There was plenty to not love about 2009, but it did have a lot of good music. Each year I put together a playlist of some of the favorite “new” tracks in my music library. I put new in quotes to emphasize that the list doesn’t consist necessarily of music released in that year, but rather music that was new to me — maybe even an old favorite that I never had a copy of. Here’s this year’s list with a little commentary and the occasional amazon affiliate link.
- Great Expectations / The Gaslight Anthem
The opening track from The ’59 Sound is a real burner, and sets the tone for the entire, great album. (at amazon)
- Here I Am (Come and Take Me) / Al Green
Because, come on.
- The Blue / Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
I heard this track in lots of unexpected places this year, like over the PA system at the FLG airport. Good stuff. (at amazon)
- Swim Until You Can’t See Land / Frightened Rabbit
This song is the first pre-release track over at eMusic. Frightened Rabbit’s new album comes out later this year, and it’s on the AV Club’s most anticipated 2010 entertainment. They say much better than I can, why we’re all eager for this album:
The jump in excellence between Frightened Rabbit’s first album, Sing The Grays, and its second, 2008’s incredible The Midnight Organ Fight, was huge—anticipating another such leap for the upcoming The Winter Of Mixed Drinks would be ridiculous. But if Drinks is even half as good as Organ Fight, it’ll be twice as good as just about anything else out there: The Scottish band perfectly combines raw emotion and the dourness of everyday life with spikes of roaring joy.
(Get Frightened Rabbit’s Midnight Organ Fight at amazon)
- Little Lion Man / Mumford & Sons
Someone posted a link to the video for this track on a forum I read occasionally, and I had to have the whole album. It’s crazy-good wild stringy folk with fantastic vocal harmonies. (at amazon)
- At Midnight / Glossary
- Damagasi – Africando / Africando
We spent a few months taking salsa lessons last year. This is a nice one for dancin. (at amazon)
- Monster Ballads / Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter has to make an appearance, of course. This is a great acoustic take on the song, originally from an album that’s on Paste’s best of the decade list:
13. Josh Ritter: The Animal Years [V2] (2006): After the latter third of the 20th century became littered with “new Dylans,” it became obvious that no one could ever fill that role. So when Ritter made his first few strummy, literate records, there were no lofty expectations to keep him from developing his talent and fanbase. After three promising albums, the masterpiece arrived. Recorded with producer Brian Deck, who stretched Ritter’s rootsy folk in more ambitious directions, The Animal Years is bookended by a pair of epic ballads—“Girl in the War” and “Thin Blue Flame”—which helped secure his place at the table of great songwriters without ever having to live in anybody’s shadow.
(josh ritter at amazon)
- Black Star / Gillian Welch
An elegant cover of the Radiohead song, with Welch’s fine voice and David Rawlings’ guitars.
- Regreso / Aziza Brahim (at amazon)
- At War With The Sun / The Big Pink (at amazon)
- Now We Can See / The Thermals
Yes, have some. (at amazon)
- Ships With Holes Will Sink / We Were Promised Jetpacks
- Idle (The Rabbit Song) / Hem
I totally fell for Hem in 2009. Such great songs, so beautifully performed. (I also learned that Dawn Landes plays with Hem — awesome!) (hem at amazon)
- Wallflower / Uncle Earl
The same way Chatham County Line grabbed me last year, Uncle Earl’s classic, clear bluegrass sound got to me this year. (at amazon)
- Rudie Fails / White Rabbits
(What is it with band names with “Rabbit”?) It’s Frightening is a super album, absolutely propelled by cracking percussion and Britt Daniels’ (of Spoon) production. Great title, too. (at amazon)
- Djer aman / Terakaft
Listen for the instrumental breakdown about 2:30 in for some of the most wide-open, bright guitar around. (at amazon)
- Here’s Lookin At You, Kid / The Gaslight Anthem
Closing out the year with the last track from ‘59 Sound is a sweetly regretful love song about convincing yourself that your heart really isn’t broken, like Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time.” (at amazon)
- This article is dated 2009-12-31 15:38 and is posted to music, with tags music
If it were possible to wear out mp3s, I would be on my second or third set of Josh Ritter tracks. I started listening heavily to him during the last few months of my dissertation-writing, mining eMusic and iTunes for everything they had. For a while there, working meant making coffee, sitting down to write, and putting Josh Ritter, Richmond Fontaine, and Tom Waits on a loop. Since then, I’ve only grown to enjoy and admire Josh’s music more.
Ritter shows some of his influences and does wonderfully well by them (his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” for example) but spending too much time on comparisons does injustice to the fact that he has a powerful storytelling voice all his own and has crafted some of the most evocative, compelling songs that I know. And the guy’s from Moscow, Idaho, which feeds my conviction that Westerners have something to say, after all. Getting all gushy, I’ll say that there’s something about his music that moves me tremendously.
Yesterday I got the chance to see him live for the first time, down in Wickenburg, AZ. The show? A benefit for a music-education nonprofit in Wickenburg, it was held on the patio of a local steakhouse/bar. Stackable chairs and a few bar tables — enough capacity for 50 people or so? — were arranged facing a diminutive plywood stage with a couple of mic stands. I had a pretty good feeling this was going to be cool. And it was. Also casual, friendly, intimate.
Dawn Landes started the show and would perform on and off with Josh throughout. I hit up Dawn’s web site before leaving FLG, so I had some vague notion of her music; she gets compared to Cat Power (I hear some Neko Case in there) and has toured with Hem (go get “Rabbit Songs” and “Eveningland” now. I can wait). In person, she has a wonderful, clear voice, and she played a series of engaging songs that fall somewhere between country (both alt- and straight-up) and folk. Two songs in, I knew where all of next months’ eMusic allotment is going — and had planned the gift CD orders. Sublime performer and songwriter.
After sitting in with Dawn for a couple of songs, and raffling off a technicolor guitar for the nonprofit, Josh Ritter took the stage. He opened with a grinning, bouncing storm through “Good Man,” and just kept on going. He played a number of my favorites (“Harrisburg” and “Temptation of Adam” among them), and could move the crowd every bit as deftly with a whisper as with a shout. Dawn joined him for a few numbers, and they closed the show together with an “encore” duet that ended with the entire crowd whistling our way through to the finale.
It was a thorough joy to be part of that small crowd, listening, laughing, cheering, and hooting for these great, great performers. The fun was amplified by — fundamentally constructed by, actually — the fact that Josh and Dawn also seemed to be having a great time.
After the show I managed to go over and say hello and thanks for such a wonderful event. I was going for a handshake, and got not one but two hugs from Josh, who appeared nothing but sincerely & boisterously exuberant over the whole event. Is he like that all the time? I have no idea — but man, it was fun. I’ll plan on more shows.
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- This article is dated 2008-11-30 14:06 and is posted to music, with tags awesome sauce
- This article is dated 2006-11-27 19:30 and is posted to sociology, music
, with tags calexico
Here’s something I’d like to see the music recommendation sites try out: Volume-sensitive proximity. How cool would it be if last.fm kept track of the relative volume with which I listen to tracks, and made recommendations based on the intersection not just of tracks in common with other users, but with respect to how much I crank any given song?
You cranked up Richmond Fontaine’s “1968.” LikeMindedUser cranked up the same song, as well as whatever-whatever.
I’ll tell you. Way cool.
To get really deep, iTunes could turn on my camera and listen to me singing along.
You and LikeMindedUser both sang along with Ray Parker Jr.‘s “Ghostbusters.” You should try out Another Song You’ll Be Embarrassed to Own.
What? Bustin’ makes me feel good.
- This article is dated 2006-11-24 12:22 and is posted to music, sociology
, with tags music
When did every indie coffee-house-approved ascendant male singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar start to sound like a woefully inadequate imitation of Dave Matthews Band circa Remember Two Things? Have I just not been paying attention for the past thirteen years?
Update When the guy switches to the piano to play a cover of “What a Wonderful World,” it’s time to go home.
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- This article is dated 2006-10-24 17:20 and is posted to music, with tags coffee
dave matthews band
Why didn’t anybody ever tell me that Tom Waits was so good?
Update: “What’s He Building?” is officially on my Creepy Things List.
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- This article is dated 2006-10-01 12:34 and is posted to music, with tags music
I’ve spent the last handful of days going to and from Newark, New Jersey (There’s a story there that involves trying to plan a large gathering in Manhattan on United Nations Opening Day, the conclusion of which was ending up in Newark), for a workshop and meeting regarding a volume I’m contributing to. The volume (on online and digitally-facilitated civic engagement) is part of a series sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and has introduced me to some really interesting scholars, as well as given me lots to think about. The chapter I’m co-authoring uses online entertainment-related petitioning to explore some “movement society” arguments and a few ideas about cultural contestation. The whole MacArthur series is specifically about implications of digital media for youth, so we also try to think about the ways, if any, that online forms of contentious activity might be particularly relevant to or formative of young peoples’ politics. It’s fascinating project to be a part of. (More discussion coming, as our chapter firms up and moves from beta to production.) Now for some travel errata:
If the area where I bought it was really “sterile,” they’d let me bring that mocha on the plane with me.
Next time I travel, I’ll down less coffee and more vitamin C. Seems like every time I get on a plane these days, I deplane with a cold.
Travel usually means lots of iPod time. Between a few flights and some long days driving to Phoenix and back, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve logged a lot of tracks to last.fm. In heavy rotation right now are:
- Marah: If you Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry is a super album. Especially good are “The Hustle”, “Walt Whitman Bridge”, and “Dishwasher’s Dream.” (That last one, in particular, has this furiously dreamy sound that gets me every time.)
- Teddy Morgan: Morgan was based in Tucson for a while and became a local favorite, mixing (alt-)country, rock, rockabilly. Put on a killer live show. Then he went to Nashville and started playing sessions and producing for everybody back in Tucson. Morgan has a Myspace page with a few tracks, including a striking demo of “Thousand Miles” (from his album Freight). It’s a little lo-fi, but it has a great feel.
- Richard Buckner: Hard to classify. But good. His new Meadow is reviewed over here by Cheezeball. (No cheeze whatsoever, they say.) His Dents and Shells has some great tracks: “Firsts” and “Straight” are personal standouts. Buckner also has a cool album with John Langford that genuinely rocks out from time to time. It has to, with a title like Sir Dark Invader vs The Fanglord.
- Bob Dylan: Heather at Fuel for Friends put together a sweet, sweet set of tracks based on a recent Rolling Stone profile of Bob Dylan. One song I hadn’t heard before, “Sign On The Window,” features Dylan murmuring about moving to Utah, building a cabin, finding a woman, and catching lots of rainbow trout. Sounds like a plan.
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- This article is dated 2006-09-22 09:48 and is posted to sociology, music
, with tags macarthur
The strangest thing I found on eMusic this week, while searching for a version of Toots Hibbert’s “Pressure Drop”: Radiodread, by the Easy All Stars, is a reggae reinetpretation of OK Computer. (It used to be that I said of highly implausible things “That’s about as likely as a reggae version of OK Computer.” I’ll have to come up with something else now, I guess.) Suggesting either the broadening or the decline of my taste in music, it’s not at all bad.
Confirming your impressions of said taste, I’m happy to see that eMusic is stocking a pretty good John Prine catalogue now (Steve Goodman is new there, too). They’re not offering his Missing Years but they do have a great live version of that album’s almost-title song “Jesus, the Missing Years.” Good stuff.
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- This article is dated 2006-09-03 16:50 and is posted to music, with tags emusic
The La La CD trading service has launched, and it’s pretty cool: List the CDs that you own but no longer want, along with the CDs that you don’t have but want to get, and La La facilitates the rest by sending you pre-paid envelopes to ship out your CDs to other traders. Pay $1.49 for each CD, and La La sends a portion of the fee to the artists. The number of CDs you can get depends on the number that you send out—so you can’t simply buy in, but rather have to have something of value to other users to throw into the CD pile.
They have a nice Web 2.0-ish search feature, and it looks like a big database of titles already. La La will also make recommendations based on overlapping CDs in people’s collections.
Like La La says, they’re just like any used CD store—except for being massively distributed (and, perhaps, actually having what I want instead of 35 used copies of Jammin 90s Dance Hits), and I wonder if that’s where the inevitable lawsuit will come in.
- This article is dated 2006-06-09 09:15 and is posted to music, technology
, with tags cd
Every once in a while my good and smart playlist serves me up something that’s just perfect. Here are the last thirteen tracks:
|Fine And Mello
|Say You Miss Me
|What’s the World Got in Store
|The Rough Streets Below
|Song Of Our So-Called Friends
|Brain in a Room
|Don’t Take Me For Granted
|What Became of Likely Lads
|The Last Temptation
||Corey Glover And Vice
|Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right [Demo]
|Teeth In The Grass
||Iron and Wine
... and coming up next is Teddy Morgan and the Pistolas’, “Nothing to go Back to Now.” It’s a pretty good ninety minutes.
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- This article is dated 2006-03-02 17:48 and is posted to music
Tin Ear calls this clip “so rock it hurts”—and he’s very much right. It’s Keith Richards, the undead dark prince of rock and roll, absolutely clobbering a stage-jumper with his guitar during a concert. The best part of the clip is in the first second, where Richards actually winds up—his form is pretty good!—before taking the swing. Security then tackles the guy and sweeps him offstage, while Richards, looking for all the world like nothing at all has just happened (and, to be fair, in his world, nothing at all may have happened), re-shoulders the guitar and returns to the show.
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- This article is dated 2006-02-02 10:18 and is posted to music, with tags rollingstones
After Lago’s endorsement of the band , I went and saw Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers play at the Orpheum this weekend. The Orpheum was absolutely packed to the gills because the band are Arizona “hometown” favorites. Unlike a lot of performers, Clyne seems to really love the crowd—and the crowd loves him, plying him with shots of tequila throughout the show. This is apparently a tradition for the band. I’m surprised the guy could stand, let alone play the guitar, by the end of the night. Also, I had no idea it would be the kind of concert where women take off their tops. I haven’t seen that since the last Whitesnake video.
It was a good show: Tremendous energy and southwest-tinged guitar rock that ranged from warm and melodic to simply barn-burning. Lots of fun, so thanks much for the recommendation, Lago.
No account of a nighttime Flagstaff outing would be complete without a photo of the Hotel Monte Vista all lit up:
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- This article is dated 2006-01-31 09:16 and is posted to music, flagstaff
, with tags concert
I saw this over at Tom’s, and it looked like fun.
sort by title
first: ...Dust, Elvis Costello
last: Zoo Station, U2
sort by time
shortest: 0:09, Horn Intro; from Good News for People who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse
longest: 18:00, Play It All Night Long > [Encore:] 5D (Fifth Dimension) > I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead > Lawyers, Guns and Money; Warren Zevon, 2005-05-29
sort by artist
first: Chain Reaction, 31knots
last: Kodiak, Zykos
sort by album
first: #1 Record / Radio City, Big Star (same as Tom’s)
last: Zopilote Machine, The Mountain Goats
(actually 11, because one is a radio stream and Teddy Morgan is too good to miss the list)
Son Volt, Windfall, Trace
Bishop Allen, Eve of Destruction, Charm School
Joel RL Phelps, Goodbye Kelly Grand Forks, Customs
Son Volt, Live Free, Trace
Son Volt, Tear-Stained Eye, Trace
KNAU streaming audio
Calexico, Alone Again Or, Convict Pool
Erica Wylie, What’s Unseen, Stoop
Cake, Short Skirt/Long Jacket, Comfort Eagle
The New Pornographers, From Blown Speakers, Electric Version
Teddy Morgan, 1000 Miles, Freight
first five on party shuffle
Elvis Costello, Petals, When I was Cruel
Modest Mouse, The World at Large, Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Chris Cubeta, Sugar Sky, Sugar Sky
Jay Farrar, 6 String Belief, Stone, Steel & Bright Lights
Ted Leo, The Sword in the Stone, Balgeary EP
Number of search returns for
10 last played
The Hold Steady, Charlemagne in Sweatpants, Separation Sunday
The Hold Steady, Hornets! Hornets!, Separation Sunday
Okkervil River, A King and Queen, Black Sheep Boy
Okkervil River, Get Big, Black Sheep Boy
Okkervil River, Black, Black Sheep Boy
Okkervil River, In a Radio Song, Black Sheep Boy
Okkervil River, For Real, Black Sheep Boy
Okkervil River, For Real, Black Sheep Boy
Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy, Black Sheep Boy
Gina Villalobos, Fooling Around, Rock N Roll Pony
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- This article is dated 2006-01-21 11:01 and is posted to music, with tags itunes
I read of an interesting study this afternoon, produced by Liecester University School of Psychology professor Adrian North. The study, which I couldn’t find in any online form, so I’m going from the news report, “monitored 346 people over two weeks to evaluate how they related to music.” According to North, music has become a commodity, “produced, distributed and consumed like any other.” This is quite in contrast to music of previous eras, says North:
In the 19th century, music was seen as a highly valued treasure with fundamental and near-mystical powers of human communication.
North goes on to argue that the great variety and easy accessibility of music online has made for a passive, consumer-oriented approach to music, one that lacks a true appreciation for music or a deep emotional connection.
I’d very much like to take a look at the complete study, because I wonder how much can be learned about people, musically, in two weeks of their lives. In the two weeks before Christmas, for example, I was downloading furiously from eMusic 1, loading up the iPod for the road trip, and burning entirely fair-use-friendly mix CDs for a few friends. By some measures, that woud look awfully mass-consumptive of me. But it would take more to convince me that that means either passivity or a shallow emotional tie. After all, entire industries are built on ties to product identity: Cars, computers, jeans. These are all mass-produced consumer goods, and I’m sure it’s not a stretch to say that our identification with them is built on more than a little bit of cynical manipulation on their part, meant to inspire brand loyalty through a shallow kind of identity. But cynical marketing campaigns don’t mean that consumer don’t take them seriously: I know people who will only wear Lee jeans because their rancher fathers wore Lee, and who will only buy Cadillac because it’s the model of value on which they imprinted so very long ago (Hi, Grandpa).
So when North suggests that accessibility and choice are part and parcel of not really appreciating music, I can’t help but think that he’s really talking about appreciating the right kind of music. This reminds me a recent essay over at Salon, from a food writer who once occupied the upper echelons of foodie culture. Ann Bauer writes of the way that culture ended up getting in the way of truly appreciating all the gourmet food she was eating:
I’m a novelist, supporting my family as a food writer. A restaurant slut, purveyor of food porn, author of articles that liken sea scallops to blossoming roses and lamb tartare to velvet and tiny chocolate truffles to explosions that move in waves of flavor over the tongue. I’ve written at length about the briney, dark quality of raw oysters, the way they wriggle down the tunnel of the throat as if entering with intent. I’ve advised my readers to close their eyes and let the silken heft of whipped cream and mascarpone drizzled with banyuls fill their mouths. But even as I set down the words, I’m checking my watch.
Opulent meals among foodies revealed what she saw as a culture that didn’t ultimately care about food, but about being seen appreciating food. It’s a pretty nice passage:
After dinner arrived, the conversation would switch from food people to food itself. There’d be groans and exclamations as each dish was set down. Reminiscences about other evenings and other meals. “What did you eat at Levain last time?” someone would ask, just as I’d taken a mouthful. And I would pause, feeling the same confusion you do when you’re listening to one piece of music and trying to recall another. But it didn’t matter. “Well, I had…” someone else would jump in. Then everyone would talk in turn about a meal he or she had eaten recently.
Only here’s the odd thing: They didn’t really eat.
Occasionally, one of the men would dig in. But the women, most of them, only picked—lifting their meat with the tines of a fork to snare a tiny fat-soaked shred, dipping a teaspoon into the sauce and touching it with the snakelike tip of a tongue. Plate after plate of food went back to the kitchen 85 percent uneaten, to be scraped into the garbage and thrown away.
This, of course, explained the fact that they ranged from willowy to preternaturally thin. I began searching the crowds for just one warm, sensual, zaftig creature. But most nights, there was none. Only long-necked people in beautiful clothes, talking ceaselessly about food, greeting the chefs and servers as if they were long-lost relatives, carrying $20 glasses of wine. Starving, it seemed to me, for something else.
Bauer’s essay makes it clear that the foodie aesthete is not an uncommon species, and I doubt the music version is, either. (Plenty of episodes of Fraser would confirm this, as Niles and Fraser fake their way, over and over, into the opera board and the wine club. Yeah, I’ve seen all those episodes; it was on after the news.) In contrast to North’s suggestion, I wonder if there is evidence for an alternate formulation of the effect of easy access and broad choice of music: If we don’t conflate appreciation of The Great Composers with depth of personal meaning, then finding music that resonates affectively is easier than it used to be, and our appreciation of it may end up being deeper than North can measure. Something like myspace might provide a place to test that sort of idea.
This, of course, doesn’t mean we can’t be insufferable snobs about our taste being better than anybody else’s. It just means that our snobbery can’t well be based on second-guessing what crappy music means to other people.
1 Which, by the way, turns out to be really pretty cool. I now have about two dozen albums on my “save for later” list, but for the $10 per month plan I only get three or four of them at a time. But hey, still a bargain. My best find there as of yet: Alligator from The National. This is seriously a great album: Rocky, moody, melodic, guitary. A few mp3s available from insound and their web site. eMusic offers 50 free downloads just for trying them out—and if you want to try ‘em out, let me know before you sign up; if I refer you and you end up paying for a month’s plan (no pressure), I get free stuff. Just sayin’. They’re cool like that.
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- This article is dated 2006-01-11 18:24 and is posted to music, with tags consumerism
Via the Textdrive forum comes a thread about the massive insanity that is being an audiophile, someone ready ready to spend sixty thousand dollars on an amplifier build out of, I don’t know, crystals, potentiometers, and elf bones. Needless to say, these aren’t the sort of people who download tracks from iTunes or eMusic.
At any rate, someone put together a super list of amusing audiophile products, most of which could be more accurately identified as “utterly insane.” The best products in the list for those whose “listening room” is not also their “living room,” and who, as far as I can tell, can’t possibly actually enjoy music, are as follows:
- The 3D Mat. You stick this onto your CDs before playing them, and it accentuates the “air.” Okay.
- The Quantum Chip. Seriously. “The Intelligent Chip is a one-inch square orange plastic wafer that, when placed on top of a compact disc player for 2-3 seconds, upgrades the disc (CD, DVD or SACD) being played.” Given the important role of quantum chips placed atop one’s CD player, audiophiles presumably aren’t much into leaving a nice half glass of beer on the amplifier.
- The thirty thousand dollar speaker cable. Some of us could buy cars or multiple postgraduate degrees with that.
- The wooden volume knob, as an optional accessory to the $7000 volume control. It’s made of birch, spun on a lathe, and varnished, and it goes for $500. You’ll need two, one for each channel.
Dear Santa …
- This article is dated 2005-12-21 20:54 and is posted to music, with tags audiophile
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