Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Year End Thoughts...

The truth is that I thought I'd lost the love. I blamed it on a lot of things this blog being one of them. I blamed it on being inundated with tons of music from any number of sources. I turned a passion, a true love, into a requirement.

When you're required to love anything that love fails. It's simple and it's true. I thought that writing about music would be as natural to me as falling asleep and it was. I think I've got good ears (though barely passable grammar skills) and have long been a member of the cultural elite when it comes to music. I was the kid in high school listening to DC Hardcore and trying to screw up the courage to go see a Go-Go show. I was ear to the pavement, my friends were the same but times ten so I could always soak up their know-how. When I went to college I was the freak on a conservative campus dominated by people from Conneticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey. My dyed hair and weird music made me a novelty and I'm pretty sure that I got lucky a couple of times simply because someone was curious. Through it all I had the love. The love of the music. I "soundtracked" big time, but didn't we all? Whatever was in my headphones or blasting out of the speakers from punk to new wave to indie rock was obsessed over, analyzed, memorized. I knew every lyric to every song on the albums that I loved. I remember being this way forever. I remember listening to my pop's 45 of "Tequila" over and over and over on my shitty little record player. I was obsessed with Madness, had every album I could find, odd 12", imports. Then it was ska: the English Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, skanking at shows, wearing skinny ties, trying to be something that we assumed the British were and we weren't. The formula altered little as I grew up and even post college I was still obsessing. I was fortunate to always have a friend a step ahead who could guide me into a scene and then allow me to figure out what I liked. After moving to San Francisco it was the burgeoning alt-country scene that grabbed me. Sure there was Uncle Tupelo, The Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, each with records I loved, memorized, had to have on no matter what I was doing be it tying my shoes, taking a shower or cleaning that crappy apartment on the edge of the Tenderloin; but the SF scene was pretty damn good in its own insular way. The city's alt-country shows were sweaty drunken spectacles hosted by Richard Buckner & The Doubters, The Buckets, The Old Joe Clarks, Our Lady of the Highway, Gran Falloon Bus, Red Red Meat. What was a joking mockery in my youth became a relevant part of my musical landscape as a young adult. I realized that country music was a rich and varied part of this country's heritage and I sought it out in a variety of modern forms and loved what I found.

It's about now that my little tale gets tricky. When I started writing Bars & Guitars, when I started writing reviews for Trouser Press, Junk Media, Stylus Magazine, and Pop Matters I became exposed to a tremendous amount of music. Some great, some average, some terrible. I was plugged in to the indie rock music snob elitist underground and could safely snort at the mere mortals who told me at parties that they'd just found this great band called Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Broken Social Scene, and (this year) Wolf Parade. I had the "yeah they're alright but you should really check out..." line down. Impress your friends, end good conversation, prop up your ego, all in the interest of music. I wasn't that bad really, but I imagine you get the idea.

It was around this time, as I started to realize how plugged in I was, that I started to get overwhelmed by the music. Unlike some fortunate souls I don't make a living doing this. I've got a full time job, I own a business, I've got a kid. Free time started competing with listening and writing. I admit that those are two things I love to do, but what I found was that I was listening without loving and writing without feeling completely submerged. I quickly came to realize that with deadlines I simply couldn't listen to all the music that needs to be heard with the same verve and passion as I did in years past. This has been a supreme disappoint to me. Good records slip through the cracks, good records get a cursory treatment and deserve better but fuck there's no time now. Part of it is getting older I tell myself. Part of it is not constantly blasting music, living with it, being enveloped in it. I began to think that I'd lost the love.

When I reflect back on 2005 I'm keenly aware of it being an excellent year in music. If you think otherwise you haven't listened much. We've been fortunate to have tons of good records come out and many seeds to future goodness planted. It's been great, but as I said I was unconvinced that I did anything much justice either here or in review elsewhere. I didn't think that I really loved anything but had lots of hot little crushes. Then I started paying attention to the music my six year old daughter wanted to hear. We have this thing we do in the car with the iPod where we take turns putting on songs, first her then me then her then me. It's really fun and we have some bonding time while driving to school or to go swimming. Inevitably her first three song choices are from either The Moutain Goats The Sunset Tree, The Decemberists Picaresque, Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy or Sufjan Stevens Illinois (specifically the song "Jacksonville"). I realized that I must have been playing these records a lot in order for her to love them, to know literally all the words to her favorite songs on those records. My passion may be diluted through too much listening but hers was just beginning. What a wonderful thing to witness, to be a part of, to share. She's got good ears too and those ears have reminded me that mine are connected to a heart that is still capable of loving what they hear, of sorting through the mediocre to find the lasting impressions. Now everytime that I doubt myself, that I'm overwhelmed with the huge pile of CDs on my desk, that I'm convinced I can't give anything the attention it deserves, I'm going to drive with my daughter and listen to music. I'm going to watch her face light up when she hears something she loves and let her remind me that the passion is still inside of me and then share it with you.

All the best in 2006. See you then. In the meantime track down Incredible Love by Chris Brokaw it's one of those records that deserves more listens.

Chris Brokaw - Move

Friday, December 23, 2005

Best of 2005...

So here we go and please pardon all grammatical lapses as last night I slept little. In a general comment I'd like to point out that 2005 was, in all seriousness, a very good year for music. There were tons of strong records competing for our attentions and, sadly, many of said records will go tragically unnoticed. It's the way of all things. If you're reading this blog you probably read a lot of others as well which means that you, in my opinion, do more than your fair share of keeping the heart of rock n' roll beating merely by being curious enough to seek out that which you haven't heard. I commend you.

So how do I decide what makes Bars & Guitars top ten? Should I just go with iTunes most played and leave it at that? Perhaps but the problem there is that there are some tremendous records that came out in January of 2005 that have sunk towards the bottom of the playlist simply by virtue of the fact that I have to listen to a ton of music in order to such a well informed and generally arrogant and cynical member of the blogging elitist commmunity. For Instance, Archer Prewitt's Wilderness definitely makes my top ten though I haven't listened to it obsessively (as I once was) in months. So basically my top ten becomes a mish mash of oft played, well associated records that seem to me to have made a mark on the musical landscape of 2005. Hopefully a mark that will resonate long after we've put good ole 2005 to bed. We'll see.

My Top 10 are unranked. I just don't understand what the difference is between number 10 and number three. It's too arbitrary. They're all excellent.

The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree. Lyrcially powerful, musically interesting, Darnielle is a special musician. I keep wanting to refer to him as a 21st century Bruce Springsteen. I don't know if that makes sense or not but he's got that uncanny ability to recreate a time and a feeling. My Review

The Decemberists - Picaresque. These guys are more or less batting .1000. I was sure that the ancient mariner whale's tales, greek tragedy, turn of the century anecdotal ghost stories schtick would run its course. But no, this record is as entertaining as all that have come before. Meloy is a first rate songwriter.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy. Probably my favorite record of the year if I had to choose. Complex entertaining, quiet, loud. Will Scheff's voice is a broken music box full of nails and feathers. My Interview with Will Scheff

Archer Prewitt - Wilderness. Such a great listen. Covered in the sheen of 70's AM radio pop, Prewitt makes his best record. My Review

The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday A well told tale of sin and redemption, of falling and getting back up, of powders and pills, and it rocks.

Andrew Bird The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Such an unusual record. Violins. Whistling? There's more melody here than most bands create in a career. Bird is the real deal and deserves and attention he gets. My Review

Smog - A River Ain't Too Much To Love. I'm late coming to Bill Callahan and Smog. All the Smog purists look down their noses at me and insist that his earlier work was way better. Whatever. I loved this record and "Let Me See The Colts" may be my favorite single song of 2005.

Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers. So nice to have you back Mr. Berman. We missed you. After a harrowing plunge into drugs and despair Berman comes back from the precipice with his most upbeat and musically rocking set of songs. I always love this interchange between Berman and his wife on "Punks In The Beerlight":

Carrie: If it ever gets really, really bad (x 2)

Berman: Let's not kid ourselves, it gets really, really bad.

Gets stuck in my throat everytime.

South San Gabriel - The Carlton Chronicle. I think this record really got overlooked. It's Will Johnson's most consistent set of songs under any of his various guises (solo, SSG or Centro-matic). Maybe because the whole song cycle is about a house cat turned off the self important music snobs. I think it's impressive that Johnson could write such an affecting, beautiful record about a house cat and have it be sincere and without irony. Wonderfully twisted Americana. My Review - My Interview with Will Johnson

Iron & Wine/Calexico - In The Reins. Sure, it's only a seven song EP but those seven songs could be the best seven songs we heard all year. Let's hope they take the collaboration to the next level and do a full album in the future. It's rare that 2 artists can successfully present the best attributes of both.

Honorable Mention:

The National - Alligator
California Oranges - Souvenirs
Mazarin - We're Already There
Magnolia Electric Co. - Trials And Errors
Chris Brokaw - Incredible Love
The Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbors
The Pernice Brothers - Discover A Lovelier You

Kinda, like letdowns:

I didn't love Sufjan Stevens Illinois. I found it too long and kinda fey. I still liked it but found myself drifting away pretty quickly once the novelty wore off.

Magnolia Electric Co.'s What Comes After The Blues. Trials And Errors was so full of rockin' promise and the live show rocks and rocks well. What happened to this record? Inward looking and dour (but not in Molina's oft charming way) it never gets going.

Ok. I guess that'll have to do. Have a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


The fact of the matter is that I hated Charlemagne's record Detour Allure the first time I listened to it. I was on a long drive and thought I'd do a bit of listening to a pile of CDs I'd received and this one was at the top. I turned it off. It just seemed, I don't know, wrong. A couple of nights later on my way home from playing hoops (I shot the lights out thank you very much) I put it on for no good reason really. It was close by I grabbed it. This go around it made sense. The jangly folk rock, boy girl harmonies, hand claps, breathy vocals, it all made sense. Lo and behold when I let the disc get past the first four songs it rocked. Not make the satan sign and bang your head rock, but rock in a kinda friendly Matt Pond PA (but better) way. Anyway, Charlemagne is mainly Carl Johns if you're interested. This album just works for me and I wish I wasn't so tired (Christmas parties kickin' my ass yo) so I could better come up with some florid metaphor for the sound. Instead I'll just give you a couple of songs.

2 from Detour Allure:

Your Scars

(We Are) Making Light

Friday, December 16, 2005

East River Pipe...

East River Pipe is the kind of artist who should be totally enigmatic. F.M. Cornog (the brains and only member of the operation) seems as if his releases should come screaming out of the ether, unpredictable and secretive. There should be debate about whether he exists at all or is actually more than one person, scholars doing sleuthing. But the facts are the facts and his story is both remarkable and laying out in plain sight. Cornog has battled some serious demons and come out on top living a life both simple and unextraordinary. He works at Home Depot and records his music as he can. His early 2006 release What Are You On? is his first release since 2001 and is so completely shrouded in a world view dominated by drugs both legal and illegal that it gets downright dizzying at times. Don't think this a Hunter S. Thompson gonzo Fear and Loathing style look at drugs. No, this is not a party record. Cornog examines drugs as they function as our crutches, friends, downfall, and necessity. He's talking as much about Zoloft and Paxil, caffiene and alcohol, as he is pot or coke or E. It seems at times to be a blunt confession from a man who's relied on better living through chemistry both to survive and to destroy.

The music is very good. Cornog's style hasn't changed much over the years and here he adheres to his lo-fi singer songwriter aesthetic. He writes excellent melody though his voice is a distinct nasally twang and, at times, so Dylanesque as to make you stop and listen closer. Some of the songs on What Are You On? legitimately rock, there are instances of soaring choruses and wonderfully cracked 70's guitar solos. My only complaint is that many of the songs are too short and I'm never one to complain about too short. I think most CDs run far too long, just give me your 10 best and get the fuck out of here. But Cornog's 13 songs (in 39 minutes) are all short and often end just as things really get going. None the less I'm digging this record hard.

2 songs from What Are You On?:

You Got Played Little Girl

Shut Up And Row

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pinetop Seven...

I've been sitting on this Pinetop Seven record The Night's Bloom for awhile. I listened to it once and then it got buried under a bunch of CDs. It didn't make much of an impression aside from that it was faintly country tinged and sounded a lot like Lambchop. But I must admit that I do read Pitchfork. When I read their review I must admit that my interest got peaked. So I went and dug it up and began a rigorous campaign of listening. My bottom line is that this is indeed a damn good record. I think that it starts slow, lacking the songs that really hook you initially but what would be the 2nd half of the record is amazing. "A Page from The Desert" at over seven minutes long actually ends too soon, it's so engaging, dramatic, earnest, full of surprise. I gush. I suppose there's a country or Americana flavor to the record in the same way that Scud Mountain Boys Massachusetts has it, that is only peripherally and arguably more indebted to the sounds of AM radio than to Nashville. This has grown on me immeasurably, though I don't think it'll make my top ten which I need to post pretty soon.

1 song from The Night's Bloom:

His Aging Miss Idaho

I've got a butt load of Cds to listen to and post about so I think things will pick up a little bit around here though the holidays always make it hard. At the top of the pile is the new Cd from East River Pipe coming out on Merge Records. Stay close. Stay warm.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

R.I.P. Richard Pryor...

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Richard Pryor, the caustic yet perceptive
actor-comedian who lived dangerously close to the edge both on
stage and off, has died, his ex-wife said Saturday. He was 65.

Pryor died of a heart attack at his home in the San Fernando
Valley sometime late Friday or early Saturday, Flyn Pryor said. He
had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative
disease of the nervous system.

The comedian was regarded early in his career as one of the most
foul-mouthed comics in the business, but he gained a wide following
for his expletive-filled but universal and frequently personal
insights into modern life and race relations.

His audacious style influenced an array of stand-up artists,
including Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and Damon Wayans, as well as
Robin Williams, David Letterman and others.

A series of hit comedies in the '70s and '80s, as well as filmed
versions of his concert performances, helped make him Pryor one of
the highest paid stars in Hollywood. He was one of the first black
performers to have enough leverage to cut his own Hollywood deals.
In 1983, he signed a $40 million, five-year contract with Columbia

His films included "Stir Crazy," "Silver Streak," "Which
Way Is Up?" and "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip."

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Compilation Post...

Sometimes escaping into the anonymity of a compilation is perfect for those of us that are musically ADD. There are times when I just can't keep focused on an entire new record. Lately I've been bouncing on and off Cass McCombs never quite being able to sink my teeth into it. My solution is to start listening to the various compilations that I've been sent. The nice thing about a compilation is you're not committed to anything on it. My finger is on the next button and if the song doesn't hit me it's on to the next. Musical sluttiness.

So first off is 20 Nights Of Wine And Song from Greyday Productions. Greyday is responsible for disparate and fine indie rock promoting Consafos, Bronwyn and Minmae. The compilation runs the gamut from electro pop to drone. Strong stuff.

Minmae - Box Of Cassettes

I picked up a fine british music tabloid called Comes With A Smile. With Frank Black on the cover and extensive interviews with Richard Buckner, Laura Veirs, American Analog Set and a Cd full of rare and unreleased tracks as well I just couldn't pass it up. It's been a good listen and really great read. I recommend tracking it down. The lenght of the interviews alone make it a bit different than most music mags. It's like every artist gets a full feature. Nice.

Frank Black - Atlantis

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Stereotype Records...

The thing that caught my eye about Stereotype Records (aside from the outstanding fact that they give away every song by their artist roster free) is that they recently inked Mike Coykendall. I've spoken about Mike a number of times here as the man twiddling knobs for M. Ward, Richmond Fontaine and as the mind behind the fabulous Old Joe Clarks. Mike's solo record Hello Hello Hello is now available to download. I'd post some tracks but that seems a bit superfluous given that you can download the whole thing. The entire Stereotype roster seems high quality and it don't cost nothing to check it out, so head on over.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Earlies...

I'm a bit late getting on this bandwagon (pun intended) but better late than never and at least it's not a post about CYHSY or Bell Orchestre or any other organically hyped indie band. It's not that I have anything against the current indie rock promo methodology given that I'm a part of it, but I do believe that there is so a thing as over hype. An excellent article by Alex Bemis in the LA Times argues that bands like Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands can't get over hyped because they're not being marketed. In the olden days (remember paper cups with strings?) hype was created and sold. It was a commodity manufactured by publicists and music labels and was always in danger of imploding. If a band didn't live up to the hype or the music listening community found the hype to be false or unwelcome in the scene, well, so long. Now adays hype is "organic" in the for instances of Arcade Fire, CYHSY and Broken Social Scene. The love of these bands goes bottom up not top down and because of that we just love them more. I suppose the real test will be follow up records. We've already seen the new BSS record get a fraction of the love that We Forgot It In People did. It will be interesting to see how subsequent releases by buzz bands get treated. At the very least I imagine they'll find a small place in our hearts. But remember all "hot' bands eventuallly get overtaken by new hot bands, new generations discover their own hype and so the circle is completed.

Anyway, how'd I get on that tangent? Oh yeah, The Earlies. A band I'm late in praising. I've been listening to These Were The Earlies a good bit lately. I've been having the hardest time geting my ears around what they're trying to do, electronica? Indie Rock? Laptop squibbling? Then it clicked the other day. They're uniquely adept at producing melodic electronic tinged kitchen sink rock. There's everything in there, kno wut ah meen? It's a really strong record, but then again I kinda think that Secretly Candian does very little wrong.

1 song from These Were The Earlies:

Morning Wonder

Have a good weekend.