Surviving Quarantine with Miles, Petty, and My Top 10 Albums of 2020

Music’s ability to make us feel better was really put to the test in 2020. The healing power of music probably played a key role for most of us as we navigated our new lifestyle in what has officially been deemed “These Difficult Times.”

Before getting to my Top 10 Albums of 2020, my musical reflection on this past year actually reveals two unlikely figures: Miles Davis and Tom Petty. I probably listened to more Miles Davis than any other artist this year. As the line from Office Space goes… “I celebrate the whole catalogue.” But in particular, the Kind of Blue album was something I started to lean on like medicine. Already one of the consensus choices for “best jazz album of all time,” Kind of Blue also seems to have some sort of magical power to sooth that “nervous stomach,” and ease the mild anxiety that inevitably greeted us every morning for most of 2020.

So if the relaxation playlists, meditation music, and yoga soundtracks aren’t getting it done when you need some stress relief, try Miles Davis Kind of Blue (results may vary, may cause good feeling or possible euphoria, check your headphones to see if Kind of Blue is right for you).

Part of why I turned to jazz in These Difficult Times may be because there are no lyrics. No songs about the good old days of… leaving the house and being with other people. Maybe that’s why my number one album of the year in the list below is also an instrumental album. Working from home; taking long walks. Sometimes we need music without words.

Oddly enough, I rediscovered one old album full of words that sounds perfect for 2020. While staying safely stuck at home, I found Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open from 1993 to be like a sketchbook of what we went through this year. Taking a line or two from each song from Petty’s Great Wide Open album and reading them all together as follows, I wish I could send every character from these songs a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue to help them feel better:

Trouble blew in on a cold dark wind.
Started out… all alone.
Well, the good old days may not return.
No you can’t hide out.
We wanna hold our heads up, but we gotta stay down.
I don’t wanna end up in a room all alone.
In the dark of the sun will you save me a place? Give me hope, give me comfort, get me to a better place?
We will stand together; Yeah we will stand as one.
When the time gets right, I’m gonna pick you up and take you far away from trouble my love.
Oh I await the day, Good fortune comes our way.
I don’t wanna fight no more.
I don’t mind workin’, but I’m scared to suffer ya know?
I’m takin’ control of my life.
Oh, the days went slow, into the changing season.
When I woke up my brain was stunned, I could not come around.
I’m out in the cold, body and soul.
There’s nowhere to go.
I thought, “Maybe I can make it if I never give in.”
Her imagination ran wild. Could this really happen to me? She could barely hold back the tears.
There was no talk of giving in.
I was feeling burned out; I got tired of it, I know you feel lost.

The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.
One day all the rules will bend, and you and I will meet again.

While much of this year was spent clinging to old classics and familiar sounds that might serve as comfort food for our ears, these were my favorite new releases of the year:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Sorcerers ~ In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God

THE TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2020

The Sorcerers – In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God
Sometimes you discover an album by accident, because it has a cool-looking cover or a weird title. That’s what happened with this one, and it’s a funky stew of styles and movements for all moods. This instrumental gem is difficult to categorize or describe, so I highly recommend you go listen for yourself.

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Thurston Moore – Into the Fire

The Flaming Lips – American Head

Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Nas – King’s Disease

Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You

Jason Isbell – Reunions

Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur

Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling

Yawning Man – Live at Giant Rock

Honorable Mention, “new” releases from the vault:

Neil Young – Homegrown

Prince – Sign O’ the Times (expanded reissue)

Tom Petty – Wildflowers (expanded reissue)

The Best Albums of 2019

This modern world seems to have no use for “the Album,” as it’s been killed off when vinyl first died years ago and then revived during the compact disc era only to be wiped out again when CDs were phased out. Of course, vinyl has been reborn in recent years but “the Album” was again the victim of attempted murder as digital/streaming has let everyone make their own playlists or cherry pick a few songs from “the Album” and leave the rest to die unheard.

I say “attempted” murder because “the Album” has managed to live on. While streaming platforms put $10/month into the smartphone and data companies’ pockets (with SEVERAL pennies still going to artists!), it has inadvertently allowed everyone from the casual fan to the obsessive fanatic to hear complete albums they might not have ever considered buying. This new music business, for better or for worse, allows you to get hip to all the new releases that your music-obsessed album-aficionado friends are always telling you to check out.

So which 2019 albums are most worth your while? Well I’m still an album guy, and there’s something for everyone in the list below. Sorry, no paragraphs of clever descriptions and comparisons. ALL these albums are highly recommended, so if you’re curious what they sound like… just dial ‘em up:

Claypool Lennon south of reality

Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality

Ryan Bingham – American Love Song

Tool – Fear Inoculum

Gang Starr – One of the Best Yet

The Oh Sees – Face Stabber

Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury

Brittany Howard – Jaime

The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger

Jackie & the Treehorns – It’s Never Too Late

Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile

William Tyler – Goes West

Beyonce – Homecoming

Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks

The Best Albums of 2018

It’s the most wonderful time… of the year. Time for the annual tradition of sharing my favorite albums of the year, just in time for your last-minute holiday shopping or possible targets for all the gift cards you might receive.

Ventriloquism

Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
Beautiful collection of covers, re-imagined to perfection. The song selection is almost as masterful as the execution. Every song flipped on its head, and yet somehow more revealing than the originals. Deep grooves here, highly recommended.

Queen Reptile


Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile

Crazy rhythms and hypnotic jams.

 

 

BEP
Black Eyed Peas – Masters of the Sun

Yes, this is a real banger. I’ve disliked and dismissed the Black Eyed Peas for several years and albums, but gotta admit, this is a great album. Harkens back to 90s peak boom-bap hip-hop classics. Pleasant surprise.

courtney

Courtney BarnettTell Me How You Really Feel
The best Nirvana album in years.

 

 

elephants


Cypress Hill – Elephants on Acid

Classic hip-hop outfit delivers a superb master stroke, all killer no filler.

 

rare birds
Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds

There’s a reason this guy Jonathan Wilson makes by Best Albums of the Year list every single year he puts out an album. It’s because he makes great albums.

 

pusha


Pusha T – Daytona

Short and sweet. Seven tracks, 21 minutes. Less is more.

 

 

 

foxking

Foxing – Nearer My God
Can’t really describe this one. I guess at times it sounds like a cross between Dawes and Radiohead. It’s a grower.

 

 

jeff
Jeff The Brotherhood – Magick Songs

Floating between Floyd and Sabbath is a truly magical feat. One of those cool albums you get lost in and forget what you’re listening to.

 

clutch
Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions

These guys never make bad albums, and this one stands out with some funky punches and even a horn section in a few spots. Another monster of an album from the masters of crunchy riffs and big beats.

Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1
Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 2
Easily a Top 5 MC, one of the greatest rappers ever; an astounding lyricist on the mic. The Roots front man finally making some solo joints as further proof.

Amanda ShiresAmanda Shires – To The Sunset
If you built a bridge between 80s alt rock and the best of Nashville’s modern Americana, it would probably be one of those really, really long bridges that stretch for miles over a huge body of water and it ends up being strangely more fun to drive across than a regular bridge.

JackieandtheTreehornsJcoverbyMIA2018


Jackie and the Treehorns – The J Album

Unknown/indie selection of the year. Rock is not dead. Google this or dial it up on your favorite streamer, you won’t be disappointed (and Jackie will make a 40th of a cent in streaming royalties!).

 

carters


The Carters –
Everything is Love
I don’t really care about their marriage or their unique and immense celebrity… but Beyonce and Jay-Z are still famous for making great jams, and this collaboration album is full of ‘em.

 

black panther

Black Panther Soundtrack Album – Kendrick Lamar and Various Artists
Kendrick even kills it as curator and co-host.

 

 

mccartney


Paul McCartney – Egypt Station

Almost left this off the list. It’s not GREAT great, but it’s still pretty good and way better than expected. Just a couple of clunkers but most of it is really solid. And it’s great that Paul is still putting out new music, good stuff at that. The man is in his 70s.

jackwhiteJack White – Boarding House Reach
Funny thing about this album. No, it’s certainly not his best, but I found the reaction to it fascinating. Since this album is a bit of a hodge-podge of more experimental tracks, the fawning fanbase of critics who’d spent the entirety of this century elevating Jack White to untouchable godlike status immediately reveled in “the new Jack White album sucks!” madness. Classic example of building someone up just so they can tear him down at the first sign of a misstep. I think the album is interesting and full of weirdness in a good way. A mixtape for rockers. While “I’d almost forgotten this album came out in 2018” isn’t a ringing endorsement, thought I’d include it here since approximately zero of the year-end albums lists included our boy Jack, the former critic’s darling who has finally pushed himself beyond their predictable reach.

Live Albums/Archival
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Live from the Ryman
John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once
Tom Petty – An American Treasure
The Beatles – White Album Super Deluxe 50th Anniversary Edition

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.

Continue reading →

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

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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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Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Ranking the best Super Bowl halftime shows is a subjective and predictable (and pointless) exercise. But let’s do it anyway. Just as the Super Bowl game on the field has changed over the years and gotten bigger (and sometimes better), so too has the halftime show.

In the early days, when the league and game itself were not as big as they are today, the halftime shows were simple marching-band extensions of regular football games. As the years passed, they added occasional singers like Ella Fitzgerald and such pop celebrities as Carol Channing (twice). The Super Bowl Halftime Show as we know it today was not quite a “thing” yet.

As late as the 1980s, it was still just marching bands and Up With People performing salutes to random themes. (According to one of the great first lines on all of Wikipedia, “Up with People is an education organization whose stated mission is to bridge cultural barriers and create global understanding through service and a musical show.”) One year it was a “Salute to the Stars of the Silver Screen.” Just three years later, the theme was “Salute to the 100th Anniversary of Hollywood” (with George Burns, Mickey Rooney, and Disney characters). Other years they would salute the big-band era and “the 1960s and Motown.” In fact, they would even haphazardly combine tributes, as if some board-room decision had ended in a tie:  the 1990 theme was “Salute to New Orleans and the 40th Anniversary of Peanuts.”

Then Michael Jackson and, 11 years later, Janet Jackson changed how we view the Super Bowl halftime show.

10.) JANET JACKSON (w/ JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)
SB XXXVIII – Feb 1, 2004 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Unfortunately, nothing written about Super Bowl halftime shows is complete without mentioning perhaps the most famous, or infamous, halftime show. Sadly its pop-culture significance will keep it on lists like this forever. Oh, you don’t remember this one? At the end of the performance, Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Janet’s, uh, wardrobe and revealed most of her bare breast. This was called “nipplegate” even though Miss Jackson made sure her nipple was covered. She showed about the same amount of her body as an average beer commercial by an Official NFL Beer Sponsor. But it was such an outrage to see that for 2 seconds on live TV that all the news and media outlets spent at least a week editorializing on just how awful and classless it was… all while showing a still photo of said exposed breast. This led to several years of only aging male classic rockers performing at the Super Bowl.

9.) DIANA ROSS
SB XXX – Jan 28, 1996 – Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, AZ)
Underrated and possibly forgotten performance, but Diana Ross was up to the task and capably worked through a medley of 10 (ten!) hits. Don’t sleep on the classics.

8.) BRUNO MARS (w/ RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS)
SB XLVIII – Feb 2, 2014 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Okay, younger artist with some hits but not quite the household name with some older viewers. By any measure, Bruno Mars nailed his performance. He can sing, he can dance, he can open the show with a drum solo, he brings a horn section, and then he has the Chili Peppers pop out of the stage floor to “givitaway givitaway give it away now.” Exhilarating and professional performance.

7.) ROLLING STONES
SB XL – Feb 5, 2006 – Ford Field (Detroit, MI)
At this point, the Rolling Stones are just game managers. Rock royalty just needs to show up, play a few hits, and fill the stadium with classic riffs. Oh, and do it on a stage shaped like the Stones’ lips/tongue logo.

6.) TOM PETTY & the HEARTBREAKERS
SB XLII – Feb 3, 2008 – University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
Sandwiched around Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers solid (if unspectacular) performance of hits was the Patriots-Giants “Helmet Catch” game: a truly great Super Bowl, as well as a huge upset of an undefeated team. We don’t need always need guest rappers or genre-bending collaborations. (Aerosmith-Britney-N’Sync? No thanks.) Petty and his underrated band have been a radio staple for decades. Capable rock bands with good songs are like balanced football teams with good offensive lines.

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The New Classic Rock

Top-Classic-Rock-SongsI grew up in New Jersey in the 70’s and 80’s so you could easily surmise that I was exposed to a shitload of classic rock radio. I recall putting on a “Doors concert” in my first grade class followed by a KISS concert in my second grade class. So yes, I was into music at a very early age (and in hindsight, had some pretty cool teachers).

Both of my older brothers were rock music listeners. They didn’t stray far from the norms of the time: Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Aerosmith etc. One of them even ventured off in to some heavier stuff like Sabbath and Priest (who also had some classic rock radio staples) which in turn turned me on to metal bands. It was hard to escape classic rock radio in New Jersey. The question now, looking back is, what exactly is classic rock?

Do we define classic rock as an actual genre of music like we would with blues, reggae, jazz, or soul? Every “genre” of music can have sub genres (which have only grown exponentially in the past 20 years) but I think in my older age I find myself thinking: are The Who really “classic rock” or were they just played on radio stations that, over time, turned bands like The Beatles, The Stones, and Zeppelin into “classic” rock. I don’t think when Mick and Keith first met on that train platform in the early 60’s they said to each other, “hey, mate, let’s form a classic rock band!”

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Star Man Fades to Black: David Bowie’s Brilliant Final Album

bowie-blackstar-viceAmid the frantic beats, atmospherics, and saxophones playing tug of war on the title track that opens the new David Bowie album Blackstar, about halfway through the 10-minute track most of the sound clears and Bowie sings “Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a meter and stepped aside; Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried.”

Released on his birthday and just two days before his death, Blackstar is dizzying and exciting and strange and oddly cool and I thought all those things even before he died. But now it’s a little more difficult to hear him wailing “good-byyyyyyye” as the reverb increases and the star man sounds like he’s floating back into space or heaven or wherever he was just visiting from.

Secrets are hard kept in the modern age, and yet somehow Bowie could spend months working on a new album with a small group of people and the rumors never leaked. He stunned the world in 2013 when he suddenly had a brand new (and quite rocking) album, The Next Day. It seemed amazing, even a few years ago, that a major artist could be at work and finished with an album without the world hearing any rumors or news about it (let alone a leaked copy of the actual album). It didn’t hurt that it was a well-received return to form, a rare feat a full 10 years after his previous album.

He came close to pulling it off again, but in 2015 it looks like he chose to give the world a few months’ notice that he’d employed a New York City jazz band to back him on a very diverse record to be released January 8, on his 69th birthday.

And just as we were in the midst of unpacking this complex and interesting new album, Bowie was gone.

The world mourns online and it is one of the bittersweet and ironic advantages of the internet: we can all be together when we’re all alone and sad about the passing of a true artist. And among the inevitable retweets of clueless teenagers asking “who tf was david bowie?” there were countless tributes and notes of sadness, as well as attempts at joy (like this, from Dean Podestá @jesuisdean: “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”) Others commented that Bowie left such a huge void, as if an entire color was now gone from the universe. (Here’s a great collection of newspaper/magazine covers mourning the loss.)

I wasn’t a huge Bowie fanatic; I liked pretty much all his hits, knew some of his albums, saw him in concert once, and I understood his significance and influence in rock music and popular culture. And I’m probably one of the people that loved his first Tin Machine album. But even beyond the music, Bowie made being “weird” or just being yourself (and shattering such labels as “weird”) something to aspire to. Funny that there was a time when a kid could get beat up for liking David Bowie. But we don’t live in a world like that anymore, thanks in part to David Bowie. It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to be different.

He didn’t just predict the future, he helped us get here. Continue reading →

The Competition Of Music

We were backstage mingling around with our peers and our gear, our stomachs in knots as a result of the anticipation and excitement. We had never done this before. How was it going to play out? Exactly how many people are out there? Do we have any clue what we’re doing?

The auditorium backstage I am speaking of belonged to my middle school. The people “out there” were our classmates. It was the 8th-grade talent show. This was my first gig. It was 1988.

My first band was called High Voltage (don’t laugh, at the time we thought it was “cool” in an AC/DC kinda way). I will say this about us: we were so green that we thought the difference between guitars was how they were tuned. In other words, we didn’t even realize you had to tune your guitars together. This led to a classmates father (who “produced” our demo in our drummers’ basement) to inform us that we sounded like “Sonic Youth.” We were Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Kiss-loving teenagers, we had no fuckin’ clue who this “Sonic Youth” he referred to was (the ultimate irony being that they are now one of my all-time favorite bands). Another thing I will say about High Voltage is that we wrote our own songs, no covers. “Danger In The Night”, “Living In A Nightmare” were a few titles, so you get the gist of what we were shooting for at the time. With lyrics like, “he’s out in the night, looking for a fight, danger in the night, danger in the night” no one was mistaking us for Dylan.

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5 Myths About Playing In A Band

Women in band fighting over man

“I love Jackie!” “No, I love Jackie!!!!”

I have been playing in bands since the day after I bought my first guitar. I took my bar mitzvah money and purchased some cheap-ass imitation Stratocaster the same week a close friend decided he wanted to play drums. We recruited another classmate to play bass, another friend to play guitar, and High Voltage was formed in 1986 (you do the math how old I am now). I have played in 2,673 bands since (minus a few thousand).

Throughout my musical career (I use that term very loosely in that having a career in something usually means you actually make money doing it and, you know, do it full-time, neither of which I do) I have had many great moments, some okay moments, and plenty of that-fucking-sucked moments. If there is one thing you should expect when forming a band it’s that it is never going to be what you expect it to be.

Today, being that it’s been a while since I wrote any sort of “list” for BumsLogic, I have decided to come up with a list of 5 myths about playing in bands. These are mostly based off what people who don’t play in bands think about those of us that do. I shall pre-apologize for my cynicism. My pen name should’ve given that away before you even read this.

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How to Mask Friends and Influence People: Reviewing My Friend’s Band

Clown-Mask-Card-8.5x8.5-FrontBefore you listen to this Jackie & the Treehorns album, before you share this review, tell me what your friend’s band sounds like.

They’re good, aren’t they? Your friend’s band? They’re always really good, not just because they’re your friends. I’ve always been a bit too fascinated with how we talk about music, why we attempt to write about music and put into words that which can’t and doesn’t need to be explained.

So the next question is how do we listen to and process our friend’s bands? What if it’s our brother, or our best friend, or just dudes we knew in college? And do we overvalue how “great” they are? Cuz let’s face it, some of your friend’s bands aren’t that great. But that’s awesome that you still talk them up.

When you hear your friend’s new demo (or soundcloud thingy or youtube “trailer” for their upcoming album), do you think about how your boy once rocked a C&C Music Factory cassingle in his car and now he’s got this super-serious Queens of the Stone Age hard rock vibe going? Our intimate knowledge of our friend’s life and known favorites and influences surely must taint our view of their music.

Wait, you can’t view music. This is how Jackie & the Treehorns trick you into using the word “taint” in their album review.

The point is, there is this indescribable difference in listening to your friend’s band versus the latest album from an actual famous rock star. For instance, I know Jack White is a minimalist rocker heavily steeped in and indebted to the blues. He’s a longtime champion of a truly “independent” business approach and has an extreme fondness for vintage, authentic recording gear and techniques. I know all of this because that is what he has presented to me on record and through interviews, etc. (And of course all of that is then remixed and regurgitated and re-imagined for me by all the people attempting to write about music.) I don’t actually know Jack White as a person, I didn’t hang out with him growing up in Detroit, I never worked with him as an upholsterer, and I’ve never been in any of his numerous bands or side projects.

But I’ve been in Jackie & the Treehorns. I was the original drummer, and also served as Jackie’s manager and confidant during such dizzying highs and lows of his career that there’s a documentary film about it. In fact, I’ve been in a few bands and side projects with my friend Steven Rubin, the guitarist, singer/songwriter, and mastermind producer behind Jackie & the Treehorns.

I know his influences. (I won’t name check them). I thought I knew his influences. Yes, I can hear some of them peaking out from behind the Clown Mask. And then there are new faces, or old faces with different masks on, and they’re singing too. I didn’t know he knew them. There are things about our friends that we don’t know.

Did you think your friend’s band would sound like this? What did you think they’d sound like? Do you feel guilty if, when your friend isn’t around, you tell people “They’re kinda like 311, but they totally don’t sound like them at all”? Are you a little ashamed that you’ve only made it out to see them ONCE, and you got there a little late, and honestly don’t even know what they sound like? You could always just mumble “sort of a Blues Traveler kinda thing” and hope the person either doesn’t get the reference or thinks it’s a good thing.

Have you ever lied to your friend? Or, more accurately, have you ever just not told the truth about how much you think they suck? Do you have a lot friends in bands? Are you reluctant to spread the good word about how great they are because the other friends you’re telling probably assume you’re only talking about your friend’s band just to let people know you’re the kinda cool person who knows people in bands?

So then what happens when your friend’s band makes a really great album? Your other friends are so tired of hearing about your friend’s band they might as well be called Cried Sheep. It’s not that they don’t care (yea, it’s cool, you know dudes in bands). It’s just that they’re probably never gonna take the 14 seconds to click the one or two links to instantly listen to the whole album for free. Seriously, read that last sentence again: they’re probably never gonna take the 14 seconds to click the one or two links to instantly listen to the whole album for free. Back in the day when no one would get off my lawn, we (the friends of yours who were in the bands) had to beg our friends (you) to purchase a hard copy compact disc of our band and then we inevitably just gave most of them away for free, in exchange for the promise or hope that you would tell all your friends about our band and then also get together with them and PLAY IT FOR THEM. Force them sit through My Friend’s Band’s CD. Thankfully, we don’t have to do that. We can do the here’s the link, go listen for free at the time and place of your choosing thing. But I will tell you this: my friend’s band’s album is really, really good. I’m not just saying that. And he didn’t email me bugging him to write something about it (full disclosure: yes he did). Fittingly, my favorite track is called “In No Condition to Explain.”

Please don’t ask me what my friend’s band sounds like. Aren’t your friend’s bands true originals with a unique style that really doesn’t sound like anyone else? It’s almost impossible to know, but even if it wasn’t my friend’s band, I’d still think this was a great album.

Do you believe me? Will you check it out? Do you mind if I wear a clown mask?

How to Fix Van Halen

VanHalen_OnKimmel_
Perhaps you saw Van Halen on your TV recently gracing the stage at Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Ellen Show, fronted by a gum-chomping, ink-covered old singer and just shook your head. More likely, you clicked a link to watch one of the appearances online after the fact and maybe X’d out of it in disappointment at how The Mighty Van Halen has fallen.

What’s wrong with Van Halen in 2015? Well, first off, they seem to not have a promotional/PR team (or social media presence). In fact, a random slip-up by a Canadian DJ, followed by tireless “internet research” by members of the VHLinks message board, followed by “confirmation” from Billboard and Rolling Stone (citing sources that sited “internet chatter”) is how word of their upcoming live album first leaked (confirmed by the band a month later with those TV appearances).

That brings us to what else is wrong with Van Halen in 2015: they are just now finally releasing their first live album with iconic front man David Lee Roth and it’s a 2013 show (with no BluRay/DVD companion). Still no classic shows from the vaults.

So the problem with Van Halen isn’t just that they are old, although they are that. But old age has treated the Bruce Springsteens and Paul McCartneys of the world just fine. Van Halen has fallen down the next step: they’ve made themselves irrelevant. Since their heyday(s) with both Roth and his successor Sammy Hagar, they’ve brought both back for reunion tours of varying success and mostly wallowed in inactivity, save for the 2012 studio album they made with Roth (with Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang replacing Michael Anthony on bass).

But while other rock bands (from Van Halen contemporaries like Rush to disciples like Pearl Jam) have almost all released live DVDs from tours old and new, along with remasters with bonus tracks, Van Halen has been curiously silent and their remasters offer no previously unreleased material. Time to change that. Time to restore the greatest American rock band back atop the throne of stardom and glory. Time to fix Van Halen.  Continue reading →

The Anniversary Re-Issue of My Top 10 List

Working in a record store back in 1987, we got the first Beatles CDs shipped to us and excitedly opened the boxes after hours as they would go on sale the next day to coincide with the 20 anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. Obviously I understood the leap to the new format, but was a little surprised at the hype of this “new” release that was really just a reselling of old music everyone already had.

And in true Beatles fashion, of course they predicted all of this and put it on record. In fact the first line of that legendary Sgt. Pepper album is “It was 20 years ago today…” and a tagline was born. The Beatles making it to compact discs in the late 80s wasn’t the first or last “anniversary reissue” but it rang in a new era of nostalgia culture along with what the Box Set craze was doing for what was once known as “The Record Industry.”

As our media and culture and news cycles continued to speed up as technology advanced, so too did our nostalgia rates. The 1990s saw a resurgence (recycling) of the 1960s…. and soon enough we couldn’t wait to re-celebrate the 70s and shout I LOVE THE 80s and by the dawn of the 21st century it seemed we were already “looking back” on a 90s decade that just ended. This hyperwarp eventually ate itself and now we just spend each day, week, and year looking back at the great things that already happened 10, 20, and 25 years ago.

Usually we are nudged into this by some not-so-coincidental reissues… anniversary edition remasters of the classic albums we already know and love. And in the digital age where selling any music, especially hard copy CDs, is next to impossible, it’s a lot easier to (re)sell us stuff everyone knows is good (especially with added goodies and updated artwork or notes). It’s easy to have a hit with a hit.

In the “rock is dead” era, we didn’t need the Strokes or the White Stripes to be saviors of rock, we just exhumed the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin to do it again. It’s almost comical that the recent remastered reissues (expanded 2-disc versions!) of the Zeppelin catalogue rolled out exactly 20 years after the 1994 remasters. Can a shark jump the shark?

Anniversary culture gives us an excuse to tell the world which albums changed our lives and how. We gather in the town square (Facebook/Twitter) and remind our friends that A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory came out 24 years ago. We make our high school buddies feel old by telling them Van Halen’s 1984 is 31 YEARS OLD while websites gather clicks by offering us info on the whereabouts of the woman from the “Hot For Teacher” video. Obviously seminal albums like the Stones Exile on Main St get lavish remastered reissues, and so do lesser-known but still critically acclaimed efforts like Bob Mould’s Workbook, but soon enough there’s a niche within the niche and we’re “celebrating” albums that weren’t so great the first time around. Or maybe the album might be worthy, but we don’t wanna wait for the 20th or 25th anniversaries, so now just “It was 10 years ago today” is good enough.

best_double_albums_3203775bInstead of listing every album that’s had an anniversary reissue, it would be easier to list the ones that haven’t. As for which ones are worthy of buying a second or third time… this brings us from the nostalgia phenomenon to our other favorite rock pastime: Top 10 Lists. From the dawn of the first day spent on that hypothetical desert island, we’ve been making our personal Top 10 lists. Once everyone and their former record-store coworkers had blogs, rock fans everywhere were raging against the tastemakers and righting all the wrongs unjustly handed down by the gatekeepers at Rolling Stone or SPIN or the Grammy voters and anyone else who gets it wrong when trying to tell us what’s good.

It’s a way to make sense of a senseless world in which Bob Marley never won a Grammy and Ziggy Marley’s career is already longer than Bob’s. Continue reading →

Best Albums of 2014

spoon album coverFor once I’ve actually waited until the very end of the year to do this nerdy music-geek exercise we like to call our Best Albums of the Year List.

Good thing I did: D’Angelo’s long-awaited new album dropped in December, and after seeing this guy named Sturgill Simpson with his ambitiously titled Metamodern Sounds in Country Music on everyone else’s Best Albums of 2014 list, I finally decided to give it a bunch of spins. Both made my list this year.

Before we get to the very best and all the rest of my favorite albums of 2014, let’s start with a few words about The Album itself, and 2014’s best SELF-IMPORTANT ALBUMS:

U2 – Songs of Innocence
Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
Wu-Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow
I wrote about the U2 album here, but that was as much about the release as it was the music. And, like with most music, it changes with time, as does our reaction and relationship with it. I think the U2 album is pretty good, but in 2014, in the midst of this evolving internet age, we must either hate U2 and glibly “destroy” any U2 fans and of course their Lord Bono. There’s no middle ground, which is kinda sad. You can’t just casually like U2. You’re either a U2 “apologist” or longtime fanatic drinking the kool-aid. All the nonsense and noise around the criticism eventually obscures the music itself. Yet it’s hard to be too sympathetic when the band and its tactics and PR create and fan the flames of said noise. Remember, this is a band that once named itself The Hype. And they still do The Hype as good or better than anyone.

Personally, I found myself liking the album a little more as it grew on me. But I also started to think differently about The Release, for better or worse. Without revisiting the story of their “giveaway” album that was essentially pushed to iTunes users… the big picture wasn’t just U2 wanting to say their album “reached” 10 Billion people or whatever. And it wasn’t just about the Current State of the Music Business that the alleged biggest band in the world was probably worried they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, sell even 1 Million copies given what’s happened to music sales.

The big picture I see is that so many artists still care about THE ALBUM. Not just singles and random one-off tracks, but the lost art of The Album. That’s why I’m grouping U2 with Foo Fighers and Wu-Tang Clan. Dave Grohl and the Foos built a TV series around their album concept and made one the rollout for the other and damn, forget the fact that the show is supposedly great (I haven’t seen it yet) but the album is really good too. Never been a Foo Fighters fan; I love Dave in all his other endeavors (especially the ones behind drum kits), but no Foos album ever grabbed me. They are so bland and safe and, yea, they rock, but it’s in this generic arena rock sense. Maybe this new album will fade out of memory like their other albums have always done. But again, the point is that Grohl put The Album and the album-building process into the forefront.

Same with the Wu. I already pointed out the album cover coincidence with Foo and Wu, but another similarity is stressing the Album as a piece of art. Not just the ongoing news items regarding Wu-Tang’s secret Only One Copy For Sale album (stunt?), but the actual new widely available official release of A Better Tomorrow. A reunion and swan song of sorts, it almost doesn’t matter that it’s “good” or “solid” or “just okay” or even “bangin.” They finally managed to get everyone together to make an Album. Not just a soundtrack single, or a “Wu-Related” project or solo joint with most of the Clan on some of the tracks. They made an album.

A bunch of other people made Albums this year. These are the ones I spent a lot of time with and loved the most. Apologies if your favorite band or album of 2014 isn’t reflected here. The comments section below is a great place for you to recommend more albums.

THE TOP 5:

Run the Jewels – RtJ2
The duo of El-P and Killer Mike is simply the best thing going in Real Hip-Hop. Their second album: a second consecutive instant classic.

Rich-RobisonCeaselessSightCoverLP_300x300Rich Robinson – Ceaseless Sight
Stunning solo album from the more anonymous of the Robinson Brothers famous for leading the Black Crowes. While Rich wasn’t gifted with vocal abilities of his hippie-jesus brother Chris, his guitar prowess and songwriting more than carry the weight here on this rich set of… Americana? Alt-country meets modern southern rock? Do we need to label it? No, but I’ll simply call it one of the best albums of 2014.

Jack White – Lazaretto
Despite his love of, and loyalty to, vintage equipment and antiquated recording practices, Jack White is nothing short of a master of modern rock. Not to mention one of our generation’s most gifted songwriters, guitarists, and producers. Lazaretto serves as yet another map to his worlds full of music.

Thurston Moore – The Best Day
If you miss Sonic Youth, this is a comforting visit.

The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
There’s a reason you keep seeing this weird band name and this album you’ve never heard of popping up at the top of every Best Albums of 2014 list. Go figure it out.

THE REST OF MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2014:

beckmorningphaseSpoon – They Want My Soul

D’Angelo – Black Messiah

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Authentic. This is what the so-called music industry and its critics should wish Eric Church to be: real country songwriting and performance, without all the wanna-be Springsteen muscle-flexing or pale versions of Mellencampy small townery. Real folk rock with a twang.

Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

Beck – Morning Phase
I actually like this better than Sea Change. There, I said it.

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

Pink Floyd – The Endless River (which I wrote about here)

Old 97s – Most Messed Up
I’d all but given up on the last 10 years or so of Old 97s and Rhett Miller releases. As their winning formula got so formulaic that it diluted itself into the background, nothing had the biting humor and real-life honesty and catchy riffs we fell in love with on earlier albums Wreck Your Life and Too Far to Care. Well this new one finally does it, in a You CAN Go Home Again sorta way. A worthy update to the classic model.

Miles Davis – At the Fillmore  1970

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
I’m not the type of fanboy who always puts a Ryan Adams album on my annual Best-Of list every year he puts out an album… Wait, yes I am. That said, while this isn’t my preferred color of Ryan’s chameleon career, and on first listen thought “Welp, this might be the year I leave Ryan Adams off my annual Best-Of list…” I listened again and a few more times and it’s a real grower. Sure, there’s a couple songs that sound like Fleetwood Mac, but at least they sound like really good Fleetwood Mac songs! There’s still a few sad bastard acoustic tunes too, but it’s the slow burn of “Am I Safe,” haunting numbers like “Kim” and “Shadows,” and chuggers like “I Just Might” that give the album some depth.

And Finally, Some Random Old Shit I Was Diggin On This Year:

Donny Hathaway Live at the Bottom Line 1972. Amazing, just go: now.

Jonathan Wilson – His Fanfare was near the top of my 2013 list, but his 2011 debut Gentle Spirit is still in heavy rotation.

Pink Floyd – All of the classic mid-period stuff I’d “gotten sick of” back in college, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals. Amazing run that was. And I also had renewed discovery of just how great Meddle is.

Miles Davis – Almost everything from every era. I finally read his infamous autobiography this year and it had me diving in and out of all of Miles’ amazing incarnations. Remarkable body of work.

Wu Fighters vs. Foo Tang Clan

I can’t be the only who’s noticed the similarities between the cover art for the new Wu-Tang Clan and Foo Fighters albums.

Obviously they’re not identical, but they both utilize the exact same concept: an imaginary “city” made up of famous landmarks from several different real cities. Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways combines the eight cities where they recorded the eight songs, while Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow has an international flavor.

Check it out:

Foo City

Foo City

and…

Wu City.

Wu City