Who, etc., etc., etc.  But lots of great new albums as well.  Here’s the cream of the crop. Top to bottom.  Happy listening.

Foals – What Went Down

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From the first woozy organ chord, you know you’re in for a ride.  One of the most melodic, violent songs to ever open a record.  It almost threatens violence.  Heck, it may even deliver.  The rest of the album hosts a great rundown of songs that get better with each listen and reveal a little more with each spin.  This band just keeps getting bigger and growing incrementally in their sound.  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for where they go from here.

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

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I never expected this to be in the top 10.  In fact, I was pretty much over this band after the weirdo Evil Urges.  Their next one, Circuital, offered a little bit of redemption but it didn’t exactly bring me back into the fold.  This one hit on a road trip some time this fall.  I actually regretted not getting into an album in the spring.  “Spring (Among the Living)” did it.  Oh, well.  At least there’s something to look forward a few months from now.  In the meantime, there’s the rest of the album.  100% solid.

Wilco – Star Wars

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A surprise album is one thing.  A surprise album from a band that hasn’t had a surprise since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a big deal.  When this one dropped I distractedly listened to it once and then forgot about it.  Then, after months of waiting, the vinyl came in the mail and I toured thought it on headphones.  I think I listened to it twice that night.  It’s a firecracker.  Easily their best in recent memory.  No twang, all bang.  Whatever that means.

Gaz Coombes – Matador

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The solo album Thom Yorke wishes he could make.  Or, is it the Radiohead Album Gaz Coombes just made?  Either way, it’s a great listen.  Brooding and elastic all at the same time.  If this blog had a top singles of 2015 list, this album would spawn at least three.  For those of you interested: “20/20,” “Detroit,” and “The Girl Who Fell To Earth.”  (Also, I think the cover is a Bowie tribute.  Right?)

Ryan Adams – Live At Carnegie Hall

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I had the pleasure of seeing this guy play at the RAH during his fallow period a couple of years back.  This album is as close as you’re going to get to being there.  Beautifully pressed over 6 LPs, this offers two nights during his time at Carnegie.  It’s amazing when you listen to this guy and realize just how many great songs he’s written.  Even ones you’ve forgotten about creep up on you in this set and leave you scrambling to remember which album they came from.  If you can’t get the box, get the Ten Songs From… version.  Then go buy that Taylor Swift cover versions album.  Then, and only then.

Jamie xx – In Colour

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Oh, My Gosh.  These three words will never mean the same to my family.  I heard this for the first time doing 85 mph on the Italian motorway.  Everybody in the family asked at the same time, “What is this?”  That’s when you can tell it’s either going to be love or hate.  Love.  This one.  All love.

Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down…

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Kurt Vile conquered the indie world a couple of years back.  This year, he’s toning down the feedback, scaled it down to a single album, and gotten a bit more insular.  With the exception of “Pretty Pimpin'”, this one is a slow burner.  But man, what an interesting listen.  I equate this one to sitting with a close friend after too many beers, listening to him ramble, stutter and bemoan every bad call and perplexing thing in life.  And relating to every word.

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 2

Here it is.  Part deux.  Big year.  This is the part of the list where it gets real.  Do people still say that?  Well, they do here.  Or, as I’d say in a work e-mail, “Please see below:”

Craig Finn – Faith In The Future

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The studio sent a car to collect me
When the driver dropped me off at the lot
He said he’d never forget me
The publicist picked up lunch again
I had Pabst and some pemmican.”

You can’t really write an review of a Craig Finn album without quoting some lyrics.  It’s like talking about Shakespeare without doing the same. It’s the whole point.  Don’t get me wrong.  The band backing Finn on his second solo outing is solid as well.  But the lyrics to his songs are always the exciting part.  By the time you get to “Sandra from Scranton,” you know you’re in the middle of a great album.  Still more to dig through with this one.  Looking forward to repeat listens.

Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

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I never saw a Guy Garvey solo album coming.  I’m not sure why.  I thought the last Elbow album was sort of a return to form, albeit a quieter one.  But Garvey changes it up a bit on his first solo effort.  The only way I can think to describe it is the well-worn descriptor, eclectic.  From the moment “Angela’s Eyes” hits the speakers, this is something different.  It’s Garvey doing what’s in his head and not through the democracy of his band, Elbow.  The second real gut punch of a song for me is “Belly of the Whale.” It sounds to me like a tale of house ownership gone wrong.  I’m not sure why it connects but it does.  And I’m not a homeowner.  A solid first step as a solo artist.

El Vy – Return to the Moon

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Matt Berninger is the consummate hipster.  Look at those glasses, hair and white jeans.  His other band, the National, cosied up to the President back in the day and now he’s gone off and made another album with some guy who I don’t know and am too lazy to look up.  (Berninger, that is.  Not Obama.)
While not as solid as the Britt Daniel side project, Divine Fits, this album leaves the same sort of taste on the palate.  It’s the sound of the frontman of a lauded band whose sound has grown sameish reaching out to find a new muse.  He finds it here.  Just his description of his green collared shirt sounds like nothing the National would have ever put to tape.  It suits the hipster vibe well.  I assume they wear a lot of shirts like that.

Tame Impala – Currents

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Where to begin with this one?  It was so hyped that just about everything that can be said about it has been said.  I’ve seen it described as the same magnitude of stylistic change that U2 made between Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby.  While that may be overstating it a bit, it kind of works.
But the thing is, the album cover looks exactly like how the album sounds. Like the cover?  You might just like the record.  Oh, and if you want to see a bit live, have a look at this link.  “Let it Happen” is probably the song of the year for me.  Just writing it in this post ensures that I’ll have it in my head for the rest of the day.

Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Oh, Emily Haines and Co., you are my guilty pleasure.  A synth-pop band fronted by a female singer.  You don’t get any less macho.  But I love this album.  I haven’t given much thought as to why but something tells me it’s sound profile lies somewhere in the same range as a long-time 80’s favorite, XTC.  It sounds nothing like that band though, save for a synth or two.  The band deliver a earworm of a single in the form of “The Shade.” (Oops, “Let it Happen.”  You’ve been replaced.)  It’s a crime that this tune doesn’t sit along the current day offerings on pop radio.
There’s one other thing about this album.  I might not have listened to it quite as much without my 8-year-old daughter proclaiming them “her favorite band” from the back seat.  Kid’s got taste.

Blur – The Magic Whip

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Blur’s back together.  They recorded this one in Hong Kong.  Damon Albarn could touch dog poop and it would turn to gold.  This one serves as an excellent warm-up to the supposed new Gorillaz record next year. Bring. It. On.

Josh Rouse – The Embers Of Time

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I listen to this album late at night, usually after my wife has gone to bed. It’s nice to hear the musings of another dad who travels too much, worries about day-to-day family stuff and sees the passage of time as something that goes by at jaw-dropping velocity.  It also helps that when I met him at Alexandria, VA’s Birchmere a couple of years ago, he signed albums for my girls and was just as quiet, reserved and polite as he sounds on his records. A long time underdog of the Alt-Country scene, Rouse turns in a great latter day record. A close cousin of 1972 with some warmer undertones.

Honorable Mentions (Albums I Haven’t Gotten To Yet):

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Calexico – Edge of the Sun

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 1

I haven’t done an album of the year post in a couple of years.  In fact, I’ve mostly given up blogging for the last couple of years.  However, a recent road trip to Germany compelled me to compile a list this year.  The fact is, it was an exceptionally good year for music.  Lots of my favorite bands and artists turned out some great albums.

It’s also worth noting that I’ve got most, if not all, of these on vinyl.  Yes, my record collecting fetish is alive and well.  It’s returned the fun to my music listening habits.  After a long day at the office, there’s simply no better way to unwind after putting the kids to be than setting down with a tumbler of something and a record on the headphones.  Bliss.

I’ll likely do this in three sections.  Here’s the bottom set of the list.  Good but just not as good as the great ones.  I’ve also thrown in some honorable mentions that have just come out on vinyl this year so they made the cut.

James McMurtry – Complicated Game71ed6bjsp4l-_sl1247_

“Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun
I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done”

Pretty classic McMurtry lyrics open the album on “Copper Canteen”.  The same pattern flows through most all of the record making this a personal addition to his discography.  For me it’s kind of a return to form after a bitter, curmudgeon streak during the Bush/Cheney years.  This one seems warmer, more reflective and is full of sharp lyrical twists and turns. Complicated Game also is home to “How’m I Gonna Find You Now?”  The song was apparently written on the rhythm of a car motor rattle and traces the thoughts of a meth addict as he goes around town looking for someone or something.  Nobody writes about meth heads like McMurtry.  This one is no exception.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

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I’ve struggled to write this review.  A buddy of mine is such a huge Noel Gallagher/Oasis that he refers to the aforementioned singer just as “Noel”.  Funny thing is, I think I got him into that whole Oasis thing and he’s turned into a huge fan. I like Oasis but I don’t love Oasis most of the time.  But I’ll be danged if this isn’t one of the best post Morning Glory efforts by anyone that was ever in that band.

“Ballad of the Mighty I” in and of itself justifies this album being on this year end list.  Gallagher turns out pretty convincing grooves from top to bottom on this album, in fact.   Some of his balladry leaves the album flagging but they’re not fatal blows. A solid effort that keeps me coming back.

Beirut – No, No, No

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This is supposed to be a post-divorce album.  I don’t hear that.  What I do hear is something akin to a hipsterish travel blog with a whole lot of instagram-type photos.  In those photos are people in exotic places with well-trimmed beards wearing those ironic straw summer hats.  The thing is, these people don’t come off as smug.  You don’t want to punch them.  The pictures are pretty nicely framed after all and why should you fault a bunch of people for capturing moments that are so evocative?

There, a review of No, No, No in the form of a blog critique.  Damning with faint praise?  [Insert album title here.]

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

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I have a love/hate relationship with this album.  It’s so dancey and disco-biscuitish that I sometimes have to turn it off before it’s over.  It’s synth mania.  On the other hand, I put it on last weekend while driving home from Germany in dense fog at night and it sound-tracked the crap out of the drive.  So I feel like I owe it a debt of gratitude.  That and the beginning of “Huarache Lights” is a lot of fun.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Replacements – The Twin Tone Years

This is a box set, reissue, of the ‘Mats first 4 albums and the “Stink” EP.  I already have original presses of each of those albums and a 2nd run of the “Stink” EP but this is just so obvious.  Of course I bought it.  In fact, I bought two of these.  Sort of by mistake.  I bought one (supposedly they’re limited) and then saw it at another place online for cheaper so I did that, too.  I tried to cancel the order on the first one but it had already shipped.  So, I now have two sealed box sets of the Replacements in my collection along with all of the originals on vinyl and CD.  That is so stupid but so right all at the same time.

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

I bought this on vinyl a couple years ago and was really disappointed with the sound.  This reissue really brings the album up to the level it deserves.  It’s also pressed on yellow wax which is always cool.  Great, classic record by a band that paved the way for Blur and Oasis.

Matthew Ryan – Boxers

This technically came out last year but the vinyl didn’t get released until early in 2015.  It’s classic Matthew Ryan in his more rocking persona.  There’s all the heartbreak and longing in his voice and the crunch of a solid backing band to add some heft and conviction to the proceedings.  I also bought this on vinyl and I’m absolutely stunned at the quality of this pressing.  With this, a set of headphones and a cold beer in your hand, you’re front row at this match.

Croquetas de Jamón, Albóndigas en Sofrito y Alcachofas Laminadas – Hecho en Casa

I could have opened up a restaurant in downtown Madrid last night.  This amateur chef was firing on all cylinders.  Heck, I was even firing on cylinders that I didn’t know I had.

Making croquetas has always been something that I have wanted to do – successfully.  I tried it once with my dad about 20 years ago, back when I was a kid just home from a year in Spain.  We failed.  Miserably.  The croquetas were burnt blobs.  The failure scarred me and I had not tried to make them again, until last night.

Just back from India, I got a hankerin’ for something that was, well, not curry.  Having recently excavated a nice chunk of frozen jamón from the freezer, I decided to put it to use in the croquetas.  I used the recipe from La Tienda.com‘s website.  I ended up changing the proportions quite a bit since the 1/2 lb of jamón that the recipe called for made for too meaty of croquetas.  I used some smoked sweet paprika and nutmeg in the batter, just to bring out the flavors I love.

They were a huge success.  Mrs. NH and Little NH gobbled them up as fast as I could make them.  But I didn’t stop there.

I also wanted to try my hand at fried artichokes, just like in Barcelona’s Ciudad Condal.  These always seemed like an impossible dish to make, due to the cleaning of the choke and thin cut that they needed to have.  Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did.

First, I pulled off the green outer leaves and then cut of the top prickly portion of the artichoke.  Using a baby food spoon (thanks, Scamp!) I scooped out the fuzziest part of the inner choke, right above the heart.  I then halfed it and set to running it through on the “thin” setting on my mandolin.  Finally, I fried them in about 1/2 inch of olive oil and finished with a liberal sprinkling of sea salt.  Wow.  Two home runs in one night.

Finally, I decided that to round out this feast, we needed Little NH’s new favorite tapa – albóndigas (meatballs).  We did a pork variety with a delicious sofrito from José Andrés’ “Made in Spain”.  Little NH helped mix the meat and made all of the balls herself.  I fried them up and added them to the sauce to simmer for a good hour until we chowed down.

Not content to do a feast of tapas half way, I opened the pack of duck jamón I had in the fridge and Mrs. NH prepared fresh pan con tomate.  It was a meal that I would have been thrilled with at any Spanish tapas bar in el barrio gótico or on Cava Baja.  The fact that I had it while sitting on my couch, made it all the better.

¡Exito!