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

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.

Iggy Pop – Metronome Festival, Prague, June 25, 2016

The Little NH’s, my nephew and I hit Iggy Pop at the Metronome festival in Prague last night.  It was quite possibly one of the highlights of my dadhood to this point.  There’s nothing that compares to seeing your own offspring digging one of your hobbies (obsessions) as much or more than you do.  NH 1 and 2 rocked out on my shoulders and those of my nephew (a great sport, by the way) in about the 5th row for the first half of the show.  After NH1’s 73 pounds finally wore down my lower back, we made it through a hugely polite crowd to the back to partake in some whirling dervish-like festival dancing. They did, anyway.  I just watched and smiled.

For the record, the girls were wearing proper ear protection.  I’m not a total idiot.

This is the first year of this festival and from what we saw, it was meticulously organized and went off with a hitch despite rain and hail during the day.  (Iggy’s set was cut short because of a thunderstorm that rolled in in the final moments cutting his set two songs short.)

Seeing Foals tonight with the girls, nephews, and Mrs. NH as well.  We’re all walking around the house whistling “Mountain at my Gates” this morning.  The anticipation is running high.  It’s going to be hard to top last night.

 

The Sorta Ultimate Budget Turntable Setup

 

As I sit listening through my record collection, I take time to contemplate how I got here. Of course, the most important part is loving music.  Vinyl is an obsessive, fun, and slightly dangerous hobby.  However, of all of the things I could be doing at 42 that are obsessive, fun and dangerous, this seems pretty safe.

But if you’re reading this far, you might be curious to know what sort of setup I use to enjoy my collection.  “Audiophiles” may scoff at what I’ve pulled together here but it has served me well.  I’ve seen many guides recommending what to buy, poured over Steve Hoffman boards waxing poetic about the right tracking weight, tonearms and cartridges.  Sometimes I come off of those boards somewhat distraught.  But fear not, good reader. I have a – not necessarily the – solution for you:

1 – Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
1 – Clever Clamp
1 – Q-Up
1 – Pro-Ject Acryl-It Platter
1 – Carbon fiber record brush

This is a “build-on” setup.  I did not have all of these things at once but I have found that now having all of them is just about as good as it gets on my budget. I have my eyes on a whole new setup for sometime when I actually live in a house of which I can properly shake the foundations.  But for me, in a rental apartment, packed in like a family of sardines, this works great.

There are a few caveats.  The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is an infamously flawed deck. The motor gives off considerable hum if not isolated. Mine was not properly isolated and I fixed it with some neoprene (cut out of a beer koozie) washers and some patience. Now I love it.  It’s warm sounding, simple and upgrade-able. Other decks are available in the same price range so choose your poison. This is just the one I have so I can recommend it.

Next up is the Clever Clamp.  It’s a must if you are going to go for the acrylic platter. Without a mat, records tend to spin under the carbon fiber brush. There are a ton of other record clamps for sale but for about $30 this one does not add any weight to put stress on your motor and it flattens out some (but admittedly not all) warped records that you might just happen to pick up at the local thrift store or from some bozo on Discogs that claims VG+ looks like the the oscillation of a stingray.  The fish, not the car.

The Q-Up was my last upgrade. But man, has it made a difference. It makes your turntable and vinyl obsession somewhat less so because you don’t have to run back to the living room in the midst of chopping a bulb of fennel just because you “mint” condition Jane’s Addiction record had hit the runout groove. You see, the Q-Up lifts up the needle for you when either, you have drifted to sleep after “Shine on You Crazy Diamond Part IX” or you are making the family’s next gourmet experience.  If I had to do this all again, I’m not sure the Q-Up wouldn’t be higher in the “buy” hierarchy.

The Acryl-It platter is supposed to lower resonance compared to the metal platter. I’m not sure if it does, like many things in the record collecting hobby, it’s subjective.  What I can tell you is that it completely cuts down on dust and static.  This thing made the last winter virtually static free.  It’s sort of the microwave of the turntable world – once you have one you never know what you did without it.

As for the carbon fiber brush, if you don’t know this by now, get one. Always turn it the same way.  It works wonders.

Now, as the second side of “Revolver” (Mono, a topic for a whole other post) comes to a close, I hope this has been helpful. I have spent many a night on the couch, headphones on (yet another post), contemplating the depth of the bourbon in my glass and other in depth mental pursuits.  This setup has yet to do me wrong.  Happy hunting.  Let me know if this works for you and if you have any rants/suggestions, let me know.  I’m going to get that house with the man cave some day and may just have a chance to put your opinions to use.

 

 

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.

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.

Lightning Review: My Morning Jacket – “The Waterfall”

MMJ WaterfallI just put this on my turntable after listening to a particularly electronic album.  I can only stay up so late so I did record two of the double album and I can tell you that it’s incredible.  It sounds like it could have been recorded in 1977.  There’s something very AM about it.  It would have sounded equally good blasting out of the sawdust-caked radio in my parents’ basement as it does here, now, through my headphones.

Somewhere I saw this album described as a “listener’s album.”  Indeed it is.  Listen up.  Maybe even start with record two.

Ryan Adams at The Royal Albert Hall, London 03-19-13

Sometimes you just get really lucky.  I mean really lucky.  Tuesday night was one of those nights for me.  I had planned to be in London for a work conference and had to make it a quick trip.  London is a great place to travel for work and to stay longer than the absolute minimum amount of time required raises eyebrows at the home office.  So, I flew into London late Monday night, did a full day of said conference on Tuesday and a half day on Wednesday and flew out that night.  In between I saw Ryan Adams play one of the best concerts of his career.

I’ve seen Adams play concerts several times over the years.  I’ve seen the troubadour, the drunkard, they jerk and the charmer – sometimes all in the same set.  Tuesday night I just saw a guy who has written an incredible treasury of songs that was backed by a band that delivered them in spades.  Backed by among others, Benmont Tench (keys), Don Was (bass) and Ethan Johns (guitar), Adams plowed through nearly two hours of highlights of his catalog.  From Heartbreaker through to Ashes and Fire he played his best slow and mid-tempo of his songs.  While the rocker in me would have loved to see him throw in a few more fuzzed-out jams from his albums, the setting of the astoundingly beautiful Royal Albert Hall lent itself beautifully to the music.

Adams and his band were in great form; however, the most striking part of the whole experience was the sound in the hall.  From my seat in “the stalls,” the sound was immaculate.  Absolutely crystal clear and warm.  I’ll admit that due to a long day on my feet at a trade show, a huge fish ‘n chips dinner prior show and a few cask pulled lagers, the show exists in my memory more as a feeling.  Sure, I remember details including the funny between song banter but the show itself was start to finish enjoyable.  It was like settling in for a long ride through beautiful countryside while not having the slightest clue where you were headed.  In fact, now that I mention it, at the beginning Adams said, “I know most of you aren’t used to hearing music this fast, so put on your racing helmets.”  Maybe it wasn’t so much about the speed as the journey.  All I know is I saw a man and his band on the top of their game.  Let it ride, indeed.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra at Obecní dům, Prague 01-12-13

Glenn Miller Orchestra Prague

Glenn Miller’s iconic “In the Mood” is not normally thought of as a song that would make you get choked up.  However, on Saturday night, it did just that.

After flailing around for a Christmas gift for Little NH, I happened on tickets to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra in Prague.  The show was Little NH’s first concert ever and she reminded me of that fact during the entire week that lead up to the show.  She also recounted in great detail how she had opened my gift on Christmas Eve and was confused.  She reminded me how I started up my turntable and the first notes of the aforementioned song crackled out of the speakers.  She said she was excited when I explained to her that we’d be going to see this show and that this music was popular before rock and roll was even invented.  “Before rock and roll?” she intoned.  “Wow.”

The Glenn Miller Orchestra occupies a pretty large place in my heart and my family history.  Before I was born, my grandparents Reon and Helen owned the Turnpike Ballroom in Lincoln, Nebraska.  As a kid, I used to love to venture into the musty corners of the attic and pull out the boxes of autographed pictures, business correspondence and mementos of the fabled ballroom.  I first discovered Miller’s music when I played trombone in the 7th grade band.  I remember my teacher telling my row of pubescent trombone players to play the “Bah Bah’s!” with much more feeling.  In fact, I think of that every time I hear the song.  So imagine how excited I was when I found an autographed shot of Glenn Miller among the pictures in my attic.

In the years that followed I asked my grandma about the Turnpike and Glenn Miller’s visits there every chance I got.  The result of those conversations became the basis for my high school “term paper” and my enthusiasm and fascination for the subject matter garnered me my one-and-only A+ of my academic career.  Do what you love, they say.

So the happiness I felt by being able to share a bit of this family history with my oldest daughter was enough to make “In the Mood” a tearjerker.  As we sat in our seats at the show, Little NH bounced in her seat along with the music.  I half expected her to stand up and dance in place.  The music was a mixture of Miller’s hits and other staples from the Big Band era.  At one point in the show, Little NH leaned back and whispered in my ear, “Boy, Daddy.  I hope they are going to play Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anybody Else But Me soon! It’s her “second favorite” song.  This is from a kid that has been listening to Miller for about two weeks.  I guess the affinity runs in the family.  She also knows my second favorite Miller staple is “Little Brown Jug”.

Of course, my favorite is the one that brings back all of these memories.

As we walked home from the show I told Little NH, “You know, for the rest of my life I’ll think of you whenever I hear a Glenn Miller tune.”  “Even when I get old?” she asked?  Blinking hard in the cold winter air I replied, “Especially then, sweetie.  Especially then.”

Album of My Year: The Walkmen – “Heaven”

Walkmen HeavenIt’s pretty obvious that I’m getting old and lazy.  I used to post immense lists of albums at the end of the year.  In fact, in years past on another blog, I posted one review a day in the lead up to New Year’s Day.  This year, I’m only posting about one album as my album of the year with brief mention of another album that after weeks of going back and forth about, took second place.  Yes, the album of my year is The Walkmen’s Heaven.

This is an album made by dads and for dads, it seems.  The band just capped its 10th year of existence and this release is the first to see all of the members as married fathers.  There’s a sort of resignation on this album – almost a sense of surrender.  While previous releases saw them raging against old lovers and musing about traveling to far-flung destinations, Heaven finds them taking stock of family and themselves ten years into the game.

There’s a portion of fatherhood and married life that they explore in-depth on this record.  It’s the portion that realizes and accepts the imperfections of family life and actually embraces them as part of the intrinsic beauty of the institution.  Expectations and hopes are dashed by real life but the band celebrates this disappointment with pride in having actually set up the opportunities in the first place.  It’s an incredibly complex sentiment to capture in words in a blog post which makes it all the more impressive that The Walkmen managed to do it over two sides of a record.  Throw in the fact that the albums sounds like it might have been made in 1950’s Sun Studios and you’ve got a real winner.

If you’re a dad or a mom or anyone with a family give it a spin.  If you’re a dad, pour yourself a nice glass of brown liquor and give it a listen after everyone else has gone to bed.  You’ll see what I mean.

Honorable Mention:  It was a tough to choose between Heaven and Bob Mould’s Silver Age.   20 years after forming Sugar, this album captures Mould at arguably the best of his career.  It’s distorted and melodic with lyrics as biting as ever.  During the tail end of 2012, this has been the album to start my mornings on the trip to work.  By the time I get there I’ve been fully amped.

Thunder Review: Elbow – Vinyl Box Set

Elbow Vinyl Box SetI guess I was a good boy this year.  Mrs. NH got me the Elbow vinyl box set for Christmas.  She did so after I refused to stop talking about it.  I actually made the order.  But with her express consent.  So that’s a gift, right?

Last night I got time to sit down and inspect the set and give a few platters a listen.  First, the set itself.  It comes in a sturdy box with the Elbow logo.  The albums are all 180 gram double vinyl and the artwork is minimalist and familiar to all of the regular releases.  What is different on the vinyl is that one record of each album has a lyric scratched into the runout groove area.  A cool little touch.

As for the sound, I came away impressed.  Having listened through the first four albums (Asleep in the Back, A Cast of Thousands, Leaders of the Free World and The Seldom Seen Kid), all sound great.  Leaders is a little compressed sounding but as I recall, so is the original CD version.  Still, it sounds great.  But the real show-stopper was Kid.  The depth in my headphones and intricacies of the recording really shine through.  I heard instrumental flourishes that I’ve never heard.  The vinyl itself is quiet and this makes the listening experience a real pleasure.

With only 2000 of these in existence, I’m glad to have one in my possession.  This is one of the best bands on the planet at this time and the fact that the set leaves room for a “Coming Soon” release makes me think it’s going to be a pretty good 2013.

Two Hours of Windows 8

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Conference calls about databases shouldn’t last until 9:00.  Last night mine did.  Immediately after I had a bowl of pasta while the Mrs. and I did our Christmas shopping on our 6 year old HP desktop.  It only took about 30-40 minutes to get most everything squared away.  That meant from about 9:40 until 11:40 I got to focus on my new Dell all-in-one PC running Windows 8.

The fact that I only had about two hours to try this new PC and OS made it a good test to see if the new touch interface could be “learned” in that amount of time.  Short answer – sorta.

First off, the touch interface and new “start screen” are really fun and quite revolutionary for an open-minded tech lover.  The interface is fast, smooth and packed several moments of “wow” into the two hour period.  It was also pretty easy to figure out.

In fact, it was so easy to figure out, I got two users set up on one PC to a workable stage in that limited amount of time.  I used Ninite to get some of the programs that are a must have on any PC and let it do the work.  All I had to do was configure the accounts.

I don’t have a conference call tonight but I do have a haircut.  Even so, I should have another couple of hours to tinker tonight.  I have a feeling by that time, I’ll be ready to fully shut down the old computer and move the new on into its new place on the family desk.  I might stay up late just for fun.

Kurt Vile and the Violators – July 31, 2012 – Meet Factory – Prague, Czech Republic

Kurt Vile - Prague - Meet Factory

I wanna write my whole life down
Burn it there to the ground
I wanna sing at, top of my lungs
For fun, screamin’ annoyingly
‘Cause that’s just me bein’ me, bein’ free

Kurt Vile – “On Tour”

John Hiatt introduced me to the idea of a musician as “a lifer” when I interviewed him many years ago.  The concept is pretty simple.  It just means that the musician in question is going to keep on writing, recording and touring until he drops.  I would imagine that Kurt Vile imagines himself a lifer as well.  Four albums into his career, it’s hard to see him doing anything else.

Tuesday night’s show was fairly well attended for the day of the week and the relative obscurity of a guy like Vile in the Czech Republic.  The crowd that did show up appeared to be full of pretty serious fans.  That said, never have I seen so many people in their mid-20’s make out one minute and then sing along to the words of the song the next.  That was some serious multi-tasking.  I’ve also never had that many shots spilled on my feet as the same demographic brought round after round up to the front of the stage for their friends.  I don’t begrudge them.  It was just sort of inexplicable.

But it was strangely fitting for a Kurt Vile concert.  His songs careen from romantic finger plucked acoustic ballads to feedback-drenched, drone fests.  Despite my impression from various YouTube clips and laconic singing on his albums that Vile is a classic stoner, he looked unbelievably lucid and technically solid at Tuesday’s show.  Stage banter was largely not-existent and his band struggled to keep up with him as one tune ended and another began.

The set list contained about 50% of the songs from “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and the rest from other releases.  His backing band, The Violators, lent some serious heft to the occasion.  On “Freak Train,” the whole band made some serious, ear-splitting noise.  Alternately, on songs like “Peeping Tomboy,” restraint and the folky side of Vile showed through.  It’s this space between loud and soft that Vile seems to travel with ease.  So much so that if he ever puts out a best of album, I’d recommend calling it “Songs to Make and Rock Out To.”