I'm amazed to report that by April 7, I had a solid 25 albums to bring to your attention. Usually I don't get here until late June, so either my standards are completely crap and I'm getting soft and stupid in my old age or the decline of the music industry and its butchering at the hands of the entertainment industry is actually a very good thing for musicians. Once you assume you cannot crossover to people who don't already like your kind of music, you stick to doing what brings you pleasure and it shows. Though I also fear by that measure that artists will become too complacent and play to the prejudices of their cult, this year it seems to be working.
To scare you further, the weeks following April 7 have brought me even more interesting albums, but I shall hold them for when I have another full 25 and can make it the blog of the century!
Ahh, what can you do? Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
25) David Bowie -- The Next Day:
We make excuses for the voice of Bob Dylan. We pretend Lou Reed's solo albums aren't mostly crap. We're glad Paul McCartney can reproduce his hits with enthusiasm. Neil Young…well, live he still nails it down, even if his first thought, best thought has been failing him for decades. But Bowie, we'd written off. He was sick. He was hurt. He was retired. Then the cheeky bastard releases a single on his birthday and to everyone's surprise he has an entire new album -- done! It shows up and it's Bowie showing not a shred of rust, still exploring. Game on, oldsters!
24) Country Mice -- Hour of the Wolf:
There are tons of bands in Brooklyn and there's enough Americana out there to repaper your rec room seven times over, but Country Mice have a drummer who hangs back and a band that leave space and aren't afraid to snag the four chords of "Kill Your Sons" for their purposes. Play this mutha loud!
23) Billy Bragg -- Tooth and Nail:
He still has his politics. He's Billy Bragg, for Rachel Maddow's sake, but he also has the "heart songs" that make him human and force him to sing like a singer and not a visiting lecturer from Communist University. He's much better than he sounds.
22) Suuns -- Images du Futur:
Bands like these wander off on their own and do a nice job of blurring genre lines until no one's sure how to file them. Miscellaneous is a great place to be. I imagine they're space rockers with a need for sleep. Thirty years from now people will find the CD in a landfill and think we were all much more advanced than we actually were.
21) Jimi Hendrix -- People, Hell and Angels:
There was a time in the late 1970s when there were albums with Jimi's name on them where he was merely a session guy buried in the background not sounding like anyone in particular. So we scraped the bottom of the barrel a long time ago. Ironic then that the tapes they find these days are of positive quality and of worthy release. Where have they been hiding them? And anyone want to come over and listen to my Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead LP?
20) Boz Scaggs -- Memphis:
It's my scared duty to pay attention to just about all I can stand and believe me I didn't approach a modern day Boz Scaggs album with much enthusiasm. But I let it play and good things happened. Drummer Steve Jordan took him to Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios with the Memphis Horns and Willie Weeks and Spooner Oldham and they even pull off an old Willy DeVille tune or two. He always could sing.
19) Mudhoney -- Vanishing Point:
When Mudhoney slowed down, went on hiatus or whatever, it was the best thing for them. They've always had the chops. It's the songs that don't always come easy and by taking their time they've loading their albums with songs up to their standards. It's a weird world where Mudhoney is 25 years old and people still look the same.
18) Dolly Varden -- For a While:
That there are songs here that demand you roll down the window is one reason why writing about music gets silly quick. Just roll down the window and be done with it. Cultural signifiers? My opinion? Go to Spotify! Invalidate my words with a single click! But don't forget I sent you there!
17) Henry Wagons -- "Expecting Company?":
The album cover alone makes this one worth keeping. A student of album art would assume this to be some sort of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra album and if you can imagine the Go-Betweens' Robert Forster as a Nancy then that assumption is alright!
16) Eels -- Wonderful, Glorious:
Mark Oliver Everett has a sound that's interesting enough to land him on these lists, but I must admit he's made so many albums that I like but never go back to that I'm starting to wonder if it's him or me. Maybe you know.
15) Richard Thompson -- Electric:
I haven't enjoyed a studio album from Richard Thompson since the bright parts of 1999's Mock Tudor and that's a sad thing to say since there was a streak for many years that ranked him among my all-time faves. Maybe I should go back and see if it's me. But I haven't had to think about this one at all. And don't say it must be Buddy Miller, because I still don't get him.
14) Various Artists -- Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake:
Albums by Various Artists are always up and down affairs. Maybe I should've voted for the Tim Hardin tribute, but I remember disliking a few key tunes, where here Drake's original producer man Joe Boyd curated things and stuck to many of the same musicians who don't try New Wave interpretations or anything silly. I've heard some terrible versions of Drake songs on other tributes to him, so it wasn't like this was a shoo-in. But having Danny Thompson around surely helped. Just be thankful no bozos from Sonic Youth showed up to ruin the party.
13) Herbcraft -- The Astral Body Electric:
I'm all for music I can make myself! Maybe that sounds scary, but there's something to be said for people who drone and lack form. Their taste in instruments is sublime and any music that encourages listeners to burn the midnight incense is alright with me. Music that smells fantastic is better than you think.
12) The Besnard Lakes -- Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO:
Yet another band that's oddly formless yet fully formed. Husband-wife teams just make me jealous, since what better way to ensure things get done. There are real songs here, but it's the ones I can't define that demand I return to them. Other bands do Pink Floyd better than Pink Floyd because they ignore the idea that Dark Side of the Moon ever existed and they never try to build a wall.
11) Indians -- Somewhere Else:
The album doesn't reveal much in the first listen and I was ready to write it off when I saw a video clip of these poor guys playing by the shoreline as night nearly wiped them out. It's nearly all synths and vocal manipulations but at its heart something that aches just burps up and makes me feel better about my choice. You'll probably hate it!
10) Bleached -- Ride Your Heart:
Is this some kind of set-up? Two pretty girls from LA who say they're a band but the album sounds like there are other people playing on it? I'd tell you for sure, but the digital download didn't have any credits with it and the band bio doesn't tell me anything specific about who's playing on this thing, just lots of pretty poetry on what's supposed to be their career and their vision. Probably lies.
9) Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside -- Untamed Beast:
Her band has a garage rock heart and Ford is a belter who isn't afraid to get dirty, dirty, dirty. Let's just hope she never finds a producer who "knows what to do" with her talent. Divas come cheap, but rockers are forever.
8) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -- Push the Sky Away:
Uh oh, crazy Uncle Nick is mumbling to himself again! Mick Harvey's doing his own thing, but Warren Ellis is happily -- ok, no one's happy in the Bad Seeds -- working on the death score! As someone who owns every single Nick Cave album, I can assure you this is one of the very good ones. The kids who doubt are the kids who don't know.
7) Trixie Whitley -- Fourth Corner:
Daughter of bluesman Chris Whitley, Trixie, like her dad, doesn't like being boxed into a genre. Dad's blues quickly got weirder and became his own and Trixie could be a great blues singer herself, but what fun would that be? Better to find her own playground. She's sung with Daniel Lanois' Black Dub, so she's been around atmosphere. This debut album is the introduction that suggests the book ahead will have many unusual chapters. Let's hope it's more Dubliners than Finnegan's Wake, OK?
6) The House Of Love -- She Paints Words in Red:
Not to be confused with Book Of Love, the House Of Love are perfect fodder for people who like British guitar-pop music but don't wish the hooks to be so obvious that you exhaust the experience after only a few plays. England funny that way!
5) My Bloody Valentine -- m b v:
By waiting more than 20 years to follow up Loveless, they dared to turn this album into Chinese Democracy. Because no one knows what it is they actually do, as long as its loud and melodic and weird and cool we figure it's doing something right -- we can't rate their hooks. We don't expect there to be a hit. This is art or something.
4) Gene Clark -- Here Tonight - The White Light Demos:
Gene Clark belongs in the same conversation with Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, Nick Drake, and Tim Hardin, all men who made music where the simplicity and the tragedy walked hand in hand and all have made it into the collections of record collectors who know what they're doing. Does Clark lag behind? If so, he shouldn't.
3) Moon Casale -- Moon Casale:
I'm not sure how much of the disgruntled country parson I'm willing to believe here -- is it Bergman or Bresson? -- but I love the unadorned simplicity. It's like an old chunky wood table that no one makes anymore, but when you spot it at a flea market, you find a way to get it home.
2) Wire -- Change Becomes Us:
Access to better recording equipment has been the norm since the 1990s. People in the alternative sciences had better ideas than everyone else in the 1970s and 80s but they rarely had access to the means of production. By the time they did, they'd already shot their best ideas away. However, Wire saved up their songs and went back to their old recordings and spotted the good ideas and brought it all home, daddy.
1) Adam Ant -- Adam Ant is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter:
This album is the definition of a sprawling mess. But it's the best Julian Cope album I've heard in a while. It's the sound of a man having an identity crisis or maybe he's always this way. Either way, the music is never safe and it makes such a crazy chaos that not many people will care. I like art sloppy as hell. Not everyone needs to color within the lines, bucko!