An Eclectic Gastronomy of Sound
I’ve never been one for keeping a gratitude journal as some people do – in other words, a daily or weekly record of things I’m thankful for. It’s not that I have an objection to the idea or that I don’t feel gratitude, it’s just that it feels awkward to write it all down regularly. That said, I guess you could say this end of the year post is a bit like a gratitude journal entry, as it’s seventeen of the music, books and videos (these particular books and video generally have a music component) that I was thankful for this past year.
17 sounds like an arbitrary number, I know, but its in accordance with it being 2017, as I did last year with 16 music things I loved in 2016. But I kinda snuck more than 17 in by lumping some into larger related groupings. I mean, there’s just so much cool stuff out there that its hard to limit oneself to just 17.
Flying Nun Records:
This long running New Zealand indie record label has so many good bands on it, including two I listened to a lot in 2017, the Courtneys and Fazerdaze. I wrote a post on the Courtneys in the spring and their record still may be my favorite of the year overall, but I also fell for the Morningstar album by Fazerdaze (the moniker for singer/songwriter/producer Amelia Murray) and came back to it almost as much as the Courtneys. Women in their 20’s seem to be making the best music these days.
This Jim Jarmusch film is slow, but deep if you give it a chance and approach it on it’s own level. It has a lot of similarities in tone to some of Jarmusch’s 80s classics like Strangers in Paradise and Down by Law, but while those movies largely portrayed characters on the fringes of society, Paterson is, on the surface, a simple story about a week in the life of a bus driver. The character is also a poet, which does lend the film an unusual slant (I mean, poetry is not exactly a hot topic in film or society these days). His slightly zany girlfriend acts as a balance to his quiet, grounded personality and together they live with a dog named Marvin who provides a comic foil throughout. It’s a testament to Jarmusch that he manages to have a cute dog for comic effect in this film, but it never gets cheesy. Not much happens in the way of action, though the soundtrack from Jarmusch’s band Squrl adds a mysterious and sometimes unsettling mood.
The Church: Man Woman Life Death Infinity and a 1982 show uploaded to YouTube
A good year to be a fan of perennial favorite, the Church. Their new album is excellent, especially (for me) the track “Submarine” with its otherworldy underwaterworldly sounds.
Also, somebody uploaded to YouTube a 1982 show by the band, from their Blurred Crusade tour. Kicking off with the relatively rare song “Tear it all Away,” and full of life and energy, the video document captures the thrill of a great rock show, from the smoke and lights to the silhouetted fans dancing in front of the stage. Frankly, I didn’t know they were this good so early in their career!
John Abercrombie: Characters (1978)
I wrote a big ‘ol post about discovering this album a few months ago, so I’ll redirect thataway.
GospelbeacH and Mapache:
California Country Rock a la the Grateful Dead and the Byrds still lives on in a strong way through these two bands, who both released albums this year. For the young guys in Mapache, it’s their first; though GospelbeacH leader Brent Rademaker is a veteran of the scene, turning out quality music with a number of bands including Beachwood Sparks over the years. One of my first music loves as a kid was “canyon rock” like the Eagles, Jackson Browne and America – this is a nice way for me to continue that love with new music.
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, by Johan Harsted (2011):
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a music book, though it’s got music in it, including a character who only listens to Swedish band the Cardigans, which makes up her entire music collection. The story, however, is about a 30 year old gardener whose only goal in life is to be second best at everything (like the titular Buzz Aldrin, second man to walk on the moon). His life falls apart when he loses his job and his girlfriend. He ends up going to the Faroe Islands (located between Scotland and Iceland) to be the soundman for a friend’s band who are appearing at a festival there. Things take a twist when he wakes up in the middle of the road with no memory of how he got there. He slowly rebuilds his life with the help of a ragtag group of similarly adrift islanders. A beautifully written work, sometimes comic, sometimes melancholy and always thoughtful, incisive, and moving.
Archival Pearls Before Swine and Jimmie Spheeris shows on YouTube:
Two full 1971 Pearls Before Swine shows (New York City and Syracuse), featuring Tom Rapp and company in fine form with lots of between song repartee and wide-ranging song selection. Even more interesting in some ways is the 1974 Jimmie Spheeris show which appeared on YouTube. Spheeris is even more obscure than Pearls, but I love his music too. His live stuff is quite rare outside of a now out of print live album, and this one finds him loose and engaging, with nice versions of some of his trademark cosmic hippie folk jazz like “I Am the Mercury” to more down to earth numbers like “The Original Tap Dancing Kid.”
The Return of iamamwhoami (but under the name ionnalee):
Yeah, she ‘s a bit “peculiar,” but Swedish singer/songwriter/producer Jonna Lee makes intriguing (and, yes, disturbing) marriages of visuals and music. Previously recording as iamamiwhoami, (which I wrote about long ago) she’s moved on from that project to something that still seems very similar to me, but under the name ionnalee. Touches of Bjork, Kate Bush, Danielle Dax, etc. – yet more wintry and witchy.
Cosmic (there’s that word again), or “spiritual” jazz was big in the late 60s and early 70s with musicians such as Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane, Lonnie Liston Smith, etc. Kamasi Washington is a young guy who’s carrying on that tradition with his epic Epic last year and the more streamlined Harmony of Difference this year. Speaking of Sanders, there was a deluxe vinyl repackaging of three of the saxophonist’s late 60s/early 70s Impulse albums Tauhid, Jewels of Thought, and Summon Bukmun Umyun. It comes housed in a screen-printed sleeve with a booklet which includes a 1971 interview with Sanders. Yeah, I already had all three albums in various formats, but this is just a cool physical artifact! The kind of thing nerdy record collectors (which I can be to some degree) drool over.
Becoming Elektra, by Mick Houghton (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2017):
This history of Elektra Records is a fascinating and thorough history of the little record label which could (and which grew into a big record label). Concentrating on the label’s formative years when founder Jac Holzman ran the company, from the 1950s to 1973, Elektra started as a folk label, but was also more adventurous than that designation implies, releasing works by avant-garde musicians and from different cultures and continents. Holzman was the rare label-head who seems to have been well-loved by all and he’s interviewed extensively for this account, providing a first-hand account of a businessman who was in it for all the right reasons, and one who also had respect for the artist. Signing Love, the Butterfield Blues Band and the Doors in the late 60s propelled Elektra into a whole other realm, giving it a lot of freedom but also making it a little unwieldy, which contributed to Holzman’s selling the label in the early 70s. I learned a lot about artists I already knew but also discovered a slew of others I’d never heard of (most worth checking out).
Stranger Things 2:
Season 2 of this Netflix series deftly continues the homage to 80s sci-fi and horror and the X-Files (plus movies like Ghostbusters, Gremlins, E.T., and even The Exorcist) The actors are all perfectly cast, from Winona Ryder playing a perpetually teetering-on-the-edge mother, to Finn Wolfhard who plays one of the stalwart and resourceful group of schoolkids, all dealing with a dark, supernatural “upside down world” lying – both literally and figuratively- beneath their small Indiana town. A spooky and smart series which also has a lot of humor.
The Vinyl Detective: The Run Out Groove, by Andrew Cartmel
See earlier review
A Trio of Music Autobiographies:
Bobby Whitlock: A Rock n’ Roll Autobiography (2010)
Thoroughly enjoyable autobiography by a musician who was everywhere in the late 60s and early 70s – playing with Delaney and Bonnie, George Harrison, but most known as a huge part of the Eric Clapton’s Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs album. Which was almost as much a Whitlock album as a Clapton album, he was such a big contributor both through songwriting and playing. His stories, from his dirt poor rural Mississippi childhood through the rock star excess, to a drift away from music and then rebirth, with new wife musician Coco Carmel. Whitlock comes across as a down to earth, talented, likable guy who’s led an interesting life.
Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (2016) and Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet, the Memoir (2016)
Two autobios by mega stars which were much more than I expected they would be. No matter what you may think of either musician, their books were well-written honest and revealing memoirs that made me appreciate their music even more than I already did (well, okay, I still don’t like much Collins has done musically since the early/mid 80s).
Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World, by Rob Sheffield
I know, another book about the Beatles?! Weren’t the first 5,000 enough? But this one offers a fresh take on the phenomenon of the fab four, addressing their impact – the how’s and why’s – as well as the music. Apart from being one of my favorite music writers, Sheffield is a Beatles fanboy (as he readily admits), but also able to stand back and be objective and to not love everything they did. In fact, he’s quite opinionated, but in a sardonic, respectful and humorous way. His enthusiasm for music is infectious and spread via the bite of Beatles (I’m taking suggestions for new metaphors to replace that bad one…)
Anthony Phillips – Invisible Men (Remastered and Expanded Edition):
Ex-Genesis guitarist’s 1983 partnership album with Richard Scott (yeah, I never heard of him either) was reissued this year in an expanded edition, continuing the series of Phillips reissues by Cherry Red. It sounds dated in certain spots and is marred by an overuse of drum machines (guys, come on, would it have been that hard to hire a drummer!?) but there are some strong songs here, such as “The Women Were Watching” with its darkly chiming (darkly charming?) guitar pattern and “Falling for Love.” Phillips has done a lot of soundtrack work and is a specialist in the acoustic 12 string guitar – and a good portion of the bonus tracks recorded around the same time highlight those talents.
I’m gonna totally cheat on my 17 here (which I already have, I guess) by sneaking in a quick list of my favorite new music albums of the year (in no particular order):
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim
Andy Summers – Triboluminescence
Slowdive – Slowdive
Michael Chapman – 50
Mary Brett Lorson – Themes from Whatever
Hayden Pedigo – Greetings from Amarillo
Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley
Trummors – Headlands
Real Estate – In Mind
The Courtneys- II
GospelbeacH- Another Summer of Love
Sabrina Malheiros – Clareia
The Church – Man Woman Life Death Infinity
Tom Petty’s death this year was an unwelcome surprise, as was the death of lesser known power pop artist Tommy Keene. Petty, and to a lesser extent, Keene were a big part of my music-listening life over the last few decades and I connected with a lot of their songs, many becoming part of my subconscious. On a less profound level, their songs just felt good to listen to.
The only positive thing that’s resulted from their deaths for me has been the discovery of old interviews and performances from each via YouTube that I hadn’t seen before, plus a compilation DVD (thanks, Bob!) of TV clips from the later part of Petty’s career.
So, onward we go into the present and into the future!
As Tommy Keene sang, “These are places that are gone / Now we can go on and on”