The Beastie Boys Book Review

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June, 1989: Seaside Heights, New Jersey – My friend and I had just finished smoking a huge joint outside of the beach condo we were staying at when it happened.  We were casually strolling along the boardwalk enjoying our buzz and the ocean breeze when we suddenly heard music coming from one of the game stands.  What the fuck is that sound?  Is that…no…this isn’t….wait….yes, it is…THIS IS A NEW BEASTIE BOYS SONG!!!!

“Shake Your Rump” — particularly its brilliantly fuzzed-out synth bass break — blew our freaking minds that day in a way that mine hasn’t been blown since. You gotta remember, this was 1989, music just didn’t sound like this (at least nothing I was listening to up to that point). We had been excited for a new Beasties record but weren’t really sure what to expect. It had been a few years since their debut License to Ill dropped, blew up, and was written off as a one-hit frat party wonder.

Then Paul’s Boutique dropped the following month and rest is b-boy history.

December, 2018: Washington, DC – Fast forward almost (gulp) thirty years and the Beasties are at it again, only this time, with a book — the simply titled Beastie Boys Book —  that is essentially a print version of the Paul’s Boutique album-ending mini-mixtape, “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”.  In other words, it never spends too much time on one particular theme and is a potpourri of interesting shit.  This can make the book both a refreshing read (for those of you with ADD or those of us sick of cliché music autobiographies) and a little disappointing for those of you who wish they peeled the onion more on certain aspects of their career.  As much as I loved reading about Cookie Puss (cause let’s face it, Cookie Puss was the fucking man and probably deserves his own book, TV series, and movie) I would have also enjoyed reading more about DJ Hurricane, who spent a good bit of time as their live DJ and helmed the tables for Check Your Head and Ill Communication, or producer Mario Caldato Jr., or the move to Mix Master Mike before Hello Nasty (who does contribute the most unusual chapter in the book).  But outside of a few random notes here and there on Hurricane and Caldato Jr., I don’t think either gets as much space as Amy Poehler does writing (hilariously) on-target reviews of every Beastie Boys video.

Of all the awesomely Beastian elements in this book (a music gear picture/list, a chronological review of the Beasties outfits, a tribute to the aforementioned Cookie Puss, and a freakin’ cookbook to name a few) one of the most fascinating was the vast amount of music discussed not created by the Beastie Boys.  Whether it’s Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz listing the songs on his seasonal mixtapes or Michael “Mike D” Diamond reminiscing about the punk shows they attended in NYC in the early 80’s, you can tell that the Beastie Boys aren’t just guys that “play in a band” but true lovers of music and culture.  I had to stop numerous times during my read just to look up some obscure Brazilian psychedelic artist from the 60’s I had never heard of (they could write another book called The Music We Listen To and I’d be the first in line to read it).  Everyone likes to consider themselves “eclectic” music listeners, but these guys really are the crate divers in the record store for half a day searching for that deep cut no one else has or knows about. And their music reflects it.  When Ad-Rock says they wanted Hello Nasty to “sound like a great mix tape”, well, mission accomplished, Adam.

Reading the book and watching the remaining Beasties in recent interviews promoting it I came away somewhat surprised at their lack of self-awareness.  Not in the sense that they don’t know who they are individually or that they were in a huge, internationally-known band that matured before our eyes (they do spend a good bit of time ruing about their youthful foolishness, but don’t run away from it), but that they can’t really comprehend their standing in music history or how their fans absorbed them with such devotion.  It is always strange to me to watch someone in a band talk about a piece of music that — to me and many others — is legendary, yet, to them is just another “album in our canon.”  I don’t think Mike D or Ad-Rock will ever truly fathom how influential and important Paul’s Boutique is.  For some, it is our generations Sgt. Peppers, for them, it’s just their underselling second album.

While the boys do an excellent job at breaking down each release (Ad-Rock, especially, seems to enjoy taking a deeper dive into each specific track and the head-spaces they were in while creating them) it will leave you with more questions than answers.  The backstories behind some of their music are as compelling as the songs themselves, and though they do offer some thoughtful tidbits (like how they got the sounds for the kick drum on “Pass the Mic” or Yauch’s fuzz-bass on “Sabotage”), like any great artist, they don’t want to reveal every trick in their collective arsenals.

Of course, the book is also missing one very crucial element: Adam “MCA” Yauch (who died from cancer in 2012).  Everyone has their favorite Beastie Boy, but I think almost all can agree that everyone liked MCA (even Madonna).  And from reading this book you can see why.  Ad-Rock and Mike D do their best to include crazy anecdotes and stories about MCA and his varying interests and experimentally fun nature.  In many ways, the book is an ode to their fallen-too-soon friend as much as it is to NYC in the early 80s, LA in the 90s, and coming-of-age at the turn of the century as culture-shifting, trend-setting, taste-makers.

On a personal level, I found this to be one of the most engrossing, funny, and true-to-form pieces of art from one of the most influential bands in my life.  As engaging as they might be, I am not reading this book to learn about what life was like for Mike D in the second grade or fifty pages on how Ad-Rock’s uncle built furniture or lurid tales of inner-band squabbles and backstage groupies.   This is a Beastie Boys book, dammit, if there is one thing these guys are masters of it’s entertainment.  From the in-page banter between the authors to the overall let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously tone to the off-beat cultural references (these guys remember Pixx!) this book encompasses all things Beastie Boys in the best possible ways.   As a reader and fan, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Some Takeaways:

  • Hello Nasty is Ad-Rock’s favorite Beasties album
  • How the early 80’s DC scene co-mingled with the early 80’s NYC scene at a particular Black Flag show in NY that, in hindsight, had some pretty big names in attendance (Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Bad Brains, etc.)
  • How much of a stoner Ad-Rock is
  • How it was actually Run DMC who gave them the line, “here’s a little story I’ve got to tell about 3 bad brothers you know so well…”
  • Not that I didn’t know it already, but just how fucking creative these guys overall, even outside of making music.  Just the way the book is laid out is original.
  • The Beastie Boys, above all, are funny motherfuckers. Ad-Rock, if you ever read this, hit me up, ‘cause we need to hang.
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The 17 Best Albums of 2017

It was not a great year for music in 2017, in that we suddenly lost Tom Petty, as well as my earliest musical hero and influence: my Dad. On a lighter note, great music is still being made every day and every year. And whether this is read by 1 or 100 or 1000 people, I still feel compelled to spread the good word of great music for all to hear.

Let’s start with a quick nod for Special Musical Achievement in Film. The recent John Coltrane documentary Chasing Trane is a must watch. Just a beautiful tribute to an incredible musician and man who, as chronicled in the film, felt it was his higher calling to bring people joy and happiness through music. “Overall I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give to the listener the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe… That’s what I would like to do. I think that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life and we all try to do it in some way. The musicians way is through his music.”

With that in mind, here are my Top 17 Albums of 2017:

Jason Isbell – The Nashville Sound
Easily one of the best singer/songwriters of this century/generation. However you measure time, fill it with this guy’s songs. If you’ve never heard of him, please just go listen to all his albums starting with this one (after you finish reading this).

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Three straight-up classics in a row for Kendrick now, each with their own sound and identity. For his latest trick, Lamar conjured up a “choose your adventure” loose-concept album made to also work when played in reverse order. There’s little question that Kendrick Lamar is the hottest and deepest talent in hip-hop right now. Period. (Maybe that’s why K-dot put a period in the title? Either way, DAMN.)

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
If you’re wondering why you keep seeing this album at or near the top of all the year-end best-album lists, just tune in, turn on, and get deep. You won’t drown, I promise you’ll float.

Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
Alt-rock isn’t dead. Art rock isn’t dead. Hard rock isn’t dead. Rock isn’t dead.

Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy
I was never a fan and just didn’t “get” anything about Odd Future, the hip-hop collective led by Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. Figured I was just too old, or they were just too weird for weirdness sake and I gave up. Then I tried this new Tyler the Creator album. Wow. With a very unique and interesting sound, musically all over the place, Flower Boy is mildly addictive but won’t cause drowsiness.

Chronixx – Chronology
Next-gen dancehall reggae with enough roots to keep the grooves grounded. My 5-year-old son’s review: “This sounds like the beach.” Standout track: “Big Bad Sound.” This is a talented young cat to keep our ear on in the future.

Leif Vollebekk – Twin Solitude
Quiet, haunting, and masterful.

Run the Jewels – RTJ 3
Perhaps the most dynamic duo in rap, and most consistent. Seems the combo of dual-threat producer/MC EL-P and costar Killer Mike just never miss. All three of their albums are among the best hip-hop of this century and installment #3 doesn’t disappoint.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Masterful blend of basic guitar rock with all the sonic trappings of modern technology. Like most Spoon albums, Hot Thoughts is instantly catchy and enough of a grower to keep satisfying after multiple listens. This one is also a sneaky-great “headphones” album.

Tony Allen – The Source
Former Fela Kuti drummer brings the funk on this set of jazz grooves. Also check out his other 2017 release, A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

Jay-Z – 4:44
I was skeptical, and only half-interested. But damn if old Shawn Carter didn’t go and make another great album. Personal, yes, but still with trademark chops on the mic. Very much helped by the consistency of having one producer throughout: No I.D. is the unsung MVP of this one for bringing the beats.

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
The fact that most people seem to find Josh Tillman (“Father John Misty”) to be some pretentious douche who takes himself too seriously just proves that they in fact don’t even realize that they are the butt of his whole joke. And he’s never been funnier than on Pure Comedy, his third LP as FJM, and third masterpiece recorded with producer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson at the helm. Can’t wait to hear what these two cook up for Father John Misty’s next routine.

Margo Price – All American Made
There’s real country music like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, and then there’s that fake-ass bullshit in a cowboy hat that they use to sell cola and prime-time football games. This is real country music, of course, but it’s also progressive and refreshingly feministic without distracting from this tremendously talented singer and songwriter who just made her second straight damn-good album.

Damian Marley – Stony Hill
Almost a decade in the making, Jr. Gong’s long-awaited follow up to Welcome to Jamrock finds him atop Stony Hill, a masterclass in reggae styles and vocal dexterity. Another set of crucial tracks to add to his already impressive cannon.

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Young saxophonist’s first album was a critically acclaimed TRIPLE album, about 3 hours of music aptly titled Epic. Impressive feat, especially for a debut. How to follow that up in 2017? With a 6-song EP of course. Still clocks in at 32 minutes, not far off what a full-length album was back in the day. Smoother and more palatable than Epic, this concise effort is still somehow as effective.

Portugal The Man – Woodstock
Last time these guys put out an album it topped my list (Evil Friends in 2013). This one is almost as good. Unique and groovy from beginning to end, highlighted in the middle by the feel-good finger-snapping hit of the year “Feel It Still.”

Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Yes, I have to put Ryan Adams on my list every year he does an album.

Clowns, Gangs, and Bad Taste

We seldom write about politics here at Bums Logic because, after all, we are a blog about music and culture. If you want to read about politics there are no shortage of sites, blogs, feeds, Tweets, photos, videos, podcasts, and hand-outs to catch yourself up with the latest.

In a band with a gang???

However, today I feel compelled to write about a group I never thought I would ever even consider typing words about, let alone think about: The Insane Clown Posse. If you don’t know who these guys are by now, then just click here. These two handsome fellas, Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler), have been performing their unique hybrid of rock and hip hop for close to 20 years now.  Their fans are known as The Juggalo’s, and like other fringe-worthy sub-sects of society they are an oft misunderstood group. In 2011, though, the FBI (yes, that FBI) designated The Juggalo’s as a gang. On September 16, 2017 (I am writing this the day before) The Juggalo’s are marching on The Mall here in Washington, DC to protest this designation. I, for one, am in full support of their march. I simply don’t see how anyone that cares about the first amendment could think otherwise.

From Alice Cooper and Kiss in the 70’s to GWAR in the 80’s to Marylin Manson in the 90’s, artists have been pushing the artistic definitions of taste to extremes to varying degrees of success (and this doesn’t even take into account filmmakers and visual artists). Some do it for profit, others for the art, and a few for both. The great thing about any art form or any artist? You don’t have any obligation to consume the work. If you don’t like it….then you have every right to ignore it.

When the FBI concluded that because certain groups of people who considered themselves Juggalo’s committed crimes and therefor all members of this fan base constitute a “gang” a first amendment line was crossed that, at least in my lifetime, was unprecedented. The FBI essentially said: you are guilty of being a fan of an artist.

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Is This The Album We Really Want?

We are a Democracy and what we say goes.

As of the time I write this…Roger Waters is 73 years old.

As of the time I write this…Roger Waters is one of the most successful “rock stars” on the planet.

As of the time I write this…Roger Waters is still one very pissed-off man.

And if I were to write this same piece again in a year, two years, five years…Roger Waters will still be one very pissed-off man.

Success, accolades, fame, money, respect, none of these things are going to soften ole Roger. No, Roger still wildly stares at the world and doesn’t like all that he sees. And he is going to let you know about. And subtlety is not his strong suit.

It’s 2017 and it’s safe to say that no one was running around asking for a new Roger Waters album. His most recent solo effort (Amused to Death) was released over 25 years ago and was met with a collective ‘meh’ by fans and critics alike. Since then, he has toured the world as a solo artist (with amazing pick-of-the-litter backing bands), bringing his audiences along for the nostalgic classic rock trip of a lifetime. He’s played Dark Side of the Moon in it’s entirety, he’s re-created The Wall as a multi-media live experience (props, sound effects, and puppets included). Why wouldn’t he? Those are two of the biggest and most widely recognized rock albums in history. No one was going to those shows to hear songs from Radio K.A.O.S.

So what’s the point of a new Roger Waters album? What does he have left to prove? His place in the rock cannon is well secured. Pink Floyd (or what’s left of them) released their final “album” a couple of years ago (pretty much a bunch of outtakes) and no one was comparing that or any other post-Waters Floyd output to the great Floyd albums of the 70’s. So there was no need for Roger to compete with his old mates, no reason to add to the Pink Floyd lore.

Which leads us to Is This The Life We Really Want?, released in June 2017 to a surprisingly receptive and anticipatory audience. Perhaps its a combination of Roger playing Desert Trip in the summer of 2016 for 8 billion people (and probably a paycheck equal in size) and his relentless touring schedule of the past 10-15 years that has led some fans to actually look forward to hearing a new album. Roger has made sure he didn’t disappear into the sunset as many of his brethren have chosen (or were forced) to do. He has kept up his end of the bargain by maintaining a credibility and by putting on highly entertaining, well-produced, and well-performed shows. He wrote an opera! No one would ever accuse him of “mailing it in.” He has the desire to remain relevant and the current political climate is ripe for Roger to chime in and do just that.

Is This The Life We Really Want? is a political album and an angry one at that. The Final Cut was also a political album, the anger replaced by contemplation, suspicion, and loss. Animals was a political album, the anger hidden by deep conceptual correlations between men and pigs, dogs, and sheep. So it’s to no surprise that Is This The Life We Really Want? most closely resembles these two Floyd albums. Producer extraordinaire Nigel Godrich seems to have compelled Roger to combine the best elements of these works with an updated production technique while still holding on to the obligatory Floydian sound effects (heartbeats, ticking clocks, radio/tv stations…check). Godrich is most known for his work with Radiohead and it’s hard not to hear how he infused some of their recording aesthetics into Rogers orbit.

First, there are the strings. Floyd has been using them since The Wall and Roger, more notably, used plenty of them on The Final Cut and Pros and Cons. Their lushness throughout the album are spine-tingling at best, overwrought at their worst. Strings and rock music have a very capricious relationship but Roger has found a way to enable the orchestration to enhance his music without overwhelming it. Throughout Is This The Life We Really Want? it is the strings that add the moodiness, the depth, and the cinematic tension and release.

Secondly, there are the drums. Pink Floyd were never really known for their drumming. Nick Mason is a fine player, his biggest strength being his ability to always play to the song. It’s no secret that compared to his peers at the time, Nick was low on the totem pole of “great rock drummers.” As well, I was never a big fan of the drum sound on Floyd albums. Their early works compressed the drums to almost inorganic levels and their later works over-produced the hell out of them. Here is where Nigel Godrich really shines. By no means is this a “drum” album but the drum sounds here are amazing. I can’t help but think of the Radiohead song “Nude” when I hear Is This The Life We Really Want?. The sparse reverb, the tight kick/snare, the efficient offbeat fills. At no point do you really notice the drums unless you are actually listening for them but it’s nice to hear that Roger finally allowed them their place in his sonic palette.

So here we are, all the way into this write-up and what hasn’t been mentioned? Guitars. If there is one thing that most folks will say defines “The Pink Floyd Sound” it’s the roaring guitar solos. Guess how many guitar solos are on Is This The Life We Really Want?? None. The synthesizer has replaced the guitar in many modern bands and Roger seems just fine with that (sans the occasional acoustic strum/volume swelling sound effect). After all, this is a guy who has now recorded with three of the greatest guitar players of all time (David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck) so it’s understandable that he would want to move on from that sound. He doesn’t need it, or, he think’s he doesn’t need it. Part of me has to wonder if perhaps deep down, somewhere in his sub-conscious, Waters has never gotten over the fact that Gilmour is most associated with the classic Pink Floyd sound (or that he went on to put out Floyd albums without him). It’s Gilmour’s solos on “Comfortably Numb” and “Money” that people remember while Roger stews in the background about concepts, naming rights, and it being “my fucking pig!” Was the exclusion of the guitar solo calculated or something that was organic?

Lyrically, well, Roger is Pissed Off. Whereas Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut all had elements of political rebellion and ire in their lyrics, no one has ever really considered Pink Floyd a “political band” like U2, Public Enemy, or Rage Against The Machine. Is This The Life We Really Want? does not hold it’s tongue on the state of American politics, the environment, famine, war, the refugee crisis, selfies, reality TV, technology, or any of the other obvious modern social ills. “Drug music” right? Let’s get high and talk about the current state of Syria or the never-ending crisis in the Middle East that Roger hopes to solve by releasing politically scathing albums. I consider Roger Waters one of the greatest lyricists in rock music. He has the capacity to paint a picture with words and his clever ability to turn a phrase or drop a one-liner has always been one of his strongest assets. He is also widely considered to be one of the least modest actors in music. When he sings, “If I had been God…I think I could’ve done a better job.” I can’t help but picture his previous band mates coyly smiling to themselves and thinking, “You see, world? See what we had to deal with?” Only Roger Waters would sing such a line without a hint of irony.

Here is a question to contemplate: can an artist bite off themselves? The best moments on Is This The Life We Really Want? are the familiar ones, the songs that sound like classic Pink Floyd. And if there is one song most represented/repeated/bit off of it’s “Sheep” from Animals. A few tracks borrow quite liberally from the Animals upbeat rocker (mainly “Picture That” and “Bird In a Gale”). “Smell The Roses” and “Pigs” share the same DNA and the chord structure from “Mother” is well adapted throughout. We also hear plenty of The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking style acoustic balladry and The Final Cut/The Wall emotive chord structures. You could probably replace the lyrics/melodies on a few of these songs with previous Floyd works and some in the audience wouldn’t have a clue. Roger has successfully bitten off himself and that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when ‘yourself’ was responsible for some of the most uniquely original music ever created.

If there is one song that sheds some of its Floydian pounds and embarks into somewhat new sonic territory it’s the title track. Lyrically, it’s classic Waters: witty and sharp, damning in nature, and meant to make you crack a slight smile while thinking about just how fucked up what he’s saying really is. Musically, it’s scant use of guitars, sliding bass, and deep strings keep the song idling along at a menacing pace only equaled by it’s lyrical content. Roger loves his lyrical lists (“Brain Damage” comes to mind) and it’s segue into “Bird in a Gale” is perhaps the albums finest moment.

In an era where most of his peers have glided into “soft middle age” (or in their cases, “soft old age”) it’s invigorating to hear a new, relevant, and actually listenable Roger Waters album. He still does have something to say and I, for one, am still willing to listen.

Life After Prince: Still Raining, Still Dreaming

Prince posterI was dreaming when I wrote this so forgive me if it goes astray.

21.APRIL.2016:  I don’t think I can do this. Not for Prince, not yet. I can’t rank his albums and talk about how great even his most recent and final releases were. I can’t describe his incredible ability as a live performer and put it all in some neat context.

I’m not ready to break out all my old CDs and listen to All Prince All Day. I just… can’t. I don’t want to hear him sing “How can you leave me standing alone in a world that’s so cold.” I don’t want the painful reminder that there is no such thing as Dr. Everything Will Be Alright.

Prince left our physical world between a full moon and Earth Day. I was stuck sitting on a conference call with tears rolling down my face as I was scrolling through Facebook and Twitter while the whole world hoped it wasn’t true and then confirmed that it was.

Prince was 57 and still looked and moved like he was 37. And he never meant to cause us any sorrow. For all the graphic sexual imagery associated with his music, for all the times he was criticized or marginalized for being “too lewd,” Prince used his guitar and his drums and pianos and drum machines and microphones and funky bass lines and synthesizers and more guitars to bring JOY into this world. Sex is the physical manifestation of love. More mild-mannered folks than Prince call it “making LOVE.” So while the censors and religious not-always-right wanted to ban his records and condemn his lyrics and put WARNING stickers over it all, those warnings should have read “This music will free your ass, and your mind WILL follow.” Warning: this will funk you up!

The man was the living embodiment of what a musician could be. Stunningly proficient on several instruments. Meticulous and prolific songwriter and record producer. Jaw-dropping energetic live performer whose concerts and after-party shows are the stuff of legend. The Super Bowl Halftime performance in 2007. His ridiculous guest solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that tore the roof off the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2004.

And no one could scream like him. That androgynous “OWW!” that meant all things to all people and was very hot to the touch.

The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere…

I couldn’t deal with the pictures on Facebook. I couldn’t drive to Paisley Park to put flowers at a shrine.  Changing my profile picture was not gonna bring him back. But there’s nowhere else to go. So the internet is where we can all gather together to get through this thing called life without Prince.

After all of the music and sheer energy and pure talent, Prince will also be remembered as someone who fiercely protected his art and controlled how his music could be distributed. He famously battled online use or abuse of his music, his legal team always shutting down unauthorized content on YouTube and other sites. He pulled all of his music from Spotify and other streaming sites due to unfair compensation for artists and could only be heard digitally on TIDAL’s streaming platform (because they were the only artist-friendly streaming service he was willing to deal with; his estate has since made  most of his catalog available across all platforms).

For a guy who once painted “SLAVE” on his face to protest his situation under Warner Brothers, he ultimately was an owner. He tirelessly sought to own and control his art; a few years ago he’d finally regained full ownership of his catalogue from Warner. He owned the stage, and he damn-sure owned that guitar.

In the weeks after his death, I went back through his extensive catalogue. The floodgates opened and previously unavailable videos were popping up online. I’d moved past the initial shock and went back to being a fan, celebrating his life of music by keeping it in heavy rotation. At home, in my car, in my headphones at work.

After a few months, it was like Prince had moved into our house. Either his music was always on or I was reading yet another of the many great “Prince encounter” stories that were surfacing from celebrities and other associates. I love how almost every story mentioned how funny he was. Turns out he also did a tremendous amount of philanthropy, sometimes anonymously, most of the time unannounced.

We can all die any day;
I don’t wanna die, I just wanna dance my life away.

AP S FL USA Super Bowl Halftime FootballDespite him no longer being on Earth, he now felt present everywhere all the time. And it was a bit ironic to see him so celebrated in death, his lesser-known albums all held up as underrated gems, because when he was alive he was often ignored as “crazy” or treated like some recluse who’d either given up his art or was somehow too prolific to keep track of. The latter proved to be closer to the truth; in fact, the music never stopped. It was just that the music BUSINESS only cared about him when he played nice with major labels and put out albums that skewed as close as possible to sounding like peak-era Prince hits.

A year after his death, I still think about Prince at least once a day. The albums, the songs, the moves. That weird face he made during a guitar solo that looked like he was gonna either sneeze or pass out. That sly smile and sideways glance. And I still just cannot believe that he’s really dead. He was the most alive person I knew (that I didn’t really know). It’s weird that he died alone in an elevator. I like to think he teleported himself to the future or the past or back to whatever planet he came from.

Prince was the greatest pop star of the pop star era. He was one of the most talented musicians to ever live and certainly belongs in the top 5 of any credible list of the best guitarists of all time. And he was funky as all get-out.

He was the only person ever considered a rival of Michael Jackson’s, not just by fans and media, but by Michael himself. Jackson had to hire Quincy Jones and Eddie Van Halen; Prince came fully formed with a built-in producer and guitarist. Even at the height of Thrillermania, only Prince could equal MJ’s insane dance moves and crank out as many classic hit videos. But he’s also up there with Bruce Springsteen on my Mount Rushmore of Greatest Live Performers ever.

Prince was among the very first artists to launch an internet fan club and sell music directly to fans online. He had a #1 hit single (“When Dove’s Cry”) that didn’t have a bass line, something practically unheard of before or since. He wrote, arranged, produced, and played every instrument himself on his stunning debut album For You at age 19. He released approximately 40 albums in his lifetime.

Eric Clapton (who was once nicknamed GOD) thought Prince was a better guitarist than him. Dave Grohl said Prince was a better drummer than him. Miles Davis loved Prince, and that motherfucker didn’t like anyone!

Beyond the music and lyrics, Prince’s sexuality terrified our parents. He was our Elvis Presley.

He was our Chuck Berry and Little Richard. He was our David Bowie and Marvin Gaye.  I thought he would be our B.B. King and Bob Dylan: playing on and on, into his old age.

He was our Jimi Hendrix. He was our James Brown.

He was our Prince.

All those who still miss him… say “eye.”

Best Albums of the Year 2016

Unfortunately 2016 will likely be remembered as the year the music died. Bowie and Prince were the headliners, but it seemed like every other week another famous musician was transitioning to the great gig in the sky. Thankfully, the reason we care about these people will never go away: the music. We may have lost a lot this year, but we were also blessed with a great new batch of albums to help us get through this thing called life.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

deliriumThe Claypool Lennon Delirium – The Monolith of Phobos
Winning combination features Les Claypool of Primus teaming up with Sean Lennon, whose father John Lennon was once in a band called the Beatles. Most often described as “psychedelic rock” this album is so much catchier than that. Sure, it sometimes provides a glimpse of what it might have sounded like if John Lennon replaced Syd Barrett in early Pink Floyd… or if a time machine allowed Flea to play bass with the Beatles. There’s even a track about Bubbles the chimp, Michael Jackson’s old primate friend. Just a lot going on here. On this addictive set of tunes the younger Lennon certainly reaffirms his own chops as a singer and songwriter and provides the perfect soundscape compliments to Claypool’s always busy bass lines. And while Claypool’s lyrical and vocal quirks can keep his Primus albums out of heavy rotation, the smaller doses found here serve to keep an otherwise heavy affair light on its feet. Monolith has proven to be one of those rare albums that’s instantly likeable on first listen and also a grower that keeps you coming back again and again.

RUNNER-UP ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

de-latribe

A Tribe Called Quest – Thank You 4 Your Service, We Got it From Here
De La Soul – …And the Anonymous Nobody
It’s really incredible to be sitting here at the end of 2016 with two of the best albums of the year coming from Tribe and De La. Yea that was the norm in 91, but 91 was a quarter century ago! And this isn’t a sympathy vote or career achievement award. These two albums are both expertly crafted… just straight-up bangers, instant classics. It’s a triumphant comeback not only for the groups themselves, but also for hip-hop Albums (with a capital A) as cohesive works of art.

BEST OF THE REST

drive-by-truckers-american-band-album-cover-artDrive-By Truckers – American Band
Easily the best Springsteen album in decades. But seriously folks, no one does true Americana rock quite like the DBT’s as far as depth of writing meets true grit. Grappling with what it means to be Southern in America has long been the Truckers lane, but they never fall asleep at the wheel. They continue to ask tough questions and find some relief in the screech of guitars and the fine art of storytelling.
bowie-blackstar-vice

David Bowie – Blackstar
This awful year started with this beauty of an album, followed a few days later by the departure of Bowie from planet earth. I wrote about it then, and it’s still one of the best albums of the year now.

radiohead-moonshapeRadiohead – Moon Shaped Pool
Most Radiohead songs sound equally adept at sound tracking either a desperate escape scene or the mundane existence of laundry folding. And that seems to hold true here. I’d like a few more rockers, but I’m not shocked or disappointed to find a new Radiohead album is a mostly mellow affair. That said, “Ful Stop” is certainly a classic “this is what Radiohead sounds like” song.

anderson-paakAnderson .Paak – Malibu
This is one of those great summer albums, as its title and cover suggest. Perfect for the beach or blasting on road trips. Just a funky stew of a variety of styles masterfully pulled off by this mega-talented dude who sounds like a bridge between Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars.

jackie
Jackie & the Treehorns – RU4REAL?

Otherworldly guitar rock effort proves that Jackie mastermind Steve Rubin is in fact, if you’ll forgive the obvious pun, for real. Not just as a guitarist but also as a songwriter and producer. Don’t just take my word for it, go download the album.


margo-price-midwest-farmers-daughter-562x560Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

OK this one might be a little too twangy for you but it is some damn good authentic country music with SOUL, not that fake cowboy popstar contemporary crap they serve up at awards shows and before football games. This is righteous and hearty comfort food music, direct descendant of 1970s Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.


raggaStephen Marley – Revelation Pt. II: Fruit of Life

I think Stephen Marley is one of the best producers working today. The variety of sounds and the different types of tracks he can create is seemingly limitless. And among the numerous and talented Marley offspring, it is Stephen’s singing that has always sounded the most like Bob’s voice. Fruit of Life finds him working reggae and dancehall magic where it meets the road to hip-hop, collaborating with Rakim, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, and even Wyclef Jean. Brother Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley is involved… unfortunately so is Pitbull on the inevitably cheesy filler track “When She Dances.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
The Avett Brothers – True Sadness
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Rich Robinson – Flux
Ras Kass – Intellectual Property
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Jack White – Acoustic Collection

DECEMBER’S CHILDREN
These are the albums that came just came out in the final month of the year… I named this section after an old Rolling Stones album called December’s Children. My gut feel is they are good enough to be on the list of best albums of 2016, but sometimes we just fall in love with the shiny new things.

The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
The Stones putting out an album of old blues covers isn’t exactly shiny or “new,” and it might seem like the least exciting thing in the world, but Mick Jagger’s vocal and harmonica performance is worthy of the song selection, while the raw sound of the… seasoned band is a perfect compliment.

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
So I’m not like a pop culture junkie and I don’t really watch much television that doesn’t involve football or animation… so I never realized “that guy Donald Glover from that TV show Atlanta” was also the rapper Childish Gambino. Same guy. Anyway, I’d seen a previous CG album on a lot of best of the year lists in 2013 but I never bothered to listen to him because for some reason I thought “Childish Gambino” was a really stupid stage name. I put it on ignore along with any rap artist with a dollar $ign in their name. But THEN amidst the release of his new album, I read that he got that nickname from putting “Donald Glover” into an online WuTang Name Generator. And then I listened to the album, it’s all funk and singing with no rapping… and it’s really good and weird and cool and other lazy words we fall back on to describe the indescribable. Sounds like D’Angelo mixed with Anderson .Paak… if George Clinton was the bartender.

Neil Young – Peace Trail
Guy is still putting out solid new albums in his 70s. He’s still finding new sounds and telling new stories but also tackling many of the same concerns he’s always had. This time around he’s anchored by a sparse acoustic band anchored by veteran session drummer Jim Keltner and a solid batch of songs that capture that “classic Neil” sound without sounding stale. Young admits to being out of touch with the world where everyone’s staring at their phones, but then also mentions buying a robot on Amazon.com. Dude is fuckin nuts but he’s still bringing the goods for our ears.

December 99th – Dec.99th
The Artist Formerly Known as Mos Def is now Yasiin Bey and Dec.99th is a collaboration with producer Ferrari Sheppard. Another “weird/cool” album here that refuses to fit neatly into a category (though I did see a headline calling it “alt.hip-hop,” whatever that is). Chilled grooves meet spooky spoken word style.

Prince – Hit n Run Phase Two
The final Prince album was technically issued in December of 2015… hence its inclusion here as a “December” album since it was mostly received and enjoyed in 2016. The album opens with “Baltimore,” featuring the refrain “If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace.” Five months later Prince was dead. This album certainly stands up among his best 2nd-tier non-legendary classic works, and is a good cross section of the countless things he did so well. I’m still so sad he’s gone, but can’t say the same thing about the year 2016.

THE FULL LIST

For all the people who don’t want to read long blogposts and just srolled down to the bottom to see my list of the best albums of 2016, here it is:

The Claypool Lennon Delirium – The Monolith of Phobos
A Tribe Called Quest – Thank You 4 Your Service, We Got it From Here
De La Soul – …And the Anonymous Nobody
David Bowie – Blackstar
Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Radiohead – Moon Shaped Pool
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Jackie & the Treehorns – RU4REAL?
Margo Price – Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter
Stephen Marley – Revelation Pt. II: Fruit of Life
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
The Avett Brothers – True Sadness
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Rich Robinson – Flux
Ras Kass – Intellectual Property
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Jack White – Acoustic Collection
The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Neil Young – Peace Trail
December 99th – Dec.99th
Prince – Hit n Run Phase Two

Why “Echoes” Is Pink Floyd’s Best Song

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YouTube is the greatest web site of all time. Don’t believe me? Think of something that interests you, anything at all.  Like birds? Trees? Shark attacks? Plane crashes? UFO sightings? Enjoy watching baseball brawls or that one time your favorite band was on Letterman? Nine out of ten times you will find it on YouTube along with a ton of other related and un-related content. You just won’t find any Neil Young albums on there but that’s a whole different blog post for another time.

Why do I bring up the necessary evil of the James Bond villain-esque evil conglomerate of Google’s YouTube? Because just this morning I was lurking around listening to music on there (note: YT is one of the best sites for actually listening to music. Their slogan should be “It’s not just for videos anymore!”) when I came upon some David Gilmour clips and found myself checking out a live version of the Pink Floyd song “Echoes” with the late, great Richard Wright. It got me thinking–yet again–about one of my all time favorite bands, because here I am 30+ years later after hearing Pink Floyd for the first time and I am still enamored with them just as I was the first time my brother put on “Dark Side of The Moon” and my adolescent brain couldn’t comprehend it.

Pink Floyd is/are/were one of the biggest “classic rock” bands of all time. I say classic rock in “quotes” because I, personally, don’t view The Floyd as classic rock. I know they are thrown in with the rest of their contemporaries but can you honestly tell me Floyd is rooted in the same sounds as The Who or The Stones or The God-Forsaken Eagles? I see them as having more in common with The Velvet Underground and Bowie than Led Zeppelin or Hendrix. The early Floyd didn’t write songs with your typical pop structures, melodies, or hooks. They were a “sound scape” band that were often misinterpreted as a “drug band” or “acid rock.” They would sound more at home on a sci-fi movie soundtrack than on Top of the Pops.

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