Category Archives: Music

Best of 2017 & 2016

It’s that time again.  I may do a few edits if I come up with more ideas, but here’s my first cut for the albums I enjoyed most this year, in no particular order:

The Feelies – In Between
Juana Molina – Halo
EMA – Exile on the Outer Ring
Destroyer – Ken
Girlpool – Powerplant
Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim
Bob Dylan – Trouble No More
Arto Lindsay – Cuidad Madame
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest
Mary Halvorson – Paimon

My big live show was Radiohead.

And here’s the list for 2016:

Another year gone by!  We lost a lot of talented folks as 2016 progressed, starting with David Bowie, then Prince, and Leonard Cohen, among many others.  As always though there’s plenty of good music coming out, and here’s what I liked best (at least as it stands today!).  No particular order.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Steve Lehman – Sélébéyone
David Bowie – Blackstar
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Murray / Allen / Carrington – s/t
Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Miranda Lambert – The Weight of these Wings
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Wussy – Forever Sounds
Heron Oblivion – s/t

Most memorable live shows were a jazz series at the Old Church this fall – Steve Lehman Trio, Rudresh Mahanthappa Quintet, and Dave Douglas

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Best of 2015

Continuing the tradition, here are a few notes on some of what I liked best in the nearly ended year of 2015.

Albums:
Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
Joanna Newsom – Divers
Eternal Tapestry – Wild Strawberries
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Grimes – Art Angels
Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
Laura Marling – Short Movie
Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs

Live Music:
Carmina Burana conducted by Carlos Kalmar, Oregon Symphony
Vijay Iyer Trio @ Winningstad Theater, Feb 20, 2015
Marc Ribot (solo) @ Marylhurst University, Lake Oswego – May 8, 2015
Kamasi Washington & band @ Pickathon, July 31, 2015
Vieux Farka Toure @ Doug Fir Lounge, Oct 7. 2015
Wayne Shorter Quartet @ Revolution Hall, Oct 13, 2015
Luna @ Aladdin Theater, Nov 6, 2015
Typhoon 10th Anniversary @ Revolution Hall, Dec 20, 2015

Books:
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant – Roz Chast
Words Without Music – Philip Glass
Digital Gold – Nathaniel Popper
Misbehaving – Richard H. Thaler
Being Mortal – Atul Gawande
Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
Hold Still – Sally Mann
(as it happens, while I read plenty of fiction as well, nothing quite stood out in my mind as did the above memoirs and non-fiction)(One good find, however, was Eric Ambler’s late 1930’s spy/thrillers)

I’m sure I’ve left some good things out, and there’s plenty more that I just haven’t come across yet.

Some bests – 2014 & 2013

Seems like I missed posting a music ‘top ten’ last year, so I’ll make up for it now with 2 yearly lists. It’s all a bit arbitrary of course, but these are ones that seemed memorable given all I listened to!

2014 Music

TV on the Radio: Seeds
Wussy: Attica
YOB: Clearing the Path to Ascend
Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal
St. Vincent: St. Vincent
Witch Mountain: Mobile of Angels
Sun Kil Moon: Benji
Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Laura Marling: Once I was an Eagle
Arca: Xen

Best live music this year:
Lots of things at Pickathon at the beginning of August – Son Little, Barr Brothers, X, Parquet Courts & more

2013 Music

Bill Callahan: Dream River
Grant Hart: The Argument
The Knife: Shaking the Habitual
Yo La Tengo: Fade
Nick Cave: Push the Sky Away
Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia
Ceramic Dog: Your Turn
Quasi: Mole City

Springsteen, Landau and Weinberg

I think Tyler Cowen first identified for me my problem with much of the latter day Bruce Springsteen catalog – “monotonous rhythm section” (see this blog post). Along these lines, I found a couple passages from Clinton Heylin‘s book “E Street Shuffle” to be especially on target.

First on page 114, discussing the band and period of touring just after Born To Run album came out. The ‘he’ here is Bruce.

He wanted a drummer who imposed a beat, and left it at that. When he told a court transcriber in 1976 that Landau “taught my drummer … how to play drums in a rock band,” he meant it as a compliment. However, this more metronomic style of playing failed to complement much of the material on which a prodigious live reputation had been forged. In other words, this was not the band Landau recently proclaimed to be “the future of rock ‘n’ roll,” making any ongoing promotional use of the that review almost smack of misrepresentation.

Jon Landau was the critic who wrote the ‘future’ line, and he became Bruce’s manager and confidante. He seems to push things in a very orthodox rock direction, and Heylin zeroes in on this point on page 84.

Landau’s interest had been piqued by the second album and, like Ed Ward, he was curious how they sounded live. If Landau’s local review of The Wild, the Innocent, posted in the window of Charlie’s Place, was essentially positive, he thought Lopez’s drumming “a weak spot,” and found the recording to be “a mite thin or trebly-sounding, especially when the band moves into the breaks.” When Springsteen introduced Landau to his producer inside, Appel rightly called him out, “So you don’t like the album’s production, huh!” Coming from the man who had gutted the most abrasive band to ever come out of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom (Landau produced the MC5’s weak second album, Back in the USA), Landau’s comments suggested an expertise he simply did not have.

From this account, it seems clear that Jon Landau pushed toward the metronome drumming that Max Weinberg quickly mastered. And I guess that helps explain why I still prefer Bruce’s first couple albums over all the rest. Which is not to say that Bruce and the E Street Band don’t put on a great show.

Best of 2012!

I’m going to stick to music this year. Here are the releases I enjoyed most from the year just past. No particular order.

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Menomena – Moms
Grizzly Bear – Shields
The Evens – The Odds
Swans – The Seer
Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
The Dbs – Falling Off the Sky
AC Newman – Shut Down the Streets
Redd Cross – Researching the Blues
Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando
Steve Lehman Trio – Dialect Fluorescent

Best live shows
James Blood Ulmer – Porgy & Bess, Vienna
AC Newman – Doug Fir, Portland
Rhys Chatham – Issue Project Room, Brooklyn
Swans – Hawthorne Theater, Portland
Tirtha – Crystal Ballroom, Portland

Dion’s ‘Wonder Where I’m Bound’

I was quite happy to come across the CD re-issue of Dion’s “Wonder Where I’m Bound”, an LP issued in 1969 but featuring mostly recordings from around 1965.  Columbia wanted to piggy-back on Dion’s renewed success with the single “Abraham, Martin & John” and threw this together from sessions Dion had recorded with various folks including producer Tom Wilson.  I have a copy of the vinyl, but this CD has a nice booklet with detailed notes on Dion’s lost years in the mid-sixties.  It’s a good set of songs, with a couple Dylan covers – early folk-rock-blues that never got a chance at the time.

Here’s a site with the title song.

Christgau’s List

For many years now I’ve perused the Pazz and Jop best music poll results, but these days I find I get the most out of Robert Christgau’s yearly ballot, regardless of where it appears.

Today I picked up a few CDs from the list that I hadn’t heard about during the year, and so far they’re all good.  He’s got wide-ranging tastes – from contemporary country like Elizabeth Cook to Afro-pop, hip-hop and beyond.  Personally I think he’s got a very good ear and can distinguish between the merely good and the stuff that will stand up over the years.

30 Century Man – Scott Walker doc

I found this DVD ’30 Century Man’ at the library, and was interested to learn a bit more about the mysterious cult doom-crooner Scott Walker.  I knew he’d been in the Walker Brothers, but not much more.  This documentary is pretty good – a few too many celebrity cameos of people reacting to Scott Walker songs – and a solid review of his career.  Born Scott Engel in Ohio, he was busy recording as a teenager (there’s a pretty funny segment with a Walker Brothers memorabilia collector showing off all his very rare items, including very early acetates by Scott Engel).  Around 1964 he joined two other guys in the Walker Brothers (none brothers, none named Walker), and they were big in Hollywood in the day.  Then they moved over to London in late 1965.

There is quite a bit of interview footage with Scott filmed in 2004 as he was making his album ‘Drift’, and he talks about liking the dreary quality of most of England when they arrived, and finding that the people there seemed to be just what he expected from the black and white English films he had seen.  They were big pop sensations for another year or two, then Scott started his solo work, inspired at least in part by Jacques Brel.  He made 4 solo records in the period 1967-1970, and the first three charted well, then the fourth sort of dropped without a trace for no clear reason.  But it seemed to push him into a career of obscurity.  He refuses to allow re-release of albums he made in the early seventies, which did not feature any of his own songs apparently.

In 1975 the Walker Bros. reunited and made three albums.  Perhaps the most interesting was 1978’s  “Nite Flights” which started laying down the sounds that Walker’s been exploring ever since.  He works very slowly, allowing the ‘songs’ to take their time percolating, thus he’s done about one album per decade since.  In the interview he says that he has long had frequent nightmares, and the music seems to be the soundtrack.

Best of 2010!

It’s that time again – to look back and sum up some of the best books and music that I found during the past year. So here are some lists:

Best books I read in 2010 (publication date in parens). In order read.
Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010) – her memoir of her early days in NYC with boyfriend Robert Mapplethorpe.
Natural-Born Cyborgs by Andy Clark (2003) – philosophical arguments about how we’ve been extending our capabilities with non-biological tools for a long time already.
The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin (1974) – a sci-fi look at a kind of anarchism.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002) – the prize winning novel
The Big Short by Michael Lewis (2010) – engrossing story of the folks who figured out the mortgage mess first and placed their bets on the blow-up.
Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas (2010) – a novel about stories and plots.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell (2010) – a historical novel set in the lone trading colony of Japan in the early 1800s.
The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (2007) – perhaps the best book I’ve found thus far about the possibilities of changing the brain through mindful exercise.
Everyday Quantum Reality by David Grandy (2010) – a philosophical look at how quantum science is perhaps not nearly as strange as we’re often led to believe.
LIFE by Keith Richards (2010) – the life of the rolling stone as only he could tell it.

Best Concerts of 2010 – saw lots, these were the most fun:
Sloan @ Doug Fir, Feb 17.
Lite @ Dante’s, March 11.
The New Pornographers @ Crystal Ballroom, July 16.
Lucinda Williams @ Roseland, Aug 22.
Pavement & Quasi @ Edgefield, Sept. 3.
The Thermals @ Crystal Ballroom, Sept 9.
Belle & Sebasian and Typhoon @ the Schnitzer, Oct. 19.
Robyn @ Wonder Ballroom, Nov. 20.
Leonard Cohen @ Rose Garden, Dec 8.

Some of the CD’s of 2010 I liked best:
Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love
Vampire Weekend – Contra
New Pornographers – Together
Robyn – Body Talk pt.1
Quasi – American Gong
The National – High Violet
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Black Keys – Brothers
and I have to admit I find Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to be kind of fascinating.

The Tender Loving Empire!

Last night I made it to a good portion of the Tender Loving Empire‘s third birthday party at the Wonder Ballroom.  Enjoyed the sets from Jared Mees and Y La Bamba, thought Boy Eats Drum Machine was pretty entertaining, and I still don’t really get the appeal of Finn Riggins (but they seem to be popular with the kids!).  I’m hoping that an Y La Bamba full-length will come out sometime soon!