Sunday, January 25, 2009

C'mon, the water's just fine...

REM: Accelerate – From the opening notes Stipe and Co come rushing out of the gate with a sense of urgency that is in no way desperate or pleading, but like a self-assured older sibling stepping into the fray of an ongoing fight, set to reestablish himself as king of the mountain and the originator of the something to yell about. Stipe’s yelp is still well intact, Buck still chops through riffs like butter and Mill’s flawless basslines and much missed backing vocals give songs like Living Well is the Best Revenge, Supernatural Superserious and the title track the classic counter melodies that made REM that much more special than every other jangle rock act. Where albums of the past decade have only given us one or two solid rockers in a sea of side-walking, introspective, are-we-too-old-for-this hum drum, Accelerate tears up the asphalt, pausing for only a couple of pit stops, just long enough to change the tires and take off again. Even then, the brief but menacing Houston and the (early) Drivin’n’Cryin’-esque Until the Day is Done give a sense of engines revving, simply waiting for the next cut into the fast lane. This album crashes and bangs like a predetermined car wreck, guided by a loose control, equally content with a safe arrival or a sudden burst into flames. From their beginnings REM had rock n roll at their roots, they just gave it to us through a different filter, and so this “true rock” album is everything that Monster should have been and yet for whatever reasons was not. To me this is an easy companion/follow up to Life’s Rich Pageant and for those who have fallen from belief in the past decade or so, let me assure you that these Athens boys can still churn out a good tune and a back-handedly relevant message as easily as they did in 1986.

Highlights: Living Well is the Best Revenge, Accelerate, Sing for the Submarine, Horse to Water

Hear the album streaming from

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Great of 08/1st Annual Willie Awards

Well, 2008 in music is over and 2009 is nearly a month upon us. Looking back I made a lot of “bold” moves last year in my musical purchases, taking chances on new artists and different genres. In addition, a lot of old favorites put out new material, some for the first time in decades and others in their ongoing attempt to stay active and relevant in today’s music environment.

Many of my friends have an annual Top 10 and I’m no exception. As always I didn’t purchase too many albums that were released in 08, but this year I think I picked up a few more than normal. And while there were a couple I meant to get but didn’t, for the sake of getting this out there, I’ll just politely exclude them (through no fault of their own) from the running.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to announce the first ever Willie Awards, with categories chosen by random and by whim which have little or no bearing whatsoever to the actual Top 10. I’ll also follow this post with a few more in depth reviews of various albums from 2008.

And so, without further ado, my Top 10 of 2008:

1) Tokyo Police Club: Elephant Shell
2) Murry Hammond: I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I’m On My Way
3) Coldplay: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
4) The Old 97s: Blame It On Gravity
5) REM: Accelerate
6) Robert Forster: The Evangelist
7) The Gaslight Anthem: The ’59 Sound
8) B-52s: Funplex
9) Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
10) Bauhaus: Go Away White

The Gaslight Anthem

U2, looking sprightly in the day

The Willie Awards

  • Album of the Year: Tokyo Police Club “Elephant Shell” These guys never cease to amaze me with each release. Their songs are short, catchy, quirky, sharply executed and extremely dynamic. Their lyrics are immediately off set and yet further listens reveal a certain and definite dark undercurrent that the pop and bounce of the music may sometimes cover up.
  • Solo Album of the Year: Murry Hammond “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I’m On My Way” In a year where both Neil Halstead (the Dylan of Gen X) and Robert Forster put out a record, this understated left field release from the gem of the Old 97s is a haunting delight.
  • Comeback of the Year: Bauhaus “Go Away White” Even though B-52s charted higher on my list, I expected their album to be throw away fun at the very least (and it’s so much more). Bauhaus I expected very little from. I was very happily mistaken. All the right parts about Peter Murphy solo and Love & Rockets are here and packaged in a way only Bauhaus can.
  • Biggest Disappointment of the Year: She & Him “Volume 1” With more recent listens this album has grown on me, but it still hasn’t given me that 1-2 sock to the stomach that I was hoping for. Perhaps one day I’ll put it in and kick myself for overlooking a masterpiece, but honestly, it’s gonna have to find it’s way back into the cd player for that to happen. Sorry, Zoo.
  • Best Impulse Purchase of the Year: The Gaslight Anthem “The ’59 Sound” I made several impulse purchases this year, including Sia, Sigur Ros and Gnarls Barkley (who almost won). These guys were a dark horse that came upon me in mid-December and they’re still spinning around in my head a month later. Springsteen meets Brit Pop…yes we can!
  • Re-Issue of the Year: U2 “October” It’s all about the b-sides. I mean REM's re-release of “Murmur” sounds great and the bonus live disc is awesome, but guys, listen, The Edge put not only “Celebration” and smokin’ BBC/live versions of cuts from U2’s most underrated album, he even gave me the impossibly emotive live take of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” from the hard to find, stupid to pay for “Fire” single. Thanks, Dave!!!
  • Retro Purchase of the Year: Grateful Dead “Grateful Dead” I buy mainly albums from days past, ever exploring backward instead of around me or just ahead. And in a year when I picked up “Astral Weeks,” the under appreciated “Diamond Dogs” and the La’s at the BBC, all which definitely could and should win this award, I have to give a nod to the Dead for confirming again that they’re not who we thought they were, but they are quite good. Oh yes.

I still love you most, Neil.